George A Romero frightened cinema goers with his zombies. The reanimated bodies of the dead, clumsily lurching forward, arms outstretched and shuffling hungrily amongst the living. I thought it was just fiction, a modern take on West African ‘Vodou’. In this belief system a zombie remains under the control of a sorcerer, unable to break free of its supernatural bonds and slave to the sorcerer’s bidding (rather like the UK’s obsession with motors). But if what I witnessed on the road in Machen is any benchmark, zombies are alive and well and hammering along the A468 between Machen and Bassleg.
Our club run last night was a pretty pacey affair. There were about 15 riders in the initial group. We headed out of the city centre and off toward Newport along ‘the flats’, an area of marshy farmland East of Cardiff. As the traffic ebbed away, chain-gang geared up. The group zipped along at 25-27 mph. We reached Tredegar house quickly, then headed North West toward Caerphilly along the A468.
On the whole, this stretch of road is wide, free-flowing and easily able to accommodate the various types of traffic that use it. A natural, therefore, for a cycling club to use during the early evening. But last night the zombies were out in force, brainlessly using the stretch as if it were an extension of the nearby M4. Displaying little to no empathy or respect (zip, zero, nada) for our group, several cars belted past at breakneck speed, swinging wildly around corners and taking great risks in the early evening gloom. And for what? To get home 5 minutes earlier? (if that). Approaching the fringes of Bedwas, one particular zombie/idiot/zombie idiot, attempted an incredibly reckless overtaking manoeuvre that practically took out our lead riders. Ian was incensed and chased him down (moral – if you’re going to cut up a cyclist, best pick on a slow one and not a serious racing snake), forcing him to stop and face the music. Hoopla ensued. Words were exchanged. An off duty Police motorbike rider stopped and ticked the driver off, defusing the situation and allowing traffic to move again. In the words of the off duty cop ‘at least no-one was hurt’. Or in words that I find more appropriate, ‘He was an idiot. Thank god no-one was killed’.
Parking the specifics and my take on that event, I want to return to the more general issue of empathy. Where on earth did it go? How did we arrive at this position? Exactly when did a significant proportion of the motoring population cease to give a stuff about other people, viewing the road as their own private fiefdom? I find this so deeply disappointing. I’d like think that I want to find the best in people, work with them, creating meaningful relationships along the way. I’d also like to think that on the whole, people are nice, generally respect their fellow man (or woman) and think along similar lines. But this warm view is hard to subscribe to, when you have 1 tonne of speeding metal nudging your back wheel or scything across the front of your group.
Yesterday I watched this video footage from ‘Cyclegaz’ a Croydon based blogger who highlights road use issues. I defy you to watch the 5 minute video from the viewpoint of either a motorist or a cyclist (let’s face it, most of us wear both hats) and not shift uncomfortably in your seat.
I’ll certainly look at white polo vans in a new light.
I’m resigned to the fact that in the short-term, attitudes toward cycling are unlikely to change swiftly. Like most Western nations, the UK has carefully constructed a transport network that favours the automobile, with a culture to accompany it. However with crippling motoring costs, youngters increasingly turning their backs on car ownership and a nice cycling zeitgeist building, the potential for change is there. With a little more commitment from the top…….who knows? But those politicians really – and I mean REALLY – need to be onboard. Now here’s a challenge – any politician that doubts cycling claims about motoring attitudes or the need to improve cycle provision, I invite you to come out for a ride, with me, on a tandem. You won’t even need to cycle (much), steer or think about route. I can take care of all that. It might just give you a sense of how my 5 year old daugther feels when we briefly use the roads (my bike, her tag along). Details of how to contact me are on the top tool bar. Just one little warning; The A468, Boulevard De Nantes, Newport Road and a lap of the city centre will all feature. Wear something comfy.
Oops, a bit of a bee in the bonnet – the second in a week. Still…..all in a good cause.