“The cyclist versus motorist debate” by James Hanscomb

The cyclist versus motorist debate
Recently there was a lively and refreshingly clean debate on the Penge Tourist Board Facebook page about cycling, just as there are often articles in local and national papers about the ongoing battle for supremacy on the roads, particularly in the crowded streets of London.
To try to take the heat out of this debate, we thought it worthwhile to communicate a bit more of our club’s ethos to our fellow road users and to explain a bit about why we do what we do and why we ride how we ride. If this helps buy us a bit of goodwill, then great. If it makes the roads around Penge a safer, more harmonious place to be, then even better.
Generally speaking, cyclists are reasonably polite and aware and generally speaking drivers are considerate and patient. As a cyclist, it’s great when you encounter a really considerate driver – and better still when you catch his or her eye and gratefully acknowledge the kindness. It cuts both ways and it leaves a so much better feeling than the bitterness of an angry exchange of curses and impotent rage, followed by a tirade on social media. We can do better, and at Penge CC we genuinely try. We are pretty sure our neighbouring cycle clubs are the same. Sorry if we sometimes get it wrong. Cut us some slack and we’ll do the same when you make a mistake. Just remember, we are a bit more vulnerable perched on our carbon and alloy steeds with only a thin layer of lycra for protection than you are in your air-bagged steel cages. Also remember that if you knock one of us off in Penge, it could be your kid’s teacher, or your mate’s dad or your plumber. A bit of patience and understanding and basic good manners from all road users, two wheels or four, would go a long way to making life better for us all.
This said, let’s get it out there. Some cyclists are dreadful. Rude, lawless, dangerous, impatient, aggressive and arrogant. So are some pedestrians, motorcyclists and car drivers. None of us like being confronted with the sort of behaviour that leaves us shaken and indignant. Whether it’s a cyclist almost knocking over a child on a crossing, or a car forcing its way past, too close, pushing the cyclist into the gutter. It exists and it is something we could all do without.
At Penge CC, we are not perfect. In fact, you may sometimes see some, shall we say, ‘improving’ cycling techniques than you might from other, better drilled cycling clubs. This goes to the heart of what we are as a cycling club. We positively encourage, go out of our way to persuade new people into cycling. Our ‘Go Ride’ section has kids as young as 4, learning to ride a bike for the first time and our adult section has rides specifically aimed at complete novices. Why? Because we believe that by incorporating these people into a group with experienced riders who can show, teach and nurture them, we can encourage them to be better, safer, more considerate riders. Are we always successful? Do we never transgress? Do we occasionally do stuff that’s thoughtless or even plain dumb? You know the answer. However, we mostly wear very recognisable kit. (Distinctive red, white and green, with PENGE in large letters and the names of our valued sponsors – all of them local, Penge traders.) If you witness any of us doing something rude, illegal or just daft, tell us and we will do our best to put it right.
Here’s another thing. The most frequent complaint we get is about how we block the road heading out of Penge towards Layham’s lane and out into Kent. We are acutely conscious that we share the road with other traffic that sometimes wants to pass us. We have tried a number of ways to alleviate this. Firstly, we split up into a number of smaller groups who move at roughly the same pace. We have tried different routes out of London. We ride out at 8.00 on a Sunday from April to October, when most sensible people are enjoying a lie in. We actually think if we stick to the same road, cars that do the route regularly will know how to avoid us. We have debated a number of times whether it is better to ride single or double file. Never 3 abreast and feel free to call us out if you see this, but there are arguments for and against 2 abreast. (See below)

These are some of the pieces of advice our more experienced riders and ride leaders will try to ensure are passed onto all riders who come out with us, to be followed whether they are out ‘in uniform’ on a Sunday, or any time on the road. Mostly, the advice is aimed at keeping them safe, but it’s also to try to ensure that we rub along ok with our fellow road users.

1. It is every rider’s individual responsibility to ride safely and within the rules of the road – and to advise fellow riders to do the same, pointing out poor riding practice when necessary
2. Things do sometimes go wrong, so we insist that every one of our members has 3rd party insurance. If they smash into your pride and joy, and it’s their fault, their insurance will pay up and the club has insurance too.
3. We encourage groups to stick close together and to ride 2-abreast because this can be used to protect less experienced riders (who ride on the inside – something we always do with our young riders when they come out) It is also actually easier for cars to overtake a short, slightly wider group than a long, strung out line
4. Most of us wear very distinctive club kit, so you can let us know if we get it wrong
5. Every ride we send out has a ride leader. These leaders are not required to have some type of formal qualification, but they are our more experienced riders and they try to keep a close eye on the whole group, especially the less experienced riders
6. We really discourage riders from being aggressive with other road users, even if they have been spooked by a car coming too close or have been the victim of some poor or aggressive driving. We know we are vulnerable and that our best chance of getting home in one piece lies in avoiding confrontation.
7. We have a series of calls we use to warn each other about traffic ahead and behind, so riders can take the necessary action to allow cars to pass if possible
8. We always try to acknowledge an act of courtesy, such as a car pulling in to let us pass or waiting behind us until it is safe to overtake rather than pushing through. We also try to be courteous ourselves, letting cars pass when we can.

There are also a number of (rather tired) arguments that get trotted out whenever a journalist needs to fill some space, or a frustrated cyclist or motorist wants to vent on social media. Some of these are worth addressing, but none are particularly helpful.

1. Cyclists don’t pay road tax. There is no such thing as road tax. There is vehicle tax, which is based on engine size, or fuel type and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, depending on when the vehicle was registered. This duty forms part of general taxation and, along with income tax, VAT etc goes towards paying for all of our infrastructure. Guess what, most cyclists are also income tax paying, VAT paying car drivers. Cycling is the new golf and we all love kit, all of which earns the chancellor a healthy slice of VAT. A decent road bike costs £1000+ these days. 20% of that is as much as many car owners pay for the vehicle tax.
2. Cyclists jump red lights, ride on pavements and are aggressive to drivers. Yes, this is true. Cyclists also sell drugs, shoot people, steal things and wear unflattering tight clothes. That doesn’t mean that all cyclists do these things. Nor do all car drivers sound their horns as they impatiently thrust their way past, or swerve close to give a cyclist an almighty scare, or text when they are driving. Some do, on both sides and no one (unless they are trying to be funny, controversial or are just plain stupid) would claim that they all do.
3. Cycle lanes are a waste of money and make congestion worse. You might find some cyclists agreeing with this statement, but the general consensus amongst those that brave the daily commute is that the extra space and segregation makes a significant difference. We seem to be getting them anyway, so let’s hope they are finished quickly and that they work for cyclists and drivers alike.

In response to the criticism on Facebook, we have set up an email address to make it easy for you to let us know if you feel we have been cycling in a way that offends or endangers anyone – or even if you want to compliment us! Hopefully we won’t be too inundated and we will try to respond to all emails we receive. We feel very much part of the Penge community, we all live locally and we want to make sure we do our best to get along with our fellow road users as best we can.