“This is not Nam, this is bowling….there are rules” Walter Sobchak, The Big Lebowski
Bowling, cycling, lining up at McDonalds, you name it there are rules. It’s part and parcel of living in a society. What’s more, rules help define a society. They are a set of universally understood and generally agreed to instructions, a guideline for peaceful coexistence and, to a reasonable extent, a reflection of what we, as a bunch of coexisting humans, perceive to be of ethical value. Our understanding of rules has come a long way since prehistoric times when if another caveman wanted your brontosaurus drumstick for himself he would beat you with a club, take it and no-one would bat an eyelid. These days we value the right of ownership. You wait your turn at McDonalds for your brontosaurus drumstick (or Big Mac) and you can safely assume that the next person in line is not going to shamelessly beat you with a club and take it from you. There are rules.
In the state of NSW there are rules. Lots of rules. And that’s ok because the state of NSW is, after all, a society. We are bound together by geographical boundaries, a commonly recognised code of football and a new set of rules that imply a general disdain for bicycles! Wait, did I say a disdain for bicycles? Where did that come from? Surely not. Obviously I get to speak to cyclists of all breeds- road cyclists, mountain bikers, recreational riders and commuters, and there seems to be a common vibe at the moment that cyclists are feeling a little threatened.
Part of this is the media. They’ve found a topic that seems to get the blood boiling in extremists from both sides. You’ve got angry motorists on one side. Angry that they are sitting in traffic, angry that they’ve perhaps seen more than a few cyclists flaunt the very rules that they have little choice but to follow (it’s difficult to break the rules when you’re creeping along in traffic at walking speed). Angry that they have paid for the roads via vehicle registration and those parasite bike riders have not. Apparently cyclists don’t also own and register motor vehicles, nor pay taxes, nor pay council rates- yep, cyclists have contributed nothing to the roads.
On the other side you have angry cyclists. Some are angry because they’re doing their bit to save the planet via lower carbon emissions and nobody seems to care. Some are angry because for years they’ve seen the bicycle as the perfect rule-flaunting machine and now they may be held accountable. Many, in fact I’d go so far as to say most, are angry because they are normal people who simply want to ride a bicycle, within the law, on infrastructure that they have very much paid for via taxes, rates and the registered vehicle(s) sitting in their garage. And when you’ve got low brow media stirring up animosity towards cyclists, riding a bicycle can be a fairly dangerous proposition. Some are angry because they feel that the increased and, in some cases, overly zealous policing of the ‘new’ rules is a threat to them simply doing what they love and what they have right to do.
So should we, as cyclists feel threatened? Out on the road it is very easy to feel physically threatened. You’re at the bottom of the food chain, the krill of the road. The difference between us and krill of course is that we are not a food source. If we were, let’s face it, we wouldn’t stand a chance. Our survival in the black sea of bitumen is dependent on a couple of things.
Firstly, there is the general goodwill between humans and our common acceptance of the fact that we are a society. I like to believe in this goodwill. I’m sure there are very few people out there who get in a car with the express intention of harassing, injuring or even killing a cyclist. I’m sure there are some, but these are the same aggressive bottom feeders that king hit people at the pub, bully others in a more vulnerable position than themselves and arrogantly jump the queue at McDonalds. It’s not just cyclists who have a problem with these lower order primates, it’s society as a whole. I like to think that the other 99.9 percent, despite how much they may be influenced by the media and regardless of their first class ticket on the bandwagon, can still identify cyclists as humans. Real humans like them, with families, friends, a mortgage to pay and a junior soccer team to coach on the weekends. And it is this that makes those people go around rather than over cyclists on the road.
Secondly, there are rules. Road rules like don’t run red lights, give way when entering roundabouts and giving cyclists a metre space when passing them in a motor vehicle all serve the purpose of keeping some sort of order on the roads and go a fair way to ensuring the survival of cyclists and motorists – that is, of course, providing that they are adequately respected and policed. Some rules seem ridiculous. For example, a bicycle must be fitted with an adequate warning device like a bell (despite popular opinion this is not a new law, it has just never been enforced with such vigour before). A bell on a bicycle seems pretty useless as a warning device everywhere other than a footpath. Get caught riding on a footpath and you may be applauded for having a bell… but then fined for riding on a footpath!!??
However, rules are rules. If we, as the enlightened two-wheeled members of society, wish to be recognised as the legitimate road users that we already know ourselves to be, then we may need to give a little- after all, it’s just a bell. If you see a stop sign, just stop. Make an effort to be seen doing the right thing, not just by the constabulary but, more so, by those who hold our safety in their driver’s side cup holder- motorists. Here’s an even crazier idea, let’s go a step further and behave like we are a part of an uber civilised society. Let’s make an effort to really share the road, after all, sharing is a two way street. Yes we have a right to be there, but why create animosity just to prove a point. If we can safely keep out of the way or even choose a different route that is away from high motor traffic areas then shouldn’t we? Because let’s face it, none of us want to be antagonistic, we all just want to get to where we are going. Let’s be visibly courteous, maybe even offer a wave when someone gives you all the time and space you need to ensure that you can both continue on safely. Let’s take the high road. Let’s turn the lemons into lemonade. Let’s be pillars of society.
As cyclists we are not under threat if we refuse to feel threatened. Instead, we are underestimated in our capacity to be agents of change.
Keep riding and ride righteously!