I haven’t written much recently about my close shaves with four-wheeled vehicles. Largely because I’ve come to appreciate that other road users, and I’m including pedestrians in this sub-set, can be neatly divided into two groups: those that ride a bike and those that don’t. The problems lie with the latter group. Not a day goes by when I narrowly avoid being knocked off my bike by the rash actions of a motorised vehicle or a pedestrian. I largely avoid disaster because I don’t cycle particularly fast, spot danger looming and take evasive action. My average speed in an urban environment hovers around 22-25km/hour. I’m a tortoise not a hare!
I never continue to be amazed by the number of vehicles, in their rush to get wherever they’re going, who are quite happy to place my life in peril rather than slow down and allow me to pass by safely. A classic is the right-hand turn. I’m approaching one, so I signal to the oncoming traffic, and that behind me, I’m going straight on. This seems to be the equivalent of a call to arms as vehicles rev their engines and drivers apply feet to accelerator pedals in an effort to overtake me and then turn right into my oncoming path. Would they do that if I were another vehicle? Before you answer, remember we’re talking about France here, the country with one of the highest rates of mortality on the roads.
The answer is that it depends on the right hand turn. If there’s a slip road, then the turn’s large so, if there’s room to squeeze in front, they will: likewise with a scooter or motor bike. Accounting no doubt for the high level of two-wheeled fatalities. Of course, as you cycle across these
death traps yawning chasms, motorists have two choices: slow down and then turn behind you or speed up and cut in front. Now, I don’t think it’s going to take a genius to work out their generally preferred option.
We’ve covered traffic turning right, but what about traffic exiting right. With the exception of roads clearly marked ” GIVE WAY TO RIGHT” albeit in French, I have right of way on my bicycle. I know because I’ve checked in the French version of the Highway Code. However, it’s as if other road users have applied a ruling of their own, a sort of I know there’s a big fat white line telling me to stop but as it’s only a cyclist I can just nip out. The ones I particularly dislike are those who’ve stopped, looked in your direction, waited and then shot out at the last moment narrowly missing your front wheel. Did they not see me, or did they see me surreptitiously feathering the brakes? Who knows?
I should add that this group is particularly dangerous on roundabouts. In France, pay no heed to where cars are positioned on a road, they’ll pretty much always opt for the shortest queue. Yes, I’m turning first right at the roundabout but I’m in the shortest queue on the left-hand side of the road, generally reserved for those turning left or maybe straight-on. This means if the car on the right-hand side isn’t turning right, equally possible, I’m going to cut him up as I turn right. For the cyclist these are the most dangerous as they need to get across quickly to avoid hitting the car on their inside, they’re not on our radar and they’re paying us no heed whatsoever!
Now, what about oncoming traffic turning left across my bows. Regular readers will know that I’ve been knocked off my bike twice. Both times by inattentive lady drivers. In both instance, I had right of way and they were in the wrong. However a sense of righteous injustice won’t save my life. Luckily my ample padding saved me from anything more serious than cuts and bruises.
Lack of speed however does not apply when I’m descending. Again those additional kilos and my fast wheels help me drop like a stone. Similarly, concentration, awareness and keeping over to my side of the road have seen me stay largely upright, safe and sound. Of course, I also generally ride on roads I know really well which helps enormously. I tend to more cautious when dealing with the unknown.
What about those pesky pedestrians? Indeed, they will happily step out in front of cyclists. Why oh why? You wouldn’t step out in front of a speeding car, so why step out in front of a speeding cyclist? Many zebra crossings in France are controlled by traffic lights. So, do they wait until the light turns green before stepping into the road. Hell no, they step into the road and then freeze in the middle of the lane. This leaves me in a quandary, which way are they going to move? It’s often hard to tell whether they’re going to rashly push on or rapidly retreat.
I have practised emergency braking with my coach but I can’t stop on a sixpense certainly not when I’ve just come barreling down a hill at top speed. I have nightmares about headlines saying “Speeding Cyclist Crushes Pensioners” except, of course, it would be in French and probably say something along the lines of “Une grosse cycliste britannique écrase les petits retraités françaises”.