Over the years of cycling, I have developed the habit of shouting ‘careful!’ at any danger, annoyance or inconsiderate user of the roads. There are a lot worse things to shout out. It gets the point across without being too confrontational. It has become such an ingrained habit, it happens without thinking. On many occasions, it is really important to shout to raise awareness. A bell can be too slow or quiet. But shouting “Careful!” has definitely woken up some drivers, pedestrians or other cyclists who weren’t paying attention. Mostly, it goes down quite well. The other day I was cycling through town, I shouted ‘careful’ at a driver, and she stopped and waved to say thank you. I am always pleasantly surprised when people thank you – rather than shouting back.
It doesn’t always go down perfectly. I was cycling in Headington and a cyclist was cycling the wrong way the road. I had to swerve out into the road to miss him, so I shouted ‘careful’. In response, he very nicely said: “**** off”.
I inwardly said to myself ‘Welcome to Brexit Britain!’ – which kind of made me laugh so I didn’t get too annoyed. It is a funny trait of human nature that when we wrong somebody – we can simultaneously blame them and be angry at them – even though it is our fault. The worst abuse I have received on the roads is from people who have nearly run me over because of their lack of care. I should say this is very rare given the kilometers I have cycled over the past few decades.
Mostly using the roads is stress-free. I ride defensively and with an attitude of avoiding trouble. Rather than getting annoyed at bad driving, I try to anticipate it and concentrate on staying calm. For example, in Oxford, there are few mini roundabouts and junctions where for some reason, people struggle to implement the usual laws of the road and at places they should give way – they assume it is straight on or don’t look properly. For example, there is a four-way junction near my house, and I know a couple of accidents have happened there having cycled past them. I am always extra cautious there and try to catch the drivers eye before proceeding. Also, sometimes, it is a matter of avoiding certain roads.
Taking the river cycle path into town has really revolutionised my daily commute, I can’t believe I cycled on the roads for 18 years when there was such a nice detour. Also, when coming back from longer rides, I tend to ride down the back of Cowley Road, which is always a source of hazards.
If you read some media, you can get the impression the roads are a bit of warzone with constant conflict. But, that is not my experience. There are some dangers which are beyond our control, but I feel a good portion of our experience on roads is within our ability to influence.
I always think of the time I went cycling with a friend who had a very hot-temper. It was torture cycling with him; he was always finding reasons to shout at cars and get really mad. It seemed like he seemed to attract incidents and dangers. The first time, I put it down to bad luck, but when it was just as bad the second time, I put it down to his way of riding and shouting.