Let me say at the very beginning of this post that I am an enthusiastic cyclist. I want more and safer provision for bikes (at the expense of cars if need be). I would like it to be easier to take bikes on trains (instead of being banned at peak times, and hardly welcomed at others – there’s no place to put them after all). And when taxi drivers give me the “anti-bike speech” in Cambridge, I tend to get very frosty.
So please don’t attack me as if I was an enemy of two wheels. But this week, with thousands of new students in town, the streets have been full of clever young people apparently intent on killing themselves. The problem I imagine is that everyone knows that a bike is the way that students get around town, so almost every fresher gets one – though I’d say, from casual observation, that about 50% haven’t actually done any serious cycling since they were still using stabilisers aged c. 6.
On Friday I happened to be in the town centre just after 1.00, when there had been a mass exodus from lectures. There was partly peril in the sheer numbers.
One junction (between Pembroke Street and Trumpington St) was entirely clogged by a mass of learner cyclists apparently not having a clue who had right of way and where (to be fair it isn’t all that clear), and in dangerous proximity to the passing cars.
And just a bit earlier I had followed another novice who actually couldn’t start her bike in Regent St and was wobbling violently across the road (I strongly suspected that she hadn’t quite understood the gears). At my age, I feel torn between shouting words to the effect of “you’ll bloody kill yourself” and coming over all granny like and offering a bit of gear advice).
Our local MP is currently right behind a Lib Dem proposal to make it automatic for a motorist to be held liable for any collisions with a bike unless it can be proved that the cyclist was at fault. You can see the point. I mean it’s very hard for a cyclist to kill another road user, and conversely very easy for a driver. And it really is up to the motorist to take account of the conditions in which they are driving – even if that includes wobbly cyclists.
But venturing out on Friday I really did feel a bit like a mountain rescue team must feel when they have rescued someone from Ben Nevis in December clad in trainers and plastic mac. Walking/cycling is great, but BE PREPARED.
And just before you excellent student journalists decide to run a headline that says “Prof slams student bikers”… remember I am not “slamming” them at all. I am just letting off a little steam, safe in the knowledge that students are very quick learners, and in a couple of weeks most of them will be a lot nimbler on two wheels than I am.