Take it easy

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20151020-0060-250@2xA friend recently posted (via Facebook) a link to a story as a warning to his dog-walking friends about a serious threat posed by cyclists.

It’s a story about a cyclist who was seriously injured after tussling with a dog on a lead. The dog owner eventually wound up paying out £65,000, which was the point of my friend’s warning. But I think there are more profound lessons here, too.

I don’t know enough about the specifics of this case to pass any judgment on either the cyclist or the dog owner. Nor will I waste time here speculating about the (generalised) social evil of ambulance-chasing lawyers.

I will say that the only people who come out well from these situations are the lawyers, who end up neither injured nor out of pocket.

The basics of the story are these: the cyclist was on a training ride with others. He approached a gaggle of people. He rang his bell. As he passed the people, a dog on a retractable lead ran across the cyclist’s path. He came off and sustained a fractured skull, among other injuries. He has, according to his law firm’s blog post, “permanent hearing damage in his right ear, cranial contusion, haematoma, fracture to his right clavicle, fractured right ribs and a number of cuts and bruises.”

(The link I’ve provided is to a Google cached version of the post. For whatever reason, the law firm has since removed the post. Apparently, there is also a Daily Mail story about the incident, but I won’t link to that on principle.)

Like I said, all I know of this incident is from that blog post written by the cyclist’s lawyers. So I’m not going to say anything more about that specific incident. But it does raise some general thoughts.

And the most important of these is that your safety is your own responsibility.

Cyclists have certain rights (and would like a lot more). Some of those rights are legal, others might be classed as ethical or moral – such as wanting courtesy from other road users. But insisting on your rights to the point of endangering yourself is stupid and wrong.

As a cyclist, if I see a group of people ahead and know that I’m going to have to pass close to them, I slow down. If there are dogs or small children, I slow right down. In fact, I make sure I can stop very quickly, and I’m quite prepared (and happy) to walk the bike past them. I don’t insist on being able to ride past – and I certainly don’t insist on being able to ride past quickly – even if I’m on a bike path.

Why? Because if something goes wrong, I’m the one that’s going to be hurt.

As dog owners, Trish and I restrain and control our dogs when encountering other people, even if we’re somewhere where there’s no requirement to have the dogs on a lead (ie, where we have the right to have the dogs off-lead). Why? Because we believe in being considerate to others, and we don’t want our dogs to get hurt.

If you browse the cycling forums or YouTube, you’ll quickly encounter cyclists who bitch loudly about having to slow down or generally be considerate to non-cyclists. YouTube offers up any number of clips from cyclists with helmet cams who present their accidents as proof that the world is anti-cyclist. In fact, the clips often reveal that the cyclists themselves are acting in an aggressive and selfish way.

(As a side note, I have a strong suspicion that some people who install helmet or bike cameras are actually looking for trouble. I think they have a point they want to make and won’t be happy until they have footage showing how they are right about the menace of dogs, cars or whatever particular bug it is they have up their ass.)

Maybe it is inconvenient to slow down or stop. It might interfere with your training schedule or add a little to your commute time. But you know what? So what?

To be clear, I’m talking about a very small minority of cyclists here. But they are highly vocal and, I believe, tarnish the image of cyclists as a whole.

They seem to have a grossly inflated sense of entitlement. Maybe it’s because cycling is, on the whole, a good thing. It’s good for your health. It’s good for the environment. We all know the arguments. But this leads, I feel, to a small fraction of cyclists getting a perverted sense of their ‘rights’. And they have a somewhat charmless way of insisting on them.

Thankfully, this is balanced by more level heads. I saw one YouTube clip recently that showed a cyclist in the UK narrowly missing a couple of pedestrians who were crossing the road and then colliding with a right-turning car. On Facebook, the comments were filled with fuming cyclists whingeing about the pedestrians and car driver. But on a leading cycling forum, where these opinions were echoed by some commenters, they were significantly outnumbered by others who pointed out the cyclist’s excess speed, unwillingness to accommodate the easily seen pedestrians and lack of caution concerning the car (which was already positioned in the middle of the road and whose driver probably couldn’t see the cyclist because of the people crossing the road).

And that lack of caution is the critical thing. Because even if you’re in the right, even if you have the legal and moral high ground, that’s going to be of little comfort when your skull is cracked open. A sense of entitlement needs to be leavened with some common sense.

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