Emma Silversides is a professional cyclist for the Lotto Belisol team and is based in Belgium. Here she shares her insight into the continental women’s scene.

I have deviated from the Belgian theme for some weeks now and feel a little guilty about this; when first asked to write the blog it was specifically supposed to be about ‘the women’s scene in Belgium’. So this week I am going to make an attempt to at least begin to get back on track with a sprinkling of Belgian influence.

I have in fact spent the last two weeks in Yorkshire working full time for an American optical company. My daily commute to work consists of 14km on quiet country lanes followed by a further 9km taking me from the south of York, right through the centre, up to the north of the city, and out the other side.

I was completely unprepared for the endless dangers that face me (and indeed all the others who opt to commute by bike) every morning and evening. I have come to the conclusion that I am being kept in the dark about two major things.

Firstly, the whereabouts of the roads that make York a ‘cycle city’; I am told that this is the case by the regional news programs and in the local papers. Seemingly my route to work, despite taking me from one side of York to the other, misses a major part of the city which qualifies it to be bike friendly.

Maybe all the 100 and 200-metre stretches of bike lanes total more than any other city in England thus making York a ‘cycle city’. Or maybe the fact that at the majority of lights a green box suddenly appears for cycles to wait in while the lights change; these are so helpful with their carpets of glass shards and impatient drivers collecting behind ready to race past at the soonest available opportunity.

And the second thing that I am being kept in the dark about? I can only guess it’s maybe a party, a free meal or the visit of a celebrity. Whatever it is, it happens every evening and you must be there on time and not a minute late. Oh, and only car drivers are admitted so get your foot on the accelerator and don’t lose a minute.

Where is the Belgian influence I hear you asking? Well I guess my ranting comes from growing accustomed to being treated with respect while riding my bike in Belgium; is that such a bad thing? In Belgium the verb to ride (as in a bike) is ‘rijden’. The verb to drive (as in a car) is ‘rijden’. Yes, they are the same, they are conjugated identically, and I think that this is no coincidence. Drivers of cars expect to share the road with ‘drivers’ of bikes, everyone abides by exactly the same rules and more often than not the cyclist takes priority. It really is quite simple and neither party complains.

I become so infuriated by the attitudes of drivers everyday and wonder if some of them have ever ridden a bike themselves; probably not. So here lies the route of the problem; it is sheer ignorance of the majority of the population and I must learn to curb my frustration since you cannot blame a person for being ill informed and inexperienced. The car takes priority over the bike and that’s how it’s simplified here in England. I am returning to Belgium next weekend; I cannot wait. I assure you that the blog will be about Belgium and women’s cycling!

  • Becky Fjelland Davis

    Sad to hear it. I think I was hoping all European cities were better than most places in the States. I have written a novel about some female cyclists that includes getting buzzed by a truck, and a couple publishers turned it down because they thought it was unrealistic, and “why would any driver treat cyclists like that?” The ignorance is universal, I fear. I love the idea of making all drivers ride a bike in traffic as part of the driver’s test! In the meantime, I’d like to move to Belgium, too.

  • Lisa

    Thats it, I’m moving to Belgium. Here in the states its just as bad.

  • mt

    As a cyclist living in a rural area I frequently find myself meeting cars going through lanes at 40mph, they leave the rider a yard to get through. A yard may just be enough but it’s hair-raising stuff. I was pondering why drivers might do this? What are they thinking as they see the bike rider approach? They are certainly not thinking about a cyclists vulnerability or safety. My best guess is that they ‘line you up’ as they would any potential impediment and if they can get the car through … well that’s fine. In short you the rider are not another human being but an object to be negotiated.
    Obviously this is but one of many situations which cyclists find themselves faced with and the one thing they all have in common is the driver’s lack of awareness. So – CYCLING should be made a part of the DRIVING TEST. Put them on a bike for, say, five 15 minute sessions, in traffic. When commuting by bike I strapped a length of plastic overflow pipe across the top of the pannier rack, it stuck out about 20 inches each side, put red flashing lights each end … suprising how much more space I was given by cars. I put that down to the fact that they thought they might scratch their vehicle … conversely it may have been that they lined up their passing manouvre using the light rather than my leg.

  • Mick

    Feeling your pain! But as someone who hasn’t known anything else, I have become used to it, and it is possible to predict the actions of the majority of drivers. Just expect them to do the worst, and you’ll likely be ok. (Now watch as I get marmalised on the road this weekend!) This naturally isn’t a justification for recklesness, and I too often wonder what delights await drivers who seem unable to wait a few seconds to ensure another humans safety. I also share the opinion that in the majority of cases it is inexperience and a lack of knowledge about how to behave around cyclists. Do schools still teach cycling proficiency? And why doesn’t the driving test focus a little more on this area, rather than teaching people where the oil and water caps (with oil and water usually written on them) are under the bonnet! We are supposed to be a nation embracing the bike. I don’t think so.

  • laura lancaster

    i know how you feel emma my mum lives in york and i go there every week to see her but if you think the car drivers are bad there you should try cycling in leeds i think the evel twins of the york driver live arownd leeds