You’ll have noticed the press reports last week about a cyclist on the M25. Newspapers just love a bike rider on a motorway; someone doing something illegal, stupid and dangerous that they can disapprove of.
It contrasts nicely with someone driving a flash motor down the outside lane at 90mph while yakking on a mobile phone, eating a sandwich and probably curling their eyelashes. That’s illegal, stupid and dangerous, but for some reason I can’t quite fathom, being allowed to do it is the essence of individual liberty. I assume there’s something about it in the Magna Carta but I haven’t checked.
But I believe that in time we will come to see this man very differently. Let us look dispassionately at a motorway hard shoulder. Since Rover went out of business, cars no longer break down, so the hard shoulder is going begging. With some suitable adaptations it would be perfect for cycling.
I’m thinking of some of those quaint little paintings of a bicycle on the road surface — the ones with the magic force field around them that means cars and lorries can’t drive in a bike-lane. Maybe for a little additional reassurance, we could also add a huge, aggressive, 40-ton-lorry proof fence.
Modern day pioneers
I admit I still haven’t quite worked out the slip road problem. The traditional solution to any minor difficulty in creating a cycling facility is, as we know, a forest of ‘Cyclists Dismount’ signs. That’s what our hero on the M25 did at the slip-roads, without any apparent puzzlement that there was nothing more helpful provided. (Though, of course, if we all took to standing about looking puzzled every time we came across a total absence of adequate cycling infrastructure, that’s how we’d pass most of our days.)
The police said that the cyclist was following an app on his phone that had suggested using the M25 as a shortcut. It’s not the first time such a thing has happened. Even in my, fairly rural, local area, last year someone turned onto a railway line at a level crossing, and drove for some distance before it dawned on them that this wasn’t quite right. And someone else with their nose on the sat-nav drove off a pier onto a ferry that wasn’t there. They realised their mistake quite a bit faster.
None of these events produced the thigh-slapping national mirth that greets a cyclist on a motorway. But, trust me, our hero will one day be seen by millions as the Christopher Columbus of the M25. After all, when Columbus discovered America he was also a) looking for a shortcut and b) irrecoverably lost.
In fact, our man was a bit smarter — when Columbus discovered America he actually thought he’d discovered India. He went to his grave without ever realising his error. M25-man was at least smart enough to recognise Heathrow when he saw it, and not mistake it for Windsor Castle.
As a bonus, I’m sure that with a bit of engineering it would be possible to design the lorry-proof barriers so that the slipstream from the traffic still makes it as far as the hard shoulder. So the riding will not only be flat and straight, it will have a permanent tailwind to flush you to wherever you want to go. There will be pumps installed every mile, along with a bench to sit on while you fix your puncture. I’m joking of course. There won’t be any punctures, because monkey butlers will sweep the bike path every hour. The monkey butlers will also hand up musettes full of drinks and food whenever you need it.
And we’ll owe it all to the man that the national press all branded as a ‘dangerous idiot’. Trust me, we will one day name towns after him.
How to … hand up a bottle
Handing up, or feeding, is the simple act of standing by the road and giving food and drink to a bike rider as they ride past without stopping. It’s not as easy as it looks on TV.
Do not hand up on a downhill stretch. Having a rider snatch food from you while he’s doing 75kph is like being strafed by a jet fighter. You will want to count your limbs afterwards, and there’s every chance that some of them will indeed be missing.
Remember to let go. Hold whatever you’re offering with a light grip, and release it immediately when the rider grabs it. More helpers than you would believe hold on for grim death, pull their rider off his bike, and emerge from the resulting kerfuffle still triumphantly clutching the bottle they were supposed to be giving away.
If you’re passing up a musette, do your best not to strangle any other team’s rider by swinging it out in front of them when they don’t expect it.
Some riders prefer their hander-upper to run, to reduce the closing speed. If you’re doing this uphill it is extremely easy to run faster than the rider. The danger of this is increased by the fact that it’s usually older riders who want their helpers to run. And they’re the least likely to think it’s funny.
Again, if you’re running, do it in a straight line. Many a helper, when looking over their shoulder, has started to run on a diagonal. This is especially entertaining if, after the hand over, they stop and turn round to find they’re standing in the middle of the road with a bunch bearing down upon them.
Acts of cycling stupidity
When I was a teenager, I used to take a shortcut down the UK’s shortest motorway, the 800-metre A8(M) near Belfast. It was very quiet, and saved riding what felt like miles along winding housing estate roads. Lots of people did the same. Well, some. OK, one or two of my equally stupid friends.
One winter day, riding along the hard shoulder in heavy sleet, I was stopped by the police. They told me off, instructed me not to do it again, loaded me and my bike into their car, and drove us to our destination for our own safety.
As a means of reinforcing negative behaviour, that kind of service takes some beating.