Dr. Hutch: Pass the test

Road safety has been back in the news in the last week or so.

It’s been that special sort of road safety that involves condemning the victims for their soft vulnerability, an irritating characteristic they deliberately developed with the specific intention of making themselves more liable to being damaged by fast-moving, lumps of metal.

The latest suggestion, from an insurance firm, is (or perhaps was – last week they seem to be backing away from it) called Share the Road. The center-piece is the idea that cyclists should have to pass a test and be issued with a licence before being allowed to ride on the road.

A bit of historical context might help you sympathise with the insurer’s point of view. In the 1930s, the death toll on the British roads caused by bad driving led to the introduction of a compulsory test to improve driving standards. Now, eighty years later, the death toll on the British roads caused by bad driving is to be addressed by teaching everyone else to get the hell out of the way.

I have to say that my ten-year-old self, as I cycled round the quiet roads of rural Northern Ireland, would have loved having to produce a cycling licence to show to curious policemen. My sister, on the other hand, would never have been out of jail.

Testing times
Idle reminiscence aside, this plan obviously leads us to wonder what would be in a practical cycling test. There will have to be some simple stuff – like bunny-hopping onto the pavement so that you can avoid denting the underside of the bus that’s forcing you off the road. Though of course that simple act produces the knock-on complication that we’ll then need to subject elderly pedestrians to a walking-test so that they can get out of our way in turn – but remember, blame always trickles downwards to the most vulnerable.

It will need to cover the simple art of telepathy, so you can know when a driver at a junction who has quite clearly looked straight at you is going to pull out in front of you anyway. The same skill will mean you can brake in time to avoid being hit by a vehicle that, despite the undoubted skill of its pilot, overtakes you and immediately turns left across your path.

The final part of the instruction and examination process will need to be the development of Arse-Radar. Arse-Radar is the technique you use to detect vehicles approaching from behind that are being driven by people taking utterly essential phone-calls and who, naturally, cannot be expected to pay any attention to what’s happening through the big window in front of them. It’s used in conjunction with the Arse-Bag technique, where the rider protects both himself and the driver by an instantaneous (and, I suspect, involuntary) inflation of the shorts to provide a cushioning effect.

The actual point of all this is a simple one. I don’t object at all to the idea that training will help people be safer on bikes, of course I don’t. I’m more than happy to welcome the suggestion, also from Share the Road, that the actual driving test could include elements designed to help protect bike riders – though they stop short of the obvious requirement that before you can drive you should have held a ‘cycling licence’ for, let’s say, five years.

What I do object to is the victim-blaming. Very few cyclists who are killed or injured were doing something wrong. I have several friends whose riding was beyond reproach, who got run down by irresponsible idiots – drunk, or on the phone, or asleep at the wheel. What we’re talking about here is the equivalent of ‘solving’ domestic violence by giving vulnerable women self-defence classes. It’s an insult.

How To… Celebrate

The traditional arms-in-the-air celebration crossing the line is not as old as you probably think. Well into the 1960s, riders often kept both hands on the bars, and limited their pyrotechnics to a quietly satisfied smile. As recently as the 1990s, Bradley Wiggins got a ticking off from a commissaire in West London for taking his hands off the bars to celebrate winning a junior race.

There are two golden rules about a successful celebration. The first is, don’t try it unless you can actually ride hands-off. If you usually fall over when you take your hands off the bars, you can pretty much guarantee that you won’t have been magically blessed with the skill just because you’re winning a town-sign sprint. You will never forget a mid-celebration face-plant, and nor, more to the point, will anyone else.

Second, make sure you’ve actually won. Former multiple Tour points winner Erik Zabel had his hands in the air to celebrate winning the 2004 Milan-San Remo, when Oscar Freire squirted past under his right arm. So not only did he lose, he looked a bit of a tit. And last week at Vuelta stage 3, Marcos Garcia gave us all a bit of a laugh when he celebrated winning the sprint for, ahem, 4th in a manner that was going to be very, very hard to explain away afterwards as a new sort of shoulder stretch.

Acts of Cycling Stupidity

As I rode home the other evening, just when dusk was falling, I beheld one of the oddest sights I’ve ever seen. It was a very fat man, perhaps inspired by the Olympics, running. That’s not the odd bit. The odd bit is that he was wearing a pair of board-shorts… and a sports bra. To be fair, the sports bra was doing good service.

Now it seems to me that this man was outstandingly in need of a bicycle. The lower impact of the exercise, the effortless speed, the gentle cooling breeze that would have allowed him to wear a shirt, and above all the lack of jiggling up and down. I’m going to see if the village committee might like to have a whip round and buy him a bike. I know just the person to sell them one as well.

This article was first published in the August 30 issue of Cycling Weekly. You can also read our magazines on Zinio and download from the Apple store.