AS BIKERS, we appreciate our vulnerability. Being 'at risk' is a part of our lifestyle we all accept and often embrace but that doesn't mean we don't get it wrong. Motorcycles can be dangerous but the number of bikers dying in accidents continues to decrease and has been on a downward trend for a few years.
Cycling on the other hand is becoming more dangerous. Cycling deaths are at a 5-year high, with 122 people killed in the UK last year. I find that amazing because you can barely break 30mph on a pushbike and therefore have plenty of time to read the situtation, yet many can't.
We're doing our bit.
As a biker, I support our seemingly endless fight against more legislation. I like freedom and the ability to choose. At the same time, I'm glad we have to wear helmets. You could argue that I can't have it both ways. In my mind, putting on a helmet every day is a reminder that I'm not taking the dog out for a walk.
The point is, the majorty of us accept we're at risk and accept we have to mitigate those risks as best we can. Threats from Europe to introduce horsepower limits have been (except in France's case) just threats but it's obviously kicked the wheels of our industry into action. Improved safety features from ABS to traction control, tyres that warm-up faster and offer more grip and less costly quality protective clothing must have all contributed to the number of casualties falling and that can only be a good thing.
Is it really your birthright?
However when it comes to cycling, when anyone talks about safety, the reaction from core-cyclists and cycling lobbies appears very similar to the reaction of the National Rifle Association in America when anyone talks about gun control. It comes down to various versions of: 'it's our birthright'.
It seems to me that it's a cyclist's right in the UK to do whatever they choose to and that everyone should be looking out for them. If accidents are on the rise, then it's everybody else who should be looking out for cyclists and not cyclists looking out for everyone else. Some great examples here and here.
As a London commuter on both bicycles and motorcycles, I have a different view. I think it's about time cyclists put pressure on each other to improve their ability on their bike, awareness on the road and adherence to the law.
Being responsible for yourself is easy but what about respecting other road users?
Every day I see cyclists running red lights; they've decided it's safe to do so but if we all decided what was safe on the road, we'd be in downtown Calcutta. I see cyclists with iPods in; completely disconnecting them from the real world. How can cutting off one of your senses improve your chances of not getting into a situation you can't get out of?
In my own experience, London cyclists are prickly characters. When I've mentioned to cyclists about jumping reds or riding in a way that means other road users have to compensate for them, I've been told to 'fuck off' and the cyclist often says 'I can do what I like'. And they can, because no-one can really do anything about it.
Whether I've been on a push bike or a motorcyle, the reaction from cyclists is often the same. I see cyclists massively overreacting to not-that-dangerous situations because they're not used to risk and they don't like when they sense their mortality. A wing-mirror often pays the price.
I think the trouble lies with bicycles not being a big part of most people's lives. Whereas in our world, if you ride a motorcycle or a scooter, you're a 'biker' and you think about your mortality more than the average person in the street. If you ride a push-bike you probably don't think of yourself as a 'cyclist' and are therefore distant to the casualty statistics. It could never be you, oh no, you are much better than the average.
Cyclists need to be accountable
I'm not sure cyclists are aware of the real world risks, which is why I think all cyclists should require a licence which they get once they've passed a test. This test would increase their awareness of risk, make them think about ways they could be safer and this would be a decent step towards improving the general standard of cycling in the UK. If you get caught running a red light for instance, you get points on your licence, just as you would in any other vehicle. Cyclists like referring to the law when it suits them and ignoring it when it doesn't. Every other road user is bound by the laws of the land.
With improved safety and the banning of careless cyclists, gradually, cycling-related deaths would decrease. The trouble is, I'm not sure anyone has the courage to change the average cyclist's mindset. It's not always the cyclist's fault but I'm convinced cyclists think it's never their fault.
Should cyclists require a licence? What do you think?