Working for the AA can get you into hottish water from time to time. There are those who contact me on a fairly regular basis about the behaviour of cyclists. A lot of people have a lot to say about badly behaved cyclists on our roads and a few suggest colourful and rather draconian punishments for them.
There is the other side as well – plenty of cyclists have encountered obnoxious and dangerous car drivers. I have seen mini road rage incidents on both sides, including cars deliberately splashing cyclists through puddles or blasting them with horns. I’ve also seen a spandex-psycho kicking a car wing-mirror in retribution for something or other, which is unforgiveable.
This tends to be a winter phenomenon. The most common complaints about cyclists are that they mount footpaths, break red lights and are not properly lit. I know that every autumn we go at it again, trying to persuade cyclists to light up properly and trying to get motorists to treat them with a bit more sympathy.
Generally I’m thinking about cyclists as commuters. They commute in the summer as well, but the dangers are not quite as acute. There is more daylight and generally better weather. Having said that, I’m about to cycle home myself and as I type I can see a smouldering angry sky outside my window. No doubt I will get drenched.
But in fact summer brings out leisure and sporting cyclists in increasing numbers these days. On weekends if you are taking a drive in any of the popular tourist areas, you will see plenty of them.
Dressed in lycra and looking the part, they are often on very expensive and very fast machines. They travel singly and they travel in groups. You can have an enthusiastic peloton pumping away towards you, so you pull in carefully and let them by. A bend or two further on and you come across single riders who are strays from the group.
There are areas that are very popular. I live in the shadow of the Dublin mountains and at weekends those hilly, twisty roads up to and down from the viewing points are thick with them. The Hill of Howth in the north of the capital is popular as well. You will also meet them in volumes on the scenic by-roads of the west.
All of which is great. Healthy and colourful and to be encouraged, but also dangerous. I was contacted last month by an AA member who had a near miss with a sporting cyclist in Glendalough. The guy was streaking down a hill at a blistering pace and it was more luck than judgement that prevented him from smashing into the side of the car.
Cycling in Ireland is actually very safe, thankfully. I know that parents are often very worried about their kids on the road and disappointingly the number of students cycling to school is way down. But in fact our collision data shows that we have a very good record compared to most other countries. Our cities – believe it or not – are among the safest in the world for cyclists.
Even so there are tragedies. Every year about two per cent of road deaths involve bicycles and sadly there have been three already this year.
As we get into the summer season it is worth drivers reflecting on this and trying to be a bit more bike-aware. Picnic spots, scenic roads, tourist areas – all of these are hot-spots for sporting cyclists. The next bend in the road could conceal a bunch of them.
And tor the cyclists - please think about what you are doing. It is a great sport and good luck, but remember you are not on closed roads. You will meet cars and coaches, pedestrians and kids. It may be a glorious feeling streaking down a hill that took you ages to pump your way up, but you don’t have as much control as a car and you are much, much more vulnerable.