Perception of Perception

Ooh, it’s a bit chilly today.¬†I’m glad i’m able to drive to work.

It’s nice being in a car, there’s this layer of glass and metal between me and the outside, keeps me safe and warm. If you’ve got a really nice car it may have been designed and built to keep out as much of the outside world as possible. I know mine has, it’s a reasonably modern, fairly slick version, ever so quiet inside. Bit of a scrub of the front window, I’ll let the heating do the rest. Off we go. I see what’s behind me by looking in my mirror, it’s a bit hard because the rear window is covered in frost but i’m fairly sure there’s nothing there. I do look over my shoulder briefly because I’m a very safe driver but the roof pillars are pretty hefty, as I say, it’s a modern car, safety of the occupants is paramount. Well, apart from the BOSE radio. That’s pretty important too and is pumping out some awesome tunes right now.

Nothing coming, here we go… ARRRGGHHH!!!! WHERE THE SHIT DID THAT CYCLIST COME FROM!!!! Bloody cyclists! They’re their own worst enemies, ducking and diving in and out of cars when they can’t see around them properly. Lucky for him I didn’t hit him but it would have been his fault if I had, it’s hard to see what’s going on with all this frost about and everything.

And now, here I am, sat in a queue. i might be warm and listen to some rocking sounds but one disadvantage of driving to work is the queues of traffic. WOOAHH! There goes another cyclist, he just came from nowhere. I couldn’t see him at all until he was right alongside the car. They’re crazy! How can they possibly know what’s going on??? Honestly, they’re their own worst enemies.

Almost at work now, just got to turn into the works carpark, need to be quick though, loads of traffic about, quick glance around , turn, OH MY GOD!!! That’s cyclist just appeared in front of me!!!! Honestly, they’re their own worst enemies! Now wonder they’re always getting killed!

It’s a commonly expressed opinion. ‘That cyclist just came from nowhere’. We even see presumably intelligent and mature transport leaders telling us that cyclists are their own worst enemies as National Express CEO, Sir John Armitt told us yesterday¬†, while simultaneously being told one of his coaches was currently trying to squash a cyclist and completely and utterly missing the point that segregated cycleways will resolve this issue his poor drivers have to deal with.

But are cyclists actually their own worst enemies? I know I rarely feel the desire to throw myself under 20 tons of moving metal but perhaps I’m the exception. We only ever hear of this issue from people sat in their vehicles. Taken from a cyclists point of view, are their actions actually tantamount to self-harm? If we ignore this ridiculous notion that cyclists ‘have a death wish’ because arguably anyone who chooses to cycle to work rather than sit in a tin box has more desire for life, and also that they’re somehow less observant and risk aware than the vehicle occupying population, are cyclists simply courting the grim reaper himself by the way they behave on the roads?

Lets begin that journey again, from a cyclists perspective.

I love cycling to work, it’s a great start to the day. Fresh air, exercise, no queueing, no stressful traffic, brilliant. What’s great about cycling is you’re totally immersed in the environment you’re passing through. No glass between you and the outside world, no sound protection, no frost on your eyes. You can see, hear and small everything. You can even feel the change in air movements as vehicles pass you BEFORE they pass you. It’s a very engaging experience and you’re very aware of everything going on around you. For example, you become far more accustomed to moving your head around to maintain contact with risks, there’s no alternative but to constantly check over your shoulder and because small things can be hazards, you’re accutely aware of every tiny thing that’s happening. An empty cornflakes box blowing in the wind contacts your periphery. You’re also critically aware of your increased vulnerability to those encased in a ton of steel and will always take action to mitigate this increased risk.

So when you’re riding along and you see a car running (you note the exhaust and the engine noise), with its windows frosted, that’s a warning. When you see the car start to move you can fully anticipate it’s full, lumbering path and can quite easily avoid any impact. You’re also viewing things from much higher with no obstructions to vision, you can see in every direction for about 3 miles and so are aware of so much more activity in the vicinity. So that car that’s starting to pull out, you can avoid it without any great issue.

Now you’ve reached a queue of traffic. As an experienced rider you’ll be aware of certain key factors to watch out for such as people opening doors, trying to pull out of the queue and deciding to turn down a sideroad despite not indicating but queues are largely things that can be passed at speed with no great increase in risk. You can see a long way ahead, you can see where the queue is moving and where it is not, you can see where the gaps are forming and where you should enter the traffic flow safely. It obviously may not have appeared this way to those people in the queue.

Now you’re near work, any experienced cyclist will tell you this is where the risk increases, people are almost there and are often less likely to look properly because they’re already thinking about being in the office. A guy ahead is indicating right in front of you, you can see where he’s going and you can see all the traffic that will interact with him. Has he seen you? He’s just glanced and you’re going to have to flick round him to avoid danger.

Clearly someone cycling with a higher viewpoint, clearer fields of view and a more immersive appreciation of everything that is going on in the area is going to be able to navigate that environment quicker and with less stress than those who receive a sterilised version of it. Furthermore someone cycling will be often able to anticipate issues way in advance of someone in a vehicle and given their increased vulnerability, produce a strategy that mitigates that risk. Any proposal that suggests they may do otherwise defies belief.

Cyclists don’t place themselves in increasingly risky situations and ‘become a danger to themselves’ although it may appear so to the restrictive, sanitised perception presented to someone strapped to an immovable chair in an encased cockpit in an deadened environment. To believe this is to accept that motorised vehicles provide the most interactive experience of transports whereas anyone who both cycles and drives, someone who experiences both ends of the scale, will tell you this is utter nonsense. Driving simply places you in a viewing room from where seeing someone shooting past on a bike is bound to make them appear impossibly fleeting and agile.

Which of course, they are.