If you spend any amount of time on social media or online news sites looking at subjects that are even vaguely related to cycling (or often, not even tenuously linked to it) , you’ll very quickly come to the conclusion that cyclists are the devil’s spawn, who eat babies and kick kittens. Not because they are. Cyclists are just normal people who instead of getting in a car or using public transport, or god-forbid their heathen souls, walk to go somewhere, have decided to travel on a bike. They don’t change personality because they’ve left their car keys hanging up and lift their leg over a bike, but various commentators would have you believe this. During this anti-cyclist tirade it is not uncommon to raise the three mainstays of the cycling opposition party portfolio, tax, insurance and law breaking. I’m going to ignore the first two for the purposes of this discussion. I’m also going to largely ignore the general lawlessness, or not, of cyclists. (Personally I see way more drivers breaking the law than cyclists but everyone has their own experiences).
The issues of law breakers is an interesting one at a principle level because cyclists in the UK (and this may be the case globally) may lift their leg over a bike without any formal training whatsoever, and head off along a public carriageway causing mayhem, death, crushed dreams and heart attacks as they meander aimlessly without rigid guidance provided to them by the authorities. Valiant drivers will apparently crash their cars into flocks of old ladies just to avoid these callous menaces (because presumably the brake pedals don’t work) and all because there is no mandatory cycle training and test that allows someone to pilot what is clearly the most dangerous machine known to man, a 30lb bicycle.
Why are cyclists allowed to terrorise the law abiding drivers of Britain in this way? Drivers have to be trained extensively and must pass an incredibly difficult test before they are allowed to drive a car. This is what makes them paragons of virtue. Their detailed training and examination (the COP would have you believe), ensures that even if they wanted to, drivers are not able to make a single solitary mistake. This is what marks drivers out from cyclists who are unregulated, ungoverned and even worse, not accountable. Any driver who has been trained and tested, will commit hari-kari if they go even 1mph above the posted speed limit. (After pulling over safely and not parking on the pavement)
Why is this even allowed? Physics. That’s why.Well not just physics, I may mention externals later. but lets talk about physics.
Here’s…errm, Jon. He’s on a bike. He’s not been bike trained or tested (I have but bear with me), he is liable to kill someone at any moment because without it being drummed into him through a rigid, formalised and commercially viable training program, he has absolutely no idea about what he’s doing. Honestly, it’s like giving him a machine gun or a chainsaw
The thing is, despite Jon being completely out of control, he only weighs 13 stone (sorry, 182lb) plus his bike which makes him 200lb. A 200lb bullet just ready to kill. Jon can make his bike go quite fast because he cycles a lot but on average, he moves at around 14mph. A 14mph bullet. If Jon careers into someone at 14mph on his reckless spree of abandonment (every morning jon kisses his wife goodbye, she never knows if the next time she’ll see him he’ll be in a coffin), Jon will stop moving, pronto. Really, physics aside, the person most likely to be hurt if Jon cannons into them, is Jon. That’s because Jon and his bike are slow and light, traffic-wise. Jon has what we call ‘low momentum’. If Jon were to aim his machine of death at a house, Jon would probably die and the house wouldn’t even notice it. Don’t forget, all these scenario’s only unfold because Jon is an unpredictable ninja of doom without training and testing.
OK? Right, here’s errrm, Dave. Dave has been through a tight series of controls called ‘the driving test’. To pass this test, Dave was first trained by a
bored and cynical relative highly trained driving instructor to an extremely proficient level before having to navigate what is probably one of the most difficult examinations normal people have to undertake, ‘the driving test’. This training apparently takes, on average, about 40 hours. That’s like a week of being in work. The test can be longer than half an hour. After this, Dave is deemed fit to drive anything with 3 or 4 wheels that weighs less than 3.5 tons. If Dave were as old as Jon he’d be able to drive something up to 7.5 tons. So in Dave’s capable hands, we have 7900lbs of Dave and incredibly well managed metal. Dave is allowed to go up to 70mph (but no further) but spends most of his time sitting in a great big queue of traffic. I mean his average speed is 30mph. Hang on, the RAC says here that the average speed on 30mph free flowing roads is 30mph. Given that there are many times people must drop below the speed limit, this must mean lots of people exceed the speed limit? But they’ve been trained… No, must be a mistake. Anyway, 30mph average in a 7900lb vehicle. That’s what we call in traffic terms, ‘high momentum’. If Dave drives into a house, the house will most certainly notice it. But Dave will never drive into a house because he’s been trained and tested. Dave never needs to take his test again because of the incredibly high standard of training he received when he was 17. Male humans at age 17 are very mature people. Not mature enough to drink in public or own a credit card but taking 3.5 tons of metal through a shopping centre? No problem.
This is fun, what’s next. Aah, Jane. Jane has taken and passed her HGV license. Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGV’s), are quite big. And heavy, if it’s not clear. I’m surprised Jane even bothered to be honest. The insanely laborious and difficult hoops that Jane must jump through before she’s permitted to get behind the wheel of something weighing up to 44 tons!!!! Lets assume Jane only wants to drive lorries up to 30 tons though. To reach this, the pinnacle of driving expertise, Jane must not only pass her normal driving test but then must pass 4! Count them, FOUR more tests before she is allowed out delivering goods. It’s like the Krypton factor! All lorry drivers must have an above average IQ or something. At least. She must also receive 35 hours of training every five years as well as getting fitness to drive certificates every five years (once she’s over 45). Well, I don’t think anyone could be that well trained, do you? That’s almost as much training as I have to do every year so I can put letters after my name. Phew!
Anyway, 30 tons is 66,000 lbs (we’ll ignore Jane’s weight because I’m a gentleman and to be quite frank, it makes chuff all difference). Jane is allowed to deliver heavy goods at the same speed cars go so that’s a 30mph average. This is known in traffic terms as ‘like a bus momentum’. If in the impossible event that Jane drives her lorry into a house or a bridge I expect the house or lorry would cease to exist in it’s current form. But as I say, that never happens due to the galactic levels of training involved.
Jon’s momentum = 200 x 14 = 2800 lbs m/h
Dave’s momentum = 7900 x 30 = 23700 lbs m/h
Jane’s momentum = 66000 x 30 = 1980000 lbs m/h
Those are significantly different figures aren’t they? Momentum can be translated into risk quite easily. The bigger the momentum number, the more risk the vehicle represents. Since unfettered cyclists can in no way provide a baseline, we’ll have to use the car and lorry figures to help us understand where cycling needs to rest on the training graph.
Oh. Well as far as I can gather while I look at the maths (and bear with me, I’m no lorry driver), this means that for cyclists to be trained to an equivalent level as other road users, we’d have to mash them in the head with a large brick, put a blindfold on them and then push them through a red light. Physics explains everything doesn’t it?
This is why cyclists don’t need training, a test or a certificate to let them ride on the road. They are the harmless sloths of our road system. Yes they can be annoying when they do break the rules and yes, very, very occasionally they get involved in something unfortunate and hurt or kill someone else. These are terrible incidents but don’t for one minute claim that training will change this. If you’re already in fear of your life, and trust me, a great many cyclists are, then explaining to you carefully that cars can squish you flat and not even slow down, is not going to encourage you to share space with them. In fact, it’s more likely to encourage you to break the rules, get on the pavement and annoy people.
We simply do not give enough education and training *of the right type* to the Dave’s and even Jane’s of this world because as we can see, they keep killing people. If you want to talk about training, talk about regular re-testing of car drivers, talk about removing the license to operate from those people who display an inability to manage their high momentum vehicles and talk about sorting out the particularly unpleasant aspects of our traffic system before you even consider discussing something you find annoying.
Yes, yes, I know that risk is a lot more complex than just momentum. Lorries have bigger brakes and wheels and things, bikes are harder to see and hear.