It happened. I rode again. Outside! And today the party continues. Good news too, the wind has changed direction, so I’m going the opposite way to yesterday – aiming north (with a face mask) to see what it’s like on the other side of the harbour. #TouristInMyTown
– A blog, by Rob Arnold
It was so eagerly anticipated that I’d forgotten about the other bits of bike riding, the bad bits. These have nothing to do with cycling, per se, rather the reality that to ride outside, you need to consider other elements of the equation. For three months while riding on the smart trainer I’d had no traffic, no traffic lights, and no one else to worry about. Yesterday, on my first ride outside in 96 days, I had a broad smile and good speed, wind on my face and rather surprisingly cool conditions for an October day in Sydney. I also had a strange moment with a motorist.
Oh yeah, that’s right. I’m not in my bubble any longer. The real world is out there, waiting to be explored again and what a joy it was.
I went to my old regular stomping ground, the loop down to the container terminals (one day I’ll remember what that road is called) and onwards to the turnaround at La Perouse.
If you ride in Sydney, chances are you know what I’m talking about. I’ve been there so many times that it really does feel like I’ve worn a groove into the road with my bike tyres, and yet yesterday it seemed a little more magical than usual. Glorious, perhaps. But not because of the weather or the conditions. It was cool, windy and grey. What made it special was being there again, outside – in a place that’s always drawn me in, a place that’s not my place.
I have been in my suburb of Sydney almost exclusively for almost 100 days and even venturing 20km away felt like a treat. I took it all in and was grateful for the opportunity. #AppreciateTheGood, indeed.
But there was also that other element of cycling in Sydney, the motorist who found humour in taunting me and then tailing me at 45km/h while gesturing, ‘What!?’
I’m not going to whinge about every incident with a motorist for they are part of almost every ride in this town but I’ll get this off my chest, put it out there… and move on. It happened like this:
- Bunnerong Road, not the nicest place to ride at the best of times. There are two lanes each way, but the left is usually littered with parked cars. And so, it’s that cateye-dodge-fest that cyclists need to do. Hit those things at the wrong angle and it can put you off your line and potentially push you out into traffic.
- Hold focus. Watch for opening car doors and be mindful of the cars behind you. (If you ride, you know the drill.)
- Heading south, it’s a little after lunch and tradie traffic has dulled; there are a few utes, a few vans, a few oldies in their Kia off to get supplies… and one dickhead in a 4WD.
- I can hear the oversized tyres of the 4WD, humming on the bitumen, getting closer. Of course I’m not wearing headphones – I never do that on a ride outside and the noise is threatening. I’m about to ride around a badly parked car and need to move out into the middle lane so I turn my head to the right and see the bright daylights of the 4WD almost upon me.
- The driver is wearing a dickhead grin, teeth showing and mouth wide while he bobs his head ever-so-slightly giggling to himself while his passenger is holding his hands up gesturing, ‘Dude, that’s too close…’ never mind, the driver seems to think – ‘I’ve got this, I’ll just give him a scare. ’
- It’s not funny. At least I’m not laughing. I think I caught him when he was about 50cm, maybe 60cm from my back tyre.
- I’m going just shy of the pace of traffic, around 45km/h in a 50 zone… but he’s there grinning his dickhead grin until I turn and catch his eye.
- When he sees that I see him, he finally (thankfully) eases off the accelerator and hovers at my pace momentarily before slipping a few metres further back.
- I’m dodging cateyes and parked cars and thinking, ‘Get around me. Pass. There’s room.’
- He remains there, a few metres shy of my rear wheel. Grinning, then giggling. Maybe he was slapping his thigh. (I wasn’t looking for details; I was just checking that he wasn’t about to accelerate again.) I could, however, see that the thrill of the taunt in traffic was clearly entertaining him.
- I pull over to the left lane when there are no cars: ‘Get around me. Pass. There’s room.’ But he remains in position, same distance… and now his palms are raised upwards as he leans in on the steering wheel, ‘What?!’
- Again, making it deliberately apparent, I ease off the pace some more so he knows it’s now time to pass. I drop it back to 25km/h. He remains in position. I touch the brakes and now I’m dawdling at 15km/h. Taunting me as another few hundred metres pass, it’s now obvious: he’s out to play in traffic and I’m part of his game.
It went on like this up until near the East Gardens / Heffron Park turn offs. Me looking over my shoulder, urging him to go around me, to pass, to ease off, to quit his game. Him giggling, gesturing – what!? – and matching my pace no matter if I speed up or slow down. If I move to the left lane when there are no cars, he doesn’t pass. He just hovers there, behind me, not even idling up beside me so we can have a little through-the-window stare-down/lip-reading exchange.
He doesn’t care about being late or any of the usual in-traffic justifications to terrible driving behaviour. He’s not thinking about logic. It’s just funny to him. ‘Ha, a bike rider, I’ll f**k with him…’
Funny, huh? No, not really.
Common? Alas, yes. It happens quite often, certainly in this town.
I’ve experienced stuff like this long enough to know not to react. For the record, in the past I have responded… and yelling (or even considered careful commentary) has never gotten me anywhere. Remember the question: is there ever a positive emotional outcome from anger? No. This answer spares me the bother of trying to reason with a dickhead and I keep riding. Eventually, thankfully, he turns off to the right and his game is over.
What is that all about? Why would people even think of doing stuff like that? It’s bizarre and dangerous and yet it’s so common, certainly in Sydney.
As for the ‘One Metre Matters’ concept, it’s a joke. The formal title given by Transport for NSW is ‘Minimum Passing Distance rule’.
NSW road rules – a quick verbatim reminder
Drivers must give bicycle riders at least a metre of space.
In NSW, drivers who pass a bicycle rider must allow a distance of at least:
- 1 metre when the speed limit is 60km/h or less
- 1.5 metres when the speed limit is more than 60km/h
It is an official rule in NSW (and other states of Australia) but it is never policed. (If anyone reading this has ever known of any driver to ever be fined because of this piece of legislation, please let me know.)
The rule was introduced a few years ago and it serves no purpose, it’s simply white noise that makes legislators feel as though they’re doing something while adding burden to the many challenges faced by our police force. Alas, however, the better notion – ‘Please use common sense and respect your fellow road users’ – has proven to be equally as useless.
The only time the ‘Minimum Passing Distance rule’ might be used in a court of law is during an investigation into the death of a cyclist in a zone where there happened to have been CCTV recording the incident. At least that’s how it seems to me. And by then it’s too little, too late. (But that’s getting bogged down in another storyline. We’ll leave that for another time.)
* * * * *
A heavy police presence is now fairly common in Sydney. During my ride yesterday there were plenty of cops on the road, a few were even nearby on while the 4WD-driver incident took place on Bunnerong Road. Some police cars also passed me on the way back into the town on Anzac Parade. They drove by only moments after several motorists, driving with little regard for my space on the road, passed with far less than a metre between their vehicle and me on my bike… and the cops did nothing.
Of course they didn’t. What would you expect? A siren followed by a roadside scene? ‘Excuse me miss/sir, but your Kia was deemed to be less than a metre from that cyclist. Here is your fine…’ Hahhahhaha… as if!
The 4WD-driver incident aside, it was a great ride. But I write about it knowing that a problem shared is a problem halved. I’ve considered the taunting motorist and his antics, wondered why he did what he did, explained it in this blog… and now I can move on.
The next ride will be great. There’s a northerly breeze and grey skies. It’s 6.32am and this column has been written. The road awaits. I’m going to put my cycling kit on and get out for a bit of exercise. Across the Harbour Bridge? Maybe… I’ll see where my mood leads me.
– By Rob Arnold