Monday, May 31, 2010

I'd like to get home in one piece, if that's not too much to ask

I have made the executive decision not to ride in the city anymore. My ride into - or rather toward - the city is fine - usually trouble free and rather enjoyable - but once I hit the CBD it feels like I am taking my life into my hands, and since I'd rather get home in one piece to the Grumbles and Galumph, it's not a feeling that I am relishing.

Now, I don't want to start a cyclists vs drivers debate (you know how it goes, both groups griping about how the other is worse) - all I will say is that I see of plenty of bad behaviour from both groups. But since winter has set in, and it gets dark so early, there seems to be a different mentality on the roads. Everybody is in such a frickin' hurry, which means that when they try and do that hook turn in front of the tram they don't necessarily look to see if poor old Jorthy is pedalling along.

I had such a near miss last week that the look of shock on the driver's face will forever be etched in my memory, as will the fright I felt as I realised that she hadn't seen me at all until I dinged my bell at her, and if I didn't slam on my brakes in a hurry then there would be a nice Jorth-sized crumple in her door, and me probabily in traction for a few weeks (if I was lucky). Then two blocks later, almost exactly the same thing happened. I was beginning to wonder if (a) I was invisible and (b) if I would ever make it home in one piece.

I'm not quite sure what I can do to make myself more visible to motorists. I ride - following every road rule perfectly, I must say - properly in the bike lane, give drivers plenty of indication and warning when I am going to make a turn, don my super daggy but highly visible yellow fluro bike vest when riding, and have uber bright lights on both the front and back of my bike. Yet it seems that as soon as I hit the city I am surrounded by some sort of magic fog that renders me completely invisible to drivers.

Part of me feels bad about walking my bike along the footpath instead of riding on the road, as the current wisdom says that the more riders there are on the actual road, the more drivers notice them and therefore drive with their safety in mind. But when you have so many near misses despite doing everything right, and you'd like to stick around to see your daughter grow up, then it seems that one has no options but to remove yourself for safety's sake - at least until you are out of the confines of the CBD.

UPDATE: Just like to say I'm not quitting riding my bike - ugh, that would mean waiting for the tram, and I'm far too impatient for that - I'm just not riding the last four blocks of my commute which are smack bang in the middle of the CBD. Give up riding? Never? I love the feel of the wind in my hair too much!


  1. I totally understand your angst. I used to ride from Clifton Hill to North Melbourne, with a small stretch along Alexander Parade. After several near-misses I ended up riding slowly along the footpath for that stretch (illegal, but safer). I'm loving the bike riding culture in Berlin - 1000s more bikes, dedicated bike lanes and a "bike consciousness" that makes riding enjoyable. If only in Melbourne...

  2. I'm so glad it's not just me - people DO seem to be in more of an angry hurry to get home in the winter months (especially on Fridays!). My ride home is 15 mins on a suburban main road... no bike lane, so there are a few stretches where I am just telepathically willing drivers to see me.

  3. I well remember these situations when I used to ride my bike to work (less the hook turns of course!). Although I will say that even driving in the CBD of Melbourne you're taking your life in your own hands, and the thought of riding makes me shudder.

    I can really understand your frustration - you're doing everything right and you still can't win. Hopefully one day in the near future attitudes will change!

  4. such a shame, so many benefits to the bike riding, but staying in one piece is definitely more important. It would be great if there were better bike lanes. I am impressed that you did it at all, and hopefully spring will give you another chance.

  5. I rode until I was eight months pregnant, the route between home in south London, to work in north London and can't for the life of me think what possessed me. There were plenty of near Tania-plus-large-bump sized dents in rather large, red, scary buses...

  6. Glad to see that you're riding the bike and loving it. Sorry to hear about your experiences with some drivers....I hope it improves and that it doesn't stop you from riding.

    Enjoy Your Ride.


  7. I can sympathise. We live in the country and there are lots of narrow, bending roads, though not many cars, and it feels quite hair-raising sometimes. The drivers just seem to be oblivious to everything but themselves.

    I think, also, once I had a child I was much more aware of the dangers, and my own mortality.

    Keep safe.

  8. Staying alive is the main thing but it is such a shame that drivers don't see cyclists. After driving for about 12 years I had to take another drivers test in Switzerland when i moved there. I had a few lessons prior just so I knew the right road rules. It was all about checking for cyclists, allowing them room at the lights, staying closer to the middle of the road to make room for cyclists. As learner drivers in Australia we are not taught to share the road - it is such a shame. I hope Spring brings nicer riding conditions.

  9. As great as bike riding is, staying in one piece is much much more important.

    I think you're extraordinarily brave to ride around the city at all. I used to ride to and from work in Canberra, but am too scared to ride to work in Melbourne, even though I miss riding a lot.

    I agree with the thinking that the more cyclists there are out there, the more likely drivers will notice and take care. It's really hard to tell what the tipping point will be, when cyclists feel relatively safe riding around in the city. I hope that day comes sooner rather than later, but sadly it seems like some wishful thinking on my part!

  10. Anonymous1:31 am

    Hi Jorth---I really enjoy your blog & am quite happy that you weren't whacked by a driver. I've experience the same cycling challenges here in Chicago. I have disc brakes on my hybrid--they're wonderful & have saved my behind more than once (esp. in the rain) You already know this, but I'll say it anyway--big part of the problem is the distracted driver (texting, cell ph, eating, applying make-up, reading) I once rode by a woman using both hands to EAT A BOWL OF CEREAL while "driving." --best rgds, Beth


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