When you drive you drive alone. When you ride you are part of a tribe.
As I cycled through Dublin earlier this week I observed something profoundly interesting.
A lady on a bicycle had an accident. She caused the accident in fact. She broke a red light and cycled into a taxi that was turning right. She hit the front of his car from the side, tumbled over the bonnet and landed hard on the road.
At this point I hopped off my bike, placed it against a lamp post and ran over to see if she was hurt. She was fine, just a little shocked.
Then I looked around and realised that five or six other cyclists had done the same as me. She was surrounded by a lycra clad, high viz vest and bicycle helmet gang. The driver of the taxi stepped out of his car. Although he was totally in the right he was visibly nervous of the situation. He was in the right but alone. She was blatantly in the wrong, but she had a gang.
Other drivers did not get out of their vehicles to support him. They were frustrated at the stoppage. They just wanted the accident cleared so they could get to work. One driver even began to honk his horn.
This little moment highlighted for me the key difference between cyclists and drivers.
Cyclists are engaged in the real world. We are in constant danger from drivers and we can’t rely on the drivers to look out for our safety. Our lives are in our hands. As a result we are wide awake to our environment. We are not enclosed from the world, we are out in the open. We can make an easy transition from cyclist to pedestrian and back again.
If something happens nearby the cyclist is part of it. If someone falls over they may check to see if they are OK.
Drivers are enclosed in a glass and metal box. They are in their own private world. They look at our world through a window. They see it but are not part of it. They are physically and psychologically disengaged from the reality of life outside. They are possibly elsewhere, on a phone call, or listening to the radio.
If someone falls nearby they observe it as though they are watching it on TV. It is not a part of their reality. Besides, it is a lot of trouble for a driver to disengage from the vehicle, to become a pedestrian, to walk over to the person who fell, and to see if they are OK. And if they do that the other drivers will get frustrated with you leaving your vehicle. They will honk at you to get moving again.
It is easier to sit in your vehicle and wait for some passing pedestrian or cyclist to check out the situation.
When a driver has an accident the other drivers nearby do not empathise with the driver. They do not get out of their cars and stand around in a group, unless it is a particularly unusual situation. in the normal day to day world of fender-benders you stay in your car and wait it out.
If a cyclist is in an accident the situation is very different. Other cyclists seem to appear from nowhere. They come in droves. They are like white blood cells racing to a point of injury in the body. Before you know what has happened there is a gang of yellow, pink and orange people in strange space-age outfits. They identify with each other. They are a flock, a band, a gang.
What is true for cyclists is doubly true for bikers, and may explain a lot about why biker gangs seem so threatening.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave
with the intention of arriving safely
in a pretty and well preserved body,
but rather to skid in broadside
in a cloud of smoke,
thoroughly used up,
totally worn out,
and loudly proclaiming
“Wow! What a Ride!”
Hunter S. Thompson