While travelling outside of Australia recently, my news feeds have been full of provocative headlines. All of them published in response to the new laws in NSW for cars overtaking cyclists (a metre matters, 1.5m if you’re travelling over 60km/hr) and dramatically increased fines for cyclists if they ride without ID, a helmet, a bell, a reflector, run a red light, ride in a manner considered unlawful by someone in power to determine such things, etc.
Cyclists can be as bad as non-cyclists in this regard.
On the one hand, I want to thank some people for their vocal opposition in response to actions that enable one vulnerable group to feel more so. On the other, some people take it too far and aren't much better than the people they’re mouthing off about.
There’s anger about police crackdowns; public posters advertising the new laws against cyclists without mentioning the laws that support them; and people allegedly fined for track standing. One mate was pulled over and breathalysed for not driving in a straight line because he overtook a cyclist with a metre to spare before the law came into place.
With all this, comes the usual sledging and hate comments directed at cyclists, from people who should also know better. This makes my skin feel clammy and reminds me it’s the softest armour around.
On my first ride back on Sydney streets I was expecting things to be tense. To feel the hate, the frustration, the targeting. To my surprise, the experience I had couldn't have been further from it.
It’s incredible, how relaxing it feels every time someone overtakes you with a metre as berth. Vehicles of all sorts no longer squeezing past, making me hold my breath as though it will narrow my physique.
A green P-plater paused and waved me through a cross-road.
Of the hundreds of cars that passed me, only one driver thought it was a good idea to rev the engine and reduce the gap to a wider-than-expected 60cm.
As has been reported in other states of Australia, behaviour from cyclists improves too. They communicate better with cars about when it’s OK to pass. We calm down at lights we’d normally sprint through, less worried about a motorist trying to fit past when the lane is narrower on the other side.
I’m sure that quite a few drivers want to follow the new passing laws about as much as I want to have a bell on the handlebars of my race bike. But with this climate of give and take I could feel a decrease in tension from both sides.
Riding with my local road bunch the next morning, there was a moment when someone shifted their hands on a hill climb and dinged their bell by accident. Other bells echoed through the bunch, different pitches, some laughter, a couple of novelty bells thrown in. As we crossed other bunches on the road there was a humorous chorus of dinging from both sides. It was kind of beautiful.
While my own experience was the polar opposite of the headlines I'd been reading, I remain sadly aware that the same rings true for people reading this one.
This isn’t a blog written to excuse the way these laws are being enforced, or the too-high number of incidents being reported that don’t make any logical sense. It’s a blog to say, within this current climate, thanks to those riders, drivers and other road users who are responding in far more human ways in spite of this; with humour, patience and consideration, while these current tensions settle down.
It only takes one small incident to end a person’s life, but I’m thankful that the responses from the majority of road users are decreasing the chances of such events taking place. I hope the angry, provocative minority, cyclists and certain politicians included, learn from your example and are more empathetic toward others, too.