ONCE, when I was a trainee
reporter and had hardly a slice of oxymoron to my name or a crust of
onomatopoeia to mumble over, I had the joy of seeing my first journalistic
report in print. Headed, "No-lights Cyclist Fined £1", it told, in rolling
Gibbonesque sentences, the scandalous story of one J Feenie (26), resident
in the Central Edinburgh constituency, who, as a practising pedallist,
confessed his guilt before a sternly-reproving bailie at Edinburgh Burgh
I treasured that paragraphal jewel, not only because
of its syntactic perfection but, also, because I was, myself, a biker, who
took the stern and narrow path of cycling morality, whose machine had a
lamp beam, bright as a nunís conscience, and had a deep-toned, handlebar
bell that sounded as if summoning sinners to repentance.
Clackmannanshire tweed jacket, a substitute for a hair shirt, to my
backsliding-resistant grey flannels and rectitudinous cycle-clips, I saw
myself, although only 14 when I began my ventures a-wheel, as a
naturally-sculpted representation of unswerving pedalling probity and
Bliss was it to be a town cyclist in these
traffic-reduced, Second World War days, but to be on almost empty country
roads was very heaven. As strange-sounding places with far-away names like
Peebles, Quothquan and Lamancha fell to my conquering wheels, I met other
cycling rovers. In a flurry of whirling pedals, flashing spokes and in a
comradely chain reaction, we saluted each other with cheerful waves and
Then, I had a warm regard for these push-bike
pilgrims in law-abiding progress. I thought them friendly, well-balanced
citizens, the nationís steely backbone, as vital to Britainís health as a
John Bull puncture repair outfit was to a saddlebag. Not now; a growing
number of cyclists, in my generally irritat-ed and sometimes horrified
experience, have fallen from grace and seem unable to see the error of
their ways. Reckless, rude and arrogant, they appear to believe they are
above the law, display little or no roadcraft or consideration for
pedestrians or motorists.
Cycle saddles may cause impotence in males, but they
have not stopped bikers from being as active as tropical flies. The other
day I nearly swatted one. Motoring on the one-way system of Holyrood
Parkís Queenís Drive, I saw, on a blind bend, a cyclist, head down,
full-tilt, speeding towards me like a bat heading for hell. I braked, the
cyclist swerved onto the pavement and a pedestrian leapt aside for his
life. The cyclist continued on his way and displayed the predictable
V-sign. A growing number of bikers use that road, similarly suicidal.
over Britain, which has around ten million bicycle owners, careless and
courtesy-free cyclists are adding to danger on roads caused by madcap,
en-raged and arrogant motorists. According to research by the RAC
Foundation, Britainís cyclists are the worst offenders at traffic lights.
Up to half of all cyclists observed at lights, ignore stop signals,
compared with one in five bus drivers and one in ten motorists.
blithely transgress against the law and the canons of the good book, The
Highway Code, by cycling on pavements, ignoring one-way street signs,
performing spectacular and lunatic U-turns in front of on-coming traffic,
using pedestrian crossings on the wheel, performing ludicrous balancing
acts while - rarely in my experience - stopping at red traffic lights and
pulling out from behind parked cars without looking behind them to assess
the traffic mainstream, apparently relying on the skills of motorists to
keep them safe.
There are many courteous and skilled cyclists, but
all too often our perilous traffic paths are made more hazardous by
so-called "lycra louts" who are generally regarded with resignation by the
public because bikes are seen as eco-friendly, convenient and space-saving
The RAC wants cyclists prosecuted who fail to stop
at red lights and fined up to the maximum of £2,500. As a former cyclist
who still values the vulnerable lives of the biking brethren, I not only
want of-fenders fined but also forced to take part in some government
re-education programme to make them see the light of road craft,
commonsense and courtesy.
The other night, I nearly ran into the back of a
cyclist who showed no lights. I wish I could have written a pungent
paragraph about him. I had, as it were, come the full cycle.