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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 50 - Farewell to blissful days a-wheel on heaven-sent country roads

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 Court.

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.

From my 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 road-using dignity.

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 wobbles.

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.

All 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.

They also 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 vehicles.

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.

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