The unfortunate death of cycling hero, Burry Stander, has highlighted yet another important issue that we, the drivers and cyclists of South Africa, need to address. Over the past few years, the relationship between these two parties has been unpleasant, to say the least. At a cyclist braai you’ll no doubt hear stories about ill-mannered motorists, while those same motorists are likely berating cyclists at their get-togethers.
It’s an on-going battle of words that will inevitably get uglier if something isn’t done. Personally, I see no reason why both parties can’t use the roads in a diplomatic, respectful manner; in the celebrated words of musician/song-writer, Jerry Goldstein, Why Can’t We Be Friends?
I must admit, I used to have an unhealthy aversion to cyclists in general. That is, until I met one and listened to his side of the argument. After many hours spent pondering the subject, I agree, they have just as much right as we do to use the public road system. One could argue that by choosing to cycle instead of drive, harmful emissions are being cut down. I don’t necessarily believe this particular justification, but I like the sentiment behind it.
There are still a few things that annoy me. One being, if cyclists ride next to one another, they do block the road for the cars behind them. This often happens on the roads in the Cradle of Humankind, some of the most scenic driving roads in the Gauteng region. I also feel a tinge of frustration when I’m stuck at a red light and a cyclist merely pedals over without stopping. This, I fear, is tantamount to having a dangerous disease - both motorists and cyclist suffer from. It’s a case of bending the law to suit our own needs. A cyclist skipping a red light is just as bad as a motorist who doesn’t come to a complete halt at a stop sign. But this lacklustre attitude to South Africa’s road rules is an opinion piece all on its own and best left for a future edition.
As a motorist, it saddens me to say that most of the blame can be laid at our feet, for one very good reason – we don’t regard a bicycle, or motorcycle for that matter, as a fully-fledged vehicle operating on the road. Now I know some people argue that cyclists don’t pay fuel levies or licensing fees, but they hardly do any damage to the road, do they?
Time and time again I’ve seen motorists cut off cyclists, or not giving them way, simply because a bicycle has no business being on the road. Let me be the first to say that a bicycle may not have an engine or four wheels, but it certainly has a human being on it! That, as far as I’m concerned, is the end of the argument. When next you’re confronted with a cyclist or biker in your path, remember, there’s a living, breathing human steering it – it’s someone’s father/mother/brother/sister/uncle/child/cousin/butcher or therapist on the saddle!
Cyclists aren’t asking for much really. My cycling insider asks that you keep a watch out for them, since they are difficult to spot, but the most important thing is to keep to the 1.5-metre rule.
That’s not a lot to ask. Most of the roads in South Africa are large enough to accommodate a cyclist, a car and a safe passing distance of 1.5 metres. The road conditions don’t always allow for this, but be patient and wait it out. Honking at a cyclist is also a bad idea. They’ll probably end up traumatized by the sudden noise, or give you the finger you so rightfully deserve.
There are no clear statistics that highlight the problem areas, but I think it’s safe to say that lack of respect between the two parties plays a big role. Perhaps a highly publicised dialogue between representatives of the relevant parties is needed. Discussing these problems with an avid cyclist certainly changed my personal views on cycling in South Africa.