Cycle Crisis

Cambridge has been voted the most dangerous place in Britain to cycle. LIZ ELDER investigates.

bike bus number 5 cycling cyclists girton Homerton huntingdon road Kings' Parade

Cambridge has been voted the most dangerous place in Britain to cycle. Is this really surprising? As a Girtonian, I do a ridiculous amount of cycling, and would say that we out-of-towners are generally fairly competent on our bikes. However, heading towards Cambridge centre, there are far more irritating, and above all, dangerous, cyclists about. Huntingdon Road is often the scene for the so-called ‘tandem bike’. Girls with floral dresses and backcombed, blonde hair cycling next to each other, talking, weaving precariously into the traffic and being general menaces are all too common. And, they insist upon traveling so slowly that they may as well have walked in order to save the trail of destruction that they inevitably create en route.

The main problem with these people – ignoring their own danger of death – is overtaking them. I, like most other people, have things to do. I selected a nice fast bike for the purpose of getting a sub-ten minute time into town (the universal goal of the Girtonian cyclist). However, upon approaching the tandem gossipers, you take a look behind you (see, competent cyclist right there) and speed up in preparation for passing them. Then, one of them will whip out the Blackberry, veer out and cut me up, and I then have to pull back before a passing van flattens me. 

If you manage to overtake these dawdlers and pass John’s, you enter the velodrome that is the Cambridge one-way system. Then, you encounter the terrifying twat on a racing bike trying to weave through with no hands (then misjudging it and hitting Japanese tourist taking a picture of Heffers). This can be quite (ok, very) funny, but simultaneously irritating.

However, while arrogant and generally crap cyclists are dangers to themselves, notching up Cambridge’s reputation as cyclist hell, there does seem to be an unwritten code of ‘bike etiquette’ that prevents inter-bike collisions. For example, the King’s Parade junction in rush hour is an impressively choreographed display of rah girls on town bikes who can’t keep the wheels straight, with the no handed racing twats. However, this ‘etiquette’ is entirely reliant upon the ‘my journey is more important than yours’ attitude.

So, the Cambridge cyclist’s mentality works fairly well in the cyclist bubble. Enter bus number 5. I’ve yet to meet a Cantabrigian cyclist who us yet to experience a bus altercation. While cars seem to recognise the unofficial Cambridge Highway Code that gives bikes unanimous priority around the town, this particular bus resolutely ploughs through all the tiny side streets, weaving through like the aforementioned racing twat. Except, of course, the bus isn’t a racing bike. It’s a whacking, huge, great bus. Cue hasty swerves as the bus pulls out without looking, back-tyre bumping at red lights, frantic over- taking and so on. You get the gist.

The bus attack is made worse by the roads themselves: more than a couple of times, a tight corner has caused me to move as the bus comes round. Now, keeping well over to the edge of the road is made difficult by the potholes/canyons, as well as the general detritus of special tourists who have yet to encounter a road- path combination. There are well treaded paths for these – Magdalene bridge is a simple right, then left, brake, adjust for wind speed, dodge the fat German filming the river, left a bit more, then through the bollards, but if you have to cycle off of the Downing site/Grand Arcade route, it gets more difficult. Any further past Spoons, it’s an off-road cross-country trail that provides the choice of either taking the chance of going over the handle bars on hitting a pothole, or braving the traffic. I really don’t know how Homerton do it.

Bikes and their riders are idiotic and dangerous: there’s no doubt about it. But somehow they can co-exist and go about their days, until the real world comes rushing past at 40 mph. So, clearly, the solution is to ban the real world. People on buses and in cars should get a bike, and join in, and preserve the cyclist status quo. We can all ride around with no judgment or caution, knowing that the worst possible outcome is ploughing into a Japanese tourist. And, quite frankly, there are too many of them anyway. Problem solved.