Trevor Ward

26 Dec 2022

It’s easy to paint a depressing picture of the relationship between cyclists and drivers, but not every encounter ends in conflict

Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway bet his literary rival F Scott Fitzgerald that he could write a six-word story that would make the reader cry. He won the bet with this: ‘For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.’

I have my own six-word story that would reduce any self-respecting cyclist to tears (although whether with sadness or laughter is a moot point): ‘Punctured. No spare tube. Walked home.’

OK, it may not pack the atmospheric punch of Morrissey suffering a similar, six-word fate in 1983 – ‘Punctured bicycle on a hillside desolate’ – but I believe my version has a better narrative.

My walk home should have been ten miles. In fact, I walked slightly less than a mile, just far enough to get me from the ‘hillside desolate’ to a busy A-road where I could flip my machine upside down and stick out my thumb: ‘Inverted bicycle to inspire drivers’ pity’. It’s a tactic I’ve shamelessly resorted to on several previous occasions. And the story has always had a happy ending.

‘Kindness’ is a much-neglected attribute in today’s world. If certain corners of the internet are to be believed, it is something cyclists are hardly, if ever, shown by fellow road users. Spend long enough on certain social media feeds and it’s easy to believe all drivers are out to kill us.

They’re not

As a rider who has been the recipient of as many random acts of kindness as close passes, I want to redress the balance and reassure readers of a nervous disposition that most drivers are actually just like you and me: wanting to co-exist peacefully and harmoniously with their fellow road users.

I should explain that I don’t usually go out for rides without a spare tube but I was rushing to see the Queen’s funeral cortège on my local bypass – that’s a statement of fact, not another Morrissey lyric – and in the chaos of such an historic moment also forgot to pack my raincape, pump and tyre levers.

I had barely flipped my stricken machine upside down when the driver of an SUV hauling a trailer and travelling in the opposite direction tooted his horn at me. Soon he had performed a U-turn and was parked on the verge next to me asking what had happened.

The problem with flipping your bike upside down to elicit pity and/or assistance is that you then have the embarrassment of having to admit the scale of your problem isn’t actually that catastrophic.

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In this case, my Good Samaritan was undeterred. ‘I was on my way to buy some bunkbeds so the trailer’s empty, we can stick it in there,’ he said. ‘Where’re you heading?’

I told him it was at least nine miles in the opposite direction from his bunkbeds but he wrestled my bike into the trailer anyway and soon I was sat behind him and his companion.

I assumed one or both must be a cyclist to have shown such kindness but neither was. My saviour was a guitarist in a local covers band called ‘KGB’ (whom I unreservedly recommend to anyone looking to book a wedding band in the Angus area of Scotland).

When they asked where I’d been heading before my mishap, I suspect they’d have preferred a more interesting answer than ‘off to watch Her Majesty’s funeral cortège go by on the A90’ but they concealed their disappointment well.

Soon they were dropping me at my front door and were almost on their way before I had time to rush indoors, grab a bottle of Co-op Rioja from the kitchen and offer it to them in gratitude.

And this wasn’t an isolated instance of the kindness of strangers either. I once suffered a snapped chain 30km from home. Five minutes after flipping my bike upside down a van pulled up and the driver took me to my local bike shop.

(If you ever need a new toaster or fridge, I can unreservedly recommend Colin M Smith Electrical Appliances of Arbroath, Forfar and Kirriemuir).

Another time my rear derailleur was mangled in my spokes on a climb 40km from home. I knocked on the door of the only house for miles around, complete with flash Mercedes estate in the driveway, and was not only provided with a sandwich and mug of tea but was also offered a lift home if I couldn’t get hold of my wife on the phone.

Yes, bad things occasionally happen to cyclists on our roads. But other times there are only happy endings. As Hemingway or Morrissey might have put it: ‘Stranded. Then stranger’s kindness rescued me.’

Main image:  Prisma by Dukas via Getty

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