Letter to the Editor – Cycling and Dying

Uncle Arthur posted this letter at the Australian Cycling Forums . He sent this letter to the Courier Mail, and specifically Mr Paul Syvret assistant editor and columnist at the Courier Mail, who it seems has used the Courier Mail recently to do all he can to reinvigorate the I Hate Cyclists world. Uncle Arthur indicates that is a direct response to recent articles, and to the tragic incident in Brisbane this week.  Uncle Arthur asked that it be shared around and I am happy to post it here as a thought provoking piece.

Dear Mr Syvret,

It seems you thrive on sensensationalism – sitting comfortably behind your desk in your office, it must seem a wonderful place to espouse your views of the world, and it was with interest, and disdain, that over the last couple of weeks that I saw the Courier Mail launch attack after attack at Brisbane’s cyclists. Now from the relative safety of my desk – a far more safe place than the roads I ride in this city, let me share my thoughts with you.

It was a shame to see that after pages of vitriol, the CM couldn’t see fit to publish even a minor comment on the tragic cyclist death this week. Personally, the news of that death gave me shivers, and it has spread like wild fire across Brisbane’s very close knit and growing cyclist community. Just so you can get some perspective on what that death means to a cyclist, I offer you the following perspective – a sort of ‘opinion piece’ you might call it.

Riding down that slight hill, the mystery cyclist would have been feeling pretty good. Perhaps a bit of a sea breeze coming off the Bay to provide a bit of headwind, but rolling downhill always takes the strain off. Clicking down through the gears, the light ahead was green – and going with the flow of traffic, you can let the wariness drop for a second – head up, pedals down, pushing through the gears to wind up some speed – 35kmh, 40kmh, 45kmh – the pedal stroke a steady cadence now.

He would have looked up, and saw the truck, “He’s slowing?” – a half question, half statement said to himself in his mind, catching the driver’s eye for a second – “that’s a nod? He’s seen me?” again those thoughts, half question, half statement. “Yes – he’s slowi…….. OH s*** NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! NO! NO NO OH PLEASE GOD NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! STOPPPPPPPPPPPPPPP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Fingers grasping at the brake levers – it’s almost impossible to slow a road bicycle in time. And then the sickening THUD! and nothing but pain.

The truck driver may have never even seen him – what’s a Give Way sign anyway? It’s not like it means STOP, as the truck driver maintained his momentum through the intersection to hit the main road at speed. He may have never noticed the cyclist, never heard him scream, never heard the noise as the cyclist hit the front of the truck – no doubt it is hard to hear those things with the big diesel engine rumbling away beneath the seat, and hard to see what’s in the blind spot immediately in front of the truck when he’s sitting so high.

All your muscles tense when you know you’re about to be hit by a car on the bike. Your body goes into super protective mode, and all you can do is brace for the impact you know is coming. The cyclist may have been unconscious a moment after the truck hit him, or, in a blinding, rising panic of fear and pain, he may have been completely aware of what was happening as he started to go under those huge steel wheels – fingers clambering for any kind of hold to prevent his fall, his legs dangling perilously close to the road, gravity, panic, and pain all taking over. He might have been completely unaware of being dragged some 30 metres along Wynnum Road under the front of that truck, or he could have been completely aware of being trapped between the unyielding metal of the front axle, and the cheese grater surface of the bitumen – either way, lycra and a lightweight helmet offers little protection for vulnerable skin and bone. It must have been a horrifying final few seconds for that cyclist, all because a motorist, safely ensconced in their vehicle, didn’t give way – what we do know for sure is that, quoting the other news reports, “he died at the scene.”

As a road cyclist, this is our reality. Having been almost run down by a Council bus, I know that fear, that panic, and the sensation of being so close to death that you can taste it. I was within 30 cm of going under the rear wheels, all because the driver thought he deserved to be on the road more than me. I still don’t know to this day how I managed to keep the bike upright.

I ride for pleasure, for the social aspect, for exercise, and as a triathlete, I ride to train. There are no facilities in this city that allow me to ride in the same environment as when I race – the road, where I am legally entitled to be is that place. Every morning that I head out for my ride, I kiss my wife good bye as she lies in bed, answering her plea of “ride safe” with a stoic “I will”, openly wondering in the back of my mind if this will be the morning when I ride home in an ambulance, or worse, never walk, never ride again, never come home. The relief in her voice when I phone her upon my safe return is tangible, as is the panic she has expressed on those few instances where I have forgotten to make that call.

I ride at 5:30am, with a group, because there is greater safety in numbers – we ride to avoid the traffic, but my solo ride in to meet my group, and solo ride home is always in the middle of peak hour. At 5:30 I face fluro-clad tradies, hell bent on owning the roads. Shortly after, I face the ongong stream of morning commuter traffic – people speeding, weaving, on the phone, not paying attention, angry with the ever increasing traffic, stressed about work, or simply preoccupied with everything they have to do that day. All it takes is one slip of their attention, and regardless of my vigilance, I become little more than a nameless road statistic, and fodder for more anti-cyclist vitriol like yours. In the mean time, my wife and family have to cope with picking up the pieces left behind.

It is true that there are those among us who ride bicycles who don’t always do the right thing, but I don’t see you tarring Brisbane’s drivers with the same brush because of those among them who speed, run red lights, drive on the phone, etc etc etc. For the record, I drive too – so which am I? An untouchable car driver, or an easy victim cyclist?

So the next time you, or your fellow writers take it upon yourselves to level yet another attack at the growing cycle community of Brisbane, think to yourselves what it must have been like for that unnamed cyclist who died this week. Perhaps then, and only then, might you begin to understand what it is to “ride in another’s shoes”, so to speak.

In that, I look forward to better and more responsible journalism in the future – from all of you.


4 Responses to Letter to the Editor – Cycling and Dying

  1. ksteinhoff 19 February 2010 at 2:05 AM #

    Well written. The image of the crash was particularly effective.

  2. ksteinhoff 19 February 2010 at 10:05 AM #

    Well written. The image of the crash was particularly effective.

  3. david 27 February 2010 at 10:13 AM #

    yes its hard on the bike, last week this car driver went right thou the red light , causeing me lose balance, breaking my arm, he didnt even stop,makes you want give up riding, try ing to get fit, but i wont,

  4. david 27 February 2010 at 6:13 PM #

    yes its hard on the bike, last week this car driver went right thou the red light , causeing me lose balance, breaking my arm, he didnt even stop,makes you want give up riding, try ing to get fit, but i wont,

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