And don’t overtake there, either

I was going downhill at around 18-20 mph in a 20 zone. As I do in these situations, I took primary position. I do this because when I am going at or near the speed limit, drivers should not need or want to overtake me. Putting myself in the middle of the lane forces them to make a proper overtaking manoeuvre if they are going to get past, makes them think about whether it’s necessary, and makes it safer for me because if they do overtake, I can move over. If you’re already in the gutter, the kind of person who will overtake you in a 20 zone is unlikely to give you any room, and you won’t have any margin for safety.

It was hammering with rain and to be honest I would have felt safer going more slowly given the amount of water currently on Devon’s roads, but doing 15mph in a 20 zone gives even more opportunity for aggressive, unnecessary and dangerous overtaking. Sure enough, I heard a driver behind me and from the engine sound it was evident that he was going to try passing me despite the fact that it would involve breaking the speed limit, the road was wet and dangerous and visibility was poor. Not only that but we were approaching a traffic island. I moved further out into the lane to discourage him, he drove past anyway, forcing me over to the gutter and causing me to brake.

I almost caught him at the next roundabout. I did catch up with him at the next set of traffic lights, ¼ mile down the road. From there for the next 3 miles it was basically nose-to-tail traffic into Exeter. Nothing to do with cyclists, you understand, just drivers trying to get into an already crowded city. I stopped my bike in front of him, blocking him in.

Now I am fully aware that this is risky behaviour. There’s a personal risk in what the driver might attempt and a wider risk in that by annoying a driver, you might make their behaviour to the next person on a bike worse. You risk confirming their prejudices. However, I was dealing with somebody who was already driving recklessly, breaking traffic laws and also, basically, being a bullying unpleasant excuse for a human being. I see no particular reason to be polite to somebody who has just risked my life and I don’t see why I should let bullying pass unnoticed.

He wound his window down and shouted ‘you should be on the bike path’. There is no bike path where he overtook me. The one that is available near those lights is on the wrong side of the road and only goes somewhere I didn’t need to be. I pointed this out. I pointed out his manifest failings as a driver and the various laws and parts of the Highway Code he had broken. He and his passenger sat there grinning smugly. I’m not really sure why overtaking a cyclist dangerously on the way to the back of a 3 mile tailback would give anybody cause to feel smug but apparently it did. I upped the swearing quotient. Suddenly he looked a lot less smug and started trying to outswear me. Bad move. It’s not just my vocabulary, which after years hanging out on the wrong websites is colourful to say the least. It’s the sheer bloody-minded inventiveness and volume with which I will cheerfully project expressions of which nice, middle-class women really should not be aware.

I pedalled off, after pointing out to him that since he was stuck in a queue, there was no way he could catch me up. And, lest you fear that I will never be an ambassador for cycling and that I have angered a driver unnecessarily, do bear in mind that he angered me unnecessarily. And as I left, the last thing I heard was another driver shouting “Shut up, baldy” at him. It’s not nice, but the comic timing has had me giggling to myself ever since.

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4 thoughts on “And don’t overtake there, either

  1. Alf Garnet knows his name. Like all bullies, he will have been anxious about his social position and keen to impress his witless comrade, which project, sadly, eliciting a polite middle-class remonstration from any passing vehicle would have amply fulfilled. So, well done for finding your word pit on the right occasion – with the right witness.

    1. I don’t believe I could have produced, and certainly not aimed at, any similar effect. I did once involuntarily shout ‘Hey!’ at a driver whose overtaking forced me into the back of a parked car in Edgbaston. Result: he braked suddenly, emerged from the vehicle, and asked me if I wanted ‘some’.

    2. I did wonder why drivers overtake so pointlessly, when all that will happen is that they get to a queue of traffic a couple of seconds earlier.
      Then I realised – to the driver there is a point. It’s not that they get to their destination faster, it’s that they get in front of you. That is their point. They just want to prove that they can bully you out of the way.

  2. A really good blog Helen. It’s a perfect description of what occurs daily on the road. Overtake dangerously, then suddenly need to stop – It’s their inability to assess the road ahead and understand that they are wasting their fuel by completing that manoeuvre, that perplexes me most. I usually content myself with looking at the driver as if he’s completely moronic, but with an occasional “Fish Called Wanda” quote!

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