Exploding the 1.5-m Myth

David Bristow’s very good friend Jane insists you cannot keep your eyes open when you sneeze. What she doesn’t know is that I’ve been practicing this little trick for years and years while driving and manage it about 9 times out of 10.

You can also do it: start by holding the focus on a road sign as you sneeze. It takes training to wax, but the rewards are great.

For the past two decades I’ve practising another arcane skill: riding within 20 cm of the road verge. I can usually keep it at round 10 cm, but admit it swoops out to a massive 30 cm on steep descending corners. It’s a good skill to have when you need to do a bit or road riding, as I had to while doing last-minute training (sic) for the Tour de Tuli. (It was, as usual, full of heat, dust and testosterone, thanks for asking.)

But it got me all heated up again about roadies. What is up with these people? I still see them frequently riding two, and sometimes – boggles the mind – three abreast along suburban arterial roads. Of course I shout at them and call them rude names. But ag shame, they cannot really help it. Extensive scientific research has revealed that all road cyclists have the exact same blood type, FAB positive. (If you don’t know, ask someone).

Like, did you ever see a roadie smiling like they were enjoying their ride, or greeting anyone, or saying – shock horror! – thanks for moving over? No, they are all on course to win the frikken Tour de Suburb every time they go out, with performance enhancers and poephol-rate monitors and stuff you I’m a super human performer. Enjoy the ride? Loser!

Then they go and get all self-righteous about it, like vegans, or born-againers. If a car driver dares to hoot at them to move over, they throw signs, and bleat. Then the real geniuses will key the car, or pour their sticky recovery drink in through the window for a real Pyrrhic victory (if you don’t know look it up and learn). I have seen these things.

What astonishes me is that they think they can win the battle. They really do. Which emphasizes that old FAB thing. I mean, how stupid do you have to be to have it explained to you that in the law of the road, trucks trump everyone. Buses come next on the feeding pyramid and taxis below them. Then it’s SUVs, then saloons, then motorbikes and only then the humble bicycle.

It’s a case of big eats small out there. On the asphalt jungle tracks the only creature more lowly and pathetic than the lycra-clad cyclist is the two-legged, no-wheels, mewling and puking pedestrian (to misquote the Bard). Which is why I practise the 20-cm road-riding rule. I am not going to swerve along (as roadies will) throwing rude signs at some Neanderthal truck driver or taxi pirate thinking I’m going to win that fight.

It also makes me laugh when I see cars with those red and yellow “keep a 1.5m distance” stickers. Whoever thought up that campaign has not thought much on it, or done the math and the measuring. I have.

I was riding along Spaanschemat River Road in Tokai the other day, when a roadie whizzed past me. I was riding on the gravel verge, but more of that later. She was all dressed up in pretty pink with a double century logo on her gillet (look it up). She was riding 55cm into the road: I know this because I stopped, marked the spot, then went back and made some measurements.

I added to that the approximately 30cm for her right handlebar, and onto that added the 1.5m required apparently, for cars to keep a safe distance. Then I measured my car (a Subaru, thanks for asking). Wing mirror-tip to wing mirror-tip and it’s 2.08m wide. It adds up to 4.43m so far. Now add that, let’s say 30cm that a car needs between itself and the road median. Total 4.73 m!

So here lies the problem. I measured the lane and it’s only 3.55m wide. Clearly something has to give. Remember the road feeding pyramid? It’s the bicycle! Because the trucks and the buses and the taxis and the SUVs and the saloon cars and the motorbikes (okay, we can discount them), sure as hell aren’t going to.

A reality-check safe road-cycling campaign should really go like this: if the road is not at least 5m wide (giving extra width for trucks and buses), YOU SHOULD NOT BE RIDING THERE, DUMMY! But do they listen, oh no.

I know in Cape Town, where I live and ride that would exclude many favourite road cycling routes including most of Main Road, Constantia Nek, Spaanschemat River Road and Ou Kaapse Weg. Even Chapmans Peak. And I’m sure it’s much the same scenario all across our fair land.

So what to do, other than having sniping teams roaming the roads and taking out roadies whenever they cross that line? Practice, like I do.

Once you have waxed the open-eyes-while-you-sneeze-while-you’re-driving sleight of eyelids, it’s time to move on to the 20cm road riding trick. It takes time, concentration and dedication but hey, it could just save your life.

I have taken this to a higher level. I have joined the ranks of those other mountain bikers who ride the verge. I always ride the sidewalk (rule 1: pedestrians rule the sidewalks so slow down and give way, and use a bicycle bell) where there is one. Or I ride on the gravel verge. Failing that I ride in gutters and other run-off channels. Or up and down embankments where there are any.

There are places along Constantia Nek and Spaanschemat roads where I have gone out with secateurs to trim the herbage so I don’t have to swerve onto the tar and into traffic coming up fast from behind, of course with no prior signalling (thanks for the thumbs-up on that one).

It’s a game and it greatly improves three things: your riding skills, your safety, and your feelings of self-righteousness. Even we mountain bikers can enjoy that warm inner glow of feeling superior from time to time. Thing is, when we do, we’re not harming anyone or pissing anyone else off.

No, we’re just simple all-round nice, caring and – let’s admit it –frikken smart mountain bikers.

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