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Starts oddly, finishes badly

I was pointed at a copy of ‘i’ yesterday, specifically the ‘Two Wheels’ column by David Devonport. I confess I’ve not heard of him before so I read the article, subheaded as “why take the train or drive to work when a bike will get you there cheaply, quickly and without the hassle” with some interest.

For a piece purporting to want to encourage people to take up two wheel commuting, it starts in a manner which can only be described as bizarre:

“They treat the roads as a video game, taking their lives in their hands and putting everyone in danger for the sake of a quick journey. They’re unhinged.”

Reading further, he turns out that he’s deliberately looking at riders from a third party perspective, in an effort to debunk the typical stereotype of a bike as a dangerous means of transport, so he can go onto point out that:

“motorbikes and scooters aren’t as unsafe as their image suggests”, rather that “their reputation is brought about by those who misuse them, not by the majority who ride to work and back every day without incident.”

Hmm. Well, unfortunately, that vague statement is essentially meaningless when you look at exactly who has accidents. Yes, there are significant proportions of youngsters new to using the roads and thrill-seeking oldsters bouncing off trees and oncoming cars, but to be a new rider of mature years also significantly loads the dice against you.

Coming from a car driving background does little to prepare a novice for the challenge of two wheels, yet Devonport suggest that learning to ride is “easy”. After getting a provisional licence, he tells readers all they need to do is “pass compulsory basic training (CBT), which most people do in a day. After that you can ride unsupervised on a learner-legal bike displaying L-plates”.

As an instructor myself, CBT is far from a complete introduction to riding – brutally put, it gives novice riders just enough skills that they can manipulate the controls to get the machine started and stopped and not kill themselves in the first few hundred metres, and to check they have a basic understanding of the Highway Code and go the right way round roundabouts.

By definition, as you ride on L plates after completion, CBT does not make you a qualified rider, let alone one with sufficient preparation for dealing with the demands of peak hour city centre traffic. I’ve my very own scars to prove it from attempting to ride in London on L plates when traffic was very much slower and quieter than it is now.

“The only thing standing in your way is a healthy fear of accidents, which just means you will be alert on the roads and proves you’re not crazy” he concludes.

No rider actively seeks out accidents, David. It’s not a case of riders who ‘misuse’ their machine being the only ones that fall off.

Plenty of careful riders without the experience to see what’s coming next have come unstuck; simply having a ‘healthy fear’ of coming to grief is not enough to prevent accidents as all too many riders have discovered and will continue to find out. “I didn’t know, I didn’t realise, I didn’t expect…” are words engaved on too many tombstones.

The key to avoiding accidents is to accept that they happen, then find out where and why they occur, to learn what we can do to avoid ending up in those situations… and then to use that knowledge to stay out of trouble.

Getting some proper training and a full licence before venturing into the cut and thrust of the daily commute is the first place to start, not something to leave to some undefined moment in the future; I wonder if Devonport was even aware that CBT actually concludes with a reminder that the new rider should consider getting more training.

If he was, then it’s frankly disingenous to suggest that CBT is sufficient preparation for commuting.

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