Minding the gap: real and perceived.


Mind the gap!

So there I was. Crossing the enormous intersection and just about to re-enter the bike path on the other side when a cyclist undertook me. There wasn’t much space. You can see from the image above that the curb cut is narrower than the bike path. I let out a ‘yelp’. I got a fright. She turned back and gave me an earful. She saw me with headphones in my ears. Funnily enough, I could hear her telling me whose fault she thought it was. She may have also been telling me that I should have had a helmet on my head. But by that stage, she had already put quite a distance between us.


Update: Some of the feedback on this post has been critical of me because I was wearing headphones at the time. “If only you hadn’t been wearing headphones, this situation would not have arisen.” That’s total nonsense of course. I know that because since writing the original post, this scenario has been a regular occurrence with or without headphones. The surrounding noise makes it impossible to hear a cyclist approaching from behind at high speed whether you have headphones on or not.


You see, I prefer to ride like a #wheeledpedestrian. Slow, steady, no sweat. In contrast, the cyclist in this story and the few I see on the bike lanes that I use everyday, are just that, cyclists. Fast commuters and sporty types. And increasingly, on e.bikes. Riding fast over long distances seems to be symptomatic of bike cultures that exist in sprawling cities dominated by cars. My preference to shrinking the journey would be to use my bike to connect me to a fast and efficient transport network. Park n ride. But we don’t do that kind of civility just yet.


Of course, speed is at the core of the issue. I was in fact, being my usual cautious self. Slow and steady. That’s an intersection that requires one’s undivided attention. The reason I didn’t see the cyclist on this particular occasion was because she was out of sight, right behind another cyclist. As I watched them ride into the distance, my first thoughts were that they were friends, riding together. But finally I came to the conclusion that she, on the e.bike was trying to match the speed of the sports cyclists. This was not the first time such a thing has happened. Nor, I imagine, will it be the last. I am constantly on high alert for the ‘threat’ of the silent and swift ‘predators’ of the cycle paths. The paths are often narrow. The image above shows how overgrown they can become. Sometimes they are covered in glass. Sometimes they have pedestrians on them, walking three abreast, with a dog. They are contested spaces. I think now would be a good time for a public discussion on the topic of bike lane etiquette.

As they say, speed kills. And as I say, it will take more than just bike lanes to make a cycling culture that is embraced by a broad membership of society.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickr.



  1. Mark, I love my eBike. They totally flatten the hills when I’m in my office clothes, and as you know, I’m normally running late. The latest ‘issue’ on the Grafton Gulley cycle way in the morning is large hordes of students in tight bunches packing the entire width of the path walking between the halls of residence in Whitaker Place and Grafton Rd. Lots of bell ringing eventually awakens them to the other users.
    Russell B


    1. Thanks Russell, I hear ya. And I am not doubting the effectiveness and efficiency of ebikes. This post was a reflection of the wider issues around cycling. “Riding fast over long distances seems to be symptomatic of bike cultures that exist in sprawling cities dominated by cars.” My question is, how do we go beyond that? How do we elevate the role of bikes to the point where they are welcome on city streets. I saw a lot of ebikes in Japan when I was there recently. But they are used by mothers to cart children and shopping around. The perfect device for slow practical utility cycling.


  2. As bicycling increases, we hope, there ought to be slow, medium, fast lanes on paths. I wish I had a video camera on my helmet to show how eagerly male cyclists overtake me without ebikes. I wish on them all a boatload of sore muscles. It is as if they cannot abide the idea of being behind a female cyclist and will do anything to pass. But I am happy they are bicycling….


  3. Car centric society has made places too far and the need to go fast when mixing with cars. I actually like to be in a relaxed mode and enjoying scenery while cycling, no pedalling even if not needed, but it’s far, it’s hilly, I’m late, there’s someone ringing and honking


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