Recently I read a number of news articles about a man who came off his mountain bike, hit his head and is now paralysed as a result. However this man fell off during an instructed skills course and is now suing the instructor for £4m because of ‘Woefully inadequate’ supervision.
I feel for the victim, as it’s a tragic accident that I wouldn’t wish on anyone and it will have a massive impact on his life. However I really hope the Judge will throw this case out of court or rule in favour of the instructor.
According to the victim’s lawyer, he was a mountain biker with 12 years experience, but was a novice on rough terrain and descents. Also claiming he was encouraged to descend the section they were riding at speed and without braking which the victim felt was unsafe. Now I take issue with this. The victim is a grown man who works as a solicitor, so we can assume he is of more than fair intelligence. He also is old enough to identify risks and if he felt it wasn’t safe or didn’t feel confident enough to do the task, then he didn’t have to. No one was forcing him. However, he fell off on the second descent of the same section of trail so he had already done it once and felt confident enough to do it again.
This also raises the question that how can you be an experienced mountain biker but a novice on rough terrain and descents. As a mountain biker myself, I know that these aspects are integral to mountain biking and essentially what makes mountain biking exactly that and not just riding a bike. Is it being claimed that merely by owning a mountain bike for a number of years then you are and experienced mountain biker? No, it doesn’t. If a mountain bike is your bicycle of choice and you just ride it on the road, to the shops or on a gentle ride with your family round Centre Parks then you are not a mountain biker. Just the same as the school run mums in big four wheel drives aren’t off roaders and participate in greenlaning at the weekend with the other mums. I could go and buy a racing car if I had the money but that wouldn’t make me a racing driver.
Ultimately, anyone with any sense will know there is an element of risk in this kind of activity. Whether you ride a mountain bike or a road bike, there will always be risks. Most sporting events carry risks of accidents and injuries. By participating you accept responsibility of these risks. Lewis Hamilton will accept that driving his Mercedes at 200mph involves a high amount of risk, but he still chooses to do so. Rachel Atherton knows there is high risk of injury when racing her mountain bike at high speed downhill over extreme terrain and doesn’t blame others if she comes off and injures herself.
We now live in a blame society and I hate it. I’ve come off my mountain bike myself during an Enduro event leaving me injured. I was off work for 4 weeks on just statutory sick pay leaving me out of pocket, I had to buy new wheels for my bike as mine had buckled in the accident and buy a new helmet as I cracked mine after hitting my head on a rock which all cost quite a lot of money. Did I look to blame someone? Did I sue the event organisers? No, I didn’t. It was an accident. I knew the risks of the sport I love before I took part. I’m old enough to know what I am capable of and I wasn’t forced by anyone to do it. I know my accident is nothing compared to this victim in question but the principles are still the same. It was an accident. There was no one to blame. Just as if you had a sneezing fit whilst driving and crashed your car into a tree and injured yourself. Sometimes, unlucky things just happen and the sooner people accept that without looking for someone else to blame, the better.
What really concerns me though is the ramifications if this case falls in favour of the victim. Worms would be spilling from the can all over the place. The knock on effects could be huge and possibly devastating for the sport of Mountain Biking and cycling in general. Would instructors stop instructing in case they are sued if someone falls off? Would guided rides be stopped in case the guide is sued because someone fell off because they failed to point out that some rocks might be slippery after a recent rain fall? Would trail centres close in case someone ignored the warning signs and hit a tree after taking on a section that was too difficult for their ability? And would bike shops be sued for not warning cyclists their new brake pads would need to be bedded in? It would open the floodgates for so many people looking to make money from their own inability to accept responsibility.
If you chose to participate in something risky, accept that risk or don’t do it and spoil it for everyone else. Its a simple choice. Accidents happen. Sometimes, and some people might find this hard to believe, there is no one to blame. It’s just bad luck.
Some of you will know I have taken up cycling again after a few years out of the saddle. To be more precise I’m into Mountain Biking rather than road cycling and I have already taken my new Specialized Rockhopper on a week’s Mountain Biking on the tracks and trails of the Yorkshire Dales. However, recently, something has concerned me a lot. Something I find pretty shocking and somewhat disturbing. Something that should have attention drawn to and something that should ultimately be eradicated.
I use social media a lot. One form I use often is twitter. I use it to chat and interact with other people, usually with similar interests but not always. I‘ve met new people, learnt new things and experienced new stuff through twitter. I have a nice bunch of followers who put up with my rants and moans, random mutterings and general guff I spout about daily. Despite not actually being near me, they keep me company and when you work on your own for the most of the day like I do, it’s quite comforting.
It was through a follower on twitter I stumbled across an account called @CycleHatred. This account mainly retweets the abuse users write on twitter aimed a cyclists. Occasionally it posts videos of cyclists on the receiving end of abuse from other road users. Whilst I love riding off road, I do ride quite a bit on road too and I’ve had my fair share of near misses and close calls with motorists who don’t look, are impatient, don’t give you room, perform ridiculous manoeuvres and are genuinely oblivious to their surroundings. But I have never, yet, been abused either verbally or physically.
Some of the stuff I have seen via this twitter feed is pretty unbelievable, from videos of Drivers spitting at cyclists, to people telling their twitter followers they want to deliberately run into, injure or kill bike riders. But one tweet I saw today really hit a nerve with me and is the reason I felt the need to sit and write this. I’m not talking about the tweet from @mylomylo that stated “I wish running cyclists over was legal” Ironically it seems this guy is a lifeguard and yes, I am naming and shaming. But it’s the tweet from @ChloeA91 which said “The Cyclist I just followed to work was asking to be injured. Almost hit him just to teach him a lesson #sillyprick” that really got to me.
What is wrong with people? How can anyone be so ignorant towards someone who is riding their bike who I’m pretty sure, unless they were some kind of sado masochist, wasn’t asking to be injured? Why is there so much hatred towards cyclists? Do these people think they own the road? Perhaps it is just another sad refection of society today. Should people like Chloe even be allowed on the road herself to put other people’s lives at risk with her blatant disregard to the safety of others?
I’m not going to tar all car drivers with the same brush though. I know it is the mindless minority who hold so much contempt and hatred of other road users riding bicycles. I’m not going to moan about cars and the environment either. I love cars. Those of you who know me or read this blog regularly will know that I’m a huge petrol head. I like driving, I like motor racing and pretty much anything to do with cars and they are a big part of my life. But I like my bike too and I like to ride it as well. This means I ride on the road where I respect other road users as I wish they respect me.
I will also say that yes, there are a few mindless cyclists too. I’ve seen them jump red lights, not signal when turning, cutting through traffic, not using lights and generally doing some stupid things. But remember, we have all seen cars jump red lights, not indicate, pull out without looking, cut up other vehicles, drive whilst using a mobile phone. So not everyone is blameless.
Digging a little deeper I have seen forums where people try to justify their hatred for cyclists. Some of their arguments and reasoning’s are just ridiculous and really bug the hell out of me as I genuinely cannot believe people can be so ignorant.
One of the most common beliefs from Cycle haters is that Cyclists don’t pay road tax and should therefore not be on the road. Excuse me? There is no such thing as road tax. What these people believe is road tax which they pay each year and receive a disc they display in their vehicle is not road tax. It is a vehicle tax. Most cyclists, like myself also own a car so will also pay this vehicle tax anyway. Also, there are many new cars that are vehicle tax band A and don’t incur any tax charge and Vehicles over 25 years old are also tax exempt. Should these vehicles be banned too? Anyway, this is all irrelevant as all the tax everyone pays, from your earnings to VAT, goes into a big government pot and a percentage is taken out to pay for, the generally poor, upkeep of our roads. So this is a stupid argument. Have these people paid their ignorance tax? No. So stop being such an Ignorant fool.
I’ve seen people moan they hate cyclists because they hold them up while they are driving. Oh boo hoo. They probably moan about tractors too. The tractors farmers use to produce the food these morons eat. A lot of cyclists cycle to work. Usually because rush hour traffic is a nightmare and it is probably quicker to cycle than drive. Maybe all the cyclists should drive and add to the already congested roads? Other cyclists ride as a sport. A sport like football. A sport that some motorists pay lots of money to watch. Also these cyclists are keeping fit and active. In a world of obesity and laziness, is that such a bad thing? Think about that next time you get held up for a few seconds behind a cyclist after you’ve jumped in your car to pick up your take-away pizza from just up the road.
Another statement I’ve seen about a lot is ‘If you can’t afford a car get off the road’ or words to that effect. I can afford a car. I have a car. It’s quite a decent one too. It’s better and more expensive than quite a few of the other cars on the road. Hell, even my bike is worth more than some of the sh*tboxes a few of these haters drive around in. As stated before, most other cyclists have cars too. Some cyclists have top of the range hand built carbon fibre bikes that cost thousands of pounds. Some even cost more than a brand new car. So from this I can deduce that I and many other cyclists can afford a car and judging by this stupid statement should be allowed on the road. Let’s also not forget that you are entitled to WALK on a public highway. I rest my case.
The final point I’ll touch on is the belief that the law will always side with the cyclist over the motorist. This is completely false. The law will side with whoever was not in the wrong. As mentioned above, there are idiots on bikes and the law recognises this. Yes the woman who knocked Bradley Wiggins off his bike was summoned to the local police station, but she was in the wrong. Witnesses saw her pull out of a petrol station in front of him. But on the flip side, I will give you another example.
I knocked a cyclist off his bike once whilst I was in my car. It was actually just yards from a Police van containing half a dozen policemen who saw the incident. I had stopped in the road waiting for oncoming traffic to pass so I could make a right hand turn into the road the police van was parked and the direction I was indicating. As the traffic passed I quickly checked my mirror and made my manoeuvre. As I was halfway across the road there was a bang. A cyclist had ridden into the side of my car and fallen off his bike. I hadn’t seen him. As I got out of my car to see if he was ok and apologise, the on looking policemen had made their way over. The cyclist was fortunately OK, but was keen to show me his anger at what had happened. Thankfully the police were there although I did think I was going to get into a lot of trouble. One policeman was trying to get the cyclist to stop shouting and go home despite his complaints his front wheel was buckled. The other policeman who had came over spoke to me. He told me I had nothing to apologise for and was glad there wasn’t any damage to my car as they didn’t want the paperwork to deal with. I was somewhat confused by this. He explained the cyclist had overtaken the car waiting behind me and rode straight into the side of my car as I made the manoeuvre I was signalling for. He was in the wrong and I had done nothing punishable.
Maybe it is this kind of cyclist that the haters refer to. The minority. Yes they can be a nuisance. But there are many other nuisances behind the wheel of a car. Do I hate them? No. I am a car driver too. I love cars and I love driving. I also know that they are the minority and I don’t judge everyone on the actions of a few. Whilst I accept we are all accountable for our own actions on the road, I can’t really accept the attitude of the mindless few who think it’s funny to suggest it would be worthwhile to harm people who ride bikes. Surely they are the ones who shouldn’t be on the road. Or even out in public as they seem to pose a danger to everyone and even themselves with their own idiocy. So please, less of the hatred. I know we can all get frustrated and cross at times for a number of different reasons, but it would be better for all if we could all just get along, put aside the ridiculous reasons for hating people and put the brush that’s used for tarring down.
Oh, and feel free to follow me on twitter: @ChrisGurton