Saturday 24 November 2012

My name is Katja, and I am scared

"Doctor, I'm not a happy bunny"
"Doctor, I'm not a happy bunny"
Every instance that we don't listen to these women - hurts.

I recently gave a talk about cycling and what the Newcastle Cycling Campaign is doing. I said "You can relax. We are not here to talk you into cycling. We understand why people don't cycle. So, with us it's all about the space. We want more cycle space so that people are given a real choice."

One woman's reaction was this "I am so glad to hear this. I always thought there was something wrong with me. I am too scared to cycle."

And then there's this woman we met when the Newcastle Cycling Campaign was gathering comments about the 'Summer of Cycling'.

She - a regular bike commuter - felt it must be her fault that cycling didn't feel safe. It prompted her to take up the council's offer of free adult cycle training. She said this afterwards "I think the training was sensible, and I can understand the view that by delivering training you either increase numbers on the roads or give those that also use cars a better understanding of what it’s like to be a cyclist in traffic."

Then this.

"But it’s a shame that the whole focus is about keeping yourself safe, rather than riding technique or any of the nicer things that I was able to consider when I rode my route with dedicated cycling space.

She concluded with this.

"I still get scared on a regular basis on my way to work, and based on the training that’s not because I’m doing anything wrong." Source

In infrastructure meetings (there have been a lot recently in Newcastle thanks to the Campaign there), I still cringe every time I hear this bird's familiar mating call "I am a keen cyclist" - typically followed by "I don't mind cycling there [ie 30mph double-lane fast heavy traffic]". Their patronising arrogance and sheer selfishness thereby hindering better cycle provision for others.

We ought to start listening to these brave "fearful" women voicing their concerns. Whether they are using a bicycle or not doesn't matter. And by all means, men too - though the 'admitting-to-fear' threshold may be higher with them.

So I say "Hello, my name is Katja. And I have been cycling for nearly 40 years, and I am full of fear cycling in Newcastle. Every day."

Cycle track, me and the bell. And basket.


  1. It's a similar thing down in London and it's not until you try riding on some quieter roads that you realize how it could be. It's difficult to explain but I guess the best I can do is that when riding on the busier routes there is always that niggling sensation that you can't 100% enjoy the experience as you have to devote 5-10% to being incredibly aware of what's going on around you.

    I guess having been riding for some many years I've effectively acclimatised to these conditions and it wasn't until I'd tweaked some routes that I really noticed. For example some major roadworks near my house that meant my normal route was blocked (or at least diverted) however I could use some backroads to join the diversion courtesy of some nice "cyclist only" infrastructure that joins up 2 one-way systems. It a much more pleasant route as it's avoids a busy main road and I rarely encounter many moving vehicles as it's residential roads.

  2. My Name is Emma. I have been cycling around Manchester for well over a decade. I love it but I am scared too.

    In the summer I relaxed and enjoyed it. I thought maybe I had got better at cycling but I realised recently that the traffic is just lighter in the summer holidays and I could cycle through the park and on back streets because it was light. Now the clocks have changed I am back on the main roads. The fear is probably disproportionate to the danger but it is real. The worst thing is that I am sometimes scared but my partner and my family are terrified for me. So there is fear and guilt to worry about and all I am trying to do is get to work, keep fit and save both money and fuel. I still love it but the fear factor makes me angry.

  3. I'm male and 40 and I get scared too. I have also aclimatised to some of the danger but still feel the danger. To be honest, I deal with it by cycling very fast to spend less time in danger spots, and reach an adrenalised state which blocks fear, puts me in a high state of awareness and defensive riding style. I don't think I can take it for many more years.

  4. I'm male and get scared on the roads of Cambridge regularly. In fact I'd say I've been scared off specific routes and would rather spend 20% longer going further than going along some roads.

    I've recently been musing as to why it is that the safety record for cycling is statistically very good (as in accident rate per million km is low, the rate going up is NOT good!) and yet people are still scared of riding. And it is all the unrecorded incidents that happen all the time. I reckon I get a close pass every 2 miles on my quiet routes, based on counting over 2 years. I dread to think how much people suffer whilst commuting on busy roads.

    Essentially, the statistics don't get near describing the dangers on the road. Often you hear this as the "perceived" danger. I for one think there is nothing "perceived" about the danger on the roads.

  5. I do help myself. I make judgment calls on which road sections to avoid, which I should ride fast through to get them over and done with. I position myself so I can be seen, I claim my lane and block traffic from over taking when it's unsafe. And yes, I'm still scared.

    I don't think Trott's comments about helping yourself is necessarily wrong, but the majority of us already do this. However it is extremely unhelpful in an already anti-cyclist biased media.

    Don't start me off on the helmet law rant. Perhaps these riders need to be coached a bit more in media (aka tact, and thinking a bit more before you open your mouth), not just how to ride fast.

  6. I cycled a bit in London, years ago, before my bike was stolen. I recently went to a meeting of my local cycling campaign group in London. Everyone was welcoming and dedicated to getting proper provision that would let anyone cycle.

    And then in the pub afterwards, I was asked about my commute (done by train, after 1 unpleasant attempt by bike), given tips on road positioning and routes, and lots of other friendly advice to get me cycling in London.

    No, I said. I have a finite amount of determination. I'm not using it to cycle in current conditions, I'm using it to harangue people about changing the conditions.

    And that was just people who are so enthusiastic about cycling they had to share it - I can't imagine standing up alone against people who genuinely believe my problem is all lack of courage!
    So thank you to the campaigners who have spent the last few years standing up for people like me, who want to cycle, but don't want to do it in these conditions.