IT looks as if I’m going to have to adapt to this brave new world of the bicycle and stop throwing a wobbler every time I feel threatened by a pair of wheels. Nothing I can say or do will stop the advance of the bicycle, and by this time next year, the city will be overrun by 200 bikes with 400 cycle docks, in the eagerly anticipated Limerick Bike Scheme. Where I’m going to find a parking space for my gas guzzling automobile, is what I want to know.
As if that wasn’t enough to shiver me timbers, the HSE is offering a new bike, and all the gear and safety equipment that goes with it, to every employee who wants to cycle to work. The offer comes with a health warning or what is euphemistically described as a ‘salary sacrifice’ to pay for the bike. Phew! For one minute there, I thought they were going to sacrifice the A&E at University Hospital. The inducement, in case anyone is wondering what’s in it for him or her, is that the ‘salary sacrifice’ is not subject to benefit-in-kind taxation. Surely only a fanatic cyclist would fall for that one?
But that’s the trouble with cyclists. A lot of them are fanatics. Yikes, maybe I’d better stop right there. I’ll offend the puritans and some day I could find myself in an operating theatre waiting for a surgeon to remove his bicycle clips before wielding the scalpel.
Mind you I have nothing against cyclists, except that they are so goddamn superior. Sometimes, they make me feel like a social pariah in the above mentioned gas guzzler, and every time I hear that the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny has cycled effortlessly around the Ring of Kerry, after running up and down Croagh Patrick half a dozen times, as well as taking the slings and arrows of an unreasonable populace who can’t see why he won’t fix the economy with superglue and leave them alone, I feel like throwing up. I do, however, feel that cyclists should at least have to undergo a cycling test. It took me nearly ten years to pluck up the courage to do the driving test, and another ten to get it. Just when I was taking down the L plates and investing in a car appropriate to my newly qualified status, everyone else was graduating to a bicycle. I just couldn’t bring myself to retrieve my High Nelly from the mechanical graveyard.
Yet, one woman I know who has recently taken to the bike, hasn’t a clue how to control it. She’s concentrating so hard that the rules of the road have taken second place to her struggle with gyroscopic forces. The front wheel wobbles precariously every time she loses concentration, but she assures me that she’s getting the hang of it at last. Who is going to ensure that everyone who borrows a bike in the new Limerick scheme is competent to cycle in traffic?
I also think that bicycles, especially the new bikes currently being purchased for the upcoming scheme, should come equipped with rear view mirrors and stop lights. Whatever the RSA may say, I’ve never met a cyclist yet, or a motorist for that matter, who had eyes in the back of his or her head. Certainly, cyclists are vulnerable, but that doesn’t exempt them from taking some responsibility for their own safety.
The biggest problem I have with cycling, however, is that, as a motorist, I’m beginning to feel discriminated against. Cyclists get all the breaks, and now, if the HSE scheme is successful, they’re getting the tax breaks as well. They use the roads and their special cycle lanes, but, unlike the rest of us, they don’t have to pay a penny for their upkeep and maintenance. Granted, they don’t do as much surface damage as an articulated truck or a fleet of saloons, but cycle lanes don’t just grow at the side of road. I don’t care if I’m on the wrong track and I’m not in the least worried about offending political correctness or the anti obesity lobby. All I know is that motorists and other road users are getting a raw deal in this massive bicycle push currently underway. We’re beginning to feel like second class citizens. Those of us who have forgotten how to ride a bike or who suffer from vertigo or who would look ridiculous anyway in bicycle shorts and a helmet, have rights too, you know!
Last week, I read a delightful article on the Leader by Limerick man, Stephen Lappin, about his trip on ‘the road less travelled’ – the old N7 from Limerick to Dublin. The trouble is that he did the trip on a bike. If he had done it behind the wheel of a car, he’d be tearing his hair out with frustration by the time he had reached Borris-in-Ossory. They’ve reduced this former National primary route to a regional roadway, with a speed limit of 80kph. Now, I live on a road that is only eight feet wide in places, with grass in the middle and more bends than you’d find on a corkscrew, and the speed limit is the same.
The downgrading of the N7 was necessary, we were told, to provide bicycle lanes at each side and to ensure the safety of the thousands of cycling tourists who would avail of the facility. On a trip from Nenagh to Limerick on a sunny afternoon last week, I counted no fewer than five. The really irritating thing is that they nearly passed me out, when I slowed down, after spotting a white van parked in a strategic spot checking for speeding motorists.