The Arrogance of the Bell Ringing Canal Cyclists

I changed my cycling commuting route from the roads onto a section of the canal about three kilometres long. I had thought that it would be a lot safer than the road and, perhaps, allow me to get some good pace up. While I’ve managed to get a pace going on some sections, I have realised that the canal isn’t as safe a cycle as I first thought, and worse than that a fair number of the cyclists turn out to be quite the menace.

Amazingly I found that some of these canal cyclists are oblivious to a number of things such as common courtesy, rules of the road (or path), right of way, animals, and last, but not least, people. Of course they have their bells, and that makes everything right.

On the canal the bike to the person is like the car to the bike on the road. Yet they don’t tend to realise that and every trip I see one of the following – Racing head on towards people walking; Cut in front of people as they reach a narrowing point like a gate or a bridge; Race head on towards other cyclists; Weave in and out of groups of people, runners and cyclists.

Basically there’s just a whole lack of consideration or care for other users of the canal path.

What rises out of this is what I call The Arrogance of the Canal Cyclist, and it’s very easy to spot which of the thoughtless and reckless cyclists these are, they have bells – “Ting Ting!”, “Ting Ting!” you hear, and instantly people, animals and other cyclists have to get out of the way. When someone has a bell, they have the path.

Should that be the way that car drivers behave on the road? Just blast their horns at cyclists to tell them to get out of the way, a car is coming and it isn’t going to reduce speed or give you any room. I can see that going down well.

Just last week there were two incidents that highlight my annoyance with the bell ringing cyclists. One occurred under one of the bridges where the path narrows and turns into cobbles. They are immediately preceded by blind corners, they narrow the path down to half the width of the path, and they are bumpy, slippy cobbles. As I approach these bridges I reduce speed right down, drop my gears, and cruise along, ready to stop and lean against the wall should someone need to pass me in the opposite direction, in control of the bike.

As I turn the corner onto the cobbled section under the bridge, there is the familiar sound – “Ting-Ting!” – and around the corner comes an older woman on her bike, obviously going too fast and hardly in control. She panics, wobbles frantically unsure what to do as I easily stop, lean against the wall and give her space – “Where’s your bell?!” she says as she panics at the sight of another person on the path. “I don’t need one” I reply, “I slow down and keep in control.” Of course that last part is lost for she’s already around the corner and heading off, no thought to slow down and retain control.

It’s odd because this is the main cause of issue I find on the road with cars, they don’t want to slow down on their journey and that causes them to take risks with their car and me. There’s one point in particular next to Merchants golf course that has a narrowed two lane road that leads up to a blind summit on a blind corner, and what makes it worse is that if you’re heading from the North West there’s a blind corner on the hill that leads to that blind summit on that blind corner. What you find is that drivers won’t slow down, overtake you on that blind corner leading to the summit, or even worse leading to the summit itself, with no view ahead and no idea what’s coming. Since they can’t see what’s coming they decide to pull in close to you in order to allow other cars past, and when I say close I mean inches.

They can’t afford to be late for their tea, even if it does cost the life of a cyclist. That’s how these cyclists are thinking on the canal.

The other incident involved a speeding cyclist from behind, again in a mad desire to get to his destination, most likely work. It seemed his work was that of saving young children from death, and he was the only one who could possibly do it in the world. If he didn’t get there early enough then the children would die.

Well, that’s of course how he cycled. Everyone on the path was in his way, animals, pedestrians, cyclists, and all that needed to be done was to ring that bell and we would all get out of the way. After all, it’s not only in the Highway Code that anyone should get out of the way for a ringing bell, it’s the law. Oh wait, I’m being sarcastic again aren’t I?

So I’m cycling along the path and, when there’s no one in sight and I can see clearly, I put the foot down and sprint. When I arrive behind people I slow down, wait for a gap, overtake gently, and then accelerate again, returning to my side of the path. Just as I would do on the road.

I arrive behind someone, slow down, and wait for an oncoming cyclist to pass by. As I arrive behind the person I hear the first series of “Ting-Tings!”, I assume to get both myself, the pedestrian and the oncoming cyclist out of the way. Funny thing is the oncoming cyclist can’t magically move out of the way and neither should they, follow the sound of ramming on breaks and dramatic skidding from behind me.

Once the oncoming cyclist has passed I pull out slowly and gently pass the pedestrian, and I’ve hardly started that movement before the “Ting-Ting!” is happening again. I can genuinely feel that the cyclist is really close behind, the sound of the tyres on gravel, the glimpses of a wheel from the corner of my eye as they try and push past. He can’t though, I’ve already pulled out and am passing the pedestrian.

This happens once again, and then we come to a bridge where I follow a similar procedure to the previous incident. Again the “Ting-Ting!” occurs, sounding more harassed this time, but I’m taking care going under the bridge on the narrowed path and so again they have to follow.

Out from the other side and there’s no waiting and no bell, a race past as I start to pull around another pedestrian and they’re off down the path, weaving in and out of people and other cyclists, pulling out into oncoming cyclists and pushing through gaps, not even letting up one crank.

These type of cyclists embarrass me. Together with those cyclists who ignore the laws of the road, jumping lights, cycling on pavements, etc. They make me embarrassed to be a cyclist. For people look onto them as the typical cyclist and the reputation follows. They behave as a car driver would who doesn’t give a cyclist space on a road, or cuts in front of them. Then it’s not long before the drivers forget, or don’t care to, respect the road rules for the cyclists.

What people like this forget, whether they be the arrogant cyclist or the arrogant driver, is that the other person they are cutting up, pushing past, or generally just being arrogant towards, is a person. They could be their neighbour, someone in their morning meeting, their mortgage approver, the person servicing their bike or car, or the person racing to get to save those dying children.

While I hate the arrogance of the bell ringing canal cyclist, and this article talks about my annoyance of them and their attitudes to others, it’s really about something else. It’s about the arrogance of people, be they in cars or on bikes, one might even draw comparisons with those on the Internet.

You see its people who are arrogant and disrespectful, and the emotional distance between them and others, whether that be caused by viewing them as graphics and text on a screen, or an obstruction between them and their goal, lacking that emotional connection and respect for a fellow person causes this behaviour. It’s this that causes the problems, not the bell, not the type of vehicle.

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