We don’t pay for the roads we use, we risk our lives, and we’re all sweaty…
It’s an issue that gets people fired up and nothing gets motorists quite as heated up as someone on a bike. Why? Because apparently cyclists break road rules, speed, weave in and out of traffic and show irresponsible behaviour on the roads. We have heard it all before.
1. Cyclists don’t pay road tax
Well, that’s true, but then no one does either, because it doesn’t exist. Road tax was abolished in 1937. What drivers pay is Vehicle Excise Duty (VED). The amount depends on the vehicle’s carbon dioxide emissions, with owners of low-emission vehicles paying nothing. Since bicycles are zero emission, cyclists would pay nothing even if bicycles were subject to VED. Note that VED is not ring-fenced for roads, just as the tax on alcohol doesn’t directly pay for alcohol-related illnesses. Roads are paid for out of: general taxation, which includes everything from income tax to duty on booze; and local taxation, which is to say, Council Tax. If you pay tax, you pay for roads. For more information, visit the ironically named website ipayroadtax.com.
2. Cyclists should use cycle lanes / cycle tracks
Cycle lanes are painted areas on the road, while cycle tracks are separate from the road. Cyclists are not obliged to use either; even the Highway Code says to use them ‘when practicable’. Some cycle lanes are not useful: they’re too narrow and place you too close to the kerb. Cycle tracks vary too. Some are convenient, while others are badly lit, badly maintained, or force you to give way at every side road. One day we may get wonderful cycle facilities like they have in the Netherlands – some of which are compulsory. In the meantime, if a cycle lane or cycle track helps you, use it; if it doesn’t, don’t.
3. Cyclists ignore red lights
Some do, and shame on them. It’s not ‘all cyclists’, however, or even most, but rather a minority. The statistics suggest that car drivers are equally likely to transgress. According to the Department for Transport, disobeying automatic traffic signals was a contributory factor in 1% of cycle accidents and 1% of car accidents in 2013. That’s 187 and 1,664 accidents respectively, so while the proportions may be equal, there are many more drivers than cyclists causing accidents by running red lights.
4. Cycling makes you sweaty Linked to the idea that cycling is hard work is the notion that it must therefore make you sweat. If you dress too warmly and/or ride too hard, then yes, cycling will make you sweat. Solution: remove that sweater and slow down. Treat cycling not like running or jogging but like walking. Pedal easily and ‘stroll’ along. It’s more comfortable riding like this on traditional town bike or sit-up-and-beg style hybrid than it is on a racer. Give yourself plenty of time for your journey and carry your luggage on the bike instead of your back. You’ll arrive sweat-free.
5. Bikes are expensive They’ve never been cheaper in real terms. A hundred years ago, a decent bike cost about a month’s wages. In 2015, the average weekly wage is a little under £500, easily enough for a good quality bike; you could get an adequate one for half that. Yet you’re unlikely to regret getting the better bike, especially if you get it via Cyclescheme, which saves at least 25% on the price and enables you to spread the cost. Bikes are inexpensive to run, because the engine is fuelled by cornflakes.