In praise of two square inches

As a cyclist, I am nearly killed on the road quite frequently. As one can only actually be killed once, it is something I’m trying to avoid.

Here’s how.

A motorist is not a person, it is a role. The role of the motorist is to get from A to B.

When we sit behind the wheel (yes, I’m a motorist too), this is our destiny: we are programmed to make progress. We know the rules and etiquette of the road, but the motorist easily falls from grace. An urgent appointment, an important carphone chat, a rush of road-entitlement, a myopic focus on getting to our destination – all conspire to convince us that we just gotta get past that darned cyclist.

The motorist knows only progress, and there are many good people who unwittingly become bad motorists. I certainly have been one of them.

The cyclist commences every journey balancing not just a bike, but fate. We cyclists are glad to arrive at our destination, breathe in the air and get a little fitter along the way, but we never forget our governing maxim – ‘remember to stay alive’.

A smart cyclist knows that the stakes are always high.

In Ireland, we have been brought up on a diet of road safety which is effectively passive and disempowering. ‘Be safe, be seen’ is the general counsel which has been imprinted on my brain.

Behind this is a paradigm of dependency: make sure that the motorist sees you and all will be well.

I am prepared to believe that motorists do not wish to kill me. I am not prepared to trust that they will not.

Being seen on the road is vital, but it is not enough. Which brings me to a key piece of cycling equipment which is emergent in the USA but almost wholly absent from Irish roads: the cyclist’s rearview mirror.

Attached to either sunglasses or bicycle helmet, the rearview mirror enables me to see what jiggery pokery is coming up behind me. I can swivel it – it is indirectly attached to my head – to see exactly what I need to see.

The rearview mirror enables the cyclist to see the upcoming speeding truck which will create dangerous tailwind; the car with a trailer bigger than its own footprint and hence much closer to me than its motorist thinks; the impatient boy racer whose driving skills are inversely proportionate to a need for speed, and – most frequent of all – the average motorist in a hurry, prepared to come way too close to my bike in order to make progress.

I have asked in several Irish cycle shops about this simple safety device (mine cost $15 in the USA). Cycling retailers are aware of them, are prepared to order them, but tell me that there is little demand in Ireland.

I note that the Irish Road Safety Authority’s cycle safety web page does not mention the rearview cycling mirror at all.

Being seen is a necessity when you cycle on the roads. Seeing what the motorist behind you is about to do is also highly valuable.

When the stakes are high, two square inches of mirror could save your life.

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Brian McIntyre. July 2013.

About Rothar Republic
My name is Brian McIntyre. During late July and August 2013 I am cycling the coast and borders of the Republic of Ireland, and using the opportunity to raise money for charity (The Peter McVerry Trust).

In the lead-up to the 100th anniversary of 1916, I’m interested to see how our little country is doing. Cycling its perimeter, observing and talking to its people, is my own way of taking the lie of the land.

I figure this is a 28 day-long expedition covering about 2,500km.

All monies go directly to the Peter McVerry Trust which supports young homeless people in Dublin to break the cycle of homelessness and move towards independent living.

http://www.mycharity.ie/event/rotharrepublic

If easier, consider sending me a pledge through private message.

Many thanks.

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