On Cycling

I’m frustrated. Every time – every single time – I bring up cycling and cycling-related deaths the response is, in one way or another: “fucking cyclists”. Either they’re riding two abreast on a small road, or running red lights, or holding up traffic.

To the best of my knowledge, none of the eight people killed in the last few months were doing any of the above. So why did Constable Hensley feel the need to mention that “he had seen cyclists do ‘a lot of stupid things’ including going through red lights and weaving in and out of traffic.”?

When a family dies in a road accident on a slippery road at night, we don’t respond with “fucking drivers, always doing burnouts and playing their oonst oonst music”. This is because we know the majority of drivers are not boy racers.

And yet, here we are. Eight people killed, almost certainly through no fault of their own, and we’re pointing out fringe behaviour in unrelated cases. Why?

Why not focus instead on the cycling infrastructure? The inattentiveness of drivers? The lack of cyclists in general here in New Zealand, leading to an apathy toward them as road users?

We allow pedestrians the courtesy of a safe footpath, no matter how drunk, stupid or disorderly they are. We allow drivers huge expanses of road, regardless of how often they use their phone, break the speed limit, or roll through a stop sign. Why are cyclists afforded the barest tolerance, the narrowest possible space – so narrow, that a single inattentive swing of a door results in death – with the reason being that another cyclist, at some unrelated time, was an idiot?

Instead of responding with fringe behaviour by one group, respond as if it’s your mum riding that bike. Getting rear-ended at speed on a country road. Getting doored by a car and falling under a truck.

Fucking cyclists.


  1. Thanks very much for that, Ben – you’ve spoken my mind as well (probably more succinctly, and with fewer cuss words). Well done. It’s just sad that it’s even necessary.

  2. I moved to Auckland recently from Europe. In my country (Czech Republic) is majority of the drivers nervous or at least a bit ignorant towards cyclists so i dont feel safe on the road at all. In Germany almost all drivers are respectful, safe distance – it`s always pleasure to go for a ride in Germany on road bike.

    As i noticed here in Auckland : Some drivers are very respectful to cyclist, you get a lot of space, there is safe distance… but some drivers are crazy, totally ignorant (e.g. I was riding on Scenic Drive and it`s quite narrow road and car passed over my that almost touched me by mirror on the side !). That`s why i will always stay on the pavement in Auckland. I guess i will be mainly mountain biker in your country 🙂

    Take care on the roads and do not trust narrow bike lanes.

  3. So why did Constable Hensley feel the need to mention that “he had seen cyclists do ‘a lot of stupid things’ including going through red lights and weaving in and out of traffic.”?

    I agree with the sentiment, but when I see something inflammatory quoted in the NZ Herald, I’m inclined to be suspicious by default and give the benefit of the doubt to the speaker until there’s further information. It wouldn’t be the first time someone’s been quoted out of context or misrepresented.

    Aside from the snippet in the Herald, does anyone happen to have a full transcript of everything Constable Hensley actually said?

  4. Why not focus instead on the cycling infrastructure? The inattentiveness of drivers? The lack of cyclists in general, leading to an apathy toward them as road users?

    See you’re taking sides as well and are just as big part of the problem as those pointing the finger at cyclists. I agree cyclists do get a pretty bad ride (pun intended) in a lot if instances but by only looking at cycling infrastructure you’re missing the wider issues of transport.

    That Tamaki drive blackspot could easily be improved by slowing all traffic down before Kelly Tarltons and making the whole corner a shared cycle/car lane with different coloured paving, ‘topes’ entering the area and decent signage to make all road users more alert.

    A lot can also be done for pedestrians. Crossings placed at more appropriate places, better signage, barriers, etc.

    And cars can get a better deal. Free turns where appropriate, more efficient parking systems, etc.

    But most of all if requires everybody to just open their eyes and look. Pedestrians should look before J-Walking, cyclists should slowdown before crashing red lights and drivers shouldn’t ‘block the box’. All pretty simple things really.

    How do we work together to provide a better transport system?

  5. Well spoken, Ben.

    The (hate the word, but) kneejerk, ignorant reaction to any discussion in this area is deeply frustrating and it is 90% of the reason I’ve pulled back from being so active in bike advocacy. Might as well threaten a nun as argue that a driver should take more care. Seriously, the number of times last year people bailed me up to say “you’re a cyclist – why do you think cyclists keep getting killed? It’s all this running red lights eh! Wankers, haha!”

    Ask: Why does the government spend so much money installing red light cameras? A: Not to catch bikes.

    Ask: The nurse killed on Tamaki Drive was wearing lycra / riding in a bunch / riding two abreast / arrogant Tour de France wannabe / riding through a red light? A: None of the above.

    And so on.

    To your other point: it seems the officer in this instance is pretty well aware of the whole situation – note the comment about the footpath cycleway being in the door zone – but it does sound like the his quote wasn’t totally out of context; the story goes on to say “He said cyclists were governed by the same road rules as motorists but some seem to disregard them.”

    There’s absolutely no reason why the officer’s comments couldn’t be reversed to powerful effect:

    “Constable Hensley said that speaking generally, he had seen motorists do “a lot of stupid things” including going through red lights and weaving in and out of traffic.

    “Although it is often the non-driver who bears the brunt of the crash – so to speak – a lot of time car drivers don’t help themselves by the manner of their driving.”

    He said motorists were governed by the same road rules as cyclists but some seem to disregard them.”

  6. OK, I’ve just read the story at 3 News (http://www.3news.co.nz/Compulsory-high-vis-clothing-for-cyclists/tabid/423/articleID/262619/Default.aspx#ixzz21fkk4UZd) and now I’m pissed off.

    ““I see a lot of cyclists do a lot of stupid things,” says Senior Constable Brian Hensley. “I think that’s what car drivers get upset about, they see someone going through red light weaving in and out of traffic and think there’s someone asking for a crash.” He says lack of visibility is a common theme and the coroner floated the idea of compelling cyclists to wear high vis or reflective clothing, as well making them use cycle lanes where they’re available.”

    Yep, those three people in Morrinsville riding two abreast legally in a straight line on their side of a road with over 100m visibility wearing bright clothing and helmets weaving in and out of traffic and going through red lights and not wearing hi-vis certainly got what was coming to ’em. Accident waiting to happen.

    Bet if there’d been a cycle lane that driver wouldn’t have lost control of her car and would never have skidded across two lanes and through a fence and hit them.

    Fucking cyclists.

    Maybe I’ll post again later in the day when I’m less stupidly angry.

  7. Feels like a lot of idealism in the pro-cycling brigade posting here and on twitter. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but generally speaking drivers are idiots. All of you are the exception (as, I like to think, am I). You would rather crawl over broken glass than risk hitting and killing a cyclist. Possibly because you ride bikes yourselves, probably because you’re decent thoughtful people.

    Even if for arguments sake 99% of people are considerate just like you (we all know the real number is likely considerably lower). If you get hit and killed by the guy/girl who’s that 1%, the statistic really doesn’t matter does it.

    There will always be idiot drivers. You can never change that, not with money, signs, education, roads that are 100m wide, dedicated cycle lanes. Nothing will stop idiots being idiots.

    To ride a bike on New Zealand roads is to take life into your own hands. Most of the people Ben mentions who were killed were riding to the letter of the law, on the road with cars, signaling, wearing appropriate clothing, riding properly. Didn’t matter a bit.

    Yes I know what you’re going to say, “not good enough”. Well sorry, but you can’t change it. Nothing short of a massive cultural revolution will. People don’t care about throwing rubbish on the streets, being polite to others, respecting others. It’s across every level of society, every aspect. You’d have to change peoples attitudes universally, not just about sharing the road with bikes.

    In the meantime, ride on footpaths, stay the heck out of traffic and get home safely to your kids. Or take a bus.

    1. You could die falling over in the shower, too.

      Riding on the footpath is illegal unless you are:

      a) Delivering (mail, leaflets, whatever)

      b) Riding a small wheeled recreational device that has a wheel diameter of less than 355 millimetres (typically tricycles or small children’s bicycles).

      Don’t do it, you are less visible to motorists exiting driveways and you will be a hazard to pedestrians.

      As an accident free rider of 25 years, I’d say the best thing you can do is learn:

      a) How to ride whilst glancing/looking backward, without wobbling or falling off.
      b) How to ride whilst signalling left or right with your arm, without wobbling or falling off.
      c) How to look ahead and predict what you need to do about hazards like parked cars and narrow roads.
      d) How to take the lane in order to use what you learn in c)

      That last one is REALLY IMPORTANT – if it’s not safe to share the road, take the whole damn thing until its safe to get back on the left. The road code compells thee!

  8. I was really angry last night with the constable who made those comments. Everyone knows that there are a minority of cyclists who do stupid things just as there are car drivers who do dumb things. On Friday, whilst wearing hi vis gear riding in single file along the waterfront. Come to Ngapipi Road heading back towards town, cycle light flashing bus waiting to turn. Bus driver waits until we are crossing road and makes turn. We slam on brakes and bus takes turn. Number of bus not visible as he had turned off light. Carried on single file into town, headed round back of Vodafone building and was doored by car. Trip to hospital severe bruising and bike written off. Response from police when visited them to make statement. No need for report as non-injury and driver admitted fault. What! So how do they measure cycle injuries if they don’t take report. Last nights comments are the last straw.

  9. Great minds think alike. I penned a letter to the Herald yesterday which failed to get in today’s paper:

    Dear sir/madam,

    At the inquest to Jane Bishop’s death on Tamaki Drive Police Senior Constable Brian Hensley noted, quite rightly, that the Tamaki Drive footpath ‘cycle lane’ is not up to carrying fast riding cyclists. He also noted that the lane puts cyclists in the ‘door zone’ of passengers getting out of cars. It is clear then that the lane is not suitable for more than ½ of the cyclists who use Tamaki Drive.

    I was not impressed about his generalisation of cyclists doing “a lot of stupid things”. I would suggest that car drivers on average do more stupid things than cyclists. In the list of cycling fatalities covered by the coroner’s inquest drivers were more at fault in all of the accidents. His comments show little respect to the law abiding cyclists who died last year.

    yours etc…

    While we’re talking about cycling and the Police, a freind and I were cycling along the 4 lane section of tamaki Drive a few months ago, two abreast at 30km/hr. A police car stopped us and threatened us with a ticket for “impeding traffic”. We pointed out that there was a free lane to ride around us, but that didnt wash. So with even the Police against us what chance do we have?

  10. Very well written piece!

    “I didn’t see you” = “I didn’t look”
    “I didn’t see you” = “I don’t care, it’s just a bike”

  11. it’s all well and goodo have dedicated cycles, as well do down here in Timaru, except oh wait, you still get ignorant hill billies who decide they own, and then drive in the effing cycle lane. i lived and worked in Sydney for 5 years, cycled to and from work everyday next to 3 lanes of cars and still felt safer than i do in my own country, F*CK NZ CAR DRIVERS!

  12. I completely agree. I got hit by a car while cycling a couple weeks ago, the driver refused to admit it was his fault. I had the right of way, lights on and was wearing white clothing. He still hit me and now I’m having all sorts of complications from the impact. He admitted he wanted to drive off but thought someone may have seen his number plate. The ignorance of some drivers towards cyclists is unfathomable. The police said it wasn’t worth filing a report because I wasn’t ‘injured enough’. Just because I didn’t get taken to hospital in a neck brace or the morgue doesn’t mean the incident should be waved off. Sometimes I feel like you have to be killed by a driver for anyone to take notice, even then there is nothing done about it.

  13. Why should the police take cyclists seriously , can they make money of us ..NO ..its all about money ,not people,the more motorists slow down the less revenue the government make.Any Commander and chief, Prime minister,President,General will tell you that when they go to war they expect casualty’s.It is the way it goes,there will be losses, that is the nature of the beast, collateral damage .Why do you think the powers that be do not act here ???.You will find that they allow a certain amount of deaths per year and at the moment 10-20 cyclists a year is appropriate.It is well with in the governments stats.NZs motorists keep the government funded ,why change!!,the police know this and councils know this.Its all about numbers and money,PERIOD. Sorry to all those families that have lost loved ones but think also of all the military personnel that go to war with Governments knowing and calculating how many losses there will be.Cyclists are collateral damage.

  14. I agree, & you are speaking for me as a convert, although I might not use such language 🙂 I see a similar parallel in Australia where, as you said, whenever there is a car road death they emphasize speed.

  15. Well written piece. It is a very well presented argument that nobody complains about drivers doing burnouts after a family is killed in a road accident because not all motorists are like that. There are bad cyclists and bad motorists we shouldn’t tar everyone with the same brush.

  16. I totally agree. For whatever reason, police and drivers seem to have no problem equating the ‘stupid things’ they see some cyclist do with general cyclist behavior. Unfortunately it is not just in NZ. In Vancouver the police investigator who interview me in hospital asked if perhaps I had been recklessly changing lanes when I got hit because he had previously seen bike couriers do it. I had to remind him that the driver that ran a red light and plowed into me at 50km/hr was a more relevant factor in the accident.

  17. I was riding along Tamaki drive in the cycle lane and came across a family who were spread across the whole footpath walking slowly back to their car. I matched their pace and followed slowly waiting for them to notice me and for them to clear the cycle path. More cycles started to pile up behind me so I offered a verbal ‘Beep-beep’ The dominant male of the walking group turned to me and said that ‘cyclists belong on the road’ to which I replied ‘It is dangerous for cyclists on this road & this is a cycle path’ to which he replied ‘be my guest’ and indicated to me to move to the road. Says it all about some arrogance among some drivers…..the type who would cut a cyclist down to punish him for taking some road space!

  18. Hi Ben,
    A lot of mechanisms to keep cyclists safe are pretty reactive…think helmet!

    What do you think about this device – http://crowd.backtracker.io ?

    It’s basically a radar that gives cyclists a sixth sense…and also engages motorists through a intelligent backlight system. I think this is a game changer!

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