Let me state first and foremost: For the past 10 years I have been standing next to the road in Fish Hoek for the Cape Argus Cycle Tour to cheer on the stragglers – the people who ride their bikes for fun or dress in funny costumes and probably didn’t train much. The road is closed for the day and everybody can cycle safely. I don’t go to watch the front riders because I see them training on busy roads and I fear them.
However, I was as shocked about the death of Burry Stander as hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps millions, all over the world. I love sport.
But let’s be honest. Cycling is a dangerous sport regardless of how careful the rider is. That’s why they have to wear helmets. We don’t really have cycling lanes in this country. The road accident toll is already one of the highest in the world. Training on busy roads endangers the cyclist, motorists and all other drivers of motorised vehicles.
The men in overalls cycling to work know that they are at risk, so they stay close to the curb and slow down when they get close to a car, truck or bus. They slow down or stop when they approach an intersection or turn off. I see this every day. Often I see these workers ride on the gravel next to the road in order to be safe. These guys don’t really have a choice. A man on a 50-thousand rand bicycle with a speedometre does.
We don’t allow quad bikes on public roads. We don’t allow skateboarders on busy roads. We don’t allow people to go horse riding on busy public roads. Joggers stay close to the curb or run on the pavement.
Almost every day of my life I cross Ou Kaapse Weg at least twice, sometimes four times. It is an extremely busy and dangerous pass of 12 km. On the descent to the city I have cyclists riding at 70 and 80 kilometres an hour, next to my car or right in front of my car. Cyclists brag about these speeds on their websites. One cyclist did 102 km in an 80 km zone. Google it!
Ou Kaapse Weg is hailed as the number 1 down-hill racing spot in South Africa. Read this story: http://www.bicycling.co.za/race-news/best-road-bike-descents-in-sa/
Note the following two sentences: “…these are great places to chase the magic, whether you love to water your eyes on the straights, show-off your skills on the technical corners, bag elevation-loss bragging rights, or simply sit up and take a good look at the landscape.” And then: “The climb up there is tough but the descent has these amazing swooping turns and you can go as fast as any car.”
I’d say this is called extreme sports and it happens on a major busy dangerous road.
On Friday, 10 minutes before I learned of Burry’s death on a news bulletin, a cyclist cut in before my car while I was driving 70 or 80 km an hour down Ou Kaapse Weg, i.e. down a mountain. At that stage I was keeping a double save following distance because of the presence of a speeding cyclist. The cyclist swerved into my way one metre in front of my car. Further down the road, another 3 or 4 cyclists were racing behind and in front of vehicles at that speed. This happens on a regular basis. Every time I see those death-defying acts of extreme stupidity my heart starts racing and I want to pull of the road so that I won’t have to see somebody get killed. But I can’t because there are other speeding cyclists in the emergency lane.
If a cyclist on Ou Kaapse Weg falls in front of a car while he or she rides at 70 or 80 km an hour downhill and around hair-pin bends, he or she will be dead. If I drive over that cyclist my life will be irrevocably changed. I will be charged with manslaughter. For the rest of my life I will remember the sick thud of my car driving over the body of a human being. Or I could end up in the water canal or against the road barrier. For the rest of my life I will live with the image of a lifeless body on the road imprinted in my brain. For the rest of my live I will have to think of your wife, husband, children or parents mourning your tragic death, when it was YOUR decision to engage in a dangerous sport next to or in front of my car.
And then our esteemed MEC for Transport, Mr Robin Carlisle, is trying to make it a traffic offence to pass a cyclist unless there is 1.5 metres between the cyclist and the car. Did you think of all the dangerous and busy roads in and around Cape Town when you came up with that plan, Mr Carlisle? I am 100% convinced you were not thinking about the worker on his bicycle. Will the cyclist who overtakes me down Ou Kaapse Weg less than 1.5 metres away from my car be fined?
Please note, I do not say that Burry was riding irresponsibly or deserved to die. By all accounts, he was a responsible rider and a great person. But the general public simply do not know the details of the matter at this stage. Yet, the vast majority of commentators on websites condemn the brutal and reckless taxi driver and all the cycling associations scream for legislation ensuring the safety of cyclists.
Let us remember and acknowledge that public roads in South Africa were not build for sports or competitive cycling. Please, please, please!!! Let us acknowledge that competitive cycling is an elitist sport, that it is a dangerous sport and that these riders should not be allowed to train on major busy routes.
On one of the cycling websites, the avatar appears to be a poster. It reads: WE DO NOT TAKE OUR LIVES IN OUR OWN HANDS. WE PUT IT IN YOURS.
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