Day 19: Driver v Cyclist

I headed out this morning on a ride towards some of the hills near our campsite in Vigo. Unlike my previous rides on this trip, I wasn’t using roads that we had previously driven on, but instead I had planned myself a route based purely on Google Earth research and plotting. 

It would probably make for an excellent story to tell if such an approach meant that I got wildly lost an ended up in having to ask some locals for help, or worse, phoning Laura to come and find me. But fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint) this wasn’t the case, except for a minor issue of missing a turn and ending up in a suburb which seemingly consisted entirely of cul-de-sacs and an ever decreasing circular one way road.

So although I didn’t need to call on any specific help from a friendly Spaniard, there are many to whom I feel a little gratitude following this and my previous cycles on this trip. The reason for this is the courtesy I have been afforded as a two-wheeled road user.

There’s a common stereotype of Spanish drivers being reckless hooligans with little regard for their own safety, let alone that of anyone else they may happen to be sharing a particular piece of asphalt with, and this was something I was wary of when starting to ride over here. But my experience has been the complete opposite end of the spectrum.

Admittedly I have been cycling largely on quiet roads, something I normally try to do anyway to minimise the hazards of large volumes of traffic, but there have been times where I have been in amongst fast flowing traffic, and I must say that I have in fact felt safer than I do in similar situations in the UK.

Maybe road cycling is more ingrained in the culture out here than it is back home, but there just seems to be a lot more understanding and acceptance to the cyclist. Cars pass me wide, effectively overtaking me in the opposite lane as they would another car. And why not give me space if the space is there to be used? Because if it’s safe to pass me, then the whole opposite lane must be clear, so use it and give me a wide berth.

But what when it’s not safe to get completely on to the other side of the road? Then that means it’s not safe to pass me. I’ve had no-one in Spain just squeeze past me within a matter of inches, as is common when cycling at home. Here the driver just waits until it is clear and safe to pass me by.

And while they are waiting? There is no squeezing right up behind me in an apparent attempt to intimidate me off of the road. No beeping the horn or revving the engine to let me know they are there and want to pass (incidentally, I normally know this anyway). Nothing – they just wait behind me patiently until it is safe to pass. A few seconds hold up isn’t going to stop their world turning is it?

Just this morning, after hauling myself up 500 metres of hills (I still need to do more!) I reached a nice flowing descent of several miles. It was a wide road, but pretty winding. I spent a good few minutes rolling down this in excess of 30 miles an hour – not hugely quick on a road bike, but quick enough that you need to concentrate and will need large chunks of the lane you are in as you go round the bends. A car came up behind me and waited patiently a decent distance back, probably about 30 metres, as I navigated my way around the meandering road. Only after what must have been at least a minute did the road straighten up, and when we could all see clear ahead, did he get closer behind me and then passed, wide on the other side of the road, with no horn tooting, hand signals out of the window, or shouting and screaming “all cyclists are…”. No needless animosity whatsoever.

How very pleasant. How very un-British.

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