One of my bugbears is when sporting events are covered in the news part of the six o'clock television news rather than consigned to the sports' section where they properly belong. Sport does sometimes crossover into genuine news - just not nearly as often as the programme editors seem to believe.
As far as I'm concerned New Zealand winning the Rugby World Cup should be reported in the sports' section; however, anti-apartheid campaigners flour-bombing Eden Park is definitely news. The score of a soccer match (yes, even an important one) always belongs in sport; however, if soccer fans are crushed at a stadium then that's news. Plain old golf results are sport but a star golfer's scandalous and public fall from grace is justifiably covered at the top of the hour.
Cyclist Lance Armstrong's confession firmly belongs in the news' section. His story turned from one of interest to sport aficionados to one with far wider appeal. Nearly all the components of a juicy soap opera were present including ambition, bullying, cheating, confession, denial, drugs, greed, guilt, lying, shame and tears - all set against the glamorous backdrop of the Tour de France cycling race.
And it made me consider for perhaps the umpteenth time what a very strange sport road-cycling is. I could relate to the reader response to The Flawed Art of Lance Armstrong's Confession that read: "It's freaking cycling, who cares? Except maybe a small group of guys who like to wear "grape smugglers" and brightly colo[u]red jerseys with all sorts of logos on them and hog the road on Saturday morning and give you dirty looks if you get too close to their pretty bicycle ..."
If I was to get on a bicycle now I'd probably need trainer wheels because I haven't ridden one since I turned fifteen and got my driver's licence. For me, cycling was never about pleasure but all about transport and getting from point A to point B. Yet cycling for fun and sport is a thriving activity - and growing numbers of cyclists are determined to share the roads with motorists.
Conscious of their vulnerability, I always give cyclists the maximum space possible when passing. The recommended 1.5-metre distance doesn't seem enough: what if they swerve, fall off or have a suicidal moment just as my car wheels pass them? Depending on the width of the road, the speed I'm going and how much of the road the cyclist is hogging, I often overtake cyclists as I would a car - waiting until the way is clear and crossing onto the opposite side of the road so I am well away from the Lycra-clad speedsters.
Other sporting pursuits are performed in designated zones and purpose-built facilities. There are cricket pitches, equestrian arenas, gymnasiums, hockey turfs, netball courts, rugby fields, skating rinks, ski fields, swimming pools, tennis courts - and even footpaths for keen walkers. But many cyclists eschew facilities such as off-road tracks, velodromes and cycle trails, choosing to venture out onto busy, and potentially dangerous, transport routes instead.
The Land Transport Safety Authority's (LTSA) Cycle Network and Route Planning Guide says experienced cyclists "have usually learnt ... how best to interact assertively with traffic ... They will defend a lane where there is not enough room ... and will not usually divert to a cycle path." The LTSA was too polite to say that this breed of veteran cyclist is also prone to blithely ignoring red traffic lights.
I was almost knocked over by one such specimen while legitimately walking across Queen Street recently. But, hey, to sanitise his behaviour in the bureaucratic vernacular of the day, I guess he'd only learnt to "interact assertively" with pedestrians as well as traffic. Go him.
Motorists are thoroughly accustomed to sharing the road with recreational cyclists yet we'd be astonished if a rugby player, netballer or gymnast decided the road was an ideal flat surface on which to hone their ball skills or back-flips. Perhaps it's time to consider the core purpose of our roads and whether it's realistic that they continue to accommodate legions of weekend cyclists.
* What's your view on cycling and cyclists? Can you understand the appeal of riding on the road with motor vehicles? What can be done to make roads safer for cyclists? Why do some cyclists believe they're exempt from needing to obey the road rules?
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