Last week a car didn’t give me 1.5 metres clearance when it was overtaking me on my bike
Why is that so news-worthy? Because it happened in Spain
And in Spain the drivers are so aware of and so courteous towards cyclists.
I spend about six months a year in a very touristy town called Calella, an hour by train north of Barcelona. Every day I get on my bike and ride to the shops or to visit friends or go for a ride just for fun. I am never alone. There are people heading to work or, like me heading off to do their shopping with their panniers on their bike and a backpack on their back, kids off to school, some serious riders out on their daily training session. “Hola”, “Bon dia” or just a flick of the hand. Everybody acknowledges the other riders. I am not the fastest rider out there but I have never had a car toot at me or get impatient. The car will sit behind me until it is clear to overtake.
This happens every day Monday to Friday then here comes the weekend. My apartment looks down onto a roundabout and a busy road and from first light Saturday morning the bikes start coming. The roundabout is a favourite place for friends to gather before heading off for a ride. “Hey, good morning”, “Where’s Jordi?”, “He’s coming.” While they’re gathering and admiring the new bike someone has bought, a bunch of fifty riders will go by, then a family, Mum, Dad and the kids, the youngest pedaling with the front of her bike attached to the back of Dad’s bike.
Then another group of ten then another and another group of fifty. “Hola”, “Buenas dias”, “How was your week?” Maybe two thousand riders, maybe more, pass my door every Saturday and every Sunday. The outnumbered cars don’t even try to pass as they will just have to sit behind the next bunch. After all, what’s the rush?It quietens down after midday as the Spanish have their traditional meal with family and of course follow the meal with a siesta.
In the evening I usually go for a ride along the waterfront. There is a cycle path along most of the water front from Calella to Blanes, another town about fifteen kilometres away. Sometimes it is bikes only, sometimes sharing with walkers, sometimes sharing with cars heading to a beachfront camping ground. But it is always clearly marked with who goes where and who I am sharing with.
Blanes has a wide promenade with lots of eating places and often an open-air market and, on a hill overlooking the town, there is a castle that I ride up to if I have the energy. Bottom gear and just keep pedaling. But plenty of satisfaction looking back down the coast I have been riding along and trying to make out exactly where I went. I try to time it so I am there to watch the sun go down. Then it is a ride home along the darkening coast.
When I feel like a change I turn left instead of right and head up into the hills. I soon leave behind the crowds on the coast and instead see the serious riders who train up these hills. Of course they soon leave me behind but there is still the “hola” or the wave to say I am one of them. A car comes up behind me as I am struggling up the hill and I am expecting it to go by, but no, it sits behind me until there is a stretch of straight road. Viva Espana!
Nick Miller (Orewa ...and Spain)