Summer cycling in Sofia (part 2): our own worst enemy

“It’s my city, so I’ll do what I want to” (apologies to Lesley Gore)

The previous post on this topic looked at some of the joys and pitfalls of cycling in Sofia. Listing the principal problems the urban cyclist faces, the post ended with this:

“Finally – and you may be surprised by this category – other cyclists.”

Why is someone who rides a bike attacking his fellow enthusiasts?

Read any cycling blog internationally these days, and you’ll soon discover there’s open warfare between cyclists and motorists in any large conurbation. It’s an endless set of the same old accusations on both sides – positive debate is long gone.

There’s a load of good work going on in Sofia to encourage cycling, backed by a few advocacy groups and organisations and even the municipality. All ‘sides’ seem to value the positive aspects of getting more people onto 2 wheels. It makes for personal fitness, it reduces road congestion, it’s cheap, efficient and enjoyable. True, the city still needs to do a lot more to implement co-ordinated cycling developments and provide more facilities, but they are making good progress.

Anyway, what have I got against other cyclists? Simply put, I see so many examples, on a daily basis, of thoughtless, foolish and dangerous behaviour among the cycling ‘fraternity’. I wonder sometimes whether we deserve to be recognised as a responsible sector of mobile society.

The hare and the tortoise

Yesterday was a case in point. I pulled up behind a guy on a mountain bike at red lights. He anticipated the change to green and moved off. I waited, and (on a lighter road bike) caught up and passed him. I stopped at the next red lights, he arrived, and continued on his way by cycling across the nearby pedestrian crossing (the manoeuvre that’s most likely over here to get a cyclist involved in an accident, by the way).

And so it went on, rather like the tale of the hare and the tortoise. He’d cross junctions when the lights were red, I’d later pass him, then the cycle (sorry about that!) repeated itself.

I also see cyclists zooming down one-way streets the wrong way (cars, too, on occasion). I see them failing to stop at junctions. They ride on and off pavements at will (illegal unless you’re 12 or less). They don’t signal their intention to turn left or right. And so on.

Call me a boring old fart, but this behaviour doesn’t make friends, and is dangerous to the rider and to others. And so much of this erratic, wilful behaviour gives us all an unnecessarily bad name among other road users and pedestrians.

I don’t find it a great imposition to have to stop for up to a minute at red lights, to give way when joining a main road, to indicate that I want to change direction. I don’t need to take extreme short-cuts the wrong way down one-way streets. I don’t ride on pavements – apart from the illegality, what’s the point?

I’m not setting myself up as a spoil-sport or a ‘goody-goody’; as a pedestrian, a motorist and a cyclist, I appreciate there are legal commitments expected from all three groups – for their own protection, for that of others; and, more to the point, a simple social consideration on the part of all individuals.

cyclist crosses road junction Eagle's Bridge 1

What? A red light? No problem!

It’s just that I, too, would like to get home in one piece! Not like the lady in the images (above = before; below = after) who has no-one but herself to blame for this extreme stupidity and thoughtlessness.

cyclist crosses road junction Eagle's Bridge 2

The bloody driver hit me!

Enter the police!

A couple of weeks ago, bTV news reported [1] that the Sofia police had mounted ‘Operation Cyclists’. I don’t know how long it is / was supposed to last but, having watched the item, it seems it was triggered by a recent spate of 19 accidents involving cyclists in the city.

The report, in Bulgarian, includes CCTV footage (at 1’38’’) of that cyclist weaving across Eagle’s Bridge until she gets hit by a car driven by – a policeman!

The police have been carrying out random checks on cyclists, to see that they comply with the law, and to inform them of any breaches they find. They are also handing out fines for infractions, up to 50 Leva.

I’m surprised they have the manpower to run this operation but, on thinking about it, quite pleased. One, it means they are at least concerned about the safety of ordinary citizens, and are not just chasing high-class (?) criminals. Secondly, that undoubted minority of selfish cyclists might begin to re-think their own situation.

Bulgarian cycling laws

The UK has an incredibly long, tedious and obscure list of laws pertaining to ‘cycling on the highway’ – the section on lighting alone runs to more than 3 A4 pages of text.

In contrast, all I have found so far in Bulgaria (please correct me if I’m missing something) are a few clauses in the general laws pertaining to road vehicles. Here’s a truncated translation of the regulations concerning bikes:

“Basic rules and requirements that you need to know respecting cyclists in traffic on streets and roads.

“To participate on the road open to public use, every bicycle must have (a) fit / suitable / working:

  • – Brakes;
  • – Bell and no other sounds;
  • – Device emitting a white or yellow light, easily distinguishable from the front, and a red light is allowed with placement of a device for emitting red light behind;
  • – White or yellow reflectors or reflective elements on the sides of the wheels;
  •   The cyclist is obliged to move as close as possible on the right limit of the roadway.

“The driver of any two-wheeled vehicle is forbidden:

  • To move in parallel with another two-wheeled vehicle;
  • to ride the vehicle without holding the wheel and pedals that control the vehicle;
  • To move close to another vehicle or to keep for him [h’m – I don’t understand this phrase];
  • To carry, push or pull objects that interfere with driving or endanger other road users;
  • To drive a vehicle in areas designed for pedestrians; this prohibition does not apply to cyclists aged up to 12 years.”

Simple, clear, basic common-sense. So, if I were to be stopped by one of these bike inspectors, would I be OK, or find myself out of pocket?

Pass or fail?

I have to admit that I’d fail! My mountain bike passes on all technical requirements except for a bell. My road bike is a no-no. No bell; no wheel reflectors; no front light.

So, hypocrite! Your bikes aren’t street-legal, and you’re whinging about other cyclists! Yes, I am. because I’m not talking here about those legal niceties being pounced on by the police; I’m complaining at the bad behaviour I see daily on the streets. I’m just talking about being considerate, safeguarding others and oneself – rather than being a dangerous, selfish, anti-social twit.

[1]: bTV video (3’11”)

Main image sources: BGNES


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One Response to “Summer cycling in Sofia (part 2): our own worst enemy”

  1. sozofia Says:

    It’s forbidden to ride the vehicle without holding the wheel and pedals? Sounds painful/acrobatic… :o)

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