My bike lay across the tram tracks in the middle of the intersection, the contents of its wicker basket strewn meters from where it rested. The front light had fallen from its cradle and was separated from its battery, while the rear light flickered in defiance of its apparent uselessness. Although the traffic light was green the Friday evening drivers on Flinders St stood still while I, with shaking hands, collected my belongings. I tried to wheel my bike to the tram stop but the rear wheel wouldn’t spin, and I ended up carrying it there, waiting for the cars that had started moving once I was safe.
An Anchorman quote flitted through my mind, “Boy, that escalated quickly… I mean, that really got out of hand fast.” My bike had been dragged underneath the bonnet of a car into the middle of that intersection.
There was a growling two tonne piece of metal behind me, driven by someone who thought it was ok to hit cyclists.
My boyfriend and I had been riding down Spencer St to a barbecue at a friend’s place in South Melbourne. The traffic was bad and Spencer St has no bike lane, so it was stressful riding to say the least. I pulled up at the red light on Flinders St in the middle of the left hand lane and my boyfriend Cleftin stopped behind me, resting his left foot on the kerb. I heard him make a sound and turned around to see a car’s bumper bar right next to the rear wheel of his bike, practically resting on it. I blog about cycling, so I always carry my camera around my neck and I pulled it out to take a picture of just how close this car had gotten. It was clear the driver either had some kind of issue or was extremely impatient – he kept revving the engine and edging closer and closer to Cleftin’s feet. This meant Cleftin was slowly moving his bike forward, to avoid his rear wheel being nudged by the car, as it had when the car first pulled up.
The mood was tense. Cleftin was trying to pacify the driver with friendly smiles and joking gestures – in my photos you can see he has put his thumb up. In the same photo the driver is giving me the finger.
The lights turned green and the car accelerated sharply, hitting Cleftin’s bike. Cleftin was on the seat about to ride forward and jumped off when his bike fell to the ground. I couldn’t see this because I was about to start pedalling, but I turned around when I heard the noise of the car hitting my boyfriends bike. Cleftin was standing by his fallen bike, shaken but clearly not hurt.
From this point on, stuff got scary, things started happening quickly. Up till now I hadn’t believed the driver seriously intended us harm. But he had just driven his huge Mercedes sedan into my boyfriend’s bike. Seriously. There was a growling two tonne piece of metal behind me, driven by someone who thought it was ok to hit cyclists.
There were a number of pedestrians looking at us in shock, Cleftin straight away asked someone with a phone to start filming. I was sitting astride my bike in the middle of the road, this guy gunning his car behind me. It didn’t seem like he was about to stop to exchange contact and insurance details with us.
Later, when I was telling the policeman this part of the story he asked me how I felt. The answer is threatened. A driver had just knocked my boyfriend off his bike. My big, strong, friendly boyfriend. Then there is me; I was wearing short shorts, a stupidly light summer top and my ridiculous curly hair was poking out from my helmet in every direction; if he thought Cleftin was fair game, then what exactly was I? I was vulnerable and I knew it.
The pedestrians and Cleftin were all making noise, I think they were telling the driver to stop. He was making noise too. But I was literally like a rabbit stuck in the headlights, and very little of this sound filtered through into my brain. Without even thinking I got off my bike, picked it up and turned it around so that it was face on to the driver, it was the only thing I could think of to do.
This might not have been the smartest move. The driver was now hemmed in by traffic on two sides, by the footpath on the other side, and by me. I was clearly the path of least resistance, and it seemed that all he wanted to do was to get away as fast as possible. He started edging towards me, his car was touching my bike by the time Cleftin joined me in the middle of the road. All I wanted was for this driver to stop. How could I make him stop?
I left Cleftin holding my bike, walked around to the window and put my hand in there. The driver was clearly not expecting this, he made a sound of surprise. I grabbed hold of the key in the ignition and turned it, hoping against hope that I would be able to pull it out and the car would stop trying to drive into my bike, into my boyfriend, into me. No luck. The key was stuck there by some kind of mechanical lock. The driver quickly turned his car back on and started accelerating against my bike.
Could I grab the hand brake? How does one normally stop a car? The only thing I could do was turn the car off again. So I did. I really must have surprised him because the driver wasn’t expecting it this time either. It didn’t take him long to get going again, at which point he sped up enough to pull my bike under his bonnet.
Cleftin jumped out of the way as the driver accelerated towards him, dragging my bike with him until it dislodged 15 meters down the road.
The traffic light went red, the light for Flinders St went green. My bike lay in the middle of the intersection, my possessions strewn around it.
The bystanders called the police, it had happened so quickly no one had captured any video. The police told us to go to the station which was less than 100m away on Flinders St. I looked at my photos. I had the car’s number plate. My hands were shaking as I tweeted:
We went to the police station, we made the report. Cleftin bent my rear wheel against a wall so it would spin again. We rode to the barbecue.
Now my bike feels all wrong, something serious is bent or broken. I need to take it to my mechanic so he can assess the damage. But I need to settle a little, this incident has left me all shook up. I just want to be surrounded by a horde of cute fluffy animals.
Ultimately, events like this are a cause for reflection. What could possibly motivate anyone to behave this way? Could I have done more to ensure the safety of Cleftin and myself?
In answer to the first question, Cleftin had overtaken the car back up the road, an act to which the driver took offfense – he shouted ‘faggot’ at Cleftin as he passed. Whether or not this is justification for hitting two bikes with his car is up to the law to decide.
The second question, could I have done more to ensure our safety? I think the answer is yes. I never imagined the driver would entertain the idea of hitting us, but there were clues. He had already nudged Cleftin’s bike with his bumper. In future, if a driver does anything even remotely aggressive, I will be getting off my bike and walking with it to the footpath, where I will wait until they have gone.
For now, this guy is probably still one of the drivers on Melbourne’s streets, and it’s almost certain he isn’t the only angry one out there. Don’t trust drivers to be concerned for your wellbeing. Ride safe.