Usually I ignore it. But this time, I bite:
“Do you say that to all your friends heading out, or just the ones cycling? Do you like my new cycle cap?”
“Why a cap and not a helmet?”
Cyclists like me head out on their rides knowing that if someone in a few tonnes of metal decides to kill them, most will presume it’s your own fault.
Particularly if you’re not wearing a little plastic head guard, high vis, and whatever other baubles that are deemed to keep you as safe as Hove station was yesterday.
Sometimes you just want a “have a nice ride”, rather than a reminder of the huge amounts of arbitrary violence out there and the blame you’ll receive if you fall victim to it.
This conversation remained on my mind as I cycled up Ditchling road, gradually escaping Brighton’s upper suburbs and golf courses for the South Downs beyond.
They’ve stuck in a new cycle and walking path for the last half mile up towards the A27, smooth and wide and well surfaced. I took it happily, only to be dumped back with a sudden “rejoin carriageway” into the cars queuing at the top. This is still better than what was there before.
Awkwardly onto and off Coldean Lane, with its drivers itching to get onto the dual carriageway, and then you’re up on to the Ditchling Road proper.
The landscape opens up, and the temperature drops a degree or two. It was uphill but I felt like I was flying.
There are a lot of cyclists who use this route, and drivers have learned, for the most part, to be patient. This side of the downs is the gently sloping one – pity the poor cyclists coming up the other side, in the lowest gear on a winding hill road, drivers revving their engines behind.
I made it to the top and pulled into the car park, for a £4 99* and a selfie. I could see for miles, and felt like cycling on to London on a whim.
Instead, I turned back into the wind that had been pushing me all the way up, and flew back down to Brighton.
There are a few memorable sights on the way down. There’s the football stadium nestled in the foothills to the left; the weird London Eye style lollipop tower poking its head over the terraced houses leading to the sea.
And further off to the right, the scar cutting through the landscape that is the A27, carving its way to Shoreham and beyond.
You’ll have noticed the amount of times I’ve mentioned cars and drivers in this blog post. And, truthfully, I don’t usually worry this much. I am out of practice at non-urban riding. I’ll get « used to it » again, the way one gets used to air pollution or living on a main road.
I got to thinking how Ditchling Beacon could so easily be, as it were, a rural LTN – keep the car park at the top open for visitors, but don’t allow through traffic. Does this sound utopian or just selfish? I don’t know.
But as I prepare for a long journey across England next month, I wonder how many more overtakes I will need to flinch at, knowing that if the driver is drunk, distracted or careless, this will be the last thing I ever think.
* Captive market