real life cycling

Cyclist v Train

I suppose there’s reassurance in knowing how you’re going to die. Or at least, after feeding in the data, having a pretty good idea: number of bike rides per year; number of level crossings in Lancashire; expected level-crossing crossing rate; age and reliability of automatic barrier technology; general luckiness (out of ten).

My riding buddy and I, pedalling twice across the Lancaster – Barrow-in-Furness line in a single and frequently ridden thirty mile loop recently, both felt the same, strong premonition. One day, barrier up, no flashing lights, we are sure to pedal across those tracks to be met with a TTTHHWUMMPP!

Only one winner.

It’s a law of averages thing.

Ageing barrier technology failure. A cyclist (or two) wiped out. “Cyclist(s) in level crossing horror…” the local papers will say (cyclists as opposed to human beings, because that’s how the media works).

“I s’pose there are worse ways to go,” we agreed. Quick. Clean. Little time for panic or pain. Certainly beats at least seven or eight of the other options.

And don’t get the wrong idea: we are not timing our rides to coincide with the 4:27 to Ulverston. We are not attacking the level crossing, like lemmings at a cliff edge, consumed by religious rapture and seeking out the afterlife. This is not our intention. Our intention is to live to ripe old ages without so much as a “cyclists in level crossing near miss horror.”


We’re very happy with our current state of being. There’s just something vulnerable about riding a bike over an unmanned level crossing.

It brings on the heebie-jeebies.

It doesn’t take much imagination.

To die at the hand (paw) of an escaped lion or by, I don’t know…overdosing on custard creams, or something, is quite far-fetched. It’s hard to imagine yourself getting to a point where that could happen; half way through the sixth packet, for example, self-preservation would surely kick in.

But to gather together a mental image of yourself, the cyclist, smeared across the Lancashire countryside after a genuine attempt to cross the railway tracks at the appropriate moment, is no great leap of faith.

Word might get round, later that evening, to a melancholy (though unsurprised) round of shrugs and oh, that’s bad luck. As if to say yes, that’s a thing that can happen…I am saddened, but I accept this as a common hazard facing any keen cyclist…

My riding buddy and I, having really killed the mood of the ride, consoled ourselves with an imagined ideal scenario to accompany our inevitable railway related deaths.

As we approach, the train driver, seeing us, along with maybe a passenger or two, might be moved to wonder “well look at those two, they look to be in fine physical shape…aren’t they riding well…just look at the definition on his calf muscles…spectacular…”


And at least, having met our demise, we were noted to be carrying a bit of form. A supple pedal stroke and a lively turn of pace. We died in good nick.

Perhaps that’s all any of us can really hope for.

(Image: Eddy Merckx, 1974 Tour de France via History Lovers Club)

4 comments on “Cyclist v Train

  1. That’s so not how I want to go!


  2. Not for me. My riding is on Rail Trails, trains no longer in use. 🙂


    • Bit of a dark note to this post….not at all like your usual writing! 😉

      I agree though that cyclists often have a unique insight into the fragility of our human lives and existence , by dint of exposing ourselves to moving at a relatively slow pace up a road, when surrounded by large lumps of hard metal technology that move around us at very fast speeds. We are often only too aware that the occupants are so secure in their virtual driving environment within these super machines that they are very often thinking about their supper , significant other , listening to the radio , texting , discussing the news and in short doing many things other than actually noticing two or three fellow human beings trying to ease themselves along the roadside without getting mulched by their 3.5 ton shiny wheeled status symbol.
      It does bring about a sense of vulnerability and an awareness that we are incredibly reliant on our fellow human beings being supporters of the “do no harm” theology , or at least the “ don’t hit them or it will really make you late” theology .
      It does tend to invite a sort of dark reflection of wondering if this is indeed , how you will depart this mortal coil, and hoping that it won’t hurt too much.

      Now that’s a pretty sad sort of statement to make isn’t it?

      Countering this however is the joy of discovery that you get when you get out on the bike – the joy of felling you’re human- ness , the immediacy of the sights and sounds and smells around you , the ability to call out hello and smile at those you are passing and to re connect with your surroundings.
      I think i’ll need to wax lyrical on this subject in my own blog post , instead of cluttering up your comments.


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