If anything is evidence of a midlife crisis, it’s a middle-aged man in Lycra on a fancy push-bike.
So, sure enough, as lockdown lethargy set in, I scrapped the old bone-shaker and replaced it with a super-sleek roadster, complete with pencil tyres that run on a psi so high you could probably chop wood with them.
Another sign that I’m actually starting to mature is that I now I regularly don a helmet and hi-vis when out on the road. Previously, I’d dismissed such stuff as things worn by overly timid fusspots. But now, after all these years, an element of common-sense seems to have at last got into my thick skull.
If this makes me a “snowflake”, that’s better than being a pile of road-kill. I put this significant self-improvement down to my time at the NFU, where every week I received notifications of deaths on farms.
What was particularly depressing about this was that most were easily avoidable if a little bit of caution and forethought had been shown.
I was never judgmental about the people involved in these accidents, because I’ve got a lifetime of showing a reckless disregard to safety. I shudder to think of the times I’ve jumped up onto moving vehicles or messed around near badly protected revolving ptos.
At the time, I thought I was a proper little action man who could dance around danger. The truth was, I was just stupidly reckless and the only reason I survived unscathed was because I was lucky where others weren’t.
So, just as I’m “born again” when it comes to wearing proper safety kit on my bike, my attitude to farm safety has also grown up. It’s always tempting during harvest to cut safety corners to save a couple of minutes. But what’s a couple of minutes compared to an eternity in the graveyard?
My other “woke” moment, inspired by time on my bike, is seeing agricultural vehicles on the road from the other side of the windscreen. This is particularly pertinent at harvest time. When your top speed in a tractor or a combine makes overtaking the Lycra lads difficult, it’s easy to get frustrated.
But when you are on a bike, it feels very different. It’s the tractor and the combine that are taking up more than their fair share of the road. They can often appear to be driven by overly aggressive men who seem to think their journey is far more important than yours.
Tractor drivers can also give the impression they are oblivious to the fact they are safely encased in a safety cab while the cyclist is exposed flesh and bone. Again, I’m not judgmental, as I’ve spent a life-time being that overbearing tractor driver, looking down on other road uses.
So this harvest, as I move the combine and trailers around the lanes of north-east Essex, I’m mindful that cyclists have far more to fear from me than I have from them. The duty of care sits far more with me than it does with them.
If driving a little more cautiously or a little more slowly takes a little longer, then that is a small sacrifice compared to playing fast and loose with someone else’s life. I’ve never been in a court explaining to a judge or a bereaved family how an accident happened, and I intend to keep it that way.