Cycling vs Driving

My dad took me out for my first and second driving lessons yesterday and today.

I’ve been resisting learning to drive a car for a while – partly due to utter lack of interest, partly due to cars and insurance being way beyond my means, and partly because I’ve been managing just fine on a bike for the last 10+ years.
However, while living under my parents’ roof, I play by their rules. I’ve now been behind the wheel of a car on two seperate occasions, and I feel like sharing my thoughts with the big wide Internet. So, here are my thoughts on driving from the perspective of one used to cycling.

Signalling is ridiculous and counter-intuitive

On a bike, signalling is logical and intuitive – stick out your arm on the side which is the direction you intend to turn in. It takes some practice to keep up the balance, but the procedure is intuitive and sensible.
Cars are different. In a car, indicators are controlled by a single lever on the side of the steering wheel. Both indicators. Thus, the left indicator is controlled by the left lever – OK, fair enough. The right indicator, on the other hand, is controlled by the left lever. Wait, what? Why can’t you have the left lever control the left indicator while the right lever controls the right indicator? Apparently there’s a good reason for this based on how cars were driven in ye olden dayes, but today it strikes me as sticking with an old system to avoid people who had an inferior system drilled into them from having to relearn a more sensible method, kind of like when the news uses imperial measures of things even though every person born since 1970 has been taught exclusively in the metric system.

The clutch is annoying and confusing

I get that there is a perfectly good mechanical purpose for the clutch, but trying to wrap my mind around using it is quite another matter.

On a bike, braking is a simple matter – pull the levers to slow down and stop. Gears are also simple – flick a switch one way to increase the size of the gear in question, the other way to reduce it.

In a car, gears obviously cannot be as numerous as on a bike, but there is somewhat more difference between the individual gears. I can understand the gears easily enough – the higher the number, the faster you go on a given amount of pressure on the accelerator. I can even get the idea of neutral gear, even though this is something that exists nowhere on a bike.

However, the clutch throws me for a loop. On a bike, to change gear, I flip the switch. In a car, I have to press down on the clutch while simultaneously easing off on the accelerator, then move the gear lever, then apply a little bit of pressure on the accelerator, then let my foot off the clutch. If I do this too fast, the car turns off and I have to restart. If I don’t put enough pressure on the accelerator, it also stops.

And then there’s braking. On a bike, I squeeze the levers, clamps close on the wheel rims, and I come to a stop. In a car, the mechanism is theoretically somewhat similar, but once again the clutch rears its ugly head. In order to stop, I first have to press down on the clutch while simultaneously letting my foot off the accelerator, then slowly press down on the brake pedal. This is all rather slow and involved, and isn’t easy to do when you have to brake suddenly.

Seeing the road

Here I feel is the biggest difference. On a bike, you can see the entire road and footpaths all around you, and you know exactly where your vehicle is in relation to the road, kerb, structures, and markings. 

With car, on the other hand, not only is the vehicle much wider, and not only are you sitting on the right-hand side rather than the centre, but big chunks of the road are obscured behind the dashboard, doors, and frame.

In a car, there’s no way to see how far the edge of the vehicle is from the kerb, bollards, lamp posts, other drivers, or in general anything you don’t want to crash into. Nor is there any way to see road markings, so you can’t tell whether you’re within the lines, nor is it possible to say if you’ve gone over a stop line.

Steering is surprisingly abstract

I expected that steering at least would be easy enough. Turn the wheel one way and the car goes the same way; the more you turn the wheel, the tighter the vehicle turns. Oh, how wrong I was.

OK, that is the way it works, and I grasped the principle easily enough. However, when you’re on a bike, steering is much more immediate and (for want of a better word) intimate. You turn the handlebars, lead into the turn, and change direction with your whole body. With a car, sure it turns, but you’re only using part of your body, and if you get any tactile feedback at all, it’s nowhere near that which comes from a bike.

And, really, I think that as a cyclist, that’s where my problem with driving stems from. On a bike, the vehicle becomes an extension of the user. When I cycle, I’m not so much thinking about making the bike turn as I am about simply turning. With a car, on the other hand, I never think of myself as doing anything other than feeding instructions to a machine. The car isn’t an extension of me, it’s a machine to which I give commands. The intimacy and integration that comes with a bike is not to be found, or if it is, i haven’t found it yet.


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