At age 15, in England in the 1960s, the bicycle played a big part in my early teenage life. I rode the 8 kilometers to school and back on one every day. I cycled with friends in the evenings and at weekends as a hobby.

In those days the police used to keep a watchful eye on us cyclists. It was not uncommon to be stopped by a patrol car or a ‘bobby’ on his beat to check our brakes and lights. We were expected to keep our machines in good order and obey the rules of the road. The idea of breaking traffic laws never crossed our minds and would have attracted the attention of the police if we did – and resulted in a fine.

In my late teens along came motorbikes and cars. The bicycle, which was then considered as the poor man’s transport, was forgotten. It was not until 1990 in Switzerland that I remounted a two-wheeler. The world had changed in the meantime.

‘Pedal power’ was popular again, not for economic reasons this time, but for the promotion of health and the environment. It was not just teenagers and those who could not afford a car who were cycling now – everyone was on two wheels. I bought a bike and hit the streets. But how times had changed! Cyclists around me ignored traffic lights, rode on sidewalks and basically broke every traffic law there was and nobody stopped them doing whatever they wanted.

Today we are harvesting the cyclists sown over the last 20 years – a wild and dangerous crop. Firstly, a car driver can expect no sympathy at all. If there is a collision involving a car and cyclist, expect the car driver to be guilty until proved innocent. Although there are cycle lanes in most towns, do not expect cyclists to always use them. They often venture out into the motorized traffic, which will be held responsible for any accident. Cyclists often ride side by side when the road width and the weight of traffic make it dangerous.

Worse still, you must be prepared to encounter cyclists anywhere. I still await one around the shelves of my local supermarket, where mini trottinets and in-line skaters already roll – it can only be a question of time. From Zürich’s Bahnhofstrasse to the Üetliberg, cyclists have claimed the territory of the pedestrian and walker. Stand outside Coop City where the tram stop forces people tightly onto the sidewalk and, however busy it may be, there will always be cyclists doing the impossible, pedaling through the crowd. It is such a difficult thing to do, you could mistake them for street performers doing it for money. Atop the Zurich’s ‘home mountain’ there is no escape – here the two-wheelers fly by fast and furious. They are mountain bikers that have taken over many of the paths favored by walkers.

My wife and I no longer hike in the Zürcheroberland thanks to an encounter with a team of mountain bikers. A group of twenty passed us on a narrow path. Naturally we stopped to let them by and said ‘Grüetsi’ to every one of them. Fifteen minutes later we saw twenty bikes laid on the grass as the bikers ran to the top of the hill. After a further 15 minutes, we were passed again by the twenty bikers. This pattern repeated itself through the whole three hour walk. The mountain bikers explained during one of the many times we waited for them to pass, that they were hoping to go to the top of all peaks over 1000 meters. We had become increasingly annoyed by bikers on our walks and after that day decided to leave the Zürcheroberland to mountain bikers and in the future walk elsewhere.

Importantly the tyre tracks of bikers on mountain paths cause great damage. The continuous grooves they make, unlike footprints, allow water to easily flow down them, quickly eroding the paths during rainfall. When bikers brake hard and lock their rear wheel, the surface damage to the path from one cyclist is considerably more than that of dozens of walkers. Yet many Swiss resorts actively encourage mountain bikers.

Cyclists seem to have been set few limits and what limits that exist, are not enforced. Swiss traffic law prescribes a Fr20.- fine for cycling on the sidewalk and just to be fair, a Fr10.- fine for pedestrians found walking on a cycle path. However I doubt either measure has raised much, if any, money. Meanwhile, cyclists push their limits and their luck – risking their lives. Twice in recent months while driving my car, I have been surprised by cyclists crossing over pedestrian crossings. Unlike pedestrians, the cyclists did not stop and wait to see what was coming, but simply pedaled out into oncoming traffic believing they had right of way, one even pointed to the yellow pedestrian stripes. These are Fussgängerstreifen not ‘velostreifen’.

Likewise at night, many cyclists miss the point of using lights – again required by law. They wrongly believe that as their front light does not help them see their way, they simply will not use one. However, the main reason for lights on a bicycle is to be seen by other road users. It is not uncommon to encounter cyclists without lights in complete darkness. Clearly a cyclist who is not a car driver cannot conceive how difficult it can be to see from behind a windscreen at night.

The pendulum has swung a long way since my teenage years; the question now is ‘does the present wild-west situation with cyclists actually benefit pedestrians, mountain walkers, car drivers or the cyclists themselves?’