The Theory of BIG


How to claim your space on the road

From our earliest days we have been indoctrinated by this nations pathological love affair with the motor car. As a hangover of the class system of antiquity, we, the unfortunate possessors of a healthy mind and body, are bombarded daily with the mistaken view that roads are for cars. Driven, sometimes literally, off the roads by our fellow citizens in steel boxes, we begin to realise that never before in history have so many been subject to so much machinery. It's not just using the cars that is a problem. Without the resources to house their cherished possesions properly, our social betters see fit to leave the stabling of their salary sucker to be a stumbling block for the rest of us, whether it be on the pavement or on the queens highway.

So from where does the problem come? Deep within the subconcious of every british citizen is the acceptance of the motor vehicles priority on the roads, fortunately with no basis in law. 'Roads were made for cars' is a common refrain that exemplifies the convoluted thinking carbon monoxide an benzene can induce. There is the self belief that any person who dares to shrug off their carapace and emerge naked to their environment on the road is some bicycling Baldrick or a forelock tugging yer 'umble servant. Such types as are fit only to be driven off the road at the whim of Mr Toad as he goes past on his more important journey. 'Poop poop!' and a clod of exhaust are all that remain as he thunders off into the distance whilst you pull yourself out of the hedge. Never mind that roads were created for people to use for transport (not for people to use as car parks).

How does one claim ones space on the road without the support of a herd of highland cattle? This is where the theory of BIG comes in. Life on the roads is a power struggle. Not of physical ability, but of psychology with roots in the antiquity of animal behaviour. The late twentieth century Homo sapiens (the nomenclature comittee is revising the species calssification), unlike the rest of the animal kingdom, has been stripped of its evolutionary heritage. There are no natural displays of preening or prowess that are socially acceptable so we have subverted transport to be our display of BIG. If we have a display that is more BIG than the other guy then we win. He backs off. We get the girl (at least that is what the advertisement said). This isn't quite true. One can display a generally fit, healthy body in best evolutionary manner, but not when sat inside a car.

Beer drinking, pay packet, driving prowess, prettyness of girlfriend. All these are lads new evolutionary power struggles. And the most insidious of these is transport. Ever heard a group of reps talking? 'I was doing 100 in the outside lane when a repmobile GT pulls up behind me and wants to overtake. No way, cos I've got a repmobile GTX and theres no way I'd let a mere GT go past me'. Loss of BIG you see. All psychological. Willing to be a stupid git to out psyche someone he's never met and probably will never see again. All to boost his self BIG. But how does this work out when you are on a bike and I am in a car. Surely you lose by default?

Not at all. BIG in transport terms is partly about what you drive and partly about how good a driver you are.And the drivers have already lost to the cyclists. Every time you pass a car in a traffic jam his BIG shrinks. You have just told him by your presence that despite all his prowess at driving and super smart car, you are still getting from A to B faster than him. Ouch, that hurts. And appearance counts too. A scratch on your shiny new years model Fraud Mundano GLTXi turbo is like turning up to a formal dinner in shorts and baggy-T. Unthinkable. It says 'even though I have a great car I am a crap driver'. And cyclists do a lot of damage when you hit them. They have lots of sharp sticky out bits that can remove wing mirrors or scratch body work. Definitely to be avoided.

He will remember this. So remind him. Say 'I've got more BIG than you' as you take your rightful place on the road and let him be subservient to you. You get the girl. He gets a heart attack. After all, you can wear lycra and get away with it and he has to suffer with a shirt on a coathanger. But driving prowess is what leads the macho rep to only leave 6 inches from wing mirror to cyclist as he brushes past. So good he can hold a line that close, preferably the faster the better. Obviously, he has to allow you the space that you use on the road, as hitting you means he loses face. And how much space you for something on the road depends on how BIG it is.

BIG isn't about how large you are but about how large you seem. The rules of BIG are very simple. Be visible. Be noticed. Be in the way. Be expensive. The more BIG you have, the more space needs to be left. Ever seen a car brush past a moving, wobbly, deferential Baldrick-on-a-bike with a scant hands breadth to spare, only to leave room for a double decker bus to pass between it and the skip further down the road? BIGger things need a BIGger distance when you pass it.

The scale of BIG

Cyclist typeBIG (0-10)
Uniformed policeman on a bike10
Tricycle, Bike with trailer8
Well lit, visible touring cyclist at the right distance from the kerb6
Well lit, visible touring cyclist at the kerb3
Unlit cyclist at night (no cycle friendly law)1
Unlit cyclist in long black coat creeping along the pavement in a university town0

BIG calculator

Add up the relevant sections below and see what your own BIG is:

Bicycle type

Road Racing bike0
Mountain bike1
Bike with panniers fitted2
Recumbent bike/Tandem3
More than two wheels (Tricycles, trailers etc)4
Any bike with no rear lights at night1
Any bike, no rear lights or reflectors0
Bonus for any number >1 of bright (>=10W) lights at night (to a maximum of 4)1


No reflectives at night time0
Dark 'natural' clothing0
Bright jazzy patterned clothing1
Bright solid colours/Good reflectives at night2
Stark naked2


Taking a narrow lane4
Creeping along the kerb0
Just outside the car wheel tracks (medium road)1
Just inside the car wheel tracks (medium road)3
On a shared use path0 (I'd give you minus if I could)
Add it all up and get a score out of ten.

Your rating:

0-2Imminent Road Kill
3-5Bicycling Baldrick
6-8Effective Cyclist
9-10Road Warrior

Where do I rate? Somewhere between 8 and 10 depending on circumstances (I just got some super bright headlamps and it depends whether I take the trailer or not).

Theory of BIG copyright (c) David Martin 1998.