‘Such anti-cyclist anger reminds me in many ways of the feelings about gypsies that I would hear expressed when I lived in central Europe. In Hungary, people would tell me they disliked gypsies because they were lazy and dishonest. The truth was that gypsies — like, I would suggest, cyclists — were unpopular principally for being different.’
—The Invisible Cyclist, anonymous blogger
Like many people, I am worried that too few cyclists are being killed on our roads each year. While the number of cycling journeys undertaken in the UK has risen enormously since 2006, and exponentially since the exciting, hirsute Sir Bradley Wiggins won a bicycle race in France in 2012, the official statistics show only a moderate rise in fatalities. This suggests to me that car drivers have become more accommodating in their behaviour towards these people and have lost their radical anti-cycling zeal. They have been bullied out of it, one suspects, by official propaganda that insists that knocking cyclists over, deliberately or otherwise, is somehow ‘antisocial’, and by the effusions of lionised celebrity cyclists like Wiggins, and that also ennobled Scottish man who cycles round and round a track very quickly indeed, like a sort of thin-lipped ginger hamster with outsized calf muscles.
Wiggins and the Scottish man are both militant campaigners against the killing of cyclists, and they are also in favour of more cycle lanes (which cyclists like to see built, but never use) and further speed restrictions on the people who actually pay for the roads (car drivers), but the government is on board too. My concern is that if killing cyclists is no longer allowable in a free country, then it is the thin end of the wedge and it may be that down the line cycling will become an ‘acceptable’ pursuit for normal people. We have seen this happen before with homosexuals, single mothers and some foreigners; one moment we are enjoined not to victimise them, the next they are clamouring for equality. Somewhere, surely, we have to draw the line.
Well, ok, I jest, in predictably bad taste. And you were probably aware that I was joking, unless you are a committed cyclist who is determined to be outraged. By ‘committed’ I do not mean that you are the recipient of state protection in a secure asylum, but rather that you are one of those people with an expensive bicycle, a lot of Lycra, a pompous little pointy plastic hat, hilarious goggles, a fatuous water bottle and the fervent conviction that you are a Victim as a consequence of your Vulnerability. And that in being a Victim as a consequence of being Vulnerable you are somehow empowered to take it out on everybody else you see on the public highways, especially car drivers and pedestrians. There is nothing quite like considering yourself a Victim to bolster the self-esteem, nothing like resentment to make the hours go by a little quicker. Not all cyclists fall into this category of course, far from it. But plenty do. Dare to disparage the cycling fraternity and all hell will break loose; when you are a certified Victim all sense of proportion — and humour — departs.
I discovered this when I mentioned in a blog recently that I was not sure why I had to pay, through my taxes, for my friend to have a new bicycle — there’s a government scheme on offer which effectively gives you a bike on tick, interest-free. Ooh, the fury. But it was nothing compared to the opprobrium heaped upon the head of my colleague Matthew Parris who jokingly suggested that life in his village would be improved by piano wire strung across the roads to decapitate the hugely annoying cyclists.
Cyclists — or some of them, a lot of them — have become, these last few years, full of themselves, puffed-up with righteous anger. Part of this has been encouraged by the success of Wiggins and the Scottish hamster-man. But part of it too is because these people don’t think they’re simply pedalling from High Holborn to Paddington; they think they’re saving the bloody planet. And they think that the rest of us are destroying it. As the anonymous blogger put it in that quote at the top of the page, they think that they are different. No — you’re not. You just can’t afford a car or are deluded about the impact cycling a few miles makes to the environment. And you can’t be bothered to walk.
Cyclists are another one of those things about which the government and establishment are of one mind and the general public another. There is absolutely no doubt that the behaviour of some cyclists, the militant lot, enrages both pedestrians and car users — i.e. the vast majority of the British public. I had always thought, when I saw two cyclists riding abreast on a narrowish road, holding up the traffic, that they were unaware of the annoyance they were causing. That maybe they didn’t know there was a car behind, and another 50 cars behind that car.
Oh, but they do, they do. Check out the cycling websites and you will learn that they ride two abreast precisely to stop cars overtaking them, because on narrow roads they are convinced that car drivers will cut in too close to them as they pass. So they block the entire road and feel good about it, because they are Victims. The law states that they are allowed to ride two abreast on a big, wide, straight road, no bends and curves, where there is plenty of opportunity and width for cars to pass by in comfort; but a hefty majority of the posts I saw on several websites revealed very different strategies. Their view is that unless a car has room to pass two cyclists, it shouldn’t be trying to pass one. And with that they wrap themselves in self-righteousness as the queues of traffic tail back further and further.
Likewise, riding on the pavements and thus maiming pensioners. The law is clear about this, for a change. They should never do it. But they do it because they feel safer there, of course. Listen, you plastic-hatted ninny: if you don’t have the balls to cycle in the road, then ditch the bike. It is still the case that, mile for mile, pedestrians are far more ‘vulnerable’ than cyclists. Mile for mile, more pedestrians are killed. They — we — are the real victims, even if we do not whine about it continuously. And the number of pedestrians maimed by cyclists is also rising by the year, to the extent that legislation has been proposed to ensure that cyclists respect the laws of the land the same as everyone else.
And of course, there are other irritations and dangers. I get infuriated by the cyclists tearing past me on the rural footpath where I live, scattering dogs and kids like confetti, believing that because they are allowed on the path, they are under no obligation to consider anyone else who might be using it. I am thinking of training my dog to attack cyclists who behave like this, catch up with them on the uphill stretch and chew their tyres off. I think I will use, as a signal to the animal to launch its attack, the word ‘Hoy!’
And of course there is the running of red lights, a continual complaint from car users, and the weaving in and out of traffic with an expression of rectitude on their faces. And while it is true that by far the greatest number of pedestrian injuries and deaths are caused by car drivers, as a pedestrian you always have the sneaking suspicion that, in general, car drivers will try their best to avoid hitting you, while cyclists not only don’t care but will happily blame you for any injury which occurs.
It is the last point which is the crucial one. It is about attitude. For a long time car drivers have had it drummed into them that what they are doing is antisocial and undesirable and have been subjected to ever greater strictures about what they can and can’t do in their cars, how fast they should travel and why they should leave the car in the garage to ease congestion and save the planet. As a consequence, they have become mindful and cowed. By contrast the cyclists have been told that they are doing a Good Thing, that it would be better if we all cycled (it wouldn’t — it would be better if we all walked) and so believe they can do no wrong. They have the moral high ground, which includes the pavement, since you asked.
I think we need a bit of legislation to sort them out, to penalise adult cyclists who ride on pavements, to book them for dangerous driving when they’re cutting lights or riding two abreast on unsuitable roads. And either to make it compulsory for cyclists to use cycle lanes or for local authorities to stop providing them (and turn the existing ones back into normal roads). Then the cyclists will feel an even greater sense of victimhood, and thus be happier.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 9 November 2013Tags: cyclists, drivers, lane blocking, pedalling, pedestrians, self-righteousness, Victims, Wiggins