Tuesday 11 September 2012

Cyclist Hater: Type 3, the Gripper

If you're of a certain age your most memorable TV bully is Norman 'Gripper' Stebson, the archetypal school bully from Grange Hill. Verbally and physically abusive to those who he and his crony Denny viewed as 'different' - most notably the much put opon (and stolen from) Roland 'Roly' Browning.

The thing I like about the Gripper character is that he's not stupid. He picks his targets with care; usually they were folk who already stood out for some reason, who would be less likely to get the support of those around them if in trouble. If challenged on this he would always try to turn it around so the person challenging could now be viewed in the same light as the victim. Classic bully, superbly and memorably portrayed.

The 'Gripper' is the same kind of fellow. Not exclusively male this one, there are plenty of examples of females. He's not the most secure of chaps, if he was he wouldn't be looking to bully others on the road. Bullying others enhances his own view of himself which would, otherwise, be hollow and meaningless. He's probably not got a gang of cronies about him, although examples abound of Grippers in control of dirty white vans showing off to their two mates chortling in the front seats as they speed to their next cowboy job. No, this bully has his social group built all around him; its his car.

His car represents his dominance. Its his weapon, its the symbol that he is to be respected. He's made out of metal, you aren't, you're inferior. If you're on a bike you're a fair target because its reasonable to him that the 'weak' get out of the way of the 'strong' or face the consequences. And the Gripper is more than happy to share his world view with you.

Into the Gripper category go all those motorists who choose to teach you a lesson by passing too close and clapping on the anchors - they want you to fall off, make no mistake, they're trying to hurt you. Grippers will also commonly yell death threats or abuse at cyclists or even get out and assault them.

Bluntly, these people are among the worst kind of bullies. They believe that might makes right. Layer that on the same basic mentality as the The Brat or The Beamer and Gripper has a ready made social outlier group on which to wage his campaign. It doesn't matter that the cyclist being threatened would catch up with him at the lights anyway so overtaking isn't going to help. It makes no difference if the cyclist victim of the punishment close pass was only avoiding parked car doors. The psychology of these people not one of cold analysis or fairly evaluating road space for reasonable and legal use. Its that of the bully lying over that of the bigot or the sheep.

But the big question we all must face is how should we resopond to the Gripper?

If you encounter Gripper online he's hard to differentiate from the Beamer or the Brat. They'll be more persistent, or they'll be more threatening, but its hard to determine whether they're all gob or whether they're putting their vile belief in superiority of car-metal over human-metal into practice. In this context treat them as you would the Types 1 and 2 cyclist hater.

Its on the road where Gripper can do most harm. And all I can say is that you need to keep your wits about you. Ride your bike in any of our major cities on any of the busy roads? You'll come across Gripper sooner or later. Whether he's the taxi driver yelling obscenities as he sanwiches you with the pavement or the cheap phallic extension owner who thinks we should take his mighty, throbbing engine roughly from behind, you are going to encounter him sooner or later.

When you meet Gripper you may be tempted to knock him on his fat ass. Stop for a moment and think. However temtping it is, its not appropriate to hit him no matter how atrophied his muscles are from years of breathing in petrol fumes. If he assaults you do what you must to remain safe, but if you hit him first then we lose. Keep calm, take a deep breath, get to safety and record the details. Report him to the police. Plod won't want to hear about it but be persistent and insist. Report him, make sure you get the incident number and chase it up. Easier said than done but these people are a threat to all of us. Get 'em off our roads.

If it really looks like you're going to get clobbered, make a noise. Yell, shout, and make sure everyone else knows whats happening. Your last resort if cornered should be to get witnesses - these bullies (and remember, the Gripper is nothing more than a bully) almost always back down if there are enough witnesses.

In most ways the Gripper is the most dangerous of our cyclist haters. But there is another type who instil as much fear in me on the road (and sometimes when they reach out to us from the pavements). The Class 4 cyclist hater, known as the Codger.

Friday 7 September 2012

The Chisolm Trail. A great idea that misses the point?

Much has been said locally about 'The Chisolm Trail'.

The idea is that we could connect the for the most part good Guided Bus cycle route (when its not flooded...) with the South of Cambridge is a good one. No one could disapprove the concept of linking the new Chesterton railway station to the City (although I'd argue this trail fails to do so), nor would anyone say that safe, direct cycling to the Science Park from Cambridge Station isn't beneficial. Good on you Cambridge Cycle Campaign for this idea. But lets take a step back and ask what this is really for.

In the cold light of day we've got to to work every day. That might mean Arbury Road, where most vehicles are travelling well above 30mph, looking to squeeze cyclists into parked vehicles. It might mean Milton Road, where if I want to go straight on at the roundabout I’ve got to negotiate my way out of the cycle lane into fast moving traffic that wants to turn left, right through me. It could be Histon Road, where the shockinly narrow cycle lane provides no protection whatsoever from articulated lorries as they thunder by. Or the claustrophobically narrow Mill Road, on which Cambridgeshire Constabulary have publically given up policing the speed limit. These big project cycle routes are great, but please can we get back to an emphasis on making ALL routes safe for cyclists in this city? Cambridge has many access points from many directions and we're getting het up over something that largely skirts around the outside of the city?

The route of the Chisolm Trail can be thought of as a bypass for cyclists. It isn't taking us into the City Centre, its not directing us to most of the University departments of collegest (and the University is our largest employer). Its taking cyclists around the city from the station to the Science Park. And for those living out in, say, Petersfield or Romsey it'll be a lovely way to go to such locations without at any stage giving them access to the shops or employment of the city centre.

We’re meant to be a great cycling city, and by British standards we are. But globally? Until ‘Cambridge’ can be named in the same breath as ‘Assen’ or ‘Copenhagen’ then we’ve got nothing to boast about. What I’m missing from schemes such as this is how we intend to make safe, efficient, enjoyable cycling the norm on ALL of our roads. Good luck with the Chisolm trail, but please, a little reality check, a little reminder that we need safety for the rest of our roads. Lets have less emphasis on 'big ticket' cycling projects, why aren't we claiming ALL of the roads for safer cycling?

The Chisolm Tail is a creative way of explouting a potential route that is potentially there. The fact is, unless you're on that route, its not very helpful.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Cyclist Hater Type 2: The Beamer

We've all met these guys.

You're riding along the road, car behind gets a bit too close, pulls out next to you at a junction, electric window fizzes down and a guy in an ill considered shirt-tie combination lectures you about (a) road tax and how you don't pay it, (b) road positioning, betraying he knows nothing about it, (c) priority at junctions, demonstrating he's no basic understanding of the road, (d) you being in his way and too slow, thus indicating he's so impatient he shouldn't drive... etc.

None of these are the real reason he's acting this way. None of these flimsy, half-baked pretexts for anger are close to the truth.

When we're considering why the type 2 cyclist hater is how he is (and its almost always a 'he'), we must look at the world he inhabits.

His job is job to be a dick. Whether he's being a penis by selling inappropriate high powered cars, or a cock by flogging burglar alarms that barely work, or going in to work and ruining lives by mis-selling useless insurance policies to the gullible like the bawbag he is, this guy is a professional nob. He might be sales staff, or management at almost any level, but his job relies on his personality. Doesn't have to be a good personality, just has to be an assertive one. And he doesn't have to be very smart; he is (to steal a line from Futurama) a moderately intelligent monkey. In a suit.

He doesn't have to be right about things. Because even when he's wrong, everything about the world around him tells him that he's still right. Speeding is illegal but its not wrong, otherwise it would be policed. When its policed thats just there to strip money off him, how is that fair? Parking on the pavements is fine, important people like him don't walk anywhere. Can't park on the pavement? WAR ON THE MOTORISTS! Giving cyclists a hard time is just par for the course, after all these cyclists are (from his Cro-Magnon perspective) slowing him down. If he misses a cyclist he's driving past by, say, an inch, thats absolutely fine; why are you so upset, I missed you didn't I mate? And you don't pay no f-----g road tax anyway.

We can almost forgive him for thinking this way. Govermnent sets taxes to keep him happy. Local authorities arrange roads for his benefit, largely to the exclusion of anyone else. The BBC anointed St. Clarkson of Gobshite to tell him that all will be forgiven, he'll go to Motoring Heaven and be waited on hand and foot by Nigen Mansell, Jensen Button and something called a Stig will ted to his his every sexual desire. The press support him, constantly blaming immigrants, lefties, cyclists, basically anyone but Beamer man for everything thats wrong with the world. He's got money, he matters, no one else does. The environment? Peace and quiet? Sharing road space? Thats for wimps.

So even when he's wrong, he's right. Tell him there is no such thing as road tax and he'll tell you that you should be on the pavement. Explain to him that this is usually illegal and he'll bleat on about cyclists going through red lights. Demonstrate to him that this is sheer BS and he'll most likely bleat on about road tax again. Doesn't matter that you've shown him to be wrong about this, what matters to him is his own opinion and forcing that down your throat and be damned to sense, reason and propriety.

Trying to reason with this creature is a waste of time. Reason isn't his game. He is rather like the Type 1 Cyclist Hater (the Brat) in that he is basically a bully. And like all bullies, deep down he's a snivelling little coward. He's only the way he is because he's been taught its okay to be that way, if he were capable of original thought he'd have grown out of it by now. He isn't going to. You telling him that Road Tax isn't real won't help. Showing him accident stats showing 90% of cyclist road injuries are entirely the fault of motorists won't change his mind.

So, basically, you have three options.

1. Ignore him (easiest). Won't change anything, and he'll just transfer his hate on to the next cyclist he encounters.

2. Engage in a discussion in which you go round and round defeating his flimsy arguments one after the other - entertaining at first, dull as ditchwater when you get to your 5th example of the Beamer.

3. Play him at his own game - be disparaging, gloss over his shallow crap like its, errm... shallow crap. This is effective when there are several of you, because this gets right to the heart of what Beamer fears most; neither fitting in nor being in control.

You see, the Beamer is like a 'grown up' Brat. Once its made clear to him that he's not picking on one individual who can be perceived as weak, he's going to crumble. They always do. Whether its crumbling into sporadic bouts of Father Jack style crudities, or storming off in a huff, the Beamer cannot take it when they're no longer the 'strong' one. Will he be convinced by your arguments? No, but that was never happening anyway. He will, however know not to mess. And thats ultimately what we want; he can think what he likes as long as he stops giving us trouble.

That'll usually work. Unless, of course, you've misidentified your Beamer. Thats easy to do. What do you do if he turns out to be a Type 3 cyclist hater: The Gripper!

Monday 3 September 2012

Cyclist Haters: Type 1, the Brat

You frequently encounter this one online, but in real life they're not an issue for most of us once we're out of our teens.

This type of cyclist hater (Type 1) is typically young, most often female, and desperate to fit in. They want to be accepted by their friends and peers as 'normal', and they will target cyclists as easy prey. Rather like the clique of teenage girls picking on the outsider, they see deprecating cyclists as a way of reinforcing their own status within their clique.

This type of cyclist hater is amazingly common. You'll find them on twitter, you'll find them on youtube, on facebook, in fact you'll come across them anywhere online that folk gather online to mouth off nonsense at each other. And while these folk are little threat on the road (after all, few of them are old enough to drive, and they're mostly more bark than bite) the constant pitter patter of their anti-cyclist chorus has the effect of keeping cyclist hatred normal - for as long as they go unchallenged and unashamed for what amounts to nothing more than a bland prejudice, hating cyclists (and the occasional extreme act that go alongside that) will be considered socially acceptable.

I know, this sounds far fetched. I grant you I'm speaking highly speculatively so far. But I regret to say that the net is full of examples of the Type 1 cyclist hater. I'm not overstating it when I say they're everywhere - it is absolutely, totally normal to pour scorn or outright hatred on to cyclists. You don't need a pretext, you don't need a reason, in fact its increasingly used as a neutral means for starting a conversation. It is considered normal and reasonable to hate cyclists, its respectable, at least among these folk.

You'll note looking though examples how common other prejudices are too - homophobia is common among them, largely for the same reasons they abuse cyclists. They see it as safe, as easy. They are, in short, typical bullies.

How should we respond to them? Well, for the most part, that depends on whether you think they're worth it. Its hard not to respond to the worst variety of braindead idiots who think its amusing to threaten murder, but remember if these barely pubescent creatures had the courage of their convictions they'd already be in jail. Generally speaking if you're going to respond its best to do so in a reasonable, detached sort of way; express incredulity or amazement that they mean what they're saying, perhaps ask them why they think its okay to stereotype about cyclists, and what other groups they feel they can reasonably stereotype and denigrate in this way. If that doesn't work then publicise them and allow others to pour scorn on them too; the one thing these kids are looking for, the overwhelming urge they have, is to be accepted as normal, to be part of a pack, and when the 'pack' turns on them they'll retreat back in shame.

I feel that its sometimes worth responding to them, sometimes not. But it tends to be the case that once three or four people have responded these kids back off and realise that what they're saying really is offensive. I rather hope that in nipping this off at the bud we can prevent them turning into the alltogether more dangerous tpe 2 cyclist hater...

Cyclist Hatred - Who are these guys, and whats the point of arguing?

I've been mulling over the kinds of cyclist haters that we frequently encounter on the roads, online, in our workplaces etc. and it occurs to me that they're not a very varied bunch. The haters are, for the most part, predictable. Each falls in to one of several categories, and while it is dangerous or even wrong to risk stereotyping even folk who are preaching that because we're cyclists we should be killed (and yes, many of them are doing that, I kid you not) I do think that such an approach might help us determine how best to deal with each category of cyclist hater. What's to follow therefore is a series of posts detaling who these folk are, what they say, and what motiovations may be behind their comments. I'll hope to expand upon this with useful advice on how to respond to these folk; please bare with me while I run through this, and feel free to add comments - this is something I think could do with a range of inputs.