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.


  1. It is ridiculous drivel like this, from self righteous idiots like you, that perpetuates Cambridge cyclists' disregard for the rules of the road.
    It is militant attitudes like this that are typically exhibited by cyclists who refuse to use the underpass at Newmarket Road and the cycle bridge On Coldhams Lane.
    I would recommend that you spend more time reading your highway code and less time talking out your erchie!

    1. Brave man hiding behind anonymity. You ain't got anything to say, but you don't like that the definition I'm describing here fits.

      The Newmarket Road roundabout is an excellent example of an insanely dangerous and bad facility - you've got multiple, blind, narrow, fenced corners, a steep slope, and a daunting space to cross under the road. It is, plainly, frightening. And the Coldhams Lane bridge? Excellent, if you can get to it - access to it from the South isn't signposted, its not clear how you're meant to legally access it from that route even if you DO know its there.

      So - you're concerned that I'm showing disregard for rules of the road? In this post here? How? Explain or, ever so brave anonymous poster, go fuck yourself.