Monday 5 November 2012

Cyclist Hater Type 4: The Codger

We've already discussed cyclist haters types 1, 2 and 3 (the Brat, the Beamer, and the Gripper). If my readers will indulge me once again, I'm going to address Type 4. The Codger. And for the first time I'm going to encourage you to actually show some sympathy for the hater.

Codgers, as you might expect, are usually older. But just like there are old Brats there are plenty of young Codgers.

Codgers hate us because we're DANGEROUS to them or ourselves when we ride on cycle routes or roads that they might want to drive on or walk on. They are usually quite obsessed with this fear, and will at any opportunity try to subvert any discussion related to cycling to share this irrational fear. The most influential Codgers even want to change the law to deal with us. Many of them are retired, they've got the time and the know-how to turn up to countless council meetings and police consultations, ensuring that we're constantly portrayed as the enemy of all that is decent on the roads.

In fairness to the Codger, being hit by a cyclist on the pavement can cause life changing injuries. In rare cases it can kill. And to kill another person through ones own negligence is unacceptable. No one would, in this regard, argue otherwise.

So the problem with Codgers isn't that anyone would support antisocial or dangerous cycling. The problem with Codgers is that they are loud, they are persistent, and they are barking up the wrong tree entirely.

Cyclists do kill on pavements. On average you can count the annual number of fatalities thus caused in the UK on one hand. Sometimes one finger. It would take 151 years for cyclists to kill as many people on the pavement as are killed on the pavement by motorists in a single year.

Available stats do not back up the Codger, but if you think that means we can simply write off the Codger as a crazy mentalist then you're mistaken. 'Subjective safety', yell the cycle campaigners pleading for more and better routes for cyclists, when trying to get people to understand why we don't want to ride on the road that is statistically rather safe. Well, quite. But that means we can't condemn the Codger for feeling endangered by cyclists who are, after all, near silent. We can quite reasonably point out that they're wrong, that their fears are out of proportion to all real risk, but to hinge our responses to codgers on that while simultaneously arging in favour of better facilities so we feel safer smacks of hypocrisy.

That said, lets think about who these Codgers are and, perhaps, we'll get closer to understanding why they put their rather naive arguments forward.

A Codger will frequently claim to be 'keen cyclist myself', a sure fire sign that they might have a bike in the back of the garage or the shed, but that it rarely sees light of day except perhaps for a quiet weekend ride in summer. These folk aren't cyclists, and they're not instinctively cyclist friendly. To them, we're 'other', we're strange social outliers who are wierd and frightening. And, bluntly, the motorists who are 150 times more likely to kill them on pavements than we are, aren't. The motorists speeding down their roads are just folk that they know (or folk that they are), whereas the cyclists are either yoghurt knitting hippies or dangerous cyclopaths. Make no mistake; their fear is not borne out of any rational assessment of risk, it comes from ignorance and prejudice.

But fear it is nonetheless, and its wrong for us to ridicule the Codger for being afraid of us, however disproportionate their fear is. The solution? Let them see you're human and give them a fair response. Appease their fears. Humour them while pointing out, politely, that they're wrong. Let them rant, if it helps them, but don't miss the opportunity to turn their rants around on them and demonstrate their arguments are based on ignorance and/or prejudice. Because, ultimately, we'll only really silence the Codgers by curing their ignorance and defeating their prejudice.

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