Monday 4 November 2013

Smug? Cyclists? No. But we have every reason to be.

If you read cycling blogs you'll be aware that Kate Hoey MP has been busted for jumping red lights in her car. This in itself wouldn't be a news story for cyclists to get their teeth in to, but she's on record as having lambasted us for doing so and called for ever stiffer penalties in response. We're also accused by her of being smug, of course; ironically I could describe cyclists responses to her conviction as probably the smuggest thing I've seen from bike campaigners for many years!

But this brings us back to the whole 'smug' thing. We're often accused of this - whether its Melanie Phillips trolling for the Mail, or Brendan O'Neill wasting space that could have had real journalism in it in the Telegraph this crap is all over the place. It isn't just Kate Hoey - we are very often accused of pomposity and smugness, usually by people who will then go on to have a go at us on the grounds of how hard what we're doing looks or how dangerous it is. So we're smug about how miserable we must be. Apparently.

I don't need to refute the claim that we're smug - its nonsensical. The idea we're feeling a certain way towards motorists rather implies that why we cycle is somehow all to do with them, and this is simply untrue. Why we cycle clearly isn't why they think we cycle - we're not dealing with a fair assessment of our own emotional response to motorists. What we're seeing is a projection of how they think we can fairly and reasonably be - and resentment of that borne from basic jealousy. And as the very act of sitting on a bike makes us visibly different, its easy for them to clump is all into the same arbitrary, critical grouping.

But lets look closer still. Why are we meant to be smug?

Well, we're getting to our destinations faster than they are. We're not held up by traffic like they are. We're also getting some exercise, saving money, avoiding injuring other people, not contributing towards pollution, locking our bikes up for free, taking up less space on the road... Heck, sounds good to me! I really should be smug - I'm doing everything right. 

The truth is I don't ride for any of those reasons - I ride because its a fun and practical way to get around. I don't do so out of some feeling that it makes me comparatively better than a motorist - in fact my choice to cycle has got nothing to do with the motorists around me. It isn't about them - its got nothing to do with them. The fact that they think of me as 'smug'... How am I showing smugness towards people whose activities are nothing to do with mine?

If I am smug its because I'm engaging in an activity that doesn't make me so angry that I have to start inventing an emotional response that simply isn't there in others. When I ride past dozens of motorists, catching red eyed, resentful stares or even protracted soundings of the horn as I take a position in the advance stop box in front of the traffic, maybe I SHOULD feel smug. But I don't. 

Heck, maybe that means we really are better than them...


  1. What a smug blog...

  2. One of the best bits of sociology looking at cycling that I have ever read. Motorists just HAVE to define cycling in their own terms...

    Dr Robert Davis, Road Danger Reduction Forum

  3. Bit late, catching up with the blogs backlog...

    The obvious explanation for all this is surely that the people who make the accusation feel guilty. There is a good option and a bad option, and they feel guilty about picking the bad option. Projecting a feeling of smugness onto the people who pick the good option helps solve the cognitive dissonance, I guess.

    1. Elegantly put. They're seeing us as smug because that would bring us down to their level - being annoying about being good would mean they don't have to feel so awful about being bad.

  4. Get over yourself.

    1. Hit and run crappy criticism from anonymous poster? What is this, the internet?