Monday 6 July 2015

Why aren't I plagued by cyclists?

I ride my bike to get to places. Thats what a bike is for, its to get me close enough to a place such that the rest of the journey is better done on foot. A bicycle isn't a political tool, and if you think it is I cordially invite you to read a decking fictionary. Its a vehicle, it shortens time spent travelling to a destination such that we then don't have to spend as long walking - and its a more economical and healthy choice than driving or getting the bus. That's all it really is - it isn't a device that I define myself by. Its a machine, not a social commentary.

So that means I'm also a pedestrian. I don't tend to ride my bike to a town and then ride around in it - its a hassle unlocking and locking it up again, so I tend to lock it up and walk around. In truth I'm as much a pedestrian as I am a cyclist. All of us are.

As a pedestrian I'm forced to ask what the hell is going on with all the people who complain about all the cyclists. I've been a pedestrian pretty much since I learned to walk, and in that whole time I don't recall being hit by a cyclist, nor have I been threatened by a cyclist. I've had a cyclist swear at me once, ever - on a big, fast, wide, shared use facility where I'll confess I was distracted and not looking where I was going. I've had a cyclist fall off on the  pavement near me once - he was drunk out of his face, riding slowly behind me and fell off. I called him an idiot as his drunk friends (who were in agreement with this point) picked him off the ground and I kept walking 

Why is it I see so many comments about cyclists being a problem on the pavement? Is it that in Britains cycling capital I'm leading a strangely charmed life, and that I'm really odd in never having been 'mown down' or 'nearly killed' by a cyclist while walking around? 

I don't like treating anecdotes as evidence, its lazy and unhelpful, but the real data (which shows cyclists are killing around 100 times fewer people on pavements than motorists are) bares so little resemblance to the perception of Boudicca like spiked wheels scything through the ankles of modern Britons as to be hilariously irrelevant. The idea that cyclists are causing this mayhem is so widespread that we see nonsensical articles that crudely divide distance travelled by injury rate (thus ignoring the dualled A roads and M roads which make up the majority of that figure for motorists, one's that that cyclists can't practically or legally ride) claiming that cyclists are as dangerous as cars. The idea that cyclists are destroying lives is so prevalent that trollumnist hate-pieces are blandly put out by newspapers, reaping the a hate-fear harvest on a scale they're scared even to try to drum up over immigration. We're so hated that we're seeing concerted attempts to booby trap roads and cycling routes, a trend which left un-checked will lead to fatalities.

The numbers don't add up - there are of course stupid and antisocial people on bikes but they're in a vanishingly small minority. You simply can't correlate next to no deaths and serious injuries with endless anecdotal near misses, such a concept would be a statistical brain fart, its not real. Its not credible - to believe that cyclists are 'nearly killing' many thousands while actually killing one every three years takes that special kind of ignorance I like to call 'prejudice'.

But take a step back - we don't talk about cycling safety in simple 'this is how many people are killed' terms. We also talk about subjective safety - where even though its statistically 'not that bad' we don't use some routes because they feel dangerous.

I put it to you that cyclists 'feel dangerous' in the same way that turbans on the buses were a problem. Cyclists are dangerous like immigrants used to be - i.e. they're pretty much not, but the perception of us as outsiders, and the constant reinforcement of negative stereotypes as acceptable in the media does make people worry when they see us. The answer isn't that cyclists must behave better - the evidence is that we're not breaking the rules sufficiently often or severely to justify the hate we see. The answer? Reject their prejudice.

Want to start a conversation with a stranger? Well you can't say 'bloody cyclists!' any more. Want to tell a joke? Well while people are assaulting cyclists just for riding you can't tell that joke about us. It's time we made cycling hate speech as unacceptable as any other hate speech. 

Cycling needs some social-justice style rage. Are you with me?


  1. ...but some of my best friends are cyclists.

  2. Cyclists on pavements leave pram pushers and shopping carriers feeling they have to step off. Parked cars do the same. Don't confuse the Daily Mail's judgements with those of real people and ascribe "prejudice" to we who walk, unless you are looking for a pretext to get "well 'ard", and approve of the idea that cyclists must act like a liberation movement, backing every one of its members, no matter how they've behaved. I remember how this went in the 70s. The result is to make those you treat like enemies dislike you just as much. There is already too much use of words like "hate" on all sides.

    I decline to identify myself having seen your responses to others who don't necessarily agree with you.

    1. You're claiming I treat people badly here if I don't agree with them - this is complete codswallop. Disagree all you like but don't be a cowardly anonymous oaf and be reasonable and/or polite.

      I welcome criticism - but this is my blog, not yours. My house, my rules - and my rule is if you're going to be rude you can't be a snivelling yellow chicken and hide behind anonymity on my blog.

      Your parting blow there is a fine example of what I don't allow here - a craven, passive aggressive attempt to deflect criticism of your wafer-thin fallacious argument by insinuating such criticism has in the past been unfair. It hasn't - and your claim to the contrary is simply a lie.

      Your input here remains most welcome - but you can't do it anonymously any more. I'm posting with my name - you have to do it with yours now.