For The Many, Not The Few

May 25, 2017

I know it’s going to happen, before it actually does. There’s something about the way they breathe in just a little bit sharply, or the slight widening of the eyes. The extending of a finger, the tightening of a jaw… and then it comes:

‘Well, could you just tell them to…’.


I have just met someone – perhaps in the park, or on a train – you know, those small talk situations we find ourselves in – and I have made the mistake of letting on that I work for a cycling magazine. I’m now going to be treated as the conduit to communicating with everyone who has ever ridden a bike, and there’s a fair chance by the end of the complaint I will actually be being held accountable for the actions of all these bike riding humans.

The complaints are many, and usually predictable. Cycling on pavements, cycling on footpaths, cycling too fast or too close (near pedestrians, or dogs), cycling too slowly (on roads), having lights that are too bright, not having lights at all, not wearing hi-vis, wearing lycra. It’s all contradictory, and you might think we can’t win. But we can.

Yes, some of these things are against the law. Some of these things are not. Sometimes, perhaps in an act of self-preservation, we might break the law (Pavement vs busy A-road anyone?). Sometimes we might break it out of self interest (short cut or the long way round?). Sometimes it’s desire, fun seeking and a two fingers up to the rules (you know what I mean). Rather than getting wrapped up in trying to argue the rights and wrongs of any situation (this is a column, not a court), there’s a simpler solution: Don’t be a dick.

Nice moorland scenery cotton grass evening
Cyclists not being dicks. Deep breaths. Calm thoughts.

If you’re cycling on a pavement, do so slowly and not on people’s doorsteps. Give ways to pedestrians you meet. Say hello and good morning to them. Cover or dim your lights when appropriate. Give people, their dogs, their children, space. Yes, some people you meet are dicks. They let their dogs run in front of us, they leave their dog’s poo in a little bag for us to ride over, they string barbed wire across trails. But they are dicks, and we should not join their ranks by being dicks too.

We all commit little infractions and small acts of selfishness from time to time, but if we break the rules with courtesy, most of the time no one will actually mind. There’s a limit, obviously – if there are 20 of you politely smiling and waving your way along that footpath through someone’s garden, it’s probably still not going to go down that well. But every time you leave your manners at home and buzz past someone’s shoulder or clip their wing mirror as you weave through stationary traffic, there will be a bunch of people who will tar all the other humans on bikes with the same brush.

Now yes, those people making the leap from their experience of one or a few humans on bikes and applying it to all humans on bikes could be taught a thing or two about logic, statistics and sweeping generalisations, but day to day life is full of people making misguided and prejudiced judgements about groups of people. All train spotters are boring. All computer scientists are nerds. All morris dancers have beards. All librarians wear cardigans.

And so it’s on each of us as individuals to present ourselves as well as we possibly can. To be as unselfish as possible. To take a moment, while we’re put ourselves and our interests first, to consider what impact our little act of selfishness might have on others. For the many, not the few.

And if not for the many, then for me. Save me from those conversations.

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