What Makes Us Hate Cyclists?

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By Sanny

If you ask me to identify myself, you can be pretty sure that at some point I will call myself a cyclist. Ever since my mum and dad gave me my first bike, a Raleigh Chopper, which I rode into the ground, the lure of two wheels has proven irresistible to me. I love bikes. I love seeing other people ride bikes. Bikes are good. And yet, despite this pre-disposition to liking all things bike, why is it that I increasingly find myself being irritated, angered even, by the behaviour of other cyclists? Is it simply the case that as I grow older (not wiser, I hasten to add), am I simply succumbing to a human trait of liking things just the way they are, thank you very much, rejecting change in favour of a Victor Meldrew-esque existence? Do we simply get grumpier as we grow up? Let me give you a couple of examples of the things that have been annoying me of late. If I come across as a bit ranty, it’s probably because I am but bear with me, there is a point to what I am about to say and it’s not simple anti biking rhetoric.

commute cycling singletrack bez
It’s hard to imagine that cyclists aren’t universally loved!

Red light jumpers – whenever I see someone on a bike doing this, I can feel a sense of easily justifiable anger welling up inside me. I regard them as selfish and inconsiderate, putting their own needs and wants over and above those of everyone else around them. It infuriates me to see someone blithely ride their bike through a sea of pedestrians with no apparent regard for the safety and wellbeing of others.

I just can’t get my head around the fashion for riding BMXs brakeless.

BMX grommets who ride without brakes in traffic – From a Darwinian perspective, this has to rank up there with swimming with polar bears or sticking your wet fingers into a broken plug socket. Sooner or later, something bad is going to happen. While I look on with awe (and probably a little jealousy too if I am honest) at what the young dudes can do, I just can’t get my head around the fashion for riding BMXs brakeless. Ghetto style it may be but put yourself in anything other than a concrete bowl and it’s probably only a matter of when and not if you are going to do yourself or someone else a serious mischief.

Brakeless fixie riders – Not dissimilar to their BMX brethren, there is a definite subset of riders, notably cycle couriers, who ride around in busy traffic with nothing but a fixed wheel separating them from oblivion. Back in the day, riding fixed was all about winter riding and developing your souplesse but now it appears to be as much about making a statement as to how hard-core a rider you are than minimising maintenance costs and developing a smooth pedalling technique. I always thought track bikes were made for the track. Having tried to stop a fixie at speed in the wet on a downhill, it was a singularly unpleasant experience and not one I have been keen to repeat since. Even with thighs like Chris Hoy, I reckon I would have struggled to come to any kind of controlled stop if a car door was opened in front of me or a pedestrian stepped out from behind a car.

Riders riding in the dark without lights – Arrrrrrrrgh! I feel the need to just hit my head (although probably better theirs) on my keyboard. I’m a cyclist that drives which makes me super aware that there are a fair number of cyclists who don’t seem to grasp that no lights and dark roads do not a healthy cocktail make!

And breathe!

So, four examples of things that annoy me. Just for balance and so you don’t think I am about to jump ship for the Daily Mail any time soon, I can find just as many examples with drivers and pedestrians. But what does this all mean? Why am I pre-disposed to think like this? Why is it that anti-cycling tirades appear to find a voice and an audience in society whether in the press, on social media or on radio phone-ins?

I may have an explanation.

I was talking with a good friend this morning. He is what I would consider to be a good driver. Every time I have been in the car with him, he has clearly been acutely aware of everyone around about him; he drives within the speed limit and happily lets other road users out. Despite driving  a very powerful car, an Audi RS4, he is sensible, careful and considerate. I wish more drivers were like him. However, when I told him about this column and asked him what annoyed him with cyclists, he surprised me when he said that he is more considerate of cyclists whom he judges to be considerate and good cyclists. How does he make this judgement? Based entirely on how they look. Wearing a helmet, not breaking the rules of the road, having  lights on their bike – all contribute to his perception of who are good cyclists that deserve respect. I was somewhat taken aback by this but then realised that even as a cyclist, I too make those kind of judgements. But why?

The reason that our road network generally works is that there are a series of rules and conventions that for the most part, users adhere to

As a society, by working together in co-operation, individually we benefit from the collective good. By all adhering to societal norms, laws and generally accepted practices, anyone who does not adhere by those rules is seen as a trouble maker. Roads are the perfect microcosm for this. Think about it. The reason that our road network generally works is that there are a series of rules and conventions that for the most part, users adhere to. If we all chose to disregard the rules, chaos would ensue. What if everyone just chose to run a red light? What if we all rode on the pavement? What if nobody obeyed the speed limit and travelled at a speed that they thought was ok for them? What if we all took a drink before driving? Of course, I am taking this to a logical albeit unlikely conclusion but every time we witness someone breaking the rules, it stirs a deep seated emotion within us. The rule breaker is upsetting the applecart. They are getting a benefit that the rest aren’t getting to enjoy because the rest of us abide by the rules. It’s Infuriating. Now I suppose we could all start practising mindfulness and letting such infractions wash over us but deep down, we know that isn’t likely to happen. Drivers get seriously pissed off because cyclists break the rules and upset what has become the natural order of things where the motor vehicle has primacy on the road. Never mind that the real risk and danger on the roads is posed by vehicles. For whatever reason, society seems to think this is an acceptable price to pay for the freedom offered by the motor car – which is another story that I will return to in a future column.

So where does all of this lead us? I have just one request to make of you. Next time you are stuck at the interminable traffic lights of unchanging despair and are tempted to jump the red, take a moment to reflect on just why cyclists get tarred with the brush of the rule breaking menace.

 

Comments (16)

    “…which makes me super aware”

    I stopped believing right there. You’re not “super” aware, you’re just – like all of us – at best, “very” aware. “Super aware” is what Superman does with his X-ray vision.

    But here’s the thing – using the word “super” when “very” would do is not a crime that needs to be punished with death, and neither is cycling – even through a red traffic light.

    This whole article feels a bit like an exercise in blaming the victim for having failed to live up to the expectations of every car and lorry driver. Not wearing a crash helmet? Squash him!

    But road users blatantly don’t stick to the rules.

    Speed limits – about 2/3 of drivers break speed limits regularly. Stand next to one of those flashing signs and see how many vehicles set it off.

    Red lights – there’s always a couple of “amber gamblers” at rush hour.

    Mobile phones – loads of drivers use theirs openly, Facebook their crotch at lights or ignore the research which found that using a hands-free kit is just as distracting.

    Stopping distances – every bugger on the motorway drives as close to the next vehicle as humanly possible.

    They hate us because we’re different. That is all.

    I agree with Mr Agreeable.

    I agree to an extent, but only to the extent that car drivers obey the law. Most people break traffic laws if they don’t think the consequences are high for them or anyone else. ever see a car doing 20 in a 20 zone?

    Plus what seems to wind car drivers up most isn’t breaking the law and non-helmet wearing, it’s being faster than them through traffic, “being in the way” when a moment’s forethought would have revealed either traffic stopped ahead or a safe pass and literally no journey hold-up at all.

    But you can’t complain about that, so it comes back to RLJ-ing

    It’s a topical article. The surgeon in the fracture clinic once commented that I was obviously a frequent flyer since he saw quite a lot of me due to motorcycle and mtb injuries. Now I am older, no wiser but much more risk averse. Hence I do agree people without lights, brakes and helmets must be aiming for a Darwin award. We Cyclists do seem to have a image problem. Regardless of the crappy car drivers maybe we should try a bit harder and be more considerate. There are just as many tools out there on bikes at the moment as there are in the cars. The other night watched a guy jump a light through crossing pedestrians, he must have doing 25mph! What was the point of that? Strava? Awful. Was pretty embarrassed to be a cyclist. You should have seen the looks from the pedestrians. It was close.

    I get annoyed at riders who I think “could do better”..

    Oldnpastit

    This isn’t victim blaming that I am engaging in. Rather, the piece is trying to delve into the psychology of road users. In order to deal with your enemy, at first you need to understand them and what motivates them. What I would say is that our behaviour impacts on how others see us, whether adversely or otherwise.

    It may be grossly unfair and lead to acts of aggression against us but sadly that often feels like the world we live in. Having been used for target practice by a driver who objected to me pulling into a space in front of him in stationary traffic and who showed this by deliberately ramming into the back of me, I am acutely aware that there are some head bangers out there who would do well to never be allowed into contact with civilised society.

    I guess my message in the piece is simple. If you act like a tool, don’t be surprised if someone decides to act like a tool with you. Unfortunately, the consequences of that combined with a ton and a half of vehicle rarely end well for the person on the bike.

    Mr Agreeable

    I could have just as easily have cited the examples and many more about bad drivers. Some folk are just selfish dicks, pure and simple, whether in a car, a truck, a pedestrian or on a bike. Your all too familiar examples are a perfect illustration of how not abiding by “the rules” pisses people off.

    Cheers

    Sanny

    Despite the growth in numbers , cycling is still a minority activity whereas driving cars is something seen as a normal, everyday thing done by normal people . You, because you are a cyclist , are responsible for every other cyclist that ever there was whilst they don’t see themselves as motorists, just people who happen to drive.

    “Your all too familiar examples are a perfect illustration of how not abiding by “the rules” pisses people off.”

    The fundamental difference though, which your piece doesn’t address, is that the actions of cyclists are used to stereotype all cyclists, and oppose calls for better provision for cyclists. Whereas the actions of white van men, amber gamblers or middle lane hoggers aren’t taken to reflect on motorists in general.

    Unless we can get to grips with this distinction, we’re doomed to spend the rest of our lives apologising for behaviour we have no hope of influencing.

    Mr Agreeable

    I completely agree re drivers but what I didn’t address, quite deliberately, is how we change the behaviour of drivers. I didnt want to go into the hows and whys as we would have ended up with a thesis! The point of the piece is to explore the psychology of drivers, albeit in simple terms, on order to prompt debate.

    One thing that really boils my piss is the number of uninsured drivers on the road. Current estimates in the insurance industry are that there are between 1.2 and 1.3 million such drivers in the UK. With fines an average of £300, it’s not a sufficient deterrent when premiums for young drivers and ones with convictions can be well in excess of a grand. Unfortunately, the police in the UK have neither the inclination nor resources to pursue this rigorously. You would think that combing the DVLA databases with some positive action, we could get an awful lot of these idiots off the road.

    Unfortunately, driving is viewed as almost a human right and not a privilege which is what it is. Driving a ton and a half of metal carries no small amount of responsibility and yet when some people get in a car, common sense and reason appear to be lost when the door closes.

    Re your point re white van man etc. What would you propose we do to start addressing this? As a group, we are woeful at being the catalyst for change. I suspect that many of us just shrug are shoulders and accept the shitty end of the stick which we often get.

    Cheers and thanks for the comments.

    Sanny

    The one thing I don’t get – why is not wearing helmet cause for concern? Who can it possibly affect other than the cyclist. In my view the change in risk in wearing or not wearing a helmet is negligible at best, so how can a bare head be used as justification for saying that that person is a rule breaker or somehow getting an advantage?

    Completely illogical.

    I suspect it is because helmet wearing is the norm in the same way that wearing a seat belt is (ignoring the law for the moment). If someone doesn’t wear a helmet, they are straying from the norm. It is then easy to justify an almost instinctive disdain by justifying on the grounds of not valuing their own safety so why should I value theirs type argument. It isn’t logical but I can understand where it comes from.

    I’ve done a long-form response here:

    http://singletrackworld.com/columns/2015/12/do-you-wanna-be-in-our-gang/

    Basically, I think that while cyclists are a tiny minority of road users, we’re always going to get the shitty end of the stick. And while we’re busy agonising over the behaviour of total strangers, and endorsing the viewpoint that we’re all collectively responsible for this behaviour, we’re not going to encourage many more people to cycle.

    A problem with the argument in this article is that if you go to Amsterdam the cyclists are even more anarchic and irresponsible than they are in the UK. Yet Dutch cyclists are not regarded as social pariahs by their fellow countrymen. Wonder why?

    *pulls up a chair, contemplates counterpoint column*

    😉

    Oh… now I’ve read the existing one 🙂

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