Why do so many people hate cyclists?

21 May 2013 6:53 PM
MICHAEL HANLON

Source: Mail Online

We live in a world where a young woman claims, in a tweet, to have knocked a cyclist into the ditch then boasts about doing a runner. The primordially stupid ‘EmmaWay20’ justifies her actions by pointing out that the cyclist, Toby Hockley, ‘doesn’t pay road tax’.

Lycra Lout?

Lycra Lout?

Ms Way, if that is her name, is apparently now helping Norfolk Police with their enquiries. If she has done what she claims to have done I hope they throw the book at her. Dangerous driving, failing to stop at an accident – grounds for a lifetime ban at the very least. She may even go to prison, but don’t hold your breath.

Of course most motorists are not like Ms Way. Most have at least one or two brain cells in their heads. But it cannot be denied that there is a rancid minority who really have it in for the two-wheeled brigade.

You can tell by the arguments that they use that logic is not really the issue here. The brute fact is that motor vehicles kill several thousand people a year in Britain (better than it was, and better than almost anywhere else, but imagine the hoo-ha if this happened on the railways).

Most of these dead people were pedestrians or cyclists. Many of them were children. Cyclists, on the other hand, kill, on average, one or two people a year. Even factoring the difference in numbers, the car is at least a hundred times deadlier than the bike, whichever way you look at it.

So what are the arguments that the cycle-haters use? There’s the ‘road tax’ claim, as made by this particular imbecile. Sigh. There is no such thing as ‘road tax’ and has not been for decades. There is something called ‘vehicle excise duty’ which operates on a sliding scale and is (supposed to) relate to a vehicle’s efficiency. This is not a hypothecated tax, it just goes into the general pot. Roads are paid for out of general taxation, taxes which are as likely to be paid by cyclists as anyone else.

Very often someone wheels out the ‘lycra lout’ tag. As well as being a tired old cliche this, I think, reveals something else about cycle-haters. ‘Lycra’ is associated with physical activity. I have been cycling (mostly wearing ordinary clothes) in London since the mid 1980s and I have noticed that there is a strong positive correlation between the likelihood that an alteraction with a motor car will result in strong language, and the size of the waistline of the driver. People who are too fat to get on a bike simply hate the sight of someone whizzing past their expensive vehicle, a car which is probably capable of 150mph, as they are stuck in endless traffic.

Cycling is a cheap, fast and effective way to get around our cities. Lots of people realise this. Thirty years ago the only people you saw on bikes in London were lunatics, the poor and couriers. Now everyone has a bike, including cabinet minsters and mayors. In fact, the worst examples I have come across of bike-rage from motorists have not been in the cities but in the countryside, where most of the population seems to be surgically attached to their cars.

It is much safer to cycle in London, if you keep your wits about you, than in Sussex or, clearly, Norfolk. Most drivers I come across in the Capital – even the cyclists’ betes noirs, the cabbies, white van men and bus drivers, are a lot friendlier than they used to be (but watch out for the Royal Mail van drivers).

And here’s the thing. Like most cyclists in Britain I drive a car as well. We have to hope that as more and more people realise that a, cycling is fun and b, that it does not actually rain all the time in the UK, more and more motorists will also be cyclists. This is the case in the Netherlands and Denmark, Germany and Austria, all of which have quite strong car cultures (Germany especially so) and yet where the bike is treated with respect rather than contempt. Perhaps that is because in these countries more motorists than here realise that the ‘lycra lout’ in front of them could well be their son, wife, daughter or father.