There is no denying that the hard-of-thinking hate “cyclists”. “Cyclists”, that prescribed, impenetrable group of road users afforded special rights to use the roads without any of the administrative overheads foisted on the poor, downtrodden motorist. “Cyclists”, that group of slow-moving road users that forces the poor, downtrodden motorist to depress a pedal, twist a wheel and deviate from the channel of least resistance demarcated by the white lines of paint on the road. “Cyclists”, those ingrates who are constantly demanding more money for cycle lanes even though they don’t use the ones they already have. “Cyclists”, those freeloaders who don’t pay tax and insurance and don’t even need to pass a test. “Cyclists”, #bloodycyclists.
Of course, on the face of it, the term “cyclist” should be a neutral term to describe some who rides a cycle. However, in the context of how the narrative on the fight for road space is framed in 21st-century Britain, “cyclist” has become an incredibly loaded term. But why?
Well, there is no question that the private motor car is (currently) the dominant form of transport in the UK. Nor is there any question that the experience of driving a private motor vehicle is almost universally dismal. Cars cost a lot to buy, and a lot to run: MOT, servicing, insurance, VED, fuel and so on. And thus the driving experience flies in the face of normal capitalist expectations: if you pay a lot for something, you expect to get value for your money. Not so with driving. You fork out a substantial proportion of your income on a product that promises untrammelled personal freedom but in reality dooms you to the opposite: competition for limited road space with ever-increasing numbers of other people who’ve been made the same false promise. Fast car, slow travel.
But that’s OK, because we’re all in the same boat. It’s the convention. It’s how things work. Traffic jams are a fact of life. We can all have a good whinge about how bloody awful the traffic is (and by god, do drivers love a good whinge).
However, once you throw into the mix a group of road users who defy that convention, whose definition of convenience (of which more anon) shifts from “well at least I’m dry” to slashing travel times and beating the misery that by rights should be shared equally among all poor, downtrodden road users by using a bicycle, a painful process of self-reflection starts.
“How can it be that, despite all the explicit and implicit promises of the benefits of owning a motor car, someone on a bicycle costing a fraction of what I paid for my car is moving and I’m not. It’s not fair. I feel cheated.”
And if you feel cheated, them someone is probably cheating you. However, that someone isn’t the person on the bike going about their business. It’s the people who sold you the car, who sell your fuel, who have planned the roads for the benefit of cars to the almost total exclusion of all other modes of transport. Our state of car dependency is the result of decades of careful lobbying by car makers and oil companies, and short-sighted and, as it now turns out, calamitous decisions taken by politicians and town planners.
We’ve all been sold a lie, but who wants to admit that they’ve been duped? So that unfortunate and destructive human reflex comes into play: who else can I blame for my own sorry lot? People who are not like me, people who look, think or act differently.
Hence the venom directed at “cyclists”, people who, mostly unwittingly, call into question the received wisdom and the false promises of over-priced and under-delivering private motor travel and by implication the good judgment of the person in the car.
However, where “cyclists” differ from other groups towards which other forms of bigotry are directed, “cyclists” are not a predefined group exhibiting more or less innate traits (such as gender, sexual orientation, skin colour etc.). Anyone can be a cyclist if they want: it’s a right open to us all. So, to attempt a more legalistic defintion, “cyclists” could be defined as:
“people who choose to exercise the universal right to ride a bicycle”
and non-cyclists as:
“people who choose not to exercise the universal right to ride a bicycle.
Seen in those terms, hatred of cyclists can be expressed as:
“I dislike you because you exercise a right that is available to me but that I choose not to exercise”.
And if that’s the extent of your mental capacity, get back under your fucking rock and leave me alone.