In the wake of Sir Bradley’s claim that a cyclist is a person who carries a British cycling membership card I got to thinking whether I am a cyclist or not. He didn’t stop there either. He went on to suggest that until London cyclists (for they are it seems a breed apart from the rest of us) behaved on the road then they could not expect to complain about their treatment. “You do not have a right to complain how you’re being treated on the road unless you apply the rules yourself,” was how he specifically put it. One must assume that his London centric view applies in relation to each urban sprawl, metropolis or sleepy village, it would be odd if there were different rules for London wouldn’t it?
Even the words are poorly chosen. If we accept the definition of what a cyclist is then, if you are not one, what rules are you supposed to follow? Are you free to ignore them altogether? And if you are do you regain the ability to complain about your treatment in a more legitimate way than a transgressing BC member? I’m not sure he thought all of this through. Indeed, one comment on a website suggested that we should follow Chris Boardman in relation to views about cycling and Sir Bradley in relation to views about being a mod. It’s a good point, well made.
Before we deal with what a cyclist is let’s deal with the issue of categorisation and behaviour. What does Sir Bradley mean when he says that we have no right to complain? If I were to jump a red light on Saturday would I lose the ability to whinge about a punishment pass the next week? Is there a cumulative tally of where my good or bad behaviour fits into the point at which my ability to complain exists? What constitutes good behaviour in the first place? How do we treat the legal things, for example, not wearing a helmet, not wearing high vis, filtering in traffic. Each are allowed, but cyclists are often called out on them. Do we alter our behaviour to conform to society’s demands of us? Shouldn’t the needs of the many outweight the acts of the few?
It’s all too common to read commentary which suggests that “cyclists don’t help themselves.” It makes for depressing reading. While categorisation of sub groups from the outside is common place it does seem all too common where cycling is concerned. Every day my safety seems to depend squarely on what a driver saw another cyclist do on 15th October 1984. No amount of good behaviour, it seems, can change that driver’s mind. The fact that I am a good cyclist is not relevant. The idea that I am somehow responsible for other’s behaviour is perverse. But more worrying is the notion that I might either be entitled to lesser treatment because of a historic view of cyclists in general or the implication that things will never improve for me while some tosser 200 miles away hits a pedestrian on a zebra crossing. Why stop at London, what about Shanghai?
And if it’s worrying that some motorists hold this view then it’s ever weirder that some cyclists hold it on our behalf as well. It appears that Sir Bradley believes that the actions of the one, few or many are fair game so as to prevent them from complaining about the dangers that they all too often face. And whilst he stops short of claiming that the behaviour of the few should affect the many such words simply do not help our cause.
And, at the risk of a claim of reverse hypocritical categorisation of motorists I cannot recall a time where I saw a motorist on a phone, an articulated lorry pass me too close, or an old person pull out of a junction in a smidsy moment and think “bloody motorists.” Instead, I put them down to being an idiot. And idiot in a motor vehicle. Idiots exist in all walks of life. How they choose to transport themselves is merely their choice. It should not influence how society views others who make that same choice.
It’s time for a change. It’s true that some cyclists misbehave. It’s true that some of them are reckless. It’s true that some of them are a downright menace. But the truth is that each of them is still a tiny, squishy bag of blood and bones. Vulnerable, prone to an easy and quick death. However badly they behave please don’t visit their failure on me, please don’t think that it reflects me. Don’t give me any less protection than I deserve. And whatever you think the transgressors deserve, don’t afford them any less either. Don’t try to scare any one of us. Please don’t kill us. To err is human, to forgive, divine.
So, who are these cyclists? If we accept that Sir Bradley’s comments are to be extended to the UK as a whole (I assume membership of French Cycling would be a pre-requisite for our near neighbours who choose to pop over the channel) then what is a cyclist?
I ride a road bike, sometimes. It’s shiny and it’s made of carbon. It’s not very heavy. It goes very fast when I move my legs in a circular motion. I go faster depending on how many cycles of the pedals I make. Sometimes I go out for a short, sharp sprint. Sometimes I go out with thousands of others on something called a sportive. All too often I will stop for coffee and cake. At the end of some rides I will partake in a pint of Guinness. But I am not a road cyclist.
In the winter I show up to muddy fields early on a Sunday morning. I will watch some kids go round and round. I watch their clean kit become several shades of brown. I watch their parents offer support from the sidelines. Then I get on my cyclocross bike and, for an hour or so, ride till my lungs burst. And I stop, buy cake from the club which has put on the event, swell their coffers, laugh on the Facebook group about the exploits of the day, ride to the garage to jetwash the thing that my bike has become. But I am not a cyclocross cyclist.
Every morning I get up and ride the 20 or so miles to work. Sometimes it’s dark and wet. Other times it’s warm and glorious. On those days I get up earlier. I take the long way round. Sometimes I need lights. I often need mudguards. On some days the weather is miserable. But I am not. And, at the end of day, I ride home. I mix with the traffic, I filter past traffic jams, I take in the glory of the Taff Trail on a crisp winter’s morning and watch the sun come up. But I am not a commuting cyclist.
Sometimes I even go off road. In the days when I owned a mountain bike I used that and explored the deepest parts of the forest and highest parts of the mountains. I held on as the suspension jarred my very being. Now I use my CX bike instead. I get off the road and ride to where there is no-one. I stop to take in the view. I smell the fresh air. But I am not an off road cyclist.
Sometimes I ride with other cyclists. They turn up on my group rides, they wade through the muddy field, they sometimes take the front, they sometimes get led out by me. Sometimes they drink coffee and eat cake. Sometimes they also drink Guinness. But I am not a group cyclist.
Occasionally I take my bike to the shops. It’s the environmentally friendly thing to do. Or I walk, it’s really not that far. But I am not a walker, or a shopping cyclist.
I am not prone to riding on pavements or pulling wheelies up main roads. I don’t do jumps in the local park. I don’t ride with my saddle just above my seat post and my pants around my waist. Are they not cyclists too?
By Sir Bradley’s definition I am a cyclist. I have a BC membership card. But not because of a desire for affiliation. I support British Cycling. And, in return I get insurance and discounts. It’s not all altruistic. It doesn’t define me. Without that affiliation I would not be a cyclist it seems. And this categorisation of who we are and how we must behave must cease.
I am commuting, cyclocrossing, road riding, occasionally pootling, fast paced, slow riding, group riding, Guinness drinking bike rider. But, above all, I am a cyclist.