Magazine article The Spectator

Terrorists in Lycra Shorts

Magazine article The Spectator

Terrorists in Lycra Shorts

Article excerpt

WHO are the dashing heroes of our age? They are the brave, free spirits who progress by their own power and quickly. They are greener than thou, and holier too. They are healthy, fit and, above all, they are victims - for in our decadent culture nothing is so heroic as a victim. They are bicyclists.

In the popular imagination - at least in that of the media and many bicyclists themselves - cyclists are an oppressed people. They are persecuted like a religious minority merely because they wish to enjoy free, environmentally friendly lives. They are tortured by cars making heartless left turns, and poisoned by toxic fumes. Sometimes, to resist this airborne death, they place filtration masks over their mouths and noses. It is their stigmata, the symbol of their suffering.

However, I am afraid that there exists another view of bicyclists. Before describing it, let me emphasise that I have nothing against cycling per se. I used to cycle myself. I don't wish to add to the suffering of cyclists. Indeed, some of my best friends are cyclists. Nonetheless, there is, as I say, another view.

Cyclists are a subset of Britons among whom unpunished law-breaking is outstandingly common. A large proportion of cyclists break the law every time they climb on to a saddle. These law-breakers can be divided into three categories, depending on their knowledge of the law and their attitude to it. They are the didn't-knowers, the don't-carers and the cyclo-terrorists (those who know the law, but break it as a political statement).

An increasingly high proportion of bicylists routinely go through red lights, cycle on the wrong side of the road, ride in parks where it is expressly forbidden, and - this is the most common illegal act of all - cycle on the pavement. Not everyone knows that cycling on the pavement is illegal, but it most certainly is. It was made illegal in 1835 under the Highways Act, Section 72. The law is so obviously sensible that it has lasted all these years.

There are several explanations as to why illegal pavement-riding has become so widespread. One is that roads have far more cars on them. Cyclists find pavements tempting because they are often less crowded and therefore safer. They also find pavements easier to mount and dismount since the introduction of smooth ramps designed to help people in wheelchairs and the blind or partially-sighted. These ramps have become take-off runways for pavement-- cycling. Another explanation is that people are generally more selfish, less public-spirited and less law-abiding than they used to be. Cyclo-slobs are merely the two-wheeled version of ordinary slobs. The police, meanwhile, ignore widespread public anger and do virtually nothing to stop it.

By invading the pavement, cyclists are now victimising pedestrians in the same way that they themselves feel victimised. The sudden arrival of a cyclist - whether wobbling or fast-moving - makes life for pedestrians far less relaxed and pleasant than it might otherwise be. It is particularly disturbing for the old, the disabled and those who have children. Children move in an unpredictable way, and can easily step into the path of a cyclist. It is just not safe for small children to walk independently on the pavement if cyclo-slobs are about.

The growing lawlessness of cyclists has had a measurable result. While the number of accidents on the road is in general going down in relation to the number of miles travelled, the number of those involving bicyclists are going up. …

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