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December 31, 2007

British Journalist Calls for Decapitating Cyclists

An Award-winning Journalist, author and former MP, who writes a column for the Times of London, has felt the need to write about cycling and cyclists:

A festive custom we could do worse than foster would be stringing piano wire across country lanes to decapitate cyclists. It’s not just the Lycra, though Heaven knows this atrocity alone should be a capital offence; nor the helmets, though these ludicrous items of headgear are designed to protect the only part of a cyclist that is not usefully employed; nor the self-righteousness, though a small band of sports cyclists on winter’s morning emits more of that than a cathedral at evensong; nor even the brutish disregard for all other road users, though the lynching of a cyclist by a mob of mothers with pushchairs would be a joy to witness

Well, excuuuse my British!

What the Bloody Hell?

Where does Mr. Matthew Parris, this arsehat, get off attacking all cyclists for the actions of the inconsiderate minority?

He doesn't have a Baldy Notion of the harm he is causing with such calls to violent action.

In the 1st paragraph alone he attacks the clothes some of us wear and the single most important piece of equipment a cyclist can put to use, but our intelligence as well.


No, yet another cyclist-generated horror – and a new one – has come to my attention this Christmas. They’re chucking their empty cans of hi-energy drinks into hedgerows as they pass.

Bin-liners in hand, a group of us, infused with the seasonal goodwill that illuminates this column, of course, decided to walk a mile of a pretty and winding lane that had become particularly badly littered this winter, and collect it all. It’s amazing how much of the stuff there is when you start looking, and we ended up with a whole sackful. And what was the principal offending item? Plastic bottles and empty cans of Lucozade, Gatorade and other blood-sugar-boosting products were lodged high in hedgerows at cyclist level. Forgive me, but pedestrians were not the culprits here.

He goes on a roadside clean-up and without actually witnessing anything blames cyclists for all the empty plastic bottles he picks up.

"Cyclist-Level", he says: Um, what type bicycle, how old and how tall, and what sex are the miscreants? Be specific, man.

What is the carbon footprint of a panting, sugar-gulping, chocolate-chewing, Lycra-clad leisure-cyclist? a) His or her journey is totally unnecessary; b) whole convoys of cargo boats steam the Atlantic to bring the molasses to be energy-intensively refined for them; and c) the chemical processes that generate the vile materials that clothe, shoe and helmet a cyclist – not a man-made fibre among them – will be poisoning entire provinces of China.

Not all cyclists wear lycra on our rides and many rides ARE "neccessary" because many of us commute, or run errands and for many cyclists their bike is their only source of transportation or used in combination with Mass Transit.

He takes to task all cyclists for the bad manners of the minority:

But it’s the bad manners one cannot forgive. Driving or walking, don’t you just hate the way that, riding two or three abreast, they shout and curse at you or whir their angry little bells, as though it’s your problem that they need to clear the way? In just one little posse of these monsters there are levels of self-satisfaction that could power a small religious crusade.

Does cycling turn you into an insolent jerk? Or are insolent jerks drawn disproportionately to cycling?

2 can play that game, ya know. ;-D

Riding the street, don’t you just hate the way that, coming up behind you when you legally take the lane, they shout and curse at you or honk their ungodly horns, as though it’s your problem that they can't go 55, in a 30 zone, for 5 freakin' minutes? In just one little traffic jam there are levels of self-satisfaction that could power a huge religious crusade.

Does driving a car turn you into an insolent jerk? Or are insolent jerks drawn disproportionately to motor vehicles?

Opinions such as this ill-informed and hate-provoking column set Motorist - Cyclist Relations back considerably because it feeds the stereotypes of the ignorant-about-cycling public concerning the recreational and transportational benefits of cycling not to mention the legal rights of cyclists to sharing the road.

To say that all cyclists are rude, careless and filled with contempt for other road users is as wrong and ignorant as saying all motorists are the same toward cyclists. 

He owes the Cycling Community a huge apology.

The response to his attack has been swift and vocal, with over 158 and counting comments so far. ;-D

One interesting response to this casting of nasturniums on all cyclists came in the form of a column, today, by a British Triathlete, Alison Steed, who writes that "Piano wire is no laughing matter for the 150 cyclists who die each year":

To be fair, there are some inconsiderate cyclists around. But there are plenty of rotten drivers too, and the chances are that they will do more harm to us than we will do to them.

Agreed, on both counts.

Although Matthew was (probably) joking when he suggested putting piano wire across the road at head height, you may be surprised to learn that it does actually happen, albeit with fishing line in the instances I know of. What may seem a joke could end up killing someone - and for what, because you don't like cyclists, or cycling?

Until I see him in print make such a claim I must believe that he was serious.

It does not surprise me anymore what people will do to take their anger out on cyclists, from fishing wire across a trail, to reaching out the passenger side window of their car to push a cyclist in the side (Actually happened to me once! Read the 1st post I ever wrote for this blog 5 years ago.).

There are already so many other dangers. This year while out training for a triathlon I was knocked off my bike by a van driver who sent me flying into the verge and didn't even bother to stop to see if I was all right. Another cyclist had two pints of milk poured over her by louts in a car overtaking her, blinding her long enough to have had a bad crash if something had been coming close behind. Thank heavens there wasn't, but I doubt these idiots had planned it that way.

I use certain search terms to get Google Alerts about cycling stories in print, and am so disgusted by the number of accident stories end up in my in-box, not to mention the occasional attacks on cyclists.

Perhaps some people think these events are amusing, or even that we deserve it, but I cannot understand why. At least we are not clogging up NHS waiting lists with diseases that could be avoided with some cardiovascular.

The scary part is that there are people out there who DO think it's amusing and that we deserve it.

It is people like these who make un-informed cyclists think they are safer riding on the sidewalk.

Yes, we may ride two abreast at times, but more often than not we move out of the way. We pay taxes, too, and have every right to use the roads. So forgive us if that makes us “self-righteous”.

Most knowledgeable cyclists behave responsibly on the trail and on the street, taking the lane, calling out "On Your Left!", or "On Your Right!" in some countries, slowing down, moving right, merging left to make turns at intersections ( Or the other way in some countries.), and more, and it is irresponsible to blames us for the behavior of the inconsiderate, or un-educated few.

When I see dangerous, or impolite, behavior by cyclists I often say something to the miscreant and pass out a card, explaining that info that will make them a better cyclists can be found online if they take the time to look and learn.

Despite the ignorant and hateful reactions of a few I think I reach and educate more people than not.

As for bottles being slung into the hedgerows by cyclists - well, maybe this happens, I cannot say that it doesn't. But for anyone serious about the sport, over-the-counter bottles are useless - they don't fit on bottle cages and are extortionately priced. So maybe Matthew should point the finger at runners instead; I believe he can do a mean marathon himself.

She is right that over the usual sports drink bottle won't fit in a bottle cage.

She is wrong to join Mr. Parris in the finger pointing attempts to find a culprit unless she has actually seen such behavior.

The idea that all cyclists behave in the same appalling way as Matthew describes is as ridiculous as saying that all cyclists take performance-enhancing drugs. Some do, but clearly to label everyone that way is rubbish.

We cycle because we enjoy it, despite the dangers and the idiocy of some other road users. And a bit more consideration all round - from columnists and drivers as well as cyclists themselves - might do much to reduce the death toll.

She ends on a strong note.

Ignorance of the rules of the road are a problem on the part of both sides and education needs to be an ongoing thing for everyone in order to reduce, if not eliminate the dangers.

Her article has begun to get comments including from some who think it was an effort to mollify the Cycling Community.

The Dec. 27th article by Mathew Parris and comments: What’s smug and deserves to be decapitated?

The Dec. 31st article by Alison Steed, and comments: A Joke that Will Sicken Cyclists.

A Tip of the Hat to Tejvan Pettinger, of Cycling Info Blog, for bringing this to the attention of a wider audience, and writing a great response, and for finding a little humor in the situation afterall. ;-D

Aside from leaving a comment to the article by Mr. Parris, there are other ways to express yourself:

  • Make a Complaint at the Press Complaints Commission
  • Contact the Times directly
  • ****UPDATE 1/1/08****

    I've joind the New Year's Day Trackback Party over at Stop The ACLU  as a way to share this story and spread the word about BikeBlogs in general. ;-D

    ****END UPDATE****

    December 31, 2007 in Share the Road, and Trail: Safety Matters!, The Opinionated DUDE | Permalink


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    Tracked on Jan 7, 2008 11:42:21 PM


    Hi Kiril, thanks for thoughtful response.

    It's got a lot of British cyclists worked up because unfortunately, it is not uncommon for motorists to physically attack cyclists.

    There were a spate of 'happy slapping' of cyclists around Oxford during last Summer.

    So although we can try and make a joke of it, there is definitely an unfunny side as well.

    Happy New Year from the other side of the pond. :)

    Posted by: Tejvan | Dec 31, 2007 3:51:46 PM

    I think a solution to the disposable plastic bottle problem is a device called AquaJoe.

    It is used to turn water into sports drink and is re-usable.

    Check out the video on http://www.aquajoe.com.

    Posted by: hydrateme | Jan 1, 2008 10:55:59 AM

    Hell, using a simple ziplock bag would do the trick, but if it takes a gadget to make some cyclists, joggers and walkers to use their brains and get in touch with their inner enviromentalist then I'm all for it. ;-D

    Posted by: Kiril, The Cycling Dude | Jan 1, 2008 11:37:26 AM

    Dear Dude,

    You may be pleased to know that Parris' bigoted article is the 2nd most complained-about piece of 'journalism' for 2007, according to the (UK) Press Complaints Commission.

    He certainly won't be getting the offer of my pump when he next punctures!

    Ride on,


    Posted by: Baconbrai | Jan 3, 2008 3:01:00 PM

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