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UK cyclists becoming social pariahs?

Published by Matt Polaine | Filed under Cycling infrastructure

I have to write this blog after reading about Judge ‘barking mad’ Richard Lowden recently, and the sabotage of the UK biggest cycle ‘closed road’ race with carpet tacks. Our UK culture is sick. Very sick. Tell me, is it?

Forget being a banker with their ‘bonus’, an estate agent with that 2% fee or politician with dubious ‘allowances’ (the three least trusted professions in the UK), if one really wants to feel a member of the underclass, get on a bicycle.

Those professions mentioned above will still receive the full protection of UK Law and, with a few exceptions, will not have their lives threatened by the general public everyday. In addition, if any of them are assaulted the likelihood of a good hearing and reasonable sentence handed down to the perpetrator from the court is high.

Not so if you ride a bike in the UK. Especially if you ride a bike and do not wear a helmet. Thanks to Judges like Bruce Morgan and Richard Lowden cyclists are subjected to the most insulting treatment in UK courts. It’s no surprise that the numerous cycle communities and enlightened transport & safety organisations are calling such judges ‘barking mad’.

As a result of these social cues and many others, the UK is becoming a very scary place for cyclists with an almost Jekyll & Hyde society keeping most riders hyper vigilant. The other day a driver actually gave me my right of way at a traffic calming restriction. Yes I had the right of way, but I never expect a driver to ever consider my road space, and they always plough headlong into a cyclist as if they are not there.

Shocked, I looked back to check I wasn’t hallucinating. The car had Belgium plates. I’m not alone in noticing how aggressive UK drivers are becoming with cyclists. In Cycling Weekly every week someone writes in with some experience. These include being run off the road, waste food and wrappers being thrown over them, car loads of youths stopping to ‘teach that gay-boy day-glow lycra ponce a lesson’ and now a spate of cyclists being shot at with air pistols in drive-bys. Not just in the US but in the UK too.

Could it get worse than this? Well yes it can. Thanks to the feeble government attempts to encourage an increase in cycling, road layouts, both old and new, continue to be peppered with lethal designs for cyclists, the police continue to be indifferent to reports of road rage or just plain terrible driving towards cyclists and one often has to really push for a prosecution. Even if a prosecution does find its way to the courts, the judges take ‘Sorry Mate I Didn’t See You’ aka SMIDSY, as a water-tight excuse for ploughing into a cycling group, on a straight road, in daylight. Motorcyclists have the same problem with drivers.

This hate of cyclists extends to whole UK towns now. Despite Sportifs usually bringing in around £500,000 to the towns they race through, and in this case raising £250,000 for the Macmillan Cancer Support fund, local ‘objectors’ to the Etape Caledonia last Sunday - businesses and local residents - agitated that a road was closed for the day, decided to spread carpet tacks along the road. The event had to be stopped and the road cleared. It took and hour and twenty minutes to clear.

Some of the carpet tacks were put on sharp bends on fast descents, specifically to cause maximum injury the riders.

Given the fiasco of trying to organise a closed road or rolling road closure road race in the UK, thanks to extreme Health & Safety attitudes, extremely high police charges for managing the road closures, and many local authorities refusing point blank to even allow such events to take place, this Etape in Caledonia was the only one in the UK to run on fully closed roads. With carpet tacks thrown in.

This event was 130km long and attracted 3,500 cyclists. Desperate UK cyclists who are spending more and more time in Sportifs abroad. There were even people holding placards last year who didn’t want the cyclists there. The French are right about mad dogs and Englishmen. Or in this case, Scotsmen.

So were the tacks put down by thoughtless youths, road rage motorists, a banker? What kind of irresponsible arrogant small-minded boil on society could do such a thing. Yes, you guessed it – it was 62 year old Alex Grosset, past chairman of the Rannoch and Tummel Community Council and member of the local church for many years. You decide what this says about UK communities…


BBC Sport Reporter

While the DfT is funding a TRL year-long study into why on-highway cycling is so low in the UK (because the DfT won’t listen to cyclists who keep telling them why), Government Parties of all colours know that something is seriously going wrong.

Decades of US-style road-building and training of highway engineers has resulted in a social path that has taken us down the American model. This model requires a private car to access most places, a road system that dominates all other modes of transport especially non-motorised transport, and surprise surprise, is killing people through lack of exercise.

Isn’t the UK smaller than the US? Do they not have serious obesity problems? Gun crime issues? Youth crime and gang culture overload? Do they not need to consume a massive amount more energy per capita to support this life style? So why are we copying the US?

The future of the NHS is under threat from the spiralling costs of obesity, due to our obesogenic culture. Children born in the last ten years will have a lower life expectancy than their parents generation. This will be the first time in western human history this has happened. Partly through eating themselves to death, but mainly through little exercise, airborne VoCs and other ingested chemicals, and social isolation.

Motor traffic is a major contribution to all these factors except eating. Did I mention that motor traffic is the biggest killer for ages 15-19? Or that the UK is one of the worst for teenage depression and pregnancy? So what has this to do with cycling?

I know there is a link. Those countries that have a balanced modal infrastructure like the Netherlands do not have anything like the same social issues the UK does, (and the country’s credit rating hasn’t been downgraded like the UK has). Why is this? Cycling provides everyone a form of exercise. Exercise reduces depression, it is also inclusive and social. Sitting on a bike among other cyclists and you will chat. Not so in your blinged-out motor.

Cycling also makes you aware of your environment, the hills, the sounds, the smells. Anyone cycling from the countryside into a town will notice the stench of poor air quality. You don’t notice this in a car, bus or train.

Cycling is quiet and peaceful, almost meditative. Only in cycle races have I seen road rage, and this is very very rare. Driving is stressful. It is not a freedom or a joy as cycling is. Cars cost a fortune to run and you are trapped inside a metal box. Any driver will tell you that sitting in a traffic jam reminds them of just how locked to the vehicle they are. It is almost a drug, an addiction. Yes I own two cars too, but I treat them as a necessary evil. A glorified wheelbarrow that transports stuff. I use them carefully. I also provide all cyclists with plenty of roadspace.

Don’t get me wrong about car culture. I was trained as an industrial designer and I call tell you all about built-in obsolescence. The lines of a Ferrari or the cute style of a Smart ForTwo – oh yes, I appreciate these. Cars in themselves are not a problem. It’s how they are driven I despise.

The advertising industry plies everyone with shiny new toys that promise you the freedom of some wide open Highland road. This is never the case. How often does this new shiny toy end up becoming a warranty claim, or requiring a parking space that isn’t there? How is the belly flab folding around the seat belt these days?

As you sit in your shiny new toy, embraced by the seat belt and music system with SatNav which sometimes works, you spy a cyclist riding by. You note the lack of car tax sticker, number plate, probably not insured. They are moving, you are not. How dare they! What right do they have to use the road this way after all the money you have spent on your choice of transport. You must, at all costs, get in front of the cyclist to prove you have the superior mode.

Such arrogance is encouraged in the UK by the highway design, the police attitudes towards cyclists, the law, and the judges. And Jeremy Clarkson, that lumbering oaf of a Petrol Head.

Most of us can see our crumbling economic model and political processes. They are failing, as is our endless consumption of raw materials as they go from finite minerals to land fill in a ‘consumerfest’, trying to fill that emotional void.

Most cyclists also know why the UK is so different to many European countries who treat cyclists as normal and accepted traffic. Clearly the UK Government fails to understand this, and the police, and the Judges. The sentences they are all handing down is seriously damaging the health and mental well being of a whole generation. It really is that obvious and the links irrefutable. So is the denial.

Trapped and angry with your life – go and run down a cyclist. It’s all the rage. Literally.

May 22nd, 2009

One Response to “UK cyclists becoming social pariahs?”

  1. Matt Polaine Says:

    Regarding ACRE, Paul Bright and Alex Grossett, it seems a whole hornet’s nest has been stirred up. It is astonishing that local businesses who support ACRE have no idea how this could impact their income. Check out the vitriol:


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