I’ve been asked to put some thoughts on paper around a subject that seems to be close to many road users’ hearts:- cyclists.

Driving and riding is a microcosm of modern life where we are often interacting with other people with limited social contact, no time to get to know them as individuals and limited means of communication available to us. This often leads to us making judgements about others with little to no information. These judgements will, of course, be incomplete and usually poor. Human nature also means that we have a tendency, once a judgement has been formed to look only for things that reinforce it, ignoring evidence to the contrary and filtering information to confirm our ‘gut instincts’.

First of all, let me set the scene, I’ve been an active motorcyclist since my 16th birthday, 50 years ago this Summer. I fell in love with motorcycles about 6 years earlier on seeing a neighbour’s son’s Norton 88 Dunstall Dominator in fiery red with chrome reverse cone megaphones. The memory of that vehicle of oily freedom parked outside my house still burns bright.

At about that time, I was also a follower of road cycling, following the races of the day in the black and white Cycling Weekly paper. I owned a canary yellow Claud Butler ’10 speed racer’ and I had longings to compete on two wheels without (and with) an engine.

My sport in the RN for many years was running, to a high standard. When time, money and circumstances allowed I took up ‘club’ road cycling in my late 30s. So, training, racing and exercising are familiar to me. Cycling was also easier on my abused legs. Just as motorcycling is a joy, so is cycling albeit more physically demanding.

A lot has changed over the intervening years. Motorcycling has become a hobby or pleasure activity in the main as opposed to a more mainstream means of transport and cycling has seen a huge resurgence in recent years. The demographic change is mirrored for both too with older riders of both now the norm. I find myself in a slightly unusual but not unique situation in that I straddle two groups that are seemingly diverse, but perhaps shouldn’t be – motorcycling and road cycling.

I am amazed and shocked by the growth of vehemence, anger and threats that are thrown in the direction of cyclists during this resurgence of a noble activity that predates motorcycling. I’m talking of frightening levels of contempt by all types of road users, some of whom profess to ride or drive with advanced skills and nearly all of whom like to express their competence on the road. I see cyclists reacting to abuse and intimidation on the roads with mounting anger and obstructive behaviour. A war is being waged on the highways and byways of Britain and it is benefitting no-one.

There have been cases where cyclists have been seriously injured and killed by both road rage and callous ‘assault by vehicle’. Otherwise law-abiding people have thrown tin tacks in the path of cyclists’ fast descents and wire has been rigged across trails at neck height. A significant number of people I speak to seem to find this ‘funny’ or fair game. It makes me wonder what is going on here.

If we focus on reality, on ‘what IS’. If we ignore the cliqued ‘MAMIL”, two abreast, pavement riding, jumping red lights, no insurance, no road tax etc.

  1. Cyclists have every right to be on the road (motorways excepted of course).
  2. We ALL have a duty of care towards ALL road users ALL the time.

If you can’t handle that without a ‘but’ I’d seriously suggest you give yourself a good talking to.

I’d like to talk a little about labelling and ‘othering’. Cyclists aren’t cyclists like ‘cats are cats’ or ‘dogs are dogs’. In the same way, bikers aren’t bikers and MBEAMers aren’t ‘the dayglo brigade’. We are all individuals with different attitudes, behaviours, thoughts, feelings and emotions. Cyclists are people who ride bicycles, some of the time. Cyclists are fathers, mothers, son’s daughters, gay, straight, doctors and joiners etc. I think you get my point. We as humans like to label people, put them into groups and give them traits, put them neatly in a box. We stereotype and judge because it’s an easy option. It’s also a bit of a nonsense.

  1. Stereotype
  2. Judge
  3. Discriminate

It’s a familiar pattern that abounds in the world today.

Labelling and stereotyping creates an ‘us and them’ and paves the way for humans to treat others in a less than humane way, to discriminate against them. I’m sure we can all think of a multitude of ways in which this has been done throughout history and is still done today in relation to race, age, culture, beliefs, perceived traits etc. Labels abound. Gammons, snowflakes, coppers, yanks, old codgers, yobs etc. are just a few more polite examples and the list could go on and get ever more offensive.

Once a group is labelled and given group attributes they are effectively ‘othered’ and dehumanised. That paves the way for behaving negatively toward them in a discriminative way that would otherwise be almost unthinkable.  Listening to road users bragging of physically endangering the lives of people riding bicycles may seem extreme but in my experience, it’s relatively common. Sadly it is a common example of labelling and othering behaviour that is putting the lives of others at risk. As a motorcyclist, I can empathise with cyclists as a fellow vulnerable road user, as a sometime cyclist doubly so.

I’m not perfect. I label, I judge. But I try to be aware of this. Awareness is key as is challenging this human trait and not letting it lead to discrimination. Confronting our prejudices in life is a source of joy in my experience.

Riding a motorcycle on the road is often about linking observations to possible scenarios. Making accurate judgements helps to keep us alive. We need to make judgements based on the attitude of ‘what happens if he/she does this/that’ in order to inform our safety, not to wreak vengeance.

People riding cycles on the road offer us a challenge. That just IS. A reality with no ‘shoulds’, oughts’ or musts’’ involved. As road users, it is a challenge we must face while minimising risk to ALL road users, especially those most vulnerable. As an advanced rider, it is a challenge that we should embrace and dispatch with aplomb. This is our duty of care and if we can’t accept this then perhaps it’s time to hand our driving license back. It’s not just those cycling that present this hazard but other road user’s and their inappropriate reaction to cyclists, including other motorcyclists. Advanced rider training and the system allow us to deal with this hazard like any other. The fact that we are overtaking a lone cyclist or a group allows no reduction in observation, anticipation, planning and full use of IPSGA. However, an attitude and a disdain for or impatience toward ‘bloody cyclists’ is a dangerous mindset indeed.

As a tailpiece, I believe that arguing the finer points of cyclist’s behaviour is pointless. Some cyclists go through red lights and some motorcyclists overtake crossing solid white lines etc. etc. Some aspects of the argument like zero-emission cyclists paying no road tax are common sense so long as low emissions cars are treated the same and riding two abreast is not only allowed within the highway Code but is safer and therefore preferable in some circumstances. I could go on, but the bottom line is that none of this is pertinent in relation to the manner in which we deal with other road users and the duty of care that we owe to them as people, fellow human beings.

Peter Burridge

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