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You’re a cyclist so you’re bad!

| Blog, Cycling Plus | 25/09/2012 16:41pm

In early 2010 a newspaper journalist – probably in The Daily Mail – obviously wrote something that annoyed me as I asked Rob Ainsley to write a column about the apparent hatred of cyclists that pervades the wider media. Nearly three years on and Jan Etherington writes some utter twaddle in the Daily Telegraph and Rob’s piece still feels relevant! Enjoy…

“A cycling wrongdoer is the only one defined by their mode of transport. You don’t see headlines like WOMAN MUGGED BY PEDESTRIAN, or CAR DRIVERS ROB BANK. Taxi and truck drivers sometimes make it into the headlines, true, though that’s their profession; anyway, they still have to be something really weird, like a serial killer or Mastermind winner to make the news.

But as soon as a bike is involved in a minor misdemeanour that makes no actual difference to anybody’s life – going the wrong way round a bollard, or leading the Tories, say – it’s BAD THING DONE BY CYCLIST, as if the getaway vehicle was somehow complicit. There are two reasons for this. One is the ‘otherness’ of cyclists. Being a pedestrian or a car driver is considered normal. Being a cyclist isn’t. So it’s immediately worthy of note. Truck driver kills cyclist? Not news. Cyclist kills truck driver? News.

The other reason is a type of logical misuse like this – (a) I am good. I drive a car. Therefore car drivers are good. Therefore that bad driver is bad because he is bad, not because he is a driver. On the other hand – (b) I am good. I am not a cyclist. Therefore cyclists are not good. Therefore that bad cyclist is bad because he is a cyclist. Now, you could drive a bus through this argument, probably cutting me up on Blackfriars Bridge as you did so. But it’s the generator of most anti-cycling rants – (c) You are a cyclist. I saw a cyclist on the pavement yesterday. Therefore you were cycling on the pavement yesterday.

When people do this to you, it’s what the ancient Greeks called a syllogism, what logicians call the fallacy of undistributed middle, and what I call a pain in the arse.
You know the sort of thing. There you are, in the pub, job interview, swingers’ party or whatever and someone asks about your journey. I cycled here, you say.

Mistake. They turn on you: ‘Why do cyclists jump red lights? Why do cyclists ride on pavements? Why do cyclists counterfeit money, sow land mines in playgrounds, and release anthrax spores into public squares…?’ And by cyclists, of course, they mean you. It’s no use trying to turn things round on their chosen form of transport. I’ve tried it: ‘Ah, so you came by taxi/drove/walked? Why do taxi passengers throw up and then run off without paying? Why do car drivers kidnap and murder people? Why do pedestrians go on mad rampages, massacring communities in cold blood in hitherto small, sleepy towns?’ But they’ll just tut and go off in a huff and try finding someone to cadge a lift home with.

Sometimes the otherness works the opposite way. They’re craven and apologetic that they too don’t cycle: ‘Oh gosh, I’ve got a bike but I haven’t used it since I left college. I really should get out one day. I promise I’ll fix it up and go out for a ride when the weather gets better, honestly…’ Or they’re impressed, for wrongly imagined reasons: ‘Ooh, you cycled? You must be incredibly fit. And able to withstand unimaginable pain. On your expensive carbon-fibre bike made of titanium and diamonds. How much money have you raised so far…?’

You try disabusing them: ‘We cycle because we enjoy it. We didn’t exactly race here. In fact, we stopped on the way for a cappuccino and a bun. I thought VO2 max was an energy drink. And my bike’s only worth about a hundred quid, and that’s just because the panniers are full of shopping…’ The logical solution is not to cycle to parties or job interviews or whatever. But damn your logic, Spock. Here’s a better answer. We tweak that government scheme that enables employees to buy tax-free bikes through work. We make the bikes free for all those newspaper and website sub-editors who write the headlines. In fact we make them compulsory.

Now, as you know, journalists tend to assume their audience is just like them. So once the headline-writers are all themselves cyclists, you can say goodbye to otherness. Watch out for the headline of the future: NON-CYCLIST MUGS OLD LADY.”

To read more from Rob Ainsley visit his excellent blog Real Cycling


This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 25th, 2012 at 4:41 pm and is filed under Blog, Cycling Plus. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

2 Responses to “You’re a cyclist so you’re bad!”

  1. Michael Skinner says:

    Sociologist also call what you’ve one in this article Critical Discourse Analysis, they use it in reference to racist headlines an all sorts of things like that. Good article, more like it please.

  2. Anneke says:

    Bravo! I knew subscribing to you was a grand idea :D

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