Is Cycling Normal?
A month ago, the television game show Family Feud, set fire to the Twitterverse with this question: ‘What is something annoying cyclists do?’ The highest scoring categories, which the contests had to predict, including such gems as ‘Riding in the driving lane’, ‘wearing lycra’, and, my personal favourite, ‘everything’. You might argue with me about the extent that Family Feud is an barometer of social values in this country, but I fear that it might not be too wide of the mark!
I gave up reading online ‘debates’ (I use the term very loosely) about cycling a few years ago. While my rational self knew that the violent, hateful comments on such forums were not a representative sample of my fellow citizens, I simply found it too distressing to be reminded that people would even articulate such thoughts. Social media platforms have provided a megaphone for extreme opinions that I just do not need to hear. My head, however, is not in the sand. Sadly, as a keen cyclist, I am frequently reminded that some members of the community hold my chosen mode of transport in low esteem.
How did it come to this?
In response to the Family Feud provocation, I’m giving a talk this weekend at the National Museum of Australia in response to the question: “Is cycling normal?” I picked this title because the implication of the Family Feud question is that cycling is a fringe activity, illegitimate and out of step with regular society. My talk will explore the historical currents of today’s most contentious cycling issues: right to the road, red lights, helmet laws, MAMILS and how cyclists of all kinds have been represented in the broader culture. I will also look at some inspirational developments from around the world and suggest what we can do to shift the current debate so we can generate a little less heat and a lot more light.
Come along and join the discussion.
Is Cycling Normal? The past, present and future of cycling in Australia
National Museum of Australia, Saturday 21 February 10am – 12 noon. $10/$15. Refreshments included.
Here’s an attempt to make a calm, rational comment in the discussion: I ride a bit but mostly drive (I live a long way out of town on gravel roads). The main thing I find that cyclists do that makes driving more difficult is they switch from being like a car (on the road, stopping at lights) to being like a pedestrian (on the path, crossing with the walk signal) and back again at will. Now, usually this is not a problem, and often it makes sense, but it makes them very unpredictable, and a key aspect of driving well is anticipation. When I see a car, I can assume it will stay on the road and stop at traffic lights; I can’t with a cyclist. They can do ‘anything’. Cyclists are often too difficult to anticipate, which is dangerous for them and difficult and frustrating for drivers. This is compounded when they then abuse me for getting to close to them; I recently had an angry cyclist bang on the bonnet of my car — never mind that he had just ridden off a bike path and onto the road in front of me, it was somehow my fault for not anticipating his erratic behaviour. Also, I’ve seen too many small kids, one of whom got a head injury, knocked down by rushing bikes. Cyclists often don’t slow down around unpredictable and unwise small children when they should.
Yet these are only a few events over quite a long time and a lot of miles on the road. As usual, most people do the right thing most of the time, and clearly bikes are good in fitness and environmental ways. The bad stuff sticks in the mind, all the polite and proper behaviour hardly gets noticed. Human nature, I guess.
Thanks Darren. You might find the recording of my talk interesting. It explores some of the reasons why we tend to generalise about motorists and cyclists.
You can listen to it here. http://www.nma.gov.au/audio/detail/is-cycling-normal-the-past-present-and-future-of-the-bicycle-in-australia