I sometimes wonder whether cycling is the most diverse sport in the world, being that it spans so many totally disparate disciplines.
From Cyclocross to Road cycling, Track, Mountain Biking and BMX, all of them benefit from different kit and equipment, take place of on a variety of terrains and demand a unique set of skills.
And because of that, they can suit different people.
Like the sport itself, cyclists are a hugely diverse bunch. Much as those in the anti-bike brigade like to think it (yes, I’m talking about that tiny but vocal group of drivers who condemn every one of us anytime a rogue rider jumps a light), we’re actually not all the same.
To put it simply, we are everyone!
Believing we are is as ridiculous as generalisations based on sex, religion or race.
Cyclists are simply people riding bicycles.
And to state the obvious, people come in all shapes and sizes. Not every person riding in a group on a Sunday is a MAMIL – some of us are women, many are grandfathers, perhaps a few are minors.
Outside of the cycling club, we diversify even more.
We ride trikes, fat bikes, recumbents, mountain bikes and hand cycles. We come from wealthy families, council estates, broken families and happy ones.
We are mothers, daughters, fathers, husbands and grandmothers. Doctors, cleaners, TV presenters, builders, van drivers and lawyers all ride bikes.
We span all professions.
We ride for fitness, for competition, for recreation and for transport. We are fit, skinny, fat, slow, enthusiastic and (frequently) tired.
Some of us ride for half an hour every month at a gentle jogging pace, others ride upwards of twelve hours a week whilst eating, sleeping and breathing all things bike. Some have twelve bikes, others use hire bikes.
To put it simply, we are everyone!
Historically, putting people in boxes has often been part of an attempt to dehumanize people. Removing people’s true identities and lumping them together can make it easier to malign, mistreat or even abuse them.
And despite a growing awareness of our need to fully stamp out all prejudice, it seems like hating, threatening and screaming about cyclists is still somehow acceptable.
Happy kit to keep hatred at bay
Every time I read another headline or tweet widely condemning everyone who rides a bike because one idiot did something stupid whilst cycling, I despair.
Let’s put this into perspective. My mother is 82 and rides a trike or a recumbent. She has never broken the law, jumped a red light or even ridden a bicycle over about ten miles an hour (sorry Mum!).
Playing with people’s lives and safety isn’t funny
So when someone rants that cyclists are lunatics, stupid, dangerous or even deserve to have an accident (yes, that’s actually happened), it really gets to me. Does my mum deserve this vitriol? She is already nervous about cycling on the road.
Why are we all held responsible for the actions of a few?
Created in the ‘70s to control the mob and later used to try and deal with the Crips and the Bloods, the RICO law allowed prosecution of gang members simply for ‘being part of an enterprise that commits a series of crimes.’
The way cyclists are treated makes me feel like a few vocal members of the public feel the same way about us. Are we conniving, conspiring criminals intent on wreaking havoc?
I think not.
It worries me that the aggression displayed online ends up on the roads. Yesterday, a young lad chuckled with his friend as he edged his way out of a petrol station towards a group of us, intentionally making us worry he was going to pull out.
Because it’s really funny thinking you might end up in hospital.
Last week, a driver pulled out across me as I rode around a roundabout signalling where I was going before shouting something about ‘bloody cyclists.’
Playing with people’s lives and safety isn’t funny. And abusive, derogatory comments on social media aren’t either.
Could bad sentiments towards cyclists be the reason that so many fewer women ride bikes than men in the UK? It’s not an attitude I’ve seen in the Netherlands where women actually outnumber men on the roads.
It’s high time we remembered that every bike is ridden by a person; a person with a story, a history, family and dreams.
Stirring up resentment, inciting wars between road users and slagging off everyone who likes riding a bike shouldn’t be the last acceptable form of bigotry.
For cycling to ever improve in this country, it needs to stop right now.
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