By Russell McGilton
Imagine you’re cycling home at night and for no reason at all a group of men you don’t even know run on to the road and punch you off your bike. You land in the path of an oncoming car, which, luckily for you, skids to a halt metres from your head. Your assailants scream at you to get back on your bike. They hold you by the throat and threaten to punch you again.
This appalling and vicious attack was made all too real by the fact that it happened to a good friend of mine. Now, as a cyclist myself, I’ve had my fair share of abuse from car drivers (usually car loads of youths suffering from A.D.D. – Attention Dickhead Disorder) but this, this horrible assault on my friend, was surely an anomaly, an unfortunate buckle in the great wheel of life.
How wrong I was.
I typed in ‘unprovoked attack on cyclist’ into my search engine and it shot up a list of bicycle victims that reads like a World War II memorial: a woman in London rammed off her bike by thieves on a moped, a man knocked unconscious in Edinburgh, washers and screws thrown out of car windows at cyclists in Portland, Oregon, race goers in the Around the Bay in a Day cycle event in Melbourne rammed by a car, a man beaten to death in Birmingham while he cycled home from work…there’s even live footage of a New York Police Officer shoulder-slamming a cyclist off his bike. Bizarrely, the cyclist was arrested for attempted assault and, as he lay there wondering what in the bejesus happened to him, resisting arrest.
Why is there, you may ask, such wanton violence towards cyclists?
One likely cause, I think, is the rise of anti-cycling opinions in the media.
Take The Sydney Morning Herald’s Michael Duffy extraordinary contribution to the climate change debate. He claims that cyclists are causing greenhouse gas emissions because they block the road thus causing cars to slow down and cause more pollution. His solution? Ban bicycles!
While you’d expect this from ‘a tumour masquerading as a boil’ as one blogger put it, I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow when John Birmingham, grunge novelist of He Died with a Falafel in His Hand went on a fire-fight rant in the Brisbane Times because a cyclist had inconvenienced him in traffic.
‘I regret not getting that anti-personnel Metal Storm pod installed’ and then brands all cyclists as, ‘a bunch of old man-killing yahoos’ in reference to the tragic death of James Gould who was killed by a cyclist in 2006.
Such generalisations is like saying that one, washed up, now ‘airport trash’ writer is representative of ALL Australian literature. God help us.
Birmingham might want to consider this from the World Health Organisation: 1.2 million people die from car accidents around the world per year. Most of these deaths were pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists and not the drivers of the car. I await Birmingham’s next tome ‘He Died With A Humvee On His Hand’.
But then there’s the celebrities.
Jeremy Clarkson, the gregarious presenter of the popular UK car program Top Gear, has warned the ‘guests of our roads’ that if they happen to cycle through a red light that he would run them down ‘for fun’. Such remarks have had him accused of inciting several ‘Clarkson-like attacks on cyclists’ one of which left a man paralysed.
While Clarkson may have meant it as a joke but there is nothing remotely funny about this: ‘A festive custom we could do worse than foster would be stringing piano wire across country lanes to decapitate cyclists’.
This was not written by a tabloid journalist but of The Times newspaper columnist, Matthew Parris. His reason for such lacerating anger was because he found Gatorade bottles in his hedgerow. The fact that many cyclists actually drink from reusable bottles or that the bottles themselves could have been thrown from cars seems to have escaped him. But let’s not let facts get in the way of a bit of mid-life bile letting.
So you may wonder, why do some people hate cyclists with such incoherent junk-yard dog rage? Is it the Lycra shorts, the flashy bright clothes, that they sometimes don’t stop at traffic lights?
To be honest I don’t know. For once you consider that bicycles take car users off the road (there’s an estimated 1.6 millions cyclists in Australia) thus freeing up traffic, reduce patronage on an already stressed public transport system, save everyone millions in tax payer dollars for medical bills associated with obesity, heart disease and diabetes, you’d think that hacks, mediocre writers, celebrities and cycle-thumping louts (and the ones out of police uniform) would actually want to throw cyclists a smile and not a punch.