Not Evangelism

Monday, May 9, 2011

Cycling's Biggest Challenge is Not Motorists

The biggest challenge in promoting cycling is not other road users, truly it's not; the problem is a matter of perception.

In fact, the problem with cycling is soundbites. The desire for a good story. The need to moan rather than to celebrate.

Cycling is Safe and Easy

I have cycled pretty regularly for two decades; my love affair with two wheels started in the nineties. Although I am not a particular rabid cyclist, I have in that time cycled thousands of miles. And I have been shouted at by drivers twice. Both occasions, by the by, in the last few months, within a mile of my house - which I suspect says more of the area I'm living in than of motorised road users in general.

I have never been knocked off my bike by a motorist. And I have ridden on dual carriageways, with heavy traffic doing more than 70 miles per hour, in atrocious road conditions. I have ridden on country roads, with deep ditches, blind corners, narrow lanes. I have ridden in standing traffic, in cities where frustrated travellers wished for a speedy end to their journeys.

All without incident, without a story other than a Good Ride.

I have, in the main - in the vast, vast, vast majority of cases - been given plenty of room, and ample consideration for my own particular requirements as a two-wheeled fragile, slow road user.

People Like Horror Stories

But miles of happy cycling is not what people remember. Not what makes a good, memorable, recount-it, retweet-it, tell-it-down-the-pub story. Not what I write about, some of the time.

People like bad news.

Visitors to the house last weekend commented on my recent tweets and updates on Facebook, where I had fallen into the trap of maligning a couple of specific incidences of unhappy motoring. Two occasions where my morning commute had been marred by stupid, thoughtless behaviour from drivers.

Two incidents in two thousand miles.

Two times, in the mornings, in the dark hours when we must all commute, must all do the school run, must all do whatever we must do when everyone else is doing what they must, when we would all rather be in bed, in the arms of our loved ones, and certainly not out on the roads with all of them.

I'm not excusing these motorists, mark you; they acted dangerously, erratically, rudely. Morning grumpiness does not, will not ever excuse that. There is no license for unsafe conduct.

But my point is this: people (and I include you, dear readers, in that noun) do not remember the thousands of happy miles; the countless glorious, wonderful simple acts of kindness when motorists have hung back, have given me room, have been aware of me on my little two-wheeled conveyance, and have shown consideration. It is not the moments when I feel that I am flying that catches attention, not the moments when the world settles around me and I am in the zone, cycling the beautiful cadence, delighting in life.

It is the moments of madness, of darkness, of inconsiderate behaviour that are more attractive.

Yes, this is partly because I have not tweeted about those bright moments, the everyday rides. I have not declaimed at length at the necessary - and expected and welcome - decency of the huge majority of the drivers I have encountered.

But people are drawn to the dark side, aren't they? All of us, attracted by the bad stories rather than the uplifting ones.

So here's a vote for all the good times; all the uneventful rides, all the moments where nothing bad happened and the world was as it should be. Because they are far more common, far more regular, far more prosaic, than the ones that get talked about.

And that's good news. Cycling is good, and safe, and fun.