Donald Clarke: As a cyclist, I have the right to despise cyclists

Do you hate fair-weather cyclists? No, you hate me and my exclusionary attitude. I do too

Spring is here. Spring is here. Life is skittles. Life is beer.

We are entering that period where regular cyclists have difficulty finding a place to park their vehicles. All those literal fair-weather pedallers – the half-assed sorts who take to belching internal combustion at the first spit of precipitation – get back on their conspicuously unmuddied saddles and ride them to where I was intending to lock my quotidian two-wheeler. Don’t you hate these part-timers? Don’t you hate their inability to commit?

No, you don’t. You hate me. You hate my pompous exclusionary attitude. You are quite right to do so. I hate me.

Remember Woody Allen in Annie Hall. "Don't you see? The rest of the country looks upon New York like we're left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers," his character says. "I think of us that way sometimes and I live here."


It is, if anything, easier to be a self-hating cyclist than a self-hating New Yorker. The provocations are so great. One is, of course, obliged to defend the clan (it’s not a clan) when motorists set off on the familiar Clarksonian rants. Cyclists are forever riding on the pavement. They seem to think red lights don’t apply to them. They go about at night with no lights on. They veer in front of hurtling traffic without taking even a precautionary glance to their rear. So the argument goes.

"Well, that's an outrageous generalisation," you say. "Most cyclists are enormously responsible. You're elevating the worst excesses. Nobody mentions all the people Vlad the Impaler didn't impale. Right?"


Another equally potent source of self-hatred is the 'serious cyclist' mob

Put it this way. When I am parked at a red light I rarely find myself wondering if the chap coming up behind in the Volkswagen Exulta is going to blithely run through the crossing as if it’s Starsky or Hutch on the way to an aggravated 217. Such things do occasionally happen. They are, however, usually accompanied by blasting horns, yelled obscenities and police intervention.

In contrast, we have all become used to a fair proportion of cyclists treating red lights as merely advisory. I have actually had fellow pedallers get annoyed with me because I didn’t move out of their path to allow them through a red. “Get out of the way! I need to publicly confirm all the worst stereotypes about cyclists!” they don’t exactly say. Few cars drive on pavements. Few go about at night without illumination.

Another equally potent source of self-hatred is the “serious cyclist” mob – the Lycra-clad, tautly ankled zealots who regard their favourite activity as more a religion than a mode of transport. Not everybody who types #andacylist into their Twitter bio worships at the Church of the Sacred Inner Tube, but every such acolyte types #andacylist into their Twitter bio. Ordinary folk (women in particular) are told they are not “proper cyclists” if they can’t repair a puncture by the side of the road. They regard the average cycle lane as suitable for only infants and the elderly.

The “serious cyclist” contingent is keen on deflecting any complaint about bad bicycling into whataboutery concerning the greater danger provided by motorcars. “Why are men on bikes always zipping onto the pavement whenever I’m walking my kids to school?” you say. They respond with an eight-paragraph treatise on the unlovely behaviour of 4x4 drivers and the contribution of road haulage to climate change.

As with all such overheated enthusiasts, the pastime is elevated into a signifier of virtue and spiritual purity. There is, the argument goes, something elevating about propelling yourself forwards by converting rotary motion into kinetic energy. The hi-viz, skin-tight garments are the vestments. The 25km ascent is a sacrament. Oh, pull yourselves together. Cycling is not a way of being. It is just a way of getting to the shops.

Those non-pedalling blowhards are not allowed to hate cyclists. Only cyclists are allowed to hate cyclists

On the other hand, it should be fairly acknowledged that hatred of cyclists from noncyclists veers through the unreasonable and into the hysterical. There is a particular strain of right-wing petrolhead who loves nothing better than characterising the average cyclist, and cycling advocates in particular, as (thanks, Woody) left-wing, communist pornographers. They like to suggest that reaching adulthood without learning to drive is evidence of dubious effeminacy. Red-meat pundits in the US ridiculed Barack Obama when he was photographed wearing a helmet to ride his push bike. In contrast, the supposedly alpha-male Vladimir Putin wears not even a shirt when riding his big scary horse.

You know the rules. Only the Irish are allowed to make fun of the Irish. Only the French are allowed to make fun of the French. (I know. It ’s a hard life.) Those non-pedalling blowhards are not allowed to hate cyclists. Only cyclists are allowed to hate cyclists and, permitted such license, I will continue to despise myself every time I roll eyes at the fair-weather crew making their way back into the city after the daffodils have risen.

This country has always made a virtue of shame. It is unpatriotic not to join in.