Logo

The 5 million copy
bestselling series

people on a bike

To be accepted as a cycling expert, you don’t have to talk technical about bikes.

You just need to know a few right answers that will get all the cyclists in your group nodding in agreement and thinking they really ought to buy you a drink as you’re clearly the right sort. Carry them off with confidence and the wannabe cyclists will be impressed too. You won’t get far with the anti-cyclists, but they’ll probably still be stuck in traffic somewhere, texting.

Cycling facilities

Always substandard: cycle paths are too narrow, too short, full of glass, and dump you on the main road too soon anyway. There’s not enough cycle parking; if there is, it’s too cramped, too close to the wall, too far from the entrance. One-way streets should be two-way for cyclists (‘as is common on the continent’). On-road cycle lanes are ignored by motorists, taxis, buses, or used as an excuse to pass too closely.

You can claim any facility ‘actually makes it more dangerous for cyclists’ while giving other road users, especially the non-cycling councillors who voted it through, the impression that money is being spent on cycling provision. Councils always claim it was installed ‘in consultation with the local cycling group’. Which it was – except they ignored the group’s feedback that it was a dangerous waste of money.

You can justify anything with comparisons to cycling-friendly Netherlands, a mythical land of car-free bike lanes where the entire population cycles all the time. Refer to some miracle facility you saw online in Groningen or Assen (‘40% of all journeys there are by bike compared to 2% here – well, no wonder’, etc.).

Cycling illegally on pavements

You don’t do it yourself, of course, but when nobody at all is about it’s clearly justifiable as a way to avoid a dangerous road. Equally clearly, if there’s any chance of inconveniencing pedestrians, you should get off and push.

Letter-writers to local newspapers who complain that cyclists ‘all cycle on the pavement’, and that a friend of their mother’s neighbour was NEARLY KILLED by one, might be advised that it’s statistically safer to walk on the road than the pavement. It isn’t, but they won’t know that.

Pedantry can help, but you might be better off with the damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t line: ‘Motorists shout that we shouldn’t be on the road, pedestrians shout that we shouldn’t be on the pavement.’

Motorist v Pedestrian v Cyclist

These are emphatically not exclusive rival groups; most cyclists are motorists, and we’re all pedestrians at some point in the journey. Inciting tribalism is silly and futile. We are all road users; the war is between good and bad users, not modes of transport. We should be working together to make a pleasant and safe public space for all to share.

Having made that Abe Lincoln-like point with a suitable air of gravitas, you can spend the next hour swapping stories about taxis that shouted unprovoked abuse at you, buses that cut you up, motorists that ignore cycle boxes at lights, lorries that overtake you and then turn left, etc. And the pedestrian who stepped out in the road in front of you listening to their iPod. Typical. Motorists, pedestrians, they’re all the same.

Red-light jumping (RLJ)

Reckless RLJ is never condoned, of course, and you never do it yourself; but as traffic signals are generally phased with no regard for bikes – at large junctions, or roadworks for instance – there are certainly occasions where judicious RLJ may be necessary. Hint darkly about left-turning HGVs that have turned up to a tight, railed junction after the cyclist got there – it may well be that the only safe thing for a cyclist to do is to flee on red.

Do this sombrely enough, perhaps with implied reference to a recent fatal incident where the cyclist presumably stuck to the law, and you can escape the fact that most RLJers are just impatient.

Road tax

The common complaint, generally shouted or mistyped, that cyclists ‘don’t pay road tax so shouldn’t be on the road’ is just about as wrong as any statement can be. Rebuttal is easy but usually ineffective: for the shouters or mistypers, it’s whoever repeats themselves long enough wins.

Still, here are some facts to establish your credentials as an informed cyclist:

  • Road tax, that is, a tax on motorists to pay for roads, was abolished in 1937, on Churchill’s initiative.
  • Roads are paid for out of general taxation, like schools and hospitals; right of use is not dependent on what you pay, or cigarette smokers could claim more right to hospital use than non-smokers.
  • Cyclists have right of way on roads; car drivers can only use them under licence.
  • Vehicles pay vehicle excise duty (VED), based on emissions; if bikes were subject to VED they would pay zero, like electric and other low-emission cars
  • Most cyclists have a car, so they’re not only ‘paying road tax’ (VED) anyway but are kindly using the bike instead, freeing up space for vehicles.
  • Cycles are banned on motorways and a small number of trunk roads – so cyclists don’t get to use all the big budget projects like bypasses which they’ve paid for out of their taxes. Scoff at any use of the term ‘road tax’ by anyone in the media, and hold them up to ridicule. The related argument – that cyclists should be registered with a licence plate, like cars, which would stop all red-light-jumping and pavement cycling – is easily demolished too (‘Switzerland tried it, didn’t work, waste of money, abolished it.’), especially as it’s not unknown for car drivers to speed, park illegally, drive uninsured, have accidents, etc.

Naked streets

No, this doesn’t refer to riding unclothed (that’s the worldwide annual World Naked Bike Ride). A ‘naked street’ has no road markings, signs or signals, and is a freefor-all area where motor traffic, pedestrians and cyclists:

– having to work out all their encounters individually
– all therefore mix slowly and safely. You can claim it is ‘common in the Netherlands’ where it ‘works fine’. Or the opposite; hardly anybody you meet will have seen a real one. Certainly not in England, whose much hyped example – Exhibition Road in Kensington, London
– is about as naked as Scott of the Antarctic, and functions as a normal busy street with distinct car space, pavements and no bike parking. Use this to prove your argument either way.

Insurance

This one comes up in papers occasionally, usually as a scare story telling motorists that ‘Europe’ is considering ‘making any collision between car and cycle the motorist’s fault’. Nonsense, you say; on the continent there’s merely a presumed insurance protection towards the more vulnerable road user. In, say, a pedestrian-cyclist clash, the cyclist’s insurance will pay for damages unless they can show the cyclist was not at fault. The same tends to be true for car-bike collisions. (‘It works perfectly well all over the continent, and makes for much more mutual respect on the roads…and pavements’.)

Smug cyclists

The standard reproof from motorists masking their guilt about taking half an hour to drive a mile to work: cyclists are smug. Not true: we cyclists are simply pleased with ourselves, because we’re clearly superior to everyone else.

To move it up a gear, grab a copy of The Bluffer’s Guide to Cycling.

Back by popular demand

Sign up now to receive a free ebook with sample chapters from 30 of our top titles.

Why, thank you...

Create the perfect giftset

Choose any 3 of our 30 titles and get them for the price of 2! Delivered in a shiny gift box!