Opinion

Bicycles are not the enemy

Not too long ago, I did that really stupid thing of getting into an argument with someone on Twitter. We should know better than to do this. It is the discursive equivalent of four teenage boys in a pickup truck; absolutely no good can come of it. But I fell into the trap because the person was talking about two things I enjoy, and by disparaging one he was damaging the reputation of the other. 
The person was Chris Hodder, lobbyist for the British Motorcyclists’ Federation. As a lobbyist, of course, it is his job to complain about everything. I realise that. But when he recently launched into yet another moan about cyclists I responded with the utterly intelligent “Quit being a twat.”
Yeah, I know. Way to take the high ground. But the thing is that Hodder, by his own admission, is jealous of all the positive press bicycling receives in the UK. 
And certainly it does. The two most legitimate newspapers in this country, the Times and the Guardian both have special sections dedicated to cycling, the UK government recently announced it will over the next two years spend upward of £148 million (US$236 million) on improving cycle networks across the country, not to mention the whopping £913 million (US$1.4 billion) that will be spent on London’s cycling infrastructure alone, over the next decade.
Cycling is big in the UK and getting bigger. And with good reason. Cycling is a catch-all answer to many of modern society’s ills. It’s incredibly cheap, almost negligibly so; it is as environmentally friendly as a form of transportation can possibly be, producing zero emissions; it helps to keep a person physically fit and outdoors, combating obesity and the rising anxiety epidemic (not to mention the tertiary societal benefit of helping streets to appear safer and more welcoming because of the presence of people); in many UK urban scenarios it is simply the most efficient mode of transportation (a); and it is an activity that is family-friendly.
I could go on. My wife works for one of the UK’s largest sustainable transport charities. But my point is not so much to sing the praises of cycling but to illustrate that it’s not a particularly good target for ire. Cycling is a very good thing, in many ways. Complaining about it, especially in any kind of official capacity, makes you seem ridiculously out of touch.
Meanwhile, the state of motorcycling in this country is less than encouraging. As I’ve pointed out before, the number of people being issued motorcycle licenses has plummeted in recent years. Sales of motorcycles are sluggish and in most cases declining, the only exception being in sales of machines in the 125cc class. Notably, one does not need (b) a full license to ride a 125 in the UK. My theory is that the ridiculous licensing procedures are one of the primary reasons for motorcycling’s decline in this country.
If only there were someone, a lobbyist for a motorcycling interest group, perhaps, who could fight against the prohibitive nature of the UK licensing system…
No, Hodder doesn’t want to do that. He wants to use his public voice to whine about bicycles. He wants to complain that a healthy, green, family activity gets too much love. And in so doing he makes motorcyclists look like idiots. He makes us look inconsiderate, out of touch, and disgustingly self-absorbed. In other words, he wants to be a twat.
And he wants to ignore the blindingly obvious fact that bicyclists and motorcyclists are natural allies. In UK urban scenarios we face many of the same physical threats from inattentive cagers and pedestrians, and we deploy many of the same tactics (e.g., filtering) to out-manoeuvre them. We both have to suffer the elements, we both have to plan intelligently about what we carry, we both have to worry more about theft, and so on.
And here’s the thing: bicycling is what re-ignited my interest in motorcycling. Bicycling made motorcycling viable to me. Exactly a year ago, I was working part-time as a bicycle courier, adapting to the challenges of being out on the road with notoriously impatient British drivers. It was the experience of building confidence, of realising I can hold my own, that made me see motorcycling as a real transportation alternative, rather than just a summertime hobby for overweight middle-age white men with too much money.
I am certain I am not the only person for whom cycling would serve as a logical step toward motorcycling. As more and more cyclists take to the roads as a result of government initiatives, think how many will say to themselves: “Hey, I actually enjoy getting around this way. It’s so much better and easier than a car. If only I could get everywhere this way, but maybe a little faster…”
Not to mention that increased numbers of people on two wheels will (slowly) make drivers more aware of such hazards, thereby benefiting us all.
Rather than behaving like a fat child deprived of candy, the BMF and other motorcycling interest groups should be scoring some free good press by supporting government cycling initiatives, and thereafter working to encourage cyclists to take that logical next step up to motorcycling. Many of the benefits are the same in terms of mental health and commuting efficiency, and motorcycles remain cheaper and more environmentally friendly than cars. Cyclists who are used to mixing amongst traffic and suffering the rain would have no problem turning to a motorcycle for longer journeys.
That someone would fail to see this is enough to make you lose your cool and start arguing on Twitter.
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(a) I know what you’re thinking: that can’t possibly be true, but it is. I have timed it. Believe me, I love riding my motorcycle and would love to create an excuse to take it to work each day. But the fact is, with no traffic whatsoever my bicycle time beats my motorcycle time by at least five minutes (it’s all in the route, you see). With traffic, the gap grows considerably wider.
(b) You have to display L plates and are not allowed to carry a passenger, but conceivably a person could ride a 125 for the rest of his or her life without ever having to do more than take a solitary CBT course.