Us and Them

The Portsmouth News today leads with the story of a man who was attacked by a gang of people because he was a cyclist. I heard about the story yesterday when the journalist rang me to ask me my thoughts, which he included in the piece. As ever though, I was caught on the hop when he called and there is much I wish I’d said.

Let me start by jumping back a couple of weeks. At the end of May the ‘You and Yours’ programme on Radio 4 ran a piece on cycling with the tagline ‘have you ever been put at risk by a cyclist?’ There followed a predictably bellicose selection of contributions from various disgusted citizens demanding taxation, regulation and preferably abolition of cycling.

This is a typical treatment of cycling in the media and is a symptom of a depressing ‘us and them’ approach to cycling and cyclists. Cyclists being, most definitely, ‘them’. Cyclists are portrayed as a lawless, dangerous out group. People not like ‘us’. Not decent people at all. In fact they are portrayed as something akin to vikings. Rapacious outsiders here to destroy society.

This portrayal is, of course, nonsensical. The problem though, is that reason and fact don’t cut through the hysteria that is created by these stories. Calm, rational contributors like Chris Boardman point out that cycling is a huge benefit to society and that people being hurt by a cyclist is incredibly rare. These reasonable voices are lost in the clamour.

My view is that the sad end result of all this is a poor guy getting beaten up in Southsea for riding a bike and wearing hi-viz clothing. He’s a cyclist. He’s one of them. Let’s get him. The cheap media furore painting cyclists as nothing more than an anti-social menace ends there. A guy getting hit with a vodka bottle.

Its time we got past this ridiculous ‘us and them’ nonsense. We can never have a grown up debate about fixing our cities until we do.