Cyclists killed the radio debate

OPINION: Not another bloomin’ radio phone-in about cyclists

In an age where it is the done thing to get very angry and then tell everyone about how angry you are over social media, you don’t have to try very hard to find plenty of complaints about errant cyclists.

Back in the olden days if you were feeling irate you had only a few channels through which to sound off, maybe down the pub or your family. Perhaps if you were particularly vexed you could write to a letters page and become one of the ‘disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’, or take part in a radio phone-in.

Despite the rise of social media those old fashioned ways are still alive and kicking and the radio phone-in remains ever likely to discuss those pesky cyclists. I’ve had the dubious fortune of listening to hours of them and even taking part in one myself, but the latest – on Radio 4’s "You and Yours" – I confess I haven’t listened to a single minute, partly because I’ve followed it on Twitter (with Boardman apparently putting in a sound defence of cyclists).

The other reason I couldn’t bring myself to listen to this latest radio phone-in was the crushing inevitability that it would soon discuss whether cyclists should be forced to insure themselves by law, or be registered, get a number plate, should stop jumping red lights, etc, etc. Feel free to add your cliche of choice to the comments below. Conflict is the nature of a radio phone-in, so presenters invariably avoid nuance and pitch the whole thing as cyclists vs motorists. Good for them. Bad for everyone that rides a bicycle.

The real wonder is why it’s more common to find tweets and angry radio phone-ins about cyclists rather than the altogether more dangerous behaviour of errant motorists. Logic and common sense, often rare finds in a radio phone-in, dictate that a badly driven car is more dangerous than a badly ridden bicycle. A moment of lapsed concentration behind the wheel or a few seconds spent checking your phone for messages can be bad news for you, your insurers and whatever happens to have been in front of you at the time.

Maybe it’s because more of us are motorists and prepared to overlook the odd red light jump and speeding session on the M1, despite the obvious implication that such behaviour is actually pretty dangerous. Oh, unless you are a great driver, obviously.

Comments about traffic police go from complaints about speed traps catching cars doing 38 in a 30 zone to "why do you never see them pulling a cyclist for riding on a pavement?"

As people who ride bicycles become greater in number, these joyful radio phone-ins will, I reckon, diminish. Or lazy producers and DJs will be forced to raise their game and make a better job of them. Until then I’d like to turn to a Top Gear presenter for a few calming words (and it’s not all that often you get to do that). Here’s an excerpt from a blog by James May:

"Cyclists are pedestrians really, since they are leg-powered. They’ve just added a few levers and cogs to improve their own efficiency…

"Bicycles should never be regulated, they should never be subject to road tax, they should not require third-party insurance and competence to ride a bicycle should not be tested. It tests itself, because if you can’t do it, you have a crash. Bicycles are the first rung on the personal-transport ladder and should be free at the point of use. I’ll champion the bicycle until I’m worn through to the canvas."

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