The Daily Telegraph
Toby YOUNG and
Thanks to angry men on two wheels, going for a walk can be bad for your health, says Toby Young
Those of you just emerging from your homes after 15 months, blinking into the light, are in for a shock. The streets of our towns and cities have been taken over by louts. I don’t mean unruly teens in tracksuit bottoms and football tops, brandishing zombie knives. I mean Mamils: middle-aged men in Lycra.
You cannot move 10 feet these days without being told to “get the f--- out of the way” by a fat bloke in a leotard hurtling towards you on a racing bike at 30mph. Or a young man with a Deliveroo bag strapped to his back.
Doesn’t matter if you’re a mother of two pushing a double buggy on the pavement – these yobs regard any flat, hard surface as a cycle lane. Which is odd, given how many actual cycle lanes have materialised during the lockdowns. In London alone, the mayor has spent £33 million on “pop-up” cycle routes.
It’s even worse if you’re a motorist. Roads across the UK are now characterised by a vehicular apartheid in which cyclists are regarded as tree-hugging progressives and motorists as rapacious, planet-destroying capitalists.
Car-drivers may pay for the roads, but that doesn’t mean they have the right of way. On the contrary, bicycles are like the limousines driven in the Soviet Union by Communist Party apparatchiks in special “Zil lanes”. It doesn’t help that these two-wheeled kings of the road are dressed like Mr Incredible.
In many parts of the country, motorised vehicles are banned from the road altogether. I’m talking about Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, or LTNS. Motorists have suddenly found themselves face to face with large, wooden planters blocking the road – often a pair of them side by side, leaving just enough room for a bicycle.
At the end of the first lockdown last summer, residents across a vast stretch of east London, from Hoxton to Stratford, found that Sadiq Khan had outlawed cars from their roads, prompting angry protests.
LTNS have also been rolled out in Birmingham, Manchester and other major cities.
One of the things that makes this new moral hierarchy – bicycles good, cars bad – so objectionable is that it maps so easily onto the class system. Cycling is predominantly a middleclass activity and a lot of the hostility directed by cyclists towards motorists – particularly van and lorry drivers – is supercharged with barely concealed snobbery. Who are these oiks clogging up the roads with their monstrous, turbocharged status symbols?
During one anti-ltn protest last year, many of the drivers taking part had cabbage leaves under their windscreen wipers or sellotaped to their doors. That was a reference to a tweet by Hackney’s Liverpudlian cabinet member for transport, who said in response to a message telling him to “go home”: “If it wasn’t for immigrants, ‘born-and-bred’ Londoners would still be eating cabbages with every meal.”
“What he’s having a go at is the white working class,” said Niall Crowley, one of the protest’s organisers. White Van Man is now a stranger in his own lane – and it’s a single lane, where the traffic is unmoving, with barely used bicycle superhighways on either side.
The fact that cyclists now enjoy such extraordinary privileges wouldn’t be so bad if they behaved like aristocrats of old, sugaring the pill with a bit of noblesse oblige. But not these Tour de France wannabes. They flaunt their superior status at every opportunity, often hurling insults at the peasantry skulking behind their steering wheels.
I know one keen cyclist who travels everywhere with a police whistle gripped between his teeth, ready to blast anyone in his path with a deafening, high-pitched noise. His self-righteousness is rooted in his concern for
‘‘safety’’ – not just his own, but that of other cyclists, too – and I’m sure that’s a common thread in the cycling shorts.
Motorists are the enemy, and pedestrians aren’t much better, because they pose a threat to the physical well-being of cyclists. In their eyes, other road users who don’t make allowances for those on two wheels are the equivalent of non-mask wearers at the height of the pandemic.
Yet there’s a gaping hole in this argument that was revealed when the Olympic gold-medallist Laura Trott took part in a campaign that involved her cycling round London to draw attention to the dangers faced by people on two wheels.
At the end of her road trip, she confessed to being absolutely terrified. Yet it wasn’t motorists, but her fellow cyclists who had frightened her. “I see cyclists jumping in and out of the buses and people wonder why they get hit,” she said, clearly shaken up.
I’m a cyclist, and I have to confess to being one of these shouty spandex-wearers myself. About 15 years ago, when I started going everywhere on my Brompton, I would regularly scream at motorists for being ‘‘reckless’’, such as daring not getting out of my way when I tried overtake them on the inside at top speed.
But after my second bad accident, which involved 50 stitches to my face, I realised that this arrogance was contributing to my vulnerability. I’m not talking about shooting traffic lights and ignoring stop signs, although that didn’t help. Rather, it was my state of almost permanent rage. It eventually dawned on me that the reason I was so furious was because I was expecting motorists never to do anything that put cyclists in danger.
Clearly, having ridiculously high expectations of other road users is what leads to accidents – and my anger was blinding me to just how bonkers it was. If I didn’t wise up, I was freewheeling towards the mortuary slab.
So now I just assume the worst of
‘These yobs on two wheels now regard any flat, hard surface as a cycle lane’
other road users, including cyclists, which means I rarely lose my temper. If a boy racer in a red Ferrari turns left without looking in his rear view mirror, clipping my front wheel as he cuts in front of me, I just smile placidly and think: “Well, of course.”
I’ve even learnt to love hooligans on electric scooters, who occupy a place below White Van Man in the cyclist’s demonology. If they want to tear down a cycle lane at maximum speed, sending me scurrying to get out of the way, I just shrug and think: “Boys will be boys.”
My son has decided he wants to get a job this summer as a Deliveroo rider. I just hope I can persuade him to be as even-tempered as me and not, under any circumstances, put on a Lycra top.