03 March 2012

The Right to Ride Freely

London Cycle Chic 006

Some days it feels like we've come a long way. Others, less so. One of the members of our Slow Bicycle Movement group on Facebook posted this spontaneous message. Jessica, from Birmingham. She was kind enough to let us repost it here.

It really highlights how, despite our progress towards reestablishing the bicycle as transport, there are still battles to be fought and won. The main one involves perception of cycling among the general public.

Any words of encouragement for Jessica, please feel free to add them in the comments. There were many brilliant responses in the Slow Bicycle Movement group.

No one warned me when I started to use a bike that absolutely everyone who doesn't ride one has an opinion about them... and about me because I ride one, and about whether I wear a helmet and why I should and why 'cyclists' should stay off pavements and also off roads and stop getting in the way and causing constant death and about how stupid we all are, how arrogant, how selfish and how none of us know how to drive or use roads or read signposts and are all calling for stupid infrastructure for roads we don't pay for... because we are 'the green lobby'.

Also, no one told me I would get laughed at every single day... or that overnight I would become 'the enemy', or that pretty much every other day someone would tell me that I was going to die...soon.

It doesn't seem to matter whether these people know me well or not at all. Calm conversation doesn't work, weblinks don't work, nobody wants to know. I started cycling because I have a health condition that stops me driving, I'm not a criminal.

Support please.


Marcin Kubiak said...

Well, just don't be bothered by idiots. In Poland we hear the same arguments, yet more and more people decide to use a bicycle instead of a car or public transport. The argument about cyclist not paying for the roads is ridiculous and makes me angry every time I hear it. Don't we pay income tax or VAT?

And another thing - after cycling thousands of kilometres in car-centric Poland I am still alive, I haven't been injured so far. In fact, the only "accident" I had was when an another cyclist failed to stop behind me and bumped me on the wheel :)

Anonymous said...

These people are terrified of you. They are genuinely scared. Be strong.

Reassure them that you and your bicycle will not harm them, and in fact every cyclist on the road is one less pothole, one more open parking space in front of their store, and slightly lower gas prices. Tell them that the automobile is the top killer of people under age 30 - not malaria, asthma, and certainly not bikes. And tell them that for every one cent of their sales, income and property tax that supports bikes, they pay a dollar for roads... They pay far more to support other people's cars than they do to support other people's bikes.

Anonymous said...

When all else fails, I smile at them and say "yes, that car does make you look fat". This works particularly well with women. The phrase makes absolutely no sense, but neither do any of their statements. Try it. See what happens.

Lucas Jerzy Portela said...

one should take the saying "you`re going to die soon" joyfully, in a Soto-Zen way - instead of complaining about it as a menace.

Because we all are going to die soon, because we are alive. We that uses bikes as transport everyday knows this all too well: we feel, and actually we are, much more alive than the ones who drive; and as such, we know much more than tem that we are prone to death, even if we are less prone than them (100% of transit accidents or crimes involves cars and motocycles; less tham 5% involves cyclists).

Anonymous said...

Welcome to the minority. Expect persecution. Thats the price of going against the mainstream. Mainstream views are seldom the best way to do something. They always have agendas and ulterior motives behind them that are centered on money, power, and control. That's because mainstream ideas, views, and policies are force fed to society by the rich and powerful elite and the ignorant masses embrace it. The world is run by corruption and if you decide to lead a life away from it's reaches you WILL be persecuted and ridiculed. That's the price one pays to go against the "norm".

Anonymous said...

We get that in the US as well. People don't know whether bikes belong on the sidewalk, or the street. They don't know if bikes should ride with traffic or against.

To be honest though, there are a lot of cyclists who don't know either.

I drive and I bike. I have to say that cyclists are some of the worst vehicle operators on the roads. Of course, half of them are under 16, so too young to have a driver license. They don't know the rules or what drivers can and can't do.

There is much education to be done.

Anonymous said...

Engaging anti-cyclists rarely works. I've found the best response is a slightly vacant smile and a quick subject change. If they insist on badgering, I ask about the price of gas these days and marvel that it's that high and how on earth can anyone afford to drive, anyway?

Stay strong. It is likely you are inspiring someone to ride. This is how norms change.

Kim said...

Aye we have all heard the You don’t pay tax comment, it is just not true, as a cyclist you are effectively subsidising the sponging motorist. Don't let it get you down.

Will said...

Stay strong and be proud, Jessica. Ignore "the haters" as best you can and know that things are improving, even if it is slowly.

I'd encourage you to write or call your local officials. Your case is a relatively unique one in that you can't drive so they will probably listen to you more.

Also, if you're being harassed by people at work I'd recommend mentioning it to a trusted supervisor or someone you know will be sympathetic. Your coworkers shouldn't be allowed to make you feel uncomfortable at work, whether it's by making fun of your bicycle or anything else.

And hey, spring and summer are just around the corner for those of us in the northern hemisphere. The warm sun does wonders to wash away stress as you pedal through a summer breeze.

Edward said...

Depressing. :(

Anonymous said...

Oh, my goodness; I know exactly what you are talking about!

One time, while I was waiting for the light to change, a couple of young adults laughed at me from a car and told me, "Maybe you should go now," even though the light was still red. I guess they felt superior-safe in their car- bossing me around.

I think the people who laugh at cylists from cars are jealous- Perhaps, they don't know how to ride a bike or are too afraid to ride one, surrounded by vehicular traffic.

Anonymous said...

I have been commuting by bike for years. At my former workplace, it was accepted. At my new workplace, I am seen as eccentric and a hazard to drivers.

I don't care. There is no way I am changing a thing about commuting by bike. I love it too much. I love not paying for gas. I love that I am fit. I love fresh air. I love that our family now saves about $6000 a year by going from 2 cars down to one.

Over time, I will likely change viewpoints of my coworkers by virtue of doing what I'm doing without defending it. If I don't, they'll just have to deal with it. If they don't like it, too bad for them.

Anonymous said...

Oh! I forgot to add to my comment, at 1:36- I'm in the United States.

Anonymous said...

All of these comments are valid, since you asked for support. I would not say that I agree with them all, nor can I say if they are correct. (Seems like) you have begun something new...and this will have repercussions. Those that love us, may not understand us...and may say things out of fear. Those that 'know' us may not understand this 'new' thing...and so the relationship will change. For myself, Congratulations!!
In time you will find more friends that ride, and routes that will be 'out of the way' but will become your favourite because of the sights, sounds, and smells along the way. These will be some of the reasons to continue riding (obviously not all).
Most important, without doubt, is this. You are an ambassador of community, in the true sense of the word. every time you make eye contact, every time you smile, you communicate more, and far louder, than any shout across the street. Keep riding, if you look...you'll see a lot more riders with you. Peace.

Vocus Dwabe said...

Jessica, while I sympathise, I also feel that being a woman and cycling in Birmingham were perhaps the wrong choices if you wanted public approval. Once the centre of the UK motor industry, the city remains horridly car-obsessed, while many of its more social-class C3 inhabitants also think that women shouldn't really be on the roads at all and never mind their means of conveyance. We all remember Harry Enfield's horrible little Brummie pulling up alongside at traffic lights and observing through the window "Oi've got a bigger cor than yow!"

I cycle everywhere, and I sometimes get remarks. But they're usually puzzled rather than hostile: "what's a man of your age/social standing doing riding a bicycle?" or "Ooooh, you are brave." As for the occasional people who are hostile, I find that ironic politeness winds them up far more effectively than insults and rude gestures. In fact the only two full and frank exchanges that I've had in the past year were both with sport cyclists coming round bends in cycle paths at speed and on the wrong side of the track.

Respect! I used to ride a bike through central Warsaw back in the early 1970s when I was a research student, then in small-town Poland thirty years later. Apart from the Soviet-era diesel fumes, it was much worse the second time around than the first: cyclists riding on pavements the whole time because they'd have been run down without the slightest compunction if they'd ventured onto the carriageway. From what you say though I think that things might now be getting rather more civilised. And at least they've now tarmacked over those bloody cobblestoned roads in the countryside. And you no longer have horse-drawn carts creaking along at night with no lights.

Antonio Rebensdorf said...

Jessica have heart, and keep your courage. The one thing I have found that stopped me from doubting myself and my right to be on my bike is the belief that I am safest there. Nobody has the right to tell you that you are unsafe when their mode of transportation is INFINITLY more dangerous than ours...maybe you should calmly let them know that motor vehicle accidents are one of the leading causes of death for children.

petterwr said...

Whatever they say, remember this: Bicycling is the solution to a problem they dont want to see.
As long as they dont see the problem you cant expect them to be rational and their arguments should be taken lightly.
The fight against carcentrism has just started. In the 60s smoking was good for asthmatics and everyone kept cigarettes and ashtrays at home in case they got guests even if they didnt smoke. Look where we are today :)

Dave Feucht said...


Unfortunately, it may be quite a while before things get better for you. People will probably continue to marginalize you, as humans are really good at that sort of thing. However, it can be a useful experience for yourself personally. You now have the experience, first-hand, of being a persecuted minority - even if not to the extreme of being physically abused or refused services or whatever - the threat and social pressure is real. Don't dismiss it because nothing 'actually bad' has happened to you, the abuse is real. Let that motivate you both against the abusers and towards other abused.

Also, people will notice. In my own experience, the more I just simply ride around like a normal person getting somewhere, the more people want to talk to me about it. It happens slowly, but you'll start to notice.

In any case, keep it up. You've now realized something about an injustice in society, and while you may be in the minority, you're definitely not alone. We're all working against the same bias. Hang in there!