We have to ask ourselves that question, don’t we? I think it is to do with five key things (in no particular order):
1. Poor behaviour of some cyclists
2. Anger about the fact that cyclists appear unaccountable, don’t have number plates, don’t have insurance, don’t pay Vehicle Excise Duty etc
3. When drivers are able to move faster than cyclists: frustration that they are being held up
4. When drivers are stuck in slow-moving traffic: jealousy that cyclists leave them standing
5. Perception of cyclists being an “other” group
Poor cyclist behaviour
I’d say the most commonly-used reason for antipathy towards cyclists falls in 1 and 2 – but 3 to 5 are probably more likley to be the real reasons why they get so angry. Why do I think that? Well numbers 1 and 2 don’t really impact on drivers. I mean, if a cyclist jumps a red light then that’s just stupid. But no car-driver has been killed by a cyclist jumping a red light that I am aware of. Granted, for the pedestrian, red-light jumping is a menace – and to be honest as a cyclist it pisses me off when cyclists jump red lights. Firstly because I can almost feel the resentment around me from all the other road users and feel that some of that is directed my way, but secondly I get that sense of injustice that I have stopped and will need to push off again from a standing start, so why the hell shouldn’t everyone else? It feels a bit like someone pushing in front of you in a queue – it’s not REALLY going to effect me, but it gets to me nevertheless.
Cyclists being rude and aggressive: well yes, nobody would like to be on the receiving end of any rudeness or aggression. But I don’t think you can reasonably argue that the only rude and aggressive people on the roads are cyclists. If you claim to hate cyclists for that reason you may as well hate them for having two legs or being called Nigel. (“The thing about cyclists that really makes me mad is that there is a minority of them that are rude, arrogant, bi-peds called Nigel”). It’s a non-sequitor because all of those characteristics are likely to be shared amongst every group of road users.
What no road tax?
The no number plates, no insurance no tax argument again is a bit nonsensical. I mean it is and isn’t – because it doesn’t have an impact on people’s lives on a daily basis and in fact is it a flawed argument anyway. The number plates thing is so people can get caught for jumping red lights or riding on pavements or riding the wrong way down a one-way street (seriously, I see these accusations rolled out every time cycling and road safety is mentioned – I NEVER do these things. I genuinely never ever do. I know some people do, but I just do not and would not). Insurance I think isn’t a bad thing in theory – but again, on a daily basis you are far more likely to get shafted by another motorist without insurance, than by a cyclist. In any case, as a motorist if you have a an accident involving a cyclist, the blame is more than three times likely to lie with you than with the cyclist. So in reality any anger about insurance is disproportional: we should all be angry with drivers without insurance – not only are they more likely to be at fault for any accident, but they are likely to cause much more damage than insurance-less cyclists.
The tax argument is often banded about. Unfortunately this one IS nonsense on so many levels:
1. Roads are funded by central taxation and local authorities. This in turn is paid for by all of us via council tax and the other taxes we are subject to every day. In other words, when you buy your tax disc, that money isn’t somehow ploughed directly into road building or maintenance.
2. The “road tax” one pays is in actual fact a Vehicle Excise Duty where vehicles are taxed based on their environmental impact. Cars that output less than 100g/km of CO2 are classed as being in Band A and are exempt from the tax. As a bicycle emits 0g/km of CO2, they too would surely be exempt from the tax were they to be included in the scheme.
3. I own a car so I actually do pay the VED – I just choose to leave it in my driveway when I take my bike out, so it’s causing less damage to the roads and environment and reducing congestion to the tune of one vehicle.
Get out of my way!
Cyclists holding people up is almost certainly a frustration but there is no justification in the Highway Code for this causing people to be angry – so as an “argument” against cyclists it’s a bit of a lame one because it’s just demonstrating that you are an impatient and arrogant road hog who believes that they have more of a right to be there than any other vehicle. As anyone with a brain knows, there isn’t supposed to be any hierarchy of “rights” to use the road. Although I think I read somewhere that we should all give way to pedestrians.
Who the hell do they think they are?
I also think that cyclists piss motorists off because it’s a natural side-effect of being stuck in traffic jams. I know what it’s like.. you’re sat in slow-moving traffic and some selfish bastard pushes in or nips down the bus lane or hard shoulder, you hope they get caught or stuck and have to wait their turn. Cyclists weaving in and out of the traffic is probably infuriating if you see it all the time. I don’t drive that much and as a cyclist am empathetic to other cyclists, but if I weren’t I think this might get my goat. At that point all you need is one small excuse: stupid clothes, dangerous manoeuvre, knocking a wing mirror, undertaking, red-light-jumping: and your irrational fury at being left standing by a cyclist is suddenly given validity.
This also gives rise to the whole “they” when referring to cyclists – as if we are an organised group who all behave in a certain way rather than people who behave in a variety of ways depending on our own personalities. It’s always easy to dislike a group that you don’t belong to: it’s how wars are started or racial hatred develops.
So in conclusion, I think the crap that people usually bang on about when justifying their hatred towards cyclists is actually based on the things that don’t really impact on them (red light jumping, not paying tax) – but they instead serve to justify a less rational set of frustrations (holding me up or moving quicker than me through the traffic).