I used to love seeing cycling-related articles appear in the newspaper. It seemed as if cycling was finally being accepted by the mainstream of society and that it would only be a matter of time until cycling became the accepted and acceptable way to get around. And it seemed that these articles always attracted a lot of comments. It must be all good, surely? That was until I started to read the comments, and to see a pattern in those comments …. lycra-hatred, the belief that cyclists should be insured/registered/booked by the cops, hatred of the supposed law breakers/aggressive riders who mow down pedestrians, dismay at the waste of tax payers’ money being spent on bike infrastructure, and the list goes on … Read nearly any of the excellent articles on the SMH bike blog to see what I mean. After reading such comments for several years, and talking to both police and bike activists who tell me that aggression towards cyclists is getting worse, I am not so sure that such items in the mainstream media are a good thing, even though I have often joined in the discussion and enjoyed reading both the articles and (some of) the comments.
How do we get around this problem? It is good to be able to read the opinions of the haters so that these may be rebuked online and/or addressed in more sober discussions that crop up in social situations. But does it inflame these bike haters? I have heard some bike riders express increased fear whilst riding in the days following such articles in our local paper.
It is great to be able to highlight some of the positives in the media without the likelihood of such backlash, and reporting on cycling as a sport is one way around this, but that does not really address the issue of how cyclists and others share the roads, which seems to be the inflammatory aspect of those online discussions. But reporting on cycling as sport does not address the pressing issue of transport cycling: we need better infrastructure, it will help everyone and will solve many of the problems of city life. We all know what they are – we are too sedentary, spend too much time commuting, breathe air that is polluted, don’t have enough car parks, etc.
Let’s find a way of getting bikes into the media in a positive way, so the comments of those haters lose their momentum and maybe they will get on their bikes and find out what the attractions are for the rest of us.