For reasons I suspect my inbox and the comments section below will soon make obvious, this column has steered carefully away from the subject of cycling. It should probably stick to something less divisive, like fox hunting or welfare cuts.
But the other evening, I was driving home from a photoshoot on a clear, wide, straight and well-sighted single-carriageway A-road, at around the 60mph limit in a sports car.
There was only one other person on the road: a cyclist coming towards me on a road bike. As we passed, each comfortably in our lane with a large gap between us, he shook his head. I think at me. For a moment I thought, perhaps, he had a fly behind his sunglasses, but I think not. I think it was a shake of disapproval. Like he had taken sides.
Now, this is a motoring column. So, you might be thinking, I’m going to suggest that this is because he was – let me reach for my big book of clichés – a tub-thumping Lycra-clad cycle lout who jumps red lights, mows down pedestrians and doesn’t even pay for the upkeep of the road. Well, no. I don’t really think like that.
There are no sides here. I have a bicycle too; it’s a mountain bike I’ve had for 23 years and it’s one of my most treasured possessions. I ride it. I also have a motorcycle, a quiet car, a noisy car and I keep horses. Sometimes I even walk. So at various times I am one of a motorist, a cyclist, a motorcyclist and a pedestrian, while those I love dearest are horse riders. So, no, there are no sides. Just individuals.
So matey on his bike here didn’t annoy me with his head shake because he was on a bike, but because he seemed a bit sanctimonious, when I thought I was bothering nobody. I suspect he’d have the same character whether he was cycling, driving a car or walking.
And there are people like him on both ‘sides’ of what ought to remain a non-debate.
There are people, for example, who don’t like cycling who’ll complain that “cyclists don’t pay road tax”, even though it’s vehicle tax and, given that it’s based on CO2 emissions, would make bicycles free anyway (one reader has pointed out to me that a cyclist might emit a bit more CO2 than a driver through excessive huffing and puffing, but probably never as much as a 6.0-litre V12). So that’s a non-argument.
Or they say that that cyclists don’t have insurance, which is probably a non-argument too because anybody who lives in a house that’s covered by contents insurance probably does have third party liability cover while cycling.
(As the Association of British Insurers says: “Your contents policy will also normally provide personal liability cover for you and members of your household when away from your home.” It doesn’t cover vehicles or horses [or mules or donkeys], nor death or bodily injury to your domestic staff - so don’t run the butler down - but it does usually cover you while using bicycles, even electrically powered ones, and ride-on mowers or golf buggies.)
Or perhaps they say that “they don’t even have to have a licence!” Sort of true, and most cycling groups would like to see compulsory cycle training in schools, because they’d like more people to feel confident cycling. But, given you can pass a driving test at 17 and never have to look at the Highway Code again in your life, it seems ludicrous to me to try enforce some kind of compulsory test or licence and registration onto cyclists.
The fact that somebody’s justifiably cross about a cyclist jumping a red light and bothering pedestrians in London does not mean children should lose the ability to mess around on BMXs (yes, in my head it is still 1988) in quiet residential streets and parks.