COMMENT & ANALYSIS: Below are eight common things that some people say about cyclists which are an indication of an irrational problem with cycling. If you find yourself agreeing with a few of them or nitpicking at this list you’re probably missing the point or it’s possable that you too have an irrational problem with cycling.
Before reacting, make sure you read to the end, including the disclaimer.
1. “Cyclists break the law more than other road users”
This would be extremely hard given that very high percentages of motorists break laws. For example, according to 2018 free speed (no congestion conditions) research by the RSA, 80.5% of car drivers were speeding on urban sections of national roads with a 50km/h speed limit, and nearly 100% of motorists went over the limit on a section of national road with a 30km/h.
Trucks have lower speed limits for good reason given the damage they can do. Yet, despite this 58% of all rigid trucks observed on all urban roads were speeding and 72% of all articulated trucks observed on all urban roads were speeding. Nearly 100% of both types of trucks were also speeding on national primary roads.
And then there’s motorists using their phones, running red lights, drink and drug driving, parking on footpaths, blocking pedestrian crossings etc.
2. “Bicycles should require road tax”
The idea that bicycles should need “road tax” is so problematic in different ways that it requires its own article: 6 problems with “Cyclists should have to pay road tax”.
3. “Cyclists should be required to have insurance”
Anybody who suggests that insurance should be mandatory for cyclists underestimate the risk to life, limb and property posed by motorists which makes insurance needed… or overestimate the risk caused by cyclists.
On the grand scale of things, the risk caused by people on bicycles is similar to a person running or walking. Some countries have personal liability insurance which covers cycling — but this isn’t just for cyclists and isn’t mandatory.
For motoring in Ireland, only third party insurance is required — with it, if you are at fault in a collision, only your passengers and other road users and property will be covered. With just third party, you will be open to substantial loss of the value of your car and your injures. Most people chose one of the higher levels of coverage because people understand the comparably high level of risk. This fact seems easily forgotten when the discussion turns to cycling.
4. “Bicycles should have number plates”
Stand on a road with traffic going by at 40 or 50km/h or more and try to read a number plate. Most people will not be able to do so. Hit and runs by motorists are common and often victims or witnesses only get a partial number plate, if anything.
Police forces around the world also don’t usually act when people use number plate to report motorists breaking the law when nobody is harmed. Do you really expect them to act differently for cyclists?
5. “Cyclists are the biggest danger to pedestrians”
The idea that “Cyclists are the biggest danger to pedestrians” is an understandable reaction from a frail person who is faced with some reckless cyclists on footpaths. But this line of thinking is not just misleading in discussion, it underestimates the risk posed to pedestrians by motorists. This risks both personal attention and policy measures being misdirected to lower risk thing while the dangers of motoring continues not to be addressed.
From conversions on danger of cycling and motoring with people it is clear that the public perception is twisted. If people read or hear about motorists running over people on footpaths and when people are crossing the road with a green man showing or otherwise, there’s mental distancing at play.
This should not be a surprise given that radio shows and newspaper columns are regularly devoted to what mostly amounts to pet hates and mostly smaller issues with cycling (often people complaining about things which are both safe and legal). On the other hand, comment coverage about the risk of hit and runs is thin on the ground.
Motorists kill or seriously injure people nearly daily. In Ireland, for example, the last collision where someone walking was killed by someone cycling was nearly two decades ago. People cycling and walking being killed in collisions with each other are around the same type of rareness.
6. “Cyclists ride 3 or 5 abreast”
The claim of “cyclists ride 3 or 5 abreast” as something which happens regularly can mainly be explained by a depth perception problem — cyclists cycling two abreast but the people on the front and back are not in straight lines so it looks like they are more than two abreast.
Serial complainers claim they have more than one example of video of cyclists cycling more than two abreast but — as far as we know — they so-far have never produced such.
It should be also said: In Ireland, two abreast is generally safe and legal. Three abreast is even legal when one person is overtaking the two others. See here for more.
7. “Cyclists don’t use perfectly good cycle lanes”
We would love to know of these perfectly good cycle lanes — there’s few examples of such in most countries of which the majority of cyclists don’t use and isn’t explained by good reasons such as the person needing to go somewhere the cycle lane does not go, or the cycle lane being unsuitable for group of sports cyclists or individual cyclists racing or training.
8. “Cyclists wearing headphones are reckless”
Some cyclists wearing headphones are reckless, but the act of wearing headphones or earphones is not in itself reckless.
The idea that wearing headphones is inherently dangerous is understandable, but it is an emotive response to fears and perceived risks around cycling. The reality is hearing as a safety measure is overrated for most situations while cycling and it’s a big leap to think that just because somebody is wearing headphones means that they cannot hear a car etc approach.
Deaf people cycle safety without hearing and people with sensory issues are sometimes better off hearing what’s on their earphones rather than the noise of traffic. Some people on the other hand are better without headphones. It might be good advise for most people to, at most, cover only one ear and/or keep the volume down.
Cyclists aren’t all angels. And in years of discussions I’ve seen very few people even come close to implying such. To be clear, this article doesn’t claim cyclists are angels. People cycling should of course follow the law, use good lights and try not to be silly. All road users should. Nothing in this article should be seen as an attack on people who have concerns, but a response is needed to irrational reaction when it continuously interrupts the debate on promoting mass cycling which is good for health, the environment, business, transport capacity, the mobility especially of younger and older people, tax payers and society in general.