Bikers and cyclists are kindred spirits

A heated attack on motorcyclists in last week's cycling column inspired Tim Luckhurst to offer his view
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Riding around Europe on motorcycles, as I do, I have developed hundreds of short-lived but intensely amicable relationships with pedal cyclists. These fellow refugees from urban congestion know what it means to pilot a narrow, fragile vehicle amidst heavy congestion. We are kindred spirits, beating queues and limiting pollution while traversing cities at speeds unimaginable to people who have not experienced the joy of travel on two wheels.

Cyclists have offered me route advice in London, Paris and Rome. Cycle couriers have shown me where to park and lock up in safety. Bicycle commuters often let me through to the front of queues at traffic lights because they know my engine will waft me away faster than any car. Most seem happy to help me maximise the usefulness of a power-to-weight advantage which is just an amplification of the one they relish themselves.

I have never been insulted or criticised by a cyclist, and my attitude towards them is warm. We nod and smile to each other in heavy traffic, sharing the pleasure of lacing through narrow gaps and beating expensive cars with technology that costs a fraction as much. When I'm on a motorcycle my attitude is basically "Two wheels good, four wheels bad," and I only amend it slightly when I have to get behind the wheel of the family people carrier to take my four children on holiday.

My fondness for cyclists has been largely unshaken by the deluge of sanctimony that nowadays pours from the provisional wing of British cycling. I understand that there are among users of bicycles, a militant minority that define themselves solely as cyclists. But such people seem rare. Most cyclists I encounter understand that a person spotted on foot, or in a car on Monday, may ride a bicycle on Tuesday. Some even realise that the talent to utilise more than one form of transport extends even to that dreadful, horned species, the motorcyclist.

It applies to me and many journalists who write about motorcycles. We ride bicycles on short journeys. Our children ride bicycles. Sometimes we are rather good at it. I suspect that our experience on motorcycles makes us more aware of potential hazards than drivers who only ever use cars. We are, after all, as vulnerable on our motorcycles as we are on push bikes. Neither device performs well in a collision with a large, solid object.

For all of these reasons I would like to believe that James Daley's column ("Motorbikes are a Menace – It's Time We Took Them On", Motoring, 16 October) was a joke. His tirade against motorcyclists contained so many logical flaws and lavish generalisations that it hardly deserved to be taken seriously. But previous experience of the obnoxious, self-harming piety with which some cycling purists assail other road users makes me aware that Mr Daley may think he means it.

I apologise if I am wrong. Reading an argument that resembles a creationist rant more than a reasoned case for treating cyclists with respect is unsettling. But since James Daley caricatured and stigmatised motorcyclists with such energetic venom let me address his weakest point. Its vulnerability serves as an example of the foolishness at the core of his prejudice.

Mr Daley complained that "When you are lucky enough to jump the lights you can also be sure'll suddenly be engulfed by a fleet of motorbikes as soon as the lights change." Inherent in this lunatic whinge is a damaging combination of facts viz: that pedal-cyclists often jump traffic lights and motorcyclists do not. In other words, our alleged offence consists of inconveniencing cyclists by rendering their desire to break the law potentially dangerous.

I would define that as the motorcyclist conforming to the social contract while the cyclist demands the privilege of ignoring it completely. No road user deserves so unique a privilege. But that is to fall into Mr Daley's trap of treating these two groups as distinct tribes with no unifying interests. We are not. Nor are many modern motorcyclists the macho, testosterone-fuelled psychopaths he depicts. Oh, and motorcycles in bus lanes save lives, which is why, like cyclists we appreciate immensely every opportunity to ride in them legally.

Tim Luckhurst is professor of journalism at the University of Kent

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