Cyclists are not a separate species

Written by Bicycle Network CEO Craig Richards, Wednesday 28 June. 

I discourage people from using the words ‘cyclist’ or ‘motorist’. Using ‘people riding bikes’ and ‘people driving cars’ helps transform our streets from the domain of warring tribes, competing for space, to a place where everyday people simply go about their business.

It’s strange when people talk about cyclists like we’re a separate species. Four million Australians ride a bike every week and we don’t all fit into one little box. Bike riders can’t be categorised neatly because we’re many types of person. We walk, ride, drive and hop on public transport – often all within one day.

I’m worried that there’s a growing swell of people using ‘cyclist’ as an insult. It seems too easy to hate cyclists, because it’s not like hating a real person. It’s hating a strange coffee-sipping species that shaves its legs, wears lycra and gets up before the crack of dawn.

We all know how hostility towards a group of people catches fire. It might be sparked by a headline-grabbing insult, such as current federal senator Derryn Hinch calling cyclists ‘cockroaches on wheels’. It’s then fuelled by a comment encouraging exclusion, such as footy commentator Wayne Carey saying he doesn’t hate cyclists, they just shouldn’t be on the road.

Next thing you know the admirable human qualities of empathy and respect are thrown out the car window. For people on bikes this means that people behind the wheel dispense with the care, respect and attention that is so badly needed.

You might think this is alarmist. That it’s all just a bit of good old Aussie banter. But when people in charge of two tonnes of metal don’t drive carefully around 80 kilograms of flesh, the tragic result is lives are lost and destroyed.

This week brought the end to one of those such occasions. Bradley Azzopardi pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing the death of much loved bike rider Gordon Ibbs in May 2015. He was sentenced to a total jail term of 7 years and 9 months.

We heard the sickening account of the crime. How Mr Ibbs was tossed 40 metres when struck. How Mr Azzopardi just drove off leaving Mr Ibbs so he could burn his car.  How Mr Azzopardi didn’t have a driver’s license and should’ve been wearing glasses. How he was a danger to everyone else on the road and drove anyway knowing the risk.

Sadly, this isn’t the only occasion we’ve seen a serious criminal conviction from the death of a bike rider. Over the past year, I’ve had the privilege and misfortune of choking back tears as the incredible families of killed bike riders verbalise the impact of their tragic loss. Their inconsolable grief is compounded by their confusion.

How could someone do this to the person they loved? The shocking answer is that they were doing it to a cyclist – not a person on a bike. That’s why the person driving the vehicle fell so short of the standard of care and attention required.

So here’s my plea. Stop and think. Do you really want a person’s blood on your conscience?

For goodness sake, when you’re driving a car take a breath and calm down. No matter how frustrated you are with traffic or life, yelling angry threats or swerving at a cyclist is no way to behave.

Never forget that person on the bike is not just a cyclist, they’re someone’s child, parent, team mate or partner.