Recently one of Australia’s leading researchers on bike safety speculated that we should stop talking about “cyclists" and instead talk about people riding bikes if we wanted to stop aggression from drivers.
Professor Narelle Haworth, Director of the Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety - Queensland, was one of a team of Australian researchers whose latest study finds that road users consider cyclists less than human.
The group found that those who rated riders high on the dehumanised scale also said they were more aggressive towards cyclists on the road.
There, we said it: cyclist.
For those of you who have been reading missives from Bicycle Network for at least a decade would know that cyclist is a word we use rarely.
We mostly use "bike rider” or "people who ride" instead. Deliberately so.
Maybe you never noticed, but for us this has always been critically important.
To get more people riding bikes—many more people—we have to reach into the hearts of the Australian people, triggering their wonderful memories of getting on their bikes as children and exploring the neighbourhood.
They remember that exhilarating feeling as bike riding. They don’t call it cycling. For them cycling is sport, and club jerseys and pelotons.
Bicycle Network doesn't see bike riding as a small and tribal group. We see it as a mass social movement: everything from riding to school, to work, to the shops, to the movies, cycle touring, and yes, racing and MTB.
For us, it is all bike riding. Getting on your bike should be seen as a normal, everyday thing, no matter what kind of bike you ride or where you are going or how you are dressed.
So what about this research that shows that people on bikes are rated as low as cockroaches? Not so fast, we say.
This is not to deny that there is no hostility and aggression towards riders. One only has to look at the behaviour of some of the characters that have been charged with crimes involving deaths or serious injuries to riders to realise that jail time is a calling for these people.
But mainstream Australia is another story completely. Previous research, including a study for VicRoads, indicates that drivers are not innately antagonistic.
We know that many people would love to ride a bike to work or the station if they could. They are next year’s new recruits, not our enemies.
The war between cars and bikes is a media construct, pumped up by shock jocks and click-baiters.
Nearly everyone loves to ride a bike. More and more of us are doing so.
We are not a small frightened group of cyclists; we are a nation of happy and healthy bike riders.