Top Gear's James May hits out at "complete bollocks" bike lanes and the myth of 'road tax'

Top motoring journo supports segregated bike paths, calls for tolerance on roads

by John Stevenson   August 14, 2014  

James May (CC BY-SA 2.0 licence by Airwolfhound:Flickr)

In an interview giving his support for The Times Cities fit for cycling campaign, Top Gear presenter James May has slammed the poor quality of many bike lanes, demolished the idea that 'road tax' gives drivers more rights on the streets and called for an end to "road sectarianism".

“I’m all for bicycles in cities,” May told The Times' Kaya Burgess. “We use bicycles to go around locally and also for fun occasionally. Typically, our bike rides would be three or four miles. I go to the shops on it.”

May owns three bikes, and has been riding since the age of three. He said he supported the Commons transport committee recent call for the government to spend £600 million a year on cycling.

"I think that is fair enough,” he said

He added, however, that many cycle lanes found on roads were “complete bollocks” and created confusion rather than improved safety. Urban planners should spend more time riding bikes to understand what was needed, he said.

May also came out in support of segregated cycle lanes on roads.

He said: “That would take a lot of brains and thought, but it is an essentially good idea.

“Cycling is becoming more popular in London, there are a lot of bikes and people are starting to recognise that they need to be accommodated.

“There are so many more bicycles now than there were, say, a decade ago, that people notice them and subconsciously we are modifying the way we drive around town.

“There are people who talk about wanting to make safety clothing mandatory, road tax for bicycles, registering them and insuring them,” he added. “I think all that stuff is utter nonsense. The whole point of the bike is that you get on it and you ride it and you can ride it when you’re a kid or when you’re absolutely flat broke and it’s so agile.”

And speaking of road tax, May clearly understands that it doesn't afford drivers any extra rights, and, indeed, isn't a road tax at all.

"The roads belong to everybody,” he said. “That old argument that ‘I pay road tax and the bicycle doesn’t’ often isn’t true. In any case, roads are funded centrally so the tax [from Vehicle Excise Duty] doesn’t actually go on roads, so no one has a greater right to the road than anybody else, that’s nonsense.”

While he supports better cycling facilities, May thinks the curent situation could be helped if we all just got along better.

“We need to get rid of road sectarianism,” he said. “Car drivers supposedly hate cyclists, cyclists hate taxi drivers, taxi drivers hate motorcyclists, bus drivers hate lorries. I just think if everybody was a little bit more pragmatic, that would do more for safety.”

He added that cyclists should look for quiet backstreet routes to avoid dangerous roads and suggested that it was reasonable for cyclists to ride “slowly and carefully” on wide pavements.

54 user comments

Latest 30 commentsNewest firstBest ratedAll

But James May's Toy Stories was very good.

I like choo-choo puffers.

posted by truffy [577 posts]
14th August 2014 - 15:06

36 Likes

At Wits End

When is something going to be done about this, all the talk is just annoying. We all know what needs to be done. The question is, when is someone going to do it? It's not as if we don't have examples of how things could be done. We are not in pioneer territory here.

If kids could ride to school, there would be less traffic and no obesity problem.
Who doesn't want less pollution and less congestion? For London specifically, the next mayor should be elected on a promise to provide better cycing infrastructure. Why not just divert all the money from the congestion charge to creating better cycling infrastructure...

A friend came to visit from overseas and wanted to visit London. The joke was, 'Ah UK, great past, but no future'. I reacted, "Come on, that's a bit harsh". In hindsight it was probably spot on. Whilst we have these idiots in power, nothing will change.

Cycling makes you feel positive. Imagine all the positivity if half of the population cycled on roads made for cycling. You'd be able to run the economy on that much positive energy.

Rant over.

posted by ronin [194 posts]
14th August 2014 - 15:32

37 Likes

Blackhound wrote:
We all need to get along though.

We've been saying this in the UK for the past 40 years - and May says it above - and where has it got us?

The problem we have now is that the 'shared use' solution to UK cycling infrastructure, currently highly favoured by LAs who persist in creating it inadequately and to wildly different standards, rather than helping us all get along, generates enormous conflicts between vulnerable and other road users as well as the tiresome tit-for-tat debate we're all fed up with.

As you yourself also said, with clearly demarcated and properly designed infrastructure for each kind of user, you naturally gravitate to whichever best suits your journey, so positioning yourself to avoid conflict with other types of road user is easy and becomes second nature.

posted by congokid [183 posts]
14th August 2014 - 16:02

40 Likes

oozaveared wrote:
HKCambridge wrote:
oozaveared wrote:
SevenHills wrote:

It then begs the question WTF was that crass idiotic film shown about cycling on Top Gear about.

You do realise that its an entertainment magazine style programme not a documentary don't you.

BTW Hammond is also a cyclist in real life. see my comment above.

also read this:
http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/cyclesafety/article3755751.ece

it's what Clarkson thinks when he is being a journo and not an entertainer.

Willing to believe all the presenters actually cycle, and have more nuanced views on the subject that one might think.

I don't think that excuses their behaviour on Top Gear, and the effect that has.

The sectarianism May complains about is writ large in Top Gear. He wants to make a difference to the driving culture in this country, he doesn't need to go very far to see one of the influences on it.

What they do on the telly is banter. These are comedic formulaic positions that make people smile even at their own ridiculousness. The argument as to whether a particular ferrari is better than a particular porsche is Pythonesque in being straight from a secondary school playground. Hardly anyone in the audience has either one let alone a chance to compare and they probably don't care either, it's the banter that they are amused by. This is motoring and a general interest in cars used as a backdrop to an entertainment programme that relies on humour via banter.

It's a game that blokey blokes play elsewhere such as which premiership right back is the best. There is no answer, It can go on forever. It saves you having to talk about serious stuff and ruining the atmosphere. Banter is an essential part.

http://road.cc/content/news/112411-top-cycling-well-what-did-you-expect

“Work Harder. Get a car.”

Yeah, great work crossing the Sectarian divide there. When people actually have 'get a car' shouted at them on the street, for no other reason than that they are cycling, it's disingenuous to claim 'It's just a bit of a laugh' and that Top Gear has no part of creating, and reinforcing, a culture that doesn't take cycling, and the lives of cyclists, seriously.

“Cyclists: red and green – learn the bloody difference.”

Thus suggesting that cyclists are a victim of their own lawlessness, when STATS19 shows us that the biggest danger to people on bikes is drivers not looking, or not seeing.

Clarkson, May and Hammond may be cyclists. How many of their viewers are?

It's only banter when all parties understand and appreciate the joke.

posted by HKCambridge [191 posts]
14th August 2014 - 16:33

31 Likes

James May is 100% correct. I cycled 15000km last year.

posted by Beaufort [184 posts]
14th August 2014 - 16:34

28 Likes

cyclingDMlondon wrote:
SevenHills wrote:
At last sensible comments from Mr May.
It then begs the question WTF was that crass idiotic film shown about cycling on Top Gear about.
Heavily influenced by Clarkson methinks

Nggggggghhh ..... .it doesn't 'beg the question'!

Please, people .. stop thinking that 'begs the question' is the same as 'raises the question'. It isn't!


[[[[[[ Yes, quite right, squire. To "beg the question" is to assume that something is true, without arguing or discussing it. See your dictionary, under the word "beg". Oooh, I could just spit, I could, honest!

PhilRuss

posted by PhilRuss [313 posts]
14th August 2014 - 16:55

33 Likes

It's great to hear possitive noises from someone considered part of the motoring fraternity but there are a coulple of points that I'm not so sure about.

“I’m all for bicycles in cities” - maybe this quote is out of context but what about bicycles outside of the city? Are rural roads the preserve of the motor car?

'He added that cyclists should look for quiet backstreet routes to avoid dangerous roads and suggested that it was reasonable for cyclists to ride “slowly and carefully” on wide pavements' - wrong on both counts. Cyclists should be able to use the most direct and efficient route to their destination and do so safely. Sending bikes round the long way is one of the biggest problems with current infrastructure. I'm personally pretty tollerant of pavement cyclists however it's become an excuse for a lack of provision and good design, epitomised by the proliferation of shared use paths that used to be footways.

I like James May as a presenter and am not surprised at this pro-cycling message. I'm being a bit picky I'll admit but these points in particular read almost like they have been lifted from a TfL leaflet about cycling. Maybe they just reflect his personal predudices based on the way that he uses a bike which, quite reasonably, involves short journeys around town on quiet back-streets by the sound of things.

posted by Matt eaton [530 posts]
14th August 2014 - 16:57

26 Likes

WHAT"S THIS. Top Gear presenter talking sense!!!!!!

Chapeau Mr May.

Chris D

posted by wingsofspeed68 [52 posts]
14th August 2014 - 17:23

38 Likes

Although the comments are welcome It would be nice if those sentiments were expressed in a motoring magazine or on Top Gear itself rather than an article whose readership would probably be cyclists anyway.

posted by HalfWheeler [159 posts]
14th August 2014 - 17:35

33 Likes

oozaveared wrote:
SevenHills wrote:

It then begs the question WTF was that crass idiotic film shown about cycling on Top Gear about.

You do realise that its an entertainment magazine style programme not a documentary don't you.

BTW Hammond is also a cyclist in real life. see my comment above.

also read this:
http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/cyclesafety/article3755751.ece

it's what Clarkson thinks when he is being a journo and not an entertainer.

The article linked was written by Kaya Burgess, and not Jemery Clarkson although he is at one point quoted.

I have held a fondness for Top Gear over the years, and I welcome May's comments. I am aware that Hammond rides (and has even made a documentary about bike couriers), and I am aware that even Clarkson can see sense in Copenhagen's transport network. However, regardless of what they truly think, Top Gear DOES all too often cross promote the kind of road sectarianism that May would reportedly like to see the end of. It's hard to hear a quote on the subject without thinking this relevant. To quote... umm, Batman, "It's not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me". Thanks, Batman!

Of course, I am at least glad to see May talking sense through some outlet (there's pretty much nothing I don't strongly agree with), but I would prefer if it the voice for which he is most known wasn't in such direct opposition to these goals.

posted by Quince [261 posts]
14th August 2014 - 18:26

30 Likes

http://road.cc/content/news/112411-top-cycling-well-what-did-you-expect

“Work Harder. Get a car.”

Yeah, great work crossing the Sectarian divide there. When people actually have 'get a car' shouted at them on the street, for no other reason than that they are cycling, it's disingenuous to claim 'It's just a bit of a laugh' and that Top Gear has no part of creating, and reinforcing, a culture that doesn't take cycling, and the lives of cyclists, seriously.

“Cyclists: red and green – learn the bloody difference.”

Thus suggesting that cyclists are a victim of their own lawlessness, when STATS19 shows us that the biggest danger to people on bikes is drivers not looking, or not seeing.

Clarkson, May and Hammond may be cyclists. How many of their viewers are?

It's only banter when all parties understand and appreciate the joke.

EXACTLY

Why should we be supposed to be thankful when one of these characters doesn't come out with wilful anti-cycling prejudice? We need a hell of a lot more than someone who goes along with car sue and attitudes which are anti-cycling coming along with a "I'm a nice guy really" image.

He needs to repudiate those attitudes thoroughly (which would mean him probably losing his job). A lot more is required than "why don't we all get along" banality. And if lots of money is spent on cycling, when it involves space being taken away from motor traffic and car parking, is he going to be onside then?

Does he really support real measures to deli with rule and law breaking driving through enforcement and sentencing, as well genuinely pro-cycling highway 9and car) engineering? I doubt it.

posted by ChairRDRF [205 posts]
14th August 2014 - 18:36

33 Likes

A good way of getting at the "I pay a tax" bollocks is to show how motoring has been getting cheaper despite the massive external costs 9as economists call them) of motoring http://rdrf.org.uk/2014/07/02/the-scandal-of-cheaper-motoring-yes-it-has...

So, motorists do not "pay their way" compared to cyclists. Will May or others take that up?
I doubt it.

posted by ChairRDRF [205 posts]
14th August 2014 - 18:38

35 Likes

Nick T wrote:
truffy wrote:
bring back Quentin Wilson

I think you mean Quentin "Two L's" Willson. That Tiffany Dell was the real talent anyway.


It was only later, when I was thinking of Top Gear before it was crap, that I thought I should have included Tiff Needel (sp?) and, at a push, Vicki Doublebarelled-surname. They were fun.

posted by truffy [577 posts]
14th August 2014 - 20:03

30 Likes

I wonder if it will make a difference to top gear fans... Err Rolling On The Floor

Endorphines going up and adrenaline going down, who needs drugs?

posted by banzicyclist2 [281 posts]
14th August 2014 - 21:16

14 Likes

truffy wrote:
Nick T wrote:
truffy wrote:
bring back Quentin Wilson

I think you mean Quentin "Two L's" Willson. That Tiffany Dell was the real talent anyway.


It was only later, when I was thinking of Top Gear before it was crap, that I thought I should have included Tiff Needel (sp?) and, at a push, Vicki Doublebarelled-surname. They were fun.

You mean the entire presenter team from fifth gear (before the beardy and the skinny guy took over).

posted by dazwan [175 posts]
14th August 2014 - 22:24

11 Likes

May needs to get his hair cut. He'd look well smart without that ridiculous birds nest on his head.

Airzound

posted by Airzound [585 posts]
15th August 2014 - 6:20

17 Likes

looks like some people have had a humour bypass and can't tell the difference between jokey banter and serious social commentary.

It reminds me so much of the very earnest people that called Warren Mitchell a racist for playing the character Alf Garnett. There was Warren doing his damnedest to send up the idiocy of racists via the comedic utterances of Alf and some people just didn't get it.

If you really want to see the piss ripped out of cyclists try reading "the rules."

http://www.velominati.com/the-rules/

Cycling is like a church - many attend, but few understand.

posted by oozaveared [833 posts]
15th August 2014 - 9:10

20 Likes

ChairRDRF wrote:
A good way of getting at the "I pay a tax" bollocks is to show how motoring has been getting cheaper despite the massive external costs 9as economists call them) of motoring http://rdrf.org.uk/2014/07/02/the-scandal-of-cheaper-motoring-yes-it-has...

So, motorists do not "pay their way" compared to cyclists. Will May or others take that up?
I doubt it.

Interesting reading but doesn't really counter the 'road tax' argument put forward by motorists with an exagerated sense of entitlement. The comparisons made are with public transport, there are no details of the comparitive cost of cycling so it's only relevant in a 'bikes vs cars' comparison if we are looking specifically at multi-modal journeys that include cycling. I agree that motorists get a good deal when we consider the damage to roads and polution that they are responsible for but cyclists don't do so badly in the value-for-money stakes either.

In absolute terms motorists do pay a certain amount of tax and duty that cyclists don't and this is the reason for the sense of entitlement that many drivers have. Most will not consider what they get for their money and be able to rationalise this in the context of comparison to the contributions from cyclists.

The real scandal is the high cost of public transport.

posted by Matt eaton [530 posts]
15th August 2014 - 10:05

11 Likes

HalfWheeler wrote:
Although the comments are welcome It would be nice if those sentiments were expressed in a motoring magazine or on Top Gear itself rather than an article whose readership would probably be cyclists anyway.

I'm not sure that I'd consider The Times as a publication with a majority cyclist following (probably more motorists if anything) but you're right - it's rather a case of preaching to the converted.

Trouble is, that's how the media works. It provides content that is interesting an acceptable to it's audience and doesn't challenge their beliefs of opinions too much. Such an article couldn't appear in the Daily Mail; it would be far too challenging for the bulk of it's readership.

posted by Matt eaton [530 posts]
15th August 2014 - 10:21

17 Likes

oozaveared wrote:
looks like some people have had a humour bypass and can't tell the difference between jokey banter and serious social commentary.

It reminds me so much of the very earnest people that called Warren Mitchell a racist for playing the character Alf Garnett. There was Warren doing his damnedest to send up the idiocy of racists via the comedic utterances of Alf and some people just didn't get it.

If you really want to see the piss ripped out of cyclists try reading "the rules."

http://www.velominati.com/the-rules/

What? I've been taking those pretty seriously. Are you trying to tell me that it's actually OK to carry more than a litre of water on a long ride and to have a cup of coffee big enough to warm you up a bit on a cold day?

This is a lifechanging revelation!

posted by Matt eaton [530 posts]
15th August 2014 - 11:05

15 Likes

Well done James. I think his sentiment matches mine.

posted by earth [130 posts]
15th August 2014 - 11:22

15 Likes

parksey wrote:
dp24 wrote:
SevenHills wrote:

It then begs the question WTF was that crass idiotic film shown about cycling on Top Gear about.

Playing to their audience.

Exactly this. They are essentially caricatures of themselves when on the show, as that's what Joe Public wants.

They are professional idiots.

posted by earth [130 posts]
15th August 2014 - 11:30

17 Likes

Good points Matt,

The point can be countered however by the fact that most adult cyclists are also motorists and therefore pay those taxes you refer to.

Additionally the average income of adult cyclists is higher than average income of non-cyclists so the cyclists also pay more income tax, spend more moneyand pay more VAT on the stuff they buy (except those who squirrel it away and pay more tax on their investment).

In short the counter arguments are:

The average adult cyclist pays more tax in total than the average non-cycling motorist.

Roads are a facility for all including those who pay no tax at all.

Payment of any tax does not confer any entitlement.

Shay

posted by shay cycles [272 posts]
15th August 2014 - 11:32

15 Likes

Matt eaton wrote:
HalfWheeler wrote:
Although the comments are welcome It would be nice if those sentiments were expressed in a motoring magazine or on Top Gear itself rather than an article whose readership would probably be cyclists anyway.

I'm not sure that I'd consider The Times as a publication with a majority cyclist following (probably more motorists if anything) but you're right - it's rather a case of preaching to the converted.

Trouble is, that's how the media works. It provides content that is interesting an acceptable to it's audience and doesn't challenge their beliefs of opinions too much. Such an article couldn't appear in the Daily Mail; it would be far too challenging for the bulk of it's readership.

And that's why the top gear piece wasn't the pro-cycling propaganda people on here want it to be.

That doesn't mean such pieces aren't useful though. Face it: most people don't really care much one way or the other. You just have to be smart. If you go in telling them how stupid they are to want cyclists to have insurance etc, they'll dislike you - because you're telling them they're stupid and that's more important to them than being right.

Tell them "interesting, but maybe doing [cycle friendly thing here] would actually make your life better"? They'll listen. That's what mr may is talking about - nobody benefits from councils putting in crap bike lanes.
People don't always need to choose between eating their cake and having it.

posted by nuclear coffee [180 posts]
15th August 2014 - 11:48

17 Likes

shay cycles wrote:
Good points Matt,

The point can be countered however by the fact that most adult cyclists are also motorists and therefore pay those taxes you refer to.

Additionally the average income of adult cyclists is higher than average income of non-cyclists so the cyclists also pay more income tax, spend more moneyand pay more VAT on the stuff they buy (except those who squirrel it away and pay more tax on their investment).

In short the counter arguments are:

The average adult cyclist pays more tax in total than the average non-cycling motorist.

Roads are a facility for all including those who pay no tax at all.

Payment of any tax does not confer any entitlement.

You couldn't be more right, and that's even before we consider how cyclists have a lower burden on the state. We're healthier, happier and more productive. We don't contribute to air polution and the associated fines for missing EU targets and any damage that bikes do to our roads pales into insignificance when compared to that caused by motor vehicles.

As I'm sure you do, I use these points when talking to friends and family about these things but I do find that they tend to glaze over a bit when I get into the detail. I'll keep trying though Big Grin

posted by Matt eaton [530 posts]
15th August 2014 - 12:41

14 Likes

ChairRDRF wrote:
A good way of getting at the "I pay a tax" bollocks is to show how motoring has been getting cheaper despite the massive external costs 9as economists call them) of motoring http://rdrf.org.uk/2014/07/02/the-scandal-of-cheaper-motoring-yes-it-has...

So, motorists do not "pay their way" compared to cyclists. Will May or others take that up?
I doubt it.

Well you just fell straight into the trap. There is no such thing as "Road Tax" It was abolished in 1937. Roads are paid for from general taxation. Most adult cyclists aare also motorists so they pay the Vehicle Excise Duty as well even if they are not driving the vehicle.

I have only had such an argument with a van driver once. At lights. Having told him the above I then mentioned that I probably paid a hell of a lot more tax than he did not least on the three cars I own and pay the VED for.

Cycling is like a church - many attend, but few understand.

posted by oozaveared [833 posts]
15th August 2014 - 13:31

15 Likes

I am pleased to hear a voice of common sensewe need to learn to understand and accept each other. We have one world to live in with conflict going on all around.
If a journey takes a moment or two longer, or you pull over and wave a driver through what is the big deal.
Try being thoughtful. It feels good and those who benefit feel good Too.

posted by upinthehills [26 posts]
16th August 2014 - 10:37

5 Likes

Mutual respect. That's all.

posted by Chrisc [145 posts]
16th August 2014 - 11:26

4 Likes

I'm grateful to hear that a top tier celeb is publicly advocating more, professionally designed and segregated cycle paths.

Especially one whose career is so obviously linked to "car culture".

posted by Viro Indovina [80 posts]
17th August 2014 - 16:50

2 Likes

Oddly, I have just watched a program presented by James May where he pulls the small car that he was driving over to let a lorry past, talking the whole time about how terrifying the experience of driving this little motor was. It just made me wonder how he was avoiding such situations on his bikes.

posted by Matt eaton [530 posts]
17th August 2014 - 21:40

3 Likes