Jeremy Clarkson turns cycling advocate as he praises Copenhagen's approach

Bete noire of Britain's cyclists says Danes have got it right and created a city that's a delight to live in

by Simon_MacMichael   April 10, 2012  

Jeremy Clarkson on BBC The One Show

Jeremy Clarkson, the opinionated presenter of BBC motoring show Top Gear and bete noire of Britain’s cyclists, has said that he would live in Copenhagen “in a heartbeat” – and it’s all down to the city’s embrace of cycling as a means of getting around.

In an article that appeared in the InGear section of last weekend’s Sunday Times, Clarkson contrasts London, where despite Boris Johnson’s promised cycling revolution it’s fair to say the car remains king, with the approach adopted in the Danish capital which sees around one in three residents cycle to work or their place of study each day.

And it appears that Clarkson sees the Copenhagen model as the way forward to create cities that are better to live in.

"I suspect even the Danes are baffled about why they keep being picked out as a shining example of humanity at its best,” wrote Clarkson. “Just last week a newspaper in Copenhagen suggested it must be because, while cycling from place to place, visitors enjoy looking at all the pretty Danish girls’ bottoms.

"In fact, I’ve decided that the world’s five best cities are, in order: San Francisco, London, Damascus, Rome and Copenhagen. It’s fan-bleeding-tastic. And best of all: there are no bloody cars cluttering the place up. Almost everyone goes almost everywhere on a bicycle.

"Now I know that sounds like the ninth circle of hell, but that’s because you live in Britain, where cars and bikes share the road space,” he continues. “This cannot and does not work. It’s like putting a dog and a cat in a cage and expecting them to get along. They won’t, and as a result London is currently hosting an undeclared war. I am constantly irritated by cyclists and I’m sure they’re constantly irritated by me.

"City fathers have to choose. Cars or bicycles. And in Copenhagen they’ve gone for the bike.

"In Britain cycling is a political statement. You have a camera on your helmet so that motorists who carve you up can be pilloried on YouTube. You have shorts. You have a beard and an attitude. You wear a uniform. Cycling has become the outdoorsy wing of the NUM and CND.

"In Copenhagen it’s just a pleasant way of getting about. Nobody wears a helmet. Nobody wears high-visibility clothing. You just wear what you need to be wearing at your destination. For girls that appears to be very short skirts. And nobody rides their bike as if they’re in the Tour de France. This would make them sweaty and unattractive, so they travel just fast enough to maintain their balance.

"The upshot is a city that works. It’s pleasing to look at. It’s astonishingly quiet. It’s safe. And no one wastes half their life looking for a parking space. I’d live there in a heartbeat."

Although it may be premature for Pickfords to get on the phone to ask Clarkson whether he’s fixed a date to move, his piece does give food for thought; if the petrolhead-in-chief can see the merits of prioritising the bike over the motor car in the urban environment, there’s a glimmer of hope for us all.

It is of course possible to take issue with some of the points Clarkson makes. London, for example, is a very different city to Copenhagen, or Amsterdam, say, with a much greater area which means longer commutes for many of those who live in the city compared to the ones their Danish or Dutch counterparts have.

Then there’s the question of infrastructure. Cycling in Copenhagen or Amsterdam is not undertaken exclusively on segregated cycle paths; cyclists can, and do, ride on the road, but they are not choked by motor traffic to the extent London’s are, and the needs of bike riders are front of mind for planners, not an afterthought, including issues such as the provision of cycle parking.

Clarkson appears blissfully unaware that some of the conflict between motorists and cyclists – who, it should be remembered, are not mutually exclusive groups, with most adult cyclists also owning cars – could in part be due to attitudes encouraged by his own TV programme and newspaper columns.

And as the trade website Bike Biz, in its own report on Clarkson’s comments in the Sunday Times, points out, he is now on Twitter, and it’s inevitable that at some point he will use that medium to have a pop at Britain’s cyclists.

But that shouldn’t detract from the underlying message of his latest piece – encouraging people to use bicycles and not cars to get around does make cities a more pleasant place to live, not to mention the health and environmental benefits it brings.

With cycling pushed up the political agenda as a result of The Times newspaper’s Cities fit for Cycling campaign, itself building on the work of existing advocates of cycling, the fact that someone of Clarkson’s stature recognises the benefits that the bicycle can bring is progress.

Copenhagen, it should be remembered, isn’t a city that always embraced the bicycle to the extent it does now. It took a conscious effort on the part of city planners in the 1970s and 1980s to change policy that favoured the motor car and lay the groundwork for the present-day city that Clarkson now praises.

It didn’t happen overnight there, and London and other British cities won’t be transformed solely on the basis of one newspaper article; but if Jeremy Clarkson can see the appeal of cities built around cycling – cities, that is, built around people – that in itself is progress.

42 user comments

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Jeremy Clarkson wrote:
[Y]ou live in Britain, where cars and bikes share the road space [...] This cannot and does not work.

How anyone can see Clarkson's remarks as anything other than negative baffles me.

It's very clear that many anti-cycling types are revelling in, and helping to spread, the fear that cycling on the road will result in inevitable death and destruction. Unfortunately some of the people spreading this fear appear to be cyclists themselves.

No need for separated infrastructure except beside the rare high-speed roads. The rest should be "20 is plenty" and the effing plod and judiciary should be expected to treat car-on-bike collisions as something serious.

posted by Ush [342 posts]
10th April 2012 - 14:38

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If he is saying the situation is crap and it does not have to be like this then f*****g horray! There are a few 'tweeks' I would like to see that could make a lot of difference. Clarkson having an epiphany? He did not actually say that he would ride did he? Is he not just saying he does not want cyclists in his way? And what is so great about Damascus? Do they cut off cyclists hands if they get in Mercedes drivers way?

posted by SideBurn [722 posts]
10th April 2012 - 14:41

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this guy doesn't know wwhat he's on about half the time. One minute he hates the cyclist, the next he's saying it works in copenhagen. He just says something to shock but doesn't really mean it.

I love cars, fast cars and i enjoy watching top gear, but clarkson doesn't know much about anything.

posted by Karbon Kev [642 posts]
10th April 2012 - 14:48

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Hopefully the fat potato-faced bigot will bugger off to Copenhagen and start pissing off the Danes instead then.

I note also he likes Damscus, which is the capital of Syria and as such, isn't exactly the most pleasant place to be right now due to the state of civil war in the country. the fact that this seems to have escaped his attention speaks volumes. Either that, or he's making yet another of his off-colour 'jokes', despite the fact that the Syrian Government is in the process of slaughtering civilians at present.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [1906 posts]
10th April 2012 - 15:07

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Not wishing to fan the flames, pour petrol on the conflagration or anything but I can't help feeling that all the bile directed at Clarkson (more or less whatever he says these days) simply reinforces many people's (and Clarkson's) stereotype of cyclists as humourless ranting types.

The bottom line is that buffoon though he might be when he talks about cycling it gets noticed - the best response from cyclists is probably to mock rather than berate the inconsistencies in his argument… or ignore him… or perhaps offer to have a whip round so we can buy him a one way ticket to Copenhagen.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4102 posts]
10th April 2012 - 15:16

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'one way ticket to Copenhagen' Tony? Damascus was on the list as well!

posted by SideBurn [722 posts]
10th April 2012 - 15:25

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Cannot find his article online but it maybe possible if you log in. There is an article that refers to it that links to their 'roads fit for cycling' campaign. It now includes an opportunity to highlight problem junctions for cycling. Go for it!
http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/cyclesafety/contact/

posted by SideBurn [722 posts]
10th April 2012 - 15:54

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So JC wants to get dem pesky cyclists off the road and onto cr@ppy cycle lanes? No surprise there, then.

JC's fans already scream "Get on the cycle lane" at cyclists when there's no cycle lane. He's just giving them more ammunition.

In future they'll be screaming "Go back to Copenhagen".

posted by JohnS [198 posts]
10th April 2012 - 16:03

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Ush wrote:

No need for separated infrastructure except beside the rare high-speed roads. The rest should be "20 is plenty" and the effing plod and judiciary should be expected to treat car-on-bike collisions as something serious.

+squillions

posted by JohnS [198 posts]
10th April 2012 - 16:05

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"where cars and bikes share the road space, this cannot and does not work. It’s like putting a dog and a cat in a cage and expecting them to get along. They won’t, and as a result London is currently hosting an undeclared war. I am constantly irritated by cyclists and I’m sure they’re constantly irritated by me. City fathers have to choose. Cars or bicycles."

This clown is advocating that bikes be removed from the streets of London.

Really, though?

posted by workhard [285 posts]
10th April 2012 - 16:05

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giff77 wrote:
Tad cynical but is the reason ole Jeremy likes CPH so much that there is no traffic jams preventing his progress in his overcompensating phallic symbol?

Correct. And he fancies Sarah Lund.

posted by JohnS [198 posts]
10th April 2012 - 16:06

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tony_farrelly wrote:
Not wishing to fan the flames, pour petrol on the conflagration or anything but I can't help feeling that all the bile directed at Clarkson (more or less whatever he says these days) simply reinforces many people's (and Clarkson's) stereotype of cyclists as humourless ranting types.

That's a pathetic defence though isn't it? Using your high media profile to direct vitriol at whichever group you choose but claim victimhood if it comes back at you. He's just a wanker and a bully - and apologist for the same - who used to be a respected journalist, I don't see why he should be appeased.

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posted by joemmo [656 posts]
10th April 2012 - 16:31

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I am still counting how many people actually failed English comprehension completely in (not) reading this article...jikes people.

andrew streit

posted by andrew streit1 [26 posts]
10th April 2012 - 17:59

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andrew streit1 wrote:
I am still counting how many people actually failed English comprehension completely in (not) reading this article...jikes people.

Perhaps you haven't appreciated how much he's disliked. Actually, I think Damascus would be a much better home for him just now than Copenhagen. I'm sure Assad would make him feel at home.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [1906 posts]
10th April 2012 - 21:13

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tony_farrelly wrote:
Not wishing to fan the flames, pour petrol on the conflagration or anything but I can't help feeling that all the bile directed at Clarkson (more or less whatever he says these days) simply reinforces many people's (and Clarkson's) stereotype of cyclists as humourless ranting types.

The bottom line is that buffoon though he might be when he talks about cycling it gets noticed - the best response from cyclists is probably to mock rather than berate the inconsistencies in his argument… or ignore him… or perhaps offer to have a whip round so we can buy him a one way ticket to Copenhagen.

/comments

sorry but true

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posted by koko56 [297 posts]
10th April 2012 - 22:01

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No I doubt don't it. He is a hated man, you would have to be very ignorant not to appreciate this. In fact my point is because of this. People seem to have launched into their pre-conceived opinions on him BEFORE they have even read the article itself, or at the very least have filtered the article through these very opinions. At best they been very selective in what they have read.

Tell me did people read this? This had me stunned to be honest:

"And best of all: there are no bloody cars cluttering the place up. Almost everyone goes almost everywhere on a bicycle."

In my mind the "oaf" has had a minor epiphany of sorts.

andrew streit

posted by andrew streit1 [26 posts]
10th April 2012 - 22:31

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Back on topic...,(!)

Copenhagen and Amsterdam are flat.. London is not.

My ex is Danish... She would cycle 12km into CPH centre most weekends and the biggest hill she had to tackle was less than 3% and only lasted 50 meters.. We would always, always cycle everywhere.

BUT THE MAIN REASON FOR SO MANY CYCLISTS : car prices.. Fiat Punto base model is 20,000 quid..now the average salary is higher in CPH than London, but not much more and house prices are much lower..2 bed flat with masses of space in equivalent of Soho is 200,000. Beers in bars are bloody expensive, but but in the supermarket they are as cheap as here.

Night clubs are surrounded by bikes.. Come kicking out time we would all try to dig out our bikes and everyone cycles home hammered, and it's OK. It's expected and they cycle straighter than they can walk... No judgment is needed either, you go when it is green and stop when it is red.. You don't mingle with traffic. Some people go two up on bikes.... People stealing unlocked bikes to get themselves home is pretty common.. Her last bike was nicked and found 5km away propped up against a hedge. Often they aren't so lucky.

It can be a bit frustrating for a keen cyclist from the UK though.. If you're in a rush then you are out of luck.. Turning left at traffic lights requires two bike traffic light changes.. Stay on the cycle path and it's so congested you just have to go with the flow.. Flow is quite brisk normally that being said.

I wouldn't be too keen to be on the road though - lots of speeding and a startling amount of red light running.

In recent years, the influx of immigrants has increased the amount of non cyclists and has resulted in people walking in cycling lanes and walking out without looking, which results in all parties being upset.

posted by creepymonkey [31 posts]
10th April 2012 - 22:40

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Good points creepymonkey - topography and the fact that Copenhagen and Amsterdam are much smaller than London - someone will correct me I'm sure but Copenhagen is about the same size as Bristol (but a lot flatter) are points that often seem to get missed out when comparing European cities to British ones. Also Brits tend to travel further to work.

The main reason I started cycle commuting in London the best part of 20 years ago was living out in what was then zone 4 (probably about zone 24 now) I could save a shed load of money on the tube fare and if i kept to a good pace do my journey in at least the same time as the tube (it was the central line mind) and even then there were people coming in from much further out than me. They might not have been going at race pace but the were going fairly quick because again the big advantage was saving money without also sacrificing more time than they would already have been sacrificing had they used public transport - in a lot of British cities, especially London, it is a long way in from the suburbs to the centre.

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4102 posts]
10th April 2012 - 23:39

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It's worth bearing in mind that London and Paris are the two largest cities in Europe, and by quite a long way. If you include all the burbs around both cities (and being realistic, you'd be silly not to), the total population in both is well over 10 million. Copenhagen is tiny by comparison with either. This is why there are so few cars, as pointed out by the ignoramus Clarkson. I've been to Copenhagen a few times but I go to Amsterdam rather more often, and Munich more often still. It is interesting how Munich is often overlooked as being a centre for cycling, which it is. Like Copenhagen or the Dam, it is relatively flat and is quite spread out, with lots of cycling routes all over the city. As with Amsterdam, Munich has a high percentage of cycling commuters and plenty of people pedal to the (S-Bahn) railway station and leave their bikes there or have an old clunker to pick up at the other end to pedal around the city - only the very centre has narrow streets that are less cycling friendly, but a lot of those are now closed to vehicles. Come to think of it, I've cycled a lot in Berlin as well and it's not too bad either.

Mind you, having been to Copenhagen Iknow the Danes aren't particularly known for being fat, ugly bigots, so I expect the locals wouldn't take to Clarkson any more than anyone with an IQ over 90 does in the UK either.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [1906 posts]
11th April 2012 - 7:59

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@ andrew streit - I think most people will have read the article but like me, been unimpressed that the small crumb of common sense was drowned out by the usual sneering drivel. The most odious thing about Clarkson is that he is no doubt intelligent and insightful but chooses to use those attributes selectively, depending on whether it serves his agenda (which is the promotion of himself mostly) or not.

That's enough of my spleen vented, I shall speak no more of him.

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posted by joemmo [656 posts]
11th April 2012 - 8:44

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It might surprise a few of you here, but a lot of car enthusiasts like bikes too. Both churches appeal to a similar mindset - freedom, self reliance, an appreciation of mechanics and engineering; all things you can get from a car or a bike (in the right circumstances).

Clarkson is not (despite his persona) an idiot. He might not have said it before, but what I think he realises is that cars are not the right tool for short distance inner city journeys. Nobody likes traffic jams but get the local traffic off the road and it frees up space for those who are using a car for whatever reason.

posted by Mr Will [82 posts]
11th April 2012 - 12:04

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Clarkson's typical polemical style: British cyclists have beards, Danish cyclists very short skirts.

Here some pictures of RECIBT (real, everyday cyclists in Britain Today): http://cycle.st/galleries/206/ - most of them wear whatever they want to wear at there destination.

Oadatapa

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posted by oadatapa [10 posts]
11th April 2012 - 15:40

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Except it isn't "real, everyday cyclist in Britain today" - it's cyclists in Cambridge, which is the nearest thing we have here to continental levels of cycling and bikes being used for a high proportion of everyday journeys.

The general point he's making about London vs Copenhagen (or Amsterdam, Paris, Milan, Munich, Barcelona, to mention just a few) in terms of wearing hi-vis, helmets, cycling-specific clothes etc, is a valid one, however badly put.

You do notice someone in hi-viz in Paris, say, because they are very much the exception.

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posted by Simon_MacMichael [7381 posts]
11th April 2012 - 16:59

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If anyone remembers the Equinox episode 'the bicycle' from 1989, which delved into the appeal of the bicycle. Probably not ... anyway the point this episode made was that the bike in ideally suited to the narrow confinend street layout of London. It may be a bit hilly in places but it can be a very cycling friendly city but as usually it is the 0.0001% of the population that control the other 99.9999% who can't seem to see what is plainly needed right in front of there faces. It leaders that are the problem not Mr Clarkson and it is these leaders we should deal with.

Personally I quite like him. More often than not I don't agree with him but he does make some serious points, some times some whopping great howlers and more often than not he offends people but where would we be if we weren't allowed to state an opinion except that of the particular ruling bullies who happen to control the agenda at the time.

He has a point in what he says, maybe not put subtly enough for many. He does have a sledge hammer way of putting things. If we say that those we disagree with are mere bullies (although he speaks with no authority - he is just stating an opinion) why is that bullying.

I feel more bullied by people who say I should not listen to him because they don't like what he says. Now that is bulling - big time and much worse than anything Mr Clarkson puts out.

posted by Ciaran Patrick [114 posts]
11th April 2012 - 17:40

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Plenty of cyclists over here in San Fran Cool (another of Clarkson's faves) and it is a lot, lot, lot hillier than London.
Loads of trendies on fixies though. I think they're making a 'fashion statement' rather than a political one...

posted by pwake [225 posts]
11th April 2012 - 19:02

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I agree with all: praise Clarkson for entering the debate with some adult commentary for a change - abusing him just perpetuates the stalemate.

Two observations: London and Copenhagen are not the same and never could use the same solution. That Clarkson suggests if is symptomatic of his casual sound bite mentality. It's 4th ping of lager talk when world solutions suddenly become obvious.

The other observation is Clarkson's separation between those plucky Brits who want to cycle to work ( good on 'em) and those that want to cycle the roads for fun and fitness when they should be at spin class well away from proper road users.

There is growing pressure on road (and off road) cyclists in the UK. We are the bane of everyone wanting to push 70mph on country lanes - whether it be on the way to the paper shop or filming one of those tobacco filter IOM specials. Clarkson and his ilk are frustrated in both city and countryside. The difference between the 2 is the lack of cameras and witnesses in country roads.

In addition to the THINK BIKE signs you see in scenic routes now I would favour the bike signs you see in Mallorca whenever you approach a decent stretch of cycling road: signs that warn motorists that cyclists might be using the road as well.

As for Jeremy? He's a cynical media whore. Tthe way to beat him is to get him onside by boxing him into a corner. I still favour a media campaign to force the BBC into making him cycle LEJOG for Sport Relief in 2013. I'd donate £100 to see Jeremy get as far as Taunton in his jeans before he realises the point of Lycra. Big Grin

MercuryOne

Silly me. You're probably right....

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posted by MercuryOne [921 posts]
11th April 2012 - 21:34

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Good for you, Jeremy. What you've said will go a long way to helping fix up the problems that allowing cars to dominate the roads for so long has done. I love cars like anyone but the bike is a beautiful machine that needs its place. The Dutch, Danish and Swedes have had it figured out for years. Give bikes their own space and get drivers to respect them a bit. Then ordinary people in ordinary clothes get back onto them and the whole environment is better.

posted by Pjrob [21 posts]
12th April 2012 - 2:31

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Why do so many people give this bore-in-the-pub type any attention at all? Because he's a media luvvie who comes out with half-witted stereotypes and cliches which he 'dares' to say what lots of other half-wits are supposedly 'thinking' but daren't say in these politically correct times. If he thought about for more than his customary 0.0001 of a second, he'd know that all that about cycling being a political statement, beards etc. is total rubbish. He's just getting airtime with all this crap.

He might be hated by some, but he's also loved by a lot more, which makes me lose faith in the human race.

posted by bikeylikey [154 posts]
12th April 2012 - 8:12

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I think his observations on CPH are spot on.

However, he might wish to research the history a bit. CPH is the way it is now because 40 years ago cyclists got political and demanded safe cycling infrastructure. I expect if he'd driven there back then he'd have decried that generation of CPH cyclists as "the militant wing of the CND" or whatever choice demonisation he's spouting this week.

Conscientious Objector in the War on Vulnerable Road Users

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posted by t1mmyb [86 posts]
12th April 2012 - 8:24

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Media darling that he thinks he is , clarkson could curry favour by doing a segment on his " show " demonstrating the correct way to drive whilst near Cyclists and other V unerable R oad U sers !
Should he decide to do this he could approach this subject from several points , since , Busses tend to speed up to pass Cyclists then turn into bus stops , taxis overtake then swing into pick up or deposit passengers , all manner of vehicles fail to complete an overtaking manoevre of a cyclist before turning left , Police and Ambulances pass Cyclists without signalling their intentions and so forth .
So many possibilities for him to address , BUT , does he have the ability ?
Suggestions of his riding " Lejog " or a free ticket to " Damascus " are more likely results , than him being able to convince the " selfish motorist " , that a change of their behaviour , will save them from a blanket 20MPH urban speed limit , whilst the Cycling Infrastructure , needed 30+ years ago , is being constructed !
Additionally he will need to bend the ears of those responsible for the " soft attitude " to those that injure or KILL " V R U " ! " Cyclinglawyer's " recent Blog highlights the inadequacy of the Judiciarys' efforts towards deterring the foolhardy who choose to " bully " Cyclists and thus cause injury or death !
Would hope " mercuryone " gets to donate that £100 , and enjoyed " creepymonkey's " points !

Skippy(advocate for "Disabled / Para Sport")@skippydetour. blogging as skippi-cyclist.blogspot & Parrabuddy.blogspot currently on the road with ProTour Grand Tour Events .

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posted by skippy [370 posts]
13th April 2012 - 11:41

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