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

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.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

42 comments

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bartape [65 posts] 3 years ago
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 13

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Coleman [331 posts] 3 years ago
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I knew it was too good to be true.

Cars or bikes? Nah. I've got one of the former and several of the latter.

Political statement? One of the reasons I cycle in London is to avoid an underground railway menaced by militant unions and buses full of hoi polloi.

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cavasta [216 posts] 3 years ago
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"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."

Eh? What on earth is he talking about?

1) "In Britain cycling is a political statement." I ride a bike for enjoyment/convenience/fitness, not to make a political statement.

2) "You have a camera on your helmet so that motorists who carve you up can be pilloried on YouTube." Or it's used to provide reliable evidence to uninterested police officers.

3) "You have a beard..." I achieve very satisfactory results from my daily wet shave using a traditional double edge blade (he says smuggly ;))

3) "You have shorts." Not when it's cold, I don't - only when the weather dictates. Bit like labourers on building sites wearing trousers in colder weather and shorts when it's warm.

4) "You wear a uniform." I dress for the occassion. Civies for short rides into town, "uniform" for day rides, etc. Except that it's not a uniform, just sensible, practical clothing suitable for the occassion and the weather.

5) "Cycling has become the outdoorsy wing of the NUM and CND." While motoring has become the indoor wing? Or does that make me as bonkers as him?

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cat1commuter [1418 posts] 3 years ago
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"Cycling in Britain is a political football" would be more correct.

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zzgavin [193 posts] 3 years ago
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I don't believe this will hurt cycling, might even help a bit. There are plenty of people who might use a bike for the short trip, where they now use a car. If Clarkson says cycling Copenhagen-style is good thing, then it might convince some of them to change. Cycling is a broad swathe of life, the utility cyclist is a lot of it.
The racing and sportive people here, myself amongst them, are merely the headline catching people in the cycling press. Yes, sportives are on the up, yes bike sales are up, but most people with a bike use it to ride to work or on a bridleway at the weekend. Cycling becoming safer is a city thing, it won't reach out to the 60/70mph encounters on country lanes for a long time.
I'm all for Clarkson encouraging cycling, the more people saying it is good the better. I'd love cities which I felt happy about my kids riding to school and the shops when they are a bit older. You've got to ignore the detail with Clarkson and hear the overall sweep. He said cycling is good in Copenhagen and that's the message people will remember. The rest is him cracking jokes, but "there are no bloody cars cluttering the place up. Almost everyone goes almost everywhere on a bicycle." is quite a pull quote.

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SevenHills [184 posts] 3 years ago
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When you say last weekend's Sunday Times do you mean Sunday 8th April or the one before it, as that date makes Clarkson's St Paul on the road to Damascus like conversion all the more understandable if not believable.

I own both car and bike and beard and i to do not feel i am making a political statement by riding my bike. I ride because i enjoy it and because it helps me keep fit.

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Carlton Reid [126 posts] 3 years ago
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8th April. I only read it cos there was a full-page review of the Bike Hub app in the same section of the paper. And there was Clarkson, plugging cycling. Too good not to be put a story up on BikeBiz straight away.

Others have also said it must have been a column for the previous week...

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cyclingslopes [13 posts] 3 years ago
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To be honest people do drive in CPH but you also have to remember they also have excellent public transport that carries bikes unlike what we have in this country the trains underground all have facilities to carry bikes... also great bike lock up areas unlike the uk

so if we want to be more cycling savvy we need to enable public transport to have the decent facilities to carry bikes its a huge bug bear of mine as i used to take my bike on the train when we had the space on the trains to take them

also even on the front of the busses they have bike racks you can chuck a bike on if its to far to cycle..

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Edgeley [259 posts] 3 years ago
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All very good to have him appearing to be on "our side". But the danger of him wanting London to be like Copenhagen with bikes separated from cars is that he might extrapolate from there to the rest of the country, and suggest that bikes shouldn't be on the road anywhere. Charlbury as well as Chelsea, Chipping Norton as well as Chiswick.

He nearly hit me once, him driving badly in Woodstock and me going in the other direction passing a parked car. Not really relevant, of course, and lots of people nearly hit cyclists all the time! But it registers when it is him.

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Animal [41 posts] 3 years ago
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Fuck off Jeremy. I don't have a beard or a uniform.

Typical, shite from the shitemaster.

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paulfg42 [382 posts] 3 years ago
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I don't have a camera or a beard but I do have shorts and an attitude. And you do irritate me, Clarkson.

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giff77 [1191 posts] 3 years ago
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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?

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Ush [584 posts] 3 years ago
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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.

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SideBurn [890 posts] 3 years ago
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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?

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Karbon Kev [688 posts] 3 years ago
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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.

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OldRidgeback [2554 posts] 3 years ago
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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.

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Tony Farrelly [2856 posts] 3 years ago
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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.

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SideBurn [890 posts] 3 years ago
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'one way ticket to Copenhagen' Tony? Damascus was on the list as well!

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SideBurn [890 posts] 3 years ago
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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/

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JohnS [198 posts] 3 years ago
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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".

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JohnS [198 posts] 3 years ago
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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

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workhard [397 posts] 3 years ago
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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.

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JohnS [198 posts] 3 years ago
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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.

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joemmo [1145 posts] 3 years ago
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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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andrew streit1 [26 posts] 3 years ago
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I am still counting how many people actually failed English comprehension completely in (not) reading this article...jikes people.

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OldRidgeback [2554 posts] 3 years ago
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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.

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koko56 [330 posts] 3 years ago
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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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andrew streit1 [26 posts] 3 years ago
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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.

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creepymonkey [31 posts] 3 years ago
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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.

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Tony Farrelly [2856 posts] 3 years ago
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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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