Jan Etherington: Because of Andrew Mitchell it's okay to hate cyclists again
Hackneyed stereotypes and death defying leaps of logic from Telegraph columnist
Well, it had to happen. The chief whip Andrew Mitchell's verbal abuse of a police officer for refusing to opening the Downing Street gates is not an indictment of his character but, of course, all down to the bike he was riding.
Who thinks so? Jan Etherington thinks so. In a similar vein to Richmond Magazine editor Richard Nye, Etherington seems only too pleased that she's been fed a line to re-ignite her hate of all things two-wheeled after the cycling love-in of the summer of 2012.
"We got rather fond of cyclists this summer. Bradley Wiggins, with his sideboards [sic], on his throne at Hampton Court, lovely Victoria Pendleton and those stoic girls who cycled through storms," she begins, before referencing the velodrome and revealing that she even thought about buying a bike herself, shock horror. But that all changed when Mitchell started swearing, we learn.
"Everyone loses their temper once in a while, but nobody loses their temper more often than a bike rider," she asserts, pausing to back up that claim with nothing other than her own prejudice.
From then on it's just a weary descent into the same old clichés and stereotypes that always get dragged out for phoned-in angry-of-suburbia pieces like this. Let's go through them again. We know, it's boring.
Cyclists are arrogant: "We are lesser mortals: they look down their noses, from their elevated position on those wince-inducing saddles, on us poor saps, munching cheeseburgers in our nice warm cars."
Cyclists are dangerous: "They have absolutely no spatial awareness of anything that isn’t passing them on two wheels... you’re likely to be knocked down by these neon Lycra louts… you’ll be overtaken by a hurricane of metal and luminous leggings careering past within inches of your elbows"
Cyclists are inconsiderate: "Swearing at us locals for daring to traverse our own roads at anything less than a sprint… too many cyclists think that being disguised as a lumpy glowworm means they can behave like spoilt brats"
Cyclists look stupid: "I think it’s the sheer embarrassment of the outfits they have to wear that makes many of these cyclists so bad-tempered. I’m sure they can hear the mocking laughter of onlookers whenever they whizz past, flashing their glistening, logo-strewn limbs"
All of this because of one person – one person, incidentally, who doesn't fit any of the stereotypes above – who called a police officer a pleb and happened to be on a bike at the time. Jan has an answer for that though, as she then turns her attention to the chief whip. He wasn't wearing a helmet, which is clearly a crime, but she suspects that "beneath his façade lurks a Lycra lout, squirming in a bodysuit of wasp yellow… No wonder Mitchell was in such a hurry to pedal off – it was before he turned green and split his trousers."
Etherington signs off with, "the Chief Whip punctured all the post-Olympian goodwill we felt towards cyclists, in one foul swoop," as if, firstly, she speaks for the nation and, secondly, she had any goodwill towards cyclists in the first place, which is clearly unlikely for all her protestations that she was on the cusp of getting on to two wheels herself.
It's a breathtaking leap of logic to conclude that the actions of one man - high profile or not - who wasn't let through a gate are the arbiter of a nation's feeling towards his mode of transport at that time.
We don't recall the same argument ever being used by Etherington of cars when Harriet Harman was prosecuted for crashing her car while talking on her mobile phone in 2009. After that incident a witness reported that Miss Harman wound down her window and said: "I'm Harriet Harman, you know where you can get me." This on top of a speeding fine in 2007, and a seven-day ban in 2003 for speeding at nearly 100mph on a motorway. Such behaviour should clearly, in Jan's eyes, negate any good feeling towards driving that may have been generated by the success of the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. But on this topic she has been strangely silent. Or perhaps we missed her article.
For more on attitudes towards cyclists, read Cartlon Reid's excellent polemic: Why must cyclists behave before they get bike paths?