Jeremy Clarkson has urged readers of his column in The Sunday Times to take to two wheels – and has confessed he has bought a bike himself which he says he uses “for short distances of up to 100 metres in London.” He also reveals himself to be firmly anti-cycle helmet.
The column appears to mark a further thawing of the Top Gear presenter and petrolhead-in-chief’s typically frosty relationship with cyclists – last year, he said he’d move to Copenhagen “in a heartbeat” after discovering how pleasant a city could be where the bicycle, not the motor car, was the preferred choice of transport for everyday trips.
True to his trademark style, there are plenty of digs at those of us who choose pedal power as a regular form of transport – the headline, Bums on saddles, folks – let’s rout the pushbike Bolsheviks sets out the article’s premise, that current cyclists are a militant bunch and the only way to counter that is to introduce more moderate types to their ranks.
If there’s an analogy with the creation of New Labour that saw the party move away from solid left-wing policies and led to its election victory in 1997, it’s one Clarkson fails to appreciate, or chooses not to deploy.
“Cycling used to be how you got about if you were poor,” he maintains. “Then it became a pastime for children. Now though, it has evolved into something more. It’s gone beyond a way of life and become a political statement. A movement.
Clarkson takes issue with cycling shorts, which look “stupid,” cycle helmets which he asserts offer minimal protection and cyclists (all, apparently, vegetarian) using GoPro cameras “so that the shortcomings of van-driving painters and decorators can be uploaded to YouTube.”
On helmets, Clarkson says: “If you actually wanted to protect your head, you would wear the sort of thing that motorcyclists use, and if you wanted all-round visibility you would go to the people who supply the British Army. But instead cyclists choose to wear five hardened bananas on their bonce. It’s the 21st-century equivalent of the British Leyland donkey jacket.
He continues: “As far as they [cyclists] are concerned the roads are theirs by right. And the pavements. They do not ride through red lights to make their journey quicker; they do it to show the Tories that they will not be enslaved by convention. It’s political.
“And now they are demanding that their ecological, high-visibility, fair-trade, non-nuclear, meat-free lifestyle be accommodated into the mainstream, with junctions designed to put the bicycle first. They want the car and the van banished. Today the Embankment. Tomorrow the Bank of England.”
So far, so vintage Clarkson, as the column heads towards its conclusion. But then there’s an unexpected departure from the longtime bête noire of the cycling community.
“There’s only one way they can be defeated. And that’s for normal people to start riding bicycles,” he says.
We’ll skip over the fact that millions of normal (and, if we’re going to be totally honest, no-so-normal) people already do just that.
But it’s worth making the point that intentional or not, in eschewing helmets and cycle-specific clothing and promoting cycling to “normal” people, Clarkson seems to be aligning himself with the Copenhagenize school of cycling advocacy.
“We need to swell their ranks with moderates, people who ride a bike because they’ve had a drink and because taxis are too expensive,” Clarkson goes on.
“Ordinary people who ride in jeans and T-shirts and with no stupid helmet.
“People who will walk into a restaurant with a sign on the door saying, ‘Cyclists welcome’ and ask for meat, with extra meat.
“I’ve started the ball rolling by buying a bike,” he admits. “And when I ride it I have a sign on the back of my jacket that says, ‘Motorists. Thank you for letting me use your roads.”
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.