Jeremy Clarkson tells his readers to get on their bikes... but not to bother with a helmet

Motoring journalist calls for "normal people to start riding bicycles"

by Simon_MacMichael   May 26, 2013  

Jeremy Clarkson on BBC The One Show

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.”

If Jeremy’s reading this, we’d strongly recommend an educational virtual visit to Carlton Reid’s websites, I Pay Road Tax and Roads Were Not Built For Cars – ed.

46 user comments

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On this one Clarkson is right, in that we do need to normalise cycling. Those who want to engage in cycle sport will still be free to do so, just look at the popularity cycle sport in places like Denmark and the Netherlands. However, for most people in those places the bicycle is just a means of transport, a way of getting from A to B.

Lets face, motor sport is not diminished by the fact that no one put on a flame suit to drive to the shops. Better still if we normalise cycling, more people will choose to take the bicycle rather than the car to pop down to the local shops.

So yes it is time that we Copenhagenized our towns and cities, if anyone would like to know more about this process then come to Mikael Colville-Andersen talk on Bicycle Culture by Design – Considering Design as a Placemaking Solution for Liveable Cities, in Edinburgh on the 15th June as part of the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling.

posted by Kim [146 posts]
27th May 2013 - 13:22

5 Likes

pmr wrote:
Clarkson on a bike, would love to see his face on riding up (or walking up more like) one of the Surrey Hills.
Anyone getting on a bike in London deserves respect in my book, car everytime for me.

hills in surrey! thats a joke yeah? dude you need to ride Dartmoor and cornwall. we have hills. surrey has elevated speed bumps. sheeeesh

posted by russyparkin [578 posts]
27th May 2013 - 15:51

3 Likes

Maccruiskeen is exactly right - cycling seems to have acquired an image that it's the very opposite of normal.

I like Clarkson - behind his carefully managed persona of bluff laddishness he's actually a very good presenter and some of the stuff he says (if you look through the obvious jokes and the comments designed to get a reaction) is very sensible. However like any newspaper hack, he writes what is a) popular at the time and b) going to generate click throughs, comments, hits on the website, it HAS to be inflammatory.

Quote:
Clarkson on a bike, would love to see his face on riding up (or walking up more like) one of the Surrey Hills.

He's used a bike plenty of times, he just doesn't admit it. Many years ago in The Sun, there was a pic of him riding a cheapo MTB and a story about how he used the bike to lose weight. I believe his wife is a very keen triathlete. As above - he'll slag off cyclists when it means he can get a laugh, doesn't necesarily mean he wants us all run over by lorries...

posted by crazy-legs [568 posts]
27th May 2013 - 16:38

3 Likes

maccruiskeen wrote:
The problem with Clarkson is his comedy. If you agree with him then you are the butt of his jokes. His comedy persona is of someone with selfish and reactionary views for gets everything wrong and has everything go wrong for him. So his 'Clarkson for PM' followers are actually his comedy subject matter. If you're offended by his views then you've also missed the joke because his intention is to make his offensive views ridiculous.

Sadly if you get that its a joke that gets boring pretty quickly because its his only joke and he's been telling it for a quarter of a century. So the people who get him aren't listening
But he does make a good point here, and he does make a valid point now and again amongst all the gooning. We - keen, nerdy, forum-dwelling, n+1, spoke-sniffing enthusiasts are cyclings worst enemy - if the goal is that cycling is something that more people should do. We make cycling look difficult, expert and complex and expensive. We won't encourage a driver to get out of their car and onto a bike because we make cycling look like something that they can't do.

We're deeply uncool. Commuting on a cross bike, getting sweaty, wearing special clothes. We're ridiculous. We're having enormous fun but we don't do any good. Someone on a supermarket bike, cycling in their civvys, just going somewhere and not thinking about their bike or how the ride it - thats cool. They are the game changers, they make more difference individually than all of us put together.


Somewhat like Warren Mitchell's Alf Garnett? Many of his "followers" never realised he was lampooning them either.

onward ever onward

bikecellar's picture

posted by bikecellar [229 posts]
27th May 2013 - 17:02

4 Likes

Could people stop mixing cycling with politics, opinions of "celebrities" or world peace. If you want to ride a bike 10 metres or 1000 miles go do it or not. If you want to wear or not just do it. Its cycling, just riding a bike thats all. Why does it need to involve all this debate?

posted by joebee9870 [59 posts]
27th May 2013 - 17:04

2 Likes

If only people would stop mixing life with politics Wink

jaunty angle: bikes and communications
http://ragtag.wordpress.com

ragtag's picture

posted by ragtag [173 posts]
27th May 2013 - 17:26

5 Likes

"“Ordinary people who ride in jeans and T-shirts and with no stupid helmet."" - perhaps Mr C hasn't heard of cycle chic?

http://www.copenhagencyclechic.com/ and others or the slow cycling movement

posted by spen [94 posts]
27th May 2013 - 17:44

4 Likes

like ohmaghad you ghais

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/ValentinKokorin

London2Paris24: 450km, 24 hours, 5th-6th July 2014

I will miss TdF in Yorskhire!!! Please donate! Big Grin

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posted by koko56 [334 posts]
27th May 2013 - 17:59

3 Likes

sigh, usual crap coming from this fat idiot, always to provoke reaction ... yawn ...

posted by Karbon Kev [682 posts]
27th May 2013 - 18:04

3 Likes

@Simon

" as it is impossible to ride a bike when drunk."

Lol, that is so not true, if I can stand then I can cycle, but I'm older now and refrain from drink cycling.

posted by kie7077 [565 posts]
27th May 2013 - 18:05

7 Likes

he's still a tw*t

he's the main reason the 'emma way' type of driver exist
the youngsters worship him.

i got my kicks before the whole shithouse went up in flames

posted by betweenbikes [18 posts]
27th May 2013 - 19:00

2 Likes

Clarkson is more complicated than the media he feeds can cope with.
He's missing out on comfort and practicality on his supermarket mountain bike. Who reads his column anyway?
My bike gets me down the pub, to work, to the shops. He has a point in a way, fixies might be sexy and vaguely politically threatening but give me a dutch bike with mudguards, a dirty great box on the front for my shopping and enough gears to get up a hill (I find three is plenty).
It's just a shame that Clarkson on the BBC turned so much of this country into the self entitled bunch of petrol heads to think that they pay road tax.

posted by Belaroo [44 posts]
27th May 2013 - 19:53

3 Likes

swldxer wrote:
One argument that worked in court was that the cyclist could not have been drunk as it is impossible to ride a bike when drunk. Case dismissed.

Here's my mate Colin nodding his head in agreement. While giggling uncontrollably. Good night out, mind Wink

Pissed Colin.jpg
Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8501 posts]
27th May 2013 - 20:27

3 Likes

russyparkin wrote:
pmr wrote:
Clarkson on a bike, would love to see his face on riding up (or walking up more like) one of the Surrey Hills.
Anyone getting on a bike in London deserves respect in my book, car everytime for me.

hills in surrey! thats a joke yeah? dude you need to ride Dartmoor and cornwall. we have hills. surrey has elevated speed bumps. sheeeesh

Hey russy. You need to get yourself up north mate. Then you'll know about hills. Not those wee bumps you think are hills down your way Devil

giff77's picture

posted by giff77 [1068 posts]
27th May 2013 - 20:31

4 Likes

Lord Clarkson, huh? He speaks and, like the Oracle at Delphi ... everyone listens.

This is wisdom - at its worst. His own unique brand of insane ugliness.

Have a fight with the tarmac, Clarkson, as I have several times - and every single time the hardened banana helmet I ALWAYS wear has stopped massive injury and even more ugliness to my unfortunate gurn.

Actually, Jez, old boy, by law the cyclists have right of way on the roads and, by process of evolution & invention - no doubt he will eagerly correct me if I'm wrong - it runs something like this ... man, horse, carriage, bike, car + Clarkson, self-crowned King of All To Do With Cars & Ultimate Arbiter of Everyone Else's Opinions.

I do so love riding my bike. For the most part it gets me away from windy old gas bags like him!!!!!

posted by comm88 [79 posts]
28th May 2013 - 8:59

4 Likes

Top Gear and its presenters ceased to be of any use to consumers after their bad reviews had caused the closure of parts of the British motoring industry and, not being able to handle that responsibility, it morphed into a comedy show. They now only test the unassailable Veyrons, Mercs and Ferraris or do 'events' in 2nd hand cars.

The sting is in the tail. This is his message 'Motorists. Thank you for letting me use your roads.'. If he and his followers adopt this, one day you'll be asked why you're not wearing one.

posted by robert_obrien [118 posts]
28th May 2013 - 9:26

4 Likes

Clarkson is funny and deliberately highly provocative of course. Can't disagree with most of what he says.

posted by Beaufort [184 posts]
28th May 2013 - 9:33

3 Likes

robert_obrien wrote:
Top Gear and its presenters ceased to be of any use to consumers after their bad reviews had caused the closure of parts of the British motoring industry and, not being able to handle that responsibility, it morphed into a comedy show. They now only test the unassailable Veyrons, Mercs and Ferraris or do 'events' in 2nd hand cars.

The sting is in the tail. This is his message 'Motorists. Thank you for letting me use your roads.'. If he and his followers adopt this, one day you'll be asked why you're not wearing one.

I think you will find that the British car industry went down the pan because they were crap cars compared to Japs, Germans and French cars. Which were cheaper and better made.

There are no stupid questions, just stupid people.

stumps's picture

posted by stumps [2846 posts]
28th May 2013 - 9:37

3 Likes

He makes some very good points about cycling needing to be normalised- as maccruiskeen points out, people like us making it look difficult and unattainable aren't necessarily helping there.

OTOH the line he (and others) usually takes in the media has a pretty big part to play in why cycling is in the state it is in this country so I'm reluctant to give him too much credit. Whether or not he's really mocking his fans as some sort of clever act is irrelevant- there are lots of people all too ready to lap it all up and incorporate it into their attitudes to the roads. Saying "Oh, he's only joking- he's really rather clever and it's just his TV character" doesn't wave it away.

And the roads are everyone's by right, aren't they?

posted by Chuck [435 posts]
28th May 2013 - 10:23

5 Likes

Enormously Well Said. You've just nailed every point I try and make when a non cyclist talks to me about why I ride (I'm a driver too). People HATE being told what to do. Even trying to make it "cool" is futile really. People will only be drawn in when it makes sense for them and their lives.

...then it will dawn on them that they love it and they'll become spoke-sniffers too.

(And who would have thought that such clarity of perspective might have been prompted by our old chum Clarkson?)

posted by herohirst [59 posts]
28th May 2013 - 12:14

2 Likes

I go on various other forums for sea fishing, freshwater fishing (both fly and coarse) and the football forums.

Every forum has the same attitude towards people in the public eye being in it for themselves and this forum is no different. If in the end Clarkson helps other people get on a bike then its a good thing regardless of whether people like him or not or whether that was never his intention.

Some people take their dislike of a person to far and it clouds their future judgement of whatever that person does or says, you just have to look at Armstrong.

There are no stupid questions, just stupid people.

stumps's picture

posted by stumps [2846 posts]
28th May 2013 - 12:31

4 Likes

Clarkson is a fat, middle aged twat, who comes out with shitty reactionary 'dad' jokes.

When people say they think he is funny, I presume they have brain damage.

zanf's picture

posted by zanf [603 posts]
28th May 2013 - 12:39

3 Likes

Jezza is funny and I like his humour. I am a keeno rider and a petrol head, so have the fence right up my backside in respect of this article.

He makes a valid point, and if people can't see through he reactionary rhetoric, then they should lighten up a bit.

I do however take issue with the anti-helmet point. Having been knocked off mt bike by cars in central London twice in 6 years of commuting, I can say wearing a helmet makes a big difference.

Whilst a bike helmet is clearly going to be of little use if crushed under a vehicle or being smashed into at significant speed, I found that wearing a helmet prevented/minimised whip-lash when hitting the tarmac as my head remained level on impact. It also helped in that I had no surface head injuries or bleeding.

The simple point is, you have nothing to lose by wearing a helmet, so you should.

posted by NDD [8 posts]
28th May 2013 - 12:52

4 Likes

I think most of us could have a t-shirt which says 'I'm not driving my car today so you've got more room. You're welcome.'

posted by robert_obrien [118 posts]
28th May 2013 - 13:23

4 Likes

robert_obrien wrote:
I think most of us could have a t-shirt which says 'I'm not driving my car today so you've got more room. You're welcome.'

I think I would buy that shirt ..... quick somebody make one up please

posted by madguern [25 posts]
28th May 2013 - 14:00

4 Likes

I will waive my IP rights in return for a free road.cc shirt with this in the back and a credit on the item's page. Otherwise you'll have to go through my publicist Max Cli...you what?!

posted by robert_obrien [118 posts]
28th May 2013 - 15:30

4 Likes

giff77 wrote:
russyparkin wrote:
pmr wrote:
Clarkson on a bike, would love to see his face on riding up (or walking up more like) one of the Surrey Hills.
Anyone getting on a bike in London deserves respect in my book, car everytime for me.

hills in surrey! thats a joke yeah? dude you need to ride Dartmoor and cornwall. we have hills. surrey has elevated speed bumps. sheeeesh

Hey russy. You need to get yourself up north mate. Then you'll know about hills. Not those wee bumps you think are hills down your way Devil

This is making mountains out of the hills around the Mole valley.

posted by robert_obrien [118 posts]
28th May 2013 - 15:30

4 Likes

Your all missing the point if you had hair as cool as clarkson would you wear a lid?

posted by kylemalco [33 posts]
28th May 2013 - 18:12

5 Likes

More people riding bikes = a good thing. If it's a town bike, a twin-shocked monstrosity, a Brompton, Raleigh Chopper or whatever. Two wheels, pedals, leg powered, lights in the dark. My eyebrows may be going a bit crazy, but is all good.

posted by Argos74 [301 posts]
28th May 2013 - 18:40

2 Likes

If you not have anything inside you don´t need to have anything on http://road.cc/sites/all/modules/smileys/packs/Yahoo!/grin.gif

Donsohasse

posted by Hasse [2 posts]
29th May 2013 - 11:45

2 Likes