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Review: Channel 5's Cyclists: Scourge Of The Streets?

A documentary so one-sided it makes you wonder why they bothered with the question mark

Cyclists are “lawless,” “aggressive,” and “like a plague of” – wait, what? – “lotuses coming down the road … herds of them.” Those were phrases fired during the opening salvo of last night’s Channel 5 documentary Cyclists: Scourge Of The Streets? which was so one-sided it makes you wonder why they bothered with the question mark.

Besides being treated to the wit and wisdom of three of ‘London’s finest’ – that’s black cab drivers to you and I, who are apparently among the “many drivers in the capital” for whom “cyclists have become public enemy number one” – we were also told how the “adrenaline junkies infiltrating Box Hill” were destroying the “pastoral dream” of Surrey – including, apparently, by defecating in people’s front gardens.

The opinions masquerading as facts that were allowed to go unchallenged were too many to count. One taxi driver insisted that “they’re not obeying the law like every other road user” – despite a recent study finding that cyclists are less likely to break the law than drivers.

Various rules from the Highway Code were cited as a means, we imagine, of highlighting just which laws cyclists break – but when the programme briefly looked at West Midlands Police’s award winning operation close pass, there was no specific mention of rule 163, which sets out the space drivers must give cyclists when overtaking.

We had Nick ‘Mr Loophole’ Freeman – you know, the lawyer who gets celebrities off driving related charges, often due to a technicality – saying “a lot of cyclists behave in a very poor way,” with no apparent sense of irony as he performed a piece to camera while driving his convertible sports car in an urban area.

Former Surrey resident – the sheer number of cyclists forced him to move out of the county, and we’re guessing not to the Netherlands – Ian Huggins proudly pointed out that his petition against the area being turned into “an open air velodrome” had garnered more than 3,500 signatures; no mention that a counter-petition to Surrey County Council, instigated by a reader, no less, got even more.

Much was made of people cycling on the pavement – including a segment showing an apoplectic cabbie taking a cyclist to task for daring to gently move his bike to where he could park it – but no mention made of Home Office guidance, supported by senior police officers, for fines only to be issued where others were endangered by the rider’s actions.

Missing were the voices of reason such as Chris Boardman or Will Norman that one might expect to find in a programme seeking to strike balance rather than sensationalise an issue – we’re not sure if they or other campaigners were approached, but we’d be unsurprised if they were.

Instead, we got a lengthy focus on Dave Sherry, described as “Britain’s most hated cyclist,” who has made it his mission to get as many motorists as possible brought to account for breaking the law.

Sherry appeared in a segment of the programme that narrator Craig Kelly prefaced with the words, “But before all cyclists are burnt at the stake” – seriously, he actually said that – “there’s another side to this story.”

We were told Sherry was a member of “a whole army of self-appointed avengers” who use action cameras to catch drivers breaking the law. He’s by no means the only cyclist to record his rides, as our Near Miss of the Day feature attests, but he is almost certainly the most extreme example in terms of his determination to seek out and confront transgressors and instigate action against them.

And again, balance went out of the window; whereas the notion of cyclists breaking the law went unchallenged, motorists doing it was almost normalised, Sherry presented as some kind of self-appointed quasi police officer stopping motorists from going about their business.

The programme’s saving grace was the all too brief appearance of PC Mark Hodson of West Midlands Police, who – in a sharp observation of just how invisible cyclists can be on the roads – pointed out that even when riding a bike in uniform, with a hi-viz jacket with the word ‘Police’ on his back, many motorists didn’t see him.

Hodson’s appearance in fact jarred with the tone of the rest of the documentary; here was someone with an expert knowledge of road traffic law and who, through his work on West Midlands Police’s roads policing unit sees daily the harm that motorists can inflict, and the effect it has on victims and their families.

Pointing out that motorists are involved in “99 per cent of all fatal collisions,” he added that “cyclists don’t cause us the problems drivers do.”

A programme looking at law-abiding people on bikes, just trying to get from A to B safely whether for sport, fitness, leisure, commuting or going about their daily business would reflect the reality of Britain’s roads, rather than trying to depict a “war” that does not exist – but we doubt you’d get a commissioning editor to greenlight it.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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