Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson and co-hosts James May and Richard Hammond may have had their knuckles rapped over recent comments about Mexicans that resulted in the BBC issuing a formal apology, but happily for the doyen of the petrolhead community, there is one minority it still seems okay for him to disparage with impunity – cyclists. Oh, and Albanians too, going by last night’s show, as well as the French.
Hammond, a keen cyclist, had been talking in last night’s episode – the segment starts 21 minutes 27 seconds in – about last week’s BBC News feature about cylists wearing helmetcams “so they can video examples of road rage and people cutting them up on their bikes,” to which Clarkson interjected, “But cyclists deserve it,” the exchange continuing:
Hammond: “Don’t say that!”
Clarkson: “But they do deserve it, honestly. The other week, no honestly, there I am sitting in a traffic jam in London” – oh, the irony – “and a Frenchman, he was tried to cycle between the pavement and my car and after he’d removed most of the paint with his brake handle thing he came round to the drivers door to tell me off in that silly accent French people have.”
Hammond: “What, a French accent?”
Clarkson: “Yes, that, and I said to him, listen if you just work hard you can have a car.”
Hammond: “You are exactly the reason why I want a camera on my bicycle helmet when I cycle.”
Hammond: “When idiots like you get out of their car having cut me up – ”
Clarkson: “Who pays the road tax?”
Hammond: “Well – ”
Clarkson: “I’m sorry, I don’t mind if cyclists want to come on the road with their silly Victorian distractions, I’m not bothered, but they must behave themselves.”
News of Clarkson’s disparaging remarks against cyclists quickly spread through the Twitterverse, presumably giving a slight boost to Top Gear’s viewing figures as people who would normally not even consider tuning in switched over to see what the fuss was.
More than one pointed out that rather than being a separate species, most adult cyclists do in fact own cars – they just choose not to use them to the exclusion of all other forms of transport.
While some might hold that Clarkson’s comments are just banter, and that he’s playing a kind of pantomime villain role, the fact is that Top Gear is one of the BBC’s most successful programmes, and he also pens motoring columns for The Times and The Sun that enable his views to be read by – and perhaps influence – millions.
One cyclist is organising a group ride from Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire next Saturday with the itinerary taking in the nearby road where Clarkson lives, which we assume will be included on a number of loops – details here.
Meanwhile, the Save A Cyclist campaign urged Twitter users to “Make sure you let everybody @BBC_TopGear know what you think of Clarkson's attitude to cyclists.”
Although Clarkson, portrayed by the comedian Steve Coogan in a piece in yesterday’s Observer as akin to a school bully could be viewed as having made something of a schoolboy error in his reference to the non-existent ‘road tax,’ we’re guessing that the slip-up is a clever ruse on his part - it will let him show how clued-up he is about the whole issue of Vehicle Excise Duty and the fact that roads are funded out of general taxation when he corrects his error on next week’s programme.
At the same time as apologising to cyclists, Albanians and, yes, the French.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.