In an opinion piece for bristol247.com, Jon Usher of Sustrans calls for some cyclists to slow down, lest we all be “perceived by pedestrians in the same way we perceive cars. We are becoming the menace that needs taming,” he writes.
Usher, the Sustrans area manager for Bristol, Bath and South Glos, writes that he thinks the recent increase in popularity of fast road bikes is damaging the perception of bike riders.
“The sale of racing bikes [is] up across the board,” he says, as the success of British cyclists inspires people to take to two wheels and drop handlebars. “However, this surge in sporting goods for leisure is percolating rapidly through to the urban cycling for transport realms.
“This transition has meant a shift from a relatively slow, cumbersome machine in urban environments to something much faster.”
This is not good, Usher reckons. “The blurring of the lines between transport and sport means that people’s perception of us is changing. Fast moving bikes are beginning to have a negative impact on people’s perception of taking to a journey on two wheels.”
You might think, given the certainty of these comments, that Sustrans had performed an extensive survey on the public perception of cyclists. But it appears the evidence here is Usher’s own observations.
Bikes with skinny tyres and drop handlebars ... are a cause for real concern
“Bikes with skinny tyres and drop handlebars are regularly ridden at excessive and frankly anti-social speeds on my daily commute. They are a cause for real concern,” he writes.
However, it turns out that what Usher is really concerned about is speed on shared use paths, like the Bristol and Bath Railway Path, “where their use was never foreseen or catered for.”
“As a cycling community on these shared use paths, we are beginning to be perceived by pedestrians in the very same way that we perceive cars on the roads. Collectively in the eyes of many, we are becoming the menace that needs taming,” writes Usher.
“When we take to two wheels, we become ambassadors for all other cyclists. The arguments for investment become that much more difficult when you have to overcome negative perceptions before meaningful discussion can take over.”
“We need to take a leaf out of Amsterdam’s book,” he concludes. “We all have a collective responsibility to behave and not intimidate others.
“We have a collective responsibility to slow down.”
John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.