It feels to me that recently the level of anti-cycling hostility has boiled up rather. I imagine it’s nothing personal — hating things and people is very much the fashion at the moment.
Nonetheless, I seem to spend a lot of time listening to people who think that I’ll be keen to hear just how much they hate all cyclists. I suppose that if you look at it from their point of view, they can’t uphold the Daily Mail reader’s oath unless there is someone around to hear them doing it.
It’s usually psychopathic brothers-in-law, fascist friends of one’s parents, or red-faced men with vanity-plate Range Rovers. The sort of people who you’d honestly expect to add lustre and sophistication to any social occasion.
Happily I have, over the years, developed some useful techniques for enlivening this variety of discussion.
A much-favoured topic is that of red lights, and the allegation that cyclists habitually ignore them.
My favoured reply is a beatific smile of the type you’d expect the Buddha to adopt when looking at kitten videos, and say, “Even supposing that was the case, which it’s not, please tell me, what is it about it you seem to find so upsetting?”
They will say one of two things. The first is, “Well, they’re going to get killed, aren’t they?”
If they go with this option, you intensify the radiance of your serenity (making sure not to cross into ‘smugness’ obviously) and quote the statistics, which (almost irrespective of police area and period of time) show that the number of cyclists who get killed or seriously injured running red lights is zero.
Tell them that you are touched by their concern, but that you’re pleased you can take a weight off their minds by reassuring them that they’re worrying about nothing.
The second option is that they’ll tell you it’s illegal. You deal with this by adopting an attitude of solicitous concern and saying, “I see you have a profound respect for the law?” They will agree.
“And yet,” you solemnly intone, “your acute eye seems not to have observed the 90 per cent of drivers who break the speed limit, the 40 per cent of them who run red lights, or the very similar number who use a handheld mobile phone at the wheel?”
There are other topics. If they mention cycling on pavements, take them outside and point at the nearest car parked on the pavement.
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Don’t worry, there will be one. If they’re smart enough to point out that it’s not always illegal to park on the pavement, tell them how impressed you are that the driver helicoptered it into position without blowing over your petunias.
For all other complaints try, “Oh yes? Funny you should mention that, because last week someone threw a bottle at me from a car window, so you might like to apologise for that before we go any further.”
They will ask what this has to do with them. Do your surprised face and say, “But I thought all you drivers were part of a single hive mind?”
He will look quizzical. “Well, that’s why it’s reasonable to complain to me about what some other cyclist did to spoil your day.
“Oh yes, we have a big rally every Sunday, all of us, where Sir Bradley Wiggins stands on a podium surrounded by banners, and whips us up into a frenzy with his wild oratory.
“That inspires us to go and spend the rest of our week trying to annoy people like you. And I just thought you chaps worked that way too.”
At this point, if you’ve done it right, his short fuse and high blood pressure will cause him to drop dead of a heart attack. And you can move on to the next one.