28 Responses to Clarkson gets it almost entirely right, but gets a couple of things wrong

  1. Richard Truscott says:

    Yes,great piece and amazingly I largely agree with Jeremy Clarkson!
    I suspect the line about Ben Nevis is in the spirit of his characteristic hyperbole. It is true that the terrain in many British cities, including London, is not excessively hilly, enough to discourage cycling. However I do think terrain has some effect on people’s propensity to cycle and cities propensity to become “cycling cities”. As is widely recognised, London is an exception. Beyond Lindon, the big Mecca cities for cycling are those that have virtually flat terain that’s so much more friendly to cycle in; Cambridge & York ate the most obvious examples. Other places, whether gently rolling like Manchester or seriously challenging like Sheffield (like Rome, built on 7 hills), have far fewer.
    Weather and number of students are also important.

    • Didn’t Bristol become a cycling city? That’s far from flat at some points!
      Besides hills and cycling are deceiving, once you conquer one you end up looking for the “next big challenge” then it just gets silly as you hunt out insane gradients on your local area 🙂

  2. Joe Dunckley says:

    Of course, there isn’t a road up Ben Nevis. The nearest road is the non-through lane in Glen Nevis. As the name suggests, it follows a river at the bottom of a valley, and is a delightful place to ride a bicycle.

    link because wordpress has broken commenting

    The next nearest road is the A82 through the famously flat bottomed Great Glen. It has a nice, but currently disjointed, cycle track.

    link because wordpress has broken commenting

  3. monchberter says:

    It’s typical Clarkson as he craves to be controversial, and what’s more controversial to his readership than the idea of a city where bikes are seemingly favoured over the car! MADNESS! It’s good however to see him tackle the thorny (for him) subject of cycling but as you’ve made clear, he reaches a typically conservative conclusion; that there’s conflict and the only way to make cars and bikes get along is by segregating.

    If he’d gone a bit further and started to question the assumptions at the heart of why cycling has such a poor reputation in the UK and certain ‘bearded’ cyclists feel the need to cycle as fast as possible and use helmet-cams then i’d be a bit more surprised than I am.

    Yet again, changing attitudes to road use (and other road users) and behaviours is the easily ignored solution.

  4. How do you propose to implement that “solution”, Monchberter, if you don’t like segregation?

    • monchberter says:

      Much wider and visible awareness campaigns would help. Aside from all the cycling safety posters I see daily which effectively boil down to “it’s your own fault if you get squashed”, i’d like to see a much greater public awareness of the right to cycle on the road and the responsibility of all road users to act respectfully.

      Lack of respect is main problem, and it’s been found to be true again and again in that there’s an ingrained culture of selfishness in the way we use the road. Segregation is just a sticking plaster to a wider issue, and more importantly, it can’t realistically be implemented everywhere.

      • Amoeba says:

        “Segregation is just a sticking plaster to a wider issue, and more importantly, it can’t realistically be implemented everywhere.
        The fact is that segregation isn’t implemented everywhere, even in the Netherlands.” – This is of course a straw man.

        Unless I’ve misunderstood, the Netherlands authorities use segregation where deemed necessary (e.g. fast roads. IIRC. Which are a great deal slower than some of the de facto motorways e.g. the A3 – http://i54.tinypic.com/2u9nzom.jpg and another view:http://g.co/maps/4tq4q), where cyclists are expected to cycle on in the UK and stop motor-vehicle rat-running by using numerous methods while permitting permeability for cyclists and pedestrians – essentially everywhere people on bicycles might reasonably want to go. This is why schoolchildren are expected to cycle to school from eight and cycling in the Netherlands is safe from eight to eighty.

        As for other issues: Presumably, you mean endemic speeding among motorists [http://www.webcitation.org/66YZHjH1d]; motorists Red Light Jumping [http://www.webcitation.org/65guz89OR]; psychological projection [http://is.gd/55Wd4F]; mythical Road-tax [http://ipayroadtax.com/] widespread media bias against cycling; SMIDSY and so-on.

        I am of course no real expert about cycling in the Netherlands, but I recognise codswallop when I see it.

      • monchberter says:

        @ Amoeba. I can’t pretend to be any kind of expert on cycling in the Netherlands either, but surely your point that Dutch cycling is not wholly segregated adds weight to my point that there’s something more than just relying on building facilities that encourages more people to cycle in Holland than in the UK. And I still think that at root that it’s an issue of attitudes and respect rather than prevalence of bike lanes, etc. This paper (http://www.its.leeds.ac.uk/fileadmin/user_upload/UWCReportSept2011.pdf) concludes that the only thing that would get significant number of people in the UK cycling would be wholly segregated infrastructure as they cannot see themselves cycling on the road, having internalised the message that it is ‘too dangerous’.

        This 2001 report (http://www.trl.co.uk/online_store/reports_publications/trl_reports/cat_road_user_safety/report_drivers_perceptions_of_cyclists.htm) and the 2010 report behind this news story (http://road.cc/content/news/24074-oi-cyclist-get-road-dft-report-highlights-anti-cycling-attitudes) both show that most people are incredibly intolerant of cyclists and don’t provide due respect, wanting them off the roads (hello segregation!).

        What I believe is missing in referring to Dutch cycling therefore (leaving infrastructure questions aside) is that there is significantly more recognition of the place of cyclists on the road, whereas in the UK, we’re still not convinced of the need to look beyond segregation, which as i look at it, is a cop out.

      • davidhembrow says:

        Monchberter: Actually, when cycling in the Netherlands you really are segregated from motorists everywhere. This is not necessarily achieved you how think it is, but it’s still segregation. This is absolutely the reason why cycling in the Netherlands is very much more pleasant than it is in the UK. You simply don’t have to concern yourself about cars and their drivers when you cycle because your interactions with them are rare and in controlled circumstances. This is absolutely not a “sticking plaster” and it is achievable everywhere.

        The Dutch don’t believe that there is more respect from drivers here than there is in the UK. In fact, the Dutch often opine that of the two, it is British drivers who better adhere to the law, and some Dutch people think this is due to laws being enforced better in the UK than they are in the Netherlands. It’s easy to get a false impression when on holiday, and not doing what you normally do when you’re getting on with your normal life at home. I’ve lived here long enough now to realize that Dutch drivers are no better and no worse than British drivers. However, because the opportunities for drivers to wreak havoc amongst cyclists are far more limited due to segregation, how drivers behave here (talking on the phone, speeding, tailgating, not indicating, jumping lights etc.) has almost no interest to me at all when I cycle.

      • Amoeba says:

        Well I was about to post my response, but David Hembrow has beaten me to it. I’ll not argue with David as I’m sure that he knows far better than me and has said it better too. So my response to you is: As David said.

      • monchberter says:

        Thanks David, given my lack of knowledge, that’s not something i’d considered. Thanks to both you and Amoeba for drawing my attention to it.

  5. Barnie says:

    “They won’t, and as a result London is currently hosting an undeclared war. I am constantly irritated by cyclists and I’m sure they’re constantly irritated by me.” Rubbish. He’s only irritated because he ( like many others ) can’t get it through his famously thick skin* that cars are _not_ significantly faster than bikes around London, and so put’s himself through the hassle of overtaking cyclists even when it’s utterly pointless.

    So, Clarkson, don’t try to overtake them when there’s now’t to gain e.g. only for the cyclist to overtake again 200m further on when you’re stuck in traffic. You’re in exactly the same place as if you hadn’t overtaken initially, but you’ve put yourself through the hassle of overtaking ( and all for nothing ). It’s not the cyclist causing the irritation, it’s yourself, so why subject yourself to the bother?
    Stop causing yourself the bother and suddenly the irritation goes away.

    * I am a Clarkson fan, his foibles are all part of the fun, whether they be highlighting someone else’s failings, or his own.

    • Recursived says:

      Aside from the psychological imperative that one must *always* overtake a cyclist when driving, it’s not entirely pointless in a congested city like London. Although there’s no gain to the driver, relative to the cyclist, they’re more concerned about all of the other motorised traffic that will be pulling onto the open road ahead of the cyclist. This will mean that they will be further back in the queue at the next set of lights. This also partly explains the peculiarly Londonesque driving technique of hard acceleration and hard braking.

      • But your still missing the point, overall the gains from the “must overtake” mentality are very slim, not to mention incredibly wasteful of that increasingly expensive liquid that cars run on. Smooth acceleration with gentle braking/coasting to a stop yields a much better fuel economy and also reduces wear on brake pads.

        Cyclists are ideally placed to realize this as we actually have to physically exert ourselves to regain lost momentum so trying to remain in motion for us and the effects of the rapid acceleration/braking can be more easily felt then just shuffling our feet around on the floor.

      • Barnie says:

        But that’s my point, it’s not the cyclist that’s irritating, the irritation is of the drivers making. I’m pretty sure that psychology just comes from feeling that cars should be faster than bikes, and, across London, if you see how often bikes re-pass cars, it’s clearly not the case. When cycling I’ll often re-pass the same cars multiple times…

        I also get overtaken by cars in a 20mph limit when I’m doing 25…

        That said, there are occasions to overtake a cyclist even when it’s not going to get you anywhere, sometimes it just removes you from an otherwise awkward road position.

  6. Barnie says:

    FWIW I’m a car fan who cycles in London because London sucks if you like driving cars. Sitting in congestion is NOT what I, nor I’m sure Jezzer, like about cars (hence much better to just cycle around the congestion).
    So I’m not sure it’s quite as controversial to Clarksons readership as monchberter thinks it is.
    Just because the stoopid TFL et al seem intent on designing London for cars, doesn’t mean they’re designing them for car drivers, and so doesn’t mean that London is a city where people actually like to drive cars. Junctions that are big and dangerous for cyclists, are, I’m pretty sure, largely dangerous for cyclists simply because they’re big and horrible junctions for drivers.

  7. Luke says:

    It’s odd when probably the most intelligent comment on bike use in cities yet published in the mainstream media from comes from J Clarkson (I’m not criticising this excellent blog, or nor those of some of the commenters, but you are preaching to the converted). Apart from the Ben Nevis bit, which probably wasn’t serious, he’s basically right. And that includes the bit about shorts I’m afraid – probably not the bit about beards, as pure greenies have largely been driven off the roads leaving just enthusiasts.

    I don’t really know what conclusion to draw from this, apart from the need for the need for non-enthusiasts to be involved in campaigns to point out the bleedin’ obvious – that 90%* of the population will never, ever, under any circumstances, however much training they’ve had, ride a bike on any remotely busy road. They don’t care how considerate the average driver is, they just don’t like large objects passing close to them. We can argue all we want about subjective versus objective safety, but we can’t say they are irrational.

    *OK, I made that figure up, but can anyone really prove me wrong?

  8. Recursived says:

    As this blog doesn’t seem to do nested replies beyond a certain point, here’s my reply to Mark Skrzypczyk’s reply to my reply (!) above.

    Sure, they may be slim gains, they may be inefficient and wasteful gains, but gains and certainly perceived gains in time are what it’s all about to a lot of motorists. If stamping on the acceleration pedal means I get to the next set of lights on a green light then, well, it’s a price worth paying. If
    dangerously overtaking this cyclist means I get to the next set of lights on a green light then, well, it’s a chance worth taking. At the risk of overgeneralising: motorists see time as their key factor; cyclists momentum; pedestrians distance.

    • Luke says:

      Recursived, I’m, going off topic, but here goes. You say “motorists see time as their key factor.” I’m not so sure – if we’re talking central London, they have chosen a slow means of transport, which will get stuck in traffic, and which they will have trouble parking. I think it’s comfort/convenience/not having to sit next to strangers/possibly prestige.

      The reason I make this pedantic point is that (I think) transport planners assume that motorists’ time is more valuable than that of pedestrians, bus passengers and cyclists, because they are (probably) richer. Leave out whether this is fair or right for now, just look at the economics. If drivers choose a slow means of transport for whatever reason, they obviously don’t value their time highly. So why should we? Why should we care about smoothing the traffic flow if the people for whose benefit we are doing it don’t value their time highly?

      As another example, the famous M6 bypass/toll road near Manchester is generally empty. So given the actual choice to save time at a modest expense, most drivers chose to save money, not time. So why do transport planners spend so much money saving time for people who don’t actually care about their own time?

      • Recursived says:

        Fair point about central London and the time factor, I did say I might be overgeneralising. My experience in outer London (Bromley) is that the roads are busy enough to make the fear of being stuck behind more traffic seem real but not quite busy enough that the poor (compared to central London) public transport, walking or cycling seem attractive enough alternatives to take.

  9. Kim says:

    Reading all this makes me wonder if we should try and get Mr Clarkson to join the Pedal on Parliament (http://pedalonparliament.org) and sign the petition (http://chn.ge/PedalonParliament)…

    • Vocus Dwabe says:

      Counter-intuitive as it might seem at first sight, I’ve long been rather taken with this idea, and first suggested it on the “Guardian” cycling blog about three years ago.

      Clarkson is undoubtedly a fool: but not that way. As a public entertainer he has to play up to the expectations of his car-besotted middle-England audience (…or they’ll go off and find themselves someone else to express their inner thoughts), so a good deal of what he writes is in fact feeding peanuts to monkeys whom he probably rather despises, in the way that most media pundits apparently come to loathe their demographic. He’s certainly not stupid: and he does unquestionably have the gift of communicating with the Average Brit in language they can understand. So getting him on board for renascent UK utility cycling might prove to be rather a coup. After all, three years of blethering by the “Guardian” cycle community got us nowhere (because it could be dismissed as special pleading by the usual left-liberal constituency) but when the Conservative Murdoch-owned “Times” got behind safer cycling back in February, things started to happen.

      Should we perhaps set up an on-line subscription to buy him a nice solid, upright bicycle and get him out on it with the cameras rolling? Or perhaps suggest a TV series “Clarkson Bikes It Around Europe” in which he ogles the backsides of shapely young women in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Brussels, Avignon, Munich etc.? Remember Alan Partridge’s famous outing to Paris and the sport-casual look on the Champs Elysées.

      Monchberter, I’m afraid that I just don’t buy your argument about the key to safe mass cycling lying in better training and attitudes. Overall, UK road safety isn’t at all bad: the country regularly comes out in the European top four along with Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands. Most drivers – least of all HGV drivers – emphatically do not wish to kill cyclists and would be grief-stricken for the rest of their days if they did. The point is that all too often they can’t help doing so, which is what tends to happen when you mix bicycles in with fast, heavy motorised traffic. Certainly driver attitudes towards cyclists are marginally better in the Netherlands than in Britain – though that has a lot to do with presumed liability as well as the fact the just about everyone in Holland rides a bicycle at least once a week. But even if Dutch attitudes were far worse, and the country full of homicidal fuckwits who can’t be bothered looking where they are going, it wouldn’t matter in the least because motorised and cycle traffic are physically separated wherever there is likely to be a conflict. You feel safe because you know they can’t get at you. Clarkson’s image of a dog and cat put into a cage and told to be friends wasn’t far wide of the mark.

  10. PaulM says:

    The UK may have a general road safety record better than most of Europe, but that largely reflects people in vehicles. When it comes to cyclists and pedestrians we fall much further down the league table.

    I hardly ever see bearded cyclists as I ride around London. What I do see is “suits” – whether wearing Savile Row or Lycra, the wearer is quite likely to be a (clean-shaven) banker, lawyer, media exec, accountant, or similar. I’d hazard a guess most of them are conservative with s small c and possibly a large one, and own at least one car.

    Otherwise, nothing to add to the many excellent comments already made.

  11. Pingback: Take the Last Train to Clarkson « The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club

  12. An unfortunate Clarkson postscript. Road rage for public consumption, begging general public agreement that cyclists should be run into the gutter in central London even by phone-weilding Ranger Rover drivers immediately before a pedestrian crossing and a junction. His millions of adoring fans agreed, retweeting the pressing need to do something about uppity cyclists. https://twitter.com/JeremyClarkson/status/421676710107811841/photo/1

  13. When challenged by Jeremy Vine he backtracked somewhat, and implied that the behaviour he’d been cross about wasn’t fully captured in the picture he tweeted as explaining his attitude. But in reaction to the suggestion that the cyclist had every right to be taking the lane on a minor road public highway in Central London, whether by Highway Code, TfL instruction, DfT approved cycle training or IAM advice, his answer was: ‘No. He. Does. Not.’ This is a man capable of thought as well as prose, as his WW2 docs testify. But where cycling is concerned he seems fine with it *so long as it doesn’t get in his way*. If it gets in his way, Clarkson seems deaf to any amount of evidence, argument or law, nor is there any appealing to his nicer side. I hope this was just a bad day.

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