The terrible journalist’s guide to writing an article about bicycles

You are a terrible journalist, so naturally enough you are struggling for something to write about. Maybe you’ve run out of things to say about your private life that might actually interest the reading public. Maybe you can’t think of some petty criticism to make of someone in the public eye for being too fat. Or too thin. Or too vulgar.

Maybe you are just lazy.

Well, thank heavens, help is at hand. Here it is, your free guide to writing a shabby article in five minutes flat, one that’s guaranteed to get published no matter how awful it is. Yes, bicycles are your meal ticket.


Have bicycles appeared in the news recently? It doesn’t matter how, or in what form, or how tendentiously a self-propelled object with wheels relates to the actual news story. As long as there is some tenuous link to a bicycle, you are all set, and ready to go.

Did someone famous do something bad/good while riding a bicycle? Perfect.

Did someone do something bad/good while having a bicycle near them? Perfect.

Did someone do something bad/good while someone else was riding a bicycle nearby? Perfect.

Any of these scenarios will do, so long as somewhere, somehow, a bicycle is visible in the far distance. You have your starting point.


Your next step is to make some positive-sounding noises about how you actually love (some) bicycles. This makes you seem open-minded, even though you are not.

The technique is very easy, especially at the moment, when the Olympics give you an excellent template. Everybody loved the Olympics, and some people who competed in the Olympics used bicycles. Say you liked these people, even if you don’t have really have a clue what it was all about. A couple of paragraphs will do, no more than that. Chris Hoy’s sideburns. Bradley Wiggins’ huge thighs. Blah blah blah.

You can also say that you’ve been so inspired, you’ve even considered taking up using a velocipede (it doesn’t matter if riding a bike is the last thing you would actually consider doing – no-one is going to know you are lying).

You might even use an exercise bike in the gym – conclusive proof that you have nothing against the activity of ‘cycling’.


Having safely established that you aren’t a prejudiced moron (when of course you are), you can then move on to step three, which is to talk about the bicycle (and its user) featuring in the news. The golden rule here is to focus on the negative.

If the person on the bicycle has done something bad – yelled at someone, dropped litter,  robbed a bank – then find a way to link that to their use of a bicycle. Make it obvious that it is the use of the bicycle itself that has somehow precipitated the bad behaviour. If the person on the bike has done something good, then point out that this is the exception that proves the rule. (If the person in question isn’t riding a bicycle, but has one near them, or has only been using a bicycle recently, or is planning to use a bike, or is known for using a bike, the same rules apply. This is really very easy).

It might, of course, be the case that the person on the bicycle who features in the news is a victim. Don’t let that stop you! Insinuate that he or she might actually have been at fault, and that the fact we’re all jumping to conclusions proves that cyclists are uppity, spoilt and weird.


Having got this far, you’ve done the hard work, and you are now free to wibble on about how all bicycle users are innately bad, because they ride bikes, and how this latest incident of yelling/bank robbery by someone on a bicycle only serves to demonstrate this fact. It doesn’t matter if you’ve still got hundreds of words to write to fill out your copy; the field is now open for you to crowbar in as many of the trite and overused clichés about bicycles as you can. You might even start your article with a story about how your mother had an affair with a cyclist, which can be used to excuse away any prejudice that follows.

This step is the best bit, because you don’t even have to do any work. All of these boring tropes have been used before by many other terrible journalists; they’ve been recycled so often you should consider yourself free to just copy and paste their articles, perhaps switching around some sentences and adjectives. No-one will care.

The genius bit is that if you give it a year or so, you can recycle your own article (also known as ‘Doing a Petronella’). It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Of course, if you are such a terrible journalist that you can’t even be bothered to do that, here are some helpful phrases and words you can just pop straight into your article to get you up to your word limit. It helps if you can get them all in. Your editor will be especially pleased.

Cyclists are superior/entitled/smug

(Hint – try adding the word ‘race’ or ‘tribe’ or ‘species’ whenever you can. It makes cyclists sound exotic and foreign, and allows you to use the kind of language that you would never get away with if you were writing about an actual race. Articles like this are the ideal way for you to sneakily get latent prejudice out of your system!)

Cyclists wear lycra

(Of course not very many cyclists actually wear lycra, but wearing lycra is weird, and so helps to reinforce the impression that cyclists are weird, even if they’re not)

Cyclists are louts.

(Perfect when used alliteratively with the above)

Cyclists wear luminous clothing.

(See above point about lycra. It’s weird. Cyclists are weird. Everybody loves this stuff)

Cyclists don’t wear luminous clothing, which means they are irresponsible and have no regard for their own safety.

(Obviously this slightly contradicts the above point, but no-one actually cares about consistency. In this vein, you can also label cyclists who don’t wear helmets as ‘irresponsible’, and also say they look weird for wearing them. Cyclists can’t win. It’s perfect.)

Cyclists are angry

(And nobody knows why! It’s completely inexplicable! It helps here if you have an anecdote about how, just the other day, you were driving along when a cyclist suddenly appeared on your bonnet, red-faced and yelling at you like a maniac. You had to swerve to get him off your car, and speed away. For your own safety)

Cyclists are foul-mouthed

(You merely held down your horn for five seconds to get a cyclist out of your way, and you were quite unreasonably met with a swear word! How dare they!)

Cyclists are sensitive

(You can use this both in the article, and in the inevitable flood of angry responses to your article, which will usefully prove your point that cyclists are angry, and sensitive, and that you were right all along)

Cyclists have no regard for the law

(It doesn’t matter if you don’t actually have any data or figures on law-breaking rates, or how this might compare with how often motorists break laws. Say you saw a cyclist going through a red light the other day. That will do)

I saw a cyclist on the pavement/in the middle of the road

(Helpfully, there is only a tiny, miniscule sliver of space in the public realm that cyclists are legitimately allowed in – ‘the cycle lane’. If a cyclist is not in ‘a cycle lane’, they are fair game for criticism)

Cyclists are slow

(They hold me up, and create traffic jams. And also ’cause’ accidents when I try to overtake them, as I am entitled to, whatever the circumstances.)

Cyclists ‘bomb down the road’

(They’re so fast, they come out of nowhere. Like Bradley Wiggins on the A5209. The important point to remember is that whether a cyclist is fast or slow, they are always at fault. Again, this is an open goal.)

A final tip – be creative. You might even manage to come up with some stereotypes of your own!

And remember, if anyone objects to your rubbish, you have two foolproof lines of defence.

The first is to write about how angry/sensitive/self-righteous cyclists are, and that only cyclists would not realise that you were never meant to be taken seriously – ‘The Parris/Nye defence’ (this works even if you’ve said they should be killed!).

And your second defence? Remember how you once rode a bike about a decade ago in France in the grounds of your friend’s chateau? Or how you stood over a bicycle once for a photoshoot that you had been chauffered to and from? Or how you use a stationary exercise bike?


You are a cyclist, and some of your best friends are cyclists too!

This post was updated on the 11th November to include more helpful tips from the Sunday Express

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75 Responses to The terrible journalist’s guide to writing an article about bicycles

  1. You wanna be careful, you might get offered a job at the Daily Mail with tips like this 😉

  2. Perfect. It’s as easy as riding a bike! Oh, hang on…

  3. monchberter says:

    Pitch perfect, even supposed ‘apologetic friend of the cyclist’ The Guardian Bike Blog has stooped to such click-attracting levels more recently of late.

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  6. 3rdworldcyclinginGB says:

    You mean like this…

    People like Lewis Hamilton and Jensen Button are great role models and an inspiration to all drivers. With the resulting upsurge in interest in driving in Britain following their success and infrastructure improvements strongly campaigned for by organizations such as Transport for London, it is a shame that some drivers are unwilling to respect other road users. Everyone has stories of how these petrol louts break the law or thoughtlessly indulge in other anti-social practices: red light jumping, speeding, not-signalling overtaking in the most ridiculous places, using their mobile phones while eating and reading the newspaper, and worst of all, killing and maiming everybody else. We build perfectly good facilities for them, but what do they do – park on pavements and block cycle lanes. They seem wilfully ignorant of the numerous studies that show that most deaths and casualties due to driving result from the driver not looking and the main cause of deaths and casualties is due to head injuries. But how many drivers drive brightly coloured cars or wear the helmets that any sensible person can see would significantly improve their chances of avoiding injury? Ninja motorists are not just a figment of a manga artists imagination, I can tell you. And if you confront them about this disgraceful behaviour, all you get is unreasoning knee-jerk profanity. Now call me reactionary but why should there be funding for new driving infrastructure if they behave like this?

    Anyone with any experience of drivers can see the sense in this. Just look at how self-righteously angry these sensitive souls can be. Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are drivers and I’ve driven myself, so I know what it’s like. it changes you. My friends told me I was an idiot to do it. After a few streets of driving I was so boiling with rage, shouting at everone in unseeing fury, that I drove onto the pavement, hit a bollard, staggered to the nearest bike shop, bought a bike and cycled home. I’ve never driven since.

  7. Another excellent post. Well summarised.

  8. Rob says:

    A link to this story should be included in the comments section of every article of this ilk.
    Wonderful. Alas, sadly very true…

  9. Will says:

    Thanks for the laugh:)

  10. Martin Turner says:

    You forgot to mention that cyclists are too fast – and that it why I pulled out of the side turning in front of him, your honour. And also too slow, inconsiderately holding up normal traffic around town (whenever I see a bicycle, I know it must be slow because cars have a higher maximum possible speed).

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  12. James Barker says:

    They don’t even pay road tax!

  13. Andy says:

    Fantastic Stuff, I thought about writing an angry/sensitive complaint letter to the telegraph about the ridiculous article they saw fit to publish, this however seems to just about cover it.
    Well done!

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  15. I was, as it happens, for eight years the award-winning transport correspondent of a national newspaper while also cycling 4,000 miles a year, commuting and going to meetings in London. I’ve now moved to another job in New York, where my commute is rather longer.
    I get very irritated with the stupidity of many of the unpleasant anti-cyclist hate-speech written by some columnists (I specifically attacked a few here: But it’s possibly also worth pointing out that in this area journalists are, sadly, reflecting only the unthinking prejudices of many, many people. I once in my old job had lunch with the then road-safety minister, and it led to the astonishing exchange I mention here: It’s easy to criticise journalists for saying this kind of thing because we end up as the voice of wider society. The real challenge is to get politicians and other people who decide public policy on these points to recognise that there’s brainless discrimination against cyclists, that most people have some strange, angry reaction to cyclists and tend to ignore motorists’ rule-breaking while going on about that by cyclists. These are profound problems that need to be tackled in a systematic fashion.

  16. Bryan M says:

    They aren’t journalists. They’re just random morons who get given column inches in newspapers to rant incoherently about a subject that they know little if anything about. There was just such a moron on Jeremy Vine on Wednesday. Whatever happened to the columnists who were actually good journalists, rather than just a moron with a jaded, misguided opinion?
    90,000 convictions for drink driving each year. 400 road deaths attributed to drink driving each year. 3 deaths caused by cyclists in 10 years, but don’t let the facts get in the way of your silly moronic rant.

    • You’re right, Bryan M, to rant against people who write without bothering to research their topic properly. I’m not sure there was ever a golden age when columnists were all wise and knew their topic. The problem is that newspapers increasingly now rely on personality columnists with outrageous opinions to set themselves apart. News, after all, is pretty much a commodity. I wouldn’t be entirely dismissive of such people, however. It’s much harder to come up with a coherent (even if specious) argument for a 1,000 word column on a regular basis than one might think.

      It is difficult to get solid facts as well and I’d point to an example. According to my reading of recent DfT statistics, four pedestrians died after collisions with cyclists in 2010 and one in each of 2008 and 2009. I don’t know whether detailed 2011 figures are out yet (they generally come out in September). So I don’t recognise your figure of three deaths over the last ten years. This doesn’t mean cyclists are a genuine menace. Even in the worst of those years, collisions with cyclists accounted for 0.22 per cent of road deaths – way below cyclists’ 1 to 2 per cent share of the traffic. If you can find me alternative figures, I’d be delighted to use them instead. But that’s my reading of the statistics I’ve seen.


  17. Bryan M says:

    Thinking back it may have been 3 in 5 years, I found this saying 18 in the period 2001 – 2009 ,

    and this – 2 in five years to 2009,

    Maybe I should become a columnist with my made up statistics!

  18. sibadd says:

    Great piece. Prejudice is a versatile type of velcro which doesn’t need any loops to hook onto the other surface. It fixes to anything the user chooses!

  19. Viv says:

    I haven’t laughed so much in a while. Brilliant stuff, thank you for cheering up my morning!

  20. vexedveloist says:

    An outstanding piece I will be referring rubbish journalists to for years to come! 😀

  21. S says:

    Ah, don’t forget the essential line in every such rant – a cyclist nearly killed me/my child/my sweet fluffy pet – even though the epidemic rates of pavement cycling don’t have appear to have resulted in mass killing, unlike say the number of people killed on pavements or grass verges by motor vehicles…

  22. sam says:

    This is why I became a mole person.

  23. Kathryn (@kathrynlangley) says:

    LovIng this!

  24. J M Birch says:

    Ha ha! You should market this template!

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  26. Slacky says:

    Tho being said, if one wants to mock journo’s (which is a noble quest), one should proof read one’s own text.
    3 paragraph, help is IT hand. Oh rly, srsly!

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  29. Pete says:

    You are the editor of the Bristol Evening Post and I claim my £5.

    • zenpunk32 says:

      I find it honest-to-god hard to beleive that this article wasn’t written using the template above. I just don’t understand the motivation for doing so. A Sokal style hoax? Except the jokes on her because no-one can tell the difference.

  30. dez says:

    Camilla Tominey is obviously a follower of this blog!

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  32. Luv 2 Cycle says:

    Great post.

    I found that “article” in the Express read like a very bad blog post rather than something written by a professional journalist.

    I have never heard of the girl before, but then I don’t read the Express, and after reading the afore mentioned article I am really surprised that she is writing for a national newspaper.

    I actually feel quite sorry for her for writing such rubbish. It comes under what I call the squirm zone. You know, sort of like when one is watching someone on tv embarrassing themselves so much that one has turn away because it makes one squirm with embarrassment for them to watch it.

    I was squirming for the girl when I read that article this morning.

  33. Fair-minded Phil says:


    “The terrible journalist’s guide to writing an article about bicycles
    Posted on September 25, 2012 …

    ….Cyclists ‘bomb down the road’

    (They’re so fast, they come out of nowhere. Like Bradley Wiggins on the A5209. The important point to remember is that whether a cyclist is fast or slow, they are always at fault. Again, this is an open goal.)”

    Wow that’s so prophetic, it ranks up there with Nostrodamus!!! Are you not freaked out by it?

    I abhor lazy/ill informed journalism…..

    I’m a cyclist – proud but not stupid

  34. And cyclists are always invisible (as in, the council spent x million pounds on a cycle lane and nobody uses it) until they go through a red light/ ride on the pavement/ don’t wear helmets/ don’t pay their road tax, when suddenly they appear and distract the saintly motorist!

  35. mrchrispy says:

    Best artical/comments in the interweb this year!


  36. Steve says:

    You forgot, however irrelevant to the story, forcus on the fact that the person is not wearing a helmet – nothing else matters!

  37. Steve says:

    Genuinely frightening that this brainless article uses all of the above, almost word for word

  38. Don says:

    It’s funny because it’s true, it’s tragic because it’s true.

    I am still confident that this bastion of prejudice will eventually fall though, sooner rather than later for the sake of my anger issues I hope.

  39. This is the funniest article about cycling I think I’ve ever read. Or at least it would be if it wasn’t so completely accurate and true. Thank you.

    Have you thought of adding GBS’s quote “The trouble with the media is that it seems unable to distinguish between the end of the world and a bicycle accident.” Said in 1921 and still true today.

  40. Excellent of course, but given your evident understanding of the lower journalistic techniques, you’re being very coy about Step Five.

    Once you have submitted (and been paid for) your Outraged opener, you are then of course well placed to respond to it in equal and opposite terms under your other Nomdplume. As long as you remember to include in the most outraged language imaginable the White Van Man, Boris not wearing a helmet, CTC being ineffective at government lobbying, Oxford, students, London, bicycle lanes, bus lanes, life as a cycle courier (anyone’s), cardboard helmets, helmets generally, the environment and of course nude cycling…well, it’s all just too easy…

    Oh and this article will appear in the next issue of The Guardian at 25p/word – cheers!

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  42. Lazy: check
    Spiteful: check
    No pretence at objectivity: check
    In fact everything in your guide above: check

    …in this piece by Melissa Kite:

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  49. A Piggott says:

    Hi, re the Terrible Journalists Guide, I often refer friends and send twitter links to this article, however, do you think you could update it to include a reference to Jerremy Clarkson’s article in the Sunday Times today and perhaps change the Olympic reference to this year’s TDF start in Yorkshire. Cheers.

  50. marknoakden says:

    You missed one – cyclists wear cameras and go around reporting drivers to the police/posting their footage on YouTube, for nothing more serious than merely breaking the law or driving dangerously. If they want to behave like modern-day vigilantes, they should go out and catch some proper criminals. (Sadly, this is an actual example from a recent Daily Heil article by the odious Sarah Vine).

  51. staine says:

    Haha, I laughed a lot. Problem is, these instructions won’t get to the target, and if they did, the target wouldn’t get the hint 😉

  52. staine says:

    Must say, I’m a bit disappointed. As a Swede, I had the prejudice that Brits are tolerant towards cyclists. Seems that you have som attitude issues as well as we do…

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