From London to Parris…

To: Matthew Parris, The Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1XY

Dear Matthew Parris,

I am writing in response to your article “What’s smug and deserves to be decapitated?” (The Times, 27 December 2007).

Whatever it is you’ve got against people who ride bicycles, to suggest that they deserve decapitation with piano wire is to step far over the often thin line that separates the wittily wicked from the plain nasty. Imagine an article that takes issue with Halloween in which the writer ‘jokes’ about giving trick or treating kids sweets laced with strychnine. Or piece against the war in Iraq that says British and American soldiers blown up by suicide bombers have received their just deserts.

The idea of cyclists meeting violent deaths on the road might make you chuckle, but I find it harder to see the funny side. Maybe it is because I know that every time I get on my bicycle I do face a small though very real risk of meeting a violent death myself. Maybe it is passing the spots where others have been killed, marked by floral tributes, bleached and withered by the sun and the rain. In London, where I live, around a dozen to twenty cyclists are killed each year, mostly in collisions with lorries turning left that have failed to see the cyclist on their inside. Earlier this month a woman by the name of Kate Charles was crushed under the wheels of a Tesco lorry in Brixton. In cases where the driver is found guilty of negligent or reckless driving, the punishment is invariably slight: a few points on the license, perhaps a short ban or a fine of a few hundred pounds. Custodial sentences are rare.

Indifference to the death and serious injury of people riding bicycles is commonplace and spiteful articles such as yours that seek to dehumanize people on bicycles only exacerbate the problem. There is a hidden assumption that people on bicycles are somehow ‘asking for trouble’, just as women rape victims are said to have asked for it if they were wearing a short skirt at the time of the attack. As for your idea that cyclists are all smug, self-righteous, self-satisfied, insolent jerks, I have no idea what your evidence is, since most of the cyclists I know are charming, cheerful and considerate souls (and that extends to not dropping litter, although there will always be a few exceptions). If you think about it, the very act of taking to the road without a two-ton box of steel to protect you means that you are trusting enough to put your life in the hands of others, and you have sufficient faith in humanity to believe that they will not run you down. I am sure your own antipathy an acute case of Freudian projection, with a side order of envy each time a bicycle glides past while you’re stuck in a traffic jam.

Normally I would not write letter like this in response to yet another unthinking newspaper diatribe against people who ride bicycles. Over the year, the best of your writing has been distinguished by its humanity, thoughtfulness and rationality. That’s why this particular column was such a surprise. Perhaps you were short of ideas in the last few days before Christmas and having seen the growing popularity of cycling thought that a bit of low rent contrarian invective would fill some space. Or maybe you just wanted to provoke a reaction.

Having risen to the bait, I’d like to make you a proposal. I present The Bike Show, a weekly radio programme on cycling, art and society that is broadcast on London’s experimental art radio station Resonance 104.4fm. The show features ‘rolling interviews’ with artists, writers, poets, scientists, philosophers and others, all of whom share the belief that, as John F. Kennedy put it, “nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride”. Someone once said that journalists should write about what they know. In that spirit, may I invite you out on a gentle afternoon ride (town or country) so you can find out what all the fuss is about. I’ll even lend you my spare machine. How about that for turning the other cheek?

Yours sincerely,

Jack Thurston
The Bike Show

Update – 30 December 2007

I had assumed that piano wire decapitation was pure fantasy on the part of Parris. Turns out that it’s not. Chapeau to Treadly and me for compiling a list of real life incidents that I have reproduced below:

17 December 2007: London Olympics 2012

Olympics 2012Does the coming of Olympics in 2012 spell disaster for cycle sport in London or will it bring much needed regeneration of a neglected part of the city? A ride with Patrick Field around the perimeter fence of the construction site in north east London and an interview with Michael Humphreys, chair of the Eastway Users Group, on the destruction of the popular Eastway road, mountain bike and cyclo-cross circuits, the interim facilities and plans for the legacy Velopark on the Olympics site.

The Bike Show will be off air until Monday 7th January 2008, when Resonance FM resumes its live broadcast schedule after the Christmas break. Chapeau and Bonne Route for 2008!

MP3 | Other file formats (e.g. Ogg Vorbis)

10 December 2007: How to Win at Roller-Racing

Roller racingReigning Rollapaluza champion and two-time ‘Raphapaluza’ winner Simon Jackson gives his tips on how to win at the frenzied sport of static bike racing. Plus a preview of the upcoming ITV comedy-drama series Bike Squad (aka “The Bill on bikes”) with Robert Collins of the Daily Telegraph.

Get down to the Bicycology film night on Thursday 13 December at the RampArt Social Centre, London E1 and of course to Rollapaluza IX-mas at the Waterloo Action Centre, 14 Baylis Road, London SE1.

MP3 128kb | Other file formats (e.g. Ogg Vorbis)

Vote Now: £50 million for cycle paths

The vulgar spectacle and regressive tax on the poor and the hopeless that is the UK’s National Lottery, is giving away £50 million of its ill-gotten loot to one of four ‘worthy causes’, to be decided by a popular vote in which everyone in the UK can take part. The poll closes on 10 December.

One of four projects in the running is Sustrans, the excellent charity which makes bike paths and other good things in the cause of sustainable transport. If it wins the vote, Sustrans would spend the money on Connect2:

“A UK-wide project that aims to improve local travel in 79 communities by creating new walking and cycling routes for the local journeys we all make every day. By building bridges and crossings over busy roads, rivers and railway lines, Connect2 will get people to the places they want to go. Each crossing will link to a network of walking and cycling routes, taking you to your schools, shops, work and green spaces. Connect2 will also bring people closer together, making journeys quicker and more convenient and leaving more time to spend with family and friends.”

After the jump is a rather tacky video that explains all about it. Anyway, as the Chicago mob bosses used to say, vote early and vote often. By phone on 0870 24 24 602 (calls cost 10p from a landline, maybe a shade more from a mobile) or online. Continue reading

3 December 2007: Fixed Fever

Insane fixed wheel bicycleOver the past five years a craze for riding bicycles with only one gear and no freewheel has taken off, in New York, London, Sydney and cities all around the world. We take a long hard look at the merits and excesses of the scene. Featuring an extended interview with the mystery man behind the Bike Snob NYC blog, Roxy Erickson of London’s Trixie Chix and Gabriel Nogueira, one of the prime movers in the small but growing fixed wheel crowd in Curitiba, southern Brazil.

MP3 | Other file formats (Ogg Vorbis etc)

This week’s show also features the soundtrack of the fantastic short film Bicycle Samba, by Sophie Clements and John Hendicott.

Fixed Links:

London Fixed Gear Forum
Fixed Gear Gallery
Sheldon “Coasting is bad for you” Brown
Fixed Wheel UK
London Bike Polo

Update (5 December):

‘DVD extras’ from the Bike Snob NYC for podium finishers:

On why he came to write the blog (MP3: 1’44”)
On his true identity(MP3: 2’18”)