"Whoever invented the bicycle deserves the thanks of humanity."
Perhaps if Lord Charles Beresford (1846-1919) had been forced to navigate the overcrowded pavements of 21st century London instead of patrolling the high seas he would have kept this oft-quoted nonsense to himself. As John McEnroe once succinctly put it, “You cannot be serious.”
Now the wheel, of course, was a really great idea. I give thanks to the nameless Sumerians or Mesopotamians responsible for that particular “light bulb moment”. But if I am ever forced to prostrate myself before the Great God of Inventions, I think telephones, chocolate, and the flushing toilet will be rather higher up my list than the accursed bicycle.
Cycling is a subject that polarizes opinion. On one side we have the British government’s tax-busting Cycle to Work scheme and Beresford’s spiritual descendants joyously spreading the word that “Cycling is fun, fast, green, and healthy”. In the opposite camp are the massed ranks of motorists and pedestrians who’d be happy never to clap eyes on another lycra-wearing, pannier-toting, cycling evangelist ever again.
I must admit that I’m a pedestrian and fully-fledged velophobe. I’m not prepared to go quite as far as The Times columnist Matthew Parris did with his call for litterbug bike riders to be decapitated. But I’m definitely right behind him when he asks: “Does cycling turn you into an insolent jerk? Or are insolent jerks drawn disproportionately to cycling?”
In the middle-class suburb of west London where I live, a weekend shopping trip involves running the gamut of clipboard-wielding charity workers, newsreaders, and buggy-pushing “yummy mummies” with their scooter-riding offspring in tow. Add into the mix the increasing number of riders who feel it is their God- or perhaps government-given right to invade pedestrian space with their bikes and their bad attitude and you have a problem.
I have lost count of the number of angry encounters I have had with riders both male and female, of all ages, races, and social classes when they squeeze past me with millimetres to spare, or come at me head on with a look that says “Get the hell out of my way!” The flashpoint tends to be my assertion that they have no right to be there. As the Department for Transport website helpfully reiterates: Cycling on the footway (pavement) is an offence under Section 72 of the Highways Act 1835 as amended by Section 85 (1) of the Local Government Act 1888.