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Media watch - Cyclists: heroes, victims, or villains

A look at cycling in the media in the last seven days…

Scanning the media for references to cycling is part of the daily routine here at road.cc and after a while doing it you quickly get the impression that for most hacks an association test on the subject of cycling would go somelthing like this:

"Chris Hoy,…Olympic Gold… Victoria Pendleton… Lycra… Lycra louts… red lights… menace… danger!"

Dunno if you'd noticed this, but the media do have a tendency to over dramatise, they have papers to shift and adverts to sell after all. So bad news is better than good news, unless it's really good news - like winning a sackful of Olympic Gold medals. They also like to be able to give groups handy labels – so the Olympic track team are heroes… and the rest of us…Well their not quite sure whether we're victims or villains. Either way we're bad news, which is good news cos it sells!

Nobody who rides on Britain's roads would pretend that they are any sort of utopian cycling paradise, and they certainly aren't as safe as they could but if you believed what you read in some quarters you would never go out on your bike – particularly in the North West. 

A piece in last Friday's Lancashire Evening Post talks about the shocking number of cyclists killed and injured on the county's roads in the past two years, while there's a new article on the Enjoy Cycling website that reveals the most dangerous cycle routes in Manchester – not a bad idea.

Cycling in the North-west is a grim and dangerous activity, then? Well it's not that grim and it isn't any more dangerous than anywhere else*.

"Shocking figures on the level of casualties among cyclists show more than 260 people have suffered injuries or been killed since 2006 - more than 120 of them children," says the Lancashire Evening Post story.

It also quotes Stuart Bullen, of New Longton as saying, "I have cycled from Land's End to John O'Groats a few times and it is quite obvious when you hit Stockton Heath until you get north of Lancaster those are the worst roads in the country for cyclists to be on."

Of course, the statistics are shocking in that any cycling casualty is one too many, and we wholeheartedly agree with any article that highlights problems and calls for improvements... but we can't help feeling that we need to get some balance here. Cycling - even cycling in heavy traffic - just isn't inherently dangerous and the statistics say that the North-west isn't a particularly dangerous area to ride. We know that’s not what these articles are saying but, if we’re not careful, that’s the impression we can give to the non-cycling public.

According to the Department for Transport (DfT), the number of cyclists killed on British roads fell by 7% last year and riding is actually safer than walking for the same distance travelled. And although the bike accident figures for Lancashire aren't great, they're far from the worst out there, while for Greater Manchester they're actually pretty good.

For the record, according to the DfT's 2007 report on road casualties that was released last month, the counties with the most cyclists killed or seriously injured compared to their total populations are Humberside, Nottinghamshire and Oxfordshire. Not that this is particularly meaningful, though, because it doesn't take into account the amount of cycling that's done in any of those areas. Lancashire is worse than average, but Greater Manchester is considerably better.

And don't get us wrong, we're not having a pop at anyone for drawing people's attention to the fact that casualties occur, there are problems with the cycling infrastructure, and there's loads more that needs to be done to improve the cyclist's lot. Oh yes, we're there 100% on that. But if we want more bums on saddles, and in the interest of telling the truth, we need to emphasise that cycling isn't all about danger too.

So that's cyclists as victims (we'll do cyclists as whingers soon), but here's a cracking example of  cyclists being set up in their normal role as media villains from BBC Radio 5 Live: home of the lazy assumption, and the even lazier researcher it would seem… Click the link, move the slider along to 1:51.08 (the end of the show, just before the happy Hull fan) and enjoy this exchange from the Weekend News show on Saturday evening between Lesley Ashmall and Peter Lipton from Sustrans in which they discuss BAD cyclists supposedly not stopping at zebra crossings and that hardy perennial: road tax for bicycles. One of them knows what they are talking about, the other doesn't, can you guess which it is?

 * Alright it's more dangerous than the counties with fewest serious bike accidents per head of population: Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, Devon and Staffordshire. 

 

Tony has been editing cycling magazines and websites since 1997 starting out as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning road.cc - which he continues to edit today. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes.

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