Friday, 10 February 2012

Politics of Cycling

It seems of late that you can’t pick up a newspaper or turn on an interweb without a politician giving you their opinion of cycling.

Whether it’s Ken Livingstone saying cyclists should get priority at traffic lights; David Cameron offering support to the Times’ Cities fit for Cyclists campaign; or Nigel Farage saying we’re a bit of a nuisance in town and country.

It’s Mr Farage who has inspired me to write today, I confess I don't know an awful lot about him, certainly not enough to know his views on cycling before he mentioned them on Wednesday. One thing I did know though was that UKIP claim to be on the libertarian side of the spectrum, indeed they went so far as courting former  Libertarian Party members when that party closed its doors. Libertarianism is of course a rather broad church and will encompass views from "I will drive a car whenever and however I want" right across to "I will ride a bike and avoid paying tax".

Even so, I am still a little surprised that someone on the libertarian side would be hostile to cyclists riding two abreast or whatever they do to annoy him, because for all their faults cyclists are not much of an inconvenience to anyone. For some reason whatever negative effect a cyclist does have will be amplified in the mind of the person inconvenienced. 

Consider a pair of cyclists riding two abreast, you're driving along, they are ahead, you slow down, maybe ten seconds passes, a minute even, let's be outrageous and say two whole minutes pass while you are behind them waiting for an opportunity to overtake. If it is so difficult to overtake that you must wait two minutes before you can do so chances are it's a windy little lane and you probably shouldn't be doing more than 40mphish anyway, Sunday cyclists probably average 15mph so you are only delayed something like 1m20s. Clearly an eternity. Yet the amplification of negativity seems largely confined to cyclists, I don't really hear the same expressions of anger directed at horse riders or walkers.

Anyway, the point I want to get around to is that cycling is pretty much the most libertarian form of transport. Cyclists are, depending on who you speak to, the direction the conversation moves in and what side they got out of bed, hippy environmentalists, flashy mamils, aggressive pricks etc. But complaints about cyclists generally fall under the banner of it being unregulated, low cost, anti-authority, hence why it is libertarian. Look at all the libertarian benefits

1. No licence
2. No registration
3. No emissions tax
4. No VAT on bike (if C2W) or fuel
5. No fuel duty
6. No insurance (unless you so choose)
7. Every mile ridden is money kept out of the government pocket and in yours
8. Very limited possibility of committing a criminal or traffic offence so reducing potential interaction with police or courts.
9. You're unlikely to ever be liable for significant injury or financial claims
10. You can largely get away with breaking traffic laws, although getting caught goes against 8.

Why would a libertarian of any colour be against such an anti-authoritarian pursuit? It is truly wrong to consider things on a simple left/right spectrum, the political compass is two dimensional, with regulation of economics on one axis and regulation of society on the other. In cycling the anti-establishment left and the libertarian right meet together on the social axis. 


  1. Ah yes, but many cycling advocates campaign for more stringent legislation and enforcement for motorists, which isn't exactly very libertarian, is it?

    1. Is this not where we look for the border between libertarian and anarchy? An anarchist might say any traffic laws are bad, a libertarian might appeal for laws that balance freedoms and protect equally.

  2. Riding two abreast is just rude. It's an egocentric and disrespectful hogging of the road. Just like standing on the left of an escalator on the tube when there are people in a hurry behind you.

  3. By that logic, walking is even more libertarian (as 8 and 10 are even more in your favour).

    Interesting argument, but I'm not entirely sure I agree with the logic.

    It might be better put that Cycling could be used to lead people towards libertarianism?

    1. I suppose walking is, but also it isn't a great form of transport.

      This makes an interesting read.

  4. occassional cyclist14 February 2012 at 13:12

    Following a couple of cyclists riding two abreast for two minutes.
    No not really a problem except that after the first few seconds they're certainly aware your there & wanting to pass. If you get much past a minute what you have in front of you is a pair of egocentric c***s who are telling you in no uncertain terms "F**k You!"
    Good opportunity to wash the screen when you do get to overtake.

    1. Riding two abreast is a tricky one.

      For starters, if you can't quickly and safely pass two abreast, then there's a fair chance you can't pass one without not leaving them enough room. In which case you should hold back anyway.

      Secondly, if the road situation calls for a cyclist to be in primary position, the 'outer' rider might take this position and this would be the position they are in whether or not the other rider is there.

      Thridly, passing riders two abreast might put you in the oncoming lane for less time than passing them in tandem.

      And lastly, they might have a good reason for wanting to keep you behind, sometimes riders will see things a driver can miss. Although in those situations it's often good to put a hand out, palm backwards to indicate 'hold your position'.

      Just saying, it's not always cut and dried, but yes, they might be twats.