Are you a bike bandit, or a cycling iPod zombie?

The Sunday Times, that venerable institution of middle England and, let's face it, one of our better quality broad sheets, had no less than TWO articles in it about cycling in London yesterday.  Now, for a national paper I consider that a lot, and should I be a Sunday Times subscriber in Shrewsbury or Skegness, say, I'd be feeling somewhat short-changed. 

But more worryingly still is the tone of both the articles - in one, which is written by a cyclist and actually goes on to provide a fairly broad and considered point of view, we are called "Bike Bandits".  In the other, which I can assume is what can only be the consequence of a very slow news day, and clearly NOT written by a cyclist, we are called cycling "iPod Zombies".   Apparently iPod-wearing cyclists are now so endemic that it justifies full column inches in a national newspaper, and, according to the cyclist we "are a bandit tribe who blithely ignore the usual laws of the road."


Are you one of this lot? (Photo courtesy of the Daily Mail)

Strangely enough there is no mention in either article of that strange and silent mysterious killer which destroyed 4920 innocent lives on our roads in the previous quarter alone, but that's not news I suppose...  Rules of the road?  I'm sure they were being followed when those 650 third party pedestrians were killed by this mystery killer (as according to the always superlative Malcolm Wardlow.)

Now I fully agree that wearing an iPod whilst cycling in central London seems like a particularly daft thing to do.  But then so is smoking, and I do that fully aware of the dangers involved.  I wouldn't cycle with my headphones in and on, but I assume the experience of shutting out the noise of traffic is akin to riding in a car with the windows wound up, the air conditioning on and the dulcet tones of Terry Wogan on Radio 2 keeping you company as you cruise your two tonne box of steel down the street?  I don't remember seeing an article about 'driving with your windows closed and radio on means you won't hear cyclists on the road'. 

More alarming still is the apparent immunity wearing iPod headphones gives to other drivers should they wish to ram you off the road:  "“iPod zombies are a menace. I saw a bus clip one of them the other day in Victoria who was oblivious to anything around him.” exasperates the article.  Never mind that perhaps the bus driver should have been looking where he was going, as oppose to clipping cyclists?

What worries me most of all about these articles is that the velorution hasn't happened here in London yet - we are still only slowly gathering momentum and there's a long way to go before things get really better.  In order for London, and the wider UK, to become more like Amsterdam or Copenhagen, we need ordinary and everyday people to consider cycling to be a safe and normal activity that they can do every day as innocently and, dare I say it, mindlessly as they presently do driving a car or catching the Tube.  So long as the press in the UK focus on these ridiculous non-stories, the longer it will take for this country to achieve that goal.

5 comments:

anna said...

I don't cycle with any headphones in the city. On the other, however, I have used my MP3 player on the Danube cycle path (there is no car traffic) -- on one ear to be able to hear cyclists approaching from behind better.

Good point about looked in car drivers. They can't hear my bike bell. And most of them can't even hear me shouting. It would certainly improve safety if the engines wouldn't produce so much noise (by the way, is there a restriction?) and if everybody had their windows down, at least in the city.

I also never hear that it's forbidden to listen to an iPod while driving a car. And actually, although I don't recommend that, it's also not forbidden to use an iPod on a bike. However, imho both should be.

Sue 'sans' helmet said...

...australia is busy coralling cyclists too in the press today with the usual paternalistic guideline stuff to make everything easier for motorists!!!

http://www.smh.com.au/national/cycle-rage-new-rules-for-pack-riders-20091130-jzmw.html

...and re helmets and the like, here's a link to a radio interview i did with jo jones from 2ser (sydney community radio station)last saturday - http://bikelove.wordpress.com/2009/11/29/30-november-sue-abbott/

- i am loving the cycling in sydney, and i checked out padding reservoir last week (have i told you that already? apologies if i have!)

Mark said...

Sue - glad you are continuing to love cycling in Sydney and enjoyed Paddo reservoir - in the summer it's a lovely place to cool down and find some shade if you've just made your way up Oxford Street under your own steam.

Glad to hear you are still busy on the activism front - for everyone here who isn't familiar with Sue you should check out her excellent blog on cycling in Australia and the ridiculous helmet laws they have there:
http://freedomcyclist.blogspot.com/

legitlee said...

I have read a couple of items on this subject, although I do not use ear phones on a bike because I wear hearing aids, when the the wind passes the microphones I cant hear anything, if I take them out I cant hear anything, am I to put my bikes away and use the car? in fact its my choice I might try it and have some soft music on in the back ground. Lee

Mark said...

Thanks for your comment Lee, and it's good to hear another point of view on this. I think you've banged the nail on the head - it should be a choice, and I worry that these articles, along with many other recent ones in a similar vein, are part of a push by the 'non-cycling forces' to introduce legislation to control cycling more, which can't be a good thing.