I’m furious. Very few things I read about cycling make me actually angry, but on this occasion I’m furious.
Headlines and news stories containing disappointing revelations about this rider or that rider who have been caught doping are, sadly, plentiful but at most they usually invite only sad sighs of resigned defeat rather than anger.
However in a sport which has carried a theme of continual disappointment to me as a fan, today I read something that broke through my hardened shell of ambivalence and actually made me want to punch the computer screen.
It’s an account by a female cyclist who, while out for a casual weekend ride, was verbally assaulted twice by male cyclists, who clearly thought she had no right to be out on ‘their’ roads.
Why does this make me so angry? Beyond the obvious, you mean? It’s because this is a microcosm of everything that’s wrong with cycling in Britain.
It’s a sad fact that, where there is money involved, there will always be some people willing to cheat the system – ruining the sport for their own gain in the process. But those cheats can’t take one simple thing away from me – the pure pleasure of riding a bike. The only people who can do that are the people I meet out on the roads.
Cycling in the UK was, for a very long time, the preserve of middle class white men. Despite its huge boom in popularity, there are people who still act like that’s still very much the case.
Cheats can’t take one simple thing away from me – the pure pleasure of riding a bike. Only the people I meet out on the roads can do that.
It’s an entrenched mindset that unfortunately may take a whole generation to clean out. Go to any sportive and you’ll invariably find the majority of participants are still white and still male. I’ve been guilty myself of presenting a male-centric view of the sport – for which I was rightly shot down on Twitter.
This is how the cyclist describes the first incident: “Two cyclists come past me quite fast, one in black and red Castelli, the other in black and yellow Castelli cafe kit.
‘…off the fucking road you fat bitch…’”
She mentions feeling incensed. I’m right there with her. And then astonishingly, a few miles later, she is accosted again, this time on her way up Box Hill.
“‘A lone rider – quite tall in plain black kit passes just as the road straightens.
‘Can you get that fat ass up here?’ He snapped.”
This is on Box Hill, which is literally crawling with cyclists any day of the week. It’s generally a more diverse group of people too, both male and female – tourists and locals. What makes this arsehole think he can act like that?
And here’s the bit that really sums it up for me. The whole problem with road cycling in the UK summed up in 14 words,
“I know I’m not skinny. I know I’ve got big boobs and am curvy (I’m paraphrasing a nice male mate of mine here). I know I smoked for 10 years. I know I’m riding alone because I really haven’t found any clubs around here that I’d be happy to join.”
Often, not always, cycling clubs are a toxic environment for anyone whose face doesn’t fit – female or otherwise. That’s why there are so many ‘women only’ rides and clubs springing up. I’ve never seen those as a particularly great idea for improving inclusivity – segregation is a rarely a route to integration – but I can totally see why they appeal, given this is the culture we currently have.
From one male cyclist, I just want to say sorry, on behalf of these two relics of a bygone age. We’re not all like them. There is a place for you in our sport. There’s a place for everyone, no matter their size, race, age or gender.
This whole incident made me realise just how far we have to go. To paraphrase my mum when I got sent home from school for smoking behind the food technology block, ‘I’m not disappointed, I’m just very, very angry.’
Tom Owen was responding to a blog post which appeared on The Lonely Cyclist. You can visit www.vietnamcycle.net