I'm not a fan of Matthew Parris anyway, but this is grotesque:
A festive custom we could do worse than foster would be stringing piano wire across country lanes to decapitate cyclists.
A charming opening line, eh? And it doesn't get any better.
It’s not just the Lycra, though Heaven knows this atrocity alone should be a capital offence; nor the helmets, though these ludicrous items of headgear are designed to protect the only part of a cyclist that is not usefully employed; nor the self-righteousness, though a small band of sports cyclists on winter’s morning emits more of that than a cathedral at evensong; nor even the brutish disregard for all other road users, though the lynching of a cyclist by a mob of mothers with pushchairs would be a joy to witness.
Like many other commentaters who for reasons best known to themselves reserve their bitterest hatred for cyclists, he claims it's the self-righteousness that gets to him. Not that Matthew himself could be accused of being in any way smug:
Bin-liners in hand, a group of us, infused with the seasonal goodwill that illuminates this column, of course, decided to walk a mile of a pretty and winding lane that had become particularly badly littered this winter, and collect it all. It’s amazing how much of the stuff there is when you start looking, and we ended up with a whole sackful.
No self-righteousness there, then.
He's not done yet, unfortunately:
What is the carbon footprint of a panting, sugar-gulping, chocolate-chewing, Lycra-clad leisure-cyclist? a) His or her journey is totally unnecessary; b) whole convoys of cargo boats steam the Atlantic to bring the molasses to be energy-intensively refined for them; and c) the chemical processes that generate the vile materials that clothe, shoe and helmet a cyclist – not a man-made fibre among them – will be poisoning entire provinces of China.
But it’s the bad manners one cannot forgive. Driving or walking, don’t you just hate the way that, riding two or three abreast, they shout and curse at you or whir their angry little bells, as though it’s your problem that they need to clear the way? In just one little posse of these monsters there are levels of self-satisfaction that could power a small religious crusade.
Does cycling turn you into an insolent jerk? Or are insolent jerks drawn disproportionately to cycling?
This is offensive garbage, and not worthy of a response, but it is interesting how common this hatred of cyclists (cyclophobia?) is. Maybe part of it is the old story of fearing most what's just above you in the food chain. Pedestrians dislike cyclists; cyclists dislike cars; cars dislike lorries. And there's also the familiar argument about cyclists disobeying traffic signals, but I'd take that more seriously from pedestrians if they themselves showed the slightest inclination to stop wandering across the road whenever they felt like it.
No, there's more to it than that, and it occurs to me that there's a clue in the phrase "angry little bells".
Imagine Matthew Parris and chums strolling down a country lane. A car comes up behind. They hear it, they move to the side ("There's a car coming") and the car passes happily by, with maybe a wave. If the driver had honked his horn, they'd consider it unnecessarily rude. A bike, though, makes no noise. Parris and friends are oblivious. What's the cyclist to do? Well, the normal procedure is to tinkle the bell. It alerts the strollers to the need to move to the side. But for many pedestrians - especially pompous self-important ones - there's something peremptory about that "angry little bell" that just annoys them. It's the equivalent in terms of etiquette of the car honking it's horn behind them. It's rude. It seems like a demand that the pedestrians make way, when, really, all things considered, they've as much right to the road as the wretched cyclist. So they move with bad grace, if at all.
That's my experience as a cyclist, coming up behind a group of walkers blocking the path. I'm aware as I do it that ringing my bell sounds somehow rude, peremptory, ungracious. If I had a polite-sounding bell that uttered a cough followed by an "excuse me, I'm terribly sorry, but I wonder if I could just slip by if it's not too much trouble", then I'd use it. Sometimes I'll try and make some noise as I approach, by riding over some gravel or something, so as to alert them, as it were, naturally: anything to avoid the cry and start of surprise you sometimes get, as they assume you're bearing down on them at full speed and are just about to run them down - which means they usually jump right into your path. Interestingly my wife, who comes from a culture, Belgium, where bikes and pedestrians have mingled happily for ages, feels no compunction whatever about ringing her bell loudly and frequently. Here in Britain, though, it's not how we do things: pedestrians don't like it.
Normally I'll say a loud "thanks" as I go past, to keep up the good will. If it were Matthew Parris, though, I'd probably come up with something a little stronger.