But going after cyclists is a sport the papers had mastered before this pandemic. In the rule popularised by author Malcolm Gladwell, that 10,000 hours of practice is the path to expertise, then they’ve long been world class. I’ve written about the sociological idea of ‘othering’ in this column before, which is the undesirable objectification of another person or group, and those on bikes have long been seen as a homogeneous group that it’s fair game to stigmatise. In times of crisis, it becomes easier to ‘other’ groups and pin blame on them.
Whether you’re choosing to cycle as your means of exercise right now, or choosing some other form, we’re entitled to do it and we really do still need to do it. Nobody should be shaming us into not cycling, and those fuelling a perception of a problem bigger than it truly is risk causing even more damage to an already beset nation.
There are those out on the roads causing real harm – see another report in The Times, on the very same Monday as the ‘group’ cycling story, of speeding motorists being let off with written warnings because the police are too stretched. The Guardian also reported that the average speed of some 20mph zones in London had risen to 37mph over Easter as motorists took advantage of quieter roads. Just let that sink in for a second. Emboldened drivers taking advantage of a drop in traffic numbers to 1955 levels to get away with offences that could kill people. This whole ‘don’t cycle because you might fall off and put the NHS under more pressure’ argument feels very much like a talking point created by motorists. In truth, the only danger I’m under when riding a bike comes from negligent and distracted driving.
It’s hard to overstate just how important exercise is right now. We can only go out once, and not for as long as we’re accustomed to, so when we do see the light of day it is vital for our physical and mental health. By the time you read this, the UK might have gone down the route of some of our European neighbours and banned all outdoor activity. Health secretary Matt Hancock may have rowed back again on his initial row back and banned outdoor exercise. It would be an immense mistake for the nation’s short and long-term health. Imagine a country where running, walking or riding in the park is banned, but you can puff away on your ciggies
and stock up your drinks cabinet at the still-open off licences.
Raising the drawbridge on exercise won’t help us or the country now, nor further down the road.
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Photo by Coen van den Broek on Unsplash