As I haven’t written anything in these virtual pages for some time, I have no regular readers left. However, those amongst you, reading now, that were will know that most of my bleating takes place on the pages of http://twitter.com/fatmanonabike. Rarely does a day go by when some idiot posts an anti-cyclist tweet along the lines of “the only good cyclist is a dead cyclist” or “hahaha…I saw a cyclist get knocked off his bike on my way to work”, along with the usual comments about road tax.
Now, I don’t care if you don’t like cycling. I don’t care if you don’t ride a bike. I don’t care if you think wearing tight, shiny lycra and riding around, balancing on a pair of tyres narrower than the gusset in your girlfriend’s thong, makes me “a big poof”. I genuinely don’t. However, when I read tweets, such as one of the many this morning, which read, “I can’t describe the vibe I get when I drive by 6 cyclists and 5 I hit!”, my natural reaction is one not of outrage but of fear. I’m worried about saving my skin. As Robert De Niro said in Ronin, “…it covers my body”. Ironically, Ronin has possibly the best car chase scenes of any film made, but that’s besides the point.
Am I right to be concerned? I think so. Consider for a moment, if you will, what the response would have been if the offending tweet had the word “cyclist” substituted with, say, “nigger”, or any number of other words connected with inciting racial hatred. People have seen the inside of prison cells for just that kind of tweet.
I concede that my knowledge of criminal law is now considerably more sketchy than the sketchy knowledge I had before I forgot a lot of it, but let’s, just for a moment, turn this around. Here’s a hypothetical scenario to consider: Brian Can’t wakes up one miserable Tuesday morning. His life is bad enough, having a surname like Can’t, and never being taken seriously when applying for a credit card, but he was late home the previous evening because he’d been “stuck” behind a “pesky cyclist”. Anyway. He gets up and tweets, “Cyclists piss me off. I’m going to knock a cyclist off his bike if he gets in the way today”. Not the most vile, hateful tweet I’ve read, but still more than a little unpleasant. Now, Brian has his Weetabix (other cereals are available upon request), a cup of tea, and chills out a bit. He then gets in his car, and sets off to work. Half way there, a wasp flies in through his open window and, being highly allergic to wasp stings, he panics a bit. The result of this panicking is that he’s involved in an accident, which tragically kills a cyclist. To many of you now, this sounds a little far-fetched, but I know for a fact* that stranger things happen every day. The witnesses to the accident saw Brian gesticulating frantically “at the cyclist”, not at the wasp he was desperately trying to get out of the car. Then some traumatised soul, having read Brian’s tweet earlier, and now surveying the scene, accuses Brian of murder. “Look at his tweet,” the prosecution lawyer says, “It was a premeditated act of violence.” Brian’s defence of, “It was just a tweet. It was early in the morning, and I was grumpy” cuts no ice with the judge, and even less with the jury, seven of whom happen to be frequent cyclists.
So that’s just a hypothetical scenario, where no-one actually exists and no-one is actually killed. Warning tweeters that they should be careful not to say things they don’t mean, lest they find themselves being vigorously bummed in prison showers, is not my message. On that score, I’m hardly the one to talk. I frequently use Twitter to say things that I don’t necessarily mean or believe, purely to provoke a reaction. In the main, I do this to give people an opportunity to consider alternative perspective, or to be simply base. My message is far less complicated than that.
I am human. A human man, covered in skin, with blood, bones, liver, lungs and spleen. I have a pancreas of which I am excessively proud. Every time I swing my leg over the crossbar of my bicycle, and set off to ride on the tarmac that our taxes have contributed towards, I am in very real and, on occasions, very frightening danger. I ride on because it is good for my body and my mind. I ride on because I love the sport which consumes so many hours of my life. I ride on despite the danger and, although you’re not to tell the missus, because it is a little bit dangerous. I ride on, despite all the falls, accidents, broken bones and broken bikes. You won’t stop me riding by posting a vile, hurtful tweet, but you will, and regularly do, put the fear of fuck knows what into me. Are you the man in that Transit van that’s hurtling towards my back wheel? Are you the dickhead in the badly-pimped Vauxhall Corsa, paying no attention to the road as your mate shows you his cock-piercing? You’re probably not. You’re the unseen fear, the one that Tweets from behind a pseudonym, drives the unassuming car, yet scares the shit out of me from the comfort and safety of my own front room. I am one of those cyclists who, taken collectively, will make it onto your “militant wanker shit-list”. If you’re going to tweet things like this, you have to expect a very vicious backlash. It is because we are fucking scared.
*How do I know these things “for a fact”? I’ll tell you. I am a Paramedic. I’ve been in the Ambulance Service for eleven years. I’ve seen shit you wouldn’t believe. This isn’t a boast, or even something I generally divulge. I know what bits are supposed to be connected to other bits, and how much damage a car does to a cyclist. I’ve also seen how much damage a bike does to the driver of a car. Not much.