Don’t Wake The Bear

11 September 2014

When it comes to anyone broadcasting road safety messages to the public about the risks to people on bicycles, there’s a pattern of behaviour that’s been apparent for a long, long time.

I’ve remarked on it before in the context of TV adverts, but today provides a neat little vignette of how it also often pervades law enforcement.

An appeal

Today, Essex Police launched an appeal for witnesses to “a road rage incident”.

A 60-year-old was pushed off his bike, while on his way home from work, when a car [sic] overtaking overtaking a line of parked vehicles in the opposite direction refused to give way.

The cyclist was forced to stop and the driver edged his car forward until the bumper was touching the rider’s front tyre. A passenger proceeded to jumped [sic] out of the car, grabbed the handlebars and said he would drag the bike out of the road with the rider still in the saddle. During a struggle the rider and his bike fell to the ground.

It’s crucial to note the following additional point from the investigating officer:

The cyclist had the right of way

Leaving aside the semantics of “right of way” vs “priority”, we have here a clear case where one person is behaving entirely lawfully and is assaulted by two others.

But it’s not handled quite that way.

The bear grumbles

First, let’s deal with a comment from the officer which, whilst tangential, is so mind-boggling it’s impossible to let slip by.

Luckily the rider is an experienced cyclist and he was wearing a safety helmet which thankfully protected him from serious injury.

I have genuinely no idea why being “an experienced cyclist” is lucky here. This is a case of assault. Where does cycling experience enter into coping with being assaulted?

This statement appears to contain two implications: that experienced riders wear helmets, and that helmets are a good idea because you might get assaulted by violent morons. One is baseless and the other is, frankly, deranged.

Anyway, the bear is getting restless.

The bear snorts

Quick, let’s placate the bear.

I would urge drivers and cyclists to acknowledge each other’s rights on the road and reducing [sic] this unacceptable behaviour.

This comment has two clear halves to it. Firstly, this:

I would urge drivers to acknowledge cyclists’ rights on the road [to] reduce this unacceptable behaviour.

And secondly, this:

I would urge cyclists to acknowledge drivers’ rights on the road [to] reduce this unacceptable behaviour.

There we go: the tranquiliser dart in the neck. The bear—that irritable, powerful, collective beast of people who travel solely by car—is calm.

A reminder, in case the bit about helmets was a bit too distracting: This was a case where one perfectly law-abiding person was physically assaulted by another. That’s it. Nothing more to it.

Yet there has to be the sop to the bear.

In a case where someone gets out of a car through a false sense of entitlement and attacks someone on a bicycle who has done nothing wrong, the police feel the urge to remind “cyclists” to respect people’s rights.

The comment makes use of an isolated and unilateral act of violence to insidiously shift responsibility towards everyone who happens to share an arbitrary attribute with the blameless victim. It takes impertinence to astronomical levels: the victim in this case appears to have been doing exactly what the police presume to reduce the behaviour to which he was subjected.

Once deconstructed, the statement is clear: for one individual to launch an unprovoked and unjustified assault on another is to some extent justified—in the eyes of the police, no less—by the fact that some completely unrelated people may behave in a certain way.

Well, no, it’s not.

But, whilst people who cycle are few, people who drive are many and vocal, and collectively they loom imposingly over the conversation. The bear will turn on those who blame it. But while the bear sleeps, the person talking is safe.

And so, people continue to tranquilise the bear. It’s too dangerous not to.


  1. changelifechangeworld 11 September 2014 1:23pm #

    Great blog! I am a Parish Counselor in Gt. Baddow, Chelmsford. I am a campaigner for cycling, and I now have supporters from some City Councillors and all my local one’s as well. Keep writing, great stuff!

    • Wolf Simpson (@2_Wheeled_Wolf) 12 September 2014 10:44pm #

      Unfortunately this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Essex Police, I have tried to report drivers like this one which I have caught on video, but as a cyclist they turn a blind eye to this sort of behaviour. I only think this one got attention due to the age of cyclist & that was still poorly handled.

  2. coshgirl (@coshgirl) 11 September 2014 1:43pm #

    This is incredible victim blaming nonsense from the police but doesn’t surprise me. I am noticing an increasing number of news articles where the lack of a cycle helmet is mentioned – if a rider is injured while not wearing one – particularly in the case of head injuries. At the same time, cycle helmets are conveniently ignored in stories where the cyclist has been killed, or seriously injured while wearing a helmet. Why the discrepancy? Two stories in this week’s Standard illustrate my point. Both cyclists were hit by vehicles, and both received serious head injuries, but only in the case of the cyclist not wearing a helmet was it deemed relevant to the story (the guy was hit by a bus!) The wearing of a cycle helmet is also used posthumously by police/loved ones to justify that the cyclist didn’t deserve this to happen, for example the husband of Anna Roots said: ‘She was a careful cyclist and always wore a helmet’. The papers are full of ‘cycle helmet saved my life’ stories too, but silent on the ‘cycle helmet did F all’. There’s a dangerous underlying bias in media reporting of cyclist collisions, and it is feeding into a growing belief that cycle helmets should be compulsory. As someone who has cycled my whole life without one, I do not want to be forced to wear a plastic hat just to appease the ignorant masses…

    • Bez 11 September 2014 1:46pm #

      And, of course, that’s not to mention the stories of pedestrians, drivers and passengers who suffer serious or fatal head injuries while not wearing a helmet.

      But, people market helmets with the word “cycling” in front of them, so they must be necessary.

      *glances at driving helmet on desk*

      • Eric 12 September 2014 2:02pm #

        I had an accident on my bike in June (all my own fault, nobody else involved) where I ended up breaking my collar bone and a few ribs. I have so far been asked three separate times, by so-called medical professionals, whether I had been wearing a helmet. Completely irrelevant.

        The paramedic that came to me when I was still on the ground was the only one logically may have wanted to ask in case I had concussion or something but why I got asked 2 months later at a fracture clinic is beyond me.

    • paulc 11 September 2014 1:53pm #

      there appears to be an inordinate belief in the miracuclous powers of a few ounces of expanded polystyrene… especially in the case of those tragedies when the cyclist died but wasn’t wearing a helmet it appears that if only he’d been wearing those few ounces of EPS he’d have survived…

      • Bez 11 September 2014 2:02pm #

        It would make more sense in most cases, frankly, if they reported that the victim “was not wearing a car”.

  3. coshgirl (@coshgirl) 11 September 2014 2:04pm #

    Indeed. It’s as if cyclists are the only people who ever receive head injuries The whole thing make me want to bang mine on my desk!

  4. D. 11 September 2014 5:54pm #

    One of the more common conflicts I seem to encounter is where I have right of way, passing along a clear lane, and the car or van coming toward me pulls out into my lane to overtake parked cars and drives straight toward me. Just like the incident in your article. Unfortunately (or not, who knows?) I tend to chicken out and move over. But I think you’re right – there’s this sense of entitlement which needs to be addressed (“Well, you’re only on a bike, so you have room to move over, don’t you?” – my non-cycling wife). Grrr.

    • Sara (@SB_HH_JC) 11 September 2014 9:07pm #

      I was deliberately run over a few weeks ago after a driver lost his rag with me in exactly the situation you’ve just described.

  5. rdrf 12 September 2014 12:52am #

    Excellent post Bez.

    It is quite common for people adhering to “road safety” ideology to tell victims of rule/law breaking from drivers that they have been “lucky” to have survived either because they were doing something that they (the “road safety” types) have decided is something that you should do, however relevant it is to the incident.

    Or that they were “lucky” despite the fact they were not doing this thing (wearing a helmet, or hi-viz, or whatever) and that they should do this thing in future. Otherwise they won’t be so lucky.

    And everybody else should do this thing as well. Otherwise we might not be so – lucky.

  6. D. 12 September 2014 12:33pm #

    I think there are some good points made, by Bez and by the commenters.

    Why doesn’t the media stick to one policy – either they don’t mention at all that a cyclist was wearing hi-viz/helmet, or they mention it in every accident report (“The car driver was taken to hospital with severe injuries. The police have noted that he was not wearing a helmet.” “The cyclist was pronounced dead at the scene. He was wearing high visibility clothing and a helmet. The police noted that his helmet had been completely destroyed.”).

    Disclaimer – I wear a helmet, but only because my wife threatened me with physical injury if I didn.t…

  7. Sarah Swift 12 September 2014 12:37pm #

    Traffic calming in my (twenty’s plenty) suburb is chiefly provided in the form of parked cars. on one side of the road. When they’re on my side, I usually wait behind to let vehicles through rather than diving through narrow gaps. When they’re on the other side, the oncoming vehicle nearly always waits. Except, sometimes, when the oncoming vehicle is a bus, a bin lorry or a supermarket truck and I don’t make it wait. I’m never sure if I smartly pull my bike bike up onto the pavement to let those through because I feel sorry for the drivers trying to get hulking vehicles safely through untidy obstacle courses, or simply because of the visceral fear that rises in me when I see a very large vehicle being driven straight at me. Even at 10 mph.

  8. 15 September 2014 12:19pm #

    Saw that straight away, are they seriously implying that the cyclist would have been at fault if the yobbos had pushed him over and he’d cracked his head on the kerb because he wasn’t wearing a helmet? Because that’s what it sounded like to me.

    I really hope the witness got enough of the number plate to get them traced.

  9. Richard Burton 31 August 2016 9:46pm #

    Victim blaming by the police. Has an official complaint been made about their obvious bias?

    There are numerous examples of the police making statements to the effect that a “cycle helmet saved his life” which is never challenged by the media, even though it is incredibly unlikely to be true. The real problem is the media, which has been reporting that cycling is dangerous and that a helmet will make you safe, for thirty years, ably fronted by that bastion of partiality, the BBC.

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