On the morning that my husband was to leave on a 850km bike ride to raise money for the John Hunter Children's Hospital (that's riding from the Gold Coast to Newcastle), I opened the newspaper to read an article by Sam de Brito lambasting cyclists. In his own words, 'the main thrust of the column is that cycling is the new golf, with the "same grim-faced, entitled white men who used to plague golf courses" now smugly telling you they've shrunk their carbon footprint since they traded in the Beemer for two wheels.'
I know that none of the accusations de Brito aimed at cyclists apply to my husband. I'm not worried about his individual reputation. But the problem is, de Brito is playing on an existing ill-feeling towards cyclists by many drivers, and to inflame this in any way poses a real risk to cyclists' safety. I'm not here to defend all cyclists and their behaviour. Sure, some of the stereotypes ring true. But the bottom line is: what is the point of picking on a whole group of people based on the actions of a few, especially if you are potentially putting them in danger by doing so?
There is a chance that people who already have a self-righteous sense of road ownership and hatred of cyclists will have had it inflated by reading that column, and will feel completely justified the next time they force a cyclist off the road. Clearly de Brito has no idea of the danger cyclists often face from aggro drivers. Either that, or he knows, but just doesn't care. OK, some cyclists are aggro too. But it's hardly a fair fight. Who's more likely to come off second-best- a guy on a bike or a guy steering a tonne of steel? And what has the fight between risk-taking cyclists and drivers full of road rage got to do with those cyclists who do follow the rules, who are being respectful, who enjoy the sport and would like to come home in one piece at the end of a ride?
Let me address a few of his claims directly.
"Correct me if I'm wrong but I reckon the average Chinese factory belching out carbon-fibre bicycle frames might make up for the fuel consumption of your former four-wheel-drive."
Um, you're wrong. The production of one carbon-fibre bicycle is nowhere near the carbon footprint of a four-wheel-drive, either in production or the energy it takes to run.
"Some bloke who doesn't even pay $700 rego wants to complain to me about my indicating while he treats red lights as suggestions."
Why do you think people would want to complain about your indicating? Perhaps because you left it till the last minute and nearly knocked some one off their bike? Not only that, most cyclists are motorists as well and do pay rego, which incidentally, has nothing to do with their right to complain about your indicating.
De Brito thinks "it's a sign of a critic being absolutely bloody spot-on when a person or group can't laugh at a barb". Does this mean that if you can't laugh at something, it must be true? If some one wished your dog dead because you don't walk it often enough, and you don't find that funny, is it because it's a bit close to the bone? No, Sam. It's just because it's hurtful, unnecessary, and NOT FUNNY.
Case in point:
"Part of me reckons the cycling fad has to do with blokes hating their families. Can't be bothered ferrying the kids to sport on a Saturday? Take up cycling, ride 100 kilometres down the coast and you don't have to see the little bastards until sunset."
Not close to the bone. Just not funny. My husband gets up at 5am each Saturday to cycle, comes home at 9.30 and spends the rest of the day with the family. Not at the pub, working or watching footy on TV.
"It's weird: blokes are getting around with tiny upper bodies, shaving their legs and looking like waifs and chicks are going to the gym to do boxing classes and get rock-hard abs.
Sure, cycling is health conscious and oh-so European but so is yoghurt and you don't need to wear hard-plastic ballet shoes to eat the stuff. Oh, but it relaxes you? Could've fooled me every time I get abused by some 60-year-old cardiovascular surgeon who thinks roads were purpose-built for his Raleigh."
Where to start with this doozy? Misogyny. Sarcasm. And again, Sam, why do you think you are
constantly being abused by cyclists? Could the common denominator be YOU?
He then uses one example of a rich guy in Africa employing an armed security guard on his ride, and finishes with 'Seriously. And we wonder why half the world wants to kill white people.' So let's trivialise racism and oppression while we're at it. I’m pretty sure the cyclists of the world are not to blame for the world’s inequality.
De Brito claims that he was just having a joke. Then when he received some heated responses to his article, he cried foul. His mature response on twitter to professional cyclist Mark Renshaw (who tweeted 'now we know your name' or similar) was 'beep beep, thud.’
De Brito seems to believe in that old Aussie chestnut, whereby if you complain about some one abusing you, 'you can't take a joke.' Seems like when the abuse is channelled back the other way, however, he isn't too keen either. The idea that you are humourless if you don't like being belittled is a fairly common one in mainstream Australia.
What was he hoping to achieve by this invective? Was the ultimate aim simply parody? Was he just trying to raise a laugh? That seems a bit pathetic when there are so many other social issues that could use the attention. And there are ways and means of gently roasting people so that they are in on the joke, so that they can have a laugh at themselves whilst retaining their dignity. It just takes a bit of wit and insight. Both of which de Brito is clearly lacking.
He accuses those who take offence at his insults as having had a 'humour bypass'. Well it seems to me that Sam de Brito has had a 'compassion bypass'. What he writes is just plain mean. Any schoolyard bully can come up with this stuff. It's not just cyclists that have copped it. He claims that cyclists, fat people, vegans and body builders - seemingly fairly disparate groups in society - are humourless. All four groups have reacted strongly to his ‘jokes.’ Maybe he needs to take a look at the common denominator there too - himself.
Face it: there are idiots everywhere. And cycling is no exception. But there is a difference between playfully having a go and reinforcing stereotypes that could potentially put the target of your invective in danger by inciting others to reckless behaviour. Thankfully my husband made it back from the Gold Coast safely. No thanks to Sam.