Ricky Ross cyclist-bashing

28th May 2020

Bicycle with lights
Bicycle with lights, by Lucius Kwok, Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

I was incredibly disappointed to see Ricky Ross (Deacon Blue band member and occasional BBC radio presenter) writing anti-cycling rhetoric on Twitter the other day. Specifically:

"Worst thing about lockdown is a whole generation of new cyclists now cycling with no lights and no clue."

He went on to complain that a cyclist with no lights almost crashed head on with him. I'm sure he's right - in any case, I wasn't there so I can't know. Still, it's always 'nearly' this and 'almost' that, but in truth collisions involving bikes are a tiny percentage of road traffic injuries.

Anti-cycling prejudice

The Twitter thread quickly turned into an anti-cycling prejudice-fest - you could play anti-cyclist bingo, with all the usual complaints. "Cyclists," "they" were always doing things wrong - riding on the pavement, some said, riding on the road complained others, going around without liability insurance, and bla bla bla bla bla. It was the entirely predictable result after Ross had fired the starting gun.

All of it was moaning and grumbling about all the things "cyclists" always do wrong. None of it was kind and considerate concern for the safety of people riding bikes - which was what Ross tried to claim when challenged. ('Listen. I'm talking about cyclists safety.')

In effect, Ross had given licence to a lot of people to express their anti-bicycle prejudices, and they didn't hold back. 'Are we allowed to run them off the toad [sic] in large 4x4s?' asked Ben Jenko. Ross engaged with Jenko about his spelling mistake, but didn't challenge the content of his Tweet. It was dismissed by others as a joke. Probably that was the intention, but it's not wise or in good taste.

Would you joke about bullying and threatening other groups of people with a lethal weapon?

My issues with the thread Ross started

My issues are:

  1. If Ross wants to recount a specific incident on Twitter, fine. What I object to is taking aim at a whole ill-defined group, and the 'othering' of people who ride bikes - making them an out-group that's an easy target for vitriol, people who have 'no clue'.
  2. Ross has something of a public profile, and with that comes a responsibility to be measured in his statements, and not to encourage the vilification of certain people - in this case people using a particular form of transport.
  3. The government is asking people to ride bikes - rightly. Public transport capacity is down due to the Coronavirus, and if everyone drives instead it causes big problems of pollution and congestion. We should be celebrating new cyclists, not complaining about them.

Real world consequences

I ride a bike to get around town. (I also sometimes drive and often walk). Only when I'm riding a bike am I regularly put in danger - by drivers carrying out risky manoeuvres without concern for my safety. When I complain, I get the middle finger.

There's an overlap between the hostility and unreasonable behaviour of those drivers, and the sentiments expressed on Ross's Twitter thread. It comes down to the idea that it's ok to hate "cyclists". It's ok to hate "them". (Once you've labelled people as "cyclists" who are all the same, who all do things wrong, who probably have no right to be wherever they are, who should just get out of the way - once you've dehumanised "them" in that way, "they" are easier to despise).

Knowingly or not, Ross emboldened lots of people to express anti-bicycle prejudice. This sort of rhetoric does have a real-world effect, and people on bikes are that bit less safe because of it.

Yesterday, two members of Barnsley Road Club were targeted by a driver who deliberately aimed at them and left one of them with a broken back.

I'm fed up of being put in danger while riding my bike and I've decided to stand up to the bullies.

Pithy replies

Luckily there were quite a few pithy replies that cut the ground from under Ross's feet. 'The "worst thing about lockdown" is more people choosing healthy, zero emission transport. Right...' Also, 'We're only a month away from the longest day of the year - it's currently light in Glasgow from 5am to 10pm. If you can't see cyclists in these conditions then you may want to get an eye test.'

Most of the time I ignore this kind of rubbish, but something about Ross's complacent self-righteousness, and refusal to back down or apologise when he'd clearly made a mistake, really irked me this time. You have to pick your battles, but sometimes you have to take a stand.