Claire Tyrrell: End this cycle of abuse because beneath the lycra we’re humans

Claire TyrrellThe West Australian
A study suggested we should label bicycle riders “people who ride bikes” instead.
Camera IconA study suggested we should label bicycle riders “people who ride bikes” instead. Credit: Ross Swanborough

Cockroach, road toad, menace and countless other terms not fit for print — as a cyclist I have been called it all.

Drivers’ resentment of bike riders is nothing new and it often seems there may never be a truce in the proverbial war on our roads.

But a beacon of hope emerged last week when new research suggested banning the term “cyclist” from our vernacular.

The study suggested we should label bicycle riders “people who ride bikes” instead.

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As crazy as it sounds, there could be some merit in this out-of-the-box idea.

Consider the impact of Danny Green’s campaign to scrap the term “king hit” for “coward’s punch”.

The campaign attracted widespread publicity, government funding and shone a blinding light on one-punch attacks.

Claire Tyrrell.
Camera IconClaire Tyrrell.

Researchers at Queensland’s University of Technology and Monash University say the word “cyclist” has become too closely aligned with negativity.

Their study, which questioned 442 cyclists and non-cyclists in the Eastern States, found drivers and even cyclists themselves sometimes saw bike riders in a negative light.

Respondents often described cyclists as “cockroaches”.

Close to 10 per cent of drivers deliberately drove too close to cyclists and 17 per cent said they had used their car to purposefully block riders.

Looking down at someone meant “it’s easier to justify hatred or aggression towards them”, Monash University Institute of Transport Studies senior lecturer Alexa Delbosc said.

“This can set up an escalating cycle of resentment.

“If cyclists feel dehumanised by other road users, they may be more likely to act out against motorists, feeding into a self-fulfilling prophecy that further fuels dehumanisation against them.

“Ultimately, we want to understand this process so we can do a better job at putting a human face to people who ride bikes, so that hopefully we can help put a stop to the abuse.”

Beneath the lycra are mothers, fathers, children, nurses, plumbers, street sweepers and brain surgeons ... and even some journalists.

As amusing as it may seem to berate these two-wheeled enthusiasts, there can be serious and sometimes deadly consequences from aggression towards riders.

It’s time we peel back the layers and see bike riders for what they are — ordinary human beings like you and me.

And as much as a mouthful as it seems, maybe it is time to consider calling this enthusiast “a person who rides a bike”.

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