I’ve just been reading some of the online reaction to the edition of Top Gear that was aired on Sunday evening and which contained a piece about creating a public information film with the aim of making cycling safer. Oh dear… It doesn’t seem to have gone down at all well in the cycling community.
I watched it myself; if you didn’t you may want to catch up online first – here’s the link. It did exactly what you would expect a Top Gear item about cycling to do; it poked fun at cyclists, at times in a slightly distasteful way and yes, it trotted out the age-old stereotypes about cyclists being holier than though and not being able to tell the difference between red and green. I laughed, a lot. At this point I can hear some of you beginning to mutter words of rage in my direction but come on, calm down… It’s a great pity that the following screenshot from Top Gear doesn’t appear at the very beginning of the show just to remind everybody (if they haven’t worked it out already) that the 21st century of Top Gear is a far cry from the William Woollard version of the show from the 1980s.
The clue is that long word in the middle: ‘entertainment‘. Top Gear is no longer a show that tells you which economical hatchback is best for a single mum with three kids or the best sports car for a newly retired couple with too much disposable cash in the bank. It’s pure and simple entertainment and that’s why it is so popular. It pokes as much fun at motoring and motorists as it does anything else and certainly much more mirth is handed out each week in the direction of certain groups of motoring fanatics than it is to us cyclists. And when you consider that most cyclists are also motorists, whether you are a salesman in your BMW, a boy-racer in your ‘free-insurance-for-a-year’ Peugeot 208, a lorry driver, a formula 1 nut, a caravan user, an OAP ‘weekend driver’ etc… etc… it is highly likely than messers Clarkson, May and Hammond have already poked fun at you over the years for your particular preference as a motorist.
Now I am not a motorist and I don’t own a car. I haven’t had a car since about 2007. If anyone could be offended by the programme, shouldn’t it be me? The messages of the five ‘public information’ films were as follows;
– Work Harder – Get A Car. My response: not offended! The fact is that almost anyone in this country has access to a car nowadays and those that don’t are a minority. Some of us choose not to have a car and if we really wanted to could go out and buy one. For those that really do want a car but don’t have the money to buy one then actually, the message might be appropriate. (My concern would be ‘why do you want to work harder just to buy a car? Think of what else you could go with the extra cash instead’.) There are plenty of people working in the City of London who earn vast sums of money and who cycle to work on very expensive bikes. If you are rich you tend to buy a better bike. Ridiculous film and slightly funny, but not massively.
– Act Your Age – Get A Car. My response: not offended! This was the least clever of the films but anyone who goes out onto the street will see that bicycles are not the preserve of children. It wasn’t particularly funny and you could see the tagline coming from a mile off.
– Cyclists: Red & Green – Learn The Bloody Difference. My response: not offended! This was the most effective of the films and the one that may come a little too close to the bone for some cyclists. I see people cycling through red every day and whatever the arguments they may have for doing so or using the countering bad behaviour of some motorists (using a mobile at the wheel for example) as an excuse, the law says you stop at red. Even if you are a cyclist. If you want it changed, campaign for a change in the rules of the road. A nice explosion at the end, not funny but the message was clear.
– Righteousness Is No Guarantee of Safety. My response: not offended! There is a real risk that some cyclists do think they are invincible on the roads and do take risks. I admit it, I sometimes do it myself and yes, I do think I’m a bit righteous as I cycle past all the cars stuck in traffic and smile and occasionally wave ironically in their direction. I don’t mind being accused of righteousness and I think it’s a fair point that if I do take risks, I may pay the price.
The final film ‘Give them [cyclists] an inch because they have given you [motorists] a mile‘ did give a nod in the direction of an intentional serious message but here again by depicting a ‘normal motorist’ as somebody who drives a yellow Ferrari through the deserted streets of London is so patently ridiculous that it is difficult to take it as anything other than parody.
It’s true that Jeremy Clarkson is a figure of hate amongst cyclists but don’t you think he knows that and don’t you think that he actually wants that to be the case. If you really want to piss off Mr Clarkson, ignore him.