Bradley Wiggins is hit by a car, then the cyclist haters pile in | Carlton Reid

Bradley Wiggins has a lot to be thankful for. First, he had some sausages named in his honour. And second, he didn’t die, but broke his ribs instead, when a van knocked him from his bike while out on a team training ride near his home in Chorley. The news (about the crash, not the sausages) has made headlines and predictably, the trolls have been out in force. If you ever want to dip into the seamy world of unbidden hate against a bunch of folks gadding about on a benign form of quick, slick urban transport, take a peek at @CycleHatred on Twitter.

The story quickly gathered comments from concerned citizens, wishing Wiggo well, coupled in equal measure with heartless readers who felt the incident required some cyclists-shouldn’t-be-on-roads vitriol. One such heartless commenter wrote: “One thing that really annoys me is when cyclists use the road when my hard earned taxes have gone into providing cycle paths.”

I have news for them: Wiggins didn’t get to become Britain’s first winner of the Tour de France by training on cycle paths. These are few and far between in Britain and leave a lot to be desired: strewn with glass, indirect routes, dotted with bollards and potholes, narrow, short and with no priority over side roads so they are pretty much next to useless.

Wiggins had the security of being followed by a team car. He’s protected from behind but not from the side or the front. The driver who hit him as she was leaving a petrol filling station, close to junction 27 of the M6, is reported to have said: “I can’t believe it. Of all the people to hit, bloody Bradley Wiggins.”

This carries the implication, surely unintended, that hitting a celebrity cyclist was the real sin. Wiggo’s status as national treasure means this particular SMIDSY event gets widely reported. SMIDSY is the excuse inattentive motorists give to the cyclists and motorcyclists they skim or hit: “Sorry mate I didn’t see you.” Yasmin Smith, garage attendant and witness to the event, told Sky TV: “A lady had pulled out of the garage turning right, looked left, looked right and didn’t see [Wiggins].”

National media attention for what the Sun called a “horrific road smash” highlights the daily dangers faced by cyclists in Britain.

Tabloid readers are having to get used to stories about champion cyclists (the head coach of team GB cycling Shane Sutton was involved in another cycling crash on the road), and for many it must grate. Cyclists used to be an outsider group, invisible. Now one of them is deflected into the gutter by a wing mirror and it’s a front-page splash.

Thing is, the growing visibility of cyclists isn’t just because we have some world-beaters. Cycling is undergoing an urban renaissance that’s nothing to do with banked wooden tracks or vertiginous French cols. Cycling as transport is booming. Cycle advocates are flexing campaigning and leg muscles via the Cities Fit for Cycling campaign run by the Times, politicians are starting to take notice. There’s to be a parliamentary inquiry into cycle safety in the spring of 2013 that will be followed up by a report penned by Phil Goodwin, professor of transport policy at University of the West of England, who champions the theory of peak car – that car use is on a downward trend and consequently cities should be designed for other forms of transportation.

No doubt the vulnerability of our champion cyclists will be mentioned at the inquiry and perhaps action will be taken to make Britain safer for all cyclists. In the meantime, the online hate attacks against cyclists won’t abate just because one of the injury statistics now involves an Olympic champion. If anything, the hate attacks will increase because they can be seen as a desperate kickback against the growing visibility of cyclists. Motorists had better get used to seeing more cyclists out on the roads and, if they feel it’s unfair that cyclists overtake them while they’re sat on their arses in traffic jams, don’t knock ’em, join ’em!

This article was commissioned after a suggestion by MakeMPsOwnUp

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