Shades of grey


For all of his loopiness Michael was right. It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white. You know why? Because life isn’t black or white. It’s grey. Especially when it comes to cycling.

I’ve been involved in a couple of very interesting debates over the last few weeks concerning cycling safety. One to do with cyclists running red lights. The other to do with the wearing of helmets. Both issues seem pretty simple at one level, but they’re far more complex when you delve deeper.

I have my own views on each issue which I’ve been only too happy to share, largely as it places a line in the sand from which others can debate or perhaps form their own views. Some people have agreed with me. Some haven’t. This of course is no great surprise as by and large we live in a free country. The whole point is we’re grown–ups who can form and promote our own views (within obvious boundaries, of course).

The thing that did surprise me, however, is just how polarised these arguments tend to be; certainly in the context of those who feel suitably motivated enough to join in the debate – the ‘squeaky wheels.’ You’re either vehemently in agreement. Or just as vehemently opposed. Which is clearly helpful to precisely…no-one.

Except in the rarest of divinely-intervened occasions, there is no 100% right or 100% wrong in anything to do with cycling. Or life, for that mater. Be they bloggers or scientists or civil libertarians or media celebrities, people who categorically say bicycle helmets are completely useless, for example, are surely turkeys. Then again, those who just as categorically say they will save your life are kidding themselves. How can you be so certain either way?

But here’s the thing that gets up my nose even more than a tissue drenched in olbas oil.

Every time one of these debates flares up in social media or elsewhere, the whole – potentially very useful conversation – gets inevitably hijacked by rigidly extreme (and usually self-serving) views which I’m betting even the exponents of don’t truly believe are the only answer. Nothing in life is that simple. Without fail the answer almost always lies somewhere in between. Grey. Are motorists or taxi drivers or police or councils or infrastructure planners entirely at fault for cycling-related injuries and deaths on our roads involving cars? Of course not. But nor are they completely devoid of blame. Will a helmet save my life? Maybe it will. Then again maybe it won’t. What’s wrong with both sides admitting as much? Why is it so important to be right at the expense of all others? My way or the highway syndrome.

Until both sides of the myriad cycling-related debates come together to find common ground (and yes, I include myself in this too) I’m venturing that nothing will change. We’ll just burn up more and more energy on generally-pointless slanging matches devoid of actual solutions (my personal favourite are those who moan ad nauseam about how good riding in Holland is – might I suggest you go and live there then and leave us all alone please); energy that surely might be far better spent on collaboratively making things better here in our own backyard.

The hatches have been battened down. Fire at will.

One thought on “Shades of grey

  1. To do with helmets, those people who say you are crazy not to wear a helmet, are entitled to their view. The folks who don’t want to wear a helmet, as you say, are also entitled to their view. The thing is, people who don’t want to wear a helmet are not telling those who want to wear a helmet that they are silly, or that no one should wear a helmet ever, or anything like it, but that they want the *choice* to not wear a helmet if they so desire.

    I oppose mandatory helmet laws because I don’t believe cycling is so dangerous that a helmet should be compulsory, but I would probably wear one on most of the training rides I make, because I ride in fairly busy traffic areas at higher than normal average speed, after business hours and often at night, where the potential for a crash is higher than, say, riding to the shops 2km from home on quiet back streets and the bike path in the middle of the day.

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