Hating on Cyclists: There’s Something Wrong in Australia

anger towards cyclists

Nine years ago I landed in Australia for the first time. I had just used my one-way ticket from Copenhagen to Melbourne and all my possessions could fit in two bags. I had come to start a new chapter of my life in Australia.

My then-girlfriend-and-now-wife picked me up from Melbourne Airport just after sunrise, and on the way back to the house we took the scenic route down Beach Road.

There, I saw something I didn’t expect: people on bicycles and lots of them! Big groups of cyclists kitted up in colourful lycra outfits were passing in both directions. I was surprised to learn that cycling was so popular in Australia and that this stretch of road was one of the busiest cycling routes in the world.

Since then I have become a local, with my own true blue passport to boot, and I have experienced the Australian cycling culture first hand. Two things immediately fascinated me about cycling in Australia: firstly, there is a very strong passion and subculture around cycling that I did not see to the same extent growing up in Denmark. Sure, you’ll find passionate, lycra-clad cyclists anywhere, but in Northern Europe they’re often confined to being members of cycling clubs.

In Australia the weekend warriors seem to be a dominant part of the cycling culture.

In Copenhagen, where I grew up, cycling is everywhere and a highly valued and respected part of society. People have a real appreciation for the utility of cycling: it’s a means of transportation that gives you exercise, it’s very cost effective and it reduces pollution and congestion in the city. The government has invested heavily in cycling infrastructure, so it’s just so easy and safe to get around by bike. That’s why cycling accounts for roughly 50% of the city’s commuting.

The second thing I noticed when I arrived in Australia was just how much hatred there is towards cyclists from certain segments of the population.

I remember the first time I experienced this blatant hatred first-hand. Some years ago, as I was riding home from work, a car pulled up beside me and a guy in the passenger’s seat yelled out “get a real sport you faggot”, before the car sped off aggressively. I was surprised and angry that someone decided to behave like that just because I had chosen a different mode of transportation to them. I was in a separated bike lane so I hadn’t slowed down or interfered with the car’s path, I was just the scum of the earth because I was riding a bike.

Since then, I’ve experienced plenty of near misses, aggressive swerving and people throwing eggs and other objects at cyclists from their car windows. We now have cyclist hate groups like Aussies over Cyclists, which has collected almost 20,000 followers on Facebook, promoting cycling hatred, celebrating accidents involving cyclists and wishing death upon those who ride bikes. It’s a scary mentality and a real problem in our society that we have a subset of the population who display such bigoted aggression towards other human beings.

cyclist hate group
Aussies over Cyclists – a Facebook page where injured cyclists will get lots of likes, laughs and love hearts.

You might say that these are just a few (thousand) extremists, so let me give you a more “everyday example” of this dogmatic resentment towards cyclists. The Adelaide Advertiser recently published a nice service article about the best Adelaide cafes for cyclists, which caused the following response from the general public:

People hating cyclists

Now, you might say “I’ve seen much worse”, but the point here is that a pretty benign article about Adelaide cafes ends up generating a myriad of hateful comments about cyclists. About how they take up space but don’t spend any money at cafes, how they smell, how they’re selfish, arrogant and without any basic manners, how they shouldn’t drink coffee and ride a bike, how they’re dressed as clowns etc. The list goes on.

If these cyclists had been wearing any other outfit than lycra, the cafes would just have been “busy”. The cafes next to my local gym are full of soccer mums in sweaty activewear, but (fortunately) we are yet to see any hate campaigns against sweaty and smelly soccer mums who take up all the parking with their SUVs and sit and chat for hours, leaving no space for real customers.

The cultural bigotry that cyclists experience in Australia would be unacceptable in most countries around the world, and it should be unacceptable to Aussie cyclists too.

How cyclists can help themselves

Improving conditions for cyclists in Australia is not an easy job and it will require the cycling community to work hand in hand with government organisations, businesses and cycling interest groups to make a big change for the better.

Below are some things that you can do to help improve cycling safety in Australia.

1. Obey road rules and behave exemplary

It should be obvious, but sometimes we all need a reminder: when one cyclist behaves in a way that is illegal – or even just slightly annoying – it fuels the hatred towards cyclists in general. Running red lights, swerving into passing traffic, leaning against cars at red lights or anything else that might annoy other members of the public should be avoided for the sake of the greater good. Basically don’t give the haters a reason to hate.

2. Ride your bike and ride it often

The more bikes are out on the road, the harder it will be for other members of the general public to treat cyclists as outcasts. Ride your bike to the shops, ride with your kids to and from school, ride to work, go for casual rides on a Sunday afternoon or whenever else the opportunity arises. Ride in summer and winter, in lycra or jeans, and show Australia that cycling is big and here to stay.

3. Lobby your local politicians and vote for cycling

A large part of the reason why cycling is so safe and enjoyable in the big cycling nations of Northern Europe, is that these countries have invested heavily in cycling infrastructure that keeps cyclists away from the road and reduces the risk of dooring incidents. You can learn more about what Australia could learn from these countries in this article.

The big cycling nations also educate children about cycling through “ride to school” programs, and learning how to navigate cyclists is a big part of getting a driver’s license. There is no reason why Australia couldn’t copy these initiatives to provide better cycling infrastructure and education. However, your local politicians need to know that these are important issues, so you can help by informing them of the issues you face as a cyclist and lastly vote for cycling-friendly politicians at elections.

4. Join cycling interest groups and ask more of them

Cycling interest groups such as Bicycle Network, Cycling Australia and the Amy Gillett Foundation all have the ability to influence politicians and lawmakers in your local area and beyond. Why not join them and become an active part of the solution to the problems that we face as cyclists?

5. Tell your friends and family what it’s like being a cyclist

Tell people around you what it’s like to be a cyclist in Australia. We probably all know someone who is a stubborn opponent of cyclists. Why not give them your perspective so they know what it’s like to vulnerable on the road?

In case you run into some of the usual arguments, I’ll give you some ammunition:

Cyclists don’t pay rego and use the roads for free: rego, like most other taxes and levies, is not earmarked for roads but added into the general revenue pool. Road funding is then decided via the annual budget process. In fact, rego would not cover the cost of Australia’s transport infrastructure anyway, so if roads were paid for exclusively by motorists, our rego would have to be much higher. Most cyclists also have a car which is sitting in the garage while they ride their bike.

Cyclists don’t pay attention to traffic: it is a huge generalisation to describe all cyclists in this way, but there are some cyclists out there who could be more considerate of their surroundings. If these people have trouble riding a bike, they might be bad drivers too?

Cyclists need to be registered: in that case we would be the only country in the world with such a scheme. Registration will not make our roads safer or give police a better chance of fining cyclists who break the law. 3.6 million people ride a bicycle every week in Australia – do you really want all this extra traffic on the road?

What we’re doing at Bike Chaser

At Bike Chaser we have decided to help foster a better understanding of Australia’s bunch riding culture by creating a documentary on the topic, with a principal focus on Melbourne’s famous Hell Ride.

Our aim is to give the people for and against the Hell Ride a human face and bring out all the nuances of the ride that make people either love it or dislike it. Our goal is to remain objective and let the people tell the story – in this case avid Hell Riders, passionate opponents of the ride, police and cycling interest groups. The Hell Ride is in focus, but we think a documentary like this can help bring about a better understanding of the Australian cycling culture and bunch riding in general, to the benefit of cyclists and motorists alike.

It didn’t take long for me to realise that Australia is a wonderful place to go cycling. We have lots of space, beautiful nature and plenty of sunny days all year round. Personally, I’m glad I don’t have to push my bike through snow anymore!

Cycling can become an integral part of society in Australia if we all do our bit. We are all equal members of society after all, whether we’re riding a bike or sitting behind a steering wheel.

Comments

  1. Typical cyclist wanker….
    …. sorry I couldn’t resist. Nah I’m a regular cyclist. I agree that we should ride a lot and be respectful. Talk to drivers at the lights and have a laugh. Enjoy riding

    1. Ha ha, you got me there for a split second Craig! I personally try to ride rather than drive whenever I can to show the flag. I use my carbon road bike for longer rides and a battered old model (still rides like a dream) for going to the shops and the like. Bicycles are the most energy efficient mode of transportation out there so it should really be an integral part of any modern society in my opinion.

  2. “”Bicycles let people move with greater speed without taking up significant amounts of scarce space, energy, or time. They can spend fewer hours on each mile and still travel more miles in a year. They can get the benefit of technological breakthroughs without putting undue claims on the schedules, energy, or space of others. They become masters of their own movements without blocking those of their fellows. Their new tool creates only those demands which it can also satisfy. Every increase in motorized speed creates new demands on space and time. The use of the bicycle is self-limiting. It allows people to create a new relationship between their life-space and their life-time, between their territory and the pulse of their being, without destroying their inherited balance.”
    Ivan Illich.

  3. I don’t believe looking at the Hell Ride is at all useful. It might represent 1% of Beach Road riders on the weekend. Try again

    1. Thanks for your comment John. We’re not wanting to create a film about the Hell Ride because we think it represents every cyclist in Australia. Our ultimate aim is to create an informative documentary on bunch riding culture in Australia, with a primary focus on the Hell Ride because it divides the opinions of a lot of people. We want to let the people for and against the ride as well as other interested parties such as police and cycling interest groups tell their story so that we can all learn how we can improve as a cycling community.

  4. It’s much better in Sydney now than it was 30 or so years ago, but there’s still a long way to go. Spending $2.5bn AUD to knock down & rebuild a sport stadium that is only 17 years old is not a good use of taxpayer money. All it will do is provide for a large number of people to sit down & watch a small number of people being active. Investing in active transport infrastructure, such as cycling, would provide a much better return on the investment of taxpayer dollars.

  5. Agro towards cyclists is real. What scares me is that while drivers like to scare the rider here in Sydney. The skill of drivers is seemingly very good wile their attitude stinks. In Europe , Asia, and south America the skill level of the driver is average lower but their attitude is much much better. I believe it’s because of the distances people drive here and time spent behind the wheel.

    I have found the above generalisation to be quite true.

    I have ridden in Mexico City, Jakarta city , Budapest (city), Warsaw (city) and Paris (city) and New York (Manhattan and Brooklyn) to name a few and Sydney is by far the dangerous one and it’s the drivers that are so angry and wrong. For no other reason other than their own self entitlement.

    I can say that roads in Sydney are also some of the most narrow roads in cities I have encountered.

    The hate is real. Something has gotta give.

  6. Always good to hear people’s perspectives about cycling in Australia. Regarding 1. Obey road rules and behave exemplary – perhaps it is worth mentioning this can be difficult when the infrastructure is lacking and confusing and ends suddenly, or the signals don’t give you time to get across the intersection, or the road design forces you into dangerous situations where you have to make quick and perhaps seemingly odd decisions for your own safety.

    1. I couldn’t agree more Yvonne, which is why points 3 and 4 are really important if we want to change things for the better.

  7. Is it really a surprise the attitude of many? We cycle the least amount of trips in the world, less than USA! Add the fact sport /mamil cycling on road dominate cycling seen, people just don’t like it. Maybe if the helmet law was repealed and more drivers used bicycles for short trips, empathy may go up. The difference with the disdain of sport cyclists here, and majority of cycling around the world, speed, clothing and being seperate from traffic. Focus on those components being changed around.

  8. I’ve enjoyed Cycling all my life , from a paper round as a child to cycle touring half way round the world .
    I cycle everyday , it’s a major part of who I am , sometimes I dont even wear Lycra
    We are on the right side of history , the future belongs to us .
    🚴‍♂️

  9. In my opinion the major problem in Australia (I live in Sydney) is the government’s attitude towards people on bicycles. Regular police blitz with heavy fines targeting bicyclists and police assaulting cyclists, gives even more reason and right to drivers for hatred. The fish smells from the head. Criminalizing a healthy transport is the aussie approach. And we are proud of to be DOWN UNDER. Down below the bottom indeed. 🙁

  10. Yah good piece I have cycled in San Fran Bangkok Sydney Berlin and Manhattan and Brooklyn. Asia can be hectic bit sydney is by far the most dangerous – tho I do ride every day – my rule is stay extreme left and ride the back roads. Enjoy your ride !

  11. People HATE cyclists. I don’t mean they feel slightly inconvenienced or irritated by them, no they absolutely fucking HATE them. They hate them so much, that people are randomly running them off the road for fun.
    This hate will not go away until riding a bike is something that the average person can do again without an ugly plastic religious talisman. People do NOT want to join your clown suited silly hat cult.

    The cycling lobby groups helped destroy something wonderful for million of Australians and are now upset about new fines and restrictions. I feel like I should enjoy my schadenfreude, but to be honest I just miss the bike.
    Since so many “cycling enthusiasts” seem to only listen to the choir, I’ll lay it out for you.

    If you want to end the hostility, get rid of the helmet law, it’s the elephant in the room, that people lie about.
    People lie about the effectiveness of helmets. They lie about why they won’t wear them.
    The reasons don’t really matter. Vanity, discomfort, crankiness – it doesn’t matter why.
    The reality is helmet laws reduce the number of cyclists.
    This reduces the safety in numbers it. It removes the political pressure to improve infrastructure which will make the biggest difference to safety. Infrastructure which incidentally makes it safer for pedestrians.
    It reduces cyclist to “wankers in lycra ” who everybody else hates, because all the “normal people”
    stopped riding after their first ticket. The helmet law keeps cycling as “the other”.
    It drives a huge wedge between “us” and “them”.

    Before the helmet law, everyone rode, or knew someone who did, they weren’t “the other”
    “the freaks in lycra”, the wankers holding up traffic. They were people you knew, your neighbours kids, everybody.
    I desperately want those days back. I’m planning on moving back to Australia, but
    I can’t give up the bike, nor put aside my reason in exchange for an ugly plastic hat.
    I feel like my country has been taken from me, and I’m not just an expat, but an exile.

    There will never be wide acceptance of bike riding in Australia with mandatory helmets.
    It just wont happen until normal people are allowed back on their bikes unmolested.
    Mode share in Australia is 1.6%, the only places where it is higher is where the helmet law isn’t enforced.

    Heart disease killed 24,000 people last year in Australia, suicides were 2,273 (2011) motor vehicles
    accidents were 1,219 (2011) Pedestrians were 189, Cyclist deaths were, wait for it, 35. More people died falling out of bed. ( more people also died from toasters )
    Helmet laws stop people cycling and the benefits out weigh the risks by
    a factor of 20:1 ( according to the British Medical Society , don’t take my word for it )
    Even if all the claimed safety benefits of helmets were true, helmets laws are a net LOSER in the public health.

  12. You could pretty much substitute the UK for Australia in this article and it would still be accurate.

    Many people seem to need someone to hate and cyclists are an ‘acceptable’ target now that so many other groups have been taken off the list by the terrible liberal PC brigade… who probably ride bikes anyway.

  13. I must say I get sick and tired of constantly hearing about the “cyclists should be registered debate”. Most cyclists also own a car and they already pay registration and if they commute then their car is sitting at home instead of clogging the roads like all the other cars do. One would think drivers would appreciate less cars on the road but no such luck.

    If the government decides that cyclists must be registered then do it on the basis of weight as they do with other vehicles. My 7.5kg road bike would therefore cost me about 65cents to register but the consequence of me paying registration would be that I would take the lane that I was travelling in and everybody else in a motor vehicle could sit behind me while I travelled at 25kph. I wonder how much more anger that would create from motorists who already harbour anger and hate towards cyclists.

    Yes unfortunately some motorists hate cyclists and there have been instances where they have deliberately ran cyclists off the road or worse. I think that talk back radio hosts have a lot to answer for as they incite even more hatred and aggression because they themselves hate cyclists. I won’t mention any names but a well known talkback radio host in Melbourne often complains about “bloody cyclists again!”.

  14. I’m one of those who was deliberately hit by a motorist. December 2009 by a sales exec in a Magnamail company car.

    I now ride with cameras front and back. The hate is real.

    1. Hi John, sorry to hear about your incident – hopefully you recovered without any continuing problems. It is truly startling that some people can turn so aggressive from other people being “in their way”.

  15. “Cyclists need to be registered: in that case we would be the only country in the world with such a scheme.”

    That’s not quite correct. Bicycles are required to be registered in Hawaii and Salt Lake City

  16. I have ridden a bike for most of my life but not on the roads in Melbourne. I used to ride on the local bike tracks of which there are many around us. I used to ride with my small granddaughter until 2 years ago but she got upset at the racing bike riders who screamed past at speed and then yelled at us as they passed. I am presuming it was either because we were not going fast enough or were riding side by side and did not hear them coming up behind us. She will not ride now and I must admit I rarely do as it spoilt my enjoyment of a relaxing ride through the parks. I am not the only older person it has affected either.Earlier this year I stepped off a crossing in South Yarra only to have a cyclist go through the red light at speed I was lucky he did not hit me but a younger, quicker person did get hit. The bike rider got up got on his bike an took off, no apology, no checking the other guy was o.k. So it would be nice if bike riders realised that we don’t all want to ride at speed or in groups.

  17. I myself do not ride, but i have a national champion in our family. I applaud you advocating self policing, as it seems the irresponsible minority taint the majority. I would like to correct you/clarify you on your statement regarding cyclists and registration elsewhere, and your arguments/assertion against registration. Bicycles, not cyclists, should be registered, with a small token fee to cover administration, not for any of the arguments the motorists put forward. Lets keep these as two separate issues. I concur and do NOT believe cyclists should be registered. I DO believe bicycles should be registered, at state level.
    i recently wrote an article, an excerpt of which consists of the following, and puts a positive forward for change;

    1. All bikes over 20in wheel size – compulsory registration sticker
    2. Bikes under 20inch wheel size – optional registration (allows for child/schoolchildren introduction to riding)
    3. No bike over 20inch wheel size may be sold or transferred without a valid registration sticker – (stops the attraction of a cyclists 27inch $7000 bike from being stolen dead in its tracks, period)
    4. Insurers cannot offer policies or accept claims on a bike unless it is registered.
    5. It’s two steps up from the data dot system at https://www.nationalbikeregister.com.au in that it is an immediate visual deterrent, and compulsory.
    6 Set a date for the introduction on all NEW sales ( no new bike after xx/xx/xxxx date may be sold unless registered) and for currently owned bicycles – voluntary registration if valid I.D. and proof of ownership can be supplied…
    7. secondhand bicycles may not be sold on until two weeks has amassed since registration ( you cannot register a secondhand bike and sell it the same day)
    I’m sure the police can spend their time better at other things than chase around owners of recovered bikes that they currently have little chance of reuniting their bike with, and a lot of police, I’m guessing, would breathe a sigh of relief.
    References and examples –
    https://www.bikechaser.com.au/news/cyclist-hate-australia
    http://www.honolulu.gov/…/bicycle…/bicycle-registration.html
    http://www.bikeslc.com/GetInformed/BicycleLicensing.html

  18. Thanks for this article, I am absolutely appalled by the driver who yell expletives at you when you’re minding your own business. My biggest problem with cyclists is when they disobey road rules (gave me a scare when one jumped off the pedestrian sidewalk to 3 metres in front of me on Hoddle Street) or when I am being treated as a road block as a pedestrian (tailgated by few cyclists on pedestrian crossing — the road rule here in Victoria is for cyclists to get off the bike when using pedestrian crossing) or when you’re riding with very weak front and rear lights at night.

    My motto as a pedestrian, cyclist and driver using the road with other road uses is: Be Predictable. Make sure you’re visible and make sure other users know what you want to do so we can anticipate you.

    That said, I have not had any major issues with cyclist in the last couple of years, so things are improving. Now I just need to push for better cycling infrastructure in my speed-loving suburb 🙂

  19. Road cyclists spreading all over the road 2 or 3 abreast on country winding roads, riding up insanely dangerous routes like the Healesville Black Spur at dusk in black lycra. As a keen mountain biker, I look at roadies and despair at the idiocy so many of this elitist, selfish bunch exhibit.

  20. When i was young i loved riding my bicycle every where,.
    I had more than my fair share of crashes 90% of the time it was my fault ????

    Now i try my best to make time to ride . mostly on local council bike paths just to keep some sort of fitness.
    I see people riding and walking most of the time they usually say hello,

    The only time i have had any trouble with bicycle riders is generally when they are wearing (Lycra) the attitude from these guys ????????? it does not surprise me why some many people hate on them so much.

    I also ride a motorcycle and have for many years, i do understand where the attitude comes from as i have to deal with similar conditions on the road in reference to other road users.

    But this does not give you some sort of automatic reason to have an attitude because you ride a bicycle or a motorcycle.

    Just over one year ago i was trying to find my way back home via the back streets of Yarraville, i was driving a rental truck about 4.5 tonne after picking up a new machine for my workshop.

    I got myself a little bit lost but had a rough idea of where i was going finally found my way back to a fairly quiet main street it was a perfect day and my mood was as good as it could be, perfect weather and very happy i finally picked up my new machine after dreaming about it for so long.

    I came up to an intersection to turn left into the above street, as i stopped i saw a bicycle coming up on my right hand side seemed far enough away so i started to turn left into the street slowly as i had my pride and joy on the back of the truck,

    I started driving down the street then this same bicycle (LYCRA ) started tailgating me (what,s this idiot doing ?????????)

    I stopped at the next intersection he pulls up right next to me starts shaking his head .
    ( and i just say whats wrong mate ?)

    He starts straight away with the attitude.
    ( He says: you F……. saw me did you)
    and i said yer i saw you whats wrong there was plenty of time so i went, whats wrong with that.

    Anyway i drove away from the intersection he starts trying to keep up with me, riding between my truck and the parked cars. there was not a lot of room.???
    ( i was thinking whats up with this idiot )

    I was driving at about 35 to 40 kph narrow street no hurry.

    I stop again at the next intersection he comes up to my window again starts calling me a F……. idiot ?????????
    I say back to him what,s the big deal it,s a nice day, be happy mate.
    he says : youra F…….idiot mate.
    (i answer: yer what ever mate )

    I started to not try and get upset, it was a great day new machine be positive i told myself.
    I just smiled and said; don,t worry about it mate its nice day be happy mate.

    I get to the next intersection i turn left ( hopefully i can leave this idiot behind me now )

    He turns left starts pedaling faster to catch up to me again.
    ( i started think are bloody hell what is it with this guy)

    I get far enough ahead for him not to catch me i come up to a set of traffic lights and i turn right hopping to leave this guy behind
    (Maybe )

    He turns right ( of coarse he does ??? ) he starts pedaling fast again i can see him in mirrors trying to catch me again ???

    Next set of traffic lights i am turning right heading for the Westgate bridge ( towards Williamstown Road and then home.

    The light stays RED for about 3-4 minutes idiot on the bike AGAIN ???

    He pulls up on the left hand side of the left lane starts abusing on me again,
    starts with your a F…… idiot you nearly hit me with your truck i got your rego number etc etc.

    I am trying my VERY best to stay charm
    ( on the inside i really want to pound this guy )??????????????

    He says to me : You tried to hit me with your truck back there.
    ( i answer: i don,t think so, i would do that )
    he answers me with do you know i,m a copper he gets out his mobile phone shows it to me i took photos of you back there when you tried to hit me with your truck your a F…..idiot you and your big truck ?????

    I just answer: what ever mate. , what ever you say say mate. yer what ever mate.
    good for you mate.

    Finally the light turns green he starts to ride straight, i turn right he stops on the opposite corner saying something i honestly could not even hear what he was saying just see his mouth moving.
    I turn right very slowly saying back at him; yer mate,. what ever mate, see ya mate bye mate, see ya, bye mate, bye,, and just waving to him as i turned.
    Is funny even after i finished turning right into the next street he was still sitting there on his bike mouth moving.
    i just kept waving, bye mate, bye.

    THE END ?????????????????????????

    I apologize for the long story, it,s still fresh in my mind, and it still gets me down some times.
    It is just good to write about it and maybe hopefully forget about it.

    Everybody is different that,s what makes us what we are.
    Just be happy what ever you do and enjoy it.

    All The Best.
    Regards Peter.

  21. I recently moved to Sydney from Geneva, Switzerland. It’s been 6 months now and sadly I have pretty much stopped cycling because it simply does not feel safe riding in and around Sydney. Not a single bike ride without a car driver yelling or insulting me. Bike lanes are pretty much absent from the city. The area is built for cars and cars only. Sydney is by far the worst place I have lived in for cycling. Surely coming from Geneva I was a little spoiled… but I also lived in places like New York City in the past… and believe me, Sydney is the worst!

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