by Joe Hildebrand
THE other day on Australia's favourite morning show*, Studio 10, we were discussing the 200th anniversary of the invention of the bicycle.
Yes, exactly two centuries to the day after the first cyclist took to the streets we were celebrating this marvellous accomplishment. And exactly two centuries and 30 seconds later we were slagging it off.
And I found myself wondering why? Why does a machine that is so simple and so harmless evoke such rage in the community? Why does everybody hate cyclists so much? Why, for that matter, do I?
Do you hate cyclists?
Let's go back to the basics.
We all know that everybody hates traffic and the reason is pretty simple: We're all going to die.
There's a fixed amount of time we have on God's green earth and most of us would rather spend it playing with our loved ones or fist-pumping to Meatloaf than staring at a bumper sticker depicting how many stick figures a Jeep owner has given birth to.
We've all been stuck behind buses and trucks, cut off by motorbikes or overtaken by trams and trains. Yet you rarely hear anyone say "I hate buses!" or "I hate trams!"
And granted there was a time when everybody said "I hate Jeeps!" but then everybody went out and bought one and the problem was solved.
But the refrain "I hate cyclists!" is so common it's almost a cliche. In fact there's even a website called Ihatebicyclists.com, which both criticises cyclists and appears to cast aspersions on their sexuality.
Indeed, even cyclists hate cyclists, as evidenced by an article in the normally pro-cycling Fairfax press last year titled: "I'm a cyclist. This is why I hate other cyclists."
I guess you could call it the cycle of abuse.
And so why is there so much unadulterated hatred to this granola-munching species even among its own kind? After much extensive research I have established three key reasons:
Every time there's a particularly virulent wave of road rage some brave bike rider will come out and earnestly explain that it's the most efficient, clean, quiet and traffic-busting form of transport in the world.
And of course, they are completely right, which only makes us hate them even more. Think of the angriest you have ever been - it's never when someone else has stuffed up, it's when you know you have.
The keyword here is found above. Cyclists are so earnest, so serious and so humourless about their chosen calling that it is almost one's duty to pick on them. It is basically the same primal response people have towards socialists - and let's face it, most of the time you're killing two birds with one stone.
IT'S BECAUSE WE CARE
But beneath all of this is the great unspoken truth that no self-respecting road-rager can ever admit. As Yoda so wisely informed us, hate comes from anger and anger comes from fear - a lesson that was itself the only good thing to come from The Phantom Menace.
The reason motorists get so furious at cyclists yet are largely untroubled by bus drivers, truckies or even Jeep owners is because if it comes to an encounter with a road train we only have our own lives and that of several hundred cattle to worry about.
By contrast, the slightest contact with a cyclist could send them to the Great Velodrome in the Sky and it's that anxiety that sends our pulses racing - it is our fear that leads to anger, our anger that leads to hate, and our hate that leads to the Dark Side.
But I digress. Long story short, the only reason we hate cyclists is because we secretly love them.
Or at least we're prepared to let them live.
*Tuesday to Thursdays in June among female grocery buyers aged 39 to 54.