By Andy Chivers

WHAT is it about cycling that causes such strong feelings? Even the title of this weekly column is revealing.

As a phrase, it is quite dismissive – ‘On yer bike’ is typically used when an official finds someone about to misbehave and tells them to clear off.

Hardly the positive image we want to project. Famously Norman Tebbit used the phrase in the 1980s when advising the unemployed on how to find work.

Cycling is generally thought to be cool, healthy, environmentally friendly and economical.

Bikes are used as props in fashion photos, architects’ illustrations and holiday brochures, so on one level cycling must be seen as an attractive activity; why then do cyclists get such a negative reaction in the media and in conversations?

Almost every conversation with the non-cycling public (and Cyclox does this a lot at its regular stalls such as at the recent Headington Festival) reaches the ‘going through red lights’ or ‘riding on pavements’ stage.

The fact that a few cyclists do this seems to tar all cyclists with the same brush.

Cyclox disapproves of all infringements of the Highway Code and has developed and published a Rights and Responsibilities leaflet for drivers and cyclists so our position is clear.

Nonetheless it is interesting that ‘exceeding the speed limit’ or ‘using a mobile phone while driving’ doesn’t get used as evidence that all drivers are outlaws.

The psychological explanation is that cyclists are an ‘outgroup’ seen as different from most ‘normal’ people and therefore not a member of your tribe.

Car use is ubiquitous and normal. It is a deeply-rooted tribal behaviour to defend your group against outsiders, and cyclists seem to fit this place in society. At least that is how it is in the UK.

On the European mainland cycling is so widespread as to be normal, or else cycle racing is held in such high regard that Sunday road racing groups are ubiquitous, and ordinary utility cyclists are admired as less glamorous relations of the elite. And because cycling is an everyday activity so many drivers are also cyclists and don’t see them as different.

Does it matter? The main thing stopping would-be cyclists from getting on their bike is the perception of danger. This is mainly attributed to inconsiderate car and HGV drivers putting cyclists at risk.

If we as drivers felt that cyclists were members of our tribe we would drive more slowly and leave plenty of room when we overtake.

We wouldn’t park on the pavement and cycle lane, thinking that we were doing our tribe (other car drivers) a favour by avoiding obstruction of free movement of cars.

So yes, it matters if we want to get more people on bikes.

But what is your subconscious reaction to this article? Are all cyclists still the bad guys? I hope not.