Do you have a pert bum? Are you smugger than a breastfeeding mum?

As you’d expect, cycling is having a love-hate relationship with the mainstream media at the moment. Pin-ups Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton have catapulted cycling to front of public consciousness and for some newspapers cycling is the ‘in’ new thing.

In yesterday’s Sunday Mirror, cycling was said to have “found a place in the nation’s heart after the Beijing Olympics.”

Since Team GB’s gold-winning lady cyclists Nicole Cooke and Rebecca Romero returned home from Beijing, biking has a hot new profile.

So before you wave a final goodbye to summer, it’s time to dust off your old bicycle and hit the road.

“If you want to drop a dress size, then cycling is one of the best ways you can do it,” says celebrity fitness trainer Paul Botten. “Biking provides a great overall workout, burning calories and reducing body fat. Plus, it can’t be beaten when it comes to getting great thighs and a perfectly pert bottom.”

Over at the Sunday Independent, novelist Howard Jacobsen – a saggy-bottomed fellow if his hatred of healthy exercise is anything to go by – said cycling was one of those Olympic sports which had no use in the real world, yet then went on to complain about the legions of London cyclists who plague him.

Cycling is worse than futile, it is malevolent. Not a day goes by, unless I cower in my house and lock all the doors, when I am not put in danger by cyclists – whether it’s cyclists riding the pavement, jumping the lights, weaving between pedestrians and traffic, overtaking on the inside, chaining their bikes where they are bound to cause obstruction, abusing and on occasions threatening me for pointing out any of these infractions to them, or just adding to our stock of vexations by their carbon-free complacency.

For holier-than-thou smugness, only a mother breastfeeding in a public space beats a cyclist. Both have been licensed by our society to believe they are forces for beneficence – true children of nature in a naughty mechanistic world – whereas the one only makes the planet more dangerous and the other only contributes to its overpopulation.

“Petrol: we’re running out”

Two of Britain’s tabloid newspapers lead with the current “fuel crisis”, reporting that petrol is running out, leading to panic buying at the pumps.

The Daily Express headline above is run in caps on the front page and is doing its best to fuel the crisis. The story beneath the headline, of course, is all about how we’re not running out of petrol but slams a government minister who said he couldn’t guarantee every petrol station in the UK will have limitless supplies of go-go juice.

No doubt the energy minister made the comment when pressed by a journalist to make such an (impossible) guarantee.

The Daily Express accused Malcolm Wicks of starting a panic.

PETROL stations began running dry yesterday after the Government tried to reassure drivers about supplies – and instead started a panic.

The Lib Dems accused him of talking the country into a crisis. And the Countryside Alliance said he had inflamed an already intolerable situation, with drivers in rural areas at risk of being stranded.

The AA urged motorists to cut down their number of journeys, try walking to the office and even work one day a week from home to conserve supplies.”

A motoring organisation urging motorists to use shanks’ pony for short journeys? To the Daily Express that’s eschatological talk, the beginning of the End Times.

The Daily Mail’s front cover poured biofuel on troubled waters by screaming “Petrol price to break through £5 a gallon as forecourts sell out amid fuel panic.”

Ten bucks a gallon. Sweat on that, America!

And the cause for all this pump panic? A Scottish oil refinery is closing down for the weekend because of industrial action. This refinery produces ten percent of the UK’s petrol. The government has assured us that the petrol won’t dry up overnight but the merest hint of petrol shortages puts the willies up the masses.

The Scots Gaelic term for whisky is uisege beatha. It means ‘water of life’. To motorists, there’s a more important ‘water of life’: they can’t imagine life without limitless access to petrol. If the past is a different country, the future is Mad Max.

Parris says he has “loved cycling all my life”

A couple of weeks ago I invited Matthew ‘Piano-wire‘ Parris on a bike ride.

His reply is surprising.

“I was grateful for your invitation but though I do, in fact, cycle and have loved cycling all of my life, I am not a great one for going out in groups and see the bicycle more as a means of getting from A to B.
However, it was very kind of you to invite me on a ride and – who knows? – perhaps one of these days I might be able to join you.”

It’s jarring to think this is the same person who could write: “A festive custom we could do worse than foster would be stringing piano wire across country lanes to decapitate cyclists.”

Parris later apologised for his comments, a measure that mollified the Press Complaints Commission, which took no action against the columnist despite 550 complaints. To put this number of complaints into perspective, the most complained about article of 2007 had 480 complaints.

Press watchdog gives ‘Piano-wire Parris’ a good licking

As expected, the Press Complaints Commission has cleared Matthew Parris for his pre-Christmas comments in The Times about wishing the decapitation of cyclists should become a festive custom.

The PCC’s admin manager Patrick Evenden said: “While it acknowledged the deep concerns that many readers had about the piece, the Commission’s decision was that there was no breach of the Code…Although the Commission has come to this view, we will be writing to the editor of the Times to let him know the scale of complaints we received about Mr Parris’ column.”

The PCC received nearly 500 complaints about the Parris piece.

The PCC judgement said:

The third Clause of the Code identified by a number of complaints was Clause 12 (Discrimination). Here too, however, there could be no breach. Clause 12 lists a number of things that the press must not refer to pejoratively when talking about an individual: race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability. Preferred method of transport is not included in the list.”

Very droll.

How the media works

Controversy-seeking columnist writes wind-up article aimed at social tribe known to kick out when prodded. Columnist sits back, pleased, as furore erupts. Readers of column multiply as URL spreads virally. Watchdog slaps columnist on wrist. Columnist, now more ‘popular’, gets fatter freelance fee from newspaper client.

MORAL: Don’t rise to the bait.

PROVISO: We care so we kick back

Matthew Parris: soon the most complained about writer ever?

The infamous ‘kill all cyclists’ piece by Matthew Parris has now had a stonking 430+ complaints, many filed online on this easy peasy form.

In 2007 the most complained about story had 480 complaints to the Press Complaints Commission. The second generated 180 complaints and the third had only 40 complaints.

So, it looks like the Matthew Parris column could be an early winner of 2008’s ‘most objectionable story’ booby-prize.

It’s also well on the way to becoming the most objectionable story ever. Stephen Abell, the PCC’s assistant director told

“We don’t have the precise statistics for the last 16 years of the PCC’s history. However, we think that 480 is probably the highest ever.”

The Parris apology may not be enough for an acquittal:

“The Commission is considering whether there are any prima facie issues under the terms of the Code of Practice it enforces. It will be aware of the apology, but will consider all aspects of the complaints that are relevant,” Mr Abell told, adding that a view will be published next week.

Did Parris breach the PCC’s code of practice? If he did, the breach would be clause 4i:

i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

Will Matthew Parris rise to the challenge?

It turns out I’m not the only one to invite Matthew Parris for a bike ride. Jack Thurston, presenter of The Bike Show podcast wrote to Parris via The Times:

“Someone once said that journalists should write about what they know. In that spirit, may I invite you out on a gentle afternoon ride (town or country) so you can find out what all the fuss is about. I’ll even lend you my spare machine. How about that for turning the other cheek?”

Andrea Casalotti of London bike shop Velorution isn’t in the mood to forgive. He writes: “Forget about inviting him to ride a bike; Parris should spend time in jail.”

Casalotti cites the guilty verdict in the case of two Muslim youths chanting “Bomb Denmark” at a London demonstration.

“How can anyone argue that what Umran Javed shouted was worse than what Parris has written? One claims it was a slogan, the other says it was humour. If anything, it is the latter who can have more nefarious consequences.”

The Crown Prosecution Service’s Sue Hemming said she was mindful of the rights to free speech when considering cases such as this.

“However, when we examined the content of Mr Javed’s speech it was explicit that there was direct encouragement to those present and those watching via the media to commit acts of murder against the Danish and Americans.”, January 5th 2007

I’ve never thought Matthew Parris meant what he wrote. His satire was weak but it was clearly satire.

His apology is welcome, now to show him that cyclists did not cause the litter that kicked off his tirade. Let’s get him on a bike. If Jack Thurston’s letter bears fruit maybe Parris will appear on The Bike Show? Riding through London as a first timer is almost suicidal so, if he survives, that ride should be punishment enough for the columnist.

I’ve also sent an invitation via The Times but I’ve also sent a personal letter to the former MP’s country home. The internet is weird – thanks to Google Earth I can actually zoom in to the hedgerows that Parris said were full of “empty cans of hi-energy drinks” thrown by cyclists. Didn’t see any mind, Matthew Parris must have been out with his bin-bags again.

We all know that cyclists use bidons via water bottle cages, they do not carry cans of fizzy pop.

“Forgive me, but pedestrians were not the culprits here,” said Parris. Yep, it was most likely passing motorists. On the way to the gym perhaps? But, stop me, I mustn’t malign a whole group on zero evidence.

Here’s my letter. I wonder if Matthew Parris will take one of us up on the offer.

Dear Mr Parris

Thank you for the piano wire apology in your latest column.

I made the following suggestion to James Harding, editor of The Times:

In the spirit of reconciliation and to show Mr Parris what a bottle cage is for, I’d like to invite him on a bike ride. He’s a fit guy. I believe he runs marathons. If he agrees, I’ll arrange a ride along a country lane using a top-of-the-range bike and as much or as little of the Lycra he seems to so deplore. Would you please pass on this invitation? I can arrange a bike and kit anywhere in the UK. I promise not to booby trap the route.

If this invitation didn’t get to you, please let me make it again, and personally. I’m the editor of BikeBiz magazine.

We’re not all litterbugs. In fact, it’s rare for a cyclist to litter, unlike, say, youth motorists or fly-tippers (pretty difficult to do that on a bike). We’re not all smug, but we have to be tough, it’s dangerous out there, city motorists kill hundreds of cyclists each year.

Countryside cyclists – the kind who wear Lycra, not maids freewheeling to church – tend to go out singly or in pairs. On an evening or two per week and on Saturday and Sunday mornings, bigger groups will go out for long-distance training, and perhaps a swift half or a cup of tea and a cake in a rural cafe. If they are ‘real’ cyclists, they’ll carry carb drinks in ‘bidons’ (water bottles) attached to the bike. I’ve never known anyone ride with a can of Lucozade or Gatorade. From your column’s description of the detritus, your local litterbugs aren’t cyclists.

So, back to the invitation. I’d gladly line up a really smart bike for you to ride (Tour de France sleek, or country gent style) and, if willing, get you in some sporty bike gear not made in China.

Forget the ing, we need to become an ism

Matthew Parris may be scolded by the Press Complaints Commission – a slapped wrist, at best – but those cyclists asking PC Plod to take a look at his “incitement to hatred” are barking up the wrong tree.

In February some new laws come into operation in the UK. There’s the new incitement to homophobic hatred law (oops, I’ll get knobbled there, then, apparently I’m an American homophobe obsessed with sex), and the linked religious hate law. But cyclists are not all homosexuals (there are some fine gayand lesbian cycling clubs, though – Dykes on Bikes, love it) and nor is cycling a religion.

In order to nail Matthew Parris – to coin a phrase – we therefore need to formalise what we all know to be true. That cycling is a religion.

It’ll help if we agreed to a slight name change. So, it’s not cycling that we worship, it’s cyclism.

Our Founding Father*, which art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done,
in earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily Shimano.
And forgive us our footpath trespasses,
as we forgive them that force us off the road.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the powermeter, and the glory,
For ever and ever.

* John Kemp Starley

Parris apologises

As I reveal on this story, the UK Press Complaints Commission has received 200+ complaints about the Matthew Parris garrot-a-cyclist joke.

Naturally, most of the complaints have been received in the last few days so the Parris article isn’t the most complained about feature in 2007…but had the complaints all arrived in December, the article would be the third most hated article of the year.

Parris has already apologised (“”I offended many with my attack on cyclists. It was meant humorously but so many cyclists have taken it seriously that I plainly misjudged. I am sorry.”) but should that stop the complaints? Exactly how much grovelling do we need to see before we collectively forgive Mr Parris?

Via The Times, I’ve invited him on a bike ride. A UK bike supplier will kit him out with a top-of-the-range bike and as much Lycra as he can stomach. Let’s see if he takes up the invite. As I said to the editor of The Times – who is a cyclist – I promise I won’t booby trap the route.

These will be first up against the wall

“A bunch of mindless jerks who will be the first up against the wall when the Revolution comes.”

Come the Revolution a little black book containing the names of certain citizens will be opened. These citizens – some of whom have called for the death of cyclists – will be taken out at dawn and shot*.

Daily Mirror columnist (anti-cycling quote from 2002)
“Bicycles are for children…[they are] like masturbation – something you should grow out of. There is something seriously sick and stunted about grown men who want to ride a bike….And if we truly cared about safety on our roads, then we would make a bonfire of all those stupid hats, all that hideous Lycra and every bicycle in the land.”

TV frontman and The Times motoring columnist (anti-cycling quotes from 2002)
“When will people understand that roads are for cars and that there is no danger at all from speeding motorists if walkers and cyclists steer clear?”

“I was reading The Mirror the other day and came across a letter from a reader who wrote, ‘I was riding my bike to work when this red Ferrari pulled up next to me. Out of the window, Jeremy Clarkson shouted ‘Get a car’, and drove off.’ What I actually said was, ‘Get a car you hatchet faced, leaf-eating Nazi.'”

Actor (anti-cycling quote from 2006)
“Much of their environmentalism is nothing more than posturing. If you conducted a complete audit of the lifestyles [of cyclists], you would quickly find that they are far less green than they claim. They probably go on regular cheap flights overseas to hip new locations in eastern Europe or Africa, feeling very good about themselves as their planes emit huge clouds of noxious gases.

“They do not bother to question whether their garish Lycra garments were made by children in the Third World, or, indeed, whether their bicycle was manufactured in some exploitative, low-wage factory in China.

“Pomposity and selfishness runs through everything committed cyclists do.

“I have longed to have a stick to jam between the spokes of their wheels and bring them to a deservedly painful halt.

“Once, at the National Theatre, I had to share a dressing room with another actor who insisted on bringing in his bicycle…I often felt like putting a knife through the tyres.”

These two US shock jocks used to rant and rave on G105 in Raleigh, North Carolina. In September 2005 they held a listener call-in where listeners were encouraged to share any violent activities they participated in against cyclists, including running them off the road. One of the two DJs admitted that he carried empty soft drink bottles in his car to throw at cyclists. Following protests from cyclists, the DJs were suspended by Clear Channel Communications, owner of the radio station.

US shock jock, Jammin’ 95.5 (alleged anti-cycling quote from 2006)
“When I hear on TV that a cyclist has been hit and killed by a car, I laugh‚ I think it’s funny. If you’re a cyclist, you should know that I exist, that I don’t care about you, that I don’t care about your life.”

PK later recanted after being taken for a bike ride.

The Times columnist (anti-cycling quote from 2007)
“A festive custom we could do worse than foster would be stringing piano wire across country lanes to decapitate cyclists.”

Got more names to add into the little black book of anti-cyclists? Email them to

* That is, shot by our photographer, recording for posterity the columnists’ first Bike Buddy sessions.