Two independent witnesses say they saw Shane Warne run into a bike after an altercation with the rider at the junction of St Kilda and Toorak West in Melbourne, Oztralia. The consequence of this? The Mayor of Melbourne Robert Doyle announces an intention to crackdown on hoon cyclists. Aren’t you glad you don’t live in Melbourne? Sympathy to readers who do.The rider involved – who remains anonymous – sent his account of events, and pictures of the damage to his machine, to ‘Cycling Tips’. He describes how – in rush hour traffic – he overtook Warne who was encumbered by a grey Mercedes Coupé.
As the traffic was stationary I unclipped my right foot and squeezed through the small gap. The driver in the car on my right, the Mercedes – possibly concerned I might damage his car – yelled out to me. Once I was through the gap I moved back into the centre lane, stopped and looked back at the driver, who was still yelling, to hear what he was saying.
“What are you doing? You don’t own the road! Get out of the way” he yelled repeatedly. I shook my head and probably yelled something similarly inane back. Now even more agitated the driver continued to yell, “you don’t own the road”. I looked more closely and recognised him as Shane Warne, laughed and asked, “What are you doing?” and began to get ready to clip into my bike to continue the ride home.
But before I could the driver lurched his car forward forcing my bike wheel and almost my leg under the front of his car. Dumbfounded at how overtly aggressive the driver had been and aware that we were now holding up the traffic, I pulled my bike from under the car and attempted to continue riding. My wheel was jammed against the frame of my bike and the chain was tangled so I had to carry it to the footpath to fix it.
The part of this account that doesn’t ring true is…
“I shook my head and probably yelled something similarly inane back.”
In the circumstances wouldn’t we expect him to have remembered exactly what he said? The omission suggests that either he’s ashamed to admit to his contribution or – if he really can’t recall – that he was out of control when shouting at the chubby Spin King. This doesn’t excuse Warne’s – alleged – criminal behaviour.
In ‘Homage to Catalonia’ George Orwell wrote…
“I have no particular love for the idealised ‘worker’ as he appears in the bourgeois Communist’s mind, but when I see an actual flesh-and-blood worker in conflict with his natural enemy, the policeman, I do not have to ask myself which side I am on.”
The cliché that people in cars and people on bikes are natural enemies is false, but where there’s conflict between individuals who have chosen different modes I’m initially inclined to side with any pedallist over a sofa-jockey; another habit is to try and avoid tiresome, and risky escalation of trivial disputes.
I live in a hard news area, the local paper frequently features stories of people shooting at each other, knifing each other, using baseball bats to settle minor arguments, setting each other on fire. Readers of the Hackney Gazette with a any sense of self-preservation endeavour to treat strangers politely. Round here dumping your bad feelings on others in a careless way may have dramatic consequence. This environment has been a great benefit to my traffic riding. It turns out that – in awkward social situations – practicing emotional continence really works.
In the moment, in the rush hour on St Kilda Road, it wasn’t really the bike rider holding up Warnie’s car, it was his fellow-travellers in four-wheeled motors. Motorists – victims of motor-dependence (MDVs) – tend to lash out at other people – parking attendants, bike-riders; they’re more likely to stoically accept their real problem, the person in the car in front doing exactly what they’re doing. ‘The World would be a better place with fewer people like me in it’ is an existentially problematic idea.
To be safe travelling on a bike you need to make sure other people are aware of your presence. You’re not in control of how they react to this. It would have been better if Warnie had looked at the rider and thought, “If I get a bike and do a few miles this Winter maybe I can play one more season?” instead of ranting about the ownership of the road. How much sweeter if the guy on the bike had expressed sympathy for Shane’s predicament? “Sorry mate I didn’t mean to upset you? Actually I do own the road, but we can share it. That is a nice car. Are you having a bad day?
When an MDV gets angry and aggressive they’re trying to export some of their disappointment at the way their life has turned out. If you reply in kind you’re giving them what they want, the chance to blame somebody else for their frustration. A repost that is calm, fearless, humane and generous, not only reduces the chance of risky escalation; you’re also giving them the opportunity to grow.
It may not be a coincidence that Warniegate happened while the Tour Down Under was taking place and – for the very first time – the reigning champion of the Tour de France is a simple son of The Lucky Country. Fear of – anger at – people on bikes are symptoms of progress. Being a threat is a step forward from the anachronistic status of vanishing tribe waiting to vanish.
How ever badly they behave, how ever much they try to drag us down toward their own unenviable state, the primary victims of motor-dependence are the losers stuck behind the steering wheel. Challenge bad behaviour where you can but be kind to those less fortunate than yourself. It feels good.