Oh dear. Sometimes someone in the public eye says something so breathtakingly stupid and unpleasant that it is hard to know whether they are having a senior moment, temporarily decided to go mad or are simply having a laugh. Twenty years ago Gerald Ratner had a bit of fun telling an audience that his products were ‘cr*p’. His high street jewellery chain collapsed as a result. We all thought this was amusing at the time (he was right, for a start) but that wasn’t much help to the hundreds of staff laid off. Perhaps the same thing will happen to Addison Lee, the successful, London-based minicab firm whose chairman John Griffin writes in his company magazine this month that if a cyclist is killed or maimed on London’s streets then it is often their own stupid fault for, well, being there. He concludes by saying: “It is time for us to say to cyclists: ‘you want to join our gang, get trained and pay up’. As I said, oh dear. About one person a month is killed cycling on London’s roads. Many more are injured. A disproportionate number of these people are the victims of commercial vehicles including large trucks whose drivers cannot properly see down their nearside and, I would assume, a few minicab drivers. Two tonnes of metal hitting 90 kilos of flesh and aluminium nearly always ends up badly for the latter. People like John Griffin often point to the ‘menace’ that is the modern urban cyclist, usually adding for clichéd effect the words ‘lycra-clad’. All right, if we are talking menaces, let’s see: how many truck drivers died in collisions with cyclists last year? Er, zero. How many London motorists of ANY kind were killed last year after hitting, or being hit by, a cyclist? Again, zero. Cyclists DO kill pedestrians, it is true. And indeed, very occasionally, other cyclists. The figure? On average, about one-five a year. UK-wide. So, Mr Griffin, which ‘gang’ are you talking about here? The gang of inconsiderate, aggressive commercial drivers who can make using London’s roads such a joyless experience for us all? The nasty, red-faced, overweight and geographically clueless minicabbers shrieking at anyone who dares to get in their way (until they decide they need to double-park, switch their hazard lights on and block the road for everyone else)? Is that the ‘gang’ you have in mind? Sorry to stereotype but I am just following your lead, as you describe a ‘granny wobbling to avoid a pothole in the rain’. Many cyclists in London are also car owners. They are no more or less likely to pay tax than anyone else. They are ‘our’ roads as much as yours Mr Griffin; indeed, the cross-subsidy from private road users to commercial drivers is immense (commercial vehicles may do eight or nine times the annual mileage of the average private motorist but certainly do not pay eight or nine times the annual road tax). London’s roads cannot possibly accommodate everyone that wants to use them to everyone’s satisfaction. This is a huge, modern city superimposed on a semi-medieval streetplan, with narrow roads and stratospheric land prices. I would love a network of airy, dedicated cycle lanes like in Vienna or Copenhagen but accept that isn’t going to happen. And I accept that just about everything you do to help one group of road users harms or hinders another. Speed bumps may slow cars down but they are a menace to cyclists. Cycle and bus lanes can create dangerous chicanes for wider road vehicles. There is no ideal solution, save one in which all road users calm down a bit and realise that in a city where average speeds for any kind of wheeled transport, motorised or not, hover around the 11mph mark there is really no sense getting angry about losing a few minutes here or there. There is hope. I have been cycling in London since the 1980s and can confirm that the capital is a far nicer place in which to be on two wheels than it has been since the days of the penny farthing. This is no thanks at all to the powers-that-be; successive London administrations have done little to encourage cycling, with the honourable exception of the current mayor. The reason is critical mass. Twenty five years ago the only people who cycled in London were the brave, the mad and the poor – and the couriers (a disappearing, rather heroic breed, who were a mixture of all three). Now there are thousands of regular cyclists – more than a quarter of a million by some counts. Numbers began rising sharply about 10 years ago partly because of fashion, partly because of the congestion charge, partly because of general disgruntlement at the public transport network, partly because of the general desire to improve fitness, and a great deal because decent bikes have got a lot cheaper recently. This has forced motorists to reassess their driving radically. And of course it means that a great number of London’s motorists are also on two wheels at other times. I now feel safer cycling around London than almost anywhere else in Britain. But I’ll keep a wary eye out for Mr Griffin’s sleek black minicabs from now on. He has already told his drivers they are free to use the bus lanes along with properly trained black cab drivers. In his magazine he now seems to be telling them cyclists have only themselves to blame if they get into a scrape. Dangerous words.