Jeremy Clarkson's latest diatribe against cyclists has a headline that's classic Clarkson: "let’s rout the pushbike Bolsheviks." But it's the first half of the headline that's the most surprising: "Bums on saddles." Clarkson said he wanted "normal people to start riding bicycles" and he revealed "I’ve started the ball rolling by buying a bike."
Naturally, he couldn't resist a dig: "And when I ride it I have a sign on the back of my jacket that says, “Motorists. Thank you for letting me use your roads.” Yeh, right, like roads were built for cars.
The piece in The Sunday Times [behind paywall] starts with Clarkson frothing over one of his favourite targets: "Cycling used to be how you got about when you were poor. Then it became a pastime for children. Now, though, it has evolved into something more. It’s gone beyond a way of life and become a political statement. A movement."
Cyclists, said Clarkson, "wear skintight black leggings over which they put a pair of shorts. Yes, they actually wear their underpants on the outside of their trousers. There is no practical reason at all for doing this; it looks stupid. But that’s the point. It tells everyone that they are not interested in capitalism’s drive to make us all spend a fortune on fashion and looking good."
And it wouldn't be a a good old rant about cyclists if it didn't include the red light meme: "[Cyclists] do not ride through red lights to make their journey quicker; they do it to show the Tories that they will not be enslaved by convention."
Clarkson has noticed cycling is rising up the political mainsteam, "with junctions designed to put the bicycle first. [Cyclists] want the car and the van banished. Today the Embankment. Tomorrow the Bank of England."
Normally, this is when Clarkson would put the boot in but there was no petrol-head dénouement. Instead, Clarkson said: "There’s only one way they can be defeated. And that’s for normal people to start riding bicycles. We need to swell their ranks with moderates, people who ride a bike because they’ve had a drink and because taxis are too expensive. Ordinary people who ride in jeans and T-shirts and with no stupid helmet."
It seems that Clarkson is warming to cycling. In April last year he wrote that he loved Copenhagen because "there are no bloody cars cluttering the place up. Almost everyone goes almost everywhere on a bicycle."
And in April this year he wrote a column for The Sun which first mentioned his bike purchase: "The man in the shop...also wanted to sell me the stormtrooper uniform. Tights. Lycra shorts. And some gel for my gentleman undercarriage. Obviously I rejected all of it, and even his offer of a helmet...because I fail to see how five hardened bananas could possibly stop my head being crushed by the rear wheels of a 40-ton truck.”
He added: "You don't have to worry about putting on weight...because you can pedal it all off afterwards."
This is all a far cry from 2002 when Clarkson wrote some of his most hateful words about cyclists. In a battle cry against putative plans to introduce strict liability, Clarkson wrote:
"Bicycle guerrillas? We’ve already got them. We don’t need this new loony idea to encourage them even more to shoot red lights and ignore the Highway Code. They have already taken over a third of the roads with their green tarmac cycle lanes. Now the Lycra Nazis want to take over the whole lot! And they still don’t pay a penny for going on the roads which the poor old motorists pay through the nose for.
"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?"