The trouble with bicycles

James May, presenter of BBC Top Gear, writes about his bike commute one day and the trouble with bicycles in a Telegraph UK article.

The trouble with bicycles is that they’ve been accorded an importance out of all proportion to their actual usefulness.

Having ridden in London on a Brompton, May should thank the city planners for an infrastructure that allowed him to get to his interview in 5 minutes. That’s definitely changed since 1885.



Accorded an importance out of proportion to their usefulness. Yikes. I will have to check out more of this article. Bikes may not be the cure-all, but they can be used for the majority of what we need.

And note, same show that dissed the [Tesla]( . . . I read that article a few times and possibly missing some Brit perspective, but I don’t get it. I think he’s saying, “yeah, I got to my meeting in 5 minutes, but can’t carry a sofa on my bike” and if so, what’s the point?

Maybe he just has the wrong bike…I’ve carried various bits of furniture, and I’ve seen much more carried than I have even attempted. Do you have the specific link for the article?  I was having a hard time finding it right off the bat.

Is there a link for the article?

I think that excerpt is vague and maybe misleading.  James is supportive of bike commuting, but retains that bicycling has its window of opportunity/purpose and its not all-inclusive.  He isn’t spending his money on cargo bikes, but I see his argument.  Though I don’t think James is trying to be dismissive of bicycling, but encouraging.

During the edit this morning, I left the link of the article in the post—it’s there now.


Thanks for the perspective—if Jon is saying, “bikes aren’t going to save the world, but they help me get around town,” sure that makes sense.

Well, here’s a bit of expat Brit insight for you, I suppose. Almost the same thing.

In London, there is some extreme congestion. Imagine the worst day in Seattle as a baseline. It’s so bad that there’s a congestion zone sized roughly 8km in radius in effect covering most of downtown and sections of West London. If a car enters the zone during daylight hours, its owner is subject to a £8 (~$16) toll. Failure to pay the toll results in a £160 ($320) toll plus administration fees. Residents of neighbourhoods inside the CCZ can get a 90% discount if they pay in advance, and some vehichles are exempt: public transportation, cabs, bicycles, alternative fuel cars, and fleet vehicles (such as the local equivalent of Zipcar). The system is largely automatic and enforced by CCTV.

Naturally, the citizens of London hate the toll, and there are quite a few gripes regarding people who are seen as “skirting” the toll while still creating perceived congestion. It’s very similar to the repetitive argument here that “bicycles should be licensed because they use the road too”.

I lived in the Holloway neighbourhood in North London, outside of the CCZ. Bicycles received little dispensation, and considering the impact of the Emirates Stadium (which had recently been built), riding had become much tougher. I think it’d be quite interesting to compare May (a downtown biker) versus say a North London biker.

If you read May’s argument in that context, it makes a lot more sense. I personally don’t see it as an attack on bicycles per se. Look at your average Top Gear episode, and the low horsepower solution often beats a supercar in their “shootout” segments. I don’t want to speak for May, but I get the impression he’s pro-bike in general, just not for the CCZ perks and so forth.

The funny thing is that when I read that quote the first time, out of context, I assumed that he meant bikes *haven’t* been awarded enough importance relative to their utility. Shows how you can see what you want to see.

The whole article confused me, but the brit perspective helped.

It’s “Top Gear” and if you haven’t seen the show you’re not going to get it. It’s my favorite show and I’m not a car person by any means - it’s just plain funny. You have to love a show that has a segment titled: “Big star in a reasonably priced car”. Same show also converted a car into a working (sorta) space shuttle and another car into a sailboat. They poke fun a tree hugger types but also go after plenty of super cars.

Right—the Brit perspective helped and I do enjoy the show.

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