Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Lazy, unoriginal and wrong

I can still remember reading the first anti-cyclist troll column I ever encountered. It was in the pages of the Manly Daily around 1984. It was around the time of the triathlon boom, when there was an increase in the number and visibility of cyclists on the roads and some bright spark whose name I have long forgotten trotted out the arguments we're all now well familiar with. I wrote a letter to the editor and received a reply that it was the columnist's job to be controversial.

In the years since I've read the same tripe dozens of times. The formula is the stuff of lazy journalism. Pick a visible minority and trot out a bunch of ill-informed stereotypes based on a personal grudge and a blinkered view of the world. It used to be religious or racial stereotypes, but those sorts of hateful opinions are now frowned upon so the lazy columnist bereft of ideas must find other groups to deride. Fat people, the poor, the unemployed, the young; the list changes from time to time, but the intent and effect are unchanging.

Daniel Meers of the Gold Coast Bulletin (@danielmeers on Twitter) is the latest to have crack at the genre. His effort is a nice try, but he has nothing new to add, all the long-discredited arguments are there: the registration furphy, the claims of universal lawlessness, the cry unsupported by any evidence that cyclists are a danger to all and sundry, the suggestion that roads are built for the exclusive use of cars to travel at speed from one place to another, the call for radical action: in this case a ban on cyclists altogether. Indeed Daniel calls for a "war on cyclists" and even makes a thinly veiled threat that motorists must "win back the roads" before "something bad really happens".

By their own behaviour on the roads, the overwhelming majority of cyclists and motorists are able to get along just fine. The motorist (and I am one of those as well) is lavishly catered for with an astonishingly well-resourced and ever-expanding network of roads paid for by all taxpayers. Only a tiny minority feel disinclined to share or behave in a courteous fashion.

Daniel says there's a mob of louts every morning, causing havoc on the roads in his area. What a good journalist does is grabs a photographer, gets out of bed a bit early and gets the story. Talk to the aggrieved  locals, talk to the cyclists and get some photos of them breaking the law.

Daniel says the cyclists hold him up a few minutes as he drives three kilometres (!) to his morning jog. A good journalist doesn't allow personal interests to influence his work, particularly not a petty nuisance like being slowed down for a few minutes a day. Maybe that's a good sign there's no other injustices on the Gold Coast deserving of his attention and this level of outrage. Somehow I suspect those few minutes he's lost isn't time he was using to research a cancer cure or even put into polishing this particular column.

Oddly, what the Gold Coast Bulletin doesn't realise is that cyclists buy papers too. Bike shops are paying advertisers. Alienating a section of the community isn't a good way to increase either credibility or readership. As this most recent, larger and more lasting bike boom is upon us, those who don't ride a bike for recreation or transport commonly have a friend, a brother, a sister, a son or daughter or workmate who does. The last two editors I've worked for have both been cyclists. The newspaper where I work had written plenty of positive stories about cycling as have many others. It's a more nuanced and informed and refreshing approach compared to what the Gold Coast Bulletin - appropriately enough sometimes known as "The Bully" - is reaching for here.

We have a right to expect more of our senior journalists and a right to pull them up when get it as wrong as this. It is worth noting Meers has copped a fair pasting in the comments section and on Twitter. Even Robbie McEwen has joined in. Every single argument he raises in this forgettable effort is well and truly refuted by his readers. It that's not a sign the world is changing for the better, I don't know what is. 

3796km so far this year.

Ash Dash 2012

Pelverata Saddle is the toughest climb of the day
The Ash Dash is one of Tasmania's best rides, 210km taking in some of the most epic climbs south of the city, with glorious views over farmland and rivers and ocean to temper the suffering of climbing 4600 metres in on outing.

The ride, which has been running for many years, wasn't organised by Audax last year although I'm told a few intrepid riders did the course on their own. I stuck my hand up as ride organiser this year for two reasons: firstly to gain some experience running events, secondly so I didn't have to ride the bugger. I was a lot fitter in 2009 than I am now, and even then I found it a challenge.

The task was made much easier by the fact that I had four volunteers offer to help out to help me with the ride. That meant we could have three fully staffed checkpoints, which makes life infinitely easier for the organiser who doesn't then have to dash all over the course opening and closing checkpoints as riders pass through. Most riders commented that the reception and support at the checkpoints was the highlight of their  day.

Heading up to Vinces Saddle.
We had a shade under 20 entrants for the ride - including a quarter of Lancefield Lairs who flew down from Victoria for the event. The weather forecast was good, with moderate temperatures and a little rain predicted. In the event there were only a few drops on the course during the day.

I left home at 5.30am and set up the my little folding table at the start at 6.15am for early arrivals. There were none of course and the last ten minutes before the ride was a flurry of entry forms and payments going one way and cue sheets and brevet cards the other. We ended up starting a few minutes late.

I headed out onto the course to take photos, catching most of the riders as they went over Vince's Saddle. Everyone was travelling strong, although there was a wide spread between riders even at that early stage. I raced to the supermarket to buy the remainder of the food for the controls, then headed to Silver Hill where Heather was chatting to a group of Southern Pedals riders who were passing through on a training ride. The first arrivals weren't far behind and Chris arrived, picked up the supplies for the Woodbridge Saddle control and left to greet the riders at the top of one of the hardest climbs of the day. Then I wandered off to Kaoota to meet Stephen and set up that control and wait.

Frank looks glad that Silver Hill is behind him.
And wait we did. After chatting for a while, I set off looking for the lead group. They were still 20km out, suggesting the 30km average speed which dictates the control opening time is simple not achievable on this ride, even with some pretty sharp riders out on the course. They covered the distance in pretty quick time and the control sprang into life, which meant it was my turn to go and set up at the finish at Salamanca Place.

The finish should be called "The Control of Smiles" because looking back on my photos, everyone has very broad grins - either at the joy of completing the challenge, or perhaps just because the pain has stopped. At any rate I was kept busy with riders arriving from 3.55pm right through to two minutes before the official cutoff of 8.38pm.

Happy finishers.
We've had some very helpful suggestions for next year: cold drinks at all the controls, route marking on the day, and adding the road numbers to the cue sheet. The entry fee will likely go up a smidge, as will the allowable time limit, to reflect the extra 10km this ride covers, None of them sound too difficult so hopefully we can incorporate then without too much trouble. I'm very keen to add a shorter option too - I'm going to have a think about a 110km or a 120km route which starts a little later and takes in a couple of the existing checkpoints. I'll also investigate electronic entry to avoid the last minute rush on the morning.

Thanks to all of the riders for taking part and their feedback, and hearty congratulations to our volunteers for making this one of the best Audax rides I've been involved with in recent years.

3763km so far this year.