Why are some people so triggered by cycling?

fear of cycling

Why are so many people triggered by cycling? After all, it’s almost entirely benign.

The angry men of Twitter aside, many people view cycling as a good thing, but at the same time remain reluctant to get on their bikes. Reasons given range from the lack of good cycling infrastructure to hills, rain and the cold. But what about emotional barriers to cycling?

Sociologist Dave Horton has written an absolutely fascinating insight into the fear of cycling.

He starts by setting fear of cycling in a wider context; we live in fearful societies and it is possible to fear cycling for many reasons beyond the fear of having an accident on which I concentrate, at least to begin with. I move on to critically examine some measures which are apparently designed to improve cycling’s safety; road safety education, cycle helmet promotion, and the separation of cyclists from motorised traffic.

Later in the paper I broaden my interest in fear, and attempt to make connections between the constantly produced fear of cycling and common media representations of ‘the cyclist’ as a figure to be feared. If the first half of the paper tends to prioritise people’s fears of the accident and physical injury via cycling, I here switch to consideration of people’s existential fears, of having to negotiate with (their representations of) cyclists and with the possibility of themselves becoming a cyclist. I contend that fear of the accident and fear of being pushed towards cycling (and thus towards adopting a cycling identity, becoming ‘a cyclist’) are related, and together constitute contemporary fear of cycling. 

Fear of cycling…and becoming ‘strange’

It really is worth a read. We are particularly interested in Horton’s exploration of the fear connected to issues of identity including the fear of ridicule, of losing status, of riding a gendered, classed, raced and stigmatised vehicle, of undermining one’s existing sense of identity; fear, in other words, of becoming ‘strange’.

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  1. Leonard


    I will tell you why
    Because powers that be attack motorists in every way they can inturn closing roads to put cycle lanes that cost a fortune that hardly any one uses
    How about fixing whats already there
    Cyclists are also a law unto themselves (not all) but most ride like melts through red lights junctions without a care
    Oh thats right we the motorists have to look out for them how about they take responsibility for themselves
    Rant over

    • Chris


      You obviously haven’t read the article by Dave Horton because he refers to people who have a great fear of the person on a bike as a “non-person” who delights in “non-normal” activity i.e. sitting in a motorised vehicle and should be marginalised – you fit the evidence exactly.
      Perhaps you could try using a bicycle to get around (using those cycle lanes that remove “your” road space and meet other people on bikes (not “cyclists”) – and try to understand that there are other, enjoyable, ways of travelling.

    • Leigh Robinson


      Physics is the simple answer as to why drivers have the greater onus of responsibility to all other vulnerable road users. Don’t like it … Then you can always hand your license back. Your purple regurgitation of Daily Mail-esque nonsense tells me you won’t give up your license. The thing is, here in my city, the police did an operation to catch red light jumpers – 9 cars v 1 cyclist was the outcome. As goes empty cycle lanes, well they are empty for a reason, they are an extremely efficient way to move people as 4 cyclists can inhabit the space of one car (often single occupancy). So there we have it. I will await your response, which will no doubt include number plates, mot’s, insurance, compulsory helmets and hi-viz etc. That’s assuming you can drag yourself away from looking at the pictures in the latest copy of the Daily Fail.

  2. Anne Damerell


    I am a utility cyclist. I get around my local neighbourhood on a bike. I can’t drive. Everywhere I go people say ‘cycle carefully’ and ask if I have lights etc. Well, I am 81, but perfectly fit to cycle, rather slowly, and don’t look decrepit.
    Usually I tolerate these infantilising remarks, but yesterday the worm turned. In future I will reply in kind, saying ‘drive carefully’, ‘remember the speed limit’ etc. If they think it’s rude, perhaps they will realise that they were being rude to me.

  3. Howard Cheesman


    Thanks ETA for drawing our attention to this interesting and thoughtful article. I am 72. Rediscovered cycling a few years ago. it’s been a game changer for me. But we need to get out of this straitjacket of how we see others as cyclists, pedestrians, motorists. We are all trying to get from A to B. Some of us are doing this recreationally. There is nothing as counterproductive to the cause of promoting cycling as a viable alternative as self-righteousness. There is loads to be done to make using a bike a safe and fun experience but planning and infrastructure needs to take account of all users equally. In my city, we are usually forced on to poorly marked ‘cycle lanes’ on busy pavements (retro fitting doesn’t work) but when I ping my bell, I also apologise. It’s time to build bridges between users and not to retreat further into entrenched camps.

    • Paul


      “not to retreat further into entrenched camps”
      This is an opportunity for joined up government. The Department of Transport is responsible for the public highway. The Department of Health is responsible for Public Health. Active Travel is an initiative to improve transport and health.

      The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is responsible for culture, arts, media, sport, tourism and civil society. That includes Media regulation impacting the public discourse and attitudes to sport and culture.

      Active Travel does not make cycling a protected characteristic so that media bias against cycling is prohibited. DCMS and DoT are not working together to make this happen so changing the attitudes of motor vehicle users to support the Hierarchy of Responsibility in the Highway Code. So the Daily Fail is free to spew fact free nonsense to confirm the bias of their audience.

      In 2012 Olympics the UK had massive success in cycling that everyone can be proud of. That only happened with the commitment of British Cycling and our brilliant athletes.

      However cycling is not only for the young and the brave. Everyone has the right to cycle on the public highway and it is well documented where the road danger comes from. Motor vehicle drivers.

      Attitudes must be changed to enable Active Travel and make unsafe driving as socially acceptable as crime. National health depends on that.

  4. Nick


    They never had fun cycling. Not as a kid, when they at most had an ill fitting micro cycle. Not as an adult.
    They never did long cycling tours with friends, for hundreds of km, sleeping in the tent at night waking up to a fresh morning by the lake, or on the hill top. Enjoying the ride down after breakfast. The sun going up in the back, the whole land laid out in front of them.

  5. Carole Medhurst


    I lived on my bike when I was 11/12 and loved it. Now that I am an older person I own a trike as I worry about falling off a bike. I wouldn’t ride on the roads in Hull as it’s dangerous enough as a car driver. Most drivers think the roads belong to them above all others. I’ve been tailgated. beeped, cut up and threatened all because I obey the rules of theroad. There are too many people who think these rules don’t apply to them. No way would I go out on these roads on my trike!

    • Alana Gullon-Smith


      So in response to the greater good of the minority, i will bring your attention to first and foremost infrastructure, if we had the same mentality as other european countries ( which we do not ) we would be rather best placed to decide on whether one rides a cycle for pleasure or work, but as you well know that we do not have such luxurys to hand as Germany or Holland et,al, so whilst i used to cycle to school in the mid 70s and was a 10 mile round trip unfortunately one cannot be expected to just pop down to m&s to get a pot fromage fre with the yorkie in the front basket waiting at the head of the cue at a set of lights in a cycle box in London with artics on both sides of me waiting for the green light to then become the next statistic of which will only be recorded as one more on a long list that will inevitably come to nothing and the anxiety and terror of being aware i may well die here through no fault of my own because BORIS came up with the idea that it would be a good idea to converge the cyclist with the death race 2000 thinking reprobates who have no awaresness of anything outside the front windscreen and the ununsured drivers abound with alcohol infused the nigh before drivers not to mention the crack heads, heroin, speed, cocain, cannabis users using the very same patch that the cyclists is using and he wants us to share the road, how absolutely absurd a notion, until and unless we create the infrastructure and the law is tightened up on idiot drivers there is always going to be this stigma attached to the cyclist.

  6. David Freeman


    I think it has a lot to do with economics. Motorists pay a lot of money just to own a car. Parking, MOT, insurance, maintenance and the car itself. A cyclist has none of the above and yet he or she can move through the standing traffic with ease and be on their way. Motorist don’t like this because they believe that they, and they alone, pay for the upkeep of our highways. This, of course, is not the case as many bang on about ‘road tax’ when it isn’t actually a road tax at all, it’s vehicle excise licence. It’s a car tax not a road tax. So I suspect, in many ways, it’s about the free movement of a cyclist getting through a city far quicker than any car on as a mode of transport that costs literally nothing by comparison. It’s frustration at spending a fortune on your car and being slower from a to b than something that is far, far cheaper and healthier. Basically jealousy of movement and freedom.

    • Paul


      The highways are paid from general taxation meaning mainly income tax that is means tested. Thus everyone who is cycling on the public highway and pays income tax to fund that has equal justification to any motor vehicle user. There is no free ride. Because vehicle excise duty is based on emissions there is none to pay without an internal combustion engine.

  7. J H


    > The angry men of Twitter aside

    There are plenty of angry women on X. I’ve probably been on the receiving end of abuse from as many women as I have men, whilst cycling – motor vehicles are empowering like that.

  8. J H


    I forgot to say, X also has the same leveling effect.

  9. Jim Riley


    We are an easy target for frustrated Tinned Gammon.

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