Matt Seaton: Two wheels

Why are we so disliked? It's not just that people seem to find cyclists mildly annoying or disagreeable, but they actually hate us. Think I'm exaggerating? Tell me if you can think of any another social group about whom a newspaper columnist would feel entitled - in jest or otherwise - to say its members should be summarily executed. In a broadsheet, even paedophiles might get a grudging acknowledgement of a right to due process of law.

The murderous proposal was made by Matthew Parris in the Times. In a now notorious post-Christmas piece, he expressed his fury at cyclists who ride two or three abreast, toss their litter of energy bar wrappers and drinks bottles into hedgerows and are foully abusive if challenged. For these crimes, he wants to string piano wire across the road and decapitate us. My guess is that Parris took inspiration, unconsciously or otherwise, from a seasonal viewing of The Great Escape, in which a Wehrmacht motorcyclist is dispatched in like manner by escapee Steve McQueen. The referential subtext is clear: cyclists are no better than Nazis.

Parris has since published a backhanded apology, which, while ostensibly saying sorry, succeeds in blaming cyclists for being too humourless and dim to get the joke. The heaving inbox of his editor, combined with several hundred reports to the Press Complaints Commission, may have hastened this act of contrition. Which just goes to show the efficiency of the cycling lobby when roused: web forums and email groups were humming with exhortations to write in. It could be said that such an "organised" response gives the widespread sense of revulsion felt among cyclists a slightly synthetic quality - that is how lobbies operate and although there is nothing wrong with concerted voluntary action, I can't help wondering whether we took a sledgehammer to this particular nut.

Another reason why the satisfaction of this outcome feels hollow is because Parris's withdrawal changes nothing. Whatever moral victory we think we've won fails to address the underlying issue of why cyclists are the cursed of the earth. Parris is not, after all, a card-carrying member of the Clarksonian petro-libertarian tendency who would say this sort of thing just to get a rise. He may have expected a few angry notes illegibly written in green ink by people who wear bicycle clips indoors, but Parris must have assumed he was speaking for the many (and probably still does - his prejudices about cyclists being a bunch of self-righteous bullies likely confirmed by his bruising encounter with the bike lobby).

Of course, we should defend ourselves from attacks and campaign for rights and respect due to cyclists but, as the dust settles, we might ask ourselves whether we really are innocent victims of vile calumny or whether the picture is more complicated. Take the litter issue. I just signed up for a sportive in July - La Marmotte, a 110-mile ride around the French alps culminating in the great setpiece of the ascent to Alpe d'Huez. To register, you have to tick boxes not only saying that you've read the terms and conditions but also promising not to drop litter on the ride. If a cycling organisation has to extract such an undertaking from cyclists, then let's be honest: even we think it's a problem.

Similarly, it's commonplace for cyclists taking part in events such as races or mass rides to be reminded by organisers not to swear at dog-walkers, horse-riders or other road users. Should we need telling? But apparently, we do - if only because such behaviour jeopardises future events. And a good many of us provide daily evidence of those other popular bugbears: going through red lights and riding on pavements.

Yet we lapse into the comfort zone of casting ourselves as a persecuted minority - so we forget that being more sinned against than sinning does not, in fact, excuse the sinning. Is it possible that what people hate is not cyclists, but hypocrites?

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.