London bike riders facing ‘dehumanising’ abuse online, British Cycling say

Cyclists in London have faced abuse online  (Jeremy Selwyn)
Cyclists in London have faced abuse online (Jeremy Selwyn)

London cyclists are worried “dehumanising” language directed at them on social media could be transferred into aggression on roads.

British Cycling has said the issue is particularly bad in the capital and the south east where there are proportionally more people on a bike.

Nick Chamberlain, policy manager of British Cycling, said: “Cyclists are worried that abuse online is going to be converted to dangerous [behaviour] on the road either verbally, or tragically physically where people have used a vehicle as a weapon.

“It is just generally dehumanising language. Things have not got better. The abuse is still there. The language is as unpleasant now as it was ten years ago.”

British Cycling held a campaign in 2019 to reform attitudes in the aftermath of a Channel 5 documentary called The Scourge of the Streets.

Mr Chamberlain said that closed and community Facebook groups were among the worst channels for messages and comments against cyclists - but he has also noticed trends on news story comment sections and call-in radio shows.

“We just have reached a tragic level of abuse online and sadly cycling is caught up in it,” he added.

“It’s symptomatic of our busy, congested and unpleasant roads for a lot of people. This is especially around our big towns and cities. And then there are those who don’t cycle themselves or know anyone who cycles - when they see a cyclist going faster than they are in an urban area, we know that is a real triggering aspect for some people for some reason.”

Bike riders have described personal and sometimes misogynist abuse directed at them on Facebook and Twitter and messages sent to the Standard show the type and level of hate riders can be subjected to.

When it was reported on a north London Facebook group that a school child had been knocked off their bike in a suspect hit-and-run, a commenter responded: “[They] should walk to school so we can get to work without having to dodge all the stupid cyclists… get out of my way”.

Another wrote: “How many points do I get for knocking down two Tour De Shoreham muppets”.

Councillor Jo Rigby said she does not like the term ‘cyclist’ (handout)
Councillor Jo Rigby said she does not like the term ‘cyclist’ (handout)

Wandsworth councillor Jo Rigby, who has received abuse on Twitter about cycling, said there is a “conspiracy theory” floating around about a “cycling lobby” infiltrating government departments.

“‘Cyclist’ has become such a term, with connotations of entitlement, when really I do not think it is such a them and us issue,” she said. “I would say I was a resident who sometimes walks and sometimes rides a bike. It should not define someone’s entire identity.”

The Balham representative said she was “hounded off” Twitter by “awful, angry men” but has come back with a different mindset.

Haringey-based cyclist Carla Francome said she has been targeted for her gender and been told “what’s a woman got to do with this” when posting on Twitter.

“I had someone shout at me and call me a chunky b***h,” she said of the incident that happened in the street. “I said I feel scared sometimes I might not make it home and he said he didn’t care if a cyclist died.”

Ms Francome said her friend made her a “chunky b***h” t-shirt after the incident as a joke to reframe it. She added that on Twitter, cyclists are willing to speak up for each other at any sign of abusive or anti-cycling posts.

“There should be room on the road for everyone,” added Ms Francome - who does also drive a car on occasion. “Not just cyclists, not just car drivers. We should all want safe roads. We all need to work together on this.”

Carla now proudly wears a ‘chunky b***h’ t-shirt, looking to take a stand against abuse (Carla Francome / Twitter)
Carla now proudly wears a ‘chunky b***h’ t-shirt, looking to take a stand against abuse (Carla Francome / Twitter)

British Cycling has previously joined a social media blackout after French sprinter Nacer Bouhanni was subject to “toxic” racist abuse online after a race.

“We have to hold that up as a measure of last resort,” said Mr Chamberlain. “Our preferred method is to be proactive and we will continue to use social media to try and enforce better behaviour. We want to call these things out and talk about what we can all do.”