Inviting my MP for a bike ride

The Conservative Party Tweeted something yesterday that was so wrong in so many ways I lost count.

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Nothing unusual in that, I hear you shout, but no, let’s keep party politics out of this because this issue affects anyone who rides a bike on the road.

For a start, the photograph the clueless social media operative chose to illustrate ‘dangerous’ cycling shows cyclists on a clearly-marked, segregated cycle path, getting from A to B with the minimum of fuss and no pollution. Two of the riders are wearing the hi-vis beloved of people who think that cyclists bear a greater responsibility to be seen than drivers do to look out for them. It is a photograph showing one of the best urban and suburban transport solutions.

My first instinct was to criticise the Conservative campaign for what it was. At best, it was an attempt to appeal to the boorish, angry, entitled element of their support with a lazy, unfounded dig at cyclists. At worst, it may have dangerous consequences – giving the drivers encased in their big lumps of metal an even greaters sense that they are the kings of the road and that cyclists are merely obstacles in their way.

However, I decided on a more constructive approach, so I emailed my local MP, a Conservative called Bim Afolami, to issue an invitation.

Dear Mr Afolami,

I am one of your constituents and I am dismayed at the Conservative party’s announcement of a study into the feasibility of ‘clamping down on dangerous cycling’.

I have also extended this invitation on Twitter but wanted to make sure you didn’t miss it.

I’d like to invite you to come for a bike ride with me on the roads in your constituency so you can see for yourself what it’s like. Perhaps afterwards you could tell me whether you agree with your party’s line that it is the cyclists (the most vulnerable road users) who are the problem here.

We’ll meet up and then we’ll take in a range of different roads – quiet country lanes, suburban side roads and the busier roads that link Harpenden to the other towns and villages around. We won’t be going fast, so don’t worry if you’ve not done a lot of cycling before. We will negotiate tricky roundabouts, use our eyes and ears to stay alert of any potential hazards. We’ll be passed by cars, motorbikes, vans and lorries. Some might come past a bit close for comfort, but don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll be fine. We’ll stop at red lights. We won’t go on the pavement. And at the end we’ll have a coffee and a nice slice of cake at a cafe somewhere.

I am very flexible so the invitation is open-ended. I look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes,
Lionel Birnie

Shortly after I’d sent my email, the Conservatives deleted their Tweet. That was nothing to do with me because quite a few higher-profile people, including other MPs, had drawn attention to the flaw of focusing on cyclists when the conduct of vehicle drivers needs addressing first. After all, 1,700 people die in crashes involving vehicles every year.

Anyway, I received an automatic reply to my email saying that I will receive a full response from Mr Afolami in ten working days.

I have no idea what Mr Afolami's views on cycling and its place in the nation's transport policy are but I am keen to find out, and perhaps if he joins me for an hour or so I can persuade him of the need to change attitudes within his party and its support.

I will be pleasantly surprised if he takes me up on my invitation but I am not holding my breath. I suspect he'll say he's too busy but I'll keep you posted.