Thursday, 5 March 2015

An open letter to "The Justice League of Video Cyclists"

Dear Dave and Lewis,

I commute to work by bike and, like you, I record my journeys on video (though I feel like a poor relation as I only have the two cameras!).

When I got my first camera and people would ask why I filmed my journeys I would find myself tongue-tied, worried that they were judging me, worried that they thought I was some kind of narcissist.  I'd mumble something about 'just in case' and quickly change the subject.

To be honest, back then I'm not sure I really knew why I had had a camera.  I'd had my share of close passes, and I subscribed to the few YouTube channels of fellow cycle-cammers (there were a lot fewer of us then) and enjoyed watching their channels, but really I think I just like gadgets and I thought my 'small' ATC2K with its 640x480 resolution was pretty cool potatoes.

I've upgraded my camera a few times since and have had to justify spending the money each time... somehow "because it's cool" didn't seem to cut it when shelling out for HD and I had to do some proper soul-searching.  I came up with four basic reasons.

1 - Entertainment

There's no point denying it; I still like gadgets and my cameras are still pretty cool potatoes as far as I'm concerned.  I mean, filming in 4K with a matchbox-sized camera?  What's not to love about that????

2 - Insurance

The old 'just in case' explanation has quite a bit of truth to it.  I like to think that I'm as careful as I can be whilst out on my bike.  I'm aware of my surroundings, don't run reds, don't filter when I shouldn't and generally ride sensibly.  I don't want to be involved in an accident, particularly not a serious one, but if I am I certainly don't want it to be dismissed as my word against theirs.  My cameras are my independent witnesses.

3 - Closure

You've had a close pass or somebody pull out on you and you've come within inches of serious injury but the driver hasn't even seen you, let alone apologised as you shout in futility at their back lights.  You try not to, but you can't help but take it personally and you're spitting mad.  You both know the feeling.  And you both know the feeling of closure you get when you hit publish on the YouTube upload page and put the evidence out there for all to see.  Okay, so the driver will probably never see the evidence of their idiocy, but they might and that's enough.

4 - Education

Back to that close pass again.  There are definitely times I've watched back one of my videos and realised that, without excusing bad drivers, I could have avoided a close pass altogether by taking a stronger position.  I'm unlikely to make the same mistake in the same place twice.  And it's not just my own videos; be it road position, observational skills or just how to behave like a human being, I honestly believe that there are lessons to learn in every cycling video if you watch with an open mind.

With those four reasons I should now be able to justify why I use a helmet camera to anybody who is interested.  More importantly, instead of getting flustered and changing the subject it should be fairly easy for me to move the conversation on to talk about the problems with infrastructure for cycling and how we're all just trying to get from A to B safely.

But there's a problem, and it's the reason I'm writing to you both.

Instead of asking why I use it, more and more people see the camera and say "Oh, you're like that YouTube guy" and my heart sinks because I know they mean one of you and I know exactly what's coming.  For the next five minutes I'll be trying to convince them that there is not, in fact, a "War on Britain's Roads" and that the vast majority of my rides pass without incident. 

I won't succeed.  They simply won’t believe me.  They've all seen the docudramas where cyclists, festooned with cameras, are prowling the streets with eyes peeled for car tyres a half-inch inside an ASL or for the tell-tale glow of a mobile phone being used.  They’ve all seen the infamous ‘red card’ and they’ve seen the folding metre-stick getting shoved into an open car window.  They’ve all read about the 70+ ‘convictions’ secured by “Britain’s most hated cyclist”.  

Only this week they’ll have heard Dave mention the “Justice League” on BBC Radio 2 without a hint of irony and, the very next day, they were treated to him exclaiming “No retreat! No surrender!” on Channel 4 News shortly before seeing footage of him up out his seat, accelerating hard towards near-stationary traffic whilst blasting the horn he’s christened “The Pacifier”.  And to cap it all off, there’s a BBC News article in which he’s quoted as saying “If people want to play with snakes, they have to accept they might get bitten”. 

I don’t know whether your YouTube channels are monetised, nor do I know (or care) how much you have been paid for your various interviews and documentary appearances and for the use of your videos.  Perhaps you’re making enough from all of this that you think it’s worth it.  But if, as you claim, you are genuinely only doing this to make cycling safer I think you both need to take a long, hard (and honest) look at the language you’re using and the personas you’re building that have the journalists flocking.  At the moment the only thing you’re achieving is to promote a non-existent ‘war’ and the negative impact of your actions are being felt by cyclists the length and breadth of the country.

At some point your fifteen minutes will be up and the TV cameras will move on.  It’s not too late for you to be able to say that you used your brief moment of fame to make things better… or will you simply be happy to have milked it for all it’s worth?

Yours hopefully,


1 comment:

  1. You aren't Sarah Vine or Angela Epstein in real life, are you ? ;)

    A main reason for camming is to give a reasonably objective record : else it's "Just your word against mine!".
    e.g. "My van/taxi was nowhere near you when you banged on the side!" LOL

    The position is even worse where the cyclist is dead or otherwise unable to testify at all.

    There's a boundary somewhere between 'vigilant' and 'vigilante'.
    I would limit my censure on the road to a shake of my head.
    There's too many nasty people out there, and we are vulnerable.

    I worry that Sue or Droid might be targeted, or someone else might be mistaken for them.