What's the Deal with YouTube's Rude Go-Pro Vigilante Cyclists?
Are they just doing their civic duty by drawing attention to drivers' bad behavior, or is their aggressive style counterproductive?
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
It's difficult, I find, to complain about cyclists in cities without sounding like you're going to end the sentence with "...and the ethnics, n'all." The overwhelming majority of our two-wheeled friends are harmless, law-abiding road users, the majority of road traffic accidents are caused by vehicles that actually have motors, and yet the majority of drivers seem to harbor a deep well of resentment for cyclists. Why? Is it their clothes? Their helmets? Their bells? Cyclists take their lives in their hands every time they hit the road. What is it that pushes some drivers to act like they're vehicle extras in Mad Max? As if the Hangar Lane Gyratory System is a dusty ochre steppe that they're trying to engulf in fire and corpses?
Well, increasingly, it may be stuff like this:
Above, you'll find a video of a woman eating a bowl of cereal while driving. Hey, what's wrong with lifting spoonfuls of milky grains to your gob hole while in control of a ton of glass and metal that is powered by a massive engine? Well, TBF, quite a lot. The uploader of the video is Surrey Suburban Cyclist, one of many YouTube accounts run by cyclists naming and shaming dangerous drivers and their number plates. But while SSC is right to point out this lady's dangerous dedication to breakfast, it's the manner in which he confronts her that leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Whizzing round to her window, he demands she lower it, and berates her with threats of police action, calling her behavior "ridiculous."
In a world that isn't built for them, save the odd token bike lane, cyclists must protect themselves. Obviously it's not really on to eat a bowl of cereal while you're also in control of an SUV and a lot of the videos uploaded by these CCTV have-a-go heroes show some shocking, dangerous driving: vans threatening to crush cyclists against railings, drivers taking their eyes off the road to unleash volleys of verbal abuse, etc. But at times it feels as though the cyclists filming them have more in mind than road safety—such as building their own online celebrity. And in their efforts to do so, some cross the line beyond which someone stops being a noble citizen and starts being a sanctimonious grass.
But the grassing isn't the only issue. While a few of these guys are content to have a whine, others have a snarl. For example, BlackCountryBikeCam has quite the temper on him. Here we see him getting angry with a cab driver who overtakes him on a bend in the road:
An inadvisable move by any road safety standards, sure. Though when BlackCountryBikeCam catches up with our assailant he approaches an open window, calls him a "fucking muppet," and shouts "You're going to be reported to licensing, you dickhead," as the car drives away. In the other videos on his channel he can regularly be seen screeching and pointing at motorists. Verbal abuse is less of an evil than life-threatening driving but this kind of aggression seems counterproductive if the ultimate aim is to make people more sympathetic to the dangers faced by cyclists.
A clearer example still of overzealous self-righteousness comes from CycleDub, in this video where he piously tells a learner driver to look for her registration on YouTube:
One thing I've noticed about these Go-Pro Sherlocks is that they're all men. They're all men with $8,000 bikes who seem to endlessly ride around town centers waiting for people to slip up. Where are they going? Are they even going anywhere at all? Do they think they're "on the beat" or something?
A prolific threat-doling wheelsman by the name of CyclingMikey is particularly good at upsetting people. He even has his own antagonistic catchphrase: "Siri, call 999."
In one of his videos, CyclingMikey films a lorry driver who he believes is talking on his phone in unmoving traffic. The lorry driver tells him to stop filming him without his permission. CyclingMikey refuses and the driver gets out, walks up to him, tells him he's going to "smash [his] eyes through the back of [his] head," and, as he drives away, shouts, "If you must know, it's a fucking hands-free."
The video has since been deleted from YouTube but the man's number plate and a threat to call the police were still broadcast to CyclingMikey's 9,000-plus subscribers on YouTube. (It is also still available for viewing here, at the Evening Standard's website.) A report to the police is a frequent feature of these videos, some of the more severe instances leading to court cases and job loss, but that's only usually when someone's life is put in danger.
CyclingMikey has become somewhat of a local celebrity, as evidenced again in the video below. A truck driver calls him a "wanker" out of his window, and when CM goes to confront him, the driver claims to know his name and where he lives, expressing his disgust at Mikey and the way he's seeking to make himself judge, jury, and executioner of British highways.
There are so many of these accounts in existence but at times it's difficult to see why they exist. Without "going viral," the videos are watched by a relatively small community of other like-minded, angry bike users. These number plates aren't committed to memory; you aren't going to see them out while riding and beware.
Stereotypically, we in the UK dislike confrontation, especially over petty things. The Go-Pro cyclists aren't filming police brutality, they're not filming matters of civil urgency—most of the time, they're filming people texting at a red light, reporting them to the police and proudly uploading their haul for all to see.
It's important that drivers are made more mindful of their potential to kill. Once inside their Fiat roll-cage it's easy for them to forget that their mindlessness can cost lives. But reporting people to the police for minor traffic infringements and uploading videos of their faces and number plates for all to gawp at is no way to highlight the dangers or get people on your side. The only thing it highlights is the petulance of the high horse on which these cyclists ride.
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