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Dozens of cyclists gathered at a memorial to Darcy Sheppard on Tuesday, after the Crown dropped charges against Michael Bryant. (Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Dozens of cyclists gathered at a memorial to Darcy Sheppard on Tuesday, after the Crown dropped charges against Michael Bryant. (Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

Marcus Gee

Darcy Sheppard the wrong kind of hero for bike advocates Add to ...

Some cycling advocates are making Darcy Allan Sheppard the hero of their campaign to make the streets safe for biking. They could not have chosen a worse champion.

Mr. Sheppard, as we now know, was the kind of guy who gives all cyclists a bad name - an angry, aggressive road warrior, the type who shouts at drivers who get in their way, bangs his fist on car doors and, in Mr. Sheppard's case, even reaches into the car to seize the wheel.

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The evidence produced in the Michael Bryant affair shows he repeatedly confronted drivers when he travelled the streets of the city as a bike courier and serious cyclist. In various incidents, he spat on cars, threatened drivers and yelled obscenities at them. The prosecutor in the Bryant case says that Mr. Sheppard was the aggressor in the events of Aug. 31, setting upon the former attorney-general as he sat in his open-topped convertible with his wife. When Mr. Bryant drove off with the cyclist hanging onto his car, Mr. Sheppard was killed.

Motorists understandably loathe hell-for-leather cyclists like him, but cyclists should dislike them just as much. Their rogue behaviour only confirms the view held by many motorists that cyclists are a rule-breaking, out-of-control breed who ought to be curbed.

That, of course, is a gross stereotype. Most commuting cyclists are cautious and responsible. The rogues like Mr. Sheppard are a tiny, highly visible minority. But the damage they do to the cause of cycling is enormous. Rogues not only alienate motorists, but undermine public support for measures that would make city cycling easier and safer.

Rather than lionizing Mr. Sheppard, cycling groups should be pressing rogues such as him to obey the rules of the road. If they did, they would be on firmer ground when they accuse drivers of hogging the street.

Instead, we have seen a wave of anger over the Crown's decision to drop the charges against Mr. Bryant. Despite an exhaustive investigation and a report by one of the country's most respected lawyers, Richard Peck, many voices in the cycling community are saying that the decision gives drivers permission to declare open season on defenceless cyclists. "How to get away with murder? Use an automobile," read one typical comment on Twitter.

That victim mentality is no help to the cycling movement. There is a peevish, self-righteous side to it - a feeling that, as the green, superior form on transport, bikes should enjoy a privileged position on the roads. In this view, motorists are a loutish bunch in deadly vehicles who constantly menace the gentler cycling clan. But the notion of a war on the bike is as silly as the idea of a so-called war on the car.

Yes, there are plenty of aggressive or heedless drivers on the roads, the kind who cut you off at the corners or squeeze you against the curb as you cycle to work. And, yes, drivers need to be aware that they are by far the more dangerous side in any clash with a cyclist. But the number of rogue drivers is small. Most motorists aren't out to get people on bikes.

Cyclists would get farther if they would treat motorists as partners instead of enemies. As nice as it would be to think that Toronto might create a whole network of separated bike lanes that would minimize contact between cars and bikes, the fact is that, for the time being at least, two wheels must share the road with four.

A personal note: the other day I was biking home when a woman cyclist on a fast bike blew past me. A few metres on she yelled at another, slower cyclist who was impeding her bullet-like progress, essentially telling the guy to get the heck out of her way. "Oh, so you're that kind of cyclist," said the man on the slower bike.

Yes, that kind: aggressive, obnoxious, reckless - a menace not just to everyone else on the road but to the whole cycling movement. So mourn Mr. Sheppard if you will; he had a troubled life and a tragic death and deserves sympathy for that. But don't make him cycling's hero.

Follow on Twitter: @marcusbgee

 

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