Essay: On the Clarkson Comment
(2018) Anyone poking around this site will notice there are a couple interests. The first, obviously, is road cycling. The second is coffee. At some point down the list comes the entertaining world of endurance motor sports. I grew up mimicking the sounds of race cars with my plastic Richard Petty helmet complete with plastic visor snapped shut. Many racecar drivers use cycling as a way to maintain fitness. Sometimes, in the middle of a crit race, I tap into Ayrton Senna’s quote and go for a hole that is waiting for an occupant.
Being a fan of both cycling and exotic racecars leaves me in a strange sort of middle ground. The reason is I love riding my bike. But I also sit on the couch to let the heart rate come down while watching The Grand Tour (Amazon’s reboot of Top Gear). Why the big deal you might ask? The lead presenter Jeremy Clarkson is the big deal. He is unapologetically anti-cyclist, which one might find interesting considering road cycling boasts company with racers such as Australia's Indy Car racer Scott Dixon, former Formula One driver Mark Webber, plus Spain's Formula One former champion Fernando Alonso.
Consider this. When Clarkson’s show, Grand Tour, made a stop in Stuttgart Germany, he made every attempt to publicly shame the mayor who encouraged the citizens to boycott the taping of the show. The audience looked a healthy size to laugh at the jokes Clarkson fired against the Green Party’s Andreas Kasdorf who didn’t take kindly to Clarskon’s anti-cyclist stance. Despite Stuttgart being a noteworthy cycling city, it is also home to Porsche and Mercedes. Kasdorf even made a motion to have the show banned in the town. Nothing like insulting your hosts.
The seriousness of these comments is that millions of viewers tend to hang on every word of the cantankerous Clarkson. I take his comments about cyclists personally while still waiting to see which car he wiggles and wedges himself into next. There are thousands – if not millions – who may not be able to separate the fact that cyclists are most likely car owning, tax paying citizens too. Cyclists decide to being exposed to the elements. Perhaps those people who shake their fists and yell at cyclists are fans of The Grand Tour and take inspiration from Clarkson’s anger and dismay toward those who go by bike.
So imagine my perplexity when watching The Grand Tour’s two-part holiday episode when Jeremy Clarkson concludes with the following thought:
“I think everybody in the world should drive a beach buggy, because you’re exposed to so much, not just the elements, but the opinions of other people. When you’re in a normal car you shake your fist and make gestures and shout and yell because you feel cocooned and safe and immune from everybody. But in a beach buggy, everyone is just there. It’s brilliant. It’s such a friendly way of moving about.”
I understand the man is doing everything possible to hold onto the gas-powered engine. The Grand Tour is chock-full of tongue-in-cheek comments about his aged viewpoints regarding the future of petrol-powered cars as well as his belief in the absurdity of electric-powered cars. They even joke about Tweets commenting about how old he looks since being sacked from BBC’s Top Gear. Perhaps he can reach farther back in time and consider for a moment that the road is part of the commons, and that everyone is eligible to use it. Maybe I could say that everyone in the world should ride a bicycle because you’re exposed to so much, not just the elements but of the opinions of other people. When you’re in a car you shake your first and make gestures and shout and yell because you feel cocooned and powerful toward anyone not going by car. On a bicycle every car is just there. The bicycle is a brilliant and friendly way of moving about. And it hasn’t even changed much.