London mayor candidates in pro-bike face-off

Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone are battling to prove their cycling credentials in their respective campaigns for leadership of London.

Boris Johnson and sitting mayor Ken Livingstone are battling to prove their cycling credentials in their respective campaigns for leadership of London.

While Mr Livingstone is in talks to bring back the Tour, regular cyclist Mr Johnson has been railing against the thieves who nicked his Marin Sausalito hybrid. And he makes a good point in his Daily Telegraph comment - that it's cyclists who get the blame when their property gets stolen - again.

"We treat bike theft as though it were a kind of natural event, like catching a cold or succumbing to some other morally neutral phenomenon," says Mr Johnson. "When someone's bicycle is stolen the discussion is entirely about what he or she could have done to prevent it. The police talk about the need for tougher locks, and special serial numbers, and the cycling experts give out various bits of anti-theft advice. Don't have a bike that's too flash, they say. Try painting it some depressing colour, like orange or purple. Try having a basket at the front, they say, or mudguards, or anything to make your bike look a bit grungy and unappealing.

"All of which advice may be well meant, but somehow makes me pop with rage, because we seem continually to be ascribing responsibility for the event to the victim, and ignoring the critical point. It wasn't some supernatural agency that nicked your bike, or nicked my bike. It wasn't oompa-loompas or fairies or bike elves. It was thieves."

Yes, for all the controversy surrounding Mr Johnson's candidacy, there's no doubting he's pro-bike. Whether his suggestions for tracking systems to corner the thieves are viable is another matter.

Still, whatever the answer to the tens of thousands of bike thefts in London each year, this issue isn't going to go away. And the UK capital desperately needs more cyclists and fewer cars in order to stave off gridlock.

Of course, Mr Livingstone can argue that he's proven his love affair with cycling by bringing Le Grand Depart to London in the first place - and introducing the congestion charge. But if either he or Mr Johnson wants real change they need more than publicity stunts.

A real commitment to a commuter-friendly bike rental scheme would be a start. The one just launched in Paris has already clocked up a million rides in fewer than three weeks. Now that really would be something worth shouting about.

See also: Boris Johnson's full account of his growing frustration with bike thieves.

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