And yet Michael O'Reilly has done just that, outlining 18 reasons why registering bicycles is a bad idea.

So, that'll be the end of debate on the topic, right?

Yeah, no.

Is that registered, kid?Is that registered, kid?

Debunking a dead horse

People have been working to debunk this shit for years and, just like shit stuck to a rug, the more you work to get rid of it, the worse it seems to get.

Here's a small handful of similar debunkings that I've picked up over the years:

And there are plenty more out there. If you've been around for a while you'll have your own favourite, but Michael O'Reilly's list makes a good balance between detail and brevity.

Puerile and pointless

But there are at least two reasons why this puerile and pointless 'debate' is not going away any time soon. Firstly, it's a lazy tabloid newspaper/talkback radio fallback (a surefire winner for them). Secondly, some boneheads are simply impervious to evidence.

Regarding the media, take for example this almost content-free story (screened four days after O'Reilly's article): The Bike Registration Debate. It doesn't add much and does a poor job of summarising the so-called 'debate'. Like most stories on the topic, its purpose appears to be keeping the [non-existent] 'debate' warm, ready for next time a journo is short on ideas and needs to stir up some click-bait.

There actually is no 'debate' here. No matter how much some people may want bikes to be registered, it simply isn't going to happen. The facts are available (and not just in the handful of debunkings listed above) and the story always comes out the same:

  1. the costs of registering bikes and/or cyclists don't add up: "'Reality-testing' of suggested schemes shows the low likelihood of any resulting benefits justifying the difficulty and cost of introducing effective measures."
  2. registering motor vehicles doesn't pay for road construction or maintenance, in fact "The motor vehicle registration system in NSW is used to ensure that no vehicle is driven without having at least third party insurance cover, providing additional protection in the case of the vehicle being involved in a crash that results in the death or injury of one or more other road users."
  3. bike riders are not freeloading, either on the cost of third-party insurance or roads construction/mainteanance—quite the contrary: "In comparison to motor vehicles, however, a very much lower risk of death or injury is caused by the poor or illegal control of a bicycle…Similarly, and unlike motor vehicles, bicycles cause no damage to road pavement or structures, and even high-intensity use of cycling results in close to zero asset maintenance costs to the community." [emphasis added]

[Quotes above are from from NSW Roads and Traffic Authority: Bicycle registration and cyclist licensing]

Forget public health implications and transport options, for those three points alone, no government is ever going to touch bike registration.

Unfortunately this doesn't square with some people's world view. And, humans being humans, some can be convinced by logical argument and evidence, while others are quite astonishingly resistant.

Stop talking sense!

Let's take a pause and consider anti-vaxxers. [And no, this isn't an invitation to use these pages to banter on the vaccination 'debate'. Any comments on that topic will be cheerfully ignored.]

Mother Jones recently posted about research into convincing non-vaccinating parents to consider vaccination:

So as a rational person, you might think it would be of the utmost importance to try to talk some sense into these people. But there's a problem: According to a major new study in the journal Pediatrics, trying to do so may actually make the problem worse. The paper tested the effectiveness of four separate pro-vaccine messages…The results can only be called grim: Not a single one of the messages was successful when it came to increasing parents' professed intent to vaccinate their children. And in several cases the messages actually backfired, either increasing the ill-founded belief that vaccines cause autism or even, in one case, apparently reducing parents' intent to vaccinate.

My gosh, that does seem like a familiar pattern.

As cyclists we seem to think it's of the utmost importance to try to talk some sense into these people who support bike registration. And yet I'd be willing to bet that, just like the vaccination messages, it doesn't matter how sound the evidence is or how well argued, you ain't going to change too many minds. Or if you do, it's just as likely to be in the opposite direction to what you intended.

Bringing the media back into the picture, consider some of the ways that media can make misinformation memorable:

Misinformation is often presented with anecdotes, which are easy to understand, evoke vivid pictures in our minds, and are particularly likely to stick. This gives anecdotes the power to override hard facts, like statistics and scientific evidence

[Insert your own story about the popularity of 'anecdata' here.]


Misinformation is also more likely to stick when it's accompanied by photographs. Even when the pictures have no evidence-based value and are merely intended to draw attention to an article, they can influence people's beliefs.

[OK, irrelevant but cute photo duly inserted into this post.]

So where does that leave us?

It's a lost cause on both sides. People who want bike registration aren't going to get it, ever. And no amount of evidence and solid argument will stop this stupid 'debate' returning, forever.

Bored as I am with the 'debate', I'm not recommending that cyclists should let it slide. It's better to be a repetitive voice that highlights the facts, rather than one that draws attention to falsehoods. Be the voice of reason, just don't expect to have too many people changing their tune to join your chorus.

Stockholm syndrome

And one final observation. I've heard cyclists saying things like, "I'll happily pay registration if it means drivers will give me a fair go." Clearly they think this is a knock-down argument. It isn't. You see, for the most stubborn portion of people who want it, bike registration is not the real issue—it's really about cyclists' right to use the road (or rather, lack of right, in their minds).

These are the same people who will answer each and every one of O'Reilly's 18 reasons unthinkingly saying, "I don't care, I just don't want you on the road." Even when you show them that bicycle registration would end up costing them (and every tax payer), they will simply shrug and answer, "I don't care, I just don't want you on the road."

And to that mindset, registration is the first not the last obstacle to cyclists' 'legitimate' use of the road. If, hypothetically, bike registration happened, then they would demand something else. Probably cyclist licensing (and bugger the expense). Then it would be something else. Mandatory helmets perhaps (oh…oops). Or mandatory high viz clothing. Or requiring all bikes to have a safety flag. Or requiring self-propelled vehicles to be led by a pedestrian waving a red flag or carrying a lantern. Yep, shifting goal posts. There will always be another objection.