Given the current climate – the dents in the bodywork, the scars down the shins – it’s perhaps not a good time to admit to being a cyclist. Now, of course, ignoring the fact won’t change the reality of what I am, so, in admitting to being the former, I also want you to know that I’m not one of those cyclists. I don’t wear unflattering mud-splattered Lycra or have a bottom injected with silicone gel that makes me look like a prolapsed baboon. Nor do I ride hugely expensive bikes made from moon gossamer, as light and as thin as the credit cards used to buy them. And I am definitely not the kind of rider who sits in the middle of a busy A road and ignores the tailback that develops as I obsess over my cadence.

I am just a bloke who happens to own a bike and who was cycling back when cycling was unfashionable. Mine is the unstylish bike you see chained outside the local newsagent, chemist, or supermarket. It doesn’t have 42 gears, rotating aerodynamic flanges, or a seat so narrow it comes with extra blades from Gillette. It’s just an ordinary and slightly abused bike that gets me from Point A to Point C and, if I’m lucky, there’s no Point B in between, where my chin has come into contact with tarmac, car, or tree.

Because I’ve always thought of myself a cyclist, I do feel insulted whenever a new rider tells me that I’m not the “real” deal. They’re right, of course. I’ve watched with bemusement as cycling experienced an almost 16% growth in participation over the past 10 years. Since the London Olympics, we’ve seen a new breed of cyclist take to the roads. They are the reason bike stores have multiplied and prices have taken off like they’ve just hit a pothole. Yet not being a “real” cyclist means that I am stuck somewhere in the middle of the ongoing “battle” between cyclists and road users.

It grants me the space to be pragmatic and recognise that this debate shouldn’t be about two sides. We need to make more distinctions between casual cyclists as well as the more committed road warriors; ordinary drivers as well as the petrolheads. We should also be talking about people who ride a bit, occasionally use a car, often use the bus or train, but also see themselves as pedestrians. We should, in other words, recognise that most people are not one thing and that this debate should more properly be about the entirety of our transport infrastructure.

Not that a common sense approach would be popular among the strictly devout. Cycling has become one of those perennial points of conflict and humour, such as we see between dogs and cats, the English and the Scottish, Labour and Tory, Brad and Angelina. Cyclists hate drivers. Drivers hate cyclists. Let the battle commence…

Except there is a real danger in promoting this as a battle. The debate is wrongly characterised as a “war” for Britain’s roads, with antagonists on both sides making the figurative fight real. Lobby groups exist for both camps and we’re routinely inundated with footage from head and dashboard cameras as if to prove that one side is more to blame than the other. The machismo of being aggressive towards cyclists is sadly prevalent but, at the same time, militant cyclists boast about kicking cars that get too close and delight in winding up irate drivers for a little Youtube fun.

It was helpful, then, that Chris Boardman recently admitted that “the roads are statistically safe but it doesn’t look it and it doesn’t feel it.” This comes from the man who was considered the face of British cycling until that face started to grow Bradley Wiggins’s stubble. When Chris Boardman makes these dark proclamations and admits “now I try to do more of my riding off-road”, cyclists should listen and understand that this isn’t a battle between two mutually exclusive sides. Boardman’s own mother died last year in a cycling accident in North Wales. An 18 year old woman was killed in Salford just last Friday. This follows the much publicized story of Charlie Alliston, the cyclist who illegally took a fixed-gear bike (they don’t have brakes) onto the road and knocked down and killed a pedestrian in Old Street, East London last year.

Anybody who has ridden a bike in traffic needs to admit that there is a problem. As much as my heart and sympathy reside with the cyclists, my brain thinks about the pedestrians hit by cyclists running through red lights or the driver hesitant about overtaking the cyclist hogging the road and who is now waving them to pass on a blind corner. I also recall the sight I witnessed just last week, of a mother and child riding down a local B road I no longer have the nerve to ride. The mother was in front and the child, on a bike at least one size too big, trailing behind, wobbling, veering from side to side, constantly on the edge of becoming unbalanced. Much as I love and promote cycling, there is a wilful naivety among some cyclists that their right to be on the road will magically protect them from harm.

It is why, despite my overwhelming belief that cycling should be promoted, I also have sympathy for Adam Boulton whose much publicized rant a few weeks ago led this past weekend to a quite bellicose article in The Times about my favourite mode of transport:

Forget about zombies and North Koreans: the cyclists are coming. In fact they are already here. As cycle lanes proliferate, the number of people commuting to work in London by bike has doubled in a decade and is still increasing fast. On narrow country roads more and more Mamils (middle-aged men in Lycra) and younger male and occasionally female counterparts can be found, riding two abreast for their own protection as their lobby groups advise.

Boulton’s continued investment in the debate highlights how much of a nerve he has touched, and he is right to argue that “anyone who complains that cycling is evolving in the UK without proper regulation and at the expense of pedestrians and motorists faces ridicule and online abuse.” Where he would be wrong is if he believed that it’s only cycling that has this problem. It is endemic to debate where being on the “winning side” seems far more important than the reasonableness of any argument, whether it’s for or against Brexit or the casting of the next Doctor Who. Our first challenge is to stop enjoying this contest. We need to talk seriously about the compromises we all need to make in order to solve the problem of Britain’s roads.

Part of doing that will, no doubt, involve reassessing the relationship between drivers and cyclists. Yet we should also re-examine all of our prejudices, such as the relationship we’ve allowed to persist between cyclists and pedestrians. Cycling is but one part of a broader problem we have with transport in the UK and that debate has nothing to do with the demands of the long distance rider. It has to do with people like you and me simply going about our daily lives. It has to do with a system that prices people out of public transport, where the fare to go a single bus stop is the same as the fare to cross an entire county. There are parts of the country where the cheapest form of travel is the taxi.

We should also begin by accepting that whilst cyclists cannot be entirely removed from traffic there are many parts of the country where cyclists needn’t be forced onto the road. This need not always mean expensive infrastructure work but, rather, a more pragmatic approach to the infrastructure we already have. It seems ridiculous, for example, that cyclists in 2017 are still governed by the Highways Act of 1835 written to prevent those that “shall wilfully lead or drive any horse, ass, sheep, mule, swine, or cattle or carriage of any description, or any truck or sledge, upon any such footpath or causeway”. Considerations about ass and swine does not make for a modern transport plan.

Consider how many roads connecting our small towns have paths along at least one side where cyclists can still be prosecuted for riding, despite the fact that these pavements are very rarely walked by pedestrians. Some councils are more proactive in opening these up to cyclists but, naturally, many are wary of the pedestrian lobby. And, yes, pedestrians might well complain and complaint is good if it leads to debate. I should also add that I see myself as even more of a pedestrian than I do a cyclist. I cherish pedestrian rights more and resent, for example, the expansion of privately owned public spaces. I also abhor cyclists that speed through crowds. That does not mean, however, that cyclists and pedestrians cannot often share the same space.

This, indeed, gets to the root of a problem in which debate is too often ridden with interest groups, lobbying campaigns, and ring fenced topics. It is hard for cyclists to make a case when they have drivers on one side and pedestrians on the other. The solution will involve more segregation of cyclists from road traffic but in the context of a properly mature legal framework which permits cyclists more freedom, even if it means stronger punishments on those that abuse that freedom.

Literally and figuratively cyclists must not be squeezed between drivers and pedestrians. That, at the moment, is too much of the problem.