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Words: Matt de Neef & Iain Treloar | Production: Iain Treloar | Feature image: Kristof Ramon
Some stories have a clear narrative – a start, a middle and an end, all of which flow neatly into one another and tie up with a big bow.
This isn’t one of those.
At its core, it’s a story about a guy and his love of bike riding. But it’s also a story about revenge and obsession, and the way those dark impulses conspire to blot out goodness and joy. It’s a story about social media and fake news, and how easily they can be used to manipulate those on both sides of an argument. It’s a story of roadside fistfights, pettiness, identity theft and doctored images. And it’s a story about the void that lies between truth and deception, and the near impossibility of telling the difference between the two.
But if we had to summarise what you’re about to read in a single phrase it’s this: the origin story of the world’s largest, angriest, anti-cyclist Facebook group, and the cyclist that’s behind it. Maybe.
Perhaps the easiest way into the trenches of this digital battleground is if we drop you in with us a couple months ago, when a petition demanding compulsory single-file cycling was doing the rounds. Just as the petition came to our attention, mainstream media got a whiff of an opportunity to drum up one of their favourite constructs, the apparent ‘war on the roads’ between cyclists and drivers. Cue the op-eds, the shock jocks, the current affairs show segments …
Up to that point, the petition — launched over four months earlier by a Facebook group called Drivers for Registration of Cyclists — had steadily ticked its way into the tens of thousands of respondents. Overnight, that number exploded to more than 100,000. The petition page has a little ticker up in the corner, and every so often, we’d just sit there and watch the names piling on, feeling a creeping sense of unease.
In the wake of the petition’s moment in the limelight, commentary was sparked on both sides of the debate. At CyclingTips, we weighed in too, calling for a nuanced, respectful approach from riders and drivers alike, and to be honest, thought that was where we’d leave it. The issue raged a little longer in headlines and talkback, and then something strange happened. When the media went looking for the people behind the petition, they came back empty-handed.
There were no contact details available, and repeated attempts to track down the owner or owners of the page proved unsuccessful. Meanwhile, in the comments thread of our opinion piece, there were whispers of a shadowy figure on the fringes of the Gold Coast cycling community who might be orchestrating the lot. We had no idea then that we’d be spending the next two months of our lives trying to find him.
A petition to make it compulsory for cyclists to ride single file has hit more than 94,000 signatures and reignited an age-old debate. We examine the issue as the panel discuss why the 'drivers versus cyclists' dispute persists. #TheProjectTV pic.twitter.com/qmVE3IlI7A— The Project (@theprojecttv) May 30, 2018
The media storm blew over in a couple of days, leaving in its wake a trail of questions – questions like: Who was behind Drivers for Registration of Cyclists? Where did their stubbornly held beliefs come from? And why didn’t they want to publicly defend their petition on a national platform and bask in the attention their cause had attracted?
So our search began – to try to understand the people and the motivation behind a page that is at worst dangerously inflammatory, and at best, turns a blind eye to its followers that regularly and unashamedly threaten violence against cyclists.
Our investigation would span two months and involve dozens of sources — eventually exposing the seedy underbelly of the Facebook advocacy world, the inner workings of a shadowy hate page, and the story of a gun cyclist who turned against the community that shunned him.
And if that sounds batshit crazy, buckle up, because we’ve barely scratched the surface.
At time of writing, Drivers for Registration of Cyclists has over 44,000 Facebook followers, making it the largest anti-bicycle group in the English-speaking world (and possibly globally). DFROC post unambiguously anti-cycling messages – some focussed on the issue of single file cycling, some apparently showing riders misbehaving, some distorting facts or wistfully daydreaming of violence – which are enthusiastically shared and often venomously commented upon by the page’s followers.
Bizarrely, though, DFROC wasn’t always the anti-cyclist page it is today. It was originally a pro-cyclist satire page, taking a jab at Drivers for Registration of Bicycles — an almost identically titled page founded by a Queenslander called Jai Christensen, which in 2014 had a brief surge in popularity before Christensen’s views softened and the page ran out of steam.
Drivers for Registration of Cyclists, meanwhile, was founded on June 5, 2014 by an individual we’ll call Mr X, a man widely known within the cycling community on the Gold Coast. We knew Mr X as a knowledgeable, smart, respected and articulate commenter on CyclingTips from 2013 to 2015. He had a clear appreciation for the sport and also showed signs of the biting wit that would underpin DFROC at its birth.
CyclingTips has made the decision not to identify Mr X.
DFROC entered the world as a Trojan horse, masquerading as anti-cyclist, drawing in angry drivers and then trying to show them the error of their ways by broadcasting obviously flawed arguments. It was a smart ploy — a transparently pro-cycling Facebook group wouldn’t talk to the haters in their language, or even get them through the door in the first place.
But at a certain point, the tone of the page changed, and today there is no winking suggestion that it’s anything other than deadly serious in its anti-cyclist stance. What prompted such an abrupt change? To understand that, we needed to delve into the world of Mr X.
Few people in Australian cycling wear more hats than Scott McGrory. A former Olympic gold medalist on the track, McGrory retired from professional cycling in 2005 and has since been a coach, a team manager, a race director, an MC, a journalist, and more besides.
Crucially for our investigation, though, he raced against Mr X in Queensland back in the 1980s.
The pair didn’t speak for decades, but in 2012, while McGrory was reporting on the Tour de France, Mr X reached out.
“He popped up just through Facebook a few years back when I was working for Fox Sports at the Tour de France and it was just a ‘Hey, remember me? We used to race,’” McGrory said. “He sent me a photo … he reminded me of a time he beat me,” McGrory said. “And that kind of reconnected us.”
In the years that followed, the pair would correspond intermittently, two contemporaries and former rivals reconnected by social media. During the 2012 Tour, Mr X sent photoshopped images of McGrory doing coverage — images including a surreal Van Gogh-style recreation of McGrory in a field of sunflowers.
Mr X’s aptitude with photoshop was fast becoming a calling card, and there are still traces of his work floating about online. When CyclingTips launched a web series called The Bike Lane in 2013, hosted by McGrory, Wade Wallace and Matt Keenan, McGrory approached Mr X to help with some graphics for the show.
They had a good relationship: Mr X was friendly and seemed happy to help. He was also eager to share details of his extracurricular activities.
“I’m the author of a satire page which hangs shit on motorists wanting to force compulsory rego for bike riders,” Mr X said in a text message to McGrory. “The schtick I’m using is I’m making out I’m actually FOR registration but everything I write is failing and ending up as an arguement [sic] for the idea to never fly.”
Drivers for Registration of Bicycles — the legitimate hate page at the time — was attracting significant attention and as Mr X explained it to McGrory, “What I’m doing is I’m taking the exact content from the hate page and then twisting it against them.”
Conspicuously lacking in that text message, however, were signs of what could have prompted the page’s devolution from satire to spite.
There’s little concrete evidence to prove Mr X is still behind the page he founded back in 2014. Indeed, as will soon become clear, whoever manages the page currently has gone to great lengths to disguise their identity. But assuming Mr X is still pulling the strings — as consensus would suggest — we’re left with more questions than answers. Perhaps chief among them is this: why would Mr X have turned against the cycling community he was a part of, especially in such a vicious and public way?
There was nothing for it but to start throwing some lines out up on the Gold Coast, seeing if we could find anyone that could shed some light. In the end, it wasn’t hard: our man turned out to be something of a local identity. We’d speak to one rider, get referred to another, and on and on, until we had such a knowledge of the different riding groups and paces and starting locations of Gold Coast bunch rides that we were practically locals ourselves.
A common thread began to emerge. On call after call, we’d hear the same story: the story of Mr X the “serial pest” — an erratic, disruptive rider that was always pushing for group rides to be run his way. A rider that delighted in splitting bunches that didn’t want to be split, turning group rides into road races. He was, it seems, a vocal advocate of the notion that the best training is to pit two groups against each other, and, in a form of street race, have the stronger group chase the weaker group. Given it’s exactly this type of road cycling behaviour that DFROC regularly rails against, there’s a yawning disconnect between Mr X’s words and actions.
“He joined our little group of riders down at Runaway Bay and became an absolute bloody nuisance,” said Steve Goodall, a former Olympian and elder statesman of the Gold Coast cycling community. “He just tried to change all our rides. We’ve been doing the same rides — and everyone loves them — for the last bloody 10 years and he’d change the rides. He wanted it to be a training camp and then if we didn’t train hard enough then all the bunch were bloody softies. So we ended up getting rid of him, which was very difficult.”
Goodall wasn’t alone. All over the Gold Coast, group rides were giving Mr X the flick, sick of his disruptive ways.
“Everybody has got the same story, everybody,” Goodall continued. “The guy at the coffee shop [Caffene Break] had a run in with him and he got rid of him and then he went off to H20 [another group ride] and they got rid of him. Every cycling group that he ever rode with, they flicked him on because he was just a bloody absolute nuisance, a troublemaker.
“He doesn’t think that he’s got an issue but he’s the common denominator out of the whole lot. It doesn’t matter where he goes or what he does, he just upsets people.”
It seems Mr X took the rejection personally, turning on the community he’d long been part of. Photoshop skills that had previously been used to entertain were instead used to target those whom Mr X felt wronged by. Riding groups he’d once been part of were ridiculed on the DFROC page, and continue to be regular targets. Individuals who’d spoken up against Mr X found themselves specifically targeted, with their personal details shared on the page and harassment encouraged from its followers.
At some point — perhaps in 2016 — Mr X deleted his online persona. His Facebook page, once so active in the cycling scene, disappeared. So too his comments on websites like CyclingTips.
“He got a lot of abuse when he had his own individual page,” said Andrew Blackmore, a long-time Gold Coast racer and former acquaintance of Mr X’s. “So he got off Facebook because he’s getting threats … I thought he’d gone off the face of the earth.”
Today, so few traces of Mr X remain online that it’s clear there’s been a conscious attempt to remove his digital presence. What little still shows up in Google searches reveals the following: he listens to Lance Armstrong’s ‘Stages’ podcast, he appreciates vintage guitars and amps, and that he’s a fan of motorsport. We also know from the CyclingTips comments log that he loved cycling and had intelligent things to say about the sport, and that he was articulate and respectful.
But these fragments of digital debris fall a long way short of providing a complete picture of a once-vibrant online identity, and provide few clues of his descent from then to now.
Thankfully for us, conversations with those in the Gold Coast cycling scene paint a fuller picture: a picture of a man who, now ostracised from the community he loved, had turned against it.
Several people told us of the time Mr X came to blows with a fellow rider. The way the story goes, Mr X was riding so dangerously that he came mere millimetres from colliding with an elderly woman crossing the street. One particular rider scolded Mr X for his behaviour, suggesting that such riding was giving cyclists a bad name.
Shortly afterwards that rider had to stop to fix a puncture. Mr X reportedly turned around, returned to the rider, and the confrontation escalated on the roadside. Mr X reportedly threw the first punch, but received several in return. Mr X was being held in a headlock when a fellow rider intervened.
As Gold Coast cyclist Craig Pearman told us, that altercation seems to have been the final straw in Mr X’s transformation. “That was confirmation that [Mr X] had totally lost it,” said Pearman. “From that point forward his satire page became a serious ‘I hate cyclists’ page.”
As the page shifted tone, photoshopped images such as those above would serve an important role in inciting outrage among the page’s followers.
And then there was a crash that, we’re told, kept Mr X off the bike for several years. Steve Goodall was in the bunch that day, just a couple of wheels back.
“He crashed right in front of me,” Goodall said. “There was a guy in front of him and a guy in a van opened up his door, just flung it straight open and the guy hit his door in front of [Mr X], and then [Mr X] caught him and myself and another guy [crashed] into the pair of them.
“But [Mr X] had a big fall out with the guy that actually hit the door because he blamed him! He didn’t blame the guy that opened the door, he blamed the guy that hit the door, which was the bike rider in front, and they had words and a big blue about it as well.”
Mr X’s injuries were significant — bad enough that doctors apparently advised him not to ride again.
“[He] busted all the bones in his hand and broke his collarbone and landed right on the ball of his shoulder,” Goodall said. “So he knocked himself around a bit but doctors apparently told him that if he fell again, he might lose the movement in his shoulder. So that’s why he’s gone away from it [riding].”
On some level it makes sense. For so long cycling had been a defining feature of Mr X’s life. He’d raced at a high level, and raced well, and for decades he’d been part of the Gold Coast cycling scene. But as more and more groups started turning him away, his frustration only grew. Having a crash so bad that riding wasn’t even possible? It must have been a bitter pill to swallow.
But rather than walking away to quietly lick his wounds, Mr X instead seems to have channeled his frustration into the DFROC page. And as he did, the page took a frightening turn.
It’s hard not to look back on the early days of DFROC with a certain fondness. There the riding community, through Mr X, was taking on the anti-cycling brigade in a clever and entertaining way, using satire and wit to tackle the dumb arguments that have demonised riders for so long. But looking back also comes with a tinge of sadness, and a sense of foreboding about what was to come.
Today, DFROC bears no resemblance to the site of those early days. Where satire was once king, now hate rules the roost. Tens of thousands of motorists come to the page for validation of their poisonous attitudes, yelling into the anti-cycling echo chamber as the administrator deliberately, knowingly, fans the flames.
In a nutshell, that’s why this story matters: because the hate preached on anti-cycling Facebook pages isn’t confined to the digital realm. It’s a poison that bleeds from the screen into the real world.
“When I first looked at the [page] it was obvious — the original posts were irony or sarcasm,” says McGrory. “But this stuff now? The single file stuff? That’s fair dinkum. That’s really serious. It has really turned into what looks like a hate page. There doesn’t seem to be any other angle to it than that.”
Most DFROC posts take a similar form. A photo of a cyclist or group of cyclists behaving badly, apparently flouting the road rules or otherwise acting irresponsibly. Often these images have been digitally manipulated, with riders photoshopped onto the wrong side of the road, or cars added in to make situations appear more dangerous than they are. A caption placed over the image will emphasise the page’s anti-cycling bent.
Invariably the comments turn into a cesspool of anti-cyclist hate, full of anecdotes about other misbehaving riders. More often than not, an air of menace descends, with readers wishing or even promising violence against riders.
In a nutshell, that’s why this story matters: because the hate preached on anti-cycling Facebook pages isn’t confined to the digital realm. It’s a poison that bleeds from the screen into the real world, where aggression towards cyclists is very real, and very deadly.
In August 2017, Ben Smith, a motorcyclist from New South Wales, was jailed for manslaughter after speeding past a cyclist, Steven Jarvie, causing Jarvie to crash. Months before the incident, Smith had posted the following comment about cyclists to Facebook: “Get f**ked c***. Stay [sic] paying for using the roads or keeping [sic] coping [sic] abuse and 2inch flybys.”
In handing down an eight-year prison sentence (5.5 years without parole) the judge said that while Smith’s hatred of cyclists hadn’t necessarily motivated the crash, it did motivate “his lack of care towards cyclists.”
By targeting cyclists, DFROC only serves to normalise the anger and aggression that’s become all too common on our roads, and doubles down by concocting many of the examples that are used. Photoshopped images of council vehicles with anti-cycling messages, statements from politicians and fake mainstream media polls and screengrabs give a veneer of respectability to the venomous attitudes they mask, emboldening the page’s followers to become ever more outspoken in their hatred of cyclists.
“It’s like war out here,” said Andrew Blackmore, describing road riding on the Gold Coast. He believes that riding in the area has felt more dangerous in recent years, and especially in recent months.
“It’s like, now, we shouldn’t be on the roads … It’s just bloody madness — the aggression,” Blackmore said. “I was run off the road in the Currumbin Valley about three weeks ago and I was in the bike lane. He just sideswiped me then [was] yelling abuse.
“[Mr X is] a loose cannon but he’s done some damage. I’ve ridden since I was 12 in Melbourne… but I’ve never felt safe on the road the last year or so. I ride on my own on the edge of the road but you just get sideswiped all the time.”
This increased aggression against cyclists has invoked the ire of online cycling advocacy groups. Pages like Cycle.org.au and Safe Cycling Australia have publicly condemned DFROC in recent years, while working to combat the page’s dangerous focus.
“It’s never been about the petition,” says Ed Hore, founder of Cycle.org.au. “It’s always been about their lies, their falsified images and their attitude that’s causing a higher amount of aggression. We do know that people have been killed because they’ve been egged on by Facebook.”
Dave Sharp of Safe Cycling Australia tells a similar story.
“The things that they’re posting and the hate they’re drumming up is having very real consequences on our roads,” he says. “And I’m convinced that a lot of the close calls and the injuries, and possibly even some of the deaths on our roads, could be attributed back to these pages. It’s sheer malice.
“They know exactly what they are doing and what the intended consequences are going to be.”
Meanwhile the Drivers for Registration of Cyclists Exposed Facebook page was set up in early 2018, specifically to expose DFROC’s lies.
“We firmly believe the page is encouraging resentment and hatred towards people who ride bicycles and feeding that hate willingly and strenuously,” said a spokesperson for the page. “One only has to look at the comments on the page advocating violence and death towards cyclists. The level of malicious content is staggering. It is like some form of deranged pathological hatred.
“No matter what, where or who, if it is a person riding a bicycle DFROC will somehow attach resentment and antagonistic emotion to it.”
The exact chronology of DFROC’s transformation from satire page to hate page isn’t entirely clear. Most say it was in 2016 that the tone changed, with Mr X’s ousting from the Gold Coast cycling community acting as a catalyst. Others say it could have been as early as 2015 or as late as 2017. In all likelihood it was a gradual process — a series of steps down a slippery slope that slowly, inexorably, led to the murky pit we see today.
But consensus suggests that the anti-cyclist sentiment was amplified in October 2017, just as the page’s single file agenda started to take shape. And it was around this time, as the page was preparing for its moment in the limelight, that questions of the page’s ownership started to resurface. Was Mr X still involved in the page he created? Or had he quietly passed the baton to others to continue his crusade?
We know that it was Mr X that started DFROC back in June 2014, but its ownership in recent times has become far harder to discern. In April 2018, in a strongly worded (and since deleted) Facebook post, Safe Cycling Australia claimed that Mr X was still pulling the strings at DFROC.
Similarly, a typed, addressed letter published on DFROC on April 29 (and since deleted) purports to be from the man we’ve called Mr X, claiming he has been unfairly linked with the page. “For reasons which I’m not quite sure, it appears my name is being mentioned as the person who runs your Facebook Page,” the letter reads. “I wish to state that I don’t agree with your message. I’m actually a cyclist myself and I’m very fond of the sport of cycling.”
The thrust of the letter is backed up by an accompanying DFROC post. “We offer our sincerest apologies for what’s been happening to you,” it reads. “We wish to state [Mr X] is not associated with our page in any capacity.” (Note: CyclingTips has chosen to redact the real name of the letter’s apparent author).
The consensus is the letter is fake, some sleight of hand from Mr X to distance himself from the negative attention the page has attracted.
“Put it this way: 11 journalists have been in touch with me trying to contact the page owner of DFROC,” said Ed Hore of Cycle.org.au. “Eleven reporters could not find an address to send a letter to. How did [he] find an address to send a letter?
“To me that is absolute rubbish. There is no way that letter could have been sent to the page. It was just another line to confuse us as to who is managing and running the page.”
But why would Mr X seek to distance himself from the increasingly successful page he’d created?
“The only past that I know of him has always been through his alter ego… and no one has ever known his [real] name,” said Craig Pearman. “Now that his surname has been bandied about quite openly, I think that may be worrying him because one of his main tools in terms of manipulation was his own secret identity.”
For a brief time in early 2018, the DFROC’s ‘About’ page showed an admin team comprising two members: Ivan Flack and Ian Mayberry. There was no mention of Mr X.
What we know of Flack is that he is a former police officer of 23 years from Northern Ireland, who attracted the attention of DFROC after posting a series of anti-cycling rants on various Facebook pages, including a page belonging to his local police force.
Flack claims he was approached on Facebook by someone with the username “Maddy Maddy Maddy”, asking if Flack would help moderate comments on DFROC during UK daylight hours. He posted a handful of comments as DFROC, before leaving the page in May. He claims he doesn’t know anyone associated with the page. He also says he hasn’t spoken with Mr X.
From what we’ve learned in recent months, Flack’s story seems to check out. It’s with Ian Mayberry that DFROC’s admin situation becomes most interesting.
For some time in early 2018, Mayberry was touted as the public voice of DFROC. “Hi everyone, this is Ian Mayberry,” read the DFROC’s ‘About’ page. “My daughter Maddy and I are the people behind Drivers for Registration of Cyclists. Maddy does most of the artwork and she works as a graphic designer in Melbourne.”
But something didn’t add up. The “Ian Mayberry” Facebook account linked with DFROC had the same profile image as Queensland race car driver Geoff Russell, paired with biographical information from a separate Ian Mayberry account; an account belonging to an esteemed Rotary member and motorsport official.
The “Ian Mayberry” connected with DFROC was appearing less real by the minute.
The real Mayberry was approached by a confused and concerned member of the cycling community, inquiring about Mayberry’s involvement with the page. His email reply: “I have no idea what this facebook [sic] page is about but I can assure you that I am not associated with this cause and/or page in any way. I will be following up with Facebook today to have all reference tome [sic.] removed.”
Mayberry’s email was sent on June 14. The DFROC page went down that same day. It’s not clear whether a complaint from Mayberry was the cause — Facebook won’t tell us — but it’s certainly a possibility. Then again, a homophobic post the same day might have been to blame. Or perhaps the catalyst was a photoshopped screen capture from the Sunrise TV show, falsely claiming that the incorrectly spelled Prime Minister “Malcolm Turbull” had called for a debate on single-file cycling.
As with so much in this sordid tale, it’s hard to be sure.
It took five days for DFROC to come online again. When it did, any mention of Ian Mayberry (and his daughter, “Maddy”) had been removed from the page’s bio section, and likewise from the main section of the single-file petition page on Change.org (although references still remain on other pages).
At the same time, the “Ian Mayberry” Facebook account once linked with DFROC — the one with the Geoff Russell profile image and copied bio — had been deleted.
Besides the removal of Mayberry’s name, it was business as usual when DFROC came back online. The same anti-cyclist sentiment, the same irresponsible rabble-rousing, the same photoshopped images in the same style, and the same captions written in the same font.
The common view is that Mr X is still running the show at DFROC, and has been from the start.
“The guy in Ireland, or Ian Mayberry, wherever he is, they would have no knowledge of what any group on the Gold Coast is doing and yet some of the posts are still showing old photos from, for example, Coffee Sisters,” says Craig Pearman, mentioning a local riding group of which he is a part. “It is still clearly [Mr X’s] work, [Mr X’s] words, [Mr X’s] misappropriated photos – so he may be trying to distance himself publicly, but privately I would suspect he’s still the one pulling the strings.”
On balance it seems most likely that the Ian Mayberry account connected with DFROC was fake, and Mr X created it as a way of putting distance between himself and the page (just as he might have done with the letter proclaiming his lack of involvement before that). But it’s an imperfect realisation, which leaves behind the nagging question: why “Ian Mayberry”? Why assume the identity of a seemingly respected member of the motorsport community?
Did the pair have a run-in at some stage? Was Mr X trying to get revenge for some perceived injustice from Mayberry?
After several attempts to contact Ian Mayberry in recent months, we finally managed to speak with him in late July. He confirmed to us that he has “nothing whatsoever” to do with DFROC and that he has contacted Facebook “god knows how many times” to have his name removed from DFROC posts. The whole process has left him furious and, even now, he’s not sure why he’s been dragged into this whole mess — he’s “never heard of any of the people” connected with DFROC, “ever”.
We contacted the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport, where Mayberry is a commissioner, to see if there was a link between Mr X and Mayberry that the latter didn’t know about. They weren’t aware of one.
Perhaps Mr X targeted Mayberry completely at random. Again, it’s hard to be sure. Regardless, in late June, the name “Ian Mayberry” again started to appear on DFROC posts. To the untrained eye, Mayberry was and had always been the one behind the page. Of course, we now know the truth is far more complicated than that.
As we continued to dig into the murky world of DFROC one thing was becoming increasingly clear. There was only one man who could provide answers to the unanswered questions that were piling up.
It was time to speak to Mr X.
Here’s the thing about Mr X: people are genuinely scared of him. The more people we spoke to for this story, the more we heard that we needed to be careful. We heard countless stories that painted Mr X as a loose cannon, a dangerous, vindictive, jealous and vengeful man with a love of making life difficult for those who have wronged him.
“He’s the sort of a character that — and we all talk about this at the coffee shop — if he walks across the street one day and he’s got an overcoat on, get out of there because he’ll have a gun,” said Steve Goodall. “That’s the sort of character he is. He’s scary.”
Some people asked for proof that we worked with CyclingTips — proof that we weren’t Mr X or one of his “cronies”, getting in touch to give them a hard time. Others were reluctant to speak to us at all, fearful that they’d suffer some sort of retribution.
“I do have some reservations [talking to CyclingTips] because of [Mr X’s] mental state and his seemingly pathological desire for revenge when he feels he’s been wronged,” said one individual. “I have been [on] the receiving end already.”
Indeed, the subject of Mr X’s mental state came up often.
“[Mr X] told me personally one day about his satire page, and how he wanted to manipulate the reactions of motorists, and I remember thinking how devious that was at the time. But what I’ve seen and heard since is really disturbing,” said Craig Pearman. “What started out as superficial charm coupled with insincerity — or simple callousness — now seems to have evolved into a lack of empathy, lack of guilt or remorse, manipulation, poor impulse control, antisocial or aggressive behaviour, all the way to outright predatory conduct.
“I’m genuinely concerned that he might be an actual psychopath.”
We were warned to beef up our online security, too. Mr X once worked in IT security at the big banks, we were told, so he knows his stuff. We were told to expect that Mr X would target CyclingTips and our own personal accounts if we painted him in a negative light.
We didn’t take the warnings lightly, but we were quietly hopeful that Mr X would want to speak. We weren’t put off by the fact that more than a dozen media outlets had tried to contact him, all of them unsuccessful. We knew that Mr X had a healthy respect for CyclingTips, for our founder Wade Wallace, and for the authors of this present article.
Throughout June and July we made many attempts to contact Mr X, through a combination of phone calls, text messages, emails, Facebook messages and physical mail. We explained that we wanted to get his perspective on the origins of DFROC, the ways in which the page has changed, and the petition that came out of it.
To date, we’ve had no reply. Now, we aren’t expecting one.
We may not have been able to contact Mr X or get the answers we were looking for. But there is much we’ve learned about this elusive, shady figure in the weeks and months since we started chasing him — not least that he’s a man of contradictions.
We’ve learned he was an accomplished cyclist, but has since turned against cyclists. We’ve learned that he can be friendly, charming and charismatic, but that he can pivot viciously against those whom he feels wronged by. We’ve learned that he longs to be part of the cycling community that was his home for years, but at the same time has actively worked against their best interests.
We’ve learned that he styles himself as a cycling safety advocate (as seen in his claims about the safety of single-file riding), but has a reputation as a very unsafe rider.
“The whole ‘road safety’ concept [behind DFROC] is just ridiculous when it comes to [Mr X’s] true background as a cyclist,” says Craig Pearman. “He’s always been fairly well known as the guy who’ll disrupt the group, sprint off the front of the group to see who chases, split a group up to see if he can get them to fight each other, pretty much everything. As for ‘single file’ … that’s never been on his radar when he rides.
“He’s never ever once been an advocate for safety once he’s in a group.”
We’ve learned that Mr X is a lonely man, and we’ve had sources hint that an acrimonious divorce and estrangement from his daughter might have been a factor that fed his fury.
“Don’t forget he’s got no friends, he’s got no wife, he’s got no life,” says Steve Goodall. “He’s got plenty of time to do this shit. He’s a computer nerd — he just sits there and does all this crap.
“If he had a partner, a wife, to go and do things with, or he was out still bike riding it’d be alright, but he’s got all this time on his hands to annoy the shit out of everybody and that’s what he does. And he does it well – he gets under everybody’s skin.”
We’ve learned that Mr X found it hard to adjust to being shunned by the cycling community.
“He would follow us. He would stay hundreds of metres behind us and just follow us,” said one local rider, explaining Mr X’s behaviour after he’d been ditched from yet another ride group. “It was a bit spooky … On one occasion, we had a puncture out in the cane fields up here, and they’re obviously big wide flat areas. And he had nowhere to hide. He was about 200 metres behind on the road, just standing, you know, waiting. Well, we all stood around and fixed the puncture [and] he was there …
“I could clearly see him, 200m back down the road, just standing there waiting for us to keep going.”
We’ve learned that after his major crash, Mr X tried his hand at boxing at his local gym and put people offside there too. We’ve learned that he’s been back riding in recent months.
But as much as we’ve learned, there’s still so much we don’t know. Mr X has never explained why he felt the need to interfere with group rides — rides he was so keen to be a part of. We don’t know what the connection with Ian Mayberry is. And we don’t fully know why DFROC continues to work so viciously against the interests of a community it was created to support.
It’s hard to predict what will happen to DFROC from here. Some believe it will cross the line one too many times and that the page will shut down for good. There’s some suggestion that moment may have already happened when a post was published in late June showing the home address of Safe Cycling Australia founder Dave Sharp. That post, an escalation of the bitter feud between Mr X and Sharp, was swiftly taken down – but not before Sharp took the issue to Queensland Police and the Australian Federal Police.
In early July, within minutes of CyclingTips posting a comment asking for Mr X to get in touch, the page was hidden from public view. More than a month later it’s still down.
The reasons for that remain unclear. Perhaps the page has fallen foul of Facebook’s current PR offensive; maybe the weight of complaints about its content was too great to ignore. Or maybe – just maybe – Mr X has finally stepped away for good?
DFROC’s online adversaries are cautiously optimistic, although they note that this isn’t the first time the page has taken an extended break only to come back with renewed venom. Indeed, an update posted to (and then swiftly deleted from) the single-file petition page on July 26 hints at DFROC’s imminent return. “Some of you might have noticed we took our Facebook Page off air recently?,” the update read. “No need to worry, We’ll bring it back online again in the future, but for now, we simply needed our lives back for a while.”
Even if it returns, its days seem numbered. There’s a usual way pages like DFROC go: they run out of vitriol, wither and then die.
“What generally seems to happen is they just run out of steam,” says Ed Hore. “They just die off unless something big happens.”
As for the petition, well, that seems to have run its course. As we wrote back in early June, some of Australia’s road ministers — to whom the petition was directed — have already come out publicly to decry the petition. Others, we’re told, won’t even look at it.
Somewhat remarkably, it’s not entirely clear what Mr X’s motivation was for creating the petition in the first place. The claim is that riding single file is safer and more considerate, but there are suggestions Mr X himself doesn’t even believe this – and indeed, we are in possession of pictures showing Mr X riding in bunches two and even three abreast.
“He’s going on about how you should just ride single file and swap turns,” said Andrew Blackmore of a conversation with Mr X from March 2018. “And I said ‘Well, when you swap turns you’re two abreast.’ He couldn’t answer it.
“I said ‘How are the police going to look at that? They can get you for two abreast as you swap a turn and go back through to the back of the bunch. You’re two abreast.’ He had no answer to that.”
Steve Goodall is even more direct on the issue.
“I know he’s not anti-bike riders riding two abreast,” he said. “He’s just doing it to shit-stir everybody. That’s the only reason he’s doing it. There’s no way that he’d be doing it because he agrees with the single file routine.
“He’s just doing it wholly and solely to piss everybody off. It’s called payback. That’s all it is.”
A composite screengrab showing a DFROC post with nearest car photoshopped in to make two-abreast cycling appear more dangerous (left) and the original image, from a UK safety campaign (right).
Among all that is murky in this strange and sordid tale, there’s one thing that seems abundantly clear. Mr X thrives on antagonism, on confrontation and on getting revenge on those who have done him wrong.
We’ve spent months picking our way through the tangled web of this story and in finally publishing it, we feel a little lighter: like we’ve shed some of the burden of all those hateful and manipulative things we’ve read on Facebook, some of the weight of that real and imagined violence against cyclists like us. But there’s no victory in this — not for us, not for cycling, not for the riding community of the Gold Coast and certainly not for Mr X.
We live in a broken world, where facts are what you make them — particularly online — and where countless drivers refuse to treat vulnerable road users with humanity and care. The size and venom of DFROC’s commentariat makes that much, at least, crystal clear.
Despite that, it’s hard not to feel sorry for a man who loved riding but destroyed it for himself. It would be all too easy to demonise him, even though he has done just that for those who’ve crossed him in the past. We’ve heard and seen enough for a picture to emerge of Mr X as a supernova of hot white anger — but peer through the glare and it’s not hard to see a lonely outcast trailing a bunch through the cane fields, waiting for an invitation back into the fold that he must now know will never come.
We weren’t able to talk to Mr X, but we’ll let him have the last word anyway, with this oddly prescient comment he wrote on CyclingTips in May 2013:
“Most of our problems in life are of our own making.”
The identity of Mr X may not be revealed in the comments section of this article. CyclingTips will be actively monitoring all commentary.