It’s only taken 99 years for a Briton to win the Tour de France (important cycle race if you haven’t heard of it). And not only that, we did it in style, managing second place as well.
Normally we usually just manage second and not first in these competitive things.
So thanks to Messrs Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome for their superb achievement and racking cycling up the British agenda even more.
Not forgetting Cavendish who achieved his fourth final stage in a row down the Champs Elysees.
Which gives me an excellent opportunity to actually complete a post I started more than a year ago….. (And I used to be known as a completer finisher at work!!)
It’s a good read, and needless to state I don’t agree with it all, or maybe at all.
But cycling is one of those very few sports – and indeed may be unique – that is far more than a competitive activity. Indeed, it’s a full-blown environmental, transport and health revolution, a popular craze, an urban mania.
Indeed, in virtually every city or town there are helpful websites for cyclists, maps, and advice on journeys and car-free routes. More and more major firms have schemes to encourage employees to arrive by bike. Outside the cities, the Bristol-based campaigning group Sustrans promotes 12,000 miles of traffic-free routes – the National Cycle Network.
However, this revolution is nothing like complete. In 2010, the last year for which have figures, 111 cyclists were killed on the roads and 2,660 were seriously injured. Even in London, despite the ballyhoo, few cycling commuters have routes that don’t involve close calls with lorries and speeding cars. Until big cities have a web of car-free routes that can carry most people on two wheels where they need to go, urban cycling will remain dangerous.
And smelly. More good employers are providing changing facilities and showers, as well as safe places to leave bikes, but they are still in the minority.
[Actually my employers were doing that more than ten years ago surprisingly – the NHS isn’t so useless after all].
But let’s go back a bit. And consider the title of this post.
Cycling is a political issue. I learned this some years ago when I was first dragged out on a bike again by a partner who was more or less born on a bike.
He couldn’t resist the free bikes that were dumped at the rubbish bins in Spain, and he built up a healthy store of decent bikes for us to ride.
It was a bit of a shock to the system. My cycling life has been sporadic to say the least. As a child allowed to ride around the garden and up and down the drive at home. Not allowed on the pavements or the roads. Limiting to say the least.
The daughter of the local pub landlord had been killed while cycling on the road outside our house, so therefore I wasn’t allowed to ride on the road in case I was killed too. My father claimed to have cycled the 70 miles over the Pennines to Blackpool in his youth which I very much doubt, but who knows?
At university I took my life in my hands and cycled on the road around the parks where I lived, with the daughter of the house where I rented a flat. She was 14 or so and I was 20.
A few years later I attended a history/cultural course in Amsterdam which natch, involved cycling. Around canals. Using bikes without brakes, and having to back pedal. And yes, I nearly did end up in a canal.
Next up was the tandem with Partner. We managed quite well on this, zapping up and down on old railway lines in North Yorkshire. I only jumped off a few times leaving him to fall in the bushes.
But here in Spain we jumped up a gear. New helmets, new gloves, even the tight ropa. And I got my mileage up to more than I would have expected for a woman in her mid forties. I enjoyed it.
I read up on cycling. Bike maintenance, makes of bikes, best use of energy ie most effective way of cycling.
One of the books we had bought years ago was The Penguin Bicycle Handbook by Rob Van Der Plas. Even though modern developments have superseded some of the design sections, it is as good a book as you could wish for.
While it is a practical book, it also discusses – cycleways.
Now, I thought they were an incredibly good idea. Especially when I was a car driver and a non-cyclist. Get those pesky cyclists off the road. Roads are for Toads (of Toad Hall).
Roads are not for horses, donkeys, goats, sheep, cattle, draught oxen, people or cyclists. Roads are for motorised engines. Simple huh?
After all, roads are dangerous for all those other types of traffic aren’t they? Um, perhaps not. Perhaps what is dangerous is the driver of the motorised vehicle….
Is cycling, walking, riding a horse, taking herds of animals down the street inherently dangerous? Or is it the speeding blinkered driver that impacts on them?
So to paraphrase and add my own spin on Van Der Plas from 1983:
Cycling on the roads is not dangerous.
Cyclists have a right to be on the road. They are legal road users.
Pushing cyclists off the roads onto those lovely green cycleways has a number of disadvantages –
1 Cyclists at some point are going to have to join a road (unless all countries in the world are going to set up a totally separate cycle network of routes? Yes? I don’t think so)
2 Less cyclists on the road, motorists less alert for cyclists and not aware of cycling junctions for people rejoining the road network
3 Cyclists lose experience of mixing with traffic – whether animal, vehicle or people
4 Where are clubs and racing road cyclists supposed to train? On cycleways? Do you think Bradley Wiggins would have won the Tour de France cycling leisurely around cycleways in Milton Keynes (a cycleway I know), Sydney or Vancouver (two cities where I know other cycling bloggers and who have written about cycleways)? No
5 I ride a mountain bike although I lust after a slim light fast road bike. I doubt I could balance on one! I ride down the track and shoot back up the road. I want to be able to do that and not be confined to the byways.
Now, I have no issue with people creating lots of lovely cycle paths through beautiful countryside.
In fact the last time I was in the UK, I got me on my bike and happily cycled however many miles along a cycle path to the nearest town. When I say cycle path it was a actually a load of farm tracks that had been designated as a cycleway, rather than a purpose built one. Of course, the cycle path stopped and I had to join the road. Just. LOL.
What happened? Well all the really courteous drivers totally ignored me and refused to let me in. I ended up walking to the traffic lights, crossing over and waiting for a gap in the flow before I could set off. Cycle paths? Great – and I enjoyed the ride. I didn’t enjoy the sheer rudeness and discourteous behaviour at the other end.
What happened on the way back? This was even more fun. I had to cross the flow of traffic to turn to the cycle path. I took the wimps way out, pulled in, stopped, and waited for a gap in the traffic so I could walk my bike across. I SHOULD NOT HAVE TO DO THAT.
Van Der Plas and others talk about assertive cycling. Standing your ground when motorists invade your space, not being pushed into the gutter, clear signalling and pulling out into the middle of the road. It takes confidence. Cycleways don’t help that at all. They build up an illusion of an idyllic life.
A few years ago, Spain brought in some new traffic laws which included a two meter rule, ie when passing cyclists you must leave at least two meters space. It’s a good one and should be implemented everywhere. And if the roads are too narrow, then sit behind and stop being so impatient.
Our local Spanish town also introduced some cyclepaths. They are abysmal. By the time you have stopped and started at every roundabout, crossed the zebras, remounted, etc etc it would have been faster to walk. No self-respecting cyclist uses them. Sure a few tourists from the campsites do, but no-one else. Most of the old Spanish boys continue to cycle on the pavement if they can’t be bothered with the road.
The main road that follows the coast is full of cyclists, particularly in our area. Clubs are out in full force not just at weekends, but on weekdays too. These people don’t want to use cycleways.
If you are a cyclist and you want some cycleways in your area, fine. But do not say that roads are dangerous and cycleways are essential. Don’t buy into a few green words of propaganda.
What is essential is courtesy and education on the roads. Because that is where cyclists belong if they choose to ride there. And that is where I will be.
That might be going too far for today’s politicians, but the effect of hard times and the oil price on budgets, and the sheer misery of modern car commuting, suggests that a more radical agenda could be popular. That means much bolder support for cycling, with cars banned from many more roads and parks. It’s one of the few radical shifts in lifestyle that is easily deliverable and for which there is no real drawback: the benefits for the environment and indeed the health of the nation are obvious. Of course, the old and young who can’t cycle mustn’t be forgotten, as public transport is enhanced. But this is all doable. It’s a policy that literally goes with the flow. Instead of new motorways, let’s have Wiggins-lanes everywhere.
Seriously, that is farcical and totally flawed thinking. When are cars going to be banned from all roads everywhere? They aren’t. We aren’t just talking about London. Oh wait! The world revolves around us, so maybe we are.
The headline for that Guardian article was making our roads safe for cyclists. Not about creating safe little routes for timid cyclists.
So that’s what needs to be done. Make the roads safe.
One way of doing that is getting on your bike and cycling assertively.
And introduce a two metre rule. If anywhere is wide enough to have a cycle lane then it can manage a two metre rule.
A few draconian penalties for cycling-related offences wouldn’t go amiss.
And parents – DON’T cycle with your kids on the pavement. And don’t tell them to wear a helmet when you don’t. What sort of stupid example are you setting? Don’t forget the gloves either.
So when we have sorted out the roads – THEN we can consider those pretty cycleways. But let’s get our priorities right. And they aren’t cycleways.