Sunday, 21 August 2016

Cycling is UK’s top Olympic sport - but there is little regard for cyclists on the roads nor in the courts.

While £Millions are lavished on Britain’s Olympic cyclists who triumphed  so spectacularly in the Rio Games,  the government slashes funding  for cycling as transport.

As a life-long cycle racing enthusiast I delight in the success of our international riders at Rio.   But as one also concerned with cyclists’ rights I fumigate at the lack of political will to make UK roads safer and at the indifference shown by our legal system towards cyclists run down by motor vehicles.

For although cycling is now considered to be a top sport in the UK – and since Beijing in 2008 has attracted over a million newcomers - cyclists are still regarded as second-class citizens on the roads and in the courts.

Where do we start this story?

We’ll start with the good news.

Can you believe it;   the BBC 10 o’clock news is postponed for over an hour to show Jason Kenny winning gold in final event in the track cycling at the Rio Games!  Unheard of.

Clearly, the Beeb had put its money on Kenny in the Keirin, and decided they couldn’t tear themselves away until the race, twice delayed, and was run.


And so Kenny put the finishing touches to a brilliant Games for the GB track cycling team who each won a medal – unprecedented – leaving the rest of the cycling world to ruminate on how they do it.

Kenny won two golds and his fiancĂ©e Laura Trott also won two on the track, to become Britain’s top female Olympic medallist with four golds in total.

At Athens 2004, Britain’s  cyclists won two gold, one silver and one bronze; at Beijing 2008 they won eight gold, four silver and two bronze; at London 2012 they won eight gold, two silver and two bronze and this year, at Rio 2016, the trackies won six gold, four silver and a bronze.

All this has been achieved on the back of over £66m in Lottery funding provided elite track cycling across the last four Olympics.  This is considered a good return by the Lottery people and Government, dishing out the money.

On top of the Lottery-funded track success, British riders have also risen to be a major force in Continental road racing.  Mark Cavendish won  the world road title and has won 30 stages of the Tour de France, Bradley Wiggins become the first Briton to win the Tour outright in 2012, followed by Chris Froome who this year became a three times Tour winner (2013/15/16).

So cycling’s doing great, right? Well, elite cycling is. Money is pumped into elite track cycling.

But the already low level of funding for improving cycling road safety has been slashed.

The treasury is not prepared to stump up the necessary cash despite there being cross-party support to provide £500m per annum to improve safety for cycling on the roads.  Instead the Treasury have provided £300m across three years. 

I don’t believe any government will ever provide adequate funding until cycling becomes an election issue.

 (See Blog 11, which includes the following extract quoting Cycling UK’s Roger Geffen)

Geffen says that funding is going down instead of up.

“The Government’s funding allocations for walking and cycling between 2017/18 and 2020/21 are set to fall by 71%.”

Or, to put it into monetary perspective, the pitifully low spend per head of population (in England) which has stood at £1.50 for decades, and was advised needed to be raised to £10 per head but was dropped to £1.39 has now been forecast to reduce still further, to 0.72 per pence.

Forget the differentials - £66m for Olympic cycling compared to the vastly more £500m for ordinary cycling may sound an awful lot to you and me. But £500m hardly makes a dent in the pile of gold worth several £billions in the Department for Transport’s safe.

The returns on spending £500m per annum on a cycling strategy promise spectacular savings – in improving the health of the nation, reducing pollution, congestion.  

Some might consider this to be worth more than Olympic gold medals - no disrespect to our Olympic champions intended. But you get the drift.

A gong won’t protect riders when they go training on the road! Remember how Bradley Wiggins was knocked off by a white van driver a few years ago?

The bottom line, says Cycling UK’s Geffen,  is the politicians have failed us all.

A letter from Roger Knight of Liverpool in The Guardian on Thursday (August 18) raises this very issue. In fact, his letter inspired me to write this blog.

He began, as I did here, in saying how great it is to see the success of our Olympic cyclists in Rio.

And he goes on to ask, is this success reflected among the elite cyclist reflected in the wider public?

No, he says. The following figures he quoted are widely available. According to Cycling UK only 4 per cent of the population cycle every day.  So, while the UK tops the Olympic medal table, they remain bottom of the general cycling table.

In this, the UK shares this shameful position with Luxembourg and Spain who have the lowest percentage use of cycles of all 28 EU countries – with the exception of Cyprus (2 per cent) and Malta (1 per cent).

The leaders in this particular “medal” table are of course countries like the Netherlands (43 per cent cycle every day) It’s about 30 per cent in Denmark. Cycling becomes the norm from an early age in these countries. In the Netherlands some 49 per cent of Dutch primary school children cycle to school. In the UK, only about 3 percent of children do so.

Our politicians just don’t get cycling. 

Neither do the courts which almost never hand out substantial sentences to drivers who kill and maim.

This week it was reported that a woman who admitted causing the death of a cyclist in a crash in Hampshire was sentenced by Portsmouth magistrates to complete 60 hours of community work.

Jeanette Smith, 69, pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving and was disqualified from driving for 12 months and ordered to pay a total of £165 in costs and fines.

She had driven into Will Houghton, 20, a member of the Amersham Road CC, on the A32 in Wickham on January 28 and he died two days later.

Also reported this week,  Julie Dinsdale, 53, who lost a leg when a Tesco lorry drove over her and her bike at a roundabout in central London last year, expressed her huge disappointment that the driver, Florin Oprea, 24,  was only fined £625, given five points on his licence and allowed to continue driving!

Oprea pleaded guilty to driving without due care and attention.

Blackfriars crown court heard that a driving assessor had recommended – two days before the collision - that Oprea use his nearside mirrors more. On the day of the collision he was driving unaccompanied for the first time.

* Brake, the road safety charity, says “Drivers who kill, harm and endanger are often let off with grossly inadequate penalties, in some cases for inappropriately-termed charges.”

The charity is advocating a review of charges for causing death and serious injury on the road, to ensure drivers are charged with offences that adequately reflect the risk taken and harm caused.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Frigging pavement cyclists

Why is it these days so many people break the law by cycling on pavements?

The answer is simple. Either they are ignorant of the law or they don’t care.

It frigging infuriates me and I want to drag them off their machines.
They may protest that they find the road too dangerous to cycle along.
That, however, is no excuse to get up on the pavement.

I don’t mean real cyclists like you and me, I mean Joe Public who has taken to using a bike purely for utility purposes as distinct from people who have taken up the sport. Although a significant number of “proper” cyclists also ride down the pavements when it suits them, and they ride across Zebra crossings to get across the road when they should dismount and  walk their machines. I hate them for it.
This summer I even saw a veteran in the colours of Western Road Club riding on the pavement.  Who did he think he was, Chris Froome? I bet Froome doesn't ride down pavements. Well, I hope he doesn't. But in truth you never know with the pros, a law unto themselves. They live in world of their own. Every road is La Course! Allez.
I once went on a ride with the professional La Redoute team  Paul Sherwen once rode for - oh, when was that?  Early 1980s?  At a crossing in a town, they all simply meandered through the pedestrians who had the green light.   The walkers just parted amiably - oooh, look, it's the pros!
Sorry to say, I just followed the wheels! Well, everyone on the crossing just stopped to let us by, the riders and the following team car and the L'Equipe press car  - a photographer had been taking snaps out in the country. We all just slowly rolled through. Merci!
That was  early season in the South of France, on the eve of the Tour du Haut Var.... As if that was their  excuse!
But I never did it again, your honour.
Back to the pavement cyclists, my real concern.
Don't these pavement cyclists ever think someone could suddenly emerge from a doorway, walk straight into their path and that they might knock them down... if elderly the impact might even kill them?

I am a cyclist of some 60 years.  At the age of 11 I was given my first big bike. It was a second-hand Raleigh Trent Tourist.  My father enrolled me for the cycling proficiency test and I am very thankful that he did.  A series of lessons on road traffic law and how to cycle in traffic, how to look behind you before starting off,  how make left and right turns and generally behave safely,  was followed by a playground test around a mock road layout. I scored a high pass rate of 91 per cent and was pretty pleased with myself.  For I had been taught the rudiments of road craft and road traffic law which I have never forgotten. I was imbued with new found confidence and respect for my fellow road users.

It was made very clear to me that it was against the law to cycle down pavements. If you did so a policeman would stop you.  Of course, that was back in the days when the UK had a police force, before Tory cuts reduced their numbers.

In my town we see a couple of plods make a token appearance on the beat perhaps once a month!
Very occasionally, I see one on a bike. And once - bravo - the cycling cop yelled at a pavement cyclist and made him get on the road. But we no longer have enough police to patrol the streets.

Only very young children were permitted to cycle on pavements. But you never saw young children riding down those pavements bordering main roads. They stayed on side roads, outside their houses. Today, of course, residential roads and many pavements are chock full of parked cars.  So there is nowhere for the children to play, to practice cycling while remaining in sight of the house. And mum or dad might not have the time to take them to the park.

But that doesn’t make it right to let them  loose on crowded pavements in shopping centres, as parents frequently do, on bikes and those blasted scooters.

Not many cyclists today appear to have taken the cycling proficiency test, judging by the stupid antics some get up to.  I think it should be mandatory!

Here's an example bad cycling I witnessed today.

There was the dad cycling on his small-wheeled bike with his young son  in tow on a small bike. – He was aged about eight.  

Mistake 1. They were riding down a narrow pavement bordering a main road into town.  So narrow there was no room to pass a pedestrian loaded down with  shopping bags.

So Dad was breaking the law and also putting his child in danger because at that age, a child

lacks the spatial awareness to judge the speed of approaching traffic - what if he find himself suddenly forced into the road to avoid a pedestrian, for instance?  Fortunately, in the few moments they were in my sight, they had the pavement to themselves until they reaching the traffic light controlled crossing which would take them to the supermarket. 

Mistake 2. When the pair reached this crossing, dad broke the law by cycling across it – you are always meant to dismount and walk your bike across crossings, unless it is a Pelican crossing, when  the illuminated signal will include the image of a cyclist and as well as that of a pedestrian. But this crossing was for walking across.
Dad rode across it, breaking the law again. Of course, his tiny son followed, wobbling behind What did he know?

Well,  thanks to dad, he is becoming equipped for a life of cycling, and in his experience it's perfectly OK to ride down pavements and perfectly OK to ride across pedestrian crossings.  

Monday, 1 August 2016

Prudential Ride London – grown too big for its own good

THE serious crashes and subsequent disruption which delayed thousands of charity riders and held up the following RideLondon professional race by up to 30 minutes on Sunday was an “accident” waiting to happen.

There was also a bottleneck of charity riders which jammed the narrow streets of Dorking for a time. 

The pros are running late, a security steward informed me when I wished to check the timings with him.

He filled me with what he knew had happened earlier. And later the stories were all over the news websites.

Crashes are inevitable with such large numbers, especially among inexperienced riders riding in huge groups for the first time.

As grand as this annual double bill has become since the first one in 2013 – based on the course of the 2012 Olympic road races which received such wide public acclaim - sending thousands of amateurs off ahead of the faster professionals was always a questionable format. It ought to be the other way around, for obvious reasons!

The London Marathon doesn’t send the run runners off ahead of the elite runners, does it?

Last year 25,000 amateurs lined up for the Pru ride. This year, according to The Guardian, there were 27,000 registered riders.

It begs the question, has the Prudential Ride London, the “World’s largest cycling event”, grown too big for its own good?

The race, featuring triple Tour de France winner Chris Froome and several other Tour stage winners, was moving at a cracking pace.  They made a grand sight, dust and paper swirling in their wake.  But at that rate of knots, it was realised they might run into the back of slower event which was first held up near Ripley, well before the course had even reached the celebrated Surrey Hills. And the decision was taken to halt the race.

The riders didn’t appear to mind!  Spectators were delighted and began to move among them.  Instead of the expected blurred fly past there was Chris Froome, standing still, for Christ’s sake!  They seized the opportunity to have their photos taken with the Tour hero, who was his usual unperturbed smiling self. If there had been a coffee shop handy, they would have piled in there.

But can you imagine that happening to the Tour of Flanders, or Paris-Roubaix?

Well, it wouldn’t, because the amateur sportives run in conjunction with those races take place on different days.

It was just one of those things, the organisers were not to blame, opined BBC TV commentator Simon Brotherton.   Well, no, not if he meant the race organisation, they couldn't be held responsible.  I imagine they were furious. But the charity ride organisers, despite their efficiency in dealing with the crashes and re-directing the charity riders, they really need a rocket for agreeing to take so many more riders.  

I can’t imagine ITV’s Gary Imlach letting them off the hook without making a sardonic comment.

The answer is simple, either the Pru limits the entry for the charity ride or it runs on another weekend.  If the latter, that will go down like a lead balloon with those Surrey residents who will not relish another day of being locked in by, in some places, 12-hour road closures.  

Especially that haunt of our motorised brethren, the bikers cafe, Ryka’s, at the foot of Box Hill. They had notices up complaining they were forced to close on Sunday, their busiest day, because the road closures meant no one could get to them! All day!

To clear the roads for the pros, many of the charity riders had to be re-routed my neighbour among them.  This was the second successive year this has happened to her, when a crash on Leith Hill led to re-routing in 2015. 

She and others were again denied the suffering awaiting them on Leith Hill and Box Hill, the two main obstacles in an “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”.

I’d demand my money back!

These cock-ups aside, the charity riders on their diverted way, the pro race resumed business and headed for Dorking. It was thrilling to see them rush the town five times. On the first passage they exited south to power up Leith Hill, at 977 feet above sea level, the highest point in the south east.

When they came through the town again, it was to do four laps taking them over the North Downs via Ranmore Common each time.

Thousands lined the streets and the pubs and street vendors did a great business.  Carnival had come to town.  There was a big to screen opposite Lloyds Bank on the High Street.

When the race came through for the last time organiser Mick Bennett was standing up through the sun roof of his car giving   the cheering crowds the Churchill salute – V for victory – thanks, Dorking, he was saying.

By then the race had split in pursuit of an earlier breakaway, and both Sky’s Geraint Thomas and Ian Stannard were giving chase.

A valiant 25km lone bid by Thomas off Box Hill came to naught in the closing kilometres, as did Stannard’s lone attempt to join him in the final 10 kilometres.  It was inevitable that the peloton swept them up. Classics king Tom Boonen won the sprint.

The organisers said one man taking part in the charity ride, Robin Chard, aged 48, from Bicester died from a heart attack. 

A total of 33 riders in this event were taken to hospital and, of those, seven riders remain in hospital. Three riders were seriously injured.