Safety: a life and death issue

Guest post by MIKE EVANS: Should cycle training be compulsory?

Another cyclist was involved in a fatal accident on London’s roads today, the sixth person die in the capital in two weeks. His death will undoubtedly lead to more criticism of the safety of London’s cyclist as well as proposals laid out by Boris Johnson for London’s cycle superhighways. With Road Safety Week, an initiative by the charity Brake, taking place this week there will be much speculation on how to make Britain’s roads safer.
The majority of media speculation on the issue has focused on whether or not helmets should be compulsory for cyclists and while there are strong arguments on both sides regarding this, it doesn’t address the root of the problem. Similarly, often in cases such as this there are calls for large-scale changes to infrastructure to make UK cities more cycle friendly. However, the sheer cost and time needed to implement these changes mean that it’s just not feasible at the current time. So what’s the solution?
In my opinion, the first stage to addressing the problem would be to invest in compulsory cycle training for all those that were able. This would be a necessity before you were able to take your driving test and, just as those who want drive an HGV need to pass a regular driving test first, those who want to pass their driving test would have to complete a compulsory cycling test.
Undoubtedly, this would still be a significant investment but it would be a great deal less than the cost of investment in infrastructure. Current government proposals amount to around £77 million for cycling investment across the UK and this won’t even begin to address the root of the problem – that  many people have no idea what it’s like to be a vulnerable road user.
In a survey conducted by the cycle training group Bikeability, 90 per cent of respondents chose “improved road awareness” as the main benefit from cycle training. Many drivers have never had experience cycling in traffic and so cannot possibly understand what it’s like. At the same time, there are many cyclists – particularly in London where cycling is a more common form of commute – that don’t have a proper understanding of the highway code and how to cycle on busy roads. This is not to say that the tragedies of those that have died in London this month is down to poor cycle training, far from it.
It is about doing everything we can to ensure that all road users have a good awareness of what it’s like to walk in somebody else’s shoes. There would also be the extra benefit of allowing people the opportunity to see that cycling is not dangerous and is in fact a very enjoyable form of commuting. This would lead to more people cycling, meaning less traffic on the roads, which is better for the environment as well as saving people money. Evidence from the UK cycle charity the CTC suggests that more cyclists on the road mean fewer accidents, which also supports the original idea of reducing road traffic accidents.
The number of people commuting by bike has been shown to be increasing, which is undoubtedly a good thing, but with more people cycling we want to ensure that those who commute by bike are safe in doing so. Compulsory cycle training offers a viable solution to this and is something the Government should seriously consider following these tragedies.

For more information please visit Cyclist Safety


Twitter: @mikesearchlabs


Leave me out of the deep freeze, Helen

So Helen Skelton, the Blue Peter presenter, has set off on a 500-mile ride to the South Pole. On a special bike. Made for riding on snow. (What else would you expect?) I’ve done a few crazy rides in my short lifetime, but certainly nothing in this league. Mainly because I hate the cold. If it was me riding across ice and snow to the bottom of the world, it wouldn’t be Blue Peter I was presenting, it would be Blue Somethingelse.

Helen Skelton (courtesy the Beeb)

Of course, although it is summer time at the South Pole right now, it’s not quite T-shirt and shorts weather. Unless you’re really nuts. The average temperature at this time of year is a balmy -25C. But there is one big advantage to a ride during the summer months – you don’t need lights, because it is daytime all day long. If you get what I mean.
Although I hate the cold, I’m not a total wimp – I’ve ridden in snow more times than I can remember – to work, training for the Cape Epic, and even just because it’s there. And it really is fun, especially when you know that, half an hour after finishing, you will be in a hot bath with a big mug of steaming tea in your mitt. But when you know that at the end of your long, sweaty cycling day your only shelter is the tent that is somewhere on the sledge that you’re towing (you DID pack the tent, didn’t you), it’s a totally different story. And when it comes to the call of nature … well, I don’t even want to go there.
So all I can say, Helen, is good luck. This challenge is certainly one that I wouldn’t want to take up. But a run across the Namib desert … hmm, now there’s a thought.

Alex and Will’s American adventure

As someone who is always up for a challenge, I have to admire others who go that little bit further, who push themselves just that bit more. For me, 750km in eight days is about my limit, so I take my helmet off to Alex Willan and William Rudd, who set off yesterday to cycle 5,000km across the United States. Alex and Will are riding unsupported from New York to San Francisco – the equivalent of London to Baghdad, if you’re inclinced to such comparisons. The ride will be an endurance mission, mentally and physically, and they will climb from sea level to altitudes of over 11,000ft in the Rocky Mountains, taking three months to complete the journey.
The pair aim to raise £25,000 – £5 for every kilometre that they cycle – for Research Autism. They are doing the ride especially for Will’s cousin Jamie, who is severely afflicted by the disease – he is 13 and cannot yet talk.
Let’s hope that Will and Alex succeed in all their efforts, and that in doing so they have a wonderful adventure. You can follow their progress on their blog. Even better, you can support their efforts by giving to their cause on Justgiving.
Good luck, chaps. I envy you.

Picture imperfect

Well, we might have landed back in dear old Blighty, but I don’t think that we have touched down quite yet from our Epic adventure. I will choose to ignore some of your pinkish ponderings on Paul’s previous posting, save to say that you had to be there to fully appreciate it. And you weren’t there, we were. (And I won’t say any more to avoid digging a hole where one shouldn’t be.)
But for those of you who just can’t get enough – and I’m talking about this blog – or those who simply wish to see more visual evidence about the ride, the people we rode with, the countryside that we travelled through, and a few of our worst moments, click here for our Epic picture gallery. More to follow, surely.

Wet wet wet

It rained yesterday afternoon. Then it rained yesterday evening. When I left work last night it was still raining. In fact, by the time I had cycled from The Times to Tower Hill my feet were soaked, so I decided to hop on the Underground to Victoria with my bike, rather than get yet wetter.
When I got off the train at West Malling it was still raining, and again I was soaked in the five-minute ride home. Some time this morning I went to sleep to the sound of rain washing the windows, dripping down the drainpipes and soaking the stonework.
This morning, oh joy, the rain had stopped. I had planned a five-hour off-road ride, with my mate Andrew accompanying me for the first part, and so we set off. There was mud everywhere, glorious mud and big, dirty puddles. I had failed to put a rear crud-catcher on my bike, so there was mud in crevices that I didn’t even know existed.
Churning along one downhill section, Andrew commented that it seemed as if we were riding uphill. And it did. After about an hour and a half he jummped ship, claiming a prior engagement, so I pressed on alone.
I must have found about every muddy track and bridleway in mid-Kent, and even landed up pushing some of them. (Thanks to Phil Dixon, GB mtb coach, for the tip about practising pushing.)
Anyhow, I managed to stay away from home for five hours and eight minutes, riding in ever-decreasing circles. I had hoped to cover 80km, so imagine my joy when I got in and found I had ridden 89km.
Plus I managed to top-soil my lawn when I hosed the bike down. Two jobs in one!

True grit, but not enough of it

Sunshine and a blue, blue sky this morning, so I reckon I’ll ride to work. A spot of breakfast, a glance at the papers, a change of tyres on the hardtail and it’s 10am, ready for the off. Should take between 2 hours 15 and 2 hours 30, depending on lights, cameras, and traffic action.
Despite the sunshine, it is cold, and it soon turns out to be colder than I think. Heading towards Otford on the Pilgrims Way, I round a corner into frozen slush. The car behind is going slowly, so I move across the road to avoid the ice. Safely around, I move back to the left, but the back wheel goes right while the front keeps on straight. So there I am, gliding on my backside across black ice, my bike sliding in another direction like Torvil on a bad day, departed from her Dean.
When I come to a halt I jump up, and slip again. Fortunately the car stops short of the ice, and the driver asks if I’m ok. Well, apart from a bumped knee and bruised pride, I’m fine, but decide to cut short my ride, head for Sevenoaks to get the train. And that’s another bad idea – where the road isn’t frozen, it’s flooded. Turns out that gritting roads isn’t a solution to all our problems.

Soooo tired

Woke up to clear blue skies and the sun hanging there, just above the horizon, as it does in the British winter. It didn’t take too much encouragement from the wife for me to get out and make the most of it. Three hours, was the aim, and I set off breezily through my patch of Kent, zig-zagging my way over the North Downs, past Brands Hatch, down the Darenth Valley and back along the Pilgrims Way.
Well, three and a half hours later, the light fading fast and battered by the winds, I staggered home, totally exhausted. “Don’t traipse mud into the house,” was my welcome – and I hadn’t even been off-road. A look in the mirror showed why! I was spattered with all the detritus the road can throw at you.
I dozed off in the bath, and now as I head down for dinner I wonder if I’ll make it until Match of the Day. I’ll probably just have to look up the Man U score online and hit the hay early (people still say that? don’t they?)
That’s it. I’ve had it!!!!

Top of the list

It’s good to be doing something that everyone else – well, a good deal of MTBers – would love to do too. The website BIKEmagic has produced a list of the top ten things for off-roaders to do in 2009.
The list includes the TransAlps and 7Stanes. But top of the list is the Absa Cape Epic.
Of course, if you haven’t already entered, and aren’t well advanced in your training, there is little chance of riding in the 2009 event, which is a mere 63 days away. Best to put the race at the top of your list for 2010 – then you can hang about afterwards and take in the football World Cup as well.

Guilty feelings

I’ve never be very methodical in my training. I plan a routine, but then work, weather and whatever blow away the good intentions. My saving grace has always been my logbook. Ever since I began running marathons, way back in the dark ages (1973, actually) I have always kept a log of my activities, running and, later, cycling. Sometimes I have wondered if it is worthwhile. Often I never give the logbook a second glance, but occasionally they are a great point of reference – right now I can compare my training for the Absa Cape Epic with my effort in 2005.
But the logbook’s greatest virtue is the guilt factor – I hate to open it and see that I have been sitting around like a tub of lard for a day or three. A few blank spaces are always enough to get me on my bike.

Frozen assets

So, all those poor Southern Hemisphere guys think they are having a tough time training for the Cape Epic? I read that some unlucky chaps got a cold at the Sabie race recently, and all because it was raining. Ag, shame.
Well, here in England we have been terribly lucky with the weather – it hasn’t rained for nearly a month. A bit of snow, perhaps, still sitting frozen on the ground, but no rain. In fact, this morning I went out at 10am – sun shining, clear blue sky, not a worry in the world, you would think. Except it was -6 deg C. I could feel my feet for at least 45 minutes – the last two hours of the ride, I don’t know where they were. The good news was that it did eventually warm up – to -1C.

And spare a thought for Paul – he’s probably feeling a bit cranky right now. He has this fancy little Italian number that he uses for training on the road. Last week he took it in for a service, and just the next day, on his next ride in to work, the left pedal came off, stripping the thread on the crank, leaving poor Paul to cycle the last few miles one-legged. I did warn him about the Italian job, but he won’t listen ….