Monday 17 December 2012

It Could Have Been So Different

It is generally agreed, in cycling circles at the very least, that the inclusion of the Allecat racing in the War on Britain's Roads documentary was irresponsible. Not only was it effectively fake and filmed as part of a race with a prize at the end of it, it just wasn't in any way representative of how people actually use the roads with bikes. It was in the documentary to create controversy, and to get a few extra viewers.

Shame on the BBC.

Notice I say BBC here and not Leopard. I have my suspicions that it was only when the first edit was shown to the BBC that they decided to spice it up a little with footage such as this. I could be wrong, but that is my impression.

Of course I could just continue the rant, but that would just be wasting everyone's time. What I want to show here is an example of a different approach.

What could we have replaced the Allecat footage with? How about this?

 Not quite as controversial is it. So let's imagine that the Allecat footage had been replaced with the footage above, and that the interviewees, including myself had a chance to comment on this. How might it have gone... (for this part you need to imagine the narrators voice).

 ...with the amount of cyclists increasing in our towns and cities some suggest that the battle is set to escalate. Cyclists and drivers are set to compete and fight over ever reducing amounts of space on our roads. However, others suggest that it doesn't need to be that way, and that we only have to look to our continental neighbours for the answer....'
 Footage starts playing

Angry Taxi Driver
I'm not sure we have enough space here for lanes like that. They'd have to take away a lot of the parking to make space for those lanes. Mind you, that might not be a bad thing, more business for me perhaps... (focus on big smile)

Lorry Driver
You know what, if the roads were designed like that I think I'd go and buy a bike myself and cycle in to work occasionally. I like the fact that in the busiest and more dangerous areas that the cyclists and other traffic are separate. That means there are a lot fewer opportunities for conflict.

Older Taxi Driver
(draws in breath...). That'll cost a few bob to put in 'ere. I suspect those in charge wouldn't want to spend money on that....very costly....Still, it does look like it would keep everyone that little bit safer
Dave, Scientist, 39 (i.e. me!)
This is how Britain's roads could look like, if only our politicians were willing to invest in our infrastructure. As it stands Britian's roads are just designed for cars. Our continental neighbours have shown that with the right political will we can make our roads safe for all.....Look at the lack of hi-vis jackets and helmets. There really is no need for any of that when the roads are properly incident with the HGV would never have happened if the roundabout in question had be designed to Dutch standards....

Ok, so it wouldn't hit as many headlines. You wouldn't have any Daily Mail hatelines...sorry headlines the following day. What you would have though is a documentary that not only looked at the issues, but also started the debate on what the solution might be. We could have had discussions on the 'space' issues, or lack of. We could have talked about the funding issues, the environmental issues, the health issues.

Instead we all talked about some bloke who made a bit of money out of putting up a prize for the biggest prize muppet cyclist.

So BBC, you missed an amazing opportunity to take the REAL cycling debate to the masses. Instead you helped fuel a war, that doesn't actually exist. Well done......

Elite Cycling - Nothing to do with Cycle Safety?

I posted a tweet following the the Sport Personality of the Year Competition where Bradley Wiggins was the winner. I said:

We need to make our roads safer so we can have many more #SPOTY cycling stars of the future! #cyclesafe

Pretty uncontroversial I thought. Not so. I had a couple of replies saying:

 cognitive dissonance? Transport cycling does not equal sports cycling
Elite Races generally take place on closed roads with marshalls. How does that relate to everyday road safety?

I must admit I was a bit taken aback by this, and later someone suggesting that linking sport and utility cycling was almost dangerous. I'm not entirely sure why.....

So, was my tweet misplaced. Is cycling for sport and cycling for utility/recreation unconnected?

There are a number of ways I could argue this...I am a utility cyclist, I have progressed on to sportives and had I been younger I might have progressed to sport..... is one such argument. However, this summer I have seen first hand the most compelling reason for arguing that cycling sport and other forms of cycling are intrinsically linked.

My children.

Bradley Wiggins, Sarah Storey, Sir Chris Hoy, etc are sporting cyclists and are certainly classed as elite. They and their compatriots were also truly inspiring this year. Their efforts in the Olympics and beyond were incredible to watch. Whilst I was enjoying the spectacle and endevour knowing that I would never emulate what I was watching, I was conscious of the effects these events were having on my children. I had the immense pleasure of watching them go from being bored...'aww dad do I have to watch this...' to being completely memorised by the drama unforlding before them....'...come on Laura!!! Come on!!!!'. All three of my kids, even my 2 year old were screaming at the TV (and fortunately for us at the riders in the World Cup at the Glasgow Velodrome later) to go faster!

My children now dream of being in Olympics.

Will they make it....well....who knows. The odds are of course against them, but they have the dream just as I did when I was a child, to be a sporting great at the highest level. I didn't make it (judo for me) but I certainly won't be discouraging them. So how do they get there? Hard work of course. Hard work where? In a velodrome? On closed roads? In a multi-million pound gym with sports coaches analysing their every muscle twitch?

Of course not. If they want to be great cyclists, they will have to cycle on the roads.

There is the connection. For there to be a sporting elite, it is absolutely vital that any sport has a grass roots from which to pick the elite from. Elite athletes rarely exist without coming through the ranks, and Bradley is an excellent example of this. He worked hard, trained hard, and must have pounded many, many miles on roads, just like you and me. He was not born with a silver bike under his bottom.

My children, like many others around the country have been inspired to ride their bikes, and like many other parents around the country I feel I have to temper their enthusiasm a little because the environment, the roads, are not anywhere near as safe as they should be.

So, to anyone who suggests that there is no connection between elite sports and every day cycling, I'm sorry, I disagree 100%. We utility cylclists and every day recreational cyclists should be working with the likes of British Cycling to make our roads safer, not just for the 8 - 80 year old grass roots cyclist like you and I, but for the elite as well.

Let's make Britain's roads safe for EVERYONE!

Friday 7 December 2012


What follows is a guest blog. It is written by Rob who contacted me after 'The War on Britain's Roads' on Wednesday night. His original e-mail to me is here. I asked Rob if he wanted to share his story on my blog and he agreed. Here, completely unedited, is what he sent me.

Is it a sign of weakness to say that you were wrong? To admit that you feel ashamed of your views and of the abuse you heaped upon someone? I was brought up to fight my corner, to stand up for my beliefs but also to hold my hand up and apologise when I was wrong. So, here I am. Holding my hand up and apologising.

I admit that I settled down to watch last night’s “The War on Britain’s Roads” looking forward to seeing footage of cyclists getting what they deserve. That may sound harsh but let me explain. I have been a professional driver for over fifteen years, driving buses and coaches all over the UK from the Highlands of Scotland to central London. I have always tried my best to be courteous to cyclists and to be mindful of the space that they need. I have been infuriated though, when that consideration appears not to have been repaid. I have lost count of the amount of times that I have been held up by cyclists not using a cycle path, or not been able to pass a cyclist on the road as they have been a fair way out from the gutter.

I recall one day rummaging around on YouTube, as one does. I stumbled across one of Magnatom’s videos and gave it a watch. I was immediately incensed at what I perceived to be his piousness and his selfishness. So I watched another of his videos, which did nothing to change my opinion. I even had little sympathy for him after watching the clip of the tanker on the roundabout that was featured on the programme last night. And so my antipathy towards cyclists was strengthened, and I posted abusive comments towards him under a lot of his videos.

Then, one morning at rush hour I was driving a commuter service into Preston. There was a cyclist ahead who was not using the provided cycle path, which meant that as the road was a dual carriageway I would be unable to pass him safely as it was extremely busy. So I passed him with inches to spare. He contacted my depot to complain and I was invited to view the CCTV footage from the bus. I was looking forward to clearing my name and to justifying the manner of my driving. However, once I had been shown the CCTV footage I was shocked at how little room I had given him. It was not inches as I had thought but millimetres. One slight wobble by the cyclist (which would have been perfectly possible given that he was being passed by a fifteen tonne double decker bus) would have sent him under the wheels. This sobering incident probably planted the seed in my brain that last night’s programme propagated.

The programme made me realise that most cyclists don’t do things simply to wind motorists up. What can be perceived as selfish riding can often simply be self-preservation on the part of the cyclist. Yes, there are moronic cyclists, of course there are. But as the programme amply demonstrated there are also moronic motorists. I was shocked at the behaviour of some drivers, shocked at how little they valued the life of another human being. And then I remembered my encounter in Preston. And realised that I was one of those drivers. That was a truly horrible feeling, knowing that I could so easily have killed that cyclist. There was no excuse for me driving like that.

So, I offer my sincere apologies to all cyclists. You have my word that I will never again put a cyclist in danger. Well, not on purpose anyway… ;-)

Thursday 6 December 2012

After the War Comes Peace?

Last night saw The War on Britain's Roads take to the small screen. There had been plenty of discussion before was it aired about how terrible it would be, and we would all be knocked off our bikes by angry drivers as a result. I suspect the truth is a little less sensational, and that it has been business as usual, although I had the day off, so no cycling for me.

I think some of the suggestions about how terrible it would be were a little over the top. That's not to say that the programme didn't have any problems. I think some of the editing was a bit harsh (not of me but of others), the programme lacked balance in some of the comments made, there was no need for the Allecat races (do we show illegal car racing in car safety documentaries?), and there was no discussion of any solutions to the issues.

We at Pedal on Parliament have come up with a possible solution to the incident that I had with the HGV at the roundabout in Milngavie. It's worth a look.

I'm still recovering from seeing my ugly mug in TV and trying to catch up with everything that has been written about it (the documentary, not my ugly mug). I'll take a day or two to take stock before I write about the experience in detail. However, one outcome from last night is worth sharing.

As anyone who reads this blog will know and as was mentioned in the documentary, I get lots of abuse on my YouTube channel. Some of it can be very nasty. However, a short while after the programme finished I recieved a message. Rob, wrote the following to me in a message via my contact page on this blog:

Good evening,

I am contacting you after seeing you on The War On Britain's Roads tonight. I have previously viewed your videos on YouTube and I have left you abusive comments. However, after seeing this programme, I feel that I owe you an apology.

The programme made me stop and think carefully. I have only once knowingly driven dangerously close to a cyclist and it is now something that I deeply regret.

As you acknowledged in the programme, there are bad cyclists just as there are bad drivers. However, in both cases the good far outweighs the bad.

Very best regards, and all the best for the festive period,


I've since contacted Rob to say thanks for his words, and I've told him how much they were appreciated, and he has agreed to write a guest blog here in the not too distant future.

I think we can all learn from my experiences on the road (I am still learning), I also think Rob can teach us a lesson or two as well. Let's forget our prejudices, and remember that every car, every bike, every truck has a person on or in it, and we all deserve respect on the roads. Yes the the design of the roads certainly needs a major overhaul and needs it as soon as possible, and I will continue to work towards that, but with a bit more tolerance and consideration from everyone we can save lives now.

Let's make Britain's roads a safe and enjoyable place to be for all.

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Who actually reads this blog? Does it matter?

Ever since I've started writing this blog I've always been interested in who reads it. Obviously I can look at the Google statistics and see that it certainly gets hits. In fact I am surprised by how many hits it gets. I've had a lot extra hits over the last couple of days! Normally though, it's probably people who actually like what I write, or people who enjoy laughing at my incompetence. The statistics don't tell which they are.

The statistics also don't tell me who is reading my blog and what their background is. I have my suspicions though. I suspect that the majority of my audience are cyclists. No great shockers there. I also suspect that the majority of my audience share similar views to me, with regards to the need for funding in cycling and that that roads need to be designed for all and not just for those who chose to use them in a car.

Why do I want to know?

It's important to know your audience so that you can write in such a way that interests them. I'd soon loose hits if I started writing about the effects of different rubber compounds on the rolling resistance of 700C road bike tyres. It would be related to cycling, but, I suspect, not of great interest to my current audience.

To be fair though I've never been someone who worried too much about my audience (I never used to have one) as I just enjoy writing about a subject that I feel passionate about. However, it really does matter. It matters because....and this is again just a suspicion....that I am only preaching to the converted.  The majority of my audience will almost always digitally nod in agreement. We will reach a consensus among ourselves.

Blogging is powerful, however talking about a niche subject, and unfortunately cycle safety is a niche subject, the message rarely extends beyond the niche. If we truly believe in making cycling safe not just for a small band of passionate people, but for everyone, cycling has to matter to everyone. It needs to become something that we all debate and discuss. Cyclists and non cyclists.

I've already made my views clear on the suggestions that there is a war raging on Britain's roads. I just don't buy it. Many others have also made it clear that they are expecting the worst from the documentary on Wednesday night. It is likely to be far from perfect. However, this programme will do what none of our blogs or tweets can do. It will take the debate on cycle safety and road safety in general well beyond the cycle safety niche. On Thursday morning everyone, whether they cycle or not will have an opinion. Yes, there will be some extreme views on both sides, but at least the debate will have widened.

I and my fellow campaigners at Pedal on Parliament will be doing our best to spread the message that our war should not be with other road users, but with the very design of the roads themselves.