Monday, 17 December 2012

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!


  1. I think the problem is that riding a bike is too often characterised as "just" a sport. So it's easy to sideline as an optional pastime rather than a serious mode of transport. The focus on sport and recreation is one reason that bikes sold in the UK seem to be either drop-bar "racing" bikes, or bloated "mountain" bikes.

    We need more focus on the bike as a solution to those 50% of journeys that are less than 5 miles - it's a quick, convenient, fun way to get around, rather than something that involves Lycra.

    As it is, there is some trickle-down from the funding that's being attracted to the sporting side. But I guess this comes via DCMS rather than DfT, and as such is a drop in the ocean of what is really required.

    The hope is that the high profile achieved by our über-elite cyclists raises the profile right across government. My worry is that the response will be, "Cycling? Didn't we give them a couple of hundred million for a couple of velodromes? Yes? Good - what's the next item on the agenda then? Ah, airport construction..."

    So overall, I think campaigns like PoP & CycleSafe are more important than Yellow Jerseys & gold medals. Don't get me wrong - I'd rather have both, to maximise the pressure from all sides. But if I could only chose one, it would be a well-publicised grass-roots campaign, backed up with national media exposure.

  2. I was patched in with those tweets. It's odd that who'd you'd assume to be fellow travellers could be so tribal, seemingly unable to see that anybody on a bike has got to be better than that same somebody in a car. We're all cyclists, with the same desire to arrive at our destination in one piece, whether that's on a training ride or a commute to work or a ride to the shops.

    The disparagement of those who wear cycling kit is wholly unnecessary. They're on a bike, that's the important thing. It might be a carbon bike one minute, and then a cargo bike the next (I can't be the only one like that).

    It's good that cycle sport is getting a higher profile. This sort of thing gets noticed by the powers that be, and a successful Olympians could help to win hearts and minds so it's easier to get roads safer for all to be on.

    Anyway, nobody is forcing anybody to wear Lycra. Not that Lycra is some sort of devil fabric: the Netherlands has a thriving road cycling scene, with plenty of whippets in team kits, but that doesn't deter Dutch people from cycling.

    Surely we all want more cycling? And safer cycling. That will come about quicker if we're united. We have enough of a problem with the Them and Us attitude from some motorists, we don't have to be guilty of it from within.

  3. True that, Carlton. You'd only have to compare lists of Dutch and British TdF stage/jersey/winners...

  4. I don't see where the distinction is.

    If I dress up in lycra to go to the shop is it sport or transport? What if I go for a ride and collect some shopping on the way back. Both of those scenarios have applied to me.

    True, elite pro-tour races are marshalled. Very few are on closed roads. Even the Tour of Britain is only a rolling closure.

    Every level of cycling below that is on open roads.

    Most people who want to start cycling as a sport will at least start of with rides from their house. Safer roads will make more people want to take up the activity, which is good.

    What constitutes sport anyway - racing, time trialing, touring?

    Well known "celeb" cyclists like Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, and Chris Hoy etc raise the profile of cycling as a valid passtime in the national psyche, which is good for validating and making visiblewhat was a monority almost underground sport several years ago in the eyes of the wider population.

    We need safer roads full stop to make people feel and be safer. Safer roads also means fewer accidents, which means less money spent on the clearups.

    And HOW can anyone in a sane frame of mind ever argue that we do not need better road safety.

  5. I think part of the problem is as Karl states that cycling is seen as "just a sport" or the other one that seems to pop up occasionally is that it's a child's activity and anyone who is old enough to hold a driving license should have "graduated" onto car ownership as if it's some rite of passage.

    I understand that we need to encourage people to cycle to plant that seed, after all how will you know if you like something if you never try it and lets face it, the biggest thing stopping the vast majority of the population even trying cycling is fear of road danger.

    We also don't quite seem to get utility cycling here, it's very rare I see a Dutch style bike, one with fitted mudguards, lights and racks etc. that you could easily take to the shops to get a few bits of shopping or just potter around to a friends house. Much of the choice of bikes we have here is either those hideous BSO's where the rider looks more like they are on a rocking horse due to the shite suspension or drop bar roadies which are invariably ridden at speed at on the roads as that what we feel we need (or are even required to do if you listen to Franklin et al.) to do to stand a chance of survival on our roads that are built around the idea that might is right.

  6. Your children, yes sure. Other parents would not allow their kids to cycle. We have to face it, we are talking to ourselves. We aren't reaching out as we do not address the majority's views. Cycling is dangerous. The public has no idea what we stand for, who we are. We might think we are "tribal" to the public we are a cyclist, jumping red lights, not wearing hiviz, not paying road tax.

  7. Bradley Wiggins and Shane Sutton were both knocked off their bikes while road riding. Elites cyclists are as invisible as us plebs while out on the road.

    Any money invested in cycling is good, but my view is it should be a grassroots level the money is invested.

    Actually hold on a second. Grass roots would suggest the growing area has been cleared. Unfortunately it's still a cycling friendly desert.