How I insulted and scared cyclists all over the country

So in one post I seem to have upset lots of people:

I seem to have caused upset on three counts:

  1. I said that wearing cycling kit (lycra shorts, muddy waterproof, cycling helmet) into a large town centre coffee shop on a Saturday afternoon does not help promote riding a bike for transport to ordinary people. Here is one very upset person: Treachery! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me…!.
  2. In the process I was rude about a nameless cyclist’s legs saying that they were unattractive. You can see I have upset a whole cycling club with this one.
  3. Finally in one of those weird attempts at conversation that only happen on the internet (you know, the sort where you can never work out what the other person is trying to say, they appear to never actually respond to what you have said, they seem to fixate on odd details and refer in coded ways to something that apparently proves you are an idiot – as if anyone who knows me needed any proof) anyway in this conversation with  “Wee folding bike” (whatever else you do make sure you type that correctly every time and don’t laugh aloud or you will turn out to be a hateful and spiteful person) it seems I was tricked into revealing my secret plan to destroy cycling in Britain.

and also by Carlton Reid on Cycling Embassy of Great Britain – the ambassador responds on 15th February 2011 at 14:16 (sorry can’t seem to find a link to the specific comment).

I would also like to see CE of GB’s policy on mandatory use of cycle paths.
CE of GB supporter Dave42w has said on his blog: “If we have a Dutch quality and style of infrastructure it does not bother me at all if it is a legal requirement to use a cycle facility.”…
This scares the hell out of me and has always been one of my fears about this debate.
Who decides whether a segregated bike route is genuinely of Dutch quality and therefore will agree with a local council that ALL CYCLISTS should be banned from adjacent roads?
“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Benjamin Franklin

It looks like I have a bit of explaining to do doesn’t it.

First, on promoting bikes.

My post was intended to be a bit light hearted. I wear cycling clothes sometimes if going out for a longer ride for exercise/fun and sometimes when touring or on holiday. Not so much recently, partly because I am happy to say it is becoming rather baggy and maybe some of the shorts might start falling down.

However, I stand by the sentiment I intended to express, albeit without insulting either the whole of the Leicester Forest Cycling Club (“Leicestershire’s Friendly Club”) or anyone else who sometimes wears lycra when cycling (or at any other time for that matter).

I believe passionately that the UK needs a transport revolution. We need it to be radical and fast. We need it to tackle the largest (by far) external cause of death for our children. We need it to tackle our huge obesity problem. We need it to tackle our poor air quality, our congested cities and towns, our over dependence on cheap oil, our over stretched NHS, our hurting economy, our fractured local communities, ….

I believe that many changes are going to be needed as part of this revolution. They will include loads more walking, there may be a place for some electric vehicles, there will need to be significant investment in public transport, and more things besides this.

However, their is one obvious big big win. I believe the only cheap, easy and proven way to make progress on all these issues is to achieve a huge switch from using cars for short journeys to using bikes. It has been shown to work at the country scale in some places and at the city level there are many examples all around the world.

I believe that we can only achieve a transport revolution if we get people of all ages, both women and men riding bikes, people who have never considered riding a bike to work/school/the shops/a friends/… before.

I stand by my point that we will not attract ordinary people who are not cyclists to ride a bike by wearing lycra, riding amazingly fast for huge distances, becoming super fit. It does not attract people to use bikes for everyday transport.

So by all means wear lycra when you wish. Enjoy wearing lycra for racing, sportives, audax, cyclocross, mountain biking, time trials, epic tours, training for all these things and more BUT please do not imagine that when you turn up in this gear at a coffee shop in a large town centre you are going to be helping people switch to riding a bike for everyday transport. Instead your beautiful body , honed by your amazing cycling feats will intimidate them and none of them will be thinking “Next time I come into town, I could come by bike, it would be fun and convenient”.

Second, on freedom to wear lycra.

Confession time. I did not actually look very closely at this persons legs. They may have in fact been beautiful. I was, at least in part, thinking of my own legs as I do like wearing 3/4 length trousers and even shorts in hot weather.

My sincere apologies for the devastation my comment has caused up and down the country as cafe after cafe has now banned cyclists. It is all my fault and I am at least slightly sorry. Please feel free to gather round my table next time I am at Starbucks to show me how beautiful your lycra topped legs are. I promise to sincerely praise the legs of every cyclist I see in the future.

Third, on the destruction of freedom

Wow, those red horns have sprung up quick. Tonight parents all over the country were probably trying to scare their children into good behaviour by saying”If you are not a good girl/boy then the evil Dave Warnock will stop you riding your bike on the road”.

Sadly for all the Daily Mail journalists around the truth is somewhat different.

If you wish to get lost in a what I found a highly frustrating “discussion” with Wee folding bike by all means go and read all the comments in the “discussion” (I have not changed or deleted any of them).

I think my position is simple and logical. I think there are examples around the world that support it. Essentially Wee folding bike and Carlton Reid think I am nuts and evil. You decide.

I believe that to achieve a significant switch to using bikes for transport (and I use 30% of all journeys to be by bike as a good interim target for a city and a very significant achievement for a whole country) you need at least 3 things

  • For main routes a high quality segregated cycle infrastructure (and I refer to this as a Dutch cycle infrastructure). There are clear documented standards in the Netherlands and Denmark for this. My belief is that this includes:
    • width (2.5m wide single direction and 3m wide for two way)
    • physical separation from the road
    • not to be blocked by car parking (and usually protected from car doors opening)
    • safe, prioritised ways to cross junctions
  • For residential areas traffic calming. For me that includes:
    • enforced low speed limits
    • home zones where children are expected to be able to play in the street
    • restricted car parking
    • lack of through routes for cars
    • chicanes etc for cars
  • For city and town centres for me this includes
    • No through routes for cars and lorries
    • pedestrianised areas (with bikes allowed)
    • bike paths direct to facilities
    • lots of secure bike parking
    • expensive car parking
    • bikes integrated with public transport

There are other things that I think will help but are possibly not as essential (eg strict liability, much higher penalties for driving offences).

The problem comes with a couple of things. It seems to me that the position of Carlton Reid and Wee folding bike is that they believe:

  • the UK is incapable of implementing high and consistent standards of cycle infrastructure
  • that by demanding such an infrastructure (that I believe is needed to encourage parents, children and grandparents to ride bikes) I am opening the way for it to be made illegal for cyclists to ride on the road.

I understand that they therefore believe that any campaigning that I might do is dangerous and scary as it will inevitably lead to cyclists being forced to ride on dangerous separated infrastructure because they are not allowed on the road and only crap infrastructure will be built in the UK.

I believe that my understanding of how to massively increase the numbers of ordinary people riding bikes is supported by the examples of the Netherlands, Denmark and many cities around the world that are currently building separated cyclepaths. The Dutch have the highest standards and most consistent application (and the highest rate of cycling), however, even less sophisticated implementations such as those in New York are causing huge changes. My understanding of the evidence is that non separated cycle lanes such as the London Cycle superhighways are far less successful at increasing cycling levels and at reducing deaths, especially of children.

I also believe that in the Netherlands cyclists don’t want to ride on the road when there is a cyclepath. Why would they? The cyclepath is faster, safer, more convenient and more sociable. See David Hembrow’s blog for many many examples.

Hence, my conclusion that with a Dutch cycling infrastructure I would not mind if it were a legal requirement to use a cyclepath. Note from above what I mean by a Dutch infrastructure, note also that it is not a legal requirement to use a cyclepath but also that the Dutch would think you crazy for not doing so.

I completely fail to see why anyone would mind being “forced” to use a cyclepath that is faster, safer, more convenient and more sociable than riding on the road.

I also reject the idea that UK transport planners and builders are incapable of following design standards. They have not been given required standards for cyclepaths yet, but they have for other things and so far motorways seem to be pretty consistent in their implementation of standards, so do zebra crossings, Pelican crossings etc etc.

Do I believe that I am being forced into these views by an evil manipulative Jeremy Clarkson figure whose only goal is to get cyclists banned from the road. Nope I don’t think so.

In fact it seems to me that the de-facto result of Wee folding bike’s solution would be exactly that. He wants a 20mph speed limit on all single carriageway roads to make cycling safer. He does not want any money wasted on cycling infrastructure as nobody uses it. It seems to me the inevitable result would be that drivers would expect bikes to stay on the 20mph roads thus losing all the direct and fast routes to places for cyclists.


To see the transport revolution I believe we need we have to make progress on getting primary school children riding bikes to school and elsewhere. We have to get parents using bikes to transport their pre-school children, we need retired people popping to the shops on bikes. None of these things will happen in any significant way without a Dutch style infrastructure.

I want a revolution and while I look for that I I am going to continue to say that cyclists demanding lycra do not help bring about a transport revolution. I will continue to say that focusing on the right for cyclists to right to ride on the same road as cars and HGV’s doing 60mph will not help bring about a transport revolution.

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  1. Dave42w is a dangerous subversive, Thought Police – arrest him! 😉

    If we measure the success of the ‘traditional’ strategies as used by cycling organisations in the UK to increase modal share, then if they’ve had any effect whatsoever, then they’ve successfully overseen a decline in modal share. Essentially, cycling organisations in the UK have succeeded in failure. Surely, when one tries a strategy, and it continually fails to perform as desired, the intelligent thing to do is to rethink one’s strategies and consider alternatives. Yet this hasn’t apparently been done, or if it has been, those strategies too have been successful failures.

    We know what succeeds, it’s been tried and tested for decades. It isn’t perfect, but it’s a hell of lot better than what we’ve got and there are so many benefits that we’d be absolutely mad to ignore it. We need to consider strategies that are most likely to lead to the Dutch model – the traditional approaches haven’t worked and I know of no good reason to believe that this will change in the future – it’s time for a change.

    We need to challenge every excuse and weasel argument that those who oppose such a strategy will inevitably use, they are all false.

    We need to back-up our arguments with solid science and research.

  2. Katja Leyendecker

    Must design cycle routes with this simple specification in mind:

    >>> so that parents let their 8-year olds cycle there, unsupervised <<<

    With safe walking & cycling routes to schools we would be crucial step forward. My council is not doing too well on that subject. It's rather busy scaring children and their parents away through ill-conceived "road safety" initiatives like this

  3. The idea that making cycle facilities mandatory for cyclists will produce better facilities is at best naive and at worst dangerous.

    I wrote this

    If we had Dutch style facilities there would be no need to legislate to make them mandatory. The only reason to make facilities mandatory is to force users to use them when they are not appropriate for that user .

    By surrendering the right to ride on the road up front as you seem willing to do we would face a world where more motorists would be harassing us to use inappropriate and dangerous farcilities and councils would have no incentive to build high quality facilities.

  4. I presume that what a lot of road cyclists are worried about is that making the use of infrastructure mandatory would take away their freedom to ride where they chose. Putting aside for a minute the question of parts of the road infrastructure where you’re already not permitted to use a bike, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with that concern. The UK Gov doesn’t exactly have an unblemished record when it comes to sensible legislation.

    By creating rules you’re always at risk of creating the wrong rules. Less prescription is normally better, IMO. Also, you really don’t need it to support your position. Logically, if the separated infrastructure is good enough there would be no need to mandate use, it would naturally become the preferred option.

    One last thing, is there a typo in this sentence? “Note from above what I mean by a Dutch infrastructure, note also that it is not a legal requirement to use a cyclepath but also that the Dutch would think you crazy for not doing so.” Is there a missing “only” in there somewhere?

    I use my bike(s) to potter down the shops, commute and as a leisure pursuit. As far as I’m concerned the more biking the better, for everyone, for every purpose. I think separated infrastructure can definitely help that, and it doesn’t have to be at the expense of using the road either.

  5. I think you’ve overstated my discomfiture somewhat there – “very upset”?

    And it’s not a case of “demanding” lycra, so much as recognising that a person on a bike is a win, whatever their attire. Things may be different in London, but I know for sure that in Crewe and Manchester there are too few of us for us to start ridiculing each other because we don’t have the “right” kit.

    “Treachery…” should probably be viewed as a companion piece to this I Don’t Care… in which I lament similar attitudes from the “euro” “pro” end of the roadie subculture.

  6. biker dreams…dirt bikes - pingback on February 16, 2011 at 12:12 pm
  7. @chrisgerhard but dave24 didn’t say that or even imply that. He’s saying that when the cyclepath is as good as Dutch infrastructure, there is no point in using the road and noone would want to.

    Or to put it another way, what matters is not whether it is road or cyclepath, but the overall quality – fast, safe and convenient.

    So, I agree cyclists shouldn’t be ‘forced’ to use cyclepaths or ‘forced’ to use the roads. But I see no issue with building paths to attract and seduce cyclists away from the roads – they should be better than the roads.

  8. Just to emphasize the slippery slope you are advocating today there are calls for cyclists to be banned from the A50 even before one of your new facilities.
    Once you have handed them a law that allows cyclists to be banned from any road if there is a “high quality” cycle route alternative expect those rules to be watered down and applied to any road.

  9. Who is saying anything about handing them a law?

  10. And I fail to see why that example should stop a campaign for proper Dutch infrastructure? If they are going to try to ban cyclists anyway, then it’s not relevant to the infrastructure debate.

  11. @chrisgerhard – just managed to go back and read your blog. And it seems much more measured, or pehaps explains your views better, than your comments here. I completely agree with “If the facilities are good they will be used if they are not they will not and if you really want to get people out of cars telling them they can’t ride on the road is not the right way forward and will do far more harm than good.”. However I still can’t disagree with dave24’s position and I don’t think your blog actually does in essence. I think what you might be saying is please don’t say such things until we actual have the excellent infrastructure. I don’t see that dave24 comments will make or break an attempt to bring in such a law.

    I can certainly see the concern about the right to the road, but I don’t think that should prevent a campaign for Dutch quality infrastructure.

  12. @No Dave absolutely did say that if good facilities were provided he would be happy for their use to be mandatory.

    As a negotiating position and this is all this would be this means he has just surrendered the right to ride on the road and we are now arguing about the quality of the facilities. Politicians who generally like to pander to the car culture would love to ban us from roads. They won’t wait for the facilities to happen if they can find a cycling organisation that says they are happy for that to happen. Then we will find the facilities that will cost money to build won’t arrive but the bike ban will be in place and will be enforced not just where there are “good facilities” faster than you can say Daniel Cadden.

    Meanwhile every Jeremy Clarkson wanna be will be telling us to get off the road whether there are any facilities at all.
    I’m all for Dutch style facilities and a campaign to get them. I’m now convinced the right place to get that campaign going is within the CTC which understands the issues better than Dave.

  13. British Cyclists: The horrifying missing concern « 42 Bikes - pingback on February 17, 2011 at 12:07 am
  14. One of the ways the ‘segregation’ debate can be made divisive and ugly is by saying use of cycle paths should be compulsory.

    Even when they’re built to a very high standard (and in the UK, they won’t be, 90 years of bitter experience tells us that) they don’t go everywhere and should cyclists wish to take a more direct route rather than a twisty, turny, scenic cycle path, Dave here would be happy for them to be clapped with a fine.

    We all want safer, more pleasant places to cycle. But we have to defend the rights we have, not lobby to give them up.

  15. @Carlton Reid…I accept that segregated infrastructure is a tall ask.

    From what I’ve read, you’re firmly against segregated infrastructure (I prefer to call it Dutch Model Infrastructure). It seems to me that you’re against Dutch Model Infrastructure because someone somewhere (at somepoint in time) might relinquish the right-to-ride?

    Or, is it deeper than this, do you simply not care for decent infrastructure, preferring the road, at all times, regardless of the resultant experience? Not fishing, simply curious.

    It seems to me that it were the former, then the divide between yourself and Dave is very small – I’m sure over a brief period of time this small gulf can be bridged. It would also render debates like this valuable (for both you and Dave, and also the national Campaign strategy going forward) – and would reduce all the infighting.

    However, if it’s the latter, then I’m afraid you’re at different ends of the universe, and just need to agree to disagree.

    Personally, I don’t care much for ride-to-ride. In reality we gave that up years ago. It gets way too much press coverage, and garners way too much debate in these kinds of forums. For example, I like Martin Porter, super bright guy, but he needs to take some PR advice – these kind of images do us no favours whatsoever:

    Most people reading that article will in no way relate to the wig and lycra clad Martin. If, as a result of such articles, we can up the Dutch Modal Infrastructure debate, and, perhaps, stop the child murder, then some good will have come of it – but I doubt it.

    BTW Part of Martin’s argument about the right to ride is that he likes to travel fast. Well, frankly, I don’t give a damn for his right to ride fast. Surely the right of the ‘slow’ trump his right? What about those of 8 year olds? This section of society have been wiped completely from the road scene. Lets face it, at 1-2% modal share nationally, all cyclists have been wiped from our roadscape. I see his argument completely at odds (or, at the very least, very distracting) with that of delivering a style of infrastructure that will encourage ordinary folk to cycle ordinary journeys.

    But, perhaps, I’m seeing differences between people where there aren’t any.

    So, what’s the answer? Well, perhaps there are two:

    1. We relinquish the ride-to-ride, and focus on Dutch Modal Infrastructure
    2. We focus on Dutch Model Infrastructure, but not relinquish the right-to-ride

    There is a third way, but I’ll leave #3 as a topic for another day.

    Personally, I lean toward #2. I don’t have too much problem with #2. However, #2 does run the risk of watering down the thrust for Dutch Infrastructure. It can be argued that there is potential for getting bogged down in right-to-ride debates (at the national level) because the right-to-ride clause in #2 is written in such a way as to always take precedence over campaigning for Dutch Model Infrastructure – which, when you look at UK campaigning history, has a sad and familiar sound to it.

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