A letter from Zohra

I recently chanced upon this amazing letter, written to the British Medical Journal, almost exactly 13 years ago.

Why do school children cycle on the continent, but not in the UK?

Dear Editor,

I have been reading the responses to Douglas Carnall’s Editorial on cycling. None of your correspondents mention the factor I believe to be most important in encouraging my age group to cycle – separate cycle carriageways. I have just returned from an exchange trip to Munich, with a mixed group of eighteen Leeds 15 year olds. None of the Leeds students currently dare use their bicycles to travel to school, to friends’ houses or into town. However, when in Munich we all had lots of opportunities to cycle. All of the roads had segregated cycle paths, separate from both cars and pedestrians. I have also seen this sort of provision for cyclists in Denmark.

The German teenagers’ parents had no problems letting them take their bikes out for the day, knowing they would be safe on their journeys. This gives my age group much-wanted freedom AND EXERCISE !

Even if speed limits were reduced to 20 miles per hour (enforced at 27 mph) would you let your teenager out for the day on a bike in the majority of cities and towns in the UK ? I can only see a significant increase in teenagers wanting to (and being allowed to) use their bikes for transport if separate carriageways are introduced. These do not include the pathetic painted cyclepaths currently offered in Leeds where the roads are reasonably wide, which inevitably disappear when you really need them.

Could we send our transport planners and John Prescott to Denmark or Germany to see how its done?

Yours sincerely

Zohra Chiheb

I like to imagine that Zohra’s group looked like this.

DSCN9250

A group of teenagers cycling in comfort and security; something that she and her friends wouldn’t dare to do back in Leeds, even if their parents had let them.

The letter is, almost paradoxically, both incredibly insightful and a statement of the blindingly obvious. Children do not like to cycle in motor traffic. Create the conditions that separate them from that motor traffic, and they will happily do so. Zohra and her friends were, unintentionally or otherwise, an experiment, and she was perceptive enough to realise what had made the difference. Nobody else was writing letters to the BMJ pointing out what was actually needed to make her choose to ride a bike; she obviously felt compelled to write in herself.

But direct evidence from children, stating in plain and simple terms what is required for them to feel happy about cycling to school, or to friends’ houses, or into town, simply could not do for a certain kind of cycle campaigner. Within five days, a response had appeared in the BMJ.

Segregating cyclists is not the answer

It is welcome and valuable to receive the viewpoint of a young cyclist such as Zohra Chiheb, who has sampled, and obviously appreciated, the situation of her contemporaries on the Continent. I am certainly glad she was able to experience the freedom of two wheels, a pleasure (and birthright, in my view) that has been denied young people in this country for more than a decade. I was lucky; I was a teenager back in the Seventies, when no one thought twice about allowing teenagers to roam the neighbourhood and even further afield on their bikes, if they so wished.

Contrary to what common sense would suggest, there are in fact problems with the German/Dutch/Danish solution of providing separate routes for cyclists. Studies repeatedly show that segregating cyclists increases their risks. For instance, in Milton Keynes during the last 11 years, 7 cyclists have been killed using the cycle paths, only 1 has been killed on the roads (1). In Berlin, cyclists were found to be four times more likely to crash off-road than on the road with the traffic (1). Cycle paths are invariably poorly engineered, they are narrow, also used by pedestrians, many cyclists ride too fast on them and junctions are anarchic. Also, where cycle routes encounter the road system, cyclists invariably lose all rights of way. High skill levels are not fostered by such arrangements.

“Cyclists fair [sic] best when they are treated as vehicular traffic”. So says American cycling safety expert John Forrester and so also says British expert John Franklin. To the inexperienced cyclist, such opinions appear nonsensical. But in fact, cycling with the traffic is not dangerous compared to other means of transport. One mile of cycling is significantly less dangerous than a mile of walking. The death rate of regular road cyclists is no higher than the death rate of car users (about 1 in 25,000 per year). And that is average cycling – there is plenty of bad cycling out there! Skilful cyclists face much better odds. An hour of skilful cycling is probably not much more dangerous than an hour of average driving.

Keeping cyclists in the traffic is the best solution for a number of reasons:

1) Cyclists have access to the same direct, well-surfaced routes as drivers;

2) Drivers get accustomed to dealing with cyclists;

3) Cyclists get accustomed to dealing with drivers;

4) Cycling skilfully in the traffic is the safest, fastest way to get about town on a bicycle;

Young people today are the victims of a decade of bucket-loads of negative propaganda being tipped over cycling; by the medical profession (until lately), by “safety campaigners”, by the media, by cyclists themselves (it cannot be denied). Young people now believe cycling is only “safe” away from traffic, and thus they lose most of the potential utility and enjoyment of riding. Young people must be taught skilful riding techniques and drivers must be made to understand that in years to come they will be expected to be tolerant of an increasing number of cyclists on the roads. This latter point is less of a problem than it might seem. In my experience, the overwhelming majority of drivers will return the courtesy of a courteously handled bike. But lower speed limits and proper recognition of cyclists’ right to safety will make the roads more inviting places for young cyclists (and older ones who have given up). Dropping the use of such words as “danger”, “accident” and “safe” is vital; try “convenient”, “healthy” and “quick”.

Ms Chiheb asks whether I would allow teenagers out to ride on today’s roads. That is a tough question, because the attitude today is that if you get hurt, you are in the wrong, especially pursuing a “dangerous” activity such as road cycling. The parents of a damaged teenager will attract the opprobrium of decent-thinking people for having been so “irresponsible” as to allow their offspring freedom. But if she and her friends are prepared to face that nonsense down and do what they actually want to do in the face of political correctness, I would suggest the following (at the risk of appearing presumptuous):

1) Dump the MTB and get a proper road bike. Since you cannot buy a practical road bike in a shop nowadays, I suggest you look about for a good second-hand 10-speed with a “male” frame. You should be able to get something quite smart for £60-£100. Make sure it has mudguards, a carrier rack, a good bell, and it must have good lights, ideally dynamo-powered with a rear light that remains on when you stop. These are expensive, but well worth it. You may need to put a female saddle on it.

2) Buy “Cyclecraft” by John Franklin (HMSO) or “Effective Cycling” by John Forrester. Read, absorb;

3) Start cautiously on quiet suburban backstreets and work up slowly. Be prepared to take 12 to 18 months to work up to a good skill level, and don’t be deterred if you have a crash – that’s the most important lesson you’ll ever have!

4) Always bear in mind that it’s fast traffic that is dangerous, not heavy traffic. One fast idiot every half hour is far more dangerous than a whole stream of slow-moving traffic. Congestion has slowed urban traffic and made it safer. British traffic is far more benign, orderly and predictable than it is usually made out to be;

5) Trust your own judgement; don’t listen to the hysterical claptrap about cycling being “dangerous”. Bear in mind what I said above – a mile of walking is more dangerous than a mile of cycling, but neither is really all that dangerous if you keep your wits about you.

So don’t be put off by political correctness. There’s a wonderful world of exploration out there. Just do it!

1. “Enabling and encouraging people to cycle”. Paper presented by John Franklin to the Cambridge Cycling Campaign. See his home pagehttp://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/quinze/cycling.htm

Competing interests: None declared

Frankly this makes my blood boil. Maybe it would be wrong to single out one letter in particular, but this one typifies everything that was (and still is) so desperately wrong with cycle campaigning in this country.

The evidence was there in Zohra’s letter, but it just gets dismissed. Extraordinarily, the stated preferences of a child were completely ignored, and instead a futile attempt is made to persuade her that ‘cycling in traffic’ is the best way forward.

A whole paragraph is devoted to misinformation about the safety of cycle paths, and their quality. We now know that John Franklin misled a nation’s cycle campaigners, and his statistics about the Milton Keynes Redways (which are undeniably of dubious quality) were shoddy and essentially useless. Dutch cyclists are safer – far far safer – than their British counterparts.

We also know that cycle paths need not be ‘narrow’, or ‘anarchic’ at junctions, or ‘used by pedestrians’, or that ‘cyclists lose all rights of way’ when they encounter the road system. Bad cycle paths are like that, but even in the year 2000 there was plenty of evidence that cycle paths across the Netherlands did not conform to this shabby stereotype. Deliciously, there’s also a Forester- and Franklin-esque reference to the ‘skill levels’ of cyclists being diminished by cycling infrastructure. We should remember that John Franklin thought Dutch cyclists turned around and went home when they arrived at Harwich due to their ‘low skill levels’ -

Sustrans has often cited the fact that Dutch cyclists sometimes leave the ferry at Harwich and find traffic so difficult to deal with that they go back home! Interestingly, this problem is not experienced by cyclists arriving from France, Spain or the USA. Proficiency in using roads on a regular basis is essential to maximise safety, and to maximise one’s cycling horizons. I would not like to see Britain on the slope down to Dutch levels of cycling competence.

It apparently didn’t occur to Franklin that the reason Dutch cyclists were abandoning their cycling holidays in Britain before they’d even started was simply because cycling on roads full of heavy traffic is an unpleasant experience, and one they were not expecting. Their abandonment had nothing to do with ‘cycling competence’, and everything to do with the brute reality of cycling in Britain.

But Wardlaw – so obviously an acolyte of Franklin – makes precisely the same mistake in response to Zohra. He evidently thinks statistics claiming that cycling (or rather, ‘skilful cycling’) is as as safe as walking, or as driving, are any kind of substitute for the subjective quality of the cycling environment, when all the evidence shows that it is that subjective experience that matters. It’s even there in the child’s letter he’s just responded to, but he is so blinkered he cannot even see it.

As David Hembrow pointed out in his recent interview with The Bike Show, many activities are statistically safe, but that doesn’t mean they will automatically be attractive to the general population. Sky diving might be relatively safe, but not many people will be prepared to hurl themselves out of a plane, because it is quite a scary experience. You have to engage with people’s perceptions as you find them, otherwise you are sunk; yet that is precisely what Wardlaw, Franklin and a host of other cycling campaigners were unwilling or unable to do.

This astonishing inability to account for subjective safety explains why Wardlaw thinks a mass cycling culture can be built on removing the use of the words ‘safety’ and ‘danger’ from the discourse. Even if this were theoretically possible, and cycling was never again referred to by anyone as an unsafe or dangerous activity, that wouldn’t suddenly transform the experience of cycling on roads, where you have to continually negotiate with motor traffic flowing all around you, into a pleasant one. A cycle campaigning strategy built on attempting to remove the perception of danger by words rather than by action – an actual adjustment of the cycling environment – is plainly doomed to failure.

The real problem with Wardlaw, Franklin and others is their refusal to acknowledge that other people are not like them; that other people might not like cycling in motor traffic; that other people might not be able or willing to cycle as fast as them; that other people don’t want to be persuaded that cycling is safe, they just want it to feel safe.

This refusal to acknowledge that other people might be different is epitomised by Wardlaw advising a teenage girl to buy a ‘proper road bike’ with ‘a “male” frame’. That is, the kind of bike he would buy.

A small part of me hopes that Zohra emigrated to the Netherlands and – now in her late 20s – is trundling around with her friends in perfect comfort and safety on the kind of bicycle she wanted to own, not the kind that someone told her to get so she could fit into his particular vision of cycling in Britain.

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This entry was posted in 20 mph limits, Cyclecraft, Cycling policy, Infrastructure, John Franklin, Subjective safety, The Netherlands. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to A letter from Zohra

  1. I am ashamed to say that the second letter was my view up until last year. I had read cyclecraft and believed it was the way forward. But now, I realise that the letter is everything wrong with cycle campaigning.

  2. Surprising how many cyclists still hold the view that separation is wrong, and this seem to stem from a fear that the freedom to ride on roads will be taken away in law.

    This view is completely wrong, as those that do cycle already do regardless of the conditions & perceive cycling as safe or at least greatly outweighs any risk. Denying or objecting to the building of seperated facilities for this reason is incredibly short sighted, short termist and ultimately a very selfish “I’m alright Jack” attitude.

    Facilities need and must be designed and built so that the people that do not currently ride bikes will see it as being a safe activity. That is the only way this country will change for the better and not grind to a halt in a massive choking traffic jam.

  3. That letter is so wrong that it could be the blueprint for every wrong thinking cycle campaigner in the country, so wrong in so many ways that it might even deserve a proper item by item fisking.

    The main problem with all of this type of cycle campaigning, without mentioning any organisations we’ll call it Mssrs Beard & Brooks campaigning, is that at its very core lies the ‘similar to me’ fallacy.

    Keep your wits about you!

    Accelerate briskly to 20 miles per hour!

    Own your road space!

    How is a young child, an elderly lady, someone with a balance disability riding a tricycle, or someone who’s just a bit timid ever meant to achieve vehicular cycling, it’s just utter nonsense, because its proponents can’t see past the ends of their noses. I sometimes wonder if they are happy like that, they want cycling to remain a minority pursuit, it makes them feel special, chosen,, an exclusive club of the right sort of people with the approved skills. I think some campaigners fall into what I call ‘campaign group capture’ (maybe there’s a proper term for it), whereby they actually don’t want to achieve their stated goals because then they would have to pack up and and go home, there would be no fight left, no righteousness, nothing to make them feel exclusive or superior.

  4. eriksandblom says:

    It’s worth noting that in Denmark they don’t do separated cycle paths for 30 km/h streets, according to the graphic from Copenhagenize, and for 40 km/h streets it’s just painted lanes. It’s only for 50 km/h and over that they recommend curb-separated cycle paths.

    • Not really true. In Denmark, as in the Netherlands, the infrastructure on the ground often exceeds the minimum published criteria. That’s why it’s misleading to use theses criteria (like the Dutch CROW manual) as an indication of how much separation there actually is in these countries. I took plenty of pictures of “40″ streets with cycle tracks in Copenhagen.

      • eriksandblom says:

        The speed limit was only recently reduced to 40. The bike lanes were put in before that. It was 60 km/h then. I’m glad they lowered it.

    • Edward says:

      Don’t forget also that the Danes, like the Dutch, segregate in ways other than bike lanes. The 30 km/h streets are generally not through routes for motorised traffic.

  5. Much like you Mark my I could feel my blood pressure rising as I read that response letter! I just get irritated by the use of the “skilful cycling” term he uses, surely something he claims is a “birthright” shouldn’t need 12-18 months of training?
    As I’ve said before I think I pretty much am your typical cyclists – I’m a young male, fairly fit, ride a road bike and have all the expected cycle gear. I’m capable of hitting 20mph and can even manage the sprint speeds that Franklin/Forrester reference in their books. I cycle as the enjoyment I get from it is enough to offset the un-pleasantness. I enjoy pushing myself faster and to some extent even enjoy some of the risk however this doesn’t mean I’m not painfully aware of the driver who is revving behind me, probably a few foot off my rear wheel in 1 1/2 tons of metal just itching to get passed as I dare have the tenacity to take primary through a load of traffic islands. Sure it’s a great feeling as they suddenly race past with mere inches to spare, cut back in and speed off only to need to stop 50 yds up the road at the stationary traffic.

    Soft measures such as those vaulted by the 3 here can only go so far. Not everyone is perfect. Humans make mistakes and no amount of training and teaching respect can save you from that. The only way to mitigate against this is to reduce the danger. Remove potential conflict points. Our current setup doesn’t do this. If someone messes up, be them on a bike or in a car, then things don’t normally end well. The Dutch understand this, their roads are designed to remove dangerous conflicts, why would you want to put heavy and fast moving objects in the same space as slower and lighter ones? Pedestrians often moan about cyclists riding at speed on pavements, they get scared by the faster moving and heavier objects yet not many seem to understand it’s that exact argument as why cyclists don’t want to share the road with cars.

    As for the statistics they quote they aren’t worth squat without any context. Just stating “cycle paths are more dangerous” and showing stats from Milton Keynes (low cycling rate) and Germany (high cycling rate) and saying that as Germany has more deaths = more dangerous is insane! Quite how the comparison to walking can be made I don’t know as pedestrians are generally already segregated from drivers, unlike cyclists who have to share the same space so are therefore already in greater chance of coming into conflict with drivers.

    I’d quite happily use decent cycle infrastructure and frankly couldn’t give a sh!t about my “right to use the road” – why would I want to if I have a superior facility?

    • “I’d quite happily use decent cycle infrastructure and frankly couldn’t give a sh!t about my “right to use the road” – why would I want to if I have a superior facility?”

      I do, but largely because of my experience of how facilities rank in the maintenance and parking enforcement hierarchies (and an occasional tendency to hold funfairs on them – I kid you not). I’d like the option. Ultimately, the goal should be to provide cycle facilities that are direct, convenient, and suitable for everyone, at which time, it will become a moot point in any case.

  6. CC says:

    It’s pretty funny that a child was perfectly able to see what the supposed cycling expert simply refused to see: that the quality of the German and Danish segregated provision is vastly superior to the British segregated provision. It’s right there: “These do not include the pathetic painted cyclepaths currently offered in Leeds”. If the “expert” was not blinded by his/her ideology, and had actually bothered to look at how it is done abroad, they would have found that the girl was right. These VC wingnuts operate in a fact-free zone and it’s their turn to be ignored.

  7. paul gannon says:

    “I would not like to see Britain on the slope down to Dutch levels of cycling competence.” It was, several years ago, when I read this comment of John Franklin that I realised that he simply had no understanding of cycling outside the UK.
    Dutch cyclists are multi-skilled – dealing expertly with pedestrians, motors, trams – and critically lots of other cyclists. Look at Franklin’s book, Cyclecraft – it hardly mentions cycle/cycle interactions because it all about motor vehicles. He doesn’t realise that cycling with lots of other cyclists is a very demanding skill.
    I very much want to see Britain get the chance to develop Dutch levels of cycling competence.

  8. cyclestrian says:

    What is particularly galling is that Munich’s cycle infrastructure has seen continued investment in the decade since Zohra’s letter was written. Meanwhile, very little has changed in the UK. http://www.konsult.leeds.ac.uk/private/level2/instruments/instrument046/l2_046c.htm

  9. Christine Jones says:

    I learnt to ride a bike in traffic on the back of a tandem from the age of 9 in Reading in 1980, I moved to Holland in 1990, lived there happily for 10 years, cycling and enjoying the quality of life, then I moved to London in 2000 for a job. I carried on cycling, confident that I still knew how to cycle in the UK, which I did and cycled 100 miles a week round London. This didn’t prevent numerous attempts on my life, the being turned right on in a hit and run, a couple of near misses with cement mixers turning left and me diving for the pavement watching them drive off into the distance.
    Even where I live now in Cambridgeshire, where it’s supposedly quieter, I share the road to school with my kids with 40 tonne artics and dash across a residential road where the 30 limit is rarely kept to.
    I’m not a fearless cyclist, far from it. I am a paranoid, learned from experience cyclist. I don’t take risks and now that I am a mum, I won’t cycle on 60mph roads if I can avoid it. There is simply too much chance I will end up under a 40 tonne lorry that ‘just didn’t see me’.
    When attempts on my life happen, I see no point in being right. I just want to be alive and would never push back on a vehicle. I will ride right in front of them when there’s no room to overtake. I do take the road bla bla bla but only because I have to.
    It’s horrible and stressful and I miss the way I could get around in Holland without needing to drive. I miss the trams, the buses and the trains. Here they are diabolical, expensive and untrustworthy.
    Cycle campaigners are to blame, they are more interested in saying look how clever and fast we are, rather than lets make it safe enough for an 8 year old and an 80 year old.
    Because I’ve been completely submerged in both, I am most likely, quite unusual. It seems obvious now to a growing number of people but it still isn’t fully understood – how junctions work, how housing estates should be built, why all the A roads in Holland are motorways – they not only purpose built cycle ways but they made new motorways so the old small roads become the cycle routes and the new roads are the five lane motorways.
    The current view here is to send 40 tonne artics through housing, past routes to schools, not pay for crossings, let alone set weight limits and put in cycle provision. It goes back to your previous post on noise – we need to start being kinder to people, make the places where people live free from excessive amounts of through traffic – the only traffic that needs to be there is going somewhere in there and the rest are routed elsewhere.
    The task is so massive and so hindered by short sighted, under qualified Councillors, council officers and highways engineers who are 30 years behind the times. I just can’t see how this country can be shown how much better their lives would be if we were ‘kinder’ to people and less tolerant of all the noise and pollution we are used to now.

  10. rich257 says:

    John Franklin’s homepage, linked in the letter, is available from the Wayback Machine internet archive: http://web.archive.org/web/20000707215834/http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/quinze/cycling.htm

  11. Even a child with open eyes can see a lot more than an “expert” with a closed mind.

  12. The “Daddy knows best” arrogance in the response still permeates cycle campaigning in the UK. Despite all the evidence, the campaigning work of blogs like this, the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, rigorous academic research by David Horton et al and Mr Hembrow’s fine examples from The Netherlands, there is still a peevish, grudging feel to every announcement from the CTC regarding segregation. In the end this coloured the Get Britain Cycling report and will undoubtedly give the Government the excuse to spend so little money they may as well have not bothered.

  13. I can’t help but feel there’s a certain amount of ‘mansplaining’ going on in this letter. Zohra points out the obvious feelings of subjective safety that are conferred by decent cycling infrastructure only to have an ‘expert’ attempt to reason her out of her experiences by saying that once she’s learned to ride more skilfully (I.e like him) then she’ll understand how foolish her views were. Is it any wonder that cycling is the preserve of the fit and the confident, when for years cycling campaigners have disregarded the views and experiences of anyone who’s not like them?

  14. It’s not just that there’s “heavy traffic”. It’s that there’s heavy traffic whose drivers feel quite entitled to intimidate, bully, and punish you for having the temerity to be on the carriageway. That no one sees this as reprehensible. No amount of taking the lane helps when a driver wants it back again.

    I remember returning from a cycling tour in France, finding that the honking of horns, tailgating, overly close overtaking began the instant we left the port of Dover. I’ve ridden in traffic for years, because I’m fortunate(?) to find that my love of cycling is just enough to outweigh the grimness of being a cyclist in Britain. Just. I don’t blame people who just want to get somewhere for not “manning up” here, not at all. And it’s lunacy to expect them to.

  15. Jitensha Oni says:

    A letter from Jitensha Oni
    “Dear Editor,
    I have been reading the responses to Douglas Carnall’s Editorial on cycling. None of your correspondents mention the factor I believe to be most important in encouraging my age group to cycle – separate cycle carriageways. I have just returned from trip to Munich, with a mixed group of pensioners. None of them currently dare use their bicycles to travel to the community centre, to friends’ houses or into town n the UK. However, when in Munich we all had lots of opportunities to cycle. All of the roads had segregated cycle paths, separate from both cars and pedestrians. I have also seen this sort of provision for cyclists in Denmark.
    German pensioners had no problems taking their bikes out for the day, knowing they would be safe on their journeys. This gives my age group much-wanted freedom AND EXERCISE ! It’s a lot easier than walking on the arthritis too!!
    Even if speed limits were reduced to 20 miles per hour (enforced at 27 mph) would your parents want to go out for the day on a bike in the majority of cities and towns in the UK ? I can only see a significant increase in pensioners wanting to (and being allowed to) use their bikes for transport if separate carriageways are introduced. These do not include the pathetic painted cyclepaths currently offered in **** where the roads are reasonably wide, which inevitably disappear when you really need them.
    Could we send our transport planners and government officials to Denmark or Germany (or NL) to see how its done?
    Yours sincerely
    Jitensha Oni”

    I wonder what the reply to that would have been.

    • kruidig meisje says:

      When I stated something along similar lines (about my special needs son) at a cycling safety conference last fall (in Helmond, NL) to a british cycling consultant, he stated that “if you cannot speed up to 30, you belong on the pavement.” Reading blogs, I can now identify him as a VC.
      Then, I just felt angry: in NL, we take it for granted everybody has the right to be able to move about freely,i.e. to cycle. Excluding mayor groups from this right (kids, elderly), especially those who usually do not have the car option themselves, feels like a social exclusion which cannot be anything but detrimental for social inclusion, particpation and cohesion.
      I did understand one of the reasons why british kids are far more unhappy than NL, DK and DE kids, however.

      • Adanac says:

        This gets me wondering about political attitude difference. There has been since the early 1980s, a shift in thinking about providing support and inclusion for anyone who is less than the fittest. For example, if an individual doesn’t quite have what it takes to succeed in a highly competitive corporate business culture, then they don’t deserve to have a job. The view also feels that helping anyone out will weaken them and “the herd”. Almost Darwinian type of thought.
        This logic is possibly extending to the area of cycling infrastructure. That if someone can’t cycle fast enough and learn to not be bothered by the seeming dangers around them, then they have no reason to do it at all. Politically, at least in North America, the political tide is turning in this area so maybe it will happen to cycling as well.

  16. pm says:

    Its odd. I read Buffalo Bill’s blog entry taking issue with a previous assault of yours on the CTC’s attitudes, and thought he had a very valid point. In-fighting and all-or-nothing thinking doesn’t help any disadvantaged group or any up-against-it political campaign.

    But then when I read something like the letter you quote in full above I get angry all over again with the depressing depths of elitist, patronising and complacent twaddle the vehicular cycling types are capable of coming out with.

    I mean I read ‘cyclecraft’ when first starting to ride on the roads and found it quite annoying, in that its proposed ‘solutions’ appeared to be a mixture of the blindingly obvious and fantasy scenarios that failed to address the actual problems of cycling in real traffic on real UK roads.
    The deadly flaw with ‘vehicular cycling’ is that a bike is not, in contemprary terms, a vehicle. It lacks the protection, the speed, and the ability to counter threat with threat that motorised vehicles posses. Consequently it is not treated as a vehicle by other road users (or even by pedestrians or, um, the police officers manning the gates of parliament!). No amount of ‘assertiveness’ can overcome the physical realities involved.

    The biggest drawbacks to cycling at present, I find, is the exhaustion of having to be constantly in ‘defensive’ mode, looking out for idiot motorists – plus the damaging effect on one’s faith in human nature when continuously presented with the reality that when no outside force forces good behaviour, most human beings unthinkingly obey the rule of ‘might is right’ and ‘its fine if I can get away with it’.

  17. pm says:

    The letter’s emphasis on ‘high skill levels’ I think says a lot about the attitudes behind it. For the writer, cycling is not a environmentally-beneficial, cheap, health-enhancing, and useful means of getting from one place to another place (while harming the well-being of others rather less than motoring does). Instead its a way to show off one’s elite status and take pride in one’s mastery of technique. As if its some kind of extreme sport.

    You only have to apply the same logic to walking to see how daft this attitude is.

    I also am curious as to why the writer dismisses Dutch/German/Danish cycle lanes using statistics from Milton Keynes – which last I checked wasn’t in any of those countries and entirely shared the UK’s car-loving culture.

  18. Pingback: On training | As Easy As Riding A Bike

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