John Franklin and Cyclecraft – Cycle safely by turning yourself into Mark Cavendish

Next month I am planning to take some Bikeability Level 2 classes. My main motivation is not really the training itself because I feel, perhaps hubristically, that I am a competent ‘vehicular’ cyclist, fully versed in the speed and positioning required to travel safely (most of the time) in motor traffic. Instead I want to get a flavour of what these classes involve, and what is being taught to relative novices.

In preparation, I’ve done some homework, and purchased a copy of John Franklin’s Cyclecraft, the Stationery Office publication that is

closely associated with Bikeability, the National Cycle Training Standard, for which it is the recommended course book and required reading for cycle training instructors.

Chapter 5 of this book is entitled Basic Cycling Skills. Within this chapter, on pages 60-61, there is this passage, which I find quite remarkable –

Cadence and sprint speed

Cadence is the number of times a cycling turns the pedals in one minute. A steady, comfortable pedalling rhythm is essential for efficient cycling, while increasing one’s cadence strengthens the leg muscles and enables more rapid acceleration. Increasing cadence also makes it easier to increase your sprint speed – the maximum speed that you can attain over a short distance, such as through a roundabout.

Racing cyclists know well the benefits of having a high cadence, but there can also be important safety advantages for everyone. Generally speaking, you are at your safest in traffic if you can move at a speed comparable to that of the other vehicles. Increasing your cadence and sprint speed will allow you to achieve this more often, particularly at those places where it matters most – junctions with complex manoeuvring. It will also be easier to restart quickly in a low gear at traffic signals and roundabouts, and to get yourself out of trouble if you are on a potential collision course.

Increasing cadence and sprint speed are two of the most positive steps a cyclist can take to enhance safety.

A good cadence to aim for is about 80, while a sprint speed of 32 km/h (20 mph) will enable you to tackle most traffic situations with ease. To increase your cadence, select a gear lower than you would normally use for a given road and simply force yourself to pedal faster in order to maintain your usual speed. Gradually, your leg muscles will become accustomed to the higher rate and your cadence and strength will increase.

So there we have it. The most positive thing you can do to enhance your safety as a bicycle user, on Britain’s roads, is to turn yourself into Mark Cavendish.

To repeat, this section is included in an early chapter entitled ‘Basic cycling skills’.

Now I cannot fathom what audience John Franklin thought he was addressing when he was writing this passage. It surely cannot be ordinary people. I have cycled getting on for 30,000 miles in my life; I rarely use a car; I regularly cycle 40-50 miles at a weekend. I find that sustaining a flat speed of 20 mph is hard. And if it is hard for me, it’s ludicrous to present it as a reasonable piece of safety advice – in fact one of the most important pieces of safety advice – for the general public.

This is not good enough.

I wouldn’t have so much of a problem with this kind of ‘advice’ if Franklin was presenting it as a kind of stop-gap measure, a way of surviving on Britain’s roads until they are changed sufficiently for them to be safely and pleasantly negotiated by anyone on a bicycle (and by ‘anyone’, I mean people who don’t know what ‘cadence’ is, or who can’t accelerate to 20 mph onto a roundabout from a standing start).

But that isn’t the impression one gets at all from Cyclecraft. While Franklin is willing to admit that

There was a time when the ordinary right turn was considered to be the most complicated manoeuvre that a cyclist had to make. Since then, the preoccupation of traffic planners with accommodating growth in motor traffic has led to a host of new problems for cyclists as they strive to share roads which were never well designed for them. Add to this an increase in faster and more aggressive driving, and it is scarcely surprising that many people are deterred from cycling by today’s road conditions.

it is clear that his governing principle is that cyclists should always be on the road, mixing it with traffic. If that means telling pensioners and young children to try and cycle at 20 mph, then so be it – common sense is apparently going to be sacrificed on the altar of defending cyclists’ right to use the road network (aka Cycling’s Bogeyman). Here is this logic in action, from Franklin’s own mouth (my emphasis) –

I think we all need to recognise that cycle ‘facilities’ may sometimes be a useful way of adding to the places where you can cycle, but they must never be a substitute for cycling on the ordinary roads. Maintaining our right to cycle on any road (other than motorways) must always be a top priority, for if we lose that right we can have no expectation of being treated any better elsewhere.

I’m pleased that most of the cycling community is united on this, but there have been exceptions and I think that this has fuelled the ‘cycling is dangerous’ myth that invariably leads to calls for cycling to be restricted. I also think that in the UK there remains a general recognition by the public at large that cyclists ought to be on the roads and we need to reinforce that perception and not weaken it.

The problem is that Franklin doesn’t appear to have thought through the implications of adopting ‘the right to use the road’ as a governing principle; or, if he has, is apparently unconcerned by those implications.

One of those implications is – as I have already established – giving people entirely unrealistic advice in order for them to cycle safely.

Here’s another. I have not cycled on a dual carriageway or rural A-road for a distance of more than a mile or so for about a decade, except when it has been too onerous to find an alternative route. I just don’t fancy it any more. It’s not pleasant. Now to my mind, a reasonable campaigning strategy for cycling would be to argue for separated provision alongside these kinds roads. But Franklin – defending the right to use the road – is compelled to oppose these kinds of measures, because by his logic they weaken the perception that cyclists ought to be on the roads. Unfortunately he is so fixated here he fails to appreciate that there aren’t even going to be any cyclists on these roads that need their rights to use them defended. They will have stopped using them, like I did.

Another implication. This time from Cyclecraft, on negotiating gyratories

There may be occasions when it would simply be too hazardous to follow the path taken by other traffic. This applies especially to slower riders, but even the fittest can be in difficulty if the gradient is against them or the road very wide. Under these circumstances, you may have little option but to follow a route nearer the outside, but to do so needs the greatest care… To cross intermediate exits, it may be best to pull in for a while to await more favourable traffic conditions, or simply to be sure what following vehicles are doing.

That is, on some gyratories, ‘even the fittest’ will sometimes have to stop and wait for traffic to quieten down (good luck with that) before proceeding. Again, a reasonable strategy here would be to put aside an attachment to the ‘right to use the road’ as an overriding principle, and accept that good quality separated provision for cyclists is the obvious solution.

But no.

Large roundabouts are one of the few places where speed and strength can be needed as well a vehicular technique. Centre islands and other pinch points on busy roads are causing real increases in risk that vehicular cycling cannot always counteract… None of these problems, however, has a segregated solution, but needs redress in the context of a genuine mixed traffic environment.

Franklin hates the idea of separated provision so much (again, because it will conflict with his priority of maintaining our right to cycle on roads) that he won’t even consider it as a solution where the lack of that separated provision means that cycling is inconvenient and dangerous, by his own admission, for even for the fittest and fastest cyclists.

I think that speaks volumes.

This entry was posted in Cyclecraft, Cycling policy, Cycling renaissance, Infrastructure, John Franklin, Road safety. Bookmark the permalink.

42 Responses to John Franklin and Cyclecraft – Cycle safely by turning yourself into Mark Cavendish

  1. Pingback: Anatomy of the death of a cyclist – William Honour | As Easy As Riding A Bike

  2. OldGreyBeard says:

    I just want my daughter to be able to cycle to school, Brownies etc, rather than being taken by car . The whole vehicluar cycling approach is irrelevent to achieving this.

    In Leighton Buzzard, all children who want it have had Bikeability training as part of the Cycle Town project, however, parents will not let them cycle on the roads, which are very quiet by comparison with London, so they cycle on the pavement. These pavements are often quite narrow leading to inevitable conflicts with pedestrians. What is needed is a segregated network of cyclepaths. We do have quite a few quite good shared use paths but there are gaps in the network

    • stabiliser says:

      Indeed. On most journeys to school, children will undoubtedly encounter a dangerous junction or roundabout that will be difficult to negotiate. Taking to the pavement is usually inconvenient, and will additionally result in conflict with pedestrians, as you point out.

      What is John Franklin’s solution to this kind of difficulty? Well, it’s just to encourage children to attempt cycling in these intimidating road conditions; and, if they kind it too difficult, dismount and walk.

      This is no way to start a cycling revolution.

  3. Alex Taylor says:

    ^^ WHS.

    Has Mr Franklin ever given any thought towards children? What does he suggest that people who want to cycle with small children should do?

    I took my 6-year-old daughter on an 11-mile round trip to a car boot sale on Monday, with no problems at all. Part of this trip was up the A1 – there’s a separate path. There are separate or shared-use paths for much of the rest of the route, and on the bits that there aren’t, the road’s wide enough to safely use, or we’ll use the pavement as a last resort. The paths are a bit rubbish (she complained bitterly to me about how bumpy some of them were), but infinitely preferable riding on the road at a cruising speed of about 7mph, with the occasional wobble. At traffic lights and at a couple of other junctions, we dismounted and crossed as pedestrians.

    However I won’t take her into town, which is only a mile away, because that’s headed in the other direction, taking us down a narrow-ish road with parked cars both sides, frequently used by speeding parcel and skip lorries. We always walk into town because of this. These arguments for the “right to ride” sound like an attempt to undermine the idea of segregated infrastructure, which makes me want to scream, as I’d dearly love to be able to ride into town with all my kids, rather than having to walk or use the car (the latter only when really necessary, of course).

    • stabiliser says:

      “These arguments for the “right to ride” sound like an attempt to undermine the idea of segregated infrastructure, which makes me want to scream, as I’d dearly love to be able to ride into town with all my kids, rather than having to walk or use the car”

      I can’t really sum it up better than that.

      • Fred says:

        Yes! You are the first person who I have ever heard who realizes that “right to the road” is a toxic phrase that should NEVER be used. It sounds like it’s obviously a good thing, but it’s a front for an anti-cycling infrastructure agenda. Also, please don’t use the word “segregated”. In the US is conjures up subconscious notions of civil rights which probably didn’t happen in the UK. This, too, is a manipulative verbal trick. I prefer “cycling safety improvements” or “cycling facilities” instead.

  4. Amoeba says:

    ‘Large roundabouts .… None of these problems, however, has a segregated solution, but needs redress in the context of a genuine mixed traffic environment.’ – Franklin is dead wrong, or out of date.
    For example, in the Netherlands and Belgium, there are Turbo-roundabouts.

    But of course, this is easily combined with dedicated safe cycling infrastructure, which is presumably why Franklin wouldn’t like it.

    Click to access Ontwerp%20Turborotonde%20Roosendaal%20met%20bebording.pdf

    There are many possible solutions to junction design that are safe for cyclists and pedestrians, we just need the political will and the intelligence to implement them.

    • stabiliser says:

      Unfortunately people like Franklin are figures of authority in the UK cycling scene. That is a major hurdle that needs to be overcome in pushing for segregated infrastructure where it is needed.

      • OldGreyBeard says:

        “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it” Max Planck

        For scientific read cycling or anything else for that matter

  5. Pingback: John Franklin in action | As Easy As Riding A Bike

  6. christhebull says:

    Let’s use this calculator to see how easily cyclists can do a keirin sprint!

    1) Downhill, 5%, roadster – 95 watts [this seems easy enough]
    2) Uphill, 3%, additional 20 lb luggage, 3 mph headwind, MTB with slick handlebars – 570 watts. [remember that 3% is nothing exceptional upon our A roads, and yet one would need to be very fit to maintain this speed. But then, sport, fitness, risk – that’s what this is about as far as local authorities are concerned]
    3) [For jokes] Uphill, 22%, additional 30 lb luggage, MTB with knobbly tyres – 2050 watts. For comparison, this is over twice the peak horsepower of a Raleigh RM1 moped, and more than 10 times the legal power limit for an electrically assisted bicycle (which itself is legally restricted to 15 mph, which presumably means that according to Cyclecraft they are unroadworthy or something).

    To be told that it is necessary to cycle faster unassisted than some e-bikes and mopeds are capable of for one’s safety is just absurd, but then vehicular cycling means “driving” ones bicycle around the gyratory racetracks that are problematic for even the most confident cyclists. But then, they don’t want anyone cycling.

    BTW – the best way to test a cycle track would be to ride a moped on it to see if it is suitable, even if they are not an intended user. Roads on residential estates are mainly used by cars, but you wouldn’t put up chicanes that bin lorries get stuck at, would you? If you wanted that you could just park awkwardly.

  7. Londonneur says:

    The 20 mph thing seems to confuse many people. The idea is that you can produce a burst of speed lasting about 5-10 seconds NOT that you should maintain that speed. Holding 20mph is for racers. Learning to do that does improve your riding experience/safety and is not hard for almost anyone to do. I know because I regularly train people to do it. All sorts of people… They always turn to me afterwards and say something like, “I had no idea how easy it is to use speed once you know how to use the gears correctly”. If you find it hard to produce a 20 mph burst and you are not disabled in some way then you probably would benefit from training. It’s not hard and you don’t need to be fit. Just always be in a gear in which you can accelerate. Simples.

    I would love to see some decent infrastructure in my town but untill then I am going to go on helping others to ride the existing roads, in the best way I know how…. and that is Cyclecraft.

    Dissing Franklin is just a bit lazy. He is not the “problem”.


    • OldGreyBeard says:

      Neither is he (Franklin) the solution. To most people who would like to cycle he is irrelevant. What is relevant is the way the philosophy he promotes works against creating the infrastructure the majority need

      20mph on a Brompton? 20mph for a 9 year old? 20mph for a 65 year old?

      Are we really saying that cycling is only for those who can reach speeds of 20mph?

      • Londonneur says:

        “Are we really saying that cycling is only for those who can reach speeds of 20mph?”

        Of course not…. Not me anyway 😉

        You can get on perfectly well in (in London at least) at much lower speeds but it helps if you can go a bit sometimes. I see a lot of posts here and there refering to the 20mph thing as if it is some sort of requirement. It’s just good advice. That’s all.

        Unfortunately, riding London’s roads may not be for everyone and it is deffo the case that some good infrastructure would help more people take the leap. What we (cycle trainers) do is help people who want it, to ride now. It’s a personal 1-2-1 thing baby! Not a mass transport plan. The 200 or so adults I have trained (and well over 1000 year 6 children) do form part of the cycling upsurge in London though. They tell me that what I give them is good… and that’s enough for me.

        Not a solution but positive none the less. We are not the “problem”.

        Does cycle training “promote” a philosophy that blocks reallocation of space?

        I dunno…. I do know that after many years of banging my head against idiotic/corrupt/ignorant/etc council officialdom, I have now decided to just quietly put more people onto bikes, one at a time. I have made more new cyclists in the last 2 years then in all the previous. Small stuff but positive.

        To achieve the kind of change I would like to see will require a major shift in public perceptions. I’m watching the oil price…


    • fIEtser says:

      Forgive the late arrival to the party, but a comment was in order. Franklin’s positions sound to be substantially similar to those made by John Forester, John Allen, Dan Gutierrez, and several other (formerly) prominent figures in the cycling movement here in America. Forester is the author of Effective Cycling and started the whole cycling education campaign at the League of American Bicyclists (formerly Wheelmen). No one is arguing that “bicycle driving” as taught is inherently bad. However, Forester et al. continue to argue to this day that it is the ideal form of cycling and that anyone unable or unwilling to ride under the tenets of VC is incompetent and does not deserve to be riding a bicycle at all. They’re vehemently opposed to “sidepaths”, with Forester lending his extensive experience with them (aka a single morning ride in the 70s in Palo Alto) to a couple studies showing some increases in intersection conflicts. Mention the success of the Danes/Dutch/???? in substantially increasing mode share while achieving some of the best safety records via bike-specific infrastructure and they go into the belittling mode again along with assertions that those populations “suffer” from being forced to ride slow because they’re stuck behind grannies and school girls and are incompetent fools being used as pawns to get bikes out of the way of cars. Of course, their whole goal has never been to increase mode share anyway, so saying things like that doesn’t phase them. Their only been concern is with maintaining the right to use any road at any time in any place and are afraid that substantial spreading of cycletracks will lead to bikes being required to use them when present, “restricting their freedom”. The most vexing part of the whole ordeal is that people continue to routinely get KSI in crashes that better infrastructure would greatly reduce. Yet instead of acknowledging those opportunities when something like that happens, the VC crowd comes up with all sorts of excuses as to what the rider must’ve been doing “wrong” to get KSI because proper “bicycle driving” is infallible. Equally as frustrating is the amount of people in the camp who are engineers, especially civil/traffic. They claim that there are serious problems with sidepaths not being safer than riding the middle of the street, but none of them has yet offered a solution to any of these purported problems. Furthermore and in a convenient twist, the solutions that do exist (i.e. bicycle signals, grade separation) are roundly denounced as being impractical due to increasing delay to motorists, too expensive, etc. So in light of all that, if Franklin is in that camp, he is part of the problem. They don’t just teach the safety aspects of vehicular cycling as a stopgap measure until better stuff appears, they actively oppose any bike-specific infrastructure of all kinds. That is a problem and people are dying because of it.

  8. OldGreyBeard says:

    A large number if not all children in Leighton Buzzard have been trained over the last three years. The effect? Well they do cycle but usually on the pavement as their parents won’t let them cycle on the road.

    In a way the children are creating a cyclepath network by defualt but it would be much better to build it properly.

    Survey after survey says that people would like to cycle but regard the roads as too dangerous. As said previouslt in this blog there are enough red mist drivers who will barge their way thorugh to make cycling on the roads an unpleasant expereince.

    As has been said elsewhere, “I’m sick of this crap, I want what they’ve (the Dutch) got”.

    • Londonneur says:

      “As has been said elsewhere, “I’m sick of this crap, I want what they’ve (the Dutch) got”.”

      “I want” doesn’t get. You need popular support otherwise you become just another fringe group who think they know what is best for everyone else. The only way forward is to encourage as much riding as possible now, in as many ways as we can.

      Bikeability is not only concerned with the present. The children I train go on to be better road users in a wider sense and will make better drivers. Don’t write it off. It is tiny money well spent for the future.

      It took a long while to sink this low with respect cycling and it’s a long climb back.


      • OldGreyBeard says:

        “I want” doesn’t get – Who are you, my Mother!

        The same people who say the roads are too dangerous say they want cyclepaths. Sustrans has shown how popular these are.

        In Leighton Buzzard it was the surfacing of the towpath that started our cycling renaissance.

        I’m not arguing against Bikeability, but I do agree with the original Blog that as a solution for the majority the whole vehicular cycling approach has had 30+ years and has not built a large mass of cyclists. Expecting people to be able to speed up to 20mph is just an example of how unrealistic it is. Add to that the assumption that all motorists are reasonable and paying attention.

        I remember when the whole vehicular cycling thing started off in the 1970s and given the dreadful state of things on the roads then it was a liberation, but in the end it can’t grow cyclng beyond a a small core. So we end up with bikes on the backs of cars driving to the safe place to cycle.

        If you don’t ask you don’t get and if you aim low then you will never hit high. Look what Sustrans has achieved.

        Lots of people want to cycle, lots of parents want their children to cycle but the behaviour of motorists is a deterrent and has got worse & worse, road designs have not taken cyclists into account and traffic volumes are much higher now that the 1970s.

  9. Londonneur says:

    I agree with pretty much all of that. Except to say again that the 20mph thing is just advice not a requirement.


    When you say:

    “The same people who say the roads are too dangerous say they want cyclepaths. Sustrans has shown how popular these are.”

    I would say that those same people would resist fully segregated lanes in their town center and that is where they are most needed. It’s a shame. I am very much in favour of some “hard measures” where they work btw. Lots of people say they want to ride but when it comes to grubbing up parking spaces or removing car lanes, they soon change their tune. We have got plenty of space but it does mean taking away some of the space allocated to other modes.

    I’m not your mum… no offence meant 😉

    The thing is, the cycling world has been a talking shop around all this stuff for decades. I got sick of it and so I just train people who want to ride now…. that’s it. It’s not a policy for massed cycling. There is no such policy. The UK has no coherent policy. Most local govt just wish cyclists would go away. There is a way to go before there will be any real support for reallocation of road space. We may “want” it but….

    Until then just keep riding!

    • OldGreyBeard says:

      I suspect that in many town centres, at least of old towns such as LB, the roads are too narrow for segregation which is where 20mph zones etc come in or just banning cars. However, there is lots of room elsewhere on other roads in LB which wouldn’t involve taking space from cars.

      The core issue is one of entitlement in that motorists feel entitled to free on street parking, unobstructed forward motion, priority and so on. This can and will change over time. At one time motorists felt entitled to drink & drive, not wear seatbelts, speed etc.

      My contribution is to campaign for improved facilities, 20mph zones, Bikeability training in schools etc. The 20s Plenty camapign has no trouble attracting support so to assume that motorists are a homegenous group cloned from Jeremy Clarkson would be a mistake.

      Most of my recent cycling & campaigning experience is in and around Leighton Buzzard, which is a typical Middle England market town, its hinterland of villages and the links between them. It is quite clear to me that solutions are not always scalable from one size of community to another.

      Finally I say keep cycling AND campaigning otherwise nothing will change

  10. I think I understand what he is saying: cycle at the speed of traffic and you will be safer. I can just about get his argument, if you are at the speed of in-town traffic there will less need for some idiot to do some stupid passing manoeuvre. I have some problems with his arguments.

    1) Most of the roads are crap and the bits that cycles are forced onto are the worst of all. It’s often very hard to maintain any speed on a road bike because of the pot-holes and though a mountain bike can cope better it’s harder to go as fast on them.

    2) Even if you could maintain 32 km/h, that’s still way slower than town traffic, so you are still going to get over taken at speed by people unwilling to give you the correct space.

    3) Even if you are a traffic speeds cars will not give you the space and try and force themselves past.

    4) As everyone else has said, children, old people, and slow people won’t ever make these speeds.

    While I accept the premise that cars and horses have as much right to use the road as cars, I also accept that it’s more practical in many places if they are divided. I would never in a month of Sundays tackle Basingstoke’s notorious “Brighton Hill” roundabout – it’s insane enough in a car, but the bike/pedestrian underpass isn’t too bad (thought it needs improving) and that’s the route I take every time.

  11. Pingback: West Sussex County Council member for Highways and Transport, Lionel Barnard, admits that Sussex roads are lethal for children attempting to cycle to school | As Easy As Riding A Bike

  12. It’s been a while since I read/skimmed over Cyclecraft and it’s amazing some of the bits it contains! That cadence/speed section is certainly not something that comes under the basic section 🙂
    As others with children have said the whole problem is that you shouldn’t NEED to be a fairly competent cyclist or “able to sprint to 20mph” (fwiw that is about my “normal” speed, with sprints approaching 30 – still a long way off Cav’s 45mph mind you…..:-)). Having said that there are still some roads that even I wouldn’t consider riding on due to the lack of provisions for cyclist – the A3 being the first that springs to mind from Malden heading south. I have used it (by accident!) heading north towards Richmond Park once, before I found the segregated (read shared use) path that runs alongside the dual carriageway – which is rather overgrown and in a poor condition.

    The problem with cycling infrastructure here is that invariably it’s a “bolt on” where town planners try and adapt the original car-centric design to incorporate cycle lanes and it just doesn’t work. Cyclists end up with sub-standard facilities and car drivers just get annoyed as we seen to be taking away “their” road space. Having seen footage of what can be done in a similar amount of space for both roads and junctions on the continent it is about time the government here woke up and gave cyclists some proper consideration! After all if they can blow £692m on a 5 mile stretch of the M74 in Glasgow I’m sure there is some money somewhere for some road design to encourage people to use their bikes!

    • Fred says:

      “Bolt on” infrastructure is good!

      It can be made safer than riding in the road.

      It can be made better (which is where you come in). All motoring roads were originally sucky and dangerous and only got better by evolution. Before we evolve it, we need cycling infrastructure.

      You can campaign for non-bolt on infrastructure. Having some starting point is a big step forward.

      Perfect is the enemy of the good.

  13. 20mph is hardly a competitive cycling speed. 80rpm can be achieved quite easily at any speed by switching to a lower gear. I routinely cycle at a steady and relatively slow 10mph and rarely reach 20mph, yet I’ve been cycling in a vehicular manner for decades.

    Any road that is legal to ride on can be used safely by cyclists: cars have brakes and steering wheels and I’m told they are operated by mammals that have a reasonable level of intelligence and a desire not to kill the occupants of slower moving vehicles. This is borne out by my experience: I have cycled on the road with traffic for 40 years and in 15 different countries, including the UK and the USA and I have never once been knocked off my bike in a collision with a motor vehicle.

    All you have to do to control the cars behind you is to take what Franklin calls ‘primary position’ in the traffic lane. Do this and cars will not try to force their way by you. Ride in the gutter and they will. Controlling the lane is very simple and it works just as well at 8mph as it does at the speed limit.

    The modern culture of fear of traffic is not healthy for cycling. We don’t need, nor will we ever get, a network of bicycle infrastructure that will allow us to avoid cycling on the road. What we need is to recognize that our fears of the road are irrational, and to move beyond them so that we can use the infrastructure that’s already there: it’s called ‘the road’ and it’s perfectly safe if we just use a few very basic guidelines that anyone can follow.

    • Amoeba says:

      ‘Any road that is legal to ride on can be used safely by cyclists: cars have brakes and steering wheels and I’m told they are operated by mammals that have a reasonable level of intelligence and a desire not to kill the occupants of slower moving vehicles. This is borne out by my experience: I have cycled on the road with traffic for 40 years and in 15 different countries, including the UK and the USA and I have never once been knocked off my bike in a collision with a motor vehicle.’

      In a perfect world, this would be always be true. This was probably true, once. This should still be true, but it isn’t true any more. Survival on the road is increasingly down to the balance of probabilities. The longer a vulnerable road user spends on the road, sooner or later they will probably encounter an idiot driver so engrossed in NOT driving that they will NOT be looking where they are going.

      Why? – Distracted driving – especially involving mobile & smartphone use. Drivers increasingly talk on the phone, surf the internet, check and send emails, texts etc. Evidence shows that drivers become so engrossed in non-driving activities that they fail to process what they see.
      Mobile / cell phone use has been shown to degrade driving performance comparably to being drunk, so hands-free methods do not address the driving impairment problem.

      In the US, their NTSB has issued this recommendation to ban use of portable electronic devices while driving. –

      ‘Put the Brakes on Distracted Driving
      After completing an investigation of an August 5, 2010 highway crash in Gray Summit, Missouri, where a pickup driver, who had been texting, plowed into an unsuspecting tractor trailer and set off a series of collisions that killed two people, the NTSB issued its strongest recommendation yet to end driver distractions from portable electronic devises (PEDs). The NTSB has called on the 50 states and the District of Columbia to ban the nonemergency use of PEDs (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers.
      While the Missouri accident is the most recent PED distraction crash the NTSB has investigated, it is by no means the first. The first was nearly ten years ago, when a young driver, distracted by her cell phone, veered off the roadway in Largo, Maryland, crossed the median, flipped over, and killed five people…..’

      Click to access PED_Ban_Fact_Sheet.pdf

      Young, K. & Regan, M. (2007). Driver distraction: A review of the literature. In: I.J. Faulks,
      M. Regan, M. Stevenson, J. Brown, A. Porter & J.D. Irwin (Eds.). Distracted driving.
      Sydney, NSW: Australasian College of Road Safety. Pages 379-405.

      Click to access 15Young–Regan.pdf

      Click to access 15Young–Regan.pdf

      • Studies still show that cycling is still very safe. Over short commutes, cycling is the safest mode of personal transportation. The problem is, everyone thinks it’s dangerous and every crash they hear of supports this myth. People tend to give far more credence to anecdotal evidence than they should.

        Collisions of the type caused by cellphone use or distracted driving make up less than 8% of all bicycle collisions.

        The majority of reported bicycle-related injuries are the result of collisions with fixed objects, other bicycles, pedestrians or falls due to loss of control. The majority of bike vs motor vehicle crashes are a result of bad choices by cyclists (running stop signs/lights, riding against traffic, on sidewalk, in the dark without lights, hugging the edge of the road, etc.). Cut out these issues and cycling becomes very safe.

        When cyclists follow the law and ride confidently in the road, accidents are very rare indeed.

        • Amoeba says:

          What about SMIDSY?

          • SMIDSY does, of course, play a role in accidents. It plays a role in near misses and it plays a role in all types of collisions. But I fear we’re getting mired in a fear of accidents that is out of all proportion to the actual risk. Accidents are an extremely rare part of cycling. Yes, accidents occasionally happen and there are too many bad drivers on the road. There are also bad cyclists. But even so, serious accidents are incredibly rare.

            We can talk about anecdotes, specific deadly incidents and particular types of collisions and near misses all we want, and we should try to ensure such accidents are even rarer. But the problem is, if we fixate on the rare dangers, we fall victim to our fears and fear is distracting. The fact that accidents do happen doesn’t alter the fact that cycling is a very safe activity – and that’s even when we consider all cyclists, even the idiots who ride on the sidewalk, on the road against traffic, who blow through stop signs and red lights, who enter the roadway without looking, etc. That’s even when we consider speeding drivers, drunk drivers, enraged drivers, etc.

            Fear plays a HUGE role in cycling accidents. As Ken Kifer ( ) wrote:

            “To some extent, this fear of cycling actually leads to additional deaths. For instance, parents do not instruct their children how to ride in the street, but instead they just tell them to “watch for cars” and “to get off the road.” However, the day comes when these primitive rules aren’t good enough, and the traffic report reads something like this: “The child was riding after dark without a light, on the wrong side of the road, and failed to stop for a stop sign. The motorist couldn’t stop quickly enough.” In fact, the majority of cycling deaths are accidents like this one; that is, the behavior of the bike rider made no sense at all.”

            Cycling is the safest form of personal transportation over short distances. It’s only not as safe as driving over long distances because over long distances, motorists get to use motorways, which are designed to reduce speed differentials and make intersection conflicts virtually impossible.

            When cyclists obey the traffic code, when they are aware of potential conflicts, when they cycle in a visible and predictable manner, cycling becomes even safer. Even so, experienced cyclists occasionally get killed (Ken Kifer himself was killed by a drunk driver), but people get killed in airliners too, and air travel is the safest form of travel in existence.

            The thing is, travel always contains an element of risk. But are we going to stay home all day every day simply because there’s a 0.0001% chance we’ll get killed on the road? I’m certainly not going to do that.

      • Fred says:

        In the US there are over 5 million collisions a year b/w motorists. 2 million of them are rear endings. Thus, the main factor making motoring safe is: 1. better medical care 2. safer cars (crumple zones), etc.

        In the US, only the BEST cyclists ride. They still have DOUBLE the rate of deaths as motorists. Why? Because they have no protection from collisions which are common.

        Cycling SEEMS safe because virtually nobody does it so less people get hurt. It’s like saving people from cutting accidents by banning word working. It would make people “safer”, but it’s not wood working advocacy. Same applies to cycling.

        Riding on the road is dangerous and should NEVER be done. Ride in bike lane or side walk until the govt begins to mitigate the problems it has created by deadly road design.

        • jakeonhisplanet says:

          I’d be interested to see what effect the tighter licensing of drivers has on accident rates.
          With theory, hazard perception and practical tests, the UK has made driving a little harder to get into, but has it made for safer drivers? Are we better drivers than our parents?

          I bring this up to counterpoint the Vehicular Cycling issue, as Ian Brett Cooper seems to blame riders for the majority of KSI, in spite of statistical evidence from the UK pointing to the driver as the usual culprit.

          Here in New Zealand, driver licensing is closer to the US model (really slack!).
          People often drive around for decades on their equivalent of a provisional license, if they even have that. Nonetheless, I feel safer riding in Auckland CBD than in Brighton or London. Perhaps people who aren’t trained to be quite so certain of their ‘entitlements’ are more tolerant.

          • Fred says:

            But people drive without licenses all the time so the licenses will not make you safer until they actually enforce this law. Any ideas on how to do this outside of random stops and license checks?

  14. Here’s an easy way to see the real risk of dying in a bicycle accident. A regular cyclist who cycles 5 miles to work each day for 60 years has about a 1 in 133 chance of being killed on the bike in his lifetime. That’s about a one in two million chance of getting killed on a bicycle each day – that’s about as likely taking a six-sided die and rolling eight sixes in a row.

    • Cycling is objectively safe, but of course these statistical presentations fail to account for subjective safety and how big an influence it can have on whether people decide to use a bicycle as a mode of transport.

      • Yes, but ‘subjective safety’ is not really about safety – it’s about fear. Fear has a great influence on cyclist behaviour, but it actually tends to make cyclists less safe. One way it does this is by convincing people to stay in cars, which are less safe than bicycles.

        • jakeonhisplanet says:


          If I’m subjectively safe, I can get the experience that helps me to be objectively safe.
          I still think we’re a bit focused the negative, here.

          Lets not forget pleasure as a motivator, pull rather than push.
          I can cope with as many lanes of traffic as you can squeeze into the route, but it doesn’t draw me in like a track through a reserve, park, attractive high street or seafront promenade.

          Most facilities are going to be rather more bland, but for the purpose of expanding modal share, that’s got to be better than highway neo-brutalism.

    • Yes, but those cyclists are a self selecting population, they select their routes carefully, and so on and so forth. The casualty rate for cyclists relative to the casualty rate for drivers has actually got worse, because cars have got better safety features and cyclists the same crap roads with bits of paint on the pavement. I know lots of well educated people at a *far* greater risk then 1 in 133 of dying of a smoking or drinking related illness, but they still don’t cycle. Maybe it’s because good cider / wine / rum tastes nice whereas crappy dual carriageways are deeply unpleasant to ride on? Maybe it’s because you don’t seem to have realised that statistical appeal hasn’t really caught on with advertisers for mundane consumer items like vodka or garden sheds. I don’t see adverts for theme parks boasting about their safety records, or adverts for airlines saying how there is a 17 in 69 billion chance you will be decapitated in a botched hijacking.

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  18. Andy Dayton says:

    Well, segregated cycle routes do seem to be appearing now, so maybe people read this and listened

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