Category Archives: Cycling

California Dreamin’ – Cycling the Golden Gate Bridge

California Dreamin’

When The Flowerpot Men were urging us to go to San Francisco back in 1967, I very much doubt that cycling was uppermost in their thoughts.

I expect that the only peddler that many of the Hippie generation were interested in was the one who dropped them their daily fix of psychedelic drugs.

Flower Power and the Hippie dream was all 50 years ago, and a lot can happen in half a century.

Having said that – the 60s ethos appears to be alive and well (if in a slightly diluted form) and living happily in California.

As crew for a major UK airline, I frequently fly to the USA, and decided some time back, that when I was next on a San Francisco layover, I would rent a bicycle, and enjoy some California Dreamin’

I had done a little research into bike rentals before my trip, and had decided that a company called Blazing Saddles (www.blazingsaddles.com) offered a good range of bicycles at a very reasonable rates, with a well appointed Mountain bike starting at just $9.00 per hour ($36.00 per 24 hours), and a range that includes Hardtail MTBs, Full Suspension MTBs, Comfort Tandems, High Performance Tandems, and High Performance Carbon/Alloy Roadies.

An Electrically assisted Bike is also available at $69.00 per day. Trailers and Tag-alongs are also an option if required.

In the highly unlikely event that they can’t help, then Bay City Bikes also offer a good range of cycles for similar prices. They are also located on Fishermans Wharf and may be contacted at http://www.baycitybike.com

Included within the rental package are a Helmet, a Handlebar Bag, and a lock. Cycles are all fitted with sturdy rear racks, bells, and bungee cords.

So it was, that on a pleasant June Sunday morning, four of us decided that we would cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge, and then ride into the little town of Sausalito.

The plan was to enjoy a relaxed lunch at a waterfront restaurant, and then ride back on the ferry to Fisherman’s Wharf. All in all a total mileage of about 9 miles.

This would ideally suit our party, as some of the riders were quite inexperienced, and there were some quite steep hills to negotiate on the way to the bridge.

We decided that as we were in no hurry, we would catch a cable car from Market Street at 1000, and enjoy a scenic trip through the City on the way to Fisherman’s Wharf, where Blazing Saddles are located.

Riding the Cable Cars is a highly recommended part of the trip, especially for movie buffs, as the route crosses California Street made famous by Steve McQueen in the film Bullit . Other films made around the City include Mrs Doubtfire, and of course, the hit 1970s cop drama The Streets of San Francisco.

The Cable Car also passes Crookedest Street. This little street gets its name because the road is a series of very tight hairpin bends compressed into about half a city block, all of which clings precariously to a very steep hill. Walking down it is “interesting”, but I imagine the bin men, and emergency services have a nightmare accessing any of the houses there!

Blazing Saddles have a number of locations spread throughout San Francisco, but we would be renting from their Hyde Street branch, which is located about two blocks from the beginning of the cycle path leading to the Bridge.

The cable car route terminates about 100 yards from the shop, which is immediately identifiable by the selection of cycles outside.

Blazing Saddles is a very efficient operation. We were greeted at the reception desk by a team of friendly and knowledgeable staff, and we were rapidly talked through the options, and the required paperwork.

We opted to take the additional insurance that covered the bikes against all damage, and all decided on “Comfort” Mountain Bikes. These differ from the standard models in that they are fitted with a gel saddle disc brakes and front suspension. A good decision, as the difference in price is only a dollar an hour!

We also decided to take advantage of Blazing Saddle’s offer of ferry tickets, which meant no queuing up to buy them at Sausalito. These tickets are offered on a sale or return basis, so it would have been foolish not to have taken advantage of the offer.

We were also given a voucher for a free appetiser at the Paradise Bay Restaurant in Sausalito, and reduced rate secure bike parking adjacent to the restaurant.

We had to leave a credit card number as a security deposit, and we where then whisked to the cavernous area behind reception where we were swiftly fitted up with bicycles.

The staff in bike despatch give a rapid fire briefing on the cycle controls; it is important to listen to this, as the brakes are set up in a different way from in the United Kingdom. In Britain, the right hand brake lever operates the front brake, and the rear brake is activated by the left brake lever. In the USA that convention is reversed.

Missing this piece of vital information could mean an interesting emergency stop scenario, and a subsequent in depth look at the inside of an American Emergency Room.

Having been given our bikes, and had saddles adjusted, we were instructed to ride towards the exit, and come to a complete stop so as to ensure the brakes were working satisfactorily.

We were then free to depart for the Bridge.
The route heads west past aquatic park on a dedicated cycle path, running adjacent to the waterfront, and is well maintained and free from potholes, and is mainly of tarmac or concrete surface. Within half a mile or so, there is a fairly steep (but luckily short) hill leading into Fort Mason Park. At the top of the hill is a vista point, giving a view over the bay.

Disappointingly, the weather in June is characteristically foggy in the morning, and only the first tower of the bridge could be seen, and the fog horn sounded moodily melancholy.

We decided not to let this dampen our spirits, so we continued on, with a gentle descent through the pleasant grounds of the park, at the bottom of which our sign-posted route took us through a car park, and out again onto a wide, well maintained path. This is shared space, with a pedestrian footpath of about ten feet in width, and two cycle lanes clearly marked for two way bike traffic.

As this was a Sunday morning, every cyclist in the San Francisco area had decided to get their bikes out, and the air was filled with shouts of “On ya left dude” and “Comin’ though” On the whole, other riders were courteous, and polite.

The route remains fairly flat in the main, and passes a tidal marshland nature reserve, and a variety of birds and fowl may be seen here if you bother to stop and look. The route then passes Crissy Field, an old army airfield, but which is now a part of the Golden Gate Nature Reserve Area.

Eventually, the path sweeps left, culminating in a short, steep uphill climb on Long Avenue.
This intersects with Lincoln Boulevard, but this is probably the only stretch of the route which uses roads. Within a hundred yards or so, the route forks right and heads to the base of the bridge.

As the vehicular traffic across the bridge is very busy, there are segregated paths for pedestrians and cyclists, but quite sensibly, the Bridge authority has ensured that cyclists and pedestrians do not conflict with each other. This is done by the simple expedient of splitting the walkers and bikers onto either the east or west side of the bridge.

So, as it was a weekend day, cyclists were obliged to use the West path and walkers the East. This system is excellent, and makes for a good flow in both directions.

So with the last climb of the ride, we wound our way under the bridge, and up onto the bridge itself, where we stopped for the obligatory photo by the Golden Gate Bridge sign.

The ride across the bridge is a little chilly, mainly due to the coastal breeze, and in our case, the mist. However, the road surface is well maintained, and clearly signed.

Once over the bridge, a steeply descending curving path leads down into the town of Sausalito.

The town is obviously a prosperous area, and the houses and streets are beautifully maintained, and spotlessly clean.
The cycle path disappears here, and the ride into town is conducted on public roads, but the car drivers in this idyllic spot are courteous, and generous in their encounters with bicycles – of which there are literally thousands!

We cycled to the western edge of the town, where we found our restaurant, and duly handed our cycles to the valet, who ensured that they were parked and locked in a secure area – and all this for just one dollar per bike.

The restaurant, The Paradise Bay, is in a nice location overlooking the waterfront, and we chose to sit outside to enjoy some top quality fish, and sample some of the local ales – in my case Steam Bitter, which is a refreshing way to end a fabulous ride.

Having eaten and drunk to our capacity, we cycled the half mile to the ferry terminal, and were soon boarded, along with about a hundred and fifty other cycles for our half hour crossing of the bay, back to Fishermans Wharf.

A short ride along the sea front took us back to Blazing saddles, where we returned the bicycles, and settled our bill – which came to just $40.00 each for a whole days use of the bikes, and the ferry tickets which normally retailed at $10.00 each one way.

Lastly, We all purchased a tee shirt proclaiming the we had “Biked the Bridge”

So – if you are looking for a fun day of leisure riding then I would thoroughly recommend Biking the Bridge, and Blazing Saddles are there to help you do it.

Mark Charlwood©
17/06/2014

Forced to Wear a Cycle Helmet? I Don’t Think So!

I was sitting in the office the other day, when I overheard a conversation between two of my colleagues.  Now, I should probably explain here, that one of the protagonists is a keen cyclist, and commutes to work by bicycle every day, regardless of weather  – a distance of some thirteen miles.

The other party to the discussion was a self-confessed petrol head, and drives a very powerful, sporty muscle car.

He was remonstrating with my biking colleague, criticising him for not wearing a cycle helmet.  Quite rightly, in my opinion, the cyclist was defending his position by saying that there was no legal requirement for him to wear a crash helmet, and as such he wouldn’t.

This got me thinking.  Over the past three or four years, there has been some serious lobbying by some safety motivated pressure groups[1] to make it a legal requirement for cyclists to wear crash helmets whilst riding their bicycles.

As a free thinking adult, and a free spirit, I normally baulk at any sort of legislation that attempts to regulate aspects of my private life, and this includes the “Nanny State” mentality of coercing me to stop engaging in activities that are perceived by others (in all possibility non-participants in those activities) to be either dangerous or unhealthy.

So I decided to conduct a little research into the subject, and this is what I came up with.

Statistics.  Lots of statistics, all of which can be distorted and twisted to put a particular slant on a story.

However, I have done my best to strip the spin and hyperbole from the stats and explain it as it is.

Firstly, one has to first understand why a cyclist may need a crash helmet.

Advice to wear a helmet, means that the person or organisation offering the advice feels that there is a great risk that a head injury may be sustained by the individual when taking part in the activity – in this case the relatively safe pastime of riding a bike.

So, to put this into perspective, there is a need to assess the element of risk associated with cycling, and compare it with other common activities.

A little research throws up some interesting facts that the proponents for mandatory crash hats don’t tell you.

Firstly, according to Her Majesty’s government, there were over four times as many pedestrians killed on the roads in 2016 than cyclists[2]. If we are to accept the pro helmet lobby’s argument that helmets should be mandated for the riskiest activities, then they should be advocating that pedestrians should be compelled legally to wear helmets!  This is obviously ludicrous.

Bicycle helmets manufactured to comply with the older BS 6863 are designed to protect the rider from falling from a stationary riding position – not for crash impacts with vehicles moving at speed. The newer standard – EN 107, has progressively weakened the requirements due to lobbying from the manufacturers themsleves!

Naturally, everybody wants human activity to be as safe as is reasonably practicable.  However, there is a fine balance between protecting people and demotivating them from being involved in an activity.

The health benefits of cycling are well known; excellent for cardio-vascular fitness, aerobic fitness and the development of muscle bulk and stamina. Add to that the psychological benefits of riding a bicycle  – greater hand/eye co-ordination, a very good stress buster, and a great sense of personal freedom and independence, and you have a formula for good health.

Using the World Health Organisation’s Health Economic Assessment Tool, Cycling UK estimates that a UK-wide helmet enforcement law would result in an extra 263 deaths per annum as a result of the decrease in physical activity resulting from a reduction in cyclists. This would lead to an estimated increase in public health costs of £304M to 451M per year.

Given these stark warnings of an impending obesity epidemic, it would appear to be common sense for governments to encourage as many people as possible to ride a bicycle, not only as a leisure activity, but also as a means for commuting, and even a way of conducting commerce.

A second great driver for the encouragement to cycle is the government’s commitment to comply with EU emissions reduction targets.

Reduction in the use of hydrocarbon-powered transport is central to this theme, and increasing the number of bicycle journeys is an excellent way of both improving national fitness levels, and reducing pollution and greenhouse gases.

To facilitate this, there have been a number of initiatives set up to encourage cycling in the UK.  Boris Johnson, when he was Mayor of London, launched a public cycle hire scheme, now administered by Santander Bank – still colloquially known as Boris Bikes, to encourage Londoners to cycle.

This has proved to be a great success, with over a quarter of a million active members[3] and this has now been complemented by the provision of a London-wide cycle network, consisting of Bicycle Super Highways – with an orbital route, and cross city routes.

Sadly, all of these initiatives may prove to be worthless, should the pro-helmet lobby get their way, and legislation is passed to enforce cycle riders to wear crash helmets.

The statistics indicate that in every country that has instituted compulsory helmets for cycling, there has been an immediate and irreversible reduction in the number of active cyclists on the roads[4].

For example, in Perth, Western Australia, cycling rates plunged by 30 – 40% immediately after the compulsory wearing of cycle helmets became law.

Statistical analysis emphasises that the benefit of cycling, in terms of life years gained through better health against life years lost as a result of serious injury risks is a factor of about 20:1.

To put this into context, in the U.K., there is one cycling death per 29 million miles cycled – so tiny as to be almost irrelevant.

In fact, in 2012, an average person was three and a half times more likely to be killed in a road accident as pedestrian than riding as a cyclist!

I have to confess that I do wear a helmet – occasionally.  The big difference is that I make the decision whether to wear one based on my own assessment of the risks associated with the type of ride I am about to embark upon.

If I am about to ride down a well-maintained canal towpath, or ride on relatively quiet country lanes then I most definitely leave the helmet at home. However, if I am riding in a busy city, commuting to work, or riding in a cycling event, then I grab the bash hat from the cupboard, and reluctantly wear it.

Some charity cycle events insist that a helmet be worn by participants, despite there being no legal obligation to wear one on the public roads of britain. At busy and well subscribed events such as the London Bridges Bike Ride, or the London to Brighton Bike Ride, I will wear a helmet, as I believe that the risk likelihood of coming off as a result of the density of riders is high.

Conversely, on smaller, rural rides, I will wear a bash hat at the start to comply with the organisers requirements, and as soon as I am under way, I stop, remove the helmet, put on my cloth cap, and ride accordingly.

If legislation were enacted tomorrow, then I admit that I will consciously disregard it, and continue to ride without wearing a helmet when I think it appropriate to do so.   I have ridden bicycles since I was five years old, and as an adult have suffered numerous cycle crashes, where I sustained injuries to arms, legs, and knees, and in most of them I was not wearing a helmet.

I was in fact wearing a helmet when I sustained a particularly bad knee injury, (having lost control of a mountain bike, and being unable to unclip from the pedals before impact) but it was as useful as an aqualung is to a buffalo

More recently I survived a near fatal cycle accident – and in this case I was yet again not wearing a helmet. Furthermore in all of my accidents, wearing a helmet would have had no influence on the outcome.

We also need to consider the financial costs of the introduction of such a law. Cycling UK has calculated that initial costs for helmet acquisition could be around £180 million, and subsequent renewal costs of about £45 million every year – all of which falls onto the rider to provide.

An unintended consequence of this, is that there may be a degree of social exclusion, with poorer members of society not being able to afford a helmet, and therefore being prevented from gaining the health and cost effective travel benefits, or continue to ride without a crash helmet, and face being criminalised for committing an offence.

The same logic applies to,wearing a high visibility jacket or tabard.  There is currently no robust supporting evidence to suggest that wearing a high viz jacket will actually prevent a collision.  Evidence so far seems to suggest that whilst a high viz jacket is useful to a cyclist being seen by other road users in daylight, they are only 15% effective at night.

The use of high intensity stroboscopic lights fitted to a bicycle will make the rider 47% less likely to have a daytime collision with a vehicle, and at night, the use of frame mounted lights  together with flashing lights built into anklets or fitted to pedals make the rider 90% less likely to be killed or seriously injured.

So, as far as I am concerned, I will continue to wear sensible brightly coloured clothing, and ride a well-lit, and well-maintained bicycle, taking into account where I will be riding, and at what time of day.

Time for Nanny State to take a back seat!

[1] www.headway.org.uk/get-involved/campaigns/cycle-helmets/

[2]  www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/ras30-reported-casualties-in-road-accidents

[3] www.tfl.gov.uk/corporate/publications-and-reports/cycle-hire-performance

[4] www.cyclinguk.org/sites/default/files/document/2017/11/helmets-evidence_brf.pdf

 

Fast Food, Aeroplanes and Problems with Bicycles

As those who occasionally read my postings will know, my normal writing haunt is a local branch of Costa coffee, sipping at a medium skinny wet latte with an extra shot. 
Just so that I don’t come across as boring and predictable, I am sitting on my friend’s terrace in Coto De Caza, a small community of houses nestled around a golf course and country club, tucked away in the foothills of the California Hills, not far from Rancho Santa Margarita. 
Instead of my normal coffee, I am drinking a chilled bottle of Betty IPA, made by the Hangar 24 micro brewery based at Redlands, CA. This has proved to be a very good choice. America now has a thriving micro brewery sector, all producing some excellent ales. This one caught my eye for no other reason than it was packaged in a box with a picture of a B-17 bomber nose section, complete with a nose-art pin up girl. The aircrcraft was called Betty, so being a total aviation person (Anorak) I just had to buy it.  
Unusually for Southern California, it is, what we Brits call “pissing down” and the temperature is so cold that I am almost considering changing from my shorts and tee shirt into trousers and fleece. 
I have been up to LA today, and spent some relaxing time visiting Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard. Having checked the hand and footprints outside the Chinese Theatre, I am surprised to see that I have bigger hands and feet than Tom Cruise, and the same sizes as Arnold Schwarzenegger. I guess that working out doesn’t make your feet bigger, just your chest and shoulders. 
On the other hand, Vin Diesel makes me look like a dwarf, and Clint Eastwood is only marginally bigger than I am. This made my day (Punk) and I felt lucky all the way back down to Sunset, looking for a certain burger joint in which to have lunch. 
Now, whilst I am not a regular user of fast food outlets, I still use them from time to time.  It’s odd that in the UK we have a very limited selection. We have franchised MacDonalds in virtually every town and city and a home grown chain called Burger King, and that’s about it if you want a burger. I have to say it – MacDonalds in the UK (rather than in the USA) compares unfavourably. 
Mind you, it’s not all bad news for MacDonalds. I was on a business trip a while ago, to Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei, where I enjoyed a very nice halal chicken burger at the MacDonalds outlet. On another trip to the Far East, I watched an elephant and rider use the Maccy D’s drive-through in Bangkok with no problem, despite the fact that a few years ago, I was banned from riding my humble bicycle through the MacDonalds drive through in Staines-upon-Thames on the grounds that I would “hold up traffic”. 
Always up for intellectual debate, I took issue with the rude attitude of the guardian of the “Drive-Thru” The spotty faced manager was quite explicit and refused to accept my argument that as all vehicles passed through the drive-through at less than walking pace, I was hardly holding up traffic. I also explained to the simpleton that a bicycle was in fact a vehicle and that I had to obey the road traffic act like all other road users. He countered this by saying that it was for my own protection as I may have an accident. 
Really?  
Oh, I guess I could drop my chips, or maybe spill my drink. I couldn’t conceive of any circumstances in an almost stationary drive-through, in which I would be placing myself in a hazardous situation. I stood more risk of getting a serious dose of e-coli from the lad with an obvious sebaceous gland problem than I was of facing imminent death or injury from vehicles.  
By now, I really was holding the traffic up, so I did eventually get served, and wishing him a cheery “Have a nice day” I went on my way. 
I noticed that a few days later there was a sign banning bicycles from using the drive through. This is the mentality of immature management and justification of stopping a safe activity on the grounds of health and safety.  
Anyway, grumpy old git rant over, and getting back to the plot…

The very best burgers on the planet are served at any branch of “In’n’ Out Burgers”. This is a very small chain of burger shops, indigenous to only Southern California. I discovered this best kept secret a few years ago, when visiting the same friends for a vacation.
I had taken a day out to do some light aircraft flying out of Santa Ana (Orange County) International Airport, also known as John Wayne International. I had rented an Evektor Sport Star light aeroplane from Sunrise Aviation, and had spent a happy few hours cruising up and down the west coast, from John Wayne to San Diego, and then back as far up the coast as Santa Barbara, flying overhead Los Angeles International. America is a fabulous place for a private pilot to fly. Try overflying London Heathrow at 4000 feet, and you’ll probably get shot down!  My routing then swung inland, to potter along past the Hollywood sign, and thence back to land at John Wayne. 

Above: The Evektor SportStar after my West Coast flight.

I landed, settled my account and as I was now officially ravenous, I jumped in my hire car, and headed onto the highway. I found In’n’Out by accident, but with some help from the counter staff I ordered a Double Double (Double burger, double cheese, double onions ) and I was recommended to have it “Animal” style. This involved having a special sauce and relish applied. I also ordered fries and a coke. 

I have to say, the place was heaving. I got issued ticket number 61. After a ten minute wait, they were calling tickets 43 and 44. I kicked back and filled in my log book, carefully adding the hours and minutes. 
At last, my number was called, and I was passed a neat red tray, measuring about 18 inches by 12 inches, upon which were a cardboard tray of fries, and a nicely wrapped burger. The flavours in the burger were excellent, and the burgers themselves were made of proper minced beef, rather than the compressed and reconstituted meat that fills so many other burger buns.  

The fries were crisp, and the whole meal was not only good value, but stuck in my memory as being of very good quality. 
I wasn’t disappointed today either. The In’n’Out on Sunset was overwhelmed with customers, and it was only 11:50. I had to wait again, but the wait was worth it as the quality was still very good. And the cost was just under seven bucks. 
And so,I’m sitting here, in the gathering gloom, typing this blog, prior to making a report on trip advisor. 
Thanks to the very hard working youngsters on duty today… you Rock!

UK Radio Presenter Stopped by Park Police For Speeding – On His Bicycle!

Those of you who read my ramblings, will be aware that I a fairly regular cyclist; law abiding,(in the main) and sensible, but like most of us human beings, capable of making the odd mistake or two. Ask Mrs Paleflier, and I’m sure that she will have a list of my regular transgressions, as most men do.

I know that there are many cyclists out there who do not fulfil all of these requirements. There are the unlit, the poorly equipped and the selfish. There are also the persistent law breakers. – those who disobey traffic signs, those who ride dangerously, and those who are just plain selfish.

I was somewhat surprised today, therefore, to read that Jeremy Vine, a BBC radio broadcaster was stopped by Police whilst riding through Hyde Park in London for speeding.

Apparently the alleged “offence” was committed whilst Mr Vine was riding through the park on an approved cycle path whilst commuting to work. He was stopped by two police officers who had used a hand held radar gun to ascertain his speed as a ding 16mph, exceeding the 5mph limit by a margin of 11 mph.

Quite frankly, I think this is ludicrous for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it is impossible for a cyclist to be prosecuted for the offence of speeding. They can only be charged under the 1847 Town Police Clauses Act for “Riding or Cycling Furiously”.

The regulation that governs the equipment fitted to bicycles is The Pedal Cycles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1983, and having read through this, there is no requirement as far as I can see to fit a speedometer to the cycle.

This opens up a whole new “can of worms”. If an obligation is placed upon cyclists to comply with the Road Traffic Act, and the Highway Code, then adherence to speed limits is a necessary part of compliance.

Cars are fitted with calibrated speedometers to enable them to comply with published speed limits, but as there is no legal need for a speedometer to be fitted to a bicycle, then I fail to see how a cyclist could be charged for speeding. Maybe this is due to inaccurate reporting from the journalist.

Secondly. – this appears to be somewhat heavy handed policing. Is it really necessary to pull over a commuter for cycling at 16 mph – hardly fast by any standards. This merely highlights the fact that the police are out of touch with the public. Secondly, it discourages people from cycling, or worse, pressurises riders to cycle on the main roads, where they are exposed to much higher levels of risk.

Thirdly, why are cyclists not exempted from the speed limit for the park. I accept that motor vehicles tanking around Hyde Park at high speeds amongst pedestrians is unacceptable. 15 mph is proportional to the damage that a car could cause.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to cycle at more than 5mph. In fact, wobbling around a slow speeds, with limited stability is probably more dangerous. I suggest a change of the speed limits. Placard the limit of 5mph for motor vehicles. Let cyclists ride at the speed which is natural.

Some pieces of traffic legislation demand overhaul, and a number of these have implications for cyclists.

For example, why can’t cyclists ride on public footpaths in rural areas? I fully accept that riding a bicycle on a narrow urban pavement is dangerous and anti social. But why can’t I ride my bicycle over the South Downs on some sections because they are “footpaths” only?

Maybe more emphasis should be given to legally enabling access to cyclists wherever possible, whenever possible, provided that in so doing, other members of the traveling public are not placed at risk. I personally see limited logic in allowing pedestrians to use a path through the woodlands, fields and countryside, yet denying a cyclist access, despite the fact that the path is of adequate dimensions to accommodate cycling.

I generally fully support the police in the work that they do, which is often dangerous and unpleasant. However, the reported action by the officers in this case, strikes me as a bit of a gross over reaction. How about injecting common sense back into policing? It does the Police no credit to appear in national newspapers pulling over a mature and responsible cyclists for minor transgressions that really don’t have a safety or security implication.

You decide.

I’m just off to check the Highway Code, and the Right to Roam legislation. May also consider getting a speedometer for my bicycle. 🚲😎

Should Cyclists Be Legally Obliged To Wear A Crash Helmet

I was sitting in the office the other day, when I overheard a conversation between two of my colleagues. Now, I should probably explain here, that one of the protagonists is a keen cyclist, and commutes to work by bicycle every day, regardless of weather – a distance of some thirteen miles.

The other party to the discussion was a self confessed petrol head, and drives a very powerful and sporty muscle car.

He was remonstrating with the cyclist, criticising him for not wearing a cycle helmet. Quite rightly, in my opinion, the cyclist was defending his position by saying that there was no legal requirement for him to wear a crash helmet, and as such he wouldn’t.

This got me thinking. Over the past three or four years, there has been some serious lobbying by some safety motivated pressure groups to make it a legal requirement for cyclists to wear crash helmets whilst riding their bicycles.

As a free thinking adult, and a free spirit, I normally baulk at any sort of legislation that attempts to regulate aspects of my private life, and this includes the “Nanny State” mentality of coercing me to stop engaging in activities that are perceived by some unelected bur to be either dangerous or unhealthy.

So I decided to conduct a little research into the subject, and this is what I came up with.

Statistics. Lots of statistics, all of which can be distorted and twisted to put a particular slant on a story.

However, I have done my best to strip the spin and hyperbole from the stats and explain it as it is.

Firstly, one has to first understand why a crash helmet may be needed by a cyclist.

Advice to wear a helmet, means that the person or organisation feels that there is a great risk that a head injury may be sustained by the individual by taking part in the activity – in this case the relatively safe activity of riding a bike.

So, to put this into perspective, there is a need to assess the element of risk associated with cycling, and compare it with other common activities.

A little research throws up some interesting facts that the proponents for mandatory crash hats don’t tell you.

Firstly, according to Her Majesty’s government, there were over three times as many pedestrian killed on the roads in 2013 than cyclists. If we are to assume the pro helmet lobby’s argument that helmets should be mandated for the riskiest activities, then they should be advocating that pedestrians should be compelled legally to wear helmets! This is obviously ludicrous.

Naturally, everybody wants human activity to be as safe as is reasonably practicable. However, there is a fine balance between protecting people and demotivating them from being involved in an activity.

The health benefits of cycling are well known; excellent for cardio-vascular fitness, aerobic fitness and muscle bulk and stamina. Add to that the psychological benefits of riding a bicycle – greater hand/eye co-ordination, a very good stress buster, and a great sense of personal freedom and independence, and you have a formula for good health.

Given the stark warnings of an impending obesity epidemic, it would appear to be common sense for governments to encourage as many people as possible to ride a bicycle, not only as a leisure activity, but also as a means for commuting, and even a way of conducting commerce.

A second great driver for the encouragement to cycle, is the government’s commitment to comply with EU emissions reduction targets. Reduction in the use of hydrocarbon powered transport is central to this theme, and increasing the number of bicycle journeys is an excellent way of both improving national fitness levels, and reducing pollution and greenhouse gases.

To facilitate this, there have been a number of initiatives set up to encourage cycling in the UK. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has set up a public cycle hire scheme, administered and funded by Barclays Bank – colloquially known as Boris bikes to encourage Londoners to cycle.

This has proved to be a great success, and has now been complemented by the provision of a London-wide cycle network, consisting of Bicycle Super Highways – with an orbital route, and cross city routes.

Sadly, all of these initiatives may prove to be worthless, should the pro helmet lobby get their way, and legislation is passed to enforce cycle riders to wear crash helmets.

The statistics clearly show that in every country that has instituted compulsory helmets for cycling, there has been an immediate and irreversible reduction in the number of active cyclists on the roads.

For example, in Australia, there is a. Lear link between the decline in cycling journeys and the introduction of mandatory helmet law

I have to confess that I do wear a plastic hat – occasionally. The big difference is that I make the decision whether to wear one based on my own assessment of the risks associated with the type of ride on which I am about to embark.

If I am about to ride down a well maintained canal tow path, or ride on relatively quiet country lanes then I most definitely leave the helmet at home. However, if I am riding in a busy city or commuting to work, then I grab the bash hat from the cupboard, and reluctantly wear it.

If legislation were enacted tomorrow, then I admit here and now, that I will consciously disregard it, and continue to ride without wearing a helmet wherever I think it appropriate.

I have ridden bicycles since I was five years old, and as an adult have suffered numerous bike crashes. More recently I survived a near fatal cycle accident – and in most of these cases I was not wearing a helmet. Furthermore in all of my accidents, wearing a helmet would have had no influence on the outcome.

Additionally, there is always the potential for behaviour to be altered when wearing a helmet.
Riders may feel much less vulnerable when wearing a crash helmet, and may, therefore ride in a less cautious fashion, thereby increasing the chances of them being injured in an accident.

Drivers of vehicles may also be less considerate to riders who appear to be more “professional”

In a study conducted in 2006 by Dr. Ian Walker of the University of Bath, it was found that drivers of motorised vehicles passed much closer to helmeted riders than riders without. This would appear to support the idea that helmeted riders give the impression of being more competent and regular riders than those without.

Naturally, this places the rider at more risk through drivers being less tolerant of their vulnerability, and thereby increasing the chances of an accident.

Dr. Walker, a traffic psychologist, used a bicycle fitted with proximity detectors and a computer to enable him to establish how closely traffic passed him whilst he was cycling.
The research was conducted on public roads in the cities of Salisbury and Bristol.

In order to assess whether the wearing of a helmet influenced driving behaviour, he conducted half of the study whilst wearing an approved cycle helmet, and the other half bare headed.

During the study, data from over 2,500 overtake manoeuvres, was analysed.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was found that passing drivers were twice as likely to get particularly close to the cycle when he was wearing the helmet. The analysis showed that drivers passed closer by about 8.5cm than when he was bare headed.

It would appear then, that a drivers perception of a rider, is influenced by their appearance, and will affect the amount of safety margin they are willing to provide.

Due to the increasing popularity of cycling, and the Renaissance of larger sporting group rides, the study suggests that drivers (as a group) tend to perceive cyclists as a separate sub culture to which they don’t belong, and don’t understand.

As a result, unfair stereotyping, classifying cyclists as “Lycra-clad urban street warriors” prevails, and anyone riding a bicycle wearing part (or all) of the “uniform” are regarded to be more competent, experienced and predictable than those who don’t wear a helmet.

The flawed acceptance of this sub conscious fact, would go a long way to explaining why drivers pass extra close to helmeted riders.

There is an interesting dichotomy here. Most adult cyclists are also licensed car driver, and therefore know what it is like to drive a car, but relatively few motorists ride bicycles in traffic, so don’t understand or identify with the problems that cyclists face when riding.

Interestingly, the study also found that larger commercial vehicles such as buses, coaches and lorries pass even closer than cars.

The average car passed 1.3 metres away from the cycle, whereas the average truck passed only 1.14 metres from the bike. Buses were even bigger offenders, passing with only 1.1 metres of clearance. Not a lot of “wobble room” for the cyclist in the event that evasive action needs to be taken to avoid riding into a pothole, or drain head.

Despite their frequent bad press, the drivers of larger SUVs, 4x4s and People carriers passed no closer than the drivers of standard cars.

And what of “White Van Man”?

Well, the urban legend of white van man is still living up to public expectations, and will, on average, overtake cyclist 10cm closer than drivers of cars.

In order to further explore driver psychology, Dr. Walker tested if drivers would demonstrate more consideration to female riders. He therefore conducted part of the study wearing a long wig.

Whilst wearing the wig, the data clearly indicated that drivers passed with an average extra clearance of 14cm more space!

It is not clear from the study whether this is because drivers subconsciously regard female cyclists as being less predictable riders, or whether it’s due to some other factors not yet ascertained.

Whilst this is respected research, having been published in The Journal of Accident Analysis and Prevention, it does not seemed to have been offered the same level of media attention as the vociferous pro helmet lobby, which has been given under the guise of complying with the Health and Safety fixated and risk averse culture that is the norm in Britain today.

One of the major collateral problems of legislating for helmets to be worn by cyclists, is that it implies that cycling is an intrinsically unsafe activity. This affects public perception adversely, subtly persuading potential riders that they must be coddled up in high visibility clothing, helmets and so on in order to commute a few miles to work, or to make a quick trip to the shops. A lot of people therefore give up cycling, because of the extra inconvenience of having to take so many steps to protect themselves in what is really a quite benign environment.

This is also reflected in the usage statistics of various city bike rental schemes, such as the Boris Bikes operated in London. The public cycle rental system in Melbourne, currently gets used for just 150 journeys a day. Melbourne operates a mandatory cycle helmet policy. Conversely, in Dublin, (where the climate is far less conducive to riding a bike) where there is no helmet law, the scheme enjoys over 5000 journeys a day, despite Dublin being hilly, and full of old cobbled streets.

I believe the two sets of factors are linked.

I re iterate my previous statement, that statistically, more pedestrians are killed every year on the roads of Great Britain. If we are to legislate purely on injury rates, then pedestrians should be legally obliged to wear walking helmets, and wear high visibility clothing, and maybe should carry approved lights during the hours of darkness.

This is plainly ludicrous, but you can see where I am going with this.

It seems that even the respected organisers of charity bicycle rides have been caught up in the scientifically flawed argument that helmets must be worn as a condition of riding, despite the fact that the Road Traffic Act, and the Highway Code makes no such stipulations that riders should wear a helmet.

I have a helmet for such occasions, and wear it at the start, when there is high traffic density and other hazards that I have personally assessed for risk. However, once away from the start, I will pull over, and confine the helmet to the saddle bag, where it belongs and ride with either a baseball cap or nothing at all, depending on the weather.

I have ridden on many rides in this fashion, including the London to Brighton road ride, the London Bridges ride, and The London to Oxford ride.

Last year I participated in the London to Brighton Off Road ride.

This ride is truly off road for a distance of eighty miles, and involves the rider in traversing rough country, fields, woodlands, river beds, grassy heathlands and the South Downs. It takes place in September, and when I did it, the weather was cold, wet, and windy, and the conditions were muddy and treacherous, particularly when riding down trails with tree roots, exposed stumps, loose shale and mud.

I wore a helmet for the whole ride, as it was immediately apparent that the chances of crashing and coming off were very high, and the nature of the terrain made the chances of subsequent injury quite high.

Furthermore, due to the relative remoteness of sections of the ride, getting quick medical assistance would be difficult.

In essence, I believe it is the responsibility of the rider to establish whether a helmet is required, or in the case of a child, the parent should make the assessment.

Too many children are growing up in a heavily risk-averse society, where they are paralysed to take any sort of action, or participate in any kind of sport or activity without the psychological prop of some sort of “Protection”

If I feel like riding down hill on my road bike, with my nose on the handlebars and nudging the speedo past 40 miles an hour, with no helmet, then it is my inalienable right to do so, and I don’t require the permission of some do-Gooder to do it.

Naturally, it’s up to me to ensure that I am carrying adequate insurance in the event that I sustain an accident, but I carry that as a matter of course.

There is, of course, another, more sinister aspect to this, and that is the actions of the judiciary.

The judgements passed in some recent cases relating to cyclists make interesting reading.

A cyclist who was knocked off his bike and seriously injured was deemed to be partially responsible for his own “accident” as he chose not to ride on the cycle path provided, but instead opted to ride on the road.

Whilst there is no legal requirement to ride on a cycle path, it is apparent that the judge in this case decided that he should have used it as it was there.

In another case, Mr. Justice Griffith Williams stated “I am satisfied on the balance of probabilities that a cyclist who does not wear a helmet, runs the risk of contributing to his/her injury”

This in my humble opinion is poppycock. Cycle helmets have a design limit to protect the head in a crash situation at Impact speeds of a maximum of 12 miles per hour. I frequently double that speed whilst cycling. It may protect if I were to fall on my head from a stationary condition, but that is not a very likely scenario is it? Unless of course I had ridden down the road to my local, and imbibed six pints of old and grungy.

My recent near-fatal cycle accident actually happened on a cycle path – where the fence (topped with barbed wire) had fallen over the path due to inadequate maintenance. The path was strewn with debris, and was littered with ruts, potholes and overgrowth. In hindsight, I would probably have been safer using the road.

However, should I have been riding in the road, and suffered another type of accident, would I have been apportioned an element of blame due to not riding on what was proved to be a highly dangerous piece of cycle way.

You decide.

But my point remains. As an experienced rider, and a free citizen, with a democratic right to free choice, I will continue to make my own assessments on the requirement to wear safety equipment.

I am solely responsible for my safety. I will NOT be wearing a helmet anytime soon, unless I feel it is warranted.

Now…….where is my long blonde wig?

Mark Charlwood
November 15th 2014

California Dreamin’ – Cycling the Golden Gate Bridge

California Dreamin’

When The Flowerpot Men were urging us to go to San Francisco back in 1967, I very much doubt that cycling was uppermost in their thoughts.

I expect that the only peddler that many of the Hippie generation were interested in was the one who dropped them their daily fix of psychedelic drugs.

Flower Power and the Hippie dream was all 50 years ago, and a lot can happen in half a century.

Having said that – the 60s ethos appears to be alive and well (if in a slightly diluted form) and living happily in California.

As crew for a major UK airline, I frequently fly to the USA, and decided some time back, that when I was next on a San Francisco layover, I would rent a bicycle, and enjoy some California Dreamin’

I had done a little research into bike rentals before my trip, and had decided that a company called Blazing Saddles (www.blazingsaddles.com) offered a good range of bicycles at a very reasonable rates, with a well appointed Mountain bike starting at just $9.00 per hour ($36.00 per 24 hours), and a range that includes Hardtail MTBs, Full Suspension MTBs, Comfort Tandems, High Performance Tandems, and High Performance Carbon/Alloy Roadies.

An Electrically assisted Bike is also available at $69.00 per day. Trailers and Tag-alongs are also an option if required.

In the highly unlikely event that they can’t help, then Bay City Bikes also offer a good range of cycles for similar prices. They are also located on Fishermans Wharf and may be contacted at http://www.baycitybike.com

Included within the rental package are a Helmet, a Handlebar Bag, and a lock. Cycles are all fitted with sturdy rear racks, bells, and bungee cords.

So it was, that on a pleasant June Sunday morning, four of us decided that we would cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge, and then ride into the little town of Sausalito.

The plan was to enjoy a relaxed lunch at a waterfront restaurant, and then ride back on the ferry to Fisherman’s Wharf. All in all a total mileage of about 9 miles.

This would ideally suit our party, as some of the riders were quite inexperienced, and there were some quite steep hills to negotiate on the way to the bridge.

We decided that as we were in no hurry, we would catch a cable car from Market Street at 1000, and enjoy a scenic trip through the City on the way to Fisherman’s Wharf, where Blazing Saddles are located.

Riding the Cable Cars is a highly recommended part of the trip, especially for movie buffs, as the route crosses California Street made famous by Steve McQueen in the film Bullit . Other films made around the City include Mrs Doubtfire, and of course, the hit 1970s cop drama The Streets of San Francisco.

The Cable Car also passes Crookedest Street. This little street gets its name because the road is a series of very tight hairpin bends compressed into about half a city block, all of which clings precariously to a very steep hill. Walking down it is “interesting”, but I imagine the bin men, and emergency services have a nightmare accessing any of the houses there!

Blazing Saddles have a number of locations spread throughout San Francisco, but we would be renting from their Hyde Street branch, which is located about two blocks from the beginning of the cycle path leading to the Bridge.

The cable car route terminates about 100 yards from the shop, which is immediately identifiable by the selection of cycles outside.

Blazing Saddles is a very efficient operation. We were greeted at the reception desk by a team of friendly and knowledgeable staff, and we were rapidly talked through the options, and the required paperwork.

We opted to take the additional insurance that covered the bikes against all damage, and all decided on “Comfort” Mountain Bikes. These differ from the standard models in that they are fitted with a gel saddle disc brakes and front suspension. A good decision, as the difference in price is only a dollar an hour!

We also decided to take advantage of Blazing Saddle’s offer of ferry tickets, which meant no queuing up to buy them at Sausalito. These tickets are offered on a sale or return basis, so it would have been foolish not to have taken advantage of the offer.

We were also given a voucher for a free appetiser at the Paradise Bay Restaurant in Sausalito, and reduced rate secure bike parking adjacent to the restaurant.

We had to leave a credit card number as a security deposit, and we where then whisked to the cavernous area behind reception where we were swiftly fitted up with bicycles.

The staff in bike despatch give a rapid fire briefing on the cycle controls; it is important to listen to this, as the brakes are set up in a different way from in the United Kingdom. In Britain, the right hand brake lever operates the front brake, and the rear brake is activated by the left brake lever. In the USA that convention is reversed.

Missing this piece of vital information could mean an interesting emergency stop scenario, and a subsequent in depth look at the inside of an American Emergency Room.

Having been given our bikes, and had saddles adjusted, we were instructed to ride towards the exit, and come to a complete stop so as to ensure the brakes were working satisfactorily.

We were then free to depart for the Bridge.
The route heads west past aquatic park on a dedicated cycle path, running adjacent to the waterfront, and is well maintained and free from potholes, and is mainly of tarmac or concrete surface. Within half a mile or so, there is a fairly steep (but luckily short) hill leading into Fort Mason Park. At the top of the hill is a vista point, giving a view over the bay.

Disappointingly, the weather in June is characteristically foggy in the morning, and only the first tower of the bridge could be seen, and the fog horn sounded moodily melancholy.

We decided not to let this dampen our spirits, so we continued on, with a gentle descent through the pleasant grounds of the park, at the bottom of which our sign-posted route took us through a car park, and out again onto a wide, well maintained path. This is shared space, with a pedestrian footpath of about ten feet in width, and two cycle lanes clearly marked for two way bike traffic.

As this was a Sunday morning, every cyclist in the San Francisco area had decided to get their bikes out, and the air was filled with shouts of “On ya left dude” and “Comin’ though” On the whole, other riders were courteous, and polite.

The route remains fairly flat in the main, and passes a tidal marshland nature reserve, and a variety of birds and fowl may be seen here if you bother to stop and look. The route then passes Crissy Field, an old army airfield, but which is now a part of the Golden Gate Nature Reserve Area.

Eventually, the path sweeps left, culminating in a short, steep uphill climb on Long Avenue.
This intersects with Lincoln Boulevard, but this is probably the only stretch of the route which uses roads. Within a hundred yards or so, the route forks right and heads to the base of the bridge.

As the vehicular traffic across the bridge is very busy, there are segregated paths for pedestrians and cyclists, but quite sensibly, the Bridge authority has ensured that cyclists and pedestrians do not conflict with each other. This is done by the simple expedient of splitting the walkers and bikers onto either the east or west side of the bridge.

So, as it was a weekend day, cyclists were obliged to use the West path and walkers the East. This system is excellent, and makes for a good flow in both directions.

So with the last climb of the ride, we wound our way under the bridge, and up onto the bridge itself, where we stopped for the obligatory photo by the Golden Gate Bridge sign.

The ride across the bridge is a little chilly, mainly due to the coastal breeze, and in our case, the mist. However, the road surface is well maintained, and clearly signed.

Once over the bridge, a steeply descending curving path leads down into the town of Sausalito.

The town is obviously a prosperous area, and the houses and streets are beautifully maintained, and spotlessly clean.
The cycle path disappears here, and the ride into town is conducted on public roads, but the car drivers in this idyllic spot are courteous, and generous in their encounters with bicycles – of which there are literally thousands!

We cycled to the western edge of the town, where we found our restaurant, and duly handed our cycles to the valet, who ensured that they were parked and locked in a secure area – and all this for just one dollar per bike.

The restaurant, The Paradise Bay, is in a nice location overlooking the waterfront, and we chose to sit outside to enjoy some top quality fish, and sample some of the local ales – in my case Steam Bitter, which is a refreshing way to end a fabulous ride.

Having eaten and drunk to our capacity, we cycled the half mile to the ferry terminal, and were soon boarded, along with about a hundred and fifty other cycles for our half hour crossing of the bay, back to Fishermans Wharf.

A short ride along the sea front took us back to Blazing saddles, where we returned the bicycles, and settled our bill – which came to just $40.00 each for a whole days use of the bikes, and the ferry tickets which normally retailed at $10.00 each one way.

Lastly, We all purchased a tee shirt proclaiming the we had “Biked the Bridge”

So – if you are looking for a fun day of leisure riding then I would thoroughly recommend Biking the Bridge, and Blazing Saddles are there to help you do it.

Mark Charlwood©
17/06/2014

 

 

Cycling in the UK – We Pay Road Tax!

If you cycle regularly in the United Kingdom, then you will probably have experienced aggressive behaviour from other road users.

Many cyclists have been on the receiving end of such conduct, which varies from mild abuse, through to threats and acts of physical violence, such as deliberately ramming the rider with the vehicle.

A common thread which seems to run through these random acts is the perception that cyclists should not be on the roads, causing delays for other road users, as “they don’t pay road tax”.

Road Tax is not a new concept. It was first enshrined in law in the 1888 budget, in the form of “Locomotive Duty”, and was levied at five pounds per annum. In today’s prices, that equates to about four hundred and twenty pounds.

In 1909, David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced that the road system should be self-financing, and so from 1910, Monies raised from road taxes were to be ring-fenced, and dedicated to the development and upkeep of the roads – a process known as Hypothecation.

The Roads Act of 1920 required local councils to create a register of all new vehicles, and to issue them with unique number plates, and by 1921, the obligation for registered vehicles to display a tax disc, confirming that the Road Fund Tax had been paid.

However, subsequent chancellors began to raid the road fund income for other governmental purposes, and Winston Churchill formalised the loss of hypothecation in the Finance Act of 1936, and Road Tax officially “died” in 1937.

In defence of his actions, Winston Churchill was reported as saying “It will be only a step from this for them to claim in a few years the moral ownership of the roads their contributions have created”. (William Plowden, “The Motor Car and Politics 1896 – 1970) It seems to a great extent that his prediction has come true.

Finally, in 1955, the Road Fund, into which the government made payments from central taxation, was officially abolished. Since then general taxation has been financing the upkeep and building of roads and highways.

The Public has a long memory, and due to familiarity with the expression, there is a widespread belief that Road Tax still exists.

This gives rise to a widespread belief that roads are primarily paid for by the motoring public, and that this somehow confers a right of priority in usage of the road system.

That is akin to saying that as tobacco taxation funds a large percentage of the National Health Service, smokers should take priority on the NHS waiting lists, which is clearly arrant nonsense.

Vehicle taxation is on the use of a vehicle, not on the use of the road. Furthermore, vehicle taxation is based on the levels of emissions that are generated, and as such, vehicles fitted with larger less efficient engines pay a higher rate of Excise Duty.

It could be argued that this tax is designed to discourage the use of such vehicles, and this is amply supported by the fact that low emission vehicles pay very little VED, or in some cases, no VED at all.

There are other road users who do not pay VED. Vehicles operated by the Queen, and other members of the royal family, war pensioners, those who are registered disabled, government minister’s vehicles, and emergency vehicles, such as police cars, ambulances and fire appliances. In reality, these road users are subsidised by the income raised from others who do pay VED.

So, supposing that the vociferous motoring lobby get their way, and insist that cyclists “pay Road Tax” and carry a tax disc just like other road-using vehicles.

As a zero emission vehicle, bicycles would be exempt from any charge, but there would be a cost involved in issuing the disc. Under a Freedom of Information Act request, DVLA have stated that it costs £0.95 to buy a tax disc online, or £1.47 if purchased from a Post Office.

It is estimated that there are about 25 million owned bikes in the UK, and if every one were to be obliged to carry a tax disc, then at best this would cost almost £25M per year, and at worst thirty six and three quarter million pounds – to gain a net revenue of ZERO.

The costs of issuing these discs would have to be borne by the DVLA, and this financial shortfall would have to be recovered. The obvious way to achieve this is for the loss to be recovered by increasing Vehicle Excise Duty on other vehicles.

The same argument may be applied to the often-heard statement from car users, that bicycles should be required to carry a number plate, and be registered on a system for policing and enforcement.

A number of countries have experimented with registering bikes, and charge a nominal “peppercorn” amount. Some states in the US used to require cycles to be registered, which, to be fair, does offer a deterrent against casual theft, but was more expensive to administer that the advantages it offered.

Politicians have suggested that registering bikes, and obliging bicycles to be fitted with a number plate to enable “Red Light” violations to be caught on camera. Whilst this is an understandable statement, it is obvious that the makers of those statements have little understanding of the practicalities of such a scheme.

A cycle number plate that is of a sufficiently minimal size to be fitted to the limited bodywork of a bike must, by necessity be quite small. As such, would an enforcement camera have sufficient definition to make a clear image, and would the radar activation system register the very low signature of a bicycle?

Furthermore, cycles are slower, and assuming that the cyclist was over the white line when the lights changed to amber, and was entitled to cross the junction, would the following red light activation trip the camera, thus indicating that the cyclist had broken the law by “jumping” the red light?

Jumping lights at red is a sure-fire way that a cyclist may anger a motorist. Riding on the pavement also enrages both car drivers and pedestrians alike, and these two habits seem to trigger the “Pay Road Tax” response.

Minor traffic violations are not just within the province of cyclists. Many motor vehicles jump red lights – hence the need for enforcement cameras – they were certainly not put there for catching cyclists. Motor vehicles also park illegally on the pavement, (sometimes in cycle lanes and bus lanes), and casually breach speed limits on a habitual basis.

Pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders use the roads as a Right of Way. Mechanically propelled vehicles use the roads under licence. In order to use the highways under such a licence, the driver of a vehicle must be trained to a minimum level to ensure an acceptable level of competence.

This is partially because of the potentially lethal consequences of poor driving. Additionally, a driver must be judged to be both physically and mentally able to drive the vehicle safely, with due regard to other road users.

In a collision with a pedestrian, a one tonne vehicle travelling at thirty miles an hour is quite capable of killing that person instantly. A bicycle weighing in at 20kg, plus the weight of its rider colliding with a pedestrian is far less likely to kill.

Cyclists don’t hold up traffic. They are traffic, and have equal rights to use the road.

Even if cyclists were to contribute towards road upkeep on a sliding scale on a “user pays” basis, then the amount levied, would by necessity be small. Bicycles do not emit harmful emissions, they do not damage the road surface, they don’t leak dangerous fluids, and they don’t emit noise. On this basis, there is little point in attempting to collect what amounts to pitiful amounts of revenue.

A popular video clip posted on a well known media site highlights the ignorance and boorish behaviour adopted by drivers when in perceived conflicts with cyclists. The clip in question features an altercation in a car park between a cyclist and a car. The female passenger in a car remonstrates with a cyclist repeating the statement, “No Pay, No Say”.

Ironically, cyclists actually pay for infrastructure that they are not legally entitled to use such as the Motorways networks – out of their general taxation.

This sort of bigoted ignorance is rife in the motoring community, perpetuated by the blinkered views of the motor industry. Even Government Ministers don’t appear to have a clue about funding for the roads.

It’s surprising that even respected organisations such as the Royal Automobile Club can’t get it right. They refer on numerous occasions on their website to Road Tax, and even when they do use the correct terminology, (VED) they feel the need to qualify it by referring to it as road tax.

The AA doesn’t do much better either. A quick search on their website shows frequent references to “road tax”, further reinforcing the public’s belief that their annual payment to the government is a direct contribution for use of the road.
When challenged about using such an inaccurate and anachronistic term they responded thus

“The correct term is Vehicle Excise Duty, or Vehicle Tax, but we are conscious that a wide range of terms are used in online searches including “road tax”.

We use a range of terms on our advice pages to try to ensure that they work well in natural search whatever term the user chooses to put into e.g., Google.

Looking at Google search analytics for the past month, there were

823,000 searches using the term Road Tax

1,000,000, searches using the term Car Tax

Only 6,600 included Vehicle Excise Duty.

Kind Regards,

Customer Adviser
The AA.com”

So, rather than attempting to educate the public, the AA chooses to condone and encourage the misconceptions!

So – how can a shift in perception be achieved?

For a start, vehicle manufacturers should immediately be required to only refer to VED in adverts, and motoring organisations should be removing all references to road tax in their publications and posted on their websites.

The department for transport should initiate an educational campaign to make the general public more aware of how the road infrastructure is funded.

The alternative is for cyclists to be charged a one off levy upon the purchase of a bicycle, and the cycle electronically registered to them.

Interestingly, after October 2014, motorists will not have to display a tax disc in the window of their cars to prove tax has been paid. The status of tax will be resident in a database hosted by the DVLA, and will be accessible by suitably authorised agencies such as Police, Parking Enforcement Agencies and Insurers.

Logically, it’s not much of a leap to see that cyclists could be charged without the need for tax discs, but this would obviate the advantages to the population in using cycles for transport and fitness.

Mark Charlwood
Copyright June 2014