Sharing the Peak District's roads - how both cyclists and motorists can improve safety
PUBLISHED: 00:00 19 May 2017 | UPDATED: 12:33 22 May 2017
The approach of summer means more traffic on the Peak's roads, Nik Cook makes a heartfelt plea for greater consideration - from both cyclists and motorists
In the last decade, cycling has gone from being a minority sport to a mass participation activity. Some have described it as being the new golf, with MAMILs (middle aged men in lycra) now spending their money on shiny carbon fibre rather than green fees. Sportives, non-competitive mass participation rides, have become massively popular with a full calendar of events to choose from and many selling out minutes after entries have gone live online.
The Peak District has become a cycling honey-pot and every weekend thousands of cyclists, whether taking part in a sportive, joining a local club ride or just heading out with their mates, enjoy its stunning and challenging roads. L’Eroica Britannia, a three day cycling festival including vintage bike rides, which this year takes place on 16th–18th June at Friden Grange, near Newhaven, attracted 30,000 visitors and 1,800 cyclists last year. Cyclists bring valuable revenue into the Peak District by staying at pubs, hotels and campsites and fuelling their ride with cake and coffee bought from local cafés. It’s not all two-wheeled bliss though, with the increase in the number of cyclists creating conflict with other road users. A recent altercation between a cyclist and a motorist near Chatsworth was reported in a number of local papers and on their social media sites. The comment threads that followed these posts were shockingly vitriolic, including actual threats of physical violence. I was genuinely shocked and moved to write this article in the hope of fostering greater understanding and hopefully harmony on the roads.
I’m a cyclist. I belong to my local club and organise a sportive that raises funds for Kinder Mountain Rescue and Blythe House Hospice, but I’m also a motorist who lives and drives in the Peak District. I’m convinced that being a cyclist makes me a better driver and being a driver makes me a better cyclist. All it takes is a bit more understanding, patience and empathy, whether on two wheels or four, to make the Peak District roads safer and more enjoyable for all.
My pleas to cyclists
As a cyclist, I’m sometimes ashamed by the behaviour of others and, in riding badly, you’re only antagonising other road users and making the situation worse. Always obey the Highway Code, there’s never an excuse for running a red light.
Don’t ever ride more than two abreast, know when you should single out and be aware of queuing traffic behind.
Never ride up the inside of lorries and buses. There are lots of quarry lorries in the Peak and, even though technology is helping to minimise their blindspots, don’t risk it.
Don’t litter, you’re not riding the Tour de France, put your gel wrappers in your jersey pockets.
Make yourself visible, black kit may be cool and slimming but it’s not great on our narrow lanes and with the changeable Peak District light.
Be considerate of horses, they’re vulnerable road users too, slow down and let them know you’re there.
Don’t be a militant cyclist, waving your fists and shouting at all cars. Calm down and share the road. If a driver does wave you through at a junction or gives you plenty of room when overtaking, a nod or a wave to say thank-you isn’t too much to ask.
My pleas to motorists
Yes, it can be frustrating to be stuck behind some cyclists but you’re sitting in a comfortable car, with air-con, your favourite tunes and driving through a beautiful National Park, do you really need to get stressed and angry? Is your journey so important that a few extra minutes really matter and, if it is, just leave a bit earlier. You’re lucky enough to live in the Peak District, you know there will be lots of cyclists out on certain roads at the weekends, allow for them.
The reality is that if you do hit a cyclist or cause them to crash, you’ll probably be found at fault. Even if you don’t care about them, a fine, driving ban or prison sentence is going to have a huge impact on your life. Think about this before squeezing past a group of cyclists.
Please give cyclists at least 1.5 metres when passing them, the same leeway that you would give a car. You might not even notice a pothole, drain cover or broken glass but, with tyres that are barely an inch wide, cyclists sometimes have to swerve to avoid hazards.
Most cyclists are motorists, too, they’re just out enjoying their hobby, trying to stay fit and not winding you up on purpose. Take a few deep breaths and just try to see them as fellow road users.
One of the things that struck me from the threads on social media was the amount of misunderstanding and misinformation regarding cycling on the road.
Cycling on the roads: The facts
Cyclists don’t pay road tax so shouldn’t be on the road: Nobody pays road tax. Drivers pay vehicle excise duty, which is effectively a charge on emissions, we don’t pay to be on the roads. Bikes are emission free and therefore pay no tax. Also, the vast majority of cyclists own a car as well, so will have paid anyway.
Cyclists don’t have insurance: The majority of the cyclists that you see out on the Peak District’s roads will have insurance, whether it’s through their household insurance or as part of their membership of bodies such as British Cycling or the CTC.
Cyclists aren’t registered and haven’t taken a test: Registering bikes would be fiscally and logistically unworkable. They tried it in Switzerland, where almost everything is regulated, and even they gave up on it. Also, to make a bike number plate visible, it would have to be impractically large. You’re tested before driving a car because it’s a lethal weapon, a bike isn’t. In Britain, from 2010 to 2014, bikes were involved in just over 1% of pedestrian fatalities. If you’re a reckless cyclist, you’re mainly endangering yourself. I do think that good cycling practice should be part of the National Curriculum and that, if you come to cycling later in life, getting some training or joining a club is definitely a good idea.
Cyclists shouldn’t ride two abreast: The Highway Code allows cyclists to ride two abreast and, in doing so, a group of cyclists creates a ‘shorter vehicle’ for cars to safely pass than a long line of single riders. If there isn’t room to safely overtake, don’t, it’s just the same as being behind a tractor or a farm vehicle. It’s good practice though for a group of cyclists to single out on narrow roads and, when safe, to allow other vehicles past.
Cyclists jump red lights: In the same way that some motorists break speed limits or park illegally, some cyclists jump red lights. They shouldn’t, it reflects badly on the rest of us and, if I’m out riding and see another cyclist do it, I’ll have a quiet word.
All motorists, myself included, can recall incidents of cyclists behaving badly but I bet you can recall more incidents of other motorists driving poorly or dangerously.