Sunday, 5 July 2015

competitive cycling on the canal towpath

le roi s'amuse

I was walking with some friends along the canal at Bradford on Avon. So wrapped up were we in talk that we didn't notice the rather striking chap in tattoos and lycra, advancing on his bicycle. "SOME PEOPLE DONT SEEM TO LOOK WHERE THEY'RE GOING" he exclaimed, in what I can only describe as a petulant tone, as he forced his way through the group.

"I didn't hear your bell. USE YOUR BELL YOU NUMPTY!" I called after his receding form.

But answer came there none.

Of course, he didn't have a bell. Apparently it's unmanly to have a bell on your bicycle. Or something.

a melodious bell

I'm all for shared use of the towpath, but there is a problem with some cyclists expecting all to jump out of their way, and, as has often been said, treating the towpath like a racetrack.

It's not just a figure of speech, either. Some cyclists are engaged in competitive riding on the towpath.

Strava is an app that records the journeys of its users, and ranks them according to the speed of their journey. This section is the Bath to Bradford on Avon towpath. As you see, the latest high scorer, Martin D, managed an average speed of 32.1 km/h, or 19.95 mph, over this 13.4 km towpath, on June 25. Quite impressive, given the uneven surface and often very narrow path, and blind corners under bridges. Small wonder he's been awarded the title of King of the Mountain (KOM); the humpback bridge that the track traverses at Dundas is, after all, really quite precipitous....

I wrote to Sustrans on 23 April

Dear Sustrans,
I live on a narrowboat moored on the west end of the Kennet and Avon canal, and I am a cyclist. So I appreciate the use of the towpath as a cycle route; indeed, I find it hugely useful, if not essential. I’m also aware, through my own experience and that of my fellow boaters, of selfish and sometimes dangerous behaviour on the part of some cyclists. I’m prompted to write after a friend’s recent and particularly unpleasant encounter with an aggressive fast cyclist.
I’ve learned that Strava provides an app that allows cyclists to time themselves on specific routes, including the section of NCN4 that follows the towpath between Bath and Bradford on Avon, where this incident took place. As you will see from the Strava website, there is a competitive element to this app, with a league table and the titles of KOM and QOM for the leaders.
How does Sustrans feel about the towpath being used for this purpose, given that much of the towpath is narrow and entirely unsuited to fast cycling in an environment that contains pedestrians, children and animals? I understand that selfish cyclists are only a part of a wider social malaise; but for a company like Strava to foster competition among cyclists on a Sustrans route can surely only be a bad thing? 
Yours sincerely,
Dru Marland
I got a reply from Alistair Millington, Sustrans' area manager:

Dear Dru
Thanks for reporting this. We don't support the adoption of traffic-free sections of the National Cycle Network as Strava segments. We can flag this with Strava. I'm not sure whether that leads to its removal or a warning but I'll find out.
Best wishes, Alistair that was a waste of time, apparently. We can look forward to the next aspiring KOM attaining the 20 MPH average speed record, sometime soon.