Monday 26 April 2010

Road Racing in England

Important Note(particularly directed at any police officer reading this): my blog expresses a personal view which should not be assumed to be shared by my club or any other body.

Yesterday my club, Thames Velo hosted its annual road races.  I rode (rather ineffectively) in the 3/4 event and marsalled the E/1/2/3 event.  As a club we take pride in putting on a good safe race and a lot of time is invested in doing our bit to ensure that road racing continues to thrive.  However there has always been, and continues to be, an uneasy relationship between the car culture and those who seek to use the roads for non-motorised activity such as a bicycle race.  For many years, whilst road racing thrived on the continent, it was illegal here.  While the classics developed in France, Belgium and Holland racing in the UK was a clandestine underground affair frowned upon even by cycling organisations (who no doubt feared a backlash if the motoring public were even slightly inconvenienced.)  However during World War II cyclists began to organise road races in defiance of their national bodies and in 1960 the relevant government minister, exercising powers under the Road Traffic Act, promulgated the Cycle Racing on the Highways Regulations.  Though subsequently amended, these remain the governing regulations.  Under these regulations, Road Racing is permitted on the Highway provided notice is given to the local police, who have the power to impose such conditions as they think fit.
Therein lies a problem, as police authorities vary in the conditions that they 'see fit'.  This results, for example, in road races in one police authority being cancelled because the police 'see fit' to prevent simultaneous races on the same circuit; whereas the neighbouring police authority sees no problem with this.  It is an important democratic prinicple that the police are there to enforce the law not to enact it.  Giving the police a blanket discretion effectively to prevent a road race is clearly a matter in need of urgent review.
Second, the safety of road races is best ensured by competent marshalling and escorting (particularly by motorcycles such as the highly expereinced National Escort Group) and not by police discretion.  Acting as  a marshal I have never encountered a problem with asking motorists to stop for a short period to allow a cycle race to pass; many clearly enjoy the spectacle and express a keen interest on what is occuring.  Equally motorcycle escorts seldom meet resistance when they invite motor traffic to stop.  Whether motorcycle escorts and marshals have legal powers to force a motorist to stop is for practical purposes largely academic.  However some police authorities and officers are so motor-centric that they object to marshals or escorts requesting traffic to stop.  For that reason it is now high time that recognised escorts and marshals have the legal power to stop traffic to prevent danger.  This works well in Wales and is most needed where the local police authority is least sympathetic to the sport.
Thirdly, some difficulties can arise with an overzealous interpretation or application of the law.  Police have been known to object to cyclists being across the road when there is nothing coming the other way and no restriction on overtaking.  Speed radar guns are sometimes pointed at escorting vehicles because they (though not of course the cyclists) are required to adhere to speed limits which govern motor traffic.  It seems reasonable in the interests of safety, to provide that recognised escorting vehicles may exceed speed limits provided that they drive carefully.
British Cycling is raising the issue of road racing with prospective parliamentary candidates in a facebook campaign which well deserves the widespread support it is receiving.   Road racing is a sport which the British have been doing particularly well in in recent years, as any follower of the Tour de France will know.  We need a more European type of approach to this sport if it is to flourish and there is a clear need for elected law-makers to take control from the law-enforcers.


  1. I'd like to ask a question, and forgive me if this is an inappropriate place. My son has just taken up triathlon. I escorted him today on his individual bike training (his team is taking a week long break). All was o.k except for one thing. We rode on the hard shoulder, but i was unsure as to how we shold take traffic lights or road junctions. Is there a "proper" way?

  2. Sad that government choose not to uphold the law but to change it to make illegal activity legal.

  3. I agree with anything that would prevent road races taking place.
    As a motorist and a horse owner, I am often on the receiving end of the numerous races that take place in the countryside where my horse is stabled.
    Only yesterday, we were confronted by dozens of bikes whilst leading our horses to their paddock, and despite asking them to speak as they approached, we were rewarded with stoney faces or flippent comments.
    Neither we or our horses can hear this silent peril and there will be an accident one day.
    We had had no warning that this race was to take place.
    I find it amazing that cycles are allowed to race on public roads when it is illegal for any motorised vehicle or horse racing {not that I would agree with those either}. These two wheeled menaces can go as fast as a car and can cause just as much damage or injury.
    If these races were to take place on town roads, there would be a much bigger outcry from the public but it seems to be acceptable to use our rural roads for this pastime. Unfortunately, there are still people who live and work here too.

    1. "These two wheeled menaces can go as fast as a car and can cause just as much damage or injury."

      So your saying that a 10KG bicycle and rider can cause the same amount of damage a 1000kg lump of metal and glass can? What is it that makes you believe this is so?

      I personally find animals on the road a nuisance. The roads are for transport, not a means of excersizing your pets.

  4. I was driving a lead car for my club's roadrace yesterday and one of the things we look out for is horses on the route. If the approach of cyclists you object to was silent, it was not a roadrace. It seems to me you have an issue with cyclists on the roads.
    Town and City Centre racing crits are very popular and do not cause an outcry.
    Your points appear to me all to be equally ill conceived.

  5. Jolly good. Anyone who disagrees with cycle racing or highlights poor behaviour is making "ill conceived" points.

    There are responsible cycling groups/cyclists just as much as there are irresponsible ones (some of whom ride in a manner inconsistent with road traffic laws). Weeding out the latter is not easy, but failure to do so tarnishes the reputation of the sport.

    Cyclists often complain of a lack of courtesy from other road users - all the earlier commentator suggested was that there should be a degree of reciprocity.

  6. sounds to me like anonymous above was probably on the receiving end of a sportive or club ride, not a road race.

  7. Are sportives or club rides restricted by law to a maximum group size? Whilst BCF events are regulated what stops 100+ riders going out together?

  8. As a member of the motorcycle National Escort Group (NEG GB) we have been in various discussions with British Cycling and the many police authorities with regards the law and the extent of powers of the marshals (static & mobile). In short, due to the current standing of CSAS accreditation (allowing us some level of temporary traffic management on the public highways) and coupled with the fact some police force regions are very anti-cycling means that as motorcycle marshals we are currently no more than observers and will remain so for a long time yet.

    However, I hear that a 'lollipop' sign has been trialled and may be allowed at some point in the future by someone, somewhere, somehow.

    NEG motorcycle marshals can also radio in to the Commissaire (the person in charge of the race) when an obstruction or possible delay (including horse & rider) is sighted, thus neutralizing the race (a temporary race halt and slowing) and ensuring that everyone goes home safe and happy.