Saturday 17 December 2011

Imperial Winter Series Hillingdon Race 3 Saturday 17th December

Another bright sunny but cold day (5ºC) with a blustery west wind.  The long shadows even at 1pm served as a reminder that we are close to the shortest day.  After last week's experience we started with a lecture on safe riding but I am afraid there were crashes in both the 3rd and 4th cat races again.  The one in the 3rd cat race unfolded before my eyes on the short uphill section between the right hand and left hand bends.  Started as a wobble near the front and got amplified so that the rider a few back had nowhere to go but the grass where I believe he at least got a soft landing.  The woman in the 4th cat race [correction: I see from Lucy's report she was in our race, I had not noticed] was not so fortunate and was lying on the circuit for several of our laps.  I hope she is ok.
The racing seemed fast today.  Again we did not catch the 4th cats, but at least they did not catch us either.  There were some spirited breaks and we were lined out at several points as the pace increased to get them back.  A good race though not for me personally.  I punctured with one and a half laps to go.  I now take spare wheels with me but you cannot have a lap out to change your wheel with under 5 laps to go.  I fell rapidly off the back as my rear tyre deflated.  I had hoped there would be sufficient air left for me to finish the race but at half a lap to go I was onto the rims.  I was not going to ride my racing wheels on the rims so I walked the last half lap both to finish and to pick up my spare wheel at the hut.
My stats will be a bit out because of the puncture but from the start to when I started walking: .
52 mins at 23.8 mph, max 29.2mph.
I stayed to watch a teammate in the following E/1/2/3 race.

E/1/2/3 midrace

E/1/2/3 Finish

Saturday 10 December 2011

Imperial Winter Series Race 2 - Saturday 10th December

A bright sunny day with a much lighter wind than last week but also a lot cooler at 6ºC.  I felt a bit more comfortable in the bunch this week only at the back on the occasions that the pace picked right up.  We passed the 4ths(or most of them) a couple of times today but on their penultimate lap, half a dozen or so of them passed us at the finish of their race, whilst at the same time they were lapping a substantial part of their own field.  We slowed to let them past and once their race finished the attacks in ours began.  Once again a small group got away n the final laps – Lucy’s report will have far more detail than I was able to observe.  At the bell I was at the back of the field and happy to stay there until we crossed the line.
Unhappily there was a crash in the 4th cat race, on the bend just before the clubhouse, and as I left the circuit two ambulances were there.  I hope those involved were not badly injured and recover soon.
Stats: 1h04m at av 24.9mph.  Max 30mph.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Porter v Denman

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while may recall that I was assaulted on 12th December 2010 and that the following weekend the Thames Valley Police interviewed my assailant, one Timothy Denman of Charvil, and gave him a simple (police) caution for assault.

I have commenced proceedings for assault in the Slough County Court.  Denman has now served a Defence which reads as follows:

"The Claimant is abusing his power and traping (sic) people that (sic) drive car's (sic) he was pushed due to provicatien (sic) and criminal damadge (sic) caused by his friend then used abusive langue (sic)."

I will let you know how matters progress.

Saturday 3 December 2011

Imperial Winter Series Hillingdon Race 1: Saturday 3rd December

Courtesy Mark Hopkins who has some great shots
permission applied for.
A mild sunny winter's day with a stiff westerly breeze.  When I looked on the Imperial site this morning I saw the 4th cat race was fully booked so I grabbed one of the few remaining places in the 3rd cat race before they also went.  It is an indication of just how popular racing in general and the Imperial Winter Series in particular is.  There must be some WyndyMilla sponsorship as the pink flags were out and I am now the owner of a WyndyMilla bidon (always useful).
This was my first race for 4 months and it showed.  I sat in towards the back for most of the race.  A break of 6 got away entirely unnoticed by me and we alternated between the literally conversational and the fairly frantic.  We never did catch the 4th cats, who I think must have had an exceptionally fast race today.  Perhaps because it was all now about 7th place the gallop for the line started much later than usual and with half a lap to go we were free wheeling in a close packed group down the back straight.  I was happy just to hang on in there and come in with the bunch.
Stats: 1h05m at av 24.6 mph.  Max 29.7 mph.

Friday 2 December 2011

No Further Action "NFA"

An expression I am getting used to.  Applied by the Met Police in this case to the driver who ran into me on 20th September, while I was stationary, and buckled my wheel when he emerged from a side road to turn right.  Had I not anticipated his poor driving and come to a complete halt to let him out well before the junction, it could have been a lot worse and it is massively inconvenient to have your bike put out of action half way to work.
I knew he was most unlikely to be charged, notwithstanding powerful evidence handed over on a plate in the form of a video, an extract of which I have put back up onto youtube.  (Forgive my swearing I initially thought it was going to be worse than it was).

Why not send him, and other drivers like him on a bikeability training course (the full cost of which they would of course pay) as an alternative to a prosecution?
On the bright side I did get a full prompt payout from his insurers, so credit to them.

EDIT: I do not want to get too bogged down in this but in deference to those who have expressed the view that I was wholly or partially to blame for this collision I attach a google earth aerial view of the location.  On any sensible view I stopped well short of the junction.  Perhaps the film does not clearly show this.  It seems obvious to me but then I was there.  The camera is attached to my head and so is moving about a bit even after I have stopped with my foot on the ground.  I am a bit sceptical of those who claim that if it had been them they would have stopped even further back, or who claim that it was not safe to use the hatched area to overtake.
I know this will not convince some (nothing will because I was on a bicycle).  I have made some people cross by deleting their comments.  I regret this but the one that remains is a reasonable representation of their views and there is no point in having it over and over again.

This is just about where I stop, just short of the zig-zags

Thursday 1 December 2011

BBC Radio Berkshire discussion

Radio Berkshire's Andrew Peach Show had a discussion (about 0840) about cycling this morning.  The parents of a child, Stephen Millington, tragically killed while cycling near Basingstoke in 2007, have called for compulsory cycle training for motorists.
As I said to Andrew Peach, I think this is a good idea.  Motorists sometimes get upset with cyclists who do not follow the rules, but in my experience, just as often get upset (even aggressive and violent) with cyclists who are following the rules.  It would help if motorists at least knew what the rules are.
There would be an added bonus that many more adult cyclists would, in practice, then get cycle training without discouraging cycling.(i.e. it is a condition of driving not cycling).
I can see there would be resistance to introducing this but, as a start, it could at least be an option for those who would otherwise receive Fixed Penalty Notices for road traffic offences.  As I noted when I was with the Cycle Task Force of the Metropolitan Police last month, there are many options for police officers to offer cyclists training instead of a ticket, but in marginal cases with motorists they seem to get off with a warning.
So I am with the Millingtons on this.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Updates from the Crown Court; R v McQuinn; R v Shapland

The Wirral Globe reports that today Mr McQuinn was cleared by a jury in Liverpool Crown Court of causing the death of David Noble by careless driving in Spital at 0950 on 20th October 2010.  Mr Noble was riding a bicycle at the time of the collision.  There was no suggestion that Mr Noble was in any way riding improperly when he was run down by a car driven by Mr McQuinn.  Mr McQuinn explained that the accident was unavoidable because the sun was in his eyes.  The jury took 17 minutes to return a not guilty verdict.

Last week the South Wales Evening Post reported that Mr Shapland was cleared by a jury in Swansea Crown Court of causing the death by careless driving of Olin Poulson after a collision on the A40 near Carmathen on 3rd September 2010.  A tachograph and telephone records revealed that Mr Shapland had been driving his articulated lorry at 52 mph (speed limit for lorries 40 mph) and had been on his hands free 'phone at the time of the collision.  He explained that Mr Poulson had turned right across his path as he was overtaking.

I am not privy to all the evidence in either case.  Clearly, in my view, each driver had a case to answer and it was only right that the prosecutions were brought.  The jury verdicts do not affect that and no prosecuting authority should expect a 100% success rate in the Crown Court.  It is an improvement over some cases in the past where prosecutions have not been brought and the drivers have never been called to explain their actions to a Court.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

One Cyclist sues another; Brown v Brent & British Cycling

On the last weekend in August 2007 the Surrey Cycle Racing League with the assistance of the Army CU organised a three day stage race comprising four stages for 2nd and 3rd cat racers.  Proceedings kicked off with a short time trial up Boxhill on Friday evening and this was followed on Saturday afternoon with a 70 mile road race.  4th up Boxhill, but not so hot on the road race was George Brent, a 2nd cat rider with Addiscombe CC.  On Sunday, Stage 3 in the morning was an 11.5 mile time trial and the final stage on Sunday afternoon was a 60 mile road race on the Ewhurst Circuit with a final climb up Leith Hill.

The Ewhurst Circuit takes the riders down Ockley Road into Ewhurst where there is a sharp left at a mini-roundabout outside the Bull’s Head Pub.  At this point in the race (it may have been the 4th lap but this is not entirely clear), there was a breakaway group of 5 or 6 riders being chased by George Brent who was attempting to bridge the gap between the bunch and the lead group.  Given those circumstances it is not really surprising that he was going at speed and that he needed to take a racing line around the left hand turn, taking advantage of being a sole rider at this point.

Unhappily for both men another cyclist, Carlton Brown, came down Shere Road (from the right in the above Google earth shot) and turned into Ockley Road, apparently oblivious to the fact that a road race was in progress coming straight towards him.  The two cyclists collided close to the mini roundabout.  Any initial uncertainty as to which side of the central dotted white line the collision occurred was dispersed by the existence of video camera footage.  This demonstrated that the cyclists came together somewhere to the right of the white dotted centre line (as the picture and George Brent saw it.)

Mr Brown sued both Mr Brent and the British Cycling Federation who were ultimately responsible for the running of the race.  The report that I have seen indicates nothing about the extent of the injuries of either man but I see no indication that Mr Brent counterclaimed (as he might have done) against Mr Brown.

Mr Brown claimed that Mr Brent should not have crossed the white line in the middle of the road into his path and that he was riding too fast.  The Judge, His Honour Judge Atkins, sitting in the Croydon County Court accepted these allegations.  The fact that Mr Brent was competing in a road race did not exempt him from the obligation to comply with the Highway Code.  As the Judge put it:
            “as has been accepted, and I think rightly accepted, this was a race which was taking place on a public road and the fact that it was a race does not mean   that people can ride or drive in a different way.  They have to be aware that members of the public can use the road and they are governed by the same rules as anybody else.”

The Highway Code (rule 160) requires traffic to keep to the left of the centre line unless overtaking or turning right.  This is a rule that is breached frequently by cyclists (and I daresay motorcyclists) taking a line around a bend but I think the moral is that if you are going to do it, do it only in circumstances where you are quite sure nothing is coming the other way and that means not doing it on or near a junction.

Mr Brown also brought a claim essentially against the race organisers.  His most interesting allegation was that the organisers ought to have ensured that the road was closed to members of the public.  The judge gave that short shrift:
            “the position about that is that it is possible to ask the highway authority to close the roads.  It is obviously an extreme step to take.  I simply say that in the circumstances of this case I do not think it was a proportionate or appropriate step for the organisers to take.  I think that they under an        obligation to take all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of road users whether participating in the race or otherwise, and I think they did take all such steps.”

I hope the police forces who are most wary of races on the open roads will heed those words.  It is not proportionate or appropriate to close the roads for an amateur road race.

Mr Brown also criticised the organisers for their control of the race.   He said he should have been warned but the Judge found there were appropriate warning signs and marshals that Mr Brown did not see or hear.  A marshal had done his best to communicate to Mr Brown but, perhaps because Mr Brown was wearing ear-phones, had not got through (the Judge observed that Mr Brown was wearing head-phones but found both that that was not negligent and that it had not caused the accident).  Whether the lollipop signs that are now being trialled, and which will enable a marshal to compel a road-user to stop, would have prevented this unfortunate accident must be conjecture but certainly they should help.  He also said the organisers should have prevented Mr Brent crossing the white dotted line but the usual Commisssaire’s briefing (‘obey the highway Code’) had been given and there was no more that the organisers could reasonably have done.

Finally the Judge examined Mr Brown’s own responsibility for the accident.  He found that he should have heeded the warnings and was in the circumstances travelling too fast.  The finding that he was not negligent in wearing headphones is of potential interest.  The law (and the Highway Code) do not prohibit it but the DirectGov ‘Cycling Safely’ website advises “Stay alert! Don't listen to music or use a mobile phone while cycling – distractions cause accidents”.


Ultimately the Judge found Mr Brent two-thirds to blame for the collision and Mr Brown one-third to blame.  He acquitted the race organisers of any blame at all.


Although this is a County Court case (and strictly not citable to any future Court) it is illustrative of the duties that race competitors owe to members of the public who are not involved in the race.  Road races in this country are almost invariably very well organised and this is the first case of which I am aware where a competitor has been successfully sued.


Though not involved in the race I should declare an interest as a member of both the Surrey League and British Cycling.  I hope both cyclists have recovered.

Monday 7 November 2011

Legal update: R (on application of Kate Cairns) v Deputy Coroner of Inner West London

Today sitting in the Adminsitrative Court, Silber J has rejected the claim brought by Kate Cairns for a Judicial Review of the Inquest into the death of her sister Eilidh Cairns, who was fatally struck by an HGV in Notting Hill on 5th February 2009.  There were complaints about case management which appear to relate specifically to the way in which that particular Inquest was conducted.

Of broader public interest was the Deputy Coroner's decision not to make any recommendation pursuant to her powers under rule 43 of the Coroners Rules 1984.  This rule provides that:

"Prevention of future deaths
43.—(1) Where—
(a) a coroner is holding an inquest into a person's death;
(b) the evidence gives rise to a concern that circumstances creating a risk of other deaths will occur, or will continue to exist, in the future; and
(c) in the coroner's opinion, action should be taken to prevent the occurrence or continuation of such circumstances, or to eliminate or reduce the risk of death created by such circumstances,
the coroner may report the circumstances to a person who the coroner believes may have power to take such action."

As pointed out by Silber J, this rule provides the Coroner with a considerable degree of discretion, so that even if (a), (b) and (c) are all satisfied (which they surely are in all cases where cyclists are run down by HGVs), the Coroner may (not must or should) report the circumstances to a person who it is believed may have power to take such action.

What fortified the Judge in his conviction that the Coroner had not exercised her discretion in such a way that no reasonable Coroner could have done was that "PC Clark of the Collision Investigation [Branch of the Metropolitan Police] explained that he was unaware of anything which could be done to prevent accidents of the kind in which Miss Cairns was tragically killed".

The really worrying thing is that this counsel of despair from the police is both voiced and is so readily accepted.  A Collision Investigator ought to start from the premise that this type of collision is preventable - a clue is in his title, in that the Metropolitan Police (and most Coroners) have, unlike the Administrative Court, abandoned the term 'road traffic accident' for 'road traffic collision'.  The reason for the change in terminology is because of the potential to confuse 'accident' with 'unavoidable event'.  A Police Sergeant in the Metropolitan Police's Cycle Task Force reminded me of this change last week.  It does not take more than a moment's reflection to come up with the ideas of better (or any) mirrors, sensors, training and enforcement as areas for action that may eliminate or reduce the risk of a repeat of the circumstances that led to Eilidh Cairns's untimely death.   My reading of the rule is that it is concerned not so much with a specific action that would have necessarily prevented the death inquired into (sadly the facts seem to have remained obscure in Eilidh's case) but action that would reduce the risk of future deaths in the same circumstances.

All of us who cycle on London's streets know that the quality of lorry driver is highly variable.  Near misses from lorries are not pursued by the Metropolitan Police because (I learnt last week) a safe passing distance is thought to be too subjective.  The quality of response from employers of drivers who have passed much too close varies from the highly responsible to the shockingly irresponsible (I have had one example of each in the last few days).  It does not take many miles of cycling experience to recognize that action is required to reduce the number of HGV/cyclist collisions which so frequently result in death.  A 'nothing can be done' attitude would be unthinkable if considering deaths in an industrial, disease, terrorism or virtually any other unnatural premature death outside the context of road traffic collisions (maybe even especially in the context of pedestrians and cyclists - I will wait with interest to learn, for example, whether a report is made in relation to the recent M5 tragedy).

Action by whom, the police officer or Coroner may ask?  Happily the rule requires only that the recipient of a Coroner's recommendation may have power to take action.  I suggest the (new) Secretary of State for Transport, the (new) Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the Mayor of London as my candidates for persons who may have such power.

Thursday 3 November 2011

My morning with the Metropolitan Police Cycling Taskforce

Last month I referred in a blog to the Metropolitan Police Task Force in connection with my response to the latest public consultation by the Metropolitan Police Authority to set police priorities.  This resulted in an invitation from the Inspector in charge of the Cycle Task Force to see the work that they did.  I accepted and as a consequence I pedalled down to Chelsea football stadium yesterday morning to meet one of their officers.

I was a little early and was surrounded by some special constables so keen to security mark my bicycle that I felt it would be impolite to decline.  That done, I had the PC, Michael, pointed out to me.  He was a little way down Fulham Road, standing beside his bicycle staring intently at some pedestrian lights.  The plan was to stop the cyclists who jumped the lights and invite them to enter the cab of a lorry to see what it was like ‘Exchanging Places’.  I had just missed him forcing one reluctant cyclist to a stop by interlocking arms which had resulted in the cyclist falling from his bike and muttering about a possible complaint.  The first lesson is clear enough; if a uniformed police officer requires you to stop, do so voluntarily.  It is less hazardous than the other way.

Part 1 – Exchanging Places

Introductions made, I stepped up into the driver’s seat of a Keltbray lorry.  In the passenger seat was another police officer who had experience (as it transpires, does Michael) of driving HGVs.  Another officer pushed my own bicycle into various positions around the nearside and front of the lorry.

My first impression (possibly contrary to the one intended) was just how good the driver’s visibility was from the cab using the ‘standard’ side mirrors and an angled mirror at the front of the windscreen, revealing what was immediately in front, and a further angled mirror on the offside just above the passenger side window.  I asked whether these were the standard required mirrors and was told that they were on new vehicles but there is no requirement for the retro-fitting of older vehicles.  Without those two ‘additional’ mirrors there were huge blind spots both to the front and to the nearside of the cab.  The officer explained that it would be unacceptable to require retrofitting because of the cost.  I have to say that I disagree with that viewpoint.  [I am also fairly sure that the position is quite a lot more complicated than that and retrofitting of at least some mirrors on at least some lorries is required.  Furthermore Sir Alan Beith’s bill is reaching a critical stage and this merits a whole different post] 
In any event, having seen how the simple expedient of carrying two additional mirrors so dramatically improves the ability of the driver to see areas which include the ones that he is directly driving into, if going either straight ahead or turning to the left, I am even more firmly behind the See me, Save me campaign set up in memory of Eilidh Cairns.  Responsible companies will install these mirrors (and sensors because as the officer explained to me there will always be drivers who do not look in their mirrors, however good) but it is the less responsible ones about which we should be most concerned and who should certainly be denied any competitive advantage over their more responsible competitors.  It is hard to see why having adequate mirrors/sensors should be thought of as anything other than essential equipment to lessen the risk an industry imposes upon other people.  With or without mirrors or sensors, I will be continuing my policy of never trusting an HGV unless and until you have eye-balled the driver.  (I was one of a tiny disappointing minority who would not be changing their behaviour as a result of the experience).
It was striking that from a lorry cab at the first stop line, anything in the cyclists’ advanced stop box is invisible without the additional mirror at the front.  The police officer and I did agree that if you have a lorry behind, you get into a position where you can eyeball the driver even if that takes you over the second stop line.  Perhaps advanced stop boxes should be deeper but I was told that was unacceptable because it would interfere with road capacity and therefore traffic flow!  Perhaps careful lorry drivers should stop short of the stop line so that they could see the box ahead?  No that was not practical either I was told (though the Sergeant I saw later said better trained drivers did do this)..
The officer in the cab was friendly and charming and I am sure police relations with the cycling public features largely on the agenda.  He did not though appear to be an experienced cyclist (at one point I was shown how difficult it was to see the officer on the ground wheeling my bike ‘and that is with him standing up, never mind when he is sitting down on his bike’) and any suggested action on the part of lorry drivers and their employers to reduce risk seemed to be excused away with a rapid refocus on the actions of the cyclist.
I am sure this exercise is useful (feedback forms including my own confirm this) but it should not be thought to be tackling bad driving.  ‘Exchanging Places’ is really a misnomer, I saw no lorry drivers invited to take the place of cyclists.  I remain unconvinced that many of tragic cases we have of lorries running down cyclists are caused by the cyclist’s ignorance of a driver’s blind spots.  As I mentioned in the cab, I saw bad driving by lorries around cyclists on a daily basis and had on my way to Chelsea witnessed (but sadly not filmed) a trailer lorry overtake a group of cyclists before turning left forcing them all to a stop.  I was going to be interested to learn what action was taken to counter this sort of behaviour. Collision avoidance, it seems to me, requires not just a warning to cyclists about how they pass lorries but also to lorries about how they pass cyclists.  The former is perhaps the easier to address.

Part 2 – The Patrol

I next followed Michael through the crowded streets of west London up to High Holborn then across the infamous Blackfriars Bridge to the Taskforce’s HQ at Palestra.  We had only gone a few hundred metres before at a red light, Michael took the opportunity to warn a cyclist who had stopped way past the stop line.  I waited in the advance stop box alongside a police motorcyclist (I really do not know the state of the lights when he got into that box; it was stop/go traffic) to whom the sight of a colleague on a bicycle seemed to be quite a novelty ‘Whatever next?’

Further on Michael stopped, said he was turning round and headed back towards a skip lorry.  I was beginning to learn that Michael had extraordinarily keen vision.  I see a lot of mobile ‘phone use by drivers; what I see must be the tip of an iceberg because Michael spotted many examples all of which I missed.  This was the first.  The lorry driver was instantly apologetic with a sob story so convincing it could almost have been rehearsed.  Michael is kind hearted almost, in my view, to a fault.  He warned the driver in relation to his use of a hand held mobile ‘phone and for failure to wear a seat belt.  Once the driver had gone on his way promising never to do it again, I queried how an officer decides whether or not to issue a penalty notice.  In this case the driver had picked up his ‘phone only for a moment before seeing Michael.  Of course I had not seen it at all, but still the concept of a lorry driver in crowded Chelsea streets looking at his phone screen and deciding to take the call scares me.  Michael did not, it seems, have any option of ‘encouraging’ him to attend a course in exchange for such leniency (I would happily help devise one which would probably involve lorry drivers on bicycles riding up and down the A30 from East Bedfont to Staines; though there would probably be some health and safety objection on the grounds that there were too many lorries about!)

We carried on up to Hyde Park Corner and to Piccadilly, where Michael again spotted a driver creeping forward and looking down at his mobile ‘phone either texting or dialling.  He was pulled over and the intent was to issue the driver with a paperless ticket.  This involved Michael using his own hand held electronic device during the course of which the system hung so it remained a matter of conjecture as to whether the Fixed Penalty had gone through or not.  It is to Michael’s credit that he and the driver left on evidently friendly terms.

A little further on, a courier on a fixed wheel emerged from a side street through a red light without so much as a glance in our direction as we went through our light on green.   Michael put on a burst of speed and forced the cyclist against the kerb to stop him.  This one was definitely going to get a ticket but it was reduced in amount if the cyclist logged onto the Taskforce’s cycling safety website for some online training within the next couple of weeks.

We carried on up to Holborn.  I had let a girl on a Boris Bike through a tight gap in traffic ahead of me and so she passed Michael as he waited for me to catch up.  She therefore knew a police officer was right behind her but that did not stop her from going through the next red light (slowly it has to be said and without any sign of a pedestrian nearby, so rather different in quality from the courier’s offence).  Michael had no difficulty stopping her and with, I thought, impeccable judgment, did not issue a fixed penalty.  Instead he took the bike number of her Boris bike, as requested by TfL, so that they could write to her and ask her kindly to obey the law whilst riding one of their bikes.

It was then a first for me going over Blackfriars Bridge on a bicycle.  I would have liked to have been there to protest but have never quite managed and my sense was that Michael shared my puzzlement that the speed limit on that bridge has just been raised (‘to ease traffic flow’).

Finally after we had parked up our bikes and were walking over to the Palestra entrance, Michael again spotted a white van driver on a handheld mobile.  He indicated to him to put it down.

Part 3 – In Palestra with the Police Sergeant

Michael escorted me to the desk of his Sergeant, Simon, who was off his bike as a consequence of a nasty motorcycle accident.  He had been asked by his Inspector to discuss tactics and performance with me and to answer my questions.

I was interested in the lorry side of ‘Exchanging Places’ and Simon did assure me that they ran some very successful courses for lorry drivers.  It was stressed that a lorry driver’s time is money (rather like mine is, I thought) and they (or their employers) were incentivised to attend by receiving necessary continuing training points.  When Simon told me that they terrify some of them, I at first thought he meant by putting them on bicycles in traffic, but it transpired what he meant was by stressing the consequences to them (financial, loss of liberty and psychological) of being involved in a collision.

On police discretion, he was very sure that we were far better policed by officers than by automatons and he had no time for ‘zero tolerance’.  I moved on to ‘total tolerance’ which is how I see enforcement of advanced stop lines.  The statistics on Simon’s computer did not break down how may traffic light offences were advanced stop line (only) but he did agree that the figure would be ‘zero or close to zero’.  He felt that since this was an endorseable offence the penalty was disproportionate to the ‘inconvenience’ caused.  I felt that these boxes potentially were there not just for convenience but for safety and were being ignored as a matter of routine by many drivers who knew there was no risk of enforcement action.   Simon did think it was rather unpleasant for a motorist to have an officer give him a warning in the presence of other ‘intimidating’ cyclists.  His knockout point was to ask me how I would feel if I was given a ticket for entering such a box on my bicycle other than through the designated feeder lane.  I said that were that to happen I looked forward to challenging the penalty in the Magistrates’ Court (the hard part would be deciding whether to defend the case on the grounds of necessity or to plead guilty and ask for an absolute discharge but either way to ask for my costs).  Apparently enforcement of advanced stop lines might happen in the future, particularly if it became a separate non-endorseable offence.

I wanted to raise the question of the reporting of driving offences, which in my view is a great deal more difficult than it ought to be, and about which I have blogged in the past.  Simon indicated that in the event of a collision the requirement of the Road Traffic Act to report it to the police required the formality of attending a police station.  We each tried to remind the other and ourselves of the precise reporting requirements of the Act and agreed that it did not apply to a report made by a cyclist.  Simon’s point then was that clearly it would not be right to have cyclists in some privileged position compared to, say, motorcyclists.  However what is clear to some is not to others, and I cannot see any principled objection to making cyclists’ lives easier than motorists; we are after all as a state or society trying to encourage cycling at the expense of motoring for an embarrassment of good reasons.  Of course, Simon is not in a position to do anything to affect this (nor probably is his Inspector whom I did not meet).  It is something that I think the Police Authority could look at when determining their priorities.  During my waits in queues in Charing Cross Police Station I have had plenty of time to study the lists of dedicated numbers for the reporting of offences such as domestic violence or homophobic abuse to which some priority has plainly (and rightly) been given.

Looking at the feedback forms from ‘Exchanging Places’ the question of cycle training came up and I took the opportunity to ask Simon about what he thought of bikeability training and whether his officers were bikeability trained.  Simon indicated he was enthusiastic about bikeability and his officers were trained to the same principles.  He well understood the primary riding position and why cyclists took it.  I mentioned that my own (limited) observations of officers riding was that they were not a shining beacon to enlighten the motoring public that occupation of a lane by a bicycle was acceptable and not provocative behaviour.  Further I had heard second hand that some of the letters written by Roadsafe were said to have reinforced the perception that cyclists should be at the edge of the road.  I am certainly not going to attempt to teach experienced police officers how they should ride but I nonetheless wonder whether an experienced outside bikeability instructor might be able to give them some insights.

My perception of the patrol was that is a very useful way of dealing with mobile phone users and traffic light offences.  However nobody is going to act aggressively or close pass a uniformed police officer and I wondered if they ever went out undercover.  The problem with that is that unless unformed they cannot require someone to stop.  They have very good HD cameras on their helmets and so could usefully be gathering evidence but I suppose, on reflection, they have a steadily rising group of people doing that for them for free.  This moved us on to the Roadsafe initiative (which is separate from Simon’s group).  Simon thought prosecuting close passing motor vehicles was not sensible because it was all very subjective.  I disagree, in many cases a vehicle is much too close in clear contravention of the Highway Code and driving at the very least without due consideration.  It further represents a powerful disincentive to cycling (if it make me think twice it must make countless others never take to their bikes again).  We discussed the effectiveness of writing letters and were able to agree that it was better than nothing.  I mentioned that the Surrey Police had taken the view that one of my shots of a close pass was sufficient for a prosecution and I will let Simon know the outcome of that in due course.

Finally I slightly abused my invitation by raising my own personal disappointment that a motorist who attacked me had been given a police caution, and how I thought that violence against cyclists was a pernicious evil that ought to excite a determined response.  I had just read about yet another case of a motorist taking the trouble to stop and get out of his vehicle to assault a cyclist, this time in Cambridge.  Simon had heard of the Bexley case but had not heard the suggestion that the police had required a bit of encouragement to track down and pursue that yob.  Simon’s take was that the caution in my case had nothing to do with the victim being a cyclist and illustrated a more general problem.


It would certainly not be fair to suggest that the police are doing nothing to counter poor driving on our roads (and I make clear I have never suggested this).  It was amply demonstrated to me that the Cycling Taskforce is in a very good position to spot and deal with mobile phone and traffic light offences.  The statistics Simon showed me demonstrate they do even more with, for example, a handful of drunk drivers apprehended (they do have breathalysers in their substantial panniers).  I mentioned that I felt some greater emphasis of this part of their work on their website could be useful.  Certainly I do not see it as my role to promulgate this information for them.  The observational powers of Michael were truly impressive and this is unquestionably a good use of hard pressed police funds.  Indeed out of patrol cars and off motorbikes and onto bicycles is a good way to go in Central London.

As I mentioned to Simon on the lift downward, I am more likely to be harmed by a bad driver than by a terrorist and the status and resources of traffic officers ought to reflect that.  I maintain the view, which I have represented to the Police Authority, that greater priority could be given to the easy reporting and serious enforcement action, against those whose poor driving endangers vulnerable road users.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Eilidh Cairns - was the inquest into her death adequate?

BBC News has been reporting the Judicial Review proceedings heard today by Mr Justice Silber in the Administrative Court.  The legal action has been taken by the family of Eilidh Cairns against the Deputy Coroner of West London, Dr Shirley Radcliffe.  Dr Radcliffe was responsible for conducting the Inquest into the death of Eilidh who was killed by a lorry whilst she was cycling in Notting Hill in February 2009.
Counsel for the family is quoted as arguing that Dr Radcliffe failed to comply with her duties to "fully, fairly and fearlessly" investigate the facts of the death.  "There was a failure to consider the wider impact of Eilidh's death and the huge problem facing cyclists in London."
Counsel for the Deputy Coroner is quoted as arguing that the type of accident was "tragically common".and that there was no element of the accident which gave the coroner reason to think it "illustrated a systemic problem or that it might call for some specific response".
I confess that I find this response challenging; the fact that this type of accident is 'tragically common' may be thought to suggest that there is a systemic problem to which there could helpfully be 'some specific response'.
The death this month of fashion student Min Joo Lee in the motor-centric area of London around Kings Cross means that another Inquest will shortly be examining another death of a cyclist under a lorry.  Her death is the subject of an interesting article at The Guardian Bike Blog
An active participation in the prevention of future unnecessary deaths might be thought to be one of the strongest justifications there is for the coronial system of investigation that has come down to us from Medieval times.
I, for one, will be awaiting Silber J's Judgment with interest.

Friday 7 October 2011

Metropolitan Police Consultation

The Metropolitan Police Authority are consulting us on the priorities to set for the Metropolitan Police.  The closing date is 25th November.  I have responded indicating what I believe might be an appropriate priority for them.
I have written before about the Roadsafe London website of the Metropolitan Police.  I have reported many instances of bad driving to them and my hope is that they have written to at least some of the miscreants I have identified.  However they have clearly rewritten their webpage in order to clarify what their priorities are:

"Please tell us about people who:
  • Drive under the influence of drink or drugs
  • Drive with no insurance
  • Drive without a licence or whilst disqualified from driving
  • Using an un-roadworthy vehicle
We are also happy to hear about:
  • Drivers who race or excessively rev their cars close to homes.
  • Road layouts that you think may be dangerous or could be improved.
  • Criminals who deliberately cause crashes to defraud the insurance industry"
There is an old legal maxim expressio unius est exclusio alterius which helpfully identifies that if you list a lot of things you want to be told about then it suggests that you may not be too interested in other things.  Equally if you list a lot of things that you are happy to hear about, it rather suggests you are not happy to hear about other things.  So where does bad driving around cyclists, use of mobile phones whilst driving, roadrage and the like fit into all this?  Possibly somewhere below the interests of the insurance industry and the peace and quiet of residential areas (not that those things do not have some importance, but they are not life and death).

I thought I had better look to the Metropolitan Police Cycle Taskforce in the hope that they were working hard to keep us cyclists safe from harm on the road.  Their priority appears to be very clearly on cycle theft (again important but not life and death) though they have set up a lorry in Trafalgar Square to show cyclists lorry blindspots (with an emphasis it seems on changing the behaviour of cyclists rather than that of lorries).  I could not see that there was a way of reporting bad driving to them.

Having hunted around a bit on the Metropolitan Police website, I thought I might make a contribution to what I thought might be prioritised more highly than at present.

Saturday 1 October 2011

What's that camera doing on your head (Part 2)?

It has been nearly 15 months since I last answered this question.  Since then I have filmed two incidents that have resulted in prosecutions in the Magistrates' Courts (neither yet concluded) and have some footage of a collision which could be useful in the event that liability for the damage becomes an issue.  The camera, modest as it is, has served a useful purpose.
Alas, I did not have my camera when I was assaulted on a Sunday club run but I read from The Dartford Messenger that as a consequence of helmet camera footage, the man who assaulted a cyclist in Bexley has been convicted and punished.  This follows the conviction of a motorist in Manchester of assaulting a cyclist and driving without due care as reported in The Manchester Evening News.  There is no doubt that neither criminal would have been brought to justice without helmet camera footage.  Incidently the Bexley case leads me to nominate for judicial hero of the year District Judge Roger Ede who commented that:
“Cyclists are very vulnerable and they feel exposed and feel threatened when a car comes too close to them.  Car drivers need to respect cyclists and understand that.”
 Using a camera does though court a degree of controversy, even amongst the odd fellow cyclist.  Some argue that those with cameras go out 'looking for trouble' or that they 'bring trouble on themselves', or that their expectation that the laws there to protect them be obeyed and enforced is insufferably self-righteousness.  Others claim that they avoid all trouble through their superior riding skills and calm state of mind.  I find it difficult to accept that any cyclist would look for trouble; there is simply too much at stake, and I am frankly astonished at how ready some people are to  blame cyclists for any dangerous driving or other aggression that takes place around them.  We surely want more people to take to cycling and they will, by definition, start off as inexperienced.  How many will persevere in the face of experiences like the following?

It is impossible to convey how intimidating this is without camera footage and I defy anybody to explain how this is the fault of anybody but the lorry driver's, or how calm acceptance on the part of the cyclist (that's me) of current conditions on the roads would have helped prevent this.
I do not see how it can be anything but good for all cyclists to have this standard of driving brought to the driver, his employer's and the police's attention.

UPDATE 19.01.12.  Since I wrote the above both the Magistrates' Court cases mentioned above have been concluded.  Scott Lomas was convicted of a Public Order Offence committed near Hounslow and charges were dropped against Christopher Bootle for (alleged) inconsiderate driving in Staines because on review of the file it was discovered that the necessary notice of intention to prosecute had not been served.

Saturday 24 September 2011

Road Traffic Collision

A car ran into me last week and buckled my front wheel.  Fortunately my only injury was a sprained thumb in contact with the handlebars at the time of the blow.  I did not come off the bike as I was already stationary with a foot on the ground by the time of impact.  We exchanged details so at least it was not a 'hit and run'.  However driving into a stationary bicycle who has right of way over you in the middle of the road smacks to me of careless driving and I wished to report it to the police.
'No', I could not report it to the Metropolitan Police Roadsafe site, they do not deal in collisions.  'No' I could not file the multi-page Collision Report Form on-line or send it in.  'Yes', I had to deliver it to a police station and hand it in (an effective way to deter reporting).
So, for the second time in a year, I found myself waiting for 20 minutes at Charing Cross Police Station behind a queue of people reporting the theft of their mobile 'phones so that I could hand over a form.
Will any action be taken?  I doubt it but I will keep you posted.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Legal Update Autumn 2011

This update has to return to the thorny issue of contributory negligence on the part of a cyclist for not wearing a cycle helmet. The issue arose in unusual circumstances in the case of Reynolds v Strutt & Parker LLP [2011]EWHC 2263. Judgment was delivered by His Honour Judge Oliver-Jones QC (sitting as a deputy Judge of the High Court – and apparently sitting in the Chancery Division!). The case has, in addition, implications for those who organise cycle races.

Mr Reynolds brought what, on the face of it, might be thought an ambitious claim against his employers for not making him wear a cycle helmet so as to protect him from the consequences of his own recklessness when taking part in a cycle race. The cycle race was organised by Mr Reynolds’s employers, a well known estate agency, and formed part of a social afternoon of team bonding. As part of the fun, Mr Reynolds and his co-workers were not told of the nature of the day’s events until they arrived at the site where the activities were to take place.

The race was between only four competitors and took place on a 3.5 km, 6 to 8 metre wide, closed road racing circuit at Fowlmead Country Park (built on the site of the former Betteshanger Colliery near Deal, Kent.)

Much of the Judgment is taken up with a discussion as to whether there was an adequate risk assessment with what appears to be an assumption all round that such an assessment should require the use of helmets. The Highway Code recommendation about helmets is not of course directly relevant since the race was not on the Highway. Instead there was reference to a Health and Safety Executive recommendation that cycle helmets be worn. Unfortunately the Judge does not indicate where this recommendation is to be found. Some of the witnesses clearly thought that there was a relevant HSE recommendation. At one point the Judge refers to ‘the recommended use of helmets by the HSE, which itself was, in my judgment ignored’ and at a later point that one witness ought to have discussed with his colleagues ‘what was said to be an HSE recommendation for the use of helmets’. There appears to have been a very curious failure to get to the bottom of what the HSE did recommend and how. I am not aware of any HSE guidance on the topic and perhaps if any reader is they would be kind enough to post a comment with the reference.

Possibly the rather sketchy consideration as to whether helmets should be worn is explained by the fact that the Claimant’s case against his employer depended upon proving that they were in breach of duty in failing to provide a helmet and the employer was in turn running a contributory negligence argument that Mr Reynolds was at fault in not wearing a helmet.  Furthermore on the Defendant's version of the facts they had advised Mr Reynolds to wear a helmet. There was nobody there then to interfere with the cosy consensus that helmets should have been worn.

Obviously the competitors themselves did not have helmets (or presumably any other cycling kit) as they did not know they were going to be racing until they got to the Park. The Park had some helmets and, on the Judge’s findings, when presented with their bicycles the twelve competitors were told that helmets were available, but were not encouraged, still less required, to wear them. Apparently only one of the 12 competitors in the event wore a helmet. The deeply unattractive prospect of putting on a helmet in which somebody else has raced does not appear to have struck anybody in Court.

The 12 racers were split into groups of 4 who competed, as two teams of two, in heats so the race in which Mr Reynolds was injured started as a four horse race. It appears that Mr. Reynolds led much of the way but the tactically more savvy colleague, one Mr Cracknell, looked like passing him in the sprint for the line. The Judge found that Mr Reynolds then made a deliberate decision to prevent Cracknell passing him and forcing him to brake. ‘He was making a deliberate decision to behave in an aggressive manner, reckless as to the consequences.'  As every racing cyclist knows the deliberate blocking of a rival, especially in the sprint is, absolutely not on, highly dangerous and almost certain to end in disaster. So it was in this case: Mr Cracknell was fortunately uninjured (had he been injured he could presumably have sued Mr Reynolds); Mr Reynolds unhappily was injured sustaining a serious brain injury.

Causation was addressed in as perfunctory manner as the assumed need to wear a helmet and for similar reasons. The Defendant did not have an expert at all and the Claimant had no medical evidence (described as a fundamental evidential omission by Griffith Williams J in Smith v Finch). The Claimant did have evidence form Dr Bryan Chinn (the same expert who gave evidence for Mr Smith to the effect that a helmet does not protect in a high speed impact). On this occasion he gave evidence that a helmet would have helped because the speed with which Mr Reynolds’s head struck the ground was within the range where use of a cycle helmet was effective. There was, however, a notable absence of a finding as to the speed at which Mr Reynolds’s head did strike the ground, and it seems improbable that it was less than the 12 mph standard to which helmets must conform. Possibly with an eye to the argument to be run that Reynolds was himself at fault in not wearing a helmet the Defendant ultimately conceded that the absence of a helmet was causative of some injury (how some injury differed from the actual injury was not further explored).

These findings of breach (carelessness) and causation were necessary both for a finding of liability against the Defendant employer for not encouraging/requiring the Claimant to use one of those proffered helmets and also for a finding of contributory negligence against the Claimant for not wearing one of those helmets. The ultimate division of responsibility was one third (Defendant employer) and two thirds (Claimant Mr Reynolds) so that the Claimant recovers one third of the dmages he would have got if the Defendant was wholly liable. Given that Reynolds had deliberately and recklessly blocked his opponent one has to assume that the deduction for not wearing a helmet was marginal compared to the deduction required for deliberately reckless cycling (the two elements were never separated out).

For reasons expressed above the Judgment is not really a satisfactory authority for anything. It will perhaps reinforce upon race organisers a need for a risk assessment to contain provision for requiring the use of cycle helmets. It has no sensible bearing upon the situation where a motorised vehicle collides with a cyclist.

Final thought: is it better that people race without helmets or that they do not race at all; a consideration relevant to section 1 of the Compensation Act 2006?  The Judge thought requiring helmets would not put people off taking part in this type of recreational activity; maybe not if you have your own helmet.
So far as I am aware there is no appeal against this decision.  In his litigation, at least, Mr Reynolds has been fortunate.

My Spring update dealt with another helmet case, Phethean-Hubble v Coles. This case is due to come before the Court of Appeal in late November though I doubt that the helmet issue will feature prominently.

Tuesday 6 September 2011

Helmet Camera Prosecution Updates

Scott Lomas - the trial on a charge of threatening/abusive words/behaviour which was due to take place tomorrow has today been adjourned at Lomas's request.  There will be another preliminary hearing, this time at West London Magistrates' Court on 20th September.

[UPDATE:  Lomas was apparently unwell on 20th September and appeared instead on 4th October.  The trial is now set to take place on 28th November 2011 at West London Magistrates Court (Hammersmith) at 0930.]

I have also learnt today that an individual whom I filmed has been charged with careless driving and his first appearance will be before Staines Magistrates' Court on 13th October.

[FURTHER UPDATE 09.12.11:  The Lomas case has been adjourned to 18th January 2012.  The Staines case against Christopher Bootle has been withdrawn due to an administrative failure to serve a Notice of Intended Prosecution in time].

Tuesday 30 August 2011

My etape and Roadpeace - An update - £1,000 raised.

Many thanks to those who have so generously supported my etape this year by providing sponsorship for Roadpeace.  With all contributions presumably now in, the donations with tax relief have come to £1,000, which I am hoping the Charity will find a useful addition to their resources.

Monday 29 August 2011


There has been considerable media interest in the reaction of the Criminal Justice System to the summer rioting that broke out in many major cities this month.  This morning on the radio I heard a representative of magistrates argue with a representative of prison governors over whether there had been  a frenzy of disproportionate sentences meted out to those involved in the riots.  I am not particularly qualified to comment -it has been many years since I regularly attended the criminal courts.  Some of the sentencing does strike me as tough, but no more so than on other occasions when the Establishment is under threat.
Also on the radio over the summer I heard a senior London Crown Prosecutor indicate that no cautions had been given to offenders involved in the riots.  A document leaked from the Metropolitan Police to The Guardian appears to confirm that as a matter of policy no cautions have been considered by the Police for such offenders either.  I will keep to myself thoughts on whether all this is a good or a bad thing; happily I blog my views on cycling not rioting.
What all this does suggest, however, is that the 'Gravity Factors Matrix' used by the police before issuing a caution , is no more than a fig-leaf to cover a police assessment of what the public interest requires.  It is naive in the extreme to suppose that these decisions are not influenced by political, media and public pressure.  We need to send out the message that the public interest requires the prosecution of those guilty of harming a cyclist, whether using a motor vehicle or fists.  Such people may never be at the receiving end of the iron fist, as if they were in on a riot, but if we make enough fuss, the kid-glove treatment may at least cease.

Thursday 4 August 2011

Surrey Driving Without Due Consideration Case

Approximately 10 miles or so of my commute takes me through Surrey and I have been sending in video clips of bad driving taking place in that area for a while now.  When the Surrey police agree that the driving is bad they generally send a letter (rather as the Metropolitan Police RoadSafeLondon officers do).  The Surrey Police have decided to prosecute one of the motorists I filmed for driving without due care/consideration.  I will say no more about it until the case is concluded save to note that Surrey Police took the intiative on this and required none of the cajoling required for the one case (still as yet unconcluded) based on footage taken by me in the Metropolitan Police area.
The third area I commute through is Thames Valley who have a policy of not even supplying the form to report bad driving unless you are able first to supply the full registration number and the details of an independent witness.  I once tried to circumvent this by contacting my local neighbourhood officer about bad driving in my own village but in accordance with force policy got no response.
I have no difficulty ranking the three forces through which I commute in order of effectiveness:  Surrey is top and Thames Valley bottom.

Subsequent edit: However,as though to remind us that no police force appears to be wholly free of 'motorcentricity', the Mole Valley Police in Surrey have made fools of themselves handing out leaflets to cyclists on Box Hill threatening them with fines for inconsiderate cycling.

UPDATE 08.12.11  Unfortunately it has been discovered that the motorist I filmed, one Christopher Bootle, who was charged with driving without due care/consideration was not sent a Notice of Intended Prosecution within the time required and I have been informed that the summons has now been withdrawn.

(Yet) Another Assault on a Cyclist and musings on The Establishment

Another cyclist using the roads in a lawful manner, and negotiating a roundabout in precisely the way that is recommended and taught on training courses, is subjected to a violent assault.  The consequences could well have been even more severe if the cyclist did not have the presence of mind to adopt a submissive apologetic attitude (something I am totally incapable of doing in similar circumstances).

Only a small minority of cyclists are equipped with helmet cameras, yet this type of assault is recorded on a regular basis.  What we see on youtube is the tip of a very unpleasant iceberg.
I understand that this assault occurred in Essex so it is now the turn of the Essex Police to reveal their attitude.  I hope they do not share the approach of my own home force, Thames Valley Police, who would not even countenance the possibility of a prosecution unless the thug was either daft enough to deny it or had done it before.
I cannot resist musing upon why a leniency is extended to those who attack cyclists that would never be extended to a comedian who attacks a media moghal with a harmless plate of shaving foam or, still less, somebody committing an offence in the course of a demonstration.  Many years ago I worked, as a very junior barrister, with a senior wily old QC for a client who sought to take on the Government and (quite wrongly) lost.  The QC explained to me quietly that the decision could be explained by The Establishment closing rank.  At the time I thought he was being preposterous; and I sure some who read this will think the same of me.  However as I now approach becoming a wily old QC myself I see the wisdom of his words.  When I put on a wig and a silk gown, I am a member of The Establishment and enjoy the respect, privileges and (I have no doubt) full protection of the law should I require it.  In contrast when I get on my bicycle, I step outside The Establishment.  Despite the fact that the Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Mayor of London are all more or less cyclists, The Establishment still expects travel by limo, taxi or jet.  Threaten the Duchess of Cornwall (say) through the plate glass of a limo window and you can expect trouble.  Had she been threatened by a motorist for taking a line through a roundabout on a bicycle of which he disapproved then The Establishment reaction would be confused ('Royalty on a bicycle, don't be absurd!').
The last Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, for all his purported enthusiasm to promote cycling, declined to cycle himself, claiming to fear the targeting and abuse he might get from other roadusers.  As Mayor he could expect to, and did, get the full protection of The Establishment, but he could not be sure he would get it on a bicycle.  Whether the current Mayor gets abused and threatened on his bicycle and whether if he does he would wish to make that public, I do not know.
I have now for several years been pressing for a sea-change in the attitude to cycling and to cyclists.  The Establishment is certainly encouraging cycling (particularly for outsiders) but I want The Establishment to embrace cycling to such an extent that I step down from its protection no less when mounting a bicycle than were I ever to step into a limo or be required to account for my actions before a Parliamentary Select Committee.  With the advent of the internet I am prepared to speak less softly than the wily old QC.  Do I risk being thrown out altogether?  Possibly, but it is worth it, and if Mr Murdoch's place within The Establishment is still secure, there must be hope yet for me.

Tuesday 19 July 2011

My etape 2011 - Sunday 17th July Issoire to St Flour

The numbers heading into the start pens in the grey dawn of that Sunday morning in Issoire did seem to be down on those at my previous etapes.  Up until now there had only really been a light drizzle and I had even felt slightly overdressed as I set out from my hotel in Parentignat 20 minutes earlier.  The organisers report that there were just 4,000 riders at the start and I can well imagine that with the dire forecast, if I had not come so far, I might well have decided to ride the route another day.  Looking around I was in a minority with covered knees and seemed to be alone in having covered fingers.
As we set off South towards the hills of the Massif Central, the rain became more steady and the roads more slippery.  I recall standing on the pedals close to the start to accelerate and the rear wheel slipping around.  At one point there was a large police presence and a cacophony of whistles at a railway crossing where every few seconds another rider would slide off.

At Massiac we turned right onto the first real climb and into a headwind.  As we got higher the wind blew harder and colder and the rain turned to sleet.  This is where I first saw riders heading back towards Issoire.  Initially I thought maybe they were going back to look for friends but then it dawned to me as this trickle turned to a steady stream that they had had enough and were going back either to Issoire or to find the broom wagon.  At the top of the climb was a long flat but the power of the headwind was sufficient to make it seem a steep uphill.  The short descent when it arrived was no relief as it was bitterly cold (the organisers say 4C) and went down to the first feed station at Allanche.  Here many  were shivering violently and  did not appear to be in a fit state to continue.  The organisers were suggesting direct routes on to the finish at St Flour.

I persevered and started to warm somewhat on the ascent of the Col du Pas de Peyrol.  The rain had finally started to ease though the roads were still very wet.  On the descent of the Peyrol, the pros had come unstuck a week earlier in drier conditions.  The writing on the road ‘Vino Out’ at the point where the controversial Kazak rider had come off the road and broken his hip served as a reminder not to allow the speed to build up.  Every time I applied my brakes it took several seconds for the water to get squeezed out and for any force to appear to counter the acceleration due to gravity.  This was going to be a long slow day.

The road carried on up and down with no significant flat in between.   At some points you could see the riders ahead tacking up the mountain and then disappearing into the cloud.  At the top I was nearly knocked sideways by a massive crosswind before descending in cloud down the other side.  The little I could see of the scenery was breathtaking and on a clear day it must be quite stunning.  We entered a world of ski resorts which had fantastic roads where it was finally possible to pick up speed on descents because the roads were so wide and straight you did not need to think about braking.

The Chateau d’Alleuze guards a deep valley but by the time I reached this point it was again pouring with rain dashing any hope of completing part of the ride, or arriving at the finish, dry.   As I passed the Chateau the sun did come out and cause the wet roads to steam but it was still raining heavily.  We carried on eventually arriving at a flat section where Johnny Hoogerland had been knocked flying into a barbed wire fence by the driver of a TV car.

Finally with just a few kilometres to go, the rain stopped and the sun came out just in time for me to see Saint Flour perched spectacularly on the top of a rock with a smattering of buildings at the bottom that looked as though they may have fallen off the main town.  The sun had brought out spectators and there were hundreds of them cheering enthusiastically as we made the final ascent to the top of the town and the finish.

Apparently just 1982 people finished.  I took 10 hours of which I spent 9.5 hours moving.  The advertised limit was 12 hours and people were still finishing for a couple of hours after I had.  I heard subsequently that the organisers had brought forward the cut off times though I am not sure that it was not more a case of people by necessity taking much longer than would be usual, and the organisers being rigid in their adherence to times that would have given trouble to far fewer in better conditions.
I had had vague plans of riding back to my hotel in Parentignat but it was soon raining again and happily I found a lift with a couple from Kent.

Back at my family run hotel I had a huge plate of the local cheese.  They are very proud of their cheese round here with ample justification.  Sadly it is not available at my local Waitrose.

Sunday 10 July 2011

Please sponsor my Etape 2011

My post yesterday reminds me of the need for an outbreak of peace on the roads. Watching Stage 9 of the Tour this afternoon shocked me. Pile ups in the peloton are one thing but the fact that a cyclist is still not safe from a careless motorist when riding in a break-away in the Tour de France is profoundly depressing.

Looking at today's stage also brought home to me how long and hilly it is. This is the route for next Sunday's etape, the one that I am signed up to do. So I have decided to seek sponsorship in support of Roadpeace, a charity I have mentioned before on these pages.

The Etape

For the past 18 years one of the mountain stages of the Tour de France has been available for amateurs to ride. The popularity of the event is such that the organisers this year have arranged two Etapes. The first, held tomorrow, on the Modane - Alpe d'Huez stage covering 109 km, will be the shortest in history. This is the same stage the pros will ride in stage 19 on July 22. The second Etape for 2011, on July 17, will be the longest in history, covering 209 km, from Issoire to Saint Flour in the Massif Central (south of Clermont Ferrand). The pros have just ridden this stage today in stage 9 of the Tour and this is the stage I am riding. In addition to being long it is very hilly with 8 categorised climbs. It will possibly be the hardest day of cycling I have done.

 Please consider sponsoring me at

Saturday 9 July 2011

Another assault on a cyclist

There is far too much of this going on and it should be taken seriously by the authorities.  It seems in London the trail initially ran cold when the registered keeper said the car was taken without his consent and subsequently returned, though subsequent publicity has I understand resulted in an arrest.  In Thames Valley any such offender, if unlucky enough to be caught, would be given a simple caution.  In Manchester the police have led the way with a serious investigation followed by passing the evidence to the CPS for prosecution.

There really ought not in any part of the country to be any doubt that this conduct consitutes a serious crime which calls for deterrence.  'Road rage' does not excuse, it exacerbates, the conduct.  Currently the State is encouraging us all to get out of our cars and onto our bikes but providing patchy protection at best for those of us who receive aggression in consequence.

Passing laws about passing bikes

Cycling in France I again noticed the prevalence of signs urging motorists to pass cyclists with at least 1.5 metres and almost without exception they did (the exception was a Belgian driver on an Alpe d'Huez hairpin!).
Now I am back to my familiar commute and nothing has changed.
Hounslow yesterday evening

A couple of weeks ago we had Nova Scotian friends staying with us.  Naturally I asked them about the new law in Nova Scotia requiring (as of 1st June) that motorists leave at least one metre when passing a cyclist.  Both our visitors are drivers but neither had heard of the new law.  One was also a cyclist but it did not mean much to him as he rides on the pavement, reasoning that the roads are not safe for cyclists.  I rather suspect that if such a law were passed here it would be neither observed nor enforced; it will be interesting to see what, if any, real difference it makes to Nova Scotian cyclists.

I have some expereince of cycling in Nova Scotia.  Not only am I required to wear a helmet but by law
"No person shall ride a bicycle on a highway except as near as practicable to the extreme right of the main travelled portion of the highway and no person shall ride a bicycle abreast of or generally parallel to another bicycle in motion on the highway except for the purpose of passing any such other bicycle."  That is a tough one for anybody who has undertaken any cycle training here and must be even tougher for those on club runs.  My strategy was to hold a secondary position about a metre from the edge as that is as near as practicable for me.  In fairness they do have much wider roads than us  and do not design in width restrictions as a means of traffic calming, so a bicycle and a car side by side in the same lane is not quite the adrenalin rush that it is here.

Having a lot of laws is not necessarily a solution.  What we really need is more consistent and determined enforcement of the laws we have against dangerous driving and driving without due care and attention or due consideration to other road users.  A close pass depends somewhat upon the speed and size of the vehicle concerned.  It is more easily recognised than defined and is self-evidently driving without due consideration.  Will the bus driver (see picture) be prosecuted for driving without due consideration?  Not a chance.  Would additional laws make a difference?  Same answer.