Thursday 27 September 2012

My Season Ends with a Bang

Regular readers will know I have a great enthusiasm for road racing.  Certainly my enthusiasm exceeds my aptitude.  There is an element of risk of course.  However in 5 years I have never before crashed or, perhaps more importantly, caused a crash in a race.  The racing provides an impetus for the dogged miles I put in commuting which, given the hostile environment of the roads particularly in and around Hounslow, I am hard pushed to portray as an unallured pleasure.

Lat Sunday Willesden CC put on a road race on the Great Milton Circuit in Oxfordshire.  It is a course I know very well and I earmarked it some months ago as a race I could finish.  Sadly I didn't.

I cannot tell you much about the race.  I have only small 'islands' of memory from around 0945 to around 1600 last Sunday.  Reference to my Garmin tells me I crashed at 1030 on a long wide stretch of road in Chalgrove.  I have a few short snapshots of the race, one short snapshot in an ambulance, another in the ICU at John Radcliffe, Oxford, one in an MRI scanner, one in Major Injuries and finally in Minor Injuries where uninterrupted continuous memory finally returned and I waited the rest of the day to get my wounds stitched up.

The distribution of damage to my body and clothing (and the very limited damage to the bike) suggests I went down onto my head and the back of my hands (possibly still gripping the drops) then flipped onto my left shoulder and side.  Eye witness accounts inform me that for no very obvious reason, a rider fell sideways into the road in front of me.  I imagine my front wheel stopped more or less instantaneously on hitting him flipping me and the bike over.

I have considerable litigation experience of head injury cases so I know this was, thankfully, a minor traumatic brain injury.  I can only have been unconscious for moments after the impact because I am told I started making an awful fuss, though my notes suggest I did follow this up with a 7 minute period of unconsciousness in the ambulance.  The prognosis for full recovery from a minor head injury is excellent (I have a personal conviction that long term consequences from a minor head injury, as often alleged in a Court, are more likely to be psychogenic than organic, though not all neurologists would agree).  It will though take a few days, as with my other injuries, to quite get back to normal.  Unfortunately I have had to work over the last 3 days (though thankfully from home) but I will now be taking time off to accelerate the recovery process.

In the meantime I am stuck with low mood (why me??), anger, queasiness and irritability.  The best cure for a depressed mood is getting out on my bike but that is an option that realistically is not open to me for a few days yet.  I have a few months to contemplate whether I will race again.  In the past when I had thought of the crash which would inevitably come some time, I had thought of roadrash, possibly a broken collar bone, not of landing forcefully onto my head with the awful risk of serious brain or spinal damage which that entails.  I feel I was unlucky to the point when I was flying through the air but then I was lucky that it was not a lot worse.

Roadracing does involve a huge degree of trust in your fellow competitors.  I trust all the people that I have got to know racing to handle themselves and their bikes well in a bunch.  Before I started racing I spent a summer going to training sessions run weekly by Prime Coaching at Hillingdon.  I highly recommend such preparation to any one who is considering taking up racing for the first time.

I suppose I have got to mention my helmet.  It is mangled.  Did it save my life as the nurse in the minor injuries unit confidently asserted to me?  I am sceptical.  My brain injury was caused by the sudden deceleration of my head which I doubt the helmet did much to ameliorate.  Certainly it saved me lacerations and roadrash to the scalp.  As always it is wiser to seek to avoid the impact rather than to put one's faith in protective gear.

Apologies to those who you who have found normal service to my blog interrupted.   Finally thanks to the road race organisers, first aiders, marshals, passers-by, fellow racers (especially the few who stepped forward with accounts of what happened) and wife who picked up the pieces.

Postscript: the rider who fell in front of me was permitted to leave the scene and was not identified in any subsequent incident report.  Accordingly neither I, nor British Cycling officials, will ever know what caused him to fall, save that it was getting wet and his rear wheel was seen to slip outward.  I feel it is a pity that he was not asked for an explanation and, if appropriate, given advice.  All of us involved in the great sport of racing should be striving to reduce the risk of this kind of incident to the lowest level we possibly can.

Friday 21 September 2012

The Mitchellgate Affair

I suspect an element of fault on both sides here.  Andrew Mitchell MP, Government Chief Whip, is going to have to learn that he is a member of the establishment unless and until he takes to two wheels when he becomes a mere 'cyclist'.  The notion that he would be extended the same courtesy as if he were in a chauffeur driven motor car is just unrealistic.  He should have meekly got off his bicycle wheeled it along the pavement and through the gate and remounted.  I have done this fairly regularly at the request of a policeman though I always feel like rebelling.  Threatening to arrest Mr Mitchell (if true) does itself seem to me an unnecessary escalation.

Linking this to the awful double murder in Manchester, as the Sun newspaper does, is not in my view justified.  It would be quite wrong to associate those who question police action (or inaction), however impolitely, with the unspeakable evil that resulted in two dead police officers.

Mr Mitchesll MP, I am sure, deplores the unnecessary loss of human life.  It is news to me that he cycles - good on him.  but why has he not signed up to EDM 407 which reads

That this House notes that many victims of road accidents do not feel that the criminal justice system adequately protects or supports them in the aftermath of their case; further notes that it is important that those who have suffered traumatic incidents are given effective and sympathetic support as they attempt to rebuild their lives; welcomes the work of British Cycling and other groups, including CTC, Sustrans, London Cycling Campaign, The Times, Cycling Weekly, RoadPeace and Brake to raise the profile of the issue; and calls on the Ministry of Justice to review carefully the evidence they have submitted and undertake a comprehensive review of each part of the criminal justice system, from crash investigation standards through to sentencing guidelines, to ensure that it is fairer for cyclists, pedestrians and other road users who are hurt or seriously injured on the country's roads.

[NB: if I had drafted this I would have ensured it included reference to the relatives of those killed on the roads in line with the evidence submitted to the Ministry of Justice.  Still, its general import is clear].

If you are one of his constituents, perhaps you could ask him.

Friday 14 September 2012

The Timothy Denman Saga drags on

Back in April this year I obtained a Judgment against the thug who pushed me off my bicycle because he hates cyclists.  The Judgment is for £1,254.  To date not a penny has been paid.  Denman offered £40 a month which I considered derisory.

I know nothing about the enforcement of Judgments and have little desire to learn so I am very happy to have received the backing of the CTC to instruct lawyers to deal with this.  However Denman's offer was yesterday endorsed by the Court and he has not been ordered to pay a penny towards the costs my lawyers have incurred, which are unavoidably substantial in comparison to the Judgment sum

All avenues of enforcement are closed whilst he keeps up this derisory level of payment.  It appears that Courts ooze sympathy for private individuals who cannot pay their bills.  Whether it is helpful to anybody in the long run to make Judgments between private citizens not worth the paper they are printed on is something I would question.  But for the CTC's support my Judgment would be of negative worth after costs even once he has paid in full.  And of course interest does not run.

So much for the Thames Valley Police advice given after they had decided to caution Denman; never mind I could inflict some punishment by suing him.

Denman is laughing all the way back to one of his two motor cars, which he needs (he informed the Court and the Court appears to have accepted) because he has 2 young children.

The Channel: An unnecessary barrier to Cycling

Last weekend I took my bicycle the very short distance to Abbeville, Picardie for the Ronde Picarde, a cyclosportive of the very highest quality which makes a great late season ride.

This is a very easy journey to make in a car.  Throw the bike in the back, drive to the channel and one hour on the motorway the other side.  However this year I decided to go by bicycle.  I imagined it would be equally easy, or even easier.  Ride to the tunnel, hop on a train, ride out the other end and hop on another train.

However it turned out to be surprisingly difficult.

First if you wish to take your bicycle on the Eurotunnel, it has to go in a motor vehicle.  If you do not supply your own motor vehicle then Eurotunnel will provide one for you, picking you up and dropping you off at points remote from the tunnel itself.  So far so (just) bearable.   However this service has to be booked in advance and is provided only twice a day: once in the early morning and once in the late afternoon, both times hopeless for me.

I imagine some health and safety assessment has defined cycling to a train as dangerous; perhaps because there are loads of motor vehicles about that might run a cyclist over.  What would the consequences be if Eurotunnel were to conduct a health and safety assessment at Elephant and Castle, I wonder?  At least at their terminals, they can impose speed limits and traffic calming where necessary and let cyclists onto trains first.  There is plenty of space at the front of trains for bicycles, I have seen it.

So, the ferry it was.  However I was denied a ticket on DFDs  with half an hour to go before the advertised sailing time.  How long can it take to ride a bicycle onto a ferry?  I had to go on a later P&O ferry and pay £25 one way (which seemed to me steep given that the costs for a car is advertised at starting from £19 one way.)

At least the Port of Dover does not worry about cyclists mixing with 'real traffic'.  Getting on the ferry was easy, I was let on first with the motorcycles.  Getting off the P&O ferry in Calais was, however, far more frustrating.  Whilst the motorcyclists were let off first a grumpy man yelled at me "You!  Stay there!  They will run you down!." and with that I had to wait on a fume choked car deck fro 20 minutes while every last motor vehicle got off and I missed a train running out of Calais Ville.  Why anybody would run me down on an exit ramp from a ferry baffles me.  Impose a 20 mph speed limit if this is a real concern.

Once in France taking the bicycle on the train was easy

Very few people take a bicycle across the Channel; far more take them on the back of cars.  Now I understand why.

Still the Ronde Picarde was wonderful as always and well worth the hassle of getting there.

What a pity though that there is not a cycle track through the service tunnel of the Channel Tunnel.  It would be much faster than the ferry.  Still I expect some Health and Safety assessment would rule that idea out.

Thursday 13 September 2012

I am writing to my MP. Please write to yours.

We have now come to the end of a terrific summer of cycling (well almost, I hope to catch some of the Tour of Britain this Sunday).  The day of Bradley Wiggins's triumph in the Olympic Time Trial at Hampton Court was deeply marred by the death of Dan Harris outside the Olympic Park.  It was also the day I attended the sentencing of Joao Lopes at Isleworth Crown Court.  Wiggins is rightly a sporting super-hero so I will say no more than that his comments at a press conference that evening on cyclists' safety headed in a seriously wrong direction.

It is though important that the momentum of this exceptional summer is sustained to encourage cycling not only (or even principally) as a sport but as an everyday activity that is beneficial on so many levels.  This requires cycling to be not only objectively safe but subjectively perceived to be safe by the masses, who hear about far too many cyclist deaths and listen to Bradley Wiggins and Jon Snow refer to cycling as 'dangerous'.

Fortunately the balance has been redressed by another sporting hero, Chris Boardman, who was on the radio last week talking sense about cycling, the risks and how we should be focusing upon improving the cycling environment.  I liked his analogy that if there is gun-fire on the streets do you deal with it by issuing body armour (otherwise you can hardly complain can you if you have not done everything to protect yourself?) or do you deal with the problem at source?

I have had numerous problems with my dealings with the criminal justice system as regular readers will recall.  I am not alone, many others in far more serious cases have been dismayed at the frequent failure in the criminal justice system to play the part that it should in ensuring a safer cycling environment.  It is essential that those who kill, maim, injure, endanger or threaten cyclists are brought to account by our criminal justice system.

I am therefore writing to my MP, in response to British Cycling's call, asking him to support Julian Huppert's Early Day Motion.  I invite you to do the same.  Sad to say but without such pressure calls, even from British Cycling, fall on deaf ears whatever the Government's publicly professed sentiments.

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Humour and good taste

Every so often someone writes and someone publishes a joke about cyclists that is in startlingly bad taste.  The latest offering that 'the only good cyclist is a dead cyclist' is penned by a Richard Nye and published by a free magazine distributed in south west London.  You can see the full context of the 'joke' here.

It is now almost 5 years since The Times published Matthew Parris's infamous article 'What's smug and deserves to be decapitated' article.  True he followed this up with a half-apology feigning surprise that cyclists took his offensive words seriously.

So how is it that I can shrug off or even manage a weak smile at lawyer jokes ("What do you call a lawyer tied to a mill stone at the bottom of the sea?  A good start") but like most cyclists feel outrage at the likes of Parris and his imitator, Nye?.  Simple; it is because there is no chance that somebody will tie a millstone around my neck and drop me overboard.  Conversely I have been attacked, sworn at and threatened merely because I am on a bicycle. Only last week my life was seriously threatened by atrocious and selfish driving.  It is hard to conceive of how distressing these 'jokes' must be to people whose loved ones have been killed whilst cycling.

I am in favour of free speech and would not therefore want a legal sanction against these 'jokers'.  .However I can still reach for the off button every time I hear Parris's distinctive voice on radio or television and were I a resident of southwest London, Nye's publication would go straight into the bin.  Whilst they exercise their right to make very bad offensive jokes I will exercise mine to think the worse of them for it.