Why don’t cyclists use cyclepaths?

This hateful piece of sub-Clarkson publicity-by-controversy was published on my local newspaper’s website recently. The newspaper is going rapidly tits-up (like all newspapers), having recently gone weekly, and the author has just launched a new radio station in the area, so is no doubt trying his damndest to get as much attention for himself and his new media business venture as possible by being an odious twat. Anyway, after spitting bile about the piece briefly on Twitter, and having been sworn at and had nasty, mean hand-gestures made at me on a couple of occasions by cockfarmer motorists whilst cycling on the road , I thought I’d quickly outline some points about why I don’t always use a cyclepath, and, more importantly, why I am entirely entitled to cycle on the road if I choose to do so.

Different people cycle for different reasons
In fact, so do I. Sometimes I’m just nipping to the shops. Sometimes I’m going for a gentle summer ride with my wife. Sometimes I’m exploring new parts of the countryside. Sometimes I’m going to work. Sometimes I’m out for exercise. Depending on the reason, I might cycle at different speeds, some of which are wholly inappropriate for narrow, winding, bollard-studded cyclepaths. In fact…

I like to cycle quite fast
Over the course of a 30-mile ride across Devonshire countryside, taking in country lanes, main roads, cyclepaths, hills, flats, etc etc, I will average just over 15mph. On a straight, flat, wide road with a nice surface I will average 18-22mph depending how much I’m going for it. Cyclists are apparently not actually legally allowed to ride on cyclepaths at speeds of over 18mph; therefore we go on the road. There’s a reason skinny, drop-bar bikes are called road bikes.

Cyclepaths are full of obstacles
Bollards; chicanes; gutters; leaf-mulch; bins; broken twigs and branches; people on rollerskates; benches; children on those little silver scooters; pedestrians; dogs: these things are all much more common on cyclepaths than they are on roads, and they are all dangerous to cyclists, and cyclists are all dangerous to them. Shared-usage paths are one thing, but I regularly see pedestrians walking on specifically delineated cyclepaths when there are also specially delineated walking paths – if I were to do that as a cyclist I’d expect abuse.

Cyclepaths are often badly designed
Especially where they cross junctions with side roads, roundabouts, traffic lights of any kind, or any other complex road topography. Cyclepaths are almost always added later, as an after-thought, which is why they can stop seemingly arbitrarily or continue without signage, causing confusion and thus danger amongst cyclists and motorists alike. Coming down the hill from Haldon, a cyclists’ paradise, you’re dumped from broad, fast, excellent cyclepaths onto what’s effectively the hard-shoulder of the busiest stretch of dual carriageway in Devon; it’s petrifying, and signed so badly that I’m surprised there aren’t regular deaths.

I pay for the roads too
There is no such thing as road tax. Council tax, which I pay, because I live within a council (several, in fact – Devon County Council and Exeter City Council for a start), pays for roads. The tax disc on your car is Vehicle Excise Duty, and is a tax because cars are dirty disgusting things that pump out rancid minging fumes. I pay Vehicle Excise Duty too because I drive a car. Bicycles don’t have to pay Vehicle Excise Duty because they don’t cause any pollution (whilst being ridden – obviously there’s the embedded pollution of their construction, but that’s paid for in business taxes). It’s quite simple; cyclists pay for the roads as much as motorists (and pedestrians too, for that matter), and thus are allowed to use them as much.

Motorists often ignore cyclepaths
I do not think motorists are idiots. I am one. I am also a cyclist, and a pedestrian. I have witnessed many, many fine, courteous motorists, and many, many awful, idiotic cyclists, sans lights, sans attention, sans care for other road users, sans knowledge of the law. Idiots come in all modes of transport, as do decent people. An idiot, discourteous cyclist, however, isn’t quite as likely to kill someone as an idiot, discourteous motorist. So please, don’t park on cyclepaths; don’t even pull over onto them for a second to drop someone off. Don’t pull up into the green block for cyclists at the head of traffic lights. Don’t regard cyclepaths as extra space for you to swerve into; there might be a cyclist there.

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3 responses to “Why don’t cyclists use cyclepaths?

  1. Just to add the the obstacles category: when I lived in Exeter, I recall having to avoid the cycle paths on Saturday and Sunday mornings because of smashed beer bottles from the night before.

  2. Some very good points. I grew up in a new town, and in such a place which is meant to be well planned with things like cycle paths thought out and built in by original design, they really make no sense in where they are put for the most part. The routes are very select and though a few fit in with each other, many end suddenly with no option but to switch to the road.

    Another thing I tend to find with cycle paths (those not the green strip on part of the road kind), is that a lot of the time they’re very poorly maintained and you’ll get tarmac broken up by age or encroaching tree roots and the surface becomes really dangerous to cycle on (not to mention twigs, branches, broken glass and any other debris).

  3. john Adrian Short

    For the past thirty years i have done most things people would consider ‘mad’ and been labeled a ‘thrill seeker’ . comments i believe are all bullshit, ive just enjoyed being alive. Now a regular cyclist on ‘Skinny wheels’ I have no need for the following obsessions because riding a skinny wheeled racer makes me fit and grateful to have not been another ‘stat’ after i get home from a ride.

    I confess i have previously done at stupid speeds in past years on large motorcycles, cars and lorries, i have flown many times thousands of feet off the ground on a piece of rip-stop materiel whilst dangling from beneath on tiny strings, usually in the wrong conditions weather-wise, been far too deep in dangerous conditions in the wrong places whist scuba diving with disregard for sensible rules,and been a semi professional motocrosser, seeking out places and places to leap off mounds of earth or ride at high speed, the more remote the better all hundreds of times and spent much time in casualty whilst i was younger.

    maybe not the things associated with sane folk you may think. But i now seek out different feelings being seemingly now a ‘mature bloke’ who discovered cycling after being ‘on the run’ thousands of miles from Home
    I have no need to thrill seek now- having discovered being treated an almost invisible roadside obstacle in the UK provides me with the same adrenaline- WoW!- that was close!! etc etc.

    In ’07 i rode from Portugal to Le Havre on an old bike from the scrap, the journey took me just under a month with no money (i ate from bins) and since i have rode back from the UK to The Algarve twice- One for charity in ’09 and once in Jan 2011, that’s altogether just over seven times the john ‘o’ groats to lands end distance in three trips and don’t feel safe until i get out of Britain.

    The the speeds a British motorist will go past a cyclist at, with the thickness of a Rizla paper between them and you- i have not encountered this on over 70 days on the roads of Europe – unless the offender who has just past me is wearing black on yellow number plates! Psychopathic driving i firmly believe is a Brit thing. So are shit designed and constructed cycle paths. France, Spain and Portugal on the whole don’t seem to suffer from these paths designed by the same fella who thinks life is like ‘The Sims’ then goes home to play shoot’em up games on his X-box, having probably never owned or ridden a bike.

    I prefer making progress now whist i ride on a ‘(e.g. 52 miles to Aberdeen in 2hrs 40mins Dec 2011) but avoid the cycle paths constructed to give more tarmac to the dick head steering wheel attendants on their I- phones behind most steering wheels. Now if someone as stupid as me who has gotten away with so many near misses in history will risk tens of thousands of Kilometers avoiding cycle paths not really knowing if i will get shunted off to the roadside at some point , it goes to show our cycle paths are R-rrubbish.

    John Adrian Short
    Author of ‘Bins, Benches and Broken Bikes’

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