Super Steve stopped for cycling on 'A' road

Bike Wordle - think bike, think benefits, think rights and space for cycling. Picture by Martti Tulenkelmo from Flickr Creative Commons

Super Steve stopped for cycling on 'A' road

CTC member Steven Abraham is approaching the final stages of his year-long attempt to beat Tommy Godwin's 1939 Annual Mileage Record - but his progress was temporarily suspended on Saturday night as he was stopped by the police for cycling on an 'A' road!

75,065 mile target

The 1930s have gone down as the  golden age of endurance cycling, culminating with the incredible achievement of long-distance legend Tommy Godwin in 1939. Initially riding a Raleigh bicycle fitted with a Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hub, Tommy upgraded to a 4-speed during his marathon challenge before breaking the 'Year Record' when cycling 75,065 miles in 12 months. Astonishingly he carried on to become the fastest cyclist to 100,000 miles, which he achieved in just 500 days.

Tommy still holds the 'Year Record' but is being challenged this year by CTC member Steve Abraham. Needing to average over 205 miles a day, every day, Steve was firmly on track to beat the record prior to breaking his leg above the ankle on 29 March 2015 following a collision with a moped. After stopping riding completely for two weeks Steve resumed cycling gradually, using just one leg to pedal on a modified recumbent trike.

Once Steve's recovery reached a point where he felt he could give his all again, he launched a second attempt at the 'Year Record'. His original bid will continue until the end of this year, with the second attempt now into its fourth month.    

76 years on and different challenges

When the country went to war in 1939, the problems Tommy had to cope with included dwindling food supplies due to increased rationing and the risk of severe penalties for failing to abide with blackout restrictions at night time. Steve has needed to cope with different challenges, however, including increased traffic on the roads, being hit by a moped in March, and last Saturday potential arrest after he was stopped by the police while cycling from Cardiff to Norwich. 

According to Steve's Facebook posts the alleged offence was 'cycling on an A road'. Fortunately he was able to explain that he had not actually breached any road traffic regulations and was allowed to proceed, although it is somewhat disconcerting that this explanation was required at all!

Where would you like us to ride?    

While Steve's discussions with the police about Saturday night cyclist's rights are an amusing Facebook read, and an excuse for me to write a blog highlighting both his extraordinary record attempt and Tommy's amazing story, there is a serious issue regarding people's perceptions about where we should ride, and which roads or facilities we should use.

Some people reading this blog may question whether cyclists should ride on 'A' roads or specifically busy 'A' roads. I don't know the level of traffic on the road on which Steve was stopped but he is an extremely experienced cyclist who has been cycling most of his life. Some cyclists might prefer to avoid busier roads but the moment anyone suggests that an experienced cyclist, confident riding with traffic, should not choose to or be allowed to ride on certain roads, we implicitly excuse the motorist who drives on such roads without due regard for cyclists, because they 'did not expect to see them on that road'.

You may recall the tragic story reported by CTC last month involving lorry driver Martin Ashford, who drove into and ran over cyclist David O'Connell on the A40 near Cheltenham. At the Inquest, Coroner Katy Skerret is reported to have said that Ashford 'would not have expected a cyclist to be on that road at that time of night'. The police collision investigator speculated as to why O'Connell might have failed to see the illuminated cyclist in front of him, but there was implied if not express criticism of Ashford's decision to cycle on that road, and a reversal of the Highway Code by effectively suggesting that motorists do not have to have regard for vulnerable road users on certain roads, because they are not expected to be there.

A police officer stopping and questioning Steve for cycling on an 'A' road reflects the same reluctance to accept and acknowledge both the rights of cyclists to use the highway, and the responsibilities of others towards them. It is crucial that cyclists do not feel bullied off certain roads which motorists would rather we did not use, because if we lose the right to use those roads we are unlikely to retrieve it, which could be the thin end of the wedge with cyclists' legal rights.

Compulsory cycle paths?

For every motorist who questions whether cyclists should be using 'A' roads there is likely to be another who believes we should always use cycle lanes or paths rather than 'their' part of the road, regardless of the suitability of the particular cycle infrastructure. As most cyclists will testify, the quality of segregated cycling facilities varies hugely. CTC fought hard to prevent the Highway Code being amended to require cyclists to use segregated facilities where they exist, but that argument has not disappeared completely and may have to be fought again at some point. 

Once cyclists feel pressurised not to use roads where there are alternative segregated facilities, or not use certain 'A' roads, then the next questions could be whether they should use country roads at night time, be allowed to ride two abreast, ride in large groups or use cargo bikes on certain roads.  

CTC winning victories since 1878  

Ever since CTC - then the Bicycle Touring Club - won a famous legal victory in 1878 in the case of Taylor v Goodwin, bicycles have been legally regarded as 'carriages'. Put bluntly that means we have a right to use the roads, which should not be eroded by police officers questioning whether certain roads are suitable, coroners suggesting that motorists should not expect to see us on other roads, politicians trying to require us to use inadequate segregated facilities, or pressure from other road users. Rights hard won should not be lightly surrendered, which is why a police officer stopping Steve for cycling on an 'A' road is a serious issue, why we should choose which roads we cycle on without succumbing to external pressure, and make a fuss when someone interferes with those rights.   

Christmas cheer for Steve

Having moved - hopefully seamlessly - from Tommy's 1939 blackout problems to Steve's 'Year Record' attempt and 2015 mishaps, on to cyclists' rights on the highways and back to 1878 legal victories, I need to return to Mr Abraham. As you all tuck into your Christmas dinner and enjoy the festive cheer, spare a thought for Steve - 205 miles on December 25!

Good luck from all at CTC in your incredible record attempt. Have you thought of a 'Decade Record'?    

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