Saturday 28 June 2014

Sportives are the new Critical Mass

Critical Mass rides grew as a form of protest, for cyclists to say "We are allowed here too". They've been controversial -in New York, very much so; then there was the Olympics Critical Mass.

Are they effective? Who knows. But they make a point -they are a chance for the cyclists to get out together and say "there are enough of us that you have to pay attention to us and our needs"

Cities are slowly coming round to see this. In Bristol, with Infrastructure. In London, with words. In Bath with putting on hold "improvements to the urban realm", and in glasgow with patronising bollocks.

Outside the cities though, things are different. There's the semi-rural commuter belt of many cities -S Gloucs and North Somerset being Bristol's examples. Here in S Gloucs, the council still thinks they can add more suburbs without congestion, without having to spend any money on cycling infrastructure other than a few more Cyclists Dismount signs on the A38.

As for North Somerset, it's "improvements" are so bad they make it to the BBC, and not even Sustrans will lend their support.

As for elsewhere, Magnatom's daily near death videos show the reality: the roads may look like country lanes, but they are really rural-rat-runs, where drivers think they can drive at 60 mph and will overtake any bicycle holding them up -irrespective of the benefits or safety of their action.

Which is why we have to move beyond just protesting about conditions in the cities, and start protesting about conditions outside them.

And where better to start than The New Forest.

The New Forest, Britain's newest National Park, is now a park governed by a committee of cycling haters. As the article says "After the meeting members cited the need to tackle the problems being caused by huge cycling events in the area.". That's the big traffic issue in the area. Not the vast traffic jams on summer weekends, nor the number of New Forest Ponies getting killed by cars. No, it's the cyclists, where the most absolute exemplification of this is the Wiggle Sportive Series, Spring and Autumn.

This is the one where three times already people have sabotaged the race. Where local councillors put up posters denouncing the ride. And as usual, there's a local paper stirring things up.

The New Forest Haters seem to have their central power base in the Verderers, who can apparently choose the date and location of their pony round-ups  to bring them into direct conflict with the next pre-planned cycling event.

Their attempts to impose "codes of conduct" are the next issue. They've had a general one for a while,  which isn't too bad -apart from (a) its narrow view of cycling as a leisure activity and (b) its "no cycling two-abreast" demand

Clearly it is only cyclists that hold up cars -but it shows that it isn't just sportives that are perceived as a problem. It is just that the Wiggle sportive represents the ultimate travesty of those UKIP-voting cyclist-haters who start fuming the moment they are held up for 15 seconds by a bicycle.

The charter for sportives somewhat more controversial. While most of it is about how to set one up effectively, anything that covers "riding two abreast" or -in the original draft- "riding as a peleton" being a bannable offence, show that holding up drivers is one of the key troublespots. Yes, for two or three days a year it happens, But has anyone tried to drive round the new forest on a saturday in august? It's almost as bad as trying to drive down the M5 over the Avonmouth bridge towards Cornwall on a Friday evening between now and September -you'll get held up by peletons of caravans, with tailbacks of them queueing to get into every service station. Nowhere do you hear residents of S Gloucs or commuters from Portishead to the North Fringe demanding a code of conduct for Caravans. But in the New Forest, cyclists represent outsiders, and are clearly resented all year round for holding up cars, and clearly hated at sportives.

And with the recent coup at the New Forest Park Authority, things will only get worse.

What to do? We could all just go somewhere where we are welcome. There's a wiggle event in the Cotswolds soon, one down in the Mendips mid-August. While some people may resent the cyclists, they aren't going to sabotage the race. The main hazard would be getting into trouble on the Cheddar or (worse) Deer Leap descents, but the organisers have wisely made them climbs. Road riders who want pleasant days out should consider attending.

But to give up on the New Forest -that would be to surrender; to be chased away by tack-dropping, mud-spraying cyclist haters who would love to declare "Victory!" if events get cancelled.

Which is why there's another action: make a stand, go to the New Forest ride. Stay somewhere local, eat out local, and make it clear that you are only visiting the area for the ride. Follow the bits of the charter that are polite, and don't leave empty gel packets everywhere. But not ride two abreast on roads too narrow for a car to overtake without changing lane. They'll have to suffer on that one. Welcome to Britain: share the road or fuck off.

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