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The other night I rode along the newly opened purpose-built segregated bike lane which runs along the route of Cycle Superhighway 5, from Pimlico to Oval.Vauxhall Bridge Bike Lane pic by Charlie Holland

The only possible criticism of the new lane is that it isn’t very long – by which I mean that out of my journey, from Marble Arch to East Dulwich, for the majority of which I followed the main roads, including Park Lane, Hyde Park Corner & Camberwell New Road, I was only in the new lane for a couple of miles out of the seven or so.  Otherwise, it’s wide enough, it’s smooth enough, it’s direct enough, it’s fast enough and it’s safe enough.

But it wasn’t made for me.   I have been riding a bike in London all my life.  I rode to school sometimes when I was a teen-ager.  Like Ben Plowden, the director of Transport for London’s Strategy & Planning (Surface Planning), who was interviewed in a recent edition of London Cyclist, I can remember when there were hardly any other cyclists around in London, to the point where, in winter, when even less people cycled, I knew virtually every other cyclist by sight.

I can’t remember ever being intimidated by the dangers of cycling – when I was a kid cycling to school, I was probably too young to be frightened, and, later, when I became a bicycle courier, I embraced the thrill of physical jeopardy, and the pure joy of riding a bike as fast as I could.

On my ride back from Marble Arch, as I mentioned, I negotiated two of the larger road junctions, and rode along a few of the busiest and widest roads in central London, heavy with large, fast vehicles, including coaches, buses, lorries, vans, taxis and the normal quotient of idiotic men using the speed of their over-engineered cars to display their notional virility.

I chose the most direct route, rather than the more pleasant, and probably safer, back street route through Belgravia, because I just wanted to get home quickly and not spend an extra 15 minutes messing about around the back of Eaton Square, dodging the Chelsea tractors and armoured limousines of the ostentatious super-rich.

It was fun – even though the whole route to Camberwell is incredibly familiar to me, it is some years since I have ridden down Park Lane, and there was a certain novelty, because, even though most of the roads haven’t changed much, apart from the new bike lane, I was riding a Brompton, instead of a ‘proper’ bike, and the unique handling characteristics of a small-wheeled, short wheel-base bike moving at around 25 – 30 kph (twitchy!) meant that I had to pay more attention to what was going on than I normally would.

There were a couple of moments where I wondered at the person that I used to be, that person that would have torn down Park Lane as fast as possible, under-taking fast moving traffic around corners, and seeking to run the lights at every opportunity, always looking for a way through, around, and over, any potential obstacle between myself and the destination.  If you want to know why bicycle couriers run lights so frequently, the reason is straightforward economics mixed with large dash of youthful bravado.  The more deliveries a courier can accomplish, the more money a courier gets.  The chances of being stopped by the police are very slight – it is a very unlucky courier that gets stopped more than once a year – and the dangers of ignoring the laws of the road are part of the appeal of the job.

I don’t believe that staying within the law, or following the Highway Code, will keep me safe from injury or death; I have read far too many analyses of collision data to entertain that thought for more than a split-second.  I also don’t believe that I have a duty to respect the rules of the road in order to prevent other people being killed or injured whilst cycling, or that I should obey the law in order to secure increased public funding for cycling.  Both of these latter two logical fallacies have been systematically dismantled elsewhere but, briefly, imagine if either of these propositions were applied to the users of motor-vehicles: no more new motorways until all motorists obey the speed limits everywhere, or that any injury or fatality of a motor-vehicle occupant is entirely deserved because plenty of motor-vehicle drivers routinely break the law – just think of how many people you see driving with mobile phones in their hands.

These days I almost always obey every regulation; if I can’t be bothered to wait for a green light, for instance at the toucan light on Cannon Street, where CS7 crosses it, I dismount and push my bike. Although technically, this is as illegal as riding across it, in practice not only have I never heard of an instance where the police have reprimanded someone pushing their bike through a red light, I can’t imagine it ever happening.  I joke that I can’t be bothered to break the law these days, as no-one is paying me to do so.

I am still, let’s say, not perfectly happy, but entirely prepared to take my chances on big roads with lots of fast-moving, heavy traffic.  I’m not stupid.  I have been riding a bike for pleasure, utility and money for a long time, and I, and many of my friends and acquaintances have suffered injury and death on the roads.  But I know that cycling isn’t inherently dangerous, and the risks are far outweighed by the benefits, and the, well, FUN!

What I am trying to say here is that I came to cycling through its utility to me: I rode a bike & made money doing it.  All the leisure and sports stuff came later, which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy cycling, but it was secondary to making a living from using a bike to deliver things.  And also that, as far as I was concerned, the more dangerous that my job seemed to outsiders, the better – a higher barrier to entry meant that I would have less competition.  I am, therefore, what is sometimes called a ‘vehicular cyclist’, often shortened to the somewhat pejorative VC, i.e. on the road I behave as if I was a motor-vehicle, mixing it with the motor-traffic, and expecting to be treated as if I was operating a ‘proper’ vehicle.

I wouldn’t say that I accepted that my friends, colleagues & I would get injured whilst cycling – but it was always something that I expected, and certainly amongst the courier community, it is seen as an occupational hazard, and, when at play, it can even be something to be embraced.

Of course there is a big difference between laughing at a friend who, as Michael Smiley did many years ago, has ridden into a stationary object whilst drunk and made a mess of his or her face – a frequent enough occurrence that I dubbed the resulting mutilations ‘Friday Night Nose’ – there’s a big difference between smashing yourself up as the result of your own stupidity, and those friends & colleagues who were injured, maimed or killed as the result of something that happened during their working day, when they were stone-cold sober, as the result of the actions of another road-user.

But none of these considerations have ever prevented me from cycling.  The only circumstance that I could imagine not cycling in London, is if I lost the use of both of my legs, and then I would probably, if I was capable, use a hand-cycle or something similar.

chelsea bridge bike laneMy entry-point into ‘proper’ cycle-campaigning was prompted by my experiences after the death of Edward Newstead, who was killed whilst working as a cycle courier.  The driver of the lorry that killed him had made an illegal left turn off Oxford Street.  I can’t remember exactly what sentence was imposed after he was convicted for careless driving, but it was a few penalty points and a small fine.  I do remember standing outside the magistrates court trying to explain to Ed’s teenage children why it was that the man whose negligence had killed their father would be able to walk out of court and continue his life without very much let or hindrance, whereas their lives had been torn apart.

Paul Gasson & Roger Geffen of the London Cycling Campaign participated in an official capacity in the memorial ride that followed Ed’s death, and I wrote some stuff in a bicycle courier fanzine about the politics and effects of road planning on bicycle couriers.  This led to other activities, including the early stirrings of Reclaim The Streets, Cyclist Have A Right to Move, other stuff, and eventually, as chair of the London Bicycle Messenger Association, in 2004, I wrote to all of the then candidates for Mayor of London asking them to consider banning lorries from London day-time.

lambeth bridge bike laneI can’t really remember when I became aware of bicycle lanes.  I was looking up the history of the GLC in the course of writing something for the Relatively Good Radio Show (3pm every Sunday on Resonance FM), and I read that the GLC had done some work promoting cycling in the late 70s & 80s, but I can’t say that I was aware of it of it at the time, and I certainly don’t recall any special provisions for cyclists, apart from maybe being able to use bus lanes, until the opening of the two segregated bike lanes in Camden, work on which only started in the late 90s, after sustained pressure from Camden Cyclists.

My only previous encounter with bike lanes had been in Berlin in the 90s, and I regarded them, like the Camden bike lanes, as inconvenient, as they weren’t in the part of the road that I preferred to ride on, that is to say, more or less down the middle of the road, and also slightly dangerous, as I always felt that they restricted my ability to avoid poor turning manoeuvres by drivers, and restricted my view and space on the road.  This was reinforced when I went to Copenhagen, and was completely disoriented by the bike lane network there.  I didn’t know where to look or where to ride and found myself being chastised by other people using the bike lanes for not following the signalling and riding conventions.  This experience was shared by other bicycle couriers from the UK and US who were there at the same time (we had all gone to CPH for the 2002 Cycle Messenger World Championships).  “I just want to ride in the road, like normal”, I remember thinking and other people saying.

I was also slightly shocked to find myself being overtaken by ‘ordinary’ cyclists, often riding much heavier bikes than mine, frequently laden with shopping.  Me, a professional cyclist!  And I kept ending up boxed in by other cyclists at the lights – it was all bit too much.

Back at home, the authorities in London were beginning to consider the benefits of having more people on bikes, and at the same time, the noughties bike boom was starting.  I think that the two phenomena were not particularly related.  I suspect very strongly that the increase in cycling had more to do with the increased awareness of cycle-sport, and the health benefits thereof, than of the utility of cycling.  Awareness of cycling’s utility, I reckon, came afterwards to most people who started cycling in the noughties.

As evidence, I would cite the type of clothing and bikes that most London cyclists wear and use, and the demographics, i.e. the sex, age and socio-economic class of the adopters – mostly young, male & above average income – most of the people cycling in London are the aggressively athletically affluent, if you will, riding bikes that look like what the pros on the Tour de France ride, and wearing clothes that look like what the pros wear in the Tour de France, not bikes like the one at the top of the page, with mudguards and two racks – this type of bike is still uncommon in London.  It is arguable that the UK bike retail trade has failed bike commuters, and society generally, by failing to supply suitable bikes for everyday use.  There’s a chapter in Grant Petersen’s excellent collection of essays ‘Just Ride’ covering exactly this topic called ‘Racers Ruin The Breed’.

There is no doubt that simply saying loudly and often to the public, as TfL and Boris have, as well as various London borough councils have, that cycling is good, and we want more people to do it – here, look, we are going to paint lots of pictures of bicycles on the roads to show that bicycles belong on London’s roads to prove it – also had an effect.  I am also sure that the fact that London’s roads are probably less dangerous than at any time in history also helps (I am certain that horse-powered traffic was every bit as dangerous as motor-powered is now, and that there were hundreds of deaths every year in London from time immemorial caused by runaway horses, whether singly or in teams).

There were other factors at play too, obviously.  The bicycle courier community had helped to popularise a certain type of bike culture, that of the fixie, which is pretty distinct from the lycra & 18 gears thing, and the growth in cycling in Hackney cannot, and is not, explained by loads of ‘hipsters’ moving into the borough, and using the London Fields bike lane for skid comps, which is the usual explanation of the anti-Hackneyise camp.  Camden & Islington did more than just paint not-so-pretty pictures of bikes on the road, and, like Hackney, saw a rise in cycle journeys.

(Causation? Correlation?  It is not possible to conduct scientifically sound experiments in city planning – unequivocal evidence of the efficacy of a particular measure does not, can not exist.)

I, on the other hand, was focused on the problem of lorries running over cyclists at junctions, and spent what time I had spare for campaigning activity on the HGV problem.  I don’t want to recap the whole HGV – cyclist KSI thing in this post, as I covered it here and on Moving Target, but large percentage of fatalities of people cycling in London were the result of a collision with lorries.  A significant minority of these collisions resulted from the lorry turning left over the path of the cyclist either proceeding straight on or also turning left.  In all of these collisions, the driver said that he (almost all lorry drivers are male) had not seen the cyclist before the collision, and that the cyclist must have been in the so-called blind-spot, the area to the front and left of the cab into which direct vision is not possible.

Sblindspoto when the authorities started painting bike lanes and Advanced Stop Lines (ASLs) all over London which encouraged cyclists to take exactly this position – to the left and slightly in front – at junctions, my reaction was one of dismay and alarm, especially when ASLs with feeder lanes were painted on junctions where cyclists had been killed by collisions with left-turning lorries: Camley Street at Goods Way, scene of the death  of Emma Foa, and Upper Thames Street at Queen Street Place, scene of the death of London bicycle courier Sebastian Lukomski.

287tThe fact that the ASL at Camley Street had been painted with the support of Camden Cyclists truly outraged me.  I found it hard to imagine how any cycle campaigner could have supported something so stupid.  If you are wondering why I found it so imbecilic, compare the photo at right, taken at Camley Street a year after Emma Foa was killed, with the photo above.  The top photo was taken at a ‘Changing Places’ demo, which was aimed at showing cyclists the dimensions of the typical lorry blind-spot.  The yellow line indicates roughly the boundaries of the blind-spot.  It looks like an ASL with a feeder lane, not that unlike the one at Camley Street.  At the time (2007) I wrote “we ought to think about taking all the paint and green tarmac off the roads at junctions like these. Because to me, they look dangerously like green traps.”

My mind was pretty much made up – bike lanes were a mad, bad, dangerous idea.  In 2008 I wrote a piece for the Guardian Bike Blog outlining my opposition, finishing with the following:

Clerkenwell Road looking west towards St John Street“If one of the main obstacles to getting more bums on bikes is lack of confidence, then surely it would be better to spend the money on training so that potential cyclists will know how to handle their bikes and to recognise and negotiate hazards. This will instil confidence. And a confident cyclist is a safe cyclist.”

(The incident involving the motor-cyclist and taxi described in the article occured more or less where this photo was taken, travelling east)

I had written to the London Cycling Campaign resigning my membership in protest at their participation in a TfL public relations called “Share The Road” a couple of years before, but now my antipathy towards LCC fell to a new low after an email exchange with a member of LCC staff in which he used foul & abusive language, prompted by me publicly denounced the LCC for failing to do more on the HGV / cyclist issue.

So how did I get from there to here, that is, to the point where I am giving an unequivocal welcome to the Mayor of London’s bicycle lane construction programme, which was inspired, in large part, by the London Cycling Campaign’s Space For Cycling?

Because I now get it.  I get that if I want to see a civilised, cycling city in my lifetime, ordinary people,  people who would otherwise drive to the shops, or to the school with the kids, or get the bus or the train to work, need to feel safe on their bikes on the road, which they do not now.  They need to feel that there is a safe space in which to cycle.  Training alone will not do it.  I have lost count of the number of times that I have heard friends & acquaintances say something like, I’d like to ride, but I just don’t feel safe, or, I used to ride but stopped after I was (nearly) knocked off by a bus / lorry / car.

Under Boris’ leadership, Andrew Gilligan and his team have made a great start.  I know that all of the roadworks have been a pain, although there have been one or two upsides: we all immensely enjoyed Nigel Lawson’s assertion “that [the cycle lane construction program] has done more damage, and is doing more damage, to London than almost anything since the Blitz”.  But it’s only a start.

If we aren’t careful, this summer will mark the high-water mark of cycling advocacy in London.  At TfL the bus is king, and all this cycle-lane stuff has been, in their view, a bit of a distraction, and a bit of a waste of money, but, hey, now the box marked ‘cycling’ has been ticked, they’ll be able to get back to the real world of buses and trains.  Also, cuts to funding are looming, and that will mean it is likely to get a lot harder to get any money spent on cycling, never mind increasing it.

Cycling in London has momentum.  After several years of flat-lining, modal share has started to nose up again in the last couple of years.  The new lanes will surely accelerate the upward trend.  But the job’s only just begun.  And if we don’t carry on pushing, the vocal but statistically small anti-cycling caucus will get the airtime and the audience, and cycling will be pushed back to the margins from where it is now, virtually centre-stage in London politics.


When the Tour route was announced last year, I spotted straight away that, using Eurostar’s direct service to Avignon, which runs on Saturday, you could ride around at least two of the big Tour stages (stage 15 to Mont Ventoux & stage 18 to l’Alpe d’Huez), and, with a short hop on the train from Valence to Avignon, get the train back on Saturday. I mentioned that what I was thinking of on my local bicycle forum, and soon I had riding companions. In the end, five of us did the little tour of le Tour. The tour provoked a lot of thoughts in me, some of which I have put down here.

1. The Tour of France is a phenomenon that can overwhelm people.

It was instructive to be with someone for whom the bicycle race spectacle is relatively unfamiliar, whose knowledge of the event was almost at the level of Ned Boulting’s famous “yellow jumper” comment. The difference between stage winners and the overall, what does G.C. mean? Our companion was entirely entranced by the spectacle, despite not knowing all of the ins and outs of the race. This entrancement was, in my opinion, because of her proximity to the race (we camped on the slopes of Mont Ventoux the night before the race), and the scenery, the gigantic stadium which is le Mont Chauve, as the French call it, is amazing. I think it is impossible to look upon le Ventoux and not be stunned and amazed that any human would consider racing up its slopes in the stifling heat of a Provençal afternoon.

We then rode part of Stage 16, joining the race route at Montbrun les Bains, climbing the Col de Macuègne, and turning off before Gap to go over the Col du Festre. This took us the best part of 2 days. The Tour roared through this section in a couple of hours, taking less than 30 minutes to swallow a climb that had occupied us for nearly 2 hours. Even allowing for the fact that Chris Froome wasn’t carrying his own luggage, tools and food, you can feel how much stronger, how almost super-human these guys are in the sinews of your own legs when you ride the roads of the Tour.

The scale of the event, and the way in which the public who stand by the side of the road become the event, as much as the cyclists competing in it, is only really apparent when you actually come and stand by the side of the road. We camped just before the first bend of the Mont Ventoux climb proper, and on Sunday morning we watched a seemingly endless stream of people, lots of them British, but mostly French, moving up the hill, all shapes and sizes, some on bikes, some walking, some in lycra, some just in jeans and t-shirts, some with flags and elaborate costumes, some only carrying a couple of baguettes. For hours and hours, they came.

Eventually, the whole 15km from Saint-Estève to the Observatoire was lined, thronged with people. It was the same in Bourg d’Oisans, from where we watched l’Alpe d’Huez stage, people lining the barriers. But the people who stood on Mont Ventoux will not have been able to watch the stage finish as we were able to do in Bourg d’Oisans, but somehow they were part of the event, even those fools on the Irish Corner (were they French, Irish, Scottish, Flemish?) who dressed up as surgeons, in a way that those of us who retired to cafés and bars to watch television were not.

2. Normal standards are suspended when it comes to le Tour.

Objectively, as I said elsewhere, le Tour de France is a horrifying spectacle. The infrastructure of the race is carried around France on the backs of lorries, being torn up as soon as the race has moved through, and ferried ahead the race of itself in a vast fleet of vehicles. The finish line gantry and associated stuff arrived on Mont Ventoux as we were turning in for the night in our tents, roaring up the sinuous road beside us in great clouds of fumes and dust, rolling on and on through the night. The Tour is a vast cavalcade of motor vehicles of all shapes and sizes, with a sliver of athletic endeavour nestling, almost obscured, in its steely grasp.

The caravan publicitaire, which travels along the road in the hours before the Tour itself arrives, is one of the major sources of income for the organisers. If you haven’t seen the caravan in action, or haven’t read a description of what it does, it is a substantial motorcade, made up of at least a hundred vehicles (not counting the police and safety escorts), emblazoned with the logos of whichever product or brand being promoted.

The vehicles themselves are often further modified, either simply to allow people to sit or stand on the roof, or sometimes to permit persons to ride a static bike or gyrate from harnesses and swings. Nearly all the various sub-motorcades distribute free samples of the product, or, if the product will not scale down (as in the case of a mobile phone), some sort of cheap trinket, such as a key-ring. ‘Distribute’ is probably not the word to use. The free stuff is thrown from the cars towards the side of the road.

I guess they must be under strict instructions to make sure the airborne swag does not land in the road itself, to avoid the possibility of souvenir hungry spectators rushing in front of following vehicles. And I guess that after a couple of weeks the throwers get very practised at launching the stuff from the vehicles. We got the distinct impression that some of the throwers were aiming directly at our heads.

On television, when pictures are shown of riders lobbing stuff into the verge, you will sometimes hear the commentators say that every last scrap of jettisoned Tour trash is picked up by the spectators. This may or may not be true, but even though the spectators do seek out as much free stuff as possible, a lot of the promotional material ends up in the bushes, propelled beyond the grasp of even the most committed collector.

Then there is the normal accumulation of waste that 100 000 or 200 000, or however many spectators there were on the sides of Mont Ventoux, will generate. The rubbish, if it is bagged up and left by the side of the road, will be collected by the crews who come past the next day, but the – how shall we say on a family-oriented bicycle blog? – poo cannot. And there was quite a lot of it left behind in the trees on Mont Ventoux.

So in sum, a huge number of people swarm into a forest (did I mention that the forest is a nature reserve protected by law?), causing a 2 day, bumper-to-bumper traffic jam, have a load of rubbish thrown at them, some of which ends up lodge in the undergrowth, promoting consumer products they almost certainly don’t need., they wee & poo all over the forest, and then leave, causing another bumper-to-bumper traffic jam. As the dreadful cliché has it: what’s not to like? On the other hand…


3. Riding along the same roads as the Tour is an overwhelmingly positive experience.

Nearly all the team vehicles and some of the officiel vehicles toot & wave as they pass, nearly all the fans in camper-vans and the like toot & wave, and sometimes even put their hands out to clap you as they pass. People by the side of the road clap and shout encouragement. Some kids with big flags ran alongside us shouting and waving their flag, which was really quite inspiring.

A van pulled alongside James at one point, and the passenger reached out a hand holding a full water bottle. It was yet another blistering hot day, so a full bottle was more than welcome.

We rode down to Grenoble on Friday morning, and as we dropped down the Romanche valley away from the Tour, we were passed by team coaches and other Tour traffic heading for the motorway route around to the finish. Even though normally it isn’t something to be enjoyed, having large fast-moving vehicles overtake you on a single carriage-way road, when we got to Grenoble, where the Tour traffic went north and we went south west, one of my riding companions expressed regret that we were ‘leaving’ the Tour.

4. There aren’t any proper hills in the south of England.

Having ridden in the Alps, or even just around the relatively small hills of southern Provence, allows you to think and say unbearably smug and annoying things like “there aren’t any real hills in London – Highgate isn’t even 250 metres high”. Or “Box Hill? Mere bagatelle, my friend, mere bagatelle.”

Ditchling Beacon, or any ‘climb’ in the south east, simply is not impressive in any way if you have seen and ridden even minor climbs in the Alps. You can plausibly walk up Ditchling in 15 minutes. I saw people that were crippled by walking up and down Ventoux. The average club cyclist will take a lot more than an hour to ride up Ventoux, a lot more than an hour. The top pros are happy if they can get up in less than hour, as this means that they will be climbing with the leaders.

Riding up Swain’s Lane might hurt your legs a bit, and you can put yourself into oxygen debt riding up it if you try hard enough. But the climb to the first hairpin on the Alpe is twice as long as Swain’s Lane. James and Sam, who were by far the fittest of our group took over 80 mins to reach the top (admittedly, they weren’t rushing and there were a lot of peds walking around in the road).

5. Lycra shorts are totally vile.

This is something that has only become apparent to me as I have gotten older, and spent less time in the company of ‘real’ cyclists. When I was a kid, working as a messenger, I used to wear lycra all the time. So did most of my work-mates. I became desensitised to lycra, and found it extraordinary that the North American messenger crew weren’t parading around shiny, skin-tight clothing that left nothing about the wearer’s anatomy to the imagination of the interested observer. In fact, they openly scorned us, the Euros, for wearing lycra. What funny fellows, I thought. Lycra is so practical, I thought, why wouldn’t you wear it?

However, I can now see that no-one looks good in lycra shorts off the bike, even elite professional athletes. Elite athletes only get away with it because they are singular physical specimens whose physique is so impressive that the viewer’s attention is taken away from the shiny leotards to their actual bodies. Lycra jerseys are just about tolerable, if the pattern isn’t too obnoxious, but shorts are not.

We stopped in Sault, at the bottom of the eastern flank of Mont Ventoux. The village was swarming with MAMILs. One or two had removed their jerseys, and were walking around in bib-shorts only. This type of deportment should be confined to single-sex changing rooms only.



I mentioned elsewhere that I first started following cycling after watching the 1987 Tour de France on Channel 4. Stephen Roche was the hero, and winner, of that Tour, and went on to cap a season equalled only by Merckx with a victory in the World Championships, as well as the Giro d'Italia. Along with Robert Millar, Stephen Roche did as much as anyone to inspire me to follow and participate in cycle sport.

Roche was, is, one of the pre-eminent figures in the English-speaking world. After the apotheosis of 1987, his career petered out somewhat, although he was still good enough to win one or two really big races before retiring. After retirement, he moved into the commentary box at Eurosport, forming a sublime double-act with David Duffield, with this passage, describing Pantani's epic ride over the Galibier in 1998, surely the pinnacle of their time together.

I found Stephen Roche's commentary on the racing illuminating. He described what was happening tactically, and surmised why, and also suggested, when nothing was happening, what the contenders ought to be doing. Having been a rider who liked to attack and shake things up, he was always critical of teams who appeared to be settling for a place on the podium.

He seems an engaging character, and, on the two occasions that I have met him, took the time to say hello and do more than just pass the time of day, even making more or less indiscreet remarks about a leading rider when I bumped into him in a petrol station outside Bourg d'Oisans, about 4 hours before the Tour was due to come through.

However, after all he has gained from the sport, and its supporters, people like me, he owes us more than the tripe that he is peddling regarding cycling's past. In an interview with Jack Thurston on The Bike Show last year, he equivocated, avoided and shamelessly evaded Jack's probing about doping in his era. Once again, quoted in Cycling News yesterday, he is up to the same thing, once again wishing to avoid difficult questions about doping. He even has the gall to suggest that it is only journalists that are interested in cycling's murky past.

It is impossible, in my view, and the view of a lot of ex-fans of cycling, for us to believe in the sport unless all those people still present in it, still making a living from our enthusiasm, who were present when all that dark stuff happened, stop lying by omission and come clean. I don't wish to see Stephen Roche brought down, but it's important that he, as one the leading figures in anglophone cycling, answers some questions, and participates in the cleansing of cycling's Augean Stables. He wants to remain a leader in the sport, wants to continue to enjoy the reflected glory of his sucesses. That's fine, but let him speak of what he knows.

Here's a couple of reasons why it's important that Stephen Roche speaks out:

  1. Stephen Roche rode on the Carrera team alongside Marco Pantani, who has been proven beyond most people's reasonable doubt to have been doping systematically throughout his career, and is arguably the highest profile victim of doping in cycling's history (for a full account of Pantani's life, career, and terrible descent into madness and death, see Matt Rendell's The Death of Marco Pantani). The association with Pantani continued after Roche retired, with Stephen acting as cheerleader in chief during Pantani's Giro / Tour double year. Stephen Roche is a clever, perceptive man, and I would find it extraordinary if he wasn't aware that a new 'preparation' was being used in the early 90s, on his own team, of which he used to be a leader.
  2. Stephen Roche was the winner of the one of the last Tours which we can confidently identify as being before EPO. Lemond, Fignon, Roche and Delgado, whilst still playing team rôles, were nothing like as infuential after 1991 as they had been. This wasn't a gradual descent into obscurity, a slow submersion by the incoming tide of age, this was more akin to a passage from light into shadow. Did none of them discuss with anyone why this might be? Fignon is fairly clear in his autobiography that he knew what was going on, but had no interest in participating in the new arrangements. Robert Millar has obliquely made similar intimations. There is fairly clear evidence that Stephen Roche's blood values were manipulated as part of an early attempt to systematise the use of EPO. Is he seriously suggesting that he knew nothing at all about this?

The sport of cycling will not change unless it learns from the past. It cannot learn from the past if the witnesses stay silent.

 

It’s not a big secret that I am a big fan of The Bike Show.  I occasionally listen to other cycling podcasts, and have yet to find one which is as consistently entertaining and enlightening as the Bike Show.  Even if you haven’t been involved in the Bike Show directly, I think it must be obvious from the continuing excellence of the show that Jack is constantly striving to take his listeners to places they might not have gone left to themselves, and alway pushing himself to maintain and exceed his already high standards.  It is sort of superfluous for me to publicise the Bike Show, as I’m sure that most regular readers of this blog also subscribe to the show, but if you’re not, you should!

The latest edition is one of my favourites, and ties in with my last post about my neighbour’s Claud Butler, as she mentions that her first ‘proper’ racing bike was a CB.  An interview with the amazing and inspiring Eileen Sheridan, the first British female professional cyclist, who, like Reg Harris, was a star of the 40s and 50s, which period is widely accepted to be the Golden Age of Cycling.

Eileen Sheridan: The Mighty Atom | The Bike Show – a cycling radio show and podcast from Resonance FM.

There’s a school of thought, with which I broadly agree, that insists that a bike ride is not really a ‘proper’ bike ride unless at least one night has been spent in a ditch or somewhere else equally unsuitable, such as a bus shelter.  Jack Thurston, the presenter, writer & producer of the excellent Bike Show podcast, is a man that thinks that any bike ride could be enhanced by a night in the right ditch, but not just any ditch. Jack, whilst being a hard and hardy rider, will not needlessly inflict discomfort upon himself or any companion.  He views the riding of a bicycle as the literal pursuit of hedonism, albeit ameliorated by some passing and minor inconveniences.

Jack’s approach is reflected in ‘Lost Lanes’, which is a collection of 36 rides in southern England.  Most are day-rides, none require the intervention of a motor-vehicle to transport rider & bike to the start and, as the author says, all of ‘the rides can be ridden on any bike that’s in good mechanical order’, i.e. they are rides that anyone, not only ‘proper’ cyclists, could do, if they desired.  All the rides pass by excellent pubs, cafes & restaurant, which are noted in the text.

These are rides for the pleasure of being in the countryside (mostly – one ride is entirely within urban east London), because Jack believes, and I agree with him, ‘of all the modes of travel, only the bicycle combines freedom and speed with total immersion in the surroundings’.

The format of the book is that the actual routes are downloaded (either as turn-by-turn route sheets or as GPX files suitable for use with GPS route-finders) from elsewhere, and the book is descriptions of the routes in lyrical prose, which includes topographical and historical details, and pencil-drawing outline of the route that could be transferred reasonably easily to a map and illustrating photographs.  The photographs are superb. My girlfriend’s reaction to the book was that ‘it makes England look like France’.  I think she meant beautiful and warm.  She also said the book made her want to get on her bike and go do one of the rides.

Jack has written a Tour de Horizon as part of the introduction, as well as a section on lanes and another on wild camping, which I rather like.  It really is a literal panorama – Jack describes the country we will be riding in from ‘the shingle spit of Dungeness’ to ‘Suffolk’s cluster of stunning medieval towns and villages’ and on to ‘the gently rolling landscape of the upper Thames Valley’.  He briefly covers the geology, topography and demography of the whole area, which I found admirable.

At the back of the book, he has included some suggestions for organised rides, and includes the Dunwich Dynamo, which most London cyclists are probably familiar with, and one which I have never heard of ever, the Foulness Island Bike Ride, but which I very much want to attend, having read Jack’s description of it.

I haven’t ridden outside of the M25 quite as much as Jack has, but I have ridden fairly extensively in the south east, but there was plenty in this book to inspire a jaded old hack such as myself. Like Anna, flicking through the book made me want to get on my bike and ride somewhere new.  I am looking forward to an opportunity to ride ‘The Fifth Continent’, a loop in Kent from Ashford to Rye and along to Dungeness.

Being an east Londoner, I have had to make do, for the moment, with Ride No. 28, the Eastern Excursion, which passes from Hackney to North Greenwich and south across to Charlton and back to Hackney.  I can report that the route card and the GPX file work well, and the fact that I took 3 hours to do a 2 hour ride is entirely down to my own dawdling and inability to look at the route sheet at the correct points.

If you listen to the Bike Show, and enjoy it (which I am sure all readers do), then you should buy this book.  Not least because it would only be polite to show your appreciation of Jack’s efforts, which have hitherto cost you nothing, but also because this is an excellent book from which everyone can learn something.  If you are planning to buy the book, please consider buying it directly from the Bike Show web-site, rather than somewhere else – Jack will get more money if you do.