BBC Radio Sheffield’s ‘Cycle Heaven Live’ was a unique chance to question experts in the field of sports cycling in the run up to the TDF. Not surprisingly, at a TDF related event, most of questions related to tour tactics, nutrition and the cutting edge technology which is part of today’s Tour. However, with so much discussion about the legacy of the Tour here in Sheffield, there was one question I was dying to ask.
“With our roads and cities getting busier, would you say your own children and grandchildren have got less freedom to cycle around than you did when you were growing up, and what would you say we could do to address this problem?”
I wasn’t overly optimistic for a response at any great length at such a sport-focussed event, and with so many other people keen to ask questions, but the topic prompted some very insightful and telling responses which should prompt some soul-searching at Sheffield City Council and beyond.
Malcolm Elliot, Sheffield’s former TDF rider and Olympic competitor
“Whilst I feel fairly safe when I’m riding around on the roads in Sheffield, I’m not so sure I’d be confident in my children just hopping on bikes. I don’t think children get the opportunity to learn road sense quite like they did when I was younger and when Dean and Chris were younger. We just popped on our bikes, the roads seemed a lot lot safer and quieter then, less traffic, going slower. I think a lot does need to happen before I could let my kids even ride to the shops unaccompanied. I think attitudes need to change drastically amongst motorists in general and I think I’d like to see cycling as part of the driving test. I think every driver out there, if they’d ridden a bike and understood what it’s like to be on two wheels amongst four wheeled traffic then maybe they’d have a whole new perspective and things would change very quickly.”
I’ve focussed (rather unfairly) on Malcolm Elliott’s response, as the only former TDF cyclist, however the responses from the other guests are equally thought provoking and well worth reading. You can listen to Cycle Heaven Live on the BBC Radio Iplayer here, for the next few days.
Chris Sidwells, cycling journalist
“Yeah, this is a problem. Chris Boardman was on the radio today – Chris is doing a lot of work on this. We’ve got to change the priorities, the way we look at the bike in the cities and towns, and the priority. People would want to cycle, every survey you do, we would want to cycle to work but we feel it’s dangerous, so the policy that Chris’s trying to push through (and he says he’s got people in government nodding and saying yes and paying more than lip service to it) is changing priorities in cities, so that the bike has priority. There can be shared spaces but it has to be a sort of thing that if a bike hits a pedestrian it’s the bike’s fault, if a car hits a bike it’s the car’s fault, that presumption’s got to be changed, unless you can prove otherwise. It’s a change of priorities and a change of people’s mindset but you can do it because all the surveys say that people want to ride more. They want to just do short journeys, not wearing lycra or anything like that, just to go to the shops. The infrastructure in the cities is there, it’s just got to change in the way we use it.”
Dr David James, deputy director of the Centre for Sports Engineering at Sheffield Hallam University
“I think I would disagree. I think there are more opportunities, I think more and more cycle-specific centres are being opened and there’s been a huge growth in mountain biking and quite specific courses, but also easygoing trails. I’m lucky, I commute from Penistone to Sheffield most days and I go on the Trans Penine Trail. Fantastic trail! These trails are new and they’re opening up so I think I am optimistic there will be more opportunities in futrue than perhaps in the past.”
Dean Downing, professional road cyclist
“I think the opportunity when I was a kid, I used to be able to just ride on the streets with my friends, go to the park, but seems to be less and less of that now. It’s more strict I think, but I think there’s more children riding bikes so there needs to be more opportunities for them. I think things like the SkyRides, they’re creating more awareness of cycling and if that can be passed on then s Chris says, Chris Boardman’s done the talking on television and people are more aware and want to do more, possibly cycling parks and things like that. It’s definitely going forward.”
Mayur Ranchordas, Performance Nutritionist, Sheffield Hallam University
“I think safety is a big thing you know. I’m lucky that I work at Sheffield Hallam University, I live North of Sheffield and I’m lucky that the Tour De France is here because the roads have been resurfaced, so my commute to work is great! But it’s not that safe so whilst the roads are smooth, some bits of the commute are a bit tricky and I wouldn’t want my grandkids or my kids going through some of those routes. I think it’s about the infrastructure, about making it safe. I know Doctor David James talked about the Trans Penine Trail and it’s a bit off-road. It’s about encouraging people to ride so ‘is that cycle lane there? Are there facilities there when you get to the other end?’ I know that Holland has this thing where you can just pick up a bike and go wherever you want. There’s all these cycle lanes and I think that just encourages people to ride and I think infrastructure is really key, and safety.”