Cycle Training is not in league with the enemy!

This post is a response to this post on the wonderfull Vole O’speed blog…

I like the critique of the Times campaign and I agree with most of your points. However, this post contains some incorrect notions regarding cycle training that I want to clarify.

“the Government is paying for lots of cycle training, so that’s all right then, isn’t it? Training for cyclists is what government wants to pay for when it doesn’t wish to challenge the basic hierarchy on the roads,”

Er… no it isn’t. A typical allocation for Cycle Training (CT) in a London borough is below £100000 and typically must pay for the cycling officer as well as administrative overhead. It it true that there is no stomach in government to challenge the status quo but that is not because of the pittance spent on training. There should be much more spent on training AND changes to the roads to favor cycling. The issue is about funding levels.

“Moreover, the cycle training that we use in this country, Bikeablity, concentrates on the development of an assertive riding style designed to minimise risks to the cyclist in a car-dominated cycling environment, that is quite irrelevant to cycling as it is practised in the bike-dominated cycling environments of the Netherlands and Denmark. “

As it happens, the Dutch are rather good at assertive cycling. I recently trained a 12 year old dutch boy who had moved to London. He has a really assertive riding style and had no problem taking on Old St roundabout and other similarly “hairy” junctions near his new school. I asked him where he learned to ride like that and he said that is how you have to ride in Holland where there are no cycle paths… Their great infrastructure gets them cycling young so I guess they develop the skills independently but to suggest these skills are “irrelevant” to Dutch or Danish cyclists is just wrong.

“It cannot be part of the long term solution to cycling, as the majority of the population will never have any interest in riding assertively (which really implies “fast” as well), in the way that Bikeablity seeks to teach them.”

To say that assertive equals fast is just wrong. That is not how the Bikeability syllabus is taught if it’s being done right. Going faster can help but it’s not necessary. I train lots of “slow” riders and they like their newfound assertive stylings! It is quite common for people with no direct experience of training to reduce it to “Primary Position” and “going fast” but that does it a great disservice. About two thirds of cycling casualties happen without the involvement of another vehicle… CT looks at that as well as MANY other aspects of the riders practice. My experience is that even very knowledgeable riders get something from training despite not expecting to. That was the case with me… 😉

“ The other problem with Bikeability is that it can be regarded by its proponents (such as some of those working in the largely state-funded industry that delivers it) as the correct way to cycle, rather than as what it is, a stop-gap mitigating.”

No one is making a good living delivering cycle training David…. People do it because it calls to them. Giving someone else the freedom of the road that we take for granted, is an honor.  There are only a handful of us in London and yet at every demo or action pushing for better infrastructure we are there in force, often as organizers or marshals. Pitching us as some sort of government stooges with a finantial interest in the status quo, is factually wrong and does us a great disservice.  When I began work as a cycle trainer, a much more experienced colleague told me, “look mate, if we are successful then there will be no need for cycle training”. He was being ironic but the point is that we know it’s not something to do instead of building a network of lanes but right now it is helping people who want to ride to do so safely.

“Dutch cyclists do not need to assert themselves in front of streams of hostile traffic.”

Oh yes they do….  But not as much as us. The fact that so many more ride there has to help too.

“Cities fit for Cycling, not Cyclists fit for Cities. It has taken a long, long time for this realisation to become mainstream in the UK. A watershed has been passed.”

I certainly hope so. The need to change the road network to unlock that mass of non riders is clear to me but I do not see CT as being an obstacle. We make new riders… The cost of the infrastructure changes needed are several orders of magnitude greater than even the most generous CT budgets. CT is not consuming budget that could be spent on lanes.  The money for cycle lanes is there in the roads budget. It’s just a matter of allocation/priorities.

David, it is clear to me that you have either not tried training or been exposed to some very poor practice. I propose offering you a free session. CTUK run good training in your borough or I would be happy to organize a session for you. At the very least it will be a chance for us to talk about Brent/Barnet things… You may even learn something new…. I did.



12 responses to “Cycle Training is not in league with the enemy!

  1. I read your reply to the Voleospeed post with interest. I have no experience of cycle training in The Netherlands however I did live there for 3 years, have undertaken (although did not complete my probationary period) cycle instructor training here in London and have a 10 year old son who has completed Bikeability training with a very good instructor.

    My observation is that you are being rather defensive regarding cycle training and in doing so missing the a few glaring points.

    1) In The Netherlands the whole culture of cycling is totally different from here in the UK. The law protects the most vulnerable parties using the roads: pedestrians and cyclists.

    Here my 10 year old son would have equal liability for any misjudgements he may make while cycling on the road. There is no hierarchy of liability to alter the behaviour of driver. How is this fair? It is the vulnerable that comes of worst in any incident!

    Can you cite where you statistic regarding cycling casualties come from?

    2) In my 3 years of living in The Netherlands I never saw cyclists having to assert themselves in the same way as one has to here. The design of cycling facilities and attitude of the drivers mitigate this sort of behaviour being necessary.

    3) Your anecdote regarding the 12 year old Dutch boy negotiating Old Street roundabout is reminiscent of Boris Johnson’s comments about the Elephant & Castle roundabout.

    I have cycled in London for 20 years and I find Old Street roundabout needs a lot confidence to negotiate. Not something that I would be happy my son attempting alone. This is a junction that would put most “would be” cyclists off cycling if it was on their route.

    I agree that Cycle Training is a good thing for every cyclist however it will not help, to any significant degree, encourage the young, elderly more vulnerable majority of people to take up cycling on our streets in their current condition. It remains only part of the solution. In my opinion is “cycle training” is often used by politicians, motoring organisations, the press and individuals as an excuse to explain why we do not need to regulate drivers saying it is cyclists, not drivers that need to “learn” how to use the roads “properly”!

    • Yes.. I am defending Cycle Training and will continue to do so where I feel it is being missrepresented.

      As to your points…
      1.) yes Netherlands is different. We know this and I say so. I do not suggest our way is fair or much good. I would love to see some of the legal and cultural changes you mention, particularly around liability. Casulty figure is from a 2009 TFL doc which I have somewhere but really can’t be bothered to dig up. That’s total casulties not just KSIs – so includes grazed knees and the like. Most injury involves people just falling off… Bad technique or poor maintainance.
      2.) I have been told by many people that dutch drivers are much like UK drivers. You have seen different.. OK. My rather limited direct experience of riding in Amsterdam was that the Amsterdamers were just as impatient as the Londoners regardless of what mode they were using. Those bikes don’t stop!
      3.) I am fully aware of Boris’ comments and have written about them on this blog ( What I am saying is nothing like saying “there ya go it’s fine if you keep your wits about you”. I was simply pointing out that Dutch riders, in my experience, are rather good at assertive riding where necessary and embrace it as just another set of skills. The lad in question was riding that route twice a day when I met him (much to my surprise) so it made sense to train him on the roads he was using. I would dearly love to see our roads made better (fairer) for cycling. To be clear: Cycle Training will not bring about the mass change that you talk about and is not intended to, particularly at these funding levels. It is simply something for those who wish to cycle now. It is the very least the government can do… the very least. They should be doing so much more but the mandate for that kind of change is weak. Just build cycling in every way and don’t dis other’s efforts.

  2. I gave up reading Velospeed’s blog as I considered it divisive, no middle ground was countenanced and anyone who felt that there was, ended up being treated with derision and continual mis-quotes.

    It is obvious to all reasonable people that good cycle training is very necessary – even with excellent cycling infrastructure you are not going to get a segregated cycle path on every route.

    I wish there was much better infrastructure for cyclists (I am still recovering from being t-boned by a car just before Christmas – the police are doing the driver for careless driving). I have actively campaigned for better infrastructure. But why this should exclude proper instruction for all cyclists is ridiculous? It is like saying – look the roads are great therefore you don’t need to take a driving test.

    Even if a billion pounds a year is paid into improving cycle infrastructure it will still takes years to put in place and will never remove all dangers – you have a choice in life and nothing no matter how well protected on the roads is ever going to be 100% safe – training is vital.

    On a personal level – when I started cycling I was far more timid and ended up in many “awkward” situations. To cycle assertively is far safer I find (and yes I am taking into account my crash) – at the end of the day no matter how good the infrastructure it cannot save you from all possible risks – training is one further tool in your armoury – not the only answer, but I will take anything that is on offer!

    • We all have differing views but to move forward together, as we now must, requires an open arena in which to debate. I will always have time for the Vole! I hope to be cooking up some activisim with him later this year in fact.

      Yes CT is just a tool to use where necessary. No amount of infrastructure will help to keep your chain on or your tyres pumped. Loads of people fall off from those two alone. CT means you check before you ride… It really is just a big dollop of pre packaged experience.

  3. You make some good points against my generalisations. It is true that there are places (I have experienced them) in the Netherlands were there are no cycle facilities, and where you have to ride assertively on the road, and Dutch cyclists (or some of them) can do this when required. These places are rapidly disappearing as the Dutch renew their infrastructure, but some still remain. None are anything like as dangerous as Kings Cross or Blackfriars, more like, perhaps, Lisson Grove, or the exits from the Outer Circle.

    It’s an interesting anecdote about the Dutch boy you trained, but against that one might put the anecdotal evidence that one hears about other Dutch people who have moved here who cycle frequently at home, but refuse to cycle in the UK. Obviously there is going to be variation in what Dutch cyclists will put up with, as with British cyclists, and some might cycle here, but, broadly, I expect that most Dutch cyclists (who are just average Dutch people, unlike British cyclists) would stop cycling when transplanted to British conditions, just as most British people will not cycle in those conditions.

    As to whether “assertive” riding implies “fast” riding as well, I find it very hard to see how you can be “assertive”, to, say, take a right hand lane to turn right, on a heavily-trafficked street with cars doing say 30, while riding at 10 mph. The speed differential is too great, you will get swept aside. And I don’t see it happening in practice. In practice, I find that to remain safe and cycle assertively in London you have to be capable of some turn of speed, 15 if not 20 mph when called for. This is just what I observe as typical. And John Franklin, in his writings, lays stress on high cadence and on the need to be able to accelerate to be a safe vehicular cyclist. I think speed is connected (though I have had this argument many times with Jeremy Parker, who also denies it).

    I recognise that those who train cyclists here do it because they love cycling and want others to be able to experience that freedom. Whether it is effective expenditure of public money as compared against spending on infrastructure is a good question which it would be very hard to prove either way. It is true that you could not buy much infrastructure for the money currently spent on training. But let’s consider the maybe £100,000 per year spent on training in one borough (maybe Barnet), and say that goes on for 10 years. So that’s £1 million over time, that maybe would have been enough to pay for something substantial like a really good crossing of the North Circular Road. The Royal College Street cycle track in Camden cost about £1 million in 2000. Does a facility like that, over time, generate more or less cyclists than the same amount of money spent on training? I can’t prove it, but I intuitively believe it must do, because if it works at all, it goes on working 24 hours a day, every day, for years, encouraging new people to cycle, by, as well as making it safer, making an implied public statement, that, yes, the state really supports cycling, and takes it seriously.

    In the end, I don’t think cycle training is a waste of money, but I think it almost is in the complete absence of changes to the roads. If it went in parallel with such changes then it would be money well-spent.

    • Yep… of course I am generalizing about the Dutch. I’m quite sure that plenty of them would balk at London’s roads. Some of them would take training too…

      Cyclecraft/forrester etc. state clearly that high cadence/20mph bursts are a good thing and I agree. If you can do it… If you can’t or don’t want to there are other strategies. But It’s only one bit of advice in a big book that contains many other suggestions. My point is that, people make too much of this… its only advise and pertains to big fast roads. CT as conducted in London is less concerned with assertion and speed and much more about risk assessment.

      I have no intention of conducting cycle training on this blog. Instead of arguing this with me or Jeremy, I think you should do a session and write it up for your blog. You didn’t say if you had ever done any….. Would it help to call it “Advanced Cycling”? ;-P

      Regarding the money… I think you are on a sticky wicket there…. Given, as you say, that it’s hard to gauge benefit. £1M on a cycle lane that delivers its benefit in one locality or £1M on training divided across all London. Split across the boroughs this would be a massive boost to the training budget and deliver benefit widely. A coherent network of high quality lanes would be a fair comparison and of course would be just a little bit more money… 😉 Money well spent, in my view, and a necessary part of the city’s future. One reason that Govt. likes training is that it spreads the meager allocation relatively fairly. Everyone gets a little bit…. A very little bit. As a society, we just need to spend much more on cycling.

      On a side note… We deliver a lot of training to students at UCL who are all regular users of the facility you mention. The College st route gives them College St, training gives them London.

  4. Martin, Cambridge

    I think it represents a sad state of affairs in the UK when passionate members of the cycle campaigning community (who probably ultimately want the same thing) are reduced to debating the toss over whether £100k should be spent on infrastructure or training. We should be arguing for both given that £100k is such a piddling amount in traffic engineering terms. You probably couldn’t even buy 50m of motorway with that these days.

    • If you re read this page, you will see that “both” is exactly what “both” of us are behind. Ha… see what I did there? The main thrust of our exchange is in regard to the nature of Cycle Training not it’s cost.

      That being said, the money is always an issue. The “sad state of affairs” is the level of funding that creates the need to debate the best way to spend it. Argueing over crumbs!

      “Cycling advocates debate efficency of cycling spend”, is a crap headline. it’s not news. In fact it is a healthy/neccessary process. David and I are both people who do more than just debate. This is a critical time for cycling in London and we will be part of the push.

      Do you have something to contribute?

  5. You’re right that speed is not essential to ride as traffic but – under current conditions – it’s easier to build up your confidence if you have the choice. Speed is not essential but confidence is. As a slow rider – carrying tools on a freight bike, accompanying riders who are even slower than me or just old, fat and lazy – I try to be popular in/as traffic. Even when I’m not (some people are just looking for and excuse to be angry) I don’t get “swept aside” as David suggests.

    Cycle-training, better highway design are both elements of an exit strategy from motor-dependence. What’s also needed is consciousness raising on the subject of who owns the road and what the roads are for. This will encourage and enable less tough-minded indivduals to enjoy cycle-travel, even under current grisly conditions. The group ‘drivers’ overlaps with any “mass” of pre-riders we hope to unlock.

    The common English misconception that training is only about one’s relation to others – ‘traffic’ – is another manifestation of our dismissal of pedal-cycles; for which the adjective ‘humble’ often seems to be compulsory.

    Understanding the rules of traffic and cultivating chutzpah only work in parallel with the ability to use a bicycle. It’s common for someone in England to say ‘I have trouble with traffic’ when their riding technique is sub-optimal, sometimes borderline sub-functional. After practice to use the bike in a more effective way, their relations with others become easier to manage.

    I’m very fond of the twenty year old statistic that one-in-four bicycle journeys in the Netherlands is made by a female pensioner. It might even still be true? It’s not just the accepting physical and emotional context that allows these indestructible old ladies to keep riding, it’s also that they’ve robust and polished technical habits. A young and able person can get away with mashing a big gear agonisingly slowly, taking their feet off the pedals before they stop, mounting and dismounting without locking the brakes, etc. but as powers wane efficiency becomes critical. There’s a distinction between acceleration – which has important technical elements that can be learned – and speed which is mostly athletic.
    You use the idiom ‘sticky wicket’ which would baffle a Dutch or Deutsch person. Not all Continentals follow cycle sport but it permeates their culture as cricket does ours. One of my favourite things about riding in the Netherlands is watching utility riders – elderly couples, parents with tiny children, etc. – routinely organise themselves to deal with strong wind collectively, in a style that would shame many beRapha-ed Englishmen.

  6. In the above you state “About two thirds of cycling casualties happen without the involvement of another vehicle” Could you put a link up to this study as it goes against virtually every study I’ve read.

    • I read that in a Tfl doc I found on their site in 09… can’t really be bothered to dig it out. It seemed an entirely non contentious figure to me. loads of people just fall off. Certainly it is the case that my 3 injuries conform to that ratio. One “mecanical” dismount, one instance of just riding into a stationary object and one “dooring”. Proves nothing of course..

      Did find this tho. in “London Road Safety Unit LAAU topic 2005- April 2005 Pedal cyclist casualties in Greater London” it states, “In Greater London in 2003 there were 31,811 road traffic collisions, resulting in 38,430 casualties. Of these collisions, 3,039 (10%) involved injury to pedal cyclists, and resulted in 3,056 casualties (8% of all casualties).”. Now it’s pretty non scientific but I think that if this is the number of injuries resulting from collisions it seems fair that the total casulties must be much higher… That’s all casulties not KSIs. I meet a lot of cyclists and they all have stories about falling off.

      When I have time I will try to find the original doc. There was a table that compared all cyclist hospital attendees against the causes of the injuries. It was pretty clear. There is also massive under-reporting of minor falls.



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