Cycle racing relaxation – will it help?

The Tour could be coming to a town near you soon...

Cycle racing relaxation – will it help?

Following Chris Froome’s second victory in the Tour de France, the Department for Transport announced that it will relax antiquated road regulations which restricted road racing to boost tourism and double the number of cycle journeys. CTC considers the implications.

Three weeks of a gripping Tour de France ended on Sunday, and for thousands of cycle sports fans across the land a gaping void will have opened up. If you’re one of the British sufferers, then don’t worry, our Government thinks it might have the solution to what ails you.

On Monday the Department for Transport (DfT) announced the publication of new plans to make it easier to host future Tour de France stages and other elite cycling events in England. It’s all part of the Red Tape Challenge which seeks to reduce bureaucracy, but the changes will apparently also: “…encourage more tourism, create a boost for the economy and give people across the country a chance to experience the buzz of world class sport in their area”.

All of which is great. However, far better would be to create the conditions where everyone could enjoy our roads, not just elite cyclists.

Far better would be to create the conditions where everyone could enjoy our roads, not just elite cyclists."

The news release attached to this announcement has considered this too. These plans are said to add to the “government’s wider commitment to double the number of cycle journeys”. Detail about how elite riding will help wean people off car dependency and onto alternative means, such as cycling is unclear though.

Lest you think I’m anti-sport and racing, I’m not. My interest in cycle racing has grown in direct proportion to my cycle wardrobe (ratio of merino to lycra is firmly in favour of wool). While I’m happiest reminiscing on cycling’s silver age of Bartali and Coppi, I do also occasionally seek out the sports pages of today’s cycle season and its riders (Tony Gallopin is a fave, if only for the name).

I just do not think the relaxation of antiquated rules which held road racing back can be considered part of a wider strategy to increase cycle use. If there's anything to celebrate about the changes in the regulations, then it should be for the overturning of a ban which was largely bound up in the class structure.

According to former frame builder David Moulton, cycle racing in the UK suffered from a self-imposed ban by the National Cyclists Union (who eventually became British Cycling) back in the 1890s. Ostensibly, the reason for this was down to landowners not wishing to see the “riff-raff” zipping around the country lanes and spoiling the peace and quiet of rural ways (far better for cars to do this following their introduction in subsequent years).

This was reinforced by law in the Road Traffic Act 1956, where in Section 13 cycle-racing was made illegal on the roads unless authorised by the Minister for Transport, with the regulations coming into place in 1958. Further amendments came through with The Cycle Racing on Highways Regulations,1960 which were then amended in 1988 under the Road Traffic Act of that year (please feel free to add to this in the comments below, should you know more).

I suppose you could see cycle racing’s return to the road as further evidence of the class structure, with the rise of the middle aged man in lycra (mamil) now seeking a relaxation of the rules initially imposed to counter the working class cyclist. Apart from the lack of evidence for such a call, the real reason is undoubtedly the opportunity to cash in on the interest.

2014’s Grand Depart of the Tour in Yorkshire generated £128m for the host areas over 3 days of racing, and netted a £102m economic boost. Money seems to talk first and foremost to this Government, and the change in regulations could well be down to this. Any increase in cycling among the rest of the country in lines with a doubling will be a bonus.

Should the UK start to host more elite cycling events, it is likely we will see increased interest in cycling. The post event report for when the Tour passed through in 2014, Three Inspirational Days published in December 2014 suggested as many as 30% of spectators - almost a million people - have increased their levels of cycling, with all of the benefits brings.

For those who were already regular cyclists - those who cycle once a week or more - 66% said that watching the race had had a positive impact on their intention to cycle more. There was a similar effect on those who cycle less often, with 58% inspired to cycle more. A quarter of those who never cycled said they felt encouraged to cycle.

However, while it is all well and good to increase interest, it is far more important to maintain it. With the current state of the UK’s roads, poverty in terms of cycle provision and high speeds, cycling interest gained will largely be interest lost unless something is done about it.

On 22 January 2015, the UK took a massively important step towards turning around the current impasse. After intense lobbying from CTC and supporters, the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS) was included in the Infrastructure Act. The CWIS will effectively place investment in cycling and walking on a par with road and rail. This Friday (31 July) it will come into force.

For the CWIS to be effective, it needs two things. It must look to invest at least £10 per head in cycling, something the Government and Prime Minister claims it is committed to doing, and there must be decent design standards to ensure the funding is spent on infrastructure which will encourage cycle use not discourage it.

Cycle Minister, Robert Goodwill MP, has indicated he wants to make the CWIS as robust as the Road Investment Strategy. This is to be applauded and welcomed. However, with the Road Investment Strategy taking 18 months to implement, cycling in England outside of the eight Cycling City  Ambition Grant holders is set to languish.

The Local Sustainable Transport Fund, an initiative introduced by then Lib Dem Cycle Minister Norman Baker, which has helped encourage cycling around the country is set to dry up in April 2016. Should the CWIS not be in place by April, and this is unlikely, then only eight cities (outside of London) around the country will receive dedicated funding to encourage cycling.

This potential loss is not just in funding, but also all the skilled staff based in councils who will undoubtedly be hunting for their next role. Training up new staff will bring further delays, and is symptomatic of the 'stop-start' funding which causes so many problems for cycle provision. This needs to be addressed, and CTC will be calling on supporters to bring this funding cliff to the attention of the Prime Minister, Chancellor and DfT in the near future.

So while CTC welcomes anything that opens up cycling on our roads, ultimately we feel there are far more pressing concerns for the Government should they really be serious about getting Britain cycling. 

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How about some rules on who can put up 'No Cycling' signs?
at the moment anyone can put them up anywhere, if you ignore them who's rules are you breaking?

As I understand it the proposed regulation changes will also have implications for grass-roots cycle racing - generally positive, although the remaining "conditions may be imposed by any police officer" clause needs removing to give event organisers the degree of certainty that they require (I speak as a regular race organiser in Yorkshire).

I think we're all aware that "increasing general levels of cycling as a means of transport" and "competitive cycling" - whether it's watching elite events or participating in (competing or helping) grass-roots events are two fairly separate things. However, encouraging competitive cycling sends out positive messages about cycling in general, and the more people who get involved in competitive cycling - the more sons/daughters/fathers/mothers/etc who take it up and then bang on about the many joys of cycling and the fitness it brings - the more people who may feel they'd like to give it a go too.

Unless we bang on about it TOO much... ;o)

I agree with Phil, these changes are not just for elite cycling but also local grass-roots club-level cycle racing - relaxing field sizes, relaxing regulations concerning speed limits on the roads raced-on, etc.

This has to be a good thing and I'd like to see club-level cycle racing, time-trialling, etc supported by CTC just as much as commuting, shopping and cycle-touring.

Not convinced that more road racing, if it means more long road closures, will actually help 'cycling'. This weekend in London environs being a case in point ;)

I'm astonished that Phil makes no mention of the role played by Percy Stallard and the BLRC in bringing continental style road racing to the UK in 1942/3 and in changing the law. Prior to this, massed start racing was confined to closed circuits. The NCU, with strong support from the RTTC, had banned road racing on the open road from the 1890s onwards and refused to listen to Stallard and his supporters, who were all suspended sine die. It took over 10 years of struggle before the NCU admitted, under UCI pressure, they were wrong and themselves promoted a few road races though their heart was never in it.
Just think: without the "rebel" BLRC the backward-looking NCU would still be in power today! The implications of that would be profound. No dynamic and reforming British Cycling; no road racing either elite or grassroots; no visitation to these shores by the Tour de France; no Team Sky or British victories in the TDF; no Cav, Wiggo or Froome. No Cookson as president of the UCI. And dare I add, no cycling boom. Cycling would be the sad, little, inward-looking, timid Cinderalla sport it was prior to the BLRC's intervention. In short, everything we have today is owed to Stallard and the BLRC.

Tony Hewson (BLRC Association)

Have you got your dates right? I would have thought that in 1942/3 there would have been more important things to think about than introducing continental style road racing to to a country fighting for its survival in the second world war. I have no personal memories of the time as I was only born in 1942 but from the stories I heard from my older relatives any cycling would have been purely for transport.

Apologies to Phil. I should of course have directed my comment to Sam Jones.

Hi Tony,
Thanks for the additional contribution to the piece and filling in some of the gaps - that's precisely what I was looking for when writing this piece and appreciate your comments very much.
Thanks again,