Discarded gel wrappers, old inner tubes and air canisters are an unfortunate sign that cyclists are in the neighbourhood

Rubbish left behind by cyclists is becoming a problem in some areas of Britain. As cycling’s popularity continues to boom, so does the amount of litter very visibly left behind by a minority of messy riders.

Energy gel and bar wrappers, discarded inner tubes and tyre inflation canisters are some of the items of rider trash commonly found at the roadside – and it’s not helping to improve the profile of cyclists.

Cyclists have come under scrutiny in areas where local residents deem there to be too many riders using ‘their’ roads. Organised cycling events in the New Forest, Oxfordshire, Scotland and the Surrey Hills have even been subjected to sabotage by a minority of disgruntled residents, unhappy at the noise and disruption they say such events bring to their community. Petitions have been created to prevent or cap the number of cyclists using some roads.

>>> Dr. Hutch: sportive sabotage

It doesn’t help, then, that some riders are visibly leaving their mark on the countryside by lazily chucking their rubbish away as they ride.

Twitter user @ClareD_ posted a photo of the 68 discarded energy gel wrappers that she collected from the roadside in a one kilometre stretch of the 2016 Velothon Wales event.

During last year’s Cycling Weekly Box Hill Original Sportive, someone had left a discarded canister of tyre inflation foam (and the foam itself) next to the side of the road on the picturesque spot of Box Hill.

The National Trust-owned area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, as well as being a beauty spot visited by thousands every weekend. The discarding of assorted crap at the side of the road – a private road, that gave permission for the event to use it – has any number of negatives. The canister and foam could pose a genuine threat to the wildlife and livestock on the downs, a danger to other road users and it looks awful.

Phil O’Connor of SportivePhoto told Cycling Weekly that he regularly picks up many discarded gel wrappers as he waits at the roadside to take photos of riders.

If riders manage to carry full gels, CO2 canisters and tubes, surely they can carry used ones back home, or find a rubbish bin.

Don’t like messy, gooey rubbish in your back pocket? Then take a small plastic bag and put it all in there.

Squeeze the air out of a punctured tube and wrap an elastic band around it, then put it back in your pocket or saddle pack.

Don’t give the anti-cycling lobby any more excuses to dislike cyclists. Take your rubbish home or bin it.

Thanks to Phil O’Connor/SportivePhoto for the use of the image.

  • Karl

    Whether you are on a bike or walking , I do both , it’s just disgusting. I don’t understand it at all

  • cycling_weakly

    …..and then there’s the direction signs left pinned to trees/walls/signposts. Always seem to be fluorescent, too. Litter with altitude.

  • Dan Kenyon

    A lot of the times the pros drop it in an area that the organiser cleans after the race, Ive been in a sportive that had a litter drop area that the cleared after the event with a road sweeper. I agree the best idea is to put the rubbish in your pocket (I do) but having a drop area that the organiser cleans is better than nothing.

    I was shocked though at how many wrappers were strewn across the road on the Wales Velothon this year, had a few wheel spins on one of the climbs because of them and that it had rained.

  • johngf

    Happens in marathons, too. Businesses will hand out free gels and runners throw the empties on the ground

  • Mick Ayres

    You do make a good point there,thing is people don’t see it but gel wrappers and bottles do look bad out in the country side.Fumes kill 12000 people a year in Briton but it don’t seem to matter the mighty car is king it would seem

  • Mick Ayres

    Yep first rule LEAVE NO TRACE just because half wits in cars throw crap out of there windows don’t follow there lead!!

  • EcoAdvocate

    diesel and gasoline smoke is also littering our air, no?

  • EcoAdvocate

    It’s bad form for anyone to litter, people walking, riding a bicycle or those in cars. If you don’t want empty beer cans in the car, don’t open a beer can in the car. I see tons of trash along the road, mostly from drivers and their passengers.
    One point NOT made, is that people driving cars pump carbon monoxide, CO2, tiny carcinogenic particulate matter and other pollutants into our air. For free. While it’s wrong for a person on a bike or a person in a car to litter, we need to acknowledge that the mere act of driving a gasoline or diesel powered vehicle is belching dirty nasty chemicals into the air we breathe, it’s littering our air.
    ***Far worse than a wrapper on the ground is the noxious motor vehicle gases we all breathe in.

  • Robin Mainwaring

    I think part of the blame has to go to the pros for the example they set. Watch any race and you will see the pros discarding their rubbish without a thought to where it goes. Any wind will mean that a gel wrapper can be half a mile from the road by the time the cleanup team come through. Yes, the wannabe pros are a disgrace…but it is the pros that they are emulating so perhaps that needs to be sorted first.

  • Chris flint

    I live in the brecon beacons and the amount of gel wrappers discarded on the climbs is disgraceful. Cycling is better off without the kind of people who think that this is acceptable under ANY circumstances.

  • TrevorHoldsworth

    Solve the gel problem by doing this: Buy a joggers hip flask and squeeze everty last drop out of your gels (must be the same flavour 🙂 , and add water to liquify. No more struggling with gel tubes ‘(risking a fall) or having ’empty’ tubes seep into your pockets/gloves/’bar tape. I submitted this to a French magazine (le Cycle) and won a years free subscription. It’s easy to do and good for long rides! Leave your wrappers at home, and get ALL the gel out of them.

  • Riggah

    To be fair, it’s not just some cyclists. This is a refelection of society as a whole. Selfish, ignorant behaviour is becoming increasingly widespread.

  • John Russell

    I took part in my first spotive recently. I really enjoyed it, and loved the supporting attitude of most of the more experienced riders. But, I was utterly appalled by the number of people consuming bars/ gels etc and just tossing the wrappers.

  • fed up

    It’s all these pro kit bankers they all think there in Tour de France not a Ropey sportive fir fat blokes

  • blemcooper

    I mainly see banana peels dropped on the shoulder of rural roads (seemingly carefully so it remains on the roadway rather than on the dirt further out), not so much gel wrappers, so eventually it’ll turn into a black, dried out husk, and eventually disappear.

    I can understand the notion that having it decompose out in the environment is better than taking up space in a sealed plastic trash bag in a land fill, but at least don’t just drop it onto the asphalt where someone else might ride over it and lose slip, and where it’s an eye sore, etc. At least fling it into the woods where the additional moisture and microbes that aren’t so prevalent on the hot, dry asphalt will let it disappear faster, out of sight. Or pack it home for your own compost bin.

  • eminusx

    I just don’t understand the mentality of some people. . . its like the piles of mcdonalds rubbish you see at beauty spots, part of the reason you’re there is because its a beautiful place. . so why ruin it so mindlessly. I despair!

  • Jamie

    While I obviously think that litter left by cyclist anywhere
    is wholly unacceptable and should be taken home I think some context should be
    added here. At organised events, some reliance must be put on the organizes to
    help clear the mess. Look at Glastonbury, volunteers stay for weeks after
    clearing up the mess. As a business McDonalds
    have staff out on the local streets clearing litter dropped by customers which
    is arguably down to the council to clear. Fair enough litter shouldn’t be
    dropped in the first instance but there will always be idiots who do. At least
    take a photo when the event is finished and everyone has gone home. The litter
    photographed may well have been taken home.

    I think the professional photographer who took the photo
    mentioned in this feature should be careful of highlighting these issues. If these
    events are banned he/she will be looking for alternative work. Litter on these
    organised events can and should be cleared by the organizes or at least minimized.

    What shames me more as a cyclist is the liter you see on the
    mountain bike trails in Wales and other such areas, sometimes at the top of
    peaks miles from anywhere, lovely views and then looking down one notices a lot
    of discarded gel wrappers, etc. However walkers are no different. Walk up Mount
    Snowdon and the amount of litter is totally disgraceful.

    We shouldn’t allow any excuse to the non cycling brigade. So
    yes, lets all try to minimize the damage on the areas we cycle and cycling’s
    reputation.

  • Anthony Jackson

    I was in a 2/3/4 race a few weeks ago, and before a small ish climb on the final lap, I saw people ejected their bidons into bushes….probably the worst thing I have seen a cyclist do (in terms of rubbish)…. I was amazed that I didnt see people behind barriers jumping for them, then I realised we were all riding for ‘Provincial CC’ or ‘Local RC’ , we are not pros, just empty the contents on the road and then ride with 100-200 grams up the hill. The weight thing is a poor excuse for having random bidons in bushes for the next 30,000years.

  • Ian Booth

    There is no excuse for this and it upsets me when I see so much discarded litter obviously left by fellow cyclists giving us all a bad name. If you managed to carry it there you can carry it home or to a litter bin. Please, if you are in the habit of dropping your litter at the roadside stop now. If you see a fellow cyclist doing this please have a polite word with them.

  • David Ford

    No excuses for not taking your rubbish home with you, you’ve carried it out, why not carry it back empty? Best to carry an empty sandwich bag/small carrier bag for used gels or food and bin at bus stops when you get a chance.