Kidnap threats, accidents and bad roads - CW readers on the things that have put them off riding

We want everyone to cycle, but there are many reasons that discourage people from doing so

Cyclist in London
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Cycling is the best, we all know this. It can get you places faster and more conveniently than other forms of transport; you can escape the city in minutes; it is a fantastic way to exercise, to socialise, to get out of your head.

Despite all these fantastic benefits, there is still a gap between those of us who are evangelical about life on two wheels and those who would rather do just about anything else than find themselves in the gutter as cars whizz past you.

From commuter to racer, people who take to bikes - not all of whom identify as cyclists - are helping themselves and the world, but it can be difficult to convince people that it is worthwhile.

I cycle a lot, almost 5,000km this year, and could not imagine my life without it. It truly is the best way to explore, to understand the geography of a place. Pacing along country lanes, almost at one with nature, never gets old. The freedom that comes with my bike also opens up my mind. It is not too much of a stretch to say I might not have survived the pandemic without it.

Yet every time a car, or van - invariably van - passes me too closely, I find myself questioning why I bother, what the point of putting myself on the same roads as two-tonne SUVs. I am not alone in questioning my future on my bike.

Cycling activity in England has now fallen back to pre-pandemic levels, government statistics showed earlier this month. 

According to the latest National Travel Survey, published at the beginning of September by the Department for Transport, the average person in England made just 2% of all their trips by cycling in 2021.

The study also revealed that the average number of trips made by bicycle dropped to 15 per person last year, down from 20 in 2020. 

As these disappointing figures show, people who started cycling on the peaceful roads of the pandemic have now stepped away. We asked Cycling Weekly readers to tell us why they have stopped cycling as much, or some of their worst experiences on the road.

Something has to change, because bikes are great, we all know this, and there is nothing all of us want than the UK to actually have that "golden age" of cycling, as Boris Johnson promised two years ago.

Fear and loathing

Amber McGinlay, a 25-year-old who works in a bike shop, said that she is put off from even buying a bike because of the amount of cars on the road and incidents she hears of.

"I would absolutely love to buy an e-bike and be able to use that to get around 100% of the time," she told Cycling Weekly. "It's cheaper and more environmentally friendly. But the fact is, after seeing so many incidents and near misses and testimonials from regular road cyclists about how they're treated by drivers really scares me and puts me off ever cycling on the roads. 

"I don't like that I feel forced to get about in a car because I'm always very aware that I'm in a moving block of metal and while I'm always very safe and cautious, it still feels dangerous that our roads are filled with cars. The only thing that would make me feel safe enough to convert fully to e-bike commuting would be segregated cycle lanes - ones with physical barriers so close passes are less likely. 

"Truly, it's the attitude of a lot of drivers towards cyclists that puts me off most, and I don't know how we can resolve that."

Cyclists use bike lane in London

(Image credit: Getty Images)

She is not alone in wanting segregated cycle lanes, this is what Xavier Brice, the chief executive of cycling and walking charity Sustrans, also wants ahead of Cycle to School Week, which begins on Monday.

“Sustrans calls on Local Authority leaders and the Government to show real ambition and commit to installing protected cycle lanes along main road routes to schools," Brice said in a press release.

“Enabling and encouraging families across the UK that are suffering financially to choose to travel actively would demonstrate commitment to a new transport hierarchy in which the car is not king, for the sake of our wallets, our health and our planet.”

Another cyclist, Joe Agnew, told Cycling Weekly that he has resorted to cycling indoors on Zwift, he has been put off from cycling on the roads so much.

"It feels like the roads, and world as a whole, is getting angrier, with people giving less care for others, and as a cyclist, I'm feeling the brunt of that quite a lot," he said.

"I bought a gravel bike which rekindled my love for exploring and just riding for the fun of it, until last Friday as I was travelling to uni, I got t-boned by a driver who cut across traffic and hit me. I suffered severe concussion, cuts, bruises, and my bike was destroyed. I can't say I'm particularly surprised. I was nearly killed, and the response has been very 'meh'. 

"On top of that, I live in Scotland, specifically Edinburgh, and the roads are absolutely horrific. You're better riding a full MTB on the roads, as road bikes just get wrecked around here. The bike lanes are nothing short of dangerous to ride in- which I was in when I got hit last week. They are full of potholes, manhole covers not in place right, and litter/waste. 

"My final gripe is that cycling is so incredibly expensive. I simply can't afford to ride or race as much as I'd like or used to. It's a choice between paying bills or entering races, and the latter can never win."

Cycling

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The anger shown from drivers towards cyclists is something that comes up all too often - many regular riders have become inured to the vitriol, but a less experienced or confident cyclist might be put off the activity all together.

Nathan Barnett, a cyclist in Bristol, told Cycling Weekly about an incident he had recently. After a close pass and shouting (the classics) a driver actually ended up getting out of his car.

"He rolled down his window, had a go at me, and then started to get out of his car, and was like ‘do you want me to put you in the boot of my car’?" Nathan said. "Then he got in his car and drove off. I called the police, and I carried on with my day. The police couldn’t do anything because you have to go through a different system for road rage and I didn’t have a video or audio of it.

"I’m quite a confident cyclist, quite confident on the road, and I've worked in pubs so quite good at dealing with people. For someone who has just started or isn’t confident, it’s the kind of experience that would make you write cycling off completely."

It is all too easy to stoke up some kind of driver vs cyclist conversation, but aggression from vehicles is the reason behind many of our respondents hanging up their wheels. A culture shift needs to happen before the UK can be like the Netherlands or Denmark, but that feels a long way away.

What is so disappointing about the figures and the testimonies is that people have been actively put off cycling because of things that should be fixed - better cycling infrastructure, better roads. Until something is done about these tangible barriers to cycling in the UK, then people might keep drifting away. There was a chance to really revolutionise transport in the UK during the pandemic, and it didn't happen, but that does not mean it can't.

Anyway, I'll still be riding, and I'm sure lots of you will be too. Let's keep pushing for better, though.

If you have had bad experiences while cycling or have anything more to say, get in touch - adam.becket@futurenet.com

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