You learn a lot riding your bike.
Whether its understanding your own fitness level, an education in bike maintenance or an insight into the irrational movements of pedestrians, every ride is a lesson.
But there are some things you only learn riding in one particular part of the world.
Some people learn how to climb Alpe d’Huez, some people learn the exact power to blast the A63 in a TT, while some learn the bizarre quirks of riding a bike in Bristol.
Bristol was the first cycling city
Often when talking to cyclists outside of Bristol, some optimistic soul might ask whether the quality of bike life in the South West is vastly improved, seeing as Bristol was named the UK’s first cycling city all the way back in 2008.
And you have to politely burst their bubble, and explain that despite the glorious fanfare that followed, cycling in Bristol can still be the wild west for even the most lionhearted two-wheeler.
Boozed up revellers strolling out into the middle of Gloucester Road with all the confidence of someone who’s never even heard the phrase RTC, the assault course joy of the Nelson Street cycle path – Bristol is a cycling city in the same way Oxford Street is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The cycle lanes
The name ‘cycling city’ conjures images of a Chris Boardman-designed utopia of segregated bike lanes, unlimited cycle parking and maybe even space for a couple of machines on train carriages.
But in reality, Bristol’s cycling infrastructure has gone the way of the horse and carriage – rare, out-dated, and probably not that safe.
Where to begin?
Let’s go back to Nelson Street, the city centre road/bus lane/cycle lane combo that defies all logic.
For cyclists the road starts in a danger zone, with a contraflow cycle lane inside a bus lane – even in Google Streetview, a bus has veered precariously close to the path.
From there things don’t improve, as the cycle lane continues in the opposite direction to the flow of traffic, before inexplicably veering onto the pavement and zig-zagging around trees, A frames and lamp posts.
In parts the lane just disappears entirely.
Now if you survive that rollercoaster, you make it to the next level – a gloriously open and inviting shared space scheme with fresh tiles and a welcoming atmosphere in The Centre, unless you’re cycling.
Sadly, shared space schemes are not the paradise-like answer to our transport woes some had hoped.
The unclear road markings and dropped curbs throw cyclists, pedestrians and cars into direct conflict, almost by design.
It is of course open to abuse too, by any drivers who see dropped curbs as an invitation to park where they please, especially in the cycle routes through the area.
The government has recently called on shared space schemes to be halted, after many local authorities realised too late that the projects are abysmal for vulnerable citizens like disabled or blind people, and lead to plenty of angry exchanges between road users.
These are just a few of the Monty Python cycle lanes you will never forget if you’ve ever pedalled your way around the regional capital of the South West, but there are others of course.
Coronation Road, Gloucester Road, The Bearpit, Baldwin Street – this article could be novel-length, but there may not be enough space on the Internet to list the true extent of Bristol’s cycle lane circus.
The Bristol to Path cycle path
I absolutely love the Bristol to Path cycle path, as do so many others whose cycle commutes are improved infinitely by the possibility of a segregated route that runs directly to the heart of Bristol.
Convenient, safer than the roads, and quick, the path is a bit of a dream for the commuter.
But of course there are some…quirks…to the railway path you are likely to encounter cycling in Bristol.
The characters you encounter on the path are one of the true joys that really brighten your jaunt to work.
One notable eccentric is the man dubbed by many as ‘The Walrus,’ who at some point in the distant past discovered his life calling was to fervently alert other cyclists that their 150 lumen front lights are too bright.
The Walrus will yell at passing riders with the passion of a man who really believes in his duty.
If you’re reading this Walrus thank you for your service, but maybe just chill out a bit yeah? We’re all just trying to get to work.
Cycle track time trials
The B2B, as it is affectionately known, is also a key training ground to the likes of Rohan Dennis and Tom Dumoulin… wannabes.
Often when pootling your four-mile, 20-minute journey to the city centre you find yourself in the path of a Strava-addicted segment jockey trying to push 400 watts on a rush hour cycle path.
Of course you’ll never see the aero bike-saddled behemoth powering his way towards your flank at the speed of sound, but you may just hear the irate click up of Dura-Ace setup as the cycle path powerhouse is forced to slow 0.5mph at a hair-splitting pinch point.
There’s a time and a place for segment chasing, and the rush hour cycle track is probably not the one.
The hills, please no more hills
While many riders across the UK probably dream of having double digit gradients on their doorstep, the riders of Bristol might sometimes pray for a slightly flatter city to get around.
Bristol is littered with brutal short and sharp ascents perfect for intervals and absolutely awful for commuting.
There is the slow rise of Park Street, any number of hills around the Suspension Bridge, and of course the steepest residential street in Europe, Vale Street.
With gradients of 30 per cent plus, Vale Street is a brutal test of the legs, great for intervals and probably a hit with hill climb specialists.
Luckily, the road is not a key route through the city so doesn’t crop up on many commutes.
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Alex is the digital news editor for CyclingWeekly.com. After gaining experience in local newsrooms, national newspapers and in digital journalism, Alex found his calling in cycling, first as a reporter and now as news editor responsible for Cycling Weekly's online news output.
Since pro cycling first captured his heart during the 2010 Tour de France (specifically the Contador-Schleck battle) and joining CW in 2018, Alex has covered three Tours de France, multiple editions of the Tour of Britain, and the World Championships, while both writing and video presenting for Cycling Weekly. He also specialises in fitness writing, often throwing himself into the deep end to help readers improve their own power numbers.
Away from journalism, Alex is a national level time triallist, avid gamer, and can usually be found buried in an eclectic selection of books.
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