Man The F**k Up and Take The Lane?
On the one hand, David is pointing out the triumph of marketing spin that often fills tourist brochures (remember all those half-built hotels from the 70s & 80s?), and how these could mis-represent cycling in the UK to tourists from the land of bicycles, windmills and institutionalised tolerance.
Then Carlton’s response is that it really isn’t that bad - he’s often been cycling in Northumberland with his family, and there are many excellent, quiet and peaceful cycle routes to enjoy. They’re called “roads” (technical term - sorry for anyone who struggles with these), but they really are quiet, and you can cycle all day and probably only see a couple of cars. Basically if you arrive at the North Shields ferry terminal and follow the Reiver’s Route, you do the first few miles off-road and then you’re on really quiet roads right the way through some great scenery.
Of course, they’re both right, but not for the reasons they expect. It’s true that you can get from the ferry terminal in North Shields to the quieter roads of Northumberland via largely traffic-free routes, or on roads that are through residential areas. But to find these routes you either need to be local (and a regular user of the routes - I struggle to find & follow them sometimes), or be using a dedicated cycling-specific satnav app on your phone - Carlton’s own industry-funded Bike Hub, or the Cambridge Cycle Campaign’s Cycle Streets (which supplies the map data to the Bike Hub one).
These’ll both provide bicycle-specific routing, and let you choose how busy, quiet or quick you want your route to be. Indeed, I’ve gone as far as to say that these clever routing apps could well be game-changers when you’re speaking with non-cyclists who say that the roads are too busy to ride on. Using them, I’ve discovered routes that I’d have never found otherwise.
The problem is though that if you’re a visiting Dutch / French / German / Danish tourist, you probably DON’T have either of these apps, you probably DON’T have detailed local knowledge. In fact, what you probably have is a UK road map that you bought from your local bookshop (scale - 1:250,000?) and some leaflets picked up on the ferry.
Using these, you can easily end up on roads like these:
This is the A167 from Morpeth to Coldstream - it’s a moderately busy A-road, but it’s fast and in long stretches, relatively narrow. Cars, HGVs and busses all use it, and it’s a rare driver who’ll actually slow down to overtake you. I’d rate this as 7 on a 0-10 scale of scariness.
Or you could end up on this:
This is actually part of National Cycling Network Route 1. It’s an uncategorised road - not an A-road or even a B-road. So you’d expect it to be quiet and largely traffic-free. Except it connects several industrial estates, haulage yards, factories and scrap yards to the Spine Road (a notorious local route that all cyclists would do well to avoid at all costs). So you’ll be sharing this space with some of the heaviest and most hurried vehicles on the road. And yes, it’s a rare driver who’ll bother to slow down and wait till it’s safe to overtake a bicycle. I’d rate this as an 8 on my scale.
Or you could end up on a road like this one:
This isn’t in Northumberland - it’s the A143 from Ixworth to Great Barton in Suffolk, and a road that we found ourselves riding along on Sunday. It’s narrow, straight, fast and busy. Drivers don’t bother to slow down to overtake, and because of the oncoming traffic, they don’t pull out very far either. So you have vehicles overtaking at speed very close to your handlebars. I’d rate this as a perfect 10 - absolutely bloody terrifying.
When we eventually got off this road, we started to wonder what the right approach to it would have been:
- Ride as far to the left as possible - try to just keep out of the way by riding in the debris-filled gutter?
- Man the f**k up and take the lane? Ride in the Primary Position and force overtaking cars to slow down, wait for a gap, and move over into the right hand lane when they want to overtake.
- Get off and push the bike along the grass verge?
- Realise that this is a segregated route for cars only? Turn around and try to find a route that avoids it altogether.