What stops you from cycling regularly?

Family of cyclists

As a very nervous cyclist, I am not inclined to get on my bike, even to do a simple journey into town or to visit the doctor’s surgery.

This isn’t due to laziness (well, yes, this could play a part), but due to the state of the roads.

My husband managed to persuade me to go into town for an event by bike. I hadn’t sat on my bike since before the first Lockdown, so was a little worried about what would happen.

The first thing that struck me was the potholes. They had definitely got worse since 18 months ago. Some were like abysses, and usually situated in the most inappropriate places for cyclists.

I also noticed some of the manholes covers had sunk to create a hazard. Also the sleeping policemen designed to slow down traffic had disintegrated where they met the road, and the painted markings on roads had faded to be almost non-existent.

We purposefully chose to go via the side streets, to avoid the traffic on the Oxford Road. Not all of them had been resurfaced, but I noticed a regular cyclist could easily learn where the worst bits were and form a strategy to avoid them.

However, it was the routes with the most traffic, e.g. Oxford Road (and Tilehurst Road), where the roads are at their worst. Here you can’t move into a better position if you have a very large and impatient car trying to overtake you at the same time.

I also noticed the pinch points in Oxford Road, something to which a motorist wouldn’t even give a second thought. How is it that whenever you approach one of these, the car behind you suddenly accelerates? Or the car in front of you decides to slow down to squash you into a tiny space?

And, of course, there are the hazards from the parked cars. I have learned to keep one eye on the road, and one eye on the cars with occupants in them, just in case they decide to open their door or swing out into the road without looking or indicating.

Many a time the road narrows, particularly where there are crossing positions in the middle of the road. Here frustrated cars need to slow down behind you, unable to pass, revving their engines and tailgating you unnervingly close to your heels.

And don’t get me started with the pedestrians. I certainly regretted not replacing my knackered bell on my bike to warn people glued to their phones as they stride out unaware into the road.

Maybe it’s because a bike is relatively silent compared with a car, and their subconscious isn’t trained to think ‘bike’, even when crossing the road.

I know Reading’s roads were designed for cars, not cyclists, which is why cycle paths suddenly disappear at junctions or pinch points. Why not give cyclists a right to be on the road for a change?

I remember the last time Oxford Road was ‘renovated’, with widened pavements and extra car parking. When what was really needed were cycle lanes and an off-road parking lot to keep parked cars off the road.

They managed this in Tilehurst, so why couldn’t this be done here? The Council could even increase its revenue by charging people to park there! I reckon this would certainly incentivise people to cycle instead…

Our AGM in August was a most exciting affair, taking the form of a Question Time with Councillors. You can read all about it in the Autumn 2021 Chairman’s letter.

The age-old subjects of potholes and appalling surfaces were raised, as expected, but it was interesting to find out which political party focuses on ‘alternative’ methods of transport apart from the car.

The Council was very keen to promote the buses, since they own the company, but this still involves large vehicles which can be a hazard to nervous bike riders like myself.

And they churn up the road to make the mess which puts off so many would-be cyclists from automatically thinking cycling is the best method to use.

Alice Elliott
Newsletter Editor

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