We all need space to breath. What better place to do it than in one of Britain’s best breathing spaces; The New Forest National Park? So why is Dr Julian Lewis, MP trying to stop New Forest cycle events?
“National Parks welcome visitors and provide opportunities for everyone to experience, enjoy and learn about their special qualities. National Parks should also protect the people who live and work in them as well as the landscape and wildlife.”
David Murray, a CNP transport campaigner, once said: “The New Forest National Park is a vital green lung in the south east of England, where people can get away from the ‘hustle and bustle’ and stresses of their modern lives.”
“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.”
– Ernest Hemingway
What’s up, Doc?
As a nation we face serious health care issues. In the UK an estimated 60.8 per cent of adults and 31.1 per cent of children are overweight. If the bicycle were invented tomorrow, you might think it offered our salvation.
What’s up, Gov?
Norman Baker MP, the UK government minister for Transport is certainly encouraging people to cycle.
So why is Dr Julian Lewis, Tory MP for New Forest East writing to Mr Baker to try and curb New Forest Cycle Events like the Spring Sportive which starts on Saturday?
According to the Daily Echo the MP’s letter accuses some of the riders of flouting the Highway Code and also cites two near misses involving cyclists and Forest animals.
“Newspapers are unable, seemingly to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilisation.”
– George Bernard Shaw
Cycling in the New Forest; an inconvenient truth?
I have read some very ill informed comments, and articles recently regarding New Forest cycling and in particular sportive events that I want to help clear up some popular misconceptions.
- A sportive is not a race. This is an endurance cycling event. It is not a dashing gallop. There are no winners. There is no sprint finish. Sportive riders are not hanging on for dear life with white knuckles. Faces are normally relaxed and smiling. Perhaps Dr Lewis is confusing sportives with a point to point race?
- Cyclists do not break New Forest speed limits. The average speed of a sportive rider is 15 mph. The fastest might reach a heady 17 mph. Bicycle technology has not evolved that much from 100 years ago even with the latest carbon fibre machines. I have never seen a cyclist break the speed limit in the New Forest. No cyclist can get close to the velocity of even a thirty year old Land Rover Defender towing an event horse in a box behind it. A cyclist is no match for a petroleum powered machine.
- Cyclists do not kill ponies. Commoners need not worry about cyclists. All ponies and livestock killed on The Forest’s roads since records began has been by powered vehicles. Several cyclists died here last year as a result of car accidents in the forest. 65 ponies also died last year in the forest after being struck by cars. Not one pony has been killed by a cyclist. Ever.
- Cyclists are not the only people who wear bright colours in The Forest. Horse riders often wear fluorescent coloured bibs too. It is thought that horses and ponies are largely colour blind any way. Horse riders and cyclists wear bright colours for the same reason; so that they may be seen by faster moving traffic. I am no Gok Wan. I wouldn’t be hired as a fashion consultant. So to me I see no real difference between a scarlet red hunt jacket or a cyclist’s attire. I wouldn’t wear either on a night out.
- New Forest sportive riders will not impede the emergency services. Cyclists out of any road using group know just how valuable our emergency services are. They will inform each other of approaching vehicles anyway. So any vehicle with blue flashing lights and a siren will easily make their way past any cyclists. Bicycles are narrower than cars.
- A licence will not make the New Forest any safer. All of the drivers of cars which have killed not only ponies but also people in the Forest have had or should have driving licences. A licence does not guarantee anything. It did not stop their vehicles from killing pony nor human. A permit or licence to hold a cycle event is just introducing unwarranted bureaucracy. In fact, with today’s modern technology who could stop a group of cyclists who use their smart phones to meet up and ride around the forest? Their iPhones will record their timekeeping just as well as any timing chip they are given to use on a sportive. They would also save the entrance money too. This is just one reason why we need to encourage well organised cycling events. We all know the route and the time.
- Wearing lycra is not a crime. Ok our friend Gok Wan might disagree. Some New Forest residents believe cyclists are lemmings for wearing the stuff too. Some cyclists believe them also. However no one gets hurt. A cyclist wears it because it is light, comfortable on a long journey, does not chaff and is easy to wash. Oh and because Mr Wiggins choses to wear it too on his bike might encourage some MAMILs. Lycra will not kill ponies too.
- A Sportive will not stop you driving in the Forest. They might slow you down in certain sections. But no more than a tractor would. So, just accept the fact that the cyclist has as much right or more than you to be on the road. The slow speed might give you an opportunity to enjoy the scenery.
- A Sportive will not harm your business. The events are all held at the weekend so shouldn’t cause much disruption to businesses or commuters.
- The Forest can easily support large events. The New Forest Show attracts over 20 times more people than even the largest sportive. No one is suggesting that we should stop these popular events are they?
- The cyclists are not in one huge peloton. The riders are released in small groups over a period of 2 and a half hours. No starting gun is fired, No flag or whistle blown. Cyclists roll out in a nice relaxed manner.
- It is not illegal for cyclists to ride two abreast. Many horse riders do so as well. In some cases the riders will do so to stop vehicles from trying to overtake where it might not be safe to do so. Cyclists, and especially so in a sportive, will alert each other of approaching vehicles and will try and let the vehicles pass as soon as possible.
Why cycle events are good for the Forest
I have written before about my great experiences riding in New Forest sportives. They have been truly great events for me on a personal level. I felt such a wonderful sense of achievement completing them and have fond memories of the camaraderie with the other riders. Cycling has had a positive effect on my health and in particular my waist measurement. I strongly encourage New Forest residents to have a go. There are many great cycling events in the Forest to choose from. Do it for your health, or do it for charity. I bet if you do, you will be hooked!
It’s good for business
For some of us, our home in the New Forest is our only one. Obviously in some places of the Forest a large percentage of houses are second homes for wealthy people. There is nothing wrong with that per se. There is also a lot of percentage of retired people in The New Forest also. One of the few industries we have in the Forest are leisure and tourism.
“Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I have hope for the human race.”
– H.G. Wells
I have been speaking with lots of bed and breakfast owners recently. All are telling me that bookings are down over recent years. They really do need large events to help bring visitors into the area, events like the Beaulieu Autojumble, which drew 38,352 visitors in 2012 or the crown jewel of The New Forest’s calendar; The New Forest Show which attracted 95,000 people, including her Majesty the Queen last year. Tourism is one of The New Forest’s largest industries. And so it should be.
Forest ever after
In the long term, how will The New Forest survive if Britain does not perceive any value to it? With land becoming even more precious, surely we have to do all we can to show the value in keeping the New Forest as it is? We need to show how precious our green lungs are. We need to encourage people to enjoy these open spaces. We need our children to get truly excited about nature. The younger generation need to learn to appreciate the great outdoors. If they don’t care about the forest, then I fear for it. We all want to see ponies wander freely across our beloved Forest forever.
Unite for the forest
By promoting a good positive image of the New Forest, to the whole nation, the British people will always remember and see the value in retaining it. We need as many people from all walks of life to stand up and shout out just how remarkable and important the New Forest is. We need walkers, horse and pony riders, campers, dog walkers, hotel and b&b guests to join hands and all get behind and proudly tell the world about the magic of our beautiful National Park. Anything else would not do our beloved Forest justice. We need cyclists to help spread this message too.
UK sportive events are now even venturing abroad. These cyclists as a group have a lot of disposable income. They spend a lot of money on their sport. Why don’t we help them spend it here? Why don’t we get behind not only cyclists but triathletes too? These sports should be encouraged for the good health of the nation but also for places like the New Forest where these events can be held. This is also a massive growth industry. It is a not just a business opportunity for the Forest, it is necessary for it’s very survival over the decades and centuries to come.
“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.”
– Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
We do need some rules
A cyclist should: “never ride more than two abreast, and ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends”
– Highway Code Rule #66
Cyclists should obey the highway code. By encouraging well run and organised rides, like the Spring Sportive events then we know all riders can be identified by a number. If a cyclist does something stupid, then there is a chance of bringing him or her to justice. By forcing these rides underground and creating “flash mob sportive” rides, we will lose any such accountability. I accept that sportive events are not perfect; what event appeals to every one of us?
Slow for cyclists as well as ponies
I personally have no interest in riding ponies or horses. My partner loves nothing more than riding a New Forest pony, in the New Forest. We live and let live. We both can see the value in each of our chosen pursuits. Sportive events do have a lot going for them. Especially in The New Forest. We have one of Britain’s best. Let’s keep it that way. We should be proud of them.
“I thought of that while riding my bicycle.”
– Einstein (in reference to the Theory of Relativity)
I could cite a couple of near misses I have had whilst cycling in The New Forest. Namely at the dreaded ‘pinch points’. I don’t think they slow drivers much. It seems the ones in Burley Street are always being replaced. Dr Lewis, if you truly want to make the Forest safer; you could make these cycle friendly.
“Cycle tracks will abound in Utopia.”
– H.G. Wells