In a previous post we worried about the unintended consequences of the 'Wiggins effect' in encouraging more inexperienced cyclists to take to the road.
Now it seems that the 'Olympic effect' is reinforcing that by prompting a huge rise in cycle sales across the UK leading to exactly what we feared - you can read our previous article by clicking here
Britain's unexpectedly high medal haul has prompted a surge in people taking up those gong- gaining sports and buying the gear that goes with them. Cycle and sports shops have reported increases in the sales of bikes, running, swimming and tennis gear and rowing machines. Halfords, the UK’s biggest bike reseller, announced record sales last month across its entire range with sales of a Victoria Pendleton-designed ladies bike up more than 70% this month alone. Evans Cycles says the last few weeks have been their busiest of the year, with sales of bikes ranging from £700 to £7,000 for a Wiggins road racing clone up by around 35% across the UK.
Unfortunately, cycling injuries and deaths have also risen at an alarming rate according to the latest figures from the Department for Transport. Cyclist casualties rose by 10% from 3,775 to 4,160, in the first three months of this year on top of the 16% increase in cyclist casualties reported for 2011. With more people taking to their bikes thanks to the recent success of Wiggins and the rest of Team GB at the Olympics, many road safety campaigners fear the number of accidents may increase yet further.
The cycling legacy from the Olympics is uncertain at best. The better than expected performance of the British team overall and it’s utter dominance in road racing and the velodrome has undoubtedly fired the imagination of many youngsters and rekindled the enthusiasm of many older people to get back on a bike. However, when it comes to the government’s commitment to safety on two wheels, the messages are definitely mixed.
Most people seem to agree that it would be a good idea to get more people cycling, but we need them to be able to do so safely. The Highway Code rules for cyclists are brief and not very helpful. Section 59 ‘suggests’ that you should wear appropriate clothing to enhance visibility and a cycle helmet which conforms to current regulations (although the debate about just how useful a helmet is for anyone aside from children still rages in cycling circles). The only prescriptive instructions for cyclists in the Highway Code are to be found in sections 60 and 64: your cycle must have white front and red rear lights at night, must be fitted with a red rear reflector (and amber pedal reflectors ideally) and you must not cycle on a pavement. Beyond that, there are some guidelines on using cycle lanes and cycle paths, but that’s it as far as cycle safety is concerned.
The government have at least announced that they plan to make £30 million available to tackle dangerous junctions with improved signal sequencing and the installation of Trixi mirrors. Employers previously reluctant to take up ‘cycle to work schemes’ now seem willing to sign up for them in the afterglow of Olympic success, either running a ‘cycle to work scheme’ themselves or through a third-party provider. These schemes work by ‘loaning’ a bike and safety equipment (typically worth around £1,000) to the employee and recovering the cost through a 'salary sacrifice' arrangement, which means you agree to accept a lower amount of salary in return for the benefit of having the bike. Fired by Team GB’s velodrome achievements, more of us seem willing to make this sacrifice, so these measures too will increase the number of new and novice cyclists taking to the streets.
Everyone agrees that, masterminded by Team GB's cycling director, Dave Brailsford, we seem to be brilliant at planning and preparing for success in competition cycling with Wiggins’ Tour victory and a dozen Olympic medals to prove it, but utterly rubbish when it comes to doing the same for everyday cycling on the roads. Casualty figures for cyclists have risen in 10 out of the last 13 quarters. These figures should ring alarm bells and ought to prompt ministers to do more to protect vulnerable cyclists and pedestrians. The need for meaningful government action is made even more urgent if we are to see more people cycling as a result of the Olympics effect. Making those improvements in cycle road safety will cost money and the level of government planning and expenditure will need to respond rapidly to the sudden, entirely predictable, increase in the popularity of cycling that Bradley Wiggins’ Tour and Team GB’s victories created, otherwise the only Olympic legacy London 2012 will have created will be a steady and inexorable rise in entirely preventable deaths and serious injuries to more cyclists on our roads