The first ever MTB world championships & the mystery of a banner, thought lost

Last summer, mountain bike royalty gathered in the French ski resort of Villard de Lans to celebrate the staging of the 1987 Championnat Du Monde VTT. This was the first ever mountain bike world championships. Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze, Hans Rey, Scot Nicol, Jacquie Phelan, and Ned Overend joined French riders from back-in-the-day, such as Jacques Devi, to ride the original course (a tough, high-level route long since closed to mountain bikers) and to attend a gala dinner. I was there for this reunion; I was there in 1987. Along with Peter Darke, a Sunderland bike shop owner, I had created the British Mountain Bike Team. Naturally, I picked myself to ride (I DNF’ed) but there were also real riders in the team, such as Jamie Carr and Orange founder Lester Noble. Here’s the story of the reunion, the 1987 event and the disappearance of the lovingly hand-made 1990 World Championship banner, thought to be long lost. It made a mysterious reappearance at the reunion. Who had shimmied up a pole, in a Durango storm, to cut down the banner? And where has it been for 22 years?


Pushing up the daisies

A touch to the left. Up a bit. Bit more. FTHWHACK!

I’ve done many stupid things in my life but quite why I stuck my fat head beneath an electrified fence to get a better shot of a bunch of riders will always be a mystery to me. It’s not as though I didn’t know the fence was electrified. Minutes before I had gingerly touched it to see if it was live. It was. I got a buzz, a quick tingle. When you flick an electric fence you’re expecting the buzz and, if you’re at all normal, you limit the exposure.

When you’re not expecting the shock, and it’s to the back of your head and you don’t know to flinch, things are a lot different. While crouching down low, and sticking my head and camera under the wire, I got a whomping whack of a shock. For a second I thought I’d been hit with a plank, assailant unknown.

I jumped, instinctively holding on to my camera with one hand, impulsively gripping the back of my head with the other.

Hank looked at me and, non-plussed, said: “I was waiting for that to happen.”

Thanks for the warning, Hank.

Rambler's guard of honour for MTBers

Hank is Hank Barlow. The Hank Barlow who, in 1984, founded Mountain Bike, the first glossy US mountain bike magazine. He now lives in France but he’s an American. (Despite living in France for 17 years his impeccable French is murdered by the most amazingly bad accent).

He was not being my guardian angel in a farmer’s field above the town of Villard de Lans, in the Vercors region of France. He, and I, were by a dirt track, taking photos. Sensibly, Hank had positioned himself well away from the electric fence.

I had been able to fire off a few low angle shots before the whack to the head. The shots were of a group of old French guys, with spectacular ‘taches, clad in bulging day-glo Lycra, riding 1980s mountain bikes and sporting facial daubs of fluoro sunscreen.

Jacques Devi Serge Barnel behind


The jolt had given me a fright, it hadn’t summoned a flashback, this wasn’t my memory playing tricks with me. The garish Lycra, the ancient bikes, the neon face paint, it was all part of an anniversary weekend organised by Génération Mountain Bike, an MTB history organisation run by four enthusiastic French guys, still at school in the 1980s and who lusted after the high-end bikes of the day but couldn’t afford them. The 25 ans du 1er championnat du monde de VTT was Génération Mountain Bike’s celebration of the first ever mountain bike world championships. 26 years ago the ski town of Villard de Lans hosted hundreds of riders, on machines with cantilever brakes, no suspension forks, riding a severely technical course that involved almost as much carrying as riding.

VTT World Championships reunion sign

The 1987 event was organised by Winning magazine. This was before the UCI got its sticky mitts on mountain biking. This was when there were still fag breaks during races, for some of the riders at least. Others were clearly starting to take it very seriously.

Mountain biking was growing up. But it was not yet professional, the sport was still in flux. In 1987 it was still possible to go on a bike holiday with your mates, call yourself the British Mountain Bike Team, and get away with it. And not just get away with it but blag loads of sponsorship, too. The team was headline sponsored by SunTour, with Rohan providing travel togs. Team jerseys were flock printed by Been Bag.

Gary Fisher

I was in Villard de Lans, partaking of impromptu electrotherapy to my scalp, because, back in the day, I had been the chief blagger. As the co-manager of the British Mountain Bike Team – the first such outfit – I had been able to pick myself to race alongside some of the top riders of the day. I also seeded the team with friends.

British Mountain Bike Team, 1987

To my shame, I can’t remember the names of all on the team so don’t expect a full who’s who. Vince Edwards, I remember. He was the first placed bike rider in the 1987 Man v Horse v Bike races in Wales. Chris Hosking was a university mate of mine from Newcastle. He’s now the MTB trails specialist for the City of Prescott in Arizona and prior to that had worked on Mammoth Mountain in California, when the Kamikaze event was still being staged. Rob Orr was a baker. We’d met in Jesmond Dene, an urban woodland in Newcastle, surprising each other by seeing somebody else on a mountain bike: instant mates. Peter Darke was co-founder of the team. He had a bike shop in Sunderland; he still does, Darke Cycles. Shaun Rafferty was a mate of Peter’s. Jamie Carr was our youngest rider, and the most fearless, too. He now runs Ride the Alps, a mountain bike holiday company. Our best placed finisher (33rd or thereabouts) was Lester Noble. Yes, the Tushingham-riding windsurf champion who created the O-range of mountain bikes. Leaving his marque on the world he later ditched the hyphen.

Jacquie phelan

MTB history

In 1987 I was ostensibly at university but a religious studies degree wasn’t terribly taxing so I was also a full-time journalist, one of two people working on one of the three UK bicycle magazines then in existence, none of which specialised in mountain bikes. Bicycle Times was a tinpot title produced on Tyneside but it was available nationally in WH Smith’s. Publisher Peter Lumley introduced the world to Off Road Reid, my mountain bike stream of consciousness, a page that would be later transplanted into Bicycle Action, the mag owned by Muddy Fox (the original, market-shaping Muddy Fox), the mag that came before Mountain Biking UK.

MTB history

(Off Road Reid’s bike testing reports were so bad they prompted John Stevenson, then working in Two Wheels Good of Leeds, to think “I could do better than that.” He could and he did. John was the tech editor of Tym Manley and Chris Turner’s MBUK, a magazine I feared would quickly flounder. Good at market predictions, me).

MTB history

Off Road Reid in Bicycle Action had a cartoon strip by Jo Burt. Mint Sauce, the mountain biking sheep, had first appeared in the newsletter of the Mountain Bike Club. (Jo Burt’s name was on my page elsewhere too. The page had a list of mountain bike contacts, folks you could ring up to arrange a ride. Jo Burt, who I didn’t know for Adam, lived in the Norwich house recently vacated by my sister. Small world). The Mountain Bike Club was a NORBA-esque outfit run by journalist Max Glaskin and frame builder Jeremy Torr. In 1987 Torr hitched a ride in the Muddy Fox van and was one of the support crew at the first mountain bike world championships.

He remembers Villard de Lans, but wasn’t at the reunion (he now lives in Singapore). I didn’t remember the town, but was at the reunion. No amount of electrical stimulation could trigger recollections of Villard de Lans. Yet the course was memorable. So those that rode it second time around told me. I could only remember fragments of the 1987 trip.

Jamie Carr, 1987, Villard de Lans

Apparently, the British Mountain Bike Team flew to Geneva and hired a van. We rented a chalet. Don’t remember any of that. One evening Jamie Carr rode his bike down the concrete bobsleigh run. I took pictures of this feat, but have no memory of it.

Hans Ned Gary Joe

In the race, I punctured. I had a flat before the race started and – I’ve since been told – it was a mad dash to get me ready for the off. I can imagine that – I fluster easily – but don’t remember it. I partially remember shredding a tyre on a downhill section and DNFing.

Julia King

Ned Overend, first MTB world champion, 1987

Thanks to my slide collection (kids, get your mum or dad, or grandparents even, to explain what transparencies are) I can see that I photographed Ned Overend as he held his trophy aloft. I don’t remember the Muddy Fox team being there. From photos displayed in the pop-up MTB museum at the 25 year reunion I could see that Andy Pegg and Julia King were at the event, racing for Muddy Fox. Records show they were the best placed Brits, beating all in the ‘official’ team.

Stolen 1990 MTB World Championships banner

I can remember plenty of stuff from the 1980s but the first world champs remains, largely, a blur. This is therefore a tale of loss. Memory loss. But it’s also a tale of recovery. A banner was found, and a long lost racer was tracked down.

You’d think it would be pretty hard to lose a 12-metre wide race banner. But the organisers of the 1990 MTB World Championships, held on Purgatory Mountain, above Durango, Colorado, managed it. With the help of a fierce storm, that is. A prankster stayed on the mountain while others fled, and cut down the start banner. It was strung between 15-metre high poles. Designed by local artist Metja Swift, the banner was hand-stitched and proudly proclaimed the event to be the first ever mountain bike world championships sanctioned by the UCI.

This retrospectively made the Villard de Lans 1987 event into an unofficial world championships, ditto for the events held elsewhere in the world in 1988 and 1989 (there were World Championships staged in both Europe and the US in these two years).

Ed Zink, owner of Mountain Bike Specialists, a Durango bike shop, and chairman of the race committee, was gutted about the theft, and kept alive hopes that the banner might one day reappear. Many attempts, over the years, were made to track down the thief and the banner, to no avail. The colourful, and historic, banner was, to all intents and purposes, lost.

Which is why its appearance in Villard de Lans in June 2012 was such a surprise. Gary Fisher, in town at the invitation of Génération Mountain Bike, tweeted that the 22 year mystery had been solved, the famous banner had reappeared.

Hans Rey & Ned Overend

The banner may have resurfaced, but the identity of the thief remained a mystery. Only Hans Rey could solve that. It was he who erected the banner at the reunion weekend, he who later spirited it away again as a gift, and he who knows the identity of the thief.

Hans wasn’t at the original event, but like Gary, he was a guest of Génération Mountain Bike. The retro loving French foursome also shipped in Joe Breeze, Scot Nichols, Ned Overend and Jacquie Phelan. Only Ned and Jacquie had been at the original event.

Hans knew Durango native Ned was on the invite list and he figured that the reunion for the first world championships would be an appropriate venue for the lost banner to reappear. It was presented to Ned by Hans at the reunion’s ceremonial dinner. Hans said the banner had been stored, under lock and key, in Southern California, close to his Los Angeles home. He knew the identity of the prankster who had shimmied up the poles to cut down the banner, in a snowstorm, but, in public, would name no names.

Later that night, as Ned and Hans folded the banner into its storage bag, out of earshot of all others, I asked Hans if the thief was well known. He had a twinkle in his eye, but kept schtum.

Serge Barnel Organiser 1987 WorldChamps

The other rediscovery at the reunion weekend was MaryLee Atkins. Like the banner she, too, had been lost for more than 20 years. Lost to mountain biking, that is. She rode on the Schwinn team in the mid 1980s, the same team as Ned Overend (before he switched to Specialized, his current sponsor). She was the winner of the women’s race at the 1987 event. She then dropped out of the scene, retiring on a high. Nothing more was heard of her until Jacquie Phelan tracked her down.

Jacquie Phelan glove

Jacquie is one of the key characters of early mountain biking, founder of WOMBATS (the Women’s Mountain Bike and Tea Society) and also, under her nom-de-plume of Alice B. Toeclips, a prolific writer. She’s married to Charlie Cunningham, the pioneering bike designer who championed aluminium long before the mainstream bike industry thought to do likewise. Charlie – co-founder of Wilderness Trail Bikes, WTB – also designed the iconic Roller Cam Brake and co-designed Specialized’s famous Ground Control MTB tyre. Jacquie used her hubby-designed bike and components to race as an equal with men. And horses: she was the first winner of the Man v Horse v Bike event of Llanwrtyd Wells.

Jacquie was second woman at the 1987 world championships. When Génération Mountain Bike invited her to the reunion she promised to track down MaryLee Atkins, the winner of the woman’s title in ’87.

Turning sleuth, she used old contacts books to track down friends of friends, before, finally, finding MaryLee’s bolt hole, in Eagle River, a small town in Alaska. She had been hard to track down because she had remarried and is now MaryLee Stiehrs. She and her carpenter husband run a bespoke wooden kitchen design business. For many years she didn’t ride. When girlfriends recently persuaded her to join them on a town loop on a borrowed beat up machine they couldn’t quite figure how she was so good and so fast. The first ever woman’s world champion mountain biker had kept her past to herself.
She’s now back in the saddle. She brought her original race-winning Schwinn to the reunion but for Alaskan trail riding she has a modern machine.

Durango has its banner back; MaryLee is riding again. I have my Kodachromes but I’m still waiting for my memories to kick in.


Jacquie Phelan

“I was not in perfect shape [at the first world championships]. The doctor checked me out the day before and told me not to race. But I entered anyhow. And came third. My friend MaryLee Atkins won. It was her very last race ever. She was a woodworker and wanted to return to a normal life. Her first husband, Jeff Norman, got her into racing. He said ‘you don’t wanna just watch me race. Get some sponsorship.’ She immediately began winning.

“For me it was a time of not being at the top of my game and that’s when I created the Woman’s Mountain Bike and Tea Society so I could enjoy riding with people who weren’t hammers, and introduce women to a really fun and safe thing to do in the woods. There are no cars. You can get off and walk if you want to.

“I re-framed mountain biking for women, with the usual lace, flowers, cheap perfume, and pearls.”

MaryLee Atkins


I was riding for Schwinn back [in 1987]. I was 33 and I was on the team that had Ned Overend in it. I remember parts of the course, especially the scary bit where it’s a cliff. I don’t remember it being so technical but it’s the same course. We were younger then, invincible. It was my last event. I had other interests to pursue. Mountain biking wasn’t a big pull for me at that time. I was a reluctant racer. Although I did well, and I enjoyed it, I didn’t like being forced to train. I didn’t want to take the fun out of mountain biking by continuing to race. Ned used to give me a hard time about not training. I didn’t want to take anything away from the sport that they’re so into so I went off in a different direction. I got a divorce and boogied out of the country, and got a job in Antarctica. It was there that I met the love of my life. He was a carpenter too. I’ve been a carpenter all my life. It’s what I was doing in Antarctica: helping set up the bases for the National Science Foundation. We would make the camps all warm and cosy before the scientists got there, fixing things up for them. When they were done for the season we’d go back in and either tear the camp down or winterise it. It was a real fun experience.

“I ended up moving to Alaska, where my husband lived.

“I was born and raised in Durango, Colorado. I like it in Alaska now. My husband and I have our own business. We do kitchens, kitchen cabinets, curved stairs. I ride my mountain bike maybe once a week, for fun, on the weekend, with my girlfriends. They don’t know about my mountain bike history. I haven’t shared that with them. When I started riding with them I showed up on an old clunker bike. They were on couple of thousand dollar high-tech bikes. They looked at my bike and weren’t sure I’d be able to ride these trails they wanted to go on. I said ‘let’s take off, I’ll do what I can.’ They were surprised I could keep up. It’s kind of fun to be anonymous.

“Back in the day I bought a mountain bike because it looked like fun and I met my husband of that day [Jeff Norman, a racer on the Schwinn team]. I would travel to races with Jeff and I started racing too. Jeff got me some sponsorship with Schwinn. My history before that was as a cross country skier. I had a pretty solid base for training. I raced mountain bikes for maybe three or four years. I started riding in 1983 and raced for Schwinn in 1985, 1986 and 1987.

“I had quit racing before the [Villard de Lans world championship] race. I was no longer officially riding for Schwinn, but Winning magazine paid for me to come. Cindy Whitehead was their first choice but she didn’t want to travel so they asked me. I don’t think they realised I wasn’t racing at the time. But when they called I said ‘sure, I’ll go to France.’

“I think the reason I won was because I wasn’t real serious about it. I trained for the event but I wasn’t nervous, I did it for fun.”

Ned Overend

“We started on a football field. There were two hundred men in the open category. I remember it was a mad dash because everyone was on the front line. I remember the trails were rocky.

“The course was one big loop, with long stretches of narrow, single track. I remember one exposed single track section had netting rigged up below the trail to keep riders from falling down a cliff, if they should happen to ride off the trail on the downhill side. I won the race, Joe Murray was second and Jacques Devi was third. I think the winning margin was only a minute and a half. I had to be careful on the last descent, I didn’t want to puncture. In those days I rode with high tyre pressures, 48 pounds. The course was super technical.

“But they wouldn’t have that much pushing in events today. The riders would rebel against it. But in the early days it was the vision of promotors to make the events real hard. Riders always wanted the courses to be more rideable. I don’t remember pushing all that much [at the 1987 event] but that’s probably because it was just so common in those days.

“Back in the day it was common to have long laps and long climbs. That played to my strengths. Now races are an hour and a half long and courses are mandated to five or six kilometres so there tend to be shorter, punchier climbs, more like cyclo-cross courses. Scarier courses were good for me.
During today’s ride I rode toe clips and straps for the first eight kilometres and I was in danger of falling over because you’re used to getting out [of the pedals] so much faster. I started out on an 1988 bike and then switched to a modern one. 26 inch wheel bikes are going to become very rare, for cross country.

“I was impressed with the guys who rode the whole course on the old bikes. But they were struggling on their 26 inch bikes. Absolutely. It was way easier rolling over the technical rocks on 29 wheels. And with suspension I wasn’t being punished on the descents; I had more control. We may have been riding the same speed at times but those guys definitely had less control. And the longer they rode the less control they had as they got tired. It’s now a much more enjoyable experience, and faster.”

Hank Barlow

“I live near Grenoble. I’m here because I married a French woman, the counsel for San Merino; she has been for 32 years. We met when I came to do a story on the Roc d’Azur mountain bike event 20 years ago.

“In 1984 I started Mountain Bike magazine. It wasn’t the first mountain biking magazine. Charlie Kelly had his Fat Tire Flyer. My background was skiing. I worked as a ski instructor, I owned a ski shop and I used to write for ski magazines. I started doing bike articles for Cycling magazine and with almost zero background in it whatsoever I decided to publish a magazine. The first issue was built around Moab. No-one even know Moab existed. There were no mountain bikers in Moab. Visually, I knew Moab would be stunning. You’ve got red rocks, blue sky, and the biking is just crazy on the slick rock.

“We were so underfunded it was ridiculous. We were always scrambling. We later got a cash injection but there were strings attached, the magazine had to be developed to sell. Bicycling wanted to buy it. I was in a fix. I still managed to sell it to ‘em for way more than they could have bought it for. People said it was never the same afterwards. My magazine was all about photos and going to places to ride. Finding cool places and great trails. Racing was never my thing. For me, mountain biking was all about riding in beautiful places. It still is.”

Peter Darke

“We came [to Villard de Lans] as the only national team. We turned up as a bunch of people on holiday and called ourselves the British team. We weren’t the best riders in the world, but we were the best dressed.”


This article first appeared in Privateer magazine. More pix can be found on Flickr.

These stencils put cars in their place

Tatsuro Kiuchi Car Path stencil

Cars are great. I own one. But so do many other people. And that’s why cars aren’t always the best tool for the job. In urban areas, for short trips, walking or cycling is often quicker and certainly better for personal health and for the planet and for the least impact on others. One person propelling a hunk of metal that can seat four or five people is such a waste of space. Which is why I like the illustration above. Car travel, in towns and cities, should be reined back by planners and politicians.

This idea is on the ascendency. Planners are waking up to the fact cities are for people, not cars. In car-obsessed Britain it will take longer for car permeability to be curtailed, but with such a finite amount of space to play with, and with a growing population, the desires of the motorised majority to drive everywhere can’t be fulfilled for ever.

The illustration above is by Japanese artist Tatsuro Kiuchi. The car stencil reminds me of the work of Pete Drew, an Australian artist who let me place his pro-bike polemic on Flickr back in 2010. The image has had 77,000+ views to date and was given a creative commons licence so it could be disseminated widely. If often pops up on Facebook and Twitter, although, sadly, rarely credited to Drew.

'This one runs on fat & saves you money' by Peter Drew of Adelaide

Bike Parking by Peter Drew of Adelaide

Many motorists have crap eyesight…so insurance company gifts hi-vis belts to cyclists

No doubt insurance provider RSA wants to do the right thing but is equipping cyclists with free hi-vis kit the best thing to do, or should the company concentrate on lobbying for motorists to have compulsory eye tests every few years? Or, forget the belts, gift eye tests to motorists instead.

Check out the last para in this email offer sent out to cycle advocacy groups yesterday:

From: Deborah Lewis
Date: 20 November 2012 15:32:44 GMT
Subject: Road Safety Week – High Visibility Cycling Belts

Good afternoon,

The week of 19th November – 25th November marks Road Safety Week in the UK and RSA and More Th>n are promoting the importance of road safety through a number of initiatives.

One of these activities is distributing high visibility cycling belts both across our regional offices, as well as to cycling clubs nationwide.

We would like to send you some free high-visibility belts that can be distributed to your club members that can help with them being seen on the road at night and during times of low visibility.

If you are interested in receiving some belts, please could you provide me with the quantity required, as well as an address to send them too.

RSA is promoting road safety awareness as part of its Fit to Drive campaign that highlights the dangers of driving with poor eyesight and encourages drivers to look after the health of their eyes with regular eye tests.

Kind regards,

On the surface this may seem like a kind and generous offer from RSA: cyclists, be seen. But the onus shouldn’t have to be on cyclists, the key thing is for motorists to have perfect vision. If motorists don’t have perfect vision what the heck are they doing on public highways operating potentially lethal machinery?

This isn’t an issue for cyclists alone. Pedestrians and, of course, other motorists should also be worried there are folks out there who can’t adequately see through their windscreens. If cyclists are given free hi-vis belts shouldn’t pedestrians get the same? And how about big hi-vis wraparound belts for cars?

It’s commendable that RSA has a Fit to Drive campaign – see press release below – but the cash spent on the hi-vis belts may have been better spent on even more lobbying to get vision-impaired drivers off the roads. And it’s a moot point whether hi-vis items have any safety benefits: plenty of cyclists, even those garbed in neon, get hit by motorists. [Hi-vis ankle straps – which bob up and down when pedalling – would have been a better idea than Sam Brown belts].

Another thing that RSA could advocate for would be slower speeds. If motorists – even those with 20/20 vision – were forced to drive below the speed limit (fantasy island stuff, I know) that would be of huge and lasting benefit to society.


A new report commissioned by leading global insurer, RSA, has found that road crashes caused by poor driver vision cost the UK an estimated £33 million a year and result in nearly 2,900 casualties, with official tests to identify and rectify the problem in need of urgent reform.

The report, commissioned for RSA’s Fit to Drive campaign and launched at a Parliamentary event in Westminster during the week, aims to raise awareness of the dangers of driving with poor vision and is calling for a change in UK law requiring:

the current number plate test to be scrapped, as this does not provide an accurate assessment of a drivers’ vision;

all learner drivers to have their vision tested by a qualified professional prior to applying for a provisional driving licence; and,

eye tests to be mandatory every ten years, linked to driving licence renewal; with drivers encouraged to voluntarily have their eyes tested every two years (in line with NHS recommendations).

RSA’s proposed changes to eyesight testing are estimated to generate net savings to the UK economy after the first year of introduction and increase to £14.4 million by year 10.

Adrian Brown, RSA UK & Western Europe CEO, said: “The report’s figures speak for themselves. If we simply make an eye test mandatory when getting your first driving licence and when renewing every 10-years we will save lives and reduce the strain on public finances.

“Wider understanding among politicians, health professionals, the police and insurers about the serious impact of poor eyesight on road safety is crucial and our Westminster roundtable event marks the start of what I hope will be a sustained commitment to working together to improve safety on our roads.”

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive, Brake, the road safety charity, said: “This report gives an indication of how many violent and devastating casualties on our roads could be prevented through a simple eye examination. Being able to see clearly what’s in front and around you is fundamental to safe, responsible driving.

“That’s why we urge drivers to have an eye test at least every two years, even if you think your sight is fine. We also hope to see common sense winning through and the Government tightening up the rules on driver eyesight. To make our roads safer and ensure everyone is fit to drive we need a scientific eyesight test at the start of your driving career and compulsory re-tests at least every 10 years thereafter.”

At the Westminster event several MPs signed RSA’s Fit to Drive pledge, which outlines their support for the issue as well as urges others in the Government to do the same.

The pledge reads: “I have signed RSA’s Fit to Drive pledge to show my support for this important campaign, and will be urging my colleagues in Parliament to do the same.”

Video nasty shows why Britain’s cities need to be designed for people not cars

The woman shown in this shocking, 43-second video did not die. Watch it and you’ll be amazed she didn’t. Because of way too much motorised traffic on this road in Birmingham, pedestrians are seen having to weave in and out of slow-moving cars. Except one wasn’t slow-moving, one was being driven murderously fast…

The woman seen at the top of the video survived the incident with a minor head injury. The smash happened on Saturday October 20th on Alum Rock Road, Birmingham.

Rather amazingly nobody has yet been charged over the incident. Police said: “Drivers were spoken at the scene but nobody has been arrested.”

In a civilised society, people should not have to take their life into their hands to cross a road. This wasn’t a ring road or a dual carriageway, this was a high street, a high street bustling with people.

Enough is enough. Cities must be designed for people, not cars.

This is what The Telegraph motoring survey would look like if drivers told the truth

The Times is championing its ‘cities for cycling’ survey; The Telegraph is calling for the resurrection of £2000 subsidies for car buyers and shouting about its motoring survey, which is sponsored by an insurance company. The two surveys are related: dismal driving behaviour makes cycling (and walking) far more dangerous than it needs to be. And this dismal driving behaviour is acknowledged as a given by the Telegraph:

“Fed up with the standards of driving and aggression on the UK’s roads? Here’s your chance to have a say to provide a clear picture of attitudes to cars and driving across the country.”

Well, I’m a motorist so I’ve completed the survey. If my fellow motorists were truthful here’s how they’d answer the questions:

There’s a question about which brands of cars attract the worst drivers (I’m agnostic on this so ticked all the boxes) but, perhaps amazingly, out of 21 mostly-loaded questions there’s not a single one about the danger posed by lorries or using a bicycle as a transport choice. However, there’s a question where respondents can choose to ban cyclists from roads. I choose speed limiters, although would have also liked to tick the 20mph box. As this question allows for only one answer if anybody answers “ban cyclists from certain roads” it’ll be obvious for the Telegraph to spot the swivel-eyed loons. But why provide the option in the first place?

Bicycle helmet law MP tells twitter followers about car & pedestrian helmets


On 25th October @ItDoesTheJob sent a tweet to @allpartycycling, the twitter account of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group and patched in Peter Bone MP, the Tory MP for Wellingborough:

“Bicycle helmets offer a false sense of security.”

The MP, who has long campaigned for helmet compulsion for UK cyclists, replied:

“Bicycle helmets save lives and prevent serious injury. How can anyone be opposed to them?”

Fair point. If a protective device saves lives it ought to be considered a ‘good thing.’ Helmets for pedestrians and motorists would undoubtedly save lives but campaigners for bicycle helmet laws rarely, if ever, admit this point.

I sent a sarcastic tweet, removing the words ‘bicycle helmets’ and replacing them with ‘car and pedestrian helmets’.


Surprisingly, he retweeted my tweet. Not once, but twice. His 585 followers have now seen car and pedestrian helmets in the MP’s timeline. Peter Bone may not read have my tweet and retweeted it because I said “Well done @PeterBoneMP”; or he’s a contrarian happy to repost messages he doesn’t agree with.

Why do people hate cyclists?

Irrational, unbidden hate. Why?

Bradley Wiggins. Victoria Pendleton. Yellow jerseys. Olympic golds. Britain is meant to have fallen in love with cycling. If so, the honeymoon is over, and the hatred is back.

On 26th September I shall be giving a presentation to architects and town planner types at the be2talks in London – “a celebration of technology, social media and the built environment” – and will spend 12 minutes discussing some of the many positives about urban cycling. However, first I will spend three minutes on the irrational hatred directed at cyclists on social media. You really don’t have to go very far before finding this sort of stuff. Using search terms ‘cyclist’ and ‘road tax’ will bring up lots of unbidden hate.

Sometimes the hatred is spouted by incoherent dunderheads but there’s also plenty spouted by what appear to be, from reading their Twitter timelines, otherwise reasonable people.

Thing is, both the dunderheads, and the otherwise sane and sensible, have cars, and don’t appear to like sharing roadspace with cyclists. These people are driving around on public roads with an amazing amount of hatred bubbling under the surface. How many unthinking near-misses are actually ‘I’ll teach that cyclist a lesson’ near-misses? How many cyclist deaths have been caused by these sort of ‘roads were built for cars’ attitude?

The highly ingrained beliefs that “all cyclists run red lights” and “all cyclists ride on the pavement” are part of the problem (and, yes, motorists habitually break traffic laws and routinely park on the pavements cyclists are supposed to hog) but the hatred goes deeper than that.

In this month’s issue of The Psychologist Bath University’s traffic specialist Dr Ian Walker believes this hatred is a manifestation of more than just hatred against an “out group”:

“A report from the Transport Research Laboratory and University of Strathclyde a few years ago led by Lynn Basford suggested that there’s some classic social psychology at work here – cyclists represent an outgroup such that the usual outgroup effects are seen, particularly overgeneralisation of negative behaviour and attributes – ‘They all ride through red lights all the time’. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that something of this sort is going on.

“However, there has to be more to it than just this. For a long time I wondered if the outgroup status of cyclists was compounded by two other known social psychological factors: norms and majority vs. minority groups. Not only are cyclists an outgroup, they’re also a minority outgroup. Moreover, they are engaging in an activity that is deemed slightly inappropriate in a culture that views driving as normative and desirable and, arguably, views cycling as anti- conventional and possibly even infantile.

“But even adding these factors into the mix does not explain all the anger that cyclists experience. It’s easy to identify other minority outgroups whose behaviour similarly challenges social norms but who do not get verbally and physically attacked like cyclists do: vegetarians, for example. So there’s clearly one or more important variables that we’ve not identified yet. Any social psychologists looking for a challenge are very welcome to wade into this.”

Hatred isn’t confined to social media, of course. Shockjocks and columnists in national newspapers also like to take potshots at cyclists. There’s a huge number of such diatribes and columns, way too many to list here but here’s a fresh one, from today. It’s by Helen Martin in The Scotsman. It’s a “I’m not a racist but…” piece.

Sweetly, she claims: “Whatever ardent cyclists believe, no driver wants to cause them harm or sets out to make their two-wheeled journey more treacherous than it need be.” [She needs to hang out a bit more on Twitter and YouTube…]

But then comes the sugar-coated invective:

“Now whole swathes of our roads are marked for cycles only. And even more funding is going on further development and maintenance. There is no point in any of us shelling out this money if cyclists refuse to use the lanes specifically created and marked for them.

“Watch out for the number of cyclists who reject their own lanes in favour of the rest of the road (car lanes, if you will) and you might be amazed by the day’s total.

“This is extremely dangerous behaviour that poses a threat to themselves and drivers. If we have cycle lanes we expect cyclists to be in them, not dodging traffic in the rest of the road and popping up where we least expect them. Is it really so outrageous to suggest that, where there is a cycle lane, cyclists should be fined for not using it?”

This is the columnist who started her article by saying: “I admire cyclists. I really do.” With friends like this etc. etc.

Ms Martin doesn’t want to share roads with cyclists, they should be on cycle paths provided for them and if they stray, fine ’em! Ms Martin has clearly never been on a UK cycle path, she isn’t aware most of them are poorly designed, don’t link up and are rarely maintained. Some facilities!

All of the hatred on social media and in the press matters because it’s not marginal, it’s mainstream. I’ve had many long discussions with pro-cycling MPs who say it’s incredibly tough to get any truly transformational cycling policies out of the powers-that-be because the hatred runs too deep. We know cycling is benign and of benefit to society but that’s far from being a common view in the corridors of local and national power. And, genuinely, how much of a vote winner would it be, in such a car obsessed country, to openly commit to reining back motor-centric policies in favour of cyclists?

Perhaps Britain will become a more cycling-friendly nation in time, until then I’ll leave you with a quote from Peter Zanzottera, senior consultant at transport consultancy Steer Davies Gleave. In 2009 he told the Scottish Parliament’s Transport Committee:

“People love cycling but hate cyclists.”


Cycling to the Moon

I’m about to set off on a big, blow-out bike trip with my son. It’s a legacy thing; something I hope he’ll remember for the rest of his life. Family bike tours to the Netherlands no longer cut the mustard. At 14, I think he’s ready for a tough trip. We’re prepping for a trip to Iceland.

It’s pretty easy to pedal around the perimeter of Iceland. Too easy. I want Josh to be challenged. We leave on Sunday, pick up two Trek mountain bikes on Monday and, once equipped with racks, and a Bob trailer fitted to my bike, we’ll be venturing into the interior, cycling on a rippled dirt road, making for the hot springs at the Landmannalaugar mountain hut. We’ll pitch our all-weather Nemo tent next to the geothermal rock pools, and wonder that we ever made it at all.

The gravel road to Landmannalaugar is only open for three months of the year, in the Icelandic summer. We’ll be following a wind-blasted track into Europe’s only desert, a sub-Arctic volcanic-ash wilderness.

National Geographic Traveller Family Summer 2012 ICELAND

Sand and cycling don’t mix. It’s almost impossible to pedal through sand. For impossible read challenging.

I’ve done this journey before. 15 years ago. I brought my then girlfriend on her first ever bike tour. Rather a baptism of fire for her, but she survived. We married, and Josh is one of the three walking-talking results of our union. (The mag extract below is from MTB Pro, August 1996).


When I say survived, I mean it. The interior of Iceland is unforgiving, with raging glacial rivers to cross and weather that can be as fierce as it is volatile. Jude cried a lot. It’s very possibly a daft ask to expect a 14 year old to manage such a journey, but we won’t know until we’ve tried.

In the 1960s NASA shipped the astronaut corps to Iceland. Prior to the Apollo moon landings, NASA’s would-be spacemen simulated collecting rock samples here: it was the best place on earth to mimic the geography, and geology, of the lunar landscape

Iceland is also one of the best places on earth to witness the northern lights.

Desert sand. Buzz Aldrin. Hot springs. The shimmering aurora borealis. Me and my boy on bikes, in a tent, in horizontal rain. I can’t wait.


A version of this piece first appeared in National Geographic Traveller and a follow-up piece will be published later this year.


All this week I’ll add details of the kit we’ve chosen to take on this trip.

Shoes and socks


Travelling light we’ll have just one pair of shoes each (plus surf shoes for river crossings) so they’ve got to be a MTB and walking shoe hybrid. We’re taking Lake MX100’s. They’ve got walking boot style Vibram soles but with MTB features and SPD cleats. As it rains a lot in Iceland we’re packing SealSkinz socks (and gloves and hats).

Electronic protection


And as it rains so much it makes sense to protect electronic kit such as the iPhone, the iPad and the SLR camera. All will be kept dry with Aquapac bags.



This 250,000-scale map of the interior of Iceland is available from Ferdakort.

Stove and camp cuisine


No shops or cafes on the way to Landmannalaugar so we’ll be heating Travel Lunch freeze-dried food on a Primus OmniLite Ti stove, the latest and lightest expedition stove from the Swedish originators of gas-fired camp cooking.

Bike Shop Sales Sore at Tour Du France

An interesting headline for a press release sent from a certain PR company. Sore? As in ‘ouch, that hurts’? No, apparently the PR person meant ‘soar’, as in ‘fly high as a kite.’ Which is perhaps what the PR was when she wrote the release?

Shall I reveal the client?

[Large multi-store bike shop] Sales Sore during TdF

The Tour Du France (sic, Tour du Gascony maybe) has been successful for the Brits with Bradley Wiggins dominating most stages. With this in mind, please find attached some great product from [bike shop large enough to employ an outside PR firm]. There has also been a rise in bike sales, please see below some stats and a quote from a spokesperson from [said bike shop].

“What’s clear to see is that sales of Road bikes has increased this month. We were less than half way through July, but had already sold close to the total bikes sold in June. Whilst we expect to see growth in July due to warmer weather and the TdF throwing the spotlight on our sport, this year we are pleasantly surprised by the surge in sales. Why are we surprised? Because we haven’t had any assistance from the weather this year, it shows that the passion people have for the sport outweighs the negative impact of the weather.”

“Our sales have improved best between £700-£2000, which is around the value we would expect our real cycling enthusiasts to be spending. No doubt many of these consumers have been inspired by the success of Wiggins and all other racers, and therefore feel that they too can step up their performance by having the next level of equipment.

“With the Olympics just around the corner and a potential gold in multiple cycling disciplines, we are really excited to see how big the buzz is going to be. I think the anticipation and expectation is there, let’s realise our countries (sic) potential and see how motivated we are. All we have to say is, Allez Wiggo and Go Cav!

“Alongside the approaching Olympics also comes the potential for, and expectation of, some transportation issues and we’re seeing customers looking to cycling as a way of getting around.”