James Daley: Cyclotherapy

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The Independent Online

Last week's wet and windy weather reminded me how badly designed many of Britain's cycle paths are. Although the Armadillo tyres on my road bike are more than capable of keeping me upright when I'm turning corners on wet roads, I've had many more problems when it comes to negotiating slippery surfaces on the cycle routes that I use on my regular commute.

Almost all of the segregated cycle paths (in London, at least) seem to be littered with metal manhole covers, and their shiny surfaces become lethal as soon as it starts to rain. Try turning a corner or using your brakes as you ride across them, and it's all but impossible to avoid ending up on the ground.

It's not only those of us on road bikes who are at danger, either. The last time my wheels slipped away from under me was when I was riding my mountain bike to work just over a year ago. The fall left me with a sprained wrist, which still niggles from time to time.

Fortunately, it's now been a while since I last got thrown out of the saddle – probably because I've been riding the same route to work for four years. Even so, I came close to a nasty fall last week, when I hit my brakes as I was passing over the top of the Limehouse Link out of Docklands. A few strips of metal border the foot/cycle bridge on both sides, and if you're heading back into the centre of town, as I was, there's a sharp left turn to make as you're riding over them. It's as though the cycle path planners want you to fall off.

Although I managed to avoid an incident on that occasion, one of my friends was not so lucky, when he got caught in the rain riding round the Grand Union Canal on Easter Monday. As his front wheel went over a metal strip, he went flying – and was only saved from a swim by virtue of being on one of the few sections of the towpath that has a stretch of wall along it.

I'm not making the case for any kind of conspiracy theory here – I'm pretty certain that it all comes down to sloppy planning. All too often, the people building cycle paths are not cyclists themselves – and inadvertently end up adding in extra dangers for bikers, rather than creating a safe, traffic-free environment.

Ride down Cable Street in east London, for example, and you'll find more manhole covers on the cycle path than there are on the pavement or road. If they couldn't be moved elsewhere, then why couldn't the planners cover them with some kind of non-slip material?

So I've got a solution. Next time Transport for London – or any other local authority – decides to build a cycle path, why not bring in a cyclist to help plan and check the route first? No more useless cycle lanes that disappear at the crucial moment; no more slippery manhole covers and, hopefully, far fewer accidents. If they need a volunteer, they can count me in!

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