Anyone who has travelled on the roads of Sussex will have noticed a large increase in the number of cyclists.

But this has come at a price, which is the steadily rising death and injury figures for two wheelers.

In Brighton and Hove, the increase in injuries during the second quarter of the year was 6.5% and nationally it was a worrying 9%.

Predictably, Bricycles, the Brighton and District Cycling Campaign, is calling for more to be done in the city to help cyclists.

As a long standing – and cycling – member, I agree.

But there are two points to make before Brighton and Hove City Council and other authorities are likely to spend large sums on bikes.

One is whether the projects proposed are those which are of most use to cyclists. The other is whether cyclists are deserving of the cash being lavished on them.

Let’s start with the schemes.

Whenever my cycling friends become depressed at the lack of progress in achieving their aims I tell them I can remember when there were no cycle lanes in Sussex at all.

Then East Sussex County Council opened a little lane in the early 1970s between Lewes and Kingston.

It was a modest route of barely a mile and a half and it cost a modest sum of cash.

But from the fuss the council made, you would have thought it had built the National Cycle Network.


Bricycles got the seafront cycle lane going by objecting to the old Hove Council, which prosecuted riders for cycling on the promenade.

It contended successfully that the authority should provide an alternative, which it did, mainly along the south pavement of Kingsway.

This has since been extended into and past Brighton, making it one of the best used cycle lanes in the country.

There is also a successful link along Lewes Road for cyclists between the city centre and the two universities.

Brighton and Hove has been awarded large sums of money to show its commitment to cycling.

The most obvious manifestation of this is advanced stop lines for riders at junctions. But they are often abused and have limited benefits.

Then there are the Grand Avenue cycle lanes in Hove. They are the wrong type in the wrong place and as a result they are little used.

The money would have been better spent on a cycle route from the Dyke Railway, going under the railway arch in Aldrington and along quiet roads to the seafront.

The advent of Sustrans, the cycle track charity (I’m a member of that, too), has resulted in some excellent cycleways along old railways such as the Cuckoo Trail in Polegate and Centurion Way in Chichester.

There are also long distance cycle paths but these are of variable quality.

After leaving Hove seafront, cyclists heading west are abruptly shunted on to a busy, narrow road through Shoreham Harbour, with lots of lorries but no lanes.

They are then directed over the lock gates in Southwick – fine, if you have time for watching ships, but no good if you are in a hurry.

A particular dislike of mine is the proliferation of signs which simply say: “Cyclists dismount.”

Why should they? They should stop if lights are against them but the whole point of having a bike is to ride it.

Can you imagine the fuss there would be if signs told car drivers to get out of their vehicles and push them across dangerous junctions?

Then we come to the vexed issue of cycle discipline on the roads – and pavements.

I started cycling at a time when almost all riders were on roads, kept to the Highway Code and were generally polite.

There was nothing flashy about bikes. They were mostly heavy old roadsters with as much design appeal as a coal scuttle.

They were often used solely as a form of transport, notably by men going to their local factories.

Cycling seemed to be dying, like many of its riders on the roads, with the increase of motoring until the advent of the mountain bike.

Suddenly pedalling was cool and chic. These bikes were responsible, lively and even sexy.

They could do wheelies, and, best of all, they could mount pavements.

Cyclists, who had often been objects of sympathy on the road, soon became hated by drivers and pedestrians alike.

Many walkers became frightened when Lycra-clad louts whizzed silently and speedily through shopping centres on the pavements.

Motorists were angry when they saw people ride the wrong way down one-way streets and ignore red traffic lights.

Both drivers and pedestrians particularly disliked the way in which cyclists would ride at speed in the dark with no lights, no reflectors and no luminous jackets.

And there’s a widespread feeling among people that if most riders act like that, they do not deserve to have millions spent on them.


They are not all villains, of course. Bike for Life, a city-based charity of which I am a trustee, exists to promote and teach safe, confident and good cycling.

I don’t break the cycle laws and neither do most cyclists.

But there will have to be better road manners from more riders so that they can restore some of that precious public sympathy.

And any cycling campaign should be sensible and not too offbeat.

Yet every year there is a naked bike ride in Brighton to promote the idea that cyclists are vulnerable.

I have no objection to nudity or riding bikes with nothing on, except that it must be uncomfortable.

Friends of mine who took part this year found it a liberating experience.

But a far more common attitude on seeing the ride is that it shows most cyclists are crazy exhibitionists.

Two months ago, I was in Holland.

There cycling is accepted as a perfectly normal sector of the transport network.

Even small towns such as Hoorn have thousands of parking spaces for bikes, mostly close to the railway station. There are bike lanes everywhere.

Cyclists share routes with pedestrians and they behave well. And best of all, the injury rate is low.

Holland is an easy country for encouraging cycling, because it is small and flat.

But it has been done so well that in some cities, such as Groningen, more than half the transport journeys are made by bike. My ambition is to have that happen here.

But to do it we need to tame the kamikaze cyclists and get safe new lanes designed by riders, not drivers.

It would be foolish to say bikes are the answer to the city’s and country’s transport problems. But they can and should be an enjoyable part of the solution.