Are Oxford’s Roads Dangerous?

According to figures from the national road traffic accident database (reported recently in the Times), over the past 3 years the “top ten” roads in the country, outside of London, for crashes involving people riding bikes, included several in Oxford and Cambridge. Both these cities have the highest rate of cycling in the country, with 25% and 40% respectively of commuter trips by bike, so at first glance being top of the league table of crashes would seem to be contradictory.

The roads in Oxford with poor collision records are Iffley Road, Cowley Road and The Plain. The two roads are the main access from East Oxford into the city centre, both converging at the roundabout on the Plain. But are they really that dangerous? In Oxford the success of getting more people on bikes should be considered as part of these figures. If there were fewer people riding bikes there would be fewer accidents.

But any injury is one injury too many. Cycling campaigners across the country have tried to influence councils to invest in better cycling infrastructure. While infrastructure is still far below the standards we wish for, there is a glimmer of light. We are lucky in Oxford to have an excellent and comprehensive Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP) which aims to double cycle journeys in Oxford by 2031.

Central Government has provided funding for local authorities to spend on cycling infrastructure, as a result of Covid-19 – the Emergency Active Travel Fund. The good news is that Oxfordshire has been successful in getting some of this cash, so the opportunity is there for some of the policies in the LCWIP to be realised.

We know what needs to be done to improve cycling rates. Reducing motorised traffic on our roads is top of the list, and implementing the plans for bus gates should make a big difference. But even bus gates won’t be sufficient to encourage those less confident onto their bikes unless there is good cycling infrastructure, which physically separates bikes from motor vehicles. Just painting white lines on roads is not enough to protect people on bikes. We would also like to see 20mph speed limits across the city.

Oxfordshire active travel campaigners ran a “pop up shop” in Ship Street in July to set out a vision of what the streets of Oxford could look like if there were fewer cars and safer roads. Imagine Iffley Road with no cars parked along it, and safe cycleways along its length.

If cycling safety is improved through better infrastructure there is no reason why the County Council’s target of increasing the levels of cycling to 50% should not be achieved.

The opportunity and incentive is there for the County Council to take action now, after achieving nearly £3m Covid-19 fundingfrom government, on how to take Oxford roads off the list of top 10 “hotspots” and make people on bikes safer on our roads, whilst at the same time moving Oxford towards the aims set out in the Local Cycling and Walking infrastructure Plan.

Photo: Iffley Road as it could be. Designed by Andy Coram.
Article first published in “Onyerbike”, the Cyclox column in the Oxford Mail.

Posted in Riding bikes in Oxford | Leave a comment

A Great Opportunity to Increase Cycling in Oxford

Cycle lane in Oxford – much too narrow

So now we know! Oxfordshire County Council have been successful in bidding for Government funds to enable people to safely socially distance in our towns and cities as lock down is relaxed. We now also know where the money will be spent through a press release issued by the County Council on 5th June 2020. £600,000 to be spent in the next 8 weeks, as part of £2.9 million allocated to Oxfordshire “to  improve cycling infrastructure, parts of the roadwork network and footpaths”.

This Government funding is specifically to improve travel and make it safer during the continuing Covid19 crisis. The £600,000 will be “spent equally across  Oxfordshire”. This decision, no doubt to satisfy out of town councillors appears to me to be unfair. Surely the funds should be allocated where there is greatest need? This would appear to be in the City, where there are most people (pop.155,000) in addition to people going into Oxford to work. 

It will be impossible in many cases for people to socially distance on the narrow Oxford pavements. They will have to step into the road. Given the increase in sales of bicycles during this period there are likely to be more people cycling along inadequate cycle lanes. This will all be compounded by an increase in motor traffic given that people will be reluctant to use public transport, given the risks of catching the virus. If people are to be encouraged to continue riding bikes and to walk, more space for these means of travel must be provided, or do we really want to go back to the polluted streets of pre-Covid?

The two sentences that would have the greatest impact on Oxford from the County’s press release are as follows:

  • Creation of additional road space for cyclists and pedestrians
  • Temporary traffic measures or restrictions to prioritise cyclists and pedestrians.

And yet no further details are given. Surely there must be some plans?

Throughout the Country cities are already making alterations to assist in getting workers back to work and to restart their economies. 

Some of the measures being put into place elsewhere are:

  • Closing roads to vehicular traffic
  • Widening pavements and cycle lanes, using temporary bollards for segregation
  • Removing on-street parking on access roads into cities and in city centres
  • Allowing catering businesses to expand onto pavements

It would be good to know what action, if any is to be taken to assist Oxford’s economy and to move towards the increase in cycling envisaged by the recently completed Oxford Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan, where the 25% of journeys taken by bicycle, before Covid 19 would go to 38% by 2031.

The figures in this report should be looked at again to take into account the increase in cycling that there has been during Covid19.

Surely the opportunity to take a massive step towards providing the infrastructure to enable the aims of this plan to be achieved must not be missed.


Posted in Oxford bike issues | Leave a comment

Which bike?

Many types of bike left by travellers at Oxford Railway Station

We have speculated in past columns about what happens to people who have started riding bikes during the present pandemic, but surveys find that a majority do not wish to go back to how the world was before the Virus. One of the big changes we have seen is in an improvement in air quality. Government in the UK has made it easier and cheaper for Councils to remove cars from streets by making Traffic Regulation Orders unnecessary.  A move towards riding bikes is already helping to improve air quality. This will enable councils to allocate more road space to bicycles. 

Perhaps that old dusted off bike from the shed is not really good for longer term regular use? There is a bewildering number of differing models of bicycle in bike shops. If you are  new to bike riding and you want to continue to ride a bike more suitable to your needs, how do you decide which bike to buy?

First of all decide where you want to ride and what is the main use for the bike. There are bikes for all different uses and for different abilities. If the bike is mainly for getting to work in Oxford, an urban bike will be best; an upright model easy to get on and off, with few gears. Comfort is an important aspect for commuting. A simple “sit-up and beg” bike, like those used in the Netherlands will suffice. 

If the intention is to ride longer distances taking in a few hills, then more gears will be needed and possibly a “hybrid” bike will be better. Hybrids are usually straight handlebar bikes, but you will need a low gear to get up hills. These bikes are robust and cover most uses, ideal for shopping or carrying work papers or a laptop in the detachable panniers. The riding position is comfortable and if you want to use the bike for touring it will be suitable. These bikes are usually made of aluminium or steel. Folding bikes are good if you are travelling long distances on public transport. The Brompton folder is probably the best known.

In cities, where air quality is important, Cargo Bikes are becoming more popular for deliveries and if the habit of ordering goods and getting them delivered during “lock down” continues after Covid19, there will be even more deliveries needed by bike. 

Of course if you wish to use a bike for fitness or competitive cycling in a cycling club, you will need a road bike, which will be lighter than a hybrid, have dropped handlebars and be built more for speed than for comfort. A road bike will hinder and lighter wheels. It is also possible to use it for commuting, but this is not ideal. 

There is an old saying “the number of bikes you need is always one more than you have”. So perhaps the old bike in the shed is only the start. 

 Published in On Yer Bike, the Cyclox column in the Oxford Mail                                                                           


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What happens to cycling after Covid 19?

Brompton bikes, waiting for a train.

At the time of writing, we have been in lockdown for three weeks. People have permission to exercise once a day. A maximum of two people if they are in the same household – can ride together, but group rides are not allowed. Bike shops are counted among those that can remain open, but, of course, this could change.

Riding bikes is less risky than using public transport, which could increase your risk of catching COVID-19. There are signs that more people are taking up riding bikes, and in Oxford, where there are a large number of people riding bikes anyway, it is sensible that cycling is still permitted. Even if this permission is withdrawn, cycling on an indoor ‘turbo trainer’, or – if lucky enough – in a garden on a pair of ‘rollers’ – can still work for individuals. I find static cycling is much less fun though.

At the end of March, the Chief Executive at Brompton Bikes, Will Butler-Adams, has been quotedas saying that he thinks ‘sales in the UK across the industry are probably up around 15%. Although it is worth pointing out that since this time, Butler-Adams has reported that Brompton has seen its revenue tumble, like many other businesses, as a result of lockdown. The company wants to provide 1,000 Brompton folding bikes for NHS workers and is crowdfunding to enable them to do this.

In our towns and cities during this lockdown period, many streets are deserted, leading to an improvement in air quality, less congestion, and more room for people on bikes. It appears that the use of bikes is becoming more attractive during this crisis. It is likely that there are many people dusting off old bikes left neglected in garden sheds. However, those still driving on our roads are going faster.

In some countries temporary cycle lanes have been set up. What happens on our roads when the present crisis has run its course? Will we revert to using motor vehicles in the same way as before the virus? Will we return to poor air quality? Or, will travel to work decrease as workers experience the benefits of homeworking? Bicycles could retain – and improve their popularity as a method of transport for leisure and business. There would be an opportunity to encourage new riders by providing the necessary infrastructure to enable people to ride short distances to work.

Before the virus took hold in the UK, the Government produced a report, released in March, called Decarbonising Transport. The report highlights how ‘active travel can play a huge part in reaching net zero transport emissions by 2050:The Government plans to undertake further research to estimate the impact of delivery of the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy aims for 2025 and 2040 on carbon emissions for cycling and walking and through a shift to cycling and walking from private vehicles’ (p. 235, section 2.67).

The report suggests a shift, which could lead to a reduction of cars on our roads.

Maybe the present crisis will make people and governments across the globe realise that when this is over, we may not want everything in our life to go back to what it was before.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cyclists or people on bikes?

I am not a cyclist. As Mikael Coalville-Anderson, author of Copenhagenize said:

 “I am just a modern city dweller, who happens to use a bicycle to get around because it is safe and efficient”.

I suspect that different countries and groups have differing terms to describe people who ride bikes. In the USA and to a lesser extent in parts of the UK, both with a dominant motor vehicle culture, “cyclist” is the term used; often conjuring up an image of an aggressive male rider dressed in Lycra. In Oxford the Copenhagenize description seems to fit better. 

The sad part is that when applying the term cyclist, this lumps together all people who ride bikes, most of whom are considerate of other road users and not at all aggressive.  That’s not to deny that there are some uncooperative and aggressive people who ride bikes. These are a small  minority. 

All “cyclists” are people, many of whom walk, drive and use public transport in addition to riding. Pejorative descriptions lumping people together under one heading are unhelpful. All are people, on foot and on bikes, people on buses and people driving cars; much the better terminology. It also emphasises that all are people and many of them are at one time or another may use all these modes of transport. 

The most vulnerable of these groups, people on foot and on bikes are frequently forced to share the same space allowing the potential for conflict. The paths created by Sustrans often are based on these groups sharing and, given the length of the National Cycle Network, by and large few problems arise.  Indeed the title, Sustrans, means sustainable transport for all, so most off-road paths are shared by people on foot and on bikes, people in wheelchairs, people on horses and little people being pushed in buggies. In Oxford, river and canal towpaths and some pavements are shared. Although often the space is too narrow for both groups to operate properly. It is only through goodwill and consideration that these paths work. 

Walkers and bike riders prefer when they are allocated separate spaces. This is not always possible, because motor vehicles are given the highest priority when it comes to space. Looking at countries like the Netherlands and Denmark we can see what can be achieved when people on foot and on bikes are given the highest priority. In Oxford there are some areas given over entirely to people riding bikes, such as the segregated cycle ways at the side of the ring road and on Donnington Bridge. The County and District Councils should construct more of these segregated spaces and push ahead with Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, where in residential areas “rat running” motor traffic is prevented, making it safer for residents, whatever their mode of transport.  

Perhaps the future of Oxford can be similar to Denmark, where all people on bikes fit Coalville-Anderson’s description of bike riders in the first paragraph.  

Roger Symonds 


Published in the Oxford Mail on Tuesday 17th March 2020 – Cyclox’ column, On “Yer Bike”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Should wearing cycle helmets be compulsory?

I have noticed that many people cycling in Oxford do not wear helmets. Is this because people feel safe on Oxford roads? Or is the demographic predominantly young and less worried about crashes?

Whether or not to wear helmets has been a hot topic over the past few years, with Chris Boardman (former Olympic cycling Champion, now Cycling and Walking Commissioner for Greater Manchester and founder of Boardman Bikes), arguing for better infrastructure to protect people on bikes, rather than putting individual responsibility for safety on the victims of poor driving. 

Contrary to Boardman’s view, the Journal for the Royal Society of Medicine in 2004 published an article in favour of compulsion, citing a reduction in head injuries when people wear helmets. In Australia and New Zealand there has been a huge reduction in people cycling as a result of compulsory helmet wearing. Chris Boardman and others argue that far more people would die prematurely as a result of giving up cycling if helmets were made compulsory. Boardman quotes a study by Glasgow University showing that people who commute by bike almost halve their chances of dying from heart disease. 

Dr Ian Walker, a traffic psychologist at the University of Bath, using a bike fitted with an ultrasonic distance sensor to record data from 2500 overtaking motorists in 2006, found that “close passes” increased when he was wearing a helmet. He was even hit by a bus and a truck.

At present in the UK wearing helmets is optional. My partner and I always wear our helmets, a personal choice, which began on a number of bike touring holidays in Italy. Perhaps there is more of a case for children wearing helmets, but in my view the safest way to protect people on bikes is to build segregated cycle lanes, where people are physically separated from motor vehicles.  It should not be left to vulnerable road users to take precautions against careless  drivers.

Segregation will become even more important with the advent of “autonomous vehicles”,where problems may occur, not because of AVs, but because of the actions of human drivers of cars and bikes. Here in Oxfordshire, a centre for the development of AVs segregation will become even more important. In the Netherlands few people wear helmets because vehicles and cyclists are separated. 

The roads are safer in Oxford for cyclists than they are in many other cities, but there is plenty of opportunity to make Oxford into an even better city for people riding bikes and a UK leader in good cycling infrastructure. The aim should be to build infrastructure so that people can continue to choose whether or not to wear a helmet or not. In the Netherlands few people wear cycle helmets because people on bikes and motor vehicles are segregated.

I believe that the best way to keep people who ride bikes safe is for both local and National Governments to invest in segregated bike infrastructure, rather than make wearing cycle helmets compulsory. Better cycling infrastructure that encourages more people to ride bikes more safely (one of Cyclox’ strategic aims) would also improve air quality, benefitting the population as a whole.

A similar article was published in Cyclox’ column, “On yer bike” in the Oxford Mail.

Posted in Oxford bike issues, Roger's opinions | Leave a comment

Bike Tourism – An opportunity missed in Oxford

My partner and I are recent Oxford residents and we love the city. We moved from Bath at the beginning of August 2019. One of the main reasons for the move was that Oxford is flat. Also we were impressed by the number of people riding bikes and the bike infrastructure. In fact Oxford is second of UK cities with 24% of journeys by bike. Cambridge is first with 38%.

Therefore it was disappointing to find that bikes did not get a mention in the Council’s Scrutiny Committee Review of Tourism in May 2019. Much was made of the lack of overnight visitors, yet nothing was said about encouraging visitors on bikes, despite the fact that they carry little with them, consequently will spend more here, are more likely to stay overnight and make no adverse impact on the environment. 

There was no encouragement to use Oxford as a base to tour the area. The many quiet roads and timeless little villages with cafes and pubs are a great attraction for bike tourers. For those who prefer hills to flat rolling countryside the Chilterns are close. 

Oxford has more to offer than beautiful buildings and museums.  The ethnic restaurants on the Cowley Road, the Covered Market, the Botanical Gardens, river and canal walks/rides, villages, such as Thrupp, Woodstock and Brill in the Chilterns with its windmill, (admittedly just over the border in Bucks) are within easy reach for bikes. However I have yet to see any sign of bicycle tourists in the City.

Bike tourism. Bikes in bags, with panniers, waiting for the train.

The report has missed an opportunity to promote Oxford as a bike friendly city for people to use as a base for touring. A small booklet, with basic circular routes might help. All interested agencies in the city and county, including the Universities and business must be brought together to provide a vision for the development of Oxford attractions if the city is to retain and improve its place as one of the premier visitor Cities in the UK. 

Public transport connections and therefore numbers of visitors, are good from London and from the west of England. Most trains from Bristol and beyond, since the recent timetable changes stop at Didcot, but from South Wales nearly all the trains to Oxford involve 2 changes. There used to be a direct service between Bristol and Oxford, so perhaps the councils should lobby First Great Western to restore this service and improve the connection with the west of England and South Wales.

I wonder what has happened to the scrutiny report, after it was presented to the council cabinet on 29th May 2019? How much progress has been made on the implementing the recommendations?

Oxford can promote itself as a sustainable city. Already many people accessing Oxford walk and ride bikes, use public transport and the Park&Rides. Future development and visitor strategies and action plans should aim to embrace and enhance this sustainable accessibility.

This was an article written by me for Cyclox’ in their weekly column in the Oxford Mail “On yer bike”.


Posted in Oxford bike issues, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Riding a bike in Oxford

 My partner and I moved to Iffley in Oxford nearly three months ago. We had lived in Combe Down in Bath for the past 25 years. We had a number of reasons for moving to Oxford, not least among them was because Oxford is flat and there is a critical mass of people riding bikes, so this is a normal mode of transport for all ages. In our experience so far, most drivers are used to being considerate and careful around the many people on bikes. For us this has meant that riding our bikes has become a regular, every day activity.

This was not the case in Bath, where Combe Down is about 200 metres above sea level, so climbing this entire height occurred in the kilometre long hill (Ralph Allen Drive) every time that we went home on our bikes, often loaded with shopping. We both have low gears on our bikes, but this climb had become harder recently. I had restricted myself to climbing the hill once a week. Climbing in the Drive had never appealed to Nic anyway. Once off the hills in the City of Bath you have to take your chances on the busy roads with drivers not used to having to adjust to people riding bikes. Many of whom feel that people on bikes should not be on the road, and behave accordingly.

This attitude seems to be endorsed by officers in B&NES Council’s highways department, who do not see the point of taking road space from motor vehicles and building infrastructure for people riding bikes. Yet off road cycle ways are common, with the Two Tunnels path (mainly built by the cycling community and Sustrans the cycle charity whose offices are in the Bristol) ) on the old Somerset and Dorset Railway connecting with the Bristol/Bath cycle path (mainly built by Bristol City Council and Sustrans 30 years ago, being their“jewel in the crown”).

Old Combe Down Tunnel. Over 1 mile long. On the Two Tunnels path

These off road leisure routes are shared by people walking and on bikes, with few problems. There are other shared routes along the Kennet and Avon canal, but until officers and councillors change the attitude of putting “traffic flow” before all else, people riding bikes will never be able to use bikes for everyday shopping and commuting. CycleBath, the cycle campaigning group is very active in lobbying councillors and some of the present new Cabinet members are keen to develop cycling in the City, so there is more hope of cycling improvements than ever before.

In Oxford we have noticed that there is some infrastructure for people riding bikes. In particular at Donnington Bridge, where there is access to the Thames Path, in itself a shared path running into the heart of Oxford. On the bridge, road space has been taken to provide a double width segregated cycle way on one side of the bridge, with physical barriers, and a single white broken line painted on the other side of the road.

Donnington Bridge segregated cycle lane

Throughout the city there are cycle lanes on many roads. They are mostly just markings on roads, but space has been given to people riding bikes with space for two vehicles and no more, the resultant space gain making it possible to have cycle lanes.
Sadly the cycle lanes are mostly marked  with broken white lines, meaning that they are not enforceable, so drivers regularly park across them. Although even with a wide cycle lane on one side of the road, On Donnington Bridge and on the approaches to the bridge, there is another cycle lane on the other side. It is only a broken white line, but still a useful

Not such a good Lane,but still something on the bridge

piece of infrastructure for people on bikes going towards the railway station or towards the ring road.

This is not a route we often use because we live very close to the Thames at Iffley Lock to the south of Donnington Bridge. The Thames path, accessed at Iffley Lock is shared and is quite wide enough for Bikes and people. By the path it is about 20 minutes to the Railway Station.

Leaving bikes at the Railway Station is easy,as there are masses of cycle stands there. In fact there are stands across the city, so bikes can usually be locked to a cycle stand unless they are full up, which sometimes happens, following the mantra from Field of Dreams of “if you build them, they will come.” Many people have cycle stands in their front gardens too. It is also usual to see parking spaces on roads taken to provide space for bike stands as shown in the photo below.

Bikes at Oxford Station

Although we recognise that there is more to be done here, we are not disappointed with our ability to cycle in Oxford. Getting on our bikes for shopping, for eating out, visiting friends and for entertainment has become normal. It was never so in Bath. There is of course much more to be done for bikes in Oxford and

Road space taken for bike parking

consultation has just ended on a new a Transport Strategy for Oxford. A quick easy win would be for the County Council to change all cycle lane markings to continuous lines, which could then be enforced.

In Oxford, as in Bath there is a campaign group to promote bike riding. In Bath the group is CycleBath and in Oxford, Cyclox. We have taken up membership of Cyclox.

Perhaps the time has come for riding bikes to be given its rightful place as a sustainable transport method in these days when there is great concern about Air Quality in cities.

Our verdict on cycling in Oxford, where there is a critical mass of people riding, is good, but with 24% of commuter trips by bike, still lagging 14% behind Cambridge so there is still room for improvement.





Posted in Roger's opinions | 3 Comments

Chew Valley Lake Recreational Trail

Lovely view across Chew Valley Lake from the Sailing Club

In October 2013 I published a highly critical blog post about Bristol Water’s (BW) attitude towards constructing a shared path round the perimeter of Chew Valley Lake, available to people on foot and on bikes.

I had been taken on a tour of the lake by Bill Blyth, the chair of the Chew Valley Recreational Trail Association (CVRTA).  Bill showed me how it would be possible to build a path around the lake. The resulting blog post was picked up by BW’s Publicity Department and a meeting followed between BW, Bill and myself at Woodford Lodge.

We found the people we met, quite new to BW’s staff, to be positive about getting better access to a path around the lake, but communication fizzled out after a while without any further progress.

However, just this week Bill rang me to say that there has been a partnership set up between Bristol Water, B&NES Council, MendipHills AONB, West of England Rural Network and Sustrans to deliver a Recreational Trail. A planning application is at present out for consultation.  The Project went to the Chew Valley Area Forum in May and an application for funding will be made to the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund in September.

I have no doubt that Margaret Wilson, Bill Blyth and various committee members of CVRTA who kept the idea of the Recreational Trail alive since Margaret thought of it in 1999 are very pleased.

It now seems that Bristol Water’s management is sufficiently supportive for this trail to be put in place.

The trail will be  a great attraction to many people and Bristol Water should be commended on its changed attitude to making a lake path available to the public.

There is a community consultation drop in on the plan at the Children’s Centre, Chew Valley School from 4pm to 7pm on Thursday 28th June 2018.

To take part in a survey go to :

The results of the survey will go into the Planning Consultation.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Trains and Bikes and Planes – a cautionary tale of taking bikes to Italy

It must be the travelling cyclists’ worst nightmare – to arrive at a foreign airport with a damaged and unrideable bike. That’s what happened to my partner Nic and I in Bologna in 2004. One bicycle had no stem or saddle and the other a buckled back wheel. The prospect of riding standing on the pedals for three weeks did not appeal and in any case Nic’s back wheel was so buckled that it took a great deal of effort even to push it.

We decided that the damage was caused by a car lover/bike hater baggage handler throwing the bikes into the aircraft hold and then dumping massive cases on top of them.

We had travelled by British Airways from Gatwick, where BA staff were relaxed about transporting bicycles– no-one behaved as though we were two-wheeled aliens just landed from the planet Zog, as is often the case.

In 2002 despite the initial disbelief of KLM staff, our experience  flying from Cardiff (via Brussels) to Rome had lulled us into a false sense of security. The bikes arrived in Rome, even after transfer from one aircraft to another in Brussels, without damage, but in 2004 and 2010 Flying from  Gatwick and from Bristol Airports, it was a different story.

I suppose we should have realised in 2004 that there could be a problem, when the bikes were sent down on the narrow conveyor belt to be loaded with all the other luggage. In Bologna they were returned in their damaged state on the luggage carousel. In 2002 at Cardiff and Rome airports they were accepted and returned through a special ‘bulky luggage’ gate.

Our laid-back travelling philosophy when riding in Italy was to book flights and insurance and to have a general idea of where we were going, but trying to be cool with two broken bikes and no accommodation at 6pm in Bologna airport, was an effort. It took another hour to report the damage and the missing bits, before we managed to book accommodation near Bologna Railway station and to get our busted bikes on a bus.

Not the best start to three weeks cycling in our chosen destination – the Salento coast, Puglia – the heel of Italy. However, later that evening our problems seemed to lessen after a pile of antipasti, a plate of pasta, and a carafe of ‘vino locale’!

The following morning we pushed our bikes the one kilometre to the nearest bike shop, only to find the sort of bike shop common in England in the1950s and 60s. To be fair they were more interested in servicing Vespas and Lambrettas than bicycles.

They could do nothing with Nic’s buckled back wheel, nor did they have a stem and saddle to fit my bike. Just as we began to feel helpless and worried the manager of the shop directed us 200 metres down the road to a cycle shop reminiscent of John’s bikes or Avon Valley Cyclery in Bath.

Here my saddle was replaced inside 20 minutes, and even though we were told that we would have to wait three days for a new wheel for Nic’s bike, we were relieved and we felt confident that the owner, a former competitive cyclist judging by the photos on the shop wall, would be as good as her word. In fact the wheel was ordered, delivered and fitted in two days.

Our plan was to catch a train from Bologna to Lecce, centre of Baroque architecture in the heel of Italy, and from there cycle around the Salento Coast, before getting the train back to Bologna.

Bikes in bags, with luggage. Is this the best way to fly with bikes?

However, when we tried to book on trains that catered for bikes, we found that we would have to make seven changes and the journey would take two days. Only some Italian trains could at that time accommodate bicycles, so at this stage we did begin to wonder whether we would ever get to our destination and begin our cycle touring.

We were obviously just very lucky In 2002 to travel by train from Rome to Naples with bikes in just a few hours.

Eventually we decided to buy bike bags, so we could dismantle and pack away the bikes. We would then be able to get on to Eurostar Italia and get to the south in a matter of hours , rather than days. I returned to our friendly local bike shop and sure enough they kept bike bags in stock – once again it looked as if we might get to the Salento after all.

We spent three great days in steaming hot Bologna – definitely ‘bike city’ – flat with wide paved avenues and plenty of pedestrianisation/bike/public transport around the central ‘due torre’ area, where two wheeled vehicles outnumber four and the buses were all spanking new.

On Friday morning we arrived at the railway station to board the train to Lecce. The train was due to leave from platform nine, so that was where we took the wheels off our bikes, removed the panniers, turned the handlebars parallel with the frame and stored the frame in the middle of the bag with the wheels on either side. Bags and bikes are very heavy, unless you have ultra- light expensive models – ours, named ‘Bicci and Roadie’ are solid worker touring bikes.

With an earlier train stuck at platform nine 15 minutes after it should have left, we speculated on the chances of a platform change and agreed that this would fit with our luck so far.

Sure enough our train rumbled into platform six, signalling a rush of passengers into the platform subway. There were no lifts from subway to platform. Imagine having to carry bike bags and four full pannier bags from platform 1 to platform 2 at Bath Spa station in two minutes and you have some idea of the struggle we had to catch the Eurostar to Lecce. I’m sure my bike is heavier than Nic’s because she seemed to manage the transfer with ease while I struggled to stay upright! We just about made it and were at last on our way complete with working bikes.

After staying in Lecce for one night we decided to start our ride from Gallipoli, a short 40 minute train ride away. We were told at the station that the local train we were to take would carry bikes without having them in bike bags.  No one had told the train manager so we had once again, to dismantle the bikes and put them in the bags.

Nic in the south of Italy

Just over two weeks later after some wonderful riding around the Salento coast, from Gallipoli, to Torre San Giovanni, past Santa Maria di Leuca the southernmost point of Italy, Tricase Porto, Santa Cesarea Terme and its cold water spa, Porto Badisco the easternmost point in Italy and Otranto, we cycled into Lecce in the hot evening sunshine for the night train to Bologna.

Right at the start of our ride at Lido Conchiglie in the last steaming hot days of August, we spent time on the beach and in the sea, with three nights spent at the edge of the Mediterranean eating raw mussels, clams and giant clams, all uncooked, grilled octopus and cuttlefish and drinking the ridiculously cheap, but very pleasant “vino locale” all served by the local barbeque chefs in a taverna with white plastic tables and chairs and paper table cloths.

No standing on ceremony here in an eating place reminiscent of the ‘kiss me quick’ seaside resort cafes still to be seen in traditional British seaside resorts, but the quality of the food and wine set it apart from these.  This is still one of the most memorable places where we have eaten.  In fact we ate at this fish “cafe” three nights in a row.

Me in the south, one pannier containing a bike bag

The stay in Lido Conchiglie was the beginning of two weeks of cycling through olive groves and along the coast. Sometimes following the Giro d’Italia route at our, by comparison with a “Grand Tour”, snail’s pace.

This, our second cycling holiday in Italy, once we had reached the Salento, had been fantastic. We didn’t ever look upon our cycling holidays in Italy as an endurance test. We stopped when and where we wanted to for as long as we wanted and always met friendly, welcoming local people.

On our return train journey from the south the bikes were snugly bagged for the train, when the conductor said, ‘no bicci’! Apparently there was no room even for the bags. We insisted that the bags were not bikes, but simply luggage. After some consultation with Other train staff, the conductor directed us to a couchette used for storage of bedding, where there was just about enough room for the bike bags.

The return flight presented no problems with the bagged bikes when we arrived at Gatwick and our time for reassembly was down to about 10/15 minutes. The train journey back to Bath (via Reading) was also without incident.

This is a cautionary tale as far as travelling with bikes is concerned, but there is still a distinct lack of advice about getting bikes on aircraft. BA takes bikes free, but as we discovered there seems to be no special handling for them. Advice from bike shops varies from putting them in ‘bike boxes’, in cardboard boxes, or in plastic bags, or not in anything at all. No one seems to know what to do with bike boxes once you get to your destination.

Maybe it’s better for the bikes to be seen so that it is obvious that they are bikes – not something we would  advise, or should they be covered in cardboard or installed in wooden bike boxes, if they are available? There is little advice given by the airlines, and you get the impression that although massive surf boards and sets of golf clubs are OK, they would rather throw the bicycles out over the channel.

While we were cycling we met a group of Italian cyclists who were riding from Santa Maria di Leuca (Lands End) to Rome in ten days, to make the local authorities along the route aware of some of the problems cyclists have in Italy. They invited us to join them and were very impressed with our National Cycle Network and how most British trains are able to take bicycles, albeit in limited numbers. Services in the UK for bikes are not perfect, but they could be a lot worse.

However, a conductor on the train to Brighton in late September in the same year ordered us off the train at Bradford on Avon and threatened to call the police when we refused, because there were three bikes in the designated bike area rather than two.  This intransigence tends to be the exception rather than the rule!  The problem was solved by a commonsense station manager and we were able to continue on our journey.

However, most train companies have joined the anti-cycle lobby in banning bikes on some trains and insisting on booking on those where they are allowed. Booking is now normal practice on intercity 125s.

It would be much better if trains were designed to carry more bikes in the UK than in present rolling stock. I recently travelled from Bristol Temple Meads to Cardiff and at one stage counted seven bikes in the carriage.  There could be areas where bikes could be hung by the front wheels if space was provided.

However, despite all the obstacles that arose on our touring holidays, although unwelcome, none were insurmountable and did little to detract from our overall enjoyment of the holiday. Nic and I decided that we would fly with bikes again, but we will definitely take our bike bags, despite having to cart the bags around with us for the whole holiday. We might even consider lighter bikes!

Roger Symonds and Nic Rattle 27th August 2004

The Post Script to this piece on travelling with bikes is that in all we holidayed with bikes in Italy five times, completing riding the coastline of the “boot” of Italy and riding in Sardinia. Our last holiday was in 2010 where my bike suffered a broken “hanger” which enables the gears to work by attaching them to the frame, both at the beginning of the holiday and at the end.

Brilliant cycle shop and mechanics that saved
our holiday in 2010

It was only through some innovative cutting and filing by a lovely Italian bike mechanic in a bike shop in Reggio that we were able to continue our holiday.

At the end of the holiday I watched while a baggage handler at Bristol airport threw my bike bag from one end of the baggage truck to the other.  Breaking the part so brilliantly made up by the Italian bike mechanic, so maybe the damage at the beginning of that holiday was also caused in Bristol.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment