Years later, the situation has barely improved, it turns out your government has continued to accept advice of the same author, rather than consulting with experts on rebuilding our society. He has been advocating that the citizens are better off being equipped with the skills to survive in this hostile environment than they would be if we started to rebuild houses, railways and other infrastructure. Some even start to believe it with a powerful conviction, challenging anyone who dares to question the philosophy.
Sounds crazy, right? Well this is effectively the situation cycling is stuck in with John Franklin and Cyclecraft. Cyclecraft is a great survival guide to help cyclists cope with the cycling-hostile road network of the UK, and our many fast-driving and skill-deficient motorists. The problem is that John Franklin is also a “Cycle safety” consultant and one of the strongest voices against separate cycle infrastructure which would improve the lives of cyclists immensely and help to vastly increase the rates of cycling. Local authorities and government accept consultation about cyclist safety from the man whose career is based on writing the survival manual for cyclists who wish to cycle in our current abysmal conditions, whose work forms the basis of the cycle training which is offered to help cyclists cope with our inherently cycling-hostile road network. The problem here seems obvious to me, but not to local authorities or even the vast majority of cycling campaigners in the UK.
As a consultant on “Cycle safety,” John Franklin has a vested interest in maintaining the atrocious conditions which led to the need for a manual and training courses for riding a bike. Maybe he is deluded and genuinely loves cycling along dual carriageways, laughing maniacally with cars screaming past at 60 mph, unable to understand why the vast majority of people don’t want to be out there with him. Maybe he actively wants to maintain the status quo which has underpinned his career as a “Cycle safety” consultant and author. Looking through the literature on his website, I see a homeopathy-like penchant for cherry-picking research which agrees with his message on the alleged safety issues of separate cycle facilities, whilst ignoring the wider body of work showing they improve cyclists’ safety and promote higher cycling rates when implemented well. Reading through his published work, it seems disconnected from reality. The issue has been eloquently discussed elsewhere, but I shall repeat it here too. From his book Basic Cycling Skills:
Cadence and sprint speed
Cadence is the number of times a cycling turns the pedals in one minute. A steady, comfortable pedalling rhythm is essential for efficient cycling, while increasing one’s cadence strengthens the leg muscles and enables more rapid acceleration. Increasing cadence also makes it easier to increase your sprint speed – the maximum speed that you can attain over a short distance, such as through a roundabout.
Racing cyclists know well the benefits of having a high cadence, but there can also be important safety advantages for everyone. Generally speaking, you are at your safest in traffic if you can move at a speed comparable to that of the other vehicles. Increasing your cadence and sprint speed will allow you to achieve this more often, particularly at those places where it matters most – junctions with complex manoeuvring. It will also be easier to restart quickly in a low gear at traffic signals and roundabouts, and to get yourself out of trouble if you are on a potential collision course.
Increasing cadence and sprint speed are two of the most positive steps a cyclist can take to enhance safety.
A good cadence to aim for is about 80, while a sprint speed of 32 km/h (20 mph) will enable you to tackle most traffic situations with ease. To increase your cadence, select a gear lower than you would normally use for a given road and simply force yourself to pedal faster in order to maintain your usual speed. Gradually, your leg muscles will become accustomed to the higher rate and your cadence and strength will increase.
What is not addressed here is that if Cyclecraft is the correct way to cycle, and cycles are to be kept on the roads at the expense of any separate infrastructure, is that everyone other than a small elite of particularly fit riders are excluded from cycling. If you are too young, too old, too unfit or otherwise physically incapable of a sprint speed of 20 mph, you have no business cycling on the road, or at least you should have little expectation of doing so safely.
As a survival guide, Cyclecraft is an excellent resource to help cyclists survive on our roads. Taken as a guide for best practise, it is a dangerously elitist philosophy which excludes all but the bravest and fittest from cycling in the UK. John Franklin’s influence on much of the cycle campaigning establishment is a major barrier to mass cycling in the UK.