Monday, 11 February 2013

Turning roads into race tracks....

There's a new craze sweeping the nation. Commuter routes, inner city streets and country lanes are being turned into virtual race-tracks by cyclists who monitor their speed with GPS devices.

Apparently the record speed for one section of London's South Circular (which has a speed limit of 30mph) is an average of 41mph!!!. On a nearby road a rider has averaged 33.3mph. An increase in the numbers taking part in these virtual time-trials is fuelling concerns that the phenomenon is encouraging recklessness on the roads and inflaming tensions between cyclists, pedestrians and motorists.

Here's how it works. Cyclists sign up to Strava, a website, and upload their times and routes. Typically distances range from a few hundred metres to five miles. In a nod to the Tour de France, the record holder is known as the 'King (or Queen) of the Mountain and an on-line leader board records the riders' name, time, speed and date of their record run.

Lance Armstrong has been a recent member and won seven 'King of the Mountain' titles on US roads in a single day. (presumably drug-free?). However last week his postings vanished for some reason. Two riders identified as Tris M and George B are recorded averaging 41mph on a section of road near Barnes - the only way of displacing them is by breaking the speed limit - again!

The Sunday Times did a test of three routes in central London, each of them ridden more than 20,000 times by Strava users, to establish whether it was possible to match cyclists' times without running red lights or breaching the highway code. In each case a motorbike was used and clocked significantly slower times than those of the cyclists!

On a stretch of Victoria Embankment - a distance of 1.19 miles the fastest cyclist has covered the distance in 2 minutes 23 seconds - the motorbike took 4 minutes 27 seconds!

In the USA, Strava is facing legal action from the family of a cyclist who died whilst trying to claim back his 'King of the Mountain' title. Strava is fighting the case. Asked why it hosts leaderboard times that are only achievable by breaking speed limites Strava said - " We continue to encourage good behaviour within our community and strive for our users to understand the responsibility that they have to follow the law and to use common sense"

Sara Rodgers who works in Sheffield and holds 50 Queen of the Mountain titles said that while being competitive she has never jumped a red light. Ben Lowe, also based in Sheffield, holds 100 titles but concentrates on genuine hill climbs. His most treasured crown is a route from Fleet Moss to Hawes - which rises 758 feet in One and a half miles, in 9 minutes 59 seconds.

Commentators have noted that, if used properly, Strava could strengthen Britain's cycling culture. "As long as people obey the law and the usual cares and courtesies, we will not have to wait 100 years for another winner of The Tour de France" - So keep an eye out for that speeding cyclist - It could be the next Wiggins.

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