Dual Carriageways, Tragedy and Time Trialling

This weekend I had planned to visit the V718. Over the past few years it’s been seen as a ‘banker’ for a fast time with sunny weather for the Easter weekend. In the end i didn’t go, other commitments and the small person took precedence.

I rode the course twice last year and set a PB on each occasion, coming away the second time with a 19.42.  It’s a narrow and sheltered DC with no hard shoulder; it feeds traffic straight from the M62 onto the A63 with not much of a drop in speeds. The traffic counts aren’t spectacularly high – certainly not like the A419 – but it can be a hairy experience. I’m not going to lie though, it gave me the opportunity to ride my bike at 30+mph for 10 miles and it was a blast to be going so quickly.

Yesterday Chris Auker died during the race having been involved in a collision with a caravan/4×4. First and foremost, condolences to Chris Auker, family, friends and Brough Wheelers. I remember the Team Swift event last year going ahead in the wake of Len Grayson’s death a week before and the tangible effect it had on the organising club. In Chris’ case, it’s unclear how or what happened, apart from the tragic outcome and i’m certainly not going to speculate. Nevertheless, it raises wider issues for time trialling on dual carriageways – and these are issues that i’ve thought about before. i’ve ridden the above course. i’ve organised an event on a dual carriageway before which had to be cancelled because of a major incident that left several people in hospital. 

Some riders view dual carriageways as safer than single carriageways – there are less hazards to negotiate and more space for cars to overtake. This may be true – and it might even be true that there are more accidents on single carriageways. however, there are more deaths on dual carriageways and the increased frequency is noticeable to all who race. Whilst there isn’t a stock argument, i.e DCs are unsafe, single carriageways safer, it’s quite chilling that nearly all of the deaths and serious injuries in time trialling over the past decade appear to have been on DCs, including Alec Anderson, Len Grayson, Karl Austin, Gareth Rhys Evans, Cathy Ward and Jane Kilmartin’s life-threatening injuries.

On the Hull course, the issue of space for overtaking becomes problematic when there are two cars side by side, or one already overtaking, usually at 70mph+. there isn’t really enough room for the car on the inside to move out to overtake the cyclist doing 25mph. the margin for error is slim and there isn’t a hard shoulder. which of course might have nothing to do with Chris’ tragic death, but does contribute towards the higher risk of riding on this particular road. and it’s specious to ignore the wider debate; at some point the TT/DC debate has to be bought into the open rather than leaving it currently until the police attempt to expressly forbid use of DC courses to protect riders (ie Norfolk police A1).

At some point the arguments just no longer stack up, and it isn’t about free will or being unnecessarily risk-averse. it’s to do with the fact that you are statistically more likely to die when riding on a dual carriageway. As traffic counts increase and at the same time driving habits and the lack of awareness (or a safer driving culture) from drivers towards cyclists shows no sign of changing for the better – see rob jefferies – then the idea that somehow DCs are safe(r) becomes more and more self-serving to those who want to ride them in search of a fast time. and it’s about the fast time, nothing else; the sport valorises times over placings or points, this is its strength and appeal, and also its inherent weakness.

Somewhere along the line the TT community has become sucked into a debate about riding DCs, and quite an assertive one about ‘rights to the roads’ and so on, that doesn’t seem to take into account the stark reality of road and cultural conditions within the UK and the very real danger of death. it’s a self-defeating ostrich argument.

in the absence of any semblance of harmonious shared road use, with vehicle drivers respectful of cyclists and alert to vulnerable users, i’d say the choice of road has everything to do with it, and choosing to race on a road that seamlessly changes from M63 to A61 2 miles prior to the course, has a lot to do with it. i can try and use an appropriate analogy: would you walk through a park late at night, known for regular muggings and violent crime, labouring under the apprehension that because humans should essentially be kind, selfless and caring beings that you should therefore be ok and reach your destination quicker as is your inalienable right… Or would you avoid it until such a time as you could prove it was safe, or simply find a different, safer, longer route to get to your destination? Or would this avoidance tactic somehow be an admission of defeat and instead make things worse for everyone? For the seasoned fast-time chaser it becomes much more complicated than what appears to be common sense.

i no longer organise events on dual carriageways – main arterial trunk roads – and i very rarely race on them, with the heads of the valleys road in wales being the exception because it’s one of the quietest roads i’ve ridden, regardless of DC/SC status. However, i’d happily forego the experience if it meant riders weren’t dying or being injured with increasing and alarming frequency. I’m also really glad that I didn’t go to Hull this weekend and a bit disappointed in that it took an alarming tragedy for me to reconsider my experiences with this particular stretch of tarmac.

7 thoughts on “Dual Carriageways, Tragedy and Time Trialling

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  1. I still train and race on DCs. The lanes near London are crap for a TT bike. I get what you’re saying with the stats but why oh why can’t drivers overtake safely? How hard is it to back off the accelerator or heaven forbid touch the brakes? Condolences to the rider’s family. Ride safe pj.

    1. London is a different place. they do things differently.

      I’m torn between my idealistic desire to see safe driving and cycling, and my realistic awareness that it isn’t going to happen in this country unless something seismic and culturally major happens – and i mean beyond cycling, because this island is a fairly egocentric place where the needs of the individual are continually placed above the needs of the community.

      Keeping a keen eye on your results this year Hippy!

    2. that’s the key point isn’t it, why can’t they overtake safely? as a driving instructor, you quickly appreciate that people have vastly different abilities when it comes to driving, truth is many drivers just don’t see the hazard until way too late – and personally i think it would be far safer, if it were possible , to cone off one of the lanes. ok, it would take a lot more organising, more cost , more volunteer time etc, but it might stop me having kittens when my daughter’s out racing on DC’s with cars whizzing past her ears, often way over the speed limit. maybe i should just follow her around on a tractor? likewise; sympathy to chris’s family.

  2. Re: some of the comments.

    To my mind, the important consideration, isn’t shouldn’t drivers overtake more carefully. It is, as PJ says, that any acident on a DC is nearly always serious, and often fatal. What the origins are of why acidents on DCs are often fatal, isn’t really relevent – its that accidents on DCs are often fatal.

    That is the light in which we should question if it is a good idea to race on DCs? And how should we structure the sport such that it continues, but maybe with less emphasis on riding on DCs.

    And as regards the tradgedy on the V718, we don’t yet have the full facts. Maybe the acident is closly related to it being a DC, then again maybe it has no connection. Until we know we shouldn’t use this accident as justification for why we shouldn’t be on DCs.

    Oh yes, whilst many deaths in TTs are on DCs, there are a significant number on other roads, typically TTers riding into the backs of stationary objects, few heart attacks, etc. Not sure of the stats, but had a feeling it was about 50/50 DC and none DC. Shall have to check if I can find the stats over recent years – its been reported in the CTT report for the AGM IIRC.

  3. A valid and well argued case for giving DC’s a wide berth. I once raced on the A64 and the combination of the motorists speed and my own terrified me.

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