The Two Speeds of Cycling in Britain

I’m increasingly finding that many people who want to cycle in Britain, have two options for their style of cycling. Note this doesn’t apply everywhere, however is particularly prevalent in Ipswich, Suffolk and other places that I’ve cycled.

If you are in the mood for cycling slower at a pootling pace, or have kids learning to cycle, you can use some pavements where cycling has been legalised. However when there are higher pedestrian flows, you’ll often have to travel slowly at walking pace, thus negating the advantage of cycling for those sections of the journey. This means the journey time is extended, and made more tedious and less enjoyable.

The alternative used by faster cyclists is to keep up with the speed of motor traffic and to take the lane. This would mean cycling at 20, 30 or more mph. I can manage the odd sprint at 20mph on the level, or 30mph on a downhill stretch, however it’s not something I can manage for longer sprints or whole journeys.

I have had occasions in the past where I’ve kept a fairly constant distance of a couple of bicycle lengths from the vehicle in front, and had the driver behind either honk their horn at me for being in the way, or dangerously overtake to squeeze in between me and the vehicle in front. Thus keeping your wits about you, taking the lane, and travelling at a similar speed to the vehicle in front doesn’t appear to be a valid option either, even so I’ve regularly been told to do this by experienced fast cyclists.

Being able to cycle at a speed between walking pace and motor vehicle pace is the ideal solution, however the current road environment in Ipswich and many other parts of Britain doesn’t make it easy to travel at a comfortable pace. For example being able to cycle somewhere without breaking into a big sweat, at a speed faster than walking pace.

Ipswich has a lot of pavements where cycling has been legalised, however you are generally having to negotiate pedestrians. I’m told that if you don’t like that, then you should be on the road, however I find that to be a horrible experience too, and it’s also dangerous due to the big metal boxes on wheels, that could kill me.

Quiet residential and service roads do allow for the middle pace of cycling, however they are often riddled with pinch points, traffic calming, rat runs, on-street car parking, or busy periods(or just lots of traffic). Thus these roads are often not perceived to be safe for cycling on by many would be cyclists, or parents wanting to let their kids to cycle.

Ipswich does have a few great bits of cycle infrastructure, such as a section of Rope Walk, which has been closed to through motor traffic, and pedestrians respect it due to the wide pavements, and the road like feel of it. There is a downside in that just to the north there is a rat run, which is on National Cycle Network Route 1, as drivers in the morning peak try to avoid a set of traffic lights. In the other direction, there’s a junction which has made it to the Warrington Cycling Facility of the Month.

Ravenswood and Kesgrave/Grange Farm are more recent housing estates in the Ipswich area, which have high quality cycle paths through the areas, limited through motor vehicle access, and some of the highest cycle to school rates in the country. However many of those people don’t venture out of the area by bike. The bike paths are just a 3 metre wide bit of tarmac with a white line down the middle, which simply isn’t wide enough for catering for both fast cyclists, and people wanting to cycle side by side talking to each other.

The new Ipswich Northern Fringe or Ipswich Garden Suburb, as it’s now called, is due to have high quality cycle paths throughout. A high quality cycle route is also needed from the new development in the north to the town centre, however it’s hard to find the best possible route that will be used, as any route that is chosen will need the through motor traffic removed due to the narrow streets and park (which is closed at night) in the way. My fear is that the compromise will produce a route which won’t entice the new residents on to their bikes or buses.

Finally, how do we get some of the current older cyclists, and campaigners who are happy with the current road conditions for cycling and are holding back campaigning for cycling facilities that will encourage more people to cycle, to accept that the current two tier system is inadequate?


  1. Of course, the real future of cycling in cities lies in separating motor vehicles, cycles and pedestrians. I think this middle ground of trying to get cyclists to either fit in with motor traffic or skirt around pedestrians is hardly a solution.

    Of course, for this to work motorists will have to sacrifice some of their road space to proper segregated cycle lanes. That’ll be a tough sell to the entitled driver.

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  5. From what I saw of roads in Scotland, there is never a shoulder for bicycles to ride on. We have some quiet rural roads like that where bicycles simply take the lane and cars, when they arrive, pass in the other lane. I can see how that would simply not work for you on busy roads.

  6. I have been cycling in Ipswich for 8 years (and 4 years previous to that in SE England/outskirts of London). Due to increasing responsibilities at work which is in a rural location and bad weather often necessitating a physical visit to remote sites I recently decided to learn to drive at a later stage in life; initially this was far more stressful than cycling, to the point I required medical treatment for the effects of it on my mental health!

    not only are many road layouts in Ipswich in the areas you mention not fit for purpose for cyclists, they are equally bad for any road user including pedestrians and motorists.

    There are too many pressure/conflict points that seem well intentioned but are a half baked attempt to emulate mainland Europe which doesn’t work in as well. These are made worse by psychological aspects of English culture (my driving instructor who is also a cyclist has noticed all of these and warns me of them).

    I can easily see how a vicious circle develops; due to the lack of other transport methods or their perceived risk, younger people in suburban/rural areas genuinely find it necessary to learn to drive at an early age. this often creates a lot of stress alongside exams/work/relationship pressures; then when they do get their cars/licenses feel the sense of entitlement due to the amount of effort required. Incidentally the same issues affect Dutch folk especially younger people (I can understand Dutch at least to the level of a young teenager) and similarly in Denmark but their public sector put a lot of effort into combating these social issues; it may mean spending a bit in the short term but clearly has long term benefits in reduced crash rates.

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