Putting pedals where their mouth is, supporters of the Walk Ride Bath active travel campaign group in Bath are holding the inaugural ‘University Challenge’ commuter race this Wednesday 16th June to prove that cycling IS a practical way around the city – even if there is a hill in the way.
They will be pitting bike against e-bike, e-scooter and car from two points and head off for the Bath University campus at Claverton Down.
We of course don’t know yet who’s going to win but the aim of the event is demonstrate that commuting by bike (or e-scooter) is a practical, fun and active way to get to the University, despite the fact the campus is, of course, up on top of Claverton Down, on the edge of the Cotswolds and only accessible from the River Avon valley by climbing one of Baths’ steep hills.
To prove that those hills are no blocker, especially if you’ve got an electric motor fitted to your bike or scooter, one set of commuters will be setting off from Larkhall Square and powering and pedalling up North Road, via either the beautiful Kennet and Avon canal towpath or the busy congested London Road.
And to prove that not all routes to the University involve hills, another set of commuters will be setting off from Odd Down Sports Ground, the same distance away, but of course without the hill to climb – they will be heading via Combe Down along past Ralph Allen School and Wessex Water’s Bath Headquarters.
Bath and North East Somerset Council have earmarked North Road for an active travel scheme that would restrict through-traffic and create a new safer cycle route. Andy Stewart, the organiser event said that one of the key reasons for the event was to demonstrate that the North Road is a route that cyclists use and one that would make a great part of a wider network of cycle routes and Liveable Neighbourhoods across the City.
Andy said “the Council are announcing next week what plans they have on the North Road scheme. Local opinion is mixed but the public consultation showed that across the City, and amongst those who travel to the University, there is wide support for the scheme”
Andy said “The reason that we’ve picked Odd Down as another start point is of course that lots of people who travel to and from the University live on the south side of Bath – students and staff – there are buses but we’d thought we’d show that it is a route you can ride, on the road, or through the path that’s been created through Rainbow Woods”.
Andy said “Walk Ride Bath has mapped a network of routes we’ve called The Scholars Way that connects the University campuses at Bath Spa Newton Park and Claverton Down with schools and residential areas across the south of the City” some sections exist already and others need to be created, one of the aims of the ride from Odd Down is to show where the route would go and what the missing links are”
Amongst the riders setting off from Odd Down will be Liz Matthews who runs her own business Cycle Buddy teaching adults and children to ride, she said how much she was looking forward to taking part “I’ve recently invested in an e-bike as part of my fleet. It’s an amazing bit of kit and means I can ride further and carry more than I would normally, including up the hills. I rode from my home in Norton St Philip up to Bath Racecourse for my Covid vaccine last week, all easily doable, without breaking into a sweat on one battery charge. The motor helps but I still need to pedal so it keeps me fit and active, it’s the best of all worlds”.
Part of the aim of the ride is to make cycling a safer option through encouraging car drivers to give cyclists and e-scooter riders more space.
Liz said “Feeling vulnerable is a big issue on any kind of bike. I teach people to ride safely and confidently. Lots of my clients are adults coming back to cycling on eBikes and normal bikes which is great. It would be great if more children and young adults could get about the City by bike but they and their parents are intimidated by the volume and speed of traffic and lack of safe routes”
Organiser Andy Stewart has even agreed to give up the bike and use his car. He said “I cycle more miles than I drive every year, and the bike is the most practical solution for most trips around town. Pre-Covid I was commuting 18 miles each way on the bike from Bath to north-Bristol, where I’m the Bicycle User Group Cycle Champion. I’m lucky and have a mostly traffic free route on segregated paths. I’d often pass colleagues stuck in the traffic on the Ring Road who’d set off at the same time as me. Yes, not everyone is fit enough to ride 36 miles a day but cycling even one day a week is doable and of course saves you 20% of your fuel bill and really improves your fitness. Regular cycle commuters live longer, are more productive and take less time off than their car-driving colleagues”.
Andy has also passed his Advanced Driving Test and has been a voluntary observer for the local advanced motoring group and is also using the event as an opportunity to promote safer driving. He said “People complain about cyclists but of course you are far more likely to cause injury to yourself and others as a driver. Almost 25,000 people were killed or seriously injured on Britain’s roads in the last year. Cars are getting safer. Driving standards are getting worse. Reducing the speed limit to from 30 to 20 on more roads has helped but too many drivers still speed – you might save a few seconds but what do you do with those seconds?”