The tyranny of the cycle track

Stop turning beautiful country paths into grim cycle routes

27 April 2013

If Joni Mitchell were writing her song ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ today, about the ruination of the natural world by the march of modernity, the lyrics might run something like this: ‘They paved paradise, put up a cycling route.’ Not content with demanding cycling lanes through our towns and cities, the cycling lobby — by which I don’t mean old maids bicycling to communion, I mean the Lycra brigade — are starting to turn the countryside into a surface on which they can pedal themselves into an endorphin-rich sweat as well, it seems.

The tarmacking of a six-mile track through unspoilt Warwickshire countryside near my parents’ home is the latest evidence of this. The Kenilworth Greenway, as it is now known, was a disused railway line before. As a child I remember blissful afternoons spent blackberry-picking along the grassy track bordered by wild banks of brambles. The dogs ran free, the horses cantered past. The track stretched from Kenilworth to the next village of Berkswell, with woods on one side and farming country on the other.

But it seems the good earth wasn’t good enough for the cyclist, nor for council bureaucrats, who think the countryside should offer more opportunities for ‘all members of our society’, including events where children can ‘get involved!’ — with a jaunty exclamation mark. And so, with the help of government funds and Lottery money, the track has been turned into a ‘multi-user natural pathway corridor’ or ‘linear country park’, as the website variously refers to it. Instead of a long grassy track stretching to the horizon, there is now a shiny black runway littered with ‘do’ and ‘don’t’ signs. Only a council could convert a green pathway into a black pathway and then call it a Greenway.

In reality, there is nothing multi-user about it, either. Horses can’t be ridden on it, because you can’t canter on tarmac. People can’t walk their dogs on it in peace, on account of the cyclists speeding up from behind — Whoosh! ‘Aaaagh! Christ, where’s the dog? Cydney!’

On the positive side, you can now walk on the path in Louboutin heels. It is very much the sort of pristine country ramble that would appeal to those who moan about their Hunters getting mud on them.

And of course it fulfils all kinds of diversity quotas. Here is what Warwickshire county council has to say about it (readers who suffer allergic reactions to extreme political correctness should look away now):

‘The Greenway, as well as being a linear Country Park, is a permissive bridleway which means that it can be used by pedestrians, cyclists and horse-riders, who will need to obtain an annual permit (see below).

‘The track is segregated with a natural grass track for horses and a firm track — made from recycled materials and Derbyshire limestone — for other users.


‘Open 365 days of the year.’

Good of them. ‘Admission: Free.’ But not to horse-riders, as explained. When I rang the ominously entitled countryside recreation manager at Warwickshire county council to find out more, Stuart Ickeringill was not there but the lady who answered the phone asked: ‘What element of the Greenway are you inquiring about?’

‘The tarmacking-of-miles-of-countryside element of it,’ I said.

‘You mean, the establishment of the Greenway,’ she said.

‘No,’ I said, ‘I mean, the tarmacking of miles of countryside.’

‘Fine,’ she said. ‘He will get back to you.’

In fact, Mr Ickeringill did seem to understand my concerns when he called back later. He explained that there had been a lot of discussion about the tarmac not looking very nice. ‘We even thought about spraying it with cow muck to make it look more natural,’ he revealed.

‘Did you ever think about not putting it down in the first place?’ I asked.

He explained that a lot of disabled people use the track now and that it ‘reconnects communities’. But I can’t think why anyone, disabled or otherwise, would spend two hours walking or wheeling themselves to the neighbouring village when they can drive there in ten minutes on the A452. So who is the tarmac really for?

The Greenway was built with £400,000 of Heritage Lottery funding, £400,000 from the government’s local transport plan and a donation of around £160,000 from a body called Sustrans, which was a driving force behind the project. Sustrans describes itself as ‘a leading UK charity enabling people to travel by foot, bike or public transport for more of the journeys we make every day’.

Sustrans is responsible for the National Cycle Network. It has created over 10,000 miles of signposted cycle routes throughout the UK, often through ‘green corridors’ like disused rail lines. Its patrons include Neil and Glenys Kinnock. It was formed by a group of cyclists in Bristol in 1977, and called Cyclebag then. It says it is motivated by ‘emerging doubts about the desirability of over-dependence on the private car’.

But here’s an interesting statistic: 35 per cent of usage on the urban sections of the cycle network is classed as leisure.

The Kenilworth Greenway is NCN pathway number 523, and one of 81 rural paths supposedly for the high-minded aim of connecting communities. But I’m not sure this is about facilitating people who use bicycles to actually get somewhere at all. As far as I can see, the only people riding their bikes on the Greenway are the men in Lycra. They hold races and rallies on it on Sundays. They speed past in their pelotons, shouting at dog-walkers to get out of the way as they do those weird time trials whereby groups of them compete against each other to see who can achieve the most preposterous feats of physical exertion without actually having a blood transfusion. They certainly don’t look like they are using the path to get to the next village to visit their Auntie Beryl. They look like the same helmeted spider-men who spend their weekends staging mini Tour de Frances on narrow lanes everywhere you go in the countryside nowadays.

Martyn Brunt, NCN development manager, said: ‘If we are seeing that kind of usage then that’s very disappointing. We have had incidents of that on other routes and we have published a code of conduct making clear it is not priority cycling. We want to encourage leisure and utility cycling, not sports cycling,’ he said.

Clearly, those who like to feel the earth beneath their wellies need to fight back. If we don’t, we might soon find (to paraphrase Joni again) that the only mud left is in a mud museum, where they charge all the people £1.50 to see it.

Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000454140899 Peter James Roscoe

    Stupid article. The lycra brigade wouldn’t be seen dead on a cycle lane.

    • Gwaillor

      Of course they wouldn’t. They prefer riding through red traffic lights or on pavements with a cheery “f*** you!” to any pedestrians who happen to get in the way. It’s hard to think of a more loathsome combination than self-righteous cyclists and jobsworths from the local council.

      • HJ777

        Given that motorised vehicles kill hundreds and seriously injure thousands of pedestrians every year (whereas the statistics show that it is rare for cyclists to do either), you seem to be confused about where the real problem lies.

        And about the red lights. My local paper has a story today about a driver who jumped red lights and killed two innocent teenagers as a result. When was the last time a cyclist did that?

        • Eddie

          Prevarication is a wunnerful thing, innit? Why not mentioned utterly unconnected events and subjects to try and diminish the utter glaring truth of what the poster has said so rightly. Namely, that many cyclists are a menace -cycling with self-righteous arrogance up one way streets and going through red lightsa sis that is OK!

          Let’s get the police arresting cyclists who do this with the dedication they show in hounding racists or those who say rude words on emails and Twitter.

          Isn’t it time cyclists obeyed tyhe law and the rules of the road as specified in The Highway Code; that pedestrians always have right of way.

          People have been injured and killed by cyclists (do some research, you ninnie!). But anyway, cycling is very dangerous in cities so a lot of people – especially women – shouldn’t even try it (too indecisive, which can cause death…)

          • HJ777

            Do you delight in exhibiting your ignorance in public?

            Total pedestrian casualties 2001-09

            Killed by cycles: 18

            Seriously injured by cycles: 434

            Killed by cars: 3,495

            Seriously injured by cars: 46,245

            Figures apply to Great Britain. Source: Department for Transport


          • Timple

            I think you just proved HJ777s point.

          • chazza

            actually, not only do most cyclists obey the law, but they also detest the sort of cyclist you are referring to. But let’s keep this in context: just as the vast majority of car drivers do so sensibly and carefully, a small irresponsible minority does not. The only difference is – as the statistics quoted just below your message point out – the consequences of bad car driving are far more serious.

  • Flintshire Ian

    Tarmacking multi use paths always seems to lead to trouble. Where dog walkers, pedestrians and mountain bikers have happily co-existed on rough off road paths, the peace is ruined by tarmacking and the creation of a smooth surface that is fast enough for the thin wheel time trials brigade. Adding a bell (isn’t it still a legal requirement to have a working bell on a bike?) and using it adds too much weight and wastes energy. If you don’t believe me, try the multi user community path between Chester and Deeside some time, or read the letters in the local press from walkers who have nearly been mowed down by the “get out of the way” riders.
    (I am a mountain biker and a dog walker)

    • Timple

      I use that Chester path and it’s one of the best things about Chester. Its gets lots of use with walkers, dogs and cyclists enjoying a car free route through almost the centre of Chester. In the vast majority of cases everyone gets on fine. I just wish they would continue paving the canal path out past Waverton so it got more use. As others have said there are 1000s of unpaved footpaths in Cheshire for those who enjoy mud!

    • arowland

      “Isn’t it still a legal requirement to have a working bell on a bike?”
      No. Useful perhaps on multi-user paths like this, but a cheery ‘hello’ or ‘bike approaching’ is louder, friendlier, cheaper and weighs less 😉

      • Flintshire Ian

        I am a non aggressive bike bell user and I smile a lot and say “thank you”. The friendly bit is most important and recognising that the paths are multi use :)

    • dude590

      Time trials take place on roads, not bridlepaths – that’s why the governing body is called the Road Time Trials Council (RTTC). And having a bell isn’t a legal requirement. The requirement is that you must give an audible warning, which your voice is able to do.

  • Picquet

    Shades of ‘On the the Bummel'; if there’s a mountain pathway, pave it, bridge small streams, site benches and waste bins along it at suitable intervals, put up signs forbidding things and place a restaurant at the end where bratwurst can be eaten.

  • John

    Err how is it “unspoilt countryside” if it used to be a RAILWAY LINE?!

  • http://twitter.com/bbcgoogle Rockin Ron

    What a pathetic and mean spirited article – just one long whine. This reads like a B movie Liz Jones.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gosia-Yar/100000190399998 Gosia Yar

    The wheelchair brigade quite like a bit of Tarmac, because it allows them to get out into the countryside which is otherwise inaccessible

    Of cause the happiness of others counts for nothing against the irritation of a selfish Author who cannot bear to compromise over one single path amongst the many available to her.

  • http://twitter.com/ianwalkeruk Ian Walker

    They’re not big fans of the Highway Code, so I can’t imagine that a ‘code of conduct’ is going to trouble them much

    • dude590

      “They” being car drivers I presume?
      Just watched the One Show piece on motorists using mobile phones. 18 counted in half an hour along a single road.

  • Andrew_RH

    The tyranny of 140,000 miles of footpaths, off limits to people riding bicycles.

  • Andrew_RH

    The busy A34 quasi-motorway leading south to Winchester from Newbury was created by tarmacking the Didcot (DN&SR) disused railway line.

    In 2011, 44,930 vehicles passed through the Hampshire countryside by driving* on it.

    Where the A34 diverges from the old train route, such as north of Whitchurch, there are reminders of what the path was once like: very much as described in the opening paragraphs of this article.

    *footnote: no bicycles counted on it in 2010 or 2011, and just 2 in each of 2008 and 2009. See DfT ‘traffic counts’ statistics.

  • suquman

    Melissa, hop on your bike and see what it feels like: http://iitm.be/ccyclists

  • http://twitter.com/pete_biggs Pete Biggs

    Well I’m really not sure where to start here, there’s so much wrong with this wrong-headed article. Unsurfaced cycle tracks are fine for mountain bikers, but less fine for the majority of day-to-day cyclists who don’t want to feel like they’ve been using a pneumatic drill after a bike ride. On the continent, the majority of cycle lanes (including in the countryside) are surfaced, but nobody ever seems to complain about ‘tarmacing over the countryside’ over there – or in this case, a disused railway line. So what has actually been tarmaced over? A former piece of industrial infrastructure. I once did some work experience as a child in the footpaths department of Warwickshire County Council, and I can assure that if you want to feel the mud beneath your wellies there are literally thousands of unsurfaced footpaths in Warwickshire for you to enjoy.

    More pertinently, Warwickshire is unfortunately full of thousands of motorists, driving their polluting, gas guzzling cars down TARMAC roads, and ruining the countryside for anyone who wants to enjoy it – walkers, cyclists and horse riders alike. If surfaced paths such as these encourage people out of their cars and onto bikes, isn’t a tiny bit of tarmac a price worth paying?

  • George Riches

    Elitist nonsense.

    I too used the path in the past – on a bicycle over the “rough stuff”. I would meet no-one on the route.

    Now it’s used by hundreds of local people; mostly walkers but some on bicycles. The only cycle clubs I know of who use it are the local Breeze group – who are 100% female! It’s not for sports cycling.

    Ms Kite might be upset that people can canter their horses along the path – but what sort of effect woul that have on the many dog-walkers who regualrly use the path (in cycling circles the National Cycling Network is often called the National Canine Network as tribute to its majority users).

    The path is also used by teenagers to travel between Kenilworth and Berkswell – not everyone owns a car and is allowed to use it! nstaed of driving from kenwiwoth

  • George Riches

    Once the path is completed, instead of clogging up the roads, commuters will be able to cycle from Kenilworth to Berkswell Station and then catch the train to the heart of Birmingham.

  • HJ777

    “But here’s an interesting statistic: 35 per cent of usage on the urban sections of the cycle network is classed as leisure.”

    And what is wrong with that? I strongly suspect that a similar proportion of car journeys are in pursuit of leisure activities.

    As for this track and horses – if left as a mud track, it only requires a bit of rain and a few horses using it and it will quickly become unsuitable for any other users.

  • HJ777

    “But I can’t think why anyone, disabled or otherwise, would spend two hours walking or wheeling themselves to the neighbouring village when they can drive there in ten minutes on the A452.”

    Not everyone has a car. And if it takes 10 minutes by car (assuming no road congestion), there is no reason why a bike shouldn’t do it comfortably in 20 or 25 minutes.

  • Ribaneray

    Its nothing to do with cyclists or the “lycra brigade”, its been resurfaced by the council so disabled people can use it!

    Whilst anti-cycling rants are quite popular, they usually focus on interesting topics like tax, red lights, pavements, licenses and numberplates and so on, this one really is stretching things a little too far.

  • diggerywhiggery

    If you can’t find a decent argument to justify a daft decision there’s a simple solution. Say it benefits “the disabled” and no-one can argue with you without looking like a biggot. The poor disabled people of this country are the human shields of all manner of bureaucratic and political stupidity.

    • http://twitter.com/mikedcastle Mike Castle

      If only it were so. Unfortunately the “poor disabled” are now being treated less as the disabled they are, and more like criminals as they have their benefits stripped away when being unable to work, and left to spiral into a depression until they kill themselves.

      More increasingly I’m seeing people respond to “it’s for the disabled” with comments about how they’re just lying scroungers and they should work like everyone else, despite the fact they clearly can’t work like the rest of us.

      • diggerywhiggery

        What’s this got to do with the article or my post? You’re looking for a place to rant and the fact I used the word disabled was a good enough excuse.

        Incidentally, my mother was registered disabled for 15 years following two back operations and was depressed for 15 years. Thanks to a charity that helps disabled people find work she has now found a job, works three days a week, receives less benefits, is no longer depressed and is enjoying life again. Take your hysterical assumptions elsewhere.

  • http://twitter.com/notnix nick porter

    Rain+horses+natural path surface= ankle deep or worse mud , the Romans worked that out a long time ago

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Smith/100003485567217 John Smith

    Where is the tarmac this is a picture of gravel?
    Is there anything correct or sensible in this article?

  • http://twitter.com/BarefootLady Barefoot Lady

    I wonder if the author gets so angry when miles of country side and trees are bulldozed to build motorways…. Just wondering.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paul.sirmon.7 Paul Sirmon

    Hmm, so this is a tarmac path now, although the council clearly describe it as have a compacted stone surface with a soft verge for horse riders.(“The track is segregated with a natural grass track for horses and a firm
    track — made from recycled materials and Derbyshire limestone — for
    other users.” council’s description) Has the author actually used the path since it was resurfaced? Doesn’t sound like it

  • http://opusthepoet.wordpress.com/ Opus the Poet

    There is a level of traffic, that varies depending on if the traffic is humans on foot, horseback, bicycles, or motor vehicles, where paving is more environmentally-friendly than local dirt or gravel. Since my personal experience with civil engineering was more than 35 years ago and my reaction was mostly “targets, how to destroy?” as my field of engineering was on a completely different tangent, I can’t say what that level of traffic is. I do know that given lots rain like y’all get over there in Jolly Olde the levels of bicycle and horseback traffic that trip the switch from pavement bad to pavement good are much lower than they are here in the arid wastes of Texas, and that there are paths here in TX that would be better given a little concrete or asphalt.

    • Sharon Clifford

      So those in wheelchair should be denied access to a path and piece of countryside. Are you allowed to have such prejudices. As a cyclist and a nature lover I have seen friends end up in wheelchairs and know only to well how it could happen to anyone of us. Why, if I enjoy the countryside and should I become wheelchair-bound, should I have access to the countryside denied to me…. perhaps we should look at re-opening the railway line… this piece of countryside would be in accessible to all then!

      • http://opusthepoet.wordpress.com/ Opus the Poet

        Umm, what are you on about? The stipulation was made in the article that pavement was bad. I was countering that depending on the level of traffic and the kind of traffic pavement can be the lesser of two evils. When the traffic is people in wheelchairs then obviously unless they have a special off-road wheelchair pavement is better than local dirt.

  • Luke Miller

    What reactionary tosh. The countryside is full of rights of way, when have you lifted a finger to protect them?

  • http://www.facebook.com/neil.burrows Neil Burrows

    Part of our local walk (Urmston Meadows) is tarmac with the result that I was sent into apoplexy last Autumn when confronted with a deafening leaf blower during an otherwise idyllic dog walk. And my daughter picked up an eye infection from all the horse muck flinging off* her front wheel. Now it is to be expanded with a tram stop, but the barriers to wheelchairs remain.

    * [‘off of’ if you’re Stateside]

  • http://www.facebook.com/george.debono.33 George Debono

    Dear Melissa, how sad your article is. That a country path is hogged
    by the cyclists is indicative of the ghastly self righteousness and intolerance
    of all road (and, now, path) users in the UK. For decades the car was top of the food chain, one level down came cyclists and a further level down came the pedestrian – and they all hate each other. This is the nub of the problem.

    The battle for supremacy between cars and bicycles goes on in British
    roads and streets. Your essay merely indicates that this has that this has spread down one level to country
    paths. It is now between bicycles and
    wellington boots – with neither showing acceptance of each other 0 the mutual
    hatred goes on….

    Motorways apart, I have rarely witnessed self-righteousness on roads,
    cyclists and motor vehicles during during 30 years residence in three European countries (Switzerland, Denmark
    and Germany). Here people share roads happily and symbiotically.

    What you have written incriminates both yourself and cyclists
    because you expresses as much intolerance
    to cyclists as the other way around.

    But I do agree that dressing up as a lycra-clad gladiator for what
    should be a gentle cycle along a country path is ludicrous.

  • I love HS2

    This cycle path is part of the planned route of the wonderful HS2, which will “solve” the argument.

    • http://twitter.com/Yellowmag Yellow Mag

      Not all of it, and I am sure the bit that is affected by HS2 can be redesigned to run alongside it so we can race the high speed trains in our lycra. Can’t wait

  • Bob Franklin

    Quote ” Horses can’t be ridden on it, because you can’t canter on tarmac”
    So you don’t want cyclists (approx 12-14stone) going briskly or fast on it but you want to be able to charge along on your horse how much does that weigh and more importantly how much damage will that do if involved in a collision with a pedestrian.

  • Chris

    I’m confused – why are dog walkers ok with horses cantering past but not with cyclists whizzing past?

    Seeing as a horse at canter will do more damage than a cyclist – that was the whole point of cavalry regiments, and riot police don’t ride bicycles to control crowds – what is the point of celebrating one dangerous high speed careening object but condemning the other.

    As someone who has ridden both horses and bicycles, I feel confident in saying that I would wish to ride neither at any speed around dogs – I can not imagine any sensible rider who would. The damage you will sustain when you fall off (the bike crashes or the horse rears) would be far too great. The wonderful thing about a bicycle, however, is that I know that it can be stopped at will, and it will not kick out or buck if startled by a dog – there will be no metal hooves smashing into someone else’s head. As much as I like horses, I would far more prefer having a cyclist approaching me at speed than a horse rider.

    May I suggest that the writer’s prejudices have over come her common sense?

  • Waft

    What a depressing article. It’s odd how hate-filled people can be over the smallest things. People enjoy cycling. People enjoy walking. Basic consideration for each other isn’t rocket science. And the alarmist crap about cyclists killing people on a daily basis would be laughable but for that fact people genuinely believe it…

  • Bippy

    I’ve been along this path on a bike and there is no route I can think of which the ‘lycra brigade’ would be less interested in. Yes, it’s ideal for family cycling especially with very small kids, but due to being crowded with dogs, walkers, etc. it’s no place for people doing time trials. When I do my event training, this is the last place I would come and I would be very surprised if any actual serious cyclists would actively choose this route above going on the roads, which are the obvious choice.

    If the author wants to feel the earth beneath her wellies, there are thousands of miles of actual muddy countryside she could be tramping through, rather than trudging grudgingly along this track, which, as others have pointed out, used to be a railway line, so its conversion of use hardly constitutes part of a wider plan to industrialise the countryside at all.

  • Grumpy_Old_Green

    Cyclists have voluntarily left their natural historic habitat (roads) and are now invading the territory belonging to walkers (paths). That this should be aided by councils using public money is a disgrace. They should be forced back on the roads.

    More seriously, our society faces an issue of conflicting leisure pursuits, either competing for the same space or irritating the hell out of people. Round here the leisure cyclists arrive in 4×4’s, and shoo innocent walkers returning from the farmers’ market out of their way

  • Peter

    This article is elitist selfish nonsense. Britain needs more cycle lanes to cater for the many cyclists who are looking for safe routes through both towns and countryside. The minority who choose to ride horses have plenty of other options. Melissa Kite get a life and allow the rest of us to make the most of ours.

  • http://twitter.com/Yellowmag Yellow Mag

    They have now put gravel on top of the tarmac so it not only looks more rural again but it is even less racing-bike-friendly. This path is an amazing and incredibly well used resource for all sorts of people and anyone who is not filled with joy by it is a miserable misanthrope.

  • Peter Scott

    The Greenway is a superb resource for Kenilworth. This article is totally inconsistent with what happens on the ground here and helps nobody.

    I commute on the Greenway every day at various times of the day, in all weathers. Like the author here I’d prefer if only I was allowed to use it, but it is great to see so many people of so many kinds cycling, walking and just enjoying.

    There is always a problem on shared paths between dog owners and cyclists. As a cyclist I could complain that most dog walkers don’t keep their dog “on a short lead or under very close control” as the regulations say, and signs imply. About once a day I have to avoid a pooch that is just wandering about, like dogs do. It does not bother me so much. Most people let their dogs go, but are considerate about it. It is common for people to apologise to me for getting in the way. DIng ding goes my bell. “No problem…thanks!” I say. It is a shared path, Melissa. Users really should keep their dogs under control for others who are sharing the path. No sane cyclist wants to hit a dog.

    Melissa, no part of the Greenway is big enough for a “peleton”. This is just wrong. Maybe a group on shiny mountain bikes irritated someone once. A group of dog walkers irritated me once because they were deliberately walking across the whole path, ignored by little bell and refused to get out of the way. That does not mean that everyone is a selfish idiot.

    I’m horrified at the author’s attitudes to disabled people. She “can’t think why anyone, disabled or otherwise, would spend two hours walking or wheeling themselves to the neighbouring village when they can drive there in ten minutes on the A452.” This is worthy of a Private Eye satire. Maybe disabled people just have the right to enjoy a tranquil walk/roll/push? Maybe they do not have a car? Maybe they don’t have a carer or friend who can drive them? Maybe they are part of a group of disabled people being guided up the path by nurses and volunteers (this happens b.t.w.). Maybe they are just a townie like me who wants to enjoy a little easy countryside.

  • scorp888

    So you’re complaining about people propelling themselves along, rather than hurtling along on horses?

    Given horses are animals and by their nature unpredictable, I know what I’d rather get run over by…it’s not the horse cantering?

    Your story makes no sense, why would you not have had to get out of the way of a 1/2 ton of horse cantering along, when you now have to a cyclist? At least the cyclists have bells…

    I also note you assume everyone has a car or can use or afford a car, what about those that can’t.

    £99 buys you a basic new bike.

    £99 barely buys you the first months payment of even the smallest car.

    Let alone the environmental impact of the car vs bike.

    Sorry your sunday walk got spoilt, how about walking you know in the countryside up things and down dale, instead of a disused railway line?

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