Safety concerns around amateur cycle events

  • Participation in cycling is soaring, but alongside the public health and environmental benefits, this also brings increased risk of cycling collisions
  • Personal injury claims related to cycling accidents can run into several millions of pounds
  • The growing popularity of amateur, unregulated cycling events is something local authorities need to be aware of

The number of people in Britain cycling regularly has risen by 1.7 million over the past decade.

A range of factors have contributed to this increase, from the popularity of Cycle to Work and bike-sharing schemes, to the high-profile successes of sportsmen and women such as Sir Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Laura Kenny.

Cycling can offer enormous health and environmental benefits, and many local authorities have sought to encourage participation through local cycling schemes.

The volume and size of personal injury claims related to cycling collisions, however, is a significant concern. Cyclists who survive serious collisions frequently require many years – and sometimes a lifetime – of complex treatment and rehabilitation.

As a result, cycling injury claims can run into many millions of pounds, and Zurich Municipal is currently handling several claims relating to serious cycling injuries.

Why amateur cycling events are a cause for concern

One particular issue for local authorities to be aware of is the increase in the number of amateur, non-competitive cycling events, which bring hundreds, and sometimes even thousands, of extra riders on to the highway at the same time.

According to British Cycling, some 4,000 competitive cycling events take place each year. However, there are many more non-competitive events, with which British Cycling has no affiliation. These may include local charity fundraisers, for example, or local initiatives designed to promote fitness and wellbeing.

Steve Thomas, Team Leader – Casualty Practice, Zurich Risk Engineering, says: “As a local authority, it’s really important you are aware of these kinds of events, because if there is an accident, claims lawyers are likely to look to blame you for the conditions of the highway.

“When I speak to local authority customers, however, very few have a good level of knowledge or understanding about amateur events taking place in their area.”

The increase in the popularity of home exercise systems means that many of those taking part in such events will build up their fitness in their garage or living room, rather than out on the road, where they would learn the nuances of a particular stretch of highway.

As a result, says Steve: “Many of these riders will have little or no experience of the road conditions, or of riding alongside large numbers of other cyclists.

“The other big issue is that even though non-competitive events are subject to less regulation than competitive cycling races, in reality, there is still likely to be a competitive element to them. Riders get to see their times on a website, and they want to achieve personal milestones – this only increases the risk of a collision.”

The importance of coordination with cycle event organisers

As an experienced cyclist – who has participated in, officiated and helped to organise numerous race events over the last 30 years – Steve knows the importance of prior planning and coordination.

He says: “With the bigger, professionally run events, there is usually close coordination between the organisers and the relevant local authority or authorities. However, that’s rarely the case with amateur events.

“If a local authority doesn’t know a cycling event is taking place, it won’t have a chance to assess the suitability of the route or remedy any defects along the highway.”

In addition, organisers of amateur cycling events may not take planned road maintenance into consideration.

Steve says: “A local authority would not want hundreds of cyclists using a road it has just surface dressed, for example, as loose chippings could pose a danger. However, that’s the kind of issue that could arise without proper coordination.

“As a local authority, it’s not enough to just rely on event organisers coming forward with relevant information. You need to proactively seek out information about events going on in your area.”

There are a number of ways of going about this. As well as searching for information online, you could also contact local cycling clubs, in addition to keeping a calendar of amateur cycling events, and a database containing the organisers’ contact details, so you can keep track of events year after year.

The value of Safety Advisory Groups

Steve also encourages local authorities to make the most of Safety Advisory Groups (SAGs) – multi-agency bodies that can source and share information about events that could have public safety implications, from fireworks displays to cycling events.

“Although Safety Advisory Groups don’t have any statutory powers, they provide a useful forum for discussing any relevant safety considerations, and with more and more charity bike rides going on, this is where SAGs really come into their own,” he says.