New Forest Mass Cycling Events
This article documents my personal observations of Mass cycling events in 2016 and 2017.
This article has been written by Hugh Marchant to document my personal observations of Mass Cycling Events in the New Forest. The opinions expressed are not necessarily the views of Sway Parish Council. Latest update was at 14:00 on 10th April 2017.
On Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th April 2016, the Wiggle New Forest Spring Sportive brought some 4,000 cyclists onto the busy narrow lanes of the New Forest. On Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th September 2016, the Wiggle New Forest 100 Sportive brought 3,500 cyclists on a route that was notified to us just 3 days earlier. On Sunday 9th October the Gridiron 100km event was widely publicised and had a limit of 1,000 cyclists.
On Saturday and Sunday 8th and 9th April 2017, the Wiggle New Forest Spring Sportive brought some 4,500 cyclists onto the busy narrow lanes of the New Forest. Other events scheduled for 2017 include
18 June 2017 New Forest Bike Ride. Details at www.bike-events.com
1 July 2017 Brewin Dolphin New Forest Summer Sportive. Details at https://www.ukcyclingevents.co.uk/events/new-forest-summer-sportive/
16th and 17th September 2017 Wiggle New Forest 100 Sportive. Route goes through Tiptoe, along Mead End Road into Sway village and out again along Brighton Road.
8th October 2017 Gridiron 100. Details at http://www.bournemouthctc.org/events.htm
This section updated on 10th April 2017 based on my observations of the Wiggle New Forest Spring Sportive on Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th April 2017.
The following details were provided by the organisers in advance to the NFDC Safety Advisory Group Route and other details here [1Mb].
The route taken this year started at Somerley Estate, out over the Avon Causeway where the first divergence sent those following the short course to the North, and those following the Standard and Epic routes to the South and then East through Bransgore, Burley, Sway, Boldre, Pilley, Beaulieu and beyond.
I waited just before the second divergence at Beaulieu on both Saturday and Sunday for the first riders to appear then drove the route back to the start, filming the event using a dashcam at front and rear of my vehicle. I was then able to review the dashcam footage to count the numbers of cyclists and to annotate this fuller report 2017-04-10 Report on Wiggle 8&9 April 2017 [2Mb].
The total numbers of cyclists I counted were:
Grand Total 4,258
This immediately highlights the first major issue with this event in that the original safety briefing clearly stated that the total number each day was expected to be around 850.
Considering that I was unable to monitor cyclists following the short route until about an hour after the first of these started off, I think it is fairly safe to assume that the actual total must have exceeded 4,500. In any event, the numbers massively exceeded the 850 originally notified by the organisers.
The event organisers also stated that cyclists would be setting off between 07:40 and 10:00. I observed cyclists still leaving the Somerley estate at 10:45 on Saturday, and 10:30 on Sunday. This meant that timings publicised in advance would not have been sufficiently accurate for people to be able to avoid affected locations.
Signage again was an issue. It is simply not permissible to drive stakes into any SSSI, and a lot of the New Forest is just that. It is dangerous to use metal spikes to hold signs. New Forest Animals can suffer injury. And when removing signage that has been held onto wooden structures, it is important to remove all fixings - particularly such things as staples. Leaving sharp points sticking out from posts can cause injury to forest animals. 40 mph speed limit signs on the road past the Somerley estate were surely not official. Last year, similar signs were noted along the A35. I fully support the idea of lower speed limits on the roads used, but this must be done through the proper authorities. The general public are simply not authorised to go out and try to impose their own speed limits.
Along with these failures of organisation, I again noted a dismal lack of marshals. What will it take to get this issue resolved? Also I observed several issues relating to the activities of some of the marshals who were present.
Cyclist behaviour this time appeared worse than in last September's event. It seems that the higher the number of participants, the worse the behaviour. The worst problems occurred in restricted space - narrow lanes and pinch points. It seemed that participants believe everybody else on the road should give way to them. This hardly fosters good relations between cyclists and other road users.
Motorist behaviour also needs to be addressed. On several occasions drivers attempted to overtake in dangerous situations. This was often exacerbated by a total lack of forethought by cyclists. Groups of more than 6 cyclists are very difficult to overtake, and a large space is needed between groups for vehicles to move into.
Finally coming back to organisational failures, I noted two specific problems. One is that a very young child on a tiny bike was participating accompanied by an adult walking behind. This in itself was not a problem. The big problem was that they were on a 60 mph narrow rural road with no pavement, and the adult was wearing dark clothing. How could they have been permitted out there without at least a high-viz jacket?
The second organisational problem was on Sunday in Burley. How could the organisers have chosen a route that clashed with the Palm Sunday Church Parade?
As always I have several suggestions to offer to improve the situation for future events. These are documented at the end of my full report here 2017-04-10 Report on Wiggle 8&9 April 2017 [2Mb]. In essence I feel that changes are urgently required to laws relating to such events. Until that time, I urge the organisers to engage with all those communities that their events affect. Unless they come and talk to us, how can we possibly hope to come to some agreement on how these events should evolve.
Therefore I invite UK Cycling Events to contact Sway Parish Council.
This section was last updated on 9th October by Hugh Marchant based on observations of the Gridiron 100km event. Figures were obtained by reviewing footage extracted from a car "dashcam". The opinions expressed here are mine and not necessarily those of Sway Parish Council.
I followed the route in the opposite direction from the cyclists from the junction West of the A31 up near Bolderwood, all the way through Brockenhurst, Sway Road, B3055 then past Setley Pond, across the A337 and down Lower Sandy Down, Roydean Lane to the Red Lion, through Boldre, Pilley, across through Norleywood. East End, East Boldre, Hatchet Pond, along the B3054 then towards Bucklers Hard. At this point the numbers of cyclists had dwindled considerably so I assume I had reached the end of the line.
I counted just 695 cyclists, so presume that either the field was much smaller than expected, or that I somehow missed another 300. This is entirely possible given the fact that there were no course marshals at all, neither were there any course signs showing cyclists the route to take. Instead, each group of cyclists were expected to have memorised the route in advance.
While this meant there was no signs littering the forest, it was evident at several junctions that many cyclists were confused. Most notably (again - see Wiggle below) was the turning into the Rise off Sway Road Brockenhurst. I imagine a number of cyclists may have ended up going through the village centre and the ford. More worryingly were junctions like Setley Road off the A337. It was particularly dangerous to see cyclists turning round in the main A road to get back to that junction. Crossing the A35 along Ornamental Drive was also particularly dangerous as was negotiating the narrower lanes - particularly Lower Sandy Down which is just about wide enough for 1 car. Having given way to several cyclists, it was not particularly pleasant to find others who were somewhat unwilling to give way to me.
Other points of note were that, although the numbers of cyclists were within the limits of the New Forest Cycle Event Organisers' Charter, other aspects were not.
- None of the cyclists displayed any numbers at all either on the front or rear. However the charter is ambiguous on this apparently only requiring this if there are marshals!
- There were no feed stations. Each cyclist was expected to be self sufficient. There were 2 checkpoints marked on the map, however I did not see anybody at the first one (at Boldre War Memorial Hall). This was at 11:28am so maybe they had left assuming most of the cyclists had already passed?
- Similarly there were no toilet stations
- Was a speed restriction requested at the Ornamental Drive cross roads on the A35? I can't say for sure, but it seemed to me that the traffic was passing at its normal 60 mph.
- Did the organisers consult the local communities? The route went right through Brockenhurst, Boldre, Pilley, East Boldre. It also skirted Sway and I am fairly certain we received no direct communication.
- Did the organisers submit a detailed event plan, traffic management plan and risk assessment? The SAG website does not indicate either way.
- Did the organisers notify riding stables along the route?
- The instructions on the web site indicated that cyclists could choose their own starting time. This clearly does not guarantee that the field is spread out. Indeed, I noticed many large groups of ten or more cyclists, and even one of 20. As noted at other events, these numbers form a juggernaut that is impossible for other road users to negotiate safely.
- The organiser's website did not appear to encourage riders to turn up at staggered times. I would love to hear from anyone who attended the start. Was it very busy? email firstname.lastname@example.org with any information.
Having said all of this, in general the disruption was much less than with Wiggle. Individual cyclists were courteous with few exceptions. The main problem was with large groups occupying far too great a width of road along narrower sections. I drove the entire way expecting always to have to stop for cyclists. They often rode in such a way as evidently not expecting to encounter any traffic. It is such lack of foresight and consideration that makes mass cycling events so dangerous. This does not seem to happen when in smaller groups. It's as if there is a belief that there is more safety in numbers and hence they don't need to try.
This event seemed more like a leisurely cycle through the forest in contrast to Wiggle's ride against the clock. I often saw group leaders stop to ensure that following cyclists took the correct turn (this did not always happen sadly). The cyclists did not appear to be trying to cycle against the clock. They generally appeared to be far more relaxed. As noted previously, I saw far fewer than the 1,000 cyclists making it a far less disruptive event.
Penultimately and absolutely no fault of this event. A lone cyclist following me actually attempted to overtake while I was giving way to gridiron cyclists coming in the opposite direction on a particularly narrow section of road! Everyone seems to claim that the motorist is always at fault. Such behaviour suggests that cyclists can be equally inconsiderate. We all need to drive and cycle with more care and consideration for all road users.
Finally, it was particularly worrying to see an ambulance clearly on a call along the route in Boldre. I hope it was nothing serious and that it had nothing to do with this event.
This section of this article was last updated on 2nd October by Hugh Marchant based upon observations of the Wiggle New Forest 100 Sportive 2016 event on 24th and 25th September. The figures quoted here were obtained by reviewing footage extracted from a car "dashcam". The opinions expressed here are mine and not necessarily those of Sway Parish Council.
We first became aware that this cycling event was to come through Sway on Wednesday September 21st - just 3 days before the event. It was previously planned to be held in the North and West of the New Forest, but the organisers changed the route at the very last moment. Apparently the participants were made aware of this change before the New Forest District Council Safety Advisory Group, which was rather strange and distinctly "unfortunate". Here is the information that was provided at that time 2016-09-21 Wiggle NF 100 details [1Mb].
On Saturday September 24th and Sunday September 25th, I drove (in the opposite direction of the cyclists) about 28 miles of their route from close to the first course split West of the A31 up near Bolderwood, all the way down past Hurn to the Alpine Ski Centre along Matchams Lane. I timed things such that I was able to observe all the cyclists taking part.
From the dashcam footage I ascertained that on Saturday there were 2044 cyclists and on Sunday 1381. In addition there were a number who had stopped at Feed Stop 1 at Bashley Village Hall that I was unable to count, plus a smaller number on the one-way system at Sopley that I would have missed. This suggests that the total over the 2 days was somewhere in the region of 3,500 cyclists.
The behaviour of the cyclists was generally good, however there were a number for whom the idea of "giving way" was somewhat alien. This was particularly noticeable along Pound Lane going into Burley where there are a number of pinch points, along Ornamental Drive where there are a number of narrow bridges, and along Braggers Lane (south of Burley) which is particularly narrow along most of its length. At one pinch point along Pound Lane, 3 cyclists had stopped to let me through when a fourth decided to overtake them and squeeze past me in the pinch point itself. Some of this behaviour was simply unbelievable. But that was a minority of cyclists.
What was of greater concern was the apalling lack of marshals. I have commented on this at prior events and it seems that the message is simply not getting through. Along the entire 28 mile section I saw just 5 marshals:
- Crossroads where Ornamental drive crosses the A35
- The Rising Sun at Wootton
- Junction of Station Road and the Wootton Bridge Road
- Burley Cross
- Coming off the Avon Causeway
This almost (but not quite) agrees with the route risk assessment provided by the organisers, however if they saw what I observed, they would surely decide that this was ridiculously inadequate. Considering the lack of courtesy shown by some cyclists along the narrower sections, I would advise there needs to be a marshal at every pinch point and at every junction where cyclists may have to give way. This is to ensure that they slow down sufficiently at these dangerous sections.
However the single most dangerous point I encountered was in Brockenhurst where cyclists had to turn off Sway Road into The Rise. The lack of marshal and appallingly poor signage caught many cyclists by surprise. They were approaching the turn at far too great a speed resulting in several overshooting the junction. Of those who did manage to realise they needed to turn left, a large number were travelling so fast they were almost hitting the curb on the opposite side of the road. This was a significant danger to the cyclists and all other road users at this point. Any such places where cyclists would be travelling at speed and need to take a turning off the major road must be marshaled in future. Not to do so would be reckless.
Other problems of note were:
- Some 40 mph signs were placed on the main A35 road for about 1 mile either side of the Ornamental Drive junction. While a 40 mph speed limit would have been a very sensible precaution (something I noted lacking on the A337 this Spring), I suspect these signs were not official. Had there been any incident, unauthorised signage like this would no doubt have resulted in confusion over the legalities.
- Metal stakes were used to support route signage where there was no convenient alternative. This is highly dangerous to forest animals and must be discouraged in future. Also driving any stakes into SSSI and grazing is illegal.
To reiterate, on the whole the cyclists were courteous and caused no problem. There were a small number who failed to understand that it is sensible to share rather than insist on exerting a right of way. Also there were a number of times where I noted bunches of a dozen or more forming what I can only describe as an impassable juggernaut. That however is an inevitable consequence of the sheer numbers of cyclists involved.
One final note. The pre-event info provided by the organisers to the participants states "We ask all riders to read and observe the New Forest Cycling Code". It is now surely time that the organisers themselves are required to read and observe the New Forest Cycle Event Organisers' Charter.
Cycling is a delightful, very sensible and sustainable way of exploring the New Forest while causing minimal damage and pollution. As such, it is to be heartily welcomed. However this sort of mass cycling event staged with little or (in this case) no consultation with authorities and local communities is wholly different.
Contrast this Wiggle event with the way the New Forest Marathon is organised. There, all affected communities are fully engaged and most of the marshals are volunteers from those same communities. There are many more marshals along a far shorter route. Planning and consultation begins almost a year ahead of the event itself. Temporary road closure notices are publicised weeks or even months in advance. Some roads are partially coned off at various points to protect the competitors. In short there is a completely different feel to such an event.
Other cycling events cause little or no disruption. A recent "Ride with GPS" AMR Garmin ride saw 800 riders following a 47 mile route, much of it along the same roads as this latest Wiggle with no problems. This was largely due to the considerable amount of advance consultation with local communities which ensured that all danger points were highlighted in advance and hence properly marshaled.
On Sunday October 9th the Gridiron 100km event will see 1,000 riders covering much of the same route as the Wiggle New Forest Spring Sportive (see below). The organisers have signed up to the New Forest Cycle Event Organisers' Charter.
It is possible for reasonably large cycling events to be staged in such a way as to cause minimal disruption. But it does require consultation and proper planning.
This section was last updated at 08:24 on the 22nd April 2016 by Hugh Marchant based upon observations of the Wiggle New Forest Spring Sportive 2016 event on both days. I have previously written an article for Sway News regarding the Wiggle Sportive held in 2014 which can be viewed here [16kb]. The figures quoted here were obtained by reviewing footage extracted from a car "dashcam". The opinions expressed here are mine and not necessarily those of Sway Parish Council. I have downgraded my estimate of the total number of cyclists from 3,000 a day to 2,000 a day based upon further analysis of the figures taking into account my speed in relation to that of the cyclists. The organisers should know the exact figure.
On Saturday 9th April 2016 at 09:34 I drove (in the opposite direction to the cyclists) that part of the route between the junction of the A337 and Shirley Holmes road, and the junction of Holmesley Passage and Station Road Burley, a distance of some 7.5 miles (12 km). In the 18 minutes that it took me, 548 cyclists and 84 vehicles passed in the opposite direction.
On Sunday 10th April starting around an hour later at 10:48, I drove the same route in 16.5 minutes and counted 471 cyclists and 79 vehicles.
Also, later on the Saturday between 10:40 and 11:46 I drove a slightly different route in 2 stages, from the top of Coombe Lane Sway, via Longslade bottom car park, to the cross at Burley - a total distance of about 6.8 miles (10.9 km). Ignoring the stop to walk my dogs at Longslade bottom, total driving time was 17 minutes and I counted 333 cyclists and 113 vehicles.
Extrapolating from all these figures in the knowledge that some 24 miles away from Sway the Wiggle riders were leaving at staggered starting times between 07:40 and 10:00, it is reasonably safe to assume that there were in the region of 2,000 cyclists participating each day. This is similar to numbers reported in recent years and a smaller number than in the earlier years.
Over that distance, I saw just 2 event marshals, one by Springhill Nurseries about 50 metres from the A337 junction on Shirley Holmes,
and the other 150 metres away from the B3055 junction on the unnamed road that goes past the Longslade car parks and Setthorns campsite.
Both were waving flags to warn of the junction ahead but neither appeared to be in the best location to be of any assistance to the riders. This is borne out by my observation of cyclists apparently missing the turn off the A337 to Boldre/Pilley. I also saw another group cycling down towards Wootton Bridge suggesting a need for more marshals.
In previous years, a temporary 40 mph speed restriction had been placed on the short section of the A337 where the cyclists have to cross. This year cyclists were having to contend with 50 mph traffic. I did not observe any particular incident, but clearly this is not ideal.
The main problem with this event is when cyclists and frustrated motorists coincide. I witnessed a number of near misses with motorists attempting to pass cyclists on the narrow lanes just as I approached. Many would blame the motorists, but my opinion is that the root cause is neither the fault of the individual cyclist nor entirely that of the motorist. It is the simply the fact that our roads are not suited to such a large event.
My general impression of the behaviour of the cyclists was very positive - certainly better than in earlier years. They did not appear to be riding as many abreast, and there were longer gaps between groups than previously. Also, it seemed they were not travelling as fast past grazing ponies.
However there were a small number of notable exceptions.
- The cyclist I encountered later on Saturday (11:33) as I came over the brow of the hill towards Longslade Bottom car park, who was well over my side of the road trying to overtake a car that was stuck behind slower cyclists coming up the hill.
- Several cyclists along Shirley Holmes who were rather slow to move to their side of the road on encountering me. One even appeared to be deliberately blocking a following vehicle from passing.
Completely unrelated to the Wiggle cyclists, there was a somewhat sick pony lying close to the road in a most unnatural position on the verge by Burley Golf Course. I first noticed it when travelling the route a little later on Saturday morning (at 11:44) and on seeing it in the same position on my return 15 minutes later, I stopped in order to telephone for assistance. It was in a distressed state trying to stand and almost immediately lying back down again, even losing control of its bowels at one stage. I called 101. Another driver managed to contact the Forestry Commission and stayed around to wait for someone to arrive. Since then the Clerk to Burley Parish Council has heard from the Verderers that "the pony in question had a mild case of colic, and was probably seen to be rolling frantically trying to ease its belly ache. The illness was not caused by the Wiggle event."
A small update on 17th April. I happened to be walking at the junction of Coombe Lane and Pitmore Lane Sway this afternoon and discovered one of the Wiggle signs lying in the road. Now, it could well be that this was the only one along the entire 85 mile route that the organisers failed to collect after the event, but it that were the case, it seems very strange that it was precisely where I would happen to find it. A more reasonable explanation is that there are probably a number of these still needing to be collected. It is in my porch if anyone would care to claim it.
We should all encourage the use of bicycles rather than motor vehicles to access the New Forest. That is environmentally sound. Individuals and small groups of cyclists are clearly sustainable. Even larger club groups of say 20-50 cyclists should be welcomed when following the New Forest Cycling Code. However 2,000 cyclists each day all following the same route clearly poses a problem. Anyone caught up in this will inevitably become frustrated, which can lead to incidents.
Anything this large must require proper marshalling, a sensible choice of route and even where appropriate, some form of traffic management.
The choice of route this year was "interesting". The "epic" route meant that Palace Lane Beaulieu saw large groups of cyclists travelling in both directions. I decided not to attempt to investigate this further as I did not wish to contribute to any congestion, but I would be interested to hear from anybody who did. I understand that there was also an Aston Martin rally going on at the same time, so I wonder how that all worked out.
Although the basic details of the event were notified in advance to the NFDC Safety Advisory Group and published on their Public Events List, conversations with various people affected suggest that, in contrast to last year, very few people had been informed in advance this year that the event was to be staged. Last year, the New Forest Equestrian Association provided a map of yards to Nigel Matthews Head of Recreation Management at NFNPA and chair of the New Forest Cycling Liaison Group, and those along the Wiggle route were subsequently contacted by UKCE Ltd. This notification appears not to have happened this year and hence a number of people were taken by surprise. Since the organisers do not to conform to the New Forest Cycle Events Organisers' Charter which requests "please accept a maximum of 1,000 riders", failure to notify can cause major disruption to other planned activities along the route.
One final observation. Each cyclist apparently pays £35 to enter this event. Setting aside the fact that they could all cycle this route totally free of charge, it should be evident that gross revenue is somewhere in the region of £140,000. I would like to see more of that used on more appropriate marshalling and in engaging the local communities. Other organisations such as the New Forest Marathon handle things quite differently.