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Video footage shows what it's really like to cycle around Belfast

The police last week stumbled with some well-meaning safety advice for cyclists, but as our reporter's videos show, life on two wheels can be interesting.

By Jonny Bell

Published 16/11/2015

Commuting on two wheels can have its ups and its downs. There are those who feel you should not be there, those that don't know you are there and those too much in a rush to wait.

But if more people did it, traffic would be lighter making commuting less stressful and give workers an early morning boost for going to work and you might just live longer.

"Groups of cyclists should travel in single file, not two or three abreast,’ was the advice posted across multiple PSNI Facebook posts last week which caused a stir.

They’ve been boasting about their 450,000 followers recently, so it’s fair to say quite a number of people saw, read and interacted with the post.

The Highway Code advises for cyclists not to ride more than two abreast and to reduce to single file on narrow or busy roads and when going around bends.

Not quite as definitive as what the PSNI stated. They later said the advice in the Highway Code was “woolly” during the BBC's Stephen Nolan radio show.

The posts were later edited, the sentence removed and police admitted the information was "wrong".

Much of the reaction, however, could be summed up by one comment: "If cyclists should ride single file, how come the police don’t clamp down?"

Another added: "Please don't give all the haters more excuses."

One cyclist, who asked not to be named, told this newspaper that while out with his club, they always travelled two abreast.

Cycling through Belfast.
Cycling through Belfast.
Cycling through Belfast.
Cycling through Belfast.
Cycling through Belfast.
Cycling through Belfast.
Cycling through Belfast.
Cycling through Belfast.
Cycling through Belfast.
Cycling through Belfast.
Cycling through Belfast.

The 35-year-old - tries - to ride 150 miles a week, made all the more impressive given his job prevents him from commuting.

“We always try to be considerate,” he said.

“If there are cars behind us or its a narrow road there will be a ‘single file’ call go out.

“But mostly the point for riding two abreast is to get the driver to consider us, it gives you a position on the road.

"If you are side-by-side they have to give you the space you are supposed to get.

"They are more willing to take a risk if you are on your own.

“A cyclist is just another vehicle on the road and by riding two abreast it is just safer.”

He added: “Cycling is fantastic. It’s a great way to get about and makes you feel great.

"If more people did it, there would certainly be a lot more nicer people about.

“But we are talking about a minority of people, both cyclists and drivers, who have the problem.

“I’ve a real issue with cyclists running red lights, it is crazy, you don’t know what’s coming through that junction."

The engineer added: “I was disappointed in what the police came out with on Facebook, and after their Nolan appearance they just made matters worse.

"To me it just sounded like motorists are right to push cyclists off the road.

“But it is just a small number that think that way, there is just the odd person that thinks you don’t belong on the road and it’s sad really.

“Some, including cyclists, just need to realise everyone is entitled to use the road and everyone that uses it needs to be respected."

The success of the Belfast Bikes scheme shows there is a demand for cycling in the city and beyond.

And the Department of Regional Development has made commitments to improve infrastructure for the pedal-powered community.

Jonathan Hobbs cycles every day in Belfast and writes the Northern Ireland Greenways blog.

He said: "I cycle the three miles from the Outer Ring to Belfast city centre every day, cold or warm, wet or dry.

"It's a guaranteed 15 minutes whatever the traffic - it's absolutely the fastest way to travel in rush hour.

"Cheaper than the bus, it's a half hour of daily exercise and I can pop into several shops on my way home and look at the drivers sitting frustrated in rush hour congestion and feel thankful I'm free."

Tele reporter Jonny Bell, reflected in the rear side window.
Tele reporter Jonny Bell, reflected in the rear side window.

He continued: "The worst aspect of cycling in Belfast is the lack of safe, joined-up, dedicated routes.

"Our cycle lane 'network' is actually longer than the bus lane network, but it's mostly rubbish, dominated by parked cars, loading vans, even bins sitting all day long.

"And then when you need it the most, the cycle lane disappears.

"Most people sharing the roads are fine - I like to think Belfast people look out for each other.

"But a tiny percentage of all road users are inconsiderate and occasionally dangerously so.

"This puts people off cycling, and will only be eliminated as an issue when we begin to build high-quality cycling routes."

My two wheels

I’ve been a cyclist for a good few years now. I've done the long rides - yes in the lycra - but with an over active two-year-old and another on the way, it's a commuting life for me.

It gets me into work quicker than any other mode of transport and usually helps start the day off on a good footing.

But it is clear there are some who object to my mode of transport.

So I got a camera to video my journeys. More so out of safety than anything else.

I made this decision to get a camera after a particularly unpleasant episode which started with a driver forcing me off the road and ended with him revving the engine and releasing the brake to make the car lurch forward toward me.

I didn't belong on the road apparently.

The camera makes a difference.

I have mine right on top of my helmet, flashing away. Obviously people see it and almost all give you the space you need.

When its not there, the ride is altogether more frightening. More drivers take that chance.

In the past couple of months I’ve put together the above clip show. It’s not comprehensive, there could have been more, but it sums up my experience on two wheels.

Indeed such was my wife’s reaction to the videos that I’ve been barred from cycling to work during the darker winter months.

For all the protestations of not paying road tax (no one does) to needing to pass a test and having insurance (I have done and I do) those encased in steel with their airbags, and NCAP safety ratings just need to understand it’s just me - in single file - trying to make my way home to my family.

Online Editors

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