Riding on Public Roads
Our un-coached cycle rides on a Saturday afternoon for the older triathletes are very popular. Not surprisingly, younger members of the club are keen to take part, but the following report, from the lead rider from a ride the week before last, is a cautionary tale and shows why the club insists that the rides are solely for the older groups and only when they have the requisite skills and maturity necessary to deal with the hazards of the public road.
“I was the lead cyclist for Group 4 (Academy) last week. We had a small mixed group of 12-14 year olds with an adult riding at the front and at the rear, as is our normal practice. All of the group had passed their ‘Bikeability’ course and had ridden extensively on the public roads. They were all wearing their bright yellow reflective Chapel Tri cycle tops. We had a planned ride into the countryside. About half an hour into the ride we were cycling in single file along Durley Brook Road towards Durley Street when I spotted a horse and rider about 150m ahead on the opposite side of the road, facing the direction we were travelling from. At this point the road was straight and wide enough for cars and other traffic to pass easily. I immediately slowed the group down by motioning with my arm. The Garmin read out shows that we were travelling at about 9mph (14.8 kmph) as we passed the horse rider who was still facing the opposite direction on the other side of the road. I looked at the rider as we passed. Unlike most horse riders we encounter she did not acknowledge that we had slowed down, or that we had kept to the far side of the road as we passed her. After the first 4/5 cyclists passed, I heard a scrambling noise of hooves on the road. I looked around to see that the horse had turned 180 degrees and was now in the middle of our group travelling in the same direction as us. Fortunately, there was a bus stop/lay-by immediately to our left and I signaled for the group to pull in and stop. As we came to a halt, the horse passed us galloping up on the wrong side of the road. The rider shouted out “help” as she passed.
After a minute or so, we started to cycle in the same direction but after about 100m came across a long tail-back of traffic. We turned around and took another route and the rest of the ride passed without incident.
I noticed that there were stables on the same road we had passed the horse. The following day I rang them to ask if they knew the rider and whether the rider was alright. They rang back to say that the horse had been spooked by a barking dog (we did hear a dog barking loudly during this incident) and that the rider had been involved in an accident. I was told that she and her horse had been injured. Given the circumstance, I telephoned Hampshire Constabulary and explained what had occurred and left them my details. They had no other record of the accident.
I was very proud of the conduct of the cyclists in the group. It was a serious incident as can be seen from a couple of comments from the cyclists who were nearest to the horse when it turned.
“…the horse seemed to charge straight at me. I had to take evasive action.”
“...when the horse turned its back legs were just in front of my front wheel. I nearly freaked out and braked really quickly.”
“...I heard this dog bark and suddenly the horse turned into us from the other side of the road. It was scary”
It demonstrates why it was so important for all our riders to have their insurance and wear the club kit which can be easily seen by other road users. Well done to everyone on this ride, your riding and conduct were exemplary. I was proud of you all.”
Naturally, we wish the horse and rider a swift recovery. A few parents have asked whether there is any action that should be taken against the rider. That is a matter for them individually but the club would ask that the following factors should be borne in mind:
• we do not have any evidence that the horse or rider were too inexperienced to be riding alone on the public road;
• although it was a traumatic incident there were no injuries or damage to any of our cyclists unlike the poor rider and her mount;
• we have to take account of the fact that horses do get ‘spooked’ and that is why we have to approach all horses with caution - wide and slow.
As a club, we have to put the safety of the children as a paramount priority. The Risk Assessment for this ride showed that, although it was a country road, there was regular passing traffic, including the occasional horse rider. As a result of this incident, we will probably alter the route so that we do not go past the stables. The ride above was recorded and is available to any interested parent on a tcx file (which can be downloaded on Strava or Garmin Connect).
Of course, it goes without saying that we will continue to impress on our triathletes the importance of being courteous to other road users and to continue to improve their cycling skills.