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Cycling through the floods

Chris Peck's picture
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The last few weeks of flooding have brought challenges and dangers, and shows how fragile our cycling infrastructure is. Chris Peck examines some of the problems the flooded conditions have brought - and asks for your experiences.
The River Wey and towpath - normally a cycle route
The River Wey and towpath - normally a cycle route

Ok, so maybe we're just a bunch of southern softies, but the rain has brought problems beyond just a few pairs of wet socks.

I cycle five miles to work each day, with a few options to play with, one of which is the River Wey towpath, a lovely traffic-free route in dry weather.

Another route is a fiddly cycle path, involving a few steps and a bridge you have to walk over.

Unfortunately, both of these routes are currently under deep water in many places and have considerable postdiluvian damage to embankments and surface.

Back on the road again

So, the only options left are the main road routes. But even there, clogged drains and the sheer abundance of rainfall has left huge puddles. Ever since I hit an underwater pothole while cycling along a flooded lane, I've avoided cycling through deep puddles - but doing so sometimes obliges cyclists to ride right out in the centre of the road. This requires anticipating where the puddles are and when to start signalling to other road users your intentions - all fine for experienced cyclists, but nerve-wracking for novices, who normally would be using the flooded cycle path.

Most drivers are, of course, pretty good at understanding that cyclists don't want to cycle through deep puddles and give space accordingly, but it only takes one idiot to take chances and try to overtake just as cyclists are moving out to avoid an obstacle. 

This is why we need to ensure that even the busiest routes include decent facilities for cyclists - we shouldn't expect cyclists to exile themselves onto picturesque - but occasionally very damp - towpaths and back route cycle paths.

Potholes galore!

The rainfall - and lack of drainage - has also led to potholes forming and the edges of lanes washed away. One street near me that was top dressed just a couple of months ago has seen a complete failure of the surface. 

When (if?) the water finally drains away, there'll be lots of candidates to be uploaded to Fill That Hole, CTC's pothole reporting website. We've had a roaring start to January, with over 70 potholes a day being reported to the site.

Within a month, thanks to funding from the Department for Transport, we'll be issuing an update to our iPhone app to make reporting even easier - an app for Android phones is also in the pipeline. 

What to wear?

And finally, there is the issue of clothing. A full set of waterproof gear - jacket, trousers, booties - ensured that my wettest ever commute this morning left me mostly dry, but not everyone can afford this sort of equipment for the few days each year where you will get truly soaked, if all you are doing is cycling to work.

And what do you do with it when you get to work? Here at CTC we have a drying room, showers and lockers, and the office was designed to cope with cyclists arriving in wet gear.

Of course, one option could be to get off the bike when the weather is this bad, but if, like me, your bike commute is a) the quickest way to work and b) the best way to start the day, the alternatives - even in pouring rain, aren't worth contemplating.

We've just launched comments on the CTC website, and we'd like to hear your stories of how the rain and floods have affected your cycling. 

 

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RangerGaz's picture

Where there are large puddles idiots will drive through them like idiots and if I'm on an adjacent facility I will be soaked.

The splashes from today's puddles were over head height, I saw the idiots coming and stopped out of range.

Perhaps improved drainage would be a better fix.

grumpyoldman's picture

As a "pensioner" cyclist and not a particularly active one at present. I believe that anyone who cycles anywhere and at any time must use common sense if they want to stay in one piece and safe. If you cant see the surface on which you are riding you must be an idiot. If its water, you are not immune to the affects of gravity , you will sink !!. If it's dark and you have no lights you must be another form of fool, only bats and perhaps owls can fly at night. So if the conditions are not safe don't ride your bike!!!!.

2WheelFreedom's picture

Cycling through the rain and floods - not so bad flooding wise where I am here in east Scotland, but still above average rainfall for this time of year. I cycle 33 miles from home to Aberdeen once a week and in the past month it has rained every time so much so that the National Cycle Network path being an old railway route is like a bog for the last 12miles into Aberdeen.
The alternative is cycling on the main road with eyes in the back of my head prior to taking the puddle avoidance manouvere and this road can get quite busy it's not much fun-sort of like an obstacle course. Still by the end of it, despite being wet and out of my comfort zone (cold toes, hands etc) it's still worth it...it's invigorating and makes you feel alive. The other plus point is that it toughens you up so that when the Spring weather does eventually arrive cycling is easier and more pleasant.
I say bring on the wet challenges, they can't last forever; can they!

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