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…Only one of which is illegal, Operation Bluenose aims to "stop and educate cyclists"...

Essex police have stopped over 120 cyclists in a seasonal operation aimed at improving cycle safety in a number of bike accident blackspots around the county.

Since Operation Bluenose started on January 13, 120 cyclists have been stopped. Police have been advising those without lights to get some, but have also been suggesting riders use high-visibility clothing and helmets.

It’s not the first time this winter that Essex police have been trying to get that message across. In November last year, their ‘Let’s Look Out For Each Other’ initiative enlisted Movistar professional rider Alex Dowsett in a campaign aimed at encouraging drivers and cyclists to share the road.

In the launch press release for that campaign, drivers were advised to wait patiently and pass safely, while cyclists were advised not to ride two-abreast on narrow roads; never ride three-abreast; wear helmets; and not jump red lights.

Dowsett was once knocked off his bike by a van which overtook too close to him with a couple of passengers laughing and shouting abuse at him. On another occasion he ran into the back of a car that overtook him then jammed on the brakes to turn left immediately in front of him.

Alex’s mum, Jan Dowsett, has also been a casualty in a cycle-car collision. She took up cycling after being inspired by her son’s race and time trial victories but while out on her bike she was knocked over by a car towing a caravan that overtook her but pulled in too early. She fell off and shattered her shoulder. She has not been able to ride a bike since that collision.

An incident with a cyclist while driving his car that convinced Alex that both riders and drivers needed to change their ways.

He said: “I was driving through London when a cyclist tried to get through an impossible gap between my car and the kerb. I jammed my brakes on and the rider got through, but he turned and shouted abuse at me.

“Cycling is my life, I know that cyclists can be vulnerable and when driving I always give riders plenty of room. But when that rider made an impossible manoeuvre it made me realise that it’s not just drivers who need to be more safety conscious.”

Department for Transport statistics indicate that in the majority of car-bike collisions, the cyclist is not at fault. A 2009 report from the department said that riders jumping red lights, wearing dark clothing or riding at night without lights are to blame for less than 7% of crashes that result in a cyclist being seriously injured.

Nevertheless, the aim of Operation Bluenose, according to the police, is to find riders at risk and urge them to use more safety equipment such as lights, helmets and high visibility clothing. Officers are also using social media to ask cyclists to identify which areas and cycle routes should be investigated.

Essex police say that January, February and March are the months when road collisions involving cyclists increase, mainly during dark evenings when people cycle home from school, college or work.

In the corresponding period in 2013 there was a 50 per cent increase in recorded casualties in the Basildon District alone. Other districts such as Chelmsford and Colchester have also seen an increase, but to a lesser extent.

Sgt Graham Freeman, who is running the operation, said: “The majority of [cyclists] who had no lights or reflective clothing assured us that they would have some as quickly as possible. Only one or two people had to be reminded that there would be a £50 fine if they failed to comply and were stopped and warned for a second time.

“About 50 per cent had no lights and were given verbal warnings. About 50 per cent had no reflective clothing and 75 per cent had no cycle helmet.

“The approach was initially to stop and educate cyclists including those riding without lights, on footpaths, in pedestrian-only areas or riding the wrong way down one-way streets. We will also be handing out the ‘Let’s Look Out For Each Other’ literature when talking with people.

“We will also be showing riders a map which outlines where the cycle road collision have happened in their areas. Our stop checks will be at same of these collision sites so showing a map will have much more of an impact than just giving words of advice.”

“Obviously if further action is deemed necessary to drive home the need for improved safety, we will issue fixed penalty tickets.”

The operation will continue until the end of March.

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.