An attempt to impose a cap on the number of riders that can take part in sportives in the New Forest looks set to fail as cycling groups and the largest event organiser in the forest have refused to sign up.
The limit of 1000 riders is part of a proposed cycling events charter, which will be discussed at a meeting of the New Forest National Park Authority (NFNPA) on Thursday.
A letter to the authority from local representatives of British Cycling, CTC and Sustrans calls two aspects of the charter "discriminatory and disproportionate": the cap, and the requirement for riders to wear numbers front and rear.
A small but very vocal number of New Forest locals has campaigned against sportives being held in the forest. Their demands have included a cap on rider numbers as low as 500, and identifying numbers on riders.
Incorporating those demands into the events charters makes it "both discriminatory and disproportionate" the cycling organisations say.
Advisory limits are not recommend by the NFNPA for the number of participants or vehicles attending non-cycling commercial events that also lead to local traffic congestion, such as the New Forest Show or events at the Beaulieu Motor Museum.
Nor have limits been recommended in other areas where local issues have arisen such as the number of dog walkers during the ground nesting bird season or the number of riders of shod horses; indeed the NFNPA has previously undertaken significant policy changes when challenged by the equestrian community.
They also point out "that the wearing of numbers in general, let alone front and rear, are not being advised by the NFNPA for any participants in any other recreational activity.
"It was clear from some attending the Cycle Liaison Group that the requirement for all riders to wear numbers front and rear was motivated by a desire to photograph and report riders during events.
"This form of vigilantism, only one step removed from the illegal removal of signs and the spreading of tacks on the road, can only lead to confrontation and danger to participants."
They add that the numbering requirement is "disproportionate in that the advice on numbering is more onerous that that required by the law on motorcyclists and disproportionate given the low frequency of the primary event involved."
CTC head office opposes the cap. A spokesman for the cycling charity told road.cc: "The current cap as suggested by the New Forest Charter is purely an arbitrary figure that has no basis in real evidence beyond the anecdotal. What we would like to see is each event judged on a case by case basis, with the number of riders agreed with a Safety Advisory Group beforehand.”
At Thursday's meeting the NFNPA will discuss a report on the charter by Nigel Matthews, head of recreation management and learning for the park.
In the report, Mathews points out that only one organisation, UK Cycling Events, has run events involving more than the proposed 1000-rider limit.
The report says:
The company that has organised the largest and most prominent cycle events in the New Forest is UK Cycling Events, often sponsored by Wiggle, run by Martin Barden.
In recent years, theirs are the only cycle sportive events that have exceeded 1,000 riders (on about five days/year).
Martin has fully engaged with the Liaison Group and made a number of changes to his events as requested, but he does not support the cap or the need for rear identification numbers.
The Cycling Liaison Group was created in March 2013 to establish a code of conduct for cycling in the park and a new charter for cycle event organisers. It initially included representatives of 31 groups and organisations, though the New Forest Dog Owners Group and the New Park event venue subsequently dropped out.
Of the remaining 29 groups and organisations, only ten represent cyclists or cycling event organisers.
In the report to the authority, Matthews writes:
Two national cycle organisations are represented on the Liaison Group: British Cycling (BC) and the Cyclist’s Touring Club (CTC). They support most of the Charter, especially the role of the Safety Advisory Group. However, they have consistently argued against the cap and blanket statement about rider identification.
They might have supported road- and event-specific limitations provided these were specified by the SAG (e.g. no more than x riders/minute on roads a, b and c), and if such limits were based on recorded incidences of serious impacts.
The New Forest National Park Authority will only suport the charter if it contains a cap.
The report says: "In June 2014 Members resolved that they would only support the Charter if it includes a cap of 1,000 cyclists and requires that riders wear rear numbers."
However, that's not the unanimous point of view of the authority. Totton councillor David Harrison, who sits on the authority's board, told the Southern Daily Echo's Chris Yandell: “It would have been so much better if the charter had concentrated on things that are necessary and achievable but stubbornness has meant that we’re likely to publish a charter that the cyclists won’t sign up to.”
But his fellow NPA member Maureen Holding said: “I’m not anti-cycling but I am against flooding the Forest and thus spoiling the quiet enjoyment that’s there for everyone.
“I’ve always said the cycling charter needs more teeth – it hasn’t got the bite that it needs.”
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.