The inquest into the death in March last year of British ultracyclist Mike Hall while riding near Canberra in the Indian Pacific Wheel Race has heard conflicting evidence over how visible he would have been to motorists.
The emphasis on his visibility has been criticised by cycling campaigners, who believe it shifts the focus away from any actions on the part of the driver involved, and who have also raised concerns over some of the evidence presented.
The 35-year-old was killed when he was hit from behind by a car driven by 19-year-old Shegu Bobb on the Monaro Highway at around 6.20am on 31 March last year.
Hall had been lying second in the 5,500km race from Fremantle to Sydney when the crash happened.
The motorist, who initially believed he had hit a kangaroo, told police that he had been distracted moments beforehand by a van parked at a closed petrol station.
However, the focus of much of the inquest to date relates to how visible he may have been to other road users.
On today’s second day of the inquest, there was conflicting evidence from drivers about how easy it was to see him according to a report by Australian Associated Press published in the Guardian.
One motorist, Jennifer Perrin, who was driving to work in Canberra and had her headlights on low beam, said that she could see reflective strips on his legs and arms.
She added that it was the first time in more than three decades she could remember seeing a cyclist on the road in question.
“It was very odd to see a cyclist on the road and particularly at that time of day,” she said.
Two others drivers, however, said they had almost hit Hall. Joseph Spulak, insisted the cyclist “came out of nowhere,” and said he didn’t seem to have reflective clothing or strips, while truck driver Anthony Shoard claimed Hall “cut it very fine,” when making a turn at an intersection at around 4.30am that morning.
But in its blog post covering the opening day of the inquest, Australia’s national cycle campaign group, Cycle, raises a number of concerns about the evidence being examined.
Among other things, the organisation, which has observers at the inquest, points out that Hall’s clothing was not retained and therefore is not available for evidential purposes – even though has been a focus of the proceedings to date.
It also highlighted what it sees as failings in a police video reconstruction of how visible they believe Hall’s bike would have been, and provided a video filmed as he approached Cooma the night before he was killed that shows he would have been clearly visible to motorists.
Yesterday, the Guardian came under heavy criticism after publishing an Australian Associated Press article regarding the opening day of the inquest under the headline, ‘British ultra-endurance cyclist Mike Hall in 'Hunger Games on wheels' when killed.’
Although the newspaper subsequently changed the headline to ‘British ultra-endurance cyclist killed almost instantly, inquest told’ the URL remains unchanged, and a number of outlets retain the reference to the film and book The Hunger Games in their headlines.
The allusion to the Indian Pacific Wheel Race as being “almost like the Hunger Games on wheels” was first drawn by race founder Jesse Carlsson ahead of last year’s event in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald as he attempted to explain the demands that ultracycling places on racers.
In the book and movie, set in a dystopian future, each of the 12 districts of the country of Panem selects two contestants aged between 12 and 18 – one male, one female – to fight to the death in the annual Hunger Games, with the last person left alive declared the winner.
The analogy by Carlsson – himself an ultracyclist who was runner up to Hall in the 2013 Tour Divide and won the 2015 Trans Am Bicycle Race – was how riders are required to be self-sufficient on arduous routes, typically getting by on very little sleep as they push their bodies to the limit.
"It's almost like The Hunger Games on wheels," he said. "Riding is only one part of the puzzle. The logistics of it – staying safe and making sure you're well fed and well-watered – are critical. It doesn't matter how fast you are, if you run out of food, you're not going anywhere."
It's regrettable now that his thruway remark ahead of last year’s race is now being used in headlines regarding the death of a man who was a driving force in establishing unsupported ultracyling races as a sport, and which can be interpreted as shifting thee responsibility for their own safety onto the riders who participate in them and away from the motorists with whom they share the roads.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.