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Cyclists fear safe time trial courses will be lost as governing body introduces ban on events in 20mph zones

Cycling Time Trials has asked for all events to be reviewed and courses on roads with 20mph speed limits to be cancelled or modified to avoid the zones

Time trialling is facing a major change with the governing body of the sport in England and Wales, Cycling Time Trials (CTT), introducing a ban on events taking place on roads with 20mph speed limits, with existing courses in such areas going to have to be scrapped or modified to avoid the zones.

The news was communicated to CTT Districts in a letter seen by road.cc from the governing body's National Legal Adviser David Guy, in which he states CTT has "resolved that such courses cannot be used for time trials" and that Districts must "ignore any such suggestion" that speed limits do not apply to cyclists.

"CTT would not approve of cyclists overtaking other vehicles which are subject to a 20mph limit and pedestrians would not expect riders to be travelling at higher speeds," the letter continues.

"The Board is aware that some courses now have 20mph limit sections and there is a strong likelihood that more will in the future. The Board has resolved that such courses cannot be used for time trials. 

20mph sign (CC licensed by EdinburghGreens via Flickr)

"Districts are therefore asked to review the courses which have events planned on them for 2024 (and for the remainder of 2023) and take appropriate action if that course now has a 20mph speed limit. Either the event must be cancelled, or the course modified to exclude that section or an alternative course used."

The announcement comes following the introduction of a default 20mph speed limit across Wales, however road.cc has also seen event organisers in England saying they have been affected too.

In the UK, cyclists do not share the same legal obligation as motorists to stick to speed limits, and cannot be charged with an offence of excess speed, however CTT's communication states that Districts "must ignore any such suggestion" from "some websites [that] state speed limits do not apply to cyclists", and implies that the safety and optics of overtaking traffic adhering to 20mph limits, and considerations for pedestrians who "would not expect riders to be travelling at higher speeds" must be considered.

> Do cyclists have to stick to the speed limit?

Since the letter was sent out there have been concerns heard about the implications for time trialling, some expressing fears about the loss of safe courses, others speaking in support of the decision.

"I can genuinely see this as being a real threat to the sport"

road.cc spoke to Jonty Gordon, the chairman of Clwb Beicio Egni Eryri and a director at 1816 Cycles who warned the rule could see "TTs end in Wales".

"The majority of courses cannot be used," he told us. "I know of some clubs whose regular 10-mile courses will all be unusable. Given the difficulty in finding routes that don't feature 20mph areas, there is a real risk that TTs will simply disappear in Wales.

"I do really think it is going to affect TTs as there are now so many 20mph routes, finding a safe and approachable one... not a 50mph road or dual carriageway, is going to be nigh-on impossible. I have been scouring Google Maps to try to find alternatives without any luck.

"We found that, like many other clubs, participation in TTs and other events took a bit of a nosedive after the initial boom post-COVID so we looked at newer TT courses which would attract more than the usual hardcore TT riders. Our plan was to run more road bike only TTs and for more women and youngster to take part. We ran 10-mile course from Caernarfon and had 20+ women entries for the whole series, where previously we had maybe a single female rider over the whole year.

"We fully planned to run this again as it was a really enjoyable route and had a positive impact on cycling in general; the inclusion of more participants meant those who may have shied away previously felt more inclined to give it a go (or try again) perhaps due to fitness etc. A section of maybe 100m through a small village called Bethel has been set to a 20mph zone. The whole village was previously a 30mph zone and the other mile or so remains as a 30. Because CTT has applied a blanket ban on any TT courses that go through a 20mph zone, this particular course can no longer be run.

time trial club tt 2.JPG

"The wider impact of this ban is that we will have to find alternative locations to run TTs which will almost certainly be on busier and faster roads; participation in TTs will be much less and the promotion participation (particularly by women) will be hit hard. Ultimately, we have only one course that is currently compliant which is a 10-mile out and back on a 40/50mph route that is never particularly popular.

"Holyhead Cycling Club only have their 25-mile route left and I am sure that the vast majority of clubs in Wales will be in a similar situation. I can genuinely see this as being a real threat to the sport."

And while it was Wales' default 20mph speed limit which caused headlines when it was introduced in September, time trialists in England have also reported struggles.

"We've lost some great little club TT courses as a result," one said. "Last year, for instance, Didcot Phoenix ran the Ben Owen 10 (a midweek charity TT for local clubs and teams) on a small village loop near West Hanney. There were 90 riders and a few tandems, some of whom had never ridden a TT before but came along to be part of a team. A nice safe course for them that's now lost."

"I know of three courses that have been lost this year in Oxfordshire," another added, riders also saying courses in Cambridgeshire have been lost.

> Police stop cyclists riding at 39mph in 30mph zone despite speed limits not applying to bicycle riders

"All that's left are the fast dual carriageway and A-road courses for club TTs which are at best somewhat intimidating for anyone coming into the sport; seems crazy to me," one rider suggested.

Another comment spotted online said there "will be no courses left".

"Main roads too busy and have too high a traffic count, quiet back roads are riddled with 20mph sections, not all of which are necessary. Only way round it will be non-standard distances, or perhaps 'non-timed/neutralised' sections which would mean additional timekeepers."

"I have a course that is used for both A and B events which starts in a 20 zone, but within 50 yards you are into the 30mph zone so no real danger or much risk to riders or public. Also the current start position is a safe location. If we have to adjust start and finish position it going to be hard to find safe alternatives. So potentially another lost course and revenue to CTT. More worrying is that it will be used for a finishing circuit for the 2024 National 12," another agreed.

National time trial road bike Tamsin Miller - CTT

When contacted for comment by road.cc, CTT's Chair Andrea Parish said the governing body is "working internally to look into ways to mitigate the challenges imposed by the recent changes made to speed limits in Wales" and said "we will share an update on the matter as soon as we are able to".

The letter to Districts from Legal Adviser David Guy also suggests it has been discussed "whether it may be possible to make an exception for long events such as 12 and 24 hours where the distance subject to a 20mph limit is short and it is practical to enforce the limit without defeating the purpose of the event".

Guy also states it has been discussed as to "what extent CTT, with its very wide geographical spread, can realistically seek to influence particular traffic authorities to refuse to impose more 20mph limits, to remove them, to modify them to exclude times/or days of the week when time trials may be held."

> "Far more pleasant for walkers and cyclists": 20mph speed limit analysis hailed "astonishing", with drivers' journeys just 45 seconds longer

CTT's Board is to consider points raised and may discuss the topic if time can be made at its National Council AGM on December 3.

"Such a discussion may provide ideas to reduce the impact of these limits on time trialling," Guy suggests.

And while there has been much discussion about the potential impact of losing courses, some have expressed support for CTT's announcement, one comment from a time trialist online saying "it's a shame that a number of courses are likely to be lost but I can understand why CTT has had to impose a blanket ban."

"An organising body and/or organiser who permitted an event to take place where riders would exceed the speed limit would be opening themselves up to a liability in the event of an incident," they suggested.

Another added: "Cyclists are already sometimes an unpopular minority, already we have Daily Mail/GB News-mentality people saying we shouldn't be on the roads. Saying that speed limits don't apply to us, attempting to make some technical argument will plain be saying that we are above the law that everyone else has to obey — and that'll go down well, won't it?

"Anyone who's ever marshalled has probably also had some angry motorist stop to complain to them about riders. So if on top of this we try to declare that speed limits don't apply to us and organise races though 20 zones, where that 20 zone is supposed to be about safety for children, for pedestrians and cyclists, instead we turn up and race flat-out through it — how long would it be before time trialling and any other form of on-road cycle racing gets banned?"

However, there are also safety fears about events being pushed away from quieter roads and onto routes with higher speed limits. Last August, the East District of CTT suspended races on dual carriageways following the death of a rider during an event.

52-year-old Cheryl Tye was struck and killed by a van driver while competing in the East District 50-mile time trial championship on the A11 in Norfolk, between Croxton and Eccles, the same road where in 2010 a rider was airlifted to hospital with a suspected broken vertebrae following a collision 175 miles into a 12-hour event.

In 2021, a time trial participant was seriously injured after being hit from behind by a van driver, also on the A11 between Snetterton and Shropham. In the same month as Ms Tye's death, a van driver was arrested after a cyclist who represented Great Britain in triathlon was killed while taking part in a time trial on the A40 near Raglan in Monmouthshire.

Dan is the road.cc news editor and has spent the past four years writing stories and features, as well as (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. Having previously written about nearly every other sport under the sun for the Express, and the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for the Non-League Paper, Dan joined road.cc in 2020. Come the weekend you'll find him labouring up a hill, probably with a mouth full of jelly babies, or making a bonk-induced trip to a south of England petrol station... in search of more jelly babies.

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27 comments

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mattw | 8 months ago
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As a non-TT rider, it sounds like a really tricky one, and I wish them all the best dealing with it.

I certainly don't want cycling groups campaigning *against* 20mph speed limits - we need many more of those. My basic position on 20mph limits is "everywhere inside community boundaries which is not a classified A or B road, with appropriate exceptions".

Perhaps the sport needs to evolve, as road-based motor racing had to, though not in the same ways?

Are there lessons to learn from countries on the continent which have a lot of 30kph limits?

My 'innovative' suggestion is that we mandate Omafiets.

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chrisonabike replied to mattw | 8 months ago
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mattw wrote:

My 'innovative' suggestion is that we mandate Omafiets.

With appropriate cycle clothing and accessories?

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Waleskun | 8 months ago
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I think CTT are backing themselves into a corner here. Our club TT in North Wales has run perfectly well with a small section going through a 20. Nothing has changed on this course but now the course will not be permitted.

So we lose courses and are forced onto faster single and dual carriageways. People don't want to ride these due to safety concerns so they stop entering. Lower numbers makes it unviable and the organiser eventually gives up putting on events. Numbers already seem down. A policy which looks quite sensible may unintentionally damage the sport quite profoundly.

If CTT had simply done nothing I'm not sure anything would have changed. It's only Wales which has lowered the speed limit and I suspect a lot of roads which are simply not appropriate being 20 mph are probably going to go back up to 30 when the local authorities get their act together and make the proper applications. The Police have the opportunity to object to courses when they receive the forms.

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Miller replied to Waleskun | 8 months ago
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Waleskun wrote:

It's only Wales which has lowered the speed limit

Not quite true. The Welsh 20mph limit has grabbed the news headlines but 20mph zones exist elsewhere. Near me, Oxfordshire now has a policy of 20mph limits in villages. I see this a lot as I often cycle in South Oxfordshire. I think the limit is a societal benefit but it does affect cycle racing.

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Waleskun replied to Miller | 8 months ago
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Of course 20mph zones do exist elsewhere, but the Welsh restrictions are a little different as the standard 30 mph you'd expect in built up areas has been moved down to 20 unless the local authority applies for specific sections of road. I'm not aware of any other part of the UK which has done this.

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Ratfink replied to Waleskun | 8 months ago
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As said above South Oxfordshire, i think just about every 30 mph in a town/village is now 20 mph,It's been gradually rolling out over the last year or so, The only place i can think of without is Didcot but the council has voted for it.

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BigDoodyBoy | 8 months ago
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The law of unintended consequences strikes again!

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bobbypuk | 8 months ago
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Would this affect hill climbs as well?

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Ratfink | 8 months ago
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I did read elsewhere that one of the safety concerns was with the cyclists following cars that would "suddenly" brake down to 20  and the concern was more about a head down cyclist ploughing into the rear end. A lot of roads in my area go from national speed limit to 20 with no warning until you get there..

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Matthew Acton-Varian replied to Ratfink | 8 months ago
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That does sound like a legitimate concern. Insurance for events could also be an issue because of the extra safety factors.

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mattw replied to Ratfink | 8 months ago
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That TBH sounds like a need for competitors to take more care.

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yupiteru replied to Ratfink | 8 months ago
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Ratfink wrote:

I did read elsewhere that one of the safety concerns was with the cyclists following cars that would "suddenly" brake down to 20  and the concern was more about a head down cyclist ploughing into the rear end. A lot of roads in my area go from national speed limit to 20 with no warning until you get there..

 

What local authority area is this?  This is not the usual arrangement.

 You usually see buffer zones between speed limits to smooth the transition. 

When you state 'a lot of roads' how many is that exactly?

If you supply the location I can check on the Welsh Govt. map to see what should be in place.

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Ratfink replied to yupiteru | 8 months ago
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This is South Oxfordshire not Wales and by a lot i mean going into pretty much every village in the area now especially around the popular cycling routes South from Henley (Not Henley though there it goes 60,40,30,20 as you approach). I've just been out for a walk with the dog and taken the pics below although this road isn't the best example as it doesn't really go anywhere and is quiet traffic wise it is the same on 4 other routes into the village that have heavier traffic.

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Ratfink replied to Ratfink | 8 months ago
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2,Looking back

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Ratfink replied to Ratfink | 8 months ago
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3,The approach.

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Ratfink replied to Ratfink | 8 months ago
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4,This is the point on foot that i could first read the sign

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stonojnr | 8 months ago
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What I don't get is CTTs approach then forces TTs on to faster more dangerous roads to ride.

But that they also have no such policy in place for 30mph roads, when exactly the same concerns can & do apply.

Ultimately it feels like a policy invented just to avoid some bad press.

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Matthew Acton-Varian replied to stonojnr | 8 months ago
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They don't. The majority of riders are not able to go above 30mph unless going downhill and/or with a tailwind. A competitor overtaking a motorist in those conditions is extremely unlikely.

Many courses that run through 30mph zones are some of the safest that remain active in the country. They are also generally "slower" or "sporting" courses (twisty, lots of turns, rough road surfaces) where average winning times are well above 20 minutes. The sub 20 minute TTs (where average speeds DO reach 30+mph) tend to be on out-and-back dual carriageway A-roads with 50, 60 or even National speed limits.

20mph is a different kettle of fish, as all road users are expecting slower traffic than in a 30 zone. As alluded to by Ratfink above, a 60 to 20 drop with no warning or step down in between is much more significant danger than 60 to 30. In a 30 zone the cars will be slowing to roughly the same pace as a competitor and thus problems are minimal if a motorist overtakes a competitor just before the limit change. However a car suddenly slowing to 20, well below competitor speed, is dangerous. And most competitors WILL be going faster than traffic.

CTT will not go back to routes they have already identified as dangerous, as they will not issue course grading for the routes to be approved. The routes are regularly reviewed by the regional district committee and any courses not currently in use will not be currently certified.

Also, there are concerns that race insurers will not insure any competitive event that takes place in a 20mph zone.

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stonojnr replied to Matthew Acton-Varian | 8 months ago
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Speed limits are limits not mandatory targets, on open roads there maybe all kinds of reasons why vehicles are travelling slower than that limit, which could then force a TT competitor to overtake them even if they're within the speed limit.

Plus 30mph limits are generally in built up areas where you would expect there to be pedestrians.

If their legal adviser says those two conditions, overtaking of vehicles and pedestrians, mean 20mph zones can't be used within TT courses, then stands to reason neither can 30mph either.

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kil0ran | 8 months ago
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Given every rider has a head unit strapped to their aero bars could certain courses be permitted with a speed limit over the 20mph sections? Like the pit lane speed limit in F1. Obviously wouldn't work if the majority of the course is 20mph and would be open to competitive abuse (would need spot checks) but might be a solution?

Sadly road racing of all forms is on dodgy ground legally and in the court of right wing loonery and I don't think CTT has any other option here. It would take just one injury/incident to make insurance prohibitively expensive and end the sport for good. Motorcycle road racing in NI went to the brink of extinction over this earlier this year. 

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Matthew Acton-Varian replied to kil0ran | 8 months ago
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The organised race scene is perfectly legal. There are competitor responsibilities that must be adhered to to ensure the rules are followed, or risk your race licence being suspended. TTs do not require a race licence, however competitors rarely come across a situation where they may be tempted to break the law.

The speed limiter proposal is also unenforceable from a practical point, bikes are not propelled mechanically, and some riders prefer to read and record data in Metric measurements.

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Backladder replied to Matthew Acton-Varian | 8 months ago
1 like

Matthew Acton-Varian wrote:

 TTs do not require a race licence, however competitors rarely come across a situation where they may be tempted to break the law.
 

Most courses around my area have at least one "Give way" on the course, the temptation for a rider at speed is always to push your luck at these locations as slowing down has such a large effect on your time.

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kil0ran replied to Matthew Acton-Varian | 8 months ago
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As far as the criminal law is concerned they are indeed permitted, but the issue is civil liability and insurance costs. Also have to consider policing costs for the wider racing scene. Those things can easily conspire to effectively ban organised cycling events.

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Miller | 8 months ago
5 likes

It's a bugger, and affects some courses round me, but I don't think CTT has any alternative. It's all too easy to imagine the right wing culture warriors gleefully tearing into time trialling on this point.

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Patrick9-32 | 8 months ago
9 likes

"what extent CTT, with its very wide geographical spread, can realistically seek to influence particular traffic authorities to refuse to impose more 20mph limits, to remove them, to modify them to exclude times/or days of the week when time trials may be held."

"We want safe roads for all...except when we want to use the roads for fun, then we can do what we want."

I don't race time trials, I commute by bike and cycle for pleasure. Cyling bodies running sanctioned events that encourage braking the speed limits is bad for all non time trialling cyclists. I am fully behind CTT on this one. 

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mattsccm replied to Patrick9-32 | 8 months ago
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To be honest CTT have little choice. Stupidly they have to consider rider safety (when that is rightly the riders problem ) and more sensibly that of others and the risk of riders overtaking cars as well as the ill feeling potentially created is more than it is worth. Clubs would also have the image issue. My club lost one TT a few years ago when 20mph became common in Wales. We couldn't be seen to do more than 20 through a village even though it is legal and it would be frustrating for the riders. 

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jaymack replied to mattsccm | 8 months ago
3 likes

I'd be rather worried if the sports governing body wasn't concerned with rider safety.

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