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All cyclists must adhere to 20mph speed limits during time trials in Britain – as governing body cites safety concerns and risk of causing “public outrage”

New guidance issued by Cycling Time Trials also aims to prevent riders gaining an “unfair advantage”, and says that any course with a 20mph section should be avoided if a suitable alternative is available

All cyclists taking part in time trials in Britain will be forced to slow down and adhere to the speed limit while racing through 20mph zones, the national governing body for time trialling in England, Scotland, and Wales has announced.

In new guidance published on Tuesday evening, which described 20mph speed limits and time trials as generally “incompatible”, Cycling Time Trials (CTT) also stipulated that any course with a lengthy 20mph section should not be used if a viable alternative is available, due to concerns over safety for participants and other road users, along with the risk of causing “public outrage” which, CTT says, could put the future of time trialling in Britain in jeopardy.

However, CTT’s latest guidance – which seeks to clarify the body’s stance on the widespread implementation of 20mph speed limits throughout the UK – also suggests that time trial courses which feature 20mph zones can still go ahead if a variety of conditions are met.

These exceptions will apply to courses with very short 20mph sections where riders are unlikely to exceed the speed limit in any case (such as during hill climbs or approaching a roundabout), during road closures, and if the demise of a course due to a prolonged 20mph section would lead to “a serious loss to time trialling in that area”.

In that final case, time triallists will be under strict instructions to ride at no more than 20mph during those sections, a rule CTT describes as an “overriding principle” which aims to prevent riders from gaining an “unfair advantage” by ‘breaking’ the speed limit, thereby nullifying time trialling’s long-standing reputation as the ‘race of truth’.

“20 mph limits and time trials are incompatible”

This latest announcement from CTT comes three months after the governing body first mooted the potential loss, or at least necessary modification, of some time trial courses following the introduction of a default 20mph speed limit across Wales, which raised concerns from members in both Wales and England that the road safety measures could usher in the demise of Britain’s historic time trialling scene.

20mph sign (CC licensed by EdinburghGreens via Flickr)

> Do cyclists have to stick to the speed limit?

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, in a letter sent to its districts in November, CTT urged its members to “ignore any such suggestion” from “some websites [that] state speed limits do not apply to cyclists”.

In this week’s guidance, clarifying the body’s rules on the approval of courses and the “restrictions upon riders who take part in them”, CTT doubled down on its commitment to ensuring riders participating in its events adhere to speed limits and other rules of the road.

“All courses which will be used in 2024 must always have an up-to-date risk assessment,” the guidance for districts, organisers, and riders says. “If there is a 20mph limit now on any part of an approved course or the proposal for a course is a new one, the District must treat safety as it first priority and make an decision after weighing all the relevant issues.

“Generally, 20 mph limits and time trials are incompatible. Most riders travel between 20 and 30mph. Riding at that speed is capable of causing public outrage and danger to riders and other road users who will not be expecting vehicles to be approaching so fast.

“Such conduct could cause the government to review the existing permission for time trials to take place on public roads, expose riders and organisers and CTT officials to the possibility of civil and criminal proceedings, and invalidate the insurance CTT holds for participants in time trials.”

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

CTT also noted that its rules “have always required riders to ride safely and obey all traffic signs together with the Highway Code and that failure to do so is a disciplinary offence” – an offence, it says, which will now encompass riders racing at over 20mph in the new reduced zones.

“There will therefore be an overriding principle that all riders in time trials must adhere to posted speed limits as well as all other rules of the road,” it says.

“In any event, in order to achieve fair competition, where a course with a section which is subject to a 20mph limit is used, riders must not exceed that speed. Otherwise, the event will no longer be a ‘race of truth’ because a rider who exceeds the limit will gain an unfair advantage over one who does not.”

time trial club tt 2.JPG

> “If you have a bike, you can ride a time trial!” Road bike participation in time trials up 42 per cent, after TT governing body introduced new category last year

While clamping down on the individual speeds of its time trialists – a measure that has raised concerns over how it will be implemented – the governing body also asserted that “any course which incorporates a section with a 20mph limit should not be used if a suitable alternative is available”.

It continued: “This will require the District and organiser to consider whether changes can be made to a course to avoid the 20mph section. If not, the District should consider whether any other suitable course is available, taking into account the nature of the event and the area from which riders are expected to come.

“The history of the event and any scenic qualities will not play a role in this decision unless they are relevant to the safety of riders and other road users. A particular aspect of 20mph zones is that they will usually (and more often will in future) be accompanied by traffic calming measures.  These can present serious hazards for cyclist and other road users and in themselves may mean that a course is not safe.”

However, CTT noted that if a district is satisfied that no suitable alternative is available, it may allow an event to go ahead on a course with a 20mph section if the following exceptions apply:

It is a Hill Climb, so long as both the organiser and the District are satisfied there is no reasonable expectation riders will exceed 20mph, whether up or down the hill.

The 20mph limit is on a section of road for which a Traffic Management Order (restricting access by motor vehicles) will be in force at the time of the event.

There are very short (up to 100 metre) sections of 20 mph limits where the geography makes it unlikely riders will exceed that speed in any event. Such sections will usually be at the start of an event or include a feature such as a corner or roundabout where riders will naturally slow anyway. At such a feature, two sections of up to 100 metres (one before and one after) may be permitted.

Meanwhile, longer 20mph stretches (in this case, over 100m) could possibly still be used as long as “active measures” are in place to ensure riders don’t stray above the speed limit.

These active measures include warnings on risk assessments, start sheets, and on “prominently displayed” notices at the start for club events, along with the use of additional marshals at speed restrictions signs and traffic calming measures “with, if possible, signs displaying the number 20”.

Longer 20mph sections will also be permitted if the district committee is convinced that “no reasonable alternative exists and the cancellation of the event would lead to a serious loss to time trialling in that area”, and that its distance will not lead to potential non-compliance by those taking part.

> Why the 20mph zone time trial ban could be the “tip of the iceberg” for British racing 

Cycling Time Trials’ latest guidance will arguably do little to quell the concerns of members and club riders, who believe the restrictions surrounding 20mph speed limits could lead to the loss of a substantial portion of Britain’s TT courses and, with the domestic scene struggling in general in recent years, facilitate the demise of one of the country’s most venerable cycling pastimes.

“The majority of courses cannot be used,” Jonty Gordon, the chairman of Clwb Beicio Egni Eryri and a director at 1816 Cycles told us in November.

“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.”

Speaking to the road.cc Podcast, Jonty also explained that the new rules could have serious legal implications, potentially turn away young people and women from the sport over safety concerns, and that they may prove just the “tip of the iceberg” – especially when it comes to political and societal attitudes – when it comes to the future of bike racing, and the political and societal attitudes towards it, on open British roads.

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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91 comments

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randonneur | 5 months ago
1 like

How is it a time trial if you have to slow down.
Nobodys breaking the law by exceeding the speed limit.

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grOg | 5 months ago
0 likes

20 mph is ridiculously slow; where I live , 25 mph speed limits have just been introduced in shopping strips and the traffic cops are having a field day nabbing 'speedsters', which previously were 40 mph zones.

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marmotte27 replied to grOg | 5 months ago
3 likes

Sorry (not), but for your kind of brain speed clearly even 10mph would be too fast.

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Simon E replied to grOg | 5 months ago
4 likes

grOg wrote:

20 mph is ridiculously slow;

It  may be for car-brains like you but when drivers comply it feels a lot safer for pedestrians and cyclists. And the statistics from where it has been implemented back this up.

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ktache replied to Simon E | 5 months ago
2 likes

And the physics.
There's more than 50% more energy at 25 rather than 20.

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giff77 replied to grOg | 5 months ago
2 likes

Doesn't feel any slower than 25. Only reason it feels that slow is when you drop from the NSL to 20. Dropping from 30 to 20 barely registers as well. 

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TimPedaller | 5 months ago
3 likes

How should a cyclist monitor his or her speed when riding a bike which is (legally) not sold with and is not fitted with any speed measuring device?

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brianlescargot | 5 months ago
0 likes

Personally I know of no courses with 20mph limits, that's just silly if there are. Most of the roads I have ridden on are 60mph. In fact all the fast courses are on dual carriageway, ie 70mph. 

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HLaB replied to brianlescargot | 5 months ago
1 like

Do they have any Sporting Courses near you ? Quite a few here go through villages some of which have 20mph limits.

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Simon E replied to brianlescargot | 5 months ago
2 likes

brianlescargot wrote:

Personally I know of no courses with 20mph limits, that's just silly if there are. Most of the roads I have ridden on are 60mph. In fact all the fast courses are on dual carriageway, ie 70mph. 

I can think of 3 local ones in Gwynedd/Anglesey just off the top of my head. There will be plenty more in other parts of Wales, especially in the south where population - and number of competitors - is much higher.

Just because you don't know of any (do they have 20 mph limits where you are?) doesn't mean they don't exist.

It is amazing to see so much bollocks spouted on this topic by people who know f**k all about it.

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mbrads72 (not verified) | 5 months ago
0 likes

The CTT Legal Advisor stated that it was impossible to know what legislation was used for any given 20mph limit in place. "It would need a team of legal advisors beyond the financial means of the CTT" (I paraphrase), and therefore it cannot be said with certainty whether that limit does apply to cyclists.

I suggest that any road likely to be used for a time trial will have its speed limits governed by the Road Traffic Act, and not any other means. One example of other means is Richmond Park, which I believe is a local byelaw. Anyone in the area would probably know that, and it should be pretty easy to check. 

This ruling is a ridiculously broad brush approach to a non-existent issue.

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Christopher Clifton | 5 months ago
0 likes

"the new rules could have serious legal implications"
While it's quite correct to say that speed limits only apply to motor vehicles, not pedal cycles, there is the offence of "riding furiously". Quite possibly racing cyclists riding well in excess of 20mph limits could be charged with this. Also if riders are charged, it's possible that event organisers could also be charged with encouraging riders to ride furiously. Sadly, I have to express some sympathy with the CTT's decision that time trialling and 20mph limits are fundamentally incompatible.

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brakesmadly replied to Christopher Clifton | 5 months ago
1 like

You have omitted a key part of the offence, which is "causing injury" by riding furiously. No one is going to be stopped for the offence simply by virtue of how fast they are going.

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Bigtwin replied to brakesmadly | 5 months ago
0 likes

Ah, the old red herring of the barrack-room lawyer.  Irrelevant.  Cycling dangerously is an offence regardless of this old reckless cycling trope.  "A cyclist can commit the offence of dangerous cycling as opposed to dangerous driving. The test to determine dangerous cycling is the same as to determine dangerous driving.

A person is to be regarded as cycling dangerously if the way he rides falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful cyclist, and it would be obvious to a competent and careful cyclist that cycling in that way would be dangerous. Dangerous refers to danger of injury to any person, or serious damage to property. 

When determining what would be obvious to a competent and careful cyclist regard shall be given not only to the circumstances which he could be expected to be aware but also to any circumstances shown to have been within the knowledge of the accused."

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marmotte27 | 5 months ago
2 likes

As ever the Germans have a word for this, 'weltfremd'.

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David9694 | 5 months ago
2 likes

I think with this debate in England it's a case of "first, catch your 20 mph road". 

"will cyclists have to obey it?" / "cyclists won't have to obey it" is part of the anti 20 mph driver bullshit canon.  It's fine for them to overtake you, but in a few extreme cases being overtaken seems to bring down the red mist, that is never far away. 

Sustaining >20 mph on a bike is pretty uncommon.   

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EK Spinner replied to David9694 | 5 months ago
6 likes

"Sustaining >20 mph on a bike is pretty uncommon"

 

It certainly is to the average rider, however to the average rider entered into a TT an average of less than 20mph would be a very poor performance. I tend to TT around 22-23 mph and I am most definetly in the lower third of the results

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Christopher Clifton replied to EK Spinner | 5 months ago
3 likes

40 to 50 years ago, my average speed for a "10" or"25" would have been around about 25mph, and I was certainly not anywhere near the fastest rider around. With modern bikes , time triallists are recording times considerably faster than the times of decades ago.

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wycombewheeler replied to David9694 | 5 months ago
1 like

David9694 wrote:

I think with this debate in England it's a case of "first, catch your 20 mph road". 

"will cyclists have to obey it?" / "cyclists won't have to obey it" is part of the anti 20 mph driver bullshit canon.  It's fine for them to overtake you, but in a few extreme cases being overtaken seems to bring down the red mist, that is never far away. 

Sustaining >20 mph on a bike is pretty uncommon.   

In a time trial I think it's pretty common, I averaged 34kmh on my only 10mile time trial, I was not in the top half of the leaderboard.

I also have a one hour local ride when I averaged over 20mph, but that was after lockdown and the result of less junk food and more zwift training for 3 months

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mikewood | 5 months ago
0 likes

One of our local 10TT courses has a 30mph section through a village but is downhill in both directions so pretty easy to exceed 30mph. In fact, two fastest times from Hamish Bond and our own Ben Healy are in the 19's so they will have been going much faster than that, but it's never been brought up before.

What's more of an issue is the 50% of that couse has double white lines and drivers WILL overtake no matter what speed the rider is doing. It also gives another issue when a driver doesn't overtake a rider and their minute rider is catching them. This means the minute rider feels they have to overtake both a car and rider over a solid white line....

 This brings me to the main reason that 20mph zones should not be used as nothing will wind car drivers up more than riders overtaking them in a 20!

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Rendel Harris replied to mikewood | 5 months ago
2 likes

mikewood wrote:

One of our local 10TT courses has a 30mph section through a village but is downhill in both directions

All my life I've dreamed of a road that is downhill in both directions, where is this promised land please?

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mikewood replied to Rendel Harris | 5 months ago
0 likes

I knew somebody would bite!

Anywhere with a valley....

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Rendel Harris replied to mikewood | 5 months ago
0 likes

Okay, I've tried to picture it, I'm still flummoxed as to how the same section of road can be downhill in both directions…

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mikewood replied to Rendel Harris | 5 months ago
1 like

Not in the same place but on the same stretch of road through a village. Clue is there's water at the bottom!

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Rendel Harris replied to mikewood | 5 months ago
0 likes

mikewood wrote:

Not in the same place but on the same stretch of road through a village. Clue is there's water at the bottom!

So you're going down a valley to a village then uphill away from the village, then turning round and going back in the same direction? That's downhill then uphill then downhill then uphill, not downhill in both directions! Ye cannae change the laws of physics, captain!

(PS just messing, I get what you mean, I just liked the idea of a section that can be downhill in both directions)

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NotNigel replied to Rendel Harris | 5 months ago
6 likes

I can't help think of Penrose Stairs.

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mikewood replied to Rendel Harris | 5 months ago
1 like

Yes, it's an out and back course so you go hrough the same village twice. I have been known to sit outside the pub watching a TT as you see everyone twice and then one of the local bashes comes through as well

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David9694 replied to Rendel Harris | 5 months ago
2 likes

Ebikeville 

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TheAdebo | 5 months ago
3 likes

I understand the safety concerns. I don't understand the advice. It has real 1970's shop steward vibes. Over complex, wishy washy and fails to meet the statrd objectives.

You can't race in 20mph zones unless (long list of exceptions) you really want to. In which case, carry on regardless. But if you do, you must obey the law including speed limits which don't legally apply to cyclists.

The motion is carried. Now senior steward brother Johnson, would like to address the matter of the unacceptable and Emperalist restrictions against workers smoking in the dynamite storage room.

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Velophaart_95 | 5 months ago
2 likes

Move TT events away from the open roads, and onto somewhere else; hire a venue, etc

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