"Breaking the speed limit is not the most serious crime." Unless it’s done by a cyclist. That seems to be the conclusion of two stories in today’s Sunday Times. That speeding is "not a serious crime" was part of a story about Chris Huhne – who made his wife accept speeding fine points – but, later in the newspaper, in a story about Strava, a sports-monitoring app, there’s contempt for cyclists who go three miles over 30mph speed limits. The article also claims cyclists are routinely riding much faster than this, a fact debunked by VeloViewer, who told the Sunday Times reporters they were barking up the wrong tree.
What’s not mentioned in the Strava cycling piece is that, perhaps surprisingly, speed limits do not apply to cyclists.
In an article about cycling and the law, industry-owned website BikeHub.co.uk says:
"Many commenters to newspapers and online forums complain that cyclists travel too slowly and impede the progress of motorists. These commenters may be surprised to learn that cyclists share no legal obligation to adhere to speed limits. Speed limits on motor vehicles were introduced in 1903 in order to protect members of the public from the harm that can be done by excessive speed made possible by engines. The speed limit in 1903 was set at 20mph; this limit was routinely breached by early motorists. In 1934 the speed limit in towns was set at 30mph. Not then and not since have any laws been enacted to make cyclists adhere to the speeding regulations brought in for motorised vehicles."
BikeHub goes on to say that "While, technically, cyclists do not have to adhere to speed limits, in practice it is most sensible and safe to do so. Cyclists who breach the speed limit may not be prosecuted for a speeding offence but…can be prosecuted for ‘cycling furiously’ or ‘wanton and furious driving’.”
This is echoed by Edmund King, the AA president, who told the Sunday Times:
“Racing, whether on two wheels or four, is best done on a track or velodrome rather than the public highway,”
The Sunday Times (which has a weekly column by Jeremy Clarkson, not a huge fan of speed restrictions on motorists) claimed that "commuter routes, inner-city streets and country lanes are being turned into virtual racetracks by cyclists monitoring their speed with GPS devices…An increase in the number taking part in these virtual time trials is fuelling concerns that the phenomenon is encouraging recklessness on the roads."
The Sunday Times believes cyclists using Strava GPS monitoring app on smartphones are speeding through traffic lights on red.
"On a stretch of Victoria Embankment from Westminster Bridge to Temple Avenue, a distance of 1.19 miles, the fastest male cyclist, named on Strava as Steve Oh, clocked 2 minutes and 23 seconds. The fastest woman, Melanie Wasley, recorded a time of 2 minutes 57 seconds."
A motorbike which did not exceed the 30mph speed limit and stopped for all red lights took 4 minutes 27 seconds.
Asked why it continued to host leaderboard times only achievable by breaking British speed limits (for motorists), Strava told the Sunday Times: “We continue to encourage good behaviour within our community and strive for our users to understand the responsibility that they have to follow the law and to use common sense. You are in charge of your own safety and the safety of those around you when you are riding.”
Sara Rodgers, who works for Sheffield council and holds 50 Strava top times, said that, while being competitive, she never jumped red lights. “I have been knocked off my bike before, and so I know it’s not even worth risking that for a time,” she said.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about today’s article in the Sunday Times is that it’s taken so long. Use of Strava has been controversial in the world of cycling since early in 2012 due to a case in America when a fast-moving cyclist mowed down and killed a pedestrian. The pundits on the Spokesmen industry podcast in April 2012 said it was only a matter of time before the mainstream media latched on to the Strava-and-speeding-cyclists phenomomen.