Cycling used to be an innocent childhood pastime – a chance to see the world and enjoy a first taste of freedom. Many of us wish it had stayed that way.
Today, cycling is an exploding craze, a macho, high-speed hobby bringing town-centre traffic to a stop and turning the roads near my home into a velodrome.
It is creating frustration and anger in millions of people simply trying to go about their business.
Country lanes are commandeered by self-righteous platoons of middle-aged men in tight-fitting costumes.
In town, a journey to the Westminster office seems like a trip through the streets of Peking or Amsterdam. When I stop at traffic lights, cyclists surround me like a strange swarm of insects.
Many completely ignore the rules of the road – that much is well established – yet cyclists are the new kings of the highway, accountable to nobody.
Of course, the rest of us are told to shut up because cycling is the green alternative, better for the environment and healthy living. And so on.
But it is high time bike riders were regulated, registered and taxed – and subject to the same rules as the drivers of other vehicles.
When they break the law, they should be prosecuted like the rest of us.
Things were quite bad enough even in pre-Covid Britain. Now, thanks to the virus, things have got many times worse.
A frenzy of high-minded moral purpose – allied to a lockdown culture of big government deciding how we should live our lives – has been the perfect excuse for town and city councils to impose a range of drastic ‘cycle-friendly’ measures with appalling consequences.
In May, the Department for Transport earmarked £225 million to be spent across the country – notably in London, Oxford, Manchester, Birmingham and York – for ’emergency active travel schemes for local authorities due to the pandemic’.
The department says the money will allow local authorities to produce ‘new cycling and walking facilities’ while the altered road and parking schemes will help promote a safe economic recovery.
This is why, at great cost, major two-lane roads have been cut in half to make way for cycle lanes – with predictable results.
In September, a street in Poole was blocked off so it could be turned into a Covid-safe bike path.
Residents were forced to take long detours to get to their own homes and put up signs in protest, but these were removed by council workers who feared they could injure cyclists.
Is this not utter madness?
Last month, Portsmouth City Council announced that it would remove all parking along two main roads in Southsea to accommodate fully segregated bike lanes in both directions as part of a three-week trial which may become permanent.
Guess what? Shop owners, already struggling, believe it will kill business dead.
For much of the day these new bike lanes with their endless lines of shiny white posts lie empty while traffic jams block what is left of the roads.
Who can doubt that these nose-to-tail queues are pumping out more pollution than ever?
In London they have – bizarrely – driven bike lanes straight through bus stops and dumped bus stops in the middle of the carriageway, supposedly to keep cyclists and the traffic apart. What about the pedestrians?
The whole thing is a nail-biting nightmare for drivers and pretty dangerous for cyclists too.
It was no surprise when, on Friday, it emerged that installing new cycling lanes in Glasgow had actually led to more cyclists crashing.
Navigating left-hand turns across these fenced-off bike lanes is now a nerve-racking experience for motorists and any conflicts usually result in a stream of abuse from the riders.
What about those who drive for a living? How are van drivers supposed to deliver or taxi drivers do their job? What about those who, like the disabled, depend on vehicles to get about?
It must be no joke getting a wheelchair across one of these new cycling free-for-alls.
These ill-judged measures are damaging business at a terrible time for the economy.
Cyclists, meanwhile, pay no road charges, despite the huge costs of putting in the new cycle lanes – and despite the revolting piety so many of them love to express.
Chaotic, ill-planned, poorly executed, at times comical, this war on motorists is an affront to democracy, introduced without consultation or clarity for purposes which organisations like Transport for London are yet to disclose.
There used to be very few adult cyclists and they tended to be older, kindly types who had never learned to drive a car. These days they have assumed the role of helmeted law enforcers.
Increasingly, these pedalling policemen wear helmet cameras to film their journeys, spying on cars in case their drivers dare to touch a mobile phone while sitting at a red light.
They, in contrast, are free – without the inconvenience of number plates – to ride on pavements, go through lights and ignore ‘one-way’ signs at will. This is not a level playing field.
So you’ll understand my dismay when a friend who lives in London told me he’d just taken up cycling and now visits the area in the North Downs where I live.
We’ve long been used to weekend visitors because the area is beautiful. But since lockdown began in March, familiar groups of walkers have been joined by thousands of cyclists tearing through the lanes – and not just at weekends.
During the summer, they are seen and heard from 5.30am onwards. They seem to go as fast as they possibly can for as long as possible.
Not for cyclists the restrictions of lockdown, such as the suggested limit of one-hour exercise per day in place for the early months. Rules simply don’t apply.
Few are women. Most seem to be middle-aged men with paunches and beards. And I can tell from their looks of shock when they see me walking along the lane that the vast majority are Remainers.
Perhaps this helps to explain my prejudice: I simply don’t like them and wish they weren’t here.
We all have the right to use the Queen’s highway, but there has to be a set of rules for every road user and consideration for each other.
There are plenty of horse riders on the roads round here, yet I have never heard a single complaint about them.
There is something about cyclists’ aggression, their sheer number, and the impact they are having on people’s lives that is very different and deeply unpleasant.
I am not normally one to argue for more Government regulation, but there is a palpable unfairness in our cities, suburbs and rural England and it needs to be addressed.
The time has come for cyclists to be licensed – and to be forced to obey the Highway Code like the rest of us.
In the meantime, I am hoping for gales, heavy rain, and many leaves to fall.