Racing on towpaths at 'average' of 19mph

Published: Wednesday, 11 February 2015

IT IS official—the upgraded towpaths are being used for cycle racing, with speeds of an average of 19mph, meaning much higher speeds are obviously being reached.

Not just a few but a staggering total of 1,102 attempts were made by 542 speeding cyclists along the upgraded towpath of the Kennet & Avon Canal from Bradford on Avon to Bath, reaching a recorded average of 19mph, writes Ralph Freeman.

Time trials

Anyone who has watched the Tour de France or other such bike races will know what a time trial is. It's a race against the clock over a given route; the person with the shortest time wins. Simple. But how many of you know there is now a variation on this form of competition using the latest communications technology to create 'virtual time trials'. There are apps to run on smartphones which connect to web sites such as Strava where you can post your time and compare it to other riders to claim top bragging rights for a particular route.

The cyclist wishing to monitor his performance i.e. speed along a given route can carry a small GPS device or a smartphone for that matter, which will log their position/speed/time so enabling a very accurate journey time and speed to be recorded. Also the GPS tracking proves the correct course was travelled with no short cuts!

Encourage faster cycling

Having completed your personal 'time trial' you can then upload it to sites like the Strava one for storage. So you could, if you wish, record your daily commute to work and see what your best time is and if your fitness is improving. However, things become better or worse, depending on your point of view, because routes are now being made public on the Strava web site that you can ride and then compare your time with others to create a league table, and of course encourage faster cycling. Hence the 'virtual time trial' label.

A renovated, metalled towpath makes an ideal, vehicle free route to carry out such a virtual time trial and test speed against others.

On the Strava site you will find a route along a canal towpath which includes in the header the following information:

1,102 attempts

Bradford on Avon to Bath via canal towpath. Ride Segment Bradford On Avon, Wiltshire, United Kingdom
12.9km (8m) distance, 1,102 attempts by 542 people

The top three in the male rankings have times for the 'course' in the region of 24 to 27 minutes at an average speed of 27kmh (16mph) to 31km/h (19mph).

Canal side race tracks

So, many dog walkers and boaters who have described upgraded towpaths as becoming 'race tracks' are not far off the mark. These virtual time trials would explain why some of the Lycra brigade will not slow down for anything and just bawl at other towpath users to 'get out of the way'. Do you realise, you selfish person mooring your boat up to set a lock, that you could be ruining some rider's best time ever and their chance to go number one on Strava? Shame on you!

Expanding at a pace

With Sustrans and councils aided and abetted by CaRT, bent of transforming our peaceful towpaths into time trial courses for a small minority to commandeer, then all I can say is well done! Your plan is working.

Where is English Nature when you need it? I bet the local wildlife, herons in particular are not amused by these so-called improvements. Another peaceful haven for contemplation destroyed, but for what purpose?