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Drivers “surprised and happy” to see horses on the road – but “frustrated, angry, and anxious” when overtaking cyclists, new road rage study finds

The report, which examined mindfulness when overtaking cyclists and horses, found that one in three motorists often or always feel frustrated towards cyclists on the road, and that 70 per cent believe cyclists “don’t obey road rules”

Motorists are most likely to experience feelings of surprise or happiness when encountering and having to overtake horses and horse riders on the road – but anger, frustration, and anxiety when faced with the same situation involving a cyclist, a new study examining the role of mindfulness when passing vulnerable road users has found.

The research, carried out on behalf of the British Horse Society, also found that 80 per cent of drivers agree that motorists are held up by cyclists when in a rush, while seven out of ten drivers surveyed agreed that cyclists are unpredictable, can appear from nowhere, and don’t obey road rules.

Published last week, the Road Safety Trust-funded project was undertaken by David Crundall, Editha van Loon, and Katherine Bailey from Nottingham Trent University, and surveyed over 1,000 drivers on how they feel, think, and behave around vulnerable road users such as cyclists and horse riders in a bid “to better understand their emotions, attitudes, and behaviours”.

> Cycling UK and British Horse Society issue guidance to cyclists on how to overtake horses safely

As part of the study, the 1,006 drivers from across the UK who took part in the online questionnaire were asked how often they feel a range of emotions – including frustration, happiness, surprise, anger, contempt, and anxiety – when “faced with cyclists, horse riders, or motorcyclists in the road ahead”.

32 per cent of those surveyed reporting feeling frustrated towards cyclists “often” or “nearly always”. 20 per cent, meanwhile, reported the same frequencies of anxiety around cyclists, and 16 per cent said they were often or nearly always angry at people on bikes on the road.

In comparison, only two per cent said they were often or nearly always angry when faced with horses and horse riders on the road (though those behind the study noted that this still amounts to 24 of the 1,006 drivers surveyed, described as a “sizeable minority with extreme views”).

Over three-quarters of those surveyed said they felt frustration towards cyclists at least sometimes, with almost half experiencing anger occasionally. Under a quarter of respondents, meanwhile, said they never or almost never felt angry when passing a cyclist on the road.

Pickup driver chases cyclist after close pass (Jay McSerk, Twitter)

> Study finds drivers who cycle or understand recommended cyclist road positioning are less likely to blame cyclists for close passes

The motorists were then asked to share how often they engage in risky or aggressive behaviour around vulnerable road users. 24 per cent said they shout or gesticulate at cyclists at least sometimes, with two per cent admitting that they frequently or almost always shout at cyclists.

Around a quarter of the drivers also said they sometimes follow cyclists at or less than a car’s length behind them (with around 15 per cent revealing that they frequently or almost always follow cyclists at close proximity), with roughly the same number admitting they leave people on bikes less than 1.5m space when passing. 40 per cent admitted overtaking cyclists at or above the speed limit for the road.

Between 20 and 30 per cent of drivers also said they sound their horn or rev their engine at cyclists before passing them.

Horses, however, appear to evoke much fewer instances of negative behaviour, with an average of 97 per cent saying they never engage in aggressive behaviour towards the animals and their riders on the road.

> Look out for horses — here's how to pass horse riders safely

Finally, when focusing on attitudes towards cyclists, 81 per cent said they strongly or somewhat agree that drivers may be in a rush and are held up by cyclists, while around 70 per cent agreed that cyclists are “unpredictable” and “can appear from nowhere”.

68 per cent also agreed with the statement that “cyclists don’t obey road rules” and around 55 per cent agreed that drivers may be stressed about something else and take it out on cyclists, that packs of leisure cyclists can be intimidating, and that cyclists “act arrogantly”.

Just under half (48 per cent) also strongly or somewhat concurred that cyclists should pay “road tax” (despite the fact it doesn’t exist) and 26 per cent agreed that cyclists “shouldn’t be on the roads”.

Richmond Park close pass (@ohbee07/Twitter)

> The real impact of close passes on cyclists — my children were nearly left fatherless due to the actions of one callous driver

In their free-form text responses to the questionnaire, some drivers expressed annoyance that cyclists “are slowing down traffic”, with one noting that “I am often in a rush and with time deadlines to get somewhere, so the hold-up of staying behind a cyclist holds me up far too long”.

Road position and riding two-abreast also formed a significant portion of the responses, with some arguing that “commuting cyclists… ride in the middle of the road making it hard to pass” and that “cyclists are very rude and ride in the middle of the road so that you can’t overtake”.

“Recreational expert cyclists often ride deliberately next to each other to slow other [road] users down,” another respondent said.

Other responses were even more forthright, and included claims that cyclists – or “Lycra warriors”, as one respondent described them – “are selfish and dangerous and think they own the road at times” and are “arrogant arseholes”.

“When there is a cycle path and it’s not being used, we always shout ‘use the cycle path psychopath!’” one of the motorists added.

This data was subsequently assessed by mindfulness experts, with a group of drivers then treated to a four-week training intervention, where they were shown newly crafted scripted videos which aimed to tackle a lack of knowledge about unsafe passing behaviours by providing information on how to overtake vulnerable road users, provide persuasive arguments to reframe motorists’ attitudes towards cyclists, and offer mindfulness techniques to combat in-the-moment emotions such frustration and anger.

According to the report, the four videos had a positive effect on the attitudes and emotions, particularly concerning frustration, of the drivers towards cyclists, and that their intended future overtaking speeds have decreased, along with a decrease in their unsafe passing behaviours.

The motorists who took part in the online course also said the videos would be of great benefit for other drivers, reckoning that their knowledge, attitudes, and level of control when overtaking had improved, and that they would use the recommended safe passing and mindfulness techniques in practice.

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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106 comments

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David J lantern... | 3 weeks ago
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Many good points,but commuting in London and surrounding areas I see lots of terrible behaviour by cyclists as well.
Drivers demonise 'lycra louts ' (good alliteration) but most of those who ignore red lights and zig zag across the road are on shabby old bikes in ordinary clothing often with no helmet.
Change the mindset,respect the red and take pleasure in chasing down and overtaking those who have gone through the red.
Most of us are drivers too and have encountered bad cyclists while driving.

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chrisonabike replied to David J lanterne rouge | 3 weeks ago
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Well ... dunno if that's a "but I'm a Good Cyclist, Mr. Driver"?  And probably statistically the largest number of those who ignore red lights are on 4 wheels (because there are a lot more journeys driven than cycled, and those also tend to be longer so more lights to pass) ...

I quite agree - there are plenty of pillocks pedalling out there.  The UK doesn't have mass cycling, so there will be demographic differences between "people who drive" and "people who cycle" (despite very considerable overlap e.g. many cyclists also drive, though few drivers also cycle on the roads).

But... I'm not sure whose "mindset" is to be changed (how?  By whom?).  Or who should take pleasure chasing down whom?  Should I (on a bike) take pleasure in chasing down an amber gambler (or red-light runner) - and should I go through red to do so?  If it's someone in a motor vehicle I suspect they are "better armoured" - perhaps I should steer clear?  If a "yob on a bike" (clearly not one of us cyclists...) maybe it's not wise to get on their radar either (they've already shown lack of respect for rules)?

It'd be nice if everyone followed the rules.  I'd note the dangers from and risks to cyclists and drivers are rather different (as are the light-jumping styles) so perhaps tackling these differently is advisable.  In the future I hope we might be able to fix it so our safety systems work with human nature - the normal, casual, impatient people we are - because training / enforcement has its limits (one would be "mass transport").

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Cayo | 3 weeks ago
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Unsurprisingly worrying statistics in that survey. More so if you consider that (IMO) people's answers to any survey about their behaviour, attitudes or feelings on a subject are probably toned down compared to what they are in reality. Even when a survey is anonymous, people want to give a good account of themselves, so chances are (again, IMO) the respondents behaviour is worse than the survey results suggest.

And as I've said in previous discussions, angry people should not be in charge of lethal machinery...

My personal interactions with horse riders are generally positive. Living in a suburban area and only a short ride into the countryside, I will encounter the occasional horse. If approaching from behind, I take a similar approach as for pedestrians: stop pedalling and see if the clicking of the freewheel is enough to attract the rider's attention. If not, a gentle "coming through" call and taking as wide a pass as possible, right over to the opposite verge where practical, at no more than brisk walking pace, saying hello or making a polite comment when alongside. Sometimes I get a thank you, sometimes pretty much zero acknowledgement of my existence, but to date no actual negativity that I can remember. I'd certainly rather encounter the average horse rider than the average driver.

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Fifth Gear | 4 weeks ago
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Starting with Iain Duncan Smith, what is needed is mass screening of all drivers followed by therapy for cyclophobes, driversaurs, petrolheads, speedophiles, carseholes, petrosexuals, autoholics and motor supremacists.

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Bustacrimes | 1 month ago
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A whopping 0.3% of people in the UK own horses. 

There are over 76,000 separate bridleway routes with a total length of over 25,000 miles. Many of these are unuseable for cyclists as they are churned up by the aforementioned horses.

47% of people aged 5 and over owned or had access to a cycle in 2021.

There are 5,220 miles of traffic-free cycle paths and 7,519 miles of unsegregated road lanes. 

Its about time the masses were catered for and not just the few. 

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mdavidford replied to Bustacrimes | 1 month ago
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The horses were there first.

This sounds suspiciously like the kind of arguments that people use for demanding cyclists are removed from the roads.

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Bustacrimes replied to mdavidford | 1 month ago
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Weird logic. At a time when proportional representation has never been more relevant, you seem suspicious of a list of facts highlighting the lack of cycling infrastructure and investment. 

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mdavidford replied to Bustacrimes | 1 month ago
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Bustacrimes wrote:

Weird logic. At a time when proportional representation has never been more relevant, you seem suspicious of a list of facts highlighting the lack of cycling infrastructure and investment. 

If that's all it had been doing, I would have been in violent agreement. But instead it was arguing for taking provision away from one marginalised mode to give it to another, ignoring the four-wheeled elephant on the tarmac.

[It also ignores that most of those bridleways are used significantly more by bipedal denizens than by four-footed ones, and they outnumber the two-wheeled ones.]

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Bustacrimes replied to mdavidford | 1 month ago
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Your projection is way off the mark - & i dont want to "argue" with anyone. As i tried to explain in a further post, repurposing a large network of existing infrastructure for the masses makes perfect sense. If you think we are going to get anything better, then history of investment in cycling would suggest otherwise. 

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mdavidford replied to Bustacrimes | 1 month ago
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I didn't say 'argue with', I said 'argue for'.

It makes perfect sense to you; not so much to those who would lose out. Just as it would make perfect sense to those who drive but don't cycle to ban bikes from the roads.

I'm not particularly optimistic that we're going to get anything significantly better in the near future, but I also don't see the value in 'kicking down' by taking provision away from others who've been marginalised (especially for something that wouldn't be much of an improvement on what we already have). And I don't entirely buy the council of despair - it may be a long hard slog of tiny incremental wins and ninety-nine steps forward and ninety-eight back, but cannibalising the bridleway network distracts from even that minimal progress.

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chrisonabike replied to mdavidford | 1 month ago
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Agree - bridleways are far from just the preserve of "priveleged horseists".

It's always a balance.  And in our predominantly urban lives (in the UK) decisions about the countryside are even more tricky.  While it would be nice not to build over more land (in the countryside or in urban areas) it seems we'll have to do some of that.  At least until the priorities change vis-a-vis how we allocate space.  I have some (small) hopes regarding that - it has happened in lots of places - and we're just starting to see this in a few places in the UK.  And looking down the line even reversing roadbuilding can happen [1] [2].

OTOH bridleways are a good non-paved resource and enjoyed by many for that reason.  Is there a case to upgrade some (either hard surface or fully pave)?  Possibly (perhaps "equalities" - for access by those with disabilities / by our increasingly aged population).  What "returns" would we get from doing the lot?  I'm unclear and like you I think it could easily be as much a loss as a gain.

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belugabob replied to Bustacrimes | 4 weeks ago
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Bustacrimes wrote:

Your projection is way off the mark - & i dont want to "argue" with anyone. As i tried to explain in a further post, repurposing a large network of existing infrastructure for the masses makes perfect sense. If you think we are going to get anything better, then history of investment in cycling would suggest otherwise. 

Now, where could we locate a large network of infrastructure that could be repurposed for the masses, preferably a network that actually goes places that people want to go, and don't turn to impenetrable slop for a large part of the year?

I can wait, if it's taking you a while...

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ktache replied to Bustacrimes | 1 month ago
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If it wasn't for the horses there wouldn't be bridleways.

And it depends what sort of bicycle you are using, I myself require low pressure 3 inch Surly Dirt Wizards for the swampier months.

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Bustacrimes replied to ktache | 1 month ago
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Yes, horses were very popular modes of transport. Personally i dont see them as a solution to modern day problems of the mass movement of people, and the fitness benefits seems to mostly apply to the horse. 

It seems like we have a massive resource that without much effort could be better utilised. Kudos for riding in the slop. I cant ride the trails here in the winter as they are approximately 6" deep with mud. 

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ktache replied to Bustacrimes | 1 month ago
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Six inches, luxury.

One evening earlier in the year my lights picked out frogs doing their froggy thing in some of the puddles.

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chrisonabike replied to Bustacrimes | 1 month ago
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Bustacrimes wrote:

Yes, horses were very popular modes of transport. Personally i dont see them as a solution to modern day problems of the mass movement of people, and the fitness benefits seems to mostly apply to the horse. 

It seems like we have a massive resource that without much effort could be better utilised. Kudos for riding in the slop. I cant ride the trails here in the winter as they are approximately 6" deep with mud. 

Still not quite sure about how fighting with horseists over (muddy) scraps ("massive resource"?) going round fields in the countryside is going to solve our issues of mass transportation?  Unless that Day Today Chris Morris news satire piece about horses taking over the London underground tunnels was true?

I'm for a) (wild dreams) addressing the issue of "resilience, nicer places, happier and healthier people" via trying to get something like mass cycling in urban areas. b) Conscious that this leaves some notty problems in more rural areas.  But they're actually a lot bigger (and of longer duration) than just "but cars".  c) Would like to see better cycle options in the countryside also, but much of this should come from taking space from roads - or by providing cyclepath you can also walk on alongside them, like they do in NL.

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Bustacrimes replied to chrisonabike | 1 month ago
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I think the history of investment by succesive governments into cycling infrastructure means your wild dreams are likely never going to come to fruition. I think the tiny fraction of people that ride horses should not have such a resource dedicated purely to their needs - as per Chris Morris, no-one is commuting by horse. Resurfacing these areas would make for an excellent network, and their design was to connect population centres, not provide recreaional space for "horseists".

City centre cycling is almost a problem in of itself that wont ever be solved until more cycling voices are heard by those in positions to make a difference. I think small steps could get us there, but it wont happen if there is a lack of space for cycling. 

 

 

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chrisonabike replied to Bustacrimes | 1 month ago
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Agree with parts of the above e.g. safe space for cycling is necessary, if not sufficient.  And rural cycling is much less appealing to most than it could be due to "fast roads" and often no footway.

However I'm still not seeing how turning bridle paths into paved routes will do much.  No doubt some of the current (few) cyclists there or on the edges of bigger urban areas will enjoy their recreational potential...

An excellent network?  And is it the case their "design was to connect population centres"?  How many people are looking to travel around between these smaller places in the country - and would swap car for bike given the distances?  I suspect that while some people certainly do use country cycle paths in NL most longer distances are still covered by other means.

I'm in favour of providing safe connections for cycling in the countryside but I think the numbers (and proportions) using are going to be small.  (Possibly Interesting note - someone here posted that the Dutch cycle path infra may have been kept going / received a boost from being a way to provide safe space for motor scooter riders back in the day).

EDIT - generally the roads take "the routes people want to go" (subject to terrain, landowners, history etc).   That's the reason why the cars are driving on them and we haven't converted the remaining bridleways for their use!  That of course makes the roads (or next to them) less pleasant for cycle use of course... and yes, it can be a good strategy to send the bikes and the cars different routes.  That doesn't work so well if the result is longer bike routes though.

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Rendel Harris replied to Bustacrimes | 1 month ago
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Bustacrimes wrote:

 Yes, horses were very popular modes of transport. Personally i dont see them as a solution to modern day problems of the mass movement of people, and the fitness benefits seems to mostly apply to the horse. 

Let's be honest, cycling on bridleways isn't a solution to modern day problems of the mass movement of people either. That requires proper cycle paths that are usable throughout the year. Turfing horses off bridleways would benefit nobody except perhaps the few gravel riders and MTBers who aren't prepared to slow down and share.

In terms of fitness, I've only ridden a horse probably half-a-dozen times in my life, if that, but by God it's hard work on the legs, they would definitely get stronger if you rode regularly. Regular horse riders are also notable for having strong core muscles, and riding at anything above walking pace certainly gets the heart working. It's definitely exercise

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Bustacrimes replied to Rendel Harris | 1 month ago
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Appreciate your honesty. I think adapting this underused resource would make for a fantastic network of cycling routes. I'd happily cycle a bit further if it removed cars from the equation, and the scenery is usually stunning. 

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Rendel Harris replied to Bustacrimes | 1 month ago
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Bustacrimes wrote:

Appreciate your honesty. I think adapting this underused resource would make for a fantastic network of cycling routes. I'd happily cycle a bit further if it removed cars from the equation, and the scenery is usually stunning. 

I don't quite see how your proposed vision would pan out: if you just want to ban horses and use bridleways for cycling only, I don't think that would make a lot of difference, most people are not going to commute, shop or otherwise use bicycles for transport on muddy bridleways in autumn/winter/spring and removing horses from them would not improve their condition significantly – for example last month I rode 109 km from Reading to London primarily along the Thames Path, horses don't use the path but large sections were still massively churned up (mainly by bikes) and definitely not suitable for mass transit. If you mean resurfacing bridleways with suitable packed gravel or tarmac paths that could be used throughout the year, that would be brilliant assuming one could find a government/local authority willing to fund it. However many/most bridleways are wide enough to allow for a gravelled/paved section for cyclists and a corridor for horses as well, so as long as we are all prepared to be sensible and share nicely there's no reason we have to turn the horses off the bridleways in order to use them effectively ourselves.

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Clem Fandango replied to Rendel Harris | 1 month ago
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Most of my local bridleways, however muddy / frequently used by horseists, wouldn't be much use as part of mass movement solutions anyway.  I can't think of one that would help get me to work/the shops/the pub/little Martin's cello lesson etc

They are are great resource as they are for leisure riding / the odd accasion where I can fit them in on a MTB/gravel forray to somewhere.  Plus MOST of the encounters I get with walkers / dog walkers / horsey types are fairly pleasant.  They don't need to be convereted into bike paths IMHO - you just need to accept the mud/insects/brambles/nettles and plan accordingly.

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belugabob replied to Bustacrimes | 4 weeks ago
1 like
Bustacrimes wrote:

Yes, horses were very popular modes of transport. Personally i dont see them as a solution to modern day problems of the mass movement of people, and the fitness benefits seems to mostly apply to the horse. 

It seems like we have a massive resource that without much effort could be better utilised. Kudos for riding in the slop. I cant ride the trails here in the winter as they are approximately 6" deep with mud. 

If you think that riding a horse doesn't require a level of fitness, then I hope no horsey folk are reading this, or you may find yourself facing a challenge (fingers crossed)

P.S. explored some new (to me) Bridleways on June 1st - I seriously thought I'd taken a wrong turn and ended up in February

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ktache replied to belugabob | 4 weeks ago
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It's been a little damp...

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mattw replied to Bustacrimes | 4 weeks ago
1 like

Bustacrimes wrote:

Yes, horses were very popular modes of transport. Personally i dont see them as a solution to modern day problems of the mass movement of people, and the fitness benefits seems to mostly apply to the horse. 

It seems like we have a massive resource that without much effort could be better utilised. Kudos for riding in the slop. I cant ride the trails here in the winter as they are approximately 6" deep with mud. 

Oh yes they can be better utilised.

But that is a matter of politics and policy, the removal of physical barriers, appropriate policing and investment / maintenance.

I'm optimistic for an improvement over the next decade, now that we are flushing the current Government of Turds down the toilet. I am not sure just how far that improvement will go.

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wycombewheeler replied to ktache | 1 month ago
2 likes

ktache wrote:

If it wasn't for the horses there wouldn't be bridleways.

And it depends what sort of bicycle you are using, I myself require low pressure 3 inch Surly Dirt Wizards for the swampier months.

my legs are short, but I can't imagine riding a 3" bike

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belugabob replied to Bustacrimes | 4 weeks ago
1 like
Bustacrimes wrote:

A whopping 0.3% of people in the UK own horses. 

There are over 76,000 separate bridleway routes with a total length of over 25,000 miles. Many of these are unuseable for cyclists as they are churned up by the aforementioned horses.

47% of people aged 5 and over owned or had access to a cycle in 2021.

There are 5,220 miles of traffic-free cycle paths and 7,519 miles of unsegregated road lanes. 

Its about time the masses were catered for and not just the few. 

...and a lot of those Bridleways just finish, in the middle of nowhere.

Anyway, if horses are so uncommon, then the occasional need to deal with them shouldn't be too onerous - for a reasonable person.

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mattw replied to Bustacrimes | 4 weeks ago
1 like

They are - that's why we get to use bridleways as of right.

There are also thousands of miles of multiuser paths which are not in the PROW network.

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levestane replied to Bustacrimes | 4 weeks ago
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Bustacrimes wrote:

Many of these are unuseable for cyclists as they are churned up by the aforementioned horses.

I cycle a few bridleways and have not had difficulty, maybe bike choice matters?

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ktache replied to levestane | 4 weeks ago
2 likes

My commuting bridleways are essential no matter the state, but there is a particular bridleway on my hour loop, so recreation/exercise that I avoid when wet as it is so properly horsy I believe there is a polo field next to it.

My morning commute uses a bridleway across common land that is also unfortunately a BOAT, and those green laners do far more damage than any number of horses could do.

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