The Spokesmen Cycling Roundtable Podcast
The Cycling Roundtable Podcast

21st April 2024

The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast

EPISODE 352: Laura Laker

SPONSOR: Tern Bicycles

HOST: Carlton Reid

GUEST: Laura Laker


Carlton Reid  0:11  
Welcome to Episode 352 of the Spokesmen cycling podcast. This show was engineered on Sunday, April 21 2024.

David Bernstein  0:28  
The Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast is brought to you by Tern bicycles. The good people at Tern are committed to building bikes that are useful enough to ride every day and dependable enough to carry the people you love. In other words, they make the kind of bikes that they want to ride. Tern has e-bikes for every type of rider. Whether you're commuting, taking your kids to school or even carrying another adult, visit That's t e r n to learn more. 

Carlton Reid  1:04  
I'm Carlton Reid and today's show is a chat with like journalist Laura Laker, author of an excellent new book, Potholes and Pavements. This is a travelogue featuring Laura's travels around the UK, writing on some of the best and worst bits of Britain's National Cycle network. From jaw droppingly gorgeous looking ancient military roads in the Highlands of Scotland to dark and dingy urban back streets blocked with barriers. As the books subhead warns, it's a bumpy ride. Um, so you've written a book. Is this your first?

Laura Laker  1:46  
Yeah, my first my first book, believe it or not, 

Carlton Reid  1:49  
well done. Congratulations. It's a brilliant first book. One of many. I'm sure it'll be one of many. I noticed you've got a an agent. Yeah, you say in the back and thank him. So I'm guessing you're going to be doing more books? 

Laura Laker  2:00  
Yeah, I guess so. I'm not trying to think about it too much. This one was very long in the gestation. I had an idea back in 2017 to do a basically ring around talking to people.

I'd listened to the audiobook of John Steinbeck's Travels with Charlie, in which he travels across the US with his big poodle, and talking to people and he says he's most wonderful conversations, which were later question for their veracity, but it's just, it's just a wonderful format. And I love I'd kind of in that trip to America, I rediscovered my love of talking to strangers, which I had as a kid, and I'm kind of lost over the years, I guess, being British, but spending time in the US where everyone is just willing to talk to you and tell you their life story. I rediscovered this just love of cycling, is brilliant for that, you know, just talking to people you're travelling around, you might stop at some lights, or you might pass someone on a path and just get chatting to them. And it's wonderful people have the most amazing stories, I think 

Carlton Reid  2:59  
Well, there's two teachers that you met, hopefully they will read the book.

You weren't avoiding them.

Laura Laker  3:07  
I know Greg and Norton, they were so brilliant. And the most unexpected encounters and I was up in the Cairngorms and travelling alone and feeling a bit like oh, you know, such a beautiful, it's ridiculously beautiful up there. I'm always just astounded by Scotland, and how how it's possible for somewhere to be so beautiful. And the NCN [National Cycle Network] across the Cairngorms is something else, it's really quite remarkable. A lot of its off road, it's this dedicated path. It was an old military road. And the rest is on fairly quiet country roads. And I was pootling along on my big pink ebike, which I did some of my adventures on and I saw these roadies coming up behind me and I thought well that they're going to overtake me in a bit. And sure enough, they did. We said hello. And then I saw them stopped at this bridge and they were looking over and they just had this wonderful kind of whimsy about them this they weren't they were going a long way actually they're going from kind of Aviemore back to Preston where they were at least one of them lived and doing it over a couple of days in sort of training one of them's an Ironman enthusiastic participants,

but on the way they were stopping looking over bridges, that sort of waterfalls over rocks and like looking across the landscape and just enjoying the scenery. And that for me is what cycling is about. It's about

appreciating the world around us and the people around us and so they said we'll ride with us for a while and as you know ebike your Aberdeen bought a bike mine included, maxes out at 15 and a half miles an hour which these guys were obviously capable of exceeding quite easily. So but they they rode with me for quite some time and we chatted and they were just fantastic. And then yeah, they they stopped for a week and I had to run inside for a week. And then I came out and they'd gone

Carlton Reid  4:51  
but it's quite a nice way to say goodbye. Are you are you are you taking notes as you're going along? So you wrote their names and what they did. And or you

coding stuff. How are you physically? 

Laura Laker  5:02  
Yeah, so I get back at the end of a ride and write stuff down. And I do think it's best that way, especially with travel writing, because you forget so much so quickly. And the big three Cornwall, I think is, you know, in the early parts of the book, when I first started the exploration, further afield, you know, writing stuff down as you experience it, or very soon after is really important because you lose a lot of the detail and the texture of what you're experiencing. And I think it just makes for much richer story that way, but also difficult to do because you're having to memorise and maybe that's why Steinbeck was getting criticised because he wasn't writing No, no. As he was going along, he's remembering it. Well, memories can do. Memory is really interesting, actually. Because we we probably most of us think that our memories are fairly good, or the way that remember things is correct. But actually, it's very, very subjective. And the longer time goes on, the more we forget, or the memory gets warped, or things get introduced that didn't exist, maybe and it's really very, very subjective. I've got I don't know for some things, I've got quite a good short term memory so I can remember

to a certain extent, but obviously, as Homer Simpson once said, you know, one thing comes into your brain another thing has to leave it so.

Carlton Reid  6:23  
That's 100% me though. So this book Potholes and Pavements, a bumpy ride on Britain's National Cycle network, it comes out May the ninth published by Bloomsbur. £16.99. Excellent, excellent book. I read it yesterday and got up early this morning to make sure I finished it before I spoke with you. Now normally when when I talk to people for this podcast, I always get them to send me a photograph so I can do the you know, the socials and the thing that goes on the show notes. What have you with you, oh, an hour and a half to do that. Because I have ridden with you ridden with you on bits of the ride that you are right that you mentioned in your book. So when you mentioned that, you know the cycle superhighway.

You make an item was like, I've got that photograph because I was holding my camera photographing you behind me?

Laura Laker  7:20  
Yeah, with Brian Deegan.

Carlton Reid  7:21  
There's knowing smiles when I'm reading your books like I was on that ride.

Like I know, Laura. Oh, my word. It's also like me on that ride. And when you describe windmills, yes. But the windmills and

it's a cute book for me. Also cute because I know lots of these people who you're describing. And I know in the book, it says he didn't want to be described as a hero. But he is a hero. And because it's about the National Cycle network, then clearly that's got to be the guy who

not single handedly founded it, but certainly pushed it through with those with those early innovators. So that's John Grimshaw.

So he comes in, he's, he's in at least three or four parts of the book, you've clearly gone to speak to him a number of times wonderful. And it's fantastic that he's in there, because he really doesn't get the recognition he deserves. 

Laura Laker  8:16  
Yeah, it's interesting. I mean, he I obviously have to speak to John Grimshaw. Because a lot of people as he points out, and as I tried to convey in the book, a lot of people and probably, you know, uncountable numbers of people were involved in the foundation of and development of the National Cycle network. And then it's maintenance ever since many of whom are working for very little, in fact, nothing, because they loved it. But John really seemed like, talking to people and talking to him, was the driving this real driving force behind it and his kind of self belief and single minded determination, I think was a major driver and he is such a character. I mean, a bit of a Marmite character, I think, but, you know, it seems like you need people to kind of drive things forward. 

Carlton Reid  9:05  
Cos you need somebody like that. He's a visionary. Yeah, you know.

I love Malcolm Shepherd. I love Zavier Brice, the people who are in charge now and Malcolm was the guy who came in after

after John.

But Malcolm wasn't a visionary. Malcolm was an accountant. And when when the organisation any organisation any business gets big, then you very often need somebody else to take over. And there's lots of faction there at the time. You don't go into it in a great detail. That was enormous friction there and there's still enormous amount of bad blood

between people. 

Laura Laker  9:46  
Yeah, and it's interesting because Caroline Lovatt. Here's another key figure from fairly early on and still works with John today. On there, they're still building cycle routes under a different organisation, cycle routes and greenways and

Um, she says that, you know, for for years, according to her, John kept disappearing from the kind of record of that of the history of the NCN on Wikipedia, she kept putting him back in. And um, yeah, I mean, the story was, and that was a difficult part of it to tell. But it was one that had to be mentioned, I didn't want to go too into it. But obviously, you know, John, leaving Sustrans under fairly strange circumstances, and really against his will, was was part of the story that needed to be told. And it was a different and I spoke to a number of people and nobody really, I think, you know, there were potentially nondisclosure agreements. And so nobody really talks about what exactly happened, which is why I call I mentioned the omerta. Because it really seems like everyone has a slightly different story, or, and I and again, I, you know, it's memory and it was a painful time. And it was a long time ago. And it's quite common, as you say, with new organisations, you've got this big driving force, but then sometimes they're not the person to carry on leading an organisation once the first major thing is done, and, you know, they might not be great with people is, you know, having a skill to start and drive something is not the same as being a sort of manager of people and diplomats. And it's, yeah, it's quite often it's a painful process, certainly not unique, I think.

Carlton Reid  11:16  
No, it's very common for that kind of thing to happen. However, saying that it's very important to recognise who was that visionary? And I think he lost an awful lot of that. So, so wonderful to see John.

central to that. So that's really nice part of the book because I, you know, John, John is a wonderful, wonderful guy, and absolutely, this would not have happened without him. I know, there's lots of other people

you know, David Sproxton, all these kind of people were there at the same time, George Ferguson. So So Sproxton was Aardman Animation. So people who know admire animation, George Ferguson,

Mayor of


at one point, all these individuals were there at the time, but it needed that guiding force that needed that.

Just somebody who woulda just said no, and just went ahead and did it. That was that was the ethos of Sustrans in the early days. So that 

Laura Laker  12:12  
Yeah, yeah, because the status quo then as it is, today, is very much stacked against cycling routes happening. And so you kind of need a rebel who's not willing, who's you know, not willing to take no for an answer? Who's going to be able to make things happen? And I think in a way that kind of, I guess, you know, being from a fairly well off upper middle class background, you have the confidence really the education that kind of gives you that confidence and and then the character and self belief to just to drive that forward. 

Carlton Reid  12:47  
Mmm. That you didn't mention not even once Cycling, Touring Club CTC cycling UK.

Because the book isn't in all cycling, you are you are laser focused on the National Cycle network. But there was also friction between those two organisations, you know, stranden effect was an upstart organisation, then it got for £42.5 million with Meatloaf handing that

over on TV or that kind of stuff. And there was there was an awful lot of friction between still is between strands and and what is today cycling UK. So you haven't got into that at all. What Why didn't you go into that? Is that just because you wanted to just stay laser focused on the cycle network? 

Laura Laker  13:36  
I mean, I mentioned that not everyone felt that Sustrans was being helpful because they felt that cycle route should be delivered by government and charities stepping in. And taking that role almost allows the government to say, well, you know, someone's doing it. Now. We don't need to get involved. But I mentioned the kind of tension between certain types of cyclists. I think I might quote to you, I think I've got you in the references on that. But I mean, I don't know if I just don't know how.

I don't know. It's yeah, it's a tricky one. It's how much to include, and you always have to make these decisions, what to include and what not to include, and I guess I just didn't feel like that was a key part of the story at all. There was some thinking at the time around that but and I'm aware that there was tension and I know that Mark Strong for one who gets quite a mention in the book, talked about Sustrans being too successful and not successful enough in that, you know, they were doing this job notionally? 

No, they were doing a great job for with what they had and who they were and ie not the government and with not very much money but they were doing enough just to allow the government to just say, You know what, well Sustrans is delivering the National Cycle network, tick, job done. Let's get back to the serious business of roads.

Carlton Reid  15:01  
because there is there is you meant we will get on to the very positive points, you've got like

a bunch of what what do you call it in the book where you've got a whole bunch of asks basically? Oh, yeah, the manifesto, the manifesto. There you go.

Number one,

we'll go through these points.

10 point manifesto. So there's some positive stuff

to talk about that. But you don't really mention that there's this that, you know, you're talking about, you know, this should be funded nationally, and there is that struggle, bear with you know, this is a charity, etc, etc. But then you've also got the weakness of you have actually got to at least have British Cycling as well, three competing organisations, going to government and asking for money for various things. And wouldn't it be nicer and more practical and may even get more stuff? If there's only one organisation so there is that there is the absolute fault line running through cycling? That is one of the reasons why it's very easy for the government to not do stuff because they're getting told different things by different organisations and one organisation saying don't back them back us. So there's that kind of friction there. 

Laura Laker  16:22  
I don't know if that's if I see it that way. I mean, Sustrans cycling UK,

and British Cycling, and things like livable streets are all part of the walking and cycling Alliance. And I think what that what that's trying to do is to unify the voice, because ultimately they want the same thing. I mean, British cycling's coming at it from a sports point of view. But recognising that its members also need safe roads to cycle on. And that means a whole host of other things, safe protected routes in cities. And that's popular with members. And then cycling UK, originally a touring group, now a charity that lobbies for Safe Routes, safe conditions, and also delivers stuff for government, such as

what to fix your ride, and a bunch of other things. And then Sustrans is a National Cycle network and behaviour change programmes. So there are overlaps, but I do think they are distinct. And I don't see I don't see it as I mean, they probably have internal, you know, perspectives on things and perhaps don't always agree with what the other one was doing. But I think I think they tend to present a fairly unified front these days. 

Carlton Reid  17:30  
They're not as bad nowadays. 

I mean, it's when you get rid of it certainly did not get rid. That's the That's the wrong phrase. When individuals leave organisations, it can change because a new people come in, and you know, those alliances are, that's what you're just used to. But you know, before that alliance was put in place, they were cats and dogs, they were really hating on each other and slagging each other off to government as well. So that's why government was able to go up. This cycling is just mad look, these these, you know, what they, these three cats in a sack just fighting each other. 

Laura Laker  18:03  
And then you saw, I mean, I think I talked about, you know, Malcolm Shepherd, who was the CEO after John Grimshaw.

He went to ministers, and he was saying, why aren't we getting the funding we asked for?

Or why are we getting taken seriously, I think was the question. And he was told, Well, you don't ask for enough money, basically. So they were thinking and perhaps this kind of historic infighting is also a function of the fact that these were kind of fledgling organisations to an extent for some time, not very much funding. They were run by enthusiasts probably, who all had their own ideas. And of course, let's not forget that there were also the vehicular ISTS who didn't even believe that we needed cycling's of which I think cycling UK early on was one and that might explain why they disagree with Sustrans who were trying to yes, no, there was a whole cohort who stands for that reason, absolutely. 100%. So maybe that, you know, it perhaps is a function of just the whole movement being in its infancy. I mean, it's been going for a good 40 or so years, but I don't know, maybe it was maybe it was just run by enthusiasts for a very long time. And that's why it's taken

a while to kind of mature but also I think it was going I mean, our cycling lobby, organisations were kind of leading the way for much longer than a lot of European countries in a nice talk about this in the book in countries like France and in the Netherlands and in Denmark, they all started their calls for National Cycle networks or at least safe routes, thanks to charities and voluntary organisations. And then fairly quickly, were all taken on by the government who saw this as a piece of infrastructure firstly, quite often for leisure, but then they realised people were using these routes for commuting trips, and it was it needed to be part of the infrastructure and was taken up with great enthusiasm and in Sweden as well. By the

various local departments and regional governments and delivered quite quickly and at quite a kind of scale. And that hasn't really happened here. And so perhaps those kinds of just the longevity of those cycling groups being so crucial to anything that happens for cycling, has kind of made this whole, I don't know, split more important than it would have otherwise been. 

Carlton Reid  20:24  
Yeah. And like in the Netherlands, the the organization's tried to fight against this, but the government tax cyclists, and cyclists actually paid for the roads. 

Laura Laker  20:34  
They did, that's right.

Carlton Reid  20:37  
But it's the very fact and this was a cyclist at the time were fighting against, they didn't want to be taxed. In the UK, and the Netherlands, they were taxed. And then cyclists became national infrastructure. And that became critical, as you say, and the fact that you know, there wasn't, there was some national infrastructure, obviously, I've done this the 1930 cycleways project.

But the CTC is the British Cycling as of the time fought against all of this, they fought against taxation, they fought against cycle routes. And so there is there is some argument to be made that cyclists have been their own worst enemy. So I know in the book, you're saying, you know, it's just such a no brainer. And it is to back, you know, for want of a better word or phrase active travel. Now, in the book, you've got various people are saying we should call it something different.

Laura Laker  21:27  
Yeah, Lee Craigie. 

Carlton Reid  21:27  
yeah. Yeah. But, you know, cycling has been difficult, at the same time. And it's like, what's happening in Wales, and in Scotland, is inspiring, possibly, because it's actually coming from above. A lot of it, you know, there's obviously enthusiastic people working on the ground, etc. But a lot of this is coming from government ministers. So that helps. Yeah. And,

Laura Laker  21:54  
I mean, we have this idea, and I'm sure we're not alone. And this point you just made and the example of the taxing of the cyclists in the Netherlands, which is something I learned during doing the research for the book, I didn't actually know about this, but I, you know, the reason we lost the railways that then became a lot of these greenways was because, you know, we see transport as needing to wash its own face needing to fund itself. And the railways at the time, were losing money for most of the routes. And so that was the reasoning. And, you know, with roads, obviously, drivers are taxed it's not sort of ring fence funding. It's not a road tax, it's,

but you know, it is making the Treasury money and cycling has never really done that. And I, I think fundamentally, the way that way of thinking about transport is wrong, because of the benefits, the much wider benefits that transport gives us in terms of, you know, being able to access education and health and social opportunities and for our physical and mental health. And it's, its benefits span far beyond its own kind of silo. But we don't really see it that way. And I'm not really sure actually, if anywhere managers to think of it this way, but I think post pandemic, things like free bus services and in different countries has maybe illustrated that people are starting to think about it differently. But ultimately, I think it's it's a very tricky one. Because like you say, we in a way we weren't, we were own worst enemy in terms of our predecessors in the cycling world.

But we were working within philosophy that's that dictated that actually, if you're going to build something, you know, who's making money from it, or, you know, how is the Treasury getting that investment back and not really seeing it as this makes people healthier? Or this gives them opportunities or promotes businesses, local tourism? And all of this? So yeah, I mean, if we'd done it differently, who who knows of cyclists in the UK? So fine, we'll pay a tax. Who knows? We might have an NCN now, but, and even today, it's a little bit of an uncomfortable conversation, isn't it? Because, you know, nobody wants to be taxed.

Carlton Reid  24:02  
So the book is, it's a polemic in many ways, not not all the way through.

But there are definitely bits in there that are strident. And I cannot argue with at all I'm reading it nodding along.

And certainly the bits about

like the national infrastructure, right, and it's all being spent on roads. And it's it's the so many reasons why that is crazy. Yeah, and why spending even just a fraction of the roads budget on on a national cycle network, you know, genuinely joined up one high quality

would bring many more, many more benefits. And then you've got and the irony is, and I did a new story on this is, you have a government minister, who has written the foreword to your book, and he said

This is not government minister, a former government minister, a former Transport Minister,

Jesse Norman, and then it's like, why don't you do this when you're in power? It's great. You've said it. It's wonderful that you're saying all these things. But you could have done this, you could have pushed for this. And he was also the Financial Secretary of the Treasury. Yeah, he could have released money. Yeah, let me see what he says. But

Laura Laker  25:26  
it's so difficult, isn't it? And it's, again, it's kind of facing it's the status quo. I mean, it's, I think, maybe important to remember, and I'm not making excuses for anyone. But, you know, he was a junior minister, certainly in his first round is cycling minister. And so he would have had to tow the party line. So I don't know how easy it is for. I mean, he's a very intelligent guy. He cares about cycling. But then he's part of a system, which ultimately,

I guess, maintains the status quo doesn't want to upset the applecart.

And that's why, in the manifesto, I, you know, I think it's so important that people speak up for these things, because I think until there's an outcry for it, it's very difficult for any one minister, unless we have a cycling Prime Minister, to change all of this. There's a lot of vested interests in maintaining, you know, roads for cars, keeping car manufacturing,

going and, you know, taxation on cars is going to be very problematic, because obviously EVs electric vehicles don't pay, you know, drivers with EVs don't pay cortex. So what's gonna happen there? But yeah, I mean, it's difficult, but I think people need to speak up for this kind of thing. We get a lot of kickback pushback from people when there's cycle routes coming. But those are the minority. And one thing I tried to highlight in the book is that most people want this once cycling routes, they they want other options and to drive. And, you know, between two thirds and four fifths of people in representative polls say that they'd support this and many of them, even if it meant taking road space away from motor vehicles. But that's not what politicians listen to. And I think increasingly, politicians are listening to angry people on Twitter. And you know, if Mark Harper's comments about LTNs and 15 minute neighbourhoods is anything to go by, which was straight out of the kind of conspiracy theorists, Twitter playbook, you know, they're listening to the loudest voices. And I think until people say, you know, we actually want choice. We don't want to have to breathe polluted air, we don't want to have our neighbourhoods dominated by motor vehicles. We want our kids to be able to go to school safely. I think it's gonna be difficult for things to change. 

Carlton Reid  27:45  
Hmm. So you have mentioned a variety of routes that are actually pretty good. So yeah, Keswick one is one of them. 

Laura Laker  27:55  
Threlkeld, yes. 

Carlton Reid  27:58  
And that's why I know,

I know the route well, as good as now, you know, a cycleway there because that was that was long in gestation. But basically, it's it's it's, it's popular. You know, people say, oh, like, but that's a popular route now, isn't it? 

Laura Laker  28:15  
Yeah, yeah, people drive there. And I mean, that was that was interesting for a number of reasons. I mean, incredibly beautiful. It sort of weaves through Greta gorge, which is just this kind of just this amazing landscape, this sort of rocky river which meanders through this very deep wooded valley. And it's on a former rail line. And it was,

which storm was it was it 2015, there was a big storm, which basically crumbled a couple of the bridges with the sheer volume of water that ended up going through this narrow gorge. And then it was out of action for a couple of years. And that was an important, crucial route and a tourist attraction for local businesses. One pub owner apparently offered the local council, I think it was the national parks something like 30 grand out of his own pocket, reopened the route, but it was actually a sort of 2 million pound job. So that wasn't going to go all the way. But you know, this was a really important tourist attraction for people and people drive there because there aren't safe routes to get to and from the ends, so people drive and park and then cycle along it and cycle back. But yeah, it's popular, it's really popular. And they when they put the bridges, the new bridges in Sustrans with various parts of funding, they resurfaced it and there was a big hoo ha about putting tarmac on instead of the gravel that had been there before. But that actually opened up it up to far more people, including people who use wheelchairs and mobility scooters, because any sort of rough surface or uneven ground can tip someone in a wheelchair and it effectively makes these routes unusable. And this is something that I really learned in the book and feel very strongly about now. And there was a big outcry nationally about tarmacking this path because it's in the Lake District and everyone's

He has an opinion about the Lake District even if they've just been there once and we all feel like we own it because it's such a beautiful place and I guess rightly so. We all care about it. 

Carlton Reid  30:07  
The Lakers.

Laura Laker  30:09  
Lakers, my people. Yeah.

The people who holidayed in the lakes were known as the Lakers. Yeah, which is brilliant. So yeah, they, you know, they held their ground and they tarmac it and you know, the numbers increased drastically. And this story plays out all over the country, wherever there's a improve surface on a path. Suddenly, it's open to everyone. And this is what this is what cycle rich should be in, in my opinion, it should be open to everyone. 

Carlton Reid  30:37  
Yeah, it's like the cinder path.

That's the Sustrans route national cycling group from from Whitby to Scarborough. That was the one that had a load of of people complaining because Cinder path you know, they were going to be tarmacking just parts of it. And lots of people are saying you know but this this this will you know, destroy it or whenever lots of yobs in and it just never got done. And then it's it's impossible for a lot of the year because it's just it gets just too rutted into mud into too horrible. And this is, you know, we discard it would just be so easy.

You know, between these two conurbations and small conurbations, if you could ride there on an all year round an all weather path? 

Laura Laker  31:21  
So yeah, I do.

I do worry about this, because it's, you know, they say it's an effect gentrification. And you're you're bringing, you know, urban into the countryside yet. There's roads everywhere, and they got tarmac on, and nobody seems to be kicking up a fuss there. What's What's your problem? Yeah, I know. And I think it's just we have this idea about what the cycle routes should be or could be, and we see them as leisure routes quite a lot of the time, we have this kind of set idea about cycling, that it's not, you know, it's not a commuter option, or, but you know, it is, but it goes beyond that. And it is about who can access these parts. And quite often, having an uneven surface will lock a lot of people out. And you know, we're an ageing population in this country. And as we get older, we will all have disabilities, and mobility issues. And it shouldn't be that

you know, these paths are any open to a few people. But yeah, it's a difficult one. And we would like to say we've never think twice about it for roads, we've never think about having a road as a dirt path.

And I can you know, visually tarmac is not a beautiful thing, but I think if people understood that actually, it's it's not just about the visuals. This is about people and this is what these parts are for they're for people. 

Carlton Reid  32:34  
Well you can make if you want it to be just that colour, you can make the the asphalt you can you can you can dye the asphalt. So it's it's more expensive. But you can you can do all sorts of treatments you can do to make it all weather doesn't have to look, you know, black. Yeah. So anyway, so let's go to another assessment. That's some negative ones.

Where they tried to be certain, but then you point out the Polgate one, between Polgate and Glynde, which is almost happened to you by by mistake. Not mistake, but it's certainly a by accident. Yeah. And you're talking about it being just brilliant. So describe that one. 

Laura Laker  33:11  
That's amazing. Yeah. So I was told about this. And then I know someone who lives in Lewis, which is at one end of it. And so we we we met at the station and cycled along this path. And so it's beside the A27, which is a national highways road. And it's right by the sales downs, which is hugely popular with cyclists. And basically, there were so many people cycling on this incredibly terrifying road. It's one of those narrow and winding A roads with huge volumes of traffic. I mean, I went on a walking trip near Louis the other day, and I had to cross it with no crossing and it was it was genuinely terrifying. I can't imagine people cycling on it, because it's, you know, six months. So yeah, anyway, people were being held up in their cars because of people cycling. And so national highways decided it was going to build a path alongside and it's this this was a real eye opener for me because they had done what needs to happen around the country. They had built a path behind the hedge row, which is wide and tarmac and smooze with lots of planting and culverts and bridges over rivers and and they just laid it you know, very little problem. I don't know if they owned the land or perhaps compulsory purchase probably a mixture of I think it was a mixture of both. And so they built this amazing kind of 10 kilometre joyful route, which is just you know, it's just like a road. It's like no stress. You just carry on.

There was someone on the mobility scooter the day I was there, a couple of people on bikes, but it was basically hadn't opened yet. And yeah, it was just there. But it's quite funny because at either end, it just stopped because then that's the local councils job to kind of deliver it beyond. But you know, it shows what's possible if you have a national body with the power and the funding, and they have, you know, multi year funding pots which helps plan and

deliver this stuff and they just did it, they just sort of swept aside all of the normal problems that I talked about in the book that usually dog these cycle routes. And yeah, it's quite, it was quite marvellous, quite 

Carlton Reid  35:11  
I found it fascinating because one of the things you say is, as we just mentioned there, it, it was an effective bill to get the cyclists off the road.

We made enough nuisance of ourselves,

that is 1930s to a tee, you know, the transport, you know, built those 500 miles of cycle tracks in the 1930s to Dutch standards laced around the country.

Some of them weren't brilliant, but some of them were amazing, you know, 12 foot wide Dutch Dutch level, concrete curbs, you know, perfectly brilliant bits of cycling infrastructure that are now just some of them are white elephants, because they didn't link up to anywhere. But, you know, the government at the time said, Oh, we're doing this for the safety. No, they weren't they were doing it to you know, get cyclists on the road because we're slowing down motorists, but you kind of almost don't care if if if you get a really superlative route behind the hedgerows. Yeah. Okay. It's such a difference. Yeah. That's the difference. It's got to be good. You can't just fob you off with shared route pavement, which is what yeah, the criticism of Sustrans has been is like there's so many shared route pavement. And that's why Sustrans got a bad rap, even though it wasn't their fault. And they were just trying to fill in the gaps. 

Laura Laker  36:28  
That yeah, yeah. And yeah, they just have to use whatever was there, which was quite often a pavement along what would have been a not too busy road in the 70s or 80s. But it's now a sort of thundering highway and being on a pavement with no barrier between you and or no, no sort of space between you and the 60 mile an hour traffic is far from pleasant, and no, no, no parent is going to choose to cycle on that. If they have any other choice, you know, they're going to avoid that like the plague because you know, one little wobble or mistake and then you know, it's horrific there, you know, possible outcomes. But yeah, it's you know, it's, it's fantastic. Because you don't even barely know the roads there. It's just cool. It's just gorgeous. I'd like to go back actually, because it's been a good year, I think since I saw it. At least actually. Maybe Yeah, I think it's at least a year and yeah, let's see how the trees are bedding in and because it was brand new at the time it just been done. But yeah, it is. Ultimately it is possible. And regardless of the motivations it just goes to show what's possible. I liked recently because Andy Streets and his Walking and Cycling Commissioner Adam Tranter he's on my podcast. They announced they're going to deliver the HS2 cycleway alongside in and around HS2 between Coventry and Birmingham. And when they get to Kenilworth, they're basically connecting up to one of their 1930 cycleways into Coventry.

So I quite like that, you know, it's sort of linking something that's already there. And

Carlton Reid  38:01  
yeah, and that's also a John Grimshaw project, wasn't it? 

That was that was a John Grimshaw. 

Laura Laker  38:05  
Yeah. He cycled the whole thing. Yes. Yes, he's been he's been trying to get that one, you know, for a lot for a long time. And yeah, it does stand alone. No, you need really, you need the HS2, of course, just stand alone without it.

Carlton Reid  38:21  
It does. Yeah, saying that, it would have absolutely been put in at the same time, that would not have been the difference. So that is point three. So in your 10 Point manifesto, that's basically work together a behind the hedgeroq Act, compulsory purchase orders, all these kinds of things that only government can do. Yeah. needs to be brought in into play. Yeah. And then you you've said and it's very ambitious. But when you think about it's like, yeah, you could do this easily. And that is you know, if if this was done and if money was provided, and compulsory purchase orders were put in like you would do for roads, you can have an unbelievably fantastic truly superlative national cycling in four years. 

Laura Laker  39:02  
Yeah. Yeah.

Yeah, Brian Deegan active travel England reckoned reckoned on this, because, you know, they have such a huge amount of power and to take go to build a cycle, which basically takes three years generally you do you have a year to kind of plan it a year to consult and tweak and then a year to build it. And for that you need multi year funding, because without that, you can't plan anything, basically. And that's why we've ended up bits and bobs of improvements, because it's like, you get the money, you have to spend it pretty much immediately.

But yeah, I mean, the amount of funding a body like national highways has would be enough to you know, link these existing routes. Sometimes there are quiet roads, you know, I guess, in the Netherlands, you have through roads and access roads, things like low traffic neighbourhoods, in the countryside. That is a that is a kind of measure that you can do.

And some of it it doesn't all have to be

Are these sort of high quality pieces of massive engineering cycle routes, either behind the hedge row or on main roads? Some of it can just be tweaking kind of existing infrastructure so that it's not not every road as a through road. But yes, it's some it's amazing. And I kind of did a double take when I heard this. But when we put our mind to something, it's amazing what's possible. 

Carlton Reid  40:24  
And potentially, we will see the fruits of this in Scotland, and Wales, Scotland, Wales are putting in some really ambitious stuff. And Mark Drakeford going, you know, will they backtrack on the 20 mile limit? And will they, you know, reverse a lot of stuff that Lee Waters that all this kind of stuff is potentially up in the air? We don't know yet. Yeah. But Scotland does seem to be, you know, putting their money where their mouth is, you know, that the amount of money that's going in there, per head, dwarfs what we see here in England. So the potentially you've got, you've got like, in five years, you could have something incredible. In Scottish cities in Glasgow. Yeah. You're talking about Glasgow?

Laura Laker  41:09  
Yeah. And yeah, Glasgow was amazing. I mean, that was the first time I'd been to Glasgow, on that trip. And I was blown away, actually.

So they're developing a city wide network of routes, they're lowering in bridges across, they've got this very kind of,

I guess, I guess they had this, at the time, they were building roads, they had a very ambitious programme of building like highways. And maybe that's about the culture of the city that when something comes along, when an idea comes along, they kind of embrace it. Whereas Edinburgh has historically been much more conservative. And so when, when highways when sort of urban highways came along the bond level load of those, and now cycling is seen as this big sort of saviour of health and climates and all of these important things, they're going all out on cycle routes, which is fantastic. And yeah, I was really blown away by what they're doing really high quality protected routes with planting alongside, you know, for extreme weather, it's really important to have permeable and green planting on tarmac.

And, yeah, and these beautiful bridges and this massive bridge that I saw, and you know, they're really, really ambitious, I think,

I've got a piece coming out about Edinburgh in the next week or so. And it talks about the difficulties that Edinburgh has faced very, very different than the city very conservative. But similarly, it's had a huge amount of funding. And I think they're finally getting to the tipping point there where they're starting to deliver real change, you know, hopefully.

But yeah, it's, you know, the money's there, I think there's still difficulties with politics. So they've got these active freeways, which would be a kind of National Cycle network for Scotland, these rural routes,

you know, the plan is there, or at least the idea is there, but it's not being rolled out yet. So who knows what's going to happen with that, but definitely, the funding and having that long term funding does make it much easier. I'd really love to see Scotland, you know, doing big things. And I think Scotland and Wales have been very, very forward thinking and a lot of things got maybe Scotland particularly, and more consistently than Wales, because as you say, there's a bit of a question mark. Now over Wales, they've, you know, they had the active travel act, they arguably took term coined the phrase active travel

with the active travel act about a decade ago.

And yeah, but stuff, you know, they have the policy, they had the money, but again, it's very, very slow to change. And I don't know, maybe they maybe if Westminster were a bit more proactive and supportive, it will be easier, who knows, but you're always going to come up against these kinds of

difficulties, local politics and stuff, but I think money talks, you know, the money's there for it local investment, which Council isn't going to want public realm improvements, and you know, health. 

Carlton Reid  43:49  
Money is number one, in your manifesto, so it's funded, and okay, we get the money from it. Here's what you say, stop expanding road capacity, and we have delivered a comprehensive network of cycling and walking routes. Hallelujah. Yeah, exactly. It's just like, you know, we've got so many roads, why can't we have more and more and more and more, as we know, it just fills up with traffic if we're gonna have build it and they will come Okay, let's do it for bikes. Now. You know, roads have had eighty years of this, let's have 10 years for for bikes, but walking and .

It's just, it's a no brainer. And the LTNs thing kind of like it's so frustrating.

Because we're only talking like a few streets. We're not we're not talking. That's when you hear you know, the the shock jocks you'd think is every single road in the country is going to be catered and you're going to hand it to cyclists. That's, that's how it's portrayed. And we're actually

you know, maybe maybe a fraction of 1% of roads. really, genuinely is all too

Talking about

is currently got anyway. Yeah, having safe cycle routes, you know, don't get it get blown up by us people like us journalists, Laura, we're to blame for misrepresenting this. That's that's, that doesn't say good things about our profession, does it? 

Laura Laker  45:22  
No. And I think I think I mean, it speaks to the kind of economics of journalism that, you know, people want eyeballs on stories nowadays because it's that's what makes advertising revenue funding for journalism is fallen off a cliff. And I think this is sort of desperation about the industry at the moment. But, you know, I think it's important to remember that the people shouting against this stuff are a minority, and most people want this stuff or are willing to try it and see, and most of us want quiet, safe streets, we want our kids to be able to play out in safety, we want clean air, we want, you know, peace and quiet. And

I think because we haven't seen it, a lot of cases, it's difficult to imagine. But you know, ultimately,

these things happen. There's, there's a pushback from a handful of people who are noisy, but I think if we have conversations about, you know, what we could, what we could get from these improvements from these schemes, then it's much positive way of talking about it. Of course, that's not how news works. And I think that's why we need leaders who are willing to sort of look beyond that short period in which a lot of journalists are shouting, and a few people, some of whom have genuine concerns and need to be listened to a shouting and listen to them. But you know, this is something that people want actually, and, you know, the benefits so enormous. 

Once it's happened, I don't think people would want to go back. 

Carlton Reid  46:46  
Yeah, this is the thing. It's like, a good example is Northumberland Street and Newcastle, which is a pedestrianised street used to be the A1, you know, really the central state through the centre of Newcastle. It's I think, outside of central London, Mayfair on Oxford Street. It's the highest grossing per square foot retail zone in the country, because it was pedestrianised. And it just made it easier. And nobody in their right mind would say, we need to make that the a one again, guys, you know, let's get the cars and buses soaring and you just wouldn't do it. But Newcastle spent the best part of 20 years doing this, it wasn't an overnight thing. We had to spend a long time, a lot of angst getting it done, but nobody would wish it away now. And that's what when we're not getting with all these LTNs and all these cycles, if only if we put them in, nobody would complain about them. Not really not once they see it, it's just if people don't like change.

Laura Laker  47:47  
yeah, none of us like change just a thing. And it's hard to picture. And I think it's easy to dismiss people's concerns. Because you know, it's normal for us not to want change, it's normal to be concerned about something if you can't picture it. And you're, you know, many of these are genuine worries about businesses, and how will I get from A to B and, and all of this, but yeah, I think what's been lacking in this conversation is just some sort of grown up honesty about, you know, this is going to be a change. But ultimately, it's going to be one that's positive for these reasons. We, you know, we are going to listen, but ultimately, this is a an agenda that most of us support. And we know it's beneficial for these reasons. And I think we've I don't know, I think there's too much government in this country, and in many English speaking countries, kind of almost government by fear of what the Daily Mail might say, in response to this policy. And even the

the recent announcement by governments about

you know, stopping anti motorist measures was all caps. You know, it was like almost a Daily Mail headline.

Carlton Reid  48:52  
Yeah, it's quite scary and sad. Yeah. But then, you know, like you say, if you know, for the ones that hold their ground,

you know, stuff dies down, people say actually, that actually is much better. So

you know, where I'm coming from, I know where you're coming from.

And you're saying people want this, but I'm gonna play devil's advocate here and say, Well, no, they don't people want to drive around.

And if you're a woman at night, and you describe a lot of the routes, the Sustrans routes, the Nationals, you wouldn't want to go there at night, and probably no matter how much lighting security whatever you put in, you probably would still feel that way. In.

Yeah, yeah. On a bicycle, you're not protected. Whereas a car, a woman, a single woman can get into a car can lock the door, can maybe have, you know, dark windscreen even so nobody knows who's in there. You then become this powerful individual who can get around in safety at the end of the day.

But bicycles aren't like that, Laura. So you're you're basically making it more insecure for women to go about as independent beings. 

Laura Laker  50:11  
Well, so as a as a woman who cycles on her own at nights

that that route from Arnhem to Nijmergen in the in the Netherlands, so I ended up leaving that event and it was dark and cycling home on my own however far it was, it's a good hours ride along these routes, but because you don't have to stop, you actually feel safe. It's only when you have to stop that you start to feel unsafe in my experience. I mean, there's certain routes like along the canal, I live in East London, along the Li River that I have cycled at night, but wouldn't do now. Because you know, that is very isolated. And people have been known to jump out with bushes. But I think for the large part, if they're well designed, and other people are using them,

then cycling at night for me isn't a problem. You know, you're moving you're

Yeah, I don't Yeah, I very rarely felt in danger of cycling through London at night, for example. I mean, it's been the odd park where I felt a bit sketchy, but I think if you design them, well, not every path is going to feel that way safe at night. But I think in urban places where a lot of people will be cycling to and from at night, it will probably be fine. I mean, you probably feel quite safe. It's about kind of eyes on the streets in a way having people they're with you.

Yeah, and I think if a route were well used enough, and don't forget, you know, if you're,

if you're, you know, you're not going to necessarily, you're not going to drive home after a night out if you've had a drink. And so you will have to sort of walk a section of your journey. Most likely, if you're in a place like London, you hate taking public transport, maybe you take a taxi, but

I feel I don't feel like if I'm on a busy road, walking alone at night that I am safe with those other people around me because I don't feel like people who are driving through again to necessarily stop and help me if something did happen. So I think kind of busy streets can feel unsafe, even though they're very highly populated. And, you know, theoretically, and this kind of, there's been research on this, you know, people who live on quiet streets, no more of their neighbours, this sort of social safety element, and people start looking out for each other. Whereas if you have a traffic dominated environment, it's people tend to turn away from the street. 

Carlton Reid  52:28  
Yeah, I don't disagree. But

if it is looking at the motivation of many, many people,

I mean, humans are generally lazy. Yeah. They generally want comfort. They want their own things, and they want security, all of those things you have in spades in cars. The downside is, because everybody wants that. And everybody's in a car, it means you don't get anywhere. 

Unknown Speaker  52:57  
Yeah, I don't think that's a whole story. I mean, I think a lot of the time people drive because the alternative is either aren't there don't feel possible, or they don't feel safe. So cycling on the road wouldn't feel safe, you wouldn't even most people wouldn't even consider it. But we've seen I grew up in rural West Somerset, and you had to learn to drive as soon as you turn 17, you would take your test, you buy a car, and you drive everywhere, because the buses mean the buses are even worse. Now. They were okay at the time, but not great. But they just took longer, and you couldn't get everywhere you needed to go my friends as a teenager lived in variable kind of communities. And so you had to drive there was just no other option I would have loved to cycle. And you've seen in London, where we've got a growing network of roots, suddenly, all these people from all walks of life, all kinds of demographics.

Laura Laker  53:48  
genders, you see a much better one gender split, but also all types of people cycling. And that kind of speaks to the fact that actually, people do want to do this and they may want to convenience but they also want to enjoy their journey. They also want to save money.

Cycling can be incredibly convenient, no parking worries, it's so much cheaper you know you don't have to stress of finding a parking space or you know, paying vast amounts of money. I think something like

I forget the number who in transport poverty in this country because of cars basically.

They spend something like 19% of their income on their car with finance lorry, using facts to convince me that's

Carlton Reid  54:36  
Anybody can convince with facts, come on.

At that juncture, I'd like to go across to my colleague David in America. Take it away, David. 

David Bernstein  54:45  
This podcast is brought to you by Tern Bicycles. Like you, the folks at Tern are always up for a good outdoor adventure by bike—whether that’s fishing, camping, or taking a quick detour to hit the trails before picking

Unknown Speaker  55:00  
up the kids from school. And if you’re looking to explore new ground by taking your adventures further into the wild, they’ve got you covered. The brand new Orox by Tern is an all-season, all-terrain adventure cargo bike that’s built around the Bosch Smart System to help you cross even the most ambitious itinerary off your bucket list. It combines the fun of off-road riding in any season with some serious cargo capacity, so you can bring everything you need—wherever you go, whenever you go. Plus, it’s certified tough and tested for safety so your adventures are worry-free. With two frame sizes to choose from and a cockpit that’s tested to support riders of different sizes, finding an adventure bike that fits you and your everyday needs has never been easier with the Orox. Visit (that’s O-R-O-X) to learn more.

Carlton Reid  56:04  
Thanks, David. And we are back with Laura Laker the Laker people. And she's the author of potholes and pavements a bumpy ride on Britain's National Cycle network. It's not actually out yet, isn't Laura. It's actually middle middle of the next month, middle of night. Hmm. Yeah. So you having a launch day what you're doing? 

Laura Laker  56:28  
Yeah, I've got some. You've got like, You got speaker a bank and tell us tell us what you're doing? Yeah, so I've got I'm having like a bit of a party for some friends and family.

And then I've got a talk in Stanford's in Covent Garden.

I'm speaking in Parliament. But I think that's more of a parliamentary event. And I have got an event at Stanfords in Bristol with Xavier Bryce, we're going to discuss the future of the NCN.

I've got one I'm speaking in Oxford, at a bookshop. I'm going to be interviewed by Emily Kerr, who's a green Councillor there. I have got a there's a literary festival in Wantage in November. And we're looking at other events as we speak.

Carlton Reid  57:16  
Excellent. And this is two hundred and .... All right, I'm going to deliver the end of the book. We're talking 264 pages, and then you've got references back. I mean, one of them. Thank you very much.

Laura Laker  57:32  

Carlton Reid  57:34  
Thanks. as well. Yes, at the back there, but there's, there's lots in this.

So who's gonna be? Who's your audience? Who's gonna be reading this? Who do you think will be reading this? And what might actually could it start something big with with in politics? Can we could we get this like your manifesto? Can it get out there? What do you hope to happen with your book? 

Laura Laker  58:00  
Yeah, well, obviously, I want everyone to read it. I mean, my editor at Bloomsbury was saying, you know, it's probably going to be cycling enthusiasts, people who I guess already, maybe listen to your podcast, my podcast, read our articles about cycling. But I would like to think that you know, these people, these two thirds to four fifths of people who want more cycling people who think, you know, why do I have to drive everywhere? Why aren't there safe cycle routes? Why can't my kids cycle to school, and see that might see this book and think, Oh, this is going to tell that story, this is going to explain it to me. And so I hope that it's going to give people a sense of kind of why we are where we're at, with the history of the NCN and the stories, but also, you know, how wonderful it could be if we had this thing, this network of connected routes, if it were possible for all of these people who say they want to cycle and more who maybe don't even know they want to cycle

could do so. And I hope that, you know, my perhaps naive hope is that people will read it and think, you know, this could be such a wonderful thing, why aren't we doing it? And how can we get it to happen and I hope policymakers you know, we've got an election coming up

I think this speaks to you know, forget the culture wars. I think this speaks to all sides, you know, of politics, I think, you know, individual freedom and choice is a conservative value, right? Cycling, cycling delivers on that. 

Carlton Reid  59:26  
Cycling is so libertarian is a

form of transport I've had many conversations

This is freedom. Why is this left wing? Why do people always assume it's just

this thing? 

Laura Laker  59:42  
Yeah, it's become a cultural thing. And it's only for I think, you know, certain factions of the right perhaps see this as a wedge issue. And a way of you know, rallying people around them on based on kind of outrage like false outrage really, untruthes.

and you

You know, in terms of the left, this is, you know, great value for money, the Labour Party is very, very keen on showing they're working and proving to people that they can be trusted with the economy. It delivers on the green agenda, it's so beneficial in terms of cutting carbon emissions, it delivers on health, pretty much every department that we can think of this offers people access to work, you know, so many people who are out of work, especially in rural communities can't even afford to go and find work or stay in a job because the transport is too expensive, or it's too patchy doesn't go in and they needed to go. So there's like barely a thing that this doesn't touch. And I really hope that you know, along with kind of griping, which is, I hope not too much of the book, and the polemic side that this shows actually, you know, this is great for tourism, this is great for our mental health. This can bring us together, you know, it's about in Scotland, I saw that a cycle route can be a linear park, it can be about artwork and community. It can bring people together from different walks of life around a space. And, you know, cycling delivers on these things. And, you know, if we kind of dropped the culture was narrative, which is nonsense. You know, we could see all of these benefits fairly quickly and for very little money, and have a far better country for it. 

Carlton Reid  1:01:18  
Many people would baulk at having Boris Johnson back. And you do mention this in the book of what he and Andrew Gilligan were able to do. Hopefully, it doesn't seem like I want him back. But will it that that is what you need. I mean, you do talk about having a cycling Prime Minister, we had a cycling Prime Minister, we had a Prime Minister who said it was me a golden age for cycling. So we need we need him back. Laura, that we just we need we need Boris back. No, we don't like that back there. Are there other other politicians are available? We just need people to believe in it. And you know, I hope that people read the book and think, actually, this is something we can believe in, but don't need one of the good things about Boris Johnson. Not only did he you know, talk, the talk, walk the talk, all that kind of stuff. But he was right wing. So he could he just instantly takes away that that part of this oversight is a left wing things like well, here's this right wing politician who's pushing for this Andrew Gilligan, Telegraph writer. These are not left wing people in any way, shape, or form. So is that what we need we actually need and then we'd like all politicians to do this, but by the same thing, you need somebody almost on the opposite side to be doing this, they've got more chance of pushing this through. So that's why Boris Johnson did so well, because he was right wing and the Mail isn't gonna, you know, rail against what Boris Johnson was doing. They never did. 

Laura Laker  1:02:46  
They did though. They did. They totally did. I don't think they discriminated against him because he was towards their political leanings. I mean, it's unlikely we're going to have another conservative government, right, when we've got the election coming up, it's going to be Labour by all likelihood.

And so they're going to be the ones in power delivering. So I don't know, 

Carlton Reid  1:03:09  
But they backtracked over their green policies. I mean, what hope do we have? 

Laura Laker  1:03:12  
I know I know. I know it's incredibly disappointing. And the thing is this this stuff like the green agenda, more broadly investment in insulating homes, for example, is such great return on investment and if they're thinking about finances and showing they're working insulating homes is just a total no brainer. You know, we all pay far too much for our energy bills. We live in draughty leaky homes. So many houses are mouldy because of the cold walls are damp

Yeah, I just think you know, and green technology, huge growth industry.

Solar and wind where you know, we're windy little island, but a lot of coastline. Offshore wind is fantastic. 

Carlton Reid  1:03:55  
But in your in the book, you show how national highways basically is an organisation set up to build roads. And once you've done something like that, and that's their raison d'etre. Guess what they're going to build roads. Yeah. So yeah, it's that oil tanker you know having to put the brakes on and change a whole culture so we're not talking about you know,

Cuz your manifesto is saying you know, stop funding this and yeah.

Laura Laker  1:04:28  
Wales did this basically with their no more roads or no more roads and less they increased active travel and public transport policy. They basically have kind of repurpose their national highways body around this agenda, you know, fill in the potholes. We've got a road in a dreadful state

and, you know, develop use all their skills and power and funding for active travel. You know, public transport in this country is drastically underfunded. Buses are so important, especially in rural areas, especially people on low incomes, especially for women and

Do you know buses are so important? We're really, really not kind of reaping the power the massive power of the bus.? 

Carlton Reid  1:05:08  
Yeah, that's in your book as well, because you're talking about

how buses, you know, need to be able to carry bikes. Yeah. And that's, you know, that's a small part of what they could do but the broader transport perspective that's that's so important

right Laura? Well, we could we could obviously go on and talk for many hours and we have done in the past because we've we've we've done podcasts.

Now, when I ask people to mention where they can get hold of them, I'd like you to do that and feel free to mention Streets Ahead. You have sort of done anyway.

But tell people where where they can hear more from you where they can read your stuff. Give it give us the whole I am about Laura Laker.

Laura Laker  1:05:57  
So yeah, so my book will be available from the ninth of May in all good bookstores. I've also narrated the audio book, so if you like sound, my voice, even if you don't, I'm on the audio book, which I believe will be out at the same time as the regular reading book. And then I am freelance. I've got a column in Cycling Plus magazine. I write for various outlets. I've been doing some stuff for City Lab. I've got a piece coming out with them soon. Do bits and bobs for The Guardian. Gosh, there's so many places I kind of forget. But yeah, and then I've got a podcast Streets ahead with Adam Tranter and Ned Boulting.

Carlton Reid  1:06:35  
Never heard of them. 

Laura Laker  1:06:40  
I know, I'm like the least the least famous trio. But they're great. It's great. Yeah, I think that's it. I think that's me

Carlton Reid  1:06:49  
That's it for today's show, thanks to Laura Laker for that bumpy ride along the best and worst bits of Britain's National Cycle network. And thanks to you for listening to Episode 352 of the spokesmen podcast brought to you in association with Tern bicycles. Shownotes and more can be found at Listen out for episode 353 next month, when I may reveal details of a certain bikepacking project I've got cooking ... meanwhile, get out there and ride ...


Direct download: The_Spokesmen_352.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:04am MDT

15th April 2024

The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast

EPISODE 351: Andy McGrath — God is Dead 

SPONSOR: Tern Bicycles

HOST: Carlton Reid

GUEST: Andy McGrath



Carlton Reid  0:12  
Welcome to Episode 351 of the Spokesmen cycling podcast. This show was engineered on Monday, April 15 2024.

David Bernstein  0:28  
The Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast is brought to you by Tern bicycles. The good people at Tern are committed to building bikes that are useful enough to ride every day and dependable enough to carry the people you love. In other words, they make the kind of bikes that they want to ride. Tern has e-bikes for every type of rider. Whether you're commuting, taking your kids to school or even carrying another adult, visit That's t e r n to learn more.

Carlton Reid  1:04  
I'm Carlton Reid. And today's show is the first of two episodes with bike book authors. Later this week, I'll share the chat I had with potholes and pavement author Laura Laker a book so fresh, it's not even out yet. But today, I talk with William Hill award winning author Andy McGrath about his 2022 book, God is dead biography of Frank Vandenbrouke the wunderkind who died a mysterious death in a grungy African hotel room. 

Liège–Bastogne–Liège has been staged since 1892, the oldest of cycling's five monument races, and this year's race will be staged at the end of the month, Sunday the 21st to be exact. Now, Andy, it's 25 years since a certain famous victory of that particular race. So tell us about that. 

Andy McGrath  2:10  
This was the edition of Liège–Bastogne–Liège where the great Belgian cycling hope Frank Vandenbrouke seemed to be fulfilling his immense potential. And he did it in his own unique way. He told anyone that would listen in the days for the race, you know, teammates, DS's, rivals and other races and media, where he was going to attack to win the race to make it stick, a bit like Muhammad Ali used to do before his heavyweight fight. And he'd went out for a 20 minute puto, a few days before the age best on the age. And it's covered his teammate saw him come back to the hotel, you know, barely a blink of an eye later. And he told him, that's all all I need, I feel good. I'm going to win lift some of the age. And he was in a state of grace that day, he attacked on by ODU, which sounds different course back then. It finished in an industrial suburb over the age. And the Cordilla. Redo was about oh, at 90k from the finish. And he, he he wrote up in the big room, he tacked up in the big green, which is I could barely walk up it when I was researching the book, which is a astonishing and slightly sinister thing when you really get into that era of cycling. And he was already clearly the best, you know, he he accelerated pass the defending champion makayley Bartley like it was nothing and then he just let the rest catch him up, basically. And he did attack, you know, if we're going to split hairs slightly later than he said he would you know, or maybe earlier actually, I think it was early. And he said he would you know, a few 100 metres earlier. Because

Carlton Reid  3:55  
Because that's in your book, isn't it? Yeah. It's a very detailed book and you you're knocking on doors, and you give the exact door that he actually did attack on and not the one that you said he's going to attack on? 

Andy McGrath  4:06  
Yeah, the thing is, I actually knocked on the door of the house number he said he would attack which was 256. You know, hoping for some kind of journalistic intrigue and it was a little bit disappointing that I think people that answered the door were very nice, but it was someone looking after their elderly parent and they said they didn't like cycling, they didn't know about it. So so so I was like yeah, that's there's that avenue gone in the book. But no abandoned Brook road away from the last remaining rival Michael Burgard on the court to send Nicola outside the edge and road to victory just like he said he would and you know, a country that was already in thrall to him was an even more rapturous, you know, Eddie Merckx was extremely impressed. You know, the Eddie marks the greatest and that was really, I think it was 24 Back then van of work, and it wasn't so normal for providers to break through in their early 20s, which is what he had done. He was the exception. And it seemed like that, you know, the cycling world was gonna fall to him. You know. During the book research, I kind of ascertained that he could probably have won almost anything apart from a grantor, you know, he was a strong climber, but didn't have the consistency or the or the mentality to do it over three weeks, but everything else was, was fair game. But that was a very brief high point, you know, that was that was paradise. And he was soon into purgatory. And then how, you know, within a year, which kind of summed up his his life and his career trajectory.

Carlton Reid  5:41  
And, and spoiler alert, the kind of the title of your book tells us that Frank is no longer with us. But you did refer a few moments ago, almost to the fact that this is an EPO era. So he's going up in the big ring, that's kind of Superman stuff that, you know, Nietzsche, God is dead stuff. So clearly he was he was deeping, he kind of admitted he was doping. This is the EPO era. But then what everybody was saying at that time was, well, everybody was doping. So we're all equal. Do you buy into that? Are you if everybody's taken EPO at the time, and he's such a wonderful rider? Let's give him those victories, because everybody was on this stuff. person.

Andy McGrath  6:27  
I mean, they're all saying at the time, and I was partly what bothered him, you know, 5, 10 years later that he felt that he was being scapegoated. What we know now, is that essentially, you know, let's be the what's the word diplomatic here? Legally, most of the bunch, we're, we're doing it, there's been lots of admissions. Do I think that makes it okay, in a level playing field? No, no, I don't think so. That's too simplistic, you know, that comes down to you know, things like science and natural amount of creates and how much room you have to dope, you know, or to get up to the rudimentary UCI testing limit of 50, which it was back then, you know, which was, like a broken speed Camry on a motorway. It barely stopped cheating. If you are caught over the 50, like, image credit limit you are. I think you were given a small fine, and you couldn't race for two weeks? What kind of, you know, what kind of punishment? Is that really what kind of thing to stop? Anyone from having huge gains, really, that can change, change everything? So no, no, it wasn't fair. Like it's not fair. And there are a fair few riders who were probably in, in the minority who chose to be clean, you know, to ride on bread and water, as they say, who didn't make it who had to take other jobs who. And that was the kind of that's always a sad thing about doping in a way, you know, that. I don't think anyone who's has a positive for doping, who's cheated. When they get into cycling, they don't want to put a needle in their arm or have their blood transfused or whatever kind of ghoulish thing hopefully went on, doesn't go on now. But along the line they get, they get sucked into certain culture and you know, you invest so much time and energy and sacrifice into something you love, and you have to love it. That you realise, well, this is the kind of Faustian deal that many of them thought I had to make that they thought that they didn't do this, they would finish in the last group or second class group and they wouldn't, they wouldn't get the contract renewed. They wouldn't even be close to winning, you know, to fulfilling their childhood dreams. And you have an abrupt turn turn pro in 1994, which was really probably the worst the worst possible year to turn pro maybe in cycling, because EPO was, that was the year that it was about to get ramped, and if it wasn't already ramping.

Carlton Reid  9:00  
And then Cofidis wasn't exactly the cleanest of teams.

Andy McGrath  9:04  
No. I mean, this is Vandenbrouke. He was on Mapei who were the Italian super team. You may see their products in your local homeware stores you know, they still make I think it's grouting Yeah, ground

tiles, tile, yes. tiles.

things are still popular. I still smile when I see them and and b&q and all other good stores, but they were the best number one, and they really complimented in hindsight, complimented Vandenbrouke perfectly because often, you know, in in the classics of old classics, he won and he won a fair few, you know, scale the price hit Volk, obviously Liège–Bastogne–Liège. He could be the attacking foil or tactically to say Tom Steels, a sprinter or Johan Museuw, who was a permanent cobbles rider. But anyway, after three, four years, which were the most stable, far and away the most stable years, results wise and maybe mentality wise over his whole career. He has acted in he he wanted to be a contract. He wasn't ever patient with very much ever. And he he chose good to French Team Cofidis for double the money basically. And they gave him he could pick, you know, his friends, his his teammates, so, pick several of those. And it started off well, but yeah, it transpired that they had they had a kind of sleeping pill and drinking culture. And that's not a good combination. You know, even one thing. One of those dumb two accesses is bad, but they'd be on training camps, you know, in winter, this is how Vandenberg got hooked in the winter of 98. You know, they'd be it'd be bored you know, you do your training in the sun somewhere in Spain and then a radical Philip go mom, who I think one gateway will give himself. This strong, strapping Frenchman, you know, said why don't you take this and we'll have some drinks and what happens is you kind of you have a euphoric high. That's beyond you know, extreme drunkenness. You know, often you don't remember what you do when you're on under the influence of still not an alcohol, you know? And they go out partying or they're still the team campervan. And it's kind of thing you wouldn't believe it happened then, let alone now.

Carlton Reid  11:28  
So what is Stilnoct? It's in your book loads. So just tell us what Stilnoct is.

Andy McGrath  11:34  
It's a sleeping pill with various different brand names. I actually think Anglophone listeners might know it better as Ambien. I think that's alright. Okay. Yes. Australian kind of version of it. Yes, it's a sleeping pill. And you know, normally, I think it's used for insomniacs. And if you, you take one you wait 20 minutes, and it should pretty much knock you out. But they will take festivals, you know, handfuls at the very least. And if you resist if you fight the urge to sleep with alcohol, then you you push through to this strange blankness and euphoric high. And David Miller also has some stories, I think in his, his autobiography of strange things, and I'm the influence, you know. And, you know, it's kind of a reminder also, that professional cyclists, young freshmen, cyclists are very suggestible. They're, maybe not quite all of them fully formed as adults, you know, when they turn someone like Vandenbroucke turn pro, at 19. He was more brought up in the sporting culture than really, as a human being, as an app was an adult human being it and kind of influenced by that. So they're very fragile. And that's the other thing, you know, we've covered it. So there was a lacking duty of care, you know, in terms of the management and, you know, they seem to know what was going on, but they didn't do much about it really like they, they hired a psychologist to do a to have a talk with with the riders who basically laughed him out of the room. So you know, hindsight is 2020, but it was not a good team for Benbrook to band with a good culture.

Carlton Reid  13:21  
Andy, let's let's dig into you, because you've written this book. And we will we'll we'll talk about it, tonnes coming up. But this is before your time in effect, certainly before your time as a journalist you've started working from what I can see from your LinkedIn profile. You started working for Cycling Weekly. And then you became the head of Rouleur, which many people wouldn't want men will know both both titles of course. But this is in effect before your time. Was this before your were You were you like a big cycling fan? From a you know, a youth? 

Andy McGrath  14:00  
Yeah, I mean, whenever its heyday was before my time in terms of cycling fandom, I really got into it, you know, the Lance Armstrong years 2002 was the year that I you know, discovered this fantastic and strange and exotic sport. And I you know, I did come across Vanderbrouke but by then he was really really on the down slide you know the downfall. I do remember his 2003 Tour of Flanders at the time you know, I remember it. It being this remarkable comeback story where you know this guy who was ranked outside the top 500 in in the UCI standings came second in the tour Flanders out of nowhere. But you know, he was kind of the figure of fun the kind of the fallen hero then. But yeah, he was kind of trying to see I didn't think much about him when I was at cycling weekly as a staff writer and then you know, joining ruler like, later on I to my first book was about Tom Simpson. I I published back in 2017 lovely kind of mix of contemporary photographs and stories from those who know Thompson best with Rapha, you know, one of their first books. And I was very fortunate that won the sports book of the year prize that year, which was a huge boon. Yes.

Carlton Reid  15:22  
What did you do with 30 grand Andy?

Andy McGrath  15:25  
I bought a Colnago Carlton, which possibly wasn't seeing us, I don't like to ride it in, you know, winter, or spring, sometimes autumn. So, you know, in the UK, I don't ride a bike to get too messy. And then that really leaves you two or three good months of cycling. So that was, that was my dream bike, you know, when I was a teenager that that was a bike. But funnily enough, that was a brand that I saw in all the cycling magazines, and I obviously, cycling journalists are not the best paid people in the world, sorry to disappoint their any young listeners. But that was, I mean, that was a life changing amount of money for me. So I did go ahead and bought a Kona Argo. You know, that was the that was the main thing and the rest went boringly in the savings.

Carlton Reid  16:11  
Now, I kind of threw that in there a to be rude, and see what you say. And so you know, is it wind, wind? And so on? No, it's a bike. Okay, great. But also, that was a big deal to win that, that, yeah, that's a big cash amount. And that's a big deal to win the William Hill sports book of the year well done on on that. You're basically your your, your, your, you've been writing about people who were from a different era, in effect. So these these are these are almost not united to me, Tom Simpson is isn't a contemporary, obviously. But Frank Vandenbroucke is certainly somebody I would be very, very well well aware of when I was, you know, in into, in writing about cycle sport I was, he was around at that point. So you're writing about people in effect from from from history. So you're almost a historian, not just, you know, not just a biographer, you're digging into past history,

Andy McGrath  17:13  
I never really thought about it like that, that's an interesting way of putting it maybe I should put historian on my LinkedIn profile. It feels like quite recent history, though.

Carlton Reid  17:22  
It really isn't, you know, when you look at this, this is 25 years, that's a good time away, you know, for for somebody to still be talked about, and for books to be written, etc. That's, that's, that's a federal what it is history.

Andy McGrath  17:36  
That's also what I like, because, you know, in a way, you know, Vandenbrouke, and Simpson both have, have had books written about them already. But I had the kind of maybe the naive hunch, which I would have told my publishers that I can get new stories, you know, there's more things to be said, by different people, which I which, which I believed in, you know, turned out to be true. You know, there's, there's deeper perspective says revisionism to be done, there's new things to be discovered. And, to be honest, I think I've found with, with slightly older people, you know, when you're talking about the people around Simpson and Vandenberg, and in general, and in cycling there, they've lived long lives, you know, so they have more more stories, more life, experience, more more regrets, you know, more successes. But they also, yeah, that somehow they're just that appeals to me, you know, they, they're certainly more open, generally speaking. You know, compared to, for example, let's say, if I was trying to write the, the biography of Matthew Vanderpool who, who won the Tour, Flanders, you know, very recently, there will be a whole circle of people around him that comparatively, it will be very close, very hard to get close to him. And very hard to get intriguing things now, you know, in 10 years time, maybe it'd be a different story. So I think that plays as a kind of advantage in a way to be going back rather than rather than always working with, you know, present champions,

Carlton Reid  19:14  
the people you've written about in their books are clearly flawed heroes. So both both legendary, both died, that that kind of helps if you're going to be a biographer, when somebody is no longer here in many respects, but they're both flawed. So So is that something that naturally attracts a biographer because if you if you're floored by de facto you're kind of more interesting. You know, you're you're you're there's there's chinks in that armour. There's the stuff that a journalist stroke historian can get their teeth into. And most sports people tend to be kind of flawed anyway, you know, there's many psychological studies which show that you know that the absolute top achievers have had some sort of formative bad experience in in their earlier life, which is then forced them to become these, these super men in terms of you know, male sport. So is that something that attracts you the fact that these are flawed heroes you can you can really talk about a flawed here and more than somebody who's squeaky clean.

Andy McGrath  20:34  
Well, firstly, I think we're all flawed. You're no one's perfect. But the Yes, I completely see what you're saying that these these are top athletes are people who push things to the extremes who, you know, can be quite flawed or extremely flawed, you know. And that's more the thing, but it, there was no middle for Vandenbroucke things were either going fantastic or his confidence was 100%. Or it was the opposite, you know, there seem to be, you know, they will see a sixth gear or a neutral with him. And I think we're all drawn to, to people who push limits that regular human beings wouldn't normally you know, push. Who wouldn't, you know, we we wouldn't want to take you know, 10 sleeping pills, and then down some glasses of wine on a night out, but so there's a kind of, I think there's a slightly vicarious fascination sometimes. But Vanderburgh was also I wouldn't say he was escaping from something, you know, a kind of traumatic incident in his childhood, but it's definitely worth noting that his father was his uncle. He was part of a second dynasty. So his uncle was dubbed the John Louis mercs as Frank would be. Sean Luke, that's right. Race for Persia had some great results. Never quite lived up to that moniker, who Ken and his father who was older than John Luke. So John's brother, John Jack. He was on the cusp of being a pro site because he just signed his his contract. When hit, their father died and he became guardian to John Luke, and John Paul. His brothers, his younger brothers, so his history was snatched away from him before he could do anything about it, and he had to he had to sell off his his father's Frank's grandfather's his basins and toilets and sinks because he was a kind of plumber handyman to shut down the business. So there was a kind of element of his Frank's Father John Jack being being a real driving force for positive and for negative through his formative years, you know, he pushed him so hard, you know, he would, he would follow training with a stopwatch praise was kind of few and far between shows of shows of kind of love work, not not regular at all. And, you know, Frank felt that sometimes you've treated too much as a cyclist and not enough as a son you know, as a as a person. And they had, you know, they had fallings out throughout Frank's life. And, you know, there was also a depression that John Jack had. Or John Paul, maybe it was actually his younger brother. And Frank had that too. So there's a kind of there's a, there's a kind of site genetic, I think, vulnerability to two of, you know, mental health problems that was on show here. So there's that extreme too. And this is what I kind of also find fascinating about not just pro cyclists, but people in general, athletes in general, that when we see them, just seeing when we see them in the Tour de France or tour Flanders, whatever, we're seeing 1% of their life, you know. And for Frank, you know, when he was on the bike, that was a kind of safe place, really, when things are going well. That was his refuge. And it was really like when he wasn't on the bike when he was by himself. And you know, he couldn't be by himself, really, he loved being around people need to be around people to be supervised sometimes. But when he was alone, that was when the problem started, when he had time to think or to do certain misdemeanours or wrong things. That was a problem. And people don't think about that, you know that. Everything really needs to be going well, and in the 99% of your life outside of the bike pace for the bike race to go well.

Carlton Reid  24:46  
So you mentioned father, son relationship stuff there, which can reminded me that when I was looking at the emails of when we've interacted before, and when you were editor of Rouleur, you actually published I'm getting more into you about, you actually published a ride of my son of coming back from China, in Rouleur, and this is now four or five years back when he did that ride and you, you, you published an account of that ride. But you were with Rouleur for about five years, four years editor?

Andy McGrath  25:23  
yeah, yeah, every year for nine years and I was here to for five years, you know, which was that was a dream. That was a dream, you know, I was in my mid 20s When I became editor, and I just loved hearing their stories where I'd actually been at cycle sport, which is part of cycling weekly part a part of that IPC Media Group, you know, 15 years ago, that was where I was kind of under under the wing of Ed Pickering, who, who's now the Rouleur editor, you know, I was around all these great writers like Lionel Birnie, and, you know, just learning from them, you know, either by by osmosis or by asking stupid questions, which is a kind of great way to learn. But I've really found I was drawn to longer form storytelling, you know, articles, over 2000 words, long interviews, you know, two, three hours sometimes or, you know, spending a whole day or, or, you know, to with a pro cyclist to really, truly get under their skin, you know, because that's also the media landscape in increasingly at the moment, sometimes, you're given 20 minutes, 25 minutes in a hotel lobby, to write a long feature that's supposed to you know, be chapter and verse about the cyclist. And that's not you know, that's not sufficient. I really was kinda like an entry kind of opened the doors you know, ruler when you said you with ruler that kind of had a special effect, they knew you were gonna do a very thorough, well researched, well written job, which I think really helped. And this is also the last landscape we're in that was, you know, I joined over 10 years ago, and slightly magazines, were more plentiful, were more more profitable. And I still read paper, by the way, I'd never read a Kindle course. And I'm, I'm kind of 35 going on 65 I just like, you know, I'm looking at a bookcase with about 200 books right now. And the same goes for magazines, I just, I'm a magazine guy. And I don't see that changing. And I'm kind of proud of that, because I'm slightly scared that in even in 10 years, Time Magazine might go the way of a vine on and be a collector's item when it really shouldn't be

Carlton Reid  27:42  
well, Cycling Weekly is older than Liège–Bastogne–Liège. So that was that was 1891. So that presumably, has has a place in the market, almost guaranteed a lot of the other magazines, maybe not so much, and ruler has a place in that is long form. It is something that, you know, the pro riders as well as cycle sport fans will love and look up to because it does go into immense detail and great care, and the quality of the paper, all that kind of stuff. So it's I guess, it's the magazines, in the middle, that that fall between those two kind of different models that are going to suffer.

Andy McGrath  28:28  
Perhaps, you know, the Rouleur owner told me a few years ago that there was there was going to be survival of the fittest and you know, he's turned out to be right. I think it's also the care you know, the photography and in rural areas, you know, top top notch I think people like that baby surprise, you know, sometimes have little feedback I got as editor, you know, that I could just see the, you know, often the subscription numbers rising and you see the sales figures and I like to think there's a very happy silent majority. And maybe the numbers pull that out that, you know, some people on social media will either go on there to say how fantastic something is, or how appalling it is or that their magazine never arrived, you know, and that's fine, you know, but that's, that's the world we live in. But I'm not even sure about cycling weekly, I've got a huge attachment to that magazine sentimentally. But it could be that that ends up being being an online only presence in 10 years time or you know five years time and I really hope that isn't the case. But that more and more people are reading things on their phones or their tablets. So you know, papers printed so as a find its its place you know, but realised yet definitely one for the connoisseur. Um, and we do crazy thing crazy fun things. You know, I remember taking a crew of photographers and writers to Paris-Roubaix, which is my favourite race. Because Because I said next year we're going to do a whole edition of Rouleur just around Paris-Roubaix. And we designed it with a kind of cobblestone font. And we kind of you know, each story was a sector basically and we did it you know, we were there for a week. We worked bloomin hard. And I think we saw six sectors on the day, which for goes from south to north, took some driving that pushed the limits of the highway code. But it was you know, we, we just had carte blanche to do pretty wild things like you know, we had a Gonzo writer called Mort not bow, who was Danish, who, who who divided opinion, you know, but I've never seen anyone write like that in cycling media, let alone sports media like and he always got the interview, he always ingratiated himself with the biggest names in cycling, you know, and that's what I loved was like different styles make make a magazine, for example, you know, Morton was meant to Morton and Jakob, who we call the crazy Danes is right of geography in a combo for several years, so we're meant to spend two hours with Lance Armstrong in the height of his, you know, scandalous air, I think was 2013 2014. And they ended up spending two or three days I played golf with him, you know, and it was just, yeah, like, the one thing about Rouleur that we wanted to change was that to make it not seem so stuffy or serious, because because we were having a lot of fun making it and we all love cycling, and there's a lot of, you know, humour to be had with it. You know, you might look at the black and white photographs. And you know, think it's been ernest but you know, we tried to change that every now and then. It's

Carlton Reid  32:01  
clearly it was it was founded in a party in a Guy Andrews but partly with Simon Mottram of a Rapha, so it's like, A, in some ways, like a Rapha, journal it had that certain had that, you know, in the early days, certainly had that Rapha you know, aesthetic. And, and power to its elbow for having that aesthetic, because Simon, you know, absolutely went in it, I can say this into the veins of cycling at that time with with with, you know, a very beautiful magazine. 

Andy McGrath  32:40  
Yeah, he was, you know, he was pivotal to its founding like, along with Guy who, who was the founder, you know, they they saw they saw something different. And they, you know, they put in the money in the effort fearing that no one would buy that first issue which now goes for hundreds on eBay. And, you know, in many ways, it was similar to I think Jacque Waterlase courir magazine in the 50s and 60s, you know, that style and that aesthetic and you know, Guy didn't want any reviews. He wanted to show the cycling that you know, that he loved that also a child with the Rapha aesthetic and their values. And basically, the Rouleur blueprint that he laid out in those first issues is still what Rouleur is, you know, it's you know, in depth interviews, it's photography with a difference. And you ever heard is actually coming up for nearly 20 years. I think it'll be in a couple of years time. And

Carlton Reid  33:42  
Rapha is 20 years old this year. So that makes me feel old. Because now, I was the first person to report on Rapha's founding on in would have been, it would have been online, I would I probably did a story on on this, you know, strange aesthetics based, cycled clothing manufacturer, you know, coming in from the advertising world. So I broke the story of Rapha coming in into cycling, and then now it's that 20 years or so their current PR you know, emails me and says, Oh, would you like to do a story on on Rapha being 20 It's like, oh my god, they're 20 and I did a story on them, you know, and it doesn't feel 20 years away. So it's history, as well. So we're kind of coming full circle on on history there. Now on on LinkedIn, you actually say you're one of your career highlights is actually writing for Bicycling. So what why was that a career highlight highlight?

Andy McGrath  34:50  
Did I say that? Oh, that's good. I just I just wanted to write for you know, one of the tops like a magazine. I've been seeing it all my life. You know, when I went freelance two years ago, that was basically my chance to write for whoever I wanted. And yeah, I'm a fellow fellow news. Now fellow went online. So I just saw this kind of this prestige of writing for for an American publication who, who I always thought, you know, did some really good journalism. And they do. I mean, it's most rigorous fact checking process I've ever had, and they did some beautiful photography, it was a long profile of Peter Sagan in his retirement. Yeah, and I went to Slovakia to see, you know, his family with old friends. And I went to Spain to interview him. And it kind of felt like old school journalism, you know, also that they back you to do that, you know, both in terms of time, word count, and paying expenses.

Carlton Reid  35:56  
And paying, because that's why I like writing for American magazines is they pay five times more than any British magazine.

Andy McGrath  36:06  
Yeah, I'm not sure if we should be advertising that this is true. Yeah, saying the Americans taking out lucrative stores. But no, absolutely. Like, that's the thing that I'm not sure why it's five times more. So I understand, you know, the, the kind of living costs, generally speaking, in the US in cycling friendly pockets is probably higher. So, so they were charging more, but five times more. You know, word rates for journalists, and in cycling identity have changed for 20 years, you know, since Rapha's inception, which is kind of sad. It's more of a labour of love than it ever was, and it was still a labour of love 20 years ago. But yeah, like the bicycling and you know, writing for cycling class I've written for basically every Anglophone cycling title in my not so young career now I'm 35. And it's just a pleasure, you know, that something that you know, the teenage me will be super proud of, and you know, that, don't me, it's, it's still proud of, you know, it's something really nice to go in my bookshelf. And it's always new stories and new angles, and well, not new sci fi magazines, really. But I kind of live in hope that I can keep doing that mainly around cycling, but I am you know, one slightly sad thing is that I'm trying to diversify slightly and you know, write about different sports, as well as cycling.

Carlton Reid  37:39  
I see you on art substack. So that's really diversifying.

Andy McGrath  37:45  
That's not That's not for profit. That's just for me. I just wanted to ride this is, this is something that I started this year, just going to local galleries and doing short, short reviews, you know, with just to learn about art, and to see what I like what I don't like, you know, I always, you know, I've kind of thought that modern art is a bit pretentious, but I've never really been to see that much. So I thought it could be fun. And it's proven to be fun. But the irony is that my my work deadlines are kind of impinging on my art reviews to the point that I haven't posted anything in about two months, but I will soon for my 20 substack followers. No, it's just fine. You know, you can live in deadlines. And with a bit of stress for so long that it's a nice kind of thing to try to do to, you know, flex some different writing muscles, but also learn about something totally away from sport, which is really the thing that I love.

Carlton Reid  38:49  
So I want to dig further into that level of  cycling and into God is dead, your book. But right now I'd like to go across to my colleague David, who will give us a short ad break.

David Bernstein  39:06  
This podcast is brought to you by Tern Bicycles.  Like you, the folks at Tern are always up for a good outdoor adventure by bike— whether that’s fishing, camping, or taking a quick detour to hit the trails before picking up the kids from school. And if you’re looking to explore new ground by taking your adventures further into the wild, they’ve got you covered. The brand new Orox by Tern is an all-season, all-terrain adventure cargo bike that’s built around the Bosch Smart System to help you cross even the most ambitious itinerary off your bucket list. It combines the fun of off-road riding in any season with some serious cargo capacity, so you can bring everything you need—wherever you go, whenever you go. Plus, it’s certified tough and tested for safety so your adventures are worry-free. With two frame sizes to choose from and a cockpit that’s tested to support riders of different sizes, finding an adventure bike that fits you and your everyday needs has never been easier with the Orox.  Visit (that’s O-R-O-X) to learn more.

Carlton Reid  40:24  
So we are back with Andy McGrath and Andy is the well as he's been telling us in the the before the ad break that he's been telling us about his career trajectory through cycling into into now doing an art substack even for the for the fun of it and the hell of it and the learning of it. Which Which sounds fantastic, because I should do that too. I should learn new stuff. But the thing we started this podcast with was with the the anniversary coming up to 25 years since since Frank Vandenbroucke and we can we call him VDB Do you think we can we can really Yeah. Yeah. Or should we say Frank goes to Frank because really it is it's like it's a it is actually an unknown nickname for other people in Belgium isn't is not not just something that's pertinent to him.

Andy McGrath  41:23  
That's right. There's lots of bands you know something? Yeah, Vanda

Carlton Reid  41:27  
something. Okay. So VDB we can we can go with that, as we kind of use a shorthand gumming up. So your book 2002. This came out, and he and it's the rise and fall of Frank Vandenbroucke cycling's great wasted talent is the subhead to God is dead. Now God is dead is clearly a Nietzsche reference. Also a reference to when he was coming up when when Frank was coming up through the sport, lots of people treated him as a god. And then in his autobiography, he talks about not being a god, but the very fact that he's saying he's not a God means kind of other people were saying he was a god. So that's, that's a hell of a provocative title for a book. Andy Yeah, absolutely.

Andy McGrath  42:25  
I just correct you there. It came out in 2022. If it came out in 2002, I would have been 14 and

Carlton Reid  42:33  
I'm sorry, sorry. 20222. Sorry. Yeah. No, that would have been deep military. Yes. Yes. Yes. Sorry, kind of literal, you

Andy McGrath  42:39  
know, the spoiler alert as you pointed out earlier as sports which makes it a kind of backwards who done it or you know, what happened to his life when you know, beside nd and also, you know, his friend contemporary or when I went on to wrote a song called Cody is dead. So I just thought it was too there are too many, you know, perfect similarities to not have that title. It does, I suppose it you know, catches the eye, as well, as you know, telling you what happened. And it intrigues and it should stop people in their tracks, you know, make them think, you know, who was this? Cyclists because most people most passing people in bookshops, for example, wouldn't have heard of Frank Vandenbrouke, some people at the time, you know, very briefly, he he was on the cover of pro cycling in the UK, for example, he was in the top three of the world rankings, he was going to be the biggest things since sliced bread on 11 speed. And then and this is the thing that half the book is really the rise of a sporting talent, exceptional sporting promise, despite all his problems, you know, that he had the human for example, he was involved in a in a crash with a rally car when he was four years old. Of all things, you know, in the country lanes where he grew up, and that meant that after a long, long recovery, his left leg was always two centimetres shorter and thinner, and the right leg which you would think will be problematic for for a pro cyclist and it proved to be problematic. You know, often during his career, he was always fighting these knee injuries. But anyway, he he rose up at a time when the stars were older, you know, they were 30 Plus, and they were quite bland in comparison to him. You know, we had Indurain, Rominger, Museuw, and Frank Vandenbrouke was this 20 year old counterpoint who said good things to all the Belgian media and was handsome, you know, he was good looking kid. But he raised with such panache. And he won unusually early unusually often. And for someone that yeah, when he was a junior, he won half his races which is ridiculous for someone who who wasn't a great sprinter either, you know, he he had to attack really to win most of the time.

Carlton Reid  45:14  
So it's an awful lot of is not just legacy but at the time was he just looked so beautiful on a bike I mean there's there's a little bit of you know, homo-eroticism going on there but he's just he just looked wonderful with you know those those as you're saying those those the legs being shorter and thinner. I hadn't actually noticed that but it just it looks so beautiful on a bicycle. He's just like the dream rider.

Andy McGrath  45:42  
Yeah, and that's the way that we the most of us wish we could you know, pedal that's like pedalling and in a dream. It's that the French word souplesse. It kind of describes the way that he pedalled you know, with, with no, either body barely moved, didn't move when the back was still when he kind of cycled it was like ballerina esque if that is the right word for a male ballerina probably is. And it was so incongreous, too, because his legs was so thin. You know, they were like pipe cleaners. Really. They weren't particularly muscular. But they were tanned and yeah, like it. It is funny about cycling isn't all Pro Cycling that sometimes it we don't just admire the best riders. With my style, we My grace. For example, I still remember this Russian writer called Mikhail Ignatieff who won a few Olympic goals on the track. And he didn't win any anything of any note, you know, in Tour de France, all the all the big leagues of road racing, but his pedal stroke was just gorgeous, just like you know. I imagine there was no human around years of you know, Russian training in the Velodrome but

Carlton Reid  46:55  
so that you're definitely getting back to that kind of Rapha aesthetic which, which Simon Mottram tapped into, you know that it's not about always winning. It's sometimes about just looking good and being stylish and having panache. You know, that Tom Simpson also taps into that with his suits and his writing style.

Andy McGrath  47:17  
Yeah, absolutely. Like, it's not about winning always. It's about how you make people feel. It's about how you bring the fans along with you all, all the media. And there's some riders in their 30s. Now, their favourite cyclists was Frank Vandenbrouke. That 999 the age pastorally. Age is the race of their dreams. I think I'll have an arson who's a former Belgian champion, said he watched it 200 times on replay I feel it was your bet. The great Belgian bike racer, idolise Vandenbrouke, that and there's something it wasn't just results like we can all have, well, not all of us, pro cyclists can have a page on Pro Cycling stats or whatever results. Software, you use that, that shows you what you've won, but it doesn't say anything for how you want it, you know, like with, with daring, long range attacks, like Vandenberg sometimes did, or what you said to the media afterwards, you know, giving them great quotes. And that's part of his charm. And you know, why people wrote books about him in Belgium, although that said, you know, if, if he hadn't been a kind of fatal hero, if he hadn't died so young, it would, it would be a happy a different story. Because

Carlton Reid  48:37  
there is that Amy Winehouse, you kind of mentioned that, you know, that Marilyn Monroe that kind of that here, who's a die young they stay heroes. So there's there's that element of and Africa somewhere else in your book where you talk about how people couldn't have imagined him getting older anyway. You know, there was that that there was almost a fatalism there. That this is somebody who is, you know, the Icarus figure, you know, burning bright climbing high, that will probably come a cropper like almost wasn't a surprise to many people, the way his his life ended. 

Unknown Speaker  49:15  
Absolutely. I think sometimes that's it's not easy to say that, you know, 10 years after he's died when, you know, after the fact. And the problem was that he had all these issues, he had depression briefly and he became addicted to, you know, cocaine and amphetamines. But he will always find a way out of it that I think a lot of people thought that he would eventually find a way out of his problems, you know, the 10 years from the age when the end of his life in 2009 We were just roller coaster teaser kind of cliche like, but he would always drag himself out. So that's the sadness and and they were under a lot of pain. April, he said to me, there was some regret, you know, in the quotes that his agent pulled the gator that said, when it came to his drug addiction that they were, he compared it to a kind of sinking ship and said that, you know, when they were bailing the water out, they should really be plugged in trying to plug the hole which was quite a kind of poignant quote like I thought so and so one more thing, too We, of course it gets into sad tragic territory, but you know, it's not the kind of misery misery fest biography No, and I found them bro was loved by so many people and charmed and joked around with so many people like, he was a great impressionist, he, he was like a bouncy teenager, really, at the age of 35, still, you know, like, messing around with his roommate, and putting toothpaste on the bathroom mirror. And he had this kind of universal boyishness that people found it very hard to be mad at him, even when he did, you know, quite bad things or selfish things or acted vainly, which he could do. So there's, you know, at the core of it, it goes much beyond the cyclists into this human being who could be lovable, but can also be very frustrating and, you know, do some bad things.

Carlton Reid  51:26  
So the book is, yes, it's not, you're right. It's not all doom and gloom. But there's an awful lot in there. You can't get away from this about addiction, doping clearly. And then mental health care or lack thereof, in in, in not just in cycling, but in probably in society as a whole. Yeah, like, I

Unknown Speaker  51:46  
kind of think that. If we look back, even 10 years alone, 20 years, the duty of, of care for professional athletes was really lacking. You know, I think it's really sad that there were top level riders not just Vandenberg, who were going to psychologist or psychiatrist, but we're keeping it strong, you know, because it was seen as so shameful, you know. And to me that shy, that taps into the old school soccer mentality of, you know, the way they used to be the way they used to train, you know, do 300k Drink very little, eat very little. Ride harder, don't complain. And that could work for some people. But that is not a caring way to look up to most people. You know, that's, and that can come back to by many athletes, you know, and I think that's what happened. Vandenbrouke's psychologist probably helped to help him to live longer. You know, that's what he said in his his autobiography. Actually, Vandenbrouke

Carlton Reid  52:52  
That's Jeff Browers?

Unknown Speaker  52:54  
Yeah, exactly. And, in fact, he was probably an early kind of adopter of this help that he needed, you know, not just for, you know, the cycling was one thing, but they were trying to cure his kind of addiction problems and is show him that he he was loved, you know, even though he felt abandoned often. And that's the crux of it, that, you know, this need to be loved that I kind of thing most of, well, pretty much all all of us have, whether it's conscious or subconscious. And he always felt unloved or abandoned, despite, you know, the obvious legion of fans that he had and everything else. And that was a tragedy, there are human tragedy.

Carlton Reid  53:37  
So in your in your book, there's a kind of murder mystery, and to the book, murder, mystery, suicide, whatever. So Jeff, Browers was the psychologist about it, he basically told you that he thinks it was it was it was suicide, because he was, as you've just said that he needs people around and he was quite alone in that grubby hotel room in Senegal. But then other people, family obviously blame the people he was with and don't want to have that association. With with suicide, you don't really come you don't come to a conclusion because you can't really come to a conclusion, especially as it happened in Senegal, where it's kind of difficult to come to any conclusion anyway. But there's, there's various people give their their opinions weighing all that up. What's your opinion?

Unknown Speaker  54:40  
I don't have to give one you know, like, if it isn't clear, factually, and I can't be certain, but I've laid out you know, that's the job of the biography is to talk to everyone that was close to Vandenbrouke around him at the time. He was actually you know, basically there and include what they said Um, but no. I think that there could be something very well and what you have for hours says, you know, the psychologists who, you know, he was a man who spent hours with him and in that in that room I can see why he would say that. But one of the great, one of the great, strange things about this is, is that mystery like that, you know, Vandenbrouke had never even been to Africa, and he decided to go to Senegal, ye. And this filmic ending, you know, where, whereas you say, a prostitute was the last person to see him alive. So maybe he wanted it to be, you know, clouded in some kind of doubt that it could never be be definitive. But either way, you know what, like, whichever way that he died, it was pretty tragic that that he died, you know, and he's not the only one from that era, either. He had Pantani, you had Jose Maria Jimenez, you know, and I think it's, it's partly a kind of symptom of the doping culture that what they were taking to perform in bike races made it much easier to get into recreational drugs. And both of those things, mess with your mind and your body. And probably your, your, your soul, you know, the core of who you really feel you are and what you're doing, you know, whether you think it's cheating or not that moral maze, it, it can't be easy. I'm there must have been a hot a horrible time to be a pro cyclist.

Carlton Reid  56:41  
People think of these things doping is a black and white issue. Yet, there's a spectrum here, you know, is I mean, the UCI classifies too many coffees, too many espressos as doping. But, you know, four or five, okay. You know, marginal gains, you know, all these things, which which you can legally do, and yet you somehow trip over a line, if you take this other thing. And the other thing is, is meant to be this evil thing. And that's clearly you know, the wrong thing to do. But vitamin supplements and you know, creatine, all of these things are performance enhancing, why did they not get the stigma that EPO get? So it's a spectrum and addicted, it's very difficult to say this as a black and white thing, when there are many things that can make you better on a bike, including EPO, but then you know, just your energy gel makes you better on a bike, should we be adding energy gels, it's there's very little nuance gets into it talking about doping, it's just black and it's white. Yeah,

Unknown Speaker  57:57  
when really if you're saying is that it's basically shades shades of grey, you know that the modern game does you're in the peloton is ketones, which are not banned, but they seem to be ethically questionable. And my rudimentary understanding of the science around it is also that no one knows how, how it can affect the career in a few years time or five years time that we might be seeing some writers already suffering from not using them in the right way or overusing them. Well,

Carlton Reid  58:35  
my wife is a is a diabetes doctor. So she knows about ketones, and she knows about insulin, as well. And insulin was, was clearly one of the things that Frank used to basically say he was going to kill himself and he's going to use insulin to do so. So potentially that was, it's very hard to trace insulin as if you're going to kill yourself with insulin. So potentially, that's, that's, yeah, you're gonna kill yourself insulin is a pretty good way of doing it.

Andy McGrath  59:11  
Yeah. And you know, why would you why would you take that to Senegal? Or how would you source it? You know, what? He wasn't a diabetic, you know, so. Yeah, I won't give away you know, the ending or, you know, what everyone said about the ending, but, you know, several people were pointing towards suicide, certainly in the book, but yeah, like, I just going back to the grey area of crime doping. I just hope it's a bit more nuanced. Now. The way that people regard dope is like I even think that you know, 10 years ago. It it's really hard. It's very hard, isn't it? Because they have cheated. They have done something wrong, and they've done it knowingly, you know, in probably 99% of cases. Despite the numerous They can excuse.

Carlton Reid  1:00:02  
Yes, there have been quite a few good ones. False twin

Unknown Speaker  1:00:10  
Yeah, false twin, pigeon pie, weeks from a Colombian grandmother. It's got

Carlton Reid  1:00:17  
I bought it for my dog. Okay.

Unknown Speaker  1:00:20  
Yeah, well, that was bingo. So on the one hand, they are not above appropriate, you know, the rider. They are number one, you know, anything that turns up in their body knowingly or unknowingly, if they're positive, that's that's on them, you know, that's how it is. And I totally get that. But on the other hand, it still seems to me that the culture around doping IE, you know, the people that help them or, or facilitate, you know, people like team doctors, team managers, people in the know, people who are still in the sport, you know, nowadays seem to get away with it, pretty much, often quite, quite scot free. And that's not okay. And I've had, you know, cyclists who were pros in the 80s through to, you know, the last decade, you know, saying a similar thing, but that's a thing that needs to be changed that needs to be snuffed out like the right is kind of like the symptom of a wider problem. And of course, if we knew the answer if the UCI or Wilder knew the answer, you know, anti doping foundations famously have much smaller smaller budgets and maybe even the biggest cycling team in the world they're always fighting kind of a chasing battle they're always you know, one step behind maybe against the latest wonder drug or the kind of latest cheats but I think I can save some some confidence Pro Cycling is is cleaner now than it was in Vandenbrouke's heyday. But I also fear that it'll never be totally clean partly because of human nature partly because of the money was going up and up and partly because of this bizarre kind of will to win this drive is addiction

Carlton Reid  1:02:13  
Yeah, can even amateur races you know, people have been caught doping that will to win

Andy McGrath  1:02:22  
Yeah, I mean, that's that's sad in my opinion, you know, if you're, if you're doping to win a category three cap for race. What's the point? You know,

Carlton Reid  1:02:32  
do you race have you written Have you raced

Unknown Speaker  1:02:38  
I did a few time trials when I was up at university in York. Beautiful place to ride around there Oh, and I did someone's teenager with the Addiscombe in Croydon that's where I'm from. no great shakes, Carlton. I've never meant to be the next Frank Vandenbroucke much better at writing than riding my bike has put it that way. But

Carlton Reid  1:03:08  
yeah, you're a rider. Not a racer. So that that that that Colnago that you bought is something that you would ride on a nice day with no mud around so what you're writing normally what's what's if you're not running the Colnago what you're writing 

Andy McGrath  1:03:33  
it's a time XRS I'll steel a nice bike from now not a pub bike.

Unknown Speaker  1:03:38  
It's a decent bike it was just it just keeps going and it gets me around town if I want to ride in the autumn or winter on the road so I'll use Quickstep used to ride it back in the day me 20 years ago you know Palpatine and all that

Carlton Reid  1:03:57  
which did you pick that up in your in your magazine days then is that was you kind of like you somehow acquired it back then.

Andy McGrath  1:04:07  
Well, the thing about me is I'm I'm not I'm no techie I'm really good people that would have seen me trying to fix a puncture back in the cycling weekly office 15 years ago would have realised that immediately now I'm there because I like riding my bike. I just to be completely honest, like I don't know much about bike tech and isn't the most interesting thing about cycling for me, you know, I'm the people that ride the bikes, you know, the pros and all their you know, differences and their opinions and personalities. That's much more interesting to me than say this bike weighs eight kilos or this carbon one weigh 7.5 But that's that's just me, you know, each have their own. Yeah, I'd much rather you know ride a bike then. do the legwork for it, you know, which is but actually need to get better at you know mechanics and changing chains and that kind of thing and maybe on a warm summer's day, I'll just practice doing

Carlton Reid  1:05:13  
that. That's what bike shops are for. That's my opinion. Now I'm with you. I'm with you on the I'm not fussed about technical stuff I've never really been happy writing about the technical stuff doesn't excite me writing about technical stuff or weighing things and yeah, it's the people that is all the stories that are around it that that are from me, personally. A more interesting.

Andy McGrath  1:05:40  
Yeah, absolutely. Like, I find it hard to rhapsodise about tech, you know, whereas I can. Yeah, like I kind of wish I was more intrigued by it, but I'm just not, that's just my personality. And the funny thing is, as a former tech magazine, Ed editor, you really you do have to slightly balance the editorial side with not keeping advertisers happy, but keeping them onside. And there was a slight tech element with Rila. But we we did it in our own way with basically treating the bike or the other kit, like a like a model, you know, hanging on trees or oversea wall, or all kinds of crazy sheets.

Carlton Reid  1:06:29  
So if people want to and we're now wrapping up here, Andy, if people want to get your book and be maybe getting in touch with you or find out what you're doing, where do they find you on websites on on social media?

Unknown Speaker  1:06:44  
They can find me on X formerly known as Twitter before Elon Musk made it even worse. Yeah, at Andy McGrath, that's a n d, why. MC Gra? So, take off the th basically for my surname. Yeah, they want to buy the book, just any online bookseller, really from from Amazon to Waterstones to Blackwell's to whoever, whoever you like, it's on there. And I'll put

Carlton Reid  1:07:19  
your art stack substack link in in the show notes. So people can also you know, if they're not interested in cycling, they could they could follow you for your, you know, your your opinions on Anthony Conway says

Andy McGrath  1:07:31  
the next step comes from me being an expert, what's your, what do you think?

Carlton Reid  1:07:39  
Well, I guess if you're not into the techie side, you know, and you're just looking at maybe just the people behind these things, rather than the art itself? I don't know. Is that do they? Are you looking at the art itself? What's going to interest you?

Andy McGrath  1:07:51  
I am mainly looking at the art itself being and that ties into their lives and the era they were in. It's a bit of everything really, you know, if it's modern art that I'm likely to question, you know, how did this make me feel? You know, what do I feel? What does this elicit in me kind of understand how much work is took or, you know, the literal art artistry behind it? That's one element. But, you know, I just went to see Frank Howell back. He's at the Courtauld in London. He's basically the last surviving artist from that Lucien Freud. Francis Bacon set in the 1950s. And I thought it was fantastic and but it's only black and white because he didn't have the money for pain in 1950s, which I've become a pain which is also an insight into a different world, you know, that I'm very fortunate to not be in you know, post World War reconstruction. But anyway, we we digress. Any followers are welcome.

Carlton Reid  1:09:02  
Yes, no, I'll put that link in. For sure. And to your other things. So Andy, thank you so much for for talking to us on me, us.

Andy McGrath  1:09:11  
Thank you. Absolute pleasure.

Carlton Reid  1:09:15  
And that's it for today's show. Thanks for listening to Episode 351 of the spokesmen podcast brought to you in association with Tern bicycles, show notes and more can be found at As I mentioned earlier, the next episode, dropping real soon, will be a chat with cycling writer, Laura Laker. But meanwhile, get out there and ride ...


Direct download: The_Spokesmen_351.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:51am MDT

8th April 2024

The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast

EPISODE 350: AA's Think Bike Redux 

SPONSOR: Tern Bicycles

HOST: Carlton Reid

GUESTS: Chris Boardman, Jeremy Vine, Edmund King



Carlton Reid  0:12  
Welcome to Episode 350 of the Spokesmen cycling podcast. This show was engineered on Monday 8th April 2024.

David Bernstein  0:28  
The Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast is brought to you by Tern bicycles. The good people at Tern are committed to building bikes that are useful enough to ride every day and dependable enough to carry the people you love. In other words, they make the kind of bikes that they want to ride. Tern has e-bikes for every type of rider. Whether you're commuting, taking your kids to school or even carrying another adult, visit That's t e r n to learn more. 

Carlton Reid  1:04  
I'm Carlton Reid and on today's super short show we hear from Chris Boardman and Jeremy Vine, plugging that from today, the AA is relaunching its 10 year old 'Think Bike' campaign. This nudge-like promo encourages drivers to fit small Think Bike wing-mirror stickers to remind them to look out for those on two wheels. Back in 2014 the AA printed a million of these stickers and distributed them to members promoting the giveaway with a YouTube video featuring a good-looking naked cyclist appearing in wing mirrors demonstrating that if people chose to truly look before manoeuvring, there'll be fewer casualties out there. Did the campaign save any lives? Impossible to prove either way, of course. And some might argue that 10 years down the road the feral attitude towards cyclists in particular from some motorists is worse than ever. But that a motoring organisation is still going out of its way to promote a critical road safety message is something that's to be applauded.

The concept for a wing-mirror sticker came from AA patrolman Tony Rich after his friend was killed in a motorcycle crash. The idea was then championed by AA president who's not only an arch motorist but also travels around London on a folding bike. Edmund cycles recreationally, too ... I know that because he often sends me photos of him riding his mountain bike wearing the ipayroadtax Lycra jersey that I sent him ages ago ...  So before the sound bites from Chris Boardman and Jeremy Vine here's Edmund King ...

Edmund King  3:01  
It is now 10 years since we launched our Think Bike sticker campaign. But unfortunately, the message is still as relevant today as it was a decade ago; far too many people are being killed and seriously injured on two wheels,  whether cyclists or motorcyclists. So we will be spreading the message again, to all drivers to think bikes. 

Chris Boardman  3:26  
It's hard to believe the Think Bike sticker campaign launched 10 years ago, and I was there when that happened, the idea to make drivers just a little bit more aware of the vulnerable road users around them. Really glad to see that the AA is reinvigorating the campaign. And I'll be glad to join in and help.

Jeremy Vine  3:43  
And I'm so pleased to see that the AA is doing this because if you're on two wheels, you do feel quite vulnerable. And I always think when you're in a car, and I drive too, you don't always see that that person on the bicycle is a mum, a sister, somebody's son, someone's grandfather, maybe even their great grandfather. So thank you AA for thinking bike. 

David Bernstein  4:07  
This podcast is brought to you by Tern bicycles.  The good people at Tern are committed to building bikes that are useful enough to ride every day and dependable enough to carry the people you love. In other words, they make the kind of bikes that they want to ride. Tern has e-bikes for every type of rider. Whether you’re commuting, taking your kids to school or even carrying another adult, visit That’s t e r n to learn more. This podcast is brought to you by Tern bicycles. The good people at Tern understand that while a large cargo bike can carry oodles of stuff, many of us prefer something a little more manageable. That’s why they’ve come up with the HSD e-cargobike for folks with big aspirations to go car free, delivered in a compact size, with its rear shock, 280 kilos, and a combined hauling capacity of 180 kilos. The robust new HSD is stable and easy to manoeuvre, even when under load. And with its Bosch eBIKE SYSTEM tested and certified to meet the highest UL standards for electric and fire safety you’ll be able to share many worryfree adventures with a loved one whether it’s your kiddo or Nan. Visit www.ternbicycles. That’s t e r n to learn more

Visit www.ternbicycles. That’s t e r n to learn more.

Carlton Reid  5:06  
And that's it for today's show. Thanks for listening to episode 350 of the Spokesmen podcast, brought to you in association with Tern Bicycles.   Show notes and more can be found at   The next episode, a rather longer one, will be a chat with cycling writer Andy McGrath, author of God is Dead and other cycling books .... meanwhile get out there and ride ...


Direct download: The_Spokesmen_350.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:54am MDT