Rachael Clegg still bears the scars from the day she came off her bike in Sheffield city centre.
She will bear the scars of her injuries for some time. Her chin was ripped open, her cheekbone was fractured, her jaw shattered, her eardrum perforated and her wrist broken.
Rachael, of Carterknowle, claims a vehicle clipped her bike, as she rode in Pinstone Street last November. She spent five days in hospital.
“I remember a massive jolt and then I was flying through the air,” says the 33-year-old. “Then I just remember being on the ground and there was blood everywhere, like a fountain. The doctor said I was lucky. He said it could have been much worse.”
She is just one of many who has experienced such an accident. In 2012 almost 300 cyclists were knocked off their bikes in South Yorkshire, 59 were seriously injured and one died.
But, says a new national campaign group, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Space For Cycling – an alliance of bike groups from England’s nine biggest cities – meets in Sheffield next week for its first ever national conference.
The collective is campaigning to put two wheels at the heart of the political agenda ahead of this year’s local elections.
Their contention is that biking is urban transport which will only increase in popularity over the coming decades and more must be done to provide adequate road provisions. They want more cycle lanes, improved cycle paths and better integrated cycle routes.
They want lower speed limits. They want, ultimately, to live in a world where the needs of cyclists (and pedestrians) are put above those of car drivers.
“In Sheffield, there are 5,500 people who bike to work every day,” says Mick Nott, chairman of Cycle Sheffield. “What we want is not just to make life better and safer for them, but also make it better and safer for the thousands of people who tell us they would like to bike to work but don’t have the confidence in the road system.
“This is an open goal. People would like to cycle because it’s good for them, it’s convenient and it’s cheap.
“And if more people did cycle, that would mean a healthier nation and a less polluted city. So the sensible solution has to be encouraging them by providing better facilities.”
Sheffield, it has to be said, is improving in this area.
Almost every part of the city centre – and most suburbs – are linked by more than 102 kilometres of cycle routes. Several contra-flow systems are in place across the centre, allowing two wheels to go safely where four can’t. A new hub, catering for hundreds of bikes, is set to be built at Sheffield train station this spring.
A particular crown jewel is the continuous commuter bike route – mainly along the canal – between Sheffield and Rotherham. Another loops entirely around the outer ring road.
“With every major highways project, we look to make things cycle-friendly,” says Greg Challis, transport planner with Sheffield City Council. “The aim is to have 20 per cent more journeys being made by bike by 2023.”
There are fewer accidents now than there have ever been, he says.
Even so, as The Star finds out during a cycle round the city, there is still room for improvement.
“There are plenty of pockets where the provisions are fantastic,” says Richard Attwood, 57, another member of Cycle Sheffield and a retired occupational therapist of Walkley.
“But there is no overview. There isn’t one integrated system that works seamlessly. So, for example, you cycle down Penistone Road along a nice cycle path but then there’s no way to get into the city without going on seriously busy roads. That could easily put you off.”
There is also the odd route which is downright dangerous. Castle Street, for example.
Here, a cycle lane lies precariously between a taxi rank and a bus thoroughfare generally humming with double-deckers.
It’s precariously tight. Both taxis and buses will regularly sweep into the cycle space.
“It’s pretty hideous,” nods Dean Atkins, a Barnsley-based photographer and keen cyclist. “I’ve been biking for years but there’s no way I’d use that route. It’s an accident waiting to happen.”
The potholes, of course, are infamous – although the current £2 billion Streets Ahead scheme should sort those.
“This conference is about people coming together to share best practice about the best way to improve things,” says Mick, who will lead delegates on a bike tour of the city before the main meeting is held.
“We want to put safe space for cycling on the agenda of all councillors standing for election in May. But it’s also good for Sheffield that it’s being held here because it shows we are considered a biking city.”
As we finish our ride, The Star wonders what the end goal is.
“I don’t think there is one,” says Mick. “Even if we get to be like the Netherlands, the most bike-friendly country in the world, you still don’t stop because there’s always an opportunity for improvements.”
Space For Cycling conference will take place January 25 at The Showroom, in Paternoster Row. See www.cyclesheffield.org.uk for details.
When it comes to urban cycling my experience is pretty much zero.
I once biked around inner city New York which may sound vaguely impressive except that ‘inner city New York’ really means ‘Central Park’. Even in this greenspace the little maintenance trucks ambling around at 10 mph made me nervous.
Biking, I’ve always reasoned, might give you fresh air and exercise but you can’t read the paper like you can on the Supertram.
So, it was with some apprehension – and having to tell myself John Simpson wouldn’t shy away from such a job – that I agreed to spend the afternoon biking around Sheffield to see the good, the bad and the Castle Street cycle lane of our city’s network.
It was genuinely enlightening.
Sheffield’s provision for cyclists is more extensive than you might imagine if you’ve never looked for it. Lanes, paths and routes, dotted with specialist signs and traffic lights, crisscross the city centre, taking riders counter-flow up one way streets, through gennels and along back roads in a convenient way you don’t get in a car.
And it’s genuinely enjoyable. I could feel the endorphins flowing into my body. Plus you can always read The Sun when you go to the loo. It’s not perfect, of course.
A bus came a little too close for comfort in Castle Street. As a novice, some turn-offs and intersections are confusing. And the potholes are hideously bone-shaking.
But the proof is perhaps in the pudding. Later I chatted to Greg Challis, transport planner with Sheffield City Council and the man responsible for making our roads cycle friendly.
Does he bike to work? I asked.
“Absolutely,” he said, without missing a beat. “I love it.”
Space For Cycling will look to put pressure on politicians and local councillors to support a finalised version of the following pledges:
1. The needs of cyclists and pedestrians put first in all planning and highways developments.
2. Protected space on main streets with fast-moving traffic and through major junctions
3. Removal of through motor traffic from minor and residential streets
4. Quicker implementation of 20 mph speed limits.
5. Safe walking and cycling routes for schoolchildren.
6. Safe cycling routes around the city centre and suburban centres