Chris Boardman, the former world champion cyclist who won gold at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and several stages of the Tour de France, is avoiding riding on Britain’s roads because he feels they have become too dangerous.
“The roads are statistically safe, but it doesn’t look it and it doesn’t feel it. Now I try to do more of my riding off-road, which is sad,” he told the Guardian in an interview to mark his appointment as the first cycling and walking commissioner for Greater Manchester.
Boardman said he found road riding in parts of the UK “exhausting” and unpleasant. “False modesty aside, I’m about as competent as it gets and I am constantly doing risk assessments. I’m looking at parked cars, seeing which way wheels are turning, everything that’s going on around me. It’s just exhausting. Whereas if I ride on a track or a trail I don’t have to do that and it’s just more pleasant these days,” he said.
Boardman’s mother, Carol, was killed last year while riding her bike in Connah’s Quay, Deeside. For months afterwards, he stopped cycling and has only recently got back in the saddle.
The 49-year-old, from Hoylake on the Wirral, has been appointed by the mayor, Andy Burnham, to revolutionise greater Manchester’s streets. He wants to encourage at least 10% of people to cycle or walk rather than drive within 10 years. Less than 2% of the population in Greater Manchester regularly ride a bike.
Boardman wants to spend “billions” redesigning the region’s streets and is exploring the possibility of closing parts of Manchester city centre to motorised traffic – including, potentially, the main thoroughfare of Deansgate, which runs from the Castlefield canal district right down to the shopping area of Market Street.
Boardman, who is chair of a bike manufacturer bearing his name and also reports on cycling for ITV, dislikes the word cyclist. He prefers “person on a bike”, and says he will be focusing his efforts on encouraging drivers out of their cars.