Cambridge audaxes


On Sunday 2nd September I organized three audax rides with the support of CTC Cambridge.

What’s an audax? Supervised in this country by Audax UK, it’s a form of cycle touring where riders aim to visit a sequence of controls within a time limit by following a sheet of directions. It’s not a race: some riders go fast for their own satisfaction, and others squeak in at the last moment.

All three rides started from Orchard Community Centre in Orchard Park on the north side of Cambridge. See below right for a map (from OpenStreetMap) showing where this is. The rides explored the countryside to the west of Cambridge, crossing the River Great Ouse and returning via St Ives and the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway. There was a choice of three distances:

200 km (124 miles)

Starting at 08:00, this ride headed west through Bedfordfordshire into Northamptonshire, visiting Old Warden, Newport Pagnell, and Olney, returning to Orchard Park before 21:24. The gently rolling countryside around Bedford and Milton Keynes made this a fast ride for experienced randoneers, and a good choice for first-timers. The route sheet is here (PDF). Forty-two riders started and forty finished. Nigel Deakin rode this route and wrote it up here.

100 km (62 miles)

Starting at 09:00, this ride visited Gamlingay, St Neots, Little Staughton, and Grafham Water, returning to Orchard Park before 15:48. The route sheet is here (PDF). Forty riders started and thirty-nine finished.

50 km (31 miles)

Starting at 10:00, this ride for beginners took a loop through the Hemingfords and across the Ouse meadows to Houghton Mill. It had a relaxed time limit, returning to Orchard Park before 14:00. The ride was about 80% off-road, making use of the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway and bridleways around the village of Houghton. The route sheet is here (PDF). Eighteen riders started and sixteen finished.

Council interference

On 17th July, after I published the draft routes, I received an e-mail from Shaun Harrison-Fuller, the “Guided Busway Team Leader” at Cambridgeshire County Council. He wrote:

I note from the CTC website that you intend using the Guided Busway as part of a series of organised cycle rides.

The Guided Busway infrastructure (which includes the maintenance track adjacent to its entire length) is owned and operated by Cambridgeshire County Council, and has extensive safety and security protocols to ensure the safe running of the Busway, and to ensure that the maintenance track is open to all.

In the past, interested groups have used the track as part of an organised event and this has caused disruption to scheduled bus services, and endangered public safety. To prevent this form of unauthorised activity in future, the County Council has formulated a strategy to manage applications for using the maintenance track as part of an organised event. This is outlined in the Busway Events Policy, which I have attached for your information.

At the moment, your proposed series of cycle rides is not authorised to use the Busway maintenance track. Please read the attached document, and contact us at the earliest opportunity.

The letter implied that events wishing to use the Guided Busway maintenance track require permission from the County Council,1 and the Council’s policy document attempted to impose a set of conditions on any event using the Guided Busway maintenance track, including these two:

The first condition, if adhered to, would prevent an event from using the whole busway between Cambridge and St Ives (the maintenance track swaps sides three times, so it would be impossible to use more than a quarter of it without going against the flow of buses). The second condition would rule out use by small volunteer-run events like mine. There’s no way a small club like CTC Cambridge could provide marshals to cover 13 km of busway.

It was very worrying to receive this e-mail, but the question that arose was, how can it possibly be the case that we need permission from the County Council to use a public right of way? The Cambridge Guided Busway maintenance track is a public bridleway, marked as such on the Council’s own rights-of-way mapping system, and confirmed in this response to a query under the Freedom of Information Act. The only way in which they could stop us using the track would be if they passed a byelaw to that effect; but there were no such byelaws, at least as of August 2011, according to this FoI response.

My colleague Rupert Goodings repeatedly pressed Mr Harrison-Fuller on this issue until, with just two weeks to go, he conceded that no permission was required to use the maintenance track:

I have referred the matter back to the senior management involved in the formulation of the Events Policy for clarification, and no authorisation is required for the public to use the track, which has the status of a bridleway.

  1.  This probably explains why the Big Bike Ride used the inferior National Cycle Route 51, rather than the busway, to get from Cambridge to St Ives.