I had what some refer to as “A moment of clarity,” yesterday. I had to run a family errand in Rochdale during the evening and I decided to ride there. I was expecting there to be little other traffic due to the time of day and I avoided the train because that particular route has been very unreliable lately. The route I usually take to Rochdale has a few hills and is a net climb when heading there from Manchester (making the ride back quite nice). Yesterday this net climb was combined with a fairly stiff headwind and a greater volume of motor traffic than I had expected. On several sections, the combination of those factors made me feel the need to walk the bike on the pavement for a few separate stretches.
On one of these stretches, there was a long section of car-parking allocated on the pavement which was not being used at the time. I decided that despite the hill and the headwind I might find riding along this section of parking bays better than walking. Riding along that section, the hill was still there and so was the headwind, but I was effectively separated from the motorised traffic. I was riding much slower than I usually do (~12 km.h-1) but the hill and headwind were no longer bothering me.
It was at that point that I realised why I felt the need to get off. The hill and headwind were too much together for me to maintain the minimum speed at which I feel comfortable riding on a fast (40 mph) or particularly narrow road (around 20-25 km.h-1). I imagine this speed is different for different people, for many it is the speed at which they would travel in a car, hence they are put off cycling on these roads altogether.
If I had been riding on Dutch-style segregated infrastructure, or if the road hadn’t been narrowed to accommodate free on-street parking, or if the speed limits were lower, I would have felt secure climbing the hill against the headwind at a very low speed. Many people say that Dutch levels of cycling are unattainable in the UK because of our geography (The Netherlands are famously quite flat), but the vast majority of people can tackle our hills on bikes. They just need to do so at a lower speed, whilst feeling safe from the threat of motorised vehicles. If that threat were removed, I, and I suspect many others, wouldn’t feel the need to get off and push on almost any hills, even with a stiff headwind.