As the weather cools and autumn begins to set in finally, my thoughts turn to cycling. But when a neighbour who is a triathlete told me the other day that she won’t cycle on the roads anymore, it hit home that cycling in Malta is not only not for the faint hearted, it’s increasingly not for the pros either.
Little more than a year ago, a leading figure in cycling in Malta was killed on the coast road at dawn while out training for the annual Betfair LifeCycle Challenge, a long-distance charity cycle from Malta across Europe which raises money to support patients suffering from renal disorders.
The only conclusion anyone can draw from these two incidents is that however expert a cyclist you are, cycling in Malta is probably more dangerous than you think, and requires all your wits about you, all the time, and a lot of precision planning. Drivers don’t think about bikes, let alone ‘think bike, think twice’.
It won’t stop me cycling this winter, and I will not be alone; as I drive or cycle around the islands I see more and more cyclist out, and in pro gear and on ace bikes looking as if they are training for the Tour de France. It’s a sport that in theory lends itself to small islands where everything is within cycling distance. But as with most aspects of Malta, small is a double-edged sword. Here are some things to think about if you’re keen to cycle Malta:
Where to cycle:
I just about manage to cycle from my door and out into countryside almost immediately. But with a lot of Malta urban, you may find you need a bike rack on the car to get you somewhere suitable to start a ride. Away from the urban arc that covers the south-east of Malta, you’ll find smaller roads everywhere in varying degrees of countryside, but not necessarily quiet countryside – more like suburbs. Central Malta can be tricky to negotiate as major arterial routes need crossing or joining in places. I know my favourite patches to cycle (limits of Rabat, past Buskett, up to Dingli Cliffs, Girgenti and back), but suggest you post your recommendations for good safe cycling areas in the comments below. A family I know gave up on Gozo as it was ‘all hills, all the time’! If you’ve kids, then where to cycle is even trickier…
A magazine here recently had an advert showing a family out cycling on a pleasant woodland path! Where I wonder? I can’t think of any sufficiently long path in any ‘wood’ in Malta suitable to cycle with little ones. Yet, from experience, I’d say keep them well off roads of any kind until they are very steady and road aware – you need to train them for the latter. Under 8 – 10 years, I’d say stick to seafronts (Marsascala, Qawra-Bugibba, or St Julians-Sliema; or Zurrieq) or take the bikes to Ta’ Qali (but don’t assume the roads are quiet there at weekends). If they are learning and still have outriders, Ta’ Qali is a bit tough as the ground is rough and stony; otherwise you are in the car park or on the roads. Very small kids who aren’t speed kings can get away with being in playgrounds. But once they are more confident don’t cycle in kids’ play areas at all. I don’t like my son on seafronts as strictly they are for pedestrians, but what can you do? Cycle lanes? ermm…
A Word on Cycle Lanes
Increasingly, you’ll find cycle lanes marked either on a wide pavement alongside the pedestrian ‘lane’ or in a kind of hard shoulder area. There are some stretches that go far enough to do a reasonable cycle, especially if you’ve kids with you. The two that spring to mind are along the Mgarr road from Mosta direction, and along the perimeter of the airport heading to Hal Far. The cycle lanes are a start, and let’s give them their due. But don’t relax on them: they can be used as ‘overtaking lanes’ and of course, they inevitably end all too soon on some main road junction. As a driver, I would also urge cyclists never to cycle two abreast, even if you think you’re on a quiet road.
A cyclist’s dream for Malta
I long for a Malta version of the Avenue Verte, that takes cyclists traffic-free, or virtually traffic free from London to Paris. It’s nearing completion the French side and more is being done the UK end to get it ready by around 2020. Imagine cycling Malta top to toe not touching the roads. That would be something to encourage kids and families to enjoy cycling as it should be – in relative safety. Malta’s smallness should make it possible to get heads together on this one quicker than they are doing on the Avenue Verte?
Malta Mountain Bike Association
Malta Cycling Federation – website doesn’t seem to be up but try this for contact details.
Road Cycling Clubs:
Qormi Cycling Club
Mosta Cycling Club
Life Cycle Challenge
Malta Triathlon Association
Photo: Courtesy of Betfair LifeCycle Challenge
Elton Barry says
I have been cycling quite regularly both on and off the road and in a mixture of road types. The attitude of drivers in Malta towards cyclists, with a few exceptions, has changed dramatically over the last few years and I have seen massive improvements. The cycle lanes are not consistent, take for example the one on the bahar ic-caghaq coast road, where occasionally there are cactus overflowing into the cycle lane, the width changes to a few centimeters and sometimes the odd car parked as well.
Quick suggestion if I may, when riding bikes in urban areas, try keeping to the centre of the road and move over to the side when cars are coming. This way you will be 100% sure that the driver has seen you and also reduce the possibility that they will try to ‘squeeze’ past you without signalling.
Elizabeth Ayling says
I gave the link and report you mention a quick glance but it said Malta was left out of the survey as its numbers were too small a representative sample (same goes for Cyprus and Iceland). Quite agree though that it’s almost impossible to fathom how we get a 4.5 for child safety – here we’re talking injuries, not asthma. Just crossing the road with kids is a nightmare. Try those sun-bleached Zebra crossings which motorists never see and rarely stop at!
Geroge Debono says
Malta has recently been awarded 4.5 stars (out of a maximum of 5) in an EU report !
AND ….Denmark got only 2.5 stars .
Something must be very wrong here – and these ridiculous reports are paid by us.
Please do like me – I have written to the EU telling them to correct this report.
Elizabeth Ayling says
James, yes, cycling isn’t too bad for street wise adults. It’s a more a case of lethal if you get kids under teenage years on roads. My son has outgrown pavements on seafronts as needs to go faster than elderly walkers, but he can have moments when his concentration lapses when we cycle on roads, even country ones. Some my way are used as rat runs and shortcuts, so still have speeding cars. It’s not exactly a relaxing family cycle on a weekend. But we’re just about coping, with me on tenterhooks the whole time! Will check out your facebook group for sure – good stuff!
James C Wightman says
Actually it’s not that bad, not any worse than London and the number of cyclists we are seeing on the roads is increasing especially after the introduction of Arriva. Although the number of cycle lanes is smaller than that suggested and poorly designed, so its not an idea to rely on these. Most country roads are fairly safe. Traffic is also grinding to a standstill this is making bike use safer to some extent. Using a bike is quickly becoming the fastest way of getting around. See the bicycling advocacy group (BAG Malta) on Facebook (a non profit organization promoting cycling and cyclists rights) for details and advice