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?
Photo: Courtesy of Betfair LifeCycle Challenge