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The Government has increased the number of country park trails open to mountain bikers following an outcry from frustrated riders.

The two extra trails – one at Chi Ma Wan in the Lantau South Country Park and another in the Shek O Country Park – will give riders a choice of four routes.

The move followed warnings made by the Hong Kong Mountain Bike Association that a wave of individual riders would break laws to ride on country parks trails unless their choice of routes was expanded.

Bikers say the two existing routes, along a concrete water catchment in south Lantau and a remote track in the Sai Kung West Country Park, are unsuitable and remote.

Hong Kong Mountain Bike Association chairman Richard Barton-Smith welcomed the new routes, but said they were only a beginning.

‘It is a very good start. We hope it leads to development of a more comprehensive network of trails across the territory,’ Mr Barton-Smith said.

The association had urged the Agriculture and Fisheries Department to open two tracks on Lantau – one around Chi Ma Wan and another near the Big Buddha.

The department agreed to open the Chi Ma Wan trail and a Shek O route, but said the trail from the Big Buddha was unsafe for cyclists.

‘It is not suitable. It is very steep – we have considered it very carefully,’ said assistant director Wong Fook-yee.

Mountain bikers wanting to use the country park trails can apply for a free one-year riding permit from the department.

The scheme would be placed under continuous review to ensure bikers and hikers did not clash and the paths were not eroded, Mr Wong said.

 

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Mountain bikers warn frustration over laws banning them from country parks could erupt in a wave of illegal rides unless the Government opens up more trails to cyclists.

Under the Country Parks Ordinance, cycling in all but two areas in country parks is prohibited and punishable with a maximum $2,000 fine and three months in prison.

The Hong Kong Mountain Bike Association proposes allowing riders on two country park trails on Lantau Island in a pilot scheme integrating bikers and hikers.

Convictions for biking in country parks have increased dramatically since 1993, when 17 were prosecuted, to 110 last year.

Association chairman Richard Barton-Smith said bikers were becoming increasingly frustrated.

‘Tension in the biking community is rising, especially among those who have been arrested. They are seriously angry,’ he said.

‘A lot of people have gone out and bought bikes and suddenly realise that riding is illegal.’ The Agriculture and Fisheries Department set up a pilot permit scheme this year on two routes – South Lantau and Sai Kung.

Association member Brian Paterson said the concrete path along a water catchment in South Lantau and the remote Wan Tsai peninsula in Sai Kung West Country Park were hardly ideal.

But the 869 permits issued expired in August. Mr Barton-Smith said there had been no further official communication, and bikers had no idea where they stood.

The 150-member association has been forced to restrict its monthly fun-rides to Lamma and North Lantau, but many individuals were breaking the law, he said.

‘Very definitely people will break the law, simply because you’re not going to stop a growing sport,’ said Mr Barton-Smith.

The association has suggested two existing country park trails – down from the Big Buddha and around the Chi Ma Wan peninsula on Lantau – be opened to bikers.

Mr Barton-Smith said bikers and hikers could avoid potential conflict by common courtesy. Biking caused no more damage to trails than walkers, he said.

With about 2,000 mountain bikers in Hong Kong, which offers some of the most challenging riding in the world, the sport was growing and could bring in eco-tourism dollars, he added.

Agriculture and Fisheries Department assistant director Wong Fook-yee said the proposals were being considered and a decision would be made this month.

Hong Kong lags behind Singapore, which set up trails four years ago.

 

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Cyclists will be allowed to ride through two country parks during a six-month trial starting today. Permits will be issued by the Agriculture and Fisheries Department for Sai Kung West Country Park (Wan Tsai Extension) and the catchment area from Tung Chung Road to Kau Ling Chung in Lantau South Country Park, which were previously off-limits to cyclists.

Senior Country Parks Officer Lai Ching-wai said applicants, aged between 12 and 18, should seek endorsement from parents or guardians on their application letters.

‘The department will not accept any group applications nor applicants under the age of 12,’ he added.

No fee will be charged but permit-holders should observe the code of practice for cyclists and have the necessary safety equipment, including suitable helmets. Cyclists should apply for permits from the Director of Agriculture and Fisheries. The application, in the form of a letter, should be addressed to Canton Road Government Offices, 14/F, 393 Canton Road, Kowloon or faxed to 2311 3731.

Mr Lai said there were many locations in country parks where no permit was required for bicycle riding. Among those are Plover Cove Main Dam and its access roads, Hok Tau Road, Kam Shan Road, Lau Shui Heung Road, Shing Mun Road, Tai Mong Tsai Road, Pak Tam Road, Hoi Ha Road and the cycling track at Tai Mong Tsai. Other than in those areas, cycling is strictly prohibited in country parks or special areas.

 

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The Hong Kong Cycling Association (HKCA) provides year-round courses.

The All Future Cyclists’ Race is held every weekend at Yuen Wo Road playground.

The association provides bicycles and helmets for this course, which covers the very basics. There are five races each year.

There is also a useful Cycling Proficiency Scheme course at Tai Wai every weekend. There is no age restriction.

On Saturday, the course is from 2 pm to 6 pm, and on Sunday it is between 9 am and 12 pm.

Cyclists are taught ‘egg-shape’ turning and given a basic introduction to the construction of bicycles.

Enthusiasts are also taught how to choose a bike when they rent one, basic control while they are riding, V-shape turning and how to use gears – a frequently misunderstood aspect of the sport.

‘Many people go through this elementary course during the summer, before October. This is a useful course for cyclists who haven’t yet grasped the basics of cycling,’ said Walter Yue.

‘Upon completion of this course, they can go on to the intermediate course where road riding basics are taught – like how to read simple road signs.’ Students who want to take the pastime a step further can go on courses for track and road racers.

For those who want to take up track racing, their is an elementary course at the Hong Kong Sports Institute’s cycling ‘velodrome’.

The course is held three times a week, from 7 pm to 9 pm.

Cyclists are expected to take examinations. If they pass the course, they can take part in the Youth Cycling Scheme which is every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The venues are the institute’s velodrome at Bridepool’s Road or Pak Tam Chung in Sai Kung.

If track or road cycling do not appeal, bike enthusiasts can take courses in cycle-ball and artistic cycling.

Cycle-ball courses are at the South China Athletic Association in Causeway Bay, and are open to enthusiasts over 15 years old. Artistic cycling is open to anyone aged over seven. Cyclists meet for basic instruction at Causeway Bay every Saturday from 4-6 pm and Sunday from 9-11 am.

Artistic cycling courses are taken by Semuel Shing, an international official, while cycle ball – a combination of cycling and football – is taught by Nelson Chan. Road racing is taught by Hong Kong’s national coach Shen Jinkang.

Mountain biking is the latest craze, but there are as yet no courses.

‘One of the biggest problems we face is that there is lack of space for this sport. We currently have two venues for mounting biking – in Shui Mei Chuen and Wang Chau Industrial Estate,’ Yue said.

For more information, call the HKCA on 2573 3861 or fax 2834 3715.

 

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Amateur mountain biker Sin Tak-chiu, 32, is hoping to represent Hong Kong in next month’s Asian Mountain Bike Championships in Taiwan.

Mr Sin started cycling 16 years ago and switched to mountain biking almost eight years ago.

A member of the Hong Kong Cycling Association, he takes part in almost every local mountain cycling competition and has competed in Japan, Taiwan and the Netherlands.

But he says he has been forced to cut his training lately as the Government is cracking down on cyclists in country parks.

Mr Sin lives with his parents in Sheung Shui.

What’s on your mind? I’m hoping the Government will let us cycle in the country parks. More than 90 per cent of Hong Kong’s mountain roads are in country parks, so it’s hard to find anywhere else to train.

How do you train? I don’t have a coach because I’ve got more than 10 years’ experience riding BMX bicycles, so it’s not difficult for me to handle mountain cycling myself. Usually, I spend about six hours a week training with my friends. We ride from Repulse Bay to Shek O just for fitness training.

We now seldom go to the country parks as the increasing number of prosecutions has really scared us off.

Any tips for beginners? The first thing is to fit yourself out with safety equipment like helmets and pads. And it’s better to go cycling with experienced cyclists when you’re learning. It’s dangerous if there’s an accident on the mountain and no one’s around to help. A new mountain bike costs anything from $3,000 to more than $30,000, but learners don’t need to buy expensive ones.

What’s your goal for future competitions? I’m looking forward to getting a better result in the local competition two weeks away. Five bikers will be selected to enter the Asian Championship after the race. I’m hoping I’ll be one of them. I also want to introduce cycling to more people, because it’s safe and inexpensive. The exercise helps people lose weight. Mountain biking is even more enjoyable; you travel to the country and take pleasure in the environment.

 

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Cycling is a good way to tour the great outdoors – and it’s also marvellous

Cycling has become one of the most popular recreational activities in the territory, but did you know how many different forms the sport takes? For serious bikers, road racing and mountain biking are generally seen as the main sports. But new variations, like cycle-ball and artistic cycling, also have their fans.

Riding a bike for the first time can be a daunting experience, but once you know how, it comes naturally.

Road racing is keenly contested in the territory, and Hong Kong riders have a fine record when they compete overseas. Road racing is one of the most popular of all cycling sports.

It is also the most difficult of them all to excel in, because a lot of training is required.

Cyclists like Hung Chung-yam and Wong Kam-po helped popularise the sport with their exploits at the Olympics and other international events.

Hung did the territory proud when he finished 12th in the road race at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, while Wong, now considered Hong Kong’s finest, has done tremendously well overseas, winning the Asian Junior title and the Tour de Taiwan last year, among his list of achievements.

Road racing is tough. Anyone who has taken up the sport will probably tell you that he or she could hardly make it up their first hill.

Only serious training can help you become a good rider, and that is always strenuous – especially for beginners.

‘To become a good cyclist one must work hard, because cycling can be very hard on the legs, heart and lungs,’ said Hong Kong’s national coach, Shen Jinkang.

‘When I train my squad, I expect them to work hard. A lot of work goes into making a good road racer. They have to put in something like two hours training daily if they want to represent Hong Kong overseas,’ he said.

Despite its limited space, Hong Kong is blessed by spacious country parks and good training routes.

Walter Yue, sports executive of the Hong Kong Cycling Association, thinks the pastime among the healthiest.

‘It’s an excellent cardio vascular and cardio respiratory exercise. Basically, that means it’s good for your heart and your lungs, because when you’re pedalling you’re working out hard.

‘Cycling is safe if you play by the rules. There are many cycling paths or trails built especially for cycling enthusiasts who want to cycle in safety.’ There are trails in Fanling, Tai Po and Sha Tin. It is also fairly cheap to rent a bicycle – about $30 to $50 a day, Yue said.

He does not suggest a youngster should go out and buy an expensive bike to start training in the country parks. He advises beginners to take basic courses (see below) to gain confidence before getting on the country roads.

But be warned, road racing for the serious enthusiast can be extremely expensive.

If a biker wants to train regularly, he would need his or her own bike, and that could cost anything from $1,000 upwards. The best bikes on the market can cost more than $10,000, and a good second-hand bike can set you back $2,000 to $4,000. A good Italian-made frame alone costs a few thousand dollars.

The lighter the bike, the more expensive it is likely to be because of the materials used to make it, which can include titanium.

Brand names like Raleigh and Viner are used by the professionals in Europe, but a lot of cyclists have their own bikes custom-made to suit them.

 

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I am writing to add my voice to those other letter writers regarding the ban on bicycles in our country parks. I would especially like to add the viewpoint of the drivers of motor vehicles in Hong Kong to this issue.

Forcing all cycling in Hong Kong on to the public roads causes inconvenience and danger to the motoring public.

While driving, I hate trying to overtake bicyclists. Let’s hear from the Automobile Association, the bus and truck-drivers’ associations and the police on this issue.

First of all, we should be clear: regulation four of the Country Park and Special Areas Regulations prohibits even the mere possession of a bicycle in a country park. This means that it is illegal even to walk with a bicycle on a country park trail.

On Sunday, October 6, a group of exhausted cyclists and I approached the Tai Tam Road entrance to Tai Tam Reservoir Road, which cuts across Tai Tam Country Park. There was the usual crowd of walkers and picnickers and fishermen there and also a park warden. At that point all we wanted to do was walk our bikes west up Tai Tam Reservoir Road to Hong Kong Parkview.

This would have avoided many miles of riding around Tai Tam Country Park on Tai Tam Road and Repulse Bay Road, which are narrow and heavily travelled by cars, buses and trucks. The park warden prohibited us from even entering the country park with our bicycles, citing regulation four, but the warden didn’t do anything about the fishermen.

As a consequence, we had to ride our bicycles on Tai Tam Road and Repulse Bay Road. This was not only risky and unhealthy for me, for which I accept sole responsibility. Also, many cars, buses and trucks were delayed and inconvenienced. Those that swerved out into the opposing lane to get around me (God bless every one of them) did so at considerable risk to themselves.

The country parks are for everyone’s use.

This includes not only the walkers, but also the motorists who would have to deal with fewer cyclists if cyclists were also allowed to use the country parks.

At the very least, the country park regulations should be amended to allow persons to walk their bicycles on country park trails.

Preferably, bicyclists should be allowed to ride on country park trails if they: Abide by a code of behaviour (for example, passing elderly walkers slowly, with caution and respect); and, Spend a certain amount of time each year maintaining the country park trails.

For example, the Hong Kong Trail along the catchment from the northern tip of Tai Tam Harbour south to To Tei Wan Village is so overgrown in places that it is dangerous even for walkers. I would be happy to donate 10 to 20 hours of my weekend time per year with a weed-whacker and some boots and goggles to keep this and other trails rideable. This would impose a clear and sensible limit on the number of cyclists using the country parks.

GILLIS HELLER The Peak

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I heartily concur with the views of Lawrence Matthews ‘Cycling fines are ridiculous’ (SCMP, September 17) concerning the Government’s persecution of mountain bikers. Why has the Government chosen to effectively outlaw this sport by giving cyclists Hobson’s Choice.

Either they gamble with their lives against Hong Kong’s traffic on narrow, congested and lung-choking roads or they face imprisonment for daring to enjoy fresh air while taking some invigorating exercise in the green great outdoors? It is indeed lucky that an earlier incarnation of the Government did not choose to adopt a similar ban on the equally environmentally-friendly sport of windsurfing. If they had chosen to reduce the use of Hong Kong’s waters only to power-boats or swimmers, we would not have a gold medal to celebrate from the Olympic Games.

Mountain biking is now an Olympic sport and Hong Kong has talented mountain bikers, but there is nowhere to practise and bring these skills to Olympic standard without breaking the law, as all off-road trails are in country parks, which are designated off-limits.

We appreciate that there is a danger of hikers wandering into the path of a bike, but to prevent this is hardly cause to throw someone in jail. Off-road bikers stick to paths and do not cause any more damage to trails than walkers.

Furthermore, there are villagers who ride bikes through the parks purely to get to their homes. Do the concerned authorities jail them for using the only mode of transport available to them? I feel the Government should reconsider this law and rather than place a total ban, strongly consider designated trails for bikes, a code of practice, or possibly a time restriction allowing bikes into the parks at certain times with the proviso that hikers have the right of way.

In these days of fearsome and polluting congestion on Hong Kong’s roads, and with the average citizen confined to air-conditioned buildings for most of his waking hours, the Government should be encouraging people to ride bicycles.

Gregory Pinches

Yuen Long

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Being a cyclist in Hong Kong can mean taking your life in your hands.

This is a story for dreamers about a forbidden pleasure. The pleasure is cycling. And it has to do with feeling free and being independent, transporting yourself, saving money, working muscles, burning calories and helping the environment.

Dreamers can think about living in a world where pedalling (as in China, New Zealand, Belgium or Oregon) gets you where you want to go, where bikes are accepted on trains and ferries, where bike racks are as common as taxi stands, and cyclists and drivers have a designated space on the road.

But the scenario works better in Bruges than Causeway Bay.

For the majority of would-be cyclists, cycling in Hong Kong is off-limits.

Out of a population of 6.5 million, there are a few hundred, maybe – the brave and skilled for sure – who persist in an inhospitable environment.

As Hong Kong car-owners face the threat of taxation, as the city grapples with traffic congestion, as the quality of the air worsens, and as residents grow fatter, cycling would have been a possible solution years ago for a far-sighted city planner. But not now.

But reality never stood in the way of dreamers. Simon Chau relies on his bicycle for transportation. But the linguistics professor, who lives in Tai Po, rarely ventures near the traffic-clogged streets of Tsim Sha Tsui or Central. He feels safer in the rural confines of the New Territories. ‘Bike lanes? The few we have in Tai Po took 10 years to get.’ When Sandi Butchkiss worked in Manhattan in the 70s and 80s, the American writer cycled 20 blocks to work. Her ad agency even provided bike racks for the staff.

‘The traffic in downtown Manhattan was so slow,’ Ms Butchkiss recalls, ‘cycling was safe and faster than the bus. But in Mid-Levels, her bike stays in the car boot. When the urge to pedal hits, she heads for the New Territories. ‘Cycle on the island? I’m not that crazy.’ Tim Obendorf remembers cycling on the island in the early 80s, when Bowen Road was still open to cyclists, when the Star Ferry allowed bikes on the lower deck, when pedalling the south ring of the island was more of a pleasure than a hazard.

‘It was easier then, there were more opportunities and fewer cars,’ says the director of International Cyclists to Asia, who confines his riding to Yuen Long, China and Tibet.

Regardless, cycling for work or play is an uphill struggle against lack of space, too many cars and lack of legislation.

It also goes against the Hong Kong lifestyle where children are not raised in a tricycle-bicycle environment, unlike other Asian cities or the Mainland, where economic necessity in Beijing makes bike lanes as wide as airport runways in rural North America.

Cycling also goes against the Hong Kong status quo: aspiring for a driving licence in order to attain and afford the coveted four-wheeled status symbol.

‘Young people are not interested in bicycles,’ observes Cheng Chi-fei. ‘They want cars. They look down on bicycles.’ But the Hong Kong-born graphics artist bought his first bike at 14, and decades later still pedals daily from Happy Valley to his shop in Quarry Bay.

His nine bicycles afford transportation and status. One of his sleek racers – an Italian import – retails, including parts, for $40,000. ‘It’s my Rolls-Royce,’ he says. For years Jaime Gill pedalled from his Pokfulam home to work in Happy Valley.

‘Hong Kong is inhospitable for many good reasons,’ said British-born Gill, who began cycling here at 35 for fitness. ‘Consider the sheer amount of traffic.

‘There are more than 500,000 vehicles registered. There are 1,600 kilometres of roads. That means there are three metres per vehicle. And cars are bigger than that.

‘A cyclist has a thin profile, only the width of his body. If he goes into a driver’s blind spot, he’s basically invisible to the driver.

‘So, if people insist on cycling and want to survive, you have to play like the big boys. You cycle as if you were an automobile.’ Working against cyclists and drivers is the lack of laws: none regarding helmets or bicycle registration. As the number of cars increase, so do the number of accidents involving bicycles.

According to statistics from the Royal Hong Kong Police, the number of traffic accidents involving cyclists is on the rise. In 1994, there were 689 accidents, including nine fatalities. In 1992, there were 527, including 15 deaths.

‘If you really want to bike in Hong Kong, get out,’ advises Iain Dacre, half-seriously. The 44-year-old tri-athelete, also known as ‘Bike Man’ has been cycling in Hong Kong for over 10 years. He commutes from his home on Lantau to work in Mongkok.

‘Hong Kong is not, and was never, designed for bicycles. It’s that simple,’ says Dacre. ‘You’ve got to be nuts to ride in Hong Kong. Go to the New Territories. But good luck in getting there.’ So how do nervous yet aspiring cyclists hone those skills when transporting a bicycle from Central to the New Territories, which is a migraine unless you own a car, borrow one or venture forth before 5am? Though cyclists have done it, the MTR does not allow bringing a bicycle on board due to lack of space. ‘They’re considered bulky baggage,’ explains Miranda Leung of the MTR.

But when asked for a definition, Ms Leung was at a loss. ‘We need one. And we’re working on one now.’ The by-laws of the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC) stipulate that motor vehicles, motorcycles, bicycles and similar conveyances cannot be driven or parked on the trains.

Baggage by their definition cannot exceed 66 by 46 by 25cm, according to Jane Leung of the KCRC.

But when I questioned an attendant at the KCRC information desk at Tai Po station, she said bicycles are allowed during low traffic periods – with the station-master’s permission.

The Hong Kong Ferry Company allows cyclists on ferries going to Mui Wo, Peng Chau and Cheung Chau for a small fee.

The Polly Ferry Company allows bicycles on board for their service from Ma Liu Shui to Ping Chau. A bike fee is also charged.

Trajn Boughan solved the carrying problem by buying a bike bag. She slips the bicycle into the bag, and boards the subway ‘without a problem.

‘I’ve seen things on the MTR bigger than a bike,’ reports the American-born architect and avid cyclist.

Cycling with confidence comes from knowing the bike, knowing the rules of the road, how to ride and pace yourself in traffic. When he cycles, Shaun Eddleston rarely goes off Hong Kong island.

‘Cycling is a way to keep fit and ‘blow off the cobwebs,’ minds the surveyor.

‘I cycle on paths around Hong Kong island. There is a maze of them, but you have to find them. They exist.’ But he won’t divulge his favourites. Never in five years of riding has he encountered problem with a pedestrians, hikers or police.

‘You follow the biker’s code. Give pedestrians the right of way, wear a helmet, use toe clips, and when you ride in the street, have an attitude.

‘Assume you are a vehicle, not a bicycle. Don’t hug the kerb, or they [traffic] won’t respect you. When going downhill, ride in the centre of your lane, act like a car, and pedal as fast as one.

‘When going uphill, stay close to the kerb, but don’t hug it. Give cars space to pass.’

While there are 40 country parks, on paper not all allow cycling. Whether the law is enforced is another matter, according to many cyclists who challenge the ‘bikes not allowed’ signs. In Tuen Mun, according to one rider, the signs were put up by the water department, not the police. ‘The water department doesn’t want to take the responsibility of you falling into a 5-metre drainage hole.’ Wherever there is a paved road and residents, such as in Sai Kung park, one cyclist forges ahead.

‘If I get caught, who says all gweilos speak English? Or maybe, I just didn’t see the sign.’ Cheng believes cyclists need to be brave. His brother Kwong agrees. And now, he’s teaching his wife, a Hong Kong woman who never rode a bicycle until her mid-20s.

‘You build confidence by practice,’ says the computer specialist who takes his wife to a Quarry Bay playground and nearby streets every Sunday morning to practise. ‘When the traffic gets bad, we stop.’

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Junior Police Call (JPC) members are not only dedicated to helping the police fight crime, but also very enthusiastic in driving home road safety messages.

The recent participation of the Sha Tin JPCs in a cycling safety publicity function was a good example.

More than 20 members took part in the ‘Sha Tin Safe Cycling Day’, which was held in the Tai Wai Bicycle Park. The function aimed at reminding cyclists to observe road rules in order to fully enjoy the fun of riding bicycles.

At the opening ceremony, the JPCs, some of whom were clearly bicycle enthusiasts, demonstrated cycling skills, while the others, joined by members of the Road Safety Patrol, distributed publicity leaflets to bicycle riders along the bicycle track leading from Sha Tin to Tai Po.

The colourful leaflets carried 12 lively cartoon pictures urging cyclists to observe road users’ codes while enjoying their rides. Over 15,000 leaflets were given out in the course of the morning.

One of the safety guidelines called on riders to keep their bicycles to the road’s left lane, unless they wanted to overtake the bicycle in front of them.

Meanwhile, other JPC members rode on an open-deck bus decorated with cycling safety messages and took part in a parade from Tai Wai Train Station to Ma On Shan.

Senior Superintendent (Traffic NT South) David Thomas said at the function that 681 traffic accidents involving bicycles occurred last year, of which eight resulted in death and 216 led to serious injuries. The figure represented a 17 per cent increase over the toll of 584 in 1993.

‘Many of these accidents could have been avoided had these cyclists taken safety measures and paid attention when they were riding,’ Mr Thomas said.

Noting that the promotion of safe cycling was an important item of the district’s road safety education this year, Mr Thomas said that Sha Tin was one of the districts in the territory where cycle tracks were built along highways and roads for use solely by bicycle riders.

‘In October last year, Tai Wai Bicycle Park became a gazetted area for the riding of three-or four-wheel multicycles,’ Mr Thomas said.

‘Although cyclists are provided with such good facilities, the responsibility for safety rests with the cyclists themselves.’ The ‘1995 Sha Tin Safe Cycling Day’ was organised by the Road Safety Office of the Traffic Police’s NT South Region and the Sha Tin District Board.

 

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