Great Budworth, the village that says it has had enough of 'Lycra louts'

The road to the English village of Great Budworth winds gently across the Cheshire Plain, passing farms, fields and impossibly pretty red-brick cottages. On the approach, the sandstone spire of the village's 700-year-old church rises up over the landscape.

The picturesque scene is among the finest in England, but one I pedal towards with some trepidation. For not only am I on a racing bike but also dressed in Lycra. If reports are to be believed, around these parts that makes me persona non grata.  

Great Budworth has become the latest place in England to declare war on so-called "Lycra Louts", the modern-day scourge of weekend cyclists buzzing like drones down country lanes and haring through towns and villages at speeds of up to 60km/h.

The parish council has written a letter to 10 local cycling clubs, claiming packs of riders up to 30-strong have been tearing through Great Budworth at dangerous speeds, shouting as they pass in language as colourful as their lurid jerseys.  

Worse yet, some two-wheeled interlopers have been spotted by dog walkers urinating on the cobbled streets and in the village's historic Upper and Lower Pumphouses – which prior to 1934 was Great Budworth residents' only source of drinking water. Some in this medieval village of 300-odd souls say they feel under siege.

I've seen big groups coming the other way all over the road. I think it's quite dangerous. I understand both sides getting upset and aggressive.

Doug Harris

A town called malice

Since circulating the letter – and publishing it in the local paper, the Northwich Guardian – the plea for cyclists to behave themselves has, in the words of parish council chairman Hilary Brudenell, "gone viral".

Numerous cyclists have taken to social media to pooh-pooh the concerns of the villagers. There were even online mutterings of a protest ride taking place through Great Budworth.

My first port of call is Mrs Brudenell's thick-beamed cottage opposite St Mary and All Saints Church, where a group of residents are stringing up Union flag bunting in advance of a concert to belatedly celebrate the Queen's 90th birthday. The village, which is in the Tatton constituency of former chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne, also recently held a scarecrow festival in honour of Her Royal Highness.

"I never realised when we sent the letter that it was going to be this exciting," says Brudenell over a cup of tea.

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She has lived in the village for 17 years and is at pains to point out that residents are not anti-cyclist. Great Budworth sits on the 283-kilometre circular Cheshire cycleway and riders regularly frequent its church teas on a Sunday and its 18th century pub the George and Dragon, providing welcome business to the village. She also stresses that while unsettling, they don't have Tour De France numbers coming through - even though some of those hurtling past no doubt picture themselves as Chris Froome in full flight.

Sworn enemies

"What we don't like is the gratuitous use of swear words not appropriate in polite society, and them hunting in packs," she says. "Nobody seems to have a bell or a horn these days. Presumably that interferes with the aerodynamics?"

The parish council only decided to go to the press after receiving a rather lukewarm reaction from the cycle clubs they sent the letter to. Only two out of 10 responded, and that was to claim that, as their members were definitely not involved, they would not be circulating it among them.

"We never thought in our wildest dreams that it would spark so much interest," Brudenell says. "There is obviously some resonance somewhere."

That there is. Back in 2013, villagers in Surrey launched a petition called "Stop Surrey Being Turned into a Cycle Track" which received thousands of signatories within days. A survey of 2321 British motorists over the age of 21 published last month found 73 per cent of drivers felt cyclists should be forced to take a proficiency test in order to be allowed on the road.   

According to British Cycling, the governing body of cycle sport in the UK, more than two million people are now cycling once a week in England, with the number of amateur and professional road races now in their thousands.

Beware the MAMILS

Like Surrey, Cheshire attracts the modern-day breed of cyclist known as the MAMIL: the Middle Aged Man in Lycra.

These are the portly executives in skin suits and mirrored sunglasses who hare down country lanes on £10,000 carbon racers, often several abreast, with scant regard for anything and anyone in their way.

On my ride into Great Budworth I chat with a few fellow cyclists who agree that the behaviour of some local riders is raising eyebrows. Doug Harris, a 37-year-old aircraft mechanic from the nearby village of Wincham, has been riding a bike since he was 14 years old.

"It's increased massively," he says. "When I first started you would go for an hour and not see any cyclists. Now sometimes you see more than cars. Cyclists, as much as drivers, need to be educated. I've been cycling on these narrow lanes with my girlfriend and seen big groups coming the other way all over the road. I think it's quite dangerous. I understand both sides getting upset and aggressive."

Another local cyclist, 58-year-old Dave Arundale, insists the vast majority of riders follow long-established rules of etiquette.

"You just try to be respectful," he says. "Most of the people out on bikes I know are nice. It only takes the odd one to spoil it for everybody else."

'An asset to the village'

Not all in Great Budworth, though, are opposed to the legions of riders zipping through. Bert Hunt, the 92-year-old church sexton, is out planting his flowers when I arrive on my bike and proffers a broad thumbs-up.

He comes from cycling stock and on his waistcoat keeps a gold medal won by his father during a road race for the Salford Wheelers Cycling Club in 1912.

"There are one or two bad ones and I've had the odd milk bottle swiped from my step," he says. "But these cyclists are an asset to the village. It is nice seeing them come through and showing how lovely it is here off to visitors."

Brenda, his wife of 65 years, however, feels somewhat differently. "On Sundays they come here shooting through in their big groups," she says. "There will be a serious accident here one day soon." 

Hers are sentiments I hear echoed again and again. Herman Lenders, 63, is emphatic: the cyclists are "an utter nuisance" and "ruining our way of life".

Perhaps the parish council's shot across the bows will be enough to put an end to lycra-loutish behaviour. As I pedal back out of the village it is past two black and gold signs bearing the hopeful message: "Thank you for driving carefully".

But if the wheeled weekend warriors continue to descend with such reckless abandon, the otherwise-genteel residents of Great Budworth might just feel forced to add some rather more colourful language of their own.

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