One of South Devon’s most experienced cyclists says he is lucky to be alive after suffering a fall on steps built across a Torbay cycle path. Ron Keegan, who has been a road-racer, cyclo-crosser, cycle speedway rider and Land’s End-to-John O’Groats rider, suffered multiple cuts and bruises in the worst fall of his cycling career – while pushing his bike.
“I’m the luckiest man alive,” he said. “I could have broken my neck. I could be dead.” The steps are part of the path which runs through woods behind Torre Station, linking Crownhill Rise and Shiphay Lane. The £350,000 path through the Torquay woods was opened in 2016 and designed to give cyclists a safe route away from the busy main road.
But in order to cope with a steep climb along the way, a massive 60-meter brick staircase was built. Cyclists have to get off their bikes and walk up or down, putting their bike wheels into a gulley alongside the 30 steps.
Cycle groups blasted the staircase as a “joke” when it was first built, and Torbay Council admitted the path was not an ideal solution. Now the council says it is planning to replace the steps with a ramp when money becomes available to do the job.
A spokesman said at the time it was built: “It overcomes a technical difficulty with the difference in level at this location. While this is not an ideal solution, it does provide a safe and useable facility for a very short section of the route.”
Six years ago the council said it was considering options including a ramped or decked route to avoid the steps, but that depended on securing funding. Today a council spokesman said: “The steps on this shared footpath/cycleway were built to national design guidance at the time of construction.
“We’re aware there is a significant level difference at this location. When funding becomes available, we plan to improve this route by installing a ramp to connect the upper and lower paths. In the meantime, cycles can be pushed with care. The steps have been in use since 2016. In the short term, we’ll ensure that the steps are clear of any overgrowth.”
Mr Keegan, who is 83, was returning to his home in Chelston when he and his companion decided to use the signed cycle route to keep them away from traffic on the main road. Mr Keegan, who was wearing cleated cycling shoes, got off his bike to negotiate the steps and lost his footing.
“I somersaulted three times,” he said. “Sure, I was wearing cycling shoes, but what do you want me to wear when I’m cycling? The bike ran away with me and I took a tumble. I spent five hours in the Minor Injuries Unit at Newton Abbot.
“I have cuts and bruises, various wounds and aches and pains. I have cuts on my knees, my elbows and my face. My nose is cut and I’m bruised all over. I’m in a bit of a state.” Now Mr Keegan wants action from the council to prevent any more accidents like his. “The least I want is to get the council to put up some kind of hazard warning sign,” he said. “Something just to say ‘Cyclists Beware’, these steps are not suitable.”
He said he had no idea if there had been other accidents on the same steps in the six years since they were first built. “I have no idea why those steps were put in there. Maybe they ran out of money?” he said.
“There was going to be a ramp, but maybe it was too expensive to do. The path was supposed to be accessible to wheelchair users and the like, but they ended up with steps.
“People used to build follies, and this is a folly. It’s crazy, and totally inappropriate. I accept I was wearing cycling shoes with exposed cleats, and they’re not designed for walking in, and in retrospect I should have looked down the steps and turned around and gone back. But those steps have just been an accident waiting to happen. It did happen, and I was the victim.”