Restrictions on road use are killing our sport, says Hong Kong Cycling Association
Local body concerned by strict government measures after arrest of young star Esther Fung
The Hong Kong Cycling Association is on a collision course with authorities in the wake of tightened measures on cyclists' road use that threaten their youth training programmes.
While senior Hong Kong team members are based in China for training, the youth team, comprising mostly students, have to train in Hong Kong.
Their efforts have been seriously hampered by the government's cycling rules - with one up-and-coming star, Esther Fung Yuk-ki, arrested for not using a designated cycle path during a practice session along Ting Kok Road in Tai Po last year.
Fung, 17, who won gold and silver medals at the Hong Kong International Track Cup early this year, pleaded not guilty when the case was heard last month.
The case has since been adjourned to this summer as the young rider will need to represent Hong Kong at the Asian Junior Championships in Kazakhstan next month.
"We now always remind our young riders to try to use a cycle path during training if there is one nearby to avoid being prosecuted," said HKCA chairman Leung Hung-tak. "But we think it is unrealistic and detrimental to the long term development of the sport.
"Cycling paths are built for recreational purposes, for family members to enjoy the pleasure of cycling. How can we conduct speed training on a cycle track when there are a lot of people there riding for leisure?
"We will discuss the matter seriously at our council meeting this month before we ask the authorities concerned to sort it out. This is very important - if we can't groom our junior athletes, how can we develop the next Wong Kam-pos?"
The police have just completed a week-long, territory-wide campaign on safe cycling, during which they took stringent action against cycling offences.
According to Hong Kong road traffic laws, "Where a portion of a road is set aside for bicycles or tricycles no person shall ride a bicycle or a tricycle on any other portion of the road". Any person who without reasonable excuse contravenes the law commits an offence and is liable to a fine of HK$2,000.
Fung was charged under this rule even though she was led by a Hong Kong Sports Institute coach during the training session. Five triathletes were also charged by police when conducting training in Ting Kok Road last year.
That road section is a favourite training route as it leads to Bride's Pool Road, which has a lot of hills ideal for road training and competition. Other similarly suitable roads in Sha Tin suffer the same problem because there are many cycle paths nearby.
Former Hong Kong team member Ronald Yeung Ying-hon, now riding for professional team OCBC of Singapore, said that whenever he came back to Hong Kong for training, he had to act like a thief. "I must be careful before and during training to make sure there are no police around. It's just like doing something illegal," he said.
Even when training on cycle paths, riders can be prosecuted because the maximum speed is 50 kilometres per hour, easily broken by a quality rider. That leaves them liable to charges of reckless or careless cycling, the punishment for which is a fine of HK$500 and, in the case of a second or subsequent conviction, a fine of $1,000 and imprisonment for three months.