August 2023

@CyclingSurgeon #RIP

We are very sad to hear of the sudden death of Professor Chris Oliver, well known as “Cycling Surgeon.” A long-standing member and proactive supporter of Spokes, his professional and personal life contributed greatly to both understanding and promotion of the public health value of cycling.

Chris’s 3,415-mile journey across the USA in 2013, from the Pacific to the Atlantic coast

Among the multiple ways in which Chris Oliver contributed to cycling, and to Spokes, are these…

  • He was a Spokes Press Officer for several years – we are honoured that this was listed on his personal website as a ‘highlight.’ He was always super-enthusiastic to speak to the press and media about any aspect of cycling, particularly its public health significance, and the importance of reducing car use
  • As an academic who believed in changing lifestyles, he produced many materials for the general public on cycling and health – for example, this, originally prepared for a Cycling & Health supplement in Spokes Bulletin 125.
  • He conducted a ground-breaking study of tramline cycle-crash injuries – based on 191 cyclists who presented at A&E in Edinburgh/Lothian between May 2009 and April 2016. The report was extensively used and quoted, ranging from this presentation at a Spokes public meeting, to use by solicitors supporting injured cyclists in damages claims
  • As well as being a great advocate for cycling as a means of everyday transport, he undertook remarkable cycle adventures, most notably the 3415-mile epic across the USA with his 22-year-old daughter
  • Being an orthopaedic surgeon specialising in hand injuries, Spokes introduced Prof Oliver to Dr Mark Taylor, a Civil Engineering lecturer at Edinbugh Napier University, who was experimenting with an instrumented bicycle testing the vibrations from different types of surfaces (cobbles, setts, off-road paths, etc). This led to a very fruitful collaboration with joint research papers and media coverage on the risks of frequent cycling on uneven or cobbled roads and paths.
  • Prof Oliver also became the UK’s first Professor of Physical Activity for Health, resulting in a wide range of activities, many related to the physical benefits of cycling but also the very serious negative impacts on health of toxic air pollution.
  • His skills and academic knowledge were often used to seek political change, for example this letter (for which he collaborated with other researchers and with Spokes) to Transport Ministers, with an accompanying article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, seeking 10% of transport budgets to be allocated to active travel. This was doubtless one of the many pressure points which resulted in the proportion indeed rising in Scotland – from 1%/2% at that time to over 5% in 23/24, with the full 10% promised in the 24/25 budget.
  • Perhaps even more remarkable, all this was achieved in just 15 years, following a 2007 laparoscopic band operation. Cycling, starting with very easy rides organised by Spokes members, rapidly became key to his subsequent new life. In Spokes Bulletin 105 (in 2009) we said, “New Spokes member and top surgeon Dr Chris Oliver has praised ride organisers Stuart Threlfall, Mike Lewis, Maggie Wynn and Neil Robertson for inspiring me to get back to cycling. Chris was morbidly obese, over 27 stone, had tried every diet, and could hardly climb stairs. After an operation, he reflected on life, and decided he must live more actively. He progressed via TryCycling ‘very easy’ rides, then 20-milers, then our Sunday rides – and beyond!!

We could give many more examples of Chris Oliver’s efforts and achievements for cycling and public health (e.g. here) but will instead end with this Ian Lockwood cartoon which typified his concerns and which inspired the above letter to the UK and Scottish Transport Ministers…

In case you would like to pass this article on, we have tweeted it here.

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