AN undercover police operation has been launched in the Borders in a bid to protect cyclists.

Several Borders bobbies have saddled up as part of the nationwide campaign.

Operation Close Pass was launched after research found many drivers are unaware that by passing to close to a cyclist, they can gain up to three points on their licence.

Police will ditch the uniform and don bike-mounted cameras in attempt to catch drivers who get too close for comfort over the coming weeks.

They will radio ahead if a driver passes too close and offenders will be pulled over for a warning.

Inspector Richard Latto of the Lothians and Scottish Borders Road Policing Unit said: “The safety of all road users, especially those in the vulnerable category, remains a priority for Police Scotland and Operation Close Pass is one way we can educate and inform road users of the necessary passing space for cyclists.

“Rural roads can present additional challenges, such as changing road conditions, differences in speed limits, narrower roadways and changes in weather conditions.

“We’d encourage all road users to share the road space responsibly whilst adhering to appropriate speeds within the limits”.

With 54 official bicycle routes in 18 locations, it is clear to see why cyclists love the Scottish Borders.

However, they cannot always hear traffic behind them due to rushing wind and accidents can easily occur if motorists don’t respect the highway code.

Gary Robson, owner of Bspoke cycles in Peebles, told us that close passing is a frequent hazard for cyclists.

He said: “Imagine that the bike you are about to pass is a mother with a pram or a horse and rider.

“You’re going to slow down and show respect by passing at a safe enough distance.

“When drivers start to think of bike riders as sons, daughters, parents, grandparents and not just as bikes then we will all be able to share the road safely.”

Police Scotland’s recent survey found 73 percent of people asked were not aware that close passing was a practice resulting in three penalty points.

Consisting of over 1000 Scottish men and women the poll showed most were unaware of the consequences of failing to leave a car’s width of space when overtaking a cyclist.

In the Scottish Borders cycling accidents occur fairly regularly on Borders roads - and there have been fatalities in the past decade.

Cyclists in groups have taken to riding two a breast on the road in order to use up the same space as a vehicle forcing the motorists to slow down and wait until it is safe to overtake.

This method has not been free of criticism however as motorists often find it difficult to overtake two cyclists safely rather than give one bike more room.

A Scottish Borders Council spokesperson said: “The Scottish Borders welcomes tens of thousands of cyclists every year who are here to enjoy some of the best on and off-road cycling that Scotland has to offer.

“As well as local cyclists and cycling groups, we fully support Cycling Scotland and Police Scotland in raising awareness of the risks to riders and the penalties for drivers who overtake too closely."

Belles on Bikes is a Scottish initiative set up for women to cycle together socially.

They have 12 independent groups across Scotland run by volunteers who are passionate about helping women enjoy cycling and feel safe.

One member of the Scottish Borders branch is Brenda Mitchell, a senior partner at Cycle Law Scotland, which is based in Peebles.

Brenda told us: “Close passing is incredibly dangerous and there is a huge need for the campaign in every region of Scotland.

“One incident springs to mind involving an elderly male who was overtaken by an HGV far too closely catching the cyclist with the backdraft resulting in him crashing and injuring his clavicle.

“With those incidents you have to remember the highway code as a motorist must give as much room to a cyclist as they would a car.

“It is a super initiative as it focusses on educating drivers as cycling in the Borders has become such a popular activity.

“However, I find the drivers in the Borders more courteous on average, as most leave the acceptable distance when overtaking.

“As cycling is so big in the Borders, many drivers know how it feels to be on both sides of the wheel and take the necessary steps to make cyclists feel safe.

“Respecting one another when sharing road space is key as cyclists also have a duty to be courteous towards drivers”.

With the tenth year of the TweedLove Bike Festival next month, and Tour o’ the Borders returning for a third year, cycling tourism in the Borders is continuing to grow.

Thanks to Border Buses and the Borders Railway becoming accessible for bike users, people from all over Scotland can travel to the Borders for a day’s cycling in a more energy efficient way.

Brenda added: “As people are becoming more aware of global warming issues, they know it is a good idea to cycle shorter distances instead of driving.

“However, many people are put off getting on their bikes for fear of their safety.

“Therefore, I want to congratulate Police Scotland on raising awareness and educating drivers so that they are unlikely to reoffend."