Tuesday, 13 September 2011

what puts me off cyling?

An argument has been put forward by some that what puts people off cycling is the image of cycling itself. That is helmet hair, sweat, lycra and irritating smugness. As many quite correctly pointed out the image stems from the fact that most of the people who agree to cycle on our road are the lycra warriors, and that there is no way of changing the image of cycling without changing the environment to such that would be welcoming to people who do not feel the need to be aerodynamic in order to reach 30mph and keep up with traffic.
For me however there are other things that put me off cycling than sweat and helmet hair (an alien concept to a bald person like me). To be honest they will never make me stop cycling, but if I were a different person they would most likely succeed at stopping me from ever picking it up in the first place. These things are a part of my everyday route I take to get my older son to school. I do have a bakfiets so I could practically ferry him there, but that would defeat the purpose of cycling - he's perfectly able to cycle himself and had been off his training wheels well before his 3rd birthday. The distance is less than half a mile - so there's nothing to stop him from getting there under his own steam. Apart from the following:

This is our residential road. Quiet although you can see how many people are using it for parking meaning that it's actually only half the road. Usually people are kind enough to stop and let a 5 year old boy on a bicycle pass. But as we all know it only takes one person that doesn't and I've seen brainless teens and young adults speeding down that road and around blind bend at it's end.

The quiet although problematic road ends to be replaced by a wide and heavily used road (buses cars from all the surrounding estates and traffic from the Woolwich Ferry). Definitely to narrow to fit in a cycle track, no? Yeah, thought so too.

Better still - this is an old bascule bridge, there's hardly room for pedestrian paths, which I prefer to use for the following reason:
Climbing hills with a child while impatient drivers are breathing down my neck is not the most relaxing activity I can think off. The barriers on the bridge are bent by someone reckless about once every 3 months plus there are lorries also coming the other way. My faith in safety in numbers isn't just strong enough.

Excellent - although this is a shared facility it provides the much needed respite. It's wide and it's on both sides of the road. You can join it where the kerb drops, but because of the previous bits it's like an oasis in the desert - you just might not make it unless you get on the pavement well before as I do. Note the NHS vehicle considerately parked next to the bus stop, lunch breaks are important!

Here we learn that we are approaching (or actually on, you never know) the Natioanl Cycle Networ Route number this or that. Right, shame it doesn't go in the direction I am going. Well it sort of does, yet the route is twice as long. If I were in a car it probably wouldn't make a difference, but when cycling with a child I really don't want to add another 15 minutes to the trip. So we go just slightly further...

To join this marvel of traffic engineering, connecting two A roads, of which existance we have been informed by those two redundant signs, their poles placed considerately in the pavement. Now I do believe that cyclists should have the right to ride on the road, but to be honest with a kid in tow and even without one I would really give it up for a bit of a cycle track around that place. Seriously. Well untill that happens we either use the pavement around it and rejoin the road later or if the weather is really good and the traffic doesn't seem to scary we actually use the road, but it's stressful for me more than I would like it to be.

Aha, cyclists are welcome again, and it's an obligatory cycle lane. Shame it's not raised and is interrupted by a Bus Stop. Occasionaly drivers take a short break there so you have to go around them - defeats the puropse, doesn't it.

Customarily the cycle lane ends just as we approach to a roundabout where it would be sort of useful. We are turning right and see straight away that we are again first class citizens - the concrete blocks have been moved away to allow access to another shared facility. Feels kind of a bootleg passage but hey - it's convenient.

As you can see the signage is in good repair. If you gain enough momentum and ride straight in the bushes you will get to Dagenham, probably through a wormhole or something. The path is also strewn with glass and I have been considering taking a brush with me on several occasions. Then the path ends, obviously a bollardophile had been given a chance to practice his/her fetish. The gap between the bollards is just wide enough for a double bicycle trailer (AT3 Adventure).
The last bit or road before the school is of course packed with the only right mode of transport. The parking mayhem reaches it's peak at 4.45 when cars are being parked at both sides. The bike shed at the school is there, thank goodness, yet it's not very optimistic with 8 stands and little lockers, undoubtedly for helmets. 

This is it. I would be hard pressed to advise someone cycling with their kids and look them in the eyes at the same time. This is why I think that image is the least of the long list of problems facing cycling in UK. Deal with the important ones and the little ones will go away too, when people will not feel the need of carrying helmet cams to battle dangerous drivers. Once using bicycle becomes easy and obvious we will see less and less lycra and more and more school uniforms on bikes. 
Some will say that I am being unreasonable and that the route is perfectly fine in fact most Londoners have it worse. This would most likely come from an experienced cyclist. Which is exactly why I agree that we must not base policies on the opinion of committed cyclists. Only when I hear that and average person is happy with cycling conditions will I admit that cycling campaigns have done a good job.
Until then I will be one of the very few cycling with my kids to school.

PS. The pics were taken on my way to collect him. 
Update from today
This is another reason why I use the pavement when going up this bridge. Happened today. I wonder who pays for the damage - the driver obviously left, however he left his front bumper and licence plate behind. 

Sunday, 11 September 2011

why we didn't go to the skyride

Last week I missed two events.
One of which was the launch of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. This I regret badly, but unfortunately family matters prevailed. Luckily I was in no way crucial to the opening and I bet my continuous support will be enough to help get the CEoGB off and running. I believe that this lot will do a lot more good with their limited resources and unlimited passion and drive than anyone else had before. Please support them!

The second one was the famous Mayor of London Skyride. We decided not to go. And there were a couple of reasons. Firstly as we live in East London we would have to traverse all of London to get there. This is something I do reluctantly. Very. Although the CS3 that would have lead us there is good at places yet it is still not a very pleasant ride - I don't mind doing it every day by myself but doing it with my entire family was a bit too much. This also meant that my older son wouldn't be able to cycle along so I would have to carry his bike there. No bus, train or boat takes a bakfiets bike on board ATM sadly.

Not a car in sight but highvis and sport
gear prevails. Go Skyride!
Secondly - I have been looking at the pictures of the last skyrides and something struck me really strongly - this looks like a trekkie convention, a freak show (no offence to the trekkies). A crowd of people on emptied streets riding in Highvis gear with their helmets on. The majority of these people didn't even come on bikes. They came there to sample what normal everyday riding would be like, yet they don't really know how to do it really. I didn't want to be a part of it.
If Skyride is to promote everyday cycling it should happen everyday during rush hour, school and grocery runs. What is the point of showing people that they can come to central London once a year and cycle aimlessly around? Perhaps a better idea would be showing them they can cycle with their kids to school, get their food and drink by bike, go visit friends by bike and go and do all other things by bike. Imagine that happening. But that would require good cycling tracks and parking (still according to some the jury is still out on weather dedicated cycle tracks are needed).

This year Kelly has lights that actually work
on her bike. Boris should have come on
a clown-bike - much more suited for the
This is why on that very day we used the substandard but useful cycle track close to us to take us to our local supermarket, then visited our friends and then went to feed the ducks - all on bikes. Not because the Mayor of London kindly let us, but because it was convenient to do so. Boris can ride along Kelly (or any other eyecandy for that matter) all he likes and it will do nought for everyday cycling.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The Puncture Fairy

The dreaded and vicious creature, known to cyclists as the Puncture Fairy (PF) has visited me a couple of times before, mainly when I was running skinny tires on a road bike (once a week perhaps). Then I bought better tires and she took offence and visited less. Then when I switched to a Pashley bike and Marathon Plus tires it seems it had taken a hint and flew off back to the fairy land.
It came back though a couple of times to torment my bakfiets. The bakfiets runs on standard Marathon tyres. It's a pretty heavy bike plus it usually carries a decent amount of cargo (30kg of kids + weeks of groceries, an industrial carpet cleaner, 100kg of compost etc.) so the strain on the tires and tubes is considerable. Even when the carcass of the Marathon tire is strong enough to stop the spiky intruder at first it usually lodges itself in the rubber and then is slowly pushed in until it meats the soft and delicate inner tube. This means I usually stop and check the tires after riding through a particularly big patch of broken glass. Other times the weight of the cargo and the bike means that riding into a deep pothole at speed creates enough force to actually puncture the inner tube, and not even the best tire can protect against that.

I will not bore you with the previous punctures I had but will go straight to the one which happened today. It was a slow puncture so I was able to get home and carry out the repair in peace. It was on a rear tire so the chaincase, chain, gear cable and brake cable meant that I was going to simply repair it with tube patches rather than putting a new tube in. At this point the tube had still some air in it, but was definitely unridable.

This is the kit I use for tube repairs. Gloves help to keep your hands clean although you need pretty strong ones - the vinyl ones I use usually get torn around fingertips. On the other hand you don't want them too thick or you might find it difficult to apply the patch or perform other delicate tasks. Two cheap tyre levers - two forks or spoons with flat handles also work if you don't have these. Sanding paper to matt the area of rubber around the puncture, the patches which come in different sizes and shapes (I find the Weldtite patches good, but haven't tried any others yet so my recommendation would be pointless:) and the vulcanizing agent to glue the patches to the tube.
I needed to jack the bakfiets on some wood blocks so that the rear wheel could rotate freely - I had to readjust the blocks a couple of times to make sure the pedals could rotate freely as well, so that I could move the wheel back and forth.

 Firstly I removed the tire on the non-drivetrain side. It's a bit of work with the Marathon Tires, but not as hard as putting them back :)
 I found the offending shard of glass. My wife's cosmetic tweezers were perfect for getting it out.
Yep, this is the little bugger!
Finding the puncture was a pain as it was small and the wind outside made hearing the hiss of air a bit difficult. I had to use the magic potion.
The famous magic potion - bit of dish washing liquid and water. If you suspect a hole just apply it sparingly on the tube - if you see bubbles you found it!
Next I used the sanding paper to rough the area around the hole. The pros say there are people who rough too little and people who don't rough enough. So Make sure when you do it, you get to the nice fresh rubber underneath sot that the vulcanizing agent can work it's magic.
I applied the vulcanizing agent before actually checking how big the patch is going to be but the more the merrier I guess.
The 60 seconds you have to wait for the agent to start vulcanizing the rubber gives you time to prepare the patch.
Peel the silver layer.
Apply to the tube.
Some patches I put on in the spring still holding well...
Putting the tube back in the rim, I pumped it to make sure the patch holds. Nothing worse then finding it doesn't when you've replaced the tire bead.
Whoops, seems that there's a problem around the old patch. It's probably from the debris in the tire. When I pumped the tube it pressed against the tire and presto and new puncture ready. Remember kids always remove the debris from your tires before putting the tube back!
Once that puncture was fixed as well it was time to replace the tube in the rim (had to remove the valve as well to be able to get to the puncture). Put the nut back on the keep the tube in place.
New big patch and inside clear of debris.
Putting the bead back in. As you can clearly see here - the gloves gave up.
All done.
The tube holds air again.

And that all folks. Took me 10 minutes to fix it, while actually taking pictures. One thing I forgot to check it that the bead on the other side of the rim was in as well so I got a nasty surprise when I tried riding off. No problem - deflated the tire, pushed bead back in, inflated the tire - lesson for me - always check.
I must admit it's been  a while since I posted, mainly because there are other bloggers who write about important things better and usually before I think of them. There's been a lot happening lately - flashrides on Blackfriars Bridge, Street Talks, LCC going dutch, freewheeler taking leave and of course most importantly the Cycling Embassy of GB launch (as reported by Mark from ibikelondon) - so a lot of good things - the cycling world is gathering momentum it would seem.
Thanks for reading! I am planning to write a post all about the bakfiets - if there's anything that is of particular interest to you - drop me a line.