Tuesday 28 December 2010

bakfiets long delivered prologue

Richard from Workcycles has kindly provided me with some photographs of my bakfiets before it left their shop in Amsterdam. Enjoy.

Monday 27 December 2010

Bakfiets Long delivered

In the morning, 23rd December a huge bloke with a peculiar accent knocked on my door. This could mean only one thing - the cargobike arrived from the Netherlands. The cheerful chap led me to his enormous lorrym where my precious purchase was waiting for me all wrapped in cardboard and tape with a distinctive Workcycles logo. I've been greening widely when I was freewheeling it back to my flat, and getting plenty of raised eyebrows on the way.Then finally I got it into my lobby

Thursday 25 November 2010

Reply to my complaint about the "Brighten up" campaign

When I have first seen this game I thought it was in a very bad taste, not mentioning the ideas it carried. 
I have written a complaint which follows:

"Dear Sir/Madame
I am writing to let you know that I am really amazed at the single sided 
approach you have displayed by creating a game where children have 
accident on a PEDESTRIAN CROSSING if not wearing enough hi-viz gear. I 
always thought that it's the motorists who are to blame, and who should 
slow down and pay more attention and not the children who get hit while 
safely crossing the road. What you imply by this game is that we all 
should be in a car or else we risk being injured. The game also implies 
that people who drive a car have little or no responsibility for it - 
oh, they haven't seen the kid - it must have been the lack of hi-viz. I 
am really displeased with that.

Instead of making people who drive more aware, lower the speed limits, 
put speed cameras, and what's most important enforce the law you focus 
on children who don't have enough yellow reflective stuff on them. 
Driving a car is a privilege not a right - people shouldn't be made to 
think they should adjust their livestyles so that others can drive in a 
carefree manner."

This is the reply I got:

"Apologies it has taken a while to get back to you on this.  Our response to queries received on the Be Bright, Be Seen game is below.  Please let me know if you have any other questions or if you would like further information on the research and evaluation findings used to develop and refine the campaign.

Road Safety Minister Mike Penning said:

“This game is part of a range of educational materials designed to give children the skills they need to stay safe on the roads as they become more independent. 

“By explaining the consequences of different behaviour, we are not attributing the blame for accidents to any particular road user.  I am clear that everyone on the road has a role to play in creating a safe environment whether they are driving, riding, cycling or walking.”

To see all road safety campaigns from THINK!, including for car drivers (about speeding, seat belt wearing, drink & drug driving etc), motorcyclists, pedestrians and vulnerable / young road users, please visit http://www.dft.gov.uk/think/."

I still think that the responsibility for the safety of vulnerable road users should lay in the hands of people who drive, not the other way round. If it's dark and you are approaching a crossing - slow down to crawl if you need to - better that than to kill a person. Or maybe I am totally wrong. 

It's cold!

Yes it now takes some time to warm up when riding my bike. Plus the low temperature or the wind made todays cycling super hard - it's either the hub or headwind. Hope it's the latter. Time to get the wooly hat out.

There have been a couple of hot topics lately in the world of bike bloggers. Especially important is the conviction of Dennis Putz - 7 years and lifelong ban for driving for killing Catriona Patel. Seems like LCC has finally grown a pair and is asking the right questions - why a driver with so many convictions was allowed on the road.

This also sparked a discussion over the ban of lorries in central London - a very difficult topic since while it would be superb to see them gone one must not forget about the services they provide - a good replacement or a different approach must be found.

Good news about opening the BorisBikes scheme to casual users. Everyone will be able to try out BBs and use them whenever they feel like it.

Then came Ray Sadri with his post suggesting handing out free helmets to casual boris bikers  to which he received a lot of negative comments. He remains unaware of what fallacies he commits and what his ideas actually communicate to the public. Me and Mark from ibikelondon have left long comments trying to get the point across but they seem to have been misunderstood (or maybe there was no intention of comprehending). I've been cheeky enough to as people at Borisbikes.co.uk about their opinion about this idea. 

Although Ray doesn't suggest compulsory helmets a short reminder what such law does to hire bike scheme.

Friday 19 November 2010

future projects

I am having a super stressful time at work right now, and it doesn't look like it's gonna change till the end of December. However there are things that come to my mind occasionally - little projects that I don't have time for yet, but which I would like to promise to my readers.

1) Segregated cycling infrastructure in London. Yes I know it's an oxymoron of sort, but trust me there are those little nuggets here - perhaps their design isn't ideal and they are disconnected but I would like to go and visit them, snap some photos and talk more about how they help or don't. I already have an extensive list, but if you have any ideas let me know in the comments.

2) Inspired by this article "A beginners guide to bike shopping" I want to go to different big and small bike shops and see what they are going to offer to someone who knows nothing about bikes (at least he pretends not to). This would be an indicator of how cyclists needs are perceived by salespeople and what choice do beginners get - are they thrown into spandex straight away and put on a carbon road bike or do sales people play safe and recommend hybrids first? Is the utilitarian cycling mentioned and taken into account at all? I would definitely need help with this as I am known in some of the shops already (no, I didn't start a brawl or anything).

family transport

I have finally made up my mind. To be honest I have made up my mind ages ago, but I needed to make up my wife's mind too, and sort the finances for this step as well. Yes, it's official now - I am buying a Bakfiets Cargobike Long. This is going to be our weekend bike to carry our two offspring and groceries, to go for family rides - basically to replace the car (which we never had). The decision was hard especially since it doesn't cost peanuts. £2000 however is what I would probably pay for upkeep of the car only annually, so in the end it's not that bad. Plus it's and investment. These bikes are meant to withstand the elements for at least 30 years of faithful service and not deteriorate on little bit - which means I can sell it when I don't need it any more (when that would be I don't now).
I still have a trailer which I used to use with my road bike but it just seemed so awkward, wide I had to assemble it every time I felt like a ride with my son - plus the only thing he saw from there was my bum and the curb. No I'll get to speak with him while riding - the bonding is well worth £2000. I'll report again when I get it - should be about two weeks from now.

Thursday 18 November 2010

Integration in Amsterdam

Some point out that even in the Netherlands bikes have to sometimes share the road with motor traffic. This is supposed to be an argument lessening the importance of segregated infrastructure for mass cycling. There are two issues with this statement - first is the problem of scale and then there is the problem of type. I found a good clip illustrating this - integration in Amsterdam. Let me tell you - I wouldn't mind such integration at all.

Compare it to integration in London.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

My package for mass cycling

There seems to be a slight difference between what people think is needed for mass bicycle usage in London (I’ll stick to London for the time being if you don’t mind) and what the “cycling campaigns” think is needed and can be obtained. The vision of “CCs” is a bit old and hasn’t worked yet. It seems they cling to some old ideal, afraid of taking back what they’ve been saying for a long time, looking at the effects of their policies. They fortify themselves with slogans like “safety in numbers” and “making drivers more aware”. They mislead people by telling them things that aren’t true, like “segregation will mean no more bicycles on roads”, segregated infrastructure leads to more accidents”. Then they misunderstand the point that “segregationists” make by saying – there’s no way we can have 500 000 miles of cycle tracks – let’s better use roads. Because of that I thought of constructing my own list of a couple of things that might make people think about picking up cycling.

1) Segregated Infrastructure
This isn’t be all and end all as some suggest. Nor does it mean that bicycles will be banned from the roads. This infrastructure is characterized by a couple of very important points. All of these requisites have to be met in order for this infrastructure to work.
-          Quality – a cycling track of sufficient quality is one you’d allow your kids (5-7 YO) to use for riding their bikes.
-          Starting and leading somewhere – it’s obvious that mass cycling isn’t about leisure trips – it’s mainly utility cycling – shopping, getting kids to school, going out to meet friends, commuting. Tracks need to start where traffic doesn’t allow kids to safely ride their bikes on the road and end when they can do that again. Let them lead to school from the estate areas, to shops, then to bigger hubs. (By the way – I don’t think there’s a point in having all roads covered with cycle tracks, it more about creating a comprehensive network of high quality links).
-          Continuous – a cycling track is as good as its weakest path. The whole track becomes nonexistent if one of its part makes you take kids on a busy road. There are quite a few nice separated cycle tracks in London. Most of them unused for one simple reason – there’s no way to get to them without getting onto a busy road first. Why not connect the already existing infrastructure with new links.
-          Having priority – a cycle track that gives way at every driveway is not attractive at all. Not only does a person on a bike need to stop at every such road but also while crossing they might be swept by a car coming from behind them. I have heard a response to that, which said that bicycles are better at giving way then cars, which is utter nonsense – one: how can you give way to a car you can’t see; two: why do you have to give way to cars which then have to give way themselves to join the traffic. Totally pointless
-          Enforced – no need to explain that.
-          Well lit, clean and even supported by good bicycle parking.

2) Strict Liability Law
This has been brought up by the “CCs” and chapeau to them. It basically means that in a collision the bigger is at fault. So if a person walking or on a bike is hit by a person in a car, then the one in the car is automatically responsible unless they can prove the person walking or biking was at fault. The same situation applies when a person walking is hit by a person on a bike – the latter is responsible to providing evidence that he wasn’t at fault.
This law is like your very own bubble of a cycle track around you. It makes people in cars very cautious and finally straightens things out. No more SMIDSY for all.

3) Getting mums to cycle 
– it’s been observed that women have incredible power. It falls on this pattern. Women see something that’s saves them time, helps them get in shape, is good for their children (or any other pragmatic reason), they pick it up – suddenly it becomes cool and all males want to do it too. For some reason. Then it has been noted that no other social group can be as vocal and organized like mums. And if you try to oppose them – you might just get a phone call – from your own.
Now, having said that, mums are anything but reckless. They are very unwilling to put their offspring into any kind of danger, even to prove a point. If you try convincing a mum to make her kids ride to school on Londons roads you’ll be lucky to get away lightly bruised. However if you give mums a pleasant and safe cycling route to school, they might ditch the SUV. One such successful route is able to sprout another. Why?  Because more mums will want one too!

4) Advertising riding bikes
 this one’s difficult. The car is super popular because it makes money. Of course not the ones who use them, but there’s a whole industry that lives because of cars. Even supermarkets have their own petrol stations and give discounts when you do your shopping with them. Now, how would you feel if your local supermarket gave you a discount when you cycled? Does it sound enticing? There’s nothing in it for the supermarket you say? Well the first one to do it would get massive publicity – I bet the bicycle bloggers would help. Then the others wouldn’t want to stay behind, would they?

This is by no means a complete package, but I guess it outlines the idea. Because in the end there’s no point to convince other cyclists – we are already converted, hooked on the freedom the bicycle provides. There’s the sense of community and all the other things that keep us cycling (like laughing inside when colleagues tell us about another tube strike). The goal is to make riding a bike something as natural as driving a car. We have to give normal people an alternative without using the phrases like “defensive cycling”, “safety in numbers” and “training”. They don’t make sense and put people off. What they imply is a lycra, high vis and helmet warrior dodging lorries for his ideals.
With all the talk about sustainability, with all the powerful arguments about the health benefits, with visible to all traffic jams there’s no better time to give the bicycle a new face – not the sweaty one, red with anger and caked with mud; it’s time for the pretty face this time. And don’t worry – they won’t ban you from your beloved roads – although it’s time some of us realized that they don’t belong to cyclists any more.

Monday 1 November 2010

Lesson learned

Never leave a brooks saddle on your bike in Hackney - the tea leaves there know about bikes. And they will nick it. Especially during the flower market day.
The saddle was getting super comfortable (B66S) and I loved the sound the springs made. Got a replacement for now (a £6 pound seat) and will have to find out if my insurance covers a saddle being stolen. If so I will either have to take it with me whenever I leave the bike, save it for special occasions or perhaps invest in some fancy bolts.
I must say it's quite upsetting that you can't have anything of quality on your bike unless its welded to it.

Sunday 31 October 2010

Road work - job well done

My daily commute takes me over the Lower Lea Crossing bridge. This bridge sported a very narrow yet very useful cycle path. It was very useful, since this bridge is used by big rigs and dumper lorries from the nearby industrial estates in high volumes. Although not well maintained (the surface is cleaned yet not very even) the cycle path makes it possible to climb the slope of the bridge and then ride downhill without having to worry about being crushed. Some people do however use the road there (mostly wearing lycra for some reason) which always amazes me, more-so since I've actually seen the aftermath of an accident, where a cyclist has been clipped by a lorry and his bicycle turned into a very interesting contemporary sculpture. Anyways - the Tower Hamlets council decided the time came to broaden the cycle path. That's something to praise them for. However what I really want to write about is the way they are doing it. Usually you'd have CYCLISTS DISMOUNT signs, or pedestrians and people on bikes would be forced to use the road on their own risk - perhaps even look for a detour. This time it's been done differently. Namely - one of the car lanes has been closed. YES it happened. The car traffic had been inconvenienced to make it more convenient for pedestrians and people on bikes. And this is amazing. One whole lane has been coned off and turned into a bicycle path (shared with the few pedestrians that use it).
I am actually going to write Tower Hamlet Council to praise them for this - I mean we like to nag about this or that not being done properly, so I guess it's only fair to praise people when they do things right.

Another observation is that removing one lane does not in any way hindered the traffic flow. There are no jams, everything is running smoothly. Which makes me wonder - in how many places a whole lane could be made into a nice cycle path without any inconvenience to the drivers. What do you think.

A couple of photographs below. Sorry for the quality - I have yet to but myself a decent camera.

Thursday 28 October 2010

A little bit about cycling facilities from LCC Camden


Segregated Facilities. Paul Gannon, Nov 2000.

Document Actions
Segregated facilities are needed to encourage more cycling, by Paul Gannon, 1/11/2000
A discussion paper by Paul Gannon, Camden Cycling Campaign
This paper was written as a contribution to discussions within the London Cycling Campaign on whether we should press for continental style cycle facilities in London. This is an edited version of the original paper.
This discussion could be one of the most important that LCC has faced and it is now an appropriate time to review our attitudes to cycle engineering given the potential for support for some serious cycling provision in our capital city now that we have a London-wide local authority.
It seems to me that the arguments put by some LCC members against segregated facilities fall into two groups: 1) specific failings that are due to poor design, legal uncertainty, poor maintenance, etc. 2) points of principle such as the view that cycling in segregated facilities reduces the ability of cyclists to cope with motor vehicle traffic. A related argument puts forward the idea, in John Franklin's words in the semi-official manual, Cyclecraft, that "facilities segregated from the carriageway mainly benefit riders who fear motor traffic"1.
I accept that some opponents of segregated facilities may want argue that group 1 problems are inherent in segregated facilities, but I reject that argument entirely and point to the numerous examples of well-designed facilities in the Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavian countries which do not suffer from the faults which routinely mar such projects in the UK.
I think we should initially try to set on one side the type 1 issues as they can get us bogged down in minor details and that we concentrate on the principles. Understanding the type 1 issues is, of course, vital for getting the design of such facilities right &endash; especially at junctions &endash; but doesn't affect the principle.
One person in the LCC discussion pointed out that glass builds-up in segregated cycle facilities (but failed to refer to glass build-up in non segregated facilities). This really isn't an inherent weakness, rather it's due to the council not understanding or not caring that cycle routes, segregated or not, need cleaning like all highways. These are points of implementation and shouldn't be allowed to prevent us supporting segregated facilities if we feel they are needed. That would be allowing the tail to wag the dog.
Similarly, John Franklin and some of the e-mail discussion correspondents have pointed out a failing of many segregated tracks is the way give way markings tend to proliferate at every driveway and thus cyclists lose the priority that they had by being on the carriageway. But once again, this is a little local difficulty &endash; although one deeply embedded in the psyche of the British traffic engineer, and also to some degree in the oddities of English, and Scottish, law relating to the roads. To see that this is not inherent to segregated facilities, one again only has to take a proper look at the tracks in the Netherlands etc.

Two way segregated track which gives cyclists priority at unsignalled junctions. Royal College Street, Camden.

As I understand that argument of principle, put as far as I have seen most consistently by John Franklin, the main case is that segregated facilities reduce the ability of cyclists to cope with motor vehicle traffic when, as inevitably must happen, segregated facilities end and shared facilities are unavoidable; separating traffic reduces the ability of both cyclists and motorists to deal with one another when they do have to interact. As Franklin puts it, "using cycle paths can result in these cyclists being more at risk".
I engaged in a short correspondence some time ago with John Franklin when he described Dutch cyclists as being less competent as cyclists than us Brits on his website and elsewhere 2. Having lived for three years in the Hague (and also for three years in Brussels) I found this comment demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of cycling in the Netherlands. Indeed, were it not such a serious subject, the view that British cyclists are more competent that the Dutch would be laughable. Unfortunately it is simply very worrying
For the undeniable truth is that the general level of cycling skill here in the UK is abysmal. It is several orders of magnitude lower than in the Netherlands - and I had to contact him to say so. His response was that he was describing how Dutch cyclists often report having problems with motor vehicle traffic when they come to the UK. This was what he meant by a lower competence. But this, and other discussions with people who oppose segregated cycle facilities, show just how much people misunderstand the reality of cycling in places such as the Netherlands.
Traffic is not just motor vehicles
I think this reveals the thinking that underlies the opposition to segregated facilities. There is a deep rooted, unquestioned assumption here &endash; namely that the key cycling skill is about dealing with motor vehicles. The argument becomes a circular one &endash; the skill that matters is dealing with motor vehicle traffic, ergo anything that reduces the relative significance of that skill is undesirable.
This is evident from Franklin's own, semi-official guide to cycling skills, Cyclecraft, where just two paragraphs are devoted to dealing with "other cyclists". Indeed, the chapter on "non-traffic hazards" only starts on page 117 &endash; and this is the category in which Franklin puts "other cyclists" along with other such topics as "bad surfaces"! The underlying assumption throughout is that dealing with "traffic" (ie motor vehicles) is what matters and everything else is just other hazards. The chapters "Sharing the roads", "Riding along", "Everyday maneouvres" and "The more difficult maneouvres" are exclusively about motor vehicles.
This reflects an environment where motor vehicles dominate. But if you are an everyday cyclist in the Netherlands, your most common interaction is with other cyclists. And that requires a level of skill and awareness which is demonstrably absent in the British cyclist - however skilled he or she may like to consider themselves in adopting the fast, centre-of-the-lane-hugging, adrenaline-pumping, style of cycling effectively recommended by many opponents of segregated facilities.
I suspect that the fear of segregated facilities is really a fear that hard-won, highly-valued skills of handling all those motor vehicles will be become less important.
*Core issue8
The core issue, as far as I am concerned, is increasing the number of cyclists.
Now, I simply do not understand how the increase in cycling that I envisage is possible without high-throughput, high-quality, dedicated cycle carriageways&endash; or segregated facilities. Let me emphasise that such facilities are not the whole answer, but they must play a key role in providing backbone network links, hopefully, integrated with other local measures such as motor traffic-calming, speed reduction, home-zone type engineering, cycle-exempted road closures and turnings etc.

A road closure outside an infants school creates a cyclists-only faciliy showing how segregation, road closures, and local environmental improvements can be integrated. Amsterdam.

There are two strands to this. First, as we know from repeated surveys, masses of people who want to cycle, or would consider cycling, simply dismiss it as too dangerous &endash; and nearly all parents similarly rule it out for their children for the same reason. The number of people that fits into Franklin's category of those who "fear" motor traffic is vast. Do we not want them to cycle? Do we not bother about them if we can get things made slightly better for those of us mad enough to cycle in London now?
The key question is how do we deal with this? Do we, as I unfortunately all too often hear and read those cyclists activists against segregated facilities doing all too often, try to explain to these people that they are wrong? Do we, in effect, say the problem is with you for fearing motor traffic; if I can survive by cycling fast, holding the centre of the lane and using my presence to dominate potentially transgressive motor vehicles, so can you? Do we, in effect, say that cycling is only for the macho &endash; for the types who revel in negotiating the big fast roundabouts?
Or should we accommodate people's fears and try to develop cycling environments that are attractive to the fearful? If we want to establish cycling as a mode of transport, it must become a thing which nearly everyone can consider doing &endash; not just doubling cycling levels or even quadrupling them (though that is obviously the start). That means that we must tackle the issues that prevent cycling and no amount of lecturing people will change what they think. We have to change road conditions to create conditions where people are willing to cycle.
The speed reduction campaign is one part of addressing this, but any such campaign will only have an effect once speeds are reduced and that will take two to three decades at least if the breathalyser experience is taken into account &endash; and that assumes, against current trends which are going in the opposite direction, that substantial police resources will be devoted to enforcement. It also assumes that the residual transgressor rate will be so minimal as not to impact on peoples' perception of the road environment.
Cyclists vote with their wheels for segregated tracks
In promoting the Seven Stations Link (a high-quality, segregated backbone link around Central London), we have found substantial support from non-cycling groups such as Local Agenda 21 and many local residents' groups. In the public consultation on the Camden section 76% of residents supported the proposal. Ordinary people say 'that is what would get me on my bike". Indeed we must be aware that there are hundreds of thousands of unused bikes rotting in sheds or blocking their corridors of people who have given up cycling because of the conditions &endash; and many of whom would cycle if they had continental style facilities. We ignore this at our peril.
And there is evidence from Royal College Street that existing cyclists too want this type of facility. The first figures from the council show that cycle numbers on Royal College Street have increased threefold since the segregated track was opened. Now there is no reason to believe that this is due to new cyclists as you still have to cope with the Camden Rd gyratory at the northern end &endash; and every reason to believe that cyclists who previously used the Somers Town backstreet route (through College Place) or the mainroads of St Pancras Way and Camden St, and probably other routes too, have switched to Royal College Street.
Give them the opportunity and current cyclists will vote with their wheels for segregated facilities
Personally I make no apology whatsoever for admitting that I fear motor traffic &endash; as do most ordinary, sentient people. I understand fully the concerns of those who simply aren't prepared to cycle under present conditions. I have no problem is saying that I don't want cycling to be the preserve of 17 to 47 year olds &endash; as is evidently the case in Central London. As I approach 50 and observe that accident rates rise for older people, I will not accept that I should have to think about giving up cycling because the cycling lobby isn't willing to take account of the overwhelming majority of people who quite reasonably fear motor traffic.
Changing the age profile of cyclists, both up and down, should be a primary objective - as it will definitely be a measure of our success or failure in the long-run.

Segregated cycle tracks as part of a city-wide cycle route provision results to a different age-profile of cyclists than we see on London's streets. Note how careful junction design overcomes potential conflict with motor vehicles. Munich

Also there seems to me to be one incontrovertible statistical correlation &endash; in those countries where you have the highest level of high-quality, often segregated, cycle facilities you also have the highest cycling rates. Flanders is an interesting example. Outside of Brussels there are ubiquitous cycle tracks in every city, town, village and between them &endash; and lots of people of all age groups using them. But in the biggest city, Brussels, where there are virtually no facilities, you see absolutely no cyclists.
I suggest that opponents of segregated facilities must address this point &endash; that there is a clear and evident relationship between cycling levels and the provision of segregated facilities as part of a wider provision of cycle facilities.
The reason why segregated facilities exist in the Netherlands and not here, is, in my view, due to differences in the political process, not culture or topographic flatness or other supposed national characteristic. The critical point is that the motivation behind people wanting such facilities is the same as here as it is in the Netherlands &endash; it is pressure from cyclists that leads to continued provision of high-quality and segregated facilities in such countries.

Coherent city-wide segregated cycle routes combined with traffic-calmed areas encourages parents to teach children to cycle in real traffic environments. note how quick and effective road space re-allocation is ahcieved with minimal engineering. This track will be upgraded when funds are available to a higher standard of engineering, but a key link in the city network across a bridge, has been quickly provided. Amsterdam.

*Cycling down a cul-de-sac8
The sad thing about this discussion is that we, that is cyclists' lobby, have been here before - more than once indeed. And we are in real danger that the fundamentalists, that is those who oppose segregated facilities, will again leave us as a lobby isolated and, much worse, end up with cycling itself constrained as a minority, crank interest. If these seem like harsh words, just consider what has happened in the past.
"The bicycle faction has also involved itself in political lobbying, some of which no seems a trifle wrongheaded", write Roderick Watson & Martin Gray in The Penguin Book of the Bicycle 3. They are referring to the late 1930s when the cycling lobby, represented by the CTC, opposed a government decision to make compulsory rear lights on bikes &endash; "a decision which it considered pernicious and even dangerous".
"The main objection to rear lights was that the onus of avoiding accidents ought always to rest with the overtaker rather than the overtaken; motorists should adjust their speed to suit visibility and conditions and not depend on cyclists being self-illuminated." It was the CTC's determined and long held opposition to rear lights that left it regarded as a cranks' lobbying organisation rather than a serious part of the transport industry for many years. Of course, in fundamental terms, the argument is right &endash; but it doesn't take account of reality which is necessarily a compromise between the differing characteristics of transport modes.
This episode is well documented, but a more recent and similarly isolating stance was taken in the 1950s. This is less well known and is recalled only by participants (on whom I am therefore relying) and involves opposition by the cycling lobby to the provision of segregated cycle tracks. Cyclists, it was argued, must integrate with other traffic.
It seems screamingly obvious to me that this approach is an abject failure. Cycling here has declined over the long run, while it has increased or stayed steady at high levels in those continental European countries which rejected our way of doing things. I repeat this is a point which those who oppose segregated facilities have to address.
My great fear is that, as we face an unparalleled opportunity here in London to reverse the damage done by 50 years of the previous policy, we will repeat the same errors and leave ourselves isolated once again as a marginal, fundamentalist lobby lecturing the world that everyone else is wrong, while the mass of people, who would cycle if the right conditions were provided, take no notice of us. If we don't directly

*An example of how a continuous cycle route, plus accompanying traffic reduction and calming measures, can be created by re-allocating road space by effectivesegregation. The Hague. This is the model for the Seven Stations Link proposed by Camden Cycling Campaign.*

  • 1 Cyclecraft, page 149 2 "Sustrans has often cited the fact that Dutch cyclists sometimes leave the ferry at Harwich and find traffic so difficult to deal with that they go back home! Interestingly, this problem is not experienced by cyclists arriving from France, Spain or the USA. Proficiency in using roads on a regular basis is essential to maximise safety, and to maximise one's cycling horizons. I would not like to see Britain on the slope down to Dutch levels of cycling competence." John Franklin, letter to Sustrans 1998. 3 The Penguin Book of the Bicycle, page 274
© Paul Gannon 2000.
Photographs © Fairpix or Paul Gasson

Last modified 23-Aug-2004 08:58

Wednesday 27 October 2010

New commuter - which bike?

This question comes up very often on many bicycle forums I tend to read. Now since most of these forums are dominated by a very specific breed of cyclists the answers are a little biased.

Now let's look at a person, who heard about cycling, wants to cycle and needs advice. Since bicycle culture in UK is pretty much non existant they haven't got a clue what they are doing. They've seen people going around on road bikes and now when they ask about what to buy they find out that they need carbon frame, clipless pedals (oh wait for you clipped-in moment), ultegra groupset, mitts, shoes that accomodate cleats, jerseys, helmet and an array of computers, clip on lights and bibs or gilets. Alternatively it's a fixie/hybrid/MTB.

Nobody ever says "Look, this really depends on what you want to do with your bike". If you want to race, by all means go for carbon rims and v-bars. But - if you want your bicycle to be a versatile transport think about these things

1) You don't have to wear special clothes to cycle
2) You want a bicycle that let's you carry some cargo
3) You want a bicycle that can brave the elements
4) You want a bicycle that needs hardly any maintenance
5) You want a bicycle that's durable
6) You want a bicycle that's comfortable

Now some will say that first of all you need a bike that's light and fast and that's very true - when you race. But riding in an urban environment is not about racing - I meet most people that overtake me waiting at the next set of lights. Now let me elaborate a little bit about the points above

1) I found having to change before and after the ride quite annoying. I also found out that the Dutch and Copenhageners ride in their everyday clothes. Just as you don't change to walk you shouldn't have to change for riding your bike (bar racing). It's much more convenient. Keyword: Full Chain Guard

2) After riding with a backpack I had my back all wet - not very pleasant. So I installed a rack on my racing bike to carry my work stuff with me. When I wanted to pop out to the shop to get some groceries I found that I needed a basket. In the end I ending up putting together something that didn't really belong on a racing bike, but did so because of the need for it. Think ahead. Keyword: Basket, Pannier Rack and Panniers, Front Carrier; For bigger cargo: Bakfiets, Long John

3)My racing bike did come with some puny and ineffective mudguards. They did hardly anything to stop that water from the puddles from splashing on my legs. My current bike (Pashley Princess) has beautiful full metal mudguards which are ideal for the winter weather. I go through puddles at full speed without worrying. Keyword: Full Mudguards

4) Derailleurs, exposed chain, rim brakes - the things people put on their bikes to save weight mean they have to maintain them in order for them to work. You need to clean the chain and the derailleur after every rain, lube them, adjust them, change brake pads etc. This is not something you want to do with your everyday bike - you need it to run properly with minimum maintenance. Keywords: Hub Gears, Drum Brakes, Hub Dynamo, Full Chain Guard

5)Racing bikes are made light so but that's at the expense of durability. In the end you want a bicycle to withstand the race. What happens after that is not your concern. Now with your everyday bike you need to take into account - the bicycle falling over, riding on a daily basis, weather, perhaps little collisions. Keywords: Quality Steel Frame

6) The cycling position for racing bikes is for improved power and aerodynamics. It's not meant to be comfortable. It's fun for some time, but not for long. If you don't enjoy your ride, what's the point. Keyword: Upright Riding Position.

Visit www.workcycles.com for ideas. Also I would recommend workcycles blog (bakfiets-en-meer.nl) and especially the FAQ.

Monday 18 October 2010

Old vs new

I've spotted this bicycle in front of Tesco in Bethnal Green Road. I parked my Princess next to it and there was something about these two bikes standing next to each other that I just had to take photos of them. There is something about the durability of the classic bicycles that makes them ridable for generations. Even though it's rusty and still has obsolete rod brakes it's still being used. It seems the only thing that's been changed are the tyres.

New bike

Hi all, it's been a while, no?
I've recently come back from long overdue holidays and then worked hard to buy myself a new bicycle. Well to be honest I bought it for my wife, because I've already got one. But I am riding it. It's a carbon fiber, drop handlebar fixie... just kidding. I decided to buy me and my wife a nice Pashley Princess Sovereign. Thinking ahead about the winter I wanted something that would allow me to brave the elements, plus I longed to finally ride something sitting upright.
So I went to Cycle-Surgery in Spitafields and got little to no attention from them even when I splashed out £600 on the bike. I guess they are used to people paying that for a pair of SPD shoes. When I saw the bike I was just amazed at how royal and classic it looked like, simply beautiful. Pitch black, golden lines on the fender, very discreet Pashley sticker on the side. Chromed bits and a huge wicker basket in the front. I jumped on it straight away.
The first few meters have been a bit wobbly because of the riding position, but then I got used to it. The second thing I had to get used to was the weight - it rides much more pleasantly than a road bike - although it's harder to accelerate on it, once you do you just glide. Once you get a hang of the internal gears, and remember to stop pedaling while shifting it's just like floating in the air. The upright position gives you an opportunity to look around, not mentioning it's super comfortable. The brooks saddle was quite nice and very kind to my bottom. None of this break-in period stuff.
The bicycle has quite a few things that would be accessories on a racing bike - full metal mudguards, hub dynamo and front light (the rear light is unfortunately battery powered), schwalbe marathon tyres for puncture-less life, frame mounted ring lock and kickstand for when you have to leave it outside the off-license for a minute or two, proper bell, pump, pannier rack (never use it - the wicker basket provides ample space) and fully encased chain. All of this makes this bike nice and practical to ride. I don't have to change my clothes at all, I have where to put my bag or shopping, don't have to worry about the lights as they are always on the bike, nor do I need to worry about batteries (at least for the front light). I can shift gears while stationary and don't need to worry about cleaning the drivetrain.
Now if you are a speed-lycra-boyracer-type it's not a bike for you. You won't be able to shave of seconds from your commute. People will overtake you and occasionally you will have to push the bike uphill (never happened to me though, yet). However if you use your bike in real life, this is the type of bicycle for you.

Friday 10 September 2010

from a diary of macho cyclist

My gran stopped cycling her Dutch beater (weighs like 70lbs by the way) because she claims to be intimidated by lorries in tight spots. I told her to MTFU, ride defensively and ride in primary.

A female friend of mine says she uses the pavement when the traffic is too fast. Reminded her that she only has to keep up with the traffic and it won’t be a problem.

I was looking for some SPD shoes for my three-year-old. The guy at bike shop gave me a weird look. Bloody integrationist.

A colleague from work rides a Brompton (silly I know) and rides like a complete nodder. I always overtake him on my way to work and leave him well behind. The cheating bastard must take a bus or something later on, because after I get out of the shower and change into my suit, he’s already at his desk. Bloody nodders.

I told my wife that because of the recession we won’t be able to go for holiday this year. I hope she doesn’t find the new carbon frame and wheelset in the garage.

My wife found the wheels and frame and made me promise we go for holiday. We’ll be going to France, 2-24 July.

A mate of mine thought about picking up cycling. I emailed him my recommendation for the gear and bike. I managed to get it super cheap – less than £3000 and yet he won’t speak to me now.

I upgraded my daughters bicycle to a carbon frame. I can’t understand why she’s still mad about me getting rid of her pink lady bike.

I went for a bike ride with my family. After 15 minutes I turned around and they were nowhere in sight. I guess I’ll have to talk to them about keeping high cadence.

I had a huge argument with my wife when she put a pannier rack on her bike. I mean she’s like adding 906g to it. She said she needs it for shopping and stuff. I don’t get her – she can use the car for that.

I bought this beautiful Mad’one. Didn’t have any room in the garage for it, so it slept in our bed with us. My wife moved out to her mother. Never told me why.

My wife sold her road bike and bought a dutch city bike. Even though I warned her that the website didn’t mention the weight so it must weigh a ton. I think I’ll file in for divorce!

My wife got all my bikes in the divorce settlement. She sold them! 

I turns out my wife bought a mansion! Where has she taken that money from?!

Thursday 2 September 2010

the thing about bicycle helmets

What made me write this entry was this article www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-11110665 
Now there’s a couple of things which make debates like this a waste of time and even potentially dangerous. First thing is that by talking about it you give air time to zealots who think their mission is to protect everyone, even from themselves. Two there is little to no evidence that the bicycle helmets currently on the market offer any protection to the cyclists head. There is a similar amount of evidence pointing in the opposite direction.
The point is helmet zealots put pressure on people riding bikes, making them feel guilty and irresponsible for not wearing a lid. This kind of rhetoric also makes other people think that a person on a bike less the lid is asking for it and if an accident happens, somehow brought it upon her/himself. This fearmongering also makes people think that riding a bike is something dangerous, which is very far from the truth. This could be because riding your bike for transportation, Tour de France, BMX bakcflips and MTB downhill are perceived as one and same thing. Which is false of course.
Now I don’t want either to prove or disprove the efficiency of the helmet, for the reason I will give below. However I do think that telling people that a helmet will protect their head where there are no real tests to prove it is a bit irresponsible. It turns the helmet into an atrifact, giving the user an artificial sense of safety.
Now it’s time for my point.
Your view on bicycle helmets is a little bit like a religious belief – it’s based on faith not on evidence and you are free to practice it without condemnation BUT you shouldn’t be forcing it down others throats using wishful thinking as evidence, because you are making yourself look like a creationist.

And yes – this entry is biased!

Wednesday 1 September 2010

something postive

This is super old and quite painful to watch in you live in UK and like to ride your bike. Enjoy

Tuesday 31 August 2010

my thoughts on red light jumping

Whenever anyone criticises people riding their bikes, this topic always comes up. This is why people in cars don’t like people on bikes, and why walking people don’t like people on bikes. It is said that RLJ is the reason other road users disrespect people on bikes, since they disrespect the law.
There are two types of RLJ in my opinion. One is the type committed mostly by cyclists (lycra-clads, couriers etc) where they just bomb through a red light without even looking, or just having had one quick look. It’s quite probable that, regardless of the skills the cyclist might allegedly possess, that s/he might hit someone or something that has right of way. Then there’s a second type where a person on a bike stops at the red light and then, having checked for any oncoming traffic, proceeds through the junction. The risk of hitting something is as small as one where there is a STOP sign instead of a traffic light.
Both of these manoeuvres are illegal, though. Both are frowned upon by all people, except some cyclists that think of it as a reason to boast. The interesting thing however is why people riding bikes RLJ (and let’s cross the kamikaze aspect out). Firstly lights are an invention created for the use of motorised traffic. Because of the speed and mass of these vehicles measures have been brought into place to avid serious collisions. Bicycles, pedestrians never needed such measures – they were only installed where these two types of traffic interacted with the motorised traffic. Secondly every stop means that a cyclist has to use up energy to reach his previous speed. This is especially seen as a waste where a person on a bike has to wait at the lights, where there is no traffic at all, or where it is safe to proceed after checking for oncoming traffic.
This is why, while I don’t endorse RLJ and I rarely do it, I think there should be a change in law regarding red light and people on bikes. Red light should be equivalent to STOP sign (for bicycles only!), where you pull up to the junction, have a good look, and then proceed. This would definitely make riding our bikes on inadequate London cycle lanes and paths much less frustrating. It would also demonstrate people in cars another great advantage of the bicycles. 
The problem with this might be that people do not trust people on bikes, since they see us all as cyclists. They don't think in terms of - oh, what if it was my daughter or mother, because they know cyclists are mostly 20-something YO single men in lycra, or hooded youngsters on BMX. Both groups hardly respectable by the general public. Perhaps when the demographics change and people start riding their bikes instead of cycling the view on this matter changes as well. But till then – let’s play by the rules and don’t RLJ. 

Friday 27 August 2010

does segregation exclude integration

So it seems that there are two groups of people who ride bikes – ones who would like to ride on the roads, and the ones who would like separate infrastructure. If  you haven’t noticed I belong to the second group.  It’s been pointed out to me, that my advocacy of segregation will lead to a situation where a person on a bicycle entering the road with one wheel, by mistake even, will be first abused and then probably murdered by white, middle aged blokes driving black cabs or Addison-Lee cars. So instead of spending money on separate infrastructure, which would allow people of all ages and levels of fitness to ride bicycles, we should focus on training the aforementioned men to behave, be polite and courteous to other road users.
First things first – there is no amount of training that can change some people. What does it though is peer pressure. This is what we are seeing now – because drivers are the majority they cannot relate to people on bicycles and therefore can’t see their faulty behaviour and are not scrutinised by their peers. Let’s reverse that situation. Imagine that 98% of people cycle – a person in a cab who shouts at cyclist would be either ostracized or beaten to bloody pulp with dlocks, depending on which part of the world it would happen.
Secondly segregated infrastructure doesn’t mean banning bicycles from the roads. Segregated cycle paths mean more people riding their bikes, which in turns mean less cars. It also means that people in cars are also people who ride bikes. Which in turn means they understand what it’s like to ride a bicycle on the road.  Less cars on the roads means more room for people on bikes, it means bicycles having priority over cars.  Can you see here a threat to people who want to ride their bikes on the road?
For some reason separate cycling infrastructure hasn’t killed cycling in Holland, it hasn’t killed cycling in Denmark. Vehicular cycling on the other hand is killing cycling in UK. Vehicular cycling is elitist, it’s for mostly young, male athletes on carbon bikes who like to boast about breaching 30mph average speed on their commute. It’s not inclusive and it lacks appeal for other groups of people. Separate infrastructure is for everyone and doesn’t stop you from using the road. Look at the Netherlands – they can cycle on roads (except motorways, same as in UK) , and yet they choose to use their brilliant cycling infrastructure. And they have the highest modal share for cycling in the world while UK gets up to 2% on a sunny day.  

Thursday 26 August 2010

oh, now I get it

It just occured to me that we are in a vicious circle. 

People drive because it's not safe to cycle.
It's not safe to cycle, because there are too many cars on the roads.
We cannot build cycle paths because we need parking spaces for cars,
People need cars because there aren't enough cycle paths. 

Therein lies the root of the problem. And while I am not anti car - it has it's purpose - I think we need to realize that at some point the car started to limit us instead of setting us free. 

By the way - I felt that restricting commenting to only those with google acounts or some such is a bit exclusive, so now anyone can comment. 

Skinner Street

Yesterday I’ve noticed something I wish I could see more often. I was travelling through Skinner Street in Islington when I saw this

This is one of the most optimal arrangements for London – sidewalk, cycle path, perhaps some parking for cars, road then cycle path and sidewalk. Yes you can have parking spaces AND a cycle pat. Amazing I know!

The only better solution would be cable street style cycle path, but hey – if the Cycle Superhighways looked like this, people who cycle would worship Boris. The only thing I would change is the kerb – I personally don’t think it has to be that wide – it could be made narrower but taller.
PS If you have examples of well-executed cycle infrastructure in London e-mail them to me. I’ll be happy to there snap some photos and write about them on my blog.