making everyone happy

making everyone happy

My friend was knocked off her bike Yesterday and ended up in A&E.  It was a classic car/bike accident where a car turning right down a side street cuts through static traffic but doesn’t anticipate the cyclists still riding up the inside. Car/bicycle meet at 90 degrees.

Or was it the cyclist not anticipating a car turning right down a side street cutting through static traffic.  It’s rarely clear cut.  I’d put the onus on the cyclist to anticipate – they’re the most at risk – and they can’t rely on anyone else to look out for them.

The London Mayor is going to drop £770 million on cycling over the next 5 years to make cycling a “safe and obvious choice for Londoners or all ages and backgrounds”. That’s £17 per Londoner (whether they want £17 to get them cycling or not!)

http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/sadiq-khan-announces-770-cash-injection-for-london-cycling-infrastructure-a3412221.html

This will buy new segregated cycle superhighways, extensions to existing cycle superhighways and mini-Holland schemes in the suburbs.

Car drivers and the Daily Mail are no doubt in outrage – why are cyclists so indulged? But put this in context: its only 5.5% of total TFL budget.  Cars, Trains, Buses, Underground are still hoovering up the lions share.

What’s the solution? Segregation is great (of bikes and vehicles) until the segregation ends, then chaos breaks out. Cyclists become complacent, forget that the risk factor has just turned up.  Cars have forgotten that they’re sharing the road with cyclists and have a duty of care (NB. a cyclist is a real live person (just on a bike)).

The solution: cyclists need to be controlled and drivers need to be educated – the best way is to get drivers on a bike.  Which will only happen if they are incentivised to do so. How? Penalise them?  That won’t help. Make it safe? We’ve tried that.  Make it easy?  Easier said than done.

What about paying them?

Smartphone technology could make a carbon offset scheme work.  What about £10 of your road tax for every 100 city miles cycled? (Paid for by: VAT on bike sales, decreased NHS costs from a fitter, healthier population and reduction in pollution/respiratory related illnesses).

Surely it’s worth a try.

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a non-race

a non-race

I wasn’t racing.  If I was – single speed V mountain bike – would be a good match.  The MTB had slicks and gears, lots of them.  I had 1 gear but narrow tyres with trick Mavic hubs and 35mm deep rims – those wheels fly (I think I’ve bored on about them already).

As we left the office together, the guy from my office on the red mountain bike and I didn’t discuss the ‘race-that-wasn’t happening’.  We didn’t have to.  It was on. I was confident.

Naked, in the office showers last week he’d proudly announced he’d kept up with me all the way from Priory Lane. I hadn’t realised I was being followed.  I recognised him in his cycle helmet now.

Down potholed, rutted and pedestrian strewn Cornhill, I’m happy to let him lead, until the lights at the infamous Bank crossroads, draw alongside, wobbly track-standing as the lights counted down, avoiding eye contact.  On the ‘G’ of the green light I’m gone.  Covering the ground super quick to the next set of red lights 50 yards ahead, then the next and then the next.  Stopping at each.  My track stand is improving.  Red MTB is next to me again.

Queen Victoria Street, left onto White Lion Hill, a perfect right hand bend with a rampart leading down to the Embankment, you can pick up some speed but at the foot of the rampart there’s a tricky junction with a choice: stop (brakes on hard), look, listen.  Or hit the inside of the two lanes at speed.  Hopefully faster than the oncoming traffic, keeping out in front.

The Embankment Super Cycle Highway isn’t very super today.  I join a queue of slow moving bikes.  Overtaking is a squeeze, risk pulling past a Boris Bike it could be too late to see the oncoming Hipster with no lights.  I practice patience.  Red MTB will be held up too.

It’s dangerously dark.  Visibility is limited, headlights glare on my glasses, cyclists pass in and out of shadows but as I wait at Parliament Square I clearly see Red MTB jump the kerb and get ahead of the 30-strong stationary cyclists.  He can cheat if he wants.  It’s about to get fast. He’s not.

The trick is to get through just one of the many set of red lights ahead of Red MTB.  Easier said than done.  At each red light, I draw up to and wait, look back nonchalantly.  Each time as the lights turn, Red MTB sails through, whilst I power up back up to speed.  We leap frog from Westminster to Chelsea.

No matter how hard I push, legs milling around, wheels jumped on I couldn’t get away.  It’s a familiar feeling.  Factors outside of my control constraining and halting my progress.  At least it was only pre-programmed traffic light sequencing rather than someone deciding to knock my house down to build a runway.  Or move my job to mainland Europe post BREXIT.  That might still happen. 

No sign of Red MTB through Parsons Green.  He might have gone through Chelsea Village.  Or I’ve got ahead. At last.  Over Putney Bridge I get caught by the lights at the last moment.  Re MTB arrives just as they turn back green, predictably.  It starts again, from scratch.  All that’s left is the Lower Richmond Road.  I gun it, give it everything.

Inevitably the lights onto Upper Richmond Road West are red. Inevitably Red MTB draws up just as the lights turn green, he squeezes to the left of the traffic I go right and get boxed in.  I race alongside, round, in between crawling traffic to regain ground.  Back at Priory Lane Red MTB is nearly wiped out as a car turns across him, he scrapes through a narrow gap.  I must wait until my path is clear of cars jumping the lights.

The ride was not an analogy.  It was just life.  The more I thought about life’s ironies, of control by unseen forces, of lack of results versus effort, the further ahead Red MTB got.  The red lights had levelled the playing field.  Any advantage I had was negated, any effort expended unrewarded.  Corbyn would approve.

400m to home. Buses pulling in / out. Cars gridlocked.  Traffic lights poised to turn red again.  As I turn off for home I think I’m ahead. But can’t be sure.

(NB. No red lights were jumped in the making by of this non-race (by me at least)).

cycling the less obvious

The world faces many problems and believe it or not, cycling cannot solve them all.  UK Government policy regarding cycling is focused on keeping cyclists safe, which is a good thing of course but does seem to generate negative tension between cyclists and the rest of the human race. How to solve that?

A good start would be to make more humans cyclists?  Why would you want to do that? This maybe tenuous, scientifically unproven but a human that cycles is a happier human. Why?  Scientific research has probably proven that they’re fitter, healthier, explore more, socialize more, have more fun.

Don’t believe me?  Don’t see the benefits to the human race? With 1 case study I can’t prove it but here’s a great cycling story to warm the heart of cycling humans and maybe some that don’t.

My 65-year-old father clocks up more mileage in a week on his bicycle than I do. I have to take his word for it as he doesn’t know how to use the Garmin bike computer I gave him to record his rides. And there you have it, the old boy rides his bike for fun and the social life not PBs and post ride analysis.  It wasn’t always this way. His early retirement was spent buying stuff he didn’t need from LiDL, being nagged around the house by mother and itching to open the bottle of wine at 11am in the morning.

Maybe it was being an enthusiastic (if rarely in the right place) support driver for the Bicycle Moaning Collective’s forays into Europe or simply fed up with being trapped in the house and made to do mundane chores, whatever the reason he joined his local Cycling Touring Club.  Now he’s out on his bike 2 days a week and at the weekend with his new bike friends, or ‘old farts’ as they affectionately refer to themselves.

As far as I can tell the routes for their rides are largely dictated by the locations of coffee shops and pubs and with no time commitments, why shouldn’t they be? They navigate by vague memory and something called a ‘map’. They don’t dream of carbon race bikes or shaving off weight with a carbon seat post. No, they want steel Audax style bikes with a triple although according to Dad, his NBFF*‘Old Charley-boy’, who’s 80 has built his own frame and says you only ever need a single speed and he’s officially the fastest up ‘what’s-its name hill’ in the whole County!

That’s all well and good.  Yes, my father is looking healthier and fitter than he has done for years, in less than 12 months the transformation in the old boy is astonishing, he’s lost weight, drinks less (well starts later in the day). The best bit is that I don’t have to listen to the him telling me about the deal of the week at LiDL, instead he is brimming with enthusiastic stories about his cycling adventures with Old Charley-boy and the other old farts.

Solutions are not always linear.  An answer can be like a good bike ride with twists, turns and maybe a few dead ends, often heading in a direction that doesn’t make sense until you arrive.  The NHS is at breaking point in part due to caring for an ageing population leading unhealthy lifestyles.  Were the government to stop automatically giving pensioners free bus passes and instead provide vouchers to purchase new bikes not only would they reduce their long term bus pass outlay they would stimulate cycling related retail, encourage pensioners to take-up cycling which would encourage good health, reduce the number of vehicles on the road, save the planet, make roads a safer place to cycle whilst reducing the burden on the NHS.  More humans cycling – whatever their age – can help solve more than just our obvious cycling problems.

(*NBFF: New Bike Friend Forever)

how dare you try and save my life?

how dare you try and save my life?

Good Press / Bad Press cycling and cyclists are rarely out of the news. One day it’s an Olympic Gold Rush. The next TUE shame.  Cycling sells newspapers and generates clicks.  Even an advert about cycling safety makes the headlines.  For all the wrong reasons.

Think! (that unspeakable road safety advert)

Cyclists hated it because it patronisingly blamed cyclists (that was lost on me). Non-cyclists hated cyclists for hating the advert trying to save their lives.  It also reminded non-cyclists that they had to share the road with cyclists which made them hate it too (and probably hate cyclists more than they already did).  The media loved it, it filled a slow news day and gave them the opportunity to further fuel the cyclists v non-cyclists feud that sells newspapers and generates clicks (see what’s going on here?).  When did the simple act of riding a bicycle become so hateful?

I liked it. There I’ve said it. I didn’t feel persecuted, victimised, ridiculed or shamed. I liked the fact that someone somewhere was looking out for me. That they had spent a large amount of the Department of Transport’s funds on making an advert to highlight cycle-safety. Let’s face it if it been just another dull public safety advert we’d all have ignored it.

As I cycled to work and thought about squeezing up the inside of a Tipper Truck to gain 10 maybe 20 valuable seconds on my commute (and get to my desk quicker?!) I thought about that advert.  Instead, with it’s hard hitting images at the forefront of my mind, I passed to the right of the big scary truck into the oncoming traffic!  At least I would make eye contact with the vehicle that wiped me out.

I’m hoping that other cyclists, whether they’re still grinding their teeth in patronised fury or not, thought about the advert too. Maybe the driver of the Tipper Truck thought about it.  He doesn’t want to live with killing a cyclist for the rest of his life, or worse lose his job.

(Am I the only person out there who rides a bike, drives a car and walks?)