safety in numbers

safety in numbers

Yesterday London celebrated the first of its Tube Strikes – there are sure to be more when 2017 really gets going.  In response London got active: walking, running, cycling.  

Every cloud has a silver lining.

Maybe in the interests of public health (if we ignore the increased pollution from gridlocked traffic) the Tube should be shut down for 1 day a month with a corresponding hike in the Congestion Charge to deter commuters from jumping in their cars.  1 day a month to fix / improve the Tube funded by 12 days less pay a year for striking workers who swap strike days for 12 extra days holiday (or be paid for valuable fix / improvement duties thus providing in-job variety and new skills).  Who isn’t winning?

The London economy is said to lose between £10-300m from each Tube Strike (which seems an equally worthless estimate I.e. nobody really knows!) but if we harness the famed London Spirit that was evident yesterday as London’s plucky commuters got to work by any means available, surely a monthly Tube-break could be made into a key differentiator for London.

What’s this got to do with cycling?

I often cringe-inwardly at the behaviour of my fellow cyclo-commuters as they(we) swarm through the traffic taking unnecessary risks and concluded that there were just too many cyclists on London roads.  Over the last few weeks whilst I’ve been ‘working’ my Notice I’ve been riding home before peak-commuting hours.  It’s been great right?  Free to enjoy the freedom of the open roads?

 Well no. It’s frequently been terrifying.

Without safety in numbers, not being safely within the bunch, I’ve ridden home alone in the dark and experienced Taxi-flybys, cars pulling across/through/out and pedestrians throwing themselves in front of my wheels.  It’s been a relief to get home with only near misses to trouble me.

Without the bad influence of the unofficial commuter peloton my cycling has been calmer, slower and less invasive of the traffic so why the increased near-misses?   Maybe drivers/pedestrians using the roads outside of peak-commuting hours aren’t use to ‘sharing’ the roads with cyclists.  Maybe I’m experiencing their bottled up wrath from when they have to and being picked-off as I ride outside of the safety of the pack – like a lone gazelle (small buffalo might be a more accurate description).

Perversely I began to yearn for a return to normal, longer work hours, getting up early / staying in the office later, when I’m forced to ride at peak times safely with my fellow cyclo-commuters.

That was until Yesterday – Tube Strike Day – multiply the number of peak-commute cyclists by 4 at least, on any manner of bikes, riding at varied speeds with varied control. It was chaos.  Dangerous.  Just on the London Embankment Cycle Super Highway alone I must have seen double-figure near head-on collisions.

Which is where a monthly Tube Closure could help, by forcing (I mean ‘encouraging’) more people to commute by bike more often will improve their skills and awareness, increase the number of riders and demand more of London’s Transport £££ being spent on cycling infrastructure.

No longer would a Tube Workers strike be regarded as a near Armageddon type event. 

Just another way cycling (walking, running and River Boats) can save the world’s problems.

(Even as the headwind buffeted me, the rain soaked me I was still pleased I chose to cycle yesterday especially when I saw the mass-overcrowding at stations and unruly queues at bus stops. Velominati Rule #5).

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sweat out Brexit

sweat out Brexit

I’m loving indoor training.  I get it. It’s my new favourite evening (in).  A cycling variation on Netflix & Chill.  Just sweatier. For 1.

Netflix & Spin.

It’s OK to change your mind.

Select interval training program, clip in and sweat.  I’ve always loved a good sweat – somehow cleansing.  This is sweating of a different magnitude – puddle on the floor sweating, I’m considering wearing a McEnroe-esque head band.  Just considering, I’m not there yet.

It helps that I can overlay a box-set on to the trainer control panel, positioning it over the ever slow ‘time to go’.  An episode (or 2) of Vikings later (I’m fully up to speed on Game of Thrones) and with total mileage spun loaded up to Strava.com, keeping the annual mileage ticking up – it’s an hour well spent.

I admit I was wrong about indoor training.  I’m not going to stop now even though my hand is healing and ready to get back on the road.  As I mop the floor, I ask myself what else might I be wrong about?

Might I be wrong about BREXIT?  What if…

Britain is a trailblazer (BREXITEERS would love that), the sparks of the EXITEER-movement shows signs of catching alight in Continental Europe.  Amongst the post-truth hysteria there are some incontrovertible truths.

  • The EU is a project that needs a reboot for our times. A post war concept born out of disaster it has served to preserve peace for 70 years.  But nothing lasts forever.  European Federalism looks tired and outdated.
  • Globalisation needs the brakes applied. Globalisation is super-efficiency, super-low-cost, super-I-want-it-now.  Is it worth it?  Are the jobs lost making jeans in the UK* to 3rd World Sweatshop using child labour worth it?  Globalisation isn’t by the people for the people.  The Globalisation we have allowed is for the ever-demanding consumer by the stateless corporations.**
  • Political and Civil Bureaucracy needs trimming a back. Central Governments are weighed down by unnecessary self-fulfilling bureaucracy that has lost sight of its original purpose.  The gravy train is running at full speed, no one can jump off (even if they wanted to), it’s impossible to get on.  Maybe it’s time to drain the swamp.  Just not if it’s to build a parking lot (that’s not progress).

We don’t need the same-old capitalism, liberalism, socialism (see above outdated project needing a re-boot), we can’t turn back the clock but we can work out a new modern international dynamism.

I hope the UK can be at the vanguard, sweat out the clowns (boris, farage, rees-mogg) and show the right way through smart thinking, hard work, no cutting corners.***

*Substitute with any Developed World country

** http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/12/05/mark-carney-warns-first-lost-decade-150-years-brands-eurozone/

*** I’m not convinced we’re heading in this direction.

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.

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)).

political sludge keeps us riding

political sludge keeps us riding

September 2016 was a personal milestone. I turned 40.  What long seemed impossible, was always inevitable.  The mountain I’d built in my path turned out to be a gentle ripple.  The world didn’t stop and my legs are still spinning my pedals.  My monument isn’t the only Impossible that has become the Inevitable.  It was impossible that the UK would vote for BREXIT.  It was impossible that the Labour party vote the unelectable Corbyn as their leader twice.  It’s impossible that the US will vote for Trump. Isn’t it…?

Cycling past the Houses of Parliament I wonder what’s happening in Western Democracies? The accepted wisdom is that these are protest votes by the electorate to give the political establishment a bloody nose.  If this is true then it is a high risk strategy.  This means does not necessarily justify the end.  The results to date are that the UK has voted to exit the EU without a clearly defined exit strategy i.e. a vote for the unknown.  Labour has voted for a leader (and entourage) that is stuck in a 1970s time-warp to regain their party’s socialist heritage i.e. 2 steps forward, 3 steps back.  The USA is quite possibly going to vote for Braggadocious Lunatic instead of an experienced politician because she represents corrupt Washington and he represents the anti-establishment and offers no nonsense change (according to Trump himself).

If this a strange and worrying state of affairs why has no one done anything to stop it? In a globalised ever-changing world politicians are the very slow to change.  In the UK we’ve long been stuck in a political sludge, with just two established political parties of two extremes. The Left and the Right.  The vast majority of us are not similarly polarised.  Love him or loathe him, Tony Blair understood this and created New Labour that in the early days was as close to everything for everyone as you can be.

Why is no one filling the gaping void now?  Our politicians are stuck in a binary inertia. When Apple, Facebook, Google have gone from small tech-start ups to Global Super Powers in a relatively short time, why can’t a new political party(ies) make themselves legitimate in a similarly short responsive time frame?

Why hasn’t Hilary sought to distance herself from being a full-paid up member of the Washington elite?  Maybe she can’t or would be even less trusted if she did but it must be easier to convince US voters that she does represent change and a fresh direction than for Trump to convince US voters he could be the President of the USA.  Whilst Trump has spun, morphed and trampled over his own words over and over again to catch any passing tide of momentum Hilary has stayed Hilary.

As I stop, waiting for the lights to allow me to proceed I worry in another direction, if these protests votes build an unstoppable momentum and the impossible/unthinkable continue to, why aren’t those with true power doing anything about it?  Surely the mega-corporates, the political dynasties, the secret societies don’t want the global disruption that a Trump presidency would trigger?

Which makes me conclude that none of it really matters, that it doesn’t matter who is President of the United States, it doesn’t matter which colour of political party is in power, it doesn’t matter which common market a country is a member, none of this can disrupt the entrenched status quo.

What can be done?  Same as when I hit 40: Keep calm and ride your bike.

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?)

 

 

 

 

deciphering a city by its cycling

deciphering a city by its cycling

Last night’s ride home was crazy, manic, brilliant. It might’ve been the following wind, the roads being strangely empty, that glowing half light that creates a sort of computer game tunnel vision that makes the scenery flash by peripherally, whatever it was, something took the average speed up a notch or five.  I was hitting 50kph on my single speed, taking cyclists sitting on my tale with me and still being overtaken.

Who needs to find an official sanctioned race when you have the blue tarmac between the Houses of Parliament and Chelsea bridge?  When I finally stopped to catch my breath through Parsons Green (before the race starts up again on the south side of Putney Bridge) I thought about Berlin.

I’d visited Berlin for the first time at the weekend and explored by foot, wishing that I had hired a bike. It’s a big place.  It struck me immediately how much more civilised it was to cycle Berlin’s fully segregated cycle paths than London’s.  The bicycles were mostly sit-up-and-beg style, more modern than Dutch style bicycles but not a sleek carbon machine to be seen, the odd chunky mountain bike was about as modern, sporty or over-engineered as it got.  Which is surprising when you consider Germany’s reputation for engineering.

The cycling uniform was no uniform, jeans and T-shirt. No Lycra cladding. The other obvious difference was the speed, it was sedate, gentle and calm, barely over 10kmph.  If a cyclist got cut up, say a pedestrian stepped in their way, they had at least 30 seconds before a potential impact.  Maybe this was why no one was wearing a cycle helmet. Well there was one guy, but he’d just attended a rollerblading event and had probably just forgotten to take his helmet off.  I think I even saw people smiling at cyclists as they drifted past.  The urban cycling culture couldn’t be more different between London and Berlin.  I wondered why.

We’re not that different the British and German, so it’s not nature. Which leaves nurture.  Urban cyclists are influenced by their environment.  In Berlin I couldn’t see any obvious threat to the cyclists safety.  They did not need to fear an angry car/truck/van/taxi.  There was no need for them to be in fight or flight mode.  Which London cyclists are. Constantly.  Hence the speed, the aggression and every man for himself mentality.

I could be wrong, it could be that London’s cyclist are seduced by speed, danger and see their evening commute home as an opportunity to strut their cycling stuff, release the days pent up energy and/or aggression, act out anarchic fantasies (jumping lights/breaking the law). Or they might just want to get home as quickly as possible after another long day in the office.  Either way I scored a PB for the commute home.