the importance of backing up

the importance of backing up

Monday is the worst day for me to get on my bike.  Firstly, it’s Monday.  First day back at work.  If I’m lucky I’ve had a long ride on Sunday.  Not forgetting the destination is work.  Did I mention work already?  Did I mention I don’t want to go to work on Monday?  (I’ve not landed my dream job of being paid to write about cycling. Yet!)

If I rode MTB then I’m doubly reluctant or simply unable to drag myself out of bed, kit up and ride to work.  More likely I’m feeling like I’ve been run over by the bus I need to catch to the train station.

Monday morning trains run chaotic. Worse than usual.  Of course, it’s the Train Drivers first day back too.  I’m guessing many of them don’t want to go to work either, their boyhood dreams of being a train driver have long evaporated under the onslaught of the early morning alarm.

The sardined passengers are in a worse mood than usual too on a Monday, many sense of humours have been lost in the act of getting out of the wrong side of the bed.

Riding then makes best sense.  It also makes sense in the case of ‘backing up’ – riding for a few days in a row – between scheduled and well needed rest days.

Often the http://thebicyclemoaningcollective.com big summer rides are big multi day affairs – 300 miles in 3 days –  long days in the saddle, or consecutive assaults on big mountains.  Backing up in training is essential.

It’s quite clear the Democrats didn’t back up.  True they put 2 hard terms together thanks to their star player: Obama.  However, they didn’t look far enough ahead, they rested on their laurels, they failed to back-up for when the big test came along.

Here’s some very unscientific research to substantiate my weak hypothesis.

Rewind Saturday Night Live to pre-Barack, 2008, watch Tina Fey lampoon then Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin, sit back and enjoy the comedy gold.  Fast forward to the 2016 US election, sub Fey with Alec Baldwin and the jokes are the same.

What’s going on?  Different but the same message.  Lazy SNL script writing or did Barack’s two lauded terms fail to help Good Ol’ Joe Six-Pack and make America Great Again?!

Back in 2008 the SNL team had a lot of material with the ‘Washington Outsider’ stuff, ‘Joe Six-pack’ as the Republicans targeted the traditional blue collar vote.  Sound familiar? Maybe I shouldn’t take my political insight from SNL but essentially SNL lampooned the same electoral message in 2008 as they did in 2016!

There it is.  Indisputable.  The Democrats had plenty of warning, at least 8 years.  They can’t then be surprised that the same disenchanted, alienated voters targeted by the Republicans in 2008 were the same disenchanted/alienated voters in 2016.  They’re still there, just more so, the so called Deplorables.

(Note to Hilary: don’t insult the voters that you need to vote for you to win).

The Democrats got lazy, got complacent. They didn’t clock up the hard miles in training so that they could put a run of strong back to back performances together.  They resorted to the classic under-trained cyclist’s desperate solution: throw money at the problem.

How often does that work?

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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).

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)).

when a U-Turn is a Good Turn

when a U-Turn is a Good Turn

For no good reason, I decided to deviate from my usual route home.  Have you ever taken a wrong turn and instead of turning back you won’t/don’t make a U-Turn – you plough on regardless? Stubbornly making things worse when a quick pride swallowing U-Turn now could limit the damage.

Instead of riding home along the Embankment’s purpose-built cycle super highway, I went sightseeing, I was feeling nostalgic and wanted to see St Paul’s Cathedral at dusk.  I don’t know the roads well.  It started going wrong as I dodged pedestrians and traffic down Ludgate Hill, waited for slow traffic lights to cross Farringdon Street and on to Fleet Street.

Ignoring the danger signs, I struggled through closely squeezed, crawling traffic, red tail lights glaring, narrow gaps between cars.  The value of Sterling down 20% since the Referendum.  I could’ve cut left down onto the Embankment but I’d gone this far, with the Pound at is lowest value against the US Dollar since the mid-1980s, an easy change of direction seemed like whimsically leaving the casino early.

It felt lonely on the Strand, 1 bicycle struggling to survive amongst the bigger, stronger cars, vans, trucks.  Most cyclists are likely on the Embankment’s purpose-built cycle super highway, which is not without its risks or difficulties but is significantly more sensible than trying to go it alone between the Australia House and Somerset Houses. I was on my own.

Waterloo Bridge offered me an escape route. Straight on regardless, heading for a Hard BREXIT.  Instead I chose getting caught out by unfamiliar traffic flows and being blocked by kamikaze pedestrians launching off pavements as I track-stood and scooted through Theatre Land.

I hit Trafalgar Square and the weight of my wilful selection of the hard way home hit me, disorientated, worn down, frustrated.  Inflation rising to 1%, nowhere near a historical high but the highest month on month rise since June 2014 and forecast to hit 3% next year.  When Inflation hits 2% that’s when incomes are felt to be falling in real terms, with an upwards squeeze on the cost of living – mostly food, clothing and other household goods.  It hits the lowest income families first and hardest.  EU Referendum analysis suggests they wilfully volunteered.

From Buckingham Palace, I found myself at Victoria, then roughly headed South West, I wasn’t lost per se but making it up as I went along.  Battling to dissect lines of traffic, repeatedly putting myself at risk.  Cutting across the flow, rather than going smoothly with it.  I had no plan.

Admittedly, there was some fun, adventure, drama, challenge to be had in my divergence.  But it wasn’t rewarding fun, adventure, drama, challenge.  There were a lot better things I could be doing with my time and energies rather than taking the long way home on a pointless, tortuous, self-inflicted journey.

Best not mention Marmite.

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.