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Monday, 27 June 2011

The 5 Stages of Cycle Advocacy

1. Denial

"Cycling is awesome! I don't get why so few of my friends or family ever get on their bikes."

"All people really need is a bit of training to give them the skills to ride safely on the roads."

"If we give out free breakfasts it'll persuade people to cycle to work."

"People just need some help learning how to adjust their gears and brakes, and how to fix punctures and they'll be back on their bikes."

"We just need to make people aware that cycling can save them money, make them healthier and is good for the environment and they'll start cycling more instead of driving."

"Cycling rates in [city/town] are up 4% this year!"

"When the price of oil hits [£X], cycling is really going to take off again."

2. Anger

"Idiot nearly killed me, he won't be laughing when the price of oil hits [£X] and he can't afford to drive."

"If I can be bothered to cycle, why can't all these lazy sods get out of their cars too?"


"If we can get the cyclists who go through red to stop instead, then we will finally be respected as legitimate road users by the motorists."

"If we all ride our bikes as if they were cars, then we will finally be respected as legitimate road users by the motorists."

4. Depression

"I'm so sick of the hostile roads and dangerous and aggressive drivers. I can't see myself still cycling like this in ten years time."

"I'd love for the UK to be like The Netherlands, but there will never be the political will to do what they have done over here."

5. Acceptance

"If we want significantly more people to cycle, we will have to make some radical changes to the road network."

"It'll be hard work, but we have to start reversing the damage if we ever want to make cycling feel safe and attractive for the average person."

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Alternate History

As someone who wants both our road and rail infrastructure to be re-designed using best practice from around the world, I see a lot of work ahead. When faced with a task of such proportions, it is easy to wonder not only what it would be like after the goal is realised, but what it would be like if it had happened already. A popular concept explored in storytelling is that of the "Alternate history." An example of this type of story is Watchmen, but it is a common theme, especially in science fiction (often facilitated by some sort of time travel). This morning I rode into Manchester from Macclesfield and I started to consider what my ride would be like if we, much like the Dutch, had halted and reversed the decline in walking, cycling and the railways back in the 1970s, through measures including restricting the growth, convenience and public subsidy of private motoring, together with investment in rail and either maintaining nationalised ownership of the railways, or at least not botching its privatisation.

I started to think about the wider changes which would have resulted in this alternate history. Roads which are effectively "Urban motorways," would likely be absent, preventing the terminal decline of many town centres such as Rochdale and reducing the resulting sense of social isolation and community division. Casualties from road accidents and (more commonly) negligent motorists would have been much lower for quite a few years. Helmets and high-vis would be an irrelevance as we move away from blaming the victims of traffic crashes, and the slice of UK GDP sent overseas to prop-up dodgy oil-producing regimes would also be a bit lower. The arduous task of replacing a great deal of our ageing electricity-generating capacity with renewables would not also be occurring at the same time as plans to electrify a 30-million strong fleet of frequently-used private motor vehicles.

However, I realised that things in this alternative history weren't all rosy. I started to consider how the sense of social isolation, desperation and fear fostered by our current road network has inspired great works of art, films, literature and music. Would Radiohead still have recorded "OK Computer," in 1997 if the consequences of the British transport experience, producing feelings of social isolation and desperation, had been significantly reduced? Would Michael Caine have been "Harry Brown," if there were no high-speed urban motorways which necessitated pedestrian underpasses? He certainly wouldn't have had to kill all those people in order to cross the road, had that road been more civilised in the first place and we would have missed out on a great film.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

DL-1: One Year On


It has been around a year since I took delivery of my Raleigh Tourist De Luxe. Of course by, "Took delivery," I mean cycled to Didsbury on the Yuba Mundo to meet the old gentleman from whom I was purchasing this fine steed, and towed it back to home. At first I wasn't sure if it would be for me, having had no opportunity to test ride it. What I did know however, was that if I didn't like it, I could sell the bike (or its component parts) for a fair bit more than I paid for it that day.

When I got the bike home, I adjusted the saddle and took it for a spin. Whilst I liked the ride, it wasn't quite right; the gearing was far, far too high, with first gear being what I imagine a reasonable third gear should feel like on a three speed. The rod-brake handlebar was limited in its range of height adjustment and the angle of the bar was fixed. Luckily, a few replacement parts allowed me to fix these minor gripes and turn the bike into the perfect everyday transport solution for me. Over the past year I have made numerous additions and upgrades to the bike.

Additions and upgrades:
I have also been forced to replace a few parts due to failure.

Replacements due to failure:
However, I should mention that the X-RD3 hub was at least somewhat faulty from the start, and that my own experience shouldn't detract from the consensus that this hub, and internal hub gears in general, are the best choice for a practical, low maintenance utilitarian bike.
After a year riding this bicycle, I can sincerely declare it to be one of the smartest purchases I have ever made. Since getting this bike I certainly cycle a lot more. My odometer is currently displaying a total distance cycled of 13,029 km, up from 8,000 km at about this time last year, most of that distance has been for transportation (as opposed to leisure), covered on the DL-1 because it is such an easy bike to ride.

When I say the DL-1 is easy to ride, I am not just referring to its ride quality (which is excellent). As an upright bike with mudguards, a chain-case, comfortable Brooks saddle and (since the addition of the saddlebag) permanent luggage, puncture-resistant tyres, automatic & permanently affixed dynamo lighting and low maintenance brakes and gears, all I ever have to do if I want to go out is unlock the bike, hop on and go. It is my hope that all of these features represent part of a bigger future for cycling in the UK, even if a lot of them come from its past.


The Tourist De Luxe as it is kitted out today

Whilst not quite the same as my Tourist De Luxe, Raleigh has recently started to sell the Raleigh Superbe again in the UK, after courting the, “Sporting goods,” and “Bicycle-shaped object,” markets almost exclusively here for the past few decades:

The 2011 Raleigh Superbe, is specced and priced similarly to the Pashley Roadster Sovereign (although not made here in the UK). It is available from numerous cycle outlets, including Evans Cycles.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Running and walking

I have a few friends who are enthusiastic runners. Personally I don't see the appeal, I understand the health benefits and even the potential to feel a sense of achievement after running a certain distance or doing so faster than a rival, but it really isn't for me.

However, what I find most peculiar about running is that it usually completely absent from transport consultations such as the Greater Manchester LTP3. There was no mention of any athletics facilities at all in the LTP3, and United Kingdom Athletics did not submit a response at all. Whilst it could be argued that running is a sports or leisure pursuit, it is in many respects similar to walking, which is considered by this kind of consultation to be (an admittedly unimportant) form of transport.

The title page from the LTP3  "Active travel" section, with a picture choice which aptly shows everything which is wrong with cycle promotion and provision in the UK.

Of course it doesn't make sense to talk about running in the same terms as we talk about walking. Running is a popular leisure pursuit, but it is not the same as walking. Whilst some also walk for leisure or health, it is primarily considered to be a simple and effective way to get from A to B. When government talks of, "Providing for pedestrians," they generally do not mean providing showers at work for those whose commute is a run, providing pleasant cross-country running routes or shiny new athletic facilities.

When government talks of, "Providing for cyclists," however, they confuse cycle-sport and leisure cycling with cycling to get from A to B, an error akin to confusing runners with pedestrians. Whilst there will always be a minority of sporty cyclists who use their time travelling to work as a training ride, just as there are a few people at my place of work who use their time travelling to work as a training run, complete with performance clothing and a shower afterwards, this is not and never will be a mainstream activity. There's nothing at all wrong with treating your ride to work as a training ride, but by confusing a minority pursuit such as this with utility cycling, which when provided for adequately, can be a mainstream mode of transport, successive governments (and some cycle campaigners) have failed to achieve any significant, meaningful gains in cycling rates. Promoting running and providing a circuitous cross-country route is not going to persuade the overwhelming majority of motorists to switch away from driving the 2 miles to work. Providing a decent walking environment and promoting walking (whilst hindering motoring) is. The same applies to cycling. 

Cycle sport is probably very nearly as popular as it is going to get, and the popularity of this hobby is particularly impressive. Utility cycling by non-enthusiasts has been suppressed by years of car-centric and outright hostile street design to a level similar to that of sport-cycling, making it easy for governments and even cycling campaigns to consider cyclists as a single homogenous group. This confusion of sport cycling with the much greater potential for growth in utility cycling from A to B severely limits the potential for cycling's growth. If we want to see any significant gains in cycling rates, we need to end this confusion of the more-nichey sport-cycling with the kind of everyday, utility cycling which can be made to appeal to the average person where the right kind of provision is made for them.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011


One of the more serious downsides to cycling in the UK is, "The twat factor." I think we will all have a story about a motorist who has consciously made the decision to attempt to intimidate a cyclist with their vehicle, verbally abused a cyclist or threatened them with violence, typically attempting using the car itself as a weapon (although this is not always the case). It is a markedly different experience from the constant stream of bad behaviour from motorists which we as cyclists endure on a regular basis, such as unsafe overtakes, left hooks, cutting in and ASL/cycle lane obstruction and intrusion, to name a few. The less cynical amongst us can dismiss this kind of behaviour as a symptom of ignorance or selfishness, rather than outright bigotry or malice.

I encounter similar behaviour sometimes in a non-transport context, after all, the person who tries to assault a cyclist with his car will still be a twat when he is away from his vehicle. However, in this context this kind of behaviour is much more easy to deal with, as the playing field is much more level. When an aggressor is armoured with a few tonnes of car which can accelerate to a high speed very quickly, and the victim is, well, not, such behaviour can be particularly intimidating.

It made me think of that quote attributed to Gary Fisher;

"Anybody who rides a bike is a friend of mine."

Whilst this particular statement is a bit too rosy to sit well with my own slightly more misanthropic world-view, it got me thinking. Whilst the man who tries to assault a cyclist with his car will still be a twat when he is away from his vehicle, his ability to harm is severely reduced. If he were to ride a bike instead of drive, I'm sure it wouldn't make him the sort of person I'd want to call a, "Friend," but his very existence would suddenly become less of a detriment to the lives of others. So, I have decided to modify Gary Fishers quote to fit my own view of the world;

"Anybody who rides a bike, is less of a twat than they would be if they were driving a car."

It perhaps doesn't have the same ring to it, but I think the sentiment is similar enough. Feel free to share your stories of these sorts of encounters in the comments.

Monday, 6 June 2011


Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have noticed my recent Brompton tyre problems. On Thursday morning I was cycling from Macclesfield to Manchester along the Middlewood Way, when I heard a violent, “Whoosh,” of air leave my back tyre. Thankfully I was very near Rose Hill Marple station so I decided to just fold-up and hop-on. When I took the tube out I found a small spear-shaped piece of glass had managed to pierce the centre of the tyre tread.

A utility bicycle needs to be resistant to punctures; if the frequency of punctures on a bike is too high, it will cease to feel like a viable mode of transport. This was the fist puncture I had on the Brompton which was not due to the poor rim tape, and I decided it would be wise to invest in some Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres as an upgrade over my Brompton green-label tyres.

This turned out to be a wise choice, on Friday I got a second puncture. At first I expected it would be a piece of the glass which had worked its way through after the repair, but when I pried the tyre off the rim to patch the tube, I found that the puncture was a rather large tear in the sidewall (I had been taking a turn at the time of the puncture. I patched the tyre and the tube and hoped it would hold until my new tyres arrived.

On Saturday I got a third puncture whilst riding down Princess Street in the evening. This was about 1 cm away from the previous sidewall puncture. Again, I patched the tube and put the tyre back on the rim. By this point, the tyre was starting to look like a special effect from Peter Jackson’s seminal masterpiece; Braindead.


The bulging, infected-looking tyre


Some serious warping

I decided that the bike was more of a liability than an asset in its current state, and decided to walk instead on my Sunday train trip to The South.

Today I got my new tyres, which have been fitted to the Brompton. The Marathon Plus tyres were quite challenging to get onto the rim, but their reputation suggests I won’t be taking them off regularly. The tyre-swap also provided me with an opportunity to replace the frankly terrible Brompton rim tape.


The new tyres seem make the Brompton feel a bit more nippy than before, and the ride is a tad harsher, likely due to being 2 mm narrower. Another advantage is the extra clearance between the tyre and the mudguard stays, removing the squeak after a bodged fold which was common with the old tyres. Overall, I am quite pleased with them, as long as I don’t have to take them off for a while.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Segregation Myths #2: Segregated Cycle Facilities are Dangerous

After writing my critique of Cyclecraft a few weeks ago, I noticed that a thread had cropped up on Cyclechat discussing the post. A common research article is cited by those who oppose introduction of Dutch-style cycle infrastructure in the UK is, Bicycle Track and Lanes: A Before and After Study, most commonly linked in the form of a summary report. This is often linked to as "proof" that segregated cycle facilities are dangerous, which in itself is rather unimportant, for reasons to be discussed later. Interestingly, very early on in the introduction, the author writes:

"Many studies of bicycle tracks have been undertaken in Northern Europe. A meta analysis of 11 studies shows a reduction of 4 percent in crashes, and the crash reduction is almost the same for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists respectively."

The meta-analysis being referenced there is from, "The handbook of Road Safety Measures," by Rune Elvik. Meta-analyses are useful because they take a broader consensus from numerous studies, minimising the effect of any flaws or limitations in individual studies by looking for overall trends in the body of work as a whole. Picking a single piece of research which agrees with your own opinion whilst ignoring the wider consensus offered by the body of literature is called "Cherry-picking," and is generally frowned upon.

The study compares the numbers of cycle*-car and cycle-pedestrian crashes on roads with cycle tracks and with cycle lanes, to predicted crash figures based on figures for unaltered roads which have been altered to factor in the alteration to traffic volume and composition. The crash figures for junctions and straight road sections are treated separately, and the study finds that on roads with cycle tracks, cyclist crashes are decreased by 13% on straight sections, whilst at intersections they are increased by 24%. Overall, crashes involving cyclists increased by 10%.

This is the oft-cited percentage increase when discussing Dutch-style segregated cycle facilities with those who are vehemently opposed to them, and it is interesting to see how it is calculated; previously cyclist injuries at junctions had been measured as 353. After the installation of cycle tracks, the number of cyclist injuries at intersections was measured as 285, a reduction of 19% in absolute figures. However, the 24% increase figure is calculated from a predicted number of crashes figure for the after period, based on the changes to the traffic volume and mode composition, which predicted that at unmodified intersections with the same increase in cyclists, decrease in motorists and subject to pre-existing crash trends seen at the intersections which had been modified with cycle tracks, there should be 230 cyclist crashes. This is the figure which is used to generate the eye-catching 24% increase in crashes figure. The author of the paper also states that:

"The construction of bicycle tracks resulted in a 20 percent increase in [bicycle] traffic mileage and a 10 percent reduction in motor vehicle traffic mileage on those roads, where bicycle tracks have been constructed."

Taking intersections and straight sections together gives a figure of a 10% increase in crashes involving cyclists overall versus the predicted figures on un-altered junctions for the same traffic mode/volume composition (broadly speaking, a 10% reduction in motor traffic and a 20% increase in cycle traffic), a composition which is arguably only achievable where segregation is applied. The actual before and after numbers show a decrease in the absolute numbers of cyclist crashes of 29%. It is important to consider the effects of any pre-existing downward trend in crashes which could be contributing to this number, but also important to consider that this effect is seen contemporaneously with an increase in cyclists' mileage of 20% on these facilities.

"The bicycle facilities effects on traffic volumes are rather large. We do not know for sure whether these effects are a result of changes of route choice or transport mode choice or both. The magnitude of the changes in traffic volumes on the reconstituted streets, and the traffic volumes on parallel streets, however, do indicate that thousands of travellers in total must have changed their choice of transport mode. We do not know who have shifted mode - children, middle-ages or elderly, women or men, beginners or experienced, etc."

It is also interesting to note the large effect which the presence or absence of car parking restrictions on the adjacent road has on the number of collisions and injuries for cyclists and pedestrians which occur at intersections. Where parking restrictions were in place, there were more collisions due to the effect of motor vehicles parking on minor roads instead, resulting in more turning thus collisions.

At the beginning of this post, I stated that the safety effect of Dutch-style segregated cycle facilities is actually rather unimportant. Cycling, even on our hostile road network is actually a very low risk activity. A lot of people have invested a lot of time in trying to convey this message, that cycling is actually very safe, low risk and that the benefits from cycling hugely outweigh the risks a person is exposed to by cycling. It also featured as a common theme on the Cyclechat thread too, demonstrations of the statistically low risk which comes from in motor traffic and links to works such as the study discussed above (ignoring the wider consensus offered by the overall body of literature, which are even discussed in the introduction of this particular study).

Generally, the body of research shows that Dutch-style segregated infrastructure moderately decreases the risk to which cyclists are exposed, despite expanding the demographic itself from what is largely a small minority of experienced and vigilant hardcore cyclists under a vehicular approach, to include such disparate groups as teenagers chatting as they ride together or riding alone with earphones in, older people, parents with their children (either on their own bikes or on the parent's bike), children cycling to school without the need for supervisions and boozy revellers returning home from a pub or club by cycle. Despite the incredible broadening of the demographic, safety is still increased.

However, all of this is missing the point. Surprisingly, the main benefit and purpose of implementing Dutch-style segregated cycle infrastructure isn't just to reduce risk, it is to reduce fear. Increasing people's sense of subjective safety is a huge part of making the bicycle seem like an attractive and viable mode of transport to them. Another important factor is convenience. Both the need to feel safe whilst cycling, and the need for it to be convenient are provided where there are Dutch-style segregated facilities (and the extra options it opens up for reducing the speed, volume and permeability available to motorised traffic). All the statistics demonstrating the low-risk of vehicular cycling isn't going to change the average person's mind as long as it doesn't feel safe to them. People don't work that way

"Making these bicycle facilities must have contributed to benefits due to more physical activity, less air pollution, less traffic noise, less oil consumption, etc. [...] The positive benefits may well be much higher than the negative consequences caused by new safety problems." (My emphasis)

*In the study, numbers for cycles and mopeds limited to 30 km/h (which are legally permitted to use cycle tracks in Denmark) are bundled together. Make of this what you will.