This blog has moved

This blog has re-located to Chester

Sunday 12 February 2012

Moving to Chester

Dearest All,

I've lived in Manchester for quite a few years. During that time I've had some great times in this wonderful city. I started cycling again after a few years away from bikes. I went to university here. I started this blog and got to know a lot of other local bloggers in the process. This later led me to become involved in The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. Needless to say, I am quite attached to Manchester.

However, all good things come to an end. Due to a new job, I will be moving southwards to the city of Chester. I'll miss living in Manchester, although I am quite looking forward to discovering and cycling in a new city. Plus it doesn't take that long to come and visit on the train for things like the Wheelers' Brunch.

I will continue blogging from my new city over at my new site: Chester Cycling. I have decided to use this opportunity to move from Blogger to Wordpress. MCRcycling will remain here although this site will no-longer be updated. All the existing posts and everyone's comments, plus regular updates can be found over at Chester Cycling. If you have been kind enough to post a link to this blog on your own site, it'd be greatly appreciated if you could update it too.

Dr C.

Friday 10 February 2012

"I hate cyclists"

Following on from my recent post on The Times' Cities fit for Cyclists campaign, I have been inspired to write another post. "I hate cyclists" is a statement which will probably be all too familiar to anyone who sometimes uses a bike to get from A-to-B, generally said by someone who generally does not use a cycle. When you stop and think about this statement, it really is quite extraordinarily stupid. 

A cyclist is defined as "A person who rides a bicycle." Even in a country such as the UK, where cycling rates are very low, most people still own and have at some point ridden a bicycle. Beyond the fact that I sometimes use a bicycle to go shopping or get to the train station, I may have very little in common with someone else who does the same. As with most groupings of people, people who ride a bike are a diverse bunch. Of the ones I've met, some of them I have liked, others I have not. For the next time someone you know says "I hate cyclists," let's have a quick look at some of the people they hate:

David Cameron (picture from The Overgraduate)

Arnold Schwarzenegger (picture from Zimbio)

Neil Kinnock (picture from Super Stock)

James May (picture from The Telegraph)

Tony Blair (picture from the BBC)

Albert Einstein (picture from The Argonauts)

George W. Bush (picture from

Barack Obama (Picture from Sunlit Uplands)

John Lennon (picture from Raleigh DL-1 Fan Blog)

Boris Johnson & Philip Hammond (picture from This is London)

Vin Diesel (picture from Celebuzz)

Justine Greening (picture from Wandsworth Cyclists)

Richard Hammond (picture from BikeRadar)

The Prince of Wales (picture from Who2)

Hillary & Bill Clinton (picture from 43Bikes)

Madonna (picture from Christiana About Town)

There are people in this list I admire or like, and there are people in this list I don't like. They are a diverse group of people who just happen to have ridden bicycles. Making generalisations about cyclists, when they are such a diverse bunch is completely absurd, but then bigotry generally is absurd.

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Sturmey Archer drum brakes

It is almost two years since I got the front hub I am currently using on the DL-1. In that time, it has been built into two different sizes of wheel and used on two different bikes (originally bought for use on the Kona Africa Bike) and probably done around 5,000 km in all weather. In all that time, I never actually got around to exchanging the V-brake lever I had been using it with for the proper type of lever (a cantilever-type one), until now.

I found a pair of Sturmey Archer drum brake levers on eBay for a decent price, so I decided I would indulge myself with some improved braking performance. The new levers improve the modulation of braking, whilst allowing very strong braking to be performed without extremely hard pulling of the lever. The only reason I put up with the wrong type of lever for so long is that I have relatively strong hands, so I was still able to get the braking power I needed just by squeezing extra hard. The new levers male hard braking much easier, whilst giving a slight performance boost over the old ones. They are also fairly aesthetically appealing, and  I would recommend them to anyone with drum, roller, caliper or cantilever brakes.

The only problem with the new levers was that I found the front drum started to lock-on after very hard braking. After first checking that cable-freeze wasn't the cause of the problem, I decided that I should take a look inside the front drum. Sturmey Archer drum brakes are mechanically very simple and easy to work on (although they generally require little in the way of maintenance). Disassembly is straightforward:

Intact wheel

Removed locknut

Removed spacer

Brake mechanism slides out from drum

Brake mechanism (top)

Brake mechanism (underside), showing the brake shoes

After cleaning the brake dust from inside the drum and re-assembling it all, I took the bike out for a test ride. The front brake is as powerful as it ever was after almost two years of heavy use and no-longer locks-on after very hard braking. This is the only maintenance (or real cleaning) I have done to it in that whole time. I feel that it is a real shame that drum brakes are not more popular, especially when I think back to all the time I've spent adjusting and maintaining other types of bicycle brakes during the time I have been using this one, both on my own bikes and those of friends and family.

Monday 6 February 2012

Re-gearing the DL-1

After lowering the gearing on the Brompton in December, I found the bike much easier and much more enjoyable to ride. The downside of this was that the gearing on the DL-1 now seemed to be ridiculously high by comparison. Whilst I had lowered the gearing on the DL-1 when I first purchased it, by replacing the rear sprocket, the stock gearing was obscenely high and this reduction never really felt like enough. Whilst an even larger sprocket could have been substituted on the rear, the reduction in gearing this would have brought would be limited; the current sprocket is a 21-tooth, and I believe they only go up to 24-tooth sprockets for this type of hub. Add to that the spatial constraint imposed by the chaincase and the only option left was to replace the chainset.

The chaincase made finding a replacement chainset difficult, due to the problems with crank arm clearance. There didn't seem to be a lot of information out there online, so I took the plunge and bought a Stronglight chainset which looked like it might fit. It quickly became obvious that it would not fit, and so this became the chainset I used on the Brompton instead. Eventually I spotted a promising looking chainset on David Hembrow's shop and asked him about the dimensions. Reasonably convinced I could make it fit, I ordered the chainset and it arrived last week.

The new chainset is a 38-tooth, replacing the original 46-tooth one. It sits within the confines of the steel chaincase pretty well, although the chainset cover had to be modified with a metal file.

The chainset cover is basically a paint-tin lid with a hole in it to accommodate the crank arm and a removable plate to allow it to pass over the pedal. The base of the new crank arm is slightly thicker than the original one, so it had to be filed a bit to accommodate it

The filing is a bit rough, but functional. It doesn't look this bad when fitted to the bike. The result is much the same as it was with the Brompton, the bike is generally much easier and much more enjoyable to ride. Whilst I did use the highest gear occasionally, oddly enough I do not find myself missing it.

I also attempted to switch the left crank so that the left and right would match, however the left crank is stuck on so well that it broke my crank puller tool. The tool was originally part of my Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative cycle tool kit, many of the tools from which have since broken through normal use. Needless to say, I would not recommend. Until I get a replacement, it appears I am stuck with odd cranks.

Sturmey Archer recommend that you use at least a 2:1 ratio for the number of teeth on the chainring relative to the sprocket. With this modification, I have gone below that minimum, to around 1.8:1. Whilst not officially recommended, I expect this will not cause any problems. It is likely that the 2:1 ratio is erring on the side of caution, and combined with the large wheels of the DL-1, I expect that I will not be pushing the hub beyond what it can take. The new smaller chainset will prove beneficial when I eventually realise my dream of re-building the rear wheel around an eight-speed hub to increase the useful range of the bike sometime in the future.

Thursday 2 February 2012

The MEN: Making Manchester look stupid

I found this piece by Andrew Grimes on the MEN website. I urge you not to bother looking on their site, for fear of driving up their site traffic and hence advertising revenue. Thankfully, the article is so very stupid that I don't need to explain anything. Instead I have merely reproduced the article for you in its entirety:

It is seldom a good idea to venture out on foot. Hail a taxi. Catch a bus. Drive a car. Cycle. Each of these alternatives offers the likeliest chance of completing a journey through a British city without winding up at the undertakers.

Walking is a relic of cosy, Edwardian rurality, when one could take one’s chances in contest with a lumbering horse and cart. Nobody got his or her skull crushed under the hooves of a farmer’s shire.

But that was then.

Today is the 21st century, burnt tyre rubber time, with a bloke in a tall cabin unable to see the assiduous pedestrian, striding alongside his fuel-stashed juggernaut.

Yet the walking lobby won’t give up. It never ceases to campaign for more road space – which means clearing goods lorries, buses and motor  cars off great swathing widths of our arterial highways—to make way for its insane multitudes of ambling romantics.  

The death toll among these people is distressing. In 2007 alone 646 pedestrians were killed on British roads, some crushed by heavy goods lorries. It’s safer to be a combat soldier. In the same period, 576 soldiers died in Afghanistan.

Yet the walking fraternity insists that it is a human right to travel on two feet wherever and whenever, and whatever the grisly hazards of sharing tarmac in built-up city centres with motorised traffic. Of course, it  would really like most of the motorised stuff out of the way. It calls for modified junctions, safe walking lanes, overhead platforms. 

To give it even half off what it wanted would require the science of civil engineering to dig up all the arterial complexes of our cities and start roadbuilding again from scratch, as if the internal combustion engine had never been invented. If it could be done it would cost billions.

Walking, its propagandists claim, is “cheap, green and healthy”. How healthy can you rank a mode of transport with such a high mortality rate ? Nor is green always its emblematic colour. Many of the walkers I see are clad in a hideous and fluorescent yellow.

As for being cheap, well of course it is. Comparatively. That’s because, unlike slightly more up-to-date road users, pedestrians enjoy the freedom of the highway without being urged to buy a driving licence or pay road tax.
I am fairly certain that Dave Cameron has allowed himself to be photographed in practical footwear, but not, I think, because he wants to advertise the things.

At any rate, his coalition has irritated the amblers by  abolishing Walking England, a quango of Labour’s old transport ministry formed to entice motorists on to two feet. Gone  with the quango is a pro-walking handout, funded by the taxpayer,  of £60m a year.

The government’s withdrawal of this ludicrous facility seems to have been made on economic grounds. But it is a humanitarian decision, too, whether Dave meant it to be so or not.

It is not safe to walk in the vicinity of high-cabined convoys of juggernauts. To pretend that it is, is to ignore the emergence of all mechanised locomotion since 1912.

Of course the walkers’ propagandists point to Switzerland, where 45 per cent of the population walk to work, and to Amsterdam which allows neat little walking tracks alongside shiny rails for crawling trams.

But Switzerland and Amsterdam, compared to British cities, are mere villages.

They were put together on altogether different lines, 60 odd years ago, after getting blitzed to smithereens.

I think that all walking by major arterial roads, especially at peak periods, should be outlawed on pain of jail, apart from in places without traffic lights and where the motorised speed limit has been brought down to 12 miles an hour.

At the same time, I am not completely heartless. Obviously, walking on bridleways should be encouraged. 

It is the only walking –apart from the competitive sort-- that is remotely safe for its participants. I know that elderly cyclists consider these people pests, but the granny with her groceries is usually nippy enough to dodge a two- footed obstacle crawling past the shop window, even if she cannot always bring herself to knock him down. 

Cities fit for Cycling

I am extremely pleased to see that a national newspaper has given the safety of cyclists (and the inherent hostility of our present road network to them) the attention it so sorely deserves. I was even more amazed that it was none other than The Times who were behind this movement. The Cities fit for Cyclists campaign shows an understanding of the underlying issues, where it could have been all too easy to start talking about helmets or other such easy but ineffective measures. Needless to say, I encourage you all to sign up.

However, my joy at the issue of cyclist safety and the importance of infrastructure receiving such attention was dampened somewhat when I tried to encourage friends outside of cycling circles to sign up too. Surprisingly to me, the issue of 20 mph in residential areas appeared to be a bit of contentious one. The issue of children's freedom to play outside without motor traffic being a threat did not seem to be a significant persuader either, with the long history of children playing on the streets seeming to have been quickly forgotten by some. Inevitably, the issue that cycling, walking or public transport are not viable for every journey made by every person came up. Whilst true, it is my experience that this argument is often used to justify car use which, at least in the right road environment, could easily be made through walking or cycling. Walking, cycling and public transport are unlikely to be viable for every single journey made by every single person in the UK. This does not change the fact that they could be made viable for the vast majority of journeys made by the vast majority of people. To me, raising the limitations of our current public transport system is merely an acknowledgement of the need to invest in the expansion of our rail and bus services.

It didn't take long for the issue of the law-breaking behaviour of some cyclists to come up, despite its dubious relevance to the topic at hand. As a member of a vilified minority group, I am often expected to justify the behaviour of others within the same minority group, despite the fact that I have nothing to do with them. I acknowledged the bad behaviour of a minority of cyclists and gently pointed out the bad behaviour of (what I generously described as) a minority of motorists, including the red light jumping and pavement driving (both of which are regarded as reprehensible behaviour when cyclists do it but largely tolerated when motorists do it). The issue of motorist behaviour was mostly ignored.

The Times' Cities fit for Cyclists campaign is an enormous and welcome step in the right direction. However, the responses to my attempts at promoting of the campaign show that we need to keep plugging away at this issue to bring in further into the mainstream.

Monday 30 January 2012

Manchester Cycling Strategy

The Interim Strategy for Cycling in Manchester (draft) was recently brought to my attention via the GMCC. The draft can be found here (Hat tip: Manchester FOE). The Manchester Cycling Strategy (MCS) is a result of the Memorandum of Understanding between British Cycling and Manchester City Council. The executive summary on page 4 states,  "Manchester is the home of British Cycling - cycling's national governing body." Whilst it is true that British Cycling is the governing body of cyclesport, the relevance of British Cycling to transport cycling is at best, dubious. Whilst British Cycling have recently started to devote some attention to cycling as transport, they are first and foremost the governing body of cyclesport and not an organisation for furthering the aims of everyday folk who want to use a bike for transport.

The biggest problems in the MCS draft are often a result of this confusing mixture of sports promotion and facilitating cycling as transport. A good example to illustrate the absurdity of this is to consider motorsport. Whilst I am sure that there are a good number of people in Greater Manchester who participate in the various disciplines of motorsports, from rallying to formula three, the groups which represent these interests rarely weigh in on transport consultations such as the LTP3. Where they do decide to comment, it is extremely unlikely that they would try to present themselves as the 'voice of the motorist' because clearly they aren't - they are the voice of motorsports. Whilst these two groups are superficially similar, their interests, needs and wishes are (quite rightly) lobbied for by separate groups. 

In cycling, the distinction is less commonly made, perhaps because there are so few people who regularly use bicycles for any purpose. The problem with this is that cycling is conflated with cyclesport, giving cyclesport a louder voice than it perhaps deserves, whilst making cycling for transport less visible and less attractive to normal people who aren't interested in getting hot and sweaty in order to go shopping or to work.

This conflation of cycle sport with cycling for transport is illustrated well on page 5 which includes a list of headline figures for investment in 'cycling' over the past five years:

  • Over £3.2 million on infrastructure through LTP Highways Capital Programme
  • £518,000 on child cycle training
  • £56,000 promoting bike week
  • £24 million building the National Indoor BMX area
  • Over £12,000 in small grants to community groups
  • £2.5 million on promoting and supporting club and sport cycling
  • Over £250,000 on promoting cycling through initiatives such as Sky Rid [sic]
From this list, several issues stand out to me.
  1. Is all of this funding coming out of a single pot for 'cycling?'
  2. What does the National Indoor BMX Arena, supporting club and sport cycling and to a certain extent, the Sky Ride, have to do with cycling for transport?
  3. If (1.) is in fact the case, how can £24 million for the National Indoor BMX Arena and £2.5 million on promoting club and sport cycling be justified when only £3.2 million is spent on cycle infrastructure for transport cycling, which has the highest potential for growth and thus has easily the highest potential economic, social and public heath returns.
  4. The cyclesport-oriented aspects of this report should be part of a wider report on the uptake, promotion and enabling of sports in Manchester (which in itself is an important and laudable aim)
  5. The cycling for transport-oriented aspects of this report should be part of Manchester's wider transport strategy (and dramatically increased in their scope)
Where the report discusses strategies for increasing and improving cycling in Manchester it refers to the LTP3 plan mentioned previously. The LTP3 is worded in a way which allows for the construction of a real network of quality cycle corridors to Dutch standards, the result of which would be immense growth in transport cycling in Manchester and the enormous wider benefits that brings. Unfortunately, it is also vague enough to allow for little change from the status quo, beyond a bit of paint and some crap signage along back-streets; the sort of measures which have already been well-established to be ineffective. The strategy goes on to identify five 'key issues' holding back transport cycling in Manchester:
  • Addressing the demand for cycle parking
  • Making major junctions safer for cyclists
  • Working with partners to reduce cycle theft
  • Liaising with City Centre employers to improve workplace cycle parking and changing facilities
  • Improving opportunities to cross the inner ring road
Sadly, these issues are more likely 'things which existing cyclists would like fixed' rather than issues which hold back those who wish to cycle for transport but do not currently do so. These issues are likely to be along the lines of:
  • Fear of being killed or injured when cycling with motor traffic
  • Separated bicycle tracks on main roads
  • Junction designs put cyclists (and pedestrians) in unnecessary danger in order to prioritise private motor traffic
  • Rat-running makes riding on streets feel unsafe
All of these issues are tackled in The Netherlands road network model; busy main routes have separate tracks and motor-vehicle rat-running (and hence volume) is eliminated on streets where people live (making them attractive for cycling despite the lack of separation). Address these issues (even in the form of a barebones functional network) and cycling rates in Manchester could easily be increased to 10-15 times their current level. 

Despite the paramount importance of infrastructure in making cycling into a viable mode of transport for normal people, the only infrastructure mentioned in the MCS draft are the three cycle centres to be built in the city centre. These will only improve the experience for existing cyclists, they will provide little or no benefit for would-be cyclists. My mother doesn't ride a bike, not because there is nowhere for her to park her bike, shower and stash her lycras in a locker. She doesn't cycle because she (entirely understandably) feels unsafe when cycling on our roads as they currently exist. Providing facilities which would be unnecessary in a mainstream cycling culture is not the way to build a mainstream cycling culture. Where cycling for transport is mainstream, people ride in whatever clothing they need to be wearing at their destination (possibly in addition to a coat and gloves) with the idea of needing to shower and change after cycling to work being something which is utterly irrelevant in a mass cycling culture.

The MCS at least does not explicitly exclude measures which would actually allow cycling for transport to grow, but unfortunately it takes the traditional approach of 'tinkering around the edges,' focussing on marginal improvements for existing cyclists whilst completely ignoring the reasons why normal people would never consider cycling for transport. In addition to the desperate need for vastly increasing the scope of the measures proposed to increase cycling for transport, the inclusion of so much irrelevant material pertaining to cyclesport confuses the issues for all users of cycles. Ideally, the cyclesport content in the MCS should exist as a part of a wider 'Sport in Manchester' strategy in order to prevent the needs of those participating in these two largely unrelated activities being confused. The report also focusses on leisure cycling separately. It is my belief that leisure cycling does not require a huge amount of specific 'strategy' to grow, provided that cycles are considered during the design or renovation of parks & towpaths etc. The measures which will make cycling for transport attractive to normal people will also increase the appeal of cycling for leisure.