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Thursday 30 September 2010

A case for direct action?

A new piece from Crap Cycling and Walking in Waltham Forest makes direct action look like an appealing option.  Sadly, we already have a similar situation here in Manchester along the route following the river from Salford Quays into the city centre.  The path closes where it meets a wide road bridge near Old Trafford football ground, presumably Salford Council are worried about the troll threat.

Wednesday 29 September 2010

Critical Mass

After the symposium, I attended Critical Mass.  The organisation (such as it is) seemed to fall apart a bit, with the regular core massers being absent (possibly related to the Labour party conference).


I took the Twenty and the Yuba as I was meeting a friend in town before the ride, and he was without bike.  I also took a cooler full of ice and Desperados for afterwards.


The ride in was surprisingly pleasant.  Once at the library starting point I took in a lot of the bikes and started chatting to some random guy who had seen me on the Yuba before.


I was most impressed with this, a Raleigh Twenty with the 26 inch Raleigh fork and wheel placed up front.  Also, it has a pretty funky paint job.

Apparently the October Critical Mass is supposed to be one of the biggest, and I intend to be there.

Annoying (in a good way)

On Friday I attended the university’s Faculty Research Symposium, which consists of lots of seminars and poster sessions (and free lunch).  This year it was held in the Armitage Centre.  What the organisers didn’t appear to bank on is that large gathering of local scientists means lots of bikes:

IMAG0399 IMAG0400




I was quite impressed with this, an imported American Raleigh.  I’m guessing someone loved this bike enough to bring it over here with them when they moved here from the USA.

I’m hoping next year if the symposium is at the Armitage Centre again the organisers will consider providing some extra parking facilities.  In the end I had to lock the Tourist up to one of the support beams.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Safety, cycling and sharing the road: qualitative research with cyclists and other road users

This is a very long post (rant), it might be worth making yourself a drink before you settle in to read this.

This is the latest output on the issue from the Department for Transport, which I discovered thanks to both @Spinneyhead and Crap Waltham Forest.  The report is interesting in the fact that it acknowledges the failure of the policy of road sharing in the UK.  Whilst I am happy enough cycling on the roads as they are (not that I don’t feel a lot needs to be done to improve things), the vast majority of people (~98% based on cycling’s 2% average modal share in the UK) are not.  To get the average person onto a bike we need to either massively restrict the use of private automobiles or provide Dutch-style segregated infrastructure.  What we actually have is excessively busy roads populated by many lawless motorists, excessively high speed limits in urban areas, confusing, useless or dangerous existing cycling infrastructure and a focus on “education” for potential victims in the form of, “Stay out of the way of the big dangerous things which might kill you.”

I skimmed the full report to pull out some interesting quotes.  The adult groups interviewed for the report were generally non-cycling motorists and cyclists who also drive.  They chose to omit non-driving cyclists, which is the group I would fall into.  Read into this what you will.

A stereotype of cyclists in general does appear to exist among ORUs [Other Road Users]. This stereotype is characterised by:
• serious failures of attitude, including a generalised disregard for the law and a more specific lack of concern for the needs of other drivers; and
• serious failures of competence and knowledge of the rules of the road.

Interestingly, I would probably describe a significant number of motorists in these terms. There appeared to be a view amongst the motorists that cyclists were an anomaly on the road, and as a lot of people have little sympathy for people they see as different for themselves (see racism, sexism, homophobia and many more), this is perhaps the root of the aggression and lack of care which will be so familiar to so many cyclists.

This stereotype of cyclists is also linked to the fact that cyclists do not need to undertake training, are unlicensed and uninsured, and do not pay road taxes (at least not by virtue of the fact that they cycle).

I am quite impressed that this made it into the report.  One of the easiest ways the government could make the lives of people on bikes easier is to finally put the myth of road tax to rest (I think the Winston Churchill quote could help with that).

There is evidence of a deeper failure in the culture of road sharing on English roads, which may have important implications for different road-users’ interpretations of, and responses to, each other’s behaviour and, hence, for road safety:
• Whatever the law may say on the matter, the norms of road sharing, on roads with lane widths and speeds designed around cars, mean that cyclists are treated as anomalies.
• There is a lack of consensus, even among cyclists, about whether and how cycling should be accommodated on the roads.
Some ORUs question whether cyclists belong on the roads at all.

This is another major problem with the policy of road sharing, the widely held belief amongst motorists that roads are for cars, and bikes should get out of the way. 

From the perspective of ORUs, the principle benefit of cycling lanes is that they get cyclists out of their way. When cycle lanes are provided, then there is an expectation that cyclists should not be on the road.

This belief, the government does little to help dispel, with cycling infrastructure largely focussed on getting bikes “out of the way” of motorised traffic, rather than infrastructure designed to make cycling safer or more convenient.

There is concern among some ORUs about cycle facilities which make life harder for ORUs, for example by ‘taking away’ some of their space, or allowing cyclists already passed to get back in front again.

Interesting lack of quotes around the phrase, “Their space.”  Its almost as if the roads really are for the exclusive use of the private motorcar.

From the cyclist’s perspective, inadequate cycle facilities can diminish the legitimacy of bicycles on the road even further without actually providing a viable alternative.
Cycling facilities can also make the road-sharing problem worse if they create additional confusion about where cyclists and drivers are meant to go. The key issues are:
• Infrastructure that is too complex and needs to be decoded by the user;
• A failure to communicate to people how to use innovative infrastructure; and
• A lack of consistency from one place to the next.

Also noted are the failures of infrastructure, including having to dismount and having to give way at every side road.

There was widespread agreement that cyclists should do more to make themselves visible on the road – though this may not be reflected in actual behaviour.

High-visibility clothing was seen as important by many cyclists, though very few actually wore it. Promoting better visibility would be easier than promoting helmets. Moreover, it could be incorporated into a wider programme to promote better road sharing, since making yourself visible was widely conceived, by cyclists and ORUs, as something that cyclists can do for ORUs.

This is quite worrying reading, the cyclist group appear largely convinced that it is their responsibility to ensure they are so excessively conspicuous that even the dullest, most inattentive operator of a fast-moving tonne+ of metal will notice them even as they hurtle down the urban streets at 50 mph, texting and changing the radio station.  There was a disturbing lack of awareness of victim blaming culture and the safety treadmill effect, whereby the most cautious riders make another defensive move (such as helmets, high visibility clothing, reflective strips etc) which becomes mainstream.  Once this has happened, its effect is lessened as it eventually allows motorists to become more numb to their surroundings, forcing some new ridiculous, “Safety,” intervention (I predict sirens next).

For example, the CTC initially lobbied against compulsory lights for cyclists, citing that it would be a license for motorists to become less attentive when driving at night.  Their preferred solution at the time was for motorists to drive more slowly and with increased caution at night.  It may sound ridiculous now, but in the end we all got lights, and those without them are viewed as idiots.  Even I use lights at night, party to see by, partly to be seen.  Sadly it did end up giving motorists a license to not pay as much attention as they should, so we have got to the stage where it is not unusual to see a pedestrian walking on the pavement after dark, wearing a high-visibility vest, or even flashing LEDs to avoid being hit by a motorist.  If someone is killed by a motorist on a zebra crossing in the evening and they were wearing dark clothing, they are regarded as at least partially to blame.  The non-motorist has made so many concessions to the motorist over the years that pedestrians are now allowed to be blamed for being hit whilst using a zebra crossing.  Sadly, almost no-one is even aware of the subtle erosion of the duty of care a motorist should have when operating a vehicle.

The DfT report acknowledges the failure of the policy of road sharing, but there is not the political will needed to improve the situation markedly.  A few options I would suggest to politicians which would not also be political suicide are:

  • Dispel the myth of “Road Tax,” and the concept of motorists owning the road.
  • Dispel the myth of the motorist being in some way hard-done by.
  • Make cycling a compulsory part of the process of learning to drive.

The last idea I think would be politically doable, although in principle I am against age discriminatory legislation, sometimes you have to be pragmatic; increase the driving age to ~25.  The reason I suggest this is because 18-25 year olds are perhaps the least likely of all age groups to vote, meaning it would be politically doable.  The shit-munchers would definitely be onboard, because all young people are awful people, and all young people are awful drivers.  It could be passed into law because it wouldn’t affect anyone who is already old enough to vote, and people don’t usually care about things which don’t affect them.  More practically, younger people are less likely to have dependents, are usually healthier and usually more generally adaptable.  The increase in the numbers of non-driving working-age people would hopefully fuel an increase in public transport, walking and cycling investment.  In the long term, a generation of adults who spent the first 7 years of their adult lives not being able to use a car would hopefully remain more open to the idea of continuing to use whatever means of transport they used before turning 25.  As I said, discriminatory legislation is wrong, but being cynical and pragmatic, it could also work.

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Wheel Friendly

A friend of a friend is currently in the process of expanding a company operating cycling holidays, so I have decided to shamelessly plug it here.  The company is called Wheel Friendly and they are currently conducting a survey to find out about what people may be interested in for a cycling holiday.  One minor gripe is question number 2, “What kind of cycling do you do?”  Sadly, transportation is not one of the options listed, but at least there is an, “Other,” option available.

I’ve never been on a cycling holiday (although I have cycled a few times during a holiday), but it is something which has real appeal to me.  I’ve often considered the camping possibilities opened up by the Yuba and its huge carrying capacity.  Have any of you been on a cycling holiday?  Feel free to share your experiences (and links) in the comments section below.

Friday 17 September 2010

Sunny Morning

I decided to go for a ride before work today, it was sunny and clear skies and I figured it might be a while before we see this kind of weather again.  The pictures do it more justice than my words will:


The shared bike/footpath leading behind MMU Hollings towards Owen’s Park.


Morning light through the trees on the recently re-surfaced bike/footpath leading through Owen’s Park.



Fallowfield Loop, heading towards Chorlton.


A reasonable Twenty copy parked at Morrisons.


Beautiful clear September sky.



On to Salford Quays.


After riding along the river I ended up near Deansgate station, with the odd bicycle sculpture.


The main reason I came by here was to pop into this shop.  A great little shop, family owned and with fair prices (especially considering where it is).  So that was my 20 km morning detour, and very enjoyable it was too.

Thursday 16 September 2010

New Shoes

I decided to get some new tyres for the Raleigh Tourist, partly for aesthetic reasons (inspired by Velouria’s DL-1) and partly because the old tyres didn’t make a massive amount of contact with the road and were only rated to 50 PSI, which meant the rolling resistance was quite high.


Before, with the old tyres.


After, with the new Delta Flyer tyres in cream, from Practical Cycles.

Wednesday 15 September 2010


I delivered a birthday present to a good friend yesterday using the Yuba, and I was accompanied by another dear friend in her Raleigh Twenty.  The birthday-like nature of the event led us to going out to the pub for a few drinks, and the Yuba and Twenty were left behind at the end of the night.  Today I used my Twenty to go to work on, and went over to pick up the other two bikes.  the logical outcome was the Meta-Bike:
It wasn’t as hard to ride as I expected.

UPDATE: The blue Raleigh Twenty pictured is called Beatrix, now featuring in the new blog Beatrix and Me.

Guest Post: Cycling With One Leg

I decided to offer people on the Manchester Cycling Facebook group the chance to write a guest post about their particular experience of cycling.  Today’s guest post is from Mike Calverley, whose blog can be found here.

MK 005x

Calvers looking slightly scary with his current bike. 

Cycling with one leg

I used to cycle with two legs, but thanks to a “Sorry mate, I didn’t see ya,” incident, I now cycle with one. No choice, I only have one left.

Took me about ten years following the accident before I set off on a push bike. Now I can tell you, it wasn’t so easy. I didn’t actually “set off” anywhere at first. I just got on the bike, difficult enough in it’s self for me, anyway, I just hugged a lamppost rocking back and forwards. And that was my first outing over. Plenty for day one.

Next time, after doing my pole dance, I got just enough confidence to let go of my lamppost and wobble off to the next one and grab it. To my great surprise, I didn’t fall off. Believe me, I was expecting to.

So lamppost by lamppost I explored my locality.

Now I’d done no exercise for ten years, so soon tired. But on each outing, I went one lamppost further. Determined to go one more than last time. After a couple of weeks, I got to the edge of the estate. Beyond that, was a big scary main road. So for a while the suburban estate was my world.

One quite Sunday morning I took a leap of faith. I ventured out onto the main road to do battle with the cars that had almost killed me a decade ago.

Well I also had to make a choice. Up hill or down hill. On the basis that I could have got myself stranded if I went down hill, I chose up. I made about five lampposts, then tired, so had to turn back. I repeated this every day, increasing my distance by one lamppost at a time. Eventually, I pushed myself to the limit and made the top of the hill. Probably a mile and a half from home by now. The only way from the hill top was of course down. I had a choice of four directions as the top was also the crossroads. I chose to head off in the direction of where I was working. Of course cruising down hill was just fine, but mindful that I had to get back, I didn’t go too far.

The next weekend, I decided to go as far as I could in the direction of work. Six miles later, and to my great surprise, I actually reached work. But could I get back. Well no choice now, I had to. Well I did get back. I was tired and exhilarated, but I now knew that any day I wanted I could cycle to work and get back home. And that’s what I did. Every non-raining day I cycled the six miles there and back. The office moved after a few months which forced me to increase my cycle distance to eight miles. Still not a great problem.

As the months passed, I gained enough confidence and fitness to cycle where ever I wanted, within reason. Eventually I made the next leap. I knew I could manage without it, so I sold the car.

Now I’m no martyr. When required, I use a taxi or train, not too keen on buses. I get travel sick.

Over the years, due to my job as a computer contractor, I’ve moved about and lived in many places. Germany, Ireland, Denmark and of course England. But every time I move somewhere new, I just take a bike, well actually I buy one when I get there. It’s too much hassle attempting to take a bike with me.

At the end of the contract, typically after a year or two, the bike gets abandoned to it’s fate. It’s usually on its last legs by then anyway, so to speak.

That first lamppost hugging was now about twenty years ago. Today, I still have no car.

So for those thinking that they cannot possibly cycle to work and must have a car, well if I can go by bike, so can you.

I’ll guarantee you two things. You’ll be wealthier and healthier!

Ditch the car, go by bike.

Mike Calverley. (a.k.a. Calvers)

Tuesday 14 September 2010

Killer Cars

Music and cycling are a nice combination, provided you aren’t on the road at the time.  I’ve had lots of pleasant rides on the Fallowfield Loop or on canal towpaths whilst listening to a spot of music.  Today I thought I’d share a track by Radiohead, called Killer Cars (Spotify link here).

Killer Cars:

Too hard on the brakes again
What if these brakes just give in?
What if they don't get out of the way?
What if there's someone overtaking?
I'm going out for a little drive
And it could be the last time you see me alive
There could be an idiot on the road
The only kick in life is pumping that steel

Wrap me up in the back of the trunk
Packed with foam and blind drunk
They won't ever take me alive
Cos they all drive

Don't die on the motorway
The moon would freeze, the plants would die
I couldn't cope if you crashed today
All the things I forgot to say
I'm going out for a little drive
And it could be the last time you see me alive
What if that car loses control?
What if there's someone overtaking?

Wrap me up in the back of the trunk
Packed with foam and blind drunk
They won't ever take me alive
Cos they all drive...
Killer Cars
Wrap me up in the back of a trunk
Packed with foam and blind drunk
They won't ever take me alive
Cos they all drive...
Killer Cars
They all drive Killer Cars
They all drive Killer Cars

Sunday 12 September 2010

Friday 10 September 2010

Workcycles Oma

This is one I have seen around quite a lot recently.  Workcycles are based in Amsterdam, they work with bikes and frames made by other companies, in this case Azor.  The bike I have seen is the Oma, and it is one of the most elegant bikes I see in regular everyday use in Manchester.

IMAG0345 IMAG0346

Close-up on the front carrier, sturdily mounted to the downtube


Steering stabiliser, prevents front wheel flopping when parked up with kickstand (available for Yuba Mundo).


Dynamo lights, high quality bottle dynamo powers the front light and the rear.


Those expensive SRAM internal hub gears again.


Funky double panniers, chain guard and dress guard and a B66 saddle too.


And finally, like all good Dutch bikes, a frame-fitting lock.

The bike is amazingly high quality, SRAM internal hub gears and drum brakes, lugged steel frame powder coated in matte black.  I had considered a Workcycles Opa as an alternative to the Pashley Roadster I was intending to buy one day (before I found the Tourist).  I’m sure it would have been a good investment.

Thursday 9 September 2010

Manchester Shots

One of the great things about cycling is that you see things which you wouldn’t have noticed driving.  The other advantage is that you can stop to investigate and take photographs of things without it being problematic.  I recently found these old wintery pictures I took whilst riding around in Manchester and I thought I’d share them here.


The church on St. Ann’s Square (St. Ann’s Church I assume)


No. 1 Deansgate against the clear winter sky


Cross Street, facing back towards Manchester Victoria.  I like that this road is closed to motor traffic, but it means that people tend to step out without looking, so if on a bike, proceed with caution.


The town hall clock tower against the clear sky.  The city council really went nuts with this building when the city expanded in mid 1800s.


Part of China town, the shop on the left corner is Ho’s Bakery which is an excellent place to get some amazing sweet and savoury bakes goodies (Wong’s on Princess Street is also very good).


The gap in the buildings here is to accommodate the last (or first) few hundred metres of the Rochdale Canal.  Also in shot is another tourist visiting from nearby Hyde.


The few hundred meters of canal on this side are much more popular, lined with various bars and nightspots which make up Canal Street.

I wouldn’t have bothered taking these shots of I was in a car, or on the bus.  At least now if anyone reading this is coming to Manchester for the first time, you will know where to go for Chinese baked goods.

Saturday 4 September 2010

September to September; 5,350 km

That’s about 3,325 miles for those of you in the USA, Burma or Liberia.  It is also on a par with LC from Naturally Cycling Manchester.  Last year I did 3,200 km and I am pleased that I have improved upon that this year.  I measure September to September because I got my first odometer in September 2008.  I like having an odometer, it is nice to know how far you have travelled, as it allows you to work out how much further there is to go.  Knowing your speed is a good motivator, it encourages you to keep up a pace and to work out how fast to go to arrive at your destination on time.  It is also a motivator, pushing you to try and go faster than last time when you’re riding down that epic hill (I got the Tourist up to 53.5 km.h-1 which is pitiful compared to a racer, but a racer it is not).  I use a Cat Eye Micro Wireless, not because I hate wires but because it has a settable odometer, meaning you don’t lose your data after a dead battery. 


It also has the option for being used with two sets of wheels, or in my case two bikes, the Yuba and the Tourist (and previously the Kona and my Revolution Cuillin).  This was a big deal for me, as I like being able to combine my distances covered on each of my bikes (sadly not the Twenty though).


I’d recommend an odometer to anyone, even if you only use it as a clock on your handlebar.

Friday 3 September 2010

Old Dutch

Before I found the Raleigh Tourist, I came across the Batavus Old Dutch online.  I have recently had the chance to have a proper look at one up close, parked up outside work.  The bike is priced around the £350 mark, which is quite reasonable considering some of the components on the bike.  On closer inspection however, some of the component choices of the Batavus are quite baffling.


The bike has the usual mudguards, chain case, skirt guard, rack and dynamo lights you would expect from this kind of bike.  The saddle appears to be a pretty basic affair, the frame is nicely lugged, although I think that the seat tube angle is a bit steep for this kind of bike.


The Old Dutch comes with a SRAM 3 speed internal hub gear with coaster brake.  It is odd to see SRAM internal hub gears on a bike in this price range because of the three main manufacturers of internal hub gears (Sturmey Archer and Shimano being the other two), SRAM are by far and away the most expensive.


Presumably because of the expensive rear hub, Batavus decided to cut corners on the front-end of the bike:


The front end of the bike has a rather uncharacteristic calliper brake instead of a drum brake, and the dynamo is a bottle dynamo rather than a hub dynamo.  I am curious as to why Batavus would choose such an expensive rear hub only to pair it with such low-end components on the front.  For the same money as this set up they could have used a Sturmey-Archer or Shimano 3-speed coaster brake hub on the rear wheel and a Sturmey drum brake and dynamo hub on the front (or a Shimano roller brake and dynamo hub if they wanted to go down the Shimano route).

Having seen one of these bikes up close, I am quite glad I ended up finding the Raleigh Tourist instead.

Thursday 2 September 2010

Trek jumping on the long-tail bandwagon

Joining the ranks of Kona and Surly, Trek is the latest mainstream bike manufacturer to jump onto the long-tail bike bandwagon with this, the Transport+.  Anything which gets the cargo bike concept out there to a wider audience is definitely a good thing.  First impressions suggest this bike will have the weight capacity below that of the Yuba, with the frame being of aluminium construction, but with similar side-rails to the Yuba.  Oddly, these side-rails are positioned in a manner which encourages loads to be placed largely behind the rear axle, which leads to sketchy handling in the Yuba Mundo.  At this stage it is not clear if this is intentional or a bit of a design oversight.  What makes this bike stand out from its contemporaries is the 350W rear-wheel hub motor and the cleverly under-rack mounted battery pack (including a rear light).  The electric-assist which comes as standard in the Transport+ could open up the cargo bike concept to a wider, less tree-trunk legged audience.

In other news, electric assist may also be coming soon to this modernised take on the Bakfiets called the Urban Arrow.  Cleverly, the electric assist powers the cranks, so the motor is able to make use of the gearing integrated into the rear wheel hub.  Currently at the prototype stage, the final model is hoped to have a single-piece resin box and hub-dynamo driven lighting.

Credit for both of these finds must be given to Bicycle Design, another of the blogs I check every so often.  Although a lot of the posts are of concept bikes which are completely impractical, these two really stood out to me.  I hope they both end up making it to market.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Grocery run

I think this one tops my last big grocery run.  Amongst the shopping I ended up with quite a few heavy items, only realising how bad it was when the trolley’s handling started to get a bit sketchy.  The heavy items included; 24 cans of Pepsi Max, 8 cans of chopped tomatoes, 4 cans of beans, 10 kg of cat litter, 2 kg of cat food, 3 litres of cooking oil, 2 kg of potatoes, 2 kg of oven chips.  I totted the total weight to be at least 35 kg (that is about 5 and a half stone to you non-metric dinosaurs, and 77 lbs to American readers) which is the most I’ve carried for quite some time.  The ride back was actually very easy; the extra weight providing a pleasant momentum once moving.  All in all a good workout.


Here is the Yuba loaded up and ready to go.  The gentleman in the shot is hauling a respectable amount of stuff in a backpack on a fixie, impressive considering the impracticality of the arrangement.


I also saw this Mailstar parked up at the supermarket, secured only with the rear-wheel lock.  I wonder why Royal Mail wanted the bike to have a 26 inch front wheel and a 700C rear wheel.  I wonder if it makes the bike more likely to flip under hard braking when there is cargo in the basket.

I hope this weather reprieve lasts a while longer, I’ve been enjoying the novelty of actually wanting to go outside again.