This blog has moved

This blog has re-located to Chester

Thursday 24 February 2011

Brompton Dynamo Hub

I wasn’t planning on buying a dynamo hub for the Brompton until Autumn. That was until I noticed that the 2011 version of the Shimano hub/wheel is more expensive than the 2010 version (despite being the same). This is most likely due to the fact that Brompton fix the prices of their components to a certain extent, so any price differences generated by things like inflation and currency fluctuations appears as one price hike at the end of the year. For the complete wheel this resulted in an increase from around £68 for the Shimano dynamo hub wheel to around £80. Most sites had already increased their prices, but I found a site I hadn’t used before; Bicycle Magic (Price has since increased here too). It took a bit to dispatch, but otherwise my experience with the new supplier was positive.

I decided that I would run the B&M Lumotec Lyt which was previously attached to the Yuba Mundo with my new hub dynamo; the light will always be on when the bike is moving because it is the un-switched bottle dynamo version, but this won’t be a problem now I know that the drag from hub dynamos is effectively imperceptible even under load. The fact that the light is LED-based means that its operational lifespan is greater than mine, so I don’t have to worry about burning it out. Before autumn I will acquire a new light for the Yuba, or an improved one for the Brompton depending on the state of my finances (I’d love to try a 60 lux Cyo).

The replacement front wheel is functional, the hub isn’t particularly pretty like the polished hub shells from Sturmey-Archer. If you are particularly wealthy, Brompton also offer a SON hub dynamo option (also in super-light, for weight-weenies), which has the advantage of improved efficiency and increased prettiness.


The wheel fixes into the fork using an allen bolt held in place in a quick-release type configuration. The only benefit I can see in this arrangement is that it is easier to replace than a traditional axle if you accidentally strip the threads. Getting the Brompton tyres off the rim is challenging, but with a combination of brute force and swearing it can be done (Later on the same day I ended up replacing both tyres on both Beatrix and Tallulah Taboo’s Twenties too, making a total of 5 difficult tyre removal/replacements in one evening, I now have quite sore fingers).

The dynamo connections are similar to those used in the Sturmey-Archer hub (X-FDD), although the plug is a more sturdy looking two-piece affair this time. The wire connects to spade connectors on the front lamp, which in turn has spade connectors to power the rear light.


The bracket of the Lumotec Lyt positions the lamp in such a way that it interferes with the luggage block on the Brompton. I believe there are specialist Brompton brackets for some B&M lights specced by Brompton, such as their basic halogen lamp, or the top-of-the-range IQ Cyo. However, rather than forking out for a new bracket, I decided to gently adjust the existing one with a hammer. It turned out this still didn’t seem to be enough, so I decided to reverse the modified Lyt bracket and bolt it onto the original reflector bracket it replaced:


The result isn’t tremendously elegant but it works well and doesn’t interfere with the luggage block. The wire to the rear light was run along the front brake cable until it met the cable gatherer, which clips the front and rear brake cables and gear cable (or cables if you have a 6 speed).


From here I wound the rear light cable along the rear brake cable which ended at an ideal position to connect to the rear light.


On initial testing the arrangement works perfectly, with the lights coming on even at walking speed. In their current arrangement, the lights will always run when the bike is moving, but I can’t see this being much of a problem really, and may even be advantageous.

Wednesday 23 February 2011

Wheel-Building a Better Future

Factory-made wheels such as those commonly sold with new bikes are usually great. There are however, times when your requirements don't match up neatly with what is commonly available in bike shops. Examples of this include:
  • You wish to use rare or no-longer common wheel sizes, such as fractional 28, 26 and 20 inch wheels (ETRTO 635, 590, 451mm respectively)
  • You wish to use no-longer common rim types, such as Westwood rims (as used with rod brakes)
  • You wish to re-use an existing rim, for reasons such as preserving authenticity on a vintage bike, or simple aesthetics
  • You have an older bike with steel rims and you would like to upgrade to aluminium so the bike can actually be stopped during rainfall
  • You wish to use internal hub gears
  • You wish to use drum or roller brakes
  • You wish to use a hub-dynamo
  • Your needs encompass several of the above in a single wheel
With these needs in mind, I am pleased to announce that I will now be offering a wheel-building service. If all parts are provided, I can build a wheel for as little as £15, with all profits being donated to The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. If you require help choosing or acquiring the parts needed for your needs I will be happy to assist you, with arrangements being on an individual basis according to your needs. Ideally it will be easier to work with local customers, but I see no reason why completed wheels could not be posted out to those of you further afield. 

To arrange a wheel-build, drop me an email via manchestercycling [at] gmail [dot] com

Alternatively, if you wish to donate to The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain directly, you can now do so through PayPal.

Monday 21 February 2011

Farewell Raleigh (Triumph) Twenty

In June of 2010 I was fortunate enough to spot an Raleigh Twenty, marketed by Raleigh as a Triumph Traffic Master, on eBay for just over £20. Having long been interested in these bikes thanks in large part to the late Sheldon Brown I decided to splash out and give it a try.


After completely disassembling the bike, stripping the paint, rust-proofing and re-spraying, replacing the bearings, cables and chain I was left with this:


I even made a carrier so that the Twenty could ride on the back of the Yuba Mundo. Shortly afterward, I was able to acquire a drum brake hub and decided to incorporate this into a new front wheel. The results were so impressive that I never got around to re-installing the original back brake at the time.

Already owning 2 other bikes, I used the Raleigh Twenty as a loaner bike, or for when I didn’t feel great about leaving the DL-1 locked up for long periods of time in certain areas. Having said that, the Twenty was a joy to ride, fast to accelerate, comfortable and quick to stop once I had upgraded the front brake. The Twenty is a good all-rounder and I would recommend it to anyone.

However, times change and I found myself wanting a compact folding bike which I could take on rush hour trains and/or without the need to book in advance, in short a Brompton. The new bike was able to replace all of the existing roles which had originally been filled by the Twenty. I did not really have the money to spare for the Brompton without doing a bit of wheeling-and-dealing, which included selling the Twenty to replace the money spent on the Brompton (although I expect it would have paid for itself within 5-6 months anyway).

The front wheel was promptly flogged to Jim of CycleA2B and the original brakes were restored. I kept the V-brake levers in place and found the ancient calipers seemed to work better than with their original levers. For the first time in over 6 months the bike had a rear brake. On Thursday I took the bike to my dad and swapped the Twenty for the Raleigh P1000 I gave him for a birthday a few years back. He had always found the P1000 a bit too big and seemed very pleased with his new Raleigh Twenty. As a fair-weather cyclist, the original brakes shouldn’t pose much of a problem.


The last ride on the Twenty was actually quite enjoyable, despite having cycled from Macclesfield to Manchester on the Brompton that very morning (very tiring due to the speed of the other traffic). The P1000 is currently being restored and will also be flogged soon, with the proceeds covering the last of the money spent on the Brompton.

I am glad the Twenty is staying in the family and I hope my dad gets a lot of enjoyment from it. As for the P1000, despite the ride home on it being almost exclusively downhill it was still a harrowing reminder of the limitations of the “hybrid” geometry, the P1000 felt simultaneously slower and much less comfortable than my DL-1, a bike whose design is nearly 100 years old.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Greater Manchester LPT3 Consultation

I have been reviewing the preliminary information coming out of the Greater Manchester LTP3 consultation. It lists the specific responses given to the proposal by various organisation, in addition to the broad trends seen in individual's responses:
Comments on Cycling & Walking Issues

Amongst the 163 comments received on cycling and walking issues, the following comments were made with significant frequency:

39 comments were made encouraging the development of cycle

23 comments highlighted the importance of cycle promotion activities.

22 comments revisited the call for cycle carriage on Metrolink
Whilst I am not sure about the promotion of cycling being particularly important in relation to the actual provision of infrastructure, it is nice to see a reasonable number of people asked for more cycle infrastructure. I hope enough of them added the condition that it should at least meet existing minimum design standards, or be based on best practise from The Netherlands etc. It does seem a shame however, that there is little attention from those who read the proposal on the issues affecting walking.

Further along the document comes the aforementioned organisational responses:
British Cycling highlighted:

The link between health and the economy

The potential for 20mph enforcement in residential areas
British Cycling is mainly the regulatory body for cycling sport, but it is nice to see them weighing in on the LTP3. Oddly however, there is no mention of dedicated cycle infrastructure based on best practise from The Netherlands and Denmark, those similarly developed countries where cycling has a much higher modal share than the UK.

Cyclists Touring Club (CTC) highlighted: 

The need to specifically include cycling in the LTP ‘Vision’

The impact of ‘safety in numbers’ in promoting cycling

Potential greater emphasis on the carbon benefits of cycling

The importance of consistent safety levels across the whole road network

The potential for 20 mph as default speed in residential areas

The need to provide parking at other major (non public transport) destinations

The potential for the carriage of bikes on trams

The need to increase capacity on trains

A general call for more resources for cycling
Unlike British Cycling, the CTC describes itself as “As the UK’s National Cyclists’ Organisation,” and is not focussed as strongly on sport cycling as British Cycling is. Most of the points raised are completely valid. Oddly however, there is no mention of dedicated cycle infrastructure based on best practise from The Netherlands and Denmark, those similarly developed countries where cycling has a much higher modal share than the UK.
GM Cycling Campaign highlighted:

The potential for more focus on reducing need to travel
The potential for further commitment on alternative fuel sources for buses

The potential for cycle carriage on buses and Metrolink

A request for more detail on cycle parking at stations

The potential to charge for car park & ride

The potential for 20mph as a default position in residential area
From the GMCC site; “The Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign is a voluntary group working to make cycling in Greater Manchester quicker, safer, easier and more enjoyable. The group wants more people to use bicycles - or other kinds of human powered vehicle - for transport and leisure. And it represents and empowers people who do this.” Oddly however, there is no mention of dedicated cycle infrastructure based on best practise from The Netherlands and Denmark, those similarly developed countries where cycling has a much higher modal share than the UK.

Collective input from a convened group of deaf/hard of hearing representatives highlighted: 

Training areas for bus drivers

The importance of segregating spaces for cycles and pedestrians
A request for further accessibility both on trams and at tram stops.

Specific  views  on  the orientation  and  regulation  of  pedestrian  (green  man)
crossing signals

The importance of addressing deaf people’s information requirement
The only definitive reference to segregation of cycles comes not from one of the three cyclists’ organisations who responded, but for a groups of representatives for the deaf or heard of hearing. Even then, understandably their focus is segregating cyclists from pedestrians rather than other traffic, due to the inevitable problems caused by “shared use” to those who are deaf/hard of hearing (and presumably also the blind too).

Trafford Youth Cabinet highlighted: 

A suggestion for reduced fares on short bus journeys / school bus services and a
general need for more simplified fares across the system

The need for more double tram units

Support for more cycle lanes needed and later cycling proficiency
I had not heard of Trafford Youth Cabinet before, but their site described them as “Representatives of the children and young people of Trafford.”  Its members are aged 11-19. They are also not a dedicated cyclists’ organisation, but they can see the need for dedicated cycle infrastructure and they correctly see this as being more important than cycle training

University of Salford highlighted:
The need for links to Mediacity/Salford Quays from the Salford Crescent area

The potential for safe cycle routes from the university area
Whilst “safe” is open to interpretation, I would interpret this is alluding to segregated away from motor traffic.
These are the main organisational responses which relate to cycling. British Cycling, the CTC and the GMCC all failed to mention the only thing which has been shown to be successful in promoting mass cycling in similarly developed parts of the world; dedicated, segregated where needed cycle infrastructure.
Personally, as a cyclist, I feel that my needs and the needs of the wider community of existing (and importantly the many more potential) cyclists has been utterly failed by the fact that these organisations, which claim to represent cyclists’ interests, have chosen to ignore the successes of other great cycling nations. Instead they have chosen to stick to the same basic strategies which have failed to deliver mass cycling in the UK for decades.

And yes, I am aware of how much I sound like Freewheeler right now.

Tuesday 15 February 2011

A Modern Clement Attlee

Winston Churchill is widely regarded to be a national hero, and rightly so. Through his leadership the UK survived the biggest threat to its very existence for centuries, and years earlier he abolished road tax too. During those dark and dangerous times, he called for unity, and set up a coalition government, with the Labour party leader Clement Attlee as Deputy Prime Minister. Most people, of all political persuasions, were grateful for his leadership during the Second World War and the service he did his country.


After the War in Europe was over in 1945, elections were held again, and the people voted not for the man who had defended them so well during the time of war, but for the man they hoped would lead them differently during the new time of peace; Clement Attlee. The war was over, and so was the need for unity in the House of Commons. I write this because Clement Attlee is one of my favourite politicians (just read the Wikipedia article on him), but also because I was reminded of this bit of history when reading several posts by Carlton Reid.


Amongst the other points made in his posts; the issues with which are largely discussed in the comments, there is a theme that he believes it is more important for cycle campaigning to be unified than it is for a new organisation; such as The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, to exist to represent the beliefs of its members. His argument is that we are stronger as a unified force (even if many of us no longer feel adequately represented by existing campaigns such as the CTC) than we are if divided.

Cycling in the UK has seen some dark days, with modal share plummeting with the rise of mass car ownership and the simultaneous lack of investment in cycle infrastructure. The CTC and other existing organisations defended cycling through some of its darkest days, and I and many others truly appreciate this. If this were 1985, I might find myself agreeing with Carlton and saying that we need to remain unified. However, it is not 1985, times have changed and cycling in the UK has been through its darkest days and is coming out of the other side. We are starting to see the very beginnings of a recovery in our towns and cities, and a desire from the population to use the bicycle for transportation, with fear of traffic being the number one factor deterring them, a real desire for Dutch-style infrastructure and the organisation which is supposed to speak for cyclists listing this option amongst the least desirable in their Hierarchy of Provision.

Just as the man who got us through the biggest threat to our existence in centuries isn’t necessarily the man we want to lead us into a hopeful new era of peace, the campaign which protected cycling during its decline doesn’t necessarily represent the needs of those who cycle and those who want to cycle now we are presented with a real chance for a resurgence. In the end, Churchill lost the 1945 election to Clement Attlee, but this does not diminish his achievements in the eyes of the British public, just as the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain does not diminish those achievements of the CTC. There may have been a time for unity within the cycle campaign community, but that time is coming to an end. Many of us feel that the time is right for a change.

This, Carlton, is why I feel we need The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain.

Monday 14 February 2011

Luxury Luggage

As mentioned in my last post, I have recently acquired a lovely red Brompton M3L. Initially I used my Vaude Cycle 25 which has served me well on many other bikes, but due to the lack of a rear rack (The “R” type Bromptons still wouldn’t be able to accommodate a regular pannier), I had to use the bag as a backpack. As anyone who has tried cycling any sort of distance with a backpack on will tell you, this was not exactly ideal.
The Brompton head-tube has two threaded bosses for the attachment of the Brompton luggage block:


Once you have forked out for this, the entire range of proprietary Brompton luggage is available to you (unless you were foolish enough to buy the S-type, leaving the S-Bag as your only option). Brompton make several bags to fit to this block, including a leather attaché case (A-bag), Touring pannier (T-bag), Small messenger bag (S-bag), Large messenger bag (C-bag) and the folding basket. Ortlieb also make their own bag for the system, the O-bag. I hope they extend their range with a D-bag in the future (although the T-bag is also amusing in its own right).

I looked over the range and decided that the C-bag best meets my needs when riding the Brompton. I was out on the DL-1 when I picked the bag up, but it was comfortable enough to ride whilst wearing the bag, mainly due to the upright riding position. I find it rather baffling that this type of bag is generally popular with fixie riders, whose leaned-over riding posture means the bag would constantly try to slip forward (I suppose riding a fixie has never been about practicality anyway). The frame which supports the bag when clipped onto the Brompton can be removed when not in use, although I have found that wearing the bag with the frame still in it is perfectly comfortable.


The bag has a reasonably large capacity. The main compartment is split into two, with space for a laptop at the back.


The divider itself is also a compartment, having a zip along the top of its entire length.

The front of the open bag has 2 small pockets as well as a clear compartment, possibly intended for a name/address tag. The flap attaches via velcro, with two plastic buckles for extra security. The flap also contains another pocket, with a waterproof zip seam.

The rear of the bag has two pockets which site either side of the stem when the bag is mounted on the bike, each with waterproof seams.


There is a mesh pocket on one side of the bag and another zipped compartment on the other side.


The bag clips and unclips onto the luggage block easily. At first I was a bit sceptical, but the whole system seems very sturdy indeed.


When loaded, the bike's handling is not diminished, in fact it seems to handle slightly better, which is quite unusual.

Brompton luggage, expensive but worth it.

Friday 11 February 2011

Attempted Assault Follow-up

As I discussed in a previous post, a group of men in a white Nissan Micra (V688 KWW, just so you know who to look out for) deliberately drove at me and later got out of the car and attempted to assault me. I gave a statement to the Greater Manchester Police and gave them the registration. I was informed that even though I had managed to avoid their attempts to harm me, the incident was still classified as assault, that they would investigate further and keep me informed. After a week or so I was told that they had submitted an order to the registered owner of the vehicle to inform them within a certain period of time who was driving the vehicle at the time of the assault, with a standard fine being given for not replying. A few days ago I received a letter from the Police informing me that all lines of enquiry have been exhausted and the case is being closed.
So, in conclusion a group of men, including one who is traceable by his vehicle registration, go unpunished for an unprovoked assault, whilst a fairly large amount of my time has been wasted in an attempt to get something done about it. If the situation were to arise again I think I might take a different approach in dealing with it.

Wednesday 9 February 2011

New Family Member

Those of you following me on Twitter during my recent Southern odyssey may have noticed that in addition to riding the Boris Bikes, my tweets indicated I had been riding bikes in other locations which the hire bikes are unavailable in, such as Waltham Forest and Oxfordshire. Whilst I was in London, I decided to take advantage of the fact that the Western Extension Zone of the London Congestion Charge has recently been scrapped, and pick up one of the many second-hand Bromptons for sale in the area. There are so many Bromptons for sale around this area as more people choose to drive to work rather than cycle, proving at the same time why the congestion charge was necessary in that area in the first place. My plan was to sell it up North if I didn’t like it, where the second-hand Brompton market is less saturated so it could fetch a higher price.







Note the extended seat-post; a standard or telescopic seat-post will allow the folded package to be even more compact than this.

Unfortunately for my wallet, I do like it. A lot. I got the M3L model; M-type bars for an upright riding position, 3-speed gears (Sturmey Archer SRF-3 on mine, SRAM hubs are also used), no rear rack (seems a bit useless on such a small-wheeled bike), complete with mudguards and a (slightly worse-for-wear) Brooks B67 saddle. The standard seat-post is useable by someone my height (1.78 m), but not quite long enough. Luckily the extended seat-post was readily available from Evans for £16.

My first proper ride on the bike was from Waltham Forest to Paddington Railway Station. The cycle infrastructure was crap, but the bike was ideal for the conditions, quick to accelerate from the lights so I could get past the next deadly pinch-point and responsive to steer through the complex and ever changing door-zone I was repeatedly squeezed into. The bike was perfectly comfortable for the duration of the ride, and folded up small enough to be counted as luggage on my train to Oxford

Upon reaching Oxford, I unfolded the bike and began the trek to Wheatley (my grandparents’ new home). The A40 was the most direct route, but had large sections set at the national speed limit, which thanks to the dual carriageway means 70 mph (obviously many will drive at much higher speeds due to the lack of active speed cameras in Oxfordshire). Obviously an alternative route was needed, and the smaller road through the village of Horspath seemed a logical choice. Using Google maps to navigate, I had neglected to account for the possibility of the route not being flat. Thankfully, the gearing on the Brompton was low enough for me to climb up the hills, although I was deliberately slower going down the hills because I haven’t got a good feel for the brakes yet. I expected the bike would be great for short journeys and multimodal transport, now I have experience of riding the bike a considerable distance, I feel it is also a very capable longer-distance machine. I can completely understand why people have used them as touring bikes.

The Brompton is a testament to what British design and manufacturing can still achieve. The design is modular, with all the odd proprietary as well as standard replacement parts easily available online. The modular design is sympathetic to older Bromptons; yearly improvements to parts of the bike can all be retrofitted to older models. This is part of the reason why their value depreciates so little over time. Super-light titanium editions are available, with titanium rear triangles, forks and titanium or aluminium seat-posts. The modular design means that you could conceivably replace parts of your existing Brompton with titanium equivalents over time.


Re-assuringly sturdy folding left pedal brings the folded size down a bit.


The rear triangle clips onto the seat-post clamp, with a rubber cylinder providing a little bit of suspension.


The little nub on the stem (Left) clips into the socket on the fork crown (Right) when the bike is folded.


The luggage block on the head-tube accepts a variety of proprietary Brompton luggage which whilst expensive, is generally very well regarded.


Brompton’s shifter operates the Sturmey hub, presumably to prevent the standard shifter fouling the fold, and to produce a consistent look within the range which includes a 6-speed option (2-speed derailleur coupled to 3-speed hub) and the different varieties of 3 speed hubs used by Brompton (SRAM & Sturmey Archer).


I do not believe the Brooks B67 has ever been a standard option on a Brompton (I was given the original saddle too). This one looked as if it has been ridden on whilst wet a few times, and had become very saggy and uncomfortable. Luckily a bit of a tweak with the tension spanner and some Proofide and the saddle is almost as good as new.

The benefits of a bike which folds into a small & rigid package are obvious; ease of storage at home, ease of carrying the folded up bike, taking your bike onto even the most overcrowded train, taking it into a restaurant, theatre or nightclub or even onto the Metrolink (if suitably covered up, which obviously makes complete sense as a policy).

I expect that I will have saved enough money due to owning the Brompton for it to pay for itself within about 5 months. Think about it.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

London Bike Hire (Boris Bikes)

After my Waltham Forest odyssey, I took the opportunity to use the London Bike Hire with Alan P of, "A Grim North." Having heard ahead of time that the casual user system was fiddly and cumbersome, I decided to splash out the £3 to become a member. In the areas of the city served by the scheme, docking stations are readily available, although many of the ones I observed were somewhat lacking in bikes.

The bikes themselves are great; stable, robust and fairly comfortable. The gearing is quite low, but this is ideal for the stop and go traffic they are designed to be used in.


Step-through frame can accommodate a wide range of rider heights


The front carrier and elastic strap are provided as an alternative to baskets, which the designers felt would be used as bins. I discovered it can also be used as a makeshift aero bar to increase performance.


The front carrier included integrated LED lighting, which flashes when the bike is in use (and continues for a few minutes afterwards)


Rear lights are integrated into the frame at the bottom of each of the chainstays. The bike uses a 3-speed Shimano Nexus hub, and Shimano roller brakes (presumably due to the ease with which they can be replaced).


A chain tensioner is used, presumably to avoid the problem of the chain coming off due to low tension if a wheel is not replaced perfectly by Serco.


The front wheel has a Shimano dynamo hub and another roller brake






Left: The bike has a rotary bell, as is common on bikes in The Netherlands. Right: The Bike uses the standard Nexus shifter (which rotates the other way compared to derailleur grip-shifters). The brake activated by each lever is specified on the handlebar, presumably to help tourists from nations which use the right hand side of the road for travel (bike brakes are commonly reversed relative to the UK in those countries).

Unlike the bikes, the system controlling the hiring of bikes is very poor. In the day out I managed to hire around six bikes successfully, out of around twenty I attempted to hire. Several were understandably out of service, but far more common was that the system appeared to time out whilst authorising the bike to be released, producing neither a positive green signal from the dock nor a negative red one. Another problem was the dock occasionally returning a red light, indicating that authorisation had failed, before turning to green in around the same time it would take for someone to turn around and start top walk away.

The bike hire is a good idea and the bikes are fit for their purpose. The scheme is let down immediately by the infrastructure controlling the authorisation of hiring, and on a wider scale by the lack of adequate infrastructure provision for cyclists in many of the areas in which the scheme operates.

Despite the problems encountered, I had a really good day on the Boris Bikes. They are one of the few bikes I can successfully wheelie, and hot-docking is always fun too Winking smile

Saturday 5 February 2011

Crap Cycling Infrastructure in Waltham Forest

Yesterday I took a trip through Waltham Forest in outer London on the 56 bus. It was interesting to see some of the places previously featured on Crap Walking & Cycling in Waltham Forest. 

The cycling infrastructure I saw wasn't a unique feature of Waltham Forest, practically every town in the UK has a few cycling facilities tacked onto the road somewhere, many of them terrible. What seemed to make Waltham Forest special was the sheer quantity of disastrous cycle infrastructure, combined with busy roads featuring an unusually huge level of on-street parking. The main road we travelled down could easily accommodate Dutch-style bicycle infrastructure if the space wasn't being wasted on free parking for pimps. Even the vehicular cycling environment could be improved no end by removing the on-street parking.

A view from the bus, which I believe many have been legally travelling in the advisory cycle lane at the time

A legally parked car obstructing the cycle lane. Interestingly this is positioned just a few short metres away from the corner of the main road

 There is a reasonably good quality piece of segregated infrastructure here, which ends at a set of lights, without providing any cyclist using it with any way of safely rejoining the rest of the traffic.

There must be a whole 0.7 m width of high-quality cycle lane right there.

Another on-road cycle lane well below the absolute minimum width, conveniently situated next to those pedestrian cattle fences which facilitate the crushing to death of cyclists by HGV drivers. Floral memorials have been provided by the council in advance

There is a lot of attempts at infrastructure for cyclists to use in Waltham Forest. I chose that wording carefully, because I don't feel that any of it is actually for cyclists themselves, more that it is for the benefit of motorists who want to get cyclists out of the way. None of the infrastructure I saw could have honestly been designed by anyone who ever actually rides a bike. The sad thing is, that the small pockets-like structure of the community and commercial centres which exist in many of the outer London boroughs are structured in a way that cycling really should be the easiest and best way to get around in them. As things are, I can see why as few as 0.8% of journeys in Waltham Forest are actually made by bike.


On Saturday I was able to experience the crap cycling infrastructure of Waltham Forest first hand, as I passed through on my way to Paddington. The poor quality cycle-specific infrastructure was confusing at points, but at least largely ignorable. The factor which I felt endangered me the most was that not only are the bus/bike/taxi lanes here time-limited, during their off hours, parking is allowed in the bus lane. The net result of this is that cyclists are forced into the door-zone of these parked cars by the sheer volume of private motor traffic in the remaining lane. It would improve cycling conditions if the time restriction on the bus/bike/taxi lanes was scrapped altogether, or at least if they were in line with the bus lanes I have seen elsewhere in the UK and had double-yellow lines to prevent legal parking in them during off-peak hours.

The ride also took me through the Borough of Hackney, which whilst still very far from ideal for cycling was still a marked improvement in most respects.

Thursday 3 February 2011

Integration vs Segregation

If you are new to cycling (or at least to the politics surrounding cycling in the UK), you may be unaware of the two major schools of thought regarding cycling’s place as part of the wider transport spectrum; integration and segregation.

Integration is more commonly referred to as vehicular cycling. The ideal behind vehicular cycling is that bicycles are vehicles like any other, and that they belong on the road (with the exception of motorways). Segregation sees bicycle users as more vulnerable than other road users such as cars and buses, and strives for separate infrastructure to be provided for them (to varying degrees depending on the road environment). Most existing cycling campaigns focus on a vehicular approach to encouraging the uptake of cycling (CTC, LCC etc). Fewer campaigns focus on a segregation approach (The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain is the only one I can think of on a national level, Sustrans also believe in providing off-road facilities, but with a primarily recreational focus). I genuinely believe that campaigners from both schools of thought want to make conditions for cyclists better, and wish to encourage the uptake of cycling by more people.


The main focus of vehicular (integration) cycling campaigns are as follows:

  1. Reducing (non-cycle) traffic volume
  2. Reducing traffic speed
  3. Improving driver behaviour through educational campaigns
  4. Vehicular cycling training for cyclists

Reducing traffic volume is commonly done by either reducing road capacity, increasing the cost of driving or making driving less convenient. Reducing road capacity whilst maintaining the current vehicular cycling approach means reducing the capacity for cycles as well as cars, HGS and buses. This approach is not really feasible for a vehicular cycling approach because it will inevitably lead to greater conflict between cyclists and other road users. Making driving less convenient by instigating circuitous routes in dense urban locations is also going to make vehicular cycling less convenient. Increasing the cost of driving would reduce motor vehicle traffic and improve conditions for cyclists, but it is politically difficult to achieve any meaningful results from this policy.

Reducing traffic speed is commonly done by narrowing the carriageway (either with kerbs or with white lines). The white lines method of reducing traffic speed is how many of the UK’s existing awful cycle lanes were actually created; their primary purpose is traffic calming, the bicycle lane aspect is more of an afterthought. In a vehicular cycling approach, reducing the width of the carriageway is undesirable because it brings cyclists into conflict with other road users. Another option is to keep the road width but reduce the existing speed limit. The problem with this is that the width of the road has a psychological effect on drivers’ perceptions, making them feel safe to travel at higher speeds. Enforcement through speed cameras can help keep drivers in line with the lower speed limit, but they are costly, politically unpopular and drivers commonly flout the law during the stretches between speed cameras.

Improving driver behaviour through educational campaigns is difficult. New drivers can have their behaviour modified during the examination and licensing procedure. Existing drivers are hard to reach, due to the lack of regular re-examination of existing drivers at present. The main problem with this kind of educational campaign is that it requires the driver to consciously modify their behaviour, and to do so solely for the benefit of someone else (the cyclist), someone they don’t know.

Vehicular cycling training is beneficial to many, helping to equip them with the skills they need to survive on the roads as they presently are. It does seem like a counter-intuitive way to encourage cycling though, riding a bike is something which should be as easy as riding a bike. The very fact that vehicular cycling campaigns feel there is a need to train cyclists how to survive on the roads seems to underscore the fact that there is something very wrong with our roads as they are.


The main focus of segregation cycling campaigns are as follows:

  1. Providing cyclists with dedicated safe, convenient and direct infrastructure
  2. Reducing (non-cycle) traffic volume
  3. Improving driver behaviour (such as speed) through infrastructure

Dedicated cycle infrastructure consisting of lanes separated from other traffic, providing direct and convenient routes has been shown to encourage mass uptake of cycling in other countries with a similar level of development to the UK (including The Netherlands and Denmark), including places with  similar old town/city layouts as seen in the UK. The infrastructure is provided by re-allocating road space away from motorised traffic, which also has the benefit of encouraging cycling indirectly by deterring driving.

On smaller roads, or roads where separate cycle infrastructure cannot feasibly be provided, traffic volumes are reduced through the use of one-way streets with exemptions for cyclists, sending motorised traffic along inconvenient circuitous routes whilst still providing cyclists with a direct and convenient route through.

Driver behaviour is modified on an unconscious level through infrastructural changes. Narrow roads do not bring cyclists into conflict with other road users when they are provided with a separate lane, but still have the effect of slowing other traffic. This allows conditions for those on foot to be improved (by reducing motor traffic speed) without making cycling inconvenient or undesirable at the same time. Narrowing the width of the connections between side roads and main roads makes drivers turn into and out of side roads at a lower speed, reducing the possibility of conflict with cycle lanes as they cross side roads (with right of way given to the cycle road). There are many other small infrastructural tricks like this used in segregated cycling cultures.


Vehicular cycling used to be a successful strategy in the UK in the era before mass car ownership, because the conditions vehicular cycling campaigners now strive for were largely intact at the time. In the time since the era of mass car ownership began, only segregation has been demonstrated to be able to bring about mass cycling, as demonstrated in The Netherlands and Denmark.

If ideal vehicular cycling conditions could be  produced, I do believe that many more people could be encouraged to cycle. However, I do not see any viable way that these conditions could be brought about; pricing people out of their cars without the subjective safety of cycling infrastructure as an alternative is not going to be at all popular politically. Generally, people don’t like feeling like they are being forced to do something.

Without being able to use inconvenient, circuitous routes or road capacity reduction to bring down (non-cycle) traffic volumes, and you can’t use carriageway width reduction to reduce speed, if you somehow still did manage to produce ideal conditions for vehicular cycling, you’d have also created ideal conditions for driving too.

And as has already been demonstrated by history, if you create ideal conditions for driving, you end up in the sort of mess we’re in now.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

Northern Ireland Cycling Ban

Or as you may have heard it reported, Northern Ireland compulsory helmet law proposal. Referring to it as a cycling ban may seem a bit melodramatic, but all you need to do is look to other countries where similar laws have been enacted. All of them suffered a massive drop in the rates of cycling as people chose other modes of transport where their freedom was less impinged accompanied by no change in head injury rates.

Cycling rates in Northern Ireland will drop if the law is enacted, and those who used to cycle will move to other forms of transport, mainly the car. More cars will degrade the living standards for everyone in Northern Ireland, through pollution, congestion and increased risk of injury on the roads.

Many of you may think, “That’s Northern Ireland, it doesn’t affect me here in England/Scotland/Wales.” Sadly however, it does affect everyone in the UK. Most simply put, if you want to visit Northern Ireland or are sent there for work, you can not longer cycle there without wearing a plastic hat. All of the wider benefits to society which come from increasing cycling rates work in reverse when you actively decrease cycling rates. For example, the healthcare costs will increase in Northern Ireland, both through sedentary health conditions due to the reduction in cycling, and increases in road casualties and air pollution illnesses. Everyone in the UK pays towards that.

The cycling ban is a terrifying step backwards for the revival of the bicycle as transport in the UK, placing responsibility for road safety squarely on the shoulders of the victims whilst cheerfully ignoring the root cause. It is an assault on the freedom of the people of Northern Ireland (and Great Britain too)  and the embodiment of everything which is wrong with policymaking in the UK as a whole.