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Monday 31 October 2011


Taken at the Manchester Tweed Ride on Saturday, a Hercules Roadster. Like many of the British bicycle manufacturers, Hercules was eventually rolled into Raleigh through eventual owners of the majority of the bicycle manufacturing business, TI industries. The Hercules Roadster may have been made around the time of this amalgamation; William, its owner, informed me that the rear hub was dated as 1949. The similarity of the frame to that of the DL-1 is quite striking. It just goes to show, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Light is Running Out

It's that time of year again. When Sunday comes it will be dark a lot of the time for anyone who works a conventional 9-5 shift pattern. This will be my second winter of riding with dynamo lights, with dynamos on all of the bikes this time, although still only enough lights for two of them; the Brompton and the DL-1. This is the perfect time of year to 'go dynamo,' not only for the long-term savings but, as I learned myself last winter, it's extremely liberating.

Some people hang up their bikes for winter. If you are a utility cyclist however, this is unlikely to be the case. I have ridden through every winter since I started cycling again as an adult. However, until last year I never really got any enjoyment doing it.  Having to remember to take my lights everywhere, carry them around when off the bike was a minor hassle. What really bothered me was the persistent, nagging concern that I'd be caught out by flat batteries and have to risk a ride home without lights. The battery lights I had used in the past were adequate, but never truly that bright. I knew of the much brighter options available but the price never seemed justifiable to me, for something which could so easily become useless if forgotten of accidentally uncharged.

When I bought my first dynamo lamp, a B&M Lumotec Retro N senseo plus, it was mainly because I was concerned with having a light which was in-keeping with the aesthetics of my then new-to-me DL-1. English-language information regarding dynamo lights was pretty sketchy, I wasn't sure what I was going to get. Because of this, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the light I had purchased was actually a lot brighter than my previous battery-powered LED lights, despite being a halogen bulb. It was always there when I needed it and would even come on automatically when darkness fell. This started to change the way I felt about riding in the dark, from something to be avoided to something to relish. As that first dynamo winter drew in, I found myself riding as much as I had during summer. 

Naturally, I had to get the rear light powered by the dynamo too, whilst permanently attached to the bike, the rear the battery light which came with the DL-1 was still a weak link, dependent on batteries. Once again, information was lacking. B&M produced rear lights with the same automatic light-sensor on/off control as the Retro, although it seemed that this feature was only available with the battery or battery/dynamo hybrid models. Once again I took the plunge and purchased a B&M D-Toplight Plus. The tail-light was wired into the connectors on the front lamp for this purpose; to my surprise the automatic light sensor in the front light also controlled the power supply to the rear light. When it got dark both lights would come on automatically (including when passing through a tunnel). Brilliant.

Having this kind of set-up on the DL-1 made the Yuba Mundo seem almost a hassle to ride. The Shimano dynamo hubs available in my price range were all intended for use with Centerlock disk brakes, rather than the standard 6-bold arrangement used on the Yuba Mundo. The additional cost of a new Centerlock rotor or an IS adaptor pushed the price to more than I could justify spending at the time. A post from Lovely Bicycle! gave me the answer I was looking for, a bottle dynamo. Older bottle dynamos (and modern cheap ones) have contributed to the poor regard with which dynamo systems are viewed here in the UK. However, higher-spec bottles such as the Nordlicht 2000 or the B&M Dymotec seemed to offer a reasonable trade-off between performance and price. I decided to opt for the Basil Nordlicht bottle dynamo in combination with with a B&M Lumotec Lyt plus, a reasonably priced light with a higher light output rating than the Retro. Due to budgetary constraints, an additional rear light would have to wait.

Unlike the Sturmey Archer X-FDD hub dynamo on the DL-1, the Basil Nordlicht took a bit more work to find the optimum fitting. The advantage of the Basil Nordlicht is that the rollers can be changed. Multiple variants are available including a steel roller for running on the tyre, a rubber roller for running on the rim and a larger rubber roller for running on the rim at higher speeds. The larger roller is particularly useful as it allows the dynamo to be 'geared down.' As bottle dynamos are typically designed to produce full power output at relatively low speeds (<10km/h) they can produce too much drag when used by faster cyclists. The larger roller compensates for this by reducing the amount of dynamo revolutions per tyre revolution, and hence the resulting drag. Initially the bottle dynamo was mounted on the fork, unfortunately the pressure it exerted on the rim caused the rotor of the disk brake to rub against the brake pads when it was engaged. Eventually I mounted the dynamo on the seat-stay and adjusted the mounting angle which produced ideal dynamo contact pressure on the rim, enough to prevent slippage but not enough to create noticeable drag.

At present the Basil Nordlicht bottle dynamo is still fitted to the Yuba Mundo, although there are no dynamo lights fitted for it to drive. This is due to my acquisition of a Brompton. After a few weeks with the Brompton, I felt that a bike such as this really needed to be all in-one, including self-sufficient lighting. It was around this time that the annual price increases for Brompton components were being rolled out. The Brompton dynamo wheel RRP was about to increase by about 15% making that then the ideal time to upgrade to the Shimano hub dynamo wheel. I had considered the fitting the Basil Nordlicht bottle to the Brompton, but the relatively good price of the wheel and my uncertainty about clearances for fitting the bottle led me to choose the hub over the bottle.

Rather than splash out on a new front light, my limited budget led me to fit the Lyt from the Yuba Mundo instead. My intention was to replace the front lamp on the Yuba Mundo at a later date, which I have still yet to do. Initially I bent the Lyt mount to fit it into the tight space between the caliper brake and the luggage block, a solution which was far from ideal. I was later able to use a Brompton Cyo mounting bracket to fit the Lyt into the limited space offered by the Brompton. I also added a Brompton rear dynamo light (made by Spanninga) to complete the set-up

The version of the Lyt I had purchased for the Yuba Mundo was the bottle dynamo version; when connected to the hub dynamo on the Brompton, both front and rear lights ran whenever the bike was in motion. Whilst not as optimal as the automatic on/off light sensor of the Retro, this set-up actually works well, due to the extraordinary operational lifespan of LEDs. It now appears that I was a little ahead of the curve in choosing this set-up; B&M's entire 2012 range of dynamo lighting comes with the option for daylight running lights.

My experiences with dynamo lighting have not been universally positive. The standlight functions on both of the lights fitted to the Brompton failed by summer, although they were both relatively easy to fix. However, it is my 'off-label' riding with the Brompton which is more likely the cause of this failure than any deficiency in the lights' designs; Bromptons are not really ideal bikes for fast riding on cobbled paths, the resulting vibrations were obviously a bit too much for the capacitors powering the standlight. Under more typical riding conditions I doubt that this problem would have occurred. For this reason I would still strongly recommend dynamo lighting to anyone, including the models of light which I have had problems with.

A great deal of dynamo lighting technology is designed by (or for) the German market. German regulations stipulate that a bicycle must be sold complete with a dynamo lighting system (except lightweight sports-bikes), including lights which conform to specific regulations for beam shape and light intensity. These regulations are more strict than elsewhere and have effectively become the de facto international standard. The misconceptions about dynamo lighting which persist in the English-speaking world means that we do not constitute a huge proportion of the market for dynamo lighting components, with equipment and information  often difficult to come by. B&M in particular make great equipment but the English-language information about them is lacking. They also suffer from the Windows Vista effect; huge numbers of variants on each light model exist with relatively subtle differences between them and confusing nomenclature. These differences are seldom well explained in product descriptions on the handful of retailers which stock them.

Because of this, to help prospective dynamo light users I have produced a B&M dynamo light nomenclature guide:

Lumotec: The front dynamo light brand name.
Toplight: The rear dynamo light brand name.
Retro, Lyt, IQ Fly, IQ Cyo etc: The model name.
Plus: Includes standlight. The light (or a portion of it) remains illuminated for a few minutes after motion stops.
Senseo: Includes automatic on/off via light sensor.
N: Includes an on/off switch, intended for use with hub dynamos.
B: Basic version, lower light output but still meeting German minimum standard.
R: Taller beam, including near-field illumination of dark patch in front of wheel.
T: Daylight running lights. In addition to the beam aimed at the road, a series of small LEDs direct light at oncoming traffic to increase cyclist visibility. During the day these lights remain lit, whilst the main beam runs at reduced power or is switched off.

B&M are of course not the only manufacturer of dynamo lights, merely the one with which I have most experience. Mr Hembrow gives high praise to the new dynamo front lamp manufactured by Philips; the Saferide (repeated elsewhere). It is my hope to test out a Saferide in the future and share my impressions here. If anyone has any questions about 'going dynamo,' please feel free to leave a comment and I will endeavour to help you if I can.

Monday 24 October 2011

Nice Rack

Despite no-longer being mine, the Kona Africa Bike continues to be treated to upgrades and improvements, the latest of which is a Basil Memories front rack. The Africa Bike originally came with a spring-loaded folding front basket which, whilst an excellent idea in theory, ended up squeaking excessively in use. This may have been partly due to the fact that I one carried a 10 kg bag of cat litter in there, which it became immediately obvious was far too heavy for the basket. The new rack which takes its place has a weight rating of 15 kg, adding a reasonable amount of extra carrying capacity to the bike. I personally find having luggage up-front to be re-assuring because I can keep an eye on it whilst on the move. Access to luggage whilst on the move is another bonus.

The rack is not the only addition to the Africa Bike, a Brooks saddle was added a few months back, and a Carradice Pendle saddle bag is another recent addition.

The Basil Memories front rack attached to the handlebar via hooks, in much the same way as the folding basket which came with the bike. The legs are intended to fit onto the front wheel axle, which would not be a problem on a bike with thin fork tubing or a lot of rake, such as a typical roadster.

Thankfully, despite the thick fork tubing of the Africa Bike, the rack legs were easily attached to the fork via the second set of eyelets above the axle, designed for attaching a large basket or rack.

The hooks which attach the rack to the handlebar are adjustable to accommodate a wide variety of bike sizes and handlebar heights, with at least 20 cm of extra height left over for the set-up on the Africa Bike. The only thing missing now is a wicker hamper to sit on the rack

Friday 21 October 2011

On Blogging

When I first started this blog, two years ago today, I wasn't at all sure what I was expecting to get out of the experience. My main aim at first was that I could share my bicycle-related experiences for the benefit of others, such as places which were good for cycling or tips for maintenance. What I did not expect was for it to be a way to make new friends with like-minded people from both Manchester, the UK and the world beyond.

Blogging led me to the Wheelers' Brunch, where in January of this year I got to meet a lot of the other local bloggers and other like-minded people who read them face-to-face for the first time. It was great to be able to put names and faces to blogs. It has also led to some interesting opportunities, including collaborating with LC and Jacky on Manchester Cycle Chic, testing Ian's tandem out for a weekend (in return for lending him the Brompton) and fencing a drum-brake wheel to Jim.

On a national level, the founding of The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, which itself is a product of the UK blogging scene, has allowed me to get to know like-minded folk from around the country. At the meeting in Manchester back in May, I met a large number of people whose work I had been reading for quite some time, and it was great to be able to get to know them all face-to-face. It also provided a chance to show off Manchester's particularly eclectic selection of cycle infrastructure, and support a great local pub too.

Perhaps most impressive of all (and I apologise for how long it has taken me to post this), is the wonderful gift I received from Shawn Granton, who writes the always wonderful Urban Adventure League. I received a package from Shawn containing one of the posters produced from the Rose City three-speed ride, which includes a wonderful graphic of an exploded Sturmey Archer AWC hub, which is currently hung on my wall.

He also included some bicycle artwork and a cycle touring primer containing useful advice for potential cycle tourists, knowing that I have yet to undertake a cycle tour myself.

Also included were some cool badges based on the artwork from the poster, which currently reside on my Brompton bag.

Based on my own positive experience, I'd urge anyone with a strong, specific interest in a subject to give blogging a try. Who knows what kind of friendships, opportunities and experiences it will open up along the way?

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Cycling in a Suit

Once a common sight, people in suits are now seldom seen riding bicycles in the UK. The only possible exceptions I can think of are some of the users of the London Cycle Hire and possibly some in Cambridge. 

Recently, I have had cause to wear a suit more frequently. Despite this change of attire I have still had to get around, which for me means cycling. Generally I find formal wear to be a bit more restrictive than I like, although a decent suit makes a big difference. On the sorts of bike I used to ride, cycling in a suit wouldn't have been feasible, the rider posture combined with the restrictions on the arms and shoulders conferred by a suit jacket would be difficult, at least for me. I can imagine this situation would be made worse by a racing or touring bike, with the popularity of sport-oriented bikes, likely a contributing factor in the declining number of cyclists-in-suits.

The Brompton and Yuba Mundo, despite sporting reasonably upright riding positions, are both not ideal for cycling in a suit due to their exposed transmission. Trouser clips are a potential way to avoid the problems associated with an exposed transmission, but if it is essential that you make a good impression, a chain-guard or preferably a chain-case is the best way to ensure you reach your destination suitably smart. Cycling in a suit, just like almost all other cycling, is best done using a bike fitted with mudguards. 

For this reason, the DL-1 has been my bike of choice for riding in formal wear. The upright posture prevents the suit jacket coming into conflict with the arms and shoulders, the chain-case prevents the trousers getting covered in chain filth and the generally relaxed feel of the bike prevents you from working up much of a sweat on your way to that important meeting. Plus it has a briefcase clip too. Now I just need a briefcase.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Make Do & Mend

Way back in early August on a ride back to Manchester at night I was worried the see that the stand-light on my B&M Lumotec Lyt, the front lamp on my Brompton had stopped working. The back stand-light on my Brompton had been non-functional for a while too. I couldn’t really justify the expense of replacing either of these lights, especially after such a short time in service. Thankfully, I have some experience of electronics from sixth form college and  had also done some work with battery-backed full-wave rectification circuits previously. The fact that the stand-light had gone on both lights, but both still worked when the bike was in motion suggested to me that the capacitor used to power the stand-light is connected in parallel with the rectified current from the dynamo and in both cases had become disconnected. The rattle was a bit of a giveaway too. I firstly too a look inside the Lumotec Lyt.


The casing of the Lyt can be gently prized apart with the edge of a screwdriver.


The business part of the Lyt, the circuit board, containing the central LED, with the £1 coin-sized capacitor next to it.


After examining the circuit board, I found the part of it to which the capacitor attached. When assembled, the capacitor sits in this position at the top right of the circuit board which sits vertically in the housing. The relatively heavy capacitor is supported at this angle by two contacts soldered in to the board in a manner which is not really ideal for applications with a lot of bumping and vibration, such as in bicycles (especially on the Brompton).


One of the contacts had broken off with the capacitor, a wire was soldered to this end,


and soldered into the circuit board at the other end.


A contact for the side of the capacitor whose original contact was still attached to the circuit board was fashioned from part of the tab from a drinks can,


and placed in contact with the capacitor using tape. The remaining end of the wire pair was soldered to the contact on the circuit board,


and the whole thing was taped (crudely) to the inside of the housing of the Lyt. Whilst hardly a professional job, the result has held just fine for over two months. The situation with the rear light, a Brompton dynamo light (made by Spanninga) was similar, although the capacitor was positioned more sensibly in this design.


The capacitor as intended to be positioned on the circuit board of the Brompton rear light was re-affixed in a similarly crude manner to the capacitor in the Lyt; using solder and a lot of tape. This repair job has also held up surprisingly well since the beginning of August.

The long-term plan is to retire both of these lights to the Yuba Mundo, which is both used less frequently than the Brompton and which, with larger wheels and more voluminous tyres will likely be less demanding on these damaged lights, and replace the front lamp with a Cyo and a new Brompton rear light which I will pre-emptively reinforce. Until I have the funds for that though, I’ll have to make do & mend.

Monday 10 October 2011

How John Franklin misled a nation's cycling campaigners

I have been reading the works of John Franklin for quite a few years. My first encounter was as a relatively new cyclist who wanted to know how best to cope with the inherently cycling-hostile UK road network, I discovered the principles of vehicular cycling as promoted in John Franklin's popular work Cyclecraft. As I have previously stated, Cyclecraft is a good survival manual for anyone wanting to cycle on the hostile British road network, containing useful techniques for making the best out of a crap situation. Unfortunately, Cyclecraft isn't promoted as survival manual by its author, instead being suggested as a solution. Even worse, a significant portion of the British cycling establishment agree with this view, one which I feel is divorced from reality.

As was noted by both myself and As Easy As Riding A Bike, cycling according the the principles of Cyclecraft requires a level of fitness and speed which acts as a barrier:

"Cadence and sprint speed

Cadence is the number of times a cycling turns the pedals in one minute. A steady, comfortable pedalling rhythm is essential for efficient cycling, while increasing one’s cadence strengthens the leg muscles and enables more rapid acceleration. Increasing cadence also makes it easier to increase your sprint speed – the maximum speed that you can attain over a short distance, such as through a roundabout.Racing cyclists know well the benefits of having a high cadence, but there can also be important safety advantages for everyone. Generally speaking, you are at your safest in traffic if you can move at a speed comparable to that of the other vehicles. Increasing your cadence and sprint speed will allow you to achieve this more often, particularly at those places where it matters most – junctions with complex manoeuvring. It will also be easier to restart quickly in a low gear at traffic signals and roundabouts, and to get yourself out of trouble if you are on a potential collision course.Increasing cadence and sprint speed are two of the most positive steps a cyclist can take to enhance safety.

A good cadence to aim for is about 80, while a sprint speed of 32 km/h (20 mph) will enable you to tackle most traffic situations with ease. To increase your cadence, select a gear lower than you would normally use for a given road and simply force yourself to pedal faster in order to maintain your usual speed. Gradually, your leg muscles will become accustomed to the higher rate and your cadence and strength will increase."

The physical demands of cycling according to the principles outlines in Cyclecraft aside, it also requires a potential cyclist to possess a level of enthusiasm for cycling which I find unrealistic  beyond a small proportion of the population (broadly the same proportion of people who currently cycle). Whilst some drivers are truly motoring enthusiasts, the overwhelming vast majority merely choose to drive because their environment has made driving feel like the safest, easiest and cheapest option open to them. If driving became less convenient and felt less safe than another mode of transport, most of them would switch without giving it much thought. There'd still be Formula 1, motoring exhibitions and car-owners clubs because the people who are interested in them are enthusiasts, much in the same way that many of the people who currently cycle (despite the problems) are cycle enthusiasts. However, the average person would abandon their car without much thought if it ceased to be perceived as the best way to get around, much as the average person abandoned their bike when motor-centric government policies made the bike cease to be perceived as the best way to get around.

I encountered John Franklin's work again when I started to learn about dedicated infrastructure for cycling, such as the segregated cycle paths which adjacent to roads carrying a large enough, or fast enough volume of motor traffic traffic in The Netherlands. Whenever I observed a discussion of the relative merits of this approach online, I often saw someone would present a link to Cycle path safety: A summary of research, citing it as a definitive proof that segregation of cyclists and motor traffic was always a bad idea. It is difficult to blame the average reader for seeing this list and taking it at face value, after all it is stated on that page that, "This list is intended to be without bias, but little evidence has been found to suggest that cyclists are safer on paths than on roads." As a non-expert, why wouldn't you take this statement at face value? After all, it comes from a 'road safety expert.' However, on closer inspection, it is interesting to note that the research on the list is entirely from before the year 2000, so is irrelevant to much of the modern infrastructure present in The Netherlands and Denmark. Secondly, the research on the list is extensively cherry picked; Franklin does not state his criteria for which research makes the list and which does not. However, it appears that in order to make the list, the findings of the research have to agree with John Franklin’s existing ideology; there should be no segregation of cyclists and motorised traffic. Many relevant articles which contradict this ideology are conspicuous by their absence. Thirdly, John Franklin employs a false dichotomy; presenting vehicular cycling and segregation of cycles and motorised traffic as two discrete things when in fact there are a wide variety of approaches to segregation, many of which are crap (such as the Redways) and some of which are outstanding, such as The Netherlands (and to a lesser extent, Denmark) and a wide variety of vehicular cycling environments, some relatively successful (such as the Britain of the 40’s and 50’s) and some truly dire (such as the Britain of 2011). Whilst these three crippling deficiencies in Cycle path safety: A summary of research could perhaps be forgiven if the list were compiled by a total novice, it find it extremely difficult to believe that John Franklin, a ‘road safety expert,’ could have made all of these three errors accidentally. It seems perhaps more likely that a selection of research articles have been picked and presented in a way which deliberately misrepresents the strong case in favour of separation of cycles and motor traffic where motor traffic speeds and/or volumes are high (as a part of a wider array of measures as in The Netherlands), in order to lend credibility to an ideological opposition to any separation of cycles from motorised traffic which is not backed up by the facts.

When writing for the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain’s wiki section, Common Claims & Canards, I noticed a blank section, entitled: Dutch cyclists are not competent to cycle in the UK. Although listed as a common claim, it was something I hadn’t really heard myself and I set out to do some research to find out where this claim originated from or was popularised. One again, John Franklin came up, this time in an open letter to Sustrans; Casualties on cycle paths from 1998., which was written in response to Sustrans (quite rightly) questioning the evidence for Franklin’s continued vocal opposition to cycle paths on the grounds of their alleged poor safety record:

“Sustrans has often cited the fact that Dutch cyclists sometimes leave the ferry at Harwich and find traffic so difficult to deal with that they go back home! Interestingly, this problem is not experienced by cyclists arriving from France, Spain or the USA. Proficiency in using roads on a regular basis is essential to maximise safety, and to maximise one's cycling horizons. I would not like to see Britain on the slope down to Dutch levels of cycling competence.”

To me at least, it seems here that John Franklin is at best making a sweeping generalisation about an entire nation of people, whilst at worst coming off simultaneously as elitist and a bit racist. It seems obvious to me that the vast majority of people in The Netherlands are just like the vast majority of people in the UK, neither feel safe enough to cycle on British roads. It has nothing to do with competence or nationality, the vast majority of British people don’t cycle, put them in The Netherlands and most will; the vast majority of Dutch people do cycle, put them in the UK and most won’t. They don’t not cycle here because they’re incompetent, they don’t cycle here for the same reason that most British people and most tourists from other countries don’t cycle here, it’s shit and it doesn’t feel safe. Reading this, I get the feeling that what irks Franklin is that fact that the average Dutch person can cycle without having to be enthusiastic abut cycling, without having to care about or be interested in cycling, and without having to develop the survival skills outlined for vehicular cycling in Cyclecraft. They made it easy to cycle.

The always excellent Vole O’ Speed spotted another instance of John Franklin’s uneasy relationship with research, the Helsinki paper incident, in which Franklin, whilst chair of Cyclenation selectively publicised results compiled within a political document which disguised as a research paper, the main purpose of which was to politically undermine cycling as a whole. Despite the anti-cycling bias of this document, Franklin chose to selectively use the results compiled within it to misrepresent the safety of segregated cycle tracks at a time when the Camden Cycling Campaign was working towards an expansion of their extremely successful two-way segregated track, a track which remains to this day one of the most successful pieces of cycle infrastructure in the whole of London. I do not wish to re-produce too much of what David wrote on the matter here, but I urge all of you to read it (and learn a bit about Franklin’s disinformation legacy at Cyclenation today).

The final piece of Franklin’s work I encountered was his often-cited ‘research’ into the safety of the Milton Keynes Redway network in Two decades of the Redway cycle paths in Milton Keynes, which I recently decided to look into in greater detail. Suffice to say, the Redways are crap and do not represent what anyone would regard as ‘best practise.’ However, Franklin’s ‘research’ on the Redways tells us literally nothing about their safety in comparison to the general road network, with the whole paper serving merely as a vehicle to further his own ideological agenda. As someone who regularly works with peer-reviewed research, I am genuinely amazed that Two decades was ever published in a real journal.

Having read a great deal of Franklin’s work, I find it extremely difficult to believe that all that is wrong with it is due to a series of mistakes. Whilst Cyclecraft is a great survival manual for dealing with our awful, cycling-hostile road network, it seems obvious that John Franklin believes that cyclists always belong on the road as an ideology. As an ideological view, there is nothing wrong with this. However, presenting this as fact by misrepresenting and cherry-picking research and conducting research which is little more than a collection of meaningless, context-free numbers in order to serve as a vehicle for an ideology which the numbers do not back is a dishonest practise. By compiling all this in one place, it is my hope that this page can be used as a quick answer to anyone who presents Cycle path safety: A summary of research in a discussion about cycle infrastructure, so that we can all get on with having a proper discussion about where cycling in the UK should go from here.

Thursday 6 October 2011

Cycling whilst ill

The season of winter sniffles and colds is just around the corner and I appear to have been visited by the snot fairy a bit early this year. Despite this, I've still had to get around and for me that means cycling. Cycling whilst ill can be challenging and even unpleasant. Coughs and colds can often make you feel like your lung capacity has been reduced, making physically demanding activities such as fast cycling or hill-climbing difficult as you struggle to catch your breath.

Despite the potential for cycling whilst ill to be an unpleasant experience, there are a few things you can do you compensate for your weakened physical state:

  • Don't rush, it's not a race after all. Give yourself a bit more time than usual for a given trip, cycling more slowly will reduce the demands which cycling places on your body.
  • Take a break. If it's all getting a bit too much, get off the bike and walk it along for a little while. It'll give you a chance to catch your breath whilst still making progress towards your destination.
  • Walk up the hills, ride the flats and the downhill sections. Riding on a flat or downhill shouldn't pose too much of a problem, even if you are feeling under the weather. Walking the uphill sections will remove some of the most physically demanding parts of the ride whilst providing you with a chance to rest.
Please feel free to share your own tips and experiences of cycling whilst under the weather in the comments below.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

The Milton Keynes Redways

The town of Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire was built as an experiment in town design, started in the late 1960s. At this time, private motoring was almost universally viewed as the future of transport. The now-obvious problems of induced demand, suppression of walking, cycling & public transport, dependence on ever-dwindling fossil fuel resources and health problems related to both the sedentary lifestyle encouraged by excessive car-dependence, the killing and maiming of people in collisions with cars and the premature deaths related to particulate air pollution, were still not widely considered. Milton Keynes was designed primarily around the needs and desires of the private motorist, constructed around a grid of national speed limit A-roads. In order to facilitate high-speed motoring, cyclists were effectively removed from the roads with a separate grid of separate cycle paths; known as the Redways.

The Redways are often used as an argument against implementing any form of separate cycle infrastructure in other parts of the UK. Whilst at the most superficial level, it can be argued that the Dutch and the Milton Keynes approaches are similar (they both involve some degree of separation of cycle and motor traffic), the similarities do not extend beyond the superficial. Unlike the Dutch approach to separate cycle infrastructure, designed to promote cycling by making it subjectively and objectively safer, direct and convenient, the Milton Keynes Redways are primarily an infrastructural intervention designed to benefit the private motorist by removing cyclists and pedestrians from the grid roads, permitting higher speeds and less-attentive driving, whilst leaving cyclists with a network of poorly signed, surfaced and maintained narrow two-way lanes with poor sight-lines, having no priority over side roads or driveways and bringing cyclists into conflict with pedestrians. The Redways have become a popular straw man to be used in forums against anyone who argues for Dutch-style cycle infrastructure in the UK; suggesting that what they actually want is a network similar to the Redways in other UK towns and cities.

John Franklin wrote an article about the safety of the Milton Keynes Redways in Traffic Engineering & Control in 1999 (around the time he appeared to lose interest in new research being published about the safety of separate cycle infrastructure). In it, he notes that the now-defunct Milton Keynes Development Corporation (MKDC) stated that the Redways were designed primarily as a leisure facility, rather than to be a useful part of the transport network. Generally the Redways have grade-separated crossings either under or above the grid roads, although several at-grade crossings also exist. A secondary grid of Redways was originally planned, passing through the centre of estates and bisecting the main roads, but never materialised, leaving instead a maze of largely indirect and poorly signed local paths. The result was that the faster, more confident cyclists instead chose to try their luck on the grid roads; multi-lane roads with speed limits up-to 70 mph, linked to other primary grid-lines by huge roundabouts. The cross-city Redways were constructed in the early 80s in response to the numbers of cyclists choosing to use the grid-roads instead of the low-quality Redways network. These cross-city Redways ran alongside some of the grid roads, although due to the daunting nature of the high-speed grid roads, since the mid 80s there has been a tendency to route Redways alongside estate roads (with no priority over side-roads).

Franklin's article suggests that despite the many inherent limitations of the Redways, cycle ownership in Milton Keynes was higher than average at the time of the 1991 census, with cycling having a 4.3% commuter modal share, half of which took place on the Redways. The current Milton Keynes LTP3 states (rather less helpfully) that at the time of the 2001 census, 9% of people in Milton Keynes travelled to work on foot or by cycle. The article shows the injury and fatality statistics for cyclists using the Redways, grid roads or local roads from 1988-1997. Unfortunately, these statistics are not given in the context of relative cycling rates on each of these types of road, although the fact that at the time, half of the commuter cycling trips took place on the Redways may in itself be indicative of approximately how many of all cycle trips took place on the Redways.

Injuries (percentage)
Serious injury/ Fatalities
Serious injury/ Fatalities (percentage)
Grid Roads
Local Roads

Table 1. Injuries and serious injuries/fatalities of cyclists in Milton Keynes between 1988-1997, broken down  by road type. In the original article, these figures are given independently for each year. These figures show us literally nothing about the relative safety of the Milton Keynes grid roads, local roads or Redways, because there is no context provided; we do not know what percentage of cycle trips are made using each type of road, nor do we know anything about the differences in experience and proficiency between the groups of cyclists who choose to use each of the road types. Despite this, Franklin says of the figures, "There have been as many, or more, serious accidents on Redways as on grid roads in five of the past 10 years, and more than on local roads in four years." As a statement, it is factually true, but it could equally be said that there had been as many, or more serious accidents/fatalities on grid roads & local roads as on Redways in five of the ten years, more minor injuries on grid roads than on Redways in seven of the ten years and more minor injuries on local roads than on Redways in six of the ten years. None of which means anything without context provided by the relative amount of cycling taking place on each type of road.

The author notes that there is considerable under-reporting of accidents on the Redways, although provides no source for this claim, and so goes on to look at hospital data from Milton Keynes Hospital from 1993-1997. The hospital data includes no information about the severity of injuries, and for the years 1993 & 1994 makes no distinction between accidents occurring on the Redways or on 'other' routes; accidents occurring on non-road, non-Redway routes in an area covering a wider area than just the Milton Keynes 'new town' area.


Table 2. Cyclists attending A&E at Milton Keynes Hospital between 1993-1997, broken down by road type. Again, these figures tell us absolutely nothing about the relative safety of the Milton Keynes grid roads, local roads or Redways, because there is no context provided; we do not know what percentage of cycle trips are made using each type of road, nor do we know anything about the differences in experience and proficiency between the groups of cyclists who choose to use each of the road types.

The author also mentions two hospital-based surveys which went into more detail; a one month survey in 1991, and a longer survey between April and July of 1992, breaking down the numbers of  cyclists admitted to hospital by the type of road they were injured on. Once again, without providing context of the relative frequency with which the different types of route are used, these numbers tell us precisely nothing about the relative safety of cyclists using the Milton Keynes grid roads, local roads or Redways.

The closest the author gets to addressing the issue of providing relative usage figures for each of the road types is the results of a survey by the Milton Keynes Cycle Users' Group in 1993, asking cyclists to report their accident experience in the previous year. 27 % reported having an accident on the Redways in the previous year, versus 6% on local roads and 3% on grid roads. The author suggested that some might assume that the relatively low rate of grid road accidents would be due to the grid roads being used by so few cyclists, and those who elected to use them being particularly proficient and experienced (and fast). To counter this assumption, the author states that "43% of respondents said that they cycle on grid roads at least once a week." However, 43% stating they use the grid roads "at least once a week" could mean the grid roads represent anything from almost of the respondents cycling, to a minuscule fraction, and it does not address the issue that those electing to use the grid roads being more experienced, proficient and faster cyclists. Without being able to see the source survey, who was polled, where and how, it is difficult to rule out sample bias. When it is considered that the survey was carried out by a local cycling group, it is difficult not to wonder if roadies, who are traditionally fast, confident and experienced cyclists, often preferring a vehicular approach to cycling either for their own convenience of on ideological grounds, were not over-represented in those surveyed when compared to the general population, perhaps grossly. It was stated that;

"This survey also attempted to relate accident risk to exposure. Cyclists were asked to estimate the distance they cycle in a week on each of the three kinds of highway. Inevitably there will be a wide margin of error in these estimates, but there is no reason to believe that they favour one type of highway over another. Some cyclists were able to give a very detailed breakdown of their mileage."

It seems very naive (at best) to ignore the potential for bias here. Roadies in particular are both more likely to travel further (because they travel faster), choose grid roads because they prefer to travel faster (and have the confidence and experience to survive in such a cycle-hostile environment), be a member of their local cycle users' group (compared to less experienced & enthusiastic cyclists) and be much more likely to be able to, "give a very detailed breakdown of their mileage." 

Injury accidents
All accidents
Grid road
Local road

Table 3. Survey estimate of cyclist accidents per million km cycled, broken down by road type. This is the first attempt to frame the accident figures in the context of relative usage of each road type, although the numbers are estimates given by survey respondents, which disproportionally favours the grid roads because they are favoured by experienced and proficient cyclists, such as roadies, who travel further (due to their greater speed), are more likely to keep detailed records of their mileage and are more easily reached by local cycle users; groups, such as the group which conducted the survey from which these figures were collected.

I would like to make it clear at this point that I am not attempting to defend the Milton Keynes Redways. As an infrastructural intervention designed primarily to benefit the private motorist, with a massively compromised design, they are about as far away from best practice for cyclists as seen in The Netherlands as any of the rest of the road network in the UK. However, I do find it amazing that an article containing so much bad science, acting as a fairly transparent vehicle to further its author's ideological opposition to any separation of cyclists from motor traffic, could have ever found its way into a (presumably peer-reviewed) journal such as Traffic Engineering & Control. When I look at the Milton Keynes Redways, I see something which, at best, represents the most superficial similarity to the Dutch solution to providing for cyclists. It depresses me that despite this, the Redways are still used as an argument against adopting the Dutch model here in the UK by the ill-informed and a tiny minority who are ideologically opposed to any type of separation of cyclists from motorised traffic.

The figures presented in Two decades of the Redway cycle paths in Milton Keynes tell us very little about the relative safety of the grid roads, local roads or Redways in Milton Keynes. Despite this, the author used the conclusion of the article to push his own vehicular-only agenda:

"There is a temptation to think that Milton Keynes is a 'special case' and that its experience is irrelevant elsewhere. But the cycling infrastructure in Milton Keynes is not inferior to that being implemented in many other places and certainly the constraints are fewer. Many cycle facilities do not achieve the use predicted, and are often ignored by existing cyclists. Major projects such as the National Cycle Network are facing increasing criticism with regard to quality and danger, and for not meeting the real needs of cycling.

At the same time, cycle facility accidents seem to be becoming more common throughout the UK. This should not be a surprise. The author has trawled research from across the world (Ref 11*) and found little to support the hypothesis that separating cyclists from traffic improves safety, especially when account is taken of unreported accidents. Facilities do, however, seem to increase fear of cycling elsewhere.

There seems to have been little research into the deterrent effect that facilities may have on cycle use and competence. It may be difficult to comprehend that cycle facilities could lead to an overall decline in cycling, but the experience of Milton Keynes suggests that it may be time for this to be considered more closely."

(*) Ref 11 is John Franklin's own Cherry-picked list of research into cycle paths from around the world. The selection criteria for this list is not specified, but it appears to be that only research which agrees with John Franklin's ideological opposition to any separation of cyclists from motor traffic is included.

Milton Keynes did separation of cyclists from motor traffic wrong, and for all the the wrong reasons. The problems with the Redways are described in detail in Two decades of the Redway cycle paths in Milton Keynes, these problems do not exist with the Dutch approach to cycle provision. Using the Redways as an argument against implementing Dutch style infrastructural changes to the road network in the UK is little more than a straw man. Milton Keynes separated cyclists from motor traffic, for the benefit of the motorist. The Dutch separated the motorist from cyclists, for the benefit of cyclists (and pedestrians). They made driving short distances, and within towns more trouble than it was worth, whilst making cycling subjectively and objectively safe, direct and convenient. No one can honestly say that the Redways were designed with the same goals in mind.