Thoughts From The Third World of Cycling

'It's Christmas time.......'

According to Wikipedia, ‘the term “Third World” arose during the Cold War to define countries that remained non-aligned or not moving at all with either capitalism and NATO (which along with its allies represented the First World) or communism and the Soviet Union (which along with its allies represented the Second World). This definition provided a way of broadly categorizing the nations of the Earth into three groups based on social, political, and economic divisions. The term continues to be used colloquially to describe the poorest countries in the world’.

The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club would like to take this and place it purely in a cycling context;

‘the term “Third World of Cycling” arose during the rise of the motor car to define countries that remained non-aligned or not moving at all with either walking, cycling and infrastructure (which along with its allies represented the First World) or ‘just getting on with it’ and the Soviet Union (which along with its allies represented the Second World). This definition provided a way of broadly categorizing the nations of the Earth into three groups based on social, political, and economic divisions. The term continues to be used colloquially to describe the poorest countries in the world for cycling’.

The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club is going to assume that the Netherlands and Denmark represent the First World; they have seen the benefits to society as a whole when they are given the freedom to move without let or hindrance on a bicycle for transport in an increasingly motorised age – the car has its place, but the people come first. Large tracts of the World represent the Second World; whereby they just get on with it and would look at someone on a bicycle in the same way they would look at a horse-drawn cart or a car or a vase or an episode of ‘Friends’.

This leaves us with the Third World of Cycling. These are countries that have followed a particular aggressive agenda with all the necessary investment and infrastructure required that limits movement of other forms of transport, alienates communities and damages health – the people have their place, but the car comes first. I would put Great Britain firmly at the top of this list. There are countries making movements; China is trying to move from the Second World to the Third World and maybe back to the Second World again of Cycling, whereas pockets of the USA are trying to move from the Third World to the First World, no less.

In the Third World of Cycling, British cycling infrastructure is the shantytown of transport options – the aim was to clear it’s users out of the way of the ruling elite and not to benefit mass transport or freedom in any way. Those that choose to share the roads with the ruling elite are usually, to quote Mikael Colville-Andersen on Copenhagenize ‘male-dominated, testosterone-driven and that lacks basic understanding of human nature. They expect that everyone should be just like them – classic sub-cultural point of view – and that everyone should embrace cycling in traffic and pretending they are cars. They are apparently uninterested in seeing grandmothers, mothers or fathers with children or anyone who doesn’t resemble then contributing to re-creating the foundations of liveable cities by re-establishing the bicycle as transport’. Like the real Third World we see oppression of the more vulnerable in society while the few treat something as simple as getting from A to B as a form of gladiatorial combat with all the body armour to match. And the ruling elite carry on regardless, withstanding the slings and arrows of blatant fact and outrageous spin.

Sometimes monetary aid does try to trickle through, but like real Third World aid, it sometimes gets channelled off – in this instance, ‘Consultancy Fees’ from experts that don’t cycle or to just plug other holes in council budget such as pothole repair benefitting the ruling elite and those willing to do battle with them. The oppressed get a bicycle symbol painted on a pavement or a strip of red, green or blue paint that stops where the danger starts.

I think it’s time we called for foreign aid. I’ve set up (with the aid of fellow campaigner Anthony Cartmell) a website for a Cycling Embassy of Great Britain that will hopefully grow and grow with help and goodwill. The aim is simple; to act as a conduit for best practice around the World and get more people on bikes as transport. Unlike alot of Cycling Forums and groups, we even have female representation (and a big hat-tip to Sally Hinchcliffe for her input to date). If we don’t do something we will continue to languish in the Third World – the real one can be ignored by changing TV channels and the cycling one can be ignored by keeping the car windows closed and turning up the radio. For the price of a High Speed Rail Link, we can get the nation properly moving again in every way.

That was a bit heavy wasn’t it?! I’m sorry, but cycling on the Old Dutch has suddenly presented me with a lot more time with my thoughts. I leave you with yet another view of Dutch rush hour traffic to lighten the mood. People of all ages, creeds and colours just going about their day.

However you celebrate this festive season in whatever World you’re in, Happy Cycling!

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The Last Bike I Shall Ever Own. Probably.

Here is a sign. A beautiful sign. But I wonder what treats lie inside?

Yes, it’s Amsterdammers located under Brighton railway station! The magnetic pull of their range of second hand and new Dutch bikes proved irresistable. The shop is run by the very knowledgeable (and tall) Stefan Petursson who shares my bemusement at the very British obsession of playing ‘Let’s See How Many Cars We Can Cram Into A Town Centre Thereby Ruining It For Everyone Including The Motorists’.

Anyway, here it is, the Batavus Old Dutch. It’s an older model, just like its new owner, and it is probably the smallest frame size because the new owner is of,  what you might call, ‘lilliputian stature’.

This new acquisition has an incredibly reasonable price tag, 3 hub gears, hub brakes, built in robust lock, mudguards, comfy saddle, chainguard, reflectors in the right places to meet legal requirements and is bombproof. It can carry stupid weights at the rear and has an upright position to stop me crippling my back as the years progress. It also encourages me to slow down and enjoy my cycling again instead of turning up at work looking like I’ve just taken a short cut through a car wash. Oh, and I was able to test ride it in walking boots with not a quibble. When the Netherlands were considering a Space Programme to the moon, they were going to use a Dutch Bike instead of a lunar rover. OK, I made that last one up, but that’s what I would have taken.

I will be posting a full review after Christmas when the commuting regime starts in earnest but the best part is that it won’t be just about the commuting. It will be about the shopping and pubbing and librarying and carting The Boy..er..ing. All the things I should do by bicycle but don’t as the bikes that I own (with the exception of the Brompton) compel me to ‘dress like a cyclist’ and ‘be a cyclist’ as opposed to a ‘person on a bike’. It’s not that I’m against other types of bike, I adore and respect all types of bike (and cyclist for that matter). I just need one that for the rest of my life facilitiates practical cycling – ‘Citizen Cycling’ to coin a Copenhagenize phrase. Each to their own.

I am selling my KHS Alite 3000 mountain bike to cover the cost (2010 barely used model if you’re interested. It got rave reviews in What Mountain Bike but with a 7 month old son, I probably bought it 13 years too early). I was expecting to commute along the South Downs Way from time to time with wild abandon but the sleepless mights and ever changing and demanding schedules that enthuiastic fatherhood brings knocks that into a cocked hat.

It’s time to slow down and go Old Dutch.

Onwards and Upwards

Yet again, thanks for the support and goodwill. In particular Lazy Bicycle Blog, Manchester Cycling, Biking Brits, i b i k e l o n d o n and everyone else in the blogosphere, twitterverse and email..er…globe. A special thank you must go to Anthony Cartmell for setting up the website and continual assistance. Unfortunately for him, he only lives 2 miles away from me.

Embassy news is as follows:

LTP3 page has been opened up and links are being uploaded. This is for you to comment on Local Transport Plans and look at other areas as you please. We shall be creating a page for Cycling Strategy Documents to be uploaded so we may see what has gone before across the land in terms of broken promises in overly verbose documents with added greenwash.

In our Manchester Consulate, Chris Page at Manchester Cycling has set up a facebook page for the Embassy. Wonderful stuff. There is also a twitter account (@GBCycleEmbassy)

I wrote last week to the Cycling Embassy of Denmark and they’ve written a lovely message back expressing support plus advice on what they do & how they do it. I shall post this on the Embassy forum, as I will all my correspondence. It is quite clear that our aims and ambitions are going to be very different from the Danish Embassy and indeed the Cycling Embassy for the The Netherlands (launching next year) – whereas they have a cycling culture, political will and standards of cycling infrastructure, we have car culture, political greenwash with empty platitudes and crap cycling infrastructure.

Deepest apologies but I would like to make the final confirmed date for our inaugural meeting the 29th January. This is because too many people have written to me saying they can’t make it on the 8th (either because they live in far flung areas of our Empire or maybe their hangovers are still clearing). Same venue as before. This also gives me more time to stockpile Fererro Rocher for your welcome packs. Over the next few weeks I shall be encouraging discussion on organisation structure (many have come forward stating they wish to set up Consulates across the country), partnerships, policy, funding etc. This ensures that by the time we meet and greet, it’s a simple matter of finalising issues. I think it’s going to be quite straightforward as the aim is simply to get more people on bikes, to create proper infrastructure to facilitate this based on best practice across Europe and the World and make riding a bike as easy as riding a bike.

I will start contacting pertinent charities and groups over the weekend to form partnerships. If you have any ideas on who we should be contacting, or you are an interested party, please let me know.

Personal news:

I have an office Christmas party to attend in Brighton Friday afternoon where we shall be remembering the birth of Jesus Christ in the traditional British way of drinking enough alcohol to float a Raleigh Grifter. I shall refrain from Twitter et al as a mark of respect to good manners and taste.

I’m putting in my order for a Batavus Old Dutch Friday morning. I’m selling my KHS 3000 Mountain Bike (barely used) and Carerra Zero (fixed wheel) to make room and justify expenditure to The Wife. I’ve sampled riding Dutch bikes now and they make me feel like a child again – in particular the just getting on a bicycle with no need for special clothing or preparation and going about my day. That is proper freedom.

I leave you with a piece of film that reflects what we should be aspiring to (and don’t take any ‘times are hard’ rubbish. If a fraction of the budget for new road schemes and electric cars was spent on proper ‘Sustainable Transport’ it would be easily achievable) – people going about their business on bikes with not a helmet or high viz tabard amongst them. It’s sped up of course – the Dutch don’t have to cycle everywhere at breakneck speed like the British seem to.

Oh, and thanks to Freewheeler for inspiring my resolve 🙂

Embassy Latest 13.12.10

All those that have applied for accounts with the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain have had their status upgraded to allow you to comment and speak freely on the forum. Please let me know if this is not the case.

Cycle Infrastructure to go up imminently. I am also about to contact Fietsberaad.

I would like to propose Saturday 8th January 2011 (noon) as the inaugural Meeting of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain where you can meet me and poke me with a bicycle pump if you don’t feel enough progress is being made. Items for discussion will be to approve aims and actions and just to see what other like-minded souls look like. Maybe we can also discuss merchandice as I still quite like my ‘Make Hammond History’ wristband idea.

To be held at Look Mum, No Hands! 49 Old Street London EC1V 9HX maybe followed by a jolly nice bike ride if any of the Londoners out there would like to suggest a route (or even an alternate venue). Otherwise you can just cycle with me to Victoria or East Croydon  and then, if you’re lucky, watch me get a bit heated as I inform someone behind a counter that holding people captive at a railway station is not enough reason to charge £2.10 for a sodding sausage roll.

That is all.

Weekly Round Up & Dutch Lunch

Well, things seem to be going slowly but tickety-boo at the Embassy. The response has been wonderful. 

From an idea that started out last week, we are now at this stage:

Website up and, now I’ve been told how to confirm peoples accounts (I thought I knew computers. I was wrong), all people that have applied as members are now active and should be now able to discuss things on the forum.

Website now has categorised links. Document ‘Library’ to be added shortly. This will be a combination of pdf documents and links so the most up to date versions can be accessed at any one time. Thanks to those that have submitted material).

I am in the process of contacting potential interested parties (overseas cycling organisations and bike manufacturers) and seeing if they are interested in what we are attempting and getting clear guidance on their design standards as they see it. If you have an opinion on who we should be approaching and how, please let me know.

It would like to organise a chance for all interested people to meet (probably in late December/January now and almost definately in London) so we can have a discussion face to face before we properly proceed with actions and deeds. I was thinking of Look Mum, No Hands! because I haven’t seen it yet and they sell beer and they like bicycles. Lo Fidelity London readers – please let me know if that’s a sound proposition.

Whatever happens, we have to put a stop to this:

At least the railing is a nice touch.

Sometimes (and I don’t mind confessing this to you, dear reader), I wonder if it’s worth continuing and persuing our dreams. But for every moment of doubt, something happens that pulls me right back. Today’s example was a lunchtime spent with some utterly cheerful and very knowledgable Dutchmen that sell Dutch bicycles in Brighton. They let me test ride about 10 outside their shop as I’m a  Dutch bike virgin and I haven’t smiled like that on a bicycle for a very, very long time. I’m torn between one of their beautiful second hand models or the new Batavus ‘Old Dutch’ Gents frame (which felt like riding a luxurious stretch limousene). I had such a good time I had to sprint back before I could take any photos. Definately next time.

Another thing I like to do if I get doubts is watch this clip from Dodgeball. Wonderful. Happy Friday and keep the faith dear readers.

Update

So, you want cycle infrastructure based on the Dutch model and Philip Hammond thrown on the fire behind me.....

Firstly, yet again a very big thank you for all the messages, debate and this wonderful blog post from Mark at IBikeLondon.

This is where we’re at so far as you deserve to be kept up to date;

Website & Forum: Under construction and the domain will be www.cycling-embassy.org.uk . This is obviously taking time (although to be fair, it was only set up on the weekend) as it is being hosted and created for free, but the best things come to those who wait. There are things that need to be sorted out such as editing capability and admin rights etc so it’s best to get it sorted out from the beginning. Anthony Cartmell, the creator is a cyclist through and through and his websites are as reliable and stable as the Batavus he rides. To assist, I may be learning Drupal as well as conversational Danish & Dutch.

So far I believe the website should comprise the following:

Mission Statement with key strategies/actions

A Forum

Document Library of Design Standards by Country

Map where people may report bad infrastructure (if we can find a server big enough) and also good infrastructure. There should be a facility that allows one to write why it works or doesn’t work.

Cycling Newsfeed

Suggestions always welcome

What you can do to help:

Whilst this is taking place, I’m collating design standards from the UK and other countries to put into a document library. If you can think of any links, data and info that you feel should be included, please let me know. This includes any urban planning and masterplanning documents or guidance that architects, engineers and designers out there might think are pertinent. Also, thanks to Freewheeler on Crap Cycling and Walking in Waltham Forest for this link to a very interesting document indeed.

What I especially want from you however is the following. Imagine you are sat on Santa’s lap – it could be Chris Hoy or Victoria Pendleton dressed in a Santa outfit. I don’t mind, whatever works for you – and you are asked what your wish would be for this new cycling campaign to achieve, what would it be? Basically, I’m developing a wish list and I need wishes. Wish away.

Onwards and upwards. In the meantime, enjoy your cycling and look out for the following:

Expert motorists who only need to clear the frost and ice from their side of the windscreen and nowhere else on their car (presumably so noone can see them operate a mobile phone).

Expert motorists who can drive well and truly under the influence of Christmas Cheer. Especially now the funding has been cut for awareness adverts.

Manhole covers. As my back wheel informed me twice this morning, they are very slippy.

Living the Dream

Wow, Ambassador! The DfT only handed out Digestives....

Firstly, I would like to thank all those who messaged me on this blog or emailed me privately expressing their support for the idea of an independent Cycling ‘Embassy’ for Great Britain. Whatever happens, it will be based upon the Cycling Embassy of Denmark as I believe we need the same model here in the UK. The ball has already started rolling and a volunteers forum will be starting up as an information exchange/meeting point. The URL has been confirmed and I shall release details shortly (thanks very much to a very willing and able volunteer. The first of many 🙂 ).

An early Mission Statement is as follows

An Embassy, free from the burden of history, legacy and ties, created to work in partnership with fellow organisations and charities in Great Britain, mainland Europe and around the World trading ideas and experiences in how to promote cycling and make cycling infrastructure work in urban and rural contexts.

To develop relations with private companies already committed to Green & Sustainable values and promote the truth that cycling can produce a fitter, healthier, happier workforce saving billions in ‘sick’ days to the British economy.

To lobby relevant Government Departments that cycling is a solution to transport congestion, noise pollution, carbon emissions, deaths and serious injuries on our roads, obesity and illnesses from more sedentary lifestyles, stress and expense.

To politely correct the Department for Transport that ‘Sustainable Transport’ actually means walking, cycling and public transport as opposed to spending further millions on expanding the road network which will only sustain more pollution, deaths & serious injuries and congestion, like the decades that preceded. The idea is to make something sustainable for future generations to inherit.  A bigger M25 isn’t it.

To redefine what Road Safety in the UK means by working with relevant groups; to highlight what the real dangers are, to enforce a duty of care to the most vulnerable and promoting prevention, rather than cure. This will be through a raft of measures including reduced speed limits in urban areas and changes in streetscape design to put community needs before those just travelling through them. We will strive to create an environment where helmets and other forms of protective wear are seen as unecessary as opposed to essential. We will strive to make riding a bicycle as easy as riding a bicycle.

To work with local authorities and relevant parties to redefine Cycling Infrastructure Design Standards in the UK and bring them in line with best practice in partner countries. ‘Hierarchy of Provision’, although well-meaning and correct in principle is too open to abuse or compromise by practitioners that know little about the requirements of cycling (or indeed walking) yet may wish to know more.

To encourage better communication with exchange of knowledge and ideas between architects, transport planners, designers & engineers as to how to get more people cycling [and walking] and improving access for all to town & city centres and transport interchanges. Also working out what makes decent cycle infrastructure work and how it benefits society as a whole.

To protect cycling proficiency for children and adults. It is an essential skill that did us very well in the past, as it can again in the future.

To have fun. It’s why we started cycling in the first place.

Obviously I now throw the floor open to suggestions as it’s now or never. As I look out across the still snowy South Downs, I acknowledge that this is going to be a quiet month as far as cycling news and blogging is concerned which gives us a chance over the Christmas period to reflect on the wonderful cycling experiences we’ve all had through the changing seasons of 2010 and set out the stall for 2011.

I am firmly of the belief that there needs to be new way in cycle campaigning; this is not to say that what has gone before has failed. It is simply outmanoeuvred by a car lobby that can market itself as green when accused of polluting and portray itself as a victim when attempts are made to call it to account over danger and subsidy. Cycling England, for all its faults, cost approximately £200,000 p.a. to run. Honda’s ‘Impossible Dream’ advert alone cost £5 million. They really want to sell cars, even if no-one can actually afford them right now.

It’s time to cast off the lycra and put on the charm. More plans follow and please feel free to join me for the ride which may be painfully short or wonderfully long. The doors of the Embassy will be opening shortly and you are welcome if you wish, fellow Diplomats. But don’t nick all my Fererro Rocher, I don’t care if it is Christmas.