Street Talks and a Lovely Logo

If any of you are in London on the evening of the 12th April, I have been kindly invited by Movement for Livable London (the brainchild of Joe Dunckley of At War with the Motorist) to give a talk Upstairs at The Yorkshire Grey, 2 Theobalds Road, WC1X 8PN at 7pm (bar open 6pm). It is billed as…

Jim Davis, Cycling Embassy of Great Britain: I want what they’re having – how the rest of the world is achieving a real cycling revolution

(The title was Joe’s idea, and it gives me the ideal chance to do yet more research on what’s happening abroad)

Me publically speaking. I think that was either my first ever stand-up comedy appearance or the 'Noel Edmunds Wardrobe Appreciation Society' AGM

About the Movement for Liveable London (from their website)

Movement for Liveable London promotes discussion on how a fairer, healthier, greener and more pleasant future for London can be achieved by changing the way we move around our city.

We aim to stimulate debate amongst citizens, campaigners, professionals and policy makers in the hope that together we might encourage politicians at all levels and of all persuasions to be more ambitious in their approach to sustainable movement and the design and management of London’s public realm.

We do this through hosting events, publishing articles and facilitating a dialogue between existing campaigns and other interested parties.

I’ve even convinced The Wife to come up to London too! I think what actually convinced her was me saying that I’d buy her drinks for the evening, however.

Other Street Talks worth checking out (probably more than mine) are as follows:

8th March 2011

Tom Barry, Boris Watch: State of the city – the highs and lows of London transport policy 2000 – 2011

4th May 2011

Dr Harry Rutter, Director of the National Obesity Observatory: Moving towards a healthier city – active travel and health

June 2011

Andrew Cameron, Director of Urban Design, WSP: How to make great streets

Hope you can pop along to them. But mainly mine.

Meanwhile, on Embassy business, we now have a logo all the way from the Manchester Consulate, courtesy of the wonderful, if slightly unfortunately monikered, Mr Colostomy (concept) and Jim (Execution). I hope you like it as much as me. Bravo chaps and chapeau!

By the way, there is another Wheelers Brunch in Manchester going on tomorrow (Saturday 26th February and the last Saturday of the month thereafter) if you fancy meeting like minded people who love bikes as transport. Further details on the Natural Cycling: Manchester blog.

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Cycling in the Netherlands

Sorry about putting these up, but whilst I’m composing a longer blog post, here is yet another recent slice of brilliance that I’d like to draw Lo Fidelity readers to from Markenlei’s (Mark and Lei) YouTube Channel

Please note the relaxed citizens, children cycling in calmed streets, people of all ages going about their day without need for helmets or high-viz or suffering harassment of any kind.

In the UK, we go out of our way to make the complicated easy and the easy complicated to the point where idiotic journalism can take us to this.

Notes and Queries

A relaxing picture of a meadow

Firstly, apologies to Lo Fidelity readers for the non-posting as of late. The Wife has been plagued since childhood with a condition leading to abscesses in her leg and in particular at the base of her spine. There’s a lot more to it than that but she has just had her eleventh and hopefully final operation which means she might be able to sit down without discomfort for the first time in years. I’ve been tending her and The Boy over the last week and a half as, at nine months old, he is not getting any lighter to carry.

The Wife cycled as a child and her parents were keen cycle tourists. She is always enthusiastic about me cycling and cycle campaigning and does her best to look interested when I ramble on about cycling and cycle campaigning. However, she is adamant that she will never cycle again, partly to the pain and discomfort up until now and the potential to trigger something bad as a result of getting on a bicycle again. She says, quite reasonably, that I should be happy that she’s produced a son to eventually go cycling with. She’s right of course and I’ve accepted that as far as The Wife and cycling is concerned, some things are just not meant to be. In turn, she has accepted that I don’t really like her great love, which is swimming (basically I run like a Dolphin and swim like a Cheetah). The upshot of all this is that she walks everywhere, often with a pushchair for added humour – if you thought facilities for cyclists were bad the UK, I’m getting a taste of my own medicine as she points out the long list of failings for pedestrians with pavement parking, poorly applied work roads and crazy paving. I’ve suggested that she starts a blog called something like ‘Crap Walking in Britain’. She says she’ll think about it.

Anyway, what a week and a half it’s been! Carlton Reid wrote something about the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. Then I wrote something in reply. All’s well that end’s well I’m pleased to report.

The Embassy is, at this moment in time only three weeks old with Governance and formal policies to be agreed that hasn’t formally launched yet. However, I know the following applies;

It was never, and will never be our intention to relinquish cyclists’ right to the road. There seems to be a fear that as soon as someone calls for better infrastructure in the UK, that this will somehow lead to cyclists being banned from the public highway. Personally I accept those fears to a point in the wake of such a car-sick Transport Secretary. However, crap infrastructure continues to be built by Councils who’s Modus Operandi is not to improve the lot of the cyclist, but to clear them off their ‘Strategic Road Networks’. Maybe a situation will arise that’s even worse than Carlton Reid’s vision; that cyclists get shovelled off the roads to the crap that exists already without reform of the guidelines. Now that’s scary. I would envisage the Embassy working in tandem (pardon the pun) with organisations such as CTC as well as Cycling Embassy of Denmark and Fietsberaad so we push for better infrastructure standards based on Dutch, Danish and German best practice, whilst campaigns that enforce the right to the road led by CTC and ipayroadtax.com, continue to fly their standards. Whatever happens, I personally believe we have to cull the crap to enable mass cycling and those that joined the Embassy just want to try something new.

As far as antagonism goes, when a new campaign group starts up, it’s always going to ruffle a few feathers. I sometimes take the microphone as a Comedy New Act (you can’t call yourself a Stand Up Comedian until you’re regularly playing the Comedy Store or Live at the Apollo and you have a DVD out). Sometimes when you first walk out on stage, the collective tension and excitement in the audience builds to a point that someone will suddenly scream something out – not a heckle or anything nasty, but the excitement (coupled with alcohol) has triggered a sudden outburst. They are probably nice respectable people, holding down nice respectable jobs and for that flashpoint, the situation has run away with them. When the cycling public turned up at the Embassy start up meeting, there was a lot of pent up excitement, frustration and anger at what has passed before which also appeared on people’s blogs. However, Embassy policy is not going to be born of frustration and anger either, from blog posts or otherwise (just the excitement at trying something new). Anger is best left to the experts!

When the Manifesto and Policy Documents are agreed, clarity should follow and then people can praise and criticise. Agreed governance will also bring accountability. On one cycle forum, people have already speculated that the Embassy is a shadowy part of the road lobby and that I’ve got my head up my arse. The first point certainly isn’t true and the second point would put my back out and we have had quite enough back problems for one family, thank you.

Finally, and particularly if you live in and around Brighton & Hove, one of the only pieces of decent cycle infrastructure costing £550,000 looks set to be removed at double the installation cost. Funnily enough, this is to ‘improve traffic flow’. Details are here along with a petition, which I urge you to sign.

My Dutch Bike – The Test of Time

The commute this morning (NCN2 at Worthing) with Brighton in the distance and the sound of traffic competing with the sound of the sea.

It’s now been about two months since the Batavus Old Dutch entered my life. It has therefore been through pretty much everything a British winter can chuck at it as well as the salty sea air of the south coast. It would be fair to say that my cycling life has been transformed as this wonderfully simple piece of machinery joins the dots of all the other aspects of my life too.

Firstly the basics; it is a 2009 model (bought new) comprising the following;

Old Dutch with other bikes that the British can't handle due to the fact that they are too practical.
  • 3 speed Shimano Nexus hub with grip shift
  • A coat guard (or dress guard depending on the mood one is in)
  • A kickstand that many British cyclists will keep forgetting is there (we’ve forgotten about sheer practicality)
  • A fully enclosed leather chain guard so The Wife doesn’t grit her teeth when oil magically appears on soft furnishings
  • A springy Selle Royal saddle. It needs to be springy due to the owners’ love of Trappist Ales.
  • Full mudgaurds
  • An integral lock – Put keys in to release lock and then frantically frisk yourself before remembering they still in the lock when you reach your destination. All you have to push the lock down, remove the keys and walk away. An additional chain that plugs into the lock to secure it to a stand is advised and can be carried on the rear rack when not in use.
  • Integral lights – these sadly are battery operated and not hub dynamo but I’ve been using them for 2 months and they don’t seem to be dimming at all. They aren’t amazingly bright but you won’t be going fast enough for this to pose a problem.
  • A heavy duty rack (please note that this rack will NOT take your finest Ortliebs. Dutch panniers are recommended and stay fixed to the bike – the idea being that you put your shopping bags or whatever straight in and pedal away.
  • Puncture resistant tyres with reflective sidewalls

It is not light. At all. It is a strictly utilitarian machine for cruising along at a steady pace carrying hefty loads. You wouldn’t enter a Ford Transit van into Le Mans so you wouldn’t enter a bike like this into the Tour de France either. It also hates headwinds, but then again we all do so that’s something else we all have in common. The handling is lovely due to the upright, arms out position allowing one to take in large gulps of fresh air (or not, London readers). The basic rule of thumb which I love is that if the handling is erratic, then you are cycling too fast. Slow down.

It must be stated that I’m not gaining maximum enjoyment from this bike on the 12 mile[ish] commute, not because it isn’t a joy to ride but because of the time constraints that my current routine imposes. Because The Boy requires his breakfast at 8am, I have to cajole him until The Wife prepares it so I can then bolt out the door to get to work for 9am. This is repeated in the evening when I leave at 5.30pm to have to get back for 6.30pm so I can bathe The Boy and give him his final feed before putting him to bed. Sometimes with a bedtime story about bicycle infrastructure in Groningen (which does seem like a fairy tale when read in the UK) or, if he’s been bad tempered, excerpts from John Franklin’s Cyclecraft.

All this means that I’m usually a bit sweaty (wearing a wind and waterproof jacket doesn’t help as they never vent enough). However, it must be reiterated that this is a fault of the constraints that my lifestyle has placed on the bike as opposed to being a fault of the bike. I could just say ‘stuff it’ and get into cycling gear to make a speedier commute on my road bike but I now find that with a helmet on and being back on drop handlebars makes me a noticeably more aggressive rider, chasing down others and being passed far too close by motorists that suddenly see me as an illegal alien in their environment. I’ve re-entered a testosterone fuelled Rat Race of the male cyclists’ creation.

However, it’s not just what this bike does now as what this bike will be able to do in the future. As the days continue to draw out, so will The Boys bath and bedtime. I’ll be able to cast off the waterproofs (but be able to keep them in the pannier as it usually chucks it down during the tennis at Wimbledon) and feel the warm sea air blowing in off gently crashing waves as I have a go at South Coast Cycle Chic. I’m going to purchase a front child seat shortly for leisurely rides along Worthing Promenade seeing as The Boy is now 9 months old. We’ll try and go a traffic free route so he doesn’t pick up any swear words. Or we could just immigrate to Denmark or the Netherlands and properly fit in.

In short, if you want a do it all bike with the added appeal of being lycra free that can take all types of loads, people or little people whilst sitting back and enjoying the view, then I strongly recommend a Dutch Bike or Roadster. The sheer get on and go appeal means that I’m using it for far more errands. And then finding excuses to run more errands.

Old Dutch on the train. The bike is more reliable than Southern Rail.

When Cyclists Matter

I believe this has featured on other blogs but everyone needs to see this.

Another marvellous film from Markenlei (Mark Wagenbuur), this time focussing on public and media attention after an incident involving a large pick up and 4 teenage cyclists in the Netherlands.

I would advise that British (and I would suggest North American) Lo Fidelity readers watch this in a seated position with a stunned look bordering on incomprehension at a nation that actually gives a toss about its citizens.

I must also point you in the direction of Darlington Cycling Campaign for this wonderful post that puts a bit of good old British crappy perspective around the whole thing. David Hembrow adds Netherlands gloss.

To illustrate media perception in the UK, here is a letter in last week’s Worthing Herald. In the same issue was a story about some teenagers that were injured when the driver lost control of his car at speed. No-one wrote a letter about that. It’s just one of those things.

Long live the Embassy.

That it has come to this

'Just riding to the shop for a paper, dear'

At half past one this morning, I finally finished the rough draft minutes for the start-up meeting for the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. Please feel free to peruse/comment/laugh at them. When you’ve had your fill and informed me of any additions or omissions, I shall be turning it into a formal document (maybe with some pictures if you’re lucky). I haven’t included any snide comments or backchat implying that I drew anyone to the meeting under the false pretence of free Fererro Rocher.

Anyway, I had no idea this week was ‘Culture of Fear Week’.

On Tuesday, BBC Breakfast decided to run a feature on the use of cycle helmets to secure convictions.

‘Ben Porter, a stagehand from London, bought a camera to show incredulous friends and family just how dangerous his daily commute could be.

Like many others, he uploaded clips of the worst driving onto YouTube and would discuss them on cycling forums like CycleChat.

For most cyclists, “naming and shaming” drivers is as far as it goes. But Ben decided to take things further after one van driver overtook him too close and then jumped out to confront him, shouting abuse.

“I think he wanted to teach me a lesson. It wasn’t very nice, but he didn’t notice the camera,” he said.’

This may have been prompted by the story of Martin Porter QC, Barrister and writer of the sublime Cycling Lawyer blog

From the BBC Website

Martin Porter, 48, of Sunningdale, has been knocked off his bicycle and has had drivers threaten to kill him.

He says he is collecting evidence of serious incidents to hand to police.

He said: “Earlier on this year I had a man in a car force me to the side of the road and threaten to follow me home and burn my house down.”

Firstly I would like to say that I have nothing against helmet mounted cameras or people who use them. Cases like these are not everyday occurances, it must be said. I commute 24 miles a day with not much in the way of incident (touch wood). In both instances, they have publically highlighted not only the abuse and dangerous standards of driving that many cyclists have to face day-to-day, but also the ridiculous lengths people have to go to to get a whiff of justice. I urge you to read Martin Porters account (and indeed the rest of his blog) as he writes far better than I.

I simply find it very sad that we have arrived at a point where people have felt compelled to go to these lengths just because they choose to ride a bicycle for their commute. If grown men feel that they not only have to armour themselves with a helmet but put surveillance measures on it too, then what hope is there for our nations children that would like to cycle to school?

It would appear that Northern Ireland are also keen to follow Jerseys lead and let the Culture of Fear prevail by trying to make helmet wearing compulsary. I find it incredibly perverse that despite all the troubles that the Province has faced up to, the powers that be maintain the fearmongering by making all bicycle riders wear protective headgear for getting to the shops, work and school without looking at the bigger picture. It disregards the motorists duty of responsibility to vulnerable road users and will of course have a negative effect on cycling numbers – like everywhere else it’s been implemented.

Although I am staunchly pro-choice, to me a helmet already makes cycling look like an alien activity and a camera, to me, distances cycling even further from the everyday activity that it should be.  As I’ve written before, if we honestly believe that putting protective clothing such as helmets or high-viz tabards on people should be considered the best way forward for something as simple as riding a bicycle then we have collectively failed; The Government has consistently failed to deliver on sustainable transport policy, Local Councils have consistently failed by installing infrastructure that is always a poorly designed, dangerous insult to cycling, Highways Authorities have consistently failed by upgrading main roads to the point that they become effectively unusable for cyclists and pedestrians whilst providing no decent alternative, Road Safety experts have consistently failed to address what the real issues are regarding road safety, motorists have failed with their scant regard for other road users in the self-important delusion that they own the roads, cycle campaigners and campaign groups have all consistently failed by entering a protracted dog fight that is ultimately doomed to failure. The ‘War on the Motorist’ is already over without a meaningful shot being fired and yet still produces thousands of dead and injured each year. As I look at an AA road atlas, I still note that one can drive to all points of the British Isles without let or hindrance. Cycling to all points is a different matter.

Another treat, launched this week to increase society’s sense of fear was a website pinpointing where crimes are being committed in your area (I tried to look up Midsomer but the place doesn’t exist apparently).

As stated earlier, these are very sad days indeed where, despite being rare incidences, people are facing abuse and intimidation on the roads to the point that they are compelled to wear protective clothing and cameras. Where the act of doing something so deliciously simple is made to look complex to the point of an extreme sport, just to pop out to change a library book or buy a pint of milk. Where people have to check a website to see what crime is occurring around them thereby increasing their sense of fear and keeping them behind locked house and car doors as opposed to getting out on foot or by bicycle and actually being a part of the community and realising that it’s not all bad.

The answer really is as easy as riding a bicycle and providing the infrastructure for the general public to do it.

I’m just glad all this didn’t happen during Bike Week.