Go for Launch

An inviting seaside path. Inviting to what, I'm not quite sure.

Well! Apologies to Lo Fidelity Readers for the gaps between postings but in the end family matters and Chairing the Embassy took precedence. I realised that I wouldn’t be able to keep the usual stunningly high standards that you’ve come to know and love on this blog.

On Saturday September 3rd the Official Launch of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain will take place. We shall be launching our key policies and there will be a photo call, but it’s more of a chance for like-minded people to get together for a picnic and chat about how Great Britain could have a stab at decency if it really tried. We already have a combined Mission Statement and Manifesto plus a wonderful ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ document for your perusal and we shall be handing out print versions at the event.

It’s been wonderful seeing things develop; the entries to the Summer Poster Competition have been superb (there’s still time to enter!) and due to popular demand our webmaster has  lovingly set up a shop for you to buy stuff incorporating the logo lovingly created by our Manchester Consulate. I’ve been informed that we’ll have a Zazzle shop available too for those requiring cheaper stickers. Advert over.

I’ll personally be happy when the policies are launched as it finally gives us the clarity we require. Let me try to very briefly explain my personal viewpoint…

Basically, despite fairly good documents like this, Councils and Highways Authorities across the land have been building stuff like this, this and this which is basically this. Usually, the only time local campaign groups get to see designs for stuff like this, this and this is when the design has already been signed off and programmed for construction but now the Councils and Highways Authorities can tick the box that they have consulted with cyclists. The designs are often slightly less dangerous than this, look like they were designed with this whilst on this and often put these in direct conflict with these. Local people then think local cyclists asked for this, this and this and councils then produce documents basically portraying themselves as this, even though they are simply paving the way for more of this.

Experienced cyclists through the years have tried to ignore stuff like this, this and this, rightfully claiming that they have the right to the road even though they sometimes get this for not using this if it’s nearby despite this.

I set up this because, like others, I started to look at stuff like this, this and from this chap and wondered what sort of forcefield must be in existence in the North Sea to stop us adopting ideas and methodologies that led to a culture of this, this or this. Their methods are not always perfect, and it would be wrong to suggest that it could be picked up and transplanted wholesale. However, the approach (along with other countries) that has proven success in delivering this, this and this has to be a bit better than this, this and this. I believe that Councils have to be stopped producing this as a matter of urgency (don’t forget, in times like these, they have a greater excuse to plead poverty despite saying the same to cyclists when times were good). It is not about putting cycle infrastructure everywhere. There is a raft of measures to be considered in terms of traffic reduction, speed restriction etc. But if we don’t do something to a decent standard, and think in terms of coherent network instead of piecemeal ‘solutions’ that act like a Band-Aid on a laceration, then cyclists using the open road in the meantime will get continuing and unwarranted abuse as more junk gets built and the bicycle will continue to not be taken seriously as a mode of transport. I cannot think of a single facility in the UK that could be used safely and comfortably by experienced cyclist and 10 year old alike guaranteeing continuity unless it occurs by accident in the form of converted railway lines. If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right with no more potential for conflict with more vulnerable groups.

Phew! I’m paraphrasing a bit but that’s a personal basic outline.

Anyway, I hope you can make it.

Footnote 24/08/11

As I was gracefully peddling in this morning through the glorious British summer murk, it occured to me that this post carries a lot of rib-tickling crap infrastructure images from Warrington Cycle Campaign’s ‘Facility of the Month’ page on their website. It is therefore only fair and proper that I not only recommend you go back every month to find out ‘how not to do it’ , but also buy their book (it is also available from decent local high street booksellers so you can buy a copy and then wander over to your County Council Highways Department infoming them that they are a published joke available internationally). Royalties go to the worthwhile CTC’s Cyclists Defence Fund

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Cycling Embassy of Great Britain: A Personal 6 Month Audit

It is six months to the day since the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain started on a cold, cloudy day in Central London. Personally I believe that, at the very least, it has provoked debate about the future of cycling and cycle campaigning in the UK which can only be a good thing. For that alone I’m very happy with the way things have progressed.

Mark Ames speaking at the inaugural meeting. Lovely speaking voice.

Since then, things have developed at a steady canter (as befits a purely voluntary organisation with a wide selection of day jobs). However, it would be fair to say that I’ve easily spent over half of my time trying to placate other cycling organisations and representatives. In the end I published a blog post for Cycling Mobility outlining our position and my only regret is that I didn’t write it sooner.  When a new organisation starts out, there will always be a lot of bluster, rampant enthusiasm and even anger at what has gone before. By questioning the very nature and direction of cycle campaigning in the UK, we were always going to make waves.

erm...look what my 14 month old son spelt out for me in the bath....I had nothing to do with this, I just found it. Honest.

Here are some personal thoughts and news on how the Embassy is developing;

  • The board is now in place with myself as Chair (unanimously voted in by strategically waiting until everyone had drank a fair amount of alcohol before instigating the vote), Sally Hinchcliffe as Secretary, Anthony Cartmell as Webmaster, Geoff Rone as Treasurer, Mark Ames as Press Officer with Chris Page completing the team alongside massive help from Joe Dunckley and David Arditti .
  • WE ARE LAUNCHING OFFICIALLY IN SEPTEMBER. THIS IS GOING TO HAPPEN.
  • The Combined Manifesto and Mission Statement has recently been bolstered by our Frequently Asked Questions document. Thanks to Sally for that. She has written a thriller so this kind of thing was always going to be right up her street.
  • Our Manchester Consulate were very quick on the ball in creating what to me is still the piece de resistance – our shiny logo. This will be the centrepiece of some lovely merchandise available soon. I’m still pondering about requests for Embassy flags for people to put on bikes to look like Ambassadorial vehicles. I’m open to further suggestions.
    Lovely, isn't it? It's the only bicycle symbol in British history to incorporate mudguards.
  • The wiki is continuing to develop with some extremely good contributions from helmets to Dutch Cycle Infrastructure to Subjective safety. Some Embassy members are off to the Netherlands on a study tour organised by David Hembrow to collate further information and social history to better grasp how the Dutch got to where they are now with cycle infrastructure fit for all ages, styles and speeds. Being a wiki, it is of course open to contributions from all. If you’d like to help join the research, please let us know.
  • We now have a bank account and PayPal is fully operational. I can put in that £80.56 now.  I’d like to thank all those that have contributed thus far, it really is going to be a massive help in the future. Don’t stop now though!
  • Some may have noticed I’ve added Crap Cycling and Waltham Forest to our front page blog roll. Whatever people say about him/them/her, we have made the same transition in cycling belief. To me, it is a blog that represents the primal scream of cycle blogging and I would be lying if I said it wasn’t an influence.
  • David Hembrow has kicked off the first of what I hope will be many more brilliant guest blog posts. If you would like to contribute with anything from cycling to school with your children to cycle infrastructure and the built environment, please let me know.
  • In April, I was kindly  invited by Movement for Liveable London to give a talk. The suggestion was for something based on ‘I Want What They’re Having – How the Rest of the World is Achieving a Cycle Revolution’. The end result is here.
  • In June I was also invited to the Annual Parliamentary Bike Ride and appeared in a film about Blackfriars Bridge by Carlton Reid. I’m no stranger to this event, having attended as a CTC member of staff a few years ago, but it seemed to me then, as now, that it was simply a symbolic event with lots of nice, well-meaning people who were allowed into a room in the House of Lords to be told how wonderful cycling is………and that’s it, see you next year for Bike Week 2012 (which will probably be even more divorced from basic utility cycling due to Team GB and the Olympics). Such events are pleasant, good-natured affairs. I even had an amiable chat for a lengthy part of the ride with the very nice Julian Huppert MP. But that’s it. It was very well organised and nice to be there though!

The reason I saved Blackfriars Bridge until last is because something very big is happening in Central London at 6pm this evening. This is the Embassy Press Release which, I’ve just been informed, features in today’s Evening Standard. Please, please give it your support. Massive credit is due to Mark Ames. and indeed the London Cycling Campaign. Further detail may be found here, here, here and here.

Why is the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain concentrating on such a London-centric issue? Well, it’s because, to me, TfL are the carbon copy of any highways authority across the land designing dangerous drivel, more often than not with minimal consultation with the end users. Quite often there are designers, engineers and technicians within these organisations who would quite happily design something wonderful that benefitted all, but sadly can’t due to political masters committed to ‘smoothing traffic flow’ and quite often shovelling pedestrians and cyclists together safely out-of-the-way in the name of progress, or on ‘Superhighways’ that rewrite the dictionary definition of the word ‘super’. How many more people would TfL like to die before they finally get the fact that a change of approach in a city made up of people might be required?

Words and Pictures

The police escort arrives to give me my Guard of Honour to the Houses of Parliament. Oh, and escort some MP's and Lords and yadda yadda yadda.

Last Wednesday, I caught the train up to London for the Annual Parliamentary Bike Ride which is the promotional prelude to Bike Week. As I was taking my Dutch Bike along, I had to catch the first train out of Worthing to beat Southern Rail’s [non-folding] bike ban which operates between 7-10am. I then cycled along Victoria Street, round Parliament Square (fine for me on an upright Dutch bike but I wouldn’t expect my mother to cycle this comfortably – unless she was actually a reasonably fit man aged between 18-45), over Westminster Bridge taking the vaguest of vague left turns into Belvedere Road toward the start point at the London Eye.

Carlton Reid interviewing Ed Clancy. He'd just interviewed me which was all the work he had to do really.

This is an event organised by CycleNation and ex-colleague Adam Coffman of CTC in particular. The great and the good of cycle campaigning were there including London Cycling Campaign’s new Chief Executive Dr Ashok Sinha. The ride was to take us over Blackfriars Bridge where Carlton Reid made this film.

We cycled along the Embankment, past Buckingham Palace and on to the Houses of Parliament where Norman Baker (MP for Lewes, East Sussex and Parliamentary Under Secretary for the Department for Transport) took questions before dashing off to catch a train.

Cycling over Blackfriars Bridge. It's quite pleasant and relaxing with a police escort. Some decent infrastructure and a maintained 20mph limit will do.

 It was all very nice but that’s all it was. I’m all for devolving power but it needs the Department for Transport to treat the bicycle seriously as a mode of transport and keep a grip on Local & Highways Authorities whose main mission seems to be making cycling look as inviting as a timeshare in Tripoli. Councils across the land are continuing to build pitiful infrastructure whether cycle campaigners want it or not and the Local Transport Fund is not going to help that – if anything it will only encourage them to paint more bicycle symbols on pavements. The Monday before the Bike Ride, I wrote a blog post for the new Cycling Mobility magazine outlining my views on this and more here.

What I really cannot understand is why this country continues to ignore the Netherlands and Denmark – countries that have had proven success in creating bicycle cultures, that have made lots of mistakes since the 1970’s when developing its infrastructure and learnt from them now using a mixture of solutions to achieve modal shares we can only dream of over here if we continue the way we are. Maybe I should have asked Norman Baker on the study tour I’m going on in September.

The day after I was commuting to work and the puncture fairy visited me..

Bicycle repair in Shoreham by Sea

 In a former life I would have thrown my arms in the air, sworn a lot, replaced the inner tube as to engage in repair would lose valuable time in my cycling rat race (time was always against me when I cycled quicker for some reason), sworn again as I get grease from the chain and derailleur onto my work clothes in my super dooper courier bag etc etc. This time I just set about the gentle art of bicycle repair, reminded by the advice given to me by Stefan Petursson when I purchased the bike from Amsterdammers in Brighton. The conversation went like this;

Stefan: (put on your best Icelandic/Dutch accent here) ‘you know the best way to repair punctures on a Dutch Bike?’

Me: (put on your sexiest British accent here) ‘No’

I was at this point expecting to hear some incredible tip known only by the Dutch Peoples – maybe something treasured & carried over from generation to generation by word of mouth

Stefan: We pump the inner tube up like so…….and we listen.

I closed my eyes in a half wince/half flinch way. This advice was of course nothing new to me. But in that instant it made me realise that I had been taking the commute far too seriously with all the kit and speed and competitiveness and the subscription to Cycling Plus. By buying an upright utilitarian bike, I had yet to realise that things were about to get a lot slower and far more interesting. Again, this is not to discredit other forms of cycling as we are all part of one big family. But since riding the Dutch Bike my life has become simpler and cheaper and more spontaneous with more freedom and time for thought as a result. Exactly as cycling should be.

Lancing Beach just off NCN2 looking back toward Worthing. I can think of worse commutes.

Obviously they are not everyone’s cup of tea but quite why we ignore Dutch & Danish bikes (and indeed classic British roadsters too) as well as their infrastructure standards is quite beyond me. In the UK, mudguards are still regarded as an accessory! In Wimbledon Fortnight!! Madness, I tell you.

Why People In The UK Don’t Cycle No 4 – Driving is Easier

 

Still simpler than cycling through Guildford

‘Driving a car is simpler than riding a bike, why that’s ridiculous!’ I hear you say dear reader. You’re right of course, but in the UK we persistently go out of our way to make the more complicated mode of transport simpler, and the simpler mode of transport more complicated.

I received a thought provoking response to an earlier post from a Lo Fidelity reader in Swindon who wrote the following,

‘….I think most people use their car because their car is more convenient. I’m a cyclist and even I do this. Two real world reasons for not cycling I’ve heard in my office:
– I have to drop the kids off at/pick the kids up from school on time
– I can’t be bothered to maintain a bike
Cars keep you dry and warm/cool, get you places quickly, don’t make you sweaty, don’t need any special clothing, don’t find hills a struggle, easily carry other people, kids and luggage/shopping.

I actually have to go to a lot of effort to cycle. If I wanted to make the 1.5 mile trip to my parents’ house right now I’d have to remember to take the lock, put some hi-viz on, put my gloves on, walk to the shed, unlock the bike, walk back down the garden, lock the back door, tuck my trousers into my socks, take stuff off when I got there and lock the bike only to have to unlock the bike and put it all back on again for the journey home. To drive I’d have to remember to put my glasses on, walk out the front door, get in the car and go.

YES, some of that is because of the bike I use and choices I make. But it’s a real faff!…’

Unfortunately, I think he’s right and has summed up British attitudes perfectly. Here is how I start the day as a cyclist;

Wake up, change The Boys’ first steaming nappy of the day, put on Endura Base Layer and Shorts plus jersey and three quarter length Endura baggy shorts (ironically to look less like a cyclist) with reflective Buff and Altura Night Vision jacket (in black) & Mavic MTB shoes, prepare lunch, get bike out of shed, walk it through house (ignoring The Wife gritting her teeth), put on helmet (only to make my wife feel better even though she doesn’t mind me not wearing one when I’m riding the Brompton) & gloves, check lights, ride to work, carry bike into office (I’m allowed to keep it inside as there is no covered parking so no need to carry a lock), shower (we have one at work), sit at desk.

Here’s how it could be if I decided to drive to work;

Wake up, change The Boys’ first steaming nappy of the day, shower (we have one at home), put on regular clothes, prepare lunch, grab keys, get in car (parked outside in the street at no cost), drive 12 miles to work, park in visitors bay, walk up to office, sit at desk.

The car sounds simpler doesn’t it? However that is me overcomplicating the simple and over simplifying the complicated.

Let’s now see how much simpler things would be if I adopted my Grandfathers cycling routine

Wake Up, wash, dress in work clothes, pick up lunch, get bike, ride to work, leave bike outside building.

All of a sudden cycling starts to look easy doesn’t it? I also bet that most cycle commuters on the European Mainland have a routine more similar to my Grandfather than me (even though he has been dead for decades), and that if they were to read my routine they would bury their heads in their palms.

My routine also allows for no spontaneity; I can’t just stop off at a pub to meet a friend because that involves finding somewhere safe to park my bike and not looking so much like a ‘cyclist’. Even stopping at a shop becomes a tiresome chore because I (and I’m sure any others in the UK through no fault of their own) become ‘locked in’ on the commute. In trying to get free of the rat race, I’ve created my own one.

The reason it’s so easy in a car is that UK politicians and society has bent over backwards to make things easy for the car from roads to parking to cost to out of town convenience. This has come at massive expense to communities, businesses and all other forms of transport that are often shoveled off the road onto crap infrastructure in the name of safety. What should be a simple bike ride into the centre of town often looks dangerous, circuitous and not worth the effort.

However, let’s look at my full routine for driving to work.

Organize finance, look for correct car, purchase car, buy insurance, check that car has MOT and the correct Vehicle Excise Duty (based on emissions), change The Boys’ first steaming nappy of the day, shower, put on regular clothes, prepare lunch, grab keys, get in car, check that there is enough fuel, pull out (although I’m loathe to surrender the space as I know it will be a struggle to park near my house when I return), get fuel, join queue of frustrated drivers trying to join A27, drive along racetrack that is A27 between Worthing and Brighton within the speed limit with full concentration thus incurring the wrath of  ‘expert’ drivers of more powerful cars, leave A27 at Devils Dyke and join queue on slip road, watch other motorists drive alongside the queue slowly to nip in where a gap appears increasing the levels of rage and frustration of motorists immediately behind, make sure radio is on Classic FM to ease frustration and wonder how and why people do this every day at great cost to their health, wellbeing and environment, park in visitors bay, walk up to office, sit at desk.

Not so easy and pleasant put that way is it? Motoring advertisers will of course gloss over a lot of that last paragraph (many new cars come with ‘free’ VED too to save you the hassle but often calling it ‘Road Tax’ even though it hasn’t existed since 1937 and doesn’t pay directly for the roads).

We need to make motoring the expensive, dangerous pain in the arse that it actually is. We need to make our towns and cities civilised again by making walking and cycling more pleasant. We need to improve the nation’s sense of health and wellbeing. We need to reduce the amount of people killed or maimed on our roads day in day out. It has to be addressed in a positive way (because it is) or else it will be deemed by the Complication Merchants as ‘A War on the Motorist’.

By the same token, I am doing my bit to make cycling simpler for me – My bike is in my local bike shop to change it to a pleasing hub geared tourer/roadster. It’s time to enjoy the commute again – and cycling.

We have to make the complicated complicated and the simple simple. It’s really very simple. Not complicated at all.