London to Glasgow

Well, doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun?! I know it’s a month since my last confession to you, dear reader, but every time I sit down to compose a blog post of great intellect, mirth and wit about bicycles or a bicycle related subject, something momentous happens in the World of cycle campaigning. As a result, as far as blogging is concerned, I’ve just sat back and watch events unfold partly because there are other bloggers who clearly have more time on their hands to produce superior stuff but also there has been plenty going on at the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain too.

Last Friday afternoon, I boarded a train at Brighton to head to London Victoria. I then cycled through Central London via the West End to Euston Station.

I’m sorry but although as an experienced cyclist, I personally find riding through London an absolute hoot on my Brompton, I still think it’s unnecessarily unpleasant. Actually, it’s like ‘It’s A Knockout’ on bikes. People unfamiliar with cycling in London can replicate the experience by doing the following:

  1. Drink a pint of very strong Expresso
  2. Dress like a brightly coloured robot with helmet and any light you can find. A thousand-yard stare also helps if you wish to look ‘advanced’.
  3. If you have a car with garage or carport, ask a neighbour round to sit in the car, start the engine and leave it running whilst leaving the garage door closed
  4. Try and cycle around the car as fast as you can, trying to squeeze through the gap between the bodywork and the wall whilst getting your neighbour to open the driver’s door occasionally in front of you and/or shout abuse.
  5. If you’re allowed, paint the garage floor blue before carrying out 1-4 to replicate a ‘Superhighway’.

That’s cycling in London. Especially in rush hour. To me, anyway.

Today however (22nd February, 6.30pm) there’s going to be a ‘flashride’ past the Palace of Westminster on Parliament Square – yet another area of London that could be fantastic, particularly in an Olympic year with a massive influx of tourists. However, like most other places of historic importance, we like to showcase our treasures by demonstrating how much traffic we can force for that adrenalin fuelled, fume clogged, pointlessly stress inducing atmosphere essential to the full British experience. The flashride is being held ahead of a Parliamentary debate the following day on a campaign created by The Times called ‘Cities Fit For Cycling’. This is a campaign inspired by Mary Bowers, a young news reporter at The Times who was run over by a lorry on Friday, November 4th and sadly remains in a coma to this day.

Whatever the views of experienced cyclists and cycle campaign groups about this initiative, there is one fact that must be always borne in mind.

This is how the general public views us.

In that respect, I found it fascinating; Firstly, that all of a sudden cycling was thrust ‘out there’ into the public domain, far, far beyond the cycling internet forums and blogs and conferences with all the opinion that followed. Secondly, it clarified the fact that [in Britain] the line between sport cycling and utility cycling is completely blurred to the public eye.  As a result it made sense to talk about helmets and even helmet compulsion (even though they don’t even feature in The Times eight point manifesto) as a galaxy of cycling stars stepped forward to imply that racing around a track or leading the final sprint in the Tour of Qatar or the Race Across America is exactly like riding a bicycle to the local shop to buy a loaf of bread.

Track racing. Totally relevant - if this was the '800m Sprint to Garage Forecourt to Buy Last Bunch of Flowers for Mothers Day'

Anyway, from Euston I caught the train to Glasgow Central in readiness for Saturday where I attended the first Scottish Consulate and Infrastructure Safari. For those new to this blog, a Safari is where one goes for a bike ride to hunt cycling infrastructure. Some of it may be fairly good, whilst some of it is guaranteed to be a contender for the Turner Prize. When I first said to friends that I was going up to Glasgow, I got knowing looks and tapped noses from people who assured me that I was going to get my face gently smashed in because of my beautiful Surrey accent with a slight tinge of Radio 4 Continuity Announcer – probably a good reason to take a helmet. However, Glasgow proved to be wonderful, the weather proved to be fascinating, the beer proved to be delicious and our hosts led by Dave ‘Magnatom’ Brennan were very hospitable & amiable indeed. Sadly the puncture fairy also to decided to visit – I was informed that it was either due to the mystical geological layer of green glass that the city sits on, where it sometimes protrudes, glistening through the pavement and towpath. Or it was all the smashed glass, common to many town and city centres where puncture fairies go out on the piss.

I shall write about Glasgow in a separate post, partly because there is much of interest to the City and Suburb Infrastructure Buff and mostly because I have to split things in to bite size manageable chunks. In the meantime, if you are in London this afternoon/early evening, please go to the ride and give your support.

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Dispatches from the Edge

Well, spring is definitely in the air and a young mans thoughts turn to…cycling. Well, a slightly older man anyway. This week has seen perfect weather for riding a Dutch Bike through the Third World of Cycling that is the UK. A gentle cooling breeze and gorgeous sunshine tempered slightly by the exhaust fumes. This is also my fourth month of riding without a helmet which has been liberating. It must be said however that now I’m riding a civilised bike in a more civilised manner, I’m not putting myself in dangerous situations. Also, I can’t help but feel that if a car collided with me, the car would come of worst against the Beast that is the Old Dutch.

Firstly, the Embassy news;

  • Due to the work, family and friends commitments of me and the rest of team, we are pushing back the launch date. 1st April probably seemed easy in the wave of Euphoria that accompanied the start up meeting on 29th January. However, April Fools Day is also a date that can backfire greatly in PR terms, particularly with regards our naysayers. We are instead aiming for Wednesday June 22nd which is slap bang in the middle of Bike Week (venue to be confirmed). This will go up on the Embassy website.
  • A Wiki has been established and material is being slowly added. It involves a lot of work (particularly as it’s coming from volunteers) but the results are very good indeed. A massive thanks to those that have contributed so far and we are always open to more volunteers stepping forward to contribute.
  • I have been receiving a lot of messages from people that love the new logo as it represents the everyday bike. Again, a very big thanks to our representatives that put the MAN in Manchester, Mr C and A2BJim.
  • People have been contributing too financially. Thanks to all that have dipped in to their pockets thus far. If you believe in our beliefs, you know where to click.

Other news

As far as the budget is concerned, I was going to write something big and profound but what’s the point when you have wonderful articles such as this from Joe Dunckley and of course Caroline Lucas.

My quick view for what it’s worth is that the Conservatives are still locked in the totally misguided belief that the motor vehicle is the key to jobs, prospects and prosperity. And they have also relaxed planning laws which will just result in more sprawl requiring more roads. The mountain we have to climb politically makes Mont Ventoux look more like the South Downs. I don’t think these measures are deliberately anti-cyclist because quite frankly I don’t think we even feature on their radar.

We’re that sporty thing people do in funny clothing. We’re the thing you put bikes on the backs of cars and drive miles to find somewhere to do safely. It’s that thing that Companies, Councils and even Governments mention in their literature showing an airy-fairy commitment to a greener future without actually doing anything. But the bicycle doesn’t actually count in societal terms. The bicycle just isn’t taken seriously other than being a counter-cultural curiosity and a hindrance to ‘progress’ at best. At least with more people cycling and walking, we don’t have to bomb quite so many countries to the tune of billions and commit our brave armed forces to secure oil……..sorry, I meant facilitate a regime change to create harmony for its peoples through a fair and democratic process.

Anyway, speaking of idiocy, I leave you with this nugget of an article from Celia Walden writing in the Daily Telegraph.

‘I nearly killed a girl on Monday. She was cycling in front of me around Hyde Park Corner in 1950s shades and a pretty floral dress, so caught up in reveries of herself as the heroine of a French art-house film that she swerved into the middle of my lane without signalling. There was no helmet, of course, and no high-visibility gear – which would have marred the whole sunny tableau. The worst accident she could think of was that her skirt might flutter up to reveal a charming pair of white cotton knickers. That she might be spatchcocked across three lanes hadn’t crossed her mind: the Fair Weather Cyclist prefers not to think such morbid thoughts.

I had wanted to confine my rage to the FWCs – currently the most dangerous strain on the roads – but I fear that may be impossible: basically I loathe all London cyclists. Like the café-goers who sit out on our narrow pavements stoically sipping cappuccinos in a haze of toxic hydrocarbons, these people live in a fantasy world. To them, Leicester Square is the Piazza Navona and our dual carriageways the cobbled backstreets of the Last of the Summer Wine. Traffic signals don’t apply to London cyclists, up there as they are on the moral high ground with their officially endorsed sense of righteousness. Sociologically, polls have shown that they tend to be a preening, upper-middle class bunch. They use words like “pootle,” and cycle home “smashed” from the pub. If Marie-Antoinette were alive today, she’d have a bike – with a sweet little Cath Kidston basket.

No, on reflection, 1950s floral girl is not the most pernicious cyclist out there. At least she, after a near-death experience with a London bus or the onset of a little light drizzle, will permanently withdraw from the roads. As we near the Olympics and our new velodrome is completed, there will be a growing breed of young male racers to worry about. And of course this lot are so confident on the roads that they will all be plugged into their iPods, calmly humming “lalalalala” along to Sasha Distel as that articulated lorry indicates left. …..’

Obviously she’s never travelled around a town or city in Mainland Europe with just a bicycle where the powers that be and the people actually give a toss. God knows what possessed her to write such angry, prejudiced drivel. Oh, no wait! She’s married to Piers Morgan, I KNEW there had to be something wrong with her! Phew! That’s that one solved. Enjoy the sunshine  gentlemen and ladies of course if you dare with Celia Walden behind the wheel.

Stylish Woman On Bicycle. Very bad apparently (Photo: Copenhagen Cycle Chic)

Cycling in London

Handsome chap on a bike....wait a minute! It's me! (Photo by Marco Leitão Silva and unbelievably, his lens didn't crack)

Well, that was a long pause between posts! Apologies for not posting over the last week or two but other things had to take priority such as family, friends and of course the day job. 

Marco Leitão Silva at the rather nice blog Cycling in London interviewed me a while ago about the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain and the finished article is here

I shall be giving an update on Embassy business tomorrow along with my own view on the Budget, although Mr C from Manchester Cycling sums it up very well here.

In the meantime I shall leave you with this latest film from Mark Wagenbuur about the problems Rotterdam faced when it was realised that only 25% of trips in the area were made by bicycle (yes, I know).

Full post on David Hembrows site.