Ionian Infrastructure and a Sussex Safari

Right! First things first. I shall be leading a seaside Infrastructure Safari from Worthing to Brighton on Saturday 18th August. We shall be meeting at Worthing Railway Station at 12.30pm to give everyone a fighting chance of making it down to the South Coast. The pace shall be leisurely with frequent stops to discuss, take photos and sometimes just laugh at various cycle infrastructure issues throughout the route.

Here is an earlier blog post about the Safari

I have also prepared a detailed google map of the route with links.

Everyone is welcome to join me and I shall ensure that there is a pub at the end (more details on that nearer the time) with a chance to stop for snacks en route.

These bikes make marvellous hanging ornaments. They are especially handy if you are from Lilliput or you are using British cycle infrastructure

Anyway, apologies for not writing in a while, dear reader, but my wife and I decided to head to Corfu and Paxos for a week. My Mother in Law stupidly volunteered to look after our son for a week so we could get away for a bit. Although we love our son above everything else, opportunities like this do not come readily. This led to a flurry of research and planning from my wife probably not seen since the planning of the Apollo 11 Mission.

We decided to go to Corfu City for an evening. It has a population of around 30,000, it serves as Capital for the region of the Ionian islands and is very, very beautiful feeling Venetian in character. Whilst wandering around a park (next to the only Cricket pitch in Greece – a legacy of British Empire on the Island), I spotted some vague, ethereal lines painted on the wide pathways, barely visible in the simmering Ionian heat. ‘What’s this?’, I thought. It would appear that modern Britain may have left a legacy too in the form of really average cycle lanes. Since I arrived back in Britain, I encountered these rather good blog posts here and here explaining in more detail what cycle infrastructure was installed in the city. I can only comment on what I saw, which was by sheer chance and I have captured for you in the pictures below. I was going to mention to my Wife how I should have brought a tape measure to check the widths of the path but she might have accurately, firmly and, on balance, correctly kicked me in the testicles.

The lack of cyclists may have been due to the 40 degree heat which always fails to prevent British tourists in adventuring mode.

Here we see a junction where one can leave the shade offered by the park. British readers should be quickest to identify what happened next (although our American friends are very familiar)

Yes, a car parked beautifully across the lane! I encountered this at almost every access/egress point making it an equally hilarious experience for wheelchair users, shoppers and parents with buggies.

So, we have seen vague paths which are a bit narrow in places with even more vague signage, cars parked blocking them and pigeons everywhere. Actually, reading that line back, I’ve just described London with the heat turned up.

I strongly recommend you pay the island a visit.The chilled beers also have the Lo Fidelity seal of approval. Infrastructure nerds in particular have a pretext now, if one were needed.

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Seaside Safaris with Transport Titilation

Bicycles on the Pier – Vintage Postcard of Deal, Kent

If you aren’t doing anything on Saturday 18th August, why not pop down to the South Coast of England as I’ve decided to lead a Seaside infrastructure Safari and you’re all welcome. Yes, even you.

It will be a very leisurely run between Worthing and Brighton, stopping frequently for chats about infrastructure of different qualities and, weather permitting, we can stop for a picnic midway on the beach and a drink or two afterwards. There is a high probability that it will run from Worthing to Brighton as opposed to vice versa due to the strong chance of a prevailing tailwind straight off the sea which, as I find on the daily commute, makes an 11-12 mile jaunt between two seaside resorts a little more pleasant. There shall be a Twitter Hashtag available for those in more distant lands that wish to follow us in spirit and all pictures and data shall be added to the wonderful Cycling Embassy of Great Britain Wiki as well as CycleStreets.

I intend to show you some of the interesting facilities that I face (or could face if I was a bit more into Masochism) on a day-to-day basis such as this, this and this as well as some gems such as this, this and the ultimate Grand Finale – the wonderfully progressive (if slightly flawed) diamond that is this. I am currently working on a map for you to link to which will be available shortly as the route is pretty simple with lots of talking points and genuinely nice sights. It’s a cycle ride by the sea – what’s not to like?! It will also go up on the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain website.

The reason I’m letting you know early is because, if you are a campaigner, Sustrans Ranger, Local Councillor etc in the Brighton [& Hove] & Worthing areas and would like to help talk us through various bits of infrastructure and how they came to be, please contact me and we can sort out the timetable of the route. If you can’t make it, but would like me to read anything out, please also get in touch. My contact details are at the bottom of the About page, and it would be lovely to hear from you, especially if you’d just like to come along of course.

Finally, I sometimes read out the questions at a quiz held occasionally at a pub in Worthing as I have a beautiful speaking voice. Apparently. However, last week I was tasked with compiling the questions. I would like the George Cross as I dropped this nugget into the General Knowledge round…

Although ‘Road Tax’ is still used as a colloquialism, it was in fact abolished in 1937. Which famous politician abolished it?

(For more details on the answer to that question, I wrote here and of course Carlton Reid is custodian of this gem of a website).

Because I was dressed like ‘one of them’, which is funnily enough how I look when on a bicycle, it was simply an interesting talking point as opposed to me being manhandled into a Wicker Man in the pub garden (it would have been outside because, despite the obvious Health & Safety hazard, you also can’t smoke inside a British public premises anymore).

The Daily Mail unveiled it’s simple Manifesto addressing cyclists, gypsies and crime.

And finally finally, the family car was taken away for its annual MOT test earlier this week. Despite the car being 10 years old, the startled mechanic informed us that not only did it pass with no complaints but the emissions tests came out far better than newer cars. Probably because it barely gets used.

West Sussex County Council Gets It Kind of Right. Accidentally.

Absolutely no space for decent cycling provision here. Oh, no siree…

A little while ago, I wrote this post on the National Cycle Network Route 2 between Worthing & Brighton. More specifically, this point where the approach to a junction opens out to 3 lanes heading westbound into Worthing on a 30mph road, perfect for putting your foot down, sticking your finger up to ‘the man’ (or ‘society’ as I like to call it) and competing in testosterone fuelled gladiatorial combat for the road ahead. This stretch of cycle path runs along a converted pavement (sorry, ‘shared use facility’) and is wide enough to intimidate pedestrians or for two cyclists to pass with enough space for a Kleenex tissue, laid side on, between handlebar ends.

However,  extensive gas main works needed to be carried out recently and something so extraordinary occurred that West Sussex County Council and their private contractors could actually be praised for….well, kind of helping cycling a little bit, albeit on an accidental technicality. Firstly, this is how it looked before…

A Cavalcade of Crap

Anyone on a bicycle would have to negotiate a weird slalom of street furniture before picking up the segregated narrow cycle path along the beach. And here is a close up…

A Close Up of the Cavalcade of Crap

To reiterate, this is a National Cycle Network route. The on-road cycle path terminates in a left turn arrow directing a bicycle rider to cross a shared bit of pavement (coloured red) to then pick up the segregated route into town. The bi-directional seafront path is barely wider than the on-road strip of green paint you can see in the picture above but is always far more pleasant than the road and you get the bonus of a beautiful sea view.

However, when the road works had been completed and the barriers cleared away, just look at what they’d done….

Yes! They had realigned the street furniture to allow easier passage for cyclists (and even pedestrians as cyclists were no longer weaving about and the sight lines had improved)!

Still crap in Global infrastructure terms but Hosanna!!

…and the picture below is looking back towards Brighton, also showing what I meant earlier about the on-road path terminating in a left turn.

Staying with the photo above, what I personally would have done was reduce the carriageway to two lanes (one right turn, one straight ahead), removed the pedestrian refuge and widened the seafront path to not only improve the comfort of cyclists, pedestrians, parents with pushchairs and mobility scooter users (of which there are many in Worthing) but you could even add planting to create a far nicer and sustainable gateway into Worthing. After all, the road is 30mph all the way from Worthing to Brighton.

West Sussex County Council has yet to wake up to the genuine benefits to tourism and local businesses that the bicycle could bring as it remains stuck in a Thatcherite time warp. It provides cycle facilities that constantly look like they were designed as an afterthought or the result of a drunken bet, even despite the highways budget going up this year. That said, I wish to acknowledge that this realignment of street furniture is an improvement however trivial or accidental it may be.

Of course, for every positive action, there’s always a negative reaction, which is why a sculpture was installed right in the middle of the cycle path just round the corner.

Normality is resumed.

Scenes From My Commute

Lancing Boat Club

I was cycling my merry way home this evening as I usually do along the seafront from Brighton to Worthing. The Sturmey Archer 3 speed was ticking away like a pacemaker made for Bez from Happy Mondays and the sea breeze was slowly caressing my slowly dwindling hair. Just outside Worthing on the edge of Lancing Beach, I normally encounter this…….

It’s obviously a skip, but it was placed right in the middle of the cycle path to prevent access to the neighbouring greensward by Gypsies and Travelling folk who are despised in Britain slightly more than cyclists, although it’s a very close call. The Daily Mail rule of thumb is that cyclists don’t pay Road Tax (which hasn’t existed since 1937) but Travellers don’t pay any tax (allegedly). We ignore the fact that Vodafone and other large corporations get away with not paying their fair share to the tune of billions because in modern Britain its just easier to pick on minorities. Anyway, imagine my surprise when I came across this…..

The structure on the left already had the seating stripped out to remove the homeless people who would sleep there occasionally and had been given a shiny new coat of red, white and blue, I assume due to the forthcoming Jubilee celebrations. In the patch of brown where the skip was there is now a shiny new blue sculptural bollard  announcing that you are now entering or leaving Lancing Beach.

Unlike the other black columnar art installations you can see, there is nothing reflective at all on it. The picture above shows a bit more context – like the fact that cyclists following the path from Worthing have to do a 90 degree right turn (there is a high white wall just set back to the right) so as they accelerate away, provided they haven’t hit any oncoming cyclists or pedestrians, they can collide with the art installation. The words ‘Lancing Beach’ can be the last thing they remember as they gracefully slip into unconsciousness, with the gentle crashing of waves to keep them company. It’s all part of the rich kaleidoscope that is riding a bicycle in Britain.

Why People In the UK Don’t Cycle No 5 – Bicycle Maintenance

Last Monday night I was sat on the floor in my Kitchen putting a new inner tube and front tyre on my Brompton. I set a new personal best by only swearing twice as I put all my ‘manly’ effort into levering the tyre over the rim – which felt like my attempt to push over Stonehenge whilst on a family trip aged 4.

I enjoy a little bit of bicycle maintenance from time to time, but only a little. Actually, if I was really honest, I’d rather pour a nice glass of deeply refreshing beer, sit back and relax in the knowledge that someone else is doing it and that I’m doing my bit for the local economy – and Worthing has some excellent local bike shops. Last week, the chain snapped on my Dutch Bike whilst sauntering along the seafront (still a few miles from home) just as the Heavens decided to provide Niagara Fallsian levels of precipitation. I could have tried to fix it, removing the chaincase piece by piece, getting colder and wetter and miserable. Instead I tethered the bike at the nearest Railway Station (as the peak time bike ban was still in force), discovered a pub I’d never seen before and had a very reasonably priced and tasty pint of ale with chatty locals after booking the bike in to a local shop. A bit of an inconvenience but it’s my main mode of transport and it’s still way, way cheaper than motoring.

If we can assume for a moment that a barrier to people not cycling in the UK is lack of confidence on our Nations roads and cycle infrastructure designed on a faulty Etch a Sketch, then a lack of confidence in cycle maintenance must also be added to the list.

“Well, that’s the ‘Basingstoke Station Sustainable Travel Link’ sorted out. Let’s add the ‘Cyclists Dismount’ signs by throwing darts at it.”

If your car breaks down, you have the safety of a metal box to lock yourself in whilst a breakdown recovery service can come and carry out the work required or get you home if necessary. You can be a car owner without having to know the slightest thing about how it actually works beyond where the various fluids go and where to put some air from time to time. The motorist is divorced further from the workings of their machines by the fact that they now need specialised computers to ‘diagnose’ any problems or faults. In the past, to open a car bonnet in the village where I grew up would be to attract the attention of every man within a 5 mile radius, each with their own ‘knowledge’ and ‘experience’ to offer, even non-car owners. Nowadays, motorists have to endure the qualified mechanic or ‘Diagnostic Centre’. I personally dread this; partly because I barely use the family car so the cost always seems out of proportion, partly because I speak like a BBC Radio 4 Continuity Announcer which seems to invite an extra ‘0’ to the final total and mainly because the cretins know they can say what they like and I sagely nod my head to anything because in reality I simply don’t care.

To a general public now completely divorced from car repair (or most sorts of domestic appliance repair), to speak to them about bicycle repair is to speak to them about the life of Alan Titchmarch in Esperanto. Later this year, Bike Week will be held where local cycle organisations & campaigns get their time to shine by holding cycling related rides and events. Usually at such events is what’s called a ‘Dr Bike’ stand, where the public can get their bikes checked out by a friendly & knowledgeable volunteer. Personally, I can remember looking with horror at such events as parents would turn up ensuring that their children had the latest safety equipment such as brightly coloured helmets and hi-viz but had neglected to notice that the brake blocks were missing. Buying safety equipment is of course easy and instantly demonstrates to other parents that they care whilst beautifully covering the death trap issue.

One solution would be to give more choice to the public of a type of bicycle that has been around for a very long time and is still more relevant for the majority of journeys that they would take. Dutch Bikes and roadsters built for sheer utility are, as a rule, incredibly low maintenance as gears, brakes and chain are enclosed. I have barely had to touch my Batavus Old Dutch in a year and a half of hard use (chain and rear tyre aside), doing 24 miles a weekday plus weekend duties and being left outside in all elements allied to a salty sea breeze.

I’m certainly not saying that engaging in bicycle repair is a bad thing, in fact far from it. Chris Page, who sits on the board of Cycling Embassy of Great Britain is so wonderfully mechanically minded, he could make a bicycle bell ring with a Mancunian accent. Bicycle repair can be cathartic, even therapy as my Wife will testify after catching me gently weeping with joy on the kitchen floor after successfully changing that Brompton tyre. For those that want to learn a bit more about bicycle mechanics or even train to become a bicycle mechanic, CTC did this useful little booklet (as part of Cycle magazine) with a list of links at the end here.

In the interests of research, I asked a British Ex-Pat living as a Dutchman and a Dutchman living as a Dutchman to see how things are done in the Netherlands. After all, they have more bicycles than people and infrastructure that people want to use as opposed to infrastructure that people want to laugh at (laughing is less painful than remembering that our Council Taxes actually paid for it).

Here are selected extracts from the response I got from David Hembrow

……There are just as many ‘cyclists’ here as in any other country, and they’re just as likely to do their own maintenance.

All my “cycling friends” do their own maintenance, and they all ride around with tools and spare tubes etc., though some may take more difficult jobs to a shop.

However, because of the wide demographics of cycling in the Netherlands, many people who ride bikes in the Netherlands, including many who ride long distances regularly, simply aren’t the sort of person who likes mucking about them. These are the people who perhaps wouldn’t ride bikes if they didn’t live here.

Many people have a bicycle shop which they use regularly, and Dutch bike shops offer “spring maintenance” deals and such-like, so that many people take their bikes into the shop regularly as they would a car for an MOT test. Such a test will typically include an all-in price to repair minor items such as cables or brake pads, but you’ll get an extra bill for more expensive parts.

There’s a definite demographic/class split between the “ride the bike into the ground” types (students etc. I’ve even seen a student in Groningen riding a bike which no longer had handlebars) and those who ride very nice bikes which are well maintained (bank managers etc.).

Here’s the website of our local “bicycle-repair-man”:

Of several other local ones around the country:

And of a national organisation working as some kind of franchise:…’

By the way, David’s Dutch Bike Bits may be purchased online here

Here are selected extracts from the response I got from Mark Wagenbuur

‘….I hardly ever touch my bicycles. I have two, one in Utrecht and one in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

 I remember the last time my Utrecht bike was in the workshop. That was a week before the Australians [who also completed the David Hembrow Study Tour and documented their experiences very well] came  to visit Houten and I was to guide them. I thought my bike had to look presentable. So I had it fixed. New coat protectors, new saddle, new tires (after about 10 years), got everything greased etc. That was a year ago now.

 The time before that was when my ‘fast binders’ snapped while riding  and got so entangled in the back wheel that it couldn’t even turn anymore, that must have been a year before that.  So I’d say it comes in the shop about once a year and I try not to touch it other than that. But I do fix little things, changed the batteries of my back light and just last week the saddle got loose and the front suddenly pointed upwards… very unpleasant… had to unscrew a screw, put it horizontal again and then I fastened the screw again. The sort of things you don’t get your hands dirty with.

 I would fix a punctured tire, but the last time that happened to me must be over 10 years ago. (and tomorrow no doubt… when you say such things).

The ‘s-Hertogenbosch bike is a similar story. I doubt that one has been in the shop in the last two years. It is 27 years old now I think. But I did some maintenance on that one… The original dynamo was slipping and that was because it didn’t turn so well anymore. When it snowed I didn’t have any light anymore. So I bought a new dynamo and actually exchanged it (two screws and two wires I think, about 10 minutes). Before that I actually put it upside down one day… I had to. There was something wrong with the chain for months but the noise it made became audible on the videos… I was too lazy to get it to a shop but one day I got brave and put it upside down. I opened the chain guard (I actually understood how to do that) to find a meter of ribbon people put around presents entangled around the chain and back wheel. I cut it loose and took it out and actually put some grease on the still original chain. Closed the chain guard and it was like new again… That must have been the most elaborate thing I ever did to any bike I ever owned…

So… really not much I do, but I do fix little things sometimes. But the bikes are so low maintenance that you hardly ever have to do something. I do not use services that you can call. I live within walking distance of several workshops. So I can pick and choose. Same in Utrecht. Even the parking facility there offers repairs.

He goes on to state that his partner owns a Mountain Bike which has to be serviced far more than any Dutch Bike (and gets constantly teased about as a result). This is because if you introduce 24 more gears, you introduce more components and more chances for things to go wrong. I own a Mountain Bike because I’ve always loved it, racing my Muddy Fox Courier as a child. I still like to potter along the South Downs Way and other trails around Surrey, Hampshire and West Sussex. However, there are many out there that would just like to go to the shops and get a pint of milk and thankfully there are a more few utility bikes coming on to the market, offering low maintenance, simplistic ways of getting about.

A blast from the past. The Muddy Fox Courier.

I leave you with a rare treat from the British Council film archive. Good to watch with a Gin and Tonic instead of tinkering with bikes in my humble opinion. Most of the country thinks the same way 🙂

How a Bicycle is Made (1946)

A Bicycle Factory ‘The process of manufacture is traced from the beginning; the design on paper and the raw materials. We see what goes to make the steel tubes of the frames, the handle bars, the gear wheels, the pedal cranks, the pedals, the spokes, the wheels and the hubs, until at last the complete bicycle is ready for testing.’

Enjoy.

See Also

Why People in the UK Don’t Cycle No 1: Class

Why People in the UK Don’t Cycle No 2: Culture of Fear

Why People in the UK Don’t Cycle No 3: DANGER!

Why People in the UK Don’t Cycle No 4: Driving is Easier

Local News

From Worthing Herald (10 April 2012)

‘DESPITE a no parking sign and a small picket fence, gardeners are still having their hard work ruined by cars.

The New Growth Garden Team is a voluntary group working under the Worthing charity – Storm, and it has recently started work on a small garden in Union Place.

Despite the group’s best efforts to keep people off the plot of land, which used to be used for parking, they are still coming back to find tyre marks through the middle of their seed beds.

Ginny Cassell, a member of the team, has been door knocking to tell everyone about the work being done and the parking restrictions, but said this “hasn’t stopped the problem”.

She said: “At the moment they are just seeds so we can cover it up and hope for the best, but we’re about to start putting in plants and if you drive over these you will kill them.

“We thought we would love to make something nice in the middle of the town where people could be peaceful instead of stressed.”

The group has been tending the area once a month since the winter, but has started making more regular visits now the planting season is in.

Sir Peter Bottomley, MP for Worthing West, witnessed the group’s misfortune, and donated £20 so they could buy more seeds.

He said: “They’re setting a public example by improving a bit of open space where the police station used to be.

“I’m sorry that some people managed to park their car on the ground, but they took that in good heart.”

Ginny thinks that this could be a mistake coming from “old habits” when people used to park there, but she is now asking people “not to do it any more”.

From Shoreham Herald (10 April 2012)

A CAMPAIGN calling for a crossing to help children get to school more safely has taken a big step.

Candy Bromage collected just under 1,400 signatures, calling for a safe crossing point in Upper Shoreham Road, and handed the petition to West Sussex County Councillor, Angie Mills last week.

Mum-of-two Candy said: “I was really pleased with the number of people who signed. Everybody was in agreement with us.”

Two weeks ago, the Herald reported how Candy and fellow parents and neighbours wanted to see a crossing, between the Holmbush roundabout and Southlands Hospital, so children could use it on the way to Glebe Primary School and Shoreham Academy.

Parents said the stretch of road was so dangerous, they would not allow their children to walk to school, and so drove them instead.

Mrs Mills, who is also chairman of the Adur County Local Committee (CLC), which can allocate road safety priorities for the area, said she was happy to get on board  with the campaign.

“There are a lot of schools in the area, and it is a very dangerous road for children to cross,” she said.

“Most of the parents are taking their children to school by car, which is exactly what we are trying to avoid.

“Of course, it’s not just children who need to cross the road, it’s elderly and vulnerable people too.”

The petition will taken to the next meeting of the CLC,  on May 24, where solutions will be discussed,  but there was a long road ahead for the scheme, said Mrs Mills.

“It will not be done for a while, because it has to go through various procedures,” she said.

Any scheme would also need to be examined by the county council’s highways department.

Candy said it was “brilliant” that Mrs Mills had joined the fight.

“It is a shame they can’t get it done in six months, but we knew that was very unlikely.

“Hopefully, by this time next year, we will have something.”

She thanked everyone who had put their name to the campaign.

She said: “Just thank you for everyone’s support.

“We will carry on until there is a crossing there.”

At the start of the campaign, Candy, mum to 14-year-old Tadley, and Mitchell, 10, told the Herald:  “We want a tunnel, a bridge, a zebra crossing, and pelican crossing. We don’t care how they do it. As long as it’s safe.

Kim Lee, of Greenways Crescent, said she agreed with there was a need for a crossing: “I have two kids, and I won’t let them cross the road to school, so I drive. A lot of people do.”

Glebe head teacher Ann Walton also got behind the call, and wrote to the council’s highways department.

She said: “We want as many children as possible to walk, scoot or ride to school, but that’s impossible because of the dangerous road.”

A view of Upper Shoreham Road (looking toward the Holmbush roundabout which is incredibly fast and furious) may be found here

Note that there is enough space to have Dutch style cycle Infrastructure. And then some Danish style cycle infrastructure next to it. And some nice planting. And still have a nice road for car use.

Of course, my adopted home town of Worthing and neighbouring Shoreham by Sea are both in West Sussex – The Council with a Highways Authority that rewrites the dictionary definition of ‘draconian’, that regards the motor car not so much as a mode of transport but more as a masturbatory fantasy and regards the bicycle (the thing that would attract more tourism, health and wellbeing, particularly for the more elderly coastal demographic) as something poor people might do and really should be shovelled out-of-the-way. Anyway, I wish the group the very best. I’d love to see a new crossing and indeed proper infrastructure for all to use not just for the many schools in the area but shops and businesses too.

Here is a film by Mark Wagenbuur on 25 ways to cross a major road in the Netherlands partly because it contains an at-grade bicycle crossing which might be quite a nice addition to Upper Shoreham Road but also to highlight how The Netherlands is separated from us by a stretch of water but it might as well be another solar system. The full post is here. British viewers may wish to look away for fear of weeping.

To lighten the mood a bit more, further east on Old Shoreham Road, here is what Brighton & Hove City Council are doing for their schoolchildren here and here.

Finally, to completely lighten the mood to near hilarity, I leave you with this letter from the Worthing Herald published on 30 March 2012 that….well, I’ll leave you to judge.

’30’ limit is a danger’           

‘MY son recently reached the age of 16 and bought a motor scooter for commuting to school/college and socialising, etc.

However, according to the law, his machine must not travel faster than 30mph.

Limiting youngsters to 30mph may have been intended as a safety measure but in reality it is quite dangerous.

Any motorists/motorcyclist who thinks 30mph is fine, I challenge them to drive, for one week at 30mph, maximum everywhere, including roads like Goring Road which have a 40mph limit and the A24 and this dual carriageway is not far off being a race track.

It is nigh on impossible to keep to this speed  everywhere.

It produces a queue of impatient drivers behind you, which leads to some dangerous overtaking and allows no room for manoeuvre.

If, as most people agree, riding on two-wheels is less safe that four wheels and the law allows 16-year-olds to drive on two (dangerous), why not allow 16 year olds to drive on four (safer)?

If that is not acceptable, at least increase the maximum speed they can drive at to 40mph.’

A Dutch Bike in Britain: A Square Peg in a Round Hole

Lancing Beach 2011

It is now a year since I bought my Dutch Bike from the good folk of Amsterdammers in Brighton. Here are some thoughts.

It has been used consistently throughout the year come rain, wind or shine on a 24 mile commute from Worthing to Brighton and back. When the trains have permitted, I have ridden it from Victoria Station all around Central London to meetings. It has become my people carrier, my town bike, my commuter transport, my campaigning vanguard but also a glimpse back to what riding a bicycle should be like in supposedly civilised times, and could be again.

The bike I purchased in question was a 2009 model (unused) Batavus Old Dutch with a Gents Frame. In the Netherlands, a Gentleman’s bicycle is an Opafiets and a Ladies bicycle with step through frame is an Omafiets.

It came with the following:

A Shimano Nexus hub offering 3 speeds – ’slow’, ‘not quite as slow’ and ‘now you’re cruising.’

Hub brakes for minimal maintenance. They probably don’t offer the absolute stopping power of disc brakes but you won’t be throwing the bike around as though you have Red Bull instead of blood either. You happily gave up the right to be a ‘cyclist’ and became an ‘ordinary person on a bike’ when you handed your money over the counter.

Rear rack; A Dutch bike will more often than not have a heavy duty rack on it. I was helping out at a local cycle campaign group event last year and was able to strap my Brompton to the back of the Old Dutch and cycle 2 miles home from Worthing seafront with no fuss. You will need Dutch panniers however as the clasps on an Ortlieb pannier will not fit around the rack tubes. I purchased some New Look Dutch Panniers that are black with little reflective strips on the sides and they stay on the bike at all times (a ‘bag for life’ slips in and out easily).

The heavy rack means that, particularly with the relaxed angles, a lot of weight is going to be applied to the back wheel making it more prone to punctures, especially when laden with shopping or little people. I recommend getting a Marathon Plus tyre combined with a ‘puncture proof’ inner tube especially for the winter months for the rear wheel. This will reduce your rolling resistance further but you will be a lot more confident going out on crappy British cycle infrastructure or British roads where all the crap gets washed to the sides in inclement weather and doesn’t get properly swept away. A Dutch bike with more puncture resistant tyres becomes an all-seasons tank. This is handy because Local Authorities seem to delight in providing army assault courses masquerading as ‘shared use facilities’.

Full length mudguards; I would find it stunning that in Britain mudguards are regarded as an extra if I wasn’t also acutely aware that many are dressed in cycling specific attire anyway so don’t mind getting a bit dirty from puddles or feel that mudguards do not add to the aesthetically pleasing look of their steeds. If more people in Britain start cycling and in regular clothing then you’ll want to start up a mudguard factory if you like making profits.

Coat guard; Whilst I was on a Study Tour of the Netherlands recently with the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain led by David Hembrow, I was quite shocked to hear that one of the most common injuries for children is when they are sat on a rear child seat and get their legs and feet caught in the rear wheel. A Coat/Skirt guard helps.

Chain guard; Keeps the sea breeze and four seasons away from the more sensitive bits (of the Bike).

Kick stand; I still keep forgetting I have a kickstand and lean my bike up against stuff. We British just aren’t used to sheer practicality any more.

Integral lights (sadly battery operated as opposed to dynamo). The front light isn’t at LOOK AT ME! I’M A MOUNTAIN BIKER ON FULL BEAM IN A BUILT UP AREA AND I’VE SPENT £350 TO BE SEEN FROM SATURN. DAZZLING ISN’T IT? levels of brightness but instead is a constant steady modest glow. Still brighter than the Ever Ready range though.

Integral lock: Amsterdammers gave me a chain free of charge to complement the AXA lock. This means that I can tether the bike to a stand as well as locking up the rear wheel.

To amplify just how differently similar Dutch Bikes are in the British landscape, you will notice when you come to inflate an inner tube that they generally come with Dunlop valves. That’s right. None of that presta or schrader nonsense. This bike reminds you that although it was built in 2009, the research and development stopped in about 1959. My Old Dutch came with a pump but most pumps should work on a presta setup with a little brute force and ignorance.

I have also bought a Bobike mini+ seat based on it getting a Mumsnet Best Award for 2011 and a windscreen to protect the sea breeze from my son’s eyes. My 21 month old son and I like to get on the bike on a Saturday afternoon and slowly pootle through Worthing town and along the promenade. There is an excellent children’s play area at the western end of the beach now and I can put a Toddlebike on the back (review LONG overdue but in a word: Brilliant) along with a snack, drinks and nappies in the pannier. The bike now has a big shiny two tone bell (from Hembrow’s Dutch Bike Bits) which my son likes to use all the time with utter hilarity. When people see us with this typically Dutch set up, we always get smiles, waves and murmurs of ‘now that’s a good idea’. We’ve even been stopped and engaged in conversation by people curious as to where we got the seat from. Wonderful stuff and always a bit of a surprise for them that we didn’t get the windshield from Mars but a nice independent bike shop in Britain.

My son on a trip to the beach trying to cram an entire banana in his mouth

In total my expenditure on the bike (including accessories, a service and a tyre replacement) has totalled no more than £650 across the year. An annual season rail ticket between Worthing and Brighton is now £1448 if paid up front. Its £139.10 for a monthly season ticket (or £1669.20 per annum) or £36.20 if paying weekly (which works out at a whopping £1882.40 per annum).

Strangely, I seem to have become more difficult to buy birthday and Christmas presents for. In the past I was a ‘Cyclist’ and therefore easy to classify. Now I am ‘person that happens to ride a bike’. This has annoyed some loved ones (in the nicest possible way) as before they could content themselves with getting me an annual subscription to Cycling Plus or an item of cycle clothing or a book about climbs of the Tour de France. I’d still be happy with any of those things. In fact, any present will do these days. I’m turning 40 this year so beggars can’t be choosers.

Dutch Bikes and Roadsters are clearly bikes that hark back to a more civilised age whose return is long overdue. However, riding a Dutch Bike in Britain sometimes feels as though one is trying to continually fit a square peg in a round hole. It’s a bike for laid back safe and slow riding yet when put against the backdrop of a typical British rush hour the temptation to ride faster is compelling, as though one is being goaded back in to the rat race. It is practically impossible to be calm and serene in modern British road conditions. When you do hit a quiet spot, free from motorists driving continually as though they are fleeing a crime scene or on a weekend where the pressure’s off and the clock ticks a little bit slower, it all starts to make sense. Although the Old Dutch weighs about the same as the late, great Barry White , on a seafront path with a slight tailwind, the miles purr deeply away in a beautifully relaxed fashion. I defy anyone not to smile.

There’s a section of National Cycle Network route 2 on my commute that runs past Widewater Lagoon, Lancing and on a beautiful clear evening you can slowly cruise along the traffic free path and see light aircraft flying across at low altitude from the sea on their landing approach to Shoreham Airport. Sometimes I’ll slow right down and suddenly the sea breeze whistling in my ears is replaced by the sound of crashing waves. Why more people don’t get an upright bicycle (or any bicycle, let’s not be picky) and feel the exhilaration, freedom and sense of achievement of riding it from one place to another through all the seasons with all the rewards (and occasional challenges) that it brings is quite beyond me. Having said that, a couple of days ago I was pedalling home from work in dark, murky January fog that had rolled in from the sea with a fine drizzle and slight tailwind. It felt as though I was being slowly propelled through the soul of Piers Morgan.

You get a lot more time to think when on a Dutch Bike or roadster, as you may have gathered.

On the train