January 2011 archive

From Little Acorns……Or £80.56.

Old Dutch on the train. Next to the automated toilet. Not exactly the Orient Express but…

And so it came to pass that on the 29th January 2011, at Look Mum No Hands on Old Street, London EC1, a new campaign movement was started. A small area of the cafe had been set aside as I anticipated about 20, which would be exceptional for any cycle campaign. However, this is not just any old cycle campaign and double that figure turned up cramming round tables with only the barest hint of lycra and I have to doff my hat to those that stood for an incredibly long time. Reports are are already appearing from the delightful Bristol Traffic team. Some key points are as follows;

  • The Mission Statement and Manifesto are going to be merged into a formal document for download. This obviously has to happen ahead of the launch but with the enthusiasm, ideas and talent I was met with yesterday, I don’t anticipate any problems.
  • The launch date has been set for Friday, 1st April 2011. Venue to be confirmed.
  • Cycling Embassy of Great Britain is going to be a not for profit company. I offered to set up the account and was startled when a saucer was instantly passed around the group and £80.56 was raised. I shall be meeting with my Bank Manager next Saturday morning to formally set up the account with my own contribution (and of course, any further donations would be gratefully received).

The Company Accounts – January 2011

  • With every new company comes a new structure. Roles are going to be defined for two Directors, Secretary and Treasurer. I shall be Chief Executive Director and Overlord. Alright, I made that last bit up. However, a sub-committee has been set up to look into governance. Findings shall be reported back to the Forum so everyone will have a chance to comment and nominate board members.
  • It has been requested that the website expand with a collaborative wiki so instead of going over topics again and again, people may be referred to the relevant wiki page (where the relevant information and references may be found on Dutch infrastructure or accident statistics for example). It shall also facilitate open document editing by Ambassadors.
  • A list will be entered into the minutes of charities, companies and organisations that we shall be hoping to work in partnership with.
  • The minutes, complete with actions and apologies shall be published during the week (I apologise for the tardiness but I have to make sense of hours of audio recordings and notes so please bear with me).

It would be fair to say that I was quite overwhelmed by the level of support I received yesterday – in particular Sally Hinchcliffe for basically becoming Co-Chair of the meeting, David Callaghan who supports the aims of the Embassy to the point that he flew in from meetings in the USA via our meeting in London before heading home to Bristol, Karl McCraken who had travelled down from Newcastle armed with two dozen bagels he had prepared for everyone, Danny from Cyclists in the City, I am not a Cyclist, Fatbob (Geoff) and of course Mark Ames from ibikelondon who, with Joe Dunckley from At War With The Motorist led our first ‘Infrastructure Safari’, seeking out the good, the bad and the ugly of London cycle facilities.

Mark Ames holding court. Lovely speaking voice.

It’s also wonderful to hear that the first Wheelers Brunch in Manchester went very well. I look forward to hearing more as the week progresses but for now I’m going to conclude that I had a wonderfully exhausting day meeting lots of like minded people as well as representatives from established groups such as Cambridge Cycling Campaign and John Mallows from CycleNation to ensure we’re not treading on old toes. I have a lot of high hopes now for the Embassy and with the incredible groundswell of support garnered so far, we are going to succeed.

My New Mug. For coffee, Muscadet or Carlsberg Special Brew depending on the mood and budget.

And, no, I have no idea whether Freewheeler was there but I hope he or she is with us in spirit and Crap Cycling and Walking in Waltham Forest is right; we do want what the Dutch have got :-)

Thank you all.

The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain

Remember, this kind of stuff continues to be built whether campaigners object to it or not. To be fair, at least you can collapse on the soft grass laughing.

As my trusty Batavus Old Dutch and I were slowly grinding it out along the seafront against a biting, bitter 15mph easterly (something else we have in common - we both hate headwinds!) I was doing some more thinking.

The Governments approach to transport is like trying to cram lots of round pegs though a square hole. Instead of considering that there may be too many pegs trying to squeeze in together, or that the hole isn’t suitable, they increase the size of the hole so even more pegs can be crammed through whilst everything else has to squeeze in through the pockets of air that are left. If not as many people are killed and injured as the year before, this is regarded as ‘successful’ and ‘sustainable’. Repeat ad infinitum.

I then thought about some hilarious jokes regarding Moultons but I won’t share those with you yet, dear reader.

Anyway, tomorrow is the start up meeting for the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. I have to confess, I’m very excited.

The meeting is to be held at Look Mum No Hands in Old Street, London at 12 noon.  This is a new national campaign that I hope offers a bit of an antidote to cycling campaigns in the past. PLEASE NOTE that this is the start up meeting and not the official launch, which will have way more glitz as opposed to people agreeing organisational structure, strategy direction, website development, marketing and actions. The reason we will be able to have more glitz at the launch is because we are catering for the 97% that aren’t regular cyclists in this country that won’t want to clad themselves in ‘rubber knickers’ as a Conservative MP or a casual Scuba Diving fetishist might say.

We have already featured in this lovely article on the Baby London website by Claire Rogers (also featuring David Hembrow and Amsterdamize if you needed a greater incentive to read it).

The Embassy has also now been mentioned on this wonderful blog post from Crap Cycling and Walking in Waltham Forest. Freewheeler has basically summed up my personal thoughts entirely as we have both made the steady transition, not from integration to segregation but from integration to segregation and cycling streets and decent cycling infrastructure standards and frankly anything else that tames the bull in a supposedly civilised society. If Freewheeler can make it through the urban jungle that is Outer London cycle infrastructure, he’d be warmly welcomed by all. I shall be wearing a suit, maybe with a carnation.

Apparently Karl McCracken is providing bagels (home made and shipped from the North East, no less!) and Mark Ames  (who sounds almost as well spoken as me) is providing us with our first ‘Infrastructure Safari’ where we go for a little jaunt around London seeking the best and worst of  attempts to squeeze cycling  around the more important modes of transport.

I will be doing more mentions in posts subsequent to the meeting as there has been some lovely support from lots of unexpected quarters, plus a technical review of the Old Dutch as by then I would have ridden it consistently 24 miles a day through very grimy coastal conditions and Central London too.

I will finish for now by saying that the Agenda is here, the Mission Statement is here and the draft Manifesto is here (prepared by our Wordsmith Laureate, Sally Hinchcliffe). If you cannot make it, but would like a comment or statement, or even an apology read out at the meeting, please email me direct on thecyclingjim@gmail.com

Oh, and a Happy Birthday to Mikael Colville-Andersen :-)

Kinky Pickles

Mark Ames of ibikelondon was interviewed on The Bike Show last night on Resonance FM. You can see the preamble and listen to it here (well worth it too). Highlights for the Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club include the moment where Mark cites the Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club as a favourite blog with ‘Jim from Worthing’ being ‘funny’ and ‘right up his street’.  Marvellous. And true.

The discussion was mainly about ‘Liveable Cities’ which Mark writes about in full here. In particular, Creating tomorrow’s liveable cities: Urban planning in a cold climate which took place on January 19th in London. Talks given by such luminaries as Professor Jan Gehl, Founding Partner of Gehl Architects who has spent his professional life improving the quality of other peoples lives by redesigning cityscapes to favour bicycle and pedestrian traffic allowing the street to engage with the people passing through it and vice versa.

From his website:

Gehl Architects’ vision is to create better cities. We aspire to create cities that are lively, healthy, attractive, sustainable and safe – and thereby improve people’s quality of life.

At Gehl Architects we firmly believe that a good city is a city where the human scale in city planning is looked well after. By allowing the aspirations for the public realm to drive the design process, the public spaces can serve as a place for all, while embracing the unique qualities and amenities of the specific urban context: A city should open up, invite and include people, having different activities and possibilities and thereby ensuring multiplicity and diversity.

Gehl Architects work to create sustainable environments and promote a holistic lifestyle. Our approach to design extends beyond the use of sustainable materials and advocating walking, cycling and alternative transport.

Nice stuff, eh?

Another speaker was Eric Pickles, Conservative MP for Brentwood and Ongar and Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Erm, a man who..er..received helicopter transport valued at £4099.75 last year from London to Llandudno and back courtesy of Noble Foods (from theyworkforyou.com), but did vote very strongly for laws to stop climate change.

Mark stood up and asked the following question to Eric Pickles MP

Mark:
We’re here today to talk about sustainability and liveable cities, and as a cyclist the end product of these kinds of discussions for me and for my fellow cyclists and pedestrians are the actual conditions on the streets.

So, as Secretary of State for Communities and given the known effect that overuse of private car transport has on local communities in terms of urban blight and noise, pollution, obesity and all the rest, how do you reconcile and balance those problems that face communities with your and Philip Hammonds ending of the so called war on the motorist?

This is the reply.

Eric Pickles
Well I mean, I’m a fat guy and me on a bicycle is not a pretty sight, as to this…

Chair:
It works for Boris [Johnson, Mayor of London]…

Eric Pickles:
Boris is more svelte than me, I mean… Come on, don’t be such a p… don’t be such a puritan. We can find a reason… Well, not everybody can pedal in sort of rubber knickers up and down the place to go to work. It’s a question of finding a proper balance, that’s what we’re trying to do, is a proper balance. Boris’s bicycles work really well, I want to see that extended around the country. And I think we need to find better ways for making it safer for cyclists. Even I might venture out eventually if we make it just a little bit safer. And I think we’ve got to look for intelligent ways of helping people pool cars, work together. Also we’re going to be introducing more points for electric cars. I want to see public transport being made better, that’s why we’re, I think, paying that more attention towards high-speed rail underlines.

Everything has got to be a kind of a balance. You see, the problem with the old system was, we artificially restricted the number of parking places for new developments, and all that simply happened is people parked on the roads. Now without getting too emotional about it, I lost two constituents – young people precisely because of this ridiculous policy because people parked on the side and fire engines couldn’t get through to the appropriate place. So it’s just a kind of an example of how targets don’t match reality. We think ‘Job done’ because we got this kind of target. And I think that the motor vehicle has a perfectly respectable place in society and people who use them aren’t the enemy. So let’s encourage bikes, let’s encourage walking, let’s encourage obese people like me to lose a bit of weight by doing all this kind of things, but let’s not regard of people who travel by car as the enemy.’

Again we see common sense leave the room for a moment to go for a leisurely stroll through traffic clogged streets. If we can assume that ‘if you build it, they will come’, surely that works for cars on additional spaces in private developments as well as free parking on public roads thereby creating even more congestion. Mr Pickles plays the emotional card very well despite saying ‘without getting too emotional about it’, firstly with the tragic story of (we assume) fire crews being prevented from reaching their call due to parked vehicles leading to needless fatalities and then the victim mentality in defence of his ‘War on the Motorist’. I don’t believe Eric Pickles is a bad man or an evil man but just extremely misguided.

As for his ‘hilarious’ cyclist stereotype, rubber knickers might be in the thoughts of Conservative MPs and Max Mosley, but they aren’t really the garment of choice for mass cycling.

Here is yet another film about riding bicycles, not in rubber knickers (or even lederhosen with clogs if we’re going to use pitiful cultural stereotypes that don’t fit) in Utrecht. The beady eyed amongst you will spot Eric Pickles being overtaken at the start of the film.

The Local Transport White Paper – Soft and Very, Very Long

Fetch it cyclists! Go on, fetch the stick!

So the Department for Transport has released a Local Transport White Paper entitled ‘Creating Growth, Cutting Carbon – Making Sustainable Local Transport Happen’

This 99 page document mentions the word ‘cycling’ a stonking 88 times.

It’s filled with nice stuff. Here is the Introduction;

‘Two-thirds of all journeys are under five miles – many of these trips could be easily cycled, walked or undertaken by public transport. We want to make travelling on foot, by bike or on public transport more attractive. Our work indicates that a substantial proportion of drivers would be willing to drive less, particularly for shorter trips, if practical alternatives were available (British Social Attitudes Survey, 2009). That is what this White Paper is about – offering people choices that will deliver that shift in behaviour, in many more local journeys, particularly drawing on what has been tried and tested. ‘

Not bad eh? Here are some more examples;

‘Encourage sustainable local travel and economic growth by making public transport and cycling and walking more attractive and effective, promoting lower carbon transport and tackling local road congestion.’

‘Cycling and walking offers an easy way for people to incorporate physical activity into their everyday lives. The importance of active travel is also emphasised in the Department of Health’s Public Health White Paper (Department of Health, 2010)’

‘Often there are a number of other potential benefits from sustainable transport schemes e.g. greening local transport corridors to encourage walking and cycling may also reduce the heat island effect in towns, improve air quality, provide valuable space for sustainable urban drainage, increase biodiversity in towns and increase the value of neighbourhoods. When devising transport solutions it is important that opportunities to realise wider benefits such as these are identified and properly considered.’

‘Cycling can make men look incredible, especially that Jim Davis with his physical sleekness and prowess (Worthing Herald 2011).’

Oh, alright. I made that last one up.

With all this dynamic language, you feel quite excited as you read through more bits like this;

‘For short distance travel, the challenge is to make the least carbon intensive modes – walking, cycling or public transport – the most attractive options’.

Yeah!

‘Cycling and walking present an easy and cheap way for people to incorporate physical activity in their everyday lives. As well as the health benefits, they offer other benefits when they replace vehicle trips, including reducing carbon emissions, improving air quality, and reducing congestion.’

Yeah, yeah!

However, then we come to the small matter of the finance to back this bold vision. Cycling, as you know all too well dear reader, receives the thin end of the wedge even when times are good. The document leads you on a bit, like a man trying to end a relationship face to face until eventually we get to a nice box outlining how good Cycling Demonstration Towns are. There’s something written in tiny, tiny print at the bottom that the Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club shall enlarge for you,

‘Note: Future funding for cycling will go through the Local Sustainable Transport Fund. £13 million has been set aside in 11/12 as a transitional arrangement to fund links to schools, Bike Club, Bike It as well as Living Streets Walk to School campaign and the Cycle Journey Planner. These are discussed further at paragraph 5.14.’

I’ll take you to paragraph 5.14 [and the rest of the gory detail]

5.14 The Department for Transport will support Bikeability for the remainder of this Parliament – until 2015. The focus of Government support for Bikeability will be on providing children the opportunity to receive training when at school. By providing training in year 6 of primary school, the Government will give children the chance to develop a life skill, enable more safe journeys to schools and encourage physical activity – which is good for children’s health. In addition, fewer school journeys by car mean less traffic on the road in rush hour and lower carbon emissions. The training is already popular amongst parents and children, and over 90 local authorities and many Schools Sports Partnerships are delivering it in their area.

5.15 Local authorities will be encouraged to integrate Bikeability fully into their local transport planning. Better cycling routes, cycling parking and adult training are just some examples of local authority measures that could supplement and amplify the impact of Bikeability in their area.

Funding for cycling and walking measures in 2011/12

5.16 The Government believes there is benefit in continuing to fund the Links to Schools programme in 2011/12. This is a transitional arrangement while the Local Sustainable Transport Fund is established. Links to School is a programme run and administered by Sustrans, a national charity, and provides safe walking and cycling routes to schools. The extra year’s funding will enable additional routes to be provided and will complement relevant cycling and walking programmes funded through the Local Sustainable Transport Fund as well as the Bikeability scheme.

More drivel on pavements then.

5.17 We are also funding Cycle Journey Planner in 2011/12 as well as Bike Club, Bike It and Living Streets’ Walk to School Campaign. This funding will enable a smooth transition from the 2010/11 programme to a point where the Local Sustainable Transport Fund is operational. Funding for the Cycle Journey Planner will allow completion of the surveying of all urban areas with a population of 30,000 and will provide local authorities and the public with a ready made journey tool at a national level (England) to help plan cycle journeys.

Or, maps as they used to be called. Unless I’m misunderstanding the situation, this to me does not help people that don’t have access to the internet, or feel intimidated about using it. The same people that probably don’t have access to a car either.

5.18 From 2012 onwards, local authorities may choose to support Links to Schools through their bids to the Local Sustainable Transport Fund.

Councils are facing massive cuts and this puts cycling in an extremely precarious situation indeed. Cycling England had a meagre £60 million to spend each year. The pot has unbelievably got smaller and it takes 99 pages to explain this. I don’t believe that County Cycling Officer is the most secure position in any Council and it will be eerily fascinating to see how many are dropped, along with funding for Bike It officers.

It is the ‘Eddie the Eagle’ of White Papers – great build up but ultimately falls way short on delivery. This is the Department for Transport yet again holding sustainable transport solutions at arms length to detract from the greater levels of funding being handed over to road building schemes and feasibility studies for High Speed Rail 2. Philip Hammond doesn’t feature in this document, it is down to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Norman Baker MP to introduce and publish it.

There needs to a comprehensive reform of cycle infrastructure design and implementation in this country otherwise all these schemes and airy fairy initiatives will come to nothing.  As discussed before on this blog and indeed elsewhere, you can train all the people you like to cycle, and even experience a slight rise in numbers, but if the roads look dangerous, then the numbers will fall again and the expense would have been in vain. There’s a reason cycling is flatlining at between 3-4% and this document doesn’t address it directly in any way. And metal boxes will continue to whizz through communities, indifferent to the pollution and safety issues that they pose. We need infrastructure standards based on the Dutch model with other best practice from Denmark and around the World. We should do this as a supposedly civilised democracy – giving more people more mobility.

Casting cycle funding out to the provinces also negates the need for the Government to have any rational debate on cycling at national level, particularly with the demise of Cycling England. Once again the stick has been thrown and now it is down to local campaign groups and individuals to obediently chase and fight for it.

They deserve better. We all deserve better.

Here is yet another video of people going about their day on bicycles but this time in the snow.

Cycling Sucks

Well, I’ve been picking through the Local Transport White Paper and will write my comment for what it’s worth when the combination of lunatic hilarity and anger simmers down.

In the meantime, here is something to lighten the mood. I know it has appeared on other sites (such as the wonderful Copenhagenize) but it’s so lovely I really must bring it to the attention of Lo Fidelity Readers. It was made by Dutch students and is simply wonderful.

Enjoy.

London Calling

'....yes, we ride fixies. It's pimp'

Today’s post has a bit of London-centric feel to it (if you hadn’t already guessed by the title and picture with rib-tickling caption). This feels a bit strange as I’m typing this in my home in Worthing to the melodic sound of nesting seagulls and an 8 month old boy who has reached the stage of Picking up Bright Object and Banging It Against Another Bright Object.

Firstly, the start up meeting of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain is nearly upon us which will be held here. It turns out that Saturday 29th January is also the birthday of Mikael Colville-Andersen, creator of all things Copenhagenize and Cycle Chic. If he would like to attend, I may stretch to buying him a couple of drinks. Oh, alright, a couple of drinks AND a cupcake with a candle in it.

The Agenda is available here and our draft Manifesto and Mission Statement are also available for download from the Cycling Embassy website, so you may peruse and comment. The meeting will be followed by an informal chat and then an ‘Infrastructure Safari’ where we shall be taking in the delights of cycle facilities Transport for London style. The route is going to be the creation of Mark from ibikelondon (many thanks). On a related note, I am going to organise an Embassy field trip to the Netherlands later this year where we can go to Groningen and bemuse the locals as they watch a group of British tourists openly weeping.

Also, I would also like to remind Lo Fidelity Readers that have any connection with the City of London to write to the City before February 21 and object to the City’s local implementation (transport strategy) plan. According to Danny, scribe of the Cyclists in the City blog,

The reason is that the last LIP in 2005 resulted in only three submissions from cyclists with the result that, well, not much happened. So far, we’ve generated over 50 this year and want to encourage several hundred responses.

The City has the money to make a massive difference to cycling in London. But it’s transport plan is full of worrying compromise. For example, it undertakes

1) To ensure no increase in average journey times for car drivers (i.e. cars and taxis will continue to dominate the City’s streets)

and

2) That cycle infrastructure will be built with the needs of all road users in mind (i.e. forget improvements for bikes)

To my mind, this is a manifesto for car drivers, not for sustainable travel or safer roads.

Contrast the City LIP with Southwark, which explicitly states that car speeds will be subject to improvements for cyclists and pedestrians.

I’ve drafted a template which people can edit down and send to the contact names on this page here http://cyclelondoncity.blogspot.com/2011/01/go-for-it-register-your-concerns-now.html

A summary of the City’s transport spending plans here http://cyclelondoncity.blogspot.com/2011/01/spending-breakdown-of-city-of-london.html

And a comparison of the City vs Southwark here http://cyclelondoncity.blogspot.com/2011/01/southwark-vs-city-of-london-transport.html

Whatever your connection with the Square Mile, please send an email from your work (or play) address before 12 February and cc to cyclistsinthecity@gmail.com. Your input will be greatly appreciated.

For further writing on the subject, here is an article from the always sparkling ibikelondon

Get writing, and I look forward to meeting like minded souls from wherever you are on the 29th.

Taking Stupidity to Extremes

Preparing to take Clacket Lane Service Station on the M25

War on the Motorist!

According to Wikipedia, War is a phenomenon of organized violent conflict,[1][2] typified by extreme aggression, societal disruption and adaptation, and high mortality.[1] There is some debate about other characteristics, but in general there is agreement that war involves at least two organized groups, is a premeditated activity at least on the part of one side, and at least one of the groups uses violence against the other.[3] The objective of warfare differs in accord with a group’s role in a conflict: The goals of offensive warfare are typically the submission, assimilation or destruction of another group, while the goals of defensive warfare are simply the repulsion of the offensive force and, often, survival itself. Relative to each other, combatants in warfare are called enemies. The terms military, militant, and militarism each refer to fundamental aspects of war, i.e. the organized group, the combative individual, and the supportive ethos (respectively).

As you have just read, it doesn’t really fit into this ‘War on the Motorist’ does it? Above all else, it’s an insult to our armed forces currently fighting overseas (who, you may be surprised to read, are not trying to fight the Taliban with use of average speed cameras and increased parking charges). It polarizes views by implying that all those that don’t have a car or can’t afford a car or don’t want to have a lifestyle dominated by the car are ‘enemies’ and leaves no room for maneuver. It achieves needless anger and resentment which, if allowed to proceed unchecked without the correct facts being made available can spill over into something far more intimidating on our roads. More like a War really.

The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club always likes a challenge – in this case, how to match the rising tide of Coalition hyperbole. We’ve already had a go at likening British cycle infrastructure to Shanty Towns of the Third World but as a kindly Lo Fidelity reader pointed out, that polarizes First World into ‘Good’ and Third World into ‘Bad’. Where we have a car culture that alienates communities, the Third World doesn’t see people suffering with depression or collapse of community. Fair points well made (and the Third World is seeing the uses of Royal Mail bicycles even if the Executive Board can’t) so let’s crank up the hyperbole dial to maximum to try and take this to its logical conclusion by describing the plight of cyclists and pedestrians in the style of Philip Hammond & Eric Pickles….

Genocide on the Cyclist & Pedestrian!!

According to Wikipedia, Genocide is the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group.[1] While a precise definition varies among genocide scholars, a legal definition is found in the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG). Article 2 of this convention defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.

I know it’s not like it in reality as that would be an incredible insult to the unimaginable suffering of Genocides past. I bet that as you were reading it, it seemed more pertinent to cyclists and pedestrians than the claimed ‘War on the Motorist’ though didn’t it? All I’m saying is that whilst Phillip Hammond and his ilk insist on playing the victim mentality card with overblown rhetoric, we might as well go mad and have fun with language to trump the stupidity of what is being stated by those in power. Churchill used far more literary devices than the current administration to far greater effect. And he abolished Road Tax which misguidedly gets caught up in the current ‘War on the Motorist’.

Suggestions are always welcome from Lo Fidelity Readers to suggest overblown phrases of their own to show the lot of Cyclists and Pedestrians (I’m certainly sure Freewheeler could think of a few).

 To keep in the spirit of things, I’m now going to get on my Dutch Bike of liberation to pedal along the Road of Destruction and Despair to the Supermarket of Global Domination to buy a Yoghurt of Internal Hope.

We at the Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club sincerely hope that now Philip Hammond MP has ended this War on the Motorist, he gets the Nobel Peace Prize he so richly deserves.

Riding a First World Bike through the Third World [of Cycling]

As you are probably aware, I recently decided to put my money where my mouth is and purchased a Dutch bike (Batavus Old Dutch) for my daily commute between Worthing & Brighton. Here are some initial thoughts from my notepad into riding a utility bike for utility purposes;

  • One of the first things a Briton will notice about a Dutch bike is the weight. Some Americans like to wax lyrical about old Cadillac’s and T-Birds – this is the bicycle equivalent. However, you will be comparing it to every other bike you’ve owned when you were a ‘serious’ commuter and that’s when you realise that you will never be followed by a team car or presented with a bunch of flowers and kissed by a beautiful woman on a podium because you made it to your office in a ‘Personal Best’ time. The rules change utterly as soon as you pedal away on a Dutch bike or roadster.
  • The riding position is far more upright with nice wide handlebars. I found myself discovering new and interesting leg muscles I never knew existed.
  • If you are making the switch from a road bike to a Dutch bike or roadster, a major problem will be training oneself to slow down. These bikes are built for utility with gentle speeds. I found for the first few outings I was still getting quite sweaty before I realised that I was subconsciously matching my previous pace which is lunacy. Cycling in heavy traffic makes me pedal faster for some reason, as though I’m being goaded back into the rat race. To escape the hoi polloi, I’ve started using more sections of the National Cycle Route 2 between Brighton & Worthing (most notably, the Shoreham to Worthing stretch). Free from traffic, one can relax, slow down and enjoy the view. For the commute home in the dark, the integral front light is never going to compete with Shoreham Lighthouse but I’ve found that it creates strangely romantic ‘mood lighting’ when cycling along the traffic free route with no street lights. Just the lights of Worthing Pier in the distance and the crashing of waves below an inky sky.
  • You will become familiar with an occasional quiet jangling sound when you’re cycling a Dutch Bike. That’s because the vast majority have an integral lock which means you put your keys in to release the lock and take them out when you reach your end destination. This will be quite hard for many Britons to grapple with –in our Culture of Fear, we like keys trussed up in the inside pockets of a courier bag or another secure place. Bear with it though as this is one of the first steps to relaxing and enjoying your cycling. I had to smile when I got to my front door and had that frantic 20 seconds of checking my pockets to locate my keys before I realised that I had to lock the bike to release the keys to unlock the door to unlock the bike to get it through the house. Less haste, more speed.
  • The other area that would put British cyclists’ teeth on edge is if you elect to ditch carrying luggage on yourself and purchase some panniers instead. You will need to purchase Dutch panniers if you, like me, end up with a bike with a heavy-duty rack – these can carry a massive load (in my case, up to 16 stone, or a smaller sized British motorist that campaigns against speed cameras if you like). This is because they won’t take standard pannier clasps. However, Dutch panniers are robust and generally cheaper but they remain fitted to the bike at all times…..see, the Culture of Fear has kicked in again, hasn’t it? The idea is that you can go shopping with your bag for life and then just slip it in the panniers and pedal away. The bike really is your beast of burden.
  • I’ve been using my Dutch bike for far more chores around town. Because it has an integral lock, mudguards, integral lights (often powered by hub dynamo) and a big shiny bell, all you need to do is hop on and go about your day.
  • The other factor that allows you to go about your day is that you must ONLY wear normal clothes. You wouldn’t wear lycra to drive a car (unless you’re driving to the gym or you are a superhero from the dreams of Philip Hammond MP). You become a person on a bike as opposed to a cyclist.
  • Not only have I put the lycra away for a leisure cycling day, I’ve also decided to ditch the helmet. This combined with being on a large, upright graceful bicycle in normal clothing with wide load panniers has resulted in being given a surprising amount of  space and courtesy by passing motorists. A complete overhaul of British Cycle Infrastructure to bring it in line with the Netherlands, Denmark and parts of the USA wouldn’t go amiss however, just so everyone gets a decent choice in how they travel as opposed to just the few.
  • Oh, and lots of elderly people will walk up and talk to you about your bike which is pleasing but Worthing has a lot of elderly people.

A more technical review will follow if or when the smile wears off. To summarise however, it is the sheer joy of discovering a different type of cycling that harks back to a more civilised age that I have to doff my hat to (in lieu of a helmet). This is not to discredit other types of bicycle or cyclist – each style has its merits from fixed wheel to racing to touring to mountain bike and it’s just part of one big family. However I firmly believe that utility bikes in their various forms have the greatest potential to make our family very big indeed.

I leave you with yet another video of the Rush Hour in the Netherlands. This one is simply entitled ‘Bicycle rush hour in the dark, ‘s-Hertogenbosch’ by Mark Wagenbuur. His other stuff on YouTube is well worth a look if you are British and can stand looking at happiness for a few minutes.  Click here and Enjoy.

 

The Anti-Cycle Campaigning Cycling Campaign

Believe it or not, there is no link between
this and riding your bike to the library

Firstly, I hope that all Lo Fidelity Readers had a delightful Christmas and New Year. My first one as a parent involved a lot of personal admin, particularly at the nappy changing mat so apologies that this is my first post in a while. The Guardian recently published an article that interested me.

The government’s flagship training scheme for young cyclists is hugely popular with both children and parents, according to a study, boosting the chances that it will survive funding cuts despite the abolition of the quango which currently runs it. A total of 98% of parents said they were happy with the Bikeability scheme, launched three years ago as a replacement for the defunct cycling proficiency test, according to an Ipsos/Mori poll carried out for the Department for Transport (DfT). Three quarters said they were “very satisfied” with the training. Among children who had used the scheme it gained 96% approval.’

I was under the impression that Bikeability funding was going to be ringfenced in some way as part of the Coalition Governments ‘commitment to cycling’ (despite ending Cycling England in March this year) along with it’s other policies such as investment in electric cars and bigger roads and cutting funding for speed cameras. The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club believes that the Coalition Government should just have the stones at Stonehenge rearranged to spell ‘Screw You Cyclists’. It’s a cheaper way of expressing how they really feel and would also be a fitting tribute to the Iron Age hill fort that got replaced by the M3 Twyford Down Enhancement.

Anyway, what interested me was it’s very high popularity amongst children and parents. This obviously demonstrates a desire for people to ride bikes. Not cycling in the pure British sense of the word. Just kids wanting to get on bikes and gain a new skill and freedom – after all, they don’t have to just ride between home and school, particularly when there are friends to see and things to do. This kind of thing also pleases the cycle campaigning establishment – it means that there will be lots of new cyclists to help achieve some sort of Critical Mass where everyone else will wake up from it’s collective amnesia and discover cycling again, particularly if taught the right skills.

There’s a fundamental flaw in this. The cycle campaigning establishment seems to have a collective amnesia about the colossal rise in car use over the last few decades. The parents won’t let their children cycle to school unless it’s on the pavement as the roads are too dangerous. All Bikeability is probably achieving is teaching children to ride bikes around Centre Parcs and Mountain Bike Centres in the school holidays (where they are driven to).

The Highways Departments in County Councils are always happy to oblige by painting cycle symbols on pavements and calling them Safe Routes To Schools. The thing is, what about people of all ages considering riding a bike to the shops, or the local sports centre, or to meet friends at the pub but feel that it’s too dangerous to do so? One answer might be to ask the utterly car-sick Highways Departments to paint bicycle symbols on all pavements because that’s where we’re headed anyway, or we could have what cycle campaigners have failed to ask for over the last few decades which is decent infrastructure using best practice from the Netherlands and Denmark.

The Dutch Bicycle Masterplan notes that cycle use suffered a massive decline due to
car-centric policy up to the 1970’s when two things occurred that triggered change; the OPEC fuel crisis and deep concerns about road safety, particularly children trying to get to school. Unlike the Government here however, the Netherlands correctly identified that the big metal boxes were the problem and acted accordingly by raising car parking fees and designing the impact of motoring out of populous areas. Decent cycle Infrastructure was not created for cyclists, it was created for the population at large to carry out their business without the need for helmets or high viz or breakneck aggressive speed. It’s not always perfect, but they managed a modal share that campaigners can only dream of over here.

As I have mentioned before on this blog, campaigns like ‘20’s Plenty’ only work when they are specifically NOT made Cycle Campaigns. The public needs to discover the joys of walking and cycling for themselves again, just as they are allowed to do with events such as the Skyride. With the promise of a safe pootle around the streets of Central London, people of all ages grabbed bicycles out of sheds and turned up in their droves. Provide the facilities and they will come. And we have the money out there to do it.

The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club believes that this should be the same when campaigning for decent infrastructure in the Dutch model. This is not just about improving life for cyclists – this is about benefiting society as a whole and is why I set up the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain to try a new approach. This is about creating decent infrastructure so you may accompany your children to school without having heart palpitations as an HGV sails past too close and too quick. This is about wanting to lose a few pounds and coincidentally trying a healthier way of getting to the post office. We must not be anti-car (most adult cyclists are motorists
too). We must let the people reach their own conclusions to create a culture change, after all, up until now they decided that they weren’t going to cycle anymore as the roads are too dangerous without realising that as motorists, they are part of the overall problem. And there’s the realisation that they don’t have to wear lycra. At all. Ever. Above all, the motor car has its place, but the people must come first.

As far as the Cycle Campaigning Establishment is concerned, I will leave you with this stunning post by Freewheeler at Crap Cycling & Walking in Waltham Forest. The statement from Cyclenation beggars belief.

Soon we will have VAT increases to compound already record high fuel prices and thousands of people continue to be killed and seriously injured on our roads each year. This has to be our time for change. I would like to also take this opportunity to thank all those who have expressed support for the Embassy. I look forward to hopefully meeting a few of you in London on January 29th.