Posts Tagged ‘Bicycle’

Well, Fancy That! No 3: Riding a Bicycle Doesn’t Always Have to be ‘FUN!’

bradleywigginsteamskytrainingcamprp5ujvkx4gfl

Team Sky found it easier to cycle as a group to the shop to buy Cycling Weekly and Red Bull for Cavendish as apparently ‘Safety in Numbers’ really works in Britain.

Here’s a challenge for you – go to any shop selling newspapers and magazines and try to find anything of substance regarding bicycles as transport. Sure, you’ll find lots on the subject of cycle sport from time trialling to triathlon to mountain biking to leisure riding but nothing on just riding to the shops. That’s because it would be commercial suicide to attempt such a thing – cycling as transport should be a boring, humdrum activity as opposed to a particular ‘lifestyle’ or activity filled with thrills and spills requiring the purchase of specialist kit. In Britain however, we don’t do boring and humdrum. Cycling is all about ‘FUN!’ or ‘Olympic Legacy!’ if you like.

When I visited the Netherlands on a David Hembrow Study Tour last year, I baffled the locals by getting my camera out and taking photos of the cycle infrastructure (at least, I hope that’s why they looked baffled). They simply couldn’t grasp why someone would want to take pictures of something that was, to them, so boring and taken for granted, or photos of them doing such utterly routine stuff like going to a cafe to meet friends, going to school, or to the shop to top up a mobile phone. To be honest, my wife would have agreed with the Dutch. I’m going to be 40 in November.

The fact is, in Britain, going to a cafe to meet friends, or to school or to the shop to top up a mobile phone are not  regular activities undertaken by bicycle. Cycling around a forest or seafront or reservoir are activities undertaken by bicycle because it’s ‘FUN’! And you can buy a magazine to assist with all the tips on high-tech equipment to ride and wear (including racks to mount your bicycles to your car to go to that forest or seafront or reservoir). After all, adults and children are advised to get training and read ‘Cyclecraft’ (a large manual of advanced techniques) before really tackling British roads to go to a cafe to meet friends, go to school or go to the shop to top up a mobile phone.

In the Netherlands [and I would imagine Denmark also], all this boring, humdrum bicycle as transport stuff goes on, and yet they still manage to have an intensive and varied cycle sport scene. They have Road Cycling and Cyclo-Cross and BMX and Track Cycling and Mountain Biking and Human Powered Vehicles (yes, dear Reader, I did write Mountain Biking). See? In cycling terms, even in Europe they know how to have ‘FUN’!!!

It would be easy at this point to say something along the lines of, ‘well, at least the Dutch and the Danes know where to draw the line between sport and transport’ but that would be the wrong, and blatantly untrue distinction to make. Whilst I was cycling around Groningen and Assen on their bicycle infrastructure, our group was frequently overtaken by individuals or groups of cheery club cyclists in full kit on road bikes. However, because we were going through towns and villages where any infrastructure and population was obviously at its most dense, I found that although they were travelling quicker than us, it was respectfully quicker. They were always travelling at what the Starship Enterprise would call ‘Impulse Power’. The distinction I found, and I stress this is based purely on what I observed, is that they were cycling as though they still had a debt of responsibility where people were, the same as motorists. If they just kept their legs ticking over at a not unpleasant speed [for them] they knew they would be able to open up the speed later in their ride (particularly as Dutch Infrastructure is about segregated ROUTES and not the usual British misinterpretation). The point I wish to make is that the bicycle infrastructure provided is suitable for everyone – not always perfect, but more pleasant and often more direct than the road. It’s perfectly possible to travel at speed too.

The Dutch and the Danes know how to have ‘FUN!’ But they also know how to get to the shops and their children to school correctly.

The problem Britain faces is multi faceted but I’m going to quickly focus on two; Firstly, is the fact that practically every piece of bicycle infrastructure designed and implemented to date is diabolical, and one cannot blame the hardened experienced ‘FUN!’ loving cyclist for being deeply sceptical. If motorways were designed in the same cavalier fashion with piecemeal budgets, minimal consultation and guidelines that are readily ignored, then both driving and cycling on specific infrastructure would be ‘FUN!’  but in a white-knuckle, terrifying fairground ride sort of way. I personally think that level of excitement should come from inside a library book as opposed to cycling to the library to get that book.

Second is the fact that we are spectacularly awful at separating the ‘sport’ from ‘transport’. Some Britons like to think that by cycling to work, they have left the ‘Rat Race’ but all they’ve done is lock themselves into new one of their own construction. Consumerism finds a new and unexpected outlet with all the kit, cameras and, thanks to applications such as Endomondo, a smart phone negates the need for a cycle computer telling the rider everything from average speed to how many calories were burned each trip. A daily gauntlet has been thrown for the quick and the brave with a great deal of risk taking. The thought of ‘Going Dutch’ or ‘Danish’ horrifies them as they cling to the some divine right to the road. A right that has been effectively lost to the majority already.

I personally believe that there needs to be a standard in bicycle infrastructure that acts as a quality benchmark as opposed to guidelines that currently exist which, although are quite good, are all too easily discarded in the name of budgets or just simple lack of understanding of the bicycle as a mode of transport. There needs to be continuity, quality and more than a nod to what has enjoyed proven success in Continental Europe. A Standard that is suitable for every type of bicycle and caters for every type of rider.

There should never be a magazine about mass cycling as transport because it should be the routine, everyday thing you do to get to equally routine activities or more exciting adventures that start as soon as you walk away from a safely locked bike. Mind you, if there was such a magazine, I’d probably subscribe to it. I’d keep it hidden from my wife though. One must maintain an image of ‘FUN!’

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 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) and a guide to maintenance courses 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.’

Click here to 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

Bicycle Film Scenes 2 – The Sixth Sense

Alternate scene from ‘The Sixth Sense’ by M Night Shyamalan

COLE

I want to tell you my secret now.

Malcolm blinks very slowly.

MALCOLM

Okay.

Cole takes an eternal pause.  A silent tension engulfs them both.

COLE

…I see people.

MALCOLM just gazes quietly.

COLE

I see people on bicycles…  Some of them scare me.

Beat.

MALCOLM

In your dreams?

COLE shakes his head, “No.”

MALCOLM

When you’re awake?

COLE nods, “Yes.”

MALCOLM

Cyclists, like in helmets with cameras and Hi-viz?

COLE

No, cycling around, like regular people…..Some of them don’t know they’re cyclists.

MALCOLM

They don’t know they’re cyclists?

Beat.

COLE

I see Dutch people.

MALCOLM becomes completely motionless.  Works to hide his shock.

He and COLE stare at each other a long time.

COLE

They tell me stories…in perfect English.  Dull things that happened to them on bicycles…  Things that happened to people they know. Going to school and the shops.

Beat.

Malcolm’s words are extra-controlled.  Revealing nothing.

MALCOLM

How often do you see them?

COLE

All the time.  They’re everywhere.

Beat.

You won’t tell anyone my secret, right?

Beat.

MALCOLM

…No.

COLE

Will you stay here till I fall asleep?

Malcolm nods, “Yes.”  Cole pulls the covers up to his chin and turns to the window in the room.  Malcolm is very still and stares at Cole.

MALCOLM’S EYES — slowly turn and survey the room.  They find nothing.  Malcolm returns to watching Cole.

COLE’S EYES LOOK AROUND THE ROOM WARILY…  WE MOVE IN ON THEM TILL HIS EYES FILL THE FRAME.

Beat.

And then we see what he’s staring at.  Through Cole’s hospital room window we see the entrance of the hospital building.

Rows of Dutch bicycles are visible.

I see Dutch People

Work in Progress

This week has been a real reward for those of us that ride our bicycles through all seasons. The clocks went forward to usher in British Summertime meaning no need for lights anymore and we had the sort of sunshine and warmth that made you insane if you weren’t on a bicycle.

Continuing on from my earlier post, I’ve taken some movie footage of the works going on just round the corner from my day job which I’d like to share with you. I’ve made some crude annotations using YouTube’s video editing facility as another five minutes with iMovie would have meant me smashing up my laptop whilst giggling like a maniac.

The first film is of the first section heading east to west. Dyke Road to Upper Drive.

You will note that the top section in particular is very much a work in progress and none of the junction works have been carried out yet along the whole route.

Here is the second film from Upper Drive to The Drive which is a very pleasant width.

I will keep stressing how crucial it is to get junctions right for a couple of reasons; firstly because I have yet to see one done correctly in Britain that contains safe motor vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian movements and also because of the next two films.

Getting segregated infrastructure along the wide sections should be the easy win, particularly when one considers that not one mature tree had to be removed. A bit different to this shocker from Grimsby which should just be placed in the ‘What The Hell Were They Thinking’ category.

Let’s now ride from the Old Shoreham Road down to the sea through Hove on the now infamous segregated path on The Drive/Grand Avenue.

The path here is far narrower with an elevated segregating kerb in places, even stopping for a pinch point (or, to use Council vernacular, ‘Pedestrian Build Out’). The point I’m making here is cyclists at the moment have to indicate and then try to maneuver back into the motorists consciousness across two lanes to make a right turn. I would imagine that this has put many cyclists off using this facility at all – it’s great if you are heading north-south, or wish to make a left turn. It is even worse heading north from the sea as it is uphill and so the speed differential is even greater between motorist and cyclist when a right turn is attempted. This is a critical deal in view of the fact that, for children wishing to get to the new [Old Shoreham Road] path from the old one [The Drive/Grand Avenue], they will have to make a right turn. Forgive the Ford by the way, the driver of which was caught helplessly out-of-place when the Ambulance shot through the junction. Anyway, let’s continue…

Here, we see that not only do cyclists have to move out considerably to make right turn but also from behind parked cars and large refuse bins. Let’s go back to the junction in the Netherlands that we encountered in my last post

Here we see one separate phase for all bicycle movements negating the need for ASL’s or having to move across lanes of traffic. Cyclists in this instance making a right turn (or left turn over here) don’t even have to enter the junction as it’s part of a high quality bicycle network. Many bicycle traffic lights in the Netherlands are triggered by pads so all the cyclist has to do is roll over it on approach to trigger a green light (more on traffic light controlled junctions in the Netherlands here). To do the same at the bottom of The Drive/Grand Avenue would involve the cyclist having to weigh about a ton and may therefore have to wait a considerable time before continuing their journey.

I will of course keep you updated on progress. If at completion, a path has been built that shows continuity of travel for bicycles with priority over side roads and a progressive (dare I say Dutch) attitude to junctions, Brighton & Hove City Council can give themselves a pat on the back. Even if there are niggles, they will be minor as opposed to the path being too narrow which would cost too much money and political will to rectify.

It certainly felt more pleasant cycling the nearly completed sections and it was lovely to see children playing out on the street whilst it’s closed to traffic. At the moment, the people coming to look and try it out are children, experienced cyclists and infrastructure nerds like you and me. Getting the rest of the local population to use it, cherish it and most importantly give feedback on it is the critical bit.

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

A Very British Revolution

Of course, we saw this all the time on the Study Tour of The Netherlands…

It is now over a month since I returned from the Cycling Embassy Study Tour to The Netherlands. It has taken this long for it all to really sink in and I advise any of you who have any interest in cycling, transport policy, planning, or you just want to see what a country can do when it actually gives a shit about its people by giving them unfettered freedom and choice on how they get about their communities whilst giving consistent investment in their health and wellbeing. In fact, I advise you to go anyway just for the bike ride. At least over there you aren’t bullied by people in 1 ton metal boxes who think that they are essential to ‘progress’ and that killing at least 1,700 people per year is ‘one of those things’.

It would be fair to say that I came back from The Netherlands a changed man. An angry man at that. It’s all very well to sit in front of a computer, to look up a Dutch street on Google Streetview and draw your own wierd and wacky conclusions based on the British experience. It’s quite another thing to actually go over to see it in context and realise that their roads are not wider, that they didn’t always have masses of cycle infrastructure and that what they have got isn’t always perfect but they are constantly innovating and striving to make it so. When you look at a typical street in Assen, it becomes instantly apparent what local and national Government thinks about the bicycle. You can draw your own conclusions from looking at a typical British street – in fact, it’s probably better to focus on the pavement because that’s either where a bicycle symbol might be painted or where the cyclists are anyway because they view riding on the road as an extreme sport requiring clothing and lights that make you visible from Neptune.

Recent events in the news have thrown light onto another problem that can be encountered when pushing for decent cycling infrastructure based on best practice from mainland Europe.

We hate Europe.

Not all of us of course. I certainly don’t and if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you probably don’t either. As far as the latest call for a referendum goes, I personally believe that in the midst of a really big crisis, it’s not particuarly advantageous to turn to your neighbours and tell them to go f*** themselves. To a British cyclist [and therefore a small minority view], the Netherlands is a country of wonderful infrastructure where people of all ages are out on their bicycles, of multi storey bicycle parks, of railway stations where only having space for 20,000 bicycles gets the alarm bells ringing with local authorities, of schools where children are trusted and can cycle independently from a young age with their friends with no adult intervention. However, to many British people, The Netherlands is a place of red light districts, hen/stag destinations, clogs, Max Bygraves singing ‘Tulips from Amsterdam’, round cheeses, canals and a language that sounds like a bit of a laugh that got desperately out of hand.

A cycle path in Assen. It even has it’s own lighting.

In an earlier post, I stated my opinion that the reason 20′s Plenty campaigns across the country generally work is because they are community led campaigns as opposed to being cycle-specific. This despite Rod King (the jolly nice Founder of 20′s Plenty For Us ) being a pinnacle of the Warrington Cycling Campaign. Even though the benefits of 20mph speed limits in populous areas should be patently obvious, 20′s Plenty allows a wide range of community groups to ‘buy in’ to the concept. It seems strange that in the early years of the 21st Century, curtailing someone’s right to drive like a pillock should be regarded as part of an arsenal in the ‘War on the Motorist’ – stranger still having just returned from a country where 30kph (18mph) is the default on residential streets.

The point of today’s sermon is that promoting decent cycling infrastructure is difficult enough coming from a minority, and quite often not a particuarly liked minority at that. However, when combined with the fact that mainland Europe is being used as an inspiration, it may be too much for many to bear. If I close my eyes, I can see the smoke and sparks billowing as the Daily Mail Europhobicometer slams into overdrive.

We have to be thoughtful and innovative about how we take the message to a group of people that don’t know they want to cycle yet. Also to planners and engineers that may in some instances be reluctant to take different practices on board. Whilst on my travels in The Netherlands I saw examples of great community spirit as people of all ages went about their business by bicycle; I saw groups of children chatting away on their way to school and college. I saw groups of elderly people and couples off for a nice social ride in everyday clothing, sharing the latest news without harassment. I saw hundreds of children being picked up from school by bike, hurredly telling their parents and grandparents what they did that day. In a way, it was looking back to a Britain that I once knew where I cycled to school and on adventures with friends. Where local residents cycled to the local shop to buy a newspaper without fear or being regarded as a f***ing taxdodger. In a sense, it could be argued that countries such as Denmark and The Netherlands are more British than Britain as they have retained decent values that are still about in Britain but have been tempered by consistent anti-social, car-centric policies. I believe the Dutch and Danes are on to something that’s worth fighting for.

I leave you with this latest offering from Mark Wagenbuur that I urge you to watch as it is utterly superb. In particular, look at the dire situation The Netherlands found itself as it entered the 1970′s. Then think about a typical school run in Britain today and wonder how it could ever get better with current policy.

An Embassy in the Netherlands and an Embassy of the Netherlands

A chance for children, and at least two Cycle Embassy members, to play hopscotch in a Woonerf (or ‘living area’) where traffic is reduced to walking pace and the residents come first. Yes, I know….

Last Friday I returned from the Cycling Embassy Study Tour to Assen and Groningen in the Netherlands, led by David Hembrow. I am quite deliberately leaving it a while before I even attempt to blog more thoroughly about it as I want to allow some time for it all to sink in. It really was a three-day assault on the senses that went way beyond looking at some Dutch cycling infrastructure. To say it left a profound mark would be bordering on reckless understatement. The amusing aspect was the sheer bewilderment from the Dutch themselves that anyone would want to take photos and examine something that is taken so utterly for granted – the freedom of all citizens to travel with subjective safety by bicycle, if they so choose, regardless of age, gender, colour, creed, status or even what type of cyclist you are for sporting pursuits (we were overtaken by many road cyclists with all sorts of colourful team kit on). To them the act of getting around by bicycle is quite boring and not really worthy of conversation at all – just as it should be.

Another amusing aspect, as a quick teaser, is my first foray into movies. It is one of the famous bins (usually found close to Dutch schools) angled and at such a height that litter may be easily chucked whilst passing on a bicycle. Yes, the Dutch have even created the perfect symbiosis between bicycle and litter bin (like the Danes and their foot rests whilst waiting at traffic lights) The schoolkids fared slightly better than our efforts…

Anyway, whilst we were away, the Dutch launched their Cycling Embassy. Like the Danish Cycling Embassy, they will be exporting their knowledge and expertise that has had proven success, as opposed to the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain that I formed earlier this year that would welcome anything other than the current situation where Local Authorities are designing facilities for bicycles with no knowledge of bicycles – a bit like asking Orville the Duck to design the successor to Trident.

Here is the video of their launch. I know it has featured on other blogs but it really does need repeating as it really is superb.

I shall be posting far more frequently as I catch up with everything else and try to put everything I’ve seen in a British context. This should be easier than you think (certainly easier than I once thought) and easier than some may have you believe.

My Dutch Bike – The Test of Time

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

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

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

Old Dutch with other bikes that the British can't handle due to the fact that they are too practical.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Last Bike I Shall Ever Own. Probably.

Here is a sign. A beautiful sign. But I wonder what treats lie inside?

Yes, it’s Amsterdammers located under Brighton railway station! The magnetic pull of their range of second hand and new Dutch bikes proved irresistable. The shop is run by the very knowledgeable (and tall) Stefan Petursson who shares my bemusement at the very British obsession of playing ‘Let’s See How Many Cars We Can Cram Into A Town Centre Thereby Ruining It For Everyone Including The Motorists’.

Anyway, here it is, the Batavus Old Dutch. It’s an older model, just like its new owner, and it is probably the smallest frame size because the new owner is of,  what you might call, ‘lilliputian stature’.

This new acquisition has an incredibly reasonable price tag, 3 hub gears, hub brakes, built in robust lock, mudguards, comfy saddle, chainguard, reflectors in the right places to meet legal requirements and is bombproof. It can carry stupid weights at the rear and has an upright position to stop me crippling my back as the years progress. It also encourages me to slow down and enjoy my cycling again instead of turning up at work looking like I’ve just taken a short cut through a car wash. Oh, and I was able to test ride it in walking boots with not a quibble. When the Netherlands were considering a Space Programme to the moon, they were going to use a Dutch Bike instead of a lunar rover. OK, I made that last one up, but that’s what I would have taken.

I will be posting a full review after Christmas when the commuting regime starts in earnest but the best part is that it won’t be just about the commuting. It will be about the shopping and pubbing and librarying and carting The Boy..er..ing. All the things I should do by bicycle but don’t as the bikes that I own (with the exception of the Brompton) compel me to ‘dress like a cyclist’ and ‘be a cyclist’ as opposed to a ‘person on a bike’. It’s not that I’m against other types of bike, I adore and respect all types of bike (and cyclist for that matter). I just need one that for the rest of my life facilitiates practical cycling – ‘Citizen Cycling’ to coin a Copenhagenize phrase. Each to their own.

I am selling my KHS Alite 3000 mountain bike to cover the cost (2010 barely used model if you’re interested. It got rave reviews in What Mountain Bike but with a 7 month old son, I probably bought it 13 years too early). I was expecting to commute along the South Downs Way from time to time with wild abandon but the sleepless mights and ever changing and demanding schedules that enthuiastic fatherhood brings knocks that into a cocked hat.

It’s time to slow down and go Old Dutch.

1 2 3