Tag Archives: Bicycle

Britain has all the wrong sorts of bikes

In my earlier post “So many beautiful road bikes but” I was commenting on the number of “proper” road bikes I saw while driving to Rothley and back. Earlier this evening I cycled towards Leicester (Harrison Road Methodist Church) on my new road bike.

Suffolk

 

This time I saw several families cycling together, probably on their way back from Watermead or Abbey Park.

Sadly, the day’s experiences reinforced my view that one of the biggest problems facing the growth of riding bikes as transport in the UK.

We are riding the wrong bikes!

Road Bikes are the Wrong Bikes

Yesterday, I was a good example of that. I rode 3.5 miles to an evening service on my new road bike. It was completely unnecessary and not at all suitable (my excuse was that I just wanted to ride my new bike). It meant I needed to change from cycling shoes with clips when I got there, it meant that when I was too warm cycling there I had nowhere to put my jacket, it was too fast a bike to feel appropriate on footways shared (legally) with pedestrians, it’s speed means that British cycling infrastructure feels too slow (tempting you towards a dual network where fast cyclists use the road and the rest use the crap provided at as little cost as possible), it meant I had to watch for debris including glass and the lower handlebars make it harder to watch for bad drivers. Oh and despite the much higher riding speed by the time you have swapped your shoes four times (each end of each ride) you have used up all the time you saved (and if I hadn’t ridden in my “work” clothes including clerical shirt it would have taken even longer).

The more people we see on fast road bikes the harder it is to campaign for a safe, convenient segregated infrastructure. The addition to speed that makes car drivers so dangerous also infects cyclists. So we read of commuter cyclists who thrive on adrenaline and who use their commutes for race training. We see the barely disguised race bikes sold as being ideal for commuters. We breed cyclists who are unhappy with a gentle pace in your work clothes sharing a segregated infrastructure with school children riding to school.

This high speed view of “commuter” cyclists fostered by the “sport” image of bike that they ride is actually a false picture of speed. Look at this article (inc video) of a 5 km commute by bike in ’s-Hertogenbosch. Or the video in this post showing longer routes between towns. The Dutch make commuting using a bike fast by making it direct and non-stop not by making people ride super fast sports bikes in lycra. Then the commuters don’t need special clothing, they don’t need to shower or change when they get to work and they can use the same routes as school children, elderly people going shopping, students going clubbing etc.

For cycling in Britain our obsession with using sports bike for transport is holding us back from demanding the infrastructure to make cycling a safe, convenient, pleasant choice for all people.

Mountain Bikes are the wrong bikes

On the other hand, when you see people riding bikes to the shops or out with the children they are also generally riding the wrong sorts of bikes. We frequently see people riding from the supermarket on a full suspension mountain bike with plastic bags hanging from the handlebars. Or out for a short ride in the park with their children also while riding a full suspension mountain bike. A Dutch style bike (maybe with 8 gears instead of 3 for the hillier parts of the UK) would be so much more convenient, comfortable, faster and lower maintenance. When you are struggling with shopping on a bike with no rack, no basket, nowhere to carry things it is no wonder you ride on the pavement.

Mountain bikes as generally sold are useless for general transport:

  • no way to carry things
  • no mudguards to keep you dry and clean
  • no chainguard to keep your clothes clean
  • knobbly tyres to slow you down
  • no lights
  • full suspension makes them very heavy (and difficult to fit racks to)

We need modern, clean, low maintenance practical bikes in the UK for commuters and for everyone else. Bikes like this Workcycles GR8

WorkCycles GR8

When commuters, shoppers etc ride bikes like this, then maybe we will be encouraged to ask for real Dutch cycle infrastructure that is safe, convenient and segregated. Then we will be able to see cycling as transport return to normality.

Oh and as well as that our bike rides to work, the shops etc will all become a lot nicer!

From showroom to road

Having just bought a new bike (see Bike for Life plus one) it was time to get it ready. There is always stuff to do so you can take a bike from showroom to road.

For me that has included the following:

  • Fitting two bottle cages (I used 2 black Specialized Rib Cages as reasonably light, work well even with insulated coffee cups).
  • Fitting a cheapish Zefal pump to the down tube bottle cage
  • Fitting the RaceWare Garmin Bar Mount for my Edge 800 (puts it in front of the handlebar so works much better than the default Garmin mount). That meant moving the front reflector upside down to be out of the way.
  • Fitting a handlebar mounting for either one of our Exposure front lights (Strada or Joystick)
  • Fitting the mounting point for a Bridge Street saddlebag. I expect to normally use a small saddleback for u lock, cable, multi-tool, inner tube, tyre levers, waterproof, wallet. This meant moving the reflector out of the way.
  • Fitting a red Fibre Flare Shorty Side Light to the right seat stay (this way not blocked by the saddlebag).
  • Swapping the pedals from the basic OEM’s to my Speedplay Frogs that I used for LEJoG.

Then I ignored Jane and went for a very short test ride (2 miles). Absolutely delightful!

I am waiting for a very nice bell as a replacement for the cheap, useless bell included with the bike. It was a kickstarter project that is currently on it’s way across the Atlantic.

A British Budget Bike for Life: The Paper Bicycle

I rabbit on and on about the need for practical bikes or Bikes that defy categorisation typified by my expensive but fantastic Bike for Life, hence my search for a Budget Bike for Life. My friend Dave reminded me of a potential solution: The Paper Bicycle and it is British!

Paper Bicycle

The design, the pricing and the specification are all fantastic!

It makes an excellent Bike for Life.

Total price for a complete specified bike is almost exactly £1,000 and that is complete with:

  • 8 speed hub gears
  • front and year hub brakes
  • hub dynamo and front and rear LED lights
  • fully enclosed chain
  • steel step thru frame
  • stainless steel mudguards
  • kickstand
  • strong rear rack
  • big air tyres for comfort, speed and reliability

This should be way up your list of potential bikes if you want something that is going to be:

  • reliable
  • extremely low maintenance
  • comfortable
  • completely practical: carry stuff, ride it in any clothes, get on and off easily and stay clean
  • faster than a Dutch bike and many mountain bikes (unless they have been adapted for road use)

Every bike shop should have these in stock to provide a real alternative to the unsuitable bikes they normally sell for town and city use.

Look at the superbly strong rack.

If this had been available with this specification when I bought Jane’s City Bike, it would definitely have been chosen over her Ridgeback (excellent though that has been – after I added all the missing bits).

10 reasons why I ride a bike in Leicester

At the regular meeting of the Leicester Cycle Campaign Group this evening conversation turned to why we love cycling in Leicester. I’m sure I have done this before (I have put some links below), but another go won’t hurt.

I love getting around Leicester on a bike because:

  1. 20131202_115512It is fast. There are some shortcuts not available to cars and I can go direct to the door of my destination. Or sometimes inside, like today:
  2. It is convenient. I know how long it will take me and it does not change according to the time of day or roadworks or crashes.
  3. It is pleasant. I never get stuck in a queue and I can choose to ride through parks and along the river
  4. It connects me with people. I can chat to my neighbours, I can pause when I see friends, the schoolchildren who know me often shout Hi to me
  5. It is flexible. I can change my mind, add extra stops, fit in extra errands, adjust my schedule all very easily because journeys are predictable, there are no queues and no worries about parking
  6. It is fun. I love riding bikes, it makes me happy to move along by my own power. I love the daily miracles of  of balancing on two wheels and noticing improving skills.
  7. It allows me to eat more cake without dire consequences for my weight 🙂
  8. It causes far less hurt and harm to other people and the planet than the alternatives
  9. It saves me money (lots of money in fact!). No fuel, no parking, no huge purchase cost, much lower maintenance.
  10. It helps my local community and the local economy. I spend more money locally because it is so easy (fast, convenient, cheap) to do so.

What about you?

Some older relevant posts – handpicked by me 🙂 :

Travelling with bikes

We have spent 1 1/2 days travelling home from Alkmaar in the Netherlands to Leicester in the UK.

Yesterday we left the campsite just after noon Dutch time and arrived at a Travelodge near the Dartford Thames Crossing at 10:30pm UK time. The start worked particularly well. We had a full afternoon and evening out on Thursday so didn’t start packing anything until after breakfast on Friday. We were off the pitch before noon and then had time for a shower before leaving the site (much nicer to start a long journey not feeling all sweaty).

Today we left the travelodge just after 9 and got home around noon.

With a folding camper (a Dandy Designer) there is very little storage inside the folded camper and the our fridge (gas/mains or 12V) takes a big chunk of space in the car boot. We see many others with similar configurations and for the most part they have their bikes on the car roof or sometimes on top of the camper (usually laying flat).

As there were only 3 of us my much preferred option is to remove all the seats we don’t need from the car (with the Berlingo Multispace this is very easy and needed as they don’t fold flat into the floor). We can then fit 3 bikes and the fridge into the car (along with a fair bit of other stuff such as duvets, pillows, 24 bottles of wine, tools). The rest of the clothes I put in a folding Thule roofbox on top of the Dandy camper.

This has big advantages:

  • much better aerodynamics (we averaged 40mpg and that was with only one short day trip when we were not towing). The roofbox is still a lot lower than our car so has much less effect when on the trailer.
  • better security. Yes they could steal our dirty washing on the way home if they untied the roofbox or cut it with a sharp tool. But the bikes are worth a lot more than our holiday clothes!
  • better in the rain. The bikes stay dry 🙂
  • less damage. The bikes get wrapped in rugs and there is no rubbing or scraping or wind damage
  • height barriers have only the normal restrictions for the roof of the car. Having seen someone drive under a building with bikes on we don’t want to risk the same (we once nearly forgot and nearly tried to drive through a car park height barrier with bikes on.

In the past with a 6 berth, twin axle caravan I could just about fit 5 bikes into it, again a pretty good option (although a bit of pain at overnight stops in motorway services).

The next best option is to put the bikes on the roof of the camper, we did that a couple of years ago with 6 bikes to France because with 6 people in the car there was only room in the car for us, the fridge and a little stuff. Since then we have had the suspension on the Dandy upgraded and I do have plans for a Mark II version one day.

Meantime since getting home I have at last started work on a new lighting board for the Dandy. Some of the lights are persistently unreliable so I am creating an LED lighting board that will be quick to fit (I don’t want to drill the frame at the moment so this will hang on top). I am also going to fit some boards to the bottom of the roof box which will make it quicker and easier to fit.

Some normal sights in the Netherlands

I’m sorry but I’m not much of a photographer so you’ll have to make do with word pictures.

We have now been in the Netherlands for 10 days. Here are just a few of the normal sights around here that you won’t normally (if ever, for most of us) see in the UK

1: An elderly couple out for a ride together. She is on a mobility scooter and he is on an electric assist bike.

2: A mum with a cargobike riding alongside a young child (maybe about 5 years old) who is riding their own bike along the normal cycle infrastructure (at this point a painted lane on the road). When I caught up with them they were stopped at a red traffic light and clearly having a conversation about what that meant and when they would be able to continue.

3: Parents with two children on a normal bike (one in a seat behind the handlebars, the other a seat on the backrack).

4: Teenage girls riding out of town on their own in the late evening.

5: Groups of young people riding about town together, using the safe infrastructure not the pavement or the road.

6: A group of 4 Scouts in uniform on a fully loaded tour

7: Tandems with couples of all ages in normal clothes

8: Couples in full lycra on nice road bikes riding together heading in or out of town

9: People getting off their bike, parking it and taking a walking stick from the basket in order to be able to walk away.

10: Crowds of bikes parked outside every restaurant, cafe, pub, shop in an ordinary town not just a University city.

11. Cash machines at banks that most of the people use them one handed while holding their bike in the other hand

12. People of all ages giving people of all ages rides on their back racks (or sometimes their front racks)

13. Dogs in front baskets, dogs in rear baskets, dogs on leads alongside bikes

14. A gentleman riding home with a huge brass band instrument on his front rack

15: A mum with two maybe 10 year olds in the front of her cargobike (seen halfway between two towns)

16: Bike traffic jams at traffic lights despite it not being rush hour, not being a city and not being a narrow lane.

Transport planners missing visibility

I met a professional Transport Planner today. He showed some pretty pictures of a new street design which included lots of shared space. He wanted to tell us how great this was for cyclists and it was only late in the discussion that my brain clicked in and I pointed out that there was not a single person on a bike anywhere in any of the images we were being shown.
If you are not showing people on bikes as a normal part of all your street scenes then do not try to pretend that this is a cycle friendly design!!!
A cycle friendly design will show people of all ages on bikes.
We should see young children on their parents bikes and in trailers, we will see young children riding alongside their parents, we will see older children riding to school, people doing their shopping, people collecting their pensions, people socialising, people commuting, people exercising, people touring the county, people cycling to tea shops, people cycling to restaurants, people cycling to Church, to cinemas, kids hanging out with their friends on bikes (and scooters and roller blades), cargo bikes being used for deliveries, cargobikes being used as mobile shops and lots of bikes simply parked.

 

When your street scene shows all these then I might believe that you have designed cycle friendly streets!

Note that of course we should also see people using mobility scooters, people in wheelchairs and pushchairs. Without these the street is still just for cars and agile pedestrians rushing to and from cars.

What is not shown cannot have been given any priority!

 

Leicester Cycle City Workshop disappointment 1

Sadly this might turn out to be one of a series.

This evening I went to my first Leicester Cycle City Workshop.

It appears to be a semi open meeting (there is something about needing to attend as a representative of a recognised group for full participation) every 3rd Wednesday of the month at the Town Hall from 4:30pm. I guess there were around 20 people there.

My first key disappointment was a variety of ways in which this workshop was unrepresentative.

The most blindingly obvious was that there was no diversity at all in ethnicity and very little of culture. Leicester is a beautiful mixture of multiple cultures and ethnicities. I understand that when the results of the 2011 census come out Leicester will be the first official UK city where minority ethnic groups form the majority of the population.

It is not that people on bikes in Leicester are all white, I see a wide variety of people on bikes every time I ride into the city. Where is their representation?

Also missing fair representation in the workshop were:

  • parents worried about the safety of their children (a key group in the formation of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain)
  • people who would like to ride a bike but don’t feel safe (also represented in the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain)
  • people who ride their bikes for daily transport to the shops, friends etc but have no sporting pretensions
  • people who ride their bikes for work rather than commuting to work (as both Jane and I do)
  • people who ride their bikes to school or college (as our middle son does)
  • pedestrians of any kind, particularly those who find shared pedestrian/cyclist facilities frightening (you are welcome to come and meet many who feel this way in the Churches I serve).
As I understand the way this works this Cycle City Workshop is the only official forum in Leicester where the views of people are sought on planning issues relating to cycling. How sad that so few of us are represented there.

The attitude towards cycling infrastructure varies with its quality.

The attitude towards cycling infrastructure varies with its quality is an old post by David Hembrow but well worth reading and watching the video about the history of separated cycle infrastructure in the Netherlands.

My view is that most British car drivers are totally unaware of how inadequate nearly all British cycle paths are. They don’t realise:

  • That many cycle paths in the UK put cyclists in more danger at junctions than being on the road
  • That their surfaces resemble roller coasters
  • They they are frequently covered in glass
  • That they keep ending and abandoning cyclists at unexpected places
  • That they don’t go to useful places
  • That they have many barriers that bikes with trailers, bikes with children on the back, tandems, recumbents, cargo bikes can’t get through
  • That the “dropped” kerbs are frequently so poor that you can’t use them with road bike wheels
  • That they are almost never gritted, salted or cleared of snow
  • That they are rarely lit at night
  • That they go through wild places where it is scary to be alone at night
  • That they are so narrow that our bikes are sometimes wider than the path
  • That we often find cars parked in the bike lanes
  • That cars, vans and lorries often drive into the bike lanes
  • That pedestrians like to walk all over the bike paths and let their dogs roam all over them
  • That councils rarely sweep up leaves or other debris from cycle paths
  • That we get so little priority at many traffic lights that we wait for far longer than any motorised vehicle.
  • That many traffic lights don’t detect cycles and so don’t change for us
  • That they are frequently blocked by temporary road signs and that there are almost never diversions when they are blocked by road works
  • That many of them significantly increase journey times

If roads were as bad for drivers as cycle paths are for cyclists then there would be a huge uprising in this country.

Variety of bikes needed

Today, I won’t be using my Bullitt cargobike.

While it would be very handy for the first four places I am going at the last I am concerned about security.

So today I’ll use panniers on my Pearson Touche fixie.

The reason is that at the end of the day I am going straight from my last meeting to join the rest of the family at the Odeon to watch the new Harry Potter film. They will have gone in the car (as the film finishes too late for the last train) and I can put my fixie into the car for security while at the film. as they are taking the car I can also bung in a change of clothes (as a clerical shirt is not my first choice for going to a film with the family).

Anyway off to the first visit now. Maybe photos later.

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