Friday 7 August 2015

Why Start Cycling

Much has been written recently (Guardian, BBC, others) about the legacy of the 2012 Olympic games and how sports participation increased in a couple of bursts to do with the games. Since it hasn't really gained much traction and is seemingly in decline.

This seems like it was all a waste of money and time. However, I'd argue there are some good things that came out of the Games, and possibly added to by the delights of the Tour de France being in Britain last year.

The very nature of the comment about people being involved in sport starts from the wrong premise. What we should be looking at is how many people have more active lives. This is not "sport". It's who chooses to do things using motor vehicles less and their own legs, be it riding or walking, more. Whether that's doing it as a way of getting around, or as a leisure activity, or as a race, it doesn't matter. Why are we only counting the last category? It's a perculiar British failure to see the full picture here.

I got involved in some of the legacy planning for the Tour de France in Cambridge. It was full of people talking about having a new cycle racing, about building up cycle clubs, measuring our sportiness, and many less, being slightly drowned out, trying to ask for better facilities for all. True, the former does have more substansive ideas and is less prone to "hidden benefit" syndrome, where no-one can monetise how it will help.

Into this mix I bring three stories about how some people I know went through this and created their own legacy. These three took up cycling in very different ways in different places.

Althea's Story.

Althea is from Pateley Bridge in Nidderdale, Yorkshire. A most stunningly beautiful dale. And with that goes some stunning hills and steep inclines to scare the chocolate off a Yorkshire Teapot.
I need to lose 4 stone and get fit. That’s the idea anyway. I tackled giving up smoking and won the battle last year – this year it’s about giving up food. Food and slothfulness. I’m a large-boned Yorkshire woman – I reckon I can kick slothful (walking to the post office involves a hike up hill and down dale with crampons and the Mountain Rescue Team on speed dial), but giving up food is going to be way more tricky. Drastic measures are called for.

I digress here but back in February, someone gave me a pattern to knit tiny jumpers for bunting for the Tour de France. Isn’t that a bicycle race in Europe? What’s that you say – it’s starting in Yorkshire this year? Really? Ok, I’ll knit 1. Then it got competitive and I knitted a nice round dozen. On my knitting journey, I got interested in the race itself. To be fair, I didn’t get a choice in the matter as my spare bedroom and those of my neighbours started being booked out with friends and relatives for the great weekend in July.

I used to cycle everywhere in my youth. It isn’t that difficult. I’ve cycled a tandem across the Golden Gate Bridge. Twice. Not that long ago either. Nobody pointed at my capacious bottom and laughed. Or if they did, it was only some skinny Californian on some joyless macrobiotic diet, and they did it quietly and politely. And who cares what they think anyway?

Not only that, but if I need an extra incentive, some kind person somewhere in the local planning office has given us a cycle track between Ripley and Harrogate and Knaresborough. The word on the street is it’s flat. On an old railway line. That sounds good. I smoked far too long to consider cycling up hills at my time of life.

So – off to Decathlon in Sheffield to get a nice cheap ladies bike with shopping basket and extra large comfy saddle, then to Halfords to get a cycle rack fitted to my Fiesta. Ready to roll. I won’t cycle the road between Pateley Bridge and Harrogate because it’s a nightmare to drive along, parts of it are so narrow and it’s infested with the world’s worst drivers – suicidal boy racers, rear-ending young women, crawling geriatrics who retired to somewhere pretty when they were 60 and are now wholly reliant on their cars to travel 15 miles each way to their Outpatients appointments at Harrogate Hospital, 30 years later. I kid you not. Then you’ve got the juggernauts which have started cruising this B road for something to do when they’re not driving side by side on the 2 lane sections of the A1. Cycling this road would be an exercise in expediting death. Where can I take my bike? Ripley in my car with my cycle rack.

The first time, I went by myself and it was just great. Off road but on a largely flat, tarmacked path, all the way into Harrogate. I came back raving about it and as a result, got my husband, daughter, son-in-law and baby grandson all enthusiastic – we’ve since been out many times and it’s always great fun. Safe, great fun. I sing as I cycle, they pretend they don’t know me, and each time I go, I manage a bit further, or a bit faster. I haven’t lost any weight by the way. I can’t give up food, but I reckon that cycling is preventing me from having to undergo bariatric surgery. That has to be a good thing, right? However, I think the council needs to open up more of these paths if they’re going to encourage us to cycle more – at the moment, there aren’t nearly enough safe places to go with my bike.

Since writing this, Althea has really taken to riding. Still riding on quiet roads but she's started to conquer steeper and steeper hills and longer and longer distances. I cannot begin to say how proud I am of her joy of finding her ability. She is the first to say the only thing that held her back was her fear that somehow she couldn't do it.

Daniel's Story.

I know Daniel from the pub. You know that place of high sporting ideals, lean diets, early nights and early starts!
I travel everywhere by foot or public transport all the time. Which can be time consuming, if I had to travel somewhere that took a while to get to. The reason I decided to start cycling was, talking to people down the pub and we talked about the benefits of having a bike. Also it was a few months before the Tour de France stage came to Cambridge, so a lot more people were talking about bikes than normal.

My initial thoughts of having a bike was a little apprehensive as I have never rode a bike before. I did not know what sort of bike to buy because at the time to me a bike was just bike. I just wanted something to bike around Cambridge that would get me from A to B and didn’t cost the earth.

I started saving some money to put towards buying a bike, which by coincidence happened to be the day after the Tour De France passed through Cambridge. For a while it just stayed in the hallway of my flat, as I was slightly nervous about going out by myself. However I have now been out on my bike practicing a few times with a friend who has been teaching me. Despite not being on bike for a long time I now fell a lot more confident than I started. I feel with a bit more practice I will be able to start going out on small journeys such as to the shops, and then gradually go a bit further.

My concerns now would be going on the road. You have to be a lot more aware of everything around you. I also have concerns about using cycle lanes a few of them don’t seem that wide, and how close thing cars and buses get to people on their bikes.

Daniel travels further and further by bike and, ta da, has had his first fall! What is great about Daniel's spirit is that he immediately got up, dusted himself down, and got back on the bike. Again, a very personal spirit, although I'd suggest the positive experience of riding also helped in this return to riding.

From The Guardian, What makes Cambridge a model cycling city?

Sue's Story.

Finally Sue. I know Sue, as many others will, through BBC Cambridge Radio. She's interviewed me about cycling and the Tour dr France project #CamBuntingTdF several times in the past year or so. Sue lives in the country well to the south of Cambridge.

I started cycling as the organiser of the fledgling City of Cambridge triathlon sort of ‘dared’ me to give it a go, so I borrowed a friend’s hybrid to get some basic fitness, had a go at the Wattbike (a thing of torture) in the gym. I then took a big breath and bought a road bike … and all the kit and caboodle! I was also inspired by the inaugural Women’s Tour which came right past my front door this summer and the Giro D’Italia in my native Northern Ireland.

The biggest worry was how to handle the roads – I’m lucky in that I live in a rural area so I tend to cycle on less busy roads, and those well frequented by recreational cyclists but I needed to get road confident, learn how to clip in and out properly and safely negotiate even apparently quiet junctions. I also worry sometimes about the safety of being a lone cyclist and a woman out on the roads by myself but try not to get too hung up on that!

After starting I realised how it requires a very different style and level of fitness than running! But I’m up to a good level of fitness and confidence now. The, er ‘undercarriage’ discomfort takes a bit of getting used to, as well! I’m probably more often on my bike than out running at the moment, quite a change for me!

I found time the biggest hurdle. Working fulltime and often alone with a small child at the weekend, it’s just sometimes difficult to get out there. I invested in a pull along trailer so my son comes too.

The roads quality where I live are quite good, well lit and relatively safe. I do find it tricky in village situations, negotiating parked cars and the like. I’ve not cycled in Cambridge city itself but there are junctions I know I would be loathe to tackle – but my overall impression is that Cambridge is worthy of its cycle-friendly city badge.

I’m a keen runner anyway and I know the benefits of being outdoors and of exercise. I’ve found myself cycling around villages I’ve only driven through and it’s good to see the countryside in a very different way.

Sue continues to ride and run and did confess she'd got some lessons from Olympic Gold Medalist, Vicky Pendleton and, UK National Time Trail Champion, Michael Hutchinson. She loves her sporting side, which is welcome. As is all people who've worked out that challenging yourself makes you enjoy your life more. This could be in sport or could be just getting to the shops under your own steam where you thought it impossible before.

So when I think of legacy, I think of these three people. And the many more people challenging themselves it whatever way they can.

Thursday 6 August 2015

#CamRideHome July 2015

#CamRideHome is a leisurely ride around some of the more pleasant cycle infrastructure and cut-throughs in Cambridge, ending in a short pub stop to chat about the joys of the past month. It starts at The Mill in Cambridge every last Friday of the month at 6pm. Rob at Ben Haywards has been instrumental in getting this going and is the route source on their CamRideHome page.

The July ride took advantage of the evening sunshine to explore out to Milton Country Park, including going under the new underpass on Milton Road, strengthened to allow motor traffic down ot the new railway station. Returning back along the Cam enjoying the early evening mid summer sun.

A Relaxed Early Friday Evening Social Ride (Go HD see * below)

0:12 Setting Off from The Mill
0:25 Awkward manoeuvring down the cyclelane to get onto Regent Street
0:36 Park Terrace
0:55 Quite a busy Midsummer Common path
1:08 Cutter Ferry Bridge and Path
1:38 Pye Terrace
2:08 Onto old cycle infra
2:30 The new Milton Road underpass
2:56 Jane Colston Bridge
3:15 Milton Country Park
3:35 Careful riding!
4:12 River Cam and a bike change
4:55 Faster than rowing!
5:47 Fen Road and another bike change
6:03 Green Dragon Bridge, where it's perfectly legal to ride
6:22 Onto Riverside
6:45 Back under Cutter Ferry Bridge
7:24 Thompsons Street
7:45 Kings Parade
8:04 And yet more Peace, a pint!

* How to go HD.

Wednesday 5 August 2015

Daytime Bike Lights

This article appeared in yesterday with a large variety of comments underneath, precisely why they write in this thought provoking manner!

So, should riders have a rear light on all the time? It would seem like a sensible idea, another bit of added safety measure, what's not to like?

I notice a lot of people answering "yes" in the comments section. And a number repeating anecdotal events "proving" it works. Or even go into bold and largely unproven statements. A number of these comments also give a clue as to the riders normal riding experience. It would look like a large number are hardcore road riders, likely to have a good road bike, wear lycra, use helmets, and buy in to all the gadgets you can get for the bike. That's their hobby, the part of their life on which they'll spend money.

What about the ordinary rider, one just going to work or school every weekday morning? One simply using a bike as their transport. Someone who's not likely to want extra stuff for their "precious machine". It's not their hobby, just a way of getting around. Their bike is subsumed into their overall style, not the other way round.

So, my thoughts....

There are two types of "compulsion" that have similar levels of effect, of trumping out any evidence-based decision making. Legal mechanisms is the obvious one, but also emotional blackmail is another less obvious and more insipid form. "Just do it", "think of your children", "it's for safety's sake" are all used in these arguments in a neat way of avoiding any real information about the effects of whatever it is being suggested. This additional "safety tip" fits into the latter.

The issue of the slippery slope, in this country in particular, is that we makes safety the responsibility of the victim and not the one responsible for creating the danger.

On QI, Jeremy Clarkson, no less, said the best road safety device was to remove all seatbelts and put a big spike in the middle of the car steering wheel. That way the driver would be so concerned about their own safety they'd never impinge upon anyone else's outside.

The same piece pointed out that whilst seatbelts made a great safety improvement on people in cars, it had a detrimental effect on those not in cars. More people were KSIed outside of cars as average speeds went up as it had less effect on those causing the higher speeds.

We keep lessening the risks for those responsible for creating the danger, not those facing it. And this has been happening on the roads for as long as they've been around, with each time it happens it goes though a process.

  • Initial proposal. Proponents, sometimes with a benefit to gain (like Trek/Bontrager here), suggest a new thing. Some people see it as removing responsibility from the risk giver and challenge the safety aspect.
  • Those with budgets (and something to gain) keep pushing it, and it gains traction against those who've nothing but their sense of the importance of "responsibility".
  • Institutions take on the new idea and run with it. Eventually it ends up being legally or emotionally supported.
  • Some years or decades later it's taken as read that the idea is an important part of safety, not to be ignored or challenged.

To illustrate this, how about the need for lights on bikes at night. This is a legal requirement and you'll find very few people across the whole cycle advocate spectrum that'll disagree with it.

However, when bike lights were first proposed, many riders opposed it. They had a simple reason: it was the responsibility of the driver to see where they were going and ensure that they were not going to drive into anybody or anything. They suggested it was the drivers responsibility to drive safely.

Then it was taken through the above stages. Now, no-one would fight it.

We do have a number of people ride around without lights in Cambridge. Whilst I'd never join them, when I drive at night, especially at 20mph, I do notice that if I'm paying attention to what I'm doing, then I do see them.

One of the biggest ironic statements from those with anti-cycle sentiments is:
  • "Look at that bloody cyclist, no bloody lights, they'll never be seen."