Thursday, 8 October 2015

Wot no cycle racks?

Back in 2012 I complained that Hughes Electrical were terrible to shop at if you're on a bike because they're on a savage road with no bike locking.

I've been in the shop many times since then, but I've bought very little because there are other shops (e.g. Seven Oaks) where I can lock up the bike and the trailer to take goods home. Its so much more convenient.  But on Saturday I was looking for something that'll have to be delivered (a new cooker), so I was happy to slum it and lock the bike up wherever I could find. And I went to Hughes first, as its at one end of the city and I could go to the other shops in succession.

I must say I'm disappointed that they've made no progress, at all, in improving bike provision. I can't blame them that Cherry Hinton Road remains one of the worst routes to ride in the City, but I do feel that in three years they really ought to have sorted out some bike locking. This is Cambridge, if you want my custom you need to give me somewhere to lock up my bike. 

So after Hughes I rode out to the Beehive Centre, to the actually quite good bike locks at Currys and at Argos, before riding in to the City Centre to the really very good (but ridiculously under-sized relative to what was promised) underground bike-park at the Grand Arcade to go to John Lewis. I chose in the end to go with John Lewis to buy my bike - not because they were cheaper or better than Hughes (they weren't) but because I didn't really want to have to fanny on with a wire mesh railing to lock my bike to for a second time in the same day. 

Bluntly I'm just a but put out when it seems like a company doesn't make it easy for me to shop there. And that means you too Daily Bread, you've actually made your bike locking worse by putting planters in where I used to be able to wheel my bike trailer behind the railing to lock up my bike. You claim to be an ethical retailer but clearly active, green, clean transport isn't one of those ethics. Now if I bring the trailer I risk having to lock it up on the pavement which would block access, and I don't want to do that. So for big purchases I don't much use your shop any more.

Its not hard - do you want my money? Cater to my needs. I'm not asking much, just somewhere to safely leave my bike. Cyclists are a demographic with more cash to spend than motorists - we're not burning cash every time we leave our driveways, wouldn't you rather we spent it with you instead? So get bike provision right - not doing so is costing you money. Every. Single. Day.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Change one law, make the roads safer?

Politicians like gimmicks, its easier to sell them to electorates via conference soundbites than it is to come out with real changes or real policies. So I've been wondering, is there a 'one thing' type gimmick that would give us real, sound improvements in cycling and walking? I think that maybe there is, so I'll put it out there and see whether anyone agrees. Or has a better idea...

If you're driving, you're driving. And thats what you're doing. You can't faff about with the radio, or the sat-nav, or fiddle with an e-cig, or mess about with your phone or a delivery sheet. You can't eat a sarnie or a bag of crisps, or balance a mug of coffee while at the wheel. Drive or do something else.

Penalty for multi-tasking driving? 6 points. So you can get away with it, once.

Seriously, I think this idea is a go-er. Its easier to enforce (how often have you seen a driver visibly doing something?), its simpler, and it would have a big impact on driving culture - it would bring into focus the fact that driving is something that carries a fair whack of responsibility. Even a small car is a powerful machine that can, if carelessly handled, cause immense harm. We still kill thousands on our roads every year, many of them through simple inattention. While we're not going to make every motorist suddenly give a damn and start looking where they're going, oughtn't we find ways of removing some of these distractions?

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Bike maintenance - Why are we so cheap?

I'm in the middle of having three of my four bikes serviced. While the road bike is pretty much okay right now, I've tweaked the brakes a bit, tinkered with the gears, it'll do for months to come (until Summer), the other three need some tlc.

My beast of burden, a Giant Expression I've had for years failed me on Friday, the bottom bracket unexpectedly snapped. So I resigned myself to the need for a new chain and gears while looking over it as was walking to a bike shop, and a couple of the cables could do with replacing. This reminded me that my old toy (a steel framed BSA sport 'racer' as you'd have called it back in its era) could do with new pedals, a new tyre, and a general servicing wouldn't do it harm. I rode it in to a specialist in old bikes like that, it'll cost me a few quid but not much. And finally my fast commuter bike, a Marin, is going back home to Ben Haywards bikes for a servicing. Its running pretty well (although its got a puncture), so why not keep it that way?

Yes, I could do all this myself to save money. Like I could mature all of my own cheese and make sweaters out of sheep. But I'm not going to, I've other things to keep me busy. And these guys are professionals, they're better at this than me. 

The total cost of all this? I should think it'll be just the wrong side of £200 when I add it all up. For 3 bikes, and it'll be way more than I've spent maintaining them for a couple of years. Which necessitated a fairly typical phone conversation with a bike mechanic regarding the work-horse bike the other day...

"So about the gears, you know you'll probably want to do those as well as the chain?"
"Yes, thats fine, I was anticipating that."
"And the two cables you pointed out..."
"Yes, thats why I mentioned them."
"And you'll want a new bottom bracket for the one that broke, and then there's the servicing, it comes to more than £100, do you want to do that?"
"Yes, the bike is otherwise solid..."
"cos you could get a second hand bike for like, I dunno, £150..."
"And then I'd have to spend more money getting that the way I want, and I'd have to shop for a new bike - and this was a £350 bike when it was new years and years ago, I'll pay the money and fix the bike."
"Are you really sure?"
"Yes, fix my bike please."

Now I understand that cost is an important factor in the life-cycle of any hardware. But bikes aren't cars, they're not endless money-pits as they age. I've been asking around on Twitter and its not unusual for car owners there to admit to spending £300 to £1000 per year just maintaining their cars, before even worrying about tax, insurance etc. So while spending a third the value of my bike when it was new on getting it back into almost-new condition might sound steep, lets keep this in perspective. Its an absurdly small amount of money to spend on keeping myself mobile.

When we consider the bicycle, mostly its just metal tubes, bolts and gearing held together with bolts and cables, with wheels and a saddle. Yes, things wear out - the tyres, tubes, saddle, chain and gears can all be replaced intermittently - and they really do account for much of the cost of bike maintenance. So you can very easily spend a high proportion of the value of a bike just in keeping it going - that isn't an indication that you're throwing good money after bad (like it might be if you're spending a grand a year maintaining your car!), its a reminder of the absurd, hilarioulsy pleasing simplicity of cycling.

Yet bike mechanics in the UK seem constantly braced for criticism of the work costs more than tuppence. We're a car-culture, and the all-pervasive moton attitude to money seems to scale down into cycling in a monstrous way. That bike mechanics seem so apologetic when spending even the minimum sums needed to get our bikes into the state we want them to be in, when that's even a small amount of money, I do wonder what kind of criticism and complaint leaves them in that state of nervousness.

So, my plea to cyclists and to bike repair shops - get real with regard to the costs. Yeah, if a bike needs gears replacing and a new chain, it'll cost you, but its better than a new bike. Paying out a third of the cost of your car on maintenance would seem excessive - but that doesn't mean paying a few notes out to fix a bike is. And you know what? All seven of our bikes in our house combined, that still a lower cost to keep going than a car would be.

Relax. Spend the money. Enjoy your ride.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Cyclist Haters Boycott List?

This rather brought back to me the importance of logging the interactions we have with individuals and companies. How many times have we all watched as someone in their company van rained hate down on a cyclist? How often have we seen someone tweeting rancid abuse at cyclists from their company profile?
And within a couple of weeks, how many of these do we still remember?

I wonder, do need a simple repository for these incidents? Somewhere such are recorded, but where we give a right of reply to those who've been so unpleasant. It has to be matter-of-fact, simply logging what happened and giving the salient facts with appropriate links to media (video, tweets etc.) supporting the claim. 

My bottom line is that I don't want to trade with cyclist hating people. If someone thinks I deserve to be badly treated because of how I choose to travel, I don't want them to get my money. If someone employs others who endanger cyclists on the road, I don't want their company to benefit from my spending. I want them to have a chance to show contrition, and if I believe them I'll go back to spending there - but I want to know, an I want to have the option not to.

Many of us shop 'ethically' for food, clothing, energy, etc. I don't see that this is inherently very different to an other ethical choice.

The question is, how should this be done? Do I set up a new blog and record these incidents there when they happen? Has anyone got a better idea?

Friday, 21 August 2015

Second worst cycling junction in the Country

It won't seem surprising that Cambridge, the most cycled city in the UK, is home to a junction with one of the worst accident rates for cyclists in the UK. I refer here to the Lensfield Road Roundabout, highlighted as the second 'worst' in the UK.

Obviously there are imbeciles missing the point of that news story on comments pages across the UK, and blaming cyclists for everything form Isis and global warming to the Reptilian Conspiracy - such criticism isn't just contemptible victim blame its also mud-skipper intellect trolling ofa story that isn't related to anything on their (I use the term with caution) 'minds'. Likewise, there are glib tweets along the lines of this being a statistical inevitability because there are so many cyclists in Cambridge - an equally moronic comment ignoring the fact that there are also dozens of other junctions in this City, many with more cyclists than this one, none of them making it into this 'top 10' of shameful moton carnage. You can't say 'there's bound to be a Cambridge junction in that list' without having a good answer for why, say, Castle Hill or the Catholic Church Junction aren't in the list.

Its an awful junction. Have a look at it - approaching the first of two mini-roundabouts that make up this hellish route from Trumpington Road.

Yes, in that narrow space there are hree lanes for cars there - two going forward, one going left. Nowhere specifically for cyclists. The lanes aren't really wide enough to allow a car through without risking loss of its wing mirrors to the vehicles alongside, and they're corralled in by a traffic island (not that you could use this to cross the road - there's a fence to make it clear that pedestrians are not welcome). Click forward once - you see those two forward arrows? If you want to go straight on here, you need to be out in the middle of that traffic, so unless you were keeping pace with the traffic in the middle of the road to begin with, the constant stream of motons turning left has to let you out. And that traffic is backed up as far as you can see - they're already angry, they're on their phones texting to say they're running late. Don't expect any mercy from that direction.

Lets go forward to that first roundabout now.

The roundabout isn't raised at all - motorists will jump into it without a care in the world. Very often drivers turning from straight on will stop, half way across, because a car is coming from the left - although they're unlikely to do so if you're coming that way on a bike. And even if you've managed to get into the correct lane here your chances of drivers coming from the left ceding priority as they ought to are wafer slim.

Remember we had two ridiculously narrow lanes to approach this junction if heading straight on? Well, one would think that might be simple enough, but it isn't. The right hand lane feeds in to the next roundabout to turn right on to Lensfield Road, the left hand lane on towards Trumpington Street. And the right hand lane is the one used by delivery vehicles, lorries etc. heading towards University departments like Chemistry, the Gurdon Institute, Biochemistry etc. (the New Museums Site, Downing Site, Old Addenbrokes Site etc.) while freight heading for the Grand Arcade and Lion Yard is (mostly) going straight on (except where the driver intends to rat-run down Tennis Court Road) - bluntly, these heavy vehicles do not fit in to the feeder lanes for the first roundabout and the drivers have insuffficient visibility to safely change lanes in the short distance to the next mini roundabout, thus...

So we've got two streams of traffic, often with motorists distracted by mobile phones, sat-navs and the perplexing change of road arrows from straight on to right, crossing each other with no regard to cyclists on these two roundabouts. Its car-nage writ large.

But do you want to know the real shocker? Its worse coming the other way. This is what its like from Trumpington Street:

Why, yes, that IS three lanes for cars and lorries, each narrow enough to scour the go faster stripes off a mini, and no provision for cycling. In the heart of Britain's cycling capital. There is no provision for cycling, and if you work in this part of the city there may well be no viable alternative route.

And, yes, if you're heading off down on to Fen Causeway you've got to get across those streams of traffic ideally into the right hand lane, hope that the laughably unlikely thing of motorists at the first roundabout letting you across happens, and then face just the same implausible scenario at the second roundabout.

My dear readers, I put it to you that this is not the second worst junction for cycling in the UK because its in Cambridge and there are a lot of cyclists - we have many junctions, and this is the only one we've got in the top 10. This, my friends, is one of the UK's cycle accident blackspots because it is designed with no regard to cyclist safety. It was built by motorists, for motorists. And there it is, right in the heart of the supposed cycling Nirvana that is Cambridge. And if you survive it you're now at the other end of the road to this miserable piece of shit which leveraged nigh on half a million of cycling funds for drivers, for almost no improvement for cyclists. 

The trouble with Cambridge is, fundamentally, we pretend to plan each road for cyclists, motorists and pedestrians. And then we come up with a set of priorities that at each location puts motorists first, cyclists second, and we barely consider pedestrians at all. Which means that when we're lucky we do get some half decent cycle facilities - but they're almost never good enough and nearly always an excuse to shovel cycling cash into the coffers of car-centric road designs. And when push comes to shove, cyclists can go and fuck themselves, we don't build for safe cycling if there's a perceived need to squeeze three cars in sideways instead.

Cambridgeshire County Council, hang your heads in shame. Second most cyclist accidents at a junction in the UK, at your brutally designed junction. Deal with it. Do it now.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Why do I use a helmet camera?

There seems to be some suspicion around helmet camera riders. Indeed it isn't unusual for some to assume we're out looking for a fight, or some kind of trouble, and there has been some to-ing and fro-ing regarding this. 

While I don't really want to get in to the whole 'YOU'RE A VIGILANTE!' or 'YOU'RE A GRASS!' thing because, bluntly, I'm not going to pander to people that stupid, I do want to lay out how and why I use a helmet camera.

I'm a camera nerd - I've got rather more cameras than would be considered strictly necessary. I'm not a compulsive collector by any means but I've got different kinds of film camera, and assorted digital cameras. Photography is one of my passions, and if you really want to here, take a scan through some of my favourite shots.

When it comes down to it, helmet cameras (whether its a Muvi or a GoPro or whatever)  are cool. I mean they're really nifty pieces of technology - recording for hours on end, producing high quality video footage on to a tiny, tiny memory card. They typically have quite wide angle lenses and tremendous depth of field properties - they record images that are crystal clear and sharp as a button. They are amazing things - and I reserve the right to have a nerdgasm over a technology as great as that.

They give us opportunity to record many of the weird and wonderful things we see. But also they afford us a chance to record things that people just wouldn't believe happen on our roads - the things that if we went to tell anyone about before the days of helmet cameras no one believed. In fact I'd go so far as to say that helmet cameras have changed how the Police interact with cyclists - you've now got a chance of meeting a Police officer who's actually aware of the problems we face on the roads, although some are both aware and uncaring. If you've been riding long enough to remember before there were cameras you'll know that previously if you went to the Police with a buckled wheel they'd never believe you if you said a motorist was involved - now, at least, they listen. Its progress, but perhaps not enough. Helmet cam footage has changed the game with regard to getting non-cyclists to accept that there are problems.

But there's also the simple reality that the camera does generate 'evidence'. If confronted with a motorist being absolutely bleeding stupid I'll ask for a quote for the camera - sounds like a crazy thing to do but most often it'll calm the motorist down if they know they're being filmed. Well, maybe not calm them down, but they become cautious about leaving an evidence trail. 

And there are a lot of us with cameras now - so many that I'm pretty sure the word is out among most of the aggressive drivers that we're here and not to be messed with. I get fewer really aggressive incidents on the road when I'm wearing the camera, so much so that I wear it as visibly as I can on top of the helmet. Its a visible deterrent, it says to motorists who may otherwise knowingly be looking for trouble to go and look elsewhere. I don't wear a camera to go looking for trouble - I wear a camera because I'm looking to avoid trouble.

Helmet cameras thus give us multiple routes to defuse potentially dangerous situations, and they're fun. They aren't about being vigilantes or looking for trouble to film - they're a way that we can get feedback about our riding and record what we see out there. And there is nothing wrong with any of that.