Monday, 31 December 2012

War on Cyclists, Cambridge Style

There is no other way to describe it.

The total number of fatalities I can find reference to, in Cambridge, caused by cyclists, in the last year is zero. I could be wrong of course - although I could be out by ten orders of magnitude and it would still be zero. 

Cyclists are not mowing people down in vast numbers here. Or anywhere. We're not blocking the pavements by parking there. We're not making city streets no-go areas by speeding, nor polluting, nor making a vast amount of noise. 

But we're the priority of our new Police Commissioner, according to this article here.
In an interview with the News, he said one of the first tasks he carried out as Cambridgeshire’s new Police and Crime Commis¬sioner was to ask the force to tackle "dangerous cyclists".
Oh, deep joy, you're thinking. But still, maybe he's got a point - maybe he's picking out 'dangerous cyclists' who by some miracle haven't been wounding people by the thousand in the way ordinary, well behaved motorists who speed, park on the pavement and drive in an every day way are managing to do.  Lets look more deeply at what he's said. 
"I think we’ve got to a stage in Cambridge where people have forgotten that cyclists aren’t supposed to cycle on pavements, through red lights and the wrong way up a one-way street which are terribly dangerous – not as dangerous as a car – but if a cyclist hits a child or an elderly person it can be fatal.
"And cyclists also take their own lives in their hands when they cycle without lights. You just have to look at the number of bikes that haven’t got lights in Cambridge and it’s the poor old motorist that gets the blame if they hit one of them.
Oh, dear. So if we hit a pedestrian, its our fault. If we're hit by a car, its our fault. In fact everything bad that happens is our fault - and despite the fact that the crimes Sir Graham refers to are not even responsible for the vast majority of injuries to cyclists Cambridge its all our own fault. Analysis of the recorded causes of injury on our roads be damned, its all the fault of cyclists no matter WHAT the data says (and wherever in the world its been studied, motorists are found to be killing in vast numbers - not cyclists).

So in summary, we've got a guy who won the commissioner post for the county (despite losing in Cambridge), who when he comes here does so by car, basing his policy on complete ignorance of accident and injury stats. Yet another anti-cyclist fool who only recognises most of the County from behind his windscreen. A guy who could be helicoptered to the top of a mountain and lament the view is diminished by a lack of windscreen wipers and a tax disc. The Tories knew full well they could put up a monkey with a blue rosette and win this post - I leave my readers to decide whether in fact that is what they did. Although I think its fair to point out that he appeared in the original episode of Brass Eye's 'Cake', but was for some reason cut from reruns and the DVD version.

He'll fit in well alongside the guys running our county council. And of course our city councilors whose response to largely cosmetic improvements in cycle provision is to collude with the police to prioritise 'antisocial' cyclists who merely don't know where a cycle lane ends because that end is entirely unlabelled. Make no mistake - policing trivial causes of cyclist injury to the exclusion of all else, arresting cyclists who are on pavements because the cycle lane has ended with no label, and failing to do anything positive to reduce the impact of dangerous and antisocial motoring, these policies must inevitably reflect the true intentions of our County and City councillors - they will not rest until every last cyclist other than confident, fast, pushy adults has given up entirely. These are not policing priorities FOR cyclists. This is a war on cycling. It is a war on cyclists. They're fighting it, even if we're not.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

More Depressing Crap from County Councillors

Apparently we need more 'balance' in the battle between cars and bicycles in Cambridge.


We need more of it.

Why, yes, I am spacing that out in a ridiculous way to draw attention to it.

I've addressed the 'mutual respect' fallacy on our roads previously, and here we've got an excellent example of where falling for that fallacy that takes us to. We've got an innately anti-cyclist set of councillors on the ruling Conservative benches, a bunch of transport idiots so dumb that they don't all understand that pro-cycling measures are not innately anti-car. They now lament that activists (do they mean me? I doubt it) bring down the 'wrath of God' in response to their victim blaming attitudes. 



The Wrath of God.

Delicious irony in the use of such hyperbole when responding to someone criticising you, I think. But lets get past that for a moment, lets just put that aside as typical local political nonsense. Lets look in closer detail at what Councillor Clarke had to say:

“There seems to be a continuing discussion between cyclists and car drivers about who is right and who is wrong, who gets in the way of who and who doesn’t.
“Surely it’s got to be time for society to take a mature approach to this. Everybody on our roads has to be more considerate.
“In order to do that, car drivers have got to think before they turn left at traffic lights and cyclists have got to play their part and give us a chance by having lights on and not going through red lights.
“If this gets raised the wrath of God from the cycling campaign descends on us. What we need are considerate, safe drivers of all vehicles on our roads so we can further drive down accidents.”
Councillor Clarke, no one lobbying for cyclists argues that we should ride irresponsibly. But otherwise this is nonsense. There is no 'discussion' between cyclists and car drivers, and no one gets criticised for suggesting that cyclists should have lights or not go through red lights. You're being criticised for solely emphasising such points while completely ignoring the available evidence of the causes of accident in Cambridge. Focussing pretty nearly entirely on the causes of a trivial proportion of accidents, the causes that the victims bring to the game, while ignoring the causes brought by those who cause the vast majority of accidents, is an obscenity. 

Of course, I welcome any 'balance' being brought to this. But blandly implying implying equality of responsibility where there is none is not 'balance'. Motorists are causing the overwhelming majority of accidents injuring cyclists and cyclists going through red lights, not having lights on etc. all, combined, have a  relatively trivial impact on the numbers of cyclists and pedestrians injured (and -no- impact on motorist injuries). You want balance? Address the risk factors proportionally. THAT is balanced. Will you do that now Councillor Clarke?

Monday, 17 December 2012

Cycling in Cambridge - The Good Stuff

This blog has been rather negative of late, so I ought to redress that rather with some of the reasons why cycling in Cambridge is actually pretty good.

Here, therefore, are my top 10 reasons why cycling here rocks:

10. The Weather.
It might seem barking mad to say this on a dark, cold December day, but this is one of the driest places in England. And yes, we get what they call in the Fens the 'Lazy Wind' that doesn't blow around you, it goes right through you (when it comes from the East we don't get gusts, it just blows). Really, even when its cold its rarely the biting cold associated with my native North East. Its a joy - you're never really braving the weather here. There probably isn't a better climate for cycling in the UK - we're colder than the South West of course, but a hell of a lot drier.

9. The Eccentrics.
In case you ever wondered, this City is crazy. I don't mean 'yeah we're mad we are like, totally crazy!'. No. I actually mean that I think a large proportion of the populace of Cambridge would, in other cities, be treated as if they're border-line certifiable.

Want to find a bloke who rides around the city centre with a stereo in a plastic bag playing twiddly guitar rock? Come to Cambridge! Naked cyclists? Yeah, Cambridge. Unicycle commuters? Yep. Take your pick, we've got it. And thats just the cyclists; wander round the market and watch the people who feel compelled to pick up each and every apple for inspection. Or the ones who go into the bakery and need to closely interrogate each cake before buying one. Or the busker in a bin. Behaviour that would be viewed as crazy in any normal City is indulged here (which regrettably means that aggressive behaviour is sometimes passively condoned here, but thats another story). Would you rather ride in a crowd of pleasantly potty people or in the nasty crowds of London?

8. The Bikes.
Every kind of bike you could hope to see lives somewhere in Cambridge. Every single one.
A tricycle. With a frikkin bike computer.
Epic level awesomeness.
From the amazing carbon frame techno-machines through to solid steel double-bar-framed solidmobiles. From electric bikes for to great big cargo bikes. Tricycles, tandems, 'cumbents, hand cranked bike like things attached to the front of wheelchairs (I find that one particularly fascinating - awesome bit of engineering), rowing machine bikes, ridiculous mini penny farthings... Thats not to mention the relentless rise of fixies and single speeds, clunking old mountain bikes, road bikes of every flavour, ancient and modern touring bikes, Dutch bikes... There is a bike representative of every style, every price range on the streets of Cambridge.

And because there is every kind of bike ridden by nearly every kind of person, they're moving at almost any cyclable speed you'll see.

7. The Peloton
In other cities you're a cyclist. You're just in the way. Depending on where and when you're riding in Cambridge you're part of an un-stoppable peloton. Watch this speeded up view - the traffic has to go at our pace. Admittedly we have to go a bit slower than many of us would wish...

6. Cycle Routes
You know what? The cycle lanes in Cambridge are, on the whole, entirely inadequate. But by utterly unambitious British standards they're great. We have better cycle lanes than you get in most cities, and fewer barking mad ones. We do our best to make up for that with a few howlers that we irrationally enforce, though.

Add in things like the guided bus cycle route, the cycle bridge over the A14, and its evident that cycling provision is an afterthought in Cambridge, whereas elsewhere in the UK its not considered at all...

5. Bike Parking
We have two underground bike parks in Cambridge. Park Street is a bit grottier than the Grand Arcade, but I can live with that as its on the doorstep of one of our finest pubs, the Maypole; both have bike repair places (although absurdly Station Cycles in the Grand Arcade seems to not specialise in doing the kind of 'on the go' jobs you want in a place like that). We're getting another whopping great big multi-storey cycle park down by the railway station, apparently, but I'll believe that will be as good as they're saying when I see it.

There is also lots of on-street cycle parking on on Fitzroy Street, Burleigh Street, the Market Square, on Regent Street, and across much of the rest of the City. There isn't enough, but its a heck of a lot better than in other towns. I've been known to have to ride about a bit to get a space, I've ALWAYS found a space though.

4. Local Shops
Lots of little bike shops in Cambridge. And big bike shops. Station Cycles, for example, down by the station (and in the Grand arcade, and I think up in Histon) have a superb range and offer good value if, perhaps, not the most knowledgeable staff. Ben Haywards  have well informed staff and far too little stock in a cosy little shop (way more if you can ride out to Horningsea). The guys on Cambridge Market can generally fix a puncture if you give them an hour, and there are numerous other middling to excellent little bike shops in the city. You can pick up a second hand bike at nearly any of the little shops or stalls for a hundred  quid or so, you can get something you actually want to ride for under two hundred. And I don't care how good you are with a wrench, there'll be times you get a puncture on the way to work and all you want to do is go back and pick the bike up again later. Its a joy to be able to do so here.

3. Local Companies
The British are an enterprising people, and when you drop them in to a city with a thriving bike culture they'll make the most of it. Take a look at these sweet bikes, I defy anyone not to smile when they see a Light Blue. Then have a saunter over to what Sally is doing with the Cambridge Raincoat Company. And if you're settling for a night in get Outspoken to deliver cheese to you, or maybe even get them to drop off stuff from Ark. Cyclists here are entrepreneurs, customers, and the middle-men connecting the two. Seriously, how cool is that?

2. Strength in Numbers
This is not a blog post about the 'safety in numbers' hypothesis of cycling safety. Want to read that? Look elsewhere.

There are a lot of us here, but this is still the UK; don't kid yourself that Cambridge is some happy cycling nirvana, it isn't. But if you come off your bike the odds are good another cyclist will be there to assist you. If you've got a motorist sounding his horn to make you get out of the way on Sidney Street, you'll find other cyclists will slow down to help (I've seen that twice at that location). We're simply less of a pushover here when there are more of us; I've stopped to help injured cyclists, I've stopped to stand up for cyclists being given a hard time. This is something I've very rarely seen or heard of elsewhere in the UK. Bluntly, a lone cyclist gets bullied far more easily than a hundred do.

1. The Cyclists are just peopole...
Half of the population of Cambridge cycle, and while the figure for modal transport share within the city is variously stated as 20%-28% (said figure being of less use than how many cycle in to Cambridge, and thats a hard number to find...) its obvious that the people riding bikes here aren't such a narrow sub-section as you see in most British cities. Cyclists here are just folk - this morning I spotted some who looked like students (they've gone home mostly, it being nearly Christmas), one I know to be a professor, several people wearing the work clothes for the shops they work at, some sweet old dears, a chav with his phone playing annoying music, a couple of roadies, fixie riders with caps on, families taking kids to nursery in great big Dutch bike hoppers... We're just folk getting around. And all discussions as to what unites or divides cyclists in the UK aside, what really makes Cambridge for us, what makes it a Cyclist City, is that here we're not cyclists.  We're just people getting about by bike. And no amount of ranting and raving from the dwindling ranks of blue-rinse cyclist haters in this city is going to change that.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Cambridgeshire Constabulary Hate Cyclists

So enough bellyaching about Cambridge Police targetting cyclists breaking the law on a pavement where they cannot reasonably be expected to know how not to because there is no sign saying the shared use facility ends.

I'm instead going to bellyache about yet more victim blaming crap from Cambridgeshire Police.

Lets be clear, I wouldn't advocate riding without lights or irresponsibly on the pavement. I wouldn't argue that if a copper sees such he shouldn't have a word, maybe issuing a fixed penalty notice or making an arrest if there is real danger. In fact I would happily and roundly condemn those who ride without lights as complete numpties. But I do feel that we need to put this into perspective.

On a daily basis, in Cambridge, I'll be passed too closely by three or four drivers. At every junction, at any time of day I'll see motorists speed on through red lights. Cycle lanes are routinely blocked by parked cars, thats when motorists aren't merely ignoring cycle lanes and ASL's and using them as if they're fair road space for them. Cambridge is not some magical place where the normal statistics of what causes cyclist injury are somehow suspended; the risks cyclists pose to themselves, each other and pedestrians here are as elsewhere a fart in a Jacuzzi next to the carnage caused by motor vehicle drivers. Antisocial cycling IS a problem. Its simply a far smaller problem than dangerous driving thats killing people.

We get these campaigns/clampdowns on 'antisocial' cycling here sometimes. Usually the Police wait until the clocks go back and there are suddenly darker evenings and they stand in Trinity Street or Bridge Street and net a few dozen baffled students who were riding on entirely lit roads about half a mile to their halls of residence. It doesn't impact in any way on road safety but it gets Plod in the local rag which in turn gets lots of hits as the normal frothing at the mouth cyclist haters rain hate down on anyone who dares suggest that maybe this is the wrong way to deal with things. Frankly, most students ride bikes for a bit in winter when its dark, before going home for Christmas, then as evenings start getting lighter quite fast in January the problem mostly goes away. The Police know that if they pick well lit, busy city centre streets they'll score a good total, and they get on with entirely ignoring the less well lit suburbs in which you might actually get some of the persistently unlit cyclists who may even be risking their lives. Put a graph in a report, come back next year for more of the same.

So don't lets kid ourselves that these 'crackdowns' do any good. Nor should we for the moment accept that in the complete absence of any Police work to deal with the specific risks posed to cyclists by motorists (go on, go to the local Plod with a report you've been hit by a car but are unhurt, and would like dangerous driving investigated) these are a good use of finite Police resources.

There are of course some token efforts by our Police to look cyclist friendly - they send PCSO's out on rather rickety looking bikes sometimes, for example. But don't kid yourself - Cambridgeshire Constabulary policing is BY motorists, FOR motorists. And this is yet another cynical example of the kind of victim blaming crap we see across the UK. Welcome to Cambridge, in some ways its as shit cycling here as it is anywhere else.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Milton Road Shared Use Cycle Route - an Intentional Booby Trap

I got confirmation from Cambridgeshire County Council that the Milton Road shared use path ends at the Highworth Avenue Junction. Why does this matter, I hear you ask? Because Cambridgeshire Constabulary have taken to staking out the next junction.

Lets ignore the obvious reality that if there are fourty or so cyclists stopped by the Police for using a particular pavement then perhaps we should be asking whether that is because the road is so hostile they fear for their lives. And lets also skim past the point that FPNs can be given out for this but that guidance to the Police is that where cyclists fear for their lives they should not.

Lets just look at the Highworth Avenue junction. Here it is:

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Milton Road has a shared use facility to this point. And according to the County Council that facility ends at the roundabout and presumably cyclists should from that point use the road.

Lets have a closer look at what you see when you ride there. This is what you see when you get to Highworth Avenue if cycling from the South West along Milton Road.

So, I see a sign on the left side of the path telling me the lane continues. On the right side it says the shared use path ends. There is a give way line painted on the path across he lowered kerb, not an 'end' sign. Oh, and there is a lane painted on the road, joining up at another lowered junction at the other side.

Am I being thick or does the balance of probabilities imply here that the cycle lane continues, and that the 'end' sign refers to the fact that the lane painted across the road is no longer shared use and might be for cyclists? Yes, its ambiguous. But I'd have thought that looks like you can ride it.

Lets look at it from the other side of the road. There might be a clue there!

So, looking back, I can see the on-road lane painted across Highworth Avenue with give way signs on the traffic island. That cannot possibly be anything other than a cycle lane or a shared use lane, its not after all for cars. And oh the corner on this side I can see another 'end' sign; I must be standing on a shared use path otherwise there can't be a shared use path ending here.

In fact, according to Cambridgeshire County Council, I'm now on a pavement. And its a Police priority to deal with 'antisocial' cyclists here. Don't believe me? Look at the news story linked to near the top; they're prosecuting cyclists for being on the pavement here.

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So on the left hand side there, do you see that narrow cycle lane on the road? A little under four feet wide I should think, there it is to the left of a steady stream of traffic, much of which is about to turn left into the shops or cut straight along the cycle path on to the left turn lane to head up Arbury Road.  Its also sandwiched in between that traffic and car parking spaces - there is nowhere to ride in that lane that is not in two car-door zones. Hostile would be an under-statement - its downright dangerous. The advice of the Highway Code is to stay out of the parked car door zone and not to undertake left turning traffic - this cycle lane directs you precisely into both dangers.

So to a reasonable person it looks like there is an on-pavement shared use route there. No one would argue that its a good idea to have said facility suddenly stop when Milton Road turns nasty; who would install a cycle facility, in Cambridge (supposedly a cycling city!), a cycle route that fails you when you most need it? And then target cyclists for quite reasonably assuming that this cannot possibly be the case?

Its difficult to find any reason for this. If you want to stop cyclists riding on the pavement there then signpost it clearly; but expect that they'll continue to do so because its a route that there is simply no way around for most of those using it. There aren't suitable alternative routes. To ride on the road there is horrible even if  you're a bolshy bloke like me. I wouldn't force doing so on my worst enemy. Its terrifying. 

So. Why, Cambridgeshire County Council are you doing this? Why have you made what should be safe and simple into a booby trap? Are you seriously expecting any rational adult to believe that this is some accident, that you're not targeting cyclists here to somehow punish them out of some petty, bureaucratize need?

Why, councillors of Cambridge and Cambridgeshire councils do you believe it is acceptable to target cyclists who justifiably have no concept that it is not legal to ride there? 

Why, Cambridge Police, are you targeting cyclists who are just trying not to die? Have they actually been mowing pedestrians down there?

I await none of the above bodies answering because, as is demonstrably true from the evidence of this junction, none of them give a flying fuck for cyclists.

UPDATE: From info uneartehed here at Richard Taylors site we can see that the County Council were wrong when they told me that the facility ends at Highworth Avenue junction; it actually ends at a point more or less at random just about at the end of the roundabout. Thats a point completely unlabelled; you have to go delving into documents such as the City of Cambridge Area C (Consolidation) Order 1993 if you want to find out where it stops. Yes, thats correct, this is Beware of the Leopard level local government obfuscation you've got to get over if you want to cycle legally.

Are you reading this Cambridgeshire County Council? I doubt that. If you are, do you need me to tell you that no sane person would consider this acceptable?

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Cambs Police arresting cyclists for trying to stay alive?

Apologies for a couple of 'empty' posts that appeared here - turns out I'm an idiot sometimes.

Allow me to introduce you to one of Cambridges most ill considered, hostile roads for cycling on. This is Milton Road.

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Whats bad about it? Pan left a few degrees. You're looking at the shared use cycle route on Milton Road, heading away from Central Cambridge out towards Arbury, Kings Hedges, the Science Park and Milton. This is a major artery into Cambridge. You can ride a bike or walk on that 'shared use' facility. Naturally, even though we've got raised cushions across some of the side roads we're still expected to stop and give way - heavens forbid cyclists on an arterial route are treated as equals with motorists. And of course there are no lines dividing pedestrian space from cyclist space, so you'll have people quite reasonably walking three abreast with baby buggies and wandering children. If you DO brave the shared use facility you'll be swerving back and forward with puddles, pot holes, the occasional illegally or antisocially parked car.

But thats okay, you're thinking. Look, there's a road. Okay. So look at it. Just... look at it. The above image from Google Maps is a pretty typical view - nose to tail traffic, each motorist seemingly more angry than the last at the sight of a cyclist eating up road space when they clearly should be on the pavement. Milton Road exists in two states - nose to tail constipated anger or speeding motorists paradise, in neither state is it cyclist friendly. Lets go a little further up the road and see what we can see...

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...and look, we've got a massively wide pavement, which of course is used (quite legally) to park cars OFF the road. Which means that there isn't room for segregated cycling - we've either got to share with the cars on the road (blandly blocking the lane entirely or speeding past pavement parked cars) or we've got to mix with the pedestrians (risking being knocked off at every concealed driveway and, likely as not, slaloming among pedestrians who are understandably hostile to this). I leave my readers to decide whether there is room here for full cyclist segregation.

The critical question now is where does the shared use lane stop? Lets go forward to that roundabout we're looking at and see the junction with Highworth Avenue (pic. courtesy of Richard Taylor, Cambridge local affairs guru).

I don't know what you're seeing there, but I see a bunch of signs, some at least saying there is a mixed use lane, and a clearly painted on route that I think looks like where they want me to ride.

In fact, there are no signs telling me that the cycle lane I'm on has ended. At all. When I come to the junction with Union Lane and Arbury Road, lets see what we find:

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We're looking up Arbury Road now. To the right you see the shared use facility continue up Milton Road as before, and you can see Arbury Road is narrow, congested, fast, basically the kind of road Paul Boateng specifically instructed the Police NOT to enforce pavement cycling rules on. There is no instruction to cyclists that there is no cycle lane there - there is no 'end of lane' sign. There is no guidance at all.

Why is this a problem? Well, Cambridgesire Contabulary have recently taken to staking out this junction to target problem cyclists. They've done so because local councillors have instructed them to nab cyclist in what looks like a vindictive, classic cyclist-hating polciy. Effectively, if you've reasonably continued riding where there it no evidence that the shared use facility has ended, and you're caught you have a choice between paying a fine and getting a criminal record - our local authorities, including our Police force, are colluding in what is no better than entrapping cyclists who are merely trying to survive, against the specific guidance given to Chief Constables alongside the powers to give out fixed penalty notices. In Cambridge, supposedly Britains top cycling city. Don't kid yourselves - our City and County Councils, together with our police force, are not merely failing us but appear to be colluding not only to discourage cyclists but to demonise us.

I leave you with an example of what the Police don't give a fuck about happening on Arbury Road. When I tried to report this I was informed that because there was no contact, there was no incident - after ten minutes discussion at the police station desk I couldn't even get an incident number. Instead they're trapping cyclists who have no reason to believe the shared use path has ended. Draw your own conclusions.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

NOT a response to BBC War on the Roads

Enough talk about BBC War on the Roads documentary on Twitter and in other blogs already.

This is not a blog entry about that. Although I am going to mention it a bit.

This is an amble around some of the issues, specifically on the differences between London and Cambridge.

Most of the footage last night was in London (and its endless suburbs), with some from Scotland. London is the most congested, aggressive road network in the UK - we complain incessantly wherever we are of course, but seriously, go to London and have a look around. You'll feel happier on your own roads afterwards.

I should think that most of us would agree that London (and to a lesser extent other cities) breeds a certain cycling mindset - or, rather, its a road network that for the most part weeds out many subtypes of cyclist. I pondered on why London cyclists seem different to Cambridge cyclists for a long time, and I think the answers are clear now. Most people I know who ride in Central London have relatively long commutes - that means they tend to favour road bikes, being practical for longer journeys. For the most part it ain't hilly so fixies and single speeds are common. You don't see many clunking old bikes like you do in Cambridge where beat-up chic is the norm - you could buy ten of these second hand squeak machines for the price of any one of the bikes I saw last time I was in London. If you're on a longer commute in hostile traffic then you can't afford such a machine that might let you down.  And when you're on roads that are THAT congested you do need to be assertive - its the right way to cycle in those conditions. More London riders are assertive, primary position types than in Cambridge. 

All of that mounts up -whereas Cambridge is largely a city of sedate, relaxed cyclists, London isn't. Even the most chilled out of London cyclists seem more pumped than most cyclists here.

They're also FASTER down there. To cope in London speed is a tool most cyclists find they must use. Longer commutes, hostile traffic, going fast in London really helps. In Cambridge with typically short journeys on roads that are congested but at least moving, I see fully togged out rapid cyclists maybe once a week. Yes, you get plodding riders in London, but not like you do here. I invite London cyclists to Cambridge to experience the (contact sport) slightly faster than jogging speed commuter peloton.

Add all these factors together and you find that there is simply more adrenaline pumping in London than in Cambridge. You can't fail to spot it - push a pedestrian crossing button in London, wait for the green man, and watch the face on the motorist who has stopped. As often as not you're looking at the puffed out, pale, angry visage of an aggressive, stressed, high blood pressure individual who has through immersion in their own problems lost any empathy for other people on the roads (and lack of empathy was the main message I took from last nights documentary). If you don't empathise with the cyclist in front of you as another human being then why would it occur to you that they're not just trying to antagonise you by being on the road?

So, people in London (and across Britain) are taking to putting cameras on their heads as they ride their bikes. It isn't surprising really.

I might go back and re-examine how this point was ignored in last nights documentary later - that it isn't seen as surprising any more when a motorists gets out and yells at a cyclist. Its not even something that arouses particular comment on Twitter when someone videos it and shares it, its too common. Its not even that re-tweetable when someone overtakes a cyclist within a foot and a half - in fact motorists are genuinely shocked when a cyclists reach out and bang on their cars, despite the obvious truth that if the cyclist can reach them they must be too close. 

There are surprisingly few helmet camera riders in Cambridge, despite the fact that this is by far the most cycled city in the UK - I know of a two 'active' ones, inlcluding me, and I take my camera out less than half the time. It isn't that this is some kind of cycling heaven. It just ain't London. Its not as enormously hostile - and cycling isn't a 'lifestyle choice' here, its a way of getting about (although its still Britain - and motorists are still aggressive). We have what Dave Brennan (or @magnatom as you may know him) briefly lamented they don't have in Glasgow - a cycling culture. People don't film their bike rides for the same reason they don't film their bus rides, because for the most part these journeys are mind-numbingly uneventful.

That I guess is why we won't see such a documentary picking up on how in Britain we can get cycling right. Cambridge has its problems - objectively considered only a fool could say we get cycling infrastructure or law enforcement right here. But there are some things we do very well, and one of them is that we've developed a cycling culture that the rest of the UK could do well to emulate. What the rest of the UK (especially London) can learn from Cambridge is very similar to what Cambridge can learn more of from, say, Sweden - that cycling isn't a frightening, alien culture, its an extension of human behaviour. That cyclist in front of you? He's not doing it to piss you off. He's just going to work.

Which is what I have to do now. By bike. Without the camera today, I think.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

New Bike Park! Right up These Stairs!

Firstly, thanks to Richard Taylor and Cambridge Cycling Campaign for live-tweeting last night the unveiling of plans for the new cycle park at Cambridge Station. Without Richard I worry we'd never have time to find out what the heck is happening in this city, and when it comes down to it attendance at this kind of thing and reporting happenings is something CCC do really well.

According to what developers are saying (and we all know that plans tend to degrade as these projects continue, e.g. Grand Arcade bike park, far smaller and more cramped than we were promised) we're going to have spaces for 3000 bikes. All under cover. Security guards. Free bike locking. Land of milk and honey. Opens half an hour before first train and closes half an hour after the last. Room to have access from Cambridge Stations central island direct via a bridge in the future. There will be spaces on the ground floor for tandems, recumbents, tricycles, etc. And to get to the upper two stories (yes, a three floor cycle park!) all you have to do is go up these stairs (or stairs very like them).

There's an old analogy for Linux OS. You discover a new airline - ample leg room, no hidden fees, helpful staff, simple but excellent food, your luggage brought straight out to you when you land, there are no queues, its perfect. But you have to assemble your own seat when you check in for the flight. Despite the fact that this is the best airline ever as far as you're concerned, all your mates respond with when you tell them is "What do you mean, you've got to assemble your own seat?".

Now the Campaign have been keen to point out that these stairs are rather like those already operating in the Netherlands. With wide ramps for pushing bikes up. Lovely. Super. Smashing. Great. But I'm assembling my own seat?

They're STAIRS. In a BIKE PARK. And yes, they're better than the absurdly steep steps on the cycle route behind the County Council office but why are they there? It's not part of the typical Cambridge cycling experience, but I gather people have been riding bikes up and down gentle inclines for quite some time without unexpected warp core breaches causing a rift in the space-time continuum. 

Its not that this new facility doesn't look way better than what we have (over-crowded bike locking on gravel, located where they are under the linden trees because motorists used to complain incessantly about the sap released from the leaves by aphids making a sticky residue all over their precious metal boxes). Its simply that its not as good as it should be. We're building this new, from scratch, in Cambridge; lets get it right. Just for once, can we not get the damn thing right. Fully right. Properly, unquestionably right. And no part of that could POSSIBLE entail wheeling your bike up or down stairs.

Bottom line; 'Cyclists Dismount and Push' signs have as much place in a bike park as 'Motorists Get Out and Push' signs have in a car park. Actually, considering who most needs the excercise, I'd have said the latter are MORE appropriate. No motoring lobby group would consider compromising on this point, its an absurdity. Will the cyclists of Cambridge be expected to put up with this crap? In a nutshell, why does Cambridge excel at cyclist facilities that are almost, but not quite, right?

UPDATE: Look, new mention of this from Cambridge Cycling Campaign. Come on guys, stop being so damned polite; you're not sure there's a valid health and safety reason to bar cycling in a cycle park? No, no, no. Its a stupid policy from developers who almost but don't quite get the point, an in itself it turns the entire scheme into something worthy of ridicule.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Pimp My Hybrid

I'm not a bicycle pimper.

I don't buy a bike and then set out to make it ever more uber. I don't try to make it prettier and prettier, I basically just want to make it do what its meant to do, and I want it to do that every time I use it.

I actually have three bikes at the moment. One is 1983ish racer, BSA sport. Black, steel frame. Geared rather fast, as such bikes are, and the only real customisation on it is I've got a wider back wheel - that gives it a bit more grip and robustness, and keeps it useful for bombing around city streets.

Another is my funky Giant road bike - actually its pretty much bottom-middle of price range for a road bike. Stiff, modern frame means it never seems to be on my side the way the BSA sport is (oh, I love the flex of steel), but its fast and fun for longer rides - its my out of town, open road bike. And oh, my word, out on the guided busway cycle track, its fun.

And then there is my daily hybrid. Giant Expression, a few years old now. Reliable. Dependable. Lots of other words ending in 'ible'. Yet despite the fact that it was described by a friend of mine as 'glamorously unsexy' it is in fact my most pimped ride.

This began when I started breaking it, which was pretty much when I got it. Soon I found I'd replaced the bottom bracket, various parts of gears, the saddle, then the wheels... And then I realised that it still wasn't quite the thing for every day, day and night commuting through hostile roads and roundabouts. Still not VISIBLE enough. So I've set about further pimpage - and not just with ordinary (Cateye) lights.

One part of that has been one of these on my front wheel. You can see what I'm currently displaying thereon here. Or, if you're lazy, here's a youtube vid from the gadgets creator:

So far I can't really decide whether its helping me at all. Don't get me wrong, I think its awesome, and my rationale for buying it was (1) its great, (2) its innovative and we should support such cracking innovation, and (3) it should make me more visible side on. Is it making me safer? I don't know.

The other bit of recent pimpage has been one of these. Don't know if its exactly the same as the one in the video below, but its not far from it.

 Yes. Thats right. A bike light with frikkin laser beams. I know. You don't have to tell me. Awesome.

I've been using this for a couple of days now, including a ride up Milton Road yesterday. And thus far I must say I'm very impressed. I've not had any close overtakes yet; whether thats because I look odd (which helps) or because it is defining a road space where motorists don't want to enter, I can't say. Either way, this one is a winner so far. 

If I'm going to criticise (and you know, I'm always going to criticise) I'd say it feels like a small product run; unless I'm mistaken its some kind of ABS plastic, its hard and seems likely to crack. Its got the battery cover held in by three absurdly tiny Phillips screws, meaning I have to find a tiny screwdriver to get in to it. Symptomatic of it being made out of a hard, small product at low cost, so it has no flex and needs rather unforgiving screws rather than a clip or something similar. Still, on the other hand, is a bike light with frikkin laser beams. Which makes up for a lot.

If I'm going to be MORE critical, I expect more of any laser product than the instructions saying that it complies with the law. Epic fail there - I rather want to know what the power output is or at very least what laser category it is. Thats really important if this could even accidentally be pointed at a persons eyes - so I had to go and measure that myself. That isn't something most punters will be able to do, so in my opinion the company making and those marketing this need to pull their socks up FAST to stay ahead of the law.

Other than that, can't decide whether I need any more pimping for this bike. Its certainly needed pumping, having had two punctures in the last week. There does always seem to be SOMETHING that needs fixing or replacing, doesn't there?

Monday, 3 December 2012

Cambridge Cycling Bestiary

I can't be the only person to notice that if you cycle a similar routes every day you see the same other cyclists. Some only come out in Summer, some are year rounders, some are welcome sites while others fill you with fear.

I wonder, though, am I the only person to give each of them a name and an imagined back-story?

One, for example, is The Kaiser. Don't see him every day, in fact I see him a few times a year. He wears a helmet that looks rather like a First World War German army helmet - complete with spike on top. In my head he's a direct descendant of Kaiser Wilhelm, and he's riding to college to gain the education he needs to bring us (the English) down from the inside.

Another is Testosterone Man. He's an old chap (relative to me), he's clearly gone 60, he's got an old road bike with rather chunky tires, and he will keep insisting on 'racing' me. By which I mean if I go past him (because I'm simply going quicker) he's got to get back past me, no matter how knackered he'll be by the time he's done so, meaning I'll pass him again and leave him behind. On occasion he's jostled me from behind at lights. Once, memorably, he slid off and skidded in to me from behind at a red light, such was his haste to brake at the last possible moment. I now refuse to make eye contact with him, and only pass him on a burst of speed such that he can't answer by trying to keep up. He's simply too tedious. Clearly his story is that he's been a racing car driver all his life, and he just can't help himself.

Then there's Little Chopper. He's got an electric powered chopper style bike - and he can't QUITE obey red lights. He can NEARLY do so, but for some reason if there are six cyclists in an ASL he's got to go out in front of us - and then go just not quite fast enough to be worth drafting. I don't know whether he's got some physical disability that requires that he must ride a leccy bike, but I'm pretty sure his brain is somehow addled from the days when he was top Elvis impersonator in Bridlington.

Less charitably I find that I see Uber Woman a couple of times per week. She used to me monumentally huge when she started cycling (or, rather, when I first saw her on my route). Now she's still large but it looks like cycling has done her the world of good. Great to see that. Another cyclist once suggested that she walks around with the bike wedged between her cheeks all day; I disagree, I think she's the real life version of the superhero Bella Emberg used to be on the Russ Abbott show, off to fight crime and right wrongs wherever she may find them. Whatever her story, she's a living embodiment of the good cycling can do for you, although perhaps also a reminder that merely riding around the flat streets of Cambridge isn't the most exercise you can have.

Worst of all is Marboro Man. He's got a Marlboro leather jacket, a Boardman bike, he rides almost the same route as me, and he doesn't understand the rules. I pass him maybe two days a week - and he will then immediately sail past me at the next red lights. I did once tell him that if he spent as much time working on his basic cadence as he did second guessing the traffic lights he'd be twice the cyclist he is now, but he blanked me - I think he works at the Business School, which would make sense of things. Probably teaching a course in Advanced Ass Hole Skills.

I could go on and describe more of Cambridges cycling bestiary, but it occurs to me that having so many regulars make me rather lucky in some ways. We're not some trivial minority here, we're mainstream - folk of all types ride their bikes here, and all thats really holding cyclists of Cambridge back is that we don't stand together and demand that we must have the very best of all facilities. I guess my point (if I even have one, and I've kind of forgotten whether I did) is that we're not some unified group of 'cyclists' - we're a glorious mishmash of differences. And in my opinion, thats what those of us who are interested in what could bring cyclists together have to embrace.