Thursday, 28 October 2010

Troll Physics

From here, but originally here. with thanks to Ben Goldacre

Cycling is the happiest mode of transport

The Danish Federation of Cyclists have found that cyclists associate their mode of transport with happiness more than bus passengers, train passengers or car drivers. This is from the Cycling Embassy of Denmark, a network of private companies, local authorities and non-governmental organizations working to encourage cycling. It is based in the office of the Danish Cycling Federation in Copenhagen (of course that won't influence their conclusions in any way).

This afternoon I am not going to take the bus or the car for the four miles to Cookham - I will spread a little happiness instead.

Update: I thoroughly enjoyed my brief ride to Cookham (and got some productive work done when I got there). On my way out I passed our neighbour's daughter practising on her bike. It was her second outing without stabilisers. She has quickly mastered it, was having a whale of a time, and setting a pretty high standard for spreading happiness on a bike.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Saturday, 23 October 2010

European data on cycling to work

I'm a bit late here, but Eurobarometer did a survey last year on the quality of life in European cities. Among other things it asked how people travelled to work. 

London ranked in the top 20 for the proportion of people cycling to work (9% - way behind Copenhagen at 60%, but ahead of Paris).

The ranking isn't a great surprise I suppose, but 9% is a much higher proportion of cycling journeys than the 2% estimate from Transport for London.

Thursday, 21 October 2010


Who was frightened by a Passing Motor, and was brought to Reason.
From Cautionary Tales for Children, by Hilaire Belloc. (Project Gutenberg version)

“Oh, Murder! What was that, Papa!”
“My child, It was a Motor-Car,
A Most Ingenious Toy!

Designed to Captivate and Charm
Much rather than to rouse Alarm
In any English Boy.

“What would your Great Grandfather who
Was Aide-de-Camp to General Brue,
And lost a leg at Waterloo,
And Quatre-Bras and Ligny too!

And died at Trafalgar!—

What would he have remarked to hear
His Young Descendant shriek with fear,
Because he happened to be near
A Harmless Motor-Car!

But do not fret about it! Come!
We’ll off to Town
And purchase some!”

(well that's one way for a cyclist to overcome nervousness about traffic)
More useful stuff here

Monday, 18 October 2010

Sens unique

I understand that for the last few months some French cities have allowed cyclists to ride the "wrong" way along one-way streets providing they are within a zone where motorists are limited to 30kph. Does anyone here know whether I have got this right? If so how widely it has been implemented? Has it been welcomed by cyclists, and how successful has it been?

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Encounters on the Windsor road

I was a lapsed cyclist of forty years until I took it up again four years ago. To begin with I just did short local rides, but I gradually explored a wider area and built up a network of interesting routes that avoided the worst hills and the busiest traffic. As I developed my technique and my leg muscles I gradually took on more ambitious rides. Until the accident a couple of weeks ago I was regularly undertaking rides of 60 miles or more, and doing a weekly mileage of 80 or more. I felt confident enough to handle pretty much anything I came across - whether it was a steep hill or busy traffic.

The accident hasn't done any lasting damage, but it has knocked me back a bit. For the last couple of weeks it's been too uncomfortable to ride more than a few miles. I've been very wary of traffic, and avoiding busy roads until I build up confidence again.

As a result I'm rediscovering some of my flatter routes from four years ago. This morning I rode 20 miles: out to Windsor along the Jubilee Channel, and back along the main road. I feel as pleased with myself as I used to in 2006. It was a Sunday, so the traffic was fairly light, but still there were a couple of busy stretches, and I coped as well as I had hoped. Physically, the tender spots are not as sensitive as they were a few days ago. Things are heading in the right direction. And the weather was perfect.

Soon I hope that I'll need to do much longer rides to get the same sense of achievement. Meanwhile, these shorter rides are a real time-saver, and a gentler pace means I have more contact with the world around me. For example:

1) The woman who came rushing along the path towards me. She'd been day-dreaming, and completely forgotten that she had brought her dog with her for a walk - so she was off to find it again
2) A couple on a magnificent tandem. I'm afraid I wasn't much help with the directions they needed, but I admired their bike and the captain offered the usual comment: the only problem was that his stoker didn't do enough of the pedalling. She kept shtum.
3) The following exchange overheard at Boulter's lock: Small boy: "Mummy, how does a lock work?" Mother: "Daddy will explain". Father: "Errm...". And so gender stereotyping passes from one generation to the next
4) A kind motorist who beeped his horn, and waved frantically to point out that there is a dual-use footpath on the road between Windsor and Maidenhead. However, it isn't very wide, and was being used quite heavily by pedestrians, so he wouldn't recommend it, and wanted to encourage me to continue riding on the road. At least I think that was what he was trying to tell me.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Decisions, decisions.

Students of marketing are taught that after making a major purchase consumers tend to experience doubts about whether they have made the right choice. To overcome these, they seek out evidence to justify their decision. This partly explains why many manufacturers include a leaflet that starts "Congratulations on becoming the proud owner of...." in the hope that this will help to encourage satisfied customers to stay loyal and spread the word. It also explains why we are said to read more product reviews after a purchase than we did beforehand.

This month Cycling Active reviews a couple of the bikes that I was considering at the beginning of the year. It's not a magazine that I normally read, and I made my choice of bike months ago, but I still couldn't resist buying a copy.

Out of the four bikes they compare, the option that they rated most highly was a bike that I had never heard of, so never considered. The option that they rated fourth was one that I discounted quite early on. Their other two options are more relevant. The Dawes Galaxy they review is a slightly different model to the one I bought. The Ridgeback Panorama was the alternative that I almost chose. At the time, I found it difficult to come to a decision between these two. Each had different strengths, and I had no way of knowing which characteristics would turn out to be more important to me. In the Cycling Active rankings the two came out almost equal, but the Panorama (which I didn't buy) was slightly ahead. When I was buying I think Ridgeback were having problems shipping. As a result I couldn't have a trial ride, so I ended up with a Super Galaxy. I dithered, but the decision was made for me.

So having read the review, where does it leave me?

It confirms my sense that there really isn't much to chose between the two. Since my first outing I have enjoyed riding the Galaxy. Intellectually I can see that I would probably have enjoyed the Panorama just as much. But emotionally no review was going to persuade me that I made a poor choice. That's a normal reaction after any major purchase. We agree with evidence that supports our decision, and disagree with evidence that doesn't. But with a bike I can't help feeling that there is more to it than that.

It seems odd to think about a relationship with a piece of machinery, but there is an element of that about it. I don't just see the Galaxy as a lovely piece of machinery any more. After several months have elapsed, I've spent a couple of hundred hours in the saddle, and we've covered a couple of thousand miles together. I have adapted my riding to its geometry, I've learned to sense the position of the gears, and I instinctively find the right position for my hands and feet. I fitted a Brooks saddle, and that is comfortably broken in. The bike carries my selection of lights, bags, and a few gizmos. It is beginning to show signs of wear and tear, and each mark has a history: the scratch from a ferry in Scotland, the scuff on the saddle after the recent accident, the scrape on the brake lever where I rested it clumsily against a wall.  I have adapted to it, and it has adapted to me.

So for what it's worth, my advice to people facing the same choice is this. Don't agonise - it probably doesn't make much difference. If you've already chosen, then (whatever it was) your decision was the right one. The feeling of regret after a purchase is known as "buyer's remorse". Save it for money wasted on reviews that you are ignoring, not the bike that you are enjoying.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Six good reasons to abolish Cycling England

#1 Abolishing Cycling England will help to reduce public spending
  • Cycling England spends £60,000,000 p.a., Abolishing it would save money, and only leaves another £127,940,000,000 to find from the annual saving of £128,000,000,000 that the treasury is looking for
  • Saving public money takes time. To placate the markets, and save on interest charges the treasury wants to reach that level of annual savings by 2015-16. That's about 5 years away. Cycling England has only a small staff, and most of the spending goes on projects, so it should be possible to make the savings quickly. Making a quick saving of 0.047% of the total should accelerate the date when the books balance. 0.047% of five years is about 18 hours - almost a whole day
#2 Abolishing Cycling England will help to improve tax revenues
  • The treasury raises virtually nothing from taxing cyclists (a bit of VAT on bicycles and accessories, which they would get whatever the money was spent on). But from car drivers they raise about £5.7bn a year in Vehicle Excise Duty, and £24bn in Fuel Duty, plus bits and bobs on congestion charge, tolls, and so on. They spend about half the total on maintaining the road network    
#3 Abolishing Cycling England will help with economic recovery
  • Each additional cyclists takes about £150 a year out of the economy, mostly in savings to the NHS, reduced cost of congestion, and reduced cost of pollution
  • As it costs about £15bn a year to maintain the road network, it  makes sense to make the maximum use of that huge investment
#4 Abolishing Cycling England will help to reduce welfare dependency
  • Cycling improves productivity at work, and extends life - the last thing we need at a time of high unemployment, when the priority is to reduce the numbers of claimants, and control the cost of state pensions
#5 Top nation status
  • The UK leads Europe in the proportion of the population that is obese or overweight, but at 61% of the population we have only a slender lead over Germany (ranking in second place at 60% of the population). There is a clear risk that we lose top place in these rankings if too many people exercise
#6 Cycling England has already achieved its goals, and its work is therefore complete
  • The Conservative Manifesto committed to "give the concerns of cyclists higher priority"; the Liberal Democrat manifesto committed to "facilitate an increase in levels of cycling and walking, through investment, information and innovation; use local transport planning to promote the adoption of sustainable transport methods, including cycling...; ensure that there is an obligation on developers to plan for the provision of ... walking and cycling facilities; promote an expansion of the National Cycle Network, particularly off-road routes; on-road cycling will be made easier, safer and more accessible to all; promote cycling competency schemes and encourage better facilities for cyclists; introduce a cycling ‘Gold Standard’ award for all rail and bus stations meeting minimum cycle facility standards, including adequate provision of secure cycle parking and information on local cycle routes; support the adoption of large scale bicycle rental programmes; ensure that road traffic law is enforced with equal vigour in relation to cyclists; the coalition agreement commits to support sustainable travel initiatives, including the promotion of cycling. With that level of commitment in place, there can be no further need for an independent body tasked with promoting cycling

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Back in the saddle

Six days after the bump, today I decided to get back on a bike. I couldn't ride the normal bike, because it's in the shop getting fixed. So I got the hybrid off the rack, pumped up the tyres, and took it for its first outing in months.

I set off with a bit of trepidation. Partly because I wasn't sure which bits were still hurting, but more about how I would react to traffic after being walloped by a car.

So I picked a nice quiet route, away from the main roads. One that I used ride regularly when I first got back into cycling. It winds around a mix of different suburbs for about five miles.

In the event all was fine. I'm a little bit more wary of traffic than I was, but maybe that isn't such a bad thing.

And I can honestly say that I was pedalling like a steam engine. With a tender behind.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Spending on bikes in Europe

Bike Europe and Colibi provide various statistics on bicycle sales across Europe. I've combined their numbers with some Eurostat figures on population and GDP, to investigate differences between the countries we have been visiting over the last couple of weeks.

In proportion to the size of the economy, the Netherlands spends more than anyone else on bicycles. We in the UK spend less than the European average. We didn't visit Italy, but I imagine that the cycling culture is similar to France. In that light, their expenditure on bicycles seems surprisingly low.

Part of the reason that the Netherlands spends so much is that they buy expensive bicycles. The average price of a bicycle in Germany is fairly high. In Italy it is close to the European average, but we in the UK tend to buy cheap bikes.

We in the UK do buy quite a lot of bikes though. More than the European average, and about the same as Germany and France. But not as many as in Denmark or the Netherlands. The Netherlands spends most because they buy lot of bikes, and spend a lot on them. While Italy buys bikes at close to the average European price, they do not buy many of them. In France they pay less than average for a bike, but buy a lot of them. In Germany they buy quite a lot of fairly expensive bikes. In Poland, as in most "new" EU member states, they buy quite small numbers of relatively inexpensive bikes.

Challenging the natural order

I've been reading "Need for the bike" by Paul Fournel, following coverage on the Bike Show on Resonance FM.

I see that the Library of Congress classifies this as "cycling - anecdotes". In a way that's true, but it hardly does justice to the contents. It's a remarkable little book, in which Mr Fournel meditates on various aspects of cycling. Some of it goes way over my head, but there are plenty of nuggets that provide new insights into things that I have noticed myself (or things that I now see that I should have noticed).
At one point Fournel realises that he has always mounted his bike from the left, putting his right leg over first. He decides in future to alternate from one side to the other. I too have always mounted my bike from the left (I have at least one thing in common with Mr Fournel), and pushed off with my right foot.

Yesterday evening I decided it was time for a change, so I gingerly mounted from the right, and pushed off with my left foot.  It was all a bit strange. I suppose that means I should do it more often.

Soon I was off riding one of my normal circuits, but in the same contrarian spirit, I followed it in a counter-clockwise direction - the opposite way round to my usual habit.  Two miles out, the bike was clipped by a car at a difficult junction and I was thrown into the road. My short experiment was at an end.

I was pretty shaken, and a bit battered, but the poor bike suffered more. The pannier rack is badly bent, and the back wheel is out of kilter. I'm not sure whether the frame is damaged, so I will need to take expert advice on that. At minimum there is some repair work to be done. I hope that's all.

Everyone, including the driver directly involved, was very considerate and helpful. I was able to walk the two miles home. I had a hot bath, a stiff drink, and a good rest. This morning, I have acquired a few aches, bruises and scars, but I don't seem to have suffered any lasting damage.

If I was superstitious I could put all this down to my attempts to disrupt the natural order of the universe. But I'm not superstitious - it was an accident, and sometimes accidents happen. It could probably  have been avoided, but it could also have been a lot worse. Thankfully life goes on. I suspect the aches and pains will too, for a while.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

A Journey

The bike has spent the last couple of weeks in the shed while we travelled almost 3,000 miles across Europe. We visited six different countries, but spent most time in parts of Poland, Germany and France. It's been a few years since we did anything like this, and it was a fascinating trip. 

In the process we saw a of different cycling infrastructure, and a variety of bikes and cyclists. However I've been viewing it all from inside the car or as a pedestrian, rather than from the saddle. Of course we only sampled tiny parts of huge countries.  

One of the surprises was in Poland. To put it mildly, the transport infrastructure in Poland is a bit varied. The new motorways are among the best we travelled on, and we saw a lot of other construction under way, but elsewhere heavy Trans-European traffic has been causing a lot of damage to some relatively minor roads. Hours of bumping along some very ropey surfaces have given me a different perspective on the standard of UK roads, and I won't be complaining about potholes and patchy repairs in Berkshire (for  a while anyway). 

What surprised me was that alongside some of the rougher Polish roads they were busy laying miles of beautiful new cycle lanes. At first glance this seemed an odd priority. We spent some time in Gdansk, which has taken a lead as a cycling city, and I understand that in Eastern Poland there are moves to encourage cycle touring as a contribution to economic development. We were mainly in central and western Poland though, and I suspect that the rationale for investing in cycling infrastructure there is more to do with improving road safety and access for scattered communities rather than either promoting tourism, or encouraging environmentally sustainable transport.

In Germany, by contrast, the quality of the transport infrastructure is notoriously good, and it was no surprise to find an extensive cycle network in the towns and region where we spent most time. Here the investment seems to be much more oriented towards encouraging utility cycling in the towns, and tourism in the rural areas - and in both cases the facilities were being well used.

By contrast, the evidence for the famous French passion for cycling was mostly in the wide choice of cycling magazines in the racks. We didn't visit the most famous cycling areas, but investment in cycling infrastructure in the places we visited was mostly limited to painting lines and symbols onto footpaths. As a temporary pedestrian, it wasn't  particularly helpful.  

For better or worse, the stereotypes that I'm left with are that cycling in Poland is mostly utilitarian. A wide range of different people apparently ride basic hybrid bikes, mainly as a convenient form of transport.  In Germany what we observed was mostly cycling as a pastime. Most cyclists were middle-aged, and leisurely riding extremely well-equipped trekking bikes, along relatively flat dedicated cycle routes. Whatever French cyclists are doing, they are doing it somewhere else. In the areas we visited keen cyclists must mostly spend their time reading magazines that cover cycling as a sport.

I'm left wondering what superficial impressions a visitor from abroad would form of cycling in the Thames valley.