06 June 2012

Manchester to be 'cycling city' - yeah, right

I'd love to believe that this will go beyond mere little gimmicks, but I'm not holding my breath.  Cycle hire schemes are all very well, as is training for 'novice' cyclists, but above all, cycling in Manchester is impeded by the attitude of some people - drivers, pedestrians, other so-called 'cyclists' - whose agressive demeanour put people off cycling. This combines with poorly-designed 'cycle lanes' - in reality nothing more than green paint on the road - to create the perception of great danger the media love to focus on and report widely.

29 May 2012

Great Manchester Cycle

The 13-mile course, which starts at the Etihad Stadium, takes participants through the city centre before heading to MediaCity and Old Trafford. It then heads back to City’s home ground.


12 March 2012

Cycling protest in Peru

Life for Peruvian cyclists is harder than anything experienced in the UK:


24 February 2012

Many signed, but many didn't

Whatever you may think about the campaign by The Times to promote safer cycling, it is interesting to see who in Parliament has signed a motion supporting the campaign - and who hasn't.  Andrea Leadsom, for instance, has not - she who spent valuable parliamentary time to change the law to ensure cyclists who kill are properly punished, even though this is extremely rare - a move widely regarded as without any real positive effect on road safety.

06 February 2012

I'm no ranting cyclist - I am a level-headed chap who cycles as much as he drives. It takes something out of the ordinary to get me to post a comment on a newspaper website, and this horrendously silly article by Mr Grimes is just it. 

The litany of nonsense that flows from his pen is compounded by a complete lack of factual information. Start with maintaining that capital cities Amsterdam and Copenhagen are 'mere villages' compared to 'most British cities'. Really? Take Amsterdam - its metropolitan area comprises c.3m people, in what can only be described as a thriving metropolis - if we compare it to our beloved Manchester. I know this - I've been. 

As for declaring that cycling cannot be healthy since it has such a 'high mortality rate', this is an assertion without head or tails - cycling is generally safe as a mode of transport, and like any exercise it does promote good health. It is green and it is inexpensive. 

Mr Grimes then latches on to the fallacy that classes cyclists as an entirely separate tribe, opposed to 'ordinary' people, and who want to subvert civilisation as we know it to accommodate their extravagant sport. Far from it, most cyclists, like myself, are ordinary people who want nothing more than for other road users (drivers, pedestrians, other cyclists) to observe the law and act and follow the highway code - thus avoiding, for instance, sudden turns at junctions without indicating. 

One could go on for ages but that would mean bestowing on Mr Grimes a journalistic status he does not deserve. He mascarades as the voice of the common man - he is not.

Read more at: http://menmedia.co.uk/manchestereveningnews/comment/blogs/s/1472953_andrew-grimes-why-the-bicycle-has-no-place-on-our-city-roads

04 January 2012

Tips for cycling in snow

Only the BBC in their unassailable wisdom would think of complementing an article on extreme polar cycling with a text box full of advice on how to cycle in snow.  God bless Auntie Beeb, and -by the way- thank you for bringing ciabatta to the heart of Salford, in a civilising effort worthy of Rome.

30 September 2011

Saddle sore: Rawtenstall cyclists baffled by 20-yard cycle lane | Manchester Evening News - menmedia.co.uk

Ah, the trouble with cycle lanes... is that, in the UK, they are a measure to appease motorists, angry at the failure of the powers that be to remove obstacles in their journey - cyclists being just another category of obstacles. UK cycle lanes typically consists of nothing else than creative use of broad brush and paint - green paint, white paint: you get my drift. They are for show. They are not designed or intended to make cycling easier, or safer. The 20 yard lane of this news story is, to add insult to injury, only an 'advisory' one (cue the broken white line): it does not mandate either motorists or cyclists to abide by it.
The paradox is that, in fact, cycle lanes are a good idea. Real, proper, segregated ones like what you see in the Netherlands. They cost money, they use space - and they get people cycling, properly cycling, replacing car journeys to shops or work or socialising.

19 August 2011

Bloody daft idea

036 by cocosolis
036, a photo by cocosolis on Flickr.
... to cycle in jeans, in the pouring rain. Even the 15' journey to my friends flat left me feeling like I was lifting weights with my thighs, so soaked were my trousers. Ah yes, I had my Altura jacket on. And it wasn't cold. I hate to think what it would feel like in, say, January.

02 August 2011

Nailed it!

I have now worked out a good route to work.  Time this morning: 15’.  Time back this evening, 11’ - better than 60'!!  So far, the good news.  The bad news, of course, is that such a short journey is not what I am after.  In the old days back home in Manchester I used to do 45’ in the morning and 55’ in the evening – in other words, a good free workout.  Showers and storage room at work enabled me to keep some items (shoes, for instance, or a winter coat) in the office, while in the pannier I carried the clean clothes for the day.  It worked a treat – it became a well-oiled routine.

Now the future is uncertain and the present, well, the present is the future, if you’ll forgive the Orwellian tangent.  As I’m enjoying a temporary period of living quite close to work, which in a few weeks may be replaced with moving further afield or going back to the Rugby commute,  I don’t really feel like spending time exploring more leisurely routes to extend my cycle to anything approaching what I used to cycle before.  Also, now I work in a small office with only very basic facilities – so I’m cycling ‘a la Europea’, dressed as I intend to work.  It’s worked reasonably well on mild days, but this week there’s a heat wave (yes, really) and I just want to let go and put some power into my pedaling, sweat it out and enjoy the ride.  

Finally, there’s the bike.  The Ridgeback Attaché is great as fold-ups go – it is a million times better than my £30 contraption.  But it is still a fold-up – closer to the ground, the handling a little bit less stable.  How I would love to get on my trusty old Tourismo24!  Nostalgia, this is – of cycling to the hills on days bright and sunny or murky and foul, feeling that freedom for once is a place on earth, and that ‘beyond the horizon’ no longer means that it cannot be reached.


Driver admits hitting and killing cyclist while driving without licence in Eccles | Manchester Evening News - menmedia.co.uk

Justice done, at least. The fact the victim was a 'promising researcher' (and the perpetretor, it is implied, was not promising, in research or otherwise) is neither here nor there. The fact is, in this case it seems careless driving caused an unnecessary death - and it is motorists who cause most deaths on British roads, disproportionately so when compared to pedestrians, cyclists and other road users.

29 July 2011

The Road to leafy Islington

007 by cocosolis
007, a photo by cocosolis on Flickr.
After a month commuting to London from Rugby, cycling to the train station at the Rugby end on my Father-in-Law’s 1970’s compact bike, and trying to use the Boris bike in London, I am now enjoying a month in leafy Islington, a mere 2 miles from my workplace, thanks to the generosity of some friends.  To put the icing on the cake, the flat comes complete with a Ridgeback Attaché fold-up bike.

Setting it up took me longer than I’d expected – it’s not that it was difficult, but it has to be done in the right order and instructions aren’t always as crystal-clear as the manufacturers tell you. And I don’t read instructions anyway. It’s all about where you put the things that perhaps are not meant to fit nicely – the pedals, the handlebars, the saddle.

My friend explained they hadn’t used the bike for years – bought it, then a couple of accidents they heard about put them off the idea – and the tyres were totally flat. I pumped them up, then left it for 24 hours, the idea being to make sure the flat tyres were just lack of use and not a puncture of some sort. Meanwhile, I would walk to work and plan my route a bit – I’ve come to the conclussion that in London you should cycle on quiet roads whenever possible. My route seemed pleasant yet very effective – it took 25’ on foot, crossing a canal over a pedestrian/cycling bridge. No major roads were involved.

The next day I got up early and set off to work on my bike. Needless to say, I didn’t manage to replicate the route I’d taken while on foot. A wrong turn somewhere and presto! I was lost. Eventually I got to work but via Hoxton Square – I had gone a bit too far north.

Getting back was, however, even worse. This time I got lost from the start, and compounded the mistake so that, after 25’ of cycling (by then I could have done it on foot faster) I realised I was going in the wrong direction altogether – literally, back to work. A check of the map enabled me to retrace my steps and eventually get home – an hour after setting off.

Now, a word of caution about cycling in London: you can cycle on quiet roads, but have to do a lot of navigation; or you can stick to main roads, brave the traffic but make navigation much easier. In my view, you can’t do both – not unless you have the brain of a homing-pigeon, but bigger. Like a London cabbie.

13 July 2011

Much more bread to slice....

It's a Peruvian expression - meaning there is still a long way to go - no room for complacency.   Which, I wonder, may be a danger in London when it comes to promoting and enabling safer cycling.  In a nutshell, London seems to think that it, alone in the UK, has 'cracked' cycling - no need to go envy your fellow Europeans, cycling in London has doubled - and who ever cared about the rest of the UK anyway?

The reality is that, while there's been progress and numbers have certainly grown dramatically in the capital, there remains much to do, and some of the things being done could be better. This chimes with views expressed by David Henbrow about cycling in London.

Take this as an example.  These very short clips show a dedicated cycle lane near King's Cross/St Pancras.  It is a segregated cycle lane - cor blimey, isn't that enough?  What more do cyclists want?

Now, look at the picture again.  I am prepared to accept the cycle lanes, even though they are very narrow - some sort of passing scrape or collision can only be a matter of time.  You can see how the change of direction so imposed baffles most people - one fellow just ignores it and carries on, others weave back into the traffic, almost recklessly.

Then you have this absurd design, in which suddenly all bike traffic going one way is directed to cross the path of bikes coming in the opposite direction and, a bit more abruptly than anyone wanting to live to cycle another day would like, rejoin the main carriageway and go back to competing against motor vehicles.

It's just not good enough.  I can't quite see why this is an OK arrangement.  It isn't.  And don't even get me started on the Boris Bikes.

26 June 2011

Boris Bikes... Ltd.

Having turned into a London salary-man, I had to try a Boris bike.  I mean, you arrive to Euston and the options are to join the medieval melee of peak-time tube travel, negotiate the bus network hoping you don’t end up in Watford, walk – which is fine but time consuming and, at certain points, just as competitive as boarding the tube – and cycling.  Many have their own cycle – indeed some carry it in the train, and Euston has notably increased the number and sophistication of its cycle parking points.  For those who don’t  or won’t, the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme (to give it its proper name) offers a great alternative… some of the time.

The theory of it is great : within the area served the stands are indeed ubiquitous.  The prices are very reasonable – first 30’ free, a quid for 24h, a fiver for a week:  how good is that!?  The bikes look well designed – why, they even have gears (3-speed hub gears – I believe they are Sturmey-Archer: a true British classic). 
The reality is more mixed.  The booking process is reasonably straightforward, but nobody tells you that the first time you ever hire a bike you need to go through it twice – once to register your card, the next to actually obtain the release code and take a bike.  I stood there for 10’, waiting for something to happing at first, then poking alternatively the machine and various bikes, then rang the helpline where, unsurprisingly, the first thing you heard was a recorded message related to this problem – so, alone I am not. 

Then there’s the vagaries of usage patterns.  Yesterday, for instance, the whole thing worked a treat – I took a bike from near work, made it to Euston in twenty reasonably pleasant minutes, parked easily in one of several empty bays, and away I went.  

Today, by contrast, I arrived to Euston to find a lone bike left in its stand.  I obtained a release code and, alas, a red light in the stand showed me this last remaining bike was in fact a dud.  I rushed to another cycle point to find none left.  Then another where there were many – but when I put my card in, after a long delay the machine displayed an error message.  This happened a second and then a third time as I tried successive cycle hire points, so I gave up and walked the rest of the way, having squandered a precious half-hour trying to get a Boris-bike.

Boris, by the way, didn’t actually father the creature, so to speak – not this one, at any rate.  Not only were other European cities (like Paris and Barcelona) quicker off the mark, I am reliably informed the ball for this scheme got rolling on Red Ken’s watch, even if the bikes (unlike Barcelona’s) are blue – or rather, the livery on them is, for the bikes have the sort of grey-brown finish of 1970s office furniture.

My £30 fold-up

They do say you get what you pay for.  Fork out hundreds of pounds and you can fetch the queen of fold-ups, that jewel of the dying breed of British engineering excellence, a magnificent Brompton.   Spend a couple of hundred quid and you can get one of the cheaper imports, reasonably decent items that may well take a few more seconds to put together or pack away, with gears that perhaps don’t purr along quite as smoothly as those I am told a Brompton offers.

Spend £30 on ebay and you get a cross between a circus prop and a sophisticated instrument of torture, bound in equal measure to amuse passers-by and set you up, on an early morning, to be grumpy and on a short fuse all day, dwelling on the prospect of having to ride it up hill back home when the train finally makes it to whatever God-forsaken sleeper town you happen to have your lodgings in.

That is exactly what I am contending with.  The bike, pictured, is something I bought for completely different purposes – mainly, the idea was that if we wanted to take the kids to the park to ride their bikes, we could only fit three bikes on the bike rack, and two small bikes in the boot: this meant we could only have one adult bike – so I got a fold up for the other adult.  The seller was the Brazilian wife of some bloke who lived on the Cheshire plain, West of the M6 somewhere between Chester, Wrexham and the civilised world.  The chap, the Brazilian assured me, had an identical one he used every morning to cycle to a train station from which he then carried on to Liverpool.  That, the cynics may say, explains a lot.  The fact that is a single-speed is not in my view its main shortcoming – it may not be great up the hill but it would be bearable.  Nor is so badly made – it may be heavier than the better bikes, being made of steel, but the joints lock well enough and have only a little play in them.  The main problem is that the wheels are smaller than those of the more expensive folding bikes, and the frame is proportionally shorter.  This results in an awful ride, really unstable.  Stopping becomes an act of defiance, as is steering too much, and since it has no racks and all the load has to go in my rucksack, I am forced to ride leaning forwards a lot, because with the seat-post fully extended to suit even my modest height, the saddle actually hangs almost further back than the rear whell – lean back and you’ll land the back of your head on the tarmac. 

So, what next?  I have to choose from a number of options.  To be fair, the little bike has done the job, reducing the time it would take me to reach the train station from 45’ (on foot) to 20’.  I could therefore grin and bear it.  I could buy a Dawes fold up for as little as £165 at a shop I know.  I could look for a good second hand fold-up on ebay.  I could transport my proper bike to my commuting base and enjoy the experience.  My host – my ever generous and helpful Father-in-Law – has offered to dust off his long-forgotten bike – in which he used to cover pretty much the same distance – for me.  This would be the most efficient option in terms of cost and effort.  It would also catapult me into the world of 1970s cycling, as the machine in question has the features we all regarded then as innovative – a smaller frame with longer, V-shaped handlebars, looking almost like a bigger fold-up bike except that it doesn’t fold.  To be honest, I don’t mind that – it will be better than my £30 eBay bargain, and for the time being that is enough for me.

23 June 2011

Ze biggh zmok

003 by cocosolis
003, a photo by cocosolis on Flickr.

So, my new life has started - at the moment, it includes catching a very early train to work in London. So early, I can do with cycling to and from the local train station, as it's only 20' as opposed to 45'. I had no better idea than to recommission a cheap fold-up bike I got on ebay 4 years ago for £30.

It is a crude contraption indeed, but one that does that the job - poorly, but it gets me there. It also amuses people. What could possibly go wrong?

16 June 2011

Transport chiefs in bid to get more people cycling to work | Manchester Evening News - menmedia.co.uk

Transport chiefs in bid to get more people cycling to work | Manchester Evening News - menmedia.co.uk

Laudable, but I fear it's got "misguided" written all over it. According to the Evening News, this is "a radical bid by transport chiefs for government cash". Right. So, it's not about cycling or indeed transport - but to get some cash. It may be misreporting by the M.E.N., but that's not the only problem I see.

The fundamental error appears to be an emphasis on doing the things that are easy rather than the things that are necessary. Yes, it will be jolly nice to have 'secure storage' for my bike and wet clothes, and access to showers - but lack of those things are not the main deterrent for people to cycle into Manchester city centre. It is safety on the roads that stops most people I talk to: safety from the actions of other road users - chiefly motorists. Safety from those who will act carelessly or incompetently and from those who - very occasionally - harass you, angry as what they wrongly perceive as your 'intrusion' on 'their' road, the one they think they pay with their 'road tax'.

If Greater Manchester really want to be pioneering, they need to invest in, among other things:
- Real, segregated, cycle lanes
- Information campaign aimed at drivers ("There's no road tax"; "Cyclists are good for you" etc)
- Better law enforcement - and how about some coppers on bikes, on main routes?
- Legal support for cyclists involved in accidents - not to thwart justice, but to even the odds (hey, they could partner up with the CTC)
- Better (less car-centred) road/junction design so that cycling routes actually lead into the city centre, not circle around it or force you to go counterflow
- Bikes on trams!  or at least, good, easy bike parking at tram and rail stations

And lead by example - I know Lord Smith may be past his cycling years, but I'm sure there are plenty of councillors and town hall mandarins who are not - some may already cycle to work, so why not make it visible?

15 June 2011

23,000 cars clocked breaking 30mph limit on Hyde country lane - in just 10 days | Manchester Evening News - menmedia.co.uk

23,000 cars clocked breaking 30mph limit on Hyde country lane - in just 10 days | Manchester Evening News - menmedia.co.uk

This highlights how, while media and politicians are always happy to brand cyclists as rogue road users, the truth is that associating behaviour on the road with mode of transport is just plain silly: driver are no less likely to disregard the rules - and when it comes to speed limits, nobody can cast the first stone, since we all do it. Yes, there are shades of grey, some drivers break the limit more carefully than others, some drivers compound speeding with recklessness, but let's stop portraying cyclists as 'rebels' and motorists as 'law-abiding'. You cannot cut it like that.

13 June 2011

One good thing to say about cycling in Britain...

... is that, by and large, nobody here would bother you to stick slavishly to cycle lanes, as happened to this chap in New York.  But before we uncork the Buck's Fizz, let me say that in fact that maybe just reflects how little people care about provision for cycling on the roads - cycle lanes get invaded and obstructed all the time, but even when they are not they can be so poorly designed as to make them useless.

This morning for instance I cycled from Whitefield to Bury town centre.  Along a section of the A56 there is a cycle lane approaching a traffic light.  It is so narrow that, although it was clear of cars as the light changed to red, I still could not get through to the front, so had to wait in line with other cars and lorries.  This is actually worse than useless - when traffic there is moving, cars can sometimes assume I will fit in the cycle lane, and in effect push me into the kerb.  Bonkers!

View Larger Map

06 June 2011

"Accidental" ...

A case of "someone cocked it up" which means nobody is held accountable for the death of a cyclist:

"An inquest into the death of a cyclist who was hit by a lorry in Old Trafford has recorded a verdict of accidental death"

I shudder at the velvety, cushioned language in which the Police try to obfuscate what they reluctantly admit: that CCTV footage which would have been needed for a successful prosecution, was lost due to their actions (or lack of).

One should ask Andrea Leadsom whether she thinks her tinkering with the law in recent months will help address injustices like this.

A lesson in bravery: Teacher recovers from horrific bike crash and bids for place in top triathlon | Manchester Evening News - menmedia.co.uk

The M.E.N. has given this an 'inspirational recovery' slant - focusing on the person concerned's bravery and determination - and that is fair enough. I however would like to highlight this paragraph:

"Sarah had been cycling as part of a training regime in a bid to qualify for the 2010 Euro and World triathlon championships when a car pulled out in front of her last June on Wilmslow Road, Didsbury.
She slammed on her brakes and was thrown in the air, landing on her head.
Despite wearing a helmet, Sarah suffered multiple facial fractures, a broken cheekbone, nose and jaw and her lip was badly torn.
She also broke several bones at the top of her spine.
The driver of the car involved was later convicted of driving without due care and attention."

In other words:

- This was an accident caused by a careless driver
- The helmet made little difference

Dangerous, careless road use, and car-centric design, are the things to tackle if road safety is to be addressed.   

A lesson in bravery: Teacher recovers from horrific bike crash and bids for place in top triathlon | Manchester Evening News - menmedia.co.uk

6ft hole appears in residential Bury road used as short cut by HGV drivers | Manchester Evening News - menmedia.co.uk

Today, 6 June, at 10am, the road is still closed - against what the article seems to say...

6ft hole appears in residential Bury road used as short cut by HGV drivers | Manchester Evening News - menmedia.co.uk

04 June 2011

Fold ups

Well, in a few weeks this blog will no longer be about cycling in Manchester - not strictly.  I will be working in London, commuting on weekdays.  Yes, it's complicated - but the simplicity of unemployment somehow didn't appeal to me.

So, I plan to join the growing hosts of London cyclists - the scourge of the Earth, according to some.  In preparing for that day, I have re-discovered a folding bike I 'won' on ebay years ago: I paid £30 and collected it from somewhere in Cheshire.  It's a crude single-speed contraption, and the only time I ever used it in anger (to reach a garage and collect my car before they closed for the day) I was ridiculed by school children all along the route.

I have, however, re-commissioned it - and found it is not as bad as all that.  I'm not sure I will stick to it, but it will do for starters.  I have no intention of forking out hundreds to purchase a Brompton - I'm sure one of those would be beautiful and ride like a dream, but I can't afford to splash out in that way.  Also, how I arrange my accommodation will bear heavily in the choice of bicycle.  If far away from the centre, I could have two cheap old bikes, one for each end of the journey.  If I can manage to rent a room relatively centrally, I may want a reasonable hybrid or town bike I can do most things in - in fact, I already have such a thing, my beloved Tourismo 24.

26 May 2011

Who are you calling feral?

007 by cocosolisI’m reading ‘The Bicycle Book’ by Bella Bathurst, and I’m loving it – not only because the content is interesting, but because the writing is so good and engaging.

Just one quibble: the chapter on ‘Feral Cyclists…’ – esp. the conversation with a bunch of London cabbies – seems to try a bit too hard to say ‘hands up, we cyclists have no great respect for the law’ and then goes on to try to justify the sin and gain sympathy from those we seem to ‘wrong’ with our cycling.

I would argue that it is unhelpful at best to single out a particular mode of transport when it comes to routine, habitual failure to follow the highway code. Take speed limits, for instance. In any kind of road, whatever the speed limit, you see people disregarding it – not always dangerously, but that’s not the point, is it? And how about traffic lights: how often do we see drivers speeding to ‘make it’ when the amber light shines? This is low-level flouting of the rules that those who engage in it will do without thinking – certainly without thinking they are doing anything other than ‘what everyone else does’. Add on top the real hooligans of the road – the ones who drive at silly speeds on urban roads, or jump the red light. Suddenly, it’s not just cyclists who appear ‘feral’, is it?

09 May 2011

Just a quick topical comment

Belgian cyclist Wouter Weylandt has died during the Giro d'Italia.  Don't get me wrong: his death is a tragedy which should only attract sadness, regret and prayers for his family and friends.  It's just that one quote in the report caught my attention:  "As the camera probed between the branches it could be seen that his helmet was still in place, but a pool of blood was spreading on the dark grey asphalt beneath his head".  It is further reported he died from a fractured skull - even though medics got to him quite quickly.

I fear this is something I'm going to be referring to whenever I hear people harping on about the 'need' for cycling helmets and how much better we would all be if they were made compulsory.  Cycle helmets are not designed for extreme impacts - whether from going downhill at speed, or from crashing against a ton of steel in the form of a motor vehicle.  They protect cyclists from, say, an accidental fall at normal speeds, or a glancing blow from a low branch you hadn't seen (provided your teeth don't hit the branch first -happened to a friend, she spent a month in hospital).

To afford us the protection some people think helmets give us, we'd need motorcyclist helmets, sturdier and with protection for chin and face.  Ludicrous.

Bury photo printing errand

Had to print some photos at Boots in Bury's Mill Gate - cycled there straight after leaving kids in school. Nice to have the place all to myself (well, almost) - the early hour, competition from The Rock, or both?

I put the photo order in, then had an hour to kill. The lure of good old Katsouris too strong to resist, I went there for a coffee and a sweet, I confess. The place is at its best at this time, get all the good things about it (the coffee, the sweets, etc) without any of the ludicrous overcrowding the the poor layout design of that shop causes on a Saturday morning.  I realise there's background music - a succession of pop songs in many European languages - I guess it's there for atmosphere, the assumption being that customers won't distinguish between Greek, Italian or Spanish.  On a Saturday you can't hear the music, only the din of shouted orders and constant chat.

I sit outside: my coffee is good, the 'home-made' paklava is ok - not sure what kind of home it may come from, for what I get is a solid brick of flaky pastry, ground mixed nuts and congealed syrup.  The plastic cuttlery I'm given must be some sort of private joke, as it clearly doesn't cut it (literally). 

Any aroma from the coffee is soon drowned by the smell of fish from the market hall.  I don't mind - the smell of a real market takes me back, to childhood days spent with my mum or my grandma, filling up their bags through a miriad of quick transactions, stall after stall. 

03 May 2011


What a good idea.  Or what a bad one.  Paramount.com advertise bike signal lights - indicators in other words.  Don't rush to order them, they're out of stock - flown off the shelves, have they?

I'll go straight to the point: I have a problem with this, in principle.  The law does not require cyclists to have indicator lights - but it does require that we indicate, by using conventional hand signals, as specified in the Highway Code.  Or rather, the Code says that all road users must use signals when appropriate - using our judgement, and your hands if necessary.  To resort to gadgets like this seems to me to be a sop to those who think that all use of the road should mime the experience and appearance of car driving, to make it more "acceptable".  In a way, it is a bit like the argument for using cycle helmets - to use the road 'unprotected' is not at all like being in the cocoon provided by a car, so it is 'wrong', and in some people's heads, helmets help to make it 'right'.  The same may apply to using lights like these - yes, great, but if we all start using something that the law does not require, soon people will either come to expect them (like high-viz clothing) or campaign to make them compulsory.

19 April 2011

Lune Valley

Kids off school.  My other half is working two days this week.  I want to be good, force them to spend time outdoors, do some real exercise (not just Wii Sports Resort).  Cycling seems a good option - but where?  We are not a confident lot, my youngest is still on stabilisers (I don't like to force them...).  We've done Tatton Park to death - I want something a bit more interesting.  After some research I decide to try a bit of the Lune Valley.  Lancaster - Caton, a short section of the Way of the Roses.

It was a great success.  Granted, the weather was fantastic, but the route was great too.  And Lancaster was easy - to drive into, to park, to find a toilet, coffee and ice cream afterwards.  I hope to do it again.  Perhaps do the whole Way of the Roses one day?

15 April 2011

Into Spring

The shorts are out, even if a good tan is not.  The rainjacket begins to feel superfluous, even when it does rain.  Woolen socks and fleecy gloves are no longer necessary.  And yes, there are more cyclists about - on roads, on pavements too. Groups of kids on BMX, novices on mountain bikes - like I was, only 6 years back.  Lycra-clad types, old codgers on touring bikes, the lot.  Yes, the numbers are up, though i suspect it's only noticeable to cyclists, the total figures still a very small fraction of traffic, a marginal form of transport.

13 April 2011

Auntie Beeb gets it right!

It isn't often that I find such a well balanced article on cycling coming from the BBC - so here's one:


It links to the proposal by MP Andrea Leadsom to change the law so as to enable the tiny number of cyclists who kill people on the roads to be jailed for doing so.  Fair enough that they should be if found guilty - but the article does well to remind us that the proportion of cyclists causing death of injury is microscopic when compared with injuries and fatalities caused by motorists.

31 March 2011

I’ll keep riding vows cyclist, 73, attacked by yob in car in Bolton | Manchester Evening News - menmedia.co.uk

One can only applaud the determination of this man from Bolton, pushed off his bike by some unbelievably stupid pillock - or rather, group of, since it must have taken at least one to drive the car, the other to stick out of the window and push:

I’ll keep riding vows cyclist, 73, attacked by yob in car in Bolton | Manchester Evening News - menmedia.co.uk

So, get well soon, ride again and may these rejects of nature be caught before the cause somebody else injury or worse.

26 March 2011

This house acknowledges...

Early day motion 1393 is a breath of fresh air - let's hope it succeeds.  It proposes to put the onus on motorists to prove their innocence in the event of a collision with a cyclist or pedestrian - a helpful measure!

Compare that with the (successful) efforts by Andrea Leadsom MP to introduce 'tougher penalties for cyclists   who kill" - even though the numbers of such unfortunate events are microscopic.  I entirely sympathise with the plight of the parents of the victims of the so-called "cyclist" in this case, and fully agree this individual should have gone to jail for what he did.

Ms Leadsom assures us that there was no political point-scoring in this.  Ms Leadsom is an honourable person.  However, as reported in the press this can seem like one of those campaigns aimed at the soft target of cyclists and cycling - who cause so few fatal incidents but are also a "hard to hear" minority, a fringe group against whom this legislation is easy to introduce.

The fact is, when it comes to fatalities on the road, injustice is visited on cyclists just like on any other group of road users.  The idea that somehow the law treats motorists more harshly is nonsense.  It would be far more helpful for people like Andrea Leadsom to look at good and bad road users than to attack the problem piecemeal, concentrating on a particular mode of transport (usually cyclists) first.

Which takes me back to Early day motion 1393.  Ms Leadsom has not signed it - I'll request that she does: let's see what happens.

23 March 2011

No, it's Manchester

No, it's Manchester II by cocosolis
No, it's Manchester II a photo by cocosolis on Flickr.

I must get better at photos: this was supposed to show (a) what a nice day today was; (b) the contrast of the modern Manchester buildings in the background and the solitary mill in the middle.

I cycled to Ikea - 24m round trip. No, I didn't buy a flatpacked bed - or anything else for the matter. Just a cooked breakfast and coffee for £1.65. Not a bad journey but for the roadworks to make room for the tram, and the ludicrously car-centric cycle lanes leading to the Ikea roundabout - in the end, I joined the road to avoid stopping at every traffic light.

22 March 2011

Pilsworth Rd, again

21 March 2011: the workmen are gone and the tarmac, I assume, is being left to dry or set?  A yellow sign announces the re-opening of the road for 27 March: a few more days to enjoy the peace and quiet on this normally busy road.

14 March 2011

Pilsworth Rd

Pilsworth Rd is closed East of the M66.  This must be a real nuissance to hauliers and drivers who have to access Heywood Distribution Park.

It is however bliss to me, since it means that for a few weeks my favourite run is even better - at least for a mile or so I have a traffic free route with a great variety of surfaces.  Perfect for preparing to go touring again.

Alas, it will not last.

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28 February 2011

And we thought it was bad here...

KSF 026
Originally uploaded by cocosolis
Drivers vs. Cyclists clashes do not get much worse than this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-12604066

Interesting to hear the driver 'felt threatened' - yet there were children and young people among the cyclists, which he indiscriminately drove over. Sheer luck prevented fatalities.

07 February 2011

News, in brief

Add caption
Three recent cycling-related news pieces from the BBC website: 

- Crown Prosecution Service cock up again: lorry driver does not even stand trial over killing a cyclist:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-12338526

- More cyclists are using helmet cameras to capture bad driving  - prompting the usual anti-cycling comments from regular BBC news site readers, together with predictable calls to do something about the plague of 'lunatic cyclists' and suggesting that perhaps pedestrian who suffer oh so much because of them, should carry cameras too - and of course, cyclists should be licensed and 'pay road tax' and all that turgid, predictable nonsense:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12334486

- More cyclists are dying on the roads - that's the BBC's take on the stats, although deep in the news item they do acknowledge CTC's crucial, crucial point:  there are more cyclists than before!  The real measure of risk would be the proportion of deaths to journeys made... but that wouldn't be news, so why report it?: 

17 January 2011

And this place our forefathers made for man!

Milton Keynes
Originally uploaded by alexliivet
Milton Keynes... I don't know. Un-British, car-centric 1960s monstrosity, where glass meets steel and modernism meets lack of taste.

Suburbia's own Jerusalem, all this I survey from a bus - long story, a job interview as it happens. I have been through MK before, but it was in a taxi which stuck to the periphery as soon as we left the train station. It is different from the bus, as it weaves its way in and out of neighbourhoods - and here's the link to cycling: beneath the car-centric surface, MK may well be more cycle-friendly than most large British towns and cities. For a start, more bikes I saw parked outside the railway station than I've seen anywhere else bar the rather a-typical Oxford. Certainly many more than in any Manchester station, by a long chalk.

Second, the town seems criss-crossed with segregated bike lanes - and by 'segregated' I mean really segregated, not council-speak for lip-servicing green paint on the verges of main roads. The place reminded me of parts of the Netherlands. The only caveat was that, in the whole journey I saw many more cycles parked than being ridden. Indeed the paths over green and gently rolling terrain looked like the ideal setting for a Silent Witness opening sequence - eerie, but with easy access for the productiont team.

07 January 2011

There was once a chicken and an egg...

This article will not surprise anyone, but it's not cheerful stuff either. In essence, Boris' cycling scheme has all the traits of the Curate's egg. Fittingly, everyone seems too polite to say so.

It is in the latter half that the article addresses the real problems cycling faces in London, and indeed pretty much anywhere in the UK: fear and infrastructure. The Economist is realistic (or pessimistic) as it fails to dig out the underlying causes of these two barriers - rather, it seems to conclude, with some cynicism, that they cannot be solved. Poor Yorick!


06 January 2011

First of 2011

The snow, the ice, the travelling to see family, the food, the booze: all these things conspired to keep me off cycling for the last three weeks - which felt like an eternity.  So yesterday I cycled into town and got refreshingly drenched, Manchester back to its usual winter self, grey, wet and grim - none of bright, sunny and dry, if freezing, weather.  No snow and ice covering our streets.

29 November 2010

It was a freezing Friday morning

Last Friday was the last 'bike Friday' of 2010.  Forgive the accumulation of 'Fridays' - this used to be called 'Critical Commute' and is supposed to be a demonstration of the effectiveness of cycling for practical purposes (the younger generation, I believe, stage on the same day their 'Critical Mass', a demonstration of the ability of young people to be self-conscious on two wheels too).

Let's face it, for a city the size of Manchester, Bike Friday is a fairly low key affair.  I used to be a regular, and numbers for the North Manchester lot (departing from Prestwich) hovered between 3 and 11 - with 5, I would say, being the more likely number.  Since I stopped working in the city centre (or anywhere else for the matter - for the time being) I had stopped joining this event, so I thought I'd come along this time, for old times' sake, because with it being so cold we are all feeling in the Xmas mood, and to support some sort of petition to the GMPTE which seemed to make this ride special - something to do with bikes being allowed on trams (tricky, I'd say - but visionary:  while trams may only carry 5% of public transport traffic at present, in 50 years I'm sure the network will have expanded enough to compete with buses).

Well, a good time was had by all.  I saw some friendly familiar faces and met some people I had wanted to meet but so far hadn't managed to, photos were taken in front of GMPTE's rather secluded offices opposite Piccadilly station, and - taking advantage of my current freedom - I even joined in the post-ride coffee in Piccadilly Gardens.  OK, waiting 15' or so for the photographer and the tame GMPTE notable to arrive (he confessed, his tram was delayed!) it was bloody freezing, and while I had a couple of fleeces to put on, I didn't want to spoil the yellow & reflective look of the group.  Then at the cafe (well, Pret-a-Mongrel, neither fish nor fowl when it comes to defining it) staff refused to close the door, quoting some company or building policy (never mind their customers turning blue) - still, it was warmer than outside, in the same way the fridge is warmer than the freezer. 

Will this 'campaigning' achieve anything?  It might - just to have a senior GMTPE official on board is a positive thing.  The trouble for me is, the people cycling needs 'on side' are Joe & Josephine Public, the people who give us dirty looks when they overtake us, having been delayed by 0.1 second because we had to negotiate a delivery van parked on a double yellow line going up a slope.  Congregating 40-odd cyclists in a public but almost invisible place one frosty November morning is unlikely to achieve this.

20 November 2010

European style city cycling, attempt 1

I had an event to go to yesterday - something at Salford University.  Options were to fight the traffic and probable shortage of parking spaces, take the tram to Victoria then walk a mile, or do what would take me door to door most easily: to cycle.

I settled for the latter.  I thought I'd try to be more European - do away with the lycra and wear civy clothes, so as to arrive ready for the event.

The experiment was a qualified success.  I settled for a hybrid combination of casual cords, cycling shoes and tops, with a fleece to put on top on arrival so as not to get cold.  Mostly it worked fine, and I achieved the overall goal.  I found however that to cycle so slowly that I would not break a sweat was just not practical, so I picked up the pace and sweat I did, profusely.  Despite refreshing myself on arrival in the university gents, once in the meeting room I realised the idea of wearing a fleece was not good, at least at first, since I was still overheated and needed to cool down.

After the meeting and some lunch kindly provided by the friend through whom I heard of the event, I cycled to Prestwich on another errand.  My friend suggested I followed NCN Route 6 instead of going on the road.  I did try, but gave up after a couple of miles.  It wasn't that it was so lonely as such, but the errand was important, time was tight and, should I had had, say, a flat tyre, I would have needed a plan B, eg. access to public transport (leaving the bike behind).  On the isolated bike trail I would have had no such alternative.  And although in theory the path follows the river so getting lost should be impossible, in practice it crosses the rivers and briefly detours in and out of estates, and there I found the limited signposting the route required to be incomplete or confusing.

Will I try again?  Sure, yes.  But you will not see me cycling to a job interview wearing a suit.

20 October 2010

Winter's back

Today, at least, felt like winter - though the official start of that season is not until the 20-something of December.    Out on my bike it felt really cold - the summer mitts gave way to fleece gloves, the layers got added and I wore a buff round my neck.

In a last attempt to resist the change of seasons I stuck to shorts this time - it was manageable, although my legs were rash-red by the time I got home.  And despite the woollen socks my toes were pretty numb by then.

At least it was very dry and sunny.  I hope I can keep my resolve when the truly wet and dark days of early January make staying at home or going to the gym a tempting possibility.

08 October 2010

The river glideth at his own sweet will

papaOct10 117
Originally uploaded by cocosolis
I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday. We both have been to London in the last two weeks. We both have noticed the new Londo n... sorry: Barclay's cycle hire scheme. They are everywhere. They look great. My friend was there during the tube strike - so the bikes were flying off the racks, so to speak.

We both also noted that many users of this scheme don't seem, well, that at home with cycling in a busy city.  Or maybe the city is not at home with them - the latter, I think, is the underlaying problem, and it applies to the whole of the UK, but nowhere more so than in London, where cycling has exploded thanks to congestion charging and the fact that it is probably the country's most compact city (ie. people actually live in it, and do so in high density).

This isn't just a "cyclists vs. rest of the city" problem.  The mistrust and misunderstanding between different groups of road users is total - pedestrians, motorists and cyclists all have grievances against the other groups and against the state.  Just try crossing the road from Euston station on foot - it takes ages, mainly because the traffic system is designed to keep motorists going.  But motorists will then complain that pedestrians jump the lights anyway.  And cyclists... well, they'll complain about that too, when a driver isn't cutting them off, or they are not cycling counterflow - a neat idea which some people back, but while it remains illegal can be inconvenient - ask a pedestrian who nearly got run over because he or she wasn't looking that way, since it was a one way street!).

So, my message to Boris is this: cycle hire schemes are great, but you have to do better than that.  And where London goes, the rest of the UK may follow.

02 September 2010

This house notes...

Cool and normal, baby
My RSS feed from the Hansard has just brought to my attention an early day motion that notes "with dismay" that, when refurbishing Birmingham New Street, they have only catered for a handful of bikes, while in Amsterdam they do it for thousands.

I have no idea of what an "early day motion" is, but I suspect it means "a weeny-teeny idea that may never go anywhere".  

On another front, the Guardian yesterday quotes as-yet-unpublished research (by the Univ. of the West of England) that says that people, on the whole, like cyclists.  Or at least, don't mind them.  The actual headline goes "Cyclists! The public thinks you're cool and normal".   Yes, just like labradoodles, but not as hairy.  I reckon the research must have been limited in its goals or hypothesis.  The real issue is one of value.  To put it bluntly, the interesting research question would be how much of a scarce resource (eg. road space) are people prepared to share with those who cycle.  This lies at the heart of both behaviour (what motorists are prepared to do when they see a cyclist) and policy choices (what politicians believe the public to want or to be willing to tolerate regarding cycling).

18 August 2010

What is a cyclist, Part III

Originally uploaded by cocosolis
CTC publish a summary of research by market intelligence company MINTEL - there seems to be no punchy headline, as the situation is a bit mixed and there is no real change.  OK, for MINTEL customers - those who sell us the bikes - small percentage shifts in bikes bought and kinds preferred will be important, as will the data that enable them to 'segment' the market (by age, gender, supermarket of choice - seems to be Waitrose, though I for one have never been there!).

The overall picture, however, is that cycling in the UK remains marginal, a sideshow, and that - Meester Hembrow, brace yourself - "39% of all adults think “It is too dangerous to ride a bicycle on the road”, rising to almost 50% among those with a household income of under £25,000".

It is also interesting (to me, anyway) that the "main motivation for cycling, or being interested in cycling, is fitness (41%)".  Great for those trading in lycra, but it pigeon-holes cycling into 'leisure' and leisure is something politicians can always pay lip service to without much harm - do up the local playground, photo; organise a marathon, photo; put  some green paint next to the kerb, photo - of a cycle lane, no less.  You know the kind - the one that runs 200yds then says "cyclists dismount".

30 July 2010

Skyride 2010

Jul09b 016
Originally uploaded by cocosolis
This morning I lined up the 'fleet' to inspect and prep up for this Sunday's 2010 Manchester Skyride - it is 'go' for us as all units were serviceable, save some topping up of tyres and adjusting of saddles. Which sadly shows we should cycle more as a family.

The reason we don't - and why we like Skyride so much - is that, while I'm confident riding in the Manchester traffic alone, I'm not when it comes to taking kids on the street. I've stopped feeling guilty about it. Even in the quiet-ish streets away from the main roads around us, there is always a speeding eejit, perhaps lighting up a fag or texting - why not?.

And while I'm an 'all weather' cyclist, my family are not. Yes, in the Netherlands everyone cycles in all weathers and I admire them for it. But meanwhile, back in Blighty, I have only this family and I have to live with them. So, Skyride here we go - I hope that the fun of that one day helps us instill the joy of cycling until the time when it becomes self-sustaining. Or perhaps I should do more.

What is a cyclist, again

And now, robber cyclists!  Yes - not content with being reckless yobs who terrorise motorists and pedestrians alike, cyclists, says the BBC, are into committing armed robberies too.  Whatever next.

I'm sure I don't as often see the label 'motorist' to robberies in which the getaway vehicle is a car (which, I reckon, are the majority).  Or I've yet to see the headline "pedestrian snatches bag and runs away" in cases where that, one could say, is exactly what happened.

I'm not sure what my point is, except that the media, even the oh-so-impartial BBC, seem to have a liking for the label 'cyclist' as a catch-all to be used in conjunction with all sort of negative things.  It wouldn't matter if we were not living in an age in which policy makers have the attention span of a fruit fly (and in some cases less intelligence - eg in the Lords where cycling debates have sometimes descended into outright farce).

05 July 2010

Shortened run

This time I cut my new favourite ride short by turning left at Whittle Lane.  Nothing wrong with this, although I expected the time saving to be greater than the mere 10' it did save me.

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28 June 2010

Extended run

Originally uploaded by
Last Friday I set off planning to do my usual Whitefield - Heaton Park - Birch - Pilsworth - Whitefield run (about 12m in 1h10'). It was such a ludicrously sunny day that I decided to extend the ride, going from Birch to Heywood and from there, I hoped. to Scout Moor and its wind turbines - a run I had done two years before in preparation for my first C2C.

Of course, I took a wrong turn, which led me further East, to Queen's Park Road and on to Norden, where I joined the A680 to Scout Moor. I then went back down the road I had intended to follow up: Ashworth Rd, by the Ashworth Moor reservoir.

It all took 2h30' - haven't counted the miles but I reckon I did a good 20-odd. Total delight.