12 December 2007

Back on the saddle...


For one reason or another, I've cycled very little in the last two weeks. My body quickly regains the fat cycling helps me lose - because I eat so much, after my initial loss of weight two years ago I now barely manage to keep balance at 92-93kg - still far from my 'ideal' weight of 80kg. This is unlikely to change.

Work events, shopping evenings, primary school nativity play, high school Xmas concert... all these things have conspired to make me drive more, cycle less. Meanwhile, my mate Ian and I are still planning to do the 'Coast to Coast' but haven't yet put any actual training towards it. Yes, he spoke to a female colleague who - at 44 - has done it in 3 days. Bum! I was hoping we would do it in 4, but now pride is at stake. And I bought a dvd which turn out to be an amateurish account of a CTC bike ride by 4 kids from I-dunno-where.

30 November 2007

Zen and the arse of bicycle maintenance


I hope those who took part in today's 'Critical Commute' had a great time. I couldn't join, and the reason was simple: through lack of maintenance and pure neglect, I have worn my tyres out (particularly the rear one) and yesterday I seem to have reached tipping point - got not one but two punctures.

The first one got me on the way in, as I neared Manchester Cathedral. I changed the tube as quick as I could and very carefully went over the tyre, inside and out, looking for bits of glass, nails and such like. It was then I realised that my tyre, which looks perky on the sides, is actually far more worn out than I expected. In fact, it is a miracle it hasn't been getting punctures more often!. There are lots of cracks and cuts and bits of glass embedded into the rubber - I took as many out as I could with my little knife.

In the evening I got to Chetham Hill (ah, my favourite neighbourhood) before I noticed something was amiss. Yes, another puncture. I had another new inner tube but was loth to put it only to see it punctured by some embedded piece of glass I'd failed to detect (in daylight - what chance in the dark?).

I contacted 'Solis HQ' to see if a rescue mission could be mounted, but sadly, 'Support Team' was busy feeding the troops, so I had to examine other options. I could leave the bike chained against a post, take the bus home then come collect it. Too risky, I thought, so I opted for the 'pump and ride' option. It took me six stops to reach home, and twice as much time as it normally would.

So, new tyres are 'go'. I intend to give the bike a wash (turning it over made me realise how filthy it's got!) and, as we are at it, take it for a full service, ready for the winter.
And maybe then I won't miss the January Critical Commute - don't hold your breath though.

22 November 2007

Charity begins at home...

Charity begins at home...
Look not the straw in your neighbours eye...
Pot calling the kettle black...

How can cyclists in all forums, discussion lists and blogs I see rant on and on about motorists and pedestrians, while hardly ever mentioning those other cyclists who routinely jump red lights or show crass inconsiderate behaviour towards everybody else - including other cyclists?

Yesterday, in heavy traffic going along Deansgate, in the rain, when pedestrians are at their most distracted, buriend under their umbrellas, a chap cycled between me and the kerb, at full speed in so narrow a space that he actually brushed against my rainmac - any movement from me and we would both have ended on the tarmac. Then he proceeded at the same speed, jumping on and off the pavement, through the red light (Deansgate and John Dalton St).

He was perhaps the worst I've seen for a while, but not the only one by any means. Within a minute there was another chap, who also went through the red light. I don't mean he cautiously slowed down and seeing the road clear slowly pressed on. I mean someone who just went through the light without any perceptible slowing down. I'm not too worried about him hitting a car - he'd come worse off and would only have himself to blame. I'm talking about the fact that this is a busy pedestrian crossing, at peak time, when people are rushing to work.

The last Friday of last month I left work late and, due to an errand, had to go past the central library in St Peter's Sq. Then I realised there was a whole bunch of -mostly young- cyclists. 'Ah' - it clicked - 'critical mass'. Naively, I expected, if not a cheer from the group, some sort of mutual respect between comrades-at-arms, despite the age gap. Instead, despite my carrying more flashing lights than a blooming Xmas tree, I got some of these people carelessly stroll on my path, then stare at me rudely as if they were about to swear.

I work in the city centre and incidents like the ones described above are all too common - going counterflow is just par for the course. Yes, some of these are hooded youths in black tracksuits, or Chinese students or Polish workmen in their building-site gear. But not all, not by any means. Many are fully kitted, 'proper' cyclists (OK, some wear black skateboarding helmets) with reflective gear, lights and the works.

Does this matter? Yes it does - how can anyone hope to promote cycling if our image is dictated by people who show little consideration to others, hold other road users in contempt or disregard for the rules of the road? Yes, the highway code isn't perfect and we all know how close the latest edition was to including nonsense about the use of so-called cycle lanes. But elementary things like traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and the flow of traffic need to be respected.

17 November 2007

Change for the worse...


The junction of Cheetham Hill Rd and Trinity Way has just become a lot more difficult for cyclists travelling north on Cheetham Hill Rd. They have built a traffic island where before there were just markings on the road. In the past, it was easy for me to change lane by simply positioning myself in the queue of traffic turning left into Trinity Way, then just 'cheat' by carrying on north on Cheetham Hill Rd.

Now I can't do that. I have to position myself on the lane going straight on, much earlier and in greater traffic. This has coincided with the end of British Summer Time - so it has to be done in the dark (mind you, with more lights than a Xmas tree I wonder if I'm not more visible now than in daylight).

My point is that, once again, changes on road layout have been introduced with not a thought for the needs of cyclists. Now I'm forced to often ride in between queues of slow moving traffic, including many heavy-goods vehicles. Or I have to dismount and use the pedestrian crossing.

13 November 2007

Beirut

Time spent in Beirut: 72 hours. Bicycles spotted: 4 - yes, total. Here, cycling is not a sport but the resort of the deserving poor - those who through hard work have managed to rustle up a mountain bike to go to their jobs as cleaners or security guards.

The traffic does not really lend itself to cycling. Or walking, for the matter. Or indeed driving - it is that kind of traffic that knows no rules and owes no consideration to anyone. But there again, among the plush office blocks and apartments there is the odd civil-war block of flats, still standing, in some cases still inhabitted, riddled with bullet holes and sorrounded - like in Manchester not too many years ago - by a bomb-site, an open-air car park where once a building of some sort stood.

26 October 2007

Darkness comes so quickly


I can never get used to this: darkness does not come gradually - one week it's an October indian summer, sunny evenings in mild weather, the sky blue and red for long enough so I can make it home without the bike lamps on. And today, dark from the onset - and this is before the clocks change this weekend!


I don't know if it was the darkness, but it was a bit more eventful a journey than it would normally be. First, I had to stop at a chemist, and my route on from there took me past Manchester's Central Library just as a group of cyclists was congregating for the monthly 'critical mass' bike ride. I thought "great, a bunch of fellow cyclists to cheer me on". Far from it - one of them actually did a 'pedestrian' on me and just stepped across my path as if I didn't have lights on, reflective vest, the works. This time I didn't fall off my bike, but I certainly had to stop in a hurry. Did he care? Did he heck! He looked at me with the contempt youngsters believe to be the cool reaction to their own stupidity, and turned his back on me. Call me prickly, but a bit of courtesy would not have been amiss.


On the road, I had a car overtake me and turn left - luckily it happened to be the way I was going, but I hadn't signalled, so I could have been going straight across in which case I'd have ended under the wheels. And on Bury Old Road I had a big 4x4 screech and beep right beside me, all of a sudden - not at me, but because another car had failed to get out of their way quickly enough.


The truth is, while I am as determined as ever to cycle every day if possible - and I still thoroughly enjoy doing it - my fall just over a month ago has shaken me a bit. Perhaps I was naive before: I knew people had acccidents, but they didn't happen to me, I was sooo careful and sensible... alas, it ain't that simple now, is it?


20 October 2007

After a few drinks following a school disco...

Last night was the school's Halloween Disco - long awaited because us dads had agreed to let the wives take the kids home while we went on (2nd year in a row) into Bury for a few beers.

After those few beers one of the group, who has started cycling 10 of his 26 miles to work, reminded me that we had (jokingly, I thought) agreed to do a major cycle ride - eg the Coast to Coast. But he's been on the website and all, so I was challenged last night to make good on my word. 'Yeah, summer', I said. 'No: spring' came the reply.

So, we better start preparing - body, mind, soul and bloody bike...

New rear wheel

Spokes. I had been losing spokes at a rate of 1 every 6 weeks (average). The first time I took the bike to the shop I bought it from, in Prestwich. Trouble is, it's not really the most convenient thing for me as it is 1/3 of the way to work. So I started taking the bike to the Bicycle Boutique, a little workshop-cum-shop near the University, very popular with students etc (they themselves have expanded recently, taking over a bigger workshop next door).

Anyway, last time they told me they could no longer guarantee they'd be able to true the wheel. Also, I was unhappy at breaking spokes as a matter of routine. So this week I left the bike with them on Tuesday, had a couple of busy days where I needed to drive, and yesterday I picked up my bike, fitted now with a brand new rear wheel (it set me back £30).

I hope this will solve the problem. I really can't think of anything I'm doing that prompts spokes to snap, so my money is, alas, on poor quality in the first place (I did by a cheaper bike!). Not that £30 can be buying me top notch either. Let's wait and see

15 October 2007

Through cloud and sunshine

Look at you, through morning fog and mist
Look at you, emerging from a cloud
Reflective vest, red warning lights and proud
Lycra-clad goddess who makes morning mist lift

12 October 2007

It's different in London

I spent a couple of days in London last week. One evening I managed to spend some time around St James' park, the Mall, Birdcage Walk and all those. Of course we know London is bigger and all that - but really, there's a lot more cyclists on the road as a proportion of total traffic. And in numbers there seems to be variety - both in terms of the type of cyclists - from lycra boys to skirt-clad girls with a handbag slung in a rear basket (can't think of a better way to attract a thieve!). This includes its share of nutters - like the one wearing a horse-riding helmet! There is also great variety in the bikes they ride, from fold-ups (lots of fold-ups) to racers to hybrids to fancy European models made for gently going up and down roads in a flat-ish city.

On the minus side, London cyclists and bikommuters are - on the road - like all Londoners: impatient and unforgiving. True, it is not easy to go through central London, what with all those pesky pedestrians - UK and foreign, and of the latter there's a lot more in London than in Manchester - getting constantly in the way, jumping red lights etc. But one feels that, just like motorists rev the engine at the traffic light, cyclists also have that 'killer instinct'. Perhaps it is because many of them are converted motorists who can't afford the congestion charge?
video

06 October 2007

3rd party insurance


After my recent nasty-ish fall I have become more cautious in many respects. Not overtly, but it's all about the little things, the going a bit more slowly, trusting pedestrians even less, perhaps ringing that bell a bit more often and with more energy. And I have been thinking about 3rd party insurance. I mean, let's face it: what IF I hadn't manage to avoid the bloody woman whose stupid recklessness caused my fall? She could have been injured - and then, who would pay for the damage, in blood and treasure, but yours truly? And then you hear the horror stories of motorists with good lawyers managing to turn the table on you?

I had the good sense of emailing GMCC's yahoo group - the response was immediate and the overwhelming recommendation from the bunch of people who responded was... join CTC. So I have! Membership includes insurance, and anything else I may get on top will be a bonus.

05 October 2007

Gadgets


I have been thinking about some gadgets cyclists or bikommuters like myself could use, and others that would help with that intractable problem - sustainable transport. Here goes:



- Mask: yes, there already are masks to combat the effects of pollution (enthusiasts of such masks will tell me that my lungs are heavy with the detritus of carbon combustion from bus diesel engines and the like). But what I am talking about here is a mask that will help condense the moisture in the atmosphere (amply abundant in Manchester except on sunny and dry days, either in a hot summer or a very cold winter - both rare). This would help rehidration without the need to carry your own supply.


- Exercise bike: no, not the stationary kind. Instead, this will be a bike that is powered not just by foot pedals, but by the arms - so it provides all round exercise. Not an entirely new concept: the other day I saw a wheelcher for a person that could only move one arm. It was operated by a single lever which was used both to steer and to power the vehicle.

- Generator: you've seen the cycling trainers - rollers to turn your bike into a stationary one so you can improve your technique, get some quick practice at home etc. Why not extend the concept and use this effort to generate electricity? Power your electric shower for instance - either take it in turn with your partner / flatmate to power each other's hot showers, or perhaps more daringly, create a shower where you pedal for hot water!


- Modular car: OK, not a cycling gadget, but if it helps with traffic, pollution etc why not. This wold involve a small two-seater (think 'Smart') which could attach seamlessly (by retracting rear wheels, collapsing the hatch door at the back etc) to another, to make it into a four seater. And why stop at two cars - attach three or four and presto, you've got a people carrier!. It will be easier when fuell cell engines become the norm.


26 September 2007

Rainfall and fall 2.0


A week ago I made my way home in an hurry. It was raining. I followed my usual route. It was about 17.30 and I got to Cheetham Hill. I was going down the road towards the traffic lights next to the New Robin Hood Hotel, there happened to be little traffic and so I allowed myself to gather speed.


At the bottom of the road, waiting for the traffic lights (I thought) were two women, one of them talking on her mobile. This one turned and (I thought) looked me in the eye. I thought "Ok, she's got me", as I continued down to make the green light. And then, all of a sudden, the women stepped on the road, right in my path. My reaction was purely instinctive: I applied the breaks. In the rain, with the momentum, the bike skided.



Next thing I know, I'm laying on the road, on my right side, right arm outstretched over my head, at the feet of these wretched two women who glanced at me as if I was some sort of worm or slug, and then walked on. I did consider chasing after them, and worse - I shouted at them instead, not obscenities but the tone was clear enough. It was then that I realised something hurt, and that I was a bit out of puff.



Still, I had to get home to make tea for the family (long story - Wedsnesdays are really hectic) so I soldiered on. I was angry though, and had a very sore shoulder and side. Took some painkillers, but the following day I went to A&E, where they told me nothing is broken, just sprained (they took x-rays of my shoulder, but not of the ribs). A week on, I still feel uncomfortable. I cycled today for the first time since the fall, and it was fine - but writing, typing, or just laying down on my side still hurt a bit.



Thinking about it, while I blame these pedestrians for the accident, I do realise I did let my guard down for a moment, ie I allowed myself to gather speed down hill when I know the area to be full of shops and bus stops and therefore full of pedestrians who are often less than careful. A few months ago a colleague from work suffered a similar accident in the very same spot - outside the Robin Hood Hotel. In her case, she ended up with her foot in a cast for 7 weeks, so I can count myself lucky.

24 September 2007

Mountain bikers

No, I'm not a mountain biker - but I did go camping to the Lakes recently. On my walks I came across a group of keen bikers doing a descent that, on foot, required some concentration - loose earth and slate chips that could turn slippery at no notice. Why anyone would want to up the risk factor hundredfold by launching themselves down the slope on two wheels is beyond me.

Halfway down there was a little stream. Of the 8 or so bikers, half stopped at that point and stepped across, bicycle on shoulder. The other 4 performed a spectacular jump - it looked great, but I would hate to see one of those stunts go wrong.

18 September 2007

The last mile (and a half)


My daily cyclommute is 7 miles and on the way down into town it takes me on average 45'. That said, the first 5.5 miles take 30' - 35'. If I set off at 9am from Whitefield, I pass Manchester Cathedral at 9.30am. Where do the other 15' go?

The answer is: city centre traffic design. Yes, I am a bit of a zealot when it comes to traffic lights - I may sometimes join pedestrians when the little green man lights up, but otherwise I never go through red lights. The problem is that, once you reach the Cathedral, traffic lights multiply like rabbits on all main roads leading anywhere. This is compounded by the one-way system. I can't help but think that this is all design with the car in mind, with some provisions to appease pedestrians by providing them crossing points at frequent intervals (in the understanding that, at busy times, they will ignore all lights and just cross when and where they want to), and cyclists just do not feature in these calculations.

I have tried de-touring to side-streets. I have actually measured myself against other cyclists whom I knew were going to the same destination and stuck to the main roads, so I can say that side roads may give you the impression of saving you time, but in effect they make no difference at all - not with any consistency, at least. You see, it all hinges on how the gods of traffic lights look upon you: some mornings they show you nothing but green, other times they conspire to slow your progress to a miserable crawl. The former usually happens in sunny weather, the latter tends to coincide with rain (at least in my memories).

I could, of course, join the legion of cyclists that to their shame simply ignore traffic lights and treat busy crossings as challenges to their balance skills and hand-foot-eye coordination. But I just don't want to - the moral ground, once you get to it, is a very comforting place and I'd like to remain there and feel entitled to be sanctimonious when I want to.

More seriously - and I never thought I'd hear myself say this - the solution... is revolution: pedestrianise more of Manchester, off-set by a park-and-ride scheme (perhaps building on the successful and free Metroshuttle) and thus create the conditions for a network of pedestrian and cycling avenues into the heart of the city.

You may say I'm a dreamer...

12 September 2007

Route companions

Today I want to talk about my route companions. Fellow cyclists who I see frequently on my way, familiar yet at the same time perfect strangers. There the grumpy fellow who shoots past me, morning and evening, in his trusty old bike and weathered high-vis jacket, no helmet, short red hair and no respect for any of the niceties of the road - like stopping for red lights and such like. Then there is the almost-elderly gentleman who, most annoyingly, always overtakes me when I'm going up the slope, at high speed as if it was down hill he was going. His bike is immaculate and old fashioned, as is all else about him. Not overly friendly, at least he does not appear grumpy - and like me, he wears a helmet.

01 September 2007

Cyclists dismount


There you have it: the sign that gives the lie to any claims the powers that be may make about how they consider cyclists in their policies, as proper users of the road etc.

You never see signs asking drivers to alight and push, or pedestrians to crouch down or crawl on the floor. But for some reason, if you were on a 'segregated' bike lane (the real sort, off the road) and it reached a traffic light or intersection, then ... cyclists dismount!. It is the lazy solution. They should know that cyclists will not dismount because it is never practical and seldom necessary.

28 August 2007

Family bike ride in Tatton Park


When I arrived to the UK to settle down, back in 1998, Tatton Park is one of the first places of interest around Manchester to which we became sort-of-regular visitors. Then we had only one daughter, aged 2 at the time, and I had’t ridden a bike for many years. The possibility of renting bikes and a child trailer and going round the estate was considered several times - but it was always too late, too expensive, or we were with friends, relatives etc who weren’t up for it. Eventually the family grew and the idea of a bike ride around Tatton Park ceased to be practical altogether.

That is, until now. We have been gearing ourselves this year to hit the paths of the famous Cheshire estately home. Because our bike carrier can only hold 3 bikes – there’s 5 of us – we bought a cheap fold-up bike. We have also acquired, from friends and at a nominal price, a trailer bike for my littlest one, whose tiny bike with little wheels would be no good for this. These two things we planned to carry in the back of our Focus estate.

Back from our summer travels, a couple of weeks ago I prepared the bikes for the projected ride. Nothing much – a bit of cleaning, pumping some tyres out, replacing an inner tube in the brand new fold up bike, and of course installing and testing the trailer bike with attachements etc.

Alas, while the Saturday of these preparations was gloriously sunny, the Sunday when we planned to go we got terrible weather – rain, wind, dark clouds, the lot. The following Sunday was not much better, so again we cancelled. The following day, however, was decent enough, and I was to be in charge of the kids (as you do when summer holidays strke). So, my wife went to work, I loaded bikes and kids into the car, and off we went.

So, how did it go? On the plus side, we all enjoyed it, traffic didn’t seem a problem and I could sort of relax about children, road safety, etc. On the minus side, the trailer bike’s attachment doesn’t quite fit my bike and I’m going to have some more work to somehow adapt it – it works fine on a straight line, but a sharp bend will make the arm pivot around my seat post in a way it is not meant to, which results in the trailer bike tilting dangerously. As for Tatton Park, I wish there was more clarity as to where you can or can’t ride your bike. At the moment, it seems as if in theory the whole of the grounds is fair game for bikers – but so it is for horse riders, and I don’t think cycling down a narrow, quiet path in the woods and suddenly running into a group of riders would be that great, for either party. Some kissing gates are clearly pedestrian-only, which leaves you no option but to ride over the cattle grid on the bike – possible, but a little bit unnerving if you have do it with a trailer bike on tow, and then ask your children (esp. the one aged 6) to do it in their small bikes.

10 August 2007

One way systems in their collective wisdom

O One Way Systems, in your collective wisdom
You have forgotten the demands of cycling
while catering mostly for pedestrians ambling
and trying to keep motorcars off their kingdom

30 July 2007

After two weeks away


I took to my bike today after two weeks away. Changes along the route? Only a few. The saddest is the disappearance of the Church Inn, a 19th century pub that stood opposite Whitefield tram station. True, the pub had been boarded up for months, since it was sold off as part of Morrison's purchase of the old Brand Centre and surrounding land. But at least the building with its red brick and victorian lines stood in place when I left fifteen days ago. Now it is no more - a white building-site barrier stands in its place (Roma's current building will, I assume, be next).


Apart from that, not much. A railings fence has been crashed into in Lower Broughton. A new ostentatious Bentley (WA SIM) is being driven around, circunspectly enough not to provoke my anger or dislike. There were very few cyclists today, despite the good weather (c'mon, people!).

26 July 2007

Stockholm cycles

I've just spent the last two weeks in Sweden - mostly in a small town in the North called Kramfors, where my sister lives. And the last couple of days in Stockholm. The fact is, they seem to cycle a lot, at least in this mild summer weather. Much more than in the UK, and in a more relaxed way. Fewer people wearing helmets. Less pannier bags and more open baskets. Less lycra and more everyday clothes, less toe-clips with fancy magnetic shoes, and more sandals, flipflops and that latest fashion, 'crocs'.

And few, very few bikes are locked - I'm very impressed. For some reason it seems to be the older bikes get locked up - for their sentimental value? - while perfectly decent hybrids or town bikes just get left on a kick-stand. I saw this in Kramfors and thought 'it figures'. Kramfors is after all a very small, somewhat sleepy town in an area which is, one could say, under-populated. But Stockholm is, by any measure, a thriving European city. And yet, and yet, one sees many bikes are not locked.

Cycle paths are, by and large, trully 'segregated' and not like our British ones, where green paint is expected to do the job. But they are no panacea and here too I have seen many that defy common sense, eg that are right in the way of car doors opening, or could too easily attract absent-minded pedestrians (or children) as they are segregated from car traffic, yes, but they are almost indistinguishable from the pavement. The extreme example of this is those cycle paths on the very many bridges that criss-cross the old town and sorrounding islands: their pavements overwhelmed by tourists who spill over quite naturally onto the cycle paths, utterly defeating the object of having them in the first place, and forcing cyclists onto the road to mingle with motor traffic.

But who cares: cycling clearly is thriving here.

13 July 2007

Shopping in a hurry...



So, school is out. And we are going on holiday. And we are having a big family reunion - my parents from Peru, my sister from Spain, all of us converging on my sister who lives in deepest and darkest Sweden. And who turned 40 recently. And I have to buy her a present. Things busy at work, time is short, all that.

So, reluctantly, I decide to use the bike, in full civvy clothes, for a lunchtime dash to the Arts n' Crafts place - sorry, the Craft and Design Centre, I'll have you know!. This is the ideal place if you want to tell someone, with a pressie, just how much you care (ie more than the usual £10) but don't want to get something big or heavy because it's going in the suitcase (so, no set of crockery from Ikea then).

I then discover how soiled one's clothes can get when one doesn't keep the bike spotless - and when said bike isn't designed to protect one's clothes. I mean, how is a chap to keep his trousers clean in the sodding rain anyway?

Anyway, getting there was easy - just followed Whitworth St, then towards Picc. Gardens, then Northen Quarter and presto!. But getting back - and I should know better, but getting back just showed me why some cyclists in the city centre just give up on the rules. It's not just that the one-way system is messy, but it makes no provision for cyclists at all. It's the same reason why once I cycle past the Cathedral into Deansgate my average speeds drops to that of a snail on medication. Too many traffic lights but no alternate route for the bikes.

It's just wrong. There are enough back streets that are no good to cars but could support bicycle traffic.

07 July 2007

What would you do?

Yesterday (Fri 6 Jul 07) I was riding past the good old Robin Hood Hotel when I saw this woman, perhaps in her 50s, crawiling out of a kebab shop, face covered in blood and babbling incoherently. A group of Asian men looked on from inside the shop.

Was she beaten up and thrown out of the shop? Did she fall and hit herself? Was she drunk and pestering or stealing? Did she attack someone, who retaliated?

Should I have stopped? I rode on. I'll never know what happened.

04 July 2007

Rainfall and fall


I fell off the bike yesterday. It must have been hilarious to watch. It's to do with being new to toe-clips. Yes, you can see it coming: stop at the traffic lights - put left foot down first. Then sway to the right... right foot should come down but gets stuck in the strap of the toe-clip... by then your sway has reached the point of no return and know the fall is inevitable.


I landed on my knee and elbow, both of which I grazed. It was tipping down. I got up, slowly. Two motorists took an interest - the one in front of me opened his door and shouted 'yawright mate?'. The one behind actually got off the car and came to help - I assured him I was OK, and with wounded pride feigned indifference to my bleeding knee and bruised elbow, and continued my journey ... for half a mile or so, then stopped to lick my wounds and check I hadn't broken anything.


I should have been more grateful to my would-be benefactors. You see, not all motorists are evil cyclist-killers.

10 June 2007

Highway code changes, part II

Unprompted (never did follow up initial rejection with him) my MP (D Chaytor, Bury North) has recently written with this:

"
Dear Mr Solis,

I am writing with reference to our previous correspondence regarding your concerns over changes to the Highway Code with regard to cycle lanes.

I have received a letter from Stephen Ladyman MP, Minister of State in the Department for Transport regarding this matter, a copy of which is attached for your information. I hope this information will help to relieve your concerns on the issue.

Thank you for contacting me on this matter. If you would like to discuss the matter in more detail I would be happy to meet you at one of my regular advice surgeries in either Bury or Ramsbottom. If you would find this helpful please contact my assistant in Bury on 0161 764 2023 to arrange an appointment.

Yours sincerely,

David Chaytor MP"

The files Mr Chaytor attached show that someone, somewhere, has seen sense - perhaps the online petition and other types of soft pressure have had an effect:


Department for
Transport
Andrew Colski
Vulnerable Road Users Branch
Road User Safety Division
Department for Transport
Zone 2/13
Great Minster House
76 Marsham Street
London SWIP 4DR

Tel: 020 7944 2057
Fax: 020 7944 9618
E-Mail: andrew.colski@dft.gsi.gov.uk

Web site: www.dft.gov.uk

Our Ref: RSS26/1/2

31 MAY2007







FURTHER CHANGES TO DRAFT RULES 61 AND 63 OF THE PROPOSED REVISED HIGHWAY CODE

Background

In February 2006 we issued a draft of proposed revisions to the Highway Code for public consultation, which closed on 15 May 2006. Over 4,000 people offered a total of almost 27,000 comments.

Taking account of these comments, a new draft version of the Highway Code was laid before Parliament on 28 March 2007. A large number of responses to the consultation concerned the rules on cycling and more than 40 amendments were made to these and other rules to take account of comments from cyclists. However, since the Code was laid before Parliament, further representations have been made by cyclists who remain concerned that the revised text of rules 61 and 63 on cycle facilities and cycle lanes is insufficiently clear.

Proposed change

Having considered these further representations carefully, we believe that there is merit in amending and expanding rules 61 and 63, so as to remove any possible doubt about their meaning. We are therefore now proposing to include revised versions of rules 61 and 63. We have discussed these changes informally with CTC, the cyclists’ organisation. The proposed revised versions are as follows:­
61 Cycle Facilities. Use cycle routes, advanced stop lines, cycle boxes and toucan crossings unless at the time it is unsafe to do so. Use of these facilities is not compulsory and will depend on your experience and skills, but they can make your journey safer.

63 Cycle Lanes. These are marked by a white line (which may be broken) along the carriageway (see Rule 140). When using a cycle lane, keep within the lane when practicable. When leaving a cycle lane check before pulling out that it is safe to do so and signal your intention clearly to other road users. Use of these facilities is not compulsory and will depend on your experience and skills, but they can make your journey safer.

These changes make clearer the position regarding the advice in the Code on the use of cycle facilities and cycle lanes. The purpose of the Code is to help cyclists and all other road users to use the roads as safely as possible. It does so in two ways. It explains the law and it provides advice and guidance on safe behaviour in areas not covered by legislation.

Rules 61 and 63 are part of the advice and guidance and do not set out legal requirements, which, as explained in the Introduction to the Code, are indicated by the words MUST or MUST NOT. The revised wording for rules 61 and 63 makes it clearer that use of cycle facilities and cycle lanes is not compulsory and that these rules do not introduce any legal requirements.

Cycle facilities and cycle lanes are provided to help cyclists. Cyclists are entitled to use their experience and judgment in deciding when to use cycle facilities and cycle lanes. The proposed changes also make this clearer.

24 May 2007

No tolls...

Everybody loves a nutter. Here's a lovable example of a whole bunch of them. Or perhaps we should be scared at their rough-pub-type extremism dressed as common sense:


http://www.notolls.org.uk/index.htm

Of course they have got some points right... but I just can't stomach their blanket opposition to anything that involves motorists sharing the road on an equal footing with anybody else (pedestrians and cyclists, for instance).

"Paths, pavements, bridleways and cycle lanes are provided free. Trains, trams and some buses are heavily subsidised by the taxpayer" - so, they conclude, why should motorists pay taxes to drive?. Why indeed - and let's remember, I am a motorist, a pedestrian and a cyclist, all in one.

21 May 2007

Reflexes, reactions

I was coming up Cheetham Hill from Manchester, on Bury Old Rd, the long stretch after The Fort and before Broughton. The road there seems to plateau after going up hill for a mile or so, and one gathers speed quickly before coming to the next slope. Right in the middle there's a pedestrian crossing at the traffic light. I won't mention the number of times that light has gone red when the pedestrians in question had already crossed. We've all done it, it's life, etc.

But this time, there were pedestrians who seemed to be waiting for the light to change. Motor traffic had come to a standstill... but I was doing fine, had my eye on the traffic light (my motorist bad habits linger on) and did not slow down. Then, all of a sudden, the woman who had been waiting for the lights to change, decided that if cars weren't moving she could just jump on to the road.

Then I made my near-fatal mistake: I yelled. No swearwords or angry words, just an instinctive cry of anger and panic. The woman's reaction was to turn her face towards me, open her eyes in frightened disbelief... and then she takes a step back. Which put her right on my path. Now I really had to slam on the breaks - front first, as my spiritual guru Sheldon Brown suggests.



To my credit - having through lack of foresight contributed to this incident - I managed to stop without either hitting the pedestrian or going over the handlebars. The woman was very apologetic. I wish I had had enough breath left to be polite and tell her not to worry. The irony is that, if I'd not yelled, she would have walked on, like ships in the night oblivious to me - and I probably wouldn't have had to stop in such a hurry. So there's a learning point then...

09 May 2007

David Chaytor's response...

Below is a response from my MP about changes to the Highway code. It appears to me to be equating lines on green paint on busy roads to 'segregated bicycle lanes' of the kind one sees in Belgium or the Netherlands?

=====================

Dear Mr Solis,

Thank you for your email about the current consultation on the Highway Code. I agree with you completely with regard to the importance of promoting cycling for many reasons, including public health and the environment.

The present government has done more to encourage an increase in cycling, through a wide range of policies, than any British Government in living memory. A key part of this policy has been to build a large number of cycle lanes in most towns and cities as part of the process of building a national network of safe cycling routes. The purpose of this network, which has been constructed following pressure over many years from cyclists' organisations, is to segregate wherever possible cyclists from vehicles for the benefit of cyclists and in the interests of road safety.

It would be quite illogical now to reverse this policy. This does not mean, however, that cyclists are to be prevented from riding on the main highway. It simply means that fifty years' experience of traffic management in Britain , and elsewhere in Europe , has proved conclusively that one of the most effective ways of increasing the number of cyclists on the road is to build separate cycle lanes linked together in cycle routes.

Consequently, I am afraid that I do not feel it appropriate to make any representations opposing the presumption that cyclists should use the designated cycle lanes wherever possible. However, you may wish to respond directly to the current consultation if you still feel that you wish to make the case against the proposed text of the new Highway Code.

Thank you for writing to me on this matter. Please let me know if you would like to discuss this, or any other aspect of cycling policy, in more detail and I would be very happy to meet you at one of my regular advice surgeries in Bury or Ramsbottom.

Yours sincerely

David Chaytor

03 May 2007

The new highway code

Letter to my MP:

Dear Mr Chaytor,

I understand that a new Highway Code is about to be approved, containing changes that undermine the standing of cyclists on the road and therefore compromise our safety. I am refering particularly to Rule 63 (http://www.dsa.gov.uk/Documents/consult/Responses/Highway_Code_Draft.pdf) which states that cyclists should use cycle lanes 'wherever possible'. Many such facilities are of poor standard, badly designed or just plain dangerous. Cyclists should not be forced to use such facilities against their better judgment. In short, cyclists should be allowed to use the road. A similar situation applies to the use of roundabouts.
This was debated a year ago (Handsard: 9 May 2006 : Column 24WH), when your colleague Mark Lazarowicz said that "It is important not effectively to encourage the idea that cyclists should be corralled into a small, often badly-maintained section at the edge of the road, and that they should not be entitled to use the rest of the road, like other road users, if they consider it appropriate to do so".

Surely there are many reasons - public health, the environment - why cycling should be promoted, rather than undermined?

Yours sincerely, etc

01 May 2007

Red, amber, green: how difficult can it be?

Motorists, pedestrians and cyclists alike, a culture seems to be developing in the city centre, one that places disproportionate value in the pitiful gains that come from going through a traffic light that has 'just' changed to red. A sort of collective reasoning along the lines of 'red is the new amber' seems to have taken hold.

The various junctions along Princess St are examples of this.

Perhaps part of the problem is 'structural' - in other countries, turning times at junctions are regulated explicitly by the traffic lights - with filters for all directions. Here the position is 'it is OK if the road is clear', which is great until people begin to make 'selfish' choices, ie abusing the system.

The day before yesterday I got confrontational. I saw the light change and quick off the mark I advanced. A car coming from Portland St on my right, having seen the light change (green for me, red for him) but wanting to turn into Princess St., decided to carry on regardless - as if I didn't exist. I gesticulated wildly to signal that I wasn't stopping... eventually he gave up and stopped awkardly, past the line, at half-turn (phew!). I felt slightly foolish afterwards - my self-preservation instinct re-asserting itself, belatedly - but also somewhat satisfied to have achieved such a petty victory.

Each day, its battle...

25 April 2007

Repair or replace?

For the second time this year, last night I went to the bike rack, ready to go home in a hurry, only to discover my bike had a puncture. Inspection of the tyre quickly revealed a tiny and sharp piece of glass.

I always carry a spare tube with me. Trouble is, I never repair them afterwards. I have tried, but without success - so I take the easy and safe route of just slapping on a new tube every time.

Shameful...

24 April 2007

Apology

I was being given a lift today, to Whitefield tram station (long story: bike at the workshop, three spokes needed fixing overnight, etc). In my hurry to get out of the car while the traffic lights were at red, I swang the door open without looking... and heard the distinctive sound of knobbly mountain bike tyres with disc brakes on wet tarmac. In what seemed an eternity the chap managed to stop, just.

To the unkown cyclist: I apologise for this. I commend your relative politeness given the circumstances - no expletives were used, no shouting. I fully understand how you must have felt. I'm glad you had quick reflexes and stopped in time. I hope I am that lucky when my turn comes.

I hope to do better next time.

20 April 2007

Nuts and bolts

When I retire, I plan to spend a day picking up all the bits of scrap metal that, ignored by motorists but very visible to the cyclist, litter the kerbs of the streets and roads of Manchester - especially the main ones.

Motorway roundabouts (like J17 of the M60 in Prestwich) and busy intersections like New Bridge St and Cheetham Hill Rd, near Manchester Victoria Station, are full of the stuff. Nails, bolts, nuts, hooks, pins, the odd bit of someone's old car. Once I even spotted a carefully rolled length of rope, complete with hook at the end. I wish I'd stopped to collect it as it looked pristine that morning. The following morning it had been thoroughly trampled on by passing traffic, and even now - months later - you can spot the odd bit of rope lying around that junction.

19 April 2007

Someone else's bikes...

My neighbour's uncle, a single man in his late 50s or early 60s, passed away after a short illness. He was a keen cyclist, and left his bikes and gear to my neighbour - who has no immediate use for them. He asked me if I wanted them, but sadly I do not have the space to keep them, and I'd hate to see them rot in the back garden. I kept a bag of tools for myself, but as for the bikes, all I could do was find a home for them among work colleagues.

It always takes longer than expected. Finally, after a month, today I drove into work with the two bikes in my boot, the front quick-release wheels removed. One is a classic racer with fancy pedals. The other one is a Harry Hall touring bike with a funny, very short and straight handlebar. Both are in pretty good nick, save for the tyres which have suffered and will need replacing. They must be 20 to 25 years old, with gear levers down on the frame rather than on the ends of the handlebars. Leather seats. Beauties.

17 April 2007

Family ride


Slowly but surely we are getting into family cycling. We took advantage of a visit to my wife's Dad in Rugby to complete our set of bikes with my late Mother-in-law's one, a beautiful white lady's Raleigh, a real classic. We borrowed it and hit the disused rail track, or used a very good, segregated cycle path to Dunchurch - both reasonably easy rides so we could all keep together, including Luke (aged six) in his little bmx. We even did a bit of a country ride, with my father-in-law rather than my wife, though we had to split so my brother-in-law and his son could do a longer version. In glorious weather, it was all good fun. The only problem, for an overprotective parent like myself, was that in these supposedly quiet country lanes one realises how affluent little Rugby and its environs is - plenty of people driving sports cars around, some in a rather reckless way.

15 March 2007

Personalised number plates...

A large, black, brand new Mercedes Benz with tinted windows and windscreens, reg. "I CEO" forced me to stop today - he (or she!) wanted to turn into a hand-car wash place in Cheetham Hill, and rather than wait, overtook me and cut me off.

Annoyed? A little bit. Contempt for personalised number plates? Only when coupled with arrogance and lack of consideration. Another number for my collection: WWII - was it a Bentley or a Rolls? Can't remember. An old man at the wheel, looking smug.

24 February 2007

Cycling with my daughter




My daughter, who has been bike-shy for most of her 10 years of age, is finally showing signs of being interested. To be fair, I'm partly to blame - too overprotective and risk-averse when it comes to my children. Last September she had asked to be taken riding, we went to Dunham Massey - she is weary of the road, and I have done little to build her confidence.

Today we went to nearby playing fields where there is a cycle path of about 1/2 mile that meanders past Bury cemetery (next to Gigg Lane, the home of the mighty Shakers!) and the river. We spent an hour and both enjoyed it. The catalyst has been a school 'cycling profficiency' test coming up - now she is talking about going to school on her bike every day! We'll see.


22 February 2007

Momentum thieves

Think of all the little things that rob you of your momentum - sometimes with a good excuse, sometimes without one. Drivers don't see you coming down the hill and instinctively pull closer to the kerb when traffic gets heavy and cars begin to queue. The pedestrian traffic light at the bottom of the slope, that makes you stop then begin your ascend from scratch. The polite drivers that stop to let other drivers take a right turn or cross the junction - without checking first that you are alongside them or slightly behind, so you have to screech to a halt, or risk being run-over. The school-run mum whose method for joining the main road traffic is to barge in with her kid-laden people-carrier, confident a polite driver will, hey, let her in: twice I've nearly crashed into one of those. My anger is almost all reserved, though, for those drivers who see you and think "can I make my left turn ahead of the biker?... yeah, I can" - if they are kind enough to rev their engine you get some warning, otherwise the first you know is when you stamp yourself against the side of their car, or end up under their wheels, or up-ended on the tarmac.

19 February 2007

On Nigel Havers and wrong battles

Nigel Havers, the erstwhile TV hearthrob and self-appointed anti-cyclist campaigner, wrote in June last year a diatribe against cyclists in which many gross and sweeping generalisations are made.

Havers' fundamental mistake is to align moral and ethical traits to forms of transport (cycling, driving, walking, jogging) rather than to individuals. Not all cyclists are the reckless thugs Havers depicts - just as not all pedestrian (or indeed drivers) are shining examples of highway-side virtue. Indeed, most cyclists are also pedestrian and motorists!.

Good old Nigel is fighting the wrong battle - he'd do better to direct his fire against bad road users, and in aid of responsible, considerate road users. He would also do well to acknowledge that, in the UK today, when it comes to road design and 'systems' (how traffic lights work, the location, layout and length of bike lanes), cars and pedestrians are taken into consideration far more than bicycles are. This forces even the most civilised cyclists to take the occasional shortcut. I can own up to this, though I like to think never if it involves putting anyone at risk - and always with good manners that aren't always matched by the pedestrian or motorist involved.

How many pedestrians would happily choose to throw themselves under the wheels of an oncoming car or lorry? Nor out of a suicide wish, but fully expecting to live to tell the tale? And yet, this is what people in Manchester city centre do to me every day - just because I'm on a bike, and therefore under the radar for them - either they don't see I'm there (even if I've got more lights than a Xmas tree) or they actually ignore me.

The junction of Market St. and Fountain/High St. is a notable troublespot, as pedestrians take no notice of the traffic lights. I find that my best bet is to hope a big van or taxi makes the crossing my way, so I can tag along, rather like following an ice-breaker ship.

09 February 2007

Nepal and Bangladesh










I have spent the better part of the last two weeks in Nepal (Kathmandu) and Bangladesh (Dhaka and Chittagong) - a work trip. Both countries, while very different in many ways, share some characteristics - their reliance on pedal power for transport being one of them!
In Kathmandu, where most roads are narrow, among the cars with horns blown and the motorbikes weaving in and out of traffic in near-suicidal manouvres, bicycles quietly reign with rickshaws common in the more central areas. The overwhelming majority of cycles are basic [fixed gear], even if in design about half of them resemble mountain bikes - the others appear to be 1950s designs. I am very impressed by the punishment these bikes take, especially for the way they are loaded with all sorts of things. Many carry a contraption that beats any UK panier bag - a set of twin 'cages' which attach to either side of the rear rack and can fit big gas or water cylinders. The bicycles with gears around are ridden by seemingly better off individuals - they have a tendency to ride on low gears, perhaps to show off how effortlessly they take to slopes as they ride uphill towards the outer parts of the city. Nobody except a handful of tourists and expats wears any helmets or protective gear, or lights. POllution masks, though, are common - as is a padded 'chest protector' - popular with motorbikers and cyclists alike, it is alleged it protects your chest... from the chill.




Things are a little bit different in Bangladesh. A flat lowland and one of the world's poorest countries, here the rickshaw reigns supreme. From what I saw, it is the most common form of urban public transport. I tried one today. For all their colourfullness and the richness of their decoration, their design is extremely uniform. They are in essence reinforced tricycles. Pedals are often wooden. They have big metal bells, often on both sides. And not one that I saw had any lights. Some had bright red triangles painted on the back. Some had metal 'reflectors'. And one had ingenuously bolted an array of old CDs which shone under the lights of passing cars. Riding the rickshaws looks like hard work, especially on a full load - two adults and a child, with shopping. Not big adults, mind you: I could barely fit on the seat - in terms of depth, that is. Width-wise, two leand adults can sit comfortably - sadly, when I tried it with my collegue it became clear we would need two rickshaws.

I have a short clip of a rickshaw ride: part 1 and part 2. There are plenty more by other people in YouTube - better quality and longer. But this is my humble contribution. Watch out for the main road crossing and the overtaking rickshaw.






Photos taken by J. Ugonna (thank you!)

11 January 2007

Chinese torture

To ride through China Town at the end of the working day is torture. I do it most days, just when I'm beginning to feel hungry - I try not to eat anything after lunch and drop the afternoon snack so as to burn more fat when cycling. The downside is that the exercise opens my appetite, just when I'm pedalling through Manchester's prime concentration of food aromas. One day, I am minded, I will stop, chain my bike in the corner next to the Arch and jump into the nearest restaurant to have some fried rice, noodles or soup, peppered with chunks of chicken, beef or prawn in various sweet and sour or savoury sauces.

There are a couple of other places along my route where I get the whif of flavoursome food, but you can't beat China Town.

06 January 2007

Chased by an elephant

No: not a real elephant. It's just a trick I play on myself when I'm particularly tired and yet need to speed up not to be home too late. I imagine that an elephant is chasing me. I know, it sounds stupid, but it works - particularly on a dark winter night.

This is something I save for the home run, of course. There'd be no point in doing it to myself only to run out of steam, knees aching, before I've gone past Prestwich and turn into Oak Lane (Besses O'Th'Barn). But for those last 10' it works wonders. I can almost feel the elephant behind me, closing in. My pedalling becomes faster, I feel a lot more focused and aware, the leisurely rythm of the commuter disappears.

I don't know why it needs to be an elephant. It doesn't work the same with tigers or lions or wolfs (I've not tried rhinos... mmmhh).

05 January 2007

A fox cub

I saw a fox cub on my travels. It was about 18.45, a bit foggy, traffic a bit quieter than usual as people go off on their Xmas break. I was going up towards Prestwich on Bury Old Road. I'd just crossed Sheepfoot Lane and had Heaton Park on my right and St Monica's RC High School on my left. Out of Heaton Park, wriggling through some padlocked gates, a fox cub came and stood on the pavement for a couple of seconds, looking left and right as if about to cross the road. It didn't - to my relief, as the road was quiet at that moment, but cars were coming from both directions. It just stood still for another moment, then wriggled back in and trotted off, into the fog and the stillness of the park at night.