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!)