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.