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.