27 June 2008

'Critical' commuting...

Today is the last Friday of the month... it's 'Critical Commute' - cyclists gather at choice locations around the city at 8am, then converge on to a central spot (usually Albert Square - Peace Gardens today as there's a market on in the square) by 8.30.

I turned up fashionably late (not entirely my fault) to find that only one other fellow was there - an old hand, let us say, on these rides. So the two of us cycled into town, to meet a handful of other cyclists. I can't help thinking that the impact of the whole activity is negligible. Even the far more successful 'special' critical commute last 18 June (during Bike Week), which gathered larger numbers and had sponsors with tents offering coffee and free bike tagging and water bottles was, relatively speaking, small beer.

Now, considering how much time others spend promoting cycling and campaigning for it, I do not mind at all joining in these rides and trying to get more visibility. I do it in part to make a minute, microscopic contribution to the cause, but also for networking purposes - to get to know other cyclists, pick up a few tips, let off steam with people who understand you, etc. Today though - save for the chap from Prestwich - all the sociable bods with whom I usually end up chatting seemed to be absent, and the group seemed to be made up of the usual 'core' lot of hardened 'campaign' veterans. I'm sure it is not their intention, but I always feel a bit of an 'us and them' atmosphere when they arrive from Chorlton or other South-Manchester locations.

As for the 'campaigning' claim, I have to wonder. Surely 'campaigning' is about taking a target group of people from awareness to persuasion - and yet much of what I hear (in the GMCC discussion list, in their newsletter, at rides like today's) is hollier-than-thou preaching.

Again, I'm very conscious of the fact I do not devote the time to engaging with the campaign - and so I can hardly fault those who do, if like today I feel excluded from their number!

18 June 2008

3 years later, part II - big tent cycling...

I joined the additional 'Critical Commute' today - additional to the ones held every last Friday of the month that is, and part of the Bike Week celebrations.

I just made it - had to drop the car for MOT and service, so had said I would not make it, but did. It was the largest 'Prestwich' group I'd ever seen - 11 souls in total. We ended up not at Albert Sq, but the Peace Gardens, where we were treated to cycling freebies, free coffee and healthy breakfast, free bike security tagging by the Police and other good stuff.

On the other hand, while this is great as positive re-inforcement for existing cyclists, I wonder if this is the best way to promote cycling among non-cyclists. Drivers and pedestrians will just have seen a bunch of cyclists in unusually large numbers, brightly dressed in the rain, dithering at cross-roads and traffic lights over whether to keep together at all costs (eg by jumping lights) or split the group and then wait for the tail to catch up. The freebies, the gathering, the camaraderie of being with other cyclists will be entirely lost on them.

13 June 2008

3 years later...

Three years ago (14 Jun 05, to be precise) I cycled to work for the first time. As I explained in one of my early postings here, it all started with work offering a cooked breakfast to all cyclists.

There's been ups and there's been downs, but mostly I have enjoyed it thoroughly, and hope to continuing doing so for years to come.

09 June 2008

Manchester congestion charge?

The intentions are good, but the approach is misguided. The road most affected by congestion is the M60 - but this is as much because of traffic trying to get around Manchester as it is due to traffic trying to get into it. The congestion charge as proposed will actually exacerbate this.

Also, like most British cities outside London, Mcr is too 'flat' and scattered to make public transport cost-effective and sustainable. Cities need to be more densely populated: time to give up the gardens!

As for cycling... it surely is part of the solution. Part - not the whole solution. Integrated public transport holds more of the answer - particularly when it is cycle-friendly too.

05 June 2008

The fraternity

You see them catching up with the gossip while waiting at traffic lights. You see them labouring up the street, constantly standing on the pedals. I've even seen them having an espresso on the go, sitting outside Katsouris on a nice summer afternoon, cycling mittens and a cap still on - but no helmet, oh no, absolutely no helmet.

Sadly, I've also seen one of them laying on the road, paramedics tending to him and wheeling the stretcher out of the ambulance, as the habit of jumping red lights finally seemed to have caught up with one of their number.

You've guessed it: bicycle couriers, that's wha'm talkin'ab'ouhp.

They always look so friendly - but hey, only to each other. The rest of us, the bikommuters and hybrid lovers, the lycra-clad performance cyclists, the BMX brigade, belong to the lower rungs of the cycling world. They, in their 3/4 trousers, riding fixed-gear bikes with funny handlebars, live by a code of their own. Let's face it - they don't cycle to work, they work on the cycle! They earn their living out if cycling, and that must surely focus their minds. As one of them says in a forum, the good thing is that you get to ride your bike all day. The bad thing is ... the same thing!

03 June 2008

On my tail

Today, for a couple of miles, I had this chap hot on my heels. Perhaps I should be grateful, as in my keenness to keep good distance my performance was above my average (I'm sure). Why, though, could he not overtake me like everyone else? I gave him plenty of chances, but he didn't take them. He followed me all the way from Cheetham Hill to Prestwich - only when we hit a bit of a slope did he overtake and raced ahead.