29 November 2010

It was a freezing Friday morning

Last Friday was the last 'bike Friday' of 2010.  Forgive the accumulation of 'Fridays' - this used to be called 'Critical Commute' and is supposed to be a demonstration of the effectiveness of cycling for practical purposes (the younger generation, I believe, stage on the same day their 'Critical Mass', a demonstration of the ability of young people to be self-conscious on two wheels too).

Let's face it, for a city the size of Manchester, Bike Friday is a fairly low key affair.  I used to be a regular, and numbers for the North Manchester lot (departing from Prestwich) hovered between 3 and 11 - with 5, I would say, being the more likely number.  Since I stopped working in the city centre (or anywhere else for the matter - for the time being) I had stopped joining this event, so I thought I'd come along this time, for old times' sake, because with it being so cold we are all feeling in the Xmas mood, and to support some sort of petition to the GMPTE which seemed to make this ride special - something to do with bikes being allowed on trams (tricky, I'd say - but visionary:  while trams may only carry 5% of public transport traffic at present, in 50 years I'm sure the network will have expanded enough to compete with buses).

Well, a good time was had by all.  I saw some friendly familiar faces and met some people I had wanted to meet but so far hadn't managed to, photos were taken in front of GMPTE's rather secluded offices opposite Piccadilly station, and - taking advantage of my current freedom - I even joined in the post-ride coffee in Piccadilly Gardens.  OK, waiting 15' or so for the photographer and the tame GMPTE notable to arrive (he confessed, his tram was delayed!) it was bloody freezing, and while I had a couple of fleeces to put on, I didn't want to spoil the yellow & reflective look of the group.  Then at the cafe (well, Pret-a-Mongrel, neither fish nor fowl when it comes to defining it) staff refused to close the door, quoting some company or building policy (never mind their customers turning blue) - still, it was warmer than outside, in the same way the fridge is warmer than the freezer. 

Will this 'campaigning' achieve anything?  It might - just to have a senior GMTPE official on board is a positive thing.  The trouble for me is, the people cycling needs 'on side' are Joe & Josephine Public, the people who give us dirty looks when they overtake us, having been delayed by 0.1 second because we had to negotiate a delivery van parked on a double yellow line going up a slope.  Congregating 40-odd cyclists in a public but almost invisible place one frosty November morning is unlikely to achieve this.

20 November 2010

European style city cycling, attempt 1

I had an event to go to yesterday - something at Salford University.  Options were to fight the traffic and probable shortage of parking spaces, take the tram to Victoria then walk a mile, or do what would take me door to door most easily: to cycle.

I settled for the latter.  I thought I'd try to be more European - do away with the lycra and wear civy clothes, so as to arrive ready for the event.

The experiment was a qualified success.  I settled for a hybrid combination of casual cords, cycling shoes and tops, with a fleece to put on top on arrival so as not to get cold.  Mostly it worked fine, and I achieved the overall goal.  I found however that to cycle so slowly that I would not break a sweat was just not practical, so I picked up the pace and sweat I did, profusely.  Despite refreshing myself on arrival in the university gents, once in the meeting room I realised the idea of wearing a fleece was not good, at least at first, since I was still overheated and needed to cool down.

After the meeting and some lunch kindly provided by the friend through whom I heard of the event, I cycled to Prestwich on another errand.  My friend suggested I followed NCN Route 6 instead of going on the road.  I did try, but gave up after a couple of miles.  It wasn't that it was so lonely as such, but the errand was important, time was tight and, should I had had, say, a flat tyre, I would have needed a plan B, eg. access to public transport (leaving the bike behind).  On the isolated bike trail I would have had no such alternative.  And although in theory the path follows the river so getting lost should be impossible, in practice it crosses the rivers and briefly detours in and out of estates, and there I found the limited signposting the route required to be incomplete or confusing.

Will I try again?  Sure, yes.  But you will not see me cycling to a job interview wearing a suit.

20 October 2010

Winter's back

Today, at least, felt like winter - though the official start of that season is not until the 20-something of December.    Out on my bike it felt really cold - the summer mitts gave way to fleece gloves, the layers got added and I wore a buff round my neck.

In a last attempt to resist the change of seasons I stuck to shorts this time - it was manageable, although my legs were rash-red by the time I got home.  And despite the woollen socks my toes were pretty numb by then.

At least it was very dry and sunny.  I hope I can keep my resolve when the truly wet and dark days of early January make staying at home or going to the gym a tempting possibility.

08 October 2010

The river glideth at his own sweet will

papaOct10 117
Originally uploaded by cocosolis
I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday. We both have been to London in the last two weeks. We both have noticed the new Londo n... sorry: Barclay's cycle hire scheme. They are everywhere. They look great. My friend was there during the tube strike - so the bikes were flying off the racks, so to speak.

We both also noted that many users of this scheme don't seem, well, that at home with cycling in a busy city.  Or maybe the city is not at home with them - the latter, I think, is the underlaying problem, and it applies to the whole of the UK, but nowhere more so than in London, where cycling has exploded thanks to congestion charging and the fact that it is probably the country's most compact city (ie. people actually live in it, and do so in high density).

This isn't just a "cyclists vs. rest of the city" problem.  The mistrust and misunderstanding between different groups of road users is total - pedestrians, motorists and cyclists all have grievances against the other groups and against the state.  Just try crossing the road from Euston station on foot - it takes ages, mainly because the traffic system is designed to keep motorists going.  But motorists will then complain that pedestrians jump the lights anyway.  And cyclists... well, they'll complain about that too, when a driver isn't cutting them off, or they are not cycling counterflow - a neat idea which some people back, but while it remains illegal can be inconvenient - ask a pedestrian who nearly got run over because he or she wasn't looking that way, since it was a one way street!).

So, my message to Boris is this: cycle hire schemes are great, but you have to do better than that.  And where London goes, the rest of the UK may follow.

02 September 2010

This house notes...

Cool and normal, baby
My RSS feed from the Hansard has just brought to my attention an early day motion that notes "with dismay" that, when refurbishing Birmingham New Street, they have only catered for a handful of bikes, while in Amsterdam they do it for thousands.

I have no idea of what an "early day motion" is, but I suspect it means "a weeny-teeny idea that may never go anywhere".  

On another front, the Guardian yesterday quotes as-yet-unpublished research (by the Univ. of the West of England) that says that people, on the whole, like cyclists.  Or at least, don't mind them.  The actual headline goes "Cyclists! The public thinks you're cool and normal".   Yes, just like labradoodles, but not as hairy.  I reckon the research must have been limited in its goals or hypothesis.  The real issue is one of value.  To put it bluntly, the interesting research question would be how much of a scarce resource (eg. road space) are people prepared to share with those who cycle.  This lies at the heart of both behaviour (what motorists are prepared to do when they see a cyclist) and policy choices (what politicians believe the public to want or to be willing to tolerate regarding cycling).

18 August 2010

What is a cyclist, Part III

Originally uploaded by cocosolis
CTC publish a summary of research by market intelligence company MINTEL - there seems to be no punchy headline, as the situation is a bit mixed and there is no real change.  OK, for MINTEL customers - those who sell us the bikes - small percentage shifts in bikes bought and kinds preferred will be important, as will the data that enable them to 'segment' the market (by age, gender, supermarket of choice - seems to be Waitrose, though I for one have never been there!).

The overall picture, however, is that cycling in the UK remains marginal, a sideshow, and that - Meester Hembrow, brace yourself - "39% of all adults think “It is too dangerous to ride a bicycle on the road”, rising to almost 50% among those with a household income of under £25,000".

It is also interesting (to me, anyway) that the "main motivation for cycling, or being interested in cycling, is fitness (41%)".  Great for those trading in lycra, but it pigeon-holes cycling into 'leisure' and leisure is something politicians can always pay lip service to without much harm - do up the local playground, photo; organise a marathon, photo; put  some green paint next to the kerb, photo - of a cycle lane, no less.  You know the kind - the one that runs 200yds then says "cyclists dismount".

30 July 2010

Skyride 2010

Jul09b 016
Originally uploaded by cocosolis
This morning I lined up the 'fleet' to inspect and prep up for this Sunday's 2010 Manchester Skyride - it is 'go' for us as all units were serviceable, save some topping up of tyres and adjusting of saddles. Which sadly shows we should cycle more as a family.

The reason we don't - and why we like Skyride so much - is that, while I'm confident riding in the Manchester traffic alone, I'm not when it comes to taking kids on the street. I've stopped feeling guilty about it. Even in the quiet-ish streets away from the main roads around us, there is always a speeding eejit, perhaps lighting up a fag or texting - why not?.

And while I'm an 'all weather' cyclist, my family are not. Yes, in the Netherlands everyone cycles in all weathers and I admire them for it. But meanwhile, back in Blighty, I have only this family and I have to live with them. So, Skyride here we go - I hope that the fun of that one day helps us instill the joy of cycling until the time when it becomes self-sustaining. Or perhaps I should do more.

What is a cyclist, again

And now, robber cyclists!  Yes - not content with being reckless yobs who terrorise motorists and pedestrians alike, cyclists, says the BBC, are into committing armed robberies too.  Whatever next.

I'm sure I don't as often see the label 'motorist' to robberies in which the getaway vehicle is a car (which, I reckon, are the majority).  Or I've yet to see the headline "pedestrian snatches bag and runs away" in cases where that, one could say, is exactly what happened.

I'm not sure what my point is, except that the media, even the oh-so-impartial BBC, seem to have a liking for the label 'cyclist' as a catch-all to be used in conjunction with all sort of negative things.  It wouldn't matter if we were not living in an age in which policy makers have the attention span of a fruit fly (and in some cases less intelligence - eg in the Lords where cycling debates have sometimes descended into outright farce).

05 July 2010

Shortened run

This time I cut my new favourite ride short by turning left at Whittle Lane.  Nothing wrong with this, although I expected the time saving to be greater than the mere 10' it did save me.

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28 June 2010

Extended run

Originally uploaded by
Last Friday I set off planning to do my usual Whitefield - Heaton Park - Birch - Pilsworth - Whitefield run (about 12m in 1h10'). It was such a ludicrously sunny day that I decided to extend the ride, going from Birch to Heywood and from there, I hoped. to Scout Moor and its wind turbines - a run I had done two years before in preparation for my first C2C.

Of course, I took a wrong turn, which led me further East, to Queen's Park Road and on to Norden, where I joined the A680 to Scout Moor. I then went back down the road I had intended to follow up: Ashworth Rd, by the Ashworth Moor reservoir.

It all took 2h30' - haven't counted the miles but I reckon I did a good 20-odd. Total delight.

03 June 2010

Baby is back

My baby is back, but I am now counting the cost.  After a week in a box, following our tour of the Low Countries, I have re-assembled my humble but cherished Tourismo24 bike.

Now for the butcher's bill.  A spoke is gone in the rear wheel - maybe it happened in transit, but I did wonder at various points whether I could feel a little wobble.  The left-hand rubber grip on the handle-bar is ripped - I had to cut it so as to pack the bike, in a bit of a hurry, at Schipol airport.  Brakes need tightening, and the gear indexing is all over the place.

So, as soon as I can, it is back to the shop in Prestwich.  Get my pride and joy mended and start cycling again.

29 May 2010

What is a 'cyclist'?

"Woman dies as bus avoids cyclist in Manchester".  This is the BBC's damning headline today.  The police are looking for this 'cyclist', we hear - and therefore, in the eye of the community at large, any of us could be the monster who appears to have caused this tragedy.

But of course, look at the image the BBC has released and what you see is not a 'cyclist' - not if by this we mean a person who takes cycling seriously as a sport, a mode of transport or a passtime.  This is a youngster in a BMX - the kind who you often see jump pedestrain traffic lights, ride dangerously on pavements,  or indeed harass other cyclists, as it happened to me a couple of years back. 

Of course, I know nothing about this particular 'cyclist' - apart from his photo and the fact that GMP are looking for him.  He may be inocent, a scapegoat.  I don't know, and shouldn't assume that riding a BMX makes him automatically guilty.  My point is more about how loaded the term 'cyclist' can be, and whether perhaps the BBC and the media in general should mind these nuances, lest they stoke negative attitudes towards us, the cyclists.

27 May 2010

In the Low Countries

Originally uploaded by cocosolis
First of all, apologies to the couple in this picture. Neither of them is me, I'm afraid: I'm the one behind the camera, taking a subreptitious shot as I shared this stretch of the road, just out of Norwijk.

But I say road: I mean cycle path. One of thousands of wonderful, dedicated cycle paths, veritable highways for pedal powered vehicles (and a few scooters, but more on this later).

I won't bore you with the details: suffice to say my two friends and I had a wonderful time cycling from Bruges to Amsterdam in three days. This was our itinerary:

21 May: travel to start line - Manchester, Schipol, Antwerp, Bruges
22 May: Bruges - Goereedere (70miles)
23 May: Goereedere - Norwijk (60miles)
24 May: Norwijk - Amsterdam (30miles)
25 May: tourism in Amsterdam, fly back to Manchester

The accommodation was good in all cases, with similar prices:
Bruges: Botaniek hotel
Goedereede: De Gouden Leeuw
Norwijk and Amsterdam: Stayok (Dutch youth hostels)

We were very lucky with the weather, which may have influenced my perception of the experience of cycling in Belgium and the Netherlands, but I really felt this was cycling's paradise on earth. For those who follow David Henbrow's informative blog, you'll understand if I say I feared I'd be disappointed - but I was not. The cycling infrastructure is genuinely superb, and the cycling culture is really widespread. What the initial spark was for this revolution, nobody seems able to say. But I was bowled over by the sight of cycling by old and young, male and female, with or without dogs, bbqs, babies, etc. 

I saw people cycling to work, to a party, cycling for pleasure or for sport.  I saw 'normal' bikes, recumbent bikes, trikes, 'bakfiets', tandems and even one (only one) Sinner 'mango'.  We, the 'brits' could be easily recognised, not so much because of our helmets, which many a racing cyclist did wear, but because of our 'hybrid' status - riding hybrid bikes, hybrid clothing and a speed that was faster than your normal commuter but slower than the colourful lycra-clad racing lot. 

I also saw a couple of crashes, or their aftermath - in the more congested cycle roads arounds towns - and I can say that in Amsterdam cycling is no fun - it's just like driving a car in a big, busy city, such is the high proportion of cycling in relation to cars.  I reckon that's a price worth paying for living in a country where people 'get' cycling and just get on with it.  Only in Sheveningen (the Dutch Blackpool?) did I feel cycling was a bit like in the UK - in conflict with car traffic and with carefree pedestrians along a busy waterfront.

Now my bike awaits to be re-assembled after being packed for the return flight.  I will then hit the British roads and relish the challenge - but in my mind there will always be the thought that there is somewhere where things are different, where cycling is not a 2nd class use of the highway.

13 April 2010

A new era

This is my first post in nearly two months, and what two months they have been. In a nutshell, I took voluntary redundancy from where I used to work. So, for now at least, I will not be 'cycling and working in Manchester'. Cycling yes, but working... not exactly.

This season as a gentleman of leisure was officially inaugurated today when I took to the bike and rode round Heaton Park, to Heywood Old Rd, Birch, Hareshill Rd, Pilsworth and back home. It's a pleasant ride, aprx. 12miles, with ups and downs and few traffic lights after Heaton Park. One has to brave the heavy vehicle traffic at the end of Hareshill Rd, site of an industrial estate between Heywood and Pilsworth.

This route has plenty of potential as it can be extended - eg. continue to Heywood and from there to Bury, or from Heywood on to Scout Moor and Edenfield. I've plans to do a big circular ride encompassing all of the above and then on to Ramsbottom, Holcombe Brook, Affetside etc etc.

16 February 2010

New shoes

When I started cycling I was against what I saw as 'cyclist paraphernalia' - I thought I would stick to cycling in 'normal' clothes as I did when I was a kid, and dismissing cycling clothing as show-off and unnecessary.

So, it takes a big man to eat humble pie and admit not all cycling gear is unnecessary, and that there's truth in the maxim about there being no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing.

So, like in all Western films where battle-hardened 'indians' seem to dress in a mixture of their own stuff and items taken from the enemies they've scalped, I have gradually acquired bits of kit which I've mixed in an unorthodox way. First I got 'normal'-looking cycling trousers (the baggy ones, which could pass for cargoes on a dark night). Then I replaced these with tighter lycra trousers - first big inhibition down. The I got the lycra tops, short and long sleeved so I could 'layer' in winter. And a micro-fleece for the really cold days. Then the Altura high-viz cycling jacket (what took me so long?).

And yesterday, as my multipurpose walking shoes' soles have grown as thin as rice paper, I acquired my first pair of proper cycling shoes. Normal-looking, you understand - and absolutely no intention of ever using anything other than 'normal' pedals (with half-toe clips, ok). Never...

15 January 2010

Black Ice

I must really make this the last posting about the snow and ice season of the last four weeks. The good news is, I made it to work on my bike today. It took me twice as long though - I had to walk the first 1/2 mile, treading carefully as the pavements were treacherous - but the roads were absolutely impossible. A thin layer of ice covered them, and combined with the rain it made them into the most slippery surface I've come across yet.

Only when I got to the main road (A56) was I able to start cycling - what a delight! After so many weeks, it felt fantastic to be, to use the cliche, back on the saddle. But traffic was very heavy at first, and only the main part of the tarmac was clear - stray to the side and you'd be back on ice, so until we reached Prestwich I had to crawl with the traffic. Only as I approached Cheetham Hill did it become possible to cycle properly and warm up.

I am hoping a lot of the stuff will have melted by the time I go back home, and that the heavy rain and over-zero temperatures forecast for today and tomorrow will clear it all up so that next week I can resume normal service, get back into my cycling routine, begin looking ahead to some good rides this year.
PS: I made it back in one piece - again, main roads fine but there was still ice on the side streets, though not quite as much or as bad as in the morning. I followed the car tracks, nice and slow, especially when approaching junctions.

06 January 2010

Ice and snow

Just a quicky - I've already mention in reply to a comment that, this week, I have not cycled. It's not the snow, it's the ice - and is not the whole journey, only the 'last' mile, the side streets where I live and which don't see a gritter unless the snow fails to melt in a week: an event so rare, I've only seen it once in ten years, last week!

The Guardian offers advice on snow cycling - cheerful and positive tips. It all sounds sensible so I'm doing the lazy blogger thing of agreeing with them and providing a link. They don't like ice either - I've tried falling on it while on my bike, and it's not nice. The trouble in the UK is that ice does not get cleared quickly enough - from neither pavements nor roads. And it never will be, unless snow becomes a regular feature of winter - which in most of the country, it won't.