Monday, 29 September 2014

If your first response to a cyclist's road safety concern is "but the nasty cyclists run red lights" then you need to read on...

All of us want to get somewhere - in one piece - and relatively no fuss. However today I feel like my life has been put in danger once too often.

Why should I follow all the rules when others seem to be cavalier about them?

Its a serious question because I have seen some atrocious driving lately. Even some terrible parking - Porchester Road in Southampton today was completely blocked, not just by the workmen loading the lorry in the road, but by their many vans sat fully on the pavement. A wheelchair would not have fit through and I saw a number of elderly people clambering through the bushes to get past rather than take a 1 mile detour on foot.

Then there was the flatbed van that shot through a red light when we had the green man to walk across the crossing last Thursday (all of this right in front of a Police car). The Royal Mail lorry driver that cut me up on a corner today, or the Beetle driver who pulled out without looking earlier in the same ride forcing me to swing around his bonnet into the wrong side of the road.

I don't care for law breaking riders, I've said it before. However why is this the default response from so many (individuals, the authorities and companies) when ever we as riders try to raise a safety concern?

If your first response is to moan about pavement riders, high visibility clothing (which research is now disproving any perceived benefit), red light jumping cyclists or the unlit riders perhaps that reflects more on you and your standards than the person with a genuine grievance. I don't want to be speaking out, but how many of these objectors have actually read the revised editions of the Highway Code? Its changed a lot since many people took their test. How many overtake as advised in the official image above? How many wait until a safe opportunity as in rule 167?

My educated guess (from probing those objectors on social media) is not many.

Many in fact seem completely ignorant of the laws regarding cyclists, as well as much of the finer detail pertaining to their own obligations as a driver. The only solution to this is for all you objectors (even drivers in general) to:
A) get out there on bikes and take a Bikeability style of cycle training course - the more non-cyclists who know what its like the safer it can become!
B) brush up on the Highway Code (I always advise riders to do the same, and its FREE to read online)
C) Join us in the fight for 20 mph zones, proper road justice and tried and tested Space4Cycling! Then we can engineer out conflict.

It takes more than my personal efforts to make the roads safer, two to tango you might say, and without everyone's personal involvement, motivation and focus we will continue to see problems persist.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Sometimes you look parked

I've been using the bike for some small errands, not just for commuting to work and to keep active but also a few trips to the shops. As I often say to others - why waste expensive fuel for a couple of small items (today it was a pizza from a supermarket, last week it was to find presents for family members). I'm not going to do a full monthly shopping on a bike, but there is an awful lot I can fit in a 20 litre bike bag!

Today's trip involved two visits to shops. The first was to find out about servicing my bike. A rear spoke keeps popping off - I have had this serviced twice at my local bike shop, but owing to the fact that the two great bike mechanics I once trusted have left, and the new guy doesn't appear to be able to fix the problem (I have wondered if he's simply reattached the old spoke with what little thread was left, owing to some markings I thought I recognised).

I took it down to Rock N Road, sadly the guy was too busy to chat. I've heard he knows a lot about wheels and the fact he's that busy is to be welcomed - its usually a good sign that his handicraft is in high demand. I told the staff I would drop the bike off next week - this gives me time to organise another bike!

After that I rode on down to the supermarket to get some pizza. If its good enough for Jens Voigt its good enough for me! I was slightly amused to find that the cycle stands are so close together that my pedals wouldn't fit through without a wiggle!

I didn't want to use the two furthest to the right as they had locks attached to them. And the one furthest to the left is right by a wall and just as tight (I'm leaning on it to get the photo).

One pizza later and I rode home.

About 8 miles in total. Normal clothes. Those high speeds are down hill. I didn't really push myself - partly because I didn't want to, partly because I've had a hard physical week at work, too.

Also apologies to the driver on St Anne's Road! As I approached the lights I saw traffic waiting. I pulled in fourth in line behind a Range Rover as the car behind appeared parked. It was right up to the kerb and there was a distance of over 6 feet between it and the 4x4. As the lights went green I realised it moved off behind me. The driver was perfectly nice and waited until it was safe to pass further on past 2 more junctions.

Had I realised he was waiting with the rest I'd have simply fallen in line behind them. Nothing to be gained from fighting to the front in this situation. Strava, however, has proven to be a useful tool for me in these situations - I've looked back at the stats and the terrain and felt motivated - even for shopping trips.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Cycling Oddity

I often think of songs and wonder if they could be twisted to represent cycling (or other situations to be fair). There are lyrics in this song that could be the internal voices of both a cyclist and a driver:

"Here am I sitting in a tin can far above the world
Planet Earth is blue and there's nothing I can do"

"Though I'm past one hundred thousand miles, I'm feeling very still"

"And I think my spaceship knows which way to go"

"Tell my wife I love her very much, she knows" (Seriously, don't do this, it's illegal!)

"Ground control to major Tom, your circuits dead, there's something wrong
Can you hear me, major Tom?"

"Can you hear me, major Tom?"

"Can you hear me, major Tom?"

"Can you..."

"Here am I sitting in my tin can far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue and there's nothing I can do"

(All photos embedded using Flickr's Creative Commons licence, click the images to see who made the original great images!)

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Drivers - sometimes their own worst enemy

I filmed this back in April. I'd forgotten about it until this week when I serviced a camera ready for use later this week. On the video card I left a small text file of notes, mostly about the mess from the work going on at the Itchen Bridge, this file reminded me about this video and why I filmed it.

I'd had a day off work and walked towards the city centre. Not a long distance trip by any means, a couple of miles from my road on the outskirts of Sholing to the shop I was intending to visit near the Civic. As I walked down Porchester road I saw two people getting into their cars, the general kerfuffle made me remember their cars - not visible in this video but it turns out I passed them over the top of the bridge and beat them on this small distance.

I later saw both the car occupants exiting in one of the city centre car parks after I'd finished my shopping and heading back. It was the same hurried kerfuffle and stress. The "I don't have time for this" isms and the "hurry, hurry, hurry!"

This is sadly normal traffic in Southampton.

This is mid-afternoon. Not rush hour.

Just think of all that wasted fuel day in day out. The above table is from one of the many Hampshire County Council documents you can view online. Most fuel consumption is in the private domestic motor. The fear of public transport - its reliability, safety and cost - has mean't a huge drop off in bus usage here in recent years. Motoring has taken its place.

There are an estimated 52,000 drivers in Southampton. 11,000 people also take the bus, and nearly 6000 at times cycle. This was all reported in census surveys (top of page 37). 71% of Southampton residents are of working age and will need to travel to work in some capacity (page 39 of these 2012 statistics).What is difficult to work out is how far Sotonians travel to work, if they work in the area and correlate that with the potential which I am sure walking, cycling and public transport can offer.

It doesn't need to be like this.

They can't all be travelling great distance to work - we know that the national stats show a majority are within cycling distance. The average commute to work is 15 km or 9 miles. However out of that 58% are travelling 10 km or less. 9 miles is relatively easy to work up to by bike, but 10 km is 6 miles. I easily travel up to 7 miles each day by bicycle to work, it takes a little planning if people want to avoid the steep climbs (some of us revel in them) and one of my 7 mile routes is virtually flat!

So to conclude. What this does do is pose several specific questions:
- How far do Sotonians live from their work place?
- How many work within Southampton itself?
- For those that do live within cycling and walking distance - what are the reasons they avoid said modes?
- How best can campaigners, Councils and others promote the use of alternative modes? And I include motorcycling and electric bikes in there too - they have their uses, too.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Future of Mobility? Or history repeating?

Oh so many companies have tried in the past to say "this new product is revolutionary!" And this new company seem to be making similar bold statements. So lets break things down...

Electric motors are nothing new. In Britain we all remember the Milk Floats, and we certainly all know about mobility scooters. Electric bicycles (of which I am a fan, as I am of electric cars) have also been around for a very long time. All of these are very well established, with the technology being pretty reliable, efficient and cheap already - it is still being improved upon. So the claim "a unique approach to transportation" is a little disingenuous. Alternatives to cars have been around for hundreds of years in the scope of walking, and over a hundred for mechanically propelled vehicular travel.

Yes. Cities and towns around the world ARE crowded and polluted. However the J3 isn't going to solve that - these people already have the option to motorcycle or bicycle. You have to provide infrastructure to win people over. Also, if we're talking pollution - why not just invest in cycling? Its cheaper to manufacture a bike and less reliant on fossil power to charge (though the solar J3 option does look smart, I do admit).

"Don't you hate having to park your car miles away from your final destination," asks Johan? Is there any guarantee of parking for the J3? Or storage if it folds? It is a redeeming feature that it is small.

He claims that the vehicle is stable. However in the single front wheel design of three-wheelers it has long been known that this approach is less safe than a reverse arrangement. This is why many, many years ago companies like Morgan put two at the front, and one at the back - cornering becomes vastly safer. As anyone who has tipped a Reliant Robin over will confirm.

To many people you also have to remember that the car is seen as the safest personal vehicle to travel with. You are enclosed within a metal box. How exactly he works out that his product is "much safer than a bicycle or a scooter" I have no idea. The J3 is untested on the road or within traffic. It is also faster than a bicycle - so that rules out his idea that kids would be safe to ride them around!

Modular design is great. But overcomplicating it could lead to breakdown. Simplicity is the beauty of two wheels for many on this ground. "Numerous accessories... baby seats.. even a roof.." Well a car has those, you've still not convinced a driver to switch yet. The modular design also means you will have to find somewhere to store those platform shelves, that roof perhaps, or those straps... where-as a car is essentially a box. Less faff.

"So practical for shopping," opines his colleague. Any shopping I could do on that I could certainly get on my bicycle! And fueled from apples rather than electrickery.

A number of claims are made on their Indigogo page. They believe they can sell over 200,000 of these within 5 years around the world. That is some ambition. They include the UK in this, but those of us having seen the uptake of two wheels might be right in being sceptical. The UK has been very slow to adopt alternatives to the car - simply because the car is so easy.

They claim a competitive advantage over other modes. "For most of us public transport is unfriendly, unreliable and unsafe.." Rail safety in the UK dwarves that of driving. On-road public transport, too, is very safe (Table 4, page 9  Reported Road Accident Statistics - Standard Note: SN/SG/2198 - Author: Matthew Keep & Tom Rutherford - Social and General Statistics Section).

Average speed in urban areas: Bus or coach up to 7mph? A car doing just a little over... this is down to congestion, true, but how do they substantiate their own vehicle being able to cruise at up to three times that speed? Its wider than a bike and will be constrained by the same density of traffic.

At 3000 Euros to buy I'm not sure it presents any distinct advantage over what already exists. I wish them well but I cannot see this being any different to other company ideas previously put forward.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Cycle jerseys I would like to see

A couple of my jerseys are now getting a little old so this week I began looking online for replacements. I could buy something similar... I tend to like the printed stuff with retro teams or cartoon characters on - the latter always brings a smile to peoples' faces where a work friend this week chuckled uncontrollably on sight of Dennis the Menace... I could buy something plain and utilitarian - two plain jerseys from the well known Wiggle shop would set me back about £25 in total for example.

This all got me thinking. There is a wealth of great stuff that I reckon would look great as a cycling jersey design. Watching a program about Court Sheriffs collecting money owed to the Button Moon creator on the same day made me realise how iconic a lot of kids telly was back in the 1970s and 1980s.

Button Moon in my opinion would look great. Many of the characters are still recognisable and loved by those now grown up. It represents the wonder of travel - specifically space but many of those who watched now enjoying the wonder of cycling.

How about the iconic "DM" and red belt on a white jersey ala Danger Mouse? How cool would that be?

Thinking further of the classic rock albums I listen to: Black Sabbath had a number of logos that would have looked great across a cycling top. Many of us already walk around wearing Metallica, Sabbath or Maiden t-shirts, so why not for cycling? A natural progression.

The crunch of autumnal leaves under your tyres as you whizz about could be a parallel to the crunch of a fine rock riff. Both fill you with adrenaline, get your heart pumping. Album cover design shares some similarities in cycle jersey design. Both have to be eye catching and memorable with both being remembered fondly down the ages...

Classic TV shows could translate well. IMDB lists a hell of a lot of classic 80s TV from my childhood, some of it forgotten for good reason it has to be said, but imagine a Knight Rider top, or riding around with Fraggles on your back! Alf flew into our world in a UFO, he could adorn your chest as you sweat it up that hill.

I'm not so sure Murder She Wrote or Perfect Strangers would translate though. Anyone remember Voltron? That could work.

A work colleague once said that "cyclists think they're superheroes wearing all that lycra!" I was amused to see that some companies have actually run with this. Superman t-shirts have been around for a long time, so it was no surprise to see this in cycling specific clothing. (Note I don't know this company, buy at your own risk) Batman and co are obviously copyrighted by DC and co, so reading this should explain why this hasn't been done so far.

Lastly even some old, long gone companies have been loved enough to be candidates for the chest of the average MAMIL or MALIL (see what I did there) DeLorean, the RCA dog. Wimpy may not be gone but it would be ironic to see them on a sporty top I have to admit.

What I feel like I need now is a cycle jersey generator or template so I can play around in CorelDraw with it all.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Strava and playing dodgems with parents

I'm not exactly the silent assassin, puffing and panting away plus the 15 stone of me in garish colours... yet some idiot decided to push a pram out on me today. So close to making someone childless why would someone even consider not looking left and right first?

I said "that's a bit reckless" and he just shrugged his shoulders.He should at the very least have been thankful of my awareness and braking skills because he didn't even flinch. I wonder is his other half would be quite so blase with their child?

I set up a Strava account a little while back, mostly just out of curiosity. I'm not a racer, though I often ride racing or CX bikes. I'm not really training, or trying to win KOMs. But I was curious how I compared to others. Often when I ride I pass other riders - male and female. I'm getting older now, and slowly the big FOUR O is closing in, yet I consistently pass other riders during the commute.

However it quickly became clear to me that on Strava I'm quite slow. I just don't do enough miles, or enough hills. Part of this is down to the physicality of my job. By the time I leave work I'm drenched in sweat. Knackered.According to Strava I'm ranked 347th in Southampton.

I had to laugh.

A quick trawl through the various routes I like to use also flags up problems I can see with other riders. For example those setting personal records or PBs on Southampton Common. The Common is shared with dogs, people, kids - it is not a road. Even getting King of the Mountains there isn't really on as the hills are not that steep and still, in reality, its just a pathway.

Having said that I have ridden slightly faster on the Common, but never for personal gain or reputation. And I'm always mindful of others. I wont do road speeds there.

Chessel Avenue is an interesting segment KOM on there, too. The fastest I've ever ridden (and that was on a really light bike with great wheels when I was 25 so over 10 years ago) the climb there was an average of 13mph. Its a real struggle, it is that steep! I read on a cycling website that some Strava users are "motor pacing" or even riding on mopeds slowly uphill to get these KOMs. A kind of digital EPO has emerged.

Another is the Itchen Bridge where one side is a normal segment, yet the other has for some unknown reason been flagged as "hazardous". I know this road well and can say in honesty that risk is limited there. The cycle lane is narrow - true, the junction at the city centre end has some serious questions to be answered still - true: but the road itself presents no more risk than any other road shared with traffic.