Saturday, 15 November 2014

Bigfoot - is it out there? Er no, but here is a man in a monkey suit running around a woodland...

As a lad I watched and read a hell of a lot of paranormal material. The ironic thing about this material is that it parallelled with my interest in science. Around my mid-teens I really wanted to be a scientist, probably a biologist of some sort. Anatomy, microbiology and forensics interested me. Bigfoot stories had much of that, and the thing for me is this - the more an idea is put out there the more it is scrutinised.

The fundamental thing you have to consider about Bigfoot is this: there are many, many sightings, yet nobody has ever captured a live one or presented a true cadaver to scrutiny. Every dead bit of Bigfoot ever "discovered" has either been proven to be a bit of bear or fake.

If it is out there - where are the bones? Where is the focused video or photographic evidence? Where is the DNA evidence? Where are the hair samples, the faeces, the troops and trails as expected with great apes? Are we seriously to believe that after over 50 years and with so many "sightings" that this animal can simply evapourate?

So every time a video appears of an "ape" running around it all reminds me of this:

Friday, 17 October 2014

The Reflective Frame

We're all very used to seeing reflective materials being used on clothing these days. Builders, site operators for the council, white van man (or lady in fact), police, fire service and ambulance people all wear it day in, day out.

Cyclists have also been using it for years. I am specifically talking the reflective material here, not the colour of the fabric. This material usually contains microscopic beads or cubes that internally reflect the light back to the source.

The phenomenon is well known. Companies such as 3M with their Scotchlite are probably the most famous, but even before then people have experimented with the properties. Even Hollywood used the technique:

So with regards cycling one thing I have wondered is why the technology hasn't been used on bike frames? A fair few years ago someone handed out "snap bands" - the sprung steel backed, lightweight ankle reflector we've all become used to seeing. They placed them on the bike frame as a gift from the council and myself (and probably a large number of other people) thought - "now there is an idea!" and promptly left them on the bike for (hopefully) increased visibility.

A few weeks later I decided to make mine more permanent and cut the end off the snap-band to cable tie sections on the bike frame. A couple of other riders I saw also did the same. The only downside was in washing the bike, and sometimes with maintenance you had to remove the reflectives.

This got me wondering.

I know that several companies produce reflective paints and stickers. What is there to stop bicycle manufacturers applying this tech and then layering lacquer over the top to give some permanence? I think this is an opportunity being missed. Imagine a reflective edge around the manufacturer logo. Or rings/line of paint that follow the contour of the frame so that others can see a bike shape more clearly from a small distance?

Obviously this wont force people to look but it does provide an opportunity to experiment with colour, shapes and logos in the medium of light. We already experiment with colour on and off the bike, light is the next step.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

"Why don't bikes come with lights fitted?"

This was a question posed to me yesterday via twitter (from the BBC's Jon Cuthill no less!). To those that don't know bikes this is a perfectly sensible question, to those that know bikes just sit back and think for a second.

We've all become used to buying certain accessories post purchase of the cycle, be they mudguards, lights, reflectors or you name it. A bicycle is pretty modular in its design - something that inspired the design of the motor car due to the ability to fix with ease, replace and improve. Jon suggested to myself and others that cars have lights on purchase, and this is indeed true - but could the answer simply be that this is down to law?

A car is a big device, too. You have something else powering it (an engine) and a place to store batteries. Some bicycles have been designed to house lighting in the frame (famously the Vanmoof brand have run with this for a number of years). Some have utilised dynamo systems (eg Pashley who often power the front light from a dynamo hub). If you incorporate lighting you need a way to power it - storing batteries in/on the frame becomes a slight issue - either you have to change the structural integrity of the frame to store them inside or you have to create a housing compartment to sit on the frame. Frame lighting also doesn't turn with the handlebars so cannot really light the way.

Dynamos can also come with downsides. When you stop pedaling the light can go out - choosing a model with a capacitor that holds charge for a few minutes is important. Dynamo lighting is also limited in range, even in the 21st century as battery handlebar lights have become the desired accessory it has flowered into thousands of brands and models. Dynamo lighting also tends to be quite low down - just above the front wheel. Some might suggest that handlebar lighting is more easily seen in traffic.

Another comment made via twitter yesterday during the conversation (and there ended up being a lot of people involved in the end) was that shops were "not doing enough to promote the options".

This is something I disagree with on experience. I know pretty much every bike shop within a 20 mile radius. Most have good staff who are busy but still happy to advise. If you're unsure you ask and they've always answered reliably. I have been in several bike shops over the years and witnessed customers come in and ask "I'm thinking about cycling, what do I need?" The staff then take them through the options - whats the intended purpose? far will you be travelling? Every shop I've ever been in has always prompted the customer with "do you want lights and a helmet? If you're riding and it gets dark you'll need them."

Its the bicycle equivalent of "do you want fries with that?!"

So why isn't it a legal requirement to sell lights at the point of sale?

I think there are two reasons. One is, at the moment, many people don't ride during winter or after dark. Regular cyclists call these people "fair weather cyclists". This is why you get in influx of riders during summer months (obviously it doesn't have to be that way).

The second reason as pointed out to me yesterday is that customers possibly don't see cycling as utilitarian as they do with driving (again it doesn't have to be that way). Customers perhaps appreciate the ability to accessorise and add options. I know I do. I must have bought close to 40 lights over the past 10 years as I chop and change to suit.

I also know the law ...everyone does deep down ...that riding after dark without lights is illegal. There are sound reasons for this law. We should also note that having lighting in the car doesn't necessarily mean they will be used appropriately (eg fog lights at night, and many drivers with their lights off after dark or a light out are common sights down here).

Monday, 13 October 2014

Could Poundland mean an increase in lit cyclists?

Consider this another review of sorts. I previously had a look at the rear lights sold from such cheap outlets but here I've finally managed to get myself a couple of their front lights.

Unfortunately the first thing I have to say is this: they may only be £1 but they feel incredibly fragile! I bought two and one wont work out of the packet. This is not a good option for those in a rush out of work looking for emergency lighting after realising their own have stopped working or been stolen/damaged.

The one that does work produces a rather bright light from its five LEDs. From the front it wont be missed. Waterproofing is doubtful. There is nothing rubber or overlapping to prevent water from getting in. My advice is if you buy this then get some duct tape and seal it up! Also a pack of 20 AAA batteries only cost me a quid there too, so for £3 you've potentially got hours of lighting.

The modes on offer are steady light, and two flashing modes.

As you can see from the picture of the gubbins this light is tiny. The bracket isn't that great though and you'd be thankful of this low weight, any more and the bracket could break.

I have heard from one or two riders on twitter that said they've suffered from bracket shatter and lost the light as a result. Poundland have been known for selling rubber door wedges in the past. I'd be tempted to throw the bracket and cable tie the light to one of those and cable tie that to the underside of the stem of the bike.

All of this kind of devalues the attraction of it being a quid however, and why go to so much effort? You can easily get cheap lights for not much more with far better brackets and battery life (Planet X are doing several deals now, as are Wiggle).

On the plus side this does make me beg the question - why would anyone ride without any lights at night when lights are now this cheap to manufacture and sell?

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Complaining about something legal and then doing something illegal yourself does not fix what you perceived as a problem

I found the above video online today. It features a cyclist who is clearly out training on a timetrial bike along a dual carriageway. For some reason part of the road is sectioned off, perhaps for repair so a single lane remains. In the description the complaint is made that there is a "perfectly good cycle lane" to his left. To all intents and purposes this looks like a pavement to me and nothing else.

There is nothing to indicate it being a path that can legally be ridden by a rider from the video, or from a cyclists perspective. The driver makes the assumption that the path "route" is both acceptable, known and safe. How does he know? Is it really safe to ride at 30+ mph on what is effectively a pavement where there is every chance of meeting a pedestrian or another rider in such close proximity?

I don't think it is.

I cannot see any safe points of access for the "cycle path" - no drop kerbs. There appear to be several lamp posts in the path. Many junctions to cross (how can you train when you have to keep stopping?). Several bushes and trees that parallel that may potentially shed thorns, seeds and leaves at some point in the year - is it ever swept? Is the surface smooth? Personal experience of such routes suggests this may not be the case - tree routes often break through the thin tarmac causing it to be bumpy and broken, and debris can be left on a path all year around with little interest from councils to remove or repair.

Another issue demonstrated in the video is the lack of regard from drivers. The first driver gets dangerously close as does the video maker later. When exactly did their time become more important than another person's safety?

At 1 minute 36 you can see another rider on the path. You can also see how narrow it is at this point as he's essentially filling it with his own width. This is not space for cycling, this is an attempt by authorities to fob off both riders and drivers and as soon as drivers see that they've been had (they'd surely complain when out on foot and experiencing a rider on such a narrow footway). There is no space for cycling to grow, or for different types of riders to exist. Drivers need to see this just as much as riders and learn to effectively campaign for better as better will improve their experience of the road and lead to less conflict. Even if perceived.

And its not that the rider is "ignorant" as the video maker suggests. Its that he probably knows all the issues far better than the driver and has had to make an informed judgement. In this respect it is the driver that is ignorant.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Reasons why cyclists can become unlit

Not all unlit cyclists are evil bastards. Not all are criminal chavs.... or immigrants... or ethnic minorities... or arrogant.... all of these things have been said about unlit riders but its so easy for a rider to become unlit without realising they have done wrong.

Firstly - those who come to this country don't always appreciate local laws. They may not have the education we have or the understanding of where to find out the relevant info on what local laws actually are. The necessity to travel is often stronger than the realisation of what they're actually doing.

If you come from a minority background (I technically don't) then there may be other factors - you may assume bike lights are expensive. You may not realise how many shops now sell affordable kit. You may not associate yourself with the posh looking middle classes on their carbon racing bikes and expensive looking lighting.

Criminals probably are the only category that could be classed as "arrogant" or even close to "evil bastards" but even then there is no evidence that the way they cycle has any criminal intent. Unless they're trying not to draw attention whilst scouting for things to steal...

I digress.

Even perfectly law abiding riders can find themselves unlit. It did happen to me a couple of times in the past - batteries failed towards the end of the ride, and another time the appalling road surface broke a light fitting and sent it hurtling into the tarmac, shattering it into a Cateye sized jigsaw puzzle. The old style bike lights using bulbs or any sort could suffer a blown bulb (sometimes down to age or road surface causing it to break). There were workarounds I learned to deal with this: I carried spare batteries at the time when I could only afford two lights (one white front, one back); I eventually acquired 2 lights front and 2 on the back and this gave me a greater sense of security. Not only would I have extra light should one fail, it gave me increased visibility to others where I could set one to "steady" and the other flashing.

Flashing lights say "bicycle" to other road users. Flashing lights also say "caution" in the Highway Code.

Bike lights eventually became so cheap that even Poundland started selling them. This means that Police forces around the world (the video above is from New Zealand) can afford to bulk buy so as to hand out to riders and increase their safety factor - not just for their personal safety but to help others like pedestrians see them with plenty of time...

We don't have to denigrate riders as scofflaws. We could actively do something about it. Know a cyclist without lights? I have in the past - I gave them a spare set and some Poundland batteries and you know what - they used them. They still do. I hope that Hampshire Constabulary take this approach (even though they've ignored my attempts to communicate this and the offer of cheap lights in the past).

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Daddy, why is the man angry?

Looking but not seeing. That's what we have going on here. The strange text in the video's description suggests that this is a second party's in-car dashcam recording and not belonging to the account holder. Questions are raised in the comments that remind me of someone I knew who once had their kid ask "Daddy, why is the man angry?"

Daddy, apparently, was too ashamed to admit his mistake and kept quiet, yet Mummy gave the response about how the Father didn't look properly and rushed out of the side road forcing someone to stop (see rule 170). It reminds me of Dave Allen.

The account holder of the video suggests the rider was "obscured by the A pillar of the car". This is clearly a nonsense argument because a move of the head can counter this quite easily. "The rider was quite safe as he swerved in towards the island" was also suggested. Another nonsense argument detracting from what to riders could be quite a severe situation should they have made contact with the back or side of the car.

The rider is angry because he knows the penalty. The driver attempted to apologise at least. The comments then also ask why the rider didn't stop to accept said apology and that it was "rude". As a rider of reasonable distance a year I can understand - this may have been the second, third (or more) incident that you feel puts you in danger. Had the rider not shouted the driver may not have even realised what had happened, so often on the road I will see riders cut up and they meekly ride into the kerb or bump up on to the pavement (and by so often I mean at least once a week).

And lets not forget those videos online of drivers getting out when the rider catches up just to take a swing at them. Keep moving is seen as self-preservation.

Do you really want to accept an apology? Wouldn't it simply be better for it not to have happened in the first place? That will only happen with increased infrastructure and better driver awareness. The risks may technically be low but they can always stand to be lower!