Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Police Crackdown On Cyclists

Police in London are targeting lawbreaking cyclists according to the BBC Inside Out (London) programme broadcast on 22 February 2010 (available here for a few days only).

I have been known to go through a red light or two in my time but only when stuck at one of those traffic activated, induction loop controlled junctions at 06.30hrs, there is no other traffic about and my presence has not triggered the green in my favour. There you go. I admit my guilt. Saying that, while I don't routinely RLJ, with road planning favouring the motorist and cycling infrastructure being somewhat lacking in the UK I understand why some cyclists do. I believe though if you are using the road you should stick to the law as it stands - even if it is an ass. Failure to do so just weakens your position when trying to argue for better provision.

Some of the cyclists shown were riding recklessly  - mounting the pavement at speed and cycling through pedestrians on crossings and so could easily have caused injuries. This programme demonstrated though how easy it is for all cyclists to be tarred with the same brush as others were not disregarding or breaking any code or law. The tone of the article was still anti-cyclist despite this.

I just wonder though how many injuries or fatalities the driver of the blue truck could have caused and why all bad driving and law breaking is not being addressed by the Met'?

Monday, 22 February 2010

A Cycle Commuter Route?

Following my recent entry about National Route 6 I got into conversation with a local cyclist who also has a blog. I made the point the route was an enjoyable ride but could not be considered a suitable commuter route for most cyclists. I think this video demonstrates why most people wanting to commute between Manchester/Salford and Radcliffe/Bury would not choose to use it on a regular basis.

The video was taken on 17 Feb 2010. It had not been raining along the path that day but had done so slightly (for Manchester) the day before. I ended the ride covered in mud and had to remove my chain to adequately clean the transmission.

Other sections are of better quality and while it does offer a reasonably direct, car free route with only a moderate gradient it is a shame this section negates the overall user experience from a commuting stance.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Integrated Transport

Two stories caught my eye today and made me despair slightly.

The local tram network - the Metrolink in Manchester - is reconsidering allowing bicycles to be carried on trams during off peak times. This follows a recent decision to maintain the ban, including folding bikes unless in a case. Local cycling groups made a concerted effort to force a reconsideration. Protesters took ironing boards, amongst other things, on to the trams in order to show how ridiculous the current bike ban is. The non-bike objects are allowed to be carried as the regulations stand. I had no part in the local effort but certainly applaud those who took the time. There is still no reversal of the ban but maybe there is hope.

Contrast this with a posting by David Hembrow from Holland. He describes a bike scheme for users of local rail services - the OV-fiets. Apparently 40% of rail passengers in Holland arrive at the station by bicycle. As so many bikes cannot practically fit on the trains the Dutch have developed a bike hire scheme with a difference which integrates with the rail services, is available at a minimal cost and for a decent hire period. This allows commuters to make the local journey to and from the stations without having to use a car.

What a difference in attitude. Is it possible we will ever be that forward thinking in the UK? I think we might get somewhere near at some point in the future but it will take a major shift to get people out of their cars and that has to mean a major increase in cost. We are just too selfish as a species and so appealing to people to consider the environment just doesn't have the impact to make the difference needed. I'm sure when oil is next pushing towards $200 or $300 a barrel we will see an upsurge in car share schemes, more people cycling and so on. Roll on the day is all I have to say.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

New Rubber

While we had the recent cold snap I changed my tyres back to the original mountain bike knobblies for a bit of extra grip in the snow/slush combo. I immediately noticed how noisy they were on the tarmac and how much I have been enjoying the commute using semi slick Continental City Ride tyres. The only problem I've had with the Continentals was a fair few punctures over the months, particularly if I ventured on country roads or tracks. Despite having them at decent pressures and inspecting them every few rides, bits of glass, slate and even thorns managed to work their way in. When I took them off this time I was shocked at how big some of the holes actually were. I wanted something that gave the on road performance I liked but with added puncture protection. 

A Holy Grail? Perhaps. Before I took the knobblies off I wanted to look around at the options available. I had used tyre liners before and didn't like them. Filling the tube with slime was not an option that appealed as I: a) didn't want the mess and b) don't believe it works long term. Maybe different tyres would be the answer? A bit of in depth Googling led me to the Marathon Plus tyre from Schwalbe. These promise:
Punctures are a memory. The SmartGuard‚ layer made from a flexible, special rubber offers particular resistance to shards of glass and flints. Even a thumbtack cannot penetrate this protective layer. The SmartGuard belt does not increase rolling resistance. The MARATHON PLUS rolls as easily as a tire without protection.
There were some favourable independent reviews as well (at Bike Radar and Wiggle) so I got a pair at 26" x 1.75cm and have been riding them for about 100 miles so far - 70 on road and 30 on tracks/paths. Despite being a little on the heavy side they run nicely without the resistance of the knobblies, have sufficient grip for most of my riding and are quiet. They also have a bright reflective strip which I like for the present night light commute. I was a bit dismayed when I got a flat after just a few rides but was reassured to find it was a failed tube patch and not a new puncture.

All in all very pleased with them. I intend to report punctures against miles I get with them as well as my long term impressions later this year.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Flower Power

Warning: Recycled News Story

I think most cyclists have a healthy hatred of potholes and avoid them whenever possible. I myself have used the Fill That Hole website to report some bad ones with some success. The recent freezing weather has made things a lot worse. I have noticed many more around and according to the CTC many more are being reported at the moment.

One person has found a novel use for them though. Art student Pete Dungey is trying to fill as many as possible with Primroses as a way of raising awareness through art. Good luck to him I say but, please...be careful!

Friday, 5 February 2010

Cycle Commuting

One of the reasons why I love commuting by cycle is well demonstrated in this little clip.

This isn't by any means a big queue at this junction. When the local school finishes, cars (usually with one adult occupant and one child) can wait for 20 mins or so to creep forward and turn. I am 4 miles down the road and locking my bicycle up by then!

And some recent experiences demonstrating what I don't like. In all of these clips I was wearing hi viz reflective gear and had twin front and rear flashers.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

National Route 6

"National Route 6 of the National Cycle Network will connect London and Keswick in Cumbria when complete. The route will pass through Watford, Luton, Milton Keynes, Northampton, Market Harborough, Leicester, Derby, Nottingham, Worksop, Sheffield, Manchester, Blackburn, Preston, Lancaster, Kendal and Windermere." (Sustrans). 
So a major bit of cycling infrastucture then? Don't get me wrong, the bit I have cycled, between Salford and Bury, NW England, is enjoyable for a ride out but is not a patch on the quality of routes available in Holland. Although I doubt it was intended to be, It is certainly not an adequate commuter route. What a shame we cannot invest in routes to get people out of their cars. 

Here are some videos: 

An easy to use bridge

At least this section is better than the one alongside

A bit made with bricks

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

New Bike Ordered

Placed an order and paid a deposit for the new bike last week. Got fed up trying to persuade my employers to sign up for the cycle to work scheme so went ahead without their help (thanks!). As I wasn't using the scheme I chose to order it from Eric in Amsterdam at the Holiday Biker shop. I can get there for only a little more than going to London plus I get advice from someone who really tours on bicycles. He has been a star.

So what did I choose in the end? Well I have gone for Santos Travel Master (26" wheel size) aluminium frame in Gun Metallic with silver lettering. Options chosen are: a black Brooks B17 saddle, Shimano XT components generally including V brakes, a Rohloff Hub Gear and I opted to have a chain rather than a new Carbon Belt Drive (I was tempted by the new belt system but was not persuaded it was worth an extra 500 Euros!!). I am going to make the final choice on pedals and handlebars at the shop but am starting out with standard Santos pedals and a multi position "butterfly" bar paired with Ergon grips.

It should be ready in 5 weeks and the earliest I can collect is April. I'm going to have an overnight stop in Amsterdam, a few hours at the shop and cycling round Amsterdam before packing it in a box for my return flight. Really excited!

Monday, 1 February 2010

Quality Cycling Infrastucture

A section of the A56 heading south into Manchester. Uphill from the lights and two lanes of 30mph+ traffic to contend with.

"Don't know what those cyclists are always going on about. Bloody cycle lanes everywhere for them. Forcing us tax paying drivers into giving way to them". (Mr Irate Driver).

A statement from my imagination but based on real life conversations.

Primary Position

Some more A56 heading into Manchester and crossing over the M60. Very slight downhill and always a busy road. Notice no cycling provision at all on this section of a major commuter artery.

I do enjoy filtering to the front of stopped or slow traffic (it's often backed up from or even before the first box junction). I would prefer segregated cycling lanes along the Dutch model but if you are going to cycle on the road you might as well make full use of it!