30 June 2009

Tips to survive the cycling heat

It's merciless all this week in London, with temperatures well over 30 Celsius. And beware: a bicycle saddle can apparently reach 60 if left in the sun. Which is clearly twice as hot as 30.

So here's your Top Ten Tips on coping with the heat while cycling round the capital:

• When buying ice-lolly to eat while cycling along, choose safe, reflective flavour such as strawberry or lemon

• Stay cool emotionally by not shouting at car drivers whose air-conditioners will drown you out – concentrate on the open-tops

• Warmed-up fizzy drinks will spray a sticky mess everywhere if opened before they've settled – useful against pedestrians who cross on red

• Develop a taste for neat whisky to avoid transporting ice

• Car drivers stuck in jams get even more bad-tempered, so take games, quizzes etc to cheer them up

• Stick to medical guidelines of at least eight glasses of alcohol per day, and no more than three units of water

• Sunburn can be bad enough to warrant a day off work, so plan carefully

• Avoid showing embarrassing underarm wet patches by not giving hand signals

• Clear the queue for the shower on arrival at work by wearing sombrero, coughing

• Wait three days till it gets cold and windy again

29 June 2009

Parking: How to get your own way

I'm not normally a violent person. But on Saturday I was just the width of Michael Jackson's nose away from punching an unarmed middle-class, 40-something woman in the face.

Or even more savage, smiling and telling her 'I bet you used to be quite good looking when you were a lot younger, didn't you?'.

It was at a local consultation over a proposed scheme to make a few streets round our way nicer by putting in pocket-park areas outside schools: social, green areas with trees and benches.

But guess what? Yes, locals came into complain that the scheme would lose a handful of onstreet car parking spaces so, by definition, it must make the area 'worse'. This in a place that is two minutes' walk from the Elephant and Castle transport hub, with buses everywhere, two tube lines and a mainline train station.

To sum up this woman's argument:
1. But I need my car, you see.
2. How dare you tell me car parking space is limited? You can't just go round telling people what to do, you know.
3. The problem is parents driving their kids to school and taking up our car parking spaces. Somebody should tell them to stop.
4. But I need my car, you see.
5. You don't have a car, so stay out of this.
6. The trouble with you cyclists is you're all the same - you all generalise.
7. The other problem is these new blocks which bring more residents. They should have to sign a commitment not to have a car.
8. I need my car, you see. It's the other car drivers who are the problem.

I realised wearily that there was little point pursuing the matter. I shrugged my shoulders and accepted that, however inconsistent, selfish and deranged her views were, they were probably indicative of many residents. That's how democracy works.

Then I fished out her comment slips from the box and made a few minor redactions so that her submissions now read 'I     want to see parking spaces taken away' and 'You must not listen to car owners'. That's how democracy should work.

(NB For the benefit of dozy Guardian-bike-blog readers, I didn't really do that. It's what we cycle journalists call 'a joke'.)

All this came after Friday's publishing of a GLA report into London's 'cycle parking crisis'. It comes up with 11 recommendations on how to identify parking needs and fulfill them.

Some interesting figures from the 40-page PDF:
1. If the fanciful target of doubling today's figure to 1 million bike trips per day by 2025 is to happen, we'll need 100,000 extra cycle parking spaces. Only 50,000, at most, is budgeted for.
2. Around 70,000 bikes are stolen every year in London.
3. 70 per cent of cyclists rate London's bike parking as poor.
4. Charing Cross station has 0 bike parking spaces.
5. Bike parking in new buildings should be provided for 30% of staff in offices, 130% in residential.

Compared to that irritating, what-about-me, stampy-foot woman in the consultation, the report is well supported with facts, thorough, objective, and comes to sensible, workable conclusions.

Now, which do we think will get their own way?

28 June 2009

Picnic basket whipped up by student

Bike picnics are just great, and thanks to London's pitted and potholed roads, that cream in your pannier will be nicely whipped by the time you arrive. (I'm not joking: it works - try it.)

So at Camberwell College School of Arts's student show last Friday, which like so many student shows nowadays has at least one bike-related project, we were pleased to see this rear-rack wicker box (right) that opens out into a picnic table (below).

Perhaps the next task for Eva, its designer, is to modify the standard bottle cage so it can hold, and keep chilled, say a nice bottle of crisp, peachy Albariño.

Not Cava though. We've tried that, and it doesn't react to vibrations as felicitously as cream.

27 June 2009

Berth of civilisation: How to book Caledonian Sleepers cheap

Scotland's west coast is a fabulous place for a cycle holiday, and the best way of getting there with your bike from London or the south-east is by sleeper train (as devotees of the utterly brilliant train site www.seat61.com will know). (Picture from Rodents Rule's Flickr site.)

Scotrail sells a limited number of 'bargain berths' on its Caledonian Sleeper - tickets between London and say Inverness, Glasgow or Edinburgh for £19 one-way (compared to the usual £69–£85) – and yesterday I managed to snaffle a couple.

To book yourself a cheap ticket:
1. Go to Scotrail's site on the Friday morning 11 weeks before you want to travel. The cheap tickets are available for Monday to Friday of the 12th week after that. Their 'Buy train tickets' page shows the dates you can book for.
2. The Bargain Berths will probably be available some time mid-morning. You'll just have to keep refreshing the 'Buy train tickets' page until the new purchase period shows. Recent experience suggests this will happen about 11.15am.
3. The £19 berths almost all disappear immediately - literally within seconds - so be prepared to be flexible on dates! Tuesday nights seem to be your best hope for a cheap ticket.
4. There are also £29, £39 and £49 tickets available. You'll find these still available hours or even days after that first Friday rush. You can book more than one ticket at a time.
5. If you want to spend a week there, you'll probably have to do all the above on successive Fridays.
6. To book a place for your bike, you call 08457 55 00 33. An efficient but bored woman in Bombay, who sounds dubious that there is such a place as Crianlarich, will fix it for you.

Good luck.

26 June 2009

Racking up a bike-parking record

Wow: nine bikes swarming round two Sheffield racks. Is this a record? It was spotted yesterday in Austin Friars, a hidden lane in the deepest parts of the City. And they say there's no demand for extra bike parking there...

25 June 2009

Call the police! Oh - it is the police

This handy bike cut-through is in Museum St, just in front of the British Museum. I cycle this way every morning. I'm sure the police car briefly blocking it yesterday had a perfectly good reason. Perhaps they were buying a Daily Mail, or catching Austrian tourists who were photographing bus shelters.

24 June 2009

Bad language at Kings Cross

I biked up to Kings Cross station yesterday morning. As I had plenty of time to spare, I followed the bike-route signs, to see where I would actually end up after inevitably missing a sign and getting lost off Judd St. It's always fun doing this, and sure enough I came past this cut-through I'd not seen before.

I was impressed with the driver's commitment to obstructing the cycle lane: not just the main part, but also leaving their door open to block off the elephant's-ear to the right.

Yes, I did get the train. Off topic I know, but does anyone know why the on-board wi-fi on National Express East Coast trains defaults to Swedish Google? Even blogger's dashboard shows up in the language of Abba. As the great Benny, Björn and Stig wrote, 'Waterloo - så har man funnit sin överman. Waterloo - mäktig och väldig och stark är han'. Whatever that means.

23 June 2009

Getting a handle on modern art

Picasso famously combined a bike saddle and some handlebars to make a humorous 'sculpture' of the head of a bull.

Pah! Southwark can top that. This is the door handle at Pedal It!, a real bike shop near Elephant and Castle, where we went for a quick repair this morning.

Pioneering cubism is all very well, but I bet Pablo was rubbish at fixing brakes. He'd have put both blocks on the same side of the wheel, for starters.

22 June 2009

Street pianos' unchained melody

We're rather taken with these street pianos, which have been installed round various places in central London for three weeks. Though their utility as bike parking is limited, they're open for anyone to play and aim to encourage singalongs and community spirit. They come supplied with songbooks chosen for the location: the one in front of the Bank of England, for instance, includes Money, Money, Money, We're in the money and so on.

But I'm wondering about bike-related songs. Itchycoo Bike Park? V-brake Hotel? China in your handlebars? Pothole lotta lovin'? Worse suggestions welcome...

21 June 2009

Sod Stonehenge: For a proper solstice, bike to Regents Park

At Stonehenge this morning the solstice was celebrated in the time-honoured English way: by 36,000 people jamming roads. The place to get away from all the crowds was, in fact, Primrose Hill in London.

The annual midsummer gathering of a cosy 500 or so cyclists took place there this morning, somewhere from 4am-ish to about 5.30am-ish (all pictures). As parties go this was fairly low-key - F minor, say - with no music, thank goodness, a few discreet bottles of beer and other relaxants, and a lot of chat.

(Added 23 Jun: The agreed attendance figure by Southwark Cyclists/Tower Hamlets Wheelers is now 350 at the solstice and 70 at the cafe, by the way!)

Some arrived en masse in borough groups, Greenwich having set off at the heroically early time of 2am. No, actually, it wasn't that heroic; most had just gone there straight from the pub. I'd ploughed my own furrow through central London some time around 3.30am.

London at that time is an odd patchwork of sodium-lit stasis and boisterous commotion. Silent Westminster Bridge had only a couple of street cleaners, and the ink-black Thames reflected impressionist daubs of colour. Leicester Square on the other hand was a chaotic, noisy mass of those pesky pedicabs, taxis, night buses, and crowds of bleary-eyed young drunks stumbling into the road.

Once the sun was up, it got bizarrely darker and chillier. Thirty or so of us headed south for coffee at Leon's, behind Tate Modern, which had opened specially. The peloton clanked like a goods train across an empty Millennium Bridge. Of course there's really no cycling there; usually you can't anyway because it's full of tourists.

So it was nice to start the summer proper with some benign, spontaneous illegality. Surely that's what solstice celebrations should be about.

20 June 2009

Art for art's sake; any excuse for free wine

Yesterday had an artistic angle to it. Our now-customary free wine and food came courtesy of a visit the end-of-year student show at the City and Guilds of London Art School, in posh Cleaver Square. The quality on offer was absolutely sensational. The art wasn't bad either, especially the world-class stonemasonry.

We felt quite at home in the bohemian atmosphere. I was tempted to talk in a loud voice about how [name of 20th century artist] was completely underrated / overrated and had clearly influenced this year's crop of graduates for the better / the worse / sexual favours. Our favourite was the apple strudel draped with molten brie (food, not an installation).

So it was fitting that, on the way home through Brook St, we found a roadworks clearly arranged by someone with an artist's eye. It honestly would have worked rather well in the show. I enjoyed the use of colour and materials, and its exporation of shape and form.

But it really it needed something else to establish it as a proper artwork. An Artist's Statement explaining how its creator has always been fascinated by the semiotics of traffic signs and sees roadworks as a metaphor for society, perhaps. And a local restaurateur carrying round trays of Sauvignon Blanc and rondels of goat's cheese.

19 June 2009

Carbon copy: More free bike week eating

Another Bike Week day, another barrage of free meals. Breakfast in Soho Square (right) was courtesy of new organisation BikeShed.

How things change. When I was at school, 'bike shed' suggested a lunchbreak sett for louche teenagers mouth-painting with cigarettes, swopping urban myths, and trying to get off with each other. Now it implies showers with jungle-fruit gel, skinny-latte cafes, and vibrant young professionals swopping urban myths and trying to get off with each other.

In the evening there was a well-patronised cyclists' barbecue in Ruskin Park, between Camberwell and Brixton (other pics). It supplied free food and bike checks, both much in demand, to posses of Southwark and Lambeth cyclists, and lots of locals. I enjoyed my complimentary burger smug in the knowledge that by cycling up the road from my house I almost compensated for the CO2 produced by shipping it from Argentina.

(There was some US-based research published in New Scientist a few months ago that said a beefburger had the carbon footprint of driving a 4x4 ten miles, or some such statoid. However, built into that carbon footprint calculation was the assumption that somebody had driven a 4x4 ten miles to the supermarket to buy it, so I'd take that with a pinch of salt. Except that desalination plants have a massive carbon footprint.)

It was a very sociable evening. Energetic kids pedalled a bike-powered loudspeaker, which proved just how much effort is needed to run even the simplest three-chord pop song. Someone did BMX tricks in the tennis court, which may be a clue why we never win Wimbledon. And we all chatted and swopped a few urban myths... and then cycled home.

18 June 2009

Breakfast, the most important freebie of the day

There's no such thing as a free lunch, but Bike Week offers plenty of free breakfasts, usually provided by volunteers from borough groups.

Yesterday, for instance, Camden Cyclists thoughtfully provided gratis fruit juice, muffins, croissants and maps right on my route to work, just by the British Library (pics).

I arrived just as real cyclist and newsreader Jon Snow was leaving, so I suddenly felt the urge to do a brief weather forecast.

I'm off to another free breakfast this morning, in Soho Square, this time courtesy of the cycle parking outfit Bike Shed. Their site lists their sponsors, and I think sponsorship is a good way of expanding these Bike Week breakfasts.

For example, Ealing could involve some of the fantastic Indian restaurants there to fire you up with a morning curry. Southwark could send you on your way with exotic fruit from the fantastic Oli Food Centre grocery: fig, guava, honey mango, custard apple, kaki, jujube.

Best of all, Lambeth could get the excellent Portuguese cafe Madeira on board, to dispatch cyclists to work with a breakfast fillet of swordfish and refreshing pint of Super Bock.

I like the idea of that one. The prospect of creating web pages detailing our holdings on the history of Liechtenstein would be that bit more bearable.

17 June 2009

Private view, public shambles: William St bike lane

Sunny summer evenings roaming London on a bike are bliss. What's all this rubbish about it being expensive? Cultivate a few artistic acquaintances with ambitions to stage an exhibition, and thanks to London's thriving industry in Private Views, you'll never pay for a glass of wine or Dorito again.

We were at just such a vernissage last night (I only learnt that word the other day, so I have to use it all the time now). It was ¡Cuba libre!, a vibrant exhibition of photos from the country, in the flag-festooned embassy quarter of Belgrave Square. Several photos in the display include bikes, including my favourite pic: this rallying-cry with a picture of Che.

Of course, Ernesto himself was more of a motorbike man, but I'm sure when he did get in the saddle he was all for the ideals of real cycling. As were the attendees: Belgrave Square's upmarket railings were bristling with bikes.

And en route, going down William St off posh Knightsbridge, was more free entertainment: another of those strange criss-crossing bike lanes that some London boroughs like so much. (Google Street View shows it nicely.)

Evidently northbound bikes, going with the one-way traffic, are expected to swoop across to the right-hand side. Here they rub shoulders, panniers and pedals with the southbound bikes, who are squeezed into a vertical limbo dance between the door-opening zone of parked cars on their left and the oncoming traffic - and cyclists - immediately on their right. It looks harmless in theory (top) but in practice (bottom) you'll be ready for a couple of defibrillating daiquiris at your Private View afterwards.

16 June 2009

Bermondsey Sq: London's coolest bike shed?

Southwark Cyclists ran a bike film night yesterday at Shortwave in Bermondsey Square. Shortwave is, like many upmarket refreshment booths in professional London, a steel'n'glass bar that sells premium foreign lagers requiring a twenty quid note and extended ASCII set. But it also has a cinema, cosily and conveniently set behind the main bar.

The films were entertaining, but more interesting is Bermondsey Square itself. The new development, a few hundred yards south of Tower Bridge, is a pleasant, social, humanised space, because they've kept bikes firmly in mind and cars out.

There's loads of bike parking, which has a high throughput of cyclists coming in and out to use the supermarket, hang out in the outdoor tables of the wine bars and restaurants, or have a snack on the benches amid the Euclidean solids adorning the groundspace. It's rather curious: half picnic, half 1978 Open University broadcast.

Bermondsey Square also has perhaps London's most upmarket bike shed (above right), which looks like some German architect's eco-Wendy-house.

Inside (right) are those sliding double-decker bike rack things they've just installed at Euston Station. The shed is for residents because there's no car parking, but we got special access for the night.

In contrast, just up the road is another similar square that feels utterly soulless and empty. No bike parking, and no bikes - unless you count the blank-faced people on stationary exercise bikes in the glass-walled gym, like shop-window automata.

15 June 2009

I'm Marie Antoinette. I don't do lycra.

Commenting on my post last Saturday, Caroline points out that adventurous attire need not stop you cycling.

"For exotic costume on bikes you need look no further than the annual Tower Hamlets Glamour Ride", she says. (Pic right, nicked from Bob Aitchison's shots from last year.) "See http://www.glamour-ride.org. If Wonder Woman and Marie Antoinette can cycle then what is stopping wizards, pirates and vampires? You've just got time to get that costume together - this year's ride is Friday 19 June."

An intriguing invite I'm happy to publicise. I can't guarantee I'll turn up in the long black wig and tights I was wearing on Friday and Saturday, though. (It was for an opera. Honest.)

I shouldn't be surprised at Marie Antoinette. Cake and cycling are never far apart.

But Wonder Woman? According to her Wikipedia page she can fly, and taking bikes on any kind of flight is fraught with difficulty as we know: deflating tyres, turning handlebars sideways etc. Among her other powers is the ability to "vibrate into another dimension", so evidently she's been cycling across the lunar road surface of Waterloo Bridge.

And of course, we know that Superman rides a bike.

So perhaps a vital component of any kid's dressing-up box should be a puncture repair outfit and multitool. See you on Friday. I won't be the one in the tights and long black wig though.

The fire brigade are coming... by bike

Police bikes, and cycling paramedics, are familiar sights in central London. They can provide invaluable fast response in areas where motor vehicles would be hampered by congestion or narrow access, such as Soho or Oxford St. But a cycling fire brigade?

Yesterday, on the Lee Navigation towpath just north of Three Mills (where they film Big Brother) we met our first fire officers out patrolling on bikes. And - before I'm tempted off into a Robb Wilton-style comic monologue or a Trumptonesque fantasy - no, they don't actually cycle out to tackle blazes. They roam around looking for potential fire hazards such as abandoned gas canisters or piles of tyres, and in some London boroughs they've cut casual arson by nearly half.

These cycling fire officers are based in Shoreditch but their patch covers Holborn to the Isle of Dogs, and they spend a couple of days a week in the saddle and the rest of the time on more conventional extinguish and rescue stuff.

The site ukemergency.co.uk has a lot of pictures of various emergency service cyclists, including ones for fire, police and ambulance. Sadly, there don't appear to be bike sections to the Coastguard, Cave Rescue, Nuclear Response, or the intriguing Royal Logistics, services.

The cycling fire officers also do community work by bike, promoting the use of smoke alarms (which they give out free; one officer told us they'll even send a fire engine to your house and fit them for you, which would be a fantasy come true for certain single female friends of ours).

We have a couple of smoke alarms in our house, but it took me a couple of months to realise what they were; I'd assumed they were some sort of dinner bell. Just as well we cycle out to eat so often.

14 June 2009

Elephant by-pass: News from the slow lane

The Elephant and Castle cycle bypass was described recently in the Mayor's Answers as being 'complete'. Evidently they'd missed the word 'bollocks' off the end.

But it has something to offer the cyclist. It's so tortuous and badly signed that progress around it is slow and unintuitive. It's therefore quite an adventure: you find yourself lost, in new parts of the neighbourhood you never knew existed. Some of them are evidently twinned with Prypiat, and you can't get out of there quick enough.

But others are a pleasant surprise. Yesterday, for instance, we were testing the Hampton-Court solution to the bypass: can you get round by following one side of the maze? And during one stopoff to consult the GPS, we spotted the London South Bank University's student show, which had two interesting bike-related projects from postgrad engineers on display.

The 'Ecocourier', by Liam Johnstone (right), is a heavy-duty carrier bike with a sideways-tilting frame that is said to make it zippy and manoeuvrable round even the narrowest and most jagged spaces, in contrast to the tanker-like machines you see delivering sandwiches. Those square, sturdy bakfietser they use in the Netherlands are fine on their native cycle lanes the width of a tennis court, but they'd be useless on the corsetry squeezes and fly-half side-steps of, say, a London Cycle Superhighway.

And for sheer cool, we loved Andrea Mighali's all-terrain wheeled skates (right), a sort of bicycle minus frame, saddle and handlebars. They have handheld cable brakes which don't just let you stop, they also (by locking the wheels) enable you to step up stairs, if you have to escape Daleks for example.

Of course, only a tiny percentage of student projects end up going into production, and only a fraction of those will succeed commercially. But it's interesting that bike-related projects seem to be so popular and so strongly encouraged at the moment; the above weren't the only ones.

In trying to grope our way back to the bypass, we also stumbled on a solar-powered (model) car demonstration, where we were given a yo-yo each as a token of esteem. For the Elephant and Castle bike by-pass it seemed somehow appropriate.

13 June 2009

No Ordinary house

We were amused by these decorations on a terrace house in Great Pulteney St, in central London.

A local told us the building used to be a bike shop. When it was turned into residential, the new owners kept the adornments to the former shopfront.

Given the sort of things usually sold in shops in Soho, it could have been a lot worse.

12 June 2009

Naked truth about Ronaldo and nude rides

If this pic is anything to go by, £80m footballer Cristiano Ronaldo is a real cyclist: no helmet, no lycra, no cleats, in fact not very much at all. But he wouldn't be suited to road cycling, as he'd keep diving, or claiming that someone had elbowed him in the face. Mind, if he's ever in the same room as Sir Alex again, he might be right.

The URL of the page from which this image was shamelessly nicked - no, it wasn't me who snapped him and that isn't the Walworth Road - ends 'cristiano-ronaldo-naked-picture.html', which is a trifle ambitious. But it does remind me that the World Naked Bike Ride is taking place in the UK this weekend, with London's display of painted torsos and topologically transformed genitalia starting from Wellington Arch tomorrow at 3pm.

Now, when I went a year or two ago, the WNBR made me feel a bit queasy. There's something unsettling about the proximity of all that exposed Knackwurst to so much whirring machinery. As is the kneading effect of a bicycle saddle and the pedalling motion of inner thighs on the male form. Put Michelangelo's David on a bike, and see what effect that has on his perfect artistic balance. And some of the spectators had clearly come to appreciate the spectacle in the same way that Jacqui Smith's husband appreciates film.

So *shudder* I don't think I'll be there. In any case, while I'm all for celebration of the quirky, amusing and offbeat, I do worry that the WNBR propagates the idea that cycling is for naive weirdos who are to be patronised with a TV-report smile for a day, and then scorned at for the rest of the year from inside a Ford Focus at the lights.

And I doubt Cristiano will be there. After all, he'll be earning £250,000 a week. Where would he put it?

11 June 2009

Striking observations

I wasn't in work yesterday, so today was the first time I've cycled in during a Tube Strike.

What a difference! I was impressed with the amount of resourceful people who had got out their rusting old machine from the garage and used it to get to work. Because, yes indeed, car use was certainly up. Many of them seemed to be weaving around a little uncertainly - perhaps they hadn't driven a car for a while.

Not that they could weave that much, as central London's roads were clogged fast. It was like watching someone trying to feed plants with a watering can full of treacle. I don't know how you measure congestion, but a good indicator might be the number of drivers saying 'Tch! Look at all this traffic! This is ridiculous' at any one time.

I tried to take a picture of the jams, but I couldn't because there were too many cars in the way.

There were definitely more people on foot this morning too. Honestly, these so-called pedestrians make my blood boil. They don't signal, they wander out in front of you, and they keep getting in your way. And they don't pay pavement tax. They don't even have insurance - what if one of them crashed into a car, say, and damaged it? And of course they're all the same, with their jogging pants and running shoes and handheld iPods. These smug, greener-than-thou 'pedestrians' should be licensed, taxed and insured so we can track down offenders.

And as for my cycle journey in... it's usually only 30 minutes, but with all the extra traffic and everything this morning, it must have taken me a good half an hour.

10 June 2009

Bike the strike? Maybe I'll just stay in bed

Ignore the Tube strikers or hate them, you certainly can't like them. Still, I guess it must be tough scraping by on barely twice what I earn, and doing a job that requires you to stay awake for much of the working day. If your view of the strikers is not entirely positive, you might be amused by a very sweary, and very funny, anti-strike spoof of the Jam's 'Going Underground' on YouTube.

In fact, not all Underground lines were out this morning: the Northern Line was running a limited service, which meant the guys handing out those pesky free newspapers were at least still in a job.

But there could be a bonus to the strike as another incentive for the potential cyclist to start biking to work. Various cycling groups were offering guided rides this morning into the centre of town. One, en route from Brixton to the City, passed virtually by our front door at 8.30am (below right), which was at least a reminder to get up.

No doubt there'll be some irritatingly twee news items today featuring a wide-eyed reporter trying out a bike, as well as the inevitable cliches ('London's cyclists say on yer bike to the tube strike', etc). And I'm sure there will indeed be a small, but positive, lasting increase in the number of people cycling to work as a result.

But let's not underestimate the sly opportunism of London's commuters. We asked a couple of regular local cyclists what effects they'd seen on cycling levels this morning. Er, um, actually, seems to be a bit less than usual, they said. Perhaps some of us are using the strike as an excuse to 'work from home', and catch up on all that iPlayer backlog...

09 June 2009

Clutter chaos by Cleaver Sq

Is this London's most cluttered piece of pavement? This area of street-furniture jungle is a little south of the river in Kennington, just a moat's-length away from the upmarket MPs' enclave of Cleaver Square.

In a triangular patch barely big enough to build a duck house there are:
12 iron bollards
3 metal posts holding road signs
1 set of traffic lights
1 set of pedestrian lights
1 post for a pedestrian push-button unit
1 post with a 'no cycling' sign
1 keep right bollard
1 No Entry sign
1 flower tub
1 ugly historic pillar thing
1 set of railings (presumably listed) guarding a locked disused lavatory

So dense is this metal thicket that it's awkward if not impossible to wheel a pushchair round. Never mind a bike transporting a trouser press or plasma screen TV back to your second home. In parts of the ferrous undergrowth it's said there still survive a few BNP supporters who don't know the war is over.

It's a shame this area of real estate isn't being used. An obstacle course for training guide dogs? Residential home for stylite monks?

Google street view gives you a good look round this chromium coppice. Google's project is good because it allows people from all round the world to see things in the street they've never seen before. People such as local councillors.

08 June 2009

No lights? It's OK at Smithfield Nocturne

Saturday night was Smithfield Nocturne, an annual set of evening cycle races of varying degrees of seriousness round the meat market area (which is, of course, closed to traffic).

(There are some nice pics at Booksnake's Flickr site.)

Most serious, and therefore least interesting, was the 50-minute proper cycle race.

The good thing about it was that you could nip into one of the many pubs lining the route - some of them offering special cyclist discounts on beer, a notion that deserves to be popularised.

So long as you spent an integral multiple of a lap time in the pub, you came out feeling that no time had passed, because everything looked exactly the same as the instant you went in. This is the nearest I get to understanding the time-dilation consequences of Relativity.

Less serious, and therefore more entertaining, was the Commuter Cycle Race. Racers - mostly men, but a few women too - wear suits and ties and shorts. They start the race by running a few yards to their bikes, which they have to unfold and then ride five laps.

It's a fun event, but there is so much potential here to extend its commercial and media appeal by bringing in a few more fun, two-lap events, to celebrate Real Cycling. For example...

Real Cycling race. The winner is the one adjudged to be carrying the most absurd luggage - ironing board, snooker table, full paddling pool, etc - and who actually manages to finish two laps.

Real Touring race. The winner is the one who in the course of two laps visits most pubs, restaurants and cafes en route. Points system for consumed wine, coffee, cake etc. (Time limit possibly needed.)

Real Business race. Any pedalled commercial vehicle: sandwich bikes, ice-cream vendors, beer wagons. The winner is the one who makes most sales to spectators.

Real Cycle Taxi race. The winner is the one who manages to take the longest alternative route to the course circuit and fabricate the most untrue history about locations en route.

Real Commuting race. The track is blocked by taxis, cars and buses, which you have to weave in between. The winner is the first one to blog about it.

07 June 2009

Cheers! A large capacity bike

I'm spending a lot of my time at the moment cycling down to south London for rehearsals. This often involves taking a lot of gear: costumes, scores, props and other necessary items. After some research I decided this bike would be ideal. As well as opera companies, it might suit others with large requirements, such as sports teams, partners reluctantly pressured into doing DIY, and so on.

06 June 2009

...like a chameleon needs a bicycle

Along London's South Bank, between the Eye and Waterloo Bridge, is a line of street entertainers who dress as wizards, paint themselves gold, and pretend to be a statue. It's a mysteriously lucrative activity.

But my eye was taken by the latest addition to the spray-paint statuary today. It's a chameleon on a bike. Kids were queueing up to fleece their dad for small change to put in the can, upon which the chameleon - and its connected mechanical offspring - pedalled furiously for a few seconds.

But I hope he doesn't cycle home like this. I'm sorry, your honour, I never saw him. He just seemed to blend into the background.

Given the recent legal attitudes to cycle-vehicle accidents, I can't see him getting full damages.

05 June 2009


Too busy hurtling round London between work, rehearsals, pubs etc to think up any more bad jokes. Or even to rail about last Tuesday's incident in Peckham, yet another female cyclist crushed under a left-turning lorry.

So here's an agreeable picture that surfaced after a recent Southwark Cyclists ride. (Don't know who took it; let me know if you do.)

04 June 2009

Your vote counts. Just not very much

As they say, if you don't vote, then don't complain. I expect I'll be complaining a lot between now and the General Election. Whenever that is.

03 June 2009

Fair weather cycling

My friends at the puncture repair outfit factory tell me three things. One, bike sales are either (a) up or (b) down since the recession started, depending on who you talk to. Two, sales of repair and maintenance gear are slightly, but definitely, up over the same period. Three, they sell more puncture repair kits in good weather, and are keeping an eye on the mid-range forecast in case they need to call in reinforcements from the town's casual labour pool.

Is the sunny weather bringing out more cyclists in London? It feels that way, with the additions less likely to be wearing helmets or reflective tops, and more likely to pedalling in jeans or skirts. Yesterday evening I was particularly pleased to see, in the space of 20 minutes en route home through central London, three of those cycle-wheelbarrow jobs each containing one or two kids, piloted by smiley bare-headed adults in sunglasses evidently out for a jaunt. I was too intent on my appointment at the No. 1 Off Licence in Kennington to research Kronenbourg's quality control to take any photos.

And this morning, a quick straw poll at the north end of Waterloo Bridge (right; it's not Beijing, but then, where is?) over a few pulses of traffic lights suggested that, around 9am, cyclists outnumber private cars by at least 50 per cent. If the promised drizzle comes tomorrow I'll do another count to see how many fair-weather cyclists get the bus instead.

(Added 23 Jun: The Grauniad's new bike blog links to this post saying it's a complaint about "unsuitably attired" cyclists. Uh? No it isn't - it's exactly the opposite, a celebration of normal people cycling in normal clothes. What this blog is all about, in fact. Note to Graun hacks: try reading the full post, or at least the title of the blog, before inserting a knee-jerk link to the result of a Google search. Thanks guys.)

02 June 2009

Rivals not a patch on the puncture repair kings

It was mainly work that took me back to Hull over the weekend. I was doing an article on a factory in north Lincolnshire that makes puncture repair outfits.

Yes, yes, I know, I'm just boasting about my glamorous lifestyle. The smell of the rubber solution, the roar of the fork-lift.

You've never heard of the company, but they supply Halfords, Decathlon and everyone, and the puncture repair outfit in your bag almost certainly came from this very production line (right).

This lass from Barton-on-Humber was the last person to touch your yellow crayon, tube of glue and sticky patch before you did.

Of course I got to the factory by bike, a glorious five-mile hop over the water via the Humber Bridge on a fabulous day. The sky was flawless cobalt, the wooded slopes a rainforest green, the river its usual colour of diarrhoea. I was inspired enough to make a quick video (right) of the return crossing, the journey back across the great divide into The North.

It wasn't just much more pleasant than going by car. Much more important, I also saved over a fiver on tolls, as bikes go free. You can tell which side of the Humber I come from.

01 June 2009


At the north end of Waterloo Bridge, bikes can go straight on across Strand onto Wellington Street on this handy bike cut-thr... doh!