30 June 2010

Cop this: ES on the City's bike police

Interesting article about the City of London bike squad the other day in the London Evening Standard.

The City's squad of a dozen-ish includes a pair of female officers (right), as we found out at a Bike Week breakfast at St Paul's last week.

One thing in the article that caught my eye was the pen-sized video recorder the bike police wear clipped to their helmet. It runs records on a continuous loop, so that when they hit 'record' it starts recording everything from there as normal, but with the previous 20 seconds recorded too.

Sounds just the sort of thing we need to back our occasional disputes with buses and taxis. Or with police officers telling us to stop taking pictures and videos of that cycle lane because it might help terrorists plant a dirty bomb.

29 June 2010

Rebooting windows: Grimshaw's bike vision

The plastic came off a new window display at the Clerkenwell Road offices of Grimshaw Architects the other day.

The company is known for its transport projects. Their new shop window reflects that, with an interesting choice of bicycles among the sticky-backed-plastic exemplars of urban transit.

In among the silhouettes of taxis and buggy-pushers are a couple of road bikes, and the inevitable Brompton...

...but what's with this double-height bike?

Grimshaw hosts a London Festival of Architecture event here on 1 July about the future of urban transport, with presentations on the forthcoming Cycle Hire scheme among other bike-related subjects.

So do Grimshaw know something we don't? Is the double-decker bike the face of future commuting? Is being nine foot tall the only way you can see the fragmented course of a Cycle Superhighway ahead of you?

Until 4 July, the Festival also includes lots of bike rides round some of the city's most remarkable buildings. They're fun.

On the rides you'll see a spectrum of people. At one end, confident, metropolitan, helmet-wearing, lycra'n'racing-jersey-clad young professionals in Sky-branded LFA bibs on whizzy road bikes.

At the other, a bare-headed lot in everyday clothes with crow's feet and tans, on getting-about bikes with panniers full of lunch.

Guess which end is the architects, and which end is the Southwark Cyclists helping out with the marshalling.

28 June 2010

Cycling clothes 1953-style

Real cycling means everyday clothes, so I was pleased to see this item on display in the new Galleries of Modern London at the (free) Museum of London the other day.

According to the information panel, 'Irene Field bought this fashionable Alexon tweed suit in 1953 in Woolwich. She wore it on cycling expeditions and for walks'. Presumably along with her hi-viz headscarf.

Inspiration for anyone wanting to do an authentic Tweed Run next year...

27 June 2010

Sarky comments: Comedy Greenwich bike facilities

A fabulously sunny day yesterday to bike along the riverside to Greenwich, and enjoy some of their innovative cycle facilities.

I liked the bit by the Cutty Sark, where the sign for THAMES CYCLE ROUTE is immediately followed by a sign for no cycling.

And I was impressed by the cycle track just before it, on Glaisher St. The council has kindly installed bollards to prevent cars from parking on it.

26 June 2010

Attending Mass: CM reclaims picture postcard London

It was a lovely evening for Critical Mass last night: a balmy June evening, and a spontaneous reclamation of the streets round some picture-postcard bits of London. For a few minutes Waterloo Bridge, Parliament Square, Whitehall, Horseguards Parade and the approach to Buckingham Palace were all ours.

A recent fashion among car drivers waiting for the cycle crocodile to pass is to hold their horns on continuously, to show their support. Perhaps they've been inspired by the World Cup vuvuzelas, and want to recreate that delightful swarm-of-hornets sound.

I peeled off around Buck House. I had a party to attend. Not there, obviously - it was in Vauxhall. And in the time it took me to look up the address on the A to Z - maybe two or three minutes - the entire CM had moved on without trace, and traffic was flowing as freely as ever.

So however annoying it might appear to an impatient cabbie, CM only disrupts the traffic for a very, very short time, once a month, on a few slivers of road.

Which makes it a failure. Or a success. Or something. Whatever it makes it, it proves I was right all along.

25 June 2010

Dear dairy: The last Bike Week breakfast

The last breakfast of Bike Week was this morning at Unpackaged, a lovely little natural-food shop in an old dairy on Amwell Rd, just north of Exmouth Market.

This one was muesli, yoghurt and fruit and stuff, plus a Dr Bike outside doing free bike maintenance.

This was a bit different to the others, because it was an initiative of the shop (indeed of Catherine, in the pic, who's a keen cyclist), plus the Islington Cycle Action Group. Unpackaged, as the name suggests, sells food to you by the gram, out of wooden bins into your own bags or boxes.

I'm more of a curry and burger person myself, so my interest in quinoa or enoki is mainly for Scrabble potential.

24 June 2010

Project, dear boy: Bike-powered cinema in Brixton

There was bike-powered cinema in Brixton last night. The slightly weird French animation Belleville Rendezvous, which involves dystopic racing cyclists forced to work bike generators, was shown in Windrush Square.

And, appropriately, it was powered by cyclists forced to work bike generators. When someone had had enough and stopped pedalling, they had to be replaced by someone else, or the film would stop.

It was a Lambeth Council initiative for Bike Week, and was there to raise awareness of energy use etc.

All good fun; but the only awareness it raised in me was that (a) it started 45 minutes late and (b) a mud-coloured brick wall (on the side of a terrace displaying a historic Bovril advert) isn't the best medium for projecting a film.

You couldn't really see much, to be honest, and the barely audible soundtrack didn't offer any clues. Maybe the cyclists weren't pedalling hard enough.

Still, the audience of perhaps a hundred or so, enjoying the grassy warmth in T-shirts and summer frocks, seemed pretty laid back about it. Must be something in that Brixton air.

23 June 2010

Bearing fruit: Yet more Bike Week Breakfasts

Two more free breakfast experiences today. The first, hitting the ground running at 7am in a hot and sunny London Fields, was that of Hackney Cyclists.

The spread given by the Permeable Borough proved Bike Week's finest: Harvest-Festival sized crates of fresh fruit, bucketloads of real coffee, hillocks of croissants and muffins...

...plus, trumping the other boroughs, a vat of porridge, complete with preserves and bowls of seedy and fruity bits for your garnishing pleasure.

If the Hackney guys raise the bar any further next year, it'll be smoked salmon and chilled Krug.

Across the city at Ossulston Street, just by the British Library, was another breakfast provided by a coalition of Camden Cyclists, Barnet et al (right). The age profile was noticeably older here than Hackney's young-professionals-and-families milieu.

There was more cake'n'coffee / juice'n'jam action here, and a wide range of complimentary cycle items to take away. Reflectors for your wheel to give night-time drivers something to aim at; miracle metallic trouser bands that snap instantly from ruler-straight to snailshell-coil; Camden-branded water bottles to ferry your chilled Krug.

Sounds good: London Festival of Architecture rides

There are plenty of London Festival of Architecture bike rides on at the moment: 20 guided rides round building showpieces and hidden gems, from Wren and Hawksmoor churches to the concrete bagel of Herne Hill Velodrome.

Sky is involved, which means you may be offered a pink bib branded with the Skyride logo, but don't let this style catastrophe put you off.

Here's a short audio clip (1 min 45 sec, MP3, 1.2MB) I've knocked up of last Sunday's LFA ride: Sonic London, led by Resonance FM's Bike Show presenter Jack Thurston.

The ride took us to secret gardens with birdsong; the clanking 'bike xylophone' of Regents Canal towpath; and the church of St Mary le Bow (picture). Its bells were the source of Dick Whittington's rebranding as London mayor, and are the arbiters of whether you can call yourself Cockney - are you listening, Nigel Kennedy?

(The bells were rather shy on our LFA trip, but next day they were being fully tested, to the deserved annoyance of passing city suits bawling into their mobiles, so I've edited a recording of that into the clip of Jack talking in the churchyard.)

Incidentally, Jack's Bike Show site has an MP3 of the edition of 16 Jun, in which Cyclehoop inventor Anthony Lau and I talk about bike security.

22 June 2010

On a roll: More Bike Week Breakfasts to figure out

Bike Week means Cyclist Breakfasts. Today's two were at Narrow St (near Limehouse Basin, a bit east of Tower Bridge, and near where Boris nearly came to grief last year) and Colebrook Row, Islington (next to the gentrified shared-ped-n-cycle sign).

Colebrook Row's (above right), provided by the Islington Cycle Action Group, had the advantage of a site on a bike cut-through by traffic signals, enabling them to hand out apple-cake incentives to waiting riders.

There was a wheelbarrow-fronted bike containing a charming toddler for that Islington touch, and busy Dr Bikes doing complex repairs beyond the scope of some commuters, such as adjusting barrel adjusters and, er, pumping up tyres.

Narrow Street's breakfast, courtesy of the vibrant Tower Hamlets Wheelers, was a grand affair: ham, cheese, real coffee, tea, fruit juice, croissants, muffins, bagels, jams, and that swirly hazelnut / Nutella stuff whose calorie count looks like they've put the helpline number by mistake.

It was right on the CS3, the Superficial Cycleway that runs from Barking to Tower Gateway. (Curiously, the markings for the 'continuous' cycleway are in isolated squares here, not a continuous line. Perhaps you're meant to bunny-hop from one to the other.)

This is a very busy commuter-cycle corridor, with whizzing cyclists far outnumbering cars or taxis.

Owen of THW has been doing a census each breakfast day for the last four years. After a mushrooming in 2009, the figures for west-east (towards Canary Wharf) were up 17% on 2009, with the east-west figures (towards the City) down 9%.

Qualitatively, the rider profile seems to have nudged upmarket, with more expensive road bikes and more gear on display.

Here are those figures in full, courtesy of Owen. You might be able to make a bar chart or Venn Diagram or something out of these. I tried in Excel but just kept getting Canary Wharf in multicoloured Lego.

Cyclists passing the Grapes pub, Narrow St, on Bike Week Breakfast morning 2007–2010



All of which conclusively proves that the cycling boom we keep hearing about is true. Or maybe false. Or not as simple as it's made out, or something. But whatever it proves, it proves I was right all along.

21 June 2010

Short ride on the longest day: Solstice on Primrose Hill

Summer solstice is celebrated by London's cyclists with a night ride to the top of Primrose Hill.

Turnout this morning was a lot smaller than last year (which was a more convenient Saturday night / Sunday morning). Nevertheless, something like fifty to seventy turned up at 4.15am or so to miss the sunrise and then pile through central London for a bleary coffee at the Bankside Leon.

Because missing the sunrise - which is always obscured by (a) clouds and (b) buildings on the horizon, even if you walk down the hill for a better vantage point - is a regular part of the fun.

As is sitting around surveying the cloudy panorama with a damp bottom. Or failing to identify landmark towers on the skyline. Or saying 'well, the BBC weather website said it'd be OK, but weather dot co dot uk said cloudy with drizzle'.

Or making a podcast about it all, which the amiable Lucy was doing for the Guardian bike blog (right).

Or, indeed, being followed and watched for ten minutes by police officers in a slow-moving patrol car - the experience I had as the first solitary arrival on the hill at 4am, a little while ahead of the main bunch.

Ah, the Cycling Solstice is all so British.

Current affairs: Bike phone charger

An amusing PR gimmick at Smithfield Nocturne last Saturday was this bike-powered mobile phone charger, set up by event sponsors HTC. Thoughtfully, there were bikes (way upmarket Scott road bikes, apparently) to fit all riders.

All you had to do was insert your phone in a slot on the handlebar and then pedal like billy-o for an hour and a half, and your battery would then be right back up to full charge.

All a bit of fun, but of course it's meant to make you think. Things such as, why can't I reverse the wires and power my bike with the mobile phone for an hour and a half?*

* rhetorical question

Carluccio minus car: Son of cyclehoop

This is the new thing from cyclehoop inventor Anthony Lau: a car-shaped temporary cycle parking unit, for use at special events.

Three were on display at Smithfield Nocturne last Saturday. They make the point that ten bikes can be secured in the space taken up by one car. We think they're rather good.

And if your car was that shade of pink, you wouldn't want to park it in public anyway.

20 June 2010

Annual meatup: Smithfield Nocturne

Smithfield Nocturne - a summer evening of serious and amusing races on the streets of the meat market, specially closed for the purpose - is one of the highlights of the cycling year. There's lots of stalls and sideshows stuff, well-spectated, and all very sociable.

It ran yesterday afternoon and evening, was enormous fun, and as usual it was cloudy and threatened rain all day. They really should try holding it in summer one year.

I mention it in my column for Cycling Plus magazine this month, observing (in addition to the usual 13 jokes) that although there's plenty of dead serious road racing, the most popular item is the Commuter Race.

Participants, dressed city-style in collar and tie and shorts, start off with a mass run to their folding bikes, stampeding like a Waterloo concourse mob whose platform has just been announced. They then unfold, mount and race a few laps. At last, a race for Real Cyclists.

One of the points I make in my column is that the Tour de France will never make it that big in the UK because we don't go for all that serious stuff. We prefer a touch of pantomime.

Indeed, the biggest cheers were not for the winner, but for the leisurely young woman in a tutu who just waved at everyone, the bloke in drag, and the elegant white-tuxedo chap who came second to last but was clearly the best dressed.

This year, there was a new item. In my column (and my review of last year's Nocturne) I jokily suggested they should introduce more novelty races, including a Real Business Race, where ice-cream vendors sell as they go to spectators.

Well, they did: an ice-cream-bike race. Vendors had not only to do a lap on their cargo bikes, but also sell a specified number of ice creams en route.

Maybe I should sell my services to HTC, sponsors of the event, as a futurologist.

19 June 2010

Seeing red (or blue) over blocked cycle lanes

It's been a while since I put up some pictures of drivers illegally parked in cycle lanes with the number plates adulterated in Photoshop.

Fortunately, in London, such a situation is swiftly rectified: a ten-minute scoot round your local streets and you have some more examples to amuse yourself with.

This car is blocking the contraflow cycle lane into Lansdown Way, near Clapham. Obviously that makes it dangerous for anyone trying to cycle against the oncoming traffic, but it's good to polish your slalom skills in preparation for Cycle Superhighway 7, on the adjoining road.

Further along the CS7 route, on Southwark Bridge Road, is this van. The blue stripe for the Superficial Cycleway 7 will go here, right along this stretch of double-yellow-line no-parking mandatory-cycle-lane. Let's hope the van isn't still parked in it when they bring the tin of paint round, or it won't be a white van much longer.

Amazing how the number plate is yet again appropriate (see also 20, 19, 18, 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1.)

18 June 2010

Testing, testing: Hire bike docking stations installed

The first five docking stations for the London Hire Bike Scheme have been installed, and were being tested this morning by the techies from installation company Serco.

The five stations are all in Southwark, not far from Tate Modern.

West to east, they're on Stamford St, in front of Kings College; the junction of Stamford and Rennie St (top three pics); Southwark St, Bankside; Union St, opposite Ewer St; and Southwark St opposite Borough Market (fourth pic).

The most complete docking station is the Bankside one: some of the others still have fencing round the terminal posts.

The docking posts are all up, shiny and new. The hire terminals themselves won't be turned on to the public until the scheme goes live on 30 July, but we gatecrashed the enthusiastic and friendly Serco party.

We surreptitiously became possibly the first civilians to use the touch-screen technology. Until we were asked, politely, if we wouldn't mind stopping, because, er, it's crashing the system.

Enticingly, the screens suggest that the hire points will operate in a variety of languages - German, Spanish, French and Italian straight off, as well (eventually) as Arabic, Bengali, Mandarin, Hindi, Gujarati, Greek, Polish, Punjabi, Turkish, Tamil, Urdu and Vietnamese.

There have been 506 planning applications for docking stations so far, reports the Planning Blog. Of those, only 404 have so far been approved, with 78 withdrawn or refused.

A YouTube animated video has just gone up explaining how the scheme will work.

So, nip along to north Southwark and get a glimpse of what's to come this summer. We think it's good news in anyone's language.

Free breakfast starts Bike Week... early

Bike Week 2010 officially begins tomorrow. As I discuss in my Real Cycling column this month in Cycling Plus magazine, Bike Week is all about something very important to all cyclists: a free breakfast.

There are at least six on offer this year, the first - rather confusingly - being this morning, before the official start of Bike Week, at a sizeable event at St Paul's.

As well as the gratis morning pitstop itself (muffins, croissants, Starbucks coffee, orange juice, banana) there was other entertainment provided by the City Police.

Officers were on hand to give advice on security (right). They gave amusing demonstrations of how a pair of bolt cutters the size of giraffe legs, along with some circus-trick standing and jumping, could shear through a top-rated D-lock in one go.

Alas, the best advice for security seems to remain the underhand trick of locking your bike up next to a much more expensive one, hoping they'll just nick that one instead.

And there was the now-familiar HGV Experience (right). Here, cyclists are invited to go up in the cab of a lorry while police cyclists (in this case, the City's only two women cycle officers) sneak up on the inside so you can clearly see that they're invisible.

So, if those cyclists go on to become HGV drivers, this will definitely help save lives.

Many of the cyclists participating in the role play (where's the Yorkie? the Sun? the England flags?) had been nicked earlier for some traffic offence - busting red lights, pavement riding etc. They were here this morning on the promise of having their fine rescinded if they attended this training session.

Fortunately, I'd done the in-cab visit before (no, not as a consequence of a cycling offence, just out of interest) and had no desire to do it again, so I didn't have to crash a red signal or terrorise an old lady on the footway in order to get a ticket in order to get it rescinded by clambering up the cockpit.

There was a feelgood item there too, in the shape of a chap writing down on a board what people said in response to the question 'I [heart] cycling because'.

As well as the standard, and perfectly valid, reasons (fast, free, hate tube, exercise, predictable journey time, great views) there were few more inventive ones: 'dog ate my oyster card'; 'I get to shout'; 'so I don't sniff someone's armpit on the tube'; and the intriguing 'can do fun stuff that I can't on a bus'.

Those other upcoming free breakfasts in full...

Tue 22 Jun
7.30am-9.30am Narrow St near Grapes pub (Tower Hamlets Wheelers)
7.30am-9.30am Colebrook Row / City Rd (Islington Cycle Action Group, ICAG)

Wed 23 Jun
7am-9am London Fields (Hackney Cyclists)
8am-10am Ossulston St (Camden Cyclists)

Fri 25 Jun
8am-10am 42 Amwell St, Lloyds Dairy (Unpackaged / ICAG)