31 July 2009

Taking the cross out of Kings Cross

Cycle parking provision at London stations generally is poor. Charing Cross, like Fenchurch St and Cannon St, has none at all. Even Network Rail's PR dept can't put a positive spin on zero.

St Pancras International has a measly 60, which were only installed at the last minute in response to a Camden Cyclists bike demo scheduled for their opening day celebration.

More cycle parking is coming, slowly, in to London's stations. For example, the fairground-ride racks recently installed at Euston. Well, according to the recent 2009 report on cycle parking, Stand and Deliver (PDF), anyway. And up in Waltham Forest, Freewheeler can report some exciting improvements to station parking there.

According to that report, there are 418 bike spaces at Kings Cross. Which means there must be 418 people who get up at 5am every morning to come and occupy them, because whatever time you arrive they're always full. If you're rushing for a train that can clearly be inconvenient, especially if you had to book yourself on a specific service six months in advance to be able to afford it.

But here's a tip. There are some racks recently installed on the traffic island outside the front of Kings Cross at the head of Argyle St (picture). It's very convenient for the station. There always seems to be space there. They're not under cover, so the day you use them it'll cascade with rain, but you can't have everything.

The odd thing about these island racks is that there's no marked pedestrian access. The only way of getting to or from them, without dashing through busy traffic, is by bike. Which defeats the point somehow.

30 July 2009

Are you sure the satnav's right, Oates?

Satnav mishaps were in the news again the other day, thanks to the BBC website's story about a Swedish couple who misprogrammed their satnav for the beautiful island of Capri and instead ended up in an industrial town called Carpi.

I like such stories (particularly the Mirror's Top Ten Satnav Disasters) because they make me feel good to be a map-using cyclist. Not that I'm smug. Oh no. I'm just pleased because I'm clearly superior to them.

Anyway, I like maps, and my panniers are full of them: an A to Z, a few London Cycling Maps, a Google map printout of a pub or two, and a few sketchmaps of road layouts where taxis or buses have cut me up. Who needs satnav? If I get stuck I can always stop and ask a passer-by. Usually though, when they see this scruffy and haggard man approaching them saying 'excuse me', said passer-by hurriedly gives me fifty pee and retreats.

In March I did a couple of posts on strange things on maps, including the only place-name in Britain with a capital X in it, the emptiest square in Britain, and two adjacent villages with the same name: Quirky Stuff on Maps 1 and 2. Something to read after the satnav has taken you to the edge of a cliff and you're waiting to be rescued.

29 July 2009

London to Cambridgeshire and back in two pints

One of the great pleasures of London cycling is exploring those quirky places which, for reasons lost in the peasouper of time, have something of the bizarre or paradoxical about them. Savoy Court, for example, where you have to cycle on the right, Continent-style; mystery streets with no buildings; cycle lanes that disappear under parked cars.

Last night we explored another psychogeography curio: a little bit of Cambridgeshire in the heart of London. I'm fascinated by enclaves - Gibraltar, that bit of Russia round Kaliningrad, the Old Soke of Peterborough.

And Ely Place (top right), parallel to Hatton Garden off Holborn, is just such an enclave, technically part of the Diocese of Ely.

Down Ely Court, a narrow alley connecting Ely Place with Hatton Garden, is the Mitre Inn (bottom right), which until the 1970s had its licence issued from Cambridge, and even today is listed in my drinking partner's Cambridgeshire Good Beer Guide.

So, of course, the evening was lubricated by witty aper├žus about this administrative anomaly.

There was no cycle parking in Hatton Garden by the alley to the pub (right), so we had to go all the way to Cambridgeshire, to the stands in Ely Place.

We only needed one lock there, this being the provinces.

The high level of cycling, typical of Cambridge, was noticeable.

On a fine day they say you can see London from here.

The Mitre had some excellent beers, but I was disappointed to see London ales instead of local brews such as Milton.

Still, the conversation had that Cantabrigian cultural touch.

You get the idea.

The Mitre dates back to 1547 and is a fabulous little place, oak-panelled, quaint, and full of legal types in suits enjoying a quick pint en route home. It's really worth the journey out of London.

And the pub is Brompton country. I saw two discreetly folded up and stowed inside, one of them owned by an affable chap who turned out to be a judge. If I ever do act on any of my taxi-revenge fantasies, I hope I come up before him - he clearly understands. Luckily, though, my trip had relaxed me; must be that countryside air.

28 July 2009

BBC presenter in park-cycling outrage

BBC presenter Jeremy Vine, PA reported yesterday, was ticked off by a policewoman for cycling in "a London park" while out on a family picnic.

Hmm. But which park? Perhaps PA aren't aware that London has several. The big central ones only allow bikes on restricted parts of their pathway systems, but they're still a biking delight. Hyde (pictures), Green and St James's Park have well-marked bike paths that let you cycle almost continuously from Notting Hill or the Albert Hall past Buckingham Palace to the Houses of Parliament and Trafalgar Square. And maybe, just maybe, things are moving our way: Regents Park, which notoriously banned bikes completely until recently, is currently undergoing a trial to allow bikes to use part of it.

So hooray for Southwark, which allows cycling in all its parks, so long as you do so responsibly. Mr Vine can trundle round Ruskin or Southwark or Burgess or Dulwich or any of the other borough parks with his family, free from jobsworth molestation. Or hazily-reported news stories.

27 July 2009

Getting the hump on the Camel

I was doing the Camel Trail over the weekend. The scenic Cornish railtrail follows the Camel Estuary and ends up majestically in Padstow, England's fish-restaurant capital. (As in, 'expensive, with a capital F'.) It's said to be England's most popular family-cycling route, with half a million users a year.

Saturday was sunny and warm all day and the trail was packed. It was good to see so many families showing their commitment to this green and sustainable form of leisure. In fact, some of the families were so keen to show their commitment they had driven hundreds of miles to get here for the day.

Also it was good to see so much safety-consciousness on this flat, wide, well-surfaced, completely traffic-free route. Clearly parents wanted to get the message across to their kids that cycling is a very, very dangerous activity which should only be partaken with outriders on separate cycleways in remote geography.

All the websites warn you to wear a helmet. I saw one little boy fall off his bike into a mossy bank at over 5mph, and he survived, even though the grass was completely crushed flat. Thank goodness he was wearing a helmet, or that could have been his head.

OK, enough sarcasm. It's a fabulous trail, and we had just the perfect easy-cycling day in the sun for a group of mixed saddle resistance. We had a posh fish dinner at a restaurant that specialises only in locally-sourced, sustainable TV chefs. We supped a few pints of Cornish beer (we're used to London prices, so it was reassuring to come here and find they were familiar). We took the ped-and-bike ferry across the estuary mouth to Rock and looked in vain for a stick of Rock Rock. We had a paddle on the beach.

And we stopped off at the winery (right) on the way back to Bodmin. I don't know if the people here are doing a double-take at the simple fact there's a winery, or the cost of two glasses of wine.

Vineyards, riviera beaches... this is an exotic part of Britain. Not quite as exotic as this hire company's name might suggest, though. If you do attempt the trail on a dromedary, remember to wear a helmet. It's dangerous out there.

26 July 2009

In the market for innovative bike parking

We like innovative parking solutions that actually work as parking, rather than as works of art. If I want to see art I'll go to the National Gallery, thanks very much. Except that the bike parking's not very good there.

So we're pleased to see that Anthony Lau's Cyclehoop (right) - mentioned here back in January - is now getting some recognition.

Another of our favourites is the Plantlock, described last May. In fact, we have one in our front yard.

So we were happy, trundling round Exmouth Market the other day, to find that it's the parking solution of choice here too (right). We just hope there aren't too many visitors with dogs.

25 July 2009

Bad parking: Moral Upper Ground again

Upper Ground is a handy back road just south of the river. It's one way westwards for cars, but a contraflow bike lane lets you whizz eastwards from the South Bank to Blackfriars Bridge Road.

Except that it doesn't, because of the cabs waiting for their clients outside a posh hotel. They block the bike lane and force us out into the traffic flow coming the other way.

I had to jag out so suddenly that I almost spilt some of the carpet tacks I happened to be carrying. Phew. Good job I didn't! I'd hate to lose them, because the police would never be able to find me to return them, especially as they had no fingerprints on them because of the thin plastic gloves I had on. Not to mention that broken glass I was taking to the recycling point.

Anyway, by the usual remarkable coincidence, their number plate tells us everything we need to know about driver. And no doubt passenger.

24 July 2009

Maths proves the Blackfriars Bridge Paradox

Lots of stuff on London's roads is paradoxical. Taxis furiously overtaking you ten metres before a red light. Drivers who moan that you shouldn't be on the road, but complain when you're on the pavement. Cycle lanes provided for your safety that disappear at the dangerous bits such as junctions. The one-way system north of Oxford St. It goes on.

But here's a real-life, mathematically supported paradox. Closing Blackfriars Bridge and its approach roads to traffic (the black-striped sections in the illustration on the right) would actually improve the overall traffic flow in London. That's the counter-intuitive suggestion in a 2008 paper by academics Hyejin Youn, Hawoong Jeong and Michael Gastner.

Their paper, The Price of Anarchy in Transportation Networks, looks at the traffic networks in London, Boston and New York. They propose from their data on traffic flows that Blackfriars Bridge Road (right) - wow, I never thought I'd see that appearing as a term in an equation - could be a real-life example of Braess's Paradox.

That's a theoretical situation where drivers, each choosing the most efficient route for themselves, actually don't produce the overall best solution for traffic flow - and that by closing off some of their options, you force them into a more optimal solution.

In fact, a tiny bit of part of the route they black-stripe out, St Bride St, is already peds-and-bikes only (right).

So let's do the thing properly and test the science! Close the road and turn it over to bikes! Then everyone's happy. Traffic flows better elsewhere, and we'd get a whole 3km-4km of gloriously wide, car-free bikes-only track, scything across central London. Not just the bridge (right), but the approach roads too would be ours. Motorists couldn't object because it would be SCIENTIFICALLY PROVED.

Boris, are you listening? That's what I'd call a Cycle Superhighway!

23 July 2009

Hangover from buying a cheap bike

Over at the Guardian bike blog, Helen Pidd has been testing out Asda's 'cheapest UK bike'. Unsurprisingly, the £70 BSO - 'bicycle shaped object', the acronym used on bike forums to dismiss such cut-price junk - turned out to be nothing but trouble.

I acquired a BSO unintentionally in 2007. I'd Eurostarred to Belgium for some riverside riding and Belgian culture (beer, chips, chocolate, comics, bitter linguistic factionalism) with a chum. He had taken his folding Airnimal; I had organised to hire a bike on arrival. But for various reasons, mostly the cheery can't-do attitude of the hire shop, the rental bike fell through.

Determined not to miss out on a cycling holiday, I strode across the road to a Decathlon-style chainstore and bought their second cheapest bike for about £120 (top right). It had dynamo lights, mudguards and a rack, and was called mystifyingly 'Gosport Railway'. I wondered why a French-made bike should be named after a Hampshire town's train link, especially when it's said to be Britain's largest without a railway station. Then I realised it was actually 'Go Sport'.

Well, it saved the holiday, which went without a hitch. (Apart from the Airnimal, ironically. It blew a non-standard-size tyre, which fortunately took two days and 15 bars to replace. Then its entire derailleur collapsed, luckily necessitating a well-lubricated layover in a French village where we found a cycling blacksmith.) And I somehow smuggled the bike back on Eurostar, wrapped up in a discarded sleeping bag.

It's languished in a shed since, as a 'spare bike'. But it never gets used. Because it's just so horrible to ride. It's stiff where it should be smooth and loose where it should be tight. The gears slip. The brakes judder. The saddle is made of concrete and the derailleur of tinfoil. The flimsy tyres could twist into a sausage-dog to amuse a kids' party.

Sleek and shiny and black, it looks like a million dollars. And rides like a Big Mac 2-for-1 voucher. For a leisurely camping bar-hop round rural Belgium it just about did its emergency job. But use it round London? I'd feel safer skateboarding through Blackwall Tunnel.

Cheap bikes are a waste because, as Helen confirms, they're just so unpleasant to ride. If this was your first experience of cycling, or at least the first since your paper round, it would put you off for life. Just three hundred quid will get you something that's worth repairing when it goes wrong and which is actually a joy to use. If we want to get more people using bikes, low-budget junk isn't the way to do it. Now, happily, Eurostar encourages you take bikes; it may be a steep £20 each way, but that still leaves plenty to enjoy Belgian culture.

22 July 2009

Bus vs bike? One loser, one winner

Bikes are the fastest way to get across cities, especially central London. We all know that.

It causes problems at rendezvous with friends who are taking public transport though. Invariably I'm ten minutes early and they're half an hour late.

Which makes me look the no-mates drinking by himself at the bar. Or the restaurant loser stood up by an internet date. Or the middle-aged newlywed whose Russian bride has yet to return from picking up her new British passport.

Anyway, yesterday we performed an accidental bus/cycle comparison. Two of us took a parallel journey from the Elephant and Castle to the top of Regent St at rush hour, setting off at the same time (8.33am), taking identical routes (over Westminster Bridge and past Trafalgar Square).

Of course, the bike won comfortably: I arrived at 8.47am, my colleague at 9.05am. The bike journey, in other words, took less than half the time (14 versus 32 minutes).

The cost difference is also dramatic. The bus journey was a peak-time Oyster card charge of £1*. The bike expense on the day was nothing. Plus six quid for a coffee and sandwich while I kicked my heels waiting for them.

Still, I did my good deed for the day while I did so, explaining to a young Russian woman how to get to Heathrow. She seemed in quite a hurry.

(*Amended - see Tom's comment below)

21 July 2009

A bike-friendly inn, by George

I'm currently trying to construct a bike-based pub crawl in South London based on pubs that Charles Dickens didn't drink at, but it's proving impossible. Still, one of the best pubs to cycle to in London is the George Inn in Southwark, just south of London Bridge. (Yes, the tedious old hack apparently swilled in the middle bar. Shakespeare, who new evidence suggests was a keen cyclist, is said rather fancifully to have been another regular.)

The George is just about the city's only surviving coaching inn, and only one with surviving galleries: the capital's pubs were virtually all refurbished from scratch in the pub-industry boom of the late 1800s.

And, out in the old coachyard in the bench-table buzz, they positively invite you to park your bike on the railings. So you can enjoy not only a fine pint of English ale, but also the knowledge that your small-footprint cycle journey has offset three minutes' operation of the patio heater that keeps warm the smokers who can't be bothered to put on a fleece on a chilly evening.

20 July 2009

Cycle to the moon: One small step

It's 40 years today since Neil Armstrong's historic 'small step': the first time ever that man had experienced an autocue failure on another world.

As yesterday's post illustrated, later Apollo missions took a vehicle, but no bike, which was a bit car-supremacist. Or maybe the space reserved for the lunar cycle on the Lander was already occupied by a pushchair and someone's holiday suitcase.

The nearest you can get to cycling the moon is in York, on the railtrail to Selby. There's a 10km-long model of the solar system with the sun and all the planets at a scale of 1 in 575 million - more details, and a Google map, in my post of 24 Jan 2009.

The earth-moon system (right) is near the York end of the trail, not far from the racecourse and the chocolate factory, which some members of your cycling party may be more interested in than astronomical facsimiles.

If you collect all the planets on the York-Selby trail, you might want to move up to the entire solar system. Jodrell Bank, in Cheshire, is overseeing a similar project called Spaced Out (right). This one’s large scale, at a comparatively streetmap-like 1 in 15 million, and will thus stretch over the whole of the UK. An enormous red-and-yellow striped acrylic sun is at Jodrell Bank; the Earth is already in Macclesfield; Neptune is under construction in Armagh; Pluto will be somewhere in Aberdeen. A frozen, lifeless, distant, mysterious world that has baffled scientists ever since its chance discovery, Aberdeen is therefore an appropriate place to put Pluto in.

Spaced Out also includes models of asteroids, comets (such as Halley’s, which will be at a school in London) and Trans-Neptunian Objects (such as Varuna, a shiny steel sphere roaming the outer reaches of the solar system in Cornwall; and something called TL66 that will one day be wandering among the ponies in the Shetlands).

On the other hand, maybe the easiest way to cycle to the moon is to find a pub of that name. Or half of it, anyway.

19 July 2009

Astronomically bad parking

Yet another example of terrible and selfish parking, from the Apollo 15 mission of 1971.

Even though there is plenty of space here in Mare Imbrium, lunar rover driver David Scott has chosen to park right across this bike lane, forcing cyclists into an unpleasant and dangerous detour round Hadley Rille.

Isn't this just typical? We can put a man on the moon - yet we can't install reliable, safe cycle facilities.

Bike lanes: Use it or lose it

Something that infuriates motorists, understandably, is when they see cycle facilities that aren't being used. (Freewheeler recently brought a pertinent example to our attention in his home territory of Waltham Forest.)

Here's one in Liverpool Grove, just off Walworth Road in south London. In the ten years I've been around here, I've never seen a single cyclist using this bike lane. It clearly can't be the fault of the parked car - that's in a marked bay, placed quite legally. Use it or lose it, guys!

18 July 2009

Taxi drivers aren't all bad!

I've been a bit antsy about London taxi drivers lately, so here's something to show that they're not all bad.

This driver on Waterloo Bridge yesterday morning has really gone out of his way for the benefit of his fare - the young chap on the left of the picture, perhaps a tourist who wanted to snap the excellent view of the Eye and Houses of Parliament from the bridge.

So far out of his way, indeed, that he's parked on double yellows, blocking the bike lane. Well done!

If you're similarly inspired by outstanding examples of parking and have a snap, you might be interested to celebrate them by posting them up on MyBikeLane.com. It's a worldwide cyclists' celebration of the art of parking. You'll see that the above snap is No. 1 in the site's London pages.

The site also enables you to log registration numbers. As you know, many bad drivers thoughtfully make reporting them easy by having short, memorable vanity number plates, such as the one above. Funny how all the bad parkers I ever snap seem to follow the same pattern.

17 July 2009

Bikes, proms and Elgar? Sounds a good combination

The Proms start today. Every evening between now and Sat 12 Sep there's a world-class orchestral concert at the Albert Hall (right, pic from londonconstant) for five quid.

The Proms experience is best enjoyed by bike. (There are bike racks behind the Hall by the top of the steps where you queue, or near the bottom of the steps across the road.) Gliding home through Hyde Park on a warm summer evening, past Buckingham Palace and Big Ben, with a Shostakovich symphony in your head battling the police sirens, is unforgettable.

A prom concert is one of those unique London experiences, like sitting on a train next to a minor celebrity whose mobile phone conversations turn out to be utterly dull. Or enjoying the amazing view from Tate Modern bar of St Paul's and the riverscape and of your bike being nicked. Or getting stuck in a Parliament Square jam thanks to a mob protesting about somewhere you've never heard of. OK, so it's rather more fun than those.

Anyway, the First Night tonight includes Elgar's In the South. The great English composer was a very keen cyclist (right), from taking it up at the age of 43 in 1900 to about 1909, when his wife Alice insisted on going everywhere by car instead. Many might know the feeling. There's a whole book about the composer's cycling exploits: Kevin Allen's Elgar the Cyclist (Aldine Press 1997, ISBN 0 9531227 0 0).

Elgar was clearly a Real Cyclist, who simply enjoyed the freedom and scope of travelling on two wheels in everyday casual clothes. (Yes, they were his everyday casual clothes.) He'd have had none of this nannyish, protective-headgear nonsense: whether you wear a bowler hat or not is entirely up to you.

In his cycling decade Elgar cycled thousands of miles touring the countryside round his Malvern home. His cycling maps are criss-crossed with dense red lines plotting the routes he took. His visionary masterpiece Dream of Gerontius was evidently composed on the saddle; it's a powerful near-death experience, which suggests he knew a thing or two about cycling on fast rural roads.

16 July 2009

Swithin: Long may he rain

It was St Swithin's Day yesterday, whose weather by tradition will be repeated over the following 40. Which means we're all in trouble. There was torrential rain on and off through the day.

It didn't stop us visiting a parade of old commercial vehicles along London Wall though. Some people must have thought Boris's promised old-style replacements for the bendy buses had arrived already (right). Then it bucketed down. We pitched up at the British Library cafe for breakfast looking like a round-the-world yacht crew in the Roaring Forties. But we were very impressed by how friendly and helpful people there were: we'd only been standing in the queue five seconds before staff put out a plastic yellow DANGER WET FLOOR signboard in our wake.

We were put in mind of the old adage: 'There's no such thing as bad weather, only irritating people saying you should have brought your waterproofs'.

What does the forecast say about the next 40 days though? Weather forecasting is notoriously difficult given the rival airflows swirling around Britain. Websites rarely get it right, and often disagree with each other, making it difficult to plan bike trips. The BBC weather site might say that the coming weekend will be mainly dry and bright, while weather.co.uk might say it'll be heavy showers.

So what's needed is a weather-comparison site, like the ones that find the cheapest flights to a particular destination for you. You'd enter your date and the weather you require, and the site would find the weather-forecasting site with the prediction closest to your requirements.

Well, it'd be no more useless than St Swithin's Day. According to the BBC, a 40-day pattern of weather following that of 15 July has never happened in any of the 55 years they've analysed. So there's hope yet. It's not the getting wet I dislike. It's those tedious people saying I should have brought my waterproofs.

15 July 2009

Theatre Review: Pedal Pusher

As the introduction to this blog suggests, I'm not that excited by the Tour de France. Of course, I loved the spectacle when it departed from London in 2007. But on telly in foreign July bars, the Tour seems an endless loop: close-up of staring man on bike; aerial shot of peloton on winding pass; rear shot of oscillating bottoms and pumping legs. Blitz with subtitle data and repeat ad nauseam. And I'm still grappling with the idea that, as of this morning, Mark Cavendish has won three out of ten stages in this year's TdF and yet is 135th.

But this excellent, riveting play from Theatre Delicatessen doesn't require knowledge or even enthusiasm for the Tour to enjoy it. Even though it's firmly based around the TdF in 1999 and 2000, when American Lance Armstrong, German Jan Ullrich and Italian Marco Pantani were furious but warily respectful rivals for racing's top spot, and the stink of drugs scandals hung in the air like a sweaty nylon top.

The L-shaped performance space, in (the aptly named) Cavendish Cafe at 295 Regent St, is a scruffy garage-like affair. No 'stage'; the performers move among you, and you as audience move around following them. You're as much part of the action as those spectators at roadside cafes you see flashing past on Tour TV footage, and there's even a set of plastic garden tables and chairs if you want. Props are minimalist: some metal barriers, a makeshift 'press conference' stage, a hotel room, plastic chairs for bikes.

But as Lance said, it's not about the chair. This is an intense and gripping play of character, told mainly through Armstrong, Ullrich and Pantani in their own words, culled from bios and interviews. They pivot around the fictional fourth character of a journalist who acts as their sounding-board, provocateur, and sometimes conscience.

And those characters are superbly played. How authentic they are, how accurately it reflects history or the real Tour, isn't my concern; I judged it as a piece of theatre. Pantani (Tom Daplyn) is clearly the craziest of the three, a man of demons who see-saws between self-hate and hubris; the action begins and ends with his sad, desperate death from drugs in a hotel room. Everyone else's language sounds natural, but Pantani's - as that of self-certified geniuses so often is - sounds a bit stilted and over-compensating. (That's an observation about Pantani's own words, not the script.) Daplyn's intensity is superb and the final scene, where he still rails against the 'unfair' world, makes a poignant close.

Ullrich (Graham O'Mara) is the quiet man, perhaps too grounded and sensitive to outstare Armstrong or outbox Pantani. He's reflective, self-doubting, the only one who worries that maybe he's missing some of the everyday poetry of ordinary life. O'Mara's gently gritty northern accent and industrial-town demeanour was perfect to suggest the physically gifted but psychologically fallible East German. His thoughtful interview-confessionals with the journalist (Josh Cass) were fascinating. And the journo, a champion amateur who once turned pro and found his true, very modest, level with a bump, was a nice study of the dreamer-but-realist club cyclist.

But it's Armstrong (Alexander O'Guiney) who wins out, of course. It was often hard to believe that O'Guiney (who is American) wasn't Armstrong, with his unflinching, bony focus, grim truisms and press-conference platitudes. The portrait of a man who had stared death from cancer in the face and then outridden it by sheer force of will was very powerfully made, especially in the first half that ends with his 1999 triumph. The drugs got Pantani in the end, but with Armstrong we were left with the same questions as today. Outriding Ullrich and Pantani in the mountains 'clean'? Impossible! Evading detection as the most-tested man in cycling? Impossible! But given his relentless and driven character - familiar to anyone who has followed his torrent of Twitter feeds before quietly unfollowing them for some peace and quiet - anything is possible.

A brilliant portrait of obsessed men, and brilliant theatre. It's not about the bike; go and see it.

(And there's no problem with bike parking: in fact, you're positively encouraged to bring your bikes inside, right into the performance space. Ha! Beat that, National Theatre!)

Pedal Pusher is on at the Cavendish Cafe, 295 Regent St, until 1 August 2009, Tue-Sat 7.30pm. Tickets are £12 (£10 concs). Details www.theatredelicatessen.co.uk.

Hear short extract (1min, MP3, twaud.io)

14 July 2009

The Black Hole of Waterloo

I enjoy feeling the rhythm of the seasons, so I'm getting quite fond of the pothole on Waterloo Bridge. Every three months they fill it up, and over the next twelve weeks, as surely as the moon doth wax and wane, back it crumbles like a slow-motion England batting collapse.

Yesterday morning it was big enough to warrant swerving around (right), so we're probably near the end of another cycle.

13 July 2009

Wake up and smell the coffee: Cyclists are good business

I recently queried whether there's any bike-branded coffee.

Bikejuju, who has a very interesting blog, replied with three links. To Wooden Bike Coffee; to gourmet coffee delivered by bike - so long as you live within a day's ride of Seattle; and to a bike/coffee shop whose website omits to say where the hell they are. Well, it's in the States somewhere; I expect you simply start in Seattle and just ask from there.

Anyway, once tempted into a cafe on a bike trip, I'm into a closed loop. Half an hour after that quadruple cappuccino I need the toilet. On a winter's night, secluded park shrubbery often does the trick; London has many conveniently well-foliated public spaces. (And if you're thinking, Is it safe?, the answer's yes of course; so long as you watch out for very tall nettles.)

Usually, though, the most convenient option is a coffee shop. And you can't just stride in and use their bogs without giving them a bit of custom. And that double Americano with clotted cream does look tempting. So half an hour later... you get the picture.

In a genuine bicycle cafe, you can browse and buy bikes and parts, and even get your machine fixed, while reading the papers, sipping a latte and leaving brownie crumbs all over the floor. We fondly remember the cool Mud Dock Cafe, in Bristol's central docks area, and so were pleased to see one appear in London. Lock 7 cafe (top two pics) is right on the lovely Regents Canal towpath, and recently impressed Copenhagenize blogger Mikael. More London bike cafes to come, we hope.

Standard cafes can still do their bit to encourage, and capitalise on, the current London bike boom.

Take Bermondsey Street Cafe (bottom three pics), for example. They recently moved from just south of Tower Bridge to a new home round the corner on a thoroughfare whose name you may be able to guess. It has retained its cheery window announcement that bicycles are welcome. They mean it, too: you can bring them inside if you want, and the menu invites you to 'pimp your ride'. Whatever that means.

This overt 'bicycles welcome' business is commonplace in Germany, of course, in cafes, restaurants, hotels and guesthouses. It makes touring the place a delight.

We hope that more cafes follow Bermondsey Street's lead. Given the upsurge of interest in cycling at the moment, and bladder capacities like mine, that can only be good for business.

12 July 2009

LCN Route 2? It's a jungle down there

London is a surprisingly green city, especially if you view it vertically from Google Earth.

Or indeed horizontally from LCN Route 2, such as here in south London (right), somewhere in a place called 'Ba-man-zee'.

We don't know exactly where in Ba-man-zee because we got lost in the undergrowth. Fortunately we met some friendly natives on a hunting expedition for 'ba-ba-kyu', evidently a local type of bushmeat.

We were able to communicate in creole, pidgin, mime and gesture to find a source of clean water (which they called 'nyu-zay-jant') and a route back to civilisation.

As the sign promises, it is Quite a Route.

(Added Monday 13 July: Undergrowth cycling is clearly the in-thing this summer, to judge by Freewheeler's similar experiences in other far-flung parts. Perhaps TfL should put out a press release trumpeting this 100% rise in cycling levels on trans-foliage routes.)

11 July 2009

A Brian May wig and a stale haddock, please

Grrr. Very unpleasant incident the other night. Particularly bad cut-up by psycho driver twice. Authorities informed etc.

At least I had fun planning imaginary revenge, working out in detail how to disguise myself from the CCTV - East St market has a stall specialising in wigs. I savoured pretend revenge as I pictured him trying to drive off his taxi the next morning with four slashed tyres and an inexplicable smell coming from the back seat.

Clearly the owner of this bike (above right), a friendly courier whose kaleidoscopically decorated fixie we stopped to admire on the way home, has had similar experiences.

Off to check out a new cycle-cafe now and roam Deptford in search of cake-related mayhem. Hopefully lighter-hearted posts to come. Cycle carefully folks.

10 July 2009

Good use for the Fourth Plinth: Make it bike parking

Trafalgar Square is a magnificent centrepiece to London, and so much better since they pedestrianised its top end, in front of the wonderful (and free) National Gallery. However, when it comes to the detail of bike parking, it's as hazy as a Monet Thamescape.

There's a handful of racks off its top right-hand corner opposite the National Portrait Gallery, but at peak times - such as yesterday evening, when we dropped into this year's (free) National Portrait Awards exhibition - these are full of bikes. As are the trees, the railings, the lamp-posts, and even the keep-left bollard. Yet there's plenty of pavement space that could be used for more racks, for example behind the new beam-me-up-Scotty entrance to St Martin-in-the-Fields's crypt. Bike parking is in outrageously short supply for such a visitable part of London.

But don't worry! Thanks to Antony Gormley's new artwork One and Other (right) the problems are solved. The work consists of members of the public, drawn by lot, occupying the empty fourth plinth for an hour at a time over the next few weeks. And no, I don't mean that by organising your slot right you might be able to take your bike up there with you.

No, the stroke of genius is that One and Other is so tedious you immediately want to cycle somewhere else. Most people simply don't have a clue what to do once they're up there except smile nervously and talk to their friends on the mobile; it's very poor entertainment. Give it a miss. A plinthcam runs 24-7 on Sky Arts TV channel, which is handy, because you can give it a miss on there more conveniently. ("This is a live webstream that may contain offensive content", it warns; replace 'offensive' with 'boring'.)

And if that doesn't work, Westminster could always try the sneaky 'bike parking' trick offered by the developers of a new student block for 850 Kings College residents on Denmark Hill, south London. Now, Southwark Cyclists recommends installing 130% cycle parking spaces for this kind of development, in other words just over 1,000 spaces. But Kings are only offering 250 spaces - most of which are, if you inspect their proposals, not bike parking at all, but tiny lockers 'for folding bikes'. Brilliant!

09 July 2009

More bike-shaped food for thought

Now that I've raised the subject of chocolate, in yesterday's post, I may as well work through some of the other things popular with cyclists and researchers into headaches, such as red wine and coffee.

Finding wine with a bike on the label is easy, and I've posted previously on this subject. This has done wonders for keeping down my alcohol consumption: I can't resist buying a bottle with a picture of a bike on the label, like the one on the right, but when I get it home I don't have the heart to open it.

I can't find any bicycle-branded coffee. The nearest seems to be either bicycle mugs or, more imaginatively, a coffee table made from recycled bicycle parts. I'm not sure I like the idea of household furniture with protruding pedals you can bark your shins on though.

Bicycle-shaped pasta is available online (right). It's not cheap at £4.50 for half a kilo, so you're even more likely to suffer the wine-label problem of finding that it's too expensive to consume, so it just sits around for three years at the back of a kitchen cupboard by which time it's past the sell-by date. Like most things in the back of our kitchen cupboard. Well, I think they're past their sell-by date. I can't read Latin numerals very well.

Cakes with bikes on are common. If you do an image search on Google you'll come up with a surprising number of wedding cakes featuring the happy couple about to honeymoon on a bicycle. A previous post also has a picture of some bicycle buns.

The chocolate bike in yesterday's post can be bought from the Chocolate Vault. Their site is written in American so I can't understand it, but maybe AltaVista has a translation engine somewhere.

And yes, I did have a headache yesterday - an army-firing-range of a migraine, but sadly a spontaneous one, not triggered by any of the above. It was annoying cycling home to the oomch-oomch disco thump of a bass beat when there was no car within earshot, but at least I didn't need lights: I had flashing illumination of my own.