31 December 2009

Review of 2009 - 6: Nov, Dec

One of Britain's most scenic and remote mountain roads is the Abergwesyn Pass in mid-Wales - which doesn't narrow it down; most of Wales is mid-Wales - and that was covered in the post of 1 Nov.

Five posts comparing Copenhagen to London ran from 2 Nov to 6 Nov, the inevitable conclusion being that Copenhagen is better for cycling, though London has the edge on pound shops.

With London's forthcoming bike hire scheme in mind, a five-part post from 16 Nov to 20 Nov looked at the schemes in five cities: Copenhagen (freest and best comedy value); Krakow (worst website but cheapest beer); Cardiff (easiest to find your way around - round the bay and, er, back); Brussels (most boring); and Hamburg (best organised).

Another comedy post came on 22 Nov, inspired by news items about dangerous lawnmowers. And on 30 Nov, rock icon Peter Gabriel was revealed as a Real Cyclist, so keen on his Moulton that he even rides it on stage.

Paris's Velib scheme was described enthusiastically on 3 Dec; the lazy arrogant killjoy strikers of Paris's pampered public sector 'workforce', rather less enthusiastically.

This blog's picture of 8 Dec of the refurbed Elephant and Castle by-pass (top) on New Kent Road, painted with more bikes than use the path in a week, came to the attention of the Evening Standard and the Mail, which obviously worried me somewhat.

Another comedy post revealed your cycling horoscope on 9 Dec.

This was a busy month for festive items, with a fairy-lights-festooned bike on 10 Dec, some cycling reindeer on a Christmas-illuminated house on 13 Dec, and a bicycle-wheel Christmas Tree on 15 Dec.

There was a bit of serious-ish stuff too, discussing a rash of new bike contraflows which opened up in London in December.

December rounded off with a review of 2009, finishing up with a review of the review, and a review of the review of the review, and...

Happy New Year!

30 December 2009

Review of 2009 - 5: Sep, Oct

Bike Monopoly - an eight-week troll round the London board by bike, doing a square every weekday - started on 7 Sep with, of course, Go.

On 19 Sep two posts covered one of Britain's oddest roads, a virtually car-free 22-mile-long single-track cul-de-sac in the west of Scotland, and the finishing of the Tour of Britain in central London.

The item next day on the London Skyride on 20 Sep, replete with pictures of crazy bikes (pictures), was one of the most-commented posts of the year.

For 27 Sep our Hamburg correspondent sent amusing picture of a 20-seater bike bus, pedalled by the passengers, from that city's car-free day.

I was recommending one of Britain's best day rides, a circuit of some magnificent Peak District reservoirs, on 10 Oct.

Bike Monopoly finally finished up with Mayfair on 30 Oct.

29 December 2009

Review of 2009 - 4: Jul, Aug

The summer started as it meant to go on on 1 Jul, with a ski-slope descent down the spiral lanes of a Peckham multistorey car park disguised as a hip art happening. And a special bicycle cocktail called 'byceclete'.

It must have been a lazy sort of summer, because on 3 Jul I was amusing myself with lists of bicycle-related films, such as Reservoir Cogs, on 8 Jul I was eating bicycle-shaped chocolate, and on 9 Jul enjoying more bicycle wine and bicycle coffee. And, on 13 July, I was visiting some of London's most bike-friendly coffee shops.

A Photoshop joke showing a bike lane on the moon blocked by bad parking came on 19 Jul, but deadly serious was the proposal by come academics on 24 Jul that closing off Blackfriars Bridge would actually increase traffic flow.

Bike Polo enjoyed a media splash in August, partly because of the European Champs held in Southwark, reviewed on 3 Aug, partly because of the potential for silly headlines (suck it and see, making a mint, hole story, etc).

A nostalgic look back to the moment my father explained the facts of life - showing me how to repair a puncture - came on 4 Aug. Two days later, on 6 Aug, came a roundup of bike-related Turner Prize winners and candidates, based round a trip to Roger Hiorns' crystal cave in Southwark. (He didn't win.)

The Hounslow Skyride on 10 Aug was one of the most exciting things that had ever happened there, which may say more about Hounslow than about Sky - and London's quirkiest cycle parking, on a barge by Tower Bridge, was revealed on 11 Aug.

The Beaufort Scale of Cyclist Anger came on 20 Aug. TfL's grand guided-commuter-ride scheme, Cycle Fridays, was reviewed on 22 Aug, which has since encouraged literally several commuters to cycle to work.

Finally, on 30 Aug, it was water-bikes in Hamburg (picture) - machines that would have come in very useful over the next few months in London, when it rained incessantly.

28 December 2009

Review of 2009 - 3: May, Jun

Handy hints on what to do if stopped by the police came on 13 May, as everyone with a camera is nowadays.

The view from an HGV cab came on 20 May, in a report on one of the increasingly popular police sessions where they get cyclists to sit in the driver's seat and imagine what it would be like to exact revenge by forcing the driver onto a bike and then harrassing him round the Elephant and Castle roundabouts.

Resumption of normal bike parking at Tate Modern on 30 May was celebrated with a fine inverted view of St Paul's through a glass of wine in its top-floor bar,

Smithfield Nocturne (picture) was on 8 Jun, and this blog speculated on 'real cycling' events that might be considered for next year, such as one for bikes carrying the most absurd piece of luggage.

The tube strike on 10 Jun spawned a 'bike tube' guided commuter ride, while 15 Jun featured London's cycling fire brigade - and, er, no, they're not the ones responding to 999 calls.

London's coolest bike shed opened for residents of cycle-friendly Bermondsey Square and was covered on 16 Jun. That was in bike week, and a series of posts covered the many free breakfast and wine opportunities available to the cyclist that week.

Bike week ended with the Solstice Ride in the early hours of 21 Jun to watch the clouds obscuring the midsummer sun come up, and enjoy the magnificent Primrose Hill panorama of London's skyline hidden behind low cumulus.

The weather wasn't great over summer, but a minor heatwave in late June brought out a few more cyclists. Useful tips on how cope with the hot weather came in the post of 30 Jun ("When buying ice-lolly to eat while cycling along, choose safe, reflective flavour such as strawberry or lemon").

27 December 2009

Oh come and cycle, all ye faithful: London’s Christmas Day bike ride

Guest blogger Alex Crawford of Southwark Cyclists reports on this year’s annual 25/12 bike ride – the ideal antidote to Chr***mas, and a highlight of London’s cycling year

Roughly 100 riders, from every end of London and beyond, converged at Southwark Needle - friends, family and strangers - all keen to do what they love most on the friendliest day of the year.

Having bunged my turkey in the oven, I donned my flashing earrings and made my way down through the deserted city, where I was greeted with big smiles and a warm shot of sherry at Southwark Needle.

Some other kind soul was offering homemade mince pies and shortbread while festive-looking Barry Mason briefed the masses on today's route. It took us first to nearby Druid's Cycles. The owner Thor had turned the workshop in to a cycling Santa's grotto, complete with flashing lights, reindeer on the roof, and cups of steaming, brandied wine and Glühwein.

We then braced ourselves for the cold again and set off for Putney for a scenic drink at the Duke's Head on the river. Then, numbers dwindling to 46, we set off for a cheap but good Lebanese lunch on Edgware Road via Chelsea, Knightsbridge and Hyde Park. Only us, tourists, dog walkers and the odd car (no doubt late for lunch) were out and about.

After lunch, most peeled off, either for home or Critical Mass. Others went east through the city. I was long gone, back at home boiling brussels sprouts and steaming puddings. I wouldn't have missed the ride though - next time I'll try harder to get the family along too...

Thanks for images too, Alex. There's an 0101 ride to bring in the New Year too - see the Southwark Cyclists e-group for details.

Review of 2009 - 2: Mar, Apr

Comedy cargo was the subject on 4 Mar - transporting ladders, coal bunkers, and metal reindeer by bike – while the performance of Mauricio Kagel's outdoor, er, music, er, work Eine Brise for 111 bicycles was something else to be filed under 'bonkers' on 5 Mar.

London's most hurried bike crossing, the four-second scramble at Wellington Arch, was discussed on 12 Mar, while 18 Mar notified us that the official central point of London is a horse's bum.

Shakespeare was the theme of 25 Mar, which used quotes from the Bard to prove that he must have been a cyclist.

A long series of posts covering all 33 bike crossings of the London Thames, from Teddington to Tilbury, started on 15 Apr, and took up most of the rest of the month - though a bike trip to Spurn Point, one of Britain's strangest bike rides, sneaked in somewhere between Chiswick and Barnes.

April finished with Danny Macaskill's astonishing BMX tricks in Edinburgh in the news, so the blog of 30 Apr took a look at stunt riding, 1869-style: "Mr. Franghiardi, while his machine was proceeding at full speed, took a piece of paper and a pencil, and wrote for about a minute, guiding the vehicle unerringly during the time".

26 December 2009

Review of 2009 - 1: Jan, Feb

The end of the year is a time when we're encouraged to take stock. Quite literally, if you believe certain vicars in York. Anyway, between now and New Year's Eve I'll be looking back over 2009 as this blog saw it, starting with January and February...

The blog's first post was on 11 Jan, featuring a spectacular orangey sunset over Waterloo sunset. It was a sign of things to come: for most of the remaining twelve months I was seeing red.

For instance, on 17 Jan, when I was moaning about the so-called 'cycle path' on Nine Elms Lane, a candidate for London's worst.

It wasn't all bad news - we liked the advent of cycle hoops to London's lamp-posts on 19 Jan - and there was a trip to the Brompton factory on 27 Jan, with an exclusive picture of Brompton inventor Andrew Ritchie's bendy slide rule.

The Snow Event on 2 Feb blanketed London with something it had never seen before in these amounts: mobile-phone pictures posted online. Things were still slippery the next day.

Protecting your head against the impact of bad arguments came to the fore on 5 Feb, when the eternal and ultimately boring helmet debate rose again in the wake of another stupid court ruling.

But trivia came to cheer the spirits. London's shortest streets were revealed on 10 Feb, and its narrowest alley confirmed on 12 Feb: the 26-inch wide Emerald Court.

And, just to show the this blog can tackle serious issues too, on 25 Feb we featured a dog riding a bike.

25 December 2009

Let them eat Christmas cake. Then cycle it off

A typical Christmas dinner with trimmings packs 956 calories, according to the British Nutrition Foundation. Add cake (249 calories), pudding (587), a pint (185), two mince pies with cream (368 x 2), and a few glasses of wine (87 x n), and you can see why many people’s New Year Resolution is to get that flat-tyred bike out of the garage.

The level four miles from my house to King's Cross uses 68 calories, according to my odometer’s arbitrary-looking figure. At that rate, I’d have to cycle 175 miles to burn off my mum’s Christmas lunch.

So it’s just as well there are lots of other reasons for cycling today or over the next week, and not just cancelling out a surfeit of plum duff. Going out for a spin is the perfect antidote to yuletide ennui: those gaping holes between the Queen's speech and the blockbuster film, or Boxing Day and New Year, that can't be plugged with nuts and sherry.

It's also an experience in itself. Roads feel better, with virtually no lorries and only a few family cars doing the rounds. In cities, the absence of buses on Christmas and Boxing Day (whenever that is this year) makes the streets blissfully quiet – but the street cleaners are off too, so watch out for broken glass. Railways are at a standstill, as may you be after that dinner, so keep distances modest (no sag-wagon train back). Daylight's short (8am-4pm in London, only 9am-3.30pm in Inverness) so make the most of it.

Pubs are usually open at Christmas lunchtime but not evening; finding an open cafe or eatery will be tricky, so phone before to check. If you live near an ethnic area where today is another working day, enjoy the difference and try a new restaurant.

Any present is an excuse for a ride: why not test-drive that new pair of socks? Do your family-and-friends visits on two wheels – no risk of drink-driving.

Everyone's friendly. Ambling round on Christmas morning you'll be greeted cheerily by dads in new sweaters and kids taking their new fifty-quid mountain bikes round the block for the first (and probably last) time.

If you have a White Christmas, a bike is the best way to enjoy countryside whiteouts, or your town wrapped in cotton wool.

So enjoy that seasonal spirit from the saddle, and earn your rosy cheeks from fresh air rather than the sherry. Then if you do indulge, at least you have an excuse. You might even have worked off a few calories.

(This is updated text from an article I wrote for the CTC magazine in December 2007. Other bits of the article were posted yesterday.)

24 December 2009

Give yourself a present with a Christmas Day ride

Cycling in London is mostly great fun, but it can be a bit unpleasant at times. You get forced into doing things you don't want. Shouted at when you've done nothing wrong. Abused by people taking out their stresses and anxieties on you. Generally, you're treated like you simply shouldn't be there, even when you've no alternative. Talking of which, I'll be going home to spend Christmas with my relatives...

Nah, only joking. It'll be great, back up in Yorkshire, eating and drinking and laughing and probably doing a few social rides with rels to see friends for a sherry and mince pie, play with the huskies, and perhaps fish for some seals through a hole in the ice.

And there's probably a social ride on Christmas Day near you. Well, if you live in London or Cambridge, anyway. Here's what two cyclists will be doing tomorrow. (The text is updated from an article I wrote for the CTC magazine for Christmas 2007.)

Barry Mason of Southwark Cyclists talks about the 25/12, a Christmas Day ride through London

Where do you go?
We start late morning, see some unknown bits of wonderful Southwark, and break at a riverside pub. Then it’s central London for the sights and parks. Around 3pm or so we'll have a late lunch at a wonderfully accommodating Lebanese cafe on Edgware Road that caters for omnivores, veggies and vegans. And then drift back towards Southwark and maybe a pub. It's a slow ride, paced for all: maybe 30 miles in four hours.

Who comes?
The first year, 2002, three people joined me on a wet day. Last year about 170 turned up. We're now listed in Time Out and the papers. I love the mix: some regulars but mostly new faces, some tourists even.

Some people are out for an hour or two before a family day, some are delighted to escape the TV, some might be home alone that day otherwise, some seem to want to stay out forever.

I hope the four German goths in drag and high heels turn up again, but who knows! And if a few singles meet new friends, even better...

What's special about it?
Christmas is hideously commercialised. For me, the ride is an antidote to all that, and a great excuse to do something I love in the city I adore with like-minded people.

The buzz is the happy people and the atmosphere. It's the most smiley ride of the year too: everyone in childishly good sociable moods. Pedestrians love us. And almost no other traffic! In many ways it's what the season is all about at its roots: peace and goodwill to all.

What advice to anyone inspired to do one where they live?
Give people a lie in. Don't start too early. Be inclusive. Make sure the ride's clearly for everybody and that it's easy. Tell local media – it's newsworthy. Don't be put off if only a few people turn up the first year; those who do will treasure the experience, and there will be more next time.

Details for tomorrow's ride
Meet 10am Cutty Sark / 11am Southwark Needle. Southwark Cyclists
(This being the last Friday of the month, December's Critical Mass ride is also on this day, departing from outside the National Theatre at 7pm-ish.)

Nigel Deakin will be on the Cambridge CTC DA’s annual Christmas morning ride
What's the ride like?
This is probably our shortest ride of the year, but one of our best-attended, with about 20 riders. We meet at a civilised 10am and ride at a gentle pace through familiar local lanes for about 20 miles. We end up at a pub about five miles from Cambridge before making our individual ways home for lunch.

There's always something special about riding on Christmas morning. Everyone we meet seems in a good mood. Christmas Day is traditionally a day for over-eating and drinking a bit more than usual so it is nice to get some exercise before returning home to carry on the tradition!

Details for tomorrow's ride
Meet at Brookside at 10am for ride to The Hoops, Barton for a lunchtime drink. Leader: Mike Stapleton.

Happy Christmas everyone

(The postie with the tinselled bike, by the way, was snapped at West Wittering on the south coast)

23 December 2009

London alley that gave birth to pavements

Fancy some illegal pavement cycling? Here's the most historic place to do it. This tiny cul-de-sac off Whitehall gave birth to the pavement, and therefore the entire pavement cycling menace that threatens western civilisation. It's Craig's Court, the tiny alley first left as you go down from Trafalgar Square.

In the mid-1700s, there were no pavements. Pedestrians, horses, carriages, chirpy costermongers with carts of pig offal, all jostled each other on the dirt road surface, right up to the housefronts. There were a few calls for improvements to the road surfaces, but fighting wars was much more important. Obviously that wouldn't happen nowadays.

However, Arthur Onslow, speaker of the House of Commons, was involved in an accident while trying to get his carriage into this very alley. Starting a tradition which continues today, he decided not to blame the driver, but someone else. The problem, he decided, was caused by the lack of this new pavement technology. Soon after that Onslow was instrumental in passing a bill to introduce pavements to London's streets, resulting in the widespread slaughter of innocent civilians by cycling torpedoes that we know today.

Unfortunately, the pavements are so narrow that it's virtually impossible to cycle on them. I tried, leaving a trail of carnage and destruction (not illustrated), but was soon forced off into the road.

There's little else in the alley to detain you. Harrington House is there, whatever that is, but the pub is more promising to explore on a chilly winter's day. Cheers. Merry Christmas.

22 December 2009

Bad weather? Don't get cross, get New Cross

The snow finally arrived in central London last night. Not the fluffy cotton-wool snow that they use to film Dr Who Christmas Specials in May, but wet, slushy, gluey snow, like iced jellyfish smoothie.

If you can wade through the slush to New Cross you might still have time to buy a Christmas tree, though how they got a dozen of them on that bike to their stall beats me.

Yesterday round town was just gravel-chucking drizzly and fairly quiet. The traffic lights were out at Aldwych (below right), and I wondered if it was a naked-streets experiment. No, a harassed-looking mechanic jabbing a junction box with a screwdriver told me. It's a technical fault. There was so little traffic compared to normal that you couldn't assess whether it was flowing more freely or not. Perhaps everyone was still stuck on a Eurostar.

And if you are venturing out in a car today, do BE PREPARED. That means having your speech ready for when Radio Five Live interviews you as you're stuck on the Basingstoke ring road during that absolutely necessary trip to browse mobile phone shells at Carphone Warehouse. Remember to blame everyone else: (1) 'the gridlock', not the traffic (2) 'the council', and their abject failure to put down grit, lay down salt, and control weather systems (3) other drivers (4) Gordon Brown. And, of course, moan that 'we get a bit of snow and the country grinds to a halt'. J

New Cross is home not just to last-minute Christmas trees, but also the Prokofiev Archive. If he had been English, no doubt his Troika would have been a ride on a gritting lorry. More like Shostakovich, then... hmm. Perhaps I should get out more. I would if the weather weren't so bad.

21 December 2009

Icy weather takes the cake

No snow here in London (unlike whiteout Cambridge), but it's a bit nasty out in the capital's streets. Patches of black ice line every gutter and lurk in every shadow, and there's the constant threat of a white van's unexpected triple-axel.

Yesterday's ride out to Greenwich to see if conditions were worse in the eastern hemisphere proved a battle against of the cold of Shackletonian proportions. Despite having the very best quality mitts that East St market can provide - two quid is a lot of money in Dongguan, you know - my fingers were frozen. So much, in fact, that How Am I Driving feedback to the lorry that cut me up in Deptford was out of the question.

Still, not everyone was put off by the skating-rink conditions. On Saturday, at the subzero Kennington Farmer's Market, we chatted to Lara here (pictures). She runs Cakehole, a confectioner's, and this is her delivery vehicle. It replaces the gardening trailer she used to pull by hand.

The Pashley's front basket holds a dozen cakes, the trailer 18 more. The trunk is bolted into the trailer frame because otherwise people try to nick it. Well, the cakes do taste good. Let's hope they freeze pretty well, too.

20 December 2009

Grout and about: Norwood's bike mosaic

Cycled past this mosaic the other day. It's under the railway bridge by the station in South Norwood. I'm not quite sure what cycle routes it might be celebrating. All I could find was a muddy bridleway across South Norwood park.

And it's not Ravenna. But it could be worse. At least a cartoon bike is better than the unconvincing portraits of famous locals in the Elephant and Castle's notorious subways (or, as the locals fondly call them, 'public toilets'). One, for example, seems to sport a trademark bowler hat, tramp outfit and moustache. I think it's Charles Babbage. Or maybe Florence Nightingale.

19 December 2009

Goodwill to all men (even this one)

It's the season of goodwill, so I'll bear no malice against the white van man who parked blocking the contraflow in Roper Lane, just south of Tower Bridge. After all, the number plate says it all.

18 December 2009

Rage against the cheap machine

In Christmas 1909, a bottom-of-the-range bike from Gamages cost just under £4. That was equivalent to a little over an average month's wages, or 300-odd pints in a pub.

A century later, Asda will flog you a 'bike' for £70. Even on minimum wage that's only two days' earnings, and even in Wetherspoon's it's only thirty-odd pints. Or 175 profiteroles.

This is a testament to a hundred years' engineering and marketing progress: today, for a tenth of the cost, we can manufacture something that lasts a fiftieth as long...

I'm banging on about cheap bikes again in my Real Cycling column in the latest issue of Cycling Plus. No doubt there will be several bicycle-shaped objects under the Christmas tree this time next week - gaudy, crackling, stiff packages held together flimsily by sticky tape. And that's before they've been wrapped.

And as for the weather, well here in central London this morning it's nothing like last February (picture). A few flurries but no settled snow. The roads and pavements are a bit nasty with black ice, but that doesn't photograph well, being invisible. Think I'll postpone that Christmas shopping cycling trip for a while.

17 December 2009

Trafalgar Square: No free lunch, but free bike parking

For once, you could park your bike in Trafalgar Square yesterday. The Feeding the Five Thousand event had commandeered the square with skiploads of edible fruit and veg which, like one third of all stuff grown in the UK, would normally be thrown away for cosmetic reasons.

They were turning all this into a free lunch for anyone who turned up, to draw attention to the amount of food wasted in the rich world, which just by itself contributes something like 10% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Either the recession is biting harder than we thought, or Londoners just can't resist a freebie, because the queues were of post-office proportions, winding round more than two sides of the square.

Unfortunately I didn't have the time to invest just to get a biodegradable paper plate of veg curry, wodge of bread, and complimentary banana, apple and handful of loose grapes.

Anyway, I had some leftovers waiting for me in the fridge, and it didn't seem right to throw that away in order to stop food waste.

Clustered round the square's great Christmas Tree was a tent village of rather damp climate change protesters. You have to be pretty determined to draw attention to global warming when it's freezing cold.

On the central stage was an entertaining demonstration of how a simple adjustment to your bike can turn it into a pedal-powered blender, suitable for turning fruit into a smoothie.

You just put a glassful of water and three pieces of fruit into the blender, pedal furiously for two minutes, and hey presto! A glassful of water with thirty pieces of fruit in it. And a lot of froth.

There were two blender-bikes in the square, and you could have a go yourself. I did manage to score a freebie biodegradable disposable plant-based plastic glass of someone else's legwork. So no such thing as a free lunch for me, but there was such a thing as a free smoothie.

And, to be fair, it was rather tasty, though my idea of a bike-generated smoothie machine would still involve cycling to Argos.

And, as the pleasant young steward handed me my gratis goblet, he smiled and said, Thanks for coming by bike, and it all felt worthwhile. Even if you can't park your bike there the other 364 days a year. Maybe they should leave up that sign that says 'This is rubbish'.

16 December 2009

DSA's new TV ad shows real cycling hand signals

The Driving Standards Agency's new TV advert has just gone up on YouTube. It shows an animated man walking out of a 'pedestrian crossing' sign, driving round a cartoonland of other animated figures from road signs, and eventually getting on a bike and riding away into the sunset.

It's nice animation, presumably making the point that, er, the Highway Code is, um, something something something.

And it's good that they've made it reflect the reality of everyday cycling. For example, in the way the car overtakes the cyclist far too closely (above right) and cuts sharply in front of him, even though the road is completely empty.

And, if you look closely (right), you'll see the cyclist demonstrating his knowledge of hand signals in response.

A road map for, er, better road safety

Interesting blog post I saw today from Dr Ian Walker. He's colour-coded English regions according to road accident severity.

Not your chance of having an accident, then - but your chances of coming out badly if you do have an accident. The darker red the area, the more chance you stand of being seriously injured or killed.

Ian is a traffic and transport psychologist, who proved conclusively in a recent study that wearing a long blonde wig is safer than wearing a helmet. (Obviously that's a bit of a media simplification. It's more complicated than that. Brunette or ginger probably works just as well.)

His dangermap of England only shows general accident figures. There's nothing specific to bikes. On his colour-scheme, North Yorkshire and East Riding, my homeland, are vast scarlet lagoons of Viking carnage; Plymouth on the other hand is a milk-white haven of gentle bumps and mildly bruised shins.

In London, Southwark - my borough - comes off pretty well, in lightly blushing pink. But down in the south-west, the lawless and wild Richmond and Kingston and Hammersmith, it's one mighty middle-class crimson bloodbath.

Like an MP's defence of their expenses claims, all this raises more questions than it answers, as Ian acknowledges. But it does rather raise the question of whether all those bull-barred 4x4s and safety-conscious Volvos down in London's moneyed and well-manured suburbs are actually making the outcomes of accidents worse. Luckily I don't know any rich people, so I never have to cycle down there.

Anyway, I'm off to the food being given away at the Feeding of the 5000 event in Trafalgar Square now. Is there such a thing as a free lunch? I hope so.

15 December 2009

Bike installations? Wheel 'em on

What is it with bike wheels all of a sudden? Seems they're just the coolest thing to give a twist to urban installations these days.

See, for example, the Bike Wheel Christmas Tree (right) that went up over the weekend in Bermondsey Square, already the site of the coolest bike shed in London.

Is this some sort of art movement? Seat-post-modernism? Handlebaroque?

Meanwhile at Cosmobar, a bistro just north of the Barbican so trendy people probably communicate across the table in Twitter, their window (right) has just been enlivened by an all-wheel mobile. It appears to illuminate at night; I hope so, or else the City Police vigilantes will be fining them thirty quid for not having working lights.

I'm not talking bike shops, which have done this sort of thing for ages. Pedal It!, a bike shop near the Elephant for example, has always had wheels as part of its facade furniture (right).

But it makes you wonder where all these wheels are coming from. Does this explain the increasing number of frames like this (right), stripped of anything circular, that we see on London's railings?

Even this bike (right), on the road outside Queenstown Road station in Battersea, wasn't immune.

14 December 2009

Is this the right way?: The City's new contraflows

New bike contraflows with custom signs are all the rage in London these days. Permeability is the new black. Two-way cycling is the new Twitter. Being shouted at by a taxi driver who thinks the street is still one-way is the new rock and roll.

The City is the latest borough to unveil a set. Five opened today, in West Smithfield, Cloth Fair, Salisbury Court, Creechurch Lane and Finsbury Circus. (Fann St, a purported sixth, doesn't count as it's two-way for traffic.)

Last week I discussed Kensington and Chelsea's contribution to the counter-directional cycling movement. Taking advantage of relaxed new government guidelines on signing such things, they show the entrance to a contraflow with the hitherto illegal combination of 'no entry' sign plus plate saying 'Except cyclists'.

The City, of course, like doing things their own way. Not for them the bully-boy tactics of the Met Police, for instance, arresting cyclists for going down a deserted pavement when cars flagrantly ignore ASLs on the adjacent road. No. They have their own force, the City Police, for arresting cyclists for going down a deserted pavement when cars flagrantly ignore ASLs on the adjacent road.

So no surprise that the City have their own approach to signing: for them it's the 'stunt motorbike' sign (above right), of a powered two-wheeler vaulting a car, denoting 'no motor vehicles' - so, by implication, allowing cycles. They paint a mini-give-way line with a bike, and hey presto, there's your contraflow.

At the other end, they warn incoming drivers of oncoming cyclists with a sign we rather like. It says ONCOMING CYCLISTS (right). To us, that concisely informs drivers that there may be cyclists oncoming. It's often reinforced with one of those blue signs that looks like a bike taking a ride down in a lift.

There's also a temporary sticker mounted on the kerbside saying LOOK BOTH WAYS (right). It's very well-designed, in an eye-catching yellow and blue. I nearly ran over two people who were staring at the sticker while walking across in front of me.

Anyway, I explored the five new contraflows this morning. Some are so new they were still having the finishing touches from the construction crew. They're all rather shorter and more obscure than you might expect from the coverage they've had in the press.

Salisbury Court (pictured right, and very top right) is being touted as now enabling a continuous backstreet alternative to going up New Bridge St, north from Blackfriars Bridge. In practice nobody will be able to find it until this notional route is signposted; it'll be a useful, though very minor, aid to permeability, when commuters eventually manage to find it.

West Smithfield makes it now possible to cycle away from Carluccio's if you've been eating there, instead of having to push your bike 20m.

Cloth Fair (right and second-top right) smooths and shortens the way for cyclists going north from say St Paul's to the Barbican (along the satisfyingly named Little Britain).

Finsbury Circus is useful for cyclists going to, well, Finsbury Circus. There must be some of them I suppose.

And Creechurch Lane's southern end, thrillingly situated at the foot of the Gherkin, provides a bit more permeability for those going south through the City, enabling a faster escape for bankers keen to spend their Christmas bonus before the lynch mobs arrive.

I was the only cyclist using all of them. As ever in the city, all of them had parked delivery vehicles, meaning quite a bit of squeezy-pasty stuff when I was using the contraflow and a vehicle was coming the other way. But, as ever in the city, drivers waved cheerily with their fingers, indicating I was the first cyclist they'd seen using the new facility, or perhaps the second. Nah, seriously, I didn't have a problem. It seemed like they'd not only seen the signs but actually understood them. Unlike the Copenhagen Summit.

In sum, it's not much. But it's a start. As they say, 'Every journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, before the City Police stop you and ask why you're taking photographs'.

13 December 2009

Light relief

We've decided to give our garish Christmas illuminations this year a cycling theme.

12 December 2009

Bike cash for gold

Fans of daytime TV will be familiar with those cash-for-gold ads. If you have old gold hanging round the house that you haven't pawned yet, you just ring them up and they send you a padded envelope. You pop in your unwanted gold, send it off, and by return they send you a cheque for a quarter of what it's worth.

For this all-solid-gold bike, for example, spotted on High Holborn yesterday, you'd get about fifty quid. If you could find a jiffy bag large enough.

11 December 2009

How to stop drivers on mobiles: call me now

Oh, you're a cyclist, are you? Tell me, why do you all jump red l...

Excuse me... hello? Yes? Oh no, I'm not interested, sorry.

Where was I? Oh yes, you all behave like the rules of the road simply don't app...

Just a minute, sorry about this, I'll turn it off... hello? Oh, hi. Yes, yes, tomorrow's fine. About 11? Great. See you then. Bye.

What was I saying? Ah, the other day, I was waiting in my car at the lights in one of those boxes with a picture of a bicycle in it, and this cyclist came right up in front of me and started shouting at me for some reason, and I thought, how dare y...

Wait a second, sorry again, I'll turn it off I promise... hello? Yes, darling. No, darling. No, of course not. Well, if you must. Oh well, I suppose so. Yes, yes, I love you too. Bye.

So, anyway... oh yes, a friend of mine was walking along the pavement the other day and she was nearly killed by a cyclist coming the other way, and he wasn't even wearing a helmet. I don't care if you are saving the earth, you cyclists are just dangerous.

I mean, I know I shouldn't really be using my mobile, but I'm driving perfectly safely, aren't I?


What parked car? What cyclist?

(More motorists are using mobiles while driving than ever, we learned today)

10 December 2009

Nice lights. But where's the fairy?

OK, I give in. I've put Christmas lights on my bike.

It's not particularly that I want to be festive. It's more an extra bit of illumination.

Yes, I already have the reflective jacket, reflective armbands, reflective leg bands, steady front light, flashing front light, steady rear light, flashing rear light, reflective panniers and reflective pedals and front and rear reflectors.

But in this solstice run-up of office-party stumblers struggling to make the tricky discrimination between a six foot bloke on a bicycle and thin air, every little helps. I know from experience it's only a matter of time before I nearly collide with an amiably drunk, party-hatted suit stepping out into the road in front of me, and they say Sorry mate, I didn't see you...

Picture this (and nick the idea)

Tuesday's post about the lavishly decorated new bike path on New Kent Road was taken up by not just the Daily Mail, but also the Evening Standard yesterday.

(The post was mentioned on the excellent SE1 website's Twitter news feed, and picked up by an agency snapper.)

And - as I found out a couple of days ago - all those pictures I took for 'London then and now' for a British Library exhibition have been turned into a slideshow for the BBC website. Ooh, look, there's my name, credited, like those people that send in an iPhone snap of a flood or mobile footage of a dog that's adopted a kitten.

I must go and tell my mum.

09 December 2009

Your cycling horoscope

Astrology fans will be interested to know that the word 'gullible' doesn't appear in the Oxford English Dictionary. They'll also be interested in reading the Real Cycling horoscope, specially personalised for you.

Aries (20 Mar–20 Apr) Your life will take some unexpected twists and turns today when you take the Elephant and Castle cycle by-pass.

Taurus (21 Apr–20 May) There's always room in your life for someone new. Just as well, as motorbikes are now allowed to use ASLs.

Gemini (21 May–20 Jun) Having Jupiter in Leo and Mars in Capricorn is bad enough, but that parked van in your contraflow lane is really pissing you off.

Cancer (21 Jun–21 Jul) You tend to hide your light under a bushel. That's why you won't be able to find it when you bike home tonight.

Leo (22 Jul –22 Aug) Remember, there's no such thing as bad weather, just smug people with better rainproofs than you.

Virgo (22 Aug–Sep) Your sense of humour will come into play today when you are run over by a coachload of reconstructive surgeons.

Libra (20 Sep–21 Oct) Remember there's two sides to everything, except when taxis cut you up, which is more of a Möbius strip.

Scorpio (22 Octr–21 Nov) You'll come into some money today when a Securicor van reverses into you.

Sagittarius (21 Nov–21 Dec) Your wish is granted when the youth that stole your bike actually does get admitted to A&E with a bizarre and inoperable cucumber-related mishap.

Capricorn (21 Dec–20 Jan) There's something in the air today, as you'll find when you're stuck at the lights behind that bus exhaust.

Aquarius (21 Jan–19 Feb) It'll feel like you're banging your head against a brick wall today when a Royal Mail van runs you off the road and you bang your head against a brick wall.

Pisces (19 Feb–20 Mar) You don't like change, so luckily for you Cycle Superhighways won't make any difference.

08 December 2009

Elephant by-pass gets a paint job

Aha! Some good news for a change. Not much, but it's good. This is the Elephant and Castle by-pass heading towards the Elephant along New Kent Road. They've just repainted the markings - perhaps in preparation for the Cycle Superhighway that will be coming this way? - and as you can see the new 'give way' lines give the cyclist through-priority over the various entrances cutting across it.

Now, I know this is only a few hundred yards, and it only makes a significant difference over a distance of say a mile or two. And that in the Netherlands you get cyclist-priority cycle paths stretching all the way from one side of the country to the other, which is probably even further. And our Elephant by-pass is only crossing minor entrances, not full-on side roads.

But it's a start. And to judge by the amount of white paint at their disposal, resources are plentiful.

I'm still not entirely sure about this phone box further up, though.

07 December 2009

Cabbages, King's Road, and contraflow cycle lanes

I've just received my Dec-Jan copy of the London Cycling Campaign magazine. The LCC is like a Cabbage Marketing Board: you can sort of imagine what they're supposed to be doing, but you're not aware of anything they've actually done.

Anyway, among the mag's out-of-date news stories is one about Kensington and Chelsea's decision to pioneer new signing on contraflow cycle lanes.

Now, as I understand it from this Central Office of Information news story, the situation is this. The government is keen to cut red tape, and is letting local councils tweak road signs without having to get approval, as part of a Traffic Signs Review. The Review started on 17 September and runs until this Thursday, 10 December. K&C was one of the first councils to take this up.

As part of their review, K&C have put up signs for contraflow cycle lanes that are normally considered illegal: a simple 'No entry' sign with a plate below it saying 'Except cycles'. Such signs are legal in Scotland, and widely used on the continent - one of the few bits of Dutch I'm fluent in is 'Uitgezonderd fietsers'. You'll have seen several examples in 'illegal' use already, though, like the one (right) at the entrance to Petworth St near Battersea Bridge.

But in England, you're supposed to design the entry to a contraflow cycle lane like the Great Gates of Kiev, with no-entry signs for cars, and the bike lane barriered off and signed separately with a blue cycle-lane sign, like the correct example on the right into Herbrand St near Tavistock Square. Cambridge Cycle Campaign's gallery page has more examples for fans of counter-directional pedalling.

Now, K&C's new signs are on five quiet back streets: Gilston Rd and nearby Hollywood Rd, off Fulham Rd; and the almost-contiguous Holland St, Old Court Place (below right) and Thackeray St off Kensington Rd. In each case the start of the contraflow is marked by the 'illegal' except-cyclist sign and a short or medium length painted cycle sign.

The idea is that, with fewer literal and metaphorical barriers to creating contraflow cycle lanes, councils might be readier to do it, and make streets more permeable, which would be a good thing. The Holland St / Old Court Place / Thackeray St set, for example, is a newly-created contraflow sequence. I cycled all the above back streets in both directions yesterday, and it felt no more dangerous than say a Go Go Hamster.

If the idea catches on after the review finishes this week, expect a few silly news stories on the lines of 'now cyclists are being allowed to go the wrong way up all one-way streets' - as did the BBC website's report last year. Make no mistake: these are very quiet back streets, and the stretches affected are only a few dozen yards, less than the total of column inches they've already generated.

But make no mistake also that these will really encourage councils to shift the emphasis from car to cycle. As the K&C spokesperson quoted in the LCC mag said themselves, this measure will "reduce street clutter" and "allow more parking"...

...Oh. Well, I never did like cabbage much anyway.