31 March 2010

My art belongs to Glasgow: Free hire bikes coming on trust

Exciting news from Glasgow, where 50 white bikes will be left out around the city for the public to use for free from 16 April to 3 May.

It's an art event called the White Bike Plan, and organisers say they hope karma will prove effective at punishing anyone who nicks one of the bikes.

Theft and vandalism has plagued similarly trusting schemes in the past, most notoriously in 1960s Amsterdam (right), when most of them ended up chucked in canals, stolen, or smoked.

Well, trust is a wonderful and precious thing. Too precious to waste on people, if you ask me.

After all, look what happened to this bike (right) we spotted at East Midlands Parkway station this weekend. It had only been shackled up by the carrier rack, so the thief merely had to undo the bolts to get at the bike.

It would have a time-consuming, though not unpleasant, task. Simply cutting through the cheap cable lock would have been quicker. But as anyone knows who's waited for a train at the desolate and remote station, any way to fill in time is welcome.

Let's hope that karma catches up with the thief. A karma with two bottles of Buckfast inside it.

30 March 2010

Cambridge terrible for cycling, says survey

More 'best cycle-city' survey amusement comes to me from John Kitchiner, editor of LCC's London Cyclist. It follows on from my post about Cycling Plus's verdict that Bristol is the UK's top town for bikes.

John's been sent a press release from flatshare company EasyRoommate.co.uk. According to their research - evidently conducted with the same depth and due diligence as my dad employed when contemplating foreign food - the most bike-friendly city in Britain is...


(The Mersey Ferry, pics, is one of the chapters in my 50 Quirky Bike Rides book.)

And the worst two are... London and Cambridge!

You don't need to be the Guardian's bad-science guru Ben Goldacre (who's also a Real Cyclist) to see the flaws in the reasoning. One of their negative factors is the proportion of cyclists among casualties. That'll naturally be higher in places with a high incidence of cycling, such as Cambridge or Oxford. By that score, Los Angeles probably beats Groningen, and motorways are the safest place for cyclists, because you never get any bike casualties there.

Now, it's only a pretend survey in a press release, but it does actually raise a valid point about cycle storage (another reason London fares badly).

I've met a couple of central London cyclists recently who have Bromptons as their everyday machine - not for taking on the train or bus, but simply because there's no space to put a standard bike in their flat or at work.

The survey also didn't take into account your chances of having a bike nicked, which may have affected Liverpool's top spot. According to Cycling Plus's research, London is the least likely big city to have a bike nicked, and Hull the most.

Nevertheless, this bloke (right) in London's Jerusalem Tavern (which has no street bike parking) was taking no chances - another place where a Brompton comes in handy.

29 March 2010

London's forbidden streets (by software)

The BBC website has an amusing article this morning on how spam and profanity filters often get it wrong.

As we know, they can confine your innocent emails into the trash along with all that junk designed to trap the credulous - you know, implausible anatomical enhancements, third-world banking sleight-of-hand, TfL press releases, that sort of thing.

Indeed, a friend recently fell foul of his company's rude-word firewall (the software was American, of course). He was organising a bike ride to meet at the historic statue that marks the limit of the Great Fire of 1666, just south of Smithfield (right). And he just couldn't understand why the mass email about it was repeatedly not being allowed through...

A spam-filter bike tour of London: now there's a thought. Glance through the London A to Z and you'll come up with plenty more names thought rude by American software. No doubt the evil streetmap is banned throughout the southern States.

Critical Mass last Friday

Over 600 riders attended last Friday's Critical Mass, which included memorial stops to some of the London cyclists killed this year. I had to be in Yorkshire and couldn't go, but there are already write-ups by bloggers VeloCity and Freewheeler (right).

28 March 2010

More confusing signs on Vauxhall roundabout

As previously reported, cycling round Vauxhall roundabout (right) is confusing enough. The cycle lane merry-go-round is interrupted constantly by give-ways and red lights, and inconsiderate parkers.

Even more confusing is if you want to know the name of the street...

27 March 2010

Where there's a wheel...

Bike theft is a constant problem in London. One of the thieves' favourite targets is the bike that's only secured by the front wheel. They can quick-release the rest of the bike from it and walk off with it, leaving the lone wheel to tell the tale.

No bike is safe, as this picture from Camberwell New Road the other day shows.

26 March 2010

Your Cycling Horoscope - 4

A friend is on a mission to redefine the constellations from the Argos catalogue, to be more appropriate in the 21st century. Out go dragons, giant crabs, and man-horses with bows and arrows; in come lawnmowers, shoe-racks and sofa-beds.

Anyway, here once more, for your Friday entertainment, is another round of Real Cycling Horoscopes...

Raleigh (20 Mar–20 Apr) You will be swept off your feet by a tall dark stranger today. Unfortunately they're driving a Royal Mail van at the time.

Brompton (21 Apr–20 May) Don't be tempted to drink and cycle today. Be sensible: pull over to the side, stop, finish your can of Tennents Super, and only then continue on your way.

Specialized (21 May–20 Jun) You'll be making waves today. Serve you right for cycling so fast along Regents Canal towpath.

Kona (21 Jun–21 Jul) Today might be a good time to learn a new language, given the cosmopolitan nature of London's most dangerous bus drivers.

Scott (22 Jul –22 Aug) It's a day for building bridges. You just wish they weren't still building Waterloo, as it's the one you cycle across.

Pashley (22 Aug–Sep) You're good at tongue twisters, which is lucky when you witness an accident in Tokyo between a red lorry and a yellow lorry.

Cannondale (20 Sep–21 Oct) A long walk often helps think about a problem. In this case though the problem is why bike parking on Piccadilly is so damn far from where you need to be.

Thorn (22 Oct–21 Nov) You like doing things your own way, which is just as well, given that there are no direct signed cycle routes at all across the City of London.

Dawes (21 Nov–20 Dec) Someone gets knocked off their bike in London every 25 minutes. Unfortunately today that person is you, and by the end of the day you'll be fed up of it.

Trek (21 Dec–20 Jan) Police suspicion over your outdoor photography is justified when your snaps of the cycle contraflow in Limehouse trigger a chain of events that ultimately causes the collapse of western democracy.

Giant (21 Jan–19 Feb) Your prayers for a miracle on your cycle trip to Lourdes are answered when, to the bafflement of doctors, your bike gets a new set of tyres.

Dahon (19 Feb–20 Mar) Security should be a priority today. Use the heaviest, most robust cycle lock you can find to hit the bastard trying to steal your bike.

(Previous horoscopes: 1, 2, 3)

25 March 2010

Britain's best cycling cities revealed! ...oh

My May issue of Cycling Plus arrived through the letterbox yesterday, amid the usual blizzard of flyers for takeaways and witch doctors. (I'm not joking about the witch doctors. This is south London, you know.)

Like any hack, the first thing I look at is my own stuff, to see if the subs have 'corrected' the jokes they didn't understand. (They hadn't. My copy's perfect, of course.) I'm banging on about April Fools in my column this month, and I plug Freewheeler's blog. My column's on page 36, if you're in a WH Smith some time today.

Anyway, one feature that caught my eye was C+'s ranking of the Best Cycling Cities 2010. (I posted about a list of world top bike-friendly cities a few days ago.) They say they've taken into account all sorts of stuff, not just 'facilities'. How likely your bike is get stolen, for instance (London good, surprisingly, Hull bad). Or the rain (Nottingham dry, Cardiff soaking).

But their final Top 20, according to an unspecified formula combining all these factors, certainly raises an eyebrow. Cambridge (my favourite British bike city, pictured) doesn't even make the list. Nor does York, one of the few other cities I'd happily live in as a Real Cyclist.

London only clocks in at 17th, three places below Hull (which is, to be fair, pretty good for cycling, if not for many other things, such as access to witch doctors, or having paid employment or GCSEs or two parents).

Their top five is...
1. Bristol
2. Nottingham
3. Leicester
4. Manchester
5. Edinburgh

Hmm. No doubt this will get the forums buzzing on Bike Radar, the website associated with the magazine. Wonder what Groningen or Assen or Munster might score on the C+ formula...?

24 March 2010

More bike lane mental blocks

Perhaps enthused by yesterday's post on the unveiling of a new map of London Bike Hire Scheme stations, one reader of this blog went out to inspect the progress of the one by Lambeth North station on Baylis Road. This is what he found.

Charlie writes (and snaps): "I can't help but feel that the car with its Highway Maintenance banner that is parked in the cycle lane protected by a plastic bollard may be something to do with the construction team adjacent who are hard at work on... installing the cycle hire station.

"Luckily there was an emergency telephone number on the site fencing so Serco, who are running the cycle hire scheme, were informed of the obstruction and hopefully managed to remove the offending vehicle.

"Meanwhile it would appear that pavement cycling is being encouraged on the London Cycle Network 3 where, despite quite prominent on road signage to the contrary, someone has managed to inadvertently block the entire width of Cornwall Road with Heras fencing."

Lidl bit of advice: Bargains in store. Maybe

Lidl, the bargain-basement supermarket chain, is running a bike promotion right now. Among the promised cheap items are bike light sets for £10, bike hoists for £5, and computers for £4.

Hunting round stores in previous promotions I've been disappointed. I've only ever seen bike shorts and drinking bottles actually on sale. Perhaps it's just as well, given my history with bike computers. No sooner have I established that my house is 216 calories from Kings Cross and the journey takes place at an average altitude of 19 feet than it gets stolen, broken, left on the Cambridge milk train, or reset by a rainshower to 26 inch wheels.

Still, maybe worth a look if you're passing a Lidl. You can always stock up on Arabic-language bottles of lemonade, Portuguese baked beans and Lithuanian chocolate while you're there.

23 March 2010

Hire-bike map unveiled. Now what about loos?

London's bike hire scheme will be rolling out this summer, and someone's knocked up an Open Street map with all the confirmed docking locations.

Such maps have been available for individual boroughs on council websites, but this - on the website of a company that's putting together a hire-bike-finding iPhone app - is perhaps the first publicly available to show all of them in one.

We're very pro the bike hire scheme, having seen it work with varying effectiveness in other major international cities such as Paris, Krakow and Copenhagen. And Cardiff.

We like it partly because it will offer even everyday, Real Cyclists like us new flexibility - organising trips with visiting friends, replacement-bikes for when ours are being repaired, or asymmetric journeys that involve peak-hour train trips. Partly because it will encourage potential cyclists onto the streets, who'll realise how rubbish the facilities are and might just make a fuss about it. And partly because the focus of popular discontent will wander away from 'lycra louts' to 'tourists on hire bikes' wobbling around on the wrong side of the road while taking pictures on their iPhone.

And there'll be a whole new subculture of Docking Station trivia-inspired trips to make, as there is with tube stations. What's the closest two docking stations? The most isolated one? The prettiest? Which ones generate the best free 30-minute journeys, with the most postcard views, the best riverscapes, the best mews to nose into, the best parks to explore, the quirkiest sights, the most stunning architecture? This blog will be making some suggestions.

For the moment, sights like this (right) are popping up all over the centre. After some surprisingly sandy digging for a few days behind Serco's rattly metal barriers, the black hopscotch-squares of the docking unit bases are revealed, waiting for the magic posts to be plugged in when the scheme starts.

This one's on Cartwright Gardens, near the British Library, and if you ask me they should keep the plastic toilet cubicle as a feature of all bike hire stations. There's something about cycling that stimulates the bladder, and wandering round trying to find a central London toilet that also does bike parking can be a frustrating task. (Tip: Lincoln's Inn Fields.) Someone should do an iPhone app for that.

22 March 2010

HGV deaths: Critical Mass demo this Friday

Killed by a lorry turning left: the story is depressing and familiar. So far in 2010 three London cyclists have died in HGV collisions: academic David Vilaseca Perez, 46; medical student Muhammad 'Haris' Ahmed, 21; musician Shivon Watson, 28. We're on grim course for another typical year: ten such deaths is about par.

We all try to look for patterns to reveal the weather behind the grey cloud of stats. Women fare disproportionately badly in fatalities - different spatial awareness, unassertive gutter riding, blind chance? No-one knows. Foreign-looking names dominate the deaths: well, that's obvious, that's just London... isn't it?

As Moving Target says, an essential problem is that nobody saw what happened. Not passers-by, buried in the tunnel vision of their commute. Not the driver, multitasking with a hall of mirrors, conflicting road signs, a crazy schedule and illogical roadworks. And not the cyclist, because they never made it to their destination.

No fuzziness over this stat, though: in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009, HGVs were the vehicle involved in 47%, 46%, 88% and 69% of cyclist deaths respectively. Generally accepted figures show that more than half of fatal lorry-bike encounters happened when the lorry was turning left. As the Bike Show reports, it's also recognised that over half of lorry-bike deaths happen in morning rush hour.

The British Medical Journal's estimate (stated in 1994, but remaining true) is that in inner London, in relation to their traffic volume, HGVs cause 30 times as many cyclists deaths as cars and five times as many as buses. "Until the factors leading to this excess risk are understood, a ban on HGVs in urban areas should be considered," they said.

This blog, and several others, is not calling for a ban. But we are calling for a modification to a current rule that seems to us perverse. Lorries over 18 tonnes cannot drive through central London (except with a special permit) from midnight to 7am. Which puts drivers under intense and unreasonable pressure to cut corners, in every sense, every morning rush hour, when vulnerable users such as pedestrians and cyclists are at their peak. We are campaigning for the ban to be lifted.

(These are some of the blogs involved: ibikelondonBike TartLondon CyclistMoving Target ZineCycle ChicCyclodelicVeLo Citythe Bike Show podcast.)

You can make a statement by turning up to Critical Mass this Friday 26 March, which meets as usual between 6pm and 7pm at the National Theatre on the South Bank, under Waterloo Bridge. Of course, CMs are not organised and what happens is what happens, but many participants will no doubt be keen to stop at the spot near the Shard building site where Haris Ahmed made his fateful final journey. This is an important CM that may well draw some media coverage, and we urge you to take part.

Cycling is still safe... we keep saying. Yeah, like paragliding or rock-climbing or space exploration. Deaths are microscopically unlikely.

But injuries aren't, and near-misses are common, as CityBeast's cycle accidents map (see graphic, above right) grimly demonstrates. Most of us probably have a few more bristles on the brush with death several times a month. I accept it; most don't. Sane people would take the bus over a Space Shuttle re-entry every time. And it's a vicious circle. By putting people off cycling, such concerns help recolonise the roadspace with fast-moving motor vehicles.

That general climate of car-centric culture is the problem, and HGVs are only a small part of it. But what's the answer? I don't know. It's not in the back of the book. I'm not even sure of the question. I must have been away when we did that. But I urge you not to be away for Critical Mass this Friday.

21 March 2010

Racked with pain: Bike parking on Walworth Rd

I was pleased to see this new bike parking this morning on Liverpool Grove, just off south London's famous Walworth Road. Charlie Chaplin hailed from round here, so it's appropriate that I don't get the joke here either.

The three racks, evidently installed by someone under the impression they were for very large slices of toast, provide between them enough parking for two whole bikes: one each on the outsides of the system.

In fact, make that four bikes, if you could somehow contrive to squeeze a couple of them into the spaces in between. The task would present few problems to those practised in making knockabout silent comedies.

20 March 2010

French whine: Taxi parking in Bordeaux

Regular readers will know the extraordinary coincidence that, whenever I take a photo of a vehicle blocking a bike lane, the number plate is appropriate.

So I was pleased to see the effect is not limited to London, as this snap of a taxi at Bordeaux station (right) sent me today from our French correspondent demonstrates. (Merci, Tim. Anyone have experience of French taxi drivers? Do they tell you how they once had that Johnny Halliday in the back of their cab and he was a proper gent, and that Jean-Marie le Pen should be running the country?)

19 March 2010

Heady wearing: Spring cycle clothing

Spring is here, which means thousands of London commuters will be tempted to get their bikes out the shed and get some exercise - fruitlessly trying to pump up the tyres.

It also means you can put all those bulky warm winter layers, hats and scarves back in the closet, and cycle in your comfy everyday clothes. So, for our fairly regular Friday Onion ripoff, we've put together a 'statshot': spoof figures made up for your entertainment, a bit like a TfL press release. We ask...

What are we wearing to cycle to work?
4% Reynolds 531 facial piercings
6% fairtrade, sustainably-sourced lycra
9% T-shirt saying 'I'm not a smug cyclist, I'm just pleased because I'm better than you'
14% rims, thanks to badly adjusted brakes
17% everyday skirt and high heels - but wife understands and is OK about it
22% wry smile
28% helmetcam, so inquest can see what really happened

18 March 2010

What makes a bike-friendly city? Being able to sell a holiday

This list of the '11 most bike-friendly cities in the world' was pointed out to me by my colleague Tim.

It's a promo for Virgin Vacations, and so it's really the '11 most bike-friendly cities in the world that Americans might have heard of and not be too scared to visit' (no Groningen or Munster, for instance). But it's interesting nevertheless. It doesn't feature London, which suggests they know what they're talking about. Their top three is Amsterdam; Portland, Oregon; and Copenhagen. (Trondheim, with its odd bike-lift, is No 7.)

The article links to a US blog on Bicycle Friendly Communities I'd not seen before (right) - a very interesting rating of the best American cities for cycling. Each is given a quality rating from Bronze to Platinum. They assess bike-friendly businesses too.

Cambridge would presumably come top of a British list, with maybe even a Gold rating. But I'm not sure the US blog's tick-list categories of Engineering, Enforcement and so on are right for us. Which categories would be?

Cycling in Cambridge, like Copenhagen or the Netherlands generally, is enjoyable mainly because lots of other people are cycling too. The place has a self-reinforcing cycling culture, a combination of things such as decent signposting, separated and shared lanes, bike-friendly shopping and living areas, parking at stations, driver attitudes, council enthusiasm, a vibrant local cycling group, and the sheer number of bums on saddles that encourage others to do the same. Possibly other factors too – student population, academic ethos, historic and hence car-repelling layout? – and yes, 'flat', but I suspect further down the list than most would imagine.

London I'd generously put at Bronze. Once the Cycle Superhighways come in, you can upgrade that, to Bronze with a hint of blue. But looking at the Cambridge factor tick-list, London struggles to score on any. And yet I still feel it's a fabulous place to cycle round, and I enjoy doing so every day, from the cut and thrust of the city-centre vectors to trundling around backstreets full of history, character and quirk. Everything happens here and you can access it all by bike fast, fun, and effectively for free. Maybe I've just got used to it, like you get used to your house's worn carpets and dodgy taps and collapsing fences.

So would I recommend Virgin's two-wheeled holiday hunters to come here? Um, ah, well. Yes, yes of course. You'll love it. Really. It's, er, the best way to see London. Just follow me, signal exactly when I signal, go exactly where I go, and do exactly what I do. Er, except what I do after taxis and buses overtake me too close on Whitehall.

17 March 2010

Bike parking sprouting in spring

Now that spring is here, Plantlocks - those rather pleasant cycle-parking flower-tubs - seem to be sprouting all over the place.

I was pleased to see this pair in Danbury St in Islington, turning a single-yellow car parking spot (in other words, a car parking spot) into space for several bikes and lots of geraniums.

I was even more pleased to see this one solve the previous bike-parking problems outside the Wetherspoon's pub off Lincoln's Inn Fields.

Things are still pretty dismal overall though. Here's our local supermarket (Kennington Tesco) the other morning. There is a bike rack provided, but it's too far away. Unless a rack is right outside, the convenience of railing will always win out.

And here's Paddington station a couple of days ago. As far as I can see from its web page, there's supposed to be 158 bike parking spaces, which clearly isn't enough and they're always full. Not much chance of finding a place quick if you have a train to catch.

There was talk last year of whizzy hi-tech bike parking being installed here for 1,000 bikes... hmm. How much space would 500 Plantlocks take up? And you'd have a fabulous show of spring flowers.

16 March 2010

Jersey's helmet law does my brain in

Oh. Helmets have been made compulsory for under-18s in Jersey, that famously progressive island-peculiar. Jersey likes to style itself a cycling island. This will do nothing for that image. Freewheeler watched the predictably uninformed BBC TV news item on the new law yesterday morning.

The bill was brought in by a politician who had the heartbreaking experience of seeing his son suffer brain injury after falling off his bike. Very sad, but that's not a good reason to make laws.

Still, it gives me an idea. We're always hearing from people with an unprovable anecdote about how a helmet saved their life, so therefore they should be able to tell everyone else what to do. (However, they usually didn't escape as unscathed as they think: their ability to type upper-case letters and write coherent sentences often appears to have been compromised by the trauma.)

Well, my granddad was saved in the Great War when a sniper's bullet was deflected by his cigarette case. So I'm going to campaign for smoking to be made compulsory.

Regular readers will know from previous posts (1, 2) where I stand on helmets. Right on the top of them, to tread them as far into the ground as possible. They're of very questionable effectiveness and largely irrelevant to the Safety Debate, merely drawing attention away from the real issues, such as how we persuade the public and politicians to invest money and willpower into better cycling facilities.

Still, I have a tip for those who believe better personal protection is the way forward rather than better bike lanes, and that it's the victim's responsibility for any accident. Nip up to the excellent Wallace Collection, just north of Oxford St. (It's free, and they have good bike parking now.) In their basement, you can try on a suit of armour (picture).

It's great fun, and you can see how much more you'd enjoy riding round London, and how much safer everyone would be, if only they'd make it compulsory for cyclists.

Beer'n'bike? A pub to Trust

Yesterday's Tiredoflondontiredoflife blog, which suggests interesting places to visit in the capital, picks out the George Inn in Southwark.

I'm quite a fan of the George (right). Partly because it's London's only half-example of a medieval galleried inn, with some bits unchanged for hundreds of years.

But also because it's bike friendly. It's a perfect summer evening bike'n'beer destination, as I recorded last July.

Outside London there are better examples of preserved old coaching inns. The New Inn in central Gloucester for instance (right), hiding behind chain-store shop windows in the main shopping street, is more complete.

Not as enthusiastic with the bike parking, though. And the Wetherspoon's round the corner has free wifi.

15 March 2010

Taxi complaint? Try hailing the Met

In the Chinese astrological cycling system, 2009 was the Year of Being Cut Up By Buses, and 2010 is the Year of Being Cut Up By Taxis.

(2008 was White Vans, 2011 will be Motorbike Couriers, and 2012 Deadline-Chasing Olympic Construction Vehicles.)

The email for bus complaints is CUSTOMERSERVICES.BUSES@tfl.gov.uk. After two or three weeks you get a mostly standard reply saying we take this very seriously, the driver has been interviewed dah di dah.

It's easy to mock, but it does work, because two days later when you get cut up in the same way by the same bus route at the same junction at Trafalgar Square at the same time of day, it's a different driver.

Of course, the vast majority of cabbies are hard working, drive sensibly and safely, and I have no problem with them. They deserve respect: it takes a great deal of skill to negotiate your way through London's labyrinthine roadmap while texting your bookie and telling your fare how Nigel Farage should be running the country. It's only the tiny minority that are abusive, swivel-eyed bullies bent on intimidation. Say only five per cent of the 21,000 licensed black-cab drivers in London, in other words only... oh, actually that's over a thousand.

Anyway, one email line of complaint for taxis is Taxi.Complaints@pco.org.uk. However, they're only really concerned with licensing ('The Public Carriage Office has no legislative power to investigate road traffic offences committed by cab drivers'). You get the idea they're more concerned if the licence plate is displayed in the wrong font than if the driver ran you off the road to impress the hen party in the back.

But I see from my colleague Danny at City Cyclists that he's had some success by reporting bad black-cab driving to our friends in the Met at https://secure.met.police.uk/roadsafelondon/. No, really - and this was a genuine being-cut-up road traffic incident, not some outright very-serious offence such as taking a photograph of a pothole. I'll try emailing it next time I have to dodge a missile-taxi sequestering my ASL on a red in Whitehall.

14 March 2010

Quirky stuff on maps - 3

I've finally got round to reading Map Addict, by Mike Parker, on the enthusiastic recommendation of several friends. It's a sort of Fever Pitch for OS map fans, nicely written, humorous, and full of interesting sort of stuff for the sort of people that find this sort of stuff interesting.

(His priorities sometimes wander away from the scholarly - he devotes seven lines to William Smith's iconic and ground-breaking geological map of 1815, compared to 234 lines about the Cerne Abbas Giant's willy, for instance - but there's plenty of good stuff. He's good on map anomalies, satnav hate, secret bases, enclaves and exclaves, memorable Ordnance Survey maps, and Spurn Point.)

If you've ever cycled anywhere just because it looked curious on the map, it's for you. I've done this many times, often with friends. I once cycled to Ousefleet, home of the OS's most empty square, for instance. There was nothing there.

And, browsing maps the other day, I came across two more curiosities that made me plan cycle visits. First is a place called Dairsie or Osnaburgh near Cupar, Fife - are there any other places in Britain with 'or' in their title? Is this some sort of council funding tax dodge?

Then there's the two confusingly named villages of Burton Stather and Burton on Stather (right). Both are in Lincolnshire, and next to each other. (It brings to mind the two separate neighbouring villages in Essex both called Great Totham.) The Burtons are coincidentally just up the lane from Ousefleet's Zen square. Perhaps there's just not that much to do up in north Lincs.

13 March 2010

How much respect for bike lanes? Vauxhall

The 'cycle lane' that runs - well, limps, more like - round Vauxhall roundabout is an obstacle course enough. You have to give way every five seconds to side roads, wait at a dozen lights, and often dismount and push.

But this morning it was even more of a challenge. First, because of the sign (right) helpfully advising cyclists that they have to move to the side, to avoid the sign advising them to move to the side.

Second, because of the van (right) delivering tiles.

Well, that's appropriate: Vauxhall roundabout is enough to make anyone's eyes glaze over.

And yet again, the number plate...

12 March 2010

Good bike parking sent to Coventry

The bike parking provided by employers in London usually varies from not very good to not very good at all. Usually you just have to take your chance on the street, looking forlornly round for a lamppost like a dog with a bad prostate.

But this is exemplary. I'm doing some temporary work at the QCDA, one of those government bodies you've never quite heard of, but which presumably does something important, such as providing public sector jobs. (I'll only be here a few days, so I might not find out what they do.)

And look! Their Piccadilly office provides secure, covered, spacious bike parking (right) in its basement, complete with lockers and showers, all of it well used. It's especially welcome, as Piccadilly's street parking for bikes is virtually non-existent.

So full marks to the QCDA... except that they're moving out and relocating to Coventry by the end of March. Calling all bike-friendly medium-sized companies: a exciting location has become available in central London...

11 March 2010

How to never have a bike stolen again

I was pleased to see this Christiania bike parked in posh Connaught Square, between Hyde Park and Paddington Station, the other day, taking up a fraction of the parking space of the family car next to it.

But isn't it a little vulnerable there, secured to itself with only a cheap cable lock? No! Not at all, thanks to the 24/7 police presence next door, guarding the residence of former PM Tony Blair.

(There are more coppers round the back in the quaint mews of Archery Close - they were quite helpful when I nosed around there, pointing out more picturesque back streets to explore - no, seriously.)

So that's a little tip for you, there: don't bother with expensive category-15 D-locks - just move in next door to someone who might have rubbed up a few people the wrong way after starting an unwinnable war on a trumped-up premise.

The officer on duty did come and ask me what I was doing, in a civil and ultimately friendly manner actually, but she beat a quick retreat when I started talking in depth about cycle blogging, changes in contraflow sign regulations, and how continental brakes are the other way round to British brakes. Another little tip for you, there.

Two more cyclists die

Cyclist killed by truck: for some media, it's hardly news any more. But the two deaths on Tuesday (in SE1) and Wednesday (in E9) this week can't go unmentioned here.

There are questions about the truck involved in the SE1 killing, and what it was doing down a side road in the first place. Was it a construction lorry for the works at the Shard, taking a shortcut it shouldn't have?

10 March 2010

Video Benz the truth over coffee and bikes

Velorution's stylish blog has drawn our attention to a silly video promoting Mercedes Benz, which apparently is some sort of motor vehicle manufacturer.

The video shows a commuter race between a cycle courier and a man driving a Merc. The courier wins, though only because he ignores 'traffic rules' (right).

Also, he had urgent dance music to cycle to, whereas Mercman only had languid baritone sax and vibes, and some people lazily clicking their fingers, which clearly slowed him down.

However, the driver is the real winner. Because, as the two share some coffees afterwards, the cyclist realises with envy that the automobile can supply something he can only dream of: heated footwells and multiple cupholders (right). Damn! But of course! No wonder cycling only has a two per cent modal share!

I need hardly point out that this video is a travesty, a farrago, a calumny, and what my old British Library colleagues would have learnedly called a tissue of bollocks. Because of course bicycles have cupholders (right).

How else do you think I get that bottle of wine home from the supermarket without panniers?

Shining example of bad design on Cromer St

This is Cromer St, part of a bike route south of Kings Cross station. It's been carefully designed to stop cars using it, by the insertion of a bollard; to stop motorcyclists using it, by the insertion of jagged flagstones; and to stop cyclists using it, by the insertion of a parking space right at the end.

(Yet again, by astonishing coincidence, the number plate is appropriate... see also here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.)

This is actually a rare view of the facility without a car parked right on top of it - where the bicycle symbol is. Google's Street View shows it as it normally appears, with a car loading up on toilet rolls and 2-for-1 party packs of Mars bars from the shop to the side. Good to see that some businesses are weathering the recession.

09 March 2010

Glove story: Warm hands in winter

Just in time for the finish of the coldest English winter since blogging began comes a new product to keep cyclists’ hands warm.

The BarBra (right) from Canada is the bike version of those grand muffs used by motorcyclists - a snip at £30, including shipment by dogsled from the Yukon.

It isn't the only way to keep hands warm. The ETA article on it helpfully suggests an alternative to the BarBra: heated gloves.

But what other, more practical, ways are there for cyclists to keep hands warm in freezing weather? Here’s some Real Cycling suggestions.

• Vigorous hand exercises to buses and taxis that cut you up

• Keep hands in pockets at all times

• Stay close behind lorries to get benefit of warm exhaust fumes

• Make fire of fixed penalty notices you got for pavement cycling

• Carry mug of tea in each hand

• Stay in bed

08 March 2010

Pay a fine or take a Chance in Leics Sq

Cautionary tale from Giles at Southwark Cyclists, who says he was given a £30 fixed penalty notice for 'cycling on the footway' in Leicester Square (right).

Fair enough, it's pedestrianised and there's zero tolerance... except that he was cycling behind a ten-ton lorry at the time. Ah, but you see, explained the PCSOs, the lorry has a special permit.

So what's the logic here? Well, it's obvious: the cyclist is an easy target.

Next time you go to Leicester Square take a Get Out of Jail Free card.

07 March 2010

Reg. nos for bikes? This plate says it all

Registration numbers for bikes? Never: it would cost too much to administer, would drastically reduce cycling levels, and wouldn't reduce the minor problem of yob cycling.

(The yobs would simply ignore the law, just as many yob drivers do - some estimate that 1 in 5 London drivers are uninsured.)

In some ways it's a shame, as it would be nice to have personalised bike registration plates: C7CLE, or B1KER, or (for Dutch fans) F1ETS, and so on.

(It's amazing how the number plates of vehicles blocking cycle lanes that I photograph follow a pattern. It's almost like someone had Photoshopped them.... see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.)

Curiously, the number plate on the car in this photo, snapped last week (and parked legally, of course) is genuine. You couldn't make it up.

06 March 2010

The uncertainty principle of bikes on trains

Is bike space on trains being made smaller on some services, or is my bike getting bigger? I'm not sure. This was the bike space on this East Midlands service between London and Sheffield the other day - a hoover-size cubbyhole beneath a cupboard.

Thanks to the bar-ends, my bike wouldn't fit, and spent the journey rolling around and falling over like a Top Gear presenter at a canapes'n'wine product launch. And was about as entertaining*.

Still, we spotted something positive at Swindon. I'd never seen a sign like this before, telling you which end of the train the bike space on the London-bound train was going to be.

And why can't they put bike-space information on the electronic signboards? At some stations, such as Doncaster with its Heisenberg-like uncertainty of bike-carriage location, this would save massive stress. When the London-bound train comes in there, even the platform staff don't know which end your bike should go. Which means that half the time you guess wrong and have to sprint to the other end.

That really is Heisenberg, isn't it? You know the momentum but not the position? Maybe not. You can't be certain about anything these days.

* Only joking. TG's James May is, of course, a Real Cyclist himself, often seen on his Brompton.