20 December 2011

Spokespeak: York's bike registration scheme

Operation Spoke is York's bike registration scheme.

Local police have their eye on several dodgy lockup-garage dealers in the area - the sort of people who advertise lots of bikes of hazy provenance on Gumtree or eBay.

(One of the suspected fences, apparently, is a teacher. If you're offered a bike that seems too cheap to be true in York by a man with patches on his elbows and red pens in his top pocket, beware.)

But it's hard to prove a bike has been nicked - which is where this database comes in.

We stumbled across a Spoke Registration Event on Sunday (top right), ambling round a deserted York College.

No elaborate bike surgery involving transponders inserted into down tubes here. All that happens is a bloke writes a code number in various places on your bike with a special pen (right).

The writing only shows up under UV light, if you take your bike into a disco for instance, or a public toilet in Hull.

Well, he said it was a code number he was writing. It could have been Ha Ha Big Nose. Probably best to be nice to registration teams, just in case.

There's a national self-registration scheme at immobilise.com, but Spoke sessions are worth dropping in on, partly for peace of mind, but also because you get lots of free yellow things (right): keyrings, spoke reflectors, trouser bands.

There may be something predictable about our young cycling nephews' cracker fillings next weekend...

15 December 2011

You're in: York Planets trail dog's verdict on cyclists

The York to Selby rail trail - which features a must-see scale model of the solar system - also has an intriguing sculpture on the bridge over the Ouse, a couple of miles south of York, near Naburn.

It features a Dilbertesque man made of wire, fishing from the bridge, his bike laid down behind him. He has evidently just caught a train (geddit?).

What I only spotted recently, though, was that the dog accompanying him is clearly peeing on his bike.

I rather like this; it's an appropriate comment on how cyclists and our facilities are treated generally.

Such as here, for example, on the cycle track in the centre of York, near the Nestlé factory, yesterday.

The fencing on the edge of this building site collapses regularly, providing a nasty potential hazard for inattentive cyclists on dark evenings.

Unless, of course, it's more ironic wire sculpture?

05 December 2011

Markt man: Biking Brum's Christmas canals

German Christmas Markets seem to be everywhere these days. We've been visiting a few - Leeds, Sheffield, York, Birmingham (right, picture Stephen Harper) - in the echt German way.

That is, on bikes, and not spending more than we can afford.

Which means not spending anything, when they want four quid for a sausage.

The Birmingham trip was an excuse to cycle the canal network, with its exciting tunnels (right) and quaint bridges.

It's a little-known fact that, compared to Venice, Birmingham's canals actually have more Somalian muggers.

So the handwritten warnings on the scruffy underpasses and abandoned-factory walls imply, anyway.

A more enticing canalside notice (right) was here, somewhere en route to Bournville.

I had no idea Birmingham was so liberal these days. First it's latte cafes in Gas St Basin, next it'll be naked saunas in Selly Oak. Now that would be authentic German.

Obviously we didn't, out of consideration for the camera-toting trainspotter in the picture (right) awaiting the flypast of a goods train from Immingham.

Canals apart, Birmingham is a horrible city centre to cycle in, with fast heavy traffic ripping along the dual carriageways, and virtually non-existent provision for cyclists.

The odd Sustrans route, such as NCN5 which passes through the Rea 'Valley' and a park by Edgbaston cricket ground, can't really make up for it.

German visitors might at least politely recognise some elements of the Christmas Market; I doubt they'd be as complimentary about the cycle facilities.

01 December 2011

Art monitor: Bikes compulsory at Royal Academy

With the ambiguity of the underground's legendary 'Dogs must be carried' notice in mind, I was amused to see this sign in the courtyard of the Royal Academy, London, the other day.

What about visitors who don't have bikes? Perhaps a Barclays Hire Bike will do?

25 November 2011

Spot the unregistered bike: Anti-theft paint jobs

Cycle theft in York is down, according to a meeting on the subject I went to this week. (Amusingly, there wasn't proper cycle parking, just a bit of chain.)

But one of the biggest problems the police face is that of unmarked bikes. There are several dodgy, lockup-garage bike dealers they have their eye on, who flog machines of dubious provenance through Gumtree and eBay using only mobile phone numbers.

When they turn up at said lockup making polite enquiries, however, none of the bikes there register on any database, so there's no proof they've been half-inched.

The local register in York is called Operation Spoke - there are regular free registration sessions - and this automatically puts you onto the national Immobilise database.

Hmm; it's no guarantee, as I know from having my Immobilise-registered bike nicked in Twickenham. The police there showed as much interest as if I'd lost a packet of fags in the pub. I never saw it again. But worth doing nevertheless.

Anyway, the owner of this MTB, spotted - literally - at York market this morning, has set up his own bike-marking scheme: vibrant yellow spattered onto jungle green.

How much use this will be in assisting the police if it gets abducted to a lockup I don't know, but it looks striking. No doubt the York heritage lobby will try to stop it.

22 November 2011

Peak soil: Gardener's cargo bike is what I need

This cargo bike loomed out York's fog yesterday. Presumably it's just locked up while the eco-gardener owner is on the job, rather than standing around as an ad, or serving as a planter.

I wrote a recent article for the CTC magazine on how cargo bikes are thriving in London, where they deliver faster, more flexibly and cheaper than cars. I've also featured cargo bikes on this blog related to my interests, such as beer and cake.

And a cargo bike is just what I need, to let me cycle through York's 'pedestrianised' city centre. Because, contrarily, it excludes bikes, but seems to allow plenty of motor traffic for 'deliveries'.

So, with a cargo bike, I can happily cycle through those winding medieval lanes to buy a plug from Barnitt's, on the pretext that I'm 'delivering'.

Well, a lot of the cars seem to be pulling the same trick.

21 November 2011

Smug recyclist: York's bike-friendly dump

An intriguing sign in York's James St.

What happens to discarded pedestrians and worn-out cyclists? Do they get dismantled for parts and raw materials?

Don't think my liver has much resale value, but the brain's hardly been used.

Of course, it means 'recycling for', not 'recycling of'. This being York, the main Recycling Facility has a special area for walking and bike access.

So you don't have to mix it with lorries and vans, like we used to have to in Southwark. That makes the business of throwing all those bottles and cans into the skip more enjoyable. ('We just, um, had a party, honest.')

Which is just as well. Science is welcome to my body, but I think the bike will fetch more on eBay.

18 November 2011

Rebel without a causeway: Cramond Island's wet road

Cramond Island, just five miles or so from central Edinburgh, is a kind of mini-Lindisfarne: a small isle connected to the mainland by a narrow concrete causeway.

Most of the time the causeway is under water (right).

But for a couple of hours at low tide (right), when the waters recede, it's perfectly cyclable.

Go when the surface is just submerged and you can skim over the top like you're cycling on water. (Probably best done when tide is going out.)

That said, there's no particular reason for cycling all the way over to the uninhabited islet. Except that you can, so this week I did.

Cramond, like all tidal islands, thrives on stories of careless travellers who get stuck by the tide.

Recent notable examples include a party of Facebook partyers and a man called Daniel Defoe.

No helicopter rescue needed for me. I cycled back along the waterside path to Leith, then along the Water of Leith Closed For Improvements Path to central Edinburgh, then past the Occupy Edinburgh campsite in St Andrew's Square.

This inspired me to stage my own sit-in: Occupy Wetherspoons, which I did until my train home.

Fans of cycling fords and tidal causeways can find examples at wetroads.co.uk, which lists and rates just about every example in the UK.

17 November 2011

Scottish Parliament's cycle parking takes shape

I was in Edinburgh this week, where the cycle campaign Spokes has just reported that there are more cyclists and fewer drivers in the city than ever.

It was hard for me to tell - I was too busy negotiating the tram-disaster roadworks in Princes St - but I was intrigued by these cycle racks.

They're splendidly situated in front of Arthur's Seat, which used to be a volcano; perhaps Arthur was too fond of the curried haggis.

The view the other way is the equally splendid Scottish Parliament building.

There I passed a happy hour spectating the Health and Sport Committee taking evidence on the Welfare Reform Bill legislative consent memorandum LCM(S4)5.1.

But the most distinctive thing is the shape of cycle racks, which have a touch of the MirĂ³ about them.

I wasn't quite sure how to lock my bike to any of them, to be honest.

Perhaps the absent-minded twisting of a few paper clips, during a particularly dull meeting of the Health and Sport Committee, was mistaken for maquettes of the new facility?

(Update: The mystery is partially solved by Tom's comment below... but only partially...)

15 November 2011

Man and van... and bike?

I'm not a fan of people using bikes as ad hoardings - there's little enough cycle rack space as it is in most city centres.

But this one, in Briggate in Leeds on Saturday morning, was intriguing. Why is a Man and Van advertising on a bike?

Presumably it's target-market psychology: the manandvan customer is likely to include the person who cycles everywhere - just the sort of person who would notice a parked-bike advert.

And blog about how they're not a fan of people using bikes as ad hoardings.

(Actually, it is possible to move house by bike, as I know from doing so twice this year. But it needs a trailer and a lot of journeys.)

14 November 2011

Xmas every night on York's Millennium Bridge

The festive lights get switched on this Thursday evening in York - but it's Christmas every night on the splendid Millennium Bridge, over the Ouse on the southern edge of the city centre.

The peds'n'bikes-only bridge is lit up at dusk in gradually shifting colours.

It's quite a romantic place to stop and enjoy, say, a knock-down trifle from the supermarket over the road.

It's constantly busy with cyclists (and, being York, you only have to wait a few minutes for a tandem) and dog walkers.

When a white dog passes, the lights make them glow trippily in green, pink, turquoise and lemon. Our Sainsburys trifle looked pretty psychedelic, too.

11 November 2011

It's Shout Again time on Radio 4

BBC Radio 4's Law in Action ran a piece this week on cyclists and the law.

It had me shouting at Joshua Rozenberg's lazily opinionated anti-cyclist ramble (cyclists all think the law doesn't apply to them, cycling is dangerous etc) and MP Andrea Leadsom's aims to bring in a new offence of causing death by dangerous cycling.

Thanks to the BBC's Shout Again facility, you can hear it for the next few days - the relevant bit starts at 21:00.

Rozenberg referred to the infamous 2007 Rhiannon Bennett case, where the unfortunate teenager was knocked down and killed by a 'speeding' cyclist . Just like the tabloids' frothing reports of the incident, he didn't mention that the young woman had been drinking, or that the collision may have actually taken place on the road, or that 'speeding' meant '17mph'.

(Dangerous on a pavement yes - but hardly on a road. And play this game: switch the circumstances of the Bennett case. Imagine a cyclist who has been drinking with his friends in the park. He then wobbles on, or possibly off, the pavement. A car doing 17mph in a 30mph limit collides with the cyclist, probably on the road, having shouted 'Move over, I'm not stopping'. The cyclist, who was not wearing a helmet, falls off and later dies from a head injury. Put that to most people and they'd say it's clearly the cyclist's fault.)

The reactions of Bennett's parents are understandable. As are those of the relatives of Eilidh Cairns, the experienced and confident London cyclist killed by an HGV driver with defective eyesight. The man responsible, Joao Lopes, was fined £200 and got three points on his licence. He continued driving, and is now being questioned by the police in connection with the death of a pedestrian in Marylebone Road in June.

Compare that to the punishment received by Bennett's killer, who was fined £2,200, and it's hard to see how - as Rozenberg's glib introduction to the radio piece suggests - cyclists are 'getting an easy ride' from the law.

The whole question of pavement cycling is trickier than it looks, as law'n'cycling blogger Joren Knibbe explains. He's the one rolled out in the programme as 'representing the cyclist', but it's all a bit clunky - it seems the programme makers, and Rozenberg, don't really have much idea what point they're making. Neither do I.

Overall, a poor effort from the Law in Action team.

Still, don't take my word for it. Listen and decide for yourself what to yell at your iPlayer.

PS The BBC reports today that a lorry driver doing 55mph in a 40mph limit and using a phone was cleared of causing death by dangerous driving after he mowed down a cyclist on the A40 last year.

PS 2 I've just found Joren's UKCycleRules blog post about how the programme turned out from his point of view. Not overjoyed, I think it's fair to say.

09 November 2011

Real cycling is back as York scoops cycle station award

Hello again everyone.

After a year away, engaged in such activities as cycling the Camino de Santiago, biking the Trans Pennine Trail, and being held hostage during an armed siege in provincial Argentina, I'm back and now based in York.

A cycling city. A kind of budget-price Cambridge. Which is why I'm here, not there.

York station - in the ice-cream-vernacular of press releases - has just scooped the title of Best Cycle Station of the Year at the ATOC awards, held at the House of Commons a few days ago.

It's easy to mock these contrived and meaningless awards as just an excuse for back-slapping, so let's do so.

But York station is pretty good for cyclists, with 400 hundred cycling parking spaces on a disused platform (right).

Or, if you're going to be all technical and restrict yourself to unoccupied ones, four spaces. I met one bloke who'd had to walk so far to find a rack he'd raised two hundred quid for charity.

However, long-disused bikes apparently get hoovered up, reconditioned and sold by the excellent and friendly Bike Hub project a few hundred metres away under Lendal Bridge.

(You can pick up a very decent mountain bike, or old side-pull ten-speed Raleigh, with three months' warranty for £70 - in London they'd be more than double that. And I got my derailleurs tweaked and wheel unwobbled there for a fiver, including a cup of tea and chirpy northern banter - just the cup of tea can cost that in some of York's poncier tourist shoppes.)

Access to York station from the north has been greatly improved by the opening of a new access ramp from the riverside (right, and bottom right).

In our minds, this is one of the most genuinely useful cycle facilities we've seen in the last few years.

The ramp cuts out a five-minute detour on busy roads, or a push up one-way streets, and takes you straight on to the main platforms.

It's spacious enough to do with a bike trailer full of enough stuff to run a small refugee camp, as I know from experience, and much liked by the Brompton-toting commuters I talked to this morning.

East Coast, I'm told, stepped in with extra cash and commitment when problems arose during the building, so many thanks to them for helping ensure completion of such a good facility.

At the end of the cycle parking, though, there's something odd. The near end of the racks has a recent smooth access ramp for those pedalling out south into the car park and onto the main road.

The far end also has a ramp right up to platform level - but it's fenced off and often almost impossible to get a bike past thanks to its status as 'executive parking'.

This puzzled bloke (right) did his best to squeeze through past the big posh car. We'll chase it up.

With the recently opened branch of the exuberant, real-cycling shop Cycle Heaven in the station too, and a new real ale pub opening up, the York Tap, things are looking good.

Not quite as much happens in York as in London, so I'll be updating this blog weekly rather than daily, but I look forward to being back in circulation. Like, er, a bad penny.