19 September 2012

Rio grand: Cycling in Madrid

I've just come back from Madrid. As the pleasant young man in Tourist Info confidently told me when I asked for a bike map, there isn't such a thing. Nobody cycles in Madrid.

Last Sunday (top right and bottom right) I rode past several thousand of those nobodies, on the new 10km riverside cycle path and in the vast parklands of Casa de Campo.

In the centre of town, true, cyclists are as rare as a vegetarian bullfighter. There are no cycle lanes at all, and virtually no cycle parking. And I thought Manchester was bad.

This is a typical scene (right): intrepid bloke on bike wondering whether to risk riding up the main road, or weave in and out of strolling pedestrians on the footpath. Or just give up and spend all afternoon with beer and tapas.

But a few cyclists do ride around the old centre. It's not only possible but, in the mazy backstreets, actually quite pleasant. If you've cycled in London, and certainly Manchester, central Madrid will seem no more challenging.

So I hired a bike from the excellent Trixi Bikes - only 8 euros for four hours - and spent a blissful Sunday afternoon on two wheels.

The few miles of that riverside cycle path, Madrid Rio (right, see map of path), and Casa de Campo, were absolutely stuffed with cyclists. Clearly a lot of people have bikes, and a lot will use them if the facilities are there.

Facilities such as bike-friendly bars and cafes: Casa de Campo was full of them, their bike racks full with Sunday riders enjoying a one-euro-fifty glass of beer with free tapas (right).

As I blogged in May, Barcelona turned itself from a cycle desert into a cycle oasis in a few years thanks to sheer political will.

There's nothing to stop Madrid - whose main roads are gridlocked with motor traffic despite good public transport - doing the same.

Despite the fact that, as the Tourist Info man said, nobody cycles.

07 September 2012

Sermon on the dismount: Bike-unfriendly works by the Hub

What planet are the contractors on? These roadworks (right) happen to be right outside the Hub, York’s friendly bike-recycling place.

The signs give priority for traffic going away from the camera up the narrow half of the street left available.

But another sign tells cyclists to dismount – even though motorbikes and cars are evidently fine to proceed.

Most cyclists, I’m happy to say, ignore the ‘Dismount’ instruction (which I’m assured has no legal status) and ride assertively but cautiously straight up the middle, as they have every right to do.

Some, though, get caught in two minds (top picture), not sure whether to dismount and push along the pavement (which isn’t wide enough for a pushing cyclist to pass a ped coming the other way in any case) or to sidle up the extreme left-hand side, which encourages oncoming vehicles to try and pass dangerously rather than give way as they should.

Of course, the smart cyclist (bottom picture) rides in behind a car, using it as a force-field.

The contractors would no doubt say they have safety in mind, but the effect – as we know from our experience here – is that it persuades some drivers that cyclists ‘shouldn’t be on the road’.

This is an opinion they are so happy to share with us, they will even break off from their mobile phone call to do so.

Instead of 'Cyclists Dismount', the sign should say 'Cyclists Proceed (but watch out for bad drivers)'. And as well as 'Give way to oncoming traffic', the sign at the other end of the roadworks should add 'including cyclists'. In theory.

But then, in theory, it's possible to land a robot the size of a Mini on Mars, and we all know that could never happen. Unless that's the planet that the contractors are on.