It just looks wrong

In 1880 a bicycle was ‘a wheel’ – cranks mounted directly on the front hub like a baby’s trike – the taller the wheel the bigger the gear. The development of roller-chain, running on sprockets of different sizes, made it possible to set a cycle’s gear regardless of the size of the driving wheel. To differentiate these newfangled machines they were called ‘safety bikes’. Safeties were unpopular with some who’d mastered ordinary, high bikes. Smaller wheels didn’t cope well with bumpy roads and, more importantly… they just looked wrong.

Ordinary bike

In 1880 a bicycle was ‘a wheel’ – cranks mounted directly on the front hub like a baby’s trike – the taller the wheel the bigger the gear. The development of roller-chain, running on sprockets of different sizes, made it possible to set a cycle’s gear regardless of the size of the driving wheel. To differentiate these newfangled machines they were called ‘safety bikes’. Safeties were unpopular with some who’d mastered ordinary, high bikes. Smaller wheels didn’t cope well with bumpy roads and, more importantly… they just looked wrong.

'bladder wheels' will never catch on

In the Nineteenth Century people’s idea of a road was a strip of broken stones, a tyre an iron hoop around a wooden cartwheel. A suggestion to put bags of compressed-air around wheels was – to ordinary folk – laughable. Cycle racing was an infant sport, dominated by forward thinking. Early-adopters proved that safety bikes, with pneumatic tyres, were faster. A significant pioneer was Charles Terront, who won the inaugural, 1891, Paris-Brest for Michelin, covering 1200 kilometres in 71 hours 22 minutes. People stopped laughing. The modern era had begun.

At the 1992, Barcelona Olympics Chris Boardman won the 4 kilometre pursuit, his gold medal bike had a carbon-reinforced-plastic, monocoque frame. A classic bike made from tubular struts compares to a World War One biplane, Boardman’s looked like a Spitfire. You can find pictures of Miguel Indurain riding time-trials on a monocoque bike, but nowadays even super-champions are back on turbulence-generating stick frames. Why? Did bikes shaped like aero wings prove unreliable, slow, hard to control? You won’t see them because the Union Cycliste Internationale(UCI) banned them. They just looked wrong.

"Stick bikes are finished." M. Burrows (1992)

The UCI is cycle-sport’s governing body. As the designer of the Barcelona bike – Mike Burrows – explains:- “Sports administrators are ex-competitors, international administrators are older ex-competitors. They don’t know anything about engineering. It’s not a problem for cycle-sport. Cycle-sport is fine, but restricting what can be used in races lets ordinary people think bikes are old-fashioned. Most people don’t expect to solve modern problems with Nineteenth Century machines.” Burrows believes the conservatism of the UCI is holding back public acceptance of bikes.

The Boardman bike took advantage of new materials to make a shape that sliced through the air. The atmospheric-resistance produced by a bike is much less significant than the drag on a human body. Graeme Obree – Boardman’s great rival – changed his riding position. First folding his arms under his shoulders, then pushing them straight ahead in what become known as ‘the Superman position’. At a Science Museum reception, to celebrate the Barcelona bike’s induction as an exhibit, Boardman complained that he was going to have to do tests in the Superman position, with no possible, positive result. If it wasn’t faster that meant Obree was stronger. If it was, he’d have to learn to ride in the new posture. It turned out that Obree’s position was faster. In sport destroying the morale of your opponents is an objective.

Indurain - 'extraterrestrial'

The UCI rescued Obree’s rivals. They banned ‘Superman’. Their excuse was safety, although how dangerous riding unpaced on a velodrome can be is an interesting question. You don’t win races by crashing so on a velodrome safety solves itself. The UCI has strict rules on the acceptable position for a bike rider. Faster designs, that take the rider through the air in a horizontal shape, are banned. Ironically low, faster, feet-first bikes are also more crashworthy, than classic, head-first ‘safety’ bikes.

Cinelli’s ‘spinachi’ handlebar extensions were banned using a safety justification. The UCI even planned to ban Giant’s compact frame – it just looked wrong – until it was pointed out that it would enable dealers to accommodate almost all customers with three stock frame sizes. “I don’t really blame the UCI” – continues Mike Burrows –  “but why do the manufacturers let them get away with it?”

The classic bike is a brilliant device. It doesn’t need to be defended with conservative rules that – whatever the blazer’s excuses – are essentially aesthetic. Bike racing is more than a compelling athletic contest, it can also be a race between bikes, where the choice of mount is another sophistication. This can only widen its appeal and make bicycles more interesting to the velo-deficient majority.

Bike racing is an industrial activity, rooted in modernism. It also has noble traditions, but that doesn’t mean it need be dominated by a retro idea of what a bicycle should look like. Bikes that win races look good. Fausto Coppi, Eddy Merkx are honourable role-models. And so is Charles Terront.

This copy first appeared in The Ride Journal issue VI with a nice illustration and an embarrassing mistake.

‘nother normal Friday night

‘Look Mum no Hands’, a cycling-themed cafe on Old Street. Once upon a time there were places to hang out, Bar Italia has good coffee – and showed live coverage of the Giro before satellite TV was everywhere – the Duke of York’s in the Clerkenwell Road, thick with couriers on a Friday evening.

Friday night at  ‘Look Mum no Hands’, a cycling-themed cafe on Old Street. Once upon a time there were places to hang out, Bar Italia has good coffee – and showed live coverage of the Giro before satellite TV was everywhere – the Duke of York’s in the Clerkenwell Road, thick with couriers on a Friday evening.

Cycle mechanic’s joke.

  • Q. How many cycle-couriers does it take to change a light-bulb?
  • A. None. They want you to do it. They want you to do it now. And can they have a discount, because they’re a courier?

Back in the day there were places to hang out. Now there are cycle-themed cafes. LMNH is busy with people of all stripes. Truly we live in crazy times.

It’s the launch of ‘The Ride Journal VI‘ a handsome, perfect-bound anthology of writing, illustration and photography. Even the sparse ads are easy on the eye and loaded with symbolism. Ever wondered why Brooks saddles are so costly? Check this.

I’m disappointed. My 800 word contribution features an embarrassing mistake. The submitted copy described recumbent bikes as “crashworthy”, which has been misunderstood and rendered in print as “prone to crash”.

Some cycles are harder to ride than others, the’re good reasons why disc wheels and tri-bars aren’t allowed in road-races. Crashworthiness is about the ability of a vehicle to leave its pilot unharmed in a wreck.  A car with seat-belts, crumple-zones and an airbag is more crashworthy than one without.

On a recumbent you’re usually closer to the ground than on a classic bike. Impact is to do with acceleration not speed; half the distance, equals one quarter the force. Crash a classic bike and you’re likely to land hard on your head, shoulders or arms. Crash a recumbent and you land gently on your arse.  We all know individuals who’d be better off landing on their heads, but – in general – it’s better to absorb energy with your glutæus maximus than your skull. The brakes also work much better because you’re weight is loaded on the back wheel. Until you’ve been on a recumbent you’ve never really ridden a push-bike with brakes that actually work. On a recumbent with hydraulic-controlled discs you can out-brake anything.

Don’t get me wrong, crash a recumbent at speed and you can give yourself extensive superficial injuries, but it’s usually a walk-away. It’s a good job recumbents are so safe because most of the people who ride them are idiots.

It’s a truism that nobody (except the producers of El Dorado?) went bust by under-estimating the public, so I’m the mug for sending copy containing unexplained sub-cultural vocabulary; but whoever subbed the piece could have looked up ‘crashworthy’ before they mistranslated it into nonsense?

Not to worry. I’m not Anne-Caroline Chausson, and my little essay doesn’t appear until page 159. In truth this kind of volume is more likely to be thumbed through and tossed on a coffee table then read carefully.

Out of the window Critical Mass goes past.The Mass has become more cheerful lately. It’s always better in the Winter or in the rain. You get a higher proportion of people who actually like cycling, fewer angry twerps who only ride to annoy their parents. Critical Mass is a free event – it belongs to everyone – so you can’t complain how participants treat it, but I always hope bystanders think…

…’wow those people are cool. I wish I was one of them’…

NOT

…’why are those white kids so angry?’

Godfather of Eco-pop

The presence of people on the blue Transport for London hire bikes make the ramshackle peloton look approachable and inclusive; a clear indication that ‘normal’ people can join in. The increasing cadre of long-board skaters blur the boundaries further. Lots of people already have a line on ‘cyclists’ – sheroes at the vanguard of peace, freedom and sustainability, or self-righteous, work-shy vermin, who think they own the friggin’ road. Personally I can’t see the point of wheels without punctures, and no-way am I tough enough to ride the streets on a vehicle with no seat and no brakes, but the skaters certainly add gaiety. Also great to see Professor Kayoss rolling by on his custom Linear.

Standing in a bar full of assorted people for whom the little queen of the road is the default mode, watching a jolly, random club-run pass, soaking up anger and frustration and giving out LOVE as it goes.

These are the golden years.

  • Q. How many cycle mechanics does it take to change a light-bulb.
  • A. One. They’re resourceful, self-reliant people; but… …if it’s a Shimano light-bulb? Maybe you should consider moving to a new house?

Future shop

You must have noticed that many categories of solid shop – book-shops, record-shops – are almost obsolete. Virtual shopping does have drawbacks. Here’s the queue to collect undelivered parcels at Emma Street post-office two weeks before Christmas 2011…

 

 

 

Westfield Stratford City is a suburban salient pushing old-fashioned, low-density development towards the centre of London. This kind of land-use, that accommodates and promotes motor-dependence, is not what we want.

You must have noticed that many categories of solid shop – book-shops, record-shops – are almost obsolete. Virtual shopping does have drawbacks. Here’s the queue to collect undelivered parcels at Emma Street post-office two weeks before Christmas 2011…

…and it was another forty minutes from the door to the counter. You can tell this a genuine cross-section of Hackney and Bethnal Green folk as it includes…

  • …man/boy sporting a cycle crash-hat/running shoe combination
  • …very ugly dog
efficient land-use

Westfield features a number of big shops selling small things. Why do you need a cavernous gallery to sell watches or mobile phones? The future of shopping is souks crammed with kiosks where the person behind the counter picks out the item you ask for with a long pair of reaching tongs.

The overheads are low and customers can walk to a dozen different stores in the distance from the door to the till and back of an over-designed Westfield boutique.

waste of space

Westfield Stratford may be all wrong but even it’s dreary, privatised, faux streets betray clear signs of a new reality.

The automobile marque ‘Mini’ – produced by the Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (not to be confused with BMW) – has a pop-up shop.

“The MINI store, which will be open for 12 months only, showcases the two newest MINI models, the MINI Coupé and the MINI Countryman and also sells a full range of MINI lifestyle merchandise.”

Lifestyle merchandise?

What would Henry Ford or Juan Manuel Fangio say about that?

Once cars were useful tools, that allowed doctors to visit sick people, isolated farmers to get to market, to church or a dance on Saturday night. In 1914 it was already cheaper to run a small car than a pony and trap. Now they’re fantasy items hung on shop fronts to sell over-priced plimsolls and handbags with too much branding.

If you’re walking from Stratford Station to the Olympic Park watch out for this pretentious and threatening landmark…

What modern, practical tool of liberation has pride of place in the MINI shop window?

If you don’t want to know the answer look away now.

This land belongs to you and me

If God had meant us to walk why would she have given us bicycles? Pushing on into Angel Lane, over the bridge, which is much higher than it used to be – see the Olympics does have fitness benefits for the general population – in search of rolling access, the first turning toward the great new ‘Croydon’ was unambiguously marked ‘NO CYCLES’. People in cars or on motor-cycles were welcome. I wasn’t. Through Leyton and out along Ruckholt Road. At Eastway the same story. A signpost to Westfield but – again – no access for unmotorised people. The how-to-get-here > cycling, on the mall’s website boasts of 800 parking stands but doesn’t tell you how to get to them.

 get a car or go away

I’m pretty sure you can’t get to Westfield Stratford City, the shopping complex that abuts the Olympic Park, by bike. Riding round the site’s perimeter the pedestrian access from Stratford Station is up two flights of stairs followed by a long walk. If God had meant us to walk why would she have given us bicycles? Pushing on into Angel Lane, over the bridge, which is much higher than it used to be – see the Olympics does have fitness benefits for the general population – in search of rolling access, the first turning toward the great new ‘Croydon’ was unambiguously marked ‘NO CYCLES’. People in cars or on motor-cycles were welcome. I wasn’t. Through Leyton and out along Ruckholt Road. At Eastway the same story. A signpost to Westfield but – again – no access for unmotorised people. The how-to-get-here > cycling, on the mall’s website boasts of 800 parking stands but doesn’t tell you how to get to them.

[googlemaps https://maps.google.co.uk/?ie=UTF8&t=m&ll=51.539396,-0.010643&spn=0.051249,0.109863&z=13&output=embed&w=460&h=400]

Apparently the first London Westfield in Shepherds Bush had hurt the trade of posh streets in West London and I was interested in the dissonant idea that big city people might visit shopping malls. I’d always thought of Brent Cross, Bluewater, Lakeside Thurrock as places where suburban types went to trudge and gawp. My enthusiasm for the visit dented by Californian infrastructure, I rode home leaving the new tills unsullied by my coin.

To get to the Velodrome for the test event last week spectators had to assemble South West of Westfield. We arrived at Stratford in good time, took instruction from a cheery uniformed ‘greeter’ climbed the steps, cyclo-cross style, walked through the Mall then parked on Sheffield stands by a new dual carriageway. We came from Hackney so’d already passed close to the Velodrome and ridden halfway round the estate’s perimeter before starting our march.

The shuttle bus service was quietly efficient, being searched, walking across bleak plazas and queuing, all reminiscent of the indignities of air-travel. The bus took us on a serpentine tour of the Olympic site, under and over the same bridges – like hostages being deliberately disorientated. Eventually we were dropped, another walk away from the target we’d ridden by thirty minutes earlier.

The racing was exciting. The new velodrome elegant and functional even better than Manchester.

Now

When the bus returned us at the end of the day we mounted our bikes like honest men and – instead of walking in the wrong direction – rode West for home. After a few hundred metres a couple in yellow jackets walked into the road waving their arms. Of course we ignored them dodging through in a slow-motion parody of tricky track sprinters. They followed in a pick-up truck flashing their lights but – since the road was busy with motor-cars – couldn’t stop us without causing big trouble. At the Olympic Park exit fence, back – again – close to the Velodrome, we were finally halted and told-off. The staff had no coherent explanation why we couldn’t ride along a road busy with other traffic. When challenged to explain they had to fall back on the honest explanation. They were only obeying orders.

It was the cycle racks that got me thinking. Why had they been built if you couldn’t ride there? The next day I returned, rode to Stratford climbed the steps walked through the shops back to the parking racks. I knew riding westward would cause trouble ‘not you again?’ so I tried riding East towards Stratford and emerged on Leyton Road from behind a ‘no cycling’ sign.

I suppose this situation is temporary, That – in due course – cycle access will be revealed, but Westfield Stratford City has been open for six months.

In Inner London the bicycle is an obvious form of transport. Everything is near and the roads are mostly too narrow and congested for people to speed in motor-vehicles. In certain places, in some demographics, it’s become the default mode of travel.

In the outer suburbs bicycling is much more awkward and transgressive. Four-car households are not exceptional, the landscape is cut by big roads that often hog the desire-line. Places are further apart. For Inner Londoners who ride bikes the outer suburbs present a doughnut of inaccessibility between their regular haunts and the wide green World beyond the metropolis. Greater London contains the best conditions for cycle-travel in the UK. And the worst.

In most places round the doughnut’s inside edge, Inner and Outer bleed together through a liminal zone where some people look inwards and others outwards. Along the lower Lea Valley – once the peace-line between the Danes and the Saxons, then a boundary between Essex and London – the division is clearer and more abrupt. Westfield is definitely an invading out-post of suburbia, who’s imagined visitors come by car or perhaps via the public-transport hub at Stratford.

One of the many proposed benefits for the 2012 Olympics was jobs for local people, a phenomenon I’ve benefited from in a tiny way. There’s also the concept of the ‘games-train’ where rootless people – Australians, Kiwis, Canadians, etc. – traverse the globe from World Championship, to World Cup, to Olympics, ending one grand project then moving on to another. These people bring expertise. Perhaps their sympathy for the ‘local’ is not so well developed?

The roads of the Olympic Park are being laid out in a low-density, motor-friendly way. The speed limit will be twenty miles per hour. That contradiction is a manifestation of an era – and an area – of mixed messages.

The wasteland?

Sunday afternoon in the Olympic Velodrome, Lord  Coe makes a short speech in which he praises the glamorous new wooden ‘O’ and recalls how seven years ago, on the same spot, he was ‘struggling with rotting fridges’. When politicians – who all champion grassroots sport – talk about the Olympic Park in the Lower Lea Valley, it’s customary to infer – even to state explicitly – that it was built on waste land.

“The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

Milan Kundera

Now

Sunday afternoon in the Olympic Velodrome, Lord  Coe makes a short speech in which he praises the glamorous new wooden ‘O’ and recalls how seven years ago, on the same spot, he was ‘struggling with rotting fridges’. When politicians – who all champion grassroots sport – talk about the Olympic Park in the Lower Lea Valley, it’s customary to infer – even to state explicitly – that it was built on waste land.

 then

When you lost skin racing dirt-bikes over the scrub hills of Eastway grazes took time to heal because the land was composed of rubbish. Where tyres eroded the earth, fragments of brick and glass emerged. Despite this cruelty the environs of the cycle racing circuit, the adjacent nature reserve and allotments were a green haven.

The cycle racing at Eastway covered all disciplines – except track racing – at all standards. The Tuesday time-trials would regularly feature riders capable of covering the undulating, one mile circuit, ten times in 23 minutes, while other competitors took a quarter hour longer. All were welcome and all valued.

Pedal Power at Eastway

Post-games plans for the Olympic lands include a velo-park around the new indoor track, which stands where the Eastway home straight once ran. During the tortuous and bitter negotiations over this legacy those who now control the land have often overlooked the fact that this new facility will not be a gift. The velo-park is repayment for what was lost in 2006 when the old circuit – on land dedicated for the quiet enjoyment of the people of East London forever – went under the bulldozers.

One analysis of the Olympic bid  is as a massive land-grab. Once this Summer’s party is over it will be time to deliver all the promises made in the frantic run-up, time to take down the temporary buildings and tear up the temporary coach-parks. We can look forward optimistically to the Eastway diaspora’s glorious home-coming, to racing on land from which all toxic waste has been diligently removed. The new park is due to open in 2013, but the useful outdoor cycle-sport elements won’t be reinstated or sustained because that’s what the land-grabbers want. They prefer the wasteland myth. Vigilance is necessary.

Give the public what they want

When asked the difference between an amateur and a professional, Reg Harris replied: “When I was an amateur I had to win. Now that I am a professional I must win in an interesting and dramatic fashion.” The distinction is gone – along with the cigar smoke and trad-jazz bands of old-time track racing, but it’s still about putting up a good show, pleasing the crowd. Match sprinting is great entertainment. 550 metres of manoeuvring for position leading up to a flying-start 200 metre dash.

national champion at 54

When asked the difference between an amateur and a professional Reg Harris replied: “When I was an amateur I had to win. Now that I am a professional I must win in an interesting and dramatic fashion.”

The distinction is gone – along with the cigar smoke and trad-jazz bands of old-time track racing, but it’s still about putting up a good show, pleasing the crowd.

Match sprinting is great entertainment. 550 metres of manoeuvring for position leading up to a flying-start 200 metre dash.

Everyone who watches asks – at least once –  ‘why not just go?’

Robert Förstemann’s thighs are so big he walks like a special-needs case. In the very last race on Sunday – the Bronze medal best-of-three decider – he went from the gun. His opponent Kevin Sireau of France, hesitates in momentary disbelief, tries to chase for a few hundred metres, then gives up, allowing Robert to start celebrating, half a lap out.

Their first match – won by the Frenchman – was  timed at 10,492. Förstemann took the second in 10,483, For the decider Robert covered the timed 200 metres in 16,531 with his hands off the bars and no one else in the picture.

Go Go Go Go Go Dutch

A cyclist was “lucky to be alive” after he was knocked off his bike by a rope stretched across a County Durham woodland trail. Lukasz Sikorski was travelling at 20mph when he hit the cord, which was tied between two trees in Hamsterley Forest. The mountain biking organisation, Descend Hamsterley, said he was lucky not to be seriously or fatally injured.

Reader Jonathan Chandler alerted me to a  potentially life-threatening attack,  presumably undertaken by followers of M. Parris. To call them parrisians risks defamation by association of  the citizens of Île-de-France. The correct term is parrisites.

Rope ‘sabotages’ Hamsterley Forest track

8 February 2012

A cyclist was “lucky to be alive” after he was knocked off his bike by a rope stretched across a County Durham woodland trail.

Lukasz Sikorski was travelling at 20mph when he hit the cord, which was tied between two trees in Hamsterley Forest.

The mountain biking organisation, Descend Hamsterley, said he was lucky not to be seriously or fatally injured.

It has offered a reward for help in finding the person responsible. Durham Police are also investigating

If I cut your head off will it laugh?

Somebody – yes Matthew that does mean you – needs to explain to Durham Police that it’s meant to be a joke and tell Mr. Sikorski to lighten up.

The Times’ turnaround since 2007 was also noted by David Hembrow who I rode with back in the Twentieth Century, and more recently competed against in funny bike racing. Those events are about 36 hours too short for me, but I do prefer a sport where anyone – with a cycle – can ride the World Championships without need to qualify.

I took advantage of our coincidental posts to contact David. There’s a favourite statistic, I’ve been pedalling for at least twenty years, that needs updating and – since it concerns travel in the Netherlands from whence David broadcasts to the World – I hoped he could help.

“One in four bicycle journeys in the Netherlands is made by a female pensioner” is what I’ve told anyone willing to listen since before the internet was open. Turns out it’s bollox. What might be true – and probably explains where my garbled version came from –  is that one in four journeys made by a female pensioner, in the Netherlands, is on a bicycle. Which begs the question how do those indestructible old ladies make the other 75 percent of their trips? Skateboard? Motorcycle, now that’s really dangerous? Or maybe in those crazy flying-squirrel suits. Once again – when it comes to social science –  it turns out that the only reliable figure is that 82.4 percent of statistics are made up on the spot.

David also dismisses my suggestion that presumed liability is a “glaring omission” from the Times’ campaign.

“In the Netherlands it’s an obscure part of the law ( “art. 185 WVW” ) and there is no catchy phrase for it. People don’t realise that liability here is different from elsewhere, and they don’t realise that it’s in any way controversial elsewhere. This was simply a small change to the law which was brought in to ensure that financial responsibility in crashes was directed in the most sensible direction. It has nothing at all to do with laying blame and it mainly acts to protect those aged under 14 years of age.”

I’m inclined to agree that it’s not a glaring omission. There are other important things missing. I also wonder if David under-estimates it’s significance? Dutch people don’t know about the legal context of crashes between pedestrians and vehicles, or between vehicles of different categories. Fish don’t know about water.

Jim Davis, chair of the bombastically-named and interesting ‘Cycling Embassy of Great Britain’, the only national cycle campaign born in the age we live in, testifies to a journey in the Netherlands to visit David.

“Where cycle path and road met, motorists stopped for us, even when we didn’t have priority.”

Infrastructure design and planning in the Netherlands are interesting subjects from which we can take wisdom and local solutions, but finally danger – and therefore safety – only comes from people. Even if David’s correct and the legal context is not relevant to conditions for cycling and walking in the Netherlands it doesn’t mean that campaigning for a change in the UK is not a useful thing to do. Argument over presumed liability once started can – in the current climate – gather it’s own momentum.

Go Go Go Go Go Dutch?

Without consensus a net of rad-weg, joining every address in this country, could still be rendered impassable to the nervous by parrisitic hoons on motor-cycles. Amongst the current enthusiasm for all things Dutch don’t forget that there – as in Germany – sales of new utility bikes have lately collapsed against those of battery machines.

Might a national conversation on childrens’ freedom of movement, exactly who does own the roads and where danger actually comes from, help all the people who currently, perversely, don’t travel by cycle?

We may hypothesise that some of these are timid pre-cyclists just waiting for physical conditions to change so they can fulfill their ambition for motor-free travel, that others are hard-hearted parrrisites itching to slaughter the self-righteous scum who dare ride ought-to-be-humble pedal-cycles on roads meant for cars? Might these notional categories overlap? They’re certainly projected onto the same population. Human motivation is complicated. You can’t change the way people behave without changing the way they think.

Downhill all the way

My adult career began, hurrying to college in Solatio shoes, oxford bags and a Laurence Corner greatcoat. An ignorant prick who thought special clothes for cycling were counter-revolutionary. Last year I finished a fifth – OK you dragged it out of me – a fifth, Paris-Brest. Readers inexperienced enough to be impressed need to understand that the only reason you haven’t done it is that you don’t want to. Or haven’t wanted to yet?

Bicycle madness is analogous to the right-wing model of drug use. You start on shandy and progress to crack-cocaine.

genuine 1970's: note toe-clip damage

My adult career began, hurrying to college in Solatio shoes, oxford bags and a Laurence Corner greatcoat. An ignorant prick who thought special clothes for cycling were counter-revolutionary. Last year I finished a fifth – OK you dragged it out of me – a fifth, Paris-Brest.

Readers inexperienced enough to be impressed need to understand that the only reason you haven’t done it is that you don’t want to. Or haven’t wanted to yet?

An unbeaten streak, dating back to 1995, reveals the depths to which one can sink and the persistent nature of my own condition. I’m not dumb enough to build social-theory on one depraved biography but it has prompted an interest in the pathology of velomania.

mudguards, accessories obligatory for any presentable rider?

Copenhagen Cycle Chic is great – urban planning has always rung my bell – but maybe their 2008 manifesto carried a whiff of sectarianism? The credo says use mudguards “where possible”, yet absolutely prohibits streamlined clothing. Of course it’s a mistake to take these things too seriously and, as well as don of street-photography, Mikael Colville-Andersen – godfather of cycle chic –  is an aviation-grade sloganeer.

His observation…

“Our relationship to our bicycle is often the same as to our vacuum cleaner. Everyone has one, everyone uses it, but the vacuum cleaner and the bicycle are merely efficient and practical tools for making our everyday lives easier.”

 

…is an economical and sticky way of describing the push-rod’s main role in the well-run societies of North West Europe.

As follower of ChCC (What middle-aged man doesn’t enjoy quality pictures of well-groomed young people with nice looking  fenders?)  I’ve noticed that M. C-A may be getting a little too interested in the subject of humanity’s greatest mechanical contrivance; and I don’t mean his Nilfisk.

usually modelled by a fat bloke

Christmas just gone he let slip he’d loaded a sports odometer app on his smartphone, revealed how he’d ridden 60 km when the train would have been quicker and described a headwind as “pesky”. Can a novelty road jersey to cut the air-drag be far behind?

If nascent flirtation with performance were not worrying enough there’s also an alarming photograph, of the fetishistic deployment of a  bicycle as bathroom hand-basin stand, which Mikael describes as “quite possibly the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in the bicycle furnishing category.”

‘Bicycle furnishing’?

I feel compelled to ask, “Why, M. C-A?”

It’s fun?

To stay in the realm of sanity…

Cycle furniture?

I’m sorry but that’s just wrong.

Don’t criticise others for inconsistency. A shifting position may be the sign of an open-mind; of personal development. When someone, who’s previously marked bicycles as ‘merely efficient and practical tools’, displays signs of advancing velomania, if an avowed champion of ‘normal’ cycling can develop velophilic symptoms, be warned. Mikael’s case emphsises just how insidious bicycle madness can be.

The crrimes of Parris

It’s interesting and optimistic that a heavyweight national daily has chosen this subject for a campaign, particularly when four years ago the very same organ ran a notorious suggestion to kill people at random.

It’s interesting and optimistic that a heavyweight national daily has chosen this subject for a campaign, particularly when four years ago the very same organ ran a notorious suggestion to kill people at random.

“A festive custom we could do worse than foster would be stringing piano wire across country lanes to decapitate cyclists.”

Matthew Parris, The Times, 27/12/07.

Perhaps Mr. Parris  should send a copy of his humourous essay to Mary Bowers’ family to cheer them up?

If I cut your head off will it laugh?

In his defence poor Parris had a deadline pending, it was holiday time, he had to write something. A community-service order, for incitement to murder plus two years prison – suspended – for being unfunny, might be a fair tarriff? Hateful as this kind of  gormless idiocy  may be, outbreaks are a symptom of progress. If the poor lambs didn’t feel threatened they’d pick some other target.

Just as it was a mistake to get too upset  at the hate-criminal’s sorry little rant, let’s not  feel cynical in not treating ‘Cities fit for Cycling’ as a brave new dawn. A strategy for long-term engagement in street politics is not getting too depressed or too triumphant. Take a long view. Round here at least, things are getting slowly better.

When you read the figures for those who endorse the campaign, remember, some only signed-up to leave a ‘SACK PARRIS NOW’ message.

Once upon a time buying newspapers was normal and riding a bike was odd. Not anymore.

A good start, can do better

‘Cities fit for cycling’ campaign some suggestions… 1. Trucks entering a city centre should be required by law to fit sensors, audible truck-turning alarms, extra mirrors and safety bars to stop cyclists being thrown under the wheels.

‘Cities fit for cycling’ campaign some suggestions…

1. Trucks entering a city centre should be required by law to fit sensors, audible truck-turning alarms, extra mirrors and safety bars to stop cyclists being thrown under the wheels.

Sensible stuff, but why only the city centre? Surely people in the ‘burbs or the country are just as worthy of protection? Onboard cameras can be deployed, ‘blind spots’ are unacceptable.

2. The 500 most dangerous road junctions must be identified, redesigned or fitted with priority traffic lights for cyclists and Trixi mirrors that allow lorry drivers to see cyclists on their near-side.

This is tricky, maybe the most dangerous junctions are the ones with fewest casualties because people don’t cycle – or walk – there? Make sure you don’t mistake a political issue – who is killing who? – for a technical one. Good design can help but danger comes from people not junctions.

3. A national audit of cycling to find out how many people cycle in Britain and how cyclists are killed or injured should be held to underpin effective cycle safety.

 

Good. Let’s also include pedestrians and why not motor-cyclists? Motorcycling is really dangerous.

4. Two per cent of the Highways Agency budget should be earmarked for next generation cycle routes, providing £100 million a year towards world-class cycling infrastructure. Each year cities should be graded on the quality of cycling provision.

Good  but – again – safety is about how people behave, where the kerbs and bollards go is important because it signals to people what’s expected of them but it’s not the only factor in effecting cultural change.

5. The training of cyclists and drivers must improve and cycle safety should become a core part of the driving test.

 

Can’t comment on the training of cyclists (personal financial interest) but lets make it harder to qualify to drive, and give life bans for careless – potentially deadly – driving. Those disqualified will ride bikes and live longer.

6. 20mph should become the default speed limit in residential areas where there are no cycle lanes.

You forgot pedestrians again.

7. Businesses should be invited to sponsor cycleways and cycling super-highways, mirroring the Barclays-backed bicycle hire scheme in London.

Not sure about this? Is it a general principle? Can we start with Vodaphone paying for the upkeep of the M25?

8. Every city, even those without an elected mayor, should appoint a cycling commissioner to push home reforms.

Let’s not piss about here, it’s a ‘Tsar’ or nothing.

Rob Jefferies, legend

The glaring omission in this draft programme is ‘presumed civil liability’ – where in any collision the pilot of the heavier, faster vehicle has to establish it was not their fault – and proper punishment for bad – potentially deadly –  driving.  Presumed liability is a cultural corner-stone of the cycle-friendly environments of Germany, the  low countries and Scandinavia.

It’s not about being vindictive – in some ways those who slaughter are secondary victims of the current insane system – but cases like the  Rob Jefferies killing are not exceptional and send out exactly the wrong message. It’s hard to get juries – who are likely stuffed with the motor-dependent – to convict but if we are to change the culture this is where to start.