unity = strength

John Griffin’s call for civil-disobedience among his sub-contractors has annoyed some bike riders but the real turf-war is between categories of taxi-driver. Black-cab drivers, the aristocrats of the trade, have to spend years of ritual humiliation as ‘knowledge boys’, pottering around on low-powered motor-cycles – riding them is really dangerous –  with bar-mounted map-clips, memorising the streets, hoping  to pass ‘The Knowledge’, a Driving Standards Agency exam.

John Griffin’s call for civil-disobedience among his sub-contractors has annoyed some bike riders but the real turf-war is between categories of taxi-driver. Black-cab drivers, the aristocrats of the trade, have to spend years of ritual humiliation as ‘knowledge boys’, pottering around on low-powered motor-cycles – riding them is really dangerous –  with bar-mounted map-clips, memorising the streets, hoping  to pass ‘The Knowledge’, a Driving Standards Agency exam.
Black-cab drivers can navigate from Paddington Church Street to Wimbledon Church Street without reference to books, electronic aids or phoning a friend.  Licensed taxi-drivers in black-cabs can pick up passengers who hail them on the street while minicab-drivers can only take bookings by phone, internet or via an office. Minicab-drivers are free to negotiate fares, black-cabs carry a meter that only offers a fixed tariff.

The advent of satellite navigation has diluted the mystical status of ‘The Knowledge’. John Griffin, chairman of the Private Hire Car Association, clearly wants to move the image of the minicab – traditionally a smelly car with square wheels, whose dodgy looking driver doesn’t know Camden Town from Canning Town – up-market.

The bitterest arguments are usually between groups who – viewed from a distance – appear to be almost identical. Supporters of Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United don’t get along even though both come from the Steel City and have an unhealthy interest in association football.

does danger come from 'streets' or is that a euphemism for the followers of John Griffin?

Saturday(28-04-12) is the date of ‘The Big Ride‘ a show of strength organised by the London Cycling Campaign to coincide with the forthcoming mayoral election.

Think long and hard before voting for anyone who makes our city a global embarrassment by being too dumb to put mudguards on a bike they plan to ride in office clothes.

The Big Ride rolls out from Marble Arch at mid-day and there are feeder rides starting all over.

You may be a follower of Mikael Colville-Andersen to whom a bike is no more interesting than a vacuum cleaner and who does most of his miles in a jet airliner? You may be the kind of person who  if their head were cut off – in some brutal Matthew Parris inspired atrocity – it would reveal the image of a bicycle through their neck like the writing in a stick of seaside rock?

Either way if you’re in the London area on Saturday, with nothing better to do, why not join in? You might make new friends or – even better – history?

Wanna be in my gang, my gang, my gang?

Should a motorist fail to observe a granny wobbling to avoid a pothole or a rain drain, then he is guilty of failing to anticipate that this was somebody on her maiden voyage into the abyss. The fact is he just didn’t see her and however cautious, caring or alert he is, the influx of beginner cyclists is going to lead to an overall increase in accidents involving cyclists.

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Mahatma Gandhi

John Griffin, self-made millionaire, minicab baron must be smart, dynamic and hardworking, but he’s not keeping up.

alan sugar wannabe?

His company – Addison-Lee – is pretentious enough to have an in-cab magazine, in which Griffin is vain enough to have his own column.

Here’s his latest effort. The emphasis is mine but the strange capitalisation in the opening sentence  comes from the original…

“Green party candidates and others are up in arms about what they see as the murder of Cyclists on London Roads.

There has, as we all know, been a tremendous upsurge in cycling and cycling shops. This summer the roads will be thick with bicycles. These cyclists are throwing themselves onto some of the most congested spaces in the world. They leap onto a vehicle which offers them no protection except a padded plastic hat.

 

Should a motorist fail to observe a granny wobbling to avoid a pothole or a rain drain, then he is guilty of failing to anticipate that this was somebody on her maiden voyage into the abyss. The fact is he just didn’t see her and however cautious, caring or alert he is, the influx of beginner cyclists is going to lead to an overall increase in accidents involving cyclists.

 

The rest of us occupying this roadspace have had to undergo extensive training. We are sitting inside a protected space with impact bars and air bags and paying extortionate amounts of taxes on our vehicle purchase, parking, servicing, insurance and road tax.

 

It is time for us to say to cyclists ‘You want to join our gang, get trained and pay up’.”

 

Somebody should tell Mr. Griffin it’s too late for this kind of tub-thumping. The London congestion charge is significant, not because it affects many people. The number who want to drive a motor-vehicle into Central London, for whom ten pounds is a lot of money, is pretty small, maybe less than five figures. The congestion charge is important because its inauguration signalled clearly that the concepts ‘citizen’ and ‘motorist’ are no longer interchangeable.

During the last third of the Twentieth Century there was a general assumption that everyone was – wanted to be – or thought like a motorist. Now there’s a small – but highly significant – area where people without cars are welcome on the streets, while the motor-dependent minority have to jump through bureaucratic hoops to use them. We own the road, they have to rent it by the day.

John may be finding that his ‘us’ and ‘we’ are more fluid than they used to be, that some of his clients may be sufficiently annoyed by his gormless, victim-blaming that they might be moving their accounts to companies whose chairmen stick to deploying chauffeurs, and leave pontification on public health to those with a better grip on the data. As they say in California:- ‘cycling is the new golf’.

Wobblygrannygate isn’t Griffin’s only current intervention in the great who-actually-does-own-the-road debate. He recently sent out 3500 letters urging drivers who hire his cabs – they’re not employees but rent John’s limos on the rickshaw model – to break the law by using bus lanes.

London has many ‘bus lanes’, strips of road-way from which general traffic is excluded for some or all of the time. Most bus lanes are currently open only to pedal cycles, local buses and licensed black-cabs. Griffin backs this call for politically-motivated law-breaking by offering to pay any fines his sub-contractors accrue.

Some bike riders get very defensive about bus lanes. I own the road and am happy to share it with anyone. For me care, courtesy and consideration are more important  than compliance. I don’t mind sharing a bus lane with someone driving a people-carrier, even a motor-cyclist, so long as they have a convivial attitude and understand that, other people getting in your way, is a definition of city-life.

Taxis of all classes have a part to play in an exit strategy from motor-dependence. In today’s conditions car ownership is quite like a bar where the drink is very cheap but you have to pay a lot to get in. How ever much the motor-dependent kvetch about the price of fuel, the marginal cost of travel in your own car remains pretty low. It’s the fixed costs – insurance, depreciation, vehicle excise duty* that impoverish the motor-dependent.

Those who imagine they can’t live without an automobile, and are running on a limited budget, really don’t have much choice once they’ve got a car. They’ve got to use it to get their money’s worth and probably don’t have a lot of funds left-over for buses, trains, taxis or nice push bikes.

Cabs aren’t public transport, they’re vehicles available for private hire, but easy access to reliable taxis – first, second or third class –  is another wedge in the widening crack between ‘people’ and ‘motorists’.

John thinks we’re his enemies when really we are – or used to be – his customers.

 

*(note to John Griffin:- ‘road tax‘ went out – in 1937 – with the wing-collar and the cut-throat razor)

wisdom from the Wizard

“The bicycle is the one piece of sporting equipment that’s got more of a role to play outside the arena than inside. Tennis rackets, cricket bats, footballs; useless outside the arena. Bicycle saves the planet.”

 “The bicycle is the one piece of sporting equipment that’s got more of a role to play outside the arena than inside. Tennis rackets, cricket bats, footballs; useless outside the arena. Bicycle saves the planet.”

Mike Burrows

central-casting mad professor

I’m sure many readers already enjoy The Bike Show on Resonance fm.

Check it out if you haven’t before. It’s always interesting and the current episode is a cracker.

Mike Burrows is the best bike designer in the World. I know that because he told me himself.

He’s also an aviation-grade talker.

Next Monday he’s holding forth on funny bikes. I can hardly wait.

subjective safety special

“In its raw state the reflexive fluidity of the World overwhelms our limited powers of comprehension. We resort to simplification and abstraction in an attempt to cope.”

“In its raw state the reflexive fluidity of the World overwhelms our limited powers of comprehension. We resort to simplification and abstraction in an attempt to cope.”

John Adams

Obsession with anniversaries make this an auspicious week to consider ‘subjective safety’. A concept which has lately gained some traction in the zany World of bicycle politics.

passengers comfortable, ship unsinkable, shipwreck unthinkable

Traditional estimates of risk and safety relate to actuarial statistics, data about what’s happened before. Subjective safety is a psychological concept about how people feel.

Subjective safety fits into a theory that a mass of pre-cyclists are standing-by, waiting for ‘subjective safety’ to pass a critical threshold so they can hit the radweg. Advocates describe the theory as ‘simple’ but human motivation, human comfort, are slippery fish.

Do the people who ride motor-cycles, for short journeys, maybe to the gym, do it because bicycling is too safe? Everyone knows motor-cycles are really dangerous.

There are other ways to describe subjective safety. A misplaced feeling of safety is complacency. Over-estimate of threats is paranoia. An informed risk-assessment makes the concept redundant, ‘subjective safety’ and safety can then be treated as the same.

Risk-assessment is a key skill in enjoying cycle-travel. Successful risk-assessment is a life-enhancing faculty. Over-estimate hazards and you miss out on fun and excitement, under-estimate dangers and you may come a cropper. Learning to ride a bike is learning to live.

September 3, 1967, was a significant date in Sweden. Road traffic switched from travelling on the left in the English pattern to moving on the right in the German style. The significant drop in crashes in the period after the change has led John Adams to suggest that the best way to make road traffic safe would be to change the rules about which side of the road to travel on every six weeks, or better still to have no rules at all.

The simple formalities of traffic circulation allow people operating vehicles on the highway to concentrate their vigilance and therefore go much faster than would otherwise be safe. The system that regulates social interactions on our highways is called ‘road safety’ when really it’s the opposite, a social code that routinely enables highly dangerous behaviour, while keeping carnage and destruction at an acceptable level. When the very name of the system obscures its real purpose, it’s not surprising that some people have trouble assessing the risks of travel.

Its customary to describe threats from motor-traffic, threats from the current system of hyper-mobility, in euphemistic terms. People talk about the ‘dangers of busy roads’, ask bicycle users if they aren’t ‘frightened of the cars?’ Systems failures that happen every day are always ‘accidents’ never ‘crashes’.

This picture – which aims to make it’s audience subjectively endangered – deserves wider distribution, a reissue, maybe even a remake? If you haven’t seen it take any chance you get.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKrZ8eTcdK4&version=3&feature=player_detailpage]
A road is only dangerous if liable to flash floods, avalanche or some other natural disaster. Cars are dangerous if they catch on fire or left parked on inclines with hand-brakes disengaged. The routine danger comes from people. Nice people like you and me.

The person who thinks it’s safe, normal and sane to negotiate a junction in a heavy vehicle, too fast for full control, with one hand holding a phone into which they are talking, is just as deluded as the person who can’t consider riding a bike. The latter doesn’t need a reason but if pressed may offer ‘I’d be too frightened’.

Neither are bad people. Neither deserve to be indulged. They need help, but trying to re-engineer the World to accommodate a warped analysis won’t help either of them.

They might even be the same person?

priority

Whenever I see a person riding after dark, on an unlit bike, wearing a crash-hat. I can only imagine them in a cycle shop, with a limited amount of cash, facing a tricky dilemma…

I just can’t help it.
Whenever I see a person riding after dark, on an unlit bike, wearing a crash-hat. I can only imagine them in a cycle shop, with a limited amount of cash, facing a tricky dilemma…

Helmet?

Lights?

Lights?

Helmet?

I know it doesn’t happen that way but my only reaction to the – oddly common – combination of timid and reckless, is to envision a small-scale retail drama, late on a Winter’s afternoon, gathering dark, urgent incidental music, tension, jeopardy…

…resolved as the un-illuminated, basin-head plumps for Expanded Polystyrene rather than electric light.

blinkin’ silly

Historically there’s a big difference between the headlight – that came in without controversy in 1903 – and the red tail-lamp, a temporary wartime measure in the Great Patriotic War against fascism, which I heard was over, and that the good guys had won? You need a headlamp to see where you’re going. The faster you want to go the brighter your light needs to be. One of the nicest things about old-school, unregulated, bottle dynamos is the way their headlamps shine brighter as you speed up on a downhill.

Historically there’s a big difference between the headlight – that came in without controversy in 1903 – and the red tail-lamp, a temporary wartime measure in the Great Patriotic War against fascism, which I heard was over, and that the good guys had won?
You need a headlamp to see where you’re going. The faster you want to go the brighter your light needs to be. One of the nicest things about old-school, unregulated, bottle dynamos is the way their headlamps shine brighter as you speed up on a downhill.

“Stopping Distances.

Drive at a speed that will allow you to stop well within the distance you can see to be clear”

HIGHWAY CODE RULE 126.

It’s foolish to speed into darkness blindly assuming all obstacles will be lit. Wandering livestock, fallen trees, a person in a black coat who’s suffered a stroke and fallen while crossing the road; none of these are likely to show red lights. That’s what your headlamp, your eyes, your brain and your brakes are for.

Carrying a rear light is an encouragement to others to break rule 126.

Not to say shining a red light backwards is a bad thing under current conditions. Anyone who remembers the box shaped ‘nEver-Ready’ rear lights – clamped on your seat-stay, powered by two ‘D’ cells, whose mighty weight soon squashed the springs, so the bulb started to flicker and then went out – knows we are living in Light Emitting Diode paradise.

Contemporary battery lights are so compact, convenient, bright and economical, there’s no reason not to carry them. Just remember to turn the red one off if you’re going onto a railway platform. If your red light has standlicht carry a thick black sock.

When I see someone riding without lights – and of course the most important word in this sentence is ‘see’ –  I regret a theoretical nuisance and a real tragedy. The nuisance is that they’re relying on others to look after them, which we all try to do. The tragedy is that – without lights in the dark –  it’s much harder to relax and own the road. They’d enjoy riding more if they had lights.

Reader Peter Myers sent me this excellent piece of wildlife photography from Sadler’s Wells…

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHaigddCnXo&version=3&feature=player_detailpage]

…an extreme example of the current fashion for winky lights. Note how – at 26 seconds – the flasher gives a hand signal – without looking behind to see if there’s anyone worth signaling to – and reveals a teeny on-off-on-off red light on his wrist.

Does his – I’m guessing it’s a man – risk-assessment include the threat of electrocution in a sudden shower?

I can see why someone might be too disorganised to keep lights on their bike,  but why the craze for half a light?

If you’re in a shipwreck half a light might attract the attention of the crew of a rescue helicopter and the blinking beacon battery will last an extra two weeks. The first signal a flashing light gives to others is ‘Help me, I’m in distress.’

On a bike a tail light isn’t so other people can see you. That’s what rule 126 is for. It’s to make it as easy as possible for others to judge exactly where you are. The second message from a flashing rear light is ‘I care more about saving pennies than I do about giving a consistent signal of my position. I’m too cheap to let you know exactly where I am.’

There might be an argument for a flashing rear – if you’re riding desert roads with 50 kilometre straights – so that someone approaching from behind knows, early that you’re on a pedal-cycle with a relatively low speed, but that doesn’t make much sense in EC1.

There might be some argument for a flashing rear but why would you want a half a headlamp? Why would you want the road ahead to be illuminated half the time?

I’ve a set of DiNotte lights purchased at considerable expense for going downhill in the dark on a streamlined bike. On their brightest setting you can bounce the beam off low clouds. If everyone used them traffic-riding would be tiresome but anyone can benefit from the experience of all other traffic deferring to your blazing presence. It’s not necessary to mount a laser on your front forks to own the road but the experience can build confidence. Confidence is essential.

There’s value in a super-bright headlamp but half a super bright headlamp is dumbest of all. A light bright enough to rob you, and anyone else, of all night vision followed by a little sample of darkness.

The narrator of Ralph Waldo Ellison’s 1952 novel ‘The Invisible Man’, an unnamed African American man who feels himself completely overlooked, squats a forgotten basement apartment, robs electricity and illuminates his cell with 1,369 bulbs. A symbolic reaction to social exclusion.

It’s traditional for cycling magazines to publish features on lighting in the Autumn but the time for voluntary night riding is just coming in. Enjoy your travels. Show a steady light and don’t act like a victim.