is the-new-golf the new cricket?

Cycling is the new golf, but is it the new cricket?

“I used to play golf, and cycling is that for me now.”


The metaphor of addiction is sadly over-used in contemporary culture. To the ever-expanding list of things that people can claim to be addicted to…

…we can now add cycling.

Johannesburg-born stumper Prior is past thirty – elderly for a professional athlete – but set personal-bests for all categories in a pre-tour fitness test. He puts this down to riding 40-60 miles, four or five times a week. The England tour management forbade him from taking his bike to Australia for the forthcoming Ashes series.

This elision of cycling, cricket, Australia and loosing weight had me wondering what ever happened to Warniegate? You may recall that chubby, living-legend Shane ‘Warnie’ Warne (things bogans like #200) deliberately ran his car into the back of web designer Mathew Hollingsworth’s bike in a Melbourne traffic jam back in January 2012. Hollingsworth subsequently planned to sue the former spin-king, for 1500 dollars for damage to his commuting cycle.

It turns out that the case was dropped and that Warnie has a new career as a ‘road safety’ role-model. To describe the ageing ‘Sheik of Tweak’ as a scandal-magnet is a wild understatement. The lad just can’t keep out of trouble. Scientists predict that a ‘google’ search with the terms “shane warne” and “scandal” might actually melt the whole internet? Don’t risk it.

It’s unclear whether the England tour management refused to carry Prior’s little queen to the Lucky Country for logistical, or sporting, reasons? As well as pointing out that his carbon-reinforced-plastic fitness-aid is 60 per cent lighter than his golf clubs Prior also admitted:- “I am completely addicted to it – it’s almost getting in the way of the cricket.”

Maybe they’re just worried for his personal safety? Strolling around a private golf-course is one thing. Riding your bike out on the hoon-infested highway is another. I’ve never been to Australia – and you should never judge a country by it’s exiles – but if you wanted to create a perfect hate-object for a red-blooded, bone-headed Oztralian sports-fan could you do much more than?…

  • English cricketer
  • South African
  • pugnacious
  • bicycle-riding

Revisiting Warniegate reminds me how much I enjoy the internet’s third-best bogan-related website but it doesn’t make comfortable reading for England’s first-choice gloveman, who’s packed his cycling shoes and arranged to pick up a pedal-bike on arrival down-under.

“In fact, the bogan doesn’t even like cycling – as a sport, or a mode of transportation. The bogan believes recreational cyclers are a menace  – it heard a shock jock use this phrase on the radio – and believes cyclists wearing multi-coloured lycra look like “fags,” despite the fact that its own t-shirt is considerably more garish in design, and just as tight fitting. Should the bogan see a cyclist riding legally on a road, it will lean on the horn and tailgate the cyclist before dangerously swerving out across two lanes and slowing down to point its yellow wristband-clad arm at the offending velocipede. The bogan will then scream “buy a fucking car….ya fag.”

things bogans like #182 Lance Armstrong

See also #104 Road Rage.

In other news…

  • The term ‘leg-spinner’ has nothing to do with pushing pedals.
  • Until 1996 England didn’t have an international cricket team, instead being represented by the Marylebone Cricket Club.
  • St. Marie la Bonne is a village near Regents Park.
  • If you want to play cricket for England it helps to be born in South Africa, Zimbabwe, New Zealand or Ireland.
  • Jack Wilshere likes a smoke.
  • Cricket is a mystery.

Better stop now, go for a ride and look for storm-damage before it gets dark. Australian social-comedy websites are addictive.

blood and blue paint

Are ‘Cycle-Superhighways’ a new category of municipal displacement activity? Containment Infrastructure?

The Mile End Road – the A11 –  is in the news because two inquests coincided last week. They enquired into deaths at either end of this corridor.

The word ‘tragedy’ is over-used but that’s what these awful mishaps are.

The two deaths have circumstances in common – people travelling by bike, going ahead at junctions, knocked down and crushed by left-turning trucks, a well documented systems-failure. In these specific cases the crashes aroused further interest because – since 2011 – this section of the A11 has also been ‘Cycle-Superhighway 2′(CS2), a new flavour of highway design  that consists mostly of bright blue surface treatments along the left of the carriageway and some direction signs.

Giving evidence PC Simon Wickenden of the Metropolitan Police Traffic Unit  suggested that the presence of ‘Cycle-Superhighway’ stripes may have contributed to the slaughter by encouraging riders to travel too far to the left and by giving them an unjustified sense of security. The coroner – who dealt with both cases – has criticised the Superhighways. Her report is published today. TfL have eight weeks to reply.

Two useful principles when riding on roads shared with other traffic…

  • …control the space around you.
  • …pick a line that minimises conflict with traffic trying to go in other directions.

At times these principles can contradict. It’s easier to control space when you ride close enough to a kerb, or other linear barrier, to prevent people in cars or trucks passing on one side. This allows you to pay more attention to what’s happening on the other side; but if – for example – you’re approaching a junction where you want to go ahead, and the leftmost lane is used by traffic planning to turn left, taking the second lane will reduce conflict with left-turning traffic, but also make it harder to control the space around you because – once you’re in the second lane – other traffic can pass on either side.

The decision-making process can be more important than it’s outcome. When you’ve a definite idea of what you’re doing it’s easier for other people to discern what you’re going to do next. The blue stripes have no legal weight. Anyone using  any vehicle can use that space but their presence encourages bike riders to follow them even if they’re not the safest, or most convenient, path.

The tendency of riders to follow the blue stripes reduces uncertainty. Uncertainty keeps people alert. The stripes discourage communication – looking and signalling – between road users. Communication keeps people awake and encourages them to look out for each other.

The Cycle-Superhighways are an initiative of Transport for London(TfL) who are responsible for the Capital’s major road network. Other roads are administered by local Boroughs. TfL answers to the Mayor. The Cycle-Superhighways were proposed by Ken Livingstone and are being implemented under the aegis of Boris Johnson. The stated aims of the Superhighways are “to improve cycling conditions for people who already commute by bike, and to encourage new cyclists”.

The coloured tarmac certainly offers superficial validation of the idea that cycle travel is welcome on these routes and they mostly follow radial, main roads – which makes sense, not only do these follow the level, direct desire lines, they’re the ones TfL controls. The ambiguous and legally worthless, Cycle-Superhighways are a product of the era of mixed messages but classic ‘Alibi Facilities‘ they are not.

Boris’s political place-man Kulveer Ranger who oversaw their first phase – but has since moved on – defended the blue stripes against early criticism.

“To reinforce safety we wanted to define where other road-users could expect cyclists to be.”

And the big beast himself, reworking the mantra…

…around 45 seconds:- “This is somewhere where motorists can expect to find cyclists.”

Now I don’t know where these jokers have been living for the last ten years?

Stating the obvious, for their benefit, the answer to the question:- “Where on the streets of Inner London do you expect to find cyclists?”

Is – of course – “everywhere.”

Indeed an unspoken corollary of their slogan might be:- “Don’t expect to find cyclists on the bits of the Mile End Road that aren’t blue.”

It’s instructive that the Cycle-Superhighway initiative came in as TfL were also engaged in ‘smoothing the traffic’. Perhaps we have a new category of municipal displacement activity, a reaction to the rising tide of bicycle madness:- Containment Infrastructure?

Subsequent to two death crashes in two weeks at Bow Flyover late in 2011 the design of CS2 was modified. During one of the many consultations on the scheme a colleague observed:- ‘They should paint the whole road blue, or none of it.’

If the ambition is to validate cycle travel, to encourage riders onto the road without increasing complacency or limiting the options for cycle-traffic how about taking inspiration from the mysterious markings on Mare Street E8?

It’s a mistake to ever imagine that an organisation like Tfl speaks with one voice.

This campaign contains some useful and progressive messages.

There isn’t anything good to take from the waste and horror of motor-slaughter but it’s worth noting that current coverage of the deaths on CS2 is different from, and more intense than, anything we could have expected during the era of the vanishing tribe. In former days disasters like these were ignored, or told tersely with a ‘what-do-you-expect-if-you-ride-a-bike?’ subtext.

Motor-traffic in general, the haulage business in particular, kills people. They kill people at a rate that would be a national scandal if any other source – bad food hygiene? enemy action? unmanned level-crossings? – were responsible.

Nowadays reportage on the slaughter of people using cycles may be more humane, with voices of bereaved friends and relatives, victim’s biographies, to transcend the statistics and reveal the true stories of suffering and loss, but it still tip-toes around the central issue. These stories are about trucks not bikes.

Back to the future

Take a snapshot of today’s conditions and breaking the cultural, and physical, domination of the automobile seems like an impossible dream. In a longer historical context it may be safer to assume it’s inevitable?

“The Motorcar ended the countryside and substituted a new landscape in which the motor car was a sort of steeplechaser. At the same time the motor destroyed the city as a casual environment in which families could be reared. Streets, and even sidewalks, became too intense a scene for the casual interplay of growing up.  As the city filled with strangers, even next-door neighbors became strangers. This is the story of the motorcar, and it has not much longer to run.”

Marshall McLuhan 1964

2013 was a great Summer. Not just because I passed my big test (a subject I will almost certainly return to during the dark days of Winter) also because I can’t remember a formal Sunday ride which didn’t mingle with at least one other event. Everywhere it seems people are grappling with the – so far unanswered – question; how do you ride a bike?

Highlights included the twentieth  Start of Summertime Special…

…in April, which for some distance entwined with an  ‘epic sportive’ from Newmarket. The thrill of meeting other pilgrims enhanced by the knowledge that these neophytes were paying £28 for a 100 miles, while us leathery old-timers enjoyed 210 kms for £6.

In June the magnificent Three Coasts,…

…a nice little ride out of Mytholmroyd in the West Riding, included a sunny afternoon on the Fylde which – apart from ominous views of distant uplands – was like being in the Netherlands, pan flat with untold people of all ages out on their bikes.

People in cars seem to be getting used to sharing roads with blocks of happy pedalling pilgrims. Maybe not content – hyper-mobility and contentment don’t often go together – but at least resigned to relatively long periods moving at human-scale speeds. Perhaps the popularity, the ubiquity, of the new golf is finally eroding  the traditional view, that people on bikes are a low-status out-group?

Early this year 20 mph became the default speed limit in the London Borough of Islington and lately the City of London has declared it will follow.  The Borough of Haringey – which bestrides the jagged coast between bicycle paradise Inner London and the great doughnut of inaccessibility that is Outer London – is currently consulting on the subject. If you live in, ever pass through or visit this unwieldy administrative area feel free to chip-in here. The consultation runs until 31/10/13, why not fill in the questionnaire now?

Some may complain that 20 mile per hour speed limits are currently unenforced and, so widely ignored that they’re meaningless. I prefer to take a long-term perspective.

It’s worth remembering that the British state’s first reaction to the modern automobile was a universal speed limit of 20 mph under the Motor Car Act of 1903. The campaign to smash this restraint, led to the formation of the Automobile Association who undertook non-violent direct action to subvert enforcement. The AA sent paid scouts on push bikes to sabotage police activity by warning criminal drivers to slow down where there were speed-traps.

The 20 mph limit lasted until 1931 but in latter years it was so irrelevant that bus companies published timetables that could only be met by vehicles moving at illegal speed. Descent into the asocial brutality of mass motor dependence was marked by a long period where a 20 mph limit existed but was ignored by almost everybody. Perhaps progress to more efficient and convivial living systems will see the process reverse? Let’s get the 20 mph limit in, even if hardly anyone – police or sofa-jockeys – take much notice, then we can start nudging behavioural norms and the thinking that informs them. That’s what happened with drunk driving. It used to be normal, there was no legal limit for blood alcohol before 1967, now it is generally considered a menace to society and ‘criminal’ behaviour.

Occasionally when flogging down the Islington section of Green Lanes – the A105 – between Manor House and Clissold Park, where motor-traffic sometimes runs free and fast, I’m surprised to find a motor-vehicle, usually a rented van, maintaining a precise 32 kmph on the wide, open road with the big white ’20’s painted on it. It’s usually on a week-end morning and is – I suppose – just another bike fancier moving house?

One of the – many – good things about riding a bike is that you don’t have to worry too much about cars. The worst thing is probably having to listen – and maybe even offer a facsimile of sympathy – when primary victims of motor-dependance explain, at unnecessary length, their difficulties ‘getting through the traffic’ or finding somewhere to park their vacant saloons. It can be hard work trying to affect sincerity while you’re actually wondering how they manage to combine so much patience with so little imagination? It is – however – also currently true that motor traffic dominates a great deal of public space. We are all secondary victims of motor-dependance and the freedom – of children in particular – to travel autonomously is disastrously restricted.

In the 1980’s senior officers of the Department of Transport argued that it was illegal to put speed-humps on public roads. Now those little manifestations of conflicted motivation can be found all over the place. Armed only with a snapshot of today’s conditions, breaking the cultural, and physical, domination of the automobile seems an impossible dream. In a longer historical context it may be safer to assume the end of mass motor-culture is inevitable?

Marshall McLuhan may have under-estimated the longevity of motor-dependence, but most of his predictions seem to come true in the end. If you’re reading this in Seattle it’s probably not worth responding to the Haringey speed-limit consultation. But welcome to the Global Village.

It won’t happen by accident. There is work to be done. Go ride your bike and set a good example. And for people with a critique of the prevailing, inhuman, highway conditions, who lack the chutzpah to enjoy riding their bikes on roads shared with motor-traffic, there’s a new potential hobby; join a car club and put in some miles playing the radio while diligently observing the ‘new’ civilised speed limit.