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.

Dunwich Dynamo XXI; never mind how many hours, what about finesse?

Cycle-sport is perverse. If you want to go fast get a motor-cycle. The point of riding a push bike is to enjoy the journey.

In the days before, along the road, people keep asking how many are riding this year? My reply is always that nobody knows, nobody has to count. What if someone sets off from Cambridge, picks up the route near Sudbury and trundles out to the coast? Do they count as one, as a half or none? My concern is always with quality.

A point of the DD is getting inexperienced riders to raise their ambition, to understand that riding further is not that big a deal, that a ‘long’ journey is just a collection of short trips strung together. If – however – you inspire the naive and innocent into the darkness of Essex and Suffolk it’s good if there are some role-models around to give clues as to how it might be done with ease and style.

Weston Cafe congratulatory message.

Dunwich Dynamo Twenty One – the first with a rain and headwind combination – had no hint of moonlight at any time. Another first for 2013 was a complaint from a householder about noise in the small hours…

“I am sure you all had a lovely time cycling from London to Dunwich on Saturday/Sunday night – couldn’t have been a better night I shouldn’t think. However, I wonder if you could just ask the participants for next year just to think a little more about the people in the villages they pass through during the night.   We live right on a junction on the A****  in Suffolk about 20 miles from Dunwich in the village of *********** and the cyclists found it necessary to stop and shout directions to each other at the junction, which woke our dog and started him barking between 3am and 5am – thereby waking us. PLEASE do remember that Suffolk villages are usually quiet at night and neither we nor our dogs are used to night time noise.  In any case, surely it is only considerate to keep your voice down outside houses during the night. Sorry to raise this but a little consideration would be appreciated.”

…the complaint is not a ‘first’, every year there are a few, not all as polite and considered as this. The ‘first’ is that the junction described is two or three miles from the suggested route.

Repeating the messages – “don’t make noise near homes”, “don’t drop litter” –  like a stuck record, the problem is that the least imaginative people, the most likely to cause a nuisance, are the hardest to reach.

As years go by more and more people who live along the route are embracing the Dunwich Dynamo in a continental style. Pubs stay open late and fill their tills, residents sit out and watch the stream of fools pass, some run front-garden pop-ups, pushing coffee and bacon sandwiches in aid of charity and all-night fun. In Sudbury – just for example – the Horse and Groom, Weston’s Cafe and Torque Bikes all stayed open. People put up routing signs, and personal notices for locals who are making the trip. I heard a rumour that Anglia Railways now run extra bike capacity during the day before the ride for all the people coming in from Essex and Suffolk to join the great wave of lunatic joy.

It’s sad that DD supporters in Essex and Suffolk will have to deal with criticism from their neighbours annoyed by unnecessary noise, litter and loutish behaviour from nit-wit participants, the kind who imagine that riding 185 kms at their own pace is some kind of mighty achievement and give no thought to doing it like an adult, doing it with panache.

Thousands of people – almost all carrying wallets or similar cash receptacles – moving into countryside is cause for joy, an extra Christmas for hard-pressed country pubs, a chance for people from across the country, international visitors, to discover the pleasures of East Anglia. Many will return to further boost the rural economy. The fact that they do it on bikes puts minimal stress on infrastructure. If we conduct ourselves like adults, ten-thousand can go through like ghosts, leaving no trace creating no disturbance.

There’s no excuse for noise, or litter, or pissing near homes. It was a hot night so more sleeping people had more windows open. There was no moon and maybe under-equipped pilgrims needed to gather under street-lights? Anyone who knows what they’re doing carries a headlight for punctures, reading directions and sign-posts, wardrobe changes or cigarette rolling in the dark.

Part of the pleasure of cycle-touring is to stop. The best place is not in a sleeping village, that will likely be at the bottom of a hill with a climb on cooled legs to follow. Stop in the gateway of a farmers field on a hilltop and you can chat freely and get rolling again with minimum effort.

Cycle-sport is beautiful. You can learn a lot from studying, more from participating in, cycle-sport. But cycle-sport is perverse. If you want to go fast get a motor-cycle. The point of riding a push bike is to enjoy the journey. I’ve read plenty of first-person narratives of DDXXI. Some major on pain and suffering, which is boasting about how ineffective you are at riding a bike. Most – for no explained reason – tell how long the trip took. I prefer the ones that concentrate on style.

I have definite plans not to post next week but if you want to find out roughly where I am you can look here;

Reclaiming the earth

The fashion for one-way streets is long passed its sell-by-date.

  • A month of Sundays
  • A blue moon
  • A Sheffield flood

…add to any index of proverbial rare events a head-wind Dunwich Dynamo.

2013 – the legendary beach-party’s twenty-first edition – promises this unlikely happenstance.

The balmy North-Easter is good luck for those who like an extra portion, the bonus of a gentle ride back to London. There’s a relative shortage of back-wheel on the road home. Whatever your plans after the salt-water finish don’t forget the sunblock.

A further novelty for DDXXI is an extended cyclo-cross interlude, courtesy of Essex Highways who are renewing retaining walls and drainage on Wethersfield Road on the western approaches of Sible Hedingham and have built the kind of temporary runway that goes through beer tents in Belgian winter races.

Last Friday, on the final check, I figured the ‘ROAD CLOSED’  and ‘DIVERSION’ signs which start 8 kilometres ahead of the works, on the exit of Wethersfield, were actually what are called – in progressive circles – these days ‘modal filters’, and that a pedestrian – even armed with a bike – would be able to force a route through without rope or crampons. When I finally reached the filter I walked through on the road with no trouble and it’s good to see that pedestrian access is maintained even if it’s considerably more elaborate now. If you’re on a tandem, and can’t get it through the gate, take the bags off and wait until enough fellow pilgrims are assembled to hoist it over without risking a hernia. Please make the negotiation quietly or the people in the house across the road will be disturbed.


Intelligence from Braintree District reports that – after a rash of complaints – the kissing gate has been removed. So we can pass EVEN MORE quietly.

Riders in pretentious half-human-half-machine footwear have the option to change into their beach shoes to yomp through the chicane. If you’re wearing shoes that don’t work for walking – and aren’t carrying a seaside change – you can follow the signed diversion via Gosfield and the A1017 and turn left at the Total garage in SH for the village hall, which will give you a bonus 10 kilometres at no extra cost; either that or turn round and go back to London because you’re not going to have much fun on the ghostly shingle of the Lost City in your stocking feet anyway.

A further, further novelty, new for 2013 – supposedly for a trial period but with no real chance of reversion – will be riding North on Mare Street, Narrow Way, Hackney Central, without transgressing a dopey Twentieth Century  prohibition on uphill cycle-traffic which was lifted earlier this year. Buses have lately been rerouted away from this human-scale shopping lane. The street is now much more convivial and more than twice as good for people on bikes.


Hackney Narrow Way is part of an old corridor whose line – or lines – are not only prehistoric they might (guidance from readers with palaeontological backgrounds very welcome) be pre-human?  Narrow Way, Broadway Market, Columbia Road are all on this line which connects London Bridge with the Lea Bridge Road; the lowest natural crossing points on the two great rivers. Powerscroft Road – which features in the DD’s early kilometres on the London side of the Lea – has also had a short one-way section recently returned to the default-setting, for cycle-traffic.

Two way operation makes roads easier to cross on foot, reduces the number of times you have to change lanes on a bike, makes it easier for bus passengers to find their stops and is probably more convenient for local motor-traffic. It’s better for everyone except the motor-fantasists who want the World remade as parody of car-racing circuits.

Thinking animals like us construct reality from theory. Some people abuse the privilege. The Twentieth Century vogue for one-way traffic systems can be interpreted as modifying the World to justify a prevailing assumption that automobile travel is quick and convenient even in urban areas. One-way operation always produces alienation. The days when you could rely on rolling into a town on a road named after the last one visited, find the town square and pick a road named after the next one on your itinerary may have gone but much of the infrastructure remains waiting to be reclaimed for our luxury use.

The Dunwich Dynamo – for example – aspires to historic desire lines and spends half it’s distance on roads named after their origin or destination settlements. Big holes are the gyration of Sudbury – how much sweeter to roll into the very centre of town and exit on East Street? – and the Eastern exit of Needham Market where Coddenham Road is cut to two stumps by the A14 running up the Gipping valley from Ipswich.

A fashion, a social movement – mass motorisation for example – may carry a lot of economic inertia. It may be so dominant that it’s widely treated as permanent; but nothing lasts forever. Time passes, ideas change, cities get washed away.

See you on London Fields, on the road or on the beach.


ride on R.B.

Richard Ballantine’s analysis of the value and joy of cycling will never fade.

“Equipment makes a difference, but the main thing is to get out there.”

Richard Ballantine on cycle touring.

Last weekend I had the honour of providing rolling sound for Richard Ballantine’s funeral procession which ran down from Spaniards Inn – on the summit ridge of Hampstead Heath – to Golders Green crem’ and was – as one celebrant remarked – the speediest funeral parade in history.

Hauling battery and speaker up through Hornsey and Highgate to the rendezvous, early on one of the first summery Sundays of this late, late Spring it was striking how many people were out on bikes. Individuals, groups, dressed for riding or for leisure. Most of these people had never heard of the great man but all are – in some sense – his followers. If you weren’t there it’s hard to describe how outré cycling was in the early Seventies when Richard’s Bicycle Book was published. Its combination of practical advice and lyrical boldness may seem commonplace now but then it was weird and electrifying.

In the chapel a favourite bike, a Burrows Ratcatcher, leaned against the table supporting the coffin, ready for the road with drinking tube and lights. Richard’s son Sean briefly consternated the assembly by declaring his intention to “read from the Bible…” and got a big laugh when he clarified “…the bicycle bible Richard’s Bicycle Book.”

“Which brings us to the most positive series of reasons for trying to use bicycles at every opportunity. Basically, this is that it will enhance your life, bringing to it an increase in quality of experience which will find its reflection in everything you do.

Well! You have to expect that I would believe bicycling is a good idea, but how do I get off expressing the notion that bicycling is philosophically and morally sound? Because it is something that you do, not something that is done to you. Need I chronicle the oft-cited concept of increasing alienation in our lives? The mechanization of work and daily activities, the hardships our industrial society places in the way of loving and fulfilling relationships and family life, the tremendous difficulties individuals experience trying to influence political and economic decisions which affect them and others?

Of course there will always be people who say that they like things the way they are. They find the Tube really interesting, or insist on driving a chrome bomb and rattling everybody’s windows. But the fact is that trains are crowded, dirty impersonal and noisy and nearly all cars are ego-structured worthless tin junk (with bikes the more you pay the less you get).

The most important effect of mechanical contraptions is that they defeat consciousness. Consciousness, self-awareness, and development are the prerequisites for a life worth living. Now look at what happens to you on a bicycle. It’s immediate and direct. You pedal.

You experience the tang of the air and the surge of power as you bite into the road. You’re vitalized. As you hum along you fully and gloriously experience the day, the sunshine, the clouds, the breezes. You’re alive! You are going some place, and it is you who is doing it. Awareness increases, and each day becomes a little more important to you. With increased awareness you see and notice more, and this further reinforces awareness.”

Some of the detail in Richard’s Book – the capital ‘B’ is necessary and important because R.B. produced lot’s of other bicycle books, lots of other books – has been rendered obsolete by technological development. You must – for example – be some kind of dedicated machine-fiddler to feel nostalgic about cotter-pins. Richard Ballantine’s analysis of the value and joy of cycling will never fade.

yabba dabba doo the King is gone

The World’s most celebrated drink driver is gone. The link between motor-dependence and freedom just got weaker.

“The bars are all closed,
it’s four in the morning.
Must have shut ’em all down
by the shape that I’m in.
I lay my head on the wheel
And the horn begins honking
The whole neighborhood knows
That I’m home drunk again”

George Jones (If drinkin’ don’t kill me her memory will)

The World’s most celebrated drunk driver has passed.

According to the legend George Jones used to go out carousing, leaving his then wife – Tammy Wynette – lonely and alone. Worried about George’s honky-tonkin’ ways ‘the First Lady of Country’ finally lost patience with standing by her man and decided it was time for talk.

To make Jones spend an evening in the lovely suburban home that had become her prison, she hid the keys to all his cars. It was way too far for George to travel on foot to his favourite downtown haunts. In the Twentieth Century people born poor who attained riches didn’t go big on bicycles. So the self-reliant ‘King of Country Music’ set off to drive into Nashville……on his lawn-mower.

Years later, wallowing in hell-raising mythology, George recorded this jaunty version of the notorious attempt to enter his capital on a latter day Donkey…

The reality probably looked more like this sad and ugly scene out on Interstate 65


Why not break the seal on a bottle of the hard stuff, put on some Jones and consider that the – always  tenuous – connection between motor-dependence and personal freedom just got one link weaker?

Down in Mississippi the highway patrol
Will read it in the paper and say,
“God rest his soul”
No more will he wobble down life’s highway
‘Cause George stopped drinkin today”

light commercial, heavy domestic

Cargo bikes are glamourous, practical and fun. Mike Burrows’ 8Freight is to be mass-produced. Are you ready for the era of the aviation-grade wheelbarrow?

“Who built Thebes of the seven gates?
In the books you will find the names of kings.
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock?”

Berthold Brecht

Link to oldwall

Persistent readers will have noticed a quietening in the last month. I’d like to say it’s because I’ve been out pounding the roads of Herts’n’Essex, meeting north-easterly snow flurries nose-first, in a diligent programme of revision for the big test in July. The truth is the time’s been taken by a construction project. The realisation of a state-of-the-art shed. This edifice is going up in the manner that Hadrian built ‘his’ wall. I say what I want and teams of skilled craft-workers execute those crazy whims.

Link to gate
raw material – ready for crushing – to make soil for the roof garden


There is – however – a double prejudice in favour of not paying expert trades-folk to queue in white vans, reducing costs and motor-traffic, so I’m often the one who flies to the builder’s yard to pick up missing materials.

after, plus delivery

Admire the new full-height raw, western, red cedar doors that make the back garden entrance look like the gateway to a small fortified chateau. Admire also  the logistical elegance of a just-in-time delivery of 15 metres of tanalised softwood. Of course tonnes of sand or ballast, pallet-loads of bricks, arrive on the back of a flat-bed lorry with integrated crane, that swings them across the foot-way and onto the site but – for loads up to a 100 kilograms – the  aviation-grade wheelbarrow can often do the job quicker with less complication.

In my previous neighbourhood freight cycles – while not as commonplace as in Christiania – are normal enough to make them unremarkable. Moving five kilometres North means I now spend more time replying to interested passers-by that…

  • …I didn’t make it myself.
  • …I can’t remember exactly, somewhere between £1,000 and £1,500.

Naive interrogators are sometimes surprised, disappointed, to hear that such a simple contrivance can cost so much. To soften the blow I explain that all bikes are expensive, especially ones specified for residents of the rich world, where people are heavy and bikes light, and that the balance is – unless you pay yourself a management fee – it would take some kind of heavy use, and heroic mileage, to make the running costs more than £100 a year. Which might be the weekly toll of a light commercial motor-vehicle?

If you asked me three weeks ago if I owned a gas-strut – a structural component that incorporates an oil-damped, gas spring, the kind of thing used to support the heavy rear door of a hatchback car – I’d probably have answered:- “No”.


The one I’ve possessed for seven years has been obscured – and almost forgotten – under the tray of a cargo bike where it holds the two-legged prop-stand up, in flight, and down, at rest. Distracted with the building work I’d hardly minuted that the big bike was growing slowly more prone to topple-over when parked without the brake on. When the stand started flopping down under gravity when the bike hit a bump even I was forced to pay attention.

The machine with the gas-strut is an 8freight designed and built – in semi-‘Hadrian’ style –  by the Wizard of Rackheath whose many valuable epigrams include:-

“If string will do the job use string.”

Mike Burrows’ split-level shed has a gallery

…so it’s no surprise that it wasn’t hard to rig up an adequate ‘African repair’ using a length of dead inner-tube to augment the gas-ram’s push with a little pull.


I was tempted for a moment to continue with this rubber solution but am supposed to be a professional, and try to meet the ‘normal’ World half-way by not looking too much like – what was called in the last Century – a ‘new-age-traveller’. When I rang the great man for advice he put a replacement in the post the same day.

Completion of the shed will end an awkward interregnum during which I’ve had no convenient place to park my bikes, hang tools and work on cycles. During this period half the fleet has been out of service due to lack of easy access and the rest more than usually neglected and misused.

When I washed the area around the old gas-strut, in preparation for replacement, it immediately began to push less feebly. The shiny replacement holds the prop-stand firmly where it needs to stay.

new strut, now get rid of that unsightly rubber

Mike has offered to get the old one re-gassed, which will provide me with a spare to file in the new shed, in case I live long enough for another gas-strut failure. In my new space-rocket-laboratory environment even the freight bike will be parked under cover and on a much more business-like washing schedule so loss of oomph in the gas-strut department may be more than another seven years hence. The whole incident can probably be spun to reinforce the patter about cargo bikes being cheap to run.

In this period in history load carrying cycles tend to draw a crowd. Add promotional signage and many small/medium businesses could probably justify booking the running costs under ‘marketing’. The only transport cost is the operators time. And rich people like us are supposed to find ways of getting out of breath.

More good news is that the 8Frieght now has it’s own URL.

Screenshot from 2013-04-05 00:20:37

This is no doing of Mike’s who doesn’t have a computer and may be the last great technical innovator in the World who uses a fax machine? is published by collaborators who plan to have the Wizard’s load carrier mass-produced in East Asia. They’ve also incited him to knock up a ‘luxury’ hi-spec. model, the Black10.


The disc-brakes are definitely a step up from the Trommelbremsen on the 8Freight, particularly if you live in West Dorset, but ten sprockets and narrow drive-chain on a wheelbarrow? That’s too pretentious even for me.

visions in suburbia

Nobody ever went for a ride on a policy statement but if bicycle madness can spread into Outer London nowhere in Britain will be safe from contagion.

Back in 2009 on a flying visit to London, street photographer and Godfather of ‘Cycle Chic’ Mikael Colville-Andersen, in a somewhat vulgar metaphor, spoke of the “dick-measuring competition” going on between World cities to see who can be the most cycle-friendly. Last week Boris brandished his ruler.

The incumbent Mayor of London – who Comandante Chávez likened to an electrocuted polar bear – has put his name on a Vision for Cycling in London which boldly states…

“Cycling will be treated not as niche, marginal, or an afterthought, but as what it is: an integral part of the transport network, with the capital spending, road space and traffic planners’ attention befitting that role.”

It’s important not to get too carried away – nobody ever went for a ride on a policy statement, and most of London’s roads are controlled by local Boroughs not the Mayor – but this ‘Vision’ is a step forward and an opportunity.

Greater London contains the best urban conditions for cycle travel in Britain. In Central and Inner London the bicycle is now an obvious choice. If you don’t have one you can borrow an example for a nominal fee and all around you’ll see role-models in all shapes and sizes. Nobody is surprised to see cycle-traffic on the roads of Inner London, which are mostly of a scale that is easy to dominate on a push bike.

In the London Borough of Hackney more people now commute to work by bike than try the same stunt in a car. There are many reasons, historic – as a former coordinator of the London Cycling Campaign in Hackney I, naturally, take most of the credit – geographical and demographic for this situation but a steady growth in cycle-traffic in Hackney has been nurtured by – and encourages – a favourable municipal climate. Check Hackney Councillor Vincent Stops’ new weBlog for more details of what’s been – what’s being – done to turn the Borough into bicycle paradise.

Pedal a few kilometres out of town, into the great doughnut of inaccessibility that isolates Inner London from the countryside of the Home Counties, and you’ll find Britain’s worst conditions for cycling. Outer London is cut by highways engineered for the benefit of motor-traffic, many destinations have extensive car-parking. In Inner London bicycling is unremarkable. Out in the doughnut motor-dependence still makes sense, cycling is odd, transgressive and troublesome. The close proximity of these regions creates a revolutionary situation along their jagged border. There’s a chance for the bicycle awareness of Inner London to bleed outwards into areas where conditions for cycling are currently hostile.

“Cycling in Outer London is mostly low, with great potential for improvement. We will increase cycle spending specifically dedicated to Outer London from £3m to more than £100m.”

It would have been easy for the Vision to concentrate only on the ‘low-hanging fruit’ of the inner zone where cycling is growing and popular. Taking on the less promising territory of the ‘burbs is something to applaud. The Vision proposes to…

“…choose between one and three willing Outer London boroughs to make into mini-Hollands, with very high spending concentrated on these relatively small areas for the greatest possible impact. In many ways, this will be the most transformative of all our policies.
This is a fantastic opportunity for these boroughs to achieve dramatic change – not just for cyclists, but for everyone who lives and works there.
The idea, over time, is that these places will become every bit as cycle-friendly as their Dutch equivalents; places that suburbs and towns all over Britain will want to copy.”

Suburban street sign

Public opinion in Outer London is not known to be particularly pro-bike, local politicians and municipal officers usually lag behind, bicycle advocates and activists to encourage, monitor and badger decision-makers are sparse. Implementing this last ambition – undiluted and free of alibi facilities won’t be easy. But if bicycle madness can spread into Outer London nowhere in Britain will be safe from the contagion.

‘Just Ride’ by Grant Petersen – book review

Why do so many explanations of a preferred riding style go on to assert that this personal style is the one-true-path?

Picture of Grant Peterson's book, Just Ride

What is it about bicycles? The versatility of cycle technology explains why opinion on its best use is divided. We’re all free to investigate and define our favourite style – or styles – of riding; but why are theories on the exploitation of the bicycle so often expressed as militant sectarianism? Why do so many explanations of a preferred riding style go on to assert that this personal style is the one-true-path?

A major thrust of ‘Just Ride’ – a collection of short essays – by Grant Petersen is that casual bicycle users are over-influenced – in their choice of clothing, equipment and style of riding – by the very particular and rarefied conditions of bike racing. Petersen is writing as a citizen of the U.S.A., describing the conditions he finds there and offering advice to his compatriots. It’s hard for readers in other territories to tell how valid or necessary his arguments are, or how much they’re just ‘did-you-spill-my-pint’ coat-trailing; aiming to provoke controversy and generate interest.

The nastiest aspect of Grant’s sermonising is his use of the word “ruse” in chapter headings. I think the oldest of these is the “shoes ruse” and the word is probably employed for this poetry alone. It’s one thing to suggest the current orthodoxy – on clothing, footwear, the necessity of being predictable on the road or the importance of weight in choosing bicycle components – is wrong. It’s foolish to the point of paranoia to claim that the people who repeat the current received wisdom are actively trying to trick the public.

A key concept in Grant’s analysis is the ‘unracer’. Grant is an unracer and wants others to copy him. Defining yourself in the negative…
‘who am I?’
‘I am NOT one of those idiots’.
…seems oddly under-confident for such a wise and experienced voice. Maybe Grant’s desire to to tell us what kind cyclist he is not is an explanation of his sectarianism?

‘Just Ride’ is an interesting book, full of interesting ideas some of which might be helpful to you. It’s pleasing to find the home-made mud-flap lauded in a book.

home-made mud-flaps – the next ‘big thing’?

Simply considering the way somebody else rides can make you more conscious of your own decisions. The problem is that – although you might imagine that ‘unracer’ is an almost universal category – Grant’s version of cycling is – in global terms – pretty niche. Despite his professed nonchalance he endorses the use of heart-rate monitors and has strong ideas about what bikes should look like. “Crownless forks look bland”. Caring about how your fork looks – as opposed to it’s condition and how it works – seems a long way from just riding? Some of the content reads like comic parody. For example Grant tells his readers to…

“Go to the diabetic section of your pharmacy and get a glucose-testing kit. The kit has a monitor, a finger pricker and test strips. It costs between twelve and thirteen dollars, and you get enough test strips for ten to twenty-five readings. Friends and family might think it’s werid that you check your own glucose. Tough – it’s good to know your glucose levels, and this is the cheapest and easiest way to do it. I check mine about ten times a week, because I like to see the effects of food and exercise.”

…checking your blood glucose may be an interesting idea but how does it fit in with the instruction ‘Just Ride’?

If you fall into the “bike geek” category – where Grant places himself – you might be tempted to follow him and try finishing handlebars with twine – rather than electrical-tape – or even painting cloth bar-tape with shellac like it was 1938. You might just go for a ride instead?

The idea that modern bikes often have too many gears and too few spokes for the kind of travel they are used for is incontrovertible, but Grant – whose Rivendell Bicycle Works produces bicycles that, at first glance, might be taken for fifty year old classics – makes no mention of bike racing’s most malign influence. The blind insistence – backed by threat of disqualification – that a bicycle has to ‘look right’, a block on experimentation that probably encourages decadent fiddling with spoke and sprocket counts as a displacement activity.
Grant blithely asserts that…

“There isn’t a saddle made that you’d buy as a chair to sit on voluntarily. A bike saddle’s shape is a compormise between the needs of pedaling legs, ease of mounting and dismounting, weight, cost, bicycle aesthetics, and the need for minimal comfort. Minimal.”

Minimal comfort?

Despite his claims to be all about comfort, it turns out he’s just as dogmatic as the blazers at the UCI.

Poynton the way ahead?

The glamour of cycle camping and the practicality of a continuous-flow, low speed environment.

Two short promotional films made me feel more optimistic than usual this week. An idealised TV advertisment showing the glamour of cycle camping.

The second, longer and more gritty, deals with highway design, social-psychology and getting rid of traffic lights, an attempt to introduce the ‘Tehran system’ into a commuter town in Cheshire…

…moving away from a culture of compliance towards one of consideration.

If nothing else the Poynton film has introduced me to some new terminology. From now on I shall be calling the ‘Tehran system’ a “continuous-flow, low speed environment”.

Of course the ‘Samsung’ film is an irrelevant fantasy – models pretending to have fun on bikes while wearing rucksacks – and it’s much too early to judge the new streetscape at Poynton. No useful evaluation of any highway scheme can be made until the novelty has worn off. The fountain in the middle of the crossroads isn’t even working yet.

Both films are entirely partisan. The first in favour of a brand of battery operated electronic device the second against the ideology of road-safety.

Everybody knows no normal person would go cycle-touring, let alone cycle-camping. Everyone knows that guardrails, traffic signals, obedience make people safe and let traffic flow. But ‘normal’ is defined partly in relation to the outer limits of possibility, and these are always moving.

‘pssst’ competition: first loser

we heard a gunshot close by and all looked back in panic

rim fails, tube must pop

In the European leg of a long bike tour, for a two week period we regularly
seemed to get punctures at the worst of times, wearing our patience thinner
than the tyres. There was one on the clay towpaths of the Main-Donau canal, however, which was quite wonderful.

After a brisk morning overtaking the canal’s main wayfarers –touring
grandmothers – we were riding through Nuremburg and had just passed a
travellers’ camp when we heard a gunshot close by and all looked back in
panic. Moments later, realising we weren’’t under fire or in danger, we
stopped to inspect the damage. Gav’s inner tube had exploded and taken half
the wheel with it.

Gav, being the most physically imposing of us, had been a super domestique, taking the wind for far longer than his due. He deserved our solidarity. There being four of us, the only thing to do was for two to remain with the bags and two to find a bike shop in the city.

Cursing our luck, Tim and I sat down at a nearby radweg café and ordered a
radler. The hours passed, as did the touring old ladies, beaming tortoises
to our hares. And the radlers turned into beers. The company was first rate,
including some scholarly Polish builders, whose German was only bettered by their English, and a charming young French couple, who were cycling with their two-year-old son to Canada. The food was pickled fish sandwiches, but you can’’t have everything.

Pete Bloor and Time Keeling

The wearily triumphant pair returned five, maybe six, hours later, having
enjoyed the best of inner city traffic and having managed, at great length,
to find a wheel that was ready to ride. They found a couple of drunks,
gushing about a perfect sunny day on the canal-side to whoever the latest
passing drinking buddy was. The next day, and because of the hangover I
can’’t be sure, but I swear Tim and I found ourselves taking the wind more
than usual.

Peter Bloor 12/12

eds note: A ‘Radler’ – literally ‘cyclist’ – is a mix of beer and soft-drink, a sort of deutsche shandy.