how to behave in a respiratory pandemic (part I)

To the best of our current knowledge there are three ways to reduce the risk of dying with CV19…

Many people, who previously justified a decision not to travel by bike based on the oft-repeated idea excuse feeling that it’s just too dangerous, have lately been forced into a more hard-headed risk-assessment.

“I’ve been self-isolating for years. I’m a cyclist.” M. Burrows

To the best of our current knowledge there are three ways to reduce the risk of dying with CV19…

1. Don’t catch it.

The best way to catch it is to be close to an infected (adult?) person, in a confined, ill-ventilated space for a long period.  Anybody (adult?) can be infected.  Copy the habits of racing cyclists and opera singers, press lift buttons with your elbows and avoid the places where germs may fly or lie ready to interrupt your career.

In other words…  ride a bike.

2. Be ready for it.

If you’re fit you’re more likely to survive and recover.  The most significant demographic risk is age.  You may feel young but you can’t do anything about your ‘miles-on-the-clock’.  You can, however, exercise to keep your weight down and your immune system, your heart and lungs working as well as possible.

In other words…  ride a bike.

3. When you catch it don’t wait too long before seeking help.

This one’s harder to translate into the favourite directive, but if you’ve ever tried to ride a bike in a considered – non casual – style, ever tried to maximise speed or distance,  you will have flirted with the hypochondria of the ‘athlete’.  If you’ve ever tried to ride at a pace dictated by somebody going faster, or the unforgiving clock; if you’ve ever tried to keep going long after you got tired, then you’ll be familiar with the imperative of self-diagnosis, the importance of good decision making.

the pulse-oximeter: this seasons must-have gadget

If you’ve ever weighed yourself daily, taken your pulse to decide whether to rest or ride, worn a heart-rate monitor or taken a ramp test, you’re more likely to know when to get help.

If you’re familiar with the seductive, torture of hypoxia you’re more likely to feel it coming before it’s too late.

Now wash your hands (again) carefully before you go for (another) ride.



where is health and what is safety?

Happy New Year, very late I know, if  you’re following the Gregorian calender, slightly early if you’re Chinese.

The Advertising Standards Authority(ASA) have banned this TV advert “SEE CYCLIST THINK HORSE.”…

…because of five complaints. They ruled it was…

“…socially irresponsible and likely to condone or encourage behaviour prejudicial to health and safety.”

This is good news for those of us who look forward to the advent of bicycle paradise.

I’m still dreaming of being a cyclist. My chosen life-partner is a serial horse-owner, so this little motion-picture has particular personal appeal.

Were it not for those five complainants – if they aren’t ‘road-safety’ professionals then they must be ‘road-safety’ enthusiasts – I’d probably never have seen it. Now, instead of season on TV in Scotland, the Paddy-Power-Principal – that getting your promotional material banned is good for business – has given the ad legs. Cycling Scotland, producers of the film plan to appeal. This on-going controversy offers potential for grand, national* exposure.

There’s no rigorous data on the the relationship between cycle-helmet wearing and the frequency or severity of crashes, or between cycle-helmet wearing and the reduction or mitigation of injuries caused by crashes. This marginal issue has been discussed here before, when Wiggins weighed in with ill-considered – and rapidly retracted – remarks following the death of Dan Harris.

As there is no evidence, strong views on the subject are often questions of faith. Messing with people’s faith can make them touchy

Attempts at normalising hard-hats for general cycling offer us a chance to coolly ask interesting questions…

  • Where does the danger come from?
  • Who is threatening who?

..and to assert the main public-health implication of crash-hats for general cycling.

  • If a crash-hat makes somebody feel ‘cool’, fashionable, stylish – and hence more likely to travel by bike – that hat can help them live longer.
  • If it makes them feel ‘dorky’ or freakish, and hence less likely to travel by bike, they are likely to die sooner.

If the ASA are worried about health and safety where’s the roll-bar on Mercedes and why is the driver not wearing a hard-hat and goggles?

The truth that people who ride bikes live longer has been understood – by academics at least – for more than twenty years. There is still work to do to push it into the realm of common-knowledge.

I like convertible cars, they’re not pretending to be practical. One of the draws of and automobile is that it allows its user the chance to privatise an area of public space. A convertible can be broken into with a Stanley knife and is clearly meant for frivolous applications. Choosing a convertible is a step away from the kind of agoraphobia that makes people irrationally afraid of cycle travel when the dangers of other modes are treated more fatalistically. It’s driver may be a victim of motor dependence but at least they’ve decided to get rid of the roof, who knows where that process might end?

Of course demanding the Advertising Standards Authority consider actual evidence is faux-naïf. They are referring to the Highway Code as arbiter of what is safe and healthy and – as noted here before –  Highway Code, the Road Safety industry are cultural phenomena desperately striving for some kind of technical validation.

*A sublimimal horse-related reference for Unionists. Those who favour independence for Caledonia make it grand INTERnational exposure.

“We are normal and we want our freedom”

The most pressing short-term needs are, explaining to people who use motor-vehicles on public roads why people on bicycles need to claim time and space, and encouraging bicycle users to take enough time and space to be safe.

The statistical anomaly, that half the killings of cycle users in London, in 2013, were packed into fourteen days last month put the issue of motor-slaughter right up the agenda.

For a while no news or current affairs show on TV or radio was complete without a spot on the dangers of cycling. The resulting surge in demand for specialist commentary led to heavy squad-rotation. Not even the estimable C.M.Boardman MBE can be everywhere. I consequently got to spout opinions on BBC London Radio.

Some of the calls from members of the public are suitably random and there are moments when I start to ramble but it’s nice to air lunacy in public. In a mad World sanity can be a dangerous affliction.

Three things to remember in these crazy times.

  • People who travel by bike live longer.
  • People on bikes getting run down is not – primarily – a bicycle story. It’s a story about the dangers of motor-traffic in public space.
  • The most pressing short-term needs are, explaining to people who use motor-vehicles on public roads why those on bicycles need to claim time and space, and encouraging bicycle users to take enough time and space to be safe.

Is this woman broke? Samantha Cameron without mudguards.

Perhaps the strangest elements of this sudden squall were the comments of Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, also on Radio London?

He seems oddly confident that the only significant reason a normal person would ride a bike is because they can’t afford to get around any other way. In the same interview Sir Bernard had already discussed the onward ramifications of the Andrew Mitchell swearing saga, which has a toff trying to ride a bike at its centre. He must have meetings with Boris. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t know senior police colleagues who use a bike to get to work.

Perhaps Sir Bernard is suggesting it’s poor people on bikes who get killed because they don’t have the social-presence of patrician fellow-travellers? Consider poor  Francis Golding, run down where Theobalds Road meets Southampton Row, 08/11/2013, died three days later, a lauded professional, also plenty old enough to qualify for free travel on tubes and buses.

I don’t know Sir Bernard personally but feel safe to assume that he’s no mug. You don’t rise from a humble background to become the country’s foremost peeler by being dumb. Why did he spout nonsense?

The idea that cyclists are reluctant victims of want is attractive to authoritarians. People voluntarily on bikes reveal the limits of the dominant theory of post-Thatcher Britain; that the only things that really matter are earning and spending. When our rulers witter on about ‘hard-working families’ they don’t mean ‘work equals force times distance’, they’re not thinking about people who’d rather waste time refurbishing an old bike than earning cash to buy a new one, or growing vegetables on their home patch, rather than purchasing ‘cheap’ those trucked in from distant lands. Our rulers definition of ‘work’ is restricted to paid employment, they’re talking only about economic activity. As Mayer Hillman observed, bicycle travel is a free-lunch you get paid to eat. By gaining satisfaction from something that is free-at-the-point-of-delivery folk using bikes reveal that right-wing theory – however useful – is only a theory.

Andrew Gilligan has boasted about riding his bike while wearing headphones, Boris once referred to using a phone while riding as ‘a free-born Englishman’s time-hallowed and immemorial custom’. Despite this they can’t admit that – while naughty cyclists may be an annoying, amenity issue – it’s the routine use of motor-vehicles that kills cities. They have to go along with the prevailing analysis that cycling is the problem, motor-dependence the default. To do otherwise is heresy.

Last Friday evening as I tooled by Manor House a collection of plods were congregated around the lights, on what looked like Operation Safeway duty. As a person of dignity in later middle-age, going to London for a night out, I was wearing black shoes, black trousers, a black jacket and a black hat. My leather gloves were brown. I was in good time and ready – if given unsolicited advice by any public servant on the absence of colour in my costume – to point out that the 3 watt generator, mit Standlicht vor und hind, on my bike was working fine, that the (mitchellesque expletive deleted) Queen of England travels in a black car, that I’d been riding these roads since their mothers were virgins and if they want to change the law of the land, to make clownish attire compulsory for bicycle users, they’d best start a campaign in their own (mitchellesque expletive deleted) time, not waste mine. They let me pass unmolested, which was probably best for all concerned.

Check the reversible rear-hub? Paul Smith stylish since the ’50s

Sir Bernard’s flat Sheffield accent reminds me of a recorded voice currently ringing round the Design Museum in Bermondsey, Paul Smith CBE from Nottingham. The show “Hello, my name is Paul Smith” explains how one person can keep a handle on a global brand. It’s not about bicycles but they run though it like the pin-stripe in a sober business suit, a sober business suit with a flamboyant paisley-print lining. The show’s not about bicycles but they pepper it’s content as…

  • …ubiquitous everyday conveniences.
  • …glorious, poetic symbols of transcendence and human potential.

While Bernard Hogan-Howe’s comments are a futile attempt to turn the clock back to the days of the vanishing tribe, when a bicycle was a – best-forgotten – symptom of austerity, the Paul Smith show heralds a future where human-powered mechanical travel is the default, non-walking, mode, the logistical skeleton of a World infused with peace, freedom and joy.

Bernard and Paul have things in common. They both left school and went to work without higher education. Hard graft has taken them to the top. They retain their accents. The puckish Smith is a decade older yet seems more youthful. What’s his secret?

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.

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”

‘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.

moving on, selling out

Over the next few days will be migrating over to There will – doubtless – be glitches during the relocation but all links and archive will be maintained. I hope your reading pleasure will not be compromised, and might even be enhanced?

Over the next few days will be migrating over to There will – doubtless – be glitches during the relocation but all links and archive will be maintained. I hope your reading pleasure will not be compromised, and might even be enhanced?

Those who’ve badgered me – in the nicest possible way – to promote this waffle via various proprietary formats, twitface etc., will be pleased to know that marketing decisions will be out of my hands. ‘Like-button culture’ here we come.

Thanks to all who’ve glanced at OTR over the last 11 months. You’ll now be able to say:-  “own the road? I remember the early days; when it was really funny.”

Not an emergency

A perfect gentleman on wheels, Crampton, the snobbish young anti-hero, is resting on a roadside gate when… …among others, a very pretty girl flashed by—unaccompanied.Now, Mr. Crampton, in spite of his regard for Madge, was not averse to dreams of casual romance. And the bicycle in its earlier phases has a peculiar influence upon the imagination. To ride out from the familiar locality, into strange roads stretching away into the unknown, to be free to stop or go on, irrespective of hour or companion, inevitably brings the adventurous side uppermost. And Mr. Crampton, descending from his gate and mounting, not two minutes after she had passed, presently overtook her near the crossroad to Horley, wheeling her machine.

In H. G. Wells’ 1897 short story “A perfect gentleman on wheels“, Crampton, the snobbish young anti-hero, is resting on a roadside gate when…

“…among others, a very pretty girl flashed by—unaccompanied.
Now, Mr. Crampton, in spite of his regard for Madge, was not averse to dreams of casual romance. And the bicycle in its earlier phases has a peculiar influence upon the imagination. To ride out from the familiar locality, into strange roads stretching away into the unknown, to be free to stop or go on, irrespective of hour or companion, inevitably brings the adventurous side uppermost. And Mr. Crampton, descending from his gate and mounting, not two minutes after she had passed, presently overtook her near the crossroad to Horley, wheeling her machine.
She had a charmingly cut costume, and her hair was a pleasant brown, and her ear, as one came riding up behind her, was noticeably pretty. She had punctured the tire of her hind wheel; it ran flat and flaccid—the case was legible a hundred yards off.
Now this is the secret desire of all lone men who go down into the country on wheels. The proffered help, the charming talk, the idyllic incident! Who knows what delightful developments?”

Contemporary understanding of the diversity of human desire may dispute Wells’ comic suggestion that all men who go cycling alone in the country are secretly hoping to come across women with punctures. There is however no doubt that – in the absence of a more autonomous, reliable or dignified strategy – ‘eye-liner mechanics’ offers some kind of fall-back plan. Assuming the person with the problem has allure for the characters who carry puncture tools, not just for their own convenience, but also in hope of ingratiating themselves with others found in distress.

Relying on aid from a passing stranger is called ‘eye-liner mechanics’ because its exponents may substitute a kohl pencil for a tool-roll, pump and, one or more new or carefully patched, tubes; although many modern-day ‘Cramptons’ find a rare mixte more fascinating than subtle use of mascara.

You may not guess it from the masthead picture…

…taken outside the Swan public house, Hackney sometime between the advent of the safety bike and the demise of the old Ordinary – but is fully committed to equal-opportunities.

It is therefore pleasing to report that the first response to the no.1 Owners Club competition is a sequence of still photographs – submitted by reader J. Stables – that explode Well’s crude Nineteenth Century gender stereotyping like it were a tube trapped awkwardly between a rim and a tyre-bead. Bang!

Not only is the person in Jane’s pictures clearly unstressed by a crevaison, she has also chosen an indoor repair location. This wise precaution eliminates the risk of socially awkward, bike fanciers – who may pass en groupe – getting injured in any stampede to offer unnecessary assistance.

A puncture is not an emergency.

…97.3 per cent?

In the UK there is suppressed demand for cycling. There are people who want to travel by bicycle who are prevented, or limited, by the threat and severance consequent on the current acceptance of motor-dependence and hyper-mobility.

In the UK there is suppressed demand for cycling. There are people who want to travel by bicycle who are prevented, or limited, by the threat and severance consequent on the current acceptance of motor-dependence and hyper-mobility.
There’s a cliched discourse stemming from this unfortunate circumstance that relies on an unstated, unexamined faith that most – maybe all – of the people who don’t currently travel by bike are in some precipitous pre-cycling state, only waiting for conditions to change so they can start riding.

For example here’s a reader’s comment from earlier in the year…

“…the argument is that bike lanes should be good enough that all cyclists will want to use them, you, me and the 98% of the population who do not ride bikes right now, and never will unless they feel safe.”

A wise and effective comrade once gave me the following advice:- “In politics never use the word ‘should’.” ‘Could’ has the ring of truth, ‘must’ is dynamic but ‘should’ always sounds ineffectual, even desperate.

The compelling attraction of the ‘98 per cent are pre-cyclists‘ theory is that it’s adherents can envisage a future in which bicycle paradise arrives without attritional street-by-street struggle. If you believe in the ’98 percent’ theory the political question of what streets are for is replaced by technical issues. If only we can get the policy sorted the rest will be coasting downhill, because really everyone is just waiting to throw a leg over their rod and hit the rad-weg.

When others have no interest in stuff that we feel is very important there’s temptation to project our own feelings on to their blank apathy. I used to imagine that people didn’t cycle because – back in the era of the vanishing tribe – cycle-traffic was definitely being designed out of the system.

In the very early 1990’s – when fixed gears were for old codgers and Mountain Bikes still a new idea – I was writing for, long-gone, ‘New Cyclist’. A quarterly, that became a bi-monthly, that became a monthly, which carried the portentous sub-title “the magazine for all cyclists”; like working on the magazine for all shoe-wearers or all air-breathers.

Transport was a hot subject, ‘Roads to Prosperity’ the biggest programme of highway construction since the Romans was going down in flames under a pincer movement from disobedient eco-warriors and Betjemanesque conservatives. The Conservative Government’s attitude to public-transport was not unlike Count Dracula’s feelings for garlic so it seemed like bicycle paradise might be just over the next hill.

symbolic redevelopment of the secretary of state for Transport’s house in Muswell Hill

I had the innocent idea of surveying Members of the House of Commons to uncover their attitudes to cycling. Who rode, who rode where and what were their attitudes? All of them – except Gerry Adams the abstentionist Sinn Féin member for West Belfast – had current experience of London streets, where cycling was the most reliable mode.

I can’t recall the exact details. It was all many kilometres ago, maybe one day I’ll stooge up Watling Street to Colindale and recapture the full story. Younger readers may be interested to know that ‘going to the library’ is what people in olden days did when they wanted to find out about something, like Wikipedia only less convenient and more reliable.

The MP’s questionnaire was multiple-choice and elicited the desired response. On the cover of the magazine the editor was able to write…

“Why MPs want to cycle but are too frightened.”

What happened next? Was there a cross-party surge of political will to provide the space, green-time and finance to reconfigure the World so the timid souls could hit the streets? It began to dawn on me that things might be more complicated than I had imagined.

It’s not even that some people want conditions for cycle traffic improved and others don’t, for many the dissonance is personal. Here’s an instructive parable from the turn of the Century lifted from the Guardian

“For years residents of two Somerset villages complained to police about motorists speeding past their homes.

When a police speed trap was set up on a 30mph stretch of the A368 between Compton Martin and Bishop Sutton, the locals were delighted.

Their euphoria turned to shame when it emerged yesterday that a large proportion of the drivers caught speeding by the laser camera were the very same villagers.

Of 133 motorists caught in a fortnight, 30 were from the two villages. They are being prosecuted by police along with the others.

Sergeant Mike Smalley, who set up the trap, said: “It’s often the case that we catch a high proportion of locals, and some of those will have expressed concern about speeding in the first instance.”

Pensioner John Wilkes, who has lived near Compton Martin for 18 years, described it as being more like Piccadilly Circus than a peaceful village.

“I think local people should have known better. We are complaining about speeding, but how can you complain if you don’t abide by it? It has got a lot worse as time has gone by.”

Katie Court, whose partner was one of those caught, said she thought that the lorries were more of a problem. “My husband was only doing 35mph and I don’t think he deserved it.”