starting pistol

England is mysterious country, so far North that Summer daylight lasts past bedtime, yet warmed by ocean currents to avoid any prolonged Winter, suspended between Europe and America, balanced between Germanic and Latin Europe, with a rich language that fuses both traditions.

“And Norseman and Negro and Gaul and Greek Drank with the Britons in Barking Creek”

Rudyard Kipling

The London 2012 Olympics™ were a magic time.

England is mysterious country, so far North that Summer daylight lasts past bedtime, yet warmed by ocean currents to avoid any prolonged Winter, suspended between Europe and America, balanced between Germanic and Latin Europe, with a rich language that fuses both traditions.

Imperial history adds more layers of richness. Great Britain is a Scottish concept, London an Irish city, we’re all Jamaicans now and right across South Asia schoolboys, who may never visit Yorkshire, do impressions of ‘Sir’ Geoffrey Boycott.

Stuart Hall – Anglo-Jamaican sociologist – said: “In the modern World, if you ask someone where they come from expect a long story.” The people of this archipelago have a head-start on modernity, the Romano-British were hyphenated even before the Anglo-Saxons blew in.

Invite an elite selection of the one-track-minded to come and show off in the World crucible of London, revise the budget upwards as often as necessary and the resulting magic will shine through even the grey haze of McDonalds, mondialisation and militarism.

There’s appetite for change in British Society. Tony ‘mad-bomber’ Blair becomes prime minister and it’s hailed as a bright new morning. Diana Spencer is slaughtered in a car-wreck and the temper of the nation is supposed to have changed forever. Men are finally jailed for killing Stephen Lawrence and nothing will ever be the same. Expect the current, sorely belated revision of the Hillsborough Stadium crush narrative (what an emborisment) to generate the same kind of waffle and Ferry Lane, Tottenham Hale to be renamed Mark Duggan Boulevard amid a blizzard of insincere apologies around 2035?

The great festival of running and jumping is the latest candidate for ‘nothing-will-ever-be-the-same’ status. Let’s not get carried away.

The golden trio of Greg Rutherford, Jessica Ennis and Mohammed ‘Mo’ Farrah inspired a joke that’s funny and progressive…

“A ginger, a mixed-race woman and a Somali refugee walk into a pub…

…and everyone cheers.”

…while in other news the UK border agency are spitefully terminating the courses of a load of people – who’ve spent thousands on studying in this country – only because they happen to come from outside the European Economic Community.

I enjoyed the Olympics – an all day roadside drinking session in the Mole Valley, hearing a prolonged chant of “One, Two, Tree.”   boom joyfully down the street on the night of the men’s 200 metres final, a trip to the Paralympic athletics with my Grandsons – but it’s now a relief not to hear the propaganda, about Olympopolis being ex-wasteland, repeated almost every day by Sebastian Coe, Tessa Jowell or some other land-grabbing liar who doesn’t give a fuck about grassroots sport or the prosperity and quiet enjoyment of the people of the Lower Lea Valley. Folks were working, living and recreating there before the bulldozers rolled in. The promised velo-park is not a gift. If secured it will be reparation.

The prolific web-log ‘Crap Cycling & Walking in Waltham Forest’ – said by some to be the work of Ron Binns, an old comrade from the glory days of the NO M11 Link Road Campaign and former editor of ‘Walk’ magazine – usefully highlights the first promised deadline of the ‘morning-after’ era.  I’d have asked for permission to reproduce the images and copy but CrapWalthamForest doesn’t take comments. So here they are pirated. If you are Ron Binns or any other brain behind CWF feel free to endorse or object.

15th October 2012

By this date these temporary and highly controversial structures built for the Olympics on green open space in the Lea Valley (including, naturally, a tarmac car park), will have been demolished and the entire site will have been returned to green, grassy space where local residents are free to wander. Nothing can possibly go wrong and there is no reason to believe that this deadline will not be met. Trust them – they’re Waltham Forest Council.

 

Let the ‘Legacy Wars’ begin.

Armstrong’s greatest achievement?

As the endgame of Lance Armstrong’s fall develops let’s remember that as well as a former hero he is a man.

As the endgame of Lance Armstrong’s fall develops let’s remember that as well as a former hero he is a man; son of a teenage single-mother, a professional athlete – in the infant sport of triathlon – from his teens. Remember also the pathetic fate of his baldy-headed, jug-eared rival ‘Elephantino’.Don’t consider these people to be super-human. The beauty of their achievement rests on the fact that they have only two arms, two legs and two lungs, one heart and one brain. They are people like us. They are not super-humans, and they don’t become evil incarnate when it turns out they crossed an arbitrary line. Dishonesty and hypocrisy are deplorable, compassion and empathy, virtues.

Lance and Sheryl met at a charity dinner in 2003. Sheryl Crow is ten years older than Lance. He was the winningest professional bike racer in the World, she a big-time rock’n’roll singer. It’s reported Sheryl suggested they go on a bike ride. ‘The coffee grinder’ managed the request well enough that their romance lasted for three years.

The ability to ride a bike very fast is useful when you’re in a race or some other big hurry; for example rushing to catch a ferryboat. The ability to ride very fast is instructive for slower riders, as it is very likely to be – in part – the product of efficiency.

Economy of effort is a target, an object worthy of study for all. Make it look easy, or – at the very least – no harder than you want it to be. Efficiency can be used to arrive at the opera-house with every eye-lash, every grain of foundation, in perfect order, or to cover 40 kilometres in 55 minutes and pass the timekeeper with a beard of drool and snot; both are manifestations of control.

Many hard-riding, performance cyclists eschew ‘junk miles‘, a habit they carry into retirement. Does Ivan Basso ride with his wife? Did Jan Ullrich ever undertake a courtship by acting as amateur reiseführer? For me L.A.’s greatest achievement – the sign he really has some idea how to ride a bike – is his proven ability to ride slowly. Although, to be fair, some of his chosen leisure riding partners have been more than somewhat questionable.

“…so tell me Lance? Why exactly is the Pope against the war?”

brand new bag

Own the city any way you can with this brand-new concept in urban mobility. Designed for speed and easy access, the EASTPAK Velow Collection lets you grab, stash and carry your stuff however you choose to get around. On the road: a stack of high-visibility features make this the bag to be seen with. Underground: the integrated metro card holder lets you tag on and off without even lifting a finger.

“Own the city any way you can with this brand-new concept in urban mobility. Designed for speed and easy access, the EASTPAK Velow Collection lets you grab, stash and carry your stuff however you choose to get around. On the road: a stack of high-visibility features make this the bag to be seen with. Underground: the integrated metro card holder lets you tag on and off without even lifting a finger.”

Riding a bike is better than walking because you’re sitting down. You also get somewhere to hang your handbag. This is a Faustian compact because – if you want to be reliable – you need a bag for your puncture tools.  Of course you could ride solid tyres…

…but for that to be practical, at least one of the wheels needs to be preposterously big, to eat up the bumps.

Handbags may be a stereotypically female accessory but really obsessing about what exactly you need to carry is more of a bloke thing; check – for example – Everyday-carry a US-based site where guys compare their penknives and wristwatches. I understand the term ‘guy’ can be gender-neutral in the USA, but guess they’re mostly men?

titanium toothpick?

Maybe it’s because worrying about whether your watch-strap matches your wallet, or the precise make and model of your cigarette-lighter is quite gay – that’s ‘gay’ in the ‘theatrical’ sense nothing to do with sexuality – that an alarming number of the featured pocket-dumps include knives – clearly meant for more than slicing malt-loaf – and firearms? As in… “I may be a detail-oriented hair-stylist but I have got a pistol”.

Eastpak – a noted luggage brand that began by supplying kit to the US military – have moved into the bicycle bag market – they must have been watching – Timbuk2, Crumpler, Chrome, etc. – apparently people use courier bags on the bus? Another symptom that we are unvanishing.

rugged

My dealer passed on an invitation to the launch party – he knows I’ll go to the opening of an envelope – where I was presented with a nice example in butch shades of black and grey, which makes coordination with shoes and handlebar-tape less of a headache. Like most Eastpak products it comes with a thirty year warranty which – at my time of life – is a lifetime guarantee.

practical

Two loops on the flap are meant for red lights but I channelled the roughty-toughty aesthetic by hanging my Lezyne, Micro Floor Drive HPG on with two Zéfal – Eugène Christophe – toe-straps in white leather. This not only makes me look vaguely like a firefighter, paramedic or security consultant, it also means I’m always carrying two extra toe-straps. Their original function may have been superseded by more practical downhill-ski spin-offs, but toe-straps have more applications than anything made by Gerber, Victorinox or Leatherman. I can also never make the schoolboy-error of going beyond walking distance without a hand-compressor.

bullet-proof military chic

Courier bags are useful because…

  • …you don’t have to worry about luggage security when parking, the bag goes with you.
  • …anything delicate is isolated from road-shock by the rider’s body.
  • …they work well when carrying only a tube, two levers, a little pump and a ‘D’ lock but can also easily accommodate £35 pounds of impulse-purchase groceries.

Just as the Dunwich Dynamo musette (still available while stocks last)

…is a reworking of the traditional throwaway item…

…the Eastpak Velow isn’t really a courier bag.

Couriers need – or used to need? – instant access to letters and packages with minimum fuss. The Eastpak Velow has two plastic buckles, and Velcro™, and a zip; not authentic but – unless you’re pushing parcels on piecework – much more practical.

The Velow has a pocket in the bottom for an ‘Oyster Card’ which I’d always assumed was something to do with seafood but is, apparently, some kind of bus pass?

who do you think you are?

Someone asked:- “Do you think Wiggins’ victory will make more people cycle?” The best answer I could manage is that it may not increase the quantity but it might have some impact on the quality?
Can any readers confirm that Germans don’t understand the concept of a  charity bike ride? It would make sense, they don’t all want to ride bikes for a hundred kilometres but they certainly all know that riding a bike at a comfortable pace, for a few hours, is no big deal.

Anything is easy when you can do it. The hard part isn’t doing it, the difficulty is in becoming a person who knows how to do it. Learning to ride a bike is not a big problem, the more you do it the easier it gets, especially if you get some guidance – or spend time riding with good role-models – to avoid practising doing it wrong. Years of search-and-peck at a keyboard don’t make it easier to become a touch-typist.

Lately a problem for English people – isolated from the heroic role-models of cycle-sport and the practicalities of everyday cycle travel – has been the misapprehension that there’s nothing to learn. Becoming a person who can exploit the potential of a bike is not a big problem but you have to understand that there’s stuff to discover and to practice. Bicycling is young. In historical terms a hundred and twenty years is quite a short time. In evolutionary terms it’s a blink. It’s hard to say much about cycling in this pioneer era but one thing’s for sure… Riding a bike is not natural. Nothing in nature prepared us for floating on compressed air, in a state of perpetual falling where only the forces are balanced.

If you can ride a horse, paddle a kayak or ski, these activities are easy, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if someone without experience, taking them up, sought instruction, or at least the company of expert companions? The idea that everyone knows how to ride a bike, the ‘as-easy-as’ cliche, can be interpreted as another manifestation of mainstream culture’s disdain for bicycle travel. It doesn’t cost anything so it can’t be worth anything. The adjective ‘humble’ sometimes seems compulsory.

The mistaken assumption that everybody can ride a bike – as opposed to the truth that almost everybody has the potential to ride a bike – is encouraged by the fact that, in societies where cycling is an unremarkable part of everyday life, a lot of subtle knowledge is passed on in infancy. One of the best things about riding in the Netherlands is watching tiny children take their mother’s wheel, or the weaker member of a middle-aged couple – dressed for town and riding roadsters – changing their position, as the road zig-zags across the polders, to always hold the spot where they get the best shelter from their companion, crafty as Joop Zoetemelk.

There’s usually been room for one racing champion in British culture. As in…

“Who do you think you are…?”

  • …Reg Harris? (1955)
  • …Beryl Burton? (1965)
  • …Eddy Merckx? (1975)
  • …Chris Boardman? (1995)

Now that the sports-literate person-in-the-street has to engage with at least two, they also have to consider some of the apparently simple activity’s subtleties. What makes Cavendish different from Wiggins? Wiggins different from Froome? How does Wiggins go so fast and look so smooth?

Can Nicole

and Elizabeth

really get along, really combine successfully?

The quality goes up, the satisfaction goes up and then the quantity goes up.

It might work?

time to buy the yellow paint

When modern cycling – safety bikes with air tyres and chain-drives – began, Britain was the workshop of the World, unique in having a large urban working class. In agricultural societies bicycles made the workforce more mobile, more productive, a bicycle was something for a landless labourer to aim at. Bicycles promoted social cohesion. In a nation of industrial cities bikes were more likely to be considered a threat to social order, because they allowed working people easy access to the countryside.

When modern cycling – safety bikes with air tyres and chain-drives – began, Britain was the workshop of the World, unique in having a large urban working class. In agricultural societies bicycles made the workforce more mobile, more productive, a bicycle was something for a landless labourer to aim at. Bicycles promoted social cohesion. In a nation of industrial cities bikes were more likely to be considered a threat to social order, because they allowed working people easy access to the countryside.
In 1894 bicycle-road racing was banned in Britain following an incident on the Great North Road in which a carriage-horse bolted. Semi-clandestine time-trials were tolerated, but mass-start road-racing wasn’t re-established for half a century. One interpretation of Wiggins’ triumph, is that the outspoken Londoner with Irish-Australian roots is finally healing a wound that has delayed the development of bicycling in this country.

Wiggins is a ‘Mod’. The Mod(ernist) cult began in the post-war boom. The Beatles went to Hamburg in 1960, as Rockers….

rockers

…- Rockers like leather jackets, long hair, big motor-cycles and American music – and came back as Mods.

mods

Modism persisted through related flavours – skinheads, soul-boys, casuals – and enjoyed a revival around 1978. Wiggins is too young to have participated in either of these booms. He’s not a Mod by accident. It’s a choice.

Mods like tailoring, haircuts, American music, motor-scooters, coffee bars, anything Italian. Modism’s affinity for Italian style overlaps nicely with just-like-Eddy…

Italianate mod-chic just like Eddy

…retro coureur-chic; woollen jerseys, leather-mitts, cotton caps. It makes sense that – Fred Perry, a sportswear brand that became a classic ‘soul-boy’ label – would want to team up with Wiggins. They must have noticed the rapid growth of Rapha-ism. Here’s Bradley looking moody in the doorway of a new shop, selling old bikes to young people in Mountgrove Road N5.

1964?

The great fixed-gear boom of the early Twenty-first Century is probably over, but if – and it seems only lightning-strike can stop it – the Maida-Vale track-star, hipster wins the Tour de France the idea that studying to ride a bike is an aspirational activity for dandies will get another mighty hand-sling down the grand boulevard of human progress.

During the Beijing Olympics I had to ride out into the Outer Eastern Suburbs to make an important delivery. Floating through the afternoon snarl of Leyton and Wanstead I felt love coming from the disappointed wage slaves in the white vans:- ‘There’s one of those people we’re proud of.’

Hurrying to appointments during the last fortnight, taking pace off the motor-traffic on the Kingsland Road like I was pushing back through the convoy with a jersey full of bidons, I’ve felt the same delusion.

when the excrement impacts the enthusiast

The early Bee Gees were – to my child self –  comical, with their goofy looks and emotional ballad style.

The early Bee Gees were – to my child self –  comical, with their goofy looks and emotional ballad style. I recall a briefly popular playground parody which turned ‘Massachusetts‘ into ‘massive chew sets’.

Robin Gibb with Isle of Man teeth

In December 2009 Mark Cavendish had some new teeth fitted, then resumed training earlier than his medical advisors wanted. His gums became infected, he fell ill and his early season schedule was delayed. The episode led to harsh speculation that he was more interested in stardom than winning bike races.

Mark Cavendish with Isle of Man teeth

The publicity following Robin Gibb’s death made me wonder about Celtic teeth, and whether Cavendish – in trying to look more ‘Monaco’ – had succeeded in looking less Manx.

Cav MBE with Hollywood teeth

Usually the more you find out about people the more interesting they become, celebrations of his life reminded us Robin was a co-writer of this great song.

Great songs from unlikely sources include this from…

…West End boy Yusuf Islam, and all those great standards by Chris Kristofferson who isn’t much of a singer and couldn’t act his way out of a paper-bag.

One of the unwritten rules of bike racing is there must be blood.

Yesterday’s unfortunate abandonment – broken tibia – by Kanstantsin Siutsou from Belarus will tell us something new about the Manx lad with little legs and explosive acceleration. In the aftermath of the stage David Brailsford described TeamSky rider Siutsou as “versatile” by which we may understand he does what he’s told.

Bicycle road racing is – like life – a team endeavour with individual winners. Any worthwhile achievement is the result of collective action but very often one person gets all the credit. Road racing produces recurring narratives of loyalty, honour, trust and betrayal.

As a team with a strong G.C. favourite – in Bradley Wiggins from Maida Vale – was it rash to include in their squad for the Tour de France both Cavendish – a super-star with his own agenda – and Austrian Bernhard Eisel who came with Cavendish from his previous team as personal domestique-deluxe?

Will Wiggins find himself short of team-mates when the shit hits the fan? Is Cavendish willing to allow his place-man Eisel to ride for Wiggins? Will Cav be willing to carry bottles and close gaps for Wiggo, fine-tuning for Box Hill in the big mountains?

Cavendish’s enthusiastic contention of interim sprints suggests he has ambitions to lead, maybe win, the points competition this year. His spectacular crash – in which Eisel also took a taste of tarmac – today in Rouen, shows the added risk of contesting bunch sprints early in the race without a full team to maintain some control at the front end.

Cavendish is also targeting the Olympic road race.  An event prestigious enough to bump the Dunwich Dynamo up the calendar. Cavendish and Wiggins have history, winning the Madison World Championship as the perfect sprinter/stayer combination then flopping at the same event when heavily marked at the Beijing Olympics.

In last year’s World Championship Road Race Wiggins dominated the elite field in the closing stages to set up Cavendish’s biggest win so far. Wiggins’ awesome display of sustained power and control in that event might easily end up being the greatest performance of his life. It would be interesting to know what agreement has been struck between the two for the next month’s busy programme.

The compelling uncertainty of sport means nobody knows whether Team Sky/GB are spreading their resources too thin, whether the experiment will end with domination, Yellow Jersey, Green Jersey and Gold Medals all round, or in embarrassing fiasco?

When Bjarne Riis toppled Miguel Indurain in 1996 they say the factories, shops and offices of Denmark were deserted in the afternoons as everyone stayed glued to live TV images of the bald Eagle becoming the first Dane to win Le Grand Boucle.

If Wiggins wins the Tour the achievement will raise the profile of cycle-sport in Britain to new heights. If Cavendish emulates the World’s greatest living Welsh person and takes Gold on the first weekend of the Olympic Games his global profile will get even bigger.

Super-champions don’t just win they are also noble. Win or lose, how these two handle the pressure, and conduct their relationship will tell us something more about their characters and begin to define their enduring reputations.

Bring it on.

gone with the lamp-lighters and cinema projectionists

It’s entirely appropriate that a frivolous event – a night ride and beach party – has origins shrouded in mystery.

Barry Mason had flair. It was he who invented the Dunwich Dynamo’s creation myth; that a bunch of cycle messengers set-off after an evening drinking session and didn’t stop until they reached the North Sea. Barry always prefaced this confection with ‘legend has it…’ but despite the caveat his sticky tale passed into history.
It’s entirely appropriate that a frivolous event – a night ride and beach party – has origins shrouded in mystery. The problem with Barry’s story is that it may – over time – lead those without much adult memory of the Twentieth Century to misunderstand what those times were really like.

In the years when the DD was a pay-to-enter event, selling enough tickets to cover fixed costs was the difference between profit and loss. Down at Critical Mass sometime in the mid-Nineties, diligently passing out DD flyers with a coupon on the bottom, a scruffy young man took one, read it carefully and asked:- “Do any couriers do this?” Then answered his own question. “No courier would ever do that.”

His declaration was over-statement. There were some bike messengers who rode for fun, but in those days – when delivering letters and packages on a bicycle was a real job, not a lifestyle – many more of them hung up their bikes at the weekends, just as toilet cleaners put down their brushes and carpenters their chisels. On Saturday nights some of the most adept messengers travelled by taxi.

For the benefit of teenage readers; a coupon is a form cut from a newspaper, magazine, leaflet or flyer (a flyer is a promotional piece of paper like the ones promoting industrial pizza that still get shoved through letter boxes)

In olden days people cut coupons out, filled them in and sent them – in paper envelopes with cheques or postal-orders – something like Paypal only slower and more concrete.

Email, electronic artwork, email attachments, automated bank transfers, Wi-Fi; it’s easy to forget how fresh this stuff is. Every kilobyte, one less cardboard envelope or – for pedants – one cardboard envelope fewer.

Is it a coincidence that just as the last Scottish Highlanders were cleared off their lands and embarked for Nova Scotia, New Zealand or Birmingham, the British aristocracy went wild for tartan, Queen Victoria had a bag-piper under her bedroom window and – in Edinburgh – North-Brit male toffs started waltzing around in pleated skirts with little daggers stuck in their socks?

The Last of the Clan

When the last un-contacted forest aboriginals get their first taste of Coca-cola, and first experience of steel tools, rich kids start wearing Campagnolo seat-pin bolts through their nasal septa and sporting warrior tattoos.

Sturmey Archer sprocket circlips?

When I explained the theory – that a global infatuation with ‘bike courier chic’ is(was?) a clear symptom that the riders with big bags and radios are running out of road – to Bill ‘Buffalo Bill’ Chidley, the King of the Couriers, he disagreed. As counter-argument the legendary self-advertiser cited a recent case of a messenger who had to ride from Soho to Clapham to deliver a hard-drive.

Later – on reflection – I tried to imagine how many old-school couriers it would have taken to carry two terabytes of paper correspondence?

One of the rules of mass-participation cycle-touring is…

Never assume anyone else knows the way.

If you ride the Dunwich Dynamo next week and follow a handful of red lights for half an hour you may find they’re not going to Dunwich at all, just heading up to the all-night garage in Bury St. Edmunds for a packet of cigarettes.

Keep the route-sheet handy – even if you know the way, it sets a good example to greener pilgrims – and this five-bob data display system will add old school Twentieth Century messenger-cool to almost any bike.

The unvanishing tribe

Drifting home on Upper Street, N1, out on the white line avoiding conflict with anyone creeping out of White Lion Street or sweeping into Liverpool Road. Sitting comfortably just inside the plume of turbulent air towed by a number 73 bus, spying on the driver through the wing mirror and waiting for her to cut left into the lay-by along the elevated pavement and launch me toward Islington Green.

Drifting home on Upper Street, N1, out on the white line avoiding conflict with anyone creeping out of White Lion Street or sweeping into Liverpool Road. Sitting comfortably just inside the plume of turbulent air towed by a number 73 bus, spying on the driver through the wing mirror and waiting for her to cut left into the lay-by along the elevated pavement and launch me toward Islington Green.
My attention is caught by an advert on the back of the giant rolling windbreaker. It seems Schwalbe have launched a limited edition London-branded range of their excellent tyres.

A small social advance since the days when contented cyclists could  wait behind buses reading ‘Don’t just sit their fuming’, courtesy of Friends of the Earth.

Nor are Schwalbe the only German company who’ve noticed that some people in London, England even the British Isles, ride bikes. My old mate – OK I once had a chat with him at a trade show – Hartmut Ortleib has a new set of limited edition 30th anniversary bomb-proof bags.

You can even get a nice white, roll-top, fabric bucket printed with a handy map of our Irish Archipelago. Other charts are available for those with more ambition and time to go further, but there is – for example – no Italian edition.

Some people might say these examples of Germans thinking of English people on bikes only reveal the advance of mass customisation, techniques that combine economies of scale with short runs of niche products. I prefer to think of them as us unvanishing.

 

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

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

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

Mahatma Gandhi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

wisdom from the Wizard

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

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

Mike Burrows

central-casting mad professor

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

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

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

He’s also an aviation-grade talker.

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