Downhill all the way

My adult career began, hurrying to college in Solatio shoes, oxford bags and a Laurence Corner greatcoat. An ignorant prick who thought special clothes for cycling were counter-revolutionary. Last year I finished a fifth – OK you dragged it out of me – a fifth, Paris-Brest. Readers inexperienced enough to be impressed need to understand that the only reason you haven’t done it is that you don’t want to. Or haven’t wanted to yet?

Bicycle madness is analogous to the right-wing model of drug use. You start on shandy and progress to crack-cocaine.

My adult career began, hurrying to college in Solatio shoes, oxford bags and a Laurence Corner greatcoat. An ignorant prick who thought special clothes for cycling were counter-revolutionary. Last year I finished a fifth – OK you dragged it out of me – a fifth, Paris-Brest.

Readers inexperienced enough to be impressed need to understand that the only reason you haven’t done it is that you don’t want to. Or haven’t wanted to yet?

An unbeaten streak, dating back to 1995, reveals the depths to which one can sink and the persistent nature of my own condition. I’m not dumb enough to build social-theory on one depraved biography but it has prompted an interest in the pathology of velomania.

mudguards, accessories obligatory for any presentable rider?

Copenhagen Cycle Chic is great – urban planning has always rung my bell – but maybe their 2008 manifesto carried a whiff of sectarianism? The credo says use mudguards “where possible”, yet absolutely prohibits streamlined clothing. Of course it’s a mistake to take these things too seriously and, as well as don of street-photography, Mikael Colville-Andersen – godfather of cycle chic –  is an aviation-grade sloganeer.

His observation…

“Our relationship to our bicycle is often the same as to our vacuum cleaner. Everyone has one, everyone uses it, but the vacuum cleaner and the bicycle are merely efficient and practical tools for making our everyday lives easier.”

…is an economical and sticky way of describing the push-rod’s main role in the well-run societies of North West Europe.

As follower of ChCC (What middle-aged man doesn’t enjoy quality pictures of well-groomed young people with nice looking  fenders?)  I’ve noticed that M. C-A may be getting a little too interested in the subject of humanity’s greatest mechanical contrivance; and I don’t mean his Nilfisk.

usually modelled by a fat bloke

Christmas just gone he let slip he’d loaded a sports odometer app on his smartphone, revealed how he’d ridden 60 km when the train would have been quicker and described a headwind as “pesky”. Can a novelty road jersey to cut the air-drag be far behind?

If nascent flirtation with performance were not worrying enough there’s also an alarming photograph, of the fetishistic deployment of a  bicycle as bathroom hand-basin stand, which Mikael describes as “quite possibly the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in the bicycle furnishing category.”

‘Bicycle furnishing’?

I feel compelled to ask, “Why, M. C-A?”

It’s fun?

To stay in the realm of sanity…

Cycle furniture?

I’m sorry but that’s just wrong.

Don’t criticise others for inconsistency. A shifting position may be the sign of an open-mind; of personal development. When someone, who’s previously marked bicycles as ‘merely efficient and practical tools’, displays signs of advancing velomania, if an avowed champion of ‘normal’ cycling can develop velophilic symptoms, be warned. Mikael’s case emphsises just how insidious bicycle madness can be.

Go Go Go Go Go Dutch

A cyclist was “lucky to be alive” after he was knocked off his bike by a rope stretched across a County Durham woodland trail. Lukasz Sikorski was travelling at 20mph when he hit the cord, which was tied between two trees in Hamsterley Forest. The mountain biking organisation, Descend Hamsterley, said he was lucky not to be seriously or fatally injured.

Reader Jonathan Chandler alerted me to a  potentially life-threatening attack,  presumably undertaken by followers of M. Parris. To call them parrisians risks defamation by association of  the citizens of Île-de-France. The correct term is parrisites.

Rope ‘sabotages’ Hamsterley Forest track

8 February 2012

A cyclist was “lucky to be alive” after he was knocked off his bike by a rope stretched across a County Durham woodland trail.

Lukasz Sikorski was travelling at 20mph when he hit the cord, which was tied between two trees in Hamsterley Forest.

The mountain biking organisation, Descend Hamsterley, said he was lucky not to be seriously or fatally injured.

It has offered a reward for help in finding the person responsible. Durham Police are also investigating

Somebody – yes Matthew that does mean you – needs to explain to Durham Police that it’s meant to be a joke and tell Mr. Sikorski to lighten up.

The Times’ turnaround since 2007 was also noted by David Hembrow who I rode with back in the Twentieth Century, and more recently competed against in funny bike racing. Those events are about 36 hours too short for me, but I do prefer a sport where anyone – with a cycle – can ride the World Championships without need to qualify.

I took advantage of our coincidental posts to contact David. There’s a favourite statistic, I’ve been pedalling for at least twenty years, that needs updating and – since it concerns travel in the Netherlands from whence David broadcasts to the World – I hoped he could help.

“One in four bicycle journeys in the Netherlands is made by a female pensioner” is what I’ve told anyone willing to listen since before the internet was open. Turns out it’s bollox. What might be true – and probably explains where my garbled version came from –  is that one in four journeys made by a female pensioner, in the Netherlands, is on a bicycle. Which begs the question how do those indestructible old ladies make the other 75 percent of their trips? Skateboard? Motorcycle, now that’s really dangerous? Or maybe in those crazy flying-squirrel suits. Once again – when it comes to social science –  it turns out that the only reliable figure is that 82.4 percent of statistics are made up on the spot.

David also dismisses my suggestion that presumed liability is a “glaring omission” from the Times’ campaign.

“In the Netherlands it’s an obscure part of the law ( “art. 185 WVW” ) and there is no catchy phrase for it. People don’t realise that liability here is different from elsewhere, and they don’t realise that it’s in any way controversial elsewhere. This was simply a small change to the law which was brought in to ensure that financial responsibility in crashes was directed in the most sensible direction. It has nothing at all to do with laying blame and it mainly acts to protect those aged under 14 years of age.”

I’m inclined to agree that it’s not a glaring omission. There are other important things missing. I also wonder if David under-estimates it’s significance? Dutch people don’t know about the legal context of crashes between pedestrians and vehicles, or between vehicles of different categories. Fish don’t know about water.

Jim Davis, chair of the bombastically-named and interesting ‘Cycling Embassy of Great Britain’, the only national cycle campaign born in the age we live in, testifies to a journey in the Netherlands to visit David.

“Where cycle path and road met, motorists stopped for us, even when we didn’t have priority.”

Infrastructure design and planning in the Netherlands are interesting subjects from which we can take wisdom and local solutions, but finally danger – and therefore safety – only comes from people. Even if David’s correct and the legal context is not relevant to conditions for cycling and walking in the Netherlands it doesn’t mean that campaigning for a change in the UK is not a useful thing to do. Argument over presumed liability once started can – in the current climate – gather it’s own momentum.

Go Go Go Go Go Dutch?

Without consensus a net of rad-weg, joining every address in this country, could still be rendered impassable to the nervous by parrisitic hoons on motor-cycles. Amongst the current enthusiasm for all things Dutch don’t forget that there – as in Germany – sales of new utility bikes have lately collapsed against those of battery machines.

Might a national conversation on childrens’ freedom of movement, exactly who does own the roads and where danger actually comes from, help all the people who currently, perversely, don’t travel by cycle?

We may hypothesise that some of these are timid pre-cyclists just waiting for physical conditions to change so they can fulfill their ambition for motor-free travel, that others are hard-hearted parrrisites itching to slaughter the self-righteous scum who dare ride ought-to-be-humble pedal-cycles on roads meant for cars? Might these notional categories overlap? They’re certainly projected onto the same population. Human motivation is complicated. You can’t change the way people behave without changing the way they think.

The crrimes of Parris

It’s interesting and optimistic that a heavyweight national daily has chosen this subject for a campaign, particularly when four years ago the very same organ ran a notorious suggestion to kill people at random.

It’s interesting and optimistic that a heavyweight national daily has chosen this subject for a campaign, particularly when four years ago the very same organ ran a notorious suggestion to kill people at random.

“A festive custom we could do worse than foster would be stringing piano wire across country lanes to decapitate cyclists.”

Matthew Parris, The Times, 27/12/07.

Perhaps Mr. Parris  should send a copy of his humourous essay to Mary Bowers and her family to cheer them all up?

In his defence poor Parris had a deadline pending, it was holiday time, he had to write something. A community-service order, for incitement to murder plus two years prison – suspended – for being unfunny, might be a fair tarriff? Hateful as this kind of  gormless idiocy  may be, outbreaks are a symptom of progress. If the poor lambs didn’t feel threatened they’d pick some other target.

Just as it was a mistake to get too upset  at the hate-criminal’s sorry little rant, let’s not  feel cynical in not treating ‘Cities fit for Cycling’ as a brave new dawn. A strategy for long-term engagement in street politics is not getting too depressed or too triumphant. Take a long view. Round here at least, things are getting slowly better.

When you read the figures for those who endorse the campaign, remember, some only signed-up to leave a ‘SACK PARRIS NOW’ message.

Once upon a time buying newspapers was normal and riding a bike was odd. Not anymore.

We’re in this together

Two independent witnesses say they saw Shane Warne run into a bike after an altercation with the rider at the junction of St Kilda and Toorak West in Melbourne, Oztralia. The consequence of this? The Mayor of Melbourne Robert Doyle announces an intention to crackdown on hoon cyclists. Aren’t you glad you don’t live in Melbourne? Sympathy to readers who do.

Two independent witnesses say they saw Shane Warne run into a bike after an altercation with the rider at the junction of St Kilda and Toorak West in Melbourne, Oztralia. The consequence of this? The Mayor of Melbourne Robert Doyle announces an intention to crackdown on hoon cyclists. Aren’t you glad you don’t live in Melbourne? Sympathy to readers who do.The rider involved – who remains anonymous – sent his account of events, and pictures of the damage to his machine, to ‘Cycling Tips’. He describes how – in rush hour traffic – he overtook Warne who was encumbered by a grey Mercedes Coupé.

As the traffic was stationary I unclipped my right foot and squeezed through the small gap. The driver in the car on my right, the Mercedes – possibly concerned I might damage his car – yelled out to me. Once I was through the gap I moved back into the centre lane, stopped and looked back at the driver, who was still yelling, to hear what he was saying.

“What are you doing? You don’t own the road! Get out of the way” he yelled repeatedly. I shook my head and probably yelled something similarly inane back. Now even more agitated the driver continued to yell, “you don’t own the road”. I looked more closely and recognised him as Shane Warne, laughed and asked, “What are you doing?” and began to get ready to clip into my bike to continue the ride home.
But before I could the driver lurched his car forward forcing my bike wheel and almost my leg under the front of his car. Dumbfounded at how overtly aggressive the driver had been and aware that we were now holding up the traffic, I pulled my bike from under the car and attempted to continue riding. My wheel was jammed against the frame of my bike and the chain was tangled so I had to carry it to the footpath to fix it.

The part of this account that doesn’t ring true is…

“I shook my head and probably yelled something similarly inane back.”

In the circumstances wouldn’t we expect him to have remembered exactly what he said? The omission suggests that either he’s ashamed to admit to his contribution or – if he really can’t recall –  that he was out of control when shouting at the chubby Spin King. This doesn’t excuse Warne’s – alleged – criminal behaviour.

In ‘Homage to Catalonia’ George Orwell wrote…

“I have no particular love for the idealised ‘worker’ as he appears in the bourgeois Communist’s mind, but when I see an actual flesh-and-blood worker in conflict with his natural enemy, the policeman, I do not have to ask myself which side I am on.”

The cliché that people in cars and people on bikes are natural enemies is false, but where there’s conflict between individuals who have chosen different modes I’m initially inclined to side with any pedallist over a sofa-jockey; another habit is to try and avoid tiresome, and risky escalation of trivial disputes.

I live in a hard news area, the local paper frequently features stories of people shooting at each other, knifing each other, using baseball bats to settle minor arguments, setting each other on fire. Readers of the Hackney Gazette with a any sense of self-preservation endeavour to treat strangers politely. Round here dumping your bad feelings on others in a careless way may have dramatic consequence. This environment has been a great benefit to my traffic riding. It turns out that – in awkward social situations – practicing emotional continence really works.

In the moment, in the rush hour on St Kilda Road, it wasn’t really the bike rider holding up Warnie’s car, it was his fellow-travellers in four-wheeled motors.  Motorists – victims of motor-dependence (MDVs) – tend to lash out at other people – parking attendants, bike-riders; they’re more likely to stoically accept their real problem, the person in the car in front doing exactly what they’re doing. ‘The World would be a better place with fewer people like me in it’ is an existentially problematic idea.

To be safe travelling on a bike you need to make sure other people are aware of your presence. You’re not in control of how they react to this. It would have been better if Warnie had looked at the rider and thought, “If I get a bike and do a few miles this Winter maybe I can play one more season?” instead of ranting about the ownership of the road. How much sweeter if the guy on the bike had expressed sympathy for Shane’s predicament?  “Sorry mate I didn’t mean to upset you? Actually I do own the road, but we can share it. That is a nice car. Are you having a bad day?

When an MDV gets angry and aggressive they’re trying to export some of their disappointment at the way their life has turned out. If you reply in kind you’re giving them what they want, the chance to blame somebody else for their frustration. A  repost that is calm, fearless, humane and generous, not only reduces the chance of risky escalation; you’re also giving them the opportunity  to grow.

It may not be a coincidence that Warniegate happened while the Tour Down Under was taking place and – for the very first time – the reigning champion of the Tour de France is a simple son of The Lucky Country. Fear of – anger at – people on bikes are symptoms of progress. Being a threat is a step forward from the anachronistic status of vanishing tribe waiting to vanish.

How ever badly they behave, how ever much they try to drag us down toward their own unenviable state, the primary victims of motor-dependence are the losers stuck behind the steering wheel. Challenge bad behaviour where you can but be kind to those less fortunate than yourself. It feels good.

Empathy for the devil

There’s something intrinsically comic about professional athletes who are clearly out of condition yet still manage to contribute. Just because he’s a vulgar hoon with very little sense of how to behave in public, doesn’t mean we can’t feel his pain. Up here in the North it’s Spring and the days  –  though cold  –  get longer as they pass, which must mean, down-under, nights are drawing in.

“Cricket is not a metaphor for life. Cricket is life.”

C.L.R  James

  • Play optional sentimental soundtrack.
  • Stand-by with the hankies.

It’s easy to mock [WARNING: link to smut] fat cricketers. Who can forget the day some joker released a pig onto the field at Brisbane in honour of those two stout fellows I.T.Botham and E.E.Hemmings?

There’s something intrinsically comic about professional athletes who are clearly out of condition yet still manage to contribute.

Shane Warne’s in trouble again. Just because he’s a vulgar hoon with very little sense of how to behave in public, doesn’t mean we can’t feel his pain. Up here in the North it’s Spring and the days  –  though cold  –  get longer as they pass, which must mean, down-under, nights are drawing in.

With it’s various formats cricket offers the chance of multiple retirements without the indignity of embarrassing comebacks. 42 year old S.K.Warne’s ultimate, final swan-song supposedly came in April 2011 at the end of his fourth season in the Indian Premier League. Six months later he surprised the World by announcing one more tour of duty in the Big Bash tournament, that ends this Saturday, 28/01/2012.

‘I’m fitter than I have ever been. I had a few offers but the MCG [Melbourne Cricket Ground] has been my backyard for 20 years,’ he said. ‘There were a few offers about playing a game here or there. And I thought if I’m going to do this, let’s do it properly.

‘I thought it was an opportunity where I could actually give something back to the game of cricket that has been so good to me.

‘I’m fitter than I’ve ever been and over the next sort of month or so I’m going to really get into the bowling and doing all those sorts of things with the Melbourne Stars.

‘It’s got nothing to do with money. If it had something to do with money and me coming out to play cricket, I’d still be playing in the IPL. This is something that I’m passionate about. It’s something new … and that’s what enticed me.’

King of the cashed-up bogans?

Spin bowlers don’t need to run-up fast, they don’t need the pigeon-eyed vision of a batsman, they can balance their fading physical powers with craft, guile and wisdom; but finally even the Sheik of Tweak will have to admit that he can’t chase the fade forever.

Professional Cricket is the number one sport for post-retirement suicides. What could replace a life fully engaged, at the highest level of its preindustrial mystery?

Shameful episodes, involving reckless behaviour in motor vehicles by male sports stars are all too common, at least there’s been no suggestion that performance-inhibiting substances were implicated in Warne’s madness.

Melbourne’s Mayor Dolye’s reaction to Warniegate is shameful. Rather than pander to the idiot’s prejudices, Warne’s alleged threatening and destructive behavour ought to be investigated and, if proved, given exemplary punishment; but let’s understand the extremity of his pain, as he faces the final curtain on his glorious career. And be prepared to forgive him, like he was Ullrich or the poor little devil Pantani.

Spin on this

Only two weeks old and OTR is already making waves in the Pacific, where convicted drugs-cheat Shane Warne has broken his prolonged silence on the all-important ‘who really does own the road?’ issue.

Only two weeks old and OTR is already making waves in the Pacific, where convicted drugs-cheat Shane Warne has broken his prolonged silence on the all-important ‘who really does own the road?’ issue.

The portly leg-spinner made his impassioned contribution  after an alleged  incident in a motor-traffic jam in Melbourne, Oztralia.

Scandal-magnet Warne, one of the very few living persons to be honoured with a biographical stage musical without actually being dead, is a living-legend who once bowled the-ball-of-the-Century sometime in the last Century.

Other news…

  • England go one-nil down with 10 wicket defeat to rampant Pakistan.
  • Cricket is a mystery.

What not to wear?

One of the many pleasures of riding around is checking out the others. Some make it look pleasurable and easy, others look miserable? Learn from both. When someone says –  ‘this is how to ride a bike.’ What they almost always mean is – ‘this is how I ride a bike and it works for me.’ They may have useful wisdom but it’s their wisdom. Whatever you do – or don’t –  know about cycling, you are the expert on your own life.

One of the many pleasures of riding around is checking out the others. Some make it look pleasurable and easy, others look miserable? Learn from both.

World’s most popular shoe for cycling.

When someone says –  ‘this is how to ride a bike.’ What they almost always mean is – ‘this is how I ride a bike and it works for me.’ They may have useful wisdom but it’s their wisdom. Whatever you do – or don’t –  know about cycling, you are the expert on your own life.

Beware of dogma, manifestos, dopey lists of ‘DO’s and ‘DON’T’s. They change every few years anyway. Riding a bike is much too young to have developed anything like a classical form. There are principles. There are no rules except this one and only.

You may ride in cycling shoes,

tougher than you

in street shoes,

actually she does own the road

in any shoes,

photo/mixte communications

or in no shoes at all.

You may ride in any kind of clothes, or none,

.

in normal clothes with office shoes,

could you vote for a man too dumb to use mudguards?

in tan brogues and attire so very normal

it meets fancy dress coming in the other direction.

You may wear cycling shoes with smart clothes.

could you marry someone who doesn’t have at least one bike with mudguards?

You may wear cycling shoes with any kind of clothes BUT

warning: this image may cause knee pain

if you’re going to dress for efficiency, footwear comes first. Never ride wearing clothes designed for cycling efficiency with anything other than shoes, made for pedalling, on your feet.

There are two reasons to wear cycling clothes. The first is to enable faster and/or lazier progress. Reinforcing your feet is the most important part of this. The second is because you want to resemble a cyclist. Anyone who cares will look first at the vital interface where biological power turns mechanical.

Consider evolution, only a theory but let’s run with it anyway. Once-upon-a-time your feet – articulate structures of multiple bones and joints – were flippers for swimming in the sea. Then they adapted for grasping branches and peeling fruit in the forest canopy. Finally they became delicate systems of balance, enabling bounding progress across the savannah.

On a bike you’re making brutal industrial power with the biggest muscles in your body, this is delivered repetitively, with no need of finesse, through the soft and subtle medium of your feet. Reinforcing your feet into rigid levers strengthens the weakest element of the system, which makes the whole transmission more effective.

Running shoes are designed to absorb energy. On a bike there’s no impact. Cycling shoes transmit energy. If you ride hard in shoes not designed for cycling you will soon destroy them. Cycling shoes save money.

Riding a sports bike with soft shoes on is equivalent to playing table-tennis in boxing gloves, it’s difficult and makes you look foolish.

Just say – ‘No’.

There are no other rules.

What do we want? update

Bikesalive have called a repeat of the action featured last week. It will be at Kings Cross, at 18:00, next Monday, January 23rd.

Last month Transport for London were waiting for the current trouble – over the assumptions underlying the way the streets they administer are laid-out – to blow-over. They’ve now cracked and propose to redesign their crass ‘cycle-super-highway’ modifications at Bow Flyover. They’re asking for our input.

Announcing a change to works completed less than a year ago can only be interpreted as an admission that their last attempt was badly wrong. Bow Flyover is at a critical location, on the boundary of Inner East London – where cycle-traffic is booming – and Outer London, where conditions for cycle-travel are at least as difficult as anywhere else in the whole country. The outcome of the conflicts this discontinuity produces will have national resonance. Proximity to the imminent festival of running and jumping only increases the significance.

Role-models of distinction

In the last days of 2011 I made an expedition to the Inner South-western suburbs, in search of the aristocratic English women once common riding the avenues and squares of London SW1, SW3 and SW7. Happy to be out on my bike but also anxious that they may be extinct, priced-out by tax-exile oligarchs or replaced by descendants, with less confidence in public, who restrict their riding to static cycles in potplant-decked gymnasia?

In the last days of 2011 I made an expedition to the Inner South-western suburbs, in search of the aristocratic English women once common riding the avenues and squares of London SW1, SW3 and SW7. Happy to be out on my bike but also anxious that they may be extinct, priced-out by tax-exile oligarchs or replaced by descendants, with less confidence in public, who restrict their riding to static cycles in potplant-decked gymnasia?
I’m interested in these women as role-models for traffic-riding. They aren’t necessarily accomplished bike handlers, maybe not experts on the Highway Code, probably not students of dry text books, but they don’t have any problem negotiating with pushy motor-traffic of Victoria, Mayfair, Belgravia, Chelsea because they have a very clear idea who they are. Confidence in their own status enables them to claim a share of the common land we call streets. They know they own the road. Their cheerful conduct is easy for others to interpret and react to.

In England most social interaction involves class-politics; but this is no barrier to humbler folk, equipped with a bicycle, taking control of the space around them. We can trigger deference in others by cultivating the resolute and friendly style of the land-owning classes.

Before you can share something, you need to possess it. When you travel by bike owning the road is what allows you to be generous to those less fortunate or imaginative than yourself.

Sloane Square is dominated by motor-traffic but now betrays interesting signs of the new era of street design. The entrance to Holbein Place, which is clearly engineered for the random patterns of pedestrians. The slick surface and lack of kerbs are exactly the kind of disconcerting design that forces consideration not compliance.

The concept of shared space was covered yesterday on the Home Service of the the BBC a sure sign it’s coasting into the mainstream.

To emphasise the quality of the streetscape a solo steel-pannist played seasonal tunes behind a long white beard, just the kind of unforeseeable weirdness that make the streets of London so engaging. You can get the idea by opening this link in a new tab then reading the rest with the sound playing, ideally by a wet road with passing cars.

Trinidad/Lapland fusion music?

All this is – however – a distraction from our ethnological mission.

Checking the parked bikes outside Sloane Square tube station, in the corner of my eye a headscarf, signature headgear.

Now I can’t say for certain that this woman knows what her ancestors did in the crusades, to be honest I would expect a more country-in-town style of dress, but her behaviour was characteristic.

She didn’t try any counter-productive riding among the pedestrians, but strode with elegant deportment through the mêlée to the Sloane Square gyratory and took a bold position, away from the kerb, down in the roadway where anyone circulating could clearly see her.

She made a shuffling start, one foot on a six o’clock pedal, the other pushing back against the roadway in the manner of a Stoke Newington infant on a  Draisienne. With that much social presence you can carry-off louche bike control technique. Her red tights matched the shoals of buses.

She didn’t need as much space as a bus – weaving through them and away into the mid-winter dusk – but she commanded at least as much respect.

We OWN THE ROAD.