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”

98 per cent?

Top class association football has recently been rocked by problems of bad behaviour. Louis Suarez, John Terry, Mark Clattenburg – Serbian ultras, have all attracted allegations, in some cases proven and punished, for racist abuse and language.

WARNING

THE FOLLOWING CLIP CONTAINS SCENES OF MEN – SOME QUITE UNPHOTOGENIC – SINGING TUNELESSLY. If you can’t identify the melody it’s taken from the traditional air ‘Robin van Persie he scores when he wants’.

Top class association football has recently been rocked by problems of bad behaviour. Louis Suarez, John Terry, Mark Clattenburg – Serbian ultras, have all attracted allegations, in some cases proven and punished, for racist abuse and language.

Boisterous celebrations of the criminal conduct of André Clarindo dos Santos have attracted no such opprobrium. Andre – an attack-minded left-back signed by Arsenal FC in 2011 from Fenerbahçe in Turkey for €7 million – was late for work one morning last Summer when he was clocked doing 220 kph in his Maserati GranTurismo. A high speed chase ensued. He escaped prison by a combination of grovelling apology and our country’s indulgent attitude to motor-crime.

Next time you hear some naive – so self-righteous you might imagine he (they’re mostly men) invented the bicycle himself – wittering about the 98 per cent who don’t cycle because the bollards are in the wrong places don’t forget he’s talking – amongst others – about the bulky Brazilian International and all those who glory in his foolishness.

In keeping with our editorial policy of not too much moaning it must be added that the blokes in the choir are not all that serious and if nice people like us find them offensive – even scary – that’s exactly what they want. If you ran over one of their kiddies in your Range Rover they’d probably think it was ‘bang out of order” or even “a right fuckin’ liberty.”

Also there is free secure, off-street match-day parking at the Emirates Stadium. Which you don’t – yet – get here.

And also the Andre Santos song may not be heard too often in future. As the young fellow has upset the goonerati with a serious – maybe irredeemable – wardrobe faux-pas.


Now that’s really bad behaviour.

never ride in the door-zone

The ‘door-zone’ is the corridor of uncertainty, where the doors of parked vehicles may be swung into your path. Never ride in the door-zone, or if it’s the only place to make progress, slow down.

The ‘door-zone’ is the corridor of uncertainty, where the doors of parked vehicles may be swung into your path. Never ride in the door-zone, or if it’s the only place to make progress, slow down.
If you follow this advice the most common crash that afflicts people who try to travel by bike in London will never happen to you.

The primary function of the highway is for people to pass and repass. If somebody wants to use that space to unload a vehicle they need to check first that they won’t endanger anyone else. If somebody throws a door into your way that’s their big mistake. They are in the wrong.

The question is:- “Do you want to rely on others for your safety or do you want to take responsibility for yourself?

Never ride in the door zone. Make others swear on whatever they hold sacred to never ride in the door-zone.

Riding outside the door-zone means you may delay others who want to go faster than you and can’t get past. The brutal truth is that if they want to be ahead of you they ought to have got up ten seconds earlier in the morning. The point is not to delay or annoy others but don’t put yourself in danger because others want to pretend to be in a hurry.

It’s good – for humane and pragmatic reasons – to be popular. It’s good to be safe. If you have to choose between the two which comes first? As they say in the USA – it’s a no-brainer.

A crash doesn’t happen when you upset somebody else. Deliberate road-rage assaults are rare enough to be international news. A crash happens when one or more people move purposefully into a space they anticipate will be empty, only to find – too late – that it isn’t.

That’s why it’s safest to ride where other people expect traffic to be, where they look for other traffic.

regeneration?

As London was basking in the first weeks of the Wiggins era, following… on Wednesday the very evening of Wiggin’s coronation at Hampton Court – over at Olympopolis on the Lower Lea,  a man driving a bus ran over, and slaughtered a man riding a bike

As London was basking in the first weeks of the Wiggins era, following…

  • …Friday’s star turn in the opening ceremony

 

  • …Saturday’s demonstration of  loyalty and fallibility – like a circus performer falling off the tightrope on purpose to remind the audience that she only makes it look easy

 

  • …on Wednesday the very evening of Wiggin’s coronation at Hampton Court – over at Olympopolis on the Lower Lea,  a man driving a bus ran over, and slaughtered a man riding a bike.

 

Suburban land-use encourages and enables motor-dependance. It also encourages careless and reckless driving. Reports state that the bus – an ‘Olympic bus’ – was ferrying journalists between venues. I expect the passengers were delayed and distracted by their involvement in this terrible systems failure? Maybe it would have been more practical, more reliable to encourage and enable them to travel by bike?

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)

blinkin’ silly

Historically there’s a big difference between the headlight – that came in without controversy in 1903 – and the red tail-lamp, a temporary wartime measure in the Great Patriotic War against fascism, which I heard was over, and that the good guys had won? You need a headlamp to see where you’re going. The faster you want to go the brighter your light needs to be. One of the nicest things about old-school, unregulated, bottle dynamos is the way their headlamps shine brighter as you speed up on a downhill.

Historically there’s a big difference between the headlight – that came in without controversy in 1903 – and the red tail-lamp, a temporary wartime measure in the Great Patriotic War against fascism, which I heard was over, and that the good guys had won?
You need a headlamp to see where you’re going. The faster you want to go the brighter your light needs to be. One of the nicest things about old-school, unregulated, bottle dynamos is the way their headlamps shine brighter as you speed up on a downhill.

“Stopping Distances.

Drive at a speed that will allow you to stop well within the distance you can see to be clear”

HIGHWAY CODE RULE 126.

It’s foolish to speed into darkness blindly assuming all obstacles will be lit. Wandering livestock, fallen trees, a person in a black coat who’s suffered a stroke and fallen while crossing the road; none of these are likely to show red lights. That’s what your headlamp, your eyes, your brain and your brakes are for.

Carrying a rear light is an encouragement to others to break rule 126.

Not to say shining a red light backwards is a bad thing under current conditions. Anyone who remembers the box shaped ‘nEver-Ready’ rear lights – clamped on your seat-stay, powered by two ‘D’ cells, whose mighty weight soon squashed the springs, so the bulb started to flicker and then went out – knows we are living in Light Emitting Diode paradise.

Contemporary battery lights are so compact, convenient, bright and economical, there’s no reason not to carry them. Just remember to turn the red one off if you’re going onto a railway platform. If your red light has standlicht carry a thick black sock.

When I see someone riding without lights – and of course the most important word in this sentence is ‘see’ –  I regret a theoretical nuisance and a real tragedy. The nuisance is that they’re relying on others to look after them, which we all try to do. The tragedy is that – without lights in the dark –  it’s much harder to relax and own the road. They’d enjoy riding more if they had lights.

Reader Peter Myers sent me this excellent piece of wildlife photography from Sadler’s Wells…

…an extreme example of the current fashion for winky lights. Note how – at 26 seconds – the flasher gives a hand signal – without looking behind to see if there’s anyone worth signaling to – and reveals a teeny on-off-on-off red light on his wrist.

Does his – I’m guessing it’s a man – risk-assessment include the threat of electrocution in a sudden shower?

I can see why someone might be too disorganised to keep lights on their bike,  but why the craze for half a light?

If you’re in a shipwreck half a light might attract the attention of the crew of a rescue helicopter and the blinking beacon battery will last an extra two weeks. The first signal a flashing light gives to others is ‘Help me, I’m in distress.’

On a bike a tail light isn’t so other people can see you. That’s what rule 126 is for. It’s to make it as easy as possible for others to judge exactly where you are. The second message from a flashing rear light is ‘I care more about saving pennies than I do about giving a consistent signal of my position. I’m too cheap to let you know exactly where I am.’

There might be an argument for a flashing rear – if you’re riding desert roads with 50 kilometre straights – so that someone approaching from behind knows, early that you’re on a pedal-cycle with a relatively low speed, but that doesn’t make much sense in EC1.

There might be some argument for a flashing rear but why would you want a half a headlamp? Why would you want the road ahead to be illuminated half the time?

I’ve a set of DiNotte lights purchased at considerable expense for going downhill in the dark on a streamlined bike. On their brightest setting you can bounce the beam off low clouds. If everyone used them traffic-riding would be tiresome but anyone can benefit from the experience of all other traffic deferring to your blazing presence. It’s not necessary to mount a laser on your front forks to own the road but the experience can build confidence. Confidence is essential.

There’s value in a super-bright headlamp but half a super bright headlamp is dumbest of all. A light bright enough to rob you, and anyone else, of all night vision followed by a little sample of darkness.

The narrator of Ralph Waldo Ellison’s 1952 novel ‘The Invisible Man’, an unnamed African American man who feels himself completely overlooked, squats a forgotten basement apartment, robs electricity and illuminates his cell with 1,369 bulbs. A symbolic reaction to social exclusion.

It’s traditional for cycling magazines to publish features on lighting in the Autumn but the time for voluntary night riding is just coming in. Enjoy your travels. Show a steady light and don’t act like a victim.

priority

Whenever I see a person riding after dark, on an unlit bike, wearing a crash-hat. I can only imagine them in a cycle shop, with a limited amount of cash, facing a tricky dilemma…

I just can’t help it.
Whenever I see a person riding after dark, on an unlit bike, wearing a crash-hat. I can only imagine them in a cycle shop, with a limited amount of cash, facing a tricky dilemma…

Helmet?

Lights?

Lights?

Helmet?

I know it doesn’t happen that way but my only reaction to the – oddly common – combination of timid and reckless, is to envision a small-scale retail drama, late on a Winter’s afternoon, gathering dark, urgent incidental music, tension, jeopardy…

…resolved as the un-illuminated, basin-head plumps for Expanded Polystyrene rather than electric light.

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.

Acceptable behaviour?

If you haven’t seen this, it’s worth a look. A low-resolution CCTV clip of Boris Johnson, plus entourage, on a reconnaissance trip, down ‘cycle-superhighway 2’,  Wapping, May, 2009. A man in a tipper truck makes an unnecessary, pushy, overtaking manoeuvre, his tailgate swings open, hooks a parked car, which is dragged into another, with awesome destructive force. In the incident’s aftermath one of the Mayor’s aides was quoted:- “It was pretty awful. They were shaken up and Boris was shocked. But it makes the case even more for his super highways.”

  • Fry breakfast.
  • Pour coffee.
  • Take little white pills.
  • Play sound.

If you haven’t seen this it’s worth a look. A low-resolution CCTV clip of Boris Johnson, plus entourage, on a reconnaissance trip, down ‘cycle-superhighway 2’,  Wapping, May, 2009.

A man in a tipper truck makes an unnecessary, pushy, overtaking manoeuvre, his tailgate swings open, hooks a parked car, which is dragged into another, with awesome destructive force.

In the incident’s aftermath one of the Mayor’s aides was quoted:- “It was pretty awful. They were shaken up and Boris was shocked. But it makes the case even more for his super highways.”

Really?

How much protection can a stripe of blue paint – or even a kerbed-off sidepath, or galvanised steel railings – offer when a car is dragged sideways at 30 kph?  “This makes the case even more for proper regulation of the haulage business”, is a more sensible answer. The cowboy in the truck is lucky not to have killed a motor-cyclist, a pedestrian or the pilot or passenger of a saloon car, never mind some ambitious Old Etonian on a bike with no mudguards. Truck slaughter is not a bicycle problem, it’s a lorry problem.

Heavy trucks make up such a small proportion of city traffic that you can be very circumspect around them without inconvenience. If you find yourself behind one, don’t overtake unless you’re sure you can get passed and away before it starts moving or speeds up. Never pass on the left, only on the right. (Readers in territories where the clean side of your bikes and sidewalk sides of your highways are mixed-up, please reverse that last instruction.) Keep the driver in view in the truck’s mirrors. That way you can check whether she’s paying attention, arguing with her ex-husband on a hand-held cell-phone or unwrapping a Yorkie bar.

When a truck’s behind you it’s your responsibility to make sure the driver doesn’t try and pass without taking serious, conscious account of your presence. Owning the road is important.

A friend of mine, riding up the Essex Road in N1 last week, was pulled over for running a red light. I blame the parents. Given the choice of a thirty pound ticket or spending fifteen minutes pretending to be a truck driver, he didn’t hesitate – he works in the bike trade where thirty pounds is big money – and was surprised to hear that lots of people choose the fine. I suppose they’re inexperienced, imagine they’ve nothing to learn and have too many status issues to risk a little, finger-wagging humiliation?

It turns out the punishment was painless. The big rig was brand new, with extra mirrors focused downwards by the passenger door and above the windscreen. Once in the driving seat, one officer sat beside him and asked questions while a second, dressed in day-glo, rode up the left side in a now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t style.

If you like shit-kickin’, truck-drivin’, ‘g’-droppin’ country music feel free to refresh the soundtrack.

Informing people how to be safe around heavy vehicles that are being – or are waiting to be – moved, is important but it’s not progressive if passing on the simple information distracts from the source of deadly danger. POV home-movies shot from bikes are ubiquitous, mail-order cycle-retailers sell miniature cameras as bike paraphernalia. I dare say there are neophyte riders – the ones who worry about GPS – who think they need one to ride to work?

If anyone and their auntie can produce dull mini-odysseys complete with wind noise and heavy breathing, how is it acceptable for state-of-the-art freightliners to give their operators ‘blind spots’? Expecting the driver of a heavy machine to move it through the randomness of city streets unable to see where they’re going is brutal exploitation that turns the freedom lovin’ followers of Dave Dudley and Hank Snow into secondary victims. If human society persists for another couple of centuries, people will reflect on our acceptance of deadly hazard in public space, in the same way we look back at the routine cruelties of industrial slavery.

If drivers end up with too many screens and mirrors to monitor, let them move slower, or carry a co-driver who can scan half of them, or transfer freight into less cumbersome vehicles for urban drops. Any of these solutions will make haulage more expensive, which will increase the cost of goods, but that won’t be a blanket rise. Local production will benefit at the expense of long-haul.

Remember the ‘foot and mouth’ epidemic of 2001, how it spread across the whole country and led to the slaughter of around 7 million beasts? There was an outbreak in 1967 that was ended by killing 442,000. One difference between the two was the cost of haulage. By 2001 sheep were scorching round the country like hyper-active photo-copier salesmen. Making the movement of goods more awkward will encourage the development of systems more resistant to the man-made disasters of industrialised monocultures. Rich people eat local food. Civilising the movement of goods will make it cheaper.

One more anthem to put you in the mood for a ride?