Monday 28 October 2013


It turns out mostly we got away with it.

Nothing like as stormy here as across most of the South of England, I gather some trees are down across some parts of Cambridge but the worst damage I saw was a 'let' sign blown out of the ground. I hear that out in the exposed parts around the city it was much harder work cycling in this morning - but it was pretty calm by our (delayed) ride out this morning at 8:30 (yes, we both put our ride off for a while due to local news reports making it sound like ragnarok).

What was most surprising was how many motorists obeyed the advice to 'leave it until later' - at rush hour there were way more cyclists on the roads than motorists (as opposed to slightly more, as is usually the case) and, frankly, that was fine. It wasn't even that windy here by then. 

The down side of this was, of course, that there were fewer cars so those that were on the roads were being driven faster, often giving less space while overtaking at higher speed. So what we gained in a lack of traffic we lost in that traffic being horrid. 

On the whole Cambridge copes pretty well with wind and storms - except for the fact that the city is basically so flat and ill surfaced that there can be an horrendous problem with standing water in places. But the individual motorists in Cambridge? They're no better at slowing down for wind and wet roads than they are at clearing the snow off their cars. The typical scofflaw attitude we're used to continues on through spells of bad weather.

Frosts of Winter to look forward to now. What joy.

Friday 25 October 2013

Advice for New Cambridge Cyclists

Earlier in the week Local Secrets gave us a really naff article with 'advice' for new cyclists. They took it down quite quickly after a storm of criticism, but I'm afraid they haven't yet gone further and really looked in to writing a decent set of advice for newbie cyclists in town. So, without further ado, here's my attempt to enlighten those taking to two wheels in Cambridge...

Cycling isn't just the best way to get around in Cambridge, its the iconic way to travel here. Think Cambridge, think bikes. If you possibly can, getting around by bicycle is simply how we do things here - and I hope that you'll enjoy riding around as much as the rest of us do.

Don't feel like you need to read loads of advice on how to ride here - mostly, if you've been on the roads of the UK for any time at all you already know the basics. If you can ride a bike, get yourself kitted out and off you go. Its no more complicated than that.

But if you do want a bit more on the subject first, please read on.

Things to know for cycling in Cambridge...

(1) The Commuter Peloton
You won't be alone out on the roads, especially if you're running late for starting work or a lecture at 9:00 AM. Cambridge is the most cycled city in the UK, and you will be one of thousands of cyclists getting to their destinations. Don't be spooked by being in a crowd of other riders - just follow some simple steps and you'll be fine. Don't accelerate or brake hard in a big group of riders - don't try to surge hard and brake, it's simpler and safer to keep cool and keep your place in the crowd. If you MUST pass, then do so on the right like any other overtaking vehicle would, you won't startle other cyclists that way. In fact, generally speaking, undertaking another cyclist in the left is a very bad move - if they swerve in towards the kerb or turn left without indicating you're both screwed.

(2) Riding with friends
The highway code says you shouldn't ride more than two abreast. That is fine, usually, but its not going to happen on Kings Parade at five to nine in the morning, where you'll be in a massed crowd of cyclists all over the place. And its not going to happen in the heavy traffic on Mill Road! Generally its okay to ride alongside a friend if you're on a quiet road - its polite to move aside (usually the rider on the outside slipping in behind the rider on the inside) if anyone faster (like, a car driver) wants past - but often that isn't necessary if the road is wide enough for safe overtaking without. Just look out though - just because its legal, and even when its perfectly safe, this can get a certain amount of aggression from motorists.

(3) Where to be in the lane
We have a few cycle routes in Cambridge where you're fully out of the traffic, but I'm afraid not many. That said, the greens and commons around the city are (mostly) fine for riding, and if you can incorporate them into your commute you'll have a more relaxed start to the day than if you only come along the roads! 

Where you need to be on the road is a tricky question - many experienced cyclists advocate a 'primary position', meaning near the centre of the lane to dissuade overtaking without the car behind coming out and around you. Some motorists, if they don't have to swerve to miss a cyclist who is in the gutter, won't do so - so you'll be passed with millimetres to spare, and if this makes you wobble in to the kerb you could be done for if you then fall in to the traffic. This is partly why the 'primary position' is used. So keep a safe distance from the kerb; just don't be a dick. If you can move aside to safely let a faster vehicle go, do so. But where and when its safe is YOUR call, not the guy behind you. 

(4) The law
Yeah, yeah, you know, red lights and stuff. Obey them except when its going to be flat out dangerous not to - so if you're heading to a light that is changing and you hear the car behind revving in a way to make it clear he's going through you might be forced to yourself. Or if you have a great big lorry pull up alongside you at the lights so the driver can't see you, don't be a martyr because you don't want to break the law. Its almost always safer to obey the traffic lights - and it certainly pisses people off less, but use your judgement. Never go through a red light just because you want to, only when you must for safety.

Bike lights are also a requirement when its dark - typically when the street lights come on but when its cloudy you'll want them earlier than that. And yeah, they're a hassle, but if you're knocked off without them then you'll struggle to get the motorist held responsible, even if he did see you. Odds are bike lights won't be deciding factor in whether you have an accident, but this is a law that IS enforced here, and however inconvenient having lights seems its less of a hassle than going to the Police station. And when you get out of the brightly lit city centre you'll certainly be a bit more visible with lights.

Oh, and one way streets. If you get it wrong once in a while when you first move to Cambridge, thats quite understandable, very often the shop exits and college entrances don't have any signage to say which way you can go. But if its a city centre route thats only wide enough for one vehicle and the cars are coming at you, take the bloody hint. And next time have a look for the signs to be sure.

(5) Security
Your bike will be stolen if it isn't locked. I promise you. So lock it up, securely.

(6) Maintenance
When you push your bike forwards, holding the handle bars, check that the brakes stop the bike. If they don't you need to get them fixed - this really matters, you never know when you'll have to stop in an emergency.

Get some oil and get a bike pump that works. Trust me, you'll enjoy riding a lot more with tyres that are pumped and a chain that isn't fighting you. And take your bike in to one of the shops in town for a check up once every few months or whenever something seems wrong - you'll save money this way. A wobbly wheel might be fixable, but not after you've been riding it making it worse for weeks. 

(7) Other gear
Helmet? Hi-viz? Yeah, if you like. You can worry yourself daft over things like this - probably won't hurt, but don't assume they're the biggest factors in staying safe. Gloves will be invaluable when its cold and if you're going to ride in the rain a lot think about getting a good waterproof, maybe even waterproof trousers.

(8) Other road users
Mostly they're not out to get you.

Some of the 'professional' drivers will take more liberties than you'd think - taxi drivers and bus drivers have really tight schedules, so watch out for them taking risks. They're also sitting behind the wheel of their vehicles all day, so they're angry for a lot of the time.

Drivers can't always see you. Rule of thumb is that if you can't look a motorist in the eye, they can't see you. So don't go up the side of big vehicles, its really dangerous.

Pedestrians who live in Cambridge know to look out for bikes. Pedestrians who are visiting probably don't - they're listening for cars but not for you, and they're probably looking up at the buildings rather than at the roads. They'll step right out in front of you - look out for them. Just because they're not looking where they're going doesn't mean there's any excuse for hitting them.

And thats it. It turns out you already know most of what you need to know to ride a bike in Cambridge. Have fun!

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Cambridge 'local secrets' know naff all about cycling...

UPDATE: Presently links to the article I'm discussing here come up as 'no record found'. So it looks like it has been taken down.

Do you know what would be better than just taking it down, Local Secrets? Taking it down and replacing it with good cycling advice instead of the nonsense you were saying yesterday. Maybe with an apology.

I've been intermittently a fan of 'local secrets' here in Cambridge. They point out places to go and can get you discounts, and they have the occasional interesting article up on their website.

But I'm afraid that, for the moment, I'm not a fan. At all. Why? Because of this.

Almost everything about this road-war article masquerading as advice to cyclists is offensive. Where its notr offensive its condescending or outright dangerous.

For example...
Keep to the left. I know, surprising in the UK, isn’t it, but really – KEEP TO THE LEFT. Please don’t cycle in the middle of the road. 
No. In every important respect you are wrong - cyclists are advised by professional instructors and, for example, by British Cycling, to 'take the lane'.

But it gets better... 
Don’t cycle two/three/four abreast. For the same reasons as Number 1 really – you’re in the way, basically, of those people who want to get to where they’re going more quickly than you. 
I rode to through town in what could best be described as a commuter peloton this morning. About of 30 of us coming down past Kings, and I counted 15 at the lights at the end of Chesterton Lane. We could indeed be in single file, but we're the predominant form of traffic, why should we? How are we making things more convenient to others if we're the only traffic that can get through the lights because we're narrowing in to single file?

More importantly, if one rider is 'taking the lane' in primary position, as they of course should on many roads (despite the erroneous advice in this article) then there will likely as not be room for a friend to be in 'secondary' position, and you're taking up exactly as much room! Riding two abreast is legal, safe, and entirely reasonable on most roads, most of the time. 
If you know you’re going to turn right at the next road, position yourself towards the right of your lane. 
Nope. Position yourself according to road conditions - sometimes you need to be to the right of the lane, or you may need to claim the centre space on the lane if there isn't room to be safely undertaken to your left.  
Stop at red lights, level crossings that are closed and such-like. All those things aren’t there to annoy and irritate you but to save your life.
Not only is this condescending (ignoring the fact that IAM figures show third of motorists admit to jumping red lights), its missing the point that sometimes its safer to jump the red light.  Yes, really, it can be - do you want me to sit in the space left by an articulated lorry that has pulled alongside me, positioning me in his blind spot? You want me to stay within the law where doing so risks my life? Well tough titties, I'm not going to. I'll obey the red lights so long as in so doing I'm not risking my life, and I defy you to find any police officer who'll put his hand on his heart and say I shouldn't break that rule if the alternative may be death.
Glow like a Christmas tree.
The bulk of cycle accidents in Cambridge happen in daylight. Moreover, TFL figures show in the region of 2% of cyclist injuries and deaths are due to poor or no lights. I agree, we should have bike lights in the dark, but making a big deal out of this misses the point. It isn't poor lighting hurting cyclists, its poor driving.

I won't go in to the helmet nonsense, yeah, they might help in some accidents, but this kind of trite claim that a 'helmet saved my life' is all too common. Maybe it did, maybe it didn't, but emphasis on helmets is pretty naff really. Be informed, read this. 

Sunday 20 October 2013

Cambridge News Trollumnism. Again.

Background to this story; someone turned up at a council meeting and hated on cyclists. They opposed the idea that people should be able to cycle in the city centre of Britain's most cycled town at all, with special reference to us being allowed to lock up bikes there.

This was based on the problem of cyclists being silent so blind people may struggle to be aware of us. 

To the best of my knowledge there has never been a complete ban on cycling through the middle of Cambridge - restrictions on cycling in the city centre prior to 2005 were incomprehensible, with some roads being banned for cycling for some of the time. Near identical roads, with similar numbers of pedestrians, were handled differently - with few repeat signs within the area thus restricted such that you could lock your bike in the city centre somewhere and re-mount later with no reason to believe that such wouldn't be allowed. It didn't work - which is why we replaced that with a city centre 'pedestrian zone' in 2005, with gated routes that allow cyclists through and signs saying 'drivers and cyclists look out for pedestrians' (I worry about those - are they telling motorists pedestrians are fair game elsewhere?).

Now, one person stood up in a council meeting and called for this to be rescinded. One person who, really, would benefit from exactly the same thing cyclists would - sufficient good cycle parking facilities such that bikes don't restrict pedestrian walkways, and clear, safe, designated routes for cyclists AND pedestrians to minimise the risk of conflict. We're on the same side. Whats more, for many folk who don't get around so well bikes are an invaluable mobility tool. Heck, Cambridge even has an excellent bunch of folk offering advice and try-outs on specialist bikes for this.

Now, this isn't newsworthy. Someone dislikes cyclists and uses a public platform to say so - not news. Some cyclists are inconsiderate and that gets some peoples goats - no more news than any other 'x' folk sometimes annoy 'y' folk. Its a complete non event. 

Calls for a fresh ban on cycling in Cambridge city centre have been made – because of “inconsiderate” riders
There you have it, right there - one person complaining. Calls for a ban. Singular request, immediately conflated to plural 'calls'. 

The rest of the report makes it clear that this. is. not. a. story. The reporter knows this - yet there it is, the inflammatory headline, sufficient to make it look as if we're at the centre of an epidemic of antisocial cyclists mowing down disabled folk.

Lets be clear - in drumming up false hate between the disabled and cyclists, Cambridge News is the enemy of both groups. We want the same thing - why is it that the Cambridge News doesn't?  This isn't news - its a footnote of a council meeting yet somehow because its anti-cyclist its a full story in the local paper. So much is said at such meetings, much of it isn't reported. So many views are expressed - the majority barely get a mention. Yet one person wants cyclists banned from the city centre and thats a whole news story?

Get a sense of proportion Cambridge News. And try to become part of a community rather than a troll for hate amongst it. You don't have to be so damned divisive to report the news.

Thursday 17 October 2013

Cyclists are your side?

I'm still hobbling about after my fall the other week, but thankfully I don't need a cast on my wrist. I'm struggling to walk as well as I usually do, but its a sprained ankle, it'll get better.

This has hilighted for me just how important a bike can be as a mobility tool, as I talked about last week. And a series of discussions with a range of folk has got me thinking about what it is we cyclists really want, and whether we've any allies we're not tapping. Or, indeed, whether we've got any allies who might currently assume we're their enemies.

I want to ride on a wide enough route to allow me to be side by side with another cyclist, to safely overtake or be overtaken, with the same priority over side roads as the road I'm going alongside, with a good quality surface, and I'd like it to be devoted to folk on wheels. I don't really want it to be a shared pedestrian route, as said routes create needless conflict. I don't want nasty shared pavement routes that are uneven, give way every fifty yards, etc. 

And you know what? I think pedestrians want that too. They don't want shared use pavements. They don't want cycle routes that are badly thought out such that cyclists feel the need to get off the road and on the pavement to survive. They'd like cars not to be blocking pavements. I suspect that most pedestrians, like me, get fed up waiting at traffic lights that wait for a gap before letting us cross, and, like me, resent the paucity of time given to allow us to cross. And a lot could be done to improve crossing design for pedestrians.

Folk in wheelchairs want good routes to use too. They want it well surfaced enough to use without being shaken about too much, they want good width access without chicanes to keep them out. They don't want to get to nearly where they're going and then find an absurd railing in the way.

People who can't see so well don't really want to be in shared use space with cyclists, and they don't want cyclists whizzing past them on pavements. Neither do old folk for whom a tumble with a cyclist could be life changing.

So... Don't we all want the same thing? Safe facilities to use without conflict? 

I think the most natural allies of cyclists are wheelchair users (who in Holland routinely share cycle facilities), the elderly and visually impaired (who all benefit from taming motorised vehicles, and many of whom can find bicycles invaluable mobility tools if facilities are good) and other pedestrians (who, frankly, don't want pavements turned into official or unofficial shared use paths). And yet, politically, at least at a local level, cyclists seem to be pitted against such people. 

Time to reflect on this I think - are there local groups representing the elderly or those with a range of disabilities who can come on board and start yelling alongside us for the same things that we all want? We don't want the pavements, they don't want us on the pavements, we'd all benefit from the same things... Right, who do we talk to?

Friday 11 October 2013

Perne Road - Planning to make a bad roundabout unrideable.

UPDATE: If you want to tell the County Council that they're stealing cycling funds to make the road a bit better for motorists AGAIN then you need to do so by THIS FRIDAY. That would be here.

If my article doesn't convince you to oppose this crap, read this one from Cottenham Cyclist and this one from Radwagon. Lets be clear - using cycling funds to pay for yet another resurfacing to make things better for motorists while shovelling us on to shared use pavements we've got to give way from at every side road is an affront to every principle of good practice in cyclist safety or convenience, and we must hope that Cambridge Cycling Campaign stand up for their principles by vocally and openly opposing this scheme in its entirety. It will only be by fighting and defeating bad schemes like this that we may ever get anything better.

I'd like to introduce you to Perne Road, in Cambridge. I last rode it yesterday, coming home from Addenbrookes, and then spent some time later discussing it in the pub during a four hour 'setting the world to rights' session. Here it is, as ridden by RadWagon.

Its a pretty crucial route for cycling. If you want to get from the hospital to Romsey, Cherry Hinton or Fen Ditton, or even if you want to cut out the city centre from up in Chesterton, Arbury or Kings Hedges, you'll end up there. Yet strangely I never seem to see as many cyclists there as on many of our other Cambridge roads.

Its not hard to see why that is - lets look more closely at a roundabout thats about to be re-developed...

So its wide, its spacious, and its strangely awful. If you turn around there and look the other way, you'll see there's a cycle lane down both sides of the road - it could be a lot wider of course but there is an ample grass verge either side that is jealously guarded by locals who 'need' it to park the third or fourth car that won't fit on their driveways. 

And when you get to that roundabout you'll see that the cycle lane funnels you to the left of the traffic - fine if you're turning left. If you want to go straight on or turn right you're boned - you've got a motorist to your right who has other ideas. And its a big, wide roundabout - drivers pick a racing line in and out of it. 

So its not satisfactory - it really does need improving for cyclists, and its a superb location to try out the Dutch style roundabout they're experimenting with in London. But, no. Thats too good for Cambridge cyclists. Have a look at a PDF of the engineering sketch for the detail but basically the aim is to give us four off road, shared use paths around the edge of it - and yes, we'll have to give way at each road. So if you want to turn right you've got to go on the pavement three times, off the pavement three times, and you've got to give way to cars twice. We've got to use shared use routes that both cyclists and pedestrians hate, which causes conflict - or stay on the road where motorists knowing that there's a shared use facility will attempt to bully us for being in their way.

But you know what the bitch of it all is? How its being paid for. Cambridgeshire County Council seem to have become pretty good at getting funds to spend on cycling - from their site:

This project is being funded from several sources: 
  • £240,000 from the Department for Transport’s Cycle Safety Fund. 
  • £103,000 from Cambridge City and Cambridgeshire County Council’s joint cycleways budget.
  • £70,000 from the European Bike Friendly Cities project.

Or in other words £413,000 to be spent on cycling 'safety' that directs us on and off shared use facilities, creating conflict with other users of the space, with no priority.

Now it isn't all bad - the cycle lanes will be widened, but thats of limited use unless we deal with the vehicles parking in them and on the grass verges. But you'll also note they're making the roundabout smaller - so the racing line across it will be yet faster. Great. Just... Great. London looks to Go Dutch. Cambridge looks to Go 1980s.

I wonder why they don't just put up a bunch of 'cyclists just buy a fecking car' signs and be done with it. I mean, seriously - who the hell wants this roundabout?

Thursday 10 October 2013

The bike as a mobility aid

Looks like we'll see an annoying discussion on local radio this morning. Apparently some of the disabled parking spaces in Cambridge are under threat from being turned in to cycle parking, and the presenter just tweeted asking if we've got our priorities right.

It isn't about cyclists cruelly encroaching on disabled bays - I promise you, no cyclist wants it to come down to a choice between disabled folk and us. We've got four multi-storey car parks in Cambridge, but two dingy little underground bike parks - give us the ground floor of the Grand Arcade and Grafton Centre car parks other than the disabled spaces and we'll be right as rain.

Whats really lacking from such a question is any demonstrable understanding of the bicycle as a mobility aid. Riding around Cambridge you see plenty of older folk on bikes, frequently with walking sticks stuffed diagonally through the basket. The bike isn't just a form of transport for the most able bodied - its a superb tool for many who don't get around so well.

I find myself in that position now. I'm not pleading for sympathy here - suspected broken bone in hand and badly sprained ankle, I'll get better! But I am struggling to walk 20 yards right now. And yet I can get on the bike, as I did yesterday, and I can comfortably get as far as Addenbrookes hospital A&E 5 miles away on the other side of town - in fact the most painful part of the journey was getting from where I'd locked the bike into A&E. Even with the splint on my hand coming back, I could with great ease take a longer route back to enjoy the fresh air.

The bicycle isn't just a means of transport. Its a mobility aid and source of freedom for many who can't get around any other way, and its a source of exercise that integrates with our lives. And with a little imagination and some creative engineering its a boon for many who otherwise have serious mobility problems - here, take a look.

So can we have a bit less of this divisiveness please Andy? You're a good chap, you must see its not in the interests of your listeners to pitch this issue in such a divisive way?

Monday 7 October 2013

An accident, not a disaster...

Sometimes it isn't anyones fault.

I was riding out from work at Lunchtime on Friday. I looked over my shoulder, saw I had space, signalled, pulled into the middle of the lane. Nothing unusual, but I was inches out of my saddle having had a look round, I looked forward again, and I'm on the ground.

There had been a cracking, crunching sort of noise, and the saddle had come off, and I couldn't hold the bike. So there I am, on the ground, eating tarmac. Minimal road rash on both knees, sore hand... and an ankle hurting like hell.

The car behind me stopped, as did a pedestrian, I waved them away while thanking them, and hobbled off. 

The bolt holding the saddle to the saddle clamp had sheared in two. Its a new one on me - never had that. Even after all these years there are still new ways of knackering a bike.

Sometimes, shit happens. I'm just glad it happened at a relatively quiet time, not in heavy traffic. The accident itself isn't something to blame anyone for - but it occurred to me when slowly pootling home (having only just been able to hobble to a shop for a repair - thank you Cycle Ambulance) that had this happened on nearly all of my normal route, I'd have been in serious danger of death. Here's a typical example recently in the news - a cyclist hit by a car overtaking other bikes, on a bend. The car was on the wrong side of the road, and the cyclist came off somehow and was struck and killed by the car. The driver was acquitted.

Accidents happen, that's just part of life. We can't stop that, and we have to work around it. If we don't allow space and time such that any accidents happening don't become catastrophes, then the result is no longer merely an accident - its the entirely predictable result of not taking enough care. 

I'm reminded of a friends child who once said that breaking his mums mug was an accident. He'd been throwing a ball around in the living room - and his mum made it quite clear that it wasn't an accident, it was the result of him not taking care. It was a predictable result of what he was doing. 

For some reason this simple doctrine of taking care not to harm others is lacking from our roads. People will fall off bike, they'll fall from pavements, that doesn't mean hitting them is okay - if that happens its not an accident. Its an entirely predictable result of your own hazardous driving.

I'll be fine soon. Might have a limp for a while. But I'll live - no thanks to the many, many motorists I see every day who would, in the same scenario, have killed me.