Friday 30 October 2015

Elephant Bike - A review of a refurbished Mailstar

This isn't a blog about charities so I'm not going to lecture you about this being a good cause (although it is). If you want to know about that I can't do better than the Krizevac Project have already done - its a great idea, well worth reading about.

This is a blog about cycling, and the typical post here is a little bit political and ridiculously sarcastic - thats all going to be on hold for the moment while I tell you about my new bike. This bike here: 

Its an Elephant Bike, a not entirely informative name from a cycling perspective but brilliant for the charity. It wasn't made for elephants but it feels like it could have been - in my riding of it so far its the most ridiculously robust and rugged thing I've ridden. As you'd expect of a bike built to carry a heavy load and do hard work day in, day out.

These are bikes with a bit of history behind them. I'm sure many of you were as irrationally upset as I was to learn back in 2014 that the Royal Mail were phasing out the use of their Mailstar bikes for making deliveries - a sign of the times as posties struggle under the weight and ridiculous excess of packaging in the modern online ordering era. Manufactured by Pashley and sold as the Pronto, its not only hard to find one in a shop its also very (or 'reassuringly' as some maintain) expensive to buy one new. But the great thing about these critters is that with a bit of TLC they just don't need to be new - they're rugged as hell and built to survive judgement day.

And this is where the Elephant Bike comes in - for £250 (or £280 with the rack on the front and basket - why would you not?) you get a little bit of cycling history. An ex-posties bike refurbished to a high standard.

If I really go looking I can find the occasional spot where there's been some corrosion on the bars - but the frame is beautifully repainted and absolutely rock solid. The wheels, tyres, forks, racks and cables all seem immaculate. It took very little assembly (pedals screwing on, basket screwing on, saddle adjusted, handlebars straightened and I was ready to go), and I must say its one of the smoothest bikes I've ridden.

So, the positives - its gorgeous. Look at it, just look at it. Tell me it isn't gorgeous. And as I've said, its tough - after the holocaust there'll be nowt left but cockroaches getting around on Pashley bikes. Its built to take a hefty load, which makes it the ideal shopper or run around for the allotment. And its very low maintenance - hub brakes and hub gears that minimise work. This isn't a speedster, it was built for easy, mid-to-slow speed cycling with a load, and it is in my experience un-matched in that role. Especially at this price. And its the kind of bike that gets a following, there's already a wikia forming around the idea of using and maintaining these bikes

The negatives - while I love the look of the wicker basket, I don't immediately get why its more useful than the black plastic ones that decked out the Royal Mail ones. If the choice of the wicker basket is just aesthetic, I get it, but I'd have rather had the plastic one too (even if I'd had to pay a little more for the 'original' box as well as the wicker one). I also loathe the saddle - I don't know whose derriere it was modelled on but its not the right shape for me, and I'll be replacing it imminently and trying to resist the temptation to go Brooks. I'm also not entirely convinced that the gear tension is right, but for it would be churlish indeed to grumble if that's all that's wrong with a bike coming through the post.

So good causes aside, if you've got the money and the space for a load-carrying bike, I really can't find much to fault this bike on. It really is a glorious bit of kit, other than maybe the choice of a wicker rather than tough plastic box on the front. 9 out of 10 - just shy of perfect.

Saturday 24 October 2015

Bad cycle facilities - The Milton Road Effect

Britain is full of councils and local road administrators who live under the quaint notion that any kind of cycle facility at all must be better than no facility. They might perhaps believe that while a good, wide, segregated cycling route would be great, that would just be inconveniencing the motorists too much so they'll just put some paint on the pavement and call it a cycle lane, or section off a foot of road outside the gutter for cyclists. They seem to seek a compromise between encouraging cyclists and pleasing motorists by spending as little cash as possible on almost nothing for us, and then not give a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut when no one cycles. The self fulfilling prophecy of a moronic mindset that assumes that because only swimmers currently cross a river, no one would benefit from a bridge. 

The result of putting in dreadful cycle routes is well understood in Cambridge, by planners (who still do it because clearly they don't give a shit)  and by cyclists who don't want to ride such routes. I've seen it called the Milton Road Effect - named for Milton Road, in Cambridge, the site of some of our worst shared use facilities, and occasional ambush site for Police who want to collar cyclists with no hope of knowing where they can or can't ride legally.

The problem is simple. We're presented with the option to use a dreadful cycle facility which may be too narrow, too badly surfaced, crammed with paked cars and pedestrians, too indirect or give way to far too many driveways and side roads to be useful or safe. The use of such facilities is not only inconvenient, it may often be very dangerous due to poor visibility of what can come out of driveways and of cars that will just turn across you without looking. But because the lanes are visible and sign-posted we get no end of aggro from people who think they know better than us - there's a cycle lane there, and they reason that (1) it must be better to ride there than on the road and (2) it should be expected of us to be in that lane to be out of the way.

The result? Abuse and threatening behaviour, at worst. Or condescension at best.

Proof? Here's a driving instructor who apparently has in the region of 17 years experience teaching. He's actually ignoring his student for a while there (who unless my eyes deceive me seems in overtaking me to spook the oncoming motorist sufficiently to swerve into the bus lane opposite) so he can gawp at me and direct me towards the cycle route I'm not using (because, as I intoned above, is crap). And that's at the better end of things - this is the sort of stupid, pointless (criminal, it was judged) behaviour (aggressively sounding the horn at me and passing close and fast for 'being in the road' while also being on his mobile phone - pretty crap really) we get at the worst end. It isn't every motorist - but how many such incidents do you think it takes to give most people a life-long fear of cycling?

These bad cycle routes make our lives more hazardous by bringing out the worst in motorists - and we've got whole generations of them picking up bad habits and dangerous mind-sets from the very instructors who should be teaching them to drive safely. It is incumbent upon ever yone of us - every cycling advocate, every cycle campaigning organisation, and everyone with an interest in the health and fitness that comes with active transport to oppose every single bad facility and to only cooperate with local authorities when cycle facilities on offer are of excellent quality. And if too many cycling bodies continue to compromise on this? We may as well give up.

Thursday 22 October 2015

Ron Eastoe Driving School - Just a bit inconsiderate...

UPDATE 4: It appears that a different Mr. Eastoe junior (Lee Eastoe) also left a message. I got an emal notification of a comment to the video saying "If you don't remove this video and all tags to Ron Eastoe, I'm going to sue you". I can't see the comment on my video though - does that mean he posted it then deleted it?

I must say, without prejudice, I am baffled by what you think you're going to sue me for. The actions of the driver were in public in a clearly painbted vehicle - I've broken no law by filming this, posting it and commentng - you'll observe my comments here have been entirely reasonable. May I suggest that the two Mr. Eastoes (Jr) should take a time out and cool off - if Ron Eastoe wants to talk about his (I presume) advice and why I've responded telling him why he is wrong both in his choice to give it as he did and in terms of the content, please get in touch. 

UPDATE 3: Mr. Eastoe (jr) has, in what seems ever more like some kind of angry breakdown, resorted to abusing other commentors on my videos and going through my old vids and, bluntly, stirring for the sake of it. Mr. Eastoe, my channel, my rules - you were warned to be civil to other contributors and you were not. Your behaviour has been disgraceful - I am blocking your comments from the channel. Fat shaming? Not acceptable. Not now, not ever.

UPDATE 2: Mr. Eastoe (jr) is getting increasingly irate:
Just stop! Excuse me. you are the one who started this nonsense and now you are demanding that I don't have an opinion. R u superior Cab? Do you realise the stress you're causing my 60 year old mother over this? You have a history for this sort of thing I see. Do you have nothing better to do? Quite frankly cab you are just another sad little man in lycra with a helmet cam. You give cyclists a bad name! Anyone with half a brain can see that this means nothing and you need to get a life Sir..
UPDATE 1: Well Mr. Eastoe (senior) hasn't got back to me yet, but I'm sure he's aware of this from comments made by his son on the youtube video. 

Gentlemen, I'm pretty sure you'll be coming back to see this blog page, I'd like to point out that my own offer to take you for a ride down there is genuine, and Rad Wagons offer to talk to you about cycling safety from the perspective of an experienced, professional cycling instructor is also genuine and really generous - I know Rad, he's a good guy and if he's offering to do this for you, jump at the chance.

But I ask that you quit with the line you're taking in the comments there - I think my comments here, and there, have been more than polite to you. I've left no negative reviews, I've not and will not suggest that anyone else should do so. I have not made a complaint to the DVSA, I've tried to handle this by asking you to reconsider your actions which I believe were inappropriate and from a cycling perspective unsettling. So stop with the nastiness ("quite frankly you sound on edge and ready to snap in this footage", "On the grand scheme of things this is ridiculous. You boys need a hobby fast. " etc.). I really have no interest in your reputation - but I don't believe those postings on youtube can be seen as positive in that regard. Do you?

This is (most of) the text I posted to Ron Eastoes facebook page. It concerns this driving (below). I've invited him here to comment - I don't want to give the guy a hard time but I think its important that a driving instructor in Cambridge has a better awareness of cycling that he seems to have.

Hi Ron, I've uploaded some footage to YouTube of someone (I presume you?) in the passengers side of a car in your livery pointing at an off road shared use cycle facility while overtaking me, while on my bicycle, on Mill Road in Cambridge Yesterday.

I'd just like to point a few things out here. Firstly, if you point and call out at a cyclist, its intimidating. You're in a car, you're in a position where the slightest error could prove fatal to more vulnerable road users. From such a position your comments really are rather unnerving, at best.

Secondly, please, get on your bike and ride that off-road use. Just once. You'll only do it the once, and you'll immediately thereafter understand why so many adults riding Milton Road ride on the road instead. The shared use facility frequently has a lot of pedestrians on it, it is poorly surfaced, it has numerous hidden entrances and driveways from which cars can emerge with no warning, and at this time of year it can be as slippery as sheet glass under leaves. This is why rule 61 of the highway code makes it clear that it is a cyclists choice to use a cycle facility or not, depending on 'experience and skills'. Its my call whether I use it, not yours.

Lastly, I must point out that cycle facilities do not exist to get cyclists out of the way - we've a right to use the road space, for motorists its a privilege controlled through licensing, a fact that I hope a driving instructor should understand. If you want cyclists to use those facilities please understand that the answer is simple enough - write to your councillors and your MP and demand that such cycle routes must always be of sufficient quality to encourage people on to them. We don't ride on the road out of a bloody minded will to be in your way, we do so where there are no safe or useful facilities.

Thanks for reading. I'm not a regular on Facebook, I've only got an account to see an odd link that is behind a log-in wall. So I'm going to put this text on my blog, alongside the video footage. Please reply there...

(sorry folks, posted before copying the rest of the text over. Thats the bulk of it - I also invited him for a ride because riding the roads he's teaching on would be of great value, and invited him here to comment)

Tuesday 20 October 2015

NEWS FLASH - Daily Bread has a bike rack

...its small, but it doesn't suck. Our top ethical-supplier in Cambridge now approaches being ethical at last!

Its only taken, oh, I dunno, 14 years of suggesting it to them, or thereabouts?

Pictures to follow.

Thursday 8 October 2015

Wot no cycle racks?

Back in 2012 I complained that Hughes Electrical were terrible to shop at if you're on a bike because they're on a savage road with no bike locking.

I've been in the shop many times since then, but I've bought very little because there are other shops (e.g. Seven Oaks) where I can lock up the bike and the trailer to take goods home. Its so much more convenient.  But on Saturday I was looking for something that'll have to be delivered (a new cooker), so I was happy to slum it and lock the bike up wherever I could find. And I went to Hughes first, as its at one end of the city and I could go to the other shops in succession.

I must say I'm disappointed that they've made no progress, at all, in improving bike provision. I can't blame them that Cherry Hinton Road remains one of the worst routes to ride in the City, but I do feel that in three years they really ought to have sorted out some bike locking. This is Cambridge, if you want my custom you need to give me somewhere to lock up my bike. 

So after Hughes I rode out to the Beehive Centre, to the actually quite good bike locks at Currys and at Argos, before riding in to the City Centre to the really very good (but ridiculously under-sized relative to what was promised) underground bike-park at the Grand Arcade to go to John Lewis. I chose in the end to go with John Lewis to buy my new cooker - not because they were cheaper or better than Hughes (they weren't) but because I didn't really want to have to fanny on with a wire mesh railing to lock my bike to for a second time in the same day. 

Bluntly I'm just a but put out when it seems like a company doesn't make it easy for me to shop there. And that means you too Daily Bread, you've actually made your bike locking worse by putting planters in where I used to be able to wheel my bike trailer behind the railing to lock up my bike. You claim to be an ethical retailer but clearly active, green, clean transport isn't one of those ethics. Now if I bring the trailer I risk having to lock it up on the pavement which would block access, and I don't want to do that. So for big purchases I don't much use your shop any more.

Its not hard - do you want my money? Cater to my needs. I'm not asking much, just somewhere to safely leave my bike. Cyclists are a demographic with more cash to spend than motorists - we're not burning cash every time we leave our driveways, wouldn't you rather we spent it with you instead? So get bike provision right - not doing so is costing you money. Every. Single. Day.

Wednesday 7 October 2015

Change one law, make the roads safer?

Politicians like gimmicks, its easier to sell them to electorates via conference soundbites than it is to come out with real changes or real policies. So I've been wondering, is there a 'one thing' type gimmick that would give us real, sound improvements in cycling and walking? I think that maybe there is, so I'll put it out there and see whether anyone agrees. Or has a better idea...

If you're driving, you're driving. And thats what you're doing. You can't faff about with the radio, or the sat-nav, or fiddle with an e-cig, or mess about with your phone or a delivery sheet. You can't eat a sarnie or a bag of crisps, or balance a mug of coffee while at the wheel. Drive or do something else.

Penalty for multi-tasking driving? 6 points. So you can get away with it, once.

Seriously, I think this idea is a go-er. Its easier to enforce (how often have you seen a driver visibly doing something?), its simpler, and it would have a big impact on driving culture - it would bring into focus the fact that driving is something that carries a fair whack of responsibility. Even a small car is a powerful machine that can, if carelessly handled, cause immense harm. We still kill thousands on our roads every year, many of them through simple inattention. While we're not going to make every motorist suddenly give a damn and start looking where they're going, oughtn't we find ways of removing some of these distractions?