A week last Friday, I spent all day on my back, only struggling to the bathroom with the greatest difficulty. It’s not the most fun way to spend a day, and you do start to fear how long this incapacity might last.
But, fortunately the muscle seems to be healing quite well. After a few days of going crazy staying inside watching the ‘best’ of Christmas TV on BBC iPlayer, I was relieved to be able to get out of the house. This time, of course, taking very great care stepping out of the front door. Didn’t want to go rolling into the rose bushes for a 3rd fall of the week. Those kind of things are only funny when you watch them happening to other people on Youtube.
Quite slowly and carefully, I was able to cycle into town. It’s only 3 km or so, but it feels quite satisfying after just a few days of inaction.
My Portugal experience has been rather clouded by getting knocked off bike at 50km/h by rabid / crazy dog. But, the simple commute into Oxford did have me nostalgically looking back to those very quiet and wide roads of the Algarve.
There may be no dogs in Oxford, but I got passed (closely) by more double decker buses in 5 minutes of cycling around Oxford than I did in two weeks of ‘idyllic’ cycling around Portugal.
Perhaps, because I’ve just recently been brought crashing to earth, I’m a little more sensitive. But, it is was a stark reminder that Oxford is no cycling paradise. Too many big buses and cars for my liking. Nevertheless, I still really enjoyed the simple sensation of cycling into town, viewing the beautiful spires and seeing the flooded plains.
Recently I was in Leeds during the rush hour. I took a few photos of cyclists and the basic cycle infrastructure.
Leeds has a fairly low % of residents who cycle once a month. According to the Department of transport just 11% of residents cycle at least once a month. It’s not the lowest rate in the UK, but it lags behind other cities.
Leeds cycle facilities
In the city centre there are some dedicated cycle facilities. It’s not much, but they seemed to be well used during rush hour.
Dedicated cycle path
A temporary brake in the cycle path. The cyclists I saw used their common sense and were cycling at low speed to avoid any problems with pedestrians. But, it does seem to sum up the patchy cycle lane provision.
Leeds cycling campaign.
The Leeds cycling campaign is working with the city council to try and improve facilities for cyclists and make the city more attractive place for cycling. (Leeds Cycling Campaign)
Last Monday, I went down to London, hoping to do a bit of Christmas shopping by bike. The day before I signed up for the Brompton hire dock. For £1 annual membership, you can hire a Brompton for £5 a day. It is available from quite a few train stations, such as Oxford. It sounds a fantastic idea. Get a train and then cycle around the city. In the end, I decided not to hire a Brompton. I got put off by the notice you had to carry it with you at all times; they don’t allow you to lock it up outside whilst you go into shop. In the end, I thought I might as well take my battered old commuting bike. Save £5 and less worries about getting the bike stolen.
From Paddington, it’s a short stretch to Hyde Park. It was quite pleasant cycling around Hyde Park. There is a decent bike path, with enough room to have a separate path for pedestrians. At one point though, I saw some signs to say bike path was closed because it was Christmas, I couldn’t quite work out why. The shared bike facility works well, if you’re not racing and have a little patience. One or two cyclists came flying through a busy intersection with bell ringing loudly hoping people would jump out of the way; it’s the kind of approach that doesn’t really help to get more shared cycle facilities.
I came across some tourists who had just had hired some Boris bikes. They obviously had a few difficulties with handling the 25kg bikes. One tourist veered impeccably across my path completely unaware of where she was going. Fortunately, I had a little bit of that generous Christmas spirit; I was going relatively slowly and could anticipate the random movement. It would have been different, if I was cycling at top speed.
As much fun as it was to go round and round Hyde Park, I needed to venture into the hectic world of central London and try and find a nice cafe to eat, and possibly a few shops to visit. Although, the media can exaggerate the dangers of cycling; it’s hard not to be conscious of the recent spate of serious accidents in London. November was a grim month for London cyclists, no matter how you look at it. I was cycling in defensive mode. – trying to anticipate dangers, not in a rush, following rules of the road, not taking any unnecessary risks.
If I was a Londoner, I might be able to find the best cycle route East across London, but I didn’t have the patience to examine multiple maps, so I just headed West, trying to follow suitably looking quiet roads. The cycling can best be described as stop start; it’s a bit of a jungle out there. It’s definitely hard work cycling through London, I don’t really envy London commuters, though it’s not as bad as recent headlines make out. The main problem is that you are sharing roads with innumerable buses, lorries, vans. On one occasion a van did a quick three point turn in the road. It was a good job I was on my toes, I had to reverse onto pavement to make sure he didn’t reverse into me. But, apart from that, it was relatively incident free. But, you have to ride with a heightened sense of awareness more than anywhere else. For what it’s worth, I would never dream of cycling around London with headphones on.
I always go to London with the great intentions of having a fantastic time, visit loads of shops, find a great cafe. But, after 20 minutes of cycling towards Covent Garden / Soho, the London experience was already getting a little tough. I had no idea where I was, just going from side street to side street. You pass so many cafes, you keep think you’ll find a better one; so end up going past many.
After several cafes came and went, I was investigating one cafe, only to notice it was the Rapha cafe! I know Rapha from somewhere, O yes! the cycle team and cycle clothing company. Sometimes, it does work out just rambling through London. I went into the Rapha cafe and shop. I eyed a very attractive winter jacket; it looked superbly designed and made. Though it didn’t have a price tag, and I was too shy to ask. It would make an excellent Christmas present, if Santa Claus reads this blog. It was a good place to hang out though. Lots of cycling memorabilia and magazines and a good cycling feel.
After a good lunch at an excellent nearby cafe, Bills, I started to head back to Paddington. Though, I thought I ought to make a cursory attempt at shopping. I chose a five floored Waterstones in Picadilly, but my heart wasn’t really in it. London is too big a place to shop. And I was thinking more about the vague cycle route back to Paddington.
Taking the bike on the train was fine, and it was good having a bike to get from Paddington into Central London. I thought it was difficult cycling into Oxford, but after a day in London, I realise there are much harder places to cycle. It’s hard to add anything to what has already been said about cycling in London. Except, it would be great if London could be made more accommodating for cyclists. It was an interesting experience and I was glad to come across the Rapha shop and cafe.
At last years United States Conference of Mayors, the forum concluded:
“communities that have invested in pedestrian and bicycle projects have benefited from improved quality of life, healthier population, greater local real-estate values, more local travel choices, and reduced air pollution.” (Economist)
Can the country of Henry Ford and eight lane highways really be on the verge of embracing the bicycle? Well words are one thing, action on the ground is another. But, in the past few decades, there has been a remarkable growth in the number of bike sharing schemes across the world.
Generally bike sharing schemes didn’t get off to the best start. Cities like Amsterdam and Cambridge which offered free bikes, typically saw the noble endeavour of offering 500 free bikes taken up mainly by bike thieves who promptly stole the bikes, leaving only good intentions and critics claiming vindication bike sharing could never work.
However, since then there has been a steady evolution of bike sharing schemes. With better technology and good administration enabling bike sharing schemes to have varying degrees of success. It is no longer a fringe idea of cycling nuts. American mayors are looking to embrace these eye-catching (and possibly vote winning) schemes. Cities with bike sharing schemes have not exactly gone Dutch, there is no cycling nirvana; but t in cities which have really embraced the bike sharing idea, there is a noticeable shift in cycling rates.
The growth of bicycle sharing schemes
One of the first bike sharing schemes was tried by Amsterdam in 1965, 500 free white bikes left around the city. But, this was not the most auspicious start. Bikes tended to soon disappear, and the scheme was later abandoned. Though, it is worth noting that this was a period where Amsterdam and the Netherlands saw a resurgence in cycling rates.
Cycle lanes known as ‘feeder lanes’ encourage you to go down the inside of traffic. In theory, you can move into the ‘advanced stop box for cyclists’. This gives cyclists a way to beat traffic jams and hopefully puts them in a visible position when the lights change. However, in practise when you get there, invariably you find a vehicle has stopped either totally or partially in the box. Also, the lights may change before you even get there, leaving you in a difficult position as heavy buses move off with you on the inside.
I was interested to read the case of a cyclist recently fined for running a red light, when in fact all he had done was get to the advanced stop box to find a car in it. Because it was an awkward position he came to a stop in front of the white line.
The police gave a ticket because technically he was running a red light – he stopped in front of the white line.
However, the Cyclists defence fund is supporting his appeal. They argue that some discretion needs to be used. When you go down the inside of traffic but find cyclist box covered, it makes practical sense to stop in front of the white line rather than risk getting squashed on the inside. It is something I have done. I never thought I was running a red light – just getting into a better position to help both me and the general traffic flow. See: Cyclists defense fund
I hope he wins his case because it’s something I’ve done myself.
It raises a difficult question of whether it is ever good to go down the inside of stationary traffic at traffic lights?
Cyclist squeezing down the inside of double decker buses on Oxford High Street. There is a brief cycle ‘lane’ near the traffic lights, encouraging this behaviour.
When you cycle down the inside of large vehicles, you are entering their blind spot. It is easy for drivers not to see you. If a vehicle is turning left, you are at high risk of serious accident. Left turning vehicles into path of cyclists is a significant cause of fatalities.
I always feel if you go down the inside, you have to be fully aware of the risk. If I’m confident of getting to the front of the queue before traffic starts to move, I may take it.
Sometimes I see cyclists go down the inside even when buses have started to move, this makes me feel very queasy as it is so tight and dangerous. The fact there may be a cycle lane painted on to the road is no guarantee.
How cycle feeder lanes and advanced stop signs can work in practise
a rare example of vehicles respecting all the cycle lanes and advanced stop signs. From this angle, you can see the potential of cyclists getting to the front of the queue.