How’s that national petition doing?

It stays open until mid April next year, but going from the graph below, it doesn’t look as if it will make the magical 100,000:

National petition start Aug

It did pretty well though and the 100,000 doesn’t necessarily matter – they sort of promise that any petititon that gets to that number will be debated in parliament but the get britain cycling report is going to be discussed on September 2nd anyway. There’s going to be another of those big cycling demos on the day.


1980’s v 2000’s in London (introduction #6)

So then. I cycled in London in the early eighties and I’ve recently started cycling again, but now live in Bristol. I actually tried to get back into urban cycling when I was still living in London, but it turned out to be a false start. This was round about the time the congestion charge came in, so I’m in a position to make a sharp comparison between the eighties and noughties London cycling experience. How do these compare?

When I first cycled in London there was loads of traffic and not many cyclists. There were no ASLs, no cycle lanes, no Sheffield stands, no mountain bikes, no helmets, no hi-viz tabards, no flashing bikelights.

Over the years I had vaguely noticed, on my many walking trips, that gradually more and more painted cycle lanes were appearing, and more and more cyclists. I expected that, when I got myself another bike, things would really be so much better – because, from my view on the pavement, they really did look better.

But I was disappointed. Of course some of it was me. I was older and less aggressive. I was also less motivated – by now I was used to doing all my trips on foot, so what was the point of going through the whole hassle of getting my bottle back? Because, yes there were more bikes but there were also a lot more motor traffic. Roads were completely silted up with parked vehicles. The cars were bigger. And I could swear there were more lorries.

I felt betrayed by the cycle lanes. They promised a straightforward trip but did not deliver. They offered no help with difficult junctions and big roundabouts. Lanes would dump me somewhere on the left hand side of a road with no way to get to the right hand side where I needed to be to be for the next bit of laneage. Twenty years previously I would have known how to get myself positioned properly to do this but now it felt like there was no use for my hard-won skill. I’m a rather law-abiding sort of person so if I rode out of the lane I felt like I was somehow ungrateful. The new infrastructure didn’t feel safer or easier.

In summary, it seems as if the actual experience of cycling was no better or worse from the eighties, just different.

What put the cherry on the cake was the attitude. When did people start hating cyclists? I really don’t remember this at all. How can anyone hate bicycles? Surely they’re like fluffy bunnies?

Hardcore walking (introduction #4)

“I walked everywhere”. Yes, pretty much. At one point I even started running to work, though just as I started to actually enjoy it, my ankle started giving me grief and I went back to walking. My maximum commute time was for a temp job south of the river – it took me about an hour and twenty minutes to get there, I sometimes got the tube home, but not always. For another job I used to walk to Islington and at the end of the day walk to a martial arts class in Bloomsbury. For many years I did between one and three hours walking every day. Often at weekends I’d read a review of an interesting book in the Sunday papers and then walk down from Kentish town to the Bloomsbury branch of Waterstones to buy a copy. When I had spare time, rather than popping out to nearby Kentish town high street for some minor item of shopping, I’d walk up to Hampstead instead, so as to have the pleasure of shlepping over the Heath.

I like walking. It’s great. Very unpretentious, doesn’t need a ton of kit and you see more than you do on the bike. However, as the distances increase, in order for it to be a viable mode of transport you have to be brisk, so issues of sweatiness start to arise. Changes of clothes, special footwear and assorted carrying equipment start to be incorporated – it starts to become more like cycling in fact.

Learning to ride in London (introduction #3)

After graduation in 1980, I went to live in London and stayed for the next twenty five years. For the first two of those I used public transport and walked (because it’s just so dangerous, you know) and then, inspired by someone I met at a party, I bought another bike. Since you ask, it was a Carlton Continental. I dug out my copy of Richards Bicycle Book and Richard gave me a serious pep talk about riding in traffic, so off I went. This was what happened:

I felt completely terrified for the first four weeks.
I felt slightly less scared for a further four weeks.
Then I felt ok.

At the beginning, I dismounted and pushed for every right hand turn and when crossing every major road. This was because I hadn’t ridden for two years and I’m a rather timid sort of person. I felt it quite possible that I would be spooked by a bus and spontaneously fall off.

After a short while this started to feel incredibly tedious and I began to stay on the bike when I performed manoeuvres.

By the end of a year I was doing quite advanced things like going round the Chiswick roundabout (as part of a trip from Hampstead to Brentford). Fear turned out to be quite a useful teacher. I tended to perch myself where I was absolutely sure I could be seen and give a LARGE hand signal. Decades later, reading cyclecraft, it turned out that I had independently evolved many of the recommended vehicular cycling techniques.

After three years I stopped cycling in London. Fear? No. Accident? No. Purchase of car? Get away with you! I stopped because of two things, I got a job that was too near my home to cycle to (really) and I took up playing the tenor saxophone. I know this sounds bananas, what with bakfiets and whatnot but I really couldn’t figure how to attach a rather large and heavy box safely to the bike. I didn’t know there were people who knew about how to do this. In any case I couldn’t have afforded to buy anything.

How did I get about instead? Apart from eighteen months in the late eighties where I commuted by bike from Kentish town to the city, and a year or so of car ownership, I walked everywhere.