Driving Lessons

Due to a combination of factors, including discrimination against non-drivers when job-hunting, the problem of Christmas and most significantly an effective contractual obligation, last year I ended up learning to drive. I thought it might be interesting to keep a record of the experience, as an outsider’s perspective.

Lesson One:

Driving instructor asked me if I had any previous driving experience. I answered literally, telling him that I had driven a car a few times, not on the road, around ten years ago. We headed to a part of Blacon with plenty of quiet residential streets and he proceeded to explain how the machine worked, about the mirrors and the visual limitations of being in car, particularly the wide pillars either side of the windscreen and between the side doors.

Eventually I got to drive the car. It was quite an odd experience, I felt a bit low down and quite detached from the environment I was passing through. Eventually we ended up on some of the two-lane main roads (which are sadly commonplace in Chester) for a bit of practice with roundabouts. The whole time, I was shocked at how easy it was. Other drivers didn’t routinely cut me up or try to force me to yield. Decades of car-centric planning and road design, combined with extremely generous subsidies made this big, wide, five-person vehicle perhaps the easiest way to get around the peripheral areas of Chester. Roundabouts in particular were a revelation, being much easier in a faster vehicle where other road users don’t routinely try to bully you into giving up priority.

Lesson Two:

This lesson involved a lot more driving on faster roads. I was also encouraged to turn the car around on a few different quiet roads, which helped to bring home how poor the range of vision in cars can be, demonstrating how inappropriate they are in an urban setting. Presumably the instructor’s curriculum is aimed at the widest possible audience; much of the lesson was spent going over stuff which anyone who regularly uses the roads would have picked up, regardless of mode.

Lesson Three:

Reversing into parking bays is the main lesson here, with recaps of the other stuff we have covered. We also covered emergency stops. In an automatic, emergency stops are much the same as on a bike (except you don’t need to move your weight backwards because cars are generally quite heavy already).

On the faster roads I really started to notice how ubiquitous speeding is. On a bike I will generally find myself going as fast as I can on a fast road which is busy. In a flow of traffic where everyone is speeding, it is possible for a learner to get sucked into the flow. Thankfully, despite what the Association of British Drivers says, it is actually very easy to look at the speedometer quite frequently and adjust speed accordingly. Compared to having a queue of impatient motorists behind you when riding a bike, a queue of impatient motorists behind you when you’re in a car is actually quite fun. This is probably because you are not just one impatient idiot away from death or injury.

Lesson Four:

This lesson covered dual carriageways, the sort which are basically motorways in all but name. This was the first part of the process of learning to drive where I didn’t already have some sort of analogous experience to draw upon. Thankfully, getting onto the dual carriageway seems to be the hardest part, and it is actually fairly easy due to good design. As someone who normally experiences UK road design on a bike, I was surprised to see that UK road engineers can design something properly, provided that it is something which is only used by fast motor vehicles.

The main issue with dual carriageways it seems is the roundabouts at the entrances and exits. These suffer from the same problems as all roundabouts in this country; an unwillingness of designers to standardise designs in a logical manner. The result of this is that when encountering a roundabout for the first time, you don’t really know what to expect. A handful of standardised roundabout templates as used in The Netherlands (which also happen to acknowledge the existence of other transport modes without treating their users like crap) is so obviously a good idea. The fact that we in the UK have not already done so neatly illustrates the complete failure of British road design.

Lesson Five:

My instructor wasn’t available for the usual weekend lesson, so instead I had a lesson before work with the intention of finishing at my place of work in Wrexham. This was the first time driving for any length of time without any instruction. Naturally I took the route to Wrexham I would’ve chosen were I traveling by bike (with a few tweaks to make the route car-legal). Travelling through inner Chester, the car was of course a hugely inappropriate choice of transport, yet my passage through the centre of the city was made easier by  expensive bits engineering such as the inner ring road, which were built to facilitate short journeys into the city by individuals using vehicles designed for five.

In this lesson, my experience of using the roads on the bike was less helpful; the instructor told me I was checking the blind spot on the driver-side more frequently than was necessary. I’m sure anyone who has ridden on UK roads for any length of time will know why I’ve fallen into this habit.

Lesson Six:

Reverse (parallel) parking today. Like all the other manoeuvres, I got it right first time. I think my driving instructor is a bit baffled by this, considering the fact that my general driving is not perfect. However, he doesn’t know that I used to drive a pallet truck for a few years in an old part-time job, and all of the manoeuvres done so far were frequently required doing that job.

There seem to be a few bad habits I’ve picked up from cycling, such as having to make a conscious effort to feed through the steering wheel when steering, and some road positioning which is taken from vehicular cycling but probably just confuses my instructor, such as positioning the car in a way to prevent overtaking which I would not feel happy with were I on a bike.

I found out the instructor used to have a 60s Moulton, so we spent much of the lesson talking about the new models, of which he was not aware.

Theory Test:

Other than a handful of motor vehicle-specific questions (generally motorway-related questions) anyone who has been cycling for a while should have picked up what they need to know to do ok in the multiple-choice part of the test.

The hazard perception test looks hilariously dated. I get the impression that much of the development work will have been done at a time when the government representative responsible for the project would have used the term, “new-fangled computers.” The test takes the form of several video clips taken with a single fixed video camera, at roughly VHS-quality from the front of a car. You are encouraged to click you see a hazard which is developing and again when action must be taken. You do not have to click where the hazard appears on the screen because the system is too basic. Because of this, the hazard perception test does precious little to gauge a person’s ability to perceive hazards. With a bit of modern (ie: post-2000) technology, the test could be greatly improved to make it fit for purpose.

Despite its inherent limitations, if you have been riding a bike on the roads for a while, you shouldn’t have much trouble with the hazard perception test.

Practical test:

After a hiatus of nearly two months, upon returning from Japan I had a few more driving lessons in preparation for the test. It is quite telling that, despite the fact that there is a driving test centre in most towns; the waiting list for a driving test is often months long. It is possible that a big part of this is due to people who ‘brute force’ the driving test; taking a sufficiently large number of tests so as to pass one eventually. I was eventually able to get a test slot which I was able to make and thanks to years of cycling on UK roads and as you’d expect after surviving years of cycling on Britain’s roads, the test went fine, being remarkably simple considering the sheer amount of destruction a car can cause. there were some interesting anomalies I noticed during the examinations

Speed Limits:

During driving lessons and during the driving test, you are encouraged to travel as close to the posted speed limit as possible without going over, barring any major conditions which dictate otherwise. It is actually possible to be penalised for travelling within the speed limit but at a level deemed ‘too slow,’ such as 20 mph in a residential area posted as 30 mph but which really should be 20 mph. This may be a contributing factor behind drivers commonly treating speed limits as speed targets or minimums and really ought to be addressed by the Department for Cars Transport. Thankfully though, even with little driving experience, periodically glancing at the speedometer to ensure speed stays in check is a trivial matter.

Non-motorised traffic:

At no point during any of the testing was I required to know anything about the techniques recommended for cyclists by Bikeability training, such as ‘taking the lane.’ My instructor, after finding out I use a bike for transport even asked me about the reason for this particular behaviour. Whilst we are waiting for our roads to be made fit for purpose for non-motorised travellers, this really ought to be addressed by the Department for Cars Transport.

Aftermath:

Once you have passed the examinations you may be surprised to learn that unless you are one of the few people for whom actually owning a car might make sense, your shiny new pink card is basically useless for twelve months. Whilst I wouldn’t want to own a car, hiring one occasionally could be useful under certain circumstances. However, in general car hire companies will not hire a car to anyone who doesn’t have 12 months not-driving experience under their belt, so there is a very good chance that (for the time being at least) you’ve spent all that money just to change the colour of the card you use prove you are old enough to buy booze.

Cycling to Shibuya

As discussed in the last post, I am currently staying in Saitama, a city in the Greater Tokyo area which is approximately 25 km outside of central Tokyo. On Sunday I found myself at a bit of a loose end, the weather was crisp, clear and bright, perfect for a bit of exploration.

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Japan’s version of a ‘shared use’ facility. Because Japan doesn’t treat its pedestrians with the same level of contempt as the UK does, the concept works surprisingly well.

Not willing to pay the extortionate rate expected for mobile data roaming (and forgetting to activate even the possibility before leaving the UK) I had to rely on an offline map for navigation. Add to this the unexplained failure of my phone’s GPS since arriving in Japan and I realised that travelling through the most populous metropolitan area in the world might require some creative navigation. After wandering around for a bit, I decided that I would use the train lines as a means of navigating. Thanks to the Carradice bag packed in my T-bag, I knew that I could easily pack the Brompton up and hop on the (quite easy to use) rail network should the need arise.

After heading towards central Tokyo for a while, I realised that if I followed the forking points of the train tracks correctly I could make it to Shibuya, a place I’ve wanted to see since sinking many an hour into Jet Set Radio many years ago.

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The Greater Tokyo area is remarkably permeable. Whilst there are some one-way restrictions for motor vehicles which do not apply to cyclists and pedestrians, this high level of permeability applies to motor vehicles almost as much as cycle and foot traffic. In order to make my journey I merely needed to have a rough idea of which direction I needed to travel in and the roads and streets always managed to allow me a way through. Despite this permeability, I was not bothered by a particularly notable volume of motor traffic on residential streets. Navigating through the crowds of pedestrians and other cyclists was the main obstacle I encountered and was one I was happy to work around.

This lack of rat-running is likely in part due to the fact that it just doesn’t seem to be acceptable here to haphazardly discard your car on whatever piece of public land you fancy at the other end of your journey. Cars here are stored when not in use, not carelessly abandoned. The result is that people seem to make fewer frivolous car trips (and seem to own fewer frivolous cars) with the bicycle picking up the slack instead. Residential streets are places rather than just routes, and these places are perfectly inviting for cycling and walking.

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Fancy a hot can of (surprisingly good) coffee whilst wandering, slightly lost, through a Shenmue-esque neighbourhood? No problem (I recommend the Rainbow Blend).

In addition to the extensive network of pleasant, permeable residential streets there are plenty of big, multi-lane car-centric roads running throughout Greater Tokyo. Thankfully these roads are made relatively pleasant thanks to two measures; shared use facilities and smoothing traffic flow.

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Cultural differences abound in Japan; here this sign is not an iron-clad guarantee you’ll have a bad cycling or walking experience.

Shared use facilities in Japan, whilst not a perfect solution, work unexpectedly well on the major routes. This is largely due to the fact that pedestrians are not treated with the same level of contempt in Japan that they are in the UK, so when cyclists and pedestrians are lumped together the experience is still positive. Presumably as a result of the ubiquitousness of shared use in Japan, there is not a great deal of conflict between the two types of user; pedestrians expect the encounter cyclists and cyclists expect to have to slow down or stop for pedestrians where volumes of foot traffic are higher.

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An elderly lady rides a typical Japanese city bike along one a shared use pavement. I’m not sure how she would feel about doing the same in London.

Don’t like it? Want to go faster? Get on the road. Cycling on main roads in Japan is also surprisingly pleasant thanks to measures which smooth the flow of traffic; all types of traffic. Next to the shared use sign in the above picture is a ’40’ sign, indicating a speed limit of 40 km/h or 25mph on what is effectively an urban dual carriageway. This speed limit, enforced by frequent stops for motor traffic at practically every set of traffic lights results in a consistent, smooth flow of motor, bicycle and foot traffic rather than the frequent short bursts of dangerous speed from motorists enabled by the complete subjugation of cyclists and pedestrians which we have in the UK.

The shared use facilities have priority over minor side roads which is enforced by a combination of fairly tight turning geometry and a general tendency amongst motorists to act as if they are in charge of machines which could easily kill or maim people if operated without due care and attention. At major intersections, motorists, cyclists and pedestrians get a green phase in the same direction at the same time. Motorists are permitted to turn left but must defer to bicycle and foot traffic heading straight ahead. Again this works surprisingly well thanks to a technique which Japanese motorists have developed known as ‘paying attention.’

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The very big roads have separate little roads running alongside them which are used for cycling, walking and as residents’ access. The structure above the road in this shot is a motorway which has high noise-abating walls.

Through a combination of these different types of road, I followed the train line a rather circuitous, approximately 50 km route to Shibuya. I saw plenty of little slices of life in Japan; a mother cycling to the shops with her child and his grandfather not far behind, children cycling unaccompanied along city streets and shopping malls so inundated that you have to pay for bicycle parking.

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Whilst it doesn’t hold up to The Netherlands example, Tokyo shows what can be achieved when government policy at least doesn’t actively suppress cycling.

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This was the one point I thought I may have to turn back; I had cycled down a residential street to an ornamental garden next to a river. I carried the Brompton down the steps and found that there was a path leading to a footbridge over the river leading me back to the train tracks I was using to navigate.

Eventually I made it to Shibuya. By this point my arms were really aching; unlike making a similar journey in the UK, I didn’t need to stop all that often. It turns out that my body has grown accustomed to the frequent stops I must make as a cyclist in the UK riding on a road network designed solely around motor traffic.

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A street in Shinjuku, pedestrianised during shopping hours. Nearby here is where I saw the only HGV I have seen in Japan. It was being used as a mobile stage to promote an album launch. Major freight movements seem to be by rail.

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A scramble crossing outside Shibuya station. By the time I got to Shibuya, after a short wander around, I was so tired I decided to head back to Saitama. Sometimes it is all about the journey.

Cycling alone and through the one of the most densely populated areas on the planet, I was unfamiliar with the language and the specifics of the law and yet I still felt safer than I ever do cycling on the roads back in the UK. The UK really has an awful long way to go.

Safety tips for cyclists

Safety advice aimed at cyclists is nothing new, but in my experience it often tends to descend into little more than a motorists’ wish list for cyclist behaviour. Even worse is advice based on the false assumption that law breaking on the part of cyclists is the lead cause of cyclist injuries and fatalities. Instead, I thought it might be worthwhile to share my own experiences in the hope they might be useful to others.

Reading the road

Cycling on UK roads is a baptism of fire and anyone who has been doing it for any length of time will have learned to read the road ahead. The same cannot be said for everyone else. A worrying number of other road users will fail to consider what the road conditions will require of them 100, 50 or even 15 metres ahead of where they currently are. This failure is the root cause of several initially baffling behaviours. It is the reason that motorists will sometimes perform a risky overtake only to have to immediately stop at the end of a queue of traffic which was readily visible when the manoeuvre was started. It is the reason why a motorist may overtake you only to immediately make a left turn, or pull into a roadside parking bay. It is the reason why a motorist may overtake you on a cramped residential street only to immediately stop block your progress to allow an oncoming vehicle to pass, even though had they waited, there would have been sufficient room for you on a bike and the oncoming vehicle to proceed at the same time.

Roundabouts

Sometimes it almost seems as if roundabouts were left behind by an advanced but long lost civilisation and no-one is sure what they were built for or how their builders intended them to be used. The lack of a small set of standard approaches to roundabouts certainly doesn’t help. The rules of roundabouts are fairly straightforward, but there are several things to look out for.

The general principle of giving way to traffic already on the roundabout may not apply to you when you are on your bike if the other party is driving a luxury German car, such as a BMW, Audi or Mercedes-Benz. If you are already on the roundabout and encounter one of these vehicles waiting to get on, you may be expected to give way.

There are some road users who will use the other lane of a multi-lane roundabout regardless of the exit they wish to use. These people pose a risk to you when you are getting on a roundabout, as their road positioning suggests they are intending to leave the roundabout even though this is not the case.

‘Taking the lane’ is an unfortunate necessity on most roundabouts (effectively excluding most people from cycling them) but beware that some motorists will try to bully you to the periphery of the roundabout regardless of which exit you wish to use.

Finally, it is not uncommon to see motorists leave a roundabout whilst still indicating right. The result of this misleading signalling should be that you do not enter the roundabout even though the opportunity was there. However, in areas where this behaviour is particularly prevalent, it is important to beware of this behaviour becoming normalised; you could end up pulling onto a roundabout in front of a car which really is staying on.

Professional drivers

In an ideal world, professional drivers (delivery vans, taxi drivers etc.) and our interactions with them would be exactly that; professional. Sadly, in practice this is often not the case. I can only surmise that when driving becomes a major part of a person’s job they will often become blasé about it and safety suffers as a result. Add to this business models which encourage or even necessitate illegal behaviour and we have a recipe for unpleasant encounters. Thankfully, professional drivers are generally easy to identify by way of their commercial vehicles, so at least you’ll know to expect the worst when you see them. The ease with which commercial vehicles can be identified makes reporting bad driving much easier than with private cars, although typically just as fruitless.

Texting

I have covered this issue before. Thankfully, providing the vehicle is not a pimpmobile with tinted windows, it is at least possible to spot the characteristic position a driver’s head adopts if they are reading from a phone screen whilst driving. Spotting this characteristic tilt a few weeks ago probably prevented a collision between a texting motorist and myself on a roundabout in Wrexham. So engrossed in her texting was this driver that she failed to even register my loud subsequent significant list of graphic expletives.

Indicators

As mentioned above for roundabouts, indicators are not to be trusted. Most common is the  lack of indication by a driver about to attempt a manoeuvre, but it is not uncommon to see a driver indicating the wrong way, leaving an indicator on long, long after a turn has been made or indicating a turn of a particular direction several opportunities to make a turn in that direction prior to the one they wish to take. It is especially useful to be distrustful of turn signals when pulling out of a side road; just because the driver on the road you wish to join is indicating to turn down your road often doesn’t mean they actually will.

If there are any other tips or seemingly bizarre driver behaviours anyone feels I have missed, please share them through the comments.

TfGM’s Oxford Road corridor changes risk the lives of cyclists

The forthcoming Oxford Road bus corridor in Manchester is to be accompanied by a series of changes to the surrounding roads, including Upper Brook Street and Upper Lloyd Street. In their current form, the changes offer pitifully little for pedestrians and are potentially lethal for cyclists. In a consultation found here, the proposed changes to the layouts of these roads can be seen in detailed the detailed plans found here.

The specific details of what will be offered for cyclists on the relatively short section of Oxford Road from which general motor traffic is to be excluded will not be shared in any detail until 2013. This makes the current consultation relatively useless as we are prevented from seeing what may or may not be gained in exchange for the significant reduction in cyclists’ safety on the surrounding roads. Even in the unlikely event that both the short section of Oxford Road from which private motor vehicles are to be excluded from, and the remainder of this important route are to be brought up to something resembling Dutch standards, as unlikely as this would be, this does not excuse the significant increase in danger posed by the redesign of the surrounding roads, which cyclists would still have to use.

Here we see where Upper Brook Street meets Grosvenor Street. The protected contra-flow cycle lane on Grosvenor street, whilst not perfect was a welcome step in the right direction. Sadly the hideously botched Toucan crossing solution for cyclists where Grosvenor Street looks set to remain. A missed opportunity to make this unfinished bit of infrastructure, still one of the most notable in Manchester, into something genuinely fit for purpose.

Under the present layout, this is a far North as traffic can travel into the city, however the proposals will make Upper Brook Street two way as far as Portland Street for the first time in decades. Truly a step in the wrong direction.

Plymouth Grove is to have advisory cycle lanes added to it for possibly as much as 100 metres southbound. As risible as this is, the bigger issue is that the motorway sliproad geometry where Plymouth Grove peels off from Upper Brook Street remains, placing cyclists continuing along Upper Brook Street in completely avoidable danger of a left-hook.

In a show of contempt for both cyclists and pedestrians, this overly-wide section of road is to have its southbound pavement converted into shared use between Plymouth grove and Grafton Street. From this point southwards, Upper Brook Street is to have one additional lane squeezed into the existing space. This extra lane it switches use to the opposite direction of traffic roughly every signalised junction. I used to live near here and I couldn’t count the number of dangerously close overtakes I endured using the current two-lane arrangement. This area also sees a great deal of pedestrian traffic due to the hospital and University, yet the proposed changes (or rather lack of improvements to existing dire facilities such as crossings) show a complete disregard for the needs and convenience of pedestrians. 

As the extra motor vehicle lanes South of this point are not continuous in one direction, it will not create any extra vehicle capacity, instead encouraging motorists to dangerously speed through the sections where the road is two lanes before forming a jam immediately after the lights where two lanes are forced to merge back into one. This unnecessary extra merging will simply result in additional collisions between cars without providing any time benefit to motorists, whilst the additional lane will necessitate lane narrowing which will bring cars and cycles into conflict, making an increase in the number of injuries and fatalities an inevitability should the proposed designs be implemented. TfGM’s designs for this section of Upper Brook Street in particular will force cyclists and motor vehicles into even closer conflict. I have little doubt that, if implemented, these designs will lead to the deaths of cyclists.

Despite Upper Brook Street seeing significant amounts of pedestrian traffic, the proposal does nothing to facilitate this whatsoever, with existing anti-pedestrian junction geometries and multi-stage crossings requiring pedestrians to deviate repeatedly from desire lines remaining in place. Where additional crossing are to be provided, such as at Brunswick Street, pedestrians are treated with contempt; forced to cross via a ludicrous number of stages so as not to inconvenience motorists coming onto Upper Brook Street from popular residential rat-runs. Cyclists and pedestrians are to be brought into conflict between Plymouth Grove and Grafton Street by the lazy conversion of the inappropriate-width footway to ‘shared use’ in order to allow an unjustifiable three-lane stack at the junction between Upper Brook Street and Grafton Street. This junction, separating the Manchester Royal Infirmary, blood bank, flats and the University of Manchester Medical School sees a significant amount of foot traffic, making the atrocious treatment of pedestrians by the proposed design at this point inexcusable.

The proposed changes to Upper Brook Street in particular represent a potentially lethal attempt to squeeze ever more private cars into the same amount of space. In addition to the increase in fatalities and injuries, many cyclists will be intimidated off these roads entirely, either continuing to cycle but on the pavement, causing problems for pedestrians, or switching to another, less desirable mode of transport. Where cycle infrastructure is proposed, such as Booth Street West and Higher Cambridge Street, it is of the same kind which has been shown time and time again to fail to meet the needs of cyclists for both safety and convenience; advisory cycle lanes and ASLs. Advisory cycle lanes are generally less than useless, they are frequently blocked by legally parked cars and routinely abandon their users at junctions, anywhere where the road design becomes confusing or complex or where the road starts to narrow and cyclists might genuinely need some additional protection from the motor vehicles which have been brought into close proximity with them. In the few places where cycle infrastructure is proposed in the current designs they are simply paint on the carriageway or lazy footway ‘conversions’. At junctions, turning geometries are not tightened up at all (as is commonplace in The Netherlands and Denmark) meaning left turning vehicles can perform turns at higher speeds, increasing the chances of a ‘left-hook’ collision with a cyclist, which are often fatal for the cyclist.

In addition to the problems caused for pedestrians by ill-conceived shard use paths as between Plymouth Grove and Grafton Street and the risk of overall increased pavement cycling, the few additional measures included supposedly to benefit pedestrians have been done in a manner which shows utter contempt for the value of pedestrians’ time and the quality of their experience of walking. The increase number of vehicle lanes will increase noise and pollution endured by pedestrians, cyclists and residents, which make the already formidable barrier presented by the road even more difficult for pedestrians to overcome.

These designs need to be changed as a matter of urgency. In their current form they represent a disaster waiting to happen.

Cycling Demonstration Town Report – Chester

Hat Tip – Two Wheels and Beyond

The Cycling Demonstration Towns have reported their findings, despite the body overseeing the scheme, Cycling England, being abolished in 2011. The total budget of the Chester Cycling Demonstration Town scheme was reported as £4,437,034. This may sound like a lot of money was invested in cycling in Chester, but it actually only represents a single one-off investment of approximately £13.50 for each person in the borough of Cheshire West and Chester. In comparison, nThe Netherlands invests in cycling to the tune of approximately £25 per person, every year. For further context, last year’s unjustifiable fuel duty cut costs each person in the UK approximately £97 each year; and represents a subsidy of those who already well-off enough to own and run a car. Needless to say, the budget for the project really is small change; before the project began it was inevitable that what it could achieve with this relatively small, one-off investment would be fairly limited.

The scheme had some successes, such removing some of the barriers to cycle permeability in the city. There are still a great deal of one-way systems from which cyclists are not exempted, although the government is only just coming around to the idea of allowing this exemption to be done easily and cheaply (as in much of the rest of Europe) just a little bit too late for this scheme. Unfortunately, the archaic inner ring road remains untreated, acting as a huge barrier for those wishing to access the centre by bike; not only unpleasant to ride along but difficult to negotiate a way across when using the quiet back-street routes.

Sadly, two major infrastructure schemes were scrapped due to costs exceeding expectations. This is extremely unfortunate due to the fact that major infrastructure projects (such as fixing main roads) have the greatest scope for increasing cycling rates by making cycling feel safe and viable as a transport mode for the average person. The report does not specify much about what these infrastructure projects would have consisted of.

Beyond this, the Chester Cycle Demonstration Town project seems to have suffered by trying to do too many things with the limited resources available to it. Making a lot of minor improvements, some aimed at existing cyclists and others at occasional leisure cyclists can be an attractive option when running a project such as this, as it may feel like the limited funding is being spent in a way which would benefit the largest number of people, even if only marginally. It is however worth considering whether this rather confused splitting of focus between many small changes, some aimed at experienced cyclists using bikes for transport and some at less-experienced cyclists using bikes for leisure actually has a greater effect than simply investing all of the money bringing a single section of main road which is a major desire line for cyclists up to Dutch standards.

Unfortunately, where the project did involve cycle infrastructure it approached the subject from the baffling perspective of a ‘dual network,’ where inexperienced cyclists are provided with infrastructure to use until they become experienced enough to ‘graduate’ onto the main road network, implying that the infrastructure is not for existing, confident cyclists. The problem with this approach is that by being aimed exclusively at a subset of a subset (that is, a subset of cyclists who are already only a tiny minority of road users) there is little incentive for this infrastructure to not be like this; being simultaneously inconvenient and dangerous for inexperienced cyclists and making experienced cyclists who understandably shun it into the subjects of abuse from motorists who believe that all cyclists should be using the ‘cycle infrastructure.’ This approach has not worked anywhere else in the world and it doesn’t work here. In The Netherlands, cycle infrastructure is built to accommodate cyclists of all levels of experience and skill, from school kids to roadies. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, and spending money on unproven ideas like the dual network we should be copying measures with a proven record of success such as The Netherlands’ model.

The project also had a strong focus on cycle training. Whilst I have nothing against cycle training per se, I feel that the importance and usefulness of the current style of cycle training common in the UK in increasing cycle rates is extremely limited. At present cycle training is designed to help those who wish to cycle on the UK’s incredibly cycling-hostile roads to mitigate the dire situations they will find themselves in on a road network designed exclusively for the facilitation of high volumes of fast & prioritised motor vehicle journeys, at the expense of all other road users. UK cycle training focusses on a very narrow, assertive and fast type of cycling which will never be an attractive or viable transport option for the vast majority of people. Whilst helping those who are willing to cycle in the present conditions is laudable, it can not be the basis for the long-term growth of cycling.

The Cycling Demonstration Towns initiative was a good idea which was let down in several ways: The confusing splitting of focus between cycling as transport and cycling as leisure, limited financial resources (and trying to do too many things at once with those limited resources) a legal framework which makes infrastructural improvements for cycling far too difficult and ultimately, the current government’s choice to abolish the body in charge of the initiative; Cycling England. I have described previously what my own vision for a ‘Cycling Demonstration Town’ (or rather, an experiment clearly demonstrating the effectiveness of different approaches to increasing cycling rates) would be. Whilst initially geographically more limited, spending all of the money given to the cycling demonstration towns by Cycling England on ‘Assenizing‘ a single town would have provided it with greater legacy; one single town with a Netherlands-level of cycling and absolutely no doubt remaining as to the cause; the infrastructure.

Cycling is Safe

This one has been languishing in my drafts for quite some time, with both Vole O’Speed and As Easy As Riding A Bike sharing their own views on the issue in the meantime. Statistically speaking, cycling here in the UK appears to be surprisingly safe. Indeed, in the past I have focussed on this when talking to new and potential cyclists about their experiences of poor subjective safety. These statistics are also readily utilised by a vocal minority who  are ideologically opposed to the use of separation by mode for the prioritisation and protection of cyclists. As is often the case with statistics they only tell part of the story; whilst it appears at first that they show cycling to be a ‘low-risk activity,’ what they literally show is that the current sub-section of the population who choose to cycle are doing so relatively safely.
Like most other people who choose to cycle in the UK, when I cycle I do so in a hyper-aware state; I always expect the worst from other road users, I pre-emptively hover over the brakes when I see a car approaching a give-way line where I have clear priority and I plan my escape route for when that BMW makes a sudden turn without indicating. I am relatively fit, fast, I cycle in the optimal gear and I know precisely how much force I can put into the brakes before the wheel locks up. Put simply, the bar it set much higher for cyclists than it is for other road users because the road environment is inherently hostile for cycling. Most people who drive motorised vehicles, which are significantly wider, faster and heavier than bicycles, do not do so in a similar state of hyper-awareness. This is because there is simply no need; the vehicles and road environment have been designed in such a way that their operators are largely protected from the limitations of their own ability. The bar has been set rather too low for such inherently dangerous machines.
I have often thought that if some of the greatest minds of the 1950s were put together in a room and given  and nearly unlimited budget and the specific task of designing a road network to minimise the number of people choosing to cycle, without being permitted to explicitly make cycling illegal, the result would not be far off the current UK road network. The exceptional hostility for cycling which is designed into the UK road network is enough to prevent the vast majority of people from every wanting to cycle on it. The result is that those few who are willing to cycle on it are not at all representative of the general population; it is because this minority can cope with the road network as it currently exists that cycling appears to be a statistically safe activity.
In The Netherlands, cycling is statistically slightly safer than the UK. The difference is not as much as might be expected, which is often used as an excuse for opposing the construction of Netherlands-style dedicated cycle infrastructure in the UK. However, with a little context the safety statistics from The Netherlands start to appear much more impressive. By implementing road designs which are not inherently hostile to cycling, the section of the population choosing to cycle is much more representative of society as a whole. The majority of ordinary people, cycling without being in a hyper-aware state typical of UK cyclists manage to get around by bike and are still statistically more safe than the tiny minority of physically and mentally exceptional UK citizens who choose the bicycle. Next time there is a discussion about how safe cycling is, remember that in places such as the UK where cyclists are a tiny minority, the statistics don’t tell you a great deal about how safe cycling is, only how safe cyclists are.

Dutch pick-and-mix

There’s more to ‘going Dutch’ than having a separate cycling lane was a recent piece written by Matthew Wright for the Guardian. The title is a valid statement, Dutch levels of cycling didn’t come about just from building cycle tracks along busy main roads, it requires that the private car is tamed on streets and lanes, so that a cycle track is unnecessary. However, the article quickly falls into that peculiar trapping which appears to be unique to the English-speaking world; Dutch pick-and-mix.
Dutch pick-and-mix (a term I hope will catch-on) is the idea that picking and choosing randomly from all of the the pro-cycling measures employed by the Dutch (other than building cycle tracks alongside roads) can result in Dutch-levels of cycling. Dutch pick-and-mix is attractive to people who are ideologically opposed to the idea of any separation of cyclists and motor traffic; Matthew Wright’s choice, upon visiting The Netherlands, to ride on the main carriageway and shun the far superior adjacent cycle-only facility is a particularly informative one. By avoiding the cycle track-shaped elephant in the room, Dutch pick-and-mix offers campaigners and local authorities the easy way out; rather than making the main roads accessible to all cyclists by installing cycle tracks, a few blue signs can be used to direct cyclists via circuitous residential streets. Rather than addressing lethal junction designs, the roads in adjacent residential areas can have ’20’ painted onto them within a circle.
Whilst these measures are not a bad thing, they are completely, totally and utterly worthless if cyclists can’t use the roads which get them to the places they need to go; main roads. Dutch pick-and-mix fails as an approach not because there is a problem with lower residential speed limits and facilitating cycling on minor roads, these are good things, but because they don’t work unless they are built on a foundation of cycle tracks running alongside main roads. There is little point in creating an island of cycling paradise within a residential area if the main road connecting it to the next island of cycling paradise remains unchanged and hostile to cyclists. The Dutch pick-and-mix approach epitomised by ‘There’s more to ‘going Dutch’ than having a separate cycling lanemisses this point; there is more to ‘going Dutch’ than having a separate cycle lane, but without the main road network being fixed by the addition of separate cycle lanes, the rest of the measures used by the Dutch simply won’t work. Separate cycle lanes are the very foundation of going Dutch, whilst attempting to build something without first laying the foundations is pretty much what we’ve been doing in the UK for fifty years, an approach which has done little for anyone who wants to get around by bike.
In addition to a severe case of Dutch pick-and-mix, Matthew Wright’s article also falls foul of cherry-picking through the referencing of John Franklin’s page of cherry-picked research, which has been dissected here previously and rendered irrelevant by a much more honest and up-to-date equivalent started here.
Whilst it is true that separate cycle lanes are not the only measure involved in ‘going Dutch,’ suggesting that they are anything less than the very foundation of it is at best extremely naive and at worst shockingly dishonest. Articles such as ‘There’s more to ‘going Dutch’ than having a separate cycling lanesimply serve to spread the disinformation which has held back cycling in this country for decades. A Dutch pick-and-mix approach might seem appealing, because it is comparably easy, but without the foundation of separate cycle lanes on the worst parts of the road network, it can only be expected to deliver a continuation of the flat-lining of cycle rates and a continuation of the stream of avoidable deaths on our roads.

How John Franklin misled a nation’s cycling campaigners

I have been reading the works of John Franklin for quite a few years. My first encounter was as a relatively new cyclist who wanted to know how best to cope with the inherently cycling-hostile UK road network, I discovered the principles of vehicular cycling as promoted in John Franklin’s popular work Cyclecraft. As I have previously stated, Cyclecraft is a good survival manual for anyone wanting to cycle on the hostile British road network, containing useful techniques for making the best out of a crap situation. Unfortunately, Cyclecraft isn’t promoted as survival manual by its author, instead being suggested as a solution. Even worse, a significant portion of the British cycling establishment agree with this view, one which I feel is divorced from reality.

As was noted by both myself and As Easy As Riding A Bike, cycling according the the principles of Cyclecraft requires a level of fitness and speed which acts as a barrier:

“Cadence and sprint speed

Cadence is the number of times a cycling turns the pedals in one minute. A steady, comfortable pedalling rhythm is essential for efficient cycling, while increasing one’s cadence strengthens the leg muscles and enables more rapid acceleration. Increasing cadence also makes it easier to increase your sprint speed – the maximum speed that you can attain over a short distance, such as through a roundabout.Racing cyclists know well the benefits of having a high cadence, but there can also be important safety advantages for everyone. Generally speaking, you are at your safest in traffic if you can move at a speed comparable to that of the other vehicles. Increasing your cadence and sprint speed will allow you to achieve this more often, particularly at those places where it matters most – junctions with complex manoeuvring. It will also be easier to restart quickly in a low gear at traffic signals and roundabouts, and to get yourself out of trouble if you are on a potential collision course.Increasing cadence and sprint speed are two of the most positive steps a cyclist can take to enhance safety.

A good cadence to aim for is about 80, while a sprint speed of 32 km/h (20 mph) will enable you to tackle most traffic situations with ease. To increase your cadence, select a gear lower than you would normally use for a given road and simply force yourself to pedal faster in order to maintain your usual speed. Gradually, your leg muscles will become accustomed to the higher rate and your cadence and strength will increase.”

The physical demands of cycling according to the principles outlines in Cyclecraft aside, it also requires a potential cyclist to possess a level of enthusiasm for cycling which I find unrealistic  beyond a small proportion of the population (broadly the same proportion of people who currently cycle). Whilst some drivers are truly motoring enthusiasts, the overwhelming vast majority merely choose to drive because their environment has made driving feel like the safest, easiest and cheapest option open to them. If driving became less convenient and felt less safe than another mode of transport, most of them would switch without giving it much thought. There’d still be Formula 1, motoring exhibitions and car-owners clubs because the people who are interested in them are enthusiasts, much in the same way that many of the people who currently cycle (despite the problems) are cycle enthusiasts. However, the average person would abandon their car without much thought if it ceased to be perceived as the best way to get around, much as the average person abandoned their bike when motor-centric government policies made the bike cease to be perceived as the best way to get around.

I encountered John Franklin’s work again when I started to learn about dedicated infrastructure for cycling, such as the segregated cycle paths which adjacent to roads carrying a large enough, or fast enough volume of motor traffic traffic in The Netherlands. Whenever I observed a discussion of the relative merits of this approach online, I often saw someone would present a link to Cycle path safety: A summary of research, citing it as a definitive proof that segregation of cyclists and motor traffic was always a bad idea. It is difficult to blame the average reader for seeing this list and taking it at face value, after all it is stated on that page that, “This list is intended to be without bias, but little evidence has been found to suggest that cyclists are safer on paths than on roads.” As a non-expert, why wouldn’t you take this statement at face value? After all, it comes from a ‘road safety expert.’ However, on closer inspection, it is interesting to note that the research on the list is entirely from before the year 2000, so is irrelevant to much of the modern infrastructure present in The Netherlands and Denmark. Secondly, the research on the list is extensively cherry picked; Franklin does not state his criteria for which research makes the list and which does not. However, it appears that in order to make the list, the findings of the research have to agree with John Franklin’s existing ideology; there should be no segregation of cyclists and motorised traffic. Many relevant articles which contradict this ideology are conspicuous by their absence. Thirdly, John Franklin employs a false dichotomy; presenting vehicular cycling and segregation of cycles and motorised traffic as two discrete things when in fact there are a wide variety of approaches to segregation, many of which are crap (such as the Redways) and some of which are outstanding, such as The Netherlands (and to a lesser extent, Denmark) and a wide variety of vehicular cycling environments, some relatively successful (such as the Britain of the 40’s and 50’s) and some truly dire (such as the Britain of 2011). Whilst these three crippling deficiencies in Cycle path safety: A summary of research could perhaps be forgiven if the list were compiled by a total novice, it find it extremely difficult to believe that John Franklin, a ‘road safety expert,’ could have made all of these three errors accidentally. It seems perhaps more likely that a selection of research articles have been picked and presented in a way which deliberately misrepresents the strong case in favour of separation of cycles and motor traffic where motor traffic speeds and/or volumes are high (as a part of a wider array of measures as in The Netherlands), in order to lend credibility to an ideological opposition to any separation of cycles from motorised traffic which is not backed up by the facts.

When writing for the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain’s wiki section, Common Claims & Canards, I noticed a blank section, entitled: Dutch cyclists are not competent to cycle in the UK. Although listed as a common claim, it was something I hadn’t really heard myself and I set out to do some research to find out where this claim originated from or was popularised. One again, John Franklin came up, this time in an open letter to Sustrans; Casualties on cycle paths from 1998., which was written in response to Sustrans (quite rightly) questioning the evidence for Franklin’s continued vocal opposition to cycle paths on the grounds of their alleged poor safety record:

“Sustrans has often cited the fact that Dutch cyclists sometimes leave the ferry at Harwich and find traffic so difficult to deal with that they go back home! Interestingly, this problem is not experienced by cyclists arriving from France, Spain or the USA. Proficiency in using roads on a regular basis is essential to maximise safety, and to maximise one’s cycling horizons. I would not like to see Britain on the slope down to Dutch levels of cycling competence.”

To me at least, it seems here that John Franklin is at best making a sweeping generalisation about an entire nation of people, whilst at worst coming off simultaneously as elitist and a bit racist. It seems obvious to me that the vast majority of people in The Netherlands are just like the vast majority of people in the UK, neither feel safe enough to cycle on British roads. It has nothing to do with competence or nationality, the vast majority of British people don’t cycle, put them in The Netherlands and most will; the vast majority of Dutch people do cycle, put them in the UK and most won’t. They don’t not cycle here because they’re incompetent, they don’t cycle here for the same reason that most British people and most tourists from other countries don’t cycle here, it’s shit and it doesn’t feel safe. Reading this, I get the feeling that what irks Franklin is that fact that the average Dutch person can cycle without having to be enthusiastic abut cycling, without having to care about or be interested in cycling, and without having to develop the survival skills outlined for vehicular cycling in Cyclecraft. They made it easy to cycle.

The always excellent Vole O’ Speed spotted another instance of John Franklin’s uneasy relationship with research, the Helsinki paper incident, in which Franklin, whilst chair of Cyclenation selectively publicised results compiled within a political document which disguised as a research paper, the main purpose of which was to politically undermine cycling as a whole. Despite the anti-cycling bias of this document, Franklin chose to selectively use the results compiled within it to misrepresent the safety of segregated cycle tracks at a time when the Camden Cycling Campaign was working towards an expansion of their extremely successful two-way segregated track, a track which remains to this day one of the most successful pieces of cycle infrastructure in the whole of London. I do not wish to re-produce too much of what David wrote on the matter here, but I urge all of you to read it (and learn a bit about Franklin’s disinformation legacy at Cyclenation today).

The final piece of Franklin’s work I encountered was his often-cited ‘research’ into the safety of the Milton Keynes Redway network in Two decades of the Redway cycle paths in Milton Keynes, which I recently decided to look into in greater detail. Suffice to say, the Redways are crap and do not represent what anyone would regard as ‘best practise.’ However, Franklin’s ‘research’ on the Redways tells us literally nothing about their safety in comparison to the general road network, with the whole paper serving merely as a vehicle to further his own ideological agenda. As someone who regularly works with peer-reviewed research, I am genuinely amazed that Two decades was ever published in a real journal.

Having read a great deal of Franklin’s work, I find it extremely difficult to believe that all that is wrong with it is due to a series of mistakes. Whilst Cyclecraft is a great survival manual for dealing with our awful, cycling-hostile road network, it seems obvious that John Franklin believes that cyclists always belong on the road as an ideology. As an ideological view, there is nothing wrong with this. However, presenting this as fact by misrepresenting and cherry-picking research and conducting research which is little more than a collection of meaningless, context-free numbers in order to serve as a vehicle for an ideology which the numbers do not back is a dishonest practise. By compiling all this in one place, it is my hope that this page can be used as a quick answer to anyone who presents Cycle path safety: A summary of research in a discussion about cycle infrastructure, so that we can all get on with having a proper discussion about where cycling in the UK should go from here.

Five years on a bike (Part One)

This summer marked the fifth year I have cycled as an adult. Of course for the vast majority of my life I have owned and ridden a bike, from my first bike at around the age of three, to my last childhood bike which I gave up on at around sixteen. After my last childhood bike and I parted ways, four years passed where I did not cycle at all, depending on walking and public transport for getting around. It was only because of the disproportionally high cost of public transport that I decided to buy another bike, in order to avoid paying £35 each month to get to the part-time job I had whilst I was an undergraduate.
A Shockwave SUS450, the first bike I bought as an adult
That first bike I owned as an adult was truly a real piece of crap, a £90 bicycle-shaped-object from Halfords. I bought it from White City Retail Park and rode it home, a distance of a few miles which seems a completely trivial distance now but which at that time left me completely exhausted. Simultaneously I was also enthused with the feeling of cycling, which I realised I had missed during the previous four years. At the time this bike worked quite well for me, I had no specialist knowledge of bikes or cycling whatsoever and so ignorance was bliss. Within three months of not paying for the bus the bike had paid for itself.
Those early rides to work along the main road from the city centre to Failsworth were a terrifying experience, like most inexperienced cyclists I rode in the gutter, terrified of being hit from behind by a motorist. Thankfully, the rides home were enough to make up for it. Finishing my shift after 10 pm meant the ride home along the same road was much more pleasant and after five hours of manual labour the experience was always refreshing, even in the rain (which on a bike without mudguards, I simultaneously experienced from above and below). I started to use the bike for shopping too, riding to the nearest supermarket with a backpack (the bike had no provision to fit a rack) and riding home with the weight on my back. As an arrangement it was far from ideal, but it was preferable to walking or paying for the bus again.
After three months of using this bike to get around, I had my first altercation with a motorist in Rochdale. The driver had decided to overtake me going down hill on Drake Street in order to make a sudden left turn. It is the sort of stupid manoeuvre on the part of the motorist which, with enough experience, most cyclists learn to expect and compensate for. I hit the left wing of the car and went flying over the bonnet and landed on the road, head first. I suffered some pretty nasty road rash down the side of my face and around my eye, in addition to grazes on my elbow and leg. My bike was relatively unscathed. After leaving the hospital later that day, I knew that I had to get back onto the bike right then, or I might be put off forever. I rode back to the trains station and then on home that night, and luckily the experience didn’t put me off cycling for good.
Despite being a terrible bike, I rode it for nearly two years. Throughout those two years, as problems with the bike arose, I started to learn about the basics of bike maintenance courtesy of the excellent writing of the late Sheldon Brown. Sheldon’s infectious enthusiasm for all things cycling shone through everything he wrote, even articles about brake adjustment or tracking down mystery creaks, clicks & clunks. After nearly two years of riding the SUS450, the bottom bracket spindle snapped as I was trying to pull away from a set of traffic lights. Whilst initially annoyed, not possessing the tools or knowledge to fix this problem gave me the perfect opportunity to rationalise buying a new, better bike, something which had been on my mind for a few years.
By this stage I was a little bit more knowledgeable about bikes, I had realised that the alleged ‘rear-suspension’ on my previous bike was little more than a mechanism to leech my pedalling effort and drive me slowly insane with persistent creaking. I also realised that riding with a backpack sucked. However, I was still largely unaware of several important practical features which existed on other bikes, such as the merits of having fewer gears, hub gears, proper mudguards, chain-guards, the irrelevance of front suspension for the type of riding I mainly did and of course, upright geometry. The next bike I purchased was a Revolution Cuillin Sport from Edinburgh Bicycle Co-Operative. At the time I knew little about the specific merits of different types of bicycle brake, I only knew that after riding with some incredibly weak, low-end V-brakes for a few years I wanted something better, and I promptly set my heart on having a bike with disc-brakes.
Despite still being quite an impractical choice of bike for my needs, the Cuillin Sport was definitely a step in the right direction. Being slightly better suited to my needs, I naturally started to make more of my journeys by cycle, and as this bike represented a more significant investment to me at the time, I started to learn more and more about bicycle componentry and maintenance. Over the next 18 months I acquired the tools and expertise I required to keep the bike in tip-top condition, whilst occasionally upgrading the odd component to make the bike more suitable for my needs. After around 12 months, I had converted the bike from a mountain bike to a hybrid, and my level of knowledge had increased to the point where I knew that the bike was not really the right choice for my needs. I also learned about the Yuba Mundo through reading blogs such as Urban Simplicity, and became interested in just how capable a bicycle could be.
By this stage, I was aware of vehicular cycling, Cyclecraft and the range of measures which cyclists can use to minimise the problems which arise when riding on a road network which is designed solely around the needs and wants of the private motorist, where the needs of cycling and cyclists are usually not considered at all. I was mostly confident on the road but could still remember what it was like to cycle as a novice. I was still not quite fast enough to survive on some of the most hostile parts of the road network and blissfully unaware of how things like Cyclecraft, speed and cadence become irrelevant with the right infrastructure.
Eventually, a minor windfall from overtime meant that I could afford to buy a Yuba Mundo of my own. The Yuba Mundo represented something of a turning point for me. Whilst it did not completely representing the frame geometry I would come to evangelise, it gave me a new experience; riding a bike and feeling truly comfortable whilst doing so. Despite its size, the Yuba Mundo became my primary bike. When I did occasionally choose to instead venture out on the mountain bike, I was acutely aware of how uncomfortable it was; riding hunched forward, a fair amount of weight carried by my hands and with a triple chainset making use of the full range of the gears unnecessarily difficult. The Yubawas much more pleasant to ride.
I had not intended for the Yuba Mundo to take over as my primary means of transport, and its sheer size meant that using it as such was a bit of a compromise. I decided that what I needed was a smaller equivalent to the Yuba for everyday use, and I found that with the Kona Africa Bike. The Africa Bike was the first bike I owned without dérailleur gears, which was a revelation. Initially a single-speed, I acquired a Shimano Nexus three-speed rear wheel and decided to upgrade the Africa Bike to a three-speed. Shifting when stationary, the lack of maintenance and the ease with which they pair up with a chain-guard (or case) made me wonder why most bikes used for transport didn’t come with hub gears. The only downside to the bike was the front V-brake; I hadn’t yet fully forgiven the crappy V-brakes on the SUS450. I decided to remedy this by investing in a new front hub. I was very interested in the idea of the bicycle providing its own power source for the lights, and had been reading up on dynamo hubs. When I saw the Sturmey Archer X-FDD drum-brake and dynamo hub, I knew I had to try it. The hub wasn’t available in a production wheel, so I read and re-read the Sheldon Brown Wheelbuilding article and decided I’d have a bash at building myself a wheel. To my surprise, the wheel turned out just fine first time. The Africa Bike, with some modifications had been turned into an ideal shorter-range utility bicycle.

Reading Sheldon Brown’s site had infected me with a curiosity about the Raleigh Twenty. After reading about it on his site, I realised that these things were everywhere. After looking on eBay I realised that I could have one of my own for around £20-30 and I promptly took that offer. The Twenty gave me the opportunity to completely strip and re-build a bike for the first time. I had done almost all of these jobs before, but never all at once and on the same bike. After a weekend or two of work, I had re-painted and completely refurbished the Twenty and found it to be a delightful little bike, with the added bonus of it being worth practically nothing allowing me to leave it locked up outside without worrying about it. The Twenty was primarily used as a loaner bike, so I could still use the bike to get around when I had guests. When I later came to acquire a Brompton, the Twenty no-longer had much to do, so I sent it off to retirement at my father’s house.

Whilst I was quite happy with the Kona Africa Bike, I was becoming aware that it’s hybrid geometry was somewhat limiting on longer rides, where after around 20 miles or so in a single day it would leave my legs really very tired. I was aware that the right geometry, roadster geometry, would allow me to use my leg muscles more efficiently on longer rides. At the time I wasn’t planning on changing bike again, until I saw the Raleigh Tourist De Luxe (DL-1) on eBay at a price too good to pass on. Whilst not a huge departure from the Kona, the slightly different geometry was much more comfortable on longer rides, whilst also making it easier to put power down when setting off from stationary. The DL-1 also represented my first experience with Brooks saddles; whilst not exactly comfortable at first, I would later come to put a Brooks on every bike I rode.

Cyclecraft is Killing Cycling

A state of emergency is declared, the country’s infrastructure is in a terrible state and its people are struggling to survive. A copy of the SAS survival manual would be a good purchase. Your government consulting its author (an expert in the field of survival) for advice to help its citizens survive the crisis would be welcome news.

Years later, the situation has barely improved, it turns out your government has continued to accept advice of the same author, rather than consulting with experts on rebuilding our society. He has been advocating that the citizens are better off being equipped with the skills to survive in this hostile environment than they would be if we started to rebuild houses, railways and other infrastructure. Some even start to believe it with a powerful conviction, challenging anyone who dares to question the philosophy.

Sounds crazy, right? Well this is effectively the situation cycling is stuck in with John Franklin and Cyclecraft. Cyclecraft is a great survival guide to help cyclists cope with the cycling-hostile road network of the UK, and our many fast-driving and skill-deficient motorists. The problem is that John Franklin is also a “Cycle safety” consultant and one of the strongest voices against separate cycle infrastructure which would improve the lives of cyclists immensely and help to vastly increase the rates of cycling. Local authorities and government accept consultation about cyclist safety from the man whose career is based on writing the survival manual for cyclists who wish to cycle in our current abysmal conditions, whose work forms the basis of the cycle training which is offered to help cyclists cope with our inherently cycling-hostile road network. The problem here seems obvious to me, but not to local authorities or even the vast majority of cycling campaigners in the UK.

As a consultant on “Cycle safety,” John Franklin has a vested interest in maintaining the atrocious conditions which led to the need for a manual and training courses for riding a bike. Maybe he is deluded and genuinely loves cycling along dual carriageways, laughing maniacally with cars screaming past at 60 mph, unable to understand why the vast majority of people don’t want to be out there with him. Maybe he actively wants to maintain the status quo which has underpinned his career as a “Cycle safety” consultant and author. Looking through the literature on his website, I see a homeopathy-like penchant for cherry-picking research which agrees with his message on the alleged safety issues of separate cycle facilities, whilst ignoring the wider body of work showing they improve cyclists’ safety and promote higher cycling rates when implemented well. Reading through his published work, it seems disconnected from reality. The issue has been eloquently discussed elsewhere, but I shall repeat it here too. From his book Basic Cycling Skills:

Cadence and sprint speed

Cadence is the number of times a cycling turns the pedals in one minute. A steady, comfortable pedalling rhythm is essential for efficient cycling, while increasing one’s cadence strengthens the leg muscles and enables more rapid acceleration. Increasing cadence also makes it easier to increase your sprint speed – the maximum speed that you can attain over a short distance, such as through a roundabout.

Racing cyclists know well the benefits of having a high cadence, but there can also be important safety advantages for everyone. Generally speaking, you are at your safest in traffic if you can move at a speed comparable to that of the other vehicles. Increasing your cadence and sprint speed will allow you to achieve this more often, particularly at those places where it matters most – junctions with complex manoeuvring. It will also be easier to restart quickly in a low gear at traffic signals and roundabouts, and to get yourself out of trouble if you are on a potential collision course.

Increasing cadence and sprint speed are two of the most positive steps a cyclist can take to enhance safety.

A good cadence to aim for is about 80, while a sprint speed of 32 km/h (20 mph) will enable you to tackle most traffic situations with ease. To increase your cadence, select a gear lower than you would normally use for a given road and simply force yourself to pedal faster in order to maintain your usual speed. Gradually, your leg muscles will become accustomed to the higher rate and your cadence and strength will increase.

What is not addressed here is that if Cyclecraft is the correct way to cycle, and cycles are to be kept on the roads at the expense of any separate infrastructure, is that everyone other than a small elite of particularly fit riders are excluded from cycling. If you are too young, too old, too unfit or otherwise physically incapable of a sprint speed of 20 mph, you have no business cycling on the road, or at least you should have little expectation of doing so safely.

As a survival guide, Cyclecraft is an excellent resource to help cyclists survive on our roads. Taken as a guide for best practise, it is a dangerously elitist philosophy which excludes all but the bravest and fittest from cycling in the UK. John Franklin’s influence on much of the cycle campaigning establishment is a major barrier to mass cycling in the UK.