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Tag: Green Travel

What is Bicycle Travel?

What is Bicycle Travel?

I have been using the bicycle as an everyday means of travel for about 20 years now, and have done a fair bit of short touring. So when I saw this wee film I just felt the need to share it. Enjoy!

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Night Ride along Hadrian’s Wall

Night Ride along Hadrian’s Wall

A guest post by Ulli.

This was my first proper night ride, and I was very curious what it would be like staying awake and keeping cycling the whole night – not anxious-like, but I was wondering about staying alert and not doing anything stupid due to a moment’s doziness or inattention. I had also been hearing tales of seasoned audaxers (long-distance cyclists doing silly rides of several 100 km in one go) about sleeping in bus shelters or ditches when they feel tired…

But I wasn’t unduly worried, as I had recently proved to myself that I could function perfectly well for 24 hours or so without sleeping (helping out at the premier UK long-distance cycling event, London-Edinburgh-London – participants need to cover the whole distance of 1400+ km in less than five days, by bike). The night ride was one of the most brilliant experiences on a bike I’ve had (and there have been a few) … cycling on empty roads under a starry sky, along Hadrian’s Wall for some stretches, watching dawn breaking and finally the sun rising, all in the excellent company of 12 other slightly mad people (with a 13th joining in from Hexham, and a couple more beating us to breakfast at the Quayside in Newcastle). But I am getting ahead of myself …

We met up at Carlisle railway station, with six of us arriving just over an hour before the off, so we had time for a drink and for getting to know each other a bit (I only knew Marcus, the organiser, but others were clearly old friends, or had met before). There was a mix of people, some regular night riders and a few complete newbies, myself included.

Just after 11pm we set off after an obligatory photo outside the station, slightly incongruous amidst the normal Friday night population of Carlisle, some of whom were tottering about on extremely high heels and were clearly intending to party the night away in their own fashion…

Ready2Roll
Ready to roll, outside Carlisle Station

The first stop was just a couple of km later, at the 24-hour supermarket at the eastern edge of Carlisle, to stock up on snacks, buy a woolly hat in expectation of the temperature dropping and/or use the facilities. While we were waiting outside, a policeman came up and asked us what we were up to. Our explanations bemused him, and when we asked if he wanted to come along, he declined politely.

Soon we were off again, heading east along the A69 to Brampton. Normally this road would be a bad choice for a group cycle ride, but just before midnight there was hardly any traffic, and we were off onto the wee roads before very long, cycling through the deserted town, where we joined the NCN72 (Hadrian’s Wall Cycle Route) which we’d follow on and off for most of the way to the other side of the country. Shortly after Brampton, we went past Lanercost Priory, a beautiful ruined abbey that was built to a large part from nicely prepared stones, freely available from some old wall nearby at the time – some stones with Roman inscriptions, mason’s marks and even the knee of a broken statue with toga folds still visible. [Kim and I had stopped and visited the abbey and pretty much all the Roman sites along the Wall and a few nearby castles in April, during a long weekend – he never got round to writing a blog post about it.] But during the night we only saw the signposts, and I could just about make out the dark silhouette of the tallest building against the little light provided by the very orange crescent moon that was rising to the east as we came over the hill from Brampton.

Soon after, we hit the first proper hill at Banks which I remembered well, including the various twists & turns, so there were no surprises, but it was quite different riding it at night, seeing the various blinking red lights moving along ahead and bits of the road illuminated by some pretty powerful front lights that provided plenty of brightness to see by, both ahead and behind. We stopped at the turret/watch tower at the top of the hill to re-group, have some snacks and admire the starry sky. After switching off all the bright lights, the Milky Way was clearly visible, and so many more stars that I’d seen in a long while, due to the clear skies and absence of light pollution (even though we could see the lights of Carlisle in the distance, but they already seemed quite a long way away). Somebody was asking about the wall, and I said there was a bit just off to one side and switched the front light on, pointing it straight at some rather impressive looking remains that he (and possibly others) had been completely unaware of, having not had the advantage of seeing the place in daylight before.

I was then leaning on my handlebars, and there was suddenly quite a large amount of give. I was thinking that this was rather strange, as my bike didn’t have a front suspension. It was a slow puncture that I must have picked up on the way home from work in the evening (which already seemed a world away), where I had tried to avoid some hawthorn hedge cuttings. Luckily I had a spare inner tube etc. with me, and between a few of us the puncture was fixed very quickly – many thanks to the expert fixers, much faster than I could have done it myself. It turned out to be the only puncture of the night, there were a few other very slight mechanicals, but nothing serious, thankfully.

We continued along the Wall, past Birdoswald (a big Roman Fort), some quick downs and ups into Gillsland and through Greenhead, where we could see the next BIG hill looming up in the weak light provided by the crescent moon. It was here that we came across the first couple of cars since Brampton, which was quite a while ago. The road steepens as the buildings run out, and there is a parallel cycling and walking path that is separated from the road by some bushes. We all ignored it as the road was completely deserted, but it’s quite handy during normal waking hours, especially at weekends when all the Wall tourists are out and about in their 4-wheelers. [I had been very happy to be off the road in April, as fast moving traffic and cyclists wobbling uphill in their granny gears don’t mix all that well. The road surface on the cycle track is nothing to write home about, sadly, but it’s sufficient.]

Where the hill finally flattens out, there is a wee turn-off to the Roman Army Museum and the B&B where we stayed on our spring tour and had a very nice and hilarious evening meal with a group of walkers going the opposite way, but I digress. There was yet more police presence, this time a patrol car parked with a friendly police woman asking the obvious questions as we waited for everybody to conquer the hill … what were we up to? … and of course, why? … We had quite a long chat, but eventually headed off along the very straight B6138 along the Wall which was completely deserted, apart from some owls hooting somewhere off to the right.

[The official NCN72 turns off the B road at the next opportunity and sweeps down the hill again to the town of Haltwhistle, which claims to be the Centre of Britain and has a number of shops and hostelries to feed and water hungry cyclists. Another reason for the diversion of the official cycle route away from the Wall is that the B road gets rather busy and motorists drive faster than they should, ignoring the restricted visibility due to the various dips and rises. That’s what our B&B landlady had told us, and turned out to be spot-on when we did a wee diversion off the NCN to visit the spectacular Roman Fort & museum at Housesteads … – but if I had to choose only one Roman site to see along the Wall, Housesteads would be my favourite.]

I think it was somewhere along this undulating B road that we came across a solo cyclist going the opposite way – we all said hello, like it was the most normal thing in the world to go cycling in the middle of the night and carried on cycling. At this stage, it might have been around 2 AM (?), I was starting to wonder when I might begin to feel tired, but Cathy, another 1st time night rider, and I agreed that we couldn’t possible have been more alert and alive than we were feeling. Maybe because it was all new to us and such an amazing experience, or because the temperature was dropping and stopping us from getting sleepy?

After another quick stop near the intriguingly named Twice Brewed Inn (and Once Brewed Hostel), where a slack chain was sorted, we soon left the deserted B road and headed down the 6-mile long descent to Newbrough along the Stanegate road. We were spread out again, and after I dropped back from the front group to add more layers, I was suddenly all alone. I could occasionally see the twinkling red lights of the front group ahead, and the yellow glow of the group behind just over my personal horizon, but this made me even more aware of just how quiet it was, apart from another owl, some sheep bleating off to the left, and suddenly a rather loud noise, from an invisible donkey that must have been startled by the strange flashing lights disturbing its peace.

Another quick stop to regroup resulted in a search for a dropped glove, which was eventually found on the other side of the stone wall next to the road and restored to its owner by a kind gentleman hopping over the wall. Suddenly the silence was interrupted by a polite sounding cough from the field over the wall, from the complete darkness outside the circle of lights surrounding us. “What was that?” We shone a light over the wall, and found a herd of cattle just a few metres away, panic over.

Next stop at Newbrough, to search for a front light that had worked itself loose from somebody’s handlebars, luckily it was found just a few metres behind, but I don’t think it survived the fall. We used the break to scoff some homemade flapjack, which lightened my load quite a bit. From there it wasn’t far to Bridge End, where we turned sharp right to cross an old stone bridge south over the South Tyne, just before its union with the North Tyne. [It was here that we turned off north on our Roman forts tour in April, to Chesters, just a few miles up the road, where we randomly came across a re-enactment group of Roman foot soldiers and cavalry spearing cabbage heads on stakes in full gallop, and a small museum completely stuffed with artefacts rescued by a local landowner who bought up several Roman sites in the vicinity to protect them from being robbed out for stones – well worth a visit if you are passing during opening hours.]

We shot up the slight incline beyond the bridge, past a signposted left turn for the riverside cycle route, but I assumed that this was intentional, grateful for the additional heat generated by the extra effort, as I was feeling quite cold at the time. We stopped where the road met up with the dualled A69 and some fast moving delivery lorries thundering past, to wait for Marcus, who was leading from the rear at this stage … only to decide to turn back to re-join the NCN72 by the bridge.

A little further on, on the edge of Hexham, we crossed over the railway line, and quickly reached the 24-hour supermarket that was our main planned food stop, it must have been a little after 4 AM. Just outside we were met by the very wide awake 14th night rider, who had made his own way to Hexham on his rather fetching trike. We all piled into the supermarket and did our shopping before congregating in the deserted café, where we scoffed an interesting assortment of foods. I saw sushi, sandwiches, rather colourful iced doughnuts, bananas, a large yoghurt pots very politely emptied with the folded up lid used as a spoon replacement, etc. Soon the first heads started to nod, and one body was stretched out on a row of chairs, fast asleep within seconds.

SleepyHexham
Sleepy in Hexham

NoddingOff
More nodding off ..

NoddingOff2
And more … while others were wide awake!

I was starting to warm up quite quickly once the food had found its way into my system (lesson learnt: body needs feeding if it is supposed to function properly in the middle of the night). But I still followed the example of somebody else and went on another shopping trip, to buy a pair of tights to wear under my rather ancient and thin Ronhill tracksters – I found some rather nice thermal tights which were perfect for the rest of the ride. Somebody mentioned that the lowest temperature he had measured during the night was 3-point-something degrees C.

Around 5:20 we were on our way again, leaving the bright lights of Hexham behind and heading back onto the NCN72 towards Corbridge. I thought I could make out a very slight brightening in the sky to the east, but wasn’t sure whether this was dawn starting to break or just an artefact of the slight mist reflecting our lights. Near the entrance to Corbridge Roman Town [another site looked after by English Heritage and well worth visiting – I’ll stop the tourist ads now] we came across another couple of well-lit cyclists going in the opposite direction, not sure if they were early commuters. In Corbridge itself, we met the early commuter bus to Newcastle and a few more delivery vans and lorries, but after the hill at the eastern edge of the town we soon turned off onto a wee road again.

By this time there was an orange glow on the horizon, and we could see the silhouettes of hills, trees and Prudhoe Castle with some very picturesque bits of mist floating about. It really was magical, words can’t do it justice. The wee road was twisting and turning, and there was a sudden steep uphill, which caused somebody on a fixie to start weaving across the road rather unexpectedly, right in front of me. I stopped and then had to walk a few steps to the top of the wee hill as I was in the wrong gear, whereas said fixie rider keeled over at 0 speed, fortunately the only injury was to pride, rather than rider or bike.

We then stopped at the entrance to a field, to wait for everybody to catch up, enjoying the views, and the very earnest discussion on the workings of free wheels and fixies and what happens when a bike of either of those persuasions goes backwards. This was rather funny, and indicated that maybe some brains were starting to show the effects of the lack of sleep…

Dawn
Dawn

FreewheelDemo
Demonstration of freewheeling backwards

At Ovingham, we crossed a pretty spectacular old bridge on stilts, clearly not built for modern traffic, but just about wide enough for single cars, as long as they weren’t too big… demonstrated by one car following us across. Immediately after the bridge, the cycle path heads off road and east along the Tyne, before crossing back north again after a few km, over another impressive bridge, this time a single span metal one. We stopped there for quite a while for photos, chatting and watching some rather large fish jump out of the water to catch insects, and I am pretty sure I saw a bat hunting close to the water surface, too.

TyneBridgeView3
On the single span bridge

TyneBridgeView1
Tyne looking west from single span bridge

TyneBridgeView2
Tyne looking east from single span bridge

By this time the first dog walkers were out in force, and most of us switched off at least some of our assorted bike lights, as they were definitely no longer needed to see by. The cycle path meandered along through woods and fields, with the sun rising as we neared Newcastle. Along the river, several herons were flying about, and we went on a slight detour due to some of us rushing ahead in our eagerness for breakfast – by this time I had been looking forward to a nice hot cup of tea for hours … we passed by a very closed looking café in an industrial estate, where on last year’s ride coffee and tea had been available, but sadly not this time. We pressed on around another bend or two in the river, and under the A1 motorway bridge. The path then left the river again and we cycled along a massive multi-lane road, on a shared pedestrian/cycle path that crossed over said lanes a couple of times via pedestrian lights and a big roundabout. As it was only 7:30/8AM on a Saturday morning, we didn’t really have to stop or wait anywhere, as there was only the odd delivery vehicle or car around, but I was thinking this must be pretty unpleasant during rush hour. Soon we turned back to the riverside with its wide pavement, along the tidal mudflats of the Tyne with lots of wading birds, ducks and gulls enjoying the early morning sunshine, and a fair number of cyclists and walkers doing the same, but on firm ground. The famous bridges across the river finally came into view, and suddenly we were at the Quayside, our breakfast destination. We parked up and shared bike locks before piling into the place, where the only other customers were a couple of fellow riders who had decided to meet us at for breakfast after their own night ride rather than doing Carlisle to Newcastle.

That first long-anticipated mug of tea was SOOO good, followed by a massive breakfast and more tea. We compared photos, sent messages home to report our safe arrival. Some headed on to the Hub, a cycle café just a bit further down the river, after a while. But inertia claimed most of us, and we just stayed and chatted some more or rested our eyes for a little while, before it was time to head to the train station and our separate ways. I dozed for a bit on the train between Newcastle & Berwick, but didn’t actually go to bed until just after 10pm, and slept like a log.

Overall the ride was 100+ km, at a rolling speed of somewhere between 10.x and 12.x mph, depending on whether one was mostly at the front or rear of the group (sorry about the mix of units, I’m only repeating what I seem to remember being told). One rider had even been recording “lap times”, which caused much amusement, until he explained that the laps were 10 mile stretches …

A massive thanks again to the Marcus for the idea in the first place, and for organising everybody, to all my fellow night riders for their company, help with fixing my puncture, and the entertainment … this definitely won’t be my last night ride, but I might wait for slightly warmer nights before I have another go.

This post started as a thread on the CycleChat forum.

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It’s not far, so leave the car…

It’s not far, so leave the car…

Almost three years ago I wrote a post called Say no to ridiculous car trips in which I pointed out that there has been a steady decline in the number of journeys which people are taking by active means. Scarily enough 20% of people said they take walks of 20 minutes less than once a year or never, which goes a long way to explaining why in the UK an estimated 60.8 per cent of adults and 31.1 per cent of children are overweight. This of course comes at a cost, in the cast of the NHS more than £5bn every year and the wider economy more than £2bn a year in lost productivity.

One obvious solution to this is get people more active, this is where active travel has a role to play, so I was please to hear that the Scottish Government was finally going to take some action. Sadly it turned only this 40 second video and not anything substantial such as putting real funding into active travel or seriously trying to make the roads safer (I have a few suggestions of how to do that).

OK, so it is a start, but is not enough and that is why I will be joining the second Pedal on Parliament protest ride on Sunday.

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A cycle bloggers conference?

A cycle bloggers conference?

While in the shower this morning, I was thinking about social media networking and how it has changed my life. When I first started writing this blog I had no idea of just how much impact it was going to make on my life, nor did I realise what its dominant theme would become. One evening, while writing a post about my ride to work or some such (I can’t remember which post it was), I wanted to check something on Google, and this led me to my first encounter with cycle forums. Starting with the old Cycle Plus forum which then became BikeRadar, I then joined the refugees leaving the abysmal BikeRadar who flooded onto a tiny forum called Cycle Chat (which has since grown somewhat), and latterly City Cycling Edinburgh.

These fora introduced me to ideas about cycling which I had never come across, for instance it had never crossed my mind that people really believed plastic hats were some sort of safety device. I also learned that getting involved in “helmet debates” could result in a lot of energy being expended to no useful purpose. Along the way I also made a few new friends and met fellow bloggers, the likes of Dave Brennan aka Magnatom. Coming closer the present day, at a conference on plants I was introduced to Twitter by @Flic_Anderson (that’s who is to be praised/blamed – delete as you feel appropriate). Through Twitter I discovered more bloggers, such as Sally Hinchcliffe, and also found that there were whole networks of bloggers, who use their blogs to discuss and develop ideas. I picked out those two bloggers for a reason, as we went on to start Pedal on Parliament together.

After the first Pedal on Parliament protest ride, we had a discussion about the importance of the blogosphere in the success of such events. At the time we discussed how we might try to engage with the Scottish cycle bloggers, how to get all of us to swap ideas and spark off each other, in the way some of the London cycle bloggers do. This was also a technique used by the #salvaiciclisti movement (the Italian equivalent of PoP), who managed to bring 50,000 people with bicycles onto the streets of Rome. After that event Paolo Pinzuti wrote a handy wee guide on How To Start Your Own Bicycle Revolution: A Blogger’s Guide.

So there I was, mulling all this over in the shower, when the thought occurred to me what we should have a cycle bloggers conference. A conference as in: a) meeting for consultation or discussion, or b) an exchange of views, not a formal event with plenary sessions and key note speakers. Hey, it could even involve going for a ride. The point being to bring together bloggers scattered across Scotland (and maybe beyond), to give us the chance to meet one another and exchange ideas (although it might be necessary to ban any mention of plastic hats). This could be done as a part of the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling, or could be somewhere else … either way, who is interested?

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The QBC to Leith Walk, where did it all go wrong?

The QBC to Leith Walk, where did it all go wrong?

There has been a real sense of hope in the air, cycling was/is on the up following the Olympics. There was talk of a Golden Legacy, which seemed to have some support from the City of Edinburgh Council. It seemed there was a chance that Edinburgh could really become the cycle friendly city that has so long been promised, it is after all the only city in the UK to have signed the Charter of Brussels. It has also committed 5% of its Transport budget to cycling and drawn up an Active Travel Action Plan.

All in all, you might expect that Edinburgh is in a good position to become Scotland’s top cycling city. However, things are not as good as they should be, the money may be there, but what is it being spent on? Well, recently we have seen the opening of the so called Quality Bike Corridor (QBC), built at a cost of £650,000. Now, with a name like that ,you’d expect something really special. You’d expect the local cycling community to be jumping up and down with excitement, but I am not, and I am not alone in my disappointment. I have recently discovered that this route has been 27 years in planning, and that the original 1985 plan was considerably more ambitious that the current miserable effort. Something has obviously gone badly wrong!

As if this wasn’t enough, there is the case of Leith Walk. Following the decision not to take the new Edinburgh tram “network” down Leith Walk, this road now has to be re-developed. This should be an ideal opportunity for the Council to show some commitment and add in some good quality cycling infrastructure. This is something which the local residents named as their top priority in the consultation on the re-development of the area. However, the council planners seem to have decided to totally ignore the local desire for good quality cycle infrastructure alone the entire length of the road, and instead have planned for just a short bike lane between the two roundabouts at the top. This is according to a leaked document, I don’t have any further details at present.

leaked doc

At this point it needs to be made clear that the Council’s Active Travel Action Plan is now aimed at 15% of commuter journeys to be by bike by 2020, rather than 15% of all journeys (in other words, a 15% modal share for cycling). This means the Council is not interested in achieving a modal shift by making the roads safe for family cycling, as has been done in every place where cycling levels are high. The question is: who are facilities like the QBC for? “Experienced, confident cyclists”, according to the plan – who are they? The road warriors, the club cyclists, the MAMILs who are cycling already? But these groups (tribes?) will cycle without £650,000 being spent on some coloured tarmac, and a poorly designed junction at KB. Also, it is very unlikely that this group will expand to 15% of commuter journeys in a few years’ time, let alone 15% of all journeys. It is currently not safe for family cycling. We have seen increased interest in cycling in the past, similar to the current post-Olympic boom, which failed to result in large increases in modal share (whereas commuting modal share has increased slightly over the last decades). The modal share in Edinburgh remains stubbornly around 2%, as the majority of the population don’t feel it is safe to cycle on the roads. If we want to change this, we have to make riding a bicycle as a means of transport safe, convenient and easy for everyone, not just “experienced, confident cyclists”.

According to Prof John Whitelegg, speaking at a recent conference, politicians think that 60% of citizens prefer motorised travel, whereas only 15% of citizens actually do. He is also on record for saying there is no reason why we can’t have 20% of trips by bike by 2020, we just need the political will to do so. Of course, things are not helped by the Dutch saying that it takes 20 years to get to where they are in terms of infrastructure. This maybe so when you look at changing transport infrastructure over the entire country. But at a local level, changes can happen much faster by using temporary measures, such as white paint and plastic bollards to create safe space, as has been done to great effect in New York. The effect of these simple measures had a dramatic effect on the local economy, with retail sales increasing by up to 49%. So you would think this is something that the City of Edinburgh Council would be grabbing with both hands. Instead, Edinburgh is spending £55,000 a week on “free parking” as a part of the “Alive after 5” campaign. Newcastle has experimented with the same campaign, but couldn’t split how many people came by bus, bike, on foot, etc. Basically this is money just thrown down the drain.

Edinburgh is recognised as being the best place in the UK to live, so why is the Council looking to places which are not as good? To make Edinburgh a better place to live, we should be looking outward and copying ideas from cities which are recognised as being among the best places in the world. Places like Copenhagen, a city that owes its success to the ideas of Jan Gehl. A man who told the Sir Patrick Geddes Commemorative Lecture 2012: “Edinburgh looks fantastic from the air, but if you go to eye level it looks neglected and treats people as sheep”. He has “been coming to Edinburgh for 47 years, this is a city that needs to take power from traffic engineers”. He says that “lists of most liveable cities in the world don’t include Edinburgh or other Scottish or UK cities.” In order to change this, “there is a need for political commitment to working towards becoming the most liveable city in the world”. So there we have it, until the Council starts looking for ideas from places that have a proven track record of being the best places in the world to live and stop treating people like sheep, they will continue throw council tax payers’ money down the drain!

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