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Getting inspiration from Dublin

Getting inspiration from Dublin

I recently came across Dublin Cycling Stories, which is a series of short portraits of people who use bikes to get around Dublin. These films were made with support from the Dublin Cycling Campaign and Dublin City Council. The site is inspiring in many ways and there are lessons here for Edinburgh. After all, Dublin and Edinburgh are capital cities of a similar size, both are emerging cycling cities, although Dublin is way ahead of Edinburgh, as we shall see.

Where Dublin has got it right, and where other emerging cycling cities should take note, is that the influencers in the city have made it a priority to promote the Cycling Stories as a normal way of life for Dubliners, and not just a fringe lifestyle for the brave few. These short films were made to show the world how gloriously easy, fun and sexy a bike ride can be, what a great idea!

Let’s start with Lisa’s story, the young mum taking her child to nursery …

… this shows that cycling can be easy and fun, something that both mother and daughter enjoy.

Then there is Paul’s story, he uses a bicycle for work …

… as a photographer he has to carry equipment about with him, but he can easily do so by bike and it’s obvious that going by bike has many advantages over using a car.

For a bit of contrast we have Julie’s story…

… she’s a student and tells us about how cycling gives her freedom (and how hills aren’t really a problem).

Next, we have Georgia’s story, showing how easy and sociable cycling can be as a way of getting about the city …

… in Georgia’s story we see clearly how far ahead Dublin is of Edinburgh in terms of infrastructure.

The film shows Dublin as having a connected network of cycle paths, where space has been taken from motor vehicles. Edinburgh is only just beginning to timidly experiment with this on George Street …

George Street, Edinburgh

… although in true Edinburgh fashion, they have only gotten half way through doing it, then downed tools for the Festival. George Street looks great, but doesn’t actually connect with anything at either end and is not part of a direct route to go anywhere, showing a frustrating lack of thought about cycling as a means of transport by the planners (and they call themselves transport professionals?).

Another thing that is different in Dublin, compared with Edinburgh, is evident from the dublinbikes story …

… Dublin claims to have the most successful bike share scheme in Europe. Edinburgh has yet to dabble with a bike share scheme, although such schemes have been real game changers in other cities. Will Edinburgh ever get a bike share scheme?

Well let’s just say that Rob Grisdale, MD of nextbike UK was sighted in Edinburgh yesterday, and he wasn’t here to do the festival (although I am told, he did manage to take in a show or two). So will Edinburgh ever get a bike share scheme? Given the City of Edinburgh Council’s desire to remain stuck firmly in the 1980’s it would seem not, but as Stirling is showing, the council doesn’t have to be in the lead, it could be a forward-looking social enterprise that takes the lead. I am not going to say more here, but there are ideas forming.

Possibly the greatest lesson these films have for Edinburgh (or indeed other cities) is that by promoting positive images of average people using the humble bicycle as a means of transportation, cycling can be used to “humanize” the city. In the last century the coming of the car brutalised our cities, now in the 21st century, civic leaders are starting to recognize the importance of the bicycle to creating living cities of the new millennium – the ones which embrace multi-modal transportation.

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So you want to start a festival of cycling?

So you want to start a festival of cycling?

A couple of years ago I innocently put up a blog post asking if there should be an Edinburgh Festival of Cycling? It seemed like a good idea at the time, now on the eve of the second Edinburgh Festival of Cycling, I still can’t believe that it is happening. It is not just that EdFoC (as we affectionately call it) has been listed as one of the UK’s best cycling festivals by The Guardian and Total Women’s Cycling. It’s also that I have been asked for advice on how to run a successful cycling festival by people as far away as Canada and Australia!

As a result of this experience I have decided to put together this wee Q & A:

How did EdFoC start?

Ironically in a way, it started with a mass protest ride called Pedal on Parliament, which in itself started as twitter conversation between three friends. When we started planning PoP, we had to get permission and give an estimate of number of the people we expected to turn up. I said “put down 300 and if 50 turn out we are doing well”. On the day an estimated 3,000 turned up. This made me think that there was an appetite for everyday cycling and I decided that what Edinburgh needed was a Festival of Cycling, and set about organising one.

Is it open access, like Edinburgh Festival Fringe?

Yes, we invite people to organise their own cycling/bicycle related events. The festival acts as a banner for all sorts of events, some are already well established such as the Edinburgh to St Andrews ride (65 miles) and the Spokes Bike Breakfast, both of which have been running for years, but were happy to become a part of the Festival. Others events are brand new, such as the Edinburgh inter-schools MTB championships and the Women’s Cycling Forum (both firsts for the UK).

Are any events run directly by your organisation or is it all community generated?

Yes, the Festival does run some of the events too, we organise a number of talks, exhibitions and the highly success full Night Ride (which has sold out both years and has been described as a “magical experience” on its first outing). I should also point out that the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling Ltd is a community based social enterprise, and any profits from running the festival are invested into grass roots cycling in the city.

Do you have any records of the numbers of participants from the festival last year?

It is hard to know exactly how many people took part in the festival last year, as we had 40+ events across more than 30 different venues, over nine days. I would estimate that there were at least 1,500 – 2,000 people in total. We did gather feedback on the festival through an online survey, which showed that over 80% of those who responded rated the Festival as Very Good or Excellent, which we were very pleased with.

Do you know if participants were regular bike riders or were non-riders engaged with the festival as well?

From the limited snap shot of the feedback survey, we know that most of those who responded were already cyclists, but just about all of them said that it had encouraged them to cycle more. Those who were not currently cycling (and there were a few) said wanted to give it a try again because of the festival.

Up date, a few more questions have been asked, which I have added here.

Do we charge a fee to event organisers for having their events listed?

Yes we have a fee of £20 for listing events (other Festivals in the city charge higher fees), this is something we will look at again after the
festival this year and maybe go to a two trier system, for commercial and non commercial events.

What about events which register after the printed guide has been released?

Here we still charge the fee, as to do otherwise would create an incentive to wait and add events late.

What sort of marketing does EdFoC do to promote the whole event?

Most of our marketing is through social media and press releases as we started with a zero budget. This year we did take out a display Ad in a
cycling magazine, but the budget is still very limited. There is also the printed programme, which we distribute through out the city. This year we distributed 10,000 copies of the printed programme.

Are event organisers expected to do some of their own promotion and if so, do they understand this?

Yes event organisers are expected to do some of their own promotion, we make this clear on the booking form for inclusion in the festival. Certainly most (probably all, I haven’t had time to check) event organisers do some of their own promotion. Interestingly last year we had reports that event organisers had large increases in traffic to their websites, much of which was click thought from the EdFoC website, so they felt that they had seen a clear benefit to being a part of the festival.

Hope that this is some use, of course if you have any more questions, I always happy to try and help.

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Riding the flying bathtub

Riding the flying bathtub

In the run up to the second Edinburgh Festival of Cycling, I find myself having to move large numbers of festival programmes about the place. If I am just taking a few score of programmes to places where people might want to pick them up, that is easy to do with a courier bag or a set of panniers. However, today I was in the situation of needing to move several boxes (there are 150 programmes to a box and a box weighs 9.5 Kg) from Laid Back Bikes to EdFoC HQ, which is quite another matter. That is where the flying bathtub comes in.

Before going further, maybe I should explain that the “flying bathtub” is an affectionate nickname for the Urban Arrow family cargo bike (and one that I came up with this afternoon). Why, you might ask, “flying bathtub”? Well this particular Urban Arrow spent a couple of weeks sitting in the front window of the Cycle Service (where it was extracted from its cardboard box and built into a working machine), as a couple of frame bolts had gone missing in transit. While it was sitting in the shop, a number of customers asked about the “bathtub in the corner” and the name kind of stuck. The reason I call it the “flying bathtub” is because when you get used to the electric assist, it fair flies along (and this is a bike which weighs 42Kg unladen).

This wasn’t the first time I had ridden an Urban Arrow, I had had a wee test ride when the first one arrived in the UK last year…

Urban Arrow in action

… however today was the first time I had tried using it with a full load, in this case 66.5 Kg of programmes. So how did the bathtub and I get on? Well, starting off was a wee bit shaky, mainly because the front wheel is some distance ahead of the rider, which takes a little getting used to. There is also a slight play in the steering due to the nature of the ball joint at the end of the steering rod (see photo below), but within a few minutes I got the hang of it.

You can see the ball joint on the steering linkage to the left of the picture.
You can see the ball joint on the steering linkage to the left of the picture.

The other thing that takes a wee bit of getting used to is the transmission control which takes the place of gear leavers. Unlike most conventionally geared bikes, the Urban Arrow uses continuously variable NuVinci Hub gears. With this there are no set gears, instead there is a twist grip with an indicator window showing a cyclist on the flat. The straight line turns into a hill as you twist the grip. As it is continuously variable, there is no jump between gears as for conventional bikes, so at first you might not realise that you are changing gears, as it is so smooth. NuVinci are right when the say “It is unlike anything you have experienced before”.

Urban Arrow controls

When starting off with a heavy load, it is best to be in a low gear, with the indicator showing the wee cyclist climbing a hill. This makes it very easy to move away, even with the bike fully loaded. Once you are moving, you should then twist the grip to even out the hill on the indicator, until the wee cyclist is on the flat. At first I didn’t realise this and found that, once I had moved off, my legs where spinning round madly, with very little resistance and no increase in speed – as you might expect in a very low gear. I soon learned to twist the grip when I started to feel less resistance to my pedalling, and comfortably picked up speed. This, together with the Bosch electric motor providing assistance means that even with a heavy load you can actually fly along at a fair pace. It should be noted that the electric assistance cuts out at 15 mph (25 km/h) or if you stop pedalling, to comply with EU regulations. Although the route which I took was fairly flat with some slight uphill stretches on the way out (loaded), I found that I could get up to 20 mph (32 Km/h) and comfortably sustain a reasonable speed for keeping up with other traffic. Some drivers had a tendency to underestimate the speed at which I was travelling (but my experience is that also happens on an ordinary bike). This suggests that a VeloCityLight rear light would probably be a good idea.

The control for the electric assist (shown mounted to the left of the stem in the photo above) means that you can vary the level of assistance the motor gives you. This is done in three modes, Eco (the lowest level which makes the battery last longest), tour (which was the mode I was using) and sport. The display also shows the estimated range until the battery is exhausted and will need recharging. I don’t know how accurate this is, but I am told that you can expect to go about 25 miles (40 km) between charges.

Stopping wasn’t a problem either, as this Urban Arrow is equipped with Shimano hydraulic disc brakes (although the standard Continental configuration uses roller brakes), which provided plenty of stopping power even with a 66+ Kg load. The design of the Urban Arrow means that it can be stored out of doors with a cover over the cargo area (supplied as standard). There is built-in security in the form of a frame lock (something I am considering getting for my own bikes) and the electric assist can be disabled by simply removing the control unit. The only thing I found to be bit of a pain is the Dutch insistence on using Dunlop valves which makes pumping up the tyres very fiddly with a normal track pump. If I owned the bike, I would either change the inner tubes or fit adapter nipples (probably the latter).

Overall the bike was great fun to ride, as a car replacement it could be a useful addition for any family. It makes for very practical transport. In fact I enjoyed it so much, I will be taking it down to Round Six of The Pearl Izumi Tour Series (next Thursday) to see if Sir Chris would like to join me for a ride round the circuit. If he is lucky I might even let him ride in the bathtub at the front… 😉

Errata: Since I wrote this post the bike has had some work done and the steering issue has resolved.

 

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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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Every Kilometre Cycled Benefits Society

Every Kilometre Cycled Benefits Society

We know that the health benefits to society from cycling outweigh negative impacts by up to a factor of 20. We know that cities with higher levels of cycling are more attractive places to live, work and do business. I have discussed before in this blog how to achieve this, it is not rocket science, as this recent report from the International Transport Forum at the OECD shows. They recommend reducing “urban road speeds to 30km/h [20 mph] or less, and the use of separated cycling infrastructure to increase the number of new cyclists. Attracting new cyclists gains the greatest health benefits through increased physical activity, including reducing risks linked to cardiovascular disease, obesity and Type-2 diabetes.”

So why aren’t we doing more to encourage cycling in Scotland? It’s one of the fundamental duties of any government to protect the lives of its citizens. However, here in Scotland, both national and local government drag their feet on these issues. I have sat across the table from the Scottish transport minister and asked him to use the powers which have been devolved to the Scottish Government, to lower the national speed limit in built up areas (defined as places where the street lighting columns are < 185 m apart) from the current limit of 30 mph to 20 mph. This is would at a stroke save lives. However, he has refused point blank to do so, saying that it would take away powers from Local Authorities (LAs). This argument is utter nonsense as LAs have the power to raise or lower speed limits on individual roads as they see fit. So the real effect on LAs would be that they would have to justify to the voters why they wanted to raise speed limits in built up areas, where people live, work and shop, from 20 mph to 30 mph. It is well known that 20 mph speed limits are popular with people who live next to the roads where these limits apply. Therefore, it may prove difficult for LAs to raise the limits, but that's Democracy for you. Here in Edinburgh, there has recently been an announcement from the City of Edinburgh Council that it intends to lower the 30 mph speed limit to 20 mph, across the whole city, but not until 2017. Why 2017? You may well ask, well for one thing, it is after the next local elections. Also it gives them three years in which to try and find justifications to maintain the higher 30 mph speed limit on “key arterial roads”, even though these pass through some of the most densely populated parts of the city.

Why are our elected representatives not acting in the best interests of the people? Why are they not taking simple steps to protect the health and lives of the citizens they are elected to represent? The only answer can be moral cowardice! For this reason I urge you all to join the Pedal on Parliament protest on the 26th April 2014 to send a message to those who have the power to change things – now is the time to grow a spine and show some moral backbone!

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