We were in Utrecht on the day that the world’s biggest multi-storey bike park was opened. Not that we saw it, we left the city three hours before it was officially yalla match opened to the public. We only found out about it from a tweet Ulli saw at breakfast, by which time it was too late to change our plans, such is the nature of travel sometimes.
If I might digress for just a moment to describe the thing we did not see, Utrecht’s new cycle parking facility. The bike park is underneath the railway station, with 12,500 bike parking spaces covering 17,000m², including 480 spaces for larger or oddly shaped cycles like cargo bikes and tandems. To put that in context, Apple HQ, trendat.net which opened in 2017, has 11,000 car parking spaces covering 325,000m². This shows just how space-efficient the bicycle can be as a means of transport. Oh, and the previous record for a cycle parking facility was in Tokyo with 9,400 parking spaces. It should be noted that Utrecht is promoting cycling as part of a “healthy urban living” policy. The concept of “healthy urban living” is something we can only dream of in Scotland, a country with one of the worst health records in Europe, and yet so much potential.
Leaving Utrecht was as easy as entering had been the day before; at one point, we went through an underpass. However, it is only now looking at the satellite view on Google maps that I realise the size of the roundabout we were passing under; indeed the most memorable thing about the underpass was the tiles on the walls.
Beyond Utrecht, we skirted north of Zeist following the N237, the Dutch equivalent of an A road in the UK, hayamix.com on a fully separated cycleway. Then turning south to follow the N224, but just following along the main roads would be rather dull, so we turned off to follow a fietspad through the woods. The woods in question turned out to be in the district of Austerlitz.
Now Austerlitz is one of those names which I felt vaguely aware of, something to do with a battle in the Napoleonic Wars, but this heavily wooded area seemed an unlikely place for such a significant battle? It turned out that things were stranger than that. The actual Battle of Austerlitz (also known as Battle of the Three Emperors) was fought in what is now the Czech Republic and resulted in the Tyrol being ceded to Bavaria. However, the burgers of Tyrol rebelled against this, and an irregular army led by the innkeeper Andreas Hofer waged a mainly guerrilla war against Napoleon’s armies. The rebellion ultimately failed; however, after the fall of Napoleon the Tyrol was returned to Austria.
But I digress, this Austerlitz was home to a French army camp in early 1800’s and was given its name by King Louis Napoleon of Holland in honour of the victory of his brother, Emperor Napoleon at the battle mentioned above. The notable feature of this area is the Pyramid of Austerlitz. It was the brainchild of a French General, Auguste de Marmont, who needed a way to stop his soldiers from getting bored. So he came up with the idea of building a turf pyramid, based on the Great Pyramid of Giza (which Marmont had visited when he was a part of Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign), and topping it off with a wooden obelisk, as you do. This earthwork, completed in 1804 was initially known as “Mont Marmont” or “Marmontberg”. However, in the summer of 1805, Marmont and his soldiers marched off to southern Germany where they took part in the Battle of the Three Emperors. In 1806, Louis Bonaparte, the new king of Holland, renamed the hill the Pyramid of Austerlitz, despite objections from General Marmont who prefered it being called by its former name. Later the wooden obelisk was demolished and replaced by the stone obelisk which is there today. Over time much of the monument began to collapse, and the whole thing was restored between 2001 and 2004, to mark its 200th anniversary in 2004. For the princely sum of €3 each, you can climb the pyramid and obelisk to see just how flat the Netherlands actually are. However, as it was starting to rain, we decided to cycle on to find somewhere to buy lunch.
We headed into the nearby town of Woudenberg in the hope of finding a cafe. However, it would appear the Netherlands close on Mondays, and the only place we could find that was open was an Albert Heijn supermarket. We bought the makings of a small picnic and set off again to look for somewhere to eat it, in between the rain showers. Riding through the Dutch countryside, we were surprised at the relative lack of benches, to the point where we were beginning to eye up bus shelters. Finally, we found a suitable bench, which was just as well I was getting rather hangry. I should know by now that little and often is a good idea, and that having snacks within easy reach makes for better riding.
Once again we were finding that people living on narrow country roads all seem to have very large four-wheel drives, why? These were not working vehicles; they were far too shiny for that, just vanity.
At the village of Otterlo, we finally found an open cafe and stopped for food, 55Km from breakfast. Along the way, Komoot had sent us off on some weird diversions; it would send you a kilometre or so up a road, then tell you to turn around and go back. But now it pulled a new trick by stopping altogether, and wouldn’t resume. I had to reinstall the app and download the route again.
The next section of our tour was to take in the Hoge Veluwe National Park. On arriving at the entrance to the Park, we discovered that a large fence surrounds it, and you also have to pay to enter. All of this was a bit of a shock, but then we didn’t know the history of the Park. It was initially a private estate with animals brought in for hunting, and a large hunting lodge at the centre. When the family that owned it ran into financial difficulties in the 1930s the lodge (and its art collection) were gifted to the Dutch Government and the Park was handed over to a foundation, which received a loan from the State. The Park is one of only two private-owned national parks in the Netherlands. It is also the only one that asks an entrance fee — as an aside, coming from Scotland; it also gives an indication of what could happen with some of the “rewilding” projects proposed by wealthy landowners in the Highlands. It is not a prospect that I would welcome.
We reviewed our options after coming across this unpleasant surprise, either we paid to enter, or we took a long diversion to go around the Park and miss out on the chance to see the landscapes within. Therefore we reluctantly paid €9.95 each to get in. Once through the gate, the first thing we came across was a bike park full of white bikes. Driving is discouraged inwith the National Park; there is a charge of €7.05 to take a car or motorbike into the Park (or €3.55 to park outside), and motor vehicles are only allowed to use a few roads (taking the direct routes to the visitor centre from the three entrances). To compensate for this, there are 1,800 White Bikes available to people, to use for free in the Park. Apparently, at peak times they run out of white bikes, and people have to hire Blue Bikes. The Blue Bike rentals also offer a wide range of special bikes and trikes.
Inside the Park, which forms one of the largest continuous nature reserves in the Netherlands, the landscape is one of alternating areas of sand dunes, heath, grassland and woods. Navigation through the Park was somewhat hampered by Komoot which insisted on routing us off the hardtop and down rough tracks for no apparent reason. I started to get the feeling that the base mapping underlying Komoot is not very good as it seems unable to distinguish between surfaced roads and land rover tracks.
After leaving the Park, we headed south towards Arnhem, where we encountered a landscape feature that had been rare on the ride so far. A hill! The road climbed nearly 40 metres over two km in a straight line, with woods to the left and posh houses to the right. And, as I write this piece I find, the Mountainbike Museumo, not that we could have gone in as it is only open Friday to Sunday. Just round the corner, we reached our final destination, Restaurant/Hotel Trix, which was a lovely place to stay the night.
The plan was simple, get on a bike, ride to EuroBike see the show, and then ride back. That was my plan. When I told Ulli, her initial reaction was “it’s too far, it would take too long.” Well, the direct route from the ferry terminal at Ijmuiden to Friedrichshafen is about 780 Km, which could be ridden in eight days, or ten allowing for sightseeing. Each-way. So maybe she had a point. I parked the idea.
One evening about a month later Ulli commented “do you know that there are one day train passes in Germany (Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket), unlimited travel on regional express trains and you can take bikes? We could cross Germany from the Dutch border to the Austrian border in about 10 hours.” For €44, and you can take up to four additional people for €8 each, so for the two of us, it would cost €52 to take us all the way across Germany (+€5.50 per bike)! This was a game-changer for Ulli. Instead of just going to EuroBike and then coming back again, we could have an interesting few days cycle touring, catch a train to get across a large part of Germany and have time to go see her family in Austria. The trip was on.
So it was that we found ourselves on a train to Newcastle on a bright sunny day in mid-August. My plan had always been to take the train to Newcastle, having ridden NCN1 in the past, I was in no hurry to repeat the exercise this time around. Getting the bike into the hanging cubby hole was a bit of a faff and made me wonder what we might come across in Germany.
Having arrived at Newcastle Station, the first challenge was to find a way to get to the Ferry terminal at North Shields. The obvious route was to follow the river Tyne downstream. The first attempt to find a way to get to the river ended at the top of a flight of steps, but undeterred, we finally found a way. Once at the riverside, wayfinding was much more comfortable, and we picked up signs for the Hadrian’s Cycleway, as used by the habebat vehentem phalanx of the II Adiutrix. On the way, we passed the air control tower of the Segedunum Roman Fort as used by the aerium Cohort of the XIV Gemini.
On arrival at the Port of Tyne International Passenger Terminal, cyclists are directed to line up in the car lane to check in, which looks more like a motorway toll booth. Having arrived at check-in, passports are needed to go any further. I knew I had my passport with me as I could remember that I had packed it in a safe place. The problem was it was such a safe place I couldn’t remember where it was. Cue five minutes of frantically searching panniers and rucksack, much to the amusement of the large group of cyclists behind us. Passport found, checked in, and meals paid for (it is one third cheaper if you do it at check-in), we then had to line up with the motorbikes for boarding.
Boarding a large RoRo ferry with a bicycle is an odd experience. It is clear that the vehicle decks are not places for people, they are all about large machines. That said, the crew are welcoming and helpful, showing us the correct place to stow the bike and how to get to the upper decks. The ferry crossing was uneventful, the North Sea was like a millpond, so it was a restful cruise.
The following morning, after a good breakfast, we arrived in a dull and overcast Holland, the port of Ijmuiden looking grim. Even so, we were looking forward to the adventure ahead, crossing the fabled cycle-friendly Netherlands. Off the ferry and through immigration, we looked around for signs and cycle infrastructure to take us towards Amsterdam. There was none. Fortunately, we had pre-programmed a route into Komoot using Komoot’s auto-routing. This is where the problems really started.
This was the first time we had used Komoot for routing and weren’t prepared for some of its idiosyncrasies. As it was raining, I had my phone in the pocket of my jacket rather than mounted on the bars of my bike. Therefore, I was reliant on the voice directions, which sometimes make little sense. Such as being told to turn where there was no apparent turn or telling me to go straight ahead at a T junction. Despite this, we managed to find our way off the main road (which leads to a motorway) and onto quiet side streets, so far no dedicated cycle infrastructure or even signage.
After some time going around the houses, we came onto a larger road with separated cycle lanes on either side. This leads up a slight rise to a bridge over the main road coming out of the port and our first roundabout. Now ordinarily a roundabout is nothing to get excited about, indeed in the UK, it is something which many cyclists would prefer to avoid. But this was a Dutch roundabout which has an outer cycle lane which motor vehicles are required to give way to when entering and exiting the roundabout. This means that accessing the roundabout by bicycle is easy and stress-free. To test this out, I decided to go all the way around. As a result, I became disoriented and couldn’t remember which exit to leave by.
Having worked out how to exit the roundabout, it was time to head for Amsterdam. We thought we had chosen a route which would take in as much green space as possible (and a short detour planned detour into the Zuid-Kennemerland National Park). It was a pleasant enough route passing through forgettable villages and polders. Ulli took to stork spotting. Also finding out that mobile phone cameras don’t have the sort of long lens needed to photograph a stork halfway across a field (not that that stopped her trying).
At some point on the outskirts of Amsterdam Komoot decided to randomly direct us off a perfectly functional cycle path on to a section of singletrack. Why this was, I don’t understand. However, this seems to be a bit of a habit with the Komoot algorithm, and one that we would come up against a number of times during our trip. But there was one unexpected detour which wasn’t Komoot’s fault. While playing around with the potential routing before we left home, I had looked to see where the Urban Arrow factory was. I had found that it was only a few hundred meters to the north of our intended route. Knowing that we were going to be there on a Sunday, and the factory closed, I thought I had removed this, but Komoot had other ideas. So it was that we found our selves outside the home of one of the largest cargo bike manufactures in Europe. On a Sunday, when they were closed and no chance of taking a look around. Durr
Next up was the old town of Amsterdam, with its quaint canals and massed road works, which made navigation rather more complicated. Fortunately, Amsterdamers are a friendly bunch and welcome the lost cycle tourer with cheerful greetings of Godverdomme and Laat ze opzoute!
It also gave us an opportunity to have lunch and pick up some bakery items for later.
As we left Amsterdam, we encountered the Amsterdam-Rijnkanaal (or Rhine canal) for the first time. This canal runs for 72Km from the Port of Amsterdam to the Waal River (a distributary branch of the river Rhine) near Tiel. At 100m wide and 5.5m deep it is an impressive feat of engineering. As are some of the cycle bridges crossing it, but it wasn’t all big engineering. There were tree-lined sections where it feels like you are cycling into an infinity tunnel.
At Nigtevecht, we turned away from the Rhine Canal to follow the river Vecht, mainly because Ulli wanted to see some windmills. It was a narrow rural road with little traffic, which was just as well because what traffic there was, was mostly large SUVs. The drivers of these vehicles struggled to pass a bicycle with panniers as the road was so narrow, what do they do when they meet another large SUV coming in the other direction?
Only a kilometre or so out of Nigtevecht, we saw a bridge over the Rhine Canal which begged us to divert and have a closer look. The new Nigtevecht bicycle bridge‘s sinuous curves were calling us to ride the double hairpin ramp. It was great fun and made me wish that I had a drone to film it with (and this wasn’t to be the last time on this trip I wished I had a drone).
Not long after this, we had another Komoot moment. This time we were following the road around the outside of the village of Vreeland when Komoot decided to divert us into the village among the houses and then out again. There was nothing to be gained from this, it was longer, no point of interest, not even a shop. There was no apparent reason why the routing software was sending us that way. Such is the way of Komoot.
Further up the Vecht, riding alongside the river, we could see most of the houses on the other side of the river, each with their own private mooring. And one development of executive flats even had its own little harbour. There were also examples of Buitenplaats which were once the summer residences of wealthy townspeople, back in the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century when the Netherlands had a mighty Empire and a navy which defeated the British. This is a side of the Netherlands that you don’t see on the tourist websites and one of the joys of travelling by bicycle is the opportunity it affords you to come across these things.
We left the river to make our way to the centre of Utrecht, this being the Netherlands it was incredibly simple. Just follow the main road directly into the centre of the city. None of the convoluted routes sending you down “quiet ways” round the back of the houses, stuff get in the UK. From the outskirts to the city centre was a dead straight route of about 7Km on a dedicated cycle path with priority crossing minor roads and separated traffic lights at major junctions. t couldn’t be more natural to cycle into town. The only downside was having to share the path with bromfiets (mopeds) or stinkfiets as I took to calling them, which plague the otherwise wonderful Dutch cycle infrastructure. If you are wondering why stinkfiets, the older ones (and there are lots of them) use two-stroke engines which really do stink.
Utrecht itself is the fourth-largest city in the Netherlands and home to the biggest university in the country. It is a city with a cool urban vibe and bikes are everywhere. Cycle model share (the percentage of all journeys inwith the city) is 33%, making the bicycle the most popular way to get around the place. However, it is not the most cycle-friendly town in the Netherlands, that is Houten, a satellite town a few kilometres to the south-east.
One of the more striking sights in central Utrecht is an artwork called Skyscraper, it is a whale made out of five tons of plastic salvaged from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans which appears to be leaping out of the Catharijnesingel. It is intended as a statement about the massive amount of plastic waste that pollutes rivers, seas and oceans around the world. Although as I write, it may no longer be there. It was originally created for the Triennial Bruges art and architecture festival, and was only a summer visitor in Utrecht.
The thing that will still be in Utrecht, but which we didn’t get to see is the world’s largest cycle parking facility. The reason we didn’t get to see it was because it was first opened to the public about four hours after we have left the city on the next stage of our journey. And that is a story for another post, watch this space.
Following on from my last post after five years the on street cycle storage (Cycle-Works Streetstores since you ask) has finally arrived and so I have the first set of keys.
It was interesting standing in the street talking about the cycle storage with a council officer and seeing the number of people coming up and asking how they could get a key. Apparently there is already a waiting list of places, even though many of the people living in the street don’t even know what the cycle storage are as they have not seen them opened before. I get the distinct feeling there will soon be demand for more!
Just over five years ago (in September 2009) I wrote a blog post “Cycle parking, please can we have more…” in which I talked about the problems with lack of secure bicycle parking in Edinburgh. I flagged up issues the particular problems for tenement dwellers in Edinburgh, where storage is often a very real problem (as it is across most Scottish cities), added to which people living in tenement areas are less likely to own a car.
Three years ago things were looking positive as there where the first glimmerings of hope that something might actually be happening. There had been an announcement that City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) has proposed a Pilot of on-street residential cycle parking. I was one of the first to put in an application and waited with bated breath, well almost. As the closing date for application was December 2011, it seemed reasonable to expect that here might be something on the ground by the summer of 2012. In early May a letter arrived inviting all those who had applied to be a part of the trial parking project to a site meeting to consult on how it might work in practice. So it was that my self and one of my neighbours met with a number of officials, including the CEC’s cycling officer (Chris Brace), a CEC Project Engineer (Scott Mannion), one of the environmental manager (David Doig) and LBP Crime Prevention Officer (Carol Menzies). We had a wide ranging discussion, as we stood in the spring sun shine, covering all aspects of how that cycle parking (and its location) could affect the street, from accessibility to security, from refuse collection to turning space, and more. The meeting ended with a general consensus that the best location for the cycle storage was at the southern end of the street on the west side, on an area of concrete pavement which is currently just dead ground. It felt like something was really about to happen after two years of campaigning and lobbying, finally we were getting what was needed.
For a couple of months nothing happened, no information, nothing. In late July 2012 a letter arrived saying that the council was going to hold a written consultation for all residents in the street. A number of my neighbours came to ask me about this as they wanted to know more about the proposal, everyone I knew who lived in the street was in favour of the idea of having a secure cycle parking facility (even those who owned cars and those who didn’t own a bicycle). The written consultation was than followed with a series door to door interviews, and it was beginning to feel like someone at the Council was doing all they could to find an objector, so that they could stop the scheme (maybe I am being too cynical here).
Following all this consultation things went quite again until late June 2013 when another written consultation arrived, this time with plans showing the proposed location of the cycle storage on the opposite side of the street from that which residents said they wanted in the earlier consultation. I am told that there eleven responses to this consultation, all in favour of having the cycle storage on street and three saying explicitly that it should be on the far side of the street (the other made no comment on the location). One wonders why it is felt necessary to have quite to much “consultation” when they don’t bother to take notice of what the people who are going to live with the infrastructure actually have to say. It strikes me that a large amount of public money is wasted in this way.
Move forward to June 2014 and the City Council break their radio silence again with a letter to say that three different types of secure on street cycle storage across five locations across the city. The three types of storage chosen were the Cyclehoop Fietshangar, Cycle-Works Velo-Box lockers and Cycle-Works Streetstores (the latter a somewhat experimental design to judge by their website where there are several different prototype designs shown). The letter went on to say that the installation would be completed by the end of July 2014.
By this time I was starting to feel I would only believe when I saw it, so you can imagine my surprise and delight when I was told of shiny new Cyclehoop Fietshangars had been sighted in the city!
This was real progress at last! But wait where were the Cycle-Works Streetstores? There was no sign of them anywhere and again silence from the City Council, after some prompting there was a few vague comments that they were coming soon. July turned to August, the Festival came and went, September, still nothing, then finally in October Streetstores were sighted for the first time!
How does the scheme actually work? Now there’s a question I keep getting asked, well, places in the cycle storage is offered to first to residents living within 100m of the stores. Only two places per flat are allowed per flat (which is rather unfair on students living in Houses in Multiple Occupation or HMOs) and place are allocated on a first come first serve basis. Each person gets a gets an individual contract and must give the details of the bicycle they are intending to store. The contract also states that the storage can only be used to store “a security-tagged bicycle belonging to or in the care of the member”, later in the contract it talks of bicycles with a permit and displaying a permit sticker.
As to costs and pricing, the contract states that “during the period of the Scheme the Council will not make a charge for participation in the Scheme. The Council may bring the pilot Scheme to an end on giving 14 days’ notice to the Members, and thereafter charge the Member for continued participation in a new scheme and take a deposit for the access key”. Nowhere, in the contract does it give any indication of how long the pilot Scheme will run for, nor is there any mention of how much the charge might be in the future. Elsewhere, it has been stated that the “cycle parking would be … trialled for around 2 years“. Also “It is expected that there would be a charge of around £5 per month per user for the use of the covered storage options to help cover running costs”. This would mean that it would cost £60 a year to park a bicycle compared with £31.50 to park low emission car in the same permit zone. When you bear in mind that ten bicycles can be accommodated in the space required for one car, this seems rather excessive, no doubt the Council will say that this reflects cost of maintaining the cycle storage, whilst blithe ignoring the costs involved in controlling car parking in the city. If the council are to introduce such a high charge for cycle parking, then it would only be reasonable that all subsidies for car parking be dropped and that the cost of car parking be brought up to a matching level.
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…
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.
Sleepy in Hexham
More nodding off ..
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…
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.
On the single span bridge
Tyne looking west from single span bridge
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.
Following on from the future of local transport debate the other evening, I would like to propose a simple parking experiment. It would not cost much and should be fairly straight forward to carry out.
I suggest that the council gets four or five Car Bike Ports, puts them in parking bays around the city, and then monitor what happens. If you were to leave them in a single bay for no more than a few months at a time, you would only have to use Temporary Traffic Regulation Orders (TTROs). Or you could have them moved between bays on the same street every few days, so that you would even need to bother with the TTROs.
As it is purely short term experiment there should be to much planning needed and as the Car Bike Ports were originally commissioned by the London Festival of Architecture, the Street Scape people shouldn’t have a problem. The Car Bike Ports could even be rented to keep the cost down. Although I suspect that by the end of the experiment there would be a clamour from the local trader for keeping them.
So are you wiling to give it a go?
It would be great to see something like this in Edinburgh:
I then found that Spokes were also looking at the problems of cycle parking in Edinburgh and were lobbing on the issue. Moving forward along the time-line, a year ago it was starting to look like all the lobbying and campaigning was about to pay off, as the City of Edinburgh Council proposed a £50,000 pilot on-street residential cycle parking scheme.
I put in an application to be a part of the pilot scheme, as did one of the owners in the next stair. We were delighted when we were told that our street was to be included in the scheme, this was in March (four months after the closing date for application). A site visit was arranged for May, which proved to be very positive. We discussed: problems with cycle storage for our tenemented street, the range of available on-street solutions, security, issues around management and maintenance, even a setting up a ‘Not for Profit’ Locker Management business. It was agreed that secure, covered cycle parking was a must (maybe something similar to this) and that lockers were also an option. Following the meeting, copies of the minutes were circulated (in July), which owed the next steps:
Produce drawings showing positions and types of facilities.
Initiate TRO [Traffic Regulation Order] process for removal/relocation of Parking Permit Holder spaces.
Approach Streetscape with proposals showing locations and types of lockers.
Investigate security certification.
Produce ‘final’ design drawings for consultation with all parties.
That all sounds great, but that was the last my neighbour and I have heard.
Update 16th Oct 2012 – Received an e-mail today to saying:
Please accept my apologies for the delay in getting back to you.
We are still considering the points raised during the initial
consultation meetings (and some additional issues that we have become
aware of since), but I hope to have some preliminary designs ready by
the end of this month to discuss with all the applicants.
So it looks like there will be further progress soon.
Having spent far too much time trying to find how other places achieved the high cycling rates they have, I have come to the conclusion that there are two factors which can increase cycling rates and make cycling feel ”normal”.
First: provide usable, high quality (although not necessary expensive) cycling specific infrastructure. Lot of people have bikes and will use them more if they feel it is safe and covenant to do so. This is something which is slowly coming about, with the emphasis on the word “slowly”, and is not helped by so much money being wasted on poor quality unusable cycling infrastructure, which is not fit for purpose. But that is for another post.
Then: emotional marketing, and this is something I would like to discuss in this blog post.
It is important to make riding a bicycle feel like a normal thing to do, for a number of reasons, not least because people are then more likely to support (and demand) the provision of usable cycling infrastructure.
A large proportion of the UK population knows how to ride a bicycle and indeed own at least one bike. Sadly, most bikes are at the back of a shed gathering dust. So at some stage in their lives people felt that riding a bicycle was an ordinary and normal thing to do. However, most adults no longer ride bicycles on a regular basis, and cycling as an adult is no longer seen as normal. For more on why this is the case, I recommend reading Dave Horton’s work on the fear of cycling.
So how do we overcome this fear of cycling? This is where emotional marketing comes in, which is about selling a lifestyle, making it look attractive and desirable. If you are wondering what this has to do with transport, well the motor industry spends about £830m a year on advertising, much of which can been seen as emotional marketing. They are selling a lifestyle: making driving seem ordinary and aspirational at the same time. However, the advertising rarely, if ever shows congestion, the roads are always empty, suggesting this should be the default way to travel. The reality, as we all know, is often very different, but the marketing makes people forget these downsides, and believe there is no other way.
Now obviously the cycling industry doesn’t have the same sort of money for advertising as the motor industry, and many in bike business just aren’t interested in cycling as transport (rather than sports & leisure), but increasingly bicycles are being used in lifestyle advertising. So things are starting to move our way. A number of cities in mainland Europe have started to run marketing campaigns to promote cycling as a means of urban transport, notably Bozen/Bolzano, Munich, and Copenhagen.
These broad promotional campaigns are intended to “sell” the idea of bicycling to those who currently don’t cycle, and to create a positive image for cycling among the public in general. In the same way that the motor industry uses advertising, this promotes a certain lifestyle, successful cycling campaigns appeal to the emotions of their audiences to sell the idea of cycling as a positive lifestyle choice. They use emotion-based sales pitches rather than logic-based ones, and this has generally been proven to be more successful. However, it is important to note that simply encouraging people to cycle more without making it easy to do and attractive will not succeed. These campaigns are not a substitute for providing good, usable, cycling infrastructure. They can, however, play an important role in encouraging people to ask for something better. It is about hearts and minds. After all, if people don’t know there is a better option than the one they have, they aren’t going to ask for it.
These city (or regional) marketing campaigns are well funded formal campaigns, but they aren’t the only form of emotional marketing of cycling going on. At a more informal level, there is the global “Cycle Chic” movement. This is a collection of blogs inspired by the original Cycle Chic blog (better known as Copenhagen Cycle Chic) which started from a single photo and has developed into an international consultancy. These blogs are mostly individual enterprises which aim to celebrate ordinary people, riding bicycles in ordinary clothes, in cities and towns around the world. The message they are sending is: look, there are people just like you riding bicycles as transport, if they can, so can you. As the strap line of Edinburgh Cycle Chic puts it, “Because you don’t have to wear Lycra”. It is the activity of these blogs, documenting people riding on the streets that have attracted the attention of the fashion industry, which is increasingly using bicycles as props in its advertising. If there is one industry which can out-spend all others and influence lifestyles, it is the fashion industry. It also has the power to reach people who are not engaged by traditional cycle industry marketing. In the UK, research carried out by Sustrans in early 2009 found that 79 per cent of British women never cycle at all, but 69% of those would cycle if they felt it was safe.
For some reason there are some existing cyclists in the English speaking world who find the Cycle Chic movement disturbing, but I am really not sure why. Cycling is an activity which just about everybody can do, and it has a lot of potential as everyday short range transport, so where is the problem in promoting it as such? Part of the problem may lie in the fact that cycling can mean many different things, as Graeme Obree says: “It’s is a sport, it’s a pastime and it’s a form of transport. You don’t football down to the shops”.
A lot of the opposition to disquiet about the idea of Cycle Chic appears to come from what can loosely be termed the “Lycra brigade”, who seem to feel that they are in some way being criticised by the emphasis on riding in ordinary clothes. They rather miss the point, Cycle Chic is not about them, no one is saying “Thou shalt not wear Lycra!”. The country which probably has more cycling clubs per head of population and the most fanatical cycle racing fans, is The Netherlands. This is also the country with more people cycling in normal clothes on an everyday basis, there is no reason why this should have a negative effect on cycling as sport.
For those who like to cycle fast or over long distances, there is a case for wearing technical clothing, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, this sort of cycling is never going to appeal to the masses, even the most popular mass participation sports in the UK only engage about 5% of the population each. However, everyone makes short journeys of the sort of distance which can easily be covered by bicycle, and the whole point of Cycle Chic is to show that anyone can ride a bicycle as a means of everyday transport, and that you don’t have to be an athlete to do it.
There are also a small number of people who criticise the idea of Cycle Chic on supposed “safety” grounds. Saying that people should wear hi-visibility clothing and cycle helmets while cycling in order to be safe, this is a totally false argument, as I have pointed out before. Sadly a number of these people seem to think that emphasising high-vis and helmets in cycling campaigns will somehow encourage people to take up cycling. The truth is it won’t, most people are risk adverse. Telling them that they will be safe if they dress in a certain way, while ignoring the real source of the problem, will simply put them off. This has been shown over the last 20+ years by the failure of these “safety” campaigns to raise cycling levels to those seen on the European mainland, and shows it is clearly time for a fresh approach in the UK. There are lessons to be learnt from our near neighbours across the North Sea, where they have shown that the cycling infrastructure and emotional marketing approaches work, especially if employed in tandem.
Some time ago I wrote a post called Cycle parking, please can we have more… in which I flagged up issue surrounding cycle parking in Edinburgh and the particular problems for tenement dwellers. Finally things are starting to change, as a result of lobbying by Spokes the City of Edinburgh Council has proposed a Pilot of on-street residential cycle parking. They say:
“The City of Edinburgh Council is committed to increasing the percentage of all journeys in the city by bike to 10% by 2020. One of the biggest barriers to cycling in the city is a lack of suitable cycle parking for residents in tenement areas. In recognition of this, the Council is considering providing on-street cycle parking in areas with tenement residences. This will initially be done on a trial basis at a small number of locations. We are planning to trial:
covered cycle racks;
individual lockers; and
uncovered cycle racks.
So if you are interested for your tenement/flat area, please talk to your neighbours and apply by 9th December 2011. Application form [pdf 4.4MB] application form [doc 764k].
However, it should be noted: “Applications are subject to being selected on the basis of suitability and feasibility. We cannot guarantee that locations that are selected will be installed. Should you require any further information please contact email@example.com”
I hope to see this project going ahead, but the “suitability and feasibility” clause does worry me that the Council is not fully committed to “increasing the percentage of all journeys in the city by bike to 10% by 2020”. As I have seen existing cycle infrastructure around the city quietly disappearing, such as well used Sheffield stands being removed and not replaced when pavements are relaid, and cycle lanes being converted into on street car parking. Still this initiative does give me hope for the future!
It is often said that a cycling culture, with riding a bicycle as transport, is only common in flat places. However, on my regular trips to the Alps I am always struck by just how many cyclists you see on the streets. So on my most recent trip I tried to take a few photos to show a wee bit of Alpine Cycle Chic. My first opportunity came on a couple of trips into Innsbruck, but I wasn’t allowed to go on a full-on cycle chic photo safari, just grab the odd photo.
So to start with, a few ordinary Innsbruck cyclists:
As you can see, Innsbruck has a healthy cycling culture, sadly I wasn’t quick enough to get a picture of the Christiania cargo trike in Maria Theresien Strasse. Interestingly, there was a recent attempt by the city council to ban bicycle parking in the pedestrianised part of Maria Theresien Straße, but this was rejected after complaints from the owners of shops and cafès along the street who worried that this would have a negative impact of trade. Spend a while sitting at a pavement cafè and you will soon see why, getting about by bicycle is very popular.
Given the levels of congestion of motor traffic in Innsbruck, it is no surprise that cycling is so popular. This is despite Innsbruck having other forms of traffic which UK based cycle campaigners would tell you are bad for cycling, such as trams, bendy buses and heavy lorries (there is a large amount of building work at the present time), etc. It helps that there are wide cycle paths along either side of the Inn which give access to the centre of the city. There is also an extensive network of cycle lanes, here are some pictures:
Note the the bus stop (Haltestelle) marked with a H, and that the buses stop to the left (outside) of the cycle lane. In the UK this would be seen as potential conflict point, but here the cyclists either stop or ride slowly around passengers getting on and off the buses.
While on the subject of cycle lanes, at traffic light controlled junctions there are not only advanced stop lines for cyclists, but separate lights as well, which allow the cyclists to move off 30 seconds before the motor traffic.
As you will have seen from the photos above, cycle parking along the streets is plentiful, as is residential cycle parking, with apartment blocks all having some form of covered cycle parking. The newer ones often have secure cycle parking built in. Cycle parking is also provided at transport interchanges, such as this bus/tram interchange.
You can of course take your bike on the tram if you want to,
and you can take your bicycle on the bus as well. Unfortunately my pictures of the bike space on the bus didn’t come out too well, but there is space for a up to four bikes, if it isn’t in use for prams or wheelchairs as these passengers have priority for the secured spots. On routes where bike carriage is popular, the buses also carry bikes on the outside. These racks can also, rather conveniently, be modified for carrying skis in the winter.
Sorry if you feel I have veered away from cycle chic and onto infrastructure, but it takes good infrastructure to develop a healthy bicycling culture.