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The politics of cycle clothing

The politics of cycle clothing

I was at the Cycling Scotland conference and tried to do a bit of live tweeting. Derek MacKay MSP stated in his speech that he prefers not to be photographed in hi-viz, to which I tweeted:

I was rather surprised by the reaction that this sparked off on twitter. Firstly, there was the comment that wearing nice clothes was not going to make the roads safer. But It was a comment that rather missed the point, as neither wearing hi-viz nor a helmet does. To make the roads safer we need to start with a danger reduction approach, which means reducing danger at source. The point of the tweet was to point out that we finally have a transport minster who is not following the Taliban approach to road safety and does not feel that he has to set an example by wearing hi-vis and a helmet to be photographed. Instead, for cycling occasions he is always photographed in normal clothes for press photo shoots, even when some around him choose to do otherwise.

More tweets followed from a number of people, suggesting that I was in some way “anti-Lycra”, and was in some way blaming people in lycra for putting off others. This is where trying to discuss issues on Twitter can get very confused, sometimes it can be very hard to make a nuanced point in 140 characters. My comment above was very much about the use of images and the message which such images can send. There were also comments from other about infrastructure being more important that clothing, but in many ways the two are interlinked.

Why is clothing important in normalising cycling? Ask anyone in the fashion industry and they will tell you that clothes speak volumes about who you are and how you feel. In places where cycling is a normal means of getting from A to B, people just ride in ordinary clothes. They don’t get dressed up to ride a bicycle, unless they are doing so to ride for sport (there is also a misunderstanding about Danish “cycle chic”, Copenhageners don’t dress up to ride a bike, that’s just normal dress for them). In the UK some people seem to believe that it is necessary to dress in a certain way in order to ride a bicycle, for what ever reason. Part of this is to do with something I refer to as the Taliban approach to road safety, the failed idea that making people dress in a particular way makes the roads safer – it doesn’t. Indeed, the promotion of hi-viz and helmets can create a barrier to cycling. Added to this, the motor lobby is always keen to promote the use of hi-viz and helmets, as a means of transferring blame to the victim, and to avoid liability.

Does this mean that we should all start to ride in ordinary clothes as a political statement? No, of course not. There are those who will do so, but for most people the choice of cycle clothing is more about comfort, or more correctly, comfort and fear. Before I moved to Aberdeen I had never felt the need to wear Hi-viz, but in Aberdeen I felt different, it was/is hostile to anyone cycling (or even walking). So I bought a yellow cycling jacket, which made me feel better, but made no real difference to the way I was treated. Drivers still treated me as if they couldn’t see me. Over time, I came to realise that in places like Aberdeen drivers simply don’t look for people cycling, as there are so few. Later I came to realise that bright lights were more effective for being seen in a hostile environment, but not a solution. Like bright clothing, they are a survival mechanism (the real solution is to change the road environment).

In places where there are more cyclists (and pedestrians), drivers are more likely to look out for those more vulnerable road users. However, that doesn’t automatically lead to greater safety or a feeling of safety, you only have to look at images from London to see that there is plenty of fear there. There is a flaw in the “safety in numbers” theory, the death rate on UK roads per Km walked or cycled is higher than in many other parts of Europe. In places where cycling is common, it is infrastructure and legal structure that make cycling (and walking) safe, and this is why you see people of all ages, wearing normal clothes, using bicycles as transport.

In the UK there is another thing going on, which has to do with group identity. This has led to the term MAMIL or “Middle Aged Men In Lycra”, and generally refers to male cyclists who treat travelling to work as an adventure sport. There are those who justify wearing Lycra for commuting on the grounds that they have to ride fast due to the distance of their commute. It is an interesting thing that the average cycle commuting distance in the UK is longer than on the Continent. This is probably because so many cycle commuters in the UK are keen cyclists and like to use their commutes as training rides. On the Continent, in places where cycling is seen as normal (something the 95% engage in, not just the 5%), the sort people who in the UK have 1-5 km journeys and would drive or take the bus, ride a bicycle instead. So there are a great deal more short journeys by bike. For longer distances, the Contintentals are more likely to travel by multimodal means, for example: cycling to the station to take a train, and then walking or using another bicycle at the other end, to get to their final destination. That is not to say that there aren’t people commuting distances of greater than 5 Km by bicycle in these countries, it is just that they are more likely to use an e-bike, so that they don’t arrive sweaty.

Is the MAMIL image a problem? I have been accused of being anti-Lycra or even anti-cycling for using the term MAMIL. Neither is true, there is a place for Lycra and it fine in its place. However, it can be a barrier to making cycling more inclusive, as it can put people off, especially those not currently cycling. No doubt there are some cyclists who will say that the sort of people who are put off by MAMILs wouldn’t cycle anyway. However, if you go to a Women’s Cycle Forum and listen, you will find women saying that the perceived need for lycra, hi-viz and helmets does put them off cycling. A case study: L. is a woman over the age of 40 who says she is put off by the MAMIL image of cycling. However, on a trip to Bruges, L. was persuaded to try riding a bicycle because people of all ages, shapes and sizes were cycling in normal clothes. She now occasionally rides a bicycle in Edinburgh, and although L. is not a regular cyclist, she now has greater understanding of cycling, which is useful, given that her current job is in transport policy.

Before going any further, I will return to the point I made above, people should be free to wear whatever they feel is comfortable for their cycling journey. Images are important here, and where everyday cycling is being promoted, images which show hi-viz and helmets should be avoided. It is always disappointing to see organisations which soak up large amounts of funding, using images of people on bicycles dressed up in hi-viz and helmets. Generally, the majority of people are less likely to engage in an activity that looks like a minority activity, where you need to dress up in specific clothes and that may be dangerous. This makes trying to increase funding for active travel much harder, as it is seen to only benefit the few rather than the many. If you make cyclists look like a small outgroup, it going to be far, far harder to get those with the power to take space from motor vehicles to act. The Dutch didn’t get their famous cycle infrastructure by campaigning for “cyclists”, they did it for the children. Now that those children have grown up, they are the most relaxed parents in Europe, as they don’t have to worry about the safety of their children outwith the home. If we want the same here, we have to make active travel attractive and desirable, and we also have to make it normal and inclusive.

Cycle chic inspires others
Remember images are important
The Volkswagen scandal – who has really been harmed?

The Volkswagen scandal – who has really been harmed?

The Volkswagen scandal (aka #dieselgate), where the VW motor group was caught cheating pollution emissions tests in the US, has been rumbling on for some time now. The media are having a field day, drivers are starting to believe they should receive compensation. The one issue which has not been fully addressed is who has really been harmed?

Mostly the scandal is being portrayed by the media as a “consumer rights” issue, there is some talk about protection of the environment, although if most car buyers really cared about “the environment”, they would have bought an electric car or a hybrid. Some people have written to the papers to say as much, fully admitting that for most drivers “the environment” is low on their list of priorities and that cheap motoring is far more important to them. Very little is being said in the media about the impact of air pollution on human health caused by motor vehicles – this is the real scandal.

We know that air pollution is a serious issue, that is why there are Air Quality Standards (in the EU and around the world) which are (supposed to be) legally enforceable. Air pollution is an invisible killer, you can’t see it, you can’t smell or taste most of the cocktail of pollutants, but it is killing us. In much of Europe urban air is not fit to breathe, the major cause of this is motor vehicles, especially diesel cars. Although petrol cars are not as harmless as some in the media and the motoring lobby would have us believe, 22% of modern petrol cars fail to achieve emission limits on the road. Furthermore, particle emissions from new petrol engines (gasoline direct injection or GDI) are higher than from equivalent diesel vehicles.

The true scandal is that across the EU there are 500,000 premature deaths every year, also 250,000 hospital admissions which, in addition to the human costs and suffering, also cost the economy 100,000,000 lost working days. This all adds up to over €940,000,000 (£665m) in lost productivity per year. These are the real scandals!

Let’s be clear, Volkswagen is not the only culprit, every major car manufacturer is selling vehicles that fail to meet EU air pollution limits on the road:

Euro-6-Twitter

All this is happening despite the fact that EURO 6 regulations require cars to be tested under “normal driving conditions” – these rules were introduced in 2007. As yet, the regulators are not using portable emission monitoring systems (PEMS) to measure the actual pollution from vehicle exhausts in real-world driving emission (RDE) tests. Why not? Could it have anything to do with the fact that the supposedly independent testing bodies get up to 70% of their funding from the motor industry? Or is it because of the direct power of the motoring lobby? Either way, our democracy (and our health) is directly threatened by such lobbying, not just at the EU level – Westminster is, if anything, more corrupt than Brussels.

It is time we all stood up and said enough is enough! There are no technical reasons why the existing emission limits could not be met quickly and urban air pollution rapidly improved. Yes it would mean that motoring would become more expensive for individuals, but the current situation is that we are all paying the price, not just those causing the pollution. The benefits of private motoring to the few are massively outweighted by the cost to all of us. I agree with Keith Taylor, the Green MEP for south-east England:

For too long European car makers have been ducking the EU’s rules to enable them to keep their highly polluting cars on the road. The huge scandal with Volkswagen on car pollution rules must focus the minds of EU politicians and the British government. Air pollution kills tens of thousands in the UK every year. With the added unchecked emissions from Volkswagen cars, I worry about how much worse the situation actually is.  

We need a truly independent European type approval authority, this should be funded by a levy on each new vehicle sold, paid for by the manufacturers with robust regulation to ensure independent testing. This should also be backed up with strict annual testing of vehicles, to ensure they continue to meet acceptable pollution limits. The current MOT test is not fit for purpose and needs to be brought up to date, with heavy penalties for both tester and motorist, if they are caught trying to cheat the system.

It is a matter of urgency for the European Commission to bring forward proposals for Euro 7 emissions limits so that the limits for diesel, petrol and natural gas vehicles are all the same, and also to ensure WHO health limits are met throughout Europe. Closer to home, we need make all our built-up areas low emission zones. We cannot choose where we breathe, so we must stop vehicles polluting our air. The technology to clean up vehicle exhausts is available and costs little. It is a small price to pay compared to the nearly €1 trillion (£1.36 billion) spent annually on health care and lost productivity. Vehicles with engines, running on whichever fuel, must be stopped from polluting our air or prevented from accessing our towns and cities. We should ALL have the right to clean air wherever we are as we ALL need to breathe.

Don’t just take my word of it, here is Dr Ian Mudway at Routes to Clean Air, Health Effects of Air Pollution.

Cycle parking, things are finally moving on…

Cycle parking, things are finally moving on…

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!

On street cycle storage in Edinburgh ©EdinburghCycleChic

Then came the news that Cycle-Works Velo-Safe lockers had also been sighted.

On street cycle storage in Edinburgh ©EdinburghCycleChic

On street cycle storage in Edinburgh ©EdinburghCycleChic

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!

On street cycle storage in Edinburgh ©EdinburghCycleChic

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.

 

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!

It is time to stop the killing on our roads

It is time to stop the killing on our roads

This year has seen an upsurge in the number of people dying on our roads, sadly those with the power to change things don’t seem to be interested, so we need to send them the message: It is time to stop the killing on our roads!

Our roads are not a war zone, this is not the fog of war, people dying on our roads are not some poor buggers who have wandered into their covering fire, they are not collateral damage. They were just ordinary people going about their business who died needlessly before their time. Now is the time to make it stop, we can do something about it, but it needs political will. Throwing money at dualing roads won’t save lives. Lowering speed limits, better infrastructure to protect vulnerable road users, strengthening the law and enforcing it, these are things which save lives. It is not rocket science, there is much we can learn from just across the North Sea. We can make our country a better place to live for all, Active Travel IS a matter of social justice. Here are some Manifesto suggestions for Active Travel, let’s push our political representatives to take them seriously. After all, they are there to serve the people.

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.

World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims 2013

World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims 2013

Today is the annual World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) there are 1.24 million road traffic deaths every year and Road Traffic Accidents (RTA) are the number one cause of death among those aged 15-29 years. However, it is the young and the elderly who are most vulnerable on our roads.

Here in Scotland I recently discovered that there is a framework for road safety in Scotland, which was drawn up in 2009. As part of this framework there is a 0% casualty target for the year 2020. Sadly in Scotland over the last four years there has been a rise in the number of vulnerable road users killed or seriously injured, which suggests that the strategy currently in place is failing badly and needs to be revised.

Here are a few headlines from the last few days. This is not an extensive list, just a short snapshot:

Girl killed in lorry accident named
Woman killed in two-vehicle crash
Motorist dies day after car crash
Woman seriously injured in A9 crash

Onus should be on the cyclists?

Onus should be on the cyclists?

Following the death of yet another cyclist on Scotland roads I was deeply saddened to see the following letter in The Herald newspaper:

Onus should be on the cyclists
Tuesday 23 July 2013

ONCE again the strict liability law is being peddled with the aim of protecting cyclists and pedestrians (Agenda, The Herald, July 19).

The writer, Brenda Mitchell, states “our goal is to change the culture among road users”.

As a pedestrian and former cyclist I would suggest that rather than attempting to change the law and further burdening other road users the only culture that needs changing is that of the cyclist.

Among the initiatives they may consider adopting are wearing suitable clothing and protective equipment (for head and hands) and obeying the current motor traffic laws – and not riding upon the footpath.

Perhaps it is also time for legislators to require all cyclists to fit, and sound, a suitable warning device in order to alert unsuspecting pedestrians to their presence.

In short, the public at large would be better protected if cyclists obeyed the law as it stands rather than seeking to introduce legislation that would be nothing more than another impost upon the motoring public who, after all, already pay to use the road.

Ian F Mackay,

5 Smillie Place,

Kilmarnock.

 

Lets just take a closer look, Mr Mackay starts by asserting that he is a “pedestrian and former cyclist”. Why does he feel the need to do this? We are all pedestrians at some point, and why is he a “former cyclist”? Oddly he doesn’t tell us, he also doesn’t let us know whether or not he is a driver (although it is implied), again why? Could it be that he is embarrassed to admit to being a driver, when he goes on to complain about “further burdening other road users” before going on to suggest that the only problem is with cyclists. Which other road users would this be? Are pedestrians and horse riders going to feel that a strict liability law is going to burden them? Or would the more vulnerable users of public space feel that a law making the operators of dangerous and heavy machinery being used that space liable (under civil law) for their actions, giving the most vulnerable greater protection? After all, this has been shown to be effective in the workplace where there is a strict liability on employers to ensure safe working practices.

He suggests that cyclists “may consider adopting wearing suitable clothing and protective equipment (for head and hands)” – is this for the protection of other roads user? Or merely trying to pass the blame when cyclists are injured by negligent actions of other road users? To use the workplace analogy again, the use of “safety equipment” is not a substitute for operating potentially dangerous machinery in a safe manner.

Then comes “obeying the current motor traffic laws – and not riding upon the footpath”. Hum, are cyclists “motor traffic”? Certainly they are traffic, as are pedestrians (the origin of the word traffic is from the Arabic word taraffaqa, which means ‘to walk along slowly together’, only in the late 20th century did it become “to drive along slowly together”, we needn’t go into the origin of the word “jam”). However, according to Mr Mackay, it is the failure of cyclists to obey laws which is the cause of all the harm to roads users. This fails to explain why not a single one of the 54 pedestrians killed on Scotland’s roads last year were killed by a person riding bicycle, all where killed as a result of being hit by motor vehicles.

Next, we come to “Perhaps it is also time for legislators to require all cyclists to fit, and sound, a suitable warning device in order to alert unsuspecting pedestrians to their presence.” How exactly will this help to deal with the problem of 54 pedestrians killed on Scotland’s roads? Some of those were mown down by motor vehicles driven on the foot way, others killed while crossing the road at pedestrian crossings by motorists jumping the lights. Oh, but of course, Mr Mackay isn’t concerned with the real issue of people being killed or the roads being too dangerous for many people to ride a bike on. He has given no thought as to why shared use paths are over crowded and how we might go about dealing with this issue, such as making the roads safer and providing a fairer allocation of space to non-motorists. He is more worried that bad drivers might actually be held to account for the injuries and deaths they cause, which is what would happen if we were to “introduce legislation that would be nothing more than another impost upon the motoring public” (although the version I have proposed would also apply to cyclists).

Instead, according Mr Mackay bad driving is apparently OK and should continue to tolerated, on the grounds that “the motoring public who, after all, already pay to use the road.” So there we have it, we shouldn’t do anything to hold bad drivers to account, because they pay “road tax”. Of course there is a major flaw in this argument, there is no such thing as “road tax” , we all pay for the roads, and we should all have the right to be safe from harm by others whilst using those roads.

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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