Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Even Safer-cycling–yes please

Tuesday, 21st February 2012: There are all sorts of reasons for cycling, one size does not fit all which is a weak link to the fact the on Monday I had to go shopping for clothes and was amazed how jackets, allegedly of the same size seemed to be a completely different fit. Or perhaps I have some sort of shape-shifting problem that I am just not aware of. (Although “losing weight is twice as hard as you may think”. Now I am not sure how hard I think it is to lose weight in the first place- there is a picture of a cyclist overlapping her saddle in the piece though.)

Surprised smile

These were work type clothes I was buying, although unlike most people, when I am buying work-clothing I tend to assess it on the basis on suitability for cycling as well as how it looks and fits.  There are some obvious things to think about like is it washable. You’d be surprised how many flecks of mud you pick up when cycling around, even with decent mudguards. I also like the waist to have a bit of flex, useful when jumping on and off the bike.  When buying jackets I tend to think in terms of layering and like my jackets to be able to accommodate a thin jumper underneath if required. That way I can more easily suit the clothing to the temperature conditions.

Mind you despite approaching 100,000 miles (160,000Km) of lifetime cycling I still get it badly wrong when setting off, especially when the weather is changeable. That is why layers are so important as it then becomes easier to tune my “operating” temperature. It also means that I look for clothing that is quite light, that way it is easier when I take it off and have to fold it up and tuck it away in a bag. I don’t think of myself as a fanatical cyclist – it just adds up over time, especially if you try to use the bike as the main form of transport rather than the car. Just look at the way your car mileage mounts up over a year, even if you think you only do small journeys and to and fro to work.

I have a linen jacket which has the advantage of looking crumpled all the time and the expectation of linen jackets is that a crumpled look is normal.  That also means I can crumple it up and stuff it into a bag without worrying that it will get any scruffier.

The good news is I did find some suitable clothing although shopping for new clothes has to rate as one of my least favourite activities.

Funnily enough safety doesn’t really feature that highly in my thoughts. Which just goes to show that I must feel pretty safe when cycling around (Cambridge anyway).  I do tend to tuck my trousers into my socks as well as wear fluorescent yellow bands around my ankles – also to keep my trousers out of the chain. In my experience it is only too easy to rub your ankle against the chain wheel immediately smearing oil all over. I also find that despite the power of modern washing powders oil stains  do not always readily disappear. 

Talking about oil here is another cyclist’s take on the inexorable rise to be expected for petrol prices. We don’t have much, India and China are rapidly growing economies – hadn’t we better think about alternatives. Otherwise I won’t be able to keep my chain oiled. (Although I use synthetic oil on my bike – does that count?)

It also turns out that us cyclists might struggle to keep ourselves clean here in the Flatlands (of East Anglia) as we don’t have much water, in the South they are suggesting not spending more than 4 minutes in the shower. Don't you just love it when you are held responsible for someone else’s lack of investment – not. Why are we building even more houses when we don’t have enough water for the houses we already have?

We humans do tend to think in the present, especially when the future. So it pains me that the concern about the effects man might be having on the planet seem to have devolved to the level of a political argument squabble. Now you might have guessed that the Daily Mail’s politics are not my own – but they do have some good pictures, “interesting” headlines and don’t hide behind a paywall. So whatever side of the divide you stand on – the following headline does not endear me. “How green zealots are destroying the planet”. A more rational view can be found from Professor David Mackay of Cambridge University- Sustainable Energy – without the hot air.

One of the statements to be found in the book (page 258 - here) “If you would like a vehicle whose fuel efficiency is 30 times better than a car’s, it’s simple: ride a bike”.

So somewhere in that lot you have it – I feel safe enough on my bicycle that I don’t feel the need for too much special clothing, including a helmet. There are some who would froth at the mouth at that statement. However I am able to pick my routes, I do wear a helmet for certain types of cycling – MTB-ing, on foreign roads and I don’t cycle that fast. I also feel that I am making a statement – cycling is not inherently dangerous – look how many Dutch people do it safely without helmets that is what we need to strive for here in the UK.

Mind you a picture tells a thousand words, we have the Times “Save our Cyclists Campaign” which is creating a conversation where perhaps it didn’t exist before. What we have to remember is that we are trying to encourage more people to cycle, some claim that “all they need is a bit of training”. I wonder though that the message that those people not yet cycling here is either one of “yep you’ve got us bang to rights – cycling is dangerous” or “yep more cyclists would be good – but we think so little of cycling that there is now way to expect any investment in safe facilities”.

In The Times there is a piece “Edinburgh sets the pace for a cycle-friendly city”. yet the picture shows anything but, with a bunch of MAMILS helmeted and jacketed being crowded by buses. That is not to knock Edinburgh’s decision though. If I were yet to cycle then the news, widely reported of  “Shocking moment jailed bus driver ‘used vehicle as a weapon’ to ram cyclist off road”, with the bus driver subsequently jailed isn’t really going to help encourage me. Bus drivers have a job to do, public transport is important however I don’t feel that the road layouts do any favours in the way that cyclists and buses are forced to interact. I have seen bus drivers get quite aggressive though.

The other aspect of cycling that worries me also highlighted by the Bus driver case – road rage. Here in the Flatlands a PCSO was “nudged” by an angry motorist in Newmarket. Motor vehicles under the control of people susceptible to road rage does not inspire confidence in wound-be cyclists. Given the damage a motor vehicle can do versus that of a cyclists one might argue as does Colin Nugent in The Times that “Penalty for cyclists breaking law is unjust”.

Indeed the trial of a van driver who killed a cyclist as he cycled home reports the van driver as suggesting that the “sun was low, my sight was pretty bad but before I knew it, I had hit the cyclist”. The trouble is that I can easily imagine this happening to me and so I would imagine can many would-be cyclists. I have had too many motor vehicles pass me with inches to spare, at speed, to feel comfortable about the skills of my fellow road users.

So let’s hope that the debate in Parliament on the importance of cycling will effect a big step-change in the treatment of cyclists and provision for cycling. We want more people cycling. According to this Post in As Easy As Riding A Bike, David Cameron, known for cycling is quoted as saying:

“Anyone who’s got on a bicycle – particularly in one of our busier cities – knows that you are taking your life into your hands every time you do so.”

Cyclists in the City reports that a Department of Transport survey found that 60% of people who can ride a bike think the roads are too dangerous.

It does worry me that the people debating this are capable of wastingspending £400,000 of taxpayers’ money on just TWELVE fig trees for their rented offices” it doesn’t give me warm feelings that they really care about the common man (or woman) let along us cyclists.

Lots of people do cycle though and not just in Cambridge – check out Bristol bike parking for instance. we do have 20mph limits appearing and they certainly make Mill Road feel more pleasant and safer to cycle down in Cambridge. Apart from the idiot who as I approached the traffic lights pulled alongside me and then squeezed me against the kerb. When the lights went green he I took the primary position and he then had to follow me. (Just a car, not a white van or taxi driver, in fact it looked like a mum on her way back from the school run.)

On the Cambridge Blog (Cycling Cultures)  there are some rather nice videos showing some of the pleasant routes through Cambridge. They are what make cycling fun and practical for me.

Phew all that to get to mention that Tuesday was a meetings in Cambridge day – I was layered up in my new clothes. I also had a yellow fluorescent cycling hat and scarf on. So surprise, surprise I got a bit too warm by the time I got to my meeting, via a great circle route. That was despite the fact it was still cool that morning although it warmed up to 10C by lunchtime.  I even slowed down a bit on my way in  trying to cool down a bit – loads of cyclists passed me I was going so slowly. It also meant I didn’t really have time to take pictures.

As I cycled back I did stop a couple of times though. There is still building going on in Cambridge – here overlooking Midsummer Common near Elizabeth Way.  To avoid problems with congestion they have helicopter pads on the roof.

As you can see just by the Green dragon Bridge it was gloriously sunny . It almost started to feel Spring-like.

This is Ditton Meadows – made from three pictures stitched together – it will be great when we get some leaves on the trees.

On the way back I put my scarf and hat in my bag – I think that was about right temperature-wise.

Oops I nearly forgot, what must be one of the best pictures I’ve seen for a while – a village amongst the clouds. For good measure a couple more: a rocket passing through he Northern Lights and a Bicycle snowplough.

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