• Cyclingballs #4: The enemies within

    If you thought emotionlessness means rationality, and irrationality means emotionality, then think again.

    I received an email today from the Greater London Authority’s ‘Public Liaison Unit’, replying (better late than never) to an email I sent them earlier this year. My email made a number of suggestions in regard to the ‘Central London Grid’ proposed by TfL. The key point I made is that the best way to organise and map a network of cycle routes in London – or any metropolis – is to use the Compass Colour System devised by Simon Parker.

    Unfortunately, this point seems to have fallen on deaf ears: perhaps that’s because someone from a ‘Public Liaison Unit’ isn’t necessarily the most suitable person to address my detailed enquiry. (And why does there have to be a Public Liaison Unit, anyway? Why can’t the people whose wages we pay to serve our interests ‘liaise’ with us?)

    The email I received not only managed to miss the point entirely, it also managed to show no human acknowledgement of the fact that I enthusiastically volunteered my time to get involved in creating the proposed Grid. Welcome to the world of modern centralised planning, where ineptitude and indifference are practised in the name of the common good, spurred on and inspired by the legions of armchair humanitarians who are currently stocking the nation’s living rooms and council offices.

    The email I received contained a reminder ‘of the TfL cycling maps that are available off [sic] the TfL website’ – these are part of the problem, not the solution. It also contained assurances that my call for a ‘cycling equivalent of the LU map’ is being met ‘through the Central London Grid, which will be a mixture of Quietways and Superhighways in the City, West End and surrounding boroughs’. Well, no, that misses the point too, since most of the proposed network already exists, and the whole point of the London Cycle Map Campaign is to map and sign the existing network properly. Indeed, when I visited the link provided by the email, I saw a 'proposed routes' map of the Central London Grid that looks nothing like a Tube map, and I found a promise that two (wow, two!) Quietways will be completed by 2015: to repeat, both the map of proposed routes and the new routes are irrelevant to the idea of creating a Tube-style map for a cycle network that (mostly) already exists.

    As for the email’s incantation that ‘Superhighways are mostly segregated and on main roads’ – well, this is just absolute, unmitigated rubbish. The Cycle Superhighways should, in my opinion, go down as one of the great political scandals of our time – hundreds of millions of pounds spent daubing blue paint on some of the most dangerous main roads in the capital, in the name of cycling safety. Indeed, even if the Cycle Superhighways were all fully 'segregated', they'd still be a waste of money: if loads of people used those routes, they wouldn't be fast anymore, and there are more sensible ways and places to invest money in cycling than trying to seize back the busy main roads that were made busy precisely through the backstreet traffic calming measures previously (and sensibly) implemented in the name of cycling. 

    Finally, and most worryingly, the aforementioned website declares that Quietways will be ‘a network of radial and orbital routes throughout London’ (my italics). So there will be no Compass Colour System. There will be no guarantee that a cyclist can travel from A to B, from anywhere to anywhere in London, by following no more than a few coloured routes, on safer, quieter streets. There will, most likely, be a few concentric circular routes created on quiet streets – probably cobbled together out of routes that already exist – marked with some confusing new signage, as well as a confusing new system of signage for the almighty tangle of (mostly existing) routes proposed for (and for leading into) Central London. I can predict this confusion with confidence, because there is simply no sensible way to sign so many routes without using the Compass Colour System.

    I can also predict that this ‘new’ Grid (which be will be rolled out ridiculously slowly, over ten years) will repeatedly be announced with great fanfare, proclaiming the ‘cycling revolution’ that is currently seeing cycling numbers in London stagnate, with all likelihood that the stagnation will continue.

    Rest assured though: 'TfL will continue to develop route proposals with our delivery partners'. This is what counts as public services these days.

    The simplest way to explain the behaviour of any bureaucratic organization, as the poet and historian Robert Conquest pointed out, is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its own enemies.

  • Cyclingballs #3: The London Cycling Campaign of Fear?

    Every cloud has a silver lining: the current Tube strikes, although irritating, are at least inspiring many more Londoners to cycle to work.

    This is true despite a recent press release I received from the London Cycling Campaign. The message came with a headline that included a peculiar phrase:

    ‘Londoners should have genuine choice to cycle on Tube strike days (and every other day)’

    This surprised me. I thought that one of the major objectives of the London Cycling Campaign is to inspire more people to discover the many benefits of cycling – health, happiness, fitness, free travel, and so on. But the headline suggests that cycling is not a ‘genuine choice’ for Londoners. So what’s stopping them?

    The press release begins by ‘calling on local councils to redesign our streets so all Londoners have a genuine choice to cycle on Tube strike days’. The theme continues: we need to ‘redesign our streets so they're safe and inviting for everyone to cycle’.

    So the implication is that until the streets are redesigned people do not have a ‘genuine choice’ to cycle: as things stand the streets are not ‘safe and inviting’.

    The LCC blunders home the point by quoting from ‘Human Resources Manager Lisa Wyett, 31, who lives in Kingsbury NW London’, and says, "I would cycle to work during the Tube strike if I could, but I’m scared of cycling on busy roads. I'd definitely consider it if the streets were safer for cycling".

    What a thoroughly depressing and misleading press release!

    It certainly makes you wonder: are the streets safe for cycling? Well, it depends on the streets, and on how safe you want to be.

    The LCC’s Space for Cycling Campaign is calling for the capital’s major motor arteries to be ripped up and redesigned with special ‘segregated’ lanes for cyclists. At the moment, those main roads, where buses and trucks hurtle past in high numbers, are naturally pretty inhospitable places for cyclists.

    The statistics suggest that it is a bit of an exaggeration to call those roads ‘unsafe’ for cyclists (by that logic, they’re unsafe for pedestrians, motorcyclists and drivers too), but certainly it is safer and more pleasant to cycle somewhere other than on the main roads.

    But there’s the rub. Even if, when it comes to cycling on main roads, would-be cyclists are put off by safety issues and fears about safety (and even if you unhelpfully blur that distinction as the LCC does), Londoners still have a ‘genuine choice’ to cycle: they can cycle on alternative streets. It doesn’t take very long to plan a quieter bike route, taking in London’s lovely backstreets, parks and canals.

    By obsessing about main roads, the LCC achieves only two things, the second often (but remarkably not always) following from the first: insinuating that there is no choice for new cyclists but to take the main roads, and scaring off new cyclists. Both outcomes are unhelpful – to put it mildly – to the cycling cause in the capital (as well as beyond).

    There will never be a network of segregated cycle routes on London’s main roads: and there doesn’t need to be. As well as countless unprovisioned quiet roads which are perfectly suitable for cycling on, the capital already has a designated network of thousands of kilometers of reasonably well-developed cycle routes encompassing backstreets, parks and canals.

    The most effective thing the authorities could do is sign and map this network properly with long, straight coloured routes, so that people can plan and follow a cycle route with the same ease as catching the Tube. People already have a ‘genuine choice’ to cycle in London, but a Tube-style London Cycle Map and network would make cycling a simpler choice.

    Will this proposal make the headlines? Unlikely. Most people are terrified of cycling, and therefore not interested in sensible commentary. That's why the LCC achieves mainstream publicity through pandering to the climate of fear that is reflected, and stoked, by the media. And that’s why the LCC’s blurs the distinction between safety and the perception of safety: to recognize that there is a difference would be to challenge the media’s fearmongering agenda, and risk being ignored. 

    No wonder cycling levels have not increased in the last year, as new statistics show. (Note that Sustrans, in reporting these statistics, couldn’t resist the customary lament about safety, and also blurred the distinction between safety and perceptions of safety: ‘Some areas aren’t as safe as others, preventing many people from cycling regularly for everyday journeys to work, school or the shops… We need safer streets and more dedicated cycling routes so that everyone can feel safe on a bike’.)

    Of course, new dedicated cycling routes are always welcome. But fearmongering will get cyclists nowhere.

    www.petition.co.uk/london-cycle-map-campaign

  • Cycling to work - looking for inspiration and information?

    Cycling to work is one of the best decisions you can make. Once you get out there on two wheels you’ll find that all the benefits of cycling will come your way – fresh air, fitness, happiness, freedom, reliability, money saved, and even sunshine.

    Sadly, many people are put off because they think cycling is a ‘hassle’. Doesn’t cycling make you sweaty and tired? What if you get a puncture? How do you plan a route? What are you supposed to wear?

    Cycling to Work: A Beginners Guide by Rory McMullan answers all these questions and more, in an accessible, friendly and fun style.

    Published by Green Books and priced at a very reasonable £4.95, the book is great value – an investment worth really making if you’re thinking of starting cycling but worried about the details.

    You’ll soon be reassured that there’s no hassle involved in cycling – quite the opposite. It is one of the simplest sources of pleasure and convenience you’re ever likely to find.

  • Einstein and the Art of Mindful Cycling posters

    Recently I was delighted to receive an email from graphic designer Jordan Carr showing me a series of posters he has created featuring inspirational quotes from my book Einstein and the Art of Mindful Cycling.

    Here is one of the posters, below, and below that a close up of the quote. Thanks Jordan!

    You can see the rest of the posters here and find out more about Jordan's work here.

    Signed copies of Einstein and the Art of Mindful Cycling are available here.

     

  • Mindfulness in a Modern World event, Sunday 30 March in Brighton - Ben Irvine talk

    Ben Irvine will be giving a talk in Brighton this Sunday (30 March) on his book Einstein and the Art of Mindful Cycling, as part of the Mindfulness in a Modern World event being run by Leaping Hare Press. See image below for full details.

  • Goodbye Cycle Lifestyle

    After ten issues of Cycle Lifestyle, I’ve decided to call it a day.  

    With a lot of hard work, the magazine has been profitable for four years – a fact I’m proud of – but with each issue the struggle to acquire funding has become tougher and tougher, now to the point of unsustainability.  

    A heartfelt thank you to everyone who has contributed to the magazine – especially our ever-present and ever-funny columnists Gareth Jenkins and Adam Copeland, our superb and committed designer/illustrator Jon Haste, Dom Tyerman for his website jiggery-pokery in the early days followed by Jack Carr's recently, and our friendly and ultra-professional printers Barclays Print. Above all, thank you to Rebecca Watts for her poetry sourcing and writing, editorial support, unending good advice, and creative input.

    Cyclelifestyle.co.uk will remain online as a vehicle for the London Cycle Map Campaign. I’ll still blog occasionally on that topic and will continue to do so until London gets a Tube-style map and network of cycle routes worthy of the campaign’s demands.

    I’ve learned a lot from Cycle Lifestyle – to the point where a proper valedictory would be about as difficult to produce as another issue of the magazine. To cut a long story short: cycling is immensely life-enhancing, more people should do it, and the people who do cycle should be careful not to become so partisan that they put off non-cyclists.

    See you on the road.

    Ben Irvine

    Cycle Lifestyle Editor from September 2009 to February 2014.

  • When your ‘right of way’ on a bike puts you in danger

    Inspiration for writing these blogs comes from all sorts of places, including the many conversations I have with non-cyclists. Good advocacy requires not just consistency and determination but sensitivity to the state of mind of the people you are trying to convert to your way of seeing things.

    Yesterday I was talking to a non-cyclist from London and she made a remark which struck me as very wise. She pointed out that cyclists often put themselves in danger because they take up a position on the road which they believe they have a right to take but which is not the safest option.

    How true! Here are two examples.

    Sometimes cyclists observe that a vehicle in front them is not indicating left and therefore they conclude that proceeding down the left hand side of the vehicle is their “right of way”. In fact, cycling down the left hand side of a vehicle is by far the most dangerous thing you can do on a bicycle; the vehicle may suddenly turn left into a side street even though the driver was not indicating to do so. Hence, in this situation cyclists’ perception of their “right of way” puts them in grave danger.

    In the latter example, I am not even sure whether it is correct to use the term ‘right of way’ – which is why I have put it in scare quotes. Cycling up the left hand side of a vehicle is so dangerous perhaps it should never be considered to be a cyclist's ‘right’. In any case, some cyclists perceive it to be their right and therefore they neglect the danger: this is precisely the problem.

    Here’s another example. Sometimes when a cyclist approaches a T-junction (a junction which intersects with either the left or right side of the road which the cyclist is riding along) a car may simultaneously approach that T-junction. The cyclist, certainly correctly in this case, concludes that they have a right to proceed down the road: it is the driver’s legal obligation to stop at the T-junction and let the cyclist pass. However, the driver may not always see a passing cyclist. The human eye jumps from focal point to focal point, and sometimes a cyclist falls in the gaps in the driver’s vision and doesn’t get noticed. In correctly understanding their right of way in this situation, cyclists may be blinded to the risk that the driver hasn’t seen them. Cyclists may swoop past the T-junction assuming the driver will stop – and the driver doesn’t stop.

    I am not suggesting instead that the cyclist should, as a rule, completely stop for the driver. Rather, it is sometimes prudent to make small (or even big) adjustments in advance of a potential flash point when you are cycling. In the latter example, you can perhaps slow down a little until you are sure the driver has seen you, especially if the driver is approaching the T-junction very fast; try to make eye contact with the driver before you pass the junction. Or, if a vehicle is approaching a T-junction to the left of the road you are cycling along, you can quickly look over your shoulder to check that there are no vehicles behind you then move slightly to the right of the lane, to give yourself more room for manoeuvre just in case the driver approaching from the left does swing out into the road.

    This style of cycling is called riding ‘positively defensively’. It means knowing your rights and asserting yourself but always being aware that drivers do not necessarily know your rights. Sometimes proceeding on what you believe to be your right of way on a bicycle can put you in danger; I'll be interested to hear from readers of any other examples of this. Always proceed with caution on a bicycle if you would rather be alive than right.   

  • Londoners jubilant as dingy overcrowded labyrinth stays open

    There has been singing in the tunnels as the government has announced that London’s catacombs will be open to the public as usual this week.

    Last week’s 48 hour shut-out saw millions of troglophiles forced into the daylight, where they were denied the opportunity to be squashed together in tiny compartments and ferried through dank underground vesicles from chamber to identical chamber. 

    The most disorientated subterraneans were found wandering the streets like excommunicated ants, desperately hoping for a tunnel at the end of the light.  

    Mr Minotaur, a spokesman for the underground dwellers, roared: ‘What’s the world coming to? It’s the twenty-first century and I’ve been deprived of the right to experience dystopian misery on a mass scale first thing in the morning’.

    To add insult to injury, some lost souls experienced an even bigger increase in their levels of uprootedness after being encouraged to whizz freely through the fresh air on bicycles.  

    Thankfully, millions will now avoid this dreadful fate for another week.  

    BREAKING NEWS: Save the Traffic Jam campaigners condemn Cycle Lifestyle magazine

  • London Bike Show on Thursday to Sunday

    What are you doing next weekend? Fancy checking out cool bike stuff?

    The London Bike Show – the biggest in the UK – is running this Thu 13 to Sun 16 Feb at ExCeL, Royal Victoria Dock, 1 Western Gateway, E16 1XL, London.

    Cycle Lifestyle has attended the London Bike Show the last few years. All the big bike brands are there, making it the perfect place to find a bike or kit. There’s even a 500m test track to take alluring new wheels for a spin.

    The exhibition will be full of expert advisors on training and performance, plus there will be a programme of talks running in the Cycling Performance Theatre. For those that like stunts, tricks, and enthralling racing, there’ll be demos from the daredevils of the Animals WD-40 Action Sports Tour, road-bikers on the DMR Pump Track and Indoor Criterium, and BMXers on the iON Half Pipe. Come find out who has the Fastest Wrench in town and, on the Thursday evening, the 16 prize-winners for the Total Women’s Cycling Awards 2014.

    The London Bike Show is open Thursday 1-8pm, Friday 10am-5pm, Saturday 9am-6pm, and Sunday 9am-5pm.

    Ticket prices are: £20 on door/£16 online for adults (plus Thursday after 5pm, £7/5); £15/13 for students; and kids under 16 are free with adults. Your ticket also gets you full entry to three other cool events at the same venue: the Telegraph Outdoor Adventure & Travel Show, the Triathlon Show, and the London International Dive Show (weekend only).

  • Cycling in the eighties

    There’s a wonderful viral video doing the rounds, all about the seventies and eighties. Watching it made me feel both happy and sad at the same time. I suppose that’s what nostalgia does to you.

    One of my fondest recollections of growing up in the eighties can be summed up in two words: bike rides! Like most young boys in London, when I wasn’t playing football on a windswept, muddy pitch, a large part of my leisure time was spent cycling around – just exploring the city’s backstreets, woods, parks and canals, or generally getting up to mischief.

    So I thought it would be fun to explore a few eighties cycling memories today.

    The first thing that springs to mind are the quirky bikes we had. Lots of children rode Raleigh Choppers but throughout the decade these were gradually usurped by BMXs. The luckiest kids had Raleigh Vektar bikes with sound generators that made a variety of spacey noises.

    The eighties were also a time for zany bike accessories. My own BMX proudly boasted brightly coloured ‘pads’ on its frame tubes, as well as luminous handlebar grips. And, like all kids, I enjoyed having ‘spokey dokeys’ on my wheels, except when I had spokeless ‘mag’ wheels.

    One Christmas, my brother and I were given bicycle mileometers. These simple little devices worked by keeping a tally of each time a prong attached to a spoke on the rear wheel made passing contact with a mechanical sensor on a combination dial. We loved our mileometers, and obsessively measured the distance everywhere we went. My friend also had a simple bicycle speedometer, so I used to race along beside him to find out how fast I was going.

    When we weren’t outside enjoying ourselves, we did what kids today spend too much time doing: playing on computer games. A few favourites were Daley Thompson’s Supertest and Summer Games, both of which featured ‘cycling’ challenges where you had to manically tap two keys in quick succession to gain speed. My poor Spectrum keyboard took a battering. There was also a game called ‘BMX Simulator’; at least we knew back then that it wasn’t as good as the real thing.

    The eighties also saw the rise and rise of cinema. From Breaking Away in 1979 through to American Flyers, Quicksilver, BMX Bandits and even Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, cycling occasionally made it onto the big screen. Needless to say, almost every kid who watched ET wanted to be Elliot, the kid who magically cycled in midair with his friends to carry ET safely back to his alien spaceship.

    Sports cycling and cycle touring hadn’t really taken off in the eighties – well, not in Britain. As far as I was concerned, the only people who cycled competitively were strangely-attired Europeans. The closest that cycling came to being about fitness was when it was done on an exercise bike; every self-respecting yuppie owned one. 

    Come to think of it, cycling wasn’t really about much in the eighties.

    It certainly wasn’t about angrily ‘saving the planet’, fighting against ‘consumerism’, or ‘reclaiming the streets’ from cars and trucks. Apart from being a useful way to get from A to B or hunt for a job, cycling was mostly about... the simple pleasure of cycling. There was an unselfconsciousness to riding a bike, just a natural exuberance expressed with a smile, a wheelie, and a gentle, technicolour cascade of spokey dokeys.

    Since the eighties, cycling has come a long way. But perhaps it would make even more progress today if we all remembered how innocent cycling was then. 

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