• Home of the world’s biggest cycle race, yet where are all the cycle commuters?

    Richard McBurney is a London resident who has been living in Cape Town for around a year and a half. In this fascinating guest blog, he describes the enormous potential for cycling in South Africa’s second biggest city.

    Every March the Cape Argus cycle tour rolls into Cape Town, South Africa. It’s the world’s largest individually timed road race with over 35,000 cyclists taking part. Roads are closed and cyclists dominate the city and peninsula. This is a complete contrast to the rest of the year when cyclists are a rare sight in the city centre.

    The Cape Argus is an amazing 110km route, starting in the centre of Cape Town then snaking out of the city past the magnificent Table Mountain National Park and along the coast roads of the peninsula. Having taken part on two occasions I can see why this tour attracts so many South Africans and cyclists from all over the world. It has a truly special atmosphere and is a well-managed event. Clearly Cape Town as host to the Argus has a love of cycling.

    My wife and I moved to Cape Town almost 2 years ago. Moving from London and regularly commuting by bike we brought our bikes with us. Yet our bikes seem to be spending far too much time in our store room reserved for weekends. Our main means of transport is now the car, backed up by a scooter. We’ve found ourselves questioning this: what’s changed? We live the same distance from the office here in Cape Town as we did in London. The weather is better, the scenery much better. So why are there so few cycle commuters in Cape Town? 

    It’s a fact that cycling is considered to be faster than driving for distances up to five kilometres, which incidentally is the distance between the centre of Cape Town and many surrounding neighbourhoods such as Sea Point, Gardens and Bantry Bay. This is ideal for many people to cycle to work, yet I only know two friends that commute by bike more than twice a week. In my office of 20 people, many of whom live within the magic five km radius, not one arrives by bike. In the city a cyclist is a rare sight; I’ve found that cycling appears to be mainly for sport and competition. It’s almost frowned upon to be cycling without donning a full lycra body suit and clipping into the latest carbon fibre racer!

    By way of an explanation, my initial thoughts are that it’s more than just a lack of cycle lanes and a lack of good public transport. Safety is a big concern here – the drivers are pretty wild. Being knocked off or even having your bike stolen en route is a valid concern. Geography is a factor, as Cape Town sits in a bowl below Table Mountain. Although the city centre is reasonably flat there are some pretty steep hills on one side that require Chris Hoy-sized thighs to pedal up! There are also issues such as ensuring that the correct facilities are provided for cyclists in the workplace – no showers or storage facilities would certainly put people off. It could also be a cultural thing – a love of the car, or an attitude whereby travel by alternative means such as cycling and walking is reserved for the poor, i.e. those that cannot afford a car. Car travel is still seen by many as the safest and preferred mode of transport. Unfortunately this love of the car coupled with a route from the garage to indoor office parking does create a lack of interaction at street level. In some areas there is a lack of public transport. In my area the streets are lined with bus stops, and people looking out wearily for the number 9 that is yet to arrive! The bus infrastructure has been built but the buses only run in certain areas. Minibus taxis are cheap and regular although they come with safety concerns and a stigma that they are the “poor man’s” transport.

    This is a complex city in its diverse population, history and location. Apartheid has created a split in the areas that different groups of people live in, and its spatial legacy remains. In simple terms, Apartheid law meant that some Capetonian residents were forced out of their homes in the city centre and relocated to informal settlements (townships) 15km out of the city centre. Whites remained within areas close to the city centre. The physical distance between informal settlements, for example Guguletu and Khayelitsha, has served to separate the mass black population from economic opportunities, with the only practical means of transport being minibus taxi, or slow, old trains. It may be too far to regularly commute by bike for many, but with the addition of cycling infrastructure, or some sort of bike and bus combination, or even electric bikes, I wonder if this could make a progressive change for so many township residents. With much of the poorer population living on the periphery of the city and largely unable to afford private vehicles, many people in Cape Town and across South Africa are deprived of access to opportunities. Cycling presents a more affordable way for people to increase their mobility and access more of those opportunities.

    The full explanation of  why there is a lack of cycle commuting in Cape Town is complex. But, looking ahead, what can a city like Cape Town do to encourage more people to discover the many benefits of commuting by bike? There are a number of encouraging signs that change is on the way.

    The Cape Town Bicycle Map’. in print since 2011, is now available online in both website and smart phone editions. This map illustrates suitable cycling routes, secure places to leave your bike and the locations of bike-friendly businesses.

    ‘Commuting Friday’, is an incentive to use non-motorised transport. Bike-friendly coffee shops and cafes are offering reduced price coffees or a 5% discount on breakfast if you have cycled to the venue.

    ‘Moonlight mass’ is a casual night bicycle ride under a full moon once a month. Inaugurated as a social experiment on Twitter, the ride has been gaining popularity, and attracting hundreds of riders, which is helping to raise awareness of cycling in the city.

    ‘Up Cycles’ is Cape Town's first drop-and-go bike rental company. With two sites along the seafront, cyclists can enjoy a casual ride from just outside the city centre to the beaches of Clifton and Camps Bay. With reasonably low prices (about £3 per hour) this is a great way to encourage cycling, although more for leisure than commuting.

    ‘The Big Ride in’, first envisioned by the founders of the Cape Argus cycle tour, is inclusive of any type of non-motorised transport, and promotes the use of the cycle lanes along the west coast, linking the city centre to the suburbs. The West Coast bicycle lane has been a success, although there have been some problems with bicycle access to trains and buses, to help link journeys. However, folding bikes are allowed access at all times and can be rented.

    Finally, the Pedal Power Association has run an awareness campaign, handing out car bumper stickers reminding drivers to give cyclists more road space.

    All these schemes demonstrate that change is in the air, and cycling is gaining in popularity. Many of the benefits of cycling are well-documented and are the same for all cities, such as reducing congestion  and pollution, and providing cheaper travel. In my opinion, the benefits for Cape Town would be so much more extensive. The streets would become safer, as well as more interactive, vibrant and liveable, and many people would access opportunities that are currently out of reach. I’m hopeful that , with the introduction of more cycle lanes and the rising popularity of cycling for more than recreational use, Cape Town has a bright future on two wheels.

    If you would like to be a guest blogger on cyclelifestyle.co.uk, please get in touch on info@cyclelifestyle.co.uk - we'd be delighted to hear from you.

  • Mindfulness of Mechanisms

    We rarely take time to appreciate the many clever mechanisms that make life so much more convenient for us than it was for our ancestors. In some cases, technological accomplishments represent thousands of years of progress, yet we typically use mechanical devices mindlessly, without sparing a thought for the ingenuity that went into creating them.

    Next time you encounter a working bicycle, whether it’s your own, a friend’s, or in a shop, take a moment to admire its mechanical brilliance. Notice the chain. See how its alternating series of bushings and pins connect to make a flexible but strong spine, which embraces sets of toothy sprockets on the pedal shaft and rear wheel. See how the pedals spin on their own axes while the cranks turn, just as the moon spins while the earth rotates around the sun.

    Lift the handlebars slightly to raise the front wheel off the ground. Turn the wheel, observing the circle it traces in the air, over and over. Notice the whirring spokes, and imagine how cleverly they enable the whole wheel to deform as it hits the ground before returning to its original shape, as a squashed tennis ball will.       

    Turn the handlebars, seeing how the front fork is slid through the tubular frame, combing rigidity with suppleness like a ballerina. See the brakes waiting patiently until they’re called for, to yank a cable that drags rectangles of rubber onto the rims of the wheel, halting the bicycle as if time were slowing down.

    Notice the diamond-shaped frame, expertly welded at its joints. It is hollow, mostly air, yet will hold itself and all the bike’s components together, including a leaning, pedalling rider, through decades of miles.  

    Be curious about a bicycle, and it will transport your mind as well as your body.     

    This is an excpert from my book 'Einstein and the Art of Mindful Cycling'. Author-signed copies are available to buy from here.

  • The funniest thing that ever happened to me on a bike

    Any cyclist will tell you that cycling puts a smile on your face; indeed, sometimes it puts a laugh on your face. (Can you put a laugh on a face? I’m the writer, so I say you can).

    This morning I was thinking of some of the funny experiences I've had when cycling, and my mind turned immediately to my childhood, when having fun on bikes was as natural as breathing.

    My friends and I regularly used to hang out on our bikes, and get up to all sorts of antics. We used to go on ‘get lost’ rides in Epping Forest, where the idea was, obviously, to get lost. And we regularly got chased by a Pizza man on his motorbike. I can assure you no-one provoked him first.

    But the funniest thing that ever happened to me on a bike was probably the only funny cycling experience I was involved in that I didn’t enjoy at the time. Let me explain.

    I was 15 years old, and my mates had found a ditch and were jumping over it on their bikes. I thought it looked easy, so I had a go. Unfortunately, I didn’t ‘wheelie’ over the divot before the ditch. I assumed I was going fast enough to soar over like Evil Knievil, the famous stunt man. I was wrong. When my front wheel hit the far side of the ditch, the bike and I turned a few somersaults, before coming to a stop. I wasn’t hurt at all, which was lucky because my friends were in no position to help. They were all on the floor, rolling around, with tears of laughter in their eyes.

    “It’s pulled his pants down!”, someone cried, ecstatically.

    And yes – in the tumble, my bicycle had conspired to pull my trousers and underpants down, leaving my bare bum hanging out in the breeze, while the rest of my limbs were tangled up in the frame of the bicycle, its back wheel spinning mockingly.    

    I laughed in the end, and I still laugh when I think of it now. So what’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you on a bike? 

  • The Magic Cycling Roundabout

    OK, so it’s not technically magic, but if something like this appeared in Britain, with our current levels of bureaucratic inertia, I’d assume supernatural causes.

    The Hovenring roundabout in Eindhoven is a magnificent example of a cycle development brought about by human imagination, enlightened politicians and brilliant construction.

    In its centre is a white pylon standing 70 meters tall, beneath which 24 cables are attached to support the roundabout. The roads underneath are as usable as ever, but have been dug down slightly to reduce the inclines cyclists must ascend when mounting the roundabout.

    More information about the roundabout can be found here, in Bicycle Dutch’s informative blog. I particularly liked this comment:

    This floating roundabout is not something that exists by itself. It is part of an elaborate cycle network. It would be pretty useless to have a ring like this without an underlying connected cycle network so people can actually get to this piece of remarkable infrastructure.

    This has been a constant message from Cycle Lifestyle in response to the ‘Space for Cycling’ and ‘Go Dutch’ campaigns being run by the London Cycling Campaign; these campaigns are calling for segregated cycling facilities on major roads and junctions in the capital.

    We think the LCC have only got it part right: what is most important is a cycling network. New facilities on main roads shouldn’t be put in as a rule – this is an unrealistic and potentially wasteful aim – but certainly should where those facilities add value to a network of routes.

    The Hovenring roundabout also reveals a subtle nuance involving the word ‘space’. ‘Space for cycling’ doesn’t always have to mean space taken away from cars for cycling, which seems to be the mantra of many hardcore cyclists. Space for cycling can mean adding space for cycling to the existing infrastructure; that way, everyone’s a winner.

    And, most importantly, at least for now and in Britain especially, less confrontational schemes are much more likely to see the light of day.

  • E-bikes and quietways - sounds familiar?

    As predicted by Cycle Lifestyle magazine, e-bikes are the future of transport in London.

    Next year, Boris Johnson is introducing a pilot scheme that breaks new ground in the UK. An e-bikes rental scheme will be introduced in some of the capital’s hilliest areas, including Muswell Hill, Crouch End and Alexandra Palace, with a base station at Finsbury Park Tube. Boris bike-style docking stations will double as electric charging points.

    E-bikes will provide a useful supplement to buses, which are currently the only form of public transport in these hilly parts of Haringey. Cycle routes will also be provided, linking into a network of ‘quietways’ consisting of bike-friendly backstreets and parks.

    In a related development, beat officers in the Metropolitan Police will be given electric mountain bikes to help in the fight against cycle-mounted crimes such as muggings. Police on e-bikes will be able to chase criminals into places inaccessible to cars.

    Well done Boris! Although government schemes such as these can’t do it all alone, hopefully they will inspire Londoners to invest in their own electric bikes. Potential uptake will depend in large part on the quality of the promised network of quietways. How well will these quietways link with other cycle routes throughout the capital? And how well signed will the routes be?

    With our longstanding London Cycle Map Campaign, Cycle Lifestyle is leading the way on these issues too.

  • Yorkshire 1, London 0

    If, as they say, Yorkshire is a state of mind, then it is an eminently sensible one.

    Early next year, the Tour de France’s opening stage – which will go through Wensleydale, Leyburn, Ripon and Harrogate – will be marked with 50 signs, enabling tourists and locals alike to follow the route (although presumably not during the race itself). 

    The signage will be funded and installed by North Yorkshire County Council, which has pointed out that the economic benefits will far outstrip the cost.

    Sadly, this outbreak of rationality hasn’t reached London, where 2000 kilometres of routes on the generally safe and quiet London Cycle Network remain virtually unsigned and unusable, so that cyclists who don’t have time to plan a route using the network are tempted onto busy main roads instead.

    Simon Parker has suggested a great way to sign the London Cycle Network, that is, in accordance with the long straight coloured routes depicted on his Tube-style London Cycle Map design.

    Please help us change London’s state of mind by adding your name to the London Cycle Map Campaign petition and joining the campaign on facebook and twitter

  • Go Mums!

    Next week my friend is returning to work, part-time, after a year of maternity leave. For many women in her position, the prospect of daily adult interaction is a major incentive to get back to the day job. But there can also be the worry that, after months at home with a totally different set of responsibilities, the structures and procedures that dominate the workplace will seem either overwhelming or annoyingly trivial. I asked my friend how she was feeling about it all. Surprisingly, she didn't have much to say about these usual considerations. She had a quite different perspective on the whole situation.

    “I'm really looking forward to having all my exercise built into my day, and not having to worry about finding time to do it," she enthused. “What with cycling all the way across town to the nursery, then into work, then back up the hill [a 2-mile-long hill!] to nursery, and all the way home, I'm going to be cycling almost 100 miles a week!” She was visibly joyful.

    My friend is a talented rower and used to spend most evenings on the river, as well as going on training runs a few times a week. After a difficult birth she had to take things really easy for about six months, and since then she’s had few opportunities to get out and exercise properly. She managed to hook up her road bike to a contraption that turned it into an exercise bike, so she’s been able to do a bit of cycling in the kitchen (between baby naps) and through that she’s recovered some of her pre-pregnancy fitness. But the opportunity to cycle outside, with a clear purpose (i.e. avoiding being late for work or the nursery pick-up), and not to have to worry about who’s looking after the baby while she does, has made her feel great. The 18-mile daily round trip will be a challenge, despite the nursery staff allowing her to leave her trailer locked up there so that she doesn’t have the added burden of pulling it up the hill post-work.

    By the sounds of it, a new challenge is exactly what she’s ready for. 

  • Cycle Superhighway 2 design an 'accident waiting to happen' says Coroner

    Mary Hassell, the coroner leading the inquest into the death of cyclist Brian Dorling, has called the design of Cycle Superhighway 2 'an accident waiting to happen'. Brian was killed at Bow roundabout in October 2011 while commuting to work on this flagship Transport for London cycle route.

    Cycle Superhighways are, in essence, trails of blue paint daubed along some of the capital's busiest motor transport arteries. Unlike the LCC, which is proposing to persevere with but improve cycling facilities on main roads as a priority, Cycle Lifestyle's emphasis is on providing a network of safe cycle routes using a combination of direct backstreets and, wherever safety can be achieved, selected routes on main roads or existing superhighways. 

    I believe the London Cycle Network approach, in combination with a Tube-style London Cycle Map and corresponding signage on the routes, is the only realistic way to make cycling a truly popular transport option in London.

    As I've argued, again and again and again and again, long straight cycle routes don't necessarily have to be on long straight major roads. Using Simon Parker's clever 'compass colours system', London's existing spaghetti of backstreet cycle routes could be made much more accessible, enabling cyclists to ride safely, directly and simply from more or less anywhere to anywhere in the capital. 

    Apparently the court was 'packed' during the Brian Dorling case. A cynical man might point out there are huge vested interests when it comes to the current cycling status quo in London - lobbyists, campaigners, lawyers and officials of all stripes feeding off the seemingly endless, and very occasionally tragic, confrontation between motorists and cyclists, a confrontation that is crystallised in the Superhighways debate.

    A cynical but hopeful man might observe that there is an easy way out this deadlock, if only people could see past the melee to a London Cycle Map.

  • Lions in London and Long Distance Cycling

    A couple of upcoming Sustrans talks look very interesting...

    Saturday 26th October - London Lion Safari. Valerie Colin Russ, acclaimed London Guide and author has agreed to lead a walking tour round our great city to meet up with just a few of the 10,000 lion statues she has identified. Full details and a link to buy tickets are at http://www.sustrans.org.uk/lions.

    Wednesday 6th November - Long Distance Cycling Touring event.  This will be an informal evening talking about planning, logistics and adventures on the National Cycle Network and further afield... It will be held at The Gallery, 70 Cowcross St, London EC1M 6EL (near Farringdon Tube). Full details and a link to buy tickets at www.sustrans.org.uk/touring-talk.

  • The Journal of Modern Wisdom has returned!

    If you're a fan of Cycle Lifestyle magazine then you might be interested to hear that a new volume of our 'sister publication' has recently been published. (It even contains a short section about cycling!)

    The Journal of Modern Wisdom volume 2 is a selection of diligently-written, accessible essays seeking to reassert the importance of wisdom in the modern world, all accompanied once again by exquisite illustrations from resident artist Thais Beltrame.

    Contributors to volume 2 include Theodore Dalrymple, Jules Evans, William Irwin, Nicholas Maxwell and Tom Barker, plus editor Ben Irvine, poet Rebecca Watts, and an anonymous, high-ranking academic unleashing a glorious polemic against the philosophical establishment.

    Addressing a cluster of topics traditionally neglected by the intelligentsia – such as self-control, self-help, community mindedness and responsibility – the journal’s message is both radical and, deep-down, familiar, providing provocation and inspiration in equal measure.

    For public thinkers and the thinking public, copies of the Journal of Modern Wisdom (volumes 1 and 2) are available for £4.99 from www.modernwisdom.co.uk

    A third volume of the Journal of Modern Wisdom is already being planned. To get involved, please do get in touch on info@oldspeak.co.uk.

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