• 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.

  • London Cycle Map gets a mention in new ITV/Yahoo film

    Exciting times: mainstream coverage of the London Cycle Map Campaign in an ITV/Yahoo co-production presented by Gavin Ramjaun! Watch out for the joker at 1.21: 

    http://uk.news.yahoo.com/video/government-proposes-cycling-measures-0919...

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