1st MTB World Championships, 1987

IMG_0275 - Version 2

I was in two minds whether to load this particular clip to YouTube. Not because of worries about copyright, I don’t think the BBC will mind too much, but more because (a) I’m wearing yellow shorts (b) I make a right fool of myself and (c) see (a) and (b).

The news clip is from BBC Look North, aired on 3rd August 1987. I was a cub editor on long-gone ‘Bicycle Times’ (there were no mountain bike mags at this time) and Peter Darke had only recently started his bike shop in Sunderland (it’s still going strong).

We had started the first British mountain bike team. Because we could. And nobody else had. There was a British Muddy Fox squad and all the other teams at the first MTB World Championships, held later in August in that balmy summer of 1987, were trade teams too.

We had snazzy white jerseys, made by Been Bag, and flock printed with logos. Sublimation printing wasn’t widely used at that point. SunTour was the team’s major sponsor and Rohan provided the official team clothing. I still have the team jersey; the Rohan ‘Bags’ (with large, vinyl letters down the side) are long gone.

Check out the video for gory close-ups of Shimano Biopace chainrings (oh, gullible us), chainstay-mounted u-brakes and my Pink Thing. This was an all-steel touring mountain bike made for me by frame builder Dave Yates. It had steel, integrated racks, front and rear. It was my touring MTB, heaven knows why I was riding it in this TV clip. I can’t remember what I rode on at the world championships but I do know I punctured and Did Not Finish. I rode for the British Mountain Bike Team? Yup. As co-manager it was a tough selection process but I managed to find space on the team for myself.

Our best finisher came 33rd. Helmets off to Lester Noble, who later went on to found Orange Mountain Bikes. Talking about helmets, we wore them at the World Championships, but dunno if it was compulsory back then. The pic below shows what we used. I probably secured provision of them, I certainly scammed a load of other kit so must have bagged a helmet deal too. Maybe they hadn’t turned up in time for the TV news appearance?

I’m dredging up all this MTB history because next month there’s to be a 25th anniversary weekend celebrating the first ever MTB world championships. I shall be attending.

Also attending will be MTB legends Gary Fisher and Joe Breeze. I know these guys now. Back then I was 22 and still wet behind the ears when it came to publicity (as the video attests). Listening to my claims that the Brits would wipe the floor with the rest of the world is pretty groan worthy.

The winner on the day was Ned Overend. He’s planning to attend the reunion, too. Should be a scream.

Part of the British MTB team 1987

Thanks a million (times two)

A little over a year ago and I was looking forward to the Quickrelease.tv videos breaking through the One Million Views threshold on YouTube.

Amazingly, this morning, I went through the Two Million Views threshold. I’m sketchy on arithmetic, but that, to me, looks like a million views in a year. I’m staggered, and ever so grateful. I’d like to thank my manager, my masseuse, my….

How to Lock Your Bike video

I produced this bike security video for Northumbria Police. Newcastle students get their bikes nicked hand over fist. And walking around the campus, it’s clear to see why: many of the bikes are poorly locked with weak locks, easy prey to scallies with bolt croppers and bottle jacks.

Naturally, many of the locks could be breached with pliers never mind meaty bolt croppers.

The video – flagged as produced by the forthcoming Bike to Work Book – is just two and a half minutes long but gets across the main messages from this long and detailed bike locking article.

The other videos in the Bike to Work Book series are:

Hi-re versions of these videos can be found on the Quickrelease.tv podcast, available on iTunes.

Yowza, 1m+ YouTube views


Well, that didn’t take long. Last week I reported my YouTube videos were soon to reach one million views. I wasn’t paying attention over the weekend when the magic number was reached. My vids have now had 1,022,664 views (the graphic above can’t keep up). YouTube is fine for short and shonky vids but to get longer, higher resolution versions downloaded direct to your iPod or computer, subscribe to my free podcast on iTunes. And should you know somebody who you’d like to get cycling to work, point them to the audio podcast of the soon-to-published Bike to Work Book.

The top vid has had 176,600 views. This is to be expected when it’s some great footage from the Tour de France (the better, hi-res, longer version is available here on iTunes). Views for my second best vid are not as expected: a sponsored-video on how to wash and lube a bike has had 67,234 views.

There are some daft comments, as you’d expect from YouTube commenters who very quickly start fighting with each other, but, pleasingly, one viewer wrote:

“I am just the 57 year old child who needs a well delivered, simplified video like this. I’ve only started riding, and am not a mechanic, but would like to keep the mud and goop off my bike to keep it running well for me. Thanks for a great instructional video!”

How to…start an argument with a cyclist

Simple. Explain your method of affixing handlebar tape and watch the sparks fly as your method is dissed.

Here’s the latest Quickrelease.tv ‘how to’ video from the bicycle maintenance series:

Naturally, as one man’s meat is another man’s poison, there’s already a contrary opinion from a YouTube commenter.

Getplaning says: “Wrapping from the end up to the top lasts longer and is more comfortable on the hands.”

Yep, that’s a good method, too. Each to his own. The method employed in the video is one used by an experienced bike shop mechanic but there are lots of other methods out there.

This book could save your life


On Friday I was cycling along Gosforth High Street when I saw a canvas-coloured VW nudging out of a side road. This is normal rudeness and I wasn’t too fussed, even though I had to swing over a few inches to safely clear the nudger. As I passed I could see the woman driver was on a cellphone. She was inching out into the road. She might not have seen me. Instead of simply riding on, as I would do usually, I braked hard, hopped backwards and asked the driver to – please – get off the phone.

What happened next surprised me.

She said sorry. In fact, she was apology central.

“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,” she said, and looked it. Her phone conversation hadn’t been suspended pending a rant to the idiot asking her to obey the law, she had immediately hung up the call. Amazing.

I explained how, next time, she might inch out and kill somebody. She agreed, and promised not to do it again.

This compliance threw me. This isn’t how it’s meant to work. We’re meant to shout at each other.

Surprised, albeit still a wee bit shaken by my brazenness, I started to ride off. A car pulled to the side of the first car. The woman inside said ‘What’s up? She was wasn’t on the phone was she?”

Upon my nod, she tutted and shook her head at the VW woman.

Apparently, this sort of real-person peer pressure has a big impact on drivers. In Bogata, Colombia, mime artists were once paid to mock bad drivers and jaywalkers. Behaviour improved.

Next time I see a motorist on a mobile phone I won’t be silent, I’ll ask, politely, for more concentration, less yakking. I don’t expect I’ll get the same sort of profuse apology as above but perhaps if lots of people shamed wrong-doers, such behaviour could be curtailed?

I was inspired to take direct action because of the book I’ve just read. Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) is published by Alfred A. Knopf in the US, and Penguin in the UK. It’s written by tech journalist Tom Vanderbilt.

Pleasingly, Traffic is racing up the best-seller lists. This is good because the readers of the book will be mostly mainstream motorists, not just road radicals, pedestrianisers, transport behaviourialists and bicycle advocates.

The message in Traffic is that motorists can kill and that a society designed to placate the car is not a healthy society. Controversially, Vanderbilt ends his book with the belief that cars will eventually have to be GPS and computer controlled, packing more of the motorists that want to drive on to the increasingly congested roads of the world.

Traffic is a detailed, funny and endlessly surprising book. Vanderbilt explains why traffic problems around the world are really people problems. Vanderbilt delves into the psychology of driving, walking, and cycling. He visits Dr Ian Walker, the cycling academic who strapped a camera on his bike and filmed motorists passing him. Walker found that drivers often drive further away from those cyclists without helmets because they appear less anonymous, and when Walker donned a long blonde wig motorists gave him/her even more room because women are perceived to be wobblers.

Some of the research won’t be new to many cyclists. For instance, it’s reasonably well known that Hans Monderman’s idea of removing street signs improves road safety. When 95 percent of the signs on Kensington High Street in London were removed, pedestrian KSIs (‘killed or seriously injured’) dropped by 60 percent.

However, the book is rich in data that doesn’t normally make it out of academia, and Vanderbilt turns even the dullest of studies into interesting examples of how driving can make sinners out of angels.

Though we all may think we are better than average drivers, Vanderbilt examines why we all behave differently when we get behind the steering wheel. He examines what causes road rage – he prefers the term ‘traffic tantrums’ – and why we think that being inside a metal box absolves us from any obligation to anyone else. He compares the driving of men and women, young and old, and has travelled around the world to study traffic jams near and far. Why is it that some countries drive on the left and others on the right? (It’s to do with horses and swords). Why do New Yorkers jaywalk more than people living in Copenhagen? (No, it’s not just cultural, design plays the biggest factor).


But don’t think bad driving and traffic congestion is a modern phenonomen. Traffic starts with a eye-popping section on the history of vehicular congestion, from the cart ruts in Pompeii which show use of detours and one-way streets, through to the terrible congestion in 19th century London and New York. At least our congestion isn’t accompanied by mountains of horse dung.

Vanderbilt comes at the controversial topic of risk compensation from many angles. “Most crashes,” he writes, “happen on dry roads, on clear, sunny days, to sober drivers.”

Wide, clear, smooth roads are statistically more ‘dangerous’ than narrow, singletrack roads with hairpins and steep drop-aways. Drivers are lulled into a false sense of security on the first, but fret for their skin on the second, taking more care.

He will make you think again about mundane street furniture. Traffic lights, for instance. They are bad. Roundabouts, which require care and attention, are good.

It’s Vanderbilt’s book which alerted me to this fantastic 1950 Goofy cartoon about pedestrian/driver split personalities:

There’s some related good news to report in the UK. From today there are some new, tougher penalties for motorists who kill because they were “avoidably distracted.”

The new offences will, for the first time, allow courts to imprison drivers who cause deaths by not paying due care to the road, or to other road users.

The new offences will carry custodial sentences of up to five years.

Justice Minister Maria Eagle said: “Drivers who kill through carelessness will no longer be able to walk away from court with just a fine. Driving requires full concentration at all times. A moment’s distraction can make the difference between life and death.”

What sort of distractions? Driving while talking on a phone or texting. Driving while drinking or eating, adjusting a GPS or car stereo, applying make-up or reading a map.



The road, more than simply a system of regulations and designs, is a place where many millions of us, with only loose parameters for how to behave, are thrown together daily in a kind of massive petri dish in which all kinds of uncharted, little-understood dynamics are at work. There is no other place where so many people from different walks of life — different ages, races, classes, religions, genders, political preferences, lifestyle choices, levels of psychological stability — mingle so freely.

The more you think about it — or, rather, the more time you spend in traffic with time to think about it — the more…puzzling questions swim to the surface. Why can one sit in traffic jams that seem to have no source? Why does a ten-minute “incident” create one hundred minutes of gridlock? Do people really take longer to vacate a parking spot when someone else is waiting, or does it just seem so? Do the carpool lanes on highways help fight congestion or cause more of it? Just how dangerous are large trucks? How does what we drive, where we drive, and with whom we drive affect the way we drive? Why do so many New Yorkers jaywalk, while hardly anyone in Copenhagen does? Is New Delhi’s traffic as chaotic as it seems, or does a beautiful order lurk beneath the frenzied surface?


Just when it seemed as if things could not get more complicated on the road, along came a novel and controversial machine, the first new form of personal transportation since the days of Caesar’s Rome, a new-fangled contrivance that upset the fragile balance of traffic. I am talking, of course, about the bicycle.

When I walk, I view cars as loud polluting annoyances…When I drive, I find that pedestrians are suddenly the menance, whacked-out iPod drones blithely meandering across the street without looking. When I ride a bike, I get the worst of both worlds, buffeted by speeding cars whose drivers resent my superior health and fuel economy, and hounded by oblivious pedestrians who seem to think it’s safe to cross against the light of ‘only a bike’ is coming but are then startled and indignant as I whisk past at twenty-five miles per hour.


When bicyclists violate a traffic law, research has showed it is because, in the eyes of drivers, they are reckless anarchists; drivers, meanwhile, are more likely to view the violation of a traffic law by another driver as somehow being required by the circumstances.


Max Hall, a physics teacher in Massachusetts: “The poetic and beautiful result is that four-wheelers behave like fixed objects, by moving very little relative to each other, even at significant speeds, while two-wheeler traffic moves ‘through’ the relatively static field of larger vehicles.”


Perhaps….we will turn the highways into blissfully cooperative, ultraefficient streams of movement with no merging or tailgating or finger flipping. Long before that happens, however, a sooner future seems likely: cars driving themselves, at smoothly synchronized speeds to ensure maximum traffic flow and safe following distances, equipped with merging algorithms set for highest throughput, all overseen by network routers that guide cars down the most efficient paths on these information superhighways.


It’s this last point that fascinates me. It makes total sense. Congestion is set to increase, a huge cost to the economy. The only way to get vehicular traffic moving is to allow computers to take over.
What’s the most dangerous component on a car? The nut behind the wheel. Take away the nut and the streets will be safer.

Motorists face a future of restricted movement (think of the current Beijing experience, with half of the city’s cars forced off the road, every other day). Cyclists, on the other hand, will be able to reclaim city streets, free to go as they please, when they please, protected from cars and trucks because vehicles will be forced to carry on-board speed restrictors, acceleration monitors, and vulnerable road user avoidance devices.

Such freedom to move will create even more cyclists, something that’s already happening. Catering for cyclists – like catering for pedestrians – is the quickest, cheapest and most effective way to civilise a city. And now that message – thanks to Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic – is going mainstream. Thanks, Tom.

Buy the book and bookmark his How We Drive blog.

Don’t you just hate YouTube?

YouTube is so all-powerful, it’s crazy. Because it has such a bonkers big global audience it can serve ‘related videos’ to millions of viewers, and the other online video sites don’t stand a bloody chance.

I’m not really complaining, I love the fact my YouTube vids have had 794,900 total views, but I put a lot of effort into promoting my Bicycle Anatomy video on Vimeo.com yet it’s now been overtaken by the same video placed on YouTube at a later date and given zero link love.

Bicycle Anatomy for Beginners from Quickrelease.tv on Vimeo.

That’s the Vimeo version. It’s hi-res, it can be downloaded in different formats, it players better in the full-screen format. It has been embedded by a whole host of big sites, such as Commutebybike.com, BikeBiz.com, Bikeforall.net, Bicycleretailer.com and Roadbikerider.com.

But despite all this, the ruddy YouTube version has had 8061 views and rising. The hyper-linked Vimeo version has had 7314 total views.

Save the Shaftesbury One!

According to the business section of The Times, Premier Foods, the Mr Kipling cakes to Campbell’s soup maker, said it expected its “struggling” Hovis bread business to start winning back market share in the second half of the year.

“Premier, which has seen Hovis lose ground to Warburtons and Kingsmill, wants to hark back to the success of the classic ‘Bike Ride’ advert of 1973, in which a small boy pushed a bike laden with bread up a cobbled street.”

This ad is regularly voted the best UK ad ever. Wallow in its nostalgia:

“The ad was directed by Sir Ridley Scott, who went on to fame and fortune in Hollywood with blockbusters including Alien and Blade Runner, and there are rumours in the advertising industry that he has been approached by Premier about becoming involved in September’s relaunch,” said The Times.

Could the bicycling boy make a comeback? It would be a shot in the arm for transport bikes. Sales of butcher’s bikes would rise along with sales of loaves.

The ‘boy’ is now a 49-year old fireman. Carl Barlow was 13 when he appeared in the advert.

Hovis has form when it comes to cycling. Last year it ponied up £1.5m to sponsor the London Freewheel ride. In the 1990s the bread brand supported the National Byway with £500,000.

But the support goes back even further. In 1900, Hovis produced a cycling map series at a scale of 5 miles to 1 inch. The maps were published by G Philip and Son, for the Hovis Bread Flour Co, Macclesfield, Cheshire, and the co-sponsor was the Cycling Components Mfring Co, Birmingham. This series continued for 25+ years.

In 1973, Hovis returned to its roots with the delivery boy – set against Dvorak’s ‘New World’ symphony, rearranged for brass – freewheeling down a cobbled northern hill.

In fact, the ad was shot on Gold Hill of Shaftesbury, Dorset.

Barlow said: “It was pure fate that I got the part as the Hovis boy. I was down to the last three, and it turned out that one of the two boys couldn’t ride a bike, and the other wouldn’t cut his hair into the pudding bowl style – it was the Seventies after all. As the only boy who could ride a bike and would cut his hair, I got the part.”

Team Columbia’s launch now on YouTube

I posted this video to the Quickrelease.tv podcast t’other day, here it is away from the glorious e-ghetto that is iTunes:

I love the bit where Cav asks for a chair. Pro cyclists are notorious for wanting to sit or lie down to “save their legs”. They really don’t like walking very far, ditto for running. They’re also fussy about door-knobs and shaking hands: some carry disinfectant sprays to ward off germs. A bug can poleaxe a pro.

Radio silence?

I don’t update for a couple of days and I get a flurry of emails asking me if I’m OK. I am. OK, that is. Just busy, really busy. (How busy? Too busy to go get an iPhone 3G today).

I’m working on a book and podcast project with a few others. All will be revealed soon but here’s a couple of clues: