Rain, rain, go away, come again another day

Cycling isn’t the new golf because rain doesn’t stop play. Unless you let it, of course. Once you’re out in the rain it’s nowhere near as awful as you thought it would be.

Of course, I’m writing this from the warm, cosy comfort of my nice dry house. But on Friday night I eschewed the similarly warm, dry, cosy home comforts offered by my car to ride my daughter to her gymnastics class. She can ride fine but it’s quicker, easier and more secure for me to take her the three miles on the back of my Xtracycle-equipped longbike.

On the way home the rain stopped long enough for me to brave filming with my iPhone. I liked the way the strobing, flashing LED lights lit up the wet roads.

Lighting products featured are: Cateye Orbit lights on the wheels; and a Cateye Loop on the handlebar along with Knog Frogs.

Out of the mouths of babes & cabbies

Axa, the car insurance company, doesn’t just have an iPhone app that stores insurance details and proffers crash info, it has commissioned a whole bunch of videos to promote its ‘Respect on the Road’campaign.

As well as a video showing typical ‘road rage’ language and behaviour acted out by tots, there’s a whole series featuring a cab driver. Yes, that paragon of road safety, a cab driver. Funnily enough, he hates speed bumps.

The AXA Respect On The Road campaign has a growing number of ‘Cab Cam’ videos featuring a taxi driver eliciting views from his passengers. At least two of the videos feature views about cyclists.

Michael likes bikes, but only in good weather:

Tony reckons cyclists cause accidents:

David is “not a big fan of cyclists”:

AXA Car Insurance is going big into the social media space. It has a Facebook presence as well as the YouTube microsite.

This is a sponsored post: clearly Axa wants its campaign to spread virally, including on blogs aimed at cyclists.

AXA said its campaign is to…

“…try and bring courtesy and respect back to British roads. All too often inexperienced drivers give themselves away behind the wheel of a car; they lose their manners and sometimes their marbles too. Respect on the road is an issue people genuinely care about; with your help AXA want to highlight the state of disrespectful and sometimes dangerous driving practices in the UK through debate and discussion which will be largely hosted on Facebook.”

And top marks to that cabbie: unbelieveably, he never once said “cyclists don’t pay road tax.”

“Ride my bike until I get home…”

Transport for London spends its bicycle-promoting cash on more than just bank-subsidised bike hire schemes and pots of blue paint. Wonderfully, it also commissions films and songs like this:

The song is by producer and DJ, Mark Ronson.

And here’s one starring Dermot O’Leary on a folding bike talking about ‘head space’:

Of the five riders in the top video, only two are shown wearing helmets. There are no hi-vis jackets or glum faces. TfL has gone out to capture the joy of cycling…and has succeeded. The other films in the series can be found on TfL’s YouTube page.

Can street art get more people on bikes?

I’ve spent months writing and photographing to create the 98-page Bike to Work Book which, as a freebie, will hopefully encourage lots of newbies to try bicycle commuting. That’s a lot of words and hundreds of pix. Could the same task be achieved with just this one pic?

'This one runs on fat & saves you money' by Peter Drew of Adelaide

It’s by artist Peter Drew of Adelaide. I’m interviewing him for the next iteration of the Bike to Work Book. I love his work. It’s guerrilla stencilling.

Want to print out the top image as a poster or plaster on a t-shirt? Peter has agreed to give the image a Creative Commons licence so feel free to downloada hi-res version)

Here’s one of his car/bike-parking stencils:

Bike Parking by Peter Drew of Adelaide

His Facebook presence contains more examples of his work, including this pic of him leaning by one of his artworks:  

Artist Peter Drew of Adelaide

His linkage between driving cars and portliness reminds me of this 2006 poster campaign by LoveYourBike.org and Manchester Friends of the Earth:


Thing is, who will the stencil messages reach? Drivers likely won’t see them, except when they’re pedestrians. Existing cyclists will like them for sure, confirming their mode of transport has two noteworthy merits. But I think the biggest potential for Drew’s images isn’t in downtown Adelaide: it’s on blogs, it’s on t-shirts, it’s on viral emails. His artwork – which will be copied and adapted – could go viral, passed along by cyclists but reaching a non-cycling audience.

Many of the recipients won’t care. Such imagery may be laughable to some; offensive to others. But for some people, an image like this can be the tipping point. Bold imagery can work wonders. My 98-page book can give a newbie cyclist a lot of information but the Bike to Work Book will only be read by those wanting to give cycling a go. Peter Drew’s images – and others like them – can flick switches in the brain. We need more of these switch flickers.

Image hat-tip to FreshBooks.com.

Damned if we do; damned if we don’t

Janus in a bike helmet

Cycle campaigners are constantly torn between extoling the health and other benefits of cycling, but passing on news of yet another road tragedy. It’s a dilemma.

Cycling is safe but there’s a widely-held perception that it’s unsafe. And I’m often guilty of fuelling such a perception.

One moment I can be writing articles for newbies with my rose-tinted spectacles firmly strapped to my head, and the next moment I can be tweeting about some new bike v tipper truck bike death. I’m Janus, the Roman God of doorways who looked both forwards and backwards. (Despite what Bart said, this god’s first name isn’t Hugh).

I used to publish On Your Bike, a magazine for family cyclists. This was a fluffy-white-clouds, birds-tweeting, isn’t-the-world-wonderful publication. It was a polemic, a glossy bit of PR for the happy-clappy side of cycling. Lycra was banned; helmets were kept to a bare minimum; there were only smiles, no grimaces; the folks pictured were strictly normal, batty bicyclists were banned.

This magazine got lots of newbies out on bikes and stressed the overwhelming advantages of cycling. Danger was downplayed.

We all know that the roads will be more pleasant to ride on when there’s more cyclists using them, the safety in numbers argument. But it’s a chicken and egg thing. To encourage more cyclists we need to downplay the danger. We certainly can’t wait until every road has a segregated bike path. That will never happen. It doesn’t even happen in Denmark or the Netherlands. Cars and bikes have to rub along on roads. But too many drivers treat roads as race tracks. Too many motorists drive distracted.

And yet I let my young kids ride on roads to get to school. I don’t worry about ‘stranger danger’ but I do worry about a madman behind a steering wheel, or a yummy mummy in a monster 4×4 speeding around corners to drop her precious cargo at school in time.

Statistically, my kids are safe. Statistically, I’m safe. Statistically, I could slip in the shower and bang my head. Sadly, there was a case of a Australian semi-pro cyclist who did just that. He died. Had he been wearing his cycle helmet in the shower, he might have survived.

So, why are there so many campaigns to get cyclists to wear helmets – such as the skull one from the Department for Transport – and none to encourage use of head protection in the house or while driving? I don’t want to kick off a helmet debate. Really, I don’t. But I would welcome comments about how cycle advocates square the cycling-is-safe circle. How can we promote cycling as safe yet send so many people out on roads we know can be dangerous. Sometimes.

Of course, it’s not the roads that are dangerous, it’s the idjits that use them, but you get my drift. Can we have our cake and eat it? If some drivers are as mad and as bad as we sometimes complain (and, in reality, it’s just a tiny minority of drivers we need to be worried about) are we not being disingenous to encourage newbies to use those self same roads?

The most influential bike graph ever?

European cycling and obesity levels

This is one of the key infographics wheeled out by Sustrans folks in their PowerPoint presentations to local authorities, Government bodies and other organisations. It’s a jaw-dropping demonstration of less is more. The link between activity levels and obesity in selected European countries is clear and obvious.

Sustrans has a ton of facts, figures, reports and studies that go into greater depth on the obesity/cycling front but for impact this graph is hard to beat. Got any others you’d care to share?

Read it and weep

Share the Road, Ketchum, Idaho 2

What is it about the internet and the internal combustion engine that makes some folks so callous?

A 52-year old woman riding at the back of a group of ten road cyclists from the safety-conscious Spring City Cycling Club was hit and killed by a motorist on Saturday on a country road in Lincoln County, Tennessee. Friends and family have had to chastise forum-posting motorists for victim-blaming.

Sharon Bayler was thrown 166ft by the impact but apologist friends of the driver (who were not in the driver’s truck at the time) have insisted he was driving 37-40mph, a few miles below the posted speed limit of 45mph. This was a road “he was raised on”: but, as numerous studies have shown, ‘knowing a road’ makes many motorists blasé. The blacktop and curves may be familiar but not every journey is the same: there can be fallen trees in the road; slower or stopped vehicles; anything.

The police did not charge the driver with any motoring offences.

“Troopers said the collision was an accident and no charges will be filed against the truck’s driver, 42-year-old Edward Vincent Higgin of Fayetteville.”

Sharon Bayler was said to have been hit near a curve in the road (although incident-scene witnesses said the road was straight at the point of impact). The driver “couldn’t see Bayler riding because of the combination of a shaded area and the sun.”

As cyclists have pointed out on newspaper story postings, if the the driver couldn’t see what was in front of him, he should have slowed to a crawl. But how many drivers ever follow this bit of common sense?

Just a tiny minority of motorists knowingly use their cars as weapons but many of the rest speed around without due care and attention. Crashes are ‘accidents’; texting or calling when driving is not seen as a sin. It’s tough to get prosecutions of motorists because of ‘there but for the Grace of God go I’ from law-makers and law-enforcers.

It’s been like this from the very early days of motoring but back then there were less motorists to worry about. Now, cyclists and pedestrians are often put at unnecessary risk because way too many motorists think nothing of speeding: their ABS brakes and airbags fill them with a sense of invulnerability.

They think nothing full-stop. Motoring is not seen as a dangerous activity. In reality, it’s extremely dangerous, both for ‘unprotected’ vulnerable road users but for drivers, too. One slip of the steering wheel when travelling at speed and a motorist can be toast. One glance down at a text message at 60mph and many metres go by, unseen. 99 times out of a hundred there’s no cyclist in the way, no kerb for the motorist to bounce into and be deflected into the HGV in the opposite lane. Drivers get away with inattentive driving and assume they’ll always get away with it.

There are lots of dead cyclists, killed child pedestrians and, of course, squashed motorists, to prove that ‘accidents will happen’. For accidents read inattention or, sometimes, wanton negligence.

Apparently the Tennessee driver who killed Sharon Bayler is full of remorse but not so some of his fellow motorists. How thoughtless do you have to be to post anti-cyclist comments on a news story about a cyclist fatality? Sadly, it’s common. In fact, it’s almost guaranteed. Friends and families of killed cyclists often read online stories about an ‘accident’ as a form of grieving, leaving tributes to the deceased, but are confronted by commenters with a twisted, sickening windscreen-view of the world.

When reading their comments it makes you want to give up cycling on anything other than traffic-free trails because thoughtless drivers are everywhere. This might be one of the reasons for the dripping vitriol: get off our roads, go ride on a velodrome, take your Spandex ‘costumes’ someplace else. Naturally, there are always comments about ‘road tax’ and why cyclists shouldn’t be on roads paid for by motorists.


“I’m sorry that she was killed, but this should be expected. Bicycles don’t belong on the road. Once I was driving my truck and came around a curve and there was a cyclist, arrogantly (and stupidly) refusing to move over. There was no way I could’ve stopped. (And no, I wasn’t speeding). Luckily there was no oncoming traffic and I was able to swerve around him. If there had been a car coming I would have had 3 choices: 1-hit the cyclist, kill him. 2-hit the oncoming car, kill them. 3-run off the road (tall steep bank), kill myself. There is no reason for a bicycle to be on the road. You can go find a bike trail, or stay out of the way…I hope they do the right and sensible thing and ban bicycles from roads before someone else dies.”
Lake Worth, FL

“If you want to cycle on the road then you take your chances. Just like swimming in the ocean. You take your chances that you might get eaten or drown. You cannot police everyone or prevent every accident. Things are just going to happen. You agree to take that chance when you get on the road…This is a sad accident but shows that accidents will occur and you cannot stop them. If you don’t want to get hit then stay off the road.”
Chattanooga, TN

“Did you ever wonder why small planes and large planes don’t use the same airports? Figure it out.”
Athens, AL

“I am sorry for any loss of life but slow moving bicycles do not belong on the same road as cars. They are accidents just waiting to happen. Another sore point for me is these bicycles pay no taxes for using the road like my car or motorcycle. I pay taxes by way of a tag and through gas for the upkeep of roads also I am required to carry insurance on my car and motorcycle that bicycles don’t. I say if they want to share the road then require them to buy a tag and insurance just as i have to do and restrict them to secondary roads where they are not causing traffic problems.”
Huntsville, AL

“Please remember what your mother taught you years ago, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. This post is being viewed by Sharon’s family and friends too. Again, please post with repect.”
Teresa sister-in-law
Belle Rive, IL

“Please, whether you’re a motorist or cyclist, show respect for each other and follow the rules of the road. Avoid distractions… don’t text EVER while driving, and put down the cell phone. The call is not that important, it can wait until you pull off and answer it. Your full attention should be ON THE ROAD. If you’re a cyclist, be aware of vehicular traffic, obey the rules and regulations, and cycle politely.”
Rocket City Cyclist
Huntsville, AL

Scorchers and Bloomers

At the weekend I learned I’d been successful in landing a grant for some research on the history of roads. I’ve been doing an awful lot of snooping around for iPayRoadTax.com, especially on the contribution cyclists made to get better roads from the 1880s onwards.

During my picture research I came across a whole load of sheet music covers from the 1890s. These include rhapsodies to the US ‘Good Roads’ movement, organised the League of American Wheelmen. The sheet music also includes songs and dances featuring scorching and bloomers. I’ve created an e-book with some of these images, and commissioned my kids’ piano teacher to resurrect ‘The Scorcher’ from 1897.

Greg Johnston did a great, foot-tapping job. An MP3 of ‘The Scorcher’ is embedded into the clicky-flicky version on the ebook below, and is also available via my iTunes podcast feed.

Labour and Tories wimp out on cycling; UKIP doesn’t

Cambridge April  9285

Let me put something on record. I wouldn’t vote for a political party that promised to be the bees knees for cycling. I might be a bike geek but I have wider interests than just cycling.

Even if one of the parties said it would radically reduce car usage, bring in Strict Liability, and make it easier for everybody to ride bikes (not even the Green party goes that far…) it still wouldn’t make me vote for them if their other policies were pants.

I understand where the CTC is coming from in its Vote Bike campaign but I’m not interested in single-issue politics. Voting for the party that’s going to be bolshie on bankers or good for organic farming or ace on street cleaning (“tough on grime, tough on the causes of grime”) is not terribly good for society as a whole. I’ll look at all the policies, download all the manifestos, weigh up all the pros and cons, and then vote for the party that my parents voted for.

I’m happy with this. My parents aren’t party activists but their attitude to societal fairness obviously impressed me. They voted for the party that was “for the people” not “me, me, me.”

When the TV news does a story on budget day I don’t get out my calculator and work out how much I’m going to be better or worse off. I want to know how much is going to be spent on hospitals, on roads, on schooling, not whether a silly little tax allowance will enable me to buy half an iPad in three months’ time.

I don’t want to know what politicians are going to do for me. I want to know what they are going to do for all of us. Little Englander politics are a big turn off.

But where do the big parties stand on the major issues? It’s all blurred of late. David Cameron is in favour of Big Society (not terribly sure he’s got full party backing for that one) and yesterday Gordon Brown says we’re all middle class now.

Which is now the party for the people and which is the “me, me, me” party? It’s confusing.

What’s not confusing is what political parties are leaving out of their manifestos. Climate change, for instance, is getting just lip service from the major parties.

Transport is also being neglected. Cycling got the tiniest of mentions in the Labour and Conservative manifestos.

With parties vying for the attention of Mondeo-man it’s clear there were never going to be any big announcements about road pricing or other tough measures. This is OK. Transport is not a vote winner, and not exactly seen as a plum Ministerial department either, although Lord Adonis seems to be the best transport minister we’ve ever had, and not just because he’s a stick-thin cyclist.

Whichever party gets in, it’s obvious that the easiest Department to trim in one fell swoop is transport: cull a few miles of motorway and there’s billions of pounds saved straight away. The two main parties aren’t saying this in their manifestos. The LibDem manifesto – launched tomorrow – won’t say it either. UPDATE: In fact, the LibDem manifesto does mention road pricing, but not until a following term, which is a wishy-washy cop-out even by LibDem standards. The LibDems also want to phase out Vehicle Excise Duty.

ukip transport

I’m no fan of the UK Independence Party but as they unelectable they can say what other parties fear to voice. Most of the time this is right-wing claptrap but dotted through UKIP’s mostly bonkers manifesto there’s the odd bit of common-sense.

Legislate to introduce a crime of Vehicular Manslaughter, where for those whose excessively dangerous driving makes death on the road a near certainty.

Perfect. Except it’s a pearl in amongst an awful lot of infertile and rancid oysters.

As I said, I wouldn’t vote for a party based on their cycle policies but if I needed reasons not to vote for UKIP – and I don’t – there’s plenty here:

UKIP supports pedal cycles as a healthy means of personal transport, but…we believe that there needs to be a better balance of rights and responsibilities for pedal cyclists, with too much aggressive abuse of red lights, pedestrian crossings and a lack of basic safety and road courtesy.

UKIP would consult on the desirability of minimum third party liability insurance cover for cyclists – a simple annual flat rate registration ‘Cycledisc’, stuck to the bicycle frame, to cover damage to cars and others, which are currently unprotected. The Cycledisc should also carry clear identification details, which will help counter bicycle theft, and deter dangerous cyclist behaviour. We support provision of cycle parking at reasonable charges.

Cyclediscs? Sounds an awful lot like the cycle registration plates once espoused by Ken Livingstone when he was London mayor, but which he later dropped when it was pointed out bicycles are not motorbikes: they don’t have big back-ends on which to attach legible numberplates. As I expand upon on iPayRoadTax.com, when somebody calls for cyclists to be registered, pay ‘road tax’ and apply for licences to cycle, they don’t want to share the road with lots of licensed, fee-paying cyclists, they want less cyclists full-stop.

And what’s that about paying for cycle parking? UKIP is kidding, right? Cars have acres and acres of free off-street parking to choose from but cyclists have to pay? That’ll fly.

UKIP believes that basic cycle and safety training should be made mandatory, and be funded in schools or via local authorities.

Sounds great. But it’s not cycle training for every citizen in the UK – which would make a huge difference to road safety – it’s cycle training just for, er, cyclists. How about mandatory pedestrian training? Red light breaching by pedestrians is so endemic as to be invisible.

Cycling on safe cycle routes, lanes, tracks and trails should be actively encouraged, particularly as a leisure pursuit. UKIP believes off road dedicated lanes are preferable to a confusing maze of cycle lanes on unsuitable or dangerous roads, which is problematic for cyclists as well as other road users.

This one doesn’t need much decoding: Get. Off. My. Road.

Local authorities should be given additional powers to enforce a ‘cyclists dismount’ or ‘no cycling’ regulation where there are safety concerns – such as on busy roundabouts, junctions or bus lanes, or where the road would be too narrowed by cycle lanes and cause unacceptable delays to traffic.

What, enforce those stupid, idiotic, crazy ‘cyclists dismount’ signs? Oy! No cycling over roundabouts or over junctions? No cycling on roads, then?

And what’s that about “unacceptable delays to traffic?” First, bikes are part of the traffic, they just aren’t powered by motors. Second, it’s not bikes causing all the congestion, it’s cars, and buses and lorries. Bikes are slim; motorised traffic ain’t. And e-cars are not the answer. Electric vehicles are not a solution to congestion, but they do make the jams quieter.

OK, so that’s the Monster Raving Looney Party out of the way, what about Labour? Well, 13 years of fudging on transport tell us all we want to know, really. The car remains king; sustainable forms of transport will be thrown a few crumbs. The Labour manifesto has a para on free swimming lessons but just half a sentence about cycling.

Cycle hire animation - Boris Johnson

So, how about the Tories? David Cameron and Boris Johnson are high-profile cyclists so the Conservatives must want to be seen to be pro-bike? Not a bit of it. At least there’s more of a whole sentence on cycling from the Tories but if it wasn’t for the PDF keyword search facility I’d’ve missed the mention.

tory transport

Which is oh-so-different to 2007. Back then the Tories were far enough away from the election to say things they wouldn’t dream of saying now. John Gummer MP and Zac Goldsmith, editor of The Ecologist magazine, chaired the Quality of Life Policy Group and interviewed 500 people to come up with Blueprint for a Green Economy. This was meant to make it into the Conservative manifesto. Read it and you’ll see why it didn’t make the cut:

The many social and environmental benefits of walking and cycling have been catalogued for years, most recently in terms of averting the contemporary crises of environmental damage, congestion, and obesity. The wider role of these ‘soft modes’, walking in particular, has been promoted as a means of bringing about an urban renaissance, in which streets become pleasant places to walk, meet and talk. It is also argued that small schemes to promote walking and cycling might reduce congestion more cost-effectively than road-building or national road user charging.

Nor is analysis lacking upon the reasons for the relative decline of cycling and walking, which is attributed directly to car-based land-use planning. The creation of dispersed shopping, work and leisure centres is the opposite of the clustered, high density local facilities most conducive to non-motorised transport. In road design, cyclists’ and walkers’ needs are often considered as an afterthought.

…walking and cycling should be given higher priority in central government guidance to local authorities. Cycling England should be given a fair chance to achieve its objectives including the dedication of extra financial resources. Sustainable modes should be given specific funding priority. Government should work alongside professional bodies and voluntary organisations to disseminate best practice, including the marketing of walking and cycling, and their incorporation into travel plans.

The use of bicycles could be further extended, particularly for older people, by the electric bicycle that has been much improved, particularly in the Netherlands. The present law is still confusing and an incoming Conservative government should clarify it so that all electric bicycles, including the ‘twist and go’ variety, should be classified as bicycles and not as motor vehicles. In the countryside these significantly improved products might well provide an alternative to the motor car for some travelling shorter distances to work and a number of major companies are at present considering using them as part of their travel plans.

There are many ways in which promoting urban cycling can be imaginative, appealing and surprisingly cost-effective…

Yes, those really are the words from a Conservative Party policy group. Shame they never made it into the manifesto. And shame, too, that Zac Goldsmith turned so pro-car when he became a Tory candidate. Power corrupts.

AA founded as ‘speed trap’ foiler; spotters were cyclists


Today we tend to think of the Automobile Association as a roadside rescue organisation with a penchant for pro-car PR. However, for much of its early history it was a radical campaigning organisation, a thorn in the side of the Government. It was founded with the express aim of defeating police speed traps and used cyclists as the ‘scouts’.


A glimpse into the early history of the AA is shown in the wonderfully evocative video below from the AA’s archives. The video is fronted by Sir Stenson Cooke who was the AA’s Secretary from 1905 until his death in 1942. He was knighted in 1933 but by this time the AA was embedded into society – now a car-owning society – and the AA was nowhere near as radical as when it was founded.

Cycling shares some history with the AA. In effect, the organisation was helped into existence by cyclists. In March 1905 a motorist called Walter Gibbons wrote to Autocar magazine suggesting a Motorists’ Protection Association for the Prevention of Police Traps. Two other motorists replied saying arrangements had been made to patrol the Brighton road to warn motorists of said police traps. The first patrols went out in April 1905. Guess what they used as patrol vehicles? Yep, bicycles.


Within months, this informal arrangement of a “special staff of cyclists” was formalised into an organisation and it appointed a full-time secretary, Stenson Cooke. This organisation was called the Automobile Association.

The AA relied on cycle scouts for some years. According to the AA, the organisation’s famous badge was “introduced simply to help the scouts identify AA members.”

Early AA cycle scouts used their own bicycles, for which they were paid an allowance. Before the introduction of uniforms in 1909, the scouts had to provide their own clothing too.


By 1912 there were 950 AA cycle scouts across the UK. The motorcycle patrols, known as Road Service Outfits or ‘RSOs’, weren’t created until 1919. By 1923 there were 274 AA motorbike patrols but still 376 cyclists.

bike patrols

The video above shows how cyclists were paid to be speed-trap spotters. It also shows how, before motoring became mainstream, it was a loathed activity: rich motorists were guilty of raising dust and damaging roads. I’m currently researching the history of British road improvements, especially in the years 1910-1937. This was the span of the Road Fund, the pot of cash raised from motorists from when a ‘road tax’ existed. Only a small fraction of this fund helped pay for Britain’s roads, something I explore on my campaigning website iPayRoadTax.com.

It’s worth pointing out that Professor Edmund King, today’s president of the AA, is an active cyclist.

And the AA has a team of cycle-based breakdown patrols to tackle traffic chaos at big events such as Wimbledon or Glastonbury.