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?
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:
NO MORE DISTRACTIONS
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.
According to publisher HarperCollins, the book “reveals how an elite athlete, Chris Hoy, lives, breathes and pushes the boundaries of his sport. How does he do it? And why? What drives him to put his body through the physical and mental hurdles to become the best in the world?”
Moore shadowed Hoy for a year, from the World Championships in Mallorca at which Hoy became a double world champion, through to Hoy’s attempt on the world kilometre record in La Paz, Bolivia. Hoy is one of the top hopes for Olympic Gold in Beijing next month.
But this book is much more than a biography of Hoy, it’s a dissection of how Britain went from being a pariah nation on the boards through to the world’s all-conquering track team, better even than the Australians.
It reveals the stunning levels of professionalism and dedication that go on behind the scenes at the Manchester velodrome, HQ for British Cycling.
So, how come I’m in the index? It’s all to do with my battle with the UCI in 2005. The gnomes of Aigle had decided to axe the kilo from the 2008 Olympics, a crazy decision when there were lesser track events to chop first or even the road time trial, a race that never attracted the cream of the world’s cyclists.
I created an petition which quickly gained 10,679 signatures including lots of top cycling names from around the world. Along with trackie Julie Dominguez I took the petition to the UCI and met with Pat McQuaid, then UCI president in waiting, now the actual UCI president.
He said some daft things about about the IOC, the International Olympic Committee, and I reported them on BikeBiz.com, grabbing a wifi connection in the dining hall of the UCI’s HQ. We hopped on a train to the Olympic HQ in Lausanne and by the time we got there, the PR man had already read the story and was waiting with an official rebuttal of McQuaid’s statement.
Moore’s book recounts this tale and also re-interviews McQuaid at the Aigle HQ. Interestingly, where we were able to access minutes of UCI management committee meetings in the HQ’s library, Moore wasn’t able to put his hands on them.
He writes: “Management committee meetings are no longer available for open public inspection. I wonder if they were removed after Reid’s visit?”
Moore said he feels some sympathy for McQuaid as “he doesn’t come across as self-important” but he doesn’t think he’s the real power at the UCI:
“The impression I’m left with is that many of the decisions he defends might not be his in the first place; he appears not to be fully in power, as his predecessor, Hein Verbruggen, certainly was. Indeed, it is rumoured that Verbruggen - now a high-flying member of the IOC - still wields considerable power in the UCI. And there appear to be other powerful people at the UCI, less high-profile, operating in the shadows. The lack of transparency is shocking.”
Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez has offered to give bike-mad President Bush of the USA one of the very first ‘atomic bicycles’ when it rolls off production lines.
According to the US, the factory Iran is building for Venezuela in the state of Cojedes is a nuclear plant and not a bicycle factory, said Chavez at the factory’s inauguration ceremony. He said the bikes produced at the Iranian-Venezuelan factory will be “atomic bicycles.”
“What a bicycle! This Atomic bicycle.. does it have brakes?” joked Chavez.
“My dear friend, president of the United States, I offer you this bicycle, see the bomb. See it… you think that is a bottle of water, no, that’s the bomb.”
Yesterday I stepped into ‘dead men’s shoes’ as I was inducted into the Pickwick Club. This was founded in 1870 and is the world’s oldest bicycle club. It’s also the world’s oldest extant Dickensian association.
Members - who wear club ties and straw boaters - are given sobriquets, all taken from characters in the Pickwick Papers. At yesterday’s luncheon I was told my sobriquet. I’m now Mr. Grundy. There are only a finite number of characters in the book so to become a member you go on a seven-year waiting list and when an unfortunate member shuffles off this mortal coil, in you jump.
Charles Dickens wrote that Mr Grundy was no singer, which fits me fine.
‘Mr. Grundy’s going to oblige the company with a song,’ said the chairman.
‘No, he ain’t,’ said Mr. Grundy.
‘Why not?’ said the chairman.
‘Because he can’t,’ said Mr. Grundy.
‘You had better say he won’t,’ replied the chairman.
‘Well, then, he won’t,’ retorted Mr. Grundy.
My guests for the induction - L to R - were: Bill Davies (my father-in-law), Al Reid (my dad), David Goodwin (my Newcastle riding buddy), Phil Liggett, Phillip Darnton (chair of Cycling England), and Tour de France tome author Graeme Fife.
Not present at yesterday’s fine meal at the New Connaught Rooms, near Covent Garden in London, was my sponsor, Bob Chicken. He’s currently in Madeira and won’t be reading this entry….but, thanks, Bob!
Proving that drugs and cycling can mix, Dr. Alex Hofman of Switzerland was the first to ingest LSD. After he did so - on April 19th 1943 - he got on his bike. April 19th is now known as ‘Bicycle Day’ to fans of psychedelic experiences.
Dr Hofman died on Tuesday at his home in Basel, Switzerland. He was 102.
The Swiss chemist had first experienced the effects of the lysergic acid compound, LSD-25, when he accidentally absorbed a bit through his fingertips. He later ingested 250 milligrams of LSD.
After his colourful bike ride, Dr Hofman wrote:
“I asked my laboratory assistant, who was informed of the self-experiment, to escort me home. We went by bicycle, no automobile being available because of wartime restrictions on their use. On the way home, my condition began to assume threatening forms. Everything in my field of vision wavered and was distorted as if seen in a curved mirror. I also had the sensation of being unable to move from the spot. Nevertheless, my assistant later told me we had travelled very rapidly.”
Travelling very rapidly on a bicycle under the influence of drugs was never tried again…
The snippets - billed as ‘From the Archive’ - are brought to you in association with Muc-Off.
So, what’s available?
1 Mass v custom build, Raleigh v Dave Yates
This starts with some 1950s footage of the Raleigh factory, and includes a wonderfully cheesy ‘Head Designer’. The 1994 footage is also drenched in nostalgia. The factory - seen here humming with activity - was knocked down and made into student flats. Look out for the way Raleigh employees placed bike decals compared to the way a custom builder did it.
2 Wax or shave?
Bear in mind that I still look like this. I’ve not aged a bit. My leg hairs have grown back since, mind. This episode sees me going out with a road gang for the very first time. (And ripping their legs off…cameras never lie).
3 Bike versus sportscar
Car v bike through city centre traffic has been done umpteen times for TV cameras but this video is a little bit different, pitting as it does, an Aston Martin sportscar against an Aston Martin mountain bike (now a museum piece).
4 Malawi bicycle tour
Hi-8 footage from a hastily arranged bike tour of this beautiful African country. Along for the ride was Bob Strawson, owner of ‘trick bits’ maker Middleburn Engineering.
5 Behind the scenes
How the series was filmed. Helmet and bike cams are now ten-a-penny. In 1994 they were specialist items and required rucksacks…
6 Jason McRoy
Brilliant footage of the first British MTB superstar (RIP). He’s seen sliding around the NE of England as well as ripping down the Kamikaze course on Mammoth Mountain.
The videos will be placed on YouTube in daily installments next week, but are available as a package on iTunes right now. Subscribe to the podcast to start the episodes downloading, iTunes isn’t listing the individual episodes yet.
Read the rest of "‘Chain Gang’ video highlights now on iTunes"...
No, not Barack Obama (pictured) or Hillary Clinton. Bicycle Rider is by Eugene McCarthy (1916-2005), a US Senator from Minnesota. In the 1960s he five times sought the Democratic nomination for US president, but failed at each attempt.
He’s most famous for his anti-Vietnam War stance but was also an author and a poet. His learning-to-ride-a-bike poem was about his daughter, Mary and is from Other Things and the Aardvark (1970).
Teeth bare to the wind
Knuckle-white grip on the handlebars
You push the pedals of no return,
Let loose new motion and speed.
The earth turns with the multiplied
Force of your wheels.
Do not look back.
Feet light on the brake
Ride the bicycle of your will
Down the spine of the world,
Ahead of your time, into life
I will not say Go Slow.
Co-incidentally, McCarthy’s attempt to win the Democratic nomination for president in 1968 was a messy affair and led to the current system of ’superdelegates’ who, should they wish to flex their super-muscles, can ditch an unelectable presidential candidate.
Read the rest of "A bicycle poem by a US Democratic presidential candidate"...
The author of The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds rode a bicycle but his quote about cycle tracks has long been taken out of context. In his vision of the future, motor cars and super-trams would be the main modes of transport. The cycle tracks he talked about were more like scenic Sustrans routes rather than the intra-urban expressways for bicycles that many people assume he meant.
“No doubt the Utopian will travel in many ways. [A] thin spider’s web of inconspicuous special routes will cover the land of the world, pierce the mountain masses and tunnel under the seas. These may be double railways or monorails or what not…but by means of them the Utopian will travel about the earth from one chief point to another at a speed of two or three hundred miles or more an hour.
Such great tramways as this will be used when the Utopians wish to travel fast and far; thereby you will glide all over the land surface of the planet; and feeding them and distributing from them, innumerable minor systems, clean little electric tramways I picture them, will spread out over the land…
And running beside these lighter railways, and spreading beyond their range, will be the smooth minor high roads…upon which independent vehicles, motor cars, cycles, and what not, will go.
The burthen of the minor traffic, if not the whole of it, will certainly be mechanical. This is what we shall see even while the road is still remote, swift and shapely motor-cars going past, cyclists, and in these agreeable mountain regions there will also be pedestrians upon their way. Cycle tracks will abound in Utopia, sometimes following beside the great high roads, but oftener taking their own more agreeable line amidst woods and crops and pastures; and there will be a rich variety of footpaths and minor ways.”
HG Wells may not be the arch bicycle advocate that many like to think he is, but one of his characters is given an excellent ‘because it’s there’ quote.
Christobel asks of Mr Polly: “Why are you riding about the country on a bicycle?”
He replies “I’m doing it because I like it.”
Wells also wrote a comic novel about cycling, The Wheels of Chance (1897). In this there’s an evocative description of the freedom of cycling, especially for those among the toiling classes (HG Wells was a socialist):
“Only those who toil six long days out of the seven, and all the year round, save for one brief glorious fortnight or ten days in the summer time, know the exquisite sensations of the First Holiday Morning. All the dreary, uninteresting routine drops from you suddenly, your chains fall about your feet…
“There were thrushes in the Richmond Road, and a lark on Putney Heath. The freshness of dew was in the air; dew or the relics of an overnight shower glittered on the leaves and grass…He wheeled his machine up Putney Hill, and his heart sang within him…Whoop for Freedom and Adventure! Every now and then a house with an expression of sleepy surprise would open its eye as he passed, and to the right of him for a mile or so the weltering Thames flashed and glittered. Talk of your joie de vivre.”
<br>Other quotes of note from the novel include:
“To ride a bicycle properly is very like a love affair - chiefly it is a matter of faith. Believe you do it, and the thing is done; doubt, and, for the life of you, you cannot.”
“No one who has ever ridden a cycle of any kind but will witness that the things are unaccountably prone to pick up bad habits–and keep them.”
But perhaps the most famous cycling quote from HG Wells is this, or variants thereof:
“When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.”
However, while many have tried - including writing to H.G Wells appreciation societies - there’s, as yet, no verifiable source for this quotation.