Cars are wonderful things

Modern ones have powerful brakes and super-efficient engines that can slow to a crawl and then accelerate away smoothly without breaking into a sweat.

So, how come so many motorists don’t like using these features? I’ve just finished a cycling holiday in the Highlands of Scotland and have been using minor country roads, with three young kids in tow.

In fact, they go to the front of me, with my wife out ahead.

Most of the time there have been few cars around, but when one is sighted, you know trouble is brewing (triple that if it’s a truck). Despite being on singletrack roads, motorists just don’t like slowing down, even when they see squishy fellow humans ahead.

Mind you, I’ve noticed they slow down when they encounter objects equal in size or bigger than them. Strange that.
Exactly how much time – or fuel economy – would they lose if they slowed down when passing vulnerable road users? What kind of moronic motor-centric society do we live in when it doesn’t even cross some people’s minds that speeding in proximity to tiny children on bikes is a bastard thing to do?

I’d love to conduct spot interviews with these folks (obviously, flagging them down with sirens and flashing blue lights first) and ask them what they were thinking.

I guess most will be perfectly decent people but the operative word is the last one: they will be guilty of not thinking. That’s the problem. Cars can go fast, so fast they must go.

Go-slow cities work better


When Critical Mass forces motorists to slow down it’s deemed by many to be a lefty, political act of anti-progress vandalism.

When truckers hold up motorists – as they did yesterday in London – it’s deemed by many to be a legitimate and much needed protest against rising fuel prices.

Being forced to go slow is ‘bad’ in one case, ‘good’ in the other.

Yet, as any dispassionate observer can see, forcing motorists to cut their speed is a way of civilising a city.

The creation of so-called ‘slow cities’ is going to happen with or without intervention. Unrestrained, motorists will clog up cities whether we like it or not. Restrained, at least the motorists could be channeled into long streams of micro-moving queues.

It’s this second approach that most cities will eventually adopt. As a recent AA/Populis survey found, rising fuel prices aren’t forcing people out of their cars, they just spend less on other things. Petrol is thought to be an ‘essential’ not a ‘luxury’ for many city dwellers.

Given that motorists won’t easily or willingly change their behaviour – heck, it’s a free society, they opine, as they gas-guzzle over the rights of other members of society – the only real solution is design. Cities need to stop designing for cars and start designing for people.

This is a central premise of the ‘slow cities’ movement. At last week’s Thinking Digital conference in Newcastle upon Tyne I attended a number of thought-provoking talks but the one that chimed most with me was the one given by Carl Honoré, a Canadian now living – slowly – in London.

He’s the author of the bestseller In Praise of Slow. He didn’t start the ‘slow movement’, but his writings are getting the message to a wider audience. The ‘slow food’ movement – started in Italy by a gastronome – was perhaps the first of the ‘slow’ ideas to gain a mainstream foothold, but others are now growing in importance, including ‘slow cities.’

Honoré touched on this topic in his talk, although ‘slow sex’ got the most interest from the audience, some of them twittering his highlights, not a very ‘slow friendly’ thing to do.

Honoré describes the slow movement as:

It is a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better. The Slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savoring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.

Lately I have been paying a lot of attention to the rise of Slow Travel. The fast approach to travel and tourism is taking a heavy toll. The environmental damage caused by our penchant for air travel is well documented, but it is just the start. When we travel in roadrunner mode, we miss the small details that make each place thrilling and unique. We lose the joy of the journey. And at the end of it all, when every box on our To Do list has been checked, we return home even more exhausted than when we left. That is why Slow Travel is gaining ground.

Slow Travel is about savouring the journey (traveling by train or barge or bicycle or foot rather than crammed into an airplane); taking time to engage and learn about the local culture; finding moments to switch off and relax; showing an interest in the effect our visit has on the locals and on the environment. Obviously we don’t live in an ideal world so sometimes we have to travel faster than we want or should. But at least we should seek wherever possible to take a Slow approach to travel. It will deliver more pleasure, stronger memories and more sustainability.”

The whole of his talk from Thinking Digital can be watched below. He starts off by saying he nearly got knocked down in Newcastle by a ‘yummy mummy’ in an SUV talking on a cellphone, taking a bend too fast.

Bike-related interview with Fake Steve Jobs

Dan Lyons, a senior editor at Forbes Magazine in the US, is in Britain at the Thinking Digital conference in Newcastle upon Tyne. I spent an enjoyable 90 minutes with him on Thursday afternoon.

Click here on iTunes for a one-hour podcast of the conversation (if you’re not already a subscriber to the podcast, the file may take a wee while to refresh and appear in iTunes).

The file is also available as a downloadable or click-to-listen vanilla MP3 on Libsyn.

There were some surprises. I assumed Steve Jobs would be a fan of the Fake Steve Jobs blog, but not a bit of it. We also talked about Bike Helmet Girl, Bike Snob NYC, skiing in New England, the new iPhone, rising gas prices in America and raising healthy kids.

Dan and his wife have bikes stashed away in their garage but he promises he’s going to dig them out when he gets home. He must be a closet cyclist: he let slip he’d recently been flicking through Dirt Rag magazine

ThinkingDigital2008 Dan Lyons aka Fake Steve Jobs



“Oh, dude, everybody at Apple reads your blog.”

iPhone 2.0

“Jobs is a genius, I just wouldn’t want to work for him, or live near him.”

Bike Helmet Girl

Gasp, Bike Helmet Girl is not a real cyclist

Stuff White People Like

Bike Snob NYC

Trainspotting = an English hobby

Obsessive males

Bike geekery

Power measurement

Dirt Rag magazine mention.

Kona Ute or equivalent


Gas at $4 a gallon

The bicycle culture of Portland, Oregon

Want more of Dan? Here’s a video of him at the recent Web 2.0 conference in the US. It’s very funny:

Show me your good side

Or a full frontal. Head-shots only, please.

Or use your standard avatar, be it a symbol, a logo or cartoon representation of yourself.

Load your graphic via the Disqus blog commenting system. It’s been running on for some time. If you have a blog, consider upgrading to Disqus.

You won’t be alone. 4000+ blogs use the system. Disqus is the commenting system on stellar blogs such as the Secret Diary of Steve Jobs and the monolithic sites from legendary tech guy Leo Laporte.

Disqus has lots of advantages and now also supports video comments from Seesmic. Click on ‘comments’ below. If you’re already a member of Seesmic you can jump straight in and record a quick vid.

The top five stories on

Click on the story titles to be taken to the most popular articles on

1. Lock it or lose it
“Or lock it and still lose it? I bought a bunch of expensive locks and watched two burly ‘bike thieves’ smash into them within seconds. But it’s possible to make life difficult for professional thieves: there are locking techniques that will make your precious harder to half-inch.”

2. The celebs who cycle
Forget stretch-limos, a growing list of film stars, rock legends and leaders-of-the-free-world take to two-wheels for speedy, paparazzi-free transport and, of course, to keep their figures in trim.

3. Learning to ride a bike
Tips and techniques for bicycle beginners

4. Ergo saddle testing
“Last year I got hooked up to a penile oxygen flow meter in the home town of William Shakespeare. This test – developed in Germany – has helped Specialized tweak its Body Geometry line of saddles to make them more ergo than ever.”

5. How often should you replace your bicycle helmet?
1. After a crash. 2. At least every two years. 3. When salt has frazzled the straps. 4. When your helmet stinks so much it goes riding without you. 5. Before the fashion police arrive. 6. After too many suncreen smears

The top videos on YouTube (633,000 total views to date) can be found here. And, soon to go over 5000 views on Vimeo, here’s the Bicycle Anatomy video featuring music made from parts of my bikes:

Bicycle Anatomy for Beginners from on Vimeo.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a flying mountain bike in Google Earth

One of the key spiritual homes of American mountain biking has never seen anything like it: a Specialized MTB flying over Mt Tamalpais, Marin County’s biggest peak.

It’s piloted by Mike Pegg but he hasn’t left the ground. He’s seen in the YouTube video above flying with his bike, hooked up to the Google Earth flight simulator.

Pegg uses a SunSPOT 3D sensor device to enable his high-rise handlebars to serve as a flight control joystick, with banking controls.

No pedalling, no flying.

Twig stops play


Josh, my ten year old, shot off on his bike to school today. He and my daughters were racing to be the first of the Reidlets into the playground. Five minutes after they’d left I was still loading up the trailer. Tuesday is music day at school so I was being packhorse, carting in all the bags, lunches, guitars and violins.

As I was about to leave, Josh came round the corner, sheepishly, his rear mech trailing on the ground.

“A twig got stuck,” he said.

We’re a multiple-bikes-per-child family so there was no drama, Josh just took one of his other bikes (a rather fine 24-inch Kona CX bike shod with road tyres) and pedalled off up the hill.

It’s at times like these you’re glad you’re going to be repairing a bike with a replaceable dropout. The frame isn’t trashed, just the dropout.

Do you know how many different replaceable dropout shapes there are? I don’t, does anybody? I’m now going to have to traipse around, dropout bits in hand, trying to find a bike shop that just so happens to stock the right shaped widget.

Bicycle Anatomy for Beginners from on Vimeo.

Tim Jackson tells all in latest Spokesmen podcast

Or almost all. And in graphic, colourful detail. Turn away now if you don’t like hearing about bone-mashing, thumb-shearing injuries. Who said cycling was healthy?!

Join him and the other Spokesmen on this audio slice of bicycling life.

The show – hosted by David Bernstein – also featured me and in-demand Tim Grahl of the Crooked Cog and Commute by Bike website.

Listen out for the unmasking of Bike Snob NYC. Or have we got the sex and the city wrong?

If Gordon wants to be more popular he should ape zeitgeisters David and Boris

British PM Gordon Brown is not popular. Conservative leader David Cameron and Conservative Mayor of London Boris Johnson are extremely popular.

Aside from their joint love of rosette colour, what most unites Cameron and Johnson? They are Britain’s highest profile utility cyclists.

It’s strange, most ‘normal’ Brits hate cyclists yet Cameron and Johnson have stuck to their bikes despite recent attempts by the mainstream media to shame them into going by car instead.

Cycling may be in decline, in terms of bums on saddles, but it’s the sort of healthy, non-polluting, earth-friendly activity that goes down well in the sort of key constituencies that win British elections.

Cycling is tops with middle-class white people, says top WordPresser Christian Lander. And that’s true for the UK as well as the US.

So, if Gordon Brown wants to tickle the fancies of the electoral minority power-makers – the middle ground voters so beloved of British politicos – he needs to address their concerns from a streaming bikecam.

His YouTube initiative, launched today, is lame without a bike. It’s just a bloke in a suit, fluffing his words. Never heard of ‘take two’, Gordon? You might not be able to follow David Cameron’s bike commute on but his website – webcameron – is stuffed to the gills with other social media fripperies.

The Tory leader famously quipped that Gordon Brown was an “analogue politician in a digital age.”

Brown’s YouTube appearance, sans bicycle, is a good case in point.

However, the initiative – conjured up by @DowningStreet? – gives us all a chance to tell Gordon he needs to get out and ride more.

Ask the PM will be a regular Q&A session open to everyone. You’ll also be able to vote for your favourite questions throughout with the most popular rising to the top.

So send in your video questions on any subject you like, from tackling climate change to improving the health service and creating jobs, and make the most of your chance to have a personal Prime Minister’s Question Time.

The first session will close to submissions on 21 June and the PM’s response will be shared shortly after.

Videos have to be less than 30 seconds long and can be ever so slightly frivoulous: “We will accept lighter questions not necessarily linked to Government policy.”

Interestingly, “questions will be selected based on their popularity with YouTube users…”

So, here’s a challenge. Let’s collaborate on a bike-topic video, post it to YouTube and then make it popular so Gordon has to answer it (preferably from a bike saddle).

As Gordon probably knows, fame on YouTube can be cruel. Gordon Brown’s official YouTube videos struggle to get 2000+ views. However, one of him picking his nose – and allegedly eating the results – has had 233,255 views to date:

A bride, at last!

North East Digital Awards

It’s third time lucky. Last night, I ditched the bridesmaid tag by bagging a best blog award. In two previous award presentations I’ve been runner-up.

I was expecting the same level of bitter disappointment last night but, to my utter surprise, was read out as the winner of the best blog in the North East Digital Awards.

The awards were created by regional development agency One NorthEast, to showcase the North East of England as a hotbed of digital innovation. 240 nominations were received across all categories for the awards, with winners including ITV, and digital campaigns for e.on and other major brands.

At previous awards ceremonies I was the bridesmaid, never the bride. In 2000, beat my one-man-band site in the European Online Journalism Awards. Mind-you, was joint second with so I wasn’t downbeat.

In 2004, Reed Business Information’s Personnel Today website beat in the B2B website category of the PPA Awards for Editorial and Publishing Excellence, the Oscars of the British publishing industry.

At the previous awards bashes, to my eternal shame, I took taxis to the venues. Not so last night, I was able to cycle. Here’s a panda pic of my shiny shoes and one half of my glad rags:

Carlton Reid off to awards ceremony