Designing a better manhole cover


Manhole covers are an irrelevance to motorists. Make ‘em as slippy as you like, with four wheels a car just ain’t gonna slide.

But for two-wheelers, slippy manhole covers are a real problem. In the wet, motorcyclists and cyclists need to avoid manhole covers, if they value their lives.

Intelligent design to the rescue. On 24th June there will be the official launch of a non-slip manhole cover, a product cooked-up by Saint-Gobain Pipelines.

“This Saint-Gobain Pipelines’ innovation has been specifically developed to tackle one of the major problems facing road users on two wheels – metal access covers, worn smooth by decades of traffic, which become slippery and offer minimal grip. It has been extensively trialled by Bristol City Council in consultation with local road users and is set to make life safer for motorcyclists and cyclists across the UK.”

Every little helps.

Ride the Atomic Bicycle. Boom, boom.

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.”

What is it with Trek and the top job in America?

It turns out that Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, rides a Trek. So does President Bush.

Trek gifted bikes to the Bush camp, has it also pushed bike’s Barack’s way?

The man who could be president later this year joined family and neighbours for a bicycle ride along the shores of Lake Michigan on Sunday. Story and pix carried on the Associated Press website.

Riding a bicycle is one of the first things you must be seen to be keen on, if you wish to be a leader of the free world. There are a disproportionate amount of real cyclists among world leaders.

In March, President Bush took the prime minister of Denmark on an MTB tour of his Texan ranch. And, of course, one of the key problems with UK prime minister Gordon Brown is that he doesn’t ride a bike, unlike the increasingly popular David Cameron who rides to Parliament at least once a week.

His ‘helmet-hair’ recently made headline news in the UK:

“All that happened is I got on my bicycle, put on a cycle helmet for once, because I’m always being told to… and something went a bit wrong.”

Cameron’s biking credentials will likely win him the next election. In the US, president’s used to have to worry about the ‘Jewish vote’, in the UK politicians have to fret over the ‘pedalling plebiscite’, such is the newfound popularity of the bicycle.

Barak Obama tried to reach out to the cycling vote at an amazingly early age. And, of course, who can forget the meme that whizzed around the world earlier this year, Barack Obama is Your New Bicycle?

Cycling to Timbuktu with Graeme Fife

Want to hear a polished bit of audio featuring the posh, cultured voice of Tour de France author Graeme Fife? Click for an MP3 download, or check out all the videos and audio shorts on iTunes. Subscribe – it’s free – for shedloads of eclectic, bicycle-themed content.

The Graeme Fife audio was first broadcast on Radio 4 in the UK and is half an hour of escapism. It was also on an earlier version of the podcast but it’s since dropped off the radar. It’s about a three-man bicycle tour of Mali, en route to the fabled African town.

Top ten vodcasts

I’ve just been fiddling with the text on my video podcast’s iTunes feed. While I was there I clicked on the Libsyn stats package. I thought you might like to see the results for the most popular episodes. They’re listed below in order of popularity. 56 episodes are hosted on Libsyn but these are the top ten.

Best Tour de France footage ever filmed? 05/10/2007
Pre-production footage from the IMAX movie ‘Brainpower’. The Tyler Hamilton material was later cut.

APPLE TV: How to get kids to fix bicycles 02/19/2008
Weldtech mechanic Jeff Beach teaches basic bike maintenance to eager kids at the Newcastle Phoenix cycling club.

APPLE TV: Bicycle Anatomy for Beginners 04/01/2008
Loving close-ups of bike parts, named for newbies. This also features ‘bespoke’ music made from bicycle parts.

Phil Liggett and friends go cycling 08/17/2007
A video of last year’s Phil and Friends ride in the Peak District. Two ‘voices of cycling’ are featured, the other being Eurosport’s David Harmon.

2 CHAIN GANG Wax or shave? 04/24/2008
An episode from a 1990s TV series in which I get my leg hairs pulled out and then go for a ride in the country with a road club.

6 CHAIN GANG Jason McRoy MTB superstar (RIP) 04/24/2008
This is also from the Tyne Tees series Chain Gang. It features the iconic rider on his home turf as well as competing against Myles Rockwell in the 1994 Reebok Eliminator on the Kamikaze course at Mammoth Mountain, California.

BIKE THIEVES: know thine enemy 08/07/2007
This is a video short, first aired on Channel 4, interviewing a bike thief and putting his words on an animation of stealing techniques.

Kinda saucy: woman in shorts on bike from Oz comedy 07/30/2007
I’m surprised this one isn’t higher up the list. It’s from 1980s hit comedy series the Paul Hogan Show. It’s sub-Benny Hill stuff.

Out for a cushy spin: Cyclists Special, 1955 07/12/2007
A full-length version of the famous cinema short about a train-borne CTC-led cycle tour of the Midlands.

John Burke: the Al Gore of the bike trade? 05/09/2007
This is a bicycle advocacy talk given to industry leaders at the 2007 Taiwan trade show. Burke argued that bike companies should increase their financial support of bicycle advocates and political lobbying groups. He called the bicycle “the perfect product at the perfect time.” And bike companies would sell more of them if there were more places for folks to ride them.

“The number one way to grow the business and to have an impact on society, health, environment and congestion is to create a bicycle-friendly world,” said Burke.

He revealed that for every $100 of sales, bike companies typically spend $3.90 on marketing, $1.60 on R&D but just 10 cents on advocacy.

“That doesn’t make sense. As an industry we need to look at how we spend money. Why do we spend the amount of money on marketing and product and little on advocacy?”

Putting ‘APPLE TV’ at the front of an episode helps it to rise up the rankings. Personally, I’m using my Apple TV much more than my TiVo-style Sky HD box. This will only accelerate now that the UK version of Apple TV has two quid video rentals. Not that I’m lazy or anything but the ability to cut out the trip to the video rental store is a real boon.

Ken wins gong cos of pro-bike stance


He may not have an oily right trouser leg, he may have lost the race to stay as Mayor of London, but Ken Livingstone has won the ‘Best Politician’ award in the Observer newspaper’s annual Ethical Awards.

There’s a brief clip of the awards photoshoot on the Guardian website. Ken has never been seen on a bike, but here he’s shown holding a roadbike in the air.

An Observer journalist says Ken won the gong because he aligned himself with London’s Green party, championing energy-efficient light-bulbs and bicycles.

He said London was close to getting a Velib-style bike rental scheme:

“I think in about a year you’ll see, just like in Paris, inside the Circle Line to start off with, racks of bikes you can use your Oyster card or credit card to hire out for just a few minutes or a day and hopefully it’ll spread out to the rest of London.”

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What if Apple designed a bicycle?

ixi ipod

The new iPhone is launched next week. It will be dripping with goodies such as GPS, 3G and a higher-res camera. All well and good but it’s just an iPod/pda/media-player/phone/camera/sex-toy combo, it won’t set the world on fire (can you tell I want one?). But what if the design prowess of Apple was turned on the bicycle?


In this BikeBiz article on James Thomas of the BicycleDesign blog, I threw in the Ive-on-a-bike question.

He answered:

“I am sure an iBike would look nice, but then I would be stuck buying expensive proprietary Apple chain lube and tyre air!

I would love to see Jonathan Ive’s take on the bicycle. I think Biomega is one company that has successfully used designers from outside the bike industry to create products that can potentially appeal to non-cyclists. Most of the people who work in the bicycle industry, designers included, are in the industry because they really love bikes. Familiarity with the product is a good thing, but if you want to reach new markets, a different way of thinking may be required and sometimes a designer from a totally different industry can provide a fresh perspective.”

Apple isn’t about to design a bicycle any time soon. Anyway, according to Delta’s Errol Drew, the iXi bike is the “iPod of the bike world.”

But there are other Apple linkages to our favourite form of transport. For instance, the [Apple] Macintosh was originally going to be called the Bicycle, and if Steve Jobs hadn’t crashed his Schwinn Stingray he may never have joined the brainiacs club that gave him wings…

One of these links is true, the other is a fanboy’s dream.

Top marks if you knew that it’s the former that’s OSX and the latter that’s Vista.


Apple history site is run by Andy Hertzfeld, one of the Apple techies that helped develop the Macintosh.

Here’s him describing how ‘Macintosh’ was preferred to ‘Bicycle’.

“Jef Raskin [father of the Macintosh] chose the name ‘Macintosh’, after his favorite kind of apple, so when Jef was forced to go on an extended leave of absence in February 1981, Steve Jobs and Rod Holt decided to change the name of the project, partially to distance it from Jef.

“Apple had recently taken out a two page ad in Scientific American, featuring quotes from Steve Jobs about the wonders of personal computers. The ad explained how humans were not as fast runners as many other species, but a human on a bicycle beat them all.

“Personal computers were ‘bicycles for the mind.'”

“A month or so after Jef’s departure, Rod Holt announced to the small design team that the new code name for the project was ‘Bicycle’, and that we should change all references to ‘Macintosh’ to ‘Bicycle’.

“Rod’s edict was never obeyed. Somehow, Macintosh just seemed right. It was already ingrained with the team, and the “Bicycle” name seemed forced and inappropriate, so no one but Rod ever called it “Bicycle”. For a few weeks, Rod would reprimand anyone who called it “Macintosh” in his presence, but the new name never acquired any momentum.”

The other – and spurious – Apple link to cycling was created by Dan Lyons, aka Fake Steve Jobs. Here’s the interview I conducted with him a fortnight ago. He’s funny in the flesh, too. There’s an audio podcast of our conversation on iTunes.

During his talk to techies at the Thinking Digital conference he read out part of his EJ Thribb-style In Memoriam obit-poem to Evel Knievel in which it was revealed Steve Jobs had a previously unknown junior penchant for stunt cycling:

Because you inspired people.
Including me. One time,
when I was thirteen, I built
a ramp on my street
& put on a cape
& a football helmet
& tried to jump a Schwinn Stingray
over three kindergarten kids.
Each kid lay on the pavement
holding a pair of enormous torches —
rolled-up newspapers doused in gasoline.
Flames leapt eight feet into the air.
Soon after this
as a condition of my parole
I joined my school’s electronics club.
The rest, as they say,
is history.

Signs of things to come

CycleSignageJesmondDene  045 - Version 2

We rolled back from our recent cycling holiday to a surprise. When we were away, the local council had installed cycle signage right outside our cottage. It’s excellent for our home to be highlighted as officially bicycle-friendly!

We live in a wooded valley called Jesmond Dene. It’s a two-mile linear park following the Ouseburn river to the Tyne. As well as being a key recreational park for residents of Newcastle, it’s a wildlife corridor.

However, it’s wildlife of the motorised sort which can often be a headache down here. Ouseburn Road looks and feels like a winding country lane, despite being just 1.5 miles from the centre of Newcastle. Locals therefore treat it like a country lane: it’s a high-speed rat-run for idiot motorists.

Traffic, thankfully, is light but, of course, that makes cars go faster. They love ripping around the corners as though they were taking part in the RAC Rally of GB.

At night the road is very much a race track, with motorists zipping along at 40+mph, taking blind corners as though no other road users could possibly wish to be travelling at the same time as them.

During the day – especially when it’s sunny, like today – it’s not uncommon to see pedestrians, cyclists, horse-riders and others fanning across the width of the road. Locals swarm to the area: Jesmond Dene was recently voted the top picnic spot in the North East of England, beating the Alnwick Garden and Gateshead’s Angel of the North.

One day there will be a major impact on this road, with a strolling family wiped out because of a rat-running twat. The road’s speed limit is unsigned so presumed to be 30mph. It could do with being downgraded to 20mph. But Newcastle City Council has yet to do this because the road is not – yet – an accident blackspot.

A few years ago, a small amount of traffic calming was put in place. Some build-outs were placed at pinch-points, with right of way being given in one direction only. Naturally, this only rarely slows motorists down. In fact, most tend to speed up to get past the half-chicanes. What’s needed are full chicanes and meaty speed bumps. Such measures may be part of the council’s lottery-funded £6m redevelopment of the Ouseburn Parks. But I shan’t be holding my breath.

As an interim measure perhaps the cycle route signage will help to slow down motorists? Again, I’m not holding my breath.

But anything that officially says ‘cycling is welcome here’ has got to be a good thing, free advertising in effect.

A lot more could be on its way, not just in Newcastle but across the UK. In the summer, the Department for Transport will publish the long-awaited Cycling Infrastructure Design guidance.

This will take the place of Cycle Friendly Infrastructure (CFI) guidelines from 1996.


The CFI is out of date but it was the first place to recommend a ‘Hierarchy of Provision’ for cycling, tackling the major deterrents to cycling at source.

The ‘Hierarchy of Provision’ recommended that reductions in motor traffic volumes and speeds should be considered first as they were potentially the most effective. At the other end of the scale it suggested that new cycle routes segregated from motor traffic should only be implemented if the other alternatives had proved impossible or unlikely to achieve the desired benefits for cyclists.

Consider first:
Traffic reduction
Speed reduction
Junction treatment, hazard site treatment, traffic management
Redistribution of the carriageway (bus lanes, widened nearside lanes, cycle lanes etc)
Segregated cycle tracks constructed by reallocation of carriageway space, cycle tracks away from roads

Consider last:
Conversion of footways/footpaths to unsegregated shared-use cycle tracks alongside the carriageway

The hoary old argument about whether cyclists should be on the road or on separate paths will never be settled. Too many people – newbies and old-hands – would never, ever consider cycling on roads, even though roads usually offer the most direct route to a destination.

The CTC says:

While separate paths may look good on paper, in the real world cycle facilities are not all they’re cracked up to be. Moving cyclists off the road makes them harder for drivers to notice, and puts them in greater danger at junctions. Many cycle facilities are badly designed, and separating cyclists from drivers reinforces the idea that roads are primarily for cars.

Most collisions occur at junctions, as drivers turning left or right collide with cyclists continuing straight ahead. Cycletracks force cyclists back into the traffic at junctions, forcing them to merge with traffic at the very place they are most at risk of being hit.

A comprehensive study of Copenhagen’s segregated routes found that while there was a 10% decrease in the number of collisions between the junctions, the number of incidents at junctions rose by 18%, with an increase of 9-10% in collisions overall.

The average cyclist travels at 12 mph, with commuter cyclists travelling far faster. However most facilities are not designed for such speeds; cycletracks can be narrow and shared with pedestrians, while cycle lanes are often blocked with parked cars or broken glass and debris.

Cycletracks take cyclists off the road between junctions, where they are less at risk of being hit, then force them to merge into the traffic at junctions, where they are most at risk.

Taking cyclists off the road reinforces drivers’ feelings of road-ownership

Even a well thought out network of high-quality routes is not going to provide door-to-door coverage, meaning that at some point you will be cycling on the road. It’s therefore very important to look at how investing in cycle facilities affects the relationship between cyclists and other road users.

Studies by the Transport Research Laboratory show that drivers dislike having road space taken from them, and get frustrated when cyclists choose not to use cycle paths, even if the path is badly designed or blocked by or parked cars.

Their reports also found that most drivers thought cyclists who weren’t using a cycletrack were being “irresponsible”. Some even claimed they drove aggressively “to encourage them to get over there”.

The more cyclists there are on the roads, the safer cycling becomes, as drivers get used to being around cyclists. Taking cyclists away from traffic means drivers spend less time around cyclists and increases the likelihood of a crash – whether there is an off-road cycletrack or not.