Archive for November, 2009


Nov 30, 2009

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….



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Nov 22, 2009

Beauty and the Bike




This is an eight minute trailer of Darlington’s inspirational ‘Beauty and the Bike’ documentary, a 55 minute exploration of how to get more British teen girls on bikes.

The first screenings will Thursday 3rd December, in Kino Atlantis, Bremen, Germany; and Wednesday 9th December in Darlington Arts centre. Contact dmg@bikebeauty.org for ticket details. There’s also to be book and an accompanying DVD.

I’m proud to say the Bike Hub levy fund committee - of which I’m a member - has pledged a ton of cash to DarLOVElo. This is Darlington’s Dutch bike loan scheme. Funding was granted via the New Ideas Fund, an annual £100,000 pot which is awarded to pro-cycling projects with the potential to go national.



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Nov 13, 2009

Twitter inspires iPayRoadTax.com


TaxDisc2

UPDATE: Following this posting - and coverage on blogs, news sites and forums - I was inundated with pre-orders for the iPayRoadTax.com jersey. It will now be produced in partnership with Foska.com, story here.

Alongside the ‘all cyclists blow through red lights’* canard from motorists there’s the classic ‘we pay road tax, cyclists don’t.’ This is an objection voiced the world over. This morning on Twitter, Nick Bertrand said:

“I pay road tax/VED for the car I rarely drive. Should I wear a copy of the tax disk on my jersey?”

I replied, telling him that’s a great idea, and others agreed. I then went on a bike ride. On the road to Dunston - Damascus being too far for a hill-climb quickie – I had a light-bulb moment: jerseys with tax discs printed on them.

And arm-warmers, so cyclists thrown the ‘we pay road tax’ argument can counter by simply pointing to an upper-arm. It’s sure easier than getting a tattoo.

When I got back from the ride I registered iPayRoadTax.com and iPayRoadTax.co.uk. I commissioned Luke Scheybeler to produce the fake tax disc above. This will be used on the jerseys and arm-warmers. For product updates, follow iPayRoadTax on Twitter.

IPayRoadTaxRough2

The fonts and colours for the jersey and arm-warmers aren’t set in stone. Others on Twitter suggested headset spacers and topcaps, too. Oy, could do loads of things. Like mugs, badges, t-shirts? Or how about, ahem, a tax-disc holder for your car, emblazoned with bicycle symbols?

When I twittered the fact I’d registered a domain-name and who would like some arm-warmers and jerseys, the response from Twitterdom was immediate. Within seconds I got firm orders. Really. Seconds. Amazing. From inspiration to product idea to mock-up to orders within minutes. Who says Twitter is a waste of time and thence money? I may have just created a micro-business thanks to picking up on a 140-character message (or I may be wasting my time and money).

If you’d like to express interest in items from the forthcoming I Pay Road Tax collection, have a look at this.

* Just cyclists blow through red lights, huh? Two wrongs don’t make a right but there are plenty of online examples of motorists doing things they shouldn’t. Here’s four drivers in one go busting through a red light in Manchester:



NB Road tax was abolished in the UK in 1936. Since then we have paid ‘Vehicle Excise Duty’ and, as every fule knows (except the majority of motorists, it seems), this does not pay for the upkeep of roads. This comes out of general taxation. Cyclists are tax-payers…And, of course, the majority of adult cyclists also own cars so pay VED, too. It’s just that many cyclists prefer not to use their cars for every blummin’ short journey.



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Nov 11, 2009

Bunch of my fave clicky-flicky mags & books




I use Issuu.com to store and display the Bike to Work Book samplers (and will use it to store the full book when it’s ready, which is getting closer) and am loving this new feature: personalised bookshelves. Top work.

And there’s even an RSS feed for seeing when the list gets updated.



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Nov 11, 2009

Read it and weep


Check the calendar. It’s NOT April 1st. The comments below from a former roads minister in Australia defy belief.

Carl Scully - now, thankfully, out of Government so out of harm’s way - was roads minister in New South Wales from 1996 to 2005. In a frank, forthright - and frightening - article in the motoring section of The Age newspaper he has become an overnight sensation. Are his views on cycling shared by other high-ups around the world? Is this how many policy makers, who say they want to promote cycling, really feel about it?

Amazingly, Scully puts it print what many ‘vehicular cyclists’ have long feared: that building cycle lanes isn’t for benefit of cyclists, it’s an excuse to get cyclists off the road (perhaps all roads), out of the way of cars, which could then be allowed to travel faster.

Scully also flags his ignorance by introducing the old chestnut about cyclists “not paying for roads,” probably the most used and abused anti-cyclist argument there is, and which, of course, is false because roads are paid for out of general taxation, and cyclists pay tax.

Cyclists do not have the same rights as motorists on roads

Despite a massive increase in funding, policy and delivery, the bicycle lobby groups remained at best sceptical, and at worst disappointingly hostile.

Perhaps this was because I made it quite clear that I believed riding a bike on a road was profoundly unsafe and that where I could I would shift them to off road cycle ways.

No one would suggest it is safe for pedestrians to be on the roadway, so why should it be any different if a pedestrian gets on a bike?

While individuals do take all sorts of risk voluntarily every day, either by necessity, or for the thrill of it, the road is quite a different environment.

The claim put to me often by cycling lobby groups, “that bicycles are non-motorised vehicular transport and have as much right to be on the road as any other vehicle”, was a claim I rejected firmly every time.

In rejecting the “we have a right to be on the road” mentality of cyclists and their lobby groups, I also took a measured and balanced policy position on how best to separate bicycles and vehicles from our roads over time.

Shifting cyclists off our roads or even banning them was neither fair nor entirely possible without providing off-road alternatives. I made a decision that all future major road infrastructure would be built with off-road cycle ways.

Without infrastructure alternative for cyclists, it may be necessary to regulate the manner and time in which they may use our roads.

But, the lone cyclist travelling in the middle of a vehicle lane at morning or evening peak hours is not only unsafe for the cyclist, but is often quite unsafe for motorists as they weave around them.

I would be happy to see a ban during morning and evening peak times. Time-of-day cycling would ensure that our roads during peak periods are for the sole use of vehicles and not for the use of cyclists.

Cyclists are unlikely to be happy being regulated to time-of-day cycling or to footpaths and off-road facilities.

But, before rejecting this option out of hand, they should consider not only how unsafe it is to be sharing the roadway with vehicles, but also acknowledge that it is motorists who pay fuel levies, tolls, registration and licence fees, as well as the huge cost of buying and running a motor vehicle.

Apart from a negligible amount of GST on their equipment, cyclists pay nothing towards the cost of the roads they wish to use and rely on motorists to fund most of the cost of cycling infrastructure.

Being more aware of this may make more cyclists a little more sensitive to the needs of the motoring public.

Avoiding Godwin’s Law
Scully won’t know this, but his views on getting cyclists off the roads has a long and inglorious history. Cycle campaigner John Franklin has a great online history of the cycle path; he shows that cycle path construction has often been financed - and certainly promoted - by the auto lobby.

Scully would no doubt be proud of such initiatives. He might be less enamoured of the other great promoters of compulsory use of cycle paths: the Nazi party. According to Godwin’s Law, to cite Nazis in a web story is tantamount to losing the debate but there’s a genuine reason for citing them in this case.

Franklin bases part of his history of cycle paths on ‘From Cycling Lanes to Compulsory Bike Path: Bicycle Path Construction in Germany, 1897 - 1940, Volker Briese, The 5th International Cycle History Conference, Cambridge, 1994.’

1920: Quote from first Dutch Roads Congress: “After all, the construction of bicycle paths along the larger roads relieves traffic along these roads of an extremely bothersome element: the cyclist.”

1920s: Mass construction of cycle tracks in Germany. Motive: to remove disturbances in the fast flow of motor vehicles caused by cyclists. Propaganda cited paths as pro-cyclist, and first use made of ’safety’ argument to get cyclists to use them. Many arguments between police and cyclists, the latter prefering to use the newly tarmaced roads.

1926:Cycle tracks made compulsory for cyclists in Germany.

1934: New German legal instruments to address “the problem of disciplining cyclists” who did not use cycle tracks. Bicycle associations outlawed by Nazi regime.

WWII: Use of cycle tracks made compulsory in Netherlands, under Nazi occupation.



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Nov 10, 2009

Bike Across Italy


Bike Across Italy with Ciclismo Classico from Quickrelease.tv on Vimeo.

A couple of weeks back I was in Italy with Ciclismo Classico, a US-based bike holiday company that’s been showing guests the dolce vita since 1988.

I produced the six minute video above as a record of the trip. It’s different to the YouTube version I posted earlier. It’s now stored on Vimeo.com and is in HD format so click to play but come back in a couple of minutes, giving the player time to load the hi-res content.

I hope the film gives a flavour of what it’s like to go on this particular trip – it’s the Bike Across Italy trip, from Fano to Porte Ercole – but also why guided bike tours are worth every penny.

For sure, they’re not cheap. But, choose wisely, and you’ll be immersed in the country you’re cycling through. Expert guides can bring a country alive; with special insights, local knowledge and, perhaps most important of all, personal contacts.

Marcello, one of the two guides on my trip, seemed to know everybody, everywhere. He was a larger than life character, adored in every town we stayed in or cycled through.

I love touring by bike. I’ve done lots of extended, independent trips, through some fascinating countries, and local colour comes with the territory, but if you’ve got just a week or ten days to spare, a guided bike trip can see you embedded into the local scene quickly and easily.

Most of my long-distance tours were undertaken solo. I’m comfortable in my own company and - pre-children - could happily ride for months on my tod. On a guided bike tour you’re thrown together with a bunch of strangers, linked only by your love of cycling.

As those trip guests I interviewed for the video say, this could be a recipe for disaster but the kind of folks attracted to guided bike tours are, almost by definition, a good kind of people. They’re sociable, bright, intelligent, talented and fun to be with. OK, there might be a few cycle-crazed sociopaths out there frequenting bike holidays, but it’s rare.

Those who choose to spend a large chunk of disposable income on an overseas bicycle holiday are highly likely to be people you’d want to spend time with.

On a technical note, the video was produced using a load of different camera clamps and on-bike booms. Most of the bike close-ups are of the bike I was riding so the legs are mostly mine. There’s also a brief ‘panda’ shot.

The HD segments were filmed with a small Aiptek camera; the vertical-distorting wide-angle shots were achieved with an X170 from Drift Innovations. None of the shots were ’set-up’: it would have been cruel to ask folks on holiday to ride back up a hill just so I could get a better fly-past. On the plus side, this meant I had to ride like the clappers to get in front of people in time for the shot so my sprinting skills improved no end.

Here’s not the place to give a town by town, experience by experience, re-telling of the Bike Across Italy trip. Hopefully, a picture tells a thousand words - and there are lots of pretty pictures in the video above. Please watch it, rate it and let me know what you think of it.



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Nov 06, 2009

When does an e-bike become a moped?




The following text comes from my Spokesman column in the November issue of BikeBiz (click on the document above to flick through the whole mag).

The nascent electric bike industry needs to take care. If it continues to sell illegal products; laugh at current EU e-bike regulations; and push for higher and higher power outputs, it could shoot itself in the collective foot.

At Interbike, an exporter of over-powered, too-fast, no-pedalling required e-bikes into the EU snorted at the notion his products would be tested and found to be verbotten in Europe: “There’s no such thing as the watt police,” he told me.

Should a customer on one of his electric ‘bicycles’ knock down and kill a pedestrian, or an owner over-throttle the bike into the path of a juggernaut (e-splat!), the ‘watt police’ will be all over the electric bike industry like a rash.

Far too many e-bike importers and e-bike retailers either don’t know what the legal regulations stipulate or wantonly ignore them. The e-bike industry is still in the Wild West phase, but enforcement will come.

Sales of e-bikes are surging across Europe. They are marketed as the latest thing in zippity-zip city chic; bikes with an integrated tailwind. Sit down, pedal gently, no sweat. A cyclist must crank out 100 watts to propel a bicycle to 20 kilometres an hour. An e-bike provides a battery-powered boost of up to 250 watts. Donkeys become race-horses.

E-bikes take less effort to propel, but they’re not super-fast. This means they are classified as bicycles in the EU, not scooters. No motor vehicle licence required; no hair-crushing helmet; and where a bicycle can go, an e-bike can go. E-bikes have the same advantages of bicycles, and none of the perceived disadvantages.

China, alone, is said to have 100 million e-bikes on the road. However, the e-bike of China is a very different animal to the e-bike legally allowed to be called a bicycle in the EU.
E-bikes in Europe are limited to 25kph and need to be propelled by pedalling as well as the motor. Torque sensors measure a rider’s pedalling effort and then provide the requisite amount of additional oomph. Hills are flattened; headwinds deflated, but only so long as the cyclist keeps pedalling. The majority of Chinese e-bikes - selling at a rate of 21 million a year - are throttle-controlled, no pedalling required.

It’s estimated 750,000 e-bikes will have been sold in Europe by the end of 2009. Many of them are illegal for use in the EU. Far too many of them are throttle-controlled rather than pedal-assisted. These aren’t electric bicycles, they’re mopeds.

And trade organisations know it. Brussels-based ETRA - the European twowheel retailers association - is currently lobbying for a law change because it realises far too many e-bikes for sale flaunt the regulations as they stand. ETRA wants wattage to be increased. US-based LEVA - the Light Electric Vehicle Association – also wants the rules to be changed, but wants an increase in allowable power and speed.

The danger in all this lobbying is that electric bikes will come to be seen as light motorbikes. That’s fine if you want to import or sell light motorbikes but isn’t this the bicycle industry?



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Nov 03, 2009

Could bike sharing schemes kill helmet compulsion laws?


velibbasketcase2

Mayors around the world are falling over themselves to offer urban bike-sharing schemes, such has been the success of Vélib’ in Paris.

Montreal, Dublin, Berlin, Rome, Bristol, Barcelona and lots of other cities already operate such schemes, as chronicled by the brilliant Bike Sharing blog. London will have a bike sharing scheme next year. Melbourne in Australia will have one, too. It’s to be operated by Alta of the US, the company that created Montreal’s Bixi bike sharing program.

velibsacrecouer2

Ah, but unlike in the cities above, cycle in Melbourne without a helmet and you risk copping a fine. Australia long ago enacted bicycle helmet compulsion for cyclists. However, bike sharing programs are for new cyclists, or tourists, or cyclists without their normal bike that day. Folks who likely don’t travel with bicycle helmets. So, could Melbourne’s bike sharing scheme be the start of the end for Australian helmet compulsion?

In Rome, even Pinocchio rides a bike

In the video below, traffic engineer Cameron Munro says bike sharing schemes will not topple lid laws but he admitted he was “worried” about masses of Bixi users not using helmets.



The video is by Mike Rubbo, a 70-year-old e-bike rider from Melbourne Avoca Beach on the Central Coast of NSW, Australia. He interviewed Alison Cohen, who works for Alta and is helping to roll-out Bixi in Melbourne.

She admitted that rental helmets were a non-starter because they couldn’t be sterilised. Instead, she argues that tourists will stump up not just for the bike rental fee but for a helmet, too. Cheap helmets, possibly from Burger King.

“The helmet’s a vexing problem,” she said. “Right now our plan is to work with local retailers [like] convenience stores, and possibly fast-food restaurants that are open late at night, and work with them to have some behind the counter. We’re looking at low cost helmets, like AU$15.”

Tourists or newbies who choose not to wear a helmet “risk getting fined or having an accident,” laughed Ms Cohen. “That’s what freedom is about.”

Of course, what’s far more likely is that people rent the bikes but neglect to pop into McDonald’s to buy helmets. Melbourne police officers will decide it’s too tough - and stupid - to fine Bixi riders without helmets and so the city becomes part of Australia where helmet laws are openly flouted, and hence die.

Robbo thinks he has an answer: sport cyclists on drop handlebars or stretched-out MTBs should continue to be forced to wear bicycle helmets but anybody on slow, sit-up-and-beg bikes should be able to ride bare-headed. You know, like Copenhagen and Amsterdam, where cycling is a normal, everyday activity and where safety equipment is deemed daft.

It’s always worth noting that bicycle helmets are designed for low-speed crashes to concrete kerbs and offer next to no protection in car v bike smashes i.e. they are better suited to the Copenhagen/Amsterdam style of riding.

“…better construction techniques don’t often mean better impact protection, just thinner helmets and more vents. In short, more money will buy you more vents, but not necessarily more safety…[Manufacturers] are convinced that they can’t sell a helmet that is thicker and therefore bulky looking. And their lawyers will not let them advertise that a helmet is ’safer’ or ‘more protective’ or even ‘designed to prevent concussion’ for fear that they will lose lawsuits when a rider is injured in that helmet.”
American pro-helmet organisation the Bicycle Helmet SafetyInstitute

It will be fascinating to see whether Bixi, in time, brings about the demise of Australia’s helmet laws. And, should London’s bike sharing scheme prove popular, the percentage of helmet-wearing cyclists in the UK capital will no doubt decrease. Just about the only factor that would convince the UK Department of Transport to push for cycle helmet compulsion would be a high percentage of cycle helmet wearing from the current crop of cyclists: dilute with non-helmet wearers and compulsion fades to grey.



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