Was this Britain’s earliest SMIDSY?

SMIDSY is clearly nothing new. Drivers have been saying ‘sorry, mate, I didn’t see you,’ from the earliest days of motoring. Although as the first drivers were all toffs, they probably never said sorry when they ran over the rural poor.

In September, 1902, the Chief Constable of Huntingdonshire wrote to the Home Office:

“It is a significant fact that two gentlemen of education and position…when exceededing 20mph passed horses and carts…which they subsequently declared they never saw. It being impossible to doubt their word, the question arises as to whether great mischief may not de done, by want of attention on the part of drivers, or their inability to see what is on the road.”


Glancing back, they saw a small cloud of dust, with a dark centre of energy, advancing on them at incredible speed, while from out the dust a faint ‘Poop-poop!’ wailed like an uneasy animal in pain…they had a moment’s glimpse of…the magnificent motor-car, immense, breath-snatching, passionate, with its pilot tense and hugging his wheel, possessed all earth and air for the fraction of a second, flung an enveloping cloud of dust that blinded and enwrapped them utterly, and then dwindled to a speck in the far distance, changed back into a droning bee once more.

‘Glorious, stirring sight!’ murmured Toad, never offering to move. ‘The poetry of motion! The real way to travel! The only way to travel! Here to-day— in next week to-morrow! Villages skipped, towns and cities jumped— always somebody else’s horizon! O bliss! O poop-poop! O my! O my!’

‘O what a flowery track lies spread before me, henceforth! What dust-clouds shall spring up behind me as I speed on my reckless way! What carts I shall fling carelessly into the ditch in the wake of my magnificent onset!”


[Mr Toad] increased his pace, and as the car devoured the street and leapt forth on the high road through the open country, he was…Toad the terror, the traffic-queller, the Lord of the lone trail, before whom all must give way or be smitten into nothingness and everlasting night.

Mr Toad later got 20 years in the clink. Not for his reckless driving, but for stealing a car.

SMIDSY from carltonreid on Vimeo.

Even with this many LEDs, there will still be the driver that knocks you down and says: “Sorry, mate, I didn’t see you.”

Please Mr Motorist Watch Out For Me

In opposition to segregation

“Once allow us to be put on separate roads and there will be an increasing outcry to keep us to those roads and to forbid us access to the ordinary roads of the country.”

Who said that? When did he say it and what was he referring to?

Self Propelled Traffic Association

Opposition from a president of the CTC in 1878 to compulsory cycle paths, perhaps? Wrong.

A complaint from the Self Propelled Traffic Association of 1895? Nope.

Mind-blowingly, it’s by William Joynson-Hicks, writing in the Motor Union’s Journal in 1909. Joynson-Hicks, a Conservative MP petrolhead was Minister for Health, 1923-4 and Home Secretary, 1924-29.

It’s amazing to realise that motorists once had the same fears as cyclists today; that they’d be shunted off to a hinterland, segregated from other road users.

Who Pays For Britain's Roads?

The Joynson-Hicks quote – and many other little nuggets of history – has come from my researches for iPayRoadTax.com. I’m working on a timeline of road funding, starting with the Roads Improvement Association, an organisation founded in 1886 by the Cyclists’ Touring Club and the National Cyclists’ Union.

The RIA wanted Britain’s dusty roads to be sealed with tarmac. The organisation pamphleted MPs and presented a strong case from “cads on casters” (the Lycra Lout equivalent of the late 19 Century, a reference to cyclists coined by uppercrust horse-riders) but the issue wasn’t taken seriously until adopted by the nascent ‘automobilism’ lobby.

Part of this lobby was the Self Propelled Traffic Association. It wasn’t self propelled in the sense we know today, it was in the sense of propelled by an engine, not a horse. A prominent cyclist sat on the SPTA’s council: E. R Shipton, secretary of the Cyclists’ Touring Club.

The SPTA was one of the organisations later to merge into the Automobile Association (AA), founded in 1905.

Edmund King, the AA’s current president is a cyclist: he often tweets about rides on his Whyte MTB.

Cycling also shares some history with the AA. In effect, the organisation was helped into existence by cyclists. In March 1905 a fellow 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: it was called the Automobile Association.

Sell cycling with positives, not safety

London cyclists 140

Recently I’ve given a couple of presentations. One was to a friendly crowd; the other was to sea of morose faces, not exactly hostile, but there were a few in the audience who gave me a hard time in the Q&A session.

The friendly crowd was a cycle campaign group. 16 turned up on a wet, dreary Friday night to listen to my bikey bon mots. It was like talking to friends, a fireside chat rather than a formal presentation; real-life ‘social media’, a to-and-fro conversation. I had got the ball rolling by talking about how, to promote cycling, we need to stress the warm and fuzzy stuff, not dwell on safety stats, helmets, Lycra, city streets clogged with two ton vehicles out to kill.

I was gently chided for this by a couple members of the group. They argued my happy-clappy image wasn’t reality. I was able to counter – loud murmurs from everybody else in the room helped – with the point that the car industry has sold its wares for ever and a day with just such jiggery-pokery. Empty roads. Sunshine. Beautiful people. (‘Nicole?’ ‘Papa?’).

In effect, this is how the whole of marketing works. Sell the positives, ignore the negatives.

The second group I presented to was a bunch of travel planners. These folks are charged with getting people out of cars and on to buses, bikes and shanks’ ponies, but an awful lot of them, unwittingly, focus on the downsides of the alternatives to the car.

I stressed a similar, warm-and-fuzzy message about cycling to this audience. On travel planning literature, I suggested, don’t picture cyclists wearing fluoro jackets, helmets and Lycra. That’s stressing that cycling is a niche transport option; tribal, wacky, open to ridicule. [Disclaimer: I wear this stuff].

Motoring helmet

Don’t suggest companies spend a small fortune on installing showers for cyclists. Keenies, commuting in from miles and miles away in bike clothing, might benefit from work-place sprucing-up facilities, but the every-day, short-hop commuter cyclist needs no such facilities. Such amenities are not provided to workers in Amsterdam or Copenhagen: it’s simply not necessary.

Boy, did I get some stick. Partly for dissing on showers, mostly for daring to suggest cycling is not overtly dangerous and should be normalised. Some of the travel planners told me afterwards they’d enjoyed my talk, and they would modify how they promoted cycling; stressing the positives rather than the barriers. The majority, I fear, will continue to promote cycling as a hair-shirt option, something for the brave, something for fine weather.

Incidentally, none wanted to wear my motoring helmet. I wore it for the first part of my talk, not mentioning why I was making myself look even more twattish than normal. When I revealed it was a genuine product, produced in Australia in the 1980s for everyday driving not motorsport, there were giggles.

Best thing travel planners could do to get people out of their cars might actually be to promote car helmet use. And motoring mouth-guards. And just-popping-to-the-shops flame-proof clothing.

A version of this article was published in the February edition of BikeBiz.com:

Psst, how do you say flat-tyre in Gaelic?

It’s bonn ligthe. Thanks to the Bicycle Lexicon I could also tell you how to say it in 22 other languages. Or, if the non-Roman script was a problem, I could point to a pretty picture.

The Bicycle Lexicon was the work of the European Economic and Social Committee and has 23 language terms not just for mudguards, rims and suspension forks, but also cycling infrastructure, and terms useful for bicycle tours.

Fietscompartiment is Dutch for a train bicycle carriage, for instance. And, fret not, should you shred your skin-shorts in Finland you merely have to ask for pyöräilyhousut.

The Bicycle Lexicon is a free download and has been placed on Issuu.com. Got an Android phone? Download the Issuu Mobile app and you could have the Bicycle Lexicon on your person for your next world tour. Issuu Mobile is also coming to an iPhone and iPad touch soon.

Soft-soaping Boris wants bike trade cash, not ideas

On January 15th, Transport for London invited members of the UK bike industry to what it billed as the first Cycling Revolution Forum. What, no London Cycling Campaign bods?

A couple of days after the event, Cait of the Moolies blog wrote on iBikeLondon.Blogspot.com that the event wasn’t a real meeting of minds, it was a chance to butter up the bike trade in order to flog them stuff.

“Politicians tend to do this. They’ll invite the manufacturers and (in classic US terms) the lobbyists with the money in order that they can massage their egos enough to tap them for a bit of sponsorship money later.

“If they were to invite the LCC, then unfortunately real solutions costing tax payer money would be voiced and on the table. Then they’d have to publicly and visibly ignore those proposals, which had been aired in a London Assembly sponsored event. Oh dear. Better to ignore them altogether.”

Cait was bang on the money. In an email to attendees sent earlier this evening, Chris Mather of Transport for London’s SmarterTravel team issued what he said were the findings from the meeting, but closed with a giveaway statement:

“Finally, there are immediate opportunities to partner with TfL to support programmes within the Mayor’s Cycling Revolution. We are in the process of sharing these opportunities with you so if you haven’t had a call and a presentation sent to you detailing these opportunities, then expect one in the next few days.”

So there you have it: being soft-soaped by biking Boris is just the warm-up to a sales pitch. Neat.

Of course, the meeting with the bike trade came up with some good ideas – listed below – but will they be actioned?


1 Enhanced enforcement of cycle & superhighway lanes (making sure they’re car free)

2 Encouraging respect between the different types of road user

3 Aggressive cyclist behaviour. New York parks were cited as an example of where signs have been used to clearly warn cyclists they will be penalised for cycling aggressively

4 New laws to give cyclists priority over motor vehicles in appropriate situations

5 Maintaining infrastructure, (including repairing pot holes and removing broken glass)

6 Assess drivers’ behaviour towards cyclists in the driving test

7 Create a cycling manual to help educate cyclists on how to ride safely and respectfully

8 Target 15-25 year olds with education and training to improve knowledge of next generation

9 Led rides and buddy schemes to increase confidence and competence on the road. Noted confidence can be a gradual process often requiring 3-4 assisted rides

10 Peer-to-peer advocacy within workplaces to encourage people to have a go at cycling and communicate safety messages

11 Retailers could play a role at the point of sale in encouraging new cyclists to take up products and services to help improve safety

12 Cycle training is key. More information on this should be made available to retailers to give to their customers. Web links were requested to direct customers to find out more

There was also a request for the provision of cycle training to be simplified so that the process for potential customers more straight forward. (There are a currently a number of service providers and provision varies across London).

13 Twenty mile per hour speed limits to help to change the culture for all road users in residential areas and reduce accidents

14 Regular cycle maintenance will reduce accidents

15 Redress the ‘danger everywhere’ perception among many non cyclists

16 One cohesive voice to represent the cycling industry, the Mayor and TfL.


1 A centralised database for recording bike serial numbers at point of sale, to improve recovery rates for stolen bikes, and make it more difficult for thieves to sell them on

(There are currently several privately owned competing databases and it would be beneficial to establish one standard central database)

2 Chipping or data tagging to deter thieves, currently it’s often too easy to remove the micro-chips from stolen bikes. One suggestion offered was printing barcodes on the frame of a bike (beneath the lacquer) so that they can’t be removed without damaging the paintwork

3 Online stores such as e-bay were a significant marketplace for stolen bikes. Brompton, in particular, were aware a large percentage of bikes stolen would be sold on via e-bay

It was suggested more could be done by these online market places to combat bike theft and pressure should be put on them to do so. For example, e-bay could be required to list the serial numbers of the bikes being sold on their site

4 GPS tracking systems – are they an affordable solution for the industry

5 Creating a pen or fence with additional lighting and CCTV would help reduce theft of cycles

Cycle Hire and Cycle Superhighways

1 Retailers display information from TfL within their stores and provide information to customers. Web links could also be set up on retailer websites to point people to further information on the TfL website

2 Improving the reach and effectiveness of home origin travel planning to influence peoples’ travel choices in residential areas in outer London

3 Pressure developers to consider the needs of cyclists and plan accordingly

4 Partner with supermarkets to encourage online shopping reducing the need to travel

5 Address the practicality of bringing bikes into central London with the rail providers

6 Outer London has relatively few cyclists compared to inner London. Educate outer London residents on the benefits of cycling

7 Public housing needs to be addressed to improve facilities for cyclists

Grippy, gloopy, dry and buzzin’: riding through the cold snap

The winter of 2009/10 has been cold, icy and packed with snow. OK, it hasn’t exactly been Iditabike conditions but plenty of hardcore Brit cyclists spent much of late December and early January on indoor trainers.

I don’t blame them. Without my spike tyres, I wouldn’t have ventured out much either. I have other winter product favourites but, first, the tyres that have kept me riding, and upright.

StuddedBikeTyres  7697 - Version 2

When the first few days of snow hit just after Christmas I wondered whether I should fit my spike tyres. They’ve been in storage for years. And for good reason: they’re a faff to fit and make a startling clattering noise on ice-free tarmac.

I studied the weather forecast and was convinced there would be enough black-ice around – about three day’s worth, predicted the Met Office – to make the switch. As it turns out they’re still fitted to the Xtracycle and it’s been my winter workhorse. There’s been a thaw, but black-ice is still an issue and, at the weekend, we got another dump of snow. The spikes stay.

My history with Nokian carbide-studded tyres goes back a long way. I first encountered them in the mid-1980s. Geoff Apps – the ‘father of English mountain biking’ – had been using Nokia 2-inch 650B snow tyres on his early mountain bikes, including the Range Rider. Geoff invited me to stay with him for one of his ‘Wendover Bashes’, some of the very first MTB events in the UK.

Geoff Apps & Range Rider

This was 1986. I’d spent the previous year touring some of the deserts of the Middle East on a Dawes Ranger. Geoff Apps’ Range Rider – fitted with gripshifts long before SRAM came along – was a much better climber than the Dawes Ranger, partly because of its tyres. By using thick Nokia inner tubes, Geoff was able to run at stupidly low pressures and could climb through mud with a sure footedness I knew I had to have too.

I’ve had Nokia tyres ever since (known as Nokian tyres since the 1990s). They’ve proved strong, and trust-worthy. Heavy, of course, and so the rolling resistance is a severe drawback but, on hard-packed snow, this is a minor consideration.

Over the last few weeks I’ve gone out of my way to find stretches of unsalted road and have confused motorists who’ve assumed as they’re stuck, I should be too. I’ve amused pedestrians who’ve been descending slopes holding on to hand-rails: it shouldn’t be possible to ascend slopes covered with sheet-ice but, taken carefully with no silly sudden moves, it’s been my spiked bike party trick.

According to the latest CTC magazine, UK suppliers of studded tyres have seen sales go through the roof (I shan’t say there was a spike in demand), with Schwalbe and Continental shipping in extra supplies from Germany. If you want to get spiked up, Peter White Cycles of the US has the definitive advice page on ice tyres, including blowing away all the myths about stud ejections and tarmac shredding.

Chain L lube

An awful lot of bike lubes can’t hack winter crud; Chain L can. It’s super gloopy. So sticky, in fact, that when applying, it strings out in a most pleasing fashion.

Technically, it’s a mixture of extreme pressure lubricants in a high film-strength mineral oil base. It also contains rust inhibitors and other additives to improve its longevity and wet-weather performance.

In use, it’s simply amazing. I picked up a sample at Interbike last year and started using it this winter when normal lubes weren’t coping with the extreme weather (extreme for the UK, that is).
There’s a time and a place for dry lubes: winter ain’t the time and NE England ain’t the place. If you ride through foul weather, I can recommend Chain L.

Nikwax Tech Wash

I’m a huge fan of Nikwax products. They’re green and keep me dry.

My breathable shell layers get washed with Techwash, a non-detergent cleanser, and then re-activated with TX.10. I also waterproof my fleece garments with another Nikwax product and, when I’ve got a (stinky) full load of base-layers, wash them in Basewash.

Synthetic shell-, mid- and base-layers work partly because of textile tech but also because of a variety of treatments. Shell garments, for instance, often have Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coatings. These chemical enhancements wear off with every wash because detergents, being surfactants, pull the treatments away from the fabrics. Surfactants do the same job with dirt, loosening bonds and pulling it away from the fabric.

If you don’t re-treat your tech garments, they lose their effectiveness. Washing waterproof jackets in standard detergent is a great way to make them not waterproof. Detergent residue starts pulling water through the fabric.

Nikwax stuff appears expensive, but it’s worth it.

Soma Fabrications caffeine injection

OK, so I’m now stable on black-ice, well-lubed, and cossetted from the vagaries of the British weather but I’m going nowhere if I’m not caffeinated to the eyeballs. I have to start the day with an espresso. Just have to.

A mid-morning long black tastes great in a handlebar-mounted Soma Fabrications’ Morning Rush insulated coffee mug, available in the UK from Fine-Adc (the same guys who now do Action Wipes). Rather conveniently, the Morning Rush mount is the H-27 from CatEye, so you can switch over to an LED at night.

I may have taken the pic outside a snowy Starbucks, but I’m not fuelled by the Great Coffee Satan, my espresso bean of choice is Daterra’s Bruzzi of Brazil, roasted by Pumphrey’s Coffee, a Newcastle fixture since 1750.

That’s 1750 the year, not the hour.