Somebody tell TomTom it’s quicker by bike


Thanks to all those who have made suggestions to improve the Bike to Work Book PDF sampler. The updated, peer-reviewed, feel-free-to-link-to-it, pass-it-to-your-friends version will be online soon. Sign up for a notification update here.

I’m doing some revisions of my own, too. Such as updating the section on average car speeds in congested city centres. The book currently has a stat from Citroen which claims that average car speeds in London are as low as 7 mph in peak periods. This is from a press release Citroen published in 2006.

However, that was a guestimate. SatNav systems can now send real speed data to central hubs. For instance, US traffic information company INRIX says that on the Cross-Bronx Expressway in New York, cars average 9 mph.


TomTom – not to be confused with Tom Vanderbilt – has a system called IQ Routes which “puts the driving experience of millions of TomTom users into your maps, calculating your route based on actual speeds driven on roads compared to speed limits….As a result, TomTom now has a huge database, containing billions of miles of real customer driving experience, collected over the years from more than 7 million TomTom users.”

The TomTom website says:

“We all know traffic is different during a Monday morning rush hour from a lazy Sunday afternoon. We all want the best shortcuts to bring us to our destination in the fastest way possible. But heavy traffic, speed bumps, traffic lights, roundabouts and even schoolchildren or shopping crowds can slow you down.”

Even schoolchildren? Even? I’d like to think drivers automatically slow down when near hazards to their paintwork such as schoolchildren but, of course, most don’t and need all sorts of whizzbangs to civilise their behaviour.

Anyway, back to average speeds. The TomTom website uses an example of a London route, 9.2kms, from Commercial Road to Gloucester Terrace. Even at “a relatively quiet time, and without any hold-ups” this short trip will take a motorist 20 minutes. That’s an average speed of just 17mph.

Remember, that’s without hold-ups (children daring to cross the road perhaps?) and outside of rush hours.

Using actual data from thousands of TomTom users in London, the IQ Routes database ignores the shortest route and takes motorists on a longer but quicker route. The 10.2km journey is estimated to take 26 minutes. Add in a couple of minutes to account for less than optimum traffic light changes and that’s an average speed of 13mph.

And a motorist travelling the TomTom route would also be paying the £8 congestion charge. Not factored into the TomTom equation is the time taken to find a parking space at the end of the journey.

However, TomTom is pleased as punch that it can save you three minutes over other satnav routers:

“3 minutes may not sound much, but it’s over 10% off your journey time. Just consider for a moment how much time that will save you over a whole year… Exactly!”

An average cyclist on a standard bike, wearing a suit, can travel in London at 15mph without breaking into a sweat, with no congestion charge fee, no downtime to find a parking space.

Stuff TomTom, use a bike, just consider for a moment how much time that will save you over a whole year. Exactly!

24-hour-news monster got OMM wrong

There follows a fascinating press release from the organisers of the Original Mountain Marathon, the winter fellside endurance event that made world headlines last month. Most of these headlines were dead wrong and it was infuriating to watch the ‘breaking news’ delivered by the 24-hour news channels, including BBC News.

The event was portrayed as some ramshackle event for biting-off-more-than-they-can-chew runners, with thousands of the idjits spread over the storm-battered Cumbrian hills clad in shorts, t-shirts and trainers.

It took many hours for the news outlets to cotton on that these were experienced outdoor enthusiasts wearing the right kit and well able to take care of themselves, even in storm conditions.

The TV coverage – and following website and print media coverage – slammed the event organisers and came over all Health & Safety. The press release below – carried in full – has this killer quote from Peter Tyldesley, former Director of Countryside & Land Management at the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority:

“The OMM represents the last vestiges of a spirit of self-reliance that the British used to be famous for. We must defend those last vestiges at all costs.”


The event lived up to the expectations of the competitors in being one of the
most challenging Mountain Marathons in the world.

The Original Mountain Marathon (OMM) was founded 40 years ago with the concept of
holding a 2-day mountain orienteering race with two consecutive marathons of 26 miles
(42km) and a height gain of up to 8,000ft (2400m). It was the world’s first Continue reading “24-hour-news monster got OMM wrong”

Bike to Work Book sampler

Here it is, at long last, the PDF sampler for the Bike to Work Book.

It still needs a few more tweaks before it can be let loose on the world. Feel free to examine it at your leisure, and let me know if it meets with your approval. Right now, it’s lo-res. When I burn the real PDF the images will be saved in greater quality.

Bike to Work Book beta PDF – Get more Business Documents

You can browse the PDF in the version above (click full screen for the best reading experience) or you can click here to go to a download page.

I’d appreciate comments on this first draft, especially if there are any ‘Britishisms’ I’ve not expunged. This version of the sampler is the US version. Future versions will be localized/localised.

Newcastle sees the light, twenty’s plenty

My home town of Newcastle upon Tyne is to phase in a 20mph speed limit for almost all streets and roads. This is partially because of the 2004 death of a child cyclist, killed when hit by a driver motoring at 61mph in a 40mph area.

Does the headline in the local newspaper show that genuine child safety comes pretty low on the priorities of many people? The Evening Chronicle says the new speed limit is to be “imposed” on Newcastle.

Now, I’m biased, but if were the editor of the Evening Chronicle I’d have broken out the champagne at the news that local streets were to be made safer for children, and everybody else. Mind you, if I was editor I would have devoted page after page, campaign after campaign, to shaming city councillors into acting on speed reductions sooner.

Local newspapers are a force to be reckoned with. Sadly, the Journal and the Chronicle have preferred to campaign for “duelling the A1” north of Newcastle. Widening the Great North Road, pouring more concrete on to the finite ground of Northumberland, is also deemed to be a ‘road safety’ issue. Apparently, lives would be saved if only the “dangerous” A1 was made into a duel carriageway for its whole length.

Lives are lost on the A1 because drivers take stupid risks. On those stretches of the A1 with speed cameras, most drivers slow down and fatalities are lower.

Local newspapers across the UK ought to be championing lower speeds. I wish every town and city had the same civic sense as Newcastle. It’s going to be a better place to live.

Twitter helps 10-year old keep warm on 100-mile winter ride

Josh Reid, age 10, rides Newcastle to Berwick

Today, my son Josh is 11. He’s wanted to complete his first century for a while but life has conspired against us. Yesterday was the last chance. We took it, despite the likelihood of atrocious weather.

We rode from Newcastle to Berwick, taking sideroads and Sustrans National Cycle Network signposted routes which detour like crazy. Normally such detours would bug me but yesterday it was fine to zig zag because we had to rack up the miles. Newcastle to Berwick is about 60 miles on the A1.

As it happened, we had to do one mile on the A1. In the wet, in the dark, with just LEDs to keep us safe from thundering juggernauts on what is the main road from London to Edinburgh. That one mile was the worst of the whole hundred. Despite a detour that made the day’s ride into a 106 mile effort, we were glad to get away from the scariest traffic conditions I’ve ever ridden in.

After the speedy train journey back to Newcastle, Josh was fine to ride home in the pouring rain, although he never actually sat on his saddle for the two mile ride. Today he’s ridden to school, tender, but otherwise fit and eager to enjoy his birthday.

This particularly 11 year old wants to start using a Twitter account. He was blown away by the encouragement he got on yesterday’s ride. I was Twittering our progress via an iPhone and told Josh the replies as they were coming in. He was always going to finish this ride but the instant feedback, and the best wishes from around the world, gave him an inner warmth on a day that was freezing cold and very wet at times.

There’s a selection of Twitter comments below the photographs. First, I’d like to give shout-outs to three particular items of kit which helped us yesterday.

The SatMap GPS device allowed me to plot our route on the fly, taking the optimum route when there were no Sustrans signposts to follow. Where it really came into its own was during the final twenty miles, done in the dark. The OS mapping on a backlit screen enabled me to plot a complex, off-highway route as we cycled along, in conditions which would have shredded a paper map and which would have meant constant stopping.

Josh was riding a Kona Jake 24. This is a cyclo cross bike but I’d fitted it with Schwalbe Stelvio tyres and that transformed it into the perfect kid’s road bike.

The other vital piece of kit – apart from the overshoes, and balaclavas, wet weather gear and hand-warmer sachets – was Josh’s shoes. He already has a pair of Answer MTB shoes but they are now too small for him, and this was preventing us going for the ton. Thanks to Denny for sending a larger pair from Answer HQ in the US. This enabled us to do the ride.

A ride that Josh will remember for ever. It’s likely few people will believe he did a ride of 100+ miles when he was ten. Even in great weather conditions and long daylight hours this would be a tough ask for any nipper. That he did it in yesterday’s conditions was simply amazing. I’m very proud of my boy. And despite the epic nature of the ride, at the end , he asked when we were doing another.

Josh Reid, age 10, rides Newcastle to Berwick

Josh Reid, age 10, rides Newcastle to Berwick

Josh Reid, age 10, rides Newcastle to Berwick

9 Nov 2008


@SMLP 100 miles at 10. We’ll done Josh! I’m 30 and I don’t think I have ever done the ton!

@FredCast Congratulations to Mr. Josh Reid!

@rosiedrums You guys Rock!!

@mike868y Wow! That kid’s nuts, lol. I’m 16 and an avid cyclist and not sure if I could manage a century.

@velotips Well done to both of you, no need for the words ‘sleep well’ tonight! v. impressed, puts me to shame! I wimped out today.

@corpfincafe Congrats to Josh. That’s huge bragging rights, especially in less than desirable conditions. Well done.

@KarlOnSea You did the full century then?! Fantastic result.

@bikechik Amazing! Wondering how Josh will be at 18!

@graemeshaw On the bright side you can only get wet once! Hope the weather clears up for you and you both enjoy it.

@readytoride Power the porrige, dudes!

@steverumsby Good luck guys.

@MCMLXXXV Good luck!

Josh Reid, age 10, rides Newcastle to Berwick

Could you please answer some bike commute questions?

Seven people have been kind enough to read through the first chapter of the Bike to Work Book. Their excellent feedback has been taken on board and many changes made to the text. It’s now ready for ‘placing on the page’ and the PDF book extract will be ready for early next week. Want notification when it goes live? Sign up here.

The next stage is to get a whole load of real life anecdotes from experienced and not-so-experienced bike commuters. So, if you’re real, alive and ride a bike to work, I’d really appreciate answers to the following questions. I’ll include as many as possible in the book. UPDATE: I’ve had 50+ excellent responses. Thanks to all those who took the time to answer the questions below. The ‘real life’ sections of the book are now full!

If you think I’ve missed off an important question or two, please add it in the comments section below for all to see.





Job title, and company if you want:

Months or years commuting by bike:

Bike make:

Is it fully equipped? (ie lights, rack, fenders?)

Distance ridden to work:

Distance ridden from work:

Why do you commute by bike:

What do you do when the weather is bad?

What facilities does your workplace provide for bike commuters?

What facilities does your workplace NOT provide for bike commuters, and you’d like ’em to?

On a scale of 1 to 10 (where 1 is least important and 10 is most important) how important is it to have showers at your workplace?

As a rough percentage, how many people bike commute at your workplace?

Has this increased/decreased this year?

Have you noticed more people, in recent months, taking an interest in maybe starting to cycle to work?

If you have, do you think this is mostly health-related, gas price-related or carbon footprint related? (If all three at once, which is the most important)?

How much of your route to work is off-highway, perhaps on cyclepaths or similar?

Do you take direct road routes to work, almost the same route you’d drive, or do you take a very different route?

Which is quickest transport mode to get you to work: car, bike, public transit?

Do you cycle all the way or use a car or train or bus part of the way?

How ‘cycle friendly’ is your town or city? Is it getting friendlier?

If you’re married or have a significant other, does your spouse/partner ride a bike to work? If not, why not?

In addition to miles to and from work, roughly how many additional ‘work miles’ do you do by bike, flitting from meetings or on errands?

If a co-worker, who’s never cycled to work before, asked for you the most important advice on starting, what would you say?

Did Royals force Di off her Raleigh?

There’s a strange snippet of news in today’s Daily Mirror. Princess Diana’s daily commuter bike has raised just £210 in an auction. The Daily Mirror calls it her ‘shame bicycle’ because it “was not seen as fitting with her future status.”

The Raleigh Traveller was put to one side. Pity, as bicycles are the fastest vehicles in urban situations, Lady Di, as she then was, could have escaped the paparazzi by pedalling away from them. Er, until that is, they got on their bikes, too.

Conversely, in the Netherlands, the Royals were allowed to ride their bikes. In fact, Queen Juliana was known as the ‘bicycling monarach.’

Barack’s policy on bikes

Barack Obama is no slouch when it comes to creating online reach-outs. The new and statesmanlike is from the ‘Office of the President-Elect’. It features videos and the ability to upload your own “inspiring stories from the campaign and Election Day.”

He’s got his work cut out when his administration pushes out the existing one (Iraq, global financial meltdown, Tina Fey Re-Orientation Program), but if his 80-percent-reduction-in-greenhouse-gasses pledge is to have legs he needs to do the unthinkable: cut car use.

Of course, he can’t put it like that. Instead, he puts it like this:

Build More Livable and Sustainable Communities: Our communities will better serve all of their residents if we are able to leave our cars, to walk, bicycle and access other transportation alternatives. As president, Barack Obama will re-evaluate the transportation funding process to ensure that smart growth considerations are taken into account.

A few months back, Barack Obama made some promises to bike trade leaders:

In a private 20-minute meeting with members of the Bikes Belong board of directors, [Barack Obama] told them if he were elected president he would increase funding for cycling and pedestrian projects. And…he would support Safe Routes to Schools programs.

He also told them he seldom makes promises on what he would do if elected president, but that this was a promise he would keep.

Stan Day, SRAM’s president, said that Obama “gets it.” He pointed out that Obama understands that bicycles can be part of a solution to issues as diverse as health care, obesity, energy and environmental policy. “He does his homework and he can connect the dots,” he said.

Rain causes gridlock so on wet days take the bike, not the car

Wet bike tyres

It’s wet today. And it got me thinking. Rain is not the enemy many would-be cyclists assume it to be.

I’m finessing the intro text for the soon-to-be-published PDF extract of the Bike to Work Book. This sample chapter contains all of the great reasons to start cycling to work and it also lists 24 excuses for not cycling to work. You know the sort of thing: “I’ll get sweaty…I need to carry lots of stuff…I don’t want to wear Lycra…It’s too dangerous on the roads…” and so on.

Another key reason many give is keeping warm and dry. Of course, we know riding in the rain can be fun, and there are ways and means of weather-proofing our bike commute, but would-be cyclists don’t believe our zipped-up zealotry holds water.

So, this morning I’ve added a bit of text about the benefits of cycling to work in the rain and found a research paper to back up my thesis.

EXCUSE: “Rain! I hate getting wet!”
Unless you live in Seattle or Manchester, it rains a lot less times per year than you might imagine. In the UK – supposed to be a rain-sodden isle – when you cycle a daily ten mile journey, statistics say you will only have rain once in every one hundred trips. That is three to four trips a year on a daily basis.

Anyway, with modern waterproof and breathable fabrics, it’s possible to arrive at your destination in comfort. Yes, even in Seattle or Manchester. You think Denmark is dry? It rains a lot there, but cycle journeys in Copenhagen still account for 40 percent of the total.

Even if you travelled by car you might have to go outside at some point, risking a soaking, especially as you won’t be wearing the right kit.

If the weather is truly foul, make that your non-bike day.

But don’t be surprised when your definition of what makes for a foul day shifts over time. You may find you start to invest in all-weather cycling kit just so you don’t have non-bike days.

One of the reasons for this is getting to work on time: a downtown downpour can cause gridlock. The roads are slippier for cyclists, too (don’t ride on wet draincovers) but cyclists can beat the jams caused by rain.

According to ‘Factors Affecting Fatal Road Crash Trends’ by the Australian ministry of transport, there are far fewer road deaths on rainy days. The report puts this down to slower car speeds. In the wet, cities grind to a halt.

So, instead of jumping in the car when the heavens open, it’s paradoxically faster to stick with the bike.

Wet bike handlebar

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