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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Take your ear muffs off Boris

As well as being road safety week it also appears to be 'bash a cyclist' week.

With the recent upsurge in cyclist deaths on our roads, it appears acceptable by some to blame the tragic incidents firmly on the cyclists on themselves.

On Tuesday, in an interview with Radio London the mayor Boris Johnson said: "I'm very alarmed about cyclists wearing headphones. I would not be against a prohibition or ban on cyclists wearing headphones.

“Call me illiberal but it makes me absolutely terrified to see them bowling along unable to hear the traffic."

It is a topic he had previously discussed in a Mayor’s Question Time exchange with the Green Party’s Jenny Jones in 2011, when she asked him about pedestrian casualties in London.

He said: “I am afraid I see too many cyclists with iPods, earphones in both ears, which I think is wrong. I do not agree with that. I am worried.

“Speaking as one who cycles all over London, I see a lot of people using handhelds, using BlackBerry devices and not paying proper attention to the road.”

Of course Mr Johnson would never dream of using headphones, as he can quite clearly steer his cycle with one hand, whilst listening to his selected audio device using the other.

Needless to say Mr Johnson’s remarks saw him come under heavy criticism from cycling campaigners, who said he should be focusing instead on issues such as infrastructure including junction design, as well as a potential rush-hour ban on lorries, involved in a disproportionate number of cyclist fatalities London.

I find it sad that people in such positions of power make these imeadiate ill conceived knee jerk suggestions without really thinking them through.

What's the difference between wearing headphones on a cycle and having loud music, a blue tooth headphone, fighting children or a distracting mother in law in your car?

All can be equally distracting to the user. But there has never been a suggested ban on stereos or blue Tooth ear pieces in a car or even gagging your family (Although  some may welcome such proabition) 

Whether you are cycling or driving a car you are responsible for your own safety and of those who you encounter on your journey.

Your ability to present this is governed by a mixture of experience, responsibility, awareness and perception - all of which are variable, depending upon the conditions.

I sometimes use headphones when I cycle and sometimes I don't, I choose depending on the prevailing circumstances. 

Sometimes they are attached to a two-way radio as a 'safety device' to warn other riders in my group about any dangers that may present themselves.

Sometimes I listen to music on a long rural ride, rarely in urban traffic or when riding in a group.

When I'm in my car I often listen to my stereo, but when I encounter busy traffic or if I am in an unfamiliar uran setting I turn it off to maximise my concentration.

Even though I have a hands free blue tooth I still stop the car to talk where possible.

The problems with fighting kids or an errant mother in law I have not solved.

So if Boris gets his way how would such a proposal be enforced?

Don't people realise that gone are the days when you can pop into your local police station and complain about some driving or riding indiscretion.
Unless there is some injury or damage to aggravate the complaint it is unlikely to be investigated.
When time is allocated to proactively look for traffic violations, seeking headphone wearing cyclists would never be a priority.

Although reckless, poor or  inconsiderate cycling MAY hurt or in extreme cases kill people, the same action in motorised vehicles WILL undoubtedly do so.

As such enforcement in this area should and always will take priority.

A ban on headphones is not the magical answer.

For me the most significant factor to assist in casualty reduction of this sort is to make both sets of road users more aware of each other's perspectives, limitations, and abilities, to be more respectful and responsible.

Earlier this year I took part in 'Ride London, a closed road sportive with thousands of participants. As I came to Box Hill in Surrey I encountered a portly man in front of me. He seemed to be struggling up the hill and unable to maintain a straight line.

Knowing that the hill was getting steeper I anticipated that this rider would struggle further and might require more road than usual so I gave him plenty of room. As I overtook him he was as predicted meandering from side to side and probably oblivious to the fact.

It was Boris.

A car or lorry driver may not have provided the same amount of space, but they would not have appreciated or anticipated the cyclists predicament.

Equally if your approaching a junction on a bike and slip inside any vehicle who might be turning left, have you anticipated what might happen to the road space that your occupying. 

Just because it was one of Tony Blair's lines does not mean that you can't use it Boris. 

Take your headphones off and listen.

Education, education, education!!!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Mouvember Madness

Yesterday marked the start of Road Safety Week co-ordinated by Brake, the independent road safety charity.

The theme of this year’s campaign is ‘tuning in to road safety’. The purpose of the campaign is to encourage drivers to avoid distractions whilst driving and stay focused in order to protect themselves and those around them. Sadly it comes too late for some as a staggering 11 cyclists have been killed on our roads so far this month.

As usual the tabloids try and perpetuate an 'apparent' rift between cyclists and motorists by selecting extreme views from the perspectives of both user groups.

As a cyclist and motorist I see mostly good, but occasionally bad in both. A reflection of society as a whole. Despite that I still firmly believe that if you ride or drive defensively, you will minimise any chance of unwanted contact. 

Every time I commute to work either by cycle or car I see the following:-

Ninja Cyclists in dark clothing and no lights, their nocturnal camouflage ruined by the glow of a cigarette in the darkness  or the illumination of their mobile phone seemingly glued to their ear.

Van drivers mimicking the above only with the additional props of a Costa Coffee and a Red top.Sadly that is often the starting point before poor riding/driving is added to the equation.

Recently I was contacted by a reader of my blogposts and a fellow blogger Mike Evans.

Mike Evans is a cycling enthusiast and freelance writer from Leeds who has been blogging about various subjects for the past five years. He has written a number of articles for Road Safety Week and here is one of his posts:-

Changing our attitude towards cyclists in the UK


Last year a survey conducted by the Department of Transport found that 65% of non-cyclists agreed that it is too dangerous to cycle on the road in the UK. For anybody that does cycle, this should not come as a surprise. Roads in the UK are notoriously bad for cyclists, whether it is the lack of cycle lanes or the poor road maintenance meaning you have to constantly keep your eye out for potholes. Whilst London comes closest to offering a decent infrastructure for cyclists, it still remoff the mark in comparison to other European cities and it is not surprising that many people view cycling as a dangerous mode of transportation.


In 2011, a report from the European Commission found that only 2.2% of the UK used a bike as their main mode of transport. This was in comparison to 31.2% in the Netherlands and 19% in Denmark. This should not come as a surprise. Two of the most cycle friendly cities in the world, Amsterdam and Copenhagen, are that way for a reason and it is the public attitude towards cyclists that makes it easy for people to pick up their bikes. If we look at the Dutch example, we see how their attitude towards cycling helps more people to cycle. Infrastructure aside, the fact that everybody cycles means that drivers are much more patient with cyclists. At the same time, cyclists are expected to respect the law and police on bikes will enforce the law for any cyclists jumping red lights or riding recklessly.


On the other hand, if we look at Copenhagen we see the kind of infrastructure needed to encourage people to cycle. Cycle lanes are everywhere and are a full lane separated from traffic as opposed to a single file strip painted on the side of the road. Public transport has more than enough room for you to store your bike and there are many places to lock up your bike at stations and around town.


Whilst infrastructure is undoubtedly a major factor in facilitating cyclists another important factor is the attitude that is taken towards cyclists. In the UK cycling is often seen as a mode of transport for those that cannot afford to use a car, whereas in other European cities cycling is as integrated into daily life as other forms of transport. In both Denmark and the Netherlands there is a strict liability law, which means in crashes involving vulnerable road users, unless clearly proven otherwise, the powerful road user is at fault. In fact the UK is1 of only 5 European countries to not have a strict liability law. Now the introduction of this law in the UK would not generate a great upsurge in the number of cyclists on UK roads but it certainly says a lot about our view towards cyclists and changing our view from seeing cyclists as secondary road users to road users with as much right to the road as cars.  


Understandably, investment in infrastructure similar to these two prime examples is costly and not easily done. The government has announced a £77 million investment in cycling across the UK and to be honest, this probably won’t even begin to address the problem. However, we need to look at ways in which to change people’s attitude towards cyclists and cycling in general. Compulsory cycle training in schools and incentives for people who use their bike would go a long way towards getting people to cycle more. Those looking to take their driving test should have first-hand experience of what it is like to be a cyclist on the road. In addition to this, enforcing stricter penalties for rogue cyclists as well as educating cyclists about the need to be properly visible and obey the Highway Code would help to curb the aggression of some drivers towards cyclists.

Thank you Mike 

Club news.

Despite being off season it's been a busy time for the Anglo Mules over the past two weeks.

Firstly we had our annual awards and end of season get together. For 2013 the awards were presented as follows:-

Best overall rider - Duncan Collins

Best climber - Neal Madden

Most improved rider - Sofia Khan

Best Sprinter - Philip Shrimpton
Best New Rider - Matt Baldwin
Mule of the Year - Manuel Duenas

Mule of the year award

This weekend there was an inaugural Mouvember Sportive of 57 miles starting at the village of Brantingham (East Yorkshire). With unseasonal weather 8 degrees the UK mules were able to show off their livery as well as their grand moustaches. With a testing start climbing Brantingham Dale and then a lumpy route to Pocklington the second part of the course was flat and fast.
With very little wind the Mule Train really got going and we managed a great overall average time of 18mph.
Rogues Gallery

 'Your stable needs you' Mark (Kitchener) Bishop

Andy (Chaplin) Stewart

'And the killer is.........' Neal (Poirot) Madden
'I say that a bit of an incline ahead' Ian (Tommy) Turnbull

Simon (Barron Cohen) Gooding

Bobby (Salvador) Sexton

Philip (the ace of spades) Shrimpton
For our endeavours we even got a commemorative Mug.
As far as the moustaches are concerned like last year I may keep mine to warm my upper lip during the harsher winter rides to come
Safe cycling - be careful out there.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Old Vauxhall Diva

In the heyday of socialist government and post war Britain, working class people only ever voted labour.

It was something that came with their blue collars, dirty fingernails and their trusted cycles that took them to the pit, factory, or to build the road network for those who could afford to buy a car.

Towns with a strong maufactoring base were swamped with cyclists commuting to and from work.
Places where large cycle sheds reduced the need for sprawling car parks.
Cycling was the norm.......and a preference to walking.
These were the only choices for most.
It was a time of great leaders where most politicians from both sides of the house appeared honourable and their views were rarely tainted by personal prejudice.

Ever since Tony Blair threw away the mandate for representing the working class, the Labour Party have sadly struggled to reclaim some of their old values.

I say sadly because I believe any government needs the competition of a viable alternative and this current opposition party are as far out of touch with the people as the present government are.

It does not help when their MPs try to speak about things that they no nothing about.
Seemingly inflicted by some semi-dormant road rage virus, the honorable representative for Vauxhall had a bit of a diva moment and illustrated just how out of touch she is with her own parties roots.

Peter Walker from the Guardian reports:

Kate Hoey: the MP who thinks cyclists should be registered (and pay road tax)
The London MP, recently the target of cyclists' ire, wants to see more bikes on the roads but has some curious ideas about how this should happen
Kate Hoey MP
Kate Hoey MP. Photograph: Frank Baron/The Guardian

Within the motley collection of Twitter streams and blogs sometimes passed off as the cycling “community” there was a definite collective chortle recently: Kate Hoey, the independent-minded and opinionated Labour MP who once damned cyclists as endemic law-breakers and, oh yes, “Lycra louts”, had herself been punished for jumping a red light in her car.
The representative for Vauxhall, just across the Thames from parliament, was it seemed no better than those she would seek to lambast. I must confess to enjoying a slight chuckle myself.
Hoey's notoriety among some cyclists is mainly based on a 2003 comment she penned for the Mail on Sunday. Re-reading the piece, it does run through most of the cliches of the genre (it even begins: “I have nothing against cycling”) and is at times both a bit odd – the now infamous notion that cyclists cause cattle stampedes – and alarming, when she talks about sounding her horn at riders “holding up the traffic”, as if bikes are not themselves traffic and merit being frightened out of their skins.
The piece ends with the recommendation that cyclists who use the road “pay something for its upkeep”, not the sort of lack of knowledge you expect from an MP.
So in the light of Hoey's own brush with the law I decided to ask if she had amended her views over the following decade, or indeed had learned that road tax doesn't exist. It was a fascinating chat but the conclusion, it's fair to say, is mixed.
Hoey says she received a lot of abuse and/or gloating via email and Twitter in the wake of her £240 fine. She replied politely to the former and ignored the latter.
As for her views on cycling, Hoey says her Mail article came across as more extreme than she'd like, in retrospect, and supports Boris Johnson's plans to provide a network of segregated cycle lane
'I would love to see cycling separated, because I think it would help everybody. If it means more people cycling, great, especially if it makes it easier for me on the road. You're never going to get it everywhere, but it's going to have to happen because there's so many more people cycling'
Hoey is well-known for being one of Westminster's more free-thinking MPs, for example as an outspoken opponent of the hunting ban introduced by her own party. She's also engaging, open and thoughtful, and happy to be challenged. There's no reason why she should like cycling, but it's fair to say her wider views on those using bikes remain a bit sceptical, particularly given that she represents an area with one of the lowest levels of car ownership in the country.
Quite early in our conversation Hoey argued that cyclists should be subject to some sort of mandatory registration, with number plates.
'What I do genuinely think,and the cycling lobby argue for it too,is that everyone who rides a bicycle,particularly as a form of transport to work,should be registered,so their bike has a registration number.At the moment if someone does knock down an old lady and ride off no one can trace that person'
It's an idea intermittently suggested by some, but rejected by more or less every government anywhere. There's various aguments against it (I went through some of them here), not least because it would be expected to instantly slash the number of people who use bikes, with the attendant problems this brings. It’s also notable that a sizeable contingent of bikes carrying easy-to-read ID numbers already exist in London – the blue cycle hire machines – and there’s not been a rush of reports to the police.
Hoey also said she could not understand why young people on mopeds had to be registered when cyclists did not. The big difference, I’d argue, is that even small mopeds are much more potentially deadly. Me riding a 90kg moped at 30mph carries about eight times the kinetic energy than when I am doing 15mph on a10kg bike. That’s a big difference.
Her worry about cyclists is that misbehaviour among the two-wheeled isn’t properly challenged, either by other riders or by the law:
'I can see why cyclists feel they have to stand up against people. But I never see cyclists criticising themselves. Cyclists don't seem to see to do anything about'
This is a common argument and one which, in some ways, has merit (even if the cyclists I occasionally chase down and chastise for jumping lights might see things differently). But, as I pointed out to Hoey, there are two points to consider. First, there is a lot of law-breaking by car drivers, but much of it is less obviously visible and almost normalised – for example doing 37mph in a 30 zone, or nipping through lights a second or two after they change, as she did in her Mini. Second, while I’d call light-jumping by cyclists anti-social, even intimidating for pedestrians, unlike speeding in a car it’s very, very rarely lethal.
Hoey disagreed with this idea:
But that is a sort of cop out, isn' it? It's like me saying, I'm only driving this little old Mini, why can't just slip through a light as well if there's nothing coming?
I’d refer Hoey back to the handy kinetic energy calculator: her Mini doing 30mph now carries 40 times the force of my hypothetical bike.
While two of her parliamentary staff cycle to work, Hoey is adamant she is not going to give up her cherished Mini (an old-style one), although she did sound intrigued at the idea of an e-bike (“That sounds more useful for me”). She does stress, however, that she rode to and from school every day from the age of four to 11, admittedly in rural Northern Ireland.
But then we got to the end of the chat, and the section which struck me the most:
'I would love to see cycling separated, because I think it would help everybody. If it means more people cycling, great, especially if it makes it easier for me on the road. You're never going to get it everywhere, but it's going to have to happen because there's so many more people cycling.
But if we're going to do that don't you think they should have to pay something, as a road tax? Why should I pay a hundred and whatever pounds for my little Mini and they don't?
I pointed out, at length, the distinction between “road tax” (which doesn’t exist) and VED (which does), and I hope she got it.
She did later email a partial clarification about her views:
'By the way I do know that VED is based on size etc of car but the  is that surely everyone using the road should be licenced and insured'
I'll happily accept that's the case, though it doesn't entirely tie in with the earlier quote. Either way, I don’t think Hoey has any genuine malice towards cyclists, and in many ways she means well. But she has, to my mind, some curious notions.
It seems pretty anomalous for any MP, let alone one representing so many cycling constituents, to say cyclists should "have to pay something" to use the roads. If there’s something good which could come from her brush with the motoring law, perhaps it’s that she realises cyclists have an equal right to be out there, whether "holding up" her Mini or whizzing past it (if not at red lights). She could do worse than start by giving this page a good read.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Elevated Ambitions


During the past few weeks I have had a years drama fired at me.
Apart from being even less disposed to unnamed individuals and an enforced absence from cycling - I live to fight on!
One of the great thing that cycling can provide you is mental toughness, the knowledge that real adversity is never more than temporary, and at the end of every climb the pedalling gets easier
As the year draws to an end I am able to look over those personal gradients and see ones that are far more interesting.
Whilst riding the Tour of London this year I renewed my acquaintance with Rachel Simpson who I first met whilst completing the Tour de Pink in 2011.

There is nothing conventional about Rachel who is part Serbian, Romanian, and Yankton/Oglala Lakota (Native American) 

Living in Denver her cycling terrain starts at the same altitude as cruising Light aircraft and when she climbs, this Cat 4 rider regularly revisits the 14 k club.
That's vertical, not horizontal.
Having previously been a line out Jumper, playing second row for the University of Chicago Women's Rugby Team - she would be used to flinging herself to great heights.

As well as being an honouree American Mule, she also rides for the charity club side of the Jelly Belly p/b Kenda pro team.
Like the Mules,  charity riding is prominent in her repertoire and each year, their club side raises over $50,000 for a local children's Hospital.

Rachel spoke at length about cycling in the Rockies and I become all misty eyed when I heard her talk about such events as 'the triple bypass' and 'the double triple'.
From that moment ton the Rockies were definitely in my bucket list.
Recently, she made further contact to the Mules informing us a new mythical ride called Tour of the Moon.
 This is a yearly bicycle tour  organized by Icon Lasik and is held at the Colorado National Monument,Grand JunctionColorado
Held every October, the inaugural season took place on October 6, 2012 with two thousand cyclists taking part.
The route was formerly one of the premier stages of Coors Classic cycling race from 1980 to 1988. The Coors Classic cycling race was apparently one of the most famous cycling race in the world. 
Of course Rachel is used to dramatic countryside, but when she declared that some of the views reduced her to tears I simply taken in. I had no choice.
A  general 'Mule call' was required to  see if I could generate any interest, in participation, especially with my twin and regular benefactor Paddy. 
Rachel also suggested if we undertook this event we might also like to climb Mount Evans - The highest road in the United States at over 14,000.

The idea of cycling for 5 hours climbing to, and above 14,000 feet, in such spectacular surroundings....................
Then taking part in Tour de Moon in a landscape that befits any Hollywood western is just inspiring.
Although the actual ride and climb will be tougher than anything I have ever done, I have no fear..........after all I am already freewheeling down the other side.