A failure of understanding

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As Easy As Riding A Bike

As odd as it may seem to British people, surveys of Dutch citizens that ask them why they choose to cycle for the trips they make very rarely find them mentioning ‘cycling infrastructure’ as a reason for doing so – be it in the form of protected cycleways, or filtered permeability that keeps levels of motor traffic low on streets that are shared.

Take, for instance, this 2006 Netherlands transport ministry survey which examined (amongst other things) the reasons people cycle instead of drive for short trips under 7.5km (about 4.5 miles). It found that the most common reasons for doing so were (in order of importance) –

  1. cycling is healthy
  2. cycling is pleasant
  3. cycling is good for the environment
  4. I can cycle through traffic quickly
  5. I can park my bike easily
  6. cycling is easier, I don’t have to look for somewhere to park the car
  7. cycling is cheap
  8. other people cycle
  9. habit
  10. I don’t…

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You like Dutch bikes? Then vote for more!

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

You many have noticed a significant lack of posts on this blog recently, and for this I apologise.

However, my girlfriend and I have been incredibly busy making a lot of what this blog was about into a reality!

Seeing our logo come to life was the first real sign that things were taking off
Seeing our logo come to life was the first real sign that things were taking off

Our website is still somewhat under construction, but we are very proud of how it looks so far. The contacts that we made during our time in the Netherlands have proved invaluable, and have been essential in helping us to stock only the very best bicycles that the Dutch have to offer.

This post will be one of the last that I am likely to write on this blog, as I have a new (and much more professional) blog on the Flying Dutchman website.

Consider this, then, an invitation to find us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, subscribe to our channel on YouTube, and generally just keep an eye on our happy progress through our new outlets!

We are currently pitching our business idea in a lot of different places in the hope of securing investment. One of these places is Virgin’s ‘Pitch to Rich’ competition for young start-ups. Our application can be found here, and we’d love you to give us your vote. Our elevator pitch outlines some strong reasons why ours is an idea worth supporting, and the promo video has some entertaining elements – please share it around if you’re on-board!

Love, light, and a shed full of Flying Bicycles!

Harry + Kristina

Richard Branson - Pitch to Rich

Über fast Bakfiets bike build (video)

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It has been a fair while since I last posted, and for that I apologise.

I have moved from Edinburgh to London and am involved in all sorts of exciting campaign work with a group that seeks to emulate the Dutch protests of the 1970s (the very same group whose protest I attended back in 2013).

At any rate, the Dutch way of doing things is definitely my preferred way, and so my girlfriend and I took the plunge and invested in a ‘bakfiets’. This Dutch cargo monster is fabulous to ride, and the electric assist motor means that the hills aren’t any more hassle than the flats. I’ll follow up this post with more about the bike; but for now, please enjoy the time-lapse video of us putting it together in our tiny living room.

Microsoft backs new London Cycle Superhighway plans

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Superb letter from Microsoft UK’s CEO supporting London’s Cycle Superhighways

CyclingWorks

microsoft-logo-featuredMicrosoft employs 2200 people in London across five different sites. The software giant has offices for Skype, Yammer, Nokia and Bing in the capital. Three of their locations lie near the proposed Cycle Superhighways.

The CEO of Microsoft UK, Michel Van Der Bel, sent a letter (PDF) to TfL explaining why the Cycle Superhighway plans will be good for Microsoft and good for London:

michel-van-der-belAs the CEO of Microsoft UK, I am pleased to offer our support for the proposed East–West and North–South Cycle Superhighways.

Microsoft is the world’s largest software company with operations in over 100 countries. We employ 110,000 people worldwide, with 2200 of them based in London. We have five sites in the city including offices near Paddington Station, in Cardinal Place at Victoria Station, and in the historic Prudential Assurance building at Holborn Circus. All three of these lie close to the proposed routes.

More and more of…

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Recent Road Ride for Charity

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I haven’t given this blog much time or attention in recent months. There are a number of reasons for this, but one of them is that I was in training for a 100mile charity sportive. The Prudential RideLondon Surrey-100 is a unique event that sees some 20,000 amateur participants cycle around the Olympic course.

I was invited to take part in this event by a friend at PAC, a fantastic charity that specialises in providing innovative and high quality adoption support services. My fundraising target was set at £1000, and I still have some way to go if I am to achieve this. My fundraising page can be found here, and will shortly include a full ride report. The reason for this blog post is to hopefully get the word out there, and maybe attract a few new sponsors🙂

Here is my story, illustrated by pictures from beginning to end:

The most dangerous part of my training - getting down the stairs in my building!
The most dangerous part of my training – getting down the insanely steep stairs in my building!
My training took place around Holyrood Park in Edinburgh - not a bad place to ride!
The serious part of my training took place around Holyrood Park in Edinburgh – not a bad place to ride!
I also indulged in some more frivolous bike rides, just to get the miles in and keep things interesting!
However, I also indulged in some more frivolous bike rides, just to get the miles in and keep things interesting!
I travelled down to London with my trusty road bike - not a bike I'd usually consider mentioning on this blog
I travelled down to London with my trusty road bike – not a bike I’d usually consider mentioning on this blog
The night before the ride was a festival of carbohydrates - here we have a family-sized portion of spaghetti, topped off with tune, baked beans, tomato paste (for flavour), and pumpkin seeds (for colour).
The night before the ride was a veritable festival of carbohydrates – here we have a family-sized portion of spaghetti, topped off with tuna, cheese, baked beans, tomato paste (for flavour), and pumpkin seeds (for colour). The things we do for charity, eh?
At 03:30 I was awake and realising that I would probably be cycling for longer than I had slept! I surveyed my kit, and just hoped that my preparations had been adequate.
For the 06:30 start, I was awake at 03:30 and realising that I would probably be cycling for longer than I had slept! I surveyed my kit, and just hoped that my preparations had been adequate.
There were around 20,000 riders assembled into starting waves around London's Olympic park. The level of organisation was impressive to say the least
There were around 20,000 riders assembled into various starting waves around London’s Olympic park. The level of organisation was impressive to say the least
Once the klaxon sounded it felt more like a race than a sportive. Looking at my GPS timings, this first section was my fastest, averaging 38.27km/h for the first 17 miles! Riding through traffic-free streets was a rare pleasure
Once the klaxon sounded it felt more like a race than a sportive. Looking at my GPS timings, this first section was my fastest, averaging 38.27km/h for the first 17 miles! Riding through traffic-free streets was a rare pleasure

Here is a link to my GPS timings from the day

Pelotons formed and disbanded as the ride progressed and the rain started...
Pelotons formed and disbanded as the ride progressed and the rain started…
... even small hills started to require 'out of the saddle' riding
… after the 50 mile mark, even small hills started to require ‘out of the saddle’ riding
The rain was relentless, and at times the ride felt like a solo slog
The rain was relentless, and at times the ride felt like a solo slog
I was exhausted but relieved when I returned to London. Seeing familiar landmarks like the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben lifted my spirits (though my expression doesn't seem to reflect this)
I was exhausted but relieved when I returned to London. Seeing familiar landmarks like the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben lifted my spirits (though my expression doesn’t seem to reflect this)
Soaked, hungry, and beginning to cramp, I survived hurricane Bertha and crossed the finish line on The Mall. For some it was a moment of triumph, but for me, I was just glad to have survived my first sportive!
Soaked, hungry, and beginning to cramp, I survived hurricane Bertha and crossed the finish line on The Mall. For some it was a moment of triumph, but for me, I was just glad to have survived my first sportive!
Exhausted but happy!
Exhausted but happy!
A nice memento of the day
A nice memento of the day
And here's the route
And the outline of the route around the Surrey countryside

As I mentioned earlier, I did this ride for charity and am still trying to reach my target. Any donation is greatly appreciated, no matter the size – every little helps! Please donate through my VirginMoney page, thank you.

The Joys of Cycling

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I woke up this morning full of cycling zeal.

Picture the scene: 7am, hazy Scottish weather outside, bleary eyes trying to fathom who/what/where I am. However, somewhere just below the surface there’s this clear and palpable sense of joy that bicycles exist and that at some point later in the day I would get to ride one. It’s quite bizarre. Is this infatuation?

With Critical Mass rides happening all over the world tomorrow, perhaps I am just tapping into the collective excitement of the global cycling community… We’ve certainly got a big one planned for Edinburgh this month!

All I know is, I can relate to the kid in this picture:

critical fun
I loved riding a bike as a child, and of all the things that have changed as I’ve grown up, cycling is one of the few that has remained relatively pure. These days I ride with the traffic and in the rain, so it isn’t all fun and games like it used to be, but on those brief and glorious occasions when I find myself on a safe and car-free section of road, this is where I find happiness (even if it’s raining).

Anyway, this tune from Anthony’s Putsch really captures that special feeling, so I wanted to share it with you. Enjoy!

 

Given that one of my earliest memories is of being strapped into a child’s seat on my dad’s bike as he crashed spectacularly into a drainage ditch, it really is quite remarkable that I have such positive associations of cycling from my childhood. Do you have any funny/scary/happy memories from your childhood cycling experiences? I’d love to hear them, so don’t hesitate to share in the comments🙂

Favourite Quotation and Favourite Bike

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As any bike rider will know, friends and family love to buy you books about bicycles and cycling. As a child of the internet age, I am particularly appreciative of these gifts because they so frequently open my eyes to things that I might not have otherwise encountered. From the whimsy of the NYC Bike Snob series and the semi-serious rules of the Velominati, to the wonderful and captivating histories like Pete Jordan’s Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist, there is certainly no shortage of quality bike-related literature. I must admit that I am also quite partial to the occasional illustrated book as well; here, though, the pictures do the talking, and they can give fascinating insights into the dreams of designers and the lives of riders.

In spite of the wealth of literature, there is, however, one passage that stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of the way that it captures how I feel about riding a bike. The passage I’m referring to is succinct and refined, and even contains a politely restrained little jab at motor vehicles. It comes from Elizabeth West’s Hovel in the Hills (1977), and goes as follows:

When man invented the bicycle he reached the peak of his attainments. Here was a machine of precision and balance for the convenience of man. And (unlike subsequent inventions for man’s convenience) the more he used it, the fitter his body became. Here, for once, was a product of man’s brain that was entirely beneficial to those who used it, and of no harm or irritation to others. Progress should have stopped when man invented the bicycle.

The bicycle has, of course, been reinvented to varying degrees since the first recognisably familiar double-diamond ‘Safety Bicycle’ appeared in the 1880’s. And this is probably a good thing…

As dapper as this is, I'm pleased that bicycle development did not finish here...
As dapper and dignified as it is, I’m quite pleased that progress in bicycle development did not finish here…

The subtitle of West’s book is ‘An account of the Simple Life’, and she clearly believes that the humble bicycle is a natural part of a streamlined existence. That said, however, modern times call for modern bikes, and in a world of cars we need a bicycle that is more than just a dandyhorse-style toy for the posers to pootle about on. What is called for is a rugged transporter; something fast and strong, but also comfortable and easy to use.

What is called for is something like this:

English_Cycles_Wht_Electric_001_0011
This is a handmade custom build by Rob English. Dubbed the No-car-kitty-cargo, it really has everything that a good cargo bike needs to serve as a wholly adequate replacement for a car. In terms of design, it is undoubtedly complicated, but without ever having seen one in the flesh I can be fairly certain that the ride would be both simple and pleasurable. Big tyres, intuitive gears, automatic electric assist, carbon belt-drive, intelligent weight distribution – all these parts come together in a beautiful harmony to make this bike probably the most advanced of its kind in the world. It takes an independent pioneer like Rob English to bring together so many different elements and blend them so expertly to produce such a feat of engineering.

English_Cycles_Wht_Electric_004_0014
The No-car-kitty-cargo: Nothing else compares

 

As a handmade bike, it doesn’t really have a price tag, as such. However, you can expect to pay upwards of $10,000 for something like this (if you are prepared to join the 3 year waiting list, that is). If I had the readies, I’d put my name down immediately, but sadly the modest stipend of a PhD student doesn’t stretch quite so far. *inconsolable weeping*

Some of you might be curious as to how I can be so sure that a bike I have never ridden is really worth raving about. Well, apart from my faith in English’s workmanship, and the no-expense-spared approach to components that he is using, I actually ride a bike very similar to his one already. In fact…

transport bike
Here I am running an errand with an early incarnation of my Azor ‘Pastoorfiets’ (picture taken on Amsterdam’s Prinsengracht by Miss R. Bednarski)

Of all the bikes that I have owned, this one is by far the greatest. I intend to do a thorough analysis of what makes this bike excellent in due course, but for now it will suffice to say that Rob English has determined the very few ways in which it could be improved and has built them into what I believe to be the ultimate city bike. In short, his bike has a greater load capacity, elegantly integrated electric assist, wider tyres, titanium tubing (in places), and a carbon belt drive. The only places where I believe my bicycle to have the edge are in the Brooks B67 saddle and matte paint job departments…

In conclusion then: while I admire Elizabeth West’s wholehearted endorsement of the humble bicycle, I am pleased to see that bicycle technologies and innovations are still keeping up with the times, and still providing practical, safe, healthy, and environmentally-friendly transport solutions for millions of people around the world, even after all these years.