Alternatives to Cars

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.

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Is your bicycle safe for child transport?

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Kids and bicycles go together like chocolate-chips and cookies, but there are few things worth bearing in mind before you saddle up with your wee one this summer…

Urkai Community

Urkai Child Bicycle Seats

We get a lot of questions regarding kids bicycle seats, and in many cases, we get photos of various bicycles and whether or not you can fit a bicycle seat on the bicycle. We never comment on the actual bicycle we don’t sell.

Every bicycle is engineered or designed with a certain purpose in mind, and all frames have a weight capacity. Road bikes are built to be lighter, in order to go faster. Mountain bikes are built lighter with better shock absorption to go down mountains. They all have their purpose and they are all great for the purpose they were built for, but not all bicycles can do everything!

Before thinking about buying a new bicycle or a kids bicycle seat for your family rides, do a little research.

1) When it comes to a child seat, always find out from the bicycle manufacturer what the weight capacity…

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Dutch style transport in Edinburgh

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me and Kristina, setting the trend in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Cycle Chic

It is great to see Dutch style transport in use in Edinburgh

WP_001900
by harrywalton1.

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Liveable Cities and Desire Lines: Urban planning perspectives from Denmark’s Bicycle Ambassador

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The focus on re-establishing more liveable cities continues unabated. The primary problem however is that 85 years of traffic engineering revolving around the car has failed miserably. It’s time for modern thinking, and good design can help.

Historically, streets were human spaces, so why don’t we still design them in accordance with the desire lines of their citizens? The following talk, given by Mikael Colville-Andersen, makes the case for using basic design principles instead of engineering as the surest route to developing thriving, human-centred cities.

Colville-Andersen is an urban mobility expert and CEO for Copenhagenize Consulting. He is often called Denmark’s Bicycle Ambassador but has learned the hard way that this title is a dismal pick-up line in bars.

Colville-Andersen and his team advise cities and towns around the world regarding bicycle planning, infrastructure and communication strategies. He applies his marketing expertise to campaigns that focus on selling bicycle culture and bicycle transport to a mainstream audience as opposed to the existing cycling sub-cultures in particular with his famous Cycle Chic brand. Colville-Andersen gives talks around the world about bicycle culture, design, and social media.

Those who are familiar with TED talks will know that they are synonymous with quality and intelligent commentary. My favourite bit of this particular talk begins at 5:27 and considers Copenhagen’s approach to the “desire lines” of its citizens. After watching this segment, just think about how other cities around the world might be quicker to punish (rather than observe) their citizens in cases where they routinely flout the law – which approach do you suppose is better?

Why should non-cyclists support measures to boost cycling?

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This article (Kaya Burgess – The Times) describes the multifarious benefits of investment in cycling for all sorts of different groups in the UK. In what follows below, I intend to summaries and illustrate just a few of these benefits.

Motorists, for instance, would benefit from fewer traffic jams and less conflict with cyclists. Even Top Gear presenter and general motor-mouth Jeremy Clarkson has praised cycling as a way of getting around. He last year described Copenhagen’s cycling culture as “fan-bleeding-tastic” and said: “Now I know that sounds like the ninth circle of hell, but that’s because you live in Britain, where cars and bikes share the road space. This cannot and does not work. It’s like putting a dog and a cat in a cage and expecting them to get along. They won’t, and as a result London is currently hosting an undeclared war. I am constantly irritated by cyclists and I’m sure they’re constantly irritated by me.”

People who commute by train and by bus will also benefit if more people took up cycling, as the intense pressure on the public transport system would be eased.

London's Underground: Rammed
London’s Underground: Rammed

As child obesity soars in the UK, parents and children will benefit from better infrastructure as cycling to school becomes an option again. The more people who cycle, the safer the streets become, and thus more people will be encouraged to take up cycling . With more than 2/3 of car journeys in the UK being less than 5 miles, most of the driving that people do is completely unnecessary anyway. The school run needn’t be the stress that it has become.

Cycling to school: is this really so radical?
Cycling to school: is this really so radical?

Ordinary adults will benefit from the regular exercise as well. Official advice recommends taking 150 minutes – or 2½ hours – of physical activity per week, but we do not always have the time – or inclination – to get down the gym or go for a jog after a long day or long week of work. Building cycling into a person’s daily routine is a brilliant way of nomalising the activity and incorporating exercise into their lifestyle.

The Dutch have shown us how cycling can be the most normal thing in the world - it definitely doesn't have to involve extreme exertion or specialist equipment
The Dutch have shown us how cycling can be the most normal thing in the world – it definitely doesn’t have to involve extreme exertion or specialist equipment. These people aren’t even close to breaking a sweat.

Taxpayers will also benefit from investment in cycling. The NHS spends around £5 billion each year on tackling preventable diseases exacerbated by inactivity, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and strokes. Around £16bn is currently being spent on the Crossrail project in London and a further £3bn on upgrades to the A9 road in Scotland. Health experts told the Get Britain Cycling inquiry that investing in cycle provision is by far the most cost-effective form of transport spend, recouping £4 in healthcare savings for every £1 invested.

Investing in cycling is also good for businesses and employers. Not only does a manager get a healthier and more alert workforce, but research in New York has shown that the introduction of cycle lanes led to a  49 per cent increase in retail sales. In terms of parking, bikes take up a lot less space than cars, so it follows that bikes can carry more potential customers than cars can.

yuh, good luck finding yours when they all look the same
Can you imagine how much space you would need if all these bikes were cars? The fact that drivers can no longer find parking on their high-streets has led to the death of many local and independent businesses.

As a final point, the article notes that cyclists would also benefit from improved cycle infrastructure. It might seem like an obvious point, but around 2 per of traffic on Britain’s roads is made up by people on bikes, and as this figure grows the infrastructure will need to grow with it. For instance, of all vehicles crossing bridges over the River Thames in London at rush hour, more than half are bicycles – in spite of this fact the cycle lanes (which are shared and often blocked by buses) are at best only a third of a lane in width. It really is time the Government took cycling seriously.

The UK's cycling infrastructure needs improving if it is to cope with the uptake of cycling that the government is encouraging
The UK’s cycling infrastructure needs radical improvement if it is to cope with the uptake of cycling that the government is encouraging

I really liked this article, but it did miss out some other key groups who would benefit from a more Dutch-style cycling infrastructure, as illustrated in the following video:

Britain’s new cycling minister calls for more ‘everyday’ riders

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Britain’s new cycling minister calls for more ‘everyday’ riders

Cycling is such a part of the lifestyle in The Netherlands that most Dutch people don’t even think of themselves as ‘cyclists’.

Indeed, cycling is a perfectly normal activity, and so it is about time that we started treating it as such. This article from the Guardian’s bike blog describes how Britain’s cycling minister wants to see more ‘everyday’ riders on the road – the kind who have baskets on their bikes and just pootle around in normal clothes (i.e. not the usual lycra brigade).

It’s a nice idea, certainly, but I would like to highlight the key issue raised around of the middle of the piece:

“Campaigners […] point out that making cycling an everyday activity for people of all inclinations and ages generally requires years of investment in segregated cycle lanes, bike-safe junctions and other infrastructure.”

Without the right infrastructure to protect them, ‘everyday’ riders would be like lambs for the slaughter in cities like London. The minister for cycling clearly has his work cut out for him if his vision is to be realised.

normal
Why should it be weird that cycling is normal?

 

I realise that this picture is totally unrelated to the post, I just wanted to share it with you because it's awesome
I realise that this picture is totally unrelated to the post, I just wanted to share it with you because it’s awesome

Cycling is not (intrinsically) dangerous

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2013 saw many articles written under titles referring to the ‘dangers of cycling’. A few random examples can be found here, here, here, and here. This one even talks about the ‘terrors’ faced by cyclists on the road.

Indeed, cycling can be a dangerous activity, but this is not because cycling itself is dangerous…

For instance, it isn’t dangerous to cycle without a helmet

no helmets

It isn’t dangerous to cycle without hi-viz
sit up and beg

It isn’t dangerous to cycle with a passenger…

The bike is king of the road in The Netherlands

Dutch bikes - an altogether more civilised way of getting around town.

Looks like fun, huh?

cycling with a passenger

…no matter what age you are!

these guys aren't having too much trouble

Even a couple of passengers (and a suitcase) is no big deal

cycling with two passengers

Cycling with kids isn’t dangerous either
DSC_7251

Riding your bike in the park on a summer afternoon... Such a simple pleasure that is so unreasonably denied to us in the UK

and it isn’t dangerous to cycle with an umbrella

So long as it's not too windy, I find that cycling in heavy rain is actually more difficult without an umbrella.

cycling with umbrella

It certainly isn’t dangerous to cycle next to your friends
children 5 abreast assen oost subjective safety

Even four-legged friends are safe to ride with.

Sometimes up front…
cycling with dogs

…or alongside
alongside

Whether you’re a little bit older…

Gustaf Håkansso
Gustaf Håkansso

a little older

…or a little younger

Vondelpark provides a totally safe environment for kids to ride their bikes

cycling a little younger

…cycling itself is not a dangerous activity.

What these photographs illustrate is how the physical environment affects the relative danger of riding a bike. Many of the pictures also show how good infrastructure is the key factor in determining whether or not cycling is actually safe.

As we move into 2014, I am hopeful that governing bodies in the UK (and elsewhere, for that matter) pick up on the merits of cycling and do what is needed to protect people who ride bikes. At present (and from my perspective), city dwellers face an unappealing trilemma when deciding upon transportation; they can either:

1. Contribute to the city’s pollution and congestion by paying through the nose for a car (+driving licence/insurance/MOT/VED/petrol/parking etc.).
2. Pay to take crowded/crappy (and notoriously unreliable) public transport.
3. Ride a bike but risk their lives by sharing the road with heavy/powerful/fast moving motor vehicles.

If a person is able to ride a bike (i.e. if their health permits it), then it should be in everybody’s interest to support them. Biker riders take up less space on the roads, and so there is less congestion for everyone else; they are not pumping out pollution into the air that we all have to breath; they are exercising their bodies and so easing pressure on an NHS that is currently strained by an obesity epidemic; they aren’t damaging the roads to nearly the same degree that other vehicles do (thus saving tax-payers money); they don’t run people over (and if they do, injuries are usually minor); and last but not least, motor-vehicle dominated cities are noisy and unpleasant places, and so bikes offer a quiet and civilised remedy to this.

I think that cycling is brilliant, not just for the bike rider but for the world. I intend to keep up the pace this year with my campaigning, and I hope to keep you updated with any developments/innovations that might be of interest.

All the best