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…
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:
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.
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…
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.
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…
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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Whenever I tell people about my dream of having some decent cycling infrastructure in the UK, I am frequently met with the same point about there not being enough space on British roads. The general feeling is that roads are already too narrow, and that there simply isn’t any room to accommodate the type of segregated cycle lanes that work so well on the continent.
In opposition to this, I would like to present you with a group of photos taken from Google Streetview. In the left column you have shots of roads/junctions in the UK, and in the right column you have almost identical shots of places in The Netherlands. The point of the side-by-side comparison is to show how space is used differently, and how the Dutch so sensibly choose to separate pedestrians and cyclists from cars and HGVs. The streets are so similar that they could almost be before and after photos…
In each case, the cycling provision in the UK is rubbish or non-existent, while that provided on a similar street in The Netherlands offers a far superior cycling experience. Of course, if cycle lanes were better then more people would cycle, and if more people were riding bikes then there would be fewer cars on the road and so less congestion and less pollution. Everyone benefits, right?
The following video explains how the Dutch got their cycle paths, and how their cities made the transition from being car-centric to being more bicycle friendly.
What the Dutch have achieved is truly remarkable, and this is why I always hold them up as the best example for the UK to follow. They are the only country in the world able to boast the fact that more than a quarter of all their journeys are made by bike, and it would be my dream come true if we could achieve this feat in the UK.
- Making cycle lanes safe (cyclingnelly.wordpress.com)
- Crosspost: Cyclists and pedestrians as ‘hazards’ for motorists. #wordlturnedupsidedown #takecaregtrmcr (manchesterclimatemonthly.net)
- No, it’s not the narrowest cycle path in Britain! (cyclingnelly.wordpress.com)
- Only 10 fines for illegal cycle lane parking (belfasttelegraph.co.uk)
Following the recent deaths on London’s busy streets, cyclists in the capital held a vigil and protest outside the headquarters of TfL (Transport for London). Despite the cold we lay down next to our bikes and made a pretty bold statement that TfL can no longer ignore.
London’s die-in was reminiscent of the famous Dutch die-in that took place in the 1970s on the museumplein outside the Rijksmuseum.
The Dutch campaign was motivated by the number of people (particularly children) who were dying on the roads. Their protest achieved remarkable things in terms of their infrastructure, and 40 years down the line they are still reaping the benefits.
Dutch solutions to London’s problems aren’t really so radical, and their implementation would only requires a modest degree of commitment from the government.
Look at how they deal with HGVs and roundabouts – surely this sort of infrastructure is desirable for everyone, no?
On a side note, my sister was interviewed by the BBC during the protest, and her vox-pop even made it onto the evening news! I will try to upload a video, if I can find one…
And the BBCs coverage of the event (my sister at 1:04)…
and another one…
- Cyclists lie outside Transport for London (TfL) headquarters to protest road deaths (express.co.uk)
- Thousands of cyclists lie down in the road for rush hour protest outside TfL’s Blackfriars HQ (standard.co.uk)
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Re-blogging this from a friend in NE Lincolnshire
The video shows some pretty dangerous situations that cyclists in the UK have to deal with on a daily basis.
Although the examples are pretty shocking, they are far from unusual.
I think the video speaks for itself and calls for better infrastructure to protect the most vulnerable road users.
The guy in the last shot was actually riding on one of London’s cycle super-highway, and clearly shows how a dab of blue paint on the road does nothing to protect people on bikes.
Look here to compare with how the Dutch deal with HGVs.