12 September 2012




This is a photo taken in the Coal Exchange building in Cardiff Bay. This is one of the most important buildings in the history of Cardiff and is testament to the City's rise and fall as a pivotal part of the world economy. This particular image taken on an upper floor seems to show a signboard highlighting the offices and organisations that would have had space in this part of the exchange building at the height of its activity.

Over painted, scuffed, altered, recovered and faded. A beautiful and poignant artefact, displaying the layers of history.


31 August 2012

Practicalities and Functionalities


Cycle rack in Oxford

We have been visiting a friend in Oxford, and I have been impressed as usual by the genuine cycling culture that exists there. Bike shops everywhere, bikes everywhere, hire bikes available everywhere. Even out of term and without the critical mass that must be provided by the students, it was still a vibrant and delightful scene.

The sight above, just a typical rack in a back-lot, is nothing unusual for Oxford, even though it would be unheard of in Cardiff if there were no students around. But I was interested in a particularly geeky and anoraky fact after I made a quick study of the form. Not a single bike here had a fully enclosed chain. Not one had a hub brake. Not a single hub dynamo, or any other form of non-battery lighting. Only one of all the bikes here had hub gears.

There is a lot of terraced housing in Oxford. For the first time, I have seen front gardens turned into bike parking areas with cycle racks, which is a welcome change from being turned into a car park as is the norm in other cities. There are lots of student flats and student accommodation. In other words, bikes are stored outside day and night. I would have thought therefore that basic bike practicalities and functionalities such as the enclosed chain and hub brakes I mentioned above would have impacted on what is available for sale in the myriad of bike shops, or perhaps coloured the advice that new students are given when purchasing their new steed. But apparently not yet.

We may be seeing the re-emergence of "utility cycle culture" (that sounds frightening) here again in the UK, but are the manufacturers and retailers keeping pace? They seem to be able to follow the fixie trend well enough for instance, so why can't they make practical features more normal as they are in other countries? Perhaps the mountain bike aesthetic that kept so many small retailers going throughout the wilderness years is too hard to shake off? Perhaps the costs of things like hub brakes mean bikes jump out of an acceptable price range? Perhaps the customers have not yet learned to demand these things? I'm not sure, but it will be interesting to see how the trends develop and how the manufacturers and retailers react, or if they choose to lead instead.

28 August 2012

Lots to Talk About

It is true that I have been neglecting my blog for some considerable time now. There always seems to be something more important to do, and it is always nice to be able to relax safe in the knowledge that there are plenty of people saying what needs to be said. Carefully, eloquently and passionately. However, perhaps it is time to pass comment on the many months since I attended the inaugural Cycling Embassy of GB policy bash.

Some highlights for me have been:

  • The CEofGB follow up session in Bristol, which I was unable to attend, but which was excellently blogged. Great to know that the momentum is maintained and that more people are picking up on the ideas that the Embassy was set up to promote.
  • A recent discussion on the Radio 4 Today program about public health and transport policy, where the expert being interviewed explicitly mentioned the importance (well, in fact the absolute undeniable logic) of providing good cycling infrastructure as a way of encouraging cycling. I was driving (bah!) to a site and nearly crashed cheering.
  • The Tour. Ah, the Tour. Once I discovered that I could follow the tour on the ITV iPlayer and wasn't stuck with watching the 7pm highlights or seeing nothing, the possibility of a three week obsession first emerged and then became a magnificent reality. Although I had followed it before, it was the daily ebb and flow that I was able to get to grips with that made it special. Despite Lesley Garret's dreadful intervention at the awards ceremony, Bradley Wiggins saved the day on being handed the microphone by noting that it was now time to draw the raffle numbers. Genius.
  • Having to queue at the traffic lights on the way to work behind OTHER BIKES. This really is quite a welcome inconvenience. Although I can't help feeling annoyed when these newby upstarts go twice as fast as me. It's not a race. I've been ill. My bike is heavier. Ah, the nonsense you tell yourself while at the back of the peloton.
  • Following Dave at 42bikes on his LEJOG efforts. Mainly because, halfway through his epic rain sodden journey, I had a flash of inspiration. A blinding light if you will. Having laboured under the assumption that "Le Jog" was some kind of traditional French amateur cycling race, I suddenly realised the true significance of the acronym. Le idiot.
  • The Cycle to Work challenge organised by Cardiff Council. Credit where it's due, they did a fantastic job and many commercial and public sector organisations seemed to get behind it. I really hope that the many additional cyclists seen out on the streets of Cardiff keep the momentum going.
  • Attending a lecture about the connection between planning and public health. The premise here was that the origins of planning lay in the desire to improve public health - sanitation, slum clearance, model towns, garden villages etc all connected the emerging discipline of town planning with the concerns of public health to improve peoples lives. The speaker described how this connection is in danger of being forgotten and that we are creating environments that do not promote activities such as walking or cycling, which is a real problem when you consider that obesity is like a menacing shadow gradually creeping across our communities. I felt there was some real possibilities for research to be done on the impact of decent walking and cycling infrastructure on levels of activity. The notion that good planning could have public health benefits is perhaps an idea whose time must come again.
  • The Olympics. You've heard of that I presume and that there were bikes?
  • Bradley and the helmet thing. Awesome fun, as it encouraged my ill-informed workmates to pile into the debate, and thus allowed me to cunningly demolish their pathetic puny arguments. All hail me!
  • Finally getting round to complete the cycle route right around Cardiff Bay. Twice in fact in the same week. First time was for curiosity and second time was with the family in tow (literally in the case of No.1 son). I will attempt to do this again and write a photo essay about the route as it pretty much sums up cycling infrastructure in this country; a mix of the sublime and the ridiculous, the beautiful and the depressing, the inspirational and the downright bloody dangerously frustrating. Good afternoon out though.

25 May 2012


I have been quiet on the blogging front lately, for several reasons. Firstly, I see others pushing the infrastructure argument very successfully and eloquently and it is often difficult to add to the debate in a meaningful and original way. Secondly, my two jobs have been taking up all my time, leaving precious little space for thinking about bikes.

However, "write what you know" must be the mantra for those whose inspiration has gone missing, so on the eve of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain AGM and policy bash in Bristol, I thought I would return to the theme of capacity. We often hear the politicians talk of the need to start spending money on infrastructure. One day, they'll mean what I wish they'd mean and be referring to cycling infrastructure.

When that day comes, we need to be prepared with the technical knowledge and capacity to deliver. I see this as a key role for the CEoGB, forging partnerships with enlightened consultants and engineers, shining a light on solutions already tried and tested elsewhere and even delivering training itself. People like David Hembrow and his cycling tours, plus the Embassy's own infrastructure safari's are the foundations for such an enterprise.

Good luck to the policy bashers on the weekend.

29 April 2012

Just Say No


19 April 2012

Four Thousand

I know, I know - recent posting activity has been patchy.

But, I am amazed that I reached 4,000 page views the other day. This is remarkably small beer in the world of blogging, and compares rather unfavourably with the world famous cycling blogs that inspired me. But, nevertheless, I am going to be delighted and grateful on my own terms. Thanks for stopping by.

15 March 2012

Fear and Cycling in London

We went up-town to London last weekend for a bit of culture. Sadly, despite massive success on the cultural front, I failed once again to have a go with the Boris Bikes. We were wandering around Paddington Basin after breakfast, and came upon a bike hire station near the back of St Mary's Hospital. We were in the process of considering our way to Trafalgar Square, via the Bakerloo Line and Piccadilly Circus, and idly wondered for a moment if it might be worth a go on a bike. By actually looking at the docking station closely for the first time, I realised that you probably don't even need to have a membership card, which I had incorrectly presumed to be the case before now. There were even a couple a brand new bikes, which looked to be in great mechanical condition.

However, the familiar dread just kept coming up about having to ride in traffic. Being tourists in London Village, we are just not that familiar with London driving and the road system. It is why tourists take the tube and locals take the bus - the underground network is a navigation method that is diagrammatically simple and directionally certain, whereas the bus takes a route you are unsure of and you don't know when you have arrived at your destination (you mostly have to ask for the bus to stop somewhere which you aren't familiar with - it always stresses me out anyway).

A similar worry exists with the bike system - you don't know how to get where you are going, and don't understand the nature of the network you are forced to use (the roads). It is even less easy to use the back streets, unless you stop every 20m to try and figure out where you are, which means manoeuvring into the correct position is tricky, plus we don't have an A-Z permanently on hand. Maybe we just need to get a bit more techno-savvy and get on board with the bike hub app and equip ourselves with the appropriate hardware...

However, I recall that this wayfinding was not such an issue when we cycled in Copenhagen, because although the network you are using is adjacent to the road system, it is separate from it and so the problems of manoeuvering or getting in position, or even stopping to look at a map are easier to manage. By removing the issue of negotiating with traffic from the wayfinding equation, all other worries became more manageable and less concerning. If I could cycle down Edgware Road happily in my own space, I'd know where I was, I'd have a rough idea where I was going and I wouldn't be cacking myself. Perhaps then I'd have the guts to keep my Oyster Card in my wallet and try above-ground two wheeled travel for a change. After all, when we walk around London, we always chuckle knowingly about how everything is much closer than you might think from looking at the tube map.


I wanted to write something about a bike hire scheme, but had to go to London to do it. The Cardiff scheme, for which Cardiff was in the vanguard for once, has quietly closed and the unusual rod-driven bikes have been given away. Evidently, the unusual idea of "trialling" the scheme with a handful of docking stations and less than 100 bikes turned out to be less successful than the experiences of some other major European Cities who have tried something similar. Like Barcelona, for instance, where they dumped 1000's of bikes and 100's of docking stations on the city virtually overnight. Can you spot the difference?


14 March 2012





I like this, cos I got one in the cloakroom. Bit grubbier than these mind.



8 March 2012

Efficiency and Trains

Photo: HS2 Ltd

I note that a central plank of the argument for HS2 is the accounting matter of efficiency. If we arrive at our destination earlier, we'll get more done, and thus be more efficient. We are not, it seems, allowed to work on the way. Let us set aside for a moment the depressing intellectual position this proclaims - that the journey is not significant - and focus instead for a moment on the wondrous ability of bean counters to miss the point. In a thoroughly unscientific and appallingly self centred way, I shall base my argument purely on personal experience and extrapolate to the wider world.

In terms of blog posts, I am pretty much constrained these days to coming up with stuff whilst sat on the train. For some reason, the thinking space that the train creates, combined with the gentle rocking motion, allows me to think and write. If journeys were shortened, so thus would my creative output reduce. And what a loss to western civilisation that would be.

The correct solution in terms of efficiency is therefore not to reduce the journey time, but improve the experience whilst on the journey. One thing Network Rail could usefully do to that end is have a jolly good tidy up. The rail network seems to serve a dual purpose these days - obviously it is a route for trains, but it is also a vast linear tip for Network Rail to hide its junk over an extremely stretched out area. If you gathered up all the spare sleepers and rails lying about, you could build a complete new rail line. The recycled railway if you like.

I'm not sure why working on the way to somewhere is not accounted for in these costing exercises - perhaps the kind of people who do this kind of maths are not the kind of people who take the train. And that is something that western civilisation is definitely the poorer for.

6 March 2012

Political Will v Engineering Standards

It has been a crazy exciting time in the world of cycle campaigning, with the thundering weight of the Times thrown behind the Cities Fit For Cycling Campaign. Suddenly, for the first time in ages (ever?), an infrastructural approach to cycling is making waves both in the press and in the political world. It has been a pleasant surprise to see how far support for this campaign has spread amongst MPs, with a significant attendance at the special debate in Westminster Hall and, more importantly, a relatively sensible discussion (?)

This is the beginning of a long journey, and a necessary starting point. However, I agree with a recent posting from Joe Dunkley at War on the Motorist, who reminds us that it is only one side of the coin. As I have previously written, we must also win over and persuade the engineers that all things are possible. Their dogma is not political, or fashioned and filtered through the press and the lens of public opinion. It is based instead on the intractable guidance and technical design notes that form the basis of the highway schemes that we must change for the better.

I suspect that this is the harder battle to win. Politicians may bend to a vigorous and well supported campaign and their response could be policies and hopefully cash on the table. However, it is the engineers that will turn this cash into reality, and they will base their designs not on policy or public support, but on the guidance that exists. We must therefore ensure that the guidance is capable of producing what we want on the ground, and the wheels turn slowly in the world of engineering publications. For instance, The Manual for Streets is new(ish) guidance on how to design roads particularly in new housing estates and yet still designers and architects have a battle on their hands persuading local authorities that it is reasonable and effective. What is more, this particular manual is considered to be innovative and cutting edge (not concepts highway engineers are typically associated with), but does not come close to being able to deliver the kind of separated cycling infrastructure seen in the Netherlands, and demanded by groups such as the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. Even it refers to the Hierarchy of Provision we are so familiar with, and so rude about. Even it is influenced by vehicular cycling publications and ancient research now long superseded.

Joe Dunkley has chosen the LTN 2/08 as the particular target for his ire in his post and rightly so. We must continue to question these perceived articles of faith and provide the intellectual debate and research to counter them. We must create the body of knowledge that can be referenced and referred to. We need to create a bibliography that is ready and waiting for when the political will turns and the cash arrives. We need to become the recognised experts in the field, who are turned to when the moment comes.

This leads me to comment on a sad event of the week, which stands in contrast to the progress elsewhere. The decision of David Hembrow to close his fabulous and influencial blog A View from the Cycle Path is a sad loss. We must be inspired by David's Herculean efforts but also his accurate and clear style. We might also usefully buy something groovy from his shop and go on one of his tours to see this stuff for ourselves IN PERSON, which was after all his constant refrain.

(In a brilliant twist of organisational nonsense, David has resurrected his blog whilst I was dragging my feet attempting to post this. So, I am both current and out of date all at the same time).

5 March 2012

Trainspotting Moment

I have never been to Stafford station before, but it turns out to be a bit of a brutalist tour-de-force. Board-marked concrete always enlivens ones journey, I find.

Stafford Station, in transit.

23 February 2012

1 February 2012

Red Lorry, Yellow Lorry, Dead Lorry

A bogus article in The Guardian about getting cyclists to sit in a lorry cab, to better understand the hard life of a lorry driver in seeing cyclists, and then putting lorry drivers on a saddle to see the world from a different viewpoint is the perfect journalistic conceit:
  1. Repeat what someone told you without any conceptual questioning of the principles;
  2. Secretly recognise that you will polarise views completely amongst your audience;
  3. Stand back and admire your blooming comment/page view statistics as irate readers vent their spleens.
As I found myself thinking at the recent Cycling Embassy of Great Britian Policy Bash, there are generally not simple solutions to complex problems. However, media debate and politics is just not capable of the sustained and difficult thinking often required - I refer you to the idea of stripping Fred Goodwin of his knighthood, as a way of reforming the banking system. Not exactly Nietzsche is it.

What the cycling blog of a national newspaper should be doing is calling this kind of lazy thinking to account. Whilst there is not a simple solution to the lorry problem, there is a simple philosophical position one can adopt when considering the issue. If a lorry driver, despite being highly trained and not setting out to kill anyone, is capable of causing death and injury simply due to the poorly designed machine he is operating, then the machine is not fit for purpose. Dragging cyclists into the frame and demanding that they be aware of the blind spot of a lorry or suffer the consequences is dangerous, unhelpful and just about the most counter-productive thing to say if you want to be encouraging cycling.

Of all people, the cycling blog of The Guardian ought to be the ones pointing that out.

29 January 2012

Cycling Embassy Policy Bash

I was fortunate to be able to spend the weekend in London, attending the first Cycling Embassy of Great Britain policy bash (#CEoGBBash on Twitter) where we discussed many and varied topics and covered a wide range of issues relating to our desire to see gold standard cycling infrastructure which will enable all sorts of people to take advantage of the simple wonder of riding a bike from here to there.

As well as the fascinating debates and conversations, it was also rewarding to be able to put faces to names, and associate those faces with twitter handles and blogs. It certainly is a powerful tool this interweb thingy, but never more so than when it is enabling people to get together in a room and make plans.

We began with a quick reminder of the Embassy tour of the Netherlands last year, when some lucky souls got the chance to sample this advanced cycling culture at first hand - surely something we wish many more policy makers and engineers from this country were able to do. Then, we began to set out the themes and key issues that would occupy us for the weekend. It was determined that we should break into two main groups, one looking at infrastructure issues and the other looking at policy matters. Each group was tasked with exploring the themes identified earlier and cross reporting after the regular discussion sessions. It is the aim that the written-up results of these discussions will find their way onto the Embassy Wiki shortly, for wider debate and consultation.

Highlights of the weekend for me were, in no particular order of importance, the inspitational summary of Embassy aims and ambitions for getting our message out there, delivered in style by Mark Ames of ibikelondon, and the eye-opening infrastructure design session that resulted in a phased proposal for creating separated cycling infrastructure around a typical UK roundabout. And of course the plenary session in the pub on Saturday night, where the real work was done.

However one idea really stood out for me, biased of course as I am, which is that design is the solution to so many questions - be it setting out a cycling network to inform decisions about what and where infrastructure is required or in understanding how spaces can be used or occupied. Making good design decisions and following a recognised process of carrying out your analysis, formulating a strategy, creating a concept and setting that within a framework which you rigourously test is such a strong approach and I am grateful for my architectural training which has equipped me to think in such a way.

I return to Cardiff tired but energised, thoughtful and re-enthused. I look forward to seeing some of the great ideas we had come to fruition and forsee a strengthening of networks and the relationships made.

23 January 2012

Place, Place, Place


Great post focussing on the idea that bikes are just one weapon in the peacemaking armoury.

Shiny Bike for a Bash

The Brompton got a polish this weekend, and some overdue oiling and easing. This is because it is going up to Town with me this weekend for a bit of a bash;


and for some old fashioned reason I felt it ought to look nice. Don't want to let the Embassy down.

The only downside here is that I bought some 3-in-1 oil , mostly for nostalgic reasons, only to be sorely let down when I realised it now comes in a plastic container, not a tin can as I remembered from my youth. So no nice "plink" noise when applying. Bah.

11 January 2012

Good Work 2011

I have been impressed and humbled by the work done in the bloggersphere during 2011. There was some really fabulous and inspirational stuff created and disseminated during the course of last year.

First up in this quick summary of what interested in the past year, and already covered extensively elswhere, is the video below produced by the Dutch Cycling Embassy. It is enthusiastic, elegant, inspiring and really annoying that they get it and we don't.

Next on the wall of fame is the work done by the LCC in producing imagery of how Blackfriars could be if TfL weren't so intent on backing the wrong horse in the race for the future of London. The way that LCC have conducted this campaign is very interesting and the level of expertise that has been broguht to bear by an interest group is impressive. The positive aspect is the actually the positive nature of the campaign - promoting an idea rather than just levelling criticisms. I suspect this will create a new paradigm for cycling campaign groups.

There have been so many other fantastic moments - the ride in London of the 10 worst junctions for cyclists, Mikeal getting his cargo bike back (but then stolen again - what is the latest there?) and of course the inaugral Harris Hack in Cardiff, with more tweed on show than has been seen in South Wales for many a long year.

Harris Hackers Cutting a Dash at the National Museum

8 January 2012


Bike advertising in Cardiff

I enjoyed seeing this fine advertising tricycle in the centre of Cardiff today, remininding me of the infinite variety of uses for this wonderful machine. Today a mobile advertising hoarding, tomorrow a mobile barbers (maybe).

5 January 2012

The Need for Speed

We all love to hate the comments on the various blogs and comment sites where the enemy motorist thunders that cyclists who run red lights or ride on pavements effectively remove any moral right for  those squeaky clean unoffending riders to complain about their lot. I love to get hot under the collar about that and I also particularly enjoy dutifully stopping at red lights and riding on stupidly dangerous roadways in a constant battle to reclaim the moral high ground. As Homer Simpson said "it's not marriage that's the problem, it's the constant battle for moral superiority that's the killer".

My latest bit of moral grandstanding involves my double life as a car driver. Yes dear reader, I do enjoy a dalliance with the dark side now and then, but then again don't we all...

I have decided to commit to drive as near as I can to the posted legal speed limits wherever I go in my car; that statement in itself saying something about what follows. As a result, I have discovered two highly connected things. Firstly, the vast majority of car drivers break the law with impunity and secondly, it is very difficult not to join in this mass protest action against authority. Actually, that makes it all sound a bit jolly and rebellious, whereas in reality of course it is a corrosive and antisocial disease that is killing our public spaces, but more on that later.

Now, this is not going to be an authoritative or scientifically accurate dissection of motor speeding rates. It is private blog written by a hobbyist after all. If you want facts, go to Wikipedia. All I know is that I am now the slowest and most cringingly annoying driver on the road. Wherever I go, other drivers behind me often get stressed and upset just because I am trying not to break the law. So really the ridiculousness of anyone using RLJs as evidence for why cyclists should be licensed, taxed, burned at the stake or whatever is quite overwhelming. These incentives obviously haven't worked for motorists. In fact the only main requirements of the highway code are that we drive on the left, don't smash into each other and don't drive too fast. We only really  manage to drive on the left, despite all the taxes, licenses and bureaucracy that can be devised.

But, it is the second thing I discovered that interests me more than some boring and endlessly replayed argument about who stopped at the traffic lights and who didn't. The fact that breaking the speed limit is so easy should be the concern. I believe there is of course a cultural force at work here - my natural instinct to blend in and do as others do, to be part of the social "norm" makes it very difficult to drive differently (and thus slower) than  everyone else, but It is also the case that antisocial speeding behaviour is all facilitated and condoned by the highway network itself. The engineering strategies that ensure large visibility splays, gentle radii to bends, easy gradients, shallow dips, open vistas and a smooth (!) well drained surface all in the name of safety have created the perfect risk-free environment to go faster and faster. It seems intellectually bizarre to create a system which facilitates certain behaviour, which you then try to prevent with unenforceable rules.

The "Twenty's Plenty" campaign on one hand stands as a recognition of the tragic fact that the risks of the game are not accurately relayed to the most dangerous protagonists, and on the other as the apogee of this whole daft approach. In a sensibly designed network, there would be no need for speed limits as it would be obvious what an appropriate speed was. The design itself would imply the right approach. This is a purely selfish notion - despite the warm glow of law abiding citizenry, I am sick of feeling like a twat driving at  the legally correct 30mph over the Gabalfa flyover in Cardiff, designed in a similar style to the M4 just to the North, where 70mph is the limit. You could hit 100mph over that flyover without too much bother. Is it any wonder that so many fail this unfair morality test just a little every day?

I think it is fair therefore to consider the problem of speeding partly as an engineering failure, consistent with the failure to recognise that Dutch style road and cycle path design is the only sensible starting point if you wish to increase cycling rates. This is why the battles in London over key public spaces, such as Blackfriars, Kings Cross and Elephant & Castle are so important. It is at these locations that the clash of the arguments I have set out above has become clear and apparent. On one hand, we have the institutional engineering strategies of TfL that prioritise traffic flow over all else and which divorce the design from the appropriate behaviour. On the other, we have people demanding inherent safety and a genuine consideration of the importance of public realm, a sense of place and the way citizens use their public space.

The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain will play a crucial role here, as it seeks to open our eyes in the UK to the approaches and solutions used in other countries such as The Netherlands which have grappled with this same conundrum, but have typically come up with a far more grown up and civilised approach.