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.