Sunday, July 30, 2006

Average, Uneventful, Daily Cycling

In the quiet periods between posts, the reason is essentially that nothing untoward is happening.

When frequently commuting on only a select few routes, it becomes plain where all the hot-spots are, and over time can learn what actions are necessary to enjoy another uneventful, safe ride.

E.g. moving to the middle of the road in good time, before passing through natural pinch points such as traffic islands, and other tight gaps, when passed every day these hazards are predictable and dealt with automatically. The best road position to use for busy junctions, can be refined through experience.

Typically a normal ride consists of all kinds of repeated systematic checks and manoeuvres which make for a smooth journey. Not exciting, but very reliable.

These average, unexciting, daily bicycle commutes are the norm, which suits me fine, but doesn't make for great blog posts!

So that is what's happening when there are no posts; no frills, I'm just riding.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Is Cycling Dangerous? - Debate

Recently I entered in to a debate on whether people should cycle at all. The primary topic was the question: Is cycling dangerous? And goes on to explore the associated issues.

The parties are; Urban Commuter, and Broken Leg Man who (all by himself) fell off his bike, and believes because he fell off, everybody in the world ought to stop cycling. Now!

The debate starts like this:

Broken Leg Man said...

Cycling in london is dangerous.

Urban-Commuter said... (In response to the theme and purpose of broken leg man's anti-cycling rant blog).

These are the kind of emails we're advised to write as part of the recovery process. These are the kind of letters we write to ex-partners, enemies, and people who have left a negative imprint on our life. These are the kind of emails we write (as a process of grieving etc), but we do not actually send them.

I think you quite clearly are in a phase of post-trauma anger, in desperate need of an outlet, hence the blog. And this I can understand. However, your red-mist clouded judgement at this time, is obvious to see. To then advise that all cycling in London be stopped, because "someone might fall off" is totally unrealistic.

Your email is just a rant, to try and provoke reactions, and yeah - it worked for me :-) But also an act of lashing-out to deflect blame on to others than yourself (for what sounds like; overlooking a simple saddle fixing).

If you actually research the topic you are wildly rampaging in to, you will find that in 2004: 34,351 people were killed or seriously injured on our UK roads. The number of cyclists killed was a regrettable 109.

109 too many, but still a comparably low statistic. Especially when you realise that being a pedestrian is statistically MORE DANGEROUS than cycling, noting that 666 pedestrians were KILLED in the same year - 2004.

I hope you have a speedy recovery, and calm down enough to gain perspective on what you are publishing.

Broken Leg Man said...

with all due respect, i think you haven't understood my point. i am not advocating the banning of cycling in london, although i admit that that would be an ideal. what i am concerned about is the promotion of cycling in london which would encourage unskilled riders to purchase a bicycle and risk life and limb on the roads in london.

if you want to start quoting statistics, i was reading an article on the web last week that showed potentially that statistically cycling is perhaps one of the most dangerous methods of transport known to man.

you mention pedestrians. half of those killed were probably intoxicated. have you ever been injured walking down the street? no, i haven't either. but i have had previous accidents on my bike. you are selective with your so called statistical evidence.

i wish you luck on your bike in london. you'll need it.

Urban-Commuter said...

Thank you for your email,

Honestly, I think your idea to chart your recovery via a blog is a very good one, It must have positive therapeutic qualities for you. And I wish you every success with it.

I do genuinely think you are somewhat caught-up in all the emotion at the moment.

My detached perspective is as a car driver and cyclist. There are some points I'd like to make:

1) "my so-called statistical evidence" is not mine, it is the government's Department for Transport audited statistics for 2004.

2) All new road-users (be it drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, HGV drivers, horse-riders, motorcyclists, etc) begin using the road with little or no experience. Experience by-default, is gained by time spent using the roads. Everybody has to start somewhere. However...

3) Nobody is encouraging people to take risks beyond their skill level, in fact there are an increasing pool of cycling instructors offering adult coaching to build rider confidence and increase rider safety. Very many local councils are commonly providing primary school based cycle-coaching to ensure young riders are equipped with safe base riding skills from an early age.

4) The safety of a cyclist is very much in the hands of the rider in question. An experienced, competent cyclist who practices skilled road-craft and judgement of a similar standard to police traffic riders, is likely to experience a very safe cycling career indeed. Of course learning, experience, and practice are all required to achieve such a high skill-level.

5) As the number of cyclists on the road increases, the number of cyclists injured decreases. (Source: TFL) How does that make sense? Well a higher number of cyclists in the same area, means that drivers have the opportunity to gain experience of how best to interact around cyclists. Newer cyclists are more likely to witness how other experienced cyclists deal with hazards on their route, so have more opportunity to learn by observation. Drivers learn how much room is needed to overtake cyclists (a lot more than one may think), and drivers begin to learn the capability cycles can have (a lot faster than one may think). Drivers begin to understand that the many cyclists needs are not identical to a powered vehicle, and the drivers can then make allowances for this, thereby reducing the mis-understanding, ignorance, and assumption, which play a part in many accidents.

6) Life is not without risk. Random things can happen at any time - struck by lightning, victim of violent attack, puncture on motorway, tennis elbow, broken neck in rugby, etc, etc, Cycling is no exception. However there must be reasons why the number of cyclists on the road is mushrooming. Let's not forget that cycling can be great fun, even in the heaviest traffic- a rewarding challenge. The regular exercise benefiting many people's long-term health, and reducing associated threats from obesity, heart-disease (Britain's number 1 killer), cancer, and improving general quality of life, are some of the many reasons cycling is booming in popularity this summer.

7) This trend is only likely to see increased rider numbers in future, given the volatility of world oil prices and thus UK forecourt fuel costs, which could spike alarmingly high at any point in the future, regarding the global politics surrounding energy security (oil). Provoking many people to review their transport mode options available. There is of course the environmentally-responsible characteristic of cycling, where people are consciously choosing not to pollute as much as they may have done in the past. Cycling has many benefits, which you have not balanced your argument with.

Kind Regards,


Broken Leg Man said...

like you, if you had met me before the 24th april i would have reeled off similar facts and statistics arguing the benefits of cycling. however, when you are lying in a hospital bed having nearly had your foot ripped off while riding a bike, the health benefits don't seem very convincing.

yes, i was aware that supposedly the more cyclists on the road there are, the safer it becomes. i have been cycling for 31 years. but if a lorry runs you over and squashes your leg, you can't jump up and tell him "oi, you're not supposed to turn left wiothout indicating." its too late.

i don't think that i would be able to convince you not to cycle nor many others but i'm just interested in telling my story while i can't walk.

So there you have it. An interesting debate, from polarised positions. The story broken-leg-man tells incidentally, can be summed up like this:
Failed to do basic safety checks on his bike. Saddle came loose, and suffered a freak injury involving no other vehicles or people. But spends the next few months ranting about how dangerous cycling is amongst all those vehicles and people!

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

July 06 Heatwave Commuting

Although it's hot, I much enjoy having the breeze constantly caress me, attempting to wick the heat from my body as I'm rollin' rollin' rollin'.

Having a wide choice of transport options available to me for commuting, my choice to cycle in to work, was ratified by reading about the alternative experiences:

London Underground

Commuters facing journeys on London's Tube network reportedly faced temperatures
of 47C (117F).

London Busses

London bus drivers were threatened with the sack for wearing shorts, despite
on-board temperatures exceeding 50C

Overland Trains

Birmingham train travel was compromised as:

Railway tracks buckled in the heat.

There's no getting away from it, whichever travel mode I choose it's gonna be hot, sticky & uncomfortable. But for me, cycling is the "least-worse" choice. Plus, it is a whole lot more interesting than being sweat-welded to a seat, watching the slow progress of a sweat bead trickle down the skin!

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Jaguar XK: Nice Car, Shame About The Driver

Sometimes you spot a car in traffic and even though you travel at different speeds, you meet more than once on the same journey.

I was riding down the road as normal, say 15-20mph with cars overtaking me conventionally - at a steady speed with plenty of room between bike & car. Set in a built-up, urban, 30mph area.

All of a sudden I hear a roar of a 4.2 litre V8 engine, and some num-nut in a Jaguar XK tore past at excess speed and once passed me, had to brake to avoid hitting normal cars driving properly in front.

It wasn't a particularly dangerous action, just a quite pointless one.

His motivation was to demonstrate some intimidation & dominance with this "look at me" manoeuvre.

Probably on his way to work in the city, to sell guns to 5-year-old Ethiopians or something.

After stopping at a few red traffic lights and filtering passed yet more traffic jams, who did I encounter? Mr XK again!

Personally I am really not at all bothered about comparisons, childish races, or silly interpretations of loosing-face. It was the fact Mr XK attached so much importance to being ahead of a cyclist which made me laugh.

I rode past queued traffic as normal, and the Jaguar was ahead. But when I loomed in his mirrors, he began subtly weaving to discourage me from overtaking him. Strange.

Anyway, as he slowed for the very next traffic jam, I coasted effortlessly passed his £50,000 vehicle. To me, it's just one of many obstacles to safely navigate, in my daily jigsaw puzzle of a commute. But to him it represented eternal shame and damnation! Fool.

The XK has a limiter which restricts its top speed to 155mph. The last I saw of it, the Jaguar was limited by reality, to an impressive 0 mph.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Best Things About Cycle Commuting

Here are my personal top 5 most pleasurable reasons why I enjoy cycling and commuting by bike.

5) The ability to stay in bed longer, because the journey time cycling to work is shorter than by car, by bus, and by train, in my urban environment.

4) Relaxed, steady filtering past long lines of queuing traffic jams, taking just a few minutes on the bike, which I KNOW takes 20 or 30 minutes to drive the same road in my car.

3) The feeling of fitness, being able to sustain constant exertion all journey if you choose, and the associated "feel-good" endorphins the body rewards you with.

2) The freedom & pleasant experience of any long stretch of off-road, quiet, high speed, smooth, cycle path (rare!).

1) The optimism to be cycling at a time when:

a) Cycling's mass popularity is growing and more new riders are uncovering the pleasures of two wheels,

b) Government & Local Council policies appear to be slowly increasing provisions to accommodate the growing population of cyclists, and

c) General public awareness is waking up to the realisation that world oil supply is limited, 100 year old internal-combustion engines need to be replaced (e.g. Hybrid Cars / Corn Fuel / Fuel Cell Technology / Hydrogen power / Etc.), and awareness of more environmentally responsible forms of transport is increasing.

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Friday, July 07, 2006

Near-Miss Peugeot 206

After a recent spell experiencing civility, co-operation, and sensible driving while I've been commuting by bike, I saw a head-on near-miss today.

I was riding in a cycle lane, no problems, a bus ahead pulled in to its bus-stop conventionally. Again no problem, either wait or overtake it. Just before this, an old peugeot 206 went passed me, and some dizzy passenger mumbled something out her window at me: "bluhr bluhr, raa raa, BIKE!"

Couldn't work out if it was a compliment, or just some sarcastic jibe. I don't expect it was the most valuable nugget of ground-breaking information in the world, anyway.

A stream of cars cheekily crept passed the bus. Cheeky, because oncoming cars moved in to the oncoming bus lane for this to happen. I'm pretty sure the bus lane was in operation then, so seems a little bit sacrificial to risk a fine, for the benefit of others, but hey.

Our verbally-overt peugeot friend then made the drivers flaw - assuming of traffic ahead; "they got away with it, so I should be alright". (Hearing family fortunes; "Eeeh Urrrgh!" in my head.)

An unsuspecting oncoming silver car was not party to our peugeot friend's dubious logic. The silver car was forced to brake harshly and swerve wildly to avoid the unrelenting trundle of French metal.

My art skills (on the trailing edge of technology), explains the road layout a little clearer.

Although a near-miss and potentially a big accident, because thankfully no-one was hurt, I later found it quite amusing that the peugeot occupants were too busy verballing cyclists to bother about actually driving!

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