Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Dark Side

Maybe I'm being optimistic, but the onset of British Summer Time last weekend, for me really represented an axe felling the whole winter phase of cycling. Drawing a line to end the cold, dark & short winter days, simultaneously welcoming the warm, sunny, long summer evenings.

Of course, I'm wrong on both counts - neither seasonal stereotype is right... This IS England; Summer will have ample rain showers, and to be honest winter was not bad at all, in fact I find colder ambient temperatures complementary to cycling.

The daylight is a positive improvement though. Being able to cycle to and from work in good visibility daylight, is a refreshing benefit for me. Incidentally I would consider now to be a great time of year for anyone considering starting cycle commuting.

  • Temperatures are pleasant and rising, so buying special winter clothing is not so important.
  • More daylight = better visibility, and less reliance on bike lights.
  • Failed all your NYE resolutions? got plump? going on a beach holiday soon?
  • Commuting by bike is far more interesting than any other transport I've tried!

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Monday, March 27, 2006

What Is My Ideal Commuting Bike?

First lets make some assumptions about my circumstances:

1) The commute will be on London roads - far from perfect, with physical characteristics of pot holes, uneven surfaces, speed humps, and cycle lanes full of broken glass.
2) Train travel is not part of the journey - Typically train "services" offer no provision for accommodating conventional cycles.

What's Important:

  • I want squidgy front suspension, to save my wrists and smooth out the bumpy road surfaces.
  • I want a hardtail frame (no suspension on the rear) so that all my pedalling power is transferred to the rear wheel - not partly lost bouncing up & down.
  • I want excellent brakes - to be able to stop PDQ when other road users do something silly to warrant it. e.g. Pedestrian steps out in-front of me.
  • I want skinny thin tyres to reduce friction, allowing me to go further, using less energy per pedal stroke.
  • I want bulletproof puncture resisting tyres, which last for years between punctures.
  • I want a pretty large chainring to allow me to sustain high average speeds, at a comfortable cadence.
  • I want a soft, ergonomic saddle to spend years of comfortable riding with.

Manufacturer's Options

Two years ago, I asked myself this very question, to find out what I wanted from a commuting bicycle. For the price range I was looking in, (£500-£600) I could not find anything "off-the-shelf" which satisfied all the needs above. I was very surprised that such a practical solution - my ideal commuting bike, did not exist!

The manufacturer's choices at that time, were pretty much: a) Mountain Bike. b) Road Racing Bike. c) Old Style Hybrid (shopping baskets, no suspension, etc).

My solution then, was to buy a hardtail front suspension mountain bike, fit semi-slick tyres, better saddle, and a saddle bag. However, on reflection this was probably not the best compromise because the frame is stronger and heavier than I require, and the tyre thickness (1.75 in) supplied far more grip and friction than I ever use.

2006 Supply & Demand

I'm observing this year (2006), that manufacturers are at last beginning to take the market of dedicated commuter bikes more seriously. The popular concept seems to be utilising gearing and tyres more like a road bike, and upright good visibility riding position & handlebar layout more like a mountain bike.

Some Examples:

Cannondale Road Warrior 600 - 53/42/30 tooth chainring - 700x28c tyres - £650
Gary Fisher Utopia 2006 - 48/36/26 tooth chainring - 700 x 42c tyres - £600
Specialized Sirrus Sport Disc 2006 - 52/42/30 tooth chainring - £500
Trek SU200 2006 - 48/38/28 tooth chainring - £430

Not Enough

Personally, I would demand my ultimate commuting bike includes:
1) Front suspension (purely soft, just for ride comfort)
2) Hydraulic disc brakes, for maximum stopping power.
None of the examples given above, have any of these. There is definitely room for improvement.

So, the search goes on for my ultimate commuter bike...

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

A Change Of Perspective, On Road

The last few days I have been driving in to work instead of my usual cycle commuting. This adds several factors to my day which I don't have when cycling:

  • Additional 30 mins on journey time.
  • Additional 15 mins walk from parking location to work.
  • Worries over parking space, meters, & target-driven, unreasonable parking wardens.
  • Unknowns, like: will my car be ok / scratched / bumped / etc while left parked on the road all day?
  • My car experiences the full effect of Traffic Jams, 60% of the journey is spent crawling between 5mph to zero mph, behind someone else's exhaust pipe.
  • Then there are the speed humps, the speed cameras, the bus lanes, and so on...


Switching my point of view from rider to driver, helps me understand some of the psychology where bikes & cars interact.

On the bike my primary attitude is "how can a avoid being crashed-in to by other vehicles".
In the car my primary attitude is "don't crash in to anything".

I must admit, While sitting in traffic & watching cyclists freewheel along an adjacent cycle path, I really wished I could just click my heels 3 times and magic my car in to a bicycle. It looked so much more enjoyable!

Cost / Benefit Equation

And there is a lot for drivers to feel envious about. For example: Driver sitting in a £10k / £20k / £30k steel box of tricks, and a bright yellow guy on a £300 two wheeler, is making more progress than the car! In such a cost / benefit equation, the bike is the desired choice everytime.

Of course there are the many other benefits the cycling gives, yet the car doesn't. Such as:

Immune System - Maintaining good fitness, and the associated resistance to colds & flu.

Time saving - No need to waste an evening working out at a gym, because the exercise is automatically completed just by daily commuting.

Alertness - The cycle commute stokes up all the good hormones to wake the body & be alert to survive. Which is good for productivity when you arrive at work.


Unfortunately while driving, I noticed a lot of (perhaps new?) cyclists, riding some basic errors:
Seeking a false sense of safety riding on the extreme left.
Riding in the door zone, too close to parked cars.
Riding through gaps safe for 1, but inviting 2 to "try it" by not taking the middle of the lane.

Pessimistically, such habits compromise those cyclist's own safety, and it is more likely to be a case of "when" rather than "if" this proves to be the case.

On the plus side, the cyclists I saw had good visibility in daylight, bright yellow seems to be this fashion seasons "in" colour!

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Road Tax Review, Is It Enough?

Gordon Brown's UK 2006 Budget speech yesterday, added a new band of £210 road tax (or Vehicle Excise Duty) for the most polluting cars. Is this a good move? and if so, is it enough?

The road tax framework of a sliding scale from the least polluting cars taxed minimally, with the scale rising to deter the worst polluting car choices, is ethically correct in principal.

The new road tax band announced yesterday will be for vehicles producing more than 225g of CO2 per kilometre. For comparison:

List A
(Car Manufacturer / Model / Fuel Efficiency (mpg) / Carbon Dioxide Emissions (g/km))

  • Toyota Aygo 1.0 VVTi + 5-dr :: 61.4mpg :: 109 g/km.
  • Vauxhall Astra 5dr hatch 1.7CDTi 16v 100PS :: 56.5mpg :: 135 g/km.
  • Ford Focus 5dr 1.8i TDCi Sport SIV (115 ps) :: 54.3mpg :: 137 g/km
But this new band rate is pitifully inconsequential in real terms!
My point is;
The type of cars which have the bigger engines, lower mpg, and higher polluting CO2, retail for £20,000 / £30,000 / £40,000 / £50,000. A deterrent of an additional £20 quid to this new "top rate" polluter's band of road tax is just laughable.
Some examples:

List B
(Car Manufacturer / Model / Fuel Efficiency (mpg) / CO2 Emissions (g/km) / £On The Road Price)

  • Mercedes-Benz E-class saloon E 350 Avantgarde Auto (petrol)
  • :: 29.1mpg :: 231 g/km :: OTR Price: £36,825.00

  • Toyota Land Cruiser 3.0 D-4D LC5 (8-seat) 5-dr (diesel)
  • :: 31mpg :: 244 g/km :: OTR Price: £36,550.00

  • Chrysler Grand Voyager 3.3i V6 LX (petrol)
  • :: 21.2mpg :: 319 g/km :: OTR Price: £26,750.00

  • Jeep Grand Cherokee 4.7 SOHC Predator (petrol)
  • :: 19mpg :: 352 g/kg :: OTR Price: £29,990.00

  • BMW X5 3.0i SE Steptronic (petrol)
  • :: 21.9mpg :: 312 g/km :: OTR Price: £38,220.00

  • Audi A8 4.2 TDi quattro SE LWB (diesel)
  • ::29.1mpg :: 261 g/km :: OTR Price: £62,575.00

  • Porsche Boxster 3.2 S Roadster (petrol)
  • :: 27.2mpg :: 248 g/km :: OTR Price: £39,160.00

  • Volvo XC90 2.5T AWD SE (petrol)
  • :: 25.2mpg :: 269 g/km :: OTR Price: £34,135.00

Source: and

Buyers considering this type of high value, high emissions car, will take more time debating over what features & gizmo's they want (metallic paint / satellite navigation / leather seats / etc), than what road tax band is applied to the car.

The road tax framework has a great potential to enforce the "polluter pays" policy of accountability. But can only be effective if there is a financial incentive to choose less polluting vehicles, and a significant financial dis-incentive to discourage the most polluting vehicles, as the list B above.

£20 is not a financial dis-incentive in the context of a £30,000 car!

To awaken the attention of car buyers, and raise the importance of emissions in car buying decisions, the scale should be like the following:

CO2 Emissions Band - Proposed Road Tax (1 yr)
A up to 100 g/km - £30.00
B 101-120 g/km - £150.00
C 121-150 g/km - £300.00
D 151-165 g/km - £600.00
E 166-185 g/km - £1,000.00
F 186-224 g/km - £2,500.00
G Over 225 g/km - £4,500.00

This kind of scale would assist in encouraging future demand for the emerging clean fuels car markets, and because car manufacturers main purpose is for profit, it is logical that manufacturers will be very interested in fulfilling this demand for vehicles which benefit from low emissions, and as a reward for that choice; low road tax.

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Cycle Lanes: The Good, Bad, and Laughable

Useful Cycle Lanes

Cycle routes have been slowly increasing in number in my local area (South East London) over the last few years. Some being useful - Like:
Toucan crossings on busy A-road roundabouts,
New bus lanes (shared benefit for busses / black cabs / cyclists),
And advanced stop lines at traffic lights.

Dangerous Cycle Lanes

Some traffic engineering ideas can actually in real life use, make situations MORE dangerous for cyclists! For example: road narrowings / pinch points, which coerces cyclists in to a likely rear-end impact from fast-moving traffic. Also inconsistent priorities between cyclists & other vehicles.

A trend I see also is the traffic engineers install cycle lanes on the easy roads where there is not much danger or vehicle dynamics. Yet when that road comes to a difficult static hazard like a multi-lane junction, just when vulnerable cyclists need as much protection from the 2 ton vehicles competing for the same space, so often I see: "END" of cycle lane. Which I interpret as: "pfff, well, erm, basically we ran out of ideas here, and it was a Friday, so... Good luck! (*door slams, sound of hurried footsteps*)"

Stupid Cycle Lanes

And then for a laugh there are the stupid cycle lanes.

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All of 5 meters - fully signed and painted cycle lane, complete with tactile paving. It has everything. Except a purpose!

Laughable examples:

  • Bins designed in the middle of cycle lanes??
  • A slalom course of obstructing lamppost in a cycle lane??
  • Pointless short stretches of painted cycle lanes for just a few meters??

Examples have the hallmark of a complete afterthought. Unrealistic, impractical, will never be used, and would be funnier if it wasn't us who paid for it through our taxes.

More Examples & Links:

Warrington Cycle Campaign - Facility of the month

Weird Cycle

BBC Magazine - In the Gutter - Bicycle Facilities

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Saturday, March 18, 2006

New Loud Bike Horn For Cycle Commuting

I've got a new bike horn for cycle commuting! As far as horns go, It's pretty good - the worlds loudest, at 115db say the manufacturers.

About The Horn:

  • Adjustable volume scale from 0% to 100%
  • Design now on it's 3rd revision Powered by compressed air.
  • Air refilled by normal cycle pump or car tyre pump, (Shrader valve - same as car tyres).
  • Operating range of 5psi to 80psi (1 bar to 5.5bar)
  • Weight: less than 100g
  • Cost £22.
  • Up to 115 decibels is pretty darn loud! (For comparison: Front Rows of Rock Concert = 110 dB. Threshold of Pain = 130 dB. Military Jet Takeoff = 140 dB. Instant Perforation of Eardrum = 160 dB!)

No Need

But with 48 miles cycled so far, I haven't had the requirement to blast my horn in anger. Yet. My style of riding is typically very risk-averse, if there is a situation ahead that looks like someone COULD take an action which would be of risk to me, then I am already covering my brakes and expecting the worst.

Although slightly slower than charging everywhere in a sweaty mess, I find this risk-averse approach to cycling generally helps me be involved in less incidents, than if I was risk-ignorant. Trouble is, I haven't had the opportunity to toot my horn yet!

Expected Use

I won't be using this horn for pedestrians, it is far too loud & overpowering. It's use shall be reserved specifically for vehicles. Who, insulated from temperature, ambient sounds and wind, distracted by radios, adverts, music & entertainment, often seem oblivious to everyone other than themselves.

I've no doubt that the horn could very likely be a lifesaver in situations where vehicles take actions without noticing an oncoming cyclist. A forceful reminder of the cyclists presence is definitely useful. That is, if there is time for such luxuaries.

What Does Tooting Accomplish?

But I am already questioning what use it is tooting bad drivers who CHOOSE to take risks, knowingly endangering cyclists; for example - overtaking too close / cutting up / left turning across a cyclist / creeping forward from a side road, hoping to intimidate main road traffic stop / etc.

After all, the purpose of tooting in these cases, would not be a reminder of an innocent (but still life-threatening) driving error or mistake. Tooting at intentionally bad drivers, is most likely going to be interpreted as angry criticism (which it is).
Which accomplishes what? A eureka moment of reflection where these bad drivers suddenly reflect on their years of erroneous decisions putting other people at risk, and make a vow to value other peoples lives as important, rather than obstructions just to be over-taken at all costs? Errm, no. More likely to be just thin justification for some more intimidation, this time road rage probably.


I mean, I've survived without a horn for several thousand commuting miles already, so I have to ask myself some questions:

  • Is this horn necessary? Probably not.
  • Am I just being a gadget freak? Probably, yes.
  • Is the horn useful? I will find out soon.

Stay tuned, to find out who will be the first to face the wrath of my 115db horn! - And why...


Airzound Manufacturer's Site (PL)

Buy An Airzound Bike Horn (UK)

Buy An Airzound Bike Horn (USA)

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Cars, Cycles, & Kaleidoscopes

Rain, and darkness. Not my favourite combination.

Again I experienced a dry ride cycling in the morning, but the weather later turned around and begun raining for my evening cycle home. Fortunately because the temperature in the morning was only 3.5degC I wore my waterproof jacket, trousers & gloves simply for their thermal insulation. Which came in handy later on when riding home in the rain.

Today the moisture was both on the road and falling in the air with a misty property. Comfort-wise this was fine, as I was completely dry underneath my outer clothes. It was just the small things which make a big difference, namely rain on my visor. Through error & experience I have learnt that no matter how bad your rain-obscured visibility seems, trying to wipe it clean while riding will only make it worse!

Least-Worst Choice

This situation leaves me with a decision to choose the least-worst option. Either riding with a rain-affected visor (making the street & car lights feel spacey and like looking down a kaleidoscopic tube. – Great for its artistic qualities, not great for seeing where you are going!) Or just riding without a visor or glasses, which gives me 100% clear vision until a splash of water or muck flicks up in to your eye resulting in 0% vision.

Now if my visor is like a kaleidoscope, then logically a car’s visibility through the windscreen is also diminished. True, cars have gadgets like screen wash and windscreen wipers to negate this problem, but various cars of various makes and ages, are achieving varying quality of visibility. E.g. old wipers, smudging, dirty screens, etc. Which is probably why rain and darkness conditions always seem to yield the most road accidents. Which as a cyclist, I don't want to be anywhere near to!

Being tired anyway, in the end I settled for a slow cruise home, rarely progressing out of my middle chain-ring. Too slow to flow safely with busy traffic, on some roads I retreated to the quiet, wide pavement and slowly rolled home. Which seemed the best policy in the conditions, as I heard various police and ambulance sirens heading to some car crash or other.

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Monday, March 06, 2006

Today the ride to work was ok, fairly congested traffic, so a slow pace where necessary, and riding with the view to fit in to the road position of "just another car." i.e. centre of lane, queing up behind cars at traffic lights, rather than squeezing in to gaps beside cars (who may or may not, know you are there). This calmness & co-operation resulted in no incidents today.

But my main issue today was with the weather. Started off so bright, sunny, and chilled morning, promising to be a fine dry day. But the next time I checked (say 4pm) the weather had broken it's promise, and lined up a dark grey sky for my cycle home.

Thankfully (as is often the case recently) the bulk of the rain showers had emptied it's content, then ceased. Providing a wet road with dry air. This I like, because the wet surface although offering less grip (for braking and cornering), also seems to have less friction, making pedalling slightly easier. Turned out alright in the end!

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Cyclists jumping red traffic lights

Should cyclists be allowed special status to jump red lights? & Why is it so bad?
Not quite the abortion row, but there's certainly polarised views on cyclists failing to stop for red traffic lights.

Fringe theory

There is a fringe theory that cycling should allow concessions & advantages in traffic to the extent of jumping red lights, to make up for the lower top speed of bikes compared to other vehicles.

Using "the rabbit & the hare" example, if a car can complete a journey in 30 mins, a bicycle could travel at a slower average speed, but jump red lights to complete the same distance also in 30 mins. It is tempting, to just ignore the traffic lights, and risk it.


Clearly, going against the flow of traffic is dangerous, because no-body is expecting anything other than green for go, red for stop. One attempt is to dodge two flows of cross traffic to jump the red light in two halves.

Traffic lights at junctions still doesn't stop vehicles having accidents. Look around at the barriers near busy junctions, see the dents & previous impacts? Look down at the shattered glass and bits of plastic brushed neatly to the roads edge - that was once bits of car!

This half & half attempt to jump red lights is very dangerous because it is exactly the location where vehicles commonly crash. Do you want to be collected by somebody else's accident?


Another consequence of jumping red-lights is the huge risk of being struck by cross-traffic ironically also jumping the other red-light! Why so likely? Well have you tried jumping a red light while driving - if it is the drivers misplaced priority to get through a red light at all costs, then the driver will speed even faster to a) get through & b) avoid himself being struck by legitimate cross-traffic moving off.

Cyclists jumping red lights just pisses off everybody!!
a) Other vehicles who follow the highway code, and stop for red lights.
b) Other cyclists who follow the highway code, and stop for red lights. Who look on disappointedly watching a fellow cyclist erode the image of cyclists generally, whilst risking immediate nomination to become the next cyclist accident statistic.
c) Pedestrians, who after standing around waiting for the green man, anticipate a safe crossing of the road, only to be skimmed by an irresponsible cyclist!


Personally, I stop for red traffic lights - for my own safety, and to help other road-users around me to view a cyclist as a responsible, equal road-user.

Stopping at traffic lights is a good opportunity anyway - you catch your breath, and recharge your energy ready for the next phase of your ride.

Or you can challenge yourself to see how long you can stay upright on your bike, without putting a foot down, just using skillful balance while stationary. Try it!

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