i b i k e l o n d o n

Introducing the Black Tie Bicycle Test: does your city pass?

I was in Amsterdam over the weekend for a family trip.  It's the first time I've been to the city as a pedestrian and not ridden a bicycle whilst I was there, and walking the streets of the Dutch capital gave me a totally different perspective.

Amsterdam cyclists of all shapes and sizes, photographed on a trip in 2012

I've always felt that your perception of a city can be influenced by the speed you travel through it, for example a driver racing along an expressway in to a city centre car park is going to have a very different experience to a cyclist gliding through the backstreets.  The human eye is incredibly selective and only uploads to your brain elements of what you can see depending on how fast you are travelling and how much time there is available to sort through the "fine detail" we are taking in.  So whilst you might notice big advertising banners when you're behind the wheel of your car, you're less likely to see the little architectural details, historical plaques and local geographic indicators that you might experience when you are on your bike.

Walking through the city allows you to experience even more, and over the weekend in Amsterdam it was the cyclists riding around me that I noticed the most.

Everyone knows that Amsterdam is a cycling city, but it is only when you stop and stand on a busy street corner and watch the scene for a while that you really begin to appreciate just how much Amsterdammers use their bikes and how much, in turn, Amsterdam as a city relies on them.  In the city centre some 62% of all journeys are made by bicycle, whilst in the wider metropolitan region 47% of all journeys were made by bicycle in 2008, up from 33% in 1991. (See the full stats on David Hembrow's engaging blog here)

With such a high level of all journeys being made on a bike there's naturally a wide range of cyclists undertaking different types of journey.  I saw small kids being ferried by cargo bike, older folk heading to the supermarket on stately upright bicycles, a few lycra-clad sports cyclists, college students riding in flocks to class, and children being taught how to ride on the city roads.  There were glorious glamazons dressed to the nines and drafting the city trams as they texted on their smartphones, pedalling along in high heels.  Businessmen with brief cases riding to client meetings.  Flustered Mums with clutches of kids flocking up and down their neighbourhood roads.  In short, every size, age and kind of cyclists perceivable were riding in an environment that safely accommodated them all.

You often hear how Mums on bikes are the canaries in the coal mine of a successful cycling culture, or that seeing older folk riding is a sure sign that you're doing things right.  But one cyclist that I saw in Amsterdam over the weekend is, I think, the new yard stick that all cities should be measuring their cycling progress with.

On Saturday evening all of Amsterdam was bathed in the glow of golden spring light.  It had been a warm day and the streets were packed with people out enjoying the sunshine.  I set off for dinner and as I turned on to Utrechtsestraat, there cycling slowly and extremely gently up the road was a young man in full formal evening wear; a smart black tuxedo and shiny patent leather shoes.

As any man who has worn a tuxedo knows, they can be exceptionally uncomfortable.  The jet black material traps the heat and makes you prone to overheating, the collar is invariably always too tight and seems to constrict your throat, whilst the primary purpose of a cummerbund appears to be to ride up your tummy.  In short, the most unsuitable cycling apparel you could think of.

But of course one dresses for the destination, not the journey, and if you're going to a black tie event in Amsterdam the chances are you'll be going by bicycle.  You'll be riding extremely slowly, extremely carefully and without rushing at any point, but you'll be riding none the less.  In short, you'll be riding in a sort of magnified and exaggerated style of all those cyclists who are considered key indicators of a successful cycling culture; women, older people and children.  Steady, gently, and very, very slowly. (Of course you could rush and race to your event but you'd be a mess when you got there)

In London I often feel I get a bit sweaty when I'm cycling on especially busy roads, and for a long time I thought I was just unfit.  It took me a long time to realise however that this is not the sweat of exertion but the sweat of anxiety.  I'm not sure how I would feel riding around the Elephant & Castle or Bow roundabout on an upright bike in an evening suit, and maybe that's where London is going wrong?

So when it comes to measuring how good your city is as a place to ride a bike, there's only one key performance indicator to use going forward.  Whether or not your city will accommodate the style of riding needed to successfully cycle in a tuxedo or not is the perfect sign of just what kind of cycling culture you have on your hands.  I'm calling it the Black Tie Bicycle Test.  From now on every city around the world should be asking if cyclists are being asked to keep up with traffic and ride like a motorised vehicle, or if they have the sort of environment where you can successful cycle in a tuxedo.

In London I think we've got a long way to go yet, but in Amsterdam nobody would even think twice about doing it.  The Black Tie Bicycle Test; how does your home town do?

Share |

Friday throwback: the 100 year old bike race line up

With spare inner tubes slung across their chests and bobble hats at the ready (note the lack of non-compulsory helmets back then) these Australian cyclists are lining up for a great day's racing in Goulborn, New South Wales.  It's the start of the Goulborn to Sydney Dunlop Road Race, and this photograph was taken in the 1930s.  I love the small crowd assembled in the background to see the race off, including the official starter clutching his flag wearing what appears to be a pith helmet and plus fours...

Remarkably the 100th edition of the Goulborn to Sydney should have been run last year, but concerns about road safety by professional teams meant the event was canned.  Whether the race will return in 2014 remains to be seen.  This article on Cycling Tips has some great links and photographs, and a full history of this fascinating event and its recent demise.

This week's Friday Throwback features a photograph from the State Library of New South Wales archives and is one in a continuing series here on ibikelondon exploring old and interesting cycling photos on the Flickr Commons.

Have a great weekend, enjoy your ride, and why not connect with ibikelondon online?  Catch up with all our latest posts on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @markbikeslondon

Share |

SPIN London rolls in to town this weekend

I'm just checking in with a brief blog post to let you all know that SPIN London - London's alternative bicycle show - rolls back in to town at the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane this weekend.

Because everyone should consider buying a neon hot pink bike with no brakes at least once in their life... (Photo via BikeBiz)

If the super slick offering of the larger, shinier London Bike Show (held at Excel in February) is not quite your cup of tea,  SPIN promises to have something that will rouse your interest.

Shifting from last year's focus on frame builders, 2014's event has been re-positioned to encompass all things "cycling culture".  There's still an extensive frame builders exhibition space, but in addition there's a host of bicycle accoutrement specialists like Brooks Saddles, IBIKELDN and Milltag.  You can also check out some interesting innovations where safety and security meet style; exhibitors HipLock have created a wearable bike lock whilst Hovding, the Scandinavian inflatable bicycle helmet creators will also be there.

The Handlebards in action.  My kingdom for a horse bike! (Photo via the Handlebards website)

In addition to all this there are bars, food stalls, talks, coffee, cyclist's yoga classes, DJs and even a Shakespeare play acted out on bikes by a rolling troop of actors wittily named The Handlebards (yes you did just read that right!) so there's something for everyone, whatever your cycling interest.

If you really want to make a day of it, our friends at IBIKELDN apparel are running one of their fun and friendly bike rides around town, ending at the event in the afternoon.  Meet Victoria Park Pavilion Cafe on Saturday 29th March at 11AM.  Dress super.

Spin LDN: The Urban Cycle Show is on March 28-30, Old Truman Brewery, 15 Hanbury Place, E1 6QR. Tickets are £10 on the door or cheaper in advance if booked online here. Follow @spinLDN

Share |

Why Kings Cross plans shows Transport for London MUST try harder

There isn't a cyclist in London who would describe riding around Kings Cross as a pleasurable experience.  The scene of numerous collisions, it's a mini-gyratory where the heaving traffic of the A501 north circular is squeezed round the smaller roads surrounding Kings Cross station.  Harried passengers dash for space, taxi drivers chase fares blasting their horns, buses splutter and fume as construction traffic roars through, heading for the massive redevelopment area behind the station.  It's long overdue for an overhaul and safety improvements, but plans from Transport for London fall far short of providing safe space for cycling.

A ghost bike at the sport where Min Joo Lee was killed.

It was here in 2011 that 24 year old student Min Joo Lee was struck and killed by a construction lorry whilst riding to college, in front of horrified rush hour onlookers.  Three female cyclists - Madeleine Rosie Wright, 27, Wendy Gray, 42, and Min Joo Lee, 24, were all killed by lorries within a few hundred metres of one another over the space of 5 years on this stretch of the A501.  A 4th cyclists, Emma Foa, was killed by a left turning cement mixer just up the road in 2006.  All of these deaths share similar tragically predictable elements; a lack of safe space for cyclists interacting with very large vehicles, whose drivers are unable to see vulnerable road users all around them.

Last year, at an inquest in to Min Joo Lee's death, the Coroner heard how a report commissioned by TfL in 2007 described future casualties on this site as "inevitable".  In another report, transport engineers Colin Buchanan noted that cyclists made up 20% of casualties on the site but specifically excluded pedal cyclists from their modelling of the junction at the request from Transport for London, in order to assure the smooth flow of traffic.

Speaking in 2011 and referring specifically to the death of Min Joo Lee, TfL's Leon Daniels said "Any fatal road collision is one too many. The Mayor and TfL will work night and day to reduce that number."

 TfL's plans - hardly exemplary

But the latest plans for the Kings Cross area fall far short of being either safe or inviting for cyclists.

Dribbling a chain of minor improvements in to the existing roads, TfL's plans do include some wider and mandatory cycle lanes, and a little protected space.  However, there is much more which is wrong with their ideas.  This is where their proposed "north - south" cycle superhighway will intersect with the North Circular, bringing thousands of additional riders to the area, yet there are no protected cycle lanes or safe passage through the junction in every direction.  There's also considerable risk of left or right "hooks" from turning vehicles - especially lorries - risking repeat deaths like those of the cyclists who have already been killed there.  Their plans also include putting cyclists on pavements (rather than ceding any road space to them) in some of the busiest pedestrian space in central London, yet the entire surface of all the carriageways in the redevelopment area will be resurfaced - all on the back of the cycling budget.  That is to say, you might find yourself on a terrible pavement cycle lane soon, whilst motorists glide smoothly past on beautiful new tarmac paid for with money set aside to supposedly make you safer.  

You couldn't make it up.  As London Cycling Campaign point out "it will not possible to go through the junction in any direction without being exposed to unacceptable levels of danger. Some sections do not even meet the old cycle design standards set out a decade ago."  Indeed, Twitter has been awash with reports of how a 17 year old Sixth Form student from Kent has done a better job than TfL's engineers with his own proposals for Kings Cross (follow @maidstoneonbike, check out his plans, and maybe chuck him a few quid for his RideLondon plans to say "Chapeau!")

The consultation on these "improvements" closes today (Monday 24th March) and the LCC are encouraging everyone to write to TfL to tell them to go back to the drawing board.  I'd urge you to do the same, even if you miss the consultation deadline by a few hours.  Maybe then the people whose job it is to design streets that are supposed to keep us safe will be made aware of just how badly they are failing.

I think the designs at Kings Cross open wider and more worrying questions about the pace of the Mayor's so-called cycling revolution programme.  We've all been enticed by the images of protected cycle lanes and the mock ups of cycle tracks yet to be built, but when it comes to proposing actual work this is what we are met with.  The plans for Kings Cross are so bad at first I assumed the 1st of April had come early, but the safety of riders in this area is no laughing matter.  It's time for Transport for London to start listening to the Cycling Commissioner, and to cyclists themselves, and to start proposing plans that really make a difference.  

Click here to go to the Transport for London King's Cross consultation page.

Share |

Friday throwback: cycling through snow, retro Norwegian style

It's time for another Friday Throwback - our ongoing series of posts looking at images of cyclists from The Commons on Flickr.  This week we're looking at the work of adventurous photographer Anders Beer Wilse, from Norway.  As seen in the photograph above, Wilse used his bicycle to traverse the Norwegian landscape, loaded up with 10kg plate cameras and other equipment, dressed in boots and a tweed suit.  It was in this way that Wilse traveled to his photographic assignments, even taking his bicycle as far north as Svalbard, inside the arctic circle.

Wilse was a handsome, daring, somewhat buccaneer turn of the century type; he decided to become a sailor, emigrated to the United States, and picked himself up a wife there before returning with her to Norway.  He photographed every aspect of Norse life and society (including Ibsen and Greig on their deathbeds) and his archives now reside with the National Library of Norway.

In the hand-coloured images below, the women of the mountainous region of Setesdal are seen cycling to church in their Sunday best, whilst in the photo below a cyclist gets stuck behind a car on an alpine pass that has been cleared of snow.

Catch every post from ibikelondon - connect with us online! 
Join the conversation with us on Twitter @markbikeslondon, or give us a "Like!" on our Facebook page.

Share |