Friday 30 April 2010

Etape preparation 3 months to go

Despite the vast improvement in the weather and the welcome switch to British Summer Time, I find I have done about the same number of miles as in March with 592 miles in 36h52m.  I have done more racing though with 5 evening races at Hillingdon and 1 at Eelmore.  I entered two Road Races, the Peter Rigby Memorial in Hampshire and the Thames Velo in Oxfordshire but was dropped both times.  Add one 10 mile TT (substantially slower than this time last year) and only about 5 commutes into work.  The only moderately long and moderately hilly ride has been one 82 mile club run.  It is going to be necessary to crank the mileage up significantly in May.
Rather more positively I have booked the trains:  Eurostar to Paris and then the overnight sleeper down to Pau booked precisely 3 months ahead to get the best 'Prem' fares.  I have not tried a French sleeper before and look forward to the experience.  Accomodation is also sorted with 3 nights in a modest hotel in Pau.
Booking the French trains was rather easier (and cheaper) than booking myself and bike onto a Virgin West Coast train up to the Lake District for the Fred Whitton Challenge in May.  It has been incredibly hard to get them to confirm a bike reservation with frustrating hours spent on the telephone to a foreign call centre most of the time on hold.   Integrated transport still has a long way to go here in the UK.
My start number is as yet not available which leads me to suspect that I shall yet again be one of the last off.

Thursday 29 April 2010

A young cyclist sets me thinking

The controversial cycle lane in Poole

Coming in on the A30 this morning between Staines and Bedfont, I was passed on the inside by a young man on a bike dressed head to toe in black (save that his helmet was silver and black). He commented as he passed that he thought it looked as though I was about to turn right. An odd comment, I thought, as there were no right turns off that dual carriageway and I had certainly not signalled a right turn. He was referring to my road positioning and perhaps also to the fact that I spent a lot of time looking over my right shoulder at what was coming. Perhaps also he wondered at my propensity to move further right when I saw a vehicle coming up behind with no apparent intention of changing course or speed.

During the limited time available at the next light I tried to impress upon him the importance of being seen and he responded ‘yes, but there was carnage behind you’. I know, from my own observations, that those vehicles who look ahead have plenty of time to filter into the offside lane before passing me. The ‘carnage’ must be from those who passed him three vehicles (bike, car, car) abreast and then braked in front of him when they got to me.

I have nothing against the youngster; [subsequent edit:  I know him better now and really like him] our exchanges were perfectly friendly and I would defend his right to ride in the style and kit he chooses. What does concern me is that he does not apparently understand my style of riding. He is not the first fellow cyclist who has in effect suggested that I ‘keep in’. I would welcome intelligent debate on road positioning but often the ‘keep in’ stems from acceptance of an article of faith that (mere) bicycles should keep out of the way of (proper) traffic.

We are not all perfect and implicit criticism from a cyclist does cause me to reflect. I shall look into a bikeability training course since, though I have probably as much experience of riding on the roads as anyone, we are all capable of improvement. As Boris Johnson likes to point out the risks of being run down from behind are relatively low; but readers of this blog will know that riders do get run down by overtaking motor traffic on dual carriageways and the consequence when they are is often fatal. It is true too that the convenience of passing motorists is not very high on my list of priorities; but then when I am driving and passing a cyclist I put the safety of the cyclist well above my own convenience so I am being at least consistent.

I am a passionate believer that motorists should give cyclists plenty of room. On the A30 that cannot be done with two cars simultaneously passing a cyclist so I feel justified in claiming some road space to discourage it. I dislike the vast bulk of the cycling infrastructure in this country which consists of cycle lanes barely wider than a bicycle and which do nothing to encourage safe overtaking. When, at last, a cycle lane of suitable dimensions (pictured) is installed in Poole it receives widespread derision from motorists and their motor centric organisations and newspapers.

I am a ‘vehicular cyclist’. Realistically, I have to be given the distances I commute. Cycling infrastructure is of very limited, if any, use to me. I have not always been that way; I started commuting using cycle lanes painted on pavements; I then realised that the quality of the infrastructure I was using was such that I was much safer, as well as faster, on the roads; initially I kept well in and was often scared witless by close passing vehicles when I had nowhere to go; my final epiphany was reading John Franklin’s ‘Cyclecraft’ and I have felt rather safer since riding my bike as a vehicle entitled, like any other, to claim space on the road.

Cycling infrastructure though is essential to encourage others to cycle. I am persuaded in particular by this blogger (as convincing as he is prolific) that proper cycling infrastructure is required here of the quality that is widespread in Europe. Here we have generally the worst of all worlds with substantial money spent on a very poor infrastructure which appears to be designed to keep cyclists out of the way of cars rather than to make the cyclist’s journey smoother faster and safer. Who knows, if the infrastructure is really good I may use it, though I suspect I will want to continue to assert my right to use the road (a fear that this right may be eroded is the only reservation I have had about good infrastructure but this should be tackled by appropriate driver education).

For this election then I am looking for two things from any candidate who may attract my vote: support for road racing (see previous blog) and support for a proper cycling infrastructure designed by cyclists for cyclists with the aim of getting people out of cars and onto bikes. The rest of it: heavy taxation and spending cuts in order to get us out of the financial hole we are in, I take as a given from any future government.

Monday 26 April 2010

Road Racing in England

Important Note(particularly directed at any police officer reading this): my blog expresses a personal view which should not be assumed to be shared by my club or any other body.

Yesterday my club, Thames Velo hosted its annual road races.  I rode (rather ineffectively) in the 3/4 event and marsalled the E/1/2/3 event.  As a club we take pride in putting on a good safe race and a lot of time is invested in doing our bit to ensure that road racing continues to thrive.  However there has always been, and continues to be, an uneasy relationship between the car culture and those who seek to use the roads for non-motorised activity such as a bicycle race.  For many years, whilst road racing thrived on the continent, it was illegal here.  While the classics developed in France, Belgium and Holland racing in the UK was a clandestine underground affair frowned upon even by cycling organisations (who no doubt feared a backlash if the motoring public were even slightly inconvenienced.)  However during World War II cyclists began to organise road races in defiance of their national bodies and in 1960 the relevant government minister, exercising powers under the Road Traffic Act, promulgated the Cycle Racing on the Highways Regulations.  Though subsequently amended, these remain the governing regulations.  Under these regulations, Road Racing is permitted on the Highway provided notice is given to the local police, who have the power to impose such conditions as they think fit.
Therein lies a problem, as police authorities vary in the conditions that they 'see fit'.  This results, for example, in road races in one police authority being cancelled because the police 'see fit' to prevent simultaneous races on the same circuit; whereas the neighbouring police authority sees no problem with this.  It is an important democratic prinicple that the police are there to enforce the law not to enact it.  Giving the police a blanket discretion effectively to prevent a road race is clearly a matter in need of urgent review.
Second, the safety of road races is best ensured by competent marshalling and escorting (particularly by motorcycles such as the highly expereinced National Escort Group) and not by police discretion.  Acting as  a marshal I have never encountered a problem with asking motorists to stop for a short period to allow a cycle race to pass; many clearly enjoy the spectacle and express a keen interest on what is occuring.  Equally motorcycle escorts seldom meet resistance when they invite motor traffic to stop.  Whether motorcycle escorts and marshals have legal powers to force a motorist to stop is for practical purposes largely academic.  However some police authorities and officers are so motor-centric that they object to marshals or escorts requesting traffic to stop.  For that reason it is now high time that recognised escorts and marshals have the legal power to stop traffic to prevent danger.  This works well in Wales and is most needed where the local police authority is least sympathetic to the sport.
Thirdly, some difficulties can arise with an overzealous interpretation or application of the law.  Police have been known to object to cyclists being across the road when there is nothing coming the other way and no restriction on overtaking.  Speed radar guns are sometimes pointed at escorting vehicles because they (though not of course the cyclists) are required to adhere to speed limits which govern motor traffic.  It seems reasonable in the interests of safety, to provide that recognised escorting vehicles may exceed speed limits provided that they drive carefully.
British Cycling is raising the issue of road racing with prospective parliamentary candidates in a facebook campaign which well deserves the widespread support it is receiving.   Road racing is a sport which the British have been doing particularly well in in recent years, as any follower of the Tour de France will know.  We need a more European type of approach to this sport if it is to flourish and there is a clear need for elected law-makers to take control from the law-enforcers.

Thursday 8 April 2010

Velib Bike Hire

I have just got back from a family Easter Holiday in France.  Yesterday we stopped in Dijon for lunch.  Opposite the restaurant was this rack of Velib bicycles.  It is not just Paris but virtually any French city of any consequence that has this scheme.  Looking at the instructions one week's subscription to the scheme could be had for one euro; then any hire of under half an hour (more than enough I would think to cross Dijon) was free.  The machines look practical and sturdy with an interesting shaft drive rather than chain connecting pedals and rear wheel.  I would have loved to give one a go but will have to wait for the London scheme to launch this July.  Naturally the success of these schemes depends upon not finger pointing at cyclists who choose not to wear helmets.

Etape Preparation - 4 months to go

March was not a great month for my training.  I covered about 600 miles in around 40 hours on the bike.  My racing since the end of the Imperial Winter Series has been abysmal; I gave the Winter Series at Upavon Circuit a go and The Spring Chicken Road Race but was dropped both times.  The Oxonian 3up Team Time Trial was an interesting experience not least because the course around Brill is very hilly.  Of the three teams that showed up in the pouring rain we came third, not aided by my having to stop twice for a detached saddle bag and a dropped chain - still, good enough to get our time in Cycling Weekly!  My high point of the month was the Solihull CC Reliability Ride run in bright conditions but in a powerful north wind.
We all go through poor patches but I now definitely have some catching up to do.

3 up time trialist killed

I was very saddened to learn that just two days before my last post about the necessity of giving cyclists room, Graham Shinton was killed competing in the Birmingham CC 3up Team Time Trial on 28th March.  My heartfelt sympathies to his family and friends.  The previous weekend I took part in the Oxonian 3up TTT.  A challenging experience.  I was rightly advised by my team captain that I should be riding much closer to the wheel ahead.  It is a difficult skill and even professionals crash not infrequently on Team Time Trials as followers of the Tour de France will recall.  I found that many motorists gave us a wide berth but some did not.  I know nothing of course of the circumstances of Mr Shinton's fatal collision save that an overtaking car was involved.  This tragedy has received less publicity than that of Captain Jonathan Allen.  Cyclists really ought to be able to ride on the roads confident that even if they were to fall off they would not be struck by an overtaking vehicle; this is why the law in much of Europe requires 1.5 metres.  It is not enough that a motorist leaves sufficeint space that there is no collision if both the motor vehicle and the cyclists continue on a dead straight course.  This may be ok, if a bit scary in 99.99% of manouvures but will still leave a lot of casualties given the very large numbers of occasions on which motor vehicles overtake cyclists.  What is required is a very large margin for error given the seriousness of the consequences if something goes wrong.