Saturday 29 January 2011

Imperial Winter Series Race 10; Saturday 29th January

Photo courtesy of LondonCycleSport
A distinctly cool 2ºC with a fresh northerly wind to add a wind-chill that left my hands numb until the race had been on long enough to get the circulation going. A few spirited attacks off the front but (as far as I could see) again nothing stuck. We passed the 4th cats twice, once whilst they were racing and again as they were warming down and not yet cleared the circuit. Every time the pace picked up to haul someone in I found my self at (but thankfully never off) the back. The sprint straight into the wind was interrupted by a sortie onto the grass on the right so I just kept left to roll in at the back of the bunch.
24.9m in 1h:01m:20s. Average speed 24.4mph. Top speed 32.9 mph.

Photo courtesy of Lucy Collin

Thursday 27 January 2011

CTC Cycle Magazine Article Clarification and Update

There are, I fear, inaccuracies in the latest CTC magazine 'Road Safety Watch' about my experiences in two quite separate incidents.

1.  On 4th November 2010, I was threatened by a motorist.  I had helmet cam footage and took it to the police.  Initially the Police and CPS decided to take no action.  I complained, did get a response, and an investigation is now taking place.  I had a letter from a Senior Crown Prosecutor yesterday telling me that the police had been asked to make further enquiries.  I do not know, but I interpret this as suggesting that the police have still not interviewed the suspect.  I await further developments.

2.  On 12th December 2010, a motorist jumped out of his car and assaulted me and a club-mate.  I did not have my camera but there was overwhelming evidence including that of an independant witness.  The motorist was traced by the police, interviewed, accepted his guilt and was given a police caution.  I queried the decision to caution the offender with the Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police.  I received an e mail yesterday apologising for delay and saying that this would be investigated by an Inspector.  I have asked Thames Valley Police for the name and address of my assailant but have been told that this request will not be considered until I put it into a letter.

I have separately written to the Home Secretary but have still not received any substantive response.  I will now have to take this up with my own MP.

Some views from our parliamentarians

I see that the MP for Cambridge, Dr Julian Huppert, secured the adjornment debate last Friday.  His speech is reported in Hansard and he took the opportunity to raise cycling with the Minister of State for Transport.  I do recommend reading his speech.  It is stunningly good and he manages to raise in a few minutes some of the issues I have been raising in this blog.  He deals with the merits of cycling, the importance of bikeability cycle training, the enforcement of cycle lanes, the poor quality of most 'shared use' cycling facilites built in defiance of the DfT's own hierachy of provision, the excessive advocacy of cycle helmets.  I particularly like this in relation to motorists who harm cyclists,
 "We must encourage the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to be more ambitious in the choice of charges and the decision to prosecute, so that judges and juries can decide whether an excuse is good enough.  Driving with a reckless disregard for the safety of fellow road users should be treated very seriously."
Mr Huppert goes on to deal with cycle parking, showers/lockers at workplaces, integration with public transport and then raises the subject, close to my heart, of cycle racing on the Highway.

Mr Huppert is a Liberal Democrat, the sooner he is given a job at the Department for Transport the better.

Disappointingly, at least one motoring organisation, apparently intent on seeing the sharing of roadspace as a battleground rather than a matter for cooperation, has taken exception to Mr Huppert's words.  This is not a party political blog, nonetheless it is rare to find a parliamentarian of any political party talking so much unadulterated sense and Mr Huppert gets my full support.

The response from the Minister of State, Theresa Villiers, was less impressive though she did point out that "Cycling can also help us to address the obesity problems that cost the NHS and wider society around £20 billion annually".  She did not disagree with Mr Huppert's comments about reducing the stigma attached to cycling by lowering the apparent dangers.  She should really have a quiet word with her colleague in government, Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, who attended a conference last week on 'Urban Planning and Liveable Cities.'

Asked a sensible question by Mark Ames of ibikelondon Mr Pickles gave a very silly response (transcript here).  He did not seem too intent upon reducing the stigma some associate with cycling by refering to pedalling in rubber knickers up and down the place to go to work.  I agree cycling need not be long or arduous and does not of itself require special clothing (and I include a helmet in that).  Everyday cycling in ordinary clothes is much to be encouraged.  However if you are going to go far or fast (and looking at Mr Pickles he may not need to be going too far or fast to sweat profusely into his cotton Y-fronts) you will soon learn that lycra (so far as I am aware a synthesised product containing no rubber) is vastly more practicable than cotton or wool.  I cannot imagine that anybody save Mr Pickles would dream of trying to cycle dressed in rubber.

As for his comment that even he might venture out eventually if we make it just a little bit safer; there is no kind way to say this Mr Pickles, but Ms Villiers's response applies to you.  You are endangering your health far more by not cycling than you ever would by 'venturing out'.

If only we had a few more who did not just talk the talk but ventured out properly as Dr Huppert does, we really might start to make progress.

 So, two parliamentarians, guess which one 'ventures out' on a bicycle.

Saturday 22 January 2011

Imperial Winter Series Race 9: Saturday 22nd January

Quite a large field of at least 40 riders turned out for today’s 3rd cat race. At the sign in Lucy kindly promised me no wind, which turned out to be a half kept promise. The wind was merely strong, rather than last week’s gale, and came from the North so forming a headwind up the finishing straight. A seasonal 6ºC. Perhaps because of the better conditions, and perhaps partly also because I took the precaution of taking the train to work yesterday, I had a much better race. There were some spirited attacks including a solo attempt in the last two laps. I often get this wrong but I do not think anyone stayed away. We must have been doing a reasonable pace as we lapped the 4th cat race twice today, not something that’s happened on the races I have done in this series so far. Came in within the bunch.  No crashes.
26.65 miles in 1:06:09. Average speed 24.17 mph. Max 32.3 mph
As I was leaving my fellow cycling blogger Skippy found me and we had a quick chat, curtailed by the fact I had to get home to walk the dog before dark. He is clearly doing good work finding sponsorship for paralympic athletes.  It was a pleasure to meet him in the flesh. He had struggled to find the circuit so it may be worth pointing to directions here (with added bonus of a rear shot of one of my clubmates!). Hillingdon is a good place to start racing especially if you first get yourself there for some Thursday evening Prime Coaching sessions in the summer months to get used to bunch riding at speed and the layout of the circuit.

Friday 21 January 2011

Transport Policy again

The Department for Transport has just laid before Parliament a report entitled Creating Growth, Cutting Carbon; Making Sustainable Local Transport Happen.  It includes the following information:

"According to the Retail Price Index, the cost of buying a car fell by 29% in cash terms between 1999 and 2009, while general RPI inflation over the same period was 29%. However, the cost of car maintenance, petrol and oil, and tax and insurance all increased markedly faster than general inflation. The "combined" cost of motoring (covering purchase price and running costs) fell by 11% relevant to the general rate of inflation. Over the same period rail fares rose by 43% and bus and coach fares rose by 58% "

Meanwhile the Automobile Association, reported inevitably in the Daily Mail, are complaining again about petrol prices:

'Sooner or later, politicians will have to face reality - more and more drivers cannot afford these prices. They are pushing up inflation and taking money from other consumer spending.'

The inexorable rise in the number and mileage of motor vehicles, with the inevitable associated congestion and pollution, is surely related to the fall in the costs of motoring both in real terms and more particularly in comparison to public transport.  The costs continue to fail to cover the 'externalities'.

This, from a briefing note prepared by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, continues to hold true:

"Why, in theory, should a government be concerned to change consumer behaviour through the use of fuel duty? The argument is that the costs of motoring exceed the private costs faced by an individual motorist. There are environmental costs, noise costs, road-damage costs and congestion costs which people may not factor into their decision about whether and how much to drive. This means that the costs to society of motoring exceed the costs to the individual, which will lead to a level of motoring that is both inefficiently high and inefficiently cheap from a social perspective. The duty is therefore a way of forcing the private motorist to take account of these social costs."

I am assuming the list of external costs does not include death, personal injuries and medical costs on the (slightly dubious) assumption that these externalities are covered by motor insurance.  Certainly I would add additional external costs relating to obesity and lack of fitness due to no longer moving ourselves around in the manner we evolved (or were designed if you prefer) to accomplish without the assistance of fossil fuels.

I do not claim to know the price of fuel at which these externalities are properly taken into account but I am very sure the level must exceed that at which at least some AA members have to think about whether they should be saving money by using public transport, car sharing or even a bicycle.  I see no evidence that our society is moving away from motorised transport as being overwhelmingly the default option for moving ourselves around.

I see a test of government mettle looming.

Postscript:  for a more in depth analysis of fuel costs try the Road Danger Reduction Forum who recommend an increase in petrol duty

One thing you learn very rapidly as a cyclist is the dramatic effect of air resistance which is proportional to the square of air speed.  One way to save petrol is therefore to drive at a slower speed.  There are even better reasons to do this, of course, and I have now set myself a voluntary limit of 20 mph in built up areas.  I find this has virtually no effect on the time it takes me to drive anywhere but it certainly does attract aggression from a few other motorists.

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Why you? Must be you?

A question posed by a corpulent self-styled motoring journalist who has been doing the rounds recently on BBC Radio and television.  Producers use him because he is 'controversial' and loathes cyclists.  We were invited guests on BBC Radio Wales together with Roy Spilsbury, a local CTC representative who politely and effectively neutralised the motoring journalist's bile.

Saturday 15 January 2011

Imperial Winter Series Race 8 - Saturday 15th January

Photo Courtesy LondonCycleSport

Unseasonably mild at 12.5°C but with a very strong blustery south-westerly wind which caught me out early in the race.  I was on a wheel round a bend turning into the wind but a gap opened ahead and I just could not get by.  I and a few others were dropped, though I did struggle on to finish last.   So no meaningful stats or report from me this week.  Lessons must be learnt from such failures.

Tuesday 11 January 2011


Motorist with clean(ish) record throws cyclist into road in front of an oncoming car risking life and limb, accepts responsibility.  Police caution.

Non-motorist with clean record throws fire-extinguisher off high building risking life and limb, accepts responsibility.  2 years 8 months in prison

I fully understand the need to make examples and to make others think twice.  Perhaps a little rebalancing of the criminal justice system to deter danger from motorists, though?  I would settle for taking just one year off the student protester and giving it to the motorist who attacked me.

Postscript 14th January: My unease over the balance of our criminal justice system is not ameliorated by reading today that two protestors who tried unsuccessfully to talk their way into the staff entrance of Buckingham Palace armed with political banners were yesterday remanded in custody for a week.

Heated Debate

Our print and broadcast media love a heated debate.  Following the publication of Paul Bignell's articeHeat and timing for them is everything, naturally enough since they wish to attract readers, viewers and listeners.  I was delighted that Paul Bignell of The Independent on Sunday finally got his editor to accept for publication his article but I am a little disappointed it had to take the death of a high profile sportsman, Gary Mason, before the timing was thought to be right.

Paul and I met some while ago after he had seen my article Cycling against the Car Culture which I had hawked unsuccessfully around the broadsheets.  Perhaps I ought to make it clear that I know nothing, as yet, of the circumstances of the tragic death of Mr Mason and my disquiet at the workings of the Criminal Justice System relate to the cases covered in my article and some more recent cases covered in these pages.  Followers of this blog will also know that I have acknowleged some rays of hope  (for instance following the tragic deaths of Major Gareth Rhys Evans and of Mrs Catriona Patel.)  What I believe is still required is the consistent adoption of best practice across the country's police forces, prosecutors and judges.

Following Paul's article I was contacted by BBC Radio 5 live who wished to arrange a debate over cycling and wanted someone to put up against a 'motoring journalist' one Adam Rayner.  They were looking for somebody controversial

Saturday 8 January 2011

Imperial Winter Series Race 7 - Saturday 8th January

Not a good week for me mechanically with two punctures travelling to work on Wednesday and the folding pedal falling off my Brompton on Thursday (brilliant design but just not robust enough when grinding up a hill), so I suppose it should have been no surprise that I punctured on my one warm up lap before today's race.  So, as Doug sent us off, my bike was upside down in the mud while I swapped a replacement back wheel borrowed from a kind soul.   I first assumed he was there for the next race but maybe he was a spectator.  Anyway this was not his spare wheel, you should understand, it was the wheel taken off his bike so I really do owe him one.  The circuit has spares but all Shimano equipped.
So I spent my first half lap sprinting to get up to the group which had fortunately this week gone off at a moderate pace.  I raced 'blind' as my Garmin was in my back pocket being protected from the mud.  (Yes, I know, mechanically skilled people do not turn their bikes upside down but I find it reduces the chance of fluffing a rear wheel change and I was in a hurry).
The borrowed wheel served me very well, for a while I thought it was squeaking loudly but I eventually figured out that was number 50 who seemed to be in my vicinity for much of the race.  There was a stiff West wind which served to thwart the attempts of the few who tried to get away.  [Edit: no it didn't, there was a succesful break and clearly I did not know what was going on!].  I thought there might be a risk of a split with the crosswind so tried to stay near the front.  Getting right to the front, though, was a definite mistake as it was hard to drop back without the entire pack coming by on the leeward side.
We eventually passed the 4ths reasonably cleanly though there was one rider who just could not resist latching onto our race.
It had been drizzling as I arrived at the circuit, but for the last 20 minutes of our race we were treated to glorious winter sunshine.  This appeared to relax everybody and the pace slowed right down.  The field was at least twice as large as it has been in recent weeks so as the race slowed and bunched it was hard to get by.
With 5 laps to go everybody decided simultaneoulsy it was time to move up the field so the pace distinctly quickened.  On the back straight of the final lap quite a few of us lost contact with the bunch.  With that number jostling in a sprint, there is always the risk of mishap; a few riders went off into the grass and one unfortunate rider fell heavily on the finishing straight.
26 miles in 01:05:40.  Average 24.3 mph.

While I was racing, a journalist was trying to contact me.  It sadly seems to require a high profile death before the editors of national newspapers are interest in cyclists' safety.  Keep an eye out for an article by Paul Bignell in tomorrow's Independant.

Sunday 2 January 2011

Imperial Winter Series Saturday 1st January 2011

This ought to have been the fifth in the series but due to the freezing weather has been only the second that has been run. Temperature 8°C with a light wind and persistent drizzle which combined with the mud on the circuit (cyclocross?) to leave riders and their bikes smeared brown from top to tyre.

I arrived in time to watch my two teammates in the 4th cat race start before readying myself for my race which started one hour later and was run simultaneously with the women’s race.

Not surprisingly, given that this was New Year’s Day, numbers were subdued and I guess there were about 20 on the start line. Perhaps we had all overindulged and undertrained over the Christmas period (I know I had) as, for the most part, a fairly sedate pace was set. We set off fast, hitting 30 mph on the second lap, and initially passed the ladies. However we then eased considerably getting in the way of the women, particularly one very strong rider who was on a solo break and travelling at a steady pace, passing us when we relaxed and being passed when we put in the occasional effort.

My aim again was to finish, and when the pace slowed again at 5 laps to go I thought, with nothing to lose, I might as well pull off the front and see what happened. Nothing did, and I was duly returned exhausted to the bunch and hung on in there to come in at the back of the bunch.

25.5 miles in 1h07m at an average of 22.8 mph.