Am I The Problem?

There’s a school of thought that if, as a driver, you constantly find cyclists are angry at you, then you’re probably a terrible driver.

Over the last six months though, I’ve been starting to wonder if this doesn’t cut both ways. As a result of the road works on the Coast Road & Beach Road, I’ve got a new route to work, going through Battle Hill on a 30mph distributor road that has frequent traffic islands. I’ve had one of those continual runs in which pretty much every week I fear for my life on the road. Constant cases of close passes (often at speed), drivers overtaking on the approach to, or actually on blind bends, drivers cutting in at traffic islands, drivers remonstrating with me about how much of the road I want (clue: when passing those traffic islands, it’s 100%), and yesterday a shouty driver who got out of the car to get even more shouty.

Just as an aside, some anecdotal observations on the demographics involved:

  • Casual, totally oblivious close passes: older drivers, both men and women
  • Cutting in at traffic islands: younger female drivers
  • Punishment passes: Younger male drivers

I’ve tried to find solutions to all this. First of all, I implemented the “Give Me Some Flippin’ Space Stick”. It’s a PVC pipe wrapped in duck tape & hi-vis attached to the pannier rack via a prop-stand. This means I can fold it to vertical when cycling on shared paths etc, but once in traffic, it sticks out at about the minimum safe distance I’d ever want anyone to come when overtaking:

It was actually hugely effective, and I found myself basically riding in secondary position, even in situations where my brain would usually be screaming “TAKE THE LANE” at me. Then one evening in November, I met a white van man who obviously thought I was getting above myself and so deliberately drove along side me and swung into the stick. It bent the prop stand, I gave chase, got his number and reported it to the police. I spent nearly two hours giving a statement, and in the intervening four months have heard NOTHING.

I also don’t really like The Stick – another cyclist I passed commented that it was a bit provocative, and I can’t help feeling that he’s not wrong.

So I decided that if the stick wasn’t working, I should get myself a pair of cameras (£65 each. Oh, and the bracket on one snapped and the camera was lost, so that’s £195 in total). Most of the incidents I’m part of are close passes, and most of these are not close enough to actually cause me to lose control of my bowels. So I just hold them up for public ridicule, like this:

Or this:

Or this:

If you’re driving a taxi, chances are that I WILL report you to the licensing authority. If it’s North Tyneside Council, they’ll drag the driver in pretty promptly to remind them that their taxi license can be revoked:

A couple of weeks ago I had two drivers overtake me even closer than any of these, within three minutes of each other. The video footage from these is with the police, so we’ll see what happens this time.

I’m also putting in a lot more road miles on the weekends this year. Sundays involve an ever increasing mileage that takes me off out into the countryside. Right now, these are four hour rides, but by the time June comes around, they’ll be more than six hours. With camera batteries lasting just 90 minutes or so, I don’t have footage of the kind of craziness I experience EVERY FLIPPIN’ TIME I go out on these rides.

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that I am genuinely starting to wonder if it’s ME, and not THEM that’s the problem. The solution is probably to get one of the many Bikeability instructors I know to come out on a rush hour ride with me, observe what I do & how I ride, and then give me either some “constructive feedback”, or the thumbs up.

Of course, there two alternative solutions:

a) UK local authorities – PLEASE segregate me from the Muppets that seem to get driving licenses nowadays. Or…

b) Even assuming we leave the EU, I’d still be able to emigrate to the Netherlands, right?

Posted in Bike Culture

New Project

A couple of years ago I built a bamboo bike. This was based on a kit from the Bamboo Bicycle Club – you can either go on a weekend course with them in London, or for quite a bit less money, they send you a kit in the post. I opted for the latter, and built a bike frame from the box of sticks, epoxy resin, hemp cloth, assorted stainless steel inserts, and bottle of beer that turned up:

Setting out the jig

Setting out the jig

Mitred joints

Mitred joints


Mitred Joints

Mitred Joints


Tacking in place

Tacking in place


Rear Triangle

Rear Triangle


Rear triangle

Rear Triangle

Layup with hemp cloth & epoxy resin

Layup with hemp cloth & epoxy resin


Cured lugs - bumpy finish!!

Cured lugs – bumpy finish!!


Lugs after MUCH sanding & fettling

Lugs after MUCH sanding & fettling


Finished bamboo bike

Finished bamboo bike


On the whole, it was an immensely satisfying process, and taught me a whole lot about how to put together a bike frame. Ever since, I’ve had a hankering to do another one, using my new skills on something a little different. The method for building the lugs in situ would work just as well with other composites, and I think the next logical step is carbon fibre. I was thinking of building myself a new touring bike from a titanium tubeset.

But then I got thinking… I’ve always wanted a recumbent. It’s taken me a year or so of mulling over designs, sketching and thinking, scrapping the whole idea, and then coming back to it after some 3am inspiration. But here’s what I’m going to build:

Recumbent bike

Recumbent bike

It’s based on a couple of scrap frames I saved from the skip. The green is a late 1980s / early 1990s Dawes Discovery, in either Reynolds 530 or chrome-molybdenum, while the yellow is a Paul Donohue road bike in Reynolds 653. The rear triangle is from a no-name full sus mountain bike, and the forks are from a late 1980s kids bike, though I may see if I can stretch to a set of Brompron forks instead. The wheels are 26″ on the back, and 16″ on the front. The drive uses a tandem chainset for the BB at the front, with the chain running down the left side of the bike to a second BB. This may seem to complicate things, but means I can run a cheap single speed chain over that enormous length. The second BB takes the drive back to the right hand side, and will have a 9 x 3 setup. The steering will be under-seat, with a joystick on either side, and cable connection to the forks (yes, I’ll build this as a dual-system for redundancy). I may also add a set of parking wheels, so I can stop without having to unclip… Oh, and I haven’t fully made up my mind, but I’m probably going to make the seat rather than buying one. This will connect to the frame via rubber bushes at the front, and a suspension damper at the back.

Construction will be similar to the bamboo bike, but with some changes:

  • I think it’ll be jigged vertically rather than horizontally. This will make it easier when doing the layup
  • I’ll fill the acute angles with epoxy putty & smooth them to a sensible radius. This will make it easier to get wrinkle free layup
  • The layup will be with two different materials.
    • The main structure will be from around six layers of carbon fibre tape. So unlike the hemp I used on the bamboo bike, there’ll be no cut & fraying edges to fret over
    • On top of this, there’ll be a cosmetic layer of carbon fibre cloth in a twill weave. This will drape & conform well to the complex shapes, but will still need a lot of care to get right. Most of the joints will need two accurately cut pieces to achieve a uniform finish.
    • Rather than going straight to the PVC tape for compressing the composite while it cures, I’ll then add a layer of release film, a layer of plasticine (or similar), and then the PVC tape. I’m hoping this’ll give a much smoother as-cured finish, requiring a lot less work to get cosmetically satisfactory results

All this is going to be quite involved, and there will be many experiments and trials along the way. And once this is done, maybe I will build that titanium-carbon bike after all.

Posted in Bike Build

Light Segregation

You know how it is. The local council is trying to encourage cycling, and they’ve spent literally hundreds of pounds on some paint to make cycle lanes on roads with high levels of traffic that’s doing 40 mph. They’ve even taken the unprecedented step of making the cycle lanes mandatory rather than advisory. And still they don’t seem to be working…

The scene: A small meeting room in the council offices. It is very modern, yet at the same time, rather shabby. The lime green chairs are showing signs of grubbiness from handling, and the occasional coffee stain. The too large meeting room table isn’t quite level. One of the carpet tiles by the door has lifted slightly at the corner, and catches when the door is opened or closed. Attending the meeting are the JEFFREY CLARKSON (Senior Highways and Infrastructure Director), JAMES BAY (Senior Road Safety Specialist), ROBIN HAMMOND (Road Network Capacity Analyst), and OLIVER TWIST (Junior Highways Officer (Cycling) (40% post, shared with canine faeces reporting and removal, footways)).

CLARKSON – So what’s all this about, Twist?

TWIST – It’s the new cycle lanes, sir. People are driving in them, ignoring the white lines.

BAY – Have there been any collisions?

TWIST – No, but cyclists are making a fuss on social media.

HAMMOND – I don’t see how that’s our problem. Our job is to keep the traffic flowing. Studies have shown that 85% of cars are sticking to the 40 mph speed limit on this road.

TWIST – Yes, but a significant number are still driving too fast – they apex the bends, using the cycle lane, and this is discouraging cycling.

BAY – But there have been no collisions?

TWIST – No, sir. But unless we can encourage more people to cycle, we’ll never hit the Council’s strategic target.

CLARKSON – Ah, yes. Cycling is a sport we are supposed to be encouraging. And of course, gentlemen, we all fully support that, don’t we? [nods of encouragement and general muttering of agreement from the other two managers]. I mean, I myself am doing my bit for this – only the other week, it was Cycle to Work day, and I brought my bike to the Country Park opposite the offices, got it off the RangeRover’s tow-bar rack, and actually rode across the road to these very offices!

BAY – Very commendable, Jeffrey. I was particularly pleased to see you wearing the hi-vis, helmet, knee & elbow protectors, and safety glasses we provided

TWIST – But sir! What about the cycle lane?

CLARKSON – Well, I didn’t need to use it – I was only crossing the bally road. And besides, my wife wouldn’t let me cycle along your route anyway. It’s far too busy, and the traffic is far to fast.

TWIST (seeing his opportunity) – What about if we segregated the cycle lane from the cars? Like this…

(He jumps up to the white board, and on his third attempt finds a pen that works. He quickly sketches a section of the route, and adds a kerb line & concrete separators)

CLARKSON – Well, yes. That might work.

HAMMOND – Good God man! That reduces the available space for traffic to drive on. You can’t be serious.

BAY – But what if a car loses control and crashes into all that concrete? Think of the damage that’ll be done to the paintwork. Think of the compensation claims against the council!

(There is a knock at the door, and it opens. It is NORMAN REDBUSH, the Elected Mayor)

REDBUSH – Sorry chaps. I’ve got this room booked for an important meeting with our Private Sector Outsourcing Partners about how they’re going to save us even more money. So scram.

CLARKSON – Of course Norman. We were just finished here anyway. Hammond, Bay, I think there’s something in this “segregation”. See if you can come up with a lightweight, less fundamentalist version that’ll keep these Lycra fanatics happy.

At this instruction, the wheels of The Council fly into immediate action. Barely six months later, three plastic bollards are installed at the exits from two roundabouts on the cycle route. Within ten days, they’ve been declared a runaway success:





Posted in Bike Culture, Motorists, North Tyneside

I’m Back!

Where have I been? Well, since May of 2012, I’ve been working for Sustrans. Initially this was just three days a week, but from September 2013, this turned into a full-time gig. Basically I was being paid to do the stuff that I rant about here, but in a much more cooperative, team-player kind of way. There was a clear conflict of interest here, so I knocked the blogging on the head.

But yesterday was my last day at Sustrans.

In the last four years I’ve learnt a whole lot about how government, the DfT, and local authorities operate, and I will be writing some of that stuff down here. In some areas, I’ll still need to mind my Ps & Qs though, as I still have a job in this area: Sometimes, with the world as is, you’ve got to shake the hand that feeds you.

New job?

Recyke LogoYep. As of today I’m running Recyke Y’Bike.
This is a small Northeast charity based in Byker. We take donated bikes from local residents, and put them to good use:

  • Hundreds of bikes a year are sent to Africa for development projects and microfinance businesses. This is aid from people in the Northeast that turns into ethical, sustainable trade, doing amazing things for poorer parts of the world. When you consider that the Northeast of England is one of the poorest places in Europe, it warms my cockles to think that people are so generous in their donations to Recyke.
  • We recycle a whole bunch of bikes to sell locally. This pays the wages of the small staff team, as well as covering costs of premises, shipping all those other bikes to Africa, etc. We sell bikes for anything from £60 to several hundred pounds depending on the spec. Our average price is a shade over £100, and we sell kids bikes for £50. Basically, we’re selling bikes that are a whole lot better than an Asda special, which have been assembled by a professional mechanic, for a little more than you’d expect to pay for the cheapest bike in the supermarket. This is affordable transport for the masses.
  • Sometimes we get bike exotica donated that has a small, but keen market across the country. Stuff like tandems, Moultons, things with carbon fibre parts, high quality vintage bikes, etc. These are sold via our Ebay shop.

So you know how you always need one more bike than you currently have? Turns out I’ve got a new version of that formula:

n = n+300

Posted in Uncategorized

Dr Ian and the Walkers – Part Three

The story so far: Dr Ian seems to have done a deal with the Dark Side, for which he’ll be handsomely rewarded, but will need to use expendable research assistants…

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Posted in Bike Culture

Dr Ian and the Walkers – Part Two

The story so far: Dr Ian has got some cash together to do research into drivers’ behaviour when overtaking cyclists. The key question is, does wearing a cycle helmet affect things?

We join him on his ride home from another tough day getting scared silly by Bath’s taxi drivers & White Van Men…

What was the offer George Lucas was making? Would he be changing the terms of the arrangement, and telling Ian to pray that he didn’t change it further? Would it involve bounty hunter scum?

Tune in later to the thrilling final episode!

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Posted in Bike Culture

Dr Ian And The Walkers – Part One

I’ve been kinda busy over the last week. But I did manage to squeeze in some time to Photoshop some road safety research so as to make it interesting to science fiction nerds:

A long time ago, in a university far, far away…

Tune in next time to find out what happens when Ian lets his hair down on the ride home, and how he makes a deal with the Dark Side to continue his research…

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Posted in Bike Culture
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