So what’s this summer’s sport?

  • Tennis? (Wimbledon: Scottish lad done good)
  • Cycling? (Tour de France: Kenyan / South African lad done good)
  • Cricket? (Ashes: Australian lads done good enough not to win)

No. It’s bashing. If you don’t know what Nicewaycode is, it’s a road safety campaign funded from Scotland’s sustainable transport budget, that’s all about mutual respect on the roads:

“If we all make just a bit more of an effort to get along, maybe there wouldn’t be a war on Scotland’s roads any more”, or some such.

There are lots and lots and lots of criticisms of it. Personally I’d blame incompetence rather than conspiracy. So my feeling is that the whole thing’s one giant cockup, starting with a poorly defined brief from the funders, and compounded by some pretty lazy, unimaginative, pandering-to-stereotypes implementation by the ad agency responsible.

Have a look at the two TV ads they’ve produced. We’ll start with the Don’t Jump Red Lights one:

It’s not even worth wasting your time to read what I think of this. On second thoughts, I will.

Let’s just say that it actually achieves the exact opposite of what it claims and reaffirms people’s prejudices that ALL cyclists jump ALL lights ALL the time.

The truth is that some cyclists (16%) do, and most (84%) don’tjust like motorists.

In fact the split of who is responsible for accidents collisions and injuries at red lights broadly follows the split in modal share – 4% are caused by cyclists, and 84% by cars & motorbikes (presumably the balance is busses and lorries?). These figures are for London, which I’ve never found to be a hotbed of Highway Code conformance, and I would expect other UK cities to have lower figures on this lawlessness. Let me know if you have the numbers!

The thing is though, when someone rides a bike through a red light it’s largely their own life they’re gambling with. When someone drives a car through a red light, it’s the people around them who’re more likely to experience the consequences.

So a campaign for motorists to re-enforce the message what an AMBER light means would probably have a bigger impact on overall road safety, since there are more motorists and the consequences of their actions are much higher. From the Highway Code (with a slight addition from me):


…If the amber light appears you may go on only if you have already crossed the stop line or are so close to it that to stop might cause a collision. It doesn’t mean “Floor it!”, and once the light is actually red, you absolutely must stop. Claiming that it only went red as your front wheels crossed the line just isn’t good enough – this isn’t a photo finish for the 100m, and you had the whole of the amber phase to prepare to stop.

Maybe something like this:

Anyway, Nicewaycode’s second ad is considerably less controversial:

Or is it?

At first glance, it seems to make sense. Horse riders get a whole lot more respect from drivers, don’t they? We all slow down, wait ’till it’s really safe to pass, and then give them every inch of space that there is. Well, I do anyway. A spooked horse means over 500kg of iron-shod lunatic jumping on your bonnet, and is probably best avoided.

Yet more horses are killed on our roads than people – over 3,000 in 2010. OK, we’ll ignore the fact that if YOU get injured at the roadside, the paramedics are called, while for a horse, it’ll be a vet with a gun.

It’s still an absolutely shocking figure.

I used to have a client whose business was racehorse injury rehabilitation. After surgery, or physiotherapy, he’d get them fit enough to start proper training again. For a horsey person, I suppose it was the perfect job – lots of short trots and gallops, grooming, sugar lumps and shovelling shit.

Anyway, part of his routine was to take the horses to a nearby field for extended gallops to work on their endurance. This involved riding up a short section (200 yds?) of a relatively obscure A-road to get to his field, and he did this several times a day.

At least once a week some impatient eejit would overtake where there wasn’t room; ignore oncoming vehicles; not bother with the whole slowing down bit; sound the horn; or just pass far too close. On several occasions, he had the horse’s stirrup clipped by a passing car’s wing mirror, and on one of these, the driver stopped to engage in some shouty victim blaming.

The thing is, race horses are not like the ponies you get to ride at the summer fair. They’re highly strung alpha-horses. The male ones are just a hair’s breadth away from being red-eyed, foaming at the mouth, soaked in sweat, steeds of the Four Horsemen. Jumping on a car, or just giving it and its driver a damned good kicking Because They Can, is probably more or less on their “minds” most of the time.

And yet still a minority of drivers take chances with them.

So my client eventually decided he’d had enough. He now loads the horses into the back of a lorry, and drives them to one of our Northumbrian beaches. They can get their exercise in a safe, traffic-free environment, and he no-longer needs to worry about the minority of drivers who lose all sense of empathy when they get behind the wheel.

This probably sounds familiar:

Given the thoughtlessness, impatience and hostility of a small minority of drivers, is it any wonder that for many people, this is how they do cycling? Load the bikes onto the back of the 4×4, drive to somewhere nice and safe, and then go for a ride on completely traffic-free trails. We see this in country parks, the local network of Waggonways, and at events like the Skyrides.

So we can either try to persuade this minority of drivers not to drive like dicks, or start building the infrastructure to make these drivers irrelevant for what many people plainly want to do: ride in safety.

Given that we’ve had decades of the former with near-zero success, I’d suggest it’s time for the latter.

But in the meantime, or if you’re persuaded by the “See cyclist, think horse” message, you may find this useful. It’s official Nicewaycode-approved cycling safety wear, which has an even stronger magical field than either cycle helmets or hi-viz:

“This’ll definitely keep us safe, boys and girls”


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Tiny Fixie Riding Robot

You’ve seen Terminator… well this is how it all starts.

That hipster riding a “vintage” fixie next to you… Does he have eyes that shine red in the dark, and do dogs go wild when he approaches?

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Friday Caption Contest: Please Play Nicely

I’m left speechless. But maybe there’s something subtle afoot that could be explained by filling in the blanks:

Prize for this week’s best entry: A much nicer place to ride your bike.

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Bicycle Shopping Bag

Mrs McCracken is amazingly talented – she draws fabulous Celtic knots with modern themes. After a bit of persuasion, she did me a bicycle knot:

We’re printing them onto shopping bags (other products to follow), and this being a family-oriented blog, I got Daughter to model them. They’re available as:

A single sided print – £8.99 including UK postage. The bag is approximately 34cm wide and 36cm tall, with nice long straps to go over your shoulder.

It’s also available as a double-sided print (£9.99 including postage), with…

the flowers on one side, and…

and the bike on the other.

At the moment, these are thermal-transfer printed. We’ve tested the reliability of this, with Wife’s main shopping bag for the last 18 months. It’s got great colourfastness (i.e. it doesn’t fade), and is incredibly durable.

You can order here, paying by credit / debit card or PayPal:

Select print:
Single-Sided Print £8.99 GBP Double-Sided Print £9.99 GBP

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North East Young Drivers – Staying Alive

I go to a regular business networking breakfast, and one of the other guys there specialises in driver safety training.

Lee’s a good bloke, and very hot on the kind of thing that I also see as important – not using the phone at all while driving, actually sticking to the speed limits, giving other road users enough room, etc.

Car Crash - I bet he said "It won't happen to me".

“It is alarming that a fifth of people killed or seriously injured on our roads in 2011 were involved in a collision where at least one driver was aged 17-24”

-Patrick McLoughlin, Transport Secretary, 25th March 2013

Anyway, Lee’s running a driver training workshop that’s aimed at younger drivers in the area. Think of it like a “speed awareness course” to be taken before they clock up points or kill / maim themselves, their friends or innocent bystanders. A little prevention that’s a whole lot easier to swallow than a lot of cure.

Lee’s workshops are full of graphic examples, but also delivered in a conversational, light-touch style that really gets the point across. He really does change driver behaviour.

He’ll be covering:

  • Speed (yes, speed does kill)
  • Using mobile phones (calls, texting, etc. Just don’t)
  • Crash Vs accident (hint: the latter is a myth)
  • Observation techniques (avoiding ever having to say “Sorry mate, I didn’t see you”?)

This workshop is aimed at 16-25 year old drivers, but parents are also welcome to attend.

It’s on the 28th August at Blaydon Rugby Club (to be confirmed), starting at 12:30. The cost is just £25 per person – less than half the price of a tank of petrol.

For more details and booking, phone Lee Brown on 0191 271 3417 / 07917 663 049. If he’s driving, he won’t answer, so just leave a message!

Oh, and here’s a video of the other kind of staying alive:

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Fixie Town Bike

I’ve been re-appraising my stable this summer. We’re all familiar with the concept of needing one more bike than you currently have… but sometimes you reach the limit of what that means in practice. Maybe you already knew this, but when the bike shed’s full, there are bikes in the study, and a neighbour’s garage is also running out of space because of all the bikes, it felt to me like a different approach was needed.

The other consideration was that the kind of riding I’m generally doing has changed. The commuting tends to involve carrying quite a lot of stuff for quite a long way, and there’s a lot less of the head-down-bum-up-dressed-like-a-Marvel-Comics-reject kind of riding.

So first of all, I got myself a touring bike. It’s a compromise between comfort and speed and load carrying capacity, and ideal for those commuting rides.

Next, I sold my Pashley. Yes it looks great, but at 24kg (no, really) and a bolt-upright going toe-to-toe with the wind riding position, I’d just had enough. I think I decided it had to go some time over the interminable winter that started in April 2012 and ended in June this year. I remember once being late and battling into a headwind for eight miles. That journey took an hour and a quarter. In the identical conditions the following day, I did it in 30 minutes on a road bike.

So that Pashley-shaped gap needed filling. I could of course have bought another bike. But that would have been to go back to doing the same thing and expecting different results. So I opted to re-purpose my fixie.

The changes were pretty straightforward – changing the bullhorn handlebars for Velo Orange’s Montmartre bars; swapping the brake levers for my bar-end ones, and changing the SPD pedals for flats.

The only thing left to do is add a rack – I want to put a porteur rack on the front. Mainly because when we were in Paris this summer, I saw this bike which was the inspiration for the whole thing! But also, just because.

Anyway, here are some photos that we took at the weekend:

At the Rendezvous Cafe, Whitley Bay

Velo Orange Montmartre handlebars

Bike at the seaside

At St Mary’s Island

Riding this bike is strange – it feels like the Pashley’s younger turbo-charged twin. With the shorter wheelbase and steeper headtube, it’s a whole lot twitchier on the handling. It’s also less than half the Pashley’s weight, and having a fixed wheel too makes it feel positively turbo-charged.

The handlebars are also pretty good. On Velo Orange’s site, they look like the grips are parallel, but there’s a slight outward splay to them, so they’re actually quite ergonomic. With headwinds, or just the need for speed, I can grip the lower portion, and get most of the aerodynamic advantage of the bullhorns.

Overall, a success, I think.

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Dunwich Dynamo XXI

It was that time of year again. The time for heading down to That London to meet a couple of thousand of my closest mates to ride 120 miles through the night across Essex & Suffolk and end up on the beach.

I’m talking about the Dunwich Dynamo, of course.

Firstly, there was the small matter of my diary management though. I’d successfully double-booked myself for the day, and had to lead a group ride of around a dozen novices from Lanchester to Consett & then down to Durham (~25 miles), and I was picking one of these up at South Shields to ride to the start (another 30 miles). Oh, and add to that the dash to and from the train station, and I was setting myself up to ride 180 miles in 24 hours. Not absolutely epic, but still quite a long way.

Friday night didn’t go according to plan, and I ended up getting just five hours’ sleep. But the daytime ride went really well, and everyone had a great time. I introduced the guy I’d ridden down with to the delights of Second Breakfast; we all rode as a group, with lots of banter & fun; lunch at the Red Kite was great (and excellent value); and we got to our destination with a little time to spare for presentations.

My plan was then to get the train down with Tom’s bike. He’d driven his camper van down to Dunwich, and me taking his bike on the train would mean he didn’t have the nightmare of trying to get onto the intercity from Ipswich with a bike and no reservation. Turning up at Newcastle station with two bikes (both with train reservations) raised a couple of eyebrows, but I explained that I didn’t know how to fix a puncture, so having a spare bike seemed the sensible option. 😉

What I meant to do on the train was have a snooze, fill my belly, and basically get ready for the night’s ride. What I actually did was chat to a bunch of people on Twitter, nibble a sandwich, listen to music & look out the window.

So when I met Algernond at King’s Cross, I was already feeling a bit tired. But soon after, Tom arrived, and the three of us headed off along the Regent’s Canal to London Fields. We were a bit early, so ducked down to Briadway Market for some chips…

And then it was over to the Pub on The Park for the start.

The first few miles were classic Dynamo – so many bikes that the other traffic couldn’t even get impatient as they couldn’t see the front of the queue. At one point we missed a turning and everyone in the group I was with was anxious not to be the one at the front and responsible for everyone getting lost. But it worked out OK – after a couple of turns we were back on track.

I think the Dynamo’s numbers must be up even on last year’s. The good weather probably helps… But there were also signs of the kind of things that made me stop running the Great North Run: Official shirts, quite a lot of fancy dress, and a lot of obviously inexperienced riders. I’m not saying the latter is a bad thing – the Dynamo is doable by pretty much anyone who rides a few miles to work regularly. But I really don’t like riding in a large, closely bunched group with a lot of obvious newbies – mistakes occur, wheels clash, collar bones get broken, etc.

The numbers were obviously up on the section through Epping Forest. Usually by this point the ride has started to stretch out into single file groups or pairs, but this year there were still large bunches of riders. This had an obvious impact on people trying to drive along our route and I saw a lot of dangerous impatient overtaking.

At one of the first villages we came to (about 25 miles in?), we rounded a corner to find a couple of hundred cyclists milling around outside a pub. They’d spilled right across the road, with people standing around chatting amiably over a pint. The guy riding ahead of us obviously wasn’t expecting this and yanked on his brakes. The bike stood up on its front wheel and he vaulted over the handlebars – I think he even landed on his feet, but it was a lesson in how not to do it.

We stopped at a couple of pubs (I had a lemonade in the second), and then started making mistakes. I was putting too much or too little electrolyte in the water. We forgot to fill our water bottles in the second. We had a sausage roll there instead of more suitable fuel. We decided not to get delayed at the village hall fuel stop, and so didn’t fill our bottles there either.

Later, just before heading down to Subury (2:30am, I think?), a rider in front of us had the sort of crash that you normally only see on You’ve Been Framed. He seemed to lose concentration for a second, veer off to the left and slide his front wheel along the kerb. The bike was obviously going down and he leapt off it, over the path and into a bush. I thought he was going to be seriously injured, but was almost completely unscathed. I thought the bike was wrecked (had I heard spokes snapping?), but it too was fine. One of the guy’s friends recognised me (well my bike, actually) from this blog. I was feeling a little tired & emotional by this point in the day, and so just mumbled something and rode off. Sorry.

Then just as we got to Needham Market on the other side of the Suffolk prairies, it all caught up with me. A light drizzle had started, and I found myself actually falling asleep while I pedalled. No really – head nodding, dreams starting to merge with reality, sudden big wobbles, the lot. Never been that tired on a bike! I stopped at the roadside, and sat with my back leaning against a pharmacy wall (ironic, no?). After a couple of minutes, Tom caught me up, propped his bike up and lay on the grass, similarly exhausted.

People riding past found this very funny, and I would have too, except I just wanted to sleep. Slowly through the fog of  exhaustion, I realised that I needed sugar and we both needed water. I had a couple of gels in my bag and forced one down my throat. The only water we had left was a half litre bottle. We drank about a half of this between us, and Tom tucked the bottle into a pocket. I felt better for this, and heading up the road we caught Algernond waiting for us at Needham Lake, and carried on with the ride, making very slow progress.

Around Framlingham the Sleep came to get me again. Riding slowly through the town with Algernond, I was scouting every house’s driveway to see if they had an outside tap to fill up from. We pulled into a garage forecourt, but all they had was one of those coily hose things that would no doubt be full of something stagnant & undrinkable. I was already riding off when Algernond found that their customer toilets were unlocked and they had a tap. I filled up and drank greedily.

A couple of miles later we caught up with Tom, and I rode the rest of the way with him, sharing the water, digging out flapjacks, and trying to get him talking to distract the pair of us from how grim we felt.

We eventually got to the beach 12 hours after setting off from London – my slowest Dynamo, including the twice that I did it on a tandem. For comparison, last year’s ride was around eight hours.

Tom crawled into the camper van, more desperate for sleep than for the traditional fry-up. But Algernond and me… yeah, we wolfed down the Flora Café’s finest with several cups of tea.

Then I did the swim in the sea thing (Algernond: You. Are. A. Chicken.), before we too put our heads down for a couple of hours in the van.

So not my finest Dynamo. Still, there’s always next year!

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