30 September 2009

Long live traffic

They've been mucking about for months with the top end of Charing Cross Road, outside Tottenham Court Road tube station - part of the Crossrail project. But this curious sign again caught my eye yesterday: I've not seen one like it anywhere else. Is it 'live' rhyming with 'give', a kind of encouragement to be-the-traffic? Or 'live' rhyming with 'jive', like a high-voltage cable threatening instant chargrilled death? I was so intent on staring at the sign I nearly got run over.

Bike Monopoly 17: Community Chest 2 of 3

My favourite C-Chest card was always You Have Won Second Prize in a Beauty Contest, Collect £10. Clearly, the only way this could happen to me would be in a field of two.

And the obvious way to celebrate this entertainingly silly piece of pulchritudinous bounty is the Tower Hamlets Wheelers Glamour Ride, held annually in Bike Week (late June). There are no cash prizes, but the best dressed boys and girls get something even better - immortality, and stardom on a hundred tourists' Flickr sites, in the knowledge that the more extravagant the costume, the less you will be recognised.

Marie Antoinette? Hah! I'm running up my Priscilla Queen of the Desert outfit for next June already. That tenner is in the bag. And if not, maybe Go To Jail Go Directly To Jail.

29 September 2009

Bike Monopoly 16: Bow St

Brief Bow Street, bordering Covent Garden, was the historic home to the Bow Street Runners; it also housed a magistrate's court, which closed in 2006.

This was a grand building where you had to listen to people in silly outfits droning on at you with arcane jargon, and pay large amounts of money for your folly. Talking of which, across the road is the Royal Opera House.

Actually, the ROH (right) is a fine place to cycle to. I've done it many times, and often seen people in their poshest clothes bound for an all-star Traviata or Bohème locking up their Bromptons to the convenient and reasonably plentiful bike parking right opposite.

I've always turned up in tatty shoes, grubby trousers and a promotional T-shirt garnered free at some PR event. But then they are my poshest clothes.

Bow St is a fairly pleasant cycle, and a popular back-street-ish cycle route north from (or south to) Waterloo Bridge. You can peel off handily for Covent Garden too.

It has a bit of a slope downhill in the bridge direction, and if you time it right you can freewheel across the bike cut-through at the bottom (which is actually Wellington St, quite an electric sort of place) with a green bike signal.

That cut-through runs perpendicularly across a busy footway next to a well-touristed pub, yet it's surprising how few conflicts there seem to be, given the amount of map-gazing tourists on autopilot on the X axis, and workbound, world-of-iPod cyclists on the Y axis.

Monopoly's Bow St costs £180. What could this buy you there? It'll get you a decent seat (though not the best: they're £210) at the ROH's Don Carlo, Carmen, or Tristan, except it'll probably be sold out. So, tell you what, you can keep the money if you like.

28 September 2009

Cycling and mental health article: Can you contribute?

I've been commissioned to write a magazine article on the mental health benefits of cycling. We all know that cycling makes you feel better (when you're not being cut up by a minicab, like last night) - but this will attempt to explain why. I'll be talking to various medical experts.

As part of the article, it would be good to have some personal experiences of how cycling has helped people. We all know about straightforward mood-lifting, for example - we all get down sometimes, especially if you're a Hull City supporter like me.

But I'd also like to hear from anyone with experiences of how cycling might have helped them cope with genuine depression - or not.

You can email me at

or, if you want to remain anonymous, simply leave a comment after this blog post. You don't have to register or give any details.

Obviously I won't give real names or any other identifying details in the article (unless you want me to).

Bike Monopoly 15: Marylebone Station

Take a trip to Marylebone station and you'll find a mainline terminus with a bit of bike parking inside, beyond the barrier line (50-odd spaces on Platform 3) but absolutely none outside.

Signs warn you sternly not to park your bike on the railings. Many of the signs are easy to miss, though, because they're hidden behind bikes.

The consequences are predictable: railings, lampposts, benches - anything is pressed into service as impromptu parking, whatever the signs say, with sometimes unfortunate results (below right).

If you see other examples of this sort of thing - that is, badly parked bikes collapsed onto perfectly legally parked cars, causing possible damage to the paintwork - remember to do the decent thing: take a picture of it and upload it to Twitter, so everyone can have a look.

Chiltern Railways run from here to places such as Birmingham, High Wycombe, Aylesbury, Stratford and ahh... Bicester! Bikes go free and don't need to be reserved, but aren't allowed on rush hour services. Wrexham and Shropshire Railways are a new small company providing services to Wrexham, with some cheap deals; their bike policy seems undecided yet, and they say they allow bikes for a small charge on certain services but not in peak hours.

Monopoly's Marylebone Station costs £200. What could this buy you there? Assuming Wrexham and Shropshire do allow you to bikes on the services you want, you could book five normal-price returns (not advance tickets or special offers) to Telford. From there your party could spend a very pleasant day or two going down the Silkin Way to Ironbridge and exploring the Severn.

27 September 2009

Ale and hearty in Hamburg

More news in from our Hamburg office. At last week's car-free jamboree, detailed in previous post today, there were bottles of beer on offer.

'Radler' is an alternative word to 'Radfahrer' ('cyclist') and this particular brand was the prize awarded by the German equivalent of the CTC to anyone who answered a few questions on the German Highway Code correctly.

We think this is an excellent initiative, and has the advantage of being self-regulating: come back too many times trying to score another free beer and you'll be unable to remember the answers.

(Thanks to Ulf of the Allgemeine Deutsche Fahrrad-Club for the pics.)

Bike-bus warms up Hamburgers on car-free day

Our Hamburg correspondent was at the city's second Autofreier Sonntag (Car-free Sunday) last weekend, and drew our attention to this curious bike-bus, powered by the passengers. (Thanks to Klaus de Buhr for the pics - there are more from the day on his Flickr site.)

Our correspondent writes: Around a kilometre of main streets in the centre of town were closed to motor traffic for 24 hours, with a strip left specially for this quirky Fahrradbus. The same strip also permitted cyclists and skaters to pass alongside the action and choose where or if to stop (instead of being forced into the mass and to become pedestrians as seems usually to be the case).

The Fahrradbus drivers have bus driving licences - they usually drive the city's powered buses. They were clearly having a lot of fun.

The bus takes a maximum of 20 people, and needs at least six to power the bus. One model had a row of seats at the back for pure passengers. The driver doesn't pedal, but steers and operates the brake. It can get up to about 25mph. (Here's another design, on YouTube.)

The Autofreier Sonntag began at noon and contined into the evening. There were two live music stages but during the day the biggest draw seemed to be the breakdancing demonstration. This was followed by the chance to try out a Segway on a slalom course. There was also a 'beach' with deckchairs overlooking the Alster lake, a chance to try out bicycles with electric motors and electric cars.

The city was also showing off the new style bus due to be introduced soon - it has a trailer.

But the best bit about the day was and an idea I'd like to see adopted in London... all of the city's public transport was free for the day... the buses, the underground, the regional trains within the greater hamburg area, the 'S-Bahn' (alternative to the undreground), the ferries...

26 September 2009

Worrying signs

I was struck by the shape of this cycle sign painted in the road in front of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the other day. It looks rather Brompton-shaped to me; well, we are in central London's folding-bike heartland.

At least the sign above has the right number of wheels. Perhaps this one, outside Queenstown Road station in Battersea, is mkaing the point that you have to lock both wheels to the frame or rack, or else somebody will nick one of them.

25 September 2009

Darwin awards? Speed limit for bikes, peds

Our northern Australia correspondent (thanks, Viola) sent us these images of a cycle path in Darwin. There's a clear speed limit at work - for both cyclists and pedestrians.

Even though I don't have a cycle computer any more, following an unfortunate incident with a biplane in the west of Ireland last year, I know when I'm cycling less than 20pkh (a bit over 12mph in proper money), because my legs are moving.

But how do all these dangerous high-speed joggers keep tabs on their speed? And surely 20kph is getting on for world-record pace for long distance running? Are Darwin's residents that super-fit?

I didn't realise they were such a problem, but perhaps we should start a campaign of complaint against the Pedestrian Peril. They don't have insurance, they don't have licence plates, a friend of a friend told me she was NEARLY RUN DOWN by one the other day, they don't pay road tax...

Bike Monopoly 14: Northumberland Ave

In one of those amusing and inexplicable quirks of the Monopoly board, Northumberland Avenue - a short, relatively humdrum back street - is rated more expensively than Whitehall next door.

Its four hundred yards of dull, stony, hotel-front grandeur runs from Trafalgar Square (right) to the big traffic on Victoria Embankment by the top of the Jubilee Bridges (bottom right).

There's some bike parking (right) conveniently situated opposite the Sherlock Holmes pub. You're as likely to find a local in here as find me at a royal garden party: it's a contrived tourist device, but done with so much charm that Peter Haydon and Chris Coe highlight it in their fine book The London Pub.

Monopoly's Northumberland Ave costs £160. What could this buy you there? Book with internet discount and you could just about snaffle a night in the Citadines Apart-hotel, for a one-bedroom apartment taking up to four people. You'd probably take your bike into the room with you.

24 September 2009

Cycling? Worse things happen at sea

Interesting debate at the Lambeth Cyclists forum about kids being told not to cycle to school, by the school, because it's 'too dangerous'.

The example there - reflected in many other schools up and down the country of course - is of the London Nautical School sports college. One Lambeth Cyclist popped in to ask about its cycling facilites, and was told the school doesn't want its students coming in by bike.

There were quite a few amusing and interesting responses. On the serious side, most remarked that it was strange for a school involved in physical fitness to prevent healthy activity. Some played devil's advocate and noted recent cycing fatalities on the busy (and definitely unsafe) access roads and roundabouts near the school and recognised that a school might not want to risk legal action.

Others responded that, according to how you interpret the stats, you could argue that walking to the school actually had a slightly higher risk of injury or death, never mind going by car, and so the school shouldn't encourage pupils to go by any means at all.

On the wry side, one correspondent remarked that a school founded because of the sinking of the Titanic in 1915 might be understandably risk-averse. Presumably 'Abide with me' doesn't feature strongly in the morning hymns. Another pointed out that a life at sea isn't exactly a Health and Safety shoo-in, either.

And as for me... as I suspect many of us have done, I've cycled past my old village primary school with a rueful smile. Everybody really did walk or cycle then, and now everybody really does go by car, and everybody really does say it's too dangerous for Ollie or Molly or Gemma or Jake to walk because of all the traffic...

Bike Monopoly 13: Whitehall

I like cycling up Whitehall. It's the nearest I'll ever get to political power.

The half-mile of broad tarmac runs from Parliament Square up to Trafalgar Square, and its austere and imposing big buildings - appropriately, all light-grey - include several government departments and ministries (Admiralty, DoE, DEFRA, MoD, Cabinet Office, Health, Pensions, FCO, Treasury etc). Bike access from Westminster Bridge is easier than it was thanks to a recent right-turn filter that saves you going round all four sides of Parliament Square.

It's always busy with buses and taxis. At the north end this can be a squeeze. Here it funnels up to the statue of Charles I, whose horse's bum is the notional centre-point of London. You may well find it quicker to get off, mount the curious double-kerb pavement, and walk the last few yards up towards Nelson's Column.

Towards the bottom end is the Cenotaph (right) bearing the sombre inscription to THE GLORIOUS DEAD, not a particularly encouraging message if you're dodging the heavy traffic: I don't want to be glorious just yet, thanks.

Though in fact the biggest danger to cyclists comes from the tourists taking pictures of the Horse Guards: po-faced, bearskin-hatted, horse-mounted chaps in Toytown uniforms halfway up Whitehall. The snappers do that thing of framing the picture, then suddenly stepping backwards three paces into the road in front of you. If I ever have an accident in such circumstances and sustain head injuries, no doubt some people will say it was my fault for not wearing a bearskin.

Cycle parking is notoriously absent here, because of the constant terrorist threat from bombs concealed in bike frames. The no-parking policy has been so successful that plotters have had to switch tactics and use less effective, lower-impact methods, such as attempting to blow up airliners.

Downing Street runs off Whitehall. Until 1989 you could walk or cycle down it, right up to the coppers guarding the door of No. 10, where the Prime Minister lives. (I once went inside, to interview Norma Major. It's surprisingly cramped and complicated inside, with lots of twisting stairs and connecting doors and half-levels. As for Mrs M, she was quite charming, bless her.) Now of course Downing St is gated off with rifle-toting guards (right) who would probably shoot your tyres out if you tried to ride past them.

Monopoly's Whitehall costs £140. What could this buy you there? You can take a group of 32 people round Banqueting House, the magnificent building halfway up Whitehall. It includes the only surviving old bits of Whitehall. Or, if you're a civil service department up for a meaningless award, £140 will just about buy one of your feckless web editors a place at the awards dinner here. Or, if you're cheapskate like me, get a brief contract working for a civil service department as a web editor, win a meaningless award for a project someone else did the real work on, and see Banqueting House for free by coming here for the awards dinner. Admire the Rubens ceiling paintings, and ponder on the events surrounding the execution of Charles I here in 1649, perhaps making some fanciful link to our present-day monarchy.

23 September 2009

Bike Monopoly 12: Electric Company

When Charles Darrow didn't invent Monopoly in the 1930s, he can't have imagined that in future your electricity company would also try to sell you gas, telephony, insurance and broadband internet. (We get our electricity from something called Eon, which hitherto I thought was a famous French transvestite, which shows you why I'd never cut it in the world of commerce.)

So, in the spirit of reinvention, we've chosen Tate Modern (above) as our Electric Company. Originally the site of Bankside Power Station, opposite St Paul's (right) on the south bank, it closed in 1981 - to be reopened in 2000 as a big modern-art gallery. (Well, 'modern' in the sense of 'after 1900'.)

Tate Modern has temporary paid-for exhibitions, but most of it is free. Big stuff (usually the headline temporary exhibit) goes in the massive Turbine Hall, and often seems only loosely describable as 'art': at certain 'exhibitions' we've spent happy hours sliding down flumes and exploring circus-style adventure playgrounds and didn't know we were being all clever and artistic.

And Tate Modern is an excellent place to visit by bike, right on the riverside path that you can cycle (pretty much all the way) from Vauxhall to Tower Bridge. It seems OK to park on the railings right outside the entrance now (right, more convenient than the covered bike shed next to it): for a while earlier this year they put up notices saying it wasn't allowed. That seemed to coincide with Barack Obama's visit to London, a link I can't quite fathom.

You can wander round the galleries and talk bollocks about the exhibits confidently in a loud voice, having ensured first that what you're commenting on really is a work of art and not a lift or cleaner's cupboard or something.

But even better is to visit the bar (right) on the top floor, which gives sweeping views of the river. And of someone trying to nick your bike if you've locked it to the railings down there.

Monopoly's Electric Company costs £150. What could this buy you there? About ten bottles of wine in the seventh-floor bar - hence about ten visits with a friend, or five with a really good friend, or three with my brother.

22 September 2009

Bike Monopoly 11: Pall Mall

Famous for its gentleman's clubs, Pall Mall is a third of a mile of grand buildings running from near Trafalgar Square in the east to St James's Palace in the west (bottom right).

It's one way westwards - meaning an irritating walk along the pavement if you're heading eastwards (right) - and when you are heading the right way, it can be an unpleasant joust with pulses of fast-moving big traffic switching lanes around you, especially in the split right off up Regent St.

Parking's a bit rubbish too, and all those gents evidently visiting their clubs by bicycle must end up chaining them to the railings. I once worked briefly at the Institute of Directors, in a building that used to be a gent's club, and if that's anything to go by they can be pokier inside than their imposing exteriors suggest.

Pall Mall is also a brand of cigarette, which does suggest a kind of Smoking Tour of London by Bike. This could be my next series; perhaps a smoker could help me. We could go to (an) Embassy, then Kent, Marlboro (-ugh St), Mayfair, Pall Mall, Parliament, Strand, and finally via King's (College Hospital) to Richmond (Cemetery).

Monopoly's Pall Mall costs £140. What could this buy you there? The only club I could find membership fee details for online was the Oxford and Cambridge club, and that sum would buy you ten weeks' membership. Or about one round of drinks while you're there.

21 September 2009

Bike Monopoly 10: In Jail / Just Visiting

Belmarsh, Brixton, Feltham, Holloway, Pentonville, Wandsworth... London's generously supplied with jails. I'm sure they're wonderful places best visited by bike, but I've never been to any of them, either as guest or visitor, at least until I finally act out my revenge fantasy against the taxi that cuts me up later today.

Some people are concerned that car drivers who kill or maim cyclists never seem to get custodial sentences (here's a rare recent example, logged by the diligent Freewheeler) - but cheer up! Even without them, Britain still tops the league of EU countries in terms of percentage of population prison! We can show leadership in Europe!

Anyway, for cycling-leisure gaol visit, we've chosen The Clink prison museum (right). It celebrates the grisly goings-on in the notorious medieval prison, which stood here from the 1100s to 1780. It's on a Dickensian cobbled street on the south bank in an area enjoyable to nose around by bike: just along the riverfront from Tate Modern, round the corner from Borough Market and several characterful pubs.

There's no bike parking in Clink St; the nearest stands are round the corner. In 2001 I retrieved my folding bike from a lamppost in Clink St to find a builder's lorry had passed by too closely. The problem was, it hadn't been a folding bike before.

Actually I've never been in the Clink museum. I'm a local, dammit, we don't do the visitor-attractions thing. Why go to Madame Tussaud's to be ripped off when you can get an Easyjet flight for twenty quid to be ripped off in Prague instead? But I have been to the Clink Bar (right), in the Anchor pub on Bankside just next door. Looking at some of the reviews of the pub, which I think it's fair to say are 'mixed', a spell in the medieval prison might be preferable.

20 September 2009

London Skyride: Marshalling arguments

Whatever it's being called - the Hovis TfL Mayor of London Sky TV Freewheel London Skyride or whatever - the annual closed-road cycle ride round the centre of the capital today will be touted, with good reason, as a big success: lovely weather, and over 50,000 participants.

Sky certainly put in lots of resources: cheerleaders encouraging us through loudspeakers to ding our bells and put our hands in the air and shout 'boo' to cars; bags of freebies; branded reflective bibs; many-tented entertainments; wacky bikes making their way along the route; and lots of marshals telling you to go faster or slower and not to stop there and not to do that.

It was a fine spectacle, and enjoyable to see such a staggering number of bikes saturating the route (Buckingham Palace to Tower Bridge and back, essentially) and St James's Park (the rest and recreation area). There were lots of happy people, tons of families, and most people seemed delighted to be there. Which is good.

But, as with the Hounslow Skyride last month, I feel uneasy about several things. One is the implied message that cycling round London can only be done once a year with the help of heavy sponsorship, police cooperation and road closures.

Another is that I don't like mass participation events and hate being told what to do by marshals. Look, you're not a copper. I'll decide if I want to join the ride here and leave it there, thank you, whatever you say. Perhaps the main reason I cycle in the first place is the control I have over my movements; don't you go telling me what to do.

I didn't care for the dumbed-down hectoring of the emcees along the route either, telling us to wave our arms in the air and shout, smacked too much of those 'spontaneous demonstrations' in support of the regime in tinpot Soviet-era countries.

But then the Skyride isn't for me; I'm happier cycling round London at my own pace to my own schedule. It's for all those occasional cyclists who might just be persuaded to do more cycling, such as the same time next year.

I hope it has the right effect, and yes, I shrug my shoulders and say yes, it's a good thing. I met a friend (another regular cyclist who makes a point of ignoring what marshals tell her to do) who did it with her toddlers, and we picnicked in St James's Park, and it was very nice, so there you go.

Actually, the best bit for me was swanning around Whitehall on the way home. It had been closed off to traffic but the ride hadn't yet made it here officially, so I could scoot round the tarmac plains by Downing Street and Banqueting House with the road all to myself.

The best effect the Skyride could have would be to persuade London to have a regular traffic-free selection of roads on Sunday, like Paris or Bogota. If that happened I'd happily put on the reflective bib, ding my bell when the emcee says, and follow the marshal's directions to the letter next year.

And one thing still mystifies me. I can understand people wearing helmets for the Skyride. I think it's rather absurd, on a traffic-free route that goes at most 8mph, but I can just about imagine why people might do it.

But wearing helmets for a picnic lunch? There were plenty of such people, evidently worried about serious head injuries sustained from flying Scotch eggs or ground-to-air cheese sandwiches.

Off the rails at Inverness

Book yourself a Bargain Berth on the Caledonian Sleeper from London, and you can get to or from Inverness for only £19. And Inverness station seems positive about cycling: the first sign you see as you get your bike off the train (right) informs you of the possibilities. (Anyone know of other stations with similar signs?)

It provides plenty of bike parking for employees, too - but it's an amusing object lesson in what not to do. The racks provided are all wheelbenders, right out of a 1970s bike shed. Every single cyclist had sensibly ignored them and just locked up to the railings instead (right).

(Whoever runs the bike parking at Inverness should check out David Hembrow's posts on cycle parking, and maybe hop across to the Neths for a factfinding tour. And they can get down to London and Eurostar for only £19...)

19 September 2009

Tour of Britain finishes in London

The north-bank stretch of main road, on the riverside between Westminster and Tower Bridge, was closed off today for the final leg of the Tour of Britain (right).

It was quite exciting watching all the cyclists, skinned in garish colours and with insect-eye dark glasses, hurtling in and out with no regard to personal safety, jockeying for the best position. And that was just the spectators.

As for the race, finishing excitingly in front of the Houses of Parliament (right), it was that usual spectator sequence of
(a) nothing happening
(b) police outriders come and go
(c) five seconds of a peloton whooshing past
(d) trailing entourage of estate cars with bikes on rooftop racks
(e) nothing happening.

But at least, this being London, it was on a circuit, so instead of it happening just once, it happened loads of times between 2 and 4pm.

The route seems to be the same one used by tomorrow's Hovis Mayor of London Sky TV London Freewheel Skyride, or whatever it's called now to please all the people who've chucked money in. I'll report on that in due course. Early word from reliable Southwark Cyclist sources is that the organisation is a shambles. We'll see.

Well, it wasn't actually the word used. It was another one beginning with 'sh'.