30 April 2010

Sub-standard: Those cycle-lane-blockers in full

It's a holiday weekend, so it's time for some pictures of badly parked vans.

This one we spotted the other day blocking a contraflow in Lancaster, an otherwise good cycling town with some pleasant traffic-free and on-road routes, a lovely canalside pub called the Water Witch, and the most helpful tourist information I've found in ages.

And this one was snapped a couple of days ago on Baylis Road, by Lambeth North station. It's delivering the Evening Standard, with its campaign to make London's streets better for cyclists.

Yesterday's edition reported that cyclists could hold the balance of power in the forthcoming election. Which is a nice thought but unlikely, as most of us can't even hold a lane without being hooted by one of their delivery vans.

And yet again, the number plate is remarkably appropriate. (It's quite a collection now. See also 18, 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1.)

29 April 2010

Privy to Guardian readers

Good old Guardian bike blog! Its guest-editor today is Andreas, who runs the London Cyclist blog.

Or, as the Graun has it, the 'London Cyclist Bog' - if they haven't corrected it by the time you see this.

Off your trolley: fixing bad bike racks

Hooray! They've correctly respaced these racks in Liverpool Grove, off Walworth Road.

When they installed them, in March, they were so close you could hardly get one bike between them, never mind two. But a few well-targeted emails have obviously done the trick. Thanks.

Now, if only we could do something about the trolley blocking both sides of this rack opposite Selfridges in Oxford St.

Maybe they should put the racks much closer together, to stop people doing this.

28 April 2010

Shoot! TfL create new Superhighways ad

TfL were shooting a new ad for Cycle Superhighways last night outside Kennington Tube.

These are the cycling models you'll see on the lead image in the next campaign trumpeting the arrival of CS3, Barking to Tower Gateway, the first of the Superficial Cycleways to be opened.

We chatted to the friendly and helpful production team, who are shooting in four locations for the campaign. (They called them 'executions', not the most encouraging piece of jargon in a cycle safety context.)

The affable props buyer was responsible for sourcing the bikes. He cheerily admitted he was not a cyclist and had chosen them on the basis of colour coordination rather than, say, the presence of mudguards or racks. Fair enough - it accurately reflects the choice process of the average commuter, I suppose. The bikes came brand-new from a shop but no, before you ask, they go back there after the shoot.

We were requested not to take photographs of the snapper at work. Apparently he's a bit touchy about that sort of thing. Hmm. If he doesn't like the idea of members of the public taking photographs in a public place, then he's in the wrong job. He should be a Met police officer instead.

Talking of police, there were a few on hand to stop and direct the traffic while the shoot was taking place, to give space to the models. If coppers shooing away the traffic is to be a permanent feature of the Superlieways when they arrive later this summer then we're all for it.

We think the production team made the right choices over the models: a fair, slightly aspirational, representation, and good to see half of them weren't wearing helmets and one had a wicker basket.

I've encountered or been part of various meeja shoots (the previous one being the 2009 Doctor Who Christmas Special, shot in Camberwell in July with fake snow) and they're always the same. Most of the time nothing happens. Everyone on the team sits around swopping tales of when they worked with Robbie Williams, while the cameraman frets over an intruding leaf, the soundman complains about a passing jumbo, and the director fumes in the distance on a mobile phone. It takes all day to get three minutes of footage or a handful of usable pictures. It's just the way things are. The production team here were amiable and courteous and I hope they got the result they wanted.

The director (?producer) Zara, who is a cyclist, seemed a bit surprised by my unenthusiasm for the 'safe, direct and continuous' Superhighways though. Um, er, they're a blue stripe on the road, I said. (Hey, TfL, maybe I'd feel different if I was being paid to promote them, instead of just having to ride them.)

Anyway: why did they choose Kennington? Because, even though there's no blue paint here yet (it'll be Photoshopped in later, presumably - that's all they have to change, after all) it's good for shooting, being a long straight road with a clear London feel to it.

Compare that, for instance, to this stretch of the same route a little further south, on Clapham Road, snapped last week. It's got the bluewash already on it - but, you know, it doesn't quite say, 'London' as much, does it? Or, indeed, 'safe' or 'continuous'.

27 April 2010

Rover Safety? Walkies are easier by bike

Maybe it's the weather, but suddenly I'm seeing people walking their dogs on bikes everywhere.

Most of them pass too fast for me to photograph them. But this lass (right) - snapped on Morecambe promenade the other week - was happy to stop and model for me.

She often comes on her Brompton along with her partner, who has a Mezzo, and their two terriers Penny and Rosie for a bit of bracing Lancs air. With over five miles of traffic-free seafront tarmac and Lake fells views, it's a fine place to engage in some canine perambulation.

Clearly the hound/bike coupling is one that appeals. A couple of days after meeting the folding-bike dog-walkers, I cycled through York. The route into the city from the north (NCN65) passes this engaging weathervane (right).

Perhaps the chap in County Durham who was recently fined for walking his dog while driving his car could take a tip.

Exploding the bike bomb myth

London cyclists know better than to park their bikes on railings near the Houses of Parliament. They'll be carted away by the police because they could be that favourite terrorist device, a pipe bomb.

(These railings down the end of Whitehall were festooned with bikes during last year's Skyride, when the road was briefly shut off to traffic, and gives you an idea of JUST HOW LETHAL things could be.)

Which raises the question: how many bike-bombs have there been in the history of terrorism?

Note that we're not talking suicide bombers on a bike, or bicycles used to carry a bomb in a basket or strapped to the frame. We're talking pipe bombs: explosives hidden down inside the tube and left in an apparently innocently parked machine for later detonation.

Well, the answer - according to the researches of John Adams in his blog this year - is, yes, you guessed, zero.

26 April 2010

Attention tree huggers

Amusing bit of creative defacement to this warning sign. It was spotted on Saturday on Exhibition Road, alongside other examples.

Underneath the sticker it presumably says 'Low Trees'.

Cymbal of success: London's cycle boom, boom

The purpose of certain things is a mystery to science. Male nipples. Drum solos. The cycle lane at the north end of Blackfriars Bridge.

The third may well never be explained. And before you all write in, we know that the first is a consequence of the way embryos develop as 'default female'.

The standard explanation for percussion solos is that drummers, having so much kit, are the ones with the van. So the rest of the group have to suffer them, because they need the lift home.

However, this is clearly not the case with the drum-kit cyclist Puncturekit, alias busker David Osborne (above). His drum kit is his transport. He's adapted his road bike so it unfolds into a drum kit with five cymbals, three snare drums and a foot pedal. After his gigs, he reassembles it as a bike and rides home.

We first saw him in action a couple of years ago in a Hackney park. Things have moved on since, as the Evening Standard's article on him last year reported.

And on Saturday David was at work in Oxford St (right), exploiting the canyon acoustics of its side streets.

Now, if only Brompton could get going on this idea... I'm sure its designer and slide-rule meister Andrew Ritchie could devise cyclable vibraphones, pedalled tubular bells, bicycle marimbas. Being an itinerant orchestral percussionist would be so much easier.

25 April 2010

Any old irony? Singalong fun in Trafalgar Sq

The St George's Day celebrations in Trafalgar Square yesterday were rather fun (right). They included a selection of classic music hall songs, enjoyable without needing any old irony.

Of course, the big problem with Trafalgar Square is the bike parking. There's none in the square itself. The few miserable racks opposite the National Portrait Gallery are always full, even the street furniture and trees (below right).

The handful of spaces behind the National Gallery often do have vacancies, mostly created by bikes being stolen off them.

Still, the music hall songs were a treat. But we think some of them need updating for 21st-century cyclists:

• My old man said report that van
• Any old chromoly?
• If it wasn't for the cars parked in between
• My old Dutch bike
• Wotcher - knocked down on the Old Kent Road
• No bike parking down at the Old Bull and Bush
• A car alarm went off in Berkeley Square
• Let's all go down the Strand (next Critical Mass)
• It's a long way to Tipperary by the Sustrans route

And the most famous cycle song of them all, Daisy Bell, certainly needs a makeover. (I pontificated about this in detail in a recent column for Cycling Plus.) Here's a better set of words for the cycle-based relationship of today:

Daisy, Daisy
Text me your answer quick
Last night's hazy
So is your Facebook pic
It won't be a stylish speed dating
I've got no credit rating
But have some booze
Show your tattooes
And we'll snog on our bikes in pub-lic

Bit of trouble with the last line, I'll grant you. But Marie Lloyd could've carried it off, no doubt.

24 April 2010

Auteur bike: Virtual London rides at Spitalfields

There's an amusing bike installation at Spitalfields Market this week, from Friday 23 to Friday 30 April, 10am–6pm every day.

Local(Eyes) is a bicycle mounted to a generator in front of a film projection of various cycle trips round the East End (right). The faster you cycle, the faster you 'travel' through the cinematic landscape.

The artist behind it is Mila Lipowicz, a real cyclist currently living in Greenwich. She films some of her London journeys using a special wearable hard disc camera which gives particularly smooth video results.

The film in the picture at the top takes you alongside the canal running south towards Limehouse Basin. The real thing is on the right.

(A recent City Hall exhibition on Cycle Superhighways used the same idea, except that where this film is documentary, City Hall's was romantic fiction.)

23 April 2010

Celebrating English values, by George

It's St George's Day today. So, up and down the country, we'll be flying the flag and cheering the spirit of the true blue Englishman, who was born in Palestine and lived in the Middle East.

St George specifically personifies English values and is exclusive to England, as well as Aragon, Catalonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal and Russia, plus the cities of Amersfoort, Beirut, Fakiha, Bteghrine, Cáceres, Ferrara, Freiburg, Genoa, Ljubljana, Gozo, Milan, Pomorie, Preston, Qormi, Rio de Janeiro, Lod, Barcelona and Moscow.

Many events are being held today and over the weekend in London to celebrate this unique association, including a jamboree in Trafalgar Square tomorrow that promises 'the atmosphere of a traditional English fete', such as fish paste sandwiches, a gonk stall, and rain.

So what will London's cyclists be doing today to celebrate St George and his great English values?

• Visiting pub called 'George and Dragon' for tapas and Polish lager
• Swearing at taxi, bus drivers to music of Elgar
• Cycling in suit of armour
• Flying English flag on bike, made in China and bought from Mr Gupta's pound store
• Planning St George-themed world cycle tour to Aragon, Amersfoort, Qormi etc for self-filmed Mark-Beaumont-style TV series, end up just going to The George in Southwark
• Organising ride to celebrate English rights and freedoms and getting arrested for taking photographs while on it
• Achieving martyrdom by riding round Aldwych

Uncommon problems at Clapham junction

What would the person on the Clapham omnibus think about this? This junction has been exercising a few minds on the Lambeth Cyclists e-group.

It's the end of Cedars Rd, heading south towards the edge of Clapham Common. Motor traffic can only turn left (left lane) or right (right lane), but cyclists can go straight on, taking a recognised, signed cycle path across the Common. There's a nice prominent ASL, and without traffic it looks pretty straightforward (right).

But the traffic lights have recently been changed to add a left-filter, which kicks in several seconds before the general green (right).

So if you're going straight on, and you've positioned yourself in the ASL at red anywhere except the far right-hand side (a natural thing to do if you don't know the junction, with the entry to the ASL being on the left - see picture right), you're in trouble: left-filtering traffic behind you will be hooting you to get out the way, and hustling past. It's a nasty little example of designed-in conflict.

You can't solve it by adding a straight-ahead cycle filter simultaneous with the left-filter, because there's left-to-right sideways traffic in front of you in that phase.

You could add symbols to the ASL, splitting it into two with a prominent left arrow in the left half, and straight-on-and-right arrows in the right, but that might be thought too complicated. Similarly, you could redraw the ASL half-size as a box at the top of the right-hand lane, though again that might be thought confusing.

Or you could just acknowledge your mistake and remove the left filter.

Or you could solve it the London way (right): render the ASL unusable by having traffic routinely block it anyway.

22 April 2010

Rail cycling: Hull slips in a new bike sign

This is a sign I've never seen before. It's in Hull, on the level crossing on Spring Bank West, five minutes' trundle from Hull City's last remaining premiership matches at the KC Stadium.

Evidently inspired by the banner of this very blog, the council have created a 'slippery for bikes' sign.

Has anyone seen any other examples of this? It doesn't appear on direct.gov.uk's list of official Highway Code warning signs.

Perhaps they could use the sign in Edinburgh, where cyclists have fallen foul of the newly installed tramlines in Princes St.

21 April 2010

Bike-part streets 10 of 10: Locks Lane

Where is it?
Down in Mitcham, south London, about half an hour's brisk ride from the Elephant and Castle through Brixton. Mind you, any ride through Brixton is best done briskly.

What's it like?
A mainish residential road running off a busy roundabout junction. Nothing to write home about, though no point writing home about anything in London: given the speed of the post, you'll arrive home first anyway.

Why bike there?
You might be going to Figge's Marsh, the park at the western end, or perhaps to the allotments in Eastfields Road at the eastern end. Or you might just be lost. A few yards north, up Streatham Road, is a decent Halfords with a good selection of Real bikes (mudguards, rack, chainguard, three-speed hub gear, leather saddle) for £230.

Is it a good place to lock your bike?
Not really: there's no bike parking, only street furniture. In fact, the best place is probably the sign for the road itself. No wonder the posties have to leave their bikes unlocked here while not delivering the postcard people haven't written home about Locks Lane.

It's recommended you use two locks to secure bikes in London, which is why we didn't go for the inadequately singular Lock Chase SE3, Lock Close UB2, or Lock Road TW10. Both your locks should be at least 'Sold Secure' bronze standard (ignore makers' own ratings). You can buy gold-standard locks at the Halford's near Locks Lane. There is a bike rack to lock your bike to while you do so, but unfortunately it's not fixed to anything.

20 April 2010

Bike-part streets 9 of 10: Tyers Street

Where is it?
Near Vauxhall in south London, running one-way north from Kennington Lane and continuing as the Lambeth Walk, Oi!.

What’s it like?
Tyers St manages to pack in a park; a nice little City Farm with alpacas who holiday in Epsom, and a special crossing for the animals to get to the park opposite; a condor (below right); and a splendid German bar called Zeitgeist (aka The Jolly Gardeners, below right). It also manages to pack in no bike parking at all, shamefully, though Zeitgeist might let you take your bike inside if you say your bittes and entschuldigungs. Also round here are hardcore gay pubs, a lap dancing club, and Topps Tiles, so all tastes are catered for.

Why bike there?
Enjoy an outstanding Portuguese brunch at the fabulous Madeira Cafe under the railway arches. Visit the city farm. Have a drink at Zeitgeist and watch live Bundesliga footy. Have hours of fun trying to negotiate your way along the cycle lane round Vauxhall roundabout.

Is it a good place to change a tyre?
Yes. The park gives you plenty of space, and there are refreshment opportunities aplenty afterwards, though you might have to watch out the goats from the farm don't try to eat it.

Yes, we know there's supposedly a 'Tyre Lane' listed in the A to Z in Hendon, up in M1 country. But a glance at Google Street View (right) shows it isn't much of a lane at all, only an unsigned access strip - leading to, appropriately, Hendon Tyres.

19 April 2010

'Man forced to cycle onto ferry'

A London businessman suffered a terrible indignity while dodging the Ash Cloud Crisis this weekend, reports the BBC: he had to buy a woman's bike to cycle on to a ferry with.

I've always rather enjoyed cycling on to and off of ferries. There's a chapter about it in my 50 Quirky Bike Rides book.

And we can report that the Isle of Man ferry, contrary to the cycling enforcers of Norfolkline in the news story, insists that you dismount and walk your bike en route to or from Douglas (right).

But then, on the Isle of Man, it was probably an offence until recently for men to ride women's bikes, until those meddling EU bureaucrats forced them to harmonise.

Bike-part streets 8 of 10: Basket Gardens

Where is it?
OMG, miles away in the suburbs of sarf ice Lannan: Eltham, south of Greenwich, south of Blackheath, in the dustier crevices of a rather humdrum housing estate.

What’s it like?
A short, dull, rather shabby cul-de-sac. Some of the gardens contain vehicle carcasses that haven't moved an inch since Google Street View was here over a year ago.

Why bike there?
Eltham Palace is just down the road, home of Henry VIII's famous art deco palace. Blackheath is a couple of miles north and then it's just over the hill to Greenwich Park for fine views and hemisphere straddles.

Is it a good place to take a basket?
Not even the most ardent Eltham fan would claim this is a good place for a picnic. Hotfoot it to Blackheath or Greenwich for your strawberries'n'cream and exploding bottle of Asti.

18 April 2010

What London can learn from Danish hotel's pedal power

The BBC reported this week that a Copenhagen hotel is offering a free meal to guests who generate electricity from a bike. (Smiling Copenhagen cyclists pictured right.)

The Crowne Plaza Hotel, whose website is rubbish because it demands you install a new version of Flash so I can't be arsed to link to it, gives guests a meal voucher if they produce ten watt-hours. That's about enough juice to power a 100W light bulb for six minutes, or the average London cyclist's back light for about six months.

What lessons can London learn from this innovative attempt to encourage cycling? Here are a few ideas currently being considered:

• City Police to offer two-for-one on pavement cycling fines: pay £30 for first offence, get second free
• Taxi drivers promise to stop swearing and be more courteous when they cut you up at the lights
• Wetherspoons encourages healthy pubgoing by offering six free pints to anyone turning up by bike
• The one free cycle parking space at Kings Cross to be offered up as lottery prize
• London Transport to waive fare for anyone cycling instead of taking bus or tube
• Cyclists offered free one-way plane fare to Copenhagen once ash cloud disperses

17 April 2010

London cycle parking: naked truth

We're fans of innovative and simple ways of adding cycle parking to London's crowded streets, such as the cyclehoop and the Plantlock.

So we were very pleased to find that this nude statue - part of a set stylishly adorning a courtyard fountain of Shad Thames, right by Tower Bridge - is a convenient device to lock your bike to, as you enjoy a cake or coffee in one of the court's cafes.

(It's not the first instance of naked sculpture serving as a cycle rack, as Antony Gormley's unclothed self-images proved on Waterloo Bridge in 2007.)

We'd like to see more such artistic and inventive bike parking round the capital. Well, for all those councils that turn down conventional racks because residents think it'll lower the tone, it's worth a try.

16 April 2010

Extra Critical Mass tonight

Following the sixth death of a cyclist in the capital this year (in a two-bus accident on the junction of Oxford St and Tottenham Court Road), and in response to the 48-hour concrete pour this weekend which will involve 700 extra lorries rampaging around London Bridge, Southwark Cyclists report that there will be an extra Critical Mass tonight. NFT, 6.30pm.

Bike-part streets 7 of 10: Panyer Alley

Where is it?
Nestling behind St Paul's Cathedral, and curiously invisible to my 2003 London A to Z.

What’s it like?
A small, busy pedestrian area serving as foot access for Paternoster Square and the north side of St Paul's.

Why bike there?
You'll have to dismount of course, but you can trundle round into Paternoster Square to see the handsome old Temple Bar, moved brick-by-brick here from Fleet St via a garden in Hertfordshire. There's some bike parking here if you fancy a look round St Paul's itself, but it's a whopping £12.50 to get in. That would get you a large carafe of wine in Tate Modern's top-floor bar just a short push over Millennium Bridge, with its fabulous evening views of the river skyline.

Is it a good place to have panniers, however spelt?
Panniers are always better than rucksacks, unless you're genuinely mountain biking, which is unlikely in EC1. A rucksack will just about hold a Mars bar and clean T-shirt. Panniers will hold lunch, dinner, breakfast, maps, your A to Z, a few humorous travelogues to read while waiting for the train, emergency chocolate, a bottle of Chilean cab sauv, a set of spanners, a laptop, a camera, a phone, a hard disc sound recorder, chargers, batteries, a survival blanket, an extra fleece, waterproof trousers, waterproof jacket, one-pound plastic bowlful of bananas, Swiss Army knife and an Argos catalogue. As I have, in fact, just discovered.

15 April 2010

Bike-part streets 6 of 10: Helmet Row

Where is it?
North of Old St, in the City. It runs by the side of St Luke's Church, one of the London Symphony Orchestra's bases, mainly used for educational activities.

What’s it like?
An unremarkable sidestreet, one-way south and no entry from Old St, with nothing of note on it except the church. Put it this way: there's nothing you could plausibly bang your head against.

Why bike there?
It's the access road for LSO St Luke's, so you'll be trundling up here if you're attending their excellent lunchtime chamber concerts, talks, workshops or seminars. There are bike racks outside the church.

Is it a good place to wear a helmet?
On our visit yes, but only because there were roadworks, so it was a hard hat you needed rather than half a polystyrene melon. Otherwise, as everywhere else, only wear a helmet if you're a Tory politician nagged by advisers that bare-headedness might lose you votes.

14 April 2010

Bike-part streets 5 of 10: Links Yard

Where is it?
In East London, just east of Brick Lane, off Spelman St.

What’s it like?
A small yard of offices and work units off a scruffy back street, with some decent bike racks.

Why bike there?
Brick Lane is just to the west – so if you like your curry, you'll want to avoid that. Instead, eat at the fabulous and absurdly inexpensive Tayyabs, a couple of blocks south in Fieldgate St.

Is it a good place to replace links on your chain?
Yes. The yard is safe and quiet and reasonably spacious, and you might be able to snag a cup of tea or a toilet visit from one of the work units there.

13 April 2010

Bike-part streets 4 of 10: Cable Street

Where is it?
In East London, running east-west a mile or so from Tower Bridge to Limehouse Basin. If you believe Google Maps, it's called 'Candle St' in the middle.

What’s it like?
Well, it's the East End, so it's not much like Mayfair. Cable St is home of one of London's showcase separated cycle lanes: yes, I'm afraid this is about as good as it ever gets in the capital. The street is famous for its role in the anti-fascist demonstrations of the 1930s, commemorated by a striking mural (right).

Why bike there?
Wilton's Music Hall, the last surviving grand old-style music hall, is just off here. Whitechapel Road, with its flashy art galleries, is also just north.

Is it a good place to adjust your cables?
Yes. There are quite a few green spaces, and plenty of passing cyclists to cadge tools off.

12 April 2010

Bike-part streets 3 of 10: Saddle Yard

Where is it?
In the heart of posh Mayfair, off Hay's Mews.

What’s it like?
A trim and mewsy private yard, firmly gated off from plebs on bikes.

Why bike there?
A couple of blocks south is pleasant Shepherd Market, a microvillage of cobbled streets, shoppes, and quainte olde pubbes selling traditional Englishe lager from the Czeche Republicke at foure poundes a bottle.

Is it a good place to adjust your saddle?
Probably not. If you stand around for too long in a sub-50 percent tax bracket, people will stare.

11 April 2010

Pet project: Lambeth's dog streets

The inspiration for the bike-part street series, currently running on weekdays on this blog, came from this council poster (right) we spotted cycling round Kennington Park the other day.

It's rather fun. To illustrate the poster for council lost-dog services, someone had a great time taking pictures of inventively related road signs: Greyhound Hill, Barker St, Barking Road, Hounds[ditch something], Dog Kennel Hill, Wagtail Close, Isle of Dogs, Dog Lane, the Dog and Duck, Long Walk, Staffordshire St and Bark Place.

A fine bike tour for dog fans, and there must be feline equivalents out there - Cat Hill, Mews Place, Milk Yard and so on.

Don't know about ferrets, supposedly the latest celebrity pet, though.