31 July 2010

Barklays: Hire bikes and dogs at Critical Mass

It so happened that yesterday, the launch day of the London Bike Hire Scheme, was also Critical Mass day.

Inevitably, a few CMers turned up on hire bikes, prepared to pay for their hire by taking the machine out beyond the half-hour limit for free use. To a Yorkshireman like me, that's heroic stuff.

The Mass went round Parliament Square, with the usual cycle-brandishing schtick that has become a provocative, and to me rather irritating, symbol of CM.

And, to enormous cheers, someone managed it, semi-ironically, with a Hire Bike. He's a strong guy: those bikes weigh a ton.

I like semi-irony. You can claim it was either serious or joking afterwards. That's why I'm semi-ironic half the time, and only semi-serious the other half, though obviously that statement is tongue in cheek.

Anyway, we were glad to see the Hire Bike Massers were obeying the TfL guidelines and not putting a dog in the front carrier, which is expressly forbidden.

You need a proper basket for that, as this chap at the mass last night demonstrated.

Yappy, dirty, unruly, annoying: yes, a few people on the Critical Mass can be a bit tiresome. But the vast majority are simply normal cycling folk like you and, er, me. And the Jack Russell here was just as well behaved.

Hire Bike Scheme: First day full report

We had a full day of wheeling round London on the new hire bikes yesterday. Our second impressions are much as our first: there are many teething troubles, some urgent but straightforward to fix, others more challenging and long-term. But we're still very positive about the way the hire bikes will add to the capital's cycling culture.

First, the urgent but straightforward-to-fix. There are too many bikes with overtightened brakes whose rear wheels hardly go round - about half of them, I'd guess. Some stands had few, or no, bikes with acceptably smooth rear wheels. This must be addressed over the weekend, or else a large proportion of the bikes aren't usable.

Second, and potentially more challenging, is the problem of cycle flows. During the afternoon, every docking station we saw had both bikes and docking stations available.

But in the evening rush hour it was different. Round Elephant and Castle, presumably because of commuter flows outwards, the docking stations were empty of bikes. We had a quarter-mile jog from this one, at Hampton St, to the next station with available bikes. (At least the information screens telling you where to find the nearest available bikes were mostly working.)

Conversely, the magnet-stations around the South Bank were all full. This is more serious. If you can't dock your bike you can ask for extra free time somehow (I never quite found out how in my rush to redock) and cycle to the next station with free docks. This wasn't easy at the South Bank last night, where the six nearest alternative docking stations offered a total of one free space, which had gone by the time I got there.

It was all rather exciting; I've always wanted to go orienteering. I found a vacant space near London Bridge eventually, almost a mile away, but it meant a long jog back to my intended destination, and that did rather defeat the point of hire bikes.

(Yes, this full docking station in the picture is in front of the Gherkin, not the South Bank. I didn't have my camera during my South Bank exercises, and anyway the pictures would have been too blurred.)

This, we expect, will be sorted out eventually. It's trickier than taking a spanner to a few thousand back brakes, though. The transfer-trailer wagons that scoop up spare bikes and ferry them back to empty docking stations will be very busy in the coming weeks as TfL work out how the flow patterns work. We pioneers are also guinea pigs, and there could be a few more unscheduled jogging sessions for some of us.

I didn't know the hire bikes were going to keep me so fit.

A few other niggles too: some docking stations weren't letting you take bikes out (St Paul's); some screens weren't working (Godliman St); sometimes the docking post didn't register your bike as docked even when you couldn't get it out again.

But it's remarkable that the scheme is working to any extent, given the Boris-induced schedule it's been put together to. We're pleased to have it working, even if it is only eighty per cent right at the moment.

And all those provisos apart... we still had a great time shuttling round between all that London stuff: free outdoor concerts, cafes, museums, sights, and surprise table tennis at the Barbican. There was a camaraderie among the first-day pioneers, and lots of smiling double-takes from passers-by.

We're convinced the scheme will bring a new dimension to exploring and commuting round London. Several times yesterday we were shouted at by blokes in vans and taxis - not telling us to get off the effing road, as usual, but giving us thumbs-up and saying whoa, nice bike, how do I take one out?

And every docking station had curious and bemused groups of tourists and locals poking about the stands and prodding the screens, asking us what was going on and then nodding thoughtfully.

Problems? Yes, lots. Inevitably. But we still think it's a very promising start.

30 July 2010

Hire Bike Scheme: First report

We were there at our local docking station by the Elephant and Castle at 6am this morning at the very moment the London Bike Hire Scheme launched.

It's mostly good news. The member-key system works fine. Taking a bike out is easy and quick: you don't have to log in, you just stick your key into a slot, release your bike and cycle away.

Redocking it automatically checks it in: you don't have to log out or do anything. The bikes are fine: a bit low-geared perhaps, and the front-heavy handlebars can feel like you're pushing a wheelbarrow full of cats; but they're comfy, straightforward, and hop-on-hop-off easy to ride. There's no lock: so what? Use the next docking station. And no helmet: quite right too.

For £1, about the third of a cost of a muffin or coffee on station concourse, you can ride the bikes for any number of half-hours in a day free.

We breezed around in delight between various docking stations on the south bank this morning between 6am and 7am. We only spotted two other pioneers riding hire bikes in that time, one of whom was the editor of a certain local news website.

We spotted several snappers and film crews, though, some of whom spotted us before we could escape, so you may see us on TV tonight.

Over 11,000 people have signed up for membership keys, though only 4,000 have activated them.

And there are about 4,700 bikes currently available at the docking stations, of which there are 284, 330, or 360, depending on whether you believe the Evening Standard, TfL yesterday, or TfL on Tuesday.

Some people will complain that the hire bikes will mean untrained people with no idea about British road rules careering dangerously about the streets. People such as TfL-licensed minicab drivers, for instance, who no doubt think that's their prerogative. Well, tough. Share the road and play nicely. It's ours too, you know.

Bikes that need to be redistributed from full docking stations to empty ones are conveyed by trailer pulled by electric cars like this one.

Now, the teething problems. Some of the bikes have had their brakes overtightened, so that the back wheel hardly goes round. Pedalling one of these feels like going uphill, or cycling home after a particularly large and convivial dinner. (This affected several bikes we tried at the Southwark St station, and the one I took out at Ontario St.)

The problem with this is that if you take a bike out, find it's stiff and then re-dock it, you have to wait five minutes until you can take another one out. So pioneers are advised to check the back wheel spins OK before putting your key in to take the bike out. Otherwise you'll have five minutes to fill, and presumably in London docking stations are like bus stops and you're not allowed to talk to anyone.

And, inevitably, some tedious whinger had put stickers on some bikes complaining about Barclays sponsoring earthquakes in the third world or something, which involved extra work for some TfL people this morning going round unsticking them.

Working out where the live docking stations are isn't yet totally reliable either. We couldn't find out from the docking station terminals we were at this morning because they didn't appear fully operational, though the SE1 website's report on the launch at the Belvedere Rd station, Boris Johnson and all, evidently had no problems.

There's the printed TfL map - but it was compiled a while ago and it shows some docking stations that haven't been built (such as the one on Lambeth Bridge).

And the online TfL map shows the updated locations of docking stations, but some of them haven't actually gone live yet (such as the one on Albert Embankment, just down from Lambeth Bridge, which was covered with tape and not yet in service this morning).

But these will be fixed. For the meanwhile we're delighted to see the scheme up and running. We think this has added a fun and creative new dimension to London's bike culture and we're all for it. There's more of this to come.

Update 8.50am: According to Dave Hill's blog, 12,000 people have now signed up as members, 6,000 membership keys have been activated, and 5,000 of the bikes are available at 315 working docking stations.

29 July 2010

New views: Trixi mirrors on CS7

Cycle Superhighway 7 has given us the UK's first glance of Trixi mirrors, installed to give drivers of large vehicles a view over their blind spot - the corridor down their left where cyclists become as invisible as me trying to get served at the bar.

They are named after Beatrix Willburger, a Swiss girl killed by a lorry turning left. Her father has since promoted the use of the mirrors at junctions.

There were 31 of the mirrors on the two Cycle Superhighways for the launch last week, with 37 ultimately being trialled in London over the next six months. This is the one on CS7 by Clapham Common.

The mirror technology needs some tweaking. I could only see someone who looked like me, only older. And more bulbous. I wouldn't serve him at a bar.

Book review: Bicycle Maintenance

Bike maintenance is like a language: you learn it by doing it, not from a book. Except that without the book you won't know what to do in the first place.

Being able to look after a bike is a valuable skill, especially when you see what some bike chains charge you for a service - fifty quid for really, really basic stuff you can do easily at home in an hour. (Anyone who's ever been rushed two hundred quid for a basic survey on a house, which tells you things you could have worked out for yourself like how many rooms it's got, will know the feeling.)

Bicycle Maintenance is a new guidebook which tells you all this stuff. Clearly laid out in a magazine style, it covers the literal nuts and bolts, from simple cleaning and maintenance, through cable and bearing replacement, up to truing wheels. (This is the imperfect subjunctive of bike maintenance: too tricky for normal people in practice, but it's reassuring to know the theory.) It's written mainly from the mountain bike perspective, but addresses road bikes too (with their different gear shifters, for instance).

Getting confidence fixing bikes does need experience. The section on fixing punctures is fine, for instance, but the only way of learning how to put a tyre back on with your fingers, without needing tyre levers, is to do it: it's a craft. Adjusting indexing and gear ratios – which the book also covers comprehensively – is presumably the same, though that's a bridge too far for real cyclists like me. A wobbly bridge at that.

This looks a very good reference to have on your shelf. Bicycle Maintenance, by Guy Andrews and published by Dennis, is available from Amazon for £8.99. You may well see it in shops like Tesco and WH Smith, and it's also on sale through magbooks.com.

And no, if you buy it through that link, I don't get any commission. And no, I don't want to hear from anyone telling me how to set up affiliate links and sponsored advertisements to plaster my blog with in order to earn untold riches.

28 July 2010

TV seeks cyclist: Bike programmes on BBC iPlayer

BBC4 last night had a bike-themed evening of programmes. Two of them, conveniently for those of us who don't have a television, are available for the next few days on iPlayer.

The Bicycle is a half-hour history-of-the-bike, but concentrating on the Edwardian period - the Golden Age of the Bicycle.

And in the hour-long Ride of my life: The story of the bicycle, Rob Penn treads a giant carbon footprint over most of the G7 as he assembles his dream bike.

With TV-programme logic, instead of simply ordering his Brooks saddle or Campag parts over the internet, Rob has to buy them all in person in a journey of discovery etc.

En route we also get an enjoyable history of the bicycle. Nice to while away a spare hour with, while you're on hold trying to phone your bank, perhaps. It's all feelgood stuff, and we're reassured several times that today is the beginning of a new Golden Age of the Bicycle.

Hmm. Perhaps iron pyrites would be more appropriate.

27 July 2010

Rush hour: Sign up for the bike hire scheme now

There's still time to register for the London Bike Hire Scheme. As it isn't available to casual users for another month, becoming a member is the only way to try out the scheme when it launches at 8am on Friday.

It only costs £3 - which isn't even the price of the not even a full pint most London pubs try to fob you off with - and you get a magic key providing instant hire through the post the next morning. (Assuming your posties haven't had to switch from bikes to trolleys and are therefore a day late.)

Some 5,760 people had signed up by Monday evening, TfL have just told me. So by Friday's launch, there will be well over 6,000 members. As there are only 6,000 bikes, that could make for an entertaining stampede when it all goes live.

To add to the excitement, we won't know exactly which docking stations will be live until the morning of the launch. The TfL website has a map which will be updated with working docking stations on Friday morning.

I'll be first in the queue at our local docking station. We're very positive about the scheme. I bang on about it in my Cycling Plus column this month.

One handy use for the hire bikes, even for regular cyclists like us, will be as emergency machine in case of mechanical breakdown. Having to carry a spare wheel - like this chap, spotted on Kennington Road the other day - will be a thing of the past.

26 July 2010

Dunwich Dynamo 2010: Full report

Here's the full report on the Dunwich Dynamo, the annual 120-mile mass night bike ride from London to the Suffolk coast, which took place on Saturday night and Sunday morning.

7.30pm Arrive at the Pub on the Park, London Fields, Hackney. The building appears to float in sea of cyclists. Perhaps a thousand are here already, waiting for off. I rendezvous with three chums doing it with me.

All London bike life is here, from team whizzkids with kit the colour of rainforest toads, to tribally tattooed and pierced radicals on fixies. Most though look like Sunday leisure riders out for a pub-lunch spin on their everyday bikes.

There is, to me, a pleasing amount of people in normal clothes, barometrically demonstrated by the amount of bare-headed young women in summer frocks and slingbacks on shoppers. There are folders, recumbents, tandems. I'm doing it on my touring bike, whose comfort over distance I can trust. I see lots of people I know.

But no beer for us: too busy chatting and joking, and picking up our routemap and coach tickets back.

8.30pm There's no 'start time'; the DD is not organised as such. It's more of a routeplanned, and very long, Critical Mass, than a race or a tour. But most people set off between 8.15ish and 9ish. We follow the crowds pushing off on the half-hour, an insect colony on wheels creeping through Hackney. Lots of banter with lairy, but jokey, Saturday-night locals.

10pm The iconic sight of the DD: the long line of strobing red lights on the long straight main road in front of you, as the bikesnake eats through the Epping Forest blackness.

We stop at a pub for water in and out. This really is a mass event: we've been part of a peloton all the way from Hackney, cyclists stretching to the event horizon both ways.

11.30pm Stop for 'breakfast' at Great Dunmow, 30-odd miles out. Three hours so far, but still only a quarter of the way: this is a big ride.

It's chucking-out time in the town centre. Bleary-eyed young men and shouty girls in cheap-chic clubwear chase taxis under the streetlights. All the time, to their bemusement, cyclists are barrelling through the main street.

Some lads on BMXs chat to us amiably. They're in the relaxed post-cider and mid-cigarette stage. We're swigging Tesco value fizzy water and gobbling Jaffa cakes and bananas with the opposite effect in mind.

Midnight This ride is the most extraordinary experience. It's not quite pitch dark: there's a full moon, organised specially for the ride date every year. The milk-grey clouds smear its light out, hiding the stars, but provide a thermal blanket that makes for a perfect cycling temperature. Everyone's bare-armed. There's a tailwind and we're all flying.

The world is ours. We're on silent country lanes, devoid of motor traffic but thick with bikes. Navigation is a formality: you simply follow the line of red lights in front you. Behind is a similar line of lights in white, curving like a constellation on the way you've come.

Because there's no start time or official stages, and people stop where and when they want, you're always overtaking and always being overtaken. Perhaps there are clones and we're in a bad sci-fi movie, or perhaps we've been passed by that same guy five times already.

1am The only navigation challenge of the entire night: how to find the 'lunch stop'. This near-halfway eating opportunity, in a hall in Sible Hedingham, has been specially organised to feed a thousand nocturnal bikers. There are handwritten signs and some people standing on corners pointing, but hundreds of us get lost and have to backtrack.

The hall and its gardens are a shadowy and spotlit chaos of bikes laid flat on the ground and people processing sandwiches. It's still T-shirt mild.

3am This is surprisingly pleasant. We're rolling along at an easy 12mph, chatting. We overtake steadily and are overtaken steadily. We talk and joke briefly with others as we pass and are passed. The world is dark but it's all we know and it belongs to us.

Every few miles, chillingly like when you pass a hearse, there is a cluster of two or three people at the roadside, illuminated with ghostly elusiveness by a bike light. They're mending a puncture. There's a light-holder and a pump-pumper and sometimes a morale-booster. There but for the grace of the bike gods...

4am I'm still tussling with my cycling chum Dave's probability poser. Someone tells you he has two children. One is a boy. What's the chance the other is a boy? Not quite intuitively (depending on the framing of the question) it's one in three. But the boy was born on a Tuesday - what's the probability now? Supposedly this changes things and it's more like one in two. (More)

I don't get this at all. And I can't claim mitigating circumstances. We don't actually feel tired or sleepy. It's just a lovely steady ride. Dawn breaks gently and we begin to see the cottagey detail of the villages we're going through.

5.30am Another stop - tea? breakfast? - at a picnic site by a cool dawn lake outside Coddenham. We feast on Jaffa cakes and bananas and toast ourselves with carbonated table water. The only litter bin is inside the gents' toilet. I put the banana skins in the bin. It's full of them.

When the cleaner arrives later on today, all the cyclists will have passed, and they'll just find a bin containing seven hundred banana skins. What will they think has been going on? Banana-skin flashmob, perhaps.

7.30am Eureka. The first signpost to Dunwich. Seven miles seems nothing now. The last few miles are across Dunwich Heath, a change of landscape so abrupt from the rolling Suffolk countryside that it feels almost tropical.

We can see cyclists coming back the other way. Most have done their beach stuff and are cycling a few miles to Ipswich to get the train back. Some are actually cycling back to London.

8am Arrive Dunwich beach. I'd expected to feel overwhelmed, exhausted, emotional; in fact, we're very pleased to have finished, but feeling, well, pretty fresh, actually.

The place is overrun with cyclists. The cafe is stockaded by queues. I've still got plenty of food in my panniers though. We find a spot on the shingle beach, lay our bikes flat, and strip off for a swim in the uncold, pleasant sea. The grey waves are exhilarating in their cool liquidity.

9am-1pm Getting home is the only big problem of the DD. Train spaces are obviously limited. Some have lifts from loved ones to whisk them and bike back home in a big hatchback. For the remainder - 730, we are later told - there is a coach service back, which transports your bike in a series of furniture vans, wadded tightly in between blankets.

Having breakfast, swimming, snoozing on the beach, getting the bike organised into the van and finding our coach seat takes all morning. Finally, approaching 1pm, we pull out of the car park to start the journey home.

3.30pm Arrive back in London, at Smithfield's. The intricate unloading of the bikes takes place in the meat market. We reclaim our machines and cycle home via meals and goodbyes and bumpings-into of more people we know. Time, I rather think, for a bath and an early night.

Final words
This was the first DD I've done; it was a fantastic and unique experience, for me the most enjoyable non-racing mass-ride there is. Better than London Skyride, with its corporate oppression; better than Critical Mass, with its confrontation and tribalism. Even with 1,400 people this year, the biggest ever, it still feels a cult, something special.

The business of cycling from dusk to dawn through dark country lanes, for 120 miles, in a cascade of over a thousand other people on bikes, is slightly weird, but it's a great and utterly memorable thing to do.

To reiterate: it's not a race, it's not for charity, it's not sponsored and it's minimally organised. You don't have to register for anything and it's free. It's just hundreds of people going for a bike ride. One of the greatest rides of your life.

Dunwich Dynamo 2010 route (EveryTrail, thanks Nigel)

25 July 2010

DD 2010: Best ever?

The fantastic Dunwich Dynamo 2010 was surely a candidate for the best ever.

Tailwinds all the way, warm dry T-shirt weather even in the depth of night - and the buzz of being part of something huge, spontaneous and still unspoiled. Over 1,400 cyclists, the most ever, doing a 120 mile bike ride. Not for charity, not for competition, but for sheer fun.

I've just got back and I'll put up a more detailed report tomorrow. But right now I think I need a bath.

24 July 2010

Dunwich Dynamo tonight

Dunwich Dynamo tonight. They're expecting 1400 rides for the 120-mile night ride to the seaside at Dunwich, the biggest ever. Perhaps it can't be described as a cult any more.

It leaves from the Pub on the Park, Hackney, 8pm ish. No more coach spaces back, apparently, so you'll have to be inventive if you want to join on impulse... or you could just come along to watch the Grand Depart.

Report tomorrow, punctures permitting.

23 July 2010

It's Barking: Bike lanes blocked by blank signs

It's always frustrating when cycle tracks are blocked by roadworks signs, such as this example on the A13 just east of Barking.

Still, they're there for a good purpose. We need the signs to give us directions and information.

After all, if you didn't have signs, you'd just have chaos, with nobody knowing where to go.

A good sign is concise and clear. These signs don't waste a word.

Just west from here is the start of the new CS3, from Barking to Tower Bridge. Obviously, being a Cycle Superhighway, the cycle track is different from the sort of nonsense you see here.

Instead of green nonsense, it's blue nonsense, as we'll see in tomorrow's post.

Sign on for the Bike Hire Scheme today... if the system will let you

From today, you can sign up to be a keyholder for the London Cycle Hire Scheme, which starts on 30 July. For the first few weeks only keyholders will be able to use the bikes. After that it goes live to casual users.

Signing up to be a keyholder costs three quid, and enables you to access the hire bikes a day or a week at a time. They key is sent to you in the post.

We're very enthusiastic about the cycle hire scheme, and were up early this morning to sign up.

Apart from the sort of irritations put in by dozy techie people - such as your address being forced to have three lines in, so that the second two of mine are 'London, London' - the process is quick and easy.

You simply fill in a few forms, give your credit card details, and... oh. How do I contact the 'system adminstrator'?

22 July 2010

Duck special: Low headroom in Lee Valley

Is this the lowest-headroom cycle bridge in Britain? It's on National Cycle Route 1 following the Lee Valley north, in Walthamstow marshes.

The cycle path ducks under a railway bridge at Coppermill Lane and leaves you just five feet of headroom, or 152cm - that's about the minimum required width for a cycle lane.

(The minimum required headroom for underpasses according to TA90/05 appears to be 2.4m, or an inch or two under eight feet.)

This young lady has obviously had practice.

21 July 2010

Dynamo hub: DD this Saturday

It's the Dunwich Dynamo this Saturday night: the annual 120 mile night ride extravaganza to the seaside with up to a thousand others. Not-for-charity, not-organised, not-for-profit, not-Sky. (Smiley face.)

Against my better judgement, and going against EVERYTHING I believe in, I've booked myself a coach back. So now, having paid £14 quid and coming from Yorkshire, I'll have to do it to get my money's worth.

If you want to book a coach back you can still do so (it's near the bottom of the Southwark Cyclists Dunwich Dynamo info page), but it's the latecomers' price of £26. Value? Priceless.

20 July 2010

Plus ça change: Bikes through the ages at Rapha

Even if you're a real cyclist who considers the Tour de France a good ride spoiled, we recommend nipping into the Rapha cafe, the über-stylish racers' pop-up in Clerkenwell that we've blogged about before, this week.

While the Tour is on - this week, then - they have a fabulous exhibition downstairs of racing bikes for every decade through the 20th century. (It's actually in celebration of the 'centenary of the Col du Tourmalet', an age geologists might dispute.)

The remarkable thing is, of course, how little bikes have changed since 1900. The single front brake on the century-old model is pretty rudimentary, but otherwise with a respray it could be a trendy single-speed next to you in today's ASL, Brooks saddle and all.

As the decades roll on, gearing technology develops from alarmingly crude levers on the rear seatstays, but otherwise the most noticeable change is the choking algal growth of sponsors' logos.

And the handlebars of this bike - from the 1910s - show the cutting-edge technology used by the club racer of the post-Edwardian years.

19 July 2010

Boris's blues: Cycle Superhighways launch this morning

The Cycle Superhighways were officially launched this morning in a marquee on Clapham Common.

Freebies offered to passing cyclists included excellent coffee, a Dr Bike maintenance tent, and complimentary water bottles.

Funny, though: the water bottles were superbly branded with 'Cycle Superhighways' on the outside, but when I examined the contents, there was nothing but hot air.

My views on the Woeful Woadways are well known: they're blue paint on the road, no more. A recent BBC website feature agreed.

But in the Speeches, David Brown of TfL made a valiant effort to justify the multi-million pound expenditure on the cobalt-coloured calamities.

He drew our attention to the 84 new ASLs, 37 Trixi mirrors, 17,500 hours of cycle training, led rides every borough, changes to junctions at Stockwell and Kennington, traffic calming at side junctions, 5,000 new bike parking spaces, and all those subtle resurfacing improvements, such as around drain covers.

Brave try, but all the manhole-margin facelifts in the world can't disguise the fact that nothing significant on the roads has changed except the blue paint.

Still, after a reassuringly dull speech from a Barclays rep - reassuring because I don't want a comedian looking after my mortgage, thank you, I want a reliable plodder – you could sense the relief when Boris stepped up to the plate.

And he didn't disappoint. Whatever you think of him – and I don't think many US profanity filters would allow me to write my opinion here – he is a real cyclist, as well as being a charming, funny and witty speaker. It wasn't so much a speech as an appearance on Just a Minute.

Yes, he'd cycled here, at "the pace of an elderly French onion seller", obeying all the traffic signals and "stopping like a pillar of salt at the lights". Yet it had taken him just 35 minutes from Islington, during which time he had overtaken a boy-racer several times in an open top sports car.

Boris had everyone laughing, though he made me laugh most when he said that by coming via the CS7 he'd arrived in "every possible comfort and style".

He spent half an hour or so doing interviews – Boris sure gives good headline – and finally cycled along the CS7 back to the city.

So: it was a good morning all round, with all the self-referential activity you expect at cycle jamborees these days: bloggers, local radio journos, small-time TV crews and PR hacks, all interviewing each other. I rather enjoyed myself.

All the great and the good were here. Plus some rather mediocre cycle bloggers, snagging whatever free things they could. Speaking of which, I got a gratis chewy cereal bar, too - result! So the Superficial Cycleways have done something positive for me after all!

Cycle Superhighways launch podcast

In this special podcast for the launch this morning of the Cycle Superhighways, we talk to a bike shop and to three London cyclists to see what they make of the new blue stripes on the road. Boon or bluewash? Hear what they have to say...

Hear podcast (5min 41sec, MP3, 3.9MB)

18 July 2010

Bib, bib: It's the Ealing Skyride

Blimey. Superficial Cycleways, Bike Hire, Skyrides - it's all happening this July.

Ealing was the venue for a big Skyride today, winding 11km or so round parks and back streets, all closed to traffic. It was plied with people of all ages enjoying the freedom and individuality of, um, wearing the free yellow corporate Skyride bib.

For long stretches we were going up bus lanes contraflow-style, which was quite exciting.

It was rather fun: heavily marshalled, but in a friendly sort of way, very well attended, and very well organised. If only Sky had been as organised about paying me when I used to do freelance work for them.

Not everyone was happy - one resident (below right) made their feelings plain, and a few impatient motorists ignored the STOP / GO signs of the marshals at crossing points.

('Nowhere to park'? Rubbish! Only one side of your street had parking bollarded out. You can walk across the road, can't you? Come on, it's only mild disruption for one half-day a year.)

Anyway, most locals seemed perfectly happy with the bikefest. Some families had put up garden chairs on the pavement outside their houses to watch the parade pass by with a small picnic.

The big Skyride, of course, is the one coming on Sunday 5 September round central London. It gives you the unique opportunity to cycle traffic-free round say Buckingham Palace, something you can only normally do, er, every Sunday.

I'm not very enthusiastic about the big central ride. In fact I'm wary of the whole organised-ride schtick - such cottonwool protection is only any use if great efforts go into making roads safe and fear-free for cyclists the other 364.5 days of the year.

But we think these local Skyrides (such as Hounslow's last year) are a good thing. They give nervous cyclists, families, and the curious, the chance to enjoy roaming around car-free and at leisure. So long as it's only one small, initial, part of the picture, we're for them.

This family, on a four-person school-run bike specially made at St John St Cycles, wasn't nervous at all. The only thing they're uncertain about is how much they'll get for it on eBay. It's for sale there, apparently. Try something near two grand.