28 February 2010

Rail stations: Only a wee problem with a folder

So there you are, with a laden bike at a railway station, desperate for a wee. It's a right pain in the bladder: you have to wheel your bike to the racks at platform 19, lock it up, take off your luggage, cart it to the toilets at platform 1, and eventually return to platform 19 for your bike, by which time your train has gone anyway.

But with a Brompton, no problem: you just take it into the toilet with you, like this chap at Victoria the other day. (And if you can afford a Brompton, then six shillings to spend a penny is presumably not a problem.)

27 February 2010

That's handy: Building business by bike

Spotted this Green Workforce bike parked off Carnaby St the other day. I hadn't heard of the company - which styles itself as a carbon-neutral handyman on call - before, but they're very pro-bike.

According to their website, they use special collapsible ladders suitable for transporting by bike. Wonder if they do collapsible sledgehammers too? I could do to pack one of those for my next encounter with a bus driver who thinks I'm a soft target.

Whether or not the company have anyone from Poland on their books I don't know, but there must be a paraphrase of the old School Dinners joke here.
Teacher to Islington primary school class: Who can tell me where Warsaw is?
Ollie: Well, it can't be far miss, because our builder Marek is from Warsaw, and he comes on a bike every day.

26 February 2010

Westferry DLR: The shape of bike parking to come?

We're suspicious of self-consciously clever shapes for cycle parking racks. This one in Biggleswade (right) must have looked great on paper. But we don't park bikes on paper. In practice it's cumbersome and awkward.

However, we approve of these recently installed racks (right) at Westferry DLR station (site of the very first blue strips of London's Superficial Cycleway). The logo just happens to work very nicely as a stable shape to lock up to.

Will the bike parking for the Olympics developments follow suit, and base the shape of its bike racks round the exciting and edgy 2012 logo? That's what you and I call sarcasm; it's what marketeers call blue-sky thinking.

25 February 2010

Unlicensed premises: Quirky reasons for a bike tour

Lawrence Dallaglio's 'Cycle Slam' ride will arrive in England sometime today, and at Twickenham sometime tomorrow. It's a charity ride from Rome to Edinburgh, taking in all the Six Nations rugby stadiums. (Dallaglio, right, used to captain England. You can follow the ride's progress on its website's nifty live tracker.)

And for the Paris to London leg he's being joined by several of my chums from the Greene King brewery of Bury St Edmunds, which he helps to promote. I know this thanks to GK's generous sponsorship of the London Bloggers Meetup last week, a fine monthly institution where you can meet other bloggers face to face and have a lot of free drinks. If you write a blog, I heartily recommend it.

What caught my eye about Dallaglio's ride is not the charity aspect, but the premise. Cycle touring is one of the three things that make life worth living, though I've forgotten what the other two used to be.

And for me, the perfect cycle tour has some sort of semi-arbitrary premise. Because the best things from a tour come from the getting there: the unpredictable encounters and spontaneous experiences en route. But without the end, you never get the means.

And Doing All Six Nations Stadiums seems a fine excuse for a long bike ride to me, though I'd've taken about five times as long to enjoy it properly.

But here's some more, genuine, cycle-tour wheezes I've done or heard about. It's the premise, you see, that turns a Cycling Tour into a Real Cycling Tour.

Land's End to John O'Groats Of course lots of people do this. But better with a theme. When I did it I had only local food en route: fish in Padstow, cheddar in Cheddar, pork pies in Melton Mowbray, stotties in Newcastle etc. I met other End to Enders who linked cathedral cities; or who stayed, ate and drank only at pubs called the Red Lion.

Britain side to side There are lots of coast-to-coast routes now (Sea to Sea, Reivers, Hadrian's Wall etc). But one I particularly like is the sonorous and alphabetically satisfying Barmouth to Yarmouth. Some people even take in Charmouth.

Ordnance Survey Grid References If you have the right initials and birthdate, you can convert yourself into an Ordnance Survey grid reference: two initials, ddmmyy. If you're called Steve Jones and were born on 24 March 1944 for instance, you're SJ240344, which is a spot in Wales north-west of Oswestry. Two of my mates celebrated their 40th birthdays by cycling between their grid references, which happened to be from Cadair Idris to somewhere in Cornwall. (Grid references actually exist for all initials from AA to ZZ in theory, but most of them are in the sea off Iceland or somewhere else the OS doesn't cover, like Lithuania.)

Twin Towns I once cycled to all the twin towns of Bath. (And also visited all the places called Bath in the world. That earned me an appearance on Blue Peter in 2001. I got a Blue Peter badge for that, which entitles me to free admission to the Chessington World of Adventures. If accompanied by a responsible adult.)

A to B One chap cycled from A, in Norway, to Bee, in Nebraska. A splendidly pointless point-to-point.

The Old Iron Curtain Fascinating trip some guy did last year along the old border. The pre-1989 Road Atlas of Europe used to scare me. All of civilised Europe was full of towns and roads and green bits to denote forests and mountains, but beyond the iron curtain it was a vast featureless expanse of white, with just a few straggly roads and grim towns like Minsk and Gdansk. Then the wall came down and you could cycle there, and you found it wasn't all white, in fact it looked rather like where you'd just been only a bit shabbier and with much cheaper beer and quite nice people.

Scottish Football Grounds In preparation. A journey of discovery, trying to find 'places' such as Raith or St Mirren.

Alphabet Soup Another plan in progress. A 26-day cycle trip that involves staying at a place beginning with each letter of the alphabet in succession. X could be a problem.

Today's trip Links Tesco, the Turkish grocery, East St market and a theatre in Greenwich. I'm raising money for a round tonight.

24 February 2010

A little bit of the US in south London: bike-free

The winning design for the new US Embassy has been announced. They'll be moving from their current position, in posh Mayfair, to a spanking new building on the south bank by Vauxhall, at Nine Elms, due for completion in 2017.

The Philadelphia-based practice KieranTimberlake won the bid. They've taken time out from making shoes and pop singles to come up with this bold vision (right). Perhaps it was inspired by 'local traditions', such as the 3-D headache of the Michael Faraday Memorial at the Elephant and Castle.

And a real, genuine bit of America-in-Britain the new Embassy is. Because despite all the mentions of the 'environmental responsibility', 'sustainable design' etc, guess how much mention there is of bikes? Yup: sod all. Nothing about parking or access. Oh well: the terrorists will just have to drive there, like everyone else.

Mind you, given that Nine Elms Lane has one of the Britain's worst bike lanes, that's hardly surprising. Who'd want to cycle there anyway?

This is one of my favourite stretches of it, not far out of Battersea. In the space of fifty or so metres, the lane is blocked at least five times by posts in the middle of it (right) - two of them for signs informing you that it's a bike lane.

23 February 2010

BBC joins the cycling debate

BBC London's magazine show Inside Out last night featured an item on Lycra Louts. You can see it again on BBC's iPlayer for the next seven days.

As you'd expect, it's all very fuzzy and never quite knows what it's complaining about. Like the local-paper letter writer with their green biro, it just splutters vague cliches: things have gone too far, the pendulum's swung the other way, something must be done.

Jumping red lights? They produce no evidence that this causes accidents. In fact, a recent study did not particularly show that such behaviour causes accidents.

There are many places where jumping red lights - oh, alright then, getting off your bike and remounting just the other side of the red lights which is perfectly legal and achieves the same effect - is the only safe thing to do. London Road, near the Elephant, is an example.

In the programme they show a Kensington cyclist pulled up by the police for jumping a red. He politely explains that there was nobody on the crossing and no traffic. Now, we know that vehicles in ASLs never get nicked. It's because the police think the penalty is too harsh - sixty quid and three points - for a trivial offence. But here are cyclists getting done, because it's only thirty quid and that's OK.

Why, when we know that vehicles kill people and bicycles don't? Well, as the programme explains, it's because residents help police set priorities. The problem being that the meetings where these are decided take place at times like 10am on Thursday mornings, when only a certain chippy type of retired resident is likely to be able attend. At least, as recent experience in the City shows, such priorities can be reversed by simply turning up. (Luckily, such times are convenient for unemployable cycle bloggers.)

So was the programme's complaint about pavement cycling? Partly. They interview the mother of a child who was hit by a pavement cyclist. I'd be pretty pissed off, like her, if that had happened to me. Pavement cycling is at best terrible PR, and at worst very rude and mildly dangerous and people shouldn't do it. Or at least not when there's anybody about, particularly a film crew. But then I nearly get killed once a week on average by buses and taxis flouting the law, and bugger all gets done about that, except for form email responses.

Of course, the programme can't come up with any figures to show how bad the Pavement Menace is. There aren't any, because it's a problem mostly created in the pages of silly newspapers and the minds of silly people. The only figure it comes up with is Westminster Council's estimate that '1 in 5' cyclists 'flout the law', whatever that's supposed to mean. Well, 1 in 5 drivers are said to be uninsured in London, and I know which pose the greater danger. They talk about 'zero tolerance'. Why not for all road users, then?

And, inevitably, they visit Critical Mass, an event many Real Cyclists are ambivalent about, and show images of people honking trumpets and blocking the traffic, rather forgetting that traffic itself blocks traffic on Friday evenings in London pretty effectively.

And they didn't manage to get anyone to put the cyclists' case effectively. They got someone in fancy dress at CM (of course) and Tom Bogdanowicz from the LCC, who always has the worried look of a politician who's left his laptop on the train. They should have tracked down the Waltham Forest blogger and interviewed them alongside anti-cyclist Councillor Angela Harvey, who also features in the video, evidently on her way to the theatre. That'd be worth watching.

Oh well. Watch it and smile wryly.

22 February 2010

Strange ways in Tower Hamlets: Horseferry Rd contraflow

What would you do here? You're a bit east of Tower Bridge, and heading east on Narrow St towards Limehouse Basin (pic 1, right).

Well, you'd turn left, obviously, into Spert St. You can see that the road ahead is no entry, and two signs point you left. And you never disobey a traffic sign.

Anyway, if you've ridden here before, you know that this is a sort of square-roundabout clockwise one-way system, as in the Google map on the right.

Wrong! You're obviously a lycra lout who enjoys knocking over old ladies on the pavement. In fact, you should have gone straight on.

If you do turn left, this is what you see: a new bike contraflow coming on your side, the wrong side, the 'continental' side, towards you. (Pic 2, right. That big thing in front of you is the entrance to Limehouse Link, and just round the corner from here is Rotherhithe Tunnel, by the way, east London's answer to the Large Hadron Collider.)

But you carry gamely on, along Horseferry Rd (pic 3, right), not sure whether you should be in the marked-off cycle lane (in which case you're going the wrong way) or just to the right of it (in which case the cars behind you hoot because you're 'not in the bike lane').

Eventually you get near the end of the third side of the square (pic 4, right), where you turn left to rejoin the road you originally left, still wondering what's going on.

What's happened is that the old one-way system has been made two-way for bikes. Which is good.

Except it's bad, because (a) it's been done in a confusing way - with bikes being put on the wrong side of the road and (b) half the signage (so far, anyway) is missing.

Presumably, cyclists are now expected to go the opposite way round the square to the traffic, anticlockwise. (Perhaps this is to give westgoing cyclists who can't make it to Dignitas better access to Rotherhithe Tunnel.)

Except that if you do, you're liable to get confused when you see No Entry signs like this (pic 5, right) apparently barring your progress.

But every cyclist I saw on Thursday and Saturday last week was still going round the same way as the traffic (quite legitimately, of course), contrary to the contraflow.

In other words, the wrong way. Or maybe the right way. Or the wrong wrong way. Or something.

I don't know. I have no idea. I don't think the council do either.

But let's be optimistic. Good things can come from this. In 1736, faced with the problems of crossing bridges in the most efficient way in Konigsberg, Euler came up with a whole new branch of mathematics to solve them: topology. Maybe that Marcus du Sautoy bloke off the telly could come up with something here to unite String Theory, the Riemann Zeta Function, and where to turn left to find the riverside path.

Mind you, this is Tower Hamlets, home of the Glamour Ride: they sometimes do have strange ways here...

21 February 2010

Juggling ideas about half-stolen bikes

A couple of weeks ago, London's bike racks seemed festooned with wheelless frames.

Yesterday it was the other way round, with cycle parking apparently a nesting-ground for frameless wheels (top, Barbican; middle, Southwark Bridge Road), the remainder of the bike having easily been liberated without the need for bolt-cutters.

Are the two types connected? Are theft patterns changing to reflect different types of carelessness among those locking up their machines?

Is this juggler anything to do with it, perhaps using the bike racks to store his equipment between street-entertainment gigs?

Biking round London is full of such mysteries. None as mysterious as the Horseferry Road contraflow, though, about which more tomorrow...

20 February 2010

Steal frame: Ad bike in Brick Lane

I don't like ad-bikes that take up proper parking spaces or get in the way, but I've no problem otherwise. Like this lemon-yellow one, in Brick Lane this afternoon, advertising the Thrift Store.

But you know how if you see a van with 'shopfitters' on the side, you see it as 'shoplifters'? Well, given the reputation of the market here for flogging stolen bikes, you can't help reading it as Brick Lane Theft Store.

19 February 2010

City police meeting that takes the biscuit

We had a minor success yesterday. Very minor, like, A-flat-locrian. It was the last in a series of tedious community meetings to help the City police set their priorities.

All we wanted to do was change the current City priority of 'targeting nuisance cyclists' to 'targeting nuisance road users'. We got our minor success. So now police in the City are free to go about their business enforcing the law without silly, artificial, irrelevant and divisive priorities. They can concentrate on targeting any nuisance road use, by cars or lorries or taxis or pedestrians or whoever, where appropriate.

(Maybe Lambeth police - right, on Kennington Lane - could take up the idea to target ASL infringements at dangerous junctions.)

Anyway, getting these priorities changed is boring and simple stuff. First, you turn up to the meeting. They hold them at times like 10am on a Thursday, when only mad retired locals and unemployable cycle bloggers are likely to turn up.

Then, you let the Thick Shouty People rant against pavement cyclists, red-light jumpers, bankers, paedophiles, foreigners etc. Every few seconds they run out of ideas and stop, clearly waiting for a whoop from the audience like on daytime TV. When none comes, they repeat what they've just said verbatim.

You swop long-suffering, knowing glances with the presiding copper, who listens with weary politeness. Eventually the Thick Shouty People stop, having forgotten what their point was.

Then, you suggest broadening the priorities to enable more flexible police response, or some other phrase that the TSP won't understand. The new priorities quickly get passed before the TSP realise what's going on, everyone escapes for a cup of tea and a biscuit, and there you are, job done.

Actually, the cyclists' case was made most effectively by a guy called Joe. He hadn't come to represent cyclists at all, but was there to talk involvingly about his work with the organisation Broadway, which tackles the problems of homelessness on behalf of the City.

Joe looked a bit like me - an amiably scruffy cyclist in jeans and fleece with an approachable northern accent and very good looks - but where I get snippy and irritated by the deranged interventions of the TSP, Joe is canny and calm. He smiles, gets on their side, sympathises, then smartly turns things round to make the positive case. Well, he presumably has useful experience with these sort of people.

Joe and I shared a laugh over coffee about the way you get treated when you turn up at some places by bike. The meeting was in Tower West, a fishbowl office block just by the Tower.

Wheel your bike within a hundred metres of its concourse, thronged by sharp-suited financial types, and the security guys (?Gurkhas) swoop on you. They don't believe a rainy cyclist might have proper business there. They keep trying to direct you to the postroom. And while you're waiting in the reception area reading the paper, they keep checking on you with that rude politeness particular to men with earphone spirals and walkie-talkies, and eyeing your panniers as if expecting you to whip out a dirty bomb.

And the smiling-aggressive security goons are not quite sure what to suggest about bike parking. Of course there's none outside - it might have compromised the architect's vision - so you end up being directed down a snailshell concrete helix into the basement car park, pretending that you work there. It's all rather exciting, the sort of place shootouts happen at the climax of a cliched heist movie.

Was it worth it, all this effort on a miserable wet February morning? On balance, yes: the coffee wasn't great, but the biscuits were nice.

18 February 2010

Cycle Superhighways start here!

We now have our first glimpse of London's Cycle Superhighways. Work started this week at Westferry DLR station, a mile or two east of Tower Bridge, and the lids came off the tins of blue paint.

The project will see twelve routes that provide 'safe, fast, direct, continuous and comfortable way of getting from outer London into central London by bike along recognised commuter routes'. The first two (Barking to Tower Gateway, and Merton to the City) are scheduled to open in May. Er, no, make that 'early summer'. Well, Septemberish maybe. Before Christmas, definitely, anyway.

And now you can cycle along the very first bit of blue strip, just by Westferry station. Transport for London have produced some enticing DVDs, posters, booklets, information packs and even interactive cycling simulators. Now we have an idea of what the Superficial Cycleways will actually look like.

Well, this first section is a bit zig zaggy, to be honest. Four 45-degree bends within the space of a cricket pitch: it's like facing Shane Warne on a crumbling fifth-day wicket. There's rather a lot of giving way too. And it's nowhere near wide enough for a stream of commuting cyclists.

But no doubt about one promise that's been kept: it's a lovely shade of blue. Hah! Take that, naysayers, doubters and pessimists! You could be in Copenhagen!

But get along to Westferry and get your glimpse of the future. The good news is, it really works. There's an amazing sensation of speed and directness - it feels like only a few seconds to cycle from one end of this blue strip (right) to the other, for instance.

So in a few months' time, this is just what we'll be seeing all over London: cyclists finding the blue strip is too crooked, discontinuous and narrow, and just using the road alongside instead.

17 February 2010

Lack of bike parking in Shard-like towers? No problem

London's provision of bike parking - both onstreet and in residential housing - is pretty bad.

Richard Peace pointed out in a recent BikeRadar article that the Shard, the showpiece tower currently under construction near London Bridge, will provide a pathetic 250 bike spaces for its 6,500 inhabitants.

No doubt, at its planned height of over a thousand feet, the Shard is just too tall and thin for conventional cycle parking. So maybe an innovative solution is called for: the residents could change their model of bike to suit the shape of the space available, like the cyclist here.

16 February 2010

A pursuit of trivia

Amusing debate on Twitter this morning about the collective noun for Bromptons. 'An oratory of Bromptons' was perhaps the most poetic (the bike was named after the Catholic church in west London, right) but the winner has to be 'a fold of Bromptons'.

'An assembly' was also suggested, but that surely belongs to a disassemblable bike rather than the snappily collapsible Brompton. So, 'an assembly of Airnimals' or 'an assembly of Moultons'.

And what about other bikes? A lock-up of Dawes? A generalisation of Specializeds? A rally of Raleighs?

No doubt the collective noun for sixty-quid self-assembly supermarket bikes is 'rubbish dump'.

And what about other bike-related services? A pulse of paramedics?

It reminds me of a local bus service I saw called Kentish Hopper, which seemed appropriate. How about a Jersey Jumper? Sheffield Plyers? A Badminton Shuttle?

Don't even think about suggesting a witty collective term for bloggers.

15 February 2010

Another Elephantine pothole

Impressed by this mighty pothole over the weekend. It's on Newington Causeway, just off the Elephant and Castle, and if it rained you'd need a causeway to cross it.

The mobile phone - visible to those with good eyesight in the picture here - gives you an idea of the scale.

We use a mobile phone because, if the hole really is big and we lose sight of it, we can call the number to locate it again.

Potholes on Transport for London roads should be reported to TfL's pothole web page. (For potholes on non-TfL roads try FixMyStreet.com or the CTC's FillThatHole.org.)

You can tell a TfL road from a normal borough-run road because borough roads have taxis parked on double yellow lines, whereas TfL roads have licensed minicabs parked on double red lines.

14 February 2010

Bike yoga? I'm not in a position for that

Bikes are sometimes used as advertising boards. Fine if it's outside a shop or on otherwise unused space (such as this, for Bodmin Jail, in Bodmin). Even better if it's actually being ridden around.

Though I'm not entirely happy about unrideable ones taking up a genuine parking space like this one (right), in Weybridge.

Anyway, who needs yoga? Locking up any normal bike properly - manoeuvring your half-ton U-lock round the back wheel, frame and rack, and then snaking the heavy-duty cable all the way through every gap in the bike, the front wheel, and the rack again - surely requires contortion enough.

13 February 2010

If I had a magic wandle

The Wandle Trail - National Cycle Route 20, running from Wandsworth on the River Thames in south London down to Carshalton - runs alongside the River Wandle for most of its length.

Along the way, you can stop and admire traditional local sights, such as Merton Abbey Mills, and white vans blocking the cycle path, such as here on Peterborough Rd in Morden.

Yet again, the number plate...

12 February 2010

Heart of London: Where to cycle on Valentine's Day

London has plenty of places suitable for cycling sweethearts this Sunday. (Some of them will be celebrated in Southwark Cyclists' Valentine's Day ride.)

Just off Blackfriars Bridge Road for example is Valentine Place (right), off which runs Valentine Row – presumably what you have on the way home from that romantic dinner that turned out to be more expensive than, and not as nice as, you hoped.

There's also Love Walk, in Camberwell; while Latin lovers (in all senses) will want to head for Amor Rd, W6.

For the F who wishes to meet M with GSOH for cuddles and maybe more, there's Huggin Hill, near Mansion House; while Darling Row, off Cambridge Rd near Whitechapel, might be for couples who've been together long enough that she always remembers the anniversary but not how many years, and he remembers how many years but not the anniversary.

For sinners with a bit of originality there's Adam and Eve Court, off Oxford St, while Matrimony Place, just by Wandsworth Road station, should serve as a warning to us all: it's shorter and less pleasant than you'd expect.

London abounds in Love Lanes – there are at least a dozen – but the best one is in the centre, by the Barbican (right above and below). It's a little park where you can sit and coo by a bust of Shakespeare.

So here, for cycling lovers everywhere, is one of the Bard's most famous bike-inspired sonnets, No 18...

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds blow cyclists e'er th'opposing way
And summer's hire bikes hath too short a date:
Sometime too close th'impatient bus confines
And often are the cabbie's headlights dimm'd;
And every cycle lane sometime declines,
By chance or council's policy untrimm'd;
But thy frame builder's respray shall not fade
Nor lose the backlane shortcuts which thou knowest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When by the lorry's side at lights thou goest:
So long as taxis cut in front of me,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

11 February 2010

Down the Hatch: a hostel you have to cycle to

Tanner’s Hatch hostel (right), in the countryside near Dorking, almost qualifies for my 50 Quirky Bike Rides book: it is only accessible on foot or by bike.

It’s a mile or so off the nearest road, which is a single-track back lane running past Boxhill and Westhumble Station. Though it’s only half a day’s ride from the centre of London, it's right away from everything, such as mobile phone access.

I don’t know if I like Dorking, because I’ve never Dorked, but Tanner’s Hatch is a delightful little retreat. The track from the road (right) is your usual bridleway – a bit bumpy but OK on a hybrid or MTB.

The building itself is a Green Bacon, or possibly Beacon, hostel – it does lots of eco things such as harvesting rainwater to flush the loos, using PV panels to generate free electricity from sunlight which often even work, and offering a cycle shed built of logs (below right) whose low roof is specially designed to test out helmets.

The hostel also has an acoustic guitar, sturdy and weighty enough to be useful in hand-to-hand combat, but less useful for music making, as it lacks a D string.

Tanner’s Hatch is great: atmospheric, friendly, secluded, and something that bit special just a short hop from the city. A pleasant way to cycle there is to do the largely parklands Wandle Trail down to Carshalton, follow roads to Epsom Racecourse (from where you have a sweeping view of the London scraperscape) and head around Box Hill.

Not far – only 20-odd miles maybe, but allow five hours, a pint and two coffee stops. And bring a bottle of wine and set of guitar strings.

10 February 2010

New coin shows how much cycling is valued: 50p

A new 50p coin, coming in autumn, will feature a cyclist. Part of a Royal Mint series to celebrate the forthcoming London Olympics, the new design was made by a keen 16-year-old cyclist from Yorkshire.

A Royal Mint spokesman said the design (right) "captured the essence of speed and cycling in general". Hmm. Racing cycling maybe, but not Real Cycling. (Although his expression is the one of someone trying to negotiate the roadworks on Southwark Bridge.)

We'd like to see a series celebrating the everyday experience of cycling in the capital. How about something like this (right), for example, to celebrate the forthcoming Superficial Cycleways? (Surely 'Cycle Superhighways'? - Ed.)

Actually I preferred the 50p when it had a simple Britannia on it. But if they brought her back, there'd only be a debate over whether she should be wearing a helmet.

09 February 2010

Beachy Head, dangerous? Try cycling in London

Beachy Head, yesterday. No, don't worry. Things are bad but they're not quite that bad, yet.

I was visiting rels on the south coast, and what better way to get there than to take a train to Eastbourne and cycle a few miles west around Beachy Head? Well, several dozen, actually, given the weather we had yesterday: wind, mist, sleet, snow, chill, cold. I was getting a bit monosyllabic by the end, too.

Still, from the viewpoint at the Countryside Centre, there was a magnificent view of Beachy Head. Not the cliff, the namesake pub. Everything else was blotted out by the fog.

But there was, at least, the thrilling panorama: of mid-range hatchbacks parked majestically, with blurry couples beyond the steambath windows having tea and sandwiches and listening to Classic FM.

Bracing stuff, though. And the crumbling, overhanging cliff edge in a stiff northerly holds no fear for someone who grapples with the traffic at the Elephant and Castle every day.

And I was puzzled by this sign outside a home on the way there, on the long uphill slog out of Eastbourne town centre. 'Please respect residents and dismount from bicycles', it requests.

Dismounting is showing respect? In that case, London's cycle lanes must be among the most respectful in the world. You have to stop and get off to short-cut bad lights phasing, take the quicker footpath route, walk up the one-way bit, or clamber across roadworks, every five minutes.

08 February 2010

On a wingnut and a prayer: Bromptons in Brompton

Bromptons, the iconic folding bikes (right), are named after the Brompton Oratory (right), a big Catholic church in the Brompton Road area of west London (right).

(The Catholic church has a saint for everything, of course. The one representing cycling is Madonna del Ghisallo. Television is St Clare of Assisi, and the Internet is St Isidore of Seville - handy to remember next time your connection keeps getting dropped while you're trying to book your summer holiday.)

According to the church's website, the name 'Brompton Oratory' is incorrect, though that's exactly what the sign outside calls it. They maintain its correct name is the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, but I wouldn't have been so keen on a folding bike called 'Mary'. Still, Brompton Square isn't exactly a square either, I suppose. More a sort of circle you move in.

Anyway, you don't see many Bromptons parked round here. Presumably the owners simply take them inside the shop or restaurant or whatever, rather than leaving them to the mercy of the guys with greatcoats and bolt-cutters. Or relying on any hopeful prayers to the Madonna del Ghisallo.