Wednesday, 26 July 2017

In which I sing while I cycle

After a short time cycling in a pedestrian-rich environment, you learn about Schrödinger's bike bell anger. Some people get angry when they hear a bike bell, and want you to Use your words. Some people get angry when they hear a raised voice, and want you to Use your bell, that's what it's for. And you won't know which one it is until you've got it wrong.

What we do know in advance is that people don't like being startled, and that bikes are fast-moving and quiet. Despite increases in London, we're not at Netherlands numbers yet, and people don't really expect them. Most of us use our ears to check if it's safe to cross a road, and only look once we've already stepped out - if then. This is understandable on roads that see only a few bikes a day.

(I'm baffled at people doing it on the Blackfriars cycle track, though. You just saw a dozen or more bikes go through on the last phase. What did you think was going to happen when the pedestrian lights went red this time? Penguins?)

Whether you ding or shout, doing it too close to people can startle them almost as much as the sudden appearance of a bike. Doing it further away means they ignore it as background noise in a busy urban environment.

My solution: keep making noise from several metres away until after you've passed them. Here are some suggestions:
  • Talk loudly to your companion
  • Talk loudly on the phone
  • Talk loudly to yourself (pretending to be on the phone)
  • Have a noisy, rattly bike. (This probably needs fixing)
  • Have a noisy, rattly road. Put metal keys in your metal basket for full effect as you bounce over potholes.
  • Play music
  • Sing
As you can guess from the title of this blog post, I generally opt for singing. People don't experience singing as a threat. It's easy to judge which direction you're coming from, how close you are, and which side you're going to pass on. Also you can provide your own theme music.

The other option is to keep ringing your bell or shouting out Excuse Me Please, but to smile broadly as you go. That small social cue relaxes people, and they usually smile back. 

But I think I'll stick with my excuse for why I'm singing in public.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

In which I finally get enough exercise

The NHS recommends we do at least 2h30 of moderate exercise every week. That was really hard, until it suddenly became ridiculously easy.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Come hill or high headwind

One of the many ideas which is proposed as an argument against making it safe and pleasant to cycle in the UK is that it's too hilly.

Speaking as someone who dismounts every day for the last 100 metres up my hill, I have some sympathy with this argument. I have heard people argue that the Netherlands, being flat, suffers from much higher winds than more bumpy places, and these are an equal problem. I was very skeptical until I cycled home in gale force winds one afternoon.

So here is my attempt to decide if I'd rather have hills or headwinds.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

In which choosing a night-time route can be a stab in the dark

At the darkest time of the year, another cycle route test has occurred to me. Is this route usable in the dark?

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

In which I do my bike finances

It has been 2 years since I bought my second-hand Gazelle, and I recently took it for a service at the excellent Flying Dutchman shop in Camden. They were friendly, very competent, and surprisingly cheap.

So, how much does it cost to own and run a bike?

Thursday, 21 July 2016

In which it's cool to cycle

This is the hottest week of the year so far, and if you only cycle commute once or twice a month, it seems like a good week to leave the bike at home.

But oddly, that's not what I've found.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

In which chatting is a good measure of cycling

There are various ways of measuring how suitable a road is for cycling. For example, Transport for London has the Cycling Levels of Service (CLoS) score, and Wales has the Cycling Route Audit Tool. These are useful tools for engineers and planners to check that the specific details of new schemes are beneficial to cyclists, and won't lead to injuries or deaths.

But useful though it would be to apply them to every road in the city, the process would take a while. And whilst it is very good to have an objective measure of safety, these complex descriptions don't make it easy to convince residents that a road is genuinely not suitable for everyone to cycle.

Enter: the chatting index. This is my simple 3-step scale for ranking roads for cycling.

Can you chat whilst travelling?

Level 3: Cycling side-by-side, chatting away.
Level 2: Mostly chatting, but with interruptions.
Level 1: No chatting possible, interruptions too frequent.
(Level 0: Not sure the other person is even still alive, but can't spare the attention to check.)

This is a remarkably easy scale to judge roads on. Simply get 2 people to cycle together, and ask them where they could and couldn't talk. If you can't do that, it's fairly easy to just imagine!

Everywhere that there are high volumes of motor vehicles or pedestrians sharing the same space, they will have to keep separating to get through or let others pass.
Everywhere that the path is muddy or potholed or overgrown, they need to concentrate on weaving a safe path.
Everywhere that it is too narrow, or there are barriers to negotiate, they will have to go single file and shout back over their shoulders to talk.
Everywhere that they have to dismount, they will have to concentrate on not whacking their shins or anyone else.
Every time a route is not obvious, they must switch to discussing where to turn next.
Everywhere that they feel nervous, late at night in an unlit alleyway, they won't feel comfortable slowly chatting along.
Everywhere cobbled, they will be jolted too much to talk.
Everywhere that it's too steep, they'll need to save their breath!

So, how sociable is cycling near you?