Because I’ve got several deadlines coming up, as well as NaNoWriMo, I am spending a lot of time at my desk. I’ve had a few days off work, to concentrate on writing, and haven’t been getting out much. Our house is a little on the tepid side, and it has been quite cold sitting here scribbling or tapping away. Today’s weather was glorious sunshine, and I thought I’d spend half an hour cleaning Fingal and getting Shackleton all wintrified with his new rack and lights etc. As you do on a sunny day when you want to be riding but can’t spare the time.
Fingal has been standing in as commuter since my knee went a bit dodgy and Shackleton ate his Carradice Trax, leaving him incapable of carrying luggage. Both Shackleton and Fingal are quite bitey (like the TARDIS), which I’ve always put down to them being commuter bikes and needing to defend themselves against reprobates. Fingal tends to bite people — Shackleton tends to bite his own kit.
But no. As is the way of bikes, as soon as you do any maintenance, you discover a whole host of things that need sorting.
Shackleton seems to have taken a bath in salt at some point. I don’t know when, or how, or where it came from, but in the time he has been snuggling against the other bikes he has become afflicted with rust. The new 135mm double-fixed rear hub I spent months looking for has bearings that feel like they are made of sand and grit, despite having a grand total of 200km on it. The offside rear brake arm has completely seized. The bottom bracket is clunking and, to top it all off, the self-extractor for the Truvativ crank has mysteriously vanished, so I can’t even take the transmission apart to see what size bottom bracket I need.
At one point I might have thought I needed a new bike. I certainly wouldn’t have known what was causing all the grinding and I’d probably have panicked. But these days I know what I’m doing with bikes and so I can make a neat little list of what needs to happen to sort it out.
- Have bath to wash off assorted bicycle gunk;
- Ignore brake as the rear brake is just a handy place for keeping spare brake blocks anyway (it’s a fixed gear);
- Order new M12 self-extracting crank bolt (about 10 quid);
- Take rear wheel and old hub to shop, ask them to change cartridge bearings (I don’t have flat spanners that can do the job). This will fix my wheel and give me a spare hub, yay;
- Buy new chain to replace rusty one;
- Get cranks off, remove bottom bracket, check size, buy and fit new bottom bracket;
- Find somewhere that will shot-blast and repaint my Pompino for a decent price.
All of this is relatively easy, bar the last one. I got Fingal resprayed by Argos Cycles about 10 years ago and they did a splendid job but it wasn’t cheap. Well worth it, I just can’t afford it right now.
So it’s not the end of the world, just a pain in the backside. Which is about how I used to feel about punctures — these I no longer consider as repairs. They’re just a hazard of riding a bike a lot.
What was supposed to be a half an hour in the sunshine turned into 3 hours of cursing as I tried to fix as much as I could to figure out what needed replacing. And I didn’t get Fingal washed, so he’ll be especially bitey this week.
There’s a saying that cycling doesn’t get any easier, you just get faster. Well bike maintenance is sort of similar: you should always support your local bike shop because no matter how good you are at maintenance, you will always come up against something for which you haven’t the tools, haven’t the parts or haven’t the time to sort out yourself.
I could post about the riots taking place in England, but there is enough about that going on out there in internetland, and I have nothing in particular to add to what others are already saying. I’m shocked, appalled, greatly concerned for the welfare of friends living in the areas affected and hoping that whatever resolution the Government comes to isn’t a knee-jerk reaction involving water cannon and further erosion of our democracy, without feeling particularly optimistic that this will happen.
So I’ll talk about something else instead.
This is a rare weekday post from me, the reason being that I’m not at work. I spend a lot of time telling people that cycling isn’t dangerous, and the numbers back me up. It’s not dangerous, which is why every time anyone starts bleating the same old same old about cyclists wearing helmets or dressing up in shades of radioactive lemon custard I get quite cross. It’s not only unnecessary, it’s victim blaming. It ignores the hierarchy of dealing with risk, which has personal protective equipment right down at the bottom and removing the source of the risk right up there at the top.
On urban roads the greatest source of risk comes from other road users.
So it’s somewhat ironic, not to mention galling, that I’m currently at home having aggravated an old injury getting out of the way of a speeding motorist. It has been suggested I report it, but in my mind it’s one of those things: it’s a hazard of urban cycling, along with punctures, potholes and pigeons shitting on your head. I’m not badly hurt —I’m already a lot better and I’ll be better still tomorrow— and the chances of identifying the driver are somewhere between zero and anorexically slim.
These things shouldn’t happen, but they do.
What interests me about this is my own reaction. I was in two minds whether to post anything publically about this for fear of making people think that cycle commuting is dangerous. I’m the one who was injured and it hasn’t changed my mind about whether or not cycle commuting is dangerous, so why should I think that telling anyone would make them think that it is?
This question cuts to the heart, I think, of why cycling isn’t more popular. We have become too risk averse. We are not given the opportunities to find out what it’s like to push ourselves too far, to get hurt. We no longer have the extensive experience of bruises, cuts, scrapes, burns, broken bones and gashed scalps that were such a feature of my childhood. We no longer know what it’s like to heal. Scars have long since stopped being something to show off in the manner of Quint and Hooper in Jaws or even Riggs and Cole in Lethal Weapon 3.
I remember when scars were the skin-words of life-stories. I remember sitting in a pub in Oxford comparing scars with a young man I had only met that afternoon, conceding him as the winner when he showed me the puckered marks left by seven stab wounds he had received saving his then-girlfriend from a gang of attackers. Now scars are something people pay cosmetic surgeons to minimise, and skin-words are carefully wrought in the abstract fonts of body modification, artfully designed rather than emergent.
People these days are more concerned with hiding the traces of their lived lives, with combating the seven signs of ageing and the application of science to achieving what Dorian Gray did with a portrait in the schoolroom.
I don’t think that people are worried about dying out there on the roads. If they were, they wouldn’t get in their cars. In Scotland there were 105 fatalities amongst car users in 2010 and only 7 cyclists killed during the same period [source]. Total casualties were 8,293 and 781 respectively.
I think people are worried about getting hurt, because they have so little experience of getting hurt they exaggerate in their own minds how bad it will be. This might not be the deciding factor when it comes to cycling, of course, no matter how much emphasis people place on perception of danger when explaining their reasons for not cycling. Perhaps those who claim laziness are correct. Perhaps it is simply peer pressure, or the sense that cycling isn’t normal; that only freaks, weirdoes, the excessively sporty and the excessively poor do it.
I only know that while I’m grumpy about having a hurt back, I’ve not been put off in the slightest. I still don’t think that cycling is dangerous and I can’t wrap my brain around the idea that there are people who are so convinced that it is they would rather drive 5 miles to work than get on a bike. The driver of the shiny black car that nearly took me out speeding around a roundabout in Sighthill is far more likely to become another statistic one day than I am; and I’m still more likely to injure myself banging my head off a kitchen cupboard (again) than I am to be injured commuting by bike.
I took this shot when collecting Munky from Waverley Station on his way up for the Dumb Run. These double-layer cycle racks must be pretty new because I hadn’t seen them before. Mind you, I use Haymarket most of the time and am rarely at that end of Waverley even when I do use that stop.
I think this is a great way to store bikes. They can have a natter while their owners are away doing whatever it is their owners do, and the individual storage units keep them sufficiently apart to minimise fighting. Mine have a tendency to get into arguments when left stacked together and there’s no one around to keep an eye on them, which I assume is because they’re bored and have already said everything there is to say to one another. I’m pretty sure Blackbird has been chewing Fingal’s bar tape recently.
I notice there’s a bike there with pink wheels, which is rather swish. I’ll bet that one’s quite precious, in a princessy way. The sort of bike to complain about vegetables in the bedding.
It’s always the same at this time of year. The snows come, drivers behave like a pack of lemmings infected with the Rage virus, and I do the sensible thing and leave my car at home. I get to work by bike.
Yes. That is the usual response. As it happens, I feel safer on the bike. It’s smaller — at the end of the day I can throw myself off the bike onto the verge and drag it with me if I have to. I can get off and walk. More to the point, I can manhandle it around in a way I can’t do with my front-wheel drive Ford Mondeo estate, which, in these conditions, behaves like a river kayak on a sea crossing. Once it goes it goes and there’s no stopping it.
Winter cycling has its own precautions, of course. There’s triple insulation required and I even wear a lid for commuting because I’m more likely than normal to come a cropper involving a sharp fall sideways onto a kerb at low speed, the only incident for which a cycle helmet is really designed; and, more importantly, because it keeps my woolly hat on my head.
The other thing, of course, is visibility. While I refuse to dress in shades of radioactive custard, I do like the shiny. Spielberg Close Encounters Award several years running, don’t you know.
This year Fingal is rocking two CatEye LD610s, two LD170s and a Blackburn Mars 4, while I complement the ensemble with a pair of Fibre Flares on my backpack and some green rope light, just for the lulz. Up front we have a four lamp cluster comprising two Lumicycle heads offering around 50watts of in-your-face halide splendour and a couple of EL400s, because you can never go wrong with an Opticube. With a set-up like that, there’s no point in hi-viz, although I do have some reflective bands at wrists and ankles for the confusion effect (and signalling).
I took this picture on my way home tonight, outside Real Foods on Broughton Street, one of my favourite Edinburgh shops. I love the surreal colours of the evergreen on the shopfront, the Christmas decorations and Fingal’s frankly bonkers lighting.
If anybody knocks me down and says “Sorry Mate, I Didn’t See You” I may have to punch him on the nose.
There can’t be many people in the UK, possibly the world, who are not aware that we are having our earliest severe snowfall for around 20 years. It started on my birthday and hasn’t let up since, although we’ve had one day when there was no new snow. That was yesterday.
This morning at 6am the sky was still clear, as far as I could tell in the darkness. By 8:30am, when I was leaving for work, the snow was falling in earnest.
I took the car, because I’m still recovering from flu. It took me about an hour and a half to get 5 miles. Sitting at the junction of Quality Street (no chocolate) and Queensferry Road and seeing the traffic at a standstill in my direction of travel, which meant it was probably backed up from the Maybury junction, I turned left instead of right and spent another hour getting home again. Just getting the car into the street and out after finding no parking spaces, then into the car park out the back, took about 20 minutes. The snow is lying on sheet ice.
This is the view from our window:
It has actually become even worse in the time it has taken me to download from the camera and write this much.
For the past week or so we’ve been experiencing problems with the communal boiler, which means there have been a few days when we’ve had no hot water or heating for more than long enough for it to get very cold indeed. I think they’re coming to fit a new part today. As I’m now snowed in — at least until I get the mountain bike kitted out in appropriate tyres and discovered whether my chest can take the exercise — I’m really hoping they don’t have to turn it off today. It’s already chilly in here.
Talking of cold, I ventured out to the shop in my Vibram KSOs late yesterday afternoon. Previously I’d been out in the Bikilas, which are made of a thicker material and have more robust soles (and really are that pink), and that was fine. While I am so enamoured of the VFFs that I never want to wear “proper” shoes ever again in my life, I can honestly report that I thought I’d managed to get frostbite wearing the KSOs on a mixture of packed ice and snow. I think it might be time to get some of the Ininjis or Lizard socks to keep my little tootsies warm if it’s going to be like this all winter.
Here’s the view from the window now. The trees are disappearing. The gas works vanished hours ago.
I hope Frood gets home okay. He’s got cross tyres on Spartacus. He should be fine.
I feel it would be an opportune time to clear up some confusion evidently being experienced by a significant portion of road users. With my foot injury restricting me to cycle commuting for the past couple of months, I’ve had ample opportunity to observe the unfortunate fact that not a lot has changed since the last time I made these comments. There are a few more cyclists running red lights in a manner I consider to be reckless and inconsiderate, but that might be a result of the urban environment, as their numbers are at least matched by those of drivers doing the same.
The thing is, it’s really not that hard.
- Advanced Stop Lanes are for cyclists. That’s why they have a picture of a bike painted inside them. You can tell it’s a bicycle because it has two wheels and pedals. The red background is there to make them more visible. The solid white line around them is not there to give a clear outline for the man with the red paint to colour in: it is equivalent to any other solid white line at a traffic light. In other words, drivers are not permitted to cross while the light is red. This applies whether you are on a motorbike or in a car, bus or taxi. It also applies even if you are driving a shiny red BMW.
- The presence of a garish criss-cross pattern of yellow on the road indicates what is technically known as a box junction. These are not difficult to use. All that is required is that you do not enter unless your exit is clear. This doesn’t mean sitting inside one because the car in front is half in and half out so it must be okay then. This applies even if you’re in a shiny black BMW.
- A speed limit is the upper boundary of the permitted speed at which you are allowed to drive your car on the section of road to which that speed limit applies. The speed limit applies at all times of day and night and doesn’t have qualifying exceptions for vehicle type such as “unless you are in a white van, silver Saab, an Alfa Romeo or a BMW.” There is also no exception that says “the limit does not apply if you are overtaking a cyclist who is travelling at or more than the speed limit.” Nor does it cease to apply if you are late for work/picking up the kids/getting home in time for your favourite TV show. The only time the speed limit does not apply is if you are on a bicycle. If you want to travel faster than the speed limit, ride a bike. If you have good reason for exceeding the speed limit in your car, such as you are racing home because your children are being menaced by an angry lion, whilst on fire, you should probably have asked the police to attend on your behalf.
- You would not overtake a car that was signalling right 5m before the junction and was in the process of pulling out: don’t overtake a cyclist doing the same thing. We’re not pigeons. We’re not street furniture. We’re not mere obstacles to be dodged at the last possible instant with the minimum amount of clearance. There’s a person on that bike, with a family and a life and an adrenaline gland that gets far more use than it really should because a significant portion of drivers out there can’t see past the edges of their own peer group. Don’t be one of those myopic elbow-polishers. It’s not big and it’s not clever and it’s not going to get you where you’re going any faster.
Every time you overtake another vehicle you are increasing the risk for both of you. When it’s a bike the rider is not protected by three quarters of a metric tonne of steel and plastic and you don’t get to make that sort of risk alteration without due consideration. Squeezing past anywhere is A Very Bad Thing: doing it while the cyclist is attempting to turn right is an indication that you are a turd who deserves to have unpleasant things happen to your procreation equipment.
- I do understand that some of you drivers out there have a queue fetish. I mean, it’s obvious. You can always tell: they’re the ones who go racing past at high revs when there’s a traffic jam about 50m ahead, where they’ll sit, marinating in their own impatient juices while the cyclist they’ve just cut up merrily cruises to the front of the line. Because you can do that on a bike. Bikes rock and they so rule.
Still. Each to his own. Rule 34 and all that. If you get a kick out of being frustrated in a jam then that’s what floats your boat. I suppose it might be a form of masochism, like being tied up by a person you really fancy and teased for three hours before being sent home without so much as a lick. Just, if you’re going to jump in front so you can spend that bit of extra time in the jam, please try to be considerate about it and give the cyclist you’re overtaking plenty of room.
- Cyclists are allowed to filter through traffic and they are allowed on the road. If this bothers you, please fill out the following butthurt report form and submit it by folding it into a paper aeroplane and throwing it from your nearest tall building. Santa Claus will intercept it and make sure it is delivered to the appropriate authority: i.e. your mum.
Now to most of us who are aware that alcohol and driving don’t mix, this call is, well, meh. I never drink anything before driving. There’s not much difference between 80 and 50 for those who feel alcohol and cars don’t mix. The advantage of 50 over, say, zero, is that a serving of sherry-laced trifle, use of an alcohol-based mouthwash, or anything lingering the morning after a moderately sensible night before shouldn’t result in a 12 month ban.
Yet, surprise surprise, the Association of British Drivers — also known as the Top Gear Fan Club — objects to any proposal to cut the blood alcohol limit.
Conversely, Nigel Humphries of the Association of British Drivers opposes any reduction, arguing that this would remove any incentive to stay within the law for the small number of drivers who try to drink within the limit.
“We think this would harden attitudes – people don’t take notice of daft laws,” he says. “You’ve got to have legislation that is sensible.”
- Safe Booze believes absolutely in enhanced road safety. We do not campaign against blood alcohol limits or alcohol limit enforcement. We are not anti-police. We are not “pro-drinking”.
- We believe that too much blood alcohol limit enforcement by unthinking automatons makes the roads very much more dangerous.
- We believe that publicising incorrect safety mantras to motorists is hazardous. “Alcohol kills” lacks any useful meaning and is perilously deceptive.
- We believe that inappropriate alcohol for the conditions is an essential road safety issue that is made worse by too much emphasis on blood alcohol limit compliance.
- We do not recommend or condone breaking road traffic laws unless it is obvious to the trained eye that it is perfectly safe to do so, in which case any judge will agree with you because you are, of course, an experienced expert.
From the ABD’s own website:
- The Association of British Drivers (ABD), as a body representing drivers’ interests, is as eager as anyone to ensure that all road users can go about their legitimate business without their lives being put at risk by those who drive whilst impaired by alcohol.
- Central to the proposed strategy for further reducing alcohol related deaths is the reduction of the permitted blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level from the current 80mg/100ml to 50mg. The ABD believes that this measure will achieve nothing but the pointless criminalisation of millions of responsible people who are not causing any danger to others. This will lead to a serious danger of public respect for the limit, and consequently the entire anti drink drive strategy, being undermined.
- The biggest time for drink drive accidents is summer, not Christmas. This is the time when people are dehydrated and the same drink has much more effect. The government should warn people of this, and give advice about factors which can extend the’life’ of alcohol in the blood.
- It would… be quite reckless for the Government to push ahead with a BAC limit reduction which would certainly result in gross injustice for many thousands of responsible motorists and probably undermine public support for the anti drink drive message, whilst delivering, at best, highly uncertain, unproved and marginal direct road safety improvements.
- The ABD reserves the right to refuse membership to those with serious motoring convictions, but it recognises that these can arise unjustly.
It would be tragically, gob-smackingly infuriating if it were not so damn funny.
I wish the ABD would just put a big banner across their site saying “DRIVERS SHOULD BE EXEMPT FROM LEGAL CONTROL BECAUSE HAVING TO OBEY THE LAW IN MY ZOOM-MOBILE MAKES MY BUTT HURT. VROOM VROOM!”
It would be more honest. Those of us who have, shall we say, a history of dealing with the ABD and its various stalwarts no longer pay any attention to them. We know they leik mudkipz. The worry only comes when organisations such as the BBC start paying attention to these Clarkson-apologists. It’s like inviting the BNP to the Queen’s Garden Party.
Oh. Right. That’s happening too. *facepalm*