Tag Archives: Cycling

Crap Cycle Lanes (#6)


Not quite a cycle lane but the indication of a cycling route. I spotted these freshly painted cycle icons today on Bridge Avenue in Hammersmith. This street is one-way and it not only encourages cyclists to ride in the wrong direction, it also gets them to ride too close to the parked cars. I know that it’s the end of the financial year but do councils really have to waste money on this kind of thing instead of building proper cycling infrastructure? Yes, it seems they do.


Filed under Cycling, Hammersmith & Fulham, London

Top Motorist Myths About Cycling and, er, Motoring

Advisory cycle lanes exist to let councils off the hook. They’re mostly useless and can encourage bad cycling.

The recent cluster of cycling deaths on London’s streets has brought road cycling back into the spotlight. It is unfortunate, of course, that it has taken 6 deaths in the space of a fortnight for people to sit up and pay attention. Now it’s all fine for motorists to complain that cyclists are self-righteous wankers (and there are no drivers who are self-righteous wankers? Come off it.) who dress in Lycra and take serious, often foolhardy, risks with their lives, but drivers have no room to talk given the numbers of undetected motoring offences I see every day in London.

With any debate of this nature, cycling is always likely to excite some passionate, if not excitable, views. I have spent some time in the last week or so scanning the comments threads on the recent spate of blogs that highlight the problems cyclists face when riding on urban streets. The comments, particularly those from motorists, are some of the most ill-informed and point to a basic and often wilful ignorance of the Highway Code.

Here are some of the more enduring myths that motorists have when they engage in a ‘debate’ over the rights and wrongs of cycling.

1. “I pay road tax”

This is the myth that’s heard the most. It’s also been debunked endlessly. There is no such thing as “road tax” and there hasn’t been since the 1920s. There is Vehicle Excise Duty and it is, as its name suggests, an excise dutypayable to HM Customs – that all motorists have to pay. It’s essentially a tax on pollution . If you don’t want to pay it, you can always cycle (cheaper) or take public transport (expensive). The choice is yours.

I had an encounter on a comments thread during which the other person claimed that he/she “believed Vehicle Excise Duty was the same as road tax”, which somehow made it true. I told him/her that just because “people believe in fairies and unicorns it doesn’t make them any more real”. There was no reply.

2. Cycling is dangerous

This is based on the notion that driving a car is inherently safer than riding a bike, because the driver feels that he/she is safer inside a two ton metal, glass and plastic box. It sort of makes sense… being surrounded by all that stuff. It’s like the cyclists who think that helmets have magical powers that render the wearer safe. They don’t.  Thing is, most car bodies are not armoured; they’re made out of lightweight metal. Have you ever seen a car that’s been side-impacted by a lorry? It’s a mess. Even the numbers of motoring fatalities aren’t on the motorist’s side. According to this Guardian article from 2012, the numbers of road fatalities are on the rise.

1,901 people died in road accidents in Great Britain last year – a rise of 51 since 2010, but still one third lower than the average number of fatalities between 2005 and 2009.

The figures, released by the Department for Transport, also show that the number of deaths to pedestrians and car occupants rose by 12% and 6% respectively, while there were drops in the numbers of bus and coach occupants (-22%), motorcyclists and (-10%) pedal cyclists (-4%) killed.

Over a thousand road deaths caused by a combination of factors: drink-driving, being in a hurry (speeding), reckless driving and not paying attention (put your goddam phone away!). It’s not as bad as Ireland, but still isn’t good.  According to ROSPA, there were 118 cyclist deaths last year. Again, it’s nothing to brag about but anyone can see that 118 is less than 1,901. But that’s one in five cyclists dying on the roads, often for a range of factors, some of which I’ve talked about on this blog. A UCL study from last year notes that cycling is still safer than driving. Indeed, as I mentioned earlier, many motorists are lulled into a false sense of security while they’re driving and it is because of this that some feel that they can take greater risks. Cyclists and motorcyclists feel everything because they’re exposed to the elements. The experience is much more immediate and real. For the cyclist perhaps more so, because of the amount of physical effort need to pedal at a decent cadence.

3. Cyclists jump red lights

What? And motorists never jump red lights? This myth really needs to be put to bed. In the last three days I have seen no less than 5 motorists jump red lights, some of them at pelican crossings. I sat on a bus last year and the driver jumped seven red lights in a row. Let’s get something straight: some road-users jump red lights.  To say that all cyclists jump reds is a sweeping generalization. It’s like saying that – as an urban cyclist –  I believe that all Mercedes drivers are selfish dickheads. They clearly aren’t but most of the ones that I’ve met are selfish dickheads.

4. If you ride on the road, you should be insured and that includes cyclists

This is another ‘belief’. Many cyclists are motorists and are already insured and all cycling instructors are insured – often through their employer – because of the nature of their work. Insisting that cyclists be insured to ride on the road is like saying users of mobility scooters and pedestrians should be insured. Where does it end?

Then there are the numbers of uninsured drivers on Britain’s roads. It’s estimated that there are over a million of them. Yes, motorists whose insurance payments are up to date have a right to be angry about uninsured drivers. Their premiums increase because of them. According to The Guardian, Britain has the highest number of uninsured drivers in Europe. Many of the accidents on Britain’s roads are caused by uninsured drivers.

5. Cyclists don’t know the rules of the road.

Yes, there are a lot of bad cyclists out there. I almost got hit by one as I was going through  a green light in Ealing as he was jumping a red light. I had another one pull out of minor road while I was travelling along the major road. When I remonstrated with him I got a ‘V’ sign for my trouble. Then there are the motorists who pull out from a minor road without bothering to look for cyclists and motorcyclists. An experienced cyclist could be travelling at 20mph, perhaps faster and there are some motorists who lull themselves into thinking that anything on two wheels is slower.

Then there was an occasion when I was behind someone in a four-wheel drive who didn’t indicate once in the half a mile or so that I’d followed them. Use your indicators! Or how about the driver who’s in the wrong lane on the Hammersmith gyratory and fails to indicate while changing lanes? It isn’t just cyclists who do this kind of thing. Drivers do it too – all the time. Pick your lane early and if you find you’re in the wrong lane, look behind and signal your intention to change lanes to other road users.

There are some motorists who think it’s fine to park on double yellow or zig-zag lines. I often see drivers parking on the double yellow line on Bridge Avenue in Hammersmith. One woman told me that it was okay to park on double yellow lines (on a bend) because “it was Saturday”.  Double yellow lines are there for a reason and are enforceable 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Then there are the numbers of drivers who are driving without a license or operating a vehicle that’s ringed or displaying a false number plate. Some people don’t care for the rules of the road. They think they’re above them.

6. Cyclists weave in and out of traffic

This is called “filtering” and it’s a perfectly reasonable and legitimate thing to do when you’re faced with a long queue of traffic. Motorcyclists and moped riders also filter. The motorist’s objection appears to be based on two things: 1) Why should I have to sit here in a long queue of traffic, while they get to ride to the front on the queue? 2. The bicycle has no engine, therefore it’s dangerous to filter. My reply to the first is, “start cycling or get a moped, then you won’t have to sit in traffic” and second, get used to cyclists filtering (and read the Highway Code). Having an engine is completely irrelevant.

Of course, cyclists also need to avoid potholes and this means swerving to avoid them. Riding into a pothole can be dangerous. It could also damage your bike and you could injure your spine. The motorists is protected by shock absorbers and the most that could happen is that they damage their suspension. Their spines will not suffer as a consequence.

7. Cyclists should wear helmets

Since when did cycling helmets come with magical powers? Never and the things that are going to keep you safe are your eyes and your road position. I always make eye contact with other road users and I look back frequently. If I make a turn, I always perform a lifesaver check.  I know that a helmet will protect the head in event of a crash but what about the other bones of the body? Should all cyclists be thinking of wearing full body armour too? Absurd.

8. Cyclists should ride on the pavement or in the gutter where I can’t see them

First, it’s illegal to cycle on the pavement unless where indicated. Second, riding in the gutter is not only uncomfortable but it could lead to punctures and skidding on wet drain covers. Staying out of sight is how many cyclists end up being killed or injured by motorists. Many cycle paths that run adjacent to roads aren’t cleaned regularly and there will be debris, including broken glass, lying in them. I can’t think of many motorists who want to damage their car or risk a puncture because they think it’s “safer” to do so. Can you? For the cyclist, it’s often better to ride on the road, than to ride on a detritus-strewn cycle path.

9. Cyclists should stick to cycle lanes and paths

Most cycle lanes are designed by people who don’t ride bikes, therefore many of them are actually dangerous. Some cycle lanes run close to give way lines or will encourage riders to overtake larger vehicles on the left. Cycle lanes need to be segregated and the Advance Stop Boxes need to be properly enforced.

Even if a cyclist uses the cycle lane, some drivers won’t give the cyclist enough room and will overtake far too closely. The safe recommended overtaking distance is three feet or a metre. This is another cause of accidents.

Some motorists clearly have a sense of entitlement and much of it is based entirely upon myths and the belief that because they drive a car, then they’re better than anyone who uses public transport – often seen by them as the “poor man’s mode of transport”. To these people, the cyclist is an inferior form of life that serves the same function as the tenant does to the self-styled homeowner (who rents their home from the bank).

There is no hierarchy of road users. Everyone needs to remember this.

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Crap cycle lanes (#1)

This is a new series dedicated to the crap cycle lanes that I encounter while I’m out riding. Here’s the first.
Hammersmith A4 (Bridge Road)This is near Hammersmith Bridge Road on the A4. The idea here is for cyclists to dematerialize and reappear on the other side of these obstacles.  If you’re caught cycling on the pavement, it’s a £30 to £80 fixed penalty – depending upon the borough.


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How to pedal

The title of this blog may seem a little self-evident. If you can ride a bike, you can pedal, right? Well, sort of. There is a way to pedal and a way not to pedal. When I’m out riding, I often see people pedalling badly. They don’t look as though they’re enjoying the experience much either. Now there may well be three reasons for poor pedalling technique:

1) The bike is too small or the saddle is too low for the rider

2) They were never taught how to pedal correctly

3) Both of the above

So what do I mean by “correct pedalling”? Pedalling should always be done with the balls of your feet and not the arch or the heel. There are a couple of reasons for this: when you pedal with the balls of your feet, you are delivering more power to the pedals. It’s also friendlier to your knees and ankles and you will improve your cadence (rate of pedalling). When you pedal with your arches or your heels, you will not deliver sufficient force to the pedals. You’re also storing up knee and ankle problems for the future.

If you already use SPD pedals, the choice has been made for you. The cleat is in the correct position on the sole of the shoe.

This illustration indicates the correct foot position for pedalling.

Courtesy Bikeradar.com

Happy cycling!


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Adventures in urban cycling: Part 1

The summer always brings them out. What am I talking about? Idiot road-users. I am an experienced urban cyclist who obeys the rules of the road. I cover my brakes and I wear my helmet correctly; I look behind and I signal. I also take the correct position on the road to avoid potential hazards. I want to be safe, who doesn’t? When I was 12 my family stayed in a guest house in Bedford while we waited for our accommodation on RAF Chicksands to be prepared. In one of the rooms that were staying in, someone had left a copy of the Highway Code. Being a bit of a bookworm, I read it from cover to cover, paying particular attention to road signs and markings, because I knew one day that I would have to use the road. So I do get a little cross when people clearly ignore the rules, bend the rules or behave as though they don’t apply to them.

In the last fortnight I’ve nearly been hit by stupid cyclists ignoring the rules and putting themselves and others in danger. Twice I have had  near-misses while positioning myself to take a right turn into a side road. The first near miss occured while I was waiting for an approaching motorist to pass when some lunatic flew off the pavement, approached me from behind, cutting me off as I was about to turn. This forced the motorist to brake suddenly. I made eye contact with the driver and waved him on. The second near miss came when I was again about to take a right turn when some fool came off the pavement to my left and cycled across my path and that of an approaching road user. We both looked at each other with a look of confusion on our faces. The motorist wanted to let me go first but just to prove I wasn’t like the moron who crossed our paths, I let him go first because he had right of way. As I passed the pavement cyclist I said “Do you have a death wish”? I didn’t wait for a reply but he didn’t shout abuse at me, so maybe he didn’t hear me…or he was just plain dozy.

Some motorists clearly have a problem with cyclists and while I appreciate there are some pretty abysmal cyclists on the road, the numbers of bad motorists is just as scary, if not scarier. But there is a staggering ignorance among many motorists about where cyclists should be on the road. As I said earlier, I take a position on the road that will keep me safe.  There are many motorists who believe that cyclists should only use the cycle lane. In the Highway Code it says

Cycle Lanes. These are marked by a white line (which may be broken) along the carriageway (see Rule 140). Keep within the lane when practicable. When leaving a cycle lane check before pulling out that it is safe to do so and signal your intention clearly to other road users. Use of cycle lanes is not compulsory and will depend on your experience and skills, but they can make your journey safer. (63)

Take note, cycle lanes are not compulsory and besides, not only do many motorists encroach into them, they are often full of debris, potholes, sunken or wet drain covers and so on. I don’t want a puncture and I want my back to last me into old age, so  I am not cycling in the gutter or close to the Give Way lines where I could get hit. Again, this particular passage in the HC is for cyclists.

take extra care near road humps, narrowings and other traffic calming features  (67)

It’s narrowings that seem to be a problem with some motorists. I was taking extra care. Some motorists seem to feel that they can barge past me, squeezing me into the kerb and possibly injuring me…or they will insist on overtaking me and racing to the narrowing. Either way, it’s dangerous and guess who’s going to come off worst? Not the driver, that’s for sure. I always look behind and take the lane and go through the middle of the narrowing and some drivers really hate this.

Today as I’m cycling along the Chiswick end of King Street, I am aware that there is road user behind me driving an electric blue Mini Cooper – that’s how aware I am. As I get to a set of narrowings that are spaced approximately 20m apart, the driver sounds her horn. I turn around and shout and gesture “One only”! As she catches up with me at the junction near the cinema, she leaned out of her window and I ask her “how many vehicles can fit through the narrowing”? Unaware of the traffic that’s suddenly starting to buildup behind her, she  tells me that I was “sitting in the middle of the road”. To which I reply very quietly and calmly “I wasn’t sitting in the middle of the road, I was cycling”. This completely stumped her and off she drove. Logic always trumps idiocy.  Besides, I wasn’t cycling in the middle of the road…on the dashed lines…which would have been silly, not to mention dangerous. Would she dared try to squeeze past a motorcyclist? Probably. It’s all too easy to think of someone on two wheels as being slower but I was doing between 23 and 25mph – a pretty good speed for that stretch of road. I believe the limit on that part of King Street is 30mph.

Here’s a sign that some motorists refuse to obey when I’ve had priority.

The sign is there for a reason, only one road user can get through and priority is indicated by the the black arrow, not the red one and take a good look at those Give way lines too…or didn’t you notice them? It’s a traffic calming measure and besides, why are you using this road as a rat run?

So there it is, there are good and bad road users and they are not restricted to one mode of vehicle or the other.  But the attitude exhibited by some motorists towards cyclists in Britain is pretty medieval.  Some cyclists clearly need to be taken off the road and educated and some motorists need to understand that I cycle where I do to avoid going to hospital. There is no pecking order on the road,  sometimes you just have to take your turn.

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