On a pothole

A few weeks ago I decided to go swimming before work. The pool opens at 7, so if I get up at 6 I can get a 40 – 45 minute swim in and only be about half an hour later at work than I would usually be. So I’d had my swim and was rolling briskly down towards the station. As always, I was aiming to pull up on the left and walk round the corner to where the station is. As always, there were two lines of traffic queuing for the lights. The traffic cannot turn left here (though I have seen a couple of idiots do it, straight into pedestrians crossing on a green man), so it is quite safe to scoot cautiously down the left hand side of the traffic queue.

Because I was later than usual, the queue was longer than it usually is when I get there, so I was moving left higher up the hill than usual, and probably carrying a bit more speed than sometimes. So as I moved to the left of the rearmost car in the queue, I hit a pothole, which was just the right shape to swallow the small wheel of the Brompton and off I came, ending up in a heap at the side of the road. Fortunately I wasn’t going that fast, and I got away with a hole in the palm of my hand (which bled quite a bit) and a scrape on one knee.

A nice gentleman came and picked me up (well picked the bike up out of the road), but accepted my embarrassed assurances that I was ok. However, something had knocked the rear wheel of the Brompton squint so that it rubbed and wouldn’t turn. I dragged it down to the station and got on a train and then got the little tool set out and managed to sort it enough to cycle for the rest of the day with just some friction… it took rather more faffing at home to get it fixed properly.

The scrape on the palm of my hand took a little while to heal. If I had been wearing gloves, they would have protected my palm, of course. I always wear cycling gloves of some kind on the road bike (or TT bike) for comfort. (Except if I am racing a short-distance triathlon, when time spent putting gloves on is time wasted. Except if it is really cold!) On the Brompton, I wear gloves when it is cold, to keep my hands warm. I did have a search around and found some quite pretty “cycle chic” fingerless gloves with a nice crochet style back. But in the end you wear protective gear because you expect an accident to happen, and I would rather cycle around looking as though I don’t expect an accident to happen. After all I have had the Brompton for 8 years now I think, and that is the first time I have broken skin falling off it. The only other bad fall I have had was this one. Mind you, those gloves are very pretty. Maybe I can get them as a Christmas present….

One thing I did do was report the pothole on “Fill that Hole”. I mentioned that I’d come off my bike as a result of hitting it, and it seemed to get filled rather quickly. Hmmm…

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On Road Bike versus Brompton

The Brompton is in the bike shop just now, having its gears looked at. Hopefully I’ll get the bottom gear back which will make coming home from the pub a bit easier… Anyway, because I have a rack on my road bike (and a rather nice pannier to use on it) I can use the road bike as a backup utility bike without too much hassle.
This gives me the opportunity to contemplate the question, does the same person, wearing (roughly) the same clothes, get treated differently depending on what bike they are riding? I have to admit at the start that I don’t have any firm conclusions, just some thoughts.

Firstly, I’m actually wearing a different coat. My warmest winter coat is a big long thing that flaps out behind me and makes me look “like the wicked witch of the west” (I quote). And my usual spring/autumn coat is a leather one that is also quite flappy. I don’t fancy riding the road bike in that coat, though, so I am wearing an anorak which does not flap. So I wonder if I look smaller and possibly more competent to a driver approaching from behind.
Today I did up the flappyness levels a bit by wearing a skirt! I’ve never tried wearing a skirt on the road bike before, but after seeing David Brennan wearing a kilt for PoP I thought I should give it a go. I suspect my skirt was more flappy than a kilt, but it was ok and the crossbar didn’t get in the way – in fact the point where I felt most inelegant was swinging my leg high to get on in the first place!

The theory behind this discussion is that if you look more competent then drivers will give you less space. There’s also the study that showed that a man wearing a long blonde wig got more space than the same man not wearing a wig (I assume he looked reasonably feminine at a glance – if I spotted a man cycling around in a long blonde wig I’d probably react differently to the way I’d react to a woman! ). Anyway I have short hair and have been taken to be male when wrapped up in winter clothes, so that effect is not always useful to me.

One thing I do find is that I feel it is harder to look behind me on the road bike because I am not in such an upright position compared to the Brompton. This means that keeping a good eye on traffic while negotiating the pinch points is a little bit trickier. However I have not had a bad incident this week. Yet. Going towards the station the road bike tends to pick up more speed and oddly I sometimes feel less safe, I wonder if this has something to do with the fact that it takes cars marginally longer to overtake. Or something.

Anyway it is about a week since I started this post and so far I don’t think I have noticed a difference…. so there goes that theory, at least as far as my anecdata is concerned. I’m quite enjoying the fact that the road bike gets me places faster; but the saddle is a lot less comfortable (I usually ride in it in padded shorts) and it is a lot more difficult to carry up and down steps, so I will be glad to get the Brompton back (the hub gear is going to be replaced, which at £70 plus labour is 2 or 3 tanks of petrol. But I digress.)

On the Women’s Cycle Forum

On Saturday I went to the Women’s Cycle Forum, organised as part of the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling. The idea was to have a panel of women, unlike most cycling forums which tend to be male dominated with perhaps a “token woman”. Men were welcome to join the audience, and a few did, which was good. When I saw it announced, I thought I should sign up, because it was obviously a Good Thing, so I did. Then I began to worry. Given that I already cycle, I’m not someone that’s worried about cycling on the roads as they currenly are. I’m a bit of a scruff, mostly, so all of this Cycle Chic stuff leaves me a bit cold and feeling as though I’m letting the side down if I don’t cycle around with perfectly coiffured hair and elegant make-up (I have better things to do with my time than coiffure my hair, and I think I last wore make up for a wedding in April 2013). So what could I contribute? And what was I going to wear? I started off contemplating a summer dress, and then decided it was too long so went for jeans and a nice bright top and then realised that the top is Pink, and wearing pink is a bit problematic (that’s a whole blog post in itself) so then I went for a blouse that my sister gave me that has balloons on it.

Phew.

The forum itself was interesting. Each member of the panel introduced herself and said a bit about what she does & what her (cycling-related) interests are. I’m not going to talk about them all as that will be reported elsewhere. Then we got into groups – each panel member went to a table and we all split ourselves between the tables according to which person we thought we’d like to talk to. As far as I could see, the split between the tables was fairly even – which just shows how diverse people are, in terms of what they think is interesting and might like to talk about some more.

The discussion at our table is what I really want to blog about – this is going to be a bit of a memory dump as I don’t have a lot of time to craft this into anything better! I joined Rachel Aldred who is a member of the London Cycling Campaign and does academic research into transport with a particular emphasis on cycling. We talked about infrastructure and about how to get good infrastructure.

One of the people at the table was from Dumfries and she told us that there are lots of nice cycling paths there but they don’t tend to link up. She also said that there are just too many cars and if there were fewer cars then the roads would be more pleasant to cycle. She told us that they took some of their local councillors on a bicycle ride to see the good bits of infrastructure and also the problems and gaps.

The “token man” at our table was actually a very useful person to have the ear of, as he is the cycling officer (or something like that) at the council…  we talked a bit about the new project on George Street. Apparently it is being done as cheaply as possible, as an experiment. This is why it will just vanish at the roundabouts, because they don’t have the money to do anything better. I pointed out that getting on and off it, especially at the Charlotte Square end, is a problem. (In fact, I came that way to the Forum. To get on to George Street from Princes Street, you need to be in the right hand lane as you go up South Charlotte Street. The road surface is very bumpy, it is slightly uphill, the road markings have nearly vanished and it is a good idea to signal right as much as you can as well as cycling as fast as you can. I had a taxi driver overtake me on my left and then pull up in the ASL in order to get to the red light for the right turn before me. To be fair, you can’t really see that there is an ASL there any more… Is it very surprising that one of the women at our table (who’d come with her friend) doesn’t feel safe cycling on the roads? I don’t think the taxi was likely to hit me, but it was an unpleasant moment – and why would you choose to be cut up by taxis instead of sitting inside a car?) Anyway, the thing our cycling officer said was that we just have to keep campaigning for better…

Then there was free food and a chance to network. Unfortunately I had to go home and feed Wonderful Boyfriend, because we were getting up early in the morning to go to a triathlon (I was racing and he was helping). Next time I would make sure I didn’t have to leave in a hurry! Actually, next time I would try and persuade W.B. to come too. He conforms to all the stereotypes as a cyclist – fit, confident, fast, always cycled. Yet he is still at risk from being hit by a car. He would be much safer on segregated infrastructure. But that infrsatructure has to be really good for someone like W.B. to use it in preference to the road. And how do we get infrastructure that he can share safely with all the other kinds of cyclists there are out there?

Anyway, I am glad I went along to the forum. I think it was a success, and I hope there will be some kind of follow-up event. One thing I did think was that most of the discussion at my table was not really female-specific – if you saw a transcription of our discussion you probably wouldn’t be able to say much about the gender of the participants most of the time (apart from when I said to the unfortunate cycling officer “Oh, you’re the person who put out the document with the line about “less confident cyclists, including women”… ” – to be fair to him, I think the response he got to that line was pretty much why he was at the forum…).

On advice on cycling for women

A couple of links from this week’s Cycling Embassy of Great Britain blog round-up got me thinking. The original article that got people talking was taken down, but katsdekker has it here. My initial reaction was to agree with Helen Blackman that is was pretty patronising. However I then read this response from The Girl’s Guide to Life on Two Wheels and began to wonder. Yes, all my long rides are done on a road bike, in whatever kit was cheap or on special offer at the time I got it; but on the other hand I do go around on my Brompton in whatever clothes are suitable at the time – and as I commute on the Brompton, a lot of the time “suitable clothes” really is a suit. So yes, for some of my cycling, appearance has some importance – not really while I’m on the bike, but when I get to the office.

I almost feel I’m contradicting myself here, because if you asked me, I would say that appearance is not important to me as a woman. And yet – I very, very rarely wear make-up, but earrings…. I like earrings. I have lots of earrings. Lots. Mostly the dangley kind. When I cycle to the office on my road bike, with my office clothes in a rucksack, I’ll bring jewellery in. A friend once said that she thinks of me as quite feminine because I wear skirts. So maybe my perception of myself as not very feminine, and not particularly bothered about appearance, isn’t quite accurate, at least for certain parts of my life. I’m certainly not someone who is going to do sport or climb hills wearing make-up or jewellery (I will usually have a little pair of keeper earrings in, but that’s just to keep the holes in my ears open – they’re my “I’m not wearing earrings” earrings).

So first of all, here are wisob’s top tips for cycling in a suit…

  1. Skirts are great for cycling in – so long as it is the right kind of skirt. Too long is a problem, as is too tight. But a nice loose knee-length one is perfect. You don’t have to clip it out of the way, unlike trousers, just hop on and off the bike. It really isn’t any colder to wear a skirt than trousers, particularly a heavier skirt. (I’ve had female friends describe me as mad for cycling in a skirt in winter – as if there’s huge amount of heat loss from my calves. I’ll wear socks over my tights if it is really cold, which does look a bit odd, but I just take them off when I get to the office.) And if it rains a bit, my coat will keep most of me dry, and tights dry pretty much instantly – unlike 5 cm of wet trouser leg.
  2. Waterproof trousers are comfortable enough over tights for short distances. So if it is really raining hard, I’ll wear waterproofs, shove my skirt in my bag and nip in to the ladies for a quick change when I get to the office.
  3. Earrings do get caught on scarves, coat collars, hats/helmets. I’ve lost a few, especially the kind that hook into your ears – and then I found that places like Claire’s Accessories sell little plastic things that slide onto the back and keep the earring from coming out, so that’s really useful.

Helen Blackman made a second, more measured response to the initial article here – I hope my tips pass her test (would your advice sound appropriate if given to a child (in which case it is likely to be patronising if given to an adult woman), would it sound odd if said to a man – well most of the above applies to things that are not culturally normal for men to wear, but I might still fell the need to explain to a men that cycling in a skirt is not the problem he thinks it is….) I do wonder if people like Sustrans feel that they can’t win – write about cycling without mentioning women and we’ll complain that we’re not mentioned; try and do something that acknowledges that women have different concerns to men and you get told you’re being patronising. (I guess it would be better to say that some women have different concerns – that being one of the problems, of course, we are not clones, we all have different opinions and different things that are important to us). One of the very good points that I think Helen Blackman is making is that it isn’t just what you say but the way you say it.

The other thing is that what you wear depends also on the journey you are making. If I wanted to go to the shops, I’d go in whatever I was wearing at the time – I could go in my pyjamas if I wanted to (I mean, I personally wouldn’t go to the shops in my pyjamas, but I understand that people do…) If I wanted to go and climb Ben Nevis in winter, I would wear several hundred pounds worth of winter hillwalking gear. So with cycling. To get to the pub, or the office, you can wear what you like. If I want to cycle 300km in a day, I will want cycling-specific gear, because it is much more comfortable and appropriate for what I’m doing.

I should say some more things about Pedal on Parliament, but that will have to wait for another time.