On good cyclists versus bad cyclists

I suppose I should be grateful to the author of the “mummysgonnacycle” blog for her latest blog post, because it has got me cross enough to dust off this blog and post something. The post is entitled “Cyclists of the world unite! (or at least be friendly)” and is a grumble about 1) people on a sportive not stopping and offering to help her husband who was fixing a mechanical and 2) not all cyclists smiling and waving at all other cyclists.

Now on a sportive, there’s mechanical backup (that’s one of the points of doing a sportive) and she obviously had someone there who knew what he was doing. I can totally understand people not asking she was OK – especially as if everyone who had passed had asked she’d have been saying “Yes, fine, think you” umpteen times. So I’d cut people some slack there. It would have been different if she’d been standing on her own obviously not knowing what to do.

With the greeting every cyclist you see – it depends on context. I don’t say hello to everyone I walk past in Edinburgh, and I don’t greet every cyclist I see in Edinburgh – there are too many. If I’m out hillwalking, I will greet other walkers because there are few of them and we are acknowledging our shared hobby. So when I’m out in the country on a training ride I’ll usually greet other cyclists. I might not if my hands are full of bike though – if I’m going steeply uphill or fast downhill I want both hands on the handlebars, thank you!

This thing about “we’re all cyclists united in our mode of transport”, I really don’t get it. You don’t greet every car driver you pass, do you? But if you drove an unusual vehicle you might greet drivers of the same kind of vehicle. We want cycling to be so usual that greeting a cyclist would be as odd as greeting a car driver, and the only cyclists who greet one another are riders of recumbents… (I was going to say, and Bromptons. But Bromptons are getting very common around here these days.)

It seems to me that when I’m out on my Brompton in my street clothes, transport cycling nice and slowly, then I am a Good Cyclist, a good advert for cyclists, behaving myself and not scaring children and old ladies; but when I put on my lycra and get out my fast bike I become a Bad Cyclist, a lyrca lout, wearing silly clothes and putting some effort in and getting out of breath and sweaty. The horror. But I obey the rules of the road whatever bike I’m on, I treat other road and shared path users with respect whatever speed I’m riding, I’m the same person whatever I’m wearing.
Yes, it is actually OK to train, to want to be a faster, stronger, fitter cyclist, to race and to enjoy racing and competing and trying to be the best you can be whatever that means for you; yes, I totally accept that not everyone enjoys sport, not all cyclists are sports cyclists, not everyone wants to challenge themselves in that way. Just don’t criticize those of us who do.

I did a triathlon last Sunday. As we were coming down the valley, there was a short stretch of road where there were mountain bikers coming up the valley, connecting two off-road sections of a long (175km, I think) mountain bike ride. I was on my TT bike, I had a tail wind, I was down on my aero bars going as fast as I could. I did try and say hello. I think I may have confused some of them. Triathletes are notoriously grumpy, of course…

On meeting some politicians

Recently I went to an event organised by the Women’s Cycle Forum and a group called “We Walk, We Cycle, We Vote“, which describes itself as an umbrella organisation, formed to campaign on Active Travel issues in the run up to forthcoming elections in Scotland. They described the form of the event as “speed dating” – which was actually a pretty good description. There were five tables, and five politicians, and each table got ten minutes with each politician. It did feel slightly manic… I understand that they only had a limited amount of time so had to keep everyone moving, and they did do that successfully.

The five politicians were: Joan McAlpine MSP (SNP), Alison Johnstone MSP (Greens), Lesley Hinds and Maureen Child (Labour), and Joanna Mowat (Conservatives). The last three are all Edinburgh City Councillors and Lesley Hinds is also Convenor of the Transport and Environment Committee.

I’m struggling to work out exactly what I got from or brought to the event. I had two questions which I wrote on cards when I came in, as we were asked to, but someone then moved my better question off onto another table so I felt I could not ask it! That question was “How do we give our politicians the confidence to take measures that will be unpopular in the short term, in order for there to be a long term benefit?” We talked a bit about campaigning with Maureen Child and one of her suggestions was that you go to hustings and ask about active travel, because apparently this does not come up. I think I could do that. I just need to find out where our nearest hustings is, and how they work… Kim on my table said something about the process the Dutch went through to get their cycle paths, and something about riots on the streets of Amsterdam, and Maureen Child said maybe we need some riots… I am not sure what direct action would look like, and of course we are talking about breaking the law here, so…

The Women’s Cycle Forum describes itself as running “Women led, not women only” events. “Kim” is a male Kim, not a Kimberly. There were a few men in the room – more than there were at the last W.C.F. event I went to – and it did feel like the two at my table dominated the conversation somewhat. I am not sure that there are easy solutions to this – I like the “women-led, not women only ” idea, but if you don’t have a women-only space, how do you stop the men from dominating it? Or, to put it another way, how do you encourage the women to make our voices heard? I read somewhere that men are more likely to interrupt than women, and that a woman, when interrupted, is more likely to stop talking than a man is. (I use this information at work, where I have one colleague who is particularly bad at interrupting – these days I carry on talking and make him wait till I have finished…) The organisers were trying to get the men to talk less… one of them said they should have got the men to tweet what was being said, which is a good idea because it is quite hard to tweet and talk at the same time. On the other hand, Kim had lots of good things to say to Joan McAlpine who was going on about there being no money for infrastructure but would not take Kim’s questions about why we’re spending lots of money dualling the A9 when it isn’t at capacity for an answer.

I didn’t warm to Lesley Hinds – she seemed too inclined to talk and not so much to listen. I felt a bit steamrollered by her, which is a shame as she was the person in the room with the most influence over cycling infrastructure in Edinburgh.

Anyway, all in all I am glad I went along and I hope that at least some of the things that were said will make a difference.

On the Women’s Cycle Forum

The other week I went to the Women’s Cycle Forum, part of the excellent Edinburgh Festival of Cycling (EdFoC). I really enjoyed last year’s, so I was looking forward to this one. I really liked the fact that the 2 main speakers were not actually cycle campaigners, but women from successful campaigns in other areas – “No More Page Three” and “Playing Out“. The No More Page Three woman was particularly interesting and did a good job of talking about the lessons she’d learned that could be applied to other campaigns. “Playing Out” was also interesting; it is a very different kind of thing to No More Page Three in that it is an ongoing happening rather than a single-issue campaign. I really enjoy this blog which is (partly) about a play street in London.

Once we’d heard the two main speakers we divided into groups and this is where I think I made the wrong choice. I joined the group lead by Katja Leyendecker who is the leader of the Newcastle Cycling Campaign. I grew up near Newcastle and enjoy Katja’s blog so I was interested to meet her. Unfortunately the discussion in the group all got a bit technical for me and I didn’t feel there was much I could contribute (or do with what I learned); in retrospect I think I should have gone to the group about women in cycle campaigning. Anyway at the end of all the discussion we came out with the Build A Better World Bingo card. Which is nice, and fun as well as serious, but leaves me feeling like I don’t really know where to start. I mean, I merrily take the lane on a 40mph road with pinch points, and mostly avoid routes away from roads because then I have to slow down for pedestrians and dogs so in some ways I don’t need change for me. And yet; I do use some shared paths rather than mix with traffic, and I dislike having to deal with big trucks, and I know that just because I have learned to have a brass neck for my own safety, it doesn’t mean that most people are content to be shouted at just because the learner driver took their time overtaking me; so there are things I would like to change. And of course most people don’t see cycling as a viable or sensible way of getting around at all. That doesn’t give me any good ideas about what I can do to change things. Maybe I just need to pick something small and do it. 

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 a shopping trip

Today I went shopping and bought this:

Stock pot
and got it safely home, bungeed onto the back rack of the Brompton (in its box, I might add…) I’d made sure I had some string with me which I tied across the box, but really, it felt pretty secure with just the bungee cords on. I was a bit worried about the glass lid (to be honest, I didn’t really want a glass lid, but there didn’t seem to be such a thing as a stock pot without a glass lid), but when I unpacked it I found that it was well protected with cardboard. I still went much more slowly than usual. I hate having to cycle slowly – I feel more vulnerable for some reason.

I went in and out of various shops on Princes Street this morning, so when I was getting dressed I decided I’d wear a skirt, rather than having to faff around with trouser clips. Unfortunately all my skirts are office skirts! So on my top half I wore an old tee-shirt, a fleece and my casual coat, and then on my bottom half I wore a black knee-length skirt, tights, and my work shoes! It all worked fine, though. I’d have just looked a bit odd if I’d taken off my coat…

There aren’t any bike racks on Princes Street, but they have quite recently put in a few “cycle hoops” on some of the lamp posts on the same side of the road as the shops. I never found an empty one when I wanted one, though, so I just used the railings on the other side of the road. It was relatively early on a Sunday, so the road was quiet and I got back and forth quite quickly. Not that there’s any point in providing bike racks, of course, as people might want to buy big things like saucepans that you couldn’t possibly transport on a bicycle…

(Yes, I could have got the bus. But that would have cost me £3. And going up and down the street to go into different shops is much quicker by bicycle.)

On Christmas presents

This is a present I got from my Wonderful Boyfriend’s mother:

Front of top

Front of top

It is a rather nice top. Here’s the back view:

Back of top - note extra pocket

Back of top – note extra pocket

Yes – it is a cycling top. I really like the pattern, and the fact that it is a bit feminine without being pink, or pale purple, or any of the other colours that “they” seem to think women want. It fits very nicely, too.

And where did WB’s Mum get this? Well, the good news is, she got it in Lidl (I can tell from the label – I have other clothes from there – it is reasonable stuff, given the price). The bad news is, it wasn’t in this country…

I also got this from WB:

Pimp my Brompton

Pimp my Brompton

I haven’t fitted them yet; I’m sure they’ll brighten my otherwise all-black Brompton up nicely…