It was -7 C ( 19 F ) this morning, warming up to a maximum of -4 C ( 24 F ) by this evening when it started going back down again ( it's -8 C or 17 F as I type this). It's now cold enough that the lakes are frozen over such that they can be walked and skated on.
I took this video on a ride right through Peelo, a 1970s / 1980s residential area of Assen, today. It's the same area as where I rode through the woonerven a few days back. The same area as where hopscotch is permanently built into the road.
In the video we ride from point A to point B on the map, a distance of about 1.5 km or 1 mile through this suburb. Our route is along the cycle path shown by the wider red line which provides the main West-East route for cyclists, and of course also links with other routes to other destinations at either end.
The narrower red lines show some of the other larger cycle paths in the area which make up part of the grid of routes required.
Shops, schools and other services are all conveniently placed right on the main cycle path through the area. This cycle path provides the most direct route from West to East. It is not possible to make such a convenient journey by car because the roads take less direct routes with a lot of bends. It is to the advantage of cyclists that driving routes are unravelled from cycling routes.
The photo shows how a road ends in a cycle path in front of these houses (the sign reads "fietspad" - Dutch for "cycle path"). It is a straight line along this path to one of the schools shown in the video. To drive there would require a considerable detour along many small roads. It is virtually always possible to make shorter journeys by bike than by car in this area, and this is why most journeys in the Netherlands take less time by bike than by car.
For another view of this area, showing how convenient it is to get from homes onto this cycle path, see the video on a previous post.
This area of Assen, as well as newer and older residential areas, features on our study tours for planners, campaigners and others interested in the role that infrastructure takes in encouraging cycling.
Quite a few people responded to a previous post showing a hopscotch game chalked onto the street outside our home. However, children playing on the street doesn't only happen completely informally here.
This example is a hopscotch game which is built into a road surface, using coloured bricks. It is one of several in the same area.
This area, Peelo in Assen, extensively uses the idea of the woonerf or "home zone". The speed limit on these streets is walking pace, and cyclists and pedestrians have priority over motor vehicles. The woonerven are connected together by roads which have a speed limit of 30 km/h (18 mph) as well as by cycle paths which give the most direct and convenient routes.
This idea was very common in the Netherlands in the late 1970s through to the 1980s when this area of the city were built. Similar thinking can be seen in developments from the early 1970s and in later developments.
A video showing the streets around this area is here:
While this estate is now nearly 30 years old, many of the features of it are still not apparent in areas of housing being built in other countries. This area of Assen, as well as newer and older residential areas, features on the Study Tour.
This is what the street right outside our home looks like this evening. The local children have been playing hopscotch. Anyone on the way in or out by bike or in a car has to take care around the children. No parental supervision is needed.
Our home is in the middle of the google maps image. You'll see how these houses are built around a small green with a little playing equipment. The message is quite clear. The street is not merely a space for cars, it's a space for children to play. For people to socialise.
On New Year's Eve, one of the neighbours put up a tent so all could get together and socialise in this space.
This is a quite typical example of planning of a residential area in the Netherlands in the early 1970s (our home was built in 1972). The same principles are still applied, with the same results.
A Cul-De-Sac ? Isn't that "bad" ?
Like everywhere else in Assen, and indeed across the nation, whether cul-de-sac like this or another street design, all residential streets are connected to the finely spaced grid of very high quality cycle-routes which cover the Netherlands. There are two high quality cycle-paths, both four metres wide, within 200 m of our home. These take us to every destination. There is no single design of residential street which discourages cycling and walking, it's the lack of a decent network of cycling facilities and the lack of subjective safety on the roads which do exist that cause the problem.
Both areas feature on the Study Tours that we organise in Assen.
Assen has quite a few one way streets. These are used to stop roads from being through routes for cars, and work to prevent rat-running in residential streets and keep the centre of the city empty of motor vehicles.
However, there isn't a single one which doesn't allow cyclists to travel in the opposite direction.
They all appear in areas where there is relatively little traffic and the speed limit is always 30 km/h ( 18 mph ).
Signage to allow this is as simple as an "Uitgezonderd Fietsers" ("Except Cyclists" - sometimes using a picture of a bike) beneath the one way or no entry sign. It works very well, and allows cyclists to make those shorter and more convenient journeys which have to be possible in order that cycling has an advantage over driving.
Back in Cambridge where we used to live, a debate still rages about allowing cycling in the opposite direction on one-way streets. It really is time that the UK in general got to grips with the benefits of cycling and started to encourage it. However, note that what does not happen here is relaxation of one-way restrictions on busy streets. These one-way restrictions are used to make the roads un-useful for through traffic and relatively empty of motor vehicles while allowing cyclists still to make direct journeys using the entire road network.
The pictures shown were all taken within 300 metres of each other, but there are many examples in other parts of the city. To see the way this city makes cycling a preferred means of travel for most people, consider coming on one of our Study Tours in 2009.
A short video has just been made available showing the route of the Vuelta a Espana next year. It's starting here in Assen on then 29th of August 2009. We have both the prologue on the TT track, and on the 30th of August the first stage starts in and passes back through the city. I'm really looking forward to this (as I mentioned earlier)
If you are interested in a cycling holiday to coincide with the Vuelta, please get in touch. Act soon as places will book very quickly.
BEILEN - By order of ProRail, more covered cycle places have been built at the train station in Beilen. The parking now has room for 624 bike (previously 288). At the same time 64 bike lockers were placed as well as a space for 12 motor-scooters."
Sometimes little stories like this, buried on page 45 of our 56 page weekly free local paper, tell a big story. Beilen is a small town 20 km or so south of Assen with a population of under 10000 people. However, cycle parking at the station is being taken very seriously indeed.
First Great Western and First Great Western Link’s Transport Integration Manager, Jonathan Radley commented: “As part of the UK’s largest public transport operator, First, we’re committed to integrated transport and helping our customers to make joined-up journeys. This extra cycle parking adds to existing provision at our stations, and we hope will make it easier for cyclists to find a space, particularly at busy times. We’re grateful for help from the Department for Transport and CTC in making this project a reality.”
Customers of First Great Western and First Great Western Link together make almost 60 million journeys a year with many travelling to or from the station by foot, on bikes, by bus, taxi or even by ferry.
Transport Minister Derek Twigg said: “The quality of cycle parking is a key factor in determining how confident cyclists feel about using their bike to get to the station. That’s why fairly simple, low-cost improvements like those at First Great Western and First Great Western Link can have an positive impact in encouraging people to leave their cars at home. We’re pleased to play our part in this scheme, alongside improvements to cycle routes led by local authorities across the country.”
The new parking takes the total number of bicycle spaces at Reading to 160, with 302 at Bristol Temple Meads, 38 at Plymouth, 20 at Southall, 16 at Thatcham (including 4 cycle lockers), 100 at Maidenhead, 4 at Charlbury, 8 at Mortimer (including 4 lockers), 534 (including 10 lockers) at Oxford and 6 at Bramley.
A big and impressive looking press release. But hang on... Just 200 new spaces spread between ten stations ? A total of 302 at Bristol ? That's less than half the total at Beilen, and Bristol has over 400000 residents. More than 40 times the population are fighting over less than half the amount of cycle parking at the railway station. Can it be right that availability of residents of Britain's "Cycling City" have 1/80th of the availability of cycle parking that is normal for a small Dutch village ?
Beilen is a typical Dutch town and has enough parking spaces for 1 in 15 of the population to leave their bikes at the station. Bristol, on the other hand, is the newly crowned "Cycling City" of the UK and has enough for 1 in 1350 people to do the same. Is that enough ? Is it enough to justify such a press release ?
Mind you, they're doing better than Plymouth. That city has a population of over 250000 people but just 38 spaces. Enough for 1 in 6500 of the population to cycle to the station...
Of these cities, Oxford, with it's 151000 population and 534 spaces is doing the best. They've enough spaces for one in every 282 residents. However, Oxford is historically one of the places with the most cycling in the UK. Even there the expectation is that cycling to the station will be over an order of magnitude less popular than in a small Dutch town.
It's not just the railway station of course. When I cycled through Beilen a few weeks ago I took a photo of bikes parked at a bus stop as well as a bit of video which you can see here.
It's sometimes difficult to explain to people from the UK or USA just how much cycling there is here, both in the cities and in small towns. Cycling is incredibly popular in this country. It's not just an incremental difference, but a staggering one. What's more, cyclists are very well looked after, and not only at railway stations. Come and see it for yourself.
Judy went to Beilen and took some photos of the new cycle parking. You can see the new tulip style bike racks to the right (old ones in the very foreground of the photo).
The lockers are in the photo on the left.
You can tell this is all very new because the sand still hasn't settled between the tiled surface.
Groningen's main railway station has nearly 10000 spaces and is added 500 cycle-parking spaces every year until 2015. Groningen has less than half the population of Bristol.
Utrecht makes another interesting comparison with Bristol. Utrecht has just 300000 people, but there are over 14000 cycle parking spaces at the station, and this is being expanded...
This might be a good time to mention again that 40% of all train passengers in the Netherlands arrive at the station by bike, and that because they only use a bike for part of their journey none of them count towards the cycling statistics. Also see the other posts about integrated transport.
It's another of those stories which actually creates a fog rather than making anything clear. There are various large figures being bandied about, but the LCN+ network funding has been cut in half.
What is Boris thinking of ? Not long ago I pointed out that Boris' transport advisor announced that there "should be no hierarchy of transport users but instead everyone should have the opportunity to use the roads.", when it comes to encouraging cycling.
London: A dead end cycle-path
It sounds very democratic, but decisions that people make on how to travel are based on the infrastructure around them. When the infrastructure which exists has been primarily made to suit driving, as is the case across the UK including London, it should be no surprise that driving is the most popular way of getting about. It's just no good to pretend to be "modally agnostic" while supporting a continuation of current policies which favour motoring.
A diversion of £10M from the cycling budget this year to improve traffic lights simply serves to continue to make driving more popular than cycling.
London: Dismount often
For all the bluster about it, and claims that vast amounts are being spent, funding of cycling in London is really not very high. The recent decision halves the funding for cycling infrastructure to just £10M for this year. There are 8M people in greater london, so that is about £1.25 per person. About €1.50. Is this really enough to transform London into a "true cycling city." ?
London: Dismount here too
London currently has around 500000 cycle journeys per day, which might sound like quite a lot. However, around 8 million people live in the city. Given that the average number of journeys per person per day is a little over 2 in most places, this suggests that around 3% of journeys are by bike in the city.
Assen is a very small city by comparison, with just 65000 people. However, they make between 70000 and 80000 cycle journeys per day. Between 35% and 40% of all journeys are by bicycle. Assen takes cycling seriously and builds good quality infrastructure for cyclists. The cycling infrastructure budget is around €27 per person per year, or £23, and that's for a place which benefits from 30 years of investment.
The photos on this blog post were taken in London two years ago on a ride from Cambridge to the Thames and back. We found these paths were quite popular, but as they don't provide an efficient way of going anywhere in particular and they are not really very high quality, they can only have a very limited effect on modal share. If you want to make journeys in directions other than along the Lee valley you will in most cases be riding on busy roads.
This is why London's cycling rate remains low. The level of subjective safety on routes suitable for making real journeys is too low, and the practicality of routes like this one is also far too limited. Cycle routes need to be both directandsafe. People shouldn't have to choose between safe or direct and it certainly should not be as in London, where the "safe" routes are not really safe and the "direct" routes are not as direct as they could be.
Sadly, the design of transport infrastructure across the English speaking world emphasises driving above other modes. This is why English speaking countries share some of the lowest modal share for bicycles at around 1% of journeys.
It had been a while since I looked at this post but the article on the Guardian website which it links to makes a little more sense now. The announcement of the "largest ever" £168m funding package was of course referring in the main to money made available for the "Boris Bikes" bike sharing scheme. This has gobbled up a huge amount of money but of course has failed to make London into a "true cycling city" because as I wrote two years after this post, "a shortage of bikes was never the reason for the low cycling rate of London".
The problem all along was the poor infrastructure and five years after this blog post, London has again been fobbed off with inadequate plans by Boris. The 2013 plan still does not offer enough. It again does not have enough money allocated for it, again much of what is allocated is destined to be consumed by the hire bike scheme, and the target set is for just 5% of journeys to be by bike.
In June 2006 my friend Terry and I cycled from Cambridge where we then lived to the North bank of the Thames in London and back again. It was a practice ride for our Land's End - John o'Groats tour a month later. The photos all come from that ride, and show various aspects of infrastructure which really needs some money spent on it on what is mostly a Sustrans route in London. In order they show a 5' (1.5 m) headroom sign on a cycle route, a dead end, a barrier around which it was impossible to take a bicycle without lifting it and which follows on to a path which is difficult to cycle on, is narrow and shared with pedestrians, a corrugated surface by a canal which provides excellent traction for horses but is painful on a bike and another lack of headroom with a barrier. The alternative route was composed of busy roads. It's pretty obvious that there is a lack of quality here.
Parallel kerbs can be quite dangerous for cyclists. A slight lapse of concentration and you can be off your bike, and possibly injured badly enough to end up in hospital.
Like so many things, this doesn't have to be the case.
The kerb shown here is one of many "forgiving" 45 degree kerbs in use in Assen. These kerbs make it possible to cross from the cycle path to the pedestrian path without falling from your bike. They reduce the risk of injury due to a lapse of concentration.
The video demonstrates how you can ride up and down the kerb without losing control of your bike.
This kind of innovation makes the cycling environment very forgiving of errors, and keeps down the injury rate of cycling. It is one of the many very small details of the Dutch cycling environment which add up to it being very safe overall - the concept of making the road environment more forgiving of error is called sustainable safety.
"Parallel" refers to the kerbs being parallel with the direction of travel. Even a very small gap can cause cyclists problems if it is parallel.
Riding a bike in the winter is a bit different from the summer. OK, so it's colder. However, so long as you've got sensible clothes on you warm up pretty quickly. It's very pleasant. The air is fresh and the sun, when it shines, is wonderful. Shadows from the low sun in the winter look amazing.
However, you do need the surface to be clear of ice, which it luckily is here.
When I left home this morning it was -2 C ( 28 F ). By the time I was home I had done 78 km and it had warmed to +2 C ( 35 F ).
17th December update. Arjen van Dam also made a video:
This morning I took the Xtracycle out to take some customer's bike baskets to the post office and also collect a Christmas tree.
One of my local bike shops turned out to be selling trees, so I went no further.
As ever, my journey was direct and almost entirely free of cars. A lot of roads don't provide through routes for drivers, who are funnelled together on what are often less direct routes.
The bicycle road along the canal is the most obvious example of this idea. It's wonderful to cycle along, leading directly from the centre of the city past the suburbs on the west where we live and right out to the new housing estate built on the very edge of the city. It is impossible to drive along this route for far, so the only cars you see are a few using it for access to homes.
The video shows the return route, mostly along a bicycle road:
Maarten Sneep suggested I should include his photo of the bicycle highway along the Amsterdam Rijn Kanaal, from Utrecht to Amsterdam. He says:
"This is a "Auto te Gast" route, about 5 m wide. The dark strips on the side are "bricks" (made of the same meterial as the rest of the road), but they make a good noise in cars that have to drive on them. The photograph was taken near Maarssen railway station, looking north."
"It is unfortunate that the connection to this cycling path in Utrecht is a bit awkward, but otherwise it is a great commute over this path. I know that a few Quest riders use this path to go from Utrecht to Amsterdam, perhaps not on a daily basis, but a few times a week at least: 50+ km one way."
"Auto te gast" means that cars are guests on this road. For more information, see posts about the bicycle road within Assen. Bicycles have priority over cars, which are rare because it's not a through route by car. This is an example of infrastructure which gives cyclists a better route than drivers.
I should point out that this is hundreds of kilometres from Assen. Good quality infrastructure in the Netherlands is not just concentrated in a few small areas, but spread across the whole country. Most intercity bicycle highways do not allow cars at all but it was necessary to allow vehicles for access in this location.
The Quest that he refers to is an extremely fast faired velomobile. It's been featured several times on my blog before. If you want to commute quickly in all weathers, a velomobile is the way to do it. I made a video of riding in this location with a group of velomobiles.
Skydiving is a very safe sport. In the USA in 2007 there were 2.2 million jumps and only 18 deaths of sky-divers. That's an average of a death every 122000 jumps. If you were to jump once every day you could expect to live to 334 years of age before a skydiving accident killed you. (source: USPA website)
What does this have to do with cycling ? Well, these are precisely the sorts of statistics that many cyclists like to quote to non-cyclists to try to encourage them to cycle in countries where there is little cycling.
Does this work ? Generally not. Cycling remains at around 1% of journeys made by bike in the English speaking countries. People who are enthusiastic cyclists cycle. Those who are not enthusiasts don't. In that way it's very much like skydiving. People use both activities to raise money for charity.
I share with a lot of my readers that I wouldn't willingly jump out of an aeroplane with a parachute no matter how safe I was told it was. I can see that it's thrilling, and I'm sure it is fabulous fun. However, jumping from an aeroplane offers no utility to me, and it is way past my threshold for subjective safety. Many people feel the same way about cycling.
So what is the difference between the Netherlands, where everyone cycles, and the countries where few people cycle ?
It's quite simple. There are two main points. First the high level of subjective safety:
It's a logical impossibility to expect 40% of journeys by bike if cycling only appeals to 5% of the population. That is why cycling here has to be for everyone and why a high degree of subjective safety is vital. A high cycling rate and high subjective safety cannot be separated. This is why I've highlighted subjective safety in a number of posts.
If you live in a country where there is a low level of cycling, you live in one where the subjective safety for cyclists is too low for most people to consider cycling. Without improving conditions cycling will continue to look like an extreme sport to many people and you will have as much success in increasing the rate of cycling as in convincing the general public to skydive.
While cycling in busy traffic might sometimes seem like an extreme sport in some countries, it doesn't here. The woman in the photo is definitely not engaging in an extreme sport. There is no "traffic jamming" here in Assen. The nearest any car travelling at speed will get to her today is if one crosses over the bridge she's just passed under. What's more, she is on the most direct route to the centre of the city. This high quality cycle route is closer to a straight line than any route by car, and has no traffic lights on it, vs. a minimum of three sets by car. Wonderful conditions for cycling like this attract people to cycling.
To see conditions for cycling which are so irresistable that they attract everyone, come on a Study Tour. If you simply want to relax in conditions away from the stress of cycling elsewhere, consider one of our holidays.
I should perhaps point out that I have no argument with skydivers. If you want to throw yourself out of a working aeroplane, that's fine by me. However, if you don't mind, I'll just watch.
The first two photos were taken on cycle paths, the middle two on a junction between a bicycle road (where cyclists have priority) and a cycle path, and the last two photos were taken on roads. I should perhaps point out that due to the amount of salt that has been put on the road, the slush that the cyclists are riding through corrodes everything on a bike quickly. A quality Dutch bike for everyday use has a fully enclosed chain and a very good paint job.
The blue sign says "rechtsaf voor fietsers vrij" or "free right turn for cyclists."
This indicates that it is legal to make a right turn at this junction when the traffic light is red. This is a privilege that is only extended to cyclists. Drivers must always wait for a green light.
You can do this at many junctions where there is a fully segregated cycle path, and there is usually no sign then. However, at junctions like this where all the traffic comes together some indication is needed to show whether a right turn is safe at this location.
The video shows the way this works. You go from one cycle path around the corner onto another without stopping, and without having to worry about motorised traffic as none of it is in your lane.
The keen eyed will have noticed that there is also a white and green sign underneath the traffic light. As well as allowing right turn on red, this is also a simultaneous green junction, go to that link for more information.
Good lighting is an essential part of a cycle path which is to be used after dark. Without it, social safety problems creep in. People start to wonder what is hiding in the shadows.
While Assen is a very safe place, it wouldn't do to give people any reason to be scared to cycle at night, or for them to be scared to let their children cycle at night. So, here we have a rural cycle path at night, showing the lights which keep subjective and social safety high.
Note that there are no lights on the road at this point, but the cycle path is still properly lit.
From Friday 9th to Monday 12th of January we are organising a weekend winter warmer cycle tour.
Perhaps you've not used all your holiday days this year ?
It's a chance to come for a short tour in and around Assen in January and see much of what this blog is about over a long weekend ?
The photo at the top was taken on January 13th exactly one year before the weekend. The weather is likely to be quite similar.
Either bring your own bike or take a hire bike. We can arrange that too.
We'll not be riding extreme distances, perhaps no more than 60 km per day depending on the group and the weather, and with plenty of stops at warm cafes and restaurants between views of the countryside, which looks spectacular in the winter.
This is a cycling holiday, of course, but we will also have a programme of activities within a very short cycling distance if the weather is really bad.
This includes a short form of the Study Tour presentation, and some of the infrastructure presented on the Study Tour will also be shown off on this tour.
Cyclists are looked after here. You can expect the cycle paths to remain passable whatever the weather, and for there to still be many cyclists using them in the winter.
All the photos were taken in the 2007/8 winter. There are many things to see in the winter, including the deer which live right in the city of Assen. Would you rather come over later in the year ? Take a look at our other cycle holiday plans later in the year. We will also be running a full Study Tour in May.
The Fietsberaad just sent another newsbrief. Among the interesting cycle facts this month, Den Haag is in the middle of building a new underground cycle park by the main railway station in the city.
The photo shows the temporary cycle park at the station which has been put in place for commuters to use while they wait for the new facility. This temporary cycle park has 2500 spaces. As you'll see, cycling is taken seriously, including when works are being carried out. It is vitally important that cyclists don't lose the habit of cycling. I also have a picture of a temporary cycle bridge.
As you can see from the top photo, this cycle park was built somewhat larger than the original artist's impression in order to accommodate more bikes.
Den Haag is not alone
Cycle-parking at railway stations is growing rapidly all across the Netherlands as the requirement for it has also grown rapidly since the early 1990s.
Update March 2012
This cycle-park was eventually named "the bike tower". While it was supposed to have been demolished when the new underground cycle-parking was complete, The Hague Municipality and the railway company now predict that 11400 cycle-parking spaces will be needed at the railway station by 2020 and there won't be room for them all in the new underground cycle-park. As a result, this "temporary" cycle-park will become a permanent structure and its capacity will be expanded to 3550 bicycles, an increase of more than a thousand over the original size.
This story actually has a very familiar ring about it, as something very similar happened in Groningen. A temporary multi-storey cycle-park erected during construction of the main new underground was not demolished, but renovated with extra capacity, even though the new underground cycle-park also had its capacity nearly doubled from the original plan. This is a reflection of how cycling has grown, and continues growing, in the Netherlands.
It has long been the stated aim of many places to have a road user hierarchy in which pedestrians come top, cyclists follow soon after, public transport fits in next and in which private cars come in at the bottom.
However, very few places actually behave like this. Typically there is very little obvious link between what literature states about priorities and what is done on the street.
Tom Vanderbilt recently had a good example on his blog. A sketch by the Danish architect Jan Gehl showing volumes of traffic by mode on a New York street, and how much of the street had been allocated to each mode. It is shown below:
I would be surprised not to learn that a similar pattern wasn't also in place regarding such things as timings of crossings. Typically the average delay for a pedestrian is much longer than that for a driver.
And of course both the allocation of space and the pattern of timings in favour of drivers is repeated in many cities across the world (such as in Cambridge when we found that cycling got just 0.6% of the transport budget) - yet many people wonder why it is that driving becomes the most popular way of getting around.
And... it seems that it is possible to do this without drivers rioting in the streets. In fact, of course, such progressive steps help everyone. It makes it easier for more people not use cars, resulting in everyone suffering from fewer of the problems caused by driving, and that in itself makes it easier to continue to turn transport priorities around.
Conditions for cyclists are not perfect here, but they are an awful lot better than in most places. This is the reason why we organise cycling study tours in this location. It's a great place to come and see the infrastructure which features on this blog for yourself, or encourage your local planners or cycling officers to visit. We have the experience both of what is normal in the UK (where street design is similar in intent to the US), and here.
You've read the blog, now see it for yourself. Since 2006, hundreds of people have joined us on our Cycling Study Tours.
First hand experience is better than reading. Book a tour to see how policy and infrastructure have attracted people from all walks of life to cycle:
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A cyclist in a cycling family living in the capital of the cycling province of the world's greatest cycling country.
I was born in the UK, lived for over 8 years in New Zealand and have lived in the Netherlands since 2007.
I organise cycling infrastructure study tours, run an online bicycle shop, arrange cycling holidays and write a popular blog about cycling.
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