Friday, 30 January 2009

The Outlaw Cyclist

Many years ago when I worked for a computer company on the Cambridge Science Park, a circular came around telling us that the then available informal cyclists entrance at the Western end of the site was being closed because undesirables came through it. This resulted in those of us who cycled to the Science Park having to make a considerable detour to use the always open car entrance at the Eastern end of the park.

Many years later the entrance in the photo above was built - joining up not with a road or cycle path but with some waste ground at the other side next to a disused railway. The photo shows how the cycle and pedestrian entrance to the Cambridge Science Park is closed during night-time hours for "security reasons".

Show larger map Initially, the parallel road for motor vehicles had no restrictions on it at all. When it gained a gate and restrictions, the hours were more generous. The front entrance still provides very generous 24 hour per day access for any size of motor vehicle including anonymous Ford Transit vans which were once used in 95% of all robberies. Logic would suggest that these vans are more likely to be used by criminals than bicycles, but the time restriction on the bicycle gate of the Science Park has nothing to do with logic.

How does one explain the need for cyclists to be kept out of the Science Park when it is possible to drive a truck along the roads into and through the Science Park at any time of day or night ? I am pretty sure that the majority of England's criminals, like the majority of other people in that country, are drivers. However, cyclists are painted as being "outlaws" and a greater threat - even though you'd be doing very well indeed to carry off as much swag in a bike basket as in a car or on a truck.

The answer to this mystery is to be found in sociology. In societies like the UK's, where only a small number of people cycle, cyclists are an out-group. Apart from cyclists being considered to be on the edges of society, and quite possibly criminal, cyclists also suffer from homogeneity bias. An example of this is the way in which newspapers in the UK often carry accusations of cyclists "all" being law-breakers.

Well intentioned campaigns to improve the position of cyclists in society by improving their behaviour, such as those to encourage cyclists to always stop at red traffic lights fail due to a mis-understanding of what causes cyclists to be disliked in the first place.

While many people in places with little cycling may express that they dislike cyclists because of such things as going through red lights, this is simply an expression of a dislike due to cyclists being cyclists. If it were not red lights that they commented on, it would be something else (as demonstrated by this letter, or this one). In some places, even providing sidewalks is thought to draw in undesirables (see comments here).

There is only one way to improve the public perception of cyclists, and that is to make cycling attractive enough that everyone becomes a cyclist. For this to be the case, cycling must be safe as well as direct and convenient.

Of course, some cyclists genuinely are outlaws. Here's a video of Great Train Robber Bruce Reynolds talking about cycling. But bear in mind that while some outlaws are cyclists, that does not imply that all cyclists are outlaws:


Read other posts about campaigning for more cycling when cyclists are an out-group.

To illustrate this phenomena I had to use a photo taken when we still lived in Cambridge and links to letters to the newspaper there as this sort of thing simply doesn't happen here. In this society, cycling is a normal thing. It is part of everyone's life. As a result, newspaper letters pages and editorials are free of complaints about "outlaw cyclists" even though the actual behaviour of cyclists here is quite similar to elsewhere, and there are no arbitrary restrictions against cyclists. Quite the reverse in fact.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Don't cut the corner !

This photo is from the edge of a cycle path through an industrial estate which is currently being improved.

Motorists are discouraged from cutting the corner and driving onto the cycle path or parking on the cycle path by these large sharp edged pieces of concrete.

The corner here is necessarily of larger radius than usual, and certainly of larger radius than you find in residential areas, because there are a lot of trucks in use in the industrial estate. However, they should not drive on the cycle path.

Another view in the opposite direction.

Note that the sand eventually goes between the tiles with sort of surface.

Update 29/1/2009. There seems to be a bit of misunderstanding about the angles of things in these photos. This is far from the best junction for cyclists in this area. However, note that at the point of crossing cyclists are crossing the road at very nearly a right angle. Also note that cyclists have priority at this crossing. Drivers have to wait in both directions. The first photo shows that there is a car's length between the road and the cyclist crossing which gives a space for a car to wait to pull into or out of the road.

This picture shows a child's playground in a residential area, again protected by concrete from residents or visitors deciding to park on it. It's in the same residential area that I made a video of a few weeks ago. A very child friendly area, as Dutch residential areas are. The speed limit is always either 30 km/h (18 mph) or "walking pace" (the phrase used in the law).

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Cyclists are ill less often - Dutch companies gain competitive advantage

A new report from the Dutch Research and Testing organisation the TNO says that every 1% increase in the number of employees that cycle to work saves their employers €27M per year due to lower sickness costs. The research was carried on behalf of Tineke Huizinga, the deputy minister for traffic and works.

The article says that employees who regularly cycle to work take on average one day less sick leave per year than their non-cycling colleagues. If employers encourage employees to cycle to work more, then they can save more.

Across the Netherlands, 26% of all commuting journeys and 10% of business trips are already made by bike, though of course in some locations these figures are somewhat higher. The TNO suggests in the article that employers should be trying to increase these figures, but already that €27 M for 26% of commuters adds up to a total of 702 M Euros per year saved by Dutch employers due to their employees cycling.

The main reason given by those who currently cycle is that it is good for health, while for those who don't cycle the main reasons are the distance that they live from work, the weather, that they will sweat and the journey time.

The ministry of traffic and works is shortly to start a test of financial incentives for cycle commuting also in order to increase this percentage.

The Dutch spend more money on cycling infrastructure than any other country in the world, but even that amount is less than they are saving for businesses by having such a high cycling modal share.

Oh, and that figure is for the small Dutch population of 16M. If it scales, then a 1% difference in the UK is worth about 95 million British pounds, or in the US about 2/3rds of a billion US dollars - that's just for a one percent rise. If Britain could achieve the level of cycling seen in the Netherlands, it could save employers nearly 2 and a half billion pounds per year. For the USA it could be over $17 billion per year.

That's enough to pay for a lot of cycling infrastructure.

The Netherlands is one of a select group of nations which has
an overall positive current account balance. Being the world's
leading cycling nation has clearly not harmed the economy.
I have seen cycling organisations make similar claims when I lived in the UK, but it is something else for a government department to be behind this. The commuting statistics come from this document, which is well worth seeing for it's wonderful photographs apart from anything else.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Leaving a village

This photo was taken at the edge of a village near here. It's a pretty typical view of a country road.

You'll see the sign that indicates the edge of Noordlaren and underneath it is a crossed out 30, that being the speed limit in kilometres per hour within villages (18 mph). The sign on the right hand side of the road shows the speed limit on a rural road. 60 km/h ( 37 mph ). Note also the deliberately rough road surface to encourage drivers to slow down. Speed limits used to be higher, and quite a lot of them were reduced recently.

Within this village, which has very little through traffic, cyclists share the road with drivers. However, at the edge there is a single direction cycle path on both sides of the road. On the right it starts just before the 60 sign, which is why some of the rough surface is left smooth for cyclists.

Note also the rubbish bin for cyclists visible on the left side of the road. That's a pretty good give-away that this is a popular route for school children. Also, look at that beautiful blue sky. Not at all bad for January.

Almost all villages have 30 km/h speed limits on all their roads, even when they also have cycle-paths.

Friday, 23 January 2009

More cycle parking at Assen Railway Station

Another headline in our local newspaper. The amount of outdoor cycle parking is to be more than doubled. At present there is space for 750 bikes outdoors, and another 800 are to be added this year. This is in addition to the 754 places which there are now in the indoor guarded cycle park (which was more than doubled in size last year).

The total is now to be over 2300 places. Assen's population is 65000, so that's one place for every 28 residents in this one location (naturally there are also thousands of other places to park your bike spread around the city, including another large guarded cycle park in the shopping centre). By comparison, London has only around 2800 spaces for eight million people.

The additional space for bikes in Assen is to come in part by removing fifteen car parking spaces.

The article goes on to say that the local government is committed to stimulating more use of bicycles and public transport. However, they are also going to be more active in making sure that bicycles are parked correctly. It is a problem at present that because there are more bikes parked at the station than there is space for them, there are many incorrectly parked bikes which can get in the way and look rather untidy. Badly parked bikes really can cause a problem here because there are so many of them.

The local paper also is running an online poll about the cycle parking. Three responses are possible. a) Good Idea, b) Not necessary, c) Why don't they do it straight away ?

Currently the poll results stand as 45% wanting immediate action, 32% saying it is a good idea and just 23% saying it's not necessary.

For an example of somewhere with a higher proportion of spaces per person, and a discussion of the amount of cycle parking provided at British railway stations, see this earlier post.

Update 29/1/2009. Here's the outcome of the poll in the paper, published a week later.

47% say it's a good idea, 41% say the local government is dragging its feet and that this should be done immediately and just 12% say it's not needed.

The number of cycle parking spaces at the station will soon have more than doubled from the situation last september when I last wrote about it. There are other posts about cycle parking and integrated transport.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Anatomy of a reliable, everyday bicycle

A few days ago someone who had watched my video of the rush hour in Assen asked me why there were so many similar looking bikes and so few had derailleur gears. This post is an attempt to explain.

The bike in the photo belongs to my wife, Judy. I am sure that some people looking at this picture will think it looks like an "old fashioned" bicycle. It's not. It's just a very practical bicycle. It's the result of many years of evolution of bicycle design for everyday use.

These bicycles are not an anachronism, they are an enabling technology for mass cycling. If you want the entire population to cycle, then this is the sort of bike they need to do it on. This bike has covered thousands of kilometres since we bought it (second hand), but apart from a little splashed mud it is spotless. It keeps itself clean and in good condition, despite no maintenance at all.

I'll explain some of the details of the design below.

The handlebars are relatively high and shaped like this because this leads to a very comfortable ride. This shape is also better suited than dropped or straight handlebars for attaching a basket. Judy's baskets were made in 2004 for her previous bike but they are still good. A bicycle bell is fitted. It's a legal requirement here in the Netherlands, and also just a very good idea.

Chain case. This keeps your clothes clean, and makes it practical to ride in normal clothing. It also keeps the chain spotless, so that less maintenance is required. Chains last for many years when fully enclosed. Riders of bikes like this don't have to clean their chain after riding and while having to clean your chain might seem reasonable to mountain bikers who use their machines only for riding on the weekends, no-one wants this job on a bicycle which they use every day.

A full chain case like this is required to get these benefits. I have just a "hockey stick" shaped chain guard on my older English 3 speed but this does not fully protect the chain so I have had to replace my chain this year and have also had to clean and re-lube the chain. However, a hockey stick style chain case does protect trousers and can be retrofitted to other bikes.

The front light and dynamo (generator). Having lights permanently attached to your bike in this way is far more convenient than having to remove them when you park the bike. Having a dynamo to run the lights means that they are always available. (see our blog post about selecting and setting up dynamo lighting systems)

Batteries go flat - especially if lights are left on. Removable lights can be removed by other people when you park your bike.

The rear wheel lock and the skirt guard.

The lock on its own offers enough security for leaving your bike for a short period of time while shopping. Good quality locks of this type are very secure, and also can be used with a chain where more security is needed. The skirt guard keeps your clothes clean while you cycle, and make riding in normal clothing viable.

Note also the mudguards (fenders). These are steel and made to last. Thermoplastic mudguards also work well, and can be retrofitted to other bikes, but they're not so durable as steel and can crack after a few years use. The mudguards on this bike are adequately long at the front to prevent excess spray on your feet. With shorter mudguards, a mud-flap is very helpful to prevent spray. Note that this bike has a mud-flap at the rear, on what is really too short a mudguard to be entirely successful (even with practical Dutch bikes there is an element of style over substance).

This is the rear hub. This incorporates both the three gears on the bike and the rear brake, operated by a lever on the handlebars.

Enclosing the brake and gears leads to extremely high reliability. Neither the gears nor the brakes have required any maintenance, unlike my bike which has rim brakes and has required new brake pads. Not only rim brakes, but disc brakes also are not really low maintenance components. When used in winter, salt on the road causes the disc to rust, and brake pads need replacing fairly regularly. Drum brakes, or Shimano's roller brakes, are much more reliable than this.

Front wheel hub. The front brake is built into the wheel hub, and operated by the handle on the handlebars. Again, this type of brake is extremely reliable. No adjustment has been required at all in the time we've owned the bike.

Some other features of the bike, all directed towards reliability and convenience, are:

  1. Sturdy steel luggage rack. It's much more pleasant to carry luggage on a rack than in a rucksack. Let the bike do the work. If it's sturdy enough, as this one is, then it can also be used to carry friends.
  2. Puncture proof tyres.
  3. Reflective sidewalls.
  4. Thicker spokes for stronger wheels.
  5. Chrome plated stainless steel rims - which look beautiful and last forever (a good idea with hub brakes as fitted on this bike, not a good idea on a bike with with rim brakes)
  6. A paint finish designed to last 20 years of use outdoors.
  7. A kick stand. That's why the bike can stand up on its own, with no support.
  8. On an upright bicycle, a wider saddle is needed than on a sports bicycle. Read about saddles in another blog post.
This bicycle was made by Azor in a factory just 40 km south of where we live. I took a video in the factory earlier this year, which features in a post about a visit to a bike shop which I wrote earlier this year.


These are a very common type of bicycle in the Netherlands because they are very practical. When taking note of the bikes parked en-masse all around Assen, similar features are seen:

Two interesting bikes. The pink one is a child's bike made just as practical as an adults bike with all the features discussed above. This is needed as virtually all children use their bikes daily to get to school. The other bike to its right has a low step over frame, which is useful for people with limited ability to lift their legs. e.g. older people, or people with disabilities.

The bike to the left of the child's bike has a fold down child seat on the back.

Two bikes fitted with front child seats and windscreens for the children. These are very common, as otherwise children sitting in front of their parents can get quite cold when being transported by bicycle in winter.

You can buy bicycles (moederfietsen) built specifically to carry two children, one in front and one behind. They come as standard fitted with both child seats and with a windshield like this.

One of the other ways that people use to carry small children is in bike trailers. This bike also has a seat mounted behind the handlebars, but no wind-shield.

This bike is fitted with a "springer" for walking a dog while you cycle. Most people simply hold the dog's lead, which with a well trained dog works perfectly well. It is legal in this country to walk one dog while you cycle (but not two or more dogs).

An extra tall frame bike (the Dutch are now the tallest race in the world) and a bike with a serial number pressed into the frame in a very obvious way - an anti-theft idea that some manufacturers are using, and which makes it very difficult to disguise the serial number of a bicycle.

Bike fitted with a sturdy front rack. These are quite commonly used and work extremely well for carrying large and heavy items. Again an enabling technology to allow people to make journeys by bike for which they might otherwise have used a car. They fit most bikes and you can buy them here.

A traditional looking bike, but actually new. This design is very popular, quite trendy, and many people like them.

As with many of the other bikes shown, this has just a back pedal (coaster) brake. It is legal to have just the back pedal brake in this country, and it's a common arrangement. Coaster brakes are very reliable, so again this is useful for an everyday bike.

Finally a view of people getting on with using their bikes, as they do everyday in the centre of Assen and all across the country...


If you have an existing bike with fewer of these practical components, it is possible to convert it. This website provides components for conversion of mountain bikes or road bikes.

We use similar bikes for our cycling holiday customers.

This blog post also appears on the Dutch Bike Bits blog.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Racing against Grandad

I had some parcels to pick up today. Due to rain earlier in the day, and having baskets to make, I didn't end up getting around to going out for for the parcels until it was getting a bit uncomfortably close to 5pm when the depot shuts.

The depot is just 4.5 km (3 miles) away, but I'd left myself short of time so I had to ride flat out to get there on time. I rode the Xtracycle so that I'd be able to move the weighty parcels. 90% of the distance is on the excellent four metre wide cycle path in the photo, which unlike the road offers a completely uninterrupted route on which your speed is limited by your ability, not traffic, nor the four sets of traffic lights and one roundabout I'd have had to go through if I'd ridden on the road or gone by car.

The cycle path was fairly busy and I joined it a few metres ahead of an elderly gentleman on a traditional opafiets. With help from a tailwind, I soon had the Xtracycle going at 35 km/h (22 mph) and rode along for a bit before glancing behind before I overtook someone, and... there was "Grandad" ! At a guess, he was around 70 years old. He was just a few centimetres away and perfectly positioned to get maximum aerodynamic benefit from sitting in the considerable wind shadow of my cargobike.

A quick guy still, and skilled on the bike. He probably used to race. Maybe he still does. Something I noticed on moving here is that a lot of people are fast, and you can't necessarily tell from appearances who the fast ones are. Moving here, to a city with slightly over half the population of the one we came from in the UK, but at the same time a city with so many more cyclists, gave me that feeling of going from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond.

People in other countries, particularly the English speaking countries where there are few cyclists, often make an incorrect assumption that Dutch cyclists are slow based simply on an idea that the millions of utility bicycles here are slow bikes. While the everyday bikes may not be the fastest bikes in the world, they are efficient enough to travel at pretty good speeds given a good set of legs pedalling them.

Until you enter the realm of extreme aerodynamics, the speed of a cyclist is limited far more by muscle power than it is by the bicycle. Muscles used for cycling get stronger as a result of cycling a lot. The Dutch cycle more than people of any other nation. There is no Clif Bar 2 mile challenge here.

It's not just utility cycling, of course. Sport cycling is also much more popular here than in most countries. Many, many high specification sport bicycles are sold, and bicycle paths like that pictured go in virtually every direction. These provide a great place to train. What's more, cycle racing circuits are also common in many places, including here in Assen.

You can see the result of the popularity of sport cycling in the country's results in the Tour de France. No fewer than 61 Dutch cyclists have won stages in the Tour, vs. 10 Americans, 8 Australians and 6 Englishmen. Not a bad tally for 16M Dutch people vs. 380M from elsewhere.

There are several major sport cycling events in this area this year, including the start of the Vuelta a Espana, which starts in Assen this year and the Jeugdtour - the world's biggest youth cycle racing event, the Triathlon, the Erik Dekker Classic etc.

Cycling to the beach

We've had a few very icy looking photos and videos on here lately, but it's not always cold here. We get much warmer summers than where we used to live in the UK.

Assen is quite a way from the coast, but nevertheless we have some really lovely places to swim in the summer. The photo is of one of over 30 artificial beaches which are within Drenthe, some of which are on our cycling holiday routes.

You can swim here surrounded by woods. The water is safe as it is not too deep and it is regularly checked for quality.

If you come for a cycling holiday in the summer, you may want to bring your swimming gear too. It's quite normal to arrive at the beach by bike. In another post there is a photo of bike parking at the beach.

Friday, 16 January 2009

A long commute and a LOT of cycle parking


Mark Wagenbuur, who lives in 's-Hertogenbosch sent me this video of his commute from home to his office in Utrecht. It's a distance of around 50 km ( 31 miles ) in each direction. He has tried driving, but this city centre to city centre journey takes over two hours by car. Mark's solution to the commute is similar to that of many Dutch people. He walks to the station, takes a train, and cycles at the far end. This usually takes Mark about 50 minutes

The cycling in this video starts at about 2 minutes in when Mark retrieves his bike from secure cycle parking in Utrecht railway station. After a short ride he parks his bike in the secure parking at his office. This is quite normal. Everything is provided for. Note the communal bicycle pump visible in the parking area.

The video was shot in January and the commute is in darkness at below freezing temperature. Nevertheless, you will see hundreds of other cyclists going about their daily business.

Utrecht is currently planning to build a new cycle park which will accommodate twenty thousand bicycles at the railway station. You can see why this is needed by looking at this second of Mark's videos which shows many thousands of bicycles parked around the station area. These bikes are all in addition to thousands more which are already stored inside secure parking like that which Mark uses:



16th January a bit later. Update with figures...

Mark sent me further email with some figures for the number of cycle parking spaces in Utrecht at the moment. You'll see further down that the total is currently over 14000. Viewed in this light, a new 20000 space cycle park doesn't seem all that extravagant. If there were a few more places, maybe Mark wouldn't have had to wait so long for his space in the indoor park. A little over 40% of all journeys are by bike in Utrecht. It is quite a high figure. Higher than that of any city in any other country, but not quite the highest in this country. Here's Mark's comment:

I tried to get some background figures for you. Since they are usually so telling.

But it was not easy to find out exactly how many bicycle parking spaces there are around Utrecht Central Station! Still, I think we can make an educated guess now.

First this data about Utrecht and inhabitants and commuting

Utrecht is the 4th largest city in the Netherlands

Number of inhabitants: as of 10-01-2009: 300,000

source http://www.utrecht.nl/300000

Commuters

(Figures from 2003 from:

http://www.fietsberaad.nl/library/repository/bestanden/document000114.pdf)

Number of employees from outside the city who work in Utrecht 122,000

Number of employees from Utrecht who work outside the city 58,500

(page 8)

Number of travelers per day at Utrecht Central station 114,000

(page 9 caption of the last picture)

Bicycle parking facilities / racks

http://utrecht.fietsersbond.nl/documenten/2006/fietsparkerencs.html

From 2006: since then many more outside racks were placed*!

Table 2. Current capacity of the guarded parking facilities around Central Station


Total number of parking spaces

Number of places for people with season tickets

Number of places for one day parking

NS facility Stationsplein

3.200

2.400

800

NS facility Sypesteynkade

1.500

1.390

110

NS facility Jaarbeursplein

716

444

272

U-stal (city) Stationsplein

1.000

700

300

Total

6.416

4.934

1.482

Table 3. Number of bicycle parking spaces and shortage in 2006 and in 2025 (guarded and unguarded)


2006


Prognosis 2025



Unguarded

Guarded

Unguarded

Guarded

Number available

3.431

6.415

8.750

8.750

Number essential with an 85% use

11.098

6.415

17.757

10.264

Shortage

7.667

0

9.007

1.514

* http://utrecht.fietsersbond.nl/home/nieuwsarchief.html

27-11-2007

“The number of parking spaces around Utrecht CS was raised by almost 1,800 places in the past 12 months. In 2008 an estimated 2,500 places will be created.”

(These were all created in outside racks. Even two stories high, as can be seen in my video: from the street they are three racks deep and the one closest to the building is even double layered. Bikes in two layered racks is a rarity outside really… but Utrecht has them).

---

Today’s Figures

Total Unguarded Parking spaces

Adding the 2007 figures and expected places for 2008 (which I think were indeed created since I now see racks where there weren’t any before) we come to this:

2006

added in 2007

added in 2008

total

3,431

1,800

2,500

7,731

Total Guarded Parking spaces

no change there since 2006 around the station, new facilities were created by the city but they are for shoppers (as well) so I wouldn't count those.

6,416 (of which 4,934 for season tickets holders and 1,482 for day use.)

I would round both off to:

  • Guarded and indoor places circa 8,000
  • Unguarded outdoor places circa 6,500.

But maybe you are more precise ;-)

Note: 15 years ago when I tried to get a place in the NS facility (what would "Fietsenstalling" really be in English?) I had to wait 3 months (so I had to buy a month ticket 3x before I could get an annual ticket). Now I have the annual ticket I stick to it and renew it every time since I would have to wait again if I ever loose the rights to that annual ticket!



"Fietsenstalling" in English ? I think we'd just call it cycle-parking. However "stalling" suggests "stabling" (as for horses) and suggests that it is sheltered and that your bike will be protected, as it very often is over here.

A glimpse of another route to work in Utrecht, with a 50 km each way ride, can be found here. Click for many more examples of integrated transport and cycle parking on this blog. We passed through Utrecht on the 2006 Study Tour.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Funding priorities

In the last week I received a question from a cycling officer with a council in the UK asking how I thought the Dutch would re-arrange a road in the area where he works.

The example is a quiet road in a residential area which needs to cross a rather busy narrow urban road at the point of a mini-roundabout. When I looked at the situation he was describing it was initially rather difficult to know where to start. I couldn't think of anywhere here anything like that. Unpleasantness for cyclists has pretty much been eradicated here.

However, on thinking about it, there are places here in Assen which could have been similar to what he described if not for the work that has already been done. I think that the conditions on Groningerstraat in Assen could have been similar. In particularly, I think this junction could provide a model for what might work in the position that was asked about.

I sent email back to the cycling officer saying just this, and got back a reply including the following:

My limited experience of what they would do suggests that they would signalise. Sadly, this isn't a realistic option for me either as this comes in at about £225k minimum.

And there lies the problem with a lot of things in the UK. There is simply not enough of a budget for cycling. Cycling officers at councils in the UK are generally good sorts, but they are not provided with enough money or enough power to make the changes that the UK needs.

Howard Peel worked as a cycling officer in the UK and went public about the problems faced daily by those who work in council offices in the UK and have a responsibility for cycling.


I also heard in the news today that Heathrow airport is to have a third runway at a cost of (at least) £9 billion, and that £6 billion are to be spent on widening and otherwise improving the motorways in the UK. Between these two transport schemes that amounts to £15 billion, or nearly £230 per person in the UK. Cycle funding for the whole of the the UK generally struggles to exceed £1 per person per year. The funding is so bad that British cyclists in 2007 were in the position of having to fight hard to win the equivalent of a mere 80p per person on a TV game show.

It's not really a lack of money which stops cycling being funded properly in the UK. It's a lack of a desire to spend it on cycling. Until Britain gets to grips with the need to actually spend a little to create conditions which make cycling a preferred, safe and convenient means of transport, cycling will continue to languish.

I took the photo at the top, of my folding bike leaning on a bike stand with inbuilt pump, and next to a locker holding a public bicycle, at Schiphol airport when I went to meet somewhere there earlier this year. It is possible for cycling and air travel both to receive funding.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Excuses

There are many excuses for not cycling. Most of them are the same in all countries, and we'll all have heard people make these excuses.

The cards shown here are one set from a "happy families" game given out to primary school children in the Netherlands as part of the school traffic education.

Traffic education is part of the curriculum here (it doesn't come out of cycle funding) and covers all sorts of things about walking, cycling and driving. There is quite a bit of emphasis on cycling because of course that is how most children get to school each day. Most of the cards are about cycling.

The set is called "unhealthy excuses" and deals with various excuses that children might make to get a lift to school instead of cycling. Each excuse is untrue. Clockwise from the top left:
  1. The car is much quicker (by design in this country, cycling within town is generally quicker than driving).
  2. My bag is much too heavy
  3. It's too far ("Dad, do you know how far that walk is ? It's 50000 centimetres!")
  4. It's raining ("I just can't wear this rain jacket").
None of these excuses are good enough for Dutch school children, and I don't really think they are very good excuses for adults either...

It is perhaps of interest that there is no excuse in the set of cycling being "too dangerous". A feeling of danger is the main reason for people not cycling elsewhere, but generally people feel safe here.

There are quite a few posts about school travel on this blog, including one showing children arriving by bike at a primary school when the temperature is -2 C.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Be like the Hovis boy !


Back in the 1970s, the TV in Britain often showed this advertisement for Hovis bread. It features a boy making a delivery on a traditional delivery bicycle.

These bikes are very practical and still in demand. However, it can be difficult to find such real butchers bikes in good condition these days. I can help out. I sell front racks for bicycles in two different styles which can be fitted to most bicycles.

There is a frame mounted rack like this:


And a handlebar mounted rack like this:


You can see full details of both styles here. I can of course make a bike basket to fit either style, or indeed to fit a genuine old delivery bike.

You may also be interested in a page of description of British delivery bicycles

Friday, 9 January 2009

A visit to Nijmegen


This video has explanatory captions which are only visible when it is viewed on a computer and not on a mobile device

Nijmegen, 160 km south of where we live in Assen, is considered to be the oldest city in the Netherlands. It's a city with many beautiful buildings which celebrated its 2000th year in 2005.

My friend Terry (who visited us last year and features in another post about a bike ride between Assen and Groningen ) lives in Nijmegen and I visited him last Saturday by train, taking along my folding bike.

The free of charge, guarded and secure cycle park that we use is one of five in the city.

Nijmegen has many historic buildings, and much reconstruction was required after the second world war to repair the city. Much of the devastation of the city was the result not of the occupying forces, but of Allied bombers accidentally bombing the city centre on February 22nd 1944.

Many of the older buildings were recreated much as they used to be. However, the shopping centre was rebuilt with wide avenues to take motorised traffic, on the American model. As you'll see from the video, this is not how they have remained.

While the Netherlands is not a hilly country overall, Nijmegen is quite a hilly city. This has not prevented it from having a high rate of cycling.

In 2002, the new government of Nijmegen decided to invest €10M over 4 years in new cycling infrastructure. The population is 161000 so this comes to over €15 per person per year.

Nijmegen was nominated as Fietsstad 2008 (Cycling City 2008) but lost out to Houten.

I also visited Nijmegen back in 2005, and wrote about the bicycle museum. The centre of Nijmegen is, like most city centres, "nearly car free".

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Priorities when it snows

There was a bit of snow overnight. Just a couple of centimetres, but enough to make the world look white. As usual, the gritters have been out in force and cycling continues at the usual rate. On average, all year around, each person in Assen each makes just short of 1.2 bicycle journeys per day. The high levels of actual and subjective safety are the reason why. Cycle paths are always kept in safe conditions to preserve the high cycling rate.

This top photo is of the road at the end of ours. While the road itself is just a 30 km/h (18 mph) speed limit residential road which goes nowhere, a main cycle route emerges at this point and continues behind me. As you can see, the cycling route has been cleared of snow but the minor roads have not unless they are part of a cycling route.

Further along, we find the cycle paths are all miraculously free of snow, even if the canal is not.

Later on there were people clearing ovals on the canal for ice-skating. The ice is very thick now, so safe to skate on.

Many people are hoping that this winter will be cold enough for the Elfstedentocht. This is a one day 200 km ice-skating race & tour between 11 cities in Friesland (a province of the Netherlands). Around 15000 people take part.

This bicycle road is also an important route, being used by thousands of bikes per day because it provides a direct route to an outlying suburb. It may look a bit like there are bike lanes here, but actually the red parts together are substantially wider than the black bit in the middle. Also, the road is only about 200 m long and provides access only for drivers. Cyclists can go through bollards at either end and continue their journey on cycle paths.

On small patches here that the gritters had missed there were many many bicycle tracks.

I got here a little late to see the rush hour in full swing.

Much closer to home, our children set off in the snow to their schools this morning.

These are the tracks they left as they went, footsteps alongside the wheels turning into just the wheel tracks as they got onto their bikes.

It's quite normal for children here to cycle to school every morning, whatever the weather.

In this photo you can also see some play equipment on the small green in front of our home. There is always play equipment near homes.


This photo is taken a little further along our small street.

I count nine bikes (from eight houses) having already made a right turn at this point. Quite a few more went straight across, and of course I was about to add my own tracks.

Lastly, here is a photo from our local paper today of the gritting trucks and their drivers in Assen. In the photo you can see five full sized trucks and six of the smaller ones which can access the cycle paths. There is a map of cycle path gritting routes on the council's website.

There is also freely available salt for using on your own driveway or around your house. We have some. It's a mixture of fine salt and gravel slightly larger than sand.

There are now quite a few posts showing the result of the extensive gritting here. They each have the gritting tag. There are also a number of other winter posts. Some of these show how extensive the gritting is. It's not just something that happens within city boundaries. I should also point out that the next time I went past the point in the top photo, the road was clear of ice too. However, the cycle path and route was done first.

Inner tube vending machine

Have you ever had a puncture when the shops are shut and needed to buy an inner tube ?

This vending machine on the wall of a bike shop in Assen provides cyclists with a place to find a new inner tube 24 hours a day.

Provided, that is, that they know where it is (it was in Groningerstraat. Unfortunately it's gone now. There's another in a village a little way south of Assen).

There are also vending machines  for whole bikes and for emergency bike lights. If you need Continental Inner Tubes, or a whole range of other quality bike components, we have them in our webshop (a little cheaper than from the machine).

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Bikes at a school in winter

On a ride today I passed this primary school and thought the bikes looked nice in the sun. They're a pretty typical collection of Dutch children's bicycles. Each has mudguards (fenders), a chain guard, a way of carrying school books, dynamo lights etc. Practical bicycles built on a small scale.

In this case you see just the bikes from the junior class at this school. It's a small school and each class parks their bikes in a separate place.

When my children left for school this morning I noticed that the outside temperature was -9 C ( 15 F ). That's also the temperature at which these primary school children will also have cycled. Because it's so cold at the moment one of my children went on a school trip today to go ice-skating. As is normal for school trips, the class cycled to the frozen lake where they skated.

Last year I took a video of children cycling to school at a relatively mild -2 C. You can watch that video here.

There are also other posts on this blog about travel to school and about winter cycling.