Friday 30 April 2010

Koninginnedag (Queen's Day)

Mark Wagenbuur has made another marvellous video showing scenes of cycling in the Netherlands. Ideal for Koninginnedag, or "Queens Day", which is a national holiday here in the Netherlands, and is today. The 30th of April. It's a great event, with lots of Orange everywhere, music, a free market... Mark says "This time the cycling really takes place in Holland (which is in the west of the Netherlands). In North-Holland to be precise, in and around the city of Alkmaar. Since it is all windmills, tulips and bicycles in this video a bit of corny music seemed fitting. 'Ik hou van Holland' (I love Holland) by 1950s child singer Heintje, a street organ and on the accordion. You can't really go much more Dutch than this..." The music is also used by a very amusing TV show with the name "Ik hou van Holland", which is not the most serious thing on Dutch TV. Anyway, we'll be in the town centre enjoying the festivities...

Monday 26 April 2010

Cycling is "booming" in the UK ?

Cycling as a mode of transport in the UK is consistently doing slightly worse than "other" and that's been consistently true for a very long time.

For as long as I can remember, cyclists and government alike in the UK have claimed that cycling is on the up. The expression often used is to say that it is "booming". However, this is wishful thinking. The chart above shows the number of trips per person per year by different modes in the UK from the mid 1990s to (nearly) the present day. The data which is comes from is in this table:

Bicycle trips per year per person in the UK: 18,17,16,15,16,14,16,14,16. There's no upward trend there, just statistical noise.
I blogged about this same table a few weeks back because spurious claims were being made that cycling was getting safer in Britain because of a rise in the cycling rate. Based on the information you see here, some people have claimed that there was a "17% increase" between 2007 and 2008. However, this is a mis-reading of the statistics. There will always be some noise, and this figure for cycling has been bouncing around between 14 and 17 for the last ten years.

If cycling is really to "boom" in Britain it's very obvious what needs to happen. It's also obvious what needs to happen with campaigning. Campaigners must stop being exciting about tiny changes in numbers from one year to the next and stop forgetting that small increases are easily wiped out by small decreases either in different years or in different places. Look closely at any figures like this and there will always be some up and down movement. This creeps into all and any collection of figures. Small changes year on year become apparent even if there isn't a real change. This is especially true when you're looking at small sample sizes and very small figures, such as the 1.6% cycling rate of the UK (and the even lower rates in some other English speaking countries). There is only a real trend when the same thing is seen for many years, and the differences seen are outside the bounds of error.

For a real "boom" in cycling, instead of an imaginary one, it's also quite obvious what is required of the infrastructure. Let's see no more of the junk infrastructure that cyclists have been fobbed off with already. Cyclists in the UK need the subjective safety and convenient conditions experienced by Dutch cyclists, along with vast amounts of cycle parking, bridges, underpasses and traffic lights designed to benefit cyclists, unravelling of cycling routes from driving routes as well as a decent standard of maintenance for cyclists, and all the other things which are taken for granted over here.

Only once a real effort is put into making the conditions right for cycling will people take it seriously as a mode of transport, and only then will the figures head upwards year on year.

And yes, it is possible in Britain. Many people still alive were themselves cyclists before the steep post WWII decline in cycling got underway in Britain. In 1949, not only was cycling a major form of transport in Britain, but at that time, British people covered more distance by bicycle than by car and taxi combined.

Read more posts about campaigning.

Update 2012
Two years later, Joe Dunkley produced the graph on the right as part of an excellent summary of each date since the 1970s when a British minister told the public that cycling was "booming".

Update July 2012
Joe's done more work and discovered that London's recent "boom" may well be in part due to their having redefined what a cyclist is. For a real "boom", actual progress in infrastructure is needed, not just a public relations exercise based on cooking the books.

Update June 2023
More than ten years have passed and there is still no progress (source). The British government gave £2.3B to councils to fund new active travel infrastructure between 2016 and 2022, but do so "without knowing which schemes were good enough". As a result, the four goals set in 2017 for 2030 and 2035 will probably be missed. Only one minor goal, encouraging people to walk a bit more by 2025, could possibly be met. The cycling goal has definitely been missed with levels of activity lower now than when the government’s first cycling and walking investment strategy for England was published in 2017.

Thursday 22 April 2010

A TV advert - and the type of bikes that sell most in the Netherlands

Just after I got home tonight my daughter called me to say that there was an ad on the TV that I should see. A few minutes later when I looked at my email, someone had sent me the link to the same. It's above.

The first guy says "Hey neighbour, ESP, ABS, fog lamps, 16 inch rims and 6 gears."

The second guy says "28 inch rims, 8 gears, high power lights and computer integrated in the steering. My wife and daughter have the same."

It's advertising for the bikes of course, in this case a a nice practical bike with everything built in and at the moment they're giving a free mid-week stay at centerparcs with each purchase.

There is a list of the top selling models on the Batavus website, and much like any mainstream Dutch bicycle manufacturer, these are the most popular models in order. First place is taken by the very traditional Old Dutch, a nicely put together traditional bike with back pedal brake and one gear. "As well as black, also available in today's trendy colours," for €400.

Second place is the Weekend. A higher specification bike (eight gears in the hub, aluminium frame, hub dynamo, built in computer etc.) intended for holidays, or indeed riding at weekends. It's the bike featured in the TV ad and sells for €850.

Third place is the Diva, a "fashiobike" with trendy flower prints, it is an upmarket town bike. The feature "make the Diva a fashion statement." It costs €670.

Fourth is the Mambo deluxe. This is a fully equipped Mamafiets, a class of bike with a greater distance between the saddle and steering in order to accommodate the child seat on the front - which is of course fitted as standard at the factory (or at the very least by the bike shop). It is sold to mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers. "Safe, rigid and comfortable. Enough room for getting on and off." That's the way it's sold. Price: €850

The fifth best selling model is the Padova Easy. This is an electric bike with the battery built into the frame. The only bike in this list with an exposed chain, though a closed chain version is also available. Often bought by retired couples in "his and hers" pairs, these bikes cost €2299 each.

Note how all the bikes come fully equipped with mudguards, chainguards (all but the last protecting the chain for year around use), locks, lights. Some models come with pumps and other things you might consider to be separately sold accessories in other parts of the world. Basically these have all the features of a practical everyday bike as I posted about previously.

Batavus do of course also sell racing bikes and mountain bikes, but naturally these sport bikes aren't the most popular models. Most people use their bikes for transportation, not sport. I'm quite surprised that none of the children's bikes make the list.

If you're interested in the type of components used on these bikes, and perhaps wish to transform your own bike to be more like the practical bikes ridden everyday by the Dutch, please visit our webshop which specializes in these parts and accessories.

Wednesday 21 April 2010

School cycle training

Video by Mark Wagenbuur showing traffic education of children

In the video above, children are being educated in school. There is also a final practical examination in the Netherlands, which involves a fairly long cycle journey in a prescribed route, with volunteer inspectors watching what the children do as they cycle along and at road junctions. In the case of my daughter, who in the video below, the prescribed route was about 6 km long and children rode around it two by two. Volunteers stood on each corner, observing whether the children were doing the right thing.

Children returning from practical education

The most interesting point about this is that it's quite normal for children to cycle to and from the place where the test is being performed. i.e. they cycle before they've taken the test. In fact, as the test is taken in the last year of primary school, the children in the video had actually been cycling to and from school and for many other purposes for many years before taking their traffic examination.

How important is this ?
By the time this training takes place, in the last year of primary school (age 10 or 11), the children have been riding to school for years. Many of them have been doing this unaccompanied as the average age from which children ride to school on their own is 8.6 years.

Also note that there is no traffic education at secondary school or above and no training of adults, save for specific training of some immigrant groups - though that's an integration policy more than it's to do with cycling.

Traffic education is not what makes the Dutch safe when riding their bikes.

Much is sometimes made of how the Dutch train children, but it's not as important as it is made out. Nor does it result in all children behaving perfectly. Quite the opposite in fact as kids will be kids, and of course, teenagers will be teenagers. They won't necessarily really behave perfectly when they cycle after training.

Traffic education in New Zealand in the 1970s
These photos show my sister (and a friend) having school cycle training in New Zealand in the 1970s.

The training took place in a tennis court, not the road, and included such useful activities as cycling on a narrow plank.

I don't remember if I also did this test at school in New Zealand, but I quite possibly did. It's a fair test of skill, but I'm not sure it translates usefully to an ability to survive on roads which don't take cyclists' needs into account. When I was a child living in that country in the 1970s, all my friends also cycled to school. However, cycling in New Zealand is now very much a minority pursuit, and far fewer children cycle there now than was the case when we lived there.

Not the same in NL
School cycling in the Netherlands is not just about getting too and from school. It's also very common here for children to take school trips by bike. For instance, to visit sport facilities as Dutch schools don't have their own sports facilities but share them so children have to cycle several times a week to reach those facilities. The trips out of school go to museums, forests, farms or to city centres and these journeys are also made by bike. Sometimes, cycling is a sport activity in itself. At the end of primary school, many Dutch schools take entire classes for multi day trips by bike. My youngest daughter, with the rest of her class, went camping by bike and covered 150 km over three days. All of this is made possible by infrastructure which goes everywhere and makes the entire country accessible to children by bike.

Note that cycle training does not come out of the cycling budget, but is part of the education budget. The cycling budget (in Assen this worked out over the last few years as about €27 ( around $36 or £23 at the time of writing ) per person per year and is spent on new infrastructure in the city.

Monday 19 April 2010

Another new bridge

The Fietsberaad reports that a new large cycle bridge has been opened in parallel with the existing Muiderbrug which crosses the Amsterdam-Rijnkanaal and carries the A1 motorway.

"The cycle path between Muiden and Diemen is an important route for commuters, school-children and recreational use. This new bridge is a crucual link in regional and national cycle route networks, as it is one of the few places to cross the Amsterdam-Rijnkanaal by bike."

I have cycled over the existing bridge. You didn't have to cycle on the motorway, there was already a parallel road for local slower traffic on the bridge. However, this wasn't for bicycles only and it will be a big improvement to have a separate path. A big boost to subjective and actual safety.

The new bridge is 318 metres long and 4.6 metres wide. It is 9 metres above the water, enough that container ships can pass beneath the bridge. Built of steel and to match the existing bridge, the new bridge cost 21 million euros.

There are several other stories about bridges, including one about another big bridge in Nijmegen and a somewhat shorter bridge in New Zealand that cyclists are banned from.

Thursday 15 April 2010

Going faster for no extra effort

Yesterday evening I had a small problem with my Mango which meant I couldn't ride it home, so I rode my old two wheel Pashley PDQ recumbent instead. This has been languishing in the back of the ligfietsgarage for six months since my Mango was ready to ride and I abandoned my old friend.

It actually felt great to ride the old bike again. I've made many journeys on it in the past and it was a return to a very familiar feeling. In fact, it was better than it had been for a while, because not long before it was "abandoned" I'd spent quite a bit of time sorting it out with new chain, cassette, chainring, mudguards, even a new fork to replace the rusty looking one I was using (thanks to Tom who gave me his spare PDQ fork several years ago). The PDQ felt very light-weight after riding my Mango, acceleration between 0 and 20 km/h seemed instant. I enjoyed riding it. I had a bit of a tailwind for going home, and it took just 56 minutes to get home last night on the PDQ. For me, that's a good time in real conditions over 30 km on the PDQ.

Of course this morning the same tailwind was a headwind. It took me an hour and 3 minutes to get to work. Again not too bad on that bike with a headwind, but then there is what happens when I ride the Mango instead...

Both days have had much the same weather. Dry with a Northerly wind (i.e. blowing from work towards home). Yesterday morning it took just 53 minutes to get to work against the headwind in the Mango, and this evening in the newly repaired Mango it took just 49 minutes and 10 seconds to get home again. Those are average door to door speeds of 33.5 km/h into the wind and 36 km/h with the wind vs. 28 km/h and 32 km/h on the PDQ. I'm quicker in the Mango with a headwind than on the PDQ with a tailwind. It's a speed difference of between 12 and 20% - the greater difference being with a headwind, which is what you'd expect with an improvement in aerodynamics. A tailwind tends to even different bikes out.

The improvement in efficiency is amazing. Compared with a normal bike, or even most recumbents, the Mango allows you to propel yourself further and faster for the same effort.

This got me thinking. Some years ago I came across Walter Zorn's excellent bicycle speed calculator on his website. Unfortunately, I understand that Walter passed away last year. While his personal website is still viewable, not all of his excellent work is. In particular, his bicycle power and speed calculator has been offline for some time and I could only find it on the wayback machine.

While Walter's calculator has always had the Quest Velomobile in it as an option, it didn't have an option for the Mango. I've made a modified version which includes the Mango velomobile taking figures for Mango aerodynamics from other websites and the weights of real Mangos, including my heavy one fitted with the wonderfully puncture resistant Marathon Plus tyres (I ought to change them now that winter is over).

The calculator also still includes many other types of bikes, from upright roadsters through racing and time-trial machines and a variety of recumbents. One of the options is for a short wheel-base touring bike which produces numbers which are reasonably believable for my PDQ. By comparison, the option I added for my Mango gives just about the right difference in speed from that "PDQ" option. It's interesting also to compare with newer, lighter Mangos, and to see what happens with a hill. Even in relatively flat places like the Netherlands, there is never a truly flat surface, so weight is always an issue. The light weight of the Mango Sport means that it really comes into its own with even the slightest of uphill gradients, especially when compared with heavier velomobiles.

The photos show me on my PDQ somewhere with rolling hills between Cambridge and London back in 2006, and my colleague Arjen test riding a newly produced Mango Sport earlier today on a cycle path in our industrial estate. I wrote about commuting speeds before. The infrastructure here also helps a great deal. NL is a great place to live if you like to cycle fast. Read my review of the Sinner Mango Velomobile.

Tuesday 13 April 2010

When you need a cycle path and when you don't

Mark Wagenbuur has recently uploaded several new videos, one of which shows those situations in the Netherlands where you have cycle paths vs. those where you do not:

Mark explains it all, but I think some clarification and emphasis is still needed for readers from other countries. Minor roads without separate cycle paths have a much lower level of use by motorized vehicles than you might expect. In fact, it is quite normal to not see any motor vehicles until you leave residential areas. These residential streets are in almost all cases not through roads for motor vehicles, so you'll find that the only drivers using them are those accessing properties along the roads. "Rat-running" is a phenomena which is very rare in the Netherlands because in almost all cases there is no advantage to a motorist in using minor roads. Also note that these roads have 30 km/h (18 mph) speed limits. Sometimes the speed limits are lower still, even walking pace. These are roads for locals, and for through use by cyclists.

Once you leave the confines of the residential road and are on roads which do have through traffic by motor vehicle, the design changes. Another of Mark's videos shows a quite typical layout for a road with a 50 km/h ( 30 mph ) speed limit:

And a third video shows an urban dual carriageway, still with a 50 km/h ( 30 mph ) speed limit:

In these cases you see complete segregation of cyclists from motorists. This is what is required to make for a sufficient level of subjective safety that the entire population will cycle. It's what you need if you want parents to allow their children to cycle. Cycling children grow up into cycling adults.

Note the width of the cycle paths. A minimum of 2.5 metres wide for single direction use and a minimum of 3.5 or 4 metres wide for bidirectional use. Also note the separate provision for pedestrians, because sharing space between pedestrians and cyclists never works, that cyclists get priority over road junctions, and that there is a large space between cycle paths and roads. The majority of almost any journey will be in conditions like this.

It can't be emphasized enough that such quality of infrastructure is not optional - it's required for cycling at the level at which it is seen in the Netherlands. The Netherlands is the world's top cycling nation because infrastructure like this is the norm.

These videos were all made in the city of 's-Hertogenbosch. However, they show what is typical across the whole of the country.

Monday 12 April 2010

The effect of cycle usage on traffic jams

From the Fietsberaad come these two films showing how cycling rates can affect traffic, using an area of Alkmaar as an example.

The two videos show possible futures for drivers in the city. The left hand side of each shows what the situation would be by 2020 if there was ten percent less cycle usage than at present while the right hand side shows the situation if there is ten percent more cycle usage compared with the present.

Investing in cycling infrastructure which encourages a higher cycling rate not only benefits cyclists but also drivers and society as a whole.

Cycle-usage +10% (0.25 extra km per day per person) leads
to 3% fewer car kilometres, 6% fewer within built up areas.
Also 1% fewer traffic victims, 2% less noise nuisance, 3%
less individual CO2 output, 3% less pressure on parking at
business premises, 3% fewer residents with "travel poverty",
6% less fine dust pollution, 6% less nitrogen dioxide, 11%
fewer cars in residential areas, 15% less time lost by drivers
and 20% less pressure on parking in the centre of the city.
It is expected that a growth of 10% in cycling, just 0.25 extra km cycled per person per day, would result in 3% fewer car kilometres in total, 6% fewer in the city, resulting in drivers benefiting from 15% less time lost and 20% less pressure on car parking in the city centre. There are a range of benefits shown on the left.

What's more, it is easier to address problems for drivers by improving conditions for cyclists as even the best quality of cycle provision is less expensive and more compact than building roads.

Once again, it can be seen that promoting cycling is good not only for environmental and health reasons, but also for fiscal reasons.

The Fietsberaad have produced a (long) publication in Dutch which goes into more detail. This includes the observation that subjective safety is improved by an increase in cycling vs. driving. Half of all car journeys in the Netherlands are under 7.5 km (therefore easy to target as cycling journeys). Many larger cities in The Netherlands have successfully increased cycle use quite sharply in recent years. e.g. Groningen by 10% over 3 years, Amsterdam by 36% over 16 years and Den Haag by 11% over 3 years. It is also expected that the change to taxing motorists per km driven will result in an increase in cycling in the Randstad area of about the same amount.

Saturday 10 April 2010

A busy week...

It's been a busy week... Some time ago we were asked to make a study of the novel "Fietsmolen" cycle park at Nieuw Vennep in North Holland, and eventually we got around to it last Saturday. It's over 200 km from here, so Judy and I took our cheap folding bikes on the train and made a very short (20 km or so) ride in the rain around the area.

The Fietsmolen itself is quite interesting. It's an anonymous metal box above ground which allow automated use of 200 cycle parking spaces underground. If there's interest, perhaps I'll also write it up on the blog in due course. Nieuw Vennep has just 30000 residents, but in total cycle parking is for more than 1100 bikes, meaning that there is parking for one in 28 of the population to leave a bike at the railway station. This is around the same figure as for Assen and Groningen, a little higher than some places, a little lower than others, but not far off average for Dutch railway station cycle parking.

On our short ride we passed the Keukenhof gardens, but it was much too late in the day to pay to go in. Next to it I spotted this company hiring bikes, complete with a huge fake recumbent (The normal bike next to it is a full sized adult's bike).

On Easter Monday and Tuesday I made baskets. Including a couple of these. They're Extra Large bike baskets which I make to fit a front rack. Unfortunately I had just one front rack left, which went in the post on Tuesday. However, there's good news on the racks...

This week I found a new supplier for the same racks, who not only charges us a little less (allowing us to reduce the price of the handlebar mounted front racks by 20%). What's more, we now have the racks in the retail packaging. We've quite a lot of them in stock now, and I put an English translation of the fitting instructions in with each rack.

From Wednesday through to Friday I worked with my colleagues at the Ligfietsgarage in Groningen. We built two more Mango velomobiles, sent a Mango Sport test ride bike to Denmark for display at a show in Aarhus, and did a few repairs to local customers bikes. It has been noted in Dutch newspapers that bike shops around the country have plenty of work to do on bikes which suffered in the heavy winter we've just had. Of course, those with exposed chains, brakes and gears are much less able to deal with winter than those which have these sensitive parts enclosed (as do almost all Dutch town bikes and also the Sinner Mango).

One of our Mango customers came along on a day when we'd got nearly all the stock outside. We don't only sell Mangos but also have a large number of the other excellent touring and commuting machines from Sinner, the Demon, Spirit and Comfort and a select range of models we like from other manufacturers as well.

And that brings up right up to yesterday, when I rode to work and back with the Bongo trailer behind the Mango. Going to work was fine, but a big bundle of packaging material (needed for the baskets) was not the most aerodynamic thing to tow, so this slowed me down a lot on the return journey, which took almost an hour. Anyway, on the way home I got to watch the bike computer go past 5000 km. My Mango is now just about exactly 6 months old, so that works out as about 190 km per week on average in the Mango, much of it in the three days of commuting to Groningen. Of course, I do still ride other bikes...

We've a busy weekend, and another busy week ahead. Tomorrow is the Ligfietsopstapdag in Assen, and on Monday and Tuesday there are baskets to make.

As I now have both racks and packaging material, I need to get on with wrapping those baskets pictured above and taking them to the post office.

At some point I think we will need a holiday...

Quill stems and Paris-Roubaix

This is what is called a quill stem. It's the "old fashioned" way of connecting the handlebars to a bicycle, out of favour amongst racers who prefer the slightly stiffer "aheadset" system, but still in use on virtually every utility bicycle. It's a very good system. You can adjust the height of the handlbars simply by undoing the bolt at the top, sliding the handlebars up or down a little, and doing it back up again. Much more straightforward than the process with an aheadset.

This particular quill stem is on a beautiful racing bike on which Hennie Kuiper won the 1983 Paris-Roubaix race. Paris-Roubaix is known as probably the hardest race in the world, a major strain for both man and machine. "The Hell of the North" was immortalized in a fantastic film called "A Sunday in Hell".

Other features of this race winning bike include five speed non-indexed derailleur gears, single pivot brakes, and a steel frame.

So, why is the quill stem of significance ? Last year it was one of the points criticised by a clueless British newspaper reviewing a "the cheapest bicycle in the UK". There were many things wrong with that bike, but amongst the things picked out by the Guardian journalist was the quill stem, as if this was an actual problem. It's not. Quill stems work on millions of bikes every day and they simplify adjustment without extra expense. It's a shame that the newspaper decided to try to offer advice as it was not good advice. It's always better to get information about bikes from people who know about bikes, and of course most of the people who bought one of those Asda bikes would have been better off with something like this.

The bike is from the Velorama bicycle museum in Nijmegen. It was on display in Assen at the start of the Vuelta a Espana last year.

Paris-Roubaix is held annually on a Sunday in April. This year they'll be racing for 259 km on the 11th of April. Tomorrow. Well worth watching on the TV if you can't be there. I'll be recording it, as the ligfietsopstapdag is on the same day.

The wikipedia page about Hennie Kuiper says that "His serious introduction to the bicycle was to and from school". That's the case for virtually all Dutch children, of course, which probably goes some way to explaining why the Dutch have been so successful in cycle racing.

You can buy quill stems, threadless stems, and different shape handlebars in our webshop.

Monday 5 April 2010

Knooppuntennetwerk - signage for recreational use

The Knooppuntennetwerk is a network of numbered points on recreational cycle routes which is spreading across the Netherlands. It was the idea of a Belgian mine engineer called Hugo Bollen. After the coal mines closed in the area one after another he took on the task of designing a recreational cycle route system in his province of Limburg. The first network was created there in 1995.

Since then, it has spread within Flanders and been adopted by many Dutch provinces, starting mainly in the south.

These networks don't necessarily give the shortest routes between two points, nor the smoothest cycle paths. Their intention is to provide a pleasant countryside route for touristic purposes. They have been a huge success. Brabant spent between half and one million euros on putting up the signs (the cycle paths already existed) and has claimed a benefit of 13 million euros per year from cycle tourism as a result.

The video, made by Mark Wagenbuur, shows how the new signage and network is used.

Of course any signage, however good, doesn't tell you where to ride to or why you want to ride there. We use the network to some extent on our cycling holiday routes, but the knooppuntennetwerk in Drenthe is not yet complete, and they've not started in Groningen. In any case, not all the routes or destinations that we like to include on our routes will ever be on this network. As a result, while it is a very good system we can't rely solely on it in order to plan routes. However, if you come along to Assen on holiday you'll make use of all the types of signs shown in the video. There are a few examples on the blog of what our holidays are like.