Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Mighty Amsterdam lock - a product review

This is a terrible lock, but read further.
Not all locks of this style are terrible
We recently received a sample of the "Mighty Amsterdam" lock.

It's a bicycle look which looks a bit like the sort of wheel lock used on virtually every utility bike in the Netherlands, but it's not actually a real one.. Amazon describe it as "Straight from the Bicycle Capital of the world", but it's not really that either. If you use this to secure your bicycle in Amsterdam it'll likely be stolen. I've only ever seen one of these locks - our sample. Some retailers say it comes from Germany. I suspect it may really be made in China. In any case, it's merely a pretend "Dutch" lock and really not the same as a proper one.

How "not the same" ? Well, I'll show you. H@rry made a video of me at work a few days back demonstrating the lock. "Lost" your key ? No problem. A little bit of effort and it pops open without one:



The next day, my colleague Roelf found a slightly faster way to open it. Upward pressure is enough every time:


OK, so you can argue that perhaps it's a little less easy if it's mounted on the bike. That might be so. However, I still think it won't be difficult to open. And besides, why take the risk ?

A proper Dutch wheel lock
This is a real Dutch bike lock. It's very secure. Optional extra
cables and chains can be used with it to secure your bike to
fixed objects for even more security.
If you want a lock which mounts permanently on your bike and is actually secure, then what you need is a proper Dutch lock. The AXA Defender is one of the very best.

These are what we fit by choice to our own bikes. They're robust and reliable. Well made.

Optional cables and chains fit to a socket on the side for additional security without having to fumble around for a key.

You can buy the AXA Defender as well as the add on cables and chains (including the ART approved DPI 110in our shop but we don't, and won't, sell the Mighty Amsterdam or similar not quite real products.

Many quality products are made in China these days. The "Mighty Amsterdam lock" isn't one of them... Oh, and AXA aren't completely blameless. While the "Defender" really is very good indeed, a few of their earlier models had a fatal flaw and should be replaced.

Monday, 28 June 2010

The most dangerous cycle crossing in the UK ?


Freewheeler recently pointed out to me that the London Cycling Campaign had used some of my photos in this video. They asked before-hand and were polite enough to include credit. This makes a difference. Also, it's a very good thing that they are publicizing the danger due to this dreadful infrastructure.

The video shows what is a remarkably common situation in the UK - of cyclists having a choice of riding along a horrifically busy road or of taking to a narrow, badly designed cycle path with crossings of the same road. Sometimes the speed limits on such roads are 70 mph (112 km/h) and they are not well enforced. Indeed, the new government in the UK says it is ending the "war on the motorist" - something which never actually existed, of course.


There are very similar situations all over the UK. This one is near where we used to live in Cambridge. While I lived there I tried both riding on the road, and on the shared use path. Neither could be described as pleasant experiences:

View Larger Map

This example is on the A3, a dual carriageway road which in most countries would be classified as a motorway. However, cycling is legal on this road, and indeed it gives the most direct route, so some cyclists use it. Note the cycle symbol in the remarkably narrow on road cycle lane on the left hand side of the road:


View Larger Map

But what happens when you get to that upcoming junction on a bridge ? Well, you have a choice. Either have nerves of steel and carry on in a straight line, or join the slip-road exiting the dual carriageway as suggested by the cycle lane marking:


View Larger Map

There is then some help for cyclists who want to go straight ahead. Part way along the exit ramp, cyclists can pull into a waiting area on the left before crossing the slip road, and re-joining the main road. Very small signs warn drivers that they may find cyclists doing this:

View Larger Map

The Wikipedia article about this road puts it as follows: "Between Thursley and Milford (near Guildford), cycle crossings of the slip roads have been constructed on both sides of the carriageway for the few cyclists travelling on this dual carriageway." It is of course no surprise that "few cyclists" would use such a route ? It's hardly a glowing example of subjective safety.

Indeed, this lack of comfort when cycling is exactly the reason why cycling is flatlining in the UK.

Thursley and Milford are just four miles (six kilometres) apart. However, the direct route means taking a trip along this road. Who but the most dedicated cyclist is going to do that ? It may as well be a thousand miles, and indeed people often believe as a result that the distance is "too far to cycle". Such infrastructure is extremely effective at preventing cycling.

Also read an article which compares the most dangerous junctions in London and the whole of the Netherlands.

Britain has many problems with cycling. Cycling there has flat-lined for years and conditions remain hostile while policies continue to fail. And the rest of the English speaking world is doing much the same...

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Another type of bike...

One of the things Assen is most famous for is the Motorcycle TT. It's a huge event in the city, attracting around a hundred thousand visitors for the racing, and many who camp for a few days beforehand as well. It's easily the biggest event in Assen, and visitors outnumber the 65000 people who live here. This happens with remarkably little disruption of city life, except that supermarket shelves are stripped clean of some items.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday night have had live music on stages around the city. I had work to do on Thursday and Friday so couldn't stay out late (as a result I've still not seen Mooi Wark live - they were at half past midnight on Friday morning). However, no work today so we did go along last night.

An excellent event. As usual with a big event in the city there was simply not enough cycle parking to go around, even in places like that shown which are not actually bicycle parks at all. Bicycles are overwhelmingly the method used by locals to get into the city for events.

However, the focus of this event was another type of bike...

This jet bike was demonstrated on streets in the centre of the city. We watched the demonstration. Someone videoed it during the day and put it on youtube. It takes a while to start, and then it makes an awesome racket. So much so in fact, that the camera used to make the video seemed to give up the will to record sound:


Also there were people doing stunt riding in the city streets. Very impressive it was too. We were standing in the crowd on the other side of the landing ramp from this video:



And we spent a bit of time drinking a few beers and listening to music before riding our bikes home in the early hours. A great night out, in the company of around 40000 others who were also enjoying the evening's events.

For the next post I'll return to bicycles with pedals...

Thanks to sybrand2 and MetalMike50 for the videos

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Cycle paths are "too expensive"

A few posts ago I pointed out that the Netherlands spends around 487 million euros per year on cycling infrastructure. That is what is spent in this country of 16 million people. The world's best cycling infrastructure costs: 30 euros per person per year.

It perhaps sounds like a lot - especially in these days of "austerity". British people, and those from the USA, Australia and other countries with little cycling, often claim that a lack of money is the reason why proper cycling infrastructure cannot be built. It's not true, of course. It's just one of many excuses.

By the standards of most government expenditure, this is actually not such a huge amount of money.

Britain's budget, just announced, is full of cuts to services. However, while 4 billion pounds has been cut from the transport budget, that still leaves 22 billion pounds allocated to transport.

There was no increase in the cost of fuel for motor vehicles. Such an increase may come later due to the rising cost of oil, but the British government is trying to minimise its effect on drivers by keeping the price of motor fuel down.

Meanwhile, cycling will be expected to continue on virtually no funding at all. Around 0.3% of the transport budget in the UK is spent on cycling. This continued under-investment is what has lead to the hostile environment for cyclists, and the bad safety record of cycling in the UK.

However, even now, investment in cycling should not be seen as a cost. Cycling has many benefits for society as a whole. If people cycle, this helps the economy by reducing the requirement to import oil and has many health benefits. Encouraging cycling is good economics. It's been shown that even in the UK, investing one pound in cycling brings four pounds of benefits.


In 1949, British people covered 23.6 billion kilometres by bicycle vs. only 20.3 billion kilometres by car and taxi combined.

Instead of trying to keep the cost of motoring down, Britain's drivers could instead be helped by reducing their dependency on cars. British people were not always so dependent on cars. Rather, over the last 60 years the British public has been forced to drive for an increasing proportion of journeys due to there being few other good options (i.e. options which are attractive, offer direct journeys, have a high status and good subjective safety). If it were made easier for people to make a choice other than the private car, more could / would cycle.

Yes, I know people make other excuses, but mostly the concerns are simply about safe conditions for cycling. I've dealt with most of the common excuses before.

Of course, even when we're supposedly short of money, some things are immune to budget cuts. While there is "not enough money" for proper infrastructure, other more "important" things continue to have plenty of funding.

For instance, Britain may be heavily in debt, but the country is still keeping its nuclear deterrent, upgrading of which is expected to cost 65 billion pounds over the next few years.

I also recently learnt that Britain's adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost 20 billion pounds over the last 9 years. That's an amount in addition to the usual defence budget (around 40 billion a year, and not being cut with the budget), and does not include either troops' salaries or care for the wounded. This alone comes to 37 pounds per person per year for that period - a larger amount than the Dutch spend on cycling infrastructure.

I'm not even slightly convinced that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are justified. In 2003 I marched in in London together with a million other people and all our voices were ignored. It's part of the reason I grew disillusioned with the UK. The reason given for starting the war in Iraq was bogus, and obviously so from the beginning, the cost in human lives has been enormous, and it seems that violence simply continues to escalate in Afghanistan. So what exactly is the point ?

If money is short, which is the best use of it ? Destroying another country's infrastructure and killing hundreds of thousands of people, storing up hate for the future, or building up ones own infrastructure and saving lives in the process ?

For more cycling, what Britain, and the other countries with little cycling, need is very simple. More decent quality cycle paths.

Britain isn't alone in spending more than it can afford on the military. I made a comparison of several countries a little while back.

Monday, 21 June 2010

The attitude towards cycling infrastructure varies with its quality.

This is a guest post written by Mark Wagenbuur:

The attitude towards separate cycle infrastructure varies as much as the quality of it. In Germany some cyclists feel ‘pushed off the road’ by their separate ‘on-sidewalk’ mandatory cycle paths. In English speaking countries some cyclists are also reluctant to give up their ‘right to use the roads’, a feeling which is enhanced by a strong ‘them versus us’ culture.

There is a very different attitude in the Netherlands. The conflict of interests is just not there. First of all because the Dutch don’t think in terms of drivers versus cyclists (everybody can be both) but also because they feel each type of traffic has the infrastructure it needs and deserves. And many Dutch think ‘it has always been this way’.

Early 20th century cyclist on a cycle way separated from the road by a hedge.

It is impossible to single out one reason to explain this. There are complex cultural, political, financial and historical reasons that all contributed to today’s attitude. But it is interesting to focus on one of the historic reasons.



When mass cycling became common in the Netherlands from the 1890s the cyclists had to deal with roads that were totally inadequate for cycling. Most roads were not paved at all. The state highways had been constructed for horses and carriages and they had been neglected because of cuts in maintenance in favour of what was considered more modern rail transport. In order to make cycling possible at all new roads for cyclists were necessary. And they were indeed built. At first next to the highways, but then an interesting problem arose. Since the cycle paths were so much better than the roads they were soon invaded by horsemen and carriages. This lead to protests and eventually in 1905 to a new Road Law that was very specific in the protection of cycle paths. It forbade non-cyclists to use them. And it also gave the cycle paths the legal status of ‘road’, to be used by cyclists only.

Separate cycle path in Breukelen in 1955

It was only after this law was in force that cars became common. They too were forbidden to use the cycle roads. But it was hard to enforce with the smooth cycle ways that were so much more comfortable for those early cars too, directly next to the poor roads. So the pragmatic Dutch simply created a division. A hedge or a line of trees between the road and the cycle way and the matter was settled. By the 1920s it had been laid down in National Law that the construction of these separate cycle paths was mandatory on roads with more than 500 cyclists passing per day. When the cyclists’ union looked back in the 1930s to three decades of practise, they were very satisfied that this solution had also improved overall road safety. Implementation in cities was interrupted by WWII but from the early 1950s the separated cycle paths became more common in city streets too.

Much has changed since the early 20th century. Motorised traffic now has its own good roads, and there was a decline in cycling that was overcome again, but that ground attitude has always remained. It were not the cyclists who were sent off the roads. It was motorised traffic that was sent off the cycle paths for the benefit of all. This basic attitude has been such a long tradition that it is incorporated in the way of building and thinking about roads. No driver will ‘invade’ a cycle path, not even now, not even if he can.

Modern infrastructure planning in the Netherlands always includes cycle paths

What has been a growing tradition in the Netherlands for over a hundred years can be adopted by other countries too. On highways and through streets with a high volume of motorised traffic at increased speed you need smooth, wide, clear and well maintained cycle paths separated from that motorised traffic to improve overall traffic safety. In city streets with moderate traffic volumes and low speed differences you can create complete streets which are fit to be used by all types of traffic including cyclists and pedestrians.



Mark Wagenbuur has made many excellent videos of Dutch cycling provision. I've included many of them, often with his words, on this blog. You can find many more on his youtube page. He also provided information about the first cycle path in the Netherlands.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Fietsparade Groningen

On Sunday, 20th of June (i.e. this Sunday coming) there's a Fietsparade in Groningen at the Vismarkt. This includes a tour through the city. The event lasts from one in the afternoon until about 4.

This comes after the opening of an exhibition about the Groninger bike manufacturer Fongers, who built bikes in the city from 1884 through to 1971. There will be demonstrations by unicyclists, BMX riders, cycle racers, cycle couriers and bakfietsen. There will also be a group of 100 old bikes ridden by members of De Oude Fiets, a nice group of people who preserve old bicycles. I made a video of one of their rides locally a couple of years ago:


What's more, the Fietsharmonisch Orkest is coming along. I saw this lot at SPEZI earlier this year:


And of course you're welcome on your bike too.

These days there is just one bicycle manufacturer left in Groningen. Sinner Ligfietsen, building a range of recumbent bikes and trikes including the rather wonderful Mango velomobile, and of course we'll be there too.

Update 21/6/2010
I didn't get any particularly good photos or videos. However, Wilfred did. This is his video, and there are photos on his blog.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

LOFAR - world's biggest radiotelescope


Drenthe, the province of the Netherlands in which we live, is the least densely populated in the Netherlands. There is a lot of beautiful countryside here, and a lot of farming. However, it's not just a farming area.

A few days ago, Queen Beatrix officially opened the world's largest radiotelescope, LOFAR, based here in Drenthe, but spread across Europe, is the biggest in the world. The individual parts all link with a supercomputer in Groningen.

It's one of those many surprises you find when cycling across the province. And of course the video about the radiotelescope can't help but include bikes here in the "cycling province".

The Wikipedia page on LOFAR has more details, and there's another video showing some of how it works.

Monday, 14 June 2010

14 and a half feet please


View larger map
The image above is from a cycle path which I use for a good part of my commute. I've written before about how this path is great for commuting at a decent pace, and shown how this cycle path has priority over side roads. The cycle paths here are 2.5 m ( 8 feet ) wide, that's the minimum allowed for a unidirectional cycle path. Such paths should also be separated from the road by a minimum of 1.5 m (just short of five feet), however, in this case, the separation is actually about 4.5 m ( 14 and a half feet ).

Back in Britain there is currently a campaign called "3 feet please", which is asking merely for motorists to give cyclists 3 feet ( 0.9 m ) of clearance as they pass cyclists. The campaigners behind this correctly notice that "Fear of traffic" (i.e. a lack of Subjective Safety) prevents people from cycling in Britain, but their suggested fix is woefully inadequate.

"3 feet please" didn't originate in Britain. It is actually an idea that the British have imported from the USA. The problem is that while this passing distance requirement is law in some American states, the cycling rate in the USA is just as low as it is in the UK. Britain copying America or America copying Britain is never going to result in a high rate of cycling (and you can add any of the other English speaking countries to this. Australia, New Zealand etc. They all have about the lowest rate of cycling it is possible to have).

It's no good looking to where people don't cycle to find ways to encourage people. You need to look to where people cycle a lot. The Netherlands leads the world by a wide margin. 3 feet is not enough. Complete segregation of cyclists from motorists is what is actually required to make the masses feel that cycling is safe. It's also required to make cycling efficient and safe.

This can be achieved by a combination of two means: high quality cycle-paths with proper traffic light and roundabout design, and by treatment of roads to achieve segregation without cycle-paths. The concepts of Sustainable Safety lie behind the Dutch success.

The Dutch highway code tells drivers to pass cyclists with a minimum 1 to 1.5 m gap. However just like everywhere else this doesn't mean it actually happens because drivers make mistakes. To learn from the Netherlands it is necessary to emulate the things which really make a difference here, not just anything which is "Dutch".
This infrastructure isn't only for high speed adult commuters. I also made a video showing how school children use this same cycle path to get into the city from a village. Note also that in this instance the cycle paths have a concrete surface which is smoother, and faster to ride on than the asphalt of the road. This type of surface is increasingly common in the Netherlands.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Cyclevision 2010


Last weekend was Cyclevision. It's an event for recumbent cyclists, including an exhibition, social rides, racing and much talking over a weekend.

I worked on the Sinner stand on Saturday. We had Wilfred's spectacular Mango+ on the stand for customers to see, and it got a lot of attention. Also I got to see Peter racing.

On the Sunday I took part in the six hours race. As ever, the leaders were much quicker than I am. The winning rider, Ymte Sijbrandij, rode more than 322 km in six hours and averaged over 53 km/h. He's always very quick, but this time he also had a "secret weapon" - a super lightweight version of the Quest velomobile, differing markedly from those you can buy, with a custom carbon frame not adjustable for other riders, and fitted with a racing hood. Indeed, the first six places were taken by machines which were not standard or not road legal (that's perfectly OK - it's a race).

I took 21st place out of 54 participants, covering 235 km in six hours, in the same Mango as I ride to work. My average speed was 39.1 km/h.

I didn't come close to a podium place, but I'm still very pleased with my result. My first two hours went well, averaging over 42 km/h. I covered 100 miles (i.e. 161 km) in three hours and fifty four minutes, and still had an average above 40 km/h at the five hour mark (200 km covered before five hours). However, I really ran out of steam in the last hour. It became increasingly difficult to eat and drink, leading to low blood sugar and general grumpiness, and my average speed dropped a lot. You can see it in the graph of speed over time. At this time quite a few people I'd overtaken earlier took laps back from me.

I also took part in Cyclevision in 2002 and 2003 when the long race was three hours in length. In 2002 I covered 97 km and in 2003, 95 km. These are average speeds of just 32.3 km/h and 31.6 km/h. This year I was about 30% faster for the first three hours, and 20% faster over the entire six hours than I was when I was eight years younger, in a race which was half as long and on a track which didn't include a bridge.

A good part of the difference can of course be put down to the Mango's aerodynamics. It simply goes much faster for the same amount of effort. However, in this case the difference in speed is greater than you'd expect between the two bikes meaning that I'm somewhat fitter now than I was eight years ago. I put that down in large part to living in the Netherlands. I always thought I cycled a lot when I lived in the UK, but in this country the environment invites you to cycle more than you would otherwise.

Last year in the four hour race at Tilburg I had a puncture which took ages to fix because I had no spare parts with me. As a result, this time I carried a pump, spare tyre and inner tube. I also still had my trailer hook attached to the Mango, the basket I carry things in next to my seat, speakers and in fact almost all the stuff I usually have.

I didn't really do any training. I've heard that some trainers refer to cycle commuting as "junk miles", but I still think the 60 km round trip commute must count as something. Apart from that, just the occasional Sunday huneliggers ride, and the elfstedentocht.

The full results are online.

Peter also wrote up the ride, including a video with the camera pointing the other way. Harry made a video of a camera test with the Mango Sport and Marjon made one from next to the start line. Many more photos, videos and blog posts can be found on ligfiets.net.

Thanks to the organisers, time-keepers, marshalls and other volunteers who gave so much of their time to make the event go so well, and also to the other competitors who were such fun to race with.

My speed this year in the six hours race was nearly so fast as that over just one hour in last year's cyclevision. I'm really pleased ! I took the two photos from Bas de Meijer. I hope he doesn't mind.
Read my review of the Sinner Mango Velomobile.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Driving is boring

Something that has long amazed me is that people actually claim to enjoy driving cars. I find driving for everyday journeys is quite excruciatingly boring. I could see the attraction if people went to track days and raced around with other like minded people. A bit of speed, a bit of danger, testing your skills etc. I think I could enjoy that myself. After all, racing bikes is great fun. However, it seems that a remarkably small number of people who claim to like driving cars actually ever do it competitively at any level at all. Except perhaps on a computer screen. I really think that's a shame.

Anyway, back to the boredom of driving... Cars manage to make speeds of over 100 km/h ( 60 mph ) a sleep inducing experience. Bicycles make 50 km/h ( 30 mph ) into a fairly scary experience which demands that you're alert, and 80 km/h ( 50 mph ) down a hill on a bike is quite terrifying. I always think of all the things that could go wrong, and how injured I'd be if they did.

I think boredom explains an awful lot of why there are so many deaths and injuries on the roads. So many SMIDSY (Sorry Mate, I Didn't See You) type incidents. Drivers are simply bored, or distracted by something more interested, and not concentrating. There are regular campaigns around the world to encourage drivers to sleep well before driving, take breaks every so often on long journeys etc. but this is frequently ignored. This boredom is a good part of the reason why campaigns to encourage drivers to behave perfectly never actually work. It doesn't really matter how good a driver you'd like to be if you're half asleep at the wheel.

Crashes due to drivers falling completely asleep are quite common. Other incidents due to loss of concentration are also common. In fact, driving is so sleep inducing that even an insomniacs' website warns of the dangers of falling asleep while driving.

Campaigning for drivers to always behave perfectly, and for cyclists to always behave perfectly, will never eliminate this problem. Cyclists will continue to be the victims of crashes with drivers while bikes are mixed with cars on the roads. Separating the modes is the only way of significantly improving the safety of cyclists. It worked here in the Netherlands, where cycling is safer than in any other country.

The poster image is from a Dutch campaign against "slaaprijden." It reads "2 hours driving, quarter of an hour rest - " It is one of many such pieces of advice being handed out on the campaign website. These posters appear beside the motorways in order to remind drivers of the importance of taking a rest from driving.

So I'm going to stick to riding bikes (and trikes) for most of my journeys. I'll stay awake, and I'll enjoy the experience.

I've always seen driving as a boring activity. I was 27 before I bothered to learn to drive. On moving over here my license became invalid and for over two years I had no legal driving license at all, which was no problem as I didn't need to use a car in that time. In December I got a Dutch license, primarily so I can take my turn with driving the company van. One of my favourite videos showing driving as a boring activity is here.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Cyclevision this weekend


On the 5th and 6th of June I and many others will be at the Cyclevision event in Sloten, Amsterdam.

This year I'll be on the Sinner stand for at least part of Saturday, and I'll take part in just one race - the six hour race on Sunday.

Or, take a look at some videos from last year's cyclevision.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Golden cycle stand

In 1999 a programme called "Room for the bike" began, aiming to increase the amount of cycle parking at Dutch railway stations.

The 200000th new cycle parking stand due to this programme has just been installed in Hardenberg. It's coloured gold. The 200000 are made up of 157000 unwatched stands, 30000 watched places and 13000 cycle lockers.

60000 more cycle parking spaces at railway stations will be installed by 2012, and ProRail promises to keep up a rate of building 25000 new spaces per year at least until 2020.

The result is that the entire country has an enormous ratio of bicycle parking spaces available to the population of the town in which they exist.

Some of the cycle-parking at Assen railway station, expanded under this scheme.
Assen, where we live, has a cycle-parking space at the railway station for every 25 citizens. Groningen has better than one space for every 20 people, the village of Beilen has enough for one in fifteen and the small town of Meppel has enough for one in twelve.

Read all stories on this blog about railway station cycle parking.

The cycle stand shown at the top is a "Tulip" design. These are the very best cycle-stands. Read why in a previous blog post previously.