Monday, 29 August 2011

A "magic" roundabout ?

The Crap Walking and Cycling in Waltham forest and As Easy as Riding a Bike blogs have both recently posted interesting critiques of the "Magic Roundabout" in York ("spin over substance", "Putting some paint around the circumference of a roundabout does precisely nothing for cyclists", "Would you want to send your child to school on cycling infrastructure like this?"). Elsewhere it is described as a formidable obstacle for cyclists.

Here it is from the air:


View Larger Map This roundabout has similarities to the least successful, least safe roundabout designs which can be found in the Netherlands.

The CTC wrote about it in 2003 (page 6 here), saying much about the "continental style" of this roundabout and referring to CROW documentation from the Netherlands (amongst others) as being an inspiration. On the Magic Roundabout, cyclists are encouraged to use a 1.2 m wide on-road cycle lane which goes all the way around the outside, and on one entry point they're expected to use a cycle lane of the same width sandwiched between two lanes of motor traffic.

In reality, the narrow cycle lane doesn't provide much help for cyclists. In this video you'll see how a York cyclist (bigguychappers) rides up to and over the roundabout:



Comparison with a Dutch roundabout
For a cyclist, the supposedly "continental" style "Magic Roundabout" of York looks nothing at all like a real roundabout as seen over here on "the continent" in the Netherlands. This second example is a typical Dutch roundabout, chosen simply because it's an example close to our home. It should appear at the same scale on your screen as that above from York:



These aren't particularly busy roads, but that doesn't mean that cyclists aren't better off away from them. There is no need to ride on the roundabout itself at all. Cycle paths around this roundabout are 2.5 m wide where single direction and 4 m wide where bidirectional.

We ride this way regularly as it's part of the most direct route to the city centre (see the whole journey from which this is a part ). A video made when riding past this roundabout also looks nothing like the video from York:



Approaching and riding past this Dutch roundabout involves no conflict and no drama. No-one has concerns about riding here themselves, and no adult has concerns about their school age children cycling past this junction. This is just as well because many go past here in order to get to school. This type of infrastructure contributes to the high cycling rate of Assen, and as similar roundabouts are found right across the country, to the high cycling rate of the Netherlands as a whole. What's more, this is also extremely efficient for a cyclist to use. You never have to stop when riding in this direction, and rarely in the opposite direction. In my view, this is truly a "magic" roundabout because so far as cyclists are concerned, it's almost been made to vanish.

Guess which one won an award ?
Unlike the York roundabout, the example in Assen didn't win any awards. No-one said that it was a novel idea which "should be copied by other engineers around the world." (just a few days after this blog post was published, that link was password protected. I guess someone in York reads this blog). No consultancy company still refers to it as an example of their award winning design. For the Dutch, this is nothing but a normal roundabout. In any case, people don't seem to be quite so keen on handing out awards for things like this on this side of the North Sea.

The problem with things like the Magic Roundabout in York is that sometimes the hype gets out of control. It may well be a safer design than the previous junction, but it's a missed opportunity. It could have been so much better, but as so much hype and praise is heaped upon the roundabout it's difficult for other people to notice this. The hype is still believed. Cycling England referred to it quite positively, there have been proposals to copy the "Magic Roundabout" elsewhere in the UK, similar ideas are published as guidance in Australia. The BBC recently said that the "British roundabout" might be conquering the US, and a much hyped example like this could well be held up as a better than average design to copy.

It is often difficult to counter the opinion of an "expert". However, it seems quite clear that in reality the Magic Roundabout shouldn't be an example which is copied. Planners who want to do the right thing for cyclists would be better advised to look at Dutch examples instead.

The Assen roundabout used as an example in this blog post is not unusual. Another post details every roundabout in Assen. Every single one is better designed than the "Magic Roundabout"

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Yes, good cycling infrastructure really does lead to people cycling more. Immigrants cycle far more in The Netherlands than most people think (also distances and fuel usage)

All around the world there are people who try to reduce their impact on the environment by cycling. However, people who cycle for this reason are never very large in number. In most places only a minority find conditions to be such that they are willing to "make a sacrifice" by behaving differently from the majority. The Netherlands is different in that the average person cycles. They may not do so as much as cycling extremists (this fraction of the population exists here just as elsewhere) but because average people are much more numerous, their contribution is far greater. 100% of the population using a bike for over a quarter of all their journeys is far more significant than 1% of the population using a bike for 99% of their journeys.

Comparison of popularity of different transport modes for Turkish, Marokkan, Surinam and Antillian immigrants and the Dutch native population. From page 52 of this report.

Key: Ritten = journeys. Aandeel = share. Auto = car as driver or passenger. OV = public transport. Motor of Brommer = motorbike or scooter. Fiets = bicycle. Lopend = Walked.
On average, the native Dutch population uses a bicycle for 27% of their journeys. The total average number of journeys per day is 2.74, and people use a bike for 0.74 journeys per day.

By comparison, immigrants from nations with much less cycling cycle less than the native Dutch. However, these figures are also very interesting. I think it notable that Turks in the Netherlands use a bike for 9% of their journeys, Marokkans for 11%, Surinamese for 13% and Antillians for 15%. While these are lower figures than for the Dutch, they're still significantly higher than cycle usage in their countries of origin.


Not many people realise how successfully integrated immigrants are to the Netherlands with regard to cycling. Each of these immigrant groups comes from a nation with almost no cycling yet after exposure to the Dutch environment and infrastructure, immigrant groups in this country compare favourably with the other top cycling countries. This demonstrates how powerful it is to have infrastructure which attracts people to cycling. Source.

Integration is difficult. It's relatively easy for us due to our European background, but it's still extremely difficult to move to another country and to fit in. However much some people might like to think that immigrants don't try to fit in, there is proof here that at least so far as modes of transport are concerned, immigrants in the Netherlands can be shown to have gone some considerable way to integrating, even if they never cycle to the same extent as the native population.

If immigrants can't resist the temptation to cycle when they come to the Netherlands from countries with almost no cycling then it's quite logical to assume that if the infrastructure was taken to countries with almost no cycling then the population would be equally attracted to cycling. Cycling sells itself, so long as people don't have to ride alongside motor vehicles.

Conclusion
Cycling is not "in the genes", it's in the infrastructure ! Even Dutch people often make this mistake, but the success of the Dutch cycling infrastructure is obvious wherever it exists and whoever gets to ride on it. Dutch people who leave this country and no longer have the infrastructure usually stop cycling.

Exactly the same infrastructural developments which encourage cycling amongst the Dutch native population are effective amongst people with no existing habit of cycling: If you build it, they will come. The effect on the wealth of the nation as a whole, and on the environment, from convincing people en-masse to cycle for a significant proportion of their journeys is enormous. The means to achieve this can be seen in the Netherlands and if duplicated elsewhere it will have a similar effect.

Distances travelled and fuel usage
Over the last few days, two of our vehicles have gone past mileposts of one form or another. It's quite clear that we've "gone Dutch" as well.

I've ridden the Mango 16000 km (10000 miles) since it was new 22 months ago. That's only an average of 700 km per month, which won't impress anyone who's working towards a world record. I work just one day a week in Groningen now, so I'm not riding the Mango to commute quite so often as I was.


On the other hand, our car needed its APK (annual inspection) this week. This was a chance to take note of how much we've been using it. For the first three years that we lived here, it wasn't used at all, but fourteen months ago we started the process of getting it on the road. Since then, between us, we've driven 2400 km (1500 miles).

Let's work out some simple numbers: 16000 km if driven by car instead of ridden by bike, based on earlier figures, would have cost us about €1700 euros, and produced about 2700 kg of CO2 emissions.

The Mango isn't the only bike that I ride. Local journeys with the Xtracycle or town bike to the post office and supermarket also add up at a surprising rate. The rest of the family also have their own bikes and use them daily.

If all four of us had travelled the whole time by car, and we were using it as "dad's taxi" to take our teenagers everywhere they wanted to go, then it would have covered a considerably greater distance and the costs for us, the country we live in, and the environment that all of us share would have been considerably greater.

A similar effect can be seen in reverse. When Dutch nationals emigrate to the UK or USA, they typically end up making few journeys by bicycle, approaching local norms. The environment in other countries discourages cycling, and the Dutch are just as easily discouraged by unpleasant cycling conditions as people born elsewhere.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Cycling in a large building site

Closed cycle paths, cycle paths that are no more than paint on the sidewalk, diagonal road crossings, temporary traffic lights standing in a concrete filled old oil drum, road dividers in concrete, steel or red and white plastic, temporary bridges, temporary bicycle parking racks... Cycling in a city that doubles as a huge building site is quite an adventure!

This temporary traffic light is standing in a concrete filled old oil drum...
all the other road infrastructure on the picture is temporary too.
The city of Utrecht is rebuilding its 1970s railway station area. Utrecht Central Station is the Netherlands' biggest railway station since it is located in the center of the country at a point where five major railway lines come together. It now sees 65 million travellers per year and that is expected to rise to 100 million in 2020. The 1970s station and the whole area around it just couldn't handle everything anymore. Building in the area has started a couple of years ago and the last of the 25 huge interconnected projects will only be finished in 2030! Since it is a vast area a lot of cycling routes go right through it. While the building goes on we see a lot of detours and temporary cycling infrastructure. Many of which sure doesn't meet the normal criteria for standard Dutch cycling infrastructure. But at least it is there, and it does seem to be able to handle the large volumes of cycling traffic that this area sees. Below some stills from the video at the bottom.

Cycle path closed, a diagonal crossing brings cyclists to the temporary cycle path on the other side of the street.
The kerb (curb) with the arrow should also have been leveled, just like the ones to the right of it.
Boys will be boys! Protected from buses by the steel divider this boy thought a wheely wouldn't be a problem.
Concrete dividers and a painted cycle lane. Only acceptable as temporary cycling infrastructure.
The station area in the city of Utrecht will remain an interesting place to use your bicycle in the coming years. Paths will be relocated every time the builders need them to be somewhere else. But at least they do create temporary cycling provisions. I have not seen a 'cyclists dismount' sign, at least not yet, but I don't expect we'll be seeing one either.

Once a freeway entrance, now a temporary cycle path.

Paint hardly ever works... she didn't get where she had to walk.

The video gives you a feel of the area as it is now. Not perfect for cycling but it is quite all right.




The video has a Japanese flavoured surprise at the end.


The urban redevelopment project is not only about building the new station or 'Public Transport-Terminal' for trains, trams and buses, it is also about redesigning the shopping mall and building theaters, cinemas, hotels and a new council office. All the streets in the area will be redeveloped for the changed traffic flows and the historic city moat (that was turned into a motorway in the 1960s) will return to the city. There is an elaborate -even in English- website for this mega-project. The information video gives you a quick and good overview of the size of this project.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Two Mango adventures

Two Mango adventures for the price of one this week. On Saturday I raced in Germany, and on Monday I collected some more stock.

Rütenbrock 2011
Again a very enjoyable competition in Rütenbrock, for which I have to thank the Bentlage brothers who put a lot of work into organising it. It's a 55 km ride from here to their village, so I rode there first and back again afterwards. I made this film, starting on the way there. My intention had been to have a camera facing forwards as well as the one backwards, but unfortunately the forward camera stopped working:



Jan Eggens made a film from the side of the track:


I'm still waiting for official results at the moment (they'll appear here). All I know at present is that in the one hour race, Daniel Fenn won with an amazing 44.8 km/h average, Peter was 9th with just short of 38 km/h, and that I was (I think) 15th out of 37 competitors with an average of about 36 km/h. Lots of fun.

Collecting racks
The trailer's own weight plus twelve frame mounted front racks for stock together came to 42 kg
Today I went to collect some more racks for the shop. I thought a bit about this. Pulling the trailer behind the Mango obviously slows it down. It's not all that aerodynamic and a bit like pulling a parachute. This is difficult to calculate for. However, the effect of the extra weight on the return trip is also very easy to notice and the online calculator shows that the effect of the weight alone takes about 5 km/h off my speed or, if you like, makes the journey 15% "longer". However, the round-trip of 75 km still took well under three hours, which isn't so bad.

And here's a short film of the ride to the factory and back:

Read my review of the Sinner Mango Velomobile.

Three years of blogging - top posts

The first post on this blog was made three years ago on the 16th of August 2008. At that time, I marvelled that "No-one has tooted a horn aggressively at me, no-one has driven their car at me, no-one has shouted at me in the street in an aggressive way."

We've now lived here for four years, and this remains very nearly true. Unfortunately, I had one very minor tooting incident earlier this year - just enough to remind me that The Netherlands isn't perfect. However, that such incidents are so rare as only one in the four years we've lived here remains a very good part of why it is that the Dutch find cycling to be a pleasant experience, and why people here cycle as much as they do.

Anyway, here are the top twenty most read posts on the blog:
  1. Anatomy of reliable everyday bicycle - A practical bicycle is needed if you rely on it every day. What makes a "Dutch bicycle" so practical ?
  2. Three types of safety - Subjective and Social safety are more important than actual safety if people are to be encouraged to cycle. However, these things come together, and the Netherlands is also the safest place in the world to cycle.
  3. Directness - highlighting the importance of cyclists being able to make convenient journeys. If cycling is inconvenient it won't be popular.
  4. The most dangerous cycle crossing in the UK
  5. The truth about Copenhagen - some people didn't like this. Sorry, but I don't like exaggeration and hype.
  6. Sinner Mango - a lot of people seem to like this bike. So do I.
  7. Stairs are dangerous - wear a helmet - Many things are more dangerous than cycling. Climbing stairs is just one of them. Scaremongering does not help to encourage people to cycle.
  8. Bikes for older people - just one of several posts with the same subject
  9. Stopping ban by schools - It's simply not necessary for cars to be able to stop by schools, especially at times of day when they put children at risk. There are lots of stories about school travel.
  10. Oh London you really need to try harder than this - one of several on London.
  11. World's safest roads - Dutch and British roads vie for the position of the safest in the world, but the way the safety levels have been achieved couldn't be more different, and for cyclists and pedestrians this is a very important difference.
  12. State of the Art bikeway design, or is it? - Criticism of American infrastructure design, self described as "state of the art".
  13. When Cyclists Matter - Car crash and public response in 's-Hertogenbosch - it's a bit different here from many other places.
  14. All those myths and excuses in one post - things that people think are the reasons while cycling is popular in the Netherlands but not in their own countries.
  15. How Groningen grew to be the world's number one cycling city - one of many posts about Groningen.
  16. Reality vs. Myth: The "dangers" of Dutch cycle paths - Despite the statistics showing them to be very safe, some people try very hard to make our that there are greater dangers than really exist.
  17. Pit Canaries - how what your cyclists looks like is an indication of the level of subjective safety
  18. 4001 - a utility cycling odyssey - how small journeys add up
  19. Excuses - various excuses that people make for why cycling happens more here than where they live
  20. Inter-city bicycle superhighways for long distance commuters - one of several posts on this subject.
Surprisingly to me, none of the posts about the enormous amount of railway station parking made the list. None of the Before and After series made the list, the posts about segregation without cycle paths aren't there, and nor are the ones about cycle paths. Stop the Child Murder didn't make the list, and nor, perhaps most surprisingly of all, did Mark's Cycle Rush Hour in Utrecht, even though one of the videos from that post "went viral" and has now been seen by nearly a million people on youtube as well as millions more on TV around the world

The web pages showing differences between otherwise similar British and Dutch streets and how Assen has changed over the years had enough hits to made the list, but they weren't blog post.

Mark didn't get a penny from any of the TV companies who used his video. I get about €20 per year from the advertising on the blog. This is the result of many thousands of hours of work by both of us, free for you to read. Those who in the past have complained about the advertising, and those who've asked me for hundreds of Euros to use a photo they've taken of me when racing (an offer which, naturally, I turned down), might like to consider this. Writing this stuff is hardly a license to print money. Please don't be too surprised that we use the blog occasionally to advertise our businesses, Dutch Bike Bits and Hembrow Cycling Holidays. While writing the blog is enjoyable, we do have to make a living.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Evolution of our Xtracycle


We've owned an Xtracycle Freeradical since 2003. Attached to a fairly basic mountain bike, it's done a lot of work in the past. However, for the last two years, our Xtracycle had fallen out of use. We both had become used to the comfort of Dutch town bikes, and as a result, we were more likely to pile parcels high on our town bikes, sometimes pulling a trailer as well, than to ride the Xtracycle. When I rode it in December, I noticed that the chain was worn and several things felt a little unpleasant, so work needed to be done.

Recently the sales in our online shop have built up and the option of moving all our parcels on the normal town bike had become quite unworkable. We needed a cargo bike again. Over the last few weeks I've done quite a few small jobs on the Xtracycle to get it in usable order once more.
Fundamentally, much of what was "wrong" with our Xtracycle came down to it being a mountain bike with a thing bolted onto the back.

Now I know that many people love their mountain bikes. There is no reason why they should not do so. Mountain biking is a fine sport. The problem isn't mountain bikes, or their riders, but the use of the wrong tool for the job. Mountain bikes are not particularly practical bicycles. MTB gearing is rather on the low side, which is fine for travelling through mud or up steep slopes, but not ideal around town. The sitting position is uncomfortably stretched out due to the long stem and straight handlebars. The high bottom bracket, useful when riding off-road, is a nuisance in town as it requires that one hops down off the saddle at stops. MTBs don't come with mudguards, chainguards or racks, which can be tricky to fit. A kickstand isn't fitted, and permanent fitting of lights is not straightforward. A practical bike needs to have nothing on it which must remove when you park.

Many of the problems with using a mountain bike for everyday transport can be solved with suitable add-ons, and by doing this one can approach the concept of a practical Dutch everyday bike, which comes fitted with everything you need for practical use without requiring work to be done.

Some of the issues are tackled by the Xtracycle Freeradical add-on itself. It provides an oversized rack. If you also fit the Xtracycle specific kickstand then that solves another problem as the bike can now stand upright without assistance. These two things we'd already done. However, the problems that remained with our Xtracycle were typical "MTB as town bike" problems, which have now been put to rest as well as possible.

For a start, the tyres. Knobbly tyres are designed for mud. They're also OK in snow. However (with just a few exceptions) they are inefficient and slow on smooth surfaces. Also, cheaper tyres are puncture prone. There are various add-on products available to try to reduce this problem, but far and away the most effective way of reducing the problem of punctures is to fit better quality tyres with a good anti-puncture layer. I chose the Schwalbe Marathon tyre. It's not fast like a racing tyre, but it's faster than typical knobbly tyres, and puncture resistance is very good. This also makes the bike blissfully quieter to ride as you don't get the characteristic hum of a knobbly tyre on tarmac. While on the subject of wheels, another essential for everyday riding is to fit mudguards (fenders). Because I don't like spray on my feet and shoes, I also fitted the larger and truly effective type of mudflap.

Only half a mudguard is fitted at the back. Sadly, my original model Freeradical had no really good way of mounting a rear mudguard. I understand that eyes for mounting a mudguard are provided on newer versions of the product.

To achieve more comfort when riding the bike required changing the handlebar and stem and also the saddle. My handlebar and stem are a set which we already owned which is equivalent to the combined handlebar and stem in the webshop. This change brings the handlebars a lot closer so that we don't have to lean over so much when riding and the cargo is closer to the turning axis, so the bike is easier to control when heavy. Also, the ends of the bars turn backwards, which is much more comfortable for the wrists than a straight handlebar. The saddle is the same wide sprung and comfortable model as we'd already got on other bikes of ours, and as used by so many people who want comfort and practicality.

Our Xtracycle is fitted with a Steco front rack for extra capacity. This works very well, but it also makes the steering more likely to flop around when the bike is on its stand. For that reason I have fitted a steering damper to the bike. I'd not used one before, but I find that it works very well with the rack. The handlebars no longer turn so much when the bike is parked, and so weight in the front is less likely to flip the whole thing over. It also has a benefit when riding as it tames the front end a little, which is helpful when there is a lot of weight on the rack.

I've also fitted dynamo lights to our Xtracycle. They've a huge advantage over battery lights in that they are permanent, bolted on, part of the bike so don't have to be removed when you park and there are no batteries to be flat. This is essential for practicality.

I'm using a Nordlicht dynamo attached with a special bracket for the V-brake boss, coupled with a Basta headlight mounted on the light bracket built into the Steco rack. There are brighter headlights for use on long rides in the countryside, but that's not what we use our Xtracycle for. For use in town, this provides more than enough light for a very reasonable price. The rear light is difficult with the Xtracycle. Again, there is no good place to attach a light to the Freeradical frame. I've opted for a DIY solution using an old battery-powered rear LED light adapted for dynamo use and attached to the bottom of my saddle.

I would have liked to fit a Dutch style lock to the bike. These are by far the most convenient and quick to use style of bike lock, but they don't fit with the Freeradical in place. Instead, I found a way of mounting an old D lock permanently on the bike. A hole drilled in the advertising board allows the D lock to be swung into the wheel. It also stays in place above the top tube while riding. It's not the highest security arrangement, but it's enough around here.

The triple crankset (22/32/42 teeth) which was originally fitted to the mountain bike which we used as a donor has been replaced with a single speed crankset with 46 teeth. This gives higher gears for a bit more speed in town.

Finally, a bell. Of course, for a large bike there is just one choice - the 80 mm Ding Dong bell.

And how has it turned out ? Well, now the bike is once again enjoyable to ride, and over the last few weeks since the work was done, it's been used several times.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

But we have driveways

One of the many excuses used by people who oppose protected cycling infrastructure is the 'but we have driveways' excuse. There are people who believe that cycling infrastructure, especially a separate protected cycle path, does not go together well with driveways.

But of course the two can be combined: as long as the design of both the cycle path and the driveways are well done and follow strict rules.
1. Driveways may not interrupt the sidewalk or cycle path.

2. Driveways may not influence the level of the sidewalk or cycle path.

3. Driveways may not have priority over pedestrians or cyclists.
When a drive way does not interrupt the sidewalk or the cycle path, when it does not change the level of either of those and when it is clear it has no priority over pedestrians or cyclists then such a driveway is no problem at all to separated cycling infrastructure.


Driveways that do not interrupt cycle path nor sidewalk, have no influence on the level of either of those and clearly have no priority.
In the following video you can see that well designed driveways and cycling infrastructure can coexist without any problem.

The video was shot in Vught, a small town just south of 's-Hertogenbosch in North-Brabant province. According to Wikipedia it was apparently named 'Best place to live in the Netherlands' by a Dutch magazine. 

Monday, 15 August 2011

The best cycle path in Britain ?

One of my friends in Cambridge commented that this almost looks like
the Netherlands
It's taken a lot longer than it should have (construction started well before we left Cambridge four years ago), but the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway has finally opened. With the busway came the best part of the plan, the maintenance track. This is open for cyclists to use, and provides the first long distance cycle path in the area.

It's quite a track. At four metres (maximum) wide, it's the same width as a standard bidirectional cycle path here in Assen. Unfortunately, the good quality section doesn't yet go the whole 26 km length of the bus route (hopefully, top-up money from a charity will complete it). The longest stretch being about 10 km in length between the North of Cambridge and the village of Swavesey, but this does appear to be surfaced nicely, providing a reasonably direct and high quality traffic-free route.

When it's complete and goes all the way to St. Ives, this will be almost certainly the best quality cyclepath in the UK, offering a combination of a direct route to somewhere that you might actually want to go with a good degree of safety away from cars, with a width such that it's possible to pass other cyclists, and with a surface quality that allows cyclists to ride at any speed they find comfortable.

The yellow line shows the route taken by cyclists celebrating the opening
of the maintenance track.
This is undoubtedly a major improvement for Cambridge, and will enable a lot of people to make journeys that they'd not otherwise have made by bike. The previous route to St. Ives by bike was not bad at all by British standards, being mainly on minor roads, but there were a couple of less than pleasant parts.

Wider issues
This path also is indicative of a problem. The best cycle facility in the area came into existence not as a cycling project but on the coat-tails of a bus project with an enormous budget. The costs for the guided bus are wildly higher than the budget for cycling could ever afford. Even though Cambridge is the leading cycling city of the UK, and as many people cycle there are take buses, funding in the area remains skewed towards motorized transport. That a charity is expected to fund finishing the path on behalf of cyclists shows the priority which cycling actually has in planning of this route.

It also remains to be seen how popular the guided bus actually is. Originally, the bus was supposed to serve an "eco town" on the route, but this seems to be in planning limbo. If the bus fails, then the future of its "maintenance track" may also be in doubt.

As there is no plan for a guided bus route from Cambridge to the West to reach St. Neots, East to Newmarket or South to Bishop's Stortford, there's no chance of an equivalent standard of cycle facility being built in those directions. While obviously welcome, recent provision from the cycling budget in the Cambridge area is not in the same scale nor the same standard as that which came piggy-backed on the bus project.

I also have reservations about how crossings of roads are handled. If this was a Dutch style intercity cycling superhighway you'd expect to get priority at most, if not all, crossings so that a non-stop journey was possible. If a stop was required, you'd expect the delay to be short and that crossings of multiple lanes would be made in one step. But that's not the norm in Britain. These are things which could and should be improved over time.

Perhaps most importantly, because this is a "one off" it's not part of a plan to build the one thing that made cycling really take off in the Netherlands. i.e. A tight grid of very high quality cycle paths. Because of this, the positive effect of this path will be limited only to people whose journeys are sufficiently lined up with its route.


Let's end on a positive note. This still looks like it is the best cycle path in Britain. When finished it will provide for relatively uninterrupted riding over a good distance. I think it will be interesting to see what happens. As it's such a good facility, I expect it will be popular and well used. However, the difference in standard between this and other provision in the area will be obvious, and this could help to give impetus to a call for a general upgrade in standards. Cycling needs to have a proper budget in the UK's top cycling city.

Update Winter 2013
Clearly I spoke too soon regarding the quality of this path. It seems that in addition to the problems I suspected it would have, sections of this path flood for weeks at a time in winter. Really Cambridge, you need to do a lot better than this.

Update Winter 2014
This path was closed due to flooding this year for more than 50 days continuously. The same article also reveals that the closure last year was for 48 days continuously while the council actually intended for the path to flood for an average of 29 days each year. Perhaps it still is the best example of cycling infrastructure in Britain, but only for some of the year. For the rest of the year it's a pond.

I've written elsewhere about the reason why Britain flood so readily. It's the same story as with cycling. Lack of investment. Britain's water management infrastructure isn't good enough to keep the country dry.

Thanks to Klaas Brumann for for the photo of the maintenance track. He has several more. The main media sources were more interested in the bus than the maintenance track.

I still don't understand why they built this primitive but expensive concrete walled bus track using mechanical guidance with wheels poking out either side of the bus when it would have been rather less costly and quicker to have put a wire under a flat surface and guided the bus as in this example, itself part of a system more ambitious in its aims which was in full service many years before the work in Cambridge started.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Tacx Jockey Wheels Long Term Review

Back in 1998, the jockey wheels in the derailleur of my recumbent bike of the time were worn. The derailleur still functioned, but there was noise from these very small parts on the bike. A friend suggested that I try Tacx replacement jockey wheels which he'd found made a significant difference to reliability of his mountain bike.

I bought a pair, installed them in the derailleur I was using and rode on. Problem solved.

A few years later, the first derailleur was damaged and I moved the to another derailleur on a different bike. Time passed. I rode a lot of km, made many tours, including Land's End to John o'Groats with these jockey wheels spinning behind me the entire time. Everything worked and I forgot about them.

Last year, the derailleur on that bike also became damaged and I replaced it. When I took the old derailleur off, I found my tacx jockey wheels again. They didn't fit in the more modern replacement derailleur (new ones do), but as they still seemed OK I kept them in case they were useful later. This week I decided to take a closer look at them:


One has a little play in the bearing, which makes a bit of a gritty noise. The other still seems to be perfect. They still spin better than standard wheels in almost any new derailleur. The worn look on the outside is largely due to the teeth having worn away. However, teeth on jockey wheels aren't really that important. Some old derailleurs had round jockey wheels without teeth, but they still worked as derailleurs.

Needless to say, I'm impressed by the longevity. Mine were the lower cost type with the normal bearings. Now there are variations with stainless steel and ceramic bearings. Good quality products like this are exactly the sort of thing we set our shop up to sell. We don't like gimmicks. We like products which are reliable and long lasting.

If you've got worn jockey wheels in a derailleur, it's a lot cheaper to replace just the wheels than the entire derailleur. We now sell a selection of different types to fit most derailleurs.

I'm now testing ceramic Tacx jockey wheel in the Mango. While my old ones look odd with the teeth missing, I don't think it's that important. I've got one very old derailleur with round jockey wheels which never had any teeth at all.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Roundabout with safe cycling facilities

The design proposed in this guest blog post is not the safest possible. In fact, the design promoted in this post is known to be responsible for dozens of injuries each year in the Netherlands. Please see a later blog post which shows the safest roundabout design for cyclists.

A view at one of the more recently built roundabouts in the city of 's-Hertogenbosch in the South of the Netherlands. This roundabout came in the place of an ordinary four arm junction with traffic lights. When the city announced that the junction would be changed into a roundabout people had a hard time believing this would be possible at all. They thought there would not be enough space. But it proved to be very possible indeed. Traffic now flows very smoothly.


Interestingly enough Google Maps shows the before situation, but once you start StreetView it shows the current situation.

Before: a junction with traffic lights and separate cycle paths.
After: roundabout with separate cycle paths, the lights were removed. Note that this roundabout design is responsible for dozens of injuries per year in the Netherlands.
The waiting times for all traffic decreased at this particular junction. So it proved to be a good decision to change the junction into a roundabout. I have showed you another roundabout in 's-Hertogenbosch in an earlier post. There the priority for cyclists on Dutch roundabouts is also explained.

Update: It seems people are taking this design presented by a guest blogger as something to aim for. Please note that this is not the safest design of roundabout which is possible and we do not suggest copying the design shown in this blog post. The particular example shown here closely resembles a roundabout in Groningen to which we take people on study tours in order to see how NOT to design a roundabout. This relies too much on drivers being perfectly behaved. and on cyclists having eyes on the back of their heads.

Other posts on this blog show safer roundabout designs where cyclists either don't interact at all with cars on the roundabout or where they give way on those arms where there are interactions. These other roundabouts provide a better example for other nations to follow.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Dutch cyclists talk about helmets and bicycles


Paul van Bellen, who organised the Australian study tour earlier in the year, made this video on his last day in Amsterdam.

The reactions are quite similar to that of the waitress who we interviewed in Assen. Dutch cyclists typically can't see a need to wear a helmet for everyday use. Cycling is a safe activity which people take part in every day. Cycling is not associated with danger, as indeed it shouldn't be as it's not nearly the most risky activity that most people are involved with.

Paul is the Gazelle importer in Australia

To book a study tour, click here.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Space under and over bridges


This is one of the very first photos of infrastructure which I took in the Netherlands, back in 2001. Coming from the UK, I was amazed at the allocation of space under the bridge. Two arches are for bikes and pedestrians, only the arch in the middle is for cars.

I used that photo in a recent article for the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, and it made me think of other examples. It's not rare that cyclists are treated well under and over bridges in the Netherlands. Sometimes there isn't a lot of space, but the need to keep cyclists safe isn't ignored.

Here are some other examples:



A few km north of here on a road connecting a village to a small town. Drivers have to negotiate a gap big enough for just one car at a time, while cyclists have a bidirectional cyclepath.


A main route into Groningen passes under a motorway. Here the cycle paths on both sides of the road are well apart from the motor vehicles.



This example appeared in a recent post about noise, but it is also an example of where a cycle path is well separated from a road under a bridge.

Another recent photo from a holiday a couple of weeks ago. On this bridge in a small fishing village near the coast motorists have to negotiate for the one car width space on the road while cyclists have a degree of separation.

I found the existing way over this bridge, a narrow service road to the left of the main lanes, safe enough when I rode across there a few years ago. However it wasn't considered to be good enough and therefore a new separate cycle bridge was built alongside the main bridge.

Is this common ?
Such consideration for cyclists at bridges is the norm in the Netherlands. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of examples of this type of thing. I doubt anyone has ever counted them. Here are six more examples just from my commuting route on or under bridges with widely varying traffic levels:








Grotere kaart weergeven


Grotere kaart weergeven


Grotere kaart weergeven

There's nothing unusual or difficult about this. Bridges don't have to cause problems for cyclists whether they're going over or under a bridge.

Why is this important ?
Any bridge, or any other point, which causes a problem and makes people feel unsafe forms another small barrier to cycling. This reduction in subjective safety causes a slight reduction in the number of people who are willing to cycle. Lots of bad examples add up so that the majority would eventually not feel safe cycling anywhere, because the chance of coming across such a thing is great.

And then there's Blackfriars...
So what's going on in London ? Why is one bridge, Blackfriars, causing such an enormous amount of trouble. Why are Transport for London planning to make conditions worse for cyclists on this bridge when the city is in theory trying to encourage people to cycle ? Why are so many people having to protest about it in order to try to prevent this degradation of standards ?

For most people considering cycling, a bridge which doesn't feel safe to cross by bike may as well not exist at all. This should be in the minds of planners at all times. It's not impossible to do. It's not difficult to do. The Netherlands provides examples across the whole country, at junctions large and small, with high and low volumes of traffic.

Many London bloggers have written about this issue. They're quite rightly outraged. You can find in-depth Blackfriars coverage, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Also in my later post about the problems at Blackfriars, including a Dutch example.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

European Junior Cycling Tour 2011

The European Junior Cycling Tour, or Jeugdtour, ends today in Assen. It's an annual event, the largest youth cycling race in Europe. This year there are 679 competitors.

It's rather wonderful to see. Lots of very quick young people from all around the world, some of whom we'll see in the Tour de France and other major races in a few years time.

We went to watch for a bit today, and also took photos and made a short film.


The local TV station has been covering the event, and rather unconventionally so did a local bank which sponsors the competition.

The races cover a lot of ground. They take place partly on closed roads (it's easier to close a road for a racing event here than in the UK), on Assen's cycle-racing track (cycle sport is popular and the result is that even small towns like Assen have such a facility) and on some paths through the woods which you'll see in the video.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Fietsstad (Cycling City) 2011 nominees announced

The Dutch Fietsersbond (Cyclists’ Union) has announced the five nominees that will compete to be chosen as Fietsstad (Cycling City) of the Netherlands for 2011. The jury chose the five cities out of a long list of 19 cities that had entered the competition.

’s-Hertogenbosch, the city I have been living in for 16 years now, is one of the five nominees.

Over the past 16 years I have seen a lot of development in the cycling infrastructure and climate of this city. Especially in recent years it went from mediocre to very good in my opinion so it will come as no surprise that I wholeheartedly support this nomination.


This election took place 3 times before. It is connected to a nationwide investigation into the cycling climate in the cities and villages of the Netherlands. Veenendaal, a small town in the centre of the Netherlands won in 2000. Groningen, 8th largest city of the Netherlands and home to a large university with many cycling students, was cycling city in 2002. In 2008 Houten was pronounced cycling city in the last competition. Interestingly enough both Houten and Groningen are nominees again this year. Together with Harderwijk (again a small town in the center of the country) and Pijnacker-Nootdorp which really is a commuter suburb of The Hague.

Tough competition, but I think ’s-Hertogenbosch does stand a good chance. From the nominees and previous winners it is the only city in the (originally catholic) South of the Netherlands. A region that strangely enough on average sees less cycling than the (originally protestant) North. The jury will put emphasis on the situation for school children. The theme for this year’s competition is ‘onderweg naar school’ which would loosely translate as ‘on our way to school’. In 30 years the average age of children starting to cycle to school on their own in the Netherlands has risen from 6 to 9 years old. Something which alarms the Cyclists’ Union. The city that best makes it possible for children to cycle to school on their own will have a good chance to win this year’s title.
’s-Hertogenbosch has put forward two examples of how they make cycling to school safer and more attractive. A primary school with a new side entrance and a new two way cycle path makes it possible for the school children to avoid contact with cars on the street altogether. A secondary school on the city’s busy circular road got a cycling bridge over that road so crossing it became much safer. The cycle paths around that school all became bi-directional. This makes crossing the road unnecessary for many children. Good examples of what a council can do to improve cycling conditions around schools.

I have put together a video to support the nomination of the city of ’s-Hertogenbosch.




Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Planning a cycle holiday route at dusk


Judy and I went out yesterday evening to plan a new cycle holiday route. It's a time consuming thing to do as we have to stop at every corner and note what is around so that unambiguous instructions can be written for our clients. Nevertheless, I also managed to get a bit of video of Judy as she rode.

We now have a new shortish family friendly route to one of the swimming beaches in Drenthe. On the way, it passes over another "stiltegebied" or "silent area" where there is little, if any, noise other than that from nature. There are ten of these areas in Drenthe, most of them not far away to cycle. This is possible because the noise from traffic has been dealt with remarkably well.

Anyway, we're still taking booking for holidays this year. If you're interested, get in touch with Judy.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Road noise and the Dutch cyclist


This video has explanatory captions which are only visible if it is played on a computer. If you play the video on a mobile device then you will not understand the point that it makes.

Noise pollution contributes towards a great number of different health problems. Noise from roads is a very common source of noise pollution. In some places it dominates the outdoor landscape. However, this does not have to be the case.

Motorways in the Netherlands are quite remarkably quiet compared with those in other countries. It is often possible to stand just a few hundred metres away without being aware that you are near a major road.

This has been achieved by use of special quiet road surfaces and noise barriers. Also, speed limits can be lower on motorways where they are near residential areas. This reduces both noise and air pollution from motor vehicles close to where people live.

In the video I measure the noise levels on and near a motorway. Right at the side of the road, figures of 90 dB(A) and above were quite common. However on the other side of the noise barrier, just 20 m away, figures of 50-55 dB(A) are normal. That's within the range of normal conversation and quieter than the noise made by a child in the park a much greater distance away. A little further away again, about 100 m from the road, it is much quieter and my meter can no longer measure anything at all.

How does this relate to cycling ? Riding a bike on a noisy road, whether or not it includes on-road cycle lanes, is always going to be a relatively unpleasant experience. The noise of motor vehicles close by will always reduce the subjective safety of cyclists. Cycling thrives where cyclists are kept apart from all effects of motor vehicles, including their noise.

Update later in the day
This is the location where I made the video:

View Larger Map

This is another road, the ring road of Assen, which has a 70 km/h speed limit and noise barriers:

View Larger Map

This road has a 50 km/h speed limit and noise barriers against the side of the road which is residential:

View Larger Map

Such barriers are not at all unusual. There are others around the city.

You may also be interested in the works of the Noise Innovation Programme, who have produced reports on such things as "State of the Art Acoustic optimisation" of roads. They also concern themselves with noise from trains and marshalling yards. I once worked in an office situated close to a very noisy marshalling yard in the UK, so it was interesting to read that piercing curve noise actually can be reduced, though we were assured at the time that it could not.

There are several other blog posts about noise, covering different aspects, and giving other examples of treatments as well as links to more information. Also there are blog posts showing Stiltegebieden or "Silent Areas" near Assen. These are places just a short distance away where you usually can hear nothing but birds and insects, and the sound of other cyclists passing. It wouldn't be possible if road noise had not been tamed.

Comparisons of typical noise levels of different things are here. I don't get to use my decibel meter often. The last time it came out of the cupboard was to test bells.