Tag Archives: Commuting

Transport For London: Share The Road

The Lighter Side Of Cycling: See And Be Seen!

Here in the UK the clocks have just changed which means that cycling commuters such as my good self can look forward to six months of travelling to and from work without having to remember to fix the lights on the bike for all except the earliest of starts and latest of finishes. So it seems a strange time for companies to be launching some innovative products to help cyclists (and others) to be seen, if not always necessarily to see. Here are three:

Brainy Bike Lights

Invented by a chap called Crawford Hollingworth, a behavioural scientist, they are described as ‘combining brain science with clever new lighting technology to make cycling safer‘ and have been ‘verified in extensive tests over the past two years by the University of Oxford‘. So there you go! The inventor, was inspired to create the lights following his experiences of cycling in London and Oxford.

And here is the science behind them;

Untitled1It’s a major safety breakthrough because they increase cyclist ‘standout’ in urban light clutter.  The inventor used behavioural psychology to design a light using the international ‘cyclist on a bike symbol’.  This creates a cognitive short cut to drivers brains alerting them that there’s a cyclist nearby but also a vulnerable human being.  Combined with new Edge lighting technology the symbol lights can be seen clearly in sharp focus at all angles from up to 20 metres. And they work almost as well in daylight as at night. These lights (white front/red back) speed up driver reaction, awareness and stopping times.

They remind me a little of lights that I have seen which project an image of a bike onto the road in front of and behind the cyclist and I do believe the science. When I lived in France during the 1990s many schools had a large plastic cartoon character just outside their gate. The figure had one leg in the air as if it was about to start to cross the road. Even though I knew that it was a comical plastic sculpture, every time I saw one, I immediately hit the brakes of the car that I was driving. I never ran over any children. More information about Brainy Bike Lights on their website. They cost £50 for a pair. I can see how they will be of use in an urban setting but for my own commute which is through the middle of the dark countryside of Oxfordshire I will still need my very bright CatEye rechargeable lights that not only allow others to see me but also illuminate the road in front of me.

The Commuter X4 Rear Bike Light

I’m not sure if there was ever an X1, X2 or indeed X3 but the people behind this light are up for an award at The Gadget Show Live which takes place between 8th and 13th April 2014 at the NEC in Birmingham so it must have merit.

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It is, according to the website, a wearable rear light which is adjustable on back packs of up to 35 litres. It can also be worn over the shoulders without a back pack. It has a projective central LED chip light plus four LED fibre optic light guides. It is USB rechargeable, fits over rain covers, is water resistant and has multiple flash and fade settings. The picture here shows one of the devices attached to a pannier on the side of a bike which I do like. The most dangerous moments of my commutes to work are when I am crossing large roundabouts and the motorists approaching the junction don’t see me (and my very bright lights, or so their gestures claim…) as they at a right angle towards the bike. They could be useful.

The Zondo Firefly Bag

Screen Shot 2014-04-05 at 18.42.53This is a more general piece of equipment that is aimed at anyone who might want to choose to use a small backpack and isn’t meant to be a replacement for cycling lights. The system is still in development and the people behind the product are looking for funding via KickStarter. I have a feeling that it might have features on Dragons’ Den recently (certainly something similar did). There is a video on the KickStarter page in which former athlete and man behind the project, Rick Beardsell, explains all you need to know. You can invest from just £5 all the way up to £1,000 should you wish.

The Not-So-Quiet Season In Southern England

When I set off for work on Tuesday morning I knew that I would have to be careful on the roads; to say it has been wet in southern England since Christmas is somewhat of an understatement. But it hasn’t been particularly cold, in fact it has been unseasonably warm for the time of year. Until Tuesday… The forecast warned of ice on the roads, especially in the countryside. My commute from Reading to Henley-on-Thames takes me across the corner of south-east Oxfordshire and along country lanes that can at times be icy. In the past it has just been necessary to pay particular attention and avoid the darker bits of the road where the dampness has turned to ice. I have come off the bike in the past while commuting (I have now lost count but it’s probably about four or five) and it has usually been because I have not spotted a patch of ice and in a majestic sweep I have slid from the vertical to the horizontal in what probably looked like a comical relatively low-speed crash. I’ve never suffered more than a few scrapes and bruises and as the country roads at 6:30am tend to be very quiet indeed I have never come into contact with another vehicle.

The roads have been very damp indeed and the ground is saturated with water so when, on Monday night, the sun set and the clouds moved away, the temperature plummeted and the road became an ice rink. As soon as I moved away from the gritted main road I could feel the wheels sliding slightly and I slowed down to a crawl along the road. It didn’t however prevent me from coming off the bike not once but twice in a slow-speed tumble. Ahead of me a transit van had turned on its side and was blocking the road in both directions. I was able to squeeze past and the driver was OK but it was symptomatic of just how treacherous the roads had become. I continued to work, gingerly, and eventually arrived after 1 hour 20 minutes; my commute usually takes just under 30 minutes. Reggie, the bike, was slightly damaged and I need to go and pick him up from the bike shop later today following repairs – the derailleur has been bent out of place somewhat as has one of the brakes – and I’ll be back on the cycling commute on Monday.

I tell you of all this not because it’s an interesting story – it’s just another tale of a cyclist struggling through the winter and I know there are others who slid from their bikes just like me in the Reading area (see this video for example of @FatCyclingBloke who I sometimes pass en route to work) – but because the contrast between my experiences this week and the beautiful film below – “The Quiet Season” – is somewhat stark. It is worth spending 8 minutes of your life watching the pictures, listening to the piano music and absorbing yourself in the words. It’s a family affair and you can read more about it on the Road.cc website. Recommended!

To Report Or Not To Report? That Is The Cycling Question…

An interesting incident happened to me earlier this evening as I was cycling home from work, and there was an equally interesting response on Twitter when I tweeted about it.

I’ll start off with a matter-of-fact account of what happened. The traffic in Reading has been very heavy over the last couple of days as the bridge over the Thames in Sonning has been shut due to the floods. My cycle home takes me over the Thames via Reading Bridge, across the roundabout at the end of Napier Road (which leads to Tesco) and under the railway bridge. Traffic was very slow at around 5pm as it has been all week. On arrival at the roundabout it was a case of weaving around the cars, buses, vans & lorries in order to make progress. Look at the picture below from Google Street View. Imagine that where the small grey Peugeot is just outside the BMW garage, there is instead a black Ford Transit van. Screen Shot 2014-01-08 at 19.04.33The van is very slowly edging forward but the driver’s window is wound down and he is on his mobile phone. There is enough space for me as a cyclist to pass in front of him but he hasn’t yet seen me. He’s too busy on his mobile. As I am about to cycle past him I say “if you weren’t on your mobile phone you might have a chance of seeing me” (or something very similar, no abuse, just a statement of what I believe to be fact). The driver says something but I don’t hear what it is. The road layout has slightly changed since the picture above was taken and now there is no bus lay-by to the left as you approach the bridge, just one carriageway. There is a lorry in front of me and there is no way past unless I mount the pavement which I’m not willing to do so I too stop and turn around. I make my point (as the driver is still on the phone) by mimicking someone on their phone. This clearly annoys the driver and he starts to shout abuse which includes “f** c***” and “w*****” (the latter comment while moving his hand up and down). To both of these comments I respond by saying “I may be a f** c*** / w***** but it has nothing to do with you being on your phone…”. I still can’t move forward. I have not been aggressive to the driver I have merely reflected back the abuse that was directed at me. I see his door open slightly (I think he wants me to be scared but there are lots of other cars around so I’m at no risk of being assaulted unless he is a very stupid man indeed) but again I stand my ground. I’m not blocking anyone from moving as the traffic itself is not moving and I am about 5 metres away from the front of his van. The door then opens properly and he gets out, approaches me and pushes (very slightly) my shoulder. I do, for the sake of doing so, point out that by touching me he has assaulted me (I don’t actually think a judge would ever agree but it’s simply inappropriate for anyone to touch another person if they don’t want to be touched!) at which point the driver replies “well, I’ll just tell the police what you did“. I have no idea what he is referring to here! The lorry ahead of me is still blocking the road so I make a point of turning around, staring at his number plate and memorising it. After about thirty seconds there is finally a gap between the lorry and the side of the road and I cycle off under the bridge…

I’m not particularly stressed by the incident just annoyed that this is the kind of behaviour that we cyclists have to regularly put up with on the roads from a certain group of motorists. The question is should we just put up with it? Is it worth reporting? The answer is I don’t know. So, what do you do with such a quandary? You tweet it of course so sitting in my favourite cafe in central Reading I summarised the incident in three successive tweets and asked for advice. Here is a summary of the responses that have been received in the last two hours from my followers (who are predominantly cyclists, not drivers of Ford Transits it has to be said!).

72 people responded in a manner which included giving their opinion. 59 people (82%) said I should report it. 8 people (11%) said I shouldn’t report up and 5 people (7%) said that I should perhaps report it.

Those who said I shouldn’t bother to report it made the following comments

  • ‘do nothing – it’s what the police will do’
  • ‘go home… and get on with life’
  • ‘you’ve made him think’
  • ‘your word against his’
  • ‘nothing will come of it’
  • ‘you’ll only be ignored’

So it’s clear that many people (cyclists) are sceptical to say the very least that the police will do anything. Is this true? Are you a police officer? Would you take such an incident further?

Those who said I should report it made the following points;

  • even if the police do nothing, it flags the van and the driver up for future reference if needed
  • the driver may have ‘previous’
  • threatening behaviour is enough to be assault in itself [true?]
  • if it was a company van then I should also report him to his employers [it didn't appear to be as it was just plain black with no markings]

Other comments made by those who said in effect ‘maybe’ were that I should ‘sleep on it’ (always a good piece of advice) or just report it to the company (without getting the police involved).

My own take on the situation is that I did it (and will continue to do it in the future) to make a point. I’d like to think that the guy in the black van will next time reflect for a few more moments before he uses his mobile phone at the wheel again. He may or he may not. I suppose the problem is that the chances are he is not going to change his behaviour just as a result of one incident. Indeed judging by his reaction to me as a cyclist, he probably now considers cyclists as even lower down the pecking order than he did before. If I do report him to the police I wouldn’t necessarily expect them to do anything about that specific incident but I do like to think, as many people pointed out, that the incident gets reported and if the guy is a repeat offender some action is taken. Am I being naive?

Further thoughts are welcome…

A Cool Cycling Graphic From A Cool Academic Team!

The graphic below has been produced by specialist claim solicitors BBK in association with CASA (The Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis – cool name!) which is part of UCL. It’s a comprehensive visualisation of London’s cycling landscape which shows “for the first time” (allegedly) the boroughs that produce the most cycling commuters. The image speaks for itself:londoncyclerevolution4.ashx

Cycling In The Snow, The Film

1st September: The Start Of The Academic Year!

Absence makes the heart grow fonder… However eager I am for the academic year to end in July and for the long holidays to start, six weeks later at the end of August I am secretly looking forward to the new academic year kicking off. I love fresh starts; all the errors of the past are brushed under the carpet (except the court case* of course) and new resolutions can be made as to how much better this year is going to be compared to the last. Best of all, I don’t have to stress about unmarked books for a few weeks at least.

As a commuting cyclist I can also loom forward to getting back into the saddle on a daily basis for my 15 mile round trip from Reading to Henley and back. Why not try it yourself? Here’s a motivational video to show you just how wonderful commuting by bike can be (although not obviously this fast). Enjoy!

* I am joking about the court case