Thursday, 26 May 2016


HERE’S some advice for cycling campaigners, such as Olympic gold medallist Chris Boardman. He and the rest of them, including Cycling UK’s policy and campaigns director Roger Geffen, are  banging their heads against brick walls in frustration and confusion at the government’s low-level of funding for cycling.

They need to read transport journalist Christian Wolmar’s latest book: “Are Trams Socialist – why Britain has no transport policy.”+

Then they might better understand what direction their campaigning needs to take. Then they might understand why the government appears on the one hand to support a cycling strategy while on the other quite clearly they do not . For in his book Wolmar reveals the thinking that has guided government thinking on transport ever since the first trams started to run, and how when cars arrived, the freedom they promised was received with what seemed to me a fervour bordering on fundamental fanaticism which you challenge at your peril.

The consultation period for the walking and cycling strategy is unlikely to result in an increase in funding.  No surprise there. According to The Devil’s Dictionary by American journalist Ambrose Pierce, published at the turn of the 19th century, to consult means:

“To seek another’s approval of a course already decided on.”

It is all so predictable. Yet cycling campaigners don’t appear to realise this, even though every attempt to persuade government to give serious consideration to cycling has got nowhere in the 40 years I have reported on this scene.

As well as poor funding for this latest valiant strategy,  the government has further handicapped progress by insisting that the walking and cycling strategy is for Local Authorities to put in place, not the government, when everyone, including the government itself, knows that this is way beyond LA’s expertise.

So it’s all double talk. Government may say they like the idea but then they place obstacles in its path to prevent anything coming of it.

The question is why?

The answer comes in Wolmar’s book which provides a fresh perspective into successive government’s laissez-faire attitude to transport, the unwritten policy of non-interference.

Basically, governments have for decades been under the influence of the motoring lobby and will do nothing to upset them. That means they do not want to see any transport development perceived as a threat to car driving.

That means no integrated transport, no national cycling strategy, whatever they may say to the contrary. We have all felt this was the case.

Wolmar’s book provides the evidence.

There’s a good chapter on cycling which Wolmar, who worked for Cycling England, pioneering small but effective town cycling development until it was disbanded by the Conservatives, begins by saying: “Nowhere is the failure of coherent thinking on transport more apparent than in relation to cycling.”

Wolmar provides a clear explanation of this. It is entertainingly written but grim reading all the same. And he spells out why British transport policy has been, still is, in mess.

One reviewer says Wolmar “captures the intellectual bankruptcy” of British transport policy. Another calls the book a clarion call for change; for proper funding of cycle networks and describes it as “required reading for any transport minister.”

To which I may add it is also essential reading for any cycling campaigner and in particular for Chris Boardman, British Cycling’s policy advisor, and Roger Geffen, Cycling UK’s policy and campaigns director, who are both lobbying government.

Once it is understand what cycling is up against, these two guys will need to recalibrate to expose the government’s great lie.

They will need to tackle the PM head on and then go public.

Then we might be getting somewhere, instead of going round and round in circles, trying to impress on government all the benefits that a healthier cycling nation will bring.

They know all this.  Individual MPs, the good guys, they care.  But they don’t care at Cabinet level.

Parliament gave its whole hearted support for the Get Britain Cycling Report which led them – obliged them! - to come up with the walking and cycling strategy.

We know that Prime Minister David Cameron endorsed the report.  And that he then declined to give it cabinet backing. 

Asked why, he said it was for the Local Authorities to do the work even though he must know that Local Authorities have made a pig’s ear of cycling development over the years, paths too narrow, too short, on pavements where they mostly should not be; lampposts and bus shelters in the middle of them.

The LAs, for the most part, have shown they neither have the expertise nor the political will to put a co-ordinated cycling network in place. And if they did, they haven’t got any money.

We know that the government were advised that their walking and cycling strategy would need funding to the order of £500m a year.  Yet they awarded a miserable £300m spread across three years!  This equates to a drop in the already very low level of spending per head of population (England) from £1.50 to £1. In Holland it is in the region of £24.

Boardman, speaking at the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group‘s inquiry into the government’s commitment to cycling this week, said: “It is simply not possible to make cycling the ‘natural choice’ for short journeys by investing less than £1 per head – less than the cost of a cup of coffee.

British Cycling described the level of funding as “laughingly low”.

In my view, after reading Wolmar’s marvellous tome, it seems to be me that the government is shit scared of being seen to promote a cycling strategy on the admirable Dutch scale for fear of it being perceived as a move against car culture.

Ever since society was liberated by the private car successive governments have supported and encouraged car owners in the belief that they can drive anywhere whenever they want.

It’s not just cycling development which has been held back, it’s the whole idea of an integrated transport system in Britain as a whole, offering real choice to suit different needs, bringing a better balance which would, ironically, reduce the jams for those choosing to drive!

And why? Because of the inherent fear peculiar to British politicians that an integrated national transport strategy will be perceived as tampering with the great freedom the car has bestowed on society – the belief that you can drive when and where you want.

That’s what I take from reading Wolmar’s book.

As it stands, no UK government will dare to do anything that will almost certainly be misconstrued as being anti-car.

How can they be persuaded that a cycling strategy is not anti-car, its pro bike?


£8.99 (including free P&P within UK)

Published by London Publishing Partnership,

Unit 212, Bon Marche Centre, 241-251 Ferndale Road, London SW9 8BJ.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Paranoid about Carbon fibre failure

IT was a tense moment. Would my beloved  Squadra be declared unsafe to ride? Would it be despatched to cycle frame heaven?  Had the carbon fibre forks or the carbon rear triangle suffered damage from a simple toppling over, without me being aware?

I decided I must return my pearl white Squadra to its maker, Condor Cycles on Grays Inn Road and have them find out.

And all because of something I’d read by Doctor Hutch in Cycling Weekly, about how a bike simply falling over when parked might damage the carbon fibre without you realising it.

For this stuff shows no outside sign of hurt, allegedly,  and may crack and give way without warning!  

An “invisible failure” it was called. And it can just happen, they say.  Unlike steel, which can take a few wallops and go on for years, so some say.

Is this me being paranoid? Is this everyone getting paranoid?


I’d never pranged the bike, never crashed it. But it did topple over once, when parked outside a café.

Never gave it a thought. Until Dr Hutch opined that even a café fall could prove fatal.

Was he joking, as he quite often is?

I called him up and he although he didn’t admit to joking about damage which may be caused to carbon fibre if your bike has the temerity to fall over outside a café, he did his best to reassure me that my bike was probably OK.

Probably OK? Well, thanks. But no thanks. Once spooked…..

They say a carbon fibre bike, once damaged, never forgets! And will let you have it without even the slightest warning!

I made the mistake of Googling for more information, to find it full of Hell. It was crammed, with comments from people who either had suffered just such a failure or they knew someone who had….who was airlifted to hospital in a right old state.

There were also other people trying to calm everyone down by saying that steel can break just as suddenly.

But I grounded the machine just to be safe, pending something or other. And wheeled out my other trusty Condor, the purple one in Reynolds 53l steel tubing with lugs. It’s my winter/wet weather bike now, fitted with mudguards. Very nice bike, smoother over rough roads than the carbon model which, nevertheless, I enjoy riding more simply because it is so responsive and goes FAST. Well, my sort of fast.  

So I booked the Squadra for a once-over at Condors workshop in London. I’ve been a customer for years, have followed them as they expanded the business, from the small premises they occupied in the early 1970s, to a bigger one just down the road, and then an even bigger premises, the current shop - an Aladdins Cave– on the other side of the road, almost opposite.

It was Monty Young who ran Condors back then, since opening up  in 1948. In more recent years it is his son Grant running the business.

My Squadra was built for me in 2006. It was love at first sight, in pearl white, with Black Blades carbon fibre forks, and Firetail Box Design rear triangle.

It became my pride and joy  just as my first ever hand-built machine was my pride and joy back in the late 1960s, the Harry Quinn Bill Bradley model.  This had half chromium plated forks and rear triangle and the main frame was in brilliant kingfisher blue. 

Then there was the post office red Ron Cooper which took over when the Quinn was badly damaged in a road race crash and abandoned – in Ron’s shop, I’m ashamed to say.

I made the switch to a Condor bike in the mid 1990s with my racing days well behind me.

But once a racer always a “racer”. 

So it was I graduated to the new-fangled metals in the New Millennium, the carbon fibre and aluminium mix frames.

But would my carbon fibre days soon be over?

I would find out.

I would chance it and ride the Squadra to the rail station to take the train to London Waterloo, and from there I would my  faith in the machine once more and dare to ride it over London’s bomb crater roads, the few miles to Condor’s shop.

At Waterloo station I walked the bike across the concourse dodging people all scurrying like ants to and from the platforms.

A test message from the plumbing department compelled me to speed up. With age you develop a sort of internal satnav which ties your route closely to conveniences.

This was the start of a Tour de London Gents.

So I carried the bike down the stairs to the gents opposite platform 19.  Locked it up to the bannister rail at the bottom. Pushed a 20-pence and a 10-pence coin into slot at the barrier and hurried in to the inner sanctum of the urinals.

Relieved, I retrieved the machine, ascended the stairs and rode away from Waterloo station and across Waterloo Bridge.  And into the maelstrom of traffic on the Aldwych.  Hey its fast -cars taxis trucks buses cycles motorbikes - all cutting finely judged lines and going where they want. On the ball, if you’re on the ball they give you space, hold back or shoot forward; weave to the left, weave to the right.  Exhilarating! It all came back to me, those heady days charging about London on a bike when I lived in the place.  I dropped the bike off at Condors’ 10 minutes later, for THE check-up.

They grilled me as to how the bike had fallen over.   Which side did it fall on? Did it impact of the forks? How heavily did it fall? I said it purely and simple toppled over, the handlebars and a saddle taking the bang.

What’s that mark there, on the both sides of the head tube, he asked. It was made by the brake cables.

He took a closer look. That, he said, was “material loss”. The cables had been rubbing away at the aluminium! He would see to that, by having transparent patches placed over that section of tubing, to protect it from the rubbing the cables were giving it.

Blimey, and I thought it was just paintwork being rubbed away!

Condor’s man wrote it all down. I asked, do you X-ray for carbon fibre faults?  They do.

So now there were five hours to kill before returning to discover whether or not I still had a bike!

What to do? On foot now, along Grays Inn Road.

Ah, Grays Inn Road.  Riding hell for leather down here on Sunday evenings riding hard from Cycling’s offices - which where on Fleet Street back in the 1970s. I would ride to Euston or Kings Cross stations to collect film sent by train from a big race held up north. It was press night!
And so, to Café Nero around the corner from Grays Inn Road, for coffee and an almond croissant.

Hmmmm. Nice.

Spied a load of Boris bikes for hire across the road and mused, should I take one.

Got the green man and crossed, dodging the bike riders who don’t obey the lights – hey, plonkers!

Nope to taking Boris bike.  I suspected there would soon be an incoming text message from plumbing giving notice of increased bladder activity.  Might have to break the rules of hire and leave the Boris at the next available inconvenience.

Surprisingly comfortable to ride, Boris bikes, I discovered when Transport for London invited me to test ride one of them before the hire scheme went live.  They look chunky, heavy, and they are. But they roll nicely and carried me all over the
West End that day, around Buckingham Palace, Birdcage Walk, along the Mall, across Hyde Park Corner.

Walked instead – meandered more like – to Covent Garden, to mix with the crowds amid the hustle and bustle, to look in the shop windows, enjoy the street theatre.

I recalled the days when the air at Covent Garden smelled of squashed fruit and veg.  And the market rang to the sound of metalled wheels of hand carts, laden with crates, rattling over the granite sets. 

Took my flatmates and their friends on a cycle tour through this part of London way back when. We passed through the silent market place one Sunday morning, then down Fleet Street and through the City to the Thames side pub, the Prospect of Whitby.

And I marvelled that, back then, in the 1970s, London had wanted to demolish this place, to push through a relief road for the Strand.   That was the period when philistines at drawing boards envisaged London criss-crossed with motorways!

Their dream - a nightmare - never happened.

Paid 50 pence to use the shabby, poorly kept convenience beside St Pauls Church Gardens. Broken hand dryer, broken door locks, unwashed basins.

For lunch, ate pizza at Pizza Express on St Martins Lane. Tasteless. Like a prepared meal warmed up. Why didn’t I protest? Who knows? How the mighty have fallen. Pizza Express was once a byword for pizza excellence. That’s the second crap meal in this area, at chain restaurants. Should have gone to Joe Allen’s – more expensive, but GOOD.

A headache kicked in. Was it London’s foul air making me feel off-colour? Probably.

Three years ago in July 2013 I can recall one of the hottest days ever in London. I had spent an afternoon riding the newly opened and splendid road circuit at the Cyclopark at Gravesend. I had travelled up to London by train and ridden across the Capital to St Pancras to catch the high speed Javelin train for the 18 minutes run to Ebbsfleet International. There I had but a few miles ride to reach the cyclopark, on cycle lanes and paths.  After a couple of hours circling this challenging circuit - with a break for lunch in the air-conditioned restaurant  - I then watched on Eurosport TV Chris Froome beat Alberto Contador in a Tour time trial. Froome was on his way to winning outright one year after Wiggins became the first Brit to win Le Tour.

 Then I headed out into the heat of the afternoon to catch the train back in London. It was the rush hour and the roads crammed so nothing was rushing, except for suicidal bike riders charging through the stationary traffic.

The air was heavy with fumes and sweat poured off my brow as I picked my way along, would you believe it, Grays Inn Road! We cannot get away from Grays Inn Road in this story. I recall people sitting eating at pavement tables outside restaurants, seemingly at ease in the terrible stinking heat. And I reckoned that they barely used more than a third of their lung capacity to get by – unlike this trained athlete here with fully developed air bags.

I went in search of a chemist and retraced my steps to Covent Garden where I walked straight by one Boots – which lay unseen down some steps - but found another branch on The Strand. Bought a pack of parrots eat them all.

Dived down Savoy Steps to renew acquaintance with the last remaining gas sewer lamp in London….No, I didn’t!  Wouldn’t dare! (Thank you artist Geoffrey Fletcher, for the sketch of this beautiful lamppost from another age in your illustrated book, “The London nobody knows.”)

Erected in 1870, this “gas destructive sewer lamp” still burns night and day.

A message from the groin.

Onwards to Trafalgar Square’s fine conveniences. They were once conveniently free. But now you pay 30 pence.  Good value. Tolerably clean, unlike the disgraceful facilities at Covent Garden where a wee will set you back 50. 

Relaxed now, the headache on the wane.   There is joy at the sight of a pavement poet at work in front of the National Gallery. 

Back in 2007 the Tour de France Grand Depart filled Trafalgar Square. The presentation of teams took place at the very spot the pavement poet was busy with his work.

The prologue time trial started just a few yards away, in front of Nelson’s Column, and finished a quarter a mile away, on The Mall. The Swiss, Fabian Cancellera won the first yellow jersey.

And local boy, a certain Bradley Wiggins finished fourth.

Did anyone dare imagine that this man would become the first British winner of LeTour five years later? 

Le Tour in London, an occasion to remember.

The pavement poet’s theme was Peace and Love. A handwritten notice explained why he does this. He had once led an aimless, drunken life, before God intervened. Light flooded his soul, flushed away his desire for alcohol.

He bought chalk.

His messages seemed to flow from his hands into neatly written script energetically put down on to the paving slabs, without pause or hesitation. The words described people’s suffering – the migrants, the poor – the political crap trap that fails to address these issues.

If interrupted by interested spectators, he would happily engage in conversation before resuming his work, untroubled by the enforced break.

Bike collection one hour.

Back to Covent Garden, to sit for half-an-hour in St Pauls Church Gardens, to offer a prayer to the carbon fibre god. The gardens are a peaceful place and occupy a square behind tall buildings on three sides, with the church on the fourth.   The garden was lit by shafts of sunlight dancing through the leaves of the tall trees.

Bladder control. Proceed to…..OK, OK…

To the Covent Garden loo for the last time. Another 50 pence.  A throng of Chinese students try to get in. But they cannot figure out the coinage for the turnstile and so they leave unsatisfied, but laughing.

Return to Condor!

The bike shall live! “Nothing wrong with the frame”, Condor man tells me.

 Relief. Big sigh of relief.

 I check out the lovely bike stuff on Condor’s fully laden shelves and buy a smart bike t-shirt as a present for a nephew’s 30th.

Then it is farewell to terra firma as both feet find the pedals and away I go, riding again,  via Aldwych and across Waterloo Bridge, joining a chain gang of other cyclists in the narrow cycle lane.

There is another three hours to kill before bikes are permitted on the trains – sans Peak.

So, left turn off the Bridge and down Stamford Street, to take a look at the former IPC HQ, Kings Reach Tower, home to Cycling Weekly for some 10 years.

And just beyond, I rediscover once more the delights of Gabriel’s Wharf, which remains little changed.  The London Bicycle Touring Company, the three restaurants, the crepe bar, Sarnies for my favourite – an avocado and crispy bacon roll with mayonnaise -  the craft shops, the big and comforting wood sculptures by a Czech artist, all still there.

From there a short ramp takes you up to the embankment promenade to ride/walk the riverside route towards the South Bank, direction Waterloo station.

A magical place for me, the South Bank. River on the right and on the left, TV studios, IBM, the National Theatre, The National Film Theatre, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Haywards

Gallery, Royal Festival Hall. 

Crowds slowly moving along, or sitting on the benches, reading, eating, dozing, leaning over the rail to look at the small boats on the river.  Or browsing the second hand books at the book sellers out front of the NFT, beneath the arches of Waterloo Bridge. Once caught the eye of Helen Mirren there!

Another plumbing message. OK.  Take the next left to the gents in the RHF. Lock bike up outside – to the railings. Hurry in and out.

Bike still there! Unlock it, ride to Waterloo station. Its 6.15….still too early. Thousands of people standing or rushing purposefully about. No eye contact with a single soul – THIS IS LONDON!

Escape the mayhem, the noise, and pedal down to the peace and quiet – in the evening -  of Lower Marsh Street beside the station train shed, to a small Italian café for coffee.

Half-an-hour later, its back into the station.

No bladder alert. But even so, the day ends as it began, with a trip downstairs to the lav – just in case - locking the bike up as before.

Then all aboard the 19.24 South West Trains (SWT). The bike goes into the cycle parking bay.

Welcome back, Condor Squadra.


Sunday, 8 May 2016

Can Khan do?

The good guy and the bad guy! While London cyclists can now look forward to improved road conditions promised by the newly elected London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Dublin cyclists have been shocked by Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary who last week said:  “Cyclists should be taken out and shot”.

O’Leary – we’ll call him “O’Weary” – expressed his ugly sentiments during his key-note speech to a “Creative Minds Conference” when he criticised Dublin city council’s proposals to improve the roads for cyclists.

I never thought an Irishman could say such a thing!  Most of the Irish guys I’ve ever known have always left me laughing, Sean Lally on the Milk Race, the Irish press on the Tour de France doing a jig in the road when Kelly won at Pau. 

It clearly hadn’t occurred to this sad bad guy, O’ Weary,   that there were probably a few cyclists among the “creative minds” he was addressing, who decided there and than never to board his planes again.  This was incitement and ought to be dealt accordingly.

He’s not the first to make such utterances. Newspaper columnists Matthew Paris and Daisy Waugh have in the not too distant past similarly made outrageous tasteless comments about cyclists.  

Meanwhile, London cyclists say cheerio to Boris Johnson, the outgoing London Mayor for his part in raising cycling’s profile this past eight years, albeit in his hit and miss way. 

And now they must hope Khan can do everything he’s promised, following his landslide victory last weekend when he became the first Labour London Mayor since Ken Livingstone.

Khan has promised to make London a truly safe city for cyclists, to build and improve on the work started under the former conservative Mayor Johnson.  Johnson had turned his predecessor Ken Livingstone’s dream of Cycling Superhighways into some sort of weird reality – because they were delivered with built-in nightmares resulting in the death of two riders!

The Superhighways introduced in 2008 had serious flaws in them. They lulled riders into a false sense of security as they pedalled along what in effect was nothing more than bog-standard cycle lane painted bright blue. 

TfL planners told me they hoped drivers at junctions would treat the blue lane as they do Zebra crossings, and automatically give way to riders on them even though there was no legal requirement for them to do so!  Blue lanes or no, major junctions were still a free-for-all. Despite the welcome advance stop lines allowing cyclists a head start, big junctions remained a nerve-wracking experience to ride across.

And all because TfL didn’t want to further impede traffic with additional cycling designated traffic lights.

The deaths occurred on the Bow – Aldgate Superhighway.  Two riders were killed there in separate incidents.

Johnson was moved to act. He declared that as cyclists made up 24 per cent of rush hour traffic, this clearly justified creating dedicated road space for them and he did what he’d been told he ought to have done all along – begin to take road space from cars to create segregated cycle lanes!

In 2014 Johnson unveiled his £913m commitment to construct a “Crossrail for Bikes” across the Capital.

The Tower Hill to Parliament Square route opened a few days ago and although I’ve only “ridden it” courtesy of YouTube, it took my breath away. It looked splendid and everything a cycle route along a main road should be, with cyclist traffic lights, too. Boris had delivered at the last.

The baton is now with Khan who must know that one segregated cycling Superhighway does not a cycling network make. Every major road in the capital needs, if not segregated cycle lanes, then structural changes to make them safer for cyclists.

As it is, cycling in London still provides me with the kind of adrenalin rush I could do without.

Take the maelstrom of traffic diving into and out of the side streets on the Aldwych for example.  Cars taxis trucks buses cycles motorbikes all eyeballing each other and cutting finely judged lines (you hope) to go where they want – hopefully.  Without colliding - mostly!  

What has Khan promised?  

He told Bike Biz ( he will double Transport for London's annual cycling budget to £164m.

Close Oxford Street to motor traffic.

Triple the number of protected cycle lanes.  

Have a cyclist representative on the TfL Board.

Consider removing tipper trucks and HGV’s from London roads at rush hour.

(According to Cycling UK - formerly the CTC, the national cyclists’ organisation - between January 2008 and July 2015, 56 of the 99 cyclists killed in London were involved in collisions with lorries.)

Consider relaxing rules on night time deliveries.

And in his first term of office, Khan has set himself this challenge, to promote a *Mini-Holland Programme – Nirvana for cyclists  - for all London Boroughs.