Sunday, 27 November 2016

The truth is out there

The only government money provided for cycling has gone to sport, commented Cycling UK’s website recently, but in the recent budget no direct money was announced to make the roads safer for cyclists.

They were referring to the £24m funding to  Yorkshire to host the 2019 World Championships. There is no suggestion that money should have gone instead to a cycling strategy. The sport is welcome to their £24m, which reflects Britain’s new standing in the world of international cycling.  It’s a tidy sum for the World’s organisation to play with, but the fact is,  you wouldn’t get much of a cycle lane out of it!

To fund a decent cycling policy for the UK  needs at least £500m per annum. That’s what is being asked for. It may sound a lot to you and me  but it is only fraction of the £multi Billion transport budget.

But the point Cycling UK were making was that once again, cycling gets no direct funding within the Chancellor’s pledge of £1.1bn to upgrade local roads. They sounded surprised!

Surely, they must know the government’s game by now.  They must know the TRUTH.

Transport is all about cars. Cars win every time. Trains have recently started to get a look-in with increased investment. But cycling has to fight for road space, and here and there is given a bit of cycle lane to go and ride in.

Instead, hard-working campaigners  win our admiration for continuing to build and reinforce the excellent economic case for investment in cycling. Sadly, they are going round and round in circles. They hope that common sense will one day prevail and Britain will get a cycling infrastructure to match the excellent Dutch system.

Pigs might also learn to ride bikes.

The campaigners surely know the bitter truth.  And yet they always feign surprise when cycling is almost completely ignored in each and every budget.

I don’t pretend to know how to change this. But I do feel  that a start could be made by coming clean and telling the growing cycling population  how the odds have always been stacked against a half-decent cycling policy ever getting off the ground in the UK.  

Everyone needs to brush up on their UK transport history.

The current campaign of urging MPs and councillors to back cycling is a waste of time. It will only ever go so far and nowhere near far enough in bringing about the integrated transport system this country lacks.

This is largely because Britain has adopted a car-based policy to allow people the freedom to drive everywhere at any time.  So the very idea of promoting cycling to reduce car dependency is alien to the ideology which under pins transport thinking.

To delve into the transport history you can do no better than read  Christian Wolmar’s recently published book “Are Trams Socialist…Why Britain has no transport policy” (reviewed in my blog May 26 this year).

In this he quotes Nicholas Ridley MP as saying:

“The private motorist wants the chance to live a life that gives him (sic)  a new dimension of freedom – freedom to go where he wants when he wants and for as long as he wants.”

This was the attitude, reinforced by a powerful motoring and roads construction lobby,  which underpinned transport ideology, and still does.

Wolmar tells how, only a few decades ago, in order that people should be able to drive everywhere they want to, there  were  plans to transform our cities with inner urban motorways until it was realised that by doing this, whole city centres would have to be destroyed and rebuilt.  Besides,  there could never be enough parking provided for those who wished to stop and view the desolation. The one city centre they managed to wreck was Plymouth.

So that idea was kicked to touch. And instead….they’ve come up with nothing, still holding to the dream that driving is king, and promising somehow to relieve traffic congestion with road “improvements”.

London alone is setting the benchmark for improvements in cycling infrastructure, but this is down to the Mayor, nothing to do with government policy.  Another mayor could easily rip them out!

Cycling campaigners need to find a new approach. They could start by telling it like it is, explaining what drives government thinking on transport.

They need to read Wolmar’s book. He’s got it nailed, and he’s positive, too. Me, I think it’s a hopeless situation whereas he thinks government can be made to change, as they have in their approach to rail travel.

But there is no sign of any positive thinking yet for cycling.

As if to illustrate this, Chancellor Phillip Hammond in his recent budget announced a £b1 upgrade for local roads.  Theoretically, this could lead to making those roads safer for cycling, too, but we can’t bank on it. In fact there no was direct money awarded cycling.   No surprise there.

Hammond was the man who killed off Cycling England when David Cameron was prime minister. Cycling England had pioneered over two dozen cycling demonstration towns which showed that small but effective schemes would encourage more people to cycle instead of drive. 

Clearly they were too successful for their own good and  I fancy that is why the government closed them down!

Meanwhile, the improvements promised for the road link between Oxford and Cambridge (Cambridge was one of Cycle England’s successful cycling demonstration towns)  might work against cycling. The university cities have done much to improve cycling conditions and reduce car dependency.  But now there is fear that the fine balance between car and cycle achieved will be upset as the improved road link pours more motor traffic into both cities.

Nothing changes.

But  to bolster our hopes, or  more likely torment us further with a vision of Utopia,  the cycling press runs yet  again another article  extolling the virtues of cycling conditions in the Netherlands, where 28 per cent of the population ride as against only 2 per cent in the UK. 

I refer to the inspirational piece in the December-January issue of Cycle, the magazine of Cycling UK, written by chief executive Paul Tuohy.  He gives  us hope!

Until  says he just wishes he’d had our Ministers of Transport or even the PM, Theresa May, with him to show what has been achieved for cycling in Holland. You’re wasting your time, Paul. They want out of Europe!

Surely it’s now obvious that no British government will ever create anything remotely like the Dutch have done, and put cycling at the centre of a nationwide integrated transport system – unless there is a massive change in thinking at the core of the establishment.

It can only happen here if cycling becomes an election issue. But given the current crisis caused by Brexit, the public may have more important things on their minds.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

SHORTS? You must be joking!

What’s with the shorts in winter?  Shorts worn by men, walking around the shops, or out cycling, on a freezing cold day?

It’s a fashion thing, right?  Must be.

It irritates me, for some unfathomable reason.

Take the walkers.  The gentlemen I see wearing shorts in winter on the high street and in the shops are mostly over 30, some much older, old enough to know better.  

It begs the question, is the older man attempting to reclaim the ground from that equally annoying trend among the yoof, the wearing of trousers hanging off the arse?  Don’t see this so often nowadays.

They looked as if they had done a load.  It forces them to walk with a certain unnatural stride which requires each leg to move slightly outward, in an attempt to give the jeans purchase on the thighs.

They would frequently have to yank them up by the waistband to stop them slipping down completely.    

This was very cool, apparently.

The trousers around the arse thing came about, I believe, from America of old, when prison inmates were denied belts and braces in case they hung themselves. So they were forced to shuffle about with trousers slipping down their backsides.

But I wonder if perhaps this trend is dying out.  Is the slipping trouser trend on the wane to be replaced by the shorts in winter trend among the older population?

Even more intriguing is the theory (gaining ground) that those same yoof have morphed into the older people we see wearing shorts in winter today.   It’s the same lot out to regain attention with a new trend. And it has spread like wildfire, giving a new lease of life to those who catch the bug, including those nearing pensionable age. 

What does the shorts guy look like?

A typical shorts guy will walk about town wearing a hefty  lined coat or  jacket, a scarf wound around his neck to keep out the chill, wool hat to keep  his brains warm,  gloves to look after his digits, then to confound the wintry look,  he wears not full length kecks, but big shorts with, usually unattractive legs protruding. Not even socks. He may wear flip flops.

It’s as though he can’t make up his mind whether to go the ski-slopes or the beach.


Are they being macho and showing off?  Is the message, look at me, a tough guy who doesn’t   feel the cold? In which case, why the heavy jacket, the wool hat and the gloves.  Why not just do the summer thing and wear a tee shirt?

It’s a mystery, this trend.

Which brings me to another mystery, concerning bike riders who wear shorts in the cold weather.

It’s a new thing among cyclists, this wearing shorts in the winter.   I don’t ever recall seeing any club rider in shorts in the winter.

I’m going back a few decades!

In the pre-thermal top days when you wore big sweaters and blanket lined army combat jackets, you would resort to stuffing newspaper up your jersey and tear strips of newspaper to line your shoes, which were nothing like the marvellous works of art which grace our feet today. And you wore full length plusses, warm diamond patterned stockings to the knee.

Quite simply, we took our cue from the more experienced club riders. We copied them. They dressed for the weather and the newcomers in the club did the same.

Would I be right in thinking that most of the shorts-wearing cyclists are new to the sport and have never been a club, never benefitted from the knowledge?

Many thousands were attracted to take up cycling following the 2012 Olympics in Britain, which resulted in a huge upsurge in the numbers taking to two wheels and racing off without any tuition or guidance whatsoever.

So are they simply copying their heroes of Le Tour and wearing shorts to show off their muscled legs, unaware that come winter, the top guys wouldn’t be seen dead in shorts, at the risk getting a slapping from their coach?

Take my experience last Sunday morning.

The day dawned bright and beautiful. The autumn colours were splendid.  There was a heavy frost and it was very cold. I felt it all the more cold because this was sudden change from mild weather earlier in the week.

The sky was deep blue, the air was clear and the sun was shining. Excellent conditions to be out, cycling, running, whatever took your fancy. Provided you were correctly dressed, which in my book is to wear warm kit top to bottom. And not shorts!

Now I can forgive runners in shorts because you generate so much more heat more quickly when running, and besides, there is not the same chill factor because you are going as fast as on a bike. But I never went out running in the winter wearing shorts.

The majority of riders I encountered  on this lovely, cold winters morning were kitted out in thermal tights and tops, gloves, while many wore overshoes, the better to block out the chill blast. There was a fairly strong wind blowing sending leaves tumbling along the roads.

But quite a number of riders were in shorts, including five who left me for dead on a climb.

I used to be known as a bit of mountain goat. Club hill champion, me, way back. Hope Mountain in North Wales, 1.75 miles of 1-in-6.

I’m not bothered about being dropped on climbs now. These guys are mostly half my age. 

Now most of the “shorts guys” I saw – like the walking bare leg brigade – were well wrapped up on top. Each wore a thermal jersey, some had a lining under the helmet and they wore gloves and overshoes. So clearly they were keen to keep those parts of the body warm.  So top heavy in clobber, but lightweight from the waist down. Thin shorts and bare legs!

I don’t get it.

I recall racing early season when it can still be quite cold to be wearing racing shorts. To counter this we would rub warming embrocation into our precious legs.  I don’t suppose the riders I see out have taken any such precautions and to my mind, if you are going to ride bald in this weather, you should.

No you shouldn’t!  Just cover up, for Christ’s sake.

One of the guys in shorts who shot past me at speed – very impressive - was only wearing a short-sleeved jersey. It was a faded emerald green. It bore the legend “Ireland” in big letters across the back.  They breed them tough in Ireland!

At the café at the top of the climb I spoke to a rider who, like me, was sensibly dressed up top to bottom with warming clothing. I pointed to the guys in shorts.

“This lot in shorts should be arrested and charged with abusing their own bodies,” I suggested. “They’re mental,” he said.

Unless perceived wisdom has changed, I always understood that muscles worked better when warm and would be prone to injury if you pushed too hard when it was too cold. So always to keep legs covered unless it was warm day.

Besides, when you become cold, your body must burn more energy to keep you warm which means that by the day’s end the shorts brigade will be lot more tired than they ought.  Or dead.

I once read of a guy – not a cyclist - who wore shorts on a very cold day and he collapsed. The autopsy revealed a heart condition he had been unaware of. The cold had put him under more stress than his ticker could cope with.