Sunday, 28 October 2018

Engers - the stylish King of the road



By Paul Jones

Published by Mousehold Press,

Victoria Cottage,

Constitution Opening,

Norwich NR3 4BD.


ISBN: 978-1-874739-81-4

“I Like Alf” is the untold story of one of the most talented, stylish and enigmatic of cycling champions ever to have dominated UK time trialling, London’s Alf Engers,  winner of national titles from 1959 to the late 1970s.

This is about “The King”, the man who wanted to win the Tour de France but whose destiny lay elsewhere.  Officialdom found him too controversial to their liking, this when time trialling itself was controversial, with its reliance on traffic flow to produce fast times!

There were allegations of “white lining” - riding too far out in the road and so impeding traffic when he was often going faster than the traffic - of having following cars.

Two East London officials in particular did their best to have him suspended from racing for the most spurious reasons and succeeded!

Notwithstanding such problems, Engers   would come back and continue to make the headlines with breath-taking performances which saw him win the national 25 title six times and put competition record beyond reach with the first 30mph ride. He could do it all, time trial, road race, the track. He was a big draw at events.

But this book does more than merely recall how Engers came to unleash his undisputed powers on the domestic time trialling scene, taking on class rivals such as Pete Wells, Eddie Adkins, Derek Cottington, Dave Holliday, and Ian Hallam.   Engers dominated like no other. It’s funny, too, with amusing stories  that reveal his lighter side,  with so many anecdotes about the characters among the clubs, frame builders and others of who shared in those heady days.

Chiefly this is about a man who overcame the odds stacked against him. Not the least being he worked full time in a bakery, late into the night. 

His triumphs on the bike brought him brief solace from his troubled memories of a father who had shown little interest in his son; and the ever present threat of disqualification from officials looking for any excuse to ban a guy who was simply different!

This is a riveting read by author Paul Jones who sensitively seeks out the darker recesses of Enger’s soul.

I sensed, too, that Engers clearly found release in sharing his story, especially in revealing the unhappy moments from his youth. That should not disguise a cracking, good fun story, too, which revisits his personal triumphs still talked about today.

For though his records have at last fallen, Engers exploits remain unsurpassed.

This is a joy to read. And it begs the question, is Paul Jones a pseudonym?  Here is descriptive prose worthy of the late Norman Mailler!

It reminds me of noted rock guitarist Jeff Beck’s stunned disbelief upon first hearing the mesmerising guitar riffs of Jimi Hendrix.  “Well,” Becks is reported to have said to Eric Clapton, “we might as well pack it in!” Instead, of course, Hendrix’s style galvanised him.

The title of this book “I like Alf” says it all. Although cycling officials, the “Blazers” had it in for him,  

riders loved this colourful character.  So did his rivals who were so often left behind in his wake!

So someone produced stickers, proclaiming: “I Like Alf”.

Friday, 19 October 2018

Here we go again

HERE we go again, as if in a recurring nightmare.  The government has published plans to build a national cycle route which, like all grand cycling schemes put before them,  they have no intention of funding.

This grand cycle way is to run beside the High Speed Railway (HS2) up the spine of England, as reported by Helen Pidd in The Guardian (Friday, October 19).

And it’s all hot air.  Because apparently – and never mind the  lack of money for the moment - the builders of the railway have even failed to make safe provision for cyclists crossing the route, never mind the new bridges and tunnels supposed to leave room to take the route itself beside the 250-mph trains!

Exciting that, cycling alongside 250mph trains.  Well, it would be…

As ever, Roger Geffen, of Cycling UK, their ever optimistic policy director, thinks it is not too late for HS2 to follow the design for the cycle route.  

Olympic  gold medallist Chris Boardman, Greater Manchester’s cycling and walking commissioner, is disappointed, just as he was at the failure of government to fund the Get Britain Cycling Report a year or two ago.  HS2 is the latest in a long line of cycling initiatives to get the thumbs down when it comes to paying for them.
The government is prepared to sink £billions into the controversial railway linking London to Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, but they have no intention of funding the cycle route.

As usual, it will be left to Local Authorities to find money they haven’t got - because government has cut their funding.

So the seven million people estimated to be living within a 10-minute bike ride of the “proposed” cycle route should be prepared to be disappointed. 

The most frustrated man of all is surely John Grimshaw, the engineer who helped write the study into HS2 national cycleway.  For Grimshaw is the daddy of them all when it comes to planning cycleways in the UK. He gave us the Sustrans National Cycle Route completed in 2005, comprising 14,000 miles of traffic-free and mostly lightly trafficked roads throughout the UK.

It is the jewel in the cycling crown, albeit the only one, and was Lottery funded to the tune of £42.5m through the Millennium Commission.

Back in 1996, cycling’s friend Steven Norris, then Minister for Local Transport and Road Safety at the Department of Transport, launched an excellent “Cycle-friendly Infrastructure Guidelines for planning and Design”.

But there was never any serious money made available to enable local authorities to implement it, even if their own highway engineers were of a mind to and they never were anyway.

1996 saw a double whammy, for also in that year, the Conservatives gave us the National Cycling Strategy - with no money.

Labour gave it a few peanuts a decade later and Cycling England was formed to spend it – with the likes of Grimshaw and transport and cycling expert Christian Wolmar on the board. They did an excellent job, helping to promote the creation of over 20 cycling demonstration towns all featuring small but successful cycling schemes.

It was too good to last and Cycling England was closed down by Chancellor Phillip Hammond.

Then a couple of years ago the government announced the Get Britain Cycling report to great fanfare.  But hopes were dashed when they refused to give it cabinet backing, once again leaving it to cash-strapped Local Authorities who have done nothing worth speaking of.

Where are they now, these reports?

My bet is they were all confiscated by the Roads Lobby – who see any grand cycling development as a threat to King Car – and all of these cycling reports are gathering dust in the Warehouse of Lost Dreams.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Dutch to ban use of mobile phones when cycling

The Netherlands are ban to the use of mobile phones while cycling, reported a recent edition of The Guardian.

The ban is due to come into effect next July.  The law banning the use of handheld devices while driving was introduced in 2002.

The move comes following an increase in cycling accidents involving riders absorbed in “social media” activities on their smart phones.

The death of a young rider so engrossed with his smart phone led to a campaign for legislation.  

To me, it beggars belief that people do so. Clearly they don’t appear to understand the risks associated with the use of these smart devices to which we have become slaves.

We know, don’t we, that, many people using mobile phones appear to have switched off from their immediate surroundings. It’s what I might call a “disassociated state of mind”, distracting them from what’s going on around them.  

A “disassociated state of mind” was the state a novelist said he desired in order

to conjure up the twists and turns of his story lines.

Clearly, it’s best not to operate in this mode out on the streets.

Research in to the use of this technology when driving was found to reduce the driver’s reaction time to worse than if he or she were drunk.  

This is why they were banned in the first place, not because you would be driving with one arm, but because you would be driving with only half a brain. Or no brain at all, judging by the glazed expressions on faces.

The scientists had wanted hands-free phones banned, too.

Because unbeknown to the user, whether using a hand-held or hands-free, his or her mind is no longer on the job of driving although they think it is.

The essential factor here is in the subconscious connection with a remote voice, said the research.  It’s as if you’ve gone down the line to their place.

Talking with fellow companions in the vehicle is not the same thing at all.  They will be aware of the driving conditions and conversation tends to wax and wane accordingly, unlike the voice at the other end of the line.

Despite this the authorities decided they would allow use of hands-free for drivers.

They were persuaded when the police said they wouldn’t be able to detect if a driver was using hands free or not.  The upshot of this is that hands-free became accepted as safer to use. It reinforced the belief that the danger came from driving one handed, when this is a secondary issue.

Would we have known all this but for scientific research?  Maybe not.  I found out for myself when catching a flight from Heathrow. I needed gate 15 and was talking to someone on my phone, keeping an eye open for gate 15, or so I thought.  And I missed it until gate 20 came into focus and I thought bloody hell.   Pay attention.

Bloody device.  Marvellous things, of course.  We’ve become slaves to this magic. Well, not me. You, perhaps.

Such things were out of this world to me when I was a lad. Talking of which, dare we ponder what has driven this massive development in micro-wave and computer whizkiddery these past 50 years? Some say its harvested technology retrieved from crashed discs!

 (That’s enough of that, Ed).

Sorry. Wrong hat.

Meanwhile, back to the other-worldly Netherlands where the utopian cycling culture has been shaken by the use of the ubiquitous smartphone now implicated in one in five bike accidents in people aged 12 to 25.

Last year, 206 cyclists died in traffic accidents, 17 more than in 2016, according to official statistics.

This figure, however, is still low considering the huge number of people who cycle every day in the Netherlands which has a “population” of 22.5 million bikes and 17 million people.

About four million people cycle every day, and cycle use has increased by some 12 per cent in the last 13 years. The country’s 22,000 miles of cycle paths are becoming more crowded.

On average the Dutch cyclist rides over 600 miles and makes up to 300 journeys a year.

There is now another factor, the popularity of the electric bike which is encouraging inappropriate speed.