Will Olympic success have a trickle down effect?

British cycling enjoyed another golden fortnight as Team GB topped the cycling medal table at the Rio Olympics with 12 medals, six of them gold. The Brits have now exerted a period of sustained dominance, coming out on top in London 2012, and also four years earlier in Beijing. How does this high profile success at the elite level impact on cycling as a whole?

Path to success  

The success of British Cycling over the past decade is the result, first and foremost, of the hard work and dedication of a small number of elite athletes. It has been made possible by considerable investment as UK Sport poured money into those events with good medal prospects. A third key factor has been the ruthless pursuit of the aggregation of marginal gains, a concept popularised by Sir Dave Brailsford, formerly performance director of British Cycling and now general manager of Team Sky.

The idea that making multiple tiny improvements in diverse processes can add up to a large gain is now applied in all sorts of different spheres (including the classroom), and has been re-hashed by shelf-fulls of self-help authors. It’s not all that easy, however, to see its application to the everyday cyclist.

Does Olympic success benefit everyday cycling?

The number of people cycling in the UK has grown rapidly over the period of Olympic success, but proving a link between the two is not straightforward.

British Cycling and its principal supporter, Sky, are keen to demonstrate a link between elite performance and participation. This report, published post London 2012, shows strong evidence for increased participation by existing cyclists, significant uptake by newly inspired cyclists, increased consumer spending, and support for better cycling facilities across the country. This last point is an important one, as public support for better cycling infrastructure will be key to sustained growth.

The ambition to benefit recreational cyclists, as well as those who race competitively, can be seen in British Cycling’s campaigning work. The recently launched #ChooseCycling Charter calls upon local authorities to sign up to a three-point pledge “which will help transform Britain into a true cycling nation”.

There are some who see this widening of their remit by British Cycling as treading on the toes of other organisations who have long been campaigning on similar issues. It is to be hoped that all those who share the goal of increased participation in cycling of all types can work together to good effect.

Feeling inspired?

If you’ve been inspired by Froome, Wiggins, Clancy and Trott then check out some of our other blogs for help and advice on all sorts of topics, including buying a second hand bike, group and social rides, and whether cycle training is for you.

 

Changing lives with bicycles

We love cycling as it adds to our sense of freedom, independent mobility and sustainability. For people living in precarious circumstances, these same qualities can make bicycles a life-changing asset, by improving access to basic essentials.

Critical Mass to Calais

Last year Critical Mass organised an event which saw eighty cyclists ride seventy miles through London and Kent and on to Calais. On arrival at the “Jungle” camps they left their bicycles and tents for the use of the migrants who live there. Julian Sayarer, one time record holder for fastest circumnavigation by bicycle, was one of the participants. In his account of the ride, he explains, “Bicycles, judging by the constant stream being pedalled from the Jungle to Calais, are an invaluable aid in lives that have already been made unbearably difficult”.

The camp sits just beyond a motorway bridge a five-mile round trip from the distribution centres. Bicycles make daily movements manageable to access aid, services and asylum offices turning an exhausting and dehumanising five-mile walk into a swift ride.

The Bike Project

London based The Bike Project receive donations of second-hand bikes, fix them up in their workshop, and then donate them to asylum seeking refugees in the capital. Beneficiaries are encouraged to attend the workshop to get actively involved in the process and learn basic bike maintenance to improve self sufficiency. The Project also provides cycle training to women refugees in an all female environment to open up the benefits of cycling to as many refugees as possible.

London is a city that is rich in opportunities. A bike can help people reach the many resources that London has to offer: charities that can feed them, lawyers that can aid their application process, home office appointments, healthcare, education and much more. If they are lucky enough to receive status, a bike can help them find employment.

Anyone wishing to help can find out more here. You can donate a bicycle, money, or your time.

Elephant Bike

Another UK based charity transforming lives with bicycles is the Krizevac Project, through its Elephant Bike initiative.

The charity employs youth offenders to strip down and refurbish unused Royal Mail delivery bikes, building skills and gaining qualifications in the process. The bikes are then put up for sale at www.elephantbike.co.uk. Each bike purchase funds the shipment of a second bike to Malawi, where they provide sustainable transport and create employment opportunities.

Qhubeka

These type of initiatives may seem far removed from elite-level cycling, but the two worlds come together in the form of Team Dimension Data, who ride in support of the Qhubeka project, funding bicycles to change lives in Africa. Qhubeka is an Nguni word that means “to move forward”. The charity believes that mobilising people with bicycles can create access to education, healthcare and economic opportunity. Find out more here.

 

A guide to buying a second hand bike

This post will look at how to buy a second hand general utility bicycle, as opposed to a high performance road machine, or vintage collector’s item, which is another kettle of (more expensive) fish.

London bikesBuying second hand can offer the chance to get the best possible bike for your budget, and for London commuters who may have to leave their bike locked up in public there’s also a school of thought that pre-loved bikes are less attractive to thieves.

Talking of which, it’s important to take all reasonable steps to avoid buying a stolen bike. BikeRegister, the national cycle database, has some excellent advice to prevent you from unwittingly supporting bike crime.

So what else should you look out for?

Where to buy

Gone are the days of scouring the classifieds in the local paper. Online equivalents such as Gumtree and Craigslist can harbour the odd bargain still, as can E-Bay, but shopping for a bike without being able to test it out in person is obviously fraught with risk.

Look for listings with plenty of detail and good quality photos. It’s always preferable to have the option to collect in person, rather than having the goods posted out to you.

A better bet might be the classified forums of popular bike-related websites, such as BikeRadar, Singletrack, or (for fixed gear and single speed) LFGSS. The forum communities are self-policing and will weed out anything that doesn’t look right.

Better still would be to buy a second hand bike from a local bike shop, as any reputable shop will have given their bikes a full service before sale, and will be more likely to be able to deal with you sympathetically should any issues arise.

What to look for

To avoid a bargain buy turning into a two-wheeled money pit, it’s important to check for common problems before parting with your cash. If you don’t feel confident in your ability to make a full assessment then take someone along with you who does.

  • First of all make sure you get the right size. A bargain priced bike that doesn’t fit is a false economy.
  • Wheels should be true – meaning the rim doesn’t appear to wobble as it rotates – within a mm or two. Badly dished wheels are expensive to fix, or may be beyond repair, and make it impossible to set the brakes up effectively.
  • The frame should be straight and free from dents. Any signs of cracks or bends are a deal breaker.
  • Check that the seat post is not seized in the frame, as you’ll need to adjust this to your height.
  • Make sure that the forks turn smoothly in the frame when you move the handlebars.
  • Look for any play (looseness) in the bottom bracket and cranks, and in the headset.
  • Check that the brakes are working, and that the cables run smoothly and aren’t frayed.
  • Check that the gears operate correctly, and again, that the cables run smoothly.
  • If possible, having conducted some basic safety checks, take the bike for a test ride.

Learning a little about bike maintenance, and showing your bike some regular care and attention, will save you even more money in the long run.

Happy shopping!

A nifty new app for puncture roadside rescue

Imagine you are a cyclist with a puncture. You don’t have a spare inner tube or you can’t fix the puncture yourself. You don’t know where you can find a bike shop – maybe they are all closed at the time –  and you are going to be late for an appointment…

Wouldn’t it be great if you could hail someone just around the corner to come to your rescue? Well, now you can with the Kerbi app for iPhone.

With Kerbi, if you’re a stranded cyclist, simply ‘hail’ a repair provider via the app, allowing mobile bike mechanics, bike messengers or other expert cyclists in the area to respond directly to your request. You can then choose a repair provider from the quotes you receive, with secure cashless payment upon completion.

Check out the video and homage to The Bourne Identity!

For bike mechanics, Kerbi provides a new route to market for their skills. The “receiver” for Kerbi is another app called Street Stream. Street Stream was originally set up as an app for couriers (including bike messengers). Customers put same-day delivery requests on the Street Stream website and couriers can quote. Now bike mechanics (and bike messengers) can get alerted to stranded cyclists with a puncture and submit their price for getting a puncture sorted. Street Stream takes a small fee per job (£2) – the rest is the mechanic’s to keep and they can charge whatever the market will bear.

In future it will be possible to do more than just punctures, including a whole host of bicycle repairs.

If you would like to check out Kerbi, it’s available on the app store here.

If you would like to be a Kerbi agent, providing repairs, you can download Street Stream here and follow the registration instructions.

7 cycling myths debunked

Roads were built for carsCyclist Light

This one’s reasonably easy to dispose of when you consider that many of our roads were first built in Roman times. A comprehensive rebuttal exists in the form of Roads Were Not Built For Cars, an exhaustively researched book which uncovers the extent to which cyclists were, in fact, instrumental in pushing for the construction of good quality roads.

Cyclists don’t pay road tax

True. But then no-one’s paid road tax since it was abolished in 1937. Roads are paid for through general local and national taxation. The additional tax burden on motorists is in the form of petrol duty and vehicle excise duty. Lots of cyclists do pay these taxes by the simple fact that being a cyclist and owning a car are not mutually exclusive.

Cyclists should always ride as far to the left as possible

This erroneous and unhelpful belief is perhaps partly a product of the previous two myths, encouraging a view that cyclists are somehow a second class of vehicle on the roads, and should concede space wherever possible. Riding close to the gutter decreases a cyclist’s visibility to other road users, and can encourage drivers to pass in an unsafe way. And when riding past parked cars, it’s always good practice to keep a distance of just over the width of a car door so that, in the event of one opening suddenly, you don’t need to swerve out or, worse still, collide with it. Cycle training can help you to gain a proper understanding of where to position your bike on the road.

A majority of cyclists ignore red lights

The focus of much ire directed at cyclists is generated by red light jumping, or other behaviour that contravenes traffic laws.  TFL conducted a fairly comprehensive study into cycling in London in order to test the anecdotal claim that a majority of cyclists ignore red lights, and found that the actual figure was around 16%.

According to the Department for Transport, disobeying traffic signals was a contributory factor in 1% of cycle accidents and 1% of car accidents in 2013. That’s 187 and 1,664 accidents respectively, so while the proportions may be equal, there are many more drivers than cyclists causing accidents by running red lights.

Cycling is dangerous

There are risks associated with all activities, but broadly speaking cycling is not particularly risky. When comparing modes of transport, the relative risks of cycling, walking and driving are fairly similar per hour spent traveling (as opposed to per mile covered). Cycling as a sport carries less risk of injury than alternatives such as football, athletics or even swimming.

Once you balance the risks against the benefits of cycling there is a clear positive net effect on health at both an individual and population-wide level.

You need to be fit

Like any physical activity, cycling can be adjusted to suit all fitness levels and abilities. It can provide really daunting challenges for those looking to push their limits, but it can also be a great starting point for anyone looking to increase levels of activity. Even electric bikes can provide benefits to those otherwise unwilling to get onto two wheels, as we’ve looked at previously on the blog.

Cycling is expensive

It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. Granted, the Tour de France winning Pinarello Dogma F8 won’t leave much change from £10,000, but then you wouldn’t want to leave it locked up outside the pub anyway. A perfectly decent bike can be had for around £300 (or half of that if buying second hand) and although there is a bewildering array of clothing and accessories available, none of it is really essential, except perhaps a good quality lock.

So what’s stopping you?

5 great bicycle-themed films

Cycling doesn’t perhaps lend itself to the silver screen in quite the same way as other sports. It doesn’t yet have it’s ‘Raging Bull’, or even it’s ‘Escape to Victory’. Nevertheless there are several great movies which feature the bicycle at their heart. Add your own favourites below.

The Bicycle Thieves

Vittorio De Sica’s masterpiece of Italian neorealism follows the misfortunes of down-on-his-luck Antonio and his young son Bruno. Over the course of the day they embark on a fruitless hunt for the father’s stolen bike, which he desperately needs in order to work and support his family.

Jour de Fête

In this classic French comedy, Jacques Tati plays mailman François who regularly chats to the customers while making his rounds. After having occasion to watch a film depicting the United States postal service (who of course decades later sponsored Lance Armstrong) as an organization of great speed and efficiency, François determines to try to emulate them. He decides to use a bicycle to improve the speed of his service, but, as they say, things don’t exactly go to plan.

Belleville Rendezvous

Sylvain Chomet’s ‘Les Triplettes de Belleville’, to give its original title, tells the story of Champion, a Tour de France cyclist, who is kidnapped by French gangsters. His grandmother sets off to rescue him, accompanied by his enormous dog Bruno, and for reasons too obscure to go into, the titular triplets, music hall singers from the jazz era. The film is particularly notable for it’s unique style of animation and it’s depiction of the physical torture of training for, and riding Le Tour, including an ascent of Mont Ventoux.

BMX Bandits

The IMDB synopsis for this film reads as follows: “Two BMX expert bikers and a friend of theirs (Nicole Kidman) become entangled with a group of bank robbers after discovering a carton of walkie-talkies.” The plot may be fairly thin stuff, but it serves as a good excuse for a series of set pieces showing BMXs being ridden around some of Sydney’s most famous locations.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure

Tim Burton’s directorial debut follows the eponymous eccentric man-child as he travels across the United States in search of his beloved bicycle. Anyone who’s had a bike stolen will find themselves rooting for Pee-wee, and it’s probably not giving too much away to reveal that he is eventually reunited with his bike, but not before making a host of new friends along the way.

Note: We’ve deliberately excluded documentaries from this list. There are enough great docs about cycling that they deserve a separate list of their own. Watch this space.

 

E-bikes: who said it’s cheating?

For the first time this year, riders taking part in the Tour De France will have their bicycles scanned for concealed electric motors. Rumours of so-called “mechanical doping” have swirled around the sport for years (for the full history, see this article), and were made real with the discovery, in January, of just such a device in the bike of a cyclo-cross competitor.

Gaining assistance from an electric motor is clearly against the rules in a competitive sport. There’s also however a prevailing attitude among day-to-day cyclists that riding an electric bicycle is somehow cheating. But could our instinctive distrust or snobbery towards e-bikes be preventing us from realising the full potential of these machines?

Some exercise is better than none

We all need to be active to improve our well-being and life-expectancy. As covered elsewhere on this blog, building exercise into your daily routine by commuting by bicycle is an excellent way to meet (or more likely far exceed) recommended levels of physical activity. Lots of people though are still not getting enough exercise. For some, an electric bike might help them to change that.

It might seem counter intuitive to put forward as a healthy solution a device which allows you to exert yourself less than a regular bike. The simple truth though is that reduced exertion is better than none at all. If e-bikes can open up cycle commuting to a certain segment of the population who wouldn’t initially consider a regular bike, and would otherwise be in a car or on public transport, then that has to be a good thing.

Research from various parts of the world, including this Brighton-based study, confirms that e-bikes encourage people to cycle more and deliver significant health benefits. The bikes are designed to assist the rider, never to provide all of the power. By requiring the rider to be pedaling at all times, they promote sustained moderate effort.

Go further, faster

Where the infrastructure is in place to make this possible, e-bikes can also help to extend the idea of what a commutable distance is. This article in the Guardian asks, with the popularity of e-bikes growing, is Europe about to see a new era of long-distance cycle commuting?

The soft whirr of an electric motor remains a relatively rare sound on the streets of Britain, where the machines have failed to take off in the same way that they have elsewhere in Europe and in Asia. Lack of enthusiasm might be down to cost, lack of awareness, or the aforementioned snobbery.

If you’re interested in finding out more then this is a helpful overview of the law concerning e-bikes (did you know that the motor won’t help you above 15.5mph?), and here’s a helpful review and comparison from a London commuter.

Even if e-bikes aren’t for everyone, let’s leave accusations of “cheating” to the professionals, and celebrate anything that helps to get more people on two wheels.

Cycling and the law: the what, where, when and how

Can a child ride on the pavement? Do I have to use cycle lanes where they’re available? And what on earth is meant by “cycling furiously”? The law around cycling in the UK is not particularly well understood by the general public, cyclists and non-cyclists alike, and a number of popular misconceptions still endure. Here’s a quick guide to some of the most relevant legislation.

Where can you ride a bike?

Bicycles are, in law, carriages, and should therefore be ridden on the carriageway (or, in common parlance, road) and not on the footway (pavement). The obvious exception to this is where designated cycle paths have been incorporated into the pavement. In these cases an approved cycle path sign permits the cyclist to use the footway for as long as that path continues.

Where no such cycle path exists cycling on the footway is an offence punishable by a fixed penalty notice of £50. This penalty cannot be applied to areas such as parks, or pedestrianised shopping precincts unless a byelaw has been passed making cycling in such areas an offence.

Government guidance suggests that penalties should not be aimed at responsible cyclists who sometimes feel obliged to use the pavement out of fear of traffic and should only be applied where a cyclist endangers others. In addition, fixed penalty notices cannot be applied to those under 16. A full discussion of the law in this regard can be found here.

It’s worth noting that, should you feel uncomfortable cycling on the road in a particular area, you can always dismount, walk with your bike, and then jump back on when clear of the problem. Alternatively, cycle training can increase your confidence and your understanding of how to ride in traffic.

Which parts of the road can I use?

According to the Highway Code cyclists are permitted to ride two-abreast, but should ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends. All rules for cyclists can be found here – note that those rules which omit the word “must” are advisory rather than compulsory.

It’s important to realise that cyclists are not restricted in law to riding in the part of the road next to the pavement. Confident cyclists take the middle of the lane (also known as primary position) whenever the situation dictates that this is appropriate.

Do I have to use cycle lanes?

Cyclists are not obliged to use cycle lanes, and discretion should be used as to when to use the available infrastructure. Some cycle lanes are poorly thought out or improperly integrated and should be avoided.

Cycling under the influence

It is an offence to cycle on a road when “unfit…through drink or drugs” according to Section 30 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.  It is a misconception that you can get points on your driving licence for drunk cycling, but it goes without saying that endangering yourself and others by cycling whilst under the influence is to be avoided.

Cycling furiously

One of those quaintly worded offences that remains part of law is that of “wanton and furious driving”, applying to drivers of carriages (a bicycle, remember, counts as a carriage). Although rare, this offence may be applied where a cyclist injures another party as a result of wilful neglect or misconduct.

Jumping the lights

The rules of the road apply to cyclists just the same as motorists. Cyclists who contravene a traffic signal, which includes going through a red light, and cycling the wrong way on a one-way street, can be issued with a fixed penalty notice. Don’t do it.

What about the bike itself?

At the point of sale, a new bike must be equipped with (amongst other things) a bell, although as soon as it leaves the shop this can be discarded.

When riding in the dark a bike must be equipped with lights and reflectors, including two amber coloured reflectors on each pedal, which may well come as a surprise to those using clipless pedals. In practice of course this legislation is rarely enforced, although it is possible in the event of a nighttime collision that any failure to comply with the full lighting regulations may be regarded as contributory negligence.
NOTE: This post is for information and is not intended as legal advice.

 

Get on your bike and ride social

Riding a bike is a great way to get around, it will improve your fitness, and can help your wallet too. It can also do wonders for your social life. Here are some great mass participation events with something for all types of cyclist.

Charity Rides

There are lots of charity bike rides to choose from, with varying degrees of challenge to suit all abilities. Many are pitched at everyday cyclists, including the likes of the iconic London to Brighton ride organised by the British Heart Foundation. More demanding routes can take several days, including London to Paris, or further afield, cycling (part of) the Great Wall of China.

Sportives

There is an enormous number of sportive events to choose from in the UK, Europe and beyond. The biggest UK event with ambitions to become the London Marathon of cycling is RideLondon. Just like the marathon, demand far outstrips supply, so participants are either lucky in the ballot or take a charity place having pledged to raise a minimum amount.

Sky Ride

Alongside sponsoring the team that propelled Wiggo and Froomey to Tour de France glory, Sky also supports grassroots cycling and mass participation events. They have a calendar of regular guided rides happening all over the country, alongside bigger traffic free events for all ages, and a network of informal social rides. Check them out.

Something a little different

Existing happily alongside the bigger events there are a number of brilliantly quirky ways to enjoy your cycling.

The “semi-organised” Dunwich Dynamo sees riders setting off from London Fields as evening draws in and riding 120 miles to the Suffolk Coast. Many have a quick snooze on the beach before taking the coach back to London.

The Tweed Run is a “metropolitan bicycle ride with a bit of style”. Well dressed cyclists take to the streets and cycle past some of London’s iconic landmarks stopping for a tea break and a picnic stop along the way, and ending with a bit of a jolly knees-up.

The London Nocturne event includes elite level races, but also more unusual (if just as keenly contested) events for folding bikes, and penny farthings.

Prefer to pedal like crazy without actually going anywhere? Rollapaluza events see cyclists going head to head over short sprints on stationary bikes in a party atmosphere with great music and cheering crowds.

 

So whatever your ability, stamina, experience or nerve, get socialising on your bike and meet a whole world of like-minded folk.

 

The best options for carrying stuff on your bike

When it comes to transporting gear on your bike, your first choice is whether to attach the stuff to you, or to your bicycle.

 

 

Attaching stuff to yourself

Backpacks are ideal for carrying the typical commuter load (laptop, tools, waterproof, lunch). If it is for use on a regular commute you should look for good waterproofing and also good ventilation to reduce the sweaty back effect.

Messenger type bags sling over the shoulder and have a second waist strap to stabilise their position – this is important so avoid courier style bags that lack this feature. They tend to have larger capacities and are easier to access quickly. They also position the load lower down, which can be more comfortable and make bike handling easier due to a lower centre of gravity.

Here’s a more detailed head-to-head comparison of the pros and cons of these two options.

Attaching stuff to your bike

A basket can provide a quick and simple solution to carrying small to medium loads, with the advantage that everything stays where you can see it. They don’t offer any protection from the elements (although covers are available to stretch across the top of the basket) and there can be a risk of things bouncing out as you negotiate a speed bump or hit a pothole.

Saddlebags mount behind the saddle, which will need to have appropriate loops to fix the bag to. Sizes vary, but generally they will accommodate a tool kit plus rain mac, but not a laptop or similar. They offer a more traditional and elegant solution, particularly high quality versions from the likes of Brooks.

Panniers offer a great way of carrying larger loads on your bicycle. You’ll need an appropriate rack fitted over the back wheel, to which the panniers attach ordinarily with a quick-release mechanism. Not all bikes will have the fittings to accommodate this, so check first. Waterproofing varies between models but in general they offer a great way to securely transport loads whilst letting your bike take the strain.

Larger loads

For really large loads a specialist cargo bike might be needed. These come in various shapes and configurations, with a good selection now available at specialist stores like London Green Cycles. Some London councils are offering free trials of cargo bikes to local businesses as a way of making their deliveries.

If you have cargo that wriggles around and keeps asking “Are we there yet?” have a look at our guide to cycling with small children.

 

For really large loads, (or a really large family) you might need something like this world record holder.

 

Or perhaps you’re cycling to a picnic and the invitation asks you to bring a bottle? There’s a nifty solution to that to.