Beat the bike thieves

Ever experienced that sinking feeling as you approach the empty rack where you left your bike chained up? It’s every cyclist’s nightmare. And with some estimates putting the number of bike thefts in London at 70,000 per year, it’s worth taking some simple steps to dramatically reduce your chances of being part of that statistic.

Location, Location, Location

The ideal place to park your bike is inside, but when this isn’t possible choose your location carefully. A busy, well lit public place with lots of footfall is best. Avoid locations that suggest the bike will be there all day (like train stations) in favour of locations that suggest you might return any minute (like outside a shop or cafe).

Wherever possible use specific cycle parking stands or racks. Don’t lock your bike to a signpost where the sign can easily be removed and the bicycle simply lifted over the top of the post.

If you need to lock your bike on the street at either end of a regular journey try not to leave your bike in the same place every day, as determined bike thieves might spot it and return with the tools of their trade at a later date.

How to lock your bike

It’s futile to chain up just one removable part

Thieves don’t always target entire bikes, as there’s money to be made from bits of bikes too, so make sure that all of your bike, not just parts of it, are secure. Lock both wheels and the frame to a solid object. Using two different types of locks – one cable, one D-lock – is best, as thieves will most often come prepared for one type or the other, but not both.

Anything on your bike that can easily be removed including lights and cycle computers should be taken away by you, to prevent it from being taken away by someone else. Removing the saddle keeps it safe as well as making the remaining bike less attractive to thieves.

Equipment

Good locks are not particularly cheap, but they are cheaper than replacing your bike, so get the best you can afford. Your main lock should ideally be Silver or Gold rated. Choose a D-lock which fits snugly when in use. The more space left between the lock and the object it is locked to the easier it will be to break.

Quick release levers on seatposts and wheels offer zero protection, and allen key bolts offer not much more, which is why anything attached to your bike in this way should be locked to a solid object when parking it. Pinhead locks or similar offer an extra layer of security.

Make life tougher for the thieves

The police use the BikeRegister database to identify and recover stolen bikes. Registering your bike will increase the chances of being reunited with it should the worst happen, and displaying the fact that your bike is registered by way of a sticker on the frame will make it a less desirable target in the first place.

When buying a second hand bike (hopefully not because you just had one nicked) one final thing that you can do to discourage thieves is to take steps to make sure that you don’t buy a stolen bike.

There have been cases of bike theft in the press recently that have gained considerable coverage due to the unusual method applied by the thieves. Cutting through the bike rack and taping it together again so that it looked undamaged, they then returned later to steal the bike of the unsuspecting person who parked it there. As this demonstrates, thieves will go to great lengths to relieve you of your trusty steed. By following these simple tips you can make life harder for them, and so have a much better chance of avoiding that sinking feeling.

Sorry: I didn’t see you…

It may not seem a likely sight – a group of seasoned truckers taking to the road on bikes with an instructor – but it’s a growing phenomenon. In 2003, the EU passed the DCPC (Driver Certificate of Professional Competence) Directive. This requires all professional urban LGV and PCV drivers to complete training designed to promote the safe sharing of roads with vulnerable road users, particularly cyclists. Mel Holley from routeOne magazine attended one such course and he sent this report.

While the lycra-clad, law-breaking power cyclist is one particular stereotype – especially in London – in reality, a variety of people cycle, and relatively few have the devil-may-care aggressive attitude that the image suggests. Indeed, fear of accidents is a key worry for many cyclists, especially the less confident.

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 12.56.17

In the same way as only by sitting in the cab of a coach or bus can a cyclist fully appreciate the driver’s vision and why we position our vehicles where we do such as when turning left, changing places with cyclists is an equal eye-opener for PCV drivers, even those who are lapsed in the saddle.

Meanwhile, for those who complain about the cost of the Driver CPC (DCPC) renewal, there is good news in that most councils have secured government funding to run these so that all you pay is the £8.75 upload fee.

Run by Cycle Confident, using their local trainer Alec Horner of Minimise Your Risk, the Safer Urban Driving course aims to highlight ways you can improve your driving and understand the behaviour of cyclists.

With a mix of PCV and LGV drivers, the morning started with outlines of the issues that drivers and cyclists face, supported by recent videos covering high-profile situations in the capital. Unsurprisingly, this provoked some lively discussion and was anything but dull.

Then, with assistance from cycle training professionals, we moved on to the practical session – optional for those who felt unable to take part. Snazzy new cycles were provided and coaching took place in an off-road cycle lane, including checking that participants could do basic tasks such as indicate, look over their shoulder and perform an emergency stop.

Key points include understanding how modern cycle training has changed. For example, cyclists are now trained to ride in a more assertive position on the road – to be seen more easily (particularly at junctions).

Then we set off in a hi-viz crocodile onto Brighton’s busy roads, with three short demonstration rides, exposing us to various situations.

We quickly learnt a number of important lessons (aside from the impatience of some motorists) including that cycle lanes are not always in helpful places.

In one case, a narrow lane put riders directly in danger of having a car door opened on them, which would knock them off (into the traffic lane), or force them to swerve, again into the traffic lane.

This didn’t happen, but the danger was clear and it became easier to understand why cyclists don’t always use cycle lanes, or position themselves where we would expect. The benefit of advanced stop lines at a complex junction were also demonstrated.

Experiencing first-hand what it’s like to be a modern-day cyclist, especially for those who had not been in the saddle for a while, was incredibly powerful.  Understanding what a cyclist might do next, and why, proved a useful education.

For information on Driver CPC courses run by Cycle Confident, click here.

Thinking of becoming a cycling instructor?

Some observations from a Cycle Confident instructor…

“I really think this will be life-changing for me”

This comment was the verdict of a trainee at the end of a recent 1-2-1 cycling lesson. During the session we had planned and ridden her commute, a journey she had, until then, made by public transport. Cycle training had given her the knowledge, skills and, crucially, the confidence to consider making this journey by bike. This in turn will enable her to unlock the benefits of cycling to work, which all the evidence suggests will make her happier, healthier, less stressed and certainly better off.

Of course not every lesson prompts such a positive response, but I think this captures something of why being a cycling instructor is such a rewarding job.  If you are considering the profession, chances are you’re already convinced of the potential that cycling has to improve lives. Training to become an instructor will enable you to realise that potential in others.

So, that’s the rose-tinted vision dealt with.

What about the practicalities…

In order to become a qualified cycling instructor you will need to complete a 4-day instructor training course with a registered Instructor Training Organisation (ITO) such as Cycle Confident. To attend, you’ll need to be 18 or over, reasonably fit, and a confident cyclist with your own bike.

The course will introduce you to the National Standard in cycle training. This is essentially the framework that underpins all cycle training, and sets out a series of “outcomes” – skills and abilities needed by cyclists to ride safely in different situations.

Cycle Confident Instructor Training
Cycle Confident Instructor Training

Having successfully completed the course you will have attained Provisional National Standard Instructor status. You can start to work as a provisionally qualified instructor, and to do so you’ll want to register with one or more cycle training providers in your local area. To become a fully qualified instructor requires a post course assessment to be carried out within six months of completing initial training – your ITO will help to arrange this.

Other practicalities

There are a few other things to consider once you’ve decided to undertake the initial training. All National Standard Instructors must have appropriate insurance cover when delivering cycle training. A number of organisations provide this cover, including CTC, and British Cycling who offer it as a benefit of membership. You’ll also need an appropriate first aid qualification to enable you to deal with any minor bumps and bruises (not unheard of) and to know what to do in the event of a more serious incident (thankfully, extremely rare).

Much of the training is delivered in schools, under the name Bikeability. Before you can start working with children and young people you will need to complete a DBS check (what used to be called a CRB check). Again, your ITO will facilitate this process, but all of these practicalities can take several weeks to complete, so if you’re serious about starting work as an instructor it’s best to get the ball rolling as early as possible.

What’s the job actually like?

Working as a cycling instructor is immensely fun and rewarding. It can also be challenging and frustrating. And sometimes wet and cold.

Flexibility

The flexibility of the work means it can suit those looking to fit cycle training around other commitments, but it can also be intermittent and, to a degree, seasonal. The vast majority of cycling instructors are freelancers, so if this isn’t something you’ve done before, be prepared for a certain level of uncertainty and also the associated admin, including doing your own tax return.

Most of the work falls into two broad categories – Bikeability sessions delivered in schools, and 1-2-1 training sessions.

1-2-1 cycle training

1-2-1 sessions

Individual lessons can vary greatly, from teaching complete beginners to sessions with seasoned cyclists who want advice on a particular commute. Seeing someone ride unaided for the first time, or helping a previously nervous cyclist to gain confidence to ride on the road, both offer plenty of job satisfaction.

School Bikeability courses

School training will tend to take you into a given school for one week, and in that sense can offer more reliable blocks of work. Instructors work in pairs and, as a freshly qualified instructor, you will be supporting the lead instructor. Each group of kids brings its own challenges, but even in the space of a week you’ll be amazed at the progress they make.

I learn something new from every instructor I work with, and that’s another nice aspect of the job – it’s a great workforce to be part of. Cycling instructors are generally a positive and helpful bunch, perhaps because they’re doing something they love, so if you want to see more people getting more out of cycling, why not join them, and start changing lives for the better!

The Cycle Confident tent is coming to Cycle Revolution at the Design Museum

Some inventions change the course of society, the internet perhaps being the most obvious these days. But right up there with the best of them would have to be the humble bicycle.

Invented by Karl Drais in 1817, the basic form of the bicycle has remained more or less unchanged since the addition of pneumatic tyres and a chain drive. Like the coat hanger and the bic biro, the enduring nature of the object is testament to the simple brilliance of its design.

Cycle Revolution

Chris Boardman’s 1992 Olympic gold medal-winning Lotus pursuit bike

No surprise then that the Design Museum is celebrating the bicycle in its current exhibition, Cycle Revolution, which runs till 30 June. The show allows you to get up close to some of the most iconic bikes ever ridden, including Team Sky’s Pinarellos from the 2015 Tour de France and The Lotus Type 108 ridden by Chris Boardman at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. You can also track the evolution of machines used to break the hour record with the bikes used by Eddy Merckx (1972), Francesco Moser (1984) and Sir Bradley Wiggins (2015) all on display.  It’s not all about elite performance though, with a Brompton, a Breezer and even a Raleigh Chopper also on show.

Get your own bike a health check

Cycle Confident will be outside the Design Museum on the weekends of 19-20 March and 9-10 April, offering a Dr Bike service. There will also be cycle training taster sessions, all free of charge.

If your own bike is not quite in museum quality condition the Dr Bike sessions are an opportunity to get it checked over by an experienced bike mechanic, who will make any necessary minor adjustments or quick fixes there and then. If something a little more major is required they’ll explain what’s needed so that you can take your bike along to a local bike shop armed with all the information. Reserve your place here, or just drop in on the day.

The cycle training taster sessions will last around half an hour and can be tailored to all ages and abilities. If you want to continue your training, and are a London resident, the chances are that further free training is available at a time and place to suit you.

Find Your London

The events on 19 and 20 March also form part of the Mayor of London’s Find Your London festival, celebrating London’s outdoor spaces. There are lots of other bike related events taking place as part of the festival, including the chance to join a cycling choir, or to pedal-power a cinema.

So whether you’re on a Pinarello or a Chopper, or something in between, pedal down to the Design Museum and come say hello.

Are London cyclists really six times healthier?

A recent press release from Brunel University contained the startling claim that London cyclists are 6 times healthier than those who use other means of transport for their commute. Unsurprisingly such an eye-catching claim generated plenty of press coverage as the story was picked up by the Evening Standard among others.

The most obvious question raised by the headline is what measure of health is being used, and what does it mean for one person to be six times healthier than another. Is their resting heart rate six times lower? Is their aerobic capacity six times higher? Will they live six times longer?

Brunel University Cycling ResearchThe answer is contained in the full report, which can be found in the Journal of Public Health here. By analysing Sport England’s Active People Survey the author discovered that ‘utility cyclists’ (more on this term later) were 4 times more likely than others to meet UK guidelines on amounts of physical activity. For those living in inner London the figure rises to 6 times, which leads us (sort of) to that press-friendly headline.

Of course, undertaking a certain minimum recommended amount of physical activity will not make somebody 6 times fitter than a person who does not. Indeed, someone who just exceeds the threshold may well be only marginally more healthy than somebody who falls just short, or indeed may be less fit once other dietary and lifestyle factors have been accounted for.

Nevertheless, we should be willing to forgive the misleading reporting as long as the overall effect is to communicate the important underlying message. Which is that an individual’s choice of transport can have a dramatic effect on their health. Or more succinctly: cycling to work will make you fitter.  All the evidence suggests that it can also improve your psychological well being, as well as your bank balance.

Build exercise into your daily routine

So how much physical activity should you be doing? Government guidelines suggest that adults (19-64) should aim for 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. One way of doing this would be to cycle a 15 minute journey each way, 5 times a week. When you consider that the average cycle commute in London is 9.3 miles, and so more likely to be around 45 minutes in each direction, it becomes clear that the majority of London cycle commuters will comfortably exceed the recommendation.

The great thing about choosing what are known as active travel options (walking or cycling) is that they incorporate exercise into your daily routine, increasing health using only time that would otherwise be spent sitting in a car or bus, or squashed into a tube carriage.

What is utility cycling?

Shopping by bike: Kamyar Adl

Interestingly the report only accounts for activity classed as ‘utility cycling’. This is defined as ‘cycling for purposes other than…health, recreation, training or competition’.  Riding a bike as a means of transport is the original and still the most common form of cycling, but this captures an important point – that to reap the health benefits offered by cycling you don’t need to don full lycra and head for the Alps, or spin a stationary bike in the gym, or ride endless laps of the velodrome. You can simply choose a bicycle as your everyday way to get around.

Wider implications

This basic insight has important implications for wider society, and for policy makers. It demonstrates that promoting cycling as a transport option has massive potential for improving public health. It also suggests that putting money into making utility cycling a more attractive option, for example through better cycle infrastructure, offers a fantastic return on investment.

Getting started

If you are considering commuting by bike in London but need a little help and advice to get started, a 1-2-1 training session can be a great way to overcome any doubts or fears you may have. It’s not guaranteed to make you six times fitter, but it will be several steps (or turns of the pedals) towards a healthier lifestyle.

Gearing up for the winter commute

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”
– Alfred Wainwright

The vagaries of the British weather can throw up surprises for cycle commuters at any time of the year, but it is the cold, dark winter days that will provide the greatest test of riders’ resolve.  With winter feeling like it finally arrived in earnest this month, it’s worth investing in a bit of preparation and the right gear. That done, anyone can enjoy the benefits of travelling by bike all year round.

The Bicycle

There’s no denying that your bike has it a lot tougher in the winter months, so you need to show it a little more love and attention. It’s a good idea to get a thorough service in order to make sure that everything’s in good nick, particularly the brakes (which must be set up well to be effective in the wet) and the drive train.

A good service in winter is worth it's weight in gold
A good service in winter is worth it’s weight in gold

Once everything’s running smoothly regular maintenance is vital to keep things that way and to get rid of the grit and grime that is thrown up from wet roads. You won’t always feel like spending an extra five minutes cleaning your bike once you get home, but making the effort once in a while will be worth it in the long run.

Nothing makes the cyclist’s heart sink like the dreaded P-word, so to avoid having to utter it, invest in some tyres with decent puncture protection. It’s also a good idea to check your tyres every so often for bits of grit, stone or glass that have lodged in the rubber. Often these don’t cause a puncture immediately you ride over them, but can work their way down over time, so a quick once over can actually prevent flats. Wider tyres will give better traction in slippery conditions, as will running them at a lower pressure. A recommended pressure range for tyres is given on the sidewall.

When riding on wet roads the biggest enemy to your comfort is the water sprayed up from the wheels that, if unchecked, will soak your back and legs in no time. Mudguards will stop the worst of this, particularly if they are the close fitting type (see this guide), and the cyclist behind you on the road will have reason to thank you too.

Clothing

If you don’t already own them you’ll want to go shopping for a waterproof jacket and a pair of gloves. Even on the coldest days you should avoid wearing too heavy a jacket. You might be surprised by how much warmth you generate cycling and a thick overcoat will soon have you overheating. The jacket doesn’t necessarily have to be a cycle specific product, although these will tend to be cut differently (long in the arms and long at the back) to suit a stretched out riding position.

Hands are particularly susceptible to wind-chill and so as soon as the mercury starts to drop it’s on with the gloves. Specialist cycling gloves will have extra padding on the palm, dampening vibrations from the handlebars. Another useful feature built in to some gloves is a section of towelling material that can be used to wipe away sweat and rain.

Apparently it’s not true that most body heat is lost through the head, but having a chilly bonce is undeniably not much fun, so a warm hat is a must. For helmet wearers an underhelmet hat can be a good option.

Visibility

Good lights, front and rear, are essential for winter riding. Bright clothing also improves visibility, although if fluorescent jackets don’t meet your style criteria a less garish garment with some reflective elements built in might offer an acceptable compromise.

The other important way to make sure you are seen is to ride confidently.  Riding too close to the kerb, dipping in between parked cars, and filtering on the left of queuing traffic will all reduce your visibility to other road users.

Technique

Riding in the wet and the dark presents its own challenges but shouldn’t be too daunting for the confident rider. Many techniques which are good practice in all weathers become even more so during winter.

As noted above, for reasons of visibility it’s never a good idea to ride too close to the kerb. What’s more, in poor conditions, rainwater, grit and other debris collect in the part of the road adjacent to the kerb and can cause punctures and accidents. Potholes should be avoided, as, when filled with water, it can be impossible to gauge their depth. Take extra care also when riding over painted lines and metalwork in the road, as these can become much more slippery when wet.

Cycling in Winter
Cycling in the snow by Colville-Andersen

If you find yourself riding on ice, as can sometimes happen, try not to panic. Stop pedalling, ride in a straight line, and avoid braking if possible as grabbing a lever will tend to be the quickest way for you to meet the ground.

What’s my motivation?

Years of experience cycling every day in London confirms that complete soakings are less frequent than you might think. You can expect somewhere around 6-8 of them in a whole winter’s worth of Monday to Friday commuting.

And when the going really does get tough, try to focus on the benefits you will have already accrued through you choice of transport. The money saved, the fitness gained, the calories burnt.

So you see, there really is no such thing as bad weather.

There’s safety in numbers and the numbers are growing

When I first started commuting by bike in London fifteen years ago, it seemed a fairly lonely pursuit, with fellow cyclists few and far between. Nowadays if you travel on a busy route into the capital you’re likely to find yourself in a peloton several dozen strong, packed into the advanced stop box at traffic lights.

Cyclists travelling into London during rush hour will outnumber drivers doing the same within the next few years

So claims a recent report from Transport for London, if current trends are maintained. The full report can be found here, and the BBC has covered the story in the form of an experimental new video format (less exciting than it sounds).

TfL described the change in commuting behaviour as “a feat unprecedented in any major city”, which might be overdoing it a bit, but there’s no denying that the period in question, 2000 to 2014, has seen an enormous shift in the ways in which people choose to move around London.

Commuter crowd

Numbers of drivers entering central London each day have more than halved over that period, in no small part thanks to the introduction of the congestion charge in 2003. Even more dramatic has been the rise in numbers of cyclists, trebling from 12,000 to 36,000, with an acceleration in that growth from 2008 onwards.

This is good news for the city as a whole for a number of reasons. It should help to improve London’s poor air quality, as well as having an overall positive impact on the health of the population. Evidence of more cyclists on the roads also creates greater impetus for higher levels of investment in cycling infrastructure to accommodate their growing ranks.

We’re safer in numbers

For each individual cyclist there is a further crucial effect – the more cyclists there are on the roads, the safer cycling becomes. A number of studies has shown that steep increases in cycling can actually result in a reduction in the number of cyclist casualties on the roads. This study for example, which compared a number of cities in the US and Europe, concluded that motorists are less likely to collide with someone cycling or walking if more people cycle or walk.

The precise reasons for this are difficult to pin down, but it seems likely that motorists adjust their driving in the presence of greater numbers of bikes, because they are more aware of cyclists, are more accustomed to how cyclists use the roads, and perhaps because each driver is statistically more likely to also be a cyclist.

The “safety in numbers” effect has an obvious if initially counterintuitive outcome; that increasing the number of cyclists on London’s roads is an effective strategy towards making cycling safer. Of course the number of deaths and injuries to cyclists remains unacceptably high, but statistically cycling is not a particularly risky activity, and the more people get on their bikes, the safer it becomes.

Cycle Confident wins Excellence Award

PRESS RELEASE  25 January 2016

Cycle Confident has been named winner of the Outstanding Educational Service category at the 2015 Global Business Excellence Awards.

Cycle Training Award

Cycle training provider, Cycle Confident, has been recognised by The Global Business Excellence Awards for its innovative and inclusive approach to cycle training and for championing the safe and widespread use of bicycles on London’s roads.

The company, which is London’s largest cycle training provider, was the winner in the ‘Outstanding Educational Service’ category at The Global Business Excellence Awards. Previous Global Business Excellence Award winners include The Royal Bank of Scotland, Vodafone, Transport for London, Thomas Cook and Bupa.

The GBE awards has a large panel of independent expert judges who select winners according to strict criteria for each category and sector, focusing on financial results, innovation, customer, employee, investor and community benefits.

Commenting on Cycle Confident, the chairman of the judges said:

“With more and more cyclists taking to the road in London, Cycle Confident is doing a brilliant job at providing road safety and bicycle mechanics training to youngsters, adults and older riders. It is also providing much-needed training for HGV and van drivers helping them to become more aware of cyclists on the road. Anything that is being done to make our roads safer is great news and Cycle Confident has to be commended for making a major contribution to road safety across the city.”

Due to its high profile, the Global Business Excellence Awards attracts a wide range of entries from across the world, from large international PLCs and public sector organisations to dynamic and innovative SMEs. The winners all have one thing in common – they are truly outstanding at what they do.

Upon receiving the award, Cycle Confident managing director, David Showell, said:

“This award recognises not only the tireless and outstanding work being done by everyone at Cycle Confident, but also the increasingly important role that education and training play in keeping cyclists safe on city roads. While we are hugely committed to the community focus wherever we work, we also have sights set firmly on the global scalability of the benefits we’re achieving. We are immensely proud to win this award which recognises the impact Cycle Confident is making on this sector.”