Thirty Years Biking on the Road

The time has to have come for a long service to cycling blog post. With so much in the wider press, and an upcoming Bournemouth Echo piece on cycling infrastructure this is where I stand.

30 Year History in brief.

Cycling to school in 1983 wasnt that easy, but I did it-Skyways which were flexible BMX rims that turned into pringles when the cool lads did kick-outs were what I saw for months around when the BMX craze first started. Raleigh made the Burner, the Ultra, the Mag and others that I wasnt ever allowed because Dad hated them. Raleigh Sprints were my road ride, coming after the Universal 5 gears and a few others. I probably just rode like the other kids, back then the bikeshed wasnt a place to hang around so locking and having a safe store concerned parents- but smoking was the worst crime around and I didnt get anything tea-leaved until much later. 1985 was 2 years before I left secondary comprehensive, this was the year I inherited an old fixed gear Dad had built. A Gas- pipe- tubed bergundy coloured monstrosity with the nastiest components going was where I first experienced the thrill of fixed riding, the frame was clearly too big for me looking back, but the speed I could get up to meant that this machine got me through the journeys I wanted to make around the Blackpool conurbation as a teenager. All this slowed down a bit after my first SMIDSY in 85, when Mr Henry Ernest Lee (73) carried on to a roundabout I was on at the Amounderness Way near Cleveleys, he probably wasnt on his smartphone in those days but me smashing through the front windscreen must have woken him up anyway. 2 days in Neuro unit went fast and after the customary warnings about the possibility of Epilepsy I got out and started again. Think we were moving back down south then,  so before moving Dad got me an Olmo frame from Settle cycles which he wanted to build up, we worked on it together, for my first proper road bike. Unfortunately that ride was too attractive to Milton Keynes thieves and it got stolen the first day I locked it outside M.K Central station- welcome to the South!

Fast forward to the 90’s and after going through the delightful Muddy Fox period I was in London, 1996. The Pink Aluminium Pro I had found another rider for a price, and I rode a Ridgeback hybrid around in town at first, until finding an old Giant Peleton fixed that had been sold by an ex courier in Notting Hill. Getting on fixed gear in London upped my speed for journeys across town, and the adrenalin rush of riding more than satisfied my keenness for racing. Edgware Road through Marble Arch down Park Lane over Hyde Park Corner to Victoria or the west end hit the spot, this is what couriers did every day so I was just fitting in with other good riders was my outlook. This time living in Elephant and Castle cycling took a certain outlook and attitude, as culturally we were outliers, people in their own groove-then as now there were lots of people who would still always say “why” but that didnt matter, the few pros that hung around Carnaby st and Marshall st on the most delicious looking retro fixed gear track bikes were  pretty unique at that time. Anyway that bike ran for years but I stored it at a friends choosing to take the hybrid to Sydney when I decided to ride as a courier for an intro into Ozzie culture. See my post about 1998 Messenger riding for an academic slant on that period. Survived that then, and with a few months trying cycle touring around Queensland, starting Yoga and first real Mountain Biking experiences more seeds were sown for working in cycling. Assisting with leading MTB rides for tourists in the Snowy Mountains area was my first actual work in cycling promotion, and whilst not getting paid, doing the Ozzie First Aid training where we learnt how to apply snake bandages made the experience original. I had decided by then what I wanted to do for a living.

Years between 2000 and 2008 meant riding experience back in Buckinghamshire, (Beds Bucks and Herts actually) around Milton Keynes that already had built a Redway system for cycling, although underused when the main grid roads are all 70 mph and the new town was constructed for the car. Luton was lively to become a cycle trainer after my London raining by CTUK in 2005, and proud to say I was part of that award winning team when Bikeability was first being implemented in the regions. All this time was relatively low key for cycling awareness in the U.K, we operated in an environment where the Active Travel journey wasnt regarded as anything worth pursuing other than for a small number of  long term staff in organisations like Sustrans and the C.T.C.

Present day.

Since moving to Bournemouth in 2008 working on schools promotion, a lifetimes riding experience feels like it has been worth the time investment as even cave dwellers, thats troglodytes to you now know the benefits of riding a bike. Health, Sustainability, Low Cost and above all Energising, evidence is finally everywhere which brings us to 2013. A year after the pros won more medals for riding bikes than any other sport, cycling is a hot potato. Government and Local Authorities are now being requested to usher in another era for the bike. Through  funding granted by the Local Sustainable Transport Fund wins, across the regions Councils are trying to fit the streets with ways to encourage people onto bikes for local journeys. London leads the way as trickle down leadership spreads into engineers and designers  remits, even five years ago conversations about cycling in Council offices were rare- now they form the core of many employees direction and thats major. I believe a huge ship is starting to steer towards changing the roads for the better, after decades of prioritising  “yes but weve got to keep traffic moving”  (Phil Woolas to me 2007 then minster for transport since sacked) theres legions of consultants and others tasked with getting us onto bikes.

This has to be good. If Bournemouth is to get anywhere in its 5 year cycling plan launched by Councillor Filer recently it has to do the following things:-

learn from the U.K experience so far, Bristol and other innovative areas are implementing schemes that re-prioritise local travel to wards walking and cycling, at the time expense of motoring local journeys. London and TfL are experimenting with redesign of streets and have done more to get people riding bikes cheaply for everyday cycling than anywhere- Dorset engineers have to look at whats failed and the blue paint method of marking cycle lanes seems to be one of the clearest failures. I dont believe total segregation will restart cycleworld U.K, Ive survived 30 years riding roads without them.

The engineers need to ensure schemes are designed with continuity, and this is where it gets hard. We are dealing with Victorian street networks with limited space, sight lines and heavy urbanity everywhere. This isnt going to be easy to redesign, but do it properly, and do it once.

Cycle  training for all road users has to become a norm. We share the roads. These days Im given so much more space by drivers than years ago simply because they can see my awareness as I travel around, skills of roadcraft. I went to Copenhagen in March too, like all the engineers now are, see these folks below, theyre just making an everyday journey, no helmets, no hi-viz, just a journey a bit like 30 years of life on the streets. When the folks who queue every day in and out of every major urban centre can see that its easier to jump on a bike, made easier by re-prioritising the streets then we will get national change. Give it our lifetimes.

We will get there.

Copenhagen street life
Copenhagen street life


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