Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Cargo biking: Every Day a New Discovery No. 3

The freedom of being able to cycle through a patch of congestion (with all due care, of course) and sail off out of it.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Cargo biking: Every Day a New Discovery No. 2

Shopping is a lot easier by cargo bike. As I cycle along the Regent's Park Outer Circle through Clarence Gate at the top of Baker Street, I remember I need some DIY stuff and that there's a brilliant DIY shop in Melcombe Street. On foot, after a day's work, with toxic rivers of traffic heading south from Park Road and the Outer Circle, I might have just thought 'oh, forget it until next time'.

The cargo bike makes the spontaneous shopping stop easy. As the traffic grinds to a congested halt, I simply signal I'm slowing down to stop and roll her off the road onto a conveniently wide bit of pavement. She comes equipped with a frame lock. Seconds later she's locked and secure and I can walk down to the shop, load up, speak to the guys behind the counter without worrying about getting a parking fine, go back to where I've left the bike, load up the cargo box, unlock her and cycle back. The road traffic is often roughly where I left it.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Cargo biking: Every Day a New Discovery No. 1

The span of Borisette's two front wheels is only 85 cm but on roads which have lots of parked vehicles - or roads where vehicles park on both sides of the road - I often have to wait like everyone else behind a box van rattling with either a light load or emptiness before I can move when the lights change.

This morning ‏@K4RGO, helpfully translating from @Ecoprofile's Swedish, provided the following statistic:

Cyclelogistics: 51% of motorized freight transport in cities can be done by #cargobikes

Monday, 26 August 2013

Are We Getting Fat As A Nation?

I was certainly getting fat before I acquired my cargo bike. I sit at a desk all day. I like being thin, or at least thinner than I was. I have never been good at cutting down on food. And anyway it's a double fail. You cut down on food :( and cutting down on food makes only the most marginal difference to how much weight you lose :( :( 

I can only speak personally of course, but riding my cargo bike has, to my great surprise, taken off 5 kg of totally unnecessary body weight in 5 weeks - and I haven't even been trying. I love that Sextus Empiricus.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Borisette the cargo bike rides to the park for some extra oxygen. A peacock stalks over, as only peacocks can, to investigate. This encounter with a particularly fancy bird reminds me of a further wonder of using a cargo bike to transport oneself: I can wear my ordinary clothes. The bike is clean. The lubricated bits and potentially road dirty bits (tyres and chain) are covered. This does not mean I won't clean and polish her from time to time but, day-to-day, she's the most step off and step into the office form of transport you could imagine. And she carries my paper-weighty back pack. PS: London Cyclist has just linked to his blog on bike cleaning on Twitter. You can find it here.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Here is the great and extremely prescient Martin Amis on the great American automobile age:

"The five lanes coming into the city were all blocked and the five lanes going out of the city were all blocked; between these two great metal Mississippis of steam and suffering, of spiritual durance, there lay a railtrack on which brightly lit and entirely empty trains sped past in both directions. No one ever used the trains. They had to be in the cars. Americans were martyrs to the motors; autos were their autos-da-fé. Never mind what cars have in store for us globally, biospherically; cars our cars hate us and humiliate us, at every turn, they humiliate us."

From The Information, 1995, HarperCollins (UK)

Monday, 5 August 2013

On the Dutch and Their Cycling: Do They Really Live on Another Planet?

No, obviously not (see mock questionnaire below). If their cycling culture can add to personal freedom and happiness for all ages and better city function overall (and anyone who has visited NL can confirm this), we can surely emulate this in GB. The RideLondon weekend is over. There was a bit of dropped handlebar, head down racing - not very urban-friendly - but it brought massive attention to cycling. And as @TeamGB said, the important thing was not to win or lose but that "More importantly 70,000 people cycled on car free streets in London & Surrey.” I agree. Experiencing roads in and out of London on a bike reinforces the message "don't just think about it, do it".

My own cycling aims are to get from A to B. Obviously, I want to do this in as safe and stress-free a way as possible.

I'm also interested in getting fit away from my desk. My gut feeling about this - and the gut/stomach complex, directly linked to the brain as it is, is a remarkably astute organ - is that activity slims you down but stress can fatten you up again.

Ergo, if you cycle in everyday urban conditions you lose weight. However, my gut feeling goes on, if you cycle in stressful conditions you will dismount so shaken up and p'd off that you will head straight for chilled lager or three or down to the KFC or whatever foodie emporium hits the spot for you.

Whereas, if you cycle in less stressful conditions (let us not talk about stress free, there being no such thing) it's a win-win. Your personal win-win every time you get on and off your bike.
The Regent's Park landscape scheme matures: years after it was laid out, the designer’s vision can be seen as it finally comes to fruition.

On cycling, once again let me mention the Dutch, the cycling nation par excellence: 

Are they stressed? y/n
Are they overweight? y/n
Do they exhibit beer guts? y/n
Do they look as if they're miserable? y/n
Do they frequent AA? y/n
Do they live on another planet? y/n

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Bicycles At Dawn

It's the Prudential Ride London Weekend 

For the Free
Cycle event, riders can join at any point along the route.

Routes are here.

There was a jolly nice feeling in London this morning - ah, and the air was like wine.

As I cycled around on Borisette, I met few motor vehicles. Many 'family' cycles were out, some looking as if they had been knocked up, with the right technical advice of course, in their back yard and with the entire family, including small tots, on board.

Later, when I told the shopkeepers what I'd seen, most were enthused and even entranced at the thought of loading their families onto one (or two) sturdy bike(s). There's a thought.

The Prudential Ride London Weekend
"a free, family-friendly, mass participation bike ride on closed roads through Westminster and the City of London"

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Thoughts On Observing A Cyclist-Pedestrian Accident in Oxford Street

Oxford Street was crammed yesterday. There were bunches of marvellously enthusiastic shoppers, as well as café, restaurant and pub visitors, everywhere. Cycling back along the Soho-Marylebone section, I saw a cyclist collide with a pedestrian and knock her to the ground. Lots of people came to their assistance. Both were shaken of course, but not injured. It was what we call a 'minor' incident.
        Whatever we deem to be the 'cause' of such incidents: (1) 'she stepped right in front of me'; (2) 'the cyclist was going too fast', it seems to me there is a third factor. The pedestrian was confused. She wasn't English. She was a visitor. In the country where she was born; in the countries she's visited before she came to England, people drive (and cycle) on the right.
        Our system of driving or cycling on the left confuses everyone except ourselves. I wonder what that woman will think when she goes back to Italy: I hope it won't be that she crosses London off her itinerary. I hope she won't tell her friends how confusing the traffic is for everyone except the natives. 
       In the summer especially, but all year round in London, we just have to expect the unexpected on our roads, forget speed for safety, think of the people for whom driving on the right is second nature.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Borisette: The All-Purpose Cycle

I have a deadline so Borisette and I set off for the park, not forgetting to pack some drinking water.

Work largely done, she takes me to a shoe shop that is running a sale of bike-friendly shoes, followed by the supermarket. There's nothing to carry home: she does the carrying.

She's such a joy to ride that every minute spent aboard is productive: I'm getting from A to B but I can also think, plan, relax, admire the view (architects and urban planners would be amazed at how London looks from the saddle), check out the new shops, decide what I want for supper, ease from work mode into weekend mode. Denmark I love you.

I should add an important caveat to the paragraph above. At all times you should be safe and in control of the bike. You can relax but at the same time you must - and you will be able to - pay attention to the road and the conditions on that road. But having said that, there is nothing easier while on a cargobike than to be visible, to check behind you and to take a commanding view of the road.
       But just because it's a relaxing ride, don't let your attention wander. Attention is needed as you get on, as you ride, and as you get off. I learned this today when a moment's inattention as I was setting out had the bike rolling down the camber and hitting the kerb - fortunately at low speed. 

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Cycling While Keeping Your Nose Away From the Pollution Stream

Camden's 2.5 metre width contraflow dual cycle lanes along Torrington Place, WC1. Two point five metres of linear loveliness. Borisette, who is only 85 cm at her widest point, fits perfectly and linear bikes can overtake if they want to.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

More News of Dieting by Bike

Let me just admit that for some reason, my online history for yesterday is full of 'Royal baby' links.

But back in the real world as it were, I continue to save money and lose weight riding Borisette. Minimal effort is involved. Just plan a route, get on your bike, cycle back, and get off fitter.

I rode Borisette on Camden’s lovely dual cycleway in Torrington Place yesterday. Relaxed; plenty of room for a cargo bike (85 cm at its widest point) and plenty of room for linear bikes to overtake. Next time I'll photograph this planning marvel.

Go online as I did and you should be as amazed at the extent of Council initiatives supporting cycling in London as well as Council support for others’ initiatives.

Here are just three of them from one borough: one, two, three.

Transport for London also have a Cycle Journey Planner which I made use of for the first time to plan my journey yesterday.

In addition, I am discovering that Great Portland Street W1 is becoming cycle nirvana with cycle shops, cycle repair shops and accessory shops opening up almost on a daily basis.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Cargo Biking in London is a Little Like Going for a Horseback Ride - But Without the Mucking Out and the Sweat

First sightings of cargo bikes usually occur on visits to cities such as Copenhagen or Amsterdam, in my case the latter. While noticing the bikes, I also noticed the Dutch: straight backs, no tummies sticking out and waistlines to die for - and that's just the men.

I've never really ridden a bike before and although our esteemed Mayor has promised us 'mini-Hollands' in London, all that takes time. There's a whole network of free or subsidised cycle training for adults but since I've never had much of a balance mechanism (yow, those sessions in the school gym), I knew I wasn't going to be much good at learning to balance on a linear (two-wheeled) bike.

Meet Borisette.

With a cargo bike like Borisette, you don't have to balance; you sit perfectly stable on a robust isosceles (two wheels and a box at the front; one wheel behind). There's no need to lower a foot and keep your balance when stopped in traffic or at traffic lights. You have a massively commanding view of the road and traffic conditions on that road. Looking round to check the road behind you is a cinch.

I discovered this the first time I rode one at London Green Cycles (they're already famous). The focus is totally on safety and control of your bike. With this emphasis comes confidence. Instruction is careful, methodical, and unhurried (thank you, Chandra and Roman, for cargo bike professionalism I will never forget). There is plenty of quiet space (just east of Regent's Park in Albany Street NW1) to go cycling round the block to get the feel of the thing. They have a range of 'preloved' cargo bikes, all of which have also been given names by their owners. They also do cargo bike hire. 

So now, as well as my Highway Code, I have a safe, comfortable, low maintenance and easy to ride cargo bike that is a pleasure to explore my city on. And I'll be booking up for cycle maintenance. A girl can make room in her life for spanners.

Naturally, I have called her Borisette in tribute to Boris Johnson who set up Barclays Cycle Hire, an initiative that has changed London.

I took Borisette to the park yesterday - and spent a precious hour staring at grass and resting under cool trees.

Riding a cargo bike gives a feeling rather like the freedom a horse rider must feel. Once aboard, you feel in touch with the moment and, for a short while, serene and in touch with another part of the self. 

Cargo bikes are relatively expensive. They do come completely road ready with 3 speed Shimano gears (7 gear models are available), a coaster brake, mudguards, chain guard, frame lock and bell. I can't really afford one: but I have learned how to switch relatively easily into low-spend mode (baked potatoes anyone?). I am not going to count every penny I save on tube and bus fares but it will be considerable - and it is summer when household bills are at their lowest.

So, what can I tell you about cargo bikes that you don't already know? Any questions are welcome, especially from new riders such as myself.

And the best and most relieving bit of all? Discovering that there is lots of courtesy on the road. After all, put yourself on a cargo bike with that mighty frame around you, and you are very, very visible. 

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Get fitter, save money and lose weight, what's not to like?

Greetings. Yesterday was frankly a bit hectic. I wasn't able to ride my Borisette, as she is called, at all. I'm Sally Crawford and I've just bought a cargo bike. I saw, checked out the safety features, and wrote myself an overdraft.

Three immediate surprises: how great it is not having to fiddle with all that leg down stuff at traffic lights, how easy it is, with no balancing to worry about, to check the road behind, and . . . the number of winsome men who stop to say hi.

Now my capacity for exchanging pleasantries with winsome men is very large. And they abound. Zone 1 is practically Singleton City, so focused are we all on 'work', living in architectural 'shoeboxes' and leading from any organ other than the heart.

It is to be honest rather horrible really just how socially inept we are - or have become - as membership of meetup.com tends to show. There is now another way: relax and get on a cargo bike.

Before signing off for the day and letting you know that cargo bike/cargo biking questions are welcome, let me share with you my biggest surprise of all: the reductive effect of cargo bike cycling on body mass. Well, not so much weight loss as starting to get tighter in all the right places. As one of London's deskbound, what's not to like?

I am ending this first post with a tribute to the bravery of the men and women who rode London's roads and whose lives were taken by motorized vehicles on those roads. May they, their families and loved ones, and the drivers of the vehicles, rest in peace.