It’s strange because on the face of it London ‘gets’ cycling: there are blue-painted bike lanes on some busy roads, little boxes at traffic lights for bikes to stop in, you can take your bike on the train across town much more easily than around my neck of the woods and they organise the biggest bike ride in the country. I think however that non-cycling southerners are not perhaps so accepting of sharing the highway with bikes as they are here at home where folks are used to stuff on the road which isn’t neccesarily going at 60mph in the same direction them; sheep, cows, horses, tractors, combine harvesters, ramblers, deer, cyclists, squaddies on foot or in large and very slow military vehicles, fallen trees and collapsed stone walls in the winter, and at this summer holiday time of year lost tourists lugging huge camper vans and caravans around the narrow lanes desperately prodding the sat-nav for inspiration and there isn’t the level of anti-cycling sentiment that you hear about down south, although there is a bit it has to be said. Drivers and people in general round here, mostly, even if they don’t get cycling per se get being outdoors and get that driving in real life is a constant negotiation with others and that the empty roads beloved of car adverts are not what you are ever going to get in real life. A city like London where there’s so much conflict, despite all the apparent advantages offered to cyclists, can’t really be said to get cycling and the organisers of a bike ride who shorten (and nearly cancel if the web chitchat is to be believed which I appreciate sometimes it isn’t) the ride because it might rain are a million miles from getting cycling as I know and love it.
It was great to visit London last weekend, it’s a terrific city in so many ways, but it’s good to be back home. Home is what this post is intended to be celebrating rather than being a stereotypical northern moan about soft southerners which is why I have put up these pictures from my ride this morning and home, as Christian Morgenstern said, is not just about where you live, it’s about where they understand you and I don’t think they really get, either geographically or philosophically, where I’m coming from down in the big city.
Despite the disappointment that twenty kilometres and the only two hills on the route had been taken out of the course by the organisers due to the wet weather inevitably felt by many, especially by those who don’t fully grasp the concept of not riding over a small hill just because it’s raining and who drove a five hundred mile round trip to take part in what turned out to be a diminished version of the billed event, I suppose it is kind of possible to understand the decision after seeing how many accidents there were yesterday, the first one witnessed by myself being a rider in front of me at traffic lights on the way to the start who fell from his stationery bike taking out the lass next to him in the process, and so it is perhaps important to accentuate the positive when it comes to Sunday’s RideLondon bikesportiveride, that curious and rather marvellous fusion of charity fundraisers and weekend warriors, of the newbies and the seasoned, of the eccentric and the takingitmuchtooseriously, the unique experiences that came from this pootle around what even non-Londoners would have to recognise as one of the most important towns in the South East of England.
After all, on what other weekend can you stay in an East London hotel where it is the guests not wearing bike gear who feel a bit conspicuous and self concious, where else do you get the chance to receive free Haribos (and Tangfastics at that, not the usual boring Supermix) from a real live person by buying a t-shirt from the Wiggle shop at the sign-on expo even if the logo does need altering now from RideLondon100 to RideLondon87, what other time can you up close and personal with the Rapha H-van as it doesn’t look like it would get this far north in a human lifetime under it’s own steam, on which other day can you ride the Hammersmith Flyover, the Blackwall Tunnel and scary looking six lane highways which if bikes aren’t banned from them completely you’d need to be much braver than I am to ride them, on what other occasion can you pedal a bike at quite an unfeasible number of kilometres per hour on the wrong side of the road and past every red light through the Monopoly Board place names of the centre of town and push your biggest gear past the Palace of Westmister and the National Gallery to recreate your fading memory of finishing the London Marathon on the Mall all those years ago then drift back to the City along a silent and traffic free Victoria Embankment, so lost in your thoughts and in the views of the river and in the sheer peacefulness of it all that you are overtaken by a young lad weaving precariously on a Boris bike?
The failure of Mayor Boris’s charm and persuasion to ensure the large Atlantic depression formerly known as Hurricane Bertha didn’t dump 50mm of precipitation on his jurisdiction yesterday may be the reason he is going back into parliament to get more powers. Not being from down that way I don’t know what his legacy to London in the non-cycling field will be, other than perhaps planning permission for lots of very tall glass-sided buildings, but I hope this celebration of all things two-wheeled and human-powered continues, if only so I can come back and ride it on a sunny day, finally go up Box Hill, and find out what I was missing.
This blog being tangentially one about tranport and more or less about the North I am probably obliged to have an opinion on HS2. I haven’t done anything on this because it is not really cycling related, I haven’t in all honesty got anything new to add to the debate, and of course principally I couldn’t be arsed but seeing as you’ve asked and seeing as I haven’t got any cycling pictures to post because I have been battling headwinds rather than photographically pootling this weekend there are one or two reasons that immediately spring to mind which would count against me coming out as a ‘pro’:
1. When HS2 is finished the northern terminus will still be quite some distance to the south of where I live so not terribly relevent to me personally.
2. By the time it is finished I will probably have no use for it anyway as I will be too old and poor to travel anywhere, so even less relevent to me personally.
3. HS2 will probably result in the trains I do use suffering a reduction in speed and frequency due to the operational requirements of HS2 and also the capital and running costs sucked from the rest of the network to build and run the new line.
4. Many years ago there was a promise of direct trains to the continent from the North via the planned channel tunnel. These services will still not materialise even when TGVs can travel to Leeds and it is unlikely the new line will even join onto the existing channel tunnel line and it makes me very sceptical of any promises made for any new project.
5. I live a bit nearer to Edinburgh than London so HS2 seems very much a South of England project like cross rail or the tunnel rail link and I can’t help the suspicion that London gets more out of this than the North.
6. HS2 looks like being another Concorde: a glamorous toy for the wealthy only made possible by the tax money of ordinary people who’ll never use it themselves and which may well turn out to be a technological dead end as Tony ‘man of the people’ Benn’s superwhizzo pointy airliners were.
7. I have an instinctive caution against imposing disruptive projects on people’s homes and communities be they wind turbines, open cast mines or railways. I know many of the southern objectors will happily be using HS1 to head off on their skiing holidays without any worry in their mind that this detracts from their moral authority on the subject of building fast new railways but something has to be pretty urgent to justify turfing people out of their homes by compulsory demolition or just by making it really crap to live there anymore and I am not sure if this is.
8. I also have an instinctive caution against putting all the transport eggs in one railway line shaped basket because if it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to there is no plan B.
9. HS2 is a big government project and government doesn’t do big projects well. Government doesn’t do small projects well. Government can’t buy a can of coke from a vending machine without it being late, over budget and exploding in someone’s face when they open it.
10. It is not travel times between the large cities that is the problem, it is the time it takes to get between smaller centres which don’t have direct links, don’t have links which run early or late or at weekends, or don’t have any links at all, not even a bus never mind a train. HS2 is the answer to the wrong question.
I am not, however, an against either. This island is long and thin on a north south axis and it is still laboriously slow to get from one end to the other, or even from and to places which are nowhere near the ends and any amount of tinkering by adding a lane to this motorway or a track to that rail line won’t solve that. The problem needs some imagination. In a park in a town not far away are some of the original stone sleepers from the world’s first commercial powered rail service and folks in the North East perhaps still retain a belief in innovation and engineering that home counties florists and bank managers don’t have. We also have a need for a decent transport system, a need which well catered for home counties florists and bank managers don’t have and we have a railway heritage that home counties florists and bank managers don’t have. On top of that, despite perhaps what experience tells us, we maybe have more faith in the shared and communal than home counties florists and bank managers have.
So my view on HS2 is that the information available is not complete nor accurate enough to have a view so therefore I do not yet have an opinion that could be labelled ‘for’ or against’ and this means I have signally failed in my duty as a supposedly opionated blogger. I would go and throw myself under a train out of shame except there isn’t one for ages now so I will just have to learn to live with myself. For more stories of unfeasibly high speed travel I hope to return to pictures of hills what I have been riding my bike down soon.
Whilst my bike, along with many up and down the country, rests idle while these islands rapidly descend to join our cousins across the North Sea below sea level tonight it’s hard to find anything to look forward to although being a grounded bike rider is nothing compared to being flooded out and dependent for assistance on a washed up politician from the Blair era, putting a Labour party former minister in charge of protecting life and property being on a par with making Freidrich Paulus president of Stalingrad Civic Society in the dubious public appointments department. Fortunately my thoughts are able to turn to summer and riding the route of the 2012 Olympic bike race which I found out about whilst channel flipping last August and thought might be fun. I’ve paid my entry fee and booked a hotel. Now all I need to do is try and ride my bike a couple of times between now and August in the hope it doesn’t seize up from lack of use completely rather than just look at it forlornly in the kitchen, headlamps gazing morosely at the lino as the rain, former bits of trees and Kansas farmgirls beat against the windows. On the plus side the frequency with which the lights are flickering suggests I won’t have to look at it much longer.
People often say Londoners aren’t very helpful to visitors but I think it’s great the way all districts of London have the word London prefixed to them so out of towners can be sure they are booking hotels near the centre and not in some similarly and misleadingly named location which is actually miles away and so I’ve made my reservation in the ancient borough of London-Stansted which the receptionist assured me is just a short ride in to the city. It’ll have to be as I had to promise to leave them my car to help settle the cost of a room for the night.
Place in the ride and city centre penthouse suite secured I’m still just a little unsure how I’ll adapt to the conditions down south. The streets of London are paved with gold, unsurprisingly given the proportion of the national income we all pay them in tax, and I don’t know if you need special tyres for that or if the Continental PotholePro6000s I use at home will even be allowed by the very long list of rules designed to prevent terrorists, who for doctrinal reasons always carry out their attacks on bikes without plastic plugs in the end of the handlebars so if you enforce tidy bar tape you thwart their evil plans and make the world safe for democracy, infiltrating the festivities. The other big challenge is that London is flat and this won’t necessarily suit my riding style which is to walk up hills, coast down them and generally ride for hours without ever turning the pedals. I’ve taken a leaf out of the pros’ playbook though and have been carefully studying videos of the route to get a feel for what I’ll be up against.
I’m also still unsure how I managed to get into an oversubscribed ride that left so many keen riders who tried to enter as frustrated as a flooded out householder on the phone to the Environment Agency but I can only guess that my limited interweb skills, as demonstrated on this blog on a slightly irregular but broadly weekly basis, resulted in my accidentaly entering the number of days I reckon it’ll take me to get round the course into the estimated time section hours box and the organisers took my entry to be almost certainly a front for Marianne Vos seeking to relive her Olympic gold medal one more time. Not wishing to disappoint I’ve already bought some orange shorts and in fact I’m wearing them right now to get into the zone. I’m confident if I wear my really dark sunglasses I’ll just about get away with it. The bike riding bit of being Vos might not be progressing very far this evening and geographically, metrologically and something else ending in ically it all seems a long way away but whether I end up in a ticker tape parade through The Hague or in Guantanamo Bay for not wearing a helmet I’m quite looking forward to the big day and I picked up a car load of Heineken on my way home earlier so bad weather or not getting into shape for re-enacting the biggest dutch victory in the south east since 1667 starts tonight.
is it just me or is there is some really strange stuff going on in british cycling lately? Chris Froome (who is british in a never actually lived here but offically he’s one of our’s sort of way) is current Tour de France champion, Bicycling Boris Johnson (who is british in a sort of most implausible character from a carry on film sort of way which isn’t neccessarily a bad thing as we like the seventies here at northernbike) is mayor of one of the most important towns in the south east and last weekend I turned on the telly and the BBC (which is british in a has british in its name but its gaze is firmly fixed over the ocean where its heart lies like the french lieutenant’s woman sort of way) was showing cycling.
RideLondon was a bit of a gift to the beeb to be honest; it was in London, it had the bloke from Masterchef in it (and as this was the home counties probably most of rest of the particpants were from the viewing audience of Masterchef as well), it provided one of their less spurious justifications for going up in a helicopter, and they could employ this coverage to rebut the accusation that the beeb is Londoncentric as they followed the ride several miles into Surrey with almost no concern for their personal safety.
Some people were unhappy about the traffic disruption caused by the ride because London traffic is so smooth and trouble free the rest of the time and some people were unhappy about missing Antiques Roadshow. Some people were unhappy there were too many white bikers, some too many male bikers, and some too many bikers full stop. Some people were just unhappy. On the plus side however it must be a good thing that the existing legacy of the London Olympics to cycling which seems to mostly comprise cyclists being banned from their regular cycle paths by Olympic security,run over by Olympic vehicles or arrested by Olympic police has had something postive added to it at last, and I don’t just mean winding up a bunch of stockbrokers and bankers who couldn’t get the 4×4 out for a few hours, but in a general maybe we’re actually getting somewhere sort of way, so our hats must go off to everyone who parted with their £45 to make most of the rest of us who occasionally ride a bike just a bit less unhappy, only a bit mind, but less nevertheless.