dimanche 30 août 2015

Sorting out saddle problems

from the keep-dancing-on-the-pedals department

This article appeared in the pages of Cycle, the membership magazine of the CTC, almost ten years ago. It doesn't seem to be easily available online there, and it's still useful, so I'm pasting it here for those in need.

 When I confessed to my own saddle problems in the rather public forum of the London Cyclist ten years ago, I certainly discovered one thing: cyclists' bottom problems are a taboo area. There were lots of giggles for a few months after publication, which fortunately the dignity of my profession enabled me rise above them. The article also proffered the anecdote of my own resolution of the problem--a couple of boils on the perineum. Round town I switched from gel to sprung leather, and, on long distance rides, adopted a recumbent. Result: no more problems.
The part of the body that relates to the saddle on a conventional machine is technically termed the perineum. Now, most animals are quadrupeds, and their perineum has less to do, being vertically inclined and acting as the side, rather than the base of the bucket. But humans' upright stance makes the pelvic outlet (as it is known) an insoluble conflict between ease of labour in childbirth and mechanical efficiency when walking on two legs.
The umbrella of muscles suspended from the inside of the pelvis and sacrum collectively is known as the pelvic floor. In men its only defect is the anus, but woman need the space of the birth canal too. Hence, as is widely understood, the adult female's broader girth about the hips, on average, than males.
This fact of nature—the distance between the ischial tuberosities that form the lateral bony boundary of the pelvic outlet—is an important variable in saddle selection. Best bought in person, grasp the demonstration model in the shop, and bring it firmly into alignment with the your ischial tuberosities there and then. Any saddle whose widest part is narrower than this distance runs the risk of inflicting pressure injuries potentially deeper than the skin, as the right and left perineal blood vessels and nerves course forward to the genitalia close to the midline. The anus is also in the midline, but its internal and external sphincters are reasonably robust to saddle trauma.
Out of the shop, saddle correctly fitted, the most obvious saddle injury, instantly painful, is an unexpected blow from an unyielding saddle on an unsprung bike. Unexpected road surfaces--I speak of potholes--can result in a stiff biff where the sun don't shine that is rarely appreciated if unanticipated. Usually the pain settles in a few minutes and the damage is minor, but you certainly don't do it for fun.
More insidious but with the same disastrous potential as a direct hit, is damage caused by lack of blood flow when the pressure of the saddle exceeds the pressure in the blood vessels. The circulation of the skin and pelvic floor muscles is rarely a problem in young adults of either sex, but older riders may start to notice problems, with the first symptom noticeably slower recovery and healing times after longer rides.
The perineal skin can suffer local infection at any time, though it is more likely in summer or warmer climes, when the increased transpiration of moisture from the sweat glands encourages yeasty organisms such as Candida, and mechanical problems such as chafing and maceration of damp skin. If you're prone to a spot of groin rot over the summer months it's probably safe to suggest a strategy of a couple of days of rest off the bike, preferably in a sarong rather than a pair of Y-fronts, and the application of a little clotrimazole cream twice a day, while nature runs its course. Hint: a small folding mirror and a good light can be very helpful when monitoring the progress of your perineum through the course of its cycling career.
There's much more that could be said of course, but do so would require longer than the editor allows: consult your doctor if symptoms persist.
Among cyclists who really know about these matters: the randonneurs and racers of this world, opinion divides on both prevention and treatment of perineal problems, but on one fact all will agree: if you're not dancing in the pedals, you are already finished. As to the merits of padded shorts, the application of pre- and post- ride ungents (such as Vaseline), or specially-shaped saddles (once the basic requirement of physical fit has been satisfied), none agree, as you would expect from the ruggedly individualistic body of cyclists.

samedi 1 août 2015

On the road to cycling hell

This is a translation of an original post I published in French here.

"Be careful what you wish for: it might just come true one day..."

We, as London cycle activists, were always careful not to fall into the pockets of the road engineers and planners, whose responsibility was always for "the possible." We, on the other hand, were struggling with "the impossible"—the end of car culture in town, with its impossible demands for space, its danger and pollution. My vision is still to reclaim the roads for the cyclist, and leave the pedestrian unmolested on the sidewalk. And the Dutch method of "cycle apartheid" has absolutely damn-all to do with promoting cycling; rather it is a dangerous source of oppression.

It's true that planners can do useful things for cyclists: allowing cycle contraflows in one-way systems for motor vehicles (the principle of cycle permeability), and reducing speed limits on roads where necessary. But if each "advance" is accompanied by a degradation, such as, for example, the appearance of "No cycling" signs on roads with cycle paths alongside, one begins to doubt the good faith of the authorities. (This happened in 2012 around Nantes, on the D39 between Nantes and Sucé-sur-Erdre, the D75 between Indre and St. Herblain, and the D107 between Chantenay and Indre).

So I went to a meeting organized by Place au Vélo (Nantes' most significant cycling organisation) to hear a talk by the author and transportation journalist Olivier Razemon yesterday evening, and to criticize their strategy.
I spoke up against this pavement cycling (and separatist infrastructure) during the meeting.

I began my remarks by quoting the aphorism "The road to hell is paved with good intentions", and my opinion that, in the seven years I have lived in Nantes, conditions for cyclists have worsened. And I read an extract from Olivier Razemon's latest book to illustrate the true problem which prevents sharing the road:
"We've all met, at least once, an arrogant, overweight driver, steering wheel in one hand, the tyres of his 4x4 squealing, as he accelerates towards pedestrians, while giving the finger to cyclists."

(They're certainly more common in England, hence my preference for life in France! And the beautiful strict liability law—the loi de Badinter—passed in 1985, gives strength to the cyclist's elbow as well). And I asked Olivier Razemon, and the auditorium in general, if we were ignoring the true problem, that he so expertly describes, whilst scrabbling round in the details of local authority expenditure on street design, with €80 millions budgeted to the year 2020, etc, etc.? Behavioral problems are solved by education and the law, not just road design.

I didn't say at the time, though I might have, that one could justly revise this extract to read "Everyone has already met, at least once, a fit, arrogant cyclist holding the handlebars with one hand, tyres skidding, as he accelerates towards pedestrians, middle finger held aloft to drivers," as a reminder of the new daily experience for crossing pedestrians since Nantes' main north-south cycle route was laid past Commerce. The enemy isn't the transport mode chosen, nor the road design nor its marking: it's the users of wheeled vehicles who lack respect for others.

I think my French was sufficiently fluent to express my ideas, but I don't think my intervention was particularly welcome. The president of Place Au Vélo contradicted my remarks by expressing his affection for the now obligatory cycle path running alongside the D39 to Sucé, and made an ad hominem remark, that, as I was already a convinced cyclist, I was not part of the group of new cyclists they were looking for.

I'm certainly familiar with this line of argument from my time in England, but, to speak frankly, it's bullshit. I have no problem with a choice between a cycle path and the road. But why do you have to make the cycle path compulsory? Because it is inferior.

And there you have it: that's how the rights of cyclists are trammelled whilst claiming to enhance them! It's a manoeuvre of Fordist political genius. The Fordists never forget their fundamental principle: everybody must drive a car. Pedestrians and cyclists alike are an insult to this principle. What could be better then, than to mix them together on the sidewalk in conflict with one another, while leaving the road clear for the real travellers? And if the cyclist has the temerity to continue to use the road when there's a cycle path alongside, give him a good blast of the horn, the rebel! Defenders of cyclists' rights? I don't think so!

mercredi 29 juillet 2015

Rohloff sprocket yields to custom chain whip

from the down-the-vet's department 

So I ordered a new sprocket for the Rohloff, and the special tool to remove the old one, from Bike24. This admirably clear instructional video had given me confidence that replacing the sprocket would be a straightforward job:

The chain whip tool I've long owned is about 30cm long, but when I tried it as recommended in the video, it was clear that it wasn't going to budge the sprocket. I began to develop a serious case of chain whip envy: that man's in the video is simply enormous! Also, I didn't have a 24mm spanner, and an adjustable spanner just isn't as good to use. So, inspired by this video:

I decided to make my own chain whip tool (and score myself a 24mm spanner).

Tracking down the steel flat bar required to make the chain whip tool was the biggest part of the job. A physical copy of Yellow Pages turned out to be more useful than my online searches, which just tended to pull up endless cheesy business directory sites. Anyway, I can highly recommend Blanchard Matériels Industriels (SARL) in Vertou, who were very helpful, even though 45cm of 4 x 25mm mild steel flat bar for €2,65 may not be the biggest order they've ever fulfilled.

Then it was up to Ouest Injection for the correct spanner (the Kraftwerk brand, pleasingly), and home in time for tea! The sprocket had been marinading in WD40 all day, but even with the new longer chain whip it wouldn't budge, despite applying hideous amounts of force. I decided to try heating the sprocket with the Camping Gaz stove. The ensuing WD40 fireball certainly impressed my admiring family audience. Finally, I dipped the sprocket in a bucket of boiling water (holding the wheel horizontally), and at last it yielded. So I have now fitted the new sprocket. You can see the old one, seriously worn, with two missing teeth, lying on the red cloth in this pic:

From top to bottom: Rohloff-hubbed wheel with new 16-tooth sprocket fitted, new 45cm chain whip, old 30cm chain whip, new 24mm key, old adjustable spanner, old sprocket, grease, link extractor.

Oh, and I agree with the commenter below the "make your own chain whip" video that it is crazy to use M3 bolts to secure the short lengths of chain to your flat bar. Using the original chain rivets works perfectly well. According to my vernier, the chain rivets are 3.84mm in diameter, so holes drilled to 4mm diameter in the flat bar were just fine. After a false start placing the holes slightly too far from the edge of the bar to accept the chain links easily, I started over, and hid the bodged holes under the handle tape. You can't use a rivet extractor to resite the rivets (the bar is in the way), but a few careful taps with the ballpeen hammer slid them into place excellently well.

lundi 20 juillet 2015

A brief note on street "closures"

from the opened-for-other-uses department

Using my mother's Mac for a couple of days, and I just rediscovered this comment that I wrote last summer. A Sheffield cyclist had posted a nicely illustrated blogpost of human powered traffic on the streets immediately after the Tour passed there last summer, and was asking for more of it. 

>At least two callers [to a local radiostation phone-in] have suggested that we need to close the roads more often

As you have so vividly illustrated, when we close roads to motor traffic we *open* them to other more convivial uses such as chatting to the neighbours, evanescent art projects, walking, cycling, and even bicycle racing.

This point may seem pedantic, but if, as a cycle campaigner, you fall in with the dismal motor paradigm that does not even admit of a choice in the matter of use of public space, then you are already losing before you begin. Reclaim the roads!

Please note also that there is a large and influential lobby of businesses connected with the provisionment of motor traffic in all its glory--motor vehicle manufacturers, oil multinationals, civil engineering firms etc etc--that would be extremely threatened by the widespread adoption of cycling. As the clamour against road deaths rises, second line measures such as exporting all cyclists to a imagined parallel universe of cycle infrastructure offer false promise of reduction in danger for cyclists. In fact, junctions--the principal source of collision risk for the cyclist--become more complicated, and are arguably, in the absence of modifications in driver behaviour, more dangerous.

The policy of separating cyclists from other traffic also has the highly desirable effect--for the motor lobby--of delegitimising cyclists who ignore inferior infrastructure and continue to ride on the road.

These points may seem to be slightly pedantic, but to paraphrase Richard Stallman, please don't ever embody in your words the assumption that the only traffic is motor traffic, because if you presuppose that reclaiming the roads for other uses is impossible, and that's embedded in your way of speaking, then you'll be working very much against that. And the big picture third paragraph attacking big business is a classic Beezer tactic: just hoping to change one person's mind, just once, at a moment when they might just be ready to. And that is why I write comments, even if they are considered the lowest form of internet literary life.

mardi 30 juin 2015

French anti-austerity poll for July 5

Like to vote in the July 5 referendum on continuing Greek austerity? French activists have arranged a poll for you:

(Yet again we see politically convenient dysfunctionality on Twitter):

the true secret of cycling

from the three-at-last department

My guru used to ask "What are the two best things about cycling?" and expect the reply "Pain and suffering." But I, diddling sneakily on a triple, used to wonder what he was on about.

lundi 22 juin 2015

Taking the high road

from the they-don't-have-hills-do-they? department

Everyone who is sincere about encouraging greater use of the bicycle and less use of the private motor vehicle in the urban environment is naturally interested in the experience in the two countries where this tendency is most advanced: the Netherlands and Denmark. But the trend to copy those countries' cycle infrastructure with seemingly minimal consideration about whether this is appropriate for its new locality is highly questionable.

Here in Nantes such separatist infrastructure is proliferating, with, in some cases, bans for cyclists who use the (superior) road alongside, so I do question it. A good example of this regrettable tendency is the two-way cycle track that has been laid parallel to the D75 which runs from the village of Indre, at sea-level on the Loire, to Orvault, ten kilometres north. Orvault bourg is fifty metres above sea-level. To get there, you climb out of the Loire valley, and up onto the lip of the Massif Armorican. This is considered a mountain range by the geologists, though it's a low one.

It's not quite true to say they don't have any hills at all in Holland or Denmark, but basically they don't. In the Netherlands, according to Wikipedia, half of the country is within one metre of elevation above sea level, and another quarter below. Now ask any cyclist: "Do hills make a difference?" Duh!

I rode the D75 last Saturday, and on its rather abrupt climbs and descents reflected just how inappropriate a narrow cycle lane is for such circumstances. Of course the D75 itself is beautifully engineered and smooth, as is normal in France, but the separated cycle lane is narrow, and there is no separate provision for pedestrians who are, admittedly, few. One is obliged to stop (stop line + stop sign) at even the most minor crossings (a hotel entrance, a farm road etc). Entries and exits to it from the major roundabouts are awkwardly angled. I don't have a speedo on the bike, but I'd guess I'd usually go about 45 km/h on the descents. Such a speed is safe enough on a road designed for motor traffic, but the reduced sight lines on the cycle path, and the loss of priority at side roads would make such speeds folly on the cycle path.

On city streets, I guess, I am mostly resigned to playing my part in the charade of motor traffic reduction. If you narrow the carriageway, motorists will drive more slowly, which is safer for everybody, and the so-called "cycle infrastructure" which serves as cover for this reduction in available space for driving is, I suppose, potentially progressive. I've scored a pair of 2-inch wide Schwalbe Kojak tyres for bouncing around the assorted kerbs, tiles, cobbles, and lumps and bumps that Nantes' mayor seems to think we cyclists will enjoy, and I'll certainly be hopping off the cycle path and onto the carriageway as I see fit.

I plan to continue to use the carriageway if I desire brisk progress though, and out in the countryside I'm damned if I'll be chased off France's excellent departmental road network: being able to ride on it is why I moved here.

Happily my fellow lycra-clad compatriots agree: there were quite a few of us roadies still using the road, and quite a few Sunday riders on their mountain bikes on the path (with assorted joggers and dogwalkers). That, it seems to me, is as it should be, though I shall continue to investigate how to reverse the cycling bans on the D75, D39 and D107. A clear statement by the mayor that "of course the paths are for the new cyclists," and "naturally we have no desire to impinge upon the traditional rights of existing cyclists," would be useful (and they can take those "No cycling" signs down while they're at it).

In an attempt to better understand the kind of cyclist who thinks separatist infrastructure would be a good idea, I'm following a few exemplars of the type on Twitter, and trying to understand their point of view. One wears a helmetcam as he commutes on busy A-roads around Glasgow (@magnatom); another is a cycling mother who wants to ride on the road with her four year old in Hackney (@bikesandbabies); and a third a Tyneside cycle campaigner who has a German cultural perspective (@katsdekker).

All three share a touching faith in "better cycling infrastructure." I don't disagree with this for major roads (where there are angled slip roads), but if you were to ask me to increase cycling levels as a policy objective, I'd suggest fewer cars, more courteously driven, and better training for cyclists, not some fantasy parallel reality imagined into being by the most anxious cyclists out there. Cycle training is easy for policymakers to pay for. What is not readily legislated for, but what is really required, is greater respect and courtesy from drivers towards cyclists. Strict liability laws would help. So when Kats Dekker suggested on her blog that:
We should be listening to the people who we want to see cycling in the (near) future i.e. the 97%, and make them the subject of our city cycling research – through their eyes can we see the “real” world. Due to circumstances beyond their control, the current cyclist had to turn a blind eye. The current cyclist is desensitised – not by making a conscious decision.
In other words, ignore the 3% of people who actually do cycle when formulating cycle policy, I did feel impelled to respond:
It is true that a perception of danger is the main reason that non-cyclists cite for not cycling. But people say many things. Yer Conservative voter was famously reticent with the pollsters in the run-up to the recent general election for example. But the underlying problem is that it is not normal to cycle. Most people consider themselves to be normal, and would like to drive a car they've seen advertised on the telly.

As for the minority who do cycle turning "a blind eye" to danger: I doubt that this is true, or they wouldn't be cyclists for very long. Existing cyclists have learned to take their place in the traffic. Yes, road conditions can be demanding, and we can all imagine better. Training helps. "See that cycle lane on the left? Ignore it as you approach the junction!" There: just cut your actual risk of dying on your bike by more than 50%.

Note: if a business is trying to grow, it first tries harder to satisfy its existing customers...

Ms. Dekker has not to date posted the comment, so it is published here on the usual premise that it is rejected comments that are the most interesting and valuable. I note the one (anodyne) comment which was posted under that article seems to have disappeared. This lack of desire to discuss her ideas (which resembles Hembrow's) would be sufficient explanation for her being so mistaken in her views.

Update 0543h, 4 July 2015. The segregationist view is often unquestioningly promulgated in the mainstream press. In an article on the Guardian discussing recent attacks on cyclists, this line gave me pause:
"even as cities such as London and Bristol are, finally, building segregated bike lanes, proven to be the best way to prevent such deaths, the tone of the debate around cycling has arguably become more polarised and poisonous than ever.
 I composed a comment responding to this, but as it appears on the second of ten pages comprising 4880 comments, I suspect its readership there may be minimal. Anyway, here it is again:

"building segregated bike lanes [is] proven to be the best way to prevent such deaths"
Reference required? It is rather a controversial matter. It is true that the countries where extensive segregation of cyclists has long been practised (Denmark, Netherlands) have markedly better safety records than their neighbours. They are no paradise though: there are still 200 cyclist deaths a year in the Netherlands, for example.
But their segregated networks have been obtained at a certain price: the exclusion of cyclists from many parts of the road network (and its superior surfaces and direct travel lines), and slow and complicated junctions.
A Canadian study has showed higher accident rates for cyclists who habitually use footpaths rather than the carriageway. (Most collisions happen at junctions. Footpath (and cycle lane) users generally find themselves at a positional disadvantage with respect to the traffic flow just when they most need to be correctly positioned.)
A pre-eminent Dutch road safety expert has just published a paper (1.7MB pdf) admitting that, in part, his country's superior cycling safety record is because their cyclists ride more slowly. They have to, on often tight cycle paths. Waits at complicated junctions can be long too.
Building cycle paths does reduce the space available for other modes. Such paths are the cowardly choice of the policymaker too timid to confront head-on the reality that the private motor vehicle is a dysfunctional form of urban transport, but nevertheless would, understandably, appreciate less noise, pollution, danger and fewer parking spaces in their town centre.
It has little to do with increased road safety for cyclists though: in fact, life for the cyclist may well be more difficult after they have been implemented, though if this also means fewer motor vehicles in town, this may be nicer for everyone.