mercredi 11 novembre 2015

Is cycle infrastructure the new helment?

from the new-Fordist-distractions department

The open access arm of the BMJ has just published the results of an ecological study from Canada, where legislators have created an interesting natural experiment by requiring cyclists to wear helmets in some provinces, but not others. The authors claim surprise that they found no effect in either the overall injury rate or the head injury rate between the provinces, though those of us who have followed what BikeSnobNYC calls the helment (non-)issue are perhaps less surprised. Forced by their negative results to admit helmet legislation has no effect on the substantive issue--reducing danger for cyclists--the authors then proceed to claim that "more cycle infrastructure" is the solution. Although they review the literature, they themselves have no data to add, and as the issue of road design and behaviour is fraught with complication, conflicting interests, and perverse effects, I thought they weren't entitled to a free pass at their sweeping and not altogether well-founded discussion.
As ever, when someone is wrong on the internet, I freely composed a comment for the delectation of both the authors and the public. This the BMJ have failed to publish, so, in the best traditions of this blog, it appears here:
These are valuable results and the authors are to be congratulated on their clear presentation.
Given the health and well-being effects of regular cycling, the overall risk of hospitalisation of 622/100 million trips is worthy of wide attention: a chance of ~1 in 160,000 that your trip will end in hospital rather than your intended destination is really rather low, even in the present motor-dominated environment.
However, the recommendation by the authors that more "bicycling infrastructure" is the answer to increasing modal share, thereby augmenting the "safety in numbers" effect is controversial, and is neither justified nor refuted by the evidence presented here. (Cyclists were asked about whether they used their bicycles, not about the routes they took).
My own view is that developed countries already have a highly developed infrastructure that is ideal for cycling called the roads, and that the real problem is negligent driving. Some design features that privilege more direct routes for cyclists and exclude excessive motor traffic (cycle contraflows, modal filters, bicycle boulevards) may be useful, but the real enemies remain excessive speed and drunk driving, and the newer menace of distraction by mobile devices.
Effective measures to reduce these, including stricter policing, driver education, strict civil liability for drivers who collide with cyclists, and proper accident investigation to ensure lessons are learnt, are more important elements for those who would emulate (and surpass) best European practice.
I shall footnote this comment with two more:
1) I am surprised and disappointed at the BMJ's failure to publish the comment in situ, though I suspect this reflects organisational failure to monitor the relevant disqus account rather than any conspiracy to silence me.
2) I suppose it is not surprising that people deluded into a focus on the victim-blaming issue that is cycle helmet promotion and compulsion, will, brought to their senses by the lack of supporting data, switch their allegiance to the unicorn of "cycle infrastructure," instead of the elephant in the room of much-needed motor traffic reduction, better driving-related laws, enforcement thereof, and driver education. These present real challenges of course: but addressing them is what's needed, not demands for a parallel reality of "cycle infrastructure" before cycling can be widely adopted.
And given that such infrastructure is often second-rate while delegitimizing existing cyclists' right to the road, they may be assured that this cyclist at least, will keep calling them out, until his dying breath has been finally drawn.

lundi 5 octobre 2015

Separate development? Or civilised behaviour?

I recently commented on a Guardian article discussing recent deliberate attacks on cyclists in the UK, which uncritically presented the statement:
building segregated bike lanes [is] proven to be the best way to prevent such deaths
 I reproduce it here, for ease of navigation:

Reference required? It is rather a controversial matter. It is true that the countries where extensive segregation of cyclists has long been practised (Denmark, the 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 (paywall, sorry) 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.

Here's a video from the UK of the kind of angry entitlement we can expect from motorists once a cycle path, however unsatisfactory, has been built alongside a main road. Talk about realpolitik! (Cyclists in the UK retain their right to ride on the road, and are not obliged to use any cycle path.)


Thanks to the authors of these tweets for inspiring this post:

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, though 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):