samedi 1 février 2020

On laziness


The phrase "intellectually lazy" popped up in my feed recently. It bothered me because merely observing the collocation obliged me to reflect on the phrase's implications for a few moments. A few moments I may have needed for another activity. Mony a mickle maks a muckle!

But I received the words fair and square via feeds that I have personally curated. So fair play to its author (I'd have to search on the phrase to name the author). 

My plan is still to have no plan, though the tenth anniversary of the founding of Cabinet Beezer falls this May, so I've decided to take a 'sabbatical', review the projects I've participated in from that date to the present, and write up the experience. 

Ou bien rien

mercredi 27 février 2019

House of Lords passes the Dutch on the left hand side

 from the department of the eternally hosted comment

I'm something of a Carlton Reid fan—I buy his books anyway—and I'm full of admiration for the tenacity of his career as a journalist covering the cycle business. He is to my view somewhat over-enthusiastic about the merits of separatist cycle infrastructure, but this is a matter for reasonable debate, and at least he does actually ride a bike. So I'm inclined to forgive him when I revisit his site, and find that a comment that I left on a story he wrote in April 2017 about some clueless peer's ignorant waffling in the House of Lords has disappeared. Comments often seem to be the first casualty of website design makeovers, and in this case seems not to have come to my remarks' rescue. So here they are again, now with illustrations.
This idea of the Netherlands as some sort of transport paradise really does need a dose of reality. Firstly, while their overall road mortality compares favourably with that of other European countries, they're hardly immune to road deaths.
All European countries observed a decline in cycling as cars became widely available in the sixties and seventies. While the Netherlands are to be congratulated for arresting this decline better than most, they have not grown cycling since.

Yet in global terms they do occupy one of the most favourable topographies for cycling on the planet.The solution they found back then—of rigid separation of modes—has its virtues, but cannot be unquestioningly adopted in other localities—might hills make a difference for example?
Since the seventies, motorists have not improved their reputation: the ongoing road slaughter, oil wars, an obesity crisis, and pollution episodes can all be laid directly at their door, even before we consider the contribution of motoring to anthropogenic climate change. More thoughtful parliamentarians would be considering how to kick the motors out altogether, not bleating about a few cycle paths.

This seems a good place to note that I consider the House of Lords to be an insult to the notion of democracy, and I'd sack the lot of them if I could. Confronted with such evident idiocy in the legislature, it is natural to wonder how the hell to get rid of one. Answer: you can't. Dictators Peers for life! Ho hum!

mardi 16 octobre 2018

Tickling the Dawes' nether regions back to life

from the threadbare department

The Dawes has been out of action since the end of May, when, feeling a nasty wobble in the cranks while riding out to meet the lads in Cherbourg, I looked down to see my bottom bracket almost dragging along the road. Investigation at the local bike shop the next morning revealed that the threads on the bottom bracket shell of the frame had rusted through: a potentially frame-ending injury.

I ran home for the town bike, which is a more or less acceptable substitute for the Dawes up to about 70km, at which point the lack of variety in hand position starts to become fatiguing.

Anyway, when I got back from the trip, Yoann Loncle of Menhir Cycles was ready to take a look, so I stripped the frame down and sent it off to him. Great craftsmen do take their time, but the repair of the frame (there were a couple of cracks in the stays, and the rear brake bridge had cracked through on one side) was finally completed last week, so it was time to rebuild the bike with the new Kenli bottom bracket. This sidesteps the need for a framebuilder to replace the entire bottom bracket shell, but there is a reason why threading the bottom bracket securely to the frame is superior...

First time around I just bought a second Shimano-fit 20-toothed socket tool, and tightened the Kenli as best I could. However, it came loose on a 10km test run to test the fit of the reassembled machine. I retightened it, but next day's planned ride to Saint-Nazaire (64km) had to be cut short in Couëron (13km) when it loosened again.

More serious measures would evidently have to be taken. Browsing around Sheldon Brown and the archives of uk.rec.cycling yielded some helpful info, but I didn't fancy using metal filler (which is basically glueing the unit in place, probably irrevocably), and 'tapping the thread to Italian fit' and suchlike is certainly beyond my capacities, and I think, those of any known supplier.

So I decided to try obtaining a snugger fit for the Kenli with shims. This is illustrated in this Flickr set. Here's a picture of the new left shim in place: Fitted shim
The shims did seem to give a bit of extra added grip as I tightened the bottom bracket, and I added some Loctite 243 to the Kenli's threads for good measure. Fingers crossed! My legs are awfully powerful and I do feel sorry for any bike component that's got to deal with them. A replacement for the Dawes is becoming a pressing necessity, but I've had a lot of fun on that bike down the years, and I'm finding myself reluctant to accept its demise.

Update 22h18, 19 October 2018. First ride out on the repair entirely promising—maximal mashing of pedals on a 20km loop out through Vertou this afternoon—all seemed solid on my return.

samedi 15 septembre 2018

On riding safely in difficult conditions

from the department of roadspace carving

I follow a whole bunch of cycle activists on Twitter. This sort of post appears daily in my feed:

A cyclist is riding along a busy single carriageway road in wet weather. He is overtaken too closely. The overtaking driver then instantly forgets the cyclist, the road narrows, the overtaking vehicle moves left, and knocks the cyclist down. Fortunately this cyclist incurred only minor injuries, and the driver was prosecuted, though only because the cyclist had video evidence. All most regrettable.

But—and I'm writing this here because the brevity of the Twitter risks rapid descent into accusations of victim-blaming—there are a few learning points for all cyclists. While the van-driver should not have acted as he did, and is undoubtedly to blame for the crash, there are a few things you can do as a cyclist to avoid such hazard.

Firstly, it is a good general rule never to pass a parked car closer than the radius of a car-door. "Dooring" (having a car door opened into your path) is a real risk, and a nasty injury-prone crash if it does happen. Riding wide of parked cars eliminates this risk entirely. But the cyclist in the video is riding too close to the parked cars in my view.

Now, why did he do this? The answer, of course, is that it is easy to feel intimidated by vehicles behind you. Drivers rev their engines, follow too closely, or even sound their horns to try to get you to move out of the way. This is physical intimidation! Resisting it is easier said than done, and requires both mental and physical strength.

But it is the driver that does not see you that will kill you, and the further out into the carriageway you ride, the closer you are to the following driver's central field of vision.

I entirely understand also, that my view is formed from my own experience as a) a person naturally endowed for cycling (a moderately athletic male adult); b) a trained motorcyclist (it's easy enough to take the lane with a BMW R80RT between your legs I assure you); c) a person who sees very clearly that the private motor car has no place in the urban environment in a democratic society, and is willing to put body and bike on the line to state this. Having the physical strength to "keep up with the traffic" in short bursts does make the cyclist's life easier in present conditions. But there is no *minimum* speed limit on any urban road, and as cyclist you have a perfect right to use the carriageway appropriately, whatever your habitual cruising speed. Both the British and French highway codes lay great emphasis on the fact that overtaking is the most hazardous manoeuvre, and clearly lay the responsibility for doing so safely with the overtaking driver.

Secondly, once the parked cars have been overtaken, the cyclist moves left, thus inciting the overtaking manoeuvre. But had he anticipated the narrowing of the road ahead, he could have instead maintained his line to occupy the centre of the narrowed lane, averting any illusion in the mind of the van driver that this was a good time to overtake. Which it obviously wasn't.

And thirdly, having carved that space, should idiocy arrive over your right shoulder in the form of an inappropriately overtaking driver, you have a space to move into, not the obstacle of the kerb immediately to your left.

What is to be done?

Many people watching this video will interpret it as evidence for the implementation of "protected infrastructure" (i.e. a kerb-separated lane for bikes on the offside of the road). But this is not the only possibility, and such lanes create new problems of their own, particularly when carriageway and bike lane arrive at junctions, which become more complex as a result. In practice such implementations tend to impede the progress of the cyclist compared with the progress they might make on the road.
The elephants in the room here (as ever) are the contribution the parked vehicles made to the crash (on-street parking is a curse), and the sheer volume of motor traffic (this can't go on). Both driver and cyclist are victims of a transport "system" based largely on private motor vehicles that is incompatible with an egalitarian society. Driving in town is only even possible because some people are not driving cars. A town where all trips are made in private cars looks like Los Angeles, not Greenock.

And of course the law should be changed to put the presumption of blame on the user of the motor vehicle in the event of a collision with a pedestrian or a cyclist, as is the case in France or the Netherlands. With great power comes great responsibility!

These are amongst the most difficult and demanding conditions that a cyclist could face anywhere. One can understand the popularity of the four-wheeled metal umbrella as a default mode of transport in the west of Scotland, but it's not progressive, and it's got to change.

dimanche 22 octobre 2017

Transparency real and imagined

from the all very well in theory department

Back in August I came across this blogpost—a somewhat generic homily on the importance of openness and transparency in scientific communication. I share the author's optimism that open access to the scientific literature will provide better validation of published work than traditional systems of peer review. But unless this superior access is actually exploited by knowledgeable users, the potential gains may not be realized. Though a blinking cursor beckoned me below the line, the author has, in his or her wisdom, failed to publish my comment. So it must appear here:
Transparency is superior to trust—as long as some relevant person(s) actually exploit(s) the transparency. Look at how long that ssl flaw hung about in Debian, for example:
That was all open code, utterly vital to the security of hordes of crucial servers run by the world's top-most geeks, and therefore, every internet user. But the problem sat there for two years, apparently.
That's an extreme example that did get fixed. Transparency is necessary yes, but unless it's actually backed by readers/critics/reviewers/coders/experts actually looking through the windowpane afforded by it, its value is only rhetorical.
It does mean that the guards can guard the guards and we can watch the guards guarding the guards though. Or maybe McGregor-Maywether.

jeudi 22 juin 2017

Another look at Dutch geography as it pertains to cyclists

from the polder layout department

The Netherlands are often held up as a model for good practice in cycle policy. I've made the point already that the country has a number of geographical peculiarities which mean that its methods should be interpreted with caution when considering generalizing them elsewhere. Of course it is possible, indeed more enjoyable, to ride a bicycle in more hilly terrain than any the Netherlands has to offer. But the techniques required by both the cyclist, and the urbanist seeking to encourage them, are self-evidently going to be different. This much is obvious.
But there are a couple of more subtle points to l'exception néerlandaise that have occurred to me since my pilgrimage to Groningen last year:

a map of 20th century Dutch polders
20th century polders, from Hoeksema (2007)
1) Fully 5% of the Netherlands' land surface area has been added to the country between 1930 and 1968. This often seems to have been landscaped à l'américaine, with spacious boulevards that admit complete modal segregation between facing frontages as much as 100m apart. Time pressures obliged me to admire the splendour of the Almere suburb from the window of a train rather than from the bike, but the desire to allocate huge reserves of space to the motorist there was plain enough, as one would expect from any bunch of 1970s planners anywhere.

2) In a country where for centuries the canals have been the main axis of transport between towns, it may be that it seems quite natural to have a "major" and "minor" towpath. I noticed on my trip last May that very often I received strong cues from the urbanists to travel on one side of a canal-line (which was often a mixed-use low-speed residential street), while across the water I could see cars moving quite fast on a higher speed street. I was cool with that as long as getting to the "right" side didn't take me too far out of my way. As a tourist, naturally I just went along with it, but I could imagine being a local resident with a bike and being daily pissed off by the tortuousness of the route I was obliged to follow. (Obligatory) cycle routes along major trunk roads often jink from one side of the motorway to other, adding significant travel distance perpendicular to the desired direction. This sucks.

We should be clear about all these distinctions when considering the applicability of Dutch cycle infrastructure design to other parts of Europe, where the width of roads and streets (their frontage-to-frontage distance) was determined in the era of horse-drawn vehicles. Horses go home at night, and the carts they were pulling too. So three cart-widths would be pretty much enough anywhere: one delivering, two passing in either direction. On-street parking is a twentieth century curse. Where such conditions exist historically in the Netherlands, they tend to mostly exclude motor traffic (as of course you should). Parallel universes of "protected cycleways" may be an option in new towns and suburbs, but in the vast majority of European cities the nettle of private car dependence must be grasped.

lundi 19 juin 2017

Is there "a Macron effect"?

from the department of curious anthropology

My oldest buddy Dan Falchikov, sometime parliamentary assistant to Archy Kirkwood, and still, I believe, a partisan for the Liberal Democrats, asked me on Facebook what I made of "the Macron effect." I was happy to give him my view, and perhaps my remarks may be of wider interest. So here [lightly edited] they are:
[Hi Dougie, just wondering whether you have a take on the Macron effect? Obviously being up against a fascist meant he was always going to win the presidency but I'm more interested in how he emerged from nowhere to beat the more established candidates. Is there any decent analysis you're aware of?]
He [Macron] was pretty high profile in his role as economic minister in the Hollande administration, then resigned early enough to escape (somehow) the backwash from them being found red Tories in practice. Being President is his first elected position! A first round vote for Macron was basically a vote for the status quo, in terms of the relationship between business and the French social contract; Fillon's promise of deep cuts in public service employment was deeply unpopular, and his allegèd filching from the public pocket also played very badly. Mélenchon played a blinder, and came closer than any true left candidate since the 1930s; Hamon was a lowish-profile Hollande minister, and one of the PS rebels in the last parliament, which does not play well in French culture; so triple whammy for him (6%!). Now that my French is good, I can understand what Marine Le Pen is saying, and apart from her obviously distasteful world view, she is frankly someone who does not have the mental capacity to be a serious politician. The FN vote reflects, in my view, three tendencies: 1) people who are racist ultra-rightists (few, though there is plenty of casual racism in France); 2) people who want to smash the whole Paris political class (cf Brexit); 3) a survey result for the number of people in France who are… how can I be polite? … incapable of analysing competing paradigms.
Macron is a weak king: with a first round vote of only 24%, and a second round win against the FN (with near record abstention and 4.4 million spoiled ballots) he has little mandate for his promise to "govern by decree" if he doesn't get his majority in the the Assemblée (though it looks like he will). Personally I find this promise an objectionable rejection of the constitution, and believe a parliamentary committee should generally outperform a presidential decree. But hey! The fun will really start when he tries to pass his new employment laws, or if he tries to build the proposed airport at Notre Dame des Landes. Macron is detested by large numbers on the left, there will be some very heavy demos, and I will be dodging clouds of teargas here in Nantes. Ho hum!
As for your specific point, his rise is unprecedented, (though he has all the qualifications, did well at ENA etc) but he succeeded in rallying large numbers of young middle class people to get the vote out. There is no doubt he is highly intelligent and capable (and his English is remarkably good for a French person); also no doubt he is firmly in the pocket of the big business/lobbyist complex that really runs France. I guess I wish him fair wind, but the moment he does something really stupid my good will (and many others') will rapidly evaporate. I predict an ignominious decline in his popularity over the next 5 years (though I'd be happy to be proved wrong). Thanks for asking! 🙂
[Was there a particular pitch to the young middle classes, or was it more of a shared feeling/shared values?]
That is a good question, and I'm not sure I have a good answer. My impression is that enough of the French public are suckers for someone who is handsome and clever on the telly. There's no doubt there is frustration with the rigidity of French employment practices, and a feeling that France is getting left behind other countries that manage greater flexibility in the labour market. The difficulty is that in France *everything* hangs on your "statut social", which basically comes down to your employment status. (cf Americans and their pre-Obama health insurance). So any changes to the system provoke enormous reaction. The last round of attempts at reform (la loi El-Khomri, which was basically authored by Macron) caused several riots in the streets here, one of which I unexpectedly attended when I turned a corner on my bike on my way to pick up the boy from music! Eek! The political discussion then becomes what to do about the riots, not a reasonable discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of what's being proposed. (I was about 75% against/25% for El-Khomri myself: I don't see any sense in increasing retirement age when there is so much youth unemployment, for example, but I would be in favour of more targeted occupational health examinations). My impression is that people do follow the big issues along better than the UK public does, but there is also an important tribal element, and Macron benefited from young people sick of tribalism, and feeling stuck in the system. The system is very difficult to reform however, and when push comes to shove I'm not sure that Macron's vote will translate into people in the street backing him. But if he governs by decree and the riot police repress the demos against him, then there will be an awful lot of people on the street against him. Certainly here in Nantes, and probably Paris too.
Update 12h02, 19/06/2017. It looks as though M. Macron and La République En Marche have obtained a legislative majority. May the new Assemblée enjoy peace and good fortune in its deliberation of the public interest!