Sunday, 7 September 2014

Cycling Oddity

I often think of songs and wonder if they could be twisted to represent cycling (or other situations to be fair). There are lyrics in this song that could be the internal voices of both a cyclist and a driver:

"Here am I sitting in a tin can far above the world
Planet Earth is blue and there's nothing I can do"

"Though I'm past one hundred thousand miles, I'm feeling very still"

"And I think my spaceship knows which way to go"

"Tell my wife I love her very much, she knows" (Seriously, don't do this, it's illegal!)

"Ground control to major Tom, your circuits dead, there's something wrong
Can you hear me, major Tom?"

"Can you hear me, major Tom?"

"Can you hear me, major Tom?"

"Can you..."

"Here am I sitting in my tin can far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue and there's nothing I can do"

(All photos embedded using Flickr's Creative Commons licence, click the images to see who made the original great images!)

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Drivers - sometimes their own worst enemy

I filmed this back in April. I'd forgotten about it until this week when I serviced a camera ready for use later this week. On the video card I left a small text file of notes, mostly about the mess from the work going on at the Itchen Bridge, this file reminded me about this video and why I filmed it.

I'd had a day off work and walked towards the city centre. Not a long distance trip by any means, a couple of miles from my road on the outskirts of Sholing to the shop I was intending to visit near the Civic. As I walked down Porchester road I saw two people getting into their cars, the general kerfuffle made me remember their cars - not visible in this video but it turns out I passed them over the top of the bridge and beat them on this small distance.

I later saw both the car occupants exiting in one of the city centre car parks after I'd finished my shopping and heading back. It was the same hurried kerfuffle and stress. The "I don't have time for this" isms and the "hurry, hurry, hurry!"

This is sadly normal traffic in Southampton.

This is mid-afternoon. Not rush hour.

Just think of all that wasted fuel day in day out. The above table is from one of the many Hampshire County Council documents you can view online. Most fuel consumption is in the private domestic motor. The fear of public transport - its reliability, safety and cost - has mean't a huge drop off in bus usage here in recent years. Motoring has taken its place.

There are an estimated 52,000 drivers in Southampton. 11,000 people also take the bus, and nearly 6000 at times cycle. This was all reported in census surveys (top of page 37). 71% of Southampton residents are of working age and will need to travel to work in some capacity (page 39 of these 2012 statistics).What is difficult to work out is how far Sotonians travel to work, if they work in the area and correlate that with the potential which I am sure walking, cycling and public transport can offer.

It doesn't need to be like this.

They can't all be travelling great distance to work - we know that the national stats show a majority are within cycling distance. The average commute to work is 15 km or 9 miles. However out of that 58% are travelling 10 km or less. 9 miles is relatively easy to work up to by bike, but 10 km is 6 miles. I easily travel up to 7 miles each day by bicycle to work, it takes a little planning if people want to avoid the steep climbs (some of us revel in them) and one of my 7 mile routes is virtually flat!

So to conclude. What this does do is pose several specific questions:
- How far do Sotonians live from their work place?
- How many work within Southampton itself?
- For those that do live within cycling and walking distance - what are the reasons they avoid said modes?
- How best can campaigners, Councils and others promote the use of alternative modes? And I include motorcycling and electric bikes in there too - they have their uses, too.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Future of Mobility? Or history repeating?

Oh so many companies have tried in the past to say "this new product is revolutionary!" And this new company seem to be making similar bold statements. So lets break things down...

Electric motors are nothing new. In Britain we all remember the Milk Floats, and we certainly all know about mobility scooters. Electric bicycles (of which I am a fan, as I am of electric cars) have also been around for a very long time. All of these are very well established, with the technology being pretty reliable, efficient and cheap already - it is still being improved upon. So the claim "a unique approach to transportation" is a little disingenuous. Alternatives to cars have been around for hundreds of years in the scope of walking, and over a hundred for mechanically propelled vehicular travel.

Yes. Cities and towns around the world ARE crowded and polluted. However the J3 isn't going to solve that - these people already have the option to motorcycle or bicycle. You have to provide infrastructure to win people over. Also, if we're talking pollution - why not just invest in cycling? Its cheaper to manufacture a bike and less reliant on fossil power to charge (though the solar J3 option does look smart, I do admit).

"Don't you hate having to park your car miles away from your final destination," asks Johan? Is there any guarantee of parking for the J3? Or storage if it folds? It is a redeeming feature that it is small.

He claims that the vehicle is stable. However in the single front wheel design of three-wheelers it has long been known that this approach is less safe than a reverse arrangement. This is why many, many years ago companies like Morgan put two at the front, and one at the back - cornering becomes vastly safer. As anyone who has tipped a Reliant Robin over will confirm.

To many people you also have to remember that the car is seen as the safest personal vehicle to travel with. You are enclosed within a metal box. How exactly he works out that his product is "much safer than a bicycle or a scooter" I have no idea. The J3 is untested on the road or within traffic. It is also faster than a bicycle - so that rules out his idea that kids would be safe to ride them around!

Modular design is great. But overcomplicating it could lead to breakdown. Simplicity is the beauty of two wheels for many on this ground. "Numerous accessories... baby seats.. even a roof.." Well a car has those, you've still not convinced a driver to switch yet. The modular design also means you will have to find somewhere to store those platform shelves, that roof perhaps, or those straps... where-as a car is essentially a box. Less faff.

"So practical for shopping," opines his colleague. Any shopping I could do on that I could certainly get on my bicycle! And fueled from apples rather than electrickery.

A number of claims are made on their Indigogo page. They believe they can sell over 200,000 of these within 5 years around the world. That is some ambition. They include the UK in this, but those of us having seen the uptake of two wheels might be right in being sceptical. The UK has been very slow to adopt alternatives to the car - simply because the car is so easy.

They claim a competitive advantage over other modes. "For most of us public transport is unfriendly, unreliable and unsafe.." Rail safety in the UK dwarves that of driving. On-road public transport, too, is very safe (Table 4, page 9  Reported Road Accident Statistics - Standard Note: SN/SG/2198 - Author: Matthew Keep & Tom Rutherford - Social and General Statistics Section).

Average speed in urban areas: Bus or coach up to 7mph? A car doing just a little over... this is down to congestion, true, but how do they substantiate their own vehicle being able to cruise at up to three times that speed? Its wider than a bike and will be constrained by the same density of traffic.

At 3000 Euros to buy I'm not sure it presents any distinct advantage over what already exists. I wish them well but I cannot see this being any different to other company ideas previously put forward.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Cycle jerseys I would like to see

A couple of my jerseys are now getting a little old so this week I began looking online for replacements. I could buy something similar... I tend to like the printed stuff with retro teams or cartoon characters on - the latter always brings a smile to peoples' faces where a work friend this week chuckled uncontrollably on sight of Dennis the Menace... I could buy something plain and utilitarian - two plain jerseys from the well known Wiggle shop would set me back about £25 in total for example.

This all got me thinking. There is a wealth of great stuff that I reckon would look great as a cycling jersey design. Watching a program about Court Sheriffs collecting money owed to the Button Moon creator on the same day made me realise how iconic a lot of kids telly was back in the 1970s and 1980s.

Button Moon in my opinion would look great. Many of the characters are still recognisable and loved by those now grown up. It represents the wonder of travel - specifically space but many of those who watched now enjoying the wonder of cycling.

How about the iconic "DM" and red belt on a white jersey ala Danger Mouse? How cool would that be?

Thinking further of the classic rock albums I listen to: Black Sabbath had a number of logos that would have looked great across a cycling top. Many of us already walk around wearing Metallica, Sabbath or Maiden t-shirts, so why not for cycling? A natural progression.

The crunch of autumnal leaves under your tyres as you whizz about could be a parallel to the crunch of a fine rock riff. Both fill you with adrenaline, get your heart pumping. Album cover design shares some similarities in cycle jersey design. Both have to be eye catching and memorable with both being remembered fondly down the ages...

Classic TV shows could translate well. IMDB lists a hell of a lot of classic 80s TV from my childhood, some of it forgotten for good reason it has to be said, but imagine a Knight Rider top, or riding around with Fraggles on your back! Alf flew into our world in a UFO, he could adorn your chest as you sweat it up that hill.

I'm not so sure Murder She Wrote or Perfect Strangers would translate though. Anyone remember Voltron? That could work.

A work colleague once said that "cyclists think they're superheroes wearing all that lycra!" I was amused to see that some companies have actually run with this. Superman t-shirts have been around for a long time, so it was no surprise to see this in cycling specific clothing. (Note I don't know this company, buy at your own risk) Batman and co are obviously copyrighted by DC and co, so reading this should explain why this hasn't been done so far.

Lastly even some old, long gone companies have been loved enough to be candidates for the chest of the average MAMIL or MALIL (see what I did there) DeLorean, the RCA dog. Wimpy may not be gone but it would be ironic to see them on a sporty top I have to admit.

What I feel like I need now is a cycle jersey generator or template so I can play around in CorelDraw with it all.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Strava and playing dodgems with parents

I'm not exactly the silent assassin, puffing and panting away plus the 15 stone of me in garish colours... yet some idiot decided to push a pram out on me today. So close to making someone childless why would someone even consider not looking left and right first?

I said "that's a bit reckless" and he just shrugged his shoulders.He should at the very least have been thankful of my awareness and braking skills because he didn't even flinch. I wonder is his other half would be quite so blase with their child?

I set up a Strava account a little while back, mostly just out of curiosity. I'm not a racer, though I often ride racing or CX bikes. I'm not really training, or trying to win KOMs. But I was curious how I compared to others. Often when I ride I pass other riders - male and female. I'm getting older now, and slowly the big FOUR O is closing in, yet I consistently pass other riders during the commute.

However it quickly became clear to me that on Strava I'm quite slow. I just don't do enough miles, or enough hills. Part of this is down to the physicality of my job. By the time I leave work I'm drenched in sweat. Knackered.According to Strava I'm ranked 347th in Southampton.

I had to laugh.

A quick trawl through the various routes I like to use also flags up problems I can see with other riders. For example those setting personal records or PBs on Southampton Common. The Common is shared with dogs, people, kids - it is not a road. Even getting King of the Mountains there isn't really on as the hills are not that steep and still, in reality, its just a pathway.

Having said that I have ridden slightly faster on the Common, but never for personal gain or reputation. And I'm always mindful of others. I wont do road speeds there.

Chessel Avenue is an interesting segment KOM on there, too. The fastest I've ever ridden (and that was on a really light bike with great wheels when I was 25 so over 10 years ago) the climb there was an average of 13mph. Its a real struggle, it is that steep! I read on a cycling website that some Strava users are "motor pacing" or even riding on mopeds slowly uphill to get these KOMs. A kind of digital EPO has emerged.

Another is the Itchen Bridge where one side is a normal segment, yet the other has for some unknown reason been flagged as "hazardous". I know this road well and can say in honesty that risk is limited there. The cycle lane is narrow - true, the junction at the city centre end has some serious questions to be answered still - true: but the road itself presents no more risk than any other road shared with traffic.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Results of my Southampton Driver poll

Its a bit of a shame that I could only get 79 responses, however I can understand why people would be reluctant - unless they know the blogger it might look a little odd that an individual would run such a poll. Given that this is a small poll I have to first mention the caveat that it may not be representative of locals. I'd like to see with the Daily Echo or Southampton City Council do a more in-depth survey as they have the power to extrapolate as well as reaching a higher number of people.

The aim was to determine distance, area, and if the driver in question had considered alternatives such as buses or cycling. The majority of responses came through Twitter. I know this due to the many retweets I got thanks to the likes of Edmund King (head of the AA - who very kindly also retweeted my cycling poll), and many people who replied to me via the site. I also managed to get a few from Facebook to join in, yet Twitter users seem more involved with research, surveys and petitions I notice.

The majority of people were what you might call "young", being under 35
Odd that more didn't class themselves as Pedestrian... a reasonable amount admit to car-pooling, too

I asked drivers what distances they drove if they commuted to work via their car. 29% drove a distance that could easily be done by bicycle (disability is an obvious exception). If the buses were cheaper I could see many more using them for the longer distance.

Only one person responded that they drove over 30 miles. 23 people using alternatives to the car is still pretty good however. I also asked motorcyclists what their commute distances were, but so few responded its not even worth putting the pie chart up.

Free parking might be a reason so many people still drive. Despite the many articles in the press stating parking issues it seems possible to me that much of the parking available to motorists is still free. 45 people have access to free parking provided by their employer. Parking, in theory, makes driving easier, and that dissuades bus use and cycling.
Its encouraging that people, no matter how small a group, have considered the alternatives. But its clear to myself and others that things conspire to stop people taking these. I know for a fact that the buses are expensive in Southampton. Even with monthly tickets you're still talking £56. That is over £600 a year.

Cycling is free (once you've acquired a bike obviously). So what are the reasons people give for not riding a bike to work, or a friends:
You have to admire people for admitting they're a bit lazy. 
Regards cycling - in the "other" category:
- one person suggested "bicycles are for children" (tell that to Bradley)
- one person said they need to travel with children
- "Bad experience previously, Saw an accident once involving a cyclist and a bus. It put me off cycling on the road"
- Traveling in from out of town (this is fair enough)
- and one person said they're a disabled driver (again fair enough)

Why don't people take the bus? In the other category:
- "smelly people with colds" (I had to laugh, same respondent who said "bicycle are for children")
- Another person also said "passengers smell"
- "Interchanges are poor, journey via public transport to work would actually be quicker but involves 2 trains, both of which run hourly, and miss each other by 5 mins so results in waiting at soton central for 55 mins each way!"
- "My ex is a bus driver crazy bitch who i never want to run into"
- "Got to take a lot of kit with me" (again this is fair enough!)

The joke responses aside (they still answered the other questions) perhaps there is still opportunity in the alternatives - even motorcycling as an option to reduce your fuel consumption and mitigate parking issues. But we will never know until someone with clout asks, and then more importantly acts.

The rest of the responses are available to view in summary HERE if you're interested.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Solar is an option to limit the need for fracking

It seems clear to me that unless Hampshire and Southampton adopt a more inventive approach to energy demand that fracking could very well happen in the New Forest. Campaigners are now frankly shitting themselves.

"How could the New Forest, a beautiful National Park, be so at risk?!"

Well the answer is complicated yet worrying. Firstly we have seen companies apply for drilling and exploration in other, similar areas of beauty - most obviously in Sussex. Add this in with a constant media message from The Sun and other newspapers about how we "need this to happen!" Someone left a copy of (I think) wednesdays Sun tabloid at work, and ever being interested in what people think I turned to the letters pages - the whole page was devoted to people who babbled on about "green agenda" and how "fracking will make this country rich again".

I fear the truth is this wont happen. Energy prices wont even drop - even Lord Browne has said so. We also have to be suspicious as to why The Sun doesn't print any strong objection to fracking, either in articles or the letters... for example - is there actually enough accessible gas?

For this reason I have sent a letter to the local newspaper. There is opportunity as well as risk but it will take a group effort to stop this by making the alternative far more viable. That letter:

None of us really want to see fracking set up in the New Forest, but the pernicious way in which these companies operate, and the influence they have over the media suggests there is little campaigners and home owners can do to mitigate.

Looking at Google Maps it is clear to me however that there IS space for an alternative: solar power. The mistake made until now is to attempt the same approach as the "Frackers" and place panels in fields. The Google Maps tool allows us to zoom in on our city of Southampton. It becomes obvious there is a heck of a lot of unused space.

Several examples include the buildings that house Decathlon, Argos, Staples and Halfords over by West Quay Road. Ikea who sell panels, still has much wasted space, on the sides and roof.

Toys R Us on Western Esplanade. Vast potential for Solar, even a small wind generator. 

Even the Civic Centre, with its iconic copper roofing has space for unobtrusive solar power. Instead of fracking all public bodies, businesses and their building owners need to get together to thrash out a joint scheme whereby they can buy at discount, install and utilise solar to reduce not only our/their need for fossil but also save themselves on future energy bills.

Only then will the countryside be safe from fracking development.