It is well known that, to be healthy in both mind and body, it is important to keep active. As Juvenal (55 – 138 AD) put it, Mens sana in corpore sano. These days there is plenty of advice on how to keep active. My personal preference is for active travel, as it is the easiest way to include regular physical exercise into your daily life. These days, when there is an app for everything, there are of course apps to help you lead a healthy life. One that recently caught my eye is the Human – Activity Tracker, not so much because of the slick graphics on their website (although those are very nice), but more because of the data it has collected and presented in the video below -

 

 

The thing that fascinates me about this is the way it shows us the different patterns of activity across different cities, for different modes of travel/activity. At this point it is necessary to add a caveat about the way that the data have been collected. This app is only available for the iPhone and therefore represents the activity of only a small section of the community, but it is never the less fascinating. See more visual data here, sadly Edinburgh is not one of the 30 cities listed.

 

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From time to time I get e-mails from PR people asking me to write something on this blog. Recently the same e-mail from a PR person (working on behalf of a firm of insurance brokers) has arrived in my in-box from several different directions, evidently several people felt that I might like to write something about it. So what were the contents of this e-mail? Just in case you are interested, here it is:

Hi,

With the relationship between motorists and cyclists often being reported as at boiling point, Policy Expert [a firm of insurance brokers] has just published the results of a survey into differing attitudes between the two – with some surprising results.

Cyclists fared well in the survey overall, with 15% of motorists saying they wished there were more cyclists on the roads, and a further 30% considering them completely harmless.

Perhaps more surprisingly, the survey also found that 35% of cyclists believe they should have insurance to be allowed to cycle on the road, and a third of cyclists would drink and bike, with 31% saying they would cycle after having two or more pints of beer or large glasses of wine.

These, and the rest of the findings are available here: [Link to insurance brokers website]

If you’d like to see the full survey results I’d be happy to send those across to you.

Thanks, let me know what you think.

So what do I think about it? Now, where do I start? Maybe with “the relationship between motorists and cyclists often being reported as at boiling point”. Is this really true? In the real world: No. The media like to play up idea of a “war” on Britain’s roads, but no such war exists. There is however there is a problem with a culture of bullying among a few reckless motorists, and the promotion of a casual disregard for the lives of others by the motor industry and its marketing agents.

Before going further, maybe I should make it clear that there are not two different species, one called “cyclists” and one called “motorists”. There are just people using the roads, everyone has a right to mobility, but there is no right to drive. As I have pointed out on this blog before, the operating of heavy and potentially dangerous machinery in a public place is an activity which is only permitted under licence, and with that licence come responsibilities, something I will come back to later.

Having visited the Policy Expert website and looked at the blog post “Motorists vs cyclists – The Results!”, I wasn’t clear on what exactly the point of this survey of their customers was, I can only assume that is was to find a way to draw attention to their insurance brokering service by suggesting that people need to buy more insurance.

You will notice that I am not linking to the site. This is because I have no desire to give them free advertising or increase their search engine optimisation (if you want to find it, there is enough information provided above to search for it). But having been invited to give my thoughts on the survey, I intend to do so.

According to the PR person: “Cyclists fared well in the survey overall, with 15% of motorists saying they wished there were more cyclists on the roads, and a further 30% considering them completely harmless”. What is that supposed to mean? Let’s just look at a few facts here, on average 3,000 people are killed by badly driven motor vehicles on UK roads every year, whereas fewer than two are killed by recklessly ridden bicycles in an average year (and that’s two too many in my opinion). The simple truth is that cyclists do very little harm to others but motorists have the potential to do a great deal of harm to others (both directly and indirectly). It is the potential to do harm to others that caused Parliament to pass the Motor Car Act 1903, which introduced “the crime of reckless driving”, and imposed penalties. It also introduced the mandatory vehicle registration of all motorcars, and made it compulsory for drivers of motorcars to have a Driving Licence (although the driving test was not made compulsory until 1934). This Act was replaced by the Road Traffic Act of 1930, which in turn also introduced the driving offences – dangerous, reckless and careless driving and driving whilst being unfit and under the influence of drink or drugs (although it wasn’t until 1967 that an alcohol limit was set and testing brought in). The Act also brought in a requirement for compulsory third-party insurance for all motor vehicles driven on the public highway. The reason for these changes? The level of harm done to others by the drivers of motor vehicles. The first death caused by a motor vehicle in the UK occurred in 1896, but it wasn’t until 1926 that detailed records began to be collected (in that year there were 4,886 fatalities, bear in mind that there would only have been a handful of cars on the roads in 1926, compared with today).

However, the PR person tells me that “the survey also found that 35% of cyclists believe they should have insurance to be allowed to cycle on the road”. This is rather curious, why should cyclists be required to have insurance to be allowed to cycle on the road? As I have just pointed out, cyclists do very little harm to others, even the results of this survey suggests that they are “completely harmless”, so why would they need insurance to be on the roads? Well the PR person suggests that this is might be because “31% [of cyclists] saying they would cycle after having two or more pints of beer or large glasses of wine”. Um, so what? Would anyone suggest that people going to the pub and then walking home should have 3rd party insurance? Of course not.

Other findings on the “Motorists vs cyclists – The Results!” site include the admission by 16% of motorists surveyed that cyclists keep traffic levels down. This is at least a small positive, but then it goes on to talk about “road tax”, blithely ignoring the simple fact that Road Tax was abolished in 1936, and that Vehicle Excise Duty is a tax on pollution not on road use. The fact that they bring up this spurious rubbish shows two things, one: motorists have a dangerous and unwarranted sense of ownership of the roads (even when the Road Fund was in existence, 1920 -1936, the majority of the cost of road building and improvement came from general and local taxation) and two: that the people who carried out the survey haven’t bothered to do a bit of basic homework before carrying out the survey, so how can they call themselves “Experts”?

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A couple of years ago I innocently put up a blog post asking if there should be an Edinburgh Festival of Cycling? It seemed like a good idea at the time, now on the eve of the second Edinburgh Festival of Cycling, I still can’t believe that it is happening. It is not just that EdFoC (as we affectionately call it) has been listed as one of the UK’s best cycling festivals by The Guardian and Total Women’s Cycling. It’s also that I have been asked for advice on how to run a successful cycling festival by people as far away as Canada and Australia!

As a result of this experience I have decided to put together this wee Q & A:

How did EdFoC start?

Ironically in a way, it started with a mass protest ride called Pedal on Parliament, which in itself started as twitter conversation between three friends. When we started planning PoP, we had to get permission and give an estimate of number of the people we expected to turn up. I said “put down 300 and if 50 turn out we are doing well”. On the day an estimated 3,000 turned up. This made me think that there was an appetite for everyday cycling and I decided that what Edinburgh needed was a Festival of Cycling, and set about organising one.

Is it open access, like Edinburgh Festival Fringe?

Yes, we invite people to organise their own cycling/bicycle related events. The festival acts as a banner for all sorts of events, some are already well established such as the Edinburgh to St Andrews ride (65 miles) and the Spokes Bike Breakfast, both of which have been running for years, but were happy to become a part of the Festival. Others events are brand new, such as the Edinburgh inter-schools MTB championships and the Women’s Cycling Forum (both firsts for the UK).

Are any events run directly by your organisation or is it all community generated?

Yes, the Festival does run some of the events too, we organise a number of talks, exhibitions and the highly success full Night Ride (which has sold out both years and has been described as a “magical experience” on its first outing). I should also point out that the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling Ltd is a community based social enterprise, and any profits from running the festival are invested into grass roots cycling in the city.

Do you have any records of the numbers of participants from the festival last year?

It is hard to know exactly how many people took part in the festival last year, as we had 40+ events across more than 30 different venues, over nine days. I would estimate that there were at least 1,500 – 2,000 people in total. We did gather feedback on the festival through an online survey, which showed that over 80% of those who responded rated the Festival as Very Good or Excellent, which we were very pleased with.

Do you know if participants were regular bike riders or were non-riders engaged with the festival as well?

From the limited snap shot of the feedback survey, we know that most of those who responded were already cyclists, but just about all of them said that it had encouraged them to cycle more. Those who were not currently cycling (and there were a few) said wanted to give it a try again because of the festival.

Up date, a few more questions have been asked, which I have added here.

Do we charge a fee to event organisers for having their events listed?

Yes we have a fee of £20 for listing events (other Festivals in the city charge higher fees), this is something we will look at again after the
festival this year and maybe go to a two trier system, for commercial and non commercial events.

What about events which register after the printed guide has been released?

Here we still charge the fee, as to do otherwise would create an incentive to wait and add events late.

What sort of marketing does EdFoC do to promote the whole event?

Most of our marketing is through social media and press releases as we started with a zero budget. This year we did take out a display Ad in a
cycling magazine, but the budget is still very limited. There is also the printed programme, which we distribute through out the city. This year we distributed 10,000 copies of the printed programme.

Are event organisers expected to do some of their own promotion and if so, do they understand this?

Yes event organisers are expected to do some of their own promotion, we make this clear on the booking form for inclusion in the festival. Certainly most (probably all, I haven’t had time to check) event organisers do some of their own promotion. Interestingly last year we had reports that event organisers had large increases in traffic to their websites, much of which was click thought from the EdFoC website, so they felt that they had seen a clear benefit to being a part of the festival.

Hope that this is some use, of course if you have any more questions, I always happy to try and help.

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Some time ago I decide to run an occasional series called “Trivial fact for today”, it is very occasional so here is…

Trivial fact for today: No. 2 In 1228 the Scots’ parliament passed an act to allow women to propose marriage to men, a legal right which then spread through Europe. However, some historians dispute this suggesting that it may not be true, spoilsports…

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In the run up to the second Edinburgh Festival of Cycling, I find myself having to move large numbers of festival programmes about the place. If I am just taking a few score of programmes to places where people might want to pick them up, that is easy to do with a courier bag or a set of panniers. However, today I was in the situation of needing to move several boxes (there are 150 programmes to a box and a box weighs 9.5 Kg) from Laid Back Bikes to EdFoC HQ, which is quite another matter. That is where the flying bathtub comes in.

Before going further, maybe I should explain that the “flying bathtub” is an affectionate nickname for the Urban Arrow family cargo bike (and one that I came up with this afternoon). Why, you might ask, “flying bathtub”? Well this particular Urban Arrow spent a couple of weeks sitting in the front window of the Cycle Service (where it was extracted from its cardboard box and built into a working machine), as a couple of frame bolts had gone missing in transit. While it was sitting in the shop, a number of customers asked about the “bathtub in the corner” and the name kind of stuck. The reason I call it the “flying bathtub” is because when you get used to the electric assist, it fair flies along (and this is a bike which weighs 45Kg unladen).

This wasn’t the first time I had ridden an Urban Arrow, I had had a wee test ride when the first one arrived in the UK last year…

Urban Arrow in action

… however today was the first time I had tried using it with a full load, in this case 66.5 Kg of programmes. So how did the bathtub and I get on? Well, starting off was a wee bit shaky, mainly because the front wheel is some distance ahead of the rider, which takes a little getting used to. There is also a slight play in the steering due to the nature of the ball joint at the end of the steering rod (see photo below), but within a few minutes I got the hang of it.

You can see the ball joint on the steering linkage to the left of the picture.

You can see the ball joint on the steering linkage to the left of the picture.

The other thing that takes a wee bit of getting used to is the transmission control which takes the place of gear leavers. Unlike most conventionally geared bikes, the Urban Arrow uses continuously variable NuVinci Hub gears. With this there are no set gears, instead there is a twist grip with an indicator window showing a cyclist on the flat. The straight line turns into a hill as you twist the grip. As it is continuously variable, there is no jump between gears as for conventional bikes, so at first you might not realise that you are changing gears, as it is so smooth. NuVinci are right when the say “It is unlike anything you have experienced before”.

Urban Arrow controls

When starting off with a heavy load, it is best to be in a low gear, with the indicator showing the wee cyclist climbing a hill. This makes it very easy to move away, even with the bike fully loaded. Once you are moving, you should then twist the grip to even out the hill on the indicator, until the wee cyclist is on the flat. At first I didn’t realise this and found that, once I had moved off, my legs where spinning round madly, with very little resistance and no increase in speed – as you might expect in a very low gear. I soon learned to twist the grip when I started to feel less resistance to my pedalling, and comfortably picked up speed. This, together with the Bosch electric motor providing assistance means that even with a heavy load you can actually fly along at a fair pace. It should be noted that the electric assistance cuts out at 15 mph (25 km/h) or if you stop pedalling, to comply with EU regulations. Although the route which I took was fairly flat with some slight uphill stretches on the way out (loaded), I found that I could get up to 20 mph (32 Km/h) and comfortably sustain a reasonable speed for keeping up with other traffic. Some drivers had a tendency to underestimate the speed at which I was travelling (but my experience is that also happens on an ordinary bike). This suggests that a VeloCityLight rear light would probably be a good idea.

The control for the electric assist (shown mounted to the left of the stem in the photo above) means that you can vary the level of assistance the motor gives you. This is done in three modes, Eco (the lowest level which makes the battery last longest), tour (which was the mode I was using) and sport. The display also shows the estimated range until the battery is exhausted and will need recharging. I don’t know how accurate this is, but I am told that you can expect to go about 25 miles (40 km) between charges.

Stopping wasn’t a problem either, as this Urban Arrow is equipped with Shimano hydraulic disc brakes (although the standard Continental configuration uses roller brakes), which provided plenty of stopping power even with a 66+ Kg load. The design of the Urban Arrow means that it can be stored out of doors with a cover over the cargo area (supplied as standard). There is built-in security in the form of a frame lock (something I am considering getting for my own bikes) and the electric assist can be disabled by simply removing the control unit. The only thing I found to be bit of a pain is the Dutch insistence on using Dunlop valves which makes pumping up the tyres very fiddly with a normal track pump. If I owned the bike, I would either change the inner tubes or fit adapter nipples (probably the latter).

Overall the bike was great fun to ride, as a car replacement it could be a useful addition for any family. It makes for very practical transport. In fact I enjoyed it so much, I will be taking it down to Round Six of The Pearl Izumi Tour Series (next Thursday) to see if Sir Chris would like to join me for a ride round the circuit. If he is lucky I might even let him ride in the bathtub at the front… ;-)

Errata: Since I wrote this post the bike has had some work done and the steering issue has resolved.

 

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