Spot the Difference…

As I waited at some traffic lights on my bike tonight (yes, we do stop at red lights) and they turned to green, another rider passed me with a cheery hello.  Half a mile up the road, as it turned into a grind uphill, I passed him and returned the greeting.  I was riding quickly up the hill but was conscious of him sitting on my wheel and staying with me.  Another mile or so and the lights turned red and we both stopped (yes, we do stop at red lights.)

“Great workout that mate,” he said to me, grinning.  I apologised, explaining that as it was Friday I just wanted to get home.  The lights turned green and off we set again, in single file, but still chatting.  As I came to my turnoff we wished each other safe rides and I continued home.

Now, during that ride home there is a section where the road goes from two lanes into one.  Some cars in the left lane were queueing as some cars carried on in the right lane and then tried to “filter” (or force) their way into the left lane.  Some cars in the left lane, clearly frustrated at waiting, pulled out into the right lane, accelerated 20 yards past two cars, and then tried to pull back into the left lane, 2 cars further up.  Now this infuriated the drivers in the left hand lane.  I could tell by looking at their contorted, angry faces, the rude gestures, lip reading the obvious swear-words and the fact that they closed any gaps to within an inch of the bumper of the car in front.  There then followed a kind of joust, or stand-off as the cars edged forward into one lane, neither giving quarter until a driver’s nerve gave way and they relented, to their immense frustration.

This happens multiple times.  Every.  Single.  Day.

Remind me again then.  Why are cyclists considered the problem?

Helmet Cams and Commuting without Lights

The BBC ran a story recently about helmet cams being used by cyclists to capture bad behaviour by drivers.  I used to use a helmet cam last year, but I’ve not used it since the nights got darker last autumn.

The output is pretty good – you can view my video’s here.  They are really useful, and if you commute regularly you will know how bad drivers are these days in the rush-hour.  I did notice that drivers were far less agressive when they saw the camera pointing at them.

Drivers often defend their terrible behaviour by diverting attention to the poor behaviour of some cyclists (who however badly they behave are unlikely to kill someone with a ton of steel I might add.)

“What about cyclists?  They all ignore the rules of the road and jump red lights!”

Well there may be a minority of cyclists who do that but frankly there are a significantly higher proportion of cars that jump red lights these days.  And it’s no longer as the lights are on amber changing to red – it’s several seconds after red before cars stop.  And don’t get my started about mobile phone use!  Especially those drivers that think we can’t see them texting because they’ve got the phone below the window line.  We can see, and the fact that you are weaving about gives it away.  See what happens when they notice you have a camera on your helmet.  It can be quite amusing!

It all means you need your wits about you when commuting.  Which is why I am absolutely staggered at the number of cyclists I see in and around Manchester who cycle without lights.  Today I saw 5 cyclists without lights.  Several obviously thought their hi-viz jackets and bands made lights superfluous.  They didn’t.  And two complete and utter morons not only had no lights but were dressed in black clothing.  Basically perfectly camouflaged.  Total stupidity.  Don’t risk it for the sake of a few quid spent on lights.


Chilly Commuting

I’ve not been on my bike every day – what with the snow and also doing a bit of travelling away from the office, but the temperature on my last 3 commutes (6 rides covering morning and evening) has been

  • -4.2°C
  • 1.2°C
  • -11.3°C
  • -1.7°C
  • -8.4°C
  • -7.4°C

What my fingers felt like...

Ridiculous really.  I have to say that hands and feet have been extremely cold.  I’ve solved the hands problem (idea courtesy of Dave Mitchell of North Cheshire Clarion) by wearing a pair of woollen gloves inside a pair of skiing mittens.  The equivalent tip for feet involves freezer bags – not sure whether I’ll give that a go or not.

Longer Commute = More Idiots in Cars

I’ve now done a couple of hundred miles on my new commute.  At 12.5 miles each way it’s a bit more of an effort than my previous 5 miler.  It takes me from the northern suburbs, through the centre of Manchester and out to South Manchester, along a few main commuter roads.  For those in the area that’s Bury New Road, Deansgate, Chester Road, Washway Road, Brookdale Road.  Some of these roads have no bus or cycle lanes so cars get very, very close at times.  The surfacing, especially closer in to the kerbs, is absolutely dreadful.  I’m guessing after today’s announcements they won’t be improving any time soon either.  The route has 39 sets of traffic lights along it – and yes, I am sad for counting!  I haven’t counted the pedestrian crossings though.

So I now spend longer cycling in very busy traffic and here’s some observations for you

  • the general standard of driving these days is terrible.  You do notice the obvious examples when in your own car, but you see much more when out on your bike. Examples include poor positioning, no indication, no looking before turning.
  • motorists complain about cyclists jumping red lights.  It happens, but infrequently.  On the other hand, at virtually every one of the 39 sets of lights at least one, and usually two cars will go through on red.  Not amber.  On red.  That is a consistent observation across all of my rides and all of the lights.  Tonight, a white van jumped a light and turned right, narrowly missing a car to my right, and nearly wiping me out.  I only realised what was happening when my entire field of view was simply a white panel – it was that close.  I didn’t even have a chance to brake.  It shook me up at first, but then made me very angry.
  • every day I see tens of motorists using their mobile phones – to their ears.  I see even more with it hidden out of view on their laps – texting!
  • in cars there appears to be no respect for anyone else.  People will do the most ridiculous things to get one car ahead in a queue of traffic.  People pay no attention to the effect of their actions on the traffic behind.  It becomes a vicious circle of frustration and anger.  It can’t be healthy.
  • The more traffic is queuing, the more frustrated people become, and the more stupid and unaware they become.  When there are long queues of traffic I get really worried because the unpredictability increases.

So you’d think with all that only an idiot would commute on a bike.  Well, maybe I am, but the benefits certainly outweigh the problems.  Once you understand the above problems you are better able to deal with them and there are few better ways to sort out your thoughts after a day at work than cycling home.  And that’s before you count the health, environment and wallet benefits.

If I had my way, though, I’d introduce a law that makes it illegal to pass a cyclist within 3 feet, and I’d make that part of the driving test.  Like red lights and mobile phones, it would probably be ignored, but at least drivers would be aware of how they should behave.

The Long Way Home

I’ve spent this week looking at the beautiful weather thinking that when i get home from work I’ll get out on the bike and go for a ride.  Unfortunately, being in a particularly busy period and getting home late, my good intentions have been thwarted.  So today I decided to commute to work on my road bike and then take a long route home.  Okay, quite a long route home.  My commute is generally about 5 miles – I did nearly 30 miles!

Given that I was carrying my commuting rucksack, the evening traffic, urban roads and multiple traffic lights I was really, really pleased with my average speed of 16mph over 29 miles.  1117ft of climbing and another 1634kcals.  Feel really good now.