Civilian Cycling

May 12, 2017

bike at the cathedral

There is much chat among cycle campaigners about ‘citizen’ or ‘civilian’ cyclists – those people who are just using their bikes to get around, generally in their ordinary clothes, looking relaxed and happy, rather than (as Mikael Colville Anderson described the average London cyclist) as if they were being hunted down by dogs.*

I even try and fulfil this role myself, adjusted for the Scottish weather and my general inability to put together an outfit that by any stretch of the imagination could be described as ‘chic’. Maintaining a relaxed and happy mien is sometimes possible as long as I stick to the rural back roads and Bigtown’s somewhat patchy off-road network, but there’s always a point here or there where I have to take my life into my own hands, assume everyone is out to kill me and generally gird myself for battle before taking on the traffic.

In Seville, despite a complete lack of wayfinding so we were lost more often than we were found (for some reason my companions allowed me to navigate) this never happened once. Seville’s comprehensive cycle network meant we could just cycle around like civilians, if not actually like the Sevillanos themselves, who can generally be seen cycling along no handed, rolling a cigarette, perhaps with a pal perched in the front basket of their hire bike.

map of knowledge

The marked up map from the bike hire company which not only described the main cycle routes, but also flagged up the best tapas places.

There has already been much digital ink spilled on our Seville cycle trip, which had its own hashtag (yes, we are aware there are only four of us), a storify, and a rather more serious dissection of what makes it work as a cycling city despite there being many things which were less than ideal about its cycling infrastructure. So I don’t have much more to add here, except to show you my holiday snaps, some of which are actually a bit holidayish, albeit with perhaps a little more emphasis on bikes and urban design than is strictly conventional

sightseeing by bike

smiley bollard

shady bike lane

flamenco by bike

shady square.

Oh, and the food was incredible, the Sevillians use their oranges to make wine not marmalade, which is a massive improvement, the flamenco was pretty damn amazing …

passion for tea

… and the Spanish even manage to make an acceptable (I’m told) cup of tea.

* indeed, I think this may be in the draft Tory manifesto …

Vamos a Sevilla

May 1, 2017

And then, with a bang – almost as if the Weather Gods were paying attention to our puny human calendars – it is May and suddenly there as proper warmth in the air. The hare has gone from sitting looking hunched and miserable in the wind to stretching out sparked out in the sunshine (at least until its pesky human hosts attempt to go out and photograph it.) And I, who have been thinking every day as I get dressed how sick I am of my winter clothes, had to shed not just my gloves and hat but actual jacket on the cycle into Bigtown this afternoon.

I had better get used to it, because on Thursday, as soon as the election is safely over (at least the local one – when it comes to the general election, I’m just putting my fingers in my ears until its over, although I will vote, don’t worry), I am off with my wheely suitcase but not my bike to Edinburgh and thence to Seville where the same gang of four who took a highly serious study tour to Amsterdam back in September will be conducting a thorough investigation into the cycling infrastructure of ‘build it and they will come’ poster child, Seville.

And by thorough we mean really thorough because it’s well known that I can get lost getting out of a wardrobe, so we’re likely to end up giving any wayfinding in the city a brutal workout (obviously my companions are all skilled navigators AND know how to use the GPS on their phones, but I’ve a tendency to be impatient and lead from the front whether I know where I’m going or not. POP organisers, you can stop sniggering at the back now). We’ll also be ensuring that the infrastructure can be as easily used when you’re coming back from the bar as when you’re going to it, and that the bike hire system can be worked out by someone whose Spanish has been learned from a phone app that is heavy on phrases like ‘where is the train station?’ and ‘would you like more beer?’ but rather lighter on phrases like ‘give it some welly‘ which is, as I recall, the key to getting a Boris Bike out of the docking station. If our trip to Amsterdam is anything to go by, there will undoubtedly also be testing of the ease of using bikes for spontaneous shopping trips, finding a decent cup of tea, riding a bike having been lured into drinking mojitos and discovering how many kms of Seville’s segregated bike network need to be ridden to work off excessive consumption of tapas and other Spanish goodies.

I think even the most earnest of kerb nerds would agree, that’s a pretty good assessment of a city’s bike infrastructure. Although we’re open to inspecting any interesting floating bus stops, innovative junctions or nicely angled kerbs should anyone want us to have a look. And if you’ve any other suggestions, bike-related or not, for what to see, do, eat, drink or experience in Seville, bring them on.

And the Cobbler’s Child goes Barefoot

April 26, 2017

I’m getting behind with the blog – I haven’t even caught up with POP yet (although others have already summed it up much more succinctly than I ever could) and there is exciting pipeline news, the (partial) return of Moo-I5, sadfacing in the local paper, spring springing up all over the place, and the fact that our life is now being controlled by an adolescent hare – you may let me know in the comments which of those you want to hear about in more detail, but I’ll probably bore you with all of them anyway because you know, my blog, my rules.

brompton holding banner

101 uses for a Brompton: Holding up a banner at a demonstration

As for Pedal on Parliament, it went fine, indeed better than fine – and nobody need know that when I and the infamous helmet camera cyclist Magnatom led out the ride in Glasgow, it turned out that we were each relying on the other to have memorised the route. Ahem. Fortunately the policeman on the bike in front was on the case, and seemed to be having a lovely time as he bunnyhopped down the road in front of us as only a policeman can who has been given the job of going for a nice bike ride while the rest of his colleagues are girding themselves to police the Celtic Rangers match going on elsewhere.

Orange and green Bromptons

Orange and green side by side in Glasgow. POP unites everyone!

Today I spent ushering a load of council hopefuls around the cycle paths of Bigtown (and occasional scary roundabout – it turns out that, despite not riding thar frequently, the leader of the cooncil has no fear and just launches himself into a miniscule gap in the traffic and let the devil take the hindmost. Actually this might explain a lot). This is our equivalent of a cycle hustings as it allows us to show candidates the issues that matter – while not having to go to the expense of booking a room. Or, indeed, listen to any speeches. So everyone who came is now a little bit more clued up either about cycling issues (the candidates) or which candidates to vote for (the other participants).

Candidate line up

Except for me. For, despite spending the last few weeks frantically urging everyone in Scotland to engage with their local candidates on active travel, with a week to go until the election, I’ve had precisely no contact with any of my candidates at all, not even a flyer. Well, I tell a lie. I did email all my candidates to ask them where they stood on the three Walk Cycle Vote asks. One – a sitting councillor – replied. His email read, in its entirety, ‘thank you for getting in touch’.

I guess when there are five of you standing for three seats, you can take things a little easy.

And I’m to be Queen of the PoP …

April 21, 2017

Well, that’s it – this weekend it’s Pedal on Parliament, and there’s not much more I can do after many frantic weeks of emailing, tweeting, messaging, planning, phoning, flyering, writing, lying awake worrying and having bizarre POP-related anxiety dreams.* In fact, there was something I could do as I was supposed to be spending this afternoon looking at the giant hole that someone has inconveniently dug right across the planned POP route in Edinburgh but I managed to miss the train attempting to do some last-minute paperwork and then got caught up in Bigtown’s rush-hour traffic – oh the irony. Fortunately there were others in the hole-inspecting team, who have inspected the hole, and so now, more or less, everything is ready to go.

Tomorrow will be the usual roller-coaster ride of fretting, anxious planning, chasing up last-minute details and almost (but not quite) forgetting in the whirl to enjoy the moment of actual achievement. Always assuming anyone actually does turn up, and that the giant hole doesn’t scupper us completely.

However, on Sunday, I hope, I will get to experience something of what it is to actually participate in POP because the PoPpers organising it in Glasgow are a formidably organised bunch, and thus my role in POP Glasgow has largely consisted of me sending them anxious messages about some detail that I had just remembered only to be told that they had thought of that three weeks ago and someone was on the case already, but thanks for the advice. Generously, they are letting me lead out the ride, granting me some sort of elder stateswoman role as the figurehead of POP – possibly to keep me out of the way of the people doing the actual work. I am working on my regal wave even as we speak, although I won’t be doing it in quite such style as this character

And then, on Monday, although the work is not yet over with the local elections still to come, I might be able to devote a little more time to all the things I used to do before the madness started.

I think I remember what they used to be …

leek seedling coming up
* The last two are not, strictly speaking, part of the preparation process but apparently unavoidable all the same.

Vote till you Boak*

April 18, 2017

Lunching with the other half today, I admitted to feeling a bit weary. There’s a lot of bitty stuff to do at the moment, not just with last-minute preparations for Pedal on Parliament but particularly with the ongoing We Walk, We Cycle, We Vote campaign. The good news is that we are getting lots of candidates signing up in support of our three ‘asks’. The less good news is that each one involves a little bit of work – finding the relevant tweet on Twitter, or replying to their email, finding and updating the relevant record, trying to turn a politician’s words into a firm actionable promise… nothing individually too arduous, but it is all starting to feel a bit relentless.

The long road home

The good news, as I told the other half, was that it would all be over in a few weeks. And even better, I was off to meet a couple who have agreed to take of the role of community council secretary. Their house happened to be on the reservoir road, which leads to one of my all-time favourite rides, the reservoir loop. It wasn’t exactly on the direct route home and it involved many entirely unnecessary feet of climbing, but I needed to be away from my computer for a while so I took the long road home.

Stone dykes

I got home much refreshed, ready to face the last two and a half weeks of election campaigning, happy in the knowledge that, whatever happened, there wouldn’t be any more elections after this one for at least two years.

bike on the long road home

* The #votetillyouboak hashtag has been going the rounds on social media as a way of explaining the voting system for the current local elections where it’s most effective to put everyone in order, all the way down to the person you absolutely don’t want to get elected … Unfortunately, it seems Theresa May misunderstood

N Plus – Steady On

April 11, 2017

Well, I had a tragic badger story I was going to share with you this evening but it’s all gone a bit CSI:Bigtown with talk of post mortems and special operations units, so you’ll have to wait for that one until I’ve got a conclusive ending, if I ever do.

However I did get the bike serviced, and it now has a completely new drive train and pedals and very spiffy it looks too, as well as being disconcertingly quiet.* As I was picking it up, the bike shop guy pointed to what looked like a motorbike in the corner of the shop and suggested I give it a go.

Let me just say now that I have absolutely no need for an electric fat bike, and that spending over £3,000 on an electric fat bike would be an act of lunacy, and that they have no practical use whatsoever, and that anyway, a bike that looks like a motorbike is clearly a bonkers idea. I am, after all, a serious cycle campaigner whose bike is her means of transport and nothing more, and who favours practical things like mudguards and hub gears over something whose sole purpose seems to be to make you laugh out loud with joy the minute you get on board.

So clearly that was not me riding round the gravel patches in the bike shop car park this afternoon, laughing like a loon.


Man, I’d love to ride it up the hill to our house though. And then cross-country back to Bigtown. Always assuming I was going to give it back …

* two people now have told me they know I’m arriving before I appear because they recognise the sound of my bike, suggesting this service may have been long overdue.

Turning Left in April

April 8, 2017

Cyclists for next 12 miles

A rare confluence of events today left me with a freeish day (mostly due to things I was intending to do not being ready for me to work on them, so I’ll pay for it later) and a sunny forecast. What to do? I had intended to wash my bike before its service (I never usually remember to do this) and maybe get on with the garden but then I had a bright idea on Twitter

The only problem is, even on a nice day, it’s quite tricky to find cyclists to flyer in Bigtown who might be interested in coming to an event in Edinburgh or Glasgow. But then I remembered that there was some sort of a road race going on in a village not too far away from here. Time for another mini adventure

The problem was, I was only able to get away at around 11:30 (a ‘free’ day is a relative concept here), the village was several miles away, the race started at 11, and I cycle very slowly. I had no idea how long these races take, or whether I would make it in time before the riders all finished and dispersed. So I slightly reluctantly took the most direct route despite it being all on roads with white lines down the middle, something I generally try and avoid (we’re a bit spoilt for quiet roads around here, what can I say?)

minor A road

It was only once I arrived, in what was for me record time, that I realised it might have been a good idea to find out some details before setting off, like where the race was finishing for example. The streets were completely deserted of anyone, including cyclists, except for one chap pottering along on an old racing bike in jeans and a rather smart shirt, and a mother cycling with her two kids along the pavement. Thinking I’d wasted my time and missed the whole thing – apart from the whole going on a nice bike ride on a sunny afternoon part – I circled the streets one more time until I came across rather more parked cars than normal, many with bike racks on them. Aha.

lone cow

Lone cow in a field full of sheep, looking about as discomfited about it as I was

Then the first cyclists started appearing over the horizon. I was in time. The problem was they had just finished a hard race and were more interested in picking it over with their mates and talking about their wattage and who got dropped on that hill and who shouldn’t have attacked and who should, than they were in taking my flyers. I was also feeling a little out of place with my bike and pannier that probably weighed twice what some of the riders weighed, let alone their bikes. But fortunately the race organisers very kindly let me say a few words and dish out some flyers and, after a brief detour to the local shop (where I also encountered one of my candidates for the council and was able to give him a Walk Cycle Vote postcard), I headed for home satisfied at another adventure completed, and the word spread a little further about my various campaigns.

back roads home

The road back was somewhat more my style too.

beech avenue

How we suffer for our cause…

Obligatory sheep photo