To the People of Newcastle: an Apology

September 22, 2011

Tomorrow I leave Assen for Amsterdam, and from there to my ferry home. This means I have to get across Newcastle to the train station on my bike, having quite lost my UK cycling instincts – you know, those things that keep you alive when everyone is trying to kill you. Three days of blissfully stress-free cycling will do that to a person, I find. The Dutch have awesome bike handling skills, in that they can swerve around a dithering English cyclist without really breaking off from updating Facebook on their phone, but they don’t have the sort of paranoid sensibility required to keep oneself alive on the UK roads when you’re only one misjudgement away from being a statistic. I really do worry that I’ll roll off the ferry and right under the wheels of a bus, having got used to being in a country where bikes are everywhere and drivers are polite to the point of giving way to them when they don’t even have to.

Fortunately, Twitter and the Newcastle Cycling campaign will be springing into the breach once more, with a couple of them meeting me off the ferry on Saturday morning. With one leading the way in front, and one riding sweep behind, hopefully they will be able to keep me from leaving too much of a trail of chaos and destruction in my wake as I cycle blithely along assuming that side streets give way to cycle paths, that car drivers have seen me coming and will stop, and other such mad assumptions.

Just follow the sound of honking horns and squealing brakes and there I’ll be …

To the People of Assen: an Apology

September 20, 2011

You were only trying to get home from work, or back from school or down to the shops or out to coffee with your mates. There you were, minding your own business, texting while leaning on your handlebars, or chatting to your companions, or simply dreaming along thinking about something else, when suddenly a bunch of strange British people screeched to a halt in front of you in the middle of your perfectly normal bike lane and started earnestly discussing and photographing something so ordinary to you you’d never even noticed it before. You probably didn’t realise that you were using ‘cycle infrastructure’, you thought you were just going to work or school or coffee. You probably weren’t even aware that you were ‘cycling’. You see, hard as it is to believe, there are places where the bike route is not the most direct route from a to b, and where the cars actually take priority over people getting around under their own steam. Or where bike paths have to give way at every driveway and where the normal way to get your child to school is by car. A place where – and I know this must seem so strange you can’t quite conceive of it – people wouldn’t even consider moving a whole canal a few metres north in order to make room for a secondary bike route on the flimsy excuse that there’s a perfectly reasonable bike route on the other side of the canal already. I know. What sort of an excuse is that?

Imagine a group of people from, say, North Korea first setting eyes on a branch of Poundland – or standing blocking a whole aisle of Tesco, minds boggling over the choice of cereal – and you’ve got a good idea of what the Cycling Embassy infrastructure tour is like from the outside. So all I can say is, we’re sorry, and we’ll be going home again soon, leaving you to get on with your perfectly ordinary, perfectly sensible, well-adjusted lives.

You utter jammy sods.

Travels Without my Bike

August 3, 2011

Oh blast blast blast. There I was happily planning my trip to the Netherlands (I know, I really know how to live it up on holiday – first chicken sitting, now infrastructure study tours). One can’t really go to the Netherlands and not cycle, so obviously the bike was going to go too. And fortunately, the trip would be an easy one. There’s a train that goes direct to Newcastle from Bigtown that doesn’t require booking for bikes and has space for up to 12 bikes on it, so the chances of there not being any room are pretty slim. And then from Newcastle to Amsterdam the ferry only charges a fiver each way for my bike and I can book a place online. And once in Amsterdam, well surely by now the Dutch have installed magic carpets or automatic bike-lane tailwind generators (or maybe just efficient trains you can take your bike on) to get us both to Assen without a problem. So it was all good.

Well, it was until I checked the trains to Newcastle, anyway. And saw that the dreaded bus-replacement-service-of-doom was operating every Sunday until the end of the summer or possibly the end of time. No space for bikes (or wheelchairs or bulky luggage for that matter). All my lovely plans scuppered. Bikeless in Holland* – oh the frustration.

Fortunately, I can rent one for the actual study tour, so I won’t be completely bikeless. And a sneaky thought – quickly suppressed – did occur to me. After all, there are plenty of bikes, proper actual Dutch bikes, in the Netherlands, they’re all around and probably available cheaply secondhand. The cost of renting by the day would soon add up making buying one almost sensible and there’d be no problem getting a bike back on the train…

Of course, we’ve been here before (and we’ve not got that one back from France yet either). And I don’t need another bike, let alone a heavy single-geared coaster-brake model designed for a country with rather fewer hills than we have. And I can’t really afford just to go buying bikes for the hell of it, even cheaply secondhand. So I won’t definitely won’t be buying myself a bike out there. Well, almost definitely.

Watch, as they say, this space.

*I know, I know, it’s the Netherlands, calling it Holland is like saying I live in England. Tell that to their own tourist board, that’s all I’m saying