Catching Up

September 19, 2017
POP sticker

It’s always nice to spot a POP sticker still hanging on there …

Somehow it’s Tuesday and I haven’t got round to writing up the excitement of the weekend’s Cycling Embassy AGM in Glasgow.

yes march

Possibly it wasn’t the best weekend to be holding a meeting of an organisation with ‘Great Britain’ in its full name

In fact, I still haven’t properly digested it, although it was as always nice to spend a weekend with people who feel properly passionate about decent cycling infrastructure and have no compunction at stopping and measuring it.

Glasgow dropped curb

Measuring the inability of the council to properly drop a curb flush with the tarmac …

I didn’t even take that many photos as I was too busy riding my bike, discussing things, catching up, and generally enjoying a weekend of proper, full-on bike geekery. It couldn’t have been more different from Friday’s action – from gently and temporarily transforming our streets, to measuring them – but then again, I think we need to do both.

blocking bike lanes

There’s a lot more to say, but it all needs more thought, so here instead are a few of the photos I did take. Glasgow, you have so much potential to be a cycling city …


motor dystopia

We built all these car lanes and the bloody motorists aren’t using them …


underpass flowers


Choose your own Adventure

November 12, 2016

I had two thoughts as I contemplated the hard frost outside the window yesterday morning just as I was preparing to cycle down to the station to Glasgow: 1) now would have been an excellent time to have already put the ice tyres on the bike, and 2) on the whole, brand new brake pads work better when you’ve put them on your bike than when they’re still sitting in your bike bag. Added to that a third thought, as I set off, carefully, down the hill with the sun rising almost directly into my eyes: that I also need my bright dynamo lights during the winter days if I’ve a hope of being seen by drivers coming up behind me. If this winter is to go on as it has begun, then I may need to install the ice tyres on my current dynamo wheel rather than just swap my winter wheels back and forth, if I can figure out how to do that without tearing my hands to shreds on the spikes

Still, such considerations pale into insignificance when you’re on you way to Glasgow to hear from women who think nothing of cycling across America, or 500 miles around the north coast of Scotland in 36 hours or – in Kate Rawles’ case – cycling the length of South America on a bamboo bike she has built herself to raise awareness about conservation and biodiversity.

bamboo bike

As someone who prefers her peril mild, and her bike rides at the speed of chat, I can’t compete with either feat, but after we had finished a good morning session of bike-related plotting, my partner in crime and I did head out for an adventure of our own entitled “what happens if you attempt to follow the bike signs on part of the National Cycle Network when you have no idea where you are going?” We do it to raise awareness about the hard of navigating…

Exploring Glasgow

Now where??

We got there in the end.

Kelvingrove walkway

A Tale of Two Journeys

November 14, 2014

It was the Brompton’s turn for a day out today with a return visit to Glasgow and the Cycling Scotland conference where, in a change from last year’s format of having a lot of men in suits read their powerpoint slides to us, there were a couple of women reading their slides to us as well (although, top tip for conference speakers who’d like to at least try and project a less blokey image for their subject: twisting everything round to a reference to the evening’s impending football match is not the way to do it).

I could blog more about the conference itself but if you follow me on twitter you’ll have likely got the gist: it was the usual parallel world in which everything was wonderful and Scotland will be the new Netherlands any minute now. What was more interesting* was the trip to and from the Velodrome where the conference was being held. Once you know the route, you can actually cycle there almost entirely on cycle paths without tangling with traffic – apart from the small matter of a four-lane one-way road with about a million buses to get you down to the river, needing to convert to a pedestrian to get across another monster road, lugging your bike down a flight of steps to get to the river path, waiting several eons for the lights to change on the toucan crossings, and needing to cycle across an unmarked and unsignposted bit of pavement to find the flagship segregated cycle path to the velodrome. But hey, if cycling through cities was easy, everyone would do it and we can’t have that can we? Oh no wait, hang on…

On the way back, having managed to forget my Brompton front light (and lose a glove, but I was sort of expecting that), I was grateful to be offered a lift in a taxi to the station by the staff of a cycling organisation who should probably remain nameless. This had the advantage of being warm, dry, and protected from the traffic by a nice hard shell of metal and came with the entertainment value of a driver lecturing us about cyclists who didn’t bother to use lights (oh the irony). It was, however, also much much slower than trying to cycle back would have been, as Glasgow’s rush hour traffic congealed in all those wide multi-lane streets that disfigure its city centre. The problem with our cities isn’t just that they don’t really work for people on bikes. They don’t even work for people in cars either, not even the ones like Glasgow where cars have been given almost all the room. So now all we have to do is convince the powers that be that solving the former problem might just solve the latter too…

You never know, it might work.

* for a certain value of interesting

Glasgow Cycles Better

July 25, 2014

Gadding about continued today with not just an al fresco bike breakfast this morning (Breakfast ouside! I could get used to this weather) but a trip up to Glasgow to hand in a petition suggesting that the Commonwealth Games legacy would be a whole lot more legatastic if it involved some decent cycle infrastructure, if only so visiting cycling teams would have somewhere to train that wasn’t the M74 (‘it was the only stretch of road in the place that didn’t have any potholes on it’ according to one wag this morning. And probably didn’t look any more terrifying than the roads they were techincally allowed to cycle on).

Glasgow Cycles Better Please!

With apologies to Roger Hargreaves

Of course you can’t just hand over a petition these days, you have to make a bit of a splash. We weren’t sure how much of a splash we could manage at a week’s notice on a weekday morning in a city with a wee sporting event going on at the same time, but we didn’t do too badly.

Getting ready for the photographers

One lap of George Square, and a very hot photo opportunity in the sun later, the politicians got given their petition, made their speeches (‘lots of big ideas in the pipeline, very difficult to reassign road space, need the political will, blah blah blah) and we were all able to disperse. Pedal on Parliament it wasn’t, but events like these probably do as much to keep chipping away at the giant wall of ‘can’t’ that seems to surround any prospect of better cycling in this country.

We keep on keeping on…

I’m on the Road to … Aieeeeee!

November 16, 2013

Being part two of my cycling adventures in Glasgow

Having got to outer Glasgow on Thursday night in the dark along who knows what roads while following Magnatom, yesterday’s cycling challenge seemed a lot easier: get myself to Bishopbriggs and from there back to Glasgow Central station, all in daylight in time to catch my train. It’s generally easier to find a route to a city centre because that’s generally where all the roads go, and so it was in this case as once I’d got to Bishopbriggs, all I had to do was follow the big yellow road on the map and it would take me more or less straight there. Easy peasy. Even I could do that. Even when the big yellow road got bigger and faster and turned into a dual carriageway and stopped having pavements and started having slip roads instead of junctions with traffic lights. After all (as someone was reminding me at the Cycling Scotland Conference last week) I had a perfect right to be there on my bike in among the big buses and cars, and had some spoiler put a wussy cycle track alongside it the traffic would all be beeping at me to get onto it, instead of, as they were now, beeping at me in joyful recognition of my rightful presence amongst them in the brotherhood of the open road.* So I persisted, having anyway little option as there was nowhere else but the road to go, until I looked up and saw the sign that was helpfully informing me that now would be a good time to pull out across two lanes of traffic into the third lane if I wasn’t planning on joining the M8. At that point, spotting a bus stop and (glory be) a shared-use pavement sign miraculously appeared alongside me, I bailed out and decided to find an option that was less likely to kill me.

Once on the pavement, I even saw a tiny blue sign directing me to the city centre. Praising the far-sighted Glasgow city fathers for providing me with just such a piece of cycling provision when I needed it most, I followed it up and over a bridge, tempering my praise a teeny bit as I passed through not one but four chicanes, tempering it further as the ‘bike route’ suddenly developed steps, and settling for roundly cursing them as I found myself entering an underpass so choked with leaves and mud that someone (I’m guessing not the city fathers) had built a neat set of stepping stones out of broken paving slabs to cross it. After that, I discovered, I was on my own, surrounded on all sides (not to mention above and below) by slip roads and motorways and A-roads and who knows what other classes of road, all roaring busily with traffic. At points I could see a network of footpaths that seemed to wind through this tangled mess of motorway knitting but I was pretty sure that even if I could find my way onto them, the chance of actually following them where I wanted to go as opposed to, say, back at the muddy underpass for the seventeenth time, was effectively nil. So I wheeled my bike across pedestrian crossing after pedestrian crossing until I had left the motorway junction behind and I was back on a road that had gone from utterly terrifying to just averagely scary and got back on and went on my way. I even made it to the station on time, which as I’d allowed myself two hours to ride about 3 miles wasn’t all that surprising.

Suddenly, the reason why otherwise sane Glasgow cyclists seem so keen to use roads that most people on bikes would consider actively hostile was a lot clearer – when you’ve a choice between being killed, and spending the rest of eternity roaming a shared use path on a moebius strip encircling a motorway junction, merely being crushed to death begins to look the kinder option. Now I realise that there is undoubtedly a perfectly pleasant route between Bishopbriggs and Glasgow city centre which you’re all going to tell me about in the comments, but the fact is, unless it’s properly signposted and obvious from the main road and doesn’t lead you into an underpass and leave you there to die, then it might as well not exist. And while not everyone is as spatially challenged as I am, that means more than one tiny blue sign, people.

There’s lots of expensive things that Glasgow could – and should – do to sort out its city scape (and getting rid of its urban motorways and turning them into linear parks would be a fantastic start in my opinion). There are also some slightly less expensive things it could do now, like signpost the routes it does have, for instance, and properly drain its underpasses for another instance. And until it does either of those things, I shall stick to my tried and tested system of appealing on the internet for native guides for all bike-borne travel that doesn’t involve going from one bit of the Clyde to another in daylight…


I’m on the Bridge to Nowhere

November 15, 2013

I’m back from a flying visit overnight visit to Glasgow where I was up mostly causing cyclist-related trouble one way or another. When I was growing up it was a city that seemed to consist entirely of motorways and knife gangs; having set such a low bar it always manages to pleasantly surprise me when I do actually visit and find it’s actually a rather handsome city full of shops, friendly loudmouths, knife gangs and motorways. And the odd cyclist, too.

My task yesterday was to get myself to Siempre Bicycle Cafe for a social meet up involving some of the aforementioned odd cyclists. Now, regular readers of this blog will know that my navigational skills are up there with my bike maintenance skills and my main tactic cycling in most unfamiliar cities is to get myself down to the riverfront, turn left or right as necessary, and hope for the best. This works perfectly well in Glasgow in the daytime (obviously going north or south is a bit tricky) but the Clyde waterfront didn’t really appeal after dark, what with the knife gangs and everything, while the non-river-based directions helpfully sent me by local cyclists were full of scary instructions like ‘the only tricky bit is crossing the motorway, you just have to make sure you get over to the right hand lane and you’ll be fine’). Trying to do that while keeping the right page of the A to Z open was going to be difficult so I was relieved when a kind soul (you should all totally book yourselves on one of his Tartan Rides, by the way) offered to swing by Glasgow Central on his way so we could ride together.

As a bonus, we got to go over Glasgow’s newest piece of cycling-and-walking infrastructure, the Bridge to Nowhere which has recently become the Bridge to Somewhere, or at least the Bridge-that-doesn’t-end-in-a-sheer-20-foot-drop-onto-a-motorway, which I think we can all agree is an improvement. In fact, even on my own I might have managed to find the bridge itself as there is a segregated cycle lane that runs pretty much directly to it from the station which would be almost Dutch if it wasn’t for the fact that the designers appear to have been under the impression that the Dutch cycle design guidelines measure everything in feet instead of metres. It even has its own traffic lights keeping bikes separate from turning traffic, although they do this by waiting until hell freezes over before giving the bikes a green light, rather than (gasp) giving bikes an actual head start over the cars.

The bridge itself is pretty fab though – especially the part where you cycle over all the gridlocked cars on the motorway and laugh because they’re stuck and you’re not and it’s only raining a little bit. And while it’s a little steep on the way down – just at the part where you cross a footpath and risk sending any unlucky pedestrians sprawling – the council have considered that and have spread a nice thick layer of slippery leaves all over the bottom of the ramp so you have to slow down anyway (bet the Dutch never thought of that, eh? No wonder our cycling infrastructure is the envy of the world…). And after that it was back to the cratered streets of Glasgow, dodging buses, cars, vans, drunks and all the other hazards that a city can throw at you.

Still, we survived, and spent a pleasant evening discussing how things could be better (washed down with some well-earned hot chocolate – you know you’re in good hands when your hot drink comes with a little cube of tablet on the saucer instead of a biscuit), and then I got another guided ride north to the outskirts of Glasgow in the dark, while lunatics in cars (and one lunatic dog) attempted to scare the life out of me. If you’re into adrenaline-fuelled white-knuckle rides, I can highly recommend the Greater Glasgow area and a bike. That left today’s trip in which your heroine attempted to get herself from Bishopbriggs to Glasgow Central on a bike and live to tell the tale (spoiler alert: I made it), but that must be a story for another day…

You SHALL Go to the Ball…

November 9, 2013

So yesterday saw me getting up at silly o’clock to catch the train to Glasgow to attend the Cycling Scotland Annual Conference (top tip conference organisers: starting at 9:30 is not good for those of us at the end of a very slow and infrequent train service, which is most of the rural population). Unlike Tuesday, when I had a brilliant and inspiring if completely exhausting day, Friday’s affair was very much the sort of conference where you sit in a room wondering when the coffee break will be while a man in a suit reads information off a powerpoint slide which you could have easily got from the internet (or, in the case of the Scottish government’s cycling plans, the back of a fag packet).* Despite the best efforts of Jon Snow (and Alison Johnstone, Green MSP and very much not a man in a suit), the whole day seemed calculated to remind us that cycling is just cycling, this weird thing done by 2% of the population, whereas the Newcastle conference was full of people – including British politicians – who got that cycling was about everything, and particularly about creating towns and cities and whole countries fit for people, however they choose to get about.

But anyway, you don’t go to these things for the presentations, you go to them for the networking and there I was networking away like mad when I realised that my train was at 16:12 and it was now somehow 15:55, and I was in the middle of a velodrome – which is brilliant and quite cool with the cyclists whizzing in circles all round us although you do wonder how the cyclists feel about being basically the cabaret to a conference full of people in suits – and I had no idea how to get out. Which is how I ended up sprinting round the outside of the Sir Chris Hoy velodrome having gone out the wrong door, then doing the fastest ever unfolding of a Brompton, followed by caning it down Glasgow’s London Road in the rain, trying desperately to remember the most direct route back to Glasgow Central (I believe this will in fact be an event at next year’s Commonwealth Games). I might even have made it, had I not ended up first on a pedestrianised shopping street full of shoppers all in black coats (sometimes I can’t help but feel the UK’s addiction to hi-vis hasn’t gone nearly far enough) with my rain-spattered glasses rendering them all but invisible in the dusk, and then at the wrong end of Glasgow’s inexplicable one-way system. By the time I’d lugged the Brompton up the stairs to the station the Bigtown train had long gone, and with it seemingly all hope of making it on time to perform in Nearest Village’s music night. The next Bigtown train was not for two hours and would take ages, while the next alternative would get me to Lockerbie but then mean a bus ride and an eight mile ride in the dark.

Fortunately, one of the upsides of rural train travel is that you inevitably bump into someone you know on the train and that morning I had travelled up on the fast train from Lockerbie with a friend who had mentioned she would be catching the 5 pm train back. She and her husband then gallantly sped me not just to Bigtown but on to Nearest Village where the the choirmistress had delayed proceedings as long as she possibly could by holding the assembled audience in the bar. I sprinted into the hall and joined in just as the choir were finishing Joshua fought the Battle of Jericho and we were seamlessly into the Eriskay Love Lilt as I caught my breath and got out of my cycling jacket. No doubt lubricated by the extra alcohol, the audience didn’t seem to care, and the evening went swimmingly. We even won something in the raffle, which never happens.

I don’t know quite what lesson to draw from this experience – except that cars do have their uses, and that we need more members in our village choir. And that if anyone had told me five years ago that the success of a musical evening, however amateurish, might stand or fall on the basis of my presence, I would have told them that they were nuts.

* and if you’re wondering where all my tweets were, a) I couldn’t be bothered and b) they hadn’t provided any WiFi except for selected members of the press so I couldn’t anyway. That did at least stop me from just firing up my laptop and catching up with my emails online…

No Mean City

April 29, 2013

This weekend saw me in Glasgow for the Scottish Bike Show where I was slightly unofficially handing out Pedal on Parliament flyers (sample conversation: Me: ‘have you heard of Pedal on Parliament? We’re campaigning for safer cycling in Scotland.’ Passing Punter: ‘No thanks.’ Me: ‘Do you not want safer cycling then?’ PP: ‘nah, I prefer it more dangerous myself.’ I really must work on my patter, but you’ve got to love the Glasgow sense of humour) with thanks to the Bike Station who let us use a corner of their stand. I was staying with Glasgow cyclist and fellow POP organiser Dave Brennan, aka Magnatom, who regularly posts his video adventures of close encounters with Glasgow drivers who have either lost their sense of humour altogether or have a rather twisted one. He lives outside the city, which meant an 8 mile cycle back on some rather challenging roads (at one point he said, reassuringly, ‘it’s all right, we won’t actually end up on the motorway’ as we followed signs to the M8 on a dual carriageway that was already an urban motorway in all but name).

We must have made quite a sight – Dave was on a slick road bike in the full lycra gear, cameras mounted fore and aft, while I was following along behind on a bike which was making a noise like a basketful of kittens.* Dave was going at what I suspect was half his normal speed so I kept up easily and surprisingly it wasn’t too daunting, at least in the company of someone else and on a weekend when the roads weren’t too busy. It’s not a route I’d dare cycle in rush hour – at one point we had to cut across two lanes of traffic to avoid being sucked onto the motorway which is only really possible to do on roads like that when you’ve got empty lanes to cut across (or complete gridlock I suppose). Fortunately the traffic was also on its best behaviour with just the one driver hooting at us and a couple of close passes, including one where the driver decided to swerve in towards us while passing, which is always extra charming. This was balanced by a couple of drivers who showed exemplary patience including an Asda lorry who waited behind us for a long stretch before finding somewhere to pass safely – given that Glasgow has potholes that are reputedly visible from space, such wiggle room is appreciated.

Glasgow is still a car-dominated city – but it’s changing too. There’s a segregated bike lane on the way to the velodrome (well, I suppose they had to, didn’t they?) that is – adjusted for being in the UK – pretty good: nice surface, wide enough to cycle two abreast (as long as nobody’s coming the other way which mostly there wasn’t), has right of way across side streets, sloping kerbs (on one side, anyway); it even manages to take you past a bus stop rather than into the side of it. It’s a slight shame that at one end you have to cut across three lanes of traffic to get to it, because it’s only on one side of the street – and other the other end it turns into a half-hearted shared use path with a caged toucan crossing to the velodrome itself that will be completely unusable if more than 3 or 4 cyclists try and cross, oh and it’s only about a mile long and is totally unsignposted if you don’t know what you’re looking for, but these are mere details in the great scheme of things. The council seems determined that the Commonwealth Games next year will be car free and is building bike routes as well as public transport to support it although it is sometimes going about it in the usual bizarre UK fashion. For instance, it has a mad policy of only signposting bike routes to places up to 30 minutes away – at Townmouse speed, rather than Magnatom speed, I suspect – which means that anyone coming out of the main station looking for the mountain biking will have a nice signposted cycle route the whole way … but only if they know that they are heading via Hampden Park. I left the council guy at the bike show (who I suspect agreed with me) with some full and frank feedback on that one.

Still, I made it home, and enjoyed my ride back from the station yesterday all the more, knowing that the worst hazard I was likely to encounter was a suicidal pheasant. Dave wasn’t quite so lucky – his ride home on Sunday was enlivened by an enraged driver who effectively attempted to use his car as a weapon. It’s just fortunate Dave’s brakes, and undoubtedly his reflexes, are in better nick than mine. While I enjoyed my adventures on Glasgow’s roads in the same way I enjoyed skiing, or rather surviving skiing, I’m glad I wasn’t around for that. From now on I think I’ll listen to my inner wuss and continue to stick to the cycling shallow end until our campaign for safer cycling has prevailed (so please sign this, if you haven’t already, and come out and support this if you can…)

* I do oil my chain, honest, but it’s been a long hard winter

See you, Jimmy

February 20, 2012

It was an exciting weekend for my bike as it returned to its ancestral home, Glasgow, albeit just for one day. The occasion was the Cycling Embassy’s infrastructure tour, which I won’t bore you with here (I’ll bore you with it elsewhere, don’t worry). Getting there on the train means a 40 minute ride to the station for the once-every-three hours, two-hour long chuffer service (it’s all of 75-odd miles, but never mind that – look at the lovely scenery!). Thus my Saturday started with me waking in the dark and listening to the rain splattering energetically against the window and wondering why I hadn’t taken up knitting advocacy or something equally indoorsy.

Fortunately, a glitch in the Weather Gods’ system meant I managed to ride to the station during the 40 minute break in the rain and was safely under the canopy discovering I’d forgotten my bike lock when the heavens opened again. And amazingly, despite a forecast bordering on the apocalyptic, another 15 or so hardy souls turned up for the event and even though we did get snowed on a little and were visited by the puncture fairy and I discovered that my back brake wasn’t working (I don’t really need to stop the bike much around here, so it doesn’t really arise. Oops), it was an interesting (adjusted for being mainly about cycle infrastructure) day out all round.

Heading back, after an after tour tour of the pubs of Glasgow looking for one that wasn’t absolutely rammed on a Saturday night – a mission akin to trying to find a decent piece of cycling provision in the average UK city – I got on a train that turned out to be full of Rangers fans (do they know that peace has more or less broken out in Northern Ireland, btw? Do you think maybe someone should tell them?) and reached Bigtown at 9pm ready for the 8 miles back – the first time I got to try out my dynamo lighting for real.

So what’s the verdict? Well the first thing is that, if anyone tells you they ‘hardly feel’ the effect of a dynamo on a bike, then they’re either lying or have legs of steel. The second is that it lights up the road like nobody’s business, possibly even better than the light I borrowed last year. The third is that a pint of Newcastle Brown Ale and a bag of chips are not, perhaps, the ideal pre-ride meal for someone who wants to test out their dynamo for the first time, although I’m not sure exactly would have been – maybe spinach?

I woke up on Sunday morning with leaden legs, feeling absolutely shattered. And then the sun came out and as we were out of milk, we did the run again in the afternoon down to the local garage and I remembered that the road back from Bigtown always feels like extra hard work, seeing as it’s uphill and into a headwind.

I reckon on balance, the dynamo adds about an extra 10 mph to the wind in your face, although it does seem to feel like harder work the slower you go; struggling up the final bit of hill at the end of a long ride was just cruel. On the plus side, the way it lights up the road means you can get up to speed on the downhill bits and take a run at the next climb. For people whose brakes have gone a bit kaput, it’s reassuring to know you’ll be able to see what’s up ahead in good time. If I were commuting home in the dark five days a week I’d probably lay out the cash to get a rechargeable system, just because I think it would be pretty wearing every day and I don’t really want to end up with the legs of Chris Hoy. But for the use I want to put it to – the occasional trip into town of an evening, and back and forth to the village, it will be fine. More than fine, in fact, if the night is as black and as starry and sparkly as Saturday was.

And now, I think it might be time to get that bike down to the bike shop for a bit of love and attention to those brakes…


May 13, 2010

Waiting for my train to Glasgow this morning, I noticed that Bigtown Station had had some work done. Mostly, this seems to be about improving accessibility: buttons to automagically open the doors, hearing loop signs and – my personal favourite – individual walking stick holders at the ticket windows so you can come in and make long and involved theoretical inquiries about buying tickets (‘I’m no buying any the day, mind, because I’ve come out wi’out my money, but if I were to buy one…’*) without holding up the queue of people who’ve come to buy actual tickets any further by having to search around for your cane afterwards. They’ve still not put in a ticket machine (could a ticket machine sell purely theoretical tickets? I think not) although there is an Irn Bru one, of course. And nor have they tackled the real accessibility issue which is that there are hardly any bloody trains. So a 90 minute appointment in Glasgow has turned into a full day’s travel with epic amounts of hanging around – at Bigtown Station (in case I get stuck in the queue behind someone wishing to discuss the metaphysics of possible ticket purchase and miss the morning’s train) – in Glasgow, at Bishopbriggs, and of course on the incredibly-scenic-but-not-particularly fast chunter there and back on the train.

Hmmm. I was waxing lyrical about the slow pace of life around here just a couple of days ago, wasn’t I? It just doesn’t fit too well with having to be somewhere – anywhere – at a particular time.

Oh, and it’s started raining again. I knew life would be worse under the Tories

*I really wish I were making this up