Monthly Archives: November 2013

Cyclist Casualties: The Police Response

This is an article where I definitely have a foot in both camps. Following the recent high number of fatal collisions involving cyclists in London, the Met has launched Operation Safeway – a massive deployment of uniformed officers across several high-risk junctions, aimed at kerbing both poor driving and poor cycling. Today, there are 650 of them out and about. If all 32 boroughs are taking part, that’s a significant amount of their deployable officers on any one shift. There will be supplements of traffic officers, I expect, but they’re a fairly small branch themselves.

The trouble with these operations is that they’re short term – a reaction to a headline. Unless the Met can keep 650 officers on this operation every day, forever, then it won’t do a great deal. It is, in itself, another headline to react to the headline. I agree that “something must be done”, but there is only so much that the police can actually do. With all the million-and-one other responsibilities that officers have, there is little time to devote to traffic matters. A penalty notice for a traffic offence can take as long to issue and deal with (especially if it’s contested) as a Burglary. Unfortunately, both are priorities – and there aren’t enough staff to go around dealing with it all as much as we’d like.

I hope some good comes from Op Safeway; maybe the advice given out will save a few lives, and maybe a few dangerous vehicles and drivers will be taken off the road. But in order to be successful in the long-term, the Mayor’s office are going to have to come up with a better solution – segregated lanes, dedicated cycle expressways, restrictions on HGVs – whatever it may be. Hoping that drivers and cyclists will all suddenly get “better” at driving or riding won’t do.

Paying for an extra 650 police officers to do this permanently would cost about £25m in wages alone each year, so I doubt MOPAC are up for that, either.

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Cyclist Deaths in London

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In the last 10 days, 6 cyclists have been killed on London’s roads. This is, perhaps, the highest number ever seen in the city in such a short period of time.

Without knowing the facts behind each individual case, it is impossible for me to comment in any informative way about these deaths. I see the arguments from all sides, since I am a car driver, a cyclist and a police officer. I’ve been in car accidents where I’ve hit another vehicle, I’ve been hit by other vehicles in my car, and I’ve been knocked off my bicycle by a car. I’ve attended dozens more RTC’s in my career, some fatal, some not.

Any road death is an absolute tragedy. Nobody sets out on the roads intending to kill anyone else. All too often, loved ones set out on a routine journey and they don’t make it to the other end. This happened to the fiance of one of my workmates, who now works in road death investigation, but she still lives with the consequences of a coach driver’s momentary inattentiveness to this day. 5 years later and it still haunts her. All too often, people get a sense of road rage, whether borne of frustration, annoyance at being late or held up – whatever the cause, the consequence is the same.

I read the news over at Road.CC and despair at some of the comments made. In many cycling forums, whenever a cyclist is killed, it is usually assumed that the cyclist is wholly innocent and that the car/bus/lorry driver must be at fault. I do not believe that is the case. These forums, where people are so blinkered that they cannot possibly conceive that a cyclist can do anything wrong, are not helping the cause to make roads safer. I have seen bad car driving, but I have also seen a metric fucktonne of bad cycling. Almost every day, I get people cycle at me while I cross at a green light. Almost every day, I get someone take a shortcut on the pavement around me as I walk.

Until cyclists take some responsibility en masse, nobody will listen to our concerns seriously. The counter-argument to cyclists’ demands for improved road safety measures is, “You don’t use the ones that are there anyway”. That means you need to ride in cycle lanes, where provided, stop at red lights and walk your bike if you want to go on the pavement. Don’t charge at pedestrians when they’re crossing. Don’t undertake vehicles that are turning. Don’t ride in blind spots and make sudden swerving manouevres. Ride sensibly.

No ride is so urgent that you should play with your life. Sensible riding is the only way to improve safety and get the added measures we all so desperately want. At the moment, nobody’s listening, and the righteous thunder of the Road.CC forums aren’t helping.

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Boris Bike Thefts

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Unlike cycle schemes in other cities, the rate of Boris Bike theft is remarkably low. In May 2013, only 143 bikes had been reported stolen. Assuming that number is now up to about 160 (and not counting bikes that have been stolen), that means that a bike gets stolen only about once in every 200,000 hires undertaken. By comparison, the Velib scheme operating in Paris had 16,000 of its 20,000 bikes damaged or stolen in only its first couple of years’ operation.

Why, then, are TfL’s bikes so rarely stolen compared to those in Paris? Part of the answer lies in culture; high unemployment in Paris, particularly amongst the youth, has led to something of a rebellion against a form of transport perceived to be primarily used by those affluent enough to do so. London has its areas of poverty and unemployment, but generally these aren’t in the Barclays Bike Hire footprint, most of which is in the most central parts of London. You won’t find many bikes in Newham, Tower Hamlets or Hackney, for example. But the other part of that answer lies in the security measures built in by TfL.

Barclays Bikes all require the user to enter their credit or debit card details when taking out a bike. It is simply impossible to do so any other way. Cash is not accepted. The other clever security feature lies in the absence of any locking mechanism, save for returning the bike to its dock. Walking around London, you simply won’t see Boris Bikes chained up to railings or casually left in the open for people to steal. The loss charge of £300 is enough to focus the minds of users and ensure that the overwhelming majority of bikes are returned at the end of their journeys.

Whether TfL will be able to retain this level of success if the scheme is rolled out more broadly across London remains to be seen, but credit should be given to the Mayor’s office for stopping the bikes going the way of shopping trolleys and Piaggio mopeds.

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Real or Fake?

Much like football supporters, cyclists often like to wear the team kits of their favourite stars and I’m no exception. Regular readers of this blog will know I’m quite the Team Sky fan, as well as being a regular follower of the GB National Team, and own a pile of cycling-related junk relating to both of them. Eventually, I decided I wanted to wear the kit as well, and wondered if a bit of Wiggo’s speed or Trotty’s skill would rub off on me.

Football shirts are often seen as a rip-off, but compared to the price of official team kits for cycling, they are a bargain. I was astounded at the cost of a (mostly) polyester and Lycra jersey. To kit myself out in Team Sky clothing would set me back something in the region of £175; more if I went the whole hog with gloves, overshoes and helmet. I found this staggering. Since Rapha Condor took over the clothing sponsorship for Sky, the prices have got even higher and a full jersey / shorts combination, made from exactly the same materials as the pros wear, will set you back closer to £300. These prices are staggeringly high. Of course, it doesn’t matter if you are one of the handful of pros riding for Sky, but for the rest of us, it feels like a bit of a rip-off, no matter how well made they are. These kits aren’t bespoke tailoring; they’re mass-market sportswear. If you crash and rip your jersey, that’s a big investment just gone down the plughole.

Having even a brief look at eBay, you will see how much these prices have fuelled a massive market for counterfeit clothing. At a conservative estimate, searching for “cycling team jersey” on eBay will return 90% Chinese copies of genuine team kit. The prices for these are considerably lower, and even including shipping, a jersey / shorts combination won’t set you back more than about £20 – probably around £150 cheaper than the genuine article.

I wondered – are they any good? I’d seen one of my work colleagues with some fake BMC gear from eBay and couldn’t spot the difference, so I decided to have a go myself. I purchased a couple of Team Sky kits from China and they duly arrived about a fortnight later.

I was surprised at the quality and feel of the kits. There was no poor quality printing, no cheap feel to the material, no glaring errors on the kit – in short, none of the shortcomings I expected to find. I tested the kits out on a couple of bike rides and found them both comfortable and durable. They’ve all been through the wash several times and still look as good as they day they were purchased.

When I went into Evans Cycles last week, I handled the real team kit. Apart from the Rapha logo on the left blue stripe being made out of a sort of raised gel-type printing on the genuine shirt (just printed on mine) and a slight variation on the “Believe in Better” slogan on the inside of the neck, the genuine Team Sky kit felt and looked the same in every way. I felt disappointed that this jersey, on sale for £75, had been equalled by a Chinese copy costing around 1/4 the price. Advocates of the genuine article may say, “The real ones are made of better material!” or “They last longer!” but that hasn’t been my experience in the last few months. Instead, it feels like there is rampant profiteering on the “official” kits – which cost far more than any Premiership football shirt. Perhaps it’s because cycling is a sport that appeals to the well-heeled who are prepared to spend money on flashy accessories and glamorous kit, but I can’t help but feel that the manufacturers are just taking advantage. This will surely fuel far-eastern counterfeiting in the future, and teams will lose out on sales altogether.

With all these thoughts in my head, I looked inside the Team Sky jersey to see where it had come from just before I put it back on the rack.

Printed on a white panel inside, it simply said, “Made in China”.

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Cycling World Cup – Manchester

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This weekend, I was up in Manchester for the Cycling World Cup. If you’ve never been to a velodrome, it’s well worth making the trip – very easy to get to and Virgin Trains do some great deals to Manchester; my travel only cost me a whopping £12.50 all the way from London.

I was particularly pleased with the picture above, which was shot on my iPhone, showing the GB Men’s Team Pursuit squad on their way to winning a gold medal. And I just about managed to get a shot of my favourite cyclist, Laura Trott, after she won gold in the women’s event:

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UCI Proposes Two-Tiered Cycling Structure

It has been reported today that the UCI are discussing proposals to have a two-tiered structure in professional cycling, with promotion and relegation between the first and second division. There would also be a third grouping of the Continental teams, for which it doesn’t sound like there are any plans to offer promotion to the professional circuit.

While this may seem like it is bringing cycling into line with other professional sports, is it necessary or feasible? The current system on the World Tour relies on second-ranked teams being offered wild card places to enter the big events, a system which would seem largely unchanged by this proposal, but the only way they can move up to the World Tour is by proving that they have the staff, resources and setup to compete at world level. Under the new proposals, they could compete full-time on the World Tour by finishing in a high placing in their division, while another World Tour team is relegated. I’m not sure that this is good for either the teams or cycling in general.

Team Sky recently posted a video on their YouTube page giving a behind-the-scenes look at their Service Course (the division that supplies and maintains their equipment for touring) and it is nothing short of staggering. Most cycling teams could not compete with that support network without major sponsorship. If the teams had that kind of networks and sponsorship already, they would also be competing on the World Tour. But what would happen to these teams if they were “relegated”?

Major sponsors, already scarce in cycling, would not be interested in a team condemned to compete only in minor events for the coming season. If they pulled out, it is unlikely the team would be able to get back to World Tour standards anytime soon. However, if they did, it could lead to considerable uncertainty and see-sawing as teams cyclically hire and fire staff according to which division they compete in for the coming season. Football can sustain this – the structure is more supportive – but I’m not sure cycling can.

I also wonder, would the UCI really drop one or more of the current World Tour teams from the top level of cycling just because of a poor season? Cycling depends on these high level teams for its fan interest and consequent funding. Would the UCI seriously kick Team Sky out if they finished bottom? It would be the end of the team, and a significant revenue stream for pro cycling.

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