This one is for Andrea – “Crime and punishment”

Mrs Idonotdespair has a charming sister in Australia.

On Saturday they conversed by text about the error of my ways.

Placed in Salzburg, a UNESCO recognised world heritage site and centre of culture from Mozart to the Sound of Music (OK, stretching it a bit) I was able to use the power of the internet to guide us to the only Irish pub in town showing the British and Irish Lions rugby team playing against the Aussies.Murphy's Law, Irish pub Salzburg

Less a pub than a hobbit hole tunneled into the rocks behind a period facade Murphy’s Law was the perfect venue for the handful of hardened fans needing a fix.

From their positions thousands of miles apart the sisters agreed that the only appropriate punishment was that I would visit every stall at the riverside craft market without complaint. That’s a lot of stalls. Salzburg Riverside Craft market

I hardly call it fair. My brother-in-law watched three games of rugby that morning. But I guess he wasn’t in Salzburg at the time.

Did I mention we won. Worth every stall Andrea, I was good the whole time!

If you are going to make tracks impassable for cyclists, this Belgian farmer sets the standard

Blocked fields

Thanks to brilliant campaigning organisations in many countries, not least CTC and the Ramblers in the UK the idea that farmers can randomly block or destroy rights of way is declining.

We have a fantastic local charity here called Lasne Nature who have waymarked over 250km of routes even in our small commune which are a great community resource and should draw people to the area.

Clearly this guy never got the memo, this is the most impressive ploughing I have ever come across. Straight across one of our routes. Beautiful lines of course. But even poor Murphy the dog stopped after the third dip which was half his height.

Time to go the long way round!

Mountain biking Belgium

Bicycles, bicycles everywhere, nor any one to ride (*with apologies to Coleridge)

Youbike station TaipeiVery frustrating first couple of hours this morning failing to hire a bike.

Apparently to use the Taipei Youbike system I need either a Taiwanese credit card or mobile phone.

The bikes are plentiful, the weather is warm, there are cyclists about and I am hoping to cycle about rather than use the MRT every day. In fact this Youbike station was huge – and full of bikes!

Plan B is now in operation – one of the leisure bike hire stations by the river.

*The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

“Water water everywhere, nor any drop to drink”

I am so over snow (the sequel)

Snowy saddle

Couldn’t work out why this is so frustrating for me but doesn’t seem to bother anyone else here.

Then as I wobbled back home through the slush and the blowing flakes tonight I realised. List of wants. Dry bum, dry feet, warm face, stable road surfaces……..and more covered bike sheds in Belgium.

30 years of work. 3 years as a student. 7 years cycling to school. Not once have I travelled anywhere where I had to leave my bike outside daily. The dear old UK might be Europe’s cycling dunce but I must have struck lucky with our legacy of bike sheds, some of them probably dating back to the 1960s or even earlier in the case of at least one factory bike shed I can recall.

I mean those saddle covers I see at the bike parks are awfully naff, but now I know why they are so popular everywhere else in Europe and its not just for advertising SRAM.

Saddle cover MalmoSaddle cover SwedenSaddle cover DordrechtSRAM Urban advert

I am just so over snow

I am just so over snow. Sorry if I am spoiled by comparison to some readers who are in Canada or eastern or northern Europe. But just at the beginning of the week there was a moment when I thought spring might be coming.

After a week without much ice and snow on the ground I was treating myself to a 3 hour road ride this morning. At last a chance to ride skinny tyres and a lightweight frame.

So I woke up to this. This was forecast as light flurries.Snow in Lasne

My wife is beginning to ask questions too. “I thought you promised me the weather here was just like the UK?” My response that it is snowing across the whole of northern Europe is beginning to come across as a bit lame. But Belgian colleagues are promising me this is a cold one this year.

My only chance is was to go back to the mountain bike. If the best bike riders in the world could not start the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne semi-classic today I am certainly not safe on these roads.

I mean I love mountain biking and there is a fantastic network of tracks round here. But time is up.Lasne Nature marked route

When I see a postie on a bike I do not despair for the future of the human race

Just over two years ago I was involved in a series of protests about the UK’s Royal Mail deciding to give up on its 14,000 cycling posties and go over to cars and foot trolleys.

I always believed that the arguments they put up at the time about security, capacity, speed and safety were complete rubbish, but rather they (and unfortunately some of their union leadership) had a deep seated prejudice that bikes were part of a backwards postal service.

So it always gives me the greatest of pleasure to see a proper, efficient, modern postal service that really understands the potential of the bike.

Take a bow Deutsche Post.Deutsche Post Berlin

Frustration and hope – cycling experiences in Ukraine. (Or “clueless Kev in Kiev”)

Randy Neufeld SRAMFlashback to last Tuesday. I am stuck at the side of a large road junction. I know I shouldn’t be here, I wanted to go straight on, but lacking confidence I have pulled over to the right and I am stuck against the barriers. Now there are two lanes of cars swinging across my line and I can’t get back to my lane.

And this traffic cop is giving me the eye. I don’t think I have done anything illegal, it’s just that I am an alien being in this landscape. He certainly isn’t going to help, that’s for sure. What I really need is another cyclist to follow, somebody who knows the ropes and does this regularly.

But there’s the catch. There aren’t any. This is Khreschatyk, the main street in upper Kiev and I am on my own. I’ve been out riding for over an hour and I have seen one other cyclist, and he was on the pavement (sidewalk). One of the fun parts of writing a blog that starts “When I see an adult on a bicycle…” is that I play a sort of game in every new city, being cheered by the first rider I see. However in 2 ½ days I saw just 10 cyclists, that’s like being back on the dark ages of cycling in Britain. The best comparison I could make was when as a student in 1980 I first tried to cycle from Durham into central Newcastle upon Tyne, a lonely and exposed figure on a morass of high speed roads and aggressive driving.

Before this turns into a rant I will say there are some positive things to say about cycling in Kiev, but it isn’t easy.

Generally I’m a pretty positive cyclist, maybe not in the category of the messengers but I have mixed it out in the fast lane of a lot of cities. And actually I don’t particularly feel in any danger here. It’s just that I am baffled and bemused. The previous day I rode with Randy Neufeld, Director of the SRAM Foundation from Chicago and he said that he felt hampered by not knowing what the rules or conventions were. I had mainly been frustrated by lack of continuity on that ride, but on my own I am just as destabilised.

To be fair I don’t feel like this down in the low town. The low city area of Podil has narrower streets and more congestion so it just feels like most older European cities that have yet to grasp cycling. If you can cope with London and Brussels you can cope with this. And the cobbled streets in the restoration area around Adriivsky may be hilly but they are much slower and tamer. 40 years of cycling instinct just kick in and I am happy taking my place in the traffic flows. But in the upper city the big roads are just un-navigable to a stranger.

The source of most bafflement from both days was how to make progress in a straight line. Having not seen any cyclists when walking the city centre Randy tracked down entrepreneur/activist Alexey Kushka  and his business Veliki  to hire some bikes out in the suburbs. From there we decided to try and head back to the city, allowing ourselves some exploratory diversions into the surrounding neighbourhoods and parks. The advice we were given was to stay off the trunk roads and ride on the pavements or try and get through the minor roads.

Initially that was fine, two experienced riders shouldn’t have a problem. But quickly we hit the issue of big junctions. When the major roads meet there are apparently no ways across. Pedestrians are sent off down underpasses, but that doesn’t work for us. If we want to turn left across the traffic flows it is illegal for cyclists under the Ukrainian Road Code if the road has more than one lane, and frankly I wouldn’t want to do it, far too exposed. Cycleable neighbourhoods and pavements are like islands cut off from each other by treacherous torrents. So we zig-zagged our way along looking for pedestrian crossings to make a very indirect way to the city.

In addition to the frustration of leaving our islands we had the challenge of the pavements. They are potentially good news because they are wide and quite inviting, the basis of a great cycling network. Only we got there too late. Many bits of the pavement not covered in cars are dedicated to the apparent backbone of the Ukrainian economy, small stalls which serve every possible need.

And there is no visible parking restriction whatsoever. We were just standing on corners checking navigation when we were honked at by cars being driven straight up the kerb to head for a parking space. And all this appears to be not only legal but policy, certainly a lot of the pavement bays were marked out with white lines and “managed” by bulky figures in dark coats.

Randy Neufeld, SRAMwww.avk.org.uaBut I have to admit I loved it. Taking on a new city is always a buzz and when I did fly down to Podil or had my photo taken by a tourist on Adriivsky as I battled the cobbles I felt like young Malcolm in the surprise Youtube hit of the last two weeks. “Dad I did it”. And it was good to follow hosts and activists Ksenia and Ira as they moved in confident Dutch style around their city.

So what’s the good news? ”I do not despair for the future of Kiev despite not seeing an adult on a bicycle”? This dangerously close to a policy manifesto which I don’t do in my personal blog, but I feel strongly that I want to say something positive for the people I met in Ukraine.

The best hope is always those people. Margaret Mead, American anthropologist says “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” The city is full, stuffed by the free-for all on the roads, the dreadful congestion and parking and everyone told me that the majority of society accepts that it cannot go on. That is fertile ground for change.

The energy and passion of the Kiev Cyclists Association members and all the activists, entrepreneurs and civil servants we met in Yevpatoria and Kiev was infectious and they are determined to bring cycling to their country. The evening talk I gave in Kiev was well attended and apparently we attracted a lot of new faces. The quality of questioning was as knowledgeable and passionate as any other country I visit even if there is an acknowledgement that this is a really tough environment to promote cycling.

Kiev, UkraineSo a few thoughts, not just for them but maybe for anyone thinking of doing some cycling when they visit.

It was clear that we had really not seen the best of the cycling community in the city centre. There are green shoots, popular cycling parks and some suburbs where there are regular cycling numbers. I was told Trakhaniv island is not only the cycling mecca at weekends it is a good commuting short cut and could be a place to start building a cycling culture for all types of users, I certainly found it beautiful and welcoming even in the mist. It also wouldn’t take a huge amount of sharing for Kiev Ukrainethe current cyclists to tell others how they get around. By sharing their routes and shortcuts so much of the complete bafflement I felt could disappear and a little critical mass could emerge. Given that there is almost no regulation some informal waymarking could be put in place and would last for years. Kiev Cyclists Association have already painted their own cycle lane in one spot and nobody has erased it, how we would love to get away with that in some other countries.

And no city can be so bad if it has a cyclists’ cafe!http://dream-family.com/en/dream-house/

Kiev activists can also take hope from the rest of the country. Crimea is a potential hot spot for tourism but there is clearly progress in places like Lviv. We know in many countries the capital city came to the party late simply because of size and inertia, but they can show there is nothing in Ukrainian culture that makes cycling impossible. For international cycle tourists and mountain bikers you can find lots of great places to go like Big Yalta.

Lastly Kiev has one extraordinary asset that most world cities would beg for, something money cannot buy. It has space. The streets are incredibly wide, the pavements and roads are wide enough for segregated bike lanes, there are plentiful parks and boulevards connecting them. But the space is just unmanaged. Look at this: four lanes of cars on the road – and six lanes of parked cars. Two lanes on the road, two on the near pavement, one on the other side and somebody double parked. Get hold of that and the potential for rapid change is high.

Right now it is a tough call to be an urban cyclist in Kiev, or a cycling activist but here is hope and enthusiasm not despair.

Cпасибі. Thank you.

A tale of two Italian cities – removing the tyranny of the car transforms the visitor experience

Padova cyclingI am currently processing a whole sequence of photos and stories about my visits to the two Italian cities of Verona and Padua (Padova).

But here is an opening thought. They are only 50km apart, they share many aspects in common in terms of size, culture, antiquity. But in just one aspect of policy one has been returned to us as a liveable, likeable vibrant city. The other is being strangled to death by laissez faire.

Verona is still gripped by the absolute tyranny of the car. There has been almost no attempt to restrict the disfigurement of the city by congestion, parking, noise and fumes. The restricted area in the city centre for motorised traffic is tiny and any priority given to alternatives is minimal. There are almost no cycling and bus lanes. All but one main square has full access to cars all day.

But of course in true “I do not despair” spirit this doesn’t stop me finding cycling in and around the city being an uplifting feeling, not least because it is a beautiful place, but by far my best moments were quite roads and corners, where I could find them.

A week later Padua. Nowhere near as celebrated as Verona internationally and with much fewer tourists.

Yesterday morning I wandered into the city early on foot and last night I was able to shoot around the streets on a borrowed bike from my local hosts.

Immediately outside the hotel I came across the first of 150km of cycle paths. And then once I had slipped past the boundary of the old city walls I was almost immediately into the extensive pedestrianized centre. It isn’t entirely car free, there are designated through routes and access is allowed to some areas. But at 8 o’clock on a Saturday morning the contrast is just incredible.Padova market

The streets were not silent – oh no. But the sounds were precious. Firstly people talking – as they walked and cycled and opened the many market stalls. But best of all the almost permanent sound of rattling metal – bicycles on cobbles – the endless array of cheap town bikes that dominate the Italian domestic cycling market bouncing their way around the streets.

It reminded very much of my trip to Bologna in May, again not such a celebrity city as Verona but one where civic pride manifests itself in giving the streets to its people and its visitors. As an international advocate for cycling and sustainability the most important lesson I keep being given is that we spend a lot of time addressing national and even international policies that affect cycling. But within the same country, the same funding climate, the same road laws, the same culture local political will is the determining factor in whether a city wants to be liveable or not.

I will be posting a few more highlights from my visits in the next week or so, but I’ll complete this post with two photographs.

Both are cathedral squares. Which one would you like to spend time in?

 

Is this the most soul destroying debate in cycling?

I haven’t tweeted or blogged since last Wednesday despite having  a whole stack of photos and reflections from the Olympic road cycling races and the amazing performance of the British. I have felt dragged down and fed up by what I regard as the most depressing subject in cycling. For me it’s the subject that almost puts “despair” into “I do not despair”.

As a cyclist interested in sport I have lived through endless drug scandals that dragged the sport into the gutter – and the idiots that still think this is the way forward despite all the evidence that the net is closing. And I can sadly live with the need of some of our advocates to rubbish anyone who doesn’t agree with their approach.

But the discussion of cycle helmets is the cycling subject that drags me down like no other.

I feel the need to put some of this down somewhere – and perhaps to share one small ray of light I discovered in British Columbia – a place with a compulsory helmet law. So back to the blog – and of course the views here are entirely my own.

I was all fired up to blog on Thursday morning but on Wednesday evening the news broke that a cyclist had been killed by an Olympic bus, then in an interview Brad Wiggins was asked about the incident and said that cyclists should look after themselves, including wearing helmets.

It’s the evening after he has achieved something remarkable. It’s not his subject road safety. But of course the BBC has to go major on “Bradley Wiggins calls for compulsory helmets” because they have umpteen hours of news channels to fill.

By Thursday morning London Cycling Campaign and CTC are in full defence mode and even the President of British Cycling has to tackle it when he is speaking about the fantastic system for developing talent that BC has put in place. To be fair, they all did a great job. (More here)

The twittersphere, bloggers, discussion boards were full of fire and fury swamping any pleasure that could be taken from Wiggins and Froomes’s feats and the later victories of the track team. Wiggins was slagged off by the community that just hours before worshipped him.

Somehow I lost interest in the on line cycling world for a few days, I have just treated myself to enjoyment of the sport on TV and the pure pleasure of riding.

It’s not just the UK. Campaigning groups in Spain have been stunned by an out of the blue announcement by a minister to say he wanted to introduce a compulsory helmet bill causing them to have to mobilise both national and international support against the proposal.

And at Velo-city Global 2012 in Vancouver the existence of a compulsory helmet law in British Columbia and the presence of so many advocates from helmet free Europe was just the combination needed to stir the debate endlessly.

Cards on the table. I am 100% against compulsory helmets. I despise the victim blaming that characterises so much reporting about cyclists’ deaths. I have despaired with families because a defence lawyer tries to suggest that not wearing a helmet was a form of negligence by the victim.

But I also wear a helmet – for mountain biking and when I used to race.

When I came to work in cycling back in 1998 I had no idea that this would be one of the discussions that would claim far too big a chunk of my life for the next 15 years – and no doubt will be around for the next 15. And that’s the problem – it just isn’t a subject that anybody outside a very narrow community can understand or engage with, least of all the cycle racing and MTB communities because the helmets are actually made for them – so why would people in lycra understand the issues of helmets for daily cycling?

And as a result it pits cyclist against cyclist, cycling advocate against road safety advocate, it gives free reign to the online trolls who attack cyclists and it heaps guilt on to people who have the most to give to cycling. The UK’s BBC are absolutely awful – they put all of their presenters at every level into helmets for any cycling story because they are so keen to “do the right thing” and they are part of the mindset that bullies politicians into helmets for the same reason.

http://cyberboris.wordpress.com/2011/05/10/woo-hooboris-brings-cycling-revolution-to-outer-london/

Boris in helmet – Image from CYBERBORISJohnson

Even Boris Johnson was dragged into it for a brief time when he became Mayor of London, but Boris is self-confident enough to say “no” – unlike most others. I remember doing an interview on BBC Radio London at the London Cycle Show with the otherwise estimable Sandy Toksvig. Being the BBC they had to have “balance” so they got a senior industry manager from a major multi-national bike company whose company sell a lot of helmets to make the case for lids. When he totally agreed with me that compulsory helmets was a bad thing for cycling the presenters decided that this wasn’t on and started to argue with us themselves.

And perhaps worse of all is the pressure on parents and cycling supporters who feel they cannot let children cycle without the dreaded plastic lid unless they become labelled “bad parents” or “negligent”.

But I am just deeply saddened by the debate itself, the resources it consumes and the time and energy we have lost as a community on a debate we just are not winning and can hardly win without risking damage to ourselves during the fight. Because if society was based on intellect and analysis nobody would speed, everyone would ride bikes, climate change would be resolved and nobody would smoke. And despite the efforts of some researchers who are bashing away some poor studies from years ago offers the pro campaigners their academic fig leaf, along with the comparisons they make with other undoubted road safety successes like seat belts.

www.Cyclehelmets.org is an amazing resource and I am in deep admiration for the team of volunteers and professionals that contribute to it, it would be foolish of me to try and replicate any of those resources here.

But I did amazingly discover one small antidote in Canada, despite the compulsory helmets. Whistler is an interesting case study for all sorts of cycling issues and I will be blogging about it more.

But this community of hardened mountain bikers showed how life really could and should be in relation to helmets. Riders who actually understand cycling risk better than anyone behave in ways that just make sense.

Downhilling?

High speeds, high risk of falling? Big impact if you get it wrong? Then it is full face helmets and even body armour. Even the designs take their lead from skiing and snowboarding as can occasionally be seen when the two take place together.

What to wear for downhillYoung cyclists at bike park

Whistler Bike ParkOffroad cross country – roots and rocks creating a falling hazard?

Kevin MayneWithout the high speeds and the jumps of the downhill tracks the risk is lower and the impact speed is within the spec of the usual cycle helmet. The modern cycle helmet evolved from this world and it is entirely reasonable that it was designed for exactly this use.

The ride to town, or to and from the slopes?

Despite the compulsory helmet law this community knows that the good network of cycling facilities, traffic free town centre and the general understanding that motorists know cyclists are around means that the helmets are irrelevant to their safety.

And no sign that the local police feel any need to do anything about to enforce a law that was dreamed up by remote politicos in Vancouver, they recognise that cycling visitors are an engine of the local economy – so why should they hassle them?Whistler Village

Whistler – common sense helmet use. If only the rest of the debate was this easy.

“Napoleon Bonaparte, Charles de Gaulle, Jacques Chirac, Bernard Hinault, Brigitte Bardot. Francois Hollande your boys took a hell of a beating!”

In honour of one of sport’s legendary commentaries and to commemorate British success in the Tour de France. See you all on the road on #yellowsunday

“Napoleon Bonaparte, Charles de Gaulle, Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy, Bernard Hinault, Brigitte Bardot, we have beaten them all, we have beaten them all. Francois Hollande can you hear me? Francois Hollande your boys took a hell of a beating!”

Going to tweet this over to Eurosport – sadly as an international broadcaster I’m sure David Harmon is far too professional these days to yell this when Cavendish hits the front on the Champs tomorrow, but one could dream.

Bjørge Lillelien, Norwegian sports journalist and commentator made the original when he commentated on Norway’s 2-1 victory against England in a World Cup qualifier in Oslo on 9 September 1981. At the end of the match, alternating between English and Norwegian, he proclaimed (in Norwegian) “We are best in the world! We have beaten England! England, birthplace of giants”, before taunting a roll call of famous English people.

“Lord Nelson, Lord Beaverbrook, Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Anthony Eden, Clement Attlee, Henry Cooper, Lady Diana, vi har slått dem alle sammen, vi har slått dem alle sammen [we have beaten them all, we have beaten them all]. Maggie Thatcher, can you hear me? Maggie Thatcher […] your boys took a hell of a beating! Your boys took a hell of a beating!”

Wikipedia has a good list of other parodies and a link to the original commentary which is brilliant. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bj%C3%B8rge_Lillelien

 

Brussels cycle lanes – taking the rough with the smooth

Last week’s trip to Amsterdam prompts me to revisit one of my pet rants.

The surface of cycle lanes in Brussels.

Rue des Sables - Brussels

Typical state of Brussels cobbles

There was lots of cycling on cobbled streets in Amsterdam and in Brussels. I like a nice cobbled street, even if it does play havoc on a small wheeled folding bike. Cobbles are part of Belgian cycling folklore, you can’t be a Flandrian icon without that background as a hard man of the pavé. So I’ll forgive the truly diabolical state of repair of the cobbles in what is supposed to be the capital of Europe.But why, oh why do so many Brussels cycle lanes have to be made of tiled surfaces? It’s an awful surface, effectively a pavement for bikes. And mostly built beside smooth, welcoming tarmac.

Tiles on the Avenue de Tervuren cycle path at the Tervuren end

Avenue de Tervuren cycle path

Harder to ride on, difficult and expensive to maintain, really unwelcoming.The most frustrating stretch I have found was on Avenue de Tervuren, the Tervurenlaan. Direct cycle route all the way to Brussels, nicely segregated from the main road. But every bone in my body wants me to move to the welcoming tarmac beside me rather than stay on the tiles.

Avenue de Tervuren cycle path at the Tervuren end

This looks really inviting, doesn’t it?

I am house hunting out here at the moment but the idea of this being the first 5km of my daily commute is a bit depressing.It’s not as if there is a design standard that stops them.

There are much better examples – to the north of Brussels a new section around an industrial estate and to the south in Walloon Brabant a lovely smooth descent through the rhododendrons near Chateau de La Hulpe which is more common out in this province.  Critics will say that it is deficient because it isn’t properly segregated, but frankly this is supposed to be the transport of delight, you shouldn’t need to be hard man of Flanders to bike to work.

Cycle lane on road to La Hulpe

A welcoming cycle lane on road to La Hulpe

Proper tarmac cycle lane in Brussels

Proper tarmac cycle lane!

Olympic cycling………..the good, the bad and the downright bloody stupid

The good

I finally landed some Olympic cycling tickets today. No tickets for the men’s road race viewing areas on Box Hill but at least some for the Sunday to watch the womens. First cycling tickets I have even had a sniff of despite “investing” a significant fortune in the lottery for the velodrome tickets last year.

The bad

Being forced to cough up to stand on a road and watch cycling. I know I’m late in my rant, but at the time all this blew up I was working for CTC and it might not have been politically acceptable for the CEO of a rival/partner (delete as appropriate)  body to our racing organisation to go ballistic over the fact that he couldn’t take his family to the prime spot for cyclists at the Olympics. No such constraints now.

How could anybody involved not know it would be a problem? Why not move the course to somewhere that can be watched by real cycling fans who were frozen out by all the corporates at the Velodrome? They had time. Only in Britain would cycling be reduced to this. Imagine telling the population of Paris that they wouldn’t be able to watch the cycling if they had won the blasted jamboree instead of us.

I love Box Hill – it is a great spot, I have cycled, walked and mountain biked round it. I know it needs to be preserved. So move the race, not remove the people.

The downright bloody stupid

Thanks to the CTC newsletter popping into my in-box on Friday I was able to give my new Brussels colleagues the benefit of some public ranting.

“Train companies to ban cycles during Olympics”.

Thats it. Every train operator who serves any station remotely useful for getting to the cycling has banned bikes for the weekend. I live 30 miles from any viewing point. I had hoped some younger relatives and also less “cycle-mad” adults would be coming out with us to enjoy their only chance to sample 9 billion pounds worth of our money. Chance of a lifetime? Fat chance!

Probably get a lawyer’s letter now for using the word “Olympic” without permission. Perhaps “Olymprics” could become the new name for the officials?

Madness Motel – the sequel

What is it with me and mad hotels this year?

Back in March In blogged about the wierd converted car park in Taipei – Madness Motel. Now thanks to Colm Ryder from Dublin Cycling Campaign sending me this photo I was reminded of the motel our Austria tour stayed at in Krems.

Cycle tour participants at the Motel in Krems

Motel - Krems AustriaThe idea must have seemed sensible to someone. The walkways outside the rooms look a bit unsafe, so we just add some industrial fencing.

I mean who says modern design is dead.

Strong suspicion that this might be related to the recent EU egg crisis – the banning of battery chicken farming may be the cause. Or is it to reassure cycle tourists about their bikes?

Hands up everyone who thinks Vienna’s public rental bikes are rubbish?

So who thinks the city bikes are rubbish?

Is it still acceptable for a major city to have a public bike sharing scheme with rubbish bikes?

Do not despair’s message is that there is nothing that cannot be made better by a bike ride and that any bike is better than no bike. But come on folks, you want to be a world leading cycling city with these?Vienna City Bikes

To be fair the current pro-cycling administration in Vienna inherited the current fleet. But if they really want to make a good impression at the Velo-City conference in 2013 then this should be an easy victory.

The booking and hiring system works well enough, all hired by credit card. But the bikes them selves are really poor. In particular 80% of the fleet has no gears and is set to a stupidly high single gear ratio which leaves even a stronger rider labouring and novices wobbling away from stops. Hardly something to make the casual rider think cycling is easy and comfortable.

Add solid tyres, tired and rattling equipment and regular breakdowns – could do better.

I’m quite looking forward to one of London’s fat monsters, they may be heavy and slow but they are comfortable and reliable.

Rant time – Austrian drivers

My big wake up call. I have never seen cars and buses routinely used for deliberate intimidation on the scale of my last four days in Austria.

I have cycled all over the world. Most of the time driver behaviour doesn’t worry me too much. I get annoyed by rank stupidity, unnecessary speed, impatience and incompetence, but so do drivers and walkers. Abuse comes, but the threat is minimal and not physical.

Four days ago in Vienna was the first time I saw a car driver partially overtake a group and then steer into the side of the group to force us out of the lane. I thought it was a mixture of incompetence and impatience, someone unable to realise that the group was 50 metres long.

But then several times more over the next three days, including hand gestures to make the intention quite clear. A city bus – like the hated bendy buses of London, but this driver deliberately trapped five riders against the kerb by pulling across us.

While most drivers waited politely to let our groups turn to the left across the traffic flow together yesterday there was a guy who sped towards the group to scatter it out of his way.

I wish I had the presence of mind to take photos or get the bus number, at least in Vienna. I think there would have been some local government embarrassment about intimidation of a visiting cyclists’ group, but the drivers clearly had no such fears.

Maybe I’m naïve – riding companion Vladimir from Moscow said he was not at all surprised by the drivers, but he felt safer in Russia because most roads had shoulders which the cyclists use and he did feel uncomfortable in a group out on the carriageway on rural roads. But I guess I expected Austria to be more benign, at least like Germany.

Most Austrian cyclists I met were positive about the direction of cycling in the country, and especially the potential for tourism with the stunning scenery and iconic routes like the Danube cycle route. Clearly their drivers have a lot of catching up to do and it would be a shame if this put visitors off.

Rant over – later I’ll follow up with some more positive Austrian stories.