It’s not just about the bike lanes. A beautiful cycle touring day in Copenhagen.

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This gallery contains 24 photos.

As a cyclist it is so easy to be blown away by the waves of Copenhageners cycling to work and school along their wonderful bike lanes and forget to take a look at the city and its region. I haven’t … Continue reading

The chilly cycle tourist – a short winter cycle tour of Munich

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This gallery contains 16 photos.

This was the cycling excursion that was never going to happen. It was the result of a three day process that went from “no way”, through “maybe” and “what the heck” and ended up as “that was good”. A chilly … Continue reading

Cycling in Madrid – great potential but major frustrations

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This gallery contains 19 photos.

My experience of Madrid cycling was one of complete contrasts. If I just spent my time in the trendy inner city districts I would have concluded that this was a cycle friendly city and the city’s hipsters were acting as … Continue reading

Transported by a time machine – bicycling back to old times in Melbourne.

Melbourne Australia

A simple bicycle journey took me back 28 years. And at the same time it helped change my negative reaction to 21st century Melbourne.

Before arriving everyone who has been to Melbourne in recent years  told me “You’ll be amazed how much it has changed”. I cast an interested eye over media and travel stories from Melbourne and I sensed that the city had successfully regenerated itself, especially acclaimed developments on the south bank of the River Yarra which had opened up a neglected city zone.

I guess gentle Adelaide was a bit of a false introduction to today’s Australia because on arrival in Melbourne I was shocked by the new freeways, the link roads, the intrusiveness of the new city centre buildings and above all else by the traffic. And when we reached our friend’s house we took a walk down to our old haunts of Chapel Street but they no longer felt like a friendly environment of cafes and small shops but a wall-to-wall temple of consumerism and never-ending traffic, even on a Sunday.

I couldn’t even cheer myself up by playing “When I see an adult on a bicycle I do not despair for the future of the human race” because I didn’t see any cyclists and only a few lonely bikes chained up to lamp-posts – never a good sign. (close to “desert” on my “Utrecht” cycle parking scale).

My gut reaction was really negative. What had become of the Melbourne I so enjoyed? Was it crushed by cars and buildings?

So I needed a pick-me-up. The way to do that was to take a tram up to the city, hire one of Melbourne’s public hire bikes and set off towards the area I used to live to see if the beach-side suburbs had survived the so called “improvements”.

Melbourne Pblic Bike sharing scheme

I started from the bike hire at Federation Square and quickly picked up the car free restaurant and café areas of the South Bank which were obviously colourful and vibrant and a huge improvement on the past. Then I managed to pick up a shared use path which followed the tram route out to Port Melbourne.

When I popped out on the sea front in front of the ferry terminal it was clear that a more low-key gentrification is in progress here too with more refurbishments and new buildings, but on a human scale. On cue the sun came out and a hazy tranquillity descended over the sea. Much better!

Port Melbourne

Bay bike path MelbourneAfter a brief pause I set off south along the Bay cycle paths I had also heard so much about, the ones I wished had existed years ago because then I wanted to ride by the sea but was never able to find a continuous attractive route.

Within minutes I reached Kerford Road Beach and the years just dropped away. This was instantly recognisable. And so, so, peaceful, even the few cars cruising along the beachfront road could not hide the fact that this is an oasis of calm just a short distance from the city centre.

Kerford road beach

After soaking up the atmosphere I swung away from the beach to the residential streets where I once lived to discover an even more remarkable throwback. I am not sure what planning regulations protect this area but it was as if the neat rows of single story houses with their picket fences and verandas were unchanged from the 1930s, never mind the 1980s. The fact that nobody seems to have been allowed to knock them down and rebuild keeps them all low so the sense of huge wide streets is retained too. It was deathly quiet, I could hear the children in the primary school and the rattle of the Middle Park tram a street away.

Middle Park Houses Melbourne Richardson Street Middle Park

The houses in this area may be a bit small for the Australian dream but for a trendy, near-city lifestyle near the beach they have become like gold, I can imagine this community will fight tooth and claw to preserve what they have and so they should. Unsurprisingly the small parade of shops that used to be little more than a convenience store and a laundry are all rather boho and the trendy looking cafes could offer a coffee in whatever blend of bean and milk is in style this week.

Middle Park shops Melbourne

To complete my journey I then biked across into Albert Park, the protective green barrier that keeps Middle Park tucked away from the rampant development of Melbourne. The city is ever present on the skyline but this large park and its attractive curved lake have been an escape for city dwellers for 150 years. It is still covered in the sports pitches, playgrounds and barbeque points that made it a green escape for the area. I walked to work through this park, something I regarded as a real treat then.

Lord Somers Camp and Powerhouse Albert Park Lake Melbourne

 

Melbourne skyline over Albert park Lake

I had expected Albert Park to be damaged by its current role as the home of the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix but it was not immediately obvious as the main features of the park are still the lake and sports pavilions. The only “monstrosity” I discovered at one end was the Formula 1 paddock which is a horrible lump of grey. I find it hard to believe that Australia doesn’t have one architect of note who could have done something sympathetic in this setting.

Formula 1 Grand Prix Paddocks Melbourne

Cadbury Schweppes House MelbourneBeyond the park are Queens Road and St Kilda Road, the noisy arterial roads that runs south from Melbourne’s central district with a long line of high rise offices and apartments that have highly valued views over the park and beyond to the sea. I used to work in St Kilda Road and our 14 storey office block had the most amazing 360 degree panorama, something to make work interesting almost every day, although as a junior sprog I never got remotely near one of the privileged window seats. A few buildings crowd around it now but I bet the top floor is still in demand.

Once I had completed a lap of Albert Park Lake I was completely refreshed and I drifted back through Middle Park to the beach front where I had my bonus dolphin encounter before riding back to the city. I was much more tolerant of the noise, traffic and congestion on my way out because I felt uplifted by my bike ride and my journey back in time.

I am not sure that three twenty-somethings all on their first salary could afford to rent in Middle Park now.  But I have to reflect now that I was so lucky to find a house share in this area as a naïve young bloke new to Melbourne. Even back then I could have lived in the bustling city centre or a happening suburb but the first advert I spotted put me this gentle neighbourhood a short walk from work, park, rugby club and beach.

I am so glad it is still there now and I hope Albert Park and Middle Park will be protected for years to come. If they are I despair a lot less about the future of the human race in Melbourne.

Cycling with dolphins.

Bicycle and dolphin Melbourne
Not two words often combined – cycling and dolphins.

I have had not one but two encounters with these beautiful creatures and both times it happened while cycling. I am sure some readers come from places where they are common but for me they are an extraordinary treat, a fascination from nature programmes on TV since childhood.

On Monday I took a Melbourne bike share bicycle out from the city to revisit the area I lived nearly 30 years ago when I was working in the city. I was returning along the beachfront cycle paths in Middle Park when I spotted the few people on the beach were staring out to sea and taking photos. I couldn’t pick up what it was while riding but I assumed an interesting boat or some divers so I stopped against the beach wall.

Dolphins Middle Park Beach Melbourne

I was absolutely delighted when I realised that there was a small family of dolphins, two adults and a youngster, circling around about 200 metres off shore. The water was millpond smooth on the almost windless afternoon so every ripple was visible. Sadly they never jumped right out of the water but I spent nearly 15 to 20 minutes watching and trying to coincide my photos with the places they surfaced. I was told there were dolphins in the bay when I lived here before but despite coming to this beach to run or swim for much of that year I never saw them. They cannot be that common off these beaches because their appearance was reported in a local paper the next day so I felt even more privileged.

My mind was also taken back nearly nine years to my previous dolphin encounter which remains one of life’s cycle touring highlights. My son Ben and I had a special cycle tour down the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island in December 2005 when he was 14 years old. On the longest day’s ride from Fox Glacier to the Haast Pass the road passed right along a beach and we decided this was the place for our lunch stop. Obligatory stone throwing and larking about ensued before we tackled the sandwiches sitting on the low sea wall. (Bruce Bay I think)Bruce Bay New Zealand

However the notorious West Coast sandflies soon discovered their own free lunch and despite the prodigious amounts of deterrent spray we were about to give up when we had our magic moment. A little group of black and white dusky dolphins started surfing in the waves. They clearly seemed to be playing as they returned time after time in ones and Dolphins New Zealandtwos to race in just under the wave crests. Then as quickly as they had come they disappeared with just a departing fin and a splash on the surface.

On both these occasions I really feel I would not have stopped if I had been in a car or on a tour bus and I would not have recognised the dolphins at driving speed.

Slow travel with the ability to stop and start almost anywhere is part of what makes cycling so special and I treasure my wildlife encounters almost as much as my human ones. I also perhaps wish I carried a bigger, higher quality camera when I am photographing animals because they are even more difficult than cyclists for reasonable images.

But the quality of the photos cannot take away the memories and dolphin encounters remain rare and precious moments in my cycling life.

24 hour beach-front Italian café. All is good in the world.

Cafe delle Rose Rimini Italy

If I lived in Rimini I would spend a lot of time in the Café Delle Rosa.

I am a morning person. (If you regard mornings as a torture inflicted on you personally by the devil you can probably ignore the rest of this post!). I wake relatively early when I am at home and in hotel rooms it is quite common that I am awake at four or five am. More than a few of these blog posts have been written in the early hours, but more importantly I think morning is the perfect time to be out in the world. The light, wildlife, tranquillity, empty roads all add up to a great time to see a place or a country. Here in Rimini the view from my room to the mountains of the Marche was just so much sharper in the morning it was tempting me out immediately.

Dawn looking towards the hills of La Marche from Rimini Italy

The frustration with that is that I am also a breakfast person and waking up in a hotel where I cannot even get a coffee until 7.30 am can really takes the shine off an early wander.

As a chilly morning started in Rimini I was tempted out of my hotel room by the prospect of a walk and a chance to catch the beach while it was deserted.

Rimini beach early morning ItalyTo my joy I discovered that close to the sea front was this wonderful 24 hour café serving delicious fresh pastries and confirming why the coffee machine is perhaps Italy’s greatest gift to the world. (More than Campagnolo?….now there’s a debate.) I needed some “me-time” and a passed almost an hour sorting out the world in my head.

Cafe delle Rose in Rimini Italy

I cannot imagine that I would ever want to live in a place that has 7 million visitors a year and in peak season sells its beach by the square metre. But if I did I would come down here on one of the shared Rimini bikes that have a parking point perfectly positioned in front of the café. My only dilemma would be whether to walk and cycle along the beach before or after my coffee.

Morning over the Adriatic Rimini Italy

 

When I see a cute dog on cycle basket I do not despair for the future of cycling in Dublin

Stepping outside my hotel at the ECF AGM in Dublin I cannot help but smile.

Aren’t cute pets what the internet was invented for?

Dog on cycle basket Dublin

And just nearby the Dublin bikes are waiting for action in front of the historic Christchurch on a lovely spring morning.

It’s going to be a good day.

Dublin bikes, Christchurch

 

Velo-city Global: Taipei on the rise

A copy of an article I have just written for the ECF web site.

Original article here with better formatting

Cycling Taipei riverside pathsThe Velo-city Global series of cycling conferences took a big step forward last Friday, 7th March 2014. As the countdown for Velo-city Global 2014 in Adelaide began, ECF’s managing team traveled to Taipei to attend the first workshop leading up to the next Velo-city Global in 2016. ECF Director of Development, Kevin Mayne, explains how the Velo-city series can transform Taipei, promote inter-city exchange and push for a holistic improvement in cycling conditions. 
ECF President Manfred Neun

ECF President Manfred Neun

The first workshop in Taipei was a unanimous success.  As ECF President Manfred Neun pointed out: “Our new partners in Taipei are not only keen to develop cycling in their city but they have shown they want to work with cities everywhere. Each Velo-city conference benefits from being part of a family, I have talked to many people who say they are afraid to miss one because the content is evolving so fast. The Taipei delegation to Adelaide will now be part of that strong momentum.”

It certainly appears that Adelaide and Taipei will have a lot to talk about together and to share with colleagues from around the globe. Both are “climber cities” in cycling terms, working their way up from relatively low mode shares to establish cycling as mainstream mode of transport. However both have developed a strong leisure and sport cycling base in recent years that gives encouragement that there is a pent up demand for cycling.

Taipei’s strengths showed at the workshop

Collaboration: At this first event the city already attracted support from the Commissioners for Transport for the six largest cities in Taiwan, representing a population of over 16 million people. ECF’s Manfred Neun set out a ten point cycling agenda for them to consider over the next two years which could return the human dimension to transport in any city. Also speaking was Lloyd Wright from the Asian Development Bank giving a strong regional perspective and two well-known Taiwanese figures from ECF’s academic network “Scientists for Cycling” Professors Jason Chang of National Taiwan University and Hsin Wen Chang of Chung Hua University.

ECF Secretary General and Velo-city series Director Bernhard Ensink with Jason Chang Hsin and Wen Chang from the cities panel

ECF Secretary General and Velo-city series Director Bernhard Ensink with Jason Chang Hsin and Wen Chang from the cities panel

Commitment: This workshop was only the first in a series of events in the two year run up to Velo-city 2016. It was launched by the Mayor Hau Lung-Bin and well backed by his team and the large cities. The city also seems determined to show what it can do in the transport sector as it already has a very successful mass Rapid Transit (MRT or metro) and has achieved what few others have done in providing a single ticketing system for all its public transport including the fast growing Youbike public bike sharing system. These were political commitments driven from the top.
Strong political will: This workshop and many more to come are launched by Mayor Hau Lung-Bin and well backed by his team and the large cities

Strong political will: This workshop and many more to come are launched by Mayor Hau Lung-Bin and well backed by his team and the large cities

Industry leaders push for more leisure cycling…

Collaboration and commitment also sum up some of the cycling achievements of Taipei and indeed the whole of Taiwan in recent years. Up to 10 years ago the flagship of Taiwanese cycling was its world leading bicycle manufacturing sector but industry figures recognised that a lack of a cycling culture in home markets was undermining their capacity to “learn by doing”.

The first developments were partnerships in leisure and tourism with a mix of cycle touring routes, riverside cycle paths, mass participation rides and visible leadership by the top companies such as Giant. All this was a close collaboration with cities, tourism authorities and other public bodies. A national cycling master plan was created to support this change.

…but Velo-city is a opportunity to crystallize measures and coordinate change

Daily cycling is however a very different challenge but it is now one that the six cities seem committed to take on board with Taipei and the largest city of the south Kaohsiung in the vanguard.

The usual concerns of budget, space and safety were all highlighted at the workshop. They are all facing a real challenge of where to put their cycling infrastructure because the instinct is to grab space from the pavements and share space with pedestrians. In many places the sidewalks are broad enough to accommodate cycle paths but there is some way to go in public education for it to succeed.

Taipei cycling achievements

-In the last year cycling mode share in Taipei is up 30% to 5.5%, a figure many European capital cities still cannot match.

-The Youbike bike sharing is hitting usage figure that match with the world’s best, over 10 uses per bike per day.

-Almost uniquely for a low mode share city the cycling revolution in Taipei is female. Elsewhere in the world climber cities struggle to attract women cyclists until they have created safe segregated cycle networks. In Taipei women are 50% of the cycling population and a majority of Youbike users.

-Noticeably helmet wearing levels are low. This suggests a younger generation of women don’t feel intimidated as they make cycling part of their daily lives. Middle aged men in lycra (MAMILS) they are not.

From Taipei to Adelaide: Infrastructure and other hot trends in cycling policy

What has pushed their thinking toward using pavements is not just cars. Like so many other Asian cities -and even some European ones- it is scooter culture that has been the response of the population to both congestion and limited incomes. On Taipei’s streets this is a highly challenging environment for the nervous cyclist. ECF gently encouraged our hosts to be bolder and think about taking space from cars, not pedestrians.

lady cyclist and scootersThe mix of fast moving traffic on broad streets presents the other lesson that Taipei will want to learn and share with cities all over the world – junction design for cyclists. The latest thinking in infrastructure development is always a hot topic at Velo-city, Adelaide will just be the next step in an ongoing debate. In Taipei now most cyclists cross with pedestrians using the walk signals at traffic lights but the conflicts and accidents remain high. In ECF’s presentations and other speakers’ comments the successes of the Netherlands, Copenhagen and New York were mentioned as case studies for comparison

Our trip to Taipei was summed up by ECF’s Secretary General who is also Velo-city Series DirectorBernhard Ensink said “Velo-city series is in good hands, we have groups of cities with strong ambitions and distinct identities in Adelaide, Nantes and Taipei. Our new partner Taipei is already thinking hard about its agenda and will send a strong delegation to Adelaide. I am really looking forward to working with them all.”

Lost in the mists of Warsaw

Warsaw Old Town City Centre

I am paying my first visit to Poland, which is very exciting, even though winter is closing in across Eastern Europe and it is all a bit cold and dark today.

I am here to support some side events at COP 19, the latest round of the United Nations Climate negotiations.We have a Transport Day on Sunday which is attracting some of the world’s top minds in the field to try and address how we reverse the increasing share transport is playing in CO2 emissions, especially in the developing world.

And on Saturday we have the “Climate Ride”, a nice physical act by the city of Warsaw to do something positive away from all the debating chambers, side events, workshops and negotiations that go on non-stop for two weeks. As one of the supporters I am really looking forward to riding with the local bike community.

I got here around lunchtime and after some meetings I just had some time in the gathering gloom to hire one of the Ventrilo city public hire bikes  and orient myself.

It’s not the easiest city to ride – most of my pre-reading on various forums about cycling in Warsaw was awfully fearful about Polish drivers and general cycling conditions. I did get forced almost off the road by a bus in the first five minutes but in true idonotdespair style I was soon in to it, when i doubt I just rode up the broad sidewalks with the other cyclists. (Yes there were a few cyclists – so I truly do not despair!)

Warsaw Old City

The best bit was the calm of the old restored city centre where I shall certainly return in the next few days for a further look round, especially as we start our bike ride in front of City Hall.

I also had to smile a wee bit in the context of my reason for being here. I saw two buildings that are associated with the Climate Change negotiations. The National Stadium is the host for the COP process and the Palace of Culture and Science is a second venue, promoting the COP with it’s hopeful banner “I care”.

Both were shrouded in mist today.

COP 19 Venue

COP 19 Banner

A bit like the COP process for many people, maybe including me. I am deputising for a colleague  who couldn’t make it to this meeting. Fortunately for cycling in the long run he understand this world better than I do, and all the important questions.

Will there be a breakthrough in negotiations that we all believe can reset the path for the future?

Can anybody in the outside explain the five pages of acronyms and descriptions of all the things that are supposed to deliver the changes we need?

I am struggling to know my NAMAs from my CDMs right now, along with all the other key mechanisms for taking action on Climate Change, it is a steep learning curve.

The gain is that I get to visit Warsaw, the pain is that by Sunday I need to be fluent in COPspeak……………..back to the briefing papers.

Out to lunch in Brussels by bike – we should do this more often

It has been a stunning week in Brussels. Sunshine almost all the way.

ECF lunch ride

Tempted by the weather and a visitor we changed our usual habits and went out for lunch by bike on Tuesday. I mean we are a cycling organisation but frankly being positioned next to a popular Irish pub and lots of the EU districts cafes means we rarely stray far when we nip out for a quick bite.

What a good idea, rustling up a couple of folders and some Villo! public bikes for visitors and those who walked in so 14 of us could set off in convoy to a delightful Sicilian run restaurant just far enough away from the political bubble to be friendly and relaxed.

brussels riding September Brussels lunch ride

We all agreed “let’s do this again!”Out to lunch BrusselsECF riding in Brussels

When I join 100,000 Parisians on a Velib I do not despair for the future of the human race

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This gallery contains 13 photos.

Time to join the French revolution and get a proper taste of Europe’s biggest bike sharing scheme. 100,000 bike trips will have been made today by Velib, and one of them was mine. I was on a work trip to … Continue reading

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”