Serious playtime – bikes, bike share and smiling

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This gallery contains 5 photos.

When I am doing speeches and presentations about cycling I am usually concentrating on the serious benefits and economic arguments for cycling. But I often get to remind my audiences that there is a little bit of magic about cycling, … Continue reading

Dockers, hipsters and cyclists – a different Kiev

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This gallery contains 3 photos.

When I went to Kiev in 2012 my hosts at the Kiev Cyclists Association had an office in Podil, the Kiev lower city where I found an interesting and bustling urban centre close to the river Dnieper. However this time … Continue reading

Cyclists’ Christmas greetings from around Europe

Magyar KerekparosklubIt has been really nice to get a mixed selection of cycling themed Christmas greetings popping into the inbox. Now I can steal one or two to make my own Christmas message.

I’m sure the general standard is getting higher every year, but there will always be a case for a bunch of cyclists dressed as Santa on their way to a party, at least in Stevenage! And Copenhageners just can’t help showing off their levels of cycling can they?

My personal favourite is the one above from the Hungarian Cyclists Club. I think the wording is just perfect, it sums up my philosophy of cycling completely and is the perfect antidote to those who bring their tribalism to our great pastime, transport and sport. Goodwill to all cyclists from me.

Best wishes for the season.

Ukrainian Cyclists AssociationSanta's Cycles StevenageLedbury Xmas e cardCopenhagen Christmas 2012

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.

Hovis bread advert recreated in Kiev

Just for my British followers. Having cycled up Andriivsky in Kiev I realised that only one photograph could do it justice. For those from outside the Uk this advert is part of our cycling heritage, it advertises bread. It has been recreated a number of times using celebrated cyclists including Chris Boardman and most recently Victoria Pendleton. In both cases – its a great hill.

Kevin Mayne recreating Hovis advertGold Hill Shaftsbury England

Although I have to say Ira from the Kiev Cyclists’ Association campaign does it better justice than me, better bike, more style.

Ira Bondarenko Kiev Cyclists' Association

Yevpatoria, Crimea. Impressions, contrasts and amazing light

Beach sceneI am in Yevpatoria, which is a holiday resort on the Black Sea in Crimea, Ukraine as the first stage of a two part trip to Ukraine promoting cycle advocacy. Tomorrow I’m on the night train to Kiev which according to Lonely Planet is one of the top 10 things to do in Ukraine, so that should be fun.

We are here because the Black Sea is one of the primary holiday destinations for what was the old Soviet Union because of its climate and beaches and has loads of infrastructure for tourism. It still attracts a big summer market of Ukranians and Russians but this leaves a lot of hotel capacity off season so it is a great spot for a conference about cycling and cycle tourism. So I’m here representing ECF with one of my colleagues trying to help the local cycling movement share some ideas from around Europe.

As “I not despair” is my private blog I’ll stick to my rules about not mixing the work stuff, our agenda is here and I have been tweeting from the conference on @maynekevin so you can find out more there.

But to the Yevpatoria today. Most British people only know some vague reference to the Crimea as a disastrous war which involved Florence Nightingale’s revolution in hospital treatment. This post is just some thoughts, photos and musings about my first two days in Ukraine, in fact my first visit to any part of the former Soviet Union. It has been great to walk and get hold of a bike to tour around this moderately sized but ancient city which I gather has a very distinctive feel compared to much of Ukraine.

Imperial hotelWhat this place certainly delivers on is balmy autumn weather, it is just glorious outside and the first impression in the morning is to look from the balcony of my hotel across to the tree lined promenade to a still and silent sea with warm sunshine around.

The second impression is then silence. This is a seaside resort out of season and just about a ghost town. When our taxi arrived the first night I’ll swear we never saw another vehicle and even in the morning I can walk or cycle whole blocks without seeing a movement except the odd stray dog.

Down on the beach there is a gentle quiet broken by the occasional gull and some older folks who come down to the sea to swim, probably every day.

Electric Trolley or Tram carThe main town is a bit busier but it is very easy to wander or cycle out into the streets without fear. The ancient electric trams are a delight rattling their way about town.

Everywhere there are contrasts. Some of the facilities are decrepit and crumbling, others obviously well cared for.

Some of the hotels appear to be modern and discrete while others would not look out of place in Blackpool or other garish seaside resort of your country. The architecture runs from authentic to garish seaside fake that seems universal the world over. I didn’t realise that the 1930s fake Mediterranean/Spanish white architectural look that runs from the north of England across the English speaking world to Australia (St Kilda?) and across to the US was actually so universal in seaside towns it was adopted here too but there is no doubt that some of the styling has that heritage.

White houseGeenery lined streetSome streets are well kept and well used while others are a joined mess of potholes that played havoc even with mountain bikes.

Brutalist styling, then masses of greenery and lots of dusty parks and open spaces in between with banks of plants and hedges along the roads.

Derelict building and wastelandThis morning I cycle out to the Eastern edge of the town along the sea front and I was struck by this contrast. To my right a building waiting to be condemned set amongst wasteland and scrub. To my left a section of beach and a lovingly cared for beach hut used by the beach attendant which almost glowed in the early morning light.Beach attendant's hut

And the morning light on the sea front is amazing. It just has that golden glow that makes whites stronger and colours brighter, brilliant for photography.Beach scene

As ever I am grateful to friends Google and Wikipedia for a bit of research into Yevpatoria which  helped on my two trips away from our beachfront haven into the main town. We also had the guided tour from a local tour guide last night which was great apart from the somewhat significant flaw that we had 40 people on bikes and the tour guide was on foot. I’m also ever so grateful to the Ukrainians like Olga who stepped in to translate at key moments!

What a heritage. In one paragraph the Wikipedia potted history runs from Greek settlement in 500BC to settlement, invasion or occupation by Khazars, Cumans, Mongols, Khans, Tartars, Ottomans, Russians, British, French, Turkish, Germany and the spiritual residence of a branch of Judaism called Crimean Karaites. Just shows the strategic importance of the Crimean Peninsula to the Black Sea and all the countries around it.

This melting pot of cultures has left a wonderful assortment of religious buildings which stand out as a contrast to the tat and simulation of the beach areas. St Nicholas Cathedral, The 400 year old Juma Jami Mosque, the recently resorted historic quarter of the Karaites known as Little Jerusalem with the restored Kenassa or temple as its main feature. These buildings are in the best condition of anything in town, even the repair scaffolding in the cathedral was being dusted by one of the ever present women with a brush that seem to be in every street. For all the challenges of infrastructure and economy this is a fascinating place to visit.

Mosque and cathedralEntrace to Little Jerusalem