Sometimes you forget the that one of the advantages of cycling over driving a car, is that it is much more sociable. Other cyclists nod and say hello and sometimes they stop and chat, like this guy did.
On Tuesday 19 January, our ‘Motion for Women’ petition, which attracted nine thousand signatures of support from people across the UK, was delivered - by bike naturally - to the House of Commons and formally presented to Sadiq Khan, the Minister for Transport.
Meanwhile in Cardiff, Rosemary Butler, the National Assembly for Wales’ Deputy Presiding Officer, who learned to cycle last year with help from Sustrans Cymru, received the petition on the steps of The Senedd. Whilst Scotland’s Transport Minister, Stewart Stevenson, accepted the petition outside Scottish Government in Edinburgh.
At all three governments, we made a statement by asking local women, who want to feel safe enough to make more everyday journeys by bike, to hand over the petition.
Terry Cassels (pictured above), a Sustrans Bike Belle in Essex who has been blogging, reviewing women’s cycling equipment and shared her cycling experiences on our bike belles website, helped present the petition at Westminster: ‘It was incredibly exciting to visit the House of Commons, where so many important decisions and so much history is made, and be able to represent the 9,000 signatories who all want a safer space to cycle in.
'The Minister seemed genuinely interested in what we were asking for and promised to consider it seriously. It's a really positive step in working towards a more cycle-friendly nation.'
Thanks to all of you who signed and circulated the petition. We will keep you informed on how the governments respond on the Sustrans website.
Well I’ve had my bike for well over a year now so I thought it was about time I reviewed it.
As I blogged before here, the main reason for choosing this bike was the fact it was specifically designed to carry two childseats. I’d already tried a trailer and found hitching it on and off a pain as well as how limiting it was to where you can ride with one. Sheffield cycle paths are generally far too narrow for a trailer. A cargo bike would have the same problems and of course it is a very expensive option. Unfortunately, my timing of the purchase wasn’t good, as the pound collapsed against the euro - not the best time to import a bike from Holland! Still even allowing for the poor exchange rate it isn’t bad value for money.
The other option I considered was a Gazelle Impala which can also accommodate two child seats, however having tried one out I discovered my feet won’t reach the floor on the lowest setting (even in heels) so that wasn’t an option. Unusually, for a Dutch bike the Bloom comes in a smaller frame size with 26 inch wheels, instead of 28 inch, which means that it is small enough for someone as tiny as me.
The Bloom has a number of features not found on an ordinary bike.
Firstly, the handlebars. These are specially designed to wrap around a Bobike Mini childseat and have padded grips all around for a child to hold onto. In reality though my daughter keeps trying to hold onto the ends which involves a lot of wrestling her off when you’re riding along! I particularly like the soft grips on the handle bars, which are very comfortable in summer when I don’t need my gloves on.
Then there is the steering lock. In theory this is a great idea you can lock the front handle bars in place to keep the front childseat from swinging around while you load the child into the seat. In reality it’s a bit feeble and doesn’t work very well. It certainly is no match for a toddler tantrum. I also find I sometimes can’t get it off, but this isn’t a problem as you can steer with it on, it just makes for very notchy steering!
There is also a double kickstand a bit like a motorbike one, again this is a bit feeble and I’ve had a lot of trouble with it coming loose. The theory is you can load up two children without having to lean the bike against a wall. This only works if you can find a level surface (almost impossible in Sheffield) so I generally have to work out which way the bike is leaning and stand that side to catch it as it inevitably starts to go as I load on the girls. I’ve also had numerous instances of trying to park up and the bike toppling over because of a gust of wind etc. A bike this big need a much bigger stand!
And finally to size. To accommodate two childseats, and in particular to ensure you can cycle with the front childseat on without banging your knees, the bike is much longer than normal and this does mean it has a large turning circle. Generally this isn’t a major problem, but manoeuvring in tight space is tricky and most of the councils daft cycle junctions (you know the sort, right angled bends, silly chicanes) are pretty much impossible. Bike parking can be a bit tricky especially if the stands aren’t even installed properly as can be seen here.
The stand is set way too low in the ground and far to close to the wall.
Apart from those niggles I’m pretty happy with the bike. It has all the bits that you would expect from a Dutch bike, mudgards, skirt guard, built in O-lock, fully enclosed chain guard, bell, built-in lights, luggage rack, all weather hub brakes etc. It also has 7 hub gears, which having tested it out thoroughly now I can safely say give just as good a range as the 21 gears on my mountain bike. I’ve done around 1200 miles on it so far so I think that’s a reasonable test. It’s quite a heavy bike, but generally this is pretty irrelevant when you are transporting two kids and luggage. It also is a joy to ride on my own. Then it feels incredibly lightweight and glides along effortlessly on the flat. As for the hills, they are hard work, but then they were hard work on my previous bike too. I think it’s just me. I’m just wondering if I will ever get fit enough to like going uphill?
And my favourite feature? It has to be the seat! The seat is fantastic - I cannot rave about this enough! It is so comfy and supportive. It is a Gazelle branded Selle Royal gel saddle which is a million times better than the one on my mountain bike also supposedly a woman’s gel saddle by Selle Royal. The Gazelle one though is designed for real women who have wide hips and it makes a huge difference having your pelvis properly supported. It is also set on a suspension seat post which certainly helps with the potholes. What can I say, the bike was worth every penny for the saddle alone!
Well actually this is a pretty good one - it’s not ridiculously narrow, follows Sheffield’s contours, is a contraflow down a one way street and has a solid white line and double yellow lines to tell traffic to keep out. Just one slight catch - the big black metal box (and the queue of others behind) in the way…
Well, normally I would say no. After all, queues of dirty and rusting vehicles (let’s face it they stop looking like the adverts 5 minutes after you leave the showroom) belching out black smoke etc is hardly aesthetically pleasing. And it’s hardly much fun sitting in one either, watching the driver behind picking their nose and wondering if the one in front is ever going to put on their handbrake or insist on rocking backwards and forwards on the clutch for ever.
Note the interpretation where the edge of the (admittedly rather worn) cycle lane is quite variable.
However, maybe this is a bit more pleasing to the eye?
Of course we could all ride our bikes a bit more, but that would be too difficult and inconvenient wouldn’t it ;-)
I posted last week about black ice and after the last few days thawing it returned with avengence. The slush had frozen solid overnight and it was like an ice rink as I slithered and slid my way along pushing my bike until I got to a point where I thought the road was clear. I carefully got on made a couple of revolutions of the pedals and felt my bike slide out from under me. I landed on my bum in a sort of slow motion sit down as the bike fell sideways.
Luckily I wasn’t hurt, but getting back up proved somewhat difficult and lifting my bike back up again when I’d managed to get vertical again was an even bigger challenge. A man walking past came to my aid and between the pair of us sliding about we finally got the bike up again. One of my neighbours pulled up in her car behind us and asked if I was OK. I was, but she wasn’t as her car started to slide on the ice. After a bit of wheel spinning she finally set off again and the kind man who had come to my aid suggested I’d be safer on the pavement where the uneven surface at least had some grip to it. He’d already fallen over once.
I walked and slid slowly to the main road, before I dared get back on my bike again. The treacherous conditions had made people take to the road and I overtook several pedestrians walking in the bus lane. However, the diminishing snow meant the traffic was back to normal levels and had quadrupled from last week - although that soon became less of an issue as within a couple of hundred yards the cars were at a standstill and I was sailing past in the bus lane.
I also found this interesting observation on the Finnish approach to black ice from Ian Sacs
"Very snowy holiday greetings from Finland, everyone! While here visiting my in-laws and friends, I wanted to take a quick moment and share an interesting observation about the way Finns handle the incessant layers of snow that blanket their chilly winter country. It seems that aside from limited access highways and some primary arterials, the Finnish standard for snow treatment is to plow to a reasonable depth, but not worry too much about an inch or two of snow base layer covering streets. Some streets get sand treatment as well, but salt is used very, very sparingly.
The result? Careful, responsible, sensible, slow moving traffic that does not take any chances - even on exit ramps! As we all know, the problem with salting is that it is a relentless maintenance effort and results in tons of unwanted salts polluting our waterways. Also, driver expectations for clean, black streets opens the door for many accidents in weather hovering near freezing where seemingly clear streets are covered with so-called “black ice”, unbeknownst to drivers travelling at merely wet (as opposed to frozen) street speeds. This can be confusing and dangerous. With black streets, the message is unclear and covers too broad a set of conditions to always expect drivers to travel at frozen street speeds. With white, snow covered streets, the message is unquestionably clear: Drive Slow! I have been happily observing on my various trips on buses, trams, and in cars here in Helsinki and other regional cities how this likely unintended side-effect of a more practical and environmentally friendly approach to winter roadway maintenance works so well, and offers a beautiful white street to boot!”
Last Wednesday morning I finally braved the snow on my bike. I briefly flirted with the idea of digging out my mountain bike, but figured the advantage of knobbly tires would be offset by the uncertainty of whether the brakes were still working and the fact that, once I’d negotiated the side roads and snow, I would spend most of my journey getting a face full of dirty salt. Plus I wouldn’t have space to carry a spare pair of shoes or my lunch. I figured if cyclists in Copenhagen and Amsterdam could manage on their everyday bikes, then so could I.
Cycle chic went out the window as I dressed for the cold - it was minus 4 degrees and even colder in the wind. I choose an interesting combination of wellies (blue with white stars and red stripes down the back by Joules) with 4 pairs of socks. My boots would’ve been warmer, but I knew the chances of having to wade through several inches of slush by the time I got into work were pretty high, so decided waterproof was essential. I was also convinced I was going to end up sliding and on my bum at some point in the journey so I dug out a circa 1990 C&A (who have long since disappeared from the British High Street) all-in-one snow suit in purple, turquoise and orange with batwing sleeves (which on the plus side at least co-ordinated well with my bike), matching purple ski gloves and my new Australian bush hat (waxed leather and waterproof). A fashion statement and a half as one of my work colleagues commented! Still I was warm and dry ;-P
The side roads were still full of hard packed snow, so I chose the flattest road I could find to get out onto the main road. I set of tentatively at a snails pace, but all was well until I reached the corner. Here the combination of snow frozen in ridges and slush meant any attempts at turning the wheel were met with a sideways slide! I decided to get off an push.
Having navigated the corner, I set off again using a technique of rolling downhill, with my leg outstretched to act as an additional brake. A car appeared behind me, no doubt frustrated by my slow progress, but there was no way I was moving off to the side into 6-8 inches of snow.
I finally made it to the main road, which had been gritted and was fairly clear, although substantially narrower than usual with snow extending out past the pavements a fair way. All was fine (if rather slow), until I reached the city centre and realised there was no way I could follow my usual route and ended up having to follow the one-way system. All well and good, but when you don’t know where you are going getting the right lane and dealing with the traffic gets a whole lot harder. At least there were hardly any cars on the road. The snow didn’t seem to have put off Sheffield’s cyclists. I was overtaken by a dozen other people on my way in. Including a very stylish young lady in red.
Going home, keen to avoid the route I’d come in I foolishly decided to go a more direct route. Unfortunately this meant navigating Park Square roundabout (for people who don’t know Sheffield this is on the scale of a motorway roundabout and has 4 or 5 sets of traffic lights on it), but lulled into a false sense of security by the drastic reduction in traffic on the roads I decided to go for it.
(The roundabout is beneath the bridge and spans most of the width of this photo)
The traffic wasn’t too bad and those few drivers that were about seemed to be so shocked by the idea of someone cycling on this roundabout that they gave me a very wide berth. The traffic lights also helped by making it reletavely easy to change lanes. What I hadn’t bargained for, and you get no sense of in a car, is how large the roundabout was, by the time I had pedalled round I felt like I had gone about half a mile. So much for going a more direct route!
Once on the other side I was on the ring road (4 lanes of traffic) which luckily was fairly congested and the traffic was moving slowly. I made my exit the easy way, at the red light for the crossing outside the station, I dismounted and walked across to continue my journey on some quieter and, unfortunately more icy, roads.
At one point I departed from my intended route and followed a bus assuming the road would be clear. However, the slush got thicker and thicker, and the white stripe down the middle of the road grew broader. A gritter passed me but that didn’t make much difference there was so little traffic on the road. Eventually I arrived at my street and slithered and slid with my strange leg to the side stance to to brake to my house.
The family car has sat still all week in all this snow (it doesn’t go out much most weeks anyway). However, the downside of it sitting there under a pile of snow is that at some point in the week someone had rammed into it and driven off. Of course hidden by the snow we didn’t realise until taking the car out and discovering the front wing dented and the door scratched. Still, I guess the snow looks pretty…
On Tuesday morning Sheffield ground to a halt as a snow storm hit and while plenty of other people were still getting about on their bikes in the snow, I’m afraid the idea of balancing precariously with two kids on my bike didn’t really appeal. So we went to school by sledge…
(These are photo’s from Tuesday afternoon when the snow had calmed down)
The roads looked like this…
This roundabout was so quiet someone built a snowman in the middle.
We weren’t the only ones who chose to go by sledge, there were plenty of others…
This major route looked just like the side roads in the morning rush hour. It was passable by the afternoon, but in the morning cars were sliding all over the place.
On the last day of the Christmas holidays we took the kids on the big wheel in Sheffield City Centre. These are some of the pictures I took from up there for anyone who doesn’t know Sheffield and probably an unusual view for those who do!
I wasn’t brave enough, yesterday, but there were others who were (although I only saw them on the main roads, which had been gritted). Today the snow was even heavier and even the main roads were barely passable by car - but I still saw 2 cyclists go by.
Here’s a couple of photos from yesterday (the snow was a blizzard this morning and too heavy to take my camera out in)
Cars weren’t fairing much better though…
There was a lot of this going on. This guy was lucky and managed to rope in a couple of pedestrians to help out!
The road had been gritted, but cars were wheel spinning and skating all over the place at this roundabout.
This morning it was covered in 3 inches of snow, the only cars that went past were a Range Rover, a Land rover and a Land Cruiser - 5 sledges went past in the same period!
Snow on the rooftops - I think they could do with some more loft insulation though…