Thursday, 13 July 2017

Devon and Cornwall Police - Operation Closepass

After much anticipation, the day finally arrived on which D & C Police would launch their Operation Closepass! For those unfamiliar with this, it is a method of roads policing pioneered by the West Mids Police Roads Policing Unit, and basically involves a cop, in plain clothes, riding a bicycle up and down a stretch of road. He (or she) has a radio, and the bike has a forward facing camera and a rear facing camera. If the police cyclist receives a close overtake, they radio to colleagues up ahead, who pull the driver over.

The operation is NOT meant to be punitive, but rather educational, so drivers aren't prosecuted (initially, anyway), but are given a brief education on why they should give cyclists more space. The idea is that drivers go away, realising they'd done something wrong - often without fully realising it at the time - to hopefully not repeat the mistake in future.

The vision was to have a fantastically successful day, launching the operation in Plymouth and in Dorset at the same time, with the ironic hope to catch (and therefore have the opportunity to educate, not prosecute) many drivers.

Now I'm fond of quoting Lennon;s words: Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans. And life indeed happened. Or rather, the weather happened! The day before was dry, and the day after forecast to be dry, but on the day of the launch, it rained - heavily at times.

As a result, the operation was cut short in Plymouth, and in Dorset it was almost totally rained out. As one police officer said: I don't mind standing in the rain, but I can't exactly ask a driver to get out of their car and get soaked, while I explain things to them using the special mat.

BBC Spotlight News and ITV Westcountry News both covered the event, as did Heart Radio and the Plymouth Herald.
Chief Inspector Adrian Leisk, head of roads policing for the D & C Police and Dorset Police Roads Policing Alliance was there, as was Sergeant Gary Williamson from the roads policing unit. Sergeant Williamson, far more than anyone else, deserves the credit for making the operation happen. He has worked tirelessly, for quite some time, to make it possible.

Exeter Cycling Campaign attended, represented by Caspar Hughes, while Plymouth Cycling Campaign was represented by Stuart Mee. The surprise supporter of the day was Alison Hernandez, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall.

So was the day a failure, given that only three drivers were pulled over and educated, which is a very low number?

In short, no - absolutely not!

This was the 1st of many such operations throughout the force's area. The Roads Policing Alliance has two mats, and two sets of cameras, so they can deliver two operation simultaneously on the same day, in different locations.
Nobody had any real expectations of an enormous success on the first attempt, and the officers involved acknowledged that to them it was very much a learning experience.

Already, there's been a lot of good that came off the operation: Chief Inspector Leisk was interviewed on BBC Spotlight News, where he gave a very fair explanation of why Operation Close Pass is needed, and why the force will continue to repeat it throughout its area. As a direct result of that, potentially tens of thousands of drivers were told about Operation Close Pass, and told to expect more.

This simply means there's an increased likelihood that drivers will start giving cyclists more space, either because they've been told to (and the reasons were explained) or because they're worried that the cyclist up ahead may just be an undercover police officer.

Alison Hernandez was extremely supportive of the operation (her office purchased one set of cameras for police to use) and was keen to see it repeated. We also learned that the police officer cycling up and down on the camera-equipped bicycle, when the operation is repeated in Exeter, will be the Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police himself.
With both the PCC and the Chief Constable supporting Operation Close Pass, it's fair to say it now has buy-in from the very top.

So was the day a complete success? Well, that's a no, too. It would be wrong to think of this in such black and white terms as success or failure. Instead, we should think of this as the start of a journey.

Many positives have already come from this, but there's more to follow, and many of those aren't obvious. For instance, it is tempting to want bad drivers arrested, fined, or even banned from driving, and while punishments sometimes are inevitable, research tells us we get far better results through education.
For a very long time, cyclists have said they have no trust in police, and as a result, stopped reporting incidents to police. Police, on the other hand, proceeded on the basis that there was no problem, as cyclists weren't reporting incidents. This miscommunication led to an almost complete breakdown of communication from both sides, and that wasn't helping anyone.

More than that, many officers simply didn't think a report of a close overtake, or similar near-hit, warranted them spending any time on it. As one senior officer said to me, a number of years ago: "We have real police work to do".

But we've moved on from that!

Now, police openly acknowledge that there is indeed a problem, and they're assigning resources to it.

Reporting incidents can still be a hit and miss process, and is best done directly to Sgt Williamson. Chief Insp Leisk is planning on setting up a peninsula-wide cycling forum, with members from the community, as well as police. That would be another huge step forward, allowing for better communication again.

Next year, a group of officers, including Chief Insp Leisk and Sgt Williamson (and hopefully Deputy Chief Constable Paul Netherton), are joining members from the cycling community in cycling Devon Coast To Coast over two days. I'm still hoping to recruit Alison Hernandez, too, but she doesn't know this yet, so don't tell her!

Police have clearly shown they are ready, willing and able to engage with the cycling community, and we cyclists need to reciprocate by reporting incidents we encounter on the roads.

Of course this isn't all one-sided - D & C Police are launching a programme highlighting cyclists' rights and responsibilities. They have an agreement with Halfords, that every bike sold will have attached a leaflet showing cyclists' rights on the one side, and their responsibilities on the other. Any other bicycle retailers who wish to join that programme are more than welcome to do so, by contacting Sgt Williamson.

If you thought the very first instance of Operation Close Pass delivered by the Roads Policing Alliance would result in fireworks, raised tempers and loud voices, you'd have been disappointed. Equally, you'd have misunderstood what it was about.

We turned a corner, yesterday. There's a long road ahead, but the future, as far as cyclist safety in Devon, Cornwall and Dorset is concerned, is looking far, far better than what it did just six months ago!





Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Darkmoor 2017

After what seemed forever, Darkmoor 2017 finally arrived, and everything was looking good. Even the weather was cooperating, with very light, broken cloud cover, mild temperature and little to no wind.
As per usual, I was early at Cap'n Jaspers, feeling slightly apprehensive and hoping at least one other person would be crazy enough to join me on the ride.
Still recovering from injury that resulted in me riding far less, I was also wondering how my calf muscle would hold up, and whether my fitness was sufficient to get me round the new 100 mile route.
Usually, I'd simply ride the 11 miles from home to the starting point, then afterwards cycle back home, but in view of my less-than-stellar fitness, and earlier injury, I drove to near the start.

The first rider who turned up was Matt, who'd casually cycled the almost 50 miles from Exeter, and who was still making his mind up whether or not to cycle back to Exeter afterwards! Oh, and his idea of casual cycling more accurately matches most people's idea of rather quick.

Slowly other riders started appearing, either on their own, or in groups. Two riders from The Falmouth Wheelers club had casually cycled up from Helston. That's around 70 miles cycling, just to get to the start!

Now some may scoff, as they said they'll be peeling off at Okehampton, some 40-odd miles into the ride, but from there, they still had around another 70 miles to cycle back. Like Matt, they are audaxers - Audax is long distance cycling - and this just served to highlight just how hard average audaxers tend to be.

Dan and Max, who last year went on a 3 500 mile cycle tour through Europe just to escape riding Darkmoor didn't have any valid excuse this year, and were both raring to go. Paul, a rider from the same club as me, also turned up. Paul's idea of a slow pace is usually my idea of going very fast.

Ross and his dad were doing the ride (as usual) and were joined by a friend of theirs. A number of others also joined, and in total, 13 riders left Cap'n Jaspers.

My plans were quite clear: I was going to stop for a pint at The Skylark, the pub in the village of Clearbrook. When we got to Clearbrook, three more cyclists were waiting for us: Karen, David and Jeremy. Most of us went into the pub for a drink, while Ross, his dad and their friend cycled on.

The first real climb was the one out of Tavistock, and that spread the group out a bit. I heard someone was well behind, so I stopped and waited. Unfortunately, I'd miscounted, and there was nobody behind, so I had to ride at quite a pace to catch up with everyone again. Not my brightest moment!

A rider (I believe he was called Jan?) said the pace was too fast for him, and said he was happy to plod along on his own. Jeremy, who had friends from afar visiting, and had less than 5 hours sleep the night before, said that he'll have to peel off and hed back, so our numbers were reduced by two.

A few bumps later, we rode through Lydford (it seemed there were still people in the pub, but we didn't stop) and the mostly flat Granite Way allowed us to make good progress. Soon enough we rode through Okehampton, where sadly we were not entertained by a lonesome fat drunk, shouting that we needed to get a life, as what happened a few years ago.

The two audax riders from Helston turned back at Okehampton, reducing our group to nine.

The man doing the graveyard shift at the 24-hour petrol station outside Okehampton by now are used to a bunch of crazy cyclists paying him a visit at stupid-o-clock once per year, and didn't even bat an eye when we rolled in to put their coffee machine to productive use.

Soon enough we passed through Moretonhampstead, the halfway mark for the route. Those of use who knew the route, also knew of the climb out of Moretonhampstead, as well as the Three Steps that lay ahead. Paul and Matt, as well as another rider on a Pinarello said they'll ride on, at a far faster pace (did I mention they are rather quick?) so we said our goodbyes. And with that, our group was reduced even more.

Much huffing and puffing later, we finally saw the mast on North Hessary tor, just outside Princetown. The cloud cover was very thin and broken, so we were often rewarded with bursts of bright moonlight.

David was suffering a bit - quite unusual for him - and that meant we stopped more often. My calf muscle had been softly moaning for a while, so I was grateful for stops, although I knew I'd regret it later, once the midge bites started making themselves known.

At one stop, just before the climb into Princetown, even David was forced to ride on, as the midges were simply eating us alive! Next year I will certainly invest in Smidge - apparently the only product that wards off midges!

In Princetown, we found Matt waiting for us again. We had as long a rest stop as the midges would allow, before setting off for Dousland. From Princetown, there are really only two climbs that matter: the one out of Devil's Elbow and the one up Peak Hill. If you go fast enough on the descent to Devil's Elbow, you almost don't have to pedal on the climb that follows, so that's exactly what I did.

Those that know the road won't think much of this, but I feel it's a great way to demonstrate the effectiveness of my dynamo lights: they're bright enough to allow me to safely descent at 30mph in the dark. Darkmoor 2017 was my first all-night ride using dynamo lights, and if I liked them before, I now absolutely LOVE them!

At various times during the ride, people were discussing battery life of this particular light versus that one. I didn't join in - I just smugly smiled, knowing I'm not limited by battery capacity.

The descent from Peak Hill is where I set my personal speed record of 53mph during the 2014 Dartmoor Classic. On this ride, I only managed 40mph. By now it was getting lighter, although quite a segment of road before Dousland was dark, as the road is enclosed by tress overhead.

At the top of Peak Hill I'd already told the group that I didn't think my calf muscle would hold up if I rode the full 100 mile route, and that I intended to simply continue straight down the Plym Valley instead. After short deliberation, everyone else agreed to do the same. Max was the exception - he wanted to do the full route, but reluctantly decided to stick with the majority.

Slowly, riders began to peel off and by the time we reached Coypool, there were just four of us left. Cycling in along Embankment Road, Dan and Max peeled off towards Mutley, leaving only Matt and I to ride on to Cap'n Jaspers. We arrived at Jaspers at 05h50 and waited. They were meant to open at 06h00, but when they were still closed at 06h05, I looked at my phone and saw the nearest MacDonald's was open, so we rode there instead.

Having had breakfast, Matt phoned his wife for a lift, and we said our goodbyes. I cycled back to my van, loaded the bike, and drove back home.
Later I would learn that I'd apparently driven past Ross, his dad and their friend. I saw some cyclists, but wasn't paying any attention to the identity of those riders, so I never even realised.

In the end, I rode exactly 15 miles. Yes, it was disappointing that I wasn't physically able to do the full 100 mile route. In the end, nobody actually followed the whole 100 mile route, something I need to bear in mind for next year. Still, over the past year I'd learned the hard way that overdoing it only results in further injury, so I'm glad I was wise enough to cut my ride short. Trust me, wisdom isn't something I'm renowned for!

And that's it! Darkmoor done and dusted for the 4th year running, and I'm already looking at dates for Darkmoor 2018. In 2018, I'm planning on riding the Dunwich Dynamo - the all-night ride that started it all - which is usually on full moon in July. That means Darkmoor 2018 will need to shift back to June, to avoid clashing with the Dynamo.
Hopefully you'll join us next year!

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Crowdfunding for police

Devon and Cornwall Police have at last agreed to start implementing a Close Pass initiative, such as that first done by West Mids Police.
The short version is that West Mids Police had done their homework, and reviewed all their crash data. This showed the primary causes of crashes, and delving deeper into the data they were able to determine that cyclists hardly ever cause crashes.
Yes, despite what you UKIP uncle always likes to claim. But don't take my word for it - read for yourself: https://trafficwmp.wordpress.com/2016/09/09/junction-malfunction-and-a-new-dawn/

They also determined that one of the greatest threats to cyclists are from drivers who overtake, often at high speed, without giving sufficient space.

For those that don't understand how big a deal this is, think back of sitting in a queue of cars at temporary traffic lights, and feeling the car you're in shake with the force of the wind created by oncoming traffic.
Alternatively, try standing on a train platform when a high-speed train is due to come by without stopping. Be sure to stand with your back to the approaching train, and to stand between the yellow line and the platform edge. There is a very valid reason that yellow line is there, and why station staff will tell you to step away from the platform edge!

West Mids Police's initiative was so successful, it's being rolled out to many other police forces. In fact, it's being implemented by all but the most backward-thinking police forces.

To assist with the programme being rolled out to many different police forces, Cycling UK crowdfunded the cost of the training mats used to educate drivers. The total cost was £12 000, and that was met within weeks.

This led me to set up a crowdfunding page, with the aim to raise the money to buy a GoPro forward-facing camera, and a Fly6 rear camera for the police cyclists to use. You can see that page here: https://www.gofundme.com/d-c-police-cycle-cameras. The reason behind this campaign was to ensure that the entire initiative would be completely cost-neutral to police, thereby ensuring lack of budgets cannot be used as an excuse not to deliver the initiative.

As you will see, the target is a very modest £350, which I thought would very soon be achieved.

Sadly, I was mistaken. Not only did the crowdfunding campaign not take off, but I've beein on the receiving end of quite a lot of criticism from other cyclists. Oddly enough, none of those cyclists had any issue with Cycling UK having crowdfunded the mats.

I've heard all the arguments against crowdfunding the cost of the cameras, and to me, none of those hold up. In fact, I see no difference between crowdfunding this and fundraising to purchase additional hospital equipment. After all, both would help to save lives.

So if you think you can help, even with just a small contribution, please do so? Every penny raised will be fully accounted for, and any surplus money (which doesn't currently look very likely) will be donated to the Cyclists' Defence Fund



Thursday, 9 March 2017

Shafted

Cycling from east of Plymouth into the city leaves precious few routes. Cyclists starting from (or passing through) Ivybridge have essentially one route to take (albeit with a few minor variations that may be chosen in places).
Those cycling in from further to the South, starting from or passing through Yealmpton, have two routes - the fast, narrow and busy A379, or a convoluted route via some rural lanes. As would be expected, the second option is longer and slower, but a bunch more scenic.

The trouble with the rural lanes route is the new town being planned, callled Sherford. Sherford is being built just south of the Deep Lane junction on the A38. This rural route takes Deep Lane, then continues along Sherford Road.

Both these roads are narrow, and already carry more traffic than what they ought to, before adding lots of construction traffic into the mix. Construction traffic means lots of HGVs, specifically tippers, cement mixers and similar. The number one killer vehicle for cyclists is tippers.

To the best of my knowledge, there is NO requirement for the HGVs to be fitted with side skirts, nor are there any plans to offer cyclist awareness training to the drivers. There certainly is not even a hint of a cyclist-friendly traffic management scheme through the area during construction.
That is unsurprising, given how Plymouth City Council finds it perfectly acceptable to close a main cycle commuter route into the city, along Embankment Road, for 5 months. The only "cyclist provision" along there is the dreaded "Cyclists Dismount" signs, and workmen harrassing those cyclists that don't dismount.

Sherford Road itself is to be ripped up and completely removed. The plans call for a new cycle route, alongside the main flow of motorised traffice between Sherford and Plymouth, to Vinery Lane, from where cyclists are to cycle uphill to Billacombe Road. Yep, cyclists will be forced to ride downhill, then back uphill on a narrow road that will carry vastly increased traffic.

The current route, which is as level as can be for the area, is to be scrapped. Clearly this wasn't thought through!

The explanation given was that a new cycle path (read that as botched shared path, not properly segregated path!) was to be built through the adjacent playing fields. Now this route could potentially be very good, provided a) there was a safe way to cross Vinery Lane (which will carry the bulk of traffic to and from Sherford) and again Haye Road, on the other side of King Henry V Playing Fields, and b) that it was properly segregated.

The new route is then meant to continue along the disused railway line, towards the river Plym.

If there were safe, light-controlled crossings that won't take absolute ages to turn green to cyclists, and if that entire route was in place, then what is being planned would make sense.

Sadly, there simply is no funding available to develop the route further, so current plans may well have great aspirations, but won't alter the reality that in its current format cyclists are yet again being shafted. After all, it may be many years before the path is extended beyond Vinery Lane, and even then getting signalised crossings would be very unlikely.

The town of Sherford is being toted as a sustainable town. It would have its very own HQPT (High Quality Public Transport) otherwise known as a bus service. The team behind the design appear to think that the very existence of the buses would be sufficient to lure people out of their cars and onto public transport.

When I asked what would happen if people don't use the bus service as envisaged they were visibly taken aback, as if that possibility hasn't occurred to them. They fumbled for words, admitted that such a scenario would create congestion, then went on to say such congestion would be good as it would help people leave their cars to take the bus instead.

There simply was no recognition of the fact that such congestion would necessarily increase danger to cyclists, as well as delay cyclists more. Neither of those two factors are likely to lead to increased cycling, but the team appeared unable to grasp this simple fact.

Cycling provision in Devon is a hit and miss affair. West Devon Borough Council seems to have grasped the fact that cycling is an economic lifeline for many rural towns and villages, and North Devon seems to be very pro-cycling. The South Hams, under whose jurisdiction Sherford falls, appears if not actively anti-cycling, at very best to not care about cycling at all. This shows in on-the-ground implementations, with no real success stories within the South Hams.

Now the South Hams is arguably the richest part of Devon, with many highly-paid people commuting from rural locations to Plymouth, Exeter or Torbay. Those people don't see cycling as an alternative form of transport, and are often likely to be the very people giving cyclists narrow overtakes at speed on rural roads.

As a result, there simply is no political motivation for South Hams Council to ensure decent cycling provision is delivered throughout the area and indeed, at times they roll over and give in to the slightest objection from landowners. A good example of this is the fiasco around the re-opening of the disused railway between Yealmpton and Plymouth. If re-opened, that would be an excellent community facility, allowing many people to safely and easily cycle into Plymouth, while also allowing Plymothians to escape the city and spend their money in the South Hams.

Unfortunately, South Hams Council agreed with the landowner to not even try and re-open this route for another 20 years! That is simply shocking and mind-boggling!

Plymouth City Council certainly talks the talk when it comes to cycling, but delivery on the ground shows it is all hot air. I cannot think of a single piece of really good cycling infrastructure recently delivered by Plymouth City Council. What they feel is good cycling infrastructure is in fact botched shared paths, which increases conflict between cyclists and pedestrians.

Such paths also tend to follow round-the-houses routes, and never the most direct routes.

Certainly within Plymouth City Council there is no appetite whatsoever for even considering, let alone implementing, Dutch-style high-quality cycling infrastructure.

As a result, with Sherford being a collaboration between the South Hams and Plymouth, it is utterly unsurprising that despite all the big talk of a sustainable community and all the promises of good cycling infrastructure, cyclists are yet again being shafted by both local authorities.






Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Devon and Cornwall Police Close Pass Initiative

How I wish I was able to tell you that D & C Police had firm plans to implement West Mids Police's brilliant (and sorely needed!) Close Pass Initiative. Sadly, the reality is quite different, despite what many other sources may have told you.

Here's how things currently stand: D & C Police have three road casualty reduction officers and of the three, two are on long-term sick leave - we wish them a speedy recovery for their and our sakes. That leaves a single such officer, plus a police sergeant who has since realised how big an issue this actually is. Together, the pair of them are trying to push water uphill, so to speak and if there is little to no visible progress, I do believe it isn't for lack of trying on their part.

D & C Police confirmed they have NO short-term plans to implement a close pass inititative at all. In fact, the closest they get to offering any sort of commitment is to say that once all three road casualty reduction officers are available again, they will look into the possibility of delivering such an initiative in Devon and Cornwall.

As D & C Police works closely with Dorset Police in a policing alliance, and given that Dorset Police also said they'd look into the possibility of delivering a close pass initiative, D & C Police indicated they might even explore this further in partnership with Dorset Police.

This sounds hopeful, and certainly - for the first time ever, many cyclists would say - D & C Police are starting to act on reports of dangerous driving as reported by cyclists. It may not seem like much, but D & C Police is a large organisation, and like a big ship on the ocean, turning around takes a long time before it's noticeable.

Recently I spoke with Alison Hernandez, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall. When I raised this issue with her, she said it hasn't been raised before, and that quite understandably, she feels she should focus on issues raised by the majority.

Think about that for a moment, as it directly affects all cyclists in and around Devon and Cornwall. To put it simply, if YOU don't raise the issue by emailing Alison Hernandez, then YOU are failing to raise the profile of the problem and YOU are failing to help turn things around. It really is down to each and every single one of us to bombard both police and the PCC with reports highlighting the seriousness of this matter.

 It's down to YOU!

Here's what YOU can and should do:

  1. Report every instance of dangerous driving you experience while out cycling. Yes, even if you don't have the reg number of the vehicle involved. This is (at this stage) more about getting the scale of the problem recognised, and for that YOU need to report things. Reporting is quick and easy via D & C's 101 email address (101@devonandcornwall.pnn.police.uk).
  2. Email Alison Hernandez. Email her every month, asking what she is doing about this issue. Tell her that the facts speak for themselves: KSI stats overall on the force's area are down, except for cyclists, where KSI stats are climbing fast. Yes, cycling is now more dangerous than a year ago, and Alison Hernandez needs to address that. Of course, she won't, unless YOU email her, or call her, and pile on the pressure.
  3. Get each and every cyclist you know in Devon and Cornwall to do the same. Tell them again, and again, and again. Because if YOU don't do this, nothing will get done. It really is that simple!
There are other points you can raise with Alison Hernandez too. For example, D & C Police think they need special officers to deliver this, when West Mids Police delivered it without any new resources, and on a cost-neutral basis. This is a vital point - after all, if West Mids Police can do it, why can't D & C Police?

Find out when your next neighbourhood policing meeting is. These meetings are usually attended by people who love to moan about dog mess and similar issues. Yes, those matter, but people's lives aren't directly at risk, while poor driving often kills. 
The points raised at these meetings collectively add up to help set overall policing priorities, so if YOU don't attend and if YOU don't raise cyclists' safety, then YOU are failing yourself, as well as all other cyclists.

Seriously, this is a numbers game - we need to ensure more of our voices are heard. There simply isn't any other way to get this moving forward.

So if YOU want to be safer on the roads, you know what to do!

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Police Lottery

This is a story of a lottery. No, not that national lottery, but a post code lottery. Specifically, a post code lottery in which where you live determines whether or not, as a cyclist, you can expect to receive any justice from police.

If you live in Devon or Cornwall you're bang out of luck, as Devon and Cornwall Police don't take driving offences, that other forces prosecute drivers for, seriously at all when reported by cyclists.

On the 2nd of November 2016 I was subjected to a very close, dangerous and utterly pointless overtake, which you can see here.


As you can see, I was cycling in primary position (specifically to try and discourage overtakes where clearly it would be unsafe) when the absolutely idiotic driver insisted on overtaking me, despite oncoming traffic. Twenty seconds into the clip you can briefly see both the oncoming car and the overtaking car in the video clip, proving that they were both alongside me at the same time.

The oncoming car looks to me like a Seat hatchback, while the overtaking car was a Vauxhall Corsa, which is 1.944 metres wide. Assuming for the moment that oncoming car was indeed a Seat Ibiza, that would mean it was 1.81 metres wide, which is a fair average width for a large number of hatchbacks in the UK. Placed side-by-side, with the wing mirrors touching, the two cars would be 3.754 metres wide.

The road itself is 6.8 metres wide - yes, I went and measured it with a tape measure. In the video you will see a manhole cover in the road. This extends over a metre into the road and is over a metre wide. As I was riding to the right of that we can see that I was riding at least two metres away from the kerb.

If we deduct the combined width of both cars (3.754 m) from the road width (6.8 m) we end up with 3.046 metres road space. My bike is 40 centimetres wide, reducing that further to 2.646 metres. From that we should deduct the minimum of 2 metres I was away from the kerb, bringing us down to 0.646 metres in total. What we haven't factored in yet is the distance the oncoming car was away from the kerb. Given that cars cannot drive properly with their tyres scraping the kerb, it would be fair to look at a distance of at least 0.3 m from the kerb. That reduces the total available space between both cars and me on my bike to 0.346 metres. Divided by two (assuming there was an equal gap between the two cars and between the overtaking car and me, we're looking at an overtake distance of 17 centimetres.

Next time you see a cyclist ride through a puddle, look at the wet tyre tracks they leave behind: they're not in a straight line. This is part of what the Department for Transport refers to a bicycle's "dynamic envelope". In the DfT's LTN 2/08, Cycling Infrastructure Design it suggests the dynamic envelope of someone cycling will be 0.2 metres (20 centimetres) wider than their static width, and significantly wider than that at low speeds.

Without factoring the dynamic envelope in, we're still looking at 17 cm, which is stupidly close already.

I think we can all agree that this certainly amounts to a dangerous, close overtake.

Now let's look at Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) guidelines for driving offenses, specifically for the charge of driving without due care and attention. The guidelines are available by clicking here.

Specifically, read the following:

"There are decided cases that provide some guidance as to the driving that courts will regard as careless or inconsiderate and the following examples are typical of what we are likely to regard as careless driving:

  • overtaking on the inside;
  • driving inappropriately close to another vehicle;
  • inadvertently driving through a red light;
  • emerging from a side road into the path of another vehicle;
  • tuning a car radio; when the driver was avoidably distracted by this action;
  • using a hand-held mobile phone or other hand-held electronic equipment when the driver was avoidably distracted by that use (note that this is an offence itself under Regulation 110 of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2003).  If this is the only relevant aspect of the case it is more appropriate to use the specific offence;
  • selecting and lighting a cigarette or similar when the driver was avoidably distracted by that use."


Given the distance of the overtake I experienced, I'm confident you will agree that we have indeed met (or rather far exceeded!) the CPS threshold for charging a driver with driving without due care and consideration.

Except Devon and Cornwall Police disagree, and repeatedly said the evidence supplied falls short of what courts would require. Despite repeated requests, they have yet to clarify WHY they say that.

Allow me to regale you with the deep joys that are to be found in trying to report bad driving to Devon and Cornwall Police when you're a cyclist. I first reported the incident to the force's 101 email address, on the 2nd of November (the date of the incident):

"Dear Roads Policing Unit,
This afternoon, 2nd of November 2016, at around 15h35 I was cycling along Millbay Road, Plymouth in a westerly direction, when I suffered a very close, dangerous and utterly pointless overtake by the driver of a Vauxhall Corsa, reg WL12 FSO.
You can see video of the overtake here: https://youtu.be/FvNlWCxuTTc
It was clear and sunny, with excellent visibility and I was doing 18 mph, pacing the speed of traffic ahead of me. As that segment of road is a downhill, I can go significantly faster, but didn't as I'd simply need to brake for traffic ahead of me anyway.
As I was approaching a roundabout, I was riding in what Cycle Craft (available from the Government Press, and upon which Bikeability cycling training is based) refers to as primary position: this means riding in the middle of the lane specifically to try and discourage overtakes.
There was oncoming traffic, yet the driver of the Corsa still decided she was going to overtake me, no matter what.
I've spoken with the operators of D&C Police's Twitter account, who asked me to email a report to yourselves.
Many thanks in advance.
Kind regards,"

The first human response to that email was to say they couldn't view the attachment. This is hardly surprising, given that I didn't attach anything to the report, but instead sent and email containing a link to YouTube.

Various emails were exchanged, many of which were NOT inspiring confidence in the technical abilities of D & C Police. I was asked to send the video via email. This I did, attaching the 16 MB video, only to receive an immediate bounce-back saying the attachment (of 16 MB, remember) exceeds the force's attachment limit of 20 MB. Last time I checked, 16 was certainly smaller than 20, but apparently D & C Police feel differently.

I tried using WeTransfer.com - you upload the file and the recipient receives an email containing a hyperlink to the file. They couldn't access that either. Next, I shared it via Dropbox, but they couldn't access that either. I'm still unsure whether this was due to system limits or people struggling with hyperlinks. Suffice it to say I don't rate D & C Police's collective IT skills very high at all at this point.

I emailed the head of Armed Response and Traffic directly, and also contacted him via Twitter. He informed me that he assigned the case to a named officer. Some time later, on the 10th of November 2016, the named officer emailed me to explain that he's looking into my report, but that he's terribly busy.

Police are, quite unsurprisingly, governed by many laws. This includes the requirement to issue what is known as an NIP (Notice of Intent to Prosecute) on an offending driver within 14 days from when the offense was comitted. If the NIP period expires without an NIP having been issued, police will simply turn around and say that there is nothing more they can do and close the case without taking action.

Mindful of this, I kept emailing, asking for an update. Finally, on the 28th of November 2016 I received an email from an Inspector, saying the following:

"Regarding the cycle camera footage that this email chain refers to. This footage was viewed by various officers including myself. In this type of incident, we as police officers decide on the evidence available, whether there is sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction. I fully appreciate that you feel this was an incident that caused you concern, due to the actions of the driver. Unfortunately the video evidence was not sufficient to provide a realistic prospect of conviction. This was because of continuity issues around date, time and the ID of the cyclist, at the time of the incident. This is not in any way placing your integrity into question but would be points raised by a defence that would put in place reasonable doubt and therefore prevent a conviction.

With that in mind I don’t believe that a NIP was served on the other driver, but I do believe that the driver has been spoken to by MPC [name redacted]. I believe it was for these reasons and others that MPC [name redacted] requested a telephone number from you, so that he could fully relay the information to you in person.

As there is no planned prosecution there is no case number."

And there is was: the NIP notice period had run out, and D & C Police's finest couldn't give two hoots about an overtake calculated above to have been 17 centimetres, in the face of oncoming traffic, despite this clearly exceeding the threshold for successful prosecution set by CPS.

What a lovely work-reduction strategy that is: simply sit on something and do nothing, until the NIP notice expires, then fob the cyclist making the complaint off with an entirely spurious reason.

Let's examine those reasons given, shall we? The YouTube video (the only video police have seen) doesn't contain any date or time stamps, so there absolutely are no "continuity issues around the date and time". Bizarrely, the good Inspector also claimed there are continuity issues around the ID of the cyclist! What does that mean, given that *I* am the cyclist? Have I suddenly become Schrodinger's Cyclist, being me and not me at the same time? Do I fade in and out of existence? Does my identity change like some super spy?

I have objected to the reasons given, and asked for clarification regarding what exactly is meant by them, but it seems I'll be growing very old while waiting for an answer.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Dynamo update

Several months ago I finally got round to rebuilding my bike's front wheel around a Shimano hub dynamo and I fitted a dynamo front light.

I've had a crash in May 2016, which injured my spine in three places, damaged my left thigh and left shoulder and resulted in a torn right calf muscle. As a result I've not cycled much recently - certainly FAR less than I otherwise would have.
I used to cycle to work and back daily, with my commute a round trip of 30 miles. That's 150 miles per week just commuting - on top of that I used to go on club rides (typically around the 60-mile mark) on Saturdays, and often on Sundays I'd do Sky Rides, as I'm a Ride Leader.

Lately it's a good week if I manage to ride 60 miles, and almost all of that would be by occasionally cycle commuting. This means that I actually had little chance of properly testing out my new dynamo lights.

Even commuting home wasn't in real darkness and I got home well before dark. Despite this, I kept the front light switched on all the time. As is the case with most dynamo lights, it has a built-in sensor that can cause it to switch off automatically during the day, and back on when it starts to get dark. I leave it switched on because I try to be as visible as I can be on the bike.

As I was told by many dynamo evangelists would be the case, I couldn't notice any extra drag caused by the dynamo, even with the light switched on, so at least I managed to test that part.

And then the clocks changed, meaning was dark by the time I leave work, and pitch black before I get home. I've now had a good many proper dark commutes with the dynamo light and I am as happy with it now as when I first received it!

My dynamo light is everything I had hoped for.

Before, when I used to ride with a 5 x Cree T6 battery light, I also used a single Cree T6 torch, zoomed to light the road much further ahead. This is because, despite the large amount of light produced by the 5 x T6 light, it's scattered everywhere and only a relatively small amount directly lit the road ahead.

The dynamo light outputs less light, but uses it SO much more effectively that I never felt any need to slow down for lack of light. According to Strava, my fastest speed was 34 mph on one descent and even then I had plenty enough light to safely ride.

The Cree lights undoubtedly lit the road directly (as in a few metres in front of me) better than the dynamo light does, but that caused my night vision to be affected by glare. The dynamo light doesn't have that same glare, but I can clearly see debris, potholes, etc in the way.

The beam pattern of the dynamo light is just SO much better!

If you're still sceptical about dynamo lights, like I was for a very long time, and if you're anywhere near Plymouth, I'd be happy to meet you somewhere like the Coypool Park & Ride, then go cycling up the Plym Valley for a bit, where it gets proper dark.

Failing that, turn up for Darkmoor 2017 and you'll have all night to see my dynamo lights being used in anger.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Sorry

Dear Kids,

I'm sorry. I have failed you. As a dad, my job is to try and make your lives as safe, secure, stable, happy and good as I can.

I've tried to be a good role model (even if I can be a tad grumpy at times, and despite having worked WAY too long hours for several years until around 7 years ago). I tried to teach you right from wrong, but still allow you to freedom to make your own decisions. I tried to create a safe space where you can be you and I tried to not constantly impose my will upon you, but to also listen to your point of view.

I suppose the varying tastes in music must mean that at least to some extent I have succeeded! :-) (Seriously, I don't like RAP and I don't think I ever will!)

I have tried to make the world a slightly better place for you, in so many different ways.

From where I stand, there are several threats I needed to protect you against.
The world isn't a fair place, and I needed to teach you that you won't get what you're after simply by relying on it being fair, but that instead you need to learn to trust in your own abilities and go after your goals with everything you have.

I needed to keep you physically safe, warm and well fed, and that I have done until you became so independent that you could go off on your own to places.

I needed to make you feel loved, and valued as a human being and I hope I have succeeded in this (though I suspect even if I did I wasn't nearly as good at it as your mom).

People often refer to the pyramid of human survival, which starts at the very base level with food & water, warmth and shelter. Without those things we die, and I have provided you with those.

Now here's the bad news: I thought I have succeeded in protecting you, at very least at the base level, but the reality appears to be that I have probably failed you.

See, our world, your world is under threat, grave threat. The very survival of your world as a host to human life is under threat. CO2 pollution is increasing and the Earth is warming faster than expected. At this stage, we're looking at a 3 degree Celsius overall rise in temperature within your lifetimes and quite frankly the effects of that will be catastrophic.

The Arctic will soon be ice-free in summer. Australia is slowly turning into a dust-bowl and deserts in Africa are growing at an enormous rate. Here in the UK the air will be able to carry more water, resulting in heavier rains than ever before, destroying food crops and causing widespread flooding.

Food and water wars will become reality in a world where millions will face starvation.

And I am partly to blame. Yes, little old me. I carry part of the blame because I didn't campaign hard enough against cars, against burning fossil fuels, against pollution. I carry part of the blame because once I didn't believe there was anything wrong with burning as much fuel as I could afford to.

I carry part of the blame because I failed miserably in the campaign against greed. In fact, in the end good old human greed was such a powerful enemy it simply decimated us. Greed consumed our financial institutions, our corporations and eventually even our leaders.

See, campaigning to get people to burn less fuel would have resulted in less profits for the oil giants, and they spend enormous amounts of money on propaganda wars to ensure most people remain fooled. And they succeeded.

Despite enormous scientific evidence of global warming, there are still many who refuse to believe it, who instead choose to dismiss it as some fairy tale. They do that because we have lost the propaganda war.

Adolf Hitler once wrote something along the lines of "if you keep a lie simple enough and repeat it often enough, people WILL believe it". That is exactly what the oil giants had done, and Hitler was proved correct in that theory, as most people believed it.

Even as I'm writing this, the oil giants are moving closer with plans to drill for oil in the Arctic, ironically only made possible due to the devastating ice-melt global warming already caused.

Our government is complicit, and has turned against the people it is meant to protect and is instead protecting the profits of large corporations. They are changing laws to take rights away from people, they are actively vilifying the poor, the infirm and the disabled. They are implementing "terror laws" which ironically are mostly used to spy on and terrorise their own citizens. They are reading all your email, eavesdropping on your phone calls and monitoring your web usage.

Greenpeace coined a slogan a long time ago: think global, act local. The idea was that if each of us only made small changes, together we could achieve enormous amounts. That strategy is absolutely true, but sadly there weren't enough of us to really make a change.

Greed has won. The rich has it all and will punish you for trying to change that. Greed is killing our world. Large corporations need you to be good little consumers to maintain good profits.

Sorry kids. I've failed you.



Thursday, 24 November 2016

Seaton and the Rame peninsula

If you live in Plymouth, you're spoilt for choice when it comes to gorgeous cycling routes. From coastal vistas to high moorland and much more are within reach, so it always surprises me that so many people cycle the same route again and again.

To me (well, this is my blog after all) a good route offers a combination of things: we want half-decent road surfaces, not too much traffic, several good climbs to get the blood pumping, views that make you glad to be alive, and of course a pretty decent cafe to stop at. Whether you ride with friends, a cycling club or on your own doesn't really matter, as long as you get out there and ride.

This post is about one of my favourite routes, a route that crosses the Tamar into Cornwall, to meander over the Rame peninsula. Where in Plymouth you may be starting from doesn't matter - just make your way down to the Torpoint ferry (Europe's largest chain-driven ferries, in case you didn't know) and cross into Cornwall. Cyclists, like pedestrians, cross for free in either direction on the Torpoint Ferry.

Once off the ferry in Torpoint, follow the road, but turn left into Marine Drive and follow the water's edge. After a while Marine Drive will become Carbeille Road - just follow that up the gentle hill until you get to a mini-roundabout, by the Carbeille Inn, where you should turn left onto Trevol Road.
Follow Trevol Road all the way, past HMS Raleigh, until it merges with the A374 (you'll be turning left here) then just follow the A374 all the way, keeping the Lynher river on your right.

A word of caution: the A374 can get a bit busy, with fast traffic. If this concerns you, go ride this route early on a Saturday or Sunday morning, when the road should be nice and quiet. Also, the road surface along here is quite rough in places - just grin and bear it, as the rest of the route will make up for this temporary annoyance.

Stay on the A374 through Antony and Polbathic, then turn left on the A387, sigposted Looe and Hessenford. Although still an A road, the A387 is far more quiet than the A374, but it is also far more narrow. Soon after turning left you will encounter the first real climb of the ride, as the road winds its way up to the top of the hill. You will be rewarded with a nice descent down into Hessenford, but do slow down once there are houses either side as you need to turn left on Hessenford Road just after having crossed the river Seaton by the bridge.

Hessenford Road will take you all the way to Seaton, where you will find the first option for a cafe stop at the Seaton Beach Cafe. The coffee here is pretty good and the cake is acceptable.

Should you wish to forego the cafe stop for the moment, simply continue along across the bridge over the river. The road now is called Bridge Road, and will skirt the edge of the beach before turning up a sharp little hill to take you into Downderry. Just follow the road all the way. It will change names a few more times, first to Brenton Road, then Main Road and finally Tregannus Lane. Tregannus Lane will make a U-turn before presenting you with quite a relentless climb. This is one of my favourite climbs in the general area and you will find it goes on for just over a mile and is fairly steep, hitting 15% or so in a few places.

Follow the road as it curves to the right at a junction shortly before the climb ends, and simply continue along. Soon you will be rewarded with often breathtaking views over Whitsand Bay on your right. The road will undulate for a while and will take you through Crafthole. Just continue to follow the road until you can see an old fort on your right.  This is Tregantle Fort, which is still in military use. A mild uphill later you need to turn right (not the entrance to Tregantle, but the road soon after).

Be careful here - lots of beachgoers park on the edge of the road and often simply walk out on to the road without checking! The road will sweep closer to the sea and will follow the cliff tops, taking you through Freathy. Soon enough you will see a road turning left, with signs for the Whitsand Bay Fort Holiday Park. Directly opposite that road there is a little dirt track leading off downhill. Tucked away just out of sight is the Clifftop Cafe - well worth visiting, even if it does mean walking your bike a very short bit down the track.

If you choose not to stop (well, it's your loss) then simply follow the road, which is now called Military Road. A while further there will be two lanes leading off to the right - don't take those, but instead stay on the road you've been following. As you turn the corner, the road changes name to Trehill Lane. It's a nice descent but there are some sharp corners. One curve in the road especially from a distance looks like the road continues almost straight, when in fact you need to take a sharp left turn, so if you're not familiar with the road I suggest at first taking it easy here. Trehill Lane becomes Rame Lane, and shortly thereafter Forder Lane, before taking you down into Cawsand as it becomes New Road.

Simply follow New Road through Cawsand. Where it turns uphill it becomes Jackman's Meadow and you should follow it all the way up the hill to a junction with a bigger road. This is right by Fourlanesend Primary School, and you will have a choice to make: turn left, towards Millbrook to (eventually) take the Torpoint Ferry again, or turn right towards Mt Edgecombe, to catch the Cremyll ferry. Just be aware that the Cremyll ferry charges for pedestrians, plus extra per bike.

Cremyll Ferry
If you opted for the Cremyll Ferry, you will turn right at Fourlanesend and simply stay on that road. You will ride past the Mt Edgecombe chapel entrance and past the Mt Edgecombe entrance to descend all the way to Cremyll. If you've timed it well, you will just have missed the ferry and be forced to make good use of the Edgecombe Arms pub while waiting for the next ferry.

Millbrook
If you opted to take the Torpoint Ferry, you will turn left, towards Millbrook. Exactly half a mile down the hill you need to turn right on Millpool Head, then follow that road as it winds its way through the village to the waterside. You will end up cycling on The Parade, with the water on your right, before taking the 1st exit at the first roundabout you encounter.
This will take you up St John's Road and you will have quite a sharp little hill ahead of you.

Simply follow St John's Lane all the way through the village of St John's, veering right at a junction where i signpost on a grassy circle points towards Torpoint. Follow the road uphill until you get to the junction with Trevoll Road, where there are yield signs painted across the road you're on. Turn right on Trevoll Road, and head back through Torpoint, past HMS Raleigh. When you get to the mini roundabout, at the junction with Carbeille Road, you can either turn right and return the same way you came, or just continue straight to the T-junction with Antony Road.  Turn right on Antony Road and follow it all the way to the Torpoint ferry.

Here's a link to the route map, from where you can download the GPX. The map opts for the route through Millbrook.
https://ridewithgps.com/routes/17819138

Friday, 14 October 2016

There's a long, long road a-winding...

Sometimes I despair when I realise how far we still have to go to get safe cycling conditions. On the 11th of October, a man called Quentin Willson posted the following tweet on Twitter:

The picture is of a new Cycle Super Highway (CSH) - yes, I agree, it IS a stupid name - in London and the point Mr Willson was trying to make is that the road is congested, yet despite all the road space given over to cyclists, only a single cyclist was using it. Seems legit, doesn't it?

Well yes, to a degree, until you realise that the CSH in question is still under construction and isn't open yet. This is something Mr Wilson would have been painfully aware of at the time, as the closure was just behind him when he took the photo. 
This is a classic example of misinformation by a motoring journalist and is downright dishonest. And yet, as Churchill said, a lie is halfway around the world before the truth even has it's trousers on.

This is the view from roughly the same spot, but looking back:

The opening you see above is NOT to allow cyclists access to the CSH, but rather to allow pedestrians to cross.

So far it seemd a dishonest attempt to build opposition to CSH's in London was rapidly countered by cyclists - not much of a story and quite a common occurrence.

So let's skip to Devon and Cornwall quickly. Or rather, let's skip to look at the response to this from Devon and Cornwall Police's finest. 
In D & C Police, armed response officers double as traffic officers. This is an important point, because naturally you'd expect such an armed response officer to be well trained not only in firearms, but also as a traffic officer.

In particular, you would expect a prominent sergeant, in charge of a section of traffic/armed response officers, to know the law and know it well.

And yet, this was the response from such a police sergeant on Twitter to Mr Willson's tweet:

Yes indeed - a fairly senior police officer, working in a traffic police capacity tweeted that he doesn't agree with cyclists being on the road when there's a "cycle lane". He failed to respond to requests to let us know where this cycle lane is and he quite clearly doesn't understand the limitations of the vast majority of "cycle lanes".

In case it isn't clear, here's the "all of the above" Sergeant Tangye agreed with:


In doing so, Sergeant Tangye added official police approval to the attitude of drivers who often deliberately intimidate cyclists who don't use inferior cycle infrastructure. He evidently also doesn't understand the difference between a cycle lane, a cycle track and a shared path, which is worrying, given his role in roads policing.

Policing is a profession that prides itself on an evidence-driven approach, but Sergeant Tangye was quick to publicly condemn cyclists and completely failed to do basic fact-checking in this instance.

Had he done so, he would've seen the CSH in the original tweet is NOT open for cyclists to use. Furthermore, he would also have learned that often cycle infrastructure is poor quality and really not fit for purpose.

Clearly Sergeant Tangye prefers to NOT have cyclists using any part of the road, given his agreement that he tweeted. This is despite cyclists being legally entitled to use practically any road (aside from motorways).

Attitudes such as what was publicly displayed by Sergeant Tangye actively emboldens the worst sort of drivers, who feel that they now have official police support for their hatred of cyclists. As such, the good sergeant has succeeded in making the roads that bit more dangerous for cyclists. 

For an officer tasked with roads policing, surely that is a massive failure?

I invited Sergeant Tangye to meet up and discuss why he feels cyclists shouldn't be on the road whenever there is a cycle track present (regardless of the quality of such a track) but he didn't reply to my invitation. 
His views are also at odds with the Highway Code (Rule 61), which specifically states: Use of these facilities is not compulsory.


It really is time for Devon and Cornwall Police to nail its colours to the mast: either the force will take roads policing seriously - especially the protection of vulnerable road users - or it won't. Either way, it needs to be upfront and honest about it.

To date, D & C Police have always been quick to respond with "Many of our officers are cyclists" in the face of any criticism from cyclists. There's a simple reply to that: So what? 
That doesn't automatically mean the force does all it can to help protect cyclists on the roads. It certainly doesn't mean the force isn't institutionally anti-cycling.

Contrast D & C Police's approach to that of West Midlands Police, who decided to base their approach on actual research and evidence. After all, isn't that exactly what we could reasonably expect all police forces to do?

In fact, as Sergeant Tangye's approach clearly shows, D & C Police have a long road to walk to eradicate an anti-cycling bias from its ranks. 

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Dynamo!

For years I've been threatening to upgrade to a dynamo hub as the idea of generating the power you need to light your way yourself has always appealed to me. Add to that the fact that I enjoy all-night rides, where battery power can rapidly become a problem, and dynamos start looking ever more appealing.

Shimano DH-3D32 dynamo hub
A number of years ago I purchased a Nokia DC-14 kit, which is designed to keep Nokia phones (remember those?) charged up while cycling. The DC-14 relies on a bottle dynamo which, while it does work, is very noisy. Annoyingly so.

The DC-14 does however offer sealed, waterproof circuitry that takes the fluctuating 6V AC feed from a dynamo and converts it to safe, smooth USB. More on this later.

Anyhow, something that always prevented me from buying a hub dynamo and dynamo lights is the fact that it didn't make sense to do so. Bear with me while I explain.
My main light used to be a 5 x Cree T6 light, driven off a 6-cell battery. A single Cree T6 chip outputs anything between 700 to just over 1 000 lumens, though lights like this are more often than not sold with greatly exaggerated lumens claims. In fact, mine was claimed to be 8 000 lumens, which is of course total rubbish.

I always calculate the lumens on the lowest rating, so a 5 x T6 light outputs around 3 500 lumens. That's a lot of light - enough to make oncoming drivers dip their headlights on country lanes before rounding the bend. It is also not possible to drive a light like that off a 6V dynamo - the physics simply don't add up.

And this was my problem: by moving to dynamo lights, I'd have less light. Several people tried telling me that while this is true, dynamo lights focus the light just where it's needed. As a result, while having less light overall, the available light is used better.

What doesn't help, and makes direct comparisons so much harder, is that battery lights tend to be rated in lumens, while dynamo lights are rated in lux.

Despite that making perfect sense, I wasn't ready to commit until I saw a dynamo light being used in anger. My 5 x Cree T6 light would light the road ahead of me, and the hedges to the side and the trees hanging overhead, so I know just a small amount of overall light produced actually directly lit the way.

When I rode the Exmouth Exodus this year (2016), one of the riders in the group I was cycling in had a dynamo light and his light was pretty good. Unlike me, he didn't have to worry about swapping batteries and he had enough light to cycle safely at a fair pace.

That was the turning point, and a while later I bought a Shimano DH-3D32 dynamo hub from Rose Bikes in Germany. For some unfathomable reason they were cheaper overall, including delivery, than any UK-based supplier. Along with the dynamo, I also bought a Herrmans H-One-S dynamo front light.

Once the bits arrived, I removed the front wheel from my Genesis CdA and removed the hub, before rebuilding the wheel around the dynamo hub. I was quite worried at one stage that the hub I'd bought was a dud: When trying to spin the wheel, while holding the hub in my hands, it wasn't free-spinning at all, but rather had distinctive "clicks". I was concerned that cycling with the hub was going to take LOTS of extra effort, which isn't how hub dynamos are supposed to be.

A quick Twitter conversation with a good Twitter friend and dynamo hub evangelist later I was assured the hubs behave like that when not clamped in the forks by the QR. Sure enough, once properly fitted back on the bike, the hub was smooth and free-spinning.

With the addition of a dynamo hub, my Genesis CdA has taken a big step forward to becoming my "one bike to rule them all". Though (obviously) heavier than my road bike, the CdA is still quite a fast bike. Essentially a CX bike with road tyres, it's sturdy enough to tackle rough terrain and the rack mounts means it can carry  a load too.

Though I've yet to add full mudguards and a new rack, my CdA is almost at the point where it is (to me!) the perfect commuter and light tourer. Dynamo lighting means I will no longer have to worry about charging up batteries.

After the rack and panniers, the final step will be to fit my Nokia DC-14 to the bike and wire that in (via a waterproof switch) to the dynamo. This will then allow me to charge various USB-powered gadgets up during the day, when I don't need the dynamo lights switched on.

The plan is actually to use the DC-14 to charge up a power bank, which in turn can be used to charge up or power any gadgets that may need charging or powering up.
The CdA has 3 bottle cage mounts, with the third on being on the underside of the down tube, forward of the bottom bracket, and I'll be using a bottle cage (and some cable ties!) to securely hold a water bottle repurposed as a waterproof enclosure for the power bank and the DC-14.

Here's to brighter cycling!




Thursday, 29 September 2016

Princetown NIMBYs

Not too far from Plymouth, up on high moorland, lies the village of Princetown. History tells us the village sprung up around the prison built there, and the prison was built there precisely because it can be such a desolate place, especially in the midst of winter.

At 435 metres above sea level, it is the highest village on Dartmoor, one of the highest in England and on a clear, sunny day the views are amazing. In the depth of winter, after snow falls, Princetown is often very popular with hordes of snow-seekers, mostly from nearby Plymouth.

The village has a few shops and two pubs, all of which are heavily dependent on tourism. Indeed, during the summer months, Princetown is often overrun by coachloads of tourists, with yet more arriving by car, bicycle or on foot.

One per year the Dartmoor Classic sportive passes through the village. Now contrary to what many people (including the Dartmoor Forest Parish Council, under which Princetown and nearby Postbridge and Hexworthy fall) mistakenly believe, a sportive is not a race.

Instead of a race, a sportive is a timed ride, on open roads, with riders set off in batches. The Dartmoor Classic is very popular, and places for it usually sells out in under 24 hours. Organised by the Mid Devon Cycling Club, the Dartmoor Classic makes a significant contribution to the local economy of a rural area already heavily dependent on funding from outside the area. The Dartmoor Classic has become an iconic event on the sportive calendar and is well known for being tough.

Every year Mid Devon Cycling Club supports various charities through the Dartmoor Classic event, including the amazing Dartmoor Search and Rescue group.

Given the positive economic impact the event has on Princetown and Postbridge, you'd imagine the locals would be be very supportive, protective even, of the event. After all, the influx of money helps sustain local businesses, which in turn supports local jobs. It's a desperately needed loop of positivity, given that the other major economic contributor to the village, Dartmoor Prison, is set to close soon..

And yet there are parish councillors who would like the event moved away from Princetown, which is so short-sighted it beggars belief. The impact of the event was discussed by the Dartmoor Forest Parish Council on the 28th of July, 2016.

The minutes of that discussion are as follows:
"6. Dartmoor Classic Sportive Cycling Event 
The event held on 22 June 2016 has generated considerable feedback from councillors. This initial feedback has been sent to DNPA to share at the next meeting of the safety advisory group that are holding with the organisers in early August.
The Parish Clerk has drafted a letter (previously circulated) to the organisers to raise our concerns at the impact of the event. The Parish Council to agree what, if any, changes they should request of the organisers and wider authorities, recognising that no formal parish wide surveying of the economic impact of this event and cycling in general to business has been completed.
Potential requests of the organisers and wider authorities:
a. Applying to close roads for the event.
b. Requesting the number of cyclists is significantly reduced for the event.
c. Running the event over two days with reduced numbers of cyclists on each day.
d. Re-routing the event away from Hexworthy Hill.
e. Re-routing the event away from Princetown.
f. Changing the route annually to avoid villages having the congestion and inconvenience each year. g. Requesting that the organisers make significant, community donations for the benefit of the Parish e.g. contributing to the cost of funding Princetown Play Area Phase 3. (relevant examples include; Tavistock Carnival is an event that could be viewed as disruptive to the town but makes significant donations to community organisations, Epic Kidz www.epickidz.co.uk is a charity that receives funds from athletes participating in cycling and running events in the North West that are then used to fund donations to youth and community organisations in the area). 
h. Work with the organisers and other bodies e.g. DNPA to use the event to promote Princetown and wider Dartmoor Forest. "

Now despite the conflicting suggestions listed, those minutes don't by themselves seem immediately overly negative, and we have to acknowledge that an event such as the Dartmoor Classic will of course have an impact on the village.

Let's look at the listed potential requests:
Point A suggests holding the event on closed roads? If the parish council is concerned about the negative impact of the event, why on earth would they propose making it far worse by closing roads? The level of misunderstanding of the issue is rather scary! The Dartmoor Classic takes place on open roads, meaning cars can and do share the roads at the same time. Closing the roads will mean cars cannot do so, and will worsen the impact on local people.
Points B, C, D, E and F are essentially the same thing, and translates as "we don't want all those cyclists on our roads" and is the very essence of NIMBYism.
Point G is actually a damn good suggestion, and one I hope Mid Devon Cycling Club will take forward. Make the event even more positive locally!
Point H is bizarre - how do these people think their attempt at banning the Dartmoor Classic from Princetown would help promote the village, or the wider Dartmoor Forest, is beyond me.

Following on from these minutes, the parish council published a rather biased SurveyMonkey survey on their site, which asked some leading questions. Cyclists got wind of this and started responding, and the parish council pulled the survey, presumably because they weren't getting the overwhelming negative response they were after.

In its place they printed and circulated paper surveys to all households in the parish. This is a copy of that survey:
Questions 1 to 3 are quite straightforward and I doubt anyone will have much of an issue with those, although the psychology students or legal experts may feel that they're used to set the stage for what follows.

Question 4 is absolutely leading and leans heavily towards the survey's ultimate aim: garnering support for forcing the event out of Princetown, Postbridge and Hexworthy.

Question 5 seems tacked on as an afterthought, and is unlikely to have enough influence to balance the skewed view presented by question 4.

Given the minutes that precede this survey, the intention is undeniably clear: it is an obvious attempt by some NIMBYs to move a highly successful and overall very positive event away from their village, and off their roads.


A subsequent meeting, held on the 22nd of September 2016, had the following to say:
"6. Dartmoor Classic Sportive Cycling Event The Parish Council agreed to complete a parish wide consultation on the impact of this event and cycling to help determine what, if any, changes they should request of the organisers and wider authorities. Cllr. Alison Geen circulated a draft survey which was agreed in principle. Cllrs. Alison Geen and Suzanne Davies to finalise questions and agree method of distribution and collection. Agreed to trial using email and survey collection software such as ‘Survey Monkey’ which can be used on a free basis."

Now an important bit is this: "what, if any, changes they should request of the organisers and wider authorities", because that's all they can do: request. The parish council has no authority to stop the event.

Also of note is the fact that councillor Suzanne Davies joined the Plymouth Cycling Campaign's Facebook group on the 27th of September 2016, perhaps in an attempt to gauge cyclists' reaction to this? On that same Facebook Group I was slated by another person, Chris Wright, who called me an "idiot trying to wind people up" when I first raised the survey there. Mr Wright has also since joined Plymouth Cycling Campaign's Facebook group.

Yes, you guessed it: Chris Wright lives in Princetown and is a Land Rover fanatic, and who feels strongly that the Dartmoor Classic should not pass through "his" village, but is happy for it to continue along a different route. Oh, and in a masterstroke of irony, he took exception to me calling him a NIMBY.

If you're not familiar with the area, suggesting the route be altered may seem so reasonable, until you realise how few roads there are to choose from. Crossing Dartmoor pretty much means passing through Princetown, unless the parish council has plans (and funding!) to suddenly build a bypass road.

This issue is as silly as it is sad. Devon County Council has repeatedly acknowledged the extremely valuable contribution cycling brings to the rural economy, and has clearly stated its intentions to further capitalise on that by attracting more cyclists and more cycling events. It is no coincidence that the Tour of Britain has a Devon stage - the county council part funds it, knowing it's a very worthwhile investment.

We simply cannot allow a handful of NIMBYs to spoil things for everyone. The roads and other public infrastructure used by events such as the Dartmoor Classic was heavily subsidised by tax payers that live outside the local area. This is true for any rural area and nobody in their right mind would object to that.

We do however object rather strongly to a few NIMBYs trying to prevent us from legally using those roads we have all contributed towards.
Please email the Dartmoor National Park authority on hq@dartmoor.gov.uk to express your support for the Dartmoor Classic, and your opposition to the NIMBYs' plans? You can also tweet them on @dartmoornpa

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Camera

I've been putting it off for a long time now, but I finally got another camera to use on the bike. Instead of helmet-mounting it, I went for a straightforward handlebar mount.

The camera itself is cheap, which obviously shows in the video quality, but at this stage I'm not complaining. It's called an Object - yes, I agree, that IS a stupid name - and it's a cheap copy of a GoPro that I bought at a petrol station for £20. I figured at that price it's worth taking a chance on a totally unknown make and model and to be honest I really didn't expect much of it.

The instructions are minimal, but suggests the camera can take 12 MP photographs! Not very likely at all! It turns out that the camera by default is heavily reliant on something called interpolation.

Now interpolation is a technique where software is used to calculate pixels that the CMOS sensor cannot actually see. Think of an A4 piece of paper, with a perfectly clean black line down the centre. To the left of that line the page it pure black, while to the right it is pure white, with the edge of the line being crisp and sharp.

If you used a camera relying on interpolation to take a photo of that sheet of paper, the line would no longer be clean and sharp, but fuzzy. This is because somewhere the software detected a white and a black pixel alongside each other, then inserted a few more pixels in between: a 25% grey, a 50% grey and a 75% grey pixel, in our example. These pixels never existed in the original image, but were artificially created. That is a simplified example of interpolation, and it becomes instantly obvious that it isn't something you wanted.

Indeed, early testing confirmed the video quality was VERY fuzzy, so I changed the resolution down to minimum, 640 x 480. That improved the image quality, but there's no escaping the fact that it's a cheap camera and when moving, the liquid effect is obvious on recorded video.

Still, it's way better than no camera at all, and aside from the less-than-stellar image quality, it does have rather good battery life. I used mine with an 8GB micro SD card, which (at 640 x 480 resolution) allows for roughly 2 hours of video. The camera will automatically switch off some time after having filled the SD card, and testing shows that those two hours of filming used up around a quarter of battery life.

That suggests (and I haven't yet tested it) that the camera would have a battery life of around eight hours, if used with a 32GB SD card.
Now I'll be very happy with 8 hours of battery as that means I can video the entire Dartmoor Classic.

The camera has a setting to allow for circular recording, where it will indefinitely over-write video previously recorded, but I'm not in favour of such drastic measures.I'm a geek at heart and anything that auto-deletes or auto-overwrites data makes me nervous!

Annoyingly, the camera breaks the video up into separate files of roughly ten minutes of video each, so if you wanted to use it with Suffervision or Dashware you'd need to first use a 3rd party utility to stitch all those segments together.

The audio quality is acceptable, except when moving, when the wind means you cannot hear anything other than wind noise. This is an important fact to bear in mind. On my old camera, I learned that you won't always be able to read the reg number, so when you have an incident on the road you always call out the reg number. That way you will have a record of it in the audio, even if not in the video, but with this camera (at least while on the handlebar mount) the audio will be useless, unless you were stopped at the time.

Anyway, here's an example of what the video quality is like - I had 2 separate incidents in this clip, at 3 minutes 30 seconds and at 4 minutes 20 seconds:

Friday, 2 September 2016

Staying alive

Now you have the Bee Gees singing Staying Alive in the back of your mind, let's look at perhaps extending that philosophy to cycling.

Broadly speaking, and with many exceptions, cyclists tend to be split between the Vehicular Cycling (VC) crowd, and the Segregation bunch, and a great many epic online battles of words were fought over those two approaches.

It is of course pure rubbish when applied to the present moment, as the sad reality is that cycling provision in the UK at the moment ranges mostly from poor to non-existent, with very few exceptions. Sure, there are rays of hope, like the new cycling "super highways" in London which seem great, despite the appallingly stupid name.

Having called the spat between the two groups rubbish, I wouldn't at all be surprised if I end up with a virtual lynch-mob after me, but stick with me a while longer and things will become clearer. Hopefully before any virtual blood is spilt!

To nail my colours to the mast, I believe segregation is the only real way forward to grow cycling. Now to add a heap of confusion into the mix, I must admit to being a Vehicular Cyclist, and I very much fit the stereotype demographic: fast(ish), white(ish - I'm actually racially mixed) and male. Oh, and middle-aged and dressed in Lycra. No, only when cycling - I wear Lycra for practical reasons, not because I have a fetish!

Anyway, if like me you ride regularly on the roads, you'll probably have found that the only real way to increase your safety in to ride like a Vehicular Cyclist. You may not like it, you may call for decent, Dutch-quality segregated infrastructure, but in the absence of that, you're basically left with two options: ride on the roads using VC techniques, or slowly pootle along on the crappy shared pavement.

In theory there is a third option too, cycling in the gutter, but that will get you run over.

So what's so great about VC techniques, I hear you ask? Well, let's examine that in detail, shall we?

For starters, VC cycling stipulates there are two parts of the road to ride one: primary position and secondary position. Primary position is riding smack bang in the centre of the lane, while riding in secondary position means riding between 50cm to 1 metre away from the kerb.

The thinking behind the concepts is fairly sound - you ride in primary position when cycling past parked cars, as that vastly reduces the likelihood of getting hit by a car door suddenly being opened in your path. You also ride in primary when going through a pinch-point or on narrow roads, as that will reduce the likelihood of a driver trying to bully their way through when there simply isn't enough space for them to safely overtake. Other times you should ride in primary is when cycling past the mouths of junctions, with the reasoning being that drivers are more likely to look for traffic in the middle of the lane.

This, plus the ability to have a sprint-speed of 20mph or more is the foundation of vehicular cycling. In essence, you cycle as if you're driving a far bigger vehicle, and if followed correctly it should keep you safe on the road.

Except it won't. I wouldn't go as far as to say VC is complete and utter tosh, but the sad reality is that it WON'T give you the safety you've always been told it would.

What VC techniques will do is reduce the risk a bit, particularly overtakes through pinch points, but it will also lead to a new experience: the punishment pass.
Basically, some drivers have the mindset of "Oh, so you think you can deliberately prevent me from overtaking when and where I choose (even if it isn't safe for you)? Well, I'll show you! I'll get as close to you as I can without actually hitting you!".

VC techniques will, if followed blindly, get you in a whole bunch of trouble and I must admit I've had days that left me seriously considering quitting cycling.

So what's the solution, I hear you ask? The only real solution is segregated cycle lanes that are continuous (especially through junctions), that don't desert you when you need it most, that are direct and doesn't force you to yield priority all the time. Until we have that, there is no solution, only coping strategies.

I cannot tell you what you should do, but I'll tell you what I now try to do:

Out on the roads, you will often be in a situation where you are 100% in the right and the driver 100% in the wrong. An example would be where a buildout restricts a normally-two-way road to a single car's width, usually with signed priority for one side or the other. Even if you have clear signed priority, you will often find drivers ignoring that and driving straight at you.

At that point, you can dig in your heels and stand your ground, but I won't be doing that. A car is far bigger and heavier than me, and I won't stand a chance if the driver absolutely refuses to stop. As a result, I'd rather get myself out of the way than risk being run over.

The Net is awash with YouTube helmet-cam videos from cyclists who got into a spot of bother because they insisted on defending their priority. Yes, technically they may have been right, but they still ended up with their lives endangered, and were left angry, shocked or sometimes traumatised by their experiences.

Why not try something else? If a driver pulls out on you, but you have plenty of time to take evasive action, do yourself a favour and let it go. That idiot isn't worth your time, or your emotion. You deserve better.
After all, what is the point of getting into a full-blown argument at the next set of lights? How exactly will that improve your life? Remember, this isn't about the driver, but about you.

Finally, because sometimes run-ins are unavoidable, after having had a run-in with a driver, regardless of the cause, I try to NOT get ahead of them. The last thing I want is a pissed-off driver having the opportunity to give me a punishment pass. Or worse.

This isn't about allowing them to get away with things. In reality they'll get away with it one way or the other, as police more often than not will refuse to act on anything short of you getting knocked off and even then most probably nothing will come of it.

This is quite simply about staying alive. Because hanging back, or even waiting a few minutes to let the idiot driver get well clear, is infinitely preferable to getting killed.

Out on the roads it's not a game, even if some may see it as such. Sometimes, it quite literally is a matter of life or death and given the choice, I'm sure you'd agree that choosing life is by far the better option.