Wednesday, 31 October 2018

New Devon Coast To Coast guide!

I'm rather excited to share this with you! I've finished my Devon Coast To Coast guide, and it's available right now!

I've known for a long time I should write a detailed guide, similar to the far shorter Drake's Trail guide on this blog, but covering the whole NCN 27 route. Several years ago I actually started writing it, but in between then and now there was a considerable chunk of time, during which I didn't touch it at all.

This summer I took more photos, and finished writing it. As a result, it's now available to anyone who wants to buy it.
So why would you buy it? Well, I do believe it is the best, most detailed such guide available. And yes, I have looked at what else is available. My guide also includes information about the areas you'll be cycling through, and by using QR codes in the guide, you can gain access to yet more content on the WillCycle.com site.

QR codes are 2D barcodes you can scan with a smartphone, to be taken directly to the additional online content. Using QR codes means I can keep your guide book updated, even after it's been printed.

But of course, given that I'm the author, I would sing the guide's praises. Don't just take my word for it - go make up your own mind! Click this link to be taken to the online shop, where you can not only buy the guide, but also read several pages of it, so you can make up your own mind.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Mojo

I had a crash just over two years ago. A driver suddenly turned in front of me from a side road, without stopping, and I crashed into the back of her car.
I ended up with a spine injured in three places, a severely bruised left thigh, an injured left shoulder and a torn right calf muscle, ignoring several other minor injuries.

Needless to say, I was off the bike for a while, and when I started riding again, it was slowly, with plenty of stops. My calf muscle meant I simply couldn't stand up on the pedals at all, and I couldn't pedal hard at all.

This resulted in me cycling far less than before the crash, which in turn affected my fitness. Even when started recovering from my injuries, I was taking it fairly slow. But apparently, not slow enough - on three seperate occasions I re-injured my calf muscle.

As a direct result of all of this, I started driving much more than I used to. At first, I had legitimate reason to do so - I was in agony, but as my injuries started healing, and time went by, I discovered I had lost my mojo for cycling.
On days when the forecast was for perhaps some light rain, I'd find an excuse to drive to work. Windy? Better drive then. And all this was 12 to 18 months after the crash.

The hills on my admittedly very hilly 15 mile each way commute started seeming far bigger and harder than before, and of course, as I was more unfit, I was slower, and commuting took far longer. The harder it became, the less I wanted to cycle. The less I cycled, the harder it became.
I was caught in a vicious circle. Yes, part of that was pure laziness on my side, but I really do believe a combination of physical and mental damage caused by that crash set me back by years. And no, I'm not feeling sorry for myself here, I'm merely stating facts as I see them.

It started getting embarrassing: I used to go for 70+ mile rides most weekends, and colleagues at work got used to me saying that nothing under 70 miles constitutes a long bike ride. In reality, I rarely did over 15 miles. I'd stopped going on club rides, as I simply couldn't keep up. Not even with the slow riders!

As I said, I was losing my mojo, and I knew I had to do something. Naturally, doing something meant cycling more. Even on days where I drove part of the way, and ended up with a far shorter cycle commute, I could try to go faster.

And it started yielding dividends: I'm enjoying cycling more. I've started going on (some) club rides again, and on weekends when I don't go on a club ride, I usually go cycling on my own. Then several months ago I did a 56 mile ride, averaging 14mph over very hilly terrain. Now that's not a very good speed, nor is it a very long ride, but the important bit is I was heading in the right direction again.

I'm getting faster (even though I'm still slow) and I'm going further. Most importantly, when I get back home, I'm not absolutely broken!

Of course, it helps to have some motivation, and mine came in the shape of two all-night bike rides. The first is Darkmoor, which I organise, and which took place on the 21st of July 2018. Darkmoor has a number of serious climbs, and I was nervous about cycling the 90 mile route. My plan was to take it really easy, going at a very slow 11mph average pace. As has become the norm for me now, I had a pub stop at the Skylark, in Clearbrook. From there, I rode with several others at a far faster pace than I originally planned on, and by the time we reached Okehampton, my calf muscle was complaining a bit.

Of course, from Okehampton onwards, there was still around another 50 miles to go, and as the miles went by my calf started hurting more and more. By the time we reached Moretonhampstead, I had to keep stopping to stretch the muscle, which helped for a bit. The faster riders disappeared in the distance, except for Ross and his dad, whose friend was suffering with severe muscle cramps. How he managed to continue was beyond me! Much respect, Kash!

I rode with Raymond, who had casually cycled to the start from Helston, in Cornwall, completed Darkmoor, then cycled home, turning it into a 255 mile ride! He was happy to go at my slow pace, and he didn't mind when I stopped to stretch. After Princetown, I was standing up on the pedals on every descent, dropping my heels as far as they would go, to stretch my calf muscles without stopping. If I didn't do that, I sincerely doubt I would've been able to finish the ride.
I was very happy when we finally rode back into Plymouth, and happier still to sit down for a breakfast. Somehow I'd managed to complete Darkmoor, without being completely broken.

Outdoor art on the Bristol-Bath Rail Path
The next all-night bike ride was the Exmouth Exodus, in August. As per usual, I drove my van to Exmouth. Having seen the forecast, I knew I might get a bit wet during the last 20 miles or so, and I had a towel to dry off, as well as dry, warm clothes waiting for me in the van, as I set off cycling the 11 miles to Exeter. From Exeter, I caught the train to Bristol, and the plan was to then catch another train to Bath, where the ride starts. Old habits die hard, though, and when my train stopped in Bristol, I wheeled my bike out of the station and was riding before I remembered that I was thinking of taking the train to Bath. I wasn't going to turn back, and instead decided to ride the 16 miles to Bath really slowly.

When I arrived in Bath, I was the 2nd cyclist there. The 1st was Raymond, who'd driven to Exmouth, then cycled up to Bath from there. The man is simply unstoppable! Having plenty of time in hand, we went for a pint at the bistro right by the start, followed soon by another. Then we spotted the special offer - a large pizza and a pint for £10, so we ordered one each.

Now I normally do long rides fuelled by energy gels, not normal food, so I had no idea how eating an entire large pizza by myself would affect me. But what's the worst that can happen, eh? Soon enough we set off and it became obvious early on that I'd loaded the previous year's route on my Garmin. D'oh! As a result, I pretty much followed others, mainly Raymond, until the routes converged near Cheddar Gorge.

Having driven down Cheddar Gorge during the daytime for the 1st time ever only some six months ago, I was determined to ride the brakes down there, as all the goats and fallen rocks on the road scared me when I saw it in the bright light of day. However, by this stage I seem to have forgotten about those fears, as I set some personal speed records barreling down the gorge, and soon we were at the 1st food stop in Cheddar.

Coffee, and a large selection of different types of cake was on offer, and we scoffed our fair share, after having donated to to Scout's group who organise the stop, then it was time to hit the road again. I was well happy that up to that stage my calf muscle was holding up just fine, and as we pressed on, the miles flew by. Though my calf muscle wasn't acting up at all, I was nevertheless starting to lag a bit, and I was very glad when we rolled into the 2nd and last food stop at Neroche Hall. I was also quite amused by how Raymond at first simply rode straight past it without stopping, despite all the lights being on and a red flashing bike light on a traffic cone marking the entrance.

The curry dish served up there was bloody delicious, and after washing that down with coffee, I felt like a new man. Shortly after Neroche we hit the biggest climb of the route, and Raymond left me behind. I was taking it easy, and of course I'm not half as fit as he is. Some three miles later, we joined up again at the top, knowing there really was only one more climb worth mentioning along the route: Woodbury Common.

I had set myself two bailout points: Taunton and Honiton. The route passed close(ish) to Taunton and went through Honiton, and I knew I'd be able to catch a train back to Exeter, and from there to Exmouth, should anything go wrong. When we cycled through Honiton I realised that I was confident I could complete the ride without any problem, and I banished any thoughts of bailing out from my mind.

We briefly encountered a group of four riders who were taking the wrong turning, heading onto the dual carriageway, while we continued along the proper route. Several sleepy villages later we came to the Woodbury Common climb, which is far smaller and shorter than I seem to remember? We encountered a very brief and very light shower, but otherwise the rain was holding off. The wind was picking up, though, and by the time we crested the climb, we could feel it had increased in strength by quite a bit. So much so that the descent into Exmouth was actually fairly slow, and in places I'd normally freewheel, I had to pedal. Still, in no time at all we pulled in at the cafe on the beach, for what would be my last ever meal there. Sadly, the cafe is being demolished.

After a big fry-up and some coffee, we said our goodbyes, and I cycled back to my van. By now it was properly raining, with strong winds, so I was glad to get dried off and changed into warm, dry clothes once inside my van. I then slept for three hours before driving home.

Including riding from Exmouth to Exeter, and from Bristol to Bath, plus of course the Exmouth Exodus itself, I had cycled just over 135 miles, without my calf muscle being agony, and without feeling broken.

Yup, I think I have my mojo back!

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Tavistock & Princetown Loop

As any cyclist living in or near Plymouth can tell you, we're spoilt for routes down here!

A firm favourite, amongst fast club riders and more social cyclists, is a Tavistock - Princetown loop. My version of that is detailed below.

The starting point will be Coypool, where there is ample free parking available. At this stage you'd be forgiven for thinking I was about to direct you up the Plym valley. Gorgeous as it may be, the Plym valley is usually heaving with people on a sunny weekend morning, and cycling through is slow going.

No, my route will see you to cycle back towards the MacDonald's. At the traffic lights, at the junction with Plymouth Road, turn left. There is an on-carriageway cycle lane, but it remains an unpleasant road to ride on. After the petrol station, the cycle lane deserts you - just grin and bear it and keep cycling to the mini roundabout, then take the first exit. Very soon after, there is a second mini roundabout, where again you need to take the first exit, to cross the train tracks by the bridge. This is Plymbridge Road.

Keep cycling uphill and stay on Plymbridge Road, straight through the first and second mini roundabouts. You will pass a news agent on your right - just keep going straight. When you get to the third mini roundabout, turn right onto Crossway. Follow Crossway to where it ends in a T-junction with Boringdon Hill, then turn left.

From here on, simply follow the road you're on. It's mostly fairly quiet, but don't be surprised to encounter the occasional lunatic driver along here. There will be many lanes turning off left and right - ignore them and stick with the road you're on.
Eventually, you'll get to a T-junction. Slightly off to your left, you'll see a road opposite leading off to Cadover bridge. Most cyclists would take that route. I suggest you ignore it, and turn left, towards Shaugh Prior.

You'll soon ride through Shaugh Prior, then have a nice descent. When you go past the Dewerstone car park, look out for a lane veering off to the right, signed Goodmeavy. Turn right along that lane. It's a proper green tunnel lane, and a bit gorgeous, but can be a tad slippery at times.

Soon enough, the lane will make a sharp turn to the right, with another lane leading off to the left. Ignore that other lane and continue along the one you're on. You will for a short stretch be cycling on a road that's parallel to the Plym valley cycle path, before it starts heading downhill.

Slow down here, as you'll be turning right, passing under the Plym valley trail. Just follow this lane, but save your legs as there's a bit of a climb ahead. Some club riders call this Vomit Hill, but really it isn't worthy of the name.

At the top, the small lane you were riding on joins a slightly larger road. At that junction, ignore the lane to your left, and the bigger road to your right. Instead, continue absolutely straight on, following the sign saying Meavy Yelverton.

After a short while, the road will descend, and you may be tempted into simply letting gravity drag you downhill as fast as possible, but you have a turning coming up, so cover your brakes. Go past the first lane leading off to the right, signposted Lovaton, but slow down when you see it. The next junction is a short bit further, where you must turn right. You will see a large triangle sign warning drivers of cyclists, and the lane is signposted - though quite small - to Meavy. Turn right here.

Follow the lane until it crosses the river Meavy. Almost immediately after you will come to a T-junction, where you must turn right. When you see the village green ahead, you will find a small lane veering off left, going right past the pub. You must take this lane and follow it uphill to the T-juntion, then turn left towards Dousland. Follow that road through Dousland, crossing the B3212 by the Burrator Inn while down so.

Enjoy the descent into Walkhampton, and when you get to a junction with a large stone cross in the middle, turn right. Just follow the descent further, until you cross a very pretty bridge over the river Walkham. All that descending should've been a warning, and now there's a nice little climb ahead to escape the Walkham valley.

After almost two miles, you will come to a skew T-junction on open moorland, where you need to turn right, then follow that lane until you get to another T-junction, where you must turn left. Ignore the lane turning off to your right shortly after you made the turning, and just keep going straight ahead.
It's a refreshing descent, but be prepared for a junction where the lane you're on will veer 45 degrees to the right. Just stay on the lane, and ignore the two turning off left (one of which is effectively going ahead in a straight line), as well as the one leading off to the right.

Soon, you will start cycling through the outskirts of Tavistock. The lane you're on, Green Lane, will make a sharp turn to the right, becoming Violet Lane. Follow Violet Lane all the way to the T-junction with the B3357. You will see the ornate entrance of Mount Kelly on the opposite side of the junction, and you now need to turn right.

Directly ahead of you awaits Pork Hill. It isn't particularly steep, and at under 3 miles, isn't particularly long either. A short descent later, and you'll start the Merrivale climb. Again, Merrivale isn't particularly long, or steep, but you'll certainly feel it so soon after Pork Hill. More importantly, Merrivale (or Rundlestone, as some call it, after the rock formation on the right, near North Hessary Tor) has a number of false summits. It can be very disheartening to realise you didn't crest the climb after all, and that it continues into the distance, so be prepared for that.

You'll know you're almost at the top once you've passed the service lane leading to the big mast on North Hessary Tor. Very soon after, you need to turn right, towards Princetown. Just follow the road past the prison, through the village centre, then turn right by the junction with the Plume of Feathers.

The road will be undulating, with only the climb towards Sharpitor being worth mentioning. Once you passed the pony pool - a small pond by a car park on your left - you'll have a gorgeous descent ahead, called Peak Hill. Do bear in mind that on that descent there is a cattle grid, though!

Three miles of fast descent later - I set my personal cycling speed record on that descent during the Dartmoor Classic, when I hit 53mph - you will ride into Yelverton. Keep going until you get to the big roundabout, then take the 1st exit. About 20 metres later, turn left, then follow the road as it turns 90 degrees to your left.

Unless you want a well-deserved cake stop at Viera's, don't go into the parking area, but follow the road as it bends 90 degrees to the right, then simply follow it out of Yelverton. Once you crossed the bridge over the river Meavy, you'll have half a mile of climbing ahead of you, then you should turn left at the first lane you encounter. It is signposted Hoo Meavy and Clearbrook. There's still a bit of climbing to do, before you hit the descent to Hoo Meavy. At the bottom, there is a T-junction, where you must turn right. It is signposted Clearbrook.

Follow the lane uphill through Clearbrook. You will find a lane, signposted Goodmeavy, turning off to your left, and almost opposite NCN27 turns off to the right. Ignore both these, and simply keep going straight. Almost half a mile later, there will be an unsigned lane leading off to the left, and you need to turn left to take that lane. Follow the lane all the way until it get's to a T-junction, but be careful: there is often gravel and debris washed onto the lane, so take it slow down there.

At the T-junction, turn right. You will have a short, but sharp climb ahead of you, until you get to the T-junction with New Road in Bickleigh. The fences and cameras to your left are part of the Royal Marines base in Bickleigh. Simply follow the road past the camp's main gates, then take the first turning to the left. Follow that little lane until it makes a 90 degree turn to the right. Some 50 metres further, a path leads off to the left, and you need to take that path, to join the Plym Valley trail. From the little path, turn right onto the Plym Valley trail, pass underneath the road bridge, and just keep going straight on.

The Plym Valley is a very gentle downhill all the way to Plym Bridge. Once you get to the platform for the heritage railway, you need to follow the ramp down, cut through the car park entrance, and pick up the trail on the other side of the car park entrance. It will probably be heaving with people, giving you a very valid excuse to cycle slowly, until you leave the Plym Valley trail, to arrive back at Coypool, where you started from.

Here's a link to the route on RideWithGPS: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/27117970


Friday, 16 March 2018

GWR - the start of a campaign

If you haven't done so already, I suggest you first read my earlier post about GWR and their increasingly anti-cycling stance.

There simply is no operational reason for their decisions, and from where I'm standing it looks like simply a combination of greed and a large dosage of anti-cycling sentiment combined to form their new policy.

Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw has been challenging GWR before, and they tried waffling him off with a letter saying the policy is guidance only, but that stance has since changed, and become more determinedly anti-cycling.

The only way we as cyclists can fight back is to start working together. We need to make this is local issue where ever we may live, and we need to lobby our local MPs, enlist the support of our local cycling campaigns, write to our local councillors and create as much negative publicity for GWR as what we can.

GWR's franchise is up for renewal in 2020, so we have two years to build a groundswell of resistance to their draconian policies, and hopefully either get GWR to back right down, or get them to lose their franchise.

The clincher will be numbers, and we will need many people to come forward and help. Remember, even if you don't regularly take a bike on a train, you should still support this campaign as any successful anti-cycling policies by one company could lead to an avalanche of other companies following suit. And no, not all such companies will be train companies, so this potentially has far-reaching repercussions that could directly affect all cyclists.

Starting in Cornwall, the following is a list of constituencies through which GWR trains on the Paddington-Penzance route run. Obviously, GWR runs other routes, too, including into Wales and Southern England, so if you can help out by listing the additional constituencies, I'd be much obliged.

St Ives, Camborne and Redruth, Truro and Falmouth, St Austell and Newquay, South East Cornwall, North Cornwall, Plymouth Moor View, Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, West Devon, Totnes, Central Devon, Newton Abbott, Exeter, East Devon, Tiverton and Honiton, Taunton Deane, Bridgwater and West Somerset, Wells, Weston-Super-Mare, North Somerset, Bristol South, Bristol West, Bristol East, North East Somerset, Bath, North Wiltshire, Chippenham, South Swindon, North Swindon, Wantage, Henley, Reading West, Reading East, Maidenhead, Beaconsfield, Slough, Hayes and Harlington, Ealing Southall, Ealing North, Ealing Central and Acton, Hammersmith, Kensington, Westminster North and Cities of London and Westminster

If you live in any of these constituencies, please will you urgently contact your MP, and try to enlist their support in trying to get GWR to back down on their anti-cycling policies?
Please will you also contact your local cycling campaign and ask for their support?

Together, we can beat this!

You are of course free to use your own wording, but in case you want a starter, here's an example letter you may want to copy and paste:


Dear ,

I am writing to you as a constituent concerned about GWR's increasingly anti-cycling policies. Before, GWR permitted full size bicycles to be carried on all of it's trains, without reservation, and subject to space being available.

To the best of my knowledge, this has never caused any problems.

However, in anticipation to new rolling stock being put into use, GWR changed their policy, requiring cycle reservations to be made at least two hours before departure for all high speed trains, even when there is ample space.
Following an outcry, GWR did relent somewhat, and currently allows cyclists to make a bicycle reservation up to shortly before the train departs.

While this softening of their stance is an improvement on what immediately preceded it, it still doesn't allow cyclists a great deal of flexibility. Remember, not everyone can pre-plan exactly what time train they will be taking.

Crosscountry trains don't have the same policy as GWR, and they cope rather well. On Crosscountry trains, there are only three bicycle spaces, of which two can be reserved, while the third is available on a first-come-first-served basis.

With increased congestion blighting our roads, and air pollution often exceeding legal levels, surely we should all try and enable as many to cycle as what we possibly can? Not every journey can be cycled, and people are free to choose their mode of travel, but when train companies actively start being obstructive towards cyclists, then we're rapidly going nowhere.

Please will you raise this matter in parliament? GWR's franchise is due for renewal in 2020, and I don't feel any company as actively anti-cycling deserves to hold a rail franchise.

Many thanks in advance.

Kind regards

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Folder!

Yes indeed! I got myself a folder. It belonged to a friend, who had it for a number of years, though only ever used it for a few short rides. She wanted to get rid of it, so for a small payment I gained a folding bike.

The brand name is Airwalk - I've never heard of it before - but it's essentially an exact copy of a Dahon.

Overall, the bike's in nearly-new condition and I was very, very lucky indeed to have laid my grubby paws on it.

The photo shows the bike with my two normal panniers hooked onto the rack. My panniers aren't huge, so they work perfectly well with this bike.


When I got the bike, my friend said the left pedal was "a bit funny". I took it for a 30-second ride, but the pedals seemed fine. The next morning, I was planning on riding it to the train station, to catch a train to Liskeard.

As it's a new (to me) bike, I opted for the quiet back route, and a good thing that was, too. After a little while, the left pedal did indeed start feeling a bit funny. And then funnier still, as I continued pedalling. Eventually, this culminated with the left crank falling off the bike!

The nut that was meant to be holding the crank in place had become loose and was prevented from falling off only by the plastic blocking cap. I didn't have a socket set with, and as the nut is recessed, I could only hand-tighten it so much.

With the crank back on the bike, I set off again, but I had to stop every half a mile or so, to re-tighten
the nut. Obviously, this meant I made slow progress. Near the Plymouth train station, I asked a car mechanic for help, and in a few seconds he'd tightened the offending nut, and the bike was good to go.

As expected, cycling in Liskeard and again back to the office from the Plymouth train station was no trouble after the crank issue was fixed.

The plan is for the folder to permanently live at work. When I need to take it on the train, I can simply cycle to work on my commuter, swap bikes, and no longer have to worry about GWR's stupid, draconian anti-cycling attitude.




Thursday, 15 February 2018

GWR

Great Western Railway (GWR) is the rebranded First Great Western (FGW) railway, and is owned by First Group. They lay claim to wanting to bring back Brunel's railway to the public, and - as part of the rebranding - have been highly successful in portraying GWR as a massive improvement over FGW.

Photo by  Phil Scott (Our Phellap) - English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=769483
Nobody can in all honestly deny that FGW needed rebranding and improving - they had become known by names such as First Late Railway, and similar. The rolling stock was old, and noticeably so, the trains were very often late, and capacity was pitiful at times.

But it wasn't all bad! For starters, you need to look at the history of the original Great Western Railway, which stopped existing almost 100 years ago. They hired a certain Isambard Kingdom Brunel to be their chief engineer, and Brunel did some spectacular work for them. If ever you travelled by train from Exeter down to Penzance, you will see just how stunning the scenery is. Indeed, Brunel originally wanted to build part of the line out to sea, going past Dawlish, to offer passengers a better view.

It was for very good reason that the original GWR became known as the Holiday Line, as people from elsewhere flooded into Dorset, Devon and Cornwall, carried in trains through numerous tunnels, and over spectacular viaducts and bridges.

More recently, prior to FGW rebranding as GWR, there was still much positive to be said. Countless groups of cyclists found they could easily travel down from London to Penzance on trains that would take up to six bikes at a time, ready to start their Land's End to John O'Groats cycling sabbatical. Many more cyclists found it easy and convenient to simply hop on the train with their bikes, to go explore different parts, or perhaps as part of a multi-mode commute.

But change was afoot. A competing train operator, Cross Country, had far newer rolling stock, and their carriages were far more modern. For cyclists, catching a Cross Country train meant the train could carry a maximum of three bikes, in special compartments, where the bikes hang by their front wheels. With FGW/GWR trains, some, or all spaces could be reserved in advance, while on Cross Country trains, only two spaces could be reserved, with the third bike space being available on a first-come-first-served basis.

And then the new MD of GWR, Mark Hopwood, implemented other changes. GWR started insisting that cyclists had to have reservations for their bikes, else they won't be allowed to take their non-folding bikes on trains. Yes, even if there was ample spaces available for bicycles.

The reasoning given was that this would help prevent trains being delayed at stations, which is of course pure rubbish. After all, it takes just as long to board a train with a cycle reservation as it does to board the train without one.

It wasn't long before GWR staff mostly have up trying to enforce this stupid requirement, and even the audio announcements at stations no longer said that bike reservations were essential. GWR then changed it's official stance, allowing cyclists to reserve a bike space on a train even minutes before that train arrives at the station.

This softer approach may seem completely reasonable, until you were running late, and got to the train station with just enough time to board the train, but nowhere near enough time to go queue up to get a cycle reservation.

Now here's the thing: on most trains, GWR has the ability for passengers to only buy their ticket once they've boarded the train. If they can do that for normal tickets, why can they not also do that for bike reservations?

To be clear, nobody is saying that cyclists should be allowed to board each and every train at will. If there are no bike spaces, then no more cyclists can board with their bikes. Nobody objects to that. There is one additional hurdle: If I boarded a train with my bike at Station 1, intending on traveling to Station 3, via Station 2, and I take the last bike space on the train, without having a reservation, it could cause conflict if you had a reservation from Station 2 to Station 3.

This can easily be dealt with by train staff, by issuing me a bike reservation once on the train. Their system would alert them that a conflict would arise at Station 2, and that therefore I would only be able to get a reservation up to that point.

More importantly, you will remember that Cross Country trains can only carry three bikes per train, and of those three spaces, only two can be reserved, with the third operating on a first-come, first-served basis. I've never heard of any cyclists with a reserved space who couldn't get their bike on a Cross Country train, and like other cyclists, I accept that without a reservation I may be left on the platform with my bike. Again, nobody objects to that system, and if GWR followed the same system, their current stupid policy can be scrapped.

GWR are quick to brag about having invested in new trains. The problem is, the new trains supposedly have space for three bikes per train, just like Cross Country trains. Again like Cross Country trains, the bikes will be hooked, to hang from the front wheel.
Where the new trains differ from Cross Country trains is the amount of space available for bikes - it is VERY cramped, and bikes with wide handlebars won't fit at all.

Also, the bike cupboard where two bikes are meant to fit is so small, both bikes will need to be quite narrow, else only one bike will fit. There simply isn't enough space to fit two flat-bar bikes side by side.

Image from here:
www.railwaygazette.com/news/single-view/view/
gwr-unveils-hitachi-iep-trainset.html
But wait! It get's better! The bike cupboards also double up as luggage space. Imagine you're waiting on the platform with your bike, ready to board a new GWR train. The train pulls in and stops, and you confidently wheel your bike to the bike carriage, cycle reservation help proudly in your hand. As the doors open and you start to take your bike onto the already very crowded train, you notice the bike cupboards are filled with other luggage.

At this stage, you think, quite indignantly, that you'll get the train manager to get someone to clear the luggage away, so you can stow your bike, right? Well, you'd be wrong. In this scenario, all that would happen is the train manager will tell you that - despite your bicycle reservation - there simply is no space on the train for your bike, and your choice would be to board the train without the bike, or to not board the train at all.

This is the policy that GWR claims is fair, reasonable and even forward-thinking! It stinks to the high heavens and it is actively anti-cycling.

So what do we do about this, I hear you ask? An excellent question! Now here's the thing: First Great Western came extremely close to losing the rail franchise they're now running under the GWR branding.
Provided GWR operates in your constituency,YOU need to contact your MP, and explain in great detail how utterly unacceptable GWR's attitude is. Then YOU need to contact your local cycle campaign, cycling clubs and individual cyclists you may know, and get them to also contact your MP.

We need to make sure all MPs throughout GWR'd franchise area realise just how unacceptable GWR's attitude is, and we all need to relentlessly lobby them to ensure GWR's franchise is NOT renewed, unless they radically alter their current anti-cycling stance.

We need to get Mark Hopwood to understand that his stewardship of GWR will be seen as a failure, unless he reverses his draconian rules and extremely poor provision for cyclists.

Remember, none of this will happen if YOU don't act.

UPDATE: I've been told that GWR are looking at actively reducing the number of bike spaces on their HSTs, and are also planning on implementing the same mandatory bike reservation system across all their trains, even the branch lines.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Just go for a ride

There is a German word, weltschmerz (literally world pain or world grief) that roughly translates as a general feeling of gloom with regards to life overall, and weltschmerz sometimes perfectly describes how I feel when I've been overwhelmed with negative things.

In life, we magnify what we focus on, and it is a sad side effect of cycle campaigning that we will often point out the failures, the mistakes, and the very slim chances of getting things right. If that is what we focus on, it's only natural that it will seem big and important to us. All-consuming, even.

And let's be honest here - there's a LOT wrong with cycling on public roads in the UK and no amount of prettying up will disguise the fact that we, as people on bikes, are often handed the dirty end of the stick.

Here's where free choice come into it: we can choose to shift our focus elsewhere. We can choose to look away from that which is wrong. I'm not for a moment suggesting ignoring the ills of society, and I'm certainly not advocating walking away from cycle campaigning.

Well, actually I am, in a way. See, sometimes, we need to recharge our batteries. Sometimes, we need to ignore (even if only for a short while) the wrongs around us, and focus on restoring balance within.

Right now, it's late January, which means - being in the northern hemisphere - it should be mid-winter. Except, it's not and spring has started, even if hesitantly. We can rage against climate change, and how pollution from motorised transport is one of the major contributing factors, but that won't alter the fact that spring has begun quite early.

So I suggest you get on your bike, and go for a ride.

Most people aren't as fortunate as what I am, and don't live in a rural location. When living in a town or city, it can be more difficult to spot the signs announcing the start of spring, but they're still there. You just might have to look a bit harder, is all.

Now down here in Devon, we're used to daffodils blooming in mid-December in certain places, so generally they're not a good indicator to go by. There are other, far more reliable signs. On the rural part of my commute, there's one particular spot where the snowdrops blossom up to two weeks before they do so anywhere else on my commute. When I see the first snowdrops, it always makes me smile, as to me, that is the start of spring.

I was amazed when they started blooming in mid-January, and was cautious to accept that spring had actually begun, so I kept looking out for other signs, and sure enough, there are plenty. Some trees have since started sprouting buds, while I've even seen the beginnings of leaves on others. In the places where the daffodils tend to bloom at the right time, the first yellow flowers have started appearing, and I expect it won't be long before the primroses are in bloom, too.

But it isn't limited just to plants - the blackbirds have become noticeably friskier, and yes, in parts of Devon the first lambs were born a few weeks ago. There can be few things more enjoyable to watch than excited lambs frolicking in a field.

Here's my advice: get on your bike, and go for a ride, even if only through a local park (but ideally through the countryside). Don't turn it into a training ride, and don't go fast. Instead, go slow, give yourself time to look around, to stop often, and to savour the experience. See the signs of life returning to the hedges and meadows, and do stop to smell any flowers you encounter.

Accept that there is much wrong with the world, most of which you cannot do anything about, then stop worrying about it. Be present. Smell the air. Feel the wind, and if it rains, surrender to it, accepting that you will get a soaking.

You're alive, and despite what cycling on UK roads sometimes feels like, you're safe. You live in a civilised country, free of maniacs with guns. You're not being bombed to smithereens by some foreign invader, you have clean water, hot food and a warm, dry bed available, and you get to cycle through one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world.

Sure, there's a lot wrong with the world, but if you change your focus, you will see there is far more that is right with it. Go on. Get and your bike, and go and find the magic. It's out there, waiting just for you.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

When police fail you...

Two things almost any cyclist will tell you is that they've had dangerous, close overtakes from drivers, and that reporting it to police more often than not results in nothing being done.
As a result, many (most?) cyclists have very little faith in police actually enforcing the law and taking action against drivers, when the person on the receiving end was a cyclist.

Certain police officers, like Devon and Cornwall Police's Sgt Harry Tangye, work very hard to build up a significant social media profile, then tweet utter rubbish about cyclists, like saying he can't understand why cyclists ride on the road when "there's a perfectly good cycle path". Bad police attitudes like that actively endanger cyclists, as the incorrect information they give is accepted by drivers as the gospel truth, and subsequently used to justify such drivers' poor driving around cyclists.

This needs to change, and police officers throughout the country need to drag themselves into this millennium, with regards to their attitude towards cyclists.

If you're a cyclist, you will probably have experienced first hand what a monumental waste of time and effort it is to try and report a close overtake to police. You may have been given rubbish reasons for police not acting on your report, such as "But you were riding too far out", "You were cycling two abreast" or many more equally ridiculous excuses.

The purpose of this post is help you understand why that happens, and what you can do about it. Oh, and believe me, there is a great deal you can do about it.

First the why:
I'm not proud of admitting this, but before I got back into cycling, I know I'd given some cyclists close overtakes. I didn't do so because I was spiteful, nor malicious, but because I didn't understand. Well, the blunt truth is that I was pig-ignorant, and there simply is no excuse I can ever offer to make up for it.

Most drivers are the same, even if they're police officers. They simply do not understand how scary, nor how dangerous a close overtake is, especially one received at speed. Moreover, they will most probably never believe you if you tried to tell them.

Police officers are actually usually worse than normal drivers in this respect, as they will  think you're wasting their time with your complaint of a close pass, and will try to do as little as possible, and get rid of you as quick as possible, to crack on with other more important tasks.
And from a cop's perspective, there ARE more important tasks. You see, police forces around the UK are judged by their respective crime stats, and "Number of cyclists receiving close overtakes" is not one of those stats they are judged on.

As a result, with slashed budgets and decimated numbers of officers, cops will try to solve those crimes that they are measured on, leaving you and your report of a close pass by the wayside.

There are a number of ways this can be changed. For starters, we can campaign for close overtakes to be considered under their stats. Or we can campaign for additional resources for police, Or we can do any one of a myriad other things that stand an equally unlikely chance of ever happening.

Sadly, that means the door is firmly shut in your face. Except for one more option:
You can (and should!) submit a formal complaint to police. Not a complaint about the close overtake, which you will already have reported, but rather a formal complaint about how police handled that report.

When you make a formal complaint to police about the handling of a report you'd made, that complaint is automatically elevated to Inspector level. The Inspector dealing with your complaint may well delegate it to someone of lower rank, but ultimately they are in charge of it.

Crucially, this also means they carry responsibility for it.

In all likelihood, your complaint will be investigated by the same group of officers you complained about. Just accept this as standard (if poor, in my opinion) practice, and wait for the conclusion of the investigation. Police almost always will try to get you to settle for something they call "Local resolution". Local resolution pretty much means the matter is resolved, never to be mentioned again.

In my view, local resolution will often be a thinly veiled attempt of sweeping the matter under the rug, although there will always be cases where local resolution is indeed the correct outcome.

But here's the thing: regardless of what any police officer may say (or allude to), you don't have to accept the outcome of a local resolution. Now it may well be that such an outcome is absolutely fair and reasonable, in which case I'd suggest you accept it, but if it is not, then you can appeal that outcome.

An appeal is automatically escalated to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), removing the investigation completely from your local police's hands. And yes, not accepting the outcome of local resolution is indeed one of the reasons officially listed as grounds to escalate an appeal to the IPCC: https://www.ipcc.gov.uk/appeals

Formal complaints made against police counts against their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and police quite understandable want as few of those as they can. Force-wide KPIs impact on the career of the Chief Constable, and is a very effective way of raising the profile of an issue.

Officers found to have bungled reports made by cyclists may find their own careers have been harmed through such poor decisions, and Inspectors overseeing formal complaints about police handling of such reports stand to potentially suffer considerable career harm should they be found to have tried to sweep a bungled report under the rug.

When a local force has been the subject of a formal complaint, especially one escalated to the IPCC, police officers start waking up to the fact that it is very much in their own best interests to stop simply dismissing reports from cyclists as not worth acting on, and that is a game-changer. After all, this means it is no longer necessary for you to convince them that this is a matter that needs to be taken seriously, but instead it has become a matter they know they need to take seriously, even if only for reasons of self-interest.

Some may object to me advocating a strategy that can harm police officers' careers, and in answer to that I will simply point out that only officers who didn't act correctly will be impacted by that.

I would strongly urge you, and every single other cyclist, to follow the procedures I've detailed above, and to always report close overtakes, or any other driving that endangered you. It would greatly help if you had video of the incident, as quite rightly, police will be forced to say they cannot act if it's simply your word against that of the driver.

At the same time, I would suggest you should be reasonable in your expectations of the outcome of reports made. In my experience, only a few reports will actually be acted on by the driver being prosecuted.

Finally, you need to email your Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) with details of each such formal complaint. PCCs are heavily involved in setting the priorities of local police forces, and are usually blissfully unaware of the scale of the road violence cyclists are faced with.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Driver malfunction and a false dawn

Those of you familiar with the origins of the entire Operation Close Pass that's been slowly spreading across the UK will no doubt recognise that this post's title is based on the blog post by West Mids Traffic Police that started it all: Junction Malfunction and a New Dawn

If you're unfamiliar with Close Pass (where have you been?), I suggest clicking that link first, and reading their excellent blog post, before coming back here.

From that blog post, we get this absolute gem:
"Our time and effort, we have quickly realised, is better spent enforcing the law and prosecuting, thus creating a scenario whereby should someone not give a cyclist the time and space necessary or fail to see them completely they should expect to be prosecuted. In other words the carrot goes out the window and in comes the stick. Why some might ask? Well if drivers expect to be prosecuted for committing offences they suddenly stop committing them, unsurprising correlation I know but it’s the truth. Once drivers become aware that an infringement involving a cyclist is one they should expect to be prosecuted for, they suddenly become more aware of them on the road and in turn start giving them the time and space they should lawfully have as an equal road user.  Cyclists suddenly occupy a drivers attention, they actively look out for them and so are less likely to miss them at junctions and contribute to our KSI statistics."

Now originally, West Mids Traffic started by educating drivers that gave cyclists a close overtake, though from the outset, this was their strategy:
"Those who are committing any other offence as well as the “close pass” due care offence will be prosecuted for all offences, no immediate educational alternative for those who show such a low standard of driving."

Additionally, they had this as part of their strategy from the outset:
"Following a period of education at a particular location if offences persist we will have “enforcement” only days where education isn’t an option for those committing close pass due care offences."

The underlying motivation is clear: start off by giving drivers education about why close-passing cyclists is a bad thing, then move on to prosecuting drivers for close-passing cyclists.

West Mids Traffic realised they were on to a good strategy here, and invited all police forces around the UK to attend a day, to learn about the initiative. Sixteen forces attended that training day, but Devon and Cornwall Police decided they didn't need to attend.

Following a great deal of campaigning by various individuals, Devon and Cornwall Police changed their mind, and attended a second such training day. In fact, even the local Police and Crime Commissioner, Alison Hernandez, attended the training day. Those who attended came back all enthused, with plans to launch a similar operation in Devon, Cornwall, as well as Dorset. D & C Police and Dorset Police share a traffic department, under a Strategic Roads Policing Alliance, in case you were wondering about Dorset.

On the day D & C Police launched Operation Close Pass simultaneously in Plymouth and Dorchester, it was raining heavily in both locations. So much so, that both events were stopped early. That's nobody's fault, but rather just pure bad luck.

A few months later, a second Op Close Pass was held in Exeter, along a road where some cyclists have even been assaulted by drivers.

Sounds like D & C Police are getting on board with Op Close Pass, doesn't it?

Well, all is not how it seems. For starters, the Roads Policing team covering Devon, Cornwall and Dorset is small, and vastly overstretched. Factor in the fact that Devon alone has more miles of road than all of Belgium, and the scale of the problem becomes more clear. To make matters worse, over the past six months, there have been a spike in road fatalities this small team has to deal with.

Think about that for a minute. The same officers are exposed to traumatic events again, and again, and again. And if you don't consider a traffic fatality from a collision traumatic to deal with, then you've never seen mangled bodies in wrecked cars before.

Obviously, this will - over time - take a toll, and indeed several of the Roads Policing Alliance team are suffering.

So how does this impact on Operation Close Pass, I hear you ask? Heavily, is the short answer! For starters, clearly, there is a rather obvious difference between a cyclist suffering a close pass, even if at speed, and a crash where one or more people died.

When people are continuously exposed to trauma, they become jaded to it. This is an expected effect, and to a degree forms part of a healthy mind's ability to try and protect itself from the horrors it's seen.
Only, when severely jaded minds review video footage of a close pass, it will be oh so easy to simply dismiss it with a snort, and by saying "Yes, but did you die?" And there, in one fell swoop, the extremely negative, often very dangerous experience the reporting cyclist may have had is dismissed.

This becomes more obvious when we look at some of the responses police gave to reports of close overtakes. In Exeter, an officer told the cyclist they shouldn't have been riding in primary position (the middle of the lane, specifically to try and deter close passes), while I've been told they won't act on a deliberate close overtake (we call that a punishment pass) because two cyclists were riding abreast in the video!

For what it's worth, the cop who said that was completely wrong - even a cursory examination of the video would've shown one rider had actually overtaken the other, and they were briefly abreast. Perhaps D & C Police know of a way for cyclists to overtake each other without ending up riding two abreast, for however short a period of time?

More importantly, the particular Highway Code rule that was referred to is an advice only rule, while a close overtake is actually covered in law. As Surrey Roads Police have often publicly stated on their @SurreyRoadCops Twitter account, cyclists remain perfectly legal if they ride two, three or even five abreast. Perhaps they know a bit more about the law than D & C Police?

Basically, D & C Police have said that they can't  take any action against a driver who willfully and intentionally endangered cyclists, because two cyclists were briefly alongside each other. Now, being a chocaholic, I'm intensely aware of the difference between chocolate and bullshit, and I can assure you, that excuse certainly isn't chocolate!

Let's put that into perspective: less than two years ago I was told that I'm completely mistaken about the scale of the issue, and that cyclists in general aren't endangered on the roads policed by D & C Police. When they challenged me to get other cyclists to report incidents, I managed to do so to such an extend that very recently they told me they're swamped with reports.
If I hadn't pestered and pushed this issue all the time, D & C Police would still be denying that there is a problem at all.

I've been told that I'd been given unprecedented access to police, as if I should be extremely grateful. I have a problem with that:

I don't want unprecedented access to police, I want effective roads policing that is responsive to reports about driving that endangers cyclists!

I've been told, in as many words, that my having sworn at a driver giving me a stupidly close overtake means police can't take action against the driver. Remember, boys and girls, if ever you're stabbed by a mugger, that you mustn't swear at them, else police simply will not be able to do anything about it. See how ridiculous that sounds?

I had such high hopes when D & C Police announced they will after all be running OpClosePass (remember, at first they couldn't even bother to respond to West Mids Traffic Police's invite to go have a look). The sad reality is what D & C Police implemented is an extremely poor facsimile of OpClosePass, and it is delivered so infrequently that a driver wanting to be caught by it will probably never be caught. It is a joke, and police ar pretending it is a brilliant success, as part of a PR campaign designed to make them appear to be doing something, while actually delivering effectively nothing at all.

There are some rays of light, though: apparently police are looking at employing a dedicated gatekeeper, whose job will be reviewing video footage. They're being swamped with video, not only from cyclists, but also from dashcams.

There's an honest attempt to increase the number of roads policing officers, and they're currently working on implementing a secure system for video to be uploaded.

Time will tell if these aspirations become reality, and until then, I'm afraid to say as a cyclist, you're pretty much on your own out there.





Tuesday, 1 August 2017

It's not about YOU all the time...

Imagine for a moment that you're having just a normal, boring day. Perhaps you're at work, perhaps you're at home, or maybe you're out shopping. And on this bog-standard, boring day, you discover the badly mangled body of a person. Yes, someone died, in a very gruesome manner, and you find them.

What do you do? Do you call 999? Do you stay until the emergency services arrive on scene? Do you run away? Or do you sit rocking back and forth against the wall, too shocked and saddened to function? Again, what will you do? How will you behave?

Imagine you were on your lunch break, when this happened, and now you have to return to work. How will you cope? Will you be able to function? Will you tell your boss that you're too traumatised, and ask to go home? Will you tell co-workers all the detail?

OK, now imagine you're a police officer, responding to a serious car crash, and you get there just in time to hold the hand of a dying person. Imagine that there's carnage around you, and some bodies have been pulverised into a mess that's hard to think was a human being until but a short time ago. Imagine you've been giving CPR to someone, until the paramedics arrived, but despite your best efforts, you watch that person die.

Now imagine this - the fire service arrived on scene, as have the paramedics. As a police officer, your duties now change to traffic management. Due to the seriousness of the crash, the road will need to be closed. This is to allow the emergency services to operate safely, to allow the injured to be treated, then taken to hospital, to allow crash investigators to try and piece together the cause of the crash, to allow specialist teams to remove the bodies, perhaps to allow Highways to repair damage to the road surface, and finally, to clear debris from the road.

Naturally, road closures cause significant disruption, and you're faced with many angry drivers. Imagine one (or more) yelling that you're wasting their time, that they have *impostant* things to be getting on with, and that you should stop just standing around and instead go catch criminals. All while you're still trying to deal with what you've just witnessed.

How would you react? Would you lose it with that driver? Would you start crying? Would you quit your job?

Imagine going home, at the end of that long day. Would you want to offload onto family members? Would you look to them for comfort, or perhaps distraction? How would you cope with what you've seen and experienced, especially knowing you may well encounter more of that the next day?

Chances are, you're not a cop. Chances are, you'll never have to deal with the scenario I painted above. But the chances are that you may well be a driver caught in the front of a queue of traffic, on a road that's just been closed, watching a police officer seemingly idly stand around with not a care in the world.

How will you react? What will you do? Will you have a go at that copper doing their job - even if their job is to simply stand there, ensuring nobody gets past?

Next time you're caught up in a road closure, think about what's actually happening in the background. Be grateful that copper is there to prevent you from having to see the carnage. Be grateful you're safe, in one piece. Yes, you'll be late, but in the bigger picture, is that really such a big deal? Think of the family and friends who will be told their loved one is no longer coming home, then think of your loved ones.

Next time you're having any interaction with a police officer, bear in mind that they may well have experienced such a scenario shortly before you encountered them, and cut them some slack? Yes, they're trained, but there's no amount of training in the world that can completely shield you against the lasting affects of such carnage.

Next time, smile at the copper, and ask them if they're OK. Next time, be more human.

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!

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!