You're invited! The launch of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain

Just a few short months ago, cycling campaigners from across the UK met for the first time around the tables of Look Mum No Hands cafe.  Brought together by a shared belief that it was time for a new national cycling campaign to come on the scene and to ask - once and for all - for cycling to be treated here in the UK in the same way as it is in the Netherlands and Denmark.  A new campaign driven by the ethos of "I want what they're having" when looking to our neighbours across the North Sea, and not afraid to ask for high quality separated cycling infrastructure to get us all cycling again on those terrifying urban highways which blight so many of our towns and cities.

The months have passed since that initial meeting, and members of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain have been diligently working away in the background.  A website has been set up, with a forum, news, a copy of the Local Transport Plan for nearly every local authority in the country, and a vast wealth of freely accessible bicycle infrastructure design manuals, plans and guidelines.  Members have given speeches, written articles for magazines and taken part in the Annual Parliamentary Bike Ride.

But now it's time for the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain to go official.  That's right, dear readers, we're ready to step out in to the limelight, and you're all invited to our official launch!

This Saturday, September 3rd, join us for a photo call and opening speeches on the south side of Lambeth Bridge where we'll outline our policies, say a few words and get a snap for posterity in front of the Houses of Parliament.  Then it's across the bridge on what we've dubbed "London's worst cycle lane" to Victoria Park Gardens where we'll be having a family-friendly picnic and you'll have the chance to meet Cycling Embassy members from across the country.  There's a sight seeing bike ride being led by yours truly in the afternoon, and of course Sunday is the Mayor of London's Sky Ride; the perfect chance for you and your family to see the best of our capital on streets closed to traffic.

So what are you waiting for?  Join us in London for the perfect family-friendly cycling weekend from 11.30AM this Saturday on the south side of Lambeth Bridge.  All the details you need to know are over on the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain website, and I look forward to seeing some of you there!

Saturday 3rd September

Gather at the south side of Lambeth Bridge at 11.30AM for press call.

(Smart ‘everyday’ wear and best smiles please; you might end up in the paper!) All types of bike and riders (including children) welcome.Do bring: cameras, video recorders, waterproof coats, picnic food and drink to share, comfortable shoes, shiny bikes and your best smile.

12 midday; press call / photo opportunity
Photos with the Houses of Parliament in the background. Speech by Jim Davis, Chair and founder of Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. CEoGB declared officially ‘open for business’.

12.20 Depart for Victoria Tower Gardens for (short) cross-river bike ride on “London’s worst bike lane” across Lambeth Bridge (approx. 500 mtrs) Ride will be marshalled by CEoGB board.

12.50 onwards; celebratory picnic in Victoria Tower Gardens.

Please bring picnic food and drink to share with your new found cycling friends to celebrate the launch of the Cycling Embassy. Family-friendly and child-safe enclosed park space. Sunglasses, picnic blankets and friendly smiles the order of the day. Please note; no glass, alcohol, banners or placards permitted in the park.

Saturday afternoon; informal, optional Royal Parks infrastructure safari taking in the pelicans of St James Park, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park Corner, the Serpentine, Albert Memorial, Royal Albert Hall and back.

Don’t bring: glass, alcohol or your favourite Lance Armstrong outfit.
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Everything's connected; post cards from Sydney

When I left for London from Sydney in Australia nearly four years ago I thought it was a fantastic city in so many ways - a beautiful climate, a beautiful harbour city, and beautiful, warm, friendly people.

But there is one thing that Sydney was not, and that's a cycle-friendly city.  Indeed, American cycling academic John Pucher described it only last year as "the most hostile city to cyclists in the developing world."  It's true.  Sydney was especially afflicted by the sort of broad and fast roads that planners loved to build in the 1960s, and the city drivers reacted accordingly - they drive fast and hard and God forbid anyone who might find themselves in their way.  And if the hills of the Elizabeth Bay loop don't finish you off, the 'retro' (read ancient) number 311 bus will.

Riding the "suicide cage" on Sydney Harbour Bridge, pic via Freedom Cyclist

But there's a certain sense of change in the air Down Under...

After years of Australia being in the grip of sports cycling image branding, the approach to the image of bike riding is changing.  People are re-discovering the joys of sit up and beg bikes and a more relaxed and everyday style of riding again.  The always appropriately attired Saskia at Sydney Cycle Chic is doing a great job of showing you don't have to dress like Lance Armstrong to get around town, whilst artist, blogger and film maker Mike Rubbo is doing a great job of promoting the virtues of upright bikes at his aptly-named website Sit Up Cycle.  Mike is convinced that more people need to be reminded of the joys of riding a safe, comfortable upright bike if a true cycling culture is to emerge in Australia; that there's nothing wrong with sporty bikes or riding fast, but that a mono culture is no kind of culture at all.  His recent exhibition at the Tap Gallery in Surrey Hills of sketches and lino prints of upright cyclists was a big success.  I'm a big fan of his art work and was thrilled to receive the below beautiful print in the post today. I love how the scratched background reminds me of the Australian bush, and the dynamic between the lady on the bike with the big bum and the gent on the bike to the left fascinates me. 

Thanks Mike!

And of course, there's Sue.  L'nfant terrible of the Australian bike blogging world, the charming, vociferous and wildly coiffured Sue Abbott of Freedom Cyclist blog has been in and out of Court of late contesting her convictions for - quelle horreur -  riding a push bike without a helmet in a country where the cycling scene is ravaged by its ridiculous and ineffectual mandatory bicycle helmet law.

And slowly and surely its not just a few itinerant bloggers who are making noises about the possibilities for bikes either; the authorities are starting to chime in too.  The independent Mayor, Clover Moore and the City of Sydney are currently building a 200km network of separated bike lanes across the city.  In a city so firmly wedded to its cars this is no small undertaking, but they're persevering none the less.  And it seems to be working; cyclists in the CBD during the AM peak went up 60% in just one year between March 2010 and March 2011  There may not be Amsterdam-style epic volumes of cyclists using the cycleways just yet, but the city will sure be glad they built them in 5, 10 and 20 years time.  And if you're going to spend money on cycling infrastructure it might as well be the sort that cyclists of all ages and styles can use, no?  (I'm looking at you, Transport for London)

And now the City of Sydney have released these fantastic short films celebrating the city's cyclists and cycleways.  They're great; they advertise the new infrastructure which is just waiting to be explored as well as demonstrating that anyone - fast or slow - can ride a bike to get from A to B.  There's handsome young dad Anthony zipping in to work, older riders Les and Judy ("At our stage in life we've worked out what we like doing, and now we are doing it."), single speed chicista Kitiyia and beach mum Caroline re-discovering the simple joys of getting around on two wheels again.  Here in London we've had a similar raft of great promotional films, and I'm convinced these kind of aspirational adverts really do work.  It's just here in London its, well, a shame about the rest of it.  Blackfriars Bridge, anyone?

We at ibikelondon approve; Australia may be late drawing up a chair to the cycling revolution table but we're slowly looking forward to riding a bike again when we eventually move back.  ibikesydney here we come!

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Come, and Ride Leicester!

I'll be escaping London and making my way to Leicester for the August long weekend to take part in the Ride Leicester Bike Festival.

On Friday (the 26th) I'll be joining with Leicester's everyday and ordinary cyclists for a Critical Mass ride around the pedestrianised city centre.  I'm really looking forward to exploring the city's cycling scene a bit more and meeting some of the people who ride.

And on the evening of Saturday the 27th I'll be speaking at the Phoenix Arts Centre at 6.30PM.  There's great food and drink, great company and I'll be giving a talk about inviting cycling and building Leicester's bicycle culture, exploring why Leicester isn't London and London isn't Copenhagen, the three cities' differences and what they can each learn from one another.  Earlier in the year the city played host to the Building Cycling Cultures Conference, headed up by Dr David Horton.  It's got a large pedestrianised centre where bicycles are welcome, two national cycle routes passing through the city or close by, beautiful riverside and canal trails  and a brand new guarded bike parking hub in the centre.  What's more it's own City Council research suggests that traffic density has reached capacity - average speeds are not much higher than in London - in short, I'll be exploring how the city could be on the cusp of embracing its own cycling revolution.  Aptly enough, I'm followed by stand up comedy in the Phoenix cafe bar so there should be some good laughs one way or another!

Skyride 36b
Fun for all ages on the Leicester SkyRide! (photo via MichaelH on Flickr)

On Sunday morning thousands of people from across Leicester and the surrounding area will take to 5km of safe streets closed to all other traffic for the Leicester SkyRide.  Part of a national program of cycling events taking place all over the country it promises to be a fun, family-friendly environment and a great way to see the city.

So if you're in the area, are interested in bikes, or even if you're just thinking of starting to ride, do come along.  It's sure to be a fun two-wheeled weekend!

For further information and any questions, please see the Ride Leicester Facebook page.

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London riots; the dark side of the bicycle

Here at i b i k e l o n d o n we are always extolling the virtues of the humble bicycle; how you can beat traffic, zip through back lanes where cars can't go, whizz through parks and get from A to B in a flash of gears and be at your destination before a London driver has barely even set off.  Sadly, the looters who took over large parts of our city on Monday also know this and used the bicycle's inherent flexibility to devastating effect.

As looters and thugs in my neighbourhood threw stones and bottles on the Bethnal Green Road, hooded bike riders were zipping up and down my street scouting out police-free locations.  As the riot cops arrived, it was the bikes that led the way to new scenes of disturbance, seeking locations in advance for the rioters to then follow on foot.  As re-enforcements arrived on the main road, a kid on a BMX clad in a black track suit with his face covered called out "I've just been to Whitechapel, it's safe, let's go there now!" The shouts of "Whitechapel! Whitechapel! Whitechapel!" came back, and the young men were off, scurrying down local lanes and dissipating down dark passageways before the police, who aren't from round here, had even got their A to Zs out.

BBC footage from Hackney yesterday afternoon.

As fires were lit and news cameras were focused on the big flare ups on Hackney's Mare Street or down in Croydon, there was plenty going on in the back lanes and alleyways away from the media glare.  Reports of people being violently mugged for their bikes along the busy cycle route through London Fields park were all over Twitter.  Over in Islington, popular independent and local bike shop MiCycle was attacked; looters poured in and raced out with bikes.

Looting MiCycle; footage via London Cyclist


Update, 10/08/11:

The Daily Telegraph's Andrew Gilligan was robbed of his bicycle whilst riding home from Tottenham through Hackney on Monday night.  You can read his full report here.  He writes; "It was one of those microseconds when you know exactly what is about to happen, without the slightest chance of stopping it.
The big black boy rode his bike straight at me, crashing me off my own and leaving us both tangled up on the ground. Then four more of them were racing towards me, clawing at my legs to get them off my bike, kicking me in the head as I tried to hold on. Two minutes later, it was all over. Ten minutes later, no doubt, it was being used to loot a newsagent’s.
Bleeding a little, I thought I might as well call 999. It was a recorded message. After four and a half minutes, a tired man answered. “There’s nothing we can do,” he said. “You know what’s going on. We have to give priority to saving people’s lives. I suggest you just go home.” 

Micycle in Islington is now open for business again, reports GoingGoingBike, who contacted their mechanic Julian Sabetian; "We’ve had lots of concern from customers and locals alike, so the support has been palpable and very welcome.”
“I think that the redeeming factor’s just being the local community and their support. A few people have deliberately come to make small purchases [to show support]. Other shops have swung by or phoned, it’s nice for potential competitors to show their concern.”

There have been further reports of bike shops being raided and looted across London, including Evans Cycles in Chalk Farm and Clapham, and Geoffrey Butler in South Croydon.  BikeBiz online is keeping a tally, and also has advice from insurance firms for traders who may have been affected.


Down in Brixton, the BBC's Podraic O'Brien reported; "I'm standing outside Halfords on the other side of the road and they've just smashed through the door of Halfords.  They're taking bikes out the front entrance."  Guardian journalist Peter Walker live-tweeted similar occurrences at the Halfords store in Catford.  "Trouble spreading again in - gang breaking down door of Halfords by station. Full view of main road. No police."  Later, as the police moved on to other hot spots, the trouble returned; "Bizarre. Police have now abandoned Halfords in and, guess what... the looters are back."

If you see streets as a network - channels of movement and routes for communication - there's no better way of operating it than by bike.  Sadly, as last night has shown, those who are taking part in this mindless looting and violence are all too aware of it.  Bikes can be used to pass messages, weapons and drugs quickly and easily between flashpoints.  Untraceable and too quick to catch, whether we like it or not the humble bicycle is at the forefront of events.

The Money Shop on Bethnal Green Road this morning

What can you do to stay safe?

  • Avoid unlit or sparsely populated cycle routes; especially those through parks such as London Fields or along canals.
  • Keep up to date of where trouble is flaring up; consider changing your route home if necessary.
  • Consider teaming up with friends or colleagues to cycle home together or in small groups.
  • Avoid cycling through or near large groups of youths. Turn around and go back the way you came if you have to.
  • If someone offers you a brand new bike for sale in the street or at a market, do not buy it, you could be paying for stolen goods.
  • Exercise caution and common sense on websites like eBay and GumTree
  • Ensure you have a record of the frame number and particulars of your own bike.  Consider using a security website like BikeRegister and ensure your bike is always kept secure with at least two good locks.
  • Support your local bike retailer, especially if they've been the victims of looting or theft.

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Bike Minded in the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

Here at ibikelondon we're big fans of some of the work the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea does in promoting riding a bike as a means of getting about.  This is the borough that staged the excellent "Like Riding a Bike" exhibition last year, mounted the "Road Hug" safety campaign, and invited, um, me, to speak at their annual cycling forum this year on 'Inviting Cycling'.  The Council Chambers even have their very own Boris Bike docking station; if that's not sending out a pro-bike message then I don't know what is.

The Borough is continuing its fantastic work with the launch of their most recent project.  The "Bike Minded" website will become a central point of reference for cyclists in the area and those who would like to ride a bike.  They can find out where their nearest bike shop is, learn about how to access cycle training, find out about the best routes through the borough and read interviews with other movers and shakers in the cycling world.

What I really like about this project is the non-preachy approach that Bike Minded takes.  There's no stern lectures about red light jumping or wearing a helmet, no insistence that you *must* get dressed up in order to go for a ride.  It just accepts that all kinds of cycling are valid and sends out the message that wherever you ride in the Borough you are officially welcome.  With over 8000 people on bikes in this one Borough alone, it's nice to know the powers that be care.

The website is easy to use and full of funky graphics and positive images of everyday and ordinary cyclists.  It also offers aspiring cyclists the chance to ride some brand new very beautiful bikes - including a Moulton - to see if they like it.  I could only dream of riding a bike like that when I first started out!

And to prove that cycling in London doesn't just have to be all about getting to work, they've produced a downloadable App which will take you on a guided bike tour of the Blue Plaques of Kensington and Chelsea; find out where Oscar Wilde used to hang out and Mark Twain's old haunts.

If every London borough was as switched on and bike facing as this, we'd really be starting to get somewhere!

The BikeMinded website is here, as well as on Twitter and Facebook.

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