30 December 2010

Modern Life

I'm in Calgary, Canada for Christmas so I haven't been updating of late.

How is everybody? Hope your holiday season was/is lovely.

I read something interesting the other day. Via Bill Bryson's book about Shakespeare I read about John Stow's mammoth work Survey of London.

In it he laments the development of modern life and how: "...the traffic in the city had grown impossible and that the young walked less than ever..."

The book was published in 1598.


25 December 2010

Blizzard Bicycle Moments

Snowstorm Crowd
A blizzard rolled in over Copenhagen on the 23rd of December, with hefty winds to boot. It was the nation's busiest travel day and the last shopping day before christmas. The snowploughs and sweepers were out in force - respect! Copenhagen was more empty than normal - many people travelled early to get to where they needed to be for christmas on the 24th - but there were still loads of bicycles in motion.
Winter Traffic Copenhagen
The bike lanes on the main arteries were cleared but the snow was one step ahead so there were stretches that were completely snow-free. Add to that snow drifts from the winds and it was certainly more interesting than normal to cycle around.

Cyclists were smiling and chatting to each other. A rare mood of solidarity in the blizzard. It was lovely.

Three people asked me how the Bullitt was in the snow and I have to say - as I did to them - that it is absolutely brilliant in the snow. I won't ride anything else in weather like this. The low centre of gravity and the front wheel far out front lets me roll right through snow and snowdrifts alike. It is incredibly stable. There are slip-sliding moments and fishtailing but it is so stable that it hardly affects the riding or trajectory.
Copenarctic Copenarctic 03 Copenarctic 02
While most people on bicycles were dressed in the same clothes that they would walk in, I chatted with this lady with ski goggles. She was loving it in the blizzard.
Snowstorm Crossing The Lakes
Many people were taking a shortcut across The Lakes. Impossible to ride out there, but they merely pushed their bikes. What an Arctic scene.

Here are all the photos I took on the 23rd during the storm.
Citizen Cyclists on their bicycles in the City of Cyclists.

23 December 2010

Bicycle Pumps on Copenhagen Trains!

Bikes Allowed
Danish State Railways [DSB] have been doing some good things for bicycles this year. First they made it free to take your bicycle on the S-Trains serving Greater Copenhagen. Now it seems that people transporting their bicycles by train can exploit their travel time a little more effectively.

DSB had a competition for customers where ideas for how to improve service were sent in. Four customers had the same idea and it was the idea that won.

Placing bicycle pumps in the existing bicycle compartments.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

The pumps will be installed in the new year. In addition, DSB are doubling the capacity of the so-called flex compartments to allow for even more bicycle capacity.

B+ Bike Meets Train. Falls in Love.
At left: A bicycle/pram/wheelchair compartment on a Copenhagen S-train.
At right: the flexible wheel holders hold the back wheel and allow for swaying movement.

Copenhagen Bike Culture Advertising
When DSB announced that bicycles were now free on S-trains, they put up this tunnel on Nørrebrogade - the busiest bicycle street in the world - to advertise the fact. Brochures were handed out to cyclists at the red light a bit farther along. Read more about this right here.

Via: DSB's website: "Pump cyklen i S-toget"

Moving More Snow

Snowplough Afternoon
Went down to the corner shop and a snowplough buzzed past, followed by this sweeper.
Snowplough Afternoon 2
Then, three minutes later, another sweeper.
Winter Detour
Sometimes you just overtake the sweepers.
Electric Garbage Collection Copenhagen
And once in a while you'll see the City's little electric garbage collection thingys buzzing along the bike lanes, too.

As I write this there is a snowstorm over Copenhagen. The wind is blowing the snow all over town. The snowploughs and sweepers are out in force on this, the busiest travel day of the year.

With all that said, this winter has been hard so far and we're running out of salt and the snow clearance budgets are under pressure in our municipalities.

In Copenhagen the streets are divided up into A, B, and C roads. 'A' roads have high priority, 'B' less so and 'C' roads, in a winter like this, don't see much clearance action.

Nevertheless, the bicycle traffic is highly prioritized and the bicycles, by and large, roll on.

21 December 2010

Historical Reference

Tom Vanderbilt over at How We Drive was playing around with Google's Ngram Viewer in his post about pedestrians. As he wrote: "As I’m sure most of you know, Google’s NGram Book Viewer provides an invaluable window, via written texts of the last century or so, onto what the culture was collectively thinking. Not surprisingly, there’s much to be gleaned here from an urban or transportation point of view."

Cool idea. So I put a few search phrases through the machine. Above we have "Bicycle" and how many times it was mentioned between 1800 and 2000. A peak in the 1940's, a fall and then a rise again in the 1970's. 

I was interested about the English slang "Bike" and found out that it really has had an interesting journey. As well as having a root farther back than I would have guessed.

Here's the graph for "Cycling". Again, an interesting journey. It really came into its own as a word in the 1970's.

"Velocipede" started early by all accounts and has an up and down existence which lasted much longer than I would have expected.

Here's the graph for the historical references to "cycle track". A sudden and impressive rise in the 1890's and then an even more impressive peak in the 1940's. The typical fall in the 1960's and a rise in the 1970's.

Oh, and not surprisingly, here's the historical graph for "Vehicular Cyclist".

Aarhus Train Station Bike Racks

Aarhus Bike Parking
Thanks to Claus for these photos of some of the bike parking facilities at Aarhus Train Station. Aarhus is Denmark's second largest city.

Aarhus Bike Parking
Tourists are always amazed at these double decker racks. "How do you get the bikes UP there?!!?"

Well... we just lift them.
Aarhus Bike Parking

20 December 2010

Cargo Bike Tales

Flea Market
Last week, inbetween snowstorms, I headed out to the island of Amager to pick up some stuff I bought from a friend who was selling up before moving back to Brooklyn.

It wasn't a heavy load but it was one of the more motley loads I've had on the Bullitt. A set of drawers from a old chemists, a rice cooker, a DVD player, a vintage pasta maker and a number of books. I've read all of them before but it was time to read them again.

I buy - and subsequently read of course - an outrageous number of books each year. I have, however, developed a habit of getting rid of them after I've read them. It started in 1999. I had over 1000 books in my flat and in a moment of clarity I realised that by keeping them in my flat I was keeping them off the literary market. It was like borrowing a bike share bike and then not returning it.

I like it when people have a library at home but it suddenly didn't appeal to me. I donated them all to the library. Even 11 years on I still make regular trips to the library with books - several times a year. They don't say no to new books, only read once. Who would?

In this batch there is Kurt Vonnegut's 1985 novel "Galapagos". In it there is a futuristic device called a Mandarax that can translate thousands of languages instantly, as well as many other functions. It resembles a smart phone, actually. And it was a bit spooky to read about this new smart phone function called Word Lens.

Then there is Sartre's "Nausea", Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" and a Danish translation of Weber's "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism". Not show is a collection of Dr. Seuss stories for the kids.
Cargo Bike Bikes
Sending books onwards to benefit other readers is kind of like bicycles. I gathered today some old kids' bicycles in the back yard of our building and cycled them down to the good people at Baisikeli. Not surprisingly, I trailed another Copenhagen transporting something big on their bicycle. A mattress by the looks of it.

Friday Night Bullitt
Unlike books and bikes, friends stick around. The library doesn't want them. Some of our friends live in the suburbs and take the train in when the boys go out at night. Good thing I had the Bullitt. It was tough to get it up to speed but then it rolled along nicely. Especially after a few drinks.

Felix Bullitt 3
It is mostly the kids that I schlep around on the cargo bike. Here are Felix and I heading home in the snow one evening.

19 December 2010

Winter Postman

The Post Must Get Out
It takes a hell of a lot more than a freezing snowstorm to stop the Danish postal service in our cities.

18 December 2010

Snowploughs Clearing Bike Lanes

I shot this this morning from my flat. Another snowstorm had rolled across the city and, on Saturday morning, there was snow to be removed. About 15 cm. This is, I supppose to the Ultimate Bike Lane Snow Clearance Blogpost.

In the mid-morning these vehicles appeared. They are little busy little wasps, buzzing up and down the street. Because of the amount of snow, there were two of them, working in tandem. First a snowplough, then a sweeper. Up and down the street. It took more than one pass to get all the snow off the bike lanes. They were also clearing the sidewalk on the other side of my street, as it is not a private building that is required to clear the snow themselves, like ours, for example.

But then later in the day, the vehicles were still at it and I saw them clearing the sidewalks where they aren't actually required to do it. Which is very cool. The plough was pushing the snow onto the bike lane and then the sweeper pushed it very into the parked cars.

Cargo Bike Winter

Winter Window Washer
At first glance I thought it was a window washer, but now I'm not so sure. That's a broom on the front of the cargo bike and another instrument. Whatever the case, a little snowstorm and a mean headwind isn't stopping him.

There is, however, an interesting detail that reflects the utility-minded Danish relationship to bikes. This chap has spent about 15,000 kroner (€2000/€2600) on a cargo bike - probably a bit more with that box with a lid - and yet look at the fenders. He hasn't bothered to peel off the blue, protective film.

It's a good bike, an expensive bike, a useful and practical bike but hey... it's just a bike.

17 December 2010

Ole's 'Old' Autocar

Ole's new Batavus bicycle.

The whole day at the recent TEDx Copenhagen event was brilliant. I was especially thrilled that so many good people came up to me after my own talk and relayed positive feedback. It was quite humbling and inspiring.

I'll have a hard time forgetting one man in particular. His name is Ole.

There is an old children's song in Danish called Oles Ny Autobil / Ole's New Autocar.

Ole's new autocar
drives 8 miles in an hour
(the old Scandinavian mile is 10 km)

Ole said he enjoyed the talk but then he revealed that Copenhagenize and Cycle Chic are the direct reason that he and his family sold their Volvo station wagon. These blogs have generated an incredible amount of positive feedback over the years and it is especially when I'm giving talks abroad that I get fantastic face-to-face experiences with readers.

For some reason, Ole's revelation was more moving and touching. Perhaps because I was on my home turf in Copenhagen or perhaps because Ole and I are around the same age, with kids. I don't know. Anyway, thanks to Ole for letting me know. It is incredibly humbling. And thanks to Ole for One Less Car in this city that I love so much. He has become a role model himself.

The family are no strangers to bicycles - they live in Copenhagen after all - but they took the jump and sold the old autocar. Investing instead in bicycles, including that Copenhagen classic, a cargo bike.

I know the old children's song but never really thought about the lyrics until now. They are, ironically, a wonderful advert for cycling and a healthy warning about the dangers of driving in cars, even if the car in question is a toy car. Here they are, translated:

Ole's new autocar
Drives 8 miles in a hour
The car is red and fine
never smells of gasoline
It can travel at impressive speeds
When it gets a proper start
But one day it crashed into
sister's dollhouse
The doll daddy and the doll mummy
were sitting nicely at the coffee table
Coffee stains and porcelan
were all over the tablecloth
And the poor doll daddy
no longer had a head.

After talking with Ole I revisted an old idea. I have had many people suggest - including private citizens but also, surprisingly, several people from the Danish bicycle industry - that I start a new Danish bicycle advocacy organisation that promotes cycling positively here on the home front.

I have spent some time on the idea and already have a name. It would, however, require a great deal of time and energy which I don't currently have. The idea lives on. However, if like-minded individuals came forward to share the vision and the workload, we might just get it up and running.

Winter Cycling NL/DK

A fine little winter cycling video from Alicia over at the Cycling Without a Helmet blog, filmed in Leiden, Netherlands. In a tweet someone mentioned the difference in speed between bicycles and cars.

I filmed this last year outside of my flat window during a snowstorm. Seeing the cars crawl like that was brilliant and it gave me a taste of what safer, lowered speed limits would look like if any visionaries suddenly appeared at City Hall one day.

By the way, I know many people in other countries find it mind-boggling, but none of these cyclists have studded winter tires. Just regular bicycle tires. Works fine.

Hope for India? And China?

Hope for India
A colleague at the City of Copenhagen's bicycle office sent me this photo from India where, in many cities, the bicycle is still present en masse. Much is said about the decline in cycling in China and India is also dramatically increasing its levels of car ownership.

Seeing the above photo made me think of how it used to be in China. Steve Vance, in a comment on Flickr, reminded me of the classic film Return of the Scorcher, made in the early 1990's.

If you haven't seen it, do so. It's just under 30 minutes. It shows bicycle life in China, Amsterdam and cities in America. We are so often caught up in the current boom in cycling that it's worthwhile to see this film from the early 1990's. Not least for the great footage from China and the unchanged images of Amsterdam.

China Dam 1990
I travelled in China twice. First time was in 1990 where I rode around on a Chinese bicycle. It wasn't allowed to bring bicycles into China back then. You needed special permission and it was a confusing bureaucratic process. I share the views of Bliss in the film about his being stunned at the levels of bicycle traffic in Beijing.

I remember clearly riding on a roundabout in the afternoon rush hour. A massive roundabout which probably has four lanes of cars these days, and I couldn't get off. I had to ride around three times before edging my way far enough to the edge to exit down the street I needed. The swarm of bicycles was more like a swarm of butterflies than hornets. The pace was relaxed. Still, I required some practice to get into the mindset. I did, eventually.

Like I said, China's bicycle culture is under threat. There are, however, cities that have woken up and smelled the car fumes. Protected infrastructure is being built. A colleague of mine is involved in a project in a large Chinese city where they have realised that implementing Danish-style infrastructure is the key. I'll be blogging about it soon. So there is hope.

If Chinese cities start back-pedalling on their car culture it may send the right signals to India who can avoid the same dark decade.

16 December 2010

Munich's Positive Bicycle Campaigns

An excellent film about Munich's campaign to increase the levels of bicycle traffic in the city using positive marketing techniques. To make cycling in the city "normal" and "cool". Using civic pride, photo competitions and the triangular concept of Attention, Identification and Participation.

Well worth a watch. It's really a fine example of what we go on about here at Copenhagenize. Promoting cycling positively.

Although I love this quote: "Bicycle culture has to do with the beer gardens." :-)

Spotted over at Münchenierung.

Taipei Bike Share

Here's what the bike share bicycles in Taipei, Taiwan look like. With so many cities around the world now enjoying bike share programmes, it's interesting to consider how few have 'gone crazy' with the paintjob. Paris is beige, London is blue, etc.

But the YouBike in Taipei is a splash of colour on the urban landscape. The bikes use and RFID system, have dynamo-run lights and they are free for the first 30 minutes. Afterthat it costs $10 per 15 minutes, but that's Taiwanese New Dollars, ten of which translate to only 33 cents.

There are 500 bicycles to begin with and 11 docking stations featuring 718 docks, plus one service centre. It is run by the City and a bike brand called Giant.

15 December 2010

Selling Snow to the Inuit?

København Amsterdam Cimber Sterling
I saw this advert in a national paper last week. Cimber Sterling is a low-cost Danish airline and they're advertising cheap flights to Amsterdam. One-way tickets for €53 / $70. But that's not the point of this post. Here at Copenhagenize we go weak at the knees whenever we see positive bicycle-related advertising. In fact, Denmark used to rule supreme in this genre. Here are three tourism posters from the late 1940's:

Copenhagen - Gay Spot of Europe Denmark - Country of Smiles and Peace Denmark - The Country for your Holiday
Not to mention the modern classics produced by Danish illustrator Mads Berg.

At first glance you'd think the Cimber Sterling ad was selling snow to the Inuit. "Hey, bicycle nation #2! Come and visit bicycle nation #1!"

However, things have changed. This advert is very poignant here in 2010. Perhaps even more than the admen working for Cimber Sterling know.

It offers asylum, if even for a weekend, from The Culture of Fear - Danish Branch. It offers you the chance to escape the intolerably unscientific safety-nannying of the communication consultants at the Danish Road Safety Council and Danish Cyclists' Federation, not to mention the negative branding of cycling in this country, by travelling to Amsterdam. Where it is still legal to double on a bicycle.

Come to Amsterdam. To freedom. Climb to the mountaintop. Look down the other side. Visit Amsterdam. Visit bicycle freedom.

Power to the People - Á vélo citoyens!

Velo-City - Les Francaise
A propos the recent article about Bicycle Commuting or Bicycle Culture, the large French organisation Villes-Cyclables [Cyclable Cities] are a good example of how to promote Bicycle Culture. I've worked with them before, speaking at their national conference in La Rochelle last year.

The photo, above, was taken at their stand at the Velo-City Global conference in Copenhagen last June. The Villes Cyclables organisation is huge, representing over 700 French towns and cities. They work hard to promote the bicycle - and bicycle culture - in France.

One simple little detail struck me at the Velo-City Global Conference. The freebies offered at stands at such conferences don't vary that much. Whatever Chinese factory that pumps out reflective trouser leg holders (buy a chainguard...) must love these conferences because you could go home with two dozen different ones if you wanted to.

Villes Cyclables had a different angle. They were handing out designer scarves. An idea so far from traditional advocacy that it was a joy to see. The scarves are aimed at women - so often alienated by the 'overcomplicated bicycle gear' message - and they are perfect for the growing 'Cycle Chic' advocacy approach that is gaining ground in the vacuum of bicycle advocacy for Citizen Cyclists.

The scarves also send a signal to the logo of Villes Cyclables, which you can see on their website. A logo that sends specific signals itself about what direction the organisation is headed.

I was lucky to have the two scarves in my bag one chilly evening during the Velo-City conference. At two in the morning they came in handy for me and Andy Thornley, program director at San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, when I was about to transport him back to his hotel.
Velo-City - Is That an American On Your Bike or are you glad to see me
I still wonder if I should have worn the red one...

No... scarves are not the be-all, end-all of the New Generation of Bicycle Advocacy. But they are a good example of how Villes Cyclables, and others, are promoting Bicycle Culture. At the conference in La Rochelle it was also interesting to be surrounded by several hundred passionate bicycle advocates - none of whom were wearing the 'bike gear uniform'. Just regular people in regular clothes, working hard to see more of the same in cities and towns. Role models for Citizen Cyclists.

This is why we'll see France continue to storm to the front of the race for re-establishing the bicycle on the urban landscape. Not just the 25+ cities with bike share programmes, but the whole advocacy approach. Bicycle Advocacy 2.0.

Regarding the article about Bicycle Commuting and Bicycle Advocacy, a couple of readers sent links.

Vladimir, who has also written this article on his blog about the bicycle infrastruture in Paris, sent this link to a Wall Street Journal article about Bicycle Commuting and overcomplication, adding "you're right, that distinction (between Commuting & Culture) does exist."

Maya sent a link about a man who has resigned from the Board of the League of American Bicyclists because the LAB has chosen to modernise their advocacy. The man in question calls it the "dumbing down" of advocacy. Saying that the LAB has chosen to promote the "lowest common denominator". Basically, he is an "avid cyclist" who doesn't fancy the thought of Citizen Cyclists muscling in on his pee-marked territory. To hell with rebuilding liveable cities. To hell with The Common Good. It's all about him and his little group of friends. Perhaps bicycle advocacy just got a little bit healthier with that one resignation, however insignifigant in the big picture.

At the end of the article on Behavourial Challenges there are other examples of the sub-cultures revolting against the boom in mainstream cycling.

There are many, many voices for "cycling", some noisier than others. On the other hand, there are very few voices for "Citizen Cyclists". Mainstream bicycle culture and the people who contribute to it have been under-represented for decades. For too long.

Fortunately, times they are a'changing.

Bicycle Parking in Copenhagen

Here's another little film that we produced for the City of Copenhagen. A series of five short films to be shown at conferences and whatnot, in order to give people impressions of the City of Cyclists. This one is about bicycle parking. The pink "car" you'll see is written about in this earlier blogpost.

14 December 2010

Northern Lights

So. Took a photo of my bike light.

13 December 2010

Bicycle Commuting or Bicycle Culture?

Halmtorvet - Wheelspin Barcelona Red on Red 2
Unless you've been living in a shoebox (or Prague) for the past three or so years you've probably noticed that cycling levels have been rising in cities all over the world.

This is a good thing.

Through this blog and through numerous journeys I've done to four continents over the past two years I've seen in great detail how various people in various countries and cultures are working to promote urban cycling.

One thing I've noticed by haven't really commented on at length is how cycling promotion is largely divided into two schools. Two genres, if you like. For the purpose of this article I'm not going to get into how far too much bicycle advocacy leans up against environmentalism with its preachy, jehovas witness messages about health and saving the planet and fun.

We're here to talk about these two aforementioned genres. They are:

Bicycle Commuting.

Bicycle Culture.

To many they may sound like the same thing, pedalling hand in hand down the cycle track. Unfortunately, there appears to be a clear-cut division. It seems more often than not to be a regional or even cultural divide.

Bicycle Commuting
I've determined that the majority of bicycle advocacy in the Anglo-Saxon New World (and to some extent the UK) is focused on this thing called Bicycle Commuting.

As though the main purpose of owning a bicycle is to get to and from work. This commuting angle really dominates the advocacy.

There are many volumes written about the influence of protestant immigrants on the work ethic prevalent in North America and Australasia, every bit of written by people who know more about it than I. I think what finally made me try to get this into words is a used book I bought last week. One I've read before, many years ago. The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism, based on a series of articles by Max Weber in 1904-05 and published in book form in 1920.

I sure as hell won't be getting into this subject, but it certainly seems to have left it's mark on modern bicycle advocacy in these Anglo-Saxon New World countries. The bicycle is for getting to and from work. Period. (or maybe Comma, since you can also use it for 'fun' on the weekends when you're not working)

If we look at this from an 'overcomplication of a simple thing' point-of-view, this Bicycle Commuting angle is hardly cycling simplified. It is primarily advocated by 'avid cyclists' who happily commute long distances to get to work. Which is great for them. Unfortunately, it sends signals to the population at large that Bicycle Commuting is a hard slog, a work-out, a sacrifice - however rewarding. It paints a picture of long commutes, even though 50% of Americans, for example, live within 8 km of their workplace.

I often look at urban cycling as a product and then look at how we're selling it, comparing it to most other marketing. Bicycle Commuting isn't really effective as mainstream marketing. It's sub-cultural. It involves a massive financial investment. Just look at this "Guide to Cycling in Winter" from the Toronto Star. It's so very silly, but I'm sure that it gives the sporting goods industry a hard on.

Then there's the focus on having showers at work. Something that people in established bicycle cultures find to be rather odd. Not having showers at work - I know many people here in Copenhagen who ride long distances and who have showers and changing rooms at work - but it really is a tiny minority.

The primary advocates of Bicycle Commuting like gear and showers at work. They like the hard-core aspect of cycling. The sportif aspect. They're 'cyclists' and that's great.

I am merely questioning the wisdom of focusing on Bicycle Commuting as the be all, end all of urban cycling. Especially when the voices who speak for this form of advocacy are largely sub-cultural. Never a good way to sell a product. Nor is only presenting The Bicycle has a way to get to work and not much else.

Bicycle Culture
So what is this Bicycle Culture genre?

It's something we're seeing blossom in many cities around the world. By saying "Bicycle Culture" I mean creating a culture of the bicycle where it becomes an inseparable part of daily life for regular citizens. Instead of something unique that stands out on the urban landscape.

I wrote about Behavourial Challenges regarding promoting urban cycling a while back and highlighted the massive growth in a city, for example, like Paris compared to cities where strong bicycle sub-cultures rule the debate.

Paris is only one positive example of emerging bicycle cities. I often point to Barcelona as another prime example. They've gone from basically 0% modal split for bicycles to 5% in about three years. Bordeaux has recently reached 10% modal split for bicycles in the city centre. Up from 1 or 2% three years ago. All over France, cities are increasing their bicycle traffic. Over 25 cities have bike share systems. Then there is Spain. Barcelona, San Sebastian, Seville, Zaragoza. Dublin springs to mind, too. Booming. Booming more than any city in North America or Australasia.

Bicycle Culture is planting seeds in a garden. Cultivating a bicycle orchard. Bicycle Commuting is a spear-headed "do it like we do, exactly like this" approach and the plethora of how-to guides splattered across the internet is a testament to that.

Bicycle Culture, on the other hand, lets people, as the seed metaphor suggests, grow their own foliage. Individual bushes and trees and orchids (uh oh... I can see I'm running out of vocabulary if I keep this flora theme up...) that all contribute to a greater garden.

Cities that are working towards cultivating a Bicycle Culture provide the necessary tools; safe, bicycle infrastructure, a good bike-share system, lower speed limits, flexible and favourable traffic laws for bicycles. But there is no real focus on "this is how to do it". In a Bicycle Culture the head gardeners figure that people already know how to ride a bicycle, are equipped with their own built-in risk perception and will figure out the rest. Even in cities with chaotic traffic culture.

(By the way, regarding traffic, I've driven (and cycled) in scores of European cities as well as scores of North American and Australian cities and I have always preferred driving in cities in North America or Australia than in the witches cauldrons of traffic that are the big cities of Europe. Oh, and while we're on an aside, isn't it interesting that there is no bicycle helmet promotion in these booming cities?)

In Bicycle Culture the bicycle is used to get to the shops, the café, the supermarket, the cinema. As well as to work. Just look at Paris. The pioneers who first embraced the Vélib' bike-share system came to the bicycle from the Metro. Following that typical human desire for the quickest way to get there. The Vélib' beat the Metro and, with accompanying infrastructure, it boomed. I've read that 2 million private bicycles have been sold in Paris since Vélib started. Just visit the city and see bicycles everywhere. See the future.

So. Which genre is most effective? You can probably figure out where I'm headed already. Without a doubt there are many people who have taken up urban cycling because of the Bicycle Commuting approach. Absolutely true. This NPR article is positive, for example. But if you didn't know anything about this funky cycling thing, the article would certainly give you a very narrow-minded impression of what cycling to work is or could be. Especially the "just try to hide the bike grease on your calf at meetings" remark near the end. Buy a chainguard, for god's sake. Or a more functional, comfortable bicycle. They're just as fast anyway.

If, on the other hand, we look at what cities are really booming - it is the cities that are planting gardens of Bicycle Culture. Keeping a simple idea simple, providing the basic tools and letting people do the rest. And within... let's say... five years... these cities will be light years ahead of the rest. Embarassingly so.

Like everything else, it's all about effective, mainstream marketing.

12 December 2010

Buy a Heavy Bike

14:11 - 19 Copenhagen Minutes
It can't come as any great surprise that we thoroughly enjoyed this article from the BBC. There is a reason that the upright bicycle is the most bicycle on the planet and has been for 125 years.

Choose comfort over carbon. Upright safety over hunched-over speed. You'll get there just as quick anyway. Science will back you up.

It's Not About the Bike - from BBC News.

It's a no-brainer. Cycling is good for you. It keeps you fit, gets you out in the fresh air and is kind to the environment.

Cycling to work is more popular than ever, because it's an easy way of fitting exercise into the daily routine and it doubles as transport.

According to the government, "regular exercise like cycling halves your chances of suffering from heart disease, and helps to prevent strokes, diabetes, and some kinds of cancer.

"Your blood pressure and resting heart rate will be lower, and you'll feel more awake and less stressed."

And it can save a fortune. Or can it?

Dr Jeremy Groves, a consultant anaesthetist at Chesterfield Royal Hospital and self-confessed cycling fan, discovered that, "spending a lot of money on a bicycle for commuting is not necessarily going to get you to work more quickly".

Dr Groves' set up a trial to test whether his new, lightweight carbon-framed bicycle (which cost £1000) was any faster than his second-hand steel-framed bike bought for £50.

Heavy or light?

For six months he tossed a coin each morning to decide which bike to use - and then timed the journey.

His study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that there was no measurable difference in commuting time over the 27 miles from Sheffield to his place of work and back.

The average journey time using his heavy, old bike was 1 hour 47 minutes and the average journey for the new, lighter new bike was 1 hour 48 minutes.

"A reduction in the weight of the cyclist rather than that of the bicycle may deliver great benefit at reduced cost," the study says.

Dr Groves declares himself "disappointed" to find out that his financial investment was giving him no extra time in bed and no less time on the road.

"I could have invested that money in better cycle clothing and in tarting up the lights on my bike instead," he said.

Tax break

His findings are also disappointing for those who have used the government's Cycle to Work scheme to buy the bike of their dreams at a discounted price, thanks to tax exemption.

Why invest in a Chris Boardman streamlined two-wheeler and turn into a MAMIL (middle aged man in lycra) - we all know one - if it's not going to save a bit of time and energy?

"It's not always about getting there first," says Philip Ingham from British Cycling.

"Although lighter bikes can go more quickly, their thinner tyres make them more fragile and more vulnerable to punctures. Mountain bikes, in contrast, have big tyres, strong brakes and often feel safer to ride."

If given the choice between riding the heavy or light bike, Dr Groves says he would choose the former.

"I get there just as quickly, and it is more comfortable, better value, and has more character," he confesses.

Sir Chris Hoy would undoubtedly take issue with his choice, but Dr Groves has a theory.

"Evidence-based medicine shows us that brand new medication is often not much different from generic medicine - but we are tempted by the fact it's new, so it must be better.

"The same is true of bicycles," he says.

Dr Groves isn't entirely downcast though.

"Cycling for me is a great hobby. It gets me out in the fresh air, keeps me healthy, is carbon neutral and, provided I don't buy any more bikes, is a cost effective way to travel."

11 December 2010

Classic Copenhagen

Bicycle Parking
Classic Copenhagen. Love it.

10 December 2010

Playing in the Street - Smacking The Culture of Fear on the Nose

What a brilliant - and simple - idea. Playing out. Children playing in the streets. As children did, including yours truly, before the Culture of Fear (and its army of profiteers) clenched its fist around our societies. Playingout.net is the website. This is the film about it.

Transforming the streetspace into playspace.

"When we limit our children to organised activities and formal playspaces we reduce their opportunities for play. Particuarly the kind of free play that develops really important life skills, their physical well-being and their sense of belonging."


The faint of heart and safety nannies alike should refrain from watching this. It features not only rational dialogue and sensible parents but also children playing happily in all manner of 'extremely dangerous' situations. I spotted dozens of children inhaling chalk dust, a great deal of 'irresponsibly unprotected' skateboarding, scootering and bicycle riding, at least one spine-threatening backflip and numerous tubs of water in which the entire population of the street could drown.

I need a lie down.

Roald Als. Cartoonist at Politiken newspaper. "Now you're free to play"

Million Dollar Fines for Fixies

ADDENDUM: Here's a link to the bulletin about the dangerous fixies: Supplier bulletin: Fixed-gear bicycles. (thanks, Jody)

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is threatening bike shops with a million dollar fine for selling bicycles without brakes. You know, fixies. A million bucks. The kind of fine that companies get for environmental 'slip-ups', just as one example.

According to the Melbourne Age's ironically-titled article "Million-Dollar Fines to Put the Brakes on Bikes" The ACCC has already taken action against a wholesaler for distributing the ''Surly Steamroller'' without back brakes and is urging people to rat on others who do the same.

Ratting on people was a proud tradition in the DDR, but let's leave that for now.

The ACCC warned ''pedestrians and other bike riders are ... at risk of serious injury or death if someone riding a fixed-gear bike loses control and collides with them''.

Correct me if I'm wrong but this kind of unfortunate incident could happen if a motorist was talking on the mobile. Million-dollar fines for that offence? Or for picking your nose in a car?:

Melbourne bikers are more bemused than worried. ''It's like cracking down on people who pick their nose when driving,'' said Andy White, of cycling blog fyxomatosis.com.

Sasha Strickland of Pony Bike is quoted a few times in the article but her closing line is quite bizarre. I, for one, didn't know that fixie cyclists were so fragile: ''You take (fixies) away from them, they start doing graffiti, they start taking drugs ... At least they're doing something physical and healthy.'' But again, let's leave that one alone.

Anyway, this is another fantastic example of branding bicycles as bad. In a country that claims to be fighting to reverse that image. The signal that this story sends does nothing for improving the image of the bicycle, whether sub-culture or mainstream. And the logic of the move is non-existent.

Let's apply it to other products and help the ACCC, shall we? We propose million-dollar fines for the following:

- Car companies. Any car company that sells a souped-up car (basically any car that can exceed 30 km/h) to consumers.

- Knives. Any store that sells sharp knives or even knife sharpeners that can be used to soup-up existing knives. A citizen could, when transporting the knife home, trip and fall. The knife could fall out of the bag and stab innocent bystanders. Or a citizen could cut themselves with the knife, react by jerking suddenly and bumping a pot of boiling water onto a nearby child.

Pas på Trin(e)
"Watch the step! (with the added 'E' it becomes a girl's name, Trine...)"
- Stairs. Construction companies that construct stairs in any building or outdoor setting. Period.

Food Fear
- Raw food. Like this menu states, "consuming raw or uncooked food may increase your risk of food borne illness". Let's go after everyone who imports and wholesales raw or uncooked food.

- Pets. As previously reported on Copenhagenize.com, 87,000 Americans are hospitalised each year because of injuries caused by dogs or cats or other pets.

Et cetera.

It would be interesting to find out where this ACCC idea came from. Because it came from somewhere. I doubt that it was developed in the ACCC cafeteria one lunchtime. Did someone complain to the ACCC, causing them to act? Was it someone representing a company that could benefit directly from such actions or indirectly through the negative branding of the product?

When I was in Australia last summer I was surprised, daily, at the tone of the signage.
Melbourne Control Society
I've never seen such strict, nanny-like texts on warning signs. Sure, in the States there are warnings on everything but in most cases they are just "Coffee is extemely hot" kind of stuff. In Melbourne, the Authorities are keen to play headmaster, it seems.

Melbourne Overkill
But thank god they have signs explaining in detail how to operate a pedestrian crossings. Because people are too stupid to figure that out for themselves. Classic Ignoring the Bull this.

Melbourne Overkill 02
I got a kick out of all these warning signs in restaurants and bars. Penalty: Intoxication! $13,000!
Melbourne Overkill 04
And others. Although wouldn't it just be easier to round all these penalities up to $1 million?

Oh bother, as Winnie the Pooh said.