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Monday, 10 September 2012

Olympic cycling legacy

What is the effect of the Olympics - if any?

A recent Guardian Blog suggested that in the short term, there may have been a change in attitude to cycling and cyclists. Guardian bike-blog.  What I have noticed is that cycling has started to look a little more trendy, accepted and mainstream. The new ITV 4 Cycling Show shows promise and usefully mixes personalities from the world of cycling, celebs and reports, all of which make cycling look more like an activity not confined to oddballs and fitness freaks.

It's harder to know what the longer term effect will be and if it will be sustained. Living in the West, there is less of a problem of conflict on the roads, many of the Councils here have the space to provide good cycling facilities and Bristol is "Britain's First Cycling City". (I think Cambridge might disagree...)

Bristol is a good place to cycle.It is well served by cycle paths off the roads and has a great link with Bath on the old railway, Much of the ring road is served by cycle paths and it's fairly easy to navigate around "outer" Bristol. In Bristol itself, there are some handicaps to cycling. Firstly, Bristol is built on a number of hills, ones you might not want to cycle up too often. The roads show evidence of the dead hand of 60's "planning" imposed upon a tangle of inner city streets and the centre sees a lot of traffic. That said, for a city, it's a good place to cycle, and you will not be alone. Bristol people have taken to cycling in a big way, facilitated by the Universities, the army and one or two big Firms who encourage cycling. Even Cribbs Causeway, the out of town shopping mall, is accessible by bike, though it is aimed at the car driver. The areas near to Bristol are also well served with cycle routes and access from say South Gloucestershire (Yate) is good and new building works/estates  come with cycle provision.

I find it frustrating that most of the popular commentary on cycling is London-centric. This is where the press is based and where the broadcast media will find its "evidence" of cycling conflict or success etc. However, the specialist cycle press is not all London based and that is a bonus. The main publishers are in Bath (Future Publishing) Croydon (IPC) and one or two indies like Singletrack Magazine.(Up North)

I did think that a critical mass of cyclists might be the key to acceptance, but London has a load of cyclists and yet appears to have less "cooperation" between road users. Bristol has an acceptance of each other on the road and this translates mainly into good road relations, which has to a small extent has made the roads a shared space, just like people treat the roads in Holland.

So will the Olympics been a factor? I certainly hope so. It's about time too. Cycling has long been seen as the poor relation to motorised transport. Yet cycling should be equal at least. It provides freedom, a freedom long gone for drivers. Its good for you, you can have guilt free cake stops and earn a beer and it doesn't (literally) cost the Earth.

We won't know the effect of the  Olympics right away. Surveys and traffic flow analysis will be required, but the Olympics has the capacity to start to get Britain towards a Dutch model of cycling, where cycling is the smart choice.

But, we all have a role to play. A key role is to encourage people to give it a go and to that end, here are a few suggestions that might be helpful in getting a friend to start/restart cycling. Think if it as volunteering with benefits, the benefits of getting more people to cycle and to have the pleasure of spending someone else's money!

Help a friend to become a rider

Choice of bike

It's hard to choose a first bike by yourself. Even a trip to Halfords can end in confusion so why not volunteer to go along with a non cycling friend and "translate" for them. For a first time/returning cyclist, there is a range of "opinions" on what to ride and how much to spend. This can be "advice" such as, "a £50 secondhand bike is all you need, I know a bloke down the pub....." or  "£50 only buys an average tyre, now my mate owns a cycle shop, he'll sort you out......"

So where to start?

I personally believe that most first time cyclists will ride on cycle paths (to start with) and explore further afield as they gain confidence, so a good choice would be a 26" wheeled hybrid/mountain bike style machine with road tyres, NO suspension and NO disc brakes. Robust, comfortable and easy to maintain. New, such a bike will cost from £100 up, and can be light and fast if you want a little bling....Here are some ideas, right down to 150 quid Communting and hybrid bike ideas

Proto mountain bikers may need more help, but ask where they are likely to ride and that will help guide you. A Down Hill (DH) Bike is not an option! Most cheap full suspension Mountain Bikes (MTBs) are only useful for chaining outside the pub, but a mid priced hard tail (no suspension on the rear) is a good place to start. On-line resources are there to help. Bike Radar has a guide to sub £500 bikes. I'll think about a mountain bike article another time

If you really know what you are doing, you may well be able to help a friend buy off eBay and get a hybrid or my fave, a vintage MTB (rigid) with slick tyres. This can be a bargain way of getting a bike, but you do need to know what you are doing!


This is the "lycra issue". So a few things for the beginner to think about.  A short with a liner is a good place to start, don't wear pants underneath, and gender specific fit is important. Some cycling mitts and a helmet that fits are vital too. A cycling shirt might be nice too. I wear bright colours on road, occasionally HiViz, good deals are available online.

Kit to buy

A pump, tyre levers, puncture repair kit, basic multi-tool, a bottle cage and bottle and chain lube. This is the bare minimum to get at the same time as the bike. A basic repair book might be useful! Many bike shops will "do a deal" on these items. If they don't, say thanks, but no thanks and get a friend to help you order off the internet. You will make savings and get a better choice. If they are going to leave the bike anywhere public, get a good U lock, as cable locks are useless.

Women specific issues

A women specific saddle is a must. A cheap upgrade that will improve comfort. A "step thru" "women's frame" is not needed, just get a bike that fits. Narrower grips may help those with smaller hands.

Help the new rider use their kit

This is the really important bit. Go out with your new rider. This WILL require patience and time. You might think that 20 miles is a short ride. Your new rider will thank you for starting with a half hour gentle starter ride that may only cover 5 miles, and include stops. Make that ride fun, with a cake stop and try and go somewhere away from traffic, on a good surface and with nothing even like a "slope". Get your new rider out as often a possible. Twice in week one and moving SLOWLY on from there. If they want to ride to work, perhaps go with them, or get them to buddy up with someone to help maintain that enthusiasm.

If it's going well, get them (and you!) entered into an event, a SKY Ride or similar and then think about a Sportive, but one within their capability.

Recipe of the week

After much opprobrium, the recipe resurfaces. Butternut squash and sage risotto is a real winner if you need a quick supper. I wouldn't bother frying sage leaves for decoration and the amount of cheese to add is up to you, but more is good!

Butternut squash lasts for ages in the store cupboard so this is one you can do without too much planning. I tend to use chicken stock (from a posh cube) I use less butter, and I like my risotto softer than "al dente" which in some cases means "chalky" but that is up to you. I would take time to chop up the onion nicely as this makes the finished dish better tasting IMO

Enjoy with a chilled Sauvignon Blanc.

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