Robert Hanks: The Cycling Column

Common sense is an uncommon quality, I find

A theme that keeps cropping up with other cyclists is a widespread sense of injustice at the way the image of cycling is tarnished by the selfish, stupid minority who insist on jumping red lights, riding at night without lights and getting elected leader of the Conservative Party. All that the rest of us can do, I guess, is try to make up for them by sticking to the rules and letting the world see how co-operative and pleasant we are. But this is not always easy when the rules are written by people who clearly don't have any experience of cycling in traffic.

Anyway, a couple of books have plopped on to my mat in time to recommend for Christmas. The first is written by somebody who has clearly done a vast amount of riding in traffic: Cyclecraft, by John Franklin, the only book I've come across that offers a comprehensive discussion of the techniques of cycling - basic techniques, like how to steer and use your gears properly, along with the more elusive skills of positioning yourself in traffic, and anticipating aggressive or inattentive motorists.

Nearly all of this is common sense, but reading it gives you an unnerving sense of just what an uncommon quality that is. Every day, it seems, I see hoards of cyclists heaving their way off from traffic lights, wobbling and shuddering with effort because the bike is in too high a gear. They block traffic and put themselves in jeopardy by being unstable, and deprive themselves of the option of sprinting away from danger. Did nobody explain to them that you always change into a lower gear before you stop?

Not that I speak from a position of unconquerable superiority: reading Cyclecraft made me realise how much I have to learn, and how often I fail to put into practice what I know. Among other things, I know that it's safer to ride well out from the pavement, in the flow of traffic, where you have room to manoeuvre and cars have to think twice about overtaking. In practice, I tend to get shy about getting in other people's way. Madness: being polite that way can get you killed.

Cyclecraft has been around for seven years. These days, it is published by The Stationery Office (TSO), which gives rise to a mild irony: TSO also publishes The Highway Code, which Franklin happily defies. For example, the code advises sticking to cycle lanes where possible: Franklin almost seethes with contempt for the lanes and the people who design them (your accounts of pointless or dangerous cycle lanes will be gratefully received).

The other book isCycling in the UK, the official Sustrans guide to the National Cycle Network (NCN). The NCN consists of, by and large, sensibly designed cycle routes, that I think even Franklin would OK. Seeing a map labelled "National Cycle Network routes open in 2005", the heart swells: see how thickly the green and red lines - green for quiet roads, red for traffic-free routes - crisscross the country. Then the swelling subsides a little, as you realise that a lot of the lines are pink, meaning they are on the drawing board. But still, the network is starting to look impressive: you could follow it from Land's End to John O'Groats - pick your route carefully, and you could almost do it without seeing a road. On the downside, the book's layout needs tidying up. But look at this: foreword by Sandi Toksvig. And there was I worry that cycling had an image problem.

Also, thanks to everyone who e-mailed advice on shoes, toe clips and dynamos - an entire column on the battery versus dynamo question awaits us. But, so far, we haven't had a single e-mail from a woman. Is it because we're in the motoring section, or do I need to think harder about my aftershave and personal hygiene?

world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
Life and Style
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

    £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

    C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

    £60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

    Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

    £75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice