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?

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Telemarketing Executive - £20,000 OTE - Uncapped

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning IT company a...

    Recruitment Genius: Solutions Consultant

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: As a Solutions Consultant for this Professiona...

    Recruitment Genius: HR Consultant

    £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A small family run HR consultancy based ...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This winner of the best new business in Shrops...

    Day In a Page

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders