Robert Hanks: The Cycling Column

Warning: the bike behind you needs time to stop...
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Last Thursday morning, I had my first cycling accident in more than 10 years: I was running a little bit late, thinking about a route around some roadworks, and so wasn't prepared when the car ahead stopped abruptly. I pulled on my brakes a fraction too late and hit his bumper. Checked his bumper, ran forward to reassure the driver that I was fine and his car was undamaged, apologised; he waved and drove on.

As it turned out, I wasn't unharmed: my headset (the bit where the handlebars meet the frame) had been knocked loose, and needed some attention from a man with a couple of spanners; and the down-tube, which runs from the handlebars to the pedals, had been crumpled at the top.

But this reminded me of a message I've been meaning to spread for some time: bike brakes are a bit rubbish. This needs qualifying: most of the time, if they're set up properly, your ordinary caliper brakes or cantilevers are just what you need (if you stop too sharply, the bike is hard to control). And for heavier-duty work, hub-brakes are astoundingly good.

But if you are moving at the same speed as the car in front - not unusual in town - his stopping distance is a hell of a lot shorter than yours. Watching cyclists in traffic, it's clear that too many of them don't know that (or if they do, don't always act accordingly). And watching the way motorists cut in front of cyclists, it's bloody obvious that they don't know, or care. Motorists, give cyclists room. And cyclists, return the compliment. You could have a lot more than your down-tube crumpled.

One e-mail this week comes from Kevin Savage, who recently arrived in the UK, evidently from somewhere with better cycling facilities. He has started a flickr photo-sharing group, for pictures of cycle lanes etc, mainly but not exclusively in London: www.flickr.com/groups/londoncyclefacilities/. The most intriguing example submitted so far is a collapsed artificial cow on a muddy path in St Albans, though I'm not convinced that this counts as a cycle facility at all.

More to the point are the pictures of the cycle lane on the north side of Torrington Place in Bloomsbury, central London, a particularly pernicious route because it takes cyclists across several junctions where motorists are - understandably - liable to assume they have right of way, then invites them to cross three lanes of traffic to arrive at the cycle route on the far side of Tottenham Court Road. Far better just to stick to the road.

The BBC website also has a few bizarreries on offer at http://news. bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_pictures/4794198.stm - cycle lanes with phoneboxes, trees and bollards planted in the middle of them, or a cycle route that offers "Newmarket 15 miles", placed right next to a road-sign pointing in the other direction claiming "Newmarket 6 miles".

And Warrington Cycle Campaign's long-running "Facility of the Month" feature ( www.warringtoncyclecampaign.co.uk/facility-of-the-month) is chock-full of madness, from Warrington and beyond: lanes narrower than a bike, lanes shorter than a bike, lanes that challenge you to slalom round bins, lampposts and pedestrians, lanes that lead you straight into fences or oncoming traffic.

Another bit of news: those nice fellows at Velorution on Great Titchfield Street in London are hosting the second of their evenings on cycling in great European cities, "A, B or C?"

Tonight, it's B for Berlin: a video link-up with a Berlin bike shop, presentation of the Royal Parks' plans for greater accessibility for bikes, and an introduction to hub gears. Entry free, German-themed refreshments £5.

cycling@independent.co.uk

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