You Don’t. They Tell You.

How do you tell when someone rides fixed gear?

So I ride fixed gear and think you should too. My first ever bike was a fixed and of the relatively few memories I have of childhood riding, one of the strongest is the day I got my BMX, which had a freewheel. I was convinced it was secretly a motorbike until I become more familiar with non-fixed inertia. After extended periods of riding wintersaurus aka wee blue floofy in fixed mode I get a pang of nostalgia when I flipflop the hub and experience that same weird feeling of disconnect from your own momentum. Man. Maaaaaaan.

Yes, there is a lot of bile-rising pseudomystical hippie horseshit written about riding fixed. Every syllable worn on overpriced T-shirts, tattooed, spoken aloud from the corner of a rolled-cig-balancing waxily moustachioed mouth, blogged, tattooed, tattooed or decalled about it is pretention of the highest order and in my Humbledore you are pre-forgiven for any lurid fantasies you have of sharpening cogs to shuriken, opening the spiritual cyclist’s throat to the heavens and piroutting en pointe using a loudly clicking Campy freehub’s gyroscopic effect to rotate you while the little bastard exsanguinates at your feet. Most infuriatingly it’s all true. Zen-wannabe arsepish for certes, but true.

I had no real idea how unnaturally quick a human being is on a bike till I felt the momentum through my feet every time I stopped pedalling. I’m not talking about being faster than 28mph, which is a whisker above that bigheaded twunt from Jamaica’s top speed. I’m talking about moving at half that, which requires so little effort that I kinda thought I wasn’t moving. The fixed drivetrain plays the part of brutally honest friend and tells you that the wonderful efficiency of the bike and the power of modern brakes are in fact a conspiracy of wattly silence and you’d actually be clattering along if you were on foot.

I think this is a good thing. If Sun Tzu cycled, I bet he’d tell you to know your momentum. Hundred junctions without defeat, wise Pai Mei beard stroke, hrmm.

Of course, the people I really wish would ride fixed are the drivers who just don’t look ahead to traffic lights. The most infuriating kind of close overtake is the one that gains them nothing. That doesn’t hold up to logical scrutiny, of course, because even an elbow shaver that does gain some time isn’t justifiable for any driver who is not on his or her way to defuse a bomb or something, but it rubs salt into the potential wounds when there was visibly no chance of the dangerous driving gaining them so much as a picosecond. When you ride fixed, it’s even more of a pain in the arse to stop and start than it is for a singlespeed, let alone a geared bike, let alone a hub-geared bike because you’ve also got to judge your dismount so that your pedals are in the right place, and you pretty much need foot retention.

It trains you into looking ahead to traffic lights better than any other type of bike, and there’s some gitty gits behind the wheel out there who need a crash course in that, pronto.

Null Before Zod.

This nasty little case combined with a recently read Tweet to set me pondering about jury nullification. I didn’t have a clue what that meant until yesterday, so for those as legally unschooled as me, I shall expound: it’s when a juror delivers a Not Guilty verdict because he or she thinks the law that the defendant has broken is unjust. Noble examples include people who helped slaves escape in the pre-emancipation American South – even though they admitted doing it in court under oath, jurors acquitted them and off they trotted. Good work, jurors.

However, as the infallible Wikipedia mentioned during my half-arsed research, it does enable people to get away with violence against socially unpopular minorities. Up till now I’ve argued against substituting the name of any given minority for ‘cyclist’ when reading biased press, but today I’m struggling to see what else is going on there.

This case merely happens to be the worst I’ve read about, but there’s been plenty more where I firmly believe many among the jury have sat and remembered every time they’ve had a near miss because they were texting, eating, drinking, reading an e-book or whatever, and furthermore a minority of jurors will be remembering the times they’ve tailgated or punishment passed a cyclist after losing their rag. Both types will consciously or unconsciously be reaching for nullification because ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ and all that. It’s made it almost impossible for a charge of Dangerous Driving to stick, so it gets bumped down to Careless and the judge’s teeth are pulled.

I’ve had problems with the jury system for a while. On first glance it seems a poor system; last time I looked it took beefy exam results to so much as set foot in a Law faculty as a student, then there’s years of training and decades of experience before you can rise to become a judge, but the final arbiter is fifteen people whose selection criteria actually includes ‘not being vital at their place of work’. I’m eligible for duty, I hasten to add. Simple maths also leads to the inevitable conclusion that by sheer force of numbers, some juries will be dominated by people with a specific bias for or against the sociopolitical group of the defendant, and this is going to be pretty hard to detect. The Dutch, peskily civilised people that they are, have that three-judge system which I see fewer flaws in.

In light of this,  and  my inability to comprehend how a careless and dangerous can possibly be separate qualities when discussing control of a fatal hazard like a car at 20+mph, I hereby declare the distinction in offences to be silly, and reckon there should only be a careless driving offence, which keeps the upper sentencing limit of dangerous.

Snap, Crackle and Pot

It’s that time of year again where cycling itself remains the efficient joy that it is during the other three seasons, but is bookended by a need for fannying about as one gets one’s clothing up to adequate. Clothing, lights and tyres,really. It’s not long since the clocks went back and already I’m dreaming of the day next year I can just get on the bike and go.

As it stands, I’ve a small but nonetheless irritating To-Do list each time I plan on being on the bike and not being miserably cold around my wee ears and fingers, dangerously invisible and unlit or transforming my toes into a butanoic Slush Puppy.

I’ve got my studded tyres on, so the frost this weekend isn’t so much of an issue, and I’m not yet bored of the way the bike sounds like I’m riding over a surface of Rice Krispies, but I am very much bored of the omnibus-scarred terrain that is the actual surface. Potholes already appear with alarming speed, but the freeze-thaw effect conspires with HGV wheels to make every puddle a lurking menace, as Chloe Torrance found out the hard way this week. I was on the North Edinburgh Path Network last weekend, and was struck by how flawless the surface is. I was pulling a trailer(with a Dahon folded up on it for part of the route) so slower than my preferred pace, but I would be a very silly person if I said it wasn’t relaxing.

Hundredth Idiot.

‘One hundred idiots make idiotic plans and carry them out. All but one justly fail. The hundredth idiot, whose plan succeeded through pure luck, is immediately convinced he is a genius’ – tale of Homomdan ship’s name, Iain M. Banks

I have no plans to get a helmet camera. The number of times I wish I had one is pifflingly tiny compared to effort and expense involved, and even the geekoramic awesomesauce of pretending I’m one of the Colonial Marines from Aliens doesn’t make up for that.

Maybe I’m not assertive enough(or equivalently: too lazy). As a rule if I’ve the option of using a car wanting past me as an excuse to pull in and pootle till they’re past, I’ll take it unless scheduling fail obliges me to take the strong primary. That cuts down the number of opportunities for terrible overtakes.

Maybe I’m just too gleekit to notice. This is highly probable.

A pretty chunkular factor is that I don’t ride in rush hour through busy streets very often. My morning commute can, if I hit Snooze around eleven times, resemble the sweatiest fold of a pair of wash-needing jeans, but usually I’m in before seven, so the roads look like car adverts.

Maybe I have found the one seam of cycle chic that means I’m treated as an equivalent human being by other road users.

To the relief of people unwilling or unable to grow a big ginger beard and wear a brickie’s vest, I suspect it’s just that I’m the hundredth idiot. If you look at the maths of how often headcam-worthy incidents appear, versus the number of times I ride in rush hour, there’s adequate room for me to be a fluke.

Not really in a hurry to be promoted to Idiot 101…

On Hands, Bites and Feeding.

I work two jobs. One is out at the Gyle on the outskirts of Edinburgh, the other is in Morningside, a largely suburban district south of the centre.

There are a fair number of pieces of cycle infrastructure on the way to the Gyle, some of which are good, some of which are utter arse.

First and famously: the Union Canal. I no longer use the canal as my commuting  route, although I do credit it as being among the four most significant factors in transforming me from a bus user to a cyclist. Since this is only post two, I might as well do that, the origin story bit, here:

1996-1999: I used my old rigid MTB from1990 to transport me from my flat to lectures. I was a competitive powerlifter at the time and would usually be too sore to climb hills, although the knobbly tyres couldn’t have helped, so other than that I rarely used it. I sold that bike for a tenner after I’d abused the ungodly hell out of it. At the time I was amazed I got anything for it, but on reflection, I was well robbed, which was entirely my fault for not knowing it had some nice kit on it and a burly lugged Reynolds frame that may still be getting used today.

1999-2011: The bus, car share or walking. I used to walk from Harrison Park to London Road every morning, hitch a lift with a colleague to Morningside and walk back. If it was an ‘orrible day, I’d get the bus.

2011: My then girlfriend gave me a withering look when I suggested the roads were a bit scarypants out towards the Gyle. She rode her bike everywhere and was not in any way impressed with my lack of lantern-chested masculinity. I offered to open a jar made entirely out of spiders and shelving as recompense, but nope: I was to cowboy up, and not waste time about it. This is the first of the significant factors.

The second is the Union Canal, which allows an almost completely roadless route from Harrison Park to the Gyle. The fourth is the fact both my knees are arthritic thanks to the aforementioned powerlifting and I had to find something else to keep in shape. The third is the 1988 Raleigh Record Sprint which belonged to my sister and had barely seen the outside of our parent’s garage since she learned to drive.

The Union Canal. It’s got one completely vital thing going for it: you are guaranteed a carless route. I’m yet to encounter a painted cycle lane which can boast this, and to the novice cyclocommuter, it outweighs all other considerations. It’s well surfaced from Millenium Quay to Hermiston Gait(possibly further, I’ve not been along it from there) and also rather pretty in places. Everything else, I’m afraid to say, goes against it. The bridges and aqueduct are unpleasant to negotiate and unless you ride very early, it’s got too many dogs on it.

What I do use are the cycle lanes along Slateford Road and Gorgie Road. Except I don’t. What is actually happening, when I am observed to be in the orange area with diagrams of bikes along it, is that the surface in the secondary position zone is unbroken and sufficiently free of parked motor vehicles that I can ride in it. I’d be there anyway without the lanes and I don’t stick to them when they’re potholed or parked in. Waste of paint.

Once I’m past Slateford/Gorgie I find myself on the Broomhouse Path. It’s not a shared use path – it’s segregated from the road by a raised kerb and sometimes grass verge, and has paint markings to split it into a cyclist half and a pedestrian half. The niggling detail is that in reality it is a shared use path. The majority of dog walkers stick to the cycle half, the people waiting for buses on the been-there-for-18-months temporary stops stand in the cycle half, and from the fact that roughly half the rest wander along the cycle half, it seems no-one else cares.

The Broomhouse path also contains what is to my mind a near-perfect example of bad design. It’s the sort of thing I could imagine Saint Jobs would have used as an example of Things Apple Would Never Do because it’s taken no account of human nature. There are concrete ridged slabs installed before most of the junctions along the path. On the cycle half they are parallel to travel, on the pedestrian half they are perpendicular. If you ride on the cycle half they catch tyres less than 50mm wide and disrupt your steering to an uncomfortable extent. If you ride over the pedestrian half, they make an oddly pleasant bzzrrrrp sound/feeling and don’t affect handling in any way. I’m not completely sure if they are intended to give visually impaired folk a tactile reminder of which half is theirs, or if they are intended to fix the problem of cyclists being in the pedestrian side – I’ve read both and not been diligent in chasing up either.

What I can tell you is that I did initially try to be a good little Boy Scout and stick to the cycle half, but since their installation they’ve either been worn smooth by hundreds of wheels or I’ve become less able to handle a juddery bike, and the result is that I’ve given up and now nip over to the pedestrian side if it’s clear and then steer back. Plainly cyclists who aren’t interested in being good little Boy Scouts are going to do what is most safe and convenient for them, world be damned, while the real martyrs who try to be good citizens are effectively being punished.

I’ve been keeping a close eye on them for cracks that could let in enough water for the freeze-thaw effect to ruin them and they haven’t lasted. I hope I’m wrong, but when we cyclists go back onto the path after a winter of holding up traffic(even with studded tyres like mine, you’re better on the salted roads than the unsalted path) I reckon they’re going to look like a professional brickchewer’s teeth.

The tramworks have made that path a bit of an obstacle course. There isn’t much point in talking more about it since there is no mode of transport aside from flying that hasn’t been horsed by that.

There is also a cycle path around the roundabout at South Gyle Access. It’s the kill zone, Tony. It’s where you go to die.

This all sounds a bit ungrateful (and I do exclude the Union from this criticism since it’s my preference for fast riding that’s taken me off it – it remains a good facility for gentle cycling) but these things haven’t been presents. I pay road tax(or as people who like truth call it: tax) but I’m not getting my money’s worth, nor are people who would like cycle provision to stop making interaction with us cogjockeys stressful or frustrating. The hand is not feeding; it’s giving us a tin of rat faeces with ‘FOOD’ written on the side.

I’m also reminded of the trick beloved by lazy children where you pretend to be enthusiastic about a job but make such a pig’s ear of it that you’re never asked again. I can taste the tinfoil from the hat on that one, though; it’s depressingly more likely that they didn’t bring any cyclists in during the design process. Or anyone that knew what bikes are. Or had even looked at a sketch of one.

Moo.

I have to stop buying bikey shit with my dick. This is in no way a pledge to do so, merely a diagnosis.

My first bike purchase was a single/fixed cyclocross bike.  The fact it’s turned out to be a reliable and weatherproof steed is irrelevant to the fact I bought it because singlespeeding/fixie is the most macho-seeming type of bike. I say ‘seeming’ since a few moments of analysis reveal that it’s only well-‘arder than a geared bike for going over any given course at a given speed. If one is keeping effort expended as a constant, the geared bikes just go faster. Usually.

My third bike lock is a motorbike chain. It weighs around five kilos and while it’s probably so tough as to deter any thief without explosives, there’s a dearth of things of equally adamant nature to lock it to, and it’s such a chore to carry that, rather than oblige myself to do so, I just don’t take my scrotebait bikes into town.

My current front light is around three times brighter than I need it to be. In fact it’s three times brighter than it should be for urban use, so it’s just as well it has power settings or I’d have wasted even more money on it than I already have.  Well, in fairness, the 350 lumen flavour is £90, my 650 device is £115 and the battery appears to be the same animal, so proportionately it’s not been too dreadful.

It’s doubly pointless having these burly things since I ride like a granny in town. In fact I occasionally get scalped by persons of grandparenting age purely because there’s some filtering they’re willing to do that I’ve baulked at. I’m not going to change that. Riding in the rush hour bear pit is already enough of an extreme sport for me, thankyouvurrymuch.