active travel

A new bike rider’s perspective on cycling in Edinburgh

**I attended a support ride for the East West cycle route in Edinburgh today. Sadly, my partner Jon couldn’t make it. So instead he’s written a piece from his perspective as a new rider on Edinburgh’s impending decision on the route.**

Getting in the saddle

It was back in February that I ditched the bus pass and start cycling to work from Corstorphine to Orchard Brae. There wasn’t one deciding factor for the change, but between saving £50 on a monthly bus pass, avoiding lengthy bus queues and getting fitter, switching to two wheels seemed a good idea.

I’d bought a bike in 2014, going out for the occasional weekend cycle on city back roads, but not taking a chance on busy main roads. Despite being the fastest way to get from A to B, I felt that cycling busy, trafficked streets wasn’t much fun.

The madness of barriers preventing accessible cycle routes (and accessible routes full stop).

The madness of barriers preventing accessible cycle routes (and accessible routes full stop).

There are a few issues facing the new cyclist, from building confidence on roads to finding a route that gets you to work safely and, hopefully, quickly. I’m lucky to have a cycling-mad partner (**way-hey! Fame!**) who had a copy of the Spokes Edinburgh Map which includes various potential routes that looked promising on paper.

I was also introduced to the City Cycling Edinburgh Forum, a friendly bunch that offered plenty of advice for a newbie.

With some support, plus a couple of trial journeys that took me down some dead ends and into the path of some pretty hellish traffic on Queensferry Road, I was soon negotiating the quieter streets of Corstorphine, Murrayfield and Roseburn. Bear in mind, I had a four mile commute – it was a lot of effort to find a safe cycle route.

Within six months I’d dropped a jean size, saved a few hundred quid and found a fantastic new way of getting to work that brings the city to life every day.

I also realised the strange situation that Edinburgh’s active travellers – that’s cyclists and pedestrians – find themselves.

Making Edinburgh more cycle friendly

Roseburn cycle route option a

Thanks to Andy Catlin for this great image from the support ride

I’ve recently started a new job in the city centre, so gone is my daily Orchard Brae round trip. One of the most awkward parts of my new commute is Roseburn. On leaving leafy Roseburn Park and arriving on Roseburn Place, the ideal option would be to turn up Roseburn Street onto Roseburn Terrace, before taking off towards Haymarket via West Coates, just like the cars do.

Instead I have to take an awkward detour through Dalry, onto the canal, through corporate plazas before reaching the city centre without tangling in too much traffic.

A direct cycle route into town would be ideal, and I’m sure would encourage many others to hop on a bike. The current set up makes this area a pretty horrendous option for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike, but it’s something that’s currently being debated by numerous parties as Edinburgh Council gets set to decide on a new route that will favour active travel (pedestrians and cyclists), the City Centre West to East Link.

It’s a heated debate, with those in favour of change pointing out that segregating bikes from drivers on the journey into the city centre will help make the journey safer for everyone, while pedestrians will also be given more space to walk the pavement and cross at the lights.

Similar schemes can be found around the world, with good levels of success. There’s more footfall for local shops, more people are encouraged to take their bike to work and everyday journeys thereby reducing the number of cars on the road and the pollution they cause. In the long term it’s win-win for residents and commuters.

Like any big changes, there’s been opposition to the proposals, driven by scaremongering that overlooks key facts, but it’s understandable that change is seen as a bad thing for those at the centre of it. Perhaps some of them will look at evidence-based arguments.

Where next for Edinburgh?

There are three choices for the Council when it comes to Roseburn – A and B or nothing at all.

If the West to East Link falls foul of Edinburgh Council and they either choose Option B or to scrap the whole thing, then I suspect we’ll see fewer people taking up cycling and car usage increasing over the next few years.

The brave option would be to go for Option A, but in the current political climate, I’m not sure if councillors are brave enough to face the wrath of a minority of vocal council tax payers.

There’ll be some hardy souls who’ll keep taking up cycling, but to my mind riding a bike to get around shouldn’t be seen as a game of Russian Roulette that will hopefully result in the winner getting home in one piece.

Cycling and walking deserve to be at the heart of our council’s transport plan. Shouldn’t we be trying to make Edinburgh cleaner and healthier for everyone?

Advertisements

Spending the day cycling in Clackmannanshire

Summer seems to be slipping through my fingers, and with its slide there is an accompanying mild panic that I am not fitting in enough exploration of Scotland on two wheels while the weather is playing fair. Thankfully, I am not the only person currently experiencing this sensation, and so to that end my pal Suzanne and I hatched a plan to spend a weekend in the Highlands cycling. Sadly, as time is wont to do, it disappeared in typical fashion and we found we didn’t have enough of it to plan a few nights away with the pair of us and her adorable mini-cyclist. So instead we decided to go to Clackmannanshire on a day adventure!

The Ochil hills of Clacks looking particularly lovely

The Ochil hills of Clacks looking  lovely. That high-quality stretch of path is also pretty glorious.

I have to admit, Clackmannanshire didn’t really inspire much in me when we initially decided to pay it a visit by bike. Suzanne was keen to explore the cycling in the local authority as it was considered a good bet for wee legs and little bikes as there is a decent network of shared use paths and cycle-friendly roads around the area. It’s a small local authority, so it’s relatively easy to connect to places by bike.

The Clackmannanshire network at a glance

The Clackmannanshire network at a glance. You may need to zoom in to see it, though!

After the familiar fight on the Scotrail train from Waverley, whereby four grown ups attempted to squeeze four and a half bikes into a space that comfortably takes two (whilst simultaneously receiving glares and a telling off from the guard), we made a tight connection at Stirling and alighted, slightly frazzled but in one piece, at Alloa.

Our adventure began with various squints at the map and spots of the Sustrans blue signs that highlighted our way around the cycle network. We took the NCN 768 to Alva, which was almost entirely on wide and well maintained shared use paths. When we hit Tillicoultry I almost felt like i was in the Netherlands, as there was a fully segregated path running parallel to the busy A91 into Alva. Of course, with no tangling in traffic the cycle journey was stress free and highly enjoyable for all concerned.

Other than jelly babies, this infrastructure makes cycling with a four year old a doddle.

Other than jelly babies, this infrastructure makes cycling with a four year old a doddle.

I learned a fair bit cycling with a little one. As I don’t have sprogs of my own, cycling with a child provides a whole other bucket of considerations that sit outside of a solo rider’s thought processes. For example, our route included small sections on rural road and even though they were quiet and non-threatening I still had nerves about the mini-adventurer and traffic. With two of us to tag-team with the little guy everything went without a hitch, but it was a good way for me to learn more about cycling with kids.

Gear like the follow-me tagalong is impressive and means everyone can enjoy the amazing activity of cycling

Gear like the follow-me tagalong is impressive and means everyone (including mini-cyclists with tired legs) can enjoy the amazing activity of cycling

One of the best things about the day was our relaxed pace. Family-paced cycling has a lot to be said for itself. You literally stop and smell the flowers. You point out the animals, plants and people you see as you tootle along. There is lots of discussion about treats and sweeties and cakes, and it all just fits so wonderfully together that it feels like the most natural way possible to travel.

Sharing the cycle path with a child unfurls so many bonuses to a bike trip.

Sharing the cycle path with a child unfurls so many bonuses to a bike trip.

Of course, our day trip wasn’t 100% idyllic. There were annoying barriers and dismounts, and we encountered such a ridiculous irony on the on-road cycle route that I had to stop and snap the silliness of it. A car complete with two bikes taped to its rear was parked over the cycle lane on the road in Clackmannan. Normally this would be a minor inconvenience for me, but when you have a tiny person with you the flaws in infrastructure and resulting behaviours of people take on a whole new colour.

Oh the irony of a bunch of bikes blocking the on-road cycle path.

Oh the irony of a bunch of bikes parked over the on-road cycle route.

After this ironic encounter, we took the NCN 764 to Dunfermline, a route almost wholly on disused railway line and complete with abandoned brickworks. The route stretched for something like 12 miles on the old railway and we encountered other cyclists and walkers enjoying the day.

#brickworks #clackmannan #oldruins #instascotland #clackmannanshire #chimney #abandonded #abandonedscotland

A post shared by Brian Allan (@brianallan7) on

 

Upon reaching Dunfermline, the map came back into force and we struggled our way through the town. It always confuses me that cycling routes are so grimly signposted in urban areas, but so easy to follow in the sticks. You’d think it would be the other way around, right? After negotiating a gyratory-type roundabout and blender-esque junctions in the town, complete with bizarre breadcrumb-style painted bikes on the ground, we made it into the park and finally train station.  Huzzah!

Clacks offers some spectacularly good cycling.

Clacks offers some spectacularly good cycling.

I would just like to say bravo to Clackmannanshire Council for maintaining such a good shared path network. Sure, it’s not perfect, but Suzanne, the mini-cyclist and I managed 32 miles of almost pristine cycling and I think that’s a pretty good effort. Quite a few of Scotland’s local authorities could take a leaf out of Clacks’ book with their cycling provision.

I highly recommend a visit, especially if you have a family. Clacks is easily accessible by train, well connected with paths and in my experience was flat and easy to ride. Plus, it’s really pretty!

Encouraging new bike riders with the Edinburgh Cycle Challenge

I’ve been a very busy bee recently. For the next few months I’m project managing the Love To Ride Edinburgh Cycle Challenge, a three week cycling event from 1 – 21 March funded by City of Edinburgh Council.

The aim of the game is to encourage new and occasional cyclists to get on their bike, log rides via the website or app, and win some great prizes in the process. Of course, regular cyclists are more than welcome to get involved, too.

If you live or work in Edinburgh, all you need to do is:

  1. Register yourself (and workplace) for free on the website: www.lovetoride.net/edinburgh
  2. Encourage colleagues and friends to take part.
  3. Ride a bike anywhere for 10 minutes or more between 1 – 21 March, log the ride online and win some great prizes.
  4.  Workplaces across Edinburgh compete on leaderboards to get the most people on bikes!

It’s really easy to get involved and offers a range of benefits for individuals as well as employers. A ten minute bike ride is accessible to most people, and even if participants don’t have a bike they can borrow one and enjoy a short trip somewhere they feel comfortable. Plus, it’s all about participation and not distance – cycle 1 or 100 miles and there’s the same chance of winning a prize.

The challenge also fosters a bit of friendly competition between businesses and individual departments within organisations. The leaderboard is a fun way to encourage more colleagues to jump on a bike and rediscover the joys of cycling.  But even if your workplace isn’t interested in getting involved, you can sign up as an individual and still take part. There’s no reason not to register, really! 🙂

What’s particularly interesting about the challenge is the behaviour change model that encourages more people to get cycling. On average, around 40% of non-cyclists that participate in the challenge start to ride a bike after the challenge finishes. The model is well established and successful. Take a look at this video to see how this works in practice.

But back to Edinburgh. This March’s Cycle Challenge prizes include:

  • a beautiful Gazelle Esprit bike from Hart’s Cyclery
  • B&B stay at the Cramond Mill
  • 100 cinema tickets
  • bike gear from Wee Cog
  • goodies from Route Clothing
  • massages from Blue Morpho
  • memberships to CTC
  • tickets to the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling, as well as a day’s cargo bike hire and some snazzy mugs
  • lunch for four at the Cramond Falls Cafe
  • Rich Dyson photography workshops
  • and more to be confirmed.

There are plenty of prizes up for grabs, and all for just ten minutes on a bike.  If you know anyone in the city that’s been toying with the idea of cycling or just needs a bit of a nudge, then this could be just what they need to rediscover the joys of travel by two wheels.

With the myriad of benefits cycling brings for you and your colleagues, what’s to lose with the Edinburgh Cycle Challenge? I’m encouraging organisations and individuals across the city to get involved, so I’d be delighted if you wanted to register and take part.  It’s free and good fun, so register here and get on your bike!

How much money I saved in 2015 by cycling

It’s pretty much the end of the year, so I’ve got my final figures for my Great Edinburgh Bike Experiment. I’ve been doing posts quarterly on this, and by my last estimates in August I was up £653.77 against the fictional car. I’ve now totted up the remaining year, give or take a few days as it’s the 27th today and there are a few journeys left in December.  But hey, what are a few days? Let’s tot up September, October, November and December…

Autumn and winter’s numbers

  • Total journeys: 101
  • Total distance: 855 miles
  • Total calories: 27,719 kcal
  • Total climb: 22,702 feet

Bike expenditure in last four months

As it turns out, riding the same bike almost every day over two and a half years means that things need replaced. And so it was over autumn and winter, when all the proverbial buses came at once and I had to replace both gear cables, both tyres, chain, cassette, two brake block sets, one brake cable, and the rear brake completely due to it being cheap to begin with and eventually falling off. Combine that with a service to get everything sorted and I was down £130. Ouch. That’s a big wedge out of my potential savings.

However, when cycling thousands of miles over bumpy, pockmarked Edinburgh roads you’re going to have to expect wear and tear. This is now my third chain and cassette and umpteenth brake block, so it goes with the territory.

As for bus fares, I have been spending a bit more on buses these last few months due to some rotten weather. So I am down £30 for this, too.

Total expenditure – £160

Public transport equivalent

  • I substituted £142.50 worth of bus fares in  September, October, November and December. It wouldn’t have been more economical for a Ridacard over these months, so let’s just go with the total.
  • Public transport cost = £142.50

Car equivalent

  • Monthly car running cost – £39.16
  • Petrol cost for 855 miles – £73.92. The majority of journeys I’ve been doing are in the city, so I’m going to round it up to £80 to account for congestion.
  • Total running cost = £230.56

Gym equivalent

  • Total cost – £122

Grand totals!

  • Public transport (£142.50) + gym (£122) – expenditure (£160) = £104.50 savings
  • Car (£230.56) + gym (£122) – expenditure (£160) = £192.56 savings

2015 grand totals

  • Bike vs Public Transport – £633 in pocket

  • Bike vs Car – £846.33 in pocket

  • Total miles cycled – 2,454

So that’s it, folks! Over the course of the year, I have managed to save almost £850 against my fictional car. I am pretty happy with that, especially as my fictional car has been perfect and required no repairs or anything on its fictional MOT.

In conclusion

I think I will write a bit more about this over the next week or two. It’s been incredibly interesting to tot up my cycling and compare it against potential spends on running a car. Of course, this crude experiment has done nothing to try and understand the other amazing benefits afforded by cycling. No mention of:

  • carbon savings
  • societal benefits by riding a bike (bike riding offers a wealth of plus points in this sense)
  • my physical health and fitness
  • my mental health
  • the “feelgood” factor

More on this soon.

 

 

Lanzarote’s attitude to cycling

Much to my other half’s despair, I just spent two weeks with him in Lanzarote taking photos and spraffing on about the island’s cycling provision and infrastructure. Never mind sun, sand and sangria, on my trip to the Canaries I was all about the segregated cycling provision, demographic breakdowns and the impact of presumed liability.

Cycling in Lanzarote has a lot of perks

Cycling in Lanzarote has a lot of perks

Lanzarote is not only sunny, warm and visually arresting, but is very appealing for cycling. I don’t just mean all-day road rides or epic mountain bike adventures; cycling is a viable form of everyday transport. I was really impressed by the island’s attitude towards bikes, and my trip there put some things into perspective when I think about Edinburgh.

Bike at El Golfo

Bike at El Golfo

Lanzarote is a small island with a population of around 120k. Even at the peak of the summer season with a a tourist influx, the island’s population swells to around 200k, less than half the population of Edinburgh. The island is well connected with beautifully tarmaced and well-maintained roads, and isn’t overly mountainous.

There was a considerable amount of segregated infrastructure available in the resorts of Lanzarote, used by all different kinds of people.

Segregated provision in Puerto del Carmen

Segregated provision in Puerto del Carmen

Visitors use hire bikes to get around in Puerto del Carmen

Visitors use hire bikes to get around on segregated infrastructure in Puerto del Carmen

In my two weeks on the island, I saw hardly any high visibility clothing and helmet wear. Visitors and locals alike used segregated infrastructure, as well as riding happily on the road. Cycling was accessible to all ages, and it warmed my cockles to see just about every kind of person out and about on a bike.

Older people cycled happily

Older people cycled happily

Family cycling provision

Family cycling provision – see how happy this family are!

I didn’t see a single painted bike lane on the streets of Lanzarote, but interestingly vehicles appeared to be extremely courteous of cycling all over the island, including roadies out for longer spins in the Timanfaya National Park. This will be partly due to presumed liability, which ensures that the most vulnerable road users are protected and facilitates mutual respect on the road (the UK is one of only five European countries that doesn’t operate in this fashion).

I saw a lot of mountain bikers as well as roadies as I travelled around the island on a couple of bus tours. The Lanzarote landscape is spectacular and would be pretty incredible to see via a bike. The roads are immaculate and there are some good climbs to keep everyone entertained.

MTB riders take a break at Haria

MTB riders take a break at Haria

This small island does have the weather on its side, but its resident population is less than a quarter of Edinburgh’s yet the investment in segregated infrastructure and presumed liability means that cycling is normalised, popular and not the preserve of the fit and the fast.

As illustrated time and time and time again, good quality cycling provision that is safe and separate from traffic is what encourages everyday cycling. It would be unfair to say my home town is ignorant of this fact, as the recently published Roseburn to Leith consultation demonstrates that Edinburgh understands what works. I would heartily recommend you respond to the council consultation positively – it’s brave and re-allocates space from traffic to pedestrians and cyclists so it’s imperative you show your support.

I hope our city takes a leaf out of Lanzarote’s book and we start to see more segregated provision (and a bit more sunshine wouldn’t go amiss, either!). Until that happens, maybe it’s not such a bad thing to pedal off into a Canary-coloured sunset…

My approach to bad weather is to just keep cycling

It’s been a bit dreich in Edinburgh these last few days. The weather has taken a big huff, and is currently gusting itself into exhaustion. Looks like we’ll have to wait until Wednesday for the watery sunshine of late autumn to reappear, so in the meantime it’s worth remembering that when you’re cycling there’s no such thing as bad weather – only bad kit.

My urban armour

How to combat crap weather – become a gore-texasaurus

To combat the wind and wet, I’ve finally cracked out the winter gear. You can still cycle through the worst of the year without turning into a MAMIL-esque wannabe.  My garment arsenal consists of gore-tex boots from Clarks, waterproof trews, fluffy buff, Vulpine winter storm cap, waterproof gloves and winter waterproof jacket. This keeps me snug as a bug in a warm and cosy rug and conveniently goes over whatever normal everyday clothing I’ve got on.

I was out today in double-dot rain and 45mph gusts and felt totally invincible in my urban armour. My other half ventured out with me in the appalling conditions too, and decked out in waterproofs head to toe he took to the jaunt like a duck to water, which was quite fitting really seeing as we were cycling through a deluge. Other than utterly slaying the weather, the best part was getting into the house and stripping off our outermost layers of proofing; underneath our gore-tex forcefields we were both bone dry.

It’s all about mentality and kit. So long as you know you are conquering Scotland’s hostile climes in your winter get up, it doesn’t matter how much of a hissy fit the weather takes. The elements literally roll off you.

So do your worst, winter. I am ready.

The Great Edinburgh Bike Experiment – June, July and August

Summer has been and gone, and with it three months of my Great Edinburgh Bike Experiment. At the end of May I was up £331 against the fictional car, so let’s see where I’ve managed to get to with warmer weather and more favourable cycling conditions in June, July and August.

Summer’s bike numbers

  • Total journeys: 116
  • Total distance: 737 miles
  • Total calories: 29,925 kcal
  • Total climb: 27,088 feet

My bike and I managed to climb to the peak of the south summit of Annapurna in the Himalayas this summer by visiting friends, getting to work, going to yoga and so on. The 10th highest mountain on our planet, Annapurna stretches 26,545 feet to the heavens, so I’ve also started a 500 foot decent. This is considerably more climb than the last quarter – over 11k feet in fact. Just goes to show that summer is the cyclist’s friend.

Annapurna's south summit

I cycled to the top of Annapurna’s south summit. Thanks to creative commons twiga269 for the use of the image

Bike expenditure in last three months

  • No bike maintenance over the summer period – the bike was happy as a clam, just like me.
  • £21 – Bus fares in total. I didn’t take the bus much over summer at all because my knees have been behaving.
  • Total = £21.00

Public transport equivalent

  • I substituted £219 worth of bus fares in June, July and August so the £51 monthly Ridacard would have been considerably more cost-effective.
  • Ridacard cost = £153

Car equivalent

  • Monthly car running cost – £39.16
  • Petrol cost for 737 miles – £91.82. The majority of journeys I’ve been doing are in the city, so I’m going to round it up to £95 to account for congestion.
  • Total running cost = £251.64

Gym equivalent

  • Total cost – £91.50

Grand totals!

  • Public transport (£153) + gym (£91.50) – expenditure (£21.00) = £223.50 savings
  • Car (£251.64) + gym (£91.50) – expenditure (£21.00) = £322.14 savings

Year to date totals

  • Bike vs Public Transport – £528.50 in pocket
  • Bike vs Car – £653.77 in pocket

To the end of August I am up over £650 on the car. That is definitely not to be sniffed at, especially with four months to go. The summer period was always going to give numbers a boost because of the better weather, longer days and any excuse to get on the saddle. I’m starting to wonder if I might hit £1k savings by the end of the year?

With £650 in pocket, I could buy an old banger of a car to wipe out my gains from cycling, pay half of my yearly council tax bill OR buy the EBC Revolution tourer for £550 and have £100 left over to buy a nice wee lightweight tent and a couple of nights’ campsite pitch fees…

revolution-country-traveller-15

Hmmm… 😉