Archives for July 2013

Voters On Bikes

Instances of cyclists being killed by drivers who then, more-or-less, get off with it, aren’t hard to find in Britain*. Today’s ride took me by Didcot. You get six months in prison, suspended, for killing a cyclist near Didcot, even if you’re driving illegally**.

Politicians are often keen to ‘send a message’ with sentencing – just think back to the last large-scale riots and the disproportionate government-directed judicial reaction to looting. There is only one deduction to make: the message politicians are happy for the judicial system to send out to motorists regarding killing cyclists is ‘well, we’d rather you didn’t but if you do, don’t worry, we’ll just give you a bit of a slap on the wrist’.

That’s not a grey area, that’s not open to debate; there’s nothing to quibble about here. The politicians in this country don’t much care about cyclists being killed; judged by their deeds rather than any cheap words, that’s a statement of fact.

If you’re a cyclist, any cyclist at all, that should inform your view of this country’s politicians, I suggest to the exclusion of any other consideration.

Forget the old, tired and trite left-wing / right wing politics; forget class-based politics; all those old divisions have long been meaningless. Review the past few decades of politics – as played out in reality, not as promised in manifestos, glib sound-bites and ‘spun’ for the media – and then forget any notion that one or another major party in Britain is morally, ethically or any other –ly ‘better’ than any of the others.

We live in a country governed, largely, by professional politicians who have opted to make a career out of politics in order to further their own interests – just like anyone in any other career. Perhaps there’s nothing inherently wrong in that, but understand it for what it is: we are governed by people who are driven to govern because of what they’ll get out of it. They’re not in it for your benefit, for my benefit or anyone else’s: they’re in it for themselves.

(That the desire to rule over people is determining someone’s chosen career is itself a trait that merits close examination, but that’s another issue.)

Lobbying is just a nice word for buying power – lobby politicians and you’re in effect, buying politicians, directly or indirectly. With the UK dominated by careerist politicians (local or national), then the way has never been more open for lobbying: careerist individuals are, by definition, all about advancement and attracting the attention of lobbyists (being bought), in this new scheme of things, simply means you’re doing well.

That leaves us cyclists with a choice. We could try and buy enough politicians to make a difference, but we’d be up against entrenched interests with very deep pockets. Arguably, ‘cyclists’ aren’t a coherent enough voice to organize and lobby for power anyway. Indeed, I’ve argued in the past that we need to be seen not as a group called ‘cyclists’ but as the diverse group of people we are: mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, friends and lovers. ***

The alternative to buying politicians is voting them out of office. The more cyclists there are, the more of this basic political clout we have. We need to recognise our commonality – that we’re cyclists, that we’re voters on bikes, and that our politicians don’t much care about us – but beyond that, what we need to do is act as individuals against whatever politician, local or national, of whatever party, we are entitled to vote against by dint of where we live.

The diverse nature of the nation’s cyclists, in this scheme of things, is a positive: it makes us much harder to divide and rule, much harder to buy-off and neutralise. It should make us more of a threat.

In a nutshell – if your councillor or your MP isn’t actually achieving something for you as a cyclist, then vote against them. It doesn’t matter their party or your past allegiances; it doesn’t matter what they’ve said or promised. Judge them purely on what they have actually done for you, as a cyclist.

A lot of seats – particularly local – can change on a few votes. The more cyclists there are, voting for their interests, as opposed to along party lines, the fewer safe seats, even at a national level, there would be. ****

Yes, doubtless there are some exceptions to the career politicians out only for their own interests. Let them prove it though – not by talk but by action. The same is true of local councils: if you have a good one, demonstrably working for cyclists, vote to keep it in power. Nonsensical cycle lanes and other tokenism doesn’t count.

Otherwise, be as clear-eyed and cynical as I’m suggesting. You can be sure that, away from lip-service to the contrary, most of our politicians are far more cynical in their decision to not stand-up for cyclists.

Perhaps cyclists should organize in local groups if appropriate; perhaps the role of each town’s cycle club, cycle action group etc should primarily be to make it very clear to everyone what the politicians of their area are actually doing for the good of cycling. Again, this should be a wholly apolitical appraisal – based solely on demonstrable action or inaction.

And if anyone challenges you for being too cynical, or tries to rally you to a party’s colours, take that as a hint that you’re getting somewhere, that you’re rattling them, that you’re actually troubling the establishment, because the establishment is the whole lot of them – all the major parties, together.

* The Road Justice campaign site lists some injustices – but by no means all.
** Didcot cyclist-killer’s sentence
*** On the need to get away from being ‘cyclists’.
**** On how cycling doesn’t align with political divisions, and the need to reject the old party system.

Didcot in the distance

Didcot, dominating the skyline – and my thinking today

(Finding) Happiness In Chains (Just For Cyclists)

Rusty bike chain

No, it wasn’t this bad. (Photo: Jonathan Ruchti)

A good, reasonable length ride criss-crossing the territory between Reading and Oxford, mainly in lanes and largely quiet – and with the added simple pleasure of a new chain making it all that much more smooth. Whatever you do for chain upkeep, you can never replicate the ‘feel’ of a brand new chain with just the factory lubricant on it, that’s never been rained-on and not yet picked up any grit and grime. If you’ve cleaned everything else thoroughly, I think it’s a real fillip. I’m not sure whether that means I’m ‘in tune’ with my bike or just a bit sad: that’s one for others to decide.

I’d changed just the chain on my ‘workhorse’ Bianchi Nerone the other day, without changing the cassette or chain rings. The chain I was taking off was just about showing 1% wear and I was prepared to have to change the rest of the drive-train too, but today’s ride confirmed what an earlier little test ride suggested: it was fine.

I keep a track of miles ridden and routes, but I don’t log bike maintenance – what part’s done what distance and so on. Perhaps I ought to, but there you go. However, I’m pretty sure this is the second time I’ve put a new chain on the current set of chainrings, and that it’s the third chain for the cassette.

I’ve long suspected it but the lesson seems to be confirmed: if you keep an eye on the chain and change it regularly before it wears too much, you can save yourself a fair bit of money by not having to replace the rest at the same time.

Make Your Own Mind Up

Level Two Heatwave Warnings! Level Three in places!! Rooms can get hot on hot days so do be careful. Outside can be hot too if it’s hot out. Drink plenty if you’re sweating, especially if you’re thirsty. Don’t wear warm clothes in warm weather, wear cool clothes instead. Consider opening windows to cool a room down. Watch out for the coming crime wave because there’s always a near breakdown of law and order whenever there are a few sunny days.

If you’re not feeling scared by a spell of hot weather you should at least be worried. If you’re neither then you haven’t understood the risks so we’ll say it again – there are Heatwave Warnings! Official Warnings! Real life Experts and Scientists are issuing Warnings!

A moment’s thought and it’s obvious that the fear industry is actually quite ludicrous. It gives idiot journalists something to write. It gives officialdom reasons to justify itself. It merits only ridicule. There are people vulnerable to health problems in hot weather but they are a tiny proportion of the population. They do not justify the scaremongering.

The alternative, that all the trite advice and warnings actually are necessary, requires that we be a nation of imbeciles. If that is true, then that self-same officialdom has an awful lot to answer for regarding the nation’s education over the past several decades.

As it is, contrary to all the indications, today I enjoyed a bike ride that included The Bell at Aldworth for lunch – and that can’t be bad. Happiness is making your own mind up.

Shady Woods

A welcome bit of bosky shade

Sack The Ignorant

Much of England is hot – in the 80s F. It has been for a while now and it will be for a few days more at least. This is not bad news. It makes life a bit difficult in some regards – this being England, we’re not at all geared-up for any kind of weather other than the middling-temperate variety. But it would be churlish to complain

The hot nights means open windows, and open windows means the sound of jets landing at Heathrow. Right now they’re not coming in overhead but in a few days the wind will be veering east, and that means they’ll be waking me and thousands of other people up, from about 5.30 or 6.00 onwards.

Today saw Heathrow submit its plans for expansion to the enquiry that’s looking in to Britain’s air traffic capacity. There’s lip-service concern about noise but the notion that there can be an additional 260,000 flights per year without it ruining an awful lot of lives is laughable. Worse, it’s an insult to suggest it.

The BBC on airport expansion plans

It strikes me that we ought to be looking at what percentage of air travel is business related. We then need to sack pretty well all the business people taking those flights as they’re patently too ignorant to use online conferencing tools and are running up costs to their companies (and the country) for no good reason. By definition, this makes them bad business people. Once sacked, then we could assess what kind of air traffic capacity we actually need. It would, surely, be a very much lower requirement. And think how happy that would make so many people on the ground.

If only/fat chance.

In the meantime, it’s perhaps counter-intuitive, but I’ve always found cycling on hot days a good thing to do. You’re guaranteed some air passing over you, and if you’re working up a sweat that’s only going to cool you down. It’s better than just sitting and panting by a long chalk. If you don’t know what to do with yourself on a hot day then – assuming you’re physically OK – I recommend it.

From near Christmas Common, getting a breeze up on high looking over a sun-backed Oxfordshire.

From near Christmas Common, getting a breeze up on high looking over a sun-baked Oxfordshire.

When The Law Doesn’t Work

Injustice is – what? Depressing? Sobering? Not surprising? I don’t know what’s a realistic response. For whatever reason, I had not come across the CTC’s Road Justice campaign until lately. Now I have, and over the last few rides I’ve found myself thinking about just what it means for that campaign to be necessary.

The issues it campaigns about, of course, I have been aware of. (I can even say that in the past I’ve donated my poker winnings to the Cyclists’ Defence Fund.) And as an individual, looking at reports about road traffic accidents involving cyclists, it’s often seemed to me that the police don’t take the plight of cyclists seriously. I’ve seen the same when it comes to cycle theft too – corroborated anecdotally by my local bike shop and a neighbour who’s been victim of professional bike thieves. But those have just been general impressions and I’ve been willing to believe that I might be wrong, that I don’t have all the evidence.

Having this general, vague awareness of the justice system’s bias against cyclists made concrete by a body such as the CTC, backed up by evidence, takes it to another level. The question becomes, as Lenin said, ‘What is to be done?

Middle aged, middle class and middle brow (I know my limits), my natural, ingrained belief was that the police and the components of the justice system generally are all broadly on the side of what’s right, what’s good. I don’t know where it leaves me to find that when it comes to me as a cyclist, they’re not. Although not the same thing qualitatively, perhaps it leaves me broadly in the same boat as the Hillsborough victims’ families, or the Birmingham Six, or the Lawrence family … etc.

A society where more and more people are being given just cause to doubt the rule of law is a society in danger. We can only function as a society if there’s a broad consensus about right and wrong. Lose the consensus and we all stand to lose everything.

Given that, on the whole, this society is one I’m more-or-less happy to be living in, I think the only logical answer to the legal system’s failings is that I should be trying to fix what is wrong, in the belief that although there are problems far greater than ‘a few rotten apples’ (as the police in particular would like to have us believe), it is still fixable.

And, given that the vast majority of people in this country – as witnessed by their general passivity – are similarly more-or-less happy with their lot, I suspect the same is true for most other people too; i.e. we should all be trying to fix what’s wrong, rather than merely being bystanders or victims.

As an easily achievable small step in the right direction, for cyclists, simply supporting the CTC’s campaigns is doing something to fix things.

The Road Justice Campaign

There is any number of other causes worth fighting for, with associated organizations taking up the fight, that we can all support too.

Enjoying Inequality

Cycling and walking around the Stonor Park estate near Henley, on a good, warm but not stupid-hot day, and

  •  yes, as claimed, it is a beautiful setting for a house;
  •  yes, the whole valley is lush and attractive; English Chilterns countryside at its best;
  •  yes, the whole area is criss-crossed by footpaths and bridle paths and so there’s plenty of access for the likes of Josephine and Joe Public (albeit some of it in a fairly poor state – broken stiles, overgrown tracks etc); and
  •  yes, for sure, the whole area wouldn’t look the way it does if it hadn’t been owned by the same family for centuries: the land doesn’t just look after itself; it has been managed to end up the way it is; it has been kept the way it is only because this particular ownership model (repeated with variations all over England) has allowed it to happen.

And it’s disconcerting to realize that something I’m enjoying and valuing can only exist by dint of extraordinary inequality. I have no ready response to that realization.

Stonor House

Stonor: made possible through inequality


I suspect the extent that that inequality is acceptable hinges on the social quid pro quo between the rich and the rest of society. I also suspect the newly rich in our current society don’t understand that implied contract. There seems to be a grubby, base greediness about today’s ‘fat cats’ and many other ‘successful’ people in the news that puts them at odds with those who society rewarded in the past.

But then again, time mellows things: quite possibly the people who first established Stonor and all the similar estates were just as venal in their day, and it’s only over the years that any kind of social responsibility developed.

Quite possibly though, I’m simply thinking about the wrong thing. Perhaps the real question is whether any general, to-be-enjoyed-by-all gains only possible through such gross inequality are worth the social and human costs, and that’s a question that can be asked at any and every stage of the acquisition of wealth, a question that doesn’t mellow over the years. It’s a question that could do with being asked now, of an awful lot of people.