This is a typical image from London’s Critical Mass. Hundred of cyclists gathered in an iconic London location. We are paused on Parliament Square. Cyclists are lifting their bikes in the air. Music is playing, people are cheering and bells ringing. Someone lifts one of the new Cycle Hire bikes in the air, which cannot be easy. But it is worth it as it is greeted with even more cheers, whistles and laughter.
Archive for July, 2010
As I cycle home from Critical Mass I am surprised to see people sitting on the stationary bikes in one of the docking stations on Gray’s Inn Road. They are sitting, talking and peddling, as if the bikes are exercise bikes in a gym. I join this impromptu stationary social cycling group. The couple I talk to are in their mid forties. They say they have never cycled but are “interested” and are just “giving it a go”. They explain how they learned to adjust the seat height and are getting “a feel for the bikes”. Even without becoming a member or riding the bikes, here the scheme is providing an interesting and unique introduction to cycling the city.
London’s Cycle Hire scheme launched today. Overnight the many docking stations dotted around the city filled up up with fleets of new bikes. Located only 300metres apart in Central London, each one docks around 16 bikes. Given there are apparently 400 of them, that means over 6000 new bikes in the city.
At present you need to register before you can access the bikes though a casual use system might be introduced later in the year. Right now however, a membership key costs £3, then you pay an access fee of either £1 for 24hours, £5 for a week or £45 for the year. Bikes are free to use for 30mins. Charges then apply (£1 for an hour, £4 for 1.5hours, £6 for 2 hours etc).
The system is clearly designed for short rides in the city centre. Given the close proximity of the docking stations, people will no doubt set out swapping bikes every 29minutes or so to get longer cheaper usage. Given 33% of all trips in London are less than 1mile and 85% are less than 3miles, this system is ideal for central London.
Cost? At first I thought £45 was quite steep for annual membership. But if you do not already have a bike and have been considering cycling in the city then £45 for constant access to a fleet of fully services bikes is pretty good introductory deal. You do not have to commit to cycling – you can just give it a go. You don’t have to worry about parking, maintenance or storing it at home. You do not need to carry your own tools or puncture repair kits and you do not have to worry about theft.
How do they ride? I saw quite a few people riding these bikes yesterday around the city and some were on Critical Mass. I spoke with riders who were all pretty excited about the scheme. They said the usual; that the bikes were heavy and not super responsive but they did not expect this. Instead, they were easy to use and the sit-up-and-beg position was a nice way to peddle casually and see the city. Additionally, they said that many people have come up to them, like me, to ask about the experience. This in itself made London feel much friendly than normal.
Branding. The sheer extent of Barclays branding on the bikes came as a bit of shock. There are six logos on each bike. There are even more on each docking station. And you cannot do an online search for London’s Cycle Hire Scheme without being prompted to go to Barclays Bikes. I understand the financial reality that commercial investment might have been essential to getting the programme off the ground, however as far as I am aware Barclays contributed to TFLs scheme – they do not own it. Yet, here are over 6000 bikes with an astonishing amount of advertising on them. I love cycling but I am not a fan of personally contributing to the advertising campaigns of big financial organisations. I have heard that a few bikes have been returned already with some of the branding scratched. It will be interesting to see what other people think.
Very early verdict. The scheme is a very welcome and exciting addition to the city. It makes cycling look easy, as if you can just grab a bike and cycle to and from your destination – which it is of course to those who regularly cycle. But for those who do not cycle in London, the thought can be daunting. Interviewees have regularly talked about the stuff you need to carry with you when cycling (tools, lock, lights etc). This scheme virtually eliminates this particular barrier to entry. In addition to seeing more and more bikes on the road, and reducing short car journeys, the fleets of stationery bikes located at regular intervals on the street serve to reinforce the presence of cyclists in the city. It will be interesting to see how the scheme unfolds and is adopted by Londoners over the coming months. And this is before I have even ridden one!
There are a number of interesting bicycle related programmes on TV at the moment and available to view on BBC iPlayer.
BBC4 – The Ride of My Life
Author Rob Penn travels around the world collecting handbuilt parts for his dream bicycle and charts the social history of one of mankind’s greatest inventions.
BBC4 – Britain By Bike
Clare Balding sets out on a two-wheel odyssey to re-discover Britain from the saddle of a touring cycle. In a six-part series, Clare follows the wheeltracks of compulsive cyclist and author Harold Briercliffe whose evocative guide books of the late 1940s lovingly describe by-passed Britain – a world of unspoiled villages, cycle touring clubs and sunny B roads. Carrying a set of Harold’s Cycling Touring Guides for company and riding his very own bicycle, Clare embarks on six iconic cycle rides to try and find the world he described – if it’s still there. Her first journey takes Clare to the rugged and beautiful Atlantic coast of north Devon – from Lynmouth, scene of Britain’s worst flood disaster in the early 1950s, to Ilfracombe via Little Switzerland, and a hidden silver mine whose riches probably helped England win the Battle of Agincourt.
6th September 2010
University of Oxford
“Nattering” and “silly little things”: Informal encounters, everyday connections and local characters in cycle campaigning in Hull
This paper will draw on ethnographic and interview data on cycle campaigners in Hull (2010). It focuses on campaigners in both official and volunteer contexts, taking particular interest in the myriad of places, times and methods in and through which individuals do important work. While some of these practices take place in conventional formal meetings, many others occur in informal settings and at unusual times. Campaigners talk to people in the street. They stop to help strangers with punctures. They volunteer with different cycle groups in their spare time. They introduce people. They share news and tell of events. They make lists, keep records and write letters. These often serendipitous and largely undocumented “natterings” and “silly little things” have important consequences. This paper examines how small encounters and seemingly inconsequential events serve to generate and reinforce critical connections between people, ideas and things. It reflects upon the role of cycle campaigners as “local characters” with deeply embedded knowledge of people, places and things that together make and sustain these networks. Emerson (2009) draws attention to ‘ordinary troubles’ to highlight the routine, boring and often trivialised interactions that help to explain more dramatic events. In this case, a focus on “nattering” and “silly little things” brings to light not only the mundane activities that underpin successful cycling campaigning but also the persistence, patience and relentless pressure necessary to make change happen.
7-10 September 2010
The University of Manchester
Mobile practices and visual data: What’s the use(s)?
This paper examines the status of visual and other sensory data when researching mobile practices, in this case cycling. Videos and photos can appear to have a truthful immediacy that may obstruct the consideration of alternative ways in which to analyse them. It is seductive to see visual data as providing a record of “what happened” or, in the form of head camera data, “what it looked like at the time”. In this paper we problematise our own and others’ use of visual data to represent mobility practices and think about what such data can and should be used for, and what it should be considered as representing. We ask: how can we best attempt to research, represent and analyse the fleeting embodied experiences that constitute mobility practices? And we consider how mixing visual with other methods might provide a way to resist the lure of immediacy.
27 April 2010
University of East London
Rachel Aldred & Kat Jungnickel
(with Dave Horton and Griet Scheldeman, Lancaster)
New Cycling Research
The public lecture showcases two projects using mixed method and qualitative approaches to cycling: the EPSRC-funded ‘Understanding Walking and Cycling’ (Lancaster University), and the ESRC-funded ‘Cycling Cultures’ (UEL). Dave Horton (Lancaster University) is undertaking ethnographic research as part of the ‘Understanding Walking and Cycling’ project. The project adopts mixed methods to explore walking and cycling in four English cities; Lancaster, Leeds, Leicester and Worcester. Dave will describe the wider project, before concentrating on the qualitative research, and specifically the ethnographic fieldwork, which he is conducting with the Flemish anthropologist Griet Scheldeman. He’ll give details of the methods that Griet and he has so far been using to produce data which should improve current understandings of cycling and he’ll talk through some of their preliminary findings, with the hope that those present will discuss and help him think about what they might mean! Rachel and Katrina are working on ‘Cycling Cultures’, which looks at four urban areas with relatively high cycling rates: Cambridge, Hull, Bristol, and Hackney. Rachel and Katrina will discuss the rationale for the project and the findings emerging from pilot and background research. They’ll talk about the methods that they are currently exploring, including mapping applications (ArcView and Google mashups) to represent and analyse qualitative and quantitative data. Rachel and Katrina will also discuss their ongoing experiments in visual methodology including the use of time-lapse photography.
6-9 April 2010
Glasgow Caledonian University
Rachel Aldred & Kat Jungnickel
Spaces of Mobility: Placing Cycling, cycling places
This paper draws on current ESRC funded research to discuss how the practice of cycling produces, and is produced through, specific experiences of place. It builds on interview and ethnographic research in Cambridge and Hackney to describe how cycling is constructed differently in different socio-spatial and political contexts. Cambridge and Hackney have relatively high levels of cycling, compared to the UK average of 2% of trips, and cycling in both places is portrayed as part of local culture and identity. Cambridge is the UK’s “Cycling City” with 25% modal share, while Hackney is known as London’s “cycling borough” and has seen a substantial rise in cycling, now at 10% modal share. Yet the two areas differ dramatically in terms of income profiles, ethnic mix, occupational structures, and cycling infrastructures. The paper will show how cycling in the two areas creates distinctive mobile places, grounded in different experiences of embodiment and different socio-spatial and political contexts. It will consider the importance of sounds and smells as well as visual stimuli, and locally distinctive bicycling technologies; Cambridge is famous for the numbers of Dutch-style bikes on its streets, while Hackney is better known for its singlespeed and fixed gear cyclists. It will ask: what kinds of embodied identities are available to people cycling in each place? What kinds of identities are excluded and marginalised? Finally the paper will consider implications for how we conceptualise places and mobilities, particularly subordinate forms of mobility.