Several pictures from the Bicycle Politics workshop – thanks to Griet Scheldeman for taking the pictures and Dave Horton for sending them to me. Gives a nice flavour of the productive and friendly nature of the event (and the good food!)
Archive for September, 2010
Going through some of the Hull interviews, connections between cycling and experiences of places strike me again. From one interview, about things that you see while cycling around the city:
We’ll see a building like on Spring Bank there was years ago a fire station and we didn’t realise that all the structures above it just show that that was the fire station. The berths along the waterway, you see those and then the old ships, and when you go along to the ferry you can see the old barges that that have been wrecked are there, along that way.
I’ve been thinking about the way that cycling can enable particular experiences of places not just now, but in the past – links can be made between what is left in the present and how we or other people may have lived in the past. This is something that I’ve felt cycling along the East London waterways. Your knowledge about the past shapes how you feel moving through the present: I remember students being amazed when I’ve told them some of those overgrown channels were constructed by people, teams of navvies digging into the ground to create the freight highways of the time. I could see that when they walked along the canal next time, they would see it a little differently.
In Hull, many people have a strong sense of the past, shaped through collective and individual memories. You can still see many signs of the past alongside the industries of the present, like when I cycled across the waterfront earlier this year.
The contours of the city bear (sometimes hidden) witness to loss and exploitation as well as pride and community. On the docks I found a memorial: initially I thought perhaps someone had recently died at that spot, going closer I realised it was a memorial to all those who had died at sea, with fresh flowers and cards left to their memory. Sometimes cycling along the East London waterways I think about the navvies who dug the canals, a hard and dangerous job which also regularly claimed lives.
Smithfield Markets was transformed on Friday night for the CityCycleStyle event. I found out about the event via a leaflet tagged on a bike parked in Clerkenwell. Some of the blurb:
Come and celebrate the diversity of City cycling at the first City Cycle Style, an event celebrating cycling as a fashionable form of transport in the City. Come for fashion, food and beverages within Smithfield Market’s hallowed halls. There will be live music, performances and interactive cycling displays. You can meet the latest cycle fashion designers try-on outfits and sit on saddles of some of the newest trendy bicycles. The event is in conjunction with the City Cycle Challenge which will be raising money for
Re~Cycle bike aid charity for Africa.
The market thoroughfare was closed off, a large curtain and screen filled one end and two double decker red buses housing pop-up bike shops lined the other. (I’m a keen cyclist and a huge fan of old routemaster buses – so this was particularly lovely to me). Cycle themed movies were projected on the huge screen hung between the buildings. In the centre, near the stage, a bar served beer and quiche (free with £5 entry fee) and Cliff bar samples. Nearby, a jazz/rock band entertained the growing crowd and a photographer documented particularly well dressed cyclists. Planters, running along half the length of the road, gave shape to a fashion runway of sorts. At points through the evening, a fashion show took place in front of the buses. Models riding a variety of fixed, vintage and sit-up and beg bikes did lazy choreographed loops in snazzy clothes – plus fours, capes, dresses, shorts, caps.
This week I attended the Bicycle Politics symposium at Lancaster, expertly organised by Dave Horton and Aurora Trujillo. I was presenting a co-authored paper on “‘I didn’t feel like a proper Cyclist’: managing problematic and provisional cycling identities”. The main argument being, that while cycling is promoted as a “win-win” policy solution to a variety of problems, being a “cyclist” remains tricky. The paper used evidence from Cambridge and Hull to demonstrate the anxiety that people feel about being a “good cyclist”, alongside fear of being too much of a cyclist – the “proper cyclist” of the paper title.
The symposium provided a great opportunity for people with an interest in cycling and politics – and the politics of cycling – to get together. With a small group of around 38 (practitioners, activists, and academics) discussions were lively and sometimes impassioned. Some difficult questions were raised – like, is cycling inclusive or can it also be exclusive? Why do we want to increase cycling? What is the relationship of pro-cycling politics to anti-car politics? On these and many other issues there was debate and disagreement.
I enjoyed listening to all the papers, but probably if I had to pick two I would say that John Stehlin‘s and Aurora Trujillo’s papers were probably the most thought-provoking for me. John’s paper discussed how bicycles are becoming part of a new wave of gentrification and re-urbanisation in the USA, suggesting that bicycle scholars and activists need to think about how “governmentality from below” might counter the formalisation of the bicycle and the exclusions that this might produce. Aurora’s paper was on using the discourse of oppression to understand the marginalisation of cycling and cyclists.
This week I attended the second Vital Signs conference to present a paper on using mobile/visual data in mobilities research. Vital Signs is a conference focusing on novel and combined methodologies, and how to access and analyse unusual data. It was a friendly conference and I enjoyed the mix of work discussed. Unfortunately I had to leave before Gillian Rose’s final plenary where she was to reflect on her research into people’s experiences of Milton Keynes and Bedford shopping centres. Hopefully though there will soon be audio versions of the talks available online.
My session was reduced to two presenters because the third had to pull out. However, this meant that we had over half an hour to discuss the issues raised by our paper and the other one in the slot, presented by Liz Dinnie on the ethics of using headcams. There was a great discussion and lots of challenging questions about how we plan to analyse data collected, how cycling practices are gendered, the status of visual and mobile data and much more.
Here is a little video of the slides I used with my own audio recording underneath (minus the discussion – I think the discussion section may be available later on the Vital Signs website).
Talking to Liz afterwards, I learned that her research team have also used dogcams (video cameras attached to dogs) to gather data. I thought that sounded like a fabulous idea.
On the weekend I had the pleasure of racing in the Knutsford Great Race - a 3 hour marathon sprint for penny farthings held every ten years. This year it raised money for Shelterbox. There were 90 competitors – 19 teams and 26 solo racers – which meant there were a hairy 45 pennies on track at one time. And the track was tight and short – only 700m with 3 hairpin turns. There were many crashes and near crashes. Pennies (both original and replica) literally disintegrated with the sheer force of rider power. Needless to say it was terrifying and (with a crowd of 5000 cheering people) exhilarating. Excitingly, Charlotte, my extraordinarily fast team mate, and I won the team event with a cracking 104 laps in the time limit. Results are up there are more pics and stories here.
This film by damonpeacock does a great job of presenting the speed of the event, the effort in getting a bike of that scale moving at a pace and then controlling it on tight bends. It also records the change-overs in the pit. Every bicycle was fitted with a RFID transponder designed to electronically record every lap. This transponder had to be switched securely between bikes in teams so to not go flying when the bike hit rough surface. It was a tricky business, especially done at speed. Our pit crew did a magnificent job in achieving Formula One timing.
This film by rtimson1 also shows the speed of the race and how the racers spatially navigated the course. It ends with one of the most spectacular crashes of the event. One racer lightly clips another’s handlebars causing him to do what is known in penny farthing world as a ‘penny header’ or ‘imperial crowner’. This involuntary dismount entails flying headlong over the handlebars. Most racers have done this at some point. This was a severe one, however, as it was done at speed and given the proximity at which were were racing, the downed rider was swiftly hit by another. Rumour is that the rider broke both his arms. We are all hoping this is not the case. Accidents however were common. I saw a rider hit a wood barrier on the fence of a tight corner. The noise was like a car crash. He bounced off and impressively got immediately back on before the rest of us piled up. Fortunately the organisers had covered the steel points on the fence so he didn’t skewer himself. I also saw chipped teeth, split lips and chins, a broken finger and other random scrapes and blood loss.
I’ve been wanting to the North Sea Cycle route for a while and in August, I took a week to do the bit that skirts Holland and then took other cycle routes through Germany. Our plan was to head up to Copenhagen to visit friends for the weekend. Everything was going well until Lubeck when we discovered that we could not get our bikes on the train to Lolland. (We wanted to hop across to Denmark and continue the cycle but trains and time was against us). So, we ended up on a train direct to Copenhagen. A much longer trip would have been better as a week barely gets you into the rhythm of touring. Nevertheless it was great to experience the Netherlands and Germany by bike.
Time: 6 days
Distance: 680kms ++
Start: Hook of Holland (The Netherlands)
Night 1: Egmond aan Zee, Bergen
Night 2: Holwerd
Night 3: Bad Nieuweschans
Night 4: Berne (Germany)
Night 5: Jork
Night 6: Lubeck
Train to Copenhagen
The North Sea Cycle route was well marked once you looked for these signs and worked out that LF1b was east and LF1a was west. (We did a lot more than the 680kms as we went off track quite a bit at first.)
I’m back from a month of cycle racing, cycle touring, various other travel and a series of conferences and I have lots to post about but first, here are two new cycle schemes that I’ve recently noticed:
Sydney is more often than not in the news for being anti-cyclist so this made a nice change. Newtown, one of Sydney’s vibrant inner city suburbs, has just launched Australia’s first bike library which enables people to loan cargo bikes and bike trailers. News article here.
Sydney gets first Australian bike library at Newtown from City of Sydney Council, Marrickville Council
The Watershed Bike Library, based in Sydney’s inner-western suburb of Newtown, has been set up to meet the growing popularity of commuter and recreational bike riding.
The fleet consists of specialist cargo bikes and trailers to allow cyclists to carry equipment and objects that might otherwise require a car; from shopping to household items and more.
The Watershed, in partnership with Bike Sydney, will run the Bike Library for a 12 month trial period. It consists of two cargo bikes and a number of specialist trailers.
Anyone can become a member for a small fee, items are available for up to three days loan, and the first three hours are free.
And closer to home (my UK home that is), I picked up this flyer for a new cycle trailer scheme at Waitrose. They had three in the Brunswick Centre store and all were currently on loan. Apparently, and unsurprisingly, it was turning out to be very popular. To hire a trailer you only need proof of address. They are free and you are kindly requested to return it within a day or two. Lovely!
Here are pictures of one in action.
I visited the 2010 Skyride yesterday; “visited” because we weren’t just participating, we were also passing through to get somewhere else (Tate Britain). It was interesting to see the Skyride from this perspective, because it’s set up as a self-contained event rather than as a transport corridor.
We got to the entrance point at Tower Hill by cycling along Cable Street, recently rebranded as a Cycle Superhighway.
When we got to the end of Royal Mint Street, there was a sign to Skyride, but without a clear indication of how to cross Mansell Street, which was backed up with motor traffic. On getting across, we joined the ride. It was a fun and rather surreal experience. While most people on the ride did not look particularly sporty (apart from the branded yellow bibs which around half seemed to be wearing), the set-up was as if for a sporting event, with barriers, support staff, and marshals with megaphones shouting a range of encouragements from “looking good, ladies”, and “keep going there” to “cycling is really good exercise”. Overheard conversation: Dad to child “This is the easy bit”, child (withering) “It’s ALL easy, Dad!”
Tunnels on Lower Thames Street. I’ve cycled along here on normal days and the motor traffic can be quite intimidating. A very different feel with only cyclists and skateboarders.
Near the “entertainment zone” there were a lot of barriers and signs showing people which way to go for family areas, refreshments, stalls, etc. This felt very much like being at a big organised event, whereas some of the other sections of route felt more relaxed and informal.
The nature of the route meant it wasn’t immediately obvious how to leave. There were barriers and a one-way system in operation, and while one can squeeze round barriers as a pedestrian it’s a bit harder with a bike. In the end we cycled the wrong way back down Whitehall, got off, crossed the cycle traffic, and got onto St Margaret Street. When on “normal” roads again we quickly found the motor traffic, backed up two lanes wide. Overtaking on the outside, we wiggled through Millbank and squeezed through over the roundabout by Lambeth Bridge… back to normal service.