Archive for October, 2010
I spent the morning at a Family Bike Day at Parkwood Primary School. It was a chilly winters day but the sky was blue and the sun was out. Today’s session attracted close to 20 (soon to be) parent and child cyclists. There is another session on tomorrow from 10.00-13.00 and a free bike maintenance session on Wednesday night. See here for more details.
There were a range of different cycling abilities across the twenty participants. After getting registered, organisers split them up according to skills and directed them to an appropriate area of the school and series of trainers; the front playground for beginners, the basketball court for people who were familiar with riding but needed to learn how to control their bikes and basic road skills and the back of the school for mechanical assistance. I spent the morning in each area watching people learn about cycling in one-to-one sessions and small groups. I heard stories about how quickly people were progressing from never having ridden until a few weeks ago to tackling a slalom course in the basketball courts. I observed children yelling encouragement to their mums and mum’s doing the same to their children. The session clearly made cycling look like a lot of fun.
These sessions are designed to teach both children and adults to cycle – the premise being that encouraging families to cycle as a group greatly increases the chance of children having access to a bike and opportunities to ride. It is also a terrific opportunity for parents, predominantly women in today’s session, to learn to ride in a supportive environment. Many I spoke with today had little or no experience of cycling prior to joining the group and were amazed at their developing skills.
I arrived at the workshop this week at St Michael and All Angels Church at about 19.30. Light spilled from the church hall doors and I could see and hear chatter and bikey activities taking place inside. I wasn’t even inside the doors before I was greeted warmly by Jamie, one of the organisers equipped with a clipboard. There were twelve already listed – names, type of bike and bike problem. Seven had been crossed out. Some were being seen by mechanics. Others were waiting. I arrived tonight with a touring bike and loose quill bolt issue. Not only did the organisers recognize me but they also remembered which bike I had last time and asked me how that project was going. As I waited I had a cup of tea and piece of cake. Kate had made two kinds: shortbread and lemon cake. I made a donation for the refreshments and chatted to Kate while I waited for my turn with a mechanic.
There were six mechanics working on bikes in the middle of the room. Like last time the floor was protected by a series of sheets and bikes were hanging on a series of stands. Boxes of tools sat on a table to the far left of the room but several mechanics had their own stash located nearby. People stood in clusters around the room chatting and watching.
When it was my turn, which was not long after tea and cake, I explained to the mechanic about the loose bolt in my stem. He turned the bike over, took the wheel off and got a flashlight to see into the frame. He passed the flashlight to me and talked me through what I was and wasn’t seeing in the tubing. This was the pattern of our interaction – he talked and put things into my hands. I learnt by doing and sharing the maintenance. Together we fixed he loose bolt. I pressed down on the stem wedge while he screwed it using gravity and the pressure I was applying. Turning the bike over he rattled the bike to show me it was now fixed. However this shake now revealed a loose headset. He made me do it and I felt a low thudding in the tubing. He explained the headset needed tightening. But then he did it again and said that the cones in my front wheel were loose too. Suddenly I had a list of things to do. What was a simple and quick job turned into the rest of the evening. For each task he would pass the object to me to shake, or tighten or feel what was wrong or what had changed. He showed me not only how to discern the problem but how to fix it. I learned more than I expected. Soon my hands were as black with grease as those around me.
I was interested to see even more brochures on a table near the entrance to the hall than last event. This time there was a visual guide to mending a puncture called “Bike It D.I.Y”. Kate explained how many people turn up to learn basic maintenance and these guides had been provided to help with this issue.
On the 10th October I went on a Hackney Cyclists social ride to Barnes Wetland Centre, in Southwest London. It was organised by Siobhan from Hackney Cyclists, who has been trying to get a rides programme together.
We were very lucky for weather – it was a “last day of Summer” feel and the sun shone pretty much all day. Twelve people came on the ride and I promised to produce a write-up for the Hackney Cyclists website, which should be online soon. I also mapped the ride using my GPS device and produced a map with photos on Umapper.
It was interesting to watch the dynamics of the ride; as well as taking a few pictures with my compact camera, I recorded some of it with time lapse photography on the GoPro. The long series of pictures I took between Hackney and Regents Park (one every two seconds) shows the flow of participants cycling singly, in pairs and in threes, moving apart again and back together. As someone new to group rides myself I find it great to be able to cycle along unfamiliar places and not worry about the route.
There were many quiet streets (particularly given it was a Sunday) where it was easy to cycle two abreast and the ride felt extremely sociable. Of course we also encountered some busy roads, such as the Kings Road in Chelsea. On occasion, we encountered hostility from drivers, generally this seemed to be a hostility towards a group of cyclists being on the roads at all (for example, we once got beeped by a driver who wasn’t held up but who appeared to object to cycling two abreast).
Where the group as a whole wasn’t able to cross a road or get through lights together, we stopped and waited, shouting forward to those at the front of the group. Rob, at the back, was checking we were all present; while Siobhan at the front was frequently looking back to ensure we were all following her.
Today I attended cycle training for parents of children studying at Parkwood Primary School, in the North of the borough near Finsbury Park. This is a project whose funding (from TfL and the London Cycling Campaign) was secured by Transition Finsbury Park. Amita and Nursen, the cycle trainers, led the eight trainees (all mums) to Finsbury Park. The sun was shining and everyone was keen to get out as the last session had been rained off. It was a diverse group – including one woman originally from Bangladesh, several Turkish women and one from Madrid. Most were complete or very recent beginners.
The bikes needed a bit of adjusting – we were one short so I lent my bike to Rosa, after lowering the seat – but everyone was excited to be out in the Finsbury Park basketball courts, also used by Pedal Power. Last week was the first time the session had run in the park; before there had been a couple of sessions in the primary school playground. This had a couple of downsides: firstly, the tight corners and small space, and secondly, the attention of the children inside the building! (although this could also be encouraging; “Come on Mum!”).
The first time the group got to Finsbury Park, they were speeding around and whooping, enjoying the space and the freedom. This week too there were lots of smiles although also trepidation among the complete beginners. It reminded me of my recent tandem experience – when it’s new, it’s quite scary and learning to balance takes a lot of effort. Amita and Nursen helped the complete beginners, holding the bikes and encouraging them, while also managing to provide more advanced training for some of the other participants who’d attended previous sessions (like emergency braking lessons).
I attended Hackney Cyclists’ monthly meeting last night. The first item on the agenda was the new Cycle Crime Unit, part of the local police. This has been set up by two PCs, Maz and Nicola, who are enthusiastic about tackling cycle theft and reuniting bikes with owners. The project is a pilot, which has been given three months in which to prove itself – it does not have any dedicated funding but Maz and Nicola are working on it full time during this period.
They have a lot of ideas and also challenges – bike theft knows no borough boundaries so it is necessary to liaise with forces outside the borough and access their records too. Information held on the various databases is sometimes inaccurate or incomplete. To fully check out a bike takes a lot of work. For example, they find a stolen black Specialized Sirrus. Firstly, they check the frame number in a drop down box on the police computer; if it is not recognised, they must then search for “Black Specialized Sirrus”, which may bring up 29 stolen in the Met area in the past six months. Then, someone has to trawl through records – phoning up victims and checking descriptions.
As well as tightening up investigation procedures, Maz and Nicola want to encourage cycle owners to record and register (e.g. on Immobilise) as many details as possible about their bicycle, to improve chances of recovery. The frame number is crucial, but owners should also keep a photo of their bike and a description of it. (Apparently, sometimes people don’t remember the brand – and even the colour – of their bike). Improving awareness of what constitutes good bike locking was also discussed, as was encouraging more bike shops to record details of bikes purchased.
Maz and Nicola are keen to receive feedback on the initiative and suggestions (their email address is on the leaflet copied below).