If America can do it, so can anyone

For a long time, Memphis has been looking at ways to better connect the city and the waterfront. One suggestion was to remove a couple of car lanes and convert them into bike and pedestrian areas.

Riverside Drive

The idea is that it would make the area more attractive to people who weren’t in cars. The good news is that it seems to have worked.

[…] for the price of some plastic bollards and new street coloring, Memphis has opened one of the best streets in the mid-South for biking, walking, skating and playing.

Read all about it here.

Surely if America, home to the biggest gas guzzler cars of them all, can do this, then anyone can!

Vätternrundan 2014: Part 4: Ölmstad to Fagerhult

With the wind at our backs and some good downhill sections we really picked up the pace. Heading towards the southern end of the lake and the turn north at Jönköping we were hitting our maximum speed of just over 60kmh several times. When we got to Jönköping we were forty minutes ahead of schedule but it was not to last.What had been a tailwind had turned into a headwind and a very strong one at that. We were also heading into several long uphill sections and the pace dropped considerably. Two major uphill sections of over 5km each were killing us. In fact, over the next 50km we lost all the time we had made up and were only just keeping up with our schedule.

Morale in the team sank a bit and it became very quiet. Nobody was chatting anymore, everyone was totally focused on just keeping going. To make things worse, the group got slightly separated from each other and some outsiders forced their way into our lines. This made it difficult to rotate the team and keep the guys at the front fresh. I was stuck right at the back and in the end I had to just sit there and watch everyone else suffer while I had it easy stuck out on the tail. One of the girls was also starting to feel sick. She couldn’t eat or drink without becoming nauseous and, of course, that just made things even worse. This really was our low point.

Luckily it wasn’t too far to Fagerhult. We got a rest some food into us.

blueberry-soup

We also took the chance to reorganise the group. One guy stayed at the back making sure those who were struggling could keep up while those of us who still felt strong rotated at the front a lot faster to keep everyone feeling in top condition.

So far it had been a struggle but we’d had no mechanical issues. That was about to change.

Vätternrundan 2014: Part 3: Motala to Ölmstad

And so we were off. We headed south out of Motala towards our first stop. Unlike most people we did not plan to stop at all the pit areas. We had planned four stops totalling just 45 minutes. Our first goal was Ölmstad which was 83 km away.

There was a huge board telling us the start time of the next group and counting down to our start time. One group departed every two minutes so it was important to pay attention.

vr-start

As we left Motala it was a lovely day, blue skies and, most importantly, the wind at our back.

The roads were almost completely free of cars as everybody had been encouraged not to drive in the area unless they had to. Unfortunately we got stuck behind another group who were going slower than us but not slow enough to make it easy to overtake them. They were very jerky in their tempo, constantly accelerating and braking which made it difficult to be close behind them.

After about one hour there were suddenly shouts from in front of us. There had been an accident ahead and an ambulance was partially blocking the road. Rather than gradually slowing or just steering round the obstacle, everyone in the leading group slammed their brakes on. If you’ve ever done group cycling then you know this is very dangerous as we ride so close to each other, usually not more than about 20 centimetres off the back tyre of the bike in front. Luckily we were all able to stop safely and the chaos of the situation allowed us to get by the other group. Sadly, as we passed the ambulance, we saw that it was a Fredrikshof group that was down. We learned later that the sub 9 group had crashed but nobody was seriously injured. A few broken bones and a lot of cuts and bruises, 5 guys out of the race but everyone lived to fight another day and that’s the most important thing.

Once we had cleared the slower group we really started motoring. It was a beautiful day and the countryside was lovely, reminding me a lot of my home in Ireland but we couldn’t take the time to appreciate it. With the wind at our backs we set to it in earnest pedalling as hard as we could to make the best of the favourable conditions.

After just under three hours we arrived in Ölmstad for an all-too-short break (just five minutes). It was a real splash and dash. Run to the loo, refill the water bottles, grab as much food as we could and back on the bikes. As with everything else, the pit area was really well organised. Plenty of racks to hang the bikes on, lots of toilets and loads of helpful and friendly volunteers manning the food stations. We had just enough time to check our progress compared to the plan. So far we were about 20 minutes ahead of schedule.

At this point I was still feeling great but could we keep this pace up?

Vätternrundan 2014: Part 2: Pre-race

Every year Motala hosts Cycle Week, a whole week dedicated biking and home to various cycle races ranging from 1300m for 6-7 year old kids, up to the blue riband 300km race around the whole lake.

My mother-in-law always rides Tjejvättern, a 100km race for women only. She’s in no way competitive and takes her sweet time about getting round to get the most for her entry fee. This year we decided to head down to Motala a week early to check things out, get all the last minute bits and pieces I needed and then wave her across the finish line.

The whole town really gets behind the event. All the taxis get fitted with bike racks, the town centre is blocked to all traffic except buses and official vehicles and stalls pop up all over the places selling everything you could possibly need at some very knocked down prices. I’d already bought most of what I needed but a last minute puncture left me needing some new inner tubes. Two Continental tubes for 200SEK, not bad. I also picked up some Grip Grab gloves for 150SEK and a Bianchi foot pump for 349SEK. I also sorted out my food needs by buying the Enervit Vätternrundan “loader” and race packages.

With that all done we cheered on my mother-in-law then headed back to Stockholm for the final training session.

One week later and we had the car packed up and were on our way back to Motala.

Bicycle on the rack

The team met up on Friday night to have some dinner and sort out the final details for Saturday. We then headed home for some rest before our early start the next morning. I needed to get up at 0400 to be in town at 0515 and ready to start at 0546. As you can see I was taking it very seriously…

Pre-race diet

Everyone arrived in time. A few people had forgotten things. One guy forgot his sunglasses, I forgot to put on sun screen and so on but nothing major. The time flew by and soon we were ready for the start of our 300km adventure.

Fredrikshof Sub-12

There were lots of Fredrikshof groups and most started around the same time. Every two minutes about 70 cyclists headed over the line. At 0546 it was our turn.

Next time we’ll see how it went on the first part of the race.

Vätternrundan 2014: Part 1: Prep

My main reason for getting back on my bike a year ago was that I have decided to try and complete the Svenskklassiker race series. I did Halvklassikern three years ago and the cycling was by far the hardest part, so I started with the cycling this time. That meant tackling Vätternrundan, a 300km bike ride around Sweden’s second largest lake.

I figured that I would never make it round on my own so I signed up for Fredrikshof’s sub-12 group. Put simply, this meant that our goal was to get round the course in a total time under 12 hours. Not a bad challenge considering that most people take 14+ hours. There were 11 in the team ranging from total noobs like me to very experienced guys who have done VR in sub-9 groups.

We met up most Tuesdays and Thursdays through March, April and May for 50-60km rides around the Märsta / Arlanda area. These usually took us about 2 hours. We’d then meet up on the weekend and do anything from 50 up to 170km. The one big struggle we had was synchronising everyone’s real life commitments with the training sessions so we never managed to get the whole group together at one time. There was a core of five or six who came regularly and the rest came as they were able. Fortunately we had a great team leader who knew exactly what we needed to be doing to be ready in time.

sub12-training

They say that to make it round Vättern you need to have covered at least 1000km. 2000km is needed if you plan to go any sort of fast and 3000km if you want it to be comfortable. From buying my new bike last June to the start this June I covered a little over 2500km of which about 1800 was done this year. Tune in next time to see how it went…

Stockholm is the new Amsterdam

In the latest science fiction novel by Arthur D. Little (The Future of Urban Mobility 2.0, Imperatives to shape extended mobility ecosystems of tomorrow ((http://www.uitp.org/sites/default/files/members/140124%20Arthur%20D.%20Little%20%26%20UITP_Future%20of%20Urban%20Mobility%202%200_Full%20study.pdf))), Stockholm stands out for having one of the best-developed networks of cycle paths. Stockholm ranks second out of 84 worldwide, first out of 19 in Western Europe and beats Copenhagen & Amsterdam. No more, no less.

Stockholm: 57.4 points, 2 out of 84 worldwide, 1 out of 19 in Western Europe. The Swedish capital stands out for having one of the best- developed networks of cycle paths: its bike lane network is the third most dense in the world, with 4,041km of lanes per 1,000 sq km. It has a high rate of public sector initiatives, and its multi-modal SL-Access smart card has a penetration of 0.64 cards per capita. As a result of this forward-thinking approach, it ranks above average for transport-related emissions, with one of the lowest concentrations of nitrogen dioxide and particulates (NO2 and PM10) in the air in the world. What’s more, its traffic-related death rate is amongst the lowest in the survey.

The novel is a great read for anyone who likes fantasy fiction and Arthur D. Little is definitively a brilliant writer. One could almost believe the City of Stockholm made it to the first place just because it has the highest cycle path network density but I’m sure there is more to it and I can’t wait for the sequel The Future of Urban Mobility 3.0! Until then I can only speculate on other possible reasons The Capital of Scandinavia rules (almost) the world.

To outperform the competition Stockholm must have a secret weapon that others don’t. And I believe it to be the “felanmälan” (fault report). Simple as that: a powerful tool that solves all problems effortlessly. Imagine that.

Ice? Write a felanmälan and it's gone.

You’re riding (or trying to keep both wheels on the ground) and notice there’s way too much ice on the cycle path. You take a picture and send it to the City of Stockholm. Answer: “if you aren’t satisfied with the situation, please report this to us”. You do so using the extensive fault report system and problem solved: you said there was ice!

Bus on the cycle path? Write a felanmälan and it's gone.

Now let’s say you’re riding (or trying to stay alive on a narrow cycle path next to speeding motorists) and you notice a bus parked on what is supposed to be your safety zone. You take a picture and send it to the City of Stockholm. Answer: “if you aren’t satisfied with the situation, please report this to us”. You do so using the extensive fault report system and problem solved: this bus is gone and replaced by another one.

Stockholm might have the highest cycle path network density but it’s not enough to make the city rank first in Western Europe. I’m sure Arthur D. Little must have some nice surprises waiting for us in the next chapter: could the “felanmälan” be one? What do you think? Have you got your own theory?

On a different note, a month ago I ordered a Stockholm City Bikes access card (the one that is supposed to be delivered within 3 days according to the computer screen) and I still haven’t received it. I know the bicycle sharing system only runs from April to October (did Arthur D. Little know that?) so I guess the card has still plenty of time to reach the mailbox. Otherwise, “if I’m not satisfied with the situation…”. I know, I know.

some pretty out there solutions

Cycle in town

Everyone agrees that something needs to be done to make our inner cities more bike-friendly. The problem is that nobody seems to agree on exactly how that should be achieved. At the one extreme you have bikers who say we should ban all cars, at the other are the drivers who think they should be able to mow done those cockroach cyclists who flout every rule in the book at every available opportunity.

Of course the real solution is somewhere in the middle. There are only two ways major change is going to happen though. Either the politicians need to get behind a serious move for change and give it a serious budget rather than just spouting platitudes and buzzwords or there will eventually be a major spate of cyclist deaths in towns which will stun everyone into action.

While everyone dithers around and doesn’t actually do anything, why not read about some more extreme suggestions that are being floated for how to fix London.

in figures, October 2013… or not

The plan was to keep track of my relationship with the commuter over a 12 month period but I’m afraid it won’t happen. I’m sure my 3 month old baby girl has something to do with it as she likes to go to the stables at night and play with the bike computer but I obviously will never be able to prove that she pressed the reset button (if you really want to know, on October 31st, the screen said 115 kilometres which is pretty much what I rode in the last 4 days of that month).

So no figures for October 2013 but a (new) picture of me riding to work instead. Beautiful autumn in Stockholm and, as you can see, snow is late this year.

Cycling on ice

But let’s change subject to what made my day miserable yesterday: I commuted by public transit. Due to circumstances beyond my control I have been commuting to Kista the last two days (which for someone living in the southern parts of Stockholm is close to the worst punishment ever) and, to make things even worse, commuter trains traffic was cancelled after a freight train derailed right before Stockholms södra yesterday morning. ((http://www.thelocal.se/20131112/rush-hour-derailment-snarls-stockholm-train-traffic))

One could argue this was bad luck and – hopefully – does not happen often but it still shows how fragile Stockholm’s rail infrastructure still is in 2013: one train derails and thousands of commuters are affected. Only two tracks (one way) support all traffic at this particular location and even a minor glitch has enormous consequences. But the issue is being addressed and the Capital of Scandinavia will spend one billion Swedish kronor on the cycling infrastructure over the next two hundred years. Oh wait… Does the railway network also need maintenance and improvements now?

The rest of the journey was business as usual with a traffic stop on the subway red line, a quick switch to the green line in Slussen and a I-am-glad-I-am-in-good-shape-and-can-walk switch to the blue line at Stockholm’s central station. Kista, here I am, one hour later.

I’ll spare you the details of the never ending commute back home via the brand new tramway line because… I just want to forget about it and pretend I did not just waste another hour of my life.

Commuting by bike to Kista

Anyway, I was not going to endure the SL pain two days in a row and so, today, I rode my bicycle instead: 20 kilometers in 50 minutes (one way). Now tell me: what was I thinking yesterday when I chose public transit over the fastest means of transportation in any (relatively) big city around the world? But like October’s mileage, I guess I’ll never know.

south pole bike expedition

You might have read my recent story about applying rule 5 by cycling to and from work even though it was pouring with rain and bitterly cold. I was feeling so proud of myself then this guy comes along and ruins it…

Juan Menendez Granados

Juan Menendez Granados plans to cycle to the South Pole! Weather conditions may prevent him from cycling the whole way but he plans to do as much as possible on his specially built bike. You can read all about it on the BBC’s news site here or on Juan’s own official site here.

Now that’s what I call hardening the fuck up!

A cyclists conscience is hard to satisfy

When I looked out the window this morning it was 3.5 degrees and pouring with rain.

Conscience

The guy on the right shoulder said, “Go on, you know you should cycle to work. You need to keep cycling and get used to crappy weather.” but the guy on the right said, “If you take the train you can watch the latest episode of The Walking Dead and be dry and warm.”

I thought about it for a while then got dressed, switched on my bike lights and hit the road. 50 minutes later I arrived at work cold and wet but feeling like a very good boy.

Rule 5: CHECK!