MJR's slef-reflections


Fuel Price Bleating and Biking

Tue, 27 May 2008 10:17:26 +0100

[Photo of Cyclists]
England swings like a pendulum do!

There's another fuel price protest and the coverage in the London press is pretty biased, with occasional balanced reports and very rare dissenting opinion.

One of the favourite whines on news-and-nutters phone-ins is "waah, I live in a village, I need my car". While that's true for some people, most villagers could switch to bicycles for many journeys without problems.

At the moment, the biggest problem with cycling to town is the number of cars on the small lanes, followed by the number of potholes. Switching to cycling or walking will have a triple benefit: fewer cars on the road will free up space for cycling, wear the roads out less and reduce fuel demand (so petrol should become cheaper for those who really need it).

Over the last few days, I've been happy to read Bike The Drive 2008 [Dirk Eddelbuettel], Mountainbike, By Joerg Jaspert and How to Start Bicycling to Work, by John Goerzen.

A couple of tweaks to that last one: in England, I don't think that a cycling helmet is necessary. I've not worn one for the last few months (it went mouldy after a rain storm) - I find I can hear traffic better and many drivers seem to give me more room on the road. I wonder if helmet-wearing "dehumanises" cyclists to drivers? The safety data seems rather confused, but it's a personal choice. If you feel safer with a helmet, wear one. I also wear ordinary business or casual clothes, relying on a good quality commuter saddle rather than cycling shorts. I suspect that drivers here are developing a sort of blindness to the "screaming yellow" hi-vis jackets, so I don't wear those - but sometimes I wear hi-vis reflective armbands if I'm wearing black in the dark. I agree completely with the comments on that page about being predictable, Cateye lights and pannier bags.

Finally, Bike Week 2008 starts on 14 June, which would be an ideal time to try a group ride - or just get a free breakfast for cycling into town.

Update: Wheelism: How To Commute By Bicycle and Drake.org.uk: The Pushbike Song - it's a veritable wave!

Tags: cycling, life, travel, wsm.

Comments On This Entry

Submitted at 1100 on 27 May by niq

I've repeatedly written to the mainstream media on the subject that the rural poor stand to benefit most from much higher costs of motoring. And that's speaking from personal experience.

Rationale: the underlying problem is that society is increasingly built around cheap motoring, and marginalises those of us without a car. So the poor, along with those who can't/won't drive for other reasons such as infirmity, are socially excluded.

They've never published any of my letters on the subject. I guess that's because the journos responsible are the urban rich, and cling to their supposed justification of their own privileges.

Submitted at 1249 on 27 May by markrian

"One of the favourite whines on news-and-nutters phone-ins is 'waah, I live in a village, I need my car'. While that's true for some people, most villagers could switch to bicycles for many journeys without problems."

Care to justify that claim?

Submitted at 1341 on 27 May by MJ Ray

I think it's obvious, but I'll try to explain the justification. Let me know if there's particular aspects of it that need more detail, or if you have conflicting evidence.

Probably 1 in 6 villagers have a long-term limiting illness which may prevent them cycling (but not for sure, as recumbents and other adaptations may enable some of those to switch). That still leaves most villagers who could switch. At most 70% are drivers anyway, according to figures from recent Post Office closure consultations.

Now, looking at Focus on Personal Travel: 2005 Edition, note that most car trips are made for commuting, business or leisure purposes. Some business trips are probably too long and You can also see how short many trips are, with average leisure and commuting trip lengths of well under 10 miles - easily cyclable.

I'm leaving shopping and education out of it for now but that's still many trips, which is what I claimed.

With a bit more thought, some of those shopping and longer business trips could switch too, by mixing cycling with coaches, trains and delivery vans. For example, only 7% of households had any non-takeaway food and drink delivered (if I'm reading Table 3.10 correctly - seems a bit of a confusing presentation there).

Another data point is comparing our country with some other European ones - we're not that different, demographically, but have a far lower cycle trip percentage (2% compared with up to 27% (Source: Mynors and Savell 1992)), so I suspect we have a huge potential to increase that.

Submitted at 1406 on 27 May by Andrew

I clipped a kerb while cycling in the rain once, and I'll never forget the crack of the helmet or the view from my head bouncing off the footpath. That would have been my skull otherwise, so I'm going to keep taking my chances with a helmet :)

Submitted at 1422 on 27 May by MJ Ray

I'm glad it helped you! Did you know that heading a kerb is exactly what helmets are designed for?

Slightly frivolous response: that's not a major worry for me. Most of Kewstoke's roads don't have kerbs, the hedges are a fairly soft landing and a helmet probably won't help with a branch-hit or if I crash off our notorious cliff-top road.

Submitted at 1456 on 27 May by markrian

Of course, I agree that there are some instances where villagers/anyone could cycle, or walk instead of using the car.

What I disagree with is that you seem to be implying that because many villagers' journeys could be done without cars, they therefore don't need cars at all. It's hardly 'whining' if your village has poor-to-no public transport links with the rest of the country.

Submitted at 1619 on 27 May by Gunnar Wolf

I was once hit, fortunately at low speed, by a car while biking. The driver pushed me to my right, at the back of my bike. My hind wheel was bent, although not too badly. And... Well, of course, I fell on the road. I was cycling down a regular road (we almost don't have cyclist-only paths in my country). I thought the impact was really minimal, as I had no pain or bruises, only my pants were slightly scratched, but not as badly as to get me not to wear them anymore. But when I took off my helmet, it was practically broken in half. I never go out without a helmet again. If it didn't save my life, at least you can be sure it spared me from a big, nasty incident.

Submitted at 1749 on 27 May by Simon Farnsworth

Another whine about fuel duty, but one that's impossible to get into the mainstream media:

Right now, it takes me 2 hours (each way) to get to work via bike and public transport, at a cost of £15/day. It takes me an hour to drive (again, each way), at a cost (including amortizing insurance, servicing, VED etc, not just fuel) of £6/day - £2 of that is fuel. Further, thanks to the way trains work out (changes and crowding), those two hours are as unproductive as the hour spent driving; I cannot work on the train.

The reason I live so far from work is that my wife and I have made a joint decision to live within walking distance of her workplace, so that we only need one car. I've therefore bought the most fuel efficient diesel vehicle I could afford at the time I last changed cars.

The government is constantly telling me to use public transport more, and drive less; the vast majority of my driving is commuting, and so to make any major impact on my car use, I need a reasonable alternative to driving. There are no bus services that carry me the full distance (even allowing for two changes each way), and the train is slower, less convenient, and more expensive.

If UK.GOV had any guts, they'd hold to the fuel duty rise, and use the funds to subsidise public transport; I would tolerate a 2 hour journey each way if I could work while I travelled, and it was cheaper than driving - I'd use part of the cost savings to pay for mobile Internet access. Unfortunately, there seems to be no political will to do this sort of thing.

Submitted at 2335 on 27 May by MJ Ray

@markrian - "What I disagree with is that you seem to be implying that because many villagers' journeys could be done without cars, they therefore don't need cars at all" - that's almost completely imaginary. I still co-own a car and I think there are arguments for continuing car ownership, so I'm pretty unhappy about the VED charge increases, but the above was really about the fuel duty complaints. (I linked the wrong article from the Daily Mail, but I think that's about the only one not about the fuel protests.) Reducing car use looks fairly simple, even in the villages.

Ideally, we'd see some village car clubs, but car clubs generally only seem to work in the cities yet, as far as I know, with the possible exception of Moorcar.

Even more ideally, reduced car use would attract public transport to more villages, for the reasons niq outlined above. This would be especially good for villagers who don't have access to cars already and who have to rely on taxis or pre-booked services like Weston dial-a-ride.

@Gunnar Wolf - wow! Rear strikes are relatively rare here (again, as far as I know) and I wonder whether the helmet cracked simply because it hit a sharp edge (at least if that helmet was made to similar low standard as European ones), but glad you're OK.

For what it's worth, my last serious bike crash that I remember was at least 14 years ago. I rode off the highway in error and was thrown back across it by the collision. Fortunately, there was no other traffic about, but helmets aren't designed to stop me being run over anyway.

@Simon Farnsworth - yes, that's a difficult situation. I'm not sure it's entirely for gov.uk to solve (maybe your work could help reduce commuting by helping with flexitime or home working) but they could do something. Maybe we should try a system where fuel is taxed differently depending on why it's bought - one rate for leisure, another for commuting, another for essential business. Like red diesel taken to an extreme.

By the way, when I was doing a lunatic 50-mile commute 3 days a week, I used to get some work done by listening to podcasts (before they were called podcasts, possibly).

Comments are moderated (damn spammers) but almost anything sensible gets approved (albeit eventually). If you give a web address, I'll link it. I won't publish your email address unless you ask me to, but I'll email you a link when the comment is posted, or the reason why it's not posted.

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