Newsletter for Summer 2002
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Editorial - Beware 'Big Projectitus'

Spokes was very well represented at the Cycle Campaign Network Conference at Dorchester where Steven Norris, Chairman of the National Cycling Strategy Board gave a very interesting description of hubris and nemesis." I put together the National Cycling Strategy when I was the Minister. That’s hubris. After I left office nothing happened. Then last year John Spellar became Minister and everything changed. He called me in and said, "Steve you thought of all these standards, now go and deliver. That’s nemesis."


Describing how governments are subject to Big Projectitus, a term coined by Sustrans Director John Grimshaw, he told of a conversation with Denis Healey, "Healey said a billion here, a billion there……..Soon you are talking about quite serious money. All ministers are preoccupied with huge projects. Yet cycling breaks this rule. By spending pathetically small amounts of money, huge improvements can be made in cycling provision. The cost of a small by-pass would quadruple the national cycle network. The cost of one mile of motorway would increase it ten times. The benefits are enormous

Sam Webb

Steven Norris welcomes good ideas from cyclists. You can write to him at The National Cycling Strategy Board, Great Minster House, London, SW1P 4DR.
Congratulations to Sustrans who have just been awarded the Queen’s Award to Industry as we go to press.

'Bent bike is one to be seen on

‘Cool bike mister’, ‘do a wheelie’ or ‘what’s it like up hills’ and hoots of surprised laughter are the most common reactions people have to someone riding a recumbent bike.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve met each one during the three months since I bought my Optima Lynx. Roughly speaking, if you swapped the front wheel with the front gear mech and replaced the saddle with a seat, you’ll have a rough idea of what it looks like. Someone even suggested the smaller front wheel had been pinched off an errand boy's bike and 'wouldn't the basket look nice to go with it?'

It all means you’re lying back in the seat with your legs outstretched while the handlebars come up between your knees. Overall, you’re a lot lower to the road but, interestingly enough, your head is at the same height as anybody sat in a car.

This style of machine is nothing new but recumbents first came to prominence in the 1930s after winning the Tour de France. With their noses characteristically put out of joint at this outrage, the French cycling authorities banned recumbents from ever taking part again and effectively sidelined them over night to be enjoyed only by the more individual type of cyclist. Certainly a recumbent is not for someone who has a retiring nature or wishes to travel incognito.

Something different in a bike was what I wanted – and that’s what I got. A key advantage is no saddle gnawing away at your hindquarters. Plan your gear changing and with a little effort – and putting your back into the seat – you’ll be able to tackle most hills without too much heaving and straining.

The general riding technique calls for a careful approach. When I first took to the road, the steering felt a lot lighter than a diamond bike, to the point I was trying to avoid scratching my nose for fear of falling off while riding with only one hand on the bar.

Just in case motorists driving behind fail to see me, I have a selection of reflective stickers attached as well as a safety flag to alert them of my presence. A Union Jack or skull and cross bones flags are added according to mood.

To date, I've had no problems getting the bike on and off Connex's assortment of ancient and modern rolling stock. I did have a smile though when a father brought his two curious sons from the next carriage along the train for a closer look at the bike while it stood in a gangway.

A recumbent bike is an unusual sight on our roads and for that reason alone you are quite visible – it's a fair bet you'll get more looks than a Ferrari driver. Seeing one usually brings a smile to the faces of spectators as you glide past and surprise to all motorists behind who realise they might have to give you a wider than usual berth.

Nick Evans


Boniface comes up to the border on his bicycle. He has two large bags on his shoulders. The guard stops him and asks "What else in that bags?" Boniface answers, "Sand."
The guard says, " We’ll just see about that."
The guard takes the bags and rips them apart. He empties them out and finds nothing but sand. He detains Boniface overnight and has the sand analysed at a poorly funded laboratory only to find that there is nothing but pure sand in the bags.
The guard releases Boniface, puts the sand in new bags and lets him cross the border.
A week later the same things happens.
The guard asks, "What hev you got in thet bags?
"Sand" says Boniface.
The guard does his own thorough examination and concludes that the bags must contain nothing but sand. Boniface crosses the border on his bicycle.
This sequence of events is repeated every week for three years.
Finally Boniface doesn’t show up one day and the guard bumps into him at a beer hall.
" I know you are smuggling something. It is driving me penga. It is all I think about…. I can’t sleep at night. Between you and me, what are you smuggling?
Boniface takes a huge slurp and says, "Bicycles!"

We are looking forward to news from Beatrice Shire, one of the original Canterbury Cycle Campaigners, now living and working in Uganda

Poetry competition - PEDALLING POETS

Many thanks to all those who sent in VELO LOVE poems in response to the February Valentine competition. The winning poem is "SOLO" by Janet Farley of Dartford, Kent. A well-deserved prize is yours.


I spoke too softly
No one to hear
The wind in my hair
I was in top gear.

My pedals propelled me
My heart was in shape
Strong beats in rhythm
As I rode to escape.

Spokes casting messages
into the air
A slide of the gears
And then brake, I am there.

Paramedic bike gets there fast - Ian Colquhoun is one of the UK’s first cycling paramedics, an idea now taken up by a number of other ambulance areas. Like all good ideas it is deceptively simple and cost effective.

A new ambulance costs £80,000 with a daily fuel cost of £80-£120. His bike cost £1,000 fully equipped. Daily running costs are nil. Each day Ian covers 20 miles in Norwich city centre as a miniature intensive care unit.

An ambulance takes at least 8 minutes to get to an accident in the centre, and sometimes as long as 35. Ian takes on average 2 minutes, the longest has been 5 minutes. Last year he answered 2,000 calls and has told of 4 heart attack victims who would not be alive today if he had not been on duty. Often he is so quick on the scene he will arrive while the person making the 999 call is still on the phone.

Ian Colquhoun was speaking at the CCN Conference in Dorchester. Spokes hopes to bring him to Canterbury before too long.

Cycling Projects Fund: National Cycling Strategy

Individual Grants £250 - £50,000 are available to any organisation in the public or private sector (traffic authorities are excluded) for projects committing matching funds. Application forms from Bob Richards DTLR. Telephone: 0207 944 2979.

Cycle Shorts

Charges dropped for cyclists on towpath

British Waterways has dropped the £12.50 charge imposed five years ago on cyclists riding the Kennet and Avon towpath between Reading and Bristol. Cyclist who have bought one this year are entitled to a refund.

Profile on Sustrans manager Ray - Ray started work for Sustrans last June having ‘retired’ from local government a few months earlier.

He has lived in Maidstone for the last 16 years and worked for Rochester upon Medway and then Medway Councils. He has always been a keen cyclist and frequently cycled to Rochester/Chatham to work. He still races his mountain bike in the Grand Vets category!

He knows much of the county very well and has already cycled all of the NCN in both directions. He has also cycled most of the regional network with Rob Smith as part of the ‘Kent review’.

His main task is to complete the NCN in the south east by the end of 2005. He is working closely with KCC, Medway C, East Sussex CC and the 17 district councils supporting them wherever possible. In addition to the work on the NCN Ray is also promoting sustainable transport initiatives to deliver more cycling routes and a better choice in travel modes. He is also responsible for the coordination of the Sustrans area team across the south east from Hampshire to Kent.

You can contact Ray on 01622 609711 or email him at

The Fencemaster - There’s an office in Central London which overlooks a railing. The railing is actually in front of a brick wall and was an ideal spot for one of the office workers to park his bike.

One day he returned to his bike to find a sign threatening removal of any bikes chained to the railing from then on. Ever since that day he has made a protest by chaining non-bikes to the railings. Every few days, a new item is attached and recorded for posterity photographically.

The fence now has its own website: and you can mail in your own suggestions as well as see pictures of previous objects, which include an ironing board, a stuffed tiger and a pot of tea!

Cycling in the Land of the Rising Sun - Konnichi wa (hello) from the Land of Shimano and mama-chan. I’ve now been living in Tokyo for two years, and I’m still pedalling. Cycling in Tokyo is a challenge, but as always when cycling you see things that you would never encounter otherwise and therefore you continue.

Cycling is an everyday activity in Japan. It covers short trips rather than longer journeys, unless you are a giijin (foreigner) and not defeated by distances or traffic. Therefore one doesn’t find many shiny Shimano-geared racing or touring bikes. Most Japanese use mama-chan, a lady shopper bike. Fitted with a basket, and either 3 gears or none at all, this bike is perfect for trips between home and station carrying the shopping, children or other bulky loads such as cardboard boxes or worse. As there are hardly any cycling paths in the city, you have to either share the pavements with masses of slow moving pedestrians or try the busy roads. It’s no great joy, but safe, as Japanese motorists take great care not to knock you over, unlike in other countries.

The connection between bike and train, Japan’s No. 1 method of transport, with a 99.9% punctuality rate, is very well organized. Every station has bike parking areas nearby, where you can park for one year after purchasing a Yen 3,000 sticker. Apart from these communal bike parking spaces there is hardly any other to be found.

For car-free cycling you can try the cycle circuits in some public parks. If this is not your cup of oocha (tea), then why not take your bike on the train? As there are no guard’s vans you have to pack your bike very small and wrap it up in a travel bag. A folding bike comes really handy here, and from my own experience I recommend it. If you don’t mind the weight on your arms, the endless flights of stairs and zillions of other passengers, you can escape into quieter areas for a relaxing spin along rivers or rice paddies.

Apparently Hokkaido, Japan’s northern island, is a so called cycle-paradise with less traffic, wide streets, cycle paths and open countryside. I am going to check it out in the summer!

For more information on cycling in Japan: Or read "Cycling in the Neon Sun" by Josie Dew, which shows how different cycling in Japan can be.

Sayonara and Happy Cycling, Natalie Wilden.

Cycling on the Oz Motorway system - Pedestrians, holders of provisional car driving licences, motorcycles under 50cc, horse riders, agricultural vehicles and invalid carriages. So what’s missing?

It is, of course, a list of vehicles not allowed on motorways – to which should be added cyclists.

But not if you live in Queensland Australia, apparently. On my recent visit there I was surprised to notice the word "cyclists" blanked out from many of the highways (motorways), including this example which is a section of the Brisbane to Gold Coast Highway. Had I chosen to do so I could have blasted down the slip road on my bike and slid neatly into one of the many available lanes. And so many to choose from!

So what had given rise to this bizarre situation. Apparently Queensland had found itself lagging behind the rest of Australia in the cycling provision stakes and someone had worked out that by the stroke of a pen, so to speak, they could rise to the top of the league table.

Sadly there is now a sequel to this bizarre story. Only last month a motorcyclist was killed on the motorway between Ipswich and Brisbane when a cyclist (pushbike) lost control in front of him. The cyclist escaped with minor injuries. As a result the motorways have now been closed to cyclists again. It is interesting to note that the cyclists have said they didn't want access to motorways in the first place.

Malcolm Trott

Helmet law? - the case for - Some people question the validity of wearing helmets when biking.  Some are afraid that if the UK were to enact a helmet law that the number of people biking would decrease.  Others worry about vanity and peer pressure.

I would like to see a helmet law enacted for people under the age of eighteen for several reasons.  One major reason is because of a young man I have never met, but whose valiant attempt at rehabilitation has touched my heart.  At sixteen, he was an excellent student, an ace athlete and a well-rounded person with lots of friends.  Today, because he was biking on a country lane without a helmet, was struck by a car and suffered serious head injuries, he is semi-paralysed, with severe disabilities, requiring a wheel chair and constant help.  He is so miserable and depressed, but most of all, frustrated, because his thinking skills are not diminished.

If all children were required to wear a helmet by law, parents would not have to 'be the bad guys' and peer pressure would be eliminated.  Biking helmets come in all sorts of shapes and colours and can often be customized with decals and such. We would be protecting all children from serious head injuries and perhaps start a trend amongst adults.  I have never seen professionals ride without helmets.  Isn't it time we started to think about this and perhaps set 'the wheels in motion' to make wearing helmets, at least amongst our young people, a law? If we save just one person from injury, it would be worth it.  I welcome comments and views on this subject.

Jackie Oliver

Stop Press

Andy McNally our current Chairman will be stepping down at the AGM in September. We are looking for nominations.

Last change: 18 November 2002