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A long-term friend in the UK is getting married next year, which means I have to find out a way to get to Newcastle via my parents house in York. Normally we go to the UK via the channel tunnel, but this time there’s a small complication because he’s getting married in August, when there will be some kind of sports event in London, so the city will be full to bursting point and beyond.
Fortunately my destination is Newcastle, far up in the frozen north where trolls live, so there are alternatives. Most likely is a train journey to Rotterdam, a peaceful nights sleep (optimism springs eternal) as we cross the North Sea by ferry and next morning, catch the train to my parents hom in York. Simple.

Except that the railway stations of both cities are some distance from the ferry terminals.

Okay, so take a bike: cycle from Rotterdam Centraal to the ferry, and from the ferry to Hull station, and while I’m at it, from York station to my parents house.
Look Rotterdam up on Google Earth. Can’t find a bike lane anywhere. Mutter dark mutterings about the claims of these blogs then realise the ‘road’ I’m looking at is a cycle lane. With a white line down the centre. Follow same from station to ferry port. Hooray for Dutch cycling infrastructure, and apologies to the above named bloggers.

Check Hull.

Oh, dear.

There’s only a few kilometres between port and railway station, but it looks as navigable as a set from ‘The Matrix’ and slightly more dangerous. The roads are a mess of dual carriageways, flyovers and roundabouts with enough space in the centre for a small farm, built when city planners knew cars were going to be the only way to travel*. There’s the occasional cycle lane for a couple of hundred metres, usually ending at road islands and dual carriageways.

Obviously the chief trolls don’t use bicycles very much.

I could give up and use a taxi through Hull, but that would mean I don’t have transport for the week or two that I’ll be in the UK, which would seem a bit silly for the sake of six kilometres, and nor would I be able to ride in Rotterdam.

The other alternative would seem to be finding a native guide, or at least a map.

So, if there are any cyclists in Hull who are versed in the secret ways of the Matrix, I’d be glad of any tips, decent maps, or better still, a local cyclist willing to guide me through hostile territory between ferry and railway station and back again a couple of weeks later.

Please get in touch through the comments or contact box. Many thanks.

*This was ensured by making lots of dual carriageways, flyovers and roundabouts so it was impossible to travel without a car.

To the German car drivers club:

May I record my gratitude to you for the lurid ill-fitting plastic jacket you sent Middle Son through our local school last month. I’m not sure how large you think children are when they start school, or what you think they’ll be called upon to do: the reflective ‘Traffic detective’ written on the back is somewhat cryptic to say the least.

He will not, however be wearing the jacket unless we have an urgent need to be spotted by a helicopter rescue team. Middle Son’s backpack has a much more subtle design, yet still manages to have enough reflective material to be visible from space and frankly if your members can’t see it, then they really shouldn’t be storming about the village in their big cars. Mind you, as they seem to be incapable of seeing the big reflective sign with the black ’30km/h’ on our street, or the or the 2 metre (6 foot) long ’7km/h’ painted on the roads nearby, I’d suggest a large minority could do with getting their eyes tested anyway.

Your claim that you “want children to be safe” is a great way to make parents feel guilty unless they force their children into these coats, but it hardly adds up as we know that the best way to keep children safe is to keep cars well away from them or have stringent speed limits, and yet the mighty Google shows that your organisation is often quoted as opposing such measures.

This is hardly a surprise: you are after all a car owners club, not a child protection society, and as such your main concern is to promote the ‘rights’ of your members. They in turn seem to feel that anything on the road that is not a motor vehicle is trespassing on their territory.

Call me mister cynical if you will but the jackets you hand out look like another attempt to reinforce the message that pedestrians are only really allowed on roads -or pavements- under protest, and that anyone venturing out into the Sacred Space For Cars* must be dressed like a radioactive teletubby, and stay out of the way of the Very Important Drivers. If children are injured by a Very Important Driver it’s their own fault; in fact, they should really stay indoors, well of the way, or go to school in their parents car.

So the jacket will stay in the cupboard, but thanks anyway.

*Which apparently includes pavements/sidewalks.

“How lovely to be home” I thought as I rode along a narrow one way street with the traffic.
“Brrrmmm, Brrrrm” Said the car behind.
“Funny, why are they doing that?” I thought. “They can’t be trying to overtake because there isn’t any space, and anyway, I’m riding as fast as the vehicle ten metres in front”
“Brrrmmm Brrrrrmmmmm” Said the car behind.
“I guess there’s something wrong with the clutch, or something” I decided.
“Brrmmmm Brrmmmmmmmm, Beeeeeep” said the car behind. It was almost alongside me now, somehow squeezing into a gap between the parked cars. The driver was waving at me, which was nice.
I waved back.*
The driver noticed they were about to drive into a parked car and stopped suddenly.
At the end of the one way system we entered a wider road and the white van pulled off. Car behind pulled past. The driver waved quite a lot this time.
I waved back again.
The driver seemed to be happy to stay with me and drove  v e r y s l o w l y  in front of me for several metres before pulling off and stopping at a house.
I would have stopped to further our aquaintance but I had an appointment to get to.

* Because they couldn’t have possibly been trying to push me to the side of the road to get past as this is a highly illegal and dangerous manoeuvre, which would only have enabled them to get a few metres further.

I finally managed to find someone with a 3-speed bike who is kind (or naive) enough to let me loose on the thing and then didn’t use it for ages.

This was because of a lack of time, or rather excuses. With the Xtracycle I can ‘go shopping’, ‘pick the boys up’, ‘run errands’ or ‘deliver a letter’, but I can’t pretend I’m carrying a weeks shopping in a handlebar basket. Then last night Beautiful Wife mentioned that we have a little more than a week before we fly home, so this morning I decided stuffit, I was going for an early ride.

I followed the river to the sea. And back again. I used back roads because on major roads cyclists are expected to use the pavement which makes life unnecessarily difficult. Back roads are usually narrow and never straight which slows cars down. And they’re more interesting.

I got lost stuck the wrong side of the river a couple of times, but I saw some interesting stuff like cormorants and herons, which considering that the rivers are encased in concrete and lined by boat yards is quite surprising. I was shadowed by a pretty big bird of prey as well, which I couldn’t identify, and flushed a stork. I also disturbed a flock of what looked like brown herons in the undergrowth when I was well out of the town.

In addition to recent discoveries, I also learned that apparently, stop signs are considered advisory, and when three cars meet on a four way junction, the one with the most aggressive driver goes first. Even if there’s a bike in front of them.

I discovered today that even in Japan, no matter how narrow a road is, how obviously it is not designed for through traffic, there’s always some drivers possessed by an urge to use it as a short cut and go barrelling along at inappropriate speeds.
I also discovered that no matter how much traffic is coming the other way and how unsafe it would be to overtake, some drivers will honk their horn to demand cyclists somehow become one with the concrete wall alongside the road and let their vehicle pass.
Isn’t it good to know that whatever our cultural differences, there are some things which unite us?

A friend has asked for ideas on ‘how to start cycling’ for someone who owns a car but wants to cycle more for transport, especially commuting. Now, I’m not terribly well qualified for this as I never owned a car and only got my driving licence when I was twenty six because we were in a rural area and I mistakenly believed I ‘needed a car’. Here are my paltry suggestions, I hope more experienced people can add others:

  • Don’t panic: the streets look scary, but they looked pretty scary on your first driving lesson too, and you made it.
  • Get a decent bike: Yes, I know supermarkets are selling ‘bargain’ bicycles, but how much are you really going to use a bike to get around if you have to pedal to get downhill with a following wind? Especially if it doesn’t have lights/mudguards/luggage rack. And your ‘expensive’ bike will still work in ten years time: your car won’t.
  • Get at least one good lock.
  • Freeze your car keys: put them in a margarine tub full of water and put it in the freezer: that way you can get at them if you need to, but it’s a lot less convenient than having them by the door.*
  • Put your bike keys by the door.
  • If you feel the need for a helmet, get one, if the idea (or cost) of a polystyrene lid puts you off, don’t.
  • Explore: bikes can go places cars only dream of. Find regular routes you are happy with. In six months your mental map of the town will look different to a motorists, so you’ll send drivers down dead end streets.
  • Always hide after giving drivers directions.
  • Learn how to ride safely. learn about blind spots, door zones et c.
  • Please, stop at red traffic signals.
  • Wave at other cyclists.
  • Learn which sort of car to watch. Locally it is Taxis, old men in big cars (especially Mercedes) and young women. Other places are different. I don’t know why.

And of course:

  • Enjoy yourself, smile and wave at drivers, even when they are swearing at you. It’s nicer than shouting back and it makes them madder than anything else you could do.

*maybe not if they’re one of those new-fangled electronic keys…

One of the positive things about doing my formative cycling in the UK is that just about anywhere else is easier by comparison -Mercedes drivers are far from the level of the British taxi driver or White Van Man- but sometimes journeys can be a little more eventful than expected, like the morning I was following an SUV down the main road after the kindergarten run. I know most cyclists think SUV’s are a destructive oil guzzling abomination on wheels, driven too often by people who use them to bully their way through traffic, but they have one advantage, when you follow on a bike everyone keeps out of the way.

Everyone that is, except for the lady in the blue Ford who decided the moment to pull out of her parking space was after the nasty big car had gone, which was just as I was alongside. I automatically keep well away from parked cars which is why instead of being crunched by a mirror I was able to veer left sharpish, and brake, which brought me right in front of a bus coming the other way for added excitement. Fortunately the bus driver was awake and had slowed in reaction to the sudden movement of the Ford, so (s)he was able to slow down in plenty of time, leaving me to wait for the Ford to clear off -driver oblivious- and for me to pull in behind.

Mr. Bus driver, I salute you sir.

The Ford driver was very apologetic, and I came home and called the bus company (a bit of positive reinforcement never hurts, after all) then reflected that if I was in the UK this wouldn’t have been a rare enough event to be worthy of a blog entry.

*Short for “Entschuldigung, ich habe sie nicht gesehen” which is the slightly less catchy German version of the British SMIDSY: “Sorry mate, I didn’t see you”

 

On the hunt for a direct route south, I found the bridge over the river Aich. The massive concrete structure is the road bridge that crosses the same valley. Of course, it would make life a lot easier for southbound cyclists if we had a cycle lane on the road bridge instead of having to ride into valley, but that would require joined up thinking…

And while I’m in this slightly cynical frame of mind, a public service announcement for drivers, especially those in our local area:

In Germany, vehicles travel on the right. Therefore, when you are driving on the left because the right hand side of the road is blocked by parked cars, you are generally expected to give way to oncoming vehicles by pulling onto the right (ie. your) side of the road when a gap in the parked cars allows you to do so. This applies even when it means you may lose three seconds off your Very Important Journey, and even when the oncoming vehicle is one of those non-motorised things called a ‘bicycle’.

I mention this because the person riding the bicycle may -to pick a random example- be an awkward Brit who learned his vehicular cycling in places like the West Midlands, and who may not be willing risk being squashed in the 50cm (2 foot) gap you have left in the gutter,  but may instead cheerfully plant both feet on the ground, regardless of irate hand signals from yourself and the lovely lady sitting next to you, and lean on the handlebars waiting for you to take your white minibus out of his way and proceed on your side of the road.

Thank you for your attention.

I don’t write about bad driving a lot here, partly because it makes cycling locally look dangerous, which it isn’t, certainly compared to the UK. Normally, 99% of the time drivers are reasonably courteous and sensible,  give room when overtaking and don’t buzz you too much.

So why is it that on certain days they seem to collectively stop thinking in their metal boxes. Is it the full moon? First day they switch the air conditioning on? Herd mentality? Or are they collectively trying to make a case for bike infrastructure? In five normally stress free kilometres I experienced the following:

10m into journey:
Oncoming car driving in my lane, trying to fit into the 2m gap between me and parked cars: fast.

30m:
Approaching junction, a car comes around a blind bend in the middle of the road and swerves around me. Not fast, but annoying.

400m: Riding in primary position uphill on a fairly busy road. Car overtakes as we approach a blind bend, forcing oncoming car almost onto the opposite pavement.

500m:
Car parked in ‘No parking’ area across kindergarten entrance.

500m:
Same car still there, engine running while driver sorts out his GPS navigator.

500m:
As I squeeze out and wait for passing car (driving at 50 in a 30 zone) another car is waiting for me to move, clearly planning to park in the ‘no parking’ zone

700m:
Car stops and opens door in front of me.

800m:
Driving in middle of road, Oncoming car drives towards me in the assumption that I’ll get out of the way. Somewhere. Certainly the driver seemed put out when I didn’t.

1km:
truck driver parks truck over half the road at a junction while he uses his phone. Then despite my having right of way, just drives off.

Thankfully soon afterwards I was able to get onto a cycle lane, just after a parked car suddenly started moving while I was passing, but that’s why we ride in prime isn’t it?

I’m used to thinking for drivers, and expect them to be unpredictable. Besides I’ve cycled in the UK and nothing in Germany compares to that. It was just weird that suddenly half the drivers in the village seemed to be unusually dozy. Then I got home and found Karl On Sea has been having the same problems. Perhaps it’s European Bad Driving day. Or volcano ash.

There were roadworks in the village. All was chaos: diggers roamed the streets;  the road bristled with traffic cones and raised manhole covers threatened passing vehicles. Then, from he north, came Fast Car Man.

Where did he come from? No-one knew, but if it was more than 200m away he would have passed a sign saying “No Entry” and another sign showing “Diversion”, pointing to the right. Perhaps he came from beyond the sign, perhaps he missed it. Whatever occurred on that fateful morning, Fast Car Man came into the centre of the village fearing nothing, because Fast Car Man had The Knowledge.

Whether it was received through the words of the ancients, or vouchsafed via his GPS Navigator, Fast Car Man knew there was another way. A narrow way, beset with cobbles, and protected by The Sign, but there, free from traffic cameras, and known to  important drivers with pressing business appointments.

Fast Car Man turned into the road, past The Sign  ‘Play Street’, and over the mysterious 3 metre long white road marking bearing the mystical ’7kmh’, for Fast Car Man was Late For Work, and drove an Expensive Vehicle. Which clearly conferred upon him the right to Drive as He Pleased.

But then Fast Car Man saw a Rogue Cyclist driving at the regulation 7km/h, right in the middle of the road, making overtaking impossible. Fast Car Man slowed to the speed of the Rogue Cyclist and revved his engine a couple of times, clearly communicating that as the driver of a Fast Car he was too important to be delayed. The Rogue Cyclist took no notice, but blatantly continued to drive on the speed limit.

There is always a way. As the Rogue Cyclist turned a corner, an empty parking space on the left hand side offered a chance. Fast Car Man could speed down there and brush the Rogue Cyclist aside with his two-ton vehicle.  He nosed his car alongside The Rogue Cyclist…  and glared at his adversary and gesticulated his demand that the Rogue Cyclist yield to the true master of the road, but the Rogue Cyclist kept going straight, forcing Fast Car Man to brake for a stationary car.

By now the main road was in sight, with prowling diggers and shunting trucks. Fast Car Man followed The Rogue Cyclist, ready  remonstrate in the time-honoured way, but it was not to be. Rogue Cyclist turned left from the main road and into a gap alongside a large truck.

Fast Car Man decided to be lenient this time: he was late, and besides the truck was bigger than his car and might scratch it.

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