Archive for the cycling Category

Manchester Critical Mass + Zine

Posted in cycling, Manchester on January 16, 2009 by Philonous

If I haven’t posted anything for a while, it’s at least partially to do with I bike MCR, the Manchester grassroots cycling group. Somehow, I’ve ended up writing an I bike MCR zine. Check it out:

  • Here‘s a version for viewing online (~1.2MB)
  • Here‘s a black and white version for printing (~12MB)
  • Here‘s a colour version for printing(~33MB)
I’m distributing copies around Manchester over the next couple of weeks and hopefully a new edition will come out in a month and a half or so. Feel free to print out copies yourself and assemble them following these slightly crazy instructions:

Also, come on the next Critical Mass:

To the taxi driver who ran me over

Posted in cycling, Manchester on October 22, 2008 by Philonous

Yesterday, I was cycling down Princess Street yesterday university-wards when I was involved in an altercation with a taxi. As I came to the junction with Whitworth Street, the traffic light turned green. Just ahead of me (I could touch his bumper) was a taxi signalling to turn left. As I was in a cycle lane, I assumed that I had thr right of way and carried on straight ahead thinking that he ought to give way. In the event, he didn’t and turned into me. Needless to say, I got dragged around the corner with him and ended up in the road. Nothing particularly bad happened, just a couple of cuts and bruises.

Lying in the road, as a pedestrian came to my aid asking if I was ok, I simply replied that I was fine, but slightly annoyed… Presently, the taxi driver stopped his car got out and asked if I was alright. More than anything else, he seemed a little shaken himself and didn’t seem to understand why I wasn’t shouting at him as cyclists, who are necessarily angry, should. I simply asked him to give way to cyclists in cycle lanes in future to which he replied that in fact it was I that should have given way. I suddenly realised – I really wasn’t sure what should have happened. Asking cyclists and drivers in the maths department yeilded only informed conjecture.

On returning home yesterday evening, after having confessed to Le Fox that I’d been in a cycle crash (at which point she became mildly hysterical and started treating me as if I’d just returned from the trenches), I decided to search online for a definitive answer. The Highway code says the following:

Turning left


Use your mirrors and give a left-turn signal well before you turn left. Do not overtake just before you turn left and watch out for traffic coming up on your left before you make the turn, especially if driving a large vehicle. Cyclists, motorcyclists and other road users in particular may be hidden from your view.


When turning

  • keep as close to the left as is safe and practicable
  • give way to any vehicles using a bus lane, cycle lane or tramway from either direction

along with the picture

to go along with section 182. It seems then that the highway code says that any vehicle on the main road should always when turning give way to cyclists using cycle lanes.

The Highway code however, is simply a set of guidlines for road users and is not law. The parts of the code which do refer to laws are flagged as such. Rules 182/183 are not. It seems therefore that there is no legal obligation for drivers to abide by these guidelines. Is this true? According to the small print, if it comes to prosecution for insurance claims etc, rulings will come down in favour of those who follow the guidelines. I’d be rather glad to hear from someone that knows more about this than me so please post some comments.

And Mr Taxi Driver, please take heed!


Posted in culture, cycling, Manchester on October 14, 2008 by Philonous

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything. There are probably good reasons for that, but let me just give you some indication of the *mindblowing* things I’ve been doing during that time.

Last Friday, a few of us from the maths department decided to go on the I Bike MCR mini-festival’s Dynamic Duo Superhero Treasure/Alley Cat. For those of you that haven’t heard of alleycats before, they are messenger races around a city. Competitors race to reach a series of prescribed checkpoints scattered throughout the city of choice, the fastest to the final one being declared the winner. The checkpoints (apart from the final one) can be reached in any order and via any route, so it really seems to make a big difference if you can plan well before getting in the saddle. To win, you basically need a pretty good knowledge of the city and how to ride a bike through it.

As part of the I bike MCR mini-festival, a Manchester alleycat was organised for Friday night, starting at the Sand Bar, a favourite bicycling hangout. This one, it seemed, was geared at the casual cyclist out for a bit of a laugh as well as the seasoned track-bike owning messenger type. As such, this alleycat was meticulously organised to include various challenges and missions where speed wasn’t necessarily paramount. Each of the checkpoints was strategically located next to a phonebox. The main organiser would call the phoneboxes periodically and reveal the location of one of five stuffed toys which had been duct-taped to lamposts around the city. If you happened to be at the right checkpoint at the right time, taking the mission might get you some extra points. If that wasn’t enough, participants raced as teams of two and were encouraged to dress as superheroes, prizes being awarded for the best dressed.

All in all, it was a great night out – a bit of exercise, lots of caffeine, and general jokes all round. Friends who were out and about reported unexpectedly frenetic cycling throughout the city-centre.

Watch out for the Christmas alleycat. Rumour has it that this will involve shopping lists at grocery stores, the goods being put into hampers for asylum-seeking families. Adrenalin *and* a warm fuzzy feeling.

Here for your delectation are two particularly crazy videos of alleycats in NYC and London.

Ghost Bikes, a lesson in co-feeling

Posted in Activism, art, culture, cycling, Manchester, USA on September 5, 2008 by Philonous

I’ve just read the horrific story of Stephen Wills, a Manchester cyclist who was killed by a hit an run driver in April this year. I have some vague remembrances of seeing an e-mail on the Critical Mass mailing list about this at the time but hadn’t quite realised what had happened.

Stephen Wills (see picture) was cycling along Princess Street when he was knocked off his bike by a silver Volkswagen Golf which had just been stolen. The drivers of the car left him in the street which, to be brutally honest, I didn’t find particularly surprising.

What I did find surprising was that no-one stopped to help him. Motorists decided that they would instead try and drive around him as he lay in the middle of the road. It was only when a passing pedestrian came upon the scene that an ambulance was called. Unfortunately, it was too late and Stephen died on the way to A&E. As if this wasn’t bad enough, it emerged in the autopsy that although he had died of severe head wounds, both his legs had also been broken, suggesting he had been run over by a passing car after having been knocked over.

This tragedy sparked a spate of articles in the tabloid press rightly decrying the callousness of drivers and of ‘modern society’. Among them however was this monstrosity from the Telegraph which (please correct me if I’ve somehow misinterpreted this) seems to try to justify drivers’ reactions from a personal safety viewpoint.

It’s too dangerous now for Good Samaritans
By Harry Mount
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 18/04/2008

I wonder if the original Good Samaritan would have stopped to help the poor bicyclist who was killed by joyriders in Moss Side at the weekend.

Several drivers swerved round the dying Stephen Wills and one ran him over, breaking his legs, before somebody called an ambulance.

Manchester police were critical about the fact that no one stopped to help, but I’m not sure I would have stopped either.

Things have changed a bit since the Good Samaritan’s day. Crime figures for 20 AD are hard to get hold of but the road from Jerusalem to Jericho doesn’t sound nearly as dangerous as Princess Road, the dual carriageway in Moss Side where poor Mr Wills was killed.

According to St Luke, the victim had a rough time of it – he was stripped, beaten and robbed. But the Gospel also says that the robbers quickly cleared off.

The priest and the Levite who passed by before the Samaritan turned up were just too lazy or selfish to help out; there was no suggestion that they were under any threat of attack themselves.

Nowadays any Good Samaritan who helps a crime victim is in danger of becoming one himself, particularly in a place as violent as Moss Side.

Recently, from my sitting room window in north London, I saw a boy of about seven walk down the street, holding an aerosol can at waist height and spraying a thick white line on a wall as he ambled along.

I didn’t move; nor did any of my neighbours. We’d all come to the same cowardly but logical conclusion – better to have an ugly white line across the wall opposite our houses than an ugly knife wound across our stomachs.

We’d have had to be not only Good Samaritans to intervene, but also Optimistic, Unworldly and Extremely Rash Samaritans, too.

Apologies for this rant, but it is a natural consequence of the pit-of-my-stomach disgust inspired by the utterly ridiculous whimsy (‘Crime figures for 20 AD are hard to get hold of…’ ) with which Mount seems to approach what was a tragic circumstance. I can only bring my own prejudices to bear when I suppose that he doesn’t cycle himself and so couldn’t possibly realise that for those of us who choose or are forced by financial circumstance to cycle that being knocked over is a perpetual stress. Alas, death is not corrected as easily as scratched bodywork or a diminished no-claims bonus.

It also reminds me of mast week’s Manchester Critical Mass. Cycling through Chorlton, a white van man decided on rashness over patience and drove into the oncoming lane to overtake the mass on a busy single lane road. An oncoming taxi swerved towards the pavement to avoid a collision, narrowly missing a pedestrian and crashing into a parked car with considerable force.

In his considerable haste and imperceptible wisdom, the white van man subsequently decided to drive off as fast as possible. Summoning the vigilante within, somehow, the seething mass of bicycling humanity seemed to telepathically decide in unison that something must be done and promptly caught up with the van, surrounding it and causing a traffic jam. Though berated at the time as public nuisances by passers by and other motorists, taking down his numberplate and threatening to call the police seemed to do the trick and he returned to the scene.

I must admit, it felt incredibly empowering to actually be the cause some tangible difference. This was clearly only made possible by the sheer number of cyclists taking part and some sort of mutual understanding or compassion in the sense of Kundera’s ‘co-feeling’

To have compassion (co-feeling) means not only to be able to live with the other’s misfortune but also to feel with him any emotion-joy, anxiety, happiness, pain. This kind of compassion therefore signifies the maximal capacity of affective imagination, the art of emotional telepathy.

(from ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’, Milan Kundera)



Perhaps this is the power of grass-roots movements such as Critical Mass. Ostensibly, the event is not ‘organised’ in any formal sense. There is no ideology, no creed and indeed no rules. Incidents such as this highlight the possibility of people linked rather superficially, here by an activity, nevertheless pulling together to some real effect. It is this more than anything else that really enrages me about ill-conceived articles such as Mount’s which serve only to antagonise the public.

These pockets of co-feeling are to be found in what I understand as ‘sub-cultures’. It seems to me that groups of people who to some extent identify with each other on some grounds be it political viewpoint or musical taste have some notion of solidarity and co-feeling.

A good example of this is the bicycle messenger subculture which seems to revel in motorists’ revulsion and is driven by its non-conformity. Particularly indicative of this is the Ghost Bike movement. When cyclists or pedestrians are killed in traffic accidents, people erect a ghost bike at the point at which the accident took place as a tribute. Check out this video of the tribute ride to all those who died on the streets of NYC.

A ghost bike was made for Stephen Wills and a memorial ride was organised.

Check out some links:

Critical Mass and the Automobile

Posted in Activism, cycling, Manchester on May 31, 2008 by Philonous
illustration by Jim Swanson

I was recently reading Chris Carlsson’s book “Critical Mass: Bicycling’s Defiant celebration” which is a compilation of various articles from worldwide newspapers and zines. According to one of the articles, there was a sort of proto-Critical Mass (see SocioMath’s article here) in San Francisco in 1896. At the time, cyclists, or wheelmen as they seem to have called themselves, were annoyed at the lack of good roads and the ubiquity of raised tramlines in the centre of roads. They campaigned in particular for roads to be built properly so that cycling (which at the time was seen as ‘the modern transport’) would become easier for commuters. Their lobbying actually had some effect and the roads were modernised. Ironically of course, this paved the way (ho ho) for mass produced automobiles which eventually relegated cyclists again to second citizens of the road.
Perhaps Critical Mass now should seek to provide true cycling highways for people who would like to travel slightly farther afield (in particular suburban commuters) by building major cycle paths through cities.

I read more than a year ago about the so called National cycle network which I assumed would be a network of cycleways throughout the country, finally making it practical and easy to travel long distances by bike. My first impulse was to cycle from here across the Penines to York and lo! there is indeed a route – namely the Transpenine Trail. Unfortunately however, this route is not in any way designed for speed – the website mentions parts of the track which are ‘off road’.

This morning I thought it might be a good idea to check out a slightly better route along part of the Fallowfield loop. I cycled west from Fallowfield along the disused railway line and then up to Salford Quays for a bit of a break before heading back to the city centre. The cycleway for as long as it lasts, is great – with the exception of the sporadic barriers. If only there were such a route say from south Manchester into the city centre itself:- imagine the number of people who would use this to commute.

chain and rider lubrication in Salford

Here are some links:

Critical Mass 2: I Bike MCR

Posted in Activism, cycling, Manchester on March 29, 2008 by Philonous

It was a dark and stormy night…and yet there was still a considerable turnout for Manchester’s Critical Mass. Yesterday marked the start of the I Bike MCR festival which for the next month celebrates cycling in and around Manchester.

Critical mass has a long standing policy of trying to keep the whole ride as one throughout. Of course, this becomes more than slightly problematic at traffic lights where the right might be severed by a light changing to red. Critical mass therefore has a policy of ‘corking‘ roads. This basically means that if the light changes as the ride passes, some cyclists will block relevant traffic until the remainder of the ride has passed.

As far as I know, this is illegal. I must admit to feeling slightly uneasy at the prospect of corking roads – especially since the ride is supposed to simply by a collection of people cycling in the same direction with no particular agenda or affiliation. In any case, Critical Mass is certainly worthwhile, if only to promote cycling in cities.

Over the next month, a variety of different activities will take place as part of the I Bike MCR festival. Looking over the programme, I noticed that there is to be an Alleycat in Manchester. In fact this is not the first Alleycat to take place in Manchester, just the first of which I’ve been aware. Alleycats are bicycle messenger races. Various checkpoints are chosen through a city, the object being to be the first to arrive at the final checkpoint. There is no set route and so winning the race depends as much upon shortcuts as brute speed.

Alleycats are of course quite dangerous. In order to win, participants have little choice but to break traffic rules and ignore lights. As such, these races are not without their casualties. This is Lucas Brunelle’s video of a (ridiculously fast) London alleycat:

Maybe one day I’ll pluck up the courage to join these folks… In the mean time, here’s a video from the I Bike MCR website showing some of last year’s less crazy events:

Have a look at the I Bike MCR website to find out about the when and wheres of the events this year.

Critical Mass

Posted in Activism, culture, cycling, Manchester with tags on March 22, 2008 by Philonous

At 6pm on the last Friday of every month, a motley crew of cyclists gather in front of the main city library in Manchester to…cycle.

The tradition of massing critically began in San Fransisco in 1992 with a handful of commuters cycling together for solidarity. 16 years later, there are critical mass events in most major cities ranging from tens to hundreds of people. Notably most of these gatherings have no official agenda and are publicised as ‘organised coincidence’ rather than any form of protest or activism.

Cycling around Manchester is in general a very stressful experience. Although the council claims to be taking environmental pollution seriously, there seems to be no great effort for the most part to renew cycle lanes or to think of provision for cyclists. Where cycle lanes do exist, they are exceedingly badly planned and maintained, pockmarked by potholes and drain covers. Furthermore, motorists seem to have almost no awareness of cyclists whatsoever. Having cycled in Manchester for two and a half years, I can recall only one occasion where a motorist actually looked in his mirror and stopped before turning left through a cycle lane. This being the norm in most places, cyclists often feel somewhat disenfranchised as road users. Critical mass gives a much needed feeling of solidarity and safety in a domain which is, more often than not, distinctly hostile.

Here’s a video of Manchester critical mass last May:

Last month I decided that having known about it for long enough, it was now time to finally gain some personal experience of critical mass – more than anything else, to sample the prevailing atmosphere. It definitely was a very peculiar feeling. There is no fixed route, the mass of cyclists simply whoever happens to be at the front. I was definitely not disappointed. The thing that struck me most, apart from the novelty of greatly outnumbering cars was the totally relaxed vibe. Being surrounded by cyclists rather than cars leads to enough of a noise reduction to be able to hold conversations with other cyclists in the middle of roads. The usual feeling of being more than slightly harried by passing motorists was replaced by complete relaxation and well-being.

Come along next week at 6pm 28th March in front of the Main Library in St Peter’s Square.