City or Countryside? A Cycling Comparison

River frontage and a cycle path, and only three miles from the city centre!
River frontage and a cycle path, and only three miles from the city centre!

Having spent the last couple of decades or so pedalling the winding lanes and country roads of Middle England, relocation to urban Glasgow was always going to be a radical change.  So, four months along the line, how does cycling in rural Staffordshire compare with negotiating the potholes and road diversions in the UK’s fourth largest city?

In many respects things, particularly hazards, obstacles and attitudes are remarkably, and depressingly, very similar.  While the former Second City of the Empire now lags behind Leeds as the UK’s fourth largest city, it certainly must be in contention as the world’s Capital of Potholes. However, although dangerous holes in the road may be more numerous in Glasgow, they also lie in wait for the unsuspecting cyclist in the countryside – often for years as no one reports them, no one repairs them, or because they are located in places that don’t exist, according to satnavs – widened and deepened by the constant trundling of farm vehicles until the roads resemble open cast coal mines.

While the city’s ‘cycle only boxes’ are routinely exploited by many motorists, even on the showcase A728 on its way past Celtic Park, the Emirates Arena and Police Scotland HQ, priority boxes would immediately become objects of wonder, and derision, should they ever appear in a county town and cycle lanes, in the few places they do exist, are habitually regarded as extra parking spaces.

NCN 75 near Uddingston
NCN 75 near Uddingston

Indeed, the highlight of my final week living in Lichfield was a confrontation with a very large and aggressive Ukip supporter (it was during the final week of the election campaign) who laughed as I tried to pass round his car without getting wiped out by a steady stream of fast traffic, threatened me when I photographed his offending vehicle and warned me about cycling in the future as he ‘wouldn’t want something horrible to happen to me’.  Apparently, he also failed to ingratiate himself with the police officer who cautioned him after I reported the incident.

Dalmarnock Railway Bridge in all its bucolic splendour
Dalmarnock Railway Bridge in all its bucolic splendour

Above all, although Jeremy Clarkson and pals are generally regarded as poster boys for that persecuted and threatened species, middle-aged, middle-class, Middle England man, their misplaced sense of entitlement about the right to park where they want, to drive how and at what speed they want, sadly seems as prevalent among some road users, irrespective of age, class and gender, in urban central Scotland as it does among the Chipping Norton set.

But, overall, my decision to swap the leafy lanes of the Trent Valley for the edgier banks of the Clyde has, overwhelmingly, been to positive effect, especially as far as cycling is concerned.  Whereas trying to travel by bike in and around a car centric, rural village, involved the meticulous planning of a couple of 20-30 mile rides each week, timed to perfection around farming activity, the bus timetable and avoiding, at all costs, the school run, here I cycle every day; in and out of town, to and from the shops, along the tree-lined, cycle-friendly London Road to the excellent libraries in Bridgeton, into Lanarkshire, along to Balloch: and that’s only on NCN 75; so far I haven’t had enough time to venture further afield.

Looking west along the Clyde from NCN 75 at Shawfield
Looking west along the Clyde from NCN 75 at Shawfield

Selecting a new home that fronts on to a cycle path has, so far, resulted in a diverse range of benefits, including losing half a stone, finding resourceful ways of transporting everything from two full sized duvets, to a collection of house plants by bike, and seeing more wildlife – that’s foxes, herons, deer, not just the human residents – than I did in years in the countryside.

What I miss: days when I could go out for a ride without having to pack rain gear.

What I don’t miss: women (apologies to my fellow females), coffee in one hand, phone in the other, spearing their 4x4s through the school run, oblivious to the existence of all other road users. I’m sure they must exist in the city but, so far, I haven’t come across any in Dalmarnock

The river and path at twilight
The river and path at twilight





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Don’t Forget: Cycling Isn’t Just Confined to the Capital

First the deaths and casualties, then the recriminations, followed equally swiftly by the counter accusations and then the die-in at TFL HQ.  No one can now dispute that cycling in London has become a high-profile issue dominating the front pages as well as the specialist publications and bike blogs.


As a cyclist, although no longer pedalling the streets of the capital, I’m grateful to London’s cyclists for keeping the issues of safety and lack of infrastructure in the public eye, but often frustrated that the experiences of cyclists around the country are routinely overlooked.

It is difficult, and essentially pointless, to try to prove that it is any more or less dangerous to cycle in London, compared to everywhere else: although according to national cycling charity CTC, it is twenty times more dangerous to cycle along rural A roads than it is on suburban and urban streets. Statistics show the greater the density of population, the higher the level of casualties, but it is difficult to relate this to the number of people cycling in  particular areas as there is no consistent monitoring of   numbers of cyclists on the roads and trends in cycling uptake tend to be based on estimates.

What cannot be contested is that cyclists across the country experience widely differing conditions, depending on the type of roads they use, terrain and exposure to weather conditions. And the exhilaration of commuting along a coast road or a quiet country byway has to be set aside the difficulties of maintaining road position on narrow lanes, the threat of speeding cars on backroads with little surveillance, or the greater danger of isolation in the event of breakdown, injury or illness.

Some dangers – lack of road space, the chaos of the school run, absence of any cycling infrastructure and failure to enforce regulations where bike lanes do exist, threats from large vehicles (add to buses and lorries a variety of large, unstable and frightening agricultural vehicles)  – are depressingly similar.  And we also have our fair share of SMIDSY, as well as plenty of representatives from the ‘I pay road tax’ tribe.

I miss my old routes from Euston down to Waterloo and from Fulham along the Embankment to the Strand and think of them fondly as I struggle the seven miles along unlit, pot-holed country lanes to and from my local station.  But above all, I miss being part of a growing, diverse, but inclusive and supportive community of cyclists.

Around here in the lanes of Middle England, those of us who cycle as our primary method of transport are commonly regarded as odd (particularly if female), pitied as too poor to own a car and  cursed as irritants who threaten the entitlement of drivers to ‘their’ roads – the peletons of lycra-clad roadies who race through at the weekend are, if anything, more intensely disliked, but are generally not subjected to direct abuse as they tend to hunt in (largely male) packs.

If there are to be any positive outcomes from the recent tragic events in London, then they must lie in the introduction of HGV safety measures and establishment of better cycling infrastructure: initiatives that will also benefit all road users across the country and lead to the establishment of a genuine bicycle culture in the UK. London’s cycling lobby is sufficiently powerful, organised and high profile to successfully campaign for this, with the support of fellow cyclists around the country.

But please don’t forget, cycling is not confined to the capital and each day millions of cyclists throughout the country enjoy the pleasures of their chosen form of transport and the benefits derived from it, which continue to far outweigh, but not eliminate, the dangers. Some conditions we face are specific to our locality, but we all have to contend with unacceptable risks, more prevalent in the UK than elsewhere in western Europe, that can only be solved by a more holistic and inclusive approach to road use.

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If the carnage on our roads was a disease it would be taken seriously and regarded as a national scandal.

If outrage about the recent carnage of cyclists on London’s streets, can be sustained and channelled into a long-term campaign for safer roads, then the deaths of five riders in just over a week may not be in vain.

Sickeningly, if predictably, the ensuing debate has, again, centred on cyclists ignoring red lights or not wearing helmets, or not being sufficiently visible to drivers.  Unfortunately these are only symptoms of the real problem that is repeatedly ignored, or deflected, by those with the power to change, not just the architecture of our roads, but also the culture of those who use them.

Loudest and most repugnant of the reactions has, again, been those of  the capital’s ‘Cycling Major’ Boris Johnson.  This is the man who, on taking office in 2008, cancelled the proposed congestion charge in the west of the city, allowed fares to rise and aggressively prioritised the smoothing of traffic flow as his key transport policy.

Here is the key to the battle for survival  that is now the everyday experience for those using London’s roads and streets.  Johnson’s policies have aggressively increased the number of private cars on the roads – added to the surfeit of heavy vehicles involved in delivering materials to the mass of building sites around the city – while high fares and falling incomes have been two of the most important factors in encouraging more people to cycle commute.

With the increase in bikes and vehicles now colliding head on in the streets of London, the inevitable effect is seen in the rise of casualties on the most vulnerable road users.  Appallingly, 69 pedestrians died on London’s roads last year:  a little-known and tragically ignored statistic.  And all Boris can offer are a few blue-painted stretches of road that many cyclists consider actually increase the risks they face.

These problems are exacerbated, but not confined to London.  The death toll of cyclists and pedestrians on rural roads – and in provincial towns where cyclists are often regarded as dangerous eccentrics – is also shockingly high and in many places around the country it is simply impossible to walk or cycle along ring roads and by passes.

We have to redesign our roads and streets for the benefit of all road users and to ensure the safety of the most vulnerable.  But along with hard design – segregated lanes, low speed limits, car-free zones, more public transport – we also, equally, need to change the prevailing culture of those using our roads.

Too many drivers, and some cyclists, regard their form of transport as a form of entitlement – to go where they like, how fast they like – and, in many cases, see their vehicle as a statement of their power and status.  This culture has to change and, as reasoned debate has not worked, then far more drastic penalties for those breaking the law have to be introduced and enforced.  Cases, such as that recently, where a driver who has killed two cyclists received only a short driving ban, are derisory and will do nothing to improve road safety. Responsibilities, of course, come with rewards and European-style transport infrastructure has to be accompanied by harsh penalties for cyclists, pedestrians and drivers who disobey the law.

If the carnage on our roads was a disease it would be taken seriously and regarded as a national scandal.  We need to start by accepting the roads are there for all road users and not as a circuit for those with the strongest nerve. Until we positively discriminate in favour of the most vulnerable and the most sustainable, Boris’s bluster will remain as ineffective as it is repugnant.

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Welcome, but still not nearly enough


Following today’s announcement of  the government’s plans to boost cycling, this is Boot and Bike’s response to our local MP, Michael Fabricant



Dear Mr Fabricant,


I am very happy to read of your government’s very welcome, if belated,

acknowledgement of the need for more investment in provision for

cycling.  Let’s hope this is only the beginning of a more holistic and

pro-active approach that recognises the health, social and

environmental benefits of cycling.


However, in order to encourage as many people as possible to start, or

resume, cycling, there also needs to be an equal recognition that the

current unfair benefits that motorised transport enjoys cannot continue

(compare today’s £77m for cycling with the recent £28b for road

building).  In addition, as many recent cases have tragically

illustrated, the law does need to be reviewed to ensure that those

drivers found guilty of causing death and serious injury to cyclists,

pedestrians and other road users are adequately punished.


In your own constituency there is much to be done.  As a volunteer

ranger with the Lichfield Sustrans group, I witness, first hand, the

chaotic and inadequate provision for cycling within the city.  For

example, even where there is a cycle lane (Walsall Road) it is arguably

more dangerous to use because of the cars parked illegally along it.

Provision for cyclists (and even more importantly for disabled and

elderly customers) at Trent Valley Station, is as I know you agree,

risible.  There is also no safe and straightforward route from City

Station into the city centre.


On a more positive note, it is a delight to cycle from the city (once

past the dangerous junction at Upper/St John’s Street) to Waitrose –

where provision for cycles and their riders is excellent. However, here

in Barton it is very sad to hear friends complain they are not able to

allow their children to cycle to school because of the absence of any

dedicated cycle routes.


Over the last few months Sustrans has re-routed NCN 54 away from the

Main Streets in both Barton and Alrewas to avoid as much traffic as

possible, but it is only the creation of dedicated cycle lanes,

separate from other traffic, that will really improve the safety of



I hope you will give your support to improving provision for cycling,

both nationally and in your constituency.


Yours sincerely,

Jill Phillip


You can email your MP about cycling via Sustrans 

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To Park, Or Not To Park?


While reluctant to draw any more attention to the latest utterance of that tiresome publicity junkie, Eric Pickles, it is an unfortunate fact that the ‘right to park’ is one issue that generates raised blood pressure in this part of Middle England, even among supposed advocates of sustainable transport.

The right to park?
The right to park?

Mr Pickles’ latest suggestion that motorists should be able to park on double yellow lines for up to 15 minutes has, rightly, been ridiculed, not only by pedestrian and cycling groups, transport experts and safety campaigners, but also several retail spokespeople and even some motoring organisations.

But while this is merely the most recent instalment of Pickles’ unrelenting campaign to remain poster boy for the lazy, selfish, unfit disciples of entitlement and overconsumption in our society, it does raise some interesting, and depressing, insights into the attitude of many towards both car ownership and their ‘right’ to park wherever is most convenient to them.

One of the more heartening set of statistics that has emerged in recent years for those of us trying to improve and encourage sustainable transport throughout the country, has been the fall in overall car ownership.  In particular, the results of the last census in 2011 show a marked increase in the number of car-free households.  Indeed, in Inner London, the majority of households are now car free, while in Glasgow that figure rises to 65%.

But yes, I hear you cry, that’s in the cities where they have buses, trains, the underground – and, in any case, you can’t compare London with anywhere else in the UK.  Life is very different out here in the rest of the country. Too true, and as someone who owns a car, not because I want to, or indeed, enjoy driving it, but because I live in a place with negligible public transport, I am only too conscious of this.

But the point is, as clearly shown by this article  even in Inner London where a majority of households are now car-free, infrastructure and transport policies are still, overwhelmingly, being designed round the needs of private car owners.  So the requirements of pedestrians and cyclists for safe areas to walk, cycle and socialise continue to be subjugated to the demands of motorists, when instead we need far more than even a level field policy to try to redress the current imbalance in favour of private motorised transport.

This is not a war on the motorist.  I am a motorist, but I make no apology for trying to discriminate in favour of the less powerful (and less destructive) pedestrian and cyclist in order to achieve a safer, healthier, more environmentally friendly and more inclusive approach to transport in this country.

Despite what Clarkson and co might try to imply, there is no divine right to own and drive a car. In the UK at the moment, more than 25 per cent of adults do not have access to a private car – mostly for financial reasons, but also because of disability and age-related issues – and the majority of them are excluded from all kinds of employment and leisure activities because of this.

And, in spite of Eric Pickles’ best efforts, there is also no divine right for motorists to park their vehicles in the most convenient places for them.  One man’s (or woman’s) accessible parking spot is another’s obstruction or source of danger.  Parking on pavements and cycle lanes is potentially dangerous and often makes it impossible for those for whom they were designed to use them safely, or indeed at all.

The last thing we need is an escalation of the simmering conflict between motorists and cyclists we already see in some places.  But, if we are serious about trying to emulate the cycling culture of The Netherlands and Scandinavia, then we have to accept that our road space is not big enough to provide safe areas for walking and cycling, while still indulging motorists with the belief that they have a greater claim to the roads, as well as the licence to park wherever is most convenient to them.

The Government could start by belatedly recognising that Eric Pickles is just about the worst mouthpiece possible if it really is serious about trying to improve the nation’s health and fitness (its promise to be the ‘greenest-ever government’ now being totally discredited). Far stricter sentences also need to be introduced and imposed on those who kill and maim other road users through carelessness, inattention and breaking existing laws, such as mobile phone use.

But, above all, those of us who are motorists, but say we are in favour of encouraging more sustainable transport need to put up, or shut up.  We can’t have our cake and eat it.

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Waiting for a Delivery

Having recently fulfilled one of my all-time ambitions and become the proud owner of a pretty, Wedgwood blue Pashley Poppy – a smaller and sweeter version of its better-known big sister, the Princess – it has quickly become my favourite round-the-village bike, receiving many and varied compliments from the friends and strangers who we meet on our rides.

My shiny, new Pashley Poppy, just out of the box
My shiny, new Pashley Poppy, just out of the box


But, although over-the-moon with its looks, practicality and performance, it lacks one accessory I consider integral to complete the Pashley look – whereas the Princess has one as standard, the Poppy does not arrive with the de rigueur front wicker basket.

But, no worries, Pashley accessories are readily available on the the internet, so I duly order one online and begin, impatiently,  counting the days until it arrives.

Well, if it’s in store on the Wednesday, then looking through my completely full glass, I reckon I might even be in luck on Thursday morning. But, damn, I’ll be out on Thursday until the middle of the afternoon; just like the thing if it arrives on the one morning I’m not at home for the next few days. But, relief, I arrive home around three to find no offending, accusatory “You Were Out” cards behind the letterbox.

Friday: it’s now a couple of days since it should have been dispatched and I’m becoming a little anxious. I wait in all morning, taking an unhealthily prurient interest in the comings and goings of the courier vans up and down the street. It’s hot and I really do need to take advantage of this unseasonal sunshine (it’s July, after all, when, in normal years, it invariably rains) to fit in a bike ride. Two hours on, trying painfully to cool down in a cold shower, I curse my stupidity at waiting in until early afternoon before riding 20 miles in 32 degrees of heat.

Over recent years, while clocking the regular deliveries of a former neighbour, who appeared to make his (fairly lucrative) living buying and selling on eBay, plus using my own experience of never being in when Parcelforce delivered my annual bundles of exam papers, I’ve become frighteningly knowledgable about the patterns of courier deliveries to our street. So, as it’s now Saturday, using the fruits of my research I calculate there’s no chance of a delivery today and head out, in even fiercer heat, for an earlyish morning ride.

Imagine my horror then, when I’m overtaken by a DPD van within a couple of miles of home! The prospect of my poor basket arriving unwelcomed to an empty house and having to be taken back to an inhospitable van – plus the excuse of forgetting my bike pump, as well as the even fiercer heat – convinces me to turn round and head for home after 15 miles.

There is one heart stopping moment when I arrive and peer nervously into the dark abyss behind the front door and see something – a card, flyer, envelope? – lying on the doormat. I approach it with trepidation before relief engulfs my fragile psyche and I crumple the brightly coloured invitation from the Christadelphian God botherers round the corner.

So, Saturday afternoon and at least I can rest easy for the next 30 hours of so, before resuming my lonely vigil on Monday morning. But Monday at 10am has been earmarked for my long-awaited tennis coaching lesson – postponed repeatedly because of marking commitments, Wimbledon viewing and re-arranged from last week in order to recover from the stress of watching the final.

Will my basket by lucky enough to be in transit with one of the couriers who text in advance to advise of their delivery window?

Will any of my neighbours be in?

Can I risk nipping out for some milk?

Will it arrive before 9.45am, or after 11.30am?

Will I ever be able to receive my basket?

Well, in the event, it was no to the first four questions and yes to number five. After rushing back from the tennis, I have time for a rejuvenating flat white, before my old friend, the Parcelforce delivery driver, knocks at the door.

“You see, I always bring you sunshine, ma’m,” he says with a smile as I sign his handheld computer thing.

Waiting in for deliveries, with its inherent frustration, disappointment, exasperation just has to be the 21st century’s ultimate form of control freakery.

The final touch
The final touch


But sometimes, it’s all worth it.

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All Packed Up; but how do I transport my bike?

The packing's done, now how do I get it on the train?
The packing’s done, now how do I get it on the train?

If there is one topic that is bound to engage anyone who attempts to travel sustainably, it is the question of how to convey bicycles on public transport. What is more more interesting though, is how opinion on the best way to do this divides the cycling community itself.

This was brought home to me last week during a discussion with fellow Sustrans’ volunteers over Eurostar’s cycle carriage policy. I must admit I was genuinely surprised by the venom directed towards Eurostar’s ‘new’ policy of charging £30 to convey bikes in a dedicated space.

The reaction intrigued me because, having transported my bike this way last year, I certainly didn’t regard it as a ‘new’ policy. Yet the discussion was apparently stimulated by a request from a cyclists’ organisation to support its opposition and lobby Eurostar to reinstate the previous method of carriage where bikes could be conveyed, free of charge, in suitable bike bags.

It seems strange that since the policy changed as far back as 2008, it has only emerged as an issue now – perhaps Eurostar’s new user-friendly website has made its conditions of carriage clearer? However, there is no denying that transporting a bike is problematic and is further complicated by the plethora of conditions and methods of carriage among the different companies in our competing privatised rail system.

Ideally, I long for the days of the old guard’s van, where you could turn up  and wheel your bike on board, without any prior reservation or special ticket. Similarly, I also look back with affection to the same days when you could pitch up at the booking office and buy a reasonably priced ticket without having to book it months in advance online. But, unfortunately, those days are gone and, however reluctantly, we have to make the best of the current system and continue to lobby all operating companies for more bike spaces on trains.

Having transported a bike regularly on trains throughout the UK over recent years, I admit I always fear the worst case scenario where, despite having a bike reservation, there are no spaces left, or on smaller trains, the designated space is already occupied by wheelchairs and buggies. Generally, in my experience, all such situations have been resolved by flexibility and the good sense of the train manager.

Interestingly, the most hostile scenario I have faced – with the prospect of having to leave a long distance train, despite having the correct reservations – was caused by a fellow cyclist who refused to remove his bike from the reserved space because he didn’t see why he should have to make a reservation. In this case it was the insistence of the train manager, plus the threat of removal by transport police, that granted me my reservation.

But ultimately, the moral of the story is that, however much you may dislike the regulations, failure to obey them, deliberate or otherwise, penalises only your fellow cyclists, not the train operating companies or Network Rail.

Returning to my initial point, I found Eurostar’s ‘new’ policy seamless and well worth the price to avoid the stress and hassle of trying to board a crowded train with an awkward bike bag and two heavy panniers. I would also gladly pay £30 if it means not having to assemble and disassemble handlebars and pedals every time I transport the bike. But I recognise  opinion is split on this issue and those of a more mechanical bent, who own a bike bag and travel light, may not agree, even though £30 compares very favourably with air travel where you usually pay more and have to use a bike bag.

The figures from neutral rail observers, as well as Eurostar, show a huge increase in cycles now being transported across the Channel since the system changed. Surely, we should at least be positive about this and try to work with operating companies to further improve bike carriage, rather than negatively oppose every new initiative, however successful?

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Review of Cicerone Guide: The Rhine Cycle Route

My first reward when receiving this guide was to discover that, not only was there a networked cycle route following the entire course of the Rhine, but here was a detailed route guide, complete with background information, advice on general and bike specific preparation, plus help with food, accommodation and general services en route.

Cicerone's new guide: The Rhine Cycle Route
Cicerone’s new guide: The Rhine Cycle Route

Tracing the route of a river, from its infant source through to its final entry into an estuary, or the sea, has always fascinated me, particularly in analysing how that river has affected habitation and human activity along its course. When that river is the Rhine and its 1300km course passes through six countries, following its route will provide a unique insight into a variety of different cultures, as well as an appreciation of how the Rhine has shaped and influenced the great events in European history over the centuries, from the Romans, through internecine Medieval conflict to the Second World War.

For cyclists, particularly those embarking on a long-distance ride, complete with packed panniers and other equipment distributed across their bikes, the idea of a route following a river has instant appeal as, by definition, it will be downhill all the way. As the Rhine’s source is located high among the Swiss mountains – conveniently accessed by a bike-carrying train – then this route provides the mouth-watering prospect of free-wheeling down the steep early stages, before enjoying some relatively easy pedalling along the flat agricultural land of the Netherlands towards journey’s end at the North Sea.

The topography also makes this route suitable for cyclists, who as long as they possess a reasonable degree of fitness, do not necessarily have to be experienced or super fit. Indeed, the comprehensive, non-technical advice contained in this guide is particularly well-suited to enthusiastic, would-be cycle tourers who  have not previously completed a long-distance ride.

Plenty of pictures and maps to keep you on the right route
Plenty of pictures and maps to keep you on the right route

As with all Cicerone guides, the Rhine Cycle Route is amply illustrated with photographs of many places of interest, as well as containing a wealth of vital maps, showing the best passages through urban areas and detailed sections outlining each stage of the route. And even allowing for its 250 pages, its compact size makes it ideal for convenient stashing in the back pocket of a cycling shirt.

Sadly, I was a little disappointed with some inaccuracies in the section detailing how to reach the route by rail. Given the wealth of detail elsewhere, clearly based on painstaking research, this might seem like an over pedantic moan, but as getting to the start of a cycle route should always been done in as carbon-friendly method as possible, it would be a shame if this discourages some people from taking the train to the start.

It is perfectly possible to book in advance and take your bike with you on the same Eurostar service. It costs £30 and this service has been available for several years (although not from Ebbsfleet or Ashford). Alternatively, you can turn up on the day with your bike, pay £25 and, in 80 per cent of cases, it will travel on the same train: if not, Eurostar guarantees it will arrive at your Eurostar destination within 24 hours. Bikes don’t have to be boxed and Eurostar no longer carries boxed bikes in the luggage areas

The recently updated Eurostar site has a user-friendly page on cycle carriage  For all matters relating to train travel here and in Europe, do always refer to Mark Smith’s indispensable Seat 61  as this also includes up-to-date information on the growing number of TGV and other high-speed services that are now carrying bikes – Seat 61 I suggest, would be an invaluable addition to the appendix of this and similar guides.

Nerdy train details apart, this is a useful guide to an enticing route and one that has certainly whetted my appetite for a mountain-to-coast ride down the Rhine


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Siempre Bicycle Cafe, Glasgow

A bicycle cafe! Sounds like my Elysium: a vision of freshly-brewed coffee, artisan baking, all kinds of bicycles and bike memorabilia in an accessible urban space – where you can even park your own bike right next to your table. Probably  a delusion though, I mean no one place  could actually provide all my favourite things; could it?

Well yes. As soon as I entered Siempre Bicycle Cafe last week, all my habitual cautious pessimism evaporated  as I sensed the heady aroma of roasted coffee, noticed the cool retro cycling prints and was warmly welcomed  by the friendly staff. Invited to look around, things just got better: in addition to the combination of my favourite object and drink of choice, the cafe also offers bike maintenance, aims to attract and encourage women cyclists and stocks singular gear that is perfect for cycling but doesn’t look like cycling kit.

Located in Glasgow’s West End, right next door to Kelvinhall Subway Station, the cafe defines itself on its locally-sourced and organic produce, such as  Tapas breads and Dear Green coffee. It’s open from 6.30am, providing healthy breakfast options to hungry commuters and the cafe space can be hired for special occasions and celebrations.

And outside, once current construction work is complete, will be transformed into an inclusive space where commuters can leave their bikes, diners can relax in the sun and kids can learn to cycle.

Siempre is not just for cyclists though. The spacious interior is equally pram and luggage friendly and the free, fast in-house WiFI, makes the cafe ideal for impromptu meetings, as well as social and work related net surfing.

Combining my love of coffee, cake and bikes in some form has always been one of my life ambitions. While my aspirations remain firmly in the dream category for the moment, I’m more than happy to enjoy Siempre’s  excellent realisation of three of my favourite things.

On your bike, on foot, en route to and from the subway, to Kelvingrove or the Riverside, pop into Siempre and see how a derelict and unused city building can be transformed into a vibrant and co-operative urban space.

Any initiative that encourages and facilitates more people to cycle has to be positive and, when it also includes creamy flat whites, melt-in-the-mouth fudge and freshly baked bread, what’s not to like?

Well done Siempre, I’m already looking forward to my next visit.

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Ways to Get More People Cycling, Part Five: You’re Never too Old to Ride a Bike


Well, after a brief glimpse of spring a week ago, we’re back to normal February temperatures, made even more bitter by a bitingly raw wind that supposedly is blowing in from the north east, but seems to attack from whatever direction you face.

You're always the right age to cycle
You’re always the right age to cycle

Saturday’s two hours in temperatures peaking at three degrees before flatlining at two, were enough to persuade me to leave the bike in the garage yesterday. For the experts though, Siberian winds present the same type of challenge as acute gradients: Patrick, my bike mechanic assured me with his usual insouciance, that on his 100km morning race the first half hour, as usual, was the worst as, after that, you stop feeling anything anyway.

In truth, once you do get going and, as long as you have chosen the right combination of layers, a brisk, undulating two-hour ride is just about right to work up some heat, but not too lengthy to lose all feeling in toes and fingers. And. I must admit, I did feel pleasantly toasty as I sipped a hot cup of tea and freshly made muffin on my return.

Getting the blood circulating is important, of course, particularly in cold weather and especially for the many regular cyclists who, let’s say, are the other side of middle age. Sure, as you get older, you probably have to pay particular attention to keeping gaps, like those around the small of your back, covered but riding a bike puts far less strain on joints and bones, compared to say running.  And, consequently, is an activity that attracts so many people not in the first flush of youth and one where older participants can more than hold their own with their younger counterparts.

I was reminded of how cycling is such an ideal recreation and mode of travel for older people when I met two septuagenarians eating their sandwiches in the sun (it was about 12 degrees at the time) a week ago. Their solid, expertly packed, Claud Butler tourers displayed bicycling experience and expertise and their conviviality was characteristic of most of the experienced riders I have met on my travels.

Both had impressive sporting pedigrees – he as a former time trialist and she as a club hockey player – and continued to cycle regularly for fitness, mobility and pleasure. Their biggest regret was that now, when they take their grandchildren out on their bikes, they have to restrict them to off-road routes, like the Tissington Trail, as even rural back lanes are too dangerous.

It was fascinating to spend 15 minutes or so listening to their tales of bike touring throughout the UK and Europe from the late 1950s into the 60s and 70s, especially their adventures when taking their children with them.

But listening to their experiences also highlighted just how age and ability inclusive cycling is; how it is as suitable a way of keeping fit for those in their 70s as it is for lycra-clad 20 somethings and how it can provide people of any age with opportunities for greater mobility and social inclusiveness.

And, while it is brilliant to see the UK’s cyclists performing so well again in the   recent World Championships, we need to utilise this legacy to continue to lobby for cycling as an activity for all, of whatever age, class or location.

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