A Grim North

Musings from a northerner living in the deep south…

Posts Tagged ‘free’

Véliberation

Posted by Alan on May 5, 2011

Just before Easter we made a trip across the channel to Paris. Being a regular BorisBike user, trying a Vélib was on the to-do list.

Ruth a la Vélib

Ruth a la Vélib

First impressions were that these bikes are more flimsy. They don’t feel as heavy as the blue bikes of London and fixtures and fittings all seem a little smaller.

Velib: Basket not bag pouch

Basket not bag pouch

The first most striking difference is the basket, rather than the bag ‘pouch’ we have in London. This doesn’t make a lot of difference to me as I always carry some kind of bag, but I could see how if you didn’t how a basket could be much more useful. The gears and bell are exactly the same. Additionally you have a lock, so you can park anywhere if you need to – this means once you have a bike you can rely on it to be there. It is a source of frustration in London that the natural flow of bikes means that you’ll often find a city centre dock empty and have have to change your plans…

Saddle up

Saddle up

The saddle looks the same, though there are no helpful numbers on the seat post for quick adjustment. The docking mechanism is fitted to the side rather than the front – this felt a bit less solid than London, though it may mitigate against the idea of ‘hot-docking’ (riding into a dock without dismounting) for fear of leg injury!

Side dock

Side dock

During our days in Paris we saw many wrecked bikes in docking stations. According to wikipedia, many are vandalised as a backlash against the primary user group, the “bo-bos”: bourgeois-bohemians, the trendy middle class French. I haven’t yet seen this in London, despite the bikes being used primarily by a similar demographic. Towards the suburbs, the tyres and inner tubes seemed to be main target – many docking stations had multiple broken bikes in them.

Borked Bike

Borked Bike

Being a regular in London, I haven’t actually tried the casual hire process though I have been shown it. You put your card in and are given a receipt which you take to a docking station and key numbers in to the dock, using the 3 digit pad to the left of the wheel. Next time you want to take bike you put your card in again and it gives you a new receipt. It sounds onerous, but after Paris I can see how TfL came to that choice.

In Paris, you are given a card with a subscriber number on. This must be key in at the terminal where you then select your bike – if the only available bike happens to be 10 metres away at the other end of the dock so be it. Run! Push the button on the dock and the bike is released. I wasn’t too keen on this idea – at a nearly empty docking station it would be very easy for someone to take the bike you just rented and in the process lose you €150 in bike non-return fees…

Anyway I enjoyed the two circular trips I made and if I do go back to Paris I’ll certainly be using Vélib again.

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A greenway, a waterway and a motorway (almost)

Posted by Alan on March 20, 2011

Olympics and boats

Olympic boats

Having successfully managed to stagger across the finish line at Bogle, the next challenge booked in the diary is the c2c. At at the moment most of my cycling is relatively short utility trips (i.e. shopping and commuting) this is something else to ‘man up’ for.  With a planned completion date of June, it’s time to start training properly!  Yesterday provided a glorious day here in London so I took the opportunity to check out East London’s ‘greenway’, cycling down through the Walthamstow marshes to it’s start at Hackney Wick.  At the moment the Lea/Lee* valley paths are being upgraded for the Olympics so there are a few diversions but once onto the Greenway you start to see what London is capable of infrastructure-wise.

The Greenway

The Greenway - segregated running

The Greenway cuts all the way across the borough of Newham, I believe it’s the main sewer from Hackney to Beckton sewage works. (It certainly smells that way when you pass by a manhole cover!) It’s flat, wide and straight – potentially a very fast piece of cycling infrastructure.  Again due to the Olympics and Crossrail, there are some diversions in place.  There were particularly poor involving much pushing the bike and queuing to allow road traffic in and out of the Olympic park.  It would be nice if there’d been a few signs to as it’s really easy to miss where you should cross Stratford High St.

Anti-cycling gate

Anti-cycling gate

Further down the track there are many road crossings – each with a set of anti-cycling gates at each side.  In most cases they seem to have been vandalised to allow free passage (probably for a few motorcyclist too…) but the odd one remains intact. It does seem a bit odd to create some infrastructure for fast easy cycling and then add barriers to prevent take up.  I know the main target is to prevent people running motorcyclists or quad bikes etc, this really doesn’t seem like the best solution.

The main objective of the trip was to cross the river using the Woolwich free ferry.  A strange anachronism of London down in the bottom right hand corner, the ferry connects the North and South Circular roads.

Bike and Boat

Bike and Boat - from the southside of the water

Apparently there is some legislation meaning there has to be a free crossing here – so the small ferry carries lorries, cars, bikes and pedestrians the short hop between North Woolwich and Woolwich. I wasn’t the only cyclist either! Crossing the river is quick and relatively easy – I was very lucky with where I was put on the boat, opening up a familiar view but from the ‘wrong side’ of the Thames barrier.

A familar sight

A familar sight - but from the 'wrong side'

Once on the south side however, it was pretty obvious the unwritten law (‘south London must be less good than north London’) rang true with respect to cycling facilities.  The ‘Thames Coastal Path’ weaves between the riverside and busy roads with lots of ‘give up an push’ signs.  In the end I gave up trying to follow the path round the Blackwall Reach peninsula due to the lack of sign posts! The roads of between Woolwich and Greenwich did have some advisory cycle lanes but on a Saturday afternoon were as snarled up as a rush hour.  At least, I’m not sure how much worse the traffic could get at rush hour.

Snarling traffic

Snarling traffic

By Greenwich I was pretty knackered – a quick pit stop and a chance to ‘refuel’ before heading under the river again using the foot tunnel.  Currently under renovation, the lifts are closed.  This meant carefully pushing the bike down a spiral staircase and the back up the other side.  Apparently this is part of ‘National Cycle Route 1’ but I didn’t see any signs and you can’t cycle in the tunnel (probably for the best – it’s very busy with people walking). Even back on the north side of the river there didn’t seem to be any NCN1 signs – so I just hit the road and headed towards Poplar. There’s loads of interesting things on the back streets here so it was really cool to explore a bit, even if all of the roads did some how seem to lead to the A12, effectively a motorway. Eventually back to the Lea/Lee path and to the ‘stow.

With 29.3 miles (46km) on the clock it was a new personal best. Still a long way to go though – need to nudge that above 40 miles and cycle every day for a while to ‘toughen up’. Where to venture next I wonder…?

*Lea/Lee – it is spelt differently in places. No idea why.

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