Creating a zero carbon transport system

Would you like to be able to walk and cycle more easily and safely? To breathe clean air and enjoy a reliable, affordable public transport system?

Transforming our transport system from one that is highly polluting and heavily reliant on fossil fuels into one that is clean, green, reliable and affordable is a challenge, but it can be done. Here is a selection of ideas on how we can create a better transport system that’s not only healthier for us all, but is compatible with a zero carbon future.
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Bike blog: The many benefits of cycling

We all know that cycling is a great way to get around but the benefits to your health are even more numerous than you may think!

I’m not going to start preaching about the environmental benefits of cycling. We all know that the carbon footprint of your average bicycle is going to be a tad less than your average ford mustang! But it is important to highlight the health benefits of getting on a bike because these benefits to your well-being can be just as rewarding.

While the thought of dragging yourself out of the house this late in the year might not fill you with joy, it can help banish those winter blues. Pick a cold, crisp morning and a brisk ide through your neighbourhood will make you feel great! Here’s why:

1. It’s a great family activity that can bring all ages together. You can even share a tandem if you’re feeling brave! Kids love cycling as there are not many experiences that are comparable. Just let them go for it and you can follow at your own pace. But be ready with the ear-defenders if there are any scrapes or falls…

2. Cycling is good for the body. A half hour’s cycling to and from work can burn eight calories a minute, which is equivalent to 11kg of fat in a year. As well as burning calories, riding a bike can do wonders for muscles and toning bums! Your heart will be exercised as well, growing stronger as a result.

3. It can also reduce the likelihood of certain cancers. Women who walk or use a bike for half an hour everyday have a lower chance of breast cancer. Don’t worry blokes, there are benefits for men as well.

4. Being on a bike improves your balance and co-ordination. Bicycling is the perfect practice because you have to move both legs, while steering and keeping your bodyweight balanced.

5. You go places! Okay, this might be obvious but you cannot travel anywhere if you are stuck in the gym exercising. You’ll run on a treadmill for hours but never go anywhere and will be forced to listen to relentless dance music whilst you do it. This is not the case when you are cycling. Unless you like that sort of thing, in which case feel free to listen to your favourite tunes while you peddle yourself fitter. It’s also been proven that you will exercise for longer when outdoors.

6. Independence. Well-being is all about feeling like you can do what you want to when you want to do it. By cycling, you don’t have to rely on the family car or public transport. This also means getting away from others because if you get the kids on a bike, you can get rid of them for a couple of hours!

7. Commuting to work on a bike will make you more relaxed and lower your stress levels. More so than driving to work!

8. It’s a low impact exercise. The regular circular movements you make when cycling are incredibly calming. Breathing is regulated but your joints won’t suffer as much because the impact pressures are much lower. Unless you hit something…

Which brings me to my last point – always wear a helmet. Riding a bike is not nearly as dangerous as many critics would have you believe. Infact, the health benefits of cycling have been shown to outweigh the safety risks twenty to one but as the days get shorter, it’s becoming more important to make sure you are protected and visible!

 

 

 

 

Bike blog: make it fit

Hello and welcome back to another bike blog!

Given that throughout my cycling life I’ve relied on sets of wheels I either got for free or a fairly negligible sum of money, the question of how well the bike actually fits me – or even whether it’s the right size – has never really arisen. Having a bike which fits has seemed to me like an untenable luxury, the exclusive reserve of people who buy bikes new, or compete, or at least certainly incompatible with my style of cost-cutting cycling.

However, one beautiful vintage racing bike later – one with a frame a little too high for my little legs – and I’m more alive to the need to make sure the bike fits. Dismounting was difficult, and occasionally injurious, but despite that, I commuted with it for a year – even taking it on a summer jaunt to France. Eventually, I realised that it just wasn’t safe, and needlessly difficult. While it pains me greatly to have to move on, it’ll be best for both of us. And when I find a proper replacement, I’ll make sure it’s the right size.

So far, I’ve been conflating size with fit. Those in the know about these kinds of things will be aware that the size of the bike refers to the frame, and how it is ‘out of the box’, whereas the fit encompasses everything you can adjust (from the seat post height to the angling of the handlebars) to make the bike optimally fit your body and cycling needs.

 

Some ideas for choosing the right size

  • the size of frame you’re after will depend on what type of frame you’re looking for – road bike, mountain bike, touring bike, comfort bike…? Different frame styles support different types of riding, so will fit very differently.
  • once you’ve ascertained what kind of frame you’re looking for, have a look at a frame size calculator or a frame size chart.
  • bike manufacturers will often provide resources to help you pick the right size.
  • there’s no substitute for giving it a go, however – while a bike might seem the right size on ‘paper’ various factors, from the size of the wheels to the peculiarities of different manufacturers, might make it uncomfortable to ride.

 

Some ideas for improving the fit

  • you can get this professionally done. Many bike stores will offer a bike fitting service, or you could turn to the expertise of a freelancer; either way, it’s likely to not be terribly cheap. This kind of fine tuning seems to be primarily aimed at “serious” cyclists looking to shave a few seconds of their time trial, but heavy use of a bike – whether to win races or get to work – can result in injury or discomfort if not fitted right. If you do decide to go with a professional bike fitting, make sure you make the most of it by requesting a copy of all the measurements and notes on all the alterations made, and be wary of the opportunity for up sell.
  • however, you can learn to make these changes yourself – and anything you change can get altered back again. Like anything bike-related, there’s dozens of resources available online to help. For starters, check out Peter White’s fairly comprehensive article.
  • the main considerations will probably be the height of the seat, the positioning of the handlebars, and the angling of the seat. You’ll find lots of advice online for figuring out how to adjust each of these.
  • adjusting your bike will involve compromising, so it’s worth having a clear idea of what you want to use your bike for. Do you want to ride super-fast and efficiently, or do you want to enjoy the scenery? Either way, you’ll need to make some trade-offs.
  • if you do get out the tool box for a few tinkers, keep in mind that there’s no one right way of finding the right fit. It’s about how it feels, not about how it adheres to some formula, so keep on testing and trying until you find what works.
  • check out this troubleshooting chart to diagnose problems with your fit.
  • a good fit will never be permanent, as your body and cycling priorities change. Be aware of how your bike feels and be prepared to continue making alterations.
  • finally, if it’s a good fit, you shouldn’t be aware of it. Keep trying until you stop noticing!

 

Bike blog: your rights on the road

This week we’re delving into a potentially gnarly topic: your rights as a cyclist on the road. In some contexts, as I’m sure most cycling commuters with a few miles under their belt would agree, the notion of having rights as a cyclist feels somewhat flimsy thanks to occasional harassment from our four-wheeled road-sharing partners.

Nevertheless, we do have rights – and as campaigns for cycle-friendly cities and safe cycling celebrate more and more successes, in years to come our legal protection will surely improve. Here’s a few pointers on what the law says, and a few points of contention worth a head-scratch.

Your rights

Rules for Cyclists make up rules 59 to 82 of the Highway Code. These ‘rules’ are a mixture of recommendations and orders, so some can be followed at your discretion; furthermore, they are in addition to the rest of the road rules in the Highway Code. The gist is nicely digested in Transport for London’s Tips for Safer Cycling, but the main points are

Clothing: you should wear a helmet, as well as reflective and visible clothing to make it easy for drivers to spot you
Lights and reflectors: you must have a white front light and a rear red light, as well as a rear red reflector and amber pedal reflectors
Where to cycle: you should make use of cycling infrastructure there to help you, like cycle lanes and advanced stop lines. You should be careful when sharing space with pedestrians, and must not cycle on the pavement. You can cycle two abreast, but must cycle single file on narrow roads or at corners
Safety: you must not cycle dangerously, for instance cycling under the influence of alcohol or cycle with a passenger unless your bike is adapted for this purpose

And now, for the complexities…

Geekery obviously knows no boundaries, so it shouldn’t have surprised me to find that it’s possible to get really into the detail of cycling law and policy. There’s a website dedicated to exploring this topic for England and Wales and healthy debate online about some of the finer points of cycling legislation.

Some things which aren’t clearly articulated in the Rules for Cyclists include bike trailers (which must also be fitted with a rear light and reflector) and unicycles, which seem to be a legal black hole. Of most interest, though, might be the confusion over what exactly a footpath, footway or pavement is, and where in the road you’re meant to cycle. There’s a great explanation here of the former, and as for the latter, unfortunately there’s no clear directive, although the Government’s cycle training scheme recommends that cyclists ‘take the road’ to avoid being squashed by the gutter or hit by car doors opening.

..and the morality

Should cyclists follow the same road rules as motorists? This question seems to cause a fair amount of angst, online and offline, possibly because cycling often isn’t a neutral, non-partisan activity, but rather one imbued with political, social and environmental concerns. It’s also one that seems to end up creating an ‘other’ – drivers, hermetically sealed in their little metal caves.

Running red lights is one of the classic questions, and one that seems to create a lot of flak for cyclists from angered motorists and pedestrians. However, the law is unambiguous on that front, as cyclists must follow the Highway Code like other road users; this is the invariable result of campaigning for ‘vehicular cycling’ (making it safe to share the road with cars, rather than advocating separating cyclists and cars in different lanes, a la the Netherlands).

I think it’s perhaps more interesting to consider what is supported, though not always articulated in law, by authorities – cycling two abreast, or taking a dominant position in the road. Both of these actions can cause some strident reactions in some motorists – and yet, both can often be integral to the safety of the cyclist.

Furthermore, having to adhere to a Highway Code which is designed with the driver in mind while also feeling endangered while sharing the road, and frustrated at cycle lanes being blocked by inconsiderately parked cars feels somewhat unfair, and only adds to the feelings of embitterment at drivers.

But surely it’s this divide which is the problem – if drivers aren’t aware that it’s legal to cycle assertively, or how essential this can be to a cyclists’ safety, or how much of an obstacle their parked car poses in a cycle lane, then it’s unlikely that they would become more tolerant. Equally, drivers may feel that cyclists need to be more understanding of their needs, by ensuring that they’re properly lit and visible, or indicating at intersections.

Perhaps we need to spend some time in each others’ seats – or, preferably, be neither one nor the other.

 

Bike blog: keeping dry

Does wet weather stop you cycling? When I first got into commuting by bike, peering out the window in the morning to be faced with a heavy downpour was rather off-putting. However, as I’ve got hardier (or as alternative travel options have reduced) I’ve come to relish the challenge. Leaving home dressed as a penguin, waterproofed to the nines and squinting into the deluge brings its own kind of pleasure, I find; however, facing the unexpected shower unprepared remains among my least favourite cycling mishaps.

So, like with so many other things, a little preparation can make life a lot more comfortable. There’s little point in being quixotic about it – it rains, often inconveniently. Since I’ve already declared my stoic ambition to cycle on through the winter, being ready to do battle with the downpours is an essential element of that.

With no further ado, here’s my ideas for keeping yourself warm and toasty when the weather’s anything but. Leave us a comment below with yours!

  • keeping your posterior dry. There’s no doubt it’s miserable planting yourself on a damp seat, especially if the weather’s turned fine. It’s easy to improvise with some plastic bags, or you could keep a cloth on hand to wipe the moisture off. Alternatively, a waterproof seat cover can add a bit of style and colour – check out some of the quirky offerings on Etsy, or follow this tutorial to make your own!
  • avoid damp feet. Also deeply miserable, especially if your sodden shoes take a long time to dry out – protecting your feet from the weather is sure to improve your mood. Again, plastic bags can provide a quick-fix, or there are various over-shoe options available. Unfortunately not many of these seem to be aimed at commuters, designed instead to fit over clip-on cycling shoes. If you are intending to get over-shoes, try and pick something lurid and reflective to make the most of an item of clothing you’ll only use while cycling. The only fail-safe way to keep your feet dry, however, is to take a spare pair of shoes and change. It’s a pain to lug an inordinate amount of stuff around, for sure, but it’s also thoroughly enjoyable changing into fresh and dry clothes at the other end.
  • have a rain-avoidance stash. Having a spare set of clothes or waterproofs at work may do much to improve your wet weather cycling experience. Waterproofs which fold up compactly may also be a great option for keeping in your bag at all times. Keep an eye out at charity stores for a set of spares.
  • put on some long mudguards. Mudguards make a massive difference, preventing a very wet bum on a fine day with wet roads. They’ll also protect your chain and derailleur from getting saturated with petrol and whatever else is lingering on the roads.
  • get a decent set of waterproofs. A good set of waterproofs are probably the most essential element in any cyclist’s weather protection kit. Ideally, you want them to be comfortable, breathable, long lasting, fixable, and multi-purpose. If you can stand it, getting a waterproof jacket in glorious hi vis yellow with reflective stripes might be a great investment. Don’t forget about the second hand, market, either – outdoor equipment does have a cost, socially and environmentally, and it’s worth considering how and from what the garment is constructed.

 

Bike blog: you can keep your light on

If I had to admit to a vice, it would probably be that I’m often not as concerned as I should be about being visible when cycling.

It doesn’t sound like a terribly thrilling admission, but it’s definitely shameful. While a lot more could be done to protect the safety of cyclists on the road, we’re each responsible for doing our utmost to make sure that we’re seen. There’s a limit to how considerable drivers can be if they can’t see you, and with daylight saving just around the corner (if you’re based in the UK), cyclists need to be extra vigilant to ensure that the ride home is a safe one.

So, with no further ado, here’s my suggestions about keeping yourself lit and reflective. Leave us a comment below with yours!

  • invest in some decent lights. There’s certainly plenty of selection out there, and plenty of online reviews. Don’t try to save money on your lights – it’s not worth scrimping on. Rather, go with the best that you can afford
  • lights need to fulfill two purposes – enabling you to see, and enabling you to be seen. The latter will be important irrespective of where or when you usually cycle. Even if you only expect to be out during daylight hours, gloomy weather, fog, mist and rain can adversely affect visibility and you need to have lights to hand to make sure motorists can still see you
  • the kind of lights you need to enable you to see, on the other hand, will depend on what kind of cycling you’re doing. As I mainly cycle on the un-lit country roads around CAT, I need something with a serious beam to ensure that I don’t end up in the river. If you’re mainly cycling in urban areas, you might not need something as powerful
  • although it’s completely obvious, always have them with you. I’ve often made the mistake of not taking my lights, anticipating to be back well before dark, only to find that plans change and I’m stuck three miles from home without anything to guide my ride back. No matter where you’re going, take them!
  • and in the same vein, always make sure you’ve got back up. Lights are made up of various parts that could fail unexpectedly – have spare batteries, or always have your charger with you, and have spare bulbs and know how to change them. Alternatively, have a spare set of lights
  • think about how you look to a driver. What would make you most clearly visible? Motorists need to be able to see your outline and position on the road at a distance, so carefully choosing and positioning your lights and reflective gear is key. A confusing mass of variously coloured blinking lights may not be that much help
  • if you’re using something seriously high powered, be considerate to other road users. Lights mounted on helmets can be in the eye line of drivers and can blind
  • British law requires cyclists to be lit up at night. You must have a white front light and a red back light, a red rear reflector and amber pedal reflectors. The law additionally recommends that white front reflectors and spoke reflectors are used, and that cyclists use steady lights in conjunction with flashing lights
  • use a flashing light to be seen at front, as well as a steady beam. Using a steady beam as well makes it easier for motorists to see where you’re going. Use a flashing rear light, and, if possible, mount a light on your helmet. Motorists need to be able to see your outline, so indicate this as clearly as possible
  • go out with a friend to check your visibility. Sometimes back lights can be easily obscured by panniers, or by an overhanging coat or skirt
  • bike light technology is ever-improving, so if your set up is a bit aged, have a look at what’s on the market now. I wouldn’t recommend replacing anything unnecessarily, but you may find that older lights drastically under-perform compared to more recent makes
  • wear hi-vis, however apparently undesirable it is. There’s plenty of options, from the full-body suit to the light jacket, but getting something multi-purpose (such as a yellow raincoat with reflective stripes) is ideal. You can purchase reflective tape and reflective stickers, and if you’re really desperate to find alternative means of making yourself reflective, get some of Dashing Tweed’s tweed with reflective thread for a classy waistcoat or cape

Bike blog: setting up a community bike workshop

 

Welcome to our weekly bike blog, where we share our enthusiasm for all things two-wheeled. This week’s topic is one we’ll no doubt return to – community bike workshops! Here, we share some ideas for getting a community bike workshop going. Leave us a comment below with yours!

  • Start simple. Get together with others nearby to pool what you have – this could be as straightforward as a list itemising the tools owned by each person, and their contact details.
  • What else could be of use? Sharing your tools makes the acquisition of new ones considerably easier – especially more expensive items such as bike stands, which are extremely useful but perhaps unaffordable for an individual. Note what tools you’d like to get, and decide how you’ll split the cost. Could you run a membership scheme, where interested folk pay an annual stipend to use the group’s resources? Could you hold a fundraiser, or collect donations in a more ad hoc way?
  • Setting up tools and equipment in a permanent location does complicate matters – but having a dedicated place for bike fixing is a fantastic resource. Is there somewhere you could rent cheaply, or a way of getting funding to pay rent? What kind of procedures will you need to put in place to ensure that tools stay safe and secure?
  • If you’ve got somewhere to store them, consider asking for donations of old bikes. Getting bikes back in working order is a satisfying process – in the process you can learn more about bike maintenance and furnish someone else with a set of wheels. No matter the state of disrepair, most bikes have something on them worth keeping.
  • One of the best aspects of having a community bike workshop is being able to share skills and learn with others. Perhaps you could run a monthly tutorial where you get to grips with something specific.

Bike Blog: some tips for winter cycling

Welcome to a new feature on the CAT blog – our weekly Wednesday bike blog! We’re going to be sharing thoughts, ideas and inspiration from the wonderful world of two-wheeled travel. If you’ve got something you’d like us to cover, leave us a comment below.

I live in Machynlleth, a three mile commute up to CAT. It’s a stunningly beautiful ride, whether in the early morning sun or the pink-tinged dusky sky. With another winter fast upon us, I’ve been thinking about how I’m going to make sure that, like last year, I can keep commuting to work through the cold. As an expatriated New Zealander, winter cycling is a relatively new phenomenon; last winter I was left of fairly lightly by the mild weather we had in Mid Wales. This time around, I’m bracing myself for something a bit more bitter. Here are some of my ideas for making winter cycling work – leave us a comment below with yours!

riding a bike in winter can be dangerous, so stay within your limits. There’s no point in pushing yourself and feeling unsafe.
put on some mudguards. Not only will they enable you to arrive less water-logged, they’ll also prevent you saturating your chain and derailleur with what ever’s lingering on the roads (mud, petrol), which won’t keep them in good condition.
think about what tyres you’re using, and ask your local bike shop what they’d recommend for winter.
and while it’s an obvious point, it’s important to make sure you’re as well lit as you possibly can be. Make sure you have back-up batteries if yours fail, and if you can, fit extra lights to your bike.
lubricate and clean your chain regularly. Chain lube will get washed way in the wet weather, so your chain is much more at risk getting rusty, and more likely to become clogged with mud and dirt.
keep your bike in check. How do your brakes feel? Do your gears change easily? Any suspicious clunking? Fixing problems as they arise and checking your bike’s functionality before you head out will make your commute considerably safer.
have a back-up plan. If it doesn’t feel right to cycle, don’t – and have other options if you need an alternative way to get around.
wear something visible. Forget style, and choose instead hi-vis jackets, reflective belts, and rainwear in visible colours.