Friday, 16 September 2011

The end of an era

For four years now, in amongst the cheery writing of Copenhagenize, A View from the Cycle Path and a million and one bicycle blogs, there has been one exception - the habitually grumpy, surly, sarcastic Freewheeler of Crap Cycling in Waltham Forest.

For four years, Freewheeler has been cycling around the London borough of Waltham Forest pointing out just how crap things are for pedestrians and cyclists. His/her writing though is relevant to a much wider audience than residents of Waltham Forest. What he points out is relevant to almost anyone who rides a bike in an English-speaking country. Day after day they are fed crap infrastructure while they watch with an equal combination of amazement and envy as other countries just seem to be able to get it right.

Never shying away from speaking his mind, he has come up with such gems as this:
There was widespread agreement that cyclists should do more to make themselves visible on the road

Oh really? In what way do the laws of optics not apply to cyclists? The toxic sub-text of that sentence is ‘because many drivers are not concentrating on controlling a ton of machinery in motion – they are chatting on the phone, reading a text message, changing a CD, finding a new radio station, looking at their SatNav etc – cyclists have a special obligation to draw attention to themselves in order not to be run down.’

That toxic logic even applies to pedestrians. It is now acceptable for a driver to execute a pedestrian on a zebra crossing if the pedestrian was wearing ‘dark clothing’. Road safety is a victim-blaming ideology and the conspicuity red herring is one of its most striking achievements.

this post about classically bad cycling infrastructure (one of hundreds incidentally), superb posts about cab drivers in London and this absolute classic comparing cycle chic in London and Copenhagen:

A must read is the eight part series on things that won't bring about mass-cycling:

1. 20 mph zones
2. "Shared space"
3. Strict liability legislation
4. Cycle training
5. Vehicular cycle campaigning
6. "Safety in numbers"
7. 5% plus modal share in a vehicular cycling environment
8. Legislation and education to make drivers behave better towards cyclists.

Freewheeler's identity has always remained anonymous and so, certainly in my view, he/she has become a bit of a caped crusader, pedalling around North London suburbs pointing out crap - of which there is tons. He commented rarely on other people's blogs. You see them on A View from the Cycle Path from time to time. A brief insight into the character of Freewheeler can be seen in a comment on Real Cycling where he/she expresses a view on the most appropriate role for him/her in an opera about London's bike hire scheme.

Freewheeler's most recent post is now some 5 weeks old. A recent comment on War on the Motorist suggested that after four years of carping, Freewheeler has hung up his fluorescent vest and stopped blogging. Judging by how prolific his/her writing used to be, I'd say that is looking increasingly likely. The good thing is thaht while Mikael Colville-Andersen has spawned a series of Cycle Chic websites around the world, Freewheeler has inspired more and more grumpy, miserable and sarcastic bloggers including the Grumpy Cyclist, the People's Cycling Front of South Gloucestershire and Bristol Traffic. I know which I prefer!

I guess it just became too much. Who knows?

Freewheeler's legacy will remain thanks to those bloggers and the fours years worth of material that remains on the Crap Walkam Forest blog. A fitting tribute would be for us all to look at the world through Freewheeler's eyes whenever we can. Instead of saying, "ooh look. The local council has painted a line in the gutter for us. Yippee", tell it like it is:

"Nah mate, it's shit".

Cycle Chic Freewheeler style


  1. Great post. I must admit I stopped reading FreeWheeler's very useful blog a few months ago because what he wrote about was so depressing I didn't want to read it anymore.

    The good news for Adelaide is that I've heard the Chief Executive of the major transport authority in South Australia express the sentiments of your last line, of course he put it in politespeak. This signals that a big change is in the wind for cycling in this State. How big will be up to the people in South Australia (that's the normal people who make up 99@ of the population, not the VC, spandexed, pro-helmet "cyclists" whose advocacy has only brought us Adelaide's crap cycling facilities and MHL) demanding proper cycling conditions as espoused by FreeWheeler, yourself, David Hembrow etc, and not the crap conditions that exist in London.

    So stay tuned and I suggest start thinking about how to expose the general population to proper cycling conditions so that they advocate for it when the time comes. Blogs like yours are a good start but how can we bypass the reactionary media in this State with the message? Any good marketing people out there with suggestions?

  2. Hi Jim,

    Thanks very much for your comment. I look forward to any new developments. Cycling is very much in vogue at the moment and while progress may be slow, State and Local Government seem to be willing to do what they can to make choosing the bike easy for the general population. It does not have to be a direct copy of what you see in other countries. Stephen Fleming has what I think is a great vision about using old railway corridors and industrial sites:


  3. Edward,

    I will have to respectively disagree with you on every point in your response to my comment of 16 September.

    It's not a matter of whether cycling is fashionable, the fact is that before long it will become an economic necessity for large numbers of people in this State when the price of petrol price starts to rise sharply again and drives the cost of living to a point where household transport budgets severely impact on financial well-being and quality of life.

    All levels of government will be caught on the hop when this happens as there will be a huge demand for segregated paths along all the arterial roads, which are the quickest way to get from A to B, not the windy linear park trail tracks or rail corridors that only leads to the city. Local government for its part will be caught out by the sudden massive demand for bike parking everywhere.

    This and previous State Government's efforts have been barely above pathetic. They have the power to invest in infrastructure and set the agenda but they haven't. They also have it in their power to repeal the MHL at the stroke of a pen but won't. Government ministers have travelled to Europe and seen everyday cycling but have done nothing to try and achieve those conditions here.

    The current State Govt has spent probably less than $50m dollars on everyday cycling facilities compared to the billions they have invested in road building projects. I don't count the cycling training tracks along the Northern and Southern Expressways as everyday cycling infrastructure.

    Not considering just copying what works spectacularly in the Netherlands as a starting point would be foolish. I hear the same thing from SA cycling "advocates" all the time and to me it is just an excuse for them to stay in their comfort zone and keep churning out the same wretched on-road bike lanes as now and to not push to repeal MHL. Most of them and the people they mix with are in the sports cycling set that is accustomed to riding with motor traffic, so they have no personal interest in making cycling safe for everyone from 8-80 years of age. I have found out infinitely more about what is good for cycling from the internet in the last 12 months than I have ever heard from all of these so-called advocates combined in the last 20 years.

    As for Fleming, his writing is entertaining and he does really good bike reviews (thanks Dr B-M if you're reading) but his original ideas of what constitutes good cycling infrastructure are nearly all screwy and he too seems to want to ignore world's best practice. Building good cycling infrastructure sits in the field of integrated land use and transport planning, whereas he's an architect and seemingly way out of his depth, especially compared to someone like David Hembrow.

  4. Thanks again for your comment Jim. I may not have expressed myself as well as I could.

    When I refer to cycling being in vogue, I mean that it is at least on the radar in that it is often written about in newspapers and some of our leaders at least talk about it from time to time. There seems to be a concensus that encouraging more people to ride bikes to get places is desirable. That's at least a start. Imagine if you were trying to promote carrying freight by canal. You wouldn't get anywhere because it's just not on anyone's radar.

    I agree with you that a network to the standard of those in the Netherlands would be ideal and we should certainly be aiming for that. The problem though is one of attitude - what the Germans used to call "Mauer im kopf" after the wall came down. Most people, politicians included, who do not ride simply do not care. They are quite happy driving places because it is easy. Cycling looks unpleasant and unsafe (which it generally is in this country) so why would they want to bother?

    Promoting a cycling network because we will soon run out of oil doesn't really work either I don't think.

    For my part, I would like a safe network of cycle routes for a number of reasons. The first is that encouraging car use for practically every journey (as we do now) is inefficient and a waste of resources, including valuable land. Second, I would like people to have the choice of how they get places. Our current built environment effectively removes that choice. Third (and this is connected to the others), encouraging car use in the way we do is undemocratic. It means children and teenagers are prevented from getting around as they choose, which in turn leads to the ridiculous amount of traffic we have every morning and afternoon because of parents driving children to and from school. Fourth, a city that encourages foot and pedal traffic is so much more pleasant and, contrary to popular belief, is better for business. There are tons of other reasons.

    We have lived with our car culture and MHLs in thsi country for that long that showing an alternative viewpoint is really very difficult. An effective bike network, whether on-road, off-road or a combination of the two, is definitely the way to do it. Once people see that it works, the job I think is half done. People can see that is works. An important thing for me is to show that this is not about forcing people out of cars. If you believe some of the comments on Adelaide Now, that's the fear. It isn't about that at all. First and foremost for me, it's about choice.

    For me, one of the most important things is to show that encourage walking and (normal) cycling is in everybody's interest. Giving cyclists a proper, safe, designated space on roads and elsewhere will benefit everyone. It is good for businesses and actually relieves rather than causes congestion. It is also democratic and makes towns and cities more pleasant.

    Getting that message across is the trick but it often feels like banging your head against a wall. I actually think we agree with other on the whole.

  5. Jim, no one is going to spend any money on cycling infrastructure, much in the same way no one is going to spend any money on developing base load solar power for so called "economic reasons."

    I admire cyclists and I'm sympathetic to the cause of friendly motor ways and lowe cost transport, but cycling won't get any funds, or champions for that matter, whilst drivers are prepared to kill you, just to prove a point.

    Public transport will always be a favoured policy, regardless of the economics; that's the just the culture.

  6. Anonymous,

    That's a decidedly defeatest attitude I have to say. Why won't anyone spend money on cycling infrastructure? I'm not sure I agree that psychopathic drivers are the biggest barrier.

    One day we will look back and wonder. Check out

  7. I miss freewheeler he/she must have lived quite close to me. His/her heart was in the right place. We have to put up with so much s.. from the motoring/roads lobby.