Posts Tagged ‘Richmond Park’

Heading back to the Dynamothership

February 5, 2016

So it’s official: I have returned to the welcoming bosom of the London Dynamo committee, this time to take up the new post of communications manager. My last stint was as part of the founding committee; in those early days my job was to write an amusing and reasonably informative newsletter called DYNAMITE!, which this blog originally served as an archive for the weekly publication’s entire five-year run (you can have a gander at it by clicking the “DYNAMITE! Filed” link on the left). I doubt anything I do this time around will be half as popular as that freewheeling weekly email. So why am I going back?

I came up with the idea of a communications manager after the club had to deal with two contrasting incidents during the past 12 months: the death of Akis Kollaros, who was killed under the wheels of a lorry a year ago this week, and poor old Rory Palmer leaving the club because he got busted for riding his bike downhill at 40mph in Richmond Park. At the Hillingdon Winter Series, our riders led two neutralised laps in honour of Akis, and road.cc ran an interview with our chairman Paul Harknett about the issue of speeding in the park. The small upside of both unfortunate incidents is that they provided rare occasions for Dynamo to communicate beyond its membership, and in each case it did so in an admirable way.

But as I asked during my short speech at our AGM on Saturday, why should the club communicate to the wider cycling world only when things go wrong? Dynamo does a lot of good projects – our growing junior section Sparks, our efforts to make sure Richmond Park’s poor resurfacing was sorted out, putting on two sell-out time trials in the park every year as well as a superbly well-organised road race – and I would like to tell more people about them using the club’s social media channels and through news outlets. So that’s what I will try to do.

What I am not going to do is try to change the opinion of the small but noisy band who will never like Dynamo. We are more conspicuous than other cycling clubs for many reasons – for a start, our cornerstone club ride takes us past the most popular cycling destination in the world at its busiest time – so we are always going to take a greater level of flak than most when, like all clubs, our standards slip from time to time. Fighting skirmishes is self-defeating; the bigger prize is to win over those who are impartial and encourage existing supporters to spread the word.

There was one exchange of views at the end of last year that made me realise once and for all that it is pointless to try to win over the most deeply entrenched critics. As you undoubtedly already know, 18-year-old Catford CC rider Gabriel Evans was caught taking EPO and rejoined Dynamo without telling us that he was being investigated. After Dynamo expelled him in December, the club tweeted its zero tolerance stance on doping. It was the sort of obvious but necessary statement you would expect a responsible organisation to make, especially one which is obliged to deal with the welfare of teenagers.

Luke Scheybeler, who founded Rapha and as far as I am aware remains a major shareholder, didn’t see it that way. “Genuine lol”, he tweeted, later stating that the club’s stance showed “unbelieveable pomposity”. (There is, of course, the wonderful irony of being called pompous by the man who gave us Rapha.) And Mr ScheybeLOL, in what is a first for Dynamo, believes the club has a “‘let’s pretend we’re pros’ attitude that’s led to kids taking dangerous drugs”.

FullSizeRender

So every time a bunch of thirty- or forty-something blokes race up a hill on their bicycles or shave their legs, we are somehow meant to believe they are encouraging teens to take PEDs. Depending on how you look at it, this notion is either a conspiracy theory or a moral panic of the kind you would expect to be wheeled out by a clapped-out politician. And it’s not the greatest idea to slag off some of your customers, which is probably why Rapha quickly and wisely distanced itself from its co-founder’s opinions.

It may seem unusual, but Luke’s curious Scheybelogic is part of the natural process of enmity: sneer for long enough and you will eventually have to come up with new reasons to maintain the intensity of your dislike, even if those reasons are wholly imagined. Which is why on my watch Dynamo is never going to engage with the sort of cyclist whose sport is not cycling but blustering.

The 20mph limit works in Richmond Park. Let’s not try to lose it.

December 1, 2015

me on sawyer's hill

You can see it in their eyes, an expression that may be politely interpreted as “Oh dear. I’ve really made a terrible hash of this, haven’t I?” It’s a look of alarm that I’ve witnessed a number of times over the past decade or so in Richmond Park, and it’s always staring at me from behind a windscreen. Motorists sometimes concentrate so hard on safely overtaking a cyclist that they don’t see a group of oncoming riders on the other side of the road who have already started to perform their own safe overtaking manoeuvre. I’m often in one of those groups. The car moves around the cyclist in front of it and the wide space we had to snake around a slower rider suddenly concertinas to half the size, forcing our two-abreast formation to squeeze into one line. Still, it all works out fine: the motorist learns a lesson (I would hope) and our cycling club lives to see another Saturday morning club ride.

I thought about those drivers when I read about the latest cyclist to get busted for exceeding Richmond Park’s speed limit. When I started riding in the park, the limit was 30mph and traffic levels were much lower. When the limit was lowered to 20 in May 2004, my indignation was typical of many two-wheeled users of the park – apparently it was meant to benefit pedestrians, deer and even the sex life of birds (apparently the sound of motor engines drowned out mating calls) but I couldn’t find a single mention of cyclists in the consultation document drawn up by the Royal Parks (which is no longer on its website). My perception was that we weren’t asked for our opinion; now, however, I realise the lowering of the speed limit has been a happy accident for us. Rerun the scenario I’ve outlined above with the limit still at 30, and both the motorist and the cyclists have much less time to react. For that reason alone, I’m pretty much in favour of it remaining at 20mph for motorists — and to keep it that way, we have to ensure the limit can continue being applied to cyclists as well.

Cycling advocacy lawyer Martin Porter has offered to defend on a no-win no-fee basis the next cyclist who is fined for speeding in the park. In a sense — a very limited sense — this would be a welcome development. “Vehicle” appears in the park’s regulations for speed limits, and the police are interpreting that word to include bicycles as well as cars. But there are some people who, like Martin but more often than not without his legal expertise, believe the police’s interpretation is incorrect and cyclists are exempt from the 20mph limit. It is an opinion which, it seems to me, has transmogrified in certain quarters into established fact through sheer repetition, so a proper challenge in court would at least determine once and for all if cyclists can legally ride at whatever speed they choose on our beloved 6.7-mile loop.

But as much as I admire Martin’s work, I think in this case he is thinking more like a lawyer and less like a cyclist. He is applying loophole logic, spotting a way out without considering what the consequences of an exit from an established system might be. Because if we can shoot downhill at around 40mph, as the two most recent cases of speeding did, what then? Would cycling in the park be safer? Would it be easier to police a two-tier system of 20mph for drivers and no maximum limit for cyclists? And would motorists be as likely to keep their speedometer’s needle below 20 if there was one rule for them and another rule (actually, scratch that — no rule at all) for cyclists?

These are questions to which the answer is no. The 20mph limit allows fast cyclists to safely overtake cars while motorists can safely overtake slower riders. Yet from the fierceness of the arguments made against it, you would think that it was an unpopular rule among cyclists, which is difficult to square with the massive rise in riders using the park since it was introduced, to the point where Strava reported that the cafe at Roehampton Gate has become the most popular cycling stop in the world.

The fact is, no one gets on their bike and heads to Richmond Park fearing they’re going to get stopped for speeding. You are not going to get pulled over simply for nudging 25. You are not a victim, and you are not being victimised. The most recent speeding cases were going at around twice the limit down the park’s smallest hill — a feat which is near impossible to achieve unless you are trying very, very hard to do so. If you think what they did was harmless, then imagine driving with either of those two behind you as you try to overtake a cyclist in front: a glance in your mirror would show them to be some distance away, and just as you move right expecting them to still be far off, they could suddenly rear up next to your door. Twice the speed limit means half the time to react.

Of course there are aggressive drivers in the park, and Martin says he would like to see resources spent more on dealing with all kinds of bad driving rather than focussing on speed — but I would argue that the police may not need to spend any more money to address this issue. As last December’s public meeting at Duke Street Church indicated, cyclists and non-cyclists appeared to agree that there are far too many drivers using the park as a shortcut, and it seems possible that the Royal Parks, which recently issued a questionnaire on the issue and set up temporary cameras to record traffic flow, may introduce road charging to keep most of them out. I reckon that if you’re driving along Queen’s Ride only to get to Bentalls a few minutes quicker, you’re the sort of driver who is more likely, shall we say, to treat cyclists as a nuisance, so let’s see if road charging happens and observe any beneficial effect it has on this kind of motorist before demanding the police act. I also think that criticising the police in this way overlooks their success: in terms of man hours, policing of the limit is actually very light, yet it has helped create an environment where the vast majority of park users are happy to abide by it. Compare that to the roads connected to the park which need speed humps and cameras to keep drivers below 20mph, or the roads near London Bridge or Southwark Bridge which have neither — and, as I witness daily, attract drivers who treat it as a normal 30mph limit.

Given that the latest cyclist to get nabbed was left £600 out of pocket following a trip to the magistrates court, I suspect that what the anti-20mph faction really don’t like is the cost of getting caught. On that point, I have some sympathy, and I suspect the police do too. At the Duke Street Church meeting, I recall one of the two police representatives stating that they would like to issue Fixed Penalty Notices (which would be much lower) but the law doesn’t allow them to. If Martin Porter wanted to campaign to get that changed, I would happily sign up. But the 20mph rule works well and we should not try to undermine it.

You can thank God the meeting about cycling in Richmond Park didn’t become a bunfight

December 20, 2014

Leaflets handed out at meeting about cycling in Richmond Park

Strange times in Richmond this week, where a public meeting to address the tensions between cyclists and motorists in Richmond Park ended with panellist and GLA cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan noting that it hadn’t been the scene of confrontation that some might have anticipated. I think there were many small reasons that helped to bring about this Christmas miracle, along with a very big elephant-in-the-room-type one. I’ll explain what I mean by that in a moment. First, though, I’m going to run through what I consider to be the notable moments during Wednesday night’s event at Duke Street Church, which was chaired by Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston (and if you want a briefer and less analytical look at what was said, then by all means have a look at my running commentary on the night).

The audience’s most consistent response, judging by the level of applause whenever the issue was raised, was that far too many motorists use the park as a shortcut. The most visceral reaction came in the form of two collective gasps from the crowd when Sergeant Michael Boulton, who leads the park’s policing team, revealed that the average speed of motorists who had been caught breaking the limit was 38mph, and the fastest was 56mph (the limit is 20). By contrast, cyclists were not as badly behaved as they are often perceived: Simon Richards of Royal Parks observed that they are only really speeding on the downhill sections – damn you, gravity! – and Kingston’s police commander said the number of tickets issued in the borough for jumping red lights was “low”.

On the issue of special facilities for cyclists, there is very little enthusiasm for a cycleway. The Friends Of Richmond Park said they are “wholeheartedly” against the idea as they believe it would turn the road into a dual carriageway, while Peter Treadgold, the panel’s expert on sustainable transport, drew the line at adding “heavy infrastructure” and would only go as far as suggesting that a separate cycle lane on the uphill sections might enable cars to pass more easily. A comment from the floor that motorists should travel in one direction on the circular roadway and cyclists on the other was met with a few groans of displeasure. Through traffic is through traffic, I guess, regardless of which way it goes.

Zac Goldsmith suggested that one of the areas that might be explored by interested parties was opening the park at different times of day for different users. He asked for a show of hands which showed there was broad support for looking at this concept. I understand that various groups and individuals will be meeting to discuss ideas generated by the meeting, and I’ll be interested to see what becomes of this one, as well as the idea of road charging which was also raised by Paul Harknett, my chum and London Dynamo club captain.

There was, of course, a bit of hostility to cycling, most memorably with one motorist declaring that Richmond Park was “plagued” by cyclists (the irony that the park is a facility principally for outdoor pursuits seemed to have escaped him). I could hear some grumbles and snorts from my corner of the pews whenever a cyclist made a reasonable point, but they were too quiet to register in the room. So why, given the strength of feeling about the issues at stake, was this not a noisier and more confrontational affair?

One reason could be because the anti-cycling brigade felt inhibited because they didn’t have a visible platform: as you can see from the picture above, we were all handed leaflets publicising Royal Parks, the Richmond Cycling Campaign and Zac Goldsmith, but there is no such organisation as Friends Of Motorists Who Choose To Drive In Richmond Park. There was also clear common ground between cyclists and non-cyclists on the issue of through traffic. Paul, Dynamo’s club captain, sounded reasonable and engaged, which probably helped build bridges (although I admit to being biased on that one). And even though Zac apparently received hundreds of strongly-worded emails prior to the meeting, it appears no one on either side of the debate is brave enough to be as angry in a public setting as they are behind the safety of a screen and a keyboard.

But my theory is that the venue itself took a bit of the heat out of the mood. We were in a church. Many of those who clearly appeared to be against cyclists were of an older generation who are more likely to be religious or at least show greater deference to its customs. And they were, thank the Lord, unwilling to raise their voices in a house of God.

It’s like having a football pitch in your own backyard

November 6, 2014

Sawyer's Hill in Richmond Park on sunny afternoon in October
I’m not sure Jen and I live in London anymore. We have a telephone number that begins “020”, but I spotted a temporary sign near our flat which warned that a leafy road was “closed for toad migration”. That was some time before we moved here in July. Since then, I’ve woken to hear parakeets squawking in the garden and breakfasted to the sound of clopping hooves outside our living room window. We didn’t get those sorts of things when we lived within earshot of two Premier League football clubs. Although we did get a lot of shouting on Saturdays.

I knew this area from years of cycling through it (in fact, I am only a 25-minute bike ride from our old flat) but it didn’t seem quite as pastoral before we began living here. We have moved to the edge of Richmond Park and, as I write this, I am looking at a row of trees which define part of its perimeter. On rainy days like this one, those trees are a forbidding wall, telling me to stay where I am until less inclement cycling weather comes along. During sunnier days, the branches sway in the breeze, beckoning me for a quick three laps. And how can I possibly refuse?

Imagine if you had somehow managed to buy a home that had its own football pitch, tennis court or Olympic-sized swimming pool; as a cyclist, that is how it feels living with the capital’s cycling Mecca on your doorstep. I am a mere seven minutes away from the meeting point of London Dynamo’s ever-popular Parkride (you missed a key selling point there, Zoopla) which enables me to fall out of bed at ten past eight on a Saturday morning and still make the eight-thirty start. I’m usually starving, and I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus. But, hey, I’m there.

Or rather, I’m not. Recently I’ve been knocking out laps much later on a Saturday, the idea being that I can still put in a good workout by trying to finish before the sun sets. It works, but for some reason the sorts of cyclists who frequent the park at that time of day are much less likely to leave you alone. Lone riders chase each other down, form a cluster, and then interpret my gradual easing past them as an attack. Even when I slow down and leave two bike lengths between us, I still get the old elbow flick telling me to come through.

I mean, really. What rudeness. Don’t they realise this is my park now?

A rare sighting of a 1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa in the wild

March 30, 2014

1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa profile

Fellow Dynamo Jonathon Stacey was in Richmond Park on Saturday morning proudly showing off a vintage bicycle he has restored to its former glory. My chum Martin Garratt was one of many Parkriders at the Roehampton Gate cafe who were taken by Jonathan’s glistening beauty, and he asked me to take a few snaps to show his brother because he didn’t have his phone on him. Obviously there are many more people who would like to drool over these images, so I thought I may as well stick ’em on here.

1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa rear mech

I didn’t know Jonathon and I asked him very little about his pride and joy, so I can’t give you a terrific amount of detail about it. But I do know that it has a Campagnolo Nuovo Record groupset, the pedals are made by Christophe (which later became the Zefal brand) and the frame was originally yellow. Oh, and the whole thing cost him £4,000. Enjoy!

1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa badge

1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa chainring

1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa pedal

1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa rear brake

1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa shifters

1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa seattube badge

1974 Cinelli Speciale Corsa top tube

The Ride journal back issues are available to download

January 31, 2014

ride issue 5 illustrationI wrote a piece for the excellent Ride journal a while ago. The issue in which it appeared, like all the others, has since sold out, but the Diprose brothers have now kindly put it online along with four others. The article I wrote is set in Richmond Park, and it’s about the relationship between riding and words, and the weird dynamic that occurs between you and strangers who happen to share your peculiar hobby. It’s in issue five, on pages 102 and 103. The issue also includes pieces by some guys called Michael Barry, David Millar and Graeme Obree. The downloads are free, and you can get them here.

What Rick Astley is saying to Richmond Park

August 8, 2013

Cyclists and Richmond Park: we’ve known each other, for so long. But as you watch the deer staring at you riding around, you’ve probably never realised that on any given day west London’s verdant jewel is paid a visit by none other than… Rick Astley.

It’s absolutely true. He said so in the Daily Express last week. (Hey – don’t judge me. I look through all the papers. It’s part of my job. Seriously.)

Rick, 47, revealed: “I have lived close to Richmond Park for the past 18 years and it has become something of a spiritual home. It is a beautiful place and I normally try to take a walk there every day.

“In some ways I am quite a solitary person and really do need time to myself to reflect and relax.”

Fascinating stuff. And, by making this admission, I think we all know what he’s trying to say.

Rick, in a very real sense, is telling Richmond Park: “I’m never gonna give you up.”

Indeed, he is certain, given the special connection he has to the park, that he is never gonna run around and desert it.

That, essentially, is Rick’s message to Richmond Park.

Don’t tell me you’re too blind to see.

The DYNAMITE! Five: the month in cycling, remixed. April 2013

April 30, 2013

5 UP John Torode
john torode outside richmond park cafe On a typically busy Saturday morning in Richmond Park, TV culinary arbiter John Torode was spotted parking his stealth-black Condor up against the wall of the famed Roehampton Gate café, where he quietly enjoyed a brew undisturbed by the large number of two-wheeled Masterchef fans milling around. Well done, polite Lycraists! Although it must have been tempting, surely, to congratulate him on doing a few laps of the park’s 6.7-mile loop by adapting his no-nonsense catchphrase and solemnly intoning: “Cycling doesn’t get any tougher than this.”

4 UP Slowing down
Fabian Cancellara, a lap away from besting Sep Vanmarcke to win Paris-Roubaixand he isn’t even ruddy pedalling! Has cycling slowly ever been more exciting? No, it has not. Cat-and-mouse officially beats solo breakaways on The DYNAMITE! Files Thrill-O-Meter. More of this please, professional cyclists!

3 DOWN Slowing down
Pictures from Amstel Gold were annoyingly intermittent this year, leaving the Dutch host broadcaster NOS filling airtime with expensive super-slo-mo shots of various riders – which, as TV expert Alex Murray pointed out, was a pretty ineffective deployment of broadcasting technology. Has slow motion ever been as uninteresting? No, it has not. Less of this please, professional television people!

jonathan vaughters in garmin control room 2 DOWN Jonathan Vaughters
He’s Garmin’s omniscient eye, observing the movements of his riders via the bank of screens in his control room. Sadly, that carefully cultivated image, propagated by the promotional film for the new Edge 810, was revealed to be yet another of cycling’s many lies after Jonathan Vaughters had to locate Nathan Haas with the modern-day equivalent of opening the window, yelling, and hoping for the best. “If anyone is near @NathanPeterHaas,” Vaughters tweeted, “please tell him he just got the last minute call up to do Amstel. And turn on his phone!”

1 UP OAT
What, you may wonder, is OAT? According to Bike Biz, it’s the Office for Active Travel, a soon-to-be-launched government department with a budget of more than £1billion which will aim to get more people cycling and walking. Well done, clever bureaucrats, for choosing a name relating to porridge, the traditional breakfast of British cyclists. Although, as the department will be responsible for moving bodies around, they could have called it the Central Agency for Kinetic Expression – or CAKE for short.

Will we ever see the back of US Postal?

April 19, 2013

US Postal jersey on Box Hill

The answer to the above question, judging by what I saw during my Surrey Hills ride this week, is possibly not.

I don’t usually ride on Sundays, but I made an exception this week so I could greet the belated arrival of Spring by displaying my bare legs and arms in Lycra. I’m sure Spring appreciated the gesture. Many bicyclepeople had a similar idea, judging by the herds lolling around at the top of Box Hill where I witnessed the full panoply of questionable jerseys on display, from Sky replica kit to those who chose to dress ironically – and, I’m sure you’ll agree, totally hilariously – as a tub of Marmite.

Box Hill in the sunshine

What intrigued me most, however, was spotting the famous blue tops of the US Postal cycling team. They say two is a coincidence, three is a trend; in that sense, the riders I saw wearing USPS jerseys – one in Richmond Park, the other (pictured above) on Box Hill – hardly constitute a resurgence of the once-ubiquitous blue-and-white kit. For some, though, it’s two too many: who would still want to associate themselves with the most duplicitous team in Tour de France history, whose star rider is now commonly prefaced with the word ‘disgraced’?

The answer is, maybe, they don’t. Believe it or not, you can wear a jersey solely for the purpose of riding, rather than using it as a tool to fit in with a group of strangers, expressing your brand loyalty or attempting to look completely amazing (which, naturally, I always do when I’m wearing my black-on-white Rock Racing kit). It was the first warm weekend of the year. They wanted to enjoy it. So they reached into their wardrobe and pulled out the first, or only, cycling-specific clothing they laid their hands on. And off they went. Sometimes a jersey is just a jersey.

So I’ve bought a new bicycle…

March 22, 2013

…and it’s green. Like a laser beam.

Merlin Excalibur seatstay

It has a computer brain.

Merlin Excalibur brain

And it’s adorned with a reference to the director of Blade Runner.

Merlin Excalibur top tube

So basically it’s a robot bicycle from the future. A Tron bike. A carbon fibre Terminator. An X-Wing on wheels. The Ridley brand is steeped in the heritage of Belgian cycling, but this looks like the sort of bicycle Kraftwerk’s robotic doppelgangers would ride (if they didn’t have aluminium poles for legs).

Merlin Excalibur profile

I’ve been interested in this particular Ridley Excalibur since Pearson Cycles tweeted a photo a couple of months ago. There are a few reasons why I decided to buy one: the price tag is quite attractive; I wanted to reward myself for being a very good boy money-wise throughout this financial year; and I wanted to try a carbon bike, especially one crafted in the traditional way – by anonymous factory workers in the Far East. More importantly, The Green Machine looks like it couldn’t give an anodised nipple what I or anyone else thinks of it, and that appeals to the obstinate side of my nature.

As a new owner in the first flush of joy, you’re not going to get anything remotely objective out of me at this stage. You may recall that bit in the Alan Partridge Christmas special, where he repeatedly presses the eject button on a CD player in a branch of Tandy (overseas readers: Tandy is, or was, Radioshack) and marvels: “Nice action… very nice action… that is a very nice action.”

Well, that’s basically me dicking around with Shimano Ultegra Di2 during the past couple of days. Changing gears electronically has its own peculiar fun, mainly because it’s so… soft. Light. Gentle. I’m enjoying it immensely, although it will probably be only a matter of time before I yearn for the manly clunk of the 2006 Chorus groupset on my Merlin Cyrene.

I rode up the small climb in Richmond Park against a headwind, and it feels noticeably zippier and more responsive than the Merlin. My emotionless android bicycle does not fear bad weather – but sadly, being human, I do. So I won’t be taking the Excalibur out if it snows or pisses down this weekend. You’ll just have to wait until next week to see it.

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