Posts Tagged ‘Barclays Cycle Hire’

The key to preventing bike thefts

October 31, 2013

I’ve had an idea how manufacturers could help prevent thefts of their bicycles. It’s not going to happen now, but I think it could happen in the future. To explain, I’m going revisit the recent past.

A few months ago I wandered into a shop which sold only electric bikes. The owner’s enthusiasm for his products was tempered by a smugness which I thought was unwarranted. Thanks to his bike’s motor, he could get from his shop to central London within 10 minutes – but then so could I, and I can enjoy the exhilaration of riding a bike rather than the tedium of operating a clunky electric machine. He pointed out all the bicycles in his shop were fitted with a disabling system (which I presume contribute to their two grand price tag). It’s basically a small electronic card that fits into a slot on the handlebars and it functions in a similar way to a car key: without it, the bike won’t start. He said that as a result of the disabler, he had only one bike stolen in the past seven years. Well, none of my bikes have a special electronic key, and I haven’t had one nicked for more than a decade. Maybe knowing where you can’t safely leave your bike unattended is more worthwhile than having an expensive anti-theft device.

I doubt electric bikes will sell particularly well in the UK over the next few years. Apparently they’re the coming thing in China, the Netherlands and Germany, but these are countries that each have had their own cycling cultures for generations, so I suspect a lot of long-term riders are converting to electric when age or its attendant infirmity or injury prevents them from using regular bikes. Countries such as Britain that have recently caught the cycling bug may take longer to convert. Here in London, some of the Barclays hire bikes will go electric for a trial in a hillier part of the capital, and I imagine they will prove popular with the more, shall we say, leisurely rider who doesn’t want to sweat it when the road heads upwards. But realistically, how many Londoners would end up spending the price of a decent second-hand car on an electric bike of their own if they could use one for £1 a pop?

The disabler, though, is a useful idea. I wasn’t aware that such a facility existed – and neither, I suspect, did the thief who threw the shopkeeper’s bike into the back of his van, otherwise he wouldn’t have taken it. Surely what we need is a gadget that can fit onto the next generation of ordinary, pedal-powered, mass-market bikes; that way, every thief would know about them, and its presence would act as a disincentive to theft because the bikes would be much harder to sell on without that “key”. But what would that thing be?

I think it already exists. It’s the electronic groupset. Take the battery out of the slot for Shimano’s Ultegra Di2 and my Ridley Excalibur is not much use. Yes, you can still ride it in whatever gear you left it in, and I’m not suggesting we all buy expensive, Di2-equipped carbon bicycles to go down the shops or get to work. But the prices of electronic groupsets are coming down as their popularity increases, which means, like all kinds of consumer goods, it is probably only a matter of time before they make it into the mainstream. So maybe we could one day see an ordinary commuter bike that a thief couldn’t easily sell on because the bit that makes it fully operable is in the pocket of the owner. That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

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Hostility on Kensington High Street

October 25, 2013

Rim brakes versus disc brakes. Electronic gears versus mechanical. Froome versus Wiggins. Sometimes, when the entrenched opinions and fierce debates of competitive cycling get too much, I long for a time when cycling was, for me, simply a means of getting about. Surely I would encounter fewer angry exchanges of deeply-held views if I went back to simply being a commuter. Then I disabuse myself of this notion by venturing into the realm of cycling advocacy and cycle safety. A spleen has not truly been vented, it seems, until it is tackling the merits of, say, a shared-use pathway.

Unusually, I found a cycling advocacy blog last week that actually made me laugh, albeit unintentionally. It goes by the wholly unbiased and open-minded title Two Wheels Good, Four Wheels Bad, and the post that gave me a chortle was about the proposed Cycle Superhighway.

It seems council officials are resisting Transport for London’s plan to build a two-lane segregated bike route along Kensington High Street because it would reduce traffic flow to one lane on part of the road and supposedly create an obstacle for pedestrians wanting to catch buses. These could be valid reasons, or they might be excuses from intransigent councillors, perhaps refusing to be ordered about by a much larger body. What’s interesting, though, is Two Wheels’ insistence that Kensington High Street is a “hostile” design for cyclists, and that the Superhighway is the best way to remedy it.

“Kensington High Street is a shopping street,” Two Wheels Good fumes, “not a distributor road, so why on earth should it have two lanes of motor traffic in each direction?!” Well, I’ve lived a few minutes away for almost 14 years, and I’ve found it one of the more pleasant main roads in Zone 1 to cycle on, partly because of its width and relatively low traffic levels. And isn’t it precisely because it is a shopping street with slower-moving traffic that makes a dedicated two-way cycle lane unnecessary?

What amused me is that as I was thinking this, Two Wheels made my point for me with a series of photographs.

kensington high street empty road

“It would be difficult to come up with something more hostile to cycling if you tried,” the blog states, even though the photos clearly show the opposite: the road is wide, there are lots of empty spaces, and cyclists are easily negotiating their way around parked vehicles.

kensington high street cab ahead

kensington high street passing cab

kensington high street walking bikes

“Also important to note is the two separate cases of Barclays Cycle Hire users that felt the road, in it’s [sic] current layout, was too dangerous to use and wheeled/cycled on the pavement instead.” It’s also important to note that he didn’t appear to actually ask them why. Maybe they just like cycling on the pavement. The trio walking their bikes may be tourists. They could’ve been lost. Or maybe they just got bored of cycling around.

Who knows? Certainly not Two Wheels Good. It seems to me that he just doesn’t like the road because it doesn’t have a segregated path and nothing will change his opinion. So yes, there is hostility on Kensington High Street. But its presence is behind the camera, not in front of it.