Trains and Bikes and Planes – a cautionary tale of taking bikes to Italy

It must be the travelling cyclists’ worst nightmare – to arrive at a foreign airport with a damaged and unrideable bike. That’s what happened to my partner Nic and I in Bologna in 2004. One bicycle had no stem or saddle and the other a buckled back wheel. The prospect of riding standing on the pedals for three weeks did not appeal and in any case Nic’s back wheel was so buckled that it took a great deal of effort even to push it.

We decided that the damage was caused by a car lover/bike hater baggage handler throwing the bikes into the aircraft hold and then dumping massive cases on top of them.

We had travelled by British Airways from Gatwick, where BA staff were relaxed about transporting bicycles– no-one behaved as though we were two-wheeled aliens just landed from the planet Zog, as is often the case.

In 2002 despite the initial disbelief of KLM staff, our experience  flying from Cardiff (via Brussels) to Rome had lulled us into a false sense of security. The bikes arrived in Rome, even after transfer from one aircraft to another in Brussels, without damage, but in 2004 and 2010 Flying from  Gatwick and from Bristol Airports, it was a different story.

I suppose we should have realised in 2004 that there could be a problem, when the bikes were sent down on the narrow conveyor belt to be loaded with all the other luggage. In Bologna they were returned in their damaged state on the luggage carousel. In 2002 at Cardiff and Rome airports they were accepted and returned through a special ‘bulky luggage’ gate.

Our laid-back travelling philosophy when riding in Italy was to book flights and insurance and to have a general idea of where we were going, but trying to be cool with two broken bikes and no accommodation at 6pm in Bologna airport, was an effort. It took another hour to report the damage and the missing bits, before we managed to book accommodation near Bologna Railway station and to get our busted bikes on a bus.

Not the best start to three weeks cycling in our chosen destination – the Salento coast, Puglia – the heel of Italy. However, later that evening our problems seemed to lessen after a pile of antipasti, a plate of pasta, and a carafe of ‘vino locale’!

The following morning we pushed our bikes the one kilometre to the nearest bike shop, only to find the sort of bike shop common in England in the1950s and 60s. To be fair they were more interested in servicing Vespas and Lambrettas than bicycles.

They could do nothing with Nic’s buckled back wheel, nor did they have a stem and saddle to fit my bike. Just as we began to feel helpless and worried the manager of the shop directed us 200 metres down the road to a cycle shop reminiscent of John’s bikes or Avon Valley Cyclery in Bath.

Here my saddle was replaced inside 20 minutes, and even though we were told that we would have to wait three days for a new wheel for Nic’s bike, we were relieved and we felt confident that the owner, a former competitive cyclist judging by the photos on the shop wall, would be as good as her word. In fact the wheel was ordered, delivered and fitted in two days.

Our plan was to catch a train from Bologna to Lecce, centre of Baroque architecture in the heel of Italy, and from there cycle around the Salento Coast, before getting the train back to Bologna.

Bikes in bags, with luggage. Is this the best way to fly with bikes?

However, when we tried to book on trains that catered for bikes, we found that we would have to make seven changes and the journey would take two days. Only some Italian trains could at that time accommodate bicycles, so at this stage we did begin to wonder whether we would ever get to our destination and begin our cycle touring.

We were obviously just very lucky In 2002 to travel by train from Rome to Naples with bikes in just a few hours.

Eventually we decided to buy bike bags, so we could dismantle and pack away the bikes. We would then be able to get on to Eurostar Italia and get to the south in a matter of hours , rather than days. I returned to our friendly local bike shop and sure enough they kept bike bags in stock – once again it looked as if we might get to the Salento after all.

We spent three great days in steaming hot Bologna – definitely ‘bike city’ – flat with wide paved avenues and plenty of pedestrianisation/bike/public transport around the central ‘due torre’ area, where two wheeled vehicles outnumber four and the buses were all spanking new.

On Friday morning we arrived at the railway station to board the train to Lecce. The train was due to leave from platform nine, so that was where we took the wheels off our bikes, removed the panniers, turned the handlebars parallel with the frame and stored the frame in the middle of the bag with the wheels on either side. Bags and bikes are very heavy, unless you have ultra- light expensive models – ours, named ‘Bicci and Roadie’ are solid worker touring bikes.

With an earlier train stuck at platform nine 15 minutes after it should have left, we speculated on the chances of a platform change and agreed that this would fit with our luck so far.

Sure enough our train rumbled into platform six, signalling a rush of passengers into the platform subway. There were no lifts from subway to platform. Imagine having to carry bike bags and four full pannier bags from platform 1 to platform 2 at Bath Spa station in two minutes and you have some idea of the struggle we had to catch the Eurostar to Lecce. I’m sure my bike is heavier than Nic’s because she seemed to manage the transfer with ease while I struggled to stay upright! We just about made it and were at last on our way complete with working bikes.

After staying in Lecce for one night we decided to start our ride from Gallipoli, a short 40 minute train ride away. We were told at the station that the local train we were to take would carry bikes without having them in bike bags.  No one had told the train manager so we had once again, to dismantle the bikes and put them in the bags.

Nic in the south of Italy

Just over two weeks later after some wonderful riding around the Salento coast, from Gallipoli, to Torre San Giovanni, past Santa Maria di Leuca the southernmost point of Italy, Tricase Porto, Santa Cesarea Terme and its cold water spa, Porto Badisco the easternmost point in Italy and Otranto, we cycled into Lecce in the hot evening sunshine for the night train to Bologna.

Right at the start of our ride at Lido Conchiglie in the last steaming hot days of August, we spent time on the beach and in the sea, with three nights spent at the edge of the Mediterranean eating raw mussels, clams and giant clams, all uncooked, grilled octopus and cuttlefish and drinking the ridiculously cheap, but very pleasant “vino locale” all served by the local barbeque chefs in a taverna with white plastic tables and chairs and paper table cloths.

No standing on ceremony here in an eating place reminiscent of the ‘kiss me quick’ seaside resort cafes still to be seen in traditional British seaside resorts, but the quality of the food and wine set it apart from these.  This is still one of the most memorable places where we have eaten.  In fact we ate at this fish “cafe” three nights in a row.

Me in the south, one pannier containing a bike bag

The stay in Lido Conchiglie was the beginning of two weeks of cycling through olive groves and along the coast. Sometimes following the Giro d’Italia route at our, by comparison with a “Grand Tour”, snail’s pace.

This, our second cycling holiday in Italy, once we had reached the Salento, had been fantastic. We didn’t ever look upon our cycling holidays in Italy as an endurance test. We stopped when and where we wanted to for as long as we wanted and always met friendly, welcoming local people.

On our return train journey from the south the bikes were snugly bagged for the train, when the conductor said, ‘no bicci’! Apparently there was no room even for the bags. We insisted that the bags were not bikes, but simply luggage. After some consultation with Other train staff, the conductor directed us to a couchette used for storage of bedding, where there was just about enough room for the bike bags.

The return flight presented no problems with the bagged bikes when we arrived at Gatwick and our time for reassembly was down to about 10/15 minutes. The train journey back to Bath (via Reading) was also without incident.

This is a cautionary tale as far as travelling with bikes is concerned, but there is still a distinct lack of advice about getting bikes on aircraft. BA takes bikes free, but as we discovered there seems to be no special handling for them. Advice from bike shops varies from putting them in ‘bike boxes’, in cardboard boxes, or in plastic bags, or not in anything at all. No one seems to know what to do with bike boxes once you get to your destination.

Maybe it’s better for the bikes to be seen so that it is obvious that they are bikes – not something we would  advise, or should they be covered in cardboard or installed in wooden bike boxes, if they are available? There is little advice given by the airlines, and you get the impression that although massive surf boards and sets of golf clubs are OK, they would rather throw the bicycles out over the channel.

While we were cycling we met a group of Italian cyclists who were riding from Santa Maria di Leuca (Lands End) to Rome in ten days, to make the local authorities along the route aware of some of the problems cyclists have in Italy. They invited us to join them and were very impressed with our National Cycle Network and how most British trains are able to take bicycles, albeit in limited numbers. Services in the UK for bikes are not perfect, but they could be a lot worse.

However, a conductor on the train to Brighton in late September in the same year ordered us off the train at Bradford on Avon and threatened to call the police when we refused, because there were three bikes in the designated bike area rather than two.  This intransigence tends to be the exception rather than the rule!  The problem was solved by a commonsense station manager and we were able to continue on our journey.

However, most train companies have joined the anti-cycle lobby in banning bikes on some trains and insisting on booking on those where they are allowed. Booking is now normal practice on intercity 125s.

It would be much better if trains were designed to carry more bikes in the UK than in present rolling stock. I recently travelled from Bristol Temple Meads to Cardiff and at one stage counted seven bikes in the carriage.  There could be areas where bikes could be hung by the front wheels if space was provided.

However, despite all the obstacles that arose on our touring holidays, although unwelcome, none were insurmountable and did little to detract from our overall enjoyment of the holiday. Nic and I decided that we would fly with bikes again, but we will definitely take our bike bags, despite having to cart the bags around with us for the whole holiday. We might even consider lighter bikes!

Roger Symonds and Nic Rattle 27th August 2004

The Post Script to this piece on travelling with bikes is that in all we holidayed with bikes in Italy five times, completing riding the coastline of the “boot” of Italy and riding in Sardinia. Our last holiday was in 2010 where my bike suffered a broken “hanger” which enables the gears to work by attaching them to the frame, both at the beginning of the holiday and at the end.

Brilliant cycle shop and mechanics that saved
our holiday in 2010

It was only through some innovative cutting and filing by a lovely Italian bike mechanic in a bike shop in Reggio that we were able to continue our holiday.

At the end of the holiday I watched while a baggage handler at Bristol airport threw my bike bag from one end of the baggage truck to the other.  Breaking the part so brilliantly made up by the Italian bike mechanic, so maybe the damage at the beginning of that holiday was also caused in Bristol.

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Cycling’s role in improving air quality in Bath

This is the problem, though Bath is not quite this bad.

Bath’s new MP, Wera Hobhouse recently held a “Bath Briefing” and invited local representatives to give their views on congestion and pollution in Bath.

Sadly there seemed not to be any experts in sustainable transport making presentations.  We do not have to re-invent the wheel, other places have built infrastructure and reduced car use, so why not use their experience to make transport safer and less damaging to health.  Well done Wera for highlighting pollution and congestion though.

Despite all the supportive words over many years and a Transport Strategy that prioritises walking, cycling and public transport (Active Travel), there does not seem to be Political will from any of the Parties on the council to grasp the problems and look for radical solutions.

In my view if councillors and the MP are determined to address the congestion and pollution problems in the city, outside experts, such as Gehl Associates or an equivalent experienced  company, should be commisioned to write proper cycling and walking strategies accompanied by action plans, if “Active  Travel” is to play a part.

Launch of successful hire bikes in Bath.

Many people now accept that people riding bikes can have a positive affect on traffic congestion and air quality in Bath.

At long last Government seems to have accepted that poor air quality in cities claims lives prematurely.

As far back as the 1940s John Betjaman, the former poet laureate, who loved the city and took an interest in its problems, identified a future of congestion and pollution, as car ownership increased.  How right he was!  I can imagine that if he were still alive he would campaign for action to deal with the loss of lives to pollution and the damage caused to his beloved buildings, by vehicle emissions.

Until the 1960s riding bikes for getting to work/school and for leisure was the choice for many people. I can remember as late as the 1970s hundreds of workers on bikes from Stothert and Pitt Ltd taking over the lower Bristol Road, as they exited from the crane makers works across Victoria Bridge, at the end of the day.

In those days there were fewer cars on the roads and most people’s first means of transport was to walk or ride a bicycle or catch a bus. From the 1970s into the 21st Century Bath and most of the UK has been in the grip of a “car culture.”  It is only in recent years that many people have again accepted that riding bikes can contribute to movement around the city without causing pollution.  Still around 30% (a consistent number over some years) of people walk to work in Bath.

Surely addressing the “school run” should be an early priority.  Many parents drive their children to school despite today’s children being our least active generation ever.  You have only to look at the congestion caused by the “school run”, illustrated by the lack of traffic during the school holidays, to see the affect this has had on pollution and congestion.There is a vaste difference in the amount of traffic on the roads, when the private schools and the state schools, are on holiday.

Funding for “safe routes to school” is much reduced, yet there are many children who would like to ride their bikes to school and many parents who would let them if only the roads were safer.  There are many health and independence benefits for children walking and cycling to school.

We have seen some notable successes in the promotion of cycling here in the city, at a time when electric bikes are becoming very popular.  Bath is one of the few small cities in the UK to have hire bikes on the streets, which pay for themselves.  We have done well with establishing “off road” shared paths for people on foot and on bikes, such as the very successful Two Tunnels Greenway community project and its connection to the very well used Bath/Bristol railway path.

Inside the Combe Down Tunnel

There are enforceable 20mph “signs only” limits in place across the city’s residential streets and in the city centre.  There are many more cycle stands in the city centre, “Wheels for All Bath and West” is a project  here that helps everyone to cycle.

Part of the canal towpath has been resurfaced and a shared path established across fields from Bathampton to Batheaston, with a new bridge over the river, making it better for people on foot, on bikes and in wheelchairs to move between these two villages.

Shared paths have been established at Rainbow Wood, the Globe Straight and for part of Wellsway.  The path between Combe Down and the University of Bath has at last been completed.  Cycle contra flows for bikes are in place in Westgate Street,Wood Street, Widcombe,  and The Avenue and The Firs in Combe Down.  The annual sponsored Bike Bath Cycle weekend of varying distances, is in its seventh year, stages of the tour of Britain have begun and finished in Bath in recent years and an off-road cycle track, funded by British Cycling, has been built in Odd Down.

More cycle stands in Southgate – always full

The city even hosted “Sky Ride” for a few years.  Even though these achievements have increased cycling greatly, there has been no corresponding increase in infrastructure on our roads.

Most people want to be able to ride the most direct way into work when they are commuting and the most direct route is usually on the roads. At present they have to compete for space with drivers of motor vehicles, so the only solution to this dangerous activity is to provide on road segregated cycle lanes, if we really want more commuters to cycle into and around the city.

Despite all of the “soft” improvements and an appetite by more local people to ride bikes, there is still a refusal by councillors and officers to reallocate road space from cars to bikes, in order to provide safe, segregated cycle lanes.  It seems that the council is more comfortable in providing for motorists, leaving people on foot and on bikes to share much smaller spaces.  Surely there is enough evidence in health and fitness benefits and improvements in air quality for a responsible council to build segregated cycle lanes on our roads.

Judging by the take up of the hire bikes and stands the “if you build it they will come” attitude to cycling infrastructure on the roads will be very successful.

I believe that the city needs experts with a proven track record to write an action plan for walking and cycling, but there are actions that can be taken now to restrict access to the city centre for private motor vehicles, giving more priority to people on foot, on bikes and in buses.

We often hear the excuse for doing nothing is that there is not a satisfactory bus service and no Park and Ride to the east.  Well we  are where we are with these two issues and we have to make the best of it.  However, there have been improvements in the bus service in recent years, such as “Real Time Information”at some bus stops, which tells people waiting for buses the length of time before the bus arrives.  There is also an App., which enables passengers to pay their fare by mobile phone.  The long needed extension to the bus lane out to the Batheaston roundabout has reduced delays for buses on London Road.  There are also other areas where bus lanes would make a difference to delays.

Despite these improvements fares are still expensive and buses are still delayed by the number of private vehicles on the roads.  P&Rs to the west, the south and the north are still not fully utilised by motorists.  Until more people use the buses and delays are minimised the service will not improve.

There are some actions that the Council can take now that will improve air quality and reduce congestion.

  • All on street car parking should be removed from main roads and the space released could be used for on road, segregated cycle lanes and residents parking.
  • A delivery policy, which limits the times that trucks can enter the city to deliver.  Often in other cities deliveries can only come in early or late in the day, therebye avoiding the delays to all traffic caused when two large vehicles travelling in different directions meet in streets such as George Street.  The Council used to share a scheme with Bristol, which saw goods delivered to a depot in Avonmouth and brought into the cities by a smaller, electric vehicles, h0wever this scheme has been discontinued.  Sadly because there was no limitations on deliveries, the incentive for companies to use the scheme was not there.
  • A Coach Management strategy would also avoid having coaches drop and pick up their passengers at Terrace Walk, which was only intended as a temporary measure until a strategy was in place.
  • Weight limit enforcement  This is the responsibility of the police, but many councils have requested Central Government to allow them to enforce local weight limits.  So far Govt has refused to devolve this power in England despite devolving to Welsh councils.  The Council could work with police to enforce.
  • Milsom Street could become buses only, with designated hours for deliveries and a rising bollard at the north end, to allow buses  and some other authorised vehicles through. The small car park off Broad Street could be used entirely for people with  blue badges.
  • Private motor vehicles could be banned from using Dorchester Street, with “no entry” signs at both ends.  Access to the railway station and Manvers Street car park can still be obtained via North Parade and Manvers Street or for the railway station only, at the drop off point in Widcombe.
  • Queen Square (the most beautiful roundabout in England at present) should have two or three sides closed to traffic.
  • Kingsmead Square should have vehicles banned.
  • Extend the bus gate at Northgate Street to Saracen Street and make this street two way.  This would enable the lower end of Broad Street to be for people on foot and on bikes and access at certain times for deliveries.

The last three bullet points could be done on a trial period, say for six months, to find out if they work and to iron out any problems.

There is no doubt that radical action needs to be taken if lives are to be saved by reducing pollution.  People’s health can also be improved by making it easier and safer for “Active Travel” to be attractive.  If streets are made safe for people riding bikes many more will cycle, in particular children.  This can only be achieved by restricting use of the car in the city and freeing up road space for people riding bikes in protected, segregated cycle lanes.




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Scrutiny report on 20mph Speed limits is premature

Campaigning for 20 mph limits in Come

The Government has just published a “Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy” and within this strategy is a notification of a report into speed limits is to be published at the end of this year. The strategy states:

“In order to assist local bodies in their determination of the role of 20mph and 40mph zones and limits, the Department has commissioned Atkins, AECOM and Professor Mike Maher from University College London to carry out a research project into the effectiveness of 20mph speed limits, with this study due to be completed by the end of 2017. The study will consider a range of outcomes, including speed, collisions, injury severity, mode shift, quality of life, community, economic public health benefits and air quality. It will also examine drivers’, riders’ and residents’ perceptions of 20mph speed limits and assess the relative cost/benefits to specific vulnerable road user groups, including cyclists.”

This report is much more comprehensive than the B&NES Scrutiny report, and goes much wider than the local report that I critiqued in a previous blog post.  Surely it makes sense for B&NES to wait until this national study is published before doing its own review.

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20 mph speed limits review

Campaigning for 20 mph limits in Combe

B&NES Council has carried out a review of “signs only” 20mph speed limits.  These speed limits, mainly on residential streets, were put in place by the last Liberal Democrat Administration from 2011 to 2015.

20mph speed limit “zones”  had been put in place in some areas in previous years, but in these small zones physical measures to reduce speed, such as speed tables, had also been built.  These physical measures are expensive and were often unpopular with bus companies and with local residents, so for reasons of finance they could not be implemented throughout the council area. The total cost of £871k to place 20mph speed limits on all residential streets (except in Midsomer Norton, where the consultation showed a small majority in favour of speed limits, but all local and parish councillors opposed – so speed limits were not implemented) is in my view good value for money.

In some areas, such as in Combe Down village “advisory” green signs had been put in place, but these, unlike the red circle “signs only” limits could not be enforced.

It is worth stating here, the principles behind the “signs only” initiative  when it was implemented in 2011:

  • “Signs only”20mph speed limits can be enforced and people travelling above this limit, just as with the 30mph national speed limit are breaking the law
  • a child struck at at 30mph is unlikely to survive, at 20mph there is a chance of survival
  • the main objective of 20mph limits is to restrict speed, even if the limit is still being exceeded
  • drivers are given the responsibility for respecting the people who live in residential areas and adjusting their speed so that they are able to stop if children are playing
  • although the police do enforce, resources make this sporadic
  • the onus is clearly on drivers to obey the law
  • many drivers in a 30mph limit drive on that limit, which is often far too fast for safety of people, and particularly children, on foot and on bikes
  • 20mph limits are a small step towards a change in culture
  • Signs only speed limits are popular with local people, who don’t like speed tables
  • Consultation was carried out with all residents and 20mph limits were only implemented where local residents wanted them
  • one of “Cities fit for Cycling” Report essentials, for safer cycling
  • in residential streets with 20mph speed limits children are more likely to play and contaflows for people on bikes can be implemented

The report going to the scrutiny committee, which deals with transport matters seems to be pretty negative about 20mph “signs only” speed limits.  Yet the report admits to a reduction in speed in the sample streets of 1.3mph.

Contra flow sign in Combe Down

Sadly, where the report finds there has been no reduction or a small increase in “crashes” it takes the usual motor vehicle view of blaming people on bikes and on foot. In the report it says about a slight  increase in crashes in a few streets:

There is no simple explanation for this adverse trend but it could be that local people perceive the area to be safer due to the presence of the 20mph restrictions and thus are less diligent when walking and crossing roads, cycling or otherwise travelling.”

This blaming the victims is nothing short of disgraceful in a committee report.  Any crashes resulting in injuries to vulnerable people are usually the fault of drivers and in are often serious because of the vulnerability of people when compared to tons of metal.

The council is fond of quoting extracts from Dept for Transport circulars where it suits them, but the following, issued in 2014, does not feature:

“Major streets could be subject to 20mph speed limits where there are or could be, significant journeys on foot and/or where cycle movements are an important consideration, and this outweighs the disadvantage of longer journey times to vehicular Transport”.          (Dept of Transport Circular)

So here the DfT was promoting the expansion of 20mph limits on major roads, where appropriate.  This does not fit the conclusion reached by the Council’s report to scrutiny of course:

d) Overall, the speed limit programme in B&NES seems to have provided little in the way of persuasive argument for continuing the programme into the future.”

I really don’t understand this, the 20mph programme has been completed and apart from a small number of adjustments, where a street has been missed or a street has proved inappropriate to a 20mph speed limit.  It seems that this review does not recommend any further action.

I feel that I must mention the terminology used in this report.  Here “road accidents” is used, when “road crashes” would seem to be more appropriate.  For instance the awful crash in Weston village, causing 5 casualties is referred to as an “accident” when the driver of the truck ignored a weight limit sign and the vehicle was proved to be deficient in many safety aspects.  This should certainly not be referred to as an accident – it was a wholly avoidable crash, resulting in fatalities.

PS. more information on 20mph speed limits can be found on Rod King’s web site 20splentyforus on the right of this post

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Recovering from a hip operation

Although not directly linked to cycling my recent hip replacement has an indirect connection to when I fell off my bike and broke my left femur, nearly 4 years ago.  I then had a “dynamic hip screw” inserted, pinning the femur into the left hip.  In recovering from that injury too much strain was put on my right hip, which has now resulted in a full replacement almost 8 weeks ago.

Hip replacement is a common operation these days with something around 98% success rate, so I thought it might be useful to document my recovery for people who might experience a replacement in future. It is a major operation. I chose the Circle, a small private hospital close to Bath, as the main NHS hospital the RUH, had stopped doing routine hip and knee replacements.

The NHS pay private hospitals to do the surgery and set a time limit for the operation to be done (18 weeks now extended to 22 weeks) and fine the hospital if it doesn’t do the surgery within that time limit.

I had attended a clinic in February, where the details of what was needed to aid recovery was recorded and would then be delivered later.  A booklet advising what could be done when, during the recovery.  Exercises were listed to be done prior to the operation.  The equipment, raised toilet seat, fixings to raise a chair and the bed, along with a “tea trolley” to move eating materials from the kitchen to dining room, were delivered the following week.  Later on I also had a seat delivered to enable me to get into the bath, in order to shower.

I received a telephone call on 5th April, telling me that there had been a cancellation and did I want to have the operation on the following day.  I jumped at the chance and so I had little time to think about it.

For the recovery period patients must not allow the body to go beyond 90 degrees when bending from the waist. Hands must not go below knees.  To dress and pick things up from the floor patients are issued with an instrument that can only be described as a “litter picker”. This is invaluable.

Two things made me anxious:  sleeping on my back for 6 weeks and having a catheter fitted.  Subsequently sleeping on my back has been difficult, but alternatively you can turn on the good side with a pillow between your legs.  I don’t know when the catheter went in, but it was not uncomfortable and was removed before I came home, no problem.

Although a major operation it can be done though a local anaesthetic.  The back is injected and everything below the waist goes numb, but I knew nothing until I came round an hour or so later.  Because I had a local anaesthetic I felt awake and there were no after affects that sometimes accompany a general anaesthetic.

The remains of the anaesthetic doesn’t wear off for a day or so, then there was a need for pain killers.  As soon as you are able to walk with sticks and do stairs you can go home, so I went home on Saturday.  Here we only have a shower over the bath and it was impossible to get into and out of the bath right away.  Luckily a neighbour has a walk in shower on the ground floor, so every couple of days, I was able to use that, as well as a strip wash on other days.

In the first few days at home I felt the lack of a shower, but also I needed to get out and do normal things and to see that the world was still operating.

The first week was uncomfortable and I needed painkillers, including some codeine, with a laxative to prevent constipation.  For the first couple of weeks someone has to be in the house all the time.  Nic had some leave to come and combined that with working from home to be around.

The sleeping on my back was a problem, but I usually managed a few hours each night.  I also found it difficult to concentrate, even to read, so I reread the Philip Pullman trilogy, His Dark Materials, much of it during the night. By the time I had finished these, I then went on to Jo Nesbo and “Bike Nation” by Peter Walker.  As I recovered TV played a gradually more important role.

It took a few weeks for the bruising to come out, but the ache from this went and could be controlled with pain killers until that time.

My appetite returned after a few days and by the end of the Jo Nesbo book I was able to concentrate much more.

At my 6 week check up some of the restrictions on movement were lifted and I am now able to work on bending the leg beyond 90 degrees, I can drive and also ride my Brompton.  Got rid of the recovery aids in the seventh week and am able to use the shower. I am  now walking without sticks.


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Using bikes to improve the air we breathe

Air Quality has once again hit the headlines recently, with concern across the world.  The issue has been equated to the number of deaths caused by pollutants from diesel engines, giving an immediacy to the problem.

Diesel vehicles have in the past been recommended as less polluting vehicles, mainly because a gallon of diesel gives more mileage to the gallon than a gallon of petrol.  However now they are considered to be much more polluting and dangerous to human health because of the damage done to lungs by “particulates’ – small molecules of carbon – PM10s and PM 2.5s.

These pollutants are of course, along with Nitrogen Dioxide(NO2), mostly found in cities and result from vehicle exhausts and can cause heart attacks and lung cancer.  In 2013 a study involving 313,000 people from 9 European countries revealed that there was no safe level for particulates in humans. (Wikipedia).  In many countries PM2.5s are not supposed to exceed the set limits at any time.

Politicians in polluted cities are scratching their heads about what to do to make air quality better.  Copenhagen is beaten only by Zurich as the city in Europe with the best air quality. It is no secret that the use of bicycles has helped Copenhagen become one of the cleanest cities in Europe.

Hire bikes are successful in Bath.

This begs the question of why have other cities not replicated Copenhagen in its bike infrastructure?  Cycling may not be the “silver bullet” for all cities, but there is no doubt that more cycling will improve air quality.

Making a city into one which encourages more cycling seems to be obvious and yet in so many cities, politicians wring their hands over poor air quality.  It seems an insoluble problem.  Why not make this obvious move towards better air quality?  In the UK it appears that the car culture is so entrenched that this is almost untouchable.

In Bath just a couple of weeks ago TV magazine programme, “Inside-out West” did a test where a cyclist (Adam Reynolds, Chair of CycleBath) and a taxi driver were provided air monitors for a week to find out who breathed in most pollution.  The taxi driver had by far the most polluted air, sucked in through vents when sat in traffic jams from other cars.  Adam, despite his route being amongst heavy traffic had not been subjected to anything like the pollution of the taxi driver. There is little that can be done to reduce exposure of people in their cars until there is a reduction in vehicle emissions.  Over the years engines have become cleaner, but the number of vehicles on our roads has increased, as have diesel vehicles.  There are also more electric cars, but the growth in this type of vehicle has been slow.  Getting more people out of their cars would make the occupants and the rest of us more healthy.

Drivers would not only no longer be cooped up in their tin boxes with concentrated pollution, but they would not be producing the pollution in the first place.  Cyclists produce zero pollution.

The problem in Bath

If we take Bath as an example we can see some efforts to improve air quality by encouraging cycling.  The building of a cycle track at Odd Down, the completion of off road routes, the Two Tunnels is the best example of this, the installation of the NextBike hire bike system, the Council’s electric bike loan initiative, hosting the Sky Ride, Pearl Assume bike racing, hosting the start and finish of a stage of the Tour of Britain and 20 mph speed limits have been set in all residential streets.  All these initiatives are admirable and have encouraged people to get on their bikes.

Sadly though, making our roads safer and more receptive to people on bikes has been almost non-existent.  All the initiatives to encourage people to ride will make little difference until it is safe to ride in segregated bike lanes on our roads.  The guide here is making routes safe enough for children to use.

Too often politicians are happy to make space on pavements for people on foot and on bikes to share.  This works in many places, but to really get more people and in particular children, using bikes everyday the roads need to be safer.  At present parked cars take precedence over bike lanes, because space for parked cars could be where bike lanes are  constructed. There is only one way to reduce pollution and that is reduce the number of cars on our roads.

In the Netherlands and in Denmark it has been normal to take road space away from cars to build cycle lanes.  Politicians have been brave enough to do this, here in UK the car culture and car lobby frightens politicians into inaction.


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Ride through Villages around Montreal in Aude

Circular route, from Montreal at the top of the photo

Circular route, from
Montreal at the top
of the photo

We brought our bikes here to La Force on the back of the car, so that we could do a few cycle rides while we are here.  La Force is close to Carcassonne  and well positioned for rides to surrounding villages and the scenery is fantastic.

We are situated in a valley through which the Canal du Midi runs with  rolling countryside, given over to the cultivation of vines, sunflowers, onions, melons and maize.  To north and south the hills are of the Mendips type, although in the distance the massive Pyrenees dominate the skyline.

There is not the sudden variation in heights as around Bath and the valley is wide with some inclines within it. There is often a wind, gusting at times.  In fact in a description of the area’s weather 300 days of wind per year is listed.  If in luck it can be a following wind.

Rolling French country side in Aude

Rolling French countryside in Aude

French roads are fantastic for driving, mostly straight for miles, with much of the heavy goods traffic going on the Peage (toll roads).  These straight roads are not good for cycling because they are not very wide and the traffic travels very fast, however they are super smooth and French cars, by and large give riders a wide birth.  Not my sort of cycling though.  I much prefer cycling on the many small roads linking villages that are ideal for riding bikes.

On Tuesday 27th September we did a ride from a published leaflet of rides in Aude.  In the leaflet this ride was rated as low difficulty, yet it includes the longest, although not the steepest hill I have encountered. However it was mostly on small secondary roads. Even these roads have mostly good pothole free surfaces.

We began our ride by heading off the main road to Montreal at the base of the climb up to the village heading towards Villeneuve, where we spotted people selecting onions from a massive pile next to the road. This is a legitimate activity in France where any contracts allow farmers to offer surplus vegetables to the public. In the UK, supermarket contracts do not allow that sort of “gleaning”. We continued on through Cailhavel to Cailhau, where I would have stopped for coffee at a recommended restaurant called A’kotee, but it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

On through Cambieure and a long flat road into Brugairolles, where we passed Domaine Gayda, venue of our meal and jazz last week with Pascale and John, and Pascale’s brother Kerry and partner Ruth.

Malvies opposite the Closed Boulangerie

Malvies tower opposite the
Closed Boulangerie

The next village Malvies boasted a sign for a Boulangerie and Pattisserie – by this time we were ready to eat something, so imagine our disappointment when we found that the shop was open only between 9am and 10am in the morning.  Many of the small villages that we have come across have no shops or a cafe.  Nic had foresight enough to bring some chocolate!

Monastery in Villarzel du Razes

Monastery in Villarzel
du Razes

From Malvies to Villarzel du Razes we began to climb.  We were hopeful that this village might have a cafe, but although there is a monastery, there is no cafe.  This seemed to be our last chance before Montreal of getting a coffee and something to eat.  Beyond the village the climb was a series of hairpin bends that seemed to go on forever.  Mostly a steady incline with occasional short steep bits.

Looking back at The Monastery at Villarzeldu Razes

Looking back at
the Monastery at
Villarzel du Razes

I thought we would never get to end of this hill, but once we did at the summit of Mont Haut (422m), we were higher than our destination, Montreal and the end of this ride was a lovely downhill ride.  Arrived Montreal just in time for duck and chips for me and lasagne for Nic, with a couple of cool beers.  A welcome reward for our efforts in the sun.

Facts and figures of the ride (excluding return home from Montreal to La Force):

33.99km, min elevation 174m, max elevation 423m, calories used 953, temperature 20.4c to 26.4c

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Cyclists Dismount – or not

Dismount sign at halfpenny bridge draws people together in small space

Dismount sign at halfpenny bridge draws people
together in small space

A favourite sign in the Bath area is “cyclists dismount”. I will share a selection of those I have noticed in this post, but you will all have your own examples.  “Cyclists dismount” signs are a common sight for people riding bikes on shared paths.

In my view most of these are totally superfluous and sometimes add to any conflict with people on foot, although supposedly they are there to discourage the minority of aggressive people on foot and on bikes who might be guilty of verbal, or even physical abuse.  Most people ride bikes because the machine is easy to ride and to park, at or close to a chosen destination.  They do not relish being told to dismount in this commanding fashion without so much as a “please”.

Signs, such as the one above on the halfpenny bridge in Widcombe, are attached to railings positioned to bring people on foot and on bikes together in a space too small to allow both to enter the bridge.  It would be better to have no sign and no railings and ask people to be considerate to one another.  When the bridge, as it often is, clear of people walking it makes no sense to get off your bike.

This sign is definitely a highways department sign, but Sustrans sometimes authorise this type of sign.

This is the case in Monkton Combe Senior School, where the cycle path, which leads on to the Two Tunnels Greenway and on to Radstock.  There is probably justification here, as the path is over private property and used regularly by students, but again rails are used to force people on foot and on bikes together in a restricted space.

Obscured Cyclists dismount sign in Monkton Combe School

Obscured Cyclists dismount sign in Monkton Combe

This piece of the path is very steep, so most people push their bikes here anyway.

However, Monkton Combe School should be congratulated for giving access through their property to an off-road path to help connect the K&A Canal tow path to the Two Tunnels.  Would that all landowners were so helpful.

The sign below is at the top of the shared path on the south side of Wellsway, a road wide enough to have a cycle lane in the road.  This sign is ridiculous because a person on a bike here will be moving very slowly, and given the dislike of dismounting a rider will either carry on – most likely, as there is hardly ever anyone walking here – or ride into the road with fast moving traffic.

Silly sign at top of Welsway

Silly sign at top of Welsway

Even this shared path only starts when past all the houses on this side of the road.  There is no reason why people riding bikes should not use this path all the way from the Devonshire Arms pub to the top of the hill, after all they are no danger to anyone when travelling at 4 to 6 mph.

If I am travelling up Wellsway I usually use the path on the north side, which is much better if negotiated with care.  This is a personal preference, especially when coming off the Two Tunnels.  It means that I do not have to cross traffic at the difficult Hatfield Road junction and I can cross further up the hill in safety.

The next sign is to be found on the Two Tunnels path, where it passes through the car park of the Hope and Anchor pub and this is a Sustrans sign.

Sign saying walk across pub car park

Sign saying walk across pub car park

Although it asks cyclists to “please” walk, this sign also requires a dismount, when totally unnecessary and is ignored without causing any problem by people riding bikes. People can walk across this car park with no sign to drivers to be careful, yet if there is danger it is by cars colliding with people on bikes or walking, yet only people on bikes are once again singled out.

However in some places people on bikes are treated like human beings, who are considerate to others and are not commanded to

Sign on Llandudno promenade. Share with care.

Sign on Llandudno promenade. Share with care.

“dismount”.  In Llandudno, North Wales there is an enlightened attitude to this issue. The sign below is repeated along the beautiful promenade.  The simple message is “share with care”. The promenade is wide, but the presumption of guilt, that people on bikes will cause a problem is not made and a positive message goes out to all to be considerate. Not one group is singled out for special treatment.  All the “cyclists dismount” signs I have outlined above could be replaced by “share with care” and become much more effective.

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Cycle lane not replaced

The recent student development in Green Park Road opposite Green Park saw a short length of cycle lane and an advanced stop line (ASL) for bikes removed during the development.  Even this I thought was unnecessary, but if you ride a bike in Bath you are used to being bottom of the heap.

Advanced Stop Line not restored, yet other lines marked in.

Advanced Stop Line not restored, yet other lines marked in.

This small cycling facility, although not thought much of by some people on bikes, used to allow riders to get through on the inside to the ASL, and as a result giving drivers a clear sight of  bike riders at this busy junction.  My partner and I used to find this really useful in getting to the front of the traffic, without resorting to the pavement or riding in the middle of the road.

I have seen many more people on bikes using it in the past.  In fact some vehicles still think it is a cycle lane and leave a gap on the inside, such is the poor rubbing out of the line markings (see photo).

Old cycle markings still show, but not marked in

Old cycle markings still show, but not marked in. See very wide pavement outside new development

As the photos show the lines were rubbed out during the development and new lines have been redrawn making this lane wider for motor traffic and the cycle lines have not been repainted, so it appears that this little cycle lane has been removed.

New wider lane marked out by sacrificing cycle lane

New wider lane marked out by sacrificing cycle lane

This is so disappointing and unnecessary.  It was after all only “crumbs from the captain’s” table in the first place.

What is so annoying is that the pathway for the student housing on the other side of the road is so wide that a full width, longer cycle lane could easily have been installed, making this road much safer for people on bikes.

New wider pathway outside new development

New wider pathway outside new development

This is just one more example of how the Council have made conditions worse for people riding bikes rather, than when the opportunity presents itself, making conditions safer and easier.  Normally, when there is a planning application through a 106 agreement or through Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) an amount is agreed by council officers and developers to make improvements.

Here it would have been simple enough to agree an amount in this high value development as a minimum, to reduce the width of the pavement and to put in a longer, wider, more effective cycle lane painted in a different colour.  It is difficult to understand why this was not done, as there is likely to be a high demand for safe cycling from students living in the development and given the high priority of cycling in the Council’s Transport Strategy.

Add this to the attempt by the Council to remove the much more useful London Road bike lane and you have clear evidence of a determination to put motor vehicles before bike riders.

Recent high national figures for obesity and diabetes reflect our sedentary life style, so it is surprising that the Council does not appear to see the advantages of safer cycling to encourage more people to exercise in this way.

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30 Mile Thursdays

At cafe on canal at BoA after ride through 'Sally in the Wood'

At cafe on canal at BoA after ride through ‘Sally in the Wood’

After ride to Radstock in Victoria Hall cafe. Ride leader Nigel Shoosmith

After ride to Radstock in Victoria Hall cafe. Ride leader Nigel Shoosmith

Since last October a group of bike riders have been riding about 30 miles on Thursday mornings. The idea for these gentle rides came from Tony Ambrose and they are mainly for people who are not cycling club members or serious competitive cyclists, although they are not excluded, but the idea is to get people out on their bikes on social rides, who maybe do not ride regularly.

The first ride was to Mells Walled Garden in beautiful weather on 8th October 2015, along the Two Tunnels Path and the Colliers Way from Radstock.  In fact many of the rides have been done in good weather.  However I remember one of the early rides, with not a very big attendance when it rained throughout the ride.  I have ridden most Thursdays and usually there are 10 or 12 riders.  I think the most we have had is 15 riders.


Christmas ride at pub in Doynton. Rode on the The Spinning Wheel in Marshfield for lunch on 17th December.

Christmas ride at pub in Doynton. Rode on the The Spinning Wheel in Marshfield for lunch on 17th December.

Many of the rides are on off road paths and very quiet roads, with the main starting points either the the Bristol/Bath Railway Path or TwoTunnels Path.

Tony's description of what the rides are about.

Tony’s description of what the rides are about.




The rides always begin from Kingsmead Square at 9.30am and all are welcome.  This Thursday’s ride (14th Jan) will be through the Two Tunnels to the lovely little Post Office at Rode for tea and cake, back 1 to 2pm.

Latest ride was up St Catherine’s Valley on 21st January to the cafe in Marshfield, where the group had tea and cake.  We returned via Upton Cheyney, Bitton and the Railway path to Bath.  By the time I had got back to Combe Down via the Wellsway I had clocked 50km.  Weather was great on the Cotswold plateau.

The climb up St Catherine’s Valley was difficult and there was some melting ice around, once again though some people rode it and some walked the steepest part.

View looking down St Cathine's Valley

View looking down St Catherine’s Valley

AT Sweet Apples cafe in Marshfield.

At Sweet Apples cafe in Marshfield.


Just before Christmas we rode down this valley, which was a bit hairy, because it was wet and muddy, but as always the view from the top was worth the effort.

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