These Cycling Days

These Cycling Days

Parose Projects second Hub&Pub hack (HubWestminster, 7th December 2012) took as its subject “How do you make central London feel like Copenhagen for cycling?”

Bending to our task like a chasing peloton pack, we raced across aims, obstacles and solutions. In many ways hack groups of 20-25 have similar features to a peloton – a phenomenon in professional cycling where a leading group of cyclists ride as a pack, allowing it’s riders to co-operate in ‘slipstreaming’ and a shuffling leadership to save anywhere up to 40% of their energy.

Dan Johnson from TfL introduced our session with juxtapositions of Copenhagen vs London in terms of provision for cycling. London has a long way to go – but new funding is starting to make a difference.

Savas Sivetidis (not a cyclist) former CEO of Cross River Partnership, had lived in both cities, and pointed out that not only had Copenhagen made early choices to preserve its medieval core by allowing development fingers to radiate out from the centre, as a city it has long radiated civility and clean-cut design in a way London never has. (In the pub part of the Hub&Pub he was equally eloquent about 18th century Greece), So, perhaps unwittingly, Savas drew us to into the debate about how people using different forms of transport behave towards each other.

Earlier in the week, the BBC’s The War on Britain’s Roads had – rather more controversially – stepped into the fray, with an hour docu-drama featuring video clips of modal conflicts captured mainly by micro-camera’s in cyclists helmets. The blog/twittersphere that followed gives an account of intense feelings – though nobody calls these modal conflicts.  I do. My hope is to promote what we all need  – a bit of MMR –(Mutual Modal Respect).

The BBC account included concern about the less popular speed hungry cyclists roaming the capital. I was reminded this is hardly a new phenomenon.  In his 1983 book, Hooligan A history of Respectable Fears Geoffrey Pearson drew attention to the alarmed responses to the bicycle craze of the 1890’s.

“There were editorial fumings in The Times (15/8/1898) about the “East end or suburban scorcher, dashing along quiet country roads and through peaceful villages with loud shouts and sulphurous language, and reckless of life and limb”, while The Lancet (6/8/1898) saw fit to have a medical entry on the “fool on the bicycle. “

And only last year, Iain Sinclair, still fuming about the impending 2012 Olympics , devoted over 6,500 words to the subject of The Raging Pelaton in the LRB,  skewering the entire cycling population –  loosely the pod, posse, and peloton –  with his splenetic psychogeograpy. As the wise genius of comic books Alan Moore has observed, Ian Sinclair doesn’t seem to like things happening in Hackney without his permission.

Like a peloton, collectively thinking about a problem can achieve the same ‘whole being greater than the sum of the parts’ effect– though only with stern vigilance against a lapse into ‘group-think’: an ever present danger, where collective thinkers find themselves charging down the wrong road, totally convinced their moving in the right direction, as often as not because they’re ‘sharing a new way of looking at things.’ As often as not they’re simply wrapping different words around old problems.


John Roseveare


January 2013


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