End of the Road for Bicycology?

Anyone who has looked at this blog or the Bicycology website recently will have noticed that nothing has happened since the May 2012 mini-tour from Birmingham to Leicester. With members of Bicycology spread around the country it was always difficult to get together and eventually people just got too involved in their own local campaigns (or life in general) to keep things going. A couple of months ago I shut down the contact email address because about 99% of email arriving was spam.

The Bicycology website is still online and will remain so for now because it hosts some useful resources (our popular illustrated A5 guides). Our two soundsystems are also still in operation – Pedals normally lives in London where it is a familiar sight on protests and I am lead to believe that Son of Pedals is living in Brighton.

I am still very much involved in cycle campaigning but now just in Hertfordshire. I have been working with Welwyn Hatfield Cycling Forum since January 2009 and then in 2011 I helped set up a Hertfordshire cycling campaign called CycleHerts and was recruited as a cycling representative on the Local Access Forum. WHCF is affiliated to ctc and I have helped out with ctc stuff in the area, for example I volunteered to work at the Hertfordshire County Show this summer with their CycleChilterns project. I was also recruited as a Sustrans volunteer at a local event this year. I did explain that I had no free time but that I had already been doing some route maintenance as a “lone wolf” and was happy to continue doing it wearing a Sustrans hi-viz vest. All that leaves little time for paid work but I make ends meet as a self employed gardener. If you want to contact me you can do so through my personal website.

Bicycology mini-Tour 2012 Day 2: ride from Birmingham to Coventry

So, Day 1 was a film and discussion event in the evening in Birmingham. Maybe we’ll post some photos and a longer report about that sometime – but briefly, it went really well, with about 40 people turning up.

Day 2, Friday May 11th. We set off on a sunny but surprisingly chilly morning to cycle from Gung-Ho Housing Co-op to Coventry Peace House. Our convoy consisted of eight people with eight bikes, two trailers and about twenty panniers. The first part of our route was along a planned route through mostly back streets. We navigated by voice guidance on a GPS-enabled phone, which worked quite well. Discussion of how to get onto the Grand Union Canal stopped when we realised we were standing a few meters away from a canal bridge. We had lunch and very relaxed ride along the canal shared with ducks and a canal boat. Picturesque constructions allowed canal-side dwellers to picnic by the water at the bottom of the garden. A few showers of rain and a muddy surface made one bicycologist’s beautiful new metal mudguards clog considerably – creating resistance to wheel-rotation and much frustration. Soon after we left the canal the GPS navigation system broke down, but by then we were able to navigate into Coventry by local knowledge and a wide cyclepath. We magically bumped into the most local bicycologist in town, just in time for them to lead us to the Peace House. See some photo highlights below – more photos to be added soon!


“Parking the Car… For Good!”

Bicycology is back and we’re going on a mini-tour!

Next Thursday 10th May 2012 we’ll be getting going (starting with a film night in Birmingham), then we’re riding to Coventry on Friday 11th, ready for a spot of creative direct action on Saturday 12th. Then we’ll be riding through Rugby on Sunday 13th, retracing the route featured in this CTC film from the 1950s (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kP1KxPjh4RM) to see how half a century of Car Culture has changed things. We’ll be riding on to Leicester later that day, where we’ll again be running a film and discussion event the following evening – on Monday 14th. It’d be great to see you there, and if you can’t make it, why not tell your friends and help us publicise the event. Mention the link to this page in emails or on social media sites. Thanks!

For more information please see the Press Release, and links to posters for the events, below:


Contact: Patrick Nicholson on 07538 308103 / patrick_nicholson@hotmail.com            or Peter Pannier on 07583 497887

Photo opportunity: colourful activities featuring a dozen people promoting alternatives to cars. Photographs are also available on request from the organisers.


Climate Change and rising petrol prices on agenda as activists raise questions about ‘car-culture’ on cycle tour of Midlands

Summary: As Petrol prices hit record highs [1], and the UK experiences the hottest March day and the wettest April on record [2], bicycle activist collective Bicycology [3] are coming to Birmingham, Coventry and Leicester as part of a cycle tour of the Midlands from 10th -14th May to raise questions about whether cars are the best way to organise transport in the 21st century. As part of their tour, Bicycology have organised a film and discussion evening, where they will show three short films and discuss the question ‘Can we park the car for good?’

Members of Bicycology, a cycling collective formed in 2005 that regularly appears at events and organises tours promoting cycling and environmental activism, are riding from Birmingham to Leicester, via Coventry and Rugby, under the slogan “Parking the Car… For Good!” [4]

Cyclist and cycle-activist Peter Pannier said the tour was all about “raising questions about the dominance of the car in UK transport, society and culture, and exploring alternatives.”

Transporting their bodies and their equipment entirely by bicycle, with no motorised support, the dozen members of Bicycology are hoping to bring their message to both cyclists and drivers, as well as to transport activists and community leaders. They are organising pedal-powered film nights, and reclaiming space from cars with what they describe as a “unique brand of creative and educational direct action”, and travelling between events in a riot of colour and music, thanks to a sound-system they pull with one of their bikes.

In Birmingham, the group have organised a film and discussion evening titled “Can We Park The Car For Good?” which will take place on Thursday 10th May, 2012, from 8.30pm Ort Cafe, 500-506 Moseley Road, Balsall Heath, Birmingham, B12 9AH. The event is free and all are welcome.

In Coventry, on Saturday 12th May 2012, the activists are set to take “direct action” to “reclaim car parking space as a public space”. The location is to be announced on the day.

In Leicester, on Monday 14 May 2012, the group have organised a further film and discussion evening, from 7.30pm, this time at The Western Pub, Western Road, Leicester. LE3 0GA (between Bede Park and Narborough Rd).

Patrick Nicholson argued that “the dominance of the car is neither inevitable nor desirable. The dark side of car culture is huge. From obesity to lung disease, climate change to strip mining, and a million lives tragically cut short globally every year, largely the young and the poor, cars are incredibly damaging [5]. But for some reason we put this out of mind”.

As more and more people struggle with rising petrol prices, Mr Pannier said, “It doesn’t have to be this way. When you think about how reliant on cars we’ve become, it can feel really daunting to even consider alternatives. But if we designed our world a little differently, we could free ourselves from the feeling that we need cars. Creating a world no longer dominated by cars won’t be easy, but the first step to making it happen is to understand the necessity of change, and to see that change is possible” [6]

Mr Nicholson added: “How has our society become so entwined and dependent on car culture? If you are wondering about the steps we could take to begin real changes and to free ourselves from this deadly embrace, please join Bicycology at one of our events [7] and help us map out a safer, cleaner, healthier future. Everyone is welcome!”

Notes for Editors:

[1] The average price of a litre of unleaded petrol in the UK reached a record high of £1.40/litre in March, followed by a new record high of 142.48p/litre in April. A survey at the University of Southampton has found that high petrol prices are partly responsible for an increase in people using their bicycles, with a third of 1,300 respondents getting on their bikes because of the record high cost at the pumps (see: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ukpress/article/ALeqM5i0aS8dQ4-bsJxPh_AZ-PC6AvzvUg?docId=N0000731335793414226A). In an article by the BBC, RAC technical director David Bizley was quoted as saying that “there is no end in sight to rising prices” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-17490088.

[2] On March 25th, The Daily Record reported that “The Met Office said it had recorded a temperature of 22.8C (73F) at Fyvie Castle near Aberdeen, which is a new record maximum temperature for March in Scotland” (see: http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/2012/03/25/hottest-march-day-on-record-in-scotland-as-fyvie-castle-hits-22-8c-86908-23801474/). More recently, Murray Wrdrop wrote in The Telegraph that “Provisional figures from the Met Office suggest Britain has endured its wettest April since records began more than a century ago in 1910” (see: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/topics/weather/9237788/Britain-on-renewed-flood-alert-after-wettest-April-on-record.html).

[3] Bicycology is radical cycling collective founded in 2005. The group aims to make the links between cycling and wider environmental and political issues, and to use bicycles as tools for direct action and positive social change. For more information see: www.bicycology.org.uk/ and https://bicycology.wordpress.com

[4] Tour itinerary: Birmingham 9-10th May / Coventry 11-12th May / Leicester 13-14th May

[5] Awareness of the wide ranging harmful effects of the dominance of cars is growing. See, for example:

a) Ian Roberts “The Energy Glut”, Zed Books, 2010 http://zedbooks.co.uk/paperback/the-energy-glut

b) http://www.roadpeace.org/

c) http://www.bettertransport.org.uk/

[6] The World Car Free Network promotes alternatives and highlights examples of places around the world that are moving away from reliance on cars: http://www.worldcarfree.net/

[7] Scheduled events:

a) 10/5/12. Film and discussion evening 8.30pm Ort Cafe, 500-506 Moseley Road, Balsall Heath, Birmingham, B12 9AH

b) 12/5/12. Parking Day. Direct action reclaiming car parking space as a public space. Coventry. Location to be announced: contact us for details.

c) 14/5/12. Film and discussion evening, 7.30pm at The Western Pub, Western Road, Leicester. LE3 0GA (Between Bede Park and Narborough Rd).

At the Bristol Bike Gathering 4-6th November 2011

Just returned from a really nice 3 days in Bristol participating in the radical bike projects gathering. My low key “how to build bike soundsystems” workshop at Kebele on Friday afternoon seemed to go quite well. I brought along various bits to make up a really basic system from scratch on the tabletop – an ipod, a car amp, a battery and a speaker – and this helped to keep it up the involvment and interest. Although we didn’t get on to the more advanced stuff like bass enclosure design, everyone seemed happy. Our demo soundsystem, twisted together wires and all, ended up provided the tunes for a lovely multi-course supper later than evening.

Saturday saw several workshops at the Bristol Bike Project looking at whether segregated cycle lines are indeed the way to go and what interventions actually reduce danger on the roads at source, bike games, and what we trying to do when we work with children and bikes. In the afternoon we headed of onto the roads in groups to explore and assess 3 different bike paths, looking at things like accessibility with trailers and signage. In the evening most of us cycled off to fireworks and frollicking on the Mound with a great view of the whole of the city spread out around us.

On Sunday, Im and I did a Bicycology workshop on how we communicate politics and messages in our work with bikes. We started with some spectrum lines, for example on whether people thought politics should be explicit or implicit in our work, then gave some examples from Bicycology’s experience. We split up into smaller discussion groups and then quickly rounded off back together for some feedback. It gave me some ideas for how to do it better in future, but it basically worked and certainly was a topic that people wanted to explore. Sunday also saw feedback from the Commonwheel meeting to set up an anarchosyndicalist bike project network, a workshop disabled cycling, and polo for those who could stay late enough.

In summary, a lovely weekend and an inspiring opportunity to get a sense of the diversity of emerging radical bike projects and network with both familiar and new bike folk.

My ride to work

Morning Sun

I ride a short commute of three miles. In the mornings, I ride out of the town and into a winding steep-sided valley. After four years of this, I cycle now almost on auto-pilot. I do remember though, how hard the hills were at first, it is super-steep in places around here, and it took perseverance to mentally and physically will myself up some hills. I am not especially fit, I am just familiar with the challenges, and when I get to a hill I’ve trained myself to ignore the fact that it is steep and daunting, and just keep pedalling.

What I do notice and take great delight in is the gradual daily changing of the fields, trees, hedgerows and wildlife. During the recent “indian summer”, that one blissful week of late summer sun, my ride was bathed in a warm morning light, and later in the day the bright afternoon light brought out the sharp contrast in the textures of leaves, ivy flower heads with hoverflies buzzing, purple sloes and lime-green lichen, old-mans beard growing amongst the blackberries. I remind myself that I would not see all this if I was speeding past in a car, and I probably would be less likely to stop and pick some blackberries for a pie on the way home.

Textures and colours

The last few mornings have been really sharp, and bitter. I tried to cycle without gloves in the frosty weather last winter, but I found the wind-chill so excruciating that I soon went and bought myself a pair of properly insulated and wind-resistant cycling gloves. Other essential items I carry as my work-commuting kit in a little under-the-saddle-bag are; a mini-multitool, puncture kit and tyre levers, and sometimes a lock. My bike has a sturdy rack and rather than take a pannier with me everywhere I like to bungee anything I need to carry on to this. I may be lucky, down here in the sunny south, but I rarely get caught out in the rain. It may be as little as a few times a year that I arrive home half-drowned, a minor inconvenience. I have been left stranded due to bike malfunction only once (when my tyre exploded) and even then I managed to walk my bike into work. I can rely on my bike to get me somewhere on time far more than I can buses and trains.

Evening Shadows










I notice only a few other cyclists who ride the same stretch of road as me regularly. It is always nice to see them, and I feel like we are part of a small and unspoken community. If I am pushing my bike rather than riding, they will always stop and ask if I’ve got a puncture, or need any help.

On part of my route, the residents insist on parking their many cars on the street right outside their houses, causing a series of tricky to negotiate car-chicanes. Despite the fact that the problem is clearly caused by the selfishness of car-owners, I still regularly face the brunt of the anger created by this situation. I cannot cycle as fast as a car can drive along the single carriageway left by the parked cars, and often drivers become irate at just a small delay, or perhaps at not being able to overtake a cyclist.

I also am astounded at how big a risk most drivers are willing to take. I wonder if  they are risks they would never take if they were not cocooned in the apparent safety of their cars. My route is winding with high hedges, the road has a national speed limit, so drivers can be travelling at up to 60 miles-per-hour. Almost every day a driver will overtake me at a point where they cannot see if there is any oncoming traffic, rather than wait behind me for a few seconds. I am certain that these same drivers would not cross a road on foot without looking. Often I am slightly ahead, and higher up than a driver, and I am also able to hear the oncoming traffic far better than anyone in a car. I contemplate whether in such an emergency situation a car would chose to pull over into a nice squishy cyclist or continue into the path of an oncoming car.

Despite all of this, I  still find myself looking forward to getting on my bike at the end of the day and flying along the downhill stretches. Cycling benefits my frame of mind as much as anything else, the simple repeated exercise of turning the cranks and feeling the momentum gathering as my bike picks up speed helps my mind relax and my thoughts to become clearer for when I arrive home.

Country lanes

I love it.

I’d like to hear of other people’s regular rides, and their experiences of cars, countryside, cityscapes and changing landscapes…perhaps you’ll be inspired to write a blog post of your own.

Letchworth Summer Celebration

A few months ago Bicycology was invited to have a presence at a summer celebration on the 2nd and 3rd of July called Who do you think you are, Letchworth? As a Hertfordshire resident I was keen to go so I accepted the invitation on behalf of Bicycology and committed to it even if it meant doing it on my own. As it turned out a number of Bicycologists were away on a “Silent Victories” tour (a report will hopefully appear on this blog) and others were unable to go due to having recently taken time off to do Glastonbury, so it was just me. I could have spent both days there but decided that one would be enough and chose Saturday.

Outside the Transition Town marquee.

It turns out that the woman who invited us is the daughter of a friend of mine and is involved in Transition Town Letchworth which had space in a reasonably large marquee that was referred to as the “eco village”. She was keen for me to bring a pedal generator but I didn’t have one so I told her I would take my new soundsystem instead, which is now mounted on the front of a Long John cargo bike. I have never tried getting the system on a train and the twenty mile ride from my house seemed a bit daunting but luckily a friend was going to Biggleswade on Friday in a camper van so I strapped the bike to the roof and went up there with him. On Saturday morning I got up reasonably early and set off on the ten mile ride back down to Letchworth. Fortunately it was pretty much flat for most of the way and I got there in an hour and a half (if you think seven miles per hour is slow you should try riding the beast yourself).

I arrived at the event just before 10am when it was due to open to the public and parked up on the grass outside the eco village marquee. I didn’t have a table so I laid out some literature on a couple of chairs and put on some tunes. I had a fair bit of interest in the soundsystem but most people assumed it was pedal powered and when they learned that it was running on batteries they wondered why I had even brought it. I explained how it was designed to use minimal power compared to conventional systems but perhaps I should have made the extra effort to take my solar panel as well (ideally someone else from Bicycology would have gone with a generator bike and hooked the soundsystem up to that). Anyway, it was a talking point and I did have some interesting conversations with people, most of whom went away with some of our literature. My friend with the camper van showed up later in the day with his kids which meant that when I packed up I was able to load the bike back on the roof and get it taken away while I got the train home. I was feeling rather the worse for standing in the sun all day but I guess it was worth it.

Bicycology at Glastonbury

This year Bicycology put in a proposal to do something at Glastonbury and managed to get six free tickets. I had never been to the festival so I jumped at the chance. We decided to meet at Bristol Temple Meads and cycle together on National Route 3. The idea was to reach the site by early Wednesday evening but due to a missed train and punctures we didn’t leave Bristol till after 4pm, and due to more punctures and general faffing we didn’t reach Wells until it was getting dark. After a chip stop we did the last few miles to Pilton, arriving about midnight.

Bikes and epic mud don't mix.

This year for the first time there was a special Green Traveller Initiative to reward people for arriving by public transport or bicycle. This included a bike lockup area and cyclists camping field with solar showers and compost toilets. We arrived at the cyclists entrance but were going to be working in The Green Fields, and since we had trailers and a load of stuff that we needed there we thought it would be better to head straight over with our bikes. We neglected to take into account the Glastonbury mud! Cycling was almost impossible so we had to push, but within a couple of hundred metres great globs of grass-reinforced mud had formed around brakes, preventing wheels from turning. I guess it took about an hour to drag our bikes across the site and find our space. Fortunately we were able to crash out in a marquee and not have to worry about putting up tents in the dark.

Checking out our info display.

We were in the campaigns area of the Green Futures Field, sharing a space with Veggies (the Nottingham based vegan catering campaign), an art exhibition and Rubbish DJ’s (turntables and amps mounted in a rubbish cart). The art exhibition and DJ setup were in the marquee which was closed up at night. Each morning we opened it up and laid out our Bicycology stall at the front. We had taken a load of old tyres and chains for making belts and bracelets – people could either make their own or buy them ready made from us with all the money going to 56a Infoshop in London. Very few people had been mad enough to bring their bikes across the site through the mud so although we had plenty of tools there was very little bike fixing to do (I did help one person fix a pushchair). When people came to our stall we chatted about cycling and related issues and had lots of information for people to take away as well as a big stack of our brand new bike stickers. Other jobs included helping keep the nearby recycling/upcycling point organised and going off site for supplies (I did two runs to Shepton Mallet by bike for Veggies). For food we gave Veggies a sum of money upfront in exchange for free tea/coffee and veggie burgers from their van and to join their crew for an evening meal – much appreciated.

The Rinky Dink passing the Veggies van.

Of course it wasn’t all work and we had plenty of time to go off and do other stuff. We went together to see a great set by Chumbawamba on the Avalon stage and Chemical Brothers on The Other Stage (which had a very impressive soundsystem). One of my favourite acts was Mal Webb (who I had never heard of before). On the Sunday night while Beyonce was doing her thing on the Pyramid stage I went to see Suzanne Vega on the Acoustic stage – I last saw her 24 years ago when I lived in New Hampshire.

Sunday was hot and sunny which dried out a lot of the mud but Monday morning was a race to get the marquee down and packed away before the rain returned. It was much easier getting off site than it had been getting on and we were on the road before noon. The light rain had a welcome cooling effect as we cycled up into the Mendips past Wookey Hole. After a short stop at the Castle of Comfort for refreshments there was a long downhill to Chew Valley and we made good time back to Bristol.

Cycling back to Bristol in the sunshine.

We didn’t have nearly as much impact as when we last did stuff at the Big Green Gathering but it was a useful experience and I had a great time despite the mud. Glastonbury is not on in 2012 and if we go back in 2013 we might be better off applying to do something in or near the cyclists camping area (where I am sure there would be plenty of demand for help with bike fixing and teaching bike maintenance skills).

Bike Foundry – Birmingham

A couple of Bicycologists recently took a trip to visit to Birmingham to visit the Bike Foundry (http://www.birminghambikefoundry.org) to add to our general knowledge of DIY & co-op bike projects & to keep in use the mechanic skills we developed on the City and Guilds course we participated in a few years ago.

The Bike Foundry is based in the slightly bizarre setting of a music studio building (they needed a “quiet” tenant in the rooms above the recording studio) in an industrial part of Birmingham called Digbeth, close to the town centre. It’s a workers co-op, part of Radical Routes and run by a small group of people, including one full-time paid employee.

Replacing brake cable

They offer maintenance skills training, cycle training, repairs and fix donated bikes to sell on at a reasonable price – although they are currently looking for more donated bikes to fix up. It is sad to think that the city of Birmingham, once the centre of the Bicycle Manufacturing boom in the UK, is now struggling to yield enough second-hand bikes for the mechanics at the Bike Foundry to work on and provide to the good folks of Birmingham who are in need of decent second-hand bicycles. They usually sell each bike almost as soon as it is fixed up. If you’re reading this in Brum and you have an unwanted bicycle get in touch with the Bike Foundry. They have also started to sell a range of handmade cycling caps and felted ‘lobster’ gloves made from charity shop jumpers.

Most of our time at the Bike Foundry was spent fixing-up a couple of bikes that were to be sold on. The Foundry repair the second-hand bikes to a really high standard, every part is checked and serviced if needed, and they have a good range of spares and replacement parts for bits that can’t be salvaged. We fixed a pink ladies racer, and long neglected child’s bike – which needed almost every part of it servicing. It was well worth all the work we put into it, as it was to be used in a project by the Bike Foundry at a local Special Needs School where they have decided to put Bike Polo on the curriculum as a physical co-ordination and self-esteem building activity.

feisty bike polo

Bike polo seems to be one the Bike Foundry’s big passions and on Wednesday evening we went to a wickedly icy pitch to play polo. Birmingham is not lacking in good bike polo players and we shyly took part in one game, but weren’t quite up the their precise ball thwacking skills. The pitch got more slippery as the freezing night wore on, and despite the amount of falls, skids and tumbles, everyone was playing on regardless.

moving out the bikes to make room for 'tool club'

Thursday evening is the Bike Foundry regular ‘tool-club’, where anyone who signs up for a modest yearly fee can come along and use their well-equipped workshop & tools. Tool-club was busy and buzzing with people and their bikes. The bands in the music studios had just started up for the evening, so it had it’s own mingling of soundtracks drifting in from the surrounding rooms as people turned up with their bikes to repair. We could see how appreciative the people who brought their bikes along were to be able to use proper tools and bike stands – making bike repair so much more of a pleasurable, easy and sociable experience. It’s a great idea, and something every town & city could benefit from.

A posting here would not be complete without some talk of food, and we must mention the fantastic friendly Lebanese bakery & cafe we frequented. When we were not fixing bikes in Birmingham we were mostly munching our way through falafel, pittas, pickles, lebanese flatbreads, houmous and baba ghanoush….mmmmm.

Thanks to all in Birmingham for having us to visit – We were impressed with the dedication and enthusiasm of the Bike Foundry folks and the genuine interest and love they have for all things cycling. It seems like they are a real asset to the cycling community of Birmingham, and they have lots of exciting plans to improve and grow in the future.