Wednesday 24 October 2012

Scotland's Roads, Safer?

Please Note: This is not a rigorous statistical analysis! 

I've written before about safety. Not only real risk, but perceived risk as well. However, today Transport Scotland released detailed figures for road casualties and headlines followed suggesting that our roads are getting safer

They are getting safer, so long as you drive a car.

In fact the increase in safety is quite impressive. The numbers killed have dropped 11% in a year and the numbers seriously injured have dropped by 5%. That's excellent news and should be applauded. However, delve a little deeper into the report and a worrying trend becomes apparent. Whilst a new dawn of safe driving is almost upon us, that is not the case for cyclists.In fact this year there was an increase in cycling deaths and casualties. Overall there was an increase of 6% since last year.

I decided to have a quick play with the figures which can be found here. I was particularly interested in the urban figures, as that is where most people do their cycle commuting and where there is the highest density of car/cyclist interactions. So what happens if you compared the number of car occupant casualties and deaths with cyclists casualties and deaths over the period of 2001 - 2011? What relationship do you get?

So I plugged the figures into Excel and did a bit of trendline fitting. Here is what I got.

 I looked for the best fit trendline, and the best was a polynomial (not a straight line!). Effectively this is plotting the relationship between driver injuries and deaths, and cyclist injuries and deaths. As time is going on, we are heading to the left of the graph, with a reduction in driver injuries and deaths. However, instead of a reduction in deaths, and extrapolating the best fit line, we have, and it looks like we will have an increase in cyclist deaths.

Of course this year could have been a fluke year, and perhaps if we took this years data out of the graph things will improve.

It improves a little, but not much.

So are we saving lives at the expense of cyclists lives? Of course, it's not that simple. You need to look at rates of cycling and rates of driving to see if relatively cycling is getting safer or more dangerous. It could just be that there are more cyclists on the roads this year than there were last year, meaning exposure is greater. However, the very fact that there are more cyclists (possibly 2% instead of 1%) means that we should act now before the predictions of the above graphs become true (and they are of course just rough predictions).

The government wants more cyclists. 10% by 2020 is the governments own target. So at the very least there will be 5 times more cyclists on the roads if the target is met. Now look back at the graphs and imagine that we start extrapolating a little further towards 2020 and to 10% of cyclists.Also imagine that the government has continued on the path it is on now with tiny amounts of funding spent on bits of infrastructure here and there. No plan. No real funding.

If we want that 10% of trips by cycling, and if we want it as safe as it can be, then we need to start investing and investing significantly. Not next year, not in 5 years time, but now.

If you haven't already, please, PLEASE contact your MSP's and tell them that the time is now for a step change in funding.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

British Cycling: The Truth Behind the Performances

We have rounder wheels than everyone else!

That was the response from British Cycling when others questioned the amazing performances on the road and in the velodrome this summer. If this was the case it might well explain the multitude of medals and a Tour de France victory.

Of course this is blatantly not true. British Cycling would never give away the secrets of its success. The only thing we can be certain of is that it wasn't drugs and the wheels weren't any rounder. However, anyone who has followed this blog over the last few years will know that I like to seek out the truth and I am not afraid to say what needs to be said.

I've been spending lots and lots of time in darkened rooms watching cycling footage in minute detail, scouring the newspapers for secret messages and looking at white noise on our very out of date analogue TV (the government wants you to think it's random....). As a result, today I can reveal the truth behind the success, and in the interests of fairness I feel duty bound to share this so that when we head to Brazil in 2016 other teams have a chance of some medals.

The breakthrough is.......Breathing.

Yes, you read that right. Breathing.

No, don't be silly, I'm not suggesting that British cycling breathed whilst everyone else didn't, although that would certainly confer significant advantage, it is the way they breathed.

Imagine you are cycling along and trying to go as fast as you can. You breath. In and out. In and out. The problem is that up until now, everyone has been doing it wrong. As is often the case the explanation is incredibly complex, fully of mind boggling equations and only the brightest of boffins and geeks would understand if I explained it in full (I have a degree in physics, don't you know). Luckily I am a geek and have worked tirelessly to simplify the explanation so that mere mortals may understand.

So here it is.

Are you ready?

Then I'll begin.

So you are cycling along, trying to win a gold medal in a time trial. You set off and due to your exertions you have to breath.

Breath in through mouth

Breathing in is good of course, but the best way to breath in is through your mouth, not your nose. Breathing in through your mouth makes you go faster. As you suck air in, you suck it from in front of you, thus pulling air backwards. Due to Newtons Laws (just trust me on this) any action must have an equal and opposite reaction, thus sucking air from front to back (air going backwards), pulls you forward. Furthermore, as the air heads down into your lungs, the downward movement of the air (again thanks to our friend Newton) lifts you up a bit, effectively making you lighter (air goes down, you go up).

Breathing in through your nose, does not work as well, as your nose takes in air from below and moves it upwards into your nostrils. That doesn't pull you forward, and it effectively makes you slightly heavier.

Breath out through nose

What goes in must come out, so you have to push it back out. Pushing the air out through an open mouth causes problems as the opposite reactions occur to breathing in, i.e. you effectively slow down due to pushing air forward (air forward, you go back), and you'll be heavier due to pushing air up(air up, you go down). Unfortunately there isn't much you can do about the air going up the way out of your lungs, but you can stop the slowing effect of breathing forwards. So good old Newton, suggests (he didn't actually suggest it, but if he was around he would work for British Cycling, of that I have no doubt)  breathing out through your nose.

Hopefully, you'll have worked out the logic now. By breathing out your nose, you aren't pushing air forwards, instead you are pushing it downwards. Thus there is zero force slowing you down, and you will effectively be a little lighter.

Are you still with me?

Amazing, isn't it. It's a bit like a paper clip. Once you've seen it, it's so obvious, but only once you've seen it. The same goes for this theory (though it's no theory as the results speak for themselves). One you know it it becomes blindingly obvious.

Of course, it's not quite that simple. There are situations where the breathing technique needs to be adjusted. For example when you are climbing a very steep hill and your are off the saddle with your head down (parallel to the ground). Breathing out through your nose certainly works, but breathing in gets complex. In fact finite element calculations suggest that using the bagpipe playing technique of breathing in and out at the same time might be best in this situation. Analysis is still ongoing, and this lack of hill climbing advantage played a part in Mark Cavendish's failure to take the road race gold (there were too many hills).

Of course, with any ground breaking reveleations such as these, there will be doubters. In fact I am sure that people will go and look at the footage and claim,

'Bradley Wiggins had his mouth closed when he should have been breathing through his mouth!'

But remember, British Cycling only held this advantage whilst the other teams were in the dark, so subterfuge was critical. In fact, when Bradley looked like he had his mouth closed, he was in fact breathing through a specially designed prosthetic that was hidden behind his lips most of the time, but occasionally dropped to make it look as if his mouth was closed.

I expect these to be banned by the UCI very soon.

So there you have it.

I expect you will all now adopt this breathing technique. In fact the ultimate way to breath for any budding Bradley Wiggins is to combine this technique with Graeme Obree's breathing technique.  However, that is quite advanced and you should probably talk to your doctor before attempting to combine the techniques.

 Of course science and cycling don't stand still, and next year British Cycling will have upped its game. There are suggestions that this will involve manipulating pulses, but that's just an idea that's blowing in the wind.....

Sunday 14 October 2012

Someone elses problem

10% of journeys will be by cyclists by 2020.

That's quite a target. It's not a target set by me. It's not a target set by Pedal on Parliament. In fact it wasn't a target set by a cycling organisation or campaign group. It is a target set by our current government.

All the more impressive when you consider that John Swinney in his latest budget speech specifically pointed out that the current government hits its targets. So we should expect that the current government will do everything in its power to hit the 10% by 2020 target.

There is a problem though. The time scale.

Politics works within relatively short time scales as generally there are elections every 4 or so years. In fact on this occasion it will be 5 years, and the next Scottish election is to be held in 2016. In fact the issue is further complicated by the likely independence election in 2014. So we have a target that is 8 years away which will only be reached after a vote for independence and an election (or possibly a election of the first independent Scottish government). 

Imagine now that you are a politician in the current government......

You have heard that cyclists are asking for more money to make the roads safer, however, it's a difficult time and there are many other pressures on money. Of course the case for investing in cycling is very strong, it could help Scotland in so many ways, health, socially, economically, and environmentally.

Mmmm. You look at the date that the target is set for, 2020. You do a quick bit of arithmetic and work out that there is eight years until you reach that target date.  Eight years is a very, VERY long time in politics. Mmmm. You don't know too much about what is actually needed to get 10% of people in Scotland cycling, but you can't be that hard. Surely it won't need 8 years worth of significant funding. 

You like cycling, you support cycling, but it's far enough away and costs too much that it is probably better to leave it until after, at the very least, the independence election. Let's give cycling a small pot of cash, say £6m to show that we like the idea and to keep the cycling 'noise level' to manageable levels.

So we are at a loss aren't we? We are doomed to have small pots of cash?


The fact is that 8 years is not long at all. To get 10% of cyclists cycling by 2020, we need a step change in attitude and funding, not in a few years time, but now. It takes a lot of planning, building, publicising, designing and consultation to build the infrastructure that will get more than a few percent cycling. Effectively if the government doesn't take action NOW, John Swinney is admitting that they are a government that hits targets, unless the target is far off enough that it will become someone else's problem.

Effectively cycling is or will be someone else's problem. So how do we make it the current governments problem?

Noise. Governments don't like noise. Running government successfully is all about keeping the noise level as low as possible. So quite simply we need to make as much noise as we can possibly make. We've had a successful demonstration, now we need you to write to your MSP. Tell them that cycling is not a problem that needs to be solved in eight years time, it needs to be solved now.

Health is a problem now.
The environment is a problem now.
Pollution is a problem now. 
Congestion is a problem now.

Please write to your MSP (click here). It really is incredibly easy to do, and only takes a few minutes. It is incredibly powerful. Politicians do pay attention to their mailbags (or inboxes).

Without your help we won't be able to make Scotland a cycle friendly country!

Monday 8 October 2012

Now is the Write Time

Back in April the cyclists and potential cyclists of Scotland made a statement. A very clear, bold statement.

It's time to make Scotland a cycle friendly nation.

There can be no doubt that politicians sat up and took note. Since then the organising group of POP have been invited to the All Party Cycling Group, we have had personal discussions with Keith Brown, we have been invited to give evidence to parliamentary committees and we have in discussions with politicians from all sides of the divide.

We aren't alone in making progress of course, other organisations and individuals are working tirelessly as well for the same aims, but there can be no doubt that the event in April opened many doors. Yes, we at POP central can take some credit for organising the event, however, the real power comes not from us, but from you. It was because you turned up in huge numbers that we gained a seat at the table.

We are now at a critical point in our campaign. Politicians have started the process of setting out parliaments budget for the next financial year.

Budgets, financial settlements, funding, balance sheets? Boring isn't it?!

Far from it.

To get Scotland cycling needs money. It needs investment, and anyone who cycles at the moment will tell you, it needs significant funding. The government has announced £6m of extra funding this year. Unfortunately, this (split over two years and further split over different projects) is but a drop in the ocean. We have quite clearly stated what the funding needs are, with cycling needing 5% oft he transport budget (about £100m) a year to start the process of transforming our streets.

Yes, that's a lot of money, but small change compared to some of the huge spends on some infrastructure projects planned over the next few years. As it stands cycling is still not viewed as a serious mode of transport by our politicians.

It doesn't have to be like that, and with your help it won't be.

We need you to write to your politicians. 

There are two things that politicians take note of. Large demonstrations is one of them. We've done that. They also take note of letters from constituents. In fact it is often said that for every letter that a politician receives with a particular view expressed, suggests that at least 10 other constituents feel the same way. So every time someone writes a letter to an MSP, it multiplies 10 fold. Letters are powerful.

Therefore, we are asking you to PLEASE write to your MSP. You can do it very easily here. Tell them how passionate you are about cycling. Tell them if you don't feel safe enough to cycle. Tell them that you would love your children to cycle, you could even get your children to write to them!

Make your voice heard.

We have an opportunity here and now, to change Scotland, be it independent or part of the British isles, for the better. However, we cannot do it alone. We need you and your voice, just as we needed you out on the streets of Edinburgh.

I've written to my local and regional MSPs and I've copied the e-mail I have sent below. However, use your own words. You don't need to say much, just let them know what you want them to do.

With your help, we can make Scotland a cycle friendly nation.

As you may be aware I am one of the organisers of Pedal on Parliament (, which is a grass roots movement that is asking for the Scottish government to make cycling safe for all. Our manifesto ( among other things, asks for a step changing in funding for cycling. Investment in cycling is not only necessary to make our roads safer and to get more people of all ages cycling, but also necessary to help the government reach its target of 10% of journeys by bike by 2020. 

Our manifesto not only gained the support of 3000+ cyclists, of all ages and walks of life at our event in April, it has also gained the support of many other cycling organisations, a growing number of politicians and a number of Scotland’s more famous cycling heroes.  Mark Beamont, Graeme Obree and Sir Chris Hoy all encouraged people to join our campaign to make Scotland’s roads safe for all. In fact Sir Chris Hoy has gone further, and in his recent interview with the Herald he said,

“It's not just for one reason either, such as cutting down on road congestion or reducing carbon emissions. It's about the obesity issue and improving people's health. It's a social issue, too….. It's about making cycling an easier and more pleasant thing to do. If you make things easy then people will do it…. creating clear bike lanes that are actually meaningful and not just a bit of paint on the side of the road which other road users aren't really aware of.”

Sir Chris, is absolutely right. The benefits of cycling are wide ranging. Scotland has significant issues with pollution and carbon emissions. Glasgow for example has been cited recently as one of the most polluted cites in Europe. ( Cycling can play a significant role in reducing these emissions.

Our roads are also congested as I often experience myself on my daily commute through Glasgow ( Research has shown that if only 10% of these cars were replaced by cyclists the roads would flow freely again.

Glasgow and the West of Scotland have serious issues with obesity, diabetes and heart disease.  It is widely accepted that sedentary lifestyles are a root cause and that cycling, as a mode of transport and recreation, could play a significant role in improving our nations health.

Social deprivation is also a significant issue in the West of Scotland. With 30% of households not having access to a car, opening up our roads to safe cycling provides new opportunities in these areas, as well as helping the local economy with cyclists tending to spend their money locally benefiting the local economy.

In the economic climate that we find ourselves in money is tight. Spending needs to be focused in areas that provide the greatest benefits. The economic benefits of cycling are significant. It has been shown in rigorous studies that the benefit to cost ratio for investing in cycling in the UK is 19:1. Spending on cycling is investing in the health and prosperity of Scotland.

The evidence in favour of investing in Scotland’s cycle infrastructure is substantial, and is detailed here in our parliamentary budget submission ( However, without a significant step changing in funding above what is currently proposed in the draft budget, we will miss this opportunity for a true Golden Legacy from the Olympic and Commonwealth games.

Please could you do everything in your power to ensure that cycling does receive the required step change in funding in this years budget. With your help we could make Scotland a healthy, happy and prosperous cycle friendly nation.  

Monday 1 October 2012

Standing in the Shoulders of Giants

Cycling was not my first sporting passion. That belongs to judo. In fact I took part in judo, and was fairly handy at it, from the age of eight until I retired a few years ago. The sport and the people who did it with me will always be close to my heart.

Anyone who has done judo for any length of time will know how important respect is within the sport. Not just the respect that you should always afford your opponent, but the respect for those senior to you.

When I first joined the university judo club having done judo since primary school in a small local club, I remember looking at some of the older members there, and some of them were very old to be on a mat (or so I thought), and wondered what they were doing there. Their sporting careers had obviously seen better days, and some of them due to injury or just wear and tear, found it difficult to move freely and fight properly.

Is it not time for them to hang up their judogi? (judo kit)

Of course, I soon learned that not only was their being there justified, it was absolutely critical.

One of these older judoka (that's what judo players are called) was Doc. When I first met him Doc was in his 70's and his knees and hips were failing him. He'd started his judo in his 40's which was late to start but that still meant he had being doing judo from before I was born. Whilst he wasn't a world medallist, he was a black belt and when you took grip with him you could tell he knew his way about a judo mat.

It wasn't his judo skills, though that were the most impressive thing about him. Doc, and a few others like him at the club were hard men. Hard men? Does that mean they went around bullying others? No. Not in the slightest. In fact Doc was one of the most generous, kind and fun loving individuals that I have had the pleasure to know. My wife on first meeting him pointed out that he had a very bright twinkle in his eye! Doc would do anything he could for you and was always happy to offer advice.

No, Doc was a real hard man. He did judo at a time when it wasn't an olympic sport, when mats weren't health and safety tested, when gyms weren't air conditioned (or sometimes properly heated) and floors were more likely to be concrete rather than sprung. He did judo, not when it was easy, but when it was hard. This showed when you met them on the mat. It didn't matter that he probably needed a knee replacement (and he had a few), he would get out on the mat and get on with it as best they could, and he would enjoy it and contribute positively.

So why are people like Doc so important?

They show us, and they certainly showed me, that if you have a passion, and if you are determined enough, you can get out and do it, enjoy it, and as Doc and many others did, contribute to the growth of the younger players. I learned a huge amount from Doc and others like him, with the most important lesson being respect. I cannot express in words how much respect I had for Doc. I hope he understood that.

You may notice that I say, 'had'. Unfortunately, I found out that Doc passed away at the weekend.

As I mentioned earlier, I stopped judo a few years ago. I wasn't as tough as these guys. Having had three knee operations I decided that I needed to keep my body going for my kids. That meant I hadn't seen many at the club, including Doc for quite a while. Obviously I feel sad about that, and wish I had one last chance to tell Doc how much I appreciated everything he did for me.

However, that's not the end of the story. Doc continues to teach me lessons. Doc was, in my mind, a giant of judo. He truly was a pair of shoulders that I felt I stood on throughout my adult judo career. However, today I am not doing judo any more, cycling is my passion. Not only do I take part in cycling, I passionately campaign to make it safer. So how does Doc's legacy help with my cycle campaigning?

I have been lucky. I have come along at a time when campaigning is getting easy. I helped to organise Pedal on Parliament at a time when the media were starting to look positively at cycling, when politicians were starting to realise that cycling could be a realistic solution to many of Scotland's ills, and when people were starting to look for an alternative to the often soul destroying daily grind to work in a car. I'm not saying that it is certain that POP will succeed in making Scotland a cycle friendly nation, far from it, there is much work and campaigning to be done. It is, however, just a much better environment to campaign in now.

My experience with Doc taught me that Pedal on Parliament only exists because of the tireless, thankless work that many campaign groups and individuals have done before. Without their hard work and dedication when the media was anti cyclist and when politicians thought that cycling had had it's day, is far more impressive that anything that POP has or probably ever will deliver. To all of those groups, many of whom are still working away in the background, I have the utmost respect for. I'm almost certain I would not have had the energy and determination that they have had over the years.

In the world of cycle campaigning my personal aproach focuses on raising awareness of issues publicly, being honest about where we are now, and what needs to be done, and I attempt to put external pressure on politicians. In fact I have found that politicians understand and often appreciate the need for such approaches to campaigning. How else would they know that people care about cycling if we didn't have 3000 people out on the streets or cyclists sending letters to them?

Not everyone agrees with my approach of course. Some prefer to work within and to build from the bottom up. Whilst I certainly respect that opinion, and I agree that we have needed in the past and continue to need a bottom up approach, I think new opportunities, both nationally and locally have arisen.  I think we should focus on and push strongly for a step change in the attitude towards cycling and cycle infrastructure funding.

This has to happen both locally and nationally.

In judo I didn't always agree with Doc. He would on occasion suggest a move or a technique to me that I didn't think would suit. He wasn't always right (and neither was I!). That, of course, in no way affected the respect I felt for Doc. Likewise, because I don't always agree with other approaches to campaigning, does not in any way detract for the respect I have for them. We need people to keep plugging away at the coal face.

However, if we don't reach for the stars, we'll never get to Mars, and so it is with campaigning.

We are at a critical time in the growth and maturity of cycling as transport. We owe it to the giants, past and present to ensure that we do everything we can now to make cycling safe for all. We must grasp the opportunity whilst we have it.

We owe it to the real campaigning hard men.

In Memory of David (Doc) Campbell.  My thoughts are with his family at this time.