Monday, 12 November 2007

Top Gear: Who'd have expected it?

For those who did not see the weekly British televisual car-beatification ceremony that is Top Gear last night, it was rather interesting. The presenters set themselves the challenge of crossing the whole of central London using a car (naturally), public transport, a bicycle and - curiously - a powerboat. Now, we know that in challenges such as this the bicycle always always wins. I was just amazed that such a vehemently pro-car programme showed the bicycle trouncing all the other options. By a large margin. And the car being beaten by every other mode. Who'd have thought it?

What I want to focus on here is Richard Hammond's experience of cycling in London. I wrote here about some of the problems that city has with its cycle facilities, but it was very interesting to see on television somebody's frustration with such magnificent provision as cycle lanes which run for 5 metres then disappear, dumping the rider in traffic. Most interesting was his obvious anger at constantly stopping at traffic lights. The excellent book Bicycling Science (which sits on a shelf next to my desk - can you guess what the next book along is?*) contains this formula:

which describes the power used to ride a bicycle. This formula tells us many things, including that in general, stopping then re-starting a bicycle uses about the same effort as riding 100m. So stopping at just 10 junctions in a journey is as much work as riding a whole extra kilometre. The corollary of this? If your local authority is providing cycle facilities that make cyclists stop unnecessarily - for example, at every single driveway and side-road on a roadside cycle path - then it's just not good enough and you should demand your money back. And as for "cyclists dismount" signs, I just can't swear enough to express my contempt.

* The Bicycle Wheel by Jobst Brandt. If you guessed that correctly then I love you.

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