If most cycle promotion these days is still based around the 'Fours Es' (Engineering, Enforcement, Encouragement and Education), how much attention does the last one get?
Shamefully, practically none. Cycle planners and activists all immerse themselves in either grandiose visions or the detailed nitty-gritty of design without often concerning themselves with the actual riding of cycles. If cycle training is mentioned it is nearly always in the context of children.
The updating and reprinting of John Franklin's classic Cyclecraft should make us all think again. Be honest, how much bad cycling do you see out there? Yes a lot. Virtually everyone can learn something from this book.
In part this is because of Franklin's clear straightforward style, but in part because his writing reminds us just how varied the road environment now is. Roads are wider and the traffic faster. Roundabouts and junctions come in all types. Genuine horrors such as slip roads and free-flow roads pose real problems. Even advanced stop lines need care.
Then there is the whole new paraphernalia of modern traffic calming and cycle facilities. Franklin has long been cautious about the benefits of both, partly because as he says 'cycle facilities are usually compromises rather than optimum solutions'. Even on good segregated facilities he advises use of general principles anticipate, plan ahead, 'ride within the limits of what you can see to be safe and within your capabilities'.
Indeed, experienced cyclists may forget that what comes 'naturally' to them is actually the accumulation of hard-won experience looking for potholes, avoiding dogs, anticipating car doors, taking up good road position, successful braking in the wet, dealing with ice, wind, rain, fatigue and alcohol.
Then there are the lessons most of us constantly forget 'Do not let yourself be annoyed by others, however stupid their actions', it's tough being a motorist too, take care at closing time, don't charge through fords, pedestrians aren't harmless.
Some of the best parts of the book are the author's pithy comments on 'safety and riding aids'. Did you remember helmets need renewing every three years? Good to see support for one of the few really effective aids, the pedal reflector at night. There is also a succinct, informative chapter on 'Tandems, tricycles and recumbents'.
For the price of a half-decent cycle lock this book teaches all that is needed about surviving on the road. Extracts from it should be serialised in newsletters, newspapers and the wider media. Other vital questions arise: How to get its message through to those least likely to read it? How to get motorists thinking on these issues? How to get that fourth 'E' back on to the public agenda?
Cycle Touring & Campaigning
Ten years ago, arriving somewhere on a bike was often enough to prompt someone's story of their uncle Albert's trip from Whitby to Wigan to attend a job interview or from Daventry to Dover to visit a girl he'd met at a holiday camp.
Stores of close ancestors making epic journeys on push-bikes were something of a cliché the most famous example concerning that paragon of 1930's job-seekers, Norman Tebbit's dad.
Norman Tebbit has long since relinquished the levers of power, and the generation who understood that purposeful cycle-travel was a possibility open to all, to whom travel by bike was unremarkable the norm rather than the remarkable is thinning out. What was once common knowledge how to ride a bike has become specialist information for while cycling is enjoying a re-birth, there are all too many today who have never learned the skill.
The inevitable decline of those who were already adults in the 1930's, 40's and 50's the peak of practical cycle-travel coincided with a change in conditions on Britain's highways. A right-turn used to be the most complicated manoeuvre that a cyclist had to learn but, since the road network has been engineered to accommodate and encourage growth in the volume and speed of motor-traffic, even local journeys are now likely to demand the negotiation of roundabouts, multi-lanes, dual-carriageways or one-way systems. When these new roads were built it was not considered necessary to plan for cycle-traffic because cycling as a practical means of transport was assumed to be in terminal decline.
It now seems safe to conclude that cycling will not disappear. If the growing list of organisations aiming to encourage bicycle travel succeed it should, indeed, soon be booming.
Most people like to do what they get rewarded for. An insurance company in Colchester has just become probably the first employer in Britain to pay its employees at 15p per mile for cycling to work.
New infrastructure to accommodate cycle-traffic can never hope to fulfil the demands of every journey.
Rather than try to duplicate the 100 per-cent cycle-facilities that we already have the roads why not teach cyclists how to use them in safety and comfort? The problem is that today's adults have grown up in a world where 'ordinary' people didn't cycle and any instruction that they have been given was probably in a primary school playground and of the submissive 'keep out of the way of cars' variety, which may be appropriate for young children who have yet to develop the judgement and concentration required to share roads with motor-traffic but is useless when it comes to helping adults become skillful cyclists.
Fortunately, help is at hand in the shape of a new, thoroughly revised edition of John Franklin's detailed and comprehensive textbook Cyclecraft. Franklin is a long-time advocate of better conditions for cycle traffic and is well known for his championing of vehicular cycling and as a critic of poorly thought out cycle facilities.
The book comes with some level of official endorsement, being published by The Stationery Office (formerly HMSO), and carries the blessing of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, even though the book's introduction explains that it has 'banished the word 'accident', for few crashes fall into that category'.
Cyclecraft covers less ground than the comparable work from the USA John Forester's definitive Effective Cycling, which also includes sections on touring, racing and advanced mechanics. Franklin's book restricts itself to the skills of safe and effective riding. Its guidance on machine selection, adjustment and scrutiny are the minimum that a safe and efficient rider requires. The book doesn't even tell you how to mend a puncture.
Given its objective, though, Cyclecraft is close to faultless, particularly in acknowledging how conditions really are and instructing accordingly rather than telling readers how to ride in an idealised world that exists only between the covers of The Highway Code. For example, a long section on traffic signals concludes with what to do if an automatic signals fails to respond to your presence because its sensitivity is incorrectly set.
The book deals with riding in all weather conditions, including snow, ice and fog as well as how to deal with any kind of highway feature, including fast motor-roads and roundabouts. Explanations are clarified by clear colour diagrams. There are sections on the special skills that tandems, trikes and recumbents demand. Cyclecraft avoids the traps of 'road-safety' orthodoxy with for example realistic assessments of the significance of helmets and conspicuity aids.
While pointing out all possible dangers, Cyclecraft never overstates the hazards or difficulties of bike riding. Get your library to stock it. Recommend it to those less experienced than yourself and however long you've been following the white lines read it. I'd be very surprised if you don't gain an insight or two.
Cycling & Mountain Biking Today
I’m positive that I am a much safer cyclist (and driver, and pedestrian)
as a result of having read this book. Every cyclist should gain
something from it. Anyone thinking of getting themselves (or their
kids) a bicycle must read it.
This book opened my eyes and explained that often the safest place
to ride is in the path of cars simply because you are more visible to
motorists. At first I didn’t believe that it would be safer but having tried
it (and some of the other ideas in the book) I would recommend it.
Amazon reviewers, rating 5 out of 5 stars
Cyclecraft, by John Franklin, is the only book I’ve come across that
offers a comprehensive discussion of the techniques of cycling - basic
techniques, like how to steer and use your gears properly, along
with the more elusive skills of positioning yourself in traffic, and
anticipating aggressive or inattentive motorists.
Reading Cyclecraft made me realise how much I have to learn, and
how often I fail to put into practice what I know.
I’ve read it a couple of times now, and I keep picking up new things
in the light of my increased understanding and experience of cycling.
The book has helped turn my London commute from something that
was a little stressful to the best part of my working day.
Get your hands on this book at all costs, be it from the library or for
yourself, and get all the cyclists you know to read it. It’s really that
Mike van Erp, londonskaters.com
Many who seek enlightenment find it in Cyclecraft. It’s a catechism
chiselled with commandments great and small.
I've heard about this book many times, but as it's been out of print for some time, I haven't been able to get a copy. However, a new edition has just been published, so I wanted to see if it lived up to my great expectations.
This book is rightly sub-titled 'Skilled Cycling Techniques for Adults'. The author stresses that the techniques require an adult's skills of judgement, and that children should be taught somewhat different technique.
A number of surveys suggest that experienced cyclists are many times less likely to be involved in a conflict than riders with less experience. The author's assertion is that although you may encounter bad driving and many hazards whilst cycling, most of it is foreseeable and avoidable.
The book is packed with clear information on cycling confidently and skilfully in Britain. It's well-written, and not in the sort of patronising tone I've seen in one or two other cycling skills books. There are plenty of clear diagrams throughout. There are sections on selecting a bike, maintaining it, and adjusting it for greatest efficiency. The book is eagerly endorsed by RoSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents).
Therefore I find the following statement particularly important:
One of the biggest mistakes a cyclist can make is to think that cycle facilities are inherently safer than using the general roads. Not all facilities will be safer, particularly for a similar level of mobility, whilst there is evidence that some facilities are both dangerous in themselves and lead to unsafe cycling practices.
There is some overlap with the material covered on our training courses last year, but there's room in a book for much more detail.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book to any cyclist.
Cambridge Cycling Campaign
This guide to cycling technique has returned in a new improved version. Updated to reflect the change in bicycle types and road layouts. The book's style with colour illustrations now has a similar feel to the Highway Code, not least because it is published by The Stationery Office. There are new sections on traffic calming, advanced stop lines, flank lanes and cycle trails, with a complete new chapter on tandems, tricycles and recumbents. However, a section called unreasonable restrictions, which dealt with breaking the law to stay safe has disappeared.
Despite some rewriting Cyclecraft is not always an easy read. Its proscriptive tone is annoying, but there is page after page of excellent advice on how to deal safely with everything from complex traffic junctions to dogs and insects. The attention to detail can sound patronising, but occasionally, like a new paragraph dealing with the dangers of cycling on pavements, a whole topic of debate is dismissed in a single sentence. He also points out the limited usefulness of bells, helmets, cycle lanes and roadside cycle tracks.
From someone who has always preferred to be right rather than popular, Franklin's analysis of the very real dangers caused by modern road layouts and cycle facilities continues to make him a thorn in the side of planners and cycle professionals alike.
This book is an essential read for cyclist and planner alike, with the important message that, for our own safety, we should learn to ride confidently with the traffic, rather than pedal meekly in the gutter.
John Franklin's Cyclecraft is all about cycling within existing traffic conditions. It might not therefore appear to be about danger reduction, but advice such as Franklin's may be very useful in supporting cycling as a realistic mode of transport, leading to a change in the traffic mix. Franklin shows how the hazards of cycling can be exaggerated, particularly when set alongside the health benefits. This book will be of use to anybody teaching people to cycle in real road conditions, adults returning to cycling and anybody interested in cycling and safety.
One of the problems of cycle activists and professionals is that they sometimes overlook some basics - such as can the average person ride a bike competently?
The fourth E, Education, of cycle planning (to accompany Engineering, Enforcement and Encouragement) is often neglected within the context of adults. The updating and reprinting of John Franklin's classic Cyclecraft is a valuable and timely contribution to the current push for more cycling.
Two key aspects of this are 'confidence' and 'anticipation'. Taking up a good road position - at least you can be seen there. Drivers can cope with positive riding and clear signals, it is unpredictable, erratic and illegal behaviour they hate.
As for anticipation, do expect car doors, potholes, stray pedestrians, junctions problems and stressed out drivers. 'Do not let yourself be annoyed by others, however stupid their actions', is sound advice, however difficult it can sometimes be to follow.
Franklin is severe on poor facilities, bad traffic calming, helmets, and inadequate road design. Indeed, his pithy views - based on years of experienced riding - form a stimulating check-list for all those involved in cyclists' welfare.
Anyone with Council newsletters, road safety advice, cycle and health promotion material, hire and leisure aspirations or National Bike Week events in mind is recommended to raid this source for some key tips. The fourth 'E' has been neglected for too long.