Using a Bike for Short Journeys – Part 3

Following on from Part 2: Parking, pavements and potholes – dealing with the stuff you have little or no control over.


So, we’ve got our bike, our basket and our lock and we’re stood outside the shop/pub/café/jobcentre looking for the other half of the parking puzzle – a sheffield stand. Even in cycling nirvanas like Amsterdam and Copenhagen there aren’t always enough purpose made stands or suitable pieces of street furniture to go round, so for short term parking their answer is – take your own.

Hang around outside a supermarket or in a café lined square across the north sea and you’ll see bike parking organically expand as people roll up in regular rows, kick down the bike stand and remove their keys from the ‘nurse’s lock’ – quicker than you can park a car with central locking. It works as well in Horsham as it does Groningen…

In the UK the bike stand went the way of the chainguard, mudguard, luggage rack and anything else that made a bike more useful but a little bit heavier – it became another unnecessary accessory for the sleek-lightweight-dream-of-speed and the mud-flinging-all-terrain-two-wheel-tractor. Like so many bike related things, it’s another case of back to the future for the ever so simple but remarkably useful bike stand.

Think of weight as your friend; a sturdy steel bike properly equiped for the short journey is a lot harder to pick up and runaway with. For longterm parking, or just peace of mind, you will need a sheffield stand or equivalent. Don’t have one outside a favourite place? Bike parking is one of the easier infrastructure problems to solve and your local authourity can be very accommodating if you find the right person to talk to. A local bicycle user group can help with that.

Depending where you happen to be in the UK, finding suitable routes to make those short journeys between A and B can be a major headache. If you live alongside the Bristol-Bath bike path the biggest problem you’ll have to contend with is its popularity. If you live alongside an urban motorway it’ll probably involve a journey via Z, and possibly S, H, I, and T too, assuming a reasonable option exists at all. If you were unaware of it until now, it really pains me to have to break it to you that a bike user’s lot is not always the simple, carefree one I’ve painted up to now. It’s an unfortunate fact that using a bike for short journeys in our current environment is very often not as convenient, comfortable and secure as jumping in a car. Unless that is, you break a few rules. Bear with me.

If there’s no reasonable alternative I have no qualms about riding on pavements. For me, walking and pushing my bike at the same time is a far more difficult feat to perform than riding it. My bike is my mobility aid, which when you think about it is the same for everyone, just more of an aid to some than others.

My wife on the other hand never rides on the pavement, she invariably gets off and walks. Her tolerance of unpleasant road environments is also lower than mine so when we’re somewhere new I quite often find I’m riding along talking to myself. When I do, no questions asked, I hop up onto the pavement and we continue at walking pace until we’re past the traffic jam or the nasty junction. We have an understanding.

With PCSOs and NAGs you’ll find the situation is just as black and white but without the understanding. You’ll have to make your own judgement about where it’s reasonable to cycle and where it isn’t. It’ll depend on you and on the particular context you’re in, but on the whole you’ve got a fair chance of being seen as what you are, a human being popping to the shops or doing the school run, rather than the oft cited spawn of the devil dead set on a mission of thoughtless death and destruction.

PoliceBikesYou might like to know the actual law concerning what is and isn’t legal when it comes to riding a bike away from the road, because it’s not as black and white as most people believe, police included, but to be honest it’s quite complicated and difficult to remember. What’ll probably serve you better is something the current Secretary of Transport was reported as saying recently which reiterated guidance from 1999:

“The introduction of the fixed penalty is not aimed at responsible cyclists who sometimes feel obliged to use the pavement out of fear of the traffic, and who show consideration to other pavement users.

“Chief police officers, who are responsible for enforcement, acknowledge that many cyclists, particularly children and young people, are afraid to cycle on the road, sensitivity and careful use of police discretion is required.”

Given it’s such a rare sight these days, it’s heartwarming to think that even chief police officers can picture parents doing their best to shepherd children to school during the morning rush in spite of the best efforts of the DfT and our country’s legislature. However, remember that it’s still at the discretion of the officer on the scene so you may have to agree to disagree, take the fixed penalty notice and then decide what to do about it afterwards.

If cycle training is suggested as a solution and, for example, you’re not riding up the high street because you simply haven’t summoned up the courage to do it yet, then that might be an option you’d find useful. If you’re at the other end of the spectrum and you know how to ride a bike through traffic’s high tide but despite being able to do it you simply don’t want to – perhaps you can think of less scary ways to self harm – then say so.

Just keep in mind that neither you nor the upholder of the law are in a position to fix the cause of the problem on the spot, so a good outcome is acquainting police officers with the notion that using a bike is a legitimate means of transport in a criminally inadequate environment.

PotholesLeaving the pavements and getting back on the road, when the traffic’s not shaking you up a pothole probably will be.

The Mayor of London recently discovered a corker on his own roads. Piling into a pothole hiding beneath a puddle, Boris took a tumble and had to retire his trusty steed Old Bikey.

“Now it was dead, killed by – the weather. Yes, amigos, it was slain by the rain.”

It makes an ass of his assonance but London’s Mayor really needs to know that Old Bikey was slain by the rain AND the regular repetitive forces of heavy traffic. Heavy both in number and mass. Old Bikey destroying, injury causing potholes don’t occur on well constructed roads with just bikes on them no matter how much it’s rained. How many potholes do you come across pedalling on the pavement?

In the short term the only thing you can do is report the hole and wait. It could be a long wait – the size of hole that tends to trouble bike users is somewhat smaller than the minimum required to trigger a repair. And it’s likely that as budgets tighten that minimum will increase again, but sit tight, like hyperbole and beer bellies, potholes always get bigger.

The long term solution has taken a depressingly long time to gain traction in the UK but thankfully for us it’s finally making progress: don’t put bikes in the wheel tracks of heavy vehicles on main roads – put them on a bike path. If you’re using a bike for short journeys, or would dearly love to, you’ll be wanting some space like this to do it in. Sign up here to learn more and when a prospective councillor knocks on your door asking for your vote, ask them what they’re going to do about creating space for cycling where you live.

Not everyone’s on board yet, so if some uber-fit, blindingly bright cycling experts on barely equipped bikes should ride up and tell you that you’re doing it wrong, that you don’t need bike paths and that roads already go everywhere you need them to, I suggest you point them to cycling’s sadly unsuccessful pothole campaign and ask them why the AA treat them as a joke.

In part 4 I’ll be taking a look at the attitudes towards, and the expectations of, people using bikes for short journeys.

2 thoughts on “Using a Bike for Short Journeys – Part 3

  1. Kevin Hickman Post author

    Don’t know but I think he’d do well to go for a steel frame this time. Probably the only type you can get made in Britain. Wants to get himself along to Bespoked at the velodrome.

    There’s a rash of potholes caused by HGVs along a section of road between Witney and Eynsham that forms part of the cycle route into Oxford where you get people riding along the wrong side of the road to avoid them. Not many vehicle movements, but it’s used as a rest up point by an aggregate company. The county resurfaced a large section but seemed to run out of tarmac to do it all. Time to see if we can get the rest done out of the £200m announced in the Bingo Budget. Won’t stop them coming back of course, if the huge tipper trucks don’t stay away.


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