Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Cletus Asks Cyclists #5


"Another cyclist dead in London, when will these cyclists learn to obey the law and rules on the road?"

My response (note that the question was asked in the UK, so I've used British rather than US spelling):

Thanks for the opportunity to shed some light on this issue. Troll posts like this reflect common prejudices and ignorance, so I think it's actually a good thing when such posts are made, as they help us to educate those who hold these common prejudices and false beliefs.

Cyclists obey the law with about the same frequency that motorists do. The difference is, scofflaw cyclists are not driving a 2-ton chunk of metal incompetently at speeds of over 30mph. Studies show that scofflaw cycling is not the primary cause of collisions - distracted and incompetent driving is. According to a 2009 UK Department for Transport report, "‘Failed to look properly’ was attributed to the car drivers in 57% of serious collisions." (see first link below). This is not only the case in the UK: according to a report of bicycle collisions in New York City, "Traffic-law violations by motorists are the main cause of fatal bicyclist accidents in New York City." (see second link below).

Most cyclists killed on the roads are killed while they are cycling perfectly legally. In fact, the mistakes cyclists make that get them killed are usually made because the cyclists are trying to stay out of motorists' way. If cyclists would take control of the lane rather than riding close to the kerb or avoiding the road entirely and cycling on the footpath or in a bike lane or path (where they are less visible to other road users), they would be seen more easily and thereby avoid being hit by distracted drivers.

Unfortunately, the vehicular cycling strategies that help cyclists ride more safely and avoid collisions on the road are not taught in the world of populist cycling advocacy, and are in fact derided by many cyclists, who ironically (and suicidally) believe that staying out of the way of cars is safer than asserting their right to the road and riding more visibly.

Right now, cycling advocacy seems to be focused on bike lanes and getting more bums on saddles. Safety comes a distant 3rd to these issues. Unfortunately, I fear many more cyclists will need to die before cycling safety becomes a true priority in the populist cycling movement.


 Collisions Involving Cyclists on Britain’s Roads: Establishing the Causes

THE ONLY GOOD CYCLIST: NYC Bicycle Fatalities —Who’s Responsible?

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Levi's "Commuter" Jeans Review

Recently, Levi's came out with a pattern of jeans specifically made for commuter cycling. The "commuter" has the following attributes:

3M Scotchlite reflective fabric tape on cuffs for increased visibility in the dark.
NanoSphere treatment for water- and dirt-resistance.
Sanitized tech, an anti-microbial coating, for protection against odor.
A raised back for increased butt coverage.
A reinforced crotch.
Double layered back pockets.
A U-lock storage system.
Hidden cellphone pocket.

I've been toying with buying a pair of these "commuter" jeans, but the review at Bikehacks.com started to give me second thoughts. When I looked at the product critically, I have a few more issues to add into the mix.

The raised back is, in my view, a good feature. It's there for the same reason motorcycle jackets and pants have increased coverage at the back - in both motorcycling and cycling, the riding position is one in which we're bent over, so we are more exposed in that area without it.

The reinforced crotch is also there for obvious reasons of increased wear and tear. Not sure about the reinforced back pockets or the hidden cellphone pocket, but as I see it, they don't detract from the product, so why not.

But in terms of the other features, I have no idea what kind of cyclists Levi's spoke with in the planning stages of this product, but in my view, Levi's should have consulted more all-weather commuter cyclists. Then they might have learned a lot more about the realities and the requirements of cyclists. For example:

1. Why did they choose to avoid wool?. I'm a big advocate for wool for cycling (I think with good reason), and as I see it, making the jeans from a nice comfort-oriented Merino wool blend would remove the requirement for both the water-repellant and the anti-microbial coatings, because wool retains its warmth and comfort even when wet AND the lanolin in the fibers repels water, resists microbes and prevents smell. Also, wool naturally breathes well and moderates temperature in both hot and cold conditions. Levi's have been experimenting with wool jeans, so it's a little frustrating that they haven't seen the possibilities of wool in terms of cycling.

2. Levi's should have kept the leg opening the same as regular 511s. Unfortunately, because Levi's widened the leg opening from the standard 511 width of 14 1/2 inches to an opening of 16 inches, it forces cyclists who wear these jeans to either use bike clips or roll up the jeans above the level of the chainring. If the leg opening was a proper 511 width of 14 1/2", neither of these would be necessary. I wear regular 511s to commute on my bike and in my experience, you simply don't need to roll them up: because they hug the calf, they stay about an inch away from my chainring. I don't know why Levi's made the decision to widen the leg openings on these jeans from the regular 511 size - it seems to me to ruin the biggest advantage of 511s when cycling - i.e. not needing to roll them up above the level of the chainring.

3. If Levis are going to include a bike lock attachment feature, I think it should be easily accessible, either on the thigh or on the side. Placing it on the back makes it difficult to access. I dunno - I just think there ought to be a better place for it.

As things stand, the only reason I might be tempted to buy these jeans is for the higher rise in the rear of the jeans. This is not enough for me, given the drawbacks of poor design elsewhere and the high price. Hopefully, someone influential at Levi's will see the negative reviews and institute changes, because with a few tweaks these could become a good product that every cyclist might benefit from owning.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

What does 'practicable' mean?

Unfortunately for cyclists, it means different things to different people, and the folks who decide in courts what it means are usually not cyclists. This is, in my view, why we need to remove such weasel words from the law books and allow cyclists to choose a lane position that the CYCLIST HIMSELF - and no one else - judges to be safe. In other words, allow the cyclist the same lane position rights that every other road user enjoys.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Remembrance Sunday

Today is Remembrance Sunday in the UK and in the Commonwealth. On this day, I like to spend a little while thinking about members of my family who died in the wars of the 20th Century. Today, I'd like to remember my 1st cousin twice removed Nicholas Surtees.

Nicholas Surtees was the son of Nicholas and Catherine (nee Harkes) Surtees. He was born in South Hylton, County Durham, England in September 1890. His father worked in a shipyard as a caulker. By 1911, Nicholas had joined his father as a ship caulker.

The Great War

After the Great War began, Nicholas Surtees was probably conscripted under the Military Service Act, sometime after March 1916.

In June, Nicholas married Eliza Priscilla Thaxter. Their son, also called Nicholas, was born the following August. At this time, the family was living in a row house at 9 Rosalie Terrace, Hendon, a suburb of Sunderland.

Nicholas was called up and initially trained with the Northumberland Fusiliers with the Service Number 5/40387. However, he was sent to France in November 1917 as a Private in the 2nd Battalion, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry with the Service Number 35815. At some point Nicholas was moved on to the 9th (Service) Battalion and then, in the summer of 1918, to the 1st Battalion.

From 15 July 1918 Nicholas' battalion was attached to151st Brigade, 50th (Northumbrian) Division. This division was being reconstituted after the battles of the spring and summer. It took the field in October and took part in the final advance in Picardy.

German resistance was falling away. Unprecedented numbers of prisoners were taken in the Battle of the Selle, and a new attack was quickly prepared. The French First Army and the British First, Third, and Fourth Armies were tasked with advancing from south of the Condé Canal along a thirty-mile front towards Maubeuge-Mons, threatening Namur. Together with the American forces breaking out of the forests of Argonne, this would, if successful, disrupt the German efforts to reform a shortened defensive line along the Meuse. 

Battle of the Sambre

At dawn on November 4, 17 British and 11 French divisions headed the attack. The Tank Corps, its resources badly stretched, could provide only 37 tanks for support.

Despite heavy casualties, the battle objectives were reached on the 4th or the following day. The successful attacks resulted in a bridgehead almost fifty miles long being made, to a depth of two to three miles deep.

The 1st battalion, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry war diary for 4 November describes the day as follows:

Bousies: 05.15. Battalion “stood to”.

07.45: marched to a point in the neighbourhood of Fontaine-au-Bois.

10.30: the battalion was ordered to pass through the 150th Infantry Brigade who had attained their objective in the Foret de Mormal. The battalion moved by the Route de Fontaine through the forest, meeting a considerable amount of opposition from enemy machine gun fire. The enemy retired in front of the battalion until dark to a post in the vicinity of Rue du Pont Routier have dug in for the night.

Nicholas Surtees was killed on this day in the same battle and on the same day as Wilfred Owen, just a week before the Armistice was signed, Nicholas's body was never found. He is commemorated on panel 8 of the Vis en Artois Memorial to the Missing.

From this point, the northern Allies advanced relentlessly, sometimes more than five miles a day, until the Armistice Line of November 11.

A War Office telegram would have advised the family that Nicholas was missing, soon after the event. 


Nicholas’ medals would have been sent to his family after the war. The next of kin would also have been sent an illuminated scroll and bronze plaque (the “death penny”) after the war.

Nicholas Surtees' remains are likely to remain to this day in the Foret de Mormal although it is possible that he lies in one of the military cemeteries in the area, marked only as an unknown soldier.

Campaign Medals

Nicholas Surtees was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.  Inscribed on his medals should be the following:


They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: 
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. 
At the going down of the sun and in the morning, 
We will remember them.