Cycling safely in Bristol

24 02 2012

It is something so typically and so brilliantly Bristol that in a city with a lactic acid-inducing hill around every corner, the fixed gear community here is so strong. Bristol Dropouts, a shop dedicated to fixed gear bicycles, recently opened on Stokes Croft. And last year a short film, Boikzmoind, was released, documenting Bristol’s fixed gear scene.

It is of course not just about fixed gear bicycles in Bristol. Last weekend’s Red Bull Hill Chasers event up Park Street was testament to that, as bikes of all sizes raced to the top of the hill cheered on by a crowd of hundreds.

Cycling is part of the fabric of Bristol life for a very large number of people, of all ages, of all shapes and sizes.

When I lived in Watford, there were so few bicycles on the road that I used to nod at every passing cyclist. If I did that in Bristol, with the incessant nodding of the head I would soon look like Big Jeff at a gig.

Bristol received more than £10 million in central Government funding in 2008 as it became the UK’s first Cycling City. We don’t need the capital letters though, because Bristol is a cycling city.

Sadly, in a city of cyclists, there will always be conflict with other road users. You only need to look at the letters pages of the Evening Post on an almost daily basis to gauge the strength of feeling on this matter.

I am a cyclist. But I am also a car driver, pedestrian and bus user. It is by being one that you can especially see the problem with the other. As a bus passenger, it terrifies me how close buses get to cyclists. This now infamous video from a court case in Bristol last week shows just what a bus driven badly can do to a hapless cyclist.

I get equally enraged, whatever mode of transport I am using, when I see a cyclist jump a red light. We have to put this down to a minority, and we should condemn these ignorant cyclists as equally as the minority of car drivers who break the speed limit or turn corners without checking their mirrors.

Yesterday, there was a debate in Parliament prompted by a campaign by The Times to make cycling in Britain safer, a campaign which was begun after one of their young reporters, Mary Bowers, was hit by a lorry and seriously injured while cycling in London.

In 2010, 17 cyclists were killed on the roads of the South West. I don’t have the figures specifically for Bristol, but it was something that Chris Hutt’s informative and well-researched Green Bristol Blog used to document before Chris sadly died in 2010.

The forward to a special supplement in yesterday’s Times said: “The casualty toll for cyclists on British streets is unacceptable and we are calling for a commitment from government, at both a central and local level, to put cycling at the heart of how our roads and junctions are designed.

“Leading city councils around the country – from Glasgow and Liverpool to Bristol and Birmingham – have told this newspaper that they support its cycle safety campaign. They must now take tangible steps to improve cycling in their cities for the benefit of all those who want the roads to be safer, more pleasant places to share.”

Here is The Times’ eight-point plan:

1. Lorries entering the city centre should be required to fit sensors, audible turning alarms, extra mirrors and safety bars to stop cyclists being thrown under the wheels.

2. The 500 most dangerous road junctions must be identified, redesigned or fitted with priority traffic lights for cyclists and Trixi mirrors that allow lorry drivers to see cyclists on their near side.

3. A national audit of cycling to find out how many people cycle and how they are killed or injured should be held to underpin effective cycle safety.

4. The Highways Agency should earmark 2 per cent of its budget for next-generation cycle routes, providing £100 million a year towards world-class cycling infrastructure. Cities should be graded on the quality of cycling provision.

5. The training of cyclists and drivers must improve and cycle safety should become a core part of the driving test.

6. The default speed limit in residential areas where there are no cycle lanes should be 20mph.

7. Businesses should be invited to sponsor cycleways and cycling super-highways, mirroring the Barclays-backed bicycle hire scheme in London.

8. Every city, even those without an elected mayor, should appoint a cycling commissioner to push home reforms.

You can help The Times campaign in three ways. One, pledge your support by signing the online petition. Two, spread the word; tweet using the #cyclesafe hashtag. And three, write to your MP.

For more information, visit


Bristol, Better by Bike?

21 01 2011

We are fast approaching the end of the three years that Bristol has had to spend the £11.4 million awarded when it became the UK’s first Cycling City. Any money not spent by March will have to be returned to whence it came. In total, the council has had £22.8 million to spend on cycling provision in the city, half funded by Westminster and half coming from their own coffers.

It would be a criminal waste to see any of the money not spent.

The initial aims were lofty, including the headline ambition to double the number of cyclists in Bristol over a two-year period. As if that wasn’t enough, current Council House cycling supremo Councillor Jon Rogers wanted to see the number of people on two wheels not just double, but triple.

Esteemed cycling campaigner Chris Hutt, who sadly died last year, wasn’t the only person thinking that these aims were over-ambitious. Speaking to the Evening Post in February 2009, Hutt said: “Such rapid growth could put a great strain on some elements of the existing cycling infrastructure even though some infrastructure improvements are planned.

“Efforts to achieve such an unrealistic target are likely to involve a lot of short-term promotional activities which are unlikely to have much enduring benefit.

“It would be much better to invest in the sorts of changes that are going to continue to encourage cycling well into the future, not just for a quick fix before the money runs out in 2011.”

So what exactly has the money been spent on so far?

Much of the cash has not been spent on visible improvements to cycling infrastructure in the city, but rather on training both adults and children.

So far, more than 14,000 schoolchildren have received Bikeability training (left).

Adults living in Bristol or South Glos wishing to become cycling instructors can also get a generous sum off the cost of their courses.

More money well-spent has gone to 17 community groups across Bristol including Bristol-based cycling charity Life Cycle UK, St Werburgh’s Community Centre Bike Project, the Bristol Bike Project which provides free second-hand bikes to refugees and asylum seekers, and Discover Bristol Rides organised by the Bristol Cycling Campaign.

New infrastructure you can actually see includes the new path between Muller Road in Horfield and St Werburgh’s (watch a speeded up journey on that path here), which will soon be extended towards Lockleaze; improved lighting on the Railway Path between Fishponds and Staple Hill; and the so-called Festival Way, connecting Ashton Court, the Create centre and Winterstoke Road.

Two of the more controversial schemes have been the closure to cars of one half of Prince Street Bridge; and much of Bedminster, Southville, Windmill Hill and Ashton being turned into a 20mph zone.

As I cycle around the city, one piece of improvement that I have noticed is more Sheffield stands dotted about, sometimes on the pavement and sometimes in special build-outs. It has been a bit like Top Trumps seeing them spring up on Tyndall Avenue, on Perry Road outside Zero Degrees and outside the Lido (right) among other places.

One spectacular failure, part-funded by the city council but not with Cycling City money, was the Hourbike hire scheme. You can still see the debris of this short-lived project scattered about the city, with empty ‘hubs’ outside the BRI, by the entrance to At-Bristol and on the corner of High Street and Wine Street.

A citywide cycle-hire scheme was one of the key aspects of Bristol’s Cycling City status when Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly announced in June 2008 that Bristol was to be the first city to hold this accolade. Watch her talk about this and the creation of a “bike super-highway” here on the BBC website.

Hourbike, however, was woefully underfunded with too few bikes for hire in too few locations, and planning permission never even granted for a hub at Temple Meads.

Last year’s inaugural Bristol Cycle Festival benefited from a cash injection from Cycling City, as  have other events such as Bristol’s Biggest Bike Ride. And I can’t wait for the vitriol emanating from motorists when Park Street is closed to cars on the evening of Saturday, January 29 for the Red Bull Hill Chasers when different bikes compete to see who can make it from the zebra crossing at the bottom of the road near Banksy’s hanging man to the lights at the top next to the Oxfam bookshop in the fastest time.

I do not know how much money from the Cycling City pot, if any, is left to spend. But it all must be spent, with big plans still in the pipeline for many areas of Bristol.


New mountain bike trails at Ashton Court

11 01 2011

The mountain bike trails at Ashton Court, which start just to the right of the entrance nearest the Suspension Bridge, are an amazing bit of Bristol that remain unknown by the majority of people. This could all change in 2011, with new trails being built at Ashton Court and also over the road in Leigh Woods.

11km of new and reconstructed trails will be built and should be ready to be ridden by this summer.

Riders of all abilities will be able to use the trails, most of which will be on or close to the line of existing routes but will be able to be enjoyed throughout the year, unlike many now which can be virtually impassable in muddy conditions.

Bristol’s Cycling City project has teamed with Forestry Commission, National Trust and the 1 South West cycling initiative to secure the £400,000 needed to build the trails. The project is mostly financed by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, proof that those EU bureaucrats don’t spend all their time designating the correct shape of bananas.

Trail designer Phil Saxena has extensive international experience of building world-class mountain bike trails, including the Beijing Olympics course.

“Having ridden my bike here it’s great to be such an integral part in raising Bristol’s offering in the sport that has given me so much pleasure,” Phil said.

“Designing the track has been a challenge due to the constraints on the sites but we’re planning trails that will get a wide range of riders coming back for more whilst the trails remain robust and sensitive to the landscape and other users.

Work will also take place on a new trail centre on the site of the existing kiosk (see artist’s impression below). The centre will include a cafe and public toilets, as well as providing golf and cycle hire. Construction work should be complete by July.


Oakfield Place pedestrianisation

5 12 2010

On a certainly not uncommon Sunday morning trip for coffee at the Lido this morning with my friend Paul, now newly inaugurated in its wondrous charms, I was thrilled to see the completion of the pedestrianisation of a section of Oakfield Place. The area around the Lido and Victoria pub has always been patently unsuitable for cars, but at the same time had no provision for bicycle parking. Now, both of these problems have been solved with a section of the road closed to cars and no less than nine Sheffield stands installed for bikes. Great news all round and all the more reason to visit the Lido or Victoria, if any more reasons were needed.

Bristol Cycle Festival carnival parade

19 09 2010

The sound of bells, whistles and horns filled the Queen Square air at midday today as the participants in Bristol’s first ever cycling carnival prepared to set off on a colourful journey around the city. It was just one of the events of the Bristol Cycle Festival, with many more to come over the next few days.

It was a joy to watch as the carnival parade set off on its journey through the city centre, Broadmead and Castle Park, populated by some of the most weird and wonderful contraptions you are ever likely to see.

Various cycling groups took part in the carnival, including fixies, Bromptons, floral bikes, animal bikes, dragonflies, pirates, dinosaurs, electric bikes, musical bikes, flower faeries, bicycle baskets, bikes with flags and old-fashioned bikes.

See if you can spot yourself or somebody you know in the video above or pics below. Extra marks if you can spot Councillor Jon Rogers suited up on his Brompton.

Bristol Cycle Festival

10 09 2010

A two-week celebration of all things bike starts tomorrow. Featuring almost 100 events, the Bristol Cycle Festival is a magnificent example of independent groups working together to create something completely unique and remind everyone that for two years now we have live in the UK’s first Cycling City.

More events are still being added – keep up-to-date at – but so far there is everything from a carnival in Queen Square to bicycle treasure hunts, slalom racing in Victoria Park to theatre, art, dance and photography.

Here are five highlights:

Freewhelin’ Carnival. Sunday, September 19, Queen Square. The UK’s first dedicated pedal-powered carnival with more than 20 cycling troupes taking part, passing through the streets of the city centre from midday. 

Bike polo tournament. Sunday, September 12, Millennium Square. Free-to-enter, just get a team of three together and turn up. Round-robin so each team will get to play at least two games. Mallets provided.

The Cyclowns (right). Saturday, September 18, Colston Hall and city centre. A roving band of multi-talented musicians and circus folk who travel the world by bike.

Pedal Pushers. Sunday, September 12, Tobacco Factory. Theatre Delicatessen present the true story of three pro cyclists – Lance Armstrong, Marco Pantani and Jan Ullrich – battling to become Tour de France champion.

Two-wheeled drive-in cinema. Thursday, September 23, 6.30pm, old police shooting range, on the Pill path. Taking place in a secluded glade more used to hosting illegal raves, this open air cinema hosted by Sustrans will mark the 12-month anniversary since Patrick Swayze’s death by showing Point Break. £2 entry, bring your own popcorn.

For more information, visit

Mud Dock

4 02 2010

I needed a new front light for my bike, and in times of two-wheeled distress I normally head to Mud Dock. If I was to create my perfect place, Mud Dock would certainly bear a striking resemblance. It’s a very well-stocked bike shop with knowledgeable and approachable staff, it’s a bike workshop for when something goes wrong, it’s a bike storage facility, and on top of that, literally on top of that on the floor above, it’s a trendy bar and restaurant, with a wonderful terrace overlooking the Floating Harbour perfect for summer’s evenings.

So after the light, so powerful it can probably be seen from Bath, was purchased, I walked upstairs to the restaurant. There’s a great deal at Mud Dock at the moment, £5 for a main course and a drink, a choice of a glass of house wine, half pint of Tuborg lager, Coke, Diet Coke or lemonade.

This lunchtime, there was a choice of three dishes on the £5 menu: penne pasta served with mixed vegetables, chargrilled pork chop served with mixed creamy beans and roasted potato, and panfried sardine fillets, which they had unfortunately run out of.

I chose the pasta, which came with delicious little cherry tomatoes and rocket salad. It would have been great value at half the price, although it was a bit too peppery for my liking.

I love just being in Mud Dock’s restaurant. The chairs are from a bullring in Vigo, northern Spain, made in the 1920s and 30s; there are bicycles hanging from the ceiling; one Cannondale mountain bike over the bar chopped up and put into a glass-fronted metal case à la Damien Hirst; an amazing circular window at one end of the room; and a gorgeous view out over the water, with St Mary Redcliffe one side and Lloyds Amphitheatre the other, with boats gliding serenely past.

The restaurant was three-quarters full when I arrived for quite a late lunch, and like me several diners had their faded yellow cycling jackets over the back of their chairs. I wanted to stay all afternoon, soaking in the atmosphere and then cycling back in the dark as a newly visible presence. As it was, the world of work beckoned, but I shall be back soon.

Mud Dock, 40 The Grove. 0117 934 9734.