Thursday, 23 August 2012

Headcam crazy

What's this craze for headcams all about?

Filming yourself riding a bike might once have seemed absurdly pretentious, something only an avant garde artist would do, but nowadays the cycle magazines advertise helmet mounted cameras and it's no surprise to discover that people buy them. They even wear them in the street: this guy is at the London Cycling Campaign's Big Ride earlier this year. But while riding a bike is invigorating, frees your thoughts from everyday worries and only gets slightly boring if you do the same route every day, watching a video of someone's bicycle commuting route is of course like watching paint dry. Not exactly riveting.

The original purpose of the headcam was to capture exciting off road action on mountain bikes, so you could re-live the moment and perhaps work out why you crashed. There's a definite trend though, for urban cyclists to wear one on the way to work as a matter of course. I even know someone who does just that.

I suppose there can be exciting moments. Once I cycled the length of Tottenham Court Road holding a digital camera in one hand and steering with the other hand. 'Where's the drama?' my other half sneered, until it came to squeezing through the narrow gap between a bus and a lorry*, dodging pedestrians at the red lights and all that - it looks a lot more dangerous on camera than it really is. Not worth uploading to YouTube though, and soon deleted to free up hard disc space. Back in 2004 someone made a six-minute video of a messenger bike race in New York city that actually did bear watching, but only because it featured a group of riders being outrageously illegal, stopping cars and pedestrians in their tracks.

So do the modern headcammers want to capture bits of everyday excitement? No, apparently it's a form of insurance, a way to record bad driving and aggressive drivers, just in case. There are endless clips posted online featuring petty disagreements between cyclists and drivers. Some not so petty you might think, since they involve death threats, but of course that's all talk except in very rare cases. The trouble with this approach is that it encourages a combative attitude, which weight for weight doesn't look like such a good idea - an average bike weighs around 15kg, maybe 10kg if it's an expensive racing bike, while a typical car weighs 1200kg. It might be a good idea to think twice before you go banging on car windows, shouting at drivers at the next lights - and then threatening them that it's all on video. Getting people angry is not going to make the roads any safer.

*Note: that was a stationary bus and a stationary lorry. You should never ever do that if the vehicles are moving or even have time to move before you get to the next traffic lights.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Olympic madness: Dutch bikes take over East London

These are just a few of the Dutch rental bikes that appeared outside Blackhorse Road tube in East London shortly before the Olympics started, greatly outnumbering the commuter bikes locked up outside the station. Often there are a hundred or more identical blue and yellow bicycles, neatly stacked close together.

Why? The Olympic campground is a bit more than a mile down the road, occupying playing fields on Walthamstow Marshes for the duration. Seen from the air, a high proportion of the tents are orange, which can mean only one thing: the Dutch contingent is camping there en masse. The bikes belong to OV-fiets, the rental company who have bases at most railway stations in the Netherlands. Unlike our own Boris bikes, you need membership to rent these, so they are only really available to nationals. Most of the bikes are identical but I saw a few decorated with flowers. Marigolds, naturally. You can even see passengers riding sidesaddle on the luggage rack - common in Amsterdam, but perhaps not so sensible in London.

The Borough of Waltham Forest has risen admirably to the occasion by posting signs all round the junction, introducing a new rule for the occasion: DO NOT CHAIN BICYCLES TO THE RAILINGS.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Flying the flag

What with the Jubilee and now the Olympics, recently you can't go anywhere without seeing the Union Jack, not just a printed logo but actual flags, flying singly or in strings. There's the traditional version, printed in primary colours on fabric, and similar plastic varieties. Then there's the Olympic version in pink and turquoise, a neat subversion of the nationalistic image. Rows of large Union Jacks are strung across Oxford Street (Regent Street features an international selection). Pubs are festooned with bunting, strings of flags hang all the way round Fitzroy Square, people even carry flags to wave. All interestingly reminiscent of the United States around the 4th of July, Independence Day, when the stars and stripes is on display in every public place, strung across streets and on house fronts, decorating pickup trucks and shop window displays. For now the right-wing xenophobic connotations are completely lost in the sheer enthusiasm for decoration, and maybe it will stay that way, but more likely everything will go back to normal around Christmas, and the NF will get their emblem back. But then again, maybe not.