West Hampstead cyclist rides Tour for charity

The Tour de France peloton hurtles through London on Monday afternoon, after its foray into Yorkshire this weekend. Yet, one intrepid West Hampstead resident already passed through last Monday on the third stage of his attempt to ride the entire 3,664 kilometres from Leeds to Paris via some of the toughest mountain roads in Europe.

Monty Wates

Monty Wates is a trustee of the William Wates Memorial Trust. In 1996, William Wates, Monty’s younger brother, was killed while travelling abroad aged just 19. The Trust raises money, which it gives to hand-picked charities that work offer young people opportunities, otherwise unavailable to them, to fulfill their potential and stay away from a life of crime. The Winch in Swiss Cottage is one of the charities the trust supports, and it recently received a grant for £60,000 over three years for its Promise Worker project which supports children who need it through the complex and often overwhelming labyrinth of social services that they encounter.

Since 2004, the charity has held the Tour de Force – a fully supported ride of that year’s Tour route a week ahead of the actual race. Most participants ride a “taster”, a few stages of the event. But some – around 30 this year – are what the charity terms “lifers”; the foolhardy few who dare to take on the entire course.

Monty himself has been on a taster or two but despite being intimately involved in the charity he hasn’t before committed to becoming a “lifer” before. He confesses that he’s not really a cyclist although of course he has been doing some training! His personal target is to raise £50,000 for the charity.

Follow Monty’s progress on Twitter @fullmontytour and track the whole Tour de Force. And if you feel moved to donate to the cause you can do so here, or text “WILL19 £10 (or whatever number you want to!) to 70070.

Good luck Monty!

Cycling campaign draws up wishlist

West Hampstead has a low rate of car ownership compared to other areas (>40% of households have no car); yet, West End Lane is frequently congested.

Encouraging cycling is increasingly seen as part of the solution to reduce congestion. Camden Cyclists, as part of the London Cycling Campaign, has been very active for more than ten years in lobbying for the interests of cyclists.

Last Monday, the group held its regular monthly meeting and invited local election candidates for the Fortune Green, Kilburn and West Hampstead wards to respond to a set list of “asks” for those wards. These included:

  • Fortune Green – providing safer routes for pupils to cycle to Hampstead School
  • Kilburn – traffic calming and protected crossings for cyclists at the south end of Kilburn high Road (the junction of Kilburn Priory and Maida Vale)
  • West Hampstead – two-way cycling on Broadhurst Gardens west of Priory Road with subsequent changes to traffic lights.

All these issues will take time to resolve. Traffic planning is never an exact science and slowing down cars or encouraging cyclists in one road can lead to worse congestion elsewhere.

For example, would a two-way contraflow for cyclists on Broadhurst Gardens actually be less safe for cyclists? Would it lead to more congestion on West End Lane as the traffic lights would need to allow cyclists time to turn from Broadhurst Gardens onto West End Lane?

Ideas to improve conditions for cyclists on Mill Lane will be of particular interest to pupils of Hampstead School (and their parents). Yet, calming measures on Mill Lane may not be so simple given that it is a bus route for both the C11 and is used (controversially) by Metroline to move 139s to and from its Cricklewood depot.

This was my first Camden Cyclists meeting. It was good to have council candidates from all the major parties there, although only Labour’s Tulip Siddiq was there from the parliamentary candidates. Still, it suggests that the cycling vote is being taken seriously and that despite cuts, there is some money available for some improvements. However, improvements can only come about if people lobby their elected representatives and as part of the planning process.

Camden Cyclists meets every month. Notices of their meetings are posted on West Hampstead Life and meetings are open to all with an interest in cycling.

Follow Eugene on Twitter @Cycle_Whamp

A bike ride around Camden’s borders

Cycling correspondent @Cycle_Whamp clipped in his shoes and checked out a Camden SkyRide. Do with comments or suggestions for bike-related articles.

Since 2009, Sky has been active in sponsoring British cycling. This culminated with Bradley Wiggins’ and Chris Froome’s back-to-back victories in the Tour de France. Yet, professional cycling is a world away from cycling as a mode of transport here in Sky’s home country.

As part of its marketing strategy, Sky therefore took over sponsorship of the old London Freewheel, a mass participation event in central London, and SkyRides was born. Then the Olympics happened with a subsequent mini cycling boom, which resulted in Ride London.

The popularity and practicality of SkyRides means that they have metamorphosed from one central London event into a series of local rides. Last Sunday, I went on a ride around the borders of the borough of Camden. There were about 10 of us, and three Team Leaders. There was also organised first aid and, with a small group, the leaders rode at the front and back of the group.

It was more a gentle spin than a stage of the Tour, and open to anyone who signed up. The aim was to show that everyone can do it, and that cycling is not about lycra and carbon fibre bikes.

We met up at Kenwood House before riding into Highgate and descending through Dartmouth Park to Kings Cross, Clerkenwell, Covent Garden, Tottenham Court Road and Regents Park. We stopped here for a break before returning via St John’s Wood, Maida Vale, Kilburn, West Hampstead – of course – and a climb back to Hampstead Heath. It total we covered about 18 miles in about 3.5 hours with a break.

For me, the highlight was Kings Cross, an area changing rapidly at the moment and seemingly rising up. Talking to the other riders, the most challenging parts of the ride were Covent Garden (pedestrians) and the Kilburn High Road. The High Road is not designed for cyclists and for such a busy road, it is very narrow.

All-in-all, it was a pretty enjoyable event. With autumn already upon us, the season for SkyRides is over but more are planned for next year. I will definitely be going on more local rides, and hopefully more whampers can come along too. After all, the more people take up cycling, the more pressure there is on councils to invest in better cycling infrastructure.

If you would like to find a ride near you, register at Click here for a map of the route, and look at the profile below!

Ride 100 miles for The Winch

Local cycling enthusiast Eugene has had a great idea that will get you fit and raise money for The Winch. Let me hand over so he can tell you all about it.

The weekend before last, I took part in the Ride London sportive – a 100 mile ride on most of the Olympic road race course. Now, if you’re quick, you can enter the ballot for next year’s event. We’re trying to get a Team Whamp together to raise money for local youth charity, The Winch.

[Ed: after helping put together not one but two league-winning football teams, I think a cycling team is the obvious next step for my career in sports management].

What with the who now?
At the beginning of the year, Boris Johnson and Cycling Commissioner Andrew Gilligan announced Ride London – a two-day festival of cycling in the capital. This consisted of

  • A festival in Green Park, a freecycle for 50,000 people followed by a cycling grand prix featuring Britain’s Olympic women’s cyclists on Saturday 3rd August
  • A 100-mile sportive on closed roads open to both individual and charity teams on the Sunday that included some of the tough Surrey hills from the Olympics
  • A 140 mile cycle race for professional cyclists on the same course as the sportive but with three loops of Leith Hill

I was lucky to get a place on the sportive as late as May by riding for Help the Hospices, a charity that works to help local hospices raise money to fund their operations.

Eugene leans into the corner

I was far from a professional cyclist. I had cycled to school and university but then came a time I drove far more than I cycled. Once I moved to West Hampstead I realised London is a smaller city than I thought and I started commuting on a 13-mile round trip to work thinking that would be quicker than the tube during the Olympics. That was my Olympic legacy; a short experiment becoming a first choice commute. I did not renew my annual travel card.

I signed up. Then I got a place in the ballot. “What have I done?” I thought. After all, 100 miles is a big psychological barrier and my longest round trip had been 25 miles. I also had to do it in 9 hours, including stops and using a heavy mountain bike. I trained and put slick tyres on.

I changed my commute to take in more Hampstead hills (Swains Lane, Highgate West Hill) and did long rides on Saturdays. Sometimes I’d use parts of the route. You do need to put in some training if you want to make the recovery easier. Unfortunately, that also meant cutting back on certain foods and alcohol, before giving them up entirely in the month before. No-one said this kind of glory comes easy.

The peloton
If you win a place in the ballot, you are told in February, which gives you enough time to train. A month before you get confirmation of your time. There were 15,000 cyclists in this year’s event, so we started in waves from 6am to 8am.

I confess I panicked when I read that slower cyclists would be diverted onto shorter courses or taken off the course if we did not reach certain points at certain times. This was so they wouldn’t interfere with the professionals. There were Tour de France stage winners in this race – including Peter Sagan, the winner for the past two years of the green jersey for most consistent finisher.

My start time was 7.40am, and I had to get to the Olympic Park an hour earlier. I’m sure Chris Froome doesn’t have to endure this. The course goes down the A12 before turning onto the Limehouse Link. Cue cyclists of all shapes, sizes and ability, shouting “WOOHOO!” echoing off the tunnel.

We passed Tower Bridge, Embankment, Northumberland Avenue, Trafalgar Square and St. James. Once past Piccadilly, it was smooth riding to Chiswick Bridge. Although we were able to use both sides of the road, we tended to keep to the left out of habit. After Richmond Park, we went through to Hampton Court. This was the first hub where you could get your bike looked at and refuel. There were three such hubs and multiple drinks stations with food.

The first major hill was Newlands Corner – I was keeing up a reasonable pace and worrying less about being pulled off the race by the “broom wagon”, which sweeps up the stragglers. The Surrey locals were out in force cheering us on; Union Jacks were everywhere and people had tables offering cyclists drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic).

I reached Leith Hill – the one we feared. Yes, the hill is steep, you have to grind out a low gear and climb patiently. There was no shame in getting off and pushing (though I didn’t). The descent was scary through the trees but there were so many bikes that people took care.

Finally, we got to Box Hill, which still had some of the inspirational graffiti from last year’s Olympic road race. It’s a smooth road with lots of bends and not as tough as Leith Hill. From the summit, there was a series of rolling hills before Leatherhead and the final hub. It was downhill all the way to Wimbledon, by which time I admit I was in pain. I guess that’s what happens afer 90 miles. By the time we crossed Putney Bridge, the top of the the Houses of Parliament was the most welcome site all day. I turned through Admiralty Arch and, yes, I sprinted down The Mall and met some friends in the pub for a drink.

How do you help?
The grand plan is to make this the annual cycling equivalent of the marathon. The ballot for 2014 has opened and already a few whampers have put our names down. The ballot closes when there are 80,000 entries and there are 20,000 places.

If you think it sounds like a long way, well, even Boris did it – if he can, you can!

Enter the ballot for Ride London 2014 here.

London has improved as a city to ride in but, according to the Times, there were 122 cyclists killed on London Roads in 2012. Ride London could popularise cycling in ther capital and make it seem normal – and we can raise money for charity. Only force of numbers will mean better cycling infrastructure and more consideration given to cyclists by town planners and other road users alike, hopefully reducing fatalities.

Eugene raised just over £2,000 for Help the Hospices, and his Just Giving page is still taking donations.

Assessing the cycling contraflow scheme

A little over a year ago proposals came forward to allow more contraflow cycling in South Hampstead. Some people thought this was madness, but it went ahead anyway.

One thing that seemed clear was that for it to work safely, the signage both in terms of road signs and on-road markings, would have to be exemplary.

With this in mind, Camden Cyclists, a lobby group, set out to explore the streets in immense detail and document their findings in order to suggest improvements.

Their full report is incredibly detailed but as with so many things, this is where its value lies. I hope Camden reads it carefully as some of the recommendations could help prevent road accidents and they are by and large easy to implement.

Perhaps a quick recap of where cyclists can now cycle on one-way streets would be helpful.

Camden Cyclists’ map of contraflows (accepted and rejected)
Click for larger version

Priory Road and Fairhazel Gardens are now both two-way cycling throughout. Fairhazel Gardens is now fully two-directional for cyclists (some sections were changed a few years ago). Greencroft Gardens has been made two-way for cyclists as has Messina Avenue, which gives a link through to Kilburn High Road.

Looking back up Greencroft Gardens from Fairhazel Gardens
“The contraflow facility is useful, but does require some confidence to use.
Note the contraflow cycle logo half-way up the road –
this is barely visible/legible to road users.”
Photo: Camden Cyclists
Looking west down Greencroft Gardens towards Fairhazel Gardens
The ‘No Entry’ on the road is misleading and the ‘No Entry’ sign on the left
is hidden in a tree; the sign on the right is unhelpfully placed.
An entry lane should be marked and the little cycle logo could be bigger!
Photo: Camden Cyclists

Camden Cyclists are still pushing for some additions to the contraflow system.

Compayne Gardens, which is two-way, is preferred by cyclists and is marked with cycle logos. But it fails as an eastbound route because it joins the one way Canfield Gardens before reaching the junction with Finchley Road. We very much regret that LB Camden has so far been unable to provide this link.

These contraflow routes are called “light”, which means they don’t require marked contraflow lanes but use signs and road markings. The Camden Cyclists page explains that last year the Dept. for Transport allowed the use of No Entry signs with “Except Cycles” subplates. “Other relaxations in regulations now allow contraflow cycling without lanes provided that traffic speeds and volumes are low.”

Camden Cyclists’ overall conclusion is that the scheme generally works well: “For the most part, the signage at the end of the roads is of a high standard.” The group does, of course, have some suggestions for improving legibility, especially so drivers are aware of the scheme. You can see all of the recommendations on its website.

Driving’s hard enough, says CRASH

Back in October last year, Camden asked locals what they thought of some changes to our streets. The most controversial was the provision of “cycle permeability“. In other words, allowing cyclists to pedal the wrong way up one-way streets. Not all one-way streets were included; some, such as Broadhurst Gardens, were considered unsuitable. But many of the quieter residential streets, especially around the Gardens area of South Hampstead were part of the plans.

There were 76 replies to the consultation [pdf], 21 positive, 37 netural and 18 objections. Camden made a couple of tweaks to the plans, but otherwise decided to go ahead. Fairhazel Gardens has had such a system in place for more than 10 years, so one assumes that both the council and cycling lobby groups have sufficient data to make meaningful recommendations. Indeed, looking at a map of pedestrian and cyclist accidents in London from 2000-2010, there wasn’t a single reported bike accident (or pedestrian accident) on Fairhazel Gardens during that period.

Fairhazel Gardens has had contraflow cycling for years

However, South Hampstead Residents’ Association (appropriately, in this case, named CRASH) is not happy. At this late stage, it is appealing for people to write to Camden expressing their horror at this scheme. Their argument is that it is unsafe for cyclists and other road users (the scheme was initially proposed [pdf] by Camden Cyclists). Crash’s argument includes this gem of a debating point (original emphasis):

“You will not only have to keep an eye on your rear mirror and side mirror for cyclists on your left, as usual, BUT AT THE SAME TIME, look forwards and in your right hand mirror for a cyclist on your right”

Imagine having to look forward when driving!

In other words, drivers would have to behave as they would on a normal road – checking both side mirrors and their rear-view mirror, as well as keeping an eye on the road ahead. Or as they have been doing on one-way stretches of Fairhazel Gardens for many years already.

Is there a safety risk? Well, cars should be driving slowly anyway on these residential streets. It’s also up to cyclists to ride responsibly and err on the side of caution (and use lights when it’s dark). But to my mind it doesn’t seem to be beyond the wit of man to accommdate such a thing, even if drivers do occasionally have to look in the direction they’re going.

Bradley Wiggins the cycling champion from Kilburn wins the Tour de France

Bradley Wiggins in the 2012 Tour De France (Wiki Commons)
History was made yesterday, 22 July 2012, when Bradley Wiggins became the first Englishman to win the Tour de France and so become Kilburn’s most famous sportsman.
The sport is in his blood. His mother Linda Cozens met handsome Gary Wiggins, an Australian professional cyclist, at Paddington Recreation Ground. In 1976 they moved into a house in West End Lane and got married at St Augustine’s church in January 1979. They went to live in Ghent, a centre for cycling, where Bradley was born on 28 April 1980. Unfortunately, Gary had a drink and drugs problem, and was nicknamed ‘Doc’ on the circuit because he used and sold amphetamines. He dumped Linda, when Bradley was only two years old.
In December 1982 she returned to her family home in Kilburn and Bradley grew up in Dibdin House, on the edge of Kilburn and Maida Vale. Dibdin House is a large block of flats owned by the Church Commissioners and was built in 1937. (Gary later returned to Australia and in January 2008 was found beaten up, unconscious, and died soon after in hospital).
Dibdin House, 2012 (Dick Weindling)
Bradley, who went to St Augustine’s school, was keen on football but as he said, ‘cycling was in his blood’. Every Thursday he walked to WH Smith in Kilburn to buy a copy of ‘Cycling Weekly’. He cut out the pictures of his heroes and stuck them on the wall. As a shy 12 years old he regularly rode the eight miles to Herne Hill Velodrome and began track racing.
Main entrance to Dibdin House, 2012 (Dick Weindling)
Bradley married Catherine Cockram in 2004 and they have two children. He became world champion in 2003 and 2007; won two Olympic gold medals in 2008 and was awarded a CBE. But he suffered periods of self-doubt and was helped by fellow cyclist Chris Boardman and Steve Peters, the Team GB Cycling Psychiatrist, who said he sees Bradley as a tiger who he ‘feeds’, but who then disappears and only re-appears when he is ready. He was also mentored by head coach Shane Sutton and achieved great success on the track. But he wanted to race on the road and eventually joined the French team Cofidis. Angered by the 2007 doping revelations in the team, he left, saying he would never ride for them again.

In December 2009 Wiggins was persuaded to join the newly-formed British-based ‘Team Sky’ for a large fee. Performance analyst Tim Kerrison realised Bradley needed to up his training regime and they worked hard on the mountain climbing sections of the races. Things looked good in the 2011 Tour de France until Bradley crashed and broke his collarbone.

Bradley Wiggins (Wiki Commons)
Everything came right for the 2012 Tour and Bradley won the punishing three-week 2,172 mile race.
He left his team celebrating in Paris last night to return to the UK and start preparations for the London Olympics.

He won Gold in the Olympics and was Knighted in the Queen’s New Year’s Honour List in January 2013.

Will cycling the wrong way soon be right?

Several of the roads in the southern half of West Hampstead are one-way. This is generally a good thing as it allows for on-street parking while keeping the traffic moving. However, if you’re a cyclist these restrictions may prove rather frustrating and the temptation is great to take a short-cut by cycling the wrong way down a one-way street. Aside from the illegality, this can be hazardous if neither cars nor pedestrians are expecting it.

Camden has decided to investigate this and is proposing to make some of these streets two-way for cyclists only. This is apparently called “cycle permeability”. Good ol’ local government and its penchant for language.

Making these changes is relatively cheap – a bit of signage is really all that’s needed – and will be paid for by TfL. The following roads would be affected: Priory, Canfield, Greencroft, Sherriff, Messina, Gascony, Fairhazel, Smyrna and Kingsgate Place.

Click for larger version

The council would like to hear from anyone who would be affected by the changes in terms of access to property/deliveries during the changeover, or from the eventual new system. The ward councillors on the Swiss Cottage side of West End Lane (to the east) have expressed their view “that local residents who use these streets every day as pedestrians, car drivers and cyclists should have a real input into decision making.”

The work is scheduled to be carried out betwen November and March. If you wish to comment on the idea, you need to make sure your letter or e-mail is received by November 11th and send it to:

London Borough of Camden
Culture and Environment Directorate
Transport Strategy Service

or e-mail , making sure you include your postal address.

Here’s the full consultation document [pdf download].