23 October 2021

Is Gravelfoyle all it's cracked up to be?

Captivated by this video (filmed in stunning July weather) I booked a family half term holiday to Aberfoyle in October.  We'd already had one holiday to the area cancelled by Covid, and have hiked a few hills and biked a bit on the other side of Loch Lomond, but Aberfoyle (aka 'Gravelfoyle') was totally new to us. 

Once I worked out that we could hire bikes (why do no hire car services provide bike racks?), I quickly booked the only accommodation that I could find, and waited for October. 

The weather did not live up to our expectations, but everything else did.  Nick and Ross at Aberfoyle Bike Hire sorted us out perfectly. They were super helpful (especially when this summer another rural bike shop wasn't even picking up the phone).  The cottage we hired was very nice and perfectly located - a max 5 minute walk from 2 pubs, a big co-op,  and a tonne of cafes, and plumb on the bike routes.  It is so nice to be able to get newspapers while on holiday, to know there's a chemists near by, not to have to worry if you've forgotten something (all challenges we've encountered on other ventures out of Edinburgh). Also excellent wifi and mobile connectivity.

Despite the rain, we had a blast cycling around the 'Gravelfoyle' routes.  The surfaces are all different, but excellent. The gravel roads are mostly vehicle free, and the few utility vehicles we saw were all very cautious and friendly.  And we only covered a fraction of the possible routes.  

We did  a short loop around Lochan Spling to test our bikes the night we arrived.  Then a long but fairly flat  loop around Loch Ard, and paths south of it, checking out Black Linn of Blair Vaich, and various historic ruins.  On our one (mostly) dry day, we did a big, hillier loop in the Achray Forest, on NCN 7, coming back via Duke's Pass, which dropped us straight back at our front door.  Both of these were more properly half-day rides, but we stopped a lot to take pictures, explore, and eat.  My one complaint was that the 'waymarked routes' on the Gravelfoyle website didn't entirely map onto the waymarking on the ground.  At any rate, they have different names to what is used on the maps available in the super friendly tourism office, just next to the big (free!) car park.  We found it helpful to have OS maps and a GPS to show us where we were. There are also tonnes of routes online, using Komoot.  

The start of the paths where NCN 7 leaves the A821 are also worth exploring on foot - lots of stuff for kids to play on,  waterfalls, art, and a hide where you can watch red squirrels and birds. 

So, yes. Do go to Aberfoyle.  It's beautiful and friendly and well worth a visit.

03 January 2019

London by bike with kids

With a bit of specialist kit and some twitter friends it is possible to 'do' London as a family by bike.  

We took our 2 kids - one primary and one secondary aged -- and our trusty 8 year old Circe Helios tandem down by train. In London, we borrowed another - rather newer - Helios from a local cycling family.  

With two panniers that transform into backpacks, we tackled 60-odd miles of London over 5 days.  We saw Tower Bridge and toured the Tower.  We rode the east-west cycle super highway (CS3) by day and by night.  We went to a play in Southwark (Q1) and tackled the Farringdon infrastructure (CS6)  in both directions.  We pootled around Hyde Park and Green Park, saw Buckingham Palace, and the Horse Guards at Whitehall and visited museums. 

While the segregated infra was definitely the best,  the permeable connections from Bloomsbury to Angel (Q2) and around de Beauvoir in Hackney  (CS1) were pretty good, if not deserving of being called a 'super highway'.  The family was also convinced that CS1 took us round in circles until they looked at the Garmin track. The one section that got an overwhelming thumbs down was Exhibition Road, which had a lot of through traffic and where a kid jumping out of a 4x4 nearly doored us.  

On the streets, drivers were surprisingly forgiving, although the busses seemed to see us as competition. It being the holidays, there weren't many commuters, but instead a lot of folk cycling to the shops, or, in the city centre, tourists and locals on rental bikes. 

All in all, a good trip. We're looking forward to getting home, but  we'll miss the infra and the 'normality' of cycling in London.  Hopefully Edinburgh will learn from London's mistakes and build only the best. 

11 April 2018

Why are we still building infra that's not suitable for 8-80 year-olds?

Another in a series of blogposts 'inspired' by trying to get my kids to half-term/holiday activities in Edinburgh.....ie child-friendly locations that attract families from all over the city.

This Easter, I've been cycling with my kids to a nearby local school for bike camp.  There are two possible routes. Both are more than half on off-road cycle paths. The first one, which replicates my commute is flat but to get there we have to go through the worst intersection in Edinburgh.

The kids have voted with their legs and prefer to climb a hill to avoid that junction.  The nice off-road cycle path that runs through Bruntsfield links and along South Meadow Walk takes us across one well designed intersection with a toucan.  But then we come to the junction of SMW with Middle Meadow Walk (MMW), Melville Drive and Argyle Place.

This is one of the most used bits of cycle infrastructure in Edinburgh, and as a result was redesigned a few years ago.  At the time I said that it was not well-designed for pedestrians (unsurprisingly, they ignore the dropped curbs and follow a desire line that takes them straight across the cycle lane).   It's better now in some ways for cyclists who want to turn onto or off of MMW.  But if, like my kids, you need to continue on SMW, it's a nightmare.  It's a classic piece of infra that sort of works for grownups, as long as you can swivel your head simultaneously in five directions and start at a sprint.  But it's nearly impossible for kids to judge the on-coming traffic - cars, buses, lorries, and bikes, coming at them from multiple directions.

In the above - we are the red line trying to continue on the cycle path, cyclists are yellow and cars are green. What you can't see is that it's not a straight line.  First we cross the one way slip road for cars joining Melville Drive, then we hang about in the middle of the cycle infra, trying to spot cars turning in various directions, while also dodging cyclists and trying not to block pedestrians who are oblivious that they're not supposed to take the most direct route to their crossing point.

There is no way the kids could do this on their own, and no signalled crossing anywhere nearby that they could dismount and use either.

Which begs the question 'WHY?"  I suspect the answer is that the council's focus is on commuting routes.  Ignoring the 5 schools in close vicinity, the playpark, the football pitches, etc.

I don't have the energy to go look at how much this cost.  It's certainly better than what was there before, but we pointed out all these shortcomings when it was in the design phase.  Which raises the bigger question: why are we still designing and building infrastructure that doesn't meet the needs of all its users?  why are we building 'slightly better but still crap' infrastructure? and what will it take to move past this bodged half-way house?

08 October 2017

Review: Lumos Helmet

Despite much derision on my beloved cycling forum, I backed the Lumos helmet kickstarter a couple of years ago.  It took a while to arrive, but eventually turned up last December.

Having now ridden it through one winter season, and even through the summer (when I would usually go helmet-less), I  thought I should write a review.  Especially since every single day of those 10 months at least once person has commented on it or asked me about it.  I've had people chase me down the road to discuss it, and one woman even rolled down her car window to ask about it.

Generally, people just want to know where I got it.  If they ask me if I like it, I say yes, which is true.  It's proven reliable. I've gotten in the habit of signalling my turns, and I do like being able to keep my hands on my bars/brakes.  I still tend to hand signal, but I like having the flexibility.

The main downside is just that it's heavy.  I don't notice it much on my short commute, but I don't wear it on longer rides.   Occasionally the lights glitch and don't respond to the switch but a re-charge sorts it.

Battery life is good if just using the indicators but short if using the brake light accellerometer, but I plug it in at work, and it's no more bother than normal rechargable lights. I do wonder if i'm havung to charge it more frequently these days though....

When it first arrived, I thought the switch on the back looked like a weak spot (especially for those of us with finger nails), but it's held up fine.

I've not used the app much.  It's handy for varying the rate of beeping (which accompanies the turn signal), but once I got that set, I've not used it much.  Oddly, the app only works  if the helmet's turned on.  So, I can't sit at my desk and check if it needs charging.

I don't know if I'd pay full price in the shops for it (£159 on amazon) but for what I paid, I'm happy.

13 September 2017

Journal ownership models

When people talk about journals as 'black boxes' usually they mean things like how reviewers are chosen, and the decisions made by editors. We don't talk much about journals as capitalist ventures, beyond decrying the cost of subscriptions (see my posts on Open Access) or predatory journals.  But there are many models of journal ownership and management, and if we understand them, we can make better sense of apparently puzzling decisions.  Here are five with which I am acquainted.  I'd be interested to know of others, or for corrections to my models.

Model A: the Learned Society journal:  this is a journal that is published by a learned society or disciplinary group.  Ownership is vested in the professional association, who contract with a publisher to publish the journal, and with a group of academics (often based in one department) to edit it for a number of years.  Some journals stay in certain foundational departments, more often they move around, and departments are invited to bid for them periodically.   Learned socities often use journal funds to pay for their administrative costs, run conferences, and other activities of benefit to their members.  Possible examples*: BJPS, ASR

Model B: The Association Journal: whereby a collective body or organization owns the journal, but editors are selected, rather than solicited.  A contract with a publisher ensures that the journal is published.  Funds again usually go to both administrative costs, editorial costs, and to support other endeavours of the owning group. Possible examples*:  African Affairs, Africa 

Model C: the Collective Model.  Ownership is vested in the editorial collective, and decisions about editors and often about papers are made collectively.  Both journals that I know which run on this model date from the 1970s. Again, a contract is negotiated with a publisher, and money is often used to run conferences, sponsor academic travel etc, as well as cover the costs of editing the journal.  Examples: JSAS, ROAPE

Model D:  the Private Ownership model. The journal is owned by an individual and profits accrue to them.  That individual might contract out the editorial work, or take it on themselves.  Possible examples*: TWQ

Model E: the Publisher-Owner model.  The publisher 'owns' the journal and contracts with an editor or editors to run the journal. Possible examples*: JMAS

In the case of models D and E, I presume that proceeds of the journal pay salaries and other expenses, but are less likely to support conferences and other activities, but I may be wrong.  Certainly editors could negotiate such agreements into their contracts, if publishers were amenable, but I'm not aware of examples that do this.  It's also difficult to know whether journals are Model D or E, since we're not usually privy to their contractual arrangements.

How any of these groups relate to their editorial boards is generally unrelated to their ownership, with the exception of Model C, where the editorial board is resposinble for both organizational and editorial decision making.  In Models D and E editorial boards usually serve at the pleasure of the editor.

Finally, peer review is unrelated to both ownership and management.

*This is based on the best of my knowledge. Please let me know if I'm wrong, so I can correct it.

17 December 2016

The gendering of transport starts early

On-line campaigns #letkidsbekids and #lettoysbetoys have done a great job of de-gendering toys, colouring books and clothes, but I've been struck at how insidious the gendered message still can be.

My kids mostly wear clothes from our Nearly New Sale, and hand-me-downs, so I can't be too fussy about what they wear, but as my little boy grows, I realise how hard it is to avoid motorbikes and car motifs on his clothes.

When they're toddlers, it's okay for them to have busses and trains, and maybe animals riding bicycles.  But as they hit primary school, everything that's not superheros or disney sends signs that big boys should be petrol heads.  Sure, there may be an occassional 'rad' bmx-er or skateboarder on a t-shirt, but they're swamped by the cars, even on the 'quality' kids clothes.

My daughter, on the other hand, gets given dresses with bicycles on them - bikes for riding to picnics, with flowers on them....

04 August 2016

The problem with cyclists...

One of the main 'take-aways' from the recent #roseburn meeting (more on that soon) was  that Edinburgh's already a great place to cycle, so why do they need to do it down 'our' street (one of the main arterials into the city centre...).

Speaker after speaker claimed to 'be a cyclist myself' and rhapsodised about Edinburgh's amazing oof-road cycle routes.  To paraphrase one audience member 'there are lots of places that people can already cycle, amazing cycle paths'.  And, that's perfectly true, but they don't take you into the city centre to work!  Others suggested that the NCN route (the one that runs down the tram tracks) is under-utilized, and needs better signage...

The real answer, as Peter Gregson* himself, admitted "The problem with cyclists is we don't want to take funny awkward routes".  

And, of course, he's right.  There are lots of reasons that cyclists don't use existing 'funny awkward' routes - like ones that take you through a park full of kids and pedestrians, up and down hills, and through dodgy intersections - but they will use safe, well-designed routes, and even more importantly, so will people who don't currently cycle, as we're seeing in London:

Cycling now major transport mode in LDN: 645,000 journeys a day, 10% up from 2013. Morning rush trebled since 2000 pic.twitter.com/3gZPIwp0EE
This shows, if nothing else does, why 'quiet routes' won't increase cycle use enough to make a difference, but good infrastructure will.

If we take seriously concerns about pollution, congestion, the massive expansion Edinburgh is under-going, and the inability of our road network to cope with increased single-occupancy vehicle usage, then we need to build direct, easy to use arterial networks.

Reducing car usage is what will enable emergency vehicles to get through our streets, deliveries to shops, and essential traffic.  It's the excess car use that blocks up Roseburn and keeps the buses from running.

Transforming the environment into one that doesn't privilege rampant car use - but allows those who need cars to do so - is the main plank to keeping Roseburn moving, and that means cyclists too.

* The individual behind the 'anti' campaign.