Toward bike infrastructure for everyone, not only us Stoics.

Don’t ask cyclists how to get drivers out of their cars. Their only suggestions are whippings and mental reprogramming. Drivers, they will tell you, need either to be taxed in ways they will never vote for, or else need to come around to our weltanschauung. Even if cyclists can accept that most people won’t ride until it is a lot safer, they still insist that everyone should learn about rain wear and suffering if they wish to be a part of our priesthood. I’ve been losing cyclists as twitter followers and blog readers lately, because I’m toying with a blasphemous idea, that bike routes aught to be covered from rain. (I have other heresies too, but let’s stay with canopies over bike routes for now).

Advocates of segregated bike infrastructure (and I am one too), criticise vehicular cyclists for insisting that everyone should just toughen up and ride among cars. But I’ve heard the reaction of otherwise sane bike campaigners when I mention rain protection over a bike route. They start exhibiting the same proud behaviour as our arch rivals: John Forrester, the MAMIL brigade, the American League of Wheelmen, etc.. They say, “just toughen up”, “the Dutch put up with the rain,” and, “you’re not made of sugar.”

Vehicular cyclists have not just wanted the right to ride on the road. They have sought to deny risk-averse cyclists the right to ride on a cycle track. While these rain-loving bike advocates are happy to admit that a lot of people are waiting for safe infrastructure before they switch from cars to bikes, they refuse to entertain the real prospect that many people are also waiting for weather protection—after all, that’s what drivers get with their cars. Why are so many cyclists unwilling to even countenance such a suggestion? I’ll tell you: smugness. It has held cycling back in the past, and will hold it back in the future as well.

John Forrester couldn’t bare the thought of protected bike infrastructure invading America. God forbid, he might be forced to ride among women and children. How would he be able to show off his physical strength! Then he became the voice of American cycling and has blocked safe bike infrastructure for all of this time.

Stoics who would object to rain protection for cyclists would be just as obstructionist, out of roughly the same selfish motive. Riding in the rain is their way of differentiating themselves from those cowardly weaklings emitting Co2 with their cars.

I was riding between Utrecht city and the university last year, when suddenly it started raining. I looked around and all of the cyclists (mainly students) had stopped and were taking shelter beneath stands of trees. We were all waiting to see if the rain would pass quickly, or if we would have to battle on and get wet. Meanwhile cars and buses kept rolling. The Dutch are in a position to start building rain refuges for occasions like this, and in increments work toward covering all their main bike routes.

I can see myself parting company with the bike advocacy community, as good as you have been to be, reading my blog, and lampooning me in your forums. I have always believed that policies which serve our interests as committed cyclists would best serve society as a whole. Then I learned that Rotterdam has a pitifully low rate of bikes use, compared to car use, despite its world-beating bike infrastructure. Barrier protected cycle tracks don’t do enough to incentivise cycling. They have to be covered as well. If this is something bicycle advocates will oppose, then see ya later, you turkeys.

I’m of the view that morphologies and typologies of the city all need to be as attuned to the bike, as suburbia is attuned to the car, or Amsterdam is attuned to the barge. If not, the bike has no hope of eclipsing the car, or the bus or the train.

If the only thing at stake here was your right, and my right, to cycle in safety because that is our choice, I would shut up. What is at stake though, is the health of our populations. This study by my colleague Anne Lusk found regular cycling is our only hope, really, of controlling weight in middle age. If we cared about the health of our fellow humans, including the ones who don’t want to get rained on, we would be looking at ways to retrofit urban districts, and purpose build new ways, to function on a bicycle mobility platform, in all weather conditions, for the precious and stoic alike. In any city with a sustainable density (by which I mean, high to very high), the shortest trip between any two points is the trip made by bike. If we make that trip attractive to all those not cycling at present, because they don’t want to get, the sedentary modes will just pass away.

As always, thanks for your comments, objections, whatever.


  1. Dmitri F says:

    Well Steven, you have my vote!
    I admit that riding in the rain with the right clothes does feel good in a “man-vs-nature” sort of way. But give me covered bike tracks, and I’ll gladly give up that epic struggle in exchange for dry shoes 🙂
    Certainly it is foolish to expect “normal” people to take up cycling in the rain unless the whole generation has been brought up with the notion – which is pretty much only the case in parts of the Netherlands and Copenhagen.

  2. James says:

    I don’t think most people want to ride a bicycle. They might say they would if roads appeared safer to them, but in reality after the first attempt, huffing and puffing, and with a sore arse and unable to walk properly from a 30 minute ride, they’ll be back in their car before you can say Jack Robinson.

    Vehicular Cycling to ride safely with traffic does not require toughness. It requires a little training, education and practice. A bit like learning to drive a car. I ride mostly how Forrester promotes, but don’t like getting wet and cold. If it looks like I’d get wet, I drive my car.

    I don’t care about off road bike facilities. What really annoys me are the so poorly designed on road bike facilities that make riding on the road more hazardous than if the facilities were not there at all. These facilities were built to encourage Nervous Ned and Nelly out on their bikes, and have been partially successful at that, but generally have them ride in the most dangerous position on the road imaginable – in the door zone. Check out the statistics for St Kilda Rd in the report, for goodness sake.

    Then some bright spark decides we should embrace Copenhagen bike lanes that seek to mix up bike and pedestrian traffic, and turn every driveway and side road into an even bigger hazard than they previously were. Then we have bike lanes for traveling straight ahead marked to the left of left turn only lanes, bike lanes that vanish over bridges and bike lanes than send you behind tram stops to again, mix with pedestrians and suffer cars turning in and out of side roads – like those on Whitehorse Rd near Box Hill.

    No, I have nothing against completely separated bike paths, and please build a roof over them if you can. But when some moron tries to run me off the road screaming at me to use the flaming bike path, I will remember you.

    Of course you know there are studies that found that separated bike facilities are no more safe than ordinary roads?

    The statistics seem murky, like the murky statistics that has us all wearing silly foam hats, though walking as a mode of transport is often found to be more risky than cycling, per hour, per trip and per kilometer, yet no one suggests a walking helmet, day glow walking vests, walking reflectors and walking lights.

    But I fail to see how you could make any real progress installing covered arterial bike paths in to a city like Melbourne. About the only corridor available for such a thing would be the center of the Eastern Fwy. You wouldn’t have a hope in hell of actually producing a network of covered bike ways, simply because the realestate is not available.

    The Dutch have a few small cities with well planned for bike ways. It would be folly to try to change our cities to be like that now. However, people could be riding a totally covered velomobile.

    • Steven says:

      People do want to ride bikes. Everyone I know who has lived a short while in the Netherlands, Germany, Scandinavia or Northern Italy, has come back raving about using a bike as their car. I’m especially thinking now of a few ladies in Sydney who now own and use upright European style bikes, thanks to the police’s blind eye toward pavement cycling and Clover Moore’s cycle tracks.

    • James says:

      Yes, in Italy there are not huge networks of bike paths, but drivers are generally considerate and patient. Different culture, not infrastructure.
      Even when I rode in the UK it was nicer than riding here in Melbourne, and still no facilities.

      Yes, people might want to ride, but not “most” people. Even in Italy the mode share is not high, despite the nicer environment on the road.

    • Dmitri F says:

      Dude, if you have a sore ass after 30 minutes of riding, I suggest a better saddle. Perhaps one that doesn’t require a chamois pad.

      As for people not wanting to ride bikes, you should probably take a look at videos from Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Malmö etc (or better yet, visit those places yourself). Millions of people ride bikes every day, no matter the weather, and not because they are poor or because they are advocates for better bike culture.
      Those people just prefer to ride their bike rather than sitting in traffic with other cars, rather than spending tons of money on actually owning a car, or rather than waiting for public transportation.
      And guess what, that desire is actually strong enough that they could care less about rain, snow and wind.

      But yes, many people will not ride in the rain (about 30% of all cyclists in Copenhagen do not cycle in winter), especially those who rarely cycle in cities with shitty infrastructure, which is the point of the article.

    • Steven says:

      Thanks Dmitri 🙂 Made me laugh

    • James says:

      I spoke to a young lady who rode 10 – 15km, out of the blue. That is, it was her first ride since she was a kid. The comment “How do you do it? My butt was so sore!”

      Me? Mate, I ride about 10,000km annually, and for a few years got up around 20,000km. My saddle would kill most people because it has almost no padding. A sore arse is not something I suffer.

      The Dutch are about the *only* people for whom what you say is true, and their cities are designed specifically (over at least 40 years) to make bicycling a preferred mode of transport.

    • Dmitri F says:

      Well, sure, new shoes tend to give many people blisters and sore feet, does that mean people have stopped buying shoes and keep wearing the same pair for the rest of their lives to avoid breaking in new shoes?
      Any new activity will give you some soreness or discomfort. It will pass, and that is what you should have told that woman.

      As for Dutch cities being designed for bikes, you should probably visit a few before you comment, since their cities look pretty much like any other in the world. Lots of buildings, sidewalks and roads. Nothing in particular “bike specific”.
      But how can this be you say? Take a major through road in a dutch city, say, Utrecht, and compare it to a similar road in another city (like London).. Both are about the same width, same length, and of same importance to a city.
      Utrecht – 2 lanes for motor traffic. Two unidirectional 2.5m wide lanes for bicycles. 1 or 2 lanes for parking. Sidewalks.

      London – 4 lanes for motor traffic. 1 or 2 parking lanes. Sidewalks.

      Result? Bicycles outnumber cars on said street in Utrecht, and there are no car traffic jams even during rush hour. Look at the photos and explain to me how the street in Utrecht is somehow designed for the bicycle.

      The big difference is that the dutch allocate street space to bicycles, it has nothing to do with how their cities are designed. Many European cities were built long before bicycles or cars were even invented, and this applies to the Netherlands as well.

      Any modern city can take motor traffic lanes and turn them into wide, safe, comfortable bike lanes. It’s all about political will to improve for cycling, but it has to come at the expense of motor traffic.

    • Skinny Guts. says:

      Of course I said you will adapt and riding a bicycle doesn’t hurt, but I’m not around to teach everyone.

      More than political will. Decades and dollars.

  3. 7homask says:

    I’ve given up riding on Flemington Rd in the door zone bike lane of death. Haven’t had have any near misses mind you, but the potential for tragedy there is very real (not just perceived, especially when you have Freds passing you in the traffic squeezing you right against the parked cars). Instead I now cut through Royal Park from the western tip, up behind the Children’s, pop out across Park St (also found a great little cafe with a Slayer machine like my old fave place in Singapore) and use the ped lights to cross Royal Parade. Adds 2 minutes, could save my life. Someone should come up with a name for finding safe, secluded routes that avoid traffic like that…

    • 7homask says:

      Oh, as for covering paths from the rain… Generally, yes, but not in places like public parks – provided the council lets you ride in them (exhibition gardens for eg…)

    • Steven says:

      Yes, we should coin a name. I suggest “cycle-spacing”, so the credit flows back to me.

    • Dmitri F says:

      Bike lanes in a door zone are a terrible piece of infrastructure and should be banished…

      But why would you cover cycle paths in parks? Cycle tracks in public parks should be used for recreation, not transport. And if it’s raining you might find a different method of recreation, but most people need transportation even when it’s raining.

      And yes, I know that the reality is that many heavily used transportation routes for cycles go through parks, this is generally a mistake since it tends to create conflict with pedestrians.. It’s often a cheap way for a city to create a few kms of cycle track “for the record”, without encroaching on the mighty car.
      There are of course exceptions where it makes sense to make commuter/transport cycle tracks through public parks, but in that case the path should be separated from those who would use the park for recreation.

      Something to think about 😉

    • Steven says:

      You reached my own preferred answer aright at the end: take every opportunity to run bike routes through parks, but separate bikes and peds when they’re moving in parallel. And design elegant rain canopies, or at the very least a handful of rain refuges.

  4. Di says:

    I’m with you, Steven. It’s frustrating when you much prefer to ride, to have to dig out a raincoat and waterproof trousers when the rain just won’t stop! Have you had any thoughts about how to design the roofs?

    • Steven says:

      it depends on the context. In hot climates (especially hot and dry climates) you want lots of thermal mass. If the emperor Hadrian were alive he’d tell us all about his criptoportico. In cold climates the ideal would be a glass tube. However, the contextual issue during those proof of context years would be cost, in which case the style I would recommend might be branded as “cheap and cheerful.” Canopies could also be made from solar panels to generate power for other things — possibly fans to provide some backdrafting.
      And I don’t know about you, but I could just about ride to work in the time it takes me to put on those overshoes and MC Hammer pants when it’s raining heavily.

    • Dmitri F says:

      Yes! Solar panels on the roof to provide lighting and heat the pavement during winter to get rid of ice and snow 😛

    • Steven says:

      I wonder what the best way to thaw pavements with solar power might be — I’m getting technical now.

    • Dmitri F says:

      Techical can be fun 🙂
      One thing’s for sure, it would require some forward thinking engineers.
      The question is of course if the construction itself need be self contained, with integrated batteries or if it would simply feed generated electricity into the grid…

  5. Don says:

    Tarmac the top of the canopies, then the cyclists that like getting wet can ride along the roof! 😉

  6. Colin says:

    Sure, canopied cycleways are a great idea. And our CBD footpaths are sheltered by awnings for the most part, so we’d only be getting what those walking get.

    BUT, considering we don’t even have the cycleways yet, and that the money and political will for building them is currently only a trickle, I’d think we’d get a better bang for our buck focussing on building the hundreds (thousands?) of kilometres of cycleway we need before we start covering them. The canopies can be retrofitted, ne?

  7. crank says:

    Just imagine a city with a well integrated, largely covered, possibly high-tech bike network. The World would look on with amazement and want their own, just like we all do with the NL now.

  8. Lull says:

    I would ride if there was decent, safe segregated cycling infrastructure. I would ride all year if it was covered with a clear roof. I suspect there are many others like me, and many more who would be once they saw others doing it. Parents would feel able to let their children ride, so a whole generation would grow up with it as the norm.

    For now, since my Physio has prescribed cycling for my knee troubles, I will continue to drive between the many places I work at each day, then get on my bike & cycle up & down the local shared use converted railway line. I see the irony & inefficiency, but that’s where I’m at for now.

    Other barriers to cycling include lack of bike storage at home – our city of Bath is full of victorian terraces with narrow hallways. I’d like to see a builder providing attractive green-roofed stone built bike stores integrated into the wall of people’s front gardens. This would look much more attractive from the street & be more practical/secure than the alternatives.

    We also have a lot of hills – affordable electric bikes that could assist new riders would really help with this.

    I personally would like a traditionally styled ‘Dutch’ bike with all the integrated features such as full chain guard, mud guards, pannier rack, dynamo lights operated from the handlebars & 7 speed gears, but in aluminium & preferably a decent electric option (nicely integrated – not just an ugly addon, and easily maintained)

    • Lull says:

      I meant to add – Dutch style upright bikes are much more ergonomic (have you compared how the posture of the average road-bike Lycra-clad rider compares to a person slouching at their desk?)

      I have neck pain after riding road or even mountain/hybrid bikes. Whilst the position makes sense for a race, it is not healthy to be in this position everyday as a non-athlete (especially if you are slouching at your desk for the rest of it!)

      Also, the integration of components (eg. lock, lights, kickstand, pannier rack etc) means there are less extra bits to buy, attach, get stolen and so on.

      The upright position additionally improves visibility & the covered components provide protection from mud & the weather which means less maintenance is needed & the parts last longer (plus you can wear normal clothes)

      Thought I’d set the record straight – just in case anyone thought my reason for wanting one was to do with aesthetics!

    • James says:

      I feel pretty comfortable riding my road bike for many hours at a time. Last long ride I made was 250km over 3 mountains (Hotham, Falls Creek and Tawonga Gap). Would I want to do that on a “more ergonomic” Dutch upright? No thanks.

      It’s more about what you get used to and become comfortable with. Work on your flexibility and help your back at the same time.

      Signed – Roadie and desk slouch – James.

    • Lull says:

      It has very little to do with flexibility – I am an ex-gymnast and ballet dancer, so flexibility is clearly not the issue, nor strength. It is simply about bio-mechanics. Correcting forward head posture is one of the most important anti-ageing measures for the musculoskeletal system. Most people have lengthened there spinal erectors & have a weak posterior chain – the cycling posture exacerbates this issue. It isn’t just about ‘comfort’ at the time, but about muscular imbalances and skeletal distortions. Curving the spine puts soo much pressure on the discs…. Back problems are a cause of so much pain & suffering. Unfortunately people don’t realise they are storing up problems until it all starts to unravel. 🙁

    • Steven says:

      Thanks Lull, I was about to head out on my road bike, but am swapping now for the Opafiets 🙂

    • James says:

      BTW, my headlight is bolted on with a steel bracket between the front brake calliper and fork, and powered by a dynamo in the front hub. Standard German equipment.

    • James says:

      I’ll be sure to tell the 80 year olds at the Eastern Veterans CC that their spinal erectors are too long and they should ride Dutch uprights instead.

      No, instead I’ll continue to exercise properly to maintain the correct balance of strength and suppleness, thanks.

      Try a little planking 😉

  9. Lull says:

    Fair enough James – I wasn’t trying to tell you what to do. I already do plenty of planks thankyou! It really is not as simple as that – you cannot undo a lifetime of spinal compression with a single excercise (which I have been performing since my athletics training 17 years ago anyway!) – you have to look at the causes which are poor biomechanics in everyday movements.

    I am just trying to share observations I have experienced and researched, bearing in mind we are talking about the ‘average’ person who might be encouraged to cycle as an alternative to other methods of transport. I rock-climb, play badminton, do pilates & have a long history of competing in many sports – yet even with solid strength & flexibility training, my poor posture at my desk has eventually caused countless problems to eventually unravel. I would like to see everyone benefit from cycling, not just perfect specimens such as yourself James. 🙂

    Even my incredibly health-conscious parents, who in their 60s are running marathons & climbing mountains respectively – have succumbed to forward neck posture causing an aged, hunchback appearance not seen in some other cultures where more spine-friendly everyday behaviour is engaged in. The most active, young-looking older people I have ever met do not have forward head posture.

    If nothing else (on a much more superficial level admittedly) it is much more attractive & makes you look taller to have good posture. Most male cyclists I have known (I worked at Future Publishing for a while which has several bike and triathlon magazines) had a terribly unattractive way of carrying themselves. *shrug*

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