Thursday, 14 May 2009

Nine faults of Warsaw cyclists

My fifth bicycle journey to work this spring. I'm observing certain commonly-made mistakes on the part of other cycle users. Compared to London, Polish cycle commuters are less likely to wear helmets and bright clothing, though there's been a noticeable increase in use of these in Warsaw over the past few years.

1. Sailing blithely across a road that cuts across a cycle path without bothering to look over the shoulder to see whether a car might be turning into that road. Safe cycling requires Total Situational Awareness. After nine years of daily cycle commuting into central London, I've developed the instinctive habit of turning my head as I approach junctions, without even thinking to do it. Yet so many cyclists ignore the possibility that a motorist behind their left shoulder is about to turn right and has not noticed their bike. Motorcyclists rightly call this look over the shoulder 'the life saver'.

2. 'Squeaky wheeling'. So many bikes I pass along my way to or from work are going "eeeq.... eeeq... eeeq...eeeq..." A waste of the cyclist's energy. Just consider how many watts of energy are expended in generating that sound. A light oiling (with WD40 or equivalent) makes all the difference, makes cycling easier. Chain, gear derailleurs and axles - should do the trick.

3. Underinflated tyres. Newish bike, tyres filled with air to a pressure of about 10 psi. Cycle owners who pump up their tyres once a season. Running flat creates lots of extra rolling resistance which requires extra energy to overcome. Pumped up to 60 psi (4 bar) for tarmac or cycle path means less effort or higher speeds.

4. Pedalling with the arch of the foot. OK, so most cyclists don't use toe-clips or cleats. They contribute greatly to efficient cycling; as one leg pushes down one one pedal, the other leg can pull up on the other. But if you haven't got toe-clips or cleats, cycling with the ball of the foot rather than the arch is far more efficient. The ankle muscles can be put to use, giving that extra push as the pedal turns.

5. Pushing rather than spinning. Pressing hard on the pedals in a high gear is bad. It's better and healthier to increase the revs and drop a few gears. A good cadence should be 80 or 90 rpm, not 40 or 50 (modern cycle computers often have a cadence function). Pedalling against the resistance of an inappropriately high gear does the knees in. Spinning fast in a lower gear gives more flexibility, is better for the heart and less stressful on the niece and uncles (knees and ankles).

6. Wrong gear, sir. Most bikes today have three chainrings at the front and anywhere between five and nine cogs on the rear axle. A fundamental error is pedalling with the chain running between the largest front chainring and the largest rear cog, or the smallest front chainring and the smallest rear cog. Both these configurations, running big-to-big or small-to-small have the chain moving at a diagonal, and will wear out chain, chainring and cog - as well as being grossly inefficient.

7. Saddle's too low, buddy. What is it with youth today wearing their shit-catcher pants and riding silly little girl's bikes, saddle lowered right into the seat post so their knees rise above the level of their forearms as they pedal? Biomechanically, the most efficient height for riding is to be sitting so that the ball of the foot touches the ground (not whole foot, not tiptoes). Too many cyclists have the saddle slightly too low. Or way too low.

8. Trouser-legs flapping into the crank. And getting dirty on the chain. Tuck those trouser bottoms into socks, or put on luminous cycle-clips - or just wear shorts. But don't let cloth get caught up between the cogs and chain.

9. Behaving aggressively towards pedestrians. There are many points along the cycle path where pedestrians will step in the way of rapidly-moving bikes. Bus stops, zebra crossings, entrance to Metro stations - pedestrians do tend to unwittingly stray into a clearly-marked (or sometimes less than clearly marked) cycle path. Rather than treat them with tolerance, all too often the cyclist will shout at or even physically nudge the offending pedestrian. This is not the way that the cycling community will win allies among pedestrians. Cyclists should always give way to the pedestrian, even when the cyclist is clearly in the right. 'Might is right' is not civilisation.


Anonymous said...

How about "One fault of the BPCC"?


Bartek Usniacki said...

good points.

1) lack of essential habits is distinctive not only among cyclists, but even drivers, not long ago I discovered that my friends, peers, so freshmen behind the wheel do not look into the mirrors (both wing and rear-view) when they drive their cars in the busy streets of Warsaw - no wonder accidents will happen. Habit of peeking in the mirrors should be picked up during driving lessons, but instructors in Polish driving schools couldn't care less...

2)A manifestation of laziness, the same goes about
3) - bike parts use up more quickly if don't care of them properly

4)their choice - if they want to put as little energy as possible toe-clips would be advisable, if they ride for pleasure like me it doesn't really matter, although I may be wrong, I'm not an expert in case of muscles and so on

5)the biggest fault, as it poses the biggest danger to other pavement users - yesterday me friend was almost hit by the irresponsible cyclist riding at round 30 kmph in the narrow section of the pavement between the stairs (which we walked down) and benches on which other people sat. Hadn't I whisked her away, she and teh cyclist could have, with a bit of bad luck, wound up in a hospital...

I would highlight two other sins.

Firstly cycling on the busy main roads such Puławska, when there's a pavement along. Cyclist occupy the right lane, drivers have to seek the gap between cars going the middle lane to overtake them - thus the traffic is obstructed. If there's a decent roadside - i.e. not very muddy or bumpy cyclists should keep out of the road.
Needless to say there are too little cycling paths in Warsaw and in Poland, cyclists have the right to use public roads, but also don't hinder the drivers' life.

Secondly, in the winters our roads are plagued by elderly cyclist. Majority of sensible cyclists leave their bikes in their garages, basements, etc. for the winter. But those pensioners in their 70's ride their bikes on slippery roads wobbling, desperately trying not to lose their balance. Totally unpredictable, they become the bogey of the drivers in the winter and play with their health and life.

RANGLING ;-) Am i right to guess that "wrangling" was what they've meant?

Yesterday I had to draw on my "Słownik Języka Polskiego", but having found out I don't know half of the words there I flung it back on the shelf...
Instead of learnign foreign languages I should fix up a referral for Polish re-education classes?

Bartek Usniacki said...

to bring it to your notice The article from The Economist on the Central and Eastern Europe - this time they have fallen in with the IMF figures - that shows how can the projections vary. There's little said about Poland, article focuses on deeply trouble economies - good example of the breakdown after the decade of growth based on brittle foundations.

Michael Dembinski said...

Well, you beat me to the Economist online, but thanks for the tip, which I've commented on over at the BPCC website blog.