West Africa

Going on holiday(?) – Cycling West Africa

For the next few months I’m ditching work and will be exploring West Africa on my bike. In just over a week I’ll be flying to Dakar in Senegal and cycling south for 3 months until I reach Monrovia in Liberia.

Peter Fitzgerald -
Source: Peter Fitzgerald,

I’ll be travelling through Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

I’ll try to find internet access along the way and upload a few posts about the journey.

I’m very excited! Wish me luck!

This is my planned route



Sheffield’s New Bike Kitchen – Community Bicycle Workspaces


Today I spent my afternoon at Sheffield’s newest community bike facility – Recycle Bike’s, Bike Kitchen, a community DIY bicycle workshop.


They won’t do the work for you, but they’ll give you a hand and point you in the right direction if you need help. There are maintenance courses on some evenings, I understand the first one was about setting up brakes – perhaps I should have gone along…

I took my bike along because I live in a flat and don’t have much room, I only had to do a few simple things to my bike. They have all the tools you need and space for you to use (no need to turn the kitchen into a bomb site!)

Everybody gets a work stands and a basic toolbox with things like allen keys, grease and wire cutters. Specialist tools are in cupboards or on the wall, torque wrenches, vernier callipers(?), crown race removers, hacksaws etc. etc.


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I changed my chain and shortened a spare, adjusted the bottom bracket, changed the brake cables, did a hub gear oil change and removed the front fork. They had all the tools I needed (much better than mine at home) and had basic parts like cables and cable outers – and helped me out when I wasn’t sure what to do!

All the details are here, they’re open a few days per week and on Saturday afternoons. Plus they have tea, coffee and biscuits.





Our children’s freedom is compromised by lack of transport choice

Today my local paper have published a brief opinion piece about how our children’s freedom is compromised by lack of transport choice. I wrote it after being inspired by work from Judith and David Hembrow of The Campaign for Childhood Freedom and The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain.

I hope you agree with the sentiment.

Source: The Cycling Embasy of Great Britain

It’s hard to dispute that children today have less freedom than their parents did when they were young.

Surveys show that parents now fear traffic more than “stranger danger” and say that it is the main reason they are reluctant to let their children play outside. We do have relatively low road casualty rates in Sheffield but at a great cost – our children have lost their freedom.

Children aren’t allowed to play or travel on their streets independently because of road danger. Respiratory illnesses like asthma are on the rise, obesity levels are increasing and children have fewer opportunities to socialise.

Children’s freedom and independence is restricted by their parents’ understandable fear of traffic. We can’t judge parents for trying to take the best care of their children in the environment we live in, but it doesn’t have to be like this.

We should look to our neighbours in The Netherlands for inspiration. They have made their towns and cities safe and welcoming for children. More than 90% of children ride a bike to secondary school and the average age for independent travel to school on foot or by bike is 8.6 years old! They have achieved this by tackling the cause of the problem rather than removing the victims.

This change in attitude came about 40 years ago after Dutch parents protested following a sharp rise in road deaths and injuries as car travel increased. They called for the streets to be made safe as part of the “Stop De Kindermoord” (“Stop child murder”) protests.

The result was incredible, many roads were closed to through traffic and an extensive network of cycle-paths were built. Bike use which had been in decline started to rise as people gained confidence in going out on their bikes with their children, and sending them out on their own. Their children now have a degree of freedom which children in Sheffield no longer experience. UNICEF consistently rates Dutch children as having the best well-being of all the world’s children.

Can you imagine cycling to school with your children, let alone allowing them to walk or cycle unsupervised?

Our streets can be scary places and are definitely not somewhere you’d want your child to cycle if you had a choice. For those that want to cycle but are unwilling to ride with fast or heavy traffic, normally the only alternative is a longer, much less convenient route on backstreets which often doesn’t even take you where you need to go. The only realistic choice for most parents is to take the car rather than the bike. The biggest losers from this are our children.

We need to transform Sheffield into a place where people of all ages are free to walk or ride a bike without being fearful, without sacrificing convenience. We need to make it the obvious choice.

cycling tram tram train

Bicycles not part of the Sheffield tram train trial (and the ridiculous reasons used to justify this)

Sheffield is embarking on a national pilot for running light rail trams on traditional heavy rail train track. The transport authority in charge have today confirmed that tram trains will not carry bicycles at any time.

The knowledge that we obtain from the pilot will enable us to understand the technical and operational challenges involved in this project so that the concept can potentially be rolled out elsewhere in the UK – Norman Baker – May 2012


By setting the precedent that bicycles will not be carried without even attempting to do so, this trial will condemn future projects around the UK to the same fate. The precedent has been set as part of the national trial, bicycles will not be carried on tram trains. I would be very surprised if tram trains don’t start to displace normal trains on some routes.

Here are the key recommendations of the report to be discussed at Thursday’s Integrated Transport Meeting

2.1 That the ITA supports the recommendation of Option 1 as the design to be taken forward for the manufacture of the Tram/Train vehicle.
2.2 In order to provide the optimal position for the priority seating and due to the limitations of the vehicle structural design and legal obligations Option 1 does not include facilities for the carriage of bicycles (other than folding bike). ITA are therefore also asked to endorse that bicycles shall not be carried on Tram/Train vehicles, unless of the folding type.

SYPTE did some research which shows that of the UK/European tram networks they could get data for, 42 tram networks allow bicycles and 10 do not (of which 6 are in the UK!)

I’ll try to summarise the reasons this decision has been made, the full document is available from here. These get more and more ridiculous as you go down the list!

  • Legal requirements under the equality act
  • Must have at least 2 wheelchair spaces under Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 2010
  • Must be no obstruction to prevent or cause unreasonable difficulty to a wheelchair being manoeuvred in a rail vehicle to, from, into or out of any wheelchair compatible doorway or wheelchair space
  • No fittings for the use of passengers other than disabled persons in wheelchairs are allowed in the wheelchair spaces. This prohibits the use of some form of bicycle storage or securing system
  • It’s actually Stagecoach Supertram’s decision to make
  • Existing tramway Bylaws and Condition of Carriage prohibit the carriage of bicycles (but they admit that these could be changed)
  • The carriage of bicycles on the exterior of the vehicle wouldn’t be possible for a number of reasons(length, time taken to add and remove racks, need access to train track to put bike on and off, footholds for ‘tram surfers’, similar design to bull bars which are illegal)
  • Allowing bicycles would increase competition for low floor space with wheelchairs, mobility scooters, luggage, prams, and standing people.
  • People tend to sit in the fold out seat area and would be forced to go to the middle of the tram and negotiate steps which some may not want to or be able to do
  • People like to stand in the doorway and would be inconvenienced by having to relocate to other parts of the tram
  • Carriage of bicycles would compound issues of dissatisfaction with availability of seats at peak times
  • Not all vehicles would be of the new tram/train type, cyclists may try to use existing vehicles which they’re not allowed to and get confused
  • We need policies to deal with bicycles which would create conflict, and our Conductors primary role is to collect revenue and not act in any safety capacity
  • The management of bicycles on tram stops would need to be managed to avoid accidents to waiting passengers and those boarding and alighting
  • There are heavy rail trains running the same route that will carry bicycles that provide an alternative for those wishing to take bicycles
  • Bicycle hire like Bike&Go is available at Rotherham Central Station
  • Cycle lanes and large lengths of segregated routes are already provided between Rotherham and Sheffield
  • The trial of bikes on DLR in London has been financially supported by TfL, this is beyond SYPTE in it’s current financial situation
  • Trams often need to brake because they encounter pedestrians, this increases the risk of unsecured bicycles becoming projectiles
  • Other passengers might get dirty from bicycles
  • The tram/train vehicle might get dirty from bicycles
  • Bicycles introduce objects that are potentially hazardous to passengers, eg sharp points such as handlebars and pedals.