Millennium Festival of Cycling – did you have fun?

This article was published in 2000, in Newsletter 31.

Already the Cambridge Festival of Cycling seems a distant – but sunny – memory. It was a packed week of events that we organised in partnership with the local CTC. Welcome funding from the City and County Councils, and support from Sustrans, enabled us to produce the highest quality and greatest quantity of publicity in all our five years of organising such events. Here’s a look back at a few of the week’s activities.

Dr Bike

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Dr Bike

17 June was a warm and sunny day, a perfect start to the Cambridge Festival of Cycling. We set up a corral of scaffolding in the street between River Island clothing store and the Guildhall. Three ‘bike doctors’ and as many helpers checked over bikes. We got all kinds of bicycle, from ancient three-speeds, to brand new full suspension mountain bikes. Each bike was treated to a thorough inspection, and the owner was made aware of any problems. Although we are not allowed to make any repairs we did do a few minor things, like oiling chains and pumping up tyres. The owners went away satisfied, having a better idea of the state of health of their bikes.

We got a steady stream of customers, often having a couple of people in the queue. When we went away at the end of the day, we were tired, but felt we’d performed a useful service.

Library exhibition

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We used the small exhibition area on the first floor of the Central Library for the week. The heart of the exhibit was the collection of photos by William Claydon, better known as Donnex, a 90-year old CTC regular who has taken photos of cycling for most of his adult life. These photos gave us a glimpse of cycling in the 1930s, when all the young men rode bikes with drop bars, wore woollen shorts, and there wasn’t a helmet to be seen.

In addition to this, we displayed information about the Cambridge Cycling Campaign (newsletters and a description of what we do), the CTC (including the CTC magazine), and Sustrans (including maps of the National Cycle Network). We also had display cases filled with cycling books and magazines, our Golden Bell and Chocolate Chain awards, and some cycling paraphernalia.

The exhibit seemed to go down well with those who visited it. We don’t know how many people looked at it, but whenever we stopped by, someone was perusing the photos.

Cyclists’ Breakfast

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Wyn Hughes cycled all the way from St Neots for his breakfast before work at Cambridgeshire County Council


The Cyclists’ Breakfast this year had to be held on a Tuesday instead of the traditional Wednesday, perhaps confusing some who were planning to show up the following day. Hobbs Pavilion on Parker’s Piece hosted the event as before. The owners, Stephen, Susan and Polly Hill, have sold the restaurant, and this year’s breakfast was their final event there. There are many Cycling Campaign members saddened by this news.

The weather co-operated, giving us a warm, occasionally sunny morning. As usual, lots of cyclists turned up to enjoy the food, while others cycled on past, probably wondering what the do was. We ate rolls and croissants, cheese, jam and salami, and drank juice, tea, and coffee and filled out some questionnaires on cycling in Cambridge.

The Longest Ride

Sustrans’ National Cycle Network won’t reach this area for a few years yet, but on the Wednesday we had a go at ‘breaking the ground’ by cycling towards Cambridge from four directions. I (Rachel) joined the ride from Bury St Edmunds to Cambridge. The weather was kind to us, not too windy or too warm, and the pace was comfortable, even for the relatively inexperienced participants like me. At Newmarket we were given a reception in the Tourist Information Centre – two enormous platters of sandwiches and some chocolate marble cake to match. Later on at Anglesey Abbey, cream tea was the order of the day. The majority of the route was on quiet, pleasant roads which gave us plenty of good views to admire. Sadly, after such an enjoyable day, the end of the Ride was rather disorganised (through no fault of Sustrans), although we did have a brass band to welcome us at Midsummer Common.

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Setting off on the longest ride The three worst things in a small boat are an umbrella, a bicycle and a naval officer
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The Chairman of East Cambridgeshire District Council, Cllr Sheila Friend-Smith, on the longest ride County Councillor Shona Johnstone and Brian Smith, Director of Environment and Transport, greeting Sustrans’ Nigel Brigham at the end of the ride

Cycling in Cambridge: past, present and future

Three fascinating talks given at Anglia Polytechnic University showed us that, ultimately, nothing is new in Cambridge. Mike Petty’s pictures from the Cambridgeshire Collection returned us to the past – to the days when cycle parking provision was just a kerb: one picture of Sydney Street showed the road almost completely fenced off from the pavement by bicycles. There was also a story about gangs of thieves taking stolen bikes on the train to London in 1910.

Paul Rosen described the research he is conducting into the requirements of the commuting cyclist. Although the research is not yet conclusive, there are number of provisional findings. These include the suggestion that the health benefits of cycling are the main motivator for the vast majority of commuter cyclists. He also finds that users of bicycles for commuting are rarely just cyclists – their sense of identity defies the notion that cyclists are hostile to car drivers – on the contrary, cyclists often ally themselves with car drivers against what they see as irresponsible cycling.

Finally cartoonist Brick (John Stuart Clarke) gave us a battle-hardened, almost cynical view of what we can look forward to (in terms of cycle provision) in the future. His forecast was rather gloomy, but on the other hand he was generally surprised about the level of commuter cycling in Cambridge. When he suggested that we charge the relevant authorities for providing consultation on behalf of cyclists on proposed road junction alterations there was a general murmur of approval around the room!

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Awards

We awarded three Golden Bell awards for positive measures for:

  • Keeping the Downing Street contraflow cycle lane clear (Cambridge City Council Planning Department) – for effective enforcement, by ensuring that the cycle lane is kept free of delivery vehicles after 7:30 am in front of the Rat and Parrot pub. The problems caused by parked vehicles were a theme in many of the nominations, and this award recognises the efforts of one organisation to reduce the scale of the problem.
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    As much use as a chocolate chain: Maid’s Causeway is becoming less and less cycle-friendly
  • The developers of the entrance to Cambridge Retail Park, Newmarket Road (Cambridge City Council Engineering Services, Mowlem and May Gurney) – for ensuring the safety of cyclists when the road was narrowed, by laying temporary sleepers.
  • Grange Road traffic calming (Cambridgeshire County Council) – for listening to the concerns of cyclists in the recently revised traffic-calming proposals.

Chocolate Chain awards for the not-so-good were awarded to:

  • WAGN railway – for discouraging cycling by banning cycles on peak-hour trains into Cambridge instead of providing safe carriage for bikes, and also for the supply of misleading and contradictory information to cyclists affected by the ban.
  • Maid’s Causeway (Cambridgeshire County Council) – for doing absolutely nothing to reduce the conflict between cyclists and motor vehicles at the existing buildouts on this road, for creating conflict by narrowing the carriageway and introducing new central islands, and for putting in short lengths of pointless cycle lanes that not only encourage cyclists to ride in the wrong position on the road, but invite them to ride into the back of a row of parked vehicles.
  • Hobson Street contraflow cycle route (Cambridgeshire County Council) – for doing nothing to reduce the problems caused on this street by width restrictions and parked vehicles, leaving southbound cyclists on this vital cycle route vulnerable to oncoming traffic.

Cyclethon

The Cyclethon was almost the last event in the Festival and, as a new event, the one we were perhaps least prepared for. The idea was to get as many people cycling as possible, without organising a grand ride. So we invited schools and groups around Cambridge to organise their own rides to the event. Each would start from their own part of the city.

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Newnham Croft school at the Cyclethon
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The wobble bike with more steering than you need Simon’s distinctive bicycle

To encourage people to come we laid on three attractions at the destination: a Dr Bike event provided by Ben Hayward’s cycles; secure bicycle marking by the police; and entertainment from Cambridge Community Circus. The venue was a corner of Midsummer Common left vacant by the sprawling Midsummer Fair. On the day, we had very little idea of how many riders would turn up. We guessed anywhere between 20 and 200 and, of course, it would depend on the weather. The promised marquee wasn’t there but, thanks to the initiative of the Ben Hayward’s crew, we built a table out of galvanised barriers. These also made a good cycle parking corral. The police were next on the scene and bicycles were soon being marked with UV pens by PC Anil Soni. Then a large party of riders from Newnham Croft School arrived and, at last, it felt like we had an event. The rest of the Dr Bike team from Ben Hayward’s Cycles swooped quickly on the arriving bicycles. Suddenly all our fears about a successful event disappeared.

The recumbent bikes were an ample source of entertainment for the children taking turns to go round and round the event. John from near Ely had brought along what I have termed a ‘wobble bike’. It had an extra ‘headset’ or hinge just in front of the seat. This made it very practical for packing the bike away as it folded into a Z-shape, but riding was a bit of a challenge! The bike felt very unstable at first but, due to the clever design, the rider could swing the front wheel to one side and ride it leaning over. This was more stable than trying to keep the bike straight. I would need a degree in English to be able to explain in text how the bike worked, but I hope the picture will help. Eventually, a few jugglers and unicyclists turned up to provide some entertainment. Needless to say, the biggest source of entertainment was undoubtedly the inverse bungee jump next door to us, part of Midsummer Fair itself! All in all, we had jolly good fun on the day.

In summary…

We provided virtually everything for the cyclist during the Cambridge Festival of Cycling: history, safety, tourism, trailblazing, discussion, debate, fun, entertainment, and activities for children. We haven’t had any commercial involvement so far, or much in the way of fund-raising. These remain possibilities for future National Bike Weeks in Cambridge.

Rachel Coleman, Myra Van Inwegen,
Clare Macrae and Simon Nuttall