Hosted by David Bernstein & Carlton Reid since 2006 Posts

February 28, 2021 / / Blog

Your podcast catcher not showing in links above (black circle with three dots)? Loads more on PodLink. Show is also on Spotify. and Google Podcasts.

Sunday 28th February 2021

The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast

EPISODE 268: Bike Freak: Being Gary Fisher


HOST: Carlton Reid

GUEST: Gary Fisher

TOPICS: I walk Gary backyards through his life, starting now and ending in 1950, the year he was born.


“Being Gary Fisher,” Bluetrain Publishing.


Carlton Reid 0:13
Welcome to episode 268 of the Spokesmen Cycling Podcast. This show was published on Sunday 28th February 2021

David Bernstein 0:24
The Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast is brought to you by Jenson USA, where you’ll always find a great selection of products at amazing prices with unparalleled customer service. For more information, just go to Hey everybody, it’s David from the Fredcast cycling podcast at I’m one of the hosts and producers of the Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast. For shownotes links and all sorts of other information please visit our website at And now, here are the spokesmen..

Carlton Reid 1:08
Mountain bike icon. Gary Fisher has a book out. It’s a great book. No, no, it’s a fantastic book. It’s eclectic. It’s lively. It’s full of fabulous photographs. And I loved it. I’m Carlton Reid. And on today’s very, very long Show. I’m talking to Hollywood, Grateful Dead and transportation cycling with the eponymous larger than life subject of being Gary Fisher. You might think you know, Gary’s story, the mountain bike years, of course, and perhaps also his psychedelia phase. I’m not too sure he’s out of that phase yet, actually. But there’s plenty in our chat that’s fresh. And it’s fascinating to hear Gary reminiscing, as I walk him backwards through his life, starting now. And ending in 1950, the year Gary was born.

Carlton Reid 2:11
So Gary, this this book, it’s hard to put into words how good it is actually, it is just fabulous. I mean, the cover alone,

Carlton Reid 2:23
obviously, is an absolute knockout, just a wonderful, wonderful illustration of well, instantly recognisable mountain bike, bicycle, Guru icon, whatever you want to be called, or whatever we want to call you. It’s just fantastic. Then you turn it over, and there’s the back of your head. So it’s a wonderful gag. And then even even the spine is brilliant. So the spine

Carlton Reid 2:50
is just an open spot. It’s difficult to describe as it’s an open spine. It’s not like on a book you’d normally see. And then the contents inside are also not it’s like a graphic novel. Right? So tell me first of all, because this is guy Kesteven is the guy who has interviewed you. Is this like a British production? Mostly? Yeah. Tell me tell me about the production values here.

Gary Fisher 3:15
Okay, and Guy Andrews. Also, yes, you see, you know, he’s the guy that

Gary Fisher 3:22
really was the main guy behind Rouleur back in a day. Yep. You know, and I met those guys a long time ago. And they were, you know, really impressed me as they knew what they were doing. And guy’s wife, Taz Darling, she knows paper printing, you know, putting these things together, and it’s the

Gary Fisher 3:45
finish, let let the kids loose. You know,

Gary Fisher 3:49

Gary Fisher 3:52
I wanted to have a book that has a beginning, middle and end call to action, all these different things. And that’s was the important part. It wasn’t, I just didn’t want to do another dry autobiography, you know, and I, I’ve always believed in you try to find the very best people possible to work with. And then you set them free go out,

Carlton Reid 4:22
actually, I would, I would stop you that I would just say the text in this book is it would be standalone you wouldn’t need you actually wouldn’t need all the fantastic illustrations that are in there, even though they are absolutely fantastic. Because you have

Carlton Reid 4:36
as you know, you have had an amazing, amazing life and and hopefully we’ll we’ll get on to that. As we carry on and we we kind of go into your, your your background before you became this this bicycling icon. But what I’d like to do is just anybody I’m sure there’s nobody on here who’s listening to this. It doesn’t know

Carlton Reid 5:00
You are, but let me just read out what’s the first paragraph on the back cover. So that kind of sets the scene. And then I’m going to do something that hopefully you’ll agree to. But anyway, let’s just let’s read out the the cover blurb. “Meet Gary Fisher, the maverick kid bike racer, who cycles straight into the acid test seen and lit up the Grateful Dead gigs. The relentless tinkerer who transformed an industry and sold mountain biking to the world, and the visionary who still working flat out every day to prove that bikes are the answer to a healthier, happier future. for everyone.” Now, I know you are going on lots of podcasts, Gary, and and they’re very, very podcast. So you’ve been on the war on cars. And then you can talk about like your modern activism. And I’m sure you could go on a, you know, an acid trip, kind of podcast and talk about that background.

Carlton Reid 5:58
So you’ve had just an amazing life. Now, in the book.

Carlton Reid 6:06
It’s chronological. So roughly, it goes from, well, kind of before you’re born, so it talks about your, your, your two or three generations ancestors, and then it comes right the way up to the present. So with your permission, Gary, yes. I’d like to go through your book backwards. Okay. So there’s like, this is your life, but backwards. And I’ve just picked out. So I’ve read the whole book, I think it’s fantastic. So I’ve picked out some stuff I’d like to talk about. And and I’d like you to tell me stuff.

Carlton Reid 6:41
Some of which is is in it. Other interviews people will have heard before, you know, you got some famous anecdotes, and I’m sure we’ll touch on those. But there’s tonnes in this book that I didn’t know, which is fantastic to be able to get like a fuller story. So because it’s chronological, and because it, it ends in in 2019, even though it talks about COVID, about four or five times it’s bang up to date, in many respects.

Carlton Reid 7:10
But it’s it finishes the chronology finishes, roughly roughly now. So I’d like to take you backwards. So first of all, tell me about your Alex, your wife, your wife, and your your young children then now so we might hear them in the background. So let’s just, let’s just talk about them. So

Carlton Reid 7:29
tell me about your family background where you are in your house right now.

Gary Fisher 7:33
Right now. It’s just the four of us. So I’ve got a

Gary Fisher 7:38
two and a half year old girl, a six year old boy, and my wife and myself, my wife’s a doctor. And, you know, she’s a regular MD family doctor, and she’s been doing a lot of telemedicine. And normally, you know, I work she works, I still work full time for trek bikes. But the last month and a half we had and normally we have an Au Pair living with us. And for the last month and a half no pair so we take care of the kids ourselves, which is in incredibly sweet. I got a it’s a lot of work. And I get I totally get it. I mean, a mother’s job, you know, is never ending.

Gary Fisher 8:23
You know, and I’ve been a mother, I’ve been caretaker I’ve been a, you know, I bring in food and cook. I didn’t I never, if you told me 10 years ago, I was going to be cooking every day.

Gary Fisher 8:37
Really, wow, you know, what I’m doing, and all the domestic work. And it’s been? Well, some people would say humbling, but I’ve always believed in that type of work is really good for the mind and the body. That simple, humble stuff. It’s been really, really sweet. And that being said, we’ve got a new au pair that’s come up from Mexico and she wants to learn interior design. Oh my god, it’s so perfect. She’s so great. And she’s been in quarantine. She’s gonna come out on Thursday, and we’ll have a family of five again, that’ll be great. So it’s little things like that, you know, little this little pod and my I’ve got other kids and we’ve all been in touch via you know, Skype and other good like that, you know, nobody’s been physically touching each other or getting close simply because we got too many scientists in the family and doctors

Gary Fisher 9:42
don’t fool around.

Carlton Reid 9:45
So let’s let’s place you geographically. So my son Josh has been out to you and you kind of took him for a bike ride around your neighbourhood I believe it was. So what is that neighbourhood? So we’re roughly you don’t have to tell me exactly where your house is. But where’s your neighbourhood?

Gary Fisher 10:00
We’re just across the bay from San Francisco. And I mean, we’re literally on the bay. So we get the view of the Golden Gate Bridge of the city. It’s spectacular.

Carlton Reid 10:12
And it’s all the yacht a yacht club, isn’t it?

Gary Fisher 10:14
It is very close to the club. And all that, you know, this is the original Yacht Club of San Francisco, San Francisco Yacht Club, is located across the bay and Belvedere. And Belvedere has got a weird story to it, you know, they used to, they claimed it was an island, and therefore not subject of all the local laws, and they had their own laws.

Gary Fisher 10:38
And it’s really a charming little place. And my parents moved here when I was a teenager, and I hated it. And I couldn’t wait to get away, and I did. Now I’ve come back. And it’s like,

Gary Fisher 10:52
it’s, it’s amazing. It’s a totally change neighbourhood. It used to be old white people, and now it’s people that make money from all parts of the world, you hear all the different languages on our streets these days, it’s great, you know, I want to teach my kids four different languages, you know, we can do that the kids will, will absorb it, and it creates a more nimble mind, we know this.

Gary Fisher 11:20
It’s this, like, I guess, you know, I’m in that stage of life where I’m like, really, where people tend to, to get dedicate themselves to their kids. And part of that is, you know, this insane traffic system that we have here in the United States, that we’re relying on this grand experiment with the automobile that has never delivered on promise.

Carlton Reid 11:47
Now, Gary, I can date you very accurately because the chronology finishes in a certain year, but and you kind of brought it up there. But how old are you?

Gary Fisher 11:55
I’m 70. Born in 1950, right now.

Carlton Reid 11:58
Yep. So 1950 is when I want to end. So we’ve got a lot to get through. We’re not going to go for every single year, I’m going to pick out the highlights, but some of them are below lights in that. So the first one I’m going to go to is actually when the Gary Fisher name disappeared off bikes. So we are talking 2011. So we can go into the history of Trek when we when we get there in the the chronology, but just tell me about what you thought about the name disappearing. And you’re like the Gary Fisher collection, and not, you know, decal on the side of a bike. So what were you thinking then?

Gary Fisher 12:36
It was funny, because it was actually a part of saying, Yeah, this is a good idea. In that day, the company we’re producing, you know, my bikes and track bikes and wares are sort of cannibalising each other and sort of like, competing with each other. And a were obliged to make, you know, a completely different bike line. And that was crazy. You know, and, and that didn’t make sense. And at the same time, trek wasn’t all that powerful, and marketing of their known names. And we could go through that history, we had quite a few different names over the years. And a lot of them failed simply because they weren’t really good at getting out there. And getting in front and marketing, any of them, even the track name. And fortunately, that’s changed quite a bit in the last few years. You know, it brought in a number of new people, you know, younger people with good visions, and everything, good marketing people, and that’s, that’s changed. And it’s, you know, it’s sort of crushed me that I still had a great following, and yet

Gary Fisher 13:50
they wanted to take you know, my name was on the bike. I was fine with that. Even though trek was on a head badge. For a while I’ve disappeared completely, but lately, they they’ve been bringing me back and they use it a lot more of my names, you know, and it’s like,

Gary Fisher 14:07
the bike I’ve gotten behind the Marlin with simple bike, okay, that’s the whole idea of it. You know, it’s made of parts we know work of dimensions, or that you can there are available around the world, you know, fully supported. That bike, my baby sells more mountain bikes than any other mountain bike on Earth. You know what? So I don’t care what anybody thinks. I’m happy.

Gary Fisher 14:34
This is what I wanted to always do is cover the earth with bikes. You know.

Gary Fisher 14:39
I love high end bikes. I love Exotica. I love new dimensions, new standards. You know, the heck of it, let’s just go for it. I love that whole thing. But there is a place for the simple humble, repairable bicycle, you know, and that’s something we don’t make

Gary Fisher 15:00
fake bikes, you know, like, like, in the United States, we get this phenomena of what we call a bike shaped object, you know. And it’s really funny, it sort of comes in under the category of a toy. And it is truly unrepairable. Because it’s all soft steel, you know, soft material and everything. And we won’t make a bike like that, you know, we we, you know, I tend to think our cheapest bike is the world’s cheapest bike, dollar per mile sort of thing. And that’s where that Marlin hits it, you know that it’s a good simple, cheap bike with incredible colours.

Carlton Reid 15:37
So Trek isn’t, isn’t using your name on the bikes, but they’re using you. On what you’re, you’re a globe, obviously, now you’re not travelling anywhere, but prior to the pandemic, you are a global ambassador. Yeah, well cycling in general, but of course, Trek in particular, what’s on your business card? What What does it say on your business card?

Carlton Reid 15:59
What’s your job title?

Gary Fisher 16:00
Well, technically, you know, I’m a Product executive. But I’m also a brand ambassador. So those those two things, you know, is what I do. But then I’m, then I get this other title. I’m Gary.

Gary Fisher 16:15
You know, I can come in and comment on anything, and people will listen.

Gary Fisher 16:20
But that’s because I listen a lot. You know, I listen, a lot of always listen to my customers. And, you know, it’s the key people need to be heard. Or, you’re never going to win, any type of respect is never going to get anywhere with them. So you got to spend your time listening, you know, and why there’s new things you learn, you know, all the time. And that’s my goal. I want to learn something every single day of my life.

Carlton Reid 16:48
And I’m saying you’re learning stuff from your book, Gary. So let’s let go 1996. Now, so we’re, we’re skimming through the years here. There’s tonnes of fascinating stuff in between, of course, but we can’t talk about everything. So I’m going to talk about the kind of the riders you’ve been involved with over the years and and the what the first one that comes up in your, in the book or that sorry, going backwards in the book Paola Pezzo.

Gary Fisher 17:14
Oh, yeah.

Carlton Reid 17:15
Who won Olympic gold. medal, winning mountain biker looked fantastic, was a marketable personality in here own right. So I’ve got that down as 1996 when you started working with it all set when she won the gold, isn’t it? So in Atlanta, and she won that?

Gary Fisher 17:34
Well, that was a Yeah, in Atlanta, you know, but you’d already been riding for a couple a few years. And, oh, boy, that was crazy. But, you know, the whole situation we had in Italy, we had crazy distributor, you know, and, and she came through that, and it was, like, she and I is so funny. It’s like the coincidence thing. There’s stuff that we’ve, we marked it, oh, we have all these stuff in common. She was our writer for 12 years, you know, and,

Gary Fisher 18:07
you know, she would win the podium every time, you know, she had the timings the looks, you know, she could wear the fashions correctly and everything, that whole thing.

Gary Fisher 18:19
And at the same time, you know, choose dedicated, you know, completely dedicated, serious writer and everything.

Gary Fisher 18:27
This, we’ve been lucky, you know, we had some good riders, but everybody, they get into that realm of, you know, sponsorship and everything. And,

Gary Fisher 18:37
well, there’s people that are well known. I mean, you look at the stats, I mean, Lance Armstrong is still the best known cyclist in the world at this moment. But what are you known for, you know, is the that other thing and she sent a fantastic message, you know, look good, ride a bike, be strong. I mean, she’s strong and powerful. And, you know, I’m looking forward to the pandemic and ending and going there and bringing my family with me and

Gary Fisher 19:09
hanging out with the group. You know, this the good life, huh?

Carlton Reid 19:14
Yeah. Okay, let’s, let’s skim backwards. And we are now going to skim backwards to 1992. And that’s when you you basically sold to Trek.

Gary Fisher 19:27
Well, that’s that like, and that’s a simplification because my brother and I sold to another company before that, you know, and when and that was crazy. And my brother told me, I should listen to my brother. My brother said, I don’t trust these guys. He was over right.

Carlton Reid 19:45
So they were a Taiwanese company. Who made those BSOs who made those? They were they were churning out some pretty poor bike for you. Yeah?

Gary Fisher 19:54
well, they treated us as a cash cow. You know, I would. It was crazy. I got these pricings

Gary Fisher 20:00
From this is crazy, this pricing, I immediately, you know, jump on a plane and go to Taiwan I go around a different competiting competitor companies and I get prices that are 20% lower, you treat me as a cash cow and then a dumping ground. I mean, like, we get last year’s equipment.

Gary Fisher 20:19
You know, we get like bikes where the head tube was cracked and then painted over, you know, this her own mother company, you know,

Gary Fisher 20:27
I can laugh now. Well in it in the in the book that there’s there’s an illustration of a two pager a double page illustration of you being a detective, in effect with anlin. So how come you you’re having to find out what was happening with this company and you’re being shafted? And then you must have then tried to get out? And that’s when track came? Yeah, well, a lot of different offers were coming along because the name was had been tarnished within the dealerships, but not out in the general public. So a lot of you know, and that was a time when everybody was trying to get into the business, they wanted to have a name. So we hadn’t really good name. And they wanted and trek came along. And I knew that this is the company, you know, and and I was between a rock and a hard place because at that moment I had, you know, my

Gary Fisher 21:26
major financier, you know, installed a liquidator basically good old Howie, Howie Cohen, which we turned out to be friends. But

Carlton Reid 21:37
he was a historian, wasn’t he? Because I know how Howie Cohen, we’ve actually emailed together because he he was a, as well as being a major figure in the bike industry. He liked his history. So he liked his 1890s stuff. He was a collector of bicycle memorabilia and bicycles of all kinds, wasn’t he?

Gary Fisher 21:55
Well, he also was a guy that he made a killing off of ET the movie, he’s he would had the official bike of everything. He was a smart marketer, smart guy. I like how he, you know, and he was, you know, brought to fight against me.

Gary Fisher 22:13
Anyway, I turned out to be a really good corporate fighter.

Gary Fisher 22:20
Which is crazy, you know, but it’s all about people, isn’t it? Really.

Carlton Reid 22:28
So, the people at track, of course, are the Burke family. Yes. The Burke family came along, and you described them in their book. You’re quite frank, and you’re saying that the brand wasn’t that sexy? At the time? Yeah, this is obviously pre Lance Armstrong,

Carlton Reid 22:43
pre any of that stuff. So they were like, a solid, you know, good business, but didn’t have any pizaazz said, Would it be fair to say you brought some pzazz to Trek?

Gary Fisher 22:54
Literally, I mean, Paola Pezzo? Oh, my goodness. I mean, trek didn’t have a single sponsored rider. When I first came there. 1993 there were two people in marketing. And guess what they did the colours for the bikes as well. And the graphics and everything. That was it, you know, is a famous story. Dick Burke, I love I loved sitting with Dick Burke, you know, like talking with him, it was the best.

Gary Fisher 23:23
You know, and he had this famous story where he got

Gary Fisher 23:28
profiled by Forbes magazine, okay, in the United States. And they sent a photographer out from New York City, to Wisconsin. And dick said to the photographer, I’ll give you three shots. ographers goes Click, click, click, and Dick turns around, and he’s out of there. Because dick didn’t believe in hype in LA. And that was, you know, and he was the leader. And the ethos of trek was no, we’re not going to sponsor you as a racer, or we’re not going to sponsor your team, and I can respond to these people, anybody?

Gary Fisher 24:07
Do you want the bikes to be more expensive? That’s how they’d put it. You know, people say, Oh, no, no. And so they wouldn’t sponsor anybody. And that changed.

Gary Fisher 24:18
And that’s it, you know, you look for things, you know, they could really use me, and I worked with the gang, you know, and it wasn’t always easy. But hey, when I got a saying, if it was easy, everybody do it. Right.

Gary Fisher 24:33
Yeah. But they had this thing. They, you know, no one would point fingers when something went wrong. They just all pitch in and take care of it. You know, nobody go home until the last customer is taken care of. And

Gary Fisher 24:49
that’s a really good quality, you know, that sort of thing. And I sort of fell in love with that whole Midwest. You know, I like to say, well, the Midwest is where the American Dream

Gary Fisher 25:01
actually works. And people actually work really hard on it. On the other hand, my father, you know, the architect, he would talk about the Midwest. So yeah, they got this big meeting a whole bunch of people at around table, and they go around and around, and around and around until it’s oatmeal.

Gary Fisher 25:20
You know, and that’s the truth. I mean, East Coast, West Coast, we can come up with crazy ideas, and people go, Yeah, and it’s boom, that’s it, everybody’s on board. And we had, you know, especially in those days, you had a much harder time, you know, of charging people up, but everything’s changed. You know, I mean, now, everybody sees it, you know, within seconds, right? Because that’s how we communicate in a totally different way. And then we travel, people travel all the time. Now, people didn’t travel, you know, as much 30 years ago. No way, you know, and now, you know, you see things will pop up and, and roll around the globe rather quickly. You know, it’s a totally a different atmosphere from 30 years ago.

Carlton Reid 26:08
Well, that that’s a good segue for me actually into a different date. So we’re now going into we’ll skip the early 1990s. And we’ll go straight to the middle of the 1980s. And we’re going to stick on a travel theme because Anlin was Taiwanese, but before that, you were Japan. So in 1985, it says in your book, you helped Shimano of Japan, with what everybody now anybody who’s born after that date, doesn’t realise how bad gears used to be. You have a negative feel where they were Shimano with your help brought out SIS indexed gears so Shimano Indexing System so the Click Click Click System. Everybody now uses but even even the BSOs have got fantastic click click gear systems. Back then it literally was you. You feel the gears and it was almost a religion in like, yeah, where the gears and stuff.

Gary Fisher 27:06
Yeah. Noise abatement system. Yeah. So

Gary Fisher 27:11
how did you help Shimano? with that? How was how was? How was that going down with Shimano? Well, it was a tradition for me, and how I handled my vendors, especially the Japanese vendors is that I give them everything, you know, I, I’m going to tell you everything I possibly can. So you can make the best price possible product. And, yeah, I know, you’re going to help my competitors. But this is as well as me. But this is going to make everything work. And then I’d also ask, you know, what’s the best price I want? You know, the first delivery, and I want terms, and I wound up getting a loan from the Japanese government back in the day,

Carlton Reid 27:52
but these $80,000 It says here, yeah, the government loan. That’s, that’s, that’s a lot.

Gary Fisher 28:00
Well, I was enough for a couple of containers of bikes, you know, and, and I just, you know, I got a fantastic cooperation. That was the SIS, they sent engineer Shinpei Okajima, he was also a really hot road racer. And he wrote with my riders for like, four months, you know, and just, you know, Joe Murray, that kid, he’s a kid then, man, he, it was good. And he landed himself a lifetime job as a skunk tester with Shimano, for good reason, you know,

Gary Fisher 28:34
it’s just bringing together good people that can work together, you know, that’s the thing. And then, you know, giving feedback, all the time really honest feedback about how it’s going to go together. And that’s the, you know, from

Gary Fisher 28:49
the point of view, I mean, I was a mechanic for a long time, I still am still working on my own darn bikes. But, you know, how’s this thing go together? You know, how’s it come out of the package? How’s it attached to the bike, you know, everything, you know, all the way through, you know, see how it’s gonna work. And then hopefully have a good life. Good, long wife, you know, and those guys, I mean, Shimano, and then all the other the other side, too, which was suntour sugino. You know, and then the tubing makers Ishiwata, Tange.

Gary Fisher 29:26
I taught them and man, they taught me how stuff was made, you know,

Carlton Reid 29:32
that says you visited Japan 1981 in the first and we’ll get them away when we go backwards in a little bit, but first of all, tell me more about because you are working with Shimano on Deore XT which is the first right you know, full group set is still with us. Of course, you are working on that group set with them.

Gary Fisher 29:50
Yeah, yeah. You know, that in the centre, you know, had their group set and that was like, along with their whole, you know, group of different makers.

Gary Fisher 30:00
And it didn’t all look the same, you know what I’m saying? The Shimano stuff, graphically, you know, and just design wise and everything, it was like completely integrated, that that was a real breakthrough, you know, to have a whole group for a mountain bike that it looked like it was really made for a mountain bike. So, and I guess we want to fill in two people here because we obviously know everybody’s just accept Shimano as a, you know, as the global BMR you know, market maker back then it wasn’t you mentioned centre there, you know, centre was the leading Maker of the component makeup of of the day. Certainly the Japanese anyway, and then you gotta come back. No, no, of course, and Shimano was, was in effect, you know, it’s been going since the 1920s. been, you know, taking along for a long time, but it really became big in the 1980s. So there’s like a huge breakthrough. So you helping them with Dr. x, t, and si s, it’s part of the reason that they are now this mammoth mammoth company. I’m really happy when people like that are successful. I’m really happy. You know, and, you know, I like, I don’t mind having competitors. It’s like, Mike Sinyard of Specialized. Man, he’s a tough competitor, he, you know, uses his tricks and walls and all that stuff, but I don’t care. I like Mike. You know, I like him. He’s, he’s alright, by me. And he’s pushed the whole thing. And I, I point out to my competitors, you know, like Tony Lo [of Giant], well, he’s retired kids are in a giant finally loaded giant. So keep that guy takes the he’s taken the high road. I mean, those guys could have killed us with price. I mean, those guys are the very best buyers of parts in the world, you know, they get a better price and better delivery than you do, buddy. for good reason. They’re on the case suit on everything. And they work with their suppliers, you know, and they work together and everything. And that’s, that’s really evident. You see it now. It’s like, the whole business is sort of started to turn a corner, I feel like we finally started to grow up, you know, and not fight each other so much as to think big and, and go boldly and everything and make it a bigger market for us. And, of course, make people happy and make people healthy.

Carlton Reid 32:22
Since 1981, was when you went to Japan for the first time, and an awful lot of the bike industry went to Japan at that point. But what what why Japan because you know, now we know of Taiwan. Why? Apart from Shimano Why? Or maybe it was just Shimano? Why Japan?

Gary Fisher 32:39
Well, they were

Gary Fisher 32:42
they were a huge manufacturing powers, you know, period, you know, I mean, it their automotive industry was, was really pushing the US and everything. And it was evident there was quality there. But I’ll tell you, for myself, it came down to one particular event. And that was in 81.

Gary Fisher 33:03
At the New York bike show, at the bequest of Bicycling magazine, it did a presentation on the mountain bike, and all the bigwigs showed up, you know, from the industry, and the Japanese, it blew their mind. And then they just started to come out and visit me all the time. And we had like, hundreds of Japanese visitors, handfuls of European visitors, and one from the United States. That’s it, you know, and it was who’s interested who wants to do things, and

Gary Fisher 33:38
it was just they wanted to go, let’s go, let’s make new things. Let’s do things. And you know, I talked to a member talking to Reynolds 531 tubing. And to get a pair of fork plates, like the Unicron style. I wanted to do that. You know, that was like, that was my idea. Real. I mean, it was basically putting two different ideas together was no, it wasn’t rocket science. But I named it the Unicrown. Right?

Gary Fisher 34:07
Yeah. And I had to deal with Tange tubing, you know, for all those Unicrown forks. And then my trademark attorney said, Hey, this guy.

Gary Fisher 34:17
I don’t think you can use that name. You know, because there’s a guy that owns Crown bicycle, that I met my neighbours next door neighbour to my parents house. And the guy there the next door neighbour says crown, crown, hat’s my father’s company. You could have used that name.

Gary Fisher 34:35
I blew off that that deal with Tange. But that was that was gonna be a good deal. But anyway, you know, ups and downs, rounds and rounds. The other stuff, you know,

Gary Fisher 34:46
but I had to do it all again.

Gary Fisher 34:49
But I do have different of course, but

Gary Fisher 34:53
no, it was amazing. Those guys were completely on the gas. You know, and I hate culture shock when I came

Gary Fisher 34:59
back, because people there were so attentive and on it. And it’s like, it came back. I came from laid back myrin you know, and come back here and it’s like,

Gary Fisher 35:14
you don’t understand the people outside this country going into a completely different speed and we are

Carlton Reid 35:20
you describing like getting onto trains or bullet train or getting to the next meeting within two minutes of spare and then, you know, just going off again and being basically industrious, very, very industrious.

Gary Fisher 35:30
Oh, yeah, you know, and incredibly efficient. You know,

Gary Fisher 35:33
I mean, go to that first visit, I went to Shimano, they showed me their automatic warehouse, right? No humans there at Oh, and then the room that makes making a tremendous amount of noise. And you walk in, they flip it all the lights while they’re making derailleurs A robotically. This is like a 1981, my friend, you know. So it’s like, oh, you know, you really understand

Gary Fisher 35:59
what type of competition the United State was getting to half. Then we went in the 50s. I mean, we had no competition, you know, all of our industrialised competition had been literally flattened, right. So, it’s, it’s, it just it really drove home, you know, that

Gary Fisher 36:20
things are changing fast. So Japan was a really good partner, because he needed to have

Gary Fisher 36:28
this whole thing was growing. And if I didn’t do it, other people would do we’d go to Japan, it was obvious, you know, and, and, you know, Mike went there, Mike Sinyard. You know, he did a lot of work over there. And his people have, you know, really good in their supply chain going.

Carlton Reid 36:44
I’ve got Mike down for 1980. Don’t worry, we’re gonna get

Carlton Reid 36:49
another character. Yeah. And this is the the disadvantage, of course of going backwards through chronology. Yeah, we kind of meet characters at the end of their, their time with you rather than the beginning. So we’re gonna talk about Charlie Kelly now.

Carlton Reid 37:03
So Charlie Kelly, this is the reason I’m talking about now is 1982, Charlie Kelly leaves mountain bikes. And again, the weakness of going backwards is, you know, what is mountain bikes? mountain bikes, of course, you know, is a generic term. It was also the term that you came up with for your first company with Charlie. Yeah, yeah, essentially.

Carlton Reid 37:25
But before we get to that, because we’re gonna, we’re gonna come on to the founding of the company, but Charlie Kelly leaving? What was what was it? Because you said it was a sad, sad day.

Gary Fisher 37:36

  1. And Previous to that.

Gary Fisher 37:43
People were asking me because I was looking for money. Well, what’s Charlie do?

Gary Fisher 37:50
We build two wheels, you know, it’s a good wheel builder. And he would just sort of leave the room when we ever got into financial stuff. I mean, the first guy ever hired was a bookkeeper. Because I knew you got to keep stuff straight. Or you just you don’t know where you are, you know, you’re not going to have a chance. And so I was having a, and we weren’t doing well, right, then, you know, we were in debt, you know. And so I said to Charlie,

Gary Fisher 38:21
you know, I was having a hard time, nobody had loaned us money, they’d loan me money, they wouldn’t loan him money. And it was getting a real a real problem. And

Gary Fisher 38:32
they’d say, What’s he do? He owns half the company, what’s he do? So I take the walk around the block, and I say with him and say, you know, and by California law, you can dissolve a partnership.

Gary Fisher 38:44
I want to dissolve this partnership, you know.

Gary Fisher 38:47
And I gave him a forgiveness of debt. We are $80,000 in debt. So he got off the hook for 40 grand, he got a computer, he got a bike. And I think that was about it. And he

Gary Fisher 39:00
agreed to that signed off on it. And

Gary Fisher 39:03
our attorney Clay Green wrote the papers Clay Green still around, you know. And, you know, a few months later, Charlie wasn’t too happy that he left the business because I wound up making a bunch of money that year. Hmm, yeah.

Carlton Reid 39:16
So, Charlie, Charlie Kelly, Otis Guy, Joe breeze has a whole bunch of characters that are famous in in this the story of mountain biking. Do you get on with them at all still, because they’re all roughly, you know, in the Bay Area?

Gary Fisher 39:33
I’m not really, you know, it’s like, I just, I didn’t you know, Charlie, you know, we separated that was it. I didn’t insist that a non compete because I knew he was never gonna compete with me.

Gary Fisher 39:46
You know, and the rest of them, you know, it’s the same deal. They just, like live on their own planet and they just don’t, they don’t understand me.

Gary Fisher 39:55
You know, it’s like, I Charlie’s written about me. He’s never interviewed.

Gary Fisher 40:00
Never, you know, he keeps writing the same old story over and over again. And it’s like, you know, I named the company Mountain Bikes. I thought about that my own little head. You know?

Gary Fisher 40:13
We blew it. You know, as far as a trademark goes, it went generic and everything I know a lot more about trademarks than I did then. You know, I don’t, I don’t

Gary Fisher 40:22
you know, listen, those guys don’t slow me down at all. And it’s a you know, Joe’s a sweetheart, I love Joe, you know, but he doesn’t understand what happened so much though.

Gary Fisher 40:36
The forces, you know, it’s like, none of this stuff is truly original. I mean, 120 years ago, everybody rode off road, come on, then you go back in history, and you can like even the first guy that ever loaned me money, John Findley Scott, UC Davis, Professor 1953, he made what he called a woodsy bike. And, you know, is a Schwinn varsity frame where the frame had been, you know, widened a bit so he could fit 26 by 175 tires had a sturmey Archer three speed hub on a rear with a drum brake on the side, and a three speed cog set. So as a nine speed bike, you know, and

Gary Fisher 41:19
oh, what a calliper brake. And you know, you could argue back and forth. That was this that was that, you know, then Joe breeze found these guys in France, I think it was in 40s, late 40s. And some pretty cool looking bikes, you know, and then, of course, there’s Geoff Apps, you know, from the UK, he was completely independent of us. And then Victor Vincente, right around the same time, you know, came along and had his whole thing going and everything. And it’s all great, you know, and, and I’m not

Gary Fisher 41:51
I’m not saying that I invented anything. I mean, the bikes we made were just sort of heavy duty road bikes, you know, there was no suspension or anything, you know, it’s sort of funny, wasn’t rocket science, you know, I don’t think the thing that’s the magic is marketing, and providing the product, you know, and making a really nice product, you know, in that’s what a lot of these original guys don’t they have no clue. You know, what Mike Sinyard does? He knows exactly. And then there was a john Kirkpatrick from Ross bicycles. And he passed away died of cancer, you know, in the 80s. But that guy, he understood exactly what he was doing, you know, and then, oh, what? Oh, gt Gary, Gary Turner. Uh huh. Ah, well, he, he was killed in a motorcycle wreck. I mean, that guy. He could have changed everything. You know, there’s like all these great people to like, get people excited about doing something and say, here it is. Let’s go. And then the next part is making more places that people can go right. And what was fantastic about off road was like, Wow, there was just endless opportunity, you know, out there, and especially in those days in, you know, in the 70s, late 70s, early 80s. I mean, very few people were going out into the woods, and this was such a fun way to get out in the woods.

Carlton Reid 41:53
So, what we’re going to get onto that, but I do like, let’s get to that point mention the Larkspur Canyon gangs, theor which was “no cars, no cops, no concrete.” So you’re getting away from from everything.

Gary Fisher 43:38
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And those that was like, those are my friends. Some of my friends in high school at Redwood high school that I met and how we met was more through the drum circle thing.

Carlton Reid 43:54
Gary, we will get there I promise.

Gary Fisher 43:56
I’m jumping around.

Carlton Reid 43:58
No, no, it’s fine. It’s a weird way of going through this one. I recognise that? So you’ve mentioned him a few times. We can now now now bring him into the story officially. So 1980 you’ve introduced bull moose handlebars, Shimano free hubs and bear trap pedals onto mountain bikes, machines and your machines to set the scene are about $1500 at this point,

Carlton Reid 44:25
and then Mike Sinyard who went now introducing of Specialized gets one of your bikes, buys one of your bikes, whatever. And then the Specialized Stumpjumper is roughly your bike but $750

Gary Fisher 44:41
Well, actually, we had a bike at that moment that he came out with one for $995 there was a cheaper bike that was equipped, almost identical, but it was a domestic made frame. You know, so yeah, it killed my sales for about a month and then he ran out of bikes.

Gary Fisher 44:59
My bike sold even better, because he marketed his bikes really well. And when you’re an orphan out there all by yourself, people go, I don’t know, when you got five other hot competitors that are going for it. Everybody’s going like this is it, man? This is it, you know? So Mike did help open up the whole thing, you know? And

Gary Fisher 45:21
some of our guys were like, oh, how can he ever do that? You know, it’s like, come on, how could he not, you know, he bought four bikes from me. And he enjoyed it a lot. He liked it. You know? He said, Yeah, and this is gonna work and he’s not stupid. You know? I mean, it wasn’t a real stretch to see that this thing was gonna work.

Carlton Reid 45:43
So this Stumpjumper is generally considered by most people to be like the first in inverted commas commercial, man, like not not like me, you had a commercial bike, not us selling them. But the first one done by like a manufacturer.

Gary Fisher 45:57
Yeah, yeah. Well, you know, we can get into all these nitpicking

Gary Fisher 46:03
things, you know, who did this? Who did that? And everything. It’s nitpicking. A lot of it, you know, it’s like, oh, it’s like, who made the first, you know, frame from scratch in our neighbourhood? Was Craig Mitchell. Craig made the first one. And that’s why you say, That’s why Joseph is the first successful because Charlie Kelly wrote Craig’s for about a week to a couple of weeks didn’t like it. I don’t know why, you know, I think the geometry was different. And he just didn’t like it. So he took it apart and put together a different one. So that was a successful blahdy blah. I like Craig, he was an amazingly clever guy, you know. And had, I learned a lot from Craig, I learned a lot from Doug white, white industries, he was around in the 70s. Oh, man, clever, you know, and another guy, Paul Brown, Paul Brown, still around, he’s like, more like a collector knows, knows all the old equipment and all that stuff. And those were the three guys in the bike shop horizon working.

Gary Fisher 47:07
Sunshine bike works. In fact,

Gary Fisher 47:10
Ed Christensen, the owner, you know, and that great little crucible, I mean, you think that’s good. Look at this, it was sort of that attitude all the time. And at the time, I was a road tester for Bicycling magazine. Haha. And I would bring in, you know, like, the coolest things, you know, I mean, I get a new bike every month. And I knew more and more people in industry, you know, and

Gary Fisher 47:35
so I knew what was going on. I mean, that helped a lot, you know, and that was my trajectory. You know, I mean, the other guy’s in Marin didn’t work for Bicycling. And that that meant a lot, because I had an audience in front of like, all these manufacturers and everything. They, they were looking for me to look at their stuff all the time.

Carlton Reid 47:59
It was a lot. So we’ve now reached the 1970s, when of 1979. And that’s when you set up MountainBikes. So is the company name is MountainBikes, all one word? Yeah, you set that up with Charlie Kelly. And you may need Well, how many bikes did you make in that first year?

Gary Fisher 48:16
The first year is about 160 bikes.

Carlton Reid 48:19
And they were selling pretty much locally, or were you selling internationally already?

Gary Fisher 48:24
We sold all over, all over, you know, all over the place, because we had, we had a mail order catalogue, computer, and the computer, you know, it would take about three hours to sort about the 6000 names. by zip. It was like, just, but it worked. You’d I mean, all this stuff. We had a telex machine. Oh, do you remember those things?

Gary Fisher 48:48
But no, we were definitely I tried to go as far and wide as I possibly could. Because the strategy was, is to become a name, you know, to start and become a name. And it worked.

Gary Fisher 49:01
Problem was was the wrong name.

Gary Fisher 49:04
But you know, I didn’t nail it down. You know, that real big problem. But

Carlton Reid 49:10
well, it helps if it’s generic in that, man.

Gary Fisher 49:15
That’s true. I mean, it’s better to have a generic name than nothing at all.

Gary Fisher 49:19
You got to have a handle on a thing. You know, that used to be a classic thing that Trek would do they develop something and they say, Well, what do you call this?

Gary Fisher 49:29
We get out there to do the presentation. I say, oh, what do you call this and have some sort of like, cryptic description, you know? No, no, no, no. It’s like when you conceive of the product, you better start with a name. Right then, you know, get the whole thing rolling because this is it’s almost as important as the thing itself. It’s just amazing.

Carlton Reid 49:54
So 1977 Yes, Gary. You placed fifth at the cyclocross.

Carlton Reid 50:00
nationals so we’re going to talk about your your progress as a racer in a second as we get earlier into your, your your life story.

Carlton Reid 50:09
But perhaps have more renown to most people who, who who know your story is you set the fastest time in the Repack. So what is the Repack.

Gary Fisher 50:20
The repack, race is about two mile long downhill. And it was a pretty big deal for a while, you know, locally, people would talk about it a lot, and and so is the first sort of dirt time trial, you know, and I managed to win the thing a few times, and then set the record on it, you know, and it was a scary thing for me. But

Gary Fisher 50:47
I learned a lot of bike handling by riding a mountain bike because and you do because you get all these opportunities for the wheels to lose traction in a road bike that only happens once every six months. And when it happens, it’s like if you don’t know what to do, you fall down, boom, you know, boom, go down. mountain bike, you know, and you go out on a slippery day, and you’ll get 1000 opportunities for the wheels to slip. So you’ll learn how to deal with how the wheel slip. It’s a beautiful thing.

Carlton Reid 51:16
so these are just two miles. Yeah, down a fire road down.

Carlton Reid 51:22
Mount Tamalpais is right? in Marin County.

Gary Fisher 51:25

Carlton Reid 51:26
And there’s a how many how many people are taking part in when it ended when you got the final one, how many people were riding at that point?

Gary Fisher 51:33
will be about 50, 70. People would show up and actually write it. It’d be another, you know, 150 spectators. But that race got into a segment of evening magazine. And evening magazine did an eight minute long segment on it. And they showed it nationwide. And that won an award for him for the year. It was hot, you know, and it was just this, like, you know, the mountain bikers, this combination of like, this is insane. Oh, no, you’re not supposed to ride bikes off road, people thought this is crazy. And then the reality was, it was extremely practical. Because there’s this heavy duty bike, you know, where the tire stay inflated, where it had a practical,

Gary Fisher 52:18
more or less upright position with the shifters right there at your fingertips with a relatively wide saddle and everything. And that was, you know, a golden combination, because anybody could ride this thing. And anybody could dream about you know, riding over a mountain. And that was, you know, it was perfect that way.

Carlton Reid 52:38
So how come you have the fastest time? Because it stopped? And why did it stop? You can no longer ride it in effect?

Carlton Reid 52:48
Sso what why is that?

Gary Fisher 52:50
Now you can ride it on Strava and a beaten record.

Gary Fisher 52:56
Officially, you can ride that fire, that that trail, go check it out on Strava is there and I think somebody like got me by about 20 seconds. Uh huh. No, but we practice like crazy. That’s why the wait time was good. Go out and do it again. And again, and again. And again. And again.

Carlton Reid 53:15
This is in jeans and woodsmen shirt. And and yeah,

Gary Fisher 53:19
and what loves this is not like, you know,

Gary Fisher 53:22
you know, on armour here, you’re not wearing a helmet and you’re not wearing it didn’t exist. Like, it still exists. And lycra was like, was uncool. I mean, if I was like or barely existed, it was a woolly jersey, you know, you know, what’s the difference between that, you know, but I did, I would switch out the steel toed boots for a, you know, a pair of Nike trainers, you know, for the race and everything. And I did on a couple occasions, I put a double chainring setup on the front. Well, while the cyclocross guard thing, you know, we take two chain rings that you take all the teeth off of, and you sandwich a single chain ring, the old school classic cyclocross setup, because that worked really well to keep the chain on.

Gary Fisher 54:09
I use that I set that up a few times for the race and everything, but it was I did a faster time, simply because that day had a tailwind and the, the dirt was in the right condition, you know,

Carlton Reid 54:23
And then what Joe Breeze would be your main competitor?

Gary Fisher 54:27
Joe would be you know, real close to me. Joe is really good. He’s still a good downhiller. You know,

Carlton Reid 54:35
I’ve done that many times. With with Joe so yes, I do know he’s, he’s very good on the bike.

Gary Fisher 54:41
Yeah, he’s good, you know, but they’re, I mean, come on. I mean, today, these guys, these downhillers

Gary Fisher 54:49
there’s a whole nother world is so good, it’s amazing. I love to watch Danny Hart, you know, he created this whole technique of you know, when you have no traction, how to

Gary Fisher 55:00
To get traction, oh, amazing. And there’s a number of other kids that can do it now, like Danny, and, you know, you look at the different techniques are amazing, you know, and how, how they can go and that mean the Frenchman Luke Bruni, and, you know, Lauren Villa and Aaron gwin, and all this, you know, I love watching the modern stuff, you know, but the bikes are on a completely different level. I mean, the type of suspensions that are out there now, are incredible. I mean, I know this, I mean, I ride, I ride suspension, a ride suspension B, and like, wow, there’s a huge difference, you know, between they look the same, but, and this thing, like, this is a miracle when I ride this bike, you know, and, and then the trail builders, you know, it’s, it’s amazing, you know, they’re using algorithms now

Gary Fisher 55:52
to, you know, figure out, you know, how this thing launches, how I can go through here, where I landed everything, it’s amazing. And that’s what I see is, I want to bring that technology more to the urban landscape. And, for two reasons, for one, is it we’d have less dangerous bike routes, bike paths, because some of those bypass are just awful. I mean, they get designed in two dimensions, and the people designing them have very little idea of how a bicycle actually functions, you know, that the worst of bike path.

Gary Fisher 56:32
So to really bring up the quality of bike path, and then secondly, to be able to have fun,

Gary Fisher 56:39
which is something that needs to be imported into the cities. And, you know, we can have a Safe Routes to School commuter routes, but also, you know, features and go routes, you know, because kids, humans need to stress themselves in that, you know, it’s the old thing, you either use it or lose it, you know, if you don’t use a bodily function, and it’ll deteriorate.

Carlton Reid 57:04
So it’s not chronological, but it’s elsewhere in the book, where you actually talk about, like, the pump tracks, in Fruita, where they’re basically the, on the bike paths on the route to school. So the kids are on the pump tracks, but it’s actually getting them to school at the same time.

Gary Fisher 57:21
And they’re pretty cool, having fun with the school, they’re more focused. And we now have the studies to say, this is for real, you know, we used to be, you know, thinking, I have these gut feelings. I know, this is right, I know this is right. And now we’ve got all these peer reviewed medical papers that say, guess what, you were right.

Gary Fisher 57:41
So it’s a, I feel really good about being, you know, that just a huge campaigner. And what I really like is my bosses go, you know, that’s what I like you doing, you know, like you campaigning about this. And that’s a see right now, there’s some really intense times, you know, we can, especially in states and the UK, psyche, you know, you can give it up to the car guys again, or we can make some real change, and it’s a watch the struggles you’re going through. And that’s the the biggest is once you change the matter, between the ears, the grey matter, everything else is easy. And you are in that battle. And I I really admire what you’re doing, you know, and and all the others that we have that are fighting this intellectual battle, to like, tell the Emperor that he’s wearing no clothes to say you know, that the automobile does not work for cities.

Carlton Reid 58:41
Well, you do have a Transportation Secretary now that that’s it talking that language anywhere like Mayor Pete is talking about that kind of stuff. So we’ll see where that goes. But I want to stick to history. Okay, so we’re now back to 1976. And you’ve already mentioned that you are working for Bicycling magazine, but this is when you start working for Bicycling magazine. So that’s absolutely a big deal. Yeah. As you said, you know, you’re getting kit, you are getting recognition. So how’d you get the deal with Bicycling? Because that that’s that’s it is a big deal. Well,

Gary Fisher 59:11
Well, Bill Fields, walks into the shop is working out and he says, hey, I’ve we’ve heard that you’re a really good bike racer, we want you can you write an article for, you know, Bicycling magazine through the road test? And I said, Yes. And let me tell you, I was not a rider. Boy, I agonised over the first few months and everything, but it worked out, you know, and I just really wanted to do it. I just really wanted to do it, you know, period.

Carlton Reid 59:41
And at this point, you were, as you said, you are you’re a racer. So you are

Carlton Reid 59:47
like, You’re like a you’re an up and coming.

Carlton Reid 59:52
road racer. There’s a track just been built, I believe you say in your book. So you’re basically a roadie.

Gary Fisher 59:58
Yeah. Well, I love by

Gary Fisher 1:00:00
I mean, I wanted to do nothing more than riding a bike. I mean, to me, I mean, it was like, the greatest sport there ever was. And I still feel it. You know, I still like tell the guys, you know, racing, I say, look, you doing the most fun thing in the world? You know? Yeah, it’s intense. Yeah, it’s hard sometimes. But you know what, this is the most incredible thing in the world. And I, I still feel that way. You know, it’s a

Gary Fisher 1:00:27
it’s a fantastic sport, you know, involves a lot of science, a lot of strategy and a lot of physicality.

Carlton Reid 1:00:37
So 1972 that’s actually when you met Charlie Kelly. And you says here that you each had the same bike, and the same interests and you became roommates. Right. So that was long before you started a business together. Yeah. So where was that? Where was that actually saying here where that was?

Gary Fisher 1:00:58
Oh, that was in San Anselmo. And it was right above this recording studio. They called the church. And you know, bands like Huey Lewis in the news, they did all their stuff in there. And sons of champion that was a band Charlie worked for, and it was a 21. Humboldt. And there was this perfect little pad right up there. And Charlie was a roadie. And I’ve been hanging out in living with musicians, you know, I was living with a band called new writers of the purple sage and

Gary Fisher 1:01:31
big old house in Canfield in what happens the band becomes really popular. And then everybody goes out and buys her own house gets their own place.

Gary Fisher 1:01:39
So I had to go find my own place. And I was tired of living of rock and rollers, in a way.

Gary Fisher 1:01:48
And Charlie, well, Charlie’s still a rock and roller, but then it was like he was a sort of an athlete. So that was a lot of fun.

Carlton Reid 1:01:55
We’re going to get on to your your rock and roll background or your hippie background or whatever you want to describe it as? And we would absolutely want to talk about that. But I can. I’ve written some notes here, because it says 1971 that’s when you start racing again, right? Because we’re going to go into the there was a hiatus there was a gap in which you you were doing stuff to your body that wasn’t just

Carlton Reid 1:02:17
temple and athletic stuff. But I did my notes here are just saying.

Carlton Reid 1:02:23
Cycling, in effect became your new drug. Your new high. Yeah. So you got back into it. You’re you’re coming from a scene that had soured

Carlton Reid 1:02:35
like a drug. psychedelia.

Gary Fisher 1:02:38
LSD was seen. It was it was, you know, parts of it were

Gary Fisher 1:02:44
incredible. I mean, you know, I hung out with

Gary Fisher 1:02:47
Jack Leary. I mean, Timothy’s son, you know, I used to work for the Mayor, you know, the guy who made more LSD than anybody on the planet, you know, a hork.

Gary Fisher 1:02:57
Ken Kesey, I used to go hang out on his farm. You know, I used to hang out with

Gary Fisher 1:03:03
LSD guys of the time. Yeah, he was an author No One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest unit, you know, that book, and now they’re doing a movie, a new version of the movie, while a TV version of jack nicholson was in the original, but it was, you know, it was a lot about consciousness expansion. And it totally got out of hand, and I watched it, you know, I saw the whole thing, you know, and it was stupid. It went from being something really incredible. I mean, yeah, the temple, taking care of the temple, you know, as to abusing the temple.

Gary Fisher 1:03:41
When, you know, off the hook, you know, I always said, I watched the, the ultimate thing get organised, right, I knew all the organisers, and then we’d hang out in the meetings and stuff. It’s the ultimate was like a, it was gonna be another Woodstock. But it was originally like, we’re going to get the Beatles there. That didn’t work out. We got the second trip the Rolling Stones.

Gary Fisher 1:04:04
And we’re gonna do it in Golden Gate Park. Well, the city of San Francisco wouldn’t allow it. And then it got shifted over to this big Motor Speedway up serious point. But then the owner a serious point, one of the owners found out that the Rolling Stones were gonna film a movie there, you know, and he wanted a piece of the action and everything. And that went to South and then within, you know, one day, they changed the venue to this other place and ultimate. And it was just a frickin like a disaster. And it could have been much worse. I mean, it could have been even worse, you know, I mean, though, the deaths are staggering. And for this, you know, and I mean, Mick Jagger could have lost his life that day. I mean, seriously, you know, it was nuts, you know, and it was like, This is the stupidest ass dream. You know? I’m getting out of here. Yeah, this

Gary Fisher 1:05:00
is a mess, you know. And it’s funny. I mean, cooler heads prevailed. I mean, Bill Graham took over the whole promotion thing. And I knew Bill Graham, I worked for him too. You know, he was a, he had his act together, tough old New Yorker, you know, and they needed to be worked out the way it did. But it was sort of like the dream was over. You know, I mean, literally, after that, that was in December of 1969, thousands of people have left San Francisco and went elsewhere. Because that that didn’t work. You know, it wasn’t working, you know. And I said to myself, I’m going back and doing the bike. The bike never lied to me. biker was always good to me. I love the bike.

Carlton Reid 1:05:43
So you go back and race race the bike again. And

Gary Fisher 1:05:48
that’s all I wanted to do at that moment. So roughly 1968 to 1970.

Carlton Reid 1:05:54
When you part of this alternative scene

Carlton Reid 1:05:58
Roughly, were you still riding a bike during those two years?

Gary Fisher 1:06:01
Not for beans. You know, it was more than it was about four year period, we

Gary Fisher 1:06:08
did the light show thing. And that was pretty heavy duty. And the guy did it with you know, started, he wound up being the father of Visual Basic, he did a big company that he just couldn’t keep up. Yeah.

Carlton Reid 1:06:22
And Alan Cooper is on Twitter, I follow Alan.

Gary Fisher 1:06:25
So yeah, and he’s really used to make stuff. Oh, man, we had a good time making stuff.

Gary Fisher 1:06:32
You know, and I’ll go do some more stuff with him. Again, I get some fantasies, doing some more stuff with Alan.

Carlton Reid 1:06:39
So that the photographs in the book are fabulous. And the most evocative ones for me are of this period, in that, obviously, they’re very colourful. It’s the oils, and it’s the light shows you are putting on. So basically, you were doing light shows for Grateful Dead, and bands like that. So tell me what a light show was, what what exactly was it and how did you do it?

Gary Fisher 1:07:01
Well, it’s changed, the technology’s changed completely. But back in those days it used, we use slide projectors, which were two by two slide projectors. And so you’d have maybe I had eight of those

Gary Fisher 1:07:17
overhead projectors, which is a 10 by 10 inch.

Gary Fisher 1:07:22
You know, you put liquids on those. And those had to be like modified, everything had to be modified. Oh my god, 16 millimetre film projectors, I had the 16 millimetre film projectors, I modified their old Keystone projectors, and I put a separate a different motor on the drive. And then there was a motor for the film gate, the air over the film gate, a fan over the film, gate, and then a fan over the bulb, these things doing 1200 at 1200 watt bulbs, oh my god. And you could run up to 60 frames a second on these because they were you know, 24 frames a second is a standard and everything, but I can run them super fast. Or I could go you know, one at a time down to zero, you know, DC motors. And you turn off the fan and a film gate and you go like one frame at a time and you use black film and a film would burn and go on the screen and go poof poof, poof, another effect was using film loops. And you could do one or two film loops in this one gate, you know, and it’s like, every projector was modified you know and he said, you know, mounts for colour wheels on him the whole ways a colour wheels mean colour wheels, nobody would ever use those anymore. Use electronica to do things. liquids, you know, boy, it was oils based on oil and alcohol based colours and the oil colours, especially we worked really hard on making them super transparent. And you could take a drop of this oil and mix it with clear oil and colourize it but you could look through the whole bottle. It was amazing. And, you know, the clock faces were from real clocks, you know, and you get glass clock faces that matched each other correctly. I’m telling you, there’s so much detail in this. It’s nuts. And there was about 50 different light shows in well, and in the Bay Area. And in New York, where were light shows were and a few in LA or a few out down there. And we had a thing called a light artists guild after a while, you know, because

Gary Fisher 1:09:33
we weren’t getting the kind of money we wanted, you know, that type of thing. And there were 50 members 50 deeper member groups, and I was a big part of that thing in the end. And we struck the family dog and a beach when a Grateful Dead were playing and dead wouldn’t cross the picket line. I ran it a generator and we projected on the outside of the building and no one would go in and

Carlton Reid 1:09:56
18 or 19 at this point?

Gary Fisher 1:09:59
You know, when I was like, 16, you know, 16, 17, 18, 19 you know, I still have a lot of the equipment. And it’s funny, and

Gary Fisher 1:10:11
it was a scene. I learned a lot through that, that business.

Carlton Reid 1:10:15
And you had you had very long hair then. So there’s some photographs in the book. You had long hair. I do. You’re free. I mean, that’s what a freak was. Yeah. Somebody who was buying into that scene had the long hair was doing the LSD.

Gary Fisher 1:10:28
Oh, no, yeah. But there got to be like,

Gary Fisher 1:10:34
people had all this stuff on the outside, could take the drugs in the inside, and still be idiots.

Gary Fisher 1:10:41
You know, it was like it, it was the whole thing went off of the tracks. And I think I talked about it, like cocaine came into the whole scene. And I’ll never forget it. There I am, you know, the hit the dead house. And like, this guy from New York comes with this huge tin of coke. And he says, It’s organic, and it’s not addictive. And people believed him. I couldn’t believe it. And it was, you know, people like owlsley and illyrian. And all these other guys who like, stay away from that stuff, man, that stuff messes up your head, you know, and did it mess people up. It’s not a good drug. And fetta means that drug is not good for the brain at all. It takes brain you know, about a year to heal from that stuff. And right, you know, psychedelics are a different animal, you know, and today they’re doing psychedelics again. But they’ll do 10 micrograms, LSD were like, we were doing 50 to 100. You know, which is too much, you know, it’s excess excess is stupid. You know? And that’s the big lesson out of the whole consciousness expansion, you figure out, hey, excess on all levels is stupid.

Gary Fisher 1:11:54
You know, and here we are today excess. See, you had long hair.

Carlton Reid 1:12:00
But then if we skip back another couple of years to 1966, that’s when you can make a Cat A junior racer, and it says here with regular top five finishes. But then you got banned for racing for having long hair. And I’ve looked at a photograph that wasn’t very long, right?

Gary Fisher 1:12:17
At that point. That was quite a No, in fact, Joe Breeze showed me a photo of myself as the last race. I rode, you know, before I get kicked out, and it was like my hair barely went over my ears. You know?

Carlton Reid 1:12:34
So you’re a Cat A junior racer, and this is on your first kind of custom built bike. And that’s a paragon.

Gary Fisher 1:12:42
Oh, yeah. Paragon. That was Lars Zabrasky. He built those bikes.

Gary Fisher 1:12:48
Really cool guy. I know.

Carlton Reid 1:12:51
And what kind of gears because you had you had Oh, it was a That one’s a weirdo setup that had the simplex, the plastic derailleurs. Remember that as being between the lines that the making trying to make it light.

Carlton Reid 1:13:02
So you were using campagnolotrying to make a light bike. So that’s why using the simplex, I use

Gary Fisher 1:13:08
derailleurs and it used Mayfac cantilever brakes.

Gary Fisher 1:13:14
Those were like that was and a TA crank set. And it was the old ones that they had there. an alloy crank set that was cottered.

Gary Fisher 1:13:23
you remember, and it had sort of a shaped bottom bracket spindle.

Carlton Reid 1:13:32
Okay, we’re skimminh back fast now, so 1962 that’s when you get your first serious racing bike. A Legano but that does have come with Campagnolo.

Gary Fisher 1:13:43
Yeah, yeah. And, oh, man, Distrone cottered crank set, you know, steel crank set.

Gary Fisher 1:13:47
And there was no such thing as Campagnolo brakes at that time? No, it’s just the derailleurs

Gary Fisher 1:13:57
Oh, and I found a good set of wheels. That was something that was a, I was hanging out at the bike shop and had some kid there that says, Hey, I got these wheels. I want to trade for a pair of clinchers. And like, you do okay, boom, boom, you know, it was a set of a high flange Campag hubs.

Gary Fisher 1:14:14
Set a few army Red Label rooms. Let’s go.

Carlton Reid 1:14:18
Describe the racing scene at that point. So we are talking

Carlton Reid 1:14:24
mid 1950s we’re getting towards the end of the 1950s

Gary Fisher 1:14:28
No, no, no, no. Like, I got into it. And like

Carlton Reid 1:14:32
sorry, 63. So I’m going I’m going I’m flipping myself here because you got your first bike in case for sorry. So 63 I mean, and I mean, road racing must have been pretty small.

Gary Fisher 1:14:41
But there were 120 registered riders and all in Northern California. And in those days, if you wrote a bike seriously at all, you would register with trh ABVLA even if you didn’t race. And that’s how few riders were there was like two women. You know, there were seven intermediate state

Gary Fisher 1:15:00
That was my category. You know, you’d see somebody on a road that wasn’t obvious DUI victim or some kid, and you’d stop them and exchange phone numbers. And otherwise you knew who it was for sure.

Gary Fisher 1:15:17
that few people, you know, but it was very chummy, so to speak.

Carlton Reid 1:15:23
And how did you get into racing? So, in 1954, you got your first biker Schwinn Spitfire, but these aren’t, these aren’t racing bikes. So how’d you start actually, racing?

Gary Fisher 1:15:34
Well, I was, I was hanging out at the bike shop and was the San Mateo bike shop, a Schwinn shop. And these guys that show up, and we’re gonna go on a ride, and once these guys were like, 15, 17, 18, and they were looking at me, you can’t come You can’t come. Because I was like, I was 12. I was like, tiny. I was like five foot four. And it was like 89 pounds skinny. And I said, Yeah, I can come and I just started riding with them. And they didn’t get rid of me. And at the end of the ride, they said, Yeah, you can. You can be in a club. You can be a mascot, and I started crying. I didn’t want to be mascot. I want to be a regular member. So okay, okay. We’ll make you a regular member. And, you know, that was a Belmont bike club. So it was the first club I joined.

Carlton Reid 1:16:23
Cuz there’s some Brits there. Yeah. Who, Larry Walpole. There’s a few few Brits like that. We’re like, basically organising this club. Yeah. So you would like brought into the scene by Brits?

Gary Fisher 1:16:33
Well, yeah, I mean, Larry, especially, I mean, he was a

Gary Fisher 1:16:36
he’s from East London. He had that, you know, that accent and he was hilarious. And he was a mechanic for Pan-Am. And he took care of me, you know, we do 80 mile rides, and he makes sure I made it, you know, a whole thing. And then Ray Andrews, Ray Andrews was a racer. He was a Brit, living in the States.

Gary Fisher 1:16:59
But he was a top category racer, you know, good road racer.

Gary Fisher 1:17:05
So, yeah, he taught me how to drink tea.

Gary Fisher 1:17:09
And Larry, Larry, though, and he get British Cycling Weekly, and then Miroir Du Cycliste, you know, the, and that was the window, you know, you got to consider, I mean, there was no such thing as video, you know, so you couldn’t rent a video of some race or something. And, you know, I remember seeing his 16 millimetre film with some World Championships. But that was all I ever saw of a European race until I was in my 20s, and actually went to Europe. And us, you just wouldn’t see how right or road or how pack function or any of those physical things, you know, is really different. And, you know, and writing races in those days was far different. And then you’d have, there’d be 20, guys that could go fast, and then it’d be 15. And then then it just be five, you know, it would just get whittled down so fast and be ridiculous, you know, and, and then later on, when I was racing, and especially you go to the national championships or something, and there’d be 100 really good riders. That was different, you know, and the whole concept of going to something like the Tour de France, where you’ve got 150 riders that are like so incredibly good. No, that was something that was just like a dream. You know?

Carlton Reid 1:18:27
To help me visualise this, I’m just mentioning here Breaking Away. So Breaking Away is a different part of the US. It’s not, it’s not California, but is Breaking Away. Is that a good way of visualising this scene? Is it How accurate is breaking away to that kind of racing era?

Gary Fisher 1:18:43
My mother used to say all the time, “that was a movie about you, Gary.”

Carlton Reid 1:18:49
I met I met Oh, who is the guy? Dennis Christopher. I met him. Nice guy. But

Gary Fisher 1:18:57
I mean, in different scene in it, that was the Midwest and in the Midwest, you know, it’s, there’s a portion of it that is highly organised, you know, and that was the actual event and everything, you know that

Gary Fisher 1:19:09
they did a good job on their event, even though it was like absolutely bizarre, you know, the way that thing the, the Little Indy 500 runs and everything. Whereas in California,

Gary Fisher 1:19:21
Northern Southern California was sort of the where roadracing came back. It had almost died, you know, they hadn’t had a national championships for a number of years. And in 65, they did a, they included it in the nationals in Southern California, a road race for the first time in a long time, because there were enough people doing it and sort of came out of California and it was more

Gary Fisher 1:19:47
more independence in a really different feeling. You know, the Midwest where things were families and well organised and everything. And out here it was some awesome races, but when

Gary Fisher 1:20:00
Wasn’t organised, like, you know, like to do in the Midwest. I mean, the biggest race we had out here was back in those days was tour Nevada city, you know, for Northern California, and Southern Cal had a few big races. And then there are a number of races that would happen, you know, I mean, like mount Hamilton race. When I was 17. I organised race. I was the promoter, because I was in this club Pedali Alpini. And you had I don’t know how old was I? I don’t know if I know I was 20 when I organised that race. But I was it was my turn to organise a race, you know.

Gary Fisher 1:20:39
And that’s how loose it was, you know, everybody had to take a turn in a club of organising the race. Can you imagine? And it wasn’t so bad when there’s only 75 riders in all categories combined. You know, so,

Gary Fisher 1:20:55
but, no, it wasn’t well organised. It wasn’t something. It was tiny, you know, but I loved it. I completely loved it. And

Carlton Reid 1:21:06
1955 you’re five years old? And that’s when you moved to San Francisco, in effect from from?

Gary Fisher 1:21:14
Well, from Oakland, California. Well, yes. And no, I mean,

Gary Fisher 1:21:19
I was not. When I was six months old. We I was born in Oakland. My father was in the Navy. When I was six months old. We took a ship to Guam. My mother said, Yeah, you got seasick.

Gary Fisher 1:21:32
My mother was a singer, my mother was in an entertainer, my mother’s saying in a nightclubs, my mother got the attraction of like one of the islanders, a big guys, you know, like a native guy. And

Gary Fisher 1:21:46
my father got really jealous. My mother said, Forget about it. And she moved back to Beverly Hills took me with her when I was three and a half.

Gary Fisher 1:21:57
And we looked at my grandfather, and my grandfather worked for Warner Brothers. And he was a script or a script supervisor. And he invented that job. And he was actually really well known in Hollywood.

Carlton Reid 1:22:13
That’s some great photographs in the book. I’m now skimming through it here. of him is his horse, the the like, the script table.

Carlton Reid 1:22:20
Yeah. With all these fantastic movie, you know, movie scenes that he’s in, you know, obviously, behind the scenes, but clearly big blockbuster movies going on with some big major stars.

Gary Fisher 1:22:31
He was the guy that told the actors, this is what you’re gonna say, this is how you say it. Right? So I got these photos of him and he’s right in the centre of action. You know, he’s, you know, he’s the director is there, making sure everything’s going right. Doing things but my grandfather’s the guy that’s like, Okay, next slide. Next slide. Next slide. Next slide.

Gary Fisher 1:22:55
And he’s taking me on a set. you’d bring Ronald Reagan, Joan Crawford, Errol Flynn, Dora House,

Gary Fisher 1:23:01
we, we go to this park where the Disney’s were hanging out, and they were, you know, his little rat hole Park, in Hollywood, where all actors bring their kids, Walt Disney and his family show up and he go on about, I’m going to build this park for the family and everything. And he did you know, and we went to opening day and it was crazy and everything. Then later, Mike, my, my best friend around the corner and I we built a Disneyland in his backyard. My mother says, Oh, hey. And my mother, you know, I’m 90 years old last year, she says to me, “Gary, you know, this is about marketing, and how you provide press releases press for

Gary Fisher 1:23:42
media,” she says, Gary, you’re doing their job for them. Okay, let’s go back to LA. You know, she’s she calls up three different newspapers, including the LA Times and says, Hey, I got a story for you. They come out and do us run a story on us. You know, five years old, I’m in the LA Times. Right?

Carlton Reid 1:24:03
Yeah, I mean, in your book, I can actually say it’s where I learned, you know, that’s where I see

Carlton Reid 1:24:10
like good good at PR and presenting yourself so what I haven’t been able to track down in the book I mean, that there’s there’s disparate mentions of it everywhere in the book, but there’s not like one section that I’d like to do your fashion sense because that’s clearly what an awful lot of people will know about you and and especially your with your penchant for suits. Basically, you’re famous for your suit your Paul Smith suits, there was a Paul Smith connection in cycling Of course, because he was he was it is a big time cycle fan. And you’ve had Tom Baker suit, you’ve had all sorts of weird that fashion sense come from when did it generate and

Carlton Reid 1:24:53
the thread seems to be very early from like, you know, like the freak days where you’re you’re you?

Gary Fisher 1:25:00
We’re doing different stuff. No, in fact, while I’m my mother always, you know, in our family always, it was always something, you know, to be appreciated and myself was always, you know,

Gary Fisher 1:25:15
just like, you’d have a lot of fun dressing, you know, and it’s, it’s your way of presenting yourself to the world to

Gary Fisher 1:25:24
what’s funny, though, is like, it’s it ltb all those my big voice, you know, saying I’ll spend money on cars, I spend money on on suits and things is not that much money. When you buy quality. That’s, that’s the amazing thing. The quality stuff lasts a long time. And the looks last a long time, the hardest thing is to staying fit enough to fit things.

Gary Fisher 1:25:46
But it’s, I don’t know, it’s just, I appreciate it. You know, I think that’s what it is, is, if you don’t care about it, it doesn’t work, right.

Carlton Reid 1:25:57
So you do you do have the physique for these fancy suits that that set out. But it’s all a look, I mean, you could be going in a trade show anywhere in the world, and you could spot you from a long way off. So it’s trademark as well.

Gary Fisher 1:26:12
Yeah. No, it’s just, I like to do it, you know, and I know, and I,

Gary Fisher 1:26:19
it said thing to you go to where you need to go to find the very best in the world. And then you get humbled. You know, I will go to London, and hang out with my friends that they they all know so much more than I do. And I learned from them all the time, you know, and,

Gary Fisher 1:26:40
and we just have fun. You know, that’s the big thing. And it’s all about

Gary Fisher 1:26:45
having fun and, and,

Gary Fisher 1:26:48
and, you know, you’re evoking these looks from different places, different ideas and things and having a good time with it.

Gary Fisher 1:26:56
That said, I mean, it’s, I love it, but it’s not like

Gary Fisher 1:27:02
I’m not making my living with it. I you know, it’s not a business, I really want to be in to the fashion business. And I enjoy it and everything but

Gary Fisher 1:27:12
and I know it’s become a become well known for it.

Carlton Reid 1:27:16

Carlton Reid 1:27:20
you’ve been sat there on zooms, you know, Skype style chats, Where were your wife, Alex is in a dressing gown, and you’re, you’re in a suit. So this is a this is not a trademark, like, when you come out, you really bought into this, haven’t you?

Gary Fisher 1:27:36
You’ve like, well, it was a long time ago, I said, I’m not gonna wear a T shirt anymore.

Gary Fisher 1:27:41
Because I can’t pull it off. You know, I look right. You know, and

Gary Fisher 1:27:47
I can dress this way. And it’s easy, you know, it’s a lot easier than then you think, you know, it’s not that difficult. You know, when you find things that work a few and everything. It’s a no and and it’s really interesting because I man, I haven’t bought anything in the last year. I mean,

Gary Fisher 1:28:04
I’ve slowed down in the last five years or more, you know?

Carlton Reid 1:28:08
Yeah, it’s what’s it? Do you have a fancy dressing gown then? So when you take your suit off, and you’re getting into something more comfortable and you’re going to bed Are you like Do you also have a snazzy dressing gowns? I’m expecting like a you know, an English smoking jacket or something? What do you what do you

Gary Fisher 1:28:24
actually it’s more cartoonish. You know, it’s like boy, like, is is pretty funny. Because right now, my daughter is dressing me more than anybody. She’s the big cop. She says, Daddy, no, no, you can’t wear that. You gotta wear this. It’s hilarious. She’s, she’s something else. And the kids would just encourage that, you know, we’re just having fun. Here with this. It’s, it’s a

Gary Fisher 1:28:48
no, I don’t think about it too hard. I’m trying to me right now. I will. I mean, I, I’ll tell you, though, before I do, normally, when I go and I travel, and I do things, I think about what am I? What am I trying to present here? Who is my audience, you know, and I’ll address them but by not by too much. It’s not to go too far out there. So I’m definitely calculating. For that.

Carlton Reid 1:29:15
So, the front cover of the book. It draws in a lot of of your history so it’s got the you in the suit, it’s got you and a handlebar moustache and a hat and the shades. And then it’s got the Gary Fisher is picked out in like freak-style, you know, late 1960s

Carlton Reid 1:29:32
typography which is actually fantastic. And then on your suit, there’s a there’s a little bear on a bicycle.

Gary Fisher 1:29:40
And the bicycle is Grateful Dead, Grateful Dead always loved bicycles. They did something. You know, they bought a lot of bikes for me over the years.

Gary Fisher 1:29:49
They, they and they always believed in the whole idea. You know, the whole thing. I love my friend Howard. He’s a sound guy and for the Dead has been

Gary Fisher 1:29:59
forever. And he started a club called the Teamsters. And it used to be, and I love this example of all inclusivity.

Gary Fisher 1:30:09
He’d say, they’d say, Well, look, once you written to the top of Mount Tam, he could become a member. And then they soften the rules. They said, Well, if you say you’re going to ride to the top of Mount Tam, you could become a member. And then they want the ultimate. They said, if you think that right into the top of Mount Tam is a good idea, you can become a member. And that’s the way I want bikes to be, you know, you can be You don’t even have to do it. You just got to think it’s a good idea, then you’re my friend.

Gary Fisher 1:30:42
Right? And that’s the sort of inclusivity that I like to see. And everything is the same thing, Gary? Yeah, sorry.

Carlton Reid 1:30:50
I’m trying to wrap up here.

Carlton Reid 1:30:55
So even Gary Fisher is the name of the book. The subtitle is colour and the bicycling and the bicycle revolution. Sorry.

Carlton Reid 1:31:04
Where can people get this from? I mean, it’s Blue Train is the publisher. I mean, this is this is everywhere. This is it’s $39 99. money well spent. But where can people get it?

Gary Fisher 1:31:13
Well, that’s a story unto itself, too. Haha, we decided we aren’t going with the good old Amazon. No, no, no. And what’s funny is like, Trek is, you know, a very good distributor of bicycles. I mean, we, we sell in 100 countries. And so this is a challenge. Can we become a book distributor? Oh, my goodness. And I’ll tell you,

Gary Fisher 1:31:39
the boss, john Burke, he loves the idea of being able to distribute books. I mean, look, he’s done a few books himself. He had political books, his his philosophy in democratic politics, he would like to be a good book distributor, you know, this is something in our common interest. And like I pointed out before, I mean, it is all about the grey matter between the ears. And you know, that’s part of the job. And that is part of what I brought to Trek is this whole idea that it’s not just the physical object, it is also, you know, the, all the ideas behind that physical object.

Carlton Reid 1:32:18
So this physical object, which I’ve got on my hands now,

Carlton Reid 1:32:22
which isn’t in print, it’s not Kindle. It’s not a Kindle book is you’ve got, it’s like, it’s dripping with wonderful photographs, great typography, great. Design, the whole thing is a great package. So basically, people are gonna buy it from bike shops.

Gary Fisher 1:32:37
Yeah, that’s right. You know, online bike shops are our distribution at the moment is, to be honest. All right. And will we improve it? Absolutely. And it’s a whole process and I’m not worried.

Gary Fisher 1:32:55
I know the books gonna do really well. It’s a lot of fun.

Carlton Reid 1:32:59
It is very, it is fun. It’s I read it

Carlton Reid 1:33:04
filled in a lot of background for me cuz I’ve got I’ve got an awful lot of mountain bike history books, and bicycle history books in general. And and just the photographs are just brilliant. And including, you know, your backstory. So we haven’t really got into your ancestors hear at all, but you’ve got a fantastic bunch of ancestors there that that that built some amazing stuff. So Gary, thank you ever so much for taking the time out today to to talk to me. Absolutely. I can recommend “Being Gary Fisher.” And even better that you’ve got to go to a bike shop to go and get it. So thank you very much, Gary.

Gary Fisher 1:33:39
Thank you.

Carlton Reid 1:33:41
That was the one and only Gary Fisher and this has been Episode 268 of the Spokesmen cycling podcast. Show notes and a full transcript can be found as always at Now that’s it for this month. There’ll be another couple of episodes in March. Meanwhile, get out there and ride …

February 7, 2021 / / Blog

Your podcast catcher not showing in links above (black circle with three dots)? Loads more on PodLink. Show is also on Spotify. and Google Podcasts.

Sunday 7th February 2021

The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast

EPISODE 267: Put money on the table and let’s get these modes moving


HOST: Carlton Reid


Francois Bausch, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Mobility and Public Works, Luxembourg

Claudia Dobles Camargo, First Lady, Costa Rica

Dagmawit Moges, Minister of Transport, Ethiopia

Jürgen Zattler, Deputy Director General for Multilateral and European Policy, Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Germany

Femi Oke, broadcaster


Extracts from the closing plenary of the Transforming Transportation conference held last week. This is staged every year for the World Bank by Washington DC’s World Resources Institute.


Carlton Reid 0:13
Welcome to Episode 267 of the Spokesmen cycling podcast. This show was published on Sunday seventh of February 2021.

David Bernstein 0:24
The Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast is brought to you by Jenson USA, where you’ll always find a great selection of products at amazing prices with unparalleled customer service. For more information, just go to Hey everybody, it’s David from the Fredcast cycling podcast at I’m one of the hosts and producers of the Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast. For shownotes links and all sorts of other information please visit our website at And now, here are the Spokesmen.

Carlton Reid 1:07
“Her Excellency will be right with you …” Yes, this wasn’t your standard working-from-home Zoom meeting — I was to talk, virtually, with the First Lady of Costa Rica as well as Ethiopia’s transport minister, the deputy prime minister of Luxembough and a top government official from Germany. Hi, I’m Carlton Reid, this is the Spokesmen Cycling Podcast brought to you by Jenson USA and I was honoured to be on a panel for the closing plenary of the Transforming Transportation conference held last week. This is staged every year for the World Bank by Washington DC’s World Resources Institute. With permission I’m sharing some of the audio from this one hour panel — pleasingly, there was quite a bit of cycling content which I hope bodes well for that post-pandemic buzz phrase “let’s build back better.” The conference moderator was broadcaster Femi Oke and here she is introducing the panel.

Femi Oke 2:18
Welcome back to the main stage of Transforming Transportation 2021. This is the final plenary session. I’m going to greet the panel the panel is going to say hello to you delegates. Deputy Prime Minister Welcome to TTDC21. Tell our delegates who you are and what you do.

Francois Bausch 2:40
Hello, my name is Francois Bausch. I’m Deputy Prime Minister of Luxembourg. And in my portfolio, I have also the Ministry of mobility and public works. So it’s not the first time that I’m participating in the TTDC. So

Francois Bausch 2:59
I would love to be in Washington DC but unfortunately, it’s not possible this year. But I’m really honoured and really pleasure that I participate in this concluding debate now for this year’s conference.

Francois Bausch 3:12
Transport and mobility is my passion. And I really like discussing about out and around it.

Femi Oke 3:19
You’re in the right place. Deputy Prime Minister, we will come back to you. Claudia, if people were paying attention on the slide they saw that you were First Lady of Costa Rica. That’s a very nice title, but you have an absolutely extraordinary job. And that is why you’re here. Claudia, please introduce yourself to the delegates.

Claudia Dobles Camargo 3:39
Thank you so much. Well, good day to everybody. I am Claudia Dobles Camargo I am from Costa Rica. And I am the coordinator for the sector of infrastructure mobility, and urban planning. So I am also the First Lady, but I think the first title is the most interesting one. I am very glad to be sharing with you Costa Rica’s experience through news pandemic and our vision past pandemic. I am very honoured also to share this panel with the rest of the panellist.

Femi Oke 4:11
Thank you so much for being with us. Madam minister, welcome to transforming transportation, nice to have you remind our delegates, who you are, and what you do.

Dagmawit Moges 4:25
And I’m pleased to be part of up for the second time. I’m Dagmawit Moges from Ethiopia. I’m the Minister for Transport. It’s a pleasure for me to join the team to share our experience and to learn from others as well. Thank you very much.

Femi Oke 4:40
Oh, you’re so welcome. Hello, Carlton. So nice to see you, Carlton. Tell everybody who you are what you do.

Carlton Reid 4:48
Hi Femi, and good to see you and good to see everybody else and it’s you should have come to me last because I’m the least qualified member of the panel here in that

Carlton Reid 5:00
I’m I’m, I asked questions normally, so I don’t make decisions like the other panellists, fantastic job titles. I’m somebody who would ask those people the questions normally, but I am a journalist, I specialise in in transport. So I do work for And for The Guardian in the UK, and I’m also a historian of transport.

Femi Oke 5:31
Fantastic, Carlton. You’re very welcome. And you’re very humble, which is very British of you. Jürgen, so nice to see you. Welcome. Please, elaborate on your numerous job titles. You’re a very busy man. So glad you had time for us.

Jürgen Zattler 5:48
For me, and thanks for having me. Yes, my name is Jürgen Zattler And I am a director general in the German ministry for economic cooperation. And my responsibilities cover climate SDGs and multilateral cooperation amongst those multilateral institutions, the World Bank. And until only three months ago, I was the German executive director of the World Bank.

Femi Oke 6:19
Thank you. Thank you so much for being with us. All right. So panel, we have an hour and this is what we’re going to try to achieve. We’re going to talk about lessons from our global pandemic, for planning for the future looking at, we’re going to talk about opportunities for transport. And we’re also going to join the dots between climate change account crisis, and what that means for the climate crisis going forward. There’s a lot to do, Carlton, what would be the smartest first question to ask? And who should we ask it to?

Carlton Reid 6:52
Well, I’ve been genning up on the the other speakers I am a journalist so I do that kind of thing. And Ethiopia is fascinating, in that it bubbled up on my social media feeds a few weeks ago that Ethiopia did have this this transport plan. So it’s fantastic that Dagmawit is actually here. And that potentially, I can ask her questions on this. But what what fascinates me about Ethiopia? And maybe I’ll ask, the question, is, motoring is clearly like the elephant in the room. In many countries, many countries want to reduce motoring. And yet many countries,

Carlton Reid 7:30
perhaps in in, in places like Africa, including Ethiopia, maybe motoring is seen as something absolutely aspirational. And they want to have more and more motoring. If we’ve got so much motoring. Here in the in the West, why shouldn’t everybody else have motoring? So we’re kind of on this panel, maybe it’s going to be talking about how we want to reduce motoring for all those reasons. You mentioned, not climate change, but also congestion reasons, clean air reasons.

Carlton Reid 7:59
Importantly, health reasons, and yet many other countries. Probably don’t see it in those terms. So my first question will be to

Carlton Reid 8:11
Dagmawit from Ethiopia on on how she’s going to square that circle?

Femi Oke 8:20
Thank you.

Dagmawit Moges 8:23
So shall I go for it?

Femi Oke 8:25
I think now’s the time to answer that. Go ahead.

Dagmawit Moges 8:30
Thank you very much, it’s an excellent question. As a government, we are responsible to address the needs of our people. And we need to consider the situations that we are in, previously before the pandemic

Dagmawit Moges 8:51
was on roads for brake

Dagmawit Moges 8:55
lights. But during the pandemic, we identified that we need to focus on our people and address their need for transport.

Dagmawit Moges 9:07
serve the public. So recently, during the pandemic, were identified the first national non motorised transport user strategy in our country, which gives much emphasis for strength, and it’s likely

Dagmawit Moges 9:25
that we already

Dagmawit Moges 9:27
know ones

Dagmawit Moges 9:31
are hungry going to construct register and race and cycling lanes and give priority for transport and individual environment.

Femi Oke 9:41
I want to go to you Deputy Prime Minister, because if we’re looking at what have we learned so far, what are the opportunities going forward? I know there was something that just to me and to you stood out that people are doing now that they didn’t do two years ago and not in

Femi Oke 10:00
numbers. What is that? And how does that help us with sustainable mobility?

Francois Bausch 10:07
But I think that we are, in fact, in a double crisis already today, we are on one hands in this pandemic,

Francois Bausch 10:19
problems around. And then on the other hand, we are in the middle of another crisis, which is the climate crisis, because climate crisis will not begin after this pandemic, is already there. And I think that’s what I could observe, especially in the mobility sector, because all with all the problems that we had, for example, during the lockdowns that we had in the last year, people began to change their behaviours in the transport and mobility sector, especially, for example, in the urban areas, people discovered, really rediscovered for examples hiking in a way that would never had imagined two years ago, three years ago, I just got to my table today, the figures of a survey that launched during last year, just after the first lockdown that we had in Luxembourg, that was in March, April until May, last year. And during this survey, people told us that, for example, 23% of the population in our country that changed their behaviour during the pandemic. And even they told us that they want to keep now these changes. And most of this change came. Mostly this change came in favour of cycling, for example, nearly 60% of this part of the population of this quarter, in fact, of the population is sad that they had rediscovered cycling, and that they wants to keep it also after the pandemic and after the lockdown. And that is what we can observe. Also today, we see in our everyday life, that people are using more and more for examples hiking or biking to really do their their daily business. So not only for sports, of leisure, but only to go to work and to bring their children to school, for example.

Femi Oke 12:25
Claudia, from the perspective of Costa Rica, if you were looking forward as we are in this session, what are the opportunities that

Femi Oke 12:36
you’ve taken from a global pandemic? And you’re able to apply for mobility, sustainable mobility, urban planning? What stands out for you?

Claudia Dobles Camargo 12:49
Thank you. Well, I will have to start with what was our vision for the pandemic and how we have tried to adopt that policy pandemic. We started actually a year, two year two years ago, February 2019, we launched in Costa Rica, our decarbonisation plan, trying to reach a new vision for social economic development, more sustainable, reaching for well being quality of life, but also job creation in terms of the fourth industrial revolution. So one of the main lines of action, we have 10 lines of action in the the compensation plan. But what the main action was to create a mobility system that could be resilient, flexible and adaptive. And the truth is that, unfortunately, in Costa Rica, we have invest a lot in a vision of a private, more car centric development.

Dagmawit Moges 13:50
It’s quite interesting to hear the example of Luxembourg ignite really, I can tell you, I wish we could have that in Costa Rica. in Costa Rica people through the pandemic, they didn’t rediscover Viking because we they have to discover it in the first place. We need to create that culture in the metropolitan area and for creating that culture to provide confidence. We needed also to start providing the vision of a more pedestrian more friendly city and how these can work together with the transportation system and make it more robust market more resilient, more diverse.

Dagmawit Moges 14:31
Also, we …

Femi Oke 14:34
I was like I was just picking up on your thought about the cycling, because the Deputy Prime Minister, it wasn’t a big deal for cycling 10 years ago. I mean this there’s been a resurgence. So I’m just wondering what you will say, DPM to Claudia. Can you take that model and take it to Costa Rica? Is that even possible?

Francois Bausch 14:58
Yes, it’s possible.

Francois Bausch 15:00
Every year, you know that Luxembourg is the most car loving country in the world, I would say beside Qatar, because we have in Luxembourg, the car and the individual in mobility culture is very much present still today. And I would say when I started 78 years ago, we had already a little bit against cycling culture in different cities in the country. But even in the subject, column and country, then in Luxembourg, which has such a high degree of cost per household, for example, in Luxembourg, we have minimum, I would say, around two cars per households in Luxembourg. So even in a country like this, it’s possible to change. But the precondition is that you must really attack to build up a good cycling infrastructure, the infrastructure is the key to success to the success, so that the population will really use cycling again as a mode of transport. But on the other hand, I’m really sure especially also, because of new tools, new elements that entered in the last few years in the cycling culture, like electric bikes, people read more and more rediscover cycling. So it will be a major topic in every urban area in the world in the next 5, 10, 15, 20 years.

Femi Oke 16:29
Maybe just bring in Jürgen here, Jürgen, we’re looking forward, we’re looking at transport as a motive for change. What is Germany thinking of right now?

Femi Oke 16:40
for the future? What are you working on right now? That takes us into 2021, 22, 23? And beyond? Regarding transport?

Jürgen Zattler 16:53
Yes, thank you. It’s a very difficult question. It sounds easy, but I think it’s really challenging because there are lots of unknowns. And

Jürgen Zattler 17:06
I think the the lockdown and also,

Jürgen Zattler 17:10
what might come next has put on the table, some open issues,

Jürgen Zattler 17:17
also regarding the future of urban transport. So what we could see in Germany is a substantial drop in, in transport and public transport during the lockdown during the first lockdown, it was a drop in ticket sales of some 80%. And this really put express the financial accounts of the operators of the public operators very often. So the question is when we go back to

Jürgen Zattler 17:56
the conditions we have seen before, or will there be a kind of new normal?

Jürgen Zattler 18:02
And that’s not easy to answer this question. Because there are those variables like there might be more pandemics, there might be more awareness regarding the spread of other viruses in the population, there might be an increase in the work from home of course, which might reduce traffic, then perhaps congestion in the roads will get less CPU and people will switch to public add to private transport. And looking at private transport, we also see that shift, which has been discussed will be then costs. Will it be shared cars? Will it be bikes? Will it be shared bikes? So I think these are many variables. And it’s not easy to predict that but I think we have to take it seriously and and really be open to adjust our plans. It looks like like others said, bikes and E-bikes will be a part of the new transport future, perhaps it will come quicker than we thought. And …

Femi Oke 19:21
As we’re looking forward Carlton people often particularly in this forum, equate technology and tech with the future.

Femi Oke 19:30
I know you’ve got deep and passionate thoughts about this. Can you share them with us, please?

Carlton Reid 19:36
Well, I have been impressed that yes, I can share them for me. I have been impressed that so far. And many panels like this tend to start talking about this. We haven’t talked about electric cars. We haven’t talked about driverless vehicles. So I’m very very impressed that we haven’t talked about that because tech is sexy. And ministers like to cut ribbons. And like to

Carlton Reid 20:00
To do the sexy things, we know that, but tech is probably not the best solution to transport woes, especially post

Carlton Reid 20:11
pandemic, and all sorts of reasons. So automotive deaths, and gridlock will not be banished by autonomous vehicles or electric cars. So for cities of the future, for them to be sustainable, truly sustainable to be resilient. For true mobility, we’re gonna have to boost bicycling, walking, and public transport. So I’m glad that we have touched on all those things. And can I actually ask a question? For me while while I’m on here, I would like to ask a question. But this is first of all to Francois because before the pandemic, I was doing stories on Luxembourg, because in Luxembourg

Carlton Reid 20:54
public transit was free. It was one of the first places where to get people out of cars was yes to have the the infrastructure cycling infrastructure Francois was talking about, but also to have public transport free. Now the pandemic clearly has knocked. As Francois said 80% public transports been knocked massively. But going forward, once the pandemics entered the way the question to Francois is, is it still gonna be free for public transport for public transit? And how are you going to get people back on to public transit when we know they’ve been really, really afraid to mix with people in close proximity?

Francois Bausch 21:41
Thanks for this question. And it’s a little bit also what you said already, the whole scenario that we had an enormous drop in using mass transit or public transport. But I’m really convinced that is only a momentum. And it’s the momentum of the pandemic, because we could observe this during two or three months in the last year’s because we had in Luxembourg, a lockdown that went from March to May. But from June to October, I would say that situation was nearly normal. And immediately, the figures in the public transport in mass transport when rushed up again. So I really I can’t, I’m convinced that at the end of this pandemic, and when we have it under control or ready, and that will be the case, during this year, I’m sure about this, because of the vaccines and so on, we will see that a society with very fast and very quick, really go up again, even I am very optimistic also even about the recovery of the economy. And what is interesting is

Francois Bausch 22:57
we continued during all the time to defend our mobility change plan that we launched seven years ago. And even if even knowing that attention during seven or eight months, was much lower, because everybody discussed only about the virus, immediately, I can feel that the discussion around mobility and mobility problems that we have in Luxembourg, also congestion problems because we have a very specific situation. by country we have, for example, 250,000 commuters coming from France, from Germany from begging everyday to work to Luxembourg. That poses an enormous problem in the mobility organisation. I’m convinced of what we started seven years in Luxembourg seven years ago in Luxembourg, with an enormous investment programme in to change the mobility system because I really wanted to underline this.

Francois Bausch 23:52
Technology is a tool. It is tool that we can use. But we must change the system, the mobility system. And I think I’m really optimistic that with what population has lived in the last year, it’s much easier, it would be much easier to discuss this than it was before before the pandemic

Femi Oke 24:11
That’s such a good point. I am going to panel, take some time for our delegates who have a lot of questions for you. So this is our plan.

Femi Oke 24:23
I will ask the question on behalf of the delegates, and you will come back with a very pithy response, which means that we can get a lot of questions into the rest of our session. So these are instant thoughts back to the delegates. Thank you very much for your cooperation on this one. I’m going to start in Addis Ababa, Madam Minister standby. This is from Wendy Jia. Wendy says that Addis deployed a bike lane during the COVID pandemic which was very popular. The city is moving ahead with corridor improvements, including bicycle lanes, bicycle parking, and

Femi Oke 25:00
widened sidewalks. I am smiling so wide now I am so gonna go cycling, if I can get to Addis sometime in the future. How did this go down? I love the idea of biking in Addis madam minister, quick response.

Femi Oke 25:15
How did you make that happen?

Dagmawit Moges 25:18
Thank you so much. Very Yes, we’re doing it with our partners, because we believe that this is one alternative that we need to provide to our people. Because when we were not able to utilise the public transport, we need to find ways to enhance the cycling culture in our people. So we started in the capital city. But we believe that we need to do a lot ahead. Even in urban areas, which is not the capital, there was a trend of cycling, but it was completely shifted within the five or five or seven years, we’re trying hard to bring back that culture. We started it with a competent, even in the capital, we need to extend the links that we have started, because at least there has to be accomplished circuit. If we have the smooth pedestrian and cycling links, we believe that no city is too large for our residents to use that option as mode of transport. So if we have to do that, if we are going to be able to do that, we’re going to address the supply and demand gap which is vividly visible in most developing urban centres just like ours. So yes, we started it, you’ll be most welcome to come and bike in Addis, and we’ll have even in other countries.

Femi Oke 26:41
This question is for you Carlton and it comes from Nirmal Shetty. Thank you Nirmal, it is nice to promote cycling, provided that they’re safe on the road. And the safety is addressed. There’s new road infrastructure can make provision for lanes for bikes and pedestrians. How can we address road safety in existing roads, it’s especially in low and middle income countries. I should say that Carlton is written a book all about bikes, Bike Boom.

Carlton Reid 27:12
Yes, thanks for the plug there, Femi. Can I actually go back to Ethiopia. Because when I was reading the Ethiopian non motorised transport strategy 2020 to 2029, there was a stat that jumped out at me. And that is Bahir Dar, the city, small city, and then that is obviously cycling their accounts for 90% of vehicle trips. So Ethiopia has a massive cycling culture, right now, in some cities. So in in those kind of places, they’re going to have to protect cycling.

Carlton Reid 27:46
from going away, not to increase cycling as such, it’s just to stop it going down from that amazing 90%. And I’m guessing I don’t know, because I haven’t been there. And I haven’t even seen photographs of this. But when you have 90% of vehicle movements are cyclists they clearly dominate the roads, cars can’t get past that must lead to an awful lot of friction from motorists who assume that they would have priority on roads.

Dagmawit Moges 28:21
Yes, Bahir Dar was one of the urban centres that we have in our country, which used to have large proportional cyclers in the city. But that’s not the case. Recently, in the five to seven years, because three wheelers, they came to the streets,

Dagmawit Moges 28:47
greenback, it was a culture, and we can bring it up, and we’re working towards that. So

Dagmawit Moges 28:55
as a developing country,

Dagmawit Moges 28:58
we believe that the option to access transport for our people, is by providing a kind of mode of transport, which is affordable for

Dagmawit Moges 29:11
cyclists and other

Dagmawit Moges 29:15
systems of transport, asked her to see

Dagmawit Moges 29:20
in our area of our country, having a cycle of her own and addressing the needs of her own by herself, after we have in the system, our country. So this is why I just want to

Dagmawit Moges 29:35
thank you.

Femi Oke 29:37
Thank you so much Madam Minister. Jürgen, your final closing words of hope and inspiration or what?

Jürgen Zattler 29:46
I started with a low note and that’s it’s not just the pandemic. It’s not just the health crisis.

Jürgen Zattler 29:55
It’s more than that. It’s really, really

Jürgen Zattler 30:00
The pandemic, pandemic shows that, that we put too much stress on the environment. And therefore the whole system is in a crisis. That’s a low note. But that’s an opportunity if you make aware this to your people, to your friends and so on, I think there can be something very, very positive we are human beings with own ideas and innovations. So, let us take that, that opportunity, let us make it cheap, you know, to go by bikr. That is let us let it make us make it attractive to think about how we can organise our cities that don’t go back to this passive role. Oh, it’s a crisis. And we we have to reestablish what we had before.

Femi Oke 30:58
Thank you so much. Claudia, how should we end?

Claudia Dobles Camargo 31:05
You I think the the main lesson learned for for us in Costa Rica is to live with complexity, and how we, policy makers, public policymakers need more flexible, need to respond faster, and in a closer way with different sectors in order to provide the most appropriate answer for any of our communities. So I think it has been a lesson to learn in terms of working together closer, in more in a more adaptive way. In obviously, we didn’t last hour north, which is how to create Costa Rica, a decarbonized decentralised and digitalized country, but make it more flexible or faster and closer to all the sectors in in in the country and internationally.

Femi Oke 32:02
Thank you.

Femi Oke 32:04
Carlton, it’s been invigorating, having you as my co presenter, my co-host, yyou think up smarter questions than I did. So kudos to that. Your final thought?

Carlton Reid 32:16
Present company excluded, but politicians around the world tend to be guilty of warm words about walking and cycling and other forms of active transport. I would like to see the cash. So that’s the important thing. We need the actual hard money: put it on the table and let’s get these modes moving.

Carlton Reid 32:37
Thanks to the World Bank and the World Resources Institute Ross Center in Washington DC for allowing me to rebroadcast some selected highlights from Friday’s Transforming Transportation conference. And thanks in particulate to Claudia Adriazola-Steil of WRI Ross Center’s Urban Mobility Program who invited me to take part. This has been episode 267 of the Spokesmen cycling podcast. Links can be found on And that’s also where you can find a new feature: a little recording widget with which you

Carlton Reid 33:24
can send us your comments or criticisms or ideas for future shows. Open the widget, press record and bob’s your uncle. The next show will be a one and half hour chat with mountain bike legend Gary Fisher — perhaps I can run some of your audio comments on that episode so get chatting about Gary or anything else you’d like to get across to the Spokesmen Cycling Podcast.

Carlton Reid 33:57
Meanwhile, get out there and ride.

January 29, 2021 / / Blog

Your podcast catcher not showing in links above (black circle with three dots)? Loads more on PodLink. Show is also on Spotify. and Google Podcasts.

Friday 29th January 2021

The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast

EPISODE 266: Move More With The Miracle Pill Author Peter Walker


HOST: Carlton Reid

GUEST: Peter Walker

TOPICS: A one-hour long conversation with Guardian political journalist Peter Walker talking about his new book, “The Miracle Pill.”


Carlton Reid 0:14
Welcome to Episode 266 of the Spokesmen cycling podcast. This show was published on Friday 29th of January 2021.

David Bernstein 0:24
The Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast is brought to you by Jenson USA, where you’ll always find a great selection of products at amazing prices with unparalleled customer service. For more information, just go to Hey everybody, it’s David from the Fredcast cycling podcast at I’m one of the hosts and producers of the Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast. For shownotes links and all sorts of other information please visit our website at And now, here are the spokesmen.

Carlton Reid 1:08
Are you sitting comfortably? Bad, that’s bad. Get up pace around a bit. Maybe listen to this episode on a static trainer, treadmill or just standing up. I’m Carlton Reid. And on today’s show. I’m talking with Guardian political journalist Peter Walker, author of a landmark new book urging us to move more. The Miracle Pill came out last week, and it’s a wake up call for individuals and politicians alike. Now, Peter has got a great mic, but he was sitting a wee bit too close to it for the first half of this episode. So there are a tiny number of plopping plosives. Sorry about that. But we did fix it during the ad break. Now, I began our hour long conversation by pointing out Peter has a rather apt name.

Carlton Reid 2:02
My guest today has written a book called The Miracle Pill, which says that a certain body metric was devised by the pleasingly named Professor Lean. So Peter Walker, what should we make about your apt surname?

Peter Walker 2:22
Exactly. Or in my last book was a it was a it was a cycling books that didn’t really match. This isn’t a book about walking, but there’s more walking in it. So I’m gradually getting there.

Carlton Reid 2:31
Well, it’s it’s just there’s loads of walking in there because it’s it’s everyday active. Movement, not not just transport, but movement, maybe even fidgeting is good. So I’m fidgeting right now. I’m like, I’m like moving around. And with my shoulders. I’m going to click my, I’m just fidgeting. That’s good.

Peter Walker 2:48
Yes, it is good. I mean, whenever I do podcasts for for work, I always get told not to, you know, because in case he kind of jogs that kind of microphone or stuff like that, but I will start to move my legs up and down a little tiny bit. I mean, I’ve done a couple of other PR things for the book was actually kind of been upright on my, on my feet, for them, but I don’t think the audio setup would quite work for that.

Carlton Reid 3:08
Absolutely. I mean, I’ll let you into a secret here. It’s not that much of a secret, actually, because I put it on Twitter. But I when I was I got 90 pages through your book. And then I want Oh, kind of straighten my back, you know, improve my posture. That’s, that’s, that’s at least one thing. And then I thought, Well, I’m not going to walk around the house doing this, I can’t on a bike. So I actually because you sent me a PDF. So I took the PDF on my phone, took it downstairs, put it into the gap went into the garage, and actually rode a static bike for for 45 minutes while reading your book. And then when I came up back into my office and and read the rest of it on my big screen, I then actually stood up fantastic for quite a bit of extra money. So you’re this can be done. You can read books, you can do housework, you can do all the different things you can you need to do and you can you don’t have to do everything sitting down do you?

Peter Walker 4:06
There’s an audiobook too, there’s even audiobooks, you can listen to it whilst you walk or whatever

Carlton Reid 4:12
Who speaks that?

Peter Walker 4:13

Peter Walker 4:15
I was cheap. And I could I could do it.

Carlton Reid 4:18
So your book, walker, it’s not just about walking. It’s absolutely I mean, it’s not even hidden. It’s absolutely aboveboard. And it’s not a book about cycling. But there’s tonnes of cycling in everyday cycling. So you’re right, and I’m gonna quote you here. So I’ve been going through I’ve been yellow lining a lot of a lot of stuff here. So “imagine if you were a medical researcher and you discovered a drug, which would improve people’s health outcomes on the scale of cycle commuting. Well, a Nobel Prize winner more or less guaranteed.” So there’s a tonne of cycling in the book and you have really laying on thick to people. Do you think it’ll work? Do you think people who are not you know me, and you and

Carlton Reid 5:00
The people who are listening to this podcast Do you think they’ll get onto bikes because they’re they’re thinking, Peter speaks a lot of sense.

Peter Walker 5:06
I mean, the whole risk with a book like this is that in the short term, at least, it speaks to people who are already kind of in on this kind of thing. So I imagine a reasonable proportion of readers would be people who are active, I mean, hopefully, it’ll teach them things that they didn’t know, for example, about sitting downtime, which I wasn’t completely up to speed with, before reading the book, but I guess the thing to point out is, it’s not a book, which is meant to kind of tell you what to do. I mean, it’s a book that says, even if you do a little tiny bit more of movement in your life, then the benefits are really, really great. But it’s also making the point that a lot of it is about the kind of world in which we live in, which is not very, very easy to do this kind of stuff. So for example, you know, in normal non COVID times, the bulk of my kind of daily exertion is cycling to and from work, it’s only about three miles each way. But that’s about 40 minutes of like, moderate to vigorous exertion every single day, which is, you know, which is a good chunk.

Peter Walker 6:02
But that’s because I’m happy to kind of be out on even relatively quiet backroads with, you know, two tonne metal boxes going past me at 30 miles an hour, lots of other people would quite sensibly think, well, that’s just crazy. And so for millions of people that kind of opportunity to get daily activities kind of closed off. So it’s, it is about, you know, ultimately, whether or not you’re active is finally up to you. But I don’t want anyone to feel guilt, because there’s so many factors at play. And for lots of people, it’s just made extraordinarily difficult.

Carlton Reid 6:32
So you mentioned there that you’re, you’re happy with, with trucks and

Carlton Reid 6:40
what you’re used to it, sorry, you’re used to a good point. So you’re used to it, and part of the you’ve been used to it is because of your one of your previous careers. So tell us the trajectory. And this is a part that I didn’t know about, but tell us a trajectory for a 21 year old University administrator, then becoming London bike courier through to becoming we have actually mentioned what your

Carlton Reid 7:06
political journalist based in, in Westminster based in the Houses of Parliament, for The Guardian. So what happened? How did those three careers mesh?

Peter Walker 7:18
Well, I described the first bit in the book, that I kind of use myself as an example of how easy it is to kind of fall into this inactive life that, you know, like pretty much every kid I was quite active, I ran around and played football, I was passionate about football, even though I clearly wasn’t particularly good at it. I had asthma as a kid who was actually quite bad. But it didn’t stop me kind of dashing around the place. But again, as I explained in the book, as I got into my teenage years, I kind of lost touch with movement, I didn’t recycle, I didn’t own a bike for a reasonable number of years. And, and when I was at university, I kind of lost faith in my body to kind of do things like that. And I did this incredibly stable, but incredibly boring Graduate University administrator job, once I left university with no real idea what I wanted to do.

Peter Walker 8:05
And I suddenly gave it up, I was about 22, at the time to become a psycho career. And, you know, again, as explained in the book, it’s not quite clear why I did it. But one of the reasons seemed to be almost this unspoken idea of kind of challenging my, you know, physique and my body thinking, Well, you know, you’re young, if you want to pay the rent, you have to cycle as it turned out about 50 or 60 miles a day, every day to actually pay it.

Peter Walker 8:30
And I knew nothing about cycling at the time, I’ve not owned a bike for probably four or five years. And you know, I’d had a childhood one for my teenage years, which I had not taken with me when I when I left home.

Peter Walker 8:42
And so initially kicked myself out because this was, you know, the period when mountain bikes were very much kind of rage, I bought this very cheap and incredibly weighty mountain bike, which is kind of about the weight of a moped.

Peter Walker 8:54
and rotate around London, initially at quite a slow speed, but when you’re 22, you can adapt enormously quickly. So I soon became you know, really quite fit and it kind of transformed my life. It is this extreme example of, you know, kind of mega dosing the miracle pill from going from nothing to doing, you know, 300 miles a week. But effect on not just my kind of physical staples mentality was a completely transformative one, you know, very literally changed my life. And, obviously, you know, I don’t cycle nearly as much as that now. But I still kind of kept that feeling with me if this kind of joy of what it means to be kind of human by using your body in this very basic way. And, and in terms of being a journalist, well, this isn’t something I go into in the book, and I

Peter Walker 9:44
was out of the country for about three years. I lived in Australia for a bit in Sydney for some of it I did some more cycle querying. And basically when you’ve queried they’re going back to London, it’s a bit rubbish, you know, compared to like cycling over the Sydney Harbour Bridge on a brilliant blue sky day.

Peter Walker 10:00
Compared to cycling down Bishopsgate, in the rain, it’s not quite the same.

Peter Walker 10:05
But I eventually got back to I mean, I was really, really into bikes then. So my return from Australia to the UK was mainly done by bike, I wouldn’t say I cycled the entire way, because me and my girlfriend, the time missed out some chunks we did about seven or 8000 miles.

Peter Walker 10:22
And I arrived back in the UK, aged about 2627, not knowing what I wanted what I wanted to do for a job. So I got work experience on local newspapers, and then did a postgraduate newspaper journalism course. And I was relatively old for doing I mean, most of the people doing the course, had come straight from you know, there are 2122, they’ve done an undergraduate course. And so I didn’t become a journalist. I was like, nearly 30. And then how did you get to the guardian? That was quite complicated. I mean, yes, I actually was quite late that when I went for the interview for the post grad course that I eventually did, one of the tutors said to me in a very kind of nice way, he said, Well, we’ve had people your age, you’ve kind of changed careers become journalists, we’ve never had anyone your age has actually had a career before now. And

Peter Walker 11:11
so I joined I took this particular course, because I had very, very strong links with the Press Association, who are now officially called PA Media, who were the UK national news agency, because the standard thing when you become a journalist to do a couple of years on local papers, but because I was older, and I wanted to stay in London, or move back to London, rather, I didn’t really want to do that. So the Press Association, eventually, after much badgering took me on and gave me a job. I was with them for three years. And then I worked for an Agence France Pressress, who are another with a big kind of three global news wise. I work for them in Hong Kong, in Beijing, briefly in Paris and back in London.

Peter Walker 11:55
And then I went freelance and did shifts at The Guardian website, as it was at the time was completely separate from the paper. And I was lucky enough to be there at the time when they needed people. So I got taken on. But that’s about over 10 years ago now.

Carlton Reid 12:08
And then politics, how did you get into the politics? But were you politics straightaway?

Peter Walker 12:13
No, no, no, I did kind of national international news, all sorts of stuff like that the politics happened about four years ago, there was a revamp of the political team, there’s a new political editor and deputy political editor team and I just got shifted over from the newsroom to work. I mean, I’ve always been interested in the political side. It was weirdly never my complete passion to do it. But it’s, you know, obviously a fascinating job to to do and the Guardian political team are incredibly lovely and really nice. I do miss not working, you know,

Peter Walker 12:45
side by side with them every day. We do kind of chat via WhatsApp and Zoom. That’s not quite the same.

Carlton Reid 12:50
So you do talk to politicians in your book, you kind of you know,

Carlton Reid 12:57
probably talking to them about something completely different. And then you’ve you’ve shoehorned in something about this. So there’s some fascinating interviews in the book with politicians. But But you call inactivity, a “normalised catastrophe,” and that “we live in a world redesigned to discourage movement” yet nevertheless, politicians refused to react meaningfully, you know, somehow fearing the nanny state. And so one of the interviews in your book, yeah, that one of the politicians absolutely comes out with the phrase nanny state, yet the reaction to COVID-19 has shown that even libertarian Tories — not all of them, obviously — but some can all of a sudden, at be in favour of state, you know, very, very statist stuff, state intervention in health. So, will it always require acting at state level? Do you think to bring movement back?

Peter Walker 13:54
I think it probably will. I mean, if we look at active travel, then you can, you know, have examples of where individual mayors or councils will do some good things. But for it to happen on a kind of Danish or Dutch level, you need national politicians to be committed to it for 20, 30, 40 years, you know, and that needs that kind of mindset. But it is a completely fascinating thing, because I was, you know, writing a book about a public health issue, which happened to coincide with the biggest public health crisis for, you know, maybe 100 years. And,

Peter Walker 14:28
you know, as you say, it’s completely completely fascinating thing that, you know, in the past, whenever I talked to civil servants or MPs, about this kind of thing, you know, lots of them knew about the subject and they’d go, yes, yes, this is really bad. And, you know, we’re trying to do something about it, but nothing really ever got done. And it remains to be seen, you know, how much COVID is going to change things because, you know, as you say, on a kind of cultural political level is blowing the doors wide open. You know, you can’t really complain about this kind of intervention is nanny state when you’re just building a few bike lanes, when you’re

Peter Walker 14:59
in effect you’ve literally shot the bulk of the country down for the entire year. And it’s not directly comparable, because

Peter Walker 15:07
I mean, you know, we’ve had about 100,000 COVID deaths in the UK now, there are about 100,000 estimated deaths from conditions linked to inactivity in the UK for you. However, you know, the Coronavirus death is with significant mitigation, it would have been a lot more if we just, you know, let it rip.

Peter Walker 15:24
But, you know, the inactivity death toll is every single year. But the difference is, I guess, is inactivity is not something that can be transmitted to other people. And also, it’s a much less kind of dramatic thing, it’s kind of a bit more like, I don’t know, car crashes, that when people died, no terrorism or car crashes, it’s obvious. Whereas, you know, if you get a 20, something who gets an office job, and then spends all their evenings watching box sets and doesn’t want me know, a couple of 1000 steps a day, then they might not feel the consequences of that inactivity for, you know, 20, 30, 40 years. And it won’t be a direct thing. It’ll be through things like, you know, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, potentially types of cancer.

Peter Walker 16:11
So it’s not quite so clear. In fact, it’s not nearly so clear, hmm.

Carlton Reid 16:15
You wrote your book, as you said, at a time when COVID was was absolutely in the news, and also went central government in the UK with Tories were being bullish at the central government Tories are being bullish about active travel and even splashing quite a bit of cash. And, and in your book, you thought this might be a positive sign of things to come. But you also gave a caveat. And you said that another possible future was one where people won’t jump on bikes because they’ll feel safest when driving and and I’m gonna quote you here. spooked other people will be spooked by gridlock. Cities could remove bike lanes and express platitudes about electric cars. Now it’s that second future that’s now looking more likely, isn’t it, especially as local government Tories, belittle and squash the suppose inverted commas war against motorists launched by national Tories. So what’s going on there between those as a political journalist and as somebody interested in active travel between those two impetuses in the Tory party?

Peter Walker 17:22
It’s a really interesting thing. And again, it’s this kind of clash between the national and the local level. And there’s all sorts of layers to it, because Boris Johnson is very much on board he believes in the cycling stuff, you know, as lots of listeners will know, when he was London mayor, he put in, you know, a handful of really quite good bike lanes against the opposition have lots of other kinds of local Tories whether MPs, councillors etc, etc. And, and he’s quite keen, he also had his kind of personal brush with fate when he got COVID very, very badly. And he kind of came out of it convinced that his weight was you know, one of the issues and and weight is an incredibly complicated thing when it comes to inactivity, because you have to do a vast amount of activity to maintain weight loss. But you know, there is a kind of counter argument that even if your BMI is a bit higher than what the doctors recommend, if you are active, your health outcomes get better anyway even if you don’t lose the weight. But Boris Johnson launch what was called this war against obesity, nothing really much has happened to I mean, there’s been some quite for the conservatives quite adventurous plans on things like buying buy one get one free office in supermarkets on junk foods, and not allowing chocolate bars and crispy sold by tills and things like that. And

Peter Walker 18:41
you have this issue that, you know, I think in the kind of spring lockdown of last year, a lot of people were basically fine with these, you know, temporary bike links being built, because there were virtually no motor traffic on the road. But even though we’re officially another lockdown, a lot of motor traffic has come back. And you have had all these examples of councils taking out bike lanes, which which were put into into place and, you know, coming into really quite severe battles with Number 10. And, you know, you had to have Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, kind of playing it both ways. I mean, a few months ago, he put out a kind of public letter to all councils, these are more about low traffic neighbourhoods, these things where, you know, we try and discourage car use by making short car trips that bit less easy. He

Peter Walker 19:33
kind of gave a stop to the kind of anti low traffic neighbourhood people by saying, you know, they have to be trialled properly you have to listen to locals. But he also kind of quite interesting, he said, but you can’t just you know, you have to make sure you find out what locals really think. You can’t just kind of pull out a low traffic neighbourhood remotely because you have a handful of people who were like shouting, and that’s quite interesting and it’s it’s hard to know where it’s going to go. I mean, one of the issues is that Boris Johnson has got a lot

Peter Walker 20:00
on his plate, and much as he might potentially be interested in this kind of stuff, and I generally don’t know how much he is now, then, you know, his officials and civil servants will put 10 other briefing papers on top of those, you know, on his desk first.

Peter Walker 20:16
And my sense of Grant Shapps is that Grant Shapps, you know, talks to talks and does and does what Number 10, you know, says he’s a very kind of loyal minister from that point of view. But I think he’s a kind of electric car type. He is someone who likes kind of high tech stuff, he’s a man for kind of big projects, he, you know, he’s kind of very much into things like HS2. And building bike lanes is a little bit boring. So I think unless he’s kind of kept in check by Downing Street, if that’s what they want to do, then you will have this kind of slippage.

Carlton Reid 20:50
So inactivity isn’t just bad — I’ll stretch my back here, I’m gonna, I’m gonna stand up, no doubt in a minute and talk to you — so it’s not just bad for individuals, it’s bad for everybody, because of the pressure on the NHS and on social care. So tell us about I’ve heard of this before, but it’s it was cute to see it in your book. Anyway, tell us about the Barnet Graph of Doom.

Peter Walker 21:12
The Barnet Graph of Doom, yes, the most frightening PowerPoint presentation you will ever see in your life. And this is connected to Adult Social Care, which is mainly older people where councils

Peter Walker 21:24
need to provide care for older people who can’t look after themselves, where they’re not, you know, they don’t have like relatives to care for them, or they’re not in a kind of private home or anything like that.

Peter Walker 21:35
And basically, some councils bigger councils have a statutory duty to provide

Peter Walker 21:41
care for both children, which is a smaller percentage of the budget, but to older adults. And that takes up a massive, massive amount of lots of council’s budgets to the point that they can’t really afford much more. I remember this was a few years ago, when there were local council elections, speaking to the leader of

Peter Walker 21:59
one reasonably large Council and him saying to me that I quoted a figure in a book by he can’t quite remember what the percentage are. But he said in something like since last council elections, like, you know, three or four years earlier, the proportion of the council spend going on Social Care had gone up from something like 25 to 50%, or 25, to 40%. And the Barnet Graph of Doom was done by the then head of finance at Barnet Council in North London. And it’s a kind of a simple extrapolation, it had all these kind of

Peter Walker 22:33
rising blocks, which is part of the chart, which show the projections for spending on Adult Social Care. So I think it’s actually on all social care, but mainly Adult Social Care, you know, for 15,20 years into the into the future. And it also had a line plotted against those, which was the kind of declining total of what the council’s budget was. And at some point in the 2020s, they they would meet, which would basically mean that apart from Adult Social Care, there’d be no money for anything, not for parks, not for libraries, not for all the other things that counsellors do. And, you know, the author of this of this a guy called Andrew travers, who’s now moved, cancelled, admits it’s a kind of oversimplified model, but it’s intended to, you know, show what the strain is. And the connection to inactivity is that,

Peter Walker 23:20
you know, it’s a kind of good problem to have in a country like Britain, medical advances mean that people aren’t really dying young in general from these inactivity related

Peter Walker 23:31
ailments, like diabetes, type 2, high blood pressure, some cancers. And, you know, they can ask me live quite long, but they might spend 10, or even 20, 30 years with a whole series of kind of interlinked medical conditions, which, you know, require drugs, which cost a lot, and also, you know, other medical interventions, which cost, you know, an awful lot, and as a pressure on the NHS, but for social care, it means that the healthy life expectancy, you know, as it as it’s kind of cool, is, is going down so people are living longer and longer, but the gap between their lifespan and how long they can look after themselves is getting bigger and bigger. And that costs, you know, so much to the extent that, you know, if you speak to people about this, they’ll say that inactivity and obesity to a certain extent, but the two are very much linked. If an activity isn’t tackled, then at some point, both the NHS and Adult Social Care as we know, it will not necessarily be, you know, viable even.

Peter Walker 24:33
There is also some, you know, much more kind of uplifting stuff in the book!

Carlton Reid 24:37
Yes, there are, and we’ll get onto that, in fact, we’ll get onto that after the break. So part of that we’ll be talking about Slovenia and Finland, so countries that are actually

Carlton Reid 24:47
making a difference and how they got people to move more. But at first, let’s cut to that commercial break. So over to you, David.

David Bernstein 24:56
Hey, Carlton, thanks so much and it’s always my pleasure to talk about our

Unknown Speaker 25:00
advertiser, this is a long time loyal advertiser, you all know what I’m talking about. It’s JensonUSA at I’ve been telling you for years now years, that Jenson is the place where you can get a great selection of every kind of product that you need for your cycling lifestyle at amazing prices and what really sets them apart. Because of course, there’s lots of online retailers out there. But what really sets them apart is their unbelievable support. When you call and you’ve got a question about something, you’ll end up talking to one of their gear advisors and these are cyclists I’ve been there I’ve seen it. These are folks who who ride their bikes to and from work. These are folks who ride at lunch who go out on group rides after work because they just enjoy cycling so much. And and so you know that when you call, you’ll be talking to somebody who has knowledge of the products that you’re calling about. If you’re looking for a new bike, whether it’s a mountain bike, a road bike, a gravel bike, a fat bike, what are you looking for? Go ahead and check them out. Jenson USA, they are the place where you will find everything you need for your cycling lifestyle. It’s, we thank them so much for their support. And we thank you for supporting Jenson USA. All right, Carlton, let’s get back to the show.

Carlton Reid 26:22
Thanks, David. And we are back with Guardian journalist and Miracle — there’s a there’s a an article there isn’t it says that The Miracle Pill author, Peter Walker, so if you don’t ask me to talk before the break, what exactly did Slovenia which is a surprise and Finland do to get their citizens over many, many years moving more?

Peter Walker 26:48
Well, the Finns have got a very kind of strong preventative public health, ethos. And, and a lot of it is aimed at kids as well as getting kids you know, kind of cycling or walking to and from school, they do some quite innovative things with that one of the people I talked to was an someone who who helps to run this programme called finish schools on the move. And one of the things that they did was they fitted a whole bunch of kids brought fitted gave them these kind of inexpensive video cameras so they could video their walks or cycles into school. And then they could, you know, point out, you know, where we felt dangerous, where they didn’t like, doing it. So the local councils could be told. And it’s also about movement in schools too. So they do all these kind of things like, I know, for younger kids in math lessons, if they’re going to count, they can count by doing a squat, or they can jump up and down or they can sit on a board rather than a chair.

Peter Walker 27:48
And they have this kind of commitment to getting kids as active as they can. And be you know, they’ve been doing this for an awfully long time, they have this kind of law, which mandates a certain amount of facilities connected to sport. And there is again, the status of book I can’t remember. But it’s something like one sports facility for every couple of 1000 people.

Peter Walker 28:10
And you know, Finland is a place where the taxes are quite high. And they invest a lot of stuff in that, you know, the Finnish education system is already well known as being quite good. And to an extent, this is part of it. And the Slovenians were more interesting, so I didn’t know much about you know, what they do. But um, there is this report card, you know, as its as its Terminus, kind of ongoing research project into which countries in the world are better at kind of movement in kids. And England gets something like a C, where the very bad scores of active travel, partly kind of help with the fact that there’s a reasonable to sport and English schools, but that’s about as good as many countries get, you know, lots of them are kind of Ds and E’s I think Scotland gets a D. But Slovenia, I think got an A-minus,

Peter Walker 29:00
which was completely amazing. And

Peter Walker 29:03
it turns out that Slovenia claims with some credence to be the only country in the world where childhood obesity levels are actually falling. And, to an extent, this kind of goes against the, you know, everyday movement ethos of the book is is quite sports based. But you know, there is an argument that with kids, you know, it’s slightly different because sports for kids is just kind of fun and play anyway, it’s not like this kind of, you know, grim jog around the park that adults will, you know, you know, sometimes do and, and they have this, what you have kind of two completely could be a fascinating thing, one of which is this commitment to

Peter Walker 29:43
equip schools. It’s basically all the sports equipment they could possibly need. So, I can’t remember exactly what it is, but it’s something like every school has an indoor sports facility and an outdoor one. And they have a commitment to X number of hours of PE every week, and also a commitment every day.

Peter Walker 30:00
People get the chance to go on, you know, reasonably regular daily kind of sports days off. And you’ll have these like summer camps or old like military bases, where the kids can do any sport they want, they can do kind of, you know, mountaineering, hiking, tennis, all that kind of stuff.

Peter Walker 30:17
But they also have this kind of monitoring programme, which has been going on for about 3040 years, where every school kid in the country, and I think in every year group does this kind of battery of tests. It’s like a run over a certain distance and arm hanging, there’s about 20 tests. And because they’ve got so much data on it, it’s all this kind of centrally accessible database, you can get kids who compare themselves against their parents. And it was really, really quite tricky, but it is saying that some parents, you know, think, oh, my goodness, I wasn’t particularly sporty, but my kids much worse than I was, you know, I maybe you need to do more.

Peter Walker 30:55
But again, it’s, you know, if the Finnish model is this kind of slightly Scandinavian social democratic model, this Slovenian one actually does have this slightly communistic feeling. And it did, you know, begin under the communist

Peter Walker 31:10
era, but they kept it kept going this kind of central planning. But, you know, they’ve made a commitment to and it seems to be working really well. And you mentioned, you know, sporting facilities.

Carlton Reid 31:20
And, of course, famously, a lot of our schools got rid of their fields. Yes.

Peter Walker 31:25
Well, exactly. That’s it. And, and you have this issue, which is, again, something I mentioned a lot in the book, that

Peter Walker 31:34
British governments and British type governments tend to frame inactivity as a kind of, factor of personal responsibility or personal willpower.

Peter Walker 31:45
You know, and obviously, there’s an element to it, you know, as I said before, if you want to be actively active is ultimately down to you. But, you know, it’s much much bigger than that if you do sell off all the sports fields, it not only stops kids at school, being able to you know, play sports, but it’s much more difficult for kids that weekends or out of school otherwise just to you know, sneak on and have a game of football or run around or things like that. And and you know, that’s where we get back to this whole thing of if you want fundamental change, you have to start thinking about

Peter Walker 32:18
you know, central government stuff but again, this is stuff that doesn’t only happen or bring results over years it takes decades.

Carlton Reid 32:27
You talk in your book about movement trackers, you placed on on Amish not on you. Because there you do talk about the ones that you do on yourself the Sens one and stuff. But these are the trackers placed on Amish people yes, and how they do a tonne of inadvertent healthy exercise each day.

Carlton Reid 32:46
But if we kind of like look at this country, if we’re looking at America, if we’re looking at most places, probably

Carlton Reid 32:52
people don’t really want to use a mangle instead of a tumble dryer, or walk or cycle somewhere close when it’s easy to jump in a car. And that’s even when there’s a great bike lane that that put in and we know that because cities are veined, very often veined, especially in the UK with great footways. But there’s still too few walking on them. So you’re selling us a future of wearing

Carlton Reid 33:21
hair shirts, Peter

Peter Walker 33:22
I’m absolutely not doing that. And I’m, again, at great pains to point out that, you know, one of the reasons which is undeniably true that there’s less everyday activity in the world is devices which save a lot of incredibly tedious labour. I mean, for women, mainly, you know, no one’s saying we should go back to this era of manual rug beating and clothes washing and things like that. But we have to be creative and to give opportunities for active travel, you know where we can, and that whole Amish mission or not quite sure what the best way is to say their name. That whole study is interesting because

Peter Walker 34:01
activity research is obviously interested in what kind of previous populations what kind of levels of movement they’d have done, but you know, they can’t travel back in time.

Peter Walker 34:10
But the Amish live in this kind of recognise be 19th century way with no mechanisation and horse and carts and stuff. So they managed to persuade a group of, I think the Canadian Amish to wear these activity trackers. And the interesting thing is that whilst you know anyone who’s watched you know, films and TV series about them know that the Amish aren’t allowed to own the kind of modern

Peter Walker 34:33
high tech things. They were allowed to use them. So you know, they so they had these activity trackers kind of clipped onto their trousers and

Peter Walker 34:42
slightly difficult the men are not allowed to wear belts and the amount of walking that they do, you know, in this kind of everyday life, I think the most one person didn’t one day was like 40,000 steps which about 20 miles. This is kind of a picture of what life was like.

Peter Walker 35:00
In the past, where exercise was the kind of redundant concept you had, you know, everyday activity, and then you had rest. And, you know, and no one’s saying, unless you know, people want to that you should go back to that. But at the same time, there has to be this recognition that, you know, this gradual creep of everything roofing in activity from our world, he knew from the point of view that, you know, maybe 10 years ago, people would have this very routine thing of walk into the cinema or walk into a restaurant. Now you can get a takeaway summoned by an app and stream of film. And all these things are convenient, and in many ways, good, but there are consequences. You know, and the consequences are that people’s overall activity levels are dropping and dropping, and we somehow need to be creative and not to make it this kind of penance. You know, that’s what the whole exercise thing is about. A lot of people join gyms because they feel guilt, you know, feel like, you know, shame almost. And that’s why, you know, a lot of people don’t go to gyms there is, I talked to someone who, who is a kind of analyst in the fitness industry. And he was saying to me that the business model of lots of gyms is basically these people called

Peter Walker 36:08
sleepers, who are people who get a gym membership, but simply never go. And that’s like one in 10, they kind of reckon.

Peter Walker 36:15
And the solutions are not that clear. And it depends, you know, on each person, but you have to just find a way to,

Peter Walker 36:23
you know, make it more convenient to to move and I’m lucky enough to be able to, you know, ride a bike, because that gets me where I wanted to go, you know, quicker than any other means. But for other people, it’s gonna be much more tricky.

Carlton Reid 36:34
So ebikes are another Yes, labour saving device, yet you heartily — pun intended — recommend them in your book. So why?

Peter Walker 36:45
it’s because the studies, you know, and the studies are relatively new, because ebikes haven’t been around, particularly mass use for all that long. Their studies indicate that people do get a lot of physical activity benefit from E bikes, I mean, this is all based on the kind of legal UK EU definition of an E bike, which is, you know, pedal assisted bicycle, we have to pedal to get it going, you’re limited to 50 miles an hour, etc, etc, etc. And, you know, the thing is, I’ve written e bikes, and they are brilliant. And it is possible to do minimal amounts of work just to have you know, the kind of power gauge up to maximum and not go that quickly. And, but the studies show that whilst mile for mile people expend less energy and do less exertion on a bike, they actually tend to, you know, cycle much greater distances, you know, because they’re more likely to say cycling to work five days a week. And, and so the overall amounts of

Peter Walker 37:44
activity gained for people on ebikes was not that dissimilar to those people riding normal bikes. And, you know, obviously, they just opened up this whole chapter, because lots of people who wouldn’t necessarily want to ride normal bike, they might have a hilly commute or a long one might do it with an E bike. So you know, they are genuinely really good things.

Carlton Reid 38:04
So I’ve got an Apple Watch. And when I go for the Saturday croissant, and it’s, you know, I deliberately make it a bit further away, because the nice, particularly nice croissant riding,

David Bernstein 38:16
Yeah, totally. But it’s actually building it, making it deliberately a long way to go and to go and get it. So when I go on an electric bike, and when I go on a standard bike, that, that what my Apple Watch tells me afterwards, like the exertion levels, it isn’t that much different. So it takes about I get basically half an hour of hard exercise, whether I do it on electric, interesting. On a standard bike, however, I think I am being a bit unusual in that I’ll hammer on an electric bike. And then if I hammer, I’m probably not actually using the motor that much anyway,

Carlton Reid 38:54
except among a very steep hills, because if you as you said before, if you go over that that speed threshold, the mode is meant to be cutting out anyway.

David Bernstein 39:04
But you can conversely to that you can if you want to just go very slowly and and let it do more for you. So it does depend on how much you actually want to put into it. You don’t have to be a slothful person to get an E bike you can still be a mega fit person and still

Carlton Reid 39:25
get health benefits out of an E bike.

Peter Walker 39:28
Yes, you can. And you know conversely, you’ll get someone like you who kind of you know rights as hard as you can, you will get people who won’t get you know, a huge amount of exertion from an E bike but the stats seem to show that studies seem to show that overall people do tend to get some you know, exertion from it. And you know, it could be for sorts of reasons it could be people deliberately fitness having a power setting low it could just be you know riding a bike is a lot of fun and 50 miles an hour on the kind of little

Peter Walker 40:00
long flat road might actually not actually feel that fast after a while, so people do keep on pedalling after the motors cut and might not even realise it. And it can be all sorts of reasons. Or it could just be the fact that, you know, the mini exertions, of having to pedal the bike, even for a bit just to start off from traffic lights, or up hills or things like that. If you’re more regularly say, you know, doing a seven mile ride, rather than doing nothing or doing a three mile ride, then it all, you know, adds up.

Carlton Reid 40:29
I mean, that’s one of the key things I’ve taken away from your book, basically, that the Tesco

Carlton Reid 40:34
motto, you know, Every Little Helps, you know, literally fidgeting is good. You know, moving a little bit is just, it’s, it’s good. So electric bikes, you know, even visiting your leg spinning? Well, that is good in itself.

Peter Walker 40:53
With the fidgeting, it’s a slightly

Peter Walker 40:58
kind of nice point. But the fidgeting stuff is that’s part of the chapter on on obesity and inactivity. And there’s a study which showed that people who fidget can often eat more without gaining as much weight. Now, if you talk to an activity, scientists fidgeting itself might not get you into the zone of moderate physical activity, which is officially seen as a trigger for what you need to get the real kind of health boosts. And moderate can be like a brisk walk or kind of gentle gardening, housework, etc, etc. If you’re sat down, you’re probably not getting to that level unless you’re really really juggling your legs round. But the converse to that is that, you know, the kind of ethos always used to be has to be moderate has to be vigorous. And if you’re doing moderate, it has to be at least 150 minutes a week, you know, ideally broken up into 530 minute chunks. But

Peter Walker 41:56
when you talk to experts, they basically say that the reason that those kind of guidelines were put in wasn’t because smaller amounts of of exertion weren’t good for us to see is very difficult to measure them, you know, before you had these sophisticated electronic trackers, but now they’re finding the you know, the advisor change, they say, even 10 minutes at a time will do you some good. And, you know, it doesn’t, it’s still the advice is to go for moderates. So there is some evidence if you’re walking really slowly, it doesn’t do you a vast amount of good. But you know, moderate is also a kind of relative thing. There was a study on older American women, which found that those who did you know, about four and a half 1000 steps a day have basically pottering around not walking particularly fast, had half the kind of early death risk of those who did about 2000. So, you know, it depends really, but you know, the kind of health warning stroke caveat to add is that just sitting down and fidgeting might mean you gain less weight, but it might not necessarily, you know, improve other odds.

Carlton Reid 43:03
In the book, you you said you you borrowed a Garmin and said you because the the 50 pound limit of what journalists can accept as gifts that you can possibly buy it did. Did you in the end didn’t actually say whether you did or did you actually get the watch?

Peter Walker 43:19
I still have it is not on my wrist? No, because if I sit down for too long, it beeps. So before this podcast I took it off is now sitting at the other side of the room. But what actually is totally to do this is a kind of audio reminder, I need to do I need to get in touch with wiggle who lent stroke gave it to me and basically say, you know, is there a charity to whom I could, you know, give an appropriate amount for the watch. Because my plan was to give it to the guardians Christmas raffle, they have this annual thing where kind of gifts which people can’t keep put into a kind of metaphorical pot and garden staff, buy raffle tickets and then kind of potentially get one of the prizes and raise a lot of money for whatever charity and but there obviously wasn’t one this year. And also I kind of got used to wearing it. So

Peter Walker 44:07
I never thought about wearing any kind of activity watch which I find it quite useful.

Carlton Reid 44:12
I’m not a watch wear at all. I’ve never been a watch wearer

David Bernstein 44:17
normally, but now I’m an religious watch wearer and that’s because of the Apple Watch. So I mean quite a powerful, incredibly useful things for for somebody like a cyclist. If you kind of crash it will alert somebody it will it will last it will I mean I fell off a wall the other day and not cycling I hasten to add just walking, and I could feel my risk going dude, dude, dude, dude, you’ve got to tell us that you’re okay. Otherwise we’re calling the police. And so just that thing and then you kind of you’ve got if you’ve got a heart condition, you know, the latest ones I haven’t got the latest one, but the latest one will tell you.

Carlton Reid 44:56
You know, something’s wrong with your heart and you’ve got it sorted out. It tells you

David Bernstein 45:00
oxygen saturations which is useful for Coronavirus. If you don’t, then you know, you need to know your oxygen saturations. All good stuff. But it’s just the fact that it, it tells me how much movement I’m doing. And I’ve always been dead fit also done stuff anyway. But this will now prompt me not not prompt me, as in, it’ll beep and tell me just I’m looking at it. And I’m thinking, see, I’ve got to do a bit more here. And I will look at the amount of steps and we’ll look at how much I’ve done. And I will then do more. So just by getting the watch, I’ve done more, but we didn’t mention your book. And I don’t know how much you know about this is

David Bernstein 45:40
I got the Apple Watch via as a plug here by Vitality. So Vitality is a form of life insurance where otherwise, yes, yes, like money off, if you can prove to your insurer that you’re dead fit. So it’s in their interests for you to get fit. So there’s all sorts of incredibly good deals on getting a watch. And then if you get a certain amount of points per day of activity, you get, you get points, they build up, for instance, I get my, my Amazon Prime paid for by my activity levels, I get free coffees, if I don’t collect them at the moment. But if when i when i was going into coffee shops, I would get free coffee.

David Bernstein 46:29
These are not huge things. in the scheme of things you have 78 pounds for Amazon Prime couple of quid for coffee, etc. But it just it’s just these little nudge things is just oh, well, if I do one minute more of exercise, I get a coffee tomorrow. It’s that kind of stuff. So you know, I know you were saying before, we weren’t saying before, it’s a state thing, not an individual thing. Yet, the Vitality method, and the nudge method might mean it, it is an individual thing in that you’ve got to be motivated to do these things. And this can get you to do stuff. So there is an awful lot of individual

Carlton Reid 47:09
individuality things in in in, in getting people moving more, yes?

Peter Walker 47:16
Yes, there there is. I mean, again, the kind of one caveat, I’d say is that you, you know, you said yourself even before getting the watch, you were very fit, you’ve always done a lot, you know, this kind of stuff, it’s not just you need to do more. And perhaps the same is true for me, you know, my fitness is basically since became a biker, it’s been above average. And certainly, up until lockdown, I was always like cycling around everywhere, which took care of most things.

Peter Walker 47:41
And getting this Garmin, which it hasn’t got as many features as yours. But it does give me this kind of quite accurate daily

Peter Walker 47:47
step count, which is very useful. There’s times, you know, when I’m not going into an office where I can look up at 3pm, I’ve taken like two or 3000 steps. So that makes me think oh, my goodness, I should go for a walk or bike ride later.

Peter Walker 48:00

Peter Walker 48:01
I’m not sure if just giving something like that to someone who’s completely inactive. And saying make sure you get over 5000 steps a day

Peter Walker 48:11
is going to do it. I mean, the problem isn’t a lack of knowledge about the health impacts. Most people, you know, if asked will know that being active is good for you. A lot of people will have heard certainly of 10,000 steps a day, you know, quite a lot will have heard of 150 minutes a week. But it’s just for a lot of people. It’s not very easy. And you know, I think it is interesting, this idea of this kind of commercial pressure. So insurance companies saying you know, you’ll get money off if you do that. It’s the same way, I guess at some car insurance, if cheaper if people agree to have a GPS tracker, you know, and they can drive in a safe way.

Peter Walker 48:49

Peter Walker 48:50
I think for the majority of people, that’s not necessarily going to do it, you know, I could be proved wrong. And it could be that, you know, the situation gets so grave that that, you know, it costs literally, I don’t know, a quarter of as much to get life insurance if you do have one of those things. But, but you’re still faced with a problem that, you know, if you have someone who lives nowhere near a bike lane, they’ve not been active for years. And they get told Well, you know, you can save 200 quid a year if you’re active. How do they do it? You know, it’s a bit more complicated.

Carlton Reid 49:23
That’s my that’s my hat that noise you might be hearing is a dog crunching on her bone. And the reason I mentioned that is because I walk more now because I can have of having a dog. So in your book, you mentioned gardening, you mentioned walking you mentioned cycling, nowhere in the book do you mention it’s really good to get a dog? So do you do not have a dog?

Peter Walker 49:52
I don’t I mean it fits in under walking. And one of the interesting things is though again, it

Peter Walker 50:00
Or what kind of work you do. There is a study which inactivity expert in the US told me about which I’ve never been able to track down since I need to email her and find out what the what the link is to it. But she told me about a study which said that I can remember where in the us it was done. But it discovered that people who own dogs were actually marginally fatter than people who didn’t on average, because they thought they were getting exercise. But what they were doing, were walking to the park, standing there with their friends while they ran around and then walking back. So so you know, again, it’s a bit complicated, I’m sure you marched very brisk pace with your with your dog. But some people don’t, you know, and obviously, all things being equal having a dog is can be better for you than not, he does. You know, mean, you do need to actually leave you to go outside and do stuff.

Peter Walker 50:50
But you know, yes, there’s all sorts of reasons. There’s all sorts of ways you can do that. If you can’t have a dog or don’t like dogs, you know, you can just try and walk to your shops, you know, this. There’s this one quote, which I kind of use near the end of the book, which is by a guy called Professor Steven Blair, who is now retired us activity expert. And I was asking everybody, you know, I talked to you, what activity do you do? How do you kind of straight try and stay active? And he had said something like, you know, my slightly simple minded answer is to find the activity that you enjoy doing, and just keep on doing it. And that’s the kind of thing is going to be different for every person.

Carlton Reid 51:26
So could I got an eight and a half, like you, my wife, and my 23 year old daughter both got 10s.

Peter Walker 51:35
So explain, can I can I just point out, factually, I don’t want to correct you on the book. But I’m also claiming a 10. It was the it was the

Peter Walker 51:45
the doctor who invented the test, you’ve got an eight and a half, I’m just attends to will probably not for much longer.

Peter Walker 51:53
But I make the point that my legs are so inflexible, I don’t know how much longer I can do it.

David Bernstein 51:59
Well, so explain the sit stand test. And and I will put it in the show links, I’ll put the video that you talked about in the book. So I mean, basically, it’s, it’s, it’s on some videos, not just connected to this, this particular doctor, but in other ones, you know, people quite introduced a quite in a scary way, and that this will predict when you die.

Peter Walker 52:20
Well, a lot of people know about variants of like the chair test, which is this kind of test of how well you’re going to age where you know, you have to

Peter Walker 52:30
cross your arms crossed your shoulders and sit down and stand up on a chair a certain number of times, and then you have to consult charts, so how good you are for your age, or things like that. And that’s quite complicated. It depends on things like the height of the chair compared to the person etc.

Peter Walker 52:44
But this Brazilian doctor came up with his kind of all purpose tests, which he calls a Sit-Rise test. And basically, you have to find a kind of clear patch about two metres square, where kind of close you can move around it. And the instruction is something like, sit down completely on the floor, and then stand up using as little assistance as possible. And if you’re like a ballet dancer, you basically cross your legs and, you know, sit down like a bird on your on your bum. And then immediately kind of elegantly get back up again. And if you can do both those you score a 10. But you lose points for like wobbling on the way down, or you lose points for using a hand push yourself up.

Peter Walker 53:28
And there’s other kinds of more nuanced rules that if, when you are on a floor, you’re not allowed to, to get up, you’re not allowed to use the kind of edges of your feet, it’s the kind of lever has to be the flat soles of your feet to push yourself up. And

Peter Walker 53:42
this is intended to measure all sorts of things. So in a kind of direct way images, your flexibility, it measures the strength of your legs or some inches measures the power of your legs, you know, he power to kind of do that initial push. But it kind of indirectly measures other things like you know, your balance your weight compared to strength and things like that. And

Peter Walker 54:06
this doctor had done it just as a test and had recorded the scores of people and their ages and medical records. But some researchers kind of cross referenced his results with basically the death records of his patients who’ve gone on to a diet and there was this astonishingly close correlation between a low score and and how likely people were to die quite soon. If you had a score, I think it was less than three, then your chances of dying were roughly the same as if you had certain types of cancer. Whereas more or less whatever your age if you could do a kind of certainly a 10 or eight 9, 10 then your chances were really pretty good. And it’s worth watching the video just to see what you’re meant to do but it’s actually completely addictive. And I

Carlton Reid 54:52
did it I shouldn’t I saw the video and and then got eight and a half. My wife didn’t see the video and just went Yeah, did it up again.

Carlton Reid 55:00
Like, how did you know that that’s so

Carlton Reid 55:03
was my daughter who was actually a, she’s a fitness trainer, amongst many other things that she does. She used to, she didn’t watch the video either. And she’s completely different technique, but I think she was using a bit more of edge of foot. So I’m gonna mark her down,

Peter Walker 55:18
I’m gonna give her give her a chance to actually sleep give her a chance to do with over the feet flat. I mean, the the thing which I mentioned in the book, it’s kind of interesting for everybody how they do it. So I’m still just about able to do it on, you know, maybe I might be docked to nine and a half. But I like to think I can do a attend. But a lot of that is just like many people who ride bikes, I’ve got relatively powerful legs, you know, for my size and weight. But I’m also not very flexible in my legs. So I basically need to stretch a lot more or in the coming years. I’m gonna, you know, start dropping down the scale.

Carlton Reid 55:54
Yeah, this is what my daughter is talking about her hip flexors, you know that hip flexor is dreadful in cyclists.

Peter Walker 56:00
Definitely. Well address in lots of people, basically, you sit down a bit too long. You know, there is this theory that the kind of epidemic of back pain around lots of countries like Britain is because people’s hip flexors have just shortened over the years because they sit down too much. and that in turn affects the way you know that you stand in effects your your your your back, which is yet another reason to, you know, sit less and walk more.

Carlton Reid 56:22
So Peter, where can people get your book? And where can they find you on social media apart from the cause, following your your Westminster

Carlton Reid 56:36
tales on the Guardian,

Peter Walker 56:38
They can get the book from any good bookshop, whether it’s Amazon or the, which

Peter Walker 56:46
groups together lots of local book shops. It’s published by Simon and Schuster, and it was out last week. And in terms of following me, I mean, yes, I’ve got a profile page at The Guardian, which is very easy to find. I’m mainly social media wise on Twitter, which is @PeterWalker99. It’s such a common name, I had to add the numbers at the end.

Carlton Reid 57:06
Well, Peter, thank you ever so much for taking the time today.

Peter Walker 57:10
It’s a great pleasure. Thank you for so many interesting questions.

Carlton Reid 57:14
Thanks to Peter Walker, author of The miracle pill. This has been episode 266 of the Spokesmen cycling podcast. Links can be found on The next show will be a one a half hour chat with mountain bike legend Gary Fisher, and the show after that will be an hour with World Champion Masters cyclist Sylvan Adams, the billionaire who is bankrolling the Israel Startup Nation pro cycling team and also pumping cash into transport cycling in Tel Aviv. Both those shows will air in February. Meanwhile, get out there and ride.

January 25, 2021 / / Blog

Your podcast catcher not showing in links above (black circle with three dots)? Loads more on PodLink. Show is also on Spotify. and Google Podcasts.

Monday 25th January 2021

The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast

EPISODE 265: Desert Skies, Warm Showers and Church Bells


HOST: Carlton Reid

GUESTS: Donna Tocci and Sylva Florence

TOPICS: Solo cycle touring. Donna and Carlton chat with Sylva who — among many other bike trips — rode solo from Berkeley, California to St. Augustine, Florida on Adventure Cycling’s Southern Tier Route. Carlton was in Newcastle, Donna was in Boston and Sylva was in — as you will hear thanks to some melodious bells — a small town in Italy.


Sylva’s website: The Sylva Lining

Sylva on Instagram

Warm Showers hosting

“Penny” — Sylva’s bike, a Dahon Tournado

“Dirty South”

242km Tour des Stations, Switzerland


Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge

Carlton’s Kickstarter tips for crowdsourcing a book or other projects

Our show sponsor: Jenson USA


Carlton Reid 0:13
Welcome to episode 265 of the Spokesmen Cycling Podcast. This show was published on Monday 25th January 2021

David Bernstein 0:24
The Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast is brought to you by Jenson USA, where you’ll always find a great selection of products at amazing prices with unparalleled customer service. For more information, just go to Hey everybody, it’s David from the Fredcast cycling podcast at I’m one of the hosts and producers of the Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast. For shownotes links and all sorts of other information please visit our website at And now, here are the spokesmen.

Carlton Reid 1:08
I’ve got a good mic but have yet to fully soundproof my home office so if you listen carefully you may be able to hear, as the white noise beneath my voice, birdsong and the distant rumble of traffic but later in this not-quite-an-hour-long show you won’t be craning your neck to hear a wonderfully different smattering of extraneous audio. I’m Carlton Reid and on this episode of the Spokesmen podcast you’re going to hear — for a wee while at least — some Italian church bells. They’re the sweet sweet background noise that comes as a package with my guest Sylva Florence who’s an American living in a small Italian town near Bologna. Joining me to quiz Sylva about her solo cycle touring is show stalwart Donna Tocci.

Carlton Reid 2:03
Hi to everybody. It’s another recording of the Spokesmen. It really isn’t the men today. It’s it’s the spokes people very much. And I’m outnumbered In fact, very happily to say I’m very outnumbered. We’ve got one guest who is a regular, who you’ll have heard many, many times over many, many years. I can’t say how many years but a good number of years. And then we’ve got a complete newbie to the show. So that person who is the old hand, but I haven’t talked to for ages. I’m afraid to say it is Donna, Donna Tocci over in Massachusetts.

Donna Tocci 2:40
Hi, everybody. I don’t know this old you said old like five times. And I’m not really sure that what that means. But yes, Carlton and I have known each other for a very long time.

Carlton Reid 2:52
It’s not so old that you can get a vaccination that we know you

Donna Tocci 2:57
No, I’m not that old. And we haven’t known each other that long. But yes, Hi, everybody. I’m so excited. I thought we would do more spokesmen, you know, with everything going on in the world and everybody being in their home, but we haven’t. So it’s really great to be back

Donna Tocci 3:12
with us. I know that’s so cool.

Carlton Reid 3:16
To be fair, and to give an explanation that is just still so difficult to get everybody you know, it’s herding cats stuff, it’s getting everybody in the same place at the same time, even though every is in the same place.

Carlton Reid 3:29
By by law almost. It’s still difficult to track people down. So Hi there, Donna, it’s good to hear you again. And the new guest who who we want to bring in today and who we’re gonna kind of like semi interrogate is Sylva Florence, hi Sylva.

Carlton Reid 3:48
You’re American, but you’re not in America.

Sylva Florence 3:51
No, I’ve been living in Italy now for almost three years.

Carlton Reid 3:54
So why Why are you in Italy? And where are you in Italy?

Sylva Florence 3:59
I am very close to Bologna so northern North Central Italy, but I’m in a town called Faenza, which nobody knows about. And most people confuse with the, with Florence — Fiorenze —, which is more more known.

Sylva Florence 4:16
I came here first in 2009 to be a cycle tour leader. But it was always kind of like

Sylva Florence 4:25
seasonal work. And I kept going back and forth but I had something that kept pulling me back to Italy. So eventually I decided okay, it’s time I’m gonna come here and study language and and try and stay so

Sylva Florence 4:39
I’ve been here about almost three years in May now.

Carlton Reid 4:43
And which which companies, if any, we are actually doing bike tours for?

Sylva Florence 4:48
The company is called Experience Plus, and our clients are mostly Americans, Canadians, some, some Brits and some Australians, but largely English speaking people.

Sylva Florence 5:00
So, obviously in the last year, we didn’t have anything we had no seasons. So

Sylva Florence 5:07
yeah, yeah, but I do like a lot of English speaking people over here in Italy, I do a lot of things. So I’m very fortunate that I’ve been able to still kind of

Sylva Florence 5:18
make ends meet even though I haven’t had any, any bike touring over the last year.

Carlton Reid 5:23
So we are gonna be talking very much bike touring so so Sylva got in touch with me and gave me her backstory, which is fascinating about that the cycle touring, which will go on to, but I’m now going to drop Donna in here and just say, you know, drop her in it really is have you done any cycle touring Donna? Have you read any cycle touring? What is your connection to cycle touring, so if any?

Donna Tocci 5:46
Sylva is my new connection to cycle touring

Donna Tocci 5:54
and she’s in Italy, so when we can travel again, I am all on board. But I love I can totally understand the pull of Italy. Obviously, my last name means that I have an Italian heritage. So I was wondering, actually, I would like nothing better than to tour around Italy. Um, that would be wonderful. But no, I do not have any prior cycle touring experience, but very happy to hear about it and learn about it. And

Carlton Reid 6:25
let’s go to Italy. Well, let’s let’s get your Italian background then. So how far back is your, your heritage there? Ms Tocci?

Donna Tocci 6:35
Um, my great grandfather and great grandmother both were from Italy. So not that far back and down near in Naples.

Carlton Reid 6:46

Carlton Reid 6:48
and have you been Do you do do you go back and have you been back?

Donna Tocci 6:51
No, I have I have only been to Italy once I am sorry to say it was actually on a press tour for Kryptonite. So there we go with the mic but and and we were we’re in a couple of different cities but then spent the weekend up at Lake Garda for there was happened to be a mountain bike festival up there at the time, and went up there and hung out with mountain bikers for the weekend. And yeah, it was beautiful. I mean, I it’s always been on my list to go back and especially go back to that area.

Sylva Florence 7:22
It’s beautiful.

Carlton Reid 7:22
So for sure. So one of the theories that many people are touting and certainly in the tourism sector is that there’s going to be such an aptitude for travel, after these lockdowns have finished and that could be travelling all sorts of different forms, including bicycles, but certainly people are going to be wanting to get out of their four walls. And, and travel. So don’t Is that something you are? Definitely, if you’re thinking about that right now? Yes, we are absolutely thinking about the first place we will go.

Donna Tocci 8:01
When we’re done. And I think for us, it will be it won’t be Italy, unfortunately. But fortunately, it will probably be Ireland because my better half.

Donna Tocci 8:10
And the bigger cyclist in this family is from Ireland originally. And his family is there. So we will probably go there first.

Carlton Reid 8:20
You might be racing your president.

Donna Tocci 8:23
What’s that?

Carlton Reid 8:24
You might be racing your new president because he’s he’s got Irish ancestry and he looks like he’s gonna be going to Ireland pretty soon.

Donna Tocci 8:31
He does. I know. I’ve seen that and a cycling president. Well, yeah. But with the the big controversy now is is peloton in the White House.

Sylva Florence 8:42
See what happens?

Donna Tocci 8:43
I know.

Donna Tocci 8:46
Yeah. Yeah. So where will you go, Carlton?

Carlton Reid 8:51
Uh, I don’t know. I mean, I have got a very, very hard cycling ride to do in the Swiss Alps in August. So touchwood I can get out there but not touchwood. It’s going to be absolutely brutal. It’s basically every tough climb in Switzerland. 280 miles or something [NOPE – 240kms] . It’s just crazy. So hard to do it and then half of me doesn’t want to do it, because it’s a tough one.

Carlton Reid 9:23
But yeah, that’s that’s that’s kind of like what my goal is to maybe get to Switzerland. So so that even though you’re now living, and you have lived in Faenxa near Bologna, for three years, you’ve done some cycle touring, and you went across America. So when when did you do that? That that trip?

Sylva Florence 9:44
So I did that trip. I started in October of 2017. And I ended in February of 2018. And that was the longest cycling trip, second bike touring trip that I’ve done alone.

Sylva Florence 10:00
But I have done other ones alone. And I’ve done other bike tours in other parts of the world. But that one was particularly important because it was one that I did by myself across America. You did all by yourself no support vehicle or anything? No, it’s just me how, yeah, just me

Carlton Reid 10:21
in what kind of accommodation at night times.

Sylva Florence 10:24
So I brought a tent and I bought a stove and I bought everything. So I had, I was very self sufficient. I was able to stop wherever I wanted more or less,

Sylva Florence 10:34
which I did for about the first month.

Sylva Florence 10:38
But then it obviously because it was over the winter, even though I was going, I went from

Sylva Florence 10:44
Berkeley, California to Florida, so it was very far south. But we still had a little bit of winter weather I ran into like a blizzard in Louisiana, which was incredibly strange, and not normal at all.

Sylva Florence 10:59
But I ended up using the Warm Showers network a lot. Are you guys familiar with that?

Donna Tocci 11:04

Carlton Reid 11:05
Donna is not. I am but you explain it. I’ll tell you why I’m familiar with it in a second.

Sylva Florence 11:11
Yeah, because you ‘ve bike toured too I think I read right, Carlton?

Carlton Reid 11:17
Many, many years ago in a previous life when Warm Showers did not exist. fantastic to be able to hook up. The internet didn’t exist when when I was cycle touring.

Carlton Reid 11:28
Computers had only just been invented, you know, it’s like

Sylva Florence 11:34
Hey, bike touring his bike touring no matter how you do it. So for sure. So yeah, it’s a warm shower. Isn’t it really cute. Thank you. Yeah, but basically warm showers is like, if anybody knows couchsurfing.

Sylva Florence 11:47
It’s very similar to couchsurfing. And that it’s a hospitality based website, which people offer for free their homes and you never know like, maybe you’re going to be putting a tent up in their backyard, maybe you’re going to be sleeping on their couch, maybe if they have an extra room, you can sleep in a bed. And then like the name suggests, you’ll get a hot shower. And then part of the culture is that usually you share dinner together or and or breakfast. And so you get to know the people that you stay with, which is really cool. You feel like you’ve walked into a family or something. So I use warm showers a lot and it was a really enriched my my trip. It was it was a really beautiful part of it.

Carlton Reid 12:31
I know why people use it but alone woman using it. Do you have any extra worries when you’re you’re hooking up with somebody? Or you’re thinking ‘I’ve got to go with a couple I can’t be going with this …. You know, do you have an antenna for thinking ‘I’m not going to go to that one. I’m gonna go to this one’. How do you cope? That I wouldn’t have to think about these things. But But I’m presuming you you would have to sadly.

Sylva Florence 12:55
Yeah, it’s true. It’s a little bit different for a woman still, unfortunately, I’m just kind of the way the world is. But honestly, it’s not as scary and dangerous as everybody thinks like them the 95% of the experiences and the people that I met were positive and were helpful and curious and wanted to in some way help me out.

Donna Tocci 13:19
But as far as warm showers,

Donna Tocci 13:22
I’d lucky or we’re all lucky because there’s kind of

Donna Tocci 13:25
a system in place. So when somebody stays with you, you leave them a review, and vice versa. So I could go on to these profiles of people I would hope to stay with and I could read reviews about them. And if they didn’t have any reviews, maybe I would choose a different one.

Carlton Reid 13:44
For example, that had so it’s kind of like Airbnb, but you’re not you’re you’re not paying for it. This is given gratis. And then I’m presuming that’s bells in the backgroun. And it’s not your strange

Donna Tocci 13:55
I love that.

Sylva Florence 13:56
Oh, that’s my house.

Sylva Florence 13:59
Can you hear that?

Carlton Reid 14:01
Yeah, totally cute. I mean, normally we say can you turn your phone off? You’ve got strange Italian

Carlton Reid 14:06
bell ringing as your your your ringtone is like no, no, no, that’s, that’s where you live. That’s cute.

Sylva Florence 14:11
I didn’t even notice because it happens like several times a day. I live like very close to a church. So beautiful. Yeah, yeah, it’s nice. I like it to actually kind of like a nice soundtrack to my life.

Carlton Reid 14:25
And how often do they go off? Are they you know, that soundtrack to your life is how frequent?

Sylva Florence 14:30
Well if you’ll notice right now it’s it’s 5.18pm so they go off at really weird times. Like actually my neighbour and I laugh about it because it’s never it’s never on the hour like on the quarter hour it’s always like a weird time so it’s it’s Sunday though so they go off maybe like three times a day on Sundays.

Carlton Reid 14:49
There’s something I’m presuming it’s religious then it’s like as in not a time thing is like taking you to Vespers or something I don’t I’m not religious.

Sylva Florence 14:56
I don’t know but I don’t know either cuz I’m not religious.

Donna Tocci 15:00
I feel like yeah, I feel like it’s connected. Because it’s Sunday. So, yeah, strange time.

Donna Tocci 15:05
5.18? I mean, that’s just an odd. It’s not like five o’clock or even 5.15 or 5.30.

Sylva Florence 15:13
I mean, I feel like there’s something about like six o’clock. So maybe it’s like, go quick get your coffee because you’re Italian and then go to Vespers.

Sylva Florence 15:24
I love living here. Yeah.

Carlton Reid 15:27
So it’s still going on. So it’s quite,

Donna Tocci 15:31
it will go for a while.

Donna Tocci 15:34
So, Carlton, have you done any bike touring around the US, like when you were here for maybe Interbike, or Sea Otter or anything like that?

Carlton Reid 15:43
Yeah, for many, many years, well, every time I came, I’d always try and fit in a bike tour. So sometimes I’d hire a car. So I’ve done a lot of desert trips. So I would hire and get out somewhere, getting a bike out, do some trips around, then getting the car go somewhere else when I was connected to, to

Carlton Reid 16:03
the kind of the schedule of doing trade shows, but even before that, I would now this is now in the 1980s. So he’s now dating me very much. So then I would fly in, and I would just do American deserts and spend a month. So every every

Carlton Reid 16:20
university holiday I had, after I’d already I’d already spent two years cycling around, and and just doing stuff on a bike somewhere in the world, generally in the Middle East. And then when I went to university, I then spend one month, every year, somewhere exotic, and it would either be the Sahara

Carlton Reid 16:41
or I then went to the Kalahari Desert. And then I decided to do some of the American deserts so so went out and spent time doing solo bike touring, or sometimes with an Israeli friend In fact, who I had who we did the

Carlton Reid 17:01
we went into Mexico and so did some of the the deserts that part of the loss I’m very much a desert cycle tourist. That’s what I like the best is, is getting really dusty.

Sylva Florence 17:12
Deserts awesome. Why do you like it?

Donna Tocci 17:14
Yeah, why?

Carlton Reid 17:17
I’m, I’m British, I get rained on a lot.

Carlton Reid 17:24
Going for the opposite. Let’s go somewhere the opposite to where I am. Okay, deserts.

Carlton Reid 17:30
I just I just absolutely loved, literally getting dusty.

Carlton Reid 17:36
riding along. So I’ve done lots and lots of deserts in my time and even took so that’s why my son Josh, that’s why he then graduate become a cycle tourist. So we used to do some pretty adventurous trips, including to Iceland. So Iceland, you might think of as a like a snowy, you know, ice place, but it’s actually the biggest desert in Europe, in that there’s no there’s no rainfall, very little rainfall at certain times of the year. And enormous expanses have in effect volcanic sand. So Iceland is a is a place we went to, and spent time in with my son. So in fact, teaching him desert

Carlton Reid 18:21
survival techniques, even though it wasn’t a hot desert, it was a cold desert. But I would go to the deserts wherever they are. Even now.

Sylva Florence 18:31
They’re pretty awesome. There’s something about the desert, like there’s like a silence in the desert that you find, especially at night that I’ve never found anywhere else. I guess

Carlton Reid 18:40
Yes. So I’m looking at this guy as well, the sky, it tends to be amazing in deserts. Obviously not going to get clouds. And so you just lie back and I’d lie back in the Sahara and literally the Sahara and I’m in a in a sleeping bag. And just look at the amazing amazing sky which I’ve never seen anywhere else apart. You know the desert you just see just masses of stars. It’s just incredible.

Carlton Reid 19:07

Donna Tocci 19:08
no, I would think you would have to prepare very differently for a desert tour rather than what Silva did. You know, going from coast to coast. I mean, where there’s a tonne of cars and people and all of that what would be the differences in preparing?

Sylva Florence 19:28
Well actually went through the desert through from from Eastern California until until midway through Texas was all desert pretty much. So

Carlton Reid 19:41
cute. Nice service stations. So you can just pull in and getting a coffee and a donut in in the middle of the desert, which is just kind of cool.

Donna Tocci 19:53
Did you find that a healthy way

Donna Tocci 19:59
when you’re cycling

Donna Tocci 20:00
You need a lot of calories. So it’s true. And caffeine never hurts.

Carlton Reid 20:05
And I found that American deserts were less populated than deserts elsewhere in the world. So Kalahari, the Sahara, there’s, there’s probably habitation every 5 or 10 miles. Whereas in an American desert, it’s literally how far you can get in a car.

Sylva Florence 20:24
You know, that actually devastations would be, actually, so I was I went, because most when you cycle as you know, you don’t take the main routes, because they’re traffic up. And maybe not. Because when usually when you travel you, you look to kind of enjoy what you’re going through. Like, some people do want to ride as much as they can in one day. But I’m, I’m not necessarily one of those people. I tried to cover some distance if I can, but I really like to also enjoy what I’m going through. And the route that I followed took me away from interstates unless there was no other road, sometimes I had to read on an interstate. But the the towns were actually about maybe 100 kilometres 60 miles spaced apart, because it was where the train used to stop. Mm hmm. So So between those those 60 mile 100 kilometre points, there was absolutely nothing. And some and sometimes it was there was a town on the map, but it wasn’t actually a town, it was like a ghost town.

Donna Tocci 21:29
And so you really had to think about water, you really had to think about carrying water, enough water for the day or even the night if you’re going to camp or something or you didn’t know. And really getting, I asked a lot of people because sometimes there was like a faucet maybe behind like the library or the post office or something. So I could fill up water. But other than that there was nothing. So it was it was logistically interesting for sure. Now

Donna Tocci 22:02
what what’s that? I’m sorry, sorry. Go ahead. Carlton.

Carlton Reid 22:06
Donna said How did you plan the route? And my question was about clothing through a few different climate zones. So how are you planning? Were you jettison clothing and mailing it back? Or do you carry everything? So planning and clothing?

Sylva Florence 22:20
So okay, so for planning, I started in Berkeley, where my brother lives, and I rode to San Diego. And then I followed what’s called the Southern Tier Route, which is the American cycling associations route that they’ve kind of already come up with. And it’s, like, well known enough in in cycling culture, I guess. So they give you the route, but they don’t tell you where to stop. So you have to you have to figure it out on your own, where you’re going to stop where you want to stay that kind of thing. So, after a while, I kind of just got into a pattern where I was contacting warmshowers hosts on the road ahead of me, maybe, because I discovered that they appreciated you know, a few days to a week of notice. So I tried to contact them with some notice if I could, and I was also contacting churches and fire stations and police stations to ask them if I could camp or stay

Donna Tocci 23:20
there, too, to save money because it was almost a five month trip. Um, and then as far as, as clothing and things that I brought, I brought everything because I started in October and I finished in mid February and so I kind of needed I needed everything honestly.

Donna Tocci 23:41
When I started in in California, I was dealing with heat waves, like over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, which I think is like 35 maybe Celsius.

Donna Tocci 23:54
And then when I got to Louisiana, I had a blizzard. So I needed everything and had absolutely everything. So I carried it all with me but luckily having done this for many years I have kind of accumulated a lot of the gear so I’m very lucky. Like I had everything that I needed light like gear. So

Carlton Reid 24:17
you’ve told us why you started in Berkeley because your brother Why did you end in Louisiana?

Sylva Florence 24:24
I ended in Florida,

Carlton Reid 24:26
Florida, Florida sorry Florida. Why did you end in Florida?

Sylva Florence 24:28
No problem. Um, because that because I was going coast to coast. I was going from the the Pacific to the Atlantic basically. And I was I was following this already more or less established route even though I went off of it a few times, which started in San Diego and ended in St. Augustine, Florida. So I basically just followed it until the end till till Florida.

Carlton Reid 24:54
Mm hmm.

Donna Tocci 24:56
It’s something I always wanted to do this this Southern Tier trip.

Carlton Reid 25:03
I don’t want to get too rude here and you can, Americans can absolutely stop me here if you say you can’t say these sort of things, but

Carlton Reid 25:12
it’s the states you are going through are very rudely called flyover states. Yeah. And and are you gonna stop me here now? Or should I

Carlton Reid 25:23
pick on flyover states for a reason? Whereas, you know, obviously, people go from one, one American coast to the American coast, and then don’t go in to the hinterland. And in elearning, see the comments we’re gonna get for this. Go ahead. Well, especially where I’m going with this. So the hinterland

Carlton Reid 25:47
also has a reputation for certain kind of politics. When you were going through, did you see any massive changes in politics and how you were treated? Why? I don’t know how you can skirt around these things, or whether you even never saw any of this, because because it just didn’t come up. But describe how, where I’m going here and what you think I’m talking about, and how the political how people view politics can maybe even change how they view a stranger coming into their midst?

Donna Tocci 26:28
Or a cyclist. I mean, we all know that, in, in every part of the world, there are folks that are very accommodating to cyclists, and that there are other parts that are very much not. So did you encounter any of that as well?

Donna Tocci 26:47
These are very interesting questions. And actually, Yeah, seriously, we’re not answer. So no, I’m happy to. Okay. So I, when I wrote in, I told Carlton that I wrote a book about this trip. So I bought a wrote a book while while I was writing across the United States, which I’m now trying to pitch to editors and things and decide what I want to do with it. But I talk about this kind of stuff, because, for example, like going into the Dirty South, as we call it, like it’s not, it’s not necessarily a place that people think would be like, Hey, I would love to go like ride my bike through

Donna Tocci 27:26
the Dirty South because there’s not, in general, a lot of infrastructure for cycling, and for cyclists. And when you ride through some of these areas, and I didn’t even really understand it. So I’m really grateful to have experienced this so that I understand my own country better our own country. But when you go into the south east, and in particular places, for example, like Baton Rouge, which I wrote through

Donna Tocci 27:55
a bicycle is kind of seen a bicycle as seen as either maybe like, not not probably by everyone, I’m generalising but as a as a rich person sport, or as something that people do when they when they’re really poor, and they can’t afford a car.

Donna Tocci 28:14
And so I was kind of like, in the middle of this so like a weird like, what what in the world is this girl doing? You know? So they were I have a lot of problems with traffic and had a lot of people with not not giving me space, like really brushing me very close. Like a few times, I was almost knocked off the road and things like that.

Donna Tocci 28:35
But I think it wasn’t it wasn’t a point of like them trying to be mean or aggressive. It was more like they just didn’t understand where I fit into the scheme of things. Like I wasn’t, I wasn’t a super poor person. And I wasn’t like somebody on a fancy road bike. I was like this weird girl going through with a pirate flag and bags. Because I had a pirate flag on my bike. Hired flag I found it on the side of the road in eastern California and I just like couldn’t help myself. I I flew it all the way to Florida. So the Kenny Chesney fans would love that.

Donna Tocci 29:09
It was the pirate ship and my back was the pirate ship.

Carlton Reid 29:14
Tell me about your bike. What kind of bike are you talking about here?

Sylva Florence 29:19
Well, I’m one of those weird people who likes to name everything. So her name is Penny because she’s the colour of like a penny. A US one cent

Sylva Florence 29:30
and it’s a it’s a Richey bike but it was like Richey made it for Dahon the the brand Dahon but it’s a Richey. It’s a Ritchey Tournardo basically. And it’s coupled so it comes apart and you can put it into a suitcase. Basically, it’s made for this kind of stuff. Thank you, Richey.

Carlton Reid 29:50
Is that the s&s couplings. It’s that that thing?

Sylva Florence 29:52
Yeah, yeah. Mm hmm. And then like the brake cables come apart and it’s got it’s like suitcase and

Donna Tocci 30:01
I carry like a collapsible cloth bag which I had my brother send me from Berkeley and I had him send it to my warm shower hosts in St. Augustine so that I could bring it to a bike shop and have them put it helped me put it into a bag, but you’ve got to like take a cardboard box apart and make a sort of an internal frame for the for the box. It’s a bit involved, but you can do it.

Carlton Reid 30:27
And then you old school with like panniers, do you have a trailer or are you like new school in that it’s bike packing.

Sylva Florence 30:36
I’m I’m a little bit half and half I guess because I’ve done bike packing. And so I’ve got what’s called a sweet roll which I absolutely love for my handlebars where I put my tent and my fuel and a couple other things. And then I have panniers on the back.

Sylva Florence 30:52
And I often also use a front rack with panniers but it broken right before the trip and I didn’t have time to to buy a new one and get it all figured out. So I’m I guess I’m like middle school.

Carlton Reid 31:05
I’m older. Yeah. Yeah. Whatever works, really? And is that bike, the collapsible bike, something you’re still riding is that your like your go to bike.

Donna Tocci 31:17
I brought it over here to Italy. And actually after the first after the lockdown that we had that ended in June, I rode

Donna Tocci 31:26
18 days, I think by myself from where I live to very southern Tuscany. So I use that bike as well. So yeah, it’s it’s still in action.

Carlton Reid 31:37
A pretty flexible machine that if you can take it apart, that’s a good bike to bring with you from America into Italy. Exactly. Yeah, exactly. So it’s very much in use. I have I have four bikes, if I’m going to be honest. So

Sylva Florence 31:53
with you that just in life in general. With me now with me now. I have four bicycles.

Donna Tocci 32:00
Every bike person has more than one.

Sylva Florence 32:03
Brava. So I would say yes.

Donna Tocci 32:08
So I have a question, Sylva. So you did this all by yourself, which is amazing. And Awesome.

Sylva Florence 32:15
Thank you.

Donna Tocci 32:17
Did you know where you were going to end? And did you have to some days because I’m sure some days it was like, Yes, this is fantastic. I love this. And other days were probably a little bit of a slog like, okay, I just want to get through the miles today. Did you did you use any visualisation to like, I know exactly where I’m going to end? Or did you not know where you’re going, and you just knew you were going to end on the coast of Florida?

Donna Tocci 32:44
Well, because I was followiong this route to St. Augustine, Florida, I knew that I was going to end there. And honestly, I didn’t. I didn’t want to stop riding. When I arrived in St. Augustine, I was so happy with bike touring and, and just the feeling of being on the road and being so free to an autonomous will all the stuff that I had, I would have loved to continue. But by that point, while riding, I had already planned my move to Italy. So I kind of had to return to my parents house or had my stuff in the interim and start getting my visa and everything together to move to Italy. So

Carlton Reid 33:26
I suppose Yeah, maybe maybe I’m wrong here Donna. But maybe the question was a daily thing, even though you had your your your eventual

Carlton Reid 33:35
target. Did you know each day where you were going to stop? Like was it just literally you just rode until you stopped? Was that? Would that be right? Donna?

Donna Tocci 33:44
That’s kind of the question. I’m kind of how you’d write every day. But how do you motivate? How did you get that motivation every day to go out on the days that were hard? Because there have been some days where you were sore? Or you just kind of didn’t feel it?

Donna Tocci 34:00
Maybe? I mean, in five months, there’s had to have been a couple of days that were not your favourite. So did you do any visualisation? Or did you just say no, I just kind of grit through it and got to do it.

Donna Tocci 34:14
I think I don’t know. I think it’s probably a bit of both. I’m really a very stubborn person. And I’m, I’m rather determined. And so when I when I see something that I want to do even I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to do it or figure it out. I kind of keep looking at that and saying I’m going to do that. And so there were definitely some days that were really rough like I had had a lot of I mean as any long bike tour anybody that ever goes on a long bike tour, there’s all sorts of things that happen to you. I had back problems I had blizzards, landslides, heat waves, knee problems, like everything imaginable, which is kind of normal and but

Donna Tocci 35:00
For me, it actually became kind of a joy to, to problem solve and to say, Okay, I’ve got this problem, but how am I going to figure it out? And then, like not seeing it more as, as a problem or as like a fun challenge or something? And definitely there were some days where I was like, What am I doing this is so stupid. But then the next day would be completely different. Or some or I would meet somebody that would just pick my spirits up in like a second.

Donna Tocci 35:32
It was, I don’t know, bike touring is is one of those things that it’s like, incredibly hard, but it’s also really rewarding. And so by the time you get to the end, you look at the whole thing as being something more rewarding than it was punishing or hard.

Donna Tocci 35:50
Because you’re changing. Sorry. So do you feel like your 18 days to Tuscany was like, going around the corner for milk?

Donna Tocci 36:03
I mean, actually, at the end of that, too, I didn’t want to stop either. But I had some bureaucratic stuff. I had to come back and go to the police, that deals with immigration, so

Sylva Florence 36:18
but my friends were laughing at me because I could have just gone the easy way. And I could have, like, not climbed like 1000 metres a day, but I chose a route in which I really pushed myself and climbed a lot. So I made it not necessarily very easy for myself, but it was incredible.

Donna Tocci 36:39
So you and Carlton with the mountains?

Sylva Florence 36:42
Carlton, you like to climb too?

Carlton Reid 36:45
Yeah, that’s my favourite. My favourite is climbing bags on so yeah, it’s nice to go up in a nice you know, incredibly light, light road bike, but it’s also really nice to go up with really heavy bags.

Carlton Reid 37:00
Sharing you and and and cars to be stopping and, and that kind of stuff. So that that’s also cool.

Carlton Reid 37:09
No, you go first Donna,

Donna Tocci 37:11
I might have missed it, Carlton, how long is your event in the summer in Switzerland?

Carlton Reid 37:18
Well, that’s a one day thing. So that’s 280 miles in a day over every single mountain. So that’s why I was going Oh, it’s not it’s a tough one. Wow. Cool. Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s the tourist action, if you go over every

Carlton Reid 37:36
Swiss ski resort, in effect in the summer, and it’s an interesting thing as well. So it’s new for this year. So you’re definitely doing the height of Everest, in your in your day of punishing climbs. So they’ve extended the distance of an already brutal course. And how dare the Tourist Board invite me across for such a punishment?

Donna Tocci 38:06
How are you training for that?

Carlton Reid 38:10
I’ll start soon.

Sylva Florence 38:12
And how will you train for it?

Carlton Reid 38:14
I’ll do hills.

Carlton Reid 38:18
I can get out and do some hills.

Sylva Florence 38:19
You have some good hills where you live?

Carlton Reid 38:22
Yeah, yeah, it’s okay. I can do some elevation. But you’d so tough to do a trip like this, because it’s just Hill after Hill after But on the plus side, you’ve also got down hills, plenty of downhill. So it’s not the whole way.

Carlton Reid 38:38
So my question, Sylva it was was

Carlton Reid 38:41
was going to be you’ve talked about where you’ve been or what do you haven’t talked about every one of your your places you’ve you’ve been to. But one of the things we started talking about in the beginning was all about how are our dreams about lockdown? So have you got dreams about cycle touring? independent cycle tours coming up? Have you got stuff planned?

Donna Tocci 39:02
planned, planned now because it’s just really difficult here. Like I don’t know how the lockdown stuff is where you guys are. But here we have just kind of a seemingly never ending series of regulations that right now where I live in Emilia Romagna is in what’s called the orange zone. So we have kind of tiers of yellow, orange and red and we’re in orange,

Donna Tocci 39:26
which signifies that we can’t leave our towns.

Donna Tocci 39:31
And we can’t and we have a curfew, which we’ve had since the beginning of November at 10pm. And a lot of different other things bars and restaurants, clothes, blah, blah, blah. So it’s very difficult to actually plan something because we don’t know when it’s going to end. But you know, like those of us that travel and they love this kind of stuff. We’re always dreaming and we always have like four trips in mind. So what I would really like is to ride from here to Spain, because I’ve got some friends there and

Sylva Florence 40:00
I’ve never been to Spain. And so I would absolutely love to ride from Faenza to Spain, by myself.

Carlton Reid 40:08
Mm hmm.

Carlton Reid 40:11
by yourself. So that’s that. I mean, that is one of the things I also do get asked loads of times is about the solo stuff. Why? Why do it solo? So that was gonna ask me, I’ll just ask you why? Why solo?

Sylva Florence 40:27
Um, for me, um,

Donna Tocci 40:31
well, a lot of the people that I talked to, especially a lot of other women and Donna, I’m not saying that you’re in this group, I don’t know what your experiences are. But there’s a lot of women who don’t feel comfortable travelling by themselves, because they really are afraid of

Donna Tocci 40:48
I hate to say it like men and just the way that the world is. But

Donna Tocci 40:53
I guess I don’t necessarily see that for myself as a barrier. Because I, I trust and expect that like good things will come my way. And they always do. And I’m very, I’m very aware, I’m not going to be naive. And if I feel something weird, I’m not going to go to that person’s house, I’m not even going to necessarily talk to that person. But I love to travel by myself, because I feel like it really opens people’s influence people’s doors, it opens people’s minds. And it opens people’s hearts. Like it’s a very, you meet a lot of really cool people.

Carlton Reid 41:29
That’s my answer as well, that as well. Because it’s the people think, oh, you’re just so low that you’re not, you’re just being horrible, you’re not you’re being incredibly social, because I found that when you’re, I don’t know how it’s, it’s for you. So when you travel with two or more people, you’re in that little clique, you’re in a little bubble, and you can’t miss stuff, because you’re with somebody else, when you’re by yourself, you see everything, and you are open to talking to anybody. And people also come to you more, if you’re in a group or if you’re in just even just two people, a lot of people just won’t come up and talk to you, because you’ve got a friend, you’ve got somebody to talk to you No need to go and talk to that that strange, exotic person over there. When you’re by yourself, that strange exotic person is all of a sudden, very approachable, because it’s only you. So that that was my fight wasn’t an anti social thing. It was actually the opposite he, you’re more likely to talk to people, if you’re by yourself.

Sylva Florence 42:23
Sure. And you’re free to for example, say you meet somebody who’s really cool. And they invite you to say come to this town. That’s maybe not the direction that you would plan to go. But you’re the only one that decides if you’re going to keep going left or if you’re going to go right. So if you meet these people, and they say let’s go right, then you can go and it completely changes your experience. It’s really cool. It’s like going with the flow.

Carlton Reid 42:49
Huh? No, no, I I it’s all flooding back, Sylva.

Carlton Reid 42:56
I am mad. I haven’t done solo for so long. That I haven’t been asked why do you do solo Tours by now remember why I did solo tours? Yeah, for that reason that you’ve given as well. So thank you. Thank you for the memories.

Sylva Florence 43:08
You’re welcome. Anytime.

Sylva Florence 43:11

Sylva Florence 43:14
Donna, you’ve got to get out there by yourself.

Sylva Florence 43:17
would you do it? Donna? would you do it? a solo tour?

Donna Tocci 43:21

Donna Tocci 43:24
I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s me. I would go out for solo rides? Sure. I don’t have any problem doing that. I have done that. So and I think you’re right. I think just in general, no matter how you’re travelling, that if you’re by yourself, you’re more approachable to others. I think, you know, like you said, If you already have a friend with you or two friends, somebody’s not going to come up and talk to you necessarily, but when you’re by yourself. Sure people feel like they can approach you more.

Donna Tocci 43:54
So a solo bike tour? I don’t know. Just because I have not done it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t but but bike garage or Absolutely. I have no fear about that.

Carlton Reid 44:08
So but also, this, I guess to many people, this would sound odd but

Carlton Reid 44:14
because because most people would think of bicycling in the boondocks as an inherently dangerous thing to do. I mean, you probably don’t don’t think that but many people do. But do you think actually as a solo woman, actually a bicycle is actually a really good way of being a solo woman because actually, it’s easier because you are absolutely in charge of the vehicle that’s taking place. Whereas if you’re a solo woman on a bus, on a train, there’s potentially actually more

Carlton Reid 44:49

Carlton Reid 44:51
connections with with people who might not be as nice as you think. Whereas on a bicycle, you can just go well, there’s somebody up ahead, I want to see them. I’ll go that way. instead.

Carlton Reid 45:00
Do you see a bicycle as actually a means of, of a very good way of of a woman travelling, for safety reasons?

Donna Tocci 45:07
I will take that I will say not only travelling, I do a lot of walking in the summertime, because I try, I actually trained Carlton, you might want to train for that whole thing in Switzerland. But I train for doing a marathon walk every year for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute here in Boston. And when you’re walking, I’m very much more aware of my surroundings, and who’s around me and all of that, as I’m walking, you know, 15 miles on a day and all of that. But when I’m on my bike, I, it’s not that I worry when I walk, I live in a safe neighbourhood, but I do look at all my surroundings and all of that a lot more. But when I’m on my bike, I, I don’t it’s not that I don’t pay attention to cars, and people and all of that. But there isn’t. There’s just another element that’s not there. So I think you’re right. Yeah, bike is, I think a little safer. In some ways. I don’t know.

Carlton Reid 46:03
Same same question to you than Sylva. Yeah, I mean, I think that when you’re definitely when you’re on a bike, you have the decision of where you’re going to go because you’re in charge of the vehicle.

Donna Tocci 46:14
And also in your bike touring, as you probably know, Carlton, like you don’t go through main avenues so much are kind of on the periphery. And so you kind of you kind of seek by things, like if you don’t really want to be seen, you don’t have to be seen, like, and so for me, I would just really use it as like a tool of exploration. And I would go where I felt good and where I didn’t feel good, I would kind of choose another route. And I encountered a lot of people that were really afraid that would ask me like, well, aren’t you afraid to be doing what you’re doing your I would never do, I would never be able to do that. Because with the world as it is, or whatever, but

Donna Tocci 46:55
I don’t I don’t really see the world as being that way. And so

Donna Tocci 47:01
I don’t know, like I found such good experiences. And this is like, not only this trip, but over almost 10 years now like touring. And so as a solo woman, there are some places where I probably maybe I wouldn’t go by myself or maybe like the Middle East, perhaps I would want to have another girlfriend or somebody with me. But most places also in Italy and Europe, I would feel comfortable going on my own on a bicycle is such an amazing place a way to see the world. I agree.

Carlton Reid 47:34
I think we’re gonna have to wrap up for today. But by doing so, I’d like to ask somewhere where can people who are listening to this where can they find out more information and and perhaps how they’re going to be able to find your book eventually? How are you on social media where you can tell people where your books can come from? And

Carlton Reid 47:53
where do people find you is what I’m trying to say?

Sylva Florence 47:55
Sure. Yeah, I have a website which is so my name s y l v a lining dotcom. And my Instagram is also thesilverlining. And Facebook, thesilverlining everything is the silver lining,

Carlton Reid 48:13
Does your Instagram have tonnes and tonnes of bike touring pictures or is it your life in general.

Sylva Florence 48:19
I just started a new a new Instagram for specifically for to promote the book and just my life experience in Italy and that kind of thing, which is the silver lining. Otherwise, if you want to see some pictures of the trip, it’s Silvana Firenze, which is kind of my name translated in Italian. So

Sylva Florence 48:41
So yeah, and I’m not exactly sure how yet how I’m going to get the book out, but it’s ready and I’m just trying to find the best, the best course for it.

Carlton Reid 48:52
How about self publishing.

Sylva Florence 48:54
I thought about that too. Mm hmm. If I can find enough people who would be interested in it as as an audience I would absolutely self publish it as well.

Carlton Reid 49:04
So right now it’s research talking about experience there and that I’ve done to crowdsource books

Carlton Reid 49:12
which in how much American money well 25,000 pounds now that a book well first one’s 15,000 pounds second one was 25,000 so there is definitely an audience for books out there even niche niche urban Cycling is nicche, niche books.

Carlton Reid 49:30
So I would I personally I’d recommend

Carlton Reid 49:34
rather than waiting for the world to come to you on this one get out there and get it self published and and perhaps crowdsource it to begin with.

Sylva Florence 49:44
I guess we should have a chat off, off podcast.

Carlton Reid 49:49
totally happy to help. Yeah. And Donna where where can people find you at the moment and your dog?

Donna Tocci 49:58
Oh, my dog.

Donna Tocci 49:59
You can always find me on Twitter at DonnaTocci, and you can find me on Instagram and that’s what Carlton was talking about. That’s more my dogs and my life and all of that. But it’s all there at Donna Tocci as well on Instagram.

Carlton Reid 50:15
Beautiful. Well, thank you both ever so much for chatting today and and Sylva, thank you for getting my memories flooding back.

Carlton Reid 50:27
After after lockdown I’ll definitely have to get out and do more solo bike touring. Yeah and Warm Showers this time.

Carlton Reid 50:35
Wasn’t able to in the dark ages when I was last cycle touring, but I’ve got that to look forward to. So thank you ever so much for being on the show. And thank you to for Donna for asking some great questions too, and for keeping the conversation flowing.

Carlton Reid 50:51
Thanks to Donna Tocci and Sylva Florence for today’s cycle touring chat. This has been episode 265 of the Spokesmen cycling podcast. Links to things we were chatting about — such as Warm Showers, the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge and the Southern Tier Route and more — can be found on I’ve also provided a link to the Tour des Stations — I just looked it’s not 280 miles it’s 242kms — I was scaring myself. But 242 Kms is the thick end of 150 miles so still brutal, and still with 8,848 metres of ascent, or the height of Everest. No doubt I’ll do a podcast on it. A very huffy puffy podcast Anyway, tomorrow I’ll be talking with mountain bike legend Gary Fisher and then the following day I’m booked in with the Guardian’s political editor Peter Walker — both have got great new books out which I’ve now got to read. Meanwhile, get out there and ride.

January 16, 2021 / / Blog

Your podcast catcher not showing in links above (black circle with three dots)? Loads more on PodLink. Show is also on Spotify. and Google Podcasts.

Saturday 16th January 2021

The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast

EPISODE 264: Bike Nerds Kyle and Sara of People for Bikes


HOST: Carlton Reid

GUESTS: Bike nerds Kyle Wagenschutz and Sara Studdard of People for Bikes, USA.

TOPICS: Bike lanes, mobility motivations, and Mayor Pete’s high-profile potential impact on transportation.


Carlton Reid 0:12
Welcome to Episode 264 of the Spokesmen cycling podcast. This show was published on Saturday 16th of January 2021.

David Bernstein 0:24
The Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast is brought to you by Jenson USA, where you’ll always find a great selection of products at amazing prices with unparalleled customer service. For more information, just go to spokesmen. Hey everybody, it’s David from the Fredcast cycling podcast at I’m one of the hosts and producers of the Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast for shownotes links and all sorts of other information please visit our website at And now, here are the spokesmen.

Carlton Reid 1:07
Happy New Year and welcome to the first episode of 2021. I’m Carlton Reid and the next few shows are going to have a distinctly American flavour starting with today’s guests Kyle Wagenschutz and Sarah Studdard of People for Bikes the US bicycle advocacy organisation. This is an hour long show in which we talk bike lanes, mobility motivations, Mayor Pete’s high-profile potential impact on transportation and you’ll get a sneak preview of People for BIke’s report on US pandemic cycling trends which goes live on January 21st.

Carlton Reid 1:55
I’m here today with with Kyle and Sarah and and before we get into who you are, describe what you do for people who buys and what is people who buy so people who who don’t know what this us organisation is and I guess lots of people in the US will absolutely know what it is but to explain it for the rest of us. What is peopleforbikes? And where’s it come from? Because got an interesting, interesting backstory.

Kyle Wagenschutz 2:23
Yeah, certainly. Thank you. And peopleforbikes is a US based bicycling advocacy organisation that has been around since 1998. So we we just celebrated moving past the 20 year mark as an organisation. And we have used that time and our presence and influence here in the us to continue to advance policies that make bicycling better for people every day in the US and that most of our support, a large basis centre of our support actually comes from the US based bicycling industry. So manufacturers and suppliers of bicycles, bicycle components, and adjacent bicycle parts contribute are members of our programme. And we act as both a trade association acting on their behalf in matters of business and trade, important export. And then we also act as a as a charitable foundation,

Kyle Wagenschutz 3:27
almost like a traditional nonprofit organisation that would

Kyle Wagenschutz 3:32
help local communities enact and be able to activate on those locally based projects.

Carlton Reid 3:38
So that’s what I meant. When I said you had an interesting backstory, it was it’s industry funded, and it’s come from the industry as an industry initiative. And that’s always and it has been going on for a long time is the industry should be doing more to get bums on bikes, and here there’s an organisation that’s absolutely that’s, that’s its raison d’etre. Yeah.

Kyle Wagenschutz 3:59
Yeah, 100% you know, and, and there’s, there’s a, there’s a reason you know, the bicycle companies exist. And that’s to of course, sell bicycles and parts within their marketplace. But, you know, there’s also a

Kyle Wagenschutz 4:14
joint self interest in these companies who compete every single day on selling their products in the marketplace to come together and say, you know, collectively we have the power to grow the share of bicycling for for the US and by acting in concert together and channelling those activities to people for bikes, we can grow the pie, so that we all benefit. And I think that’s a real testament of, you know, how businesses can function and work together towards a common goal. While

Kyle Wagenschutz 4:46
you know, also advancing, you know, programmes and projects that create a better world for transportation create a better world for our future of our planet and climate change. create a better world related to issues

Kyle Wagenschutz 5:00
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion within our cities and our governance. And so it’s a it’s a real, it’s a real honour to be able to work for an organisation that has this breadth of support and leadership.

Carlton Reid 5:13
Absolutely. Now let’s let’s ground you both in that, let’s work out where you are speaking from. And then you can tell me your official job titles, and then we’ll get into what we’re gonna be talking about. So first, let because we’ve heard from Kyle already. So, Sara, where are you speaking from? And what’s your job title?

Sara Studdard 5:30
I am speaking from Denver, Colorado, and I am the director of local innovation. So I support our team that works across the country to support elected officials, city staff and community partners and advocates to build complete bike networks. Okay, you’ve been you’re not from Denver, originally, I’m not from Denver, I moved around growing up. But previous to living in Denver, I lived in Memphis, Tennessee for a decade and worked through agriculture, creative placemaking economic development, and as well as bikes to make the Memphis region better for the people that live there.

Carlton Reid 6:08
And same question for Kyle, where are you? And what’s your official job title? Kyle?

Kyle Wagenschutz 6:13
Yeah, I’m talking to you today from Longmont, Colorado, just outside of the great bicycle in city of Boulder.

Kyle Wagenschutz 6:21
I am the Vice President of local innovation. And you know, like Sara,

Kyle Wagenschutz 6:27
we’re leading work in cities across the US helping community leaders, they’re

Kyle Wagenschutz 6:35
giving them the tools and the resources that they need to advance the development of their bicycle networks, helping them do it faster than they would do it on their own, and helping them hopefully achieve a broader outcomes than they otherwise would have been able to do. And so we’re, we’re strategically always looking for city based partners to who are willing and able to make bicycling better. And we act as a catalyst in a in a resource to help them overcome the challenge any challenges that are standing in their way.

Carlton Reid 7:07
So I don’t mind who answers this one, you can either if you can, can can jump in here.

Carlton Reid 7:12
How many people

Carlton Reid 7:14
are working for peopleforbikes? And is it everywhere? Is it like do you have like, local chapters? What? What’s the actual setup?

Kyle Wagenschutz 7:24
That’s a sort of evolving question in the pandemic times.

Carlton Reid 7:30
Let’s have it both kind of at pandemic time and maybe normal times. Yeah, good point.

Kyle Wagenschutz 7:35
Yeah, we have a we have a staff of about 30 people working at peopleforbikes. Full time now. Almost all of the staff are based in Colorado, near our Boulder, Colorado headquarters.

Kyle Wagenschutz 7:53
Aside from a few members of our staff that live in Washington, DC, who manage all of our federal policy work with our,

Kyle Wagenschutz 8:02
with our partners in DC, so almost everyone is had been based in Colorado since the pandemic though. We’ve we’ve we’ve had we’ve had several new hiring since the pandemic,

Kyle Wagenschutz 8:13
we’ve we’ve adjusted to a remote working environment. And there’s no there’s no plans for us to return to the offence the office anytime soon. And so I expect that we’ll continue to work remotely from wherever we are in the world.

Kyle Wagenschutz 8:28
For the for the foreseeable future.

Carlton Reid 8:31
And this is this is a question that I could ask absolutely anybody. And I almost get roughly the same answer from everybody. But how’s it affected? How you’re what you’re able to do on the ground? Because you haven’t been able to travel?

Kyle Wagenschutz 8:44
Yeah, that’s a really good question. And Sara, and I contemplated this quite a bit when the lockdown actually occurred is, as Sara mentioned, a moment ago, she and I were just travelling non stop for almost the last two years. And so how did we adjust? And I, I would say that there’s definitely some

Kyle Wagenschutz 9:06
there’s definitely, there were definitely some growing pains that we had to work through, you know, I just there’s been some situations where I know that if we were in a place in a meeting with somebody in a room, we could have solved some problems, you know, over the course of a couple of hours and been done with it. Whereas remotely, you know, several meetings over the span of a couple weeks. So changing the expectations that, you know, communication just is more deliberate, takes more time was a was a was a lesson that we learned and I think the other thing is that even though we’ve been working from home, that the the shared experience of our community partners who are experiencing the same exact thing has been really helpful is that they are also dealing with the pandemic and has made the relationship you know,

Kyle Wagenschutz 9:57
that we’ve been on we’ve been on equal playing field, so to say

Kyle Wagenschutz 10:00
Speak and so we’ve we’ve been we’ve we’ve found that the coordination with our local communities has just been about being more communicative.

Kyle Wagenschutz 10:08
more frequently. And the work work has work has surprisingly continued in many US cities.

Carlton Reid 10:18
And Sara, talk me through bike boom, what? How is bike boom affected people for bikes?

Sara Studdard 10:25
Well, you know, I think it’s been just a really exciting time for the organisation and the industry. And I think in particular, you know, through the role that Kyle and I have in terms of really looking at bike networks, and so how does the bike boom influence the way that our cities continue to be built and respond to residents needs and so it’s been exciting to look across really the globe and see communities, you know, respond to, you know, more time during the day under shelter in place orders, and kind of going outside their, their front door to experience shared streets and car free streets and places to walk and bike and play. And then I’ll let Kyle kind of talk more from the industry side on what we’ve seen from the bike boom perspective.

Kyle Wagenschutz 11:18
Carlton, we’re going to be releasing some new data in just a couple of weeks. But the high level picture is that this past year 10% of American adults engaged with bicycling in a brand new way.

Kyle Wagenschutz 11:35
You know, some portion of that were people who discovered bicycling, you know, after an extended period of time of not biking. So for, you know, people who were absent from biking for more than a year, another percentage of that were people who begin biking in a different way because of the pandemic. So they might have tried indoor riding for the first time or tried riding for transportation or to reach you know, the grocery store to reach a park or something like that. So, tip 10% of the Americans, you know, engaging with Cycling is a significant number of Americans who sort of stepped out their doors this year and, and took up biking and what happened was that you know, the response was people needed bicycles, they needed bicycle parts, inventories became very low and bicycle shops, city leaders saw you know, swarms of people on bikes and then took action to help sort of create safe spaces for them to ride so it’s been this real it’s been this real

Kyle Wagenschutz 12:40
interesting perspective to see that the see the power of grassroots movement, you know, largely unorganised people acting organically looking for ways to escape their indoors to get outside for stress relief for health and recreation, you know, those are their primary motivations for taking a bicycling during this time. But then to sort of see the the spillover effect into what it’s doing for the industry, what it’s what it’s changing in terms of perceptions for city leaders, has has been a real has been a real pleasure to to see unfold.

Carlton Reid 13:17
Here in Europe, we’ve had what are called pop up bike lanes. So Corona, cycleways is that is how they put it in, in Paris. Have you had that same kind of suck it and see initiative that was very much specific to the pandemic. So these pop up type, you know, you know, like, instant

Carlton Reid 13:43
bike lanes that can just come down again, if they have to?

Kyle Wagenschutz 13:45
we documented that there was approximately 200 US cities this year that change the functionality and layout of their streets. Now that’s that’s a really broad way of sort of describing what happens. And that’s purposeful, because what I can’t say is that we had a real sort of uniform approach to this, you know, across all US cities, we did have some cities that implemented pop up like infrastructure.

Kyle Wagenschutz 14:14
And some of those have moved to a more permanent installation, I’m thinking Boston did a pop up set of infrastructure, a holding network in their downtown area.

Kyle Wagenschutz 14:27
And just recently, in the last like three months, all of those orange cones and the traffic barrels that were used to create the public infrastructure are now being painted, permanent,

Kyle Wagenschutz 14:39
permanent protected infrastructure is now being put in place to create that separation.

Kyle Wagenschutz 14:45
We had some other cities like Austin, Texas, who created some pop up infrastructure on some really iconic streets. there’s a there’s a street in Austin, Texas called South Congress Avenue which leads to the state capitol building of Texas across this

Kyle Wagenschutz 15:00
bridge. It’s been a project that has long concerned city leaders and city planners looking to make change. It’s a big it’s a big iconic road that tourists and visitors and residents alike have to traverse every day and in the pandemic gave them the impetus through order of the city council to to make that change and that move from permanent and temporary to permanent infrastructure this past year as well. I would say on on the on the larger whole though, Carlton, most US cities

Kyle Wagenschutz 15:32
who who did things did so with infrastructure that more tangentially benefited bicyclist rather than having a real direct lasting impact. You know, we we our cities closed a lot of streets. To make room for outdoor dining and outdoor retail experiences. We we closed residential streets, except for through traffic. But we didn’t have the sort of like wide scale pop up my sequel networks go in that the last thing that I’ll mention in this is that

Kyle Wagenschutz 16:06
what we did see happen was that communities in the US that were already building bicycle networks did so at an accelerated rate. And so while we didn’t have a lot of temporary bike networks going up, we saw continued progress on the existing momentum that was in place, pre pandemic, continue to spill into even, you know, a time in which we might have expected projects to be delayed or derailed or unfunded. We actually saw those networks going in at a faster pace. They were able to accomplish that this past year.

Carlton Reid 16:45
And Sara and Kyle, I guess, fit for this, but I’ve talked to you both before.

Carlton Reid 16:52
A while ago, and just anybody who’s listening here thinking Kyle and Sara, I know those Where do I know there’s those? So tell me why. And perhaps even when I talked to you before, and then what’s happened to that particular podcast? So Sarah, what what? When did I speak to you last? And and why was that talking to you?

Sara Studdard 17:13
Kyle and I had a podcast that we started when we were both living in Memphis, Tennessee called the bike nerd podcast where we really used it a little, selfishly as a platform for Kyle and I to have amazing conversations with people around the globe, not only in the biking space, but in mobility, health, public space, transportation, you know, people who are passionate about making the places they lived better, and we had over 100 episodes, and we actually have closed down shop with the bike nerds podcast, but have never released our final episode.

Carlton Reid 17:54
So I absolutely agree with your sentiment about speaking to fantastic people from around the world cuz that’s what I’m doing right now. You guys got so I’m inviting you on and you know, it’s like is this in a small incestuous world in many ways, however, you do speak to some amazing people who have got very similar goals around the world, we may have different geographical geopolitical issues to cope with, but we’re pretty much going for the same thing, which is, in effect, getting more people

Carlton Reid 18:25
to ride bikes. Now did any of the bike nerd nerdery lead on to directly what you’re doing now? Sarah?

Sara Studdard 18:37
Yeah, that’s a really great question, Carlton. You know, when Kyle and I began, the podcast, I really had just entered into the bike space, I was part of launching a bike share programme in Memphis, Tennessee. And so I was really in the in the role of learning and educating and making connections of around great people who are encouraging folks to ride bikes. So it really kind of helped me from a personal and professional aspect, create really strong connections within the bike, and mobility space and, you know, really helped me see the value of, you know, not only creating space for people to ride bikes in your community, but also just like the joy and fun it is to ride a bike, you know, bike sharing, particularly because really amazing in terms of creating that, that accessible opportunity for fun and joy and adventure around around the community.

Carlton Reid 19:33
Now, Kyle, you you got in touch with me

Carlton Reid 19:36
a little while ago, and it was actually a Forbes article that I wrote, which was talking about, you know, a very small number of Twitter users, any social media users can actually sway public opinion.

Carlton Reid 19:50
And generally, it were actually the the piece was about was about in I think, was in London. And it was how a small number of anti

Carlton Reid 20:00
cycleway and it was called actually low traffic neighbourhood. So LTNs is the the nerdery in the UK for that particular form of transport intervention. So they were anti-LTN campaigners. And there was an analysis done showing that, you know, they were just talking to each other, but they had this enormous

Carlton Reid 20:23
effect on, on on authority, thinking it was actually a massive

Carlton Reid 20:30
outpouring of public sentiment that actually wasn’t that at all. And then you got in touch and you said, well, I’ve we’ve actually done a study on this. So let’s, let’s talk about why you got in touch what what why did that particular issue ring your bell?

Kyle Wagenschutz 20:45
Carlton one of I mentioned before the some of the work that Sara and I do in cities is, is helping cities overcome challenges to implementing their bicycle networks. And, as we’ve been had our head, our feet and hands on the ground in communities across the US, we we’ve been finding that over the years, it’s that the challenges that cities face are less and less about the availability of public funding to build infrastructure, we’re seeing less concern about design and how to sort of approach building infrastructure that’s attractive for people of all ages and abilities. The concern continually sort of continued to grow to be, wow, we’re ready to go with this. But every time that we go out to build a project, there’s a vociferous opposition to any changes to our to our public streets. And that opposition, every in almost every instance, is either reshaping a project, you know, to the detriment of, you know, the the goals that we’ve set out for the for the project itself, we’re compromising on design, we’re compromising on the limits and the implementation of it, or some in some, in some of the worst case scenarios, projects were being cancelled outright. And so we looked at, we looked into this with with a using a study to understand, you know, our communities, who, if you think about what it takes to get to a point where you’re about to build a project, you know, there’s typically work being done to build the community community support around a plan identifying you think about all the meetings we go to where we draw lines on a map, and we think and envision about the future. However, what’s the disconnect between this exercise where we engage community members and visions about the future? And then when we actually go to deliver on those projects? Where does all that opposition pop up from and why is it so influential, and we say, well, are the American people actually against bicycling and bike infrastructure. And you know, and we didn’t think so, based on some local surveys that we had seen from cities around the US, but we conducted a study in 2018, to look at very specifically how people view bicycling, how they view mobility, and more importantly, to dive into an understanding of what drives people to make the mobility choices that they make every day. It’s our belief that to build the safe networks of protected bicycle lanes, low traffic streets, the kinds of infrastructure that we want to see flourish in our communities, that we can’t just be speaking to cyclists and building support through cyclists, but that we also have to build support for these programmes, from people who may never ride a bike or who haven’t written a bike. They’re though they’re the individuals that

Kyle Wagenschutz 23:41
are to use like a political term, you know, they’re the swing vote, a lot of times in our communities. And we wanted to make sure through a research based approach that we were able to talk with them communicate to them in a way that encouraged them to support this work, rather than discourage it with their city leaders.

Carlton Reid 24:01
And how much of this this assumed popularity for bike infrastructure in the general population is an abstract thing. But then as soon as it becomes concrete, that’s when the opposition comes in. And, for instance, what I’m trying to say here is, if you ask somebody, you know, do you want more bike infrastructure? And they take all they say, yes, that’s one thing. But when you physically get down to the brass tacks, and you actually get the work, people moving in and closing down parking spaces, you know, putting in concrete barriers, then it becomes in flesh. And then opposition would then come in because well, I said, I want the bike infrastructure, but not on my road.

Kyle Wagenschutz 24:43
That is the central component of what the study found. We found that in the US overwhelmingly, the population here support cycling, for all of the reasons that we know people have very fond memories of bicycling

Kyle Wagenschutz 24:59
As children, even if they’ve even if they stopped long ago, they remember what it was like to the fun they associate bicycle lane with being outside, they associate it with the freedom and moving around the neighbourhood. They all have these amazing stories and generally speaking, have really positive sentiments to say, Yeah, I support bicycling. But you’re right, the moment we say, well, do you support bicycling, even if it means

Kyle Wagenschutz 25:26
taking the parking spot away from in front of your home, suddenly that that majority of support for bicycling plummets, it’s it’s a very weak support in this almost almost as soon as you put a trade off in front of people, we lose that the strength of that support to levels that we can’t sustain. If you were going to, if you’re going to run as an elected official on these numbers, and you had a position that this this precipitous drop off occurred, you would not run for election, you would not win very well. And and so what we have to do with that is, I’m sorry, what,

Kyle Wagenschutz 26:06
what we found is when we looked into like, what, what are those trade offs that trigger that drop? The the primary concern for people, as it relates to bike infrastructure, is that as they’re making choices about transportation every day, what what drives a person to get into their car versus public transport, or a bicycle or to walk, it really comes down to people want to control their schedule. And we can we can talk about the nuances of parking space versus travel lane versus diversion and speed and all of those things boiled down to individuals in the US want to control their schedule, they want to walk out their door of their home with some sense of reliability and get to where they’re going in the timeframe that they think it takes to get there. And it also this This phenomenon is not just unique to bicycling, it also explains why traffic congestion or a crash that backs up traffic, you know, creates road rage within people because we’ve disrupted their primary motivation is this this control of their schedule? Currently, driving a car gives people the most control of their schedule in US cities. And bicycling basically, infrastructure is largely seen as an inconvenience to that. And that’s, that’s the real,

Kyle Wagenschutz 27:28
that’s the real communications barrier that we have to overcome.

Carlton Reid 27:33
So Sara, when when people maybe say that they want bike infrastructure could part of that being I want bike infrastructure for my neighbour, because that gets them out of their car? and enables me to carry on going in my car? Or

Carlton Reid 27:50
are there people out there who we don’t know, as a cyclist are using air quotes there? Who would get on to bikes? And they are in favour of bike infrastructure?

Sara Studdard 28:02
Yeah, Carlton, I think it’s a combination of, you know, I also think there’s the motivation to have control of your schedule, you know, as Kyle kind of explained, is there, but I also think there’s a motivation to live in a community that provides multiple options for people to get around. And so I think when we hear support for bike infrastructure for people that you know, may never choose to ride I think there’s also a pride and a community sort of buy in, in terms of being supportive of the greater good and being supportive of potentially your neighbour riding a bike. Maybe your your true motivation is to get them out of their car. But, you know, I think there’s value in that and then I think we know that when we build safe places for people to ride you know, an individual that maybe was on the I’ve never in a million years going to get on my bike because it’s dangerous see, is that a protected lane

Sara Studdard 29:00
and a dedicated space for them on their bike creates a really great experience for their family and so I think investment and infrastructure also you know, creates investment in the people who may choose to purchase a bike and turn into a air quote cyclist.

Carlton Reid 29:17
I’d either you could answer this one because it’s a general question really, and that your people for bikes, so clearly, your bikes, but so much of this, you know, to get people out of cars is not obviously bikes, not everybody’s gonna be able to get onto a bike. So how much do you interact with the other ways of getting people out of cars? So how much do you get involved with transit? How much you get involved with pedestrian infrastructure, sidewalks? How much of that is absolutely. In your brief, even though in your title, it says bikes.

Sara Studdard 29:53
You know, when we look at cities that are most successful, they are not

Sara Studdard 30:00
Truly connected and truly investing into a single mode. So I think for us to really encourage people to ride bikes we under we understand that at our core that you know, we’re never going to get every single American to ride a bike. But by increasing pedestrian space, increasing great safe transit stops and efficient bus bus schedules, we are also creating really great places for people to ride their bike and also choose choose other modes and, you know, the cities that we find to be really successful. Understand that and also, you know, build diverse partnerships and Coalition’s that involve housing, public health, pedestrian advocacy, etc. And really at the bike infrastructure bike network is like one component of what makes that city I’m really great and helps get people around.

Carlton Reid 30:58
So tell me about the US. I mean, I know Colorado is absolutely bike Central. And I mean, you’ve only taken a quite a few years ago,

Carlton Reid 31:08
Boulder overtook Davis, California. And I know you have you had those two cities are vying for quite a long time to being like the capital for for cycling in the USA has the fact that you’re in Colorado, how much does that cover your thinking in that when you go to two other cities, it’s much much tougher, because you have kind of got it nailed in many cities in Colorado, compared to other places in the US.

Kyle Wagenschutz 31:39
Colorado compared to the US other us as a whole is better in some ways, but that there continues to be a lot of momentum building and other places that Colorado and cities can learn a lot from.

Kyle Wagenschutz 31:56
And that I think that’s a I think that’s a real story that sort of exists throughout the US is that there are pockets of real growth, real advancement and mobility. And,

Kyle Wagenschutz 32:09
and then there are areas that are totally devoid of it. And so I I, you know, it’s interesting that

Kyle Wagenschutz 32:17
Sara and I have experienced Colorado this past year for the first time because of the pandemic in a really intense way. But we we are generally speaking, spending a lot of our time outside of Colorado extra exploring the great things happening in other places. And I would say that having we’re now working doing some work with some Colorado cities just in the last the last year, year and a half. And what’s really fascinating about that is that we’re actually taking some of the inspiration and case studies from our work in other cities. And we’re bringing those back here to to our to our local partners, in some ways. So

Kyle Wagenschutz 32:57
I would I would say that, yeah, if you want to get on a mountain bike, if you want to visit the city of Boulder and sort of see what they’ve done historically, I think I think there are some real jewels here, don’t get me wrong. But I would also just say that I think there’s there’s jewels elsewhere that are offering a level of inspiration to even places here in the US that have have succeeded historically.

Carlton Reid 33:18
Rolling it out to the continent as a whole. If you if you include, you know, North America, then you have Montreal,

Carlton Reid 33:30
which is phenomenal for bikes. And it has been, you know, roughly since the 1970s, when they had two very successful advocacy groups arguing for bike lanes and stuff to be put in there. So how close is the best American best

Carlton Reid 33:48
US city compared to a stellar city? Not stellar in Amsterdam, European terms, but stellar in North American terms? How close is any US city to Montreal?

Kyle Wagenschutz 34:02
I would say generally speaking, Carlton, we actually do an annual city ratings programme where we do measure on a system using a system that we’ve created. We do we do rank cities in terms of how great they are for bicycling. And we’ve just in the last year began measuring some Canadian cities, we’re actually as we head into 2021, we’re actually expanding the reach of the programme into Canada, Australia and some European cities for the first time. So coming soon, there’s going to be a sort of a fuller answer to your question here. But I would say generally speaking, a few of the Canadian cities ranked on par or slightly better than most of the cities for bicycling here in the US and so I’m thinking Montreal Of course. Vancouver is among those who

Kyle Wagenschutz 35:00
rim pretty high in that list. And I’d even add in Toronto in terms of a city that, given its size, and sort of density or lack of density, per se, is actually achieving some, some some making some accomplishments for ridership that exceeds similarly, you know, position cities in the US. And so I would, I would project that some Canadian Canadian cities are right at the top of the pack for for all of North America, and only the US is best cities are on par with those.

Carlton Reid 35:37
So where are we talking about?

Carlton Reid 35:39
Well, give me your your best ranked American cities.

Kyle Wagenschutz 35:43
Yeah. Yeah, I mentioned, you know, you, obviously Boulder, Colorado is among those. It’s where our office is located. But we, we use data not not not subjectivity to make these things.

Kyle Wagenschutz 35:59
You know, if we’re looking at like, cities that would be familiar with around the world, in Washington, DC has continued to sort of make constant steady progress. Denver, Colorado, here locally is also a city that over the last decade or so has really improved made some improvements. In Madison, Wisconsin, historically, among the best in the US, continues to rank really well. And then we also have this, this growing,

Kyle Wagenschutz 36:28
that’s of this growing list of small to medium sized cities that are really over performing, giving, given the size of their city. And these are places like San Luis Obispo, California, Santa Barbara, California, even a place like Missoula, Montana, or Rogers, Arkansas, you know, these are, these are communities that you would not automatically think to yourself, boy bicycling heaven, but they have really carved out

Kyle Wagenschutz 37:00
a really strong niche, and some of these smaller communities, you know, less than a few fewer than 100,000 people.

Kyle Wagenschutz 37:06
And the rates of cycling happening there, the infrastructure being built, is really a testament to to the local leadership.

Carlton Reid 37:14
And, Sara, you’re, you’ve got a new Secretary of Transportation coming up in a matter of days. In fact, how much do you think having such a high profile? I mean, even I know the guy, how, how do you think that’s gonna affect Trump not just cycling, but transport as a whole? In the US? Can he transform something in a relatively short space of time?

Sara Studdard 37:46
Mayor Pete, colloquially like really understands that safety is needs to be a first priority with our transportation system. And so I do then from his role, you know, being a mayor of a local community, that he understands that, you know, we need to invest in safe, comfortable, non stressful types of transportation options, whether that’s through transit, bike infrastructure, pedestrian infrastructure, etc. And so I think that understanding of safety will will help us make, you know, strides that are not just, you know, paint on the street, but strides that actually encourage people to get out of there, get out of their cars. And then I think, you know, we need to have a really robust, you know, federal budget that’s able to provide funding to states and then those states to provide funding at a local level to really invest at a high sort of, you know, budget perspective, to really ensure that we’re able to build the bike bike networks in a quick and rapid way. I think what we’ve seen in US communities is, you know, I think part of this vocal minority, this opposition we talked about earlier, is that, you know, a project idea, you know, comes forth, and that project may not get implemented until five or seven or 10 years down the line. And that’s just entirely too long from a project delivery perspective.

Carlton Reid 39:14
Hmm. And then Kyle, roughly the same question in that Mayor Pete is going to be a effect of progress, but anybody’s gonna be a progressive after, after we’ve had, of course, but he’s gonna be definitely an incredibly progressive progressive

Carlton Reid 39:32
Transportation Secretary.

Carlton Reid 39:35
But he is then got, you know, like a whole set. It’s just one man is the whole system here set against him almost in that the whole of the US economy is a gasoline automotive based economy. So how much can he genuinely change in the short term?

Kyle Wagenschutz 39:53
Well, I think, you know, simply by joining the administration

Kyle Wagenschutz 40:00
And I think there’s been a number of roadblocks for the last four years just in moving progress forward at any, any expected pace. And so I think simply by having some new leadership in place, we’re actually going to see some things that have just been lingering, you know, in the bureaucracy actually begin to make momentum, I actually find that the agencies who deal with transport at a national level in the US, certainly are rooted in a historical sort of automobile driven mindset. But there’s some really amazing people working with agencies that have a lot of initiative and a lot of really amazing programme ideas for for making us transportation more sustainable and more relevant to the people living here. They just haven’t been given the ability to unlock, you know, those programmes for last four years, they’ve largely been,

Kyle Wagenschutz 40:52
you know, working every day, but not really able to move an agenda forward, I think, simply by having the new administration in place. And Mayor Pete, leading the helm for transportation is simply we’re just going to see some progress happening, because we’re going to be unlocking the potential of what’s already there. I think after that, I think Sarah is right. You know,

Kyle Wagenschutz 41:14
the the new secretary has experienced working as a mayor and city, he understands the challenges and pitfalls that befall cities, when you’re looking to receive federal funding, take advantage of these programmes, he understands the intricacies of what it takes to deliver the projects. And I think he’ll be able to offer some, some renewed insight and some of the renewed commitment to making transport a broader part of community development. If I remember, under the Obama administration, you know, there was this monumental joint effort between the Federal Highway Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency in the housing and urban development areas of the US. So looking at how does transportation affect our climate change goals? How does that affect the way in which our cities are developed, and we provide housing affordably to citizens residents, you know, that all came to a screeching halt under our current administration. And so I’m eager to see those kinds of conversations renewed because as Sarah mentioned, where we see real progress being made for bicycling. We’re seeing bicycling exist as part of an ecosystem and also making progress for

Kyle Wagenschutz 42:27
you know, living wages being distributed across the city, wealth enhancement, affordable housing, environmental concerns, public transportation success. You know, I, I think I think that’s, that’s what I’m most hopeful for is that we begin to see this broader conversation about how does transportation, interact, affect and be affected by

Kyle Wagenschutz 42:49
these other these other societal and cultural issues that exist within cities?

Carlton Reid 42:56
So, here inn the UK, and I’m sure it’ll, it’ll be in the same in the US is

Carlton Reid 43:03
transport ministers or transport?

Carlton Reid 43:06
mandarins civil servants, and politicians get very excited by electric cars get very excited by E–scooters, because they’re new toys they can play with these new things.

Carlton Reid 43:20
And bicycles and cars are kind of old technology, you know, there are 120 years plus old.

Carlton Reid 43:28
So where do we see because you want people for bikes? Where do we see e scooters fitting into cuz we haven’t even discussed them at all. But with this new toy, this the E scooter phenomenon?

Carlton Reid 43:41
How much do you think the bandwidth will be taken up by looking at these new things at but could that actually benefit the old technologies that the bicycles of the world?

Sara Studdard 43:54
we have a programme that we work on in partnership with nacto, the National Association of

Sara Studdard 44:02
transportation, I’m going to butcher the acronym nacto, the mayor’s office of Philadelphia and peopleforbikes as part of the better Bike Share partnership, and this looks at you know, how does micro mobility you scooters, Bike Share e Bike Share, etc. You know, how do we ensure that these new technologies and these new innovations are deployed and accessible in an equitable way, in really North American cities. And so, you know, I think that, you know, these new innovations are providing increased opportunities for people to, you know, not choose to get in their car. And so I’m excited to kind of continue to see how e-scooters and micro mobility in particular can just be another option another, you know, tool in the toolbox for people to to get around their city and then, you know, I think this continued innovation and and

Sara Studdard 44:59
interest and electrification just provides more opportunity. I mean, think the bike boom has, you know, seen during the pandemic that you know, there’s a hunger and an interest in ebikes. Because, you know, you don’t have to be like a world class athlete to, to do some pretty epic mountain bike rides are just cruising around town on an E bike. So I think it just provides just a tonne of more accessibility opportunity for people.

Carlton Reid 45:28
Kyle, yeah, those are those are definitely a pregnant pause there. I don’t know if that was because you didn’t know whether to which of you want to come in as a scooter thing. But what about your views on on E-scooters?

Kyle Wagenschutz 45:41
Yeah, I was I was just hoping Sarah would.

Kyle Wagenschutz 45:46
That’s that’s an old trick from our podcast is pregnant pause so we don’t overtalk each other.

Kyle Wagenschutz 45:53
I agree with everything Sara said, I’d maybe point to a more tangible example, I mentioned before some of the work that’s happened recently in Austin, Texas, and before the pandemic, Austin, Texas was

Kyle Wagenschutz 46:08
a North American Centre for E scooter use, you know, registering, you know, when comparing East scooters to the bike share the public Bike Share system, East scooters were were being written on a daily basis on a daily basis at a 10 x. So for every one trip being made on the bike share system, there were 10 trips being made on scooters. And it was a, it was a fascinating phenomenon to be in downtown Austin, in, in pre pandemic times to at this peak of scooter years just to see the people that were willing to to get onto a scooter. And you’re thinking about it from that sense. It was like swarms of locusts, and in some ways to sort of, you know, be hyperbolic about looking at a street and seeing the people riding scooters. But when you looked at them, they these weren’t people you would sort of expect to be the they weren’t exclusively young, you know, hit people right into their tech job. It was families it was,

Kyle Wagenschutz 47:11
it was clearly older people it was younger people it was people of all shapes and sizes and ages and colours. And it was just a fascinating exercise to sort of look out and say, Wow, you know, there’s, there’s something to this, I think, to what, what Sara has to say is that, as far as we’re concerned,

Kyle Wagenschutz 47:30
you know, anything that gets people out of their cars is a real benefit for cities, what we’re what we’re ultimately after here is not you know, propagation of bicycle lane as a singular mode of transportation, we don’t want bicycling to become, you know, what the car is today, what we want.

Kyle Wagenschutz 47:46
What we really want, though, is like we want, we want cleaner air, we want a better planet, we want a safer place for our children we want. We want all of these, these, these other benefits that come along with it. And getting there requires you know that we have some some other options for people. And if that’s a that’s a scooter today, and it’s you know, I’ve often joked that the next thing might be like an electric on-street kayak. I mean, I don’t know what’s coming down the pipeline.

Kyle Wagenschutz 48:21
But, but I think as long as we’re moving people out of their cars today, that’s the real, that’s the real strategy that we can put in place. You know, there’s certainly, there’s certainly things that we need to address as it relates to sort of, you know, the the rapid adoption of these of these new technologies.

Kyle Wagenschutz 48:40
They don’t have the time tested, you know, sort of

Kyle Wagenschutz 48:46
requirements that we don’t know how they’re going to play out in the long run yet from a functionality standpoint, from a US standpoint, so it’s all still really too new, too new, I think, to make concrete judgments about it. But I think right now, if for no other reason, if it’s gonna come back to some of the original purposes of talking here about how do we sort of reshape public opinion in terms of supporting bike infrastructure? Well, if somebody really loves to ride a scooter, and I can get them to support building a bicycle lane, you know, that’s, that’s one more person who is writing to their city councillors writing to their mayors and their leaders saying, you know, thank you for creating the space for me to to ride that I don’t have to interact with cars. And I ultimately think that’s a good thing. So mobility lanes, maybe rather than bike lanes. Yeah, I think so. I think

Kyle Wagenschutz 49:38
we, we haven’t really, we need we need better marketing on how we’re talking about this. But yeah, that’s right. low speed, low speed mobility lanes or lanes or for individuals travelling less than 20 miles per hour. I think, you know, that’s, that’s the that’s the concept. We haven’t come up with a really catchy name for those yet. Mm hmm. So I’m gonna ask the same question to both of you.

Carlton Reid 50:00
actually might might ask Sara first and Sara might come up with an absolutely perfect answer. And Kyle doesn’t have to come on this. And maybe Kyle will actually enjoy the fact he doesn’t have to.

Carlton Reid 50:10
And this is not me just picking on you, Sara, but it’s just that you’re kind of like, you’re the next one in line to ask the question. This is why I’m coming to you on this particular point. And it is potentially, well, it isn’t a difficult question. It’s potentially a political question in many ways. But that is just bike lanes. So we have been talking about bike lanes, whether we want to call them mobility lanes, under 20 mile an hour, whatever we want to call them. How much is peopleforbikes, your your your outreach work? How much of it relies on either maintaining what you’ve already got in cities, or expanding them? How important are bike lanes to your work?

Sara Studdard 50:49
Bike lanes are an integral part of our work, you know, communities that, again, when we look across the city and look at communities that are wanting to increase the amount of people who are making the decision not to drive their car, investment in bike lanes is kind of parable Paramount as part of that solution. And so I think we’re actively supporting cities and city staff and elected officials, etc, and communities across the country to look at their bike network. And in a really sort of analytical and sort of hard way, we have a tool called our bicycle network analysis that is able to, you know, really help a city and not deem their bike network successful by the amount of miles they have installed, but you know, are those miles that they’ve installed?

Sara Studdard 51:42
safe, comfortable and accessible to as many residents as possible? And so we are constantly, you know, encouraging and having discussions about, you know, not all bike lanes are created equal, there’s always room for improvement, there’s always room to look at, you know, what our speed limits look like? Are there other traffic calming aspects, so

Sara Studdard 52:07
I could, we could probably spend a whole nother 45 to 50 minutes talking about, you know, how important bike network and bike infrastructure and lanes are to the success of mobility.

Carlton Reid 52:20
So I’m gonna, I’m gonna pick it this one, I’m gonna keep on going. I’m gonna go for I’m gonna go for Kyle now, though, because you’ve had your chance. So and I’m going to go back here, I’m going to pick it at Kyle. And that is,

Carlton Reid 52:33
how much do you then potentially neglect the other things that can boost micromobility, bicycling, whatever. If you focus on bike lanes, bike lanes, bike lanes, which, you know, in many places, you need space, space isn’t always there.

Carlton Reid 52:56
There’s got cost requirements, there are all sorts of things. And there are other measures that you can take that sometimes, not always, but sometimes can have massive, massive,

Carlton Reid 53:08
Upticks for cycling. So. So your elevator pitch on promoting bike lanes above all else, Kyle?

Kyle Wagenschutz 53:18
I would say, I think you’re right there. There are other measures. And there are other considerations that we that we should make. However, I would say that none of our cities visit this and then me I’m speaking solely about the US here. There are very few US cities that have built enough infrastructure to see those other measures actually be successful in a in a really broad way. So by that, I mean, you know, we if you go to any city in the US, and you ask them about their great cycling education programme, they’re going to they’re going to show you what they’ve been doing. They’ve been doing it since the 1950s and 60s, when it began teaching kids to ride bikes, you know, through police departments. And at the end of the day, we’ll look at sort of the growth of cycling as as the expected outcome from all of this work, and we’ve seen cycling remain relatively flat in the US for the last decade. Or if I asked the city you know, what measures are you taking to, you know, grow ridership. And so we have we have these riding events, we have these clubs, and we look at the trend line for cycling and we could we see that Cycling is still relatively flat. What we’ve what we’ve uncovered using this tool that Sarah mentioned, the bicycle network analysis is that there’s a point at which your your your community needs to create a basic network of bike infrastructure that supports riding, and it’s it doesn’t mean that every street has a bicycle lane or that every street is slowed to a point

Kyle Wagenschutz 54:54
where cars are driving 20 miles per hour, but in order for these safety programmes,

Kyle Wagenschutz 55:00
judgement programmes, bicycle commuting tax incentives for those programmes to to, to exponentially increase the number of people riding bicycles, you have to have the basic infrastructure in place to actually support it, it’d be it’s sort of the equivalent of this, if in your community, you wanted to

Kyle Wagenschutz 55:24
get everybody to a grocery store,

Kyle Wagenschutz 55:28
and you built the grocery store in, you know, in a field, and then told them, you know, to, to drive there, they certainly could, you know, without without without having roads, they certainly could get there, it would be an interesting experiment to sort of, you know, ask people to navigate a city with a lack of roads while driving in their car.

Kyle Wagenschutz 55:52
You know, similarly to how bicycles currently experience writing in cities today, we could we definitely see that we can encourage them to do it, we could create some programmes that would help them navigate, you know, a roadless city to get to that grocery store, we’d see some adoption there. But, but if we built a road to get there, wow, we could suddenly get there very fast, very, we wouldn’t be inconvenienced by you know, riding over a dirt or going around a tree or something like that. And that’s what we have to create for bicycling we we what we want to encourage with people for bikes is the more rapid expansion of these networks, these other programmes, these other encouragement ideas, these other initiatives can actually have a foundation for their success, rather than trying to create success.

Kyle Wagenschutz 56:42
In in a place where they lack that underlying support structure. At the end of the day, as you know, we want people to be comfortable riding and riding the bikes. And so infrastructure is the first step. So I would say like, what we want to do is talk about infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure, because we haven’t even established that baseline level of comfort with people with our infrastructure network. From there, we can build into broader pieces of momentum.

Carlton Reid 57:12
What’s your argument? And this can be for Sara, if you want to pitch in there first. What is your argument for when you put the bike lane in, you’re successful, the city puts it in either

Carlton Reid 57:24
tactical urbanism, you know, like, it’s just like a soft one, like a pop up first to trial it or they put a concrete one in straight away. And then it doesn’t get used in the numbers that, you know,

Carlton Reid 57:37
ticks those boxes for the local politician who went out on a limb to get this put in? How do you cope with low use of a cycle lane of a bike lane? How do you?

Carlton Reid 57:51
How do you explain that? How do you maybe change that?

Sara Studdard 57:59
I think kind of to go back to Kyle’s grocery store in the middle of a field example. I think it’s really looking at that new bike lane. And can anyone access it and in a safe way, is it part of a full network that creates connections to you know, the variety of places people want to go from their homes to work to a park to a grocery store? And so I think really challenging that maybe the bike lane actually the construction wasn’t a success because it didn’t make those connections to look at it that way.

Carlton Reid 58:35
Same question to Kyle then and then you know, the perfect is the enemy of good. So what Sara was saying there is about you know, is the network up to scratch in effect well shouldn’t there therefore be an emphasis on on getting a smaller things put in place smaller interventions put in place before you go for like a gold standard, you know, in inverted commas bike lane, because if it’s a if it’s a bike lane is put in huge expense, and it doesn’t have those network connections and Sara saying, it’s probably not going to get us however, local politicians and perhaps local

Carlton Reid 59:14
officials as well. They want to put their name to sexy infrastructure, you know, big road, a bridge so they can cut the ribbon off. If you just put a few like ineffective boring bits of connectivity in that will actually you know, just put a barrier in say on one road and it just enables people to suddenly cycle more, but it’s not sexy. So how do you how do you get around the fact that an awful lot of the things that are actually get people on bikes are phenomenally unsexy. And nobody’s really that interested in putting their name to it?

Kyle Wagenschutz 59:49
Yeah, yeah. And so I would, I would concur with Sara. A bike lane is only as good as what it helps people connect to and you’re obviously

Kyle Wagenschutz 1:00:00
right, Carlton, the the way that cities have gone about building infrastructure has historically been in large capital investment projects that completely transformed the street, you know that we’re building infrastructure that looks really great, it has that aesthetically pleasing, it probably accomplishes more than just adding bicycle lanes, it’s also adding enhancements for pedestrians public transport access,

Kyle Wagenschutz 1:00:27
you know, it’s probably, you know, having tangential community benefits, it probably also took 10 years to build that thing. And at the end of the day, you’re right, what happens is you you get to the finish line, you cut the ribbon, you have the big scissors with the mayor on the street. And then you look around and you’re like, well, where are the bicyclists? We built this amazing piece of new infrastructure for them? Where are they all at? And I think what what that what that process misses is that fundamentally, at the end of the day, people are making transportation decisions based on convenience, you know, monitoring their schedule, getting to the places they want to go. And in, in the process of building up to this new piece of, you know, top, top notch latest innovation and design and implementation, we lose the plot on Wow, this bike lane goes for one mile, and then it stops, and then it dumps back into the same terrible road that it was before on either end. How are people reaching this bike lane? What where we’ve seen some success is, you know, the scale of the infrastructure, I think is is less important, you know that there’s different communities have different financial situations, they’re able to afford different styles of infrastructure, where we’ve seen some real success, and we’re working with some community partners is in rethinking the nature of a bicycle infrastructure project, not not to be a corridor, but to be an entire network all at once this, this is a model that we learned about, you know, that was used in Seville, Spain, during their rapid implementation, you know, about a decade ago, and thinking about the bicycle network is the project that we should be pursuing. So we just we’ve just been working, for example, with the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, who, this past year,

Kyle Wagenschutz 1:02:17
ran successfully have implemented a project implementing a network in one part of their city, it’s 11 different corridors, it’s protected bicycle lanes, green paid the full night, the full nine yards, roadway reconstruction, but they took that they took all 11 corridors, I think it’s something like 14 or 15 miles in total, they took all of those to the community, as a singular project, build, we’re gonna build them all start to finish. And as they went through the public engagement process, building support, block by block for that work, they weren’t talking about just the change to the street in front of your business, they were certainly talking about how that street in front of your business connects to the neck connects to the next neighbourhood connects to the next street connects to the next part of the city connects to the park. And they were able to lead a singular public engagement process during a pandemic, and complete implementation all in all last year, by approaching it from this network perspective. And I actually think that is maybe the more important facet for city leaders to think about is that

Kyle Wagenschutz 1:03:29
rather than spending a lot of time a lot of money and a lot of energy on what are at the end of the day, pretty small scale projects from a connectivity standpoint, is to expand the definition of of your bicycle projects. And Get, get something more out of view of your work at the end of the day. You know, and then think about it if I’m a bicyclist, and I’m not sure how to get to this new bike lane, that looks really great. But both sides of it are really dangerous. And your network is only as good as you know, as as the weakest link the most dangerous connection that it has. Imagine, though, if I can go out to my new bicycle network in New Orleans. And I can ride 14 miles and they’re all interconnected. I can seamlessly go from one piece of the network to the other, onto the trails onto the street, I can get to the park that I wanted to get to I want to stop and get some lunch at my favourite restaurant. I can do all of those things without ever leaving the bicycle network. I think that’s the real opportunity before cities.

Carlton Reid 1:04:34
Mm hmm. Fantastic. Kyle, Sara that’s been absolutely fascinating. And it has been definitely nerdy

Carlton Reid 1:04:42
nerdy so that that’s a good form of nerdy

Carlton Reid 1:04:47
so where can people who have been turned on by this and they like that the nerdery Where can they get in touch with you guys on social media?

Carlton Reid 1:04:56
where you can find people for bikes at?

Kyle Wagenschutz 1:05:00
Add people for bikes on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Kyle Wagenschutz 1:05:06
And we Sara and I still maintain

Kyle Wagenschutz 1:05:11
the bike nerd social media presence to find us most active on Twitter at the bikenerds podcast.

Carlton Reid 1:05:20
Thanks to Kyle Wagenschutz and Sarah Studdard of People for Bikes for kicking off the Spokesmen’s roster of 2021 podcasts. I’m aiming to get the legend that is Gary Fisher on the next show but meanwhile get out there and ride.

December 30, 2020 / / Blog

Your podcast catcher not showing in links above (black circle with three dots)? Loads more on PodLink. Show is also on Spotify. and Google Podcasts.

Wednesday 30th December 2020

The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast

EPISODE 263: Loading close pass videos to the cloud with a smart bike dashcam that looks like a cute Pixar character


HOST: Carlton Reid

GUESTS: Crispian Poon and Liz Yu of Pelation, maker of the Rebo smart bike light and dash cam.

TOPICS: Pelation is a UK-government backed start-up that is to soon produce for real the Rebo smart bike light and dashcam video combo — it looks like a Pixar character and has been trialled successfully by a courier company Pedal and Post of Oxford.


Pelation website


Carlton Reid 0:13
Welcome to Episode 263 of the spokesmen cycling podcast. This episode was engineered on Wednesday, 30th December 2020.

David Bernstein 0:24
The spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast is brought to you by Jenson USA, where you’ll always find a great selection of products at amazing prices with unparalleled customer service. For more information, just go to Hey everybody, it’s David from the Fredcast cycling podcast at I’m one of the hosts and producers of the spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast. For shownotes links and all sorts of other information please visit our website at And now, here are the spokesmen.

Carlton Reid 1:08
It’s nearly over. 2020. The first few months of 2021 still look grim but with the vaccines being rolled out — my doctor wife has already had her first Covid jab — we could soon all get back to normal. I’m Carlton Reid welcoming you to the last episode of the year. As regular listeners will know, the Spokesmen Cycling Podcast is a US stroke UK co-production, with my co-host David Bernstein joining in from Utah. And for the final show of 2020 my guests are another US stroke UK co-production. Crispian Poon is English and Liz Yu is American — they joined forces to create Pelation. No, not peloton, we get on to the naming thing in the show itself – Pelation is a UK-government backed start-up that is to soon produce for real the Rebo Smart bike light and dashcam video combo — it looks like a Pixar character and has been trialled successfully by a British courier company. I met the pair at an expo in London just before the first lockdown in March, and wanted to get them on the show as soon as they had something concrete to talk about. Well, that time is now …

Carlton Reid 2:42
Crispian, Liz. you’ve now got to refresh my memory because I met you at a Move conference exhibition at the ExCel Centre in London, when was that? When did we meet?

Liz Yu 2:57
I think that was earlier this year in February, at Move 2020.

Carlton Reid 3:02
So that’s basically 12 years ago,

Liz Yu 3:05
Now appears to be normal.

Carlton Reid 3:10
When we could actually physically meet in person, which was a it’s a fond memory. So you had at that point you had what you had a product in prototype. You’re now it’s still in prototype, you’re sending it out but with with with couriers and Oxford and stuff, but tell me exactly what product you’ve got. So what is the Rebo? Am I pronouncing it right first of all? Yeah, that’s correct. Okay, so I don’t know how you’re gonna do work this out Liz and Crispian who’s who’s gonna be talking me through first?

Liz Yu 3:44
I think I can give it a quick intro. So the repo is what we’ve been working on. And we as installation, Crispian and I in our team, and word cycle technology company, and we’re in our goal is all about getting people from point A to B seamlessly on a bike in cities. At the moment, there’s a big safety barrier. So rebo is a smart bike light and dash cam. And we’ve designed it to reduce the amount of near misses and record incidents to increase availability of kind of the cycling data in an industry. So there’s a couple parts to it. First of all, I think we like to talk about, we tried to design it with a preventative design, and we can talk more about this later. But we use kind of a unique design that tackles behavioural psychology so people move safer around cyclists. Second of all, this dash cam comes with a handlebar bookmark. So there’s a button on your handlebar. So anytime any cyclist runs into any incidents, whether it’s a infrastructure issue or something on the street that’s unsafe, or you know, potentially a near miss. They can click this handlebar bookmark and what it does is it captures any details at that point of the ride. So the video footage, the location plate numbers, and more. So you Just have to keep writing. And you can review this information seamlessly later. What happens is when you get get home, this uploads through cloud, so you don’t need to touch your device, you don’t need to mess around with SD cards and you have a dashboard to view everything that’s happened. And you can submit it to authorities if it’s something serious, or you can simply just have the recording to share. And what happens? Yeah, and so that that collects in our database. So we have a database of all the most dangerous areas that cyclists feel that there is in the city, and we use this information to contribute directly to data and insights of the infrastructure changes.

Carlton Reid 5:45
So it is a cute looking product. And you you touched on why it’s a cute little looking product a second ago, we can talk about why it’s a cute looking product later on. But first of all, I’d like to find out about you to and where you’ve come from and your background. And I guess why you’re doing this. So first of all, as we haven’t heard much from Crispian. So let’s Crispian you go first, wherever you come from. And I’m why Rebo and why Pelation?

Crispian Poon 6:16
Yeah, so I’ve been an electrical engineer. In most of my career, the first company and the last company I worked for was building electric vehicles. So as in the electric mobility space, building hybrid electric, taxis. We’re actually running trials in London for over two years for a project called Metro cab. Basically, we’re trying to make cities cleaner, safer, using electrify technologies. But I saw on problems when we actually, there was still congestion, people are still stuck in vehicles. We weren’t moving people very efficiently. There are only a couple people in taxis at a time. And they’ve always had an interest in bikes. So when I finished that and went to Imperial to do our MBA together with Liz, we started looking at the sustainability, space and mobility. We both cycled, we both saw that there is a problem in the cycle space and want to do something about it. So we went on lots of design research talk to hundreds and hundreds of cyclists. And the main problem that came up with was cycling near misses, lots of people, we’ve talked to talk about their stories about how they, you know, ran into cars on turnings, or, or having close calls with cars passing too close. And we just saw, there’s nothing on the market that could solve the problem. So we came together, probably has together and started working on rebo to really find a solution to near misses, which weren’t being tackled, either by the authorities or just by, you know, the authorities, in general in terms of enforcement.

Carlton Reid 8:10
So when we met in February at the ExCel centre, how long have you been working on the project already by then? And how fresh was the product? Basically?

Crispian Poon 8:22
Yeah, well, we’re

Crispian Poon 8:23
actually on a, a DFT funded grant project called T-TRIG. So it’s actually right over between December to the latter part of this year. It was a feasibility project to build a prototype out to see what kind of name as technology name as prevention technology we can build out. And the first part of that prototyping stage was where we met, met you move 2020 we got a very rough already prototype out to meet customers, I get some initial feedback. And that was really successful, because then we went on to develop our second iteration of the product, which went on to deploy with occurs in Oxford.

Carlton Reid 9:05
So that was like you mentioned T-TRIG there. So let me just, that’s transport technology, innovation grant

Liz Yu 9:12
transfer technology research, innovation grant.

Carlton Reid 9:17
Okay. Right. And that was January, and that would have ran out a couple of months ago then.

Liz Yu 9:26
So that kicked off in January, but and because of all the delays with COVID. It’s actually gone on till around end of September.

Crispian Poon 9:36
We had lots of issues, you know, we couldn’t were the hardware company and we build physical products, and we need physical parts. So we’re very dependent upon the supply chain. So we walked around a lot of problems actually, with supply chains from overseas and actually insource a lot of development in house but inevitably those delays because we had To switch around our entire operation, we still got there in the end.

Carlton Reid 10:05
Okay, and now Liz, we need to find out where you’re from and and not just where you’ve come from in this space, but I guess geographically where you’re from. So where’s where’s your accent from? Liz?

Liz Yu 10:19
I am from California. But I’ve grown up, you know, all over kind of all over the place in Taipei back in California. And I’ve lived in Singapore for a few years. And I moved to London to complete my MBA. And that’s as crispian said, where we met. So my background actually is previously in hospitality industry, but doing business development and such. So working for hotel brands, like Starwood Hotels, and other luxury hotel groups, so quite, quite a change. For me, and after my MBA, I’ve joined a startup to add tech startup to help lead and grow the startup before. This was, you know, this was for us. At first, a bit of a side project we started during, kind of during the NBA, we started talking about it, we started working on it, and yeah, it just turned into a full time. Full Time project for us. Full Time gig.

Carlton Reid 11:20
So let’s describe it physically. I know that’s very hard, because we’re talking audio. But there’s a there’s a definite look to this thing. And it’s it’s it’s kind of computery futuristic, with eyes. So it’s meant to have eyes. Yes. This this this handlebar camera. Oh, yeah. It’s a light. So the light for the eyes? Yeah.

Liz Yu 11:48
Yeah. And I think I think generally, it’s smaller than than what people imagine it’s about the size of your palm, maybe a bit smaller than that. And it fits at the front or back of your bike. And yes, it’s not a fundamental I design, which we, we like to include, and we like to talk about, because it’s, it’s what we believe can true one of the one of the things we believe in truly make a difference, changing the behaviour of people that are actually around the cyclists to make people feel safer, and be able to then choose cycling as kind of their first choice of transport.

Carlton Reid 12:25
So the way I kind of describe it is if Pixar was to design a bicycle light, you know, it would look a bit like this. So it’s, it’s, you know, a futuristic ii computery kind of face. So tell me about the psychology of why a face.

Liz Yu 12:48
Yeah, so this is something called the watching eye effect. So what it what it is, is it uses I design elements in there, there have been lots of kind of reports about this, the psychological effect of when there is some sort of image of an eye, people tend to feel like they’re being watched. And so they either have more positive behaviour, or safer or so through various examples. And papers are such as littering. Like if there’s a photo of an eye, somewhere nearby, people are a lot less likely to litter, even if it’s just a photo. So we see this used in kind of the surveillance industry and the transport industry. If you’ll notice, TfL has bus ads. And on the back of the bus ads, there, there’s been a few versions that has just an image of an eye saying something along the lines, watch your speed. And similarly in the surveillance industry, there’s there’s an eye in areas but I you know, that one’s a bit more self explanatory. But what it does is it Yeah, subconsciously prompt positive behaviour,

Carlton Reid 13:59
and then helps a cause just with their headlights. They kind of look like faces. Yeah,

Liz Yu 14:05
yeah. So So I think the new the new, autonomous vehicle that Jaguar Land Rover is testing us is kind of AI to communicate safety, intentions and friendliness.

Crispian Poon 14:18
Yeah, I think whenever there’s a product or imagery that that evokes more humanization people tend to respond better because that’s part of their subconscious. You know, people seek out eyes, people sneak out gazes. And that’s why this effect is so effective is because, you know, people already know this. Since they’re born. They’ve been looking at people’s eyes means that, you know, people can humanise cyclists better as I hope we have the product bite also seek them out easier. Because it’s something so natural.

Carlton Reid 14:56
Hmm. So tell me about the the actual implementation of this this product, so you’ve given some of these units, the Rebo units to a courier firm in Oxford called pedal and post, yeah?

Liz Yu 15:11
Yeah, that’s correct. So, um, but this element is just a small part of it. The main, the main, kind of what we are focusing on right now. And you know, the AI element, we’re doing different iterations, we’re testing with the most effective version. So what we’re working on now is, we ran a pilot with, yeah, as you mentioned, put a pedal and post in Oxford. And what we did is distribute these cameras to them. And their riders, you know, are riding more than an average commuter, they, they deliver, they deliver items about, you know, eight hours a day, five days a week, rain or shine, probably seven days a week, actually. Yeah, and they bookmark any area that they feel, and you know, these are writers that are trained, and really, really know how to ride you know, no beginners, they’ve, they’ve been, they’ve gone through proper safety training. So they bookmark areas that they feel are unsafe, or that they’ve had incidents, and, and then we get this, we kind of get all this footage, and it compiles into a bit of a heat map of dangerous areas, sorted by categories of what type of incidents

Carlton Reid 16:18
and the rider themselves after the ride categorises the incident, as you know, that was a close pass that was a, an obstruction, is that what happens? How do they physically bookmark these things?

Liz Yu 16:35
So so they bookmark the handlebar button, so the button that comes with the device, all they need to do is click it. At the moment we are with the writers input, we’re sorting these categories. So whether it’s a close pass, or it’s a left hook from a car that’s coming from the head, it’s usually quite apparent. So we’re able to sort them into different categories. But with the writers input, sometimes it’s something that’s a little bit more specific. But yeah, with individuality of just automating this whole process, is kind of our next project. Yeah.

Carlton Reid 17:12
And then when you could get your adventure, we’ll talk about the commercialization of this. But eventually, there’ll be a map because on the on your website here pervasion. Co, UK, where you’ve got the the description of Oxford, I’m scrolling through it here now. So there’s a there’s a map Box Map, where you can click in and you can see the incident itself, and then you can actually see the video of the incident. So is that eventually how you would envisage all these this data getting out there in that every single eventual owner of a rebo. Any incidents they have, would get logged on to a data, great big map where every incident can be clicked through?

Liz Yu 17:56
Yeah, if they choose to, riders choose to share it, for instance, you know, our next project is, I keep calling them projects, but kind of what we have in the pipeline is with the government of Jersey, and they have a couple of these, quite a few of these units running around the island of Jersey and their writers will bookmark, bookmark the dangerous areas, and we send, you know, report to the government of Jersey, of where these work, sorry, where these points are. And you know, they’re able to go in and view the video. And what they choose to then do with it is, at the moment, it’s up to them. But there’s many kind of mini kind of ways you can present this data other than just on this map.

Crispian Poon 18:41
Yeah, and the beauty of our system is that we’ve reduced so much of the friction in allowing the user to submit these namelessness report. At the moment is very manual process, you have to get the SD card, extract the footage, right? Find the place where the incident is, and then make a manual submission to the police, or whoever. But we’re automating all that you press one button, you get 60 seconds of footage automatically uploaded to the cloud. And it gets put on the map. And the infrastructure planners who want to look at this data to really fix the near misses at the core. They can take the videos and watch the videos themselves and see why these near misses are happening. I mean, that’s an unprecedented capability. Because at the moment they use hearsay from people who talk to counsellors or just raw data that doesn’t really explain why near misses are happening. This gives them a first person view of why incidents happening and really generate the corrective corrective action that they need to take to fix these issues.

Carlton Reid 19:55
Eventually, on the website, it says 2021 next year in effect Very shortly, you’re going to go out to Kickstarter for this product. So how close are you to, to realising that?

Liz Yu 20:07
um, I think, I think right now we are focused on the plan is always to go down the Kickstarter route, there’s a big cycling market there, there’s a big kind of support and community there that we think will be very interested. It’s the people that would be very interested in our product, the same people that have already, you know, signed up for our beta trials and to purchase a beta version of this product. But I think at the moment, we want to make sure we are proving this to be useful, because you know, otherwise, it’s just another camera and dash cam, we want to make sure we have everything set out and kind of the path ready for this to be able to actually make a difference and the future of creating a cycle city in different areas.

Carlton Reid 20:59
Do you have a ballpark price? rough price?

Liz Yu 21:03
I guess what we always say is around £100. That could change.

Carlton Reid 21:08
That’s not shocking. I mean, that’s like that’s, that’s actually okay. Yeah, I’m in this kind of space. £100 pounds is or there abouts is not? I didn’t follow my chair, basically. You know, you’re just no more than that.

Liz Yu 21:25
Yeah, but it’s still as Crispin said, it’s still there early. As we’re still at the moment, the prototypes are, you know, retail value would be more than £100. But, you know, it’s still a bit early for us to tell. We are, you know, if it includes it includes, you know, we’ve we’ve had actually conversations with, with, for instance, London Cycling Campaign when these are ready, you know, maybe we could run a few, you run a few of them on writers for you know, two full weeks of London and see what kind of data we get that that type of project will take more, you know, analysis time and a bit more data crunching and things like that. So, at the moment, we’re not quite sure yet, but I’m hoping for around that price range.

Carlton Reid 22:17
Let’s let’s talk some tech because if there’s any camera geeks on here, who you know, we’ll base all of their purchasing decisions on and it’s not 4k it’s not it’s not 1080 it’s not there’s not that it’s not there’s Why is only looping for this amount of time. So tell me about the actual tech what what is the camera on board? How good is it? How long you know, does it loop forward? Give me all the really nerdy stuff

Liz Yu 22:43
Over to you Crispian.

Carlton Reid 22:46

Crispian Poon 22:49
Well, um, so so the camera was actually an HD camera, we’ve got a wide angle lens, which actually it’s related to after a couple of weeks of testing with pet on post when they were capturing tonnes and tonnes of incident had to gather more evidence of close passes. So we’re actually calibrated the wide angle lens for that particular use case. So the there’s internal storage on board there is 128 gigabytes so we can actually record for about three days straight of constant eight hour shifts usage the device itself has a battery life between five to eight hours so enough for shift because you’re not cycling all the time when your career but it depends on you know whether you turn the camera on full brightness or you doing all sorts of harsh writing in hot sunlight. But our cameras can cope you know, they’ve been out in the streets of Oxford in daylight, rain, sunshine, hail, you name it.

Carlton Reid 24:01
Any stabilisation onboard digital or not?

Crispian Poon 24:04
we try to keep the hardware as simple as possible. So we went back to the fundamentals. So the stabilisation is really about reducing mechanical operation, get it as tight to the frame as we can. Because what we see on the market is lots of cameras using very flimsy mounts, which induce a lot of vibration. Well, that means you have to use electronic stabilisation, which is kind of a plaster on a fundamental one. Our petition is good. We can capture number plates, we can see the road details quite clearly. And most importantly, we can see the incidence the second by second and seeing everything that’s going on during this

Carlton Reid 24:50
and you said before I think was Liz actually was saying that that you can you could put it on behind as well is that is the same unit or you’re talking about a different a different iteration.

Crispian Poon 25:01
Yeah, it’s the same unit. So we’ve got universal mounts for the front of the bike back on the bike, and even the same mount on some of the cargo bikes. It’s a really flexible system, you can clip it on clip off, there’s a locking mechanism.

Carlton Reid 25:17
But then when the lights be white on the back, or do you have like a filter goes across?

Crispian Poon 25:22
Yeah, so we’re working on that at the moment. For the trials, we just have the camera running, when it’s on the back by the pilot to have some kind of filter system to cover the lens. So you have a red light on the back and a white light in the front. Huh.

Carlton Reid 25:42
And then I asked you before about the price I don’t think we actually got and maybe what the when is, so when when might you potentially go to Kickstarter?

Crispian Poon 25:56
I think what, we have a mailing list. So if you sign up, you get all the latest updates. We’re running lots of projects at the moment to de risk our development. But I think the answer is soon not too soon, but soon

Liz Yu 26:11
crowds and yet like right now, our main focus is actually to develop capabilities to automatically identify and analyse the near misses. So, you know, bringing some machine and learning into then applying that to the footage that we captured. So we’re working with a lot of councils right now, in terms of actually developing this part of the software. So when this part of software is ready, and we’ve proven it, then I think we will go back and focus on the actual Yeah, manufacturing of the hardware product. And that’s when Kickstarter, and everything will kick in. But at the moment, yeah, we’re trying to make it so that councils have a tool to be able to, you know, what they have, what they see right now is cycling data, but sometimes just like they know where some of the dangerous areas are, but it’s hard to connect the dots from there to then you know, what caused it. And we’re trying to use these these, like footage on the data points to help with that part of it. So it is, it is this bit is our first focus. Because until we can do that we’re you know, we’re quite focused on like, what will actually improve cycling and will will actually help with more safe cyclestreets. So once we’ve worked out kind of this, this area, and we will go back to launching manufacturing and sending these out.

Carlton Reid 27:40
Okay, and then an awful lot of police forces are now making it much easier for motorists and cyclists and motorcyclists anybody who’s got a dashcam to upload their, their footage. So is that something that you can make? easier? Can you like lock into these systems? And it’s just, you know, a one button upload? And what are you doing for like the not that the council side of it, but the police side of it? Yeah,

Liz Yu 28:10
yeah, we’ve been, yeah, there’s like the dashboard over where people can update at the moment, or you know, our footage automatically. So if you’re writing, and you bookmark this incident, when you get home, you can then get a link of just those two minutes before and two minutes after. So there’s really no processing kind of in the middle, you just have to click that button when it happens, or a little after happens. So at the moment, it’s a link that they can apply to upload, but I think in the future, you know, we’ve we’ve tried to with the the TfL funded London cycle safety team, as well. I think it might be a bit complicated kind of linking the system just because you’d have to kind of link the portals, but we do have plans to make as easy as possible. It’s easier than Yeah, at the moment, a link that basically they could just paste on to any sort of reports they want to report. Yeah.

Carlton Reid 29:08
And then you’re riding through Oxford, and it’s just a such a lovely day that they’re not only motors around, it’s like, oh, I really enjoyed that ride. I just like to post that to social media, just the whole of that ride. If you can do that as well without having a you know, press that button to save that’s the bit I want. Can you go in afterwards? In other words, and get just a nice ride?

Liz Yu 29:28
And and and upload it so yeah, absolutely. We um, you know, we’re all about promoting the fun of cycling as well. We don’t like to promote kind of the aggression on the road that people might have with each other. It’s not always about instance, but sharing the joys of cycling. So you can so yeah, you can still press that button, and you would just, it just wouldn’t be tracked as it wouldn’t be captured as an incident. It would just be something you can then click Share, and share the link to social media. We see that Yeah, we see that all the time people, especially with our team members, you know, they like to date they like to share their their coolest ride or, you know, the most pleasant ride that they have. Yeah.

Carlton Reid 30:13
And what about overlays on the video, you know, like the location data, all that kind of stuff that is behind the scenes in the zip file. But do you have any plans for toggling on and off, you know,

Crispian Poon 30:27
data above, totalling data, but potentially, I mean, it’s part of the development roadmap, we adding information like GPS data, so we have tracking of the location of the bookmark bookmark instance. So you can refer back to the map and see exactly where the instance happened. But in our future prototypes, we have accelerometers and jarra data so you can really see what’s going on on the bike in terms of swerving, acceleration, heading direction, change and stuff. But, I mean, this camera is tailored for safety. First and foremost, it’s really about making the entire process for making safe cycling easier. And better. So yeah, but like I

Liz Yu 31:23
said, as well, like the users can choose to share this information or not. Yeah.

Carlton Reid 31:33
And with with the UK, you could talk us through this, this blog posting on Oxford. So clearly, a bunch of couriers, yes, they’re expert cyclists, but they are also going to be going into pretty much the same locations all the time. And it’s going to be, you know, city centre locations mainly. So it will be different to when eventually consumers get get that hands on this. But what what have the what are the kind of things that have really been highlighted to you from the Oxford paddlin? Post data? What what is what is what, looking at this map, and all these different incidents that have happened? What’s your takeaway from them?

Liz Yu 32:16
Um, I think, I think there, there were a few. One thing was, it seemed quite straightforward to pinpoint, you know, the key problematic areas, and you know, as you might predict a lot of common incidents like illegally parked cars, for instance, that were captured, or cars, and then kind of like a lane that they’re not supposed to be, we’re in city centres, because that’s tends to be where, you know, there are parking issues. And so some of those quite straightforward initial findings. And then we also, we also see specific roads that near misses happened the most often. And these tend to be roads that, you know, again, don’t have cycle lanes. But I think what kind of this map gives extra is to be able to click through to the video. And just because you could say, you could see a point, this is near miss on this road. And that will give you that information. But you know, what this map adds is that, then you can click through and watch what actually happened. And then you could see that, wow, okay, that happened, because this roads tend to be, for instance, very empty at this time of day. So people tend to drive by very quickly without being aware of cyclists. So little, kind of extra details like that could be added through through these videos for fueling the actual footage. Those are kind of like

Carlton Reid 33:52
is it been tested anywhere else apart from Oxford in this kind of? depth?

Liz Yu 34:00
We’re planning?

Liz Yu 34:01
Yeah, so we, you know, we have something launching in Jersey in the month, actually, less than a month. So that would be interesting to see, especially since we are less familiar with kind of Jersey cycling infrastructure, which would be exciting to have a look at what kind of footage we capture there. You know, we have internal trials that we’ve ran throughout London, and, you know, being, you know, us being like living in London. Those are always more interesting to watch because it’s interesting to see exactly which road you kind of sympathise with, with the same issues that you run into and you know, I’m on my daily commute. And then we Yeah, we’re potentially launching in Edinburgh as well. Next year, there was a quarter company that we’re working with, but we kind of need to Yeah, we kind of are rushing to keep up with the quarter companies that are interested In working with us, so hopefully that can be early next year, something we’ll be able to see as well.

Carlton Reid 35:09
And ready to place and come from obviously some peloton going on there, but tell me more about the word

Liz Yu 35:16
we’re absolutely not related to.

Liz Yu 35:21
Yeah, we’ve been getting that a lot. So you know, we might we might go through we’re kind of having conversations of undergoing a potential rebrand but yeah, Crispin.

Crispian Poon 35:33
Yeah, yeah. So pelation the word has, it really embodies the values that we hold, which is we want people to have fun when they cycle and really see cycling as an everyday tool or a means to get around everywhere. So when you get on a bike, we want people to feel happy and elated. And that’s why pollution came along. It’s about Okay, okay, okay.

Carlton Reid 36:02
Got it. Got it. Okay. All right. And then the peloton, not peloton is in the company peloton, but just the word, peloton and so it’s peloton and elation together. Am I am I in the right area now? Yeah.

Crispian Poon 36:21
Yeah, yeah. And elation. No. So

Carlton Reid 36:24
okay. Okay. Yeah, that’s good. Yeah. Okay. So pedal elation. See, I’m coming that from a Pro Cycling point of view. So Rebo? Were does repo come from?

Liz Yu 36:38
repo is actually something, a name that we had during development. It was never intended to kind of mwant to be the actual product name. Um, but yeah, it just kind of stuck. And everyone on the team really liked it.

Crispian Poon 36:57
Yeah, that’s meaning to the word. It just sounded good. We started using it.

Carlton Reid 37:04
So that that kind of Wall-E, Pixar Disney type aesthetic. Is that the Is that likely to be the finished product? Or are you still going to go through some iterations on how it looks?

Crispian Poon 37:16
I think there’ll be market testing. And we want to get more feedback from people. But we like the initial approach. We’d like the friendly kind of kids friendly as well. style of the product. easing eyes as the focal point of our design. Yeah, let’s see. I think more

Carlton Reid 37:39
and it’s Sorry, it’s other lights. Are they street legal light, so they could use this as your only lighting setup from Yeah,

Crispian Poon 37:48
yeah, absolutely. I mean, that’s why we designed the light into the device is that we don’t want people having a light on the camera, and everything else on board, extra battery or whatever. It’s all in one, you just put it on and is ready to go for your ride. frontlight camera done?

Liz Yu 38:06
Yeah, the one feedback we get from cyclists is generally just that there are already too many things to put on your bike. I’m guessing you can put them as fellow cyclists so a common combining them all into one?

Carlton Reid 38:23
Yeah, you need to have a bell on there, you’re gonna have to put a GPS, you know, a Strava dev unit on there. And what else can you

Liz Yu 38:31
well, so doing more testing because we are aware that as a breed cyclists are very picky about many cyclists are very picky about what what they put on their bike bike, so there needs to be Yeah, so we need to do a bit more you know, kind of customer testing, but in general, you know, it’s small, it’s portable, and you instal the mount on so it just slides in and out so it’s a very easy seamless process

Carlton Reid 39:00
and do you have to have in the finished product where you always have to have the button that you press for marking incident is that always gonna be separate to the the actual light camera unit doesn’t have to be separate

Liz Yu 39:15
at the moment and it’s separate because the unit can be applied to both the front and the back of the bike. So you can use the same unit up to you get one for the front one for the back. But yes, at the moment, it’s separate but the button is small. It goes on snaps onto the handlebar really easily.

Carlton Reid 39:36
And it’s Bluetooth.

Crispian Poon 39:38
Bluetooth, yeah.

Carlton Reid 39:41
Okay, and then let’s do a Dragon’s Den here. So is this is this something that you can you can make a living at? Can you can you have you looked at the size of the handlebar, dash cam bicycle, camera light market and you can see a nice Where you can get into there? And you can you can make a business from this. So do me Give me the elevator pitch of, of how you’re going to make yourself into?

Liz Yu 40:11
Um, yeah, so we, I guess on top of, we haven’t had gone through those numbers for a long time. But on top of the growing growing kind of cycle assessment market with with the amount of cycles in cities, you know, growing at a very fast pace and the cycle assessor market being a big one, we are, we are big on looking at the infrastructure market. So this is we’re kind of focused on kind of the data sell of this product, eventually, you know, this is information on cycling that is currently unavailable. So anything that has to do with infrastructure is councils up to, you know, sit, yeah, city planning and even up to autonomous vehicle, you know, they’re there. The AV industry is growing, but they’re having trouble identifying cyclists, they find cyclists like cyclists to be the most unpredictable object on the road. So you know, these are all of these can all feed this information can all feed into, you know, this is just initial thinking, of course. This can all feed into kind of that market. So yeah, it is, it is kind of I don’t have the numbers on me right now. But yeah, it is, it is kind of a couple different areas, the quarters are just a small, kind of our beachhead market, they want to protect their riders, they want safety for the riders. Eventually, maybe perhaps these companies employing you know, like deliver, we see Uber Eats, they’re running into issues on the street when their riders get into an incident. It’s a big kind of liability for them. So their job is to think, okay, what’s the best way to protect our riders, before they ride and after if something happens to them. And then on top of that, yeah, individual cyclists. And then kind of the whole infrastructure planning side of things.

Carlton Reid 42:07
You’re going to say something there, Crispian?

Crispian Poon 42:09
Let’s say, you know, with a lot of local deliveries, last mile deliveries, especially of bands clogging up in the cities, we’re seeing a lot more startup cycle logistics company popping up, for example, in the Edinburgh company, they just popped up a couple months ago. And it’s really filling in the space up. And there’s a lot of driving in the government as well, in especially the high level strategy to push forward more low carbon. So micro last mile, transport delivery logistics networks, to consolidate all the deliveries and also make delivery trips more efficient as well. So we definitely see a potential there. And also, with the infrastructure planning side, there’s a lot of push for, as you know, emergency active travel funding. And that’s why we’re getting a lot of interest from councils, governments, to really see how we can do a data driven approach to planning infrastructure, because there hasn’t been a data driven planning approach to solving especially like near misses. It’s been using very raw, very unrefined data like collision data, which really don’t show the problem before serious incidents happen. For example, like incidents, you can have a couple 100 of actual collisions in the space, but you can have 10s of 1000s of near misses. And I think lots of councils are saying that they’re seeing the missing data that they’re not using in their business cases, when they put for these funding proposals. They’re not seeing the near misses that are part of the whole planning process to see where the issues are, and where they need to put the fixes into get more people cycling. Using a data driven approach.

Carlton Reid 44:18
Great, lovely. Tell me now or tell tell the listeners of there’s a bit on your your website says join our movement. So where can people sign up to join your movement? Liz? Yes,

Liz Yu 44:33
so So if you just go to our website, click Join our movement. Basically,

Carlton Reid 44:43
what are people gonna, what

Carlton Reid 44:44
are they signing up for them, they’re they’re signing up for an announcement of when you’re going to be launching your case,

Liz Yu 44:51
as well as just you know, kind of what we’ve been up to. We’re always looking for more beta users to test our product. We like to build a product that’s Not just you know, built by us, a community of cyclists. And we have a lot of kind of users are in regular regularly in contact with. We love feedback from cyclists. And we’d like to hear you know, everyone’s new ideas. So if you’re interested in what we’re working on to sign up on our website,

Carlton Reid 45:21
social media, what you’re doing in social media, yes,

Liz Yu 45:23
we can find us on twitter @pelationtech. And you can find us on Instagram, pelationtech as well. We regularly we regularly kind of update these two platforms, but also on, you know, LinkedIn and Facebook as well. If you want to chat with us. We’re always you know, Crispian and I are the founders. We have a small team. We’re always keen to chat with anyone that you know, is into cameras or likes, likes to talk about buy or likes to talk with, you know, have campaigners that want to tell us you know, what their biggest issues are when you know, when looking at

Liz Yu 45:59
kind of campaigning in the space or just anyone kind of a narrow we’re always up to have a chat.

Liz Yu 46:07
Yeah, get in touch.

Carlton Reid 46:10
Thank you to Crispian Poon and Liz Yu for talking through their pedalling elation project. This has been the last episide of the Spokesmen Cycling Podcast for 2020. We’ve been getting you at least two a month for some time now and I don’t see that changing for 2021. Have a safe and hopefully Covid-free New Year and we’ll kick off again in January 2021. Thanks for listening and for sharing about the Spokesmen Cycling Podcast on social media – show notes, including full transcripts, can be found at Meanwhile, get out there and ride.

December 1, 2020 / / Blog

Your podcast catcher not showing in links above (black circle with three dots)? Loads more on PodLink. Show is also on Spotify. and Google Podcasts.

GivingTuesday 1st December 2020

The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast

EPISODE 262: Baron Bird: “Bikes are the future”


HOST: Carlton Reid

GUEST: Big Issue publisher Baron Bird of Notting Hill in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

The Big Issue publisher Baron Bird of Notting Hill loves bicycling. He lives 7 miles from Cambridge and when visiting he cycles there. His latest Big Issue project is a dockless bike share scheme for smaller cities using electric bikes fettled and hired out by unemployed people and others who may be vulnerable and in need of a way of improving their lives.

Lord Bird has had a fascinating life so far — a life enriched by art and what he calls social kindness — and he’s clearly not ready to put his feet up under his ermine robes just yet.

The Big Issue is still sold by those living in poverty but, because of Covid, no longer from the street. Lord Bird discusses the various other ways you can now help out Big Issue vendors but first we talk about Giving Tuesday and Taking It Away Wednesday, with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea set to dismantle the well-used cycleway on Kensington High Street. Lord Bird slammed that decision saying “bikes are the future.”

Pic by Louise Haywood-Schiefer.


Carlton Reid 0:13
Welcome to Episode 262 of the spokesmen cycling podcast. This show was recorded on Giving Tuesday, 1st December 2020.

David Bernstein 0:24
The spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast is brought to you by Jenson USA, where you’ll always find a great selection of products at amazing prices with unparalleled customer service. For more information, just go to Hey everybody, it’s David from the Fredcast cycling podcast at I’m one of the hosts and producers of the spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast. For show notes, links and all sorts of other information please visit our website at And now here are the spokesmen.

Carlton Reid 1:09
The Big Issue publisher Baron Bird of Notting Hill loves bicycling. I know this because we chatted earlier today about his latest project, a docked bike share scheme for smaller cities using electric bikes fettled and hired out by unemployed people and others who may be vulnerable and in need of a way of improving their lives. I’m Carlton Reid and today’s hour-long episode is a corker even though my guest admits that, in a former life, he was a bike thief. Lord Bird disputes this, however, preferring to say he rode bicycles stolen by others. He’s had a fascinating life so far — a life enriched by art and what he calls social kindness — and he’s clearly not ready to put his feet up under his ermine robes just yet.

Carlton Reid 2:11
In the second half of today’s show we talk about Big Issue EBikes, due to be rolled out in the first quarter of next year, but much of the first half is Lord Bird telling me about his tough start in life, and how he managed to turn his angry brick-throwing nihilism into a force for good. He co-founded The Big Issue in 1991 thanks to some investment from big-nosed Scot — his words not mine — Gordon Roddick of Body Shop fame. The Big Issue is still sold by those living in poverty but, because of Covid, no longer from the street. Lord Bird discusses the various other ways you can now help out Big Issue vendors but first we talk about Giving Tuesday and Taking It Away Wednesday, with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea set to dismantle the well-used cycleway on Kensington High Street …

Carlton Reid 3:16
You are known, john, as Baron Bird of Notting Hill in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which is an absolutely fantastic name.

Carlton Reid 3:29
Of course, shortened to Lord john, but but May I call you, john?

Baron Bird 3:34
All right, just this one occasion, just as one occasion I will allow?

Carlton Reid 3:38
Yeah, thankfully, it was because of Baron bird of Notting Hill in the Royal Borough of Kensington Chelsea would be would be a long conversation, wouldn’t it?

Baron Bird 3:46
I tell you, they got the geography wrong. All right. Because Notting Hill is divided between the Royal Borough of Kensington, Chelsea, and also the borough of Westminster, which was Paddington when I was born. So I was actually born in the borough of Westminster as it is now. Right? Wrong and filled in all the forms and it couldn’t be changed. So

Baron Bird 4:12
I’m really the Lord bird of Westminster, but it doesn’t matter, Westminster, nor

Baron Bird 4:18
Royal Borough of Kensington, Chelsea, they’re all posh places now.

Carlton Reid 4:21
But they both both pretty posh, but they weren’t back in 1946, John.

Baron Bird 4:26
They were the actually where I was born, and had the highest infant mortality rate than anywhere in the UK. So if you wanted to kill your children, so for instance, you didn’t want so many children and the bill is once they would die,

Carlton Reid 4:47
not dead but now you live in the equally posh Cambridge Is that right?

Baron Bird 4:51
Well, I don’t live in the town. I live out in the country nearby.

Baron Bird 4:56
Yes, I love Cambridge. I first came to Cambridge

Baron Bird 5:00
When I was 17, I hitched from London.

Baron Bird 5:03
And to go to an exhibition at the Fitzwilliam and I came out the age of 17. And said, one day, I’m gonna live here. It was so beautiful. And also I was kissed by a young student, a young woman, a young girl, who invited me to a party. And I saw, I’m gonna come back, and I came back maybe 45 years later deliver very nicely. Family.

Carlton Reid 5:28
Yeah, that Cambridge is is noted for being a bicycle place. And I do absolutely want to get onto the bicycle related nature of today’s conversation. But let’s go backwards a little bit in that and go back to Notting Hill. And that is

Carlton Reid 5:47
Kensington High Street. I don’t know if you know at the moment, but right the second in time, the Royal bearer is taking out a protected cycleway on Kensington, High Street, were you aware of that?

Baron Bird 6:02
I was not aware of that. But, um, I don’t know why they would do that. Because the future is going to be about bikes. Um, is it not interesting that kind of 40 or 50 years ago, if you saw a photograph of Beijing, it would be full of bikes. And then they move back to cut. They moved into cars. And now even Beijing, and all those places that were that a newly prosperous are now going back to bikes. I don’t know why. The Royal Borough of Kensington Chelsea, but they let you know that, like most authorities, they’re capable of doing things that look very bovine from the outside. I’m sure they have we’ll have a logic that we probably wouldn’t agree with. Huh?

Carlton Reid 6:51
That’s that’s a very diplomatic way of putting it.

Baron Bird 6:53
Yes. Yes. I mean, I used to work for the Royal Borough of Kensington as a as a little as a road sweeper.

Baron Bird 7:02
And I worked in the cleansing department, and I worked in the parks department. And every now and then they would do something really strange. I mean, one of the things they did, I’m sorry, that I’m going on about it, is they over the weekend, pull down the beautiful Kensington Town Hall intensify the high street, because on the Monday, they were told there was going to be

Baron Bird 7:27
one of those preservation orders. So they pulled it down over the weekend. It was it was not illegal, but it was very, very shady practices.

Carlton Reid 7:37
When was that done. But with that, without me going into Google and finding out roughly,

Baron Bird 7:43
that was about 1980.

Carlton Reid 7:45
John, today is Giving Tuesday.

Carlton Reid 7:50
And that’s that’s part of a greater whole, which is like the social kindness.

Carlton Reid 7:59
So tell me a bit about the importance of today and and social kindness in general.

Baron Bird 8:06
Well, I worked in the United States about 22, or three years ago, and I produced a magazine in Los Angeles called Off the Wall. This is where it all goes back to.

Baron Bird 8:19
And working in Los Angeles and meeting some really, really desperately poor people in South Central, in watts in Crenshaw in in Compton, and all that. I was always staggered by the amount of people I met, who were doing things for the community. And I kind of loved that. I thought, they’re not doing it for money. They’re doing it because for the love of other human beings, and these are some of the poorest people on earth. And we in our magazine called off the wall, we had, we chose a day of the month, which was called a 32nd day. And we awarded, we said to people

Baron Bird 9:02
choose any day of the month, whether it’s the third or the fifth or sixth and call it your 32nd day. And your 32nd day of the month was when you woke up in the morning. And you said I’m going to do something for the benefit of others, because it will benefit me. And we had hundreds and hundreds of people sending in suggestions of what could you could do and all that. And it was it was overwhelming. Unfortunately, I then had to come back to the UK because we were having we have to do stuff with the British shoe. And I came back and I popped that up. then lo and behold the COVID-19 heads and suddenly you get these enormous outbursts of people wanting to help other people. And there is no there is no rhyme or reason other than the fact that it’s human beings, forgetting the fact that they’re consumers forgetting the fact that they’ve got their own problems for rent or

Baron Bird 10:00
mortgages and they go the extra mile for the community, the week that the layman the hold. And that is absolutely brilliant. I mean, even somebody like like Markus Rashford

Baron Bird 10:15
tweeting a very simple thing. And he tweets it says, Why does the government not look out for our children for their school dinners, and it’s a bit ratty too. And lo and behold, that gets taken up. And every person who responded to that tweet,

Baron Bird 10:34
in a way, was demonstrating social kindness to such an extent that they change the government’s mind, oh, suddenly, they could afford it. And it looked mean. So we got all these outbursts. I know a company that was one of those largest suppliers of toilet paper, and jail and all those sorts of things that were in that were in demand in March. And they sent out a note now this is anti commercial. But this big company sent out a note saying any of the people they supply

Baron Bird 11:06
if they are found to be up in the crisis, and based on shortage, then they will start supplying. Now that isn’t totally uncommercial thing to do to turn on your supplies and say, you have to be morally strong at this moment. And all those kind of outbursts the way in which readers have a number of newspapers, readers have the big issue got behind the big issue, when all around vendors were removed from the streets, all these sorts of things I am, I think that we’ve gone through the worst year that I have ever known for indecision for too much advice coming from 27 different places, cumbersome pneus not being in the right place at the right time, not knowing how to respond to the covid. But an attempt by the government and by local authorities to impose some kind of order. And you had all there, and you had all those tragic deaths, some of them probably need not have happened if we’d been better organised. yet. 2020 will also be remembered not just as a time of tragedy, but also a time of a new way of working together, and sharing all in it one over one a month for all. So to me, social kindness is a recognition of that. And at the end of this year, when we have our special issue about reviewing the year that we’ve been through, we will leave other people to go on about only other things. And what we will do is we will extract the positivity is the building back better, of social interaction with each other. And we’re going to start out 2021, with reminding everybody that we need to be working together to be in order to get through this, I believe that this is the break, that is possible to create a new optimism in the community, even though it’s founded on a chat, a challenging tragedy of all of those misfortune of people who died last year.

Carlton Reid 13:20
So lockdown ends, December 2, and then you can get your vendors back on the streets because we need to remind people that people haven’t been allowed to be selling Big Issue on the streets, you’ve done a few innovative things, haven’t you with with which haven’t done before? And clearly because of COVID. So what have you done to get Big Issue out there in different ways?

Baron Bird 13:43
Well, one of the things that we’ve done is we recognise the the almost the near death of the streets and said how can therefore can we work with homeless people who and people who who sell a big issue? How can we work with them in a way that says no, we’re not going to accept this laying down. So we moved into subscriptions, getting people on subscriptions, getting digital copies of the magazine, and we’ve been relatively successful. Now, I mean, we’ve lost, we lost virtually all of our sales from one mode, or nearly all of our sales except for subscription and digital. For the for the virtually the whole of the lockdown. This second lockdown. It’s been quite difficult to organise it but we managed to carry on supporting our vendors. And we’ve done one of the innovations we’ve done is where you can go on to the website and you can itemise an alert, you know, find out where the vendor is. And then when you buy a subscription or a digital copy, make sure you know will tell you that half the money will go to them. So we’re carrying on with the relationship. The big challenge for us is what happens

Baron Bird 15:00
plans in the new year will High Street get back to where it was probably not people working at home. And so we will have to innovate at a much faster and an accelerated level. And we’re up for it. Because we believe and this is one of the other things about social commerce, we believe that our readers really want to get behind what we’re doing. They want to support people in need and want to support people out of need. The only tragedy for me and I have to say, maybe I’m more frightened than most people is that a lot of our readers and people who are governance and all these other companies

Baron Bird 15:44
are going to be the people who are lining who’ve been lined up, if they’re not supported, they could end up as the new homeless, and that frightens me because that’s not this eight to 9000 10,000 people we work with a year, that’s hundreds of thousands. And I really do not want any person and their children and other members of their family, caring to go through the dungeon, the Bastille of homelessness that I went through as a child,

Carlton Reid 16:16
let’s let’s talk about that, because you had a rough childhood. So a big part of why you were involved with with the Roddick’s to create the Body Shop fame to create the Big Issue was you had a background where you had been homeless, you did have a troubled background. So tell me about that.

Baron Bird 16:40

Baron Bird 16:42
I was

Baron Bird 16:44
I think I was groomed to fail.

Baron Bird 16:47
I had a I mean, I love my parents

Baron Bird 16:51
love them to death. They were, you know, working class or labouring class people. My mother was a barmaid when she met a distillery worker who was my dad, they were she was 18. He was 20. They got married, later lived in the slums of Notting Hill where my father came from and where my mother it come from come to from Ireland.

Baron Bird 17:20
And they had children, they did what everybody else was doing, having children. So they had six children, but three, and four in the sons of people. The family broke apart when I was seven. And we moved into an orphanage, but for that period, they had their children.

Baron Bird 17:41
No money worth talking about wages. My father unfortunately was a heavy drinker. So a lot of that money disappeared on a Saturday night. And that was a kind of coping mechanism. That’s how poor people often cope cigarettes and drink would be, you know, the things that helped you get through the poverty. We were made homeless when I was five, because the parents didn’t pay the rent, we were out on the street. We were put into a void in the roof of my grandmother’s cottage around the corner, which was another slum above a stables in a mews, and we became very ill we were moved to a what was called a council house, but it wasn’t, it was a condemned house with some rooms that you could live in, semi condemned, live there didn’t pay, the rent got thrown out, and you’d up in a Catholic orphanage. So in a way, everything that my early life was a preparation for social failure. I was dyslexic. So I didn’t I did very badly at school, couldn’t really understand my brothers did better. My brothers were much better behaved than I was, because I kind of accepted

Baron Bird 18:57
the fact that they were, you know, at the bottom of the pile and I never did. So the older brothers were, you know, my older brothers kind of, I was, I was the third one and then there was another one, the fourth one, and they accepted. You know, alright, then this is where we are. I mean, like my dad did, and my mum did, but I was a real pain in the rear because I hated

Baron Bird 19:23
this. I hated the everybody. I hated teachers, I hated policemen, you know, I was a horrible little Dawber up, you know, you know, swastikas, you know, all the kind of rubbish thinking that went with poverty. I was starting fires and and I was always in trouble. So I was the one who kept getting nicked. So from the age of 10, we came out the orphanage and at the age of 10, first thing, shoplifting, you know, starting fires, you know, tearing down fences, getting into trouble going before the call.

Baron Bird 20:00
The juvenile court and same again at the age of 11, not going to school. bunking off school.

Carlton Reid 20:06
Is that anger, John? Was that seeking attention? What was what was the motivation? Can you can you go backwards and think about what you as a child were thinking?

Baron Bird 20:17
Um, I can’t, you know, it’s so extraordinary because I, I, I see people doing vandal, you know, create vandalism now. And I was, you know, if I’m around, if I’m in a position, I’d stop them, I have no idea. I think a lot of us are on overdrive. And you don’t quite know, I mean, most of us don’t really know all of our motivations and our tastes, and what we like, but I did like, I loved being a pain in the rear, I loved climbing the fence into the new buildings, site, opposite where we lived in getting the bricks thrown in the puddles and smashing the windows, I loved all that stuff. And I was about 7, 6 or 7.

Baron Bird 21:06
And when I was in the orphanage I loved

Baron Bird 21:10
I loved the fact that I couldn’t, they will beat me and knock me around, because I wouldn’t accept what they want to do. And I ran away, and I did all sorts of things. They actually tried kindness on me, and allowed me to go to the cinema. And for some strange reason, what a surprise, I suddenly started to play less of a pain in the rear job and, and kind of fell in love with some of the people who were trying to help us because you had all these nuns, who all they weren’t, you know, they’re a couple of hundred, seriously disturbed children from the slums and rundown citizens of London, really in the south. And they were there trying to help us and, you know, rough love and tough love and all that. But in the end, I kind of got it. But it still meant that when I got out, I was homeless, you know, not a very nice boy. And I was always the boy who was accused in the class, if there was something stolen, and I never stole ever, ever stole from any of my contemporaries. When money went missing the dinner money, they blame me. And of course, and then they find out later on, though, they’ve done it wrong, they’ve added it up wrong. So I was I realised, of course, I had a bad name, and I was getting more and more bad reputation. So, but

Baron Bird 22:36
I can’t say that I was unhappy, I always felt that I was alive. So it’s a pain to have to admit that I kind of like being a bit of an outlaw. And I think that might have been all the kind of silly little cowboy films that I watched. But I love being different. And I think that’s what got me into the prison system. And that is why the age of 16 I could learn to read and write in a boys prison. And my brothers never really mastered that. And that’s how I learned a bit of printing. I learned God, I learned to, to sit in exam, even though I never passed a level,

Baron Bird 23:17
an O level. I tried all I did all that. And, and the thing was, and this is extraordinary thing is that the the state will not spend more than it has to on your education. If you are a labourer, or if you’re a, you know, semi skilled worker, so they’ll supply you with just about enough to get you by. But if you’re a naughty boy, or a naughty girl, they’ll throw a lot of money at you to stop you.

Baron Bird 23:49
offending later in life. So I was blessed with the fact that they spent a shedload of money I was in I was in a place that cost three times what it cost if my children had sent me to Eton.

Baron Bird 24:04
Unbelievable, and that wasn’t painful, but

Baron Bird 24:07
I had the best public school. You know, I mean, wonder I talk right now and I’m very, very

Baron Bird 24:13
well done one of Britain’s greatest public school, it was a reformeratory.

Baron Bird 24:19
There you are, got the accent..

Carlton Reid 24:22
But then you’ve gone to, this is the 1960s now, we’re gonna leap forward. So then you’ve gone to the Chelsea School of Art. Yeah, well, but you’re homeless.

Baron Bird 24:32
What I was, when I was my mum threw me out. Because once she got our hands on my grant and spend it very quickly, because she was a woman who, if a pound would burn a hole in her pocket, she had to spend it. So that went very, very quickly. And then we had an argument over a bowl of porridge and she threw it over my head and burned me quite badly because she was quite an aggressive woman and i i

Baron Bird 25:00
Left and when I left for the day, and when I went back, my dad said, You’re not staying here. So I went, and I slept rough that night. And then a couple nights later, I started to sofa surf.

Baron Bird 25:13
All of the first six months of my time art school, I was homeless, sofa surfer. But the interesting thing was, why was that I an art school at the age of 18, when all my mates were digging holes for London electricity, but I tell you why. Because when I was banged up, they found out that I like to draw and I paint. And I did. And they said they encouraged that. And they encouraged it so much that when I came out at nearly the age of 18, I had this enormous portfolio. Absolutely. And I looked like a boy genius. I was drawing and painting all the time. And all the screws or masters as they like to call themselves. Were kind of proud of the fact that this little get, you know, from Notting Hill, could could actually turn out stuff that they would want hanging in their house. So I went to art school with this enormous portfolio and I looked like Leonardo da Vinci. From the worlds in Chelsea,

Carlton Reid 26:18
Do you continue that? Do you still do art?

Baron Bird 26:22
I’m obsessed by art. In fact, I love to tell my children. When I was 18, I was Britain’s greatest unknown painter, which I still adhere to. And, and if I had my time again, my five children would not exist, I would have got myself, somebody who paid me. And I would be I’d have a room and I live in the room. I paint in the room I draw in the room. And I would have nothing to do with anybody just paint and paint and paint and paint. not have any children not have anything. And I tell them that they say Oh, so you only you only had us because you failed as an artist.

Baron Bird 27:05
Yes. And then when people say to me, you must love the homeless and you must love sorting out the world’s problems. I said I do. But if I had my time again, I wouldn’t be doing it. Now that’s a horrible thing to say. But I absolutely I love painting and I love. I love everything about it in some of the greatest moments I’ve had is standing in front of an American painter, for instance, there’s a beautiful American abstract, pentacle, Helen Frankenthaler, and standing in front of this beautiful abstract work. And or Lee Krasner, who is the wife, who was the wife of jack the dripper, you know, Jackson Pollock, and, and these beautiful, beautiful artists and I, I just, it’s almost the kind of spiritual

Baron Bird 27:55
for me, and wonderful painters, and, and when I get the chance, I’m drawing and painting.

Baron Bird 28:03
And I’m doing things I’ve done. I had an exhibition, which you might not, you might want to Blur. Blur this one out, it was called grasses, arses and trees, and it was life drawings. It was trees, grasses, it was abstracts and all that stuff. You know, I’ve been drawing from models for over 30 years, I’ve been drawing friends, I’ve been drawing everything I’ve been drawing the trees in my garden. And I will soon be launching a

Baron Bird 28:36
website which will,

Baron Bird 28:38
you know, enable people to look at my work and, and even buy some of my prints. So that then because I want to use the money to help on projects, which I’m very interested in, I’m very interested in people given gardening to help them with their mental well being. And so that reformed school education, the prison education, kind of has given you a lifelong interest. Oh, yeah. I mean, before I before the, when the screws, sorry, when the Masters said, were my house masters he was called.

Baron Bird 29:20
said to me in my reformatory, look, Bird,

Baron Bird 29:25
You’ve got from 7.30 at night until 9.30, every night, five nights a week. And over the weekend, you’re going to have time and you’ve got to fill it with something. You can stuff toys with Kpop for the local hospital, you can do a bit of plumbing, you can do a bit of woodwork, you can do anything. What do you want to do? And I said, Well, I’d like to paint and draw. So they got me the wife of one of the screws.

Baron Bird 29:54
Mr. Rahn, Mrs. Rahn had been an art teacher in the isle of Wight.

Baron Bird 30:00
And she was brilliant. And I would go down to a house two times a week. And we talk about art. And we talk about everything. And then she’d lay out an enormous spread, which me and Mr. Rahn would enjoy. And so a combination of good food, and art, and it was just absolutely marvellous. And I love this woman, she is the one who made me feel there was something deep about art. And it was something that that every one of us could share. You know, it wasn’t. No, everybody can paint and draw. That’s the other interesting thing. I’ve had five children, right? Not one of them ever, when they were doing that childish out, when they were doing their art growing up, not one of them produced the dumb, a dumb work, because children start as art geniuses. And unfortunately, we give them all these pre occupations. And we try and straighten out their drawing and all that, you know, one of the greatest painters of the 20th century, was taught to draw and paint like as though he was a photographer. And he spent the whole of his life struggling against Pablo Picasso. He tried to paint like a child the whole of his life, because he realised that there was an insightfulness. The children have a look at things and they know them before you know them, even though you’ve been looking at them for decades.

Carlton Reid 31:32
So did they have the petty offending that that stop? When you’ve got this lifelong interest in art? Is that what it was there a light bulb moment, or you just put on the straight and narrow.

Baron Bird 31:45
I wasn’t quite on the straight and narrow, because what happened with me, which was which is

Baron Bird 31:52
which, you know, I can’t describe as anything other than going in another direction, I met a young woman.

Baron Bird 32:03
And then we, we became an item. And then we married, had a child. And I then got thrown out of art school because I was more interested in this young girl. And I was in art for some strange reason, my biology took over. And then I, and then I went back to another art school, and it didn’t work. And then I fell into the back into crime, and all sorts of things like that. And I was always kind of doing what I wasn’t always doing wrong. But then I got in, I got a number of things that would have got me two or three years. And I disappeared for seven years. And I started using, well, six years, I disappeared this weird,

Baron Bird 32:53
strange anomaly names, anonymous names. And, surprisingly, I have so many of these names. I’ve moved from one job to another and one part of the country to another. And I would have all these names. I didn’t even know who I wasn’t yet. And then after six years, I handled myself in, paid fines and paid other things and got myself straightened. And,

Baron Bird 33:21
and then from the age of about 28, 29, 30, I then started working legitimately, and then I, because I fell in love with printing. When I was in this establishment, I started to become a printer, and I trained myself to become a printer, not in a particularly nice way, I get a job. And

Baron Bird 33:43
after a couple of hours, they realised I couldn’t print it, get rid of me, but I’ve learned something. And after about 10 jobs, I was quite good at it. And then I became a printer. And I started my own business. And I was totally and utterly committed to it because printing is an art. And I could make it it’s printing we’re doing like

Carlton Reid 34:05
was it a jobbing printer? Are we doing magazines, you’re doing fine art and what kind of printer?

Baron Bird 34:10
I did. Well, first of all, I started doing catalogues and leaflets and business cards, and all that sort of stuff. But then what happened was I

Baron Bird 34:21
started to publish stuff. So I started to publish a magazine I helped publish a magazine for the Royal Academy. I published a book for the Royal Academy. I designed it printed all sorts of stuff. I started magazines with other people. I work with somebody called the Victorian Society, I designed stuff for them, help them present themselves. So I became the printer and almost the publisher of this. Then I worked with a number of charities I’ve worked with a homeless charity called the Simon community. I absolutely love them because they allowed people to go and live with homeless people and

Baron Bird 35:00
live and experience homelessness. And I went to some of their places that they had in the country. And I sat with people who were just like the people I worked on a building site with, you know, 20 years before. There was no, there was no difference between them and us. And then I, you know, I saw I do printing for people, you know, and I do that kind of stuff. And I gradually developed a realisation towards the end of my 30s and early 40s that I’d had, I had this enormous experience. And I had a passion for social change and social justice. And I needed to bring it all together. And of course, for sure, fortuitously, I met somebody read met some when I saw them on the telly. And then I pursued them who I’d known when I was 21, hiding from the police in Edinburgh. And that became Gordon Roddick, who with his wife had started the Body Shop, and become multi millionaires, which I was very attracted by.

Carlton Reid 35:25
That ws 1991. And how, tell me about Gordon Roddick, and how you knew him in Edinburgh? Well,

Baron Bird 36:16
what happened was, I had, one of the worst things you can do to the state is steal social security in those days. And what happened was my my wife and I, she was she left me. And I was still getting the social security that I should have been sharing with her. But I was sharing it in the local pub. And what happened was, they found out about it, and they came after me. And that was one of the reasons and I would have got two to three years for that, because I already had a criminal record, back to the age of 10. And now I was 21. And so therefore, I had to disappear. So I disappeared. And I went off to France, I had been educated as a boy online or mis educated, to have many of the problems that you have in in, in the poverty world. I had some very, very bad attitudes towards

Baron Bird 37:16
black people and Jews and Indians and Arabs and all that, you know, and I, you know, a lot of people in poverty, find their mind closes down. And mine was very, very closed. A lot of this inherited from the people around me and from my own parents.

Baron Bird 37:33
And when I went off to Paris, I met some Marxist Leninist, socialist, trotskyists, and all that. And I completely changed because I met this beautiful girl who challenged everything I said, and in order to win her affection, so I started to mimic what she said, about, you know, solidarity with the poor and all that stuff, which I didn’t believe. And then after a while, I started to believe it. And then after a while, I became a committed pain in the rear Marx’s anti racist, anti everything. So I got changed. This is one of the things that I really want to drive home to people, you can start in life or at any one time, with the most pernicious racist Gumby sort of thinking. And if you get the chance of changing it, you grow you develop, I suddenly became a much bigger person, because I’ve been thinking all of this poor, anti semitic, anti black, anti Indian stuff. And when I got rid of it, it was like an enormous weight off my shoulders. And that really did help me in the development of myself as a person who could be useful to other people. And I’ve often

Baron Bird 38:54
had, you know, got involved in in getting rid of racism amongst young people. But anyway, so when I came back to London converted to this socialist from being almost a kind of Nazi and fascist

Baron Bird 39:11
I, then what ended up in Edinburgh because my wife’s family lived up there. And I one night I met this big nose Scotsman, Gordon Roddick and I had a big broken nose and he had a big broken nose. So we shared broken nose stories and we we became mates and then I found out he wrote appalling poetry Absolutely gut rotting poetry, I at the time was writing gut writing poetry. So we we complemented each other on how guff writing poetry books, and we became mates and then I didn’t see him for 20 years and I saw him on the telly when I was with my son Patty sitting watching the telly because he was on there with Anita Roddick.

Baron Bird 40:00
God Oh, I knew them. And then with with Richard Branson, who I also knew, because when he was 17, he started a magazine called the Student, sold by students to work their way through college. And I, at the age of 21, 22, pretended I was a student in London and used to sell his magazine for scoring. He was always astonished at how easy it was for me to sell these magazines. But lo and behold, 20 years later, I’ve taken the same model and used it for homeless people with the Big Issue. So I then went to see Gordon when I saw him on the telly in 87. And then we kind of put a friendship together. And then he

Baron Bird 40:48
he, he was in New York, and he saw somebody selling a street paper called Street News. And the bloke said that he’d been in and out of the penitentiary for most of his life, and he’d used now he wanted to support his children. And he didn’t want to go back into prison because they throw the key away. So he fell homeless, and started selling Street News, which was the first word, it was the world’s first street paper. And Gordon asked me to start one in London, which we, which we then called the big issue.

Baron Bird 41:25
That was 1991.

Carlton Reid 41:26
John, we’ll come back to the Big Issue in a second. But right now I want to go across to have an ad break. And I’m going to pass you across to I’ll pass this all across to David, my co host.

David Bernstein 41:37
Hey, Carlton, thanks so much. And it’s it’s always my pleasure to talk about our advertiser. This is a long time loyal advertiser, you all know who I’m talking about. It’s Jenson USA at Jenson I’ve been telling you for years now years, that Jenson is the place where you can get a great selection of every kind of product that you need for your cycling lifestyle at amazing prices, and what really sets them apart. Because of course, there’s lots of online retailers out there. But what really sets them apart is their unbelievable support. When you call them you’ve got a question about something, you’ll end up talking to one of their gear advisors, and these are cyclists. I’ve been there I’ve seen it. These are folks who who ride their bikes to and from work. These are folks who ride at lunch who go out on group rides after work because they just enjoy cycling so much. And and so you know that when you call, you’ll be talking to somebody who has knowledge of the products that you’re calling about. If you’re looking for a new bike, whether it’s a mountain bike, a road bike, a gravel bike, a fat bike, what are you looking for? Go ahead and check him out. Jenson USA, they are the place where you will find everything you need for your cycling lifestyle. It’s . We thank them so much for their support. And we thank you for supporting Jenson USA. All right, Carlton, let’s get back to the show.

Carlton Reid 43:03
Thanks, David. And we are back with with Baron Bird with Lord John bird but he has graciously allowed me to call him, john. So john, we are back you’ve been you’ve been fascinating history, a troubled history we’ve got to say, but and also a positive history and that you use art to change your life around eventually, you’ve used your printing skills and your publishing skills with Gordon Roddick to create this this iconic magazine, the Big Issue which has gone on to have many

Carlton Reid 43:39
examples of it all around the world. But now you are doing something again innovative with with bicycles. So tell me exactly what you’re going to be doing … [Cough]

Carlton Reid 43:53
Excuse me … with Sharebike of Norway. So what are you going to do with those bikes?

Baron Bird 44:00
Well, it coincides with the tremendous problems that

Baron Bird 44:07
society and the economy is having throughout the world.

Baron Bird 44:12
And that is you we’ve got to create new forms of work, we’ve got to create new forms of business, we were approached by share bike

Baron Bird 44:23
with the idea of putting together I business that would use electric electric bikes. I’ve always been fascinated with bikes. In fact, the number of the times I got arrested and put into detention centres and places like that were to do with my inability to get my hands off of other people’s bikes. But now I don’t know. I want to work with them. And the idea of electric bikes I find fascinating, because it means you can go further or you can get exercise you can get

Baron Bird 44:59
fresh air. And you can do it all yourself not not simply rely on the internal combustion engine. So what happened with with the just previous to the COVID-19, we started to put together this idea of starting in Cambridge and then moving on to other cities. I like the idea that I could gain, I could begin to grow employment for other people, then the COVID-19 hit, and kind of slowed us down a bit, but we still carried on. And the COVID-19 raises the question of lots of people not having a job. And therefore, it’s created a much, much bigger need for us to help create businesses, that will create jobs for people in and around sales, in around maintenance, in and around distribution. And it means that we can take some of the people we work with selling the newspaper, The magazine, and we can train them up. But also we can take people who have fallen into, into unemployment through the crisis, we can start trading them up. So it’s the beginning of a way of intervening in the economic crisis. And at the same time, doing something which is very, very interesting, which is helping people to get exercise to get out of doors, to get away from the internal combustion engine. And obviously, to move towards a world which is environmentally, not as challenged, because you’re not using, you’re not using fossil fuels. So this is the kind of pits all sorts of things. The other thing is that I got a bill going through the Lord’s and it’s also going through the House of Commons with

Baron Bird 46:59
with Caroline Lucas, who is a Green MP there,

Baron Bird 47:03
which is called the well being of future generations. And that is about the importance of environmentalism, the importance of education, the importance of jobs, and all that and making sure that the government doesn’t pass legislation that harms the generations to come. So all of this fits together. So it’s a wonderful, it’s legal, you know, the bill, the parliamentary stuff, that political stuff we’re doing in Parliament, the work around the big issue of growing work for people, and also not accepting the, the fact that people will slip into homelessness, because they will be unable to find work by creating as much work as we can. So we have something called the today for tomorrow, programming. And this, we’ve got a campaign call the Rider Out Recession Alliance, which brings businesses together, brings local authorities together brings charities together, and brings individuals together to try and create the new jobs, and the new opportunities, and at the same time can pay to keep people out of evictions, and get them back working so that they can support themselves.

Carlton Reid 48:29
So, John, tell me how this works a for the homeless person and be for a Cambridge resident, obviously, you want to expand in other cities, but just you’re a Cambridge resident, and you want a bike at some point. So So describe those two ways of operating.

Baron Bird 48:47
Well, first of all, we will be taking some of the people who can be trained up to do some of the skills around marketing, around selling the service, and also around maintaining the bikes, picking the bikes up where wherever they get dropped off, and all of that kind of thing that you would have to do with any form of bike business. So we will be training up people who are who have been homeless or who were trying to get out of homelessness. And at the same time, because we want to, we want we don’t want this to be a ghetto, of the socially displaced. We want to put in other people who have recently fallen into the need for work and grow it almost as organically. So that’s the way that we imagine it for the for the Cambridge resident or the Brighton resident of the Bath or Bristol or whatever city we go from.

Baron Bird 49:50
What we want to do is offer them a service that they’re wanting to use

Baron Bird 49:57
that has a social echo. That means

Baron Bird 50:00
If you use what were doing, then the profits will go back into aiding and abetting people to get out of poverty, and aiding and abetting people to get out of all the needs that go with not being able to keep a job, because you’ve fallen out of it, and help the people to get into a job who’ve been homeless, we’ve been selling the Big Issue, and who need to move on.

Carlton Reid 50:28
So are these are the two kinds of share bikes, you’ve got the docked bikes, which are like the London scheme, where they go into a physical dock that you know, bolted, cemented into the ground, and then you take them from there. And then you’ve got the dockless kind, where they’re freestanding, you can pick them up from from anywhere. But with electric bikes, you really need to have them powered from somewhere at some point. So So what model is this, using?

Baron Bird 51:01
Well, the one that we’re working on, and obviously innovations will happen, those dockless bikes were innovated because of the fact that you had an entrenched place where you pick the bike up before. And, and so we will innovate as we go along. And we may even have a situation where we would deliver bikes to a college or a business, so that they can use it around their buildings and around, you know, like the Science Park or someone like that. But we will start by having got places, and those, we will make sure that we have the staff to make sure that things get, you know, the bikes get juiced up. I think all that.

Baron Bird 51:50
So those are the kind of early steps that we’ll take, obviously, we’ll find that there will be times when people may want to take the bike home with them. And then we’ll have to look at ways of doing that. I know that in the village that I

Baron Bird 52:08
live in on for a period of time, when these dockless bikes appeared, there was five or six of them. And then they disappeared. And I don’t know if they are thrown in the river or struggling. But, you know, obviously, we have to keep security very important, because

Baron Bird 52:26
that keeps your costs down and it means makes you more of a, you know, reliable and viable business.

Carlton Reid 52:35
And what what the timescale on this, when are we going to see the first bikes in Cambridge?

Baron Bird 52:41
It will certainly be probably in the spring of 2021.

Carlton Reid 52:49
Are you a target customer, and you’re going to be one of the people will be using this?

Baron Bird 52:54
Yeah, I am a target customer. Because I would like to, I mean, I cycle everywhere. So I cycle, you know, the seven miles into town, cycle around the town, and all that I’m a sprightly 74 year old. So I don’t need electricity to get me in to town. But if I want to go somewhere else, I want to go really far. And be back from lunch. I will I will use it for a kind of community. And I you know, back to social kindness. I think there is a kind of social kindness factor in everything we do. I mean, the big issue is bought by people who believe in our vendors, they may believe in the magazine, but more than anything, they believe in our vendors. That is social kindness. And I think we will be able to make people feel better in in, in some ways, maybe a very marginal when they say I’m riding a bike that is helping people out of need and into opportunity.

Carlton Reid 54:02
John, it’s been a fascinating talking to you. And I would just like to before we get I just want you to either confirm or deny this this delicious story. And I do hope you’re going to confirm it. But on your Wikipedia page, there is a big gap actually between what you were doing in the 70s and 1991. But anyway, it just says here “for two weeks in 1970, John worked as a dishwasher in the Houses of Parliament canteen” and that’s of course an institution that you would later return to return to in 2015 as a Peer. Is that true?

Baron Bird 54:35
That’s very true. There were in in the late 60s in the early 70s. There was these temporary job agencies, and you would go to them I don’t know if they’re still there you go there. Manpower and people like There you go. And you’d you might have a job for two weeks. I was I had a whole slew of jobs there.

Baron Bird 55:00
quickly and also because I was working under an assumed name. And I went to this agency in in Victoria. And they said, Oh, do you want to wash up in the House of Lords? And I said, Yeah, why not? And and the House of Commons because they used to move you from canteen canteen. And so I went there, I think I started or either started off in the commons, and ended up in the Lord’s or whatever. So I worked there. And that was really, really interesting for me. And I, at the time, I was a kind of mad socialist and I got very cheesed off the management, because I kept saying to the workers, why are you in that in the house of democracy being so poorly paid? Why is it that you’re the working poor? And we’re here we are in the centre of democracy? So I raised that question. And I’ve also raised that question, since then, why is it that you can be working for the state, which

Baron Bird 56:03
runs the the system for the government, the elected government, and yet you can be almost a member of the working poor, you might get a living wage, but a living wage is often not very conducive to living or living in a way that can enrich your life. So I was there. And after a couple of weeks, they wouldn’t renew my contract. Because I was such a pain in the reassigned to people. Yeah, why don’t we go on strike and get to get better wages. In 2016, when I went into the Lord’s, one of the first persons who copped hold me was the cook

Baron Bird 56:45
in in the, in the kitchen, and insisted I walk round. And then the BBC found out about it, and they were making a film called A Year in the Lords, and they chose me as, as a novice coming in. And he took me around the kitchen as well. And I got to know the cook. And I’ve got to know, the star. Why really was pleased with was that the cook and the deputy cook, they were all into the idea of getting people who had, you know, maybe had some problems earlier on in life and training them up in, you know, cookery and, and in kitchen arts and work. So a number of the people were people pretty similar to where I come from in the first instance. So I was very, very pleased. And there was a, there was a whole group of them I gave a talk to, and they were astonished to find out that all of the naughty little things that they may have done growing up, I’ve also done so. So going from, I was washed up at the house in the house of law. I was watching up in the House of Lords. And I hope people won’t say now you’re washed up in the house.

Carlton Reid 58:02
Well, John, I will forgive you everything apart from the bike theft. The bikes. Oh,

Carlton Reid 58:09
but you say that, I mean, that’s the biggest crime in in the world is stealing somebody’s bicycle. I just I can’t forgive you for that. forgive you for everything else.

Baron Bird 58:17
Let me tell you that is that is an interesting thing. That is really, I mean, I’ve had about four bikes nicked. The first week, I moved to Cambridge, somebody nicked my bike, but the thing was, I didn’t steal the bike that got me What happened was, some boys stole some bikes from the school I was in. I found them abandoned in the, in my local park. And then this bloke rode around on the roof few days, and then we put them back to where they were abandoned, where they were picked up by the mum and dad of that. So I was I was what you might call

Baron Bird 58:59
You know, they used to have this thing where you stole it, they wouldn’t have you for stealing the car. They’d have you for taking

Baron Bird 59:07
a car without the owner’s content, consent. So really all I was was I was a user of the bike. I have never stolen a bike but I’ve been put away for stealing bikes, when the person who the two people who stole them,

Baron Bird 59:28
got away with it, and all I did was utilised.

Carlton Reid 59:33
Thanks to Baron Bird of Notting Hill there and thank you for listening to the spokesmen cycling podcast. I’m now off to make a Giving Tuesday donation to Meanwhile, get out there and ride …

November 26, 2020 / / Blog

Your podcast catcher not showing in links above (black circle with three dots)? Loads more on PodLink. Show is also on Spotify. and Google Podcasts.

Thursday 26th November 2020

The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast

EPISODE 261: Faster, smaller, cleaner: data analysis shows why delivering by cargobike makes sense


HOST: Carlton Reid

GUESTS: Ben Knowles and Nicolas Collignon of Pedal Me, London


Spokesmen interview with Pedal Me’s Ben Knowles in 2018.

Nico’s blogpost


Carlton Reid 0:12
Welcome to Episode 261 of the Spokesmen cycling podcast. This show was recorded on Thursday 26th November 2020.

David Bernstein 0:24
The Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast is brought to you by Jenson USA, where you’ll always find a great selection of products at amazing prices with unparalleled customer service. For more information, just go to Hey everybody, it’s David from the Fredcast cycling podcast at I’m one of the hosts and producers of the spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast for shownotes links and all sorts of other information please visit our website at And now here are the spokesmen.

Carlton Reid 1:09
Hi there. I’m Carlton Reid and today’s episode is about the significant logistical benefits of last mile delivery by E-cargobike. Joining me from London is Pedal Me boss Ben Knowles and calling in from Copenhagen is Nicolas Collignon who is a Pedal Me rider during the day and the firm’s data scientist at night. Nico knows his stuff. His PhD was in computational cognitive science. And over the next 20 minutes or so, we discuss Nico’s fantastic new blog post that demonstrates with data why dense urban areas are best served with deliveries by wwift, nimble, planet-friendly cargo bikes, cargo bikes that can be loaded up with pretty big payloads. Okay, so this morning or today I have with me two people. Ben Knowles, who’s in where are you saying you’re you’re in London as a market there, Ben, wherever you are?

Ben Knowles 2:15
I’m sitting in Exmouth market, which is one of the very pleasant, low car spaces in London that’s well utilised for commerce. And so you might hear some bikes coming past you might hear some shoppers on their way to COVID-secure buying. So apologies for any of the background noise.

Carlton Reid 2:39
Well, you might hear dogs or a dog in the background of my one as my dog wanders in and out. And also in Copenhagen, which is a fantastic place to be is Nico so it’s Nicolas, I’m gonna murder your name here. Sorry. Is it Nicolas

Unknown Speaker 2:57

Carlton Reid 3:00
Oh, I got it. Right. Actually, I got it. Right. Fantastic. So just to set this up. You’re Nico. You’re a data scientist for Pedal Me? Yes. And you also ride for Pedal Me?

Nico Collignon 3:15
Yeah, that’s correct.

Carlton Reid 3:16
And Pedal Me. Let’s go. Ben, you will last on the show on the spokesmen podcast back in 2018. When you are going for your first round of funding. So just bring us up to speed on where you are and how many riders you have now. That kind of stuff.

Ben Knowles 3:33
Yeah, so I think we were around about 15 staff members then. Today, we’re about 55. Staff members, a lot more advanced in terms of tech and operations. We, we’ve moved to our own system, other than kind of like an A white labelled external system. That’s much better suited for for what we do. We’re doing a lot more large scale logistics. And we’ve done some amazing bits of work, including there’s one project that Nico has written an article about, as well, where we delivered 10,000 packages across Lamberth covering something like 20,000 kilometres I believe it was. So we’ve grown a lot since we last spoke, Carlton.

Carlton Reid 4:26
So you had two funding rounds. Is that right?

Ben Knowles 4:29
Yes, we’ve done to two equity based crowdfunding rounds. And yeah, we’ve put that money into growing our fleet. So we have 56 bikes today improving our tech, which is an incredible amount more advanced today than it was and then the latest features, we have an API, so Companies can plug in directly to our tech system for fulfilment of orders. Also, next next week, we’re starting to move into our first warehouse. So we also do some sort of third party logistics stuff where we hold people stock for them, and then do their deliveries on their behalf as well. Or by bike. Apologies for the beeping in the background. The inconvenience, right because I

Carlton Reid 5:36
yeah, that’s good. That’s my bicycles. Your bicycles don’t have beeping when they when the reverse No,

Ben Knowles 5:42
no, but maybe they should do for the trailers.

Carlton Reid 5:47
Nico is this a wild stab in the dark thinking you might be in Copenhagen because of the bikes you ride with?

Nico Collignon 5:56
knows that my my I grew up in Copenhagen. So I’m visiting my family for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, so

Carlton Reid 6:06
Okay, but you’re French?

Nico Collignon 6:07
Yeah, I’m

Nico Collignon 6:07
French, but grew up in Copenhagen.

Carlton Reid 6:10
Interesting, Nico, how come you’re working for Benjamin there? How come you’re working for Pedal Me?

Nico Collignon 6:18
So I finished my PhD in February. from Edinburgh. I did my PhD in computational cognitive science. And I wanted to take a bit of a break from academia and use my skills on a project with impact. And I believe that cargo bicycles have this potential to change things for the better in cities. So I wrote to Ben and then he replied very quickly, and then I jumped on the bike a couple of days later,

Carlton Reid 6:51
So, Nico, you are riding as well as being the data scientist, is that right? So you’re like, you could be on call. You could be going out like everybody else in the team.

Nico Collignon 7:00
Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Carlton Reid 7:03
So Ben, I don’t know how much of this will be talking to you. Because obviously, Nico is the data scientist, and he’s the one who’s put some of this data up. But obviously, pitch in whenever you think you need to, but let’s go to Nico because this this, this blog posting and Twitter thread that was put up has gone viral. It’s fascinating because well, you can tell me why. But basically, it’s showing the incredible efficiency of, of cargo bikes, and we’re gonna say this is like London, is this London during the pandemic is that all the data has been captured in that period.

Nico Collignon 7:44
So the data we’re looking at here was just for the month of September. So that was outside of any lockdowns. And I think that the traffic was actually quite, quite high in September.

Carlton Reid 7:58
So first of all, tell me the speeds. So that’s that’s how fast as a normal van or car motor vehicle go in London, and how fast do you guys go?

Nico Collignon 8:09
Sure. So the so one of the problems with this study, so I wanted to do a van versus cargo bike comparison is that I don’t we don’t actually have access to van data. But to the best numbers I could find were from a report from Transport for London, from 2018. That said, the traffic speed in central London was 11.4 kilometres per hour. And in inner London, so a bit outside of Central that was 18.7 kilometres per hour. And that’s between seven in the morning to seven in the evening.

Carlton Reid 8:48
And what are you guys doing? What are the what are the cargo bikes doing?

Nico Collignon 8:51
Sure, so he speeds that I found looking at 19,000 kilometres from 37 of our bikes were 15 kilometres per hour in central London. So that’s 3.6 kilometres per hour faster than the vans and then in inner London, it’s 16.4. So that’s a bit slower, but it’s like it’s averages for two quite big zones. So I think what it really shows is that the more dense area we’re in the faster the faster the bikes and then yeah, I think that if you’re within three or five miles of the centre of London, then the cargo bikes have a definite advantage. And then

Carlton Reid 9:34
you’ve got to factor in for a van driver, you’ve got to factor in somewhere to park Yeah, to then make your delivery whereas you can well what do you do? How do you avoid parking spots?

Nico Collignon 9:46
Well, it’s not that we’re avoiding the parking spots we also have to park but like the bikes are, I don’t know if five times smaller than a than a van. We can also like move a lot more freely. So is just something that’s not not a concern when I’m out and about on the bike doing deliveries.

Carlton Reid 10:07
So this this data that you’ve captured at Ben and Nico, this is all with the new IT system that you have. So this is all logged on riders phones, where’s where’s the data log?

Ben Knowles 10:22
So we’ve got a couple of sources of data. So yes, we have tracking through the riders phones, actually, through a couple of systems that we use. One for the one for our radios, and another for running the running jobs directly through an app. But we also have ways of track we have trackers on the bikes. And I believe that that’s where Nico pulled this data from.

Nico Collignon 10:54
Yeah, that’s correct.

Carlton Reid 10:56
Okay, so you’re using, you’re putting this data through into open street mapping, to show that the bike base trips are actually shorter than the equivalent for a van, is that right?

Nico Collignon 11:08
So yeah, so for this, I looked at the data for more jobs suggest the pickup locations and the drop off locations. And then I looked at the routes that openstreetmaps would give us for bike routes, and then for comparative to car routes. And any and what I what I found is that the bike trips are consistently significantly shorter.

Carlton Reid 11:37
is the reason for that shorter distance that bikes can use bike paths and shortcuts. What’s what what do you put it down to?

Nico Collignon 11:45
I mean, yeah, maybe you can you can? Um, well, yeah, one of the reasons is that, yeah, we have shortcuts with bike paths. But there’s also like, there’s bus lanes, and then cars are sometimes allowed on single way. Roads, too. There’s a Yeah, there’s a bunch of reasons.

Carlton Reid 12:09
And then they’re just that the amount you can carry on a on a bike. I mean, that’s, that’s obviously something that you you push on social media. Yeah. That, but you can’t carry what a truck can carry. So where are the advantages for a client to using you if they’ve got tonnes of stuff to cart around?

Nico Collignon 12:30
Sure was one of the main goals for writing this piece was that it’s, it’s clear that there are misconceptions about cargo bikes, and one of them is how much cargo bikes can carry. So our bikes can carry up to hundred 50 kilos. And if you add the trailer, it’s 150 kilos more. And, yeah, that’s quite a lot. And the thing is that we can ride these bikes at at full speeds. So which is significantly faster than vans in central London. But then the second thing that is maybe not so intuitive, is that the fact that we can’t carry as much means that we can be more efficient in terms of logistics, because the loads are spread between more vehicles. And that can lead to more efficient routes.

Carlton Reid 13:22
So that I’m looking at the the data science here on the pedal me with this the blog, basically, or the article that was written. So this is using, like routing, you know, analysts analysis of like nodes and and different routes that you’ve, you’ve used, and you’re basically showing that cargo bikes are just incredibly more efficient than vans. Is that is that what you’re showing here with all of these different graphics? Which fabulous.

Nico Collignon 13:58
Yeah, so yeah, basically, is trying to give an intuition to what the last mile delivery looks like, which is a lot of drops quite densely distributed in the city. And the Yeah, the point is that, because they’re quite spread out around the city, if you were just to have all your drugs in one van and trying to link them all up, your route might be longer than if you were instead dividing it by let’s say, three vehicles, and then sending a vehicle to each of the patches. Does that make sense? Hmm. So it’s really trying to give an intuition using data and from clients that we work with for what last mile delivery looks like the last mile logistics.

Carlton Reid 14:46
So on here, it’s talking about a pedal a cargo bike can carry up to 36 packages, that’s like or 70 drops in a day. Yeah. So is that also just much more than ever van would normally do?

Nico Collignon 15:02
So I think you’re the point again is to Well, I mean, the bikes can’t really carry more than the navan. But the point is that in for last mile delivery, you’re limited by the time of the driver, you’re probably not going to be driving more than eight or nine hours in a day. And that limits the numbers of drops that you can do. And that means that most of the time your your van will be running or driving itself capacity because you like you don’t have enough time to fill up the van with deliveries, if that makes sense. And I was reading this study that was done in, in Delft in the Netherlands, where they analysed or they looked at the content of all vans coming in and out of the city in a day. And they they found that only 10% or less of vans would have been needed for the trip because like they’re just rarely used it for capacity.

Ben Knowles 16:03
And then, and that backs up some slightly older deep data from London that TfL had, which indicated that something like 67% of all fan trips were the vam is running at 25% capacity or less. So we’ve we’ve used that two thirds figure as an estimate of what logistics we can feasibly do within London. So we think that you know, like two thirds of the logistics that’s going on now would be more efficiently done by cargo bike.

Carlton Reid 16:48
Now an awful lot of cities will be looking at making their their fleets that they use into electric, in which case, you know that the pollution that you’re you’re not creating. But But yes, standard internal combustion engine vans and cars are using, you know, that’s an advantage now, but in say two years, three years whenever when all cargo fleets are electric, you lose that that advantage. So is your advantage, mainly going forward going to be efficiency? Is that? Is that where you’re pitching this? Because in the future, you can’t really pitch pollution as something that is going to be in your favour.

Nico Collignon 17:37
Yeah. So I mean, I’m talking here from Copenhagen work and see bikes from my window. And I think that one of the things that is not so obvious for people that live in a city like London, is the is the damages of car culture or motorised vehicle culture. And I think, yeah, it goes beyond just the pollution. So I tried to put together all the all the facts, but yeah, the one of the points was about the the sheer amount of space that that vehicles take the and then the dangers of having vans on the roads. And these are things that are not going to go away just because you have electric vehicles instead of combustion engines.

Carlton Reid 18:24
And that question for sorry, Ben, for you. You’re still London. And everybody always asked, I’ve certainly asked, and they’re just saying, Look, when are you coming to a city near me? So what’s what’s your expansion plans with this incredible efficiency, it can be done in other cities. So when could you expand?

Ben Knowles 18:46
Well, I guess that’s a question for me. Real realistically, we need to get to a scale where we’ve got the tech operating really efficiently. And we have we start to grow this network of quite sizable business partners that operate in multiple cities, that will make it very easy for us to go and tackle other cities. I guess, for me if things went well. And we got the right funding, and we start to come out of this pandemic period, which has been really quite disruptive because the type of work has been changing all the time, and we’ve had to be have a lot of organisational capacity on coping with those changes. If we can come out of this period, then something and then like the next year to 18 months, we can be coming to other cities. But to be honest, there’s also there’s so much work for us here in London. I don’t want to lose sight of that, because we think that there’s a billion pounds worth of work every year for us here in London. And we’re doing, you know, at the minute, we’re doing about a million pounds of work a year. So we were lucky left less than a 10th at like a 10th of a percent of the capacity of the market here, as well. So I don’t want to lose sight of the potential for expansion right here in London either,

Carlton Reid 20:34
Yeah. Good point. So this this blog posting by by Nico, this this fantastic information on how efficient these bicycles these cargo bikes are, that is going elsewhere than just on social media. This is something to be sent fleet managers, what are you doing with this information? How are you? How are you going to tell people about this?

Nico Collignon 21:01
Hmm. So we’ve we’ve been in touch with people in academia last week to see how we could push that forward. There. But yeah, otherwise? I think we’re people have been reaching out, but it’s Yeah, we don’t have a set plan. Apart from that, I think.

Ben Knowles 21:22
Yeah, I mean, I think, in general, as a company, what we try and do is, you know, we’re thinking beyond, just like the commerce, we’re not just thinking about our place in society as a business, but also where we can add value. So yeah, the company wasn’t just set up to be a money making machine, but it was also set up to deliver a public goods. And this information being in the public domain, even if we don’t directly profit from it, although I suspect they will bring interesting leads our way and interesting opportunities. That will still be, it will still deliver value in a wider sense. If that makes sense to you.

Carlton Reid 22:10
Yes. I mean, I’m just looking at the the, the tweet that I read originally did this so that I mean, it’s at 735 likes it said, 304 retweets. I know a lot of the people who I follow on Twitter, have been retweeting it and and bigging it up, because it is something that’s really, really important to get a certain class of motorcar and van off the road and for bicycle to take over.

Ben Knowles 22:39
Sure, I mean, I just in in general, I feel that the use of motor vehicles in cities is just so screamingly stupid. It’s such a waste of everyone’s time, that anything that helps people understand that and understand why that is, will help push, push the conversation and allowed more dramatic changes to our cities that will help make those more viable and more practical alternatives, easier. cycle tracks, local ship, low traffic neighbourhoods, more road user charging for, for those that do use motor vehicles in the city. And we, as a company were set up to help push that conversation along and help those changes to happen.

Carlton Reid 23:33
Let’s talk about low traffic neighbourhoods. You mentioned it there. So one of the things that people say is, Oh, I can’t get my deliveries. You know, the van can’t get through. You’re having no problems. I’m as human with low traffic neighbourhoods you can get through.

Ben Knowles 23:49
Yeah, so we did have a problem yesterday, when we were carrying a two seater sofa on the front of one of our bikes. And that did make getting through some of the the filters a bit challenging. But in, in general, yeah, the low traffic neighbourhoods, I mean, we can get straight through even with the trailers. And it it’s one of those things that it also makes working a lot more pleasant. Because you’re extricated from being stuck in traffic. You know, motor vehicles are the main thing that slows down. And so allowing us to move on routes that are parallel to the motor vehicles, and to enjoy pollution free spaces while we’re at work. It makes working a lot more pleasant and a lot more fun. As and, and also it saves us time because we’re not, we’re not entangled with the motors, when when they’re sitting there taking up all their space not going anywhere. We’re just extricated from all those problems, right.

Carlton Reid 25:00
Well, thank you to you both for for talking me today. And let me know. I mean, I will put in the show notes. I’ll put the link to the to the blog posting but Ben just just tell me where that website is and tell me any social media connected and I’ll ask the same question from Nico.

Ben Knowles 25:19
Cool. Sorry, what would you want from us in

Carlton Reid 25:22
Your website. So just Just give me a website and and and your Twitter handle that kind of stuff.

Ben Knowles 25:27
Okay, great. Yeah. So people can find us at And on Twitter or Instagram, on at pedal me at PDLME ATP.

Carlton Reid 25:44
Okay, and Nico, do you have somewhere where people can get hold of you on social media?

Nico Collignon 25:49
Yeah, sure. I’m on Twitter as well. I’m @nccollignon. But also through the Pedal Me Twitter.

Carlton Reid 25:56
And I haven’t been on there. That’s right. I do not follow you. But I’ll go check on you in a minute. And do you talk about cycle stuff on there? Or is this what do you do on your Twitter?

Nico Collignon 26:06
Yeah, quite a lot about cycling, then. Yeah. Then Oh, yeah.

Carlton Reid 26:13
It makes sense. I’ll definitely go and follow you then if you if you talk about cycling. Cool. And well, thank you so much, guys, for for talking to me today. And you’re very, very different locations. Thank you to Ben Knowles of Pedal Me and to Nicolas Collignon, also of Pedal Me and, and his fantastic PhD from Edinburgh University there. And let me just go across to my colleague, David before I wrap up the show.

David Bernstein 26:41
Hey, Carlton, thanks so much. And it’s it’s always my pleasure to talk about our advertiser. This is a long time loyal advertiser, you all know who I’m talking about? It’s JensonUSA at Jenson I’ve been telling you for years now years, that Jenson is the place where you can get a great selection of every kind of product that you need for your cycling lifestyle at amazing prices and what really sets them apart? Because of course, there’s lots of online retailers out there. But what really sets them apart is their unbelievable support. When you call them you’ve got a question about something, you’ll end up talking to one of their gear advisors and these are cyclists. I’ve been there I’ve seen it. These are folks who who ride their bikes to and from work. These are folks who ride at lunch who go out on group rides after work because they just enjoy cycling so much. And and so you know that when you call, you’ll be talking to somebody who has knowledge of the products that you’re calling about. If you’re looking for a new bike, whether it’s a mountain bike, a road bike, a gravel bike, a fat bike, what are you looking for? Go ahead and check them out. JensonUSA, they are the place where you will find everything you need for your cycling lifestyle. It’s We thank them so much for their support. And we thank you for supporting JensonUSA. All right, Carlton, let’s get back to the show.

Carlton Reid 28:07
Thanks, David. And thanks, of course to you for listening to Episode 261 of the spokesmen podcast, show notes and more, including links to Pedal Me’s website and Nico’s Twitter account and it can be found at Our website also has all of the subscribe details you could ever eat and details on the previous 260 shows. But meanwhile, get out there and ride …

November 16, 2020 / / Blog

Your podcast catcher not showing in links above (black circle with three dots)? Loads more on PodLink. Show is also on Spotify. and Google Podcasts.

Monday 16th November 2020

The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast

EPISODE 260: Say It With Flowers — My Guardian article’s LTN interviews

“When you see a bike like mine, filled with flowers, even the most steely, cantankerous Grinch will smile, because it’s a business that spreads joy.”

Four interviews rescued from the cutting-room floor


HOST: Carlton Reid

GUESTS: Newbie cyclist Sarah Berry, bottle shop owner Liam Plowman, cargobike florist Victoria Clasen and cycle campaigner Giles Gibson.


Guardian article: ‘I got it wrong. Since the changes it’s become more vibrant’: life in an LTN


Carlton Reid 0:13
Welcome to Episode 260 of the Spokesmen cycling podcast. This show was engineered on Monday 16th of November 2020.

David Bernstein 0:24
The Spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast is brought to you by Jenson USA, where you’ll always find a great selection of products at amazing prices with unparalleled customer service. For more information, just go to Hey everybody, it’s David from the Fredcast cycling podcast at I’m one of the hosts and producers of the spokesmen cycling roundtable podcast for shownotes links and all sorts of other information, please visit our website at And now, here are the spokesmen.

Carlton Reid 1:08
Hi there, I’m Carlton Reid. and on today’s show, I’m letting you see behind the curtain. I’ve got three interviews that weren’t done for this podcast. They were done for The Guardian. I have a story well, actually three stories in today’s newspaper, all about low traffic neighbourhoods or LTNs. Now I talked with retailers and cycle campaigners to get their on the ground points of view. And with their permission, I’m including here some of those conversations. I recorded them to do transcripts. So recording them to just basically take notes and not to put on a podcast so the audio is a little less polished then then usual as recorded on an iPhone. Basically, we’ll hear from newbie cyclist Sarah Berry, bottle shop owner, Liam Plowman, and cargobike florist, Victoria Clausen and cycle campaigner Giles Gibson. That’s four isn’t it? So that’s three people, I said three before. Okay, so it’s four people who are recorded and I got their their permission to put their their audio that they didn’t know they’re being recorded for this podcast. But they gave me permission afterwards to to let you hear it. I have edited it in in parts of course. For instance, we didn’t talk about Chateau Musar. Why didn’t I not the Chateau Musar bit on Liam Plowman’s bit coz you don’t need to know about Lebanese wines. Do you? Okay, Chateau Musar is fantastic. Liam doesn’t stock it but he does have a different Lebanese wine. Okay, so first up, here’s Sarah Berry. And if you’ve seen the amended road closed sign that features pictograms of other road users, such as a cyclist, a pedestrian, a wheelchair user. Is there a skateboarder on this? I think it’s a skateboard on as well, with the text saying road open to those folks, but not motorists. Well, that’s Sarah’s work. And they are appearing all over the UK at the moment. And they’re great signs, but the roads aren’t closed to everybody they’re closed to motorists. And that’s a very, very good point to get across. And in pictogram version, or pictorial way of doing it, Sarah did that brilliantly. So here she is. But tell me, bear in mind, I do not live in London. So I will not know any of these places, but where do you live in comparison to Railton Road?

Sarah Berry 3:45
So I’ve actually moved since the LTN came in. So where I used to live, I was on a street that sort of came off Railton Road, they operate as sort of like a ladder. And so I was in one of the lattice streets off of that. I’ve now moved into a main road that borders the Tulse Hill LTN. So just on the other side of the park to where Railton Road is now.

Carlton Reid 4:11
And when you were living there, how did it transform your life?

Sarah Berry 4:19
Pretty remarkably, to be honest. So I had I’d heard about low traffic neighbourhoods as a as a thing before before it had come in. And it kind of felt like, you know, the ideal, the ideal thing that you would want as someone who wasn’t a car user in in the area, and I was a pedestrian predominantly using buses and trains before before sort of locked down here. But the day we got the letter about the LTN and Railton Road I went out and bought a bike. I only learned to sort of ride a bike doing the cycle confident TfL coursea year earlier, but sort of hadn’t had hadn’t worked up the confidence to test it out in, in London streets because it was just, you know, too busy and sort of too scary. And it didn’t feel like there was any way even local that I could cycle to that didn’t feel overwhelming. But when the LTN came in, when we told you that was happening, I was sort of like, right, I’m out of excuses. So went and bought a bike. And you know, that fundamentally, I think, during lockdown has been a real transformation, because, you know, I still haven’t gotten on a bus or a train or the tube or anything since since March. And I think if I had been confined to only the areas I could walk to, over the past six months, I’d be feeling a lot more sort of isolated and depleted than I am now I’ve been able to, you know, go and visit my new nephew who’s been born in Kingston, because I could cycle out there in able to go and visit friends who live all over London by meeting them in Central, I’ve been able to sort of head into my office on Sundays when I needed to do some work from there. And that’s sort of, you know, functionally and practically been really transformative, but also, in terms of like, my own self confidence. seeing myself now I never thought I would be the kind of person who would ride a bike, it just, you know, I’ve got terrible balance, you know, I’m you know, just not I’m not, I’m not super sporty, I’m none of those things. And I always thought it would be beyond me and to be given the conditions that enabled me to build up my confidence that the LTN bought in has sort of made me feel like, even though it’s a it’s sort of a really nothing to say, but it sort of made me feel like I could do anything, because it felt it was definitely in one of those categories of like something that other people do, that I won’t ever be able to achieve. And now that it’s moved out of that category, when I’ve got the right support and the right infrastructure around me, it’s sort of it sort of reveals, you know, how, how much your space and context has to do with with that, rather than, you know, who you are as a person and what you can actually achieve. And then beyond that I just met so many local people, I just know so many more neighbours, so many more people in the neighbourhood in general, from you know, advocating for lt ends and, and, you know, being supportive of them. But also, you know, I’ve been looking out for opportunities where we can celebrate the community and promote the neighbourhood and sort of get together. And that means that you know, you get in touch with people who are organising little festivals, or who were doing, you know, podcasts on design or different things on history. And it just, you know, now when I walk around the area, it always sort of have to allow double the journey time because I end up stopping and running into people and having a conversation and it’s just, it’s just the kind of life that I didn’t think was possible in London. That has come about as as a result of the changes.

Carlton Reid 7:52
And I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a photograph of your bicycle. We’re not gonna get very nerdy here and go into what bicycle do you ride? And I’m pretty sure I’ve seen what a photograph of you riding your bicycle, but I refresh my memory. What kind of bike have you got?

Sarah Berry 8:07
Yes, I have got a Chesterton from it’s called a company called the Light Blue. And it’s, uh, not interested in sorry, I’m forgetting the brand name, I’ll send it to you. But it’s a sort of like a baby pink, baby pink upright Dutch style bicycle from a company that started in Cambridge. And they were used to build like racing bicycles in Cambridge back in the day and then and then stopped for a period and then started up again. So we don’t want to be oldest

Carlton Reid 8:41
1890s. Sorry. 1890s it yeah, it’s Lloyd. I know the guy who owns it. His great, great grandfather was who set it up in a very, very Victorian for sure, like Light Blue. So yes, it’s a nice brand old,

Sarah Berry 8:57
proper old bikes. Would you get that for me knew when I bought when I bought it? All right. I I picked this one out specifically because a friend of mine works in a bike shop. And I’d you know been talking to him about about the fact that you know, I was such a nervous cyclist and I’d full off all the time and all that sort of stuff. And I wanted something that was like, That felt sturdy and stable. And when that came in, he sort of said, you know, like, by sort of message saying, I want to get this bike I want to get it as close to today as I can. And he said well, we just had this coming yesterday. I’ll set it up for you and come in and test it out. And it immediately immediately felt wonderful. I’ve only I’ve only ever written like the Boris bikes in London before so this felt a lot more comfortable. And a lot more me it wasn’t it was amazing the like difference that having my bike made to that level of confidence. Hmm.

Carlton Reid 9:57
Now I can go to your profile and and work got what I should say who you are. But what would you like me to say who you are in job terms and in even in campaign terms? How should I describe you?

Sarah Berry 10:11
So car dependency campaigner would probably be the best the best way to go about it. I’m the co chair of Lambeth Living Streets as well. But if you could mention that as a volunteer role that would be great because Living Streets keep getting hassled asking if I’m on the payroll and it doesn’t matter how many times that we confirm that I’m not they keep getting asked.

Carlton Reid 10:34
Thanks to Sarah Barry there. And if you’ve read the Guardian piece, you’ll realise that Sarah only got like a sentence or two in in that piece yet she spoke there for like, what, seven minutes. And that’s what happens of course with with newspaper pieces, or magazines or any any form of journalism really, I only had 400 words to get across quite a few points of view in the Guardian, so I’m afraid not all of an interview will ever make it into the final piece. And poor Giles got even less space in the Guardian than Sarah. But by by putting this interview out on this podcast, I can actually put more of jobs and more of Sarah and more of Liam and, and and more of all the interviews. So here we go with with Giles Gibson, and Giles is a business consultant and a cycle campaigner. Hi Giles is Carlton here.

Giles Gibson 11:33
How are you doing?

Carlton Reid 11:34
I’m doing good. Thank you. Are you free to talk now?

Giles Gibson 11:37
Yep, yep, no problem. Sorry. Yes to? Yeah, yeah, no problem. Sorry, happy? How can I help?

Carlton Reid 11:44
Well, first off, um, this is gonna be in The Guardian. Did you want your name to be on this or not?

Giles Gibson 11:53
And probably best to keep it anonymous. Just say, keep it local resident. There’s been a few problems with those who aren’t so keen on LTNs. And having a bit of a go that those who are I mean, they the locals know who’s been doing the surveys anyway. And they know where I live, because I’m pretty prominent in the area anyway.

Carlton Reid 12:19
No, no, I kind of I kind of assumed that might be the case. But I just want to check that. So I can say you are a campaigner for the Railton LTN camp, how should I describe you?

Giles Gibson 12:36
And I would just say a local resident who’s been in the area for 25 years. I don’t mind the name being used actually. Cuz thinking about it, all we’ve done is stand there and count traffic. That’s it. It’s that simple. There were three of us last time. And our methodology is to have one person en route and roads and that’s kind of technically within the ltn. And at the same time, we have people in Dulwich road, who are counting the traffic there and analysing it in the same way. So we both do it at the same time, same day. No, Ready, steady, go and count the traffic and analyse it. lambdas have put tapes down in the road anyway, so they’ll be getting the numbers through quite soon. And I’d certainly be measuring the traffic in Railton road, and Dulwich road, which is technically just outside the LTN. And it’s one of the roads that people say it’s going to get worse traffic as a result.

Carlton Reid 13:53
So why why did they do Railton road? Why is Railton road a key corridor to do a treatment like this?

Giles Gibson 14:03
Well, over the last 20 odd years, I’ve been involved with the local community and every single public meeting virtually when we get on to what’s the vision for the area and what’s the big issues. The number one is traffic. Number two is normally traffic and number three is traffic. It’s been that monotonous over the years, and route and road was identified as being increasing in traffic quite a bit over the last seven or eight years. And the local streets being getting fed more and more fed up with rat run activities. And we want to get better cycle routes from Brixton through to Herne Hill and beyond as part of a network of cycle reads. For Lambeth, we’re looking at A cycle dedicated protected cycle lane all the way down railroad anyway, we’re consulting on the whole thing. Because it was a key link. The number of cyclists who are starting to use route and road was starting to increase prior to the LTN. Anyway, there was a byproduct because I managed to get the Station Square development done about 10 years ago now where we diverted the road outside Herne hill station and created the semi predicts pedestrianised area that has provided a safe way for the cyclists to get across the Herne Hill junction because there is a phase of light dedicated, ironically to HGVss over 10 tonnes to get out of Station Square. That’s why TfL insisted on putting a traffic light phase in and very rarely any lorries use it. So the cyclists started realising they get their own dedicated cross. So as a result of that they’ve been using road as a route from Brixton to then get south to Dulwich and Crystal Palace and everywhere else. And so it was obvious that rail road was a contender, so it’s something quite dramatic, alone along with Shakespeare road, which was suffering from high running activity. So that’s some of the background. Can I

Carlton Reid 16:41
kind of just, I’ve got up on maps here now. So it’s where the the, the LTN the close has been put in to motorists at the station. Station.

Giles Gibson 16:54
It’s actually near Hearn place and Hurst Street, Google has it marked about right.

Carlton Reid 17:02
Okay. And then it goes as far north as Coldharbour Lane?

Giles Gibson 17:07
Well, there’s a filter and just in Shakespeare road, where it leaves a nail right across his nail road, it goes underneath the railway. So there’s a filter there. And they had to put the filter there because of the waste transfer station. That is just on the other side on the north side of the railway. They have very big lorries 40-tonners taking the waste from the skip lorries down to their depot in Greenwich. Big lorries can’t get under the bridge. So they had to allow them to continue to go north, up Shakespeare road through Loughborough junction, and eventually, down to Greenwich. So that’s why the filter was put on the south side. So there’s been a lot of objections from people in Shakespeare Road thinking that they’ve been cut off from the world.

Carlton Reid 18:06
So just to confirm if I can’t see on the map here exactly

Giles Gibson 18:11
what it is. It’s complicated. But yeah,

Carlton Reid 18:14
is there anybody and I’ve always had this, come back to me, as I know, is that anybody who has a car in any of these streets, can no longer use their car, or it’s all down to it takes a wee bit longer?

Giles Gibson 18:30

Giles Gibson 18:34
Access to every single front door has remained as is. In whatever they call you want to come in be a 40 tonne truck, or a bicycle or your car or what have you. There’s been no change. You know, there’s they haven’t touched the parking, they haven’t touched the roads in any way at all.

Carlton Reid 19:00
So it’s literally just filters on certain roads. It just makes maybe, I mean, the typical thing is you know that your my five minute journey is taking 20 minutes now Well, of course you think well why are you doing a five minute journey? But that’s what he’s doing is it basically people taking longer to do car journeys if they won’t do car just

Giles Gibson 19:20
some car journeys depending in the direction he wants to go in. And it’s only some it’s not all will take longer.

Carlton Reid 19:34
Right. So now going to your or the traffic survey. So this this it that says on there, when would you tell me again, when was it? When do you start and when do you end the survey?

Giles Gibson 19:49
Right we we just want people were starting to think you know what, there’s a lot more bike cyclists around I wonder if it’s true. So we said okay, well that’s nice. It’s just a traffic survey. So we started roughly 815 in the morning, on a weekday, and we count initially, we just counted until there were 400 vehicles of some sort that have passed. But the last count, we actually did nearly an hour. And we analyse the, whether it’s a car, how many people are in it, whether it’s single occupancy, or more, if we can see whether it’s a lorry whether it’s just categories. So we do yeah, lorries, cars, number of occupants in the cars, whether it’s a delivery vehicle, because people are saying, Oh, we can’t get deliveries anymore in a Tesco stop delivering what we were monitoring that, whether it’s an E scooter or some description. And then on the cyclists, whether it was a male cyclist, what we call male lycra. In other words, they were probably a commuter. Or they had to change their outfit when they got to the destination, probably. So we’re trying to differentiate between casual and just popping around the corner, I can just go in anything I’m wearing to the kind of hardcore, call it what you like, like, and whether there were female and female like her. And then whether there were any kind of kids attached in some way or a cargo trailer or sitting on the panniers or something like that. And we just stood there counting. That was it every single one. So 400 was a reasonable number to extrapolate from. And we and we measured the number of minutes it took to get to 400 and and then converted that to an hour. So everything was that same base rate, if you see what I mean.

Carlton Reid 21:59
400 what, sorry?

Giles Gibson 22:02
But we counted in two, we’d got 400 vehicles, right, right. And we timed how long it took to get to 400. So it might be 46 minutes or something like that. And then so that we had the same comparisons each month, we then divided by the number of minutes and multiply by 60. Hmm. That way, it’s the same measuring units, so to speak,

Carlton Reid 22:37
and you haven’t got up before. So you’ve got 75% of traffic on Railton Road with cyclists, you don’t know what it was like, before.

Giles Gibson 22:45
We only started in August. But to be honest, you know, a lot of the LTN kind of started towards the end of July, but they haven’t even started issuing fines yet. Hmm. You know, so to begin with it everyone was laughing at it is that wasn’t still is the usual vandalism on the signs and stuff like that. And so, it has to be said that down at the Brixton end the number of vehicles going through it’s still quite high. Mm hmm.

Carlton Reid 23:20
And then what are you doing with apart from this this nice infographic you put on the website on the twitter feed? What are you doing with this information is feeding into the council? what’s what’s it been used for?

Giles Gibson 23:30
We send it to the council as well. And it’s just for our own interest to see. You know, we’re wondering how the behaviour is changing, you know what trends are coming on here. And we’re certainly noticing that there’s more females out and about casual cyclists prefer railroad to Dutch road. And the you know, little things that we’re finding out that single occupancy cars going from Herne Hill to Brixton us to lower percentage than single occupancy cars going from Brixton toward Fern Hill. And this might imply we don’t know for sure, but the school run goes in Brixton turn Hill direction, which will probably be correct given the type of spills over in the Dulwich Hill area. And so little things like that. The council traffic counts will only do numbers, they won’t do the type of it can’t tell whether it’s a male or a female cyclists Hmm. And so I’m very interested in if we are starting to get people you know, first timers out and their bicycle, the casual one, you know, just want to do a few miles and feel confident enough, within ltn to make the journey by bike. We know we’re always going to get the white, male lycra clad loonies and nothing will stop them. But it’s the vulnerable groups or the more timid, read user, whether that’s changing, and we’re noticing it is,

Carlton Reid 25:13
and is this LTN. Now, for want one of a better expression, set in stone, so it’s gonna last?

Giles Gibson 25:21
I wouldn’t want to be a gambling man on it. The other thing that we’re noticing, and sadly we haven’t counted is pedestrians. And road is being transformed with the number of people walking now. And Sunday was a nice pleasant day in terms of the weather. And I had difficulty having a distant conversation with somebody on the pavement, because the sheer number of people who kept on wanting to walk down the pavement and we kept on having to break the conversation stand aside at someone else. It really was quite remarkable the conduit that is there now between Brixton and Herne Hill, of people getting up by foot. And the atmosphere has changed. And this is the front line heaven sake in 1981. Place was a no-go area for the police is quite remarkable change. And the and the atmosphere, people just coming out more this barrier of traffic on roads. And when you get high density traffic is a real barrier and segregation for a community and just feel the communities like it’s had a mile the grain for X number of years and suddenly it started to lift. People go, Ah, actually I think that’s what lockdown did for people. But the LTNs is continued that positive aspect.

Carlton Reid 27:04
So just a bit this was you this was the in using emergency powers. Yeah. So that’s 18 months that this potentially could last for? Are there any strident campaigns that you that you think would get the ear of the council to get it taken out before then?

Giles Gibson 27:26
Well, there’s the legal issues that are going on whether they’re saying that it was illegally instigated so there is a legal campaign but I won’t land this one once was the group of people who are very anted there’s still quite a vociferous, smallish group who are campaigning against locally. There’s always a question mark about traders, and whether traders benefit or suffer. And it’s something I had, when we did the Herne Hill junction regeneration, we had huge opposition for quite a few traders against getting rid of the traffic in front of the station. Because the shops passionately believe that all their business came from cars, not in cars. And to be fair, after all the passing cars went some of the traders did have a wobble for a good few months. And then they that business deep change or and people change their shopping habits. But then a different type of shopper added to the ones that were there before. And those shops that some quite a few voids, they can see the rundown ones changed. And it’s now the most desirable space in handheld to get. So there’s a wait there’s a waiting list. We turned it from having into shops to having a waiting list people to get it. Mm

Carlton Reid 29:04
hmm. Now I’m gonna bee talking to a wine retailer, I believe.

Giles Gibson 29:12
Yeah, and you’re talking to Wild + Lees, right? And that they I think they understand where their trade comes from. And, you know, we surveyed traders in Herne Hill literally about 10 years ago. And we commissioned living streets to do a street survey. And they interviewed all the traders and on average the traders thought car, their customers around 50 to 60% came by car, and then when you interview people on the street, asking them how they got there, and it was about 13% got there by car. So that the perception of traders some sometimes doesn’t match the reality. Mm hmm. And I think there’s something about in Waltham Forest whether those on the cycle lane or this dedicated cycle lane where now you have to pay a slight premium to get a shot because it has transformed the area so much. And now it’s a desirable area. But it takes a few years before that change happens.

Carlton Reid 30:29
Mm hmm. So what is the council here which?

Unknown Speaker 30:33
Lambeth. It’s Lambeth, only got three green one tory, the rest of labour. Hmm. Some of the designs of LTNs are not great. I’m a great believer in doing it as a trial so that you can tweak and make changes when they pour concrete and that’s it is stuck with it is that’s a problem. So I think that the light touch trial is actually a good urban realm design approach.

Carlton Reid 31:08
Mm hmm. Tactical urbanism. Giles, thank you very much for that . Er, can I just go backwards and because I’d have to look exactly what exactly what you said to nail this on, but may as well just get you to say this now. Did you say you were okay with me to use your name at the end? Yeah, I

Giles Gibson 31:28
don’t mind. That’s fine.

Carlton Reid 31:31
Thanks to the no-longer-incognito Giles Gibson there. Now before I play the audio from Liam Plowman and Victoria Clausen here’s my co-host, David, with a commercial interlude.

David Bernstein 31:46
Hey, Carlton, thanks so much. And it’s always my pleasure to talk about our advertiser. This is a long time loyal advertiser, you all know who I’m talking about? It’s Jenson USA at I’ve been telling you for years now years, that Jenson is the place where you can get a great selection of every kind of product that you need for your cycling lifestyle at amazing prices, and what really sets them apart. Because of course, there’s lots of online retailers out there. But what really sets them apart is their unbelievable support. When you call and you’ve got a question about something, you’ll end up talking to one of their gear advisors and these are cyclists. I’ve been there I’ve seen it. These are folks who who ride their bikes to and from work. These are folks who ride at lunch who go out on group rides after work because they just enjoy cycling so much. And and so you know that when you call, you’ll be talking to somebody who has knowledge of the products that you’re calling about. If you’re looking for a new bike, whether it’s a mountain bike, a road bike, a gravel bike, a fat bike, what are you looking for? Go ahead and check them out. Jenson USA, they are the place where you will find everything you need for your cycling lifestyle. It’s We thank them so much for their support. And we thank you for supporting Jenson USA. All right, Carlton, let’s get back to the show.

Carlton Reid 33:12
Thanks, David. And we are back with the 260th episode of the spokesmen cycling podcast with me Carlton Reid. And here are two more of my notes for the podcast interviews done for The Guardian. First up here’s Liam Plowman of Herne hill’s Wild + Lees bottleshop. That’s a posh name for an off-licence. Anyway, that’s that’s just your trick question for today. Because if you know your Lebanese wines, then you’re going to be very, very specialist. So that’s what you do. You’re basically a boutique wine beer, posh off licence?

Liam Plowman 33:56
Yeah, yeah, exactly that. I mean, so the the sort of phrase du jour is bottle shop. So, which is a bit more kind of gets bit more inclusive. So, I mean, we are primarily a wine shop, we’ve got probably about 250 different wines, but then we’ve also got 400 beers. And yeah, it’s all about you know, small batch provenance craft, you know, getting to know their producers, that sort of thing. But But also, you know, trying not to, not to be too highfalutin, and to you know, supply stuff that normal people can enjoy. So we’ve got, you know, we, we try to stock a lot of wines that are less than 10 quid, so they’re not, you know, we’re not scary. We try not to be scary.

Carlton Reid 34:42
And how long have you been operating there, Liam?

Liam Plowman 34:45
Since November 2016. So pushing for years what actually Oh, yes.

Carlton Reid 34:50
Okay. And I’m looking at the map here now where you are so you’re the other side of Herne Hill station. You’re just outside the Railton Road LTN? But you do deliver? Are you? Are you a national delivery? Or do you local deliveries?

Liam Plowman 35:08
We do. Yeah, we do local delivery. So I do, I do pretty much all the deliveries myself. And, and we, and it’s a combination of methods of transport. So it depends how much I’ve got to deliver. So I trying to with a bike and trailer where I can, but obviously wine bottles bottles heavy, and, and often, you know, delivering, you know, 20 cases at once. So, in that case, we’ve got a camper van. So I just take take that. So yeah, there were there were there were actually a few lt ends on our on our sort of delivery routes as it were. So we’ve got customers who live in the Railon Road LTN, which includes Mail Road and parts of Shakespeare road. And then we’ve got we’ve got customers live in the Dulwich village one. And customers live in the in the Tulse Hill LTN as well. So, yeah, well, well, I don’t live in one or, or, you know, businesses and then one we do interact with them. Mm hmm.

Carlton Reid 36:13
And have you found it? Does it take longer?

Liam Plowman 36:17
Yeah, yeah. So it does take longer. I mean, I suppose the first thing to say is I I’m, I’m really in favour of LTNs. I think it’s unfortunate that they they’ve been are they you know, they’ve had to be introduced at a time where people are being actively discouraged from using public transport. So the inevitable consequences that the streets aren’t in the LTN absolutely rammed all the time. So it’s horrible pollution is worse and congestion is worse. But I said, I think that principle is that great. Reducing, yeah, pollution. Like neighbours more like neighbours, and that’s why, you know, through roads,

Carlton Reid 36:55
and then when you get to your customers, and you knock on the door, and you you, you’re there handing them over your lovely wine, do they then without even prompting, say, oh, bloody ltn or are they going fantastic. ltn. How do you find it on the doorstep?

Liam Plowman 37:13
There’s there’s a real mix. So, yeah, there’s a real mix. So that by the person I did this yesterday, I mean, I started the conversation, but but the LTN, I’ve got, you know, I was panting pathing. And I set up to carry the village because I forgot to bring my trolley and she wasn’t really complaining. But she was saying she had to completely mentally reconfigure her map of the area as a result of the LTN because he couldn’t take the usual route to get anywhere by car. So it was a slightly negative comment, I suppose. But then others actually, a lot of people who live in the well, some road ltn have been very positive about it about one or two people who express negative feelings about it. I think I think most of the people who come in here, because they’re accustomed to the shock, post a talk, you know, speak for them, but most people like discussions with our probe are aware that, you know, there were teething issues, and it’s early days

Carlton Reid 38:24
and using your knowledge of the area. Yeah. Are there any streets houses that are genuinely gridlock? They cannot get out of bed, driveway or whatever? Or literally, is it every car every motorist can get out and go wherever they want in the area, but they can’t any longer take the very shortest route?

Liam Plowman 38:51
Oh, do you mean people who live within the LTNs? Yeah, I think I think that it’s not really a question of gridlock. I mean, the streets in the LTNs are basically, you know, pretty much empty of traffic. I think like so one guy, a book is a regular customer. He lives in in a part of Shakespeare road, that is part of the LTN and he now can’t drive towards Herne Hill, he has to go up to Loughborough junction and take quite a long route to get to where he needs to be so so. So for people like that and for people who will not so yes, village village. You just have to go a lot further to make the same journey because you’re yours. You know, you you might live within 200 feet of where the LTN starts. But you might have to drive half a mile in the other direction to get around.

Carlton Reid 39:46
But I’m sure you’ll have seen on social media and no doubt in local newspapers, people saying they’re trapped in their houses. They no longer can get out in their cars. That’s not true. It’s just they’ve got a drive a bit longer than than then they’ve been used to.

Liam Plowman 39:58
Yeah, yes. well, exactly, I mean that, you know, that, that those, they’ve all been designed so that, you know, obviously residents get in and out. But they have to take a different route and it might be that they have to you know, go very convoluted route to to get to a place that’s down the street from them. But I guess you know, controlling the sliders while you drive to a place of banditry from you. I guess some people have to because of visibility or issues. Hmm. So it’s complex. But yeah, I mean, I don’t think there’s any case in which a visitor is literally trapped and can’t drive out of the street. I mean, that just obviously wouldn’t work. And even in the LTN, like we can, like the wells road out here and you can drive in and out of wells and road from certain side streets. You just can’t go through either end like that. The goal of it is the thought route road being being a thru run from Herne Hill to Brixton. So you can’t enter Belton road at one end to come out the other end, but you can drive out on the parallel roads, drive into Belton road, deliver some stuff for park outside your house, you know, it’s not completely blocked off.

Carlton Reid 41:11
Mm hmm.

Carlton Reid 41:15
Yes, no, I understand. It’s just it that isn’t always the impression that that detractors give, you know, initially.

Liam Plowman 41:24
Yeah, I mean, unfortunately, that’s that, you know, people do get very emotional about their cars and their absolute right to drive wherever they want to kind of thing.

Carlton Reid 41:36
Thanks to Liam Plowman there. And if that made you thirsty, Liam is the co owner with his wife Claire, as the Guardian article says, of Wild + Lee’s bottleshop in Herne Hill, London. And last but not least, here’s my iPhone interview with Victoria Clausen of Brixton’s Pop Florist and you may hear me doing a few weird things in the background because I’m trying to placate our puppy as well. So might be squeezing weird toys and waving treats around just to keep here quiet. I think I achieved that goal. Mostly.

Carlton Reid 42:16

Carlton Reid 42:19
Okay, so I’ll try and do this without interacting with her too much. So I mean, your your business sounds fascinating. I’ve looked at your website for your touring and stuff. So the Urban Arrow which you toured with, that’s also what you deliver with now. The bicycle electric bike, the urban arrow?

Victoria Clausen 42:42
Yeah, yeah, I use it every day. I use it to transport my kids to school and I use it for my business.

Carlton Reid 42:48
And how close are you to the various LTNs that are around?

Victoria Clausen 42:54
Very close indeed. I am in Brixton, near the Railton Road LTN in Brixton.

Carlton Reid 43:03
Okay. And clearly you deliver because it says on your website, you for long distances, you use Ubers and stuff, but you are sometimes delivering locally, and how has that been with the LTN?

Victoria Clausen 43:18
Pretty much exclusively from my bike, to be quite honest. I would say like 95% and then the odd percent like I have done a favour to on the tube now and then. But I would say it’s made a massive difference. It’s safer, I would say as a parents to get my kids to school and for the first time my eight year old is able to cycle to school because Brixton is so congested that it did not feel safe before. I know that there is a highly politicised issue. I’d like to add that both my husband and I are campaigners for Mums for Lungs, which has some very good strong data points as you might have might have already researched yourself on air pollution in London. So we are a family of cyclists. We found that the LTNs have helped us get our kids to school more safely. We noticed a better air quality during lockdown like everyone did. Mm hmm. But I’m also mindful that there are arguments to be made that the pollution has simply, you know, been diverted to main roads. And there is a huge amount of vitriol on the internet over LTNs.

Carlton Reid 44:31
And how about your customers so when you when you turn up on your your electric cargo bike, and maybe they didn’t know that you were coming up on electric cargo bike? Do any of them say to you, oh, you’re one of their side because I hate these LTNs or is it the complete opposite?

Victoria Clausen 44:46
It’s the complete opposite. First of all, if you see a bike like mine filled with flowers, even the most steely, cantankerous Grinch will smile because it’s a business that spreads joy. And mostly, you know, especially through lockdown where people weren’t able to get, you know, weren’t able to get out and about in the normal way they would. My sales definitely increased and my deliveries been busier than ever, because I’m the captive audience. But I would say no one has, no one has given me a hard time, you know, and said, Oh, you’re one of those LTN supporters. You know, you’re a smug, woke, millennial sort of person. No one said that instead, I think they support the business partially, and arguably, mostly because they see it as ‘slow flowers’ and a more sustainable way of doing business and the way that we need to start thinking about doing business all of us.

Carlton Reid 45:52
Mm hmm. And when, when some of the anti’s talk about lt ends, that they often say, you know, I’m trapped in my house, I can’t go out. And then everybody I’ve talked to about this. I say, well, are anybody is anybody genuinely trapped? And people say, Well, no, you can get everywhere in a car. But it just might take a bit longer. Is that your?

Victoria Clausen 46:17
I mean, personally, I couldn’t agree more. It seems that seems to be the evidence. That seems to completely Yeah, it’d be exactly the right way of looking at it. But then there’s a there’s a slightly more sinister argument, which is that I’ve heard people put out which is that, you know, the ambulance and the emergency vehicles cannot get to, you know, two people in time, and I’ve actually heard a GP say that they strongly believe that not to be the case, because there is less traffic. And once you get through the barrier, you actually have a quicker reaction time to get to that patient.

Carlton Reid 46:54
Mm hmm.

Victoria Clausen 46:54
Along LTNs. So I don’t know what evidence I you know, I I’m not ready to stand behind that evidence. But I’ve heard that which is interesting, huh? Look at that. I don’t know

Carlton Reid 47:03
most of the the side roads to Railton Road, are they planters, are they cameras? What are they? What’s stopping people getting through?

Victoria Clausen 47:13
They put planters down? I mean, definitely, people are still I mean, I don’t know how, how much what percentage of that traffic is actually local. And how much of it is people thinking? Oh, what a nice quiet road now like we can use it. And I certainly haven’t seen any enforcement whatsoever around LTNs and cameras and so on and so forth. Have you?

Carlton Reid 47:39
I haven’t no, have you seen I mean, the other lt ends and other parts of London have had bad planters vandalised damaged and knocked over. Has there been any anything like that?

Victoria Clausen 47:51
I haven’t seen that. However, I will point out that there is an LTN on our back route to school, which I can give you the name, I can text you the name today. And there’s a whole lot of signs of local saying stop the LTN sign this petition and my husband actually put up some months for long signs in that area to provide a counterbalance to that prevailing view. And also I in our own school community. A number of parents have gone viral on WhatsApp saying you know that the LTNs our socio economic, you know, scheme to keep the poor poor and all of this like Bs, which I don’t buy any of it, like, you actually need more money to have a car and to pay for a car permit, then to have a bicycle. Now my bicycle is, you know, a very expensive bicycle. So not everyone can afford that. But almost everyone can afford an analogue bike,

Carlton Reid 48:54
Mm hmm.

Victoria Clausen 48:56
Carlton, I really appreciate you doing this article. I think it’s a really important issue. And if we don’t seize this opportunity now, it will be lost. We must have good momentum on air pollution in London. That is, I mean, there’s no better time than now. Because otherwise, it’s just not gonna happen is it?

Carlton Reid 49:16
Thanks to Victoria Clausen there of Brixton’s Pop Florist, and thank you, of course to all four of my unwitting guests on today’s show, and I hope you enjoyed that slight reveal behind the curtain and see what basically gets left on the cutting room floor which unfortunately, it’s most of those comments which is why I’ve I do a podcast to to get everybody’s longer point of view. And rather than just one sentence that ended up in the newspaper, and eagle-eyed listeners/ viewers will will understand that this has only been the London segment, so I had three segments in today’s Guardian. I had a Edinburgh segment and I had a Newcastle segment which is my home, my hometown, the hardware shop in my hometown, a business that basically doubled in size when when Steve Robson eventually benefited from having a low traffic Street. And then the final segment was the London Railton road segment and I haven’t included the Scottish segment I’ll have included the Newcastle segment, because I wanted to keep it into a into a one theme show. So it was a London themed show. And if you enjoyed today’s show, it’d be really helpful for us if you could like, subscribe, and comment on the Spokesmen cycling podcast on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you are listening to today’s episode. Show notes transcript and a link of course to The Guardian article can be found at And this is Carlton Reid signing off and suggesting, whether you’ve got an LTN or not, get out there and ride …

October 26, 2020 / / Blog

Your podcast catcher not showing in links above (black circle with three dots)? Loads more on PodLink. Show is also on Spotify. and Google Podcasts.

The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast

EPISODE 259: Cyclist Detection Tech With Tome Software CEO Jake Sigal And History of Road Equity With Historian Peter Norton

Monday 26th October 2020


HOST: Carlton Reid

GUESTS: Jake Sigal of Tome Software and historian Peter Norton, author of “Fighting Traffic: the Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City.”

Cartoon by Richard Hedman, 1970.


Carlton Reid 0:13
Welcome to Episode 259 of the Spokesmen Cycling Podcast. This show was engineered on Monday 26th of October 2020.

David Bernstein 0:23
The Spokemen Cycling Roundtable Podcast is brought to you by Jenson USA, where you’ll always find a great selection of products at amazing prices with unparalleled customer service. For more information, just go to Hey everybody, it’s David from the Fredcast cycling podcast at I’m one of the hosts and producers of the Spokesmen Cycling Roundtable Podcast for shownotes links and all sorts of other information, please visit our website at And now, here are the spokesmen.

Carlton Reid 1:08
Hi there I’m Carlton Reid and on today’s show I’m discussing the detection of cyclists by the driverless cars of the future and the partially autonomous cars of today. My two guests are coming at this from two very different angles. First I talked with Jake Sigal, CEO of Detroit’s Tome Software and in the second half of the show I chat with historian Peter Norton.

Carlton Reid 1:35
Jake is a serial entrepreneur and, as he explains on the show, he sold an earlier tech company to automotive giant Ford enabling him to create Tome Software. Tome works with the auto and bicycle industries to create cyclist detection technologies for an increasingly digitally connected world. When every lampost, every road junction, every bit of street furniture, broadcasts its presence — and many already do — won’t cyclists be safer if they ping robot drivers and human ones too letting them know that they’re around the next corner? Jake and I discuss the upsides but also the potential equity and technology downsides to such an automobile-centred near-future, and for all my earlier worries about bicycle beaconisation — that cyclists need to be detected not connected — Jake reveals that Tome is also working on technologies that won’t need Bluetooth bursts or other kinds of proximity pulses. Jake is a passionate cyclist, off-road and for commuting, and he tells me that he wants what we all want: safer roads. In the second half of the show I discuss similar equity and technology issues with historian Peter Norton. Peter’s been on the show a couple of times before and many of you will already know that he’s the go-to guy for the social history of how automobile interests—what he calls motordom—successfuly turned roads meant for people into roads exclusively for motorists. His classic book — “Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City” — is a key tome, you could say, about the creation of jaywalking as a concept and soon thereafter a crime in many states, a creation that deliberately and cynically favoured one road user over another. In this episode of the Spokesmen cycling podcast Peter uses history to evaluate whether using technology to detect cyclists and pedestrians is the fairest and most effective way to keep them safe. As I said, it’s a long show, so strap in and let’s get straight across to Tome Software CEO Jake Sigal

Carlton Reid 4:03
Tome software, I mean, I know you because of the the kind of the work you’ve been doing on bicycles, and bicycle detection and cyclist detection, I should say rather, let’s use the agency here rather than the the form of transport. But what does Tome Software actually do away from cycling?

Jake Sigal 4:26
Well, we are a software services company based in Detroit, Michigan. And historically, we’ve worked with our clients on mobility projects helping with delivering packages or software that would help vehicles communicate with connected objects or people outside of the vehicle. So that’s been our basic model. And one year we were working we also had a client in the bicycle industry. We built some some connected cycling software products for for bike companies, and where they kind of married up as one could imagine. We’re at a bike conference and one of the folks from Trek Bicycles that based in Madison, Wisconsin, approached me and heard I was in Detroit and knew about our background with autos and asked about, you know, if we had the ability to work on getting with car companies to make safety products between bicycles and cars. And that’s kind of how it started. So outside of bikes, where we still do a lot of software for the automotive industry, we have some non automotive clients as well. And we are always interested in helping our clients understand how to create either cost savings or quality improvement. Sometimes it’s from new revenue for digital transformation, or formerly Internet of Things, IoT products. But a lot of our focus now is within connected vehicles and writing software applications for automotive and bringing it into a consumer electronics, which includes bicycles and environment.

Carlton Reid 5:51
So Jake, how long have you been going with Tome? What were you doing before Tome? So where did Tome come from?

Jake Sigal 5:58
Great question. So previously, my business partner and I, as well as our Director of Engineering, were a part of a company that was acquired by Ford in 2013. And that company helped connect apps and cars, this is now part of the Ford SYNC programme. After we did that, after after the sale, we around at Ford for a while, and then we’re thinking about what we wanted to do next, it just seemed very logical to take our experience and passion around connected car and bring it into things connected outside of the car. So the the old company was about connecting apps in your phone to the car, the new company at home is about a vehicle and connected to everything else around the world and anything else in the area. And that’s really how it started. So Tome is the company name, it’s an old English word for a book of knowledge. And we have this all-knowing owl buddy, which is our mascot, and it’s really fun. I’d say we’ve been at it since 2014. So great team. It’s it’s a it’s really awesome, we we have a strong focus on having people pursue to be the best version of themselves both both in work and in life. And it’s, it’s a great, great team atmosphere. I mean, even during the pandemic, as hard as it’s been for everybody, we did not lose any of our projects and maintain happy customers and just still able to keep a great culture. So we tell them, it’s a business that we started with a mission of making the world a better place around the automotive ecosystem. But I it’s not VC backed, like our previous company was was VC backed this one we own and we’ve got a few investors, but it’s, it’s, it’s really a company we built for the long haul. And we’re really excited to work with some of the best companies in the world. I mean, having Ford and Canon, the camera company’s one of our clients. We’ve done some project with NASA, I mean, there’s like so many cool projects with cool companies and just great engineering teams on the client side that we get the opportunity to work with. And that’s that’s basically Tome.

Carlton Reid 7:59
And how many people are in that great team of yours in in Detroit or spread around Detroit now, I guess on Zoom and stuff, but how many people have you got in the team?

Jake Sigal 8:07
So there’s 15 of

Jake Sigal 8:08
us full time. And then we’ve got a set of contractors as well that that work on various projects. So it’s a mix of that full time a contract, so a small company, and typically, we’re working side by side with engineering groups within our client side. So it’s a great business and, and you know, we’re able to be really nimble and fast with our size. So I don’t have to deal deal with a lot of overhead and clients. I think, like the fact that I’m involved on many of the projects or my business partners involved in the ones are not so we are able to really get hands on and solve problems for our customers in the industry.

Carlton Reid 8:43
And how did you get into that particular sphere into connected apps in thebeginning. Where’s your actual background from?

Jake Sigal 8:51
So I have a engineering degree, a systems engineering degree, and I worked in the consumer electronics industry and professional audio equipment and then consumer electronic audio, which led to a job at in Detroit, where I was product manager for cellular radio at the time, there was XM and Sirius in the US, two separate and then they merged. So a lot of background in audio. And we started the first company Livio, we were making desktop radios for Pandora and other automotive app companies and then and then started writing software. So eventually when the smartphone came out, like in 2008, when the iPhone one came out, it wasn’t a device, there was like the iPod functionality of the phone. But it wasn’t really it was not at that time a streaming media device. It wasn’t until about 2009 when, 2010 really, when people started really streaming audio from the phone, internet radio sort of started to take off. So one thing led to another and then we realised that the consumers didn’t need the hardware and that’s when we started getting into software. So it was very natural progression and all that transpired at the Consumer Electronics Show and was 2010 and we’re situated between the iPhone accessory group people section and then the automotive section. I mean, we’re literally physically between the two sections. And it was kind of like a lightbulb moment. And we’ve we’re still very focused on software that touches hardware. And that’s one of the things that makes us unique is we’re not just making apps. It’s apps that get get involved with hardware and Bluetooth and things like that. But yeah, just kind of solving the same problems, just different technology available to us to use our disposal.

Carlton Reid 10:31
And did you personally move to Detroit because Detroit obviously is, you know, the global automotive capital, or are you from Detroit?

Jake Sigal 10:43
I’m from Ohio, just just a state south of Michigan. And I was living with my now my wife or girlfriend back at the time, we were living in Rhode Island. So yeah, we moved back to the Midwest. And it’s not far away from where I grew up. And same type culture for any listeners that are familiar with the Midwest and United States. So a very natural fit. And I we when we moved to Detroit was right when the great recession started. So it like we were here at pretty much the downswing and now it’s become quite a vibrant community really fell in love with the area, just the amount of cycling and the culture of the parks. Other than December, January and February. It’s an amazing place to be in fact, I always joke with my friends that I don’t I don’t go and I don’t travel even for business between Memorial Day, Labour Day. So unlike the late spring, summer and early fall, this is where the only place I want to be. But when it comes wintertime we we jettison, so it’s when it’s five degrees outside, it’s not ideal, but for nine months out of the year, it’s fantastic.

Carlton Reid 11:45
So describe to me Intelligent Transport. So that kind of connected of things. So lampposts, traffic signs, traffic signals, they’re all now or many of them, no beaming out stuff. And cars, passing bicycles can now potentially be recognised as well. So it described that, that ecosystem of things that we don’t really think about these things, beaming information, but there’s things out there street furniture, beaming stuff, right?

Jake Sigal 12:18
Yeah. So I think that for the listeners, what’s important is to have technology that provides an increase in safety, but it’s still transparent to the user, it’s not something that you have to turn on or press a button. And the original technology to cross the crosswalk would be you have to press the button and then wait or be on a time system and hope that it would, the light will change. And with vehicles there, there used to be technology still in some lights where they have these sensors that would be embedded in the road to detect a vehicle. But those sensors were not able to detect a pedestrian or bicyclist or some other scooterists in the roadways. So a lot of that technology is already been installed. And you wouldn’t know that because you don’t have to download an app or do anything for it to use. So what we’re looking at and is ways for increasing safety while still maintaining the ability to not require users to have to press a button. And if for example, there’s been some technology out that was released I think it’s called Project Greenlight, not our company, but it would allow a traffic light to wirelessly recognise that a biker scooter is approaching an intersection to trigger to the traffic light to turn green when you know that you’re there. And as a cyclist, I can tell you that I can tell you the routes I ride and where that where you have to ride to the sidewalk, get off your bike and press the button otherwise, you’ll never get a green light or you’re you’re given that choice of trying to play Frogger across the road. So a lot of these technologies that we’re interested in involves something called signal phase and timing or SPAT and then separately there’s wireless technology which is coming with cellular V2X also known as C-V2X or CV2X which can communicate from sign to sign or car to sign or sign to car. So once that is set up and enables messages to be transmitted between the devices, so are companies really thinking about the applications so so what is like the so what factor like why would somebody care that these signs are connected? Well, if it’s a streetlight, it would want to know when it turned on at night so so it can be you know, not under the daylight or, or be able to fluctuate when there’s there’s people that would need to have access to that light and not create, you know, any sort of light pollution or other issues. But for safety features, we’re thinking about how to leverage these types of connected infrastructure for sending just very simple messages so that safety systems on vehicles can do a little bit better job or have a little better confidence for things that they can’t see in front of them.

Carlton Reid 14:55
And how much if this kind of Intelligent Transport Systems, that’s what it’s ITS? Yep. How much of this is absolutely 100% necessary for these famous — and we haven’t got them yet and they’re always touted — driverless cars? And how much is the the cars that are going to be like coming along in the next three, four years? Or perhaps even now? So how much is of this infrastructure necessary for the driverless cars? And how much is it just as necessary for the piloted cars today?

Jake Sigal 15:30
It’s it’s really a balanced approach with the technologies and the value of the technologies. So there are driverless vehicle systems that do not rely on any wireless messages from signs. So one could argue that none of it is necessary. But I think that there, I think that everybody would agree with more information is better. Now what you do with that information? Do you trust that information? Is the information accurate? And is it timely? Those are the key questions that we’re getting into. But just to be clear that driverless cars are level five autonomous vehicles like no steering wheel. Right now, there’s a lot of cars that have safety systems called ADAS systems that are level two or level three autonomous vehicles that do have a driver and have a steering wheel. So things like emergency braking, or the adaptive cruise control or lane departure warnings, those are really relevant, because it’s now looking forward in the future about what you have to have on vehicles, it is going to be a function of the driving speeds and the location. So for trucking that are on an interstate going from state to state, it’s going to be a different set of requirements than manoeuvring a dense urban environment. And I think that those teams are still evaluating how to continue improving safety, I would say that I always have people asking us a lot is your how would you feel if there was an autonomous vehicle behind you? And what I tell people is that at this point in time, and they actually have about a year and a half ago, I feel safer having a robot behind the wheel, when I’m running, when I’m personally riding a bike, then the average driver because I don’t know if the average driver is distracted. And if you’re riding a bike around rush hour, there’s also an issue where you have a lot of obstructed vision. So a autonomous vehicle or a tonne of safety system in a vehicle that with a human driver, I think will be another set of eyes, another set of resources to see me while I’m out riding. And that wasn’t the case five years ago, but now I would say that the safety systems are great. And there’s always going to be edge cases and use cases. But I think we’re at a point now where it’s it’s clearly increasing safety. And yeah, you’re going to see the reports of, of tragic incidents that happen. But I’ve met with a lot of engineers working on these systems, and they’re doing it because they’re on a mission to make make the world a safer place and reducing injury and death. And that’s, I think we’re at a point now in the technology where it’s better now than the average human driver. Again, just my opinion, but I’ve seen this from the inside and outside. I know what sort of technologies are there and you know, the just even the the reaction time to recognise it’s a cyclist versus just some object up ahead. I mean, those are things that, that with the right technology can really help a human out that’s behind the wheel.

Carlton Reid 18:27
At the humans who are not behind the wheel, there’s some jargon here. So this is not it’s not your jargon. This is just the jargon and the industry. But it’s kind of you understand this. So VRUs so vulnerable road user is the jargon for a pedestrian, somebody on a scooter, somebody on a bicycle. Now, in the future in your technology, or just this the general connectivity, technology that’s coming are VRUs, are vulnerable road users, are they going to have to use a smartphone is that smartphone going to have to be turned on? What’s the technology that a VRU is going to have to have?

Jake Sigal 19:10
No. So we are very, we’ve been very clear, our 20 companies on our advisory board, have been very clear that that we need to support vulnerable road users, pedestrian, bicycle, scooter riders that do not have do not want to have or their battery is dead and their electronics that we have, we have two very distinct groups, which we call an unequipped VRU or someone that doesn’t have any electronics, or they’re choosing not to broadcast electronics, even for privacy reasons. And then if you have the electronics, whether it’s built into a shared bike that you get on and ride so as a user, you just ride the bike, you don’t have to do anything it’s built in or all the way to an app on your phone that can provide some level of identification – or device classification in other words- letting a car know that you are a pedestrian versus a like a… For example, let’s say you have a bike on a bike rack on a bus. Well, if you accidentally left your your ebike on and the motors on, it’s not spinning but it’s on the bus, we wouldn’t want a vehicle to think it was about to run over a cyclist when the bikes on the front of the bus and you’re riding the bus going down the street. So we really think that there are two paths, there’s the unequip VRUs as someone that doesn’t have the electronics and whether for a number of reasons, including equity reasons, they may not be able to afford the technology that we need to make sure they’re protected both from vehicle systems as well as protected from the ITS, the signs and infrastructure. Now, if there is an opportunity to have a low cost, wireless transmitter that can transmit anonymous information, things like ‘I am a bicycle, I’m travelling north, I’m going 15 miles per hour or 20 kilometres per hour’. That is useful information that helps because GPS does not work very well for tracking a bicycle or scooter. So I imagine many of the listeners, you had an experience in a city where you had the little blue dot on your map and it kind of bounces around a little bit or you’re driving using the Waze app or Google on your car and you’re like on the freeway, and then it thinks you’re on a side street and it jumps back to a freeway. That’s in GPS, this happens where it gets a little bit out of sync, because it’s pulling information off the satellites. So getting direct information off a bicycle or scooter like electronic compass, a speed from a wheel spinning, just some basic information even saying I am a scooter and I am moving that that is some really useful information on a low cost sensor that the having that information. While it’s not enough for a car to slam on the brakes, it is enough for a car safety system to include that information provided it’s trusted, so that the car safety system can do a slightly better job or be more confident in the decision that it’s going to make to help help avoid an incident or alert a driver. So that’s kind of how we look at it is that, that there are some opportunities there. The the opposite of this would be let’s put a $200 doodad on every bike and scooter. And that’s just not gonna happen. So it’s just not gonna happen. I mean, in vehicles, there are basic safety protections and those increase over time, so seat belts became mandatory. And there were lap belts. And then you have the cross strap seat belt then airbags were optional feature. And now they’re mandatory than others. Now you can get vehicles that have 20 airbags and increased safety systems. So like Lane Departure warnings, backup cameras, I mean, all these things are optional, they come in standard features. So I do think that there’s a really good precedent set that if you’re a cyclist and you want to increase your safety, you can buy a helmet, you can buy a bike light, you can buy a reflector reflective armband, or straps. So you look more like a human being and not just flashing light out there. So there are a lot of options on this and start to be a little long winded with this. But I want to make it very clear that that we want to provide options for people, but not leave anybody behind. So there will be more benefit if you’re having electronics. But at the same time it’s we can’t just say okay, now everyone on a bike has to have this electronic device. That’s just not not feasible. And we look at this as finding solutions for all riders regardless of their ability level, their age, their economic status, whether it’s their own bike or share bike, or a scooter or E powered bike or a regular powered bike. For us the Vulnerable Road User includes everybody, we got to make sure that everybody is included in our work.

Carlton Reid 23:29
Everybody’s included, Jake, but is it not the very fact that this could be two tiers of road user, vulnerable road user, in that you’re going to be equipped or not equipped? And this is purely hypothetical. I’m sure you’ve come across this before I’m sure all your workshops with with bicycle companies this has been broached. But in for instance, in a future litigation, where a cyclist and this happens with helmets, this happens with high vis this happens with lights already in in a court case where a motorist hits a cyclist. A lawyer at some point will say, ah, but that cyclists wasn’t equipped with this latest Bluetooth beacon. That’s why the crash happened. And what then happens is that the whole blame isn’t apportined to the cyclist, but a certain part of blame is apportioned. So then it becomes absolutely two tier road system. So how can that be? How can that be kind of like stopped before it’s even started?

Jake Sigal 24:38
Yeah, I understand the point. I don’t fully agree with the point about the two tiered system. And let me let me talk a little about that. So in our opinion, these cyclist does not want to get hit by a car any more than a driver wants to hit a cyclist. So it’s not just about responsibility. It’s it comes down to accountability. So, for example, if a cyclist is riding the wrong way on the road, in a vehicle lane and is breaking the law, he or she’s responsible for taking that action, just like if a driver of a vehicle is driving in the bicycle lane, which we’ve seen that happen, that that driver is then responsible, and especially for commercial vehicles that we double parked and other types of situations. So I definitely understand and see that point that comes up quite a bit. But from our work and experience, we’re really focusing on the use cases where everybody’s doing the right thing. So if everybody’s doing the right thing, there shouldn’t be incidents happening anyways, except for some really limited circumstances where the driver has obstructed view, like coming up in over a hill, or you’re driving West at sunset and you’re, as a driver looking straight into the sun and you’ve got the visor down, it’s really hard to see those types of limited use cases or areas where we think the technology can really help. So if a cyclist doesn’t have this technology, and there’s a litigation around, should the cyclist have had this? I think it’s going to come down to what every governing body whether it’s a state by state, or municipal level, in the US, we’ve got federal, state and local regulations and requirements on this is just going to be me based on the vru style. So it’s very possible that for example, if you have a moped like an actual motorised vehicle, like a motorcycle, you are regulated and having certain things like having lights having a licence plate, I don’t think a pedestrian should or whatever have any of this, I personally don’t think that a bicyclist, whether it’s powered or not powered, should have any of this or any scooter should. But ultimately, it’s up to each group to decide what should be there and what the use cases are. So what I wanted to just kind of put a little colour on this is that this two tier road system, we don’t see it that way, it certainly is possible. But what we see is dense urban environments having a three tier system where one is vehicle only. So in New York City, you’ve got the West Side Highway, or Second Avenue, and it’s I think it’s Seven Av that’s car only. And then you’ve got bike and VRU, Bike Share plus Car Share areas. And then separately, you’ve got bicycle and VRU-only areas and in Europe, that’s pretty common, as well as having these bikeways that are that are developed. And then there’s rules and regulations for the bikeways. So being a proper user of a trail or road. That’s not a new thing. I think that’s going to continue. But trying to say that because technology to make you safer exists means you have to wear it. I mean, that’s not something that we engage on. I mean, our mission is to increase safety and make sure that we can increase safety for both equipped and unequipped. The argument of should helmets be mandatory. I mean, that’s that’s not that’s not our fight to fight. I mean, I’ve got my personal opinion as a rider. But I mean, ultimately, that’s that’s, that’s up to local state and federal jurisdiction on that. So I see your point there, but we kind of see this a little bit differently. And I hope that hope you understand that from our standpoint, we’re just trying to increase safety and make sure no one’s left behind. And there will be some questions asked on this. But ultimately, if we’re increasing and saving lives, I think that it’s it’s worth having these harder conversations about these types of issues if we’re ultimately reducing the serious injury and death count with the technology we’re working on.

Carlton Reid 28:41
So what do you say the technology then is it like an equivalent to you know, all day running lights or wearing a helmet or the hi-vis, in fact these are all optional things. You don’t have to have these things. Many cyclists don’t have these things, but it just increases how visible you are to motorists. So if you’ve got the you know the standard, you know, Bontrager type, you know, always on, yeah, daytime running lights, you’re going to be that much more visible to motorists. You don’t have to have them. But you know, it’s your own. If you want to save your skin, then then it makes sense to have them.

Jake Sigal 29:21
Yeah, so personally, I always ride with high visibility, reflective and daytime running lights and a helmet. I wanted one day during the pandemic, I went to pick up some food and I didn’t put a helmet on I’m just going a few blocks down the street and I felt naked like I was like, I literally forgot something my helmet on and that’s just that’s me, that’s me is personal. That’s That’s me as a cyclist, but it’s not my decision to make for how other people look at this. And some people, rightfully so I would say that as a cyclist. They should need to do this in order not to get run over by a car they just shouldn’t be getting run over. And how I respond to that is that I understand and your rights as a cyclists in your country in your city in your state. I mean, that’s, that’s, again, what we talked about earlier. But if I can make this safer Is that a problem. And I think that where we draw the line is that if we make technology that’s mandated and somebody is left out of it because of cost reasons or some other factor, that that’s not a good thing. Because then in a way, we’re creating a false sense of security for some riders while we’re leaving other people behind. So I agree personally, when it comes to the choices that I make, and why I make them, but I also respect that other people may not agree with that position and might feel differently. So as long as we’re providing options for people I that’s why our team is on mission and doing this and I believe that bike companies are aligned with this is providing options and making sure we’re covering both equipped and unequipped vulnerable road users out there.

Carlton Reid 30:50
Because you know Bontrager daytime running light $80, $90 You know, a lot of people are riding around on bikes that are worth $60. And they’re the ones not going to be you know, protected. They’re kind of like the kind of like, called, they’re invisible cyclists in that, you know, huge mass of people are out there on bikes, but they’re crummy bikes, they’re not very good bikes. But there’s lots of people out there, and they don’t tend to have any safety equipment. At the moment.

Jake Sigal 31:18
You know, I tell you that in Detroit, I see a lot of people that are riding and I’m you know, since they’re not wearing Lycra like like I’m sometimes I’m assuming the ride to work or home from work. And they do have a safety vests on and they have reflectivity, and they’ve made that decision. So I think that there are a lot of different ways to be more visible. And with the type of work that we’re getting into it just I think education for the cyclists is really important. And we’ve worked very closely with Ford Driving Skills for life, which is funded by the Ford Foundation for driver education about how to look for cyclists and how to properly approach slow down and pass a cyclist in Michigan, we have a three foot passing rule. And it’s almost like you could take one of those, the swimming pool noodles off the side of your bike. And that’s how far away that the driver supposed to pass and create some awareness, there’s been more signage about owning like taking a full lane as a cyclist when it gets a little sketchy on a bike. So a lot of these things are happening at a advocacy level and education level, which we fully support with our company, we are really involved on the tech. So understanding the behaviour of cyclists, how cyclists ride, and we’ve also started to take a look at the type of cyclists so road bike child on a children’s bike, looking at share bikes, what sort of acceleration and deceleration how fast they go, how fast are they stopping, and looking for these types of trends so that we can make the vehicle system a little smarter. But like I said earlier, that from our standpoint, we’re trying to find ways to make cycling safer, and we don’t want anybody left behind from like, what should cyclists be wearing? I mean, I’d encourage all cyclists to put a helmet on have some form of lighting or reflectivity, neon lights during the day it the stats show, it’s going to make you safer and everyone knows me, I’m like Mr. Neon going around during the day. But you know, some people think that looks so cool. But you know, it’s it’s a obviously a personal choice and if we can make technology to help help think cars See you when even when you’re beyond line of sight and that’s a good opportunity.

Carlton Reid 33:26
And what do you see the technology? How do you envisage eventually getting out to the market so things like you know, the Garmin radar product which they’ve got your that could be like beefed up with more tech like See Sense. I know See Sense is on your your website? Yeah, as you know, Northern Ireland company that makes some great technology. Yeah, you know, their lights, they’ve got some clever electronics in there. So are you thinking in the future, then how long in the future but there’ll be like, augmented products out there? So it’s not gonna be like a like a transponder that you fit to your bike? standalone, it’s going to be integrated in other electronic devices. Is that is that the way you think it’s gonna go?

Jake Sigal 34:09
Oh, absolutely. And like I said earlier, the technology needs to be transparent to the user. So it’s not some black box that you turn on when you’re riding it’s it’s built in. So we’ve talked to a number of companies about putting it into ebike drive systems so electronic bike it’s got a big battery already has wireless connectivity makes a tonne of sense. We’ve talked to car companies about being able to connect a sign so that if a sign sees any cyclist without any electronics that that message can be received and determining what the safety messages we have a white paper on our website for engineers on topic. We’ve talked to university researchers about this and we held a our first annual conference last year we had a postponed due to the pandemic of course this year but on same topic is like what are the dynamics what how are these things moving? How are the devices moving people on scooters scooters by ebikes different types of other VR use wheelchairs, that sort of thing. A lot of different options that go into this. So I think for us, it’s, it’s really about making the technology as seamless and transparent to the cyclist and the driver. And our companies are really looking towards that I don’t envision there being any black box that’s that’s put on your seatpost. That doesn’t mean it would be incorporated into something that is already on the bike or something you need. Now, of course, you’re going to retrofit so if it’s an a helmet, if it’s on the handlebar, if it’s in a bike light, these are all areas that we’re very interested in. And I can speak for my experience working with the bike companies is that this is not something that they look at as competitive technology, they look at this as creating global standards for how to communicate their presence and and let in such a way that that protects consumer privacy keeps the cost down, and can be really driven into mass volume for, for adoption across all cyclists. So that that’s kind of the area that we’re looking at is different products as this can fit into. But while maintaining that there is a trust level from the auto company that when they get a message from one of these devices, that it’s a proper message and see sense of I want to give them a plug has been absolutely fantastic to work with, as with our other core groups and our prototyping Working Group. But it’s just been really good talking to companies about ways to see where the technology can go, and then find ways to really keep the cost down to get into more more more saddles and more more riders in the world

Carlton Reid 36:37
Is going to be cheap, basically? So people that adopt it?

Jake Sigal 36:41
I would say that if we do this, right, it would be built in to products that you’re already buying. So it’s a very cheap, affordable incremental upgrade for them for some basic protection. So where it gets really expensive is if this turns into a vehicle to vehicle trusted message. So I mentioned earlier, if a bicycle is transmitting some basic information, that’s pretty affordable to generate deliver, if we had to generate the same messages that a vehicle generates, it becomes very expensive, very quick. So I would be very surprised if that’s the direction this goes because it would put sensor requirements on a on a bicycle or on a wheelchair or something that are well beyond what the cost of the bicycle or wheelchair would be for the average rider. So we’re really looking at ways that not only are technically feasible, but also feasible for the market. And that’s not our call to make at Tome that’s why we brought on board the best bike companies in the business. And I want to point out that in addition to having Specialized and Trek and Giant as part of our group, we also have the Excel group and other companies that are working on like Dorel Sports that work on bicycles that are found in department stores and other entry level bicycle programmes. So it’s not limited just to the high end bicycle market, which really helps us make sure that what we’re working on is feasible. And then on the auto side, same thing, making sure that the technology we’re working on would be feasible to bring into a car. So we come up with something that’s super cheap and does something but the auto guys wouldn’t trust it for a good reason, then that’s not going to work either. So that’s a balance between the two industries is something that we have a lot of experience with working at Livio, or previous company with ABS and cars. And, you know, we’re doing that same playbook going in to tell them with with this, and it’s not a Tome technology. By the way, this is technology that will be industry standard. It’s based on SAE automotive industry standards, and working on the same playbook that the auto companies have been doing for the last 20 years. So for us, we’re really facilitating and organising the effort, but it is a industry is a cross industry, open standards effort where it’s not proprietary tech, you’re not gonna see at home our logo on your bike any day, this is really about making the world a safer place and agreeing on global standards. So any startup any large company, any auto company could could access this.

Carlton Reid 38:58
So you mentioned the kind of the packages of information that gets sent out there. And I noticed from our email conversation we had to begin with, there was something called BSM, so that’s basic safety message, and then there’s PSM personal safety message. Are they the two different expensive and or cheap versus expensive? What are the what are they? What are those two things?

Jake Sigal 39:20
Well, messages. So they’re two separate messages. They’re very similar. And the basic safety message is what’s been adopted by automotive companies. The personal safety message has been submitted as part of the SAE [Society of Auto Engineers] standards, but it hasn’t been fully adopted and fully adopted, there’s a bit of an asterix there. And you might be what was that mean? Or what what that means is that we just need to do some more research and really determine what’s in the message. messages are free, by the way, like it doesn’t cost anything to send a message. It’s like typing an email that’s free, but generating the information that’s in that message and then having a wireless system to send that message that that’s where the cost comes in. So they are related. So what’s in the message If I say, here’s my location, but I’m using a GPS receiver, it can be challenging because if you’re in a city, that location may be wrong. So can you trust that location, or if you’re pulling it off a mobile phone, and your phone’s in your pocket, what sort of signal coverage you’re going to get in your pocket your backpack versus having your phone mounted on your handlebar? So the real interesting part for us at Tome is defining the message requirements. So like, what are the like, How fast are we sending this message? What’s the accuracy level, and then the performance requirements of the sensors that are generating the information. Now the sensors could be on sign, could be on a vehicle, or it could be on the bike, or scooter or other VRU itself. So for an unequipped VRU, someone that doesn’t have a phone or doesn’t want to use it, it’s one of the minimum requirements, you have to put on a sign or a vehicle to then send other signs and vehicles that there’s a bike out there, and that bike is heading north and the bike is going at the speed. So that’s really where the challenges so between the the basic safety message and the personal safety message, we’re all working together on like, what is what vehicles need. And we might find out that we need to create a different message and take a light version of the basic safety message or reduce version specifically for vulnerable road users. We’ve had tremendous support from SAE, we’ve had great support from the Crash Avoidance Metrics Partnership, which is a group that GM and Ford created 20 years or so years ago. And there’s got to be 15 automotive companies participating in that. And they’re also partnered with the US Department of Transportation Federal Highway. So we have some really great [adversaries] talking about just the work that needs to be done for a long road user and a playbook to pull from. So I think when it gets down to BSMs, and PSMs and the message formats, I wouldn’t get too hung up on that, at this point, what’s important is understanding and balancing feasibility cost, and what’s the minimum set of information that a car needs to know in order for it to do something different that it can trust, and it’s got the right accuracy level within the message?

Carlton Reid 42:02
And how much of this is North American lead? Because you can imagine, you know that that scenario you said before where you know there’s a light is the sunlight is is low? There’s a cyclist over the brow of a hill. And then there’s one cyclist, you kind of you can you get that information, the driver gets the alert, and you’re golden, because you’ve spotted the cyclist. If you’re in Copenhagen, if you’re in Amsterdam, you’ve got 20,000 BSMs or whatever. Yeah, coming at you like crazy. Yeah, so how much of this technology is like a North American mindset versus like a continental Europe where cycling is you know, like, you know, vacuuming your carpet and brushing your teeth. It’s so normal. Yeah, it’s, you know, you Dutch person would say you want me to do what? You know, with my with my, my phone or I need to have what equipment in my bicycle? What, are you crazy? So how much is North American compared to European.

Jake Sigal 43:07
So we are coordinating with COLIBI, which is the European cycling organisation. We’ve talked to a number of companies out of the Asia Pacific region in Japan and Korea, and there are different use cases. So congestion of cyclists, fortunately, makes cycling safer. Now the more people that ride bikes, if you take a percentage, the more the more number of incidents you’re going to get. But from a percentage standpoint, it’s safer numbers. So what we’re finding and talking with different groups, and even if you look at downtown, like looking at New York City versus a rural area, in the Midwest, with dirt roads, you have these different use cases. So from our perspective, we’re really interested in finding the areas where there’s a high likelihood of a serious injury or death and defining that vulnerability. So we don’t define the vulnerability there’s research out there that defines the vulnerability or in layman’s terms like a danger that you’re at any given time. So not only do you have to feel safe riding a bike, you have to be safe riding a bike, and the vulnerability indices that have we looked at as a six different sources. We’ve modelled this with the US Department of Transportation’s model for vulnerability, that’s those are the areas we got to watch out for. So in a massive area, we’re not saying let’s have 100 bikes in Copenhagen send out 100 messages and that situation we look to a science say let’s let the sign detect that there are a lot of bicycles in the area, and then adjust the signal appropriately when the bicycles are crossing a major road, which is a lot different than in a suburban or rural area by letting a bus know that hey, there’s a cyclist up ahead. And if it’s after sunset, then that may be a different indication to the driver than than if there is like five bikes around and it was in a bike lane. So the situation that the cyclist is in It’s not so much about the part of the world they’re in, it’s really around the density and congestion of the VR use. And also want to point out that we are not looking at alerts for drivers. If you got an alert, every time you saw a bicycle, even in Detroit, you would turn off that notification in five seconds, because they would ding you every every three seconds, it just be, it’d be super annoying. But what’s really useful is looking at those really tricky areas where there’s high vulnerability, and also having the right amount of information for a safety system. Same thing with autonomous vehicles. I mean, we, I think, many of us if you’re around the space, you’ve seen this, where if you’re driving in New York City as a human driver, and this comes up with autonomous vehicles is that pedestrians will stand right at the edge of the curb, and you have to slowly move out and go through on the green light, pedestrians will do what they’re supposed to do. And it’s kind of how it works in New York City. When I was in Asia, same thing. I mean, it’s, you’ve got just people and VRUs, and it’s everywhere. So like the use cases, there’s going to be areas where our technology does not make a lot of sense, because it’s an extremely dense area. But then there’s other areas where it also might be so rule that you need a data connection in order for it to transmit messages. And that doesn’t make sense either. So we’re still looking at finding the sweet spot of where this goes. But for anyone that’s riding in mass numbers, I’d say that this is not like you get an alert or for that you made the comment like the person in Europe says I’m supposed to do what well, the basic idea here is that you’re not supposed to do anything, you’re supposed to ride your bike and vehicle drivers and the vehicle safety systems, we’ll get some awareness where you’re at. That’s the we’re not asking anybody to do anything at this time. It’s really just finding ways for for infrastructure and existing bike products to help help keep people safe.

Carlton Reid 46:51
So before we talked about a hypothetical court case, where it was the lawyer was, was going at the cyclist for not having the right equipment, could we maybe flip that and say in the future, potentially, if this technology becomes ubiquitous for both bicyclists motorists, pedestrians, and motorists, it then becomes incumbent on the motorist that they have been given all this information. And the lawyer could then say, forget, there’s sunlight blinding you that will no longer you can’t use that excuse anymore. You were given that information, there was a cyclist over the brow of the hill, you chose to ignore that information. So it could potentially this technology actually flip that kind of court case where cyclists tend to be squished. And the driver, you know, just comes up with some lame excuse. And then you know, with with a jury of murdering peers, they get off with it. So in the future, could they no longer they won’t get off with it.

Jake Sigal 48:01
I couldn’t comment, I’m not an attorney. And obviously, it varies by area, I just go back to, from our perspective is people want to do the right thing. And if we provide information for a computer system, and there’s no notification of the driver, it certainly eliminates that type of a situation. But for a lot of pedestrian identification systems are out there now they’ll have an LED that pops up and and then kind of creates that awareness that there are pedestrians in the area. I know that that one auto company even does a simulation to show you pedestrians and bicyclists that are around you while you’re driving. So this already is existing and production. And these types of questions always come up. But I try not to engage too much in hypotheticals because in some in some respects, I look at this and say, well are what what are we supposed to do are supposed to just stop making the world safer? No, we have to come up with making the world safer. And we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it on some of the other issues. And maybe there’s some use cases that need to be taken out because of liability issues or confidence issues. More importantly, that, that we think something’s there, but we’re not sure. And that’s not new, that’s what the industry does today. And if we can find a way to save one life with our product, it makes it worth it. So that’s how we approach this and apologise to be a little bit evasive at the base of the question. But I mean, from our standpoint, it just really comes down to look we’re making, we’re making it safer. And we hope that by doing what we’re doing, even if there was a court case that came out of this, we would be saving lives and in my mind that makes it worth it.

Carlton Reid 49:41
Yeah, and I apologise to you as well, because it was a hypothetical. And it basically has to be case law. So at some point in the future, I’m sure case law will will grapple with these issues. These things will come up because it’s no longer there’ll be some excuses, you won’t be able to use anymore both both, probably both, all road users will no longer be able to say, you know, they couldn’t see you. Because it’s like, well, the electronics were there, of course, you could see then you chose to ignore that. So that’s case law. That’s hypothetical. So final question, Jake. And then I’ll let you get away, because I’ve taken up a lot of your time. Thank you. And that is when maybe this is another impossible question for you to answer. But when might we see this technology? When can we go into a shop? Do you think and and get, you know, a light a helmet, or whatever, with this equipment with this, with this technology in.

Jake Sigal 50:39
So our vision is, in the next three to five years, this technology will be saving, will be increasing the safety on VRUs on the roadways in the next three to five years, there are some things that need to happen for that to go. So and also with the pandemic, it’s it’s hard to say with some of the timelines, but with our relationships with the auto companies, our understanding of the technical readiness levels needed for the sensors in the broadcast system, this is three to five years out, which in auto terms is fast, by the way, but this is not next year. But we’re not talking about Jetsons flying cars, we’re not waiting for autonomous vehicles. This is much sooner than that. And again, I want to just stress that this is not going to be only for new bicycles, or only for new cars, I mean, this will be something that would be able to be rolled out not to all vehicles. So if you have a car today, it probably won’t be included on the vehicle you’re driving today. But at some point, these will able to be software updates. And we’re really excited about just the opportunity. So in auto terms, I’d say it’s we’re following the right steps in next three to five years, we’ll have really clear safety methods for in vehicle. And for infrastructure. It’s already started, I mean, infrastructure already is working on and including bicycle protection in some areas in the United States. There are pilot studies going and they’re doing connected corridors, and it’s already begun. So I hope that a cyclist would never look at this as a as a green light to blow through traffic lights or stop signs that That’s not at all what this is not what it’s there to do. It’s there to keep people that are trying to do the right thing a little bit safer while they’re doing it. And for both drivers and cyclists, because at the end of the day, we’re all there together. And we just want to have a safe, safe journey and enjoy the ride.

Carlton Reid 52:26
Yeah, hallelujah to that. Jake, thank you ever so much for for talking with us today. Give us a shout out for your for your website. Where can where can people find more information on this technology?

Jake Sigal 52:36
Yeah, great. So you can check us out at and we have a bicycle vehicle page. I’d also would encourage you to like or follow our Tome Software account on LinkedIn. If you’re in the industry, and you look for information, we’ll talk to you but we have some white papers published. And there’s also an email list to stay updated on on some of our upcoming news announcements and things. So really excited to talk about this. And you know, this is personal for me around bike safety, and we’re very proud of the team has been just fantastic to work with on our side, as well as all the cycling car companies, scooter companies, it’s it’s just great seeing everybody come together. So check us out online and really appreciate you putting this together.

Carlton Reid 53:20
Thanks to Jake Sigal of Tome Software but before we transfer across to Peter Norton here’s my co-host David Bernstein with a commercial interlude.

David Bernstein 53:31
Hey, Carlton, thanks so much. And it’s it’s always my pleasure to talk about our advertiser. This is a long time loyal advertiser, you all know who I’m talking about? It’s Jenson USA at Jenson I’ve been telling you for years now years, that Jenson is the place where you can get a great selection of every kind of product that you need for your cycling lifestyle at amazing prices and what really sets them apart. Because of course, there’s lots of online retailers out there. But what really sets them apart is their unbelievable support. When you call and you’ve got a question about something, you’ll end up talking to one of their gear advisors and these are cyclists. I’ve been there I’ve seen it. These are folks who who ride their bikes to and from work. These are folks who ride at lunch who go out on group rides after work because they just enjoy cycling so much. And and so you know that when you call, you’ll be talking to somebody who has knowledge of the products that you’re calling about. If you’re looking for a new bike, whether it’s a mountain bike, a road bike, a gravel bike, a fat bike, what are you looking for? Go ahead and check them out. Jenson USA, they are the place where you will find everything you need for your cycling lifestyle. It’s We thank them so much for their support. And we thank you for supporting Jenson USA. All right, Carlton, let’s get back to the show.

Carlton Reid 54:57
Thanks David and we’re back with episode 259 of the Spokesmen cycling podcast. Earlier in the episode we had the technology half of the show, now here’s the history half with Peter Norton, the associate professor of history in the Department of Engineering and Society at the University of Virginia, USA.

Carlton Reid 55:20
Peter, autonomous vehicles, they get rid of the driver, that’s fantastic. And by all sorts of 360 degree vision tech and sensors, they can see around corners, so isn’t that surely better than being on the roads with drivers who we know, often distracted, often on, on high and all sorts of things, and aren’t really paying attention. Computers pay attention, Peter.

Peter Norton 55:50
Computers are amazing, they never lose attention. They don’t mean, apart from any sort of processing delay, they may have. They can pay attention, 360 degrees around them, they don’t get tired, they don’t get distracted. They don’t, they’re not emotional. So they have enormous advantages. And a lot of the tech people are very quick to point all of those out to you and conclude right away, well, this makes them better than a human driver. But on the other hand, they have a lot of disadvantages compared to human drivers that the tech sales force tends to ignore. In other words, they add up all the benefits, and then don’t subtract all the disadvantages. And the disadvantages are major. In particular, the sensors and the processing systems that the data go through, generally are very poor at telling what they’re looking at, they’re very good at identifying the likely predictable things like the car in front of you, the car beside you, the limits of the road. But they’re very poor at detecting unusual objects. This is what people are good at. They have a very hard time figuring out what they’re looking at when there’s a bicycle right in front of them. And while they’re trying to figure out what they’re looking at, they have to decide do we do we brake automatically? Do we steer automatically, but if if their confidence on that is low, then you in the in the in the vehicle are going to have a bad experience with this car braking and turning unnecessarily constantly.

Carlton Reid 57:40
So that’s the level five, the fully autonomous system. So that’s that’s, you know, as we know, it’s always five years away. Whenever tech talks about it, it’s two years away. But generally, no matter where we have been in history, it’s always five years away. But there is an awful lot of tech on cars at the moment. So this this tech is out there. This is not in the future. This is this is now. So isn’t it good that human drivers are? As you said, sometimes not as as fantastic as you like, isn’t that good to give them supplementary information supplementary guidance.

Peter Norton 58:22
There’s no question that it can be useful to have some supplementary information when you’re the driver. There’s a couple of important questions that that raises up though. One is, are you going to get the supplementary information you need for example, if it’s a bicyclist and the vehicle has a hard time detecting that it’s a bicyclist Are you going to find out in time that this is a bicyclist. And even I think more important consideration is anytime you supplement automated attention with to human attention, you don’t get the sum of those two, you know, one unit of human attention plus one unit of automated attention does not equal two units of attention. And the reason is human beings are cognitive misers. They want to limit unnecessary effort. And the tech is telling them that they can the tech is saying you may be a little sleepy, but that’s okay. The tech is here watching out. So you don’t have to pull over and take a rest. This is an old phenomenon that goes back long before digital automation where anything the engineers do to make the road safer the benefit is offset, to some extent at least, by human beings; turning that safety benefit into a convenience benefit. And the tech really can ramp up that effect drastically. In fact, you can, as people will listening to this may know, you can go to YouTube and watch videos of people driving their Tesla’s with autopilot, sleeping playing games sitting in the back seat in these are extreme cases that are indicative of a much bigger problem that affects to some degree all drivers.

Carlton Reid 1:00:27
If bikes are going to be equipped with beacons so so whatever kind of beacons they are, whether it’s the phone that you’ve got on you, whether it’s you know, a little tag that you’ve put on, or whether it’s, you know, tech that goes in helmets, tech that goes in bike lights, or is even embedded on the bike, however, the tech is is done, or if autonomous or semi autonomous systems are going to recognise cyclist in some other way. How reliable would all of this have to be, for it to prove to be at least as safe as today’s humans only system?

Peter Norton 1:01:12
This is a very good question. So I mean, there’s a lot of possibilities here. If we have bikes equipped with devices, some kind of transponder that the vehicles around them can pick up. And these vehicles have some kind of odd automated driving systems in them, then the vehicles can, you know, to be much more reliable at detecting them and and taking appropriate action. However, the minute you introduce this possibility, you kind of have to either have an all or nothing situation. In other words, if you don’t have 99%, something like that of the bicyclist equipped, then those that are unequipped are actually at greater risk. And the ones that are at greater risk could I mean, besides the fact that we care about them as individuals, this will also diminish the the overall safety benefit. So then the tricky question becomes do you require cyclists to have this equipment and if so does this start off with say, all new bicycles must be equipped, then of course, you’re leaving out a really decades worth of bikes. My own bike is over a decade old, that are going to be unequipped for years ahead, as soon as drivers have some confidence that cyclists are equipped, their behaviour will change this to the extent that the change depends on the driver, their awareness of the tech and their own safety calculations. So we know already that when a driver sees a cyclist with a helmet on, they’ll pass them by a smaller margin. If a driver sees a cyclist with a child seat on the bike, they’ll pass it by a greater margin. These are behavioural effects. They’re generally entirely unconscious or almost entirely unconscious. And once drivers think that cyclists are equipped with beacons or transponders that their cars are automatically adapting for, we will see the same kind of behavioural consequences. In other words, drivers on average, will give cyclists a smaller margin. And if we have a situation in which actually, not all cyclists have these this equipment, whether it’s 50% or 90%, then you’re going to have some cyclists at least who are exposed to a greater risk thanks to this tech than they would otherwise face.

Carlton Reid 1:03:55
I’ve been speaking to Tome Software and they’ve said yes, it chances are it won’t be beacons, it won’t be transponder tech, it will be, you know, cyclists and pedestrians. The phraseology, as you know, is VRUs, vulnerable road users. They’ll be spotted without any form of technology. So how likely is that and, well, doesn’t that then answer your issues?

Peter Norton 1:04:18
Well, I have a hard time picturing how we get automated driving systems, forgetting about levels of autonomy, just basic automated driving systems that reliably detect bicycles that are not equipped with anything. Just because we know from the research that detecting cyclists is one of the hardest things that autonomous vehicle developers and automated driving systems developers have had to face. So I don’t see how these systems protect bicyclists. And I think they may indeed increase the risk for cyclists because if they give drivers the message that the car is watching out for the cyclists for them, but the car is actually not doing that particularly well then we actually make the situation for cyclists more dangerous, not less dangerous.

Carlton Reid 1:05:15
But if you’re Trek, and their micro brand Bontrager, if you’re Cannondale, if you’re all of these, you know, high end brands, or you’re Garmin, and you’re going to equip, because they’ve got the Garmin, they’ve got like radar cameras in some of them right now. So if you’re going to equip the cyclists, the rich, in effect, the rich cyclist of the future with this kind of tech, well, they’re going to they’re going to do that. Why wouldn’t Cannondale and Trek, you know, produce this tech because they produce and they’re already advocate for, for instance, you know, daylight running LED lights, they all really advocated that advocate made that advocate for helmets. So come bike companies want to sell more things, they will sell more things, if cyclists survive into old age, because they’ll be able to sell them bikes for forever. So bike companies are going to be doing this aren’t they?

Peter Norton 1:06:18
I assume they will. I mean, this depends in part on what the tech really proves it can do and whether cyclists are convinced that it does deliver these promised benefits. But let’s assume that the tech does work fairly well, then certainly there are going to be some cyclists who want it. If it’s fairly expensive, as I think probably will have to be, then not all cyclists will have it. Already we have a situation. And I think it’s it’s what we would naturally expect, where cyclists have different risk calculations and different budgets and arrive at different conclusions about how much protection they want. Do they want a helmet? If so, what kind do they want hive is? Do they want lights? You know, a lot of times the calculation is a convenience calculation. My bike is not, does not have lights right now, but it’s dark, but it’s a short ride, I’ll take the chance, I’ll just be careful. These are normal human risk calculations. And I think the tech will become a part of that normal risk calculation. Now it gets complicated, of course, when systems get designed around assumptions, such as whether a cyclist has certain equipment or not, whether cars have certain capabilities or not. And if we have cyclists who are equipped, and we have road design decisions, and driver decisions that respond to the assumption that we have cyclists who are equipped, then we’re changing really what begins as an individual choice by an individual cyclist to get the high end bike with the high end safety tech. And we’re now involving the other cyclists who have an older bike who have a budget. And their safety exposure has changed through no action of their own. Because road networks, traffic cycling are all components of complex systems. And no individual action within a complex system is taken in perfect isolation.

Carlton Reid 1:08:38
But Peter, I’m safe. Who cares about everybody else? I’m, I am on a $5,000 Super Deluxe, fantastic roadmachine. I’ve also paid $1,000 for the latest in bicyclist detection. I’m saved, who cares about anybody else? What is the problem with that?

Peter Norton 1:09:02
Well, I don’t think I have any objection to an individual cyclist who wants to put out the money for this this high tech safety equipment, that’s fine at an as an individual choice. What concerns me is the systemic effects. And I’m not making the individual cyclist here responsible for those because now we’re talking about policy. We’re talking about law. We’re talking about engineering standards. Could you know things like lane widths, how you separate bike lanes, if at all from traffic. And it’s at that level that that kind of tech has some serious implications, implications that the individual cyclist who has a big budget, I know may not be their concern. And I don’t have a quarrel with that. But it is a concern of the society that we live in and the people who make the decisions about that society. So for example, if the tech turns out to actually make cyclist cycling safer for those who have it, but more dangerous for those who don’t, does that become grounds in policy for requiring all cyclists to have the necessary equipment for cars to detect them? If that does, then we now have problems about access to cycling among those with budgets, or deterring cycling in a society where we need more, not less for lots of reasons, including sustainability and public health. So these are where these these developments become problematic. We are not protecting these unequipped cyclist when we have equipped cyclists, and we are in to some degree making their situation more serious as drivers come to expect cyclists to be equipped. And eventually even road designers. Road authorities start to assume that cyclists should be equipped, perhaps even the law may begin to expect this such that, you know, an injured party in a courtroom may have a weaker case, legally, if they didn’t have this tech that, you know, nobody had just a few years earlier. This is not speculation. We’ve seen this with bicycle helmets where once the bicycle helmets are out there, some authorities have decided that all cyclists must have them. And there have been court cases where the cyclist who was one who did not have a helmet was at a disadvantage after an injury because of not having a helmet that could take on a new life with the safety tech that we’re talking about.

Carlton Reid 1:12:02
You’re talking from a like a dystopian point of view, basically, historian, and you’ve seen this happen, though your your dystopia is based on what actually has happened in history?

Peter Norton 1:12:17
Oh, yes. Yeah, you know, experience is your best teacher in history is just a sort of systemic study of human experience and the lessons that come from it. I mean, the most elementary lesson about road safety from history is that safety is not some linear measure that is neutral in its relationship with people. Safety is always: safety for whom? Safety is always a question of priority. Safety is always a question of recognition. So there’s there’s a sort of official favour that safety confers but also sort of unofficial recognition. If a say a pedestrian is in a roadway, in conflict with the travel path of a motor vehicle it appears obvious from our early 21st century point of view that the pedestrian has it as a task, and that is to get out of the way. That’s a point of view that did not exist a century ago, when when the prevailing notion was exactly the opposite. And so this means we can’t talk about safety without talking about power without talking about priority without talking about the inequality really between categories of road users. I heard you use the term vulnerable road user a few minutes ago. And the term connotes a road user who is in some way less than optimal as a road user. But we could have a different vocabulary where we have road users, like pedestrians, like cyclists, and then we have dangerous road users or DRUs. Why is it that we have VRUs but not DRUs? These are all questions that history can help us be alert to and it’s really worth being alert to them because, you know, for a lot of reasons, number one being climate change. We are overdue for a rethink about how we’ve chosen these priorities and who we should favour in these conflicts.

Carlton Reid 1:14:44
So, priority and prioritising. I do hate using the term, absolutely, it’s an ugly term VRUs prioritising pedestrians and cyclists with that actually, if that has And say we live in a perfect world. And that happened. The oldest tech actually prioritised cyclists and pedestrians. That’s that’s that’s the beautiful thing where we’re holding out for Peter. If that happened, would that then make it incredibly hard to sell cars to people? Because we’re going to be prioritising these people who have never been prioritised before?

Peter Norton 1:15:21
The answer is definitely yes. And I can say definitely, because we had that dilemma before. We had that dilemma when the question of who do we prioritise between motor vehicles and pedestrians first arose over a century ago? And the answer was, if you prioritise pedestrians, as was universal over a century ago, then drivers’ driving experience is diminished, you can’t go fast, you have to yield frequently. And certainly the driver’s experience is worse. Now, their experience as human beings may not be worse, because in such a world, they may find that actually, they don’t have to drive as much. So a driver is not existentially a driver who can be nothing else. Every driver is a potential pedestrian or transit user or cyclist. And so maybe not everywhere, maybe only in some places, maybe only in cities or relatively dense areas. And maybe not even on all streets in such areas. We can reimagine what streets are for I think it’s worth doing because we have to find some way to have a sustainable future. That’s going to require less driving. And I think that, while that may sound scary in a car dependent world can look attractive in a less car dependent world. I mean, frankly, it’s a lot like how not smoking sounds scary when you’re addicted. But it feels liberating once you’ve stopped smoking for a while. So Ah, yes, the answer to your question is yes, it could be a bad experience for drivers if we prioritise pedestrians and cyclists in some areas. Another reason why we don’t have to speculate about that, by the way is that there are places where drivers can drive but are not prioritised. Where streets are shared shared spaces, or streets in the Netherlands, where cars are, are admitted as guests according to the terminology there. And in such shared spaces, people can and do drive. It’s a different experience. It’s not necessarily much worse, depending on you know, how much of a hurry that driver is in. And such techniques don’t have to be used everywhere, but they can be used somewhere. And some places they they can be a beautiful

Peter Norton 1:18:15
possibility that we haven’t seriously considered enough.

Carlton Reid 1:18:19
What would be your advice to bike companies who are looking at this technology? Do you think it’s it’s something they ought to clear off? Or do you think they’re also tech companies and bicycles are tech? Do you think they they are absolutely going to go with this anyway, no matter what somebody like you says, so let’s let’s what what should they be doing?

Peter Norton 1:18:42
Well, I think that’s gonna depend a lot on on the particular markets, there probably are markets these are the markets where the cyclist is still not something drivers expect to see. This is, of course, practically ubiquitous in the USA, but many other countries as well. In such environments, there’s certainly going to be interest in this tech among cyclists, and perhaps even eventually, among road authorities of various kinds. I think cyclists as consumers need to be careful about what they’re being sold. They should be sceptical if they’re, if they’re if the messages that this tech is sort of automatically protecting them. I mean, after all, the overwhelming majority of cars on the road have no means of picking up the tech that may be in the bikes, so they can’t expect drivers to be automatically adjusting through some sort of technological, some sort of signal between the two vehicles. It’s frankly not clear to me what the tech in the bike will do for the cyclist, until the vast majority of cars have the tech on board to adjust accordingly to the cyclists. That’s a piece I don’t really get, I don’t see how we get from the where we are now, where the vast majority of cars would have no means to detect anything in the bike to a world where the cyclists can expect that any car passing them, or approaching them, is detecting the bike automatically. So I don’t know how we get to that point, it may be that I’m even misunderstanding something about how this tech is supposed to work. I’ve been confused by it, in part, because the messages I’ve been getting from the tech companies has been conflicting on this point. But to return your question, should should bike companies do it? Well, yeah, I mean, if, if they’ve got a market that’s interested in paying for this stuff, and the cyclists knows what they’re getting, and is not misled into imagining they’re getting more protection, than it’s worth. Sure, I just have a hard time seeing that the technology can deliver the safety benefit that would be necessary to justify the expense in the bike right now.

Carlton Reid 1:21:28
You’re almost saying that if it was just a transponder that was talking to a driverless car or an equipped human driver car, that’s one thing, but then what’s actually going to cyclists gonna have, and they’re going to have, like, you know, a heads up display to tell him that there’s a threat coming for the variety of ways that this tech can be sold to the cyclist, if it’s going to be just something that keeps cars away from you. Well, that’s one thing. But if it’s all gonna say out, but you can actually see when there’s a car about to run you over, you can jump off the road. That’s also something that’s you know, you need more things on a bike. To do that, you’d have to have a display, you’d have to have haptics telling you look, you know, in 15 seconds is this motorist is going to hit, you’re going to have all this kind of stuff. So it’s you’re making cycling into, you know, Judge Dredd.

Peter Norton 1:22:23
It’s very hard for me to imagine any cyclist — and I’m speaking as one who would have any use for information coming in from some kind of sensor system — that could possibly be anything but a detriment to the sensor system that every cyclist already has, namely, their vision and their hearing. So a cyclist in a busy environment, your vision and your hearing are on high alert. And any sensor system that tries to crowd that high alert, personal sensor system with more data, it’s going to be an annoyance. It can’t tell you much that your senses can’t already more reliably tell you. I mean, you might have some kind of threat map on your handlebar, that tells you what’s up ahead. But the attention you’d have to give to that screen would be a distraction in itself. And the reliability of what it was showing you would have to be very poor, because this would be real time data coming in from perhaps actively transmitting vehicles as well as whatever the sensor system on the bike is picking up. I can’t imagine a voice or haptic system or audio signals or visual signals that would be reliable enough and relevant enough to a cyclist in a busy environment to be anything but a nuisance.

Carlton Reid 1:24:04
I’m wondering how much of this technology is North American in in it just almost everything about it is because you know, a you put you’re going to prioritise the motorist and not the cyclists and pedestrians but I was speaking to Tome Software and one of the scenarios that they gave, which is which sounds sensible is, you know, if you’re a motorist, and you’re coming and you’re like on a rural American road, and you’re coming up the crest of a hill, you can’t see maybe there’s other reasons why you can’t see and it might be foggy and you get this extra information that there’s actually a cyclist the other side of that hill, then that’s got to be a good thing. But then I put to Jake of Tome Software, who’s the CEO, I said we get Isn’t that like a North American way of looking at that. It is in that if you are in In the Netherlands, you’ve got 1000 cyclists over the brow of the hill, and you will just naturally be going slower anyway. So how much of this all of this this beaconization tech? How much of it do you think, comes from an North American worldview?

Peter Norton 1:25:18
Well, certainly, yeah, this this tech is sort of based on the assumption that you as a cyclist are the anomaly and almost everywhere in North America that is, that is a fair assumption. So you know, of course, it’s perfectly fine if a company wants to cater to a North American market. And of course, there’s plenty of other places in the world where, where this is the the norm as well, you know, Australia is a good example. So sure, the tech could be of particular use in environments where cyclists are anomalies and rare and still be worthy. I have to say, I still wonder, do I really want a bike that’s trying to alert me to another cyclist coming? Or do I really, if I’m, if I’m a driver? If will I start depending on my vehicle to respond to a cyclist automatically, such that I am paying less attention as a driver. I have a hard time picturing this tech actually delivering a benefit either to the driver or to the cyclist. Except in such, you know, idiosyncratic situations as as to be too rare to justify the the tech.

Carlton Reid 1:26:46
You’re a historian. You’ve seen how this has played out before. The tech companies do you think they could do with attending one of your courses? And and actually getting a background in the history of

Carlton Reid 1:27:05
technological misuses? Or the history of privatisation on roads? Do you think that that potential if that’s what they’re missing, they’re missing? They’re missing quite an important indicator of how their technology, however benign they think it might be now, and oh, it’s going to save cyclists isn’t that great thing,’ but how that technology might be used in a non benign way by actors who don’t have cyclists’ interests at heart?

Peter Norton 1:27:35
Certainly. So, you know, every tech innovation is a disruption and a balance of power, you know, balances of power. It’s a familiar term in international relations in military standoffs. But they’re ubiquitous in everyday life. And innovation, shifts the balance, you know, the cell phone, suddenly your boss can call you on weekend, you know, or email or whatever they can, they can. Your weekends are no longer sacred, right? That’s a shift in the balance of power. So every innovation and safety also shifts, priorities, shifts, balances of power, sometimes in dramatic ways. And I’m actually somewhat sceptical about the tech companies that profess that they are merely interested in improving safety. I’m not sure that the deficiency there is that they don’t know that tech shifts balances of power, or they just rather not get into that, because it’s inconvenient. In the history of road transport, I mean, it’s it’s packed with these effects. So if you think about what makes roads and streets safe, you could have roads and streets safe if vehicles were equipped with speed governors that made it impossible to drive faster than 25 miles an hour. Well, that was the preferred ideal safety technology of a century ago. When thousands of people in every large American city were on the record favouring speed governors for vehicles. I mean, I’m using a case from Cincinnati where we have the data. But Cincinnati being a fairly typical American city, we can extrapolate that to other cities as well. There was a sense that the way you make a road safe is to limit the maximum speed of the fast vehicles. Well, of course, it’s also quite possible to make the road safe in the sense that you have fewer casualties. If you banish pedestrians, and in effect in most of urban and suburban America, pedestrians are banished from the vast majority of street space, the vast majority of time at the time. And while this is far from perfect, in fact, the pedestrian fatality rate in the US is is pretty disastrous. To the extent to which we keep pedestrians off the roads, we actually do successfully prevent pedestrian casualties. But we do it by creating a class of road users who are practically like illegal aliens in their own environments. And it’s an important question to ask is that the right way to do it? Now, beacons and bicycles are analogous in the sense that they implicitly suggest that the cyclist is the anomaly the cyclist is that around which the system has to adapt so that it continued to prioritise those that it prioritises. And there’s nothing wrong with prioritising in the abstract, but we need to think about who we prioritise prioritising is inevitable, it’s necessary. There’s no way you can have an absolutely level playing field. This means that we have to think carefully about who we favour and under what circumstances. Right now, to use the North American example we favour the motorist in making this number up, but something like 99.9% of the time.

Peter Norton 1:31:26
And we should be asking is that the way to get safety to return to the tech people. If they’re talking about introducing safety technology, to systems that already prioritised drivers everywhere, then their safety technology becomes another reinforcing component of that system. Another thing that makes that system continue to prioritise and perpetuate the priority of the dominant road users. But tech can subvert these prioritizations as well. So tech can shifts balances of power in surprising ways. Tech can enable the people who have been subordinated we to use the North American example again, we know that video that the web, that handheld cameras, phones with video capacities, really brought attention to a problem, you know, that’s been around for over a century, namely, the violence that has accompanied the arrest by police of people of colour in the USA. Well, technology, to a degree, at least has helped to shift that balance of power by exposing what’s going on. I’d love to see the tech people that you’re talking to find ways to use technology such that it doesn’t merely help the cyclist or the pedestrian survive in a car dominated system, but may help the cyclist or the pedestrian turn the tables to some degree on on the motorists. I’d love to see the tech people working on that problem. I think they would have a big market for it.

Carlton Reid 1:33:28
Well, there is that kind of tech out there. And I think Tome has actually been working with the Give Me Green people which is a system involves equipping, stoplights traffic lights with with this technology. And I guess it’s similar to what happens in Copenhagen with the you know, the green wave technology in that if you’ve got a bicycle equipped with this transponder that basically turns the lights green for the cyclist. Of course that would lead to merry hell from motorists say well hang on, we’re stopped, you know, every traffic light by the cyclist. But that basically is what you’re saying. That’s technology that puts the power to a different user. You can turn lightly.

Peter Norton 1:34:20
This is this is a great example. And I I’d love to see more attention in that direction. The predominant attention I’m hearing about is automated detection of cyclists by motor vehicles so that drivers can continue to assume safely that they have no cyclists in their path. Now, they already do that to a great degree. This technology would enable them to continue to do that. But I agree and I’m I’m encouraged that we’re talking about tech that may prioritise cyclists under some conditions. This, of course, immediately raises as, as you’ve already suggested, political questions about whether this would be feasible in any jurisdiction, given the powerful influence of motorists voices in this kind of arena.

Peter Norton 1:35:20
But it’s a great start, and I applaud it.

Carlton Reid 1:35:24
But a pandemic has shown that many cities I mean, Paris is a fantastic example. Many cities and many, many leaders of the cities on that actively trying to get rid of cars in cities. Now some one of the ways of getting rid of cars in cities, of course, is just prioritising cyclists by giving them closing off roads to the vehicles, opening them, allowing them to stay open for questions. And so that’s one way. Another way would just be to always make sure that cyclists get green. So motorists always on red. And then motorists may go hang on, what’s the point of me driving through the city, I’ll just get a bike.

Peter Norton 1:36:05
Yes, that’s that’s the ideal. And yes, the pandemic has really helped us see what’s possible as sidewalks have been widened into roadways, as people who were driving or people who are riding in buses are turning to bicycles to avoid the crowding. And in the in the bus. This opens up a lot of possibilities, and makes possible alternatives that didn’t look practical. Just a year ago. Paris is a wonderful example in that regard.

Carlton Reid 1:36:43
Peter, that’s been absolutely fascinating, as always. You’ve been on the show before, you have also been on the War on Cars podcast recently, you’re getting around. Now I’d like to finish by going back to a question I put to you before, which I don’t think I’ve got a full answer on and this is not your fault. But I didn’t get a full answer on this because you could have plugged your book here. So I asked you whether those tech companies is tech people who are doing all of this work on on transponders, not transponders, whatever they could actually gen up on on what’s happened previously in history. So one way is yes, they could listen to the 45 minutes of you talking today, they could listen to when you’ve done the show before, you could go to the War on Cars podcast, or and here’s where you plug your book, Peter, or they go for, they’re not gonna go for a full on course, they go for a book, which tells them all this, and what book might that be?

Peter Norton 1:37:43
“Fighting traffic, the dawn of the motor age in the American city.”

Peter Norton 1:37:48
I am happy to plug it. But I also, you know, I rejoice at being one voice in a beautiful chorus of voices that are saying essentially the same thing: namely, that the car dependent places many of us live in, including nearly all of us in the USA, are not inevitable, they are not the product of mass demand. They’re not the product of a free market working according to the laws of supply and demand. They’re not the product of a cultural preference for individual vehicular mobility. These are versions of history that have been packaged and sold to us by people who have a stake in this history. So I mean, besides studying the history of, let’s say car dependency in the USA, I’ve also studied the history of this history. In other words, who’s been telling us this history. And this has analogues worldwide, but I’m, by far best informed about the US case. And in the US case, the first people to tell us the history of the automobile in the USA, were the people who sold the automobile in the USA. They told us a version of history, whereby the car dependency that we now have is the product of a car culture of an American’s love affair with the automobile, of a mass preference for individual mobility in vehicles. And one of the reasons why this version of history has been so successful in its propagation is that it’s by no means false. it’s it’s a it’s a half truth, and half truths are much easier to pass off then, you know, flagrant falsehoods so the half truth is cars are nice to have. They are convenience in many circumstances, and driving for many people is or can be a pleasure. But, you know, the car domination we have now has a lot less to do with people’s preferences than with the circumstances in which people have to make their choices. Now, circumstances were quite possibly your employer set up a new suburban campus out of town away from bus routes with vast free parking lots, such that if you want to get there and you don’t want to make it into a daily burden, you’re going to drive there and the the entire system that gets you from your home to that destination has been redesigned around the assumption that you will drive there and redesigned around the assumption that there’s no other way to get there. And inevitably, people will start to conform to that. And you end up with a system that people find it very hard to escape, or to question. History reveals that people were questioning this en masse, relentlessly from the early days in the 1920s, right through the era that we tend to call the automobile age here, namely the 1950s and the 1960s, when, particularly the one car family was still the norm, and typically the husband monopolised the car, and the women were left stranded at home. And they continued to protest car domination in ways that have been really completely ignored by the people who tell us the history of the car. They protested by illegally blocking streets to slow vehicles down to demand lower speed limits to demand stop signs and traffic lights, such that they end the children they were minding could safely use the street still, as what we now call vulnerable road users.

Peter Norton 1:42:16
The bicycle companies interested in marketing their bicycles today might have something to learn from that history. Because they would be huge beneficiaries. If we have a future that returns to a less carbon dominated model, a future where cycling isn’t something that you engage in only if you have high risk tolerance, the market of people who would ride a bike if they just felt safe, riding a bike is enormous. And I don’t think you’re going to reach that market optimally with tech on the bike that is supposed to protect you. I think you reach that market optimally by creating environments where you don’t need that tech. And the the incentive for the cycle manufacturers is that they can now sell this bike to people who would not want to ride even with the tech close to fast cars, but would take real joy in riding in a safe environment. So there’s a lot of possibilities for our future. I’m disappointed that a lot of the tech that we’re imagining is predicated on the assumption that that automobile domination is a given. I recognise and celebrate the fact that some of the tech does implicitly question this. I’d like to see a lot more of that.

Carlton Reid 1:43:52
Thanks to author and historian Peter Norton there. And thanks also to Jake Sigal for giving the technologist’s point of view. If you enjoyed today’s episode, it’d be really helpful for us if you could like subscribe and comment on this Spokesmen Cycling Podcast on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you are listening to today’s episode. Shownotes transcripts and more can be found at This is Carlton Reid signing off and suggesting you get out there and ride …