25th January 2023
The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast
EPISODE 320: Get SUVs Off Our Streets: In Conversation with Critical Mass musician Dan Abrahams
SPONSOR: Tern Bicycles
HOST: Carlton Reid
GUEST: Dan Abrahams
TOPICS: Musician Dan Abrahams has written a couple of jaunty protest songs, one about oversized cars and another about getting around safely by bike. Both are accompanied by great videos, one of which stars a young girl riding her bike, alone, in Edinburgh before being joined by Critical Mass riders.
Bikes for Refugees, Scotland
The Spokesmen, Brussels episode
Carlton Reid 0:13
Welcome to Episode 320 of the spokesmen cycling podcast. This show was engineered on Wednesday 25th of January 2023.
David Bernstein 0:27
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Carlton Reid 1:03
I’m Carlton Reid. And welcome to the 320th episode of the spokesmen podcast in which I chat this episode with Dan Abrahams. Dan is one of those loosely involved with Edinburgh’s critical mass. And he’s also a musician who has recently written a couple of jaunty protest songs that I think will resonate with the audience of a cycling podcast. Both are accompanied by great videos, one of which stars a young girl riding her bike alone in Edinburgh, before being joined by Critical Mass riders.
Carlton Reid 1:44
Dan, thanks for talking to me. You’ve got a new video out today. So let’s talk about that first, I’m sure saying that that’s probably the thing that’s fresh in your mind. So you’ve given quite a few car brands, some plugs? There haven’t been
Carlton Reid 2:02
any idea? Yeah, I was expecting a few more, you know, Aston Martin or whatever. So
Carlton Reid 2:07
why pick on those? I mean,
Dan Abrahams 2:11
mean, I’ve got to be honest.
Dan Abrahams 2:15
I think there’s way too many big cars as I put them, but I think when I when I say that I think people understand what I mean, you know, the kind of fuge city four by fours SUVs, which are just so enormous physically. And also, you know, the engines are so powerful, they have absolutely no place in a city, probably even in the countryside. You know, they’re not that they’re not designed to work on farms. They’ve just been designed as luxury cars. And I think they shouldn’t be allowed. And I think it’s ridiculous that people
Dan Abrahams 2:48
are charging downtown in them. They’re so dangerous, like, you know, kids are literally obscured. You know, when you when you put a kid in front of, you know, the bonnet of one of these cars,
Dan Abrahams 3:03
the person at the front cannot see that kid. They’re so big.
Dan Abrahams 3:08
And this song is just basically to poke fun at them, you know, and, and the choice of the brands is kind of more to do with rhyming than to do with any particularly bad brand. You know, they’re all just as bad as each other. They just want to sell expensive cars. So yeah, the choice of the brands is purely just for alliteration and rhyming.
Carlton Reid 3:33
See, you’re in Edinburgh. Yeah. And I believe Edinburgh. On the TomTom index is basically every single year it winds up being the most congested city.
Dan Abrahams 3:44
Is that right? I didn’t, I didn’t know that.
Carlton Reid 3:47
Yes, Edinburgh is the most congested city in the UK year after year after year. In the TomTom index, I’m TomTom is using you know,
Carlton Reid 3:56
sat nav data, right. So this is not like, you know, people standing up on the side of the street. This is your genuine, you know, computer from computer data, right.
Carlton Reid 4:08
So you’re living in the kind of city where you cars aren’t gonna go very fast anyway. Yeah, the city centre. So yeah, there is no point having these big things and perhaps even big cars are part of the reason why there might be congestion.
Dan Abrahams 4:21
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I am surprised that I’m surprised the TomTom index hasn’t been surpassed by Google Maps index. But yeah, that doesn’t really surprise me. Edinburgh is really bad for congestion.
Dan Abrahams 4:35
I mean, I guess I’m quite surprised that London is not at the top but I guess it’s kind of when you think about Greater London maybe that makes sense. But yeah, in the middle of Edinburgh
Dan Abrahams 4:46
it’s it’s crazy especially like the road which is just off for my road. It’s kind of the route into Edinburgh from the south. And you know, it’s it’s kind of four lanes chock a block because
Dan Abrahams 5:00
You’ve got the two lanes of parked cars on either side. And then yeah it’s just chock a down this major shopping street actually, with people trying to like you know, go about do their local shop. It says chocca with cars and yeah, a lot of big cars.
Carlton Reid 5:15
Hmm. But then you also have a very good and I suppose I don’t you told me was very good the tram system which is relatively new
Dan Abrahams 5:23
the tram system basically takes you currently from the airport to the middle of town. So that’s the main to use a bit like it does serve some areas of Edinburgh but effectively it’s a kind of airport shuttle
Dan Abrahams 5:39
which there is also a bus shuttle to the airport which is faster and cheaper than the tram.
Dan Abrahams 5:45
But the tram extension which probably you’ve heard about, it’s kind of been like an ongoing fiasco is because due to open in the new year, that will be that will be really good because it will go then from the centre of town to the north to the shore through Leith. And when that’s opened, it should be really good and
Dan Abrahams 6:08
should be really good thing for the people in Leith who’ve been suffering the tram works for like
Dan Abrahams 6:13
10 years or something ridiculous.
Dan Abrahams 6:16
And with that, there’s also a bike lane going down. Leith, which at least is like the big region in the north of Edinburgh. And there’s a big bike lane going down there. And it’s got its faults. There’s lampposts in the middle of it. There’s ridiculously tight turns and kind of crashes with pedestrian areas. But still, it’s a bike lane.
Dan Abrahams 6:39
Which is, which is good. So yeah, there’s there’s positive things happening.
Dan Abrahams 6:44
There’s other bike lanes being made. But the pace of change is
Dan Abrahams 6:50
beyond slow. It’s kind of you know, all these parties have been elected in last May, the council, the council, the parties, which had the most votes, were all parties, which said, we want to have more active travel, we want to make infrastructure to enable active travel.
Dan Abrahams 7:08
Yeah, the convener of the transport convener, and the council is saying stuff, like, we’re gonna have a plan by the end of the year. And we’re thinking, you’re gonna have a plan by the end of the year. So if it takes six months to make a plan, and your you know, your term is four years, then you know, what hope do we have to get these things built?
Carlton Reid 7:32
And then you are it is there such a thing as the organiser of critical mass in Edinburgh, because of course, there are no organisers. But I, I really want the people involved in critical mass in Edinburgh put it that way.
Dan Abrahams 7:48
Yes, I’m involved. And I think, actually, you know,
Dan Abrahams 7:53
at the start, we kind of came under some criticism from some people for, like you say, basically organising it, you know, I think critical mass and Edinburgh at the start was,
Dan Abrahams 8:05
well, many years ago, it was like you say it was a kind of spontaneous thing with no official organisers. And it was on the last Friday of every month at, I think 5pm. So pen of peak traffic time, Pete kind of this is going to piss off car drivers time. And when we restarted it two years ago, we decided to make it on a Saturday at 2pm to make it family friendly, to make it a bit less antagonistic against car drivers,
Dan Abrahams 8:37
and became under fire from that there’s some people who saying that’s not critical mass. And, you know, we were doing we started social media stuff. And we were kind of organising it and publicising the route before, to make it accessible to people so that they can join midway, they could know how long it’s gonna take, wherever they’re going to manage it. People are saying that’s not in the spirit of critical mass, it’s meant to be spontaneous. But our view is like,
Dan Abrahams 9:03
we think this is a really effective way of showing the support for cycling, which exists, but it’s kind of silent because people, you know, too scared to get on their bike, or, you know, they’re just the silent majority who wants more bike infrastructure, but, you know, they’re not making a fuss about it.
Carlton Reid 9:21
And isn’t it more almost more of a kiddical mass in that case? Because Kiddical Mass is almost based on that, you know, publicising the route, obviously having lots of kids there, because that that will be the name.
Dan Abrahams 9:36
Yeah, I mean, we’ve done we’ve done a couple of critical masses as well. Now. Yeah, maybe it’s more like that. But I guess the point is that we don’t really
Dan Abrahams 9:44
we’re not really mind what the tradition of Critical Mass is, like, we respect that. There’s been like a long history of like people making great protests, but what we wanted to focus on is to be about making accessible and getting people to come and get him not
Dan Abrahams 10:00
Just the usual white middle aged males to come, but to get like people of all types to come and feel welcome and feel safe,
Dan Abrahams 10:08
you know to do that ride, which is and feel safe to doing that, you know, rather than in
Carlton Reid 10:16
the bike video Yeah. Which is where where I found you from your sister.
Carlton Reid 10:23
Was that shot on a critical mass? Or did you just do that on a different day? Yeah, you did that. Yeah. So
Dan Abrahams 10:33
that’s the kind of like that video is a total sort of smashing together of my music life and my sort of bike activism life. And
Dan Abrahams 10:45
my, my friend,
Dan Abrahams 10:49
who’s a big cycle campaigner, his daughter and their family agreed to take part in the video. And they had this idea that
Dan Abrahams 11:00
it would be her riding around the streets of Edinburgh, and you know, being really scared that it’s not safe to cycle of course, it’s not safe for an 18 year old to cycle by themselves in Edinburgh. But it’s something which people doing in Amsterdam, or in Holland, and then slowly more and more people would join her. So basically what we did was on the day, the day before critical mass, we filmed the kind of solo shots of the girl riding around Edinburgh. Then on the morning of critical mass. I got a few pals together and we shot the scenes were kind of a trickle of other cyclists start to join her. And then yeah, at the start of the critical mass ride we basically did a shout out and said
Dan Abrahams 11:42
Hey, everybody, we will want to you know film some shots please let us know if you don’t want to be in the shots are kind of go to the back of the critical mass. And we’re just going to do a few few shots. So basically, we are the little girl came to the front of the credit commerce and I was on like a Tern bike riding right in front of the critical mass and the cameraman was sitting on the back of the Tern back facing backwards towards the critical mass of
Carlton Reid 12:07
GSD. Is that the type of Tern bike?
Carlton Reid 12:12
it’s the it’s probably the most popular one. It’s like the electric cargo bikes. Electric wave. Yeah, like all sorts of fittings on the back.
Dan Abrahams 12:21
Yeah, it was basically like a kind of bench on the back. And it was like, Orange. Yeah, I don’t know what the name was. Yeah, but really cool bike anyway. And cool organisation called bikes for refugees and Edinburgh. Lent that to me because they had that
Dan Abrahams 12:38
Dan Abrahams 12:39
And they bikes refugees is an organisation Edinburgh who takes like old disused bikes and fixes them up for refugees to donate to.
Carlton Reid 12:51
So then you spliced it all together?
Dan Abrahams 12:54
That’s fine. Yeah, splice it together. And then part of the narrative was the kind of the girl going to Amsterdam and discovering what cycling could be like, in a kind of ideal world. And
Dan Abrahams 13:10
that obviously was going to be very expensive to to do in film. So I
Dan Abrahams 13:18
got an animator to kind of realise those sections.
Carlton Reid 13:23
Because that means the same animator, presumably who’s done the car. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, yeah.
Carlton Reid 13:30
Carlton Reid 13:32
what do you do with the films apart from putting on YouTube? Because I’ve seen them on what how do you physically promote them? How do you get them out there?
Dan Abrahams 13:40
It’s a great question.
Dan Abrahams 13:44
I am just doing my best to get them seen by as many people as possible. And for me, that’s been social media and
Dan Abrahams 13:55
you know, kind of sending them round bicycle organisations hoping that they might share them cycling UK
Dan Abrahams 14:03
shared our streets video. And
Dan Abrahams 14:07
I employed a PR company to help me with the streets video, but I’m afraid to say they didn’t have much success, for whatever reason. But I really want
Dan Abrahams 14:19
you know, more than the usual, like cycling campaigning group to see them, you know, the idea is that they can have catchy pop songs, and people might come across them who are not into cycling, and they might actually get hooked by the music first, and then then the message kind of hit afterwards, you know?
Carlton Reid 14:41
Yes. And then tell me about your music. So how are you?
Carlton Reid 14:49
How are you? You said you’re, you’re merging the two lives together there. But tell me about your music part of your or your life there. Yeah.
Dan Abrahams 14:58
So I mean, you mean more
Dan Abrahams 15:00
Generally or specifically for the songs,
Carlton Reid 15:03
generally so so so we’ll just Yeah. The second part. So talk about the music part. So
Dan Abrahams 15:12
I mean, I was an engineer for about 10 years and
Dan Abrahams 15:18
working for a company who was doing kind of sustainable technology stuff. So it was like we worked on a wind turbine, and then we’re working on some hybrid vehicles and
Dan Abrahams 15:27
the music was always on the side. And then this year, for many reasons, I decided to kind of take the plunge and do music. And my music in Edinburgh is a mixture of stuff apart from the cycling songs, which is kind of like a kind of one off special thing. I play in folk bands. So I have a group called Dowally who we make, we make music
Dan Abrahams 15:56
in the kind of traditional Celtic vein, but we were kind of more progressive, modern, kind of feel. And we do a lot of stuff for archive films. I also have a band called Wayward Jane who play more like old time Americana music of banjo and fiddle and double bass. And then I also play jazz soul have a band called the Foo Birds who do that kind of thing. So it’s, it’s a real mix of stuff. And the cycling songs is kind of
Dan Abrahams 16:26
I knew that my bands wouldn’t probably be into that. So I kind of decided to do that as, as myself as Dan, Abrahams, which is kind of a first for me.
Carlton Reid 16:36
Now, you’re not from Edinburgh?
Dan Abrahams 16:37
No, I’m from originally from Sheffield. Yeah. Yes. Yes.
Carlton Reid 16:41
So how can you remember was it through that job that you had described before with uni?
Dan Abrahams 16:45
And then the job? Yeah. Alright. Okay. Yeah.
Carlton Reid 16:48
Because the the video the streets video?
Carlton Reid 16:51
Yes, it’s very Edinburgh based. But it can be any city that that it’s not, it hasn’t. It’s not like grounding it completely. Only in Edinburgh. Is it?
Dan Abrahams 17:01
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, I think that’s the idea that anyone could could could feel like, you know, that looks like my city totally unsafe to cycling. And, you know, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could all you know, cycle mass together and, and live with less cars. And that that was the idea behind the section right at the end of the video, where you basically see critical masses from right around the world, which is the idea was to kind of zoom out and be like, this is a worldwide movement. You know, there’s stuff going on right around the world, in Africa, in South America. And I didn’t manage to get any footage in Asia. And for now, it’s not true. There was some in Nepal. And, and, and Europe as well. So.
Dan Abrahams 17:48
So yeah, that was yeah, I hoped I hoped. I think, I think that was that was cool. Because I think, you know, it kind of it spoke to people, you know, right across the globe, which was really nice.
Carlton Reid 18:01
If you go back to, you mentioned that there was a bit of conflict there between how you’re organising your critical mass, and how traditionally, it’s organised, you know, last Friday of the month, yeah.
Carlton Reid 18:16
Bang on, yeah, commute time, which is kind of, you know, the raison d’etre. But if you’re doing it when you’re doing it, that doesn’t stop somebody else doing it at the quotation marks here the traditional time. So could you have two critical masses? In Edinburgh?
Dan Abrahams 18:33
I mean, you probably could, but I mean, do you know
Dan Abrahams 18:39
getting these things organised this? You know, it takes the we’ve got quite a lot of people involved, you know, designing the flyers, printing the flyers, putting them up and doing social media, you know, organising stewards first aid. You know, we don’t sort of like, we don’t take it lightly to sort of do things well and safely. So
Dan Abrahams 19:03
if people were up for organising your Friday one, they’d be welcome to and, but, you know, I guess they need to find the people to
Dan Abrahams 19:12
Dan Abrahams 19:14
And I guess there’s a good thing about consistency is like people know that it’s going to be at that time in that place. They know that they can always turn up and how many really getting their done. We’re getting about 250 a month.
Carlton Reid 19:27
That’s really good.
Dan Abrahams 19:28
I think it’s good. Yeah, I mean, we kind of our benchmark is Brussels, just because
Dan Abrahams 19:35
right at the start we were in touch with some of the people involved in critical mass Brussels and they gave us some tips and advice, and they’re getting 1000s of people at their ride. So you know, when you compare yourself to that, then 250 Doesn’t seem amazing, but when you’re on the road, it feels great, you know?
Dan Abrahams 19:54
Huh, because I mean, that comes across in the video how it’s like it’s liberating to be on it
Dan Abrahams 20:00
And people say that, you know, exactly people say that when they’re on the ride, it’s like, it’s like, wow, this is what our roads could be like, This feels amazing to be on my road, because it’s my road as well as the car drivers roads, but, but I feel totally safe, you know, and we’re, we’re playing music and loudspeakers, you’re chatting to people, you know, meeting new people, there’s people who’ve borrowed bikes to come on the ride, and they’ve come off the ride. Having like, three offers of bikes, like they, you know, they go on the ride, and someone saying, I had to borrow a bike to go home, I don’t have a bicycle. By the end of the ride. Multiple people have said, I’ve got a spare bike, you can have it, you know, so it’s like, I know, there’s a big cycling community on like Twitter and stuff, but it’s actually great to have the cycling community meet once a month in person, and, you know, chat to each other.
Carlton Reid 20:52
There is I mean, Edinburgh is one of those cities with just that does have a very active cycle campaign.
Carlton Reid 21:02
Outfit team organisation, one of you and I call it your spokes.
Dan Abrahams 21:05
it does many, many. Yeah, it does a fantastic. Yeah.
Carlton Reid 21:10
So is there any meshing there between you and spokes?
Dan Abrahams 21:14
There is, I mean, spokes are great, they always share. Like, they always like, kind of promote our rides, and they sometimes come at the start of the ride to kind of sell their maps, they have these amazing maps of like, cycling routes, and Edinburgh.
Dan Abrahams 21:33
And also, you know, I think it’s just,
Dan Abrahams 21:36
there’s a really good synergy between organisations, like spokes, who do the really hard, laborious work of like going to council meetings to give deputations and, you know, meeting with counsellors and doing that kind of behind the scenes work that has a good synergy with critical mass, which is the kind of like,
Dan Abrahams 22:00
let’s be on the street, having a physical presence, you know, having showing the counsellors that look, what are the cyclists who want to be riding on the roads, if only it was safe to do so.
Dan Abrahams 22:12
In your face? Yeah. minor thing.
Carlton Reid 22:16
So tell me about your any future projects. And that way, you’re going to merge these two, you know, the Dan Abrahams two worlds. So you’ve got big car out today?
Dan Abrahams 22:27
Yes, big streets was three months ago. So
Dan Abrahams 22:32
ideas for projects, I’m sad to say that, that’s, that’s the kind of
Dan Abrahams 22:40
the kind of that’s the kind of cycling songs for the moment.
Dan Abrahams 22:46
I’ve had some people get in touch saying that they’d be interested in collaborating to do some more cycling songs. So definitely, that’s possible in the future, but actually, I’m going to be releasing some more sort of Dan Abrahams and his emotions songs. So less cycling more sort of,
Dan Abrahams 23:07
Dan Abrahams 23:09
just about, you know,
Dan Abrahams 23:12
love life and that kind of thing. So, maybe less interesting for the cycling community. But, but, you know,
Dan Abrahams 23:21
hopefully, people will like that music too.
Carlton Reid 23:24
Okay. And tell us about how you got into cycling, because your sister won’t mention her full back.
Carlton Reid 23:34
Now. I’m just thinking when I was speaking to your sister, and
Carlton Reid 23:38
then she was in my Forbes.com piece she didn’t want her second name. Okay. But of course,
Carlton Reid 23:45
it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise I wonder what her second name might be.
Carlton Reid 23:52
But she’s clearly into cycling, you’re into cycling. So how come that the Abraham’s family is into cycling?
Dan Abrahams 23:58
Yeah, it’s interesting. I mean, my
Dan Abrahams 24:02
when I said into cycling, I don’t actually do cycling for leisure. Like I don’t go occasionally go out for for kind of bike rides have fun, but for me, like bike cycling, is just how I get around, you know, and my interest in cycling is about
Dan Abrahams 24:18
you know, protesting for people to be able to use the bike as their means of getting from A to B, you know, a cycle everywhere cycle to my to I cycle to gigs on my bike, or wherever on my bike. Whereas my sister and my dad, cycling is like, it’s a sport. It’s about on the weekend going out with the group and how fast are they going? And have they got the latest gear and stuff?
Dan Abrahams 24:43
So it’s it kind of bothers him obviously, my sister’s into like, the campaigning side of it too. But I think it was it was kind of just chance the we all kind of got into it. I guess. We were brought up me and my sister you know
Dan Abrahams 25:00
Thinking about, you know, social and environmental issues in the world. And I think
Dan Abrahams 25:09
just sort of both separately
Dan Abrahams 25:12
came to the understanding that,
Dan Abrahams 25:16
you know, cycling is just such an easy solution to so many problems in the world, like it says, in our streets, song at the end, you know, pollution, hurt people’s health, mental health, congestion, climate change,
Dan Abrahams 25:36
air pollution, you know, tyre pollution, all these issues become easier when more people are cycling. And
Dan Abrahams 25:49
I’ve lost track of what was gonna say,
Carlton Reid 25:53
you kind of on your, on your family and how you Cycling is a good solution.
Dan Abrahams 25:57
Yeah, you know, I was, you know, I was working in a in a tech company for 10 years, you know, on kind of this like solutions like with for reducing co2.
Dan Abrahams 26:08
But I think at the end, I was really quite frustrated that the technology was taking so long to to mature and get commercialised. But at the same time, all these sort of just absolutely. Basic solutions, which just about political will, they’re not about technology
Dan Abrahams 26:27
being so slow to kind of be become realised.
Dan Abrahams 26:33
Apart from in Holland. So, yeah, and I think I think I think, you know, masochistic, you know, it’s the same kind of thing in Brussels, although I think they’re further ahead than in Edinburgh.
Dan Abrahams 26:47
So, I think so yeah, she kind of combines her sport, sporty cycling with the kind of, you know, getting, you know, the kind of community and campaigning cycling thing. Whereas for me, it’s kind of, I don’t I don’t have any lycra or anything like that.
Carlton Reid 27:05
Thanks to Dan Abrahams there. By the way, Dan’s sister, Alison, was featured in the Brussels episode back in November last year. Thanks for listening to Episode 320 of the spokesmen podcast brought to you in association with turn bicycles. dance videos are embedded on the shownotes at the-spokesmen.com. The next two episodes will be with inspirational women in business. But meanwhile, get out there and ride