Friday, 23 May 2014

A Let Down

Hit and Run, December 2013

I apologise for length of this post and how long it has taken to produce but it has been a difficult one to write. In previous posts I've written about a hit and run I was involved in back in December. The insurance payout has now been sorted and as the police aren't doing anything with this there's no legal reason not to make the video public.


Hawthorn Lane is a quiet residential road with a small amount of traffic using it to cut through / avoid the narrow Buck Lane. It's the sort of road that should be safe for cyclists and pedestrians. I grew up on Witley Drive and with friends on Hawthorn Lane and Pine Grove we'd frequently ride our bikes in the area.  Please note that whilst we were aged ten or less these were ridden on the road, not the pavement, it was pretty safe to do so then.

I Can't See You

I still fail to comprehend how the incident happened.  The driver claimed that he was only aware that I was there after his wing mirror was clipped.  Considering that I had three decent lights active at the front of the bike, was wearing a bright jacket and the light conditions were reasonable either he was not paying any attention to where he was going with a tonne and half of metal or he has lied and fully intended to bully me out of the way.  Frame by frame analysis of the video shows the driver suddenly steering away immediately before the point of impact, so he was aware of my presence before impact.

His lights are on main beam as he pulls out of Pine Grove so I don't read that as being aggression but simply a case of not having taken the care to check his warning lights as he's started the car.

Damage

The main point of impact with the bike was at the top of the rear gear mechanism where it is bolted onto the frame.  This resulted in the frame being twisted round and the mech pushed into the rear wheel.  The rear triangle has also been bent over to the left hand side.  Somehow the wheel has also been pulled forward out of the frame on both sides.  The twisting of the frame by the rear mech has opened and split the drop out on the drive side thus despite it being possible to rejig a steel frame the dropouts would also need replacing and the frame is therefore well beyond economic repair.

Rear mech pushed round and into wheel.
General view of impact zone
Wheel pulled out on non-drive side
Wheel pulled out, drop out and gear hangar twisted
Splayed and twisted drop out with crack.
Shattered Mudguard
There were additional impact points that caused damage to the rear wheel, mudguard, rear lights and saddlebag. The bike was checked over by a local bike shop, The Bicycle Doctor, and declared to be a write off because as well as the frame damage the integrity of any remaining parts could not be guaranteed following the collision.

Friends and Family

Much of this post is negative, not just because of the subject but due to people/organisation's responses. However, two sets of people have shone.  Firstly family, my wife particularly for not banning me from cycling after yet another interface with a motorist. My mother's contacts and underground spy network was very useful in providing vital information as detailed below.

Friends, particularly those within Seamons Cycling Club have been supportive, not only in analysis of the incident but also in providing suggestions on how to deal with the police.

Police Response

As usual the initial response was good and positive, but things rapidly deteriated. Patrols apparently looked for the car but were unable to find it.  Didn't look very hard did you as the car was back at its registered location an hour later when I made another attempt to go to work. Thus the chance to breathalyse the driver was missed.

The police corresponded with the driver who accepted being involved in a collision and all of the relevant documents were in order. Note that the driver was not interviewed under caution despite illegally fleeing the scene of a collision. It took two further letters explicitly asking whether this had taken place to get an answer.

GMP then closed the case as 'The Crown Prosection Service (CPS) do not call for a prosecution in every case where the incident is of a type that frequently occurs at parking places or in traffic queues, involving minimal carelessness, including cases where there is evidentially a realistic prospect of conviction'

I find this appalling and can only think that GMP are trying to close this case with minimum effort, more on this later. I don't consider that the driver showed minimal carelessness, he was either not paying any attention when the road was full of hazards or he was deliberately driving at me. More importantly he failed to stop at the scene of an incident. This is a clear and serious breach of the law, yet GMP completely ignore it.

Not at all satisfied with this flippant response I sent a letter asking for a better explanation and a series of questions trying to establish how well the incident had been investigated. The response took longer than I expected so I phoned to check that my letter had been received. The officer who was dealing with the case volunteered that 'as a cyclist I should have given way'. I didn't believe what I'd heard and got him to repeat it, which he did. Whether or not giving way was an issue the comment 'as a cyclist' shows a clear indication that GMP are operating a hierarchy - the car is king and I should have bowed to its superiority.

The response did arrive a couple of days later. There are two key paragraphs regarding the collision itself -

'In effect, both you and the other driver appear to be approaching head on and both would appear to have room to move into the nearside to allow passage for both to pass. Neither yourself nor the driver of the vehicle has given way until the last second when you obviously move to the left'

'As it stands at this moment in time the matter would be described as 50/50 in that both parties were attempting to pass through the gap at the same time and that no one gave way to the other'

I'm not sure if this is a cut and paste, 'the other driver' - err, there was only one driver. Ignoring that, I'd possibly agree with their conclusion if I'd been in a car, but I'd have then been blocking the road so he wouldn't have been able to pass. However, the collision took place entirely on my side of the road. There is no need for me to go over to the other side of the road to pass the parked car as is evident by my passing of the first parked car on the left hand side. Going off the trajectory of the car, where would have been safe for me to pull over to, especially considering that he moves further to the right than he needs to pass the parked car? The run up to the point of collision has a parked car on the left, junction on the right, junction on the left and a parked car on the right. There is nowhere safe for me to pull over to and the driver only comes into view as I'm about to pass the first parked car.

Different people may view the causes of the collision differently but the fail to stop is clear cut and probably the more serious offence. The driver has admitted to knowing about the collision but has still driven off. The police report that he claims to have driven around the block and returned about five minutes later. From the video I supplied to the police it is clear that this is incorrect as the video runs for ten minutes after the collision and there is no sign of the driver after he flees the scene. Much of this time I was on the phone to 999 so there would be audio evidence as well. The police admit that he probably didn't return and only responded when he received the notice from the police.

So he has failed to stop at the scene of a collision, admitted that he knew about it and hasn't reported it to the police within the 24 hours allowed. That's a clear disregard for the law, yet GMP do nothing about it. They claim that the video does not prove that he did not return at all. So how long are you supposed to hang around expecting that somebody who's just smashed into you and driven off is going to return?

I pursued the matter further but other than getting a categoric answer regarding interviewing under caution did not really get anywhere. The explanation of the investigation is eye opening though as it is quite clear that the investigation section of GMP is under resourced and so obviously there is going to be corner cutting and carpet lifting.  Five years ago there were 22 officers dealing with investigations, now there are three with six civilians and the same workload.

Clearly as I wasn't injured GMP did not see the incident worthy of proper investigation. Sorry, I completely disagree the fail to stop is very serious and shows complete contempt for the law and other road users, trying to say that the video is not enough evidence to prove he didn't return is an excuse. He didn't stop and didn't report it to the police, that is the offence.

"The incident is of a relatively minor nature, you have the registration number of the third party and as such can instigate your own civil proceedings. This would be the proportionate approach with regards to this matter."

Sorry, but whilst I need to recover my costs, the lack of police action has shown this driver that it is perfectly acceptable to drive into people and ignore the law. This driver needs to be hauled over the coals for his attitude to other road users yet hasn't even had a good talking to by a copper.

As for trying to recover costs the registration number is all very well and good but you still need the driver's details including his insurance and GMP refused to divulge these saying I had to purchase the collision report. This despite it being a legal requirement for the driver to exchange the information.

One other paragraph from the letter is worthy of note, "Can I also state that if we prosecuted every member of the public who failed to stop at a collision within GMP the courts would be full."  That's either a complete nonsensical exaggeration or a very worrying indictment of the attitude of drivers in the Greater Manchester area.

Recompense

Cycle Touring Club (CTC)

Eighteen months prior to this incident I'd been deliberately run off the road, then crashed into before being assaulted.  On that occasion I'd used the CTC's legal service to get a decent level of compensation.  Despite only having minor cuts and bruises the money was more than I'd expected and I was very happy with the helpful service from CTC's solicitors. This time was a completely different story.  I was just about uninjured, (minor bruising to buttock which showed up the following day). When I phoned the CTC legal service I was informed that as I wasn't injured I'd have to go through the Small Claims Court and they'd send out an information pack.  I was shocked, the people I'd expected to support me were providing nothing more than what I could find for myself on the internet.  I phoned again a couple of days later hoping that I'd just caught somebody on a bad day, but no, same story.  When I pointed out that as it was a hit and run I didn't know who to claim against they just apologised and that was the end of that.

With hindsight the Small Claims Court is not the right way to go, or it certainly wasn't in this case.  For a very small fee it is possible to find out the insurance details for the car at the time of the incident and you can then take it up with the insurers.

The Driver

Despite the incident being a hit and run I quickly established where the car lived and through family contacts who the likely drivers were. Lesson - don't defecate on your own doorstep.  Conversations with the police later provided the small bit of information - 'he' - that was required to establish exactly who was driving.

As part of the Small Claims Court process you first have to try and sort things out with the other party by mutual agreement. A letter was duly sent in December laying out my claim, requesting compensation and a response before the end of January.  This was delivered by hand, unfortunately the headcam wasn't turned on so there was no proof.

The given date subsequently passed with nothing being heard from the driver or his insurance company. A second letter was written giving a deadline of the end of March. This was sent on signed for delivery so its arrival was documented.

February and March past with no correspondence from the driver. It can only be concluded that the driver is  a nasty piece of work and the scum of the earth with no morals at all.

The Insurance Company

Despite the CTC and Police both being completely unhelpful in providing or telling me how to obtain the  driver and insurance details I managed to find them out from just the registration plate. I thought I was going to have to fork out around £80 for the Collision Report from the police but after several searches of the internet I came across the Motor Insurance Database which provides the insurance details for the princely sum of £4.

Armed with this information I contacted the insurance company and gave them the details of the incident. Unsurprisingly the driver had failed to inform them of it. They contacted the driver and he confirmed that he had been involved. To my surprise there was no arguing over who was to blame and despite knowing of its existence they didn't ask to see the video either. Things then moved on to proving the damage to the bike and its worth.  This should have been easy as I had the original invoice for the bike, the bike shop's estimate for cost of replacement, receipts for money spent on maintaining the bike and photos of the damage. Despite supplying all of these I failed to convince them that the bike was worth more than the factory specified bike (other than the frame it is a completely different animal).  

This was the one part where I really felt out of my depth.  However, the figure they offered me which I took to be for the value of the bike plus an allowance for out of pocket expenses etc. was slightly less than the value of the bike. When I argued that the value of the bike was more, they said that the original offer was only for the value of the bike not for any out of pocket expenses. 

Having failed to engage the CTC's legal team earlier in the process I was at one time expecting only to recover a couple of hundred pounds having gone to a lot of effort and stress through court wranglings. So, whilst I lost the will to argue onwards about the settlement and was disappointed that I am out of pocket for expenses and some of the cost of the bike, I have achieved a much higher payout then I thought was going to be possible for a long time.

Conclusions

  • Some people are spineless scum.
  • GMP don't understand or care about cyclists.
  • Traffic policing is under resourced and therefore poor. The result is that the roads are becoming more and more dangerous for vulnerable users, i.e. anybody not surrounded by a safety cage.
  • CTC legal services don't cover you as well as you might think.
  • If you're in an incident, make sure you're injured, nobody is interested otherwise.
  • At least one insurance company isn't the angry monster I was expecting them to be.
  • Quiet residential roads that are promoted as being safe for pedestrians/cyclists aren't.

Friday, 9 May 2014

TPT and Bridgewater Way as Commuter Routes - Conclusion

Current Cycle Provision for Commuters

In three previous posts I've reviewed my current route to work.  Having suffered a hit and run on a quiet road in Sale I've looked for alternative, away from road routes as like much of the country there are no safe road based routes.  The Trans Pennine Trail (TPT) and Bridgewater Way are the major cycle provisions within Trafford and the latter is currently being promoted as the big facility for cyclists.  Trafford have said that they can't provide facilities on sections of the A56 and are promoting the Bridgewater Way as the recommended alternative.  So it will therefore form the recommended commuter route through the borough and into Manchester.

Whilst the Bridgewater Way runs roughly South to North the TPT runs West to East and is part of the National Cycle Network.  It is a route that runs from west to east coast and should be a major part of the network within Trafford.  It's also been established for around fifteen years so provides an example of how Trafford looks after its cycling facilities.

Trans Pennine Trail Positives

  • The trail through Trafford whilst touching on residential areas is almost entirely within countryside making it a pleasant environment to ride through.
  • Very little if any interaction with motorised vehicles.

Trans Pennine Trail Negatives

  • Most of the surface is unmade or rough stone.  The former is totally unsuitable given the prevailing weather conditions and the mixed mode usage and the latter makes for a rough ride with the potential to cause an accident if a wheel glances the wrong way off a stone.
  • Rotted vegetation combined with the unmade surface and horse excrement makes a slippery and unsafe surface.
  • In many places the encroachment of vegetation has reduced the trail to as little as 2 - 3 feet width - insufficient for two people to pass.
  • The lack of lighting makes it unsuitable as a commuter route for most people for much of the year.
  • The unmade surface and multitude of puddles means commuting in office clothes is just not possible if you want to look presentable.
  • The unmade surface coats bikes in a layer of grit which makes short work of bike gears and wheels.
  • Anti-motor cycle barriers are largely redundant but still dangerous and restrictive to cycles.
  • Shared usage means that you can be brought into conflict with horses and dog walkers.  Usage seems to be low during 'rush hour' so this is not a major issue currently.

Bridgewater Way Positives

  • The canal provides a pleasant green corridor through the borough
  • No interaction with motorised vehicles
  • Solid surface (I'll ignore the unmade bits as they are in the process of being upgraded)

Bridgewater Way Negatives

  • Rough surface - the surface may be solid but no part of it is smooth and large stretches are down right lumpy.  This makes for a rough and uncomfortable ride even with large volume tyres,
  • Pea gravel - this is an unnecessary hazard.  It can make pedalling difficult and steering unpredictable.  It is very unnerving to have to pass other path users by going onto the loose gravel alongside a drop into water.  If you need to stop quickly there is a good chance the bike will skid and you'll lose control of it.  If you come off the bike that gravel will make a right mess of your clothes and skin.  It will also become embedded within any cuts and cause pain in its removal.
  • Width - the path even at its widest is only just wide enough for two cyclists to pass.
  • In some places the encroachment of trees has already reduced the width of the path so that only one person at a time can get past.
  • The lack of lighting makes it unsuitable as a commuter route for most people for much of the year.
  • The Sale and Stretford sections of the path are heavily used during the spring and summer months by walkers, runners, dogs and rowers.  Trying to push a load of commuters down the same narrow path just leads to conflict and a stop start journey.
  • The Patricroft section in Salford is used by a number of anglers who can spread across the whole width of the path.  Most are cooperative but some just block the path.
  • The width of the route in Salford is far sub standard.

Conclusions

Whilst the TPT and Bridgewater Way are welcome additions to the few cycling facilities that there are in the area, they are far from adequate when viewed as a commuter.  They might just about be ok for a leisurely pootle or a one off journey but they are not conducive to regular use.  The poor build quality of the TPT and the lack of maintenance of it mean that it is now not much better than a bridleway and is unsuited to using even a touring bike on it.  This latter is quite comical really when considering that it is a route for getting from one side of the country to the other, i.e. touring.

The principle gripe for both facilities is the path surface, cyclists need a smooth, firm surface that is not going to break up.  The fact that the Bridgewater Way is actually a newly laid tarmac surface but isn't remotely smooth shows a piss poor attitude to specification or quality control, or no understanding of what a surface is like to ride along.  The pea gravel surface also shows a complete lack of understanding of cycling requirements.

With very little promotion the Bridgewater Way is already a well used route by commuters trying to avoid the horror of the A56.  It is also a well used leisure facility for local residents and has been for many, many years.  Combine the two and there are unpleasant issues for all users.  Promoting it as the cycling alternative to the A56 clearly shows that Trafford just can't see cycling as a means of transport other than by a few die hards or they are unwilling to put any proper money into it, preferring instead to plough more and more money into the overcrowded road and tram systems.

Both routes are effectively remote and equivalent to a back alley at night.  The lack of lighting therefore means that they can not thought of as an alternative safe route for most potential cyclists - would you recommend your wife or daughter use them on a dark winter's night?

With poor standards of driving, poor attitude to cyclists and lack of traffic enforcement cyclists need segregated cycling facilities of a far higher standard than the two routes here.  Without them there will not be the significant increase in cycling that the government and council are supposedly working towards.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Road Bike for Emily

With the last three posts being pretty negative reviews of my route to work I thought I'd redress the mood slightly with something more positive. We bought our daughter, Emily, a 1980's Dawes Lady Galaxy just before Christmas with the intention of turning it into a sit up and beg bike. Her specification was she wanted a bike with a basket on the front. Most new bikes that would fulfil this are pretty hefty beasts and so the Galaxy was bought as a more lightweight and better quality route. It's not been converted yet and she's done a couple of longer rides as well as using it for a short commute.
These longer rides have resulted in her now also wanting a road bike (n+1). Road bike is a bit of an open term covering all sorts from race to touring bikes. Whilst she had ridden the Galaxy and could have a ride on my wife's Surly Cross Check to get an idea of what a touring oriented bike felt like we had no means of giving her a try on a race bike other than being cheeky and wasting a local shop's time.

I gambled on the fact that she's young and had been talking about riding with the local club so she was more likely to be wanting a race type bike. Having almost all of the bits other than a frame it would also be a reasonably cheap bike to build to the point of being able to try it. If it turns out that this is what she wants then the secondhand parts can be replaced with more appropriate new ones. If not the frame can probably be sold on without too much loss of money.

First off, a bit of negativity. The source of many of the 'other' parts is my Surly Cross Check. This was a brilliant bike and had served me well for nearly four years as a daily commuter and for many longer rides both individually and with the club. However, in December I had a collision with a low life in a car who decided to clear off. That is a story for another day, the result though was that whilst I was unharmed the Cross Check was a write off with the rear of the frame severely damaged along with several significant parts. The first job in building Emily's new bike was to strip off and clean the usable parts from the Cross Check.
Must finish the kitchen!
For the frame I plumped for the popular Dolan Proffisio frameset. This is a bargain price for a frame that has a good reputation and will provide her with a bike capable of being used as a winter bike (it will take mudguards) should she become serious about riding.
The frame came well wrapped from Dolan via Parcel Force.
It's not just the frame that you get but the fork, headset, seat post and seat clamp.

First job is to fit the headset. This is an integrated version, i.e. the bearings sit directly in the frame so there are no bearing cups to press into the frame. Also the crown race (the bit that fits around the steering column at the top of the fork) is split so there will be no need for extreme force to get it seated.
The headset

To make sure that the crown race is seated properly I use a piece of plastic piping. NOTE : tip the fork upside down and knock it down into the tube. Don't put the fork on the ground and ram the pipe down on to it, it probably won't like it!

Plenty of grease in the frame before the bearings are pushed firmly home by hand. You have to ensure they go in square otherwise they will jam. Just push in different places as you push the bearing in. This was repeated for the lower bearing.
Headset done. Stem is on purely to stop the fork dropping out.

 Hollowtech bottom bracket fitted. This needs the special spanner to fit those splines and note that the cups each have arrows showing you which way to tighten them. The drive side (right hand) is a reverse thread. The threads were also copper slipped before fitting just to ensure that they didn't seize to the frame.
Fit both halves of the cranks. Be careful that you insert the correct, if any washers, otherwise the left hand crank may not be on the axle properly.

The wheels were then fitted before the front d√©railleur. Thankfully I had one of the bits of plastic that new mechanisms come with to hold the mech in the high gear. This is the red bit of plastic in the photo and it makes aligning the mech much easier. The parts bin also provided the correct shims for this downtube compared with the narrower steel tube of the Cross Check. The rear d√©railleur was also fitted at this point.

Before you fit the brakes put the bike on the ground and make sure that the wheels are seated properly. The brakes simply bolt to the frame or fork, but just before you do the final tightening squeeze the blocks together to centralise the brake on the wheel. It probably won't be perfect but it will be thereabouts.

In true Blue Peter tradition here's one I prepared earlier. Handlebars are a straight swap which saved several jobs, though they are far too wide. NOTE : if you are building a bike with unwrapped handlebars be aware that they will take chunks out of the paintwork as they swing round. If you can't stop them swinging then wrap the ends in duck tape.
 Before fitting the pedals, copper slip the threads otherwise there's a good chance they will be a right sod / impossible to get off when they need changing.
First fix completed - saddle on and chain fitted. The length of the chain was established using the method of wrapping it around the large cogs at each end and then adding a pair of links. It seems a bit shorter than I'd usually do it but has worked so far.

After adjusting the brake and gear cables and aligning the brake blocks she took it for a very quick spin just to make sure that the handlebars were not too low. They're ok, but as expected the stem is a bit too long.

Next step, cut the steering column to length. This is always a nervous stage as there's no undo button. As a precaution I added another 10mm spacer on top of the stem. This was just in case the bars needed to be raised after a longer ride and also to allow for the small possibility that the final stem had a greater stack height. The latter is very doubtful and the former unlikely but you can cut metal off a lot easier than you can add it on.
 The first line was drawn with the fork still in the bike and used the additional spacer as its guide. The stem needs to be 2-3mm below the top of the stack to allow space for the top cap to compress the stack. A spare stem has been temporarily fitted 3mm below the original line for the simple purpose of drawing the actual cutting line.
The excess is carefully cut off with a hacksaw. A sharp blade makes it much easier. The end and edges are then finished off with a file so that there is nothing sharp to interfere with fittings.


I've always fitted the star nut that the top cap screws into by fitting a 6mm bolt with nut and washers into it and then whacking it into the steerer with a hammer. You have to make sure that it goes in pretty much square. In the past I've not had much problem but this time it just wouldn't behave. It took a second star nut before I got it in anywhere near square. I think I'll be buying a proper tool before I tackle another one.

With the stem cut to length and the front end refitted Emily has taken her first lessons in bike maintenance by changing the Continental UltraSport tyres for the better quality Schwalbe Durano S which also happen to come with a pair of blue stripes which set the bike off nicely. Bottle cages have been fitted along with a pair of SKS Race Blade Long mudguards. The frame will take proper mudguards and these will be fitted during the winter months but the raceblades enable the bike to run either with or without them in a couple of minutes. This will be ideal for our typical changeable summers and mean that the bike isn't for fair weather only.

All that remains now is to take it for a spin.