Bubble in the desert

A blog I started whilst on a GE "Bubble" assignment in Nevada. I'm back in Cambridge (UK) now but still miss the desert and my friends out there.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Bike Friday Tikit and me at the Heathrow Protest 'No' to Third Runway - (look Mum I'm on the telly)

We have just 20 years to do something about climate change before it gets so far out of control there is nothing we can do about it. We have to reduce our CO2 emissions by at least 90% [1]. A couple of friends tell me to not worry so much about all this, the Earth will survive it's just that humanity will not. Perhaps they are right to worry less, we are just one of the thousands of other species on the planet heading for extinction, though there are perhaps not so many that did it to themselves.

Building a 3rd runway at Heathrow to allow for more flights is ludicrous. The government has bravely tackled plastic bags (what a joke). It's time to step up and tackle some of the real issues. Flying is about the most damaging thing we do from a global warming perspective, especially short haul flights which spend a relatively larger proportion of time taxiing and climbing to altitude. The train is much better, more comfortable and often quicker for getting to Europe.

I decided to stand up and be counted so I pulled out my little folding bike (a Bike Friday Tikit), hopped on the train and cycled (using one of the excellent new London cycling maps) to Heathrow to add my vote to the 'No' campaign.

I arrived a bit late and was getting ready to march when I noticed a couple of blokes on a tandem pulling a sound system in a trailer, who, it turned out were from Bicycology. I decided to cycle with them for a bit instead of marching. One of them, Dan, later took up my offer to have a ride on the Tikit and was quite impressed.

I was pleased to see a number of folding bikes during the march. A brand new Strida. I asked the guy how quick it folded at the same time as slamming the Tikit from unfolded to folded. In fairness, the Strida folded pretty fast. However it doesn't have any gears and my Tikit has 8. I also came upon a few Bromptons. I really think folding bikes are part of the answer to reducing our dependence on oil. You can fold a Tikit and stick it on the Tube train, where other bikes are not allowed. You can chuck it on a bus - pretty much anywhere you can put a suitcase.

One guy came up to me and took a very keen interest in the Tikit. He was a true bike enthusiast and owned a Brompton ("heavy") and even an old Bikerton (which he said was awful because it flexed too much - he recovered it from the dump!). He loved his Moulton bikes though. He was very pleased when I offered him a go on the Tikit. I lowered the saddle and he gave me his rucksack and walking stick, hopped on it and was off. He came back with a big smile on his face - he loved it! He could see this is a bike you could do lots of miles on unlike some of the other folders - he said the Strida is really awful to ride and has all the wrong geometry and the Bike Friday is like a normal bike. I was really pleased to let him have a go of it since I took the Tikit to drum up a bit of interest.

We marched and cycled 4 miles around the eastern side of Heathrow to Sipson Village which is scheduled to be leveled to make way for the 3rd runway. The Tikit takes 5 seconds to fold so is good for switching from cycling to marching. I wasn't too sad to see a pilot unable to get to work, especially since it meant switching off his BMW Z4 for a few minutes as he waited to mount his jumbo jet.

The stilt walkers for a made quite a photogenic addition to the march and with the backdrop of massive police presence were quite funny. I can imagine the headline, 'Treebeard and the Ents overrun Heathrow'.

At Sipson, a local head teacher talked to the crowd. She explained what it is like teaching 400 school kids in the flight path of Heathrow. Apparently a plane goes over every minute and for 30 seconds you can't hear in the classroom. It's hard to imagine how tough that must be. At the moment, Heathrow alternates runways to give residents a bit of peace during the day - they are currently planning to get rid of this policy to land more planes. The head teacher is up in arms about it. She explained that the BAA has installed sound proof windows in the classroom and this works well in cold weather but in the summer, when kids have been out running around for an hour and return to a hot classroom they really have to open the windows. The Heathrow expansion plans will make this problem worse for more schools in the vicinity of Heathrow. It is such a densely populated urban environment that an extra runway is a complete nonsense even without the global warming implications.

Heathrow is a strange airport. Few major cities have massive airports right at their heart for many good reasons. Heathrow was built as a small military airfield in the first world war and was expanded as a base for military transport aircraft during the second world war. It was not a site selected as a sensible place for a commercial airport but we now seem obsessed with it, even though it's still an hour on the often overcrowded tube train (metro) to the centre of London. Gatwick and Stanstead are also about an hour from the centre of London but perhaps lack the prestige of LHR.

The local MP did an excellent job of organising the crowd into the 'no' formation and keeping them there for quite some time as various TV crews were elevated on a crane. There were then a few talks and it was no surprise to see George Monbiot on the stage laying out the issues.

The end of the March was at Sipson where we were organised into a big 'No' visible from the air. I noticed a bloke taking a keen interest in my Tikit and recognised him as one of the enthusiastic and very well spoken folks from the Brixton Transitional Towns initiative (Duncan). So, I joined them at the bottom of the 'O' of the 'No' which turns out to be right in front of the TV cameras. I thought a bit of extra publicity for my Tikit wouldn't go a miss so I put that in front of me.

It turns out it worked, I got myself on Sky News with my bike as you can see from the video below. I'm on the far left of the first shot with my rainbow jumper (sweater) and my Tikit. Towards the end of the news article I am 'featured' again but this time with a folded tikit!

[1] David King (2008) The Hot Topic


At 1:34 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whilst I am generally in agrement with most of your points on the blog -- Why do people love to 'knock' Strida bikes in the UK - they are a brilliant innovative bike, good value and great fun (and designed in UK) ?

Or is it just another buying 'justification' if so P L E A S E .. we are all different !! ( I like Strida's, Bromptons AND tikits .. all one less car, and each excellent in its nique.

At 1:46 pm, Blogger litsl said...

If you read it again, my own view was that the Strida folded pretty fast. The guy who rode my Tikit said he hated the way the Strida rode - I'd personally love to ride one.

I said I think folding bikes are part of the answer and linked to foldingbikes.co.uk. I just happen to own a Tikit.

The Tikit is a nice bike and folds extremely fast but it's expensive in the UK (nearly twice as much as in the USA) and doesnt stand up very well when folded. I think this has improved for 2008. I like the way the Brompton stands up when folded and would like to try one as I would like to try a Strida and even one of the Sinclair bikes.

I just got off a train and managed to unfold the Tikit as the train came into the platform in the usual 5 second unfold. It's pretty neat.

If anyone has a Strida I can try, come on down and I'll swamp you for a go on my Tikit!

At 7:25 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am wholeheartedly in agreement with you (though I might add that the plastic bag thing *IS* an epidemic and banning them is no small victory-- the birthplace of your tikit is soon to follow suit from the rumours I hear thankfully). I would add to your comments about folding bikes that the world in general (especially the damned USA!!) needs more public transportation. This is what makes a *FOLDING* bike so valuable over other bikes. You need to hook up with a "yes" demonstration on that subject. :D

At 1:46 am, Blogger litsl said...

I don't like plastic bags much myself. The thing is, there are bigger fish to fry at the moment. If we ignore plastic bags for 20 years it will not signal the demise of humanity. If we ignore global warming for 20 years, it will. Go figure. If we sort out CO2 emissions by 2028 I'll come and pick up some plastic bags from Oregon if you like!

At 1:49 am, Blogger litsl said...

Monbiot on Plastic Bags

"MT: Since you wrote the book, have things changed for the better? Are little things like people re-using plastic bags a sign that the tide is turning?

GM: Welcome as this is, I fear it's a sign that people prefer tokenistic solutions to thorough ones. I know people who have stopped using plastic bags and buy only recycled toilet paper, but still fly to Thailand for their holidays. People aren't thinking systematically about the problem, and don't want to. I think our politicians have perceived that the public is sending them two conflicting signals: make extravagant promises about cutting greenhouse gases, then break them. We want to feel better about ourselves, but without having to give up any of the luxuries we enjoy."


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