Ride the Nether Edge Bike Bus!

Our Guest Blogger, Chris Rust writes:-

Hi Everybody,

 I thought it was time to report on the Bikebus project and also say something about how to get involved (at the end).
We’ve just had the second service of the Nether Edge Bikebus and it feels like it’s coming together nicely, only a handful of riders but they seem to really appreciate it and are committed to coming back for more. I think we’ll end up with four routes for the Saturday service, and when somebody has ridden them all they’ll have “The Knowledge” to navigate around the area around Nether Edge and into the city. We are also starting to plan some special “request” services for commuter routes, so the first of those will be to Northern General as one of our first riders was interested in that.
The format for the regular services is that we have a ‘driver’ to lead the way, and a ‘conductor’ to take the tail end. Even with a very small group a conductor really useful when some people are unused to cycling on the road. We ride slowly with lots of stops to discuss the route and especially how to approach each junction and ALWAYS have a cafe stop which has been really great for talking about people’s issues and interests and generally getting a community going. I plan the routes with my own recces then do a final one with the conductor to check it and tune it. I’m publishing an online map for each route with RidewithGPS.com and also a printable PDF map that can be downloaded but every rider gets a paper one after their ride. When we have all four routes working well I’ll do a single printable network map as well showing all useful routes, not just the official bikebus ones. At the moment I’m drawing them with Inkscape, which is pretty good, but I’ve just got a copy of OCAD cartography software which should make the process slicker.
You can see all that in action on the website, for example on this route page
For the request services, at the moment I’m planning a route then I’ll ride it with the person who made the request to check it and do any fine tuning before we publish it. After that it’s available for anyone to request a member of the bus crew to show them the route but I’m hoping that the original rider will be willing to adopt the route and show others, we might also look at promoting a regular commuter group ride if there are enough people interested from that location. Northern General seems an obvious one to start with and I learned a lot doing the research. You have to ride the route more than once but to start with I’ve found RidewithGPS excellent for finding the easiest gradients and spotting little cut-throughs that are hidden in the corners of open cyclemap. It’s like a robot version of Mick Nott!
Some of my original assumptions have changed quite a lot, riding with a small group of novices (maximum uncertainty, minimum presence on the road) presents some interesting conundrums and I’m finding myself avoiding routes that I would normally use myself or with a more experienced or larger group. One of the key principles is not just to avoid main roads but to be very careful about where you cross those roads. Pedestrian crossings are ideal but even without them, for example, we are crossing London road on foot at Hill Street / Broom Close as that seems much easier than trying to navigate the complexities of the traffic lights at Boston Street with a group. People who find it quite challenging to cycle across a busy road are very used to crossing them on foot.
So that means we can genuinely say that our routes avoid all busy roads and junctions. Of course as people become more confident they will probably start to tackle the more direct routes but the feedback so far has been that we have the balance right.
Bikebus is not training and we are careful to point people towards PedalReady for that, however I’m doing the PedalReady Instructor training next week partly so I can be confident about how best to organise this. I see riding with the Bikebus as a good next step for somebody who has had some training and feels they want to widen their range. Most of the riders so far are people who have cycled before in more supportive environments (eg one who lived in Amsterdam) but need to get their head round the system here.
At the moment Bikebus is centred on Nether Edge, I think if we can get it working well this year there is an opportunity to extend the principle to other areas as long as good volunteers come forward to help make it happen.
If you would like to get help there are several ways:
First if you want to come along on the Bikebus to see what happens and lend moral support we leave Nether Edge Crossroads every Saturday at 10am. Check the website for details of each week’s service or any cancellations and you can send a message to the bus driver from the website so they know you are coming.
Second (really important) if you know anybody who would benefit from the Bikebus, please point them to the website, there’s a message page there if they have any questions or special requests.
Third, we need a few more people to join the bus crew. At the moment that’s to act as conductor but once we have the main routes running I’ll be hoping that some crew members might like to take on some of the driving. I think I’ve been very lucky so far to find conductors, mainly friends and neighbours, who are experienced cyclists, calm and sensible and good communicators. Although it’s a voluntary activity it should be a ‘professional’ one as riders need to have confidence in us. If that feels like a challenge you would enjoy please let me know.
Best wishes from Nether Edge!

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