Strictly Come Dancing: Five become four

So we’ve said our tearful farewells to Lisa and now we have the right four left: Dani; Denise; Kimberley and Louis. I’ve put them in alphabetical order by first name in case anyone thinks I’m biased and trying to rig the outcome by putting someone first. Just to make sure I’ve covered all bases, if we go by surname it’s: Dani; Louis; Denise; Kimberley.

I was, in the end, sort of sorry to see Lisa go despite my rather acerbic comments about her ability. We had Tess standing there wearing a rather fetching dress—lampshade combo and she first announced Kimberley as safe. Huge relief for her as they so often make her wait. Then Lisa was announced as being in the dance off, an odd move as more suspense would have been created if they’d announced not-Lisa.  I may have been imagining it but I couldn’t help but think that Vincent then looked a tiny bit relieved. Dani still looked blinking terrified, or rather fixed-stare terrified but it seemed as if Vincent’s reaction was the rather natural ‘oh good, if we have to we can beat Lisa in a dance off’.

Louis was next announced safe, with Flavia and he looking very, very relieved. Denise, poor woman, looked rather resigned. Dani needed Vincent to hold her up, he looked as if he knew he couldn’t say ‘whatever happens we’ll be fine’ what with him having a live mike sewn onto his suit. Denise was announced in the dance off and Vincent gave up holding Dani up and sank to the floor regardless. I have a soft spot for Vincent and his claims that he is too little for this world.

Lisa was understandably teary but in fairness once on the dance floor she did go for it and enjoy herself. In the last few seconds Robin seemed to be thinking ‘oh balls to it, if you’re going home, go home in style.’ Denise, fair play to her, was glorious. Her timing really is wonderful but she knows for sure now that she is last in the public vote and has been for two weeks in a row. It cannot be easy to go into a final knowing that. If I were her I’d be making a Chris Evans Voodoo doll.

All four judges said that based on technique there were choosing Denise. Darcey claimed this was a tough decision which was either stupid of her, or a rather sweet way of boosting Lisa. And Lisa, in pieces, then gave a really lovely speech. And I realised what had gone wrong for her. She knew she was technically weaker but didn’t quite realise by how much. Boosted by the judges, she really thought her performance made up for her lack of technique. Watching her deflated, realising that the public no longer favoured her, was very uncomfortable.

Lisa felt she was doing this for the ordinary woman. Robin said that she had inspired people and proven that you don’t have to be a certain size to dance. Oddly, on some blogs, this has been translated as ‘you don’t have to be a stick insect to dance’. But that isn’t what Robin said and I can’t imagine him being so rude about someone’s body shape, be they fat or thin. So I feel sorry for Lisa. The judges, by raising her up, gave her too far to fall.

Having spent the series recording results, I decided to do some number crunching. If you hate geekiness, look away now. If you like numbers, here is a table I prepared earlier.

Dancer Lowest score Highest score Mean ave Top of leaderboard* Dance off
Dani 21 (wk 1) 38 (wks 10 +11)


Denise 25 (wk 1) 39 (wks 7 + 11)


6 2
Kimberley 26 (wk 2) 40 (wks 10 +11)


2 1
Louis 27 (wks 1 + 8) 38 (wk 11)


Lisa 25 (wk 2) 32 (wk 6, 7 + 11)


1 1

So you can see that they all had their lowest scores early on. Louis had another dip in week 8 when his Paso was heavily criticised for lacking in performance. In week 11 the four women all equalled their highest scores whereas Louis topped his previous highest score.

I put all their scores on a graph to compare their improvement but it wasn’t entirely clear. So I split their performance into thirds (first four dances, middle four, last four) and compared % improvements. I played around with the numbers a lot before eventually deciding to opt for something simple: the percentage improvement between their first and last dances. Then what you get is this:

Dani                       81%

Denise                  52%

Kimberley           42.9%

Louis                      40.7%

Lisa                         6.7%

If you go by that alone, Lisa had barely improved, Denise, Kimberley and Louis have all improved remarkably and Dani’s outstripped all of them.

So, here are my predictions for tonight. It’s based on audience vote alone so I think Denise will go out first. After that, it will probably be Dani. She’s undoubtedly popular but I’m not sure she’s quite as popular as Kimberley and Louis. I’m going to duck out now and say it’s too close to call between those two. Kimberley is the better all round performer but if Louis’s show dance is a show stopper, he might pip her to the post.

* I’ve counted weeks 1 and 2 separately and put both dances together for week 12.

Strictly Come Dancing: Semi Finals

So, left in we have: Lisa; Louis; Dani: Denise and Kimberley. Of those, Lisa is the only one not yet to have scored a 10. Kimberley and Denise have both been in the dance off. Denise has topped the leaderboard seven times; Louis twice; Kimberley and Lisa once and Dani never (or should that be, not yet?) This means that everyone who has topped the leaderboard this series is down to the final five.

I’m afraid I have all this on a spreadsheet so I’ll tell you one more thing. Lisa is the only one left who the judges have ever put in the bottom two.

OK, two more. I’ve added up the total scores for the five remaining dancers and they rank in this order:  Denise; Kimberley; Louis; Dani; Lisa. So, the show starts with the usual pratting around from Bruce and some odd VT of the remaining celebs pretending to race each other. Tess has hit the mark in a little black dress. It’s time to start dancing people, they’re doing two dances each.

Dani: dancing the American Smooth. It’s elegant, clean, smooth but with fast footwork. There’s a gorgeous lift though to me she looks slightly sticky going into it and overall she looks quite tense. It is lovely but it just lacks that extra something.  Len praises her technique, the heel turns and the lifts but feels the frame could be stronger at times. Bruno agrees and liked the Ginger Rogers touches. Craig liked the start but said the hand position in the first lift needed attention. Darcey says there was a lovely quality and elegance throughout but that she misses a little sparkle and it was a bit safe.

Score: 34

Louis: jiving. He has lovely character and movement and his performance skills have improved amazingly. However, it is flat footed and a little slow. The tricks were effortless and spectacular, particularly the back flip into the splits but at this stage in the game it’s not as good as I would have hoped. Bruno says his performance has really improved but says the kicks and flicks were not sharp enough. Craig agrees and says he his feet are sickled and he’s flat footed. Darcey says it was a fun routine with great style but that Louis is perhaps too supple to give the kicks the snap they need. Len says it was too casual, the dance lacked quality and his foxtrot better be better than that.

Score: 31

Denise: dancing the tango. She has beautiful shaping and sharp, clean footwork, she didn’t quite hold my attention but that’s probably just my bias. Craig is effusive but says there was a little gapping so Bruno shouts at him. Darcey says her attack was extraordinary but says to watch her kicks. Len has a go at them for making trivial objections which given what he’s just said about Louis shows an alarming level of hypocrisy for someone who’s supposed to be head judge. Bruno says it was fantastic and sensational.

Score: 39

Kimberley: dancing the American smooth. It’s gorgeous and she looks absolutely amazing. Her partnership with Pasha is such that to the untrained eye it’s starting to look as if they’re both professionals. The song, Fever, is a great match to the dance. Darcey loved it saying she looked like a film star. Len wanted more in hold and says she looked like Jessica Rabbit. Darcey says forget Jessica she looked like Cyd Charisse which let’s face it is a far more flattering and less sexist comparison. Bruno, bless him, gets rather carried away. Craig says she could go straight on stage with that routine.

Score: 38

Lisa: dancing the salsa. Allegedly. It looked like all the other Latin dances she’s done. True, she’s obviously in party spirit but she’s also hesitant, not clean enough and loses timing. There aren’t really any recognisable salsa steps and at one point she does something that might have been a floor spin but Robin has to heave her to her feet. It’s not pretty and we didn’t really need a homage to Ann Widdecombe. Robin is very obviously out-dancing her but he can’t really hold himself back any more. You can tell when you watch the professionals with their professional partners just how much they hold back even with the best celebs. But when you watch them with their celeb partners they pull their punches and make sure they look like a team. Except not in this case.

Len says she was so much fun, Bruno found the crash landing hilarious and thinks there’s no point in making a technical assessment. Yes, Bruno, yes there is. I think you’ll find a technical assessment is your job. Although if you like, here’s one I prepared earlier: it was a train wreck, an embarrassment and an insult to Nicky who got voted out so that we could see this. Craig was giggling too much to say anything and Darcey says her partying is fabulous and she loves her. Really? I mean really? Then they give her the same score they gave Louis, which is utterly insulting.

Score: 31

For the halfway break we have clips of the celebs saying how much they want to get to the final. It seems that if you can’t wheel out a small child, you must borrow one from the nearest available relative. Failing that, grab one off the street if you think you can get away with it. Louis doesn’t bother with this pathetic, attention seeking trick which I suspect has gained him as many votes as it’s lost him, hopefully more.

Dani: for her second dance she has the Argentine Tango, so no pressure there then. She has great control and rhythm and her balance in the difficult moves is amazing and much improved from the first weeks. The kicks are sharp and very fast but once more I’m wondering if it’s really ‘wow’ without being able to tell you why. Len said he loved the start, which they did without music but with so much hollering from the crowd that I couldn’t tell what was going on. He praises her for mastering the technique. Bruno calls her the lady of the night which I assume he meant as a compliment. Craig says Vincent has taught her well but noticed one bumpy lift (really? What about Lisa’s floor sweeping moment, or were you asleep for that?) Darcey enjoyed the intensity and control but wanted perhaps a slightly crisper leg action.

Score: 38 (Total 72, 3rd)

Louis: foxtrot. I stopped writing and just sat there and gawped so you’re on your own. Sorry. It’s here on catch up. On It Takes Two Ian Waite said that Flavia had given Louis a lot of content and indeed she did. You see something new in it each time you watch it and I should know, I’ve watched it  once or twice. Per hour. I may be biased. Craig criticises his thumb (ahem, where was Lisa’s thumb?) but loved it. Darcey says it was superb and he almost made it look too easy. Len said some of the rise and fall looked like bobbing up and down. Well at least he can actually do rise and fall. Lisa gets stuck on the fall. Bruno says he is a smooth operator who is back on top.

Score: 38 (69, 5th)

Denise: rumbaing, not my favourite dance. It’s clean, controlled and well acted with the beautiful shaping that I’ve come to expect from Denise. She is however wearing a wafting, floaty dress which I suspect may hide a multitude of sins. Darcey says some moves were a bit broken up but she gave a beautiful feeling. Len says it won’t be a proper final if she’s not there. Whatever, Len. Bruno says he was deeply moved and I hesitate to ask in what way. Craig says it was gorgeous but thought the dress might have been used to cover her hip action.

Score: 38 (77, 2nd)

Kimberley: dancing the Charleston. It’s fabulously goofy, beautifully acted and makes great use of the music and lyrics. There was a triple combined cartwheel from the two of them along with amazing lifts. Len says it was fun, frivolous and all you want from a Charleston. Bruno says she was flying high. Craig thought it was fabulous and Darcey calls her a quirky, naughty flapper.

Score: 40 (78, 1st)

Lisa: dancing a foxtrot-based American Smooth without lifts. So that’s a foxtrot then. She has her name in lights behind her, as if we didn’t already know that the producers have gone bonkers and think she belongs on Broadway. Her footwork is off, she gets left behind and the whole thing is distinctly meh for the semi-finals. Watching her you realise that’s not just gapping, it’s M&S gapping. You could drive a bus between Robin and Lisa when they’re in hold, if you were so inclined. Bruno praises the jazz and pizazz, and says she’s in a league of her own. Craig loved the stylised stuff but throws in a comment or two about the gapping and her free arm just in case we’re starting to think he’s biased (newsflash Craig, you’re too late). Darcey says she could be a musical theatre star and her lines are perfect in the mirroring sections. She says the only fault is that Lisa raises her shoulders in hold. Oh I give up. Len then says she is the ‘people’s champion’. No she isn’t Len. You know when they say it isn’t over until the fat lady sings? Well in my opinion, Lisa should start singing.

Score: 32 (63, 5th)

Lisa is indeed in a league of her own. It’s just a shame it’s the Vauxhall Conference not the premiership with the other four who are left. I know she’s proven that larger ladies can dance and that is a great thing. She had moments when she was wonderful, particularly early on in the series. However she simply has not improved in line with the others and to keep her in solely for her size rather than for her ability is patronising.

I suspect the producers are involved in something of a stitch up. Lisa will be appearing in Craig’s Strictly Confidential show, hence his lack of critique of her abilities. The producers know what the voting patterns are even if we don’t. We can guess that Lisa has a substantial fan base since she’s been near the bottom of the judges’ scoring without ever being in the dance off. We also know that Denise could fall over and win against anyone in a dance off. As a result, any fans of Louis, Dani and Kimberley know they need to phone in and vote, otherwise they risk seeing their favourite in the dance off with Denise.

The producers may be many things but they’re not particularly thick. By praising Lisa to the hilt they raise her voting profile and that of at least three of the other four contestants. So we keep voting so that they can pay off George Entwistle. Nice. Let’s see what the dance off brings. I know this much though – if Lisa is in the final this year, I’m never watching Strictly again.

Strictly Come Dancing: The Quarter Finals

This week we have Dance Fusion. Looking at some of the proposed combinations I’m wondering who on earth chose them and whether there’s some sort of conspiracy going on. But whenever Strictly bloggers go mad and claim that BBC producers are out to get some dancers, I come to the conclusion that they probably couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery and drop thoughts of conspiracy for those of cock up. First up, we have someone who apparently should be excluded from the competition because she once made an exercise video (I looked it up on Amazon, it averages a two star review, I wouldn’t rush out to buy it if I were you).
Denise: dancing a quick step and jive to Reet Petite. It’s an amazingly fast routine with clean changes and good rhythm, incorporating some of the moves from her earlier jive. Len praises it as a proper fusion but remarks on a slip up. Denise confesses that her heel got caught in her skirt. Craig thought the jive part was incredible but that the QS could have been smoother. He is booed by the audience when he gives her an 8. Why is this? What do they do to the audience? It’s like they regress to the state of six year olds hopped up on slush puppies and E numbers.
Score: 35 (4th)
Lisa: fusing the Cha Cha with the tango. It’s not really tango music and her footwork is ropey to say the least. Robin rips off her skirt so that they can start to do the Cha Cha, just to ensure we know there’s a change in case Lisa’s technique failed to alert us to the fact. Bruno says the Cha Cha really suits her and the tango was good but not as good. Craig criticises her frame but praises the character of the dances. Darcey says she preferred the tango because the Cha Cha was not clean enough. Len picks up on an error and says she’s getting a bit predictable. I wonder if the judges are damning her with faint praise so we can wave goodbye to her this week. Don’t get me wrong – she’s done very well and she can move. However everyone else left in the competition has improved more significantly than she has.
Score: 30 (5th)
Nicky: gets the American Smooth and the Samba. If the producers chose those two dances, they hate him. If Karen chose them, she must have missed the bit where everybody goes home when they dance the samba. However, he makes a decent go of it. His shoulders are still stooped and he bends his knees when he shouldn’t but his footwork is fast and clean. The lift is gorgeous and Karen has tried to fuse the two by moving repeatedly between them. Craig says the samba needed more bounce and his posture in the AS was dreadful. He then comments that he thinks we’ll be seeing the dance again. Hmm. Darcey says it was well staged and well presented but his shoulders let him down. Len said those two styles gave him a great challenge and he liked the samba and the lift. Bruno praises his heroic effort.
Score: 27 (6th)
Dani: fusing the quick step with the Charleston. It is a genuine fusion and the two styles go very well together. Dani is wearing the most amazing dress. Well at least it’s part of a dress. It is gorgeous. The dances suit her and it is a lovely performance. She gets a standing ovation and Bruce does that amazingly annoying thing where he tells the couples to look and coos ‘it’s all for you’. I know he has good intentions but it comes across as odd and patronising. Darcey says the dance was extraordinary and the transitions were great. Len wanted a heel lead but he loved it. Bruno says that stylistically it was perfect.
Score: 38 (2nd)
Louis: dancing the rumba and tango. That might be a Tanga or a Rumbo, one of which is a pair of knickers, the other sounds like a back complaint. This does not bode well, especially given how difficult the rumba is for male celebrities. Fortunately, Louis does both superbly. They don’t actually fuse the two styles which given the difference between them is not surprising. They start with the rumba and then as the music reaches a crescendo they do an amazing lift and land into the tango. Bruno says it was masterful, Craig said he had effortless dexterity and then says his thumb was up. This is a good sign as it means it was the only thing he could see wrong with the dance. Darcey says it was one of his best.
Score: 37 (3rd)
Kimberley: with Cha Cha Cha and Tango. To me it looks odd but good. Perhaps the oddness is inevitable given the combination. Fortunately for Kimberley the judges completely disagree with me. Bruno says it was imaginative, inventive, seamless and the dance of the season. Craig said ‘that is dancing’, Len gave her a standing ovations and Darcey says it suited her perfectly.
Score: 40 (1st)
There was a certain amount of sniping on the internet and criticism of the judges’ scoring. Personally I don’t think Louis was undermarked. He is the only male celeb to get a 10 for the rumba (from Bruno). That and three 9s is a great score. However, I’m not sure what Craig was on when he gave Nicky a 5. Even if that had been an 8 he would still only have been level pegging with Lisa and would have been joint last. Lisa then was overmarked.
This was the first time in the series that no couples tied and the order on the leaderboard seemed to me to be right on the night, if Lisa and Nicky had been swapped around. It was more the judges’ comments to Nicky, particularly Craig’s, that seem off.
Onto the dance off show. Kimberley and Dani are announced as safe first and Nicky is in the dance off. Bruno objects and blames Craig for the scoring. Thing is, Nicky is one of the weakest two left, Craig’s score notwithstanding. Lisa is announced safe next, giving me a real wtf moment. She squeals the house down, forgetting that this means that a better dancer than her now has to be in the dance off. It’s Denise, who is visibly upset. Louis, realising he is safe, looks glad but is sporting enough not to shriek about it.
Denise goes for it in the dance off. Nicky relaxes, knowing as we all know that the judges are not going to send Denise home no matter who she dances against or how much she messes up. All four judges vote for her and Nicky bows out with good grace. Though I loved his comments on It Takes Two on Monday. I don’t blame you Nicky, I wouldn’t watch Craig in panto either, even though it’s fast becoming his natural home.

Strictly Come Dancing: Week 9 Review

It’s been a funny old series so far. The usually harsh but fair Craig seems to have been replaced by a thoroughly nasty random number generator. Tess either looks like Veronica Lake or as if wardrobe hate her. The cricketer who couldn’t dance produced the most beautiful quickstep and Denise has been accused of being a ringer. I thought this was a tad unfair, since the only ringers I know are racehorse doppelgangers but apparently ‘ringer’ can just mean ‘cheat’. I’m still sitting on the fence on that one. Given her background, is she cheating any more than Jason Donovan, or any of the other stage school products? And if she really is a professional dancer, as some have said, how come she practices more than almost anybody else?
Anyway, this week someone appears to have had a word in someone else’s shell like, because Brucie is mercifully given much less air time. Michael is without doubt the least natural of the seven dancers left but he’s also the one who works hardest. And so long as I get to see Louis do a show dance, I’m in the fortunate position of not minding too much what else happens. We start off with:
Kimberley: dancing the jive. It’s got an enormous amount of content, the kicks and flicks are good but she fumbled in one place which then put her off. And there was a very dodgy moment when Pasha went to pull her through his legs and I thought she was going to get stuck. The judges love her, don’t seem to mind the fluffed bits too much and Darcey says she looked like a professional. But then Bruno said she looked like a frisky rabbit which causes some confusion on my part.
Score: 34 (joint 2nd)
Dani: dancing the Viennese Waltz. Dani appears to me to have wonderful balance, shaping and control. And her partnership with Vincent looks very natural – you might think they had been dancing together for years. Bruno was moved to speak in Italian and then switched back to English to tell us it was enchanting. Craig had some minor niggles, thought it was sweet but said that it did not blow him away. Darcey liked it but wanted more curve in Dani’s upper body. Len praised the fact that whilst it had plenty of traditional VW content, it had some original extras in it.
Score: 34 (joint 2nd)
Michael: dancing the samba. I fear for him. People go out on salsas and sambas and Michael’s Latin dances are not good. Nat gets us in the party mood and you can see that Michael has worked really hard and is trying. Which is kind of the problem. It should look rather more effortless. Craig says it wasn’t completely dreadful whilst Darcey says it had great content. Len says that his left hip doesn’t know what his right hip is doing and Bruno calls him a one hip wonder. Then he forgets it’s before the watershed and tells him to swing both ways.
Score: 24 (last)
Nicky: this week he’s got the Argentine Tango with a Bond theme. He’s intense and quick, with great lifts but his posture is still off. Hunched shoulders are fine for a Charleston but don’t suit an AT. It was dramatic and in places well performed but there was something just not quite right about it. Darcey says it wasn’t sensual enough. Len praised the lifts but said it was too much of a ballroom tango and needed more fluidity to be a true AT. Bruno once again forgets what time of day it is but basically he liked it. Craig praises the story telling but says it was aggressive and stompy.
Score: 30 (6th)
Lisa: quickstepping to Bring me Sunshine. The song is appropriate but Lisa loses it completely in places. Lisa has a natural rhythm but other dancers have improved more quickly than she has. Her timing is off, she misses some steps, and at the end she falls over. Craig praises the incredible energy and says there was a messy incident. Darcey praises her energy and says she’s fast and light. Bruno loved it and Len says it was fast and fun.
Score: 31 (5th)

Denise: has the salsa, or the dance of death. Except she’s got it the week that Michael has to samba, so she’s probably safe. Fair play to Denise, whatever her background and training, the woman can perform. However, just when I’m thinking how great the lifts are something goes seriously wrong somewhere and there’s a bewildering pause followed by James chucking her over his shoulder. Bruno says there were a couple of near misses which she covered well and he would like to see her move her hips more. James then confesses that he blanked when he was supposed to lift her. Brave of him, I can’t really see him living that down and Craig suddenly looks happier than he’s been in weeks. Craig says she has the best spins, Darcey and Len also liked it.
Score: 32 (4th)
Louis: dancing the Charleston. I’ve seen clips of this in practice and I’ve been looking forward to it so much I’ve become worried that it can’t live up to expectations. Fortunately it exceeds them. Flavia brought in an acting coach who seems to have done wonders. The Charleston proves to be Louis’s dance. It has few rules meaning Flavia can chuck in as many acrobatics as she likes, and she has. The hands free cartwheel was one of the least athletic things she asked Louis to do – it is worth watching it again because his control on landing was amazing. And it was control that he needed because he also backflipped, landing astride Flavia as she lay on the floor. Over-acting will always be easier than acting and the Charleston allows Louis to ham it up to the max. He’s even been allowed to moon walk. Oh, and in all of that were a load of kicks, flicks and swivels as well. Darcey says he has the makings of a silent movie star, Len praises the performance, Bruno wants a house call from the doctor and Craig looks peeved that he’s been deprived of his favourite hobby of Louis-bashing this week.
Score: 37 (1st)
I am bewildered by Craig this year. He gave both Denise and Louis an 8 and I’ll be intrigued to hear his justification on It Takes Two. Denise’s routine had some obvious errors whereas Louis’s didn’t. Peering at some of the side by side sections, Louis and Flavia didn’t always quite mirror each other but otherwise I was hard put to see anything wrong with it. And he’s the only celebrity I’ve seen who can swivel equally on both sides.
I think 37 was a fair score for Louis’s Charleston in total, it’s just that other people have been overmarked and the marking is very inconsistent overall. The judges spend a lot of time praising performance but their attitude to technique varies between dancers. Rarely do they give Lisa any technical feedback whereas some other competitors get hammered for tiny details. I’d love to see a breakdown of how they score, or if they even have some kind of breakdown.
Anyway, onto the later on Saturday results show. I have no idea what Tess is wearing. She is a beautiful woman so how she’s been made to look like a sequinned frump is beyond me. Louis is announced as safe first, followed by Lisa. Michael, a little unsurprisingly, is in the dance off. He and Nat both kind of shrug as if they both half expected it. Then Denise and Dani are saved leaving a petrified Kimberley alongside Nicky. But it’s Nicky in the dance off.
Michael is having fun but his second dance looks as wooden as his first. Nicky ups his game and is clearly the better dancer. Or, at least, his AT is better than Michael’s samba. If Michael had had a ballroom dance this week it might have been another story. Anyway, the judges are unanimous in saving Nicky. I think the right dancer went but I will miss Michael. I went from an irrational dislike of him to really admiring him and his ability to work and learn. Watching him, you could aspire to be a dancer because you could see how hard work would pay off and he and Natalie had a really lovely partnership. And surely Strictly should be about watching someone with no dance background learn how to enjoy dancing? It shouldn’t really be about the egos of Bruce, Craig and Len, though at the moment it seems as if it is.

Cycling: reasons to be cheerful

So much cycling coverage is either negative, defensive, or both. Every day on Twitter it seems we report another cyclist death or another instance of a driver killing or seriously injuring a cyclist without the law acting. And every time this is followed by the most awful victim blaming: cyclists jump red lights, they don’t wear helmets, they appear out of nowhere, they break the rules, they don’t use lights, they go on the pavement, they look funny in lycra, and on and on it goes.

I know we need to report this and we need to be aware of the battles that are going on. However, amongst all the negativity we forget a simple truth: the push bike is one of the best, most revolutionary and most versatile inventions of all time. I thought it was time to remind ourselves of why this is. I will try to accentuate the positive and minimise the discussion of the war on the roads. However, in thinking about why it is I cycle, and just how great my push bike is, I think I have gained a little more insight into why it is some people are so anti-cycling. Sometimes, in amongst the anti-cycling rants, people ask me why it is I cycle. It always seems to me to be an odd question. After all, why on earth wouldn’t I? But since some people do ask, here are the reasons.

It’s cheap
My lovely old Dawes Discovery 101 cost me £180 nine years ago. Since then I’ve spent around £50-£100 per year on maintenance. At a generous estimate it’s cost me £900 over nine years in maintenance, equipment and membership of a cycling club that gives third party insurance. I cycle around 3000 miles a year. That’s 27,000 miles, or more than the earth’s circumference, for £1080 or 4p per mile. Yes. Four pence per mile. Nothing else is that cheap and that versatile. Granted, walking is cheaper, but I don’t have the time to walk twelve miles a day.

Bike has a short rest near Topsham lock
Bike has a short rest near Topsham lock

It’s versatile
Over the last nine years, Bike has been almost everywhere with me. He takes me from my front door – and I do mean my front door, there are no problems with where to park him – to wherever it is I want to go. And then I either chain him to the nearest, most suitable immovable object, or if it’s safe I just leave him where he is. Bike can go on the road, on tracks, up hills, down hills, I can wheel him along footpaths, carry him up stairs, put him in the lift, hoick him over stiles, trundle across fields. Where Bike’s handlebars will fit, the rest of Bike will generally follow, even if I have to upend him onto his rear wheel. He’s been on the train, though not during rush hour. I could even take him on planes and boats if I wanted to. When I worked in a high crime area he sat in the office all day. I can’t take him on the motorway and he’s not going to make it to the top of Ben Nevis but other than that, Bike can get me almost anywhere.

I’ve cycled to the stables, to work, to go out with my camera, to meet friends, to go shopping and just because. Just because I can and I love it. Bike has waited patiently outside pubs and given me something to lean on whilst I wheel him home. (And, a word of caution at this point, DO NOT cycle when you’re drunk. If you are concerned about the possibility of head injuries in cyclists the best way to stop them is to cycle sober. Then you’re less likely to need the helmet.)

Bike has carried my weekly food shop, my horse’s rugs, the occasional saddle, all my horse-riding clobber, my laptop, all my library books, assorted house plants and pretty much anything else I can jam in a pannier or strap to a bike rack. Bike has moved tonnes of stuff over the years, tonnes that I couldn’t move as far or as fast on my own. He’s done this in rain, shine, snow, ice, hail, gales and floods. And yes, sometimes I get wet and cold. But since the invention of the towel and the shower, this has never been more than a temporary inconvenience, if that.

It gives reliable journey times
I grew up in suburban London in the 1980s and worked there briefly in the mid 1990s. A five-mile journey would take me 25-35 minutes on my old bike, depending on traffic, weather, and how my legs felt. In a car that same journey would take anywhere between 15 and 90 minutes. In rush hour it would generally take 30-40 minutes though that could, randomly and unreliably, increase considerably. There was no incentive to get in a car and every incentive to find a fast, cheap, reliable form of transport.

I can generally average about 15mph on a bike on the flat without sweating, unless it’s a very hot day. When I calculate the time a journey takes I reckon on averaging 10 mph, which allows for putting lights and gubbins on, slowing down for traffic and uphill stretches and finding somewhere to lock the bike up,. So a 5 mile journey will take 30 minutes, no matter what the traffic is like. True I can go a bit faster with less traffic, but traffic is nothing like the deciding factor that it is with a larger, less manoeuvrable vehicle. If you maintain your bike well you generally avoid mechanical failures. By getting near-puncture proof tyres I think I average about one puncture every 6 months. So basically when I set out with my bike, I know how long my journey will take. I don’t have to think of a number and then treble it in case the traffic is bad or the bus doesn’t turn up.

It gives me freedom
This is one of the most important things about the bike and one that we perhaps forget or underestimate. In the UK, wealthy people cycle whilst some of the poorer spend large amounts of their income on cars. We take the variety of transport available to us for granted and if we’re not careful, the bike can be regarded as a rich person’s toy. However, it is far from this. It revolutionised transport by giving the comparatively poor a relatively cheap way to cover greater distances than ever before.

Cheap, safe, reasonably comfortable bikes became available in the 1890s. Prior to this your choice was basically walking, horse riding or a carriage, or the train. Walking was cheap but slow, anything horse related was faster, convenient but expensive and the train, whilst cheap, was not door to door. The bike combined cheapness with convenience.

More than this, and most importantly for me, the bike gave women emancipation, allowing for increasing travel and independence, plus more sensible clothing. I will go to places on my bike that I simply cannot get to in a car and will not risk on foot. I will go miles and miles on towpaths and through forests on my bike, ending up in the middle of nowhere. I will go out late at night safe in the knowledge that being on my bike will keep me out of harm’s way. My bike gives me freedom. Never underestimate the power of this gift.

“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling,” Miss Anthony said, leaning forward and laying a slender hand on my arm. “I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel. It gives woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. It makes her feel as if she were independent. The moment she takes her seat she knows she can’t get into harm unless she gets off her bicycle, and away she goes, the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.” –Susan B. Anthony, interviewed by Nellie Bly, New York World, February 2, 1896

In fact, there are now several charities working to bring bicycles to the developing world precisely because they are such a brilliant form of transport that can transform lives.

I took this photo from a canal towpath, somewhere I wouldn't feel safe walking and couldn't drive to.
I took this photo from a canal towpath, somewhere I wouldn’t feel safe walking and couldn’t drive to.

I see things I would miss
Bikes are very quiet and speedy, giving me the chance to get close to wildlife that I would otherwise scare off before I’d spotted it. I’ve got so close to a heron I felt as if I could touch it. I’ve seen fighting weasels and had terrified voles bolt from under my wheels. At dusk, I’ve seen a ripple of white scuts as rabbits run before me. I know the first day of summer because swallows swoop over my handlebars and past my ears. You don’t see these things in a car or if you do, it’s usually shortly after you’ve hit something.

It keeps me healthy
Cycling is good for cardiovascular fitness and it’s great for certain muscle groups, particularly those in the lower body. If you want to exercise your core you need to be doing something else as well. But overall, cycling is a great work out and you can get all these benefits whilst travelling, something that you need to do anyway. There’s no need to lock yourself up in a gym. For individuals, the health benefits outweigh the risks and for society, the health benefits are enormous.

At the age of forty, I’m the same size that I was when I was 17, and actually slimmer than I was when I was twenty and not getting enough exercise. Cycling tones your thighs, calves, ankles and buttocks. It helps keep gravity at bay. And you get to eat as many pies as you can, so frankly, what’s not to like?

There’s minimal ecological impact
I left this until last because it’s perhaps the one that raises hackles the most and also it’s one that in my experience cyclists often view as an added bonus rather than a reason to cycle in itself. If cyclists do talk about the environmental benefits of cycling they are often mocked for adopting the moral high ground. Personally, I realise that for many people, cars have become something of a necessity. I acknowledge this and don’t want to see them banned. I just want them to be driven more considerately and that means considering other roads users and considering whether that particular journey could be made some other way.

By cycling rather than driving I reduce the number of cars on the road. This frees up room for the remaining drivers and for emergency services vehicles. It cuts down wear and tear on the roads, makes for a more pleasant environment in towns and cities, reduces noise pollution and helps keep air cleaner. If that’s adopting the moral highground, tant pis. It happens to be true.

So in my next post, I’ll explain why I think these positive reasons for cycling have led to a backlash against the humble bicycle.