bikinglondon.com

British companies are leading the way with cycling fashion

Back in the Eighties and Nineties the production of cycling apparel was a distinctly continental affair. For us in Britain this wasn’t a particularly bad thing; cycling clothing seemed to be having something of an identity crisis. A simple Google search reveals that, much like mainstream fashion of the time, sartorial horror shows were commonplace from the pro peloton down to the recreational rider.

There were some exceptions. Bernard Hinault, whether riding in the checks of Peugeot or the Mondrian-inspired block colours of La Vie Claire, was always well turned out. Then there was the classic Brooklyn Chewing Gum team’s red, white and blue, visible on the back of the eternally suave Roger de Vlaeminck. Yet most manufacturers at one stage fell victim to a neon, colour-splash, text-overload panic.

Britain was not completely without representation during this period. Caratti and Lusso were proud British creations, albeit with Italian sounding names. Caratti was the first UK importer of Italian brands such as Castelli, Sidi, De Marchi and Colnago, and eventually developed its own range of clothing. Although Caratti disappeared for some time in the late Nineties, it re-emerged this year with a new collection.

Laurent Fignon's beaming smile just about overrode his team's jersey choice

Laurent Fignon’s beaming smile just about overrode his team’s jersey choice

Coffee, cake and caps

Lusso was launched in 1982 by former GB cyclist John Harrison. Harrison and his wife, a machinist, initially set out to create “a decent and comfortable pair of cycling shorts that didn’t cost the earth”. As one of the few remaining British manufacturers from this era still trading today he has a unique take on how things have changed since the early Eighties.

“When we started manufacturing over 30 years ago people would have laughed at the idea of selling coffee and cakes in a bike shop! That said, the fabrics and technology have moved on leaps and bounds from the early days…The competition is far stronger now than it was 30 years ago, but at least now we can compete against the European brands on design, quality
and price.”

For most cyclists, the idea of “coffee and cakes in a bike shop” is something that can only be associated with Rapha. When Simon Mottram launched the company in 2004 its offering was modest. Years of dissatisfaction at the cycling clothing available led him to the tentative production of a jersey, jacket and cap. Ten years on it is one of the most recognisable brands in cycling clothing and has inspired a wealth of British designers, manufacturers and online retailers to venture into the home-grown market for bike wear.

Rapha

Class divide

In 2013 Rapha replaced Adidas as kit suppliers to Team Sky and was highly visible as Chris Froome went on to claim the Tour de France title for the British team. The move proved canny as the company went on to report growth of 67 per cent for last year with an estimated turnover of £26.5M.

It is clear that Mottram’s company has benefited hugely from the British cycling boom that began shortly after its inception. The rise in the national profile of the sport, brought about by the successes of Sir Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and Froome, together with a drive in cities such as London and Bristol to make urban areas cycle-friendly, has helped create a competitive marketplace for cycling apparel in Britain.

While undoubtedly producing cycling clothing of the highest quality, critics of Rapha have suggested that the price of the clothing is creating something of a class divide in cycling. Such criticism is understandable when one considers that Rapha jerseys and bib shorts can cost as much as £160 and £190 respectively, but then the option for a choice between bikes that cost £500 and those priced at £5,000 has long been there, so a large price divide in biking is nothing new.

Vulpine, created by former film executive Nick Hussey in 2012, is another example of a distinctly British brand encouraged and inspired by Rapha’s success.

“Before that [Rapha] you could either cycle in tight, bright Lycra, or just fashion gear that didn’t work. Rapha changed the game, and many are still catching up,” Hussey says.

Vulpine places emphasis on combining comfort and style with performance and function, producing men’s and women’s lines that look as good off the bike as they do in the saddle. Hussey sums up the brand’s place in the market simply: “The Vulpine test is if you can walk into a slightly rough pub and not look like a dick, then it’s right.”

So is being a British brand simply about being synonymous with high-end style and appearance? Not according to Hussey: “I’d hate us to be defined as a fashion brand. Fashion is ethereal and based purely around look, but not performance. Our garments must work. I am obsessive about detail and real-world cycling solutions, not gimmicks.”

Rapha and Vulpine produce cycling apparel that occupies the higher price points but how do they compare when it comes to value over other, less expensive home-grown options?

“Value is often defined as cheap,” says Hussey, “But cheap breaks; cheap has poor customer service; cheap doesn’t work. Yes, we’re more expensive, but only in the cycling world. On the high street we are average. But add in all the performance and detail we offer, and you have that huge value again.”

Vulpine

Ladies love Lycra

One area where Vulpine has seen recent success is the women’s market. Since becoming part title sponsors of women’s pro team Matrix Fitness-Vulpine, soon to be the home of double Olympic gold medallist Laura Trott, female customers have begun to represent a greater share of sales.

“Last year women accounted for 15 per cent of sales, and this year it’s 30 per cent plus. That says something. The signing of Laura Trott for 2015 may have had a significant effect, as we have sold out of many women’s lines, especially to our stockists, who you can now see ramping up for female customers more than ever.”

Laura Trott's switch to Matrix-Vulpine could be a factor in their growing female customer base

Laura Trott’s switch to Matrix-Vulpine could be a factor in their growing female customer base

The women’s market has, as is often the case with manufacturers operating in fringe or traditionally male-dominated sports, been limited if not completely neglected for some time. Ten years ago female cyclists would often have to choose from cycle clothing and apparel designed for men and, as such, was ill-fitting and impractical.

A recent rise in the sport’s popularity among women has meant that new brands, catering specifically for the needs of women cyclists, have started to address issues surrounding comfort, fit and appearance.

Fierlan is a British company that manufacturers cycle-wear solely for women. The boutique brand, founded by Lucy Gardner and Emily Buzzo, both keen cyclists, was conceived out of a lack of options when it came to women’s bike attire.

“One day we were discussing where we could get some cycling shorts and there didn’t seem to be much available for women. A lot of women’s clothing was simply men’s stuff in a smaller size. I thought it would be great if someone made some shorts that you didn’t have to pull up all the time. Assos’s women’s bibshorts were good, but we wanted to do the whole range,” says Gardner.

These first-hand problems were addressed when the company released its first collection in June of this year. The range is eye-catching and innovative, prioritising fabric quality, comfort and fit; stylistically comparisons may be drawn with Rapha when it comes to simple block colour and panelling. European manufacturing ensures the comparisons don’t end there, with a jersey costing £100 and shorts starting at £95.

So what about those of us who do not have £200 to spend on a new jersey and bibs? Thankfully the rise in the number of British bike apparel companies producing clothing that is both functional and easy on the eye is not limited to the high-end market.

Shorts on rail

More kit, Morvélo

Brighton-based manufacturer Morvélo was launched in 2009 by Oli Pepper and David Marcar. After producing an initial line of t-shirts and some cycling kit they could sell to friends and family, Pepper and Marcar left their design consultancy to focus on producing kit that can be worn for all types of cycling, from BMX to road. The company is independent, self-financed and rider-owned, and occupies areas of the sport that are more inclusive than the high-end players.

“Our approach is to represent all forms of cycling in an accessible and passionate way, which is in intentional contrast to Rapha’s,” says Pepper.

Morvélo’s men’s and women’s road jerseys are priced at £70, whilst bibshorts cost £90. The range is slick and stylish, with retro and European influences heavily visible across the range.

One true indication that the profile of British manufacturers of cycle clothing has been on the rise in recent years is that growth has not been exclusive to those occupying the higher price points. Middle ground companies such as Morvélo, with different business models, have seen sales increase both at home and abroad.

“Our growth is more gradual than investor-led companies,” says Pepper, “which seems more commonplace in the industry nowadays. Our turnover still has doubled year on year, with much of this growth being driven by overseas markets such as Australia, South Korea and Singapore.

“I think we have more in common with the new world of cycling, such as America and Australia and their bolder, more unrestrained approach… We can either choose to pick up on cycling tradition, decide to discard it or mix it up all together.”

The success of Morvélo, Rapha, Vulpine and their competitors is one that is largely dependent upon their ability to reach their customers online, as this is where the majority of cycling apparel is purchased in Britain. With the exception of Rapha, none of these companies as yet has the brand strength or customer base to open physical locations. Intelligent online retail is paramount to sales and when it comes to British cycling retailers there has been no greater exponent of this than Wiggle.

Wiggle-Honda women's cycling team

Wiggle-Honda women’s cycling team

The wonder of Wiggle

Since launching back in 1999 Wiggle has grown to become the UK’s largest and most visible ‘e-tailer’ for cycling, swimming, running and triathlon products. Its growth, while steady, was unspectacular until 2006, when significant investment coincided with Britain’s burgeoning interest in cycling and endurance events. In the five years that followed the company’s turnover increased eight-fold to £87m in 2010/11.

As with Morvélo, success in overseas markets has been largely responsible for Wiggle’s rapid growth. In 2008 just 2.5 per cent of total sales came from outside Britain. By 2011 this figure had reached 53.8 per cent. Since then the company has continued to see double-digit growth in international markets and now exports to over 70 countries.

One of the reasons for Wiggle’s success has been its in-house value brand — dhb. Christina Lindquist, the brand marketing manager says: “While Wiggle doesn’t consciously promote dhb over other brands, with one in three purchases of apparel being dhb it is clear we are doing something right.”

The success of the line has not been limited to the UK. Sales of dhb clothing have
risen on the back of a perception of British clothing design and manufacture being synonymous with excellence.

“Typically British designed brands stand for style and quality” says Lindquist, “and this translates well into overseas markets where the ‘Savile Row’ mentality precedes any new brand, meaning that the focus on design and quality must remain high for the customers.”

The quality of dhb clothing given its price point is undeniable. The majority of the road cycling range is produced in Italy using Italian fabrics, with some of the wider range manufactured in Asia.

Wiggle is able to keep the quality high and price low on dhb clothing by being both manufacturer and distributor, says Lindquist.

“By supplying our customers direct, we cut out the need for a middle man and can pass on the saved costs to the customer so that they benefit in value.”

Wiggle is not the only example of a small British bike shop turned large-scale distributor. Madison, which began life in 1977 as a small shop in north-west London, now proudly claims to be “the UK’s largest distributor of bicycle parts and accessories”. In recent years the company has expanded its offering to include snow and motor sports, electronics, and other equipment covering a host of outdoor activities. It also offers an in-house clothing brand — ‘Madison: Cycle Everywear’ — which benefits from a similar manufacture and distribution model to that of dhb. The company has been highly visible in the professional ranks over the past two years since it joined with Genesis bikes as title sponsors of the Madison-Genesis team.

While much of the production of cycle-wear by British clothing companies is outsourced to Europe and Asia, Livingston-based Endura is an example of a company that has invested in homegrown manufacturing.

Established in 1992 by Jim McFarlane in the West Lothian town near Edinburgh, the company has increased its in-house manufacturing of technical cycle clothing year on year. By offering a huge range across all bike disciplines, Endura has grown to become the single largest cycle clothing brand in the UK with distributors across the globe. By offering decent clothing at a reasonable price the brand has become ubiquitous at all levels of road cycling, and it is likely that most remember owning a piece of Endura clothing at some point.

If further indication of the strength of the bike-wear industry in Britain were needed, the fact that high street and designer manufacturers have begun to pick up on the rising profile of cycling as a representation of urban fashion, is a telling one. For those that commute by bike but are put off by the idea of bib-shorts, or would rather not have to change, versatile modifications to everyday clothes have been incorporated into collections from high street giants such as Levi’s and HM.

No Lycra required: high street fashion is making moves into the cycle industry

No Lycra required: high street fashion is making moves into the cycle industry

High street stalwarts

British designer Ted Baker is the latest well-known name to enter this market. Its collection, Raising the Handlebars, consists of jeans, shirts, blazers and jackets that have been adapted for comfort and versatility in the saddle. The use of elastane to provide greater stretch, arm-pit ventilation holes and reflective undersides to collars and cuffs are just some of the subtle adaptations that have been made to their clothing.

Ted Baker’s focus appears to be on the cyclist who is either not so fond of Lycra, or would rather not have to change clothes on reaching their destination.

“There has been a huge increase in the popularity of cycling with the rise of Cavendish, Wiggins and Froome and people are realising that it’s easier to cycle the mile or two to work or to head down to the shops, but they want clothes that they don’t need to change out of or have to shower,” says a company spokesman.

The pattern of success that emerges suggests that while the popularity of the sport in Britain has been rising steadily for some time, the choice for what we wear on the bike was initially a little slow to catch up. Now, the changes are not limited simply to greater choice between brands. The apparel side of the industry, largely stagnant when it came to performance clothing from the mid-Nineties to around 2004/5, has benefited from a technological renaissance over the past decade.

Recent design innovations within cycling can be seen from the creation of lightweight, aerodynamic fabrics and skin-suits for those that ride regularly, to the ever-expanding array of comfort clothing and city wear aimed at the recreational cyclist or commuter. To state that British manufacturers have now caught up with and even overtaken the traditional European powerhouses in the production of professional performance clothing no longer sounds outlandish.

In a time when the financial security of the sport at its highest levels is in doubt, the success of British cycle-wear manufacturers to capitalise on the continued and increasing popularity of the sport at home and abroad has given new life and a promising future to an industry that 10 years ago appeared to be going nowhere.

Original article by Micky McMahon 

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Travel writers pick top travel destinations for 2015

Roaring down an Oman desert dune in a 4WD and strolling an historic Magna Carta trail in England are among our travel writers’ top holiday destinations for 2015.

  • Best-kept secret: Muri Lagoon, Rarotonga

  • Best-kept secret: Muri Lagoon, Rarotonga

  • Best-kept secret: Muri Lagoon, Rarotonga

  • Best-kept secret: Muri Lagoon, Rarotonga

  • Hot pick: Cala Dogana Marina, Sicily.

  • Hot picks: Gangi, Sicily, with Mount Etna erupting in the background.

  • Hot pick: Cala Dogana Marina, Sicily.

  • Hot picks: The Cook Islands.

  • Hot picks: Santa Maria Delle scale, Sicily.

  • Hot pick: Cala Dogana Marina, Sicily.

  • Hot pick: Cala Dogana Marina, Sicily.

THE COOK ISLANDS

Why here: The Kiwis have been keeping something from us, and if I were them, I would too. Their coveted little secret is the Cook Islands, 15 dreamy archipelagos that lie halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii, scattered like a string of pearls in the South Pacific. In fairness, the Cook Islands remain part of the Realm of New Zealand so the disproportionately high number of Kiwi visitors (around 50 per cent) may have something to do with this. 

Slowly though, Australians are cottoning on to just how magic these undeveloped and low-key islands really are, and subsequently visitor arrivals are on the up. Australia’s No. 1  choice in the Pacific has long been Fiji (largely due to the ease of getting there and the well developed infrastructure); but the Cooks offers an experience that’s just as culturally enriching, with some of the South Pacific’s most magnificent natural scenery to boot.

An affordable alternative to swanky and exorbitantly high-priced neighbours Tahiti and Bora-Bora, the main island of Rarotonga is like one big happy resort, meaning you’re not tied to one place and can get out and explore. Getting around the island with its rugged, mist-shrouded mountains that tumble down to its dreamy azure lagoons is a breeze too with the Moped being the transport of choice. As one resort manager aptly puts it, “The Cook Islands are like Hawaii 50 years ago.” So go now before the rest of the world catches on.

Don’t miss: Dinner at the restored colonial Tamarind House with  lush lawn rolling down to the ocean; snorkelling at Fruits of Rarotonga and dreamy Aitutaki for a glimpse of fast disappearing old Polynesia.

Insider tip: Neil Dearlove from the Cook Islands Coffee Company makes, hands down, the best coffee on the island. Keep your eyes peeled for the orange traffic cone outside his house on the main road in Rarotonga. He makes coffee till around 10am each morning, but island time means some days coffee doesn’t get made at all.

The details:sale.cookislands.travel, tamarind.co.ck, cicoffeecompany.wordpress.com, cookislands.travel/aitutaki.

Sheriden Rhodes

OMAN 

Why here: You know about the mosques, the souqs and ancient forts. But there’s far more to this Arabian Peninsula than diarrhoea- inducing chilli olives or chuffing on a hookah pipe. With a geographical make-up more diverse than John Peel’s vinyl collection, this is a land rich in outdoor adventure; where mountains, sprawling desert dunes and ocean collide to create extraordinary experiences. Roar down the sheer face of a sand dune in a 4WD, cool off in alpine wadis then pitch your tent beneath the stars, all on the doorstep of Muscat, the nation’s capital. Alternatively, head south to Salalah where the tail end of the Indian monsoon makes for a more tropical climate in a city rich with frankincense and incense history. Oh, and then there are the Bat tombs, some of the world’s most extensive cave systems, not to mention the Balcony Walk at Jebel Shams, a sweaty-palm-inducing trek along the rim of Oman’s answer to the Grand Canyon. It’s these more rugged exploits that are often overlooked in this region; there are far more soulful encounters than trudging around a 10-storey, airconditioned shopping mall in search of more consumerist crap you probably don’t need.

Don’t miss: The Rally Royale Grand Oman Tour features the nation’s first procession of vintage vehicles. See rallyroyale.com

Insider tip: Nizwa has also been announced as the Islamic Art Capital for 2015.

The details:  tourismoman.com.au

Guy Wilkinson

SOUTH AFRICA

Why here: As South Africa settles into life without Nelson Mandela, the Rainbow Nation is blossoming as a travel destination. That may be Cape Town, this year’s World Design capital (and seemingly everyone’s top city destination) or the animals of Kruger National Park and the surrounding private game reserves like Londolosi. 

It really does have it all: a dynamic and complex racial mix yet no language problems; the roads are excellent, and the fall of the rand makes it good value. South Africa is experiencing a food revolution so meals now reach the high standards of the local wine. The mountains of the Drakensberg are grand and the Cape of Good Hope, a wild landscape, is iconic as one of the world’s three great capes.

Don’t miss: There’s one reason above all to visit South Africa: to see its animals in the wild. That may be observing elephants and hippos in Kruger or following lions or leopards in a private reserve.

Insider tip: South of Cape Town is known for whale watching and cage diving with great white sharks. Yet the flowers of the Cape are just as remarkable. The Cape Floral Kingdom offers 8700 plant species (68 per cent endemic) and an unsurpassed springtime flower show. Stay at Grootbos nature reserve in the heart of the fynbos.

The details: capetown.travel, sanparks.org/parks/kruger, londolozi.com, africareps.com, grootbos.com, southafrica.net

David McGonigal

David McGonigal travelled as a guest of Grootbos and Londolosi.

BELGIUM

Why here: Let’s move beyond the mud, sweat and tears. While World War 1 commemorations are putting a spotlight on the fields of Flanders, this little country has much more to offer than battle-bloodied earth. It may lack mighty mountains or scenic lakes, but when it comes to beguiling cities, Belgium more than holds its own.

From the art nouveau delights of Brussels to the picturesque beer-brewing capital of Leuven, each of Belgium’s strollable cities has its own charms. Few visitors can resist the picturebook prettiness of Bruges, with its tranquil canals circling the cobblestone lanes lined with ancient houses. Just as entrancing, but much less visited, is the mediaeval city of Ghent, where the university buzz enlivens the ancient streets.

Then there’s the food. Few countries will tempt you to eat as much, as often, as Belgium does. If you manage to walk past the waffle stands (choose between the fluffy Bruxelles and the caramelised Liege options), you will find yourself tempted by speculoos biscuits straight from the oven and the endless chocolate shops, styled as exquisitely as designer boutiques. There are chic brasseries offering the traditional combo of mussels and fries, and cosy pubs serving hearty beef-and-beer stew.

Speaking of which: beer is something akin to a religion here. From rich Trappist brews to paler ales and even the sour cherry flavours of Brussels’ special kriek lambic, there’s always a new drop to try, each one served in its own special beer glass.

Don’t miss: If you’re into Flemish art, you will love the Van Dycks and Memlings in Bruges’ Groeninge Museum and St John’s Hospital.

Insider tip: Nothing in Belgium is too far away from anywhere else, particularly given the country’s efficient train system.

The details:visitbrussels.be, leuven.be, visitbruges.org, visitgent.be.

Ute Junker

ECUADOR

Why here:  If 2014 was the year for South American big boys Brazil, thanks to the World Cup (even if Germany didn’t follow the script), and Peru, which emerged as an “it” destination, next year it’s time for compact Ecuador, in the continent’s north-west, to sashay into the limelight.  

Of course, with the Galapagos islands off its coast, Ecuador is already well-known for expedition-style cruising and wildlife tourism.  But in 2015 the focus will widen to include the country’s relatively easy access to the Amazon river basin, the Andes mountains, the mainland Pacific coast and highlight Quito, the planet’s second highest capital (after Bolivia’s La Paz) and a World Heritage site in its entirety, noted as Latin America’s best preserved historic centre.

Ecuador is also a leader in sustainable tourism, voted the globe’s top green destination in the 2013 World Travel Awards and committed to careful management of the Galapagos.  It will host the World Ecotourism conference in Quito in April 2015.

Don’t miss: Visit one of the planet’s most remote tribes, the Huaorani, in the Ecuadorian Amazon, staying at an indigenous-owned jungle lodge. destinationecuador.com/ecuador-amazon-tours-huaorani-ecolodge.html

Insider tip: Instead of cruising the Galapagos, island hop on a land-based tour, connecting with communities, as well as wildlife, with two locally based Kiwis. galakiwi.com

The details:Ecuador.travel/en

Daniel Scott 

VIRGINIA, UNITED STATES 

Why here: 150 years ago, at Wilmer McLean’s house in the small hamlet of Appomattox, the American Civil War ended. On April 9, 1865, General Lee’s Confederate army surrendered, and the last remaining hope of Confederate victory was gone. The States would be reunited, slavery would be banned throughout, and the modern-day superpower would be born.

Many key Civil War battlefields are here, all with detailed interpretation centres and tour guides willing to lead you round. Manassas is the best bet if picking only one, but the Richmond National Battlefield Park commemorates numerous tussles around the State.

Richmond, the state capital, was also the Confederate HQ – the Confederate White House and American Civil War Centre can also be found there.

The Civil War can be used as a theme underpinning a road trip around Virginia, but it acts as a gateway drug to a state that is shaking off its fusty, tobacco-stained image. Booming Washington DC satellite cities Arlington and Alexandria have distinct energy and character of their own, Charlottesville was voted the happiest city in the US last year, and the Shenandoah National Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains is an outdoorsman’s haven. Go east, and Virginia also has some of the best beaches on the country’s Atlantic coast.

Don’t miss: Go in September and you’ll find the world’s best cyclists in Richmond. Already a bike-friendly city, it is hosting the UCI road cycling World Championships.

Insider tip: While other US states go loopy for craft beer or locally grown wines, the trend in Virginia is for artisan cider-making. A cluster of small-scale apple lovers can be found around Charlottesville, with Albemarle Cider Works and the Bold Rock cidery being among the best regarded.

The details:Virginia.org, nps.gov/apco, nps.gov/mana, nps.gov/rich, moc.org, Tredegar.org, nps.gov/shen, Richmond2015.com, Virginia.org/cider, albemarleciderworks.com, boldrock.com

David Whitley

ENGLAND

Why here: Not content to bask in the prolonged afterglow of a stellar Olympics, next year England turns its attention to another massive sporting event, the 2015 Rugby World Cup (September 18 –  October 31), which it’s co-hosting with Wales. Venues are slated to be all over the country, giving fans a great excuse to get out of London for a grand tour that takes in everywhere from Brighton to Leicester.

Even more unique, however, is the other celebration hitting the country in 2015: the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta. This is the document that curtailed the powers of an absolute monarch, opening the road to inalienable rights and freedoms we now take for granted in our daily lives. “No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed,” the Magna Carta declared, “nor will we proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgement of his peers and by the law of the land.”

To mark the milestone of the Great Charter, six dedicated trails have been created to link up important cities and villages across the country. These two to three-day self-guided itineraries offer a brilliant guide for exploration, even if political history isn’t really an interest: they include visits to Salisbury, Lincoln, Stonehenge, and Canterbury for its UNESCO-listed cathedral.

At a time when freedoms are under assault in many parts of the world, the Magna Carta remains a powerful reminder of what’s at stake.

Don’t miss:  In 2012, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York hosted an astonishing retrospective of work by British designer Alexander McQueen, it attracted more than 662,000 visitors. Next year Savage Beauty comes to London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (March 14 – July 19).  See vam.ac.uk.

Insider tip:  For a different view of the country, take advantage of some of the oldest rail infrastructure in the world (since 1830), and rumble past craggy cliffs and around the Lakes District all the way to Scotland. nationalrail.co.uk.

The details:visitbritain.com.au, rugbyworldcup.com/destinationengland, magnacartatrails.com.

Lance Richardson

NIUE

Why here: Adrift in the South Pacific, at the heart of a triangle formed by Tonga, Samoa and the Cook Islands, Niue is sunny, smiling, calming and tailor made for the escapist who prefers their Pacific Island in Robinson Crusoe mode. An uplifted coral atoll that rises sharply from the sea, Niue is ringed by a stockade of cliffs and riddled with caves and labyrinths. At Namukulu Village on the north-west coast, the sea has carved a serpentine maze of blue pools with champagne-clear water. Just south at Avaiki, the flat limestone shelf that forms a skirt around the island is pitted with blue troughs the size of a backyard pool, each one a tropical aquarium squirming with fishy life. Below the waterline, the lacy limestone filigree becomes sea caves, chimneys and swim-throughs, a wonderworld for divers, with average water clarity at around 50 metres. Barely 100m from land the sea floor drops sheer away, allowing the humpback whales that winter in these waters to display their acrobatic talents close inshore. Swimming with dolphins and whales, snorkelling with turtles and diving with hammerheads, eagle rays and the sea kraits that are endemic to Niue are among the island’s specialties. The coast road that lassos the island in a green tunnel is a gorgeous drive, or fabulous on a bike. Polynesian tradition runs strong, trowelled with a fervent Christianity that requires attendance at church on Sundays and lusty singing. Luxury, however, is not part of the picture. Niue welcomes just 6000 visitors per year, and there are no super-gloss resorts nor scented spas, although you’d have  to go a long way to beat the tuna and moonfish sashimi at Kaiika, where larger-than-life owner Avi Rubin brings his own brand of pepper and spice to the table.

Don’t miss: Alofi Show Day, the biggest of the show days held at villages around Niue, a rambunctious celebration of Polynesian culture, held in July.

Insider tip: Burgers at the Washaway Café at Avateli Beach. Open Sundays only and run by local fisherman Willie Santelli, Niue’s own Long John Silver, with legs intact.

The details:niueisland.com

Michael Gebicki

CHAMBA CAMP THIKSEY, LADAKH, INDIA

Why here: Himalayan mountains, ancient temples and Tibetan Buddhists trumpeting the dawn. What more could you wish for?

Well, until recently you could wish for a bit of luxury, because this less-visited and very distinct mountain region of northern India has mostly catered to backpackers.

Last year, however, the Ultimate Travelling Camp set up shop at the foot of the stunning Thiksey monastery. Called Chamba Camp Thiksey, it comprises 13 luxury tents tailored in Sahib-like excess, with each enjoying views up to the colourful 400-year-old monastery clinging to its small peak.

You’ll wake to the sound of monks blowing conches and the sight of dawn on the snow-crowned mountains. Your private valet will ease you into the morning with hot coffee, before your private driver and guide show you the sights.

Daily distractions include 1000-year-old temples, the narrow lanes of the ancient capital Leh, river rafting on the Indus and mountain biking from snowy wastelands down to bucolic pastures. Surprise spreads of gourmet lunch await around the most unlikely corners.

Meals are served in the restaurant tent by chef Simarpal Singh Virdi, whose dishes make excellent use of crops raised by locals in the camp’s delightful gardens.

If the altitude doesn’t give you a nose bleed, the nightly tarrif may – Chamba Camp Thiksey costs  $3990 a person for five nights. However, the double draw of a highly competent luxury operation in far-flung terrain is putting this outpost firmly on the map for 2015.

Don’t miss: Seeing a local shaman going into trance to tell the fortunes of hopeful (and slightly terrified) locals.

Insider tip: A doctor will measure your blood’s oxygen on arrival (invariably low if you’re not used to life at 3600 metres) and advise you to spend the day doing nothing but relaxing to acclimatise. Heed thee well.

The details: chambacampthiksey.com/

Max Anderson 

MEKONG RIVER

Why here: The mighty Mekong is a transport super-highway, dictator of farming cycles, food source, domestic backyard, kids’ playground – and a magnet for river cruisers who want to see traditional life unfold along its banks. The river is rapidly changing as cruising between Vietnam and Cambodia booms – dozens of luxury riverboats now ply the route. Big-picture changes are also at play: plans to build hydropower-producing dams in Laos and Cambodia may affect fish migration and Vietnamese rice paddies may be deprived of nutrients. Beat the march of progress by experiencing the Mekong sooner rather than later. From Vietnam’s delta, leave behind busy shipping channels by nosing upstream through clumps of water hyacinth towards the Cambodian border. From Phnom Penh, cruisers leave the Mekong to follow the Tonle Sap River, eventually crossing Tonle Sap Lake to reach Siem Reap, home to the magnificent Angkor Wat complex.

Don’t miss: One of the best things about this route is the shore excursions. Cruiseco Adventurer offers a peek inside The Lovers’ Museum in Sa Dec, Vietnam, an ox-drawn cart ride past Cambodian rice paddies and a sobering excursion to the Killing Fields on Phnom Penh’s outskirts.

Insider tip: Enterprising villagers sometimes import goods from distant factories and pass them off as local goods. Salesmanship can be intense so be savvy when buying souvenirs.

The details:cruising.com.au.

Katrina Lobley 

NICARAGUA

Your mother was right: get a bad reputation and you will find it has a nasty way of hanging around. That’s a lesson Nicaragua has learned the hard way. In the 1980s, international headlines were filled with the bloody battles between the Sandinistas, who overthrew the dictator Anastasio Somoza, and the United States-backed Contras. The country has moved on since then – although Ronald Reagan is probably rolling in his grave at the knowledge that his nemesis, Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, is back in power – but the war-torn image lingers. Get yourself over here, however, and you will discover why experts are tipping Nicaragua to become the next best thing.

Be sure to pack your walking shoes, as there is a lot to explore. Central America’s largest country boasts not just two coastlines, but mountains, lakes and volcanoes. There is superb surfing at San Juan del Sur on the Pacific coast. If you prefer a more laidback beach break, the classic Caribbean vacation awaits on Little Corn Island, a tiny piece of paradise still stuck in the slow lane. Dive the coral reefs, eat super-fresh seafood, or just lie around in a hammock, lulled by the whisper of the waves.

Smart visitors don’t just cling to the coast: there is also plenty to see inland. The northern highlands are covered by cloud forests dense with stands of mahogany, cedar and pine, home to gushing waterfalls, orchids and more than 200 species of birds.

If there is one Nicaraguan landmark that is destined to serve as the backdrop to a thousand selfies, however, it is Ometepe Island. Spectacularly located in massive Lake Nicaragua, the island was formed by twin volcanoes, Concepcion and Maderas.  A climb to the top of still-smoking Concepcion takes you through tropical forest, while Maderas has a magical lagoon on top of the crater.

Then there are the colonial cities, gorgeous Granada and its bohemian rival, Leon. Their picturesque streets are lined with fan-cooled cafes that are the perfect place to savour the superb local coffee, or equally delicious rum.

Getting around the country is easy: you are never too far away from the next destination, and transfers are easily arranged. If you are travelling on a budget, you will be delighted at how far your money takes you; if you are up for a bit of luxury, you are also covered. A number of destination hotels are springing up, from Jicaro Island Ecolodge, located on its own private island, to the magnificent coastal Mukul Beach Golf Spa, with private pool villas decorated by local artisans.

Don’t miss With nine active volcanoes (among a total of more than two dozen), a night time volcano hike is a must. Masaya is a good choice.

Insider tip Diriomo and Diria, the Pueblos Brujos, or bewitched villages, have a tradition of supernatural healing, with a number of medicine men and women still practicing. The sidewalk fortune tellers are a more recent addition.

The details visitnicaragua.usjicarolodge.commukul.com

Ute Junker

SICILY

To experience the wilder shores of Italy, you need to visit Sicily. Separated from the mainland by the Strait of Messina, it’s the Mediterranean’s largest island, with a coastline that touches three seas – the Ionian, Tyrrhenian and Mediterranean. Not only are the vistas gorgeous, the diversity is breathtaking, from the rolling agricultural land of the interior and the rugged coastline of the west, to beautiful seascapes where small volcanic islands like Stromboli still glow with lava in the middle of a turquoise sea.

Sicily still feels surprisingly off the beaten track, which accounts for much of its charm. Cruise ships come into Taormina, with its lovely winding medieval streets and Greek theatre set against the backdrop of glittering water, but few other Sicilian cities are as well visited.

In the east, the wonderful baroque cities of Noto, Siracusa, Modica, Catania and Ragusa are highlights, not to be missed. To the west, the ancient walled town of Erice, with its two castles, rises above pretty coastal cities Trapani and Cefalu. Nearby Palermo, the capital, is still majestic despite Allied bombings during World War II and the internal war with the cosa nostra. (Sicily remains defiantly anti-Mafia; many businesses in Palermo have signed on to an anti-extortion charter.) The relaxed Aeolian islands can be reached ferry from the northern fishing village of Milazzo.

Architecturally, Sicily offers an unparalleled concentration of magnificent buildings, from crumbling Norman castles and fortresses to the golden sandstone baroque cathedrals built during the Spanish occupation in the 16th Century, after much of the south east was destroyed by massive earthquake. Near Agrigento in the south, the Valley of the Temples is a UNESCO Heritage site showcasing the most spectacular and well-preserved Greek buildings outside Greece.

The active volcano Etna has given Sicily its rich soil, making it the breadbasket of the region since Roman times. Wheat fields, olive trees and citrus groves cover the landscape. To the west, Marsala is its most famous wine region but some award-winning Bordeaux-style wines are now being produced on the slopes of Etna.

One of the most memorable aspects of any trip to Sicily is the food – from the abundant fresh seafood plucked out of the local waters, to traditional creamy cassata, marzipan, caponata, pastas, citrus cakes and dozens of morish dishes that show the influence of successive conquerors, especially the Arabs, who brought with them saffron, almonds, citrus, dates and a strong sweet tooth.

It’s best to hire a car and drive around the island at leisure. There are a number of charming bed and breakfasts in each region, including converted baglios, or old farmhouses, and palazzi.

Don’t miss: In May, the beautiful Baroque city of Noto celebrates Spring with the Infioratadinato, a festival of flowers, where local artists carpet the streets with paintings made from petals. While you’re there, drop into Cafe Sicilia for renowned pastry chef Corrado Assenza’s Arab-inspired sweet treats.

Insider tip: Never skip breakfast in Sicily. It’s a not just a meal, it’s a feast, starting with meats, cheeses and tarts and ending with delectable cakes and sponges.

The details: italia.it/en/discover-italy/sicily.htmlinfioratadinoto.it/eng.htmsavoursicily.com.au.

Lee Tulloch

IRELAND

While the economic calamities of 2008/9 humbled the Celtic Tiger, Ireland is accustomed to boom and bust cycles and its people are nothing if not resilient.  Now, the signs are that Ireland is regrouping economically and that tourism is playing a crucial part in its revival. Being listed, for its “stunning landscape and incredible hospitality”, among Lonely Planet’s top ten countries to visit in 2015 won’t harm the Emerald Isle either, and while the Irish have lost some bluster since the early 2000s, their welcome seems warmer and more genuine than ever.

Swept by waves of migrants, particularly from Poland and other Eastern European nations, Dublin is morphing into an international city of substance, with restaurants and cafes (serving decent barista-made coffee) adopting a central role alongside its pubs.  While British stag and hen parties lurch in the opposite direction to Krakow and Riga, Dublin’s reputation as a cultural hothouse, begetting literary and musical giants like James Joyce and U2, simply grows.  In 2015, the city marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Nobel-prize-winning poet W.B. Yeats, with a year of events.

Also evolving swiftly is once troubled Belfast, with a new Van Morrison trail celebrating its most famous musical son and a hugely improved culinary scene.  Recently-opened eateries include the much-praised Ox restaurant, the cavernous Mourne seafood bar – also new in Dublin – and Coppi, doing innovative work with an Italian theme.  There’s also a new Belfast food tour, visiting providores, pubs and St George’s market, and even a gin and dessert bar, in the Merchant Hotel .

Food producers in the north are also doing ground-breaking work, with Tynedale Farm in County Antrim introducing goat kid to Belfast’s top restaurants and Hannan Meats, in County Down, supplying exceptionally flavoured beef, aged for 35 days in Europe’s first Himalayan salt chamber.  While the quality Ireland’s food may surprise visitors, its profoundly green landscape is more familiar.  In 2014, the opening of the Wild Atlantic Way, the country’s first long-distance driving route, put the ravishing west coast centre-stage in its tourism revitalisation. Dip into parts of it, like Galway’s spectacular Cliffs of Moher and gentle Connemara coast or cover the entire 2500-kilometre route from Cork’s southern-most point to the tip of Donegal.  The journey leads to sleepy coastal villages, pubs resounding with traditional music, to Iron Age settlements and along shores lashed by Atlantic waves.

If this is not enticing enough then Tourism Ireland is repositioning the country, following the hosting of the Adventure World Travel summit in Killarney in October, as Europe’s top destination for biking, trekking and high-octane activities like kite-surfing, wakeboarding and coasteering.

Don’t miss: The west-coast university city of Galway, particularly during its exciting International Arts Festival, July 13-26, 2015.

Insider tip: “Don’t schedule in too much”, advises Tourism Ireland’s Diane Butler, “allow time to meet the people, take the road less travelled or to walk along the windswept coast.”

The details:  Belfast food:  oxbelfast.commourneseafood.comcoppi.co.ukdiscovernorthernireland.com/Belfast-Food-Tours-Belfast-P42020 Wild Atlantic Way: wildatlanticway.com,  discoverireland.ie/places-to-go/galwayireland.com 

 Daniel Scott

 LAU ISLANDS, FIJI

Why Fiji regulars will be familiar with the Mamanuca and Yasawa archipelagos – the island chains that lie within a few hours’ cruising of Port Denarau near Nadi the Lau Islands are a different kettle of fish. This string of islands dangles to the east of the Viti Levu “mainland” – and is so close to Tonga that Tongan influences have shaped some island traditions. Reaching the archipelago and its Listerine-blue waters isn’t quick but it’s now possible to saunter from one pristine island to the next thanks to Captain Cook Cruises. After lengthy negotiations the cruise line launched a Lau itinerary with the full blessing of the islanders. The no-frills MV Reef Endeavour will sail to the Lau islands three times next year (in April, August and November).

So why bother cruising all that way? Firstly, passengers head well off the beaten track (and the grid, with no Wi-Fi for much of the 11-night cruise). It’s such virgin territory that while developing the itinerary, a crew member was lost for two days on uninhabited Vuaqava Island as a trail was forged past a skull-filled cave to an interior lake (he eventually followed a wild-goat track back to the beach). There’s serenity in knowing no other tourists will be flapping their fins in your face as you snorkel over extraordinary coral gardens, schools of fish and the odd turtle. There are no hotels or resorts and the only other ships that regularly drop anchor are cargo ships bringing supplies every few weeks.

Secondly, you visit remote villages where residents aren’t suffering tourist fatigue. People are happy to chat, tell you about village life and pose for photos when asked. The ship’s visit is a big deal to these places – kids rehearse their singing and dancing routines for weeks. Some villages also hold a market stocked with handicrafts such as multi-legged wooden kava bowls, hand-plaited fibre ropes and shell jewellery.

Thirdly, the journey to and from the Lau group includes other extraordinary sights such as witnessing the age-old ritual of turtle calling from a rocky headland on Kadavu Island south of Viti Levu. To the north is the “garden island” of Taveuni, where passengers can frolic in a secluded natural pool fed by stunning twin waterfalls.

Yet in the end, the best thing about the Lau cruise is something far less tangible. It’s the warmth of the Fijian crew members who invite passengers to share their post-dinner kava and to boogie across the dance floor. It’s the ease with which they piggyback someone struggling through sandal-sucking shallows. It’s the sort of thing that creeps up on you, something you only realise you’ll miss as you’re waving goodbye with tears in your eyes.

Don’t miss: Take the tender into Fulaga Island’s shallow lagoon, dotted with photogenic mushroom-shaped islets. Fulaga is also a 2015 port of call for Silversea’s Silver Discoverer, which visits in October while en route from Fiji to French Polynesia.

Insider tip: Pack clothes that cover knees and shoulders for village and church visits (such as a sulu with a bula shirt), reef shoes, seasickness medication for any rough patches, and storybooks and stationery for schools.

Details: captaincook.com.fj

Katrina Lobley

The story Travel writers pick top travel destinations for 2015 first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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Steve Backshall’s Vancouver: My Kind of Town

The calling of bald eagles in the trees, the relaxed attitude of the locals,
and the wonderful, mystical feel of the hills and mountains around
Vancouver.

What’s the first thing you do when you arrive?

Go to an ice hockey game to watch either the Vancouver Canucks or the
Vancouver Giants. It’s a great spectacle and great fun but absolute carnage.
How people don’t get massacred during every single game is beyond me. It’s a
very social event. Everyone’s sat around eating hot dogs. I also love going
to Stanley Park, which is incredibly beautiful. For an inner-city park, it’s
very wild with massive trees and is outlined with a beautiful coastline.


Vancouver Island (Fotolia/AP)

Where is the best place to stay?

I’m always going there on a budget, so we end up staying in Holiday Inn-type
places, or I’d stay with my sister. But I’ve heard the Granville Island
Hotel, (001 604 683 7373; granvilleislandhotel.com)
, which has a brilliant outdoor patio and a great restaurant, The Dockside,
is worth staying at.

Where would you meet friends for a drink?

Granville Island has a bunch of breweries and great bars. It’s a fabulous
place for a sociable beer. It has a large student population and lots of
live music. I’d recommend either the Backstage Lounge (687 1354, thebackstagelounge.com)
or the Granville Island Brewing (687 2739; gib.ca)
.

Your favourite place for lunch?

I always recommend having sushi. I lived in Japan for 14 months, and the sushi
in Vancouver, which has a large Japanese community, is better than in Japan.

And for dinner?

Seafood City (688 1818; seafoodcitygi.com)
is exceptional. It’s in Granville Island Market which has loads of great
seafood restaurants. Vancouver offers the best salmon in the world. Plenty
of places smoke their own salmon and it’s just fabulous.

~
Granville Island (Fotolia/AP)

Where would you send a first-time visitor?

On a ferry ride across the bay to the south-east end of Vancouver Island,
where you can see orca and humpback whales. You’ll feel like you’re in this
incredible wilderness, but you’re actually just on the edge of one of the
biggest cities in Canada.

Where would you tell them to avoid?

I’m sure there are rundown areas on the outskirts, but I’ve never really
encountered any.

Public transport or taxi?

I always cycle in Vancouver. It’s a very cycle-friendly city. There are lots
of places where you can hire bicycles and very good ones, too. The buses and
taxis are also good.

Manbag or moneybelt?

You have to be careful in any big city, but Vancouver less so than most. I
don’t think you need to conceal your valuables in a money belt. I’ve never
been concerned about security in Vancouver.


A Vancouver Giants hockey game (Getty Images)

What should I bring home?

There are plenty of places to buy wood carvings, totem poles and other
souvenirs themed around the indigenous population that live in and around
Vancouver.

Anywhere that isn’t your kind of town?

I used to travel to Jakarta, Indonesia, a lot for work when it was a horrible
place. It’s improved now, with a tremendous amount of development, but I
still feel a shudder when I think of Jakarta because I was there during a
particularly unpleasant bout of amoebic dysentery. I was a poor, weary
traveller staying in disgusting rundown places filled with cockroaches and
rats. It was one of the most miserable experiences I’ve ever had.

Steve Backshall can be seen at the ‘A Wild Audience With’ event in
London on December 8 and 15. For more information, see awildaudiencewith.com.
He is also competing in ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ on BBC One.

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Cycle-pathic: ask the expert, Dr Alastair Ross

- Fluorescent materials give out more light and will help you to be seen more easily.

Reflectors

- Reflective strips on clothing show up well in car headlights.

- Having reflectors on arms makes your signals clear in the dark.

- The movement of reflectors on spokes, pedals and ankle bands shows drivers that there is a cyclist ahead.

Lights

- The brighter your lights, the greater the distance you can be seen from.

- Flashing lights catch drivers’ attention more readily than solid ones.

Scottish ergonomist Dr Alastair Ross is a keen cyclist who has toured through France and the north of Scotland, raced bikes, rode in the Alps, Flanders and Mallorca, commuted on rural and urban roads – including London for three years – and cycles regularly on shared-use paths such as canal/old railway systems.

A lecturer in behavioural science at Glasgow Dental School, Dr Ross shares his views on how use of ergonomics can potentially help make cyclists safer on the roads.

What is ergonomics?

Ergonomics and Human Factors is really about taking a whole systems approach, which includes paying attention to biomechanical, psychological, behavioural, technological, environmental and social/cultural factors.

How can ergonomics be useful to cycling?

Cycling involves all of these factors. And it’s useful to think about how they interrelate. Biomechanical issues drive technology which affects behaviour; cultural norms also affect behaviour as well as perceptions of risk, acceptability and so on.

It is your belief that a “whole systems approach” – often used in other industries to promote safety and efficiency – could make a difference. What would this entail?

It’s easy to take a simplistic view and address single issues, but such initiatives usually fail due to lack of understanding of interactions and complexity. For example, studies show flashing lights are better for attracting attention. In the west of Scotland, however, a full beam is often necessary to avoid potholes and other obstacles. The idea of using lights simply to “attract attention” only works if the roads are well lit and with good surfaces. This is the kind of area where we need integrated thinking. Some bike lights now have designs which allow for simultaneous beam/pulse.

You equally believe that we need to move away from cyclists blaming motorists for poor driving – and vice versa – by taking into account all factors that can affect how road users interact?

The vast majority of cyclists are motorists and it really doesn’t help to talk of two tribes. I think some proper simulation training would help, such as that used in safety in healthcare, the military and aviation. It would be very helpful if cyclists could get some experience behind the wheel of a bus or HGV, to understand more about position, visibility and judging speed/distance from that angle.

Similarly, driver training could easily incorporate some basic experience of cycling and the issues around junctions or turning across traffic. I’d also love some local transport planners and managers to get some experience of how their road layouts feel from the bike cockpit.

What additional advice would you give on clothing, reflectors and lights to that issued by the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors?

It’s easier to buy clothing, mudguards, bags and so on with built in reflectors because that way they don’t fall off, annoy you by becoming loose and you don’t forget or lose them.

The newer LED lights are amazingly bright – you don’t want to go the other way and dazzle drivers or others. I have my front light mounted with a bit of give so I can simply move it into “full beam” or “dip” by hand to suit the oncoming vehicles and pedestrians.

Is there any other areas you would highlight?

Visibility is not just about clothing and light conditions. It’s become somehow synonymous with high-vis but it’s also about such factors as vehicle design (eg. blind spots), road design as well as the speed and direction of movement.

Olympic champion Chris Boardman said earlier this month that he chooses not to wear a helmet or high visibility clothing because he want “bikes to be for normal people in normal clothes”. What is your view on this stance?

We need both “upstream” approaches to transport cultures and “downstream” approaches to being as safe as possible within the system we inhabit at the moment. These are not contradictory. The only danger is if visibility obscures the bigger social/cultural issues, or if imagining a better world means we give up on more proximal factors.

The irony of Chris Boardman commenting on social norms is that cycling in the UK has, for better or for worse, seen a recent surge in popularity associated with success at a sporting level on the track first and subsequently on the road. Thus the “normal” is a bit more performance/fitness related than in places like the Netherlands where in flat, small cities bikes are simply a way to get around easily.

“Normal” clothes include belts, buckles, trouser legs, scarves and handbags all of which are potentially risky. This is especially true on the type of racing/sportive bike Chris wants us to buy: the Dutch utopias he alludes to have mostly “sit up and beg” bikes with fully or partially enclosed chains.

I’m against helmet compulsion for cyclists (and drivers and pedestrians alike). The evidence is clear that public health benefits of cycling outweigh costs and that helmets a) stop people cycling and b) don’t prevent injuries in serious road traffic accidents.

I wear a helmet a lot: I would never go mountain biking without one and when commuting I like to have a lid on. But on some hot sunny days, with good roads, clear skies and especially when going uphill, I like to feel the breeze in my hair while I still have some …

A study by the University of Bath and Brunel University published last year found that high visibility vests and jackets made no difference to the space left by overtaking drivers. It is worth nothing that this research did not look at whether such devices made cyclists more visible at intersections or at night. The paper concentrated only on the use of high-vis clothing during daylight hours. Consequently there is a lot of conflicting views on this topic. What is your opinion?

I’m sure the results are true. The separation distances were not affected by clothing/cyclist type. My main conclusion on reading the paper was that all the “cyclist types” in the study were probably visible. I’m sure that asking drivers would have ascertained this, although the design of the research conducted didn’t make this possible.

The design of the study implied a visibility “scale” that would predict more room given to high-vis (more visible = more room). I wonder if it is more digital: you can be seen or not. Accordingly, I think the inference from the study is that, if you are visible, it doesn’t really matter what you are wearing. This does not mean that clothing is unrelated to you being visible or not.

Visibility at busy intersections is important and, as above, it is about much more than clothing alone. At night/dark mornings, reflection and lights are certainly vital and evidence-based. Remember cyclists have to perceive and avoid “stealth cyclists” too and it’s illuminating (no pun intended) to observe people with no lights or reflective clothing on cycle paths and to see how our own reaction times are affected.

What are your thoughts on the issue? Feel free to share your views in the comments section.

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Sun, style and five-star luxury at the Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel

It’s five-star luxury and lazing for you… full on activities and adventure for them.

Martinhal, close to Sagres on the Algarve, is at the most south-western tip of Europe. Consequently there’s a lot of wind which is good, because it gets pretty hot (summer, 25-30C) and, important, because there’s an awful lot of water sports that would fall flat without it. Indeed the 20 or so white sandy beaches within 20-minutes of the resort, are said to offer some of the finest surf conditions on the continent

The resort is made up of a number of houses and villas spread out in magnificently kept gardens. The pick of them have superb views across the surrounding Costa Vicentina national park and the Pacific beyond. Built upside-down, ie bedrooms below, living quarters on top, they are well presented and faultlessly equipped. There is a small boutique hotel in the centre protected by magnificent villas standing like sentries looking out to sea.

 

The attention to design and detail hits you at every turn. But then, that’s Conran.

Tragically, with teens in tow, there was only one facility that really mattered – Wi- Fi – and yes, it is freely available in every nook and cranny of the Martinhal ‘village’.

So when they’re not snapchatting, tweeting and instagramming, what is there to do: well, deep breath, there are two excellent artificial grass tennis courts, two padel tennis courts (cross between tennis and squash) with glass sides and rear wall; several swimming pools, an astro-turf pitch for football etc; a water sports depot on the fabulous and adjacent beach where there is paddle and surf boarding, windsurfing, kayaking and sailing; out of the water there is biking, trekking and horse riding.

There is also a children’s playground, kids’ clubs (2-4 year-olds, 5-8s, 9-12s and 13-16s) and a crèche (6 months-2 years).



Cheers: parents can relax as the children lap up the activities


Philippe Guitton, new general manager at Martinhal, explained his plans to extend the programme for teenagers as opposed to babies and toddlers. “We have the best kids’ club and nursery staff there is, but we still need to do more for older children. At the moment they don’t have a place to hang out that’s specifically for them and we’re working on that, looking at themed activities or events.” Maybe they could call it Mar-teen-hal.

The resort offers a range of eating options, from poolside bar snacks, through bistro to gourmet dining in the main hotel restaurant. Breakfast in this glass-sided ocean-view platform is a highlight.

And then when it all gets too much, and watching the teens drag themselves to their next activity really starts to take it out of you, there’s the spa, set in its own grounds with wooden treatment rooms, the soporific sound of a waterfall in the distance… and a chance to reflect that these people really have thought of everything.

Original Travel (originaltravel.co.uk/020 3582 4990) offers 7 nights/8 days at Martinhal Hotel, Portugal from £1795 total based on a family of four sharing a beach room on a half board basis.

The price includes complimentary kids club (until Mar 26 2015) and return flights from the UK and transfers.

Guests will also have access to the Finisterra SPA’s Jacuzzi, sauna and steam room as well as the indoor/outdoor heated pool.

This price is valid from Nov 1 2014 – Mar 26 2015 saving £515 per booking total

martinhal.com

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The opposition to London’s segregated cycle lanes is living in the past

There is a battle being fought, right now, over the future of our towns and cities, one focused on London but with repercussions that will be felt nationwide. At its heart is a simple choice: should significant road space be taken away from motorised vehicles in favour of bikes?

It is centred around detailed plans newly unveiled by Transport for London and the city’s mayor, Boris Johnson, for a pair of hugely ambitious cycling “superhighways” cutting through the centre, a three-mile north-south route and a far longer and more ambitious 18-mile stretch running west to east.

Proposed route of London East-West Cycle Superhighway

Proposed route of London east-west cycle superhighway, with Hyde Park on the far left and the Tower of London on the far right
Illustration: TFL

Unlike the TfL’s original half-baked “superhighways”, these routes, also known as “Crossrail for the bike”, will be almost entirely segregated, based largely on the sort of Dutch- or Danish-style infrastructure so long demanded by cycling groups.

While they have some caveats, most bike groups and similar organisations, as well as some businesses, have welcomed the planned routes, which are supposed to open in early 2016, shortly before Johnson leaves office.

These voices were joined on Monday by a large group of university academics who wrote en masse to London’s Evening Standard newspaper to argue the need for the plans to be implemented in full and on time, arguing the significant benefits they would bring to London.

But massed against the plans as they stand is a fearsome and powerful group, chiefly the officials who run the City, London’s financial district, motoring organisations and a series of corporations.

If you’re interested in the future of transport in urban Britain it’s hard to overstate the importance of the this rumbling confrontation.

If the new bike routes go ahead much as planned they could not just give a significant shift towards more – and much safer – cycling in London but act as a viable model for the rest of the country.

But of they’re derailed, or greatly watered-down, or kicked into the long grass of endless consultation, the game is up for some years.

These are proposals put forward by a famously pro-business and pro-City Conservative mayor who enjoys significant (if, to some, mysterious) political renown and clout. They were planned amid a climate shaped by a horrible spate of deaths among London cyclists which illustrated how desperate the need to segregate bikes from motorised traffic. If not now, then possibly not for a long time.

There are two forms of opposition. The more open sort comes from usual suspects like the RAC Foundation, which talked of the bulk of London traffic being “essential” and questioned whether the cost – which amounts to £10 per person per year – was “value for money”.

More nuanced is the business opposition, which has been disparate in voice but with a remarkably unified message: we support the superhighways in principle, but we want more time to work out the details.

Among these is the unnamed head of a major City employer, who told the Evening Standard anonymously that the plans, as they stand, were “an absolute mess”, which would “cause gridlock”.

Such as view has been most consistently expressed by the Corporation of the City of London, which runs the financial district.

Its formal response to the superhighway plans said it backed them in principle, but nonetheless carried dire warnings as to the impact on pedestrians and drivers, and about vehicle access to some addresses.

Mark Treasure, who writes the As Easy as Riding a Bike blog, has written a through and effective rejoinder to the City’s view, pointing out that their fears over traffic chaos and pedestrian panic seem hugely overblown.

I had a chat on Monday with Michael Welbank, chairman of planning committee for Corporation of London, who led its response to the superhighway plans.

He insisted the corporation supported not just the principle of the bike lanes, but the specific idea of them being, as planned, almost wholly segregated.

That was, however, about as comforting as it got. Welbank said the City saw the six-and-a-half week formal consultation process as “insulting”. He said:

It’s gone through in a tremendous rush. In my view it’s a ridiculous timetable, which has eliminated the idea of consultation.

He refused to be drawn on what particular changes the City might seek, and whether they might be major or minor:

We think it’s a good idea to have cycle routes through the city. Of course that’s a good idea. But until you sit down with all the different parties you don’t know how it can be worked out in satisfactory detail to everybody. That’s what we concerned about.

Such sentiments arguably make any plea of support for the plans in principle a bit meaningless. From my reading the Corporation is likely to be pushing for more than just tweaks. Welbank said he feared the plans as they stood would increase pollution through more vehicle congestion and badly affect access to some business areas. Overall, he said, the scheme was badly thought out:

All road users should have equal opportunities. At the moment [with these plans] we believe the cyclists are having priority to the disadvantage of other users.

This, to me, is a key point, and a sign of how worrying is the opposition. If you take away a lane of traffic from motor vehicles – and let’s remember that on Lower Thames Street, the currently fast and thundering route about which the Corporation has expressed most concern, this is one lane of four – you are shifting priorities towards cyclists. But that it precisely the point.

If you decide the hegemony of motor vehicles is ultimately destructive for a city and its inhabitants, whereas cyclists cause many fewer problems, then there’s an element of carrot and stick. Disincentivising drivers in big cities, even in London, is nothing new – just think of the congestion charge. But every time someone abandons their car for a bike, everyone benefits. In fact, if sufficient non-essential vehicles are removed then there is more space for others on those three lanes of motor traffic.

Welbank was keen to talk up the City’s bike-friendly activities, for example its blanket 20mph speed limit, and schemes to allow bikes to filter down one-way street.

These are all admirable, but in the grand scheme of things mere tinkering. London currently has a relatively small population of cyclists who are predominantly young and gung-ho enough to mix it with the traffic. Older people and children are almost unknown. Only one thing can change this – segregation.

And in a city with some of the worst pollution in Europe and an estimated direct and indirect cost of obesity of almost £900m per year – about the same as Johnson’s entire cycling plans over a decade – the case for mass cycling is overwhelming. Cycling (or walking) to work is even shown to make you happier, according to a report published on Monday.

It is against this backdrop that the City’s near-unified calls for delay and alteration must be measured. There are, undoubtedly, elements of the routes that need tweaking. But my worry is the corporation’s as-yet unspecified demands would both significantly water down their effectiveness, and push the timetable way beyond 2016, with all the consequences that would bring.

The era of the car-clogged city is over. The impact is too high. It’s a paradox that the City, and London’s wider business community, a sector which so prides itself on being modern and cutting-edge, is in this case so backward and lacking in vision. They are living in the past. They just haven’t realised it yet.

A quick additional note:

Since this piece was published, the cycle blogger Danny Williams has pointed me to this, which shows that the Barts NHS Trust, which employs 15,000 people across six London sites, and tends to around 2.5m people, has today come out very strongly in favour of the scheme.

The battle is looking more titanic by the minute.

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Shared Space: The Case for a Little Healthy Chaos on City Streets

Market Square in Pittsburgh, PA: an American model for shared street space. Photo: M.Andersen.

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Dick van Veen is a Dutch architect and engineer at consultancy company Mobycon. This post originally appeared on the blog of The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Imagine yourself in a small town enjoying a coffee next to what looks like a public square. Except there are no curbs, no sidewalks, no traffic lights, no striping, not even a stop sign.

All the same, cyclists, parents with baby carriages, buses and cars — yes, cars — are going about their business guided by the same human courtesy that allows us to form lines and wait our turn at the grocery store checkout.

In the Netherlands, we call this approach to low-stress public space “shared space.”

Before you dismiss the concept as a utopian ideal, take a look at the video below from Leeuwarden, the Netherlands. It shows what can happen when the usual traffic devices are removed, as I described above. Dutch examples abound but this approach is also working in places with emerging cycling cultures like Exhibition Road in London, UK, or Opernplatz in Duisburg, Germany.

At Duisburg’s Opernplatz, cars travel the square at a slow pace, while pedestrians walk the full space, from Opera building to city park:

Photo: Dick van Veen

This former through route circling the inner city of the Frisian town of Sneek, The Netherlands, has been transformed to a series of attractive mixed use quays:

In the United States, Pittsburgh redesigned its historic Market Square in 2010 around European shared-space principles, and it’s working beautifully:

Order in chaos

Without clear sidewalks and streets, people are less certain. Here’s the basic principle so many Americans fail to understand: uncertainty can be a good thing.

Moving across these streets is not a matter of blind obedience to lights and signs. As a result, traffic slows down and people look more carefully. Eye contract is possible. Decisions are based on what is happening. The street’s design guides people in their behaviour and expectations and encourages them to think for themselves again.

The result is that traffic moves through urban space at an appropriately human pace that promotes accessibility for all users. A pace that is good for chatting with your neighbor and walking your dog, for flirting and daydreaming. At the same time, delivery, emergency and other vehicles can pass through without dominating the area and businesses flourish. Shared spaces complement private and public gathering spots: coffee shops, restaurants, parks, churches.

Shared space can be a great solution on streets that attract people – or would attract people, if they were better designed, such as downtown or neighborhood shopping streets. By making people directly responsible for the safety of their fellow citizens, shared space actually improves safety. Dutch research shows most locations retrofitted to shared space have lower travel speeds and fewer serious injuries.

This design in the medieval Dutch city of Naarden makes the most of a narrow street in an historical setting. Yellow paving stones keeps drivers in the centre of the road. Pedestrians take back the streets while cyclists and car drivers adjust their behavior. Photo: Dick van Veen.

Materials and design forms are fundamental in a shared space. For example, colored paving can guide the eye. A contrasting colored border can be used to narrow the street for drivers, which encourages slower driving. Drivers feel the texture of paving stones as they drive over, and the vibrations make them feel like they are going faster than they would feel driving on smooth asphalt.

Streets that feature trees and flowers, instead of traditional traffic control devices, makes users feel like they are in a neighborhood instead of a race car track. Landscaping items like statues or fountains not only create a sense of place, they also attract pedestrian activity and guide traffic around them. Old creeks and canals can be made visible again by removing the underground piping and bringing back narrow bridges.

Aspects like this make artificial traffic measures, like speed bumps or pinch points, unnecessary. At the same time, places can get back to their roots, by emphasizing the rivers and other natural features that encouraged people to settle on a particular spot in the first place.

The Dutch Approach

Delft, The Netherlands. Photo: Jonathan Maus. Used with permission.

So what does this mean for North America’s rapidly evolving bicycling culture? All the attention on protected bike lanes is certainly not wrong. Protected bike lanes are a great solution, especially on roads where there is a great difference between the speed and mass of cars and cyclists. Corridors that allow cyclists to travel safely from A to B are essential.

However, in certain places, shared space can be an even better solution than segregating modes, especially on streets where people want to linger because there are great shops and restaurants and museums. In these locations, safe cycle facilities would certainly help the traffic safety, but at the cost of having a great public space. Using the shared space concept, on the other hand, can actually provide an excellent cycling facility while also calming car traffic down to levels where the public can dominate. Mixing road users at a human pace means more people access and enliven the space.

It may surprise you that half the bike facilities in The Netherlands are not protected. We are often guided by the maxim, “mix when you can and separate when you must.” In addition to protected bike lanes, we rely on traffic calming to safely mix motorized and nonmotorized traffic. In the average built-up part of Dutch cities, it is estimated that roughly 85 percent of all streets have speed limits of 20 mph (30 kilometers), and even lower in woonerfs or home zones.

At this shopping street in Dedemsvaart, The Netherlands, pedestrians and cyclists move from shop to shop, while car traffic slowly creeps along the street. Parking near shops stays possible while the human – non car – scale in the street is dominant. Photo: Dick van Veen.

Shared space works because people are more aware of what is going on around them, and act accordingly. Low speed limits are also essential, but North American cities working to integrate bikes and negate conflict over who owns the street should remember that social rules can sometimes be even more effective than traffic rules. Better cycling infrastructure should always go hand in hand with placemaking. Absolutely keep building protected bike lanes, but expand the tools at your disposal and consider shared space as a solution, too.

Dick van Veen is a Dutch architect and engineer at consultancy company Mobycon with experience retrofitting streets, developing Shared Space projects and designing bike facilities and parking in Europe and North America.

You can follow The Green Lane Project on Twitter or Facebook or sign up for its weekly news digest about protected bike lanes.

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Mail features editor’s top award for review

Tim Hughes



First published


in News


The Oxford Mail’s features editor has beaten a string of national publications to win a travel writing award.

Tim Hughes won the Best Newspaper Article category of the French Travel Article of the Year Awards. The awards are organised by the Association of British Travel Organisers to France (ABTOF).

His winning entry was a piece on mountain biking and other adventure sports in Les Deux Alpes, called Mountain Biking Down a Glacier is Snow Joke.

The award was presented at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel in Kensington, London, yesterday.

  • Read the original review here

 

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Theatre duo boost telethon funds

Theatre duo boost telethon funds

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Raising money: Emma Cambridge and her mum Susan Jamson


A MOTHER and daughter team from an inclusive theatre company raised more than £100 for Children in Need by hunting down hidden antique treasures.

Actress Emma Cambridge, who starred in Alice on the Underground at Chickenshed, in Chase Side, Southgate, last month and her mother Susan Jamson, head of communications at the theatre, were asked to take part in a special edition of antiques series Bargain Hunt broadcast last Friday on BBC1.

After sailing through an audition, the duo found their flair for fine antiques and were so absorbed in the task of finding treasures in the antique fair they went to as part of the filming in the summer that they lost the camera crew who were trailing them.

Chickenshed was chosen to take part as it is one of the charities which benefits from the Children in Need telethon.

“I was very scared before we took part,� Susan admitted to the Advertiser.

“I didn’t know anything about antiques and my 98- year-old father, who does know a lot about these things, said, ‘Oh no, you’re not going on, that are you?’

“But they assign you an expert who helps you along and it became like a history lesson – I found it really interesting. When you hear the history of something, it makes you look at that thing very differently.�

And, when the pair visited the auction house in Malvern, in Worcestershire, a team from the theatre company went with them.

“They really cheered us on and got into the spirit of things,� said Susan.

“It wasn’t just about winning because it was for such a good cause.�Emma and Susan managed to pip their rival team at the post after netting a profit of £148 for Children in Need.

But Susan admitted that spending time with their rivals was one of the most “inspirational� aspects of the programme.

“The other team were from a charity called Bad Bikes youth project, which uses biking to help young people turn their lives around,� she added.

And because every item the pair sold made a profit, Emma and Susan were awarded a golden gavel from the show, which currently has pride of place in Susan’s home as “no one in Chickenshed would be quite as excited about it as I am�.

All content © of North London Press unless stated otherwise.


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Mail features editor’s top award for review

Tim Hughes



First published


in Business


The Oxford Mail’s features editor has beaten a string of national publications to win a travel writing award.

Tim Hughes won the Best Newspaper Article category of the French Travel Article of the Year Awards. The awards are organised by the Association of British Travel Organisers to France (ABTOF).

His winning entry was a piece on mountain biking and other adventure sports in Les Deux Alpes, called Mountain Biking Down a Glacier is Snow Joke.

The award was presented at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel in Kensington, London, yesterday.

  • Read the original review here

 

Our top stories

 

 

  • Do you want alerts delivered straight to your phone via our WhatsApp service? Text NEWS or SPORT or NEWS AND SPORT, depending on which services you want, and your full name to 07767 417704. Save our number into your phone’s contacts as Oxford Mail WhatsApp and ensure you have WhatsApp installed.

 

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