Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Utility Cycling With Children

Electric Bike Lady with three passengers
The Manchester Cargo Bike has been spotted again. I haven't seen it for a while and was a little concerned it was broken or the battery was flat when I did spy it recently. The Electric Bike Lady was pushing it along the pavement with at least three kids on board. Of course, I then realised she was going a la pedestrian because it was a one way street in the opposing direction and she was being legal - Doh!

It does makes me want to live just a bit further away from the Golden Child's school, so I can get her into a great regular habit rather than just the occasional fun cycling we currently enjoy. I wouldn't need an electric cargo bike but would use the tagalong. However, as we are only a five minute door to door walk (via a pedestrian area) from school there is really no need to cycle there at present.

I do have plans for some 'utility' cycling with her. The weekly trips to Rainbows, the dance class and her cousins house are all within a three mile distance and so when I'm ferrying her I'll aim to cycle. I'm confident she will not be put off by the traffic along the quiet(ish) roads needed for these trips. She is quite excited by the prospect and even the OH approves (she'll still use the car when its her turn!).

I've had the tagalong down the LBS where a longer mudguard and road tyre were fitted for the exorbitant sum of £8.00! Last night I attached a decent rear light and rear reflector (harder than you might think given the lack of exposed seat post and small seat stays). I've also moved the mounting bracket from the MTB and fitted it to the Travelmaster instead.

We now have the benefit of full mudguards, dynamo lighting, bell, propstand and pannier provision. Of course the gearing will be just a capable as the MTB. I need to look at some appropriate clothing for the Golden Child as we will be out in the dark and cold +/- wet for the next few months. I don't want her to be uncomfortable or put off cycling by the experience.

Next plan? A trailer to do the big grocery shop rather than use the car? Still working on the OH for that one!
Carry Freedom Trailer

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Road Traffic Collisions

This makes grim but fascinating viewing. See how many pedestrians, cyclists and motorists have been injured or killed in your area from 2000 to 2010. Speaks for itself really.

This is my immediate area. Reassuring to see cyclist fatalities are low in comparison to pedestrians. Hang on, I walk sometimes too...

Sobering stuff.

Click to enlarge

Thanks to Mr Holmes for the link.

Whatever The Weather

Oh dear!
I am on a bit of a cycle commute theme at the moment and I know one of the main things which people say stops them cycling is the weather and for 'weather' most people are refering to the rain. As a SCUBA diver and hill walker of old I believe the elements are just something to be tamed. I think it was the late Alfred Wainwright who put it so well: "There's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing". And what goes for undersea and hill top can equally be applied to cycle commuting in my opinion.

Despite living in Manchester, which is typically regarded as a rainy place (although less than the UK average), I cycle commute between 3-5 times most weeks, which is 6-10 distinct chances of being cold and wet. I have never not cycled because of the weather. In three years I have gone to work in the car less than ten times and that was usually because I was going to relatives a few hours away straight from work. 

I am not superhuman and neither do I have very expensive, weather dispersing clothing. On the top half I usually wear a breathable layer or two +/- a cycling jacket/jersey. The bottom half is adorned in a pair of quick drying shorts or tracksters. I wear multi-activity shoes and if it is very wet I wear some waterproof socks (I do not like cold, wet feet). I usually use cycling gloves of some description and these get thicker depending on the weather. When the temp' falls below 5 degrees Celsius I start to wear a thin balaclava and in the snow/sleet/hail I don ski goggles. Of course it helps hugely I use a practical bike with full length mudguards and flaps for commuting.

Even so, on most commutes I could happily cycle in a tee shirt, fleece and jeans if I was so inclined. The perception, particularly of the amount it rains, is greatly exaggerated by people as far as I am concerned. Maybe some are just looking for excuses? So, I have a new project. Over the next year I am going to record the weather on each of my commutes and publish this on a monthy basis. 

Why just the commutes? Because I cannot choose the times and am forced to cycle whatever the weather, rather than when I cycle for pleasure. Who am going to convince/persuade by this? Probably no one at all but it will satisfy me and hopefully be of interest to fellow cycle commuters. Roll on December.
A bit of overkill?

Monday, 28 November 2011

Bike Beats Car (lots of them!)

My work commute does not involve a lot of heavy traffic on the whole. Most of this is due to the fact my shifts start at 07.30hrs and finish at 20.45hrs (I only do 3 per week though!). Sometimes I work night shifts and these mirror the days, starting at 20.30hrs and finishing at 07.45hrs. It also helps I work in a location away from the city centre.

Some colleagues start at 09.00hrs and travel via the city centre. They moan about the traffic and lack of parking spaces. I've suggested (in a light hearted kind of way) they consider cycling instead. Some look aghast at the suggestion, others make clear they would if it was not for the roads as they are "...far too busy" and some point out they live too many miles away - sometimes up to ten and so they are " a hurry"! Now I can appreciate the concern re abysmal cycle infrastructure but I think the argument re which is quicker is more open to debate.

Anyway, today was the last of a few night shifts. I had a bit of time to kill until meeting the Golden Child on the way to school, so I decided to take a cycle trip into Manchester city centre during rush hour and film the results. I chose the A56 from the M60 orbital motorway at junction 17 (Prestwich) to just short of Victoria station, the Manchester Evening News Arena and Manchester Cathedral - the start of the city centre from the north. It's a distance of 4 miles or so along a busy arterial route with a hodge podge of cycle provision and a far from brilliant road surface. Just your typical UK cycle commuter environment then!

View A56 commute in a larger map

I hope to demonstrate how the cycle commuter will travel faster than a car commuter during rush hour and that it's not too unpleasant. In the event I covered the distance in a quarter of an hour or so which is faster than the vehicles I passed (but I've sped the video up by x 4 so as not to bore you).

Some may say the result is not fair as the majority of the route is downhill and any return journey during the evening rush hour would therefore be slower than by car. Piffle I say to that. I'll have to see if the evening cycle journey beats the motorised one (but being familiar with the road though I think I know the answer already), however this video looks at the commute into Manchester and, as you can see, it is just a tad faster than using a car at this time of day. And the parking is easier/cheaper too!

Cycle commuting: the way forward.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

An Insurance Job

So, following on from the poll which suggested a minority of drivers would like cyclists to pay 'Road Tax', comes the call for cyclists to have insurance. Of course this originates from who else but the Association of British Insurers (ABI) [see the BBC piece on this here]. It's a bit like a house burglar suggesting homeowners should leave the ground floor windows open when going out -  a little bit of wealth creation me thinks.

The obligatory need for cycle insurance - that is third party and legal cover rather than a policy in case of theft - is frankly ridiculous in my opinion. Something else to reduce the desire and ease for people to use a simple and affordable means of transport. And that on top of the ignorant drivers and poor infrastructure we already suffer. That does not mean I disagree with the notion cyclists can benefit from having such cover but rather I believe it should be up to an individual to choose it than be obliged.

I do have 3rd party/legal cover courtesy of my Cyclists Touring Club (CTC) membership. This costs me £31.20 pa (5 yrs for the price of 4) and also gives me these benefits too. While I haven't actually used any discounts yet, I do enjoy my copy of 'Cycle' magazine every couple of months and also appreciate knowing if I caused an accident/injury I will be covered for any resulting claim. What I really, really like though is knowing if some twonk causes me an injury while I'm out cycling, I will have access to specialist legal advice to give them everything they legally and richly deserve. That is worth £31.20 pa all by itself in my book!

Friday, 25 November 2011

A Confused Message?

A little video attempting to show the pros and cons cycle commuting - brought to you by, the same people who recently presented a survey suggesting questioned if cyclists should pay 'Road Tax'! (see the Guardian item on this here).

I don't know whether to laugh or cry at some of opinions displayed in the video. A little cycle training, forethought, awareness and courtesy from the cyclist wouldn't go amiss either (and he needs to work on his driving technique as well). Wear a helmet though (all the time?) coz that'll make all the difference and don't forget to use the brilliant cycle lanes!

Not a great advertisement for cycle commuting in my opinion.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

For The Joy Of Riding

The new windproof, long sleeve jersey works well. I wore it today with two breathable layers underneath and was quite toasty when I got moving. It comes from the Altura range (I like them because they fit me well and are reasonable quality at an affordable price IMO). It's a red 'Night Vision' but it's a totally different beast to the previously blogged about jacket.

It is far more breathable and fitted. It suits working hard on the road bike. There are three pockets on the rear which are good because the road bike doesn't carry much luggage apart from a small saddle-post bag, a tiny pump, the Garmin and a single bottle/cage. The centre pocket is a good size for the Pocket Rocket jacket and the other two are handy for quick carbo' snacks. None of them are zipped but this doesn't bother me as I do not carry phone or keys on my person in case I come off. Just things that will deform easily!
Altura Night Vision Jersey
The ride today was good. I managed an average moving speed of 14.9 mph over some mixed terrain. A few short hills and one or two up to 10%. There was a steep downhill into Somerseat but this was spoiled a little as it's very twisty, has a T junction along it and the road surface is not good at all. I hit one pothole at 25mph or so and thought I had wrecked my front wheel. No loss of handling though and when I stopped the wheel looked fine. The one long, straighter downhill into Bolton was also spoiled somewhat. I came round a slight bend at 30mph to find a set of contraflow lights at red. I lost all my momentum and had to wait almost 5 mins before they turned green. I was starting to get cold!

I'll go a little further north next time and skirt around Bolton as far as possible, coming back via Turton, Belmont, Winter Hill and Rivington. That road is awesome and you can even see the coast on a clear day!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Dressing For The Occasion

Update 23/11/11

It seems I used a biological cleaner rather than non-bio! I blame myself for my lack of interest in all things associated with the washing machine and ironing board. It's not that I won't have a go but it just doesn't get me excited. There were two bottles of Ariel Actilift Gel on the shelf. One was green and stated it was 'Biological' the other was purple and did not mention this fact (on the front). I went for the purple one. It transpires the purple one is biological as well (it says on the back). We have some dedicated non-bio powder available for future washes the OH informs me. Ah well, you live and learn.

The Pocket Rocket hasn't turned up this morning either. I contacted the subscription team and am informed it can take up to 28 days from when it is labeled as 'disptached' as this is not when it's actually posted. I have eight night shifts starting tomorrow. I think I'll be having a ride to a cycle store to get a new heavy duty commuting jacket today. Now, should I stick with yellow or get an orange one? They do catch my eye on the roads. So I've bought an orange 'Night Vision' from Wiggle. They were £12.00 cheaper than anywhere else. The LS jersey and some extra layers will have to suffice for the next couple of days. Hope it doesn't rain much!

A bit of a mini disaster last night. I decided to wash my 15 month old cycling jacket - an Altura 'Night Vision' in dayglo yellow with reflective stripes - and to say it didn't go very well is a bit of an understatement.
Altura Night Vision
I've always been wary of washing outdoor jackets and damaging the 'waterproofness'. It's not as if it is a fashion item and so I haven't really been bothered by the odd oil/muck mark or two it has picked up on its regular outings but was beginning to smell a bit!

I followed the washing instructions - 40 degrees, non biological and no tumbling - shoved it in with a few other things and settled down to watch a film. When I came to take it out I was very impressed by how much cleaner the yellow was but wondered where the tissue like stuff had come from. There were certainly none put in the wash by accident. I soon realised this white stuff was the lining which was peeling off the inside of the jacket like dandruff  :-(

So I now have a very clean looking jacket which will still work as a hi-viz/reflective garment but will do very little to keep the weather at bay. Really not what I want at this time of year. I am due to get a new Altura 'Pocket Rocket' soon as a free subscription gift to Cycling Active (£22.00 for a six month subscription and a free jacket. £56.00 retail. Best price. I checked. Bargain!). I took this out last month and have been informed the jacket was dispatched on 21 November so I should be getting it soon.
Altura Pocket Rocket
I have also recently bought a long sleeve windproof cycling jersey. Both of these items were meant to be used primarily for dryish rides on the road bike. The beauty of the 'Pocket Rocket' is that it easily packs into a pocket of the jersey, something the 'Night Vision' could never do. It has great reviews but I know all these things are a compromise -  a lighter jacket may pack smaller but it will never be as good as a heavier, lined jacket in really cold and wet weathers.

So, do I go with this set up from now on or splash out on a new heavy duty replacement jacket? I appreciate a dedicated commuting jacket will mean I get more life out of the jersey/pocket rocket combo but I am a little curious to see how well the lighter set up will fare in the rain/sleet/snow at minus five degrees or so. Should find out soon!

Monday, 21 November 2011

Healthy Cycling

Day off work - check. Wife at work - check. Weather good - check. Golden Child in school - check. Should be OK for a 60-70 mile ride today. A few hills up around Rochdale, Haslingden, Darwen, Blackburn and Bolton. Some effort but with rewarding, sweeping descents on quiet roads. Great!

Oh no! What is this? The Golden Child does not feel well. The Golden Child is vomiting. Family-man must come before Cycle-man. "Hello. Is that the school...". Cycling not happening today then. A day with my poorly child. Bless her. She does look peaky.

The Golden Child is looking much better. No more vomiting and she also managed some breakfast. "Dad can we go out?" "Why yes dear. If you are feeling better. Would you like to go to Heaton Park...on the tagalong?" "Yes pleeaase Dad!!"

It's not lots of effort with sweeping descents but we still had a great time together. I do love my girl.
and both helmets on the bikes!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Helmet Habits

The Golden Child in the park
Most regular readers of my blog will know I wear a cycle helmet and do this to keep the OH happy. I am well aware of the arguments for and against helmet use and suppose I am pro choice on the subject (my wife gets to choose I should wear one and I get to choose the colour/model!).

On the negative side I find it annoying to carry and wear. Until I changed helmets last year, it was also very sweaty when I was working hard. I know it will not offer any substantial protection in the event of a RTC, can make some types of injuries worse and one study has shown may encourage some drivers to pass more closely. I also believe helmets are bad for cycling as a whole, making it seem like a dangerous activity and so putting some people off riding a bike as an everyday, normal activity. On the plus side it does make a good mount for my bullet cam and some little Knog Frog lights I purchased recently (separate post to come on these). It will also protect my good looks from a nasty case of facial/head road rash if I should come off!

The Golden Child has always worn a helmet, both on her own kiddie bike (with and without stabilizers) and when on the tagalong. Tonight I picked her up from school on the tagalong and we went to the local park. After locking the bike up I went to unclip her helmet but she wanted to keep wearing it. Her argument was she might fall when climbing, swinging, sliding, running, etc and bump her head. I was not overly concerned but it did make me smile a little. Her own assessment of things she does on a regular basis suddenly became dangerous activities, a helmet was deemed essential and she was not going to play without it. This lasted all of ten minutes before it became bit of a bind squeezing through little gaps and the cry came to unfasten it.

I was a little concerned I might seem like an overprotective father insisting she wear a helmet to the park but there wasn't much danger of this as the place was almost deserted. As we cycled home, on the road and in the dark, I thought how ridiculous it is expecting a piece of polystyrene to protect our skulls if a vehicle ploughs into the back of us at 30+ mph. I just make sure I ride defensively and that I/we are very visible. Helmets - a necessary evil as far as our family is concerned!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Getting The Horn

Went out for an evening ride tonight. Did 15 miles or so and, returning in the dark, I was well lit up and wearing a hi viz/reflective jacket. The ride was nice with no great dramas from other road users. Well not until right at the end and then I met a right one.

I was stopped at red lights waiting to turn right* into a side street and then would be making another right turn 50m or so further on into my garage area. There was a driver (henceforth to be called Moron) in a hatchback waiting behind and reving his engine. The lights turned green and I set off, maintaining primary and getting up to 18-20 mph very quickly. There was on oncoming car I planned to let pass before I made my turn and the lane ahead was partially blocked by a parked car. What did Moron try and do? Only tried to overtake didn't he! I signalled my intention to turn right and moved to the centre line forcing Moron to wait behind me. What did Moron do next? Only thought it appropriate to start sounding his horn!!

*UK Road. Driving on the left
Well that was it. We had almost come to a stop with the traffic situation as it was so I unclipped, swung my leg over and shouted at him "What do you want?". I don't think he quite expected a reaction along those lines. He wound down his window and sheepishly said "You are in the middle of the road!". My reply was one of those you would always like to have made but never actually think of it until after the event...except I did. 

"Yes. I am in the middle of the road. I have every right to be here. You can see me and should be driving accordingly. The lane ahead is blocked and I am positioning/signalling to turn right and there was on oncoming car anyway. You should not be trying to overtake me. Do you think the correct response from you in this situation is to sound your horn and try to intimidate me? You are a tosser". 

And with that I left him to lick his wounds. Beautiful!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Heavy Traffic

Traffic was very heavy this morning. This was simply down to the fact I had a 09:00 hrs start rather than my usual one of 07:30 hrs. It must have slowed my 4 mile commute by a minute or so I suppose. Is it just me or do other cyclists get a perverse sense of pleasure shooting past all those stationery/crawling vehicles?

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Club Cycling

Since I got back into cycling in 2008 I've been happy to cycle on my tod; the commute to work, utility cycling and touring trips forming the bulk of my miles covered. When I did the Blackpool charity cycle ride earlier this year, I really enjoyed mixing it with other cyclists and wondered what it would be like to join a local cycling club. I needed two things for this - a road bike and some free time on a Sunday. Well I have the new bike and today I had a free morning, so I met up with the Bury branch of the Cyclists Touring Club for their 'B' ride. 

Their website suggested it would be a route of about 50 miles and I reckoned we would be back in Bury early PM after a 09:30 hrs start. When the 'leader' turned up I found out, as the weather was looking good and this could be the last chance for a long ride this year, they were going to do a 80 mile route and would not be back until about 17:00 hrs. I elected to go with them and peel off and return alone at a suitable point as I had family things to do later in the day. As the ride started we were joined by another rider, John, with whom I'd initially made contact. He was going to head back early and so I decided to cycle with him when this happened.

I was a little apprehensive before the ride as I wondered what kind of pace was going to be set and if I'd be able to keep up. Well I needn't have worried. I'm not interested in joining an out and out race club and this is definitely a touring club. The pace was an average 12 mph and I had more trouble keeping my speed down. I must admit, on the descent along Haslingden Road going towards Blackburn I did tuck in and hold off the brakes. I was soon a quarter mile ahead and had to slow down as my turn for home was coming. I do love a fast descent! The others carried on north and I returned via the West Pennine Moors with John.

I've not cycled on the northern section of this route before and the roads and views were great. I will definitely be trying to get some more rides in with them when I can. Hopefully, next time I can have a pass from the OH for an all day excursion and so can make the cafe stop and have a chat, a pot of tea and some cake!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Training Is Good

There are some days when I cannot get out for a bike ride at all. These are usually at the weekends when the OH is working and I am left to nurture the Golden Child all by myself. I would take her out for a ride but she does create at the idea of cycling in the rain/cold. With my recent one week holiday lay off  and my commuting being done in the dark, I haven't had a long bike ride with full daylight for about a month. I'd almost forgotten how good it is!

I decided to take my new road bike out for a bit of hill training while the weather is dry, the OH is on nights and the Golden Child at school. Oh, the new road bike? Yes I have succumbed and got a carbon fibre bike before hitting my target weight loss! I have managed to drop 6 kg, plan to shed another 9 kg and was going to leave it until next year to make the final decision on the bike but Wiggle put a stop to that. I could only get bikes for a test ride if they were not discounted but just as I returned the Verenti Rhigos 0.3 they decided to discount most of them. This included the Rhigos which I really liked, so it had only been with the courier for a couple of hours when I reordered it with a £210.00 drop in price. Anyway, I digress.

I've worked out two routes I plan to use for training, one of 40 km and the other of 80 (ish) km. While both these distances are well under even a baby audax distance, they mean I can get some hill training done while the Golden Child is at school and because the routes never go more than 15 miles from home also allow me to get back within an hour or so if the school contact me.

So this is the 40km (25m) route and a lot of this will also form part of the longer route which will go on via Holcombe to Bolton before turning for home. It's great to get up high on the moor road above Rochdale and the effort is rewarded with a lovely sweeping decent. I had to watch out for muddy patches on the road though and it was cold despite several layers. That's why I didn't go on to do the longer ride - toes were hurting. I shall have to break out the winter socks next time!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Bending The Rules?

I have recently been introduced to 'The Rules' for cyclists by the 'Keepers Of The Cog'. While I freely admit these rules have been laid down by roadies for roadies and so they do not really have a huge amount of relevance for other cycling types, I have found I was already, unwittingly, following a few of them while breaking some others.

It is a long list of rules. There are 87 of them. I am already meeting rules; 6, 8, 9, 10, 14, 17, 41, 44, 53, 62 and 77. I strongly disagree with rules 4 and 11 and will never change my mind on that. Some of the other rules I have no interest in but others I would happily follow if the right circumstances allow e.g. I have never been in an official cycle race so cannot attempt to meet rules pertaining to racing as yet. One of my favourite rules though is 12.

Rule 12 states:
The correct number of bikes to own is n+1
While the minimum number of bikes one should own is three, the correct number is n+1, where n is the number of bikes currently owned. This equation may also be re-written as s-1, where s is the number of bikes owned that would result in separation from your partner.
I have already surpassed the minimum number with four. There is my old MTB that got me back into cycling in 2008, now relegated to hack status; the Santos Travelmaster, the everyday workhorse and tourer; the Marin Rocky Ridge hardtail for off road XC fun and the new road bike - a Verenti Rhigos 0.3 carbon fibre speed machine (which I decided to keep from my test ride when Wiggle reduced the price by £210.00. Needs a separate post really). I still have hankerings for more though - n+1!

Being a long admirer of Brommies for their engineering genius and having recently ridden my brother in laws for a couple of days, I thought one of these iconic machines would make an ideal 'family bike'. Not something I would likely use everyday but great for taking in the car on holiday or even to the USA for the big motorhome trip next year, using on my occasional train trips to London, Leeds and Oxford and, after persuading the OH to have a go, a great bike for her on family pootles. 

Well I think I have now found my s-1 number. I have been told no more bikes and clearly informed the OH does not wish to have the use of a Brommie even if she can choose the colour. This is a shame because I had already decided on the spec'. We were going to go lightweight but without the expense of titanium. An M3L - easy to maintain and use with three speed internal hub gear, mudguards (but no rack) and a standard handlebar. I would have drawn the line at shocking pink though! :-((

A Brompton M3L

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Joining The Club

The Brother in law's Brompton P6R
Well I have borrowed my Brother in law's shiny new Brompton for a few days to see what they are like. 

He plumped for a P6R model in a lovely 'Turkish Green' colour. The 'P' refers to the handlebar type, the '6' to the number of gears (a 3 speed hub with a 2 speed derailleur) and the 'R' to the presence of a rear rack and mudguards. He also got a Shimano hub dynamo running a front halogen light and rear LED light. It's very nice! 

I commuted to and from work yesterday on a route with some incline. I found the gearing more than adequate for the job (and didn't even use them all!). The ride was surprisingly assured. There was some flex through the handlebars but this was not excessive by any means. Yep, very nice and I managed a fold in less than 25 seconds! 

I am now well on my way to joining the Brommie Appreciation From A Distance Society. I have heard about. Can't quite remember the complete joining criteria though. Something about; riding around on it (check), demonstrating the fold (check), carrying it in a supermarket (to do) and being cool/saying cool things? (difficult). Anyone know the full list and where to send the completed application form can they please let me know. Thanks.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Speaking Double Dutch

A recent post on the Guardian Bike Blog about Dutch Cycling Infrastructure lured me in with it's heading:  There's more to 'going Dutch' than having a separate cycling lane. I use the word lured because while it made me think this might be a piece about how the Dutch have an integrated transport policy with cycling at it's core in comparison to the woeful planning and infrastructure we endure in the UK, it turned out to be an excuse for why we don't really need Dutch style infrastructure and should put up with more second rate stuff with some tinkering at the edges as far as I can see. 

It has provoked a fair few eloquent responses from better/more energetic bloggers than I so my response is simply to collate the ones I have read for your perusal. They all make interesting reading. If you know of any more then please let me know and I will add them to the list.