Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Seeing The Light

From the BBC

Every UK road casualty between 1999-2010 recorded as a point of light.

Two million, three hundred and ninety six thousand, seven hundred and fifty of them picking out the road network.

Beautiful. In a macabre way.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Let It Snow!

07.00hrs 18 December 2011

First snowfall of the year for me. A lovely commute to work. Cars few and far between. Those about were taking it very easy. Ski goggles worked well as falling snow hurting eyes. Didn't have or need the studded tyres this morning. Could have used them on return trip. It had snowed, thawed and then frozen. Slippy on side roads. No falls or near falls though. A job for tomorrow? Clothing working well. Very toasty. Good to cycle commute. No weather too tough!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Saving The High Street

Picture nicked from the Guardian
The slow death of the High Street in the UK is plain for most to see. If it is not the closure of small businesses it is the homogenisation of the outlets that are trading successfully. Shopping habits have changed. People like to drive to out of town malls; shopping has become a leisure activity, some would argue a religion, and of course shopping online is often cheaper with a larger choice than visiting a physical store. 

So, can the High Street be saved? Indeed should it be saved? Well David Cameron clearly thought this was a worthwhile thing to do so he did what politicians sometimes do when they have a problem; he got a celebrity to undertake an independent review for him and come up with a plan (link to full 55 page PDF).

Enter Mary Portas - 'Queen of Shops and Frocks', TV personality and no doubt a very able person. She has made 28 recommendations which she feels will help. Similar initiatives have been done before though. As recently as 2009 the previous Goverment was investing £3m to help turn boarded up shops into art galleries and the like, so I can't help but think this latest attempt encouraging local councils to make plans, changing planning rules and relaxing red tape will not make a huge difference either.

Mary Portas
Who am I to criticise though? I shop online, my families main grocery shop is at Tesco and my wife loves a bit of 'retail therapy' every now and then. However, I also despair at the blight of empty and neglected shop units, the loss of community when they close and the environmental, societal and health costs in using cars to routinely go shopping.

I certainly don't see the High Street returning to the dominance it once had but would love to see a revitalised area for local shopping and community interaction, so I broadly welcome most of her plan. Some of the recommendations do rub me the wrong way though, particularly point 9 which states:  
Local areas should implement free controlled parking schemes that work for their town centres and we should have a new parking league table.
Now, writing a cycling based blog you might see where I am going with this. Encourage people to use cars to go shopping? Well even though I am an avid cyclist I do sometimes drive a car too. I also do not believe for one minute that cycling is a panacea for all ills. People need to drive on occasion for a variety of reasons. High streets provide everyday types of shop but also more specialised ones too. These can attract people from far and wide and sometimes the car is just the most convenient method to access these outlets. 

Where I live there is an independent cheese shop, a specialist audio visual shop, a pet shop specialising in reptiles and a shop selling wigs. There are also three nice restaurants and one very nice, award winning one too (lucky me!). However, most of the shopping is of the mundane, everyday variety and I really do not want to encourage more people to travel by car to the area. Instead I want to encourage more local people not to use their cars to go elsewhere.

So, making car use easier and cheaper is never going to part of the solution in my book. High streets will never be able to compete with supermarkets and out of town malls which have vast amounts of free parking available. They need something else. Oh wait. Point 10 may be of help. This states:
Town Teams should focus on making high streets accessible, attractive and safe.
If this is not an argument for discouraging car usage and creating a more pleasant environment I don't know what is. Somewhere people feel safe to wander on foot, easily crossing traffic calmed streets while having a chat? Where crash barriers can be removed, pavements widened and raised road crossings installed? Adequate cycle parking provided and access optimised? And maybe, just maybe where cycling to the shops, cafe, library, etc is an attractive, viable option for local people? 

Is this an unobtainable utopian dream I wonder? Well it's not even a dream for Mary. How many times did the report mention 'cyclist' 'cycling' or 'bicycle' in all of its 55 pages on saving the High Street? I don't pretend to have read it all but word searching the PDF document shows the answer is...not at all!

Increased car dominance and more unattractive, polluted, crowded and dangerous high streets. Just what really is not needed. I despair sometimes. I really do.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

BMX Bandit

The BBC has a report of a 15 year old boy riding a BMX bike into a pedestrian on a bridleway and causing her some significant injury from the sound of it. This dangerous and loutish behaviour is indefensible and I feel for the woman hurt by this idiot. However, I despair of reporting which focuses on this because it involves cycling (even though it was a BMX) while not putting the type of incident into any greater context. 

In the immediate area where this incident took place there have been eleven fatalities and numerous serious injuries from 2000 - 2010 according to Road Casualties UK. I venture none have been caused by cyclists! A little balance would therefore be nice but this kind of death toll is now an accepted price we, as a society, seem willing to pay for the freedom to drive cars about the place. 

This will now be something else I am guilty of by association. And I have NEVER even ridden a BMX!

Road casualties around Caerwys. Large rectangles = fatalities.

Bicycles On The Metrolink

Manchester has a light rail network known as the Metrolink. It is a busy and well used system currently undergoing a period of expansion to outlying areas of Greater Manchester. Bicycles have been banned on carriages since its creation (conditions of carriage 17a). This extends to folding bicycles as well unless they are in a bag. While this may at first seem sensible to ensure maximum space is kept for passengers, the restriction limits the ability of commuters to cycle to and from stops and so have a joined up transport solution for commuting purposes. This will be felt particularly keenly on the expanded system as it will replace existing rail lines which do allow cycles to be carried. 

Metrolink. Current and planned lines. Click for bigger image
Many light rail systems allow the carriage of folded and unfolded bicycles, with certain conditions, including the London Underground system. In 2010 Manchester Friends of the Earth campaigned to reverse the Metrolink ban on folding bicycles by demonstrating folding items which are permitted. These items included ironing boards and deckchairs! While these are not likely to be everyday objects carried on the Metrolink, the campaign was successful in gaining a review of the ban even though the restriction was not subsequently changed.

Friends of the Earth campaign
Luckily I can commute by bicycle without the need for a rail/tram link. Although I live next to a Metrolink station and work is 10 mins away from one just a few stops down the line, I can get there by bike in four miles. Sometimes I even take a longer route just for the fun of it. Using a bicycle to get to and from a Metrolink stop makes no sense for me.

I understand why people do want to mix cycling and public transport and despair of the those who are willing to drive a short distance to a station instead. I have every sympathy though with those who object to non folded bicycles being taken on carriages at busy times. My ideal would be for all bicycles to be allowed on the system at off peak times and feel the need for folding bicycles to be carried in a bag is an unnecessary hurdle.

So knowing the restrictions, I was a little nervous when I took my borrowed Brompton (without bag) on the Metrolink the other evening. I had cycled from work to the joint Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign and Wheelers Brunch Christmas meal. The Brompton was used as I didn't want to leave my nice big bike locked up in Manchester city centre for any length of time. Plus, I thought no one would object to a folding bike at a cycle campaign meeting. 

Anyway, no one did. The bike folded up out of the way and a very nice evening was had. When the time came for me to make my way home, I was less inclined to cycle than normal, no doubt due to the meal + several beers + the very cold, blustery weather. No problem I thought, I am right next to a city centre Metrolink stop and have a folding bike. 

I cycled to the platform and folded the Brommie. One comment was forthcoming from a fellow traveller along the lines of how impressive the fold was and then I was on the tram. No one objected to the bike, which was a lot smaller than several suitcases and a wheeled shopping bag in the carriage. A few stops along a team of inspectors boarded. I thought I would have some hassle but they totally ignored it and concentrated on checking tickets instead. 

Despite breaking the conditions of carriage and no doubt giving material to those who think cyclists are agents of the Devil, do I have any regrets? Well the short answer is no. Restrictions should be in place for good reason and I do not see any why folding bikes should be bagged. Chances are I won't be using the Metrolink in combination with Brommie any time soon but call me a rebel - I am willing to make a stand on this point and be ejected if it comes to it!

Bag it up?

Friday, 9 December 2011

The Real Thing

Seen recently in the store where 'every little helps'. 

I thought at first someone had taken advantage of the display to leave their Bike Shaped Object (BSO) for a quick shop but no. Apparently the famous purveyor of sugar laden pop has now branched out into bicycles! 

The Cola Bike = The Real Thing?

Thursday, 8 December 2011

A Trip To The Movies Cinema

Following on from my recent post about the Outwood Trail, its possible resurfacing and the fact while this new surface will be welcome, it will not magically change it into cycling infrastructure fit for everyday use, I decided to film a cycle trip using said route. I wanted to show a typical journey using it for a normal chose to do a trip to the Movies cinema.

I live in Prestwich and the nearest cinema is four miles away by road in Bury. The National Cycle Network (NCN) can be joined within a mile or so of my house and there are dedicated cycle lanes and bridleways to use as well, so I thought why not try to make the journey as car free and safe as possible and use these and some quiet roads to make my way to the silver screen. It didn't matter it was more than double the road distance, I got very wet and muddy (despite mudguards) and could have broken my neck and not been found for hours - this is cycling provision in the UK and I wanted to show it in all its glory.

The Garmin detail and map are here. The fall was genuine. I could have avoided it by walking or riding down the steps using my MTB but hey, where's the fun in that? Not everyone has a choice of bikes and I decided to use my everyday workhorse for the trip - the Santos Travelmaster equipped with Schwalbe Marathon Supreme tyres and touring ratio Rohloff gearing. Probably more capable than the average bike and able to carry a pannier with a change of clothing and tools in case I needed them...which I did!

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Cycling The Wrong Way

One way streets. Some locales have lots and others few. Many force longer journeys on the road user to get from A to B but may be required due to street design, the need to limit traffic flow or access. The extra distance is often of little concern to a motorist but could be a significant extra distance, as a proportion of short urban journeys for the cyclist. This could conceivably be seen as a barrier to such journeys.

It has been argued one of the attractions of cycling in an urban environment is the permeability it allows to move through a built up area in comparison to motorised vehicles. This can be met in a number of ways; dedicated cycle lanes and paths, shared use paths and spaces and traffic calmed street with barriers to other traffic for example. A further method, widely used in other countries with good results, is to allow cyclists to travel the 'wrong way' along one way streets using a contraflow system. This has been used in the UK in a limited number of areas with some success but is not widespread. 

Some cyclists may well choose to ignore the current law and take 'illegal' short cuts via one way streets anyway, recognising the benefit of a shorter more direct route. While being understandable this cannot be condoned in my view as it will do the image of cyclists no favours and would be very hard to defend in the event of an accident. Luckily, there may be an extension of the cycling contraflow streets coming soon.

The Department for Transport (DfT) document - Signing the Way (Oct 2011) - will give councils the powers, or rather will relax the hoops to jump through, to make such changes possible. There are also some other changes which are designed to aid cycling such as: allowing easier official entry to ASL's, being able to cycle over Zebra crossings along certain routes and the use of pre signals at traffic lights permitting cyclists to start before other traffic. The full details are on pages 33-37 of the PDF document.

While councils will have this new power, it does not put any duty on them to make such changes. So what can be done if such measures would bring cycling benefit to a locale? Easy. Get in touch with your local councillor, cycling forum or council cycling officer and make the case for change known. It may not happen overnight but the more pressure there is the harder it will be to ignore.

Good luck and good campaigning!

Friday, 2 December 2011

The Making Of A Champion

Boris by Mark Baker (click picture to visit site)
Whatever your political persuasion and whatever your views on Cycle Supehighways, Blackfriars Bridge, Bow Roundabout and the like - and this Guardian reading, cycle loving, Amnesty subscribing, recycling friendly, republican leaning, global warming believing, atheist espousing, public sector health care worker will remain totally impartial on the matter - there is one certain thing you can say about Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson and the 'Boris Bikes'; he has never insisted helmets were a part of the cycle hire experience, unlike Ken Livingstone who was set to make them a requirement, according to this report, before he was ousted by his frazzle haired, public school educated, nemesis who has been quoted saying: "...there are no disasters, only opportunities. And, indeed, opportunities for fresh disasters".

So, Boris Johnson; the cyclists champion? Discuss.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

It Ain't Dutch!

I've written before about the UK National Cycle Network. 'National' really is a misnomer though as these routes lack any central planning and monies instead relying on piecemeal funding and voluntary rangers while making use of existing roads and trails of various types. They can be circuitous, dirty, muddy, poorly signed and strewn with barriers of various types. They can also be fun and enjoyable, traffic lite routes but as a network they fall far short of perfect in my opinion. They are good for leisure cycling but have limited appeal to the utility cyclist.

Route 6 is the one nearest me and it will run from London to Keswick when complete. I sometimes use the off road section to travel from Prestwich to Bury. It is a longer journey than by road at almost 8 miles compared to just over 4. I do it rarely, usually when the weather is pleasant, I fancy a change of scenery and have some spare time. I've also taken the Golden Child along it on her tagalong to Radcliffe, something I would definitely not do along the busy A roads. 

I use my tourer or MTB which are more than adequate but any skinny tyred road machine would not fare very well. Even on the right bike, in the wet the rider will be mud spattered despite full length, close fitting mudguards (I've done it. It's true!). Not really what you want on the way to/from work/shopping.

View Cycle Route 6: Prestwich to Bury in a larger map

The section south of the M60 has recently been cleaned up and the paths upgraded as part of the 'Prestwich Forest Park' regeneration scheme. It is more than usable in most weathers for the majority of cycles/cyclists, although it has no lighting at all which limits its use for dark time commuting, unless you enjoy cycle lighting like me and Mr C.

North of the M60 the route becomes The Outwood Trail and follows an old railway line. Immediately on leaving the bridge crossing the motorway the quality of the path is very much subject to the prevailing weather - being either dry and rutted or muddy and bepuddled. It is also very overgrown along sections. 

As the route approaches Radcliffe it does improve somewhat before sending the rider on a short but poorly signed road section, up an essentially pedestrian ramp into a car park where you are left to guess how to proceed. When the point to cross the road is finally located the route follows a canal towpath for a while. This is asphalted but is narrow with several 'cyclist dismount' suggestions at low bridges. The route then goes via a car park, along a brick filled farm track before joining another old railway line (asphalted) for the short leg into Bury.

So why I am bringing this up? Well news reaches me the Outwood Trail section may be due for some work to improve the surface. This is one of four projects currently awaiting funding in the Bury area from a bid to the Greater Manchester Local Sustainable Transport Fund. Now, nothing is definite, particularly in these choppy financial times, but it might come to pass, at some point in the future, there will be *gasp* some hard packed gravel or maybe even asphalt along this section. 

This would be nice but it still doesn't make it part of a well planned National Cycle Network, meeting any serious comparison to cycle paths in more enlightened countries and a challenge to the lure of the internal combustion engine. Still, its a nice day out!

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