Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Boat Stowaways

What is the point of having a folding bike or two you can easily reduce in size to store if you are just going to leave them outside in a hostile environment to get dirty and rusty? 

Poor mistreated things. Still, at least they are not Brommies'. That would be sacrilegious!

River Ouse, York

Saturday, 27 August 2011

It's A Power Thing

I like all kind of bikes. I have three bicyles and will be getting a fourth towards the year end (hopefully). I use them all for different reasons. I even have a full motorbike licence (but don't use it for reasons of marital harmony).

My main bike is a Santos Travelmaster used for commuting and touring - very practical and sturdy. Last year I picked up a secondhand Marin Rocky Ridge which I use to tear around local trails and for towing the Golden Child on her tagalong - great off road fun. I also have an old Marin Bear Valley which was the bike that got me back into cycling in 2008 (it had sat in a garage for many years gathering dust). It's old but capable. I use it as a hack bike and for this very reason I will be distressing the frame a little bit more and fitting an old crappy saddle on it soon - great for leaving around town town for a few hours when I don't want to risk anything that looks remotely valuable. I will be getting a carbon fibre road bike which will be my bike equivalent of a middle age crisis sports car. It will only come out when the weather is nice and I want to cover some great road miles with no luggage - fun but totally impractical. I even aspire to owning a Brompton, not because I have any need of one at all but simply because I believe they are elegant and iconic bits of kit. I would also not turn my nose up at a Bullitt cargo-bike.

So, you see, I don't think I have become a tribal cyclist. I like to see people cycling on what ever takes thier fancy. I therefore have absolutely nothing at all against e-bikes. When I'm old and grey and petrol is £10.00 per litre I might even get one for myself...that should be in two or three years then! I just wonder though - when does a bicycle actually become a moped?

Friday, 26 August 2011

Good Vibrations's really rather good
When I started cycling for fun and adventure rather than just to commute, I decided to tackle the 355 mile Pennine Cycleway as a challenge to myself. I looked around for info on the route and that is how I came across a blog by Andrew Sykes. Andrew had cycled the route partly in preparation for a longer cycle tour he was then planning. He was kind enough to give me some useful advice and also lent me his maps.

Well, he has now done his big tour from Reading (UK) to Brindisi (Italy) along the Eurovelo 5. He blogged about the trip at the time and then went one step further and turned his adventure into a book. I have just purchased a copy and I must say it's really rather good.

If you are intested in the Eurovelo network or want to know how far Andrew cycled or find out why the bike is called Reggie or how he had the time to do it and keep down a full time job or why the book is called Good Vibrations or lots of other things, well I'm not going to tell you. You'll just have to buy the book too. Well worth it for any cycle tourists out there.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Cycling Underwater

This week I have been cycling underwater. This is something I have wanted to do for a year or so and it was on my bucket list of things to achieve before I pop my clogs or...kick the bucket. Anyway, I have done it now, so that is one less thing I need to do before I die.

This particular desire arose after I heard of a purpose built cycle tunnel under the River Clyde. I then found one existed under the River Tyne too. Well, as I am a regular visitor to the Newcastle area I decided to make cycling the Tyne a priority and this week I got to do it.

I cycled the 25 miles or so down from Morpeth, joining National Cycle Route One just south of Blyth and followed the coast along through Whitley Bay and onto Tynemouth. I found the tunnel entrance off a non descript road and made a trip from the north side at Howden to Jarrow on the south before retracing my route. Of course I have made a video.

Please note. Will not play on mobile devices. Sorry

The cycle tunnel is actually one of two parallel tunnels, the other being for pedestrians. The Tunnels are grade 2 listed buildings and were opened in 1951 in time for the Festival of Britain. These are two of three which form the Tyne Tunnel Project which includes the original road tunnel completed in 1967. The whole project was actually concieved in 1937 but WW2 kind of delayed things a bit. 

At each end of the cycle and pedestrian tunnels are two escalators and a lift. The escalators have 306 wooden steps each and are the original models from 1951. These escalators remain the longest wooden escalators in the World but when I visited only one was working, as was only one of the much more modern lifts. There are plans to update the escalators, making one at each end into a kind of funicular lift while overhauling the remaining ones and keeping them for reasons of heritage.

It is obvious the vision behind these tunnels stems from a time when the car was not supreme and there was serious infrastructure provison for cyclists and pedestrians. The tunnels are certainly dated but are charming none the less. I think they are great slice of England - visionary but a little past thier glory days.

I can't be the only one who likes them because, despite the loss of much of the shipbuilding workforce who originally used the tunnels, 20,000 trips are still made through them each month. This number is split pretty equally between pedestrians and cyclists and is slowly increasing. 

Now, when can I arrange a trip to Glasgow to cycle under the Clyde?

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Sometimes You Need A Bullet

I no longer use my bullet-cam when cycle commuting. The are several reasons for this but primarily it was because it made me rather bitter. Instead of being a cathartic experience it was beginning to dominate my commuting. I never made a concious decision to stop using it but just found I enjoyed my cycling more without filming and reliving all the crap driving I see on a daily basis. On the other hand I love using it to film my cycle touring.

This does not mean that sometimes I don't wish I had it with me on the commute. Take last night for example. I was approaching a small contraflow along Bury Old Road. The temporary lights were red and there were several cars queuing. I was passing them on the inside in the cycle lane. When I was about six or seven cars from the front the lights turned green and the vehicles began to move. I glanced my right shoulder and pulled into a large space between two cars towards the front which were just starting to move off. The lane began to narrow and I moved from the inside to primary position to stop any cars squeezing past me along the 20-30m stretch of roadworks. 

Could he really not have waited to pass me?
So far so good? Well I thought so but the driver of a flash, white Merc' coupe behind me did not agree. He accelerated hard past me, jinking in at the last moment (just by the keep left sign) and forcing me into the kerbside. I obviously gave off some kind of instinctive non-verbal signal of my irritation with his driving style because he started to brake and swerve around the road in front of me in an angry, upset kind of manner. It was a pretty obvious signal I suppose as it consisted of a closed fist, held vertically and moved up and down from the wrist in a rhythmic manner. Childish I know but very satisfying all the same. He obviously thought better of it after a few seconds and carried on up the road a quarter mile or so to the red traffic lights without further trying to hinder my progress. 

When I caught up with him, he was in lane 2 and had decided to wait beyond the stop line in the 'cycle box'. There were several other cars in lane 1 and most of these drivers had been behind me at the contraflow and a few would no doubt have witnessed the incident. Anyway, he didn't notice me as I pulled alongside him. He didn't notice me because he too busy...texting. I gave a phone signal and mouthed at him to "put the phone away" - no swearing or anything rude. Well the reaction! His window came down, he started swearing and waving his fist around, calling me all kind of names under the Sun he was. Terrible language I do not intend to repeat. I made sure I had a few possible escape routes if things turned nasty but decided just to calmly ignore his rant and not sink to his gutter level.

The lights turned green and I set off. He shot past and braked hard in front of me as he went from lane 2 to a full stop up against the kerb. I easily cycled past him as he started to get out of the car. I had no plans to hang around and debate his or my behaviour. I did hear him shouting I had no right being "in the middle of the road". So then. It was my fault for blocking his progress for 4-5 seconds and not allowing him to get to the red lights just that little bit sooner. I now see the error of my ways!

I was soon up to 24 mph and he was back in his car and following behind me but there were now several cars now between us. After a half mile or so I turned off the main road into a side street as per normal on my commute. He was about to catch up and obviously saw where I went but did not choose to continue the chase. Drama over. 

Now, just think how exciting all that would have been relived via bullet cam?

Thursday, 11 August 2011

I've Seen The Light (and it's dynamo powered)

Schmidt Edelux front light and Busch & Muller Toplight Plus rear light

Recently investing in a SON dynamo hub for my Santos commuter/tourer, I have been using it to charge electrical devices while touring. This allows me to be self sufficient - charging my smartphone and bulletcam without having to resort to mains electricity and meaning I have much more freedom where I camp for the night. I must say it works rather very well but this was only ever one intended use of the SON hub. The other was to have it powering front and rear lights. Great for winter commuting and, who knows, maybe some through the night Audax rides in the future.

Well folks, I hate to be a killjoy but Winter is coming! I know we need Autumn first but let's be realistic -  the nights are drawing in and soon, with my shifts, i'll be commuting in the dark at both ends of the day. I didn't get the lights when I bought the hub as I had no great need of them over the Summer and had more immediate financial commitments but last month decided to make buying and fitting them an August project. So I have. They are now fitted and working brilliantly (literally). This is a film by a guy in Finland who has the same set up. I intend to make my own when I get opportunity.

If your experience of dynamo lights is running some pathetic excuse of a front light from a bottle dynamo as a kid (as mine was) then you have no idea how good this set up is. They are both LED lights and very, very bright. They both have standlights so will carry on working for several minutes after the dynamo has stopped turning. The front light has an ambient light sensor so, if this setting is chosen, will turn on automatically when it darkens. The rear light is wired into the front light circuit so will do the same. They can also be either on or off. The LEDs will last for thousands of hours and they draw very little power. I was expecting good light output but really am blown away by how effective they are. I had to be quite careful angling the front light as am worried it will dazzle other road users if i'm not careful.

The Edelux came with the mount and had wiring attached. I chose to get the longer, bare ended wire option as I was always going to fit double spade connectors to allow the charging unit to be plugged in when needed as well. Crimping on the connectors was a doddle. The rear light came with bolts to fit the rear rack and spade connectors but no wiring. I had some appropriate USB cable I could make use of and this was wired to the front light with no problem. The wiring is discreetly cable tired along the rack and then lies alongside the existing brake/gear cabling on the underside of the top tube until it reaches the head tube. It then spirals round a brake cable until it meets the front light. All very neat. Apart from one short circuit before I had put some heat shrink on the live cable where it enters the front light, it's all works perfectly and took about an hour to fit. Bring on the darktime!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Coast and Castles: Video and Report

On day one I had an early start to catch the 06.03 hrs train from Manchester to Edinburgh. Rain started on the way up and stayed for most of the first day. I did a detour from the official Coast and Castles route to go to Penicuik to collect a BCQ checkpoint. I was glad to get out of the Edinburgh suburbs at last as the route goes through housing estates, disused car parks and over stepped rail bridges - not the greatest cycling.

I did the biggest climb of the route and, cycling wise, only met an elderly Norwegian couple going the same way all day. The rain stopped by late afternoon, the Sun came out, the scenery grew better by the mile, the campsite at Melrose was nice and the local pub did a great steak. 74 miles in all. Slept very well.

Day two started with a mist which quickly burned off and the rest of the day was sunny but not too hot. I got an early start about 07.30 hrs and had a great day cycling with frequent stops to film. The cycling was easy and, after Berwick, I started to see many more cyclists although most were going the other way. 

I stopped to say hello to a couple riding Surly Long Haul Truckers and would have loved to stay and chat longer but had made arrangements to camp at The Barn at Beal just near Holy Island. I had about an hour to get there and 10 miles of coastal path to cover so couldn't hang around. The campsite was lovely and quiet and I was in time for a cooked meal and drinks before they shut so had no need of the noodles! 61 miles. Slept well again.

Day three found me lying in till 09.15 hrs! No problem though as I could not cross to Holy Island till 10.30 hrs. It was overcast and there were spots of rain in the air. Lots of cars and a fair few cyclists on the island. It would have been more beautiful there if it wasn't for all the visitors. I would like to go back and stay on the island in between tides when most tourists have departed. Just had an hour there before retracing my route through Beal to the A1 and over.

I cycled a little bit with another couple who were heading to Alnmouth by days end. I was hoping to get a few miles further on to Amble before meeting my wife. I was surprised they chose to cycle down the A1 rather than take the cycle route. My way was certainly hillier but I wasn't rushing. The rain started to pour and did so for frequent spells over the rest of the day. After Bamburgh I knew a fair bit of the route as I've driven around these parts a fair bit.

I was soaked to the skin but warm and having a great time. I knew I wasn't going to make Amble by the time I'd arranged to meet my wife so decided on a rendevous at Alnmouth. I never saw the couple who took the A1 but did find the Red Lion pub. I dried off and managed two pints of Black Sheep before my wife turned up - an hour late. Held up by traffic on the A1 she said! 49 miles today and 184 miles in total. A great little break.