Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Red Light Jumping

I sometimes get fed up of non-cyclists berating me personally for all the naughty, silly things some cyclists do. Quite sure I'm not the only one. Now, I don't pretend to be perfect but my pet hate is the suggestion that all cyclists jump red lights as a matter of habit - RLJing - while of course drivers are just saints!

The argument for RLJing by some cyclists runs: "...it's safer to get in front of traffic", "...the roads are badly designed", etc. I can understand these points but not really support them. In my opinion it gives ammunition to a section of cyclist haters and does cyclists as a group no favours at all. However, I also realise these cyclists are not in the same league as drivers who run red lights. If they hit someone they will likely cause some injury and maybe even death to someone else and not themselves. Cyclists are mainly likely to injure themselves. No excuse but certainly less of a menace.

So, today I put my road safety hat on and set out to show how easy it is for drivers to RLJ and get away with it. The photos were shot within five minutes of leaving my door. Many others went through on 'deep amber'. 

Imagined conversation

Irate driver: "Bloody cyclists!! Always jumping red lights." 

Me: "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Now excuse me while I just filter ahead of you to the front of the traffic jam. Goodbye."

Monday, 30 January 2012

Playing With The Kids

This week I have mainly been playing with cycle lights and my camera. 

I intend to get a wonderful trail of bicycle lights at night, exposed over several seconds, with my bicycle (and me) flash frozen at the head of the trails. That is what I intend but I still have a way to go before achieving this. 

I have managed to get this picture so far. While I was doing this I was accosted by a very drunk man who suggested I was a paedophile and informed me he was going to call the police (??because I had a camera and was taking a picture of a fountain??). Still, the exposure settings were useful and I realised I needed a darker location, bigger aperture and faster ISO to get the flash aspect to work as I want.

Light Trails Around The Fountain

The next night I went somewhere much darker to try again. While there I thought I would first get some video of my cycle lights in full glory. This I did. Unfortunately, I did not progress any further as I was accosted by several feral youths on BMX bikes who kept asking if they could "borrow my lights". I made very clear I was not going to give them anything they 'asked me' for but I might give them something else if they didn't Foxtrot Oscar. 

The accusation of paedophilia suddenly popped into my head along with a mental image of the local newspaper headlines shouting hysterically about a middle age cyclist bothering innocent little kids in the area. I then decided discretion is the better part of valour and promptly left. 

I will get my picture but will have to pick my locations and times very carefully or may get arrested first!

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Getting A Grip

Most cyclists will know there are three points of contact a cyclist has with his/her standard bicycle. For those non-cyclists who might be reading (welcome) these are the: pedals, saddle and handlebars.

Three points of contact
Cyclists who cover lots of miles, be they primarily commuters, tourers, roadies or mountain bikers, will no doubt know the importance of getting these points of contact right. You need the correct settings so you are comfortable and efficient on the bike. This really goes without saying but it still surprises me the number of adults I see cycling with knees up around their chins because the saddle is too low or who are struggling to hold the bars comfortably - they being possibly set too low/high or too near/far. 

Some of these distances are dictated by size of bike frame. The wrong size frame is the wrong size frame and no amount of adjusting the seat post, saddle position or altering the number of bar risers is going to change that. However, not all is hunky dory when the distances are correct. How your body parts connect and interact with these points of contacts also comes into play.

Pedals can come in a bewildering array of configurations for the uninitiated. Flat, wide, studded, clipless (actually with clips, several different mechanisms and for either road or MTB). Likewise saddles can be a real pain in the bum to get right and stimulate reams of opposing opinion on various cycle forums. Still despite the wide choice, I would venture most regular cyclists will be aware of the different types of pedals and saddles and can choose accordingly. Bars on the other hand (or  preferably both hands) are a different matter altogether IMO. 

Most cycles come with the corresponding type of bar for the style of bike; drop bars for roadies, flattish bars for MTBs, swept back bars for cruisers. They also may have grips, bar tape or a combination of both. However, within each type of bike category there is still choice which can be made on: width, angle of rise, degree of curve etc. Bar ends can also be added ranging from 2-3 cm jobs to curving ends that would not look out of place on an antelope.

I thought I had chosen pretty well for my touring bike - a Santos Travelmaster. I went for Butterfly Bars (AKA touring bars) which are quite popular on the continent but rarely seen in the UK. I paired these with some Ergon Grips and have been more than happy with my choice until this week. You see I had a fall from my bike recently, damaging the bar tape and so needing to re-tape it. Not an urgent job but it has been a bike maintenance week this week so I got on with it.

When I first got the bike the bars had a slide-on foam tube which looked OK but was too compressible and quite easily prone to damage IMO so I changed this for some bar tape after a few months. This was far more durable but didn't really change the comfort levels which were quite satisfactory anyway. When I came to re-tape though I thought I would try out "double bar tape" as I'd heard it was useful for distance cyclists. What a revelation!

Butterfly Bars + Ergon Grips. Original bar sponge in place
I removed the existing bar tape and then reapplied it over the most used parts of the bar only, securing it with electrical tape. It didn't look nice but this was just the underlay. I then applied some Easton Cork Bar Tape (black) over the first layer.

The increased diameter makes it more far easier and more comfortable to grip the bars firmly and there is none of the spongy feeling associated with the original wide sponge tubing. I wish I'd done it two years ago. I would heartily recommend doubling your tape layer if you are having any comfort problems with the bar and maybe even trying this if you don't have any problems. For me, it is a dream upgrade for just a few pounds.

With double bar tape

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Keeping Safe: Using Reflective Strips

Most of my winter cycle commuting is done in the dark at both ends of the day. I am also taking the Golden Child out locally on the tagalong to various clubs and relatives in the evening. I have good reason therefore for being highly visible to traffic and to this end I have some very impressive lights front and rear. However, working on the principle you can never be too noticeable, I am also a strong advocate of reflective gear. 

The cycling jacket and jerseys I use for dark time cycling are covered in reflective patches - the popular and aptly labelled Altura Night Vision range of clothing - and I also have reflective piping on the tracksters I normally wear. In addition to the rear reflectors on the Travelmaster I also have pedal reflectors and last year I applied some 'stealth' reflective strips to the mudguards as well. These are great as they appear black (on top of the black guards) but catch any reflected light in the dark.

Still, since using the tagalong at night and being aware it is not an expected size and shape for pedal propelled object, I have been on the lookout for some reflective patches I could apply to it and the Travelmaster that don't cost a fortune and are quite discreet in the daytime. I found these below on eBay and at two sheets for £2.49 with free P&P and your choice of colours I thought I couldn't go wrong. Well I did go wrong in that I should have ordered four sheets straight off.

Click to visit the eBay seller
I have now applied the bulk of the stickers to said bikes and they really do catch the headlights. I used one sheet of red to rear facing surfaces and three of silver to the side and front facing surfaces. I may be laughed at by some but no one with legally permitted vision for driving will be able to claim they couldn't see me!

Reflective patches with flash photography. Click for bigger image

Monday, 23 January 2012

Cycle Touring Inspiration

The Wifey*, Golden Child and I went to a travel show the other day. Now, I don't normally frequent these kind of things. I hate crowds and like to consider myself a little more independent than packaged but we had free entry and wanted some ideas for our up coming USA holiday so went we did.

As it turned out there was not much of any use about the USA but we still had a good time. We enjoyed watching the Ukrainian dancing (the Golden Child was transfixed) and loved the pork sandwiches from the Hog Roast food van. Oh, and the Wifey picked up a little brochure from Exodus Cycling Holidays for me. "...just in case you want some inspiration..." I think were her exact words.

Now where do I fancy? I will be organising my own trip but some of the ideas and suggested routes do look great - Cuba? Slovakia? Iceland? Sri Lanka? Two weeks? A month? This year I'll probably do the welsh trip I had planned for 2011 but I really fancy a longer adventure at some point in the future. And it seems my gorgeous wife is OK with that! As she said to the travel rep when she got the brochure "...I may be releasing the Genie from the lamp..."
I'm free, I'm free!
*Wifey - term of endearment between myself and my spouse. Similar to the term 'Hubby'. Used on this blog at spousal request to preserve degree of anonymity. See Urban Dictionary Defintion.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

An Eccentric Item

For a while I have been getting a clicking noise from the cranks and bottom bracket (BB) on the Santos Travelmaster - not particularly loud and only there when there was lots of pressure going to the pedals. It has done just short of 5000 all weather miles and gets a fair bit of hammering so I suppose a new BB cartridge was on the cards soon anyway.

It was on my list of things to sort but as I don't have the experience and required tools to remove the cranks and BB it was going to require some time and financial investment. Still, I like servicing my own bikes as far as possible so it would be worthwhile tooling up and learning how to do it. Well, the noise became continuous and a grinding sensation also developed over the last week, so I popped into the LBS today to arrange a date for them to sort it as I could not make the time. 

As the Santos has an eccentric BB to tension the chain because of the hub gears, I expected a part would need ordering and I would have to drop it off later in the week. Well, Trevor (the LBS owner) said he could do it that afternoon and I could collect it later. And good as his word I picked it up before closing. 

I now realise the sealed BB cartridge sits inside an eccentric plug which then fits in the BB shell. The cartridge is just a standard component and easily available. Total cost £22.00 and it feels like new - lovely. I still need to learn how to do it myself though!

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

A Daddy And His Daughter

Yesterday was a day of cycling contrasts. Two bikes rides on two very different machines. Both very enjoyable.

I planned to take the Golden Child to her Rainbows club in the evening. As recently posted about, I am going to cycle with her on the tagalong to various activities when the weather allows. Now the weather, while decidedly cold, was dry and she was really looking forward to going out for a bike ride...in the dark! One slight problem with this however. The pin to connect the tagalong to the towing bike was in the car and the car was parked up at my wife's place of work. So I needed a ride out to pick it up first. Cue a 12 mile return blast on the road bike. 

I made the return journey in 48 mins. I averaged 15 mph overall with an average moving speed of 16.5 mph. Both of these reduced a little due to some slow traffic and the fact every light was on red! You can see the stops and starts on the Garmin Data.

Now, normally this kind of trip I would do on the heavier and slower touring bike carrying a pannier and heavy lock, etc. The road bike is reserved for 30+ mile, 2-4 hr rides into the country and up on the hills. But the weather was dry and it was a quick return trip with no need to carry anything heavy so I thought why not?

Because of the shorter ride I pushed myself harder than I would do normally and used it like a workout. Boy we were flying. Great fun! I think I will have to do some shorter, faster, harder rides on this machine again.

Anyway, the pin was collected and I fitted the tagalong to the tourer successfully. After tea the two of set off for the 1.5 mile trip to Rainbows. I had a quiet route planned away from the busy A56 and we were lit up like a Christmas tree between us.

Rear lights were: a Smart Lunar R2 on the tagalong firing on mad flash mode, a Knog Frog rear light on each helmet firing on slow flash mode and a B&M Toplight Plus on my carrier; while on the front were: a Schmidt Edelux, a Cateye HL-EL600 LED Single Shot on flash mode and on my helmet a Knog Frog front light on slow flash. On top of that both the bike and I are covered with reflective patches. 

No one was going to miss us visually at least and, more to the point, no one should hit us because we couldn't be seen. Even so I was a little apprehensive of how she would fare on the roads and in the dark for the very first time. I needn't have worried. She was thrilled to have her very own flashing helmet light, was not put off by the dark or the minimal traffic at all and was more than warm enough. She's keen to do it again and so am I. 

Average moving speed for this journey? 7.3 mph. The Garmin data is just the return leg. We did come back up the A56 for part of the trip as St Mary's Park was closed. I'm not afraid to say I cycled up the rather empty pavement and stopped to let the few pedestrians pass. No one was inconvenienced although I fully admit I broke the law (come and get me!). I am not ready to take my child on a busy, fast  A road yet, no matter how conspicuous we are. 

So, crap infrastructure will not stop the MiddleAgeCyclist and his Golden Child. I am already planning a two day, one night, cycle-camping trip with her for the Summer. Now that is going to be great Daddy-Daughter time!

Monday, 16 January 2012

Cycle Touring USA

Yes. I will be off touring around Las Vegas in a few weeks time. :-)

Unfortunately I will be doing this in an RV and not on my bike :-(

Just five weeks in the USA - four around the South West and one in Florida. Me, the wifey and the Golden Child. Celebrating the Tenth Wedding Anniversary don't you know.

Now I am telling all you loyal followers this news to prepare you as this blog will pretty much go into hibernation for the duration. However, I have started a new blog  - Anniversary Big Trip - just for this family  adventure. And while it is not really a cycling blog, it may, perhaps, have a slight cycling bias at times.

Now, back to two wheeled self propulsion proper. Here is a great video of cycle touring around the US South West. The minimal narrative is not in English but it is worth watching just for the visual inspiration IMO. Enjoy.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Cycling With Elephants

I think by creating this post I am about to generate a blogging version of time loop - something I might have trouble escaping from - however in the true spirit of Star Trek I am going to boldly go where no man (or woman) has gone before (maybe) and post it anyway.

In 2010 I left a comment on Andrew Sykes website about his post on a cycling powered, historical travelogue following in the footsteps of Hannibal (him with the Elephants). I'd seen it first time round, thought it was pretty darn good and rated it 8/10. Today, one of the three cycling brothers the programme follows, Sam Wood, commented on that post and thanked me my comment. Andrew has since replied to him and also done a new post about the programme and I am shortly going to reply to this as well as post this. You can see where the loop comes in!

Anyway, it transpires the series has got a repeat showing on BBC2 starting this Friday evening. I can heartily recommend it for anyone who likes history and/or cycle touring. If you like both then even better. 

Cold Weather Cycling Risks

Managed to get out on the road bike for a few miles yesterday. First time in six weeks or so and it felt really good apart from a terrifying five seconds or so.

I had to meet the family for a walk so took a somewhat circuitous route to the arranged rendezvous point. It was crisp and clear but still cold on the toes despite two pairs of socks. The air temp' of one degree Celsius and there were lots of iced up puddles at the side of the road. A fair bit of climbing and descending so I was able to keep myself warm enough though and was quite happy with an average moving speed of 13.3 mph.

The scary bit had nothing to do with any traffic issue - which had all been quite predictable and some even courteous - but my own love of a fast descent. Coming down a lonely and straight hill-top road above Darwen and moving at near 30 mph, the conditions were generally clear but the road was reflecting glare from the low Sun in sections, I suddenly hit a sheet of slushy ice about 2-3 cm thick which was nigh on invisible until you were actually on top of it. How I managed to stay on the bike I don't know but luckily I did  - even though it was more by luck than skill. I'm glad no one else was around because I screaming like a little girl! 

If I'd come off I have no doubt I would have been injured, with fractures and head injuries a distinct possibility. I also may not have been found straight away as there was not much traffic up there at all. The cycling gear I was wearing was fine for when I was moving but wasn't going to give me much thermal protection if I was left laying on the road in near freezing temperatures, so hypothermia may well have been an added complication. 

Still, lesson learnt and off for some more road miles today!

Friday, 13 January 2012

A Nice Day Spoiled

Cycling back from work today - the first daytime cycle for a week - I ventured through Heaton Park. 

T'was a lovely ride; still, quiet, relaxed and bathed in a warm, rich light. Very pleasant. After the park I only had a short section on the road to home and it was three in the afternoon so not exactly peak rush hour. I wasn't anticipating much trouble but trouble comes when you least expect it I suppose

Coming up to a notorious pinch point in secondary, I let a few cars go ahead, glanced my shoulder and moved out to primary to travel through the pinch and then to pass some parked cars further on. Cue sounding of horn, verbal abuse and possibly even spitting from the passenger of a car which then passed me closely a few seconds later. I would have spoken to them at the red lights ahead but they decided they were not going to stop for those. Anyway, like I said, a lovely cycle apart from that. 

Now, am I correct in thinking these kind of people are called knobheads?

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Overtaking Cyclists: A Style Comparison

Ended seven night shifts this morning. Phew! 

Cycling home at rush hour I wanted to video some of the heavy traffic I pass. As it was I caught this comparison of overtaking styles. One pass done very well and the other...well not so well!

I caught up with bus driver at three further stops, passed him and then he subsequently passed me again. Each of his overtkes done with good planning and courtesy. If only all drivers were like him. I think I may even have to email First buses and sing his praises. No point contacting Royal Mail though I know it will be a waste of time.

Monday, 2 January 2012

A Tough Nut: Should We Have To Wear Helmets?

A call from a FB friend (and fellow cycle blogger) to sign a petition opposing the move by the Womens Institute to vote on compulsory cycle helmet use got me into a bit of a debate last night. It was all good natured but it really surprised me how polarised opinions can be and also how willing some are to accept anecdotal evidence or hearsay. I have reproduced it below for your amusement and/or comments

Anyway, let's not go the way of Australia and New Zealand by insisting on helmet use and seeing are already pitifully small cycling rates fall even further. If you don't want to be forced to wear a helmet all the time for every single cycle trip please sign the petition. And if you want to access some papers and arguments re helmets then this is a good site - cyclehelmets.org

Me: Already signed it. And I wear a helmet!

NH:  I guess most people I know will have signed, it's close to 1,000 signatures now. I always wear a correctly fitting helmet for my commute but there's no way it should ever be made compulsory.

RP:  can i ask why? Interested that's all

Me: coz they dont do much to protect, can make some injuries worse, reduce cycling rates and can cause some drivers to pass more closely.

NH: Yeah, it's much safer to cycle in traffic wearing a long blond wig

Me:  tis true. gets you noticed...!

Me: ‎...not that i've tried it or anything!

CD: Places where compulsory helmet wearing has been enforced have seen [sic] fanfic reduction in head injures. There is no evidence to support assertions of vehicle passing closer or injuries made worse. Both evidence and anecdotal reports overwhelmingly support helmet use. They do make a big difference. Interestingly the only discussions I have ever heard are from people who don't seem to want to wear helmets. 

Me: CD.  

I do chose to wear a helmet for most of my cycling but the evidence is questionable IMO. First of all no helmet is designed or tested to withstand damage from impacts above 12 mph and wouldn't make much difference it you are taken out by a vehicle at 40+mph i'm sure you'll agree! Diffuse axonal injury from rotational injury can be increased by helmets, there is evidence from Australia and NZ that legislation forcing helmet use does reduce rates of cycling and a small study did demonstrate some correlation that vehicles passed more closely if you wore a helmet although tis true it may due to other factors such these cyclists being more confident and 'professional' compared to a non helmet wearers. I'll try to find the reference. Further, most of the recent deaths in London were cyclists wearing helmets. They didn't help much there in these tragedies. The Netherlands do not have many helmet wearers and their cycling rate is vastly more than ours and accident rate far smaller. Helmets do have their place but they are not a panacea by any means. Anyway, did you have a good ride today?  

Me: Here's the link. A small study but thought provoking. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001457506001540   

RP: Again talking from total ignorance an interest but do they not reduce head injuries in most cases and in the Netherlands are there not a lot more dedicated cycle lanes?

ES: mine saved me from a nasty egg when a taxi hit me last month! There are 5 other resolutions and as this one has been up before the chances are it won't be voted for!

Me: RP
You'd think so but they are not designed to withstand impacts above 12mph. If the skull comes to a sudden stop the brain carries on moving inside causing a degree of diffuse axonal injury. No helmet can claim to prevent that. The polystyrene absorbs so much impact then breaks. They can certainly reduce skin and soft tissue damage but bone and helmet work in different ways. The fact a helmet might break on impact and the skull didn't does not mean the skull would have been fractured without the helmet.

The Netherlands have much better cycling infrastructure and do separate cyclists from vehicles a lot more than the UK. They choose to do this and not to promote helmet use. They have much increased cycling rates with all the associated societal health benefits. That surely speaks volumes. Helmet benefit is debatable and there are far more effective means of increasing road safety for cyclists and I do wear a helmet!

What is your interest? Do you cycle?

CD: I love lighting the touch paper and stepping back!!!

NH: ES - Please don't tell me the taxi was a white focus estate  

NH: Wearing a wig gets you more space on the road than a helmet http://www.bath.ac.uk/news/articles/archive/overtaking110906.html
I sometimes affect a wobble when riding if I feel especially threatened by passing traffic

RP:  No, just nosey. But just got little one a bike and would always tell him to wear a helmet

Me: Kids are different. They don't go as fast when small and are more likely to fall off. They are who helmets do work for.

NH: Until they understand all the risks and can reason why they aren't wearing one they should wear one.

Me: CD
You being provocative on purpose? Very bad!

ML:  Personally, a helmet has probably saved me from pretty bad head injury twice (so far). On the first occasion I was virtually stationary, and on the second occasion I was moving far faster than 12mph. My view is - if you want to wear one, then wear one. If you don't want to, don't. Kids should be encouraged to wear them at all times. If you have an accident and you're not wearing one, then you're probably buggered.

Me. ML

I'm glad you survived your incidents and I too chose to wear one for a number of reasons. I am totally against making them compulsory though. Out of interest how do you know the helmet actually made the difference?

NH: Thanks ML. you and James Cracknell influence my decision most heavily.

ML: the first incident, I was knocked (briefly) unconscious - with the helmet on. The second incident, my helmet shattered. The staff at A&E assured me that I'd have been pretty, pretty badly hurt if I wasn't wearing one.

WL: I remember the same argument with motorbikes 20 years ago. My helmet has saved my life twice! once at 25 mph and the other at 5mph both time my helmet was trashed but my brain survived (feel free to argue otherwise ES ;o)) If you dont wear a helmet you've no protection, no argument and more importantly almost no compensation!!!

Me: NH

You mean James Cracknell who had a fractured skull, a period of coma and who now cannot drive due his post injury siezures? The helmet might have made a difference to injury severity sustained but that cannot be proven either way. What is certain is that the helmet didn't stop the tanker clipping him in the first place and didn't magically save him.

A tragedy certainly but not convincing proof for helmets i'm afraid.

Me: WL

Motorbike helmets and cycle helmets do not compare. You would have no compensation because they are mandatory. That is the point - you have to wear them!

NH: So why do you wear a helmet ?

Me: ML
On the first you became unconscious therefore you had sustained brain injury. The helmet did not prevent that. On the second the helmet broke. This may or may not have prevented skull/brain injury. I work in A&E and I will tell you it cannot be stated to have saved you from injury only that it may have made a difference.

NH:  May have made a difference is good enough for me thank you

Me: NH

For three reasons. 1. It makes my wife feel better. I wear it for her. 2. It is a very useful mount for bullet cams and my little cycling vids. 3. Most important (for me) I can mount a front and rear Knog light on it in addition to my other lights. I wear it coz it helps me be seen!

Me: Ahh. 31 comments. Had enough. My head hurts. *maybe my helmet is too small!* Goodnight.

NH: I like the videos, we should all be made to record our jouneys and therefore helmets should be mandatory.

ML: May have made a difference is good enough for me, too. Do you wear your seatbelt when you drive, ?

Me: ML

Of course. There is good evidence for 3 point seat belts and they are required. Although it can be argued all the safety gubbins in cars do make drivers feel safer and so they drive faster. Nothing is cut and dried!

 Oh no! I'm responding again. Goodnight.
Me: Just remember. Vehicles are the biggest danger to cyclists. Let's not fall into the trap of making cyclists responsible for mitigating dangerous driving. More pedestrians are killed by motorists than cyclists. Should we force them to wear protective gear if walking near a busy road? Helmets do have a place but they are not all they are cracked up to be (pun intended). 

Off to bed now.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Cycling Weather: December 2011

Happy New Year!

Well the weather for the last month of 2011 has not been bad at all considering the season in the northern hemisphere. Up to 30 December the average temperature in the UK had been 4.7 °C, 0.5 °C above the 1971-2000 average according the Met Office

The temperature was actually a whopping 5.0 °C warmer than December 2010 so I'm not surprised it feels less chilly this year. This was reflected in the lack of ice and and only one snowfall in my area. I have not bothered with my studded tyres so far, where I'd had them on for most of last December if I recall correctly. But with relatively warmer weather can also come wetter weather so what precipitation did I have to contend with?

I have cycle commuted to work 12 times over the month - 24 trips and 100% of my commutes to work (I only work 3-4 shifts per week and took some annual leave as well!). Each return trip had one half in the morning and the other in the evening. In that time I have encountered rain four times on two different days and have been snowed on once during a morning commute.

I work this out to be a grand total of 20.8% commuting trips that were wet in some way. None of this was particularly heavy or uncomfortable rain/snow and some of it did not even last for the whole commute. A rain jacket (and goggles for the snow) was all I needed to add to my normal cold weather cycling gear and I was toasty and dry. Let's see what 2012 brings.