Friday, 24 February 2012

Quality Segregated Cycle Infrastructure - UK Style

Just back from a few days teaching down in Oxford. Of course I went by train and took my bicycle for travel between station, hotel and course centre. 'Twas really nice to be somewhere there are so many cyclists out and about as part of normal everyday activities. It's certainly one of the quicker ways to get round in the city. There are a number of places that encourage cycling permeability, some cycle stands dotted aroung and quite a few cycle lanes, but on the whole the infrastructure is as piecemeal and shoddy as most other towns and cities in the UK. The number of cyclists is due, in large part, to the student population plus the cycle to the train station commuter brigade.

One of the main routes I used was along A40 - the northern by pass - between Headington and north Oxford. This formed a direct and very straight route for my journey (pro) but runs alongside a very busy and noisy urban motorway (con). The cycle route is shared with pedestrians and runs on one side of A40. It does not get much pedestrian use (the main foot propelled persons I noticed using it were runners) but does see a fair number of cyclists. While wide by UK standards and separated from the road (pro) the surface is poorly maintained (con), there are road signs planted in the middle of it (con), it is two way (con), it has a double road junction to cross halfway along (con), it is unlit as is the road and so really, really dark at night (con), and at the northern end, it stops short of the roundabout by a couple of hundred metres of so and puts you back into 60 mph traffic (con). Nice!

Nothing unusual then but what really annoys me (and other cyclists too) is when someone with alleged authority directs cyclists to dismount. They really have no idea!

A decent bit of segregated cycle infrastructure?

Not good. And worse at 22 mph in the dark.

Both roads to cross. Could be worse.

No. I don't want to turn left. I want to go straight on.

On Yer Bike!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Guided Cycle Touring

A large appeal of cycling for me is cycle-touring. It is one of the many facets of cycling that encouraged me back on to two wheels in 2008. I had have visions of taking off on an extended cycle trip to far flung areas for weeks or even months. Something I would will organise myself and be as self sufficient as possible.

Such a trip remains an ambition I may never achieve but in the meantime I do enjoy the little cycle tours I can fit in around other commitments. On these multi-day trips (rather than multi-week or month) I carry a fair bit of kit including camping and cooking stuff, plan the route myself rather than just follow a signed way and like to set my own pace for the most part (for 'own pace' read travel alone!). I want adventure not cosseting.

I know these kind of trips are not everyone's cup of tea and I am certainly not averse to other versions of cycle touring. Currently I am trying to bring together family, friends and dates for a four day trip following the Way of the Roses (WotR) from Morecambe to Bridlington this Summer. This will be a lightweight cycle tour, carrying just the minimal kit, covering less than 50 miles per day and staying in pre-booked B&B/hostels. I'm really looking forward to it.

I have been guided on a cycle tour myself in the past and thoroughly enjoyed it. This was back in 2010 in New York and it was a cycle tour of lower Manhattan lasting a few hours. I loved it. I also hope to go on a guided tour of London at some point. I have even toyed with the idea of setting up my own guided cycle tours of Manchester but I think I would struggle trying to compete with the attractions of the Big Apple and London!

So I am quite intrigued by what Will, a fellow cycle blogger (of WillCycle) is setting up in Devon where he lives. He is offering guided cycle tours lasting 2-3 days following the Devon Coast to Coast cycle route (AKA National Cycle Network 27). This runs north-south (or vice-versa) from Ilfracombe to Plymouth, utilises some picturesque cycle paths such as the Tarka Trail, Granite Way and Drake's Trail and follows old railway lines through gorgeous countryside for large parts - always a winning combination in my book. 

He knows other companies offer cycle tours in the area that provide directions and a baggage carrying service but his is different. These will be escorted trips by a cyclist who lives in the area and knows the history and geography well. What I really enjoyed about my guided trip in New York was the guide who escorted us and gave our little group a rich insight into a fascinating place in a short period of time. Get this right and you are halfway there IMO.

I wish him well with his venture and will follow his progress with just a little envy*. If you have ever fancied dipping your toe into the cycle touring lark but aren't ready for or don't fancy solo touring then what better place to start than with an escorted trip through one of England's most beautiful areas. This is his company website.

*The MiddleAgeCyclist has not received any payment (monetary or otherwise) for this blog post and genuinely just wants to help out a fellow cycle blogger with a great sounding business venture. Thank you.

Monday, 6 February 2012

First Snow Commute 2012

Well the snow came to most parts of the UK on 4 February and, as predicted by many, a few inches of the white stuff brought motoring misery for lots of drivers. I was at work when it started and the majority of staff coming in for the night shift were delayed. Not directly because of the snow but indirectly because a fair number of other drivers were unable to continue on their journeys and simply abandoned their cars. It does make me chuckle every year.

I got home in the fresh stuff on the bike with no problems. However, I changed my Schwalbe Marathon tyres for the Schwalbe Marathon Winter studded tyres in readiness for the next days return early morning commute. Took about 35 minutes all told. 

I was concerned the gritted, slushy roads would freeze overnight and make life on two wheels pretty risky. As it transpired the main roads were clear and the side roads were not too bad either. The studded tyres worked well though and I was able to put more power onto the road and corner more confidently than I would have done otherwise. 

As I am writing this on 6 February, most of the roads are now clear of snow and I was able to take the Golden Child to her Rainbows group on the tagalong. I will keep the studded tyres fitted for the next week or so. They run fine on tarmac (if a little noisy) and the cold weather is set to continue for a while longer I understand. There may be more snow yet and don't intend to get caught out.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Flashy Stuff

I'm getting there! 

Some dark-time messing on the way home from work tonight with: my Santos Travelmaster, lots of cycle lights and reflective stuff, and a camera/flash/tripod combo.

It's not quite what I want but the exposure information is useful. Expect more!

Click for bigger picture

Nikon D5000 with Nikon 12-24 mm DX AF-S f/4 zoom at 12 mm
Exposure: 6 sec // Aperture: f/5 // ISO: 800 // White Balance: Auto // Rear curtain flash
Photoshop: Crop. Levels. Minimal clone stamp to remove lens flare. Sharpening

Wednesday, 1 February 2012


The IAM (Insitute of Advanced Motorists) has emailed me (and no doubt many others) to poll for opinions and experiences about SMIDSY (Sorry Mate I Didn't See You) incidents. 

You don't need to be a member to reply - my membership lapsed many moons ago. Nor do you need to be a motorist - I am primarily a cyclist as a proportion of my time on the road at least.

If you have some opinions and feel the IAM should hear from you about SMIDSYs why not complete the poll? It only takes a few minutes. Cheers all.
Click to go to poll