Monday, 19 December 2011

The joy that is Winter.

It will have not escaped the attention of many of you out there (well at least those in the Northern Hemisphere) that Winter is now well and truly upon us. Last Winter I had only just started cycling but any journey was merely an evening ride of about 7 miles trying to get used to cycling and in an attempt to get fit enough to do the 22 miles work commute on a regular basis. This time round though (ice, colds and broken ribs excluded) I am doing the commute into work through the Winter.

So what have I learnt / noticed so far. Well firstly let  me say how truly impressed I am with modern cycle gear! In temperatures as low as 0c I have not found it necessary to wear any more than 3 thin layers (one base layer, on wind proof jacket and one luminous over-jacket) all layers together are no thicker than a lightweight jumper. Still at the end of each commute I find that I am not only hot enough but in fact I am  sweating. As for my legs one pair of thermal Lycra pants and they are plenty warm enough. I have of course switched to slightly thicker gloves but apart from that the only one other thing has been to wear overshoes, these I have found to absolutely indispensable! My feet are the one part of my body that seems to get freezing (maybe I should also get some proper socks sometime) but the overshoes not only keep your feet dry but they also keep your feet much warmer. The only sadness about these overshoes is just what a Muppet you will look like when you have them on (on the plus side they do also have quite a bit of reflective material). 

I have had occasion to notice a few crazy souls out there – picture the scene it is getting dark (3:30pm) and the temperature is about 1c – a man cycles past me as I walk up the road in my suit, scarf heavy overcoat all tightly bundled up and this man is in a t-shirt and pair of football shorts – no gloves and I am not sure he even had socks on. I am not certain what he was trying to prove, whilst believing he was giving out a message of manliness I personally believe he was giving out a message of madness.

Apart from how warm cycling clothes are, another thing I have noticed is the massive drop off in number of cyclists I see on the road. This does seem to vary, for example around Southwark bridge I do still see a reasonable number of cyclists – but on my route heading South East out of London the number of riders is probably 5 to 10% of what I see in the summer. Now this raises (to me) a very important point which seems to be glossed over by every cycling advocacy site I see. No matter how many cyclist there are (and yes the average number is growing) and everyone starts banging the drum of how cycling is the only realistic future of transport, we need to be realistic about how the numbers drop off in the cold weather.

If you are planning public transport or road layout then obviously road usage figures need to  be taken into account and this drop off in cycling during Winter months is going to affect things. It seems to me that whenever the question of cycle lanes etc. are talked about, cyclists happily trot out the number of cyclists in summer and conveniently forget about Winter. The truth of the matter is that some days, even for me, cycling is just not practicable. I really don’t want to risk slipping on ice into the path of a lorry (that itself is going to take longer to stop) and on a personal level, I just don’t like riding in gale force winds (especially those that blow me sideways). With the best will in the world I cannot cycle every day. Cycling cannot be the answer for everything all the time – yeah I am sure for some hardy souls this may be the case but for me (and it seems like more so for most others) it is just not going to be my preferred choice of transport on every occasion.

The above said – I still think the severity of the drop off rate is a real shame. At this time of year the colds and viruses multiply, this is not because it is cold but because of the increased amount of time people spend indoors in closer proximity to one and other and we commuters get the full benefit of this when we get onto the train / tube / bus. What better way to avoid all this than being on your bike as often as possible. Also there is nothing better for blowing the cobwebs of the day in the office with all the heating blaring out, than a bracing ride in the elements.  Another interesting thing I have noticed is the drop off rate of women cyclists is far lower than that of men – no idea why this is, but really guys man up!

Having just read the above I realise there are a few reviews of equipment I have never bothered to write and really I think I should. Apart from joining everyone else in moaning about the Bow roundabout, there really isn’t that much to talk about right now.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Review of Specialized S-Works Prevail 2011 Helmet

The wind is blowing and winter has set in – considering I commute daily on my bike in London, even someone who hates helmets as much as me has had to resign themselves to the fact that they needed a new helmet. I had bought a new helmet last winter – but the helmet and I just didn’t get on (once the temperature went above 5c) and so I set out to buy a new one this year.

I have a real issue with helmets - I am not a fan of how I look in one and above and beyond everything else, I have what I can only assume is a very hot head. My head gets so hot when I ride that unless the temperature is below freezing I sweat like mad.

Eleven months ago I bought what I thought was a good helmet (name not important) – it looked good but I found myself unable to wear it due to heat build-up unless it was -5 c. In anything above 0c I was not enjoying the experience. I bought the last helmet during the cold snap last year but as soon as the temperature went above +5c I found myself unable to wear it for any length of time. I found myself tilting it backwards to get more air to my forehead, and as we all know, that makes the wearing of a helmet even more pointless. By March this year I had totally given up on wearing it and passed it on to my son who is not as hot headed as me – well at least not when cycling.

Fast forward to December this year and the cold and wet are starting to close in and I know I need a new helmet for my daily commute. So I investigated the situation and decided on this helmet the Specialized S-Works Prevail 2011 Helmet. I have used it in + 10c in hard rides and although I still sweat a little it is nowhere to the level I used to get. This is so far, the only helmet in my experience that gives me enough ventilation.

The weight of this helmet has to be felt to be believed – hold it in your hand and then hold another £100 helmet and you can easily feel how much lighter it is – this makes a real difference when you are riding for more than 20 minutes. It is so light, that if you support the weight of the chin strap in your other hand it makes a noticeable difference to the overall helmet weight - so small are the margins. Also I have noticed that it suffers less in crosswinds the other helmets I have used – with some you can feel the extra force on your neck.

Most importantly, if you are going to buy a helmet you are buying it to protect your head (duh obvious) – so take a little time to look at the safety approval of helmets on the market – this helmet has the Snell safety approval, a higher level than the required EN1078 European safety level. Why if you are going to look like a Mario brothers mushroom cycling down the road don’t you a least make worth your while in extra safety?

Apparently because the more expensive helmets are better built and lighter construction they have less of a profile – I have no idea about this and I am not going to go and take a tape measure to the LBS to find out – but it makes sense and I do “feel” this helmet is slightly less mushroom like.

As for comfort, this helmet is a doddle to adjust – after first setting up the chin strap and helmet height you just turn the dial at the back to tighten or loosen it. As for overall comfort – the padding is adequate but as everyone has different sized heads whether this helmet offers you enough comfort you can only tell when you put it on, I went to the LBS and was very impressed by its overall comfort but that’s just me.

Final thing is style (for a MAMBO the most important thing) - I went for the Ion Yellow (as per the main picture) – mostly because that extra bit of bright colour helps to get you get noticed on the road and also because it stands out against other helmets – let’s be honest if you are going to spend this large an amount of cash on a helmet, you might as well stand out and let all the other cyclists know what a flash git you are. The only downside is that I soon discovered that Ion Yellow is the same colour scheme as my bike and now I feel a bit nerdy-overly colour co-ordinated (all in all I have made worse fashion faux pas in my life).

MAMBO Score: 9/10 – why can these things be cheaper!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

It Has Been A While.

Am I a blogger that starts off all keen and then eventually forgets to post any more? Well to be honest I have no idea. What I do know though is that I have been incredibly busy with work and also having to work from different offices – so finding the time to just sit and compose my latest masterpiece (self-delusion is a great thing) has not been possible.

Coupled with my increased work commitments, I have also had the misfortune to break a couple of ribs, no I didn’t do it cycling – but the end result is the same – no cycling for a six week period. Though in all honesty standing crammed onto a train with the great unwashed pushing and shoving me, probably meant my ribs took longer to heal than if I had ridden, but the pain was too great and I am a wimp.

The six week cycle break left me feeling more than a little ragged, I soon realised that I am very reliant on my daily cycle for my mental well-being – that 1 hour of mind clearing at the beginning and end of the working day. I was definitely more grumpy and often a lot less energised about life in general, I also think my work output was lower – this might have been down to my constant rib pain as well though. On top of feeling ragged I also quickly felt my body wasting away – it wasn’t just the lack of exercise but the general sedentary lifestyle forced on me that seemed to quickly take a toll on my ageing body. 

Another negative from using public transport has been the massive increase in the number of colds I have had. I know it is the season for it but I am certain if I had been cycling I could have avoided most if not all of the colds (yes I am very susceptible to them). It got to the point that I went back to cycling into work when I still had a cold rather than risk picking up another (and transferring it to other poor unfortunates).
On the plus side once I started cycling again it has not taken too long for me to get to a reasonable level of fitness – I am still below my fitness level pre break (excuse the pun) but I was soon able to cycle the same distances if just a little slower.

So here I am cycling into work, got my chilly weather gear on and feeling better with the world. Still not cycling in every day though – I don’t mind the cold and don’t even mind a bit of rain, after all I have clothing to deal with this – but I seriously object to the strong winds of the last week! What is it with the wind – why does it always have to blow into my face on my way home (a route that is predominately uphill)? The wind is like Gods way of saying I hate you and I am going to punish you for not eating your greens when you were a kid. When the wind is behind you, life is great, you feel like you are Samson standing in that temple that he knocked down (OK I am a bit sketchy on that particular tale) anyway you feel pretty fantastic.

When I am undecided as to whether I will cycle or not – I look at the weather forecast – if it’s rainy I pack the appropriate clothes – if it is windy I pack my Oyster card.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Yucky Things

Just a quick post to give you some detail on the murkier side of cycling.

For some reason – only best known to the Gods, this week two really rather gross things happened to me. The first was nothing new, I guess, to a lot of cyclists, but for me after about 10 months of riding it was definitely the first and hopefully the last time it happened. On the last 300 metres to my house I am obviously puffing and panting a bit, to my total horror I managed to swallow a fly! The worst thing was, I felt it shoot into my mouth and stick to the back of my throat – I immediately stopped, bent over double and hacked for all I was worth (so much so I came close to throwing up). In retrospect I think maybe it would have been better if I had thrown up at least then the little git couldn’t lay a million eggs in my stomach. But the idea of making myself throw up by the roadside, in my own road, filled my ego with dread – what if a neighbour saw me? They might think I am unfit and was throwing up from exhaustion, oh the shame of it!

I am having nightmares now of going to the toilet and passing out a swarm of flies – the only upside of the whole event (apart from being better off after the incident than the fly would have been) is that my wife suggested I should make sure it was dead by drowning it in vodka – one piece of advice from her that I definitely followed, even if I didn’t think it plausible.

Mambo Score: Mambo (-10)
Fly Score (-100)

The other yucky event happened two days earlier – on my way home from work again. Whilst passing through Lewisham (you will see in a later post my opinion of people from Lewisham) I went through an underpass. Now standing either side of the underpass (about 6 metres to either side)  was a group of pedestrians. I, in my great wisdom, thought they had stopped because of the big puddle that had developed there (it was raining quite hard) and they didn’t want to get their feet wet. It was time to show the superiority of the cyclist.

I had no need to fear a puddle and therefore if anything went a little faster than I would normally through a puddle, I wanted to show them that I had no fear of a puddle on my trusty bike. I remember doing the same once a number of years back when I was in a big 4 x 4, all the other cars had stopped at a massive flood in the road I just continued through it at quite a speed, the magnificent plumes of water either side of the car as a I shoot through, announcing to all the onlookers that I had one over on them.

Now back to the Lewisham “puddle” – as I rode up to it full of confidence and arrogance a terrific smell hit my nostrils! This was no ordinary puddle – but a massive lake of crap – obviously the sewers had blocked / flooded and had pushed their contents up onto the footpath. 

But it was too late – I could not stop – I hit the crap lake going too fast – fortunately it was the consistency of porridge and I managed to make to the other side, but not without quite a large amount spraying up onto my shoes and (horror of horrors) up my back as I had no rear mudguard on. I had two choices, ride round the corner and kill myself or make it to the nearest petrol station (about 1,000 meters) and wash it off. Obviously I went for the second option (though it was a close call). At the petrol station I went to the water pump and to the bemused looks of the people filling up their cars, started to poor water over my feet, then my back and then the bike. I am not sure being covered in human excrement is ever an advisable thing – but when you know it is from the bowels of Lewisham residents – then, well it just can’t be any worse?

Mambo Score: (-1,000,000) (X 100 because it was in Lewisham).

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Selle SMP Stratos Saddle Review

Sorry but recently I have been a busy bunny at work and not had time to post to my Blog but I really need to make an effort so here goes:

The following has been a long time in coming, but I have at last got round to giving my fully tested feelings on the “Selle SMP Stratos” saddle that I bought over a month ago. I thought it might be fun to use the Good, Bad and Ugly approach. No idea why – not sure it will even work – but the idea came into my head as I was typing this sentence, so why not?

The Ugly

This is a simple one – the price is ugly – very ugly! The saddle should be the half the price of the £150 I paid – but my guess is that Selle SMP have this patented up the wazoo. If you genuinely want something that is different then I guess this is what you are going to have to face. At least you are aware of what the price is before you buy, so you can’t say you weren’t warned. But buying bike accessories seems to cause a shut down in the “money” sides of some people’s minds, so I am sure a lot of people are not going to baulk at this price if they get a real benefit from the saddle. There was also the further consideration that I am mainly a commuter cyclist and that is a lot of money for a commuter saddle.

So why was I willing to spend so much? The saddle is the main interface between you and the bike and I think (certainly as far as I was concerned) something that people do not spend enough time looking into properly – especially when you consider the major difference between a saddle that works for you versus one that doesn’t. It is like people who buy an expensive computer and then get a cut price monitor, I have always bought my monitors separately and bought the best I could afford – this Screen will often last for 2 or 3 computer systems – a good monitor like a good saddle just goes on giving!

One other “Ugly” is maybe the look of the saddle – personally I think it looks great! Taste though is a personal thing and some may think the saddle ugly but for me the saddle definitely looks the part.

The Bad.

Not too many things about the saddle I would consider bad in all truth. If I search around for a bad then the only thing would be the fact that the Nap leather cover (which is very beautiful to behold and would not look out of place on your Ferrari seat) is impossible to keep that matt look of, when you consider you have to put up with rain. For me the idea of having the beautiful leather ruined by rain is just too much to bear, so you are going to have to treat it with some form of protector. There are various things available from Selle – but I went for suede leather protector / water proofer. This seems to have worked fairly well, but you are going to end up with some slight shine, his then means that fantastic matt leather look is going to go, I suppose you could move to somewhere where rain is very rare but that is really taking it too far. Anyone else know of a product that will protect the saddle from rain and not lose the matt finish?

The real “Bad” of this saddle though is the whole buying process. Think about it, this saddle is rather radical in its design and it’s expensive. The only way I would feel comfortable in buying such an item would be to try a tester saddle for a few miles before parting with hard earned cash. The sad fact is that I was completely unable to find a Local Bike Shop that sold these saddles (I have had a moan to Evans Cycle Stores). This means the risk factor of buying this saddle is massive, I knew no one else who had this saddle so that I could try it out.

I ended up trawling through numerous internet sites reading review after review and BB posts galore. If it hadn’t been for the fact that over 95% were very positive, I don’t think I would have been willing to take the risk. Plenty of people sell them online but that was about it, I also found the sizing chart on the Selle site to be not massively useful, more specifically there use of waist size as an indicator of what saddle to buy. I really had to do a lot of extra reading to self-teach myself about what I should be looking for to find the right saddle – I am not exaggerating when I said I spent about 10 hours reading many sites about saddles in general.

Luckily for me, my local Evans store were more than happy for me to use their Ass-o-meters so I could measure my sit bone width, even though they knew I was going to buy a brand that they did not sell (thanks guys). With this information I found the right saddle for me was the Stratos (two sizes smaller than I had been thinking I would initially buy).

My saddle was causing me a lot of discomfort and was really starting to affect my cycling pleasure and the situation was in real need of a permanent remedy! I was determined to get this purchase right and I was going to have to take a risk if I wanted this one.

The Good

I was having a multitude of problems, the saddle that came with the bike was simply way too large for me. When I first started on the saddle I thought it was like a razor blade, but the truth was it was way too large (go figure). Not only was this leading to a numb and painful rear end but it was also causing me to get pains down my right leg, this I can only assume was down to the fact that blood flow down the right hand side of my body was being constricted. There was an ever growing deterioration in my average speed and enjoyment whilst cycling.

I set up the Stratos saddle using the concise information provided with the saddle (and on the Selle SMP website) for fitting and for the next 3 weeks tweaked the settings (I still may change a little more backward / forward adjustment, but very minor). The saddle was fairly comfortable from the start, there was a little getting used to the new type of saddle which, for me was also compounded by the fact that this was the thinnest saddle I had ever used by quite some way, given this major change I would have to say that the fact the initial week of use was so problem free was a miracle. There were a few times where my rear end started to ache a little but even this was minimal compared to what I had put up with using my previous saddle, it only took a quick stand up in the pedals and it went away fast.

Was has surprised me during the fine adjustment phase was how even a minor ¼ turn of the saddle tilt screw (maybe equal to half a degree angle adjustment) made such a major change to the feel and comfort of the saddle, I had set it up to start with completely level, but I found even a little too much tilt forward resulted in me slipping forward in the saddle greatly.

This saddle has a real sweet spot – when you sit on the sweet spot it feels like you are sitting on air and if it wasn’t for the fact the first meter of your colon was being straightened out, you would wonder if you actually had a saddle on your bike. This sweet spot is like heaven but I must admit to not being able to find it all the time easily – but since the minor change in tilt last week I am finding it more often now. This is why I also want to fiddle a very little with the forward / backward adjustment.

So saddle comfort is fantastic for me and I am in general a great complainer. What has greatly surprised me though is my average speeds have massively increased – judging by my times to a from work (11 miles each way) I would approximate that this saddle has increased my speeds by about 9%. Now this is a fairly drastic claim I realise, so best I explain myself. I do not expect everyone to experience such an improvement but I was really suffering with my old saddle so I think the improvement is greater. So what do I think the reasons for the improvement were?

Firstly, because I didn’t have the often constant pain in my rear I am now able to put increased pedal time on each ride, rather than standing on the pedals to relieve pressure.
Secondly, I have lost the cramp down my right hand leg – no longer am I having to ease up because of lack of blood flow
Thirdly, the saddle is fairly light when compared to my old one (about 2/3rd the weight) – minor difference I agree.

I suppose other things to mention is the hook nose – well I can’t remember catching my pants on the saddle any more so I guess it works but then I didn’t catch my pants on the old saddle often before either.

The saddle is also constructed really well, there are no poorly made bits and its finish is excellent. I have heard people complain that the embroidery on the side can wear out your Lycra pants. Personally I just see the writing as a pointless advert that would be better left out so it doesn’t ruin the beautiful lines of the saddle. On the bright side if people can only complain about the stitching wearing out their Lycra pants then you know they have had to really scrape around for something to complain about.

As a final point – lets deal with that massive gap in the middle – does it relieve pressure on you “laughing carrot”? Well I cannot answer this properly, I have never had a problem peeing after a ride – maybe next year it would have been a problem as I intend on doing long weekend rides – the most I have done up to now is 40 miles. The truth of the matter is I could never contemplated a long ride on the old saddle to start with, so I will have nothing to compare this new saddle against.

As I wear padded Lycra underneath a pair of bike shorts I guess I also have too much material in this area and this is going to reduce the effectiveness of this saddle gap. Either way, I continue to have no problem in this area with the Selle SMP Stratos saddle – and although it looks like the saddle should be uncomfortable with this big gap, as I have mentioned above it is wonderfully comfortable.

Because the rest of the saddle does such a wonderful job I am sure the gap does its job just as well. My advice is to just look at other reviews where people says this saddle has really helped them out and fixed the peeing etc. problem. There is also medical tests you can review also.


I think that anyone buying this saddle is going to disappointed if they expect a miracle cure. For me it has been a quantum leap in comfort, but it is not going to get rid of all pain all the time, then again many other saddles would have probably suited me rather than the useless one I had before. I do feel that the money spent has been worthwhile and I have no regrets about buying this saddle and I will continue to use it on my next bike, can you give a better recommendation than that?

The only real bug bear I have about the whole process, is the “risk” involved with buying the saddle without the chance to test it beforehand. If I had tested this saddle I would have still bought it, but I am annoyed at having to take such a risk, I was really worried about having a £150 saddle which was of no use. The saddle looks great in my opinion and has increased my comfort many fold with the corresponding boost in speed.

If you have the chance to test the saddle out I would really go for it, even if you current saddle isn’t that bad. Otherwise you need to be suffering quite a bit like me to take the risk of buying without trying. But given the great pleasure I have had from the saddle then I think it is a worthwhile risk to take – but please measure your sit bones before ordering.

Mambo Score – Saddle 9/10  (buying process 1/10)

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The Blog Bites Back

Last week I managed my best time yet into work (a full 90 seconds better). I covered the 11 miles into work in 30 minutes and 30 seconds! I was so proud of myself and for the first time ever, my target of managing the journey in under 30 minutes seems possible (though in truth I do not expect to achieve it until next summer). I have been stuck on a best time of 32 to 33 minutes for a few months now.

With great fanfare I announce this to my wife expecting much amazement and applause (OK so maybe I was being a little hopeful) but a "well done" would have appreciated. Things looked initially promising, I got a “you didn’t, really” me thinking this was a prelude to “that is fantastic – I can’t believe you cycled in so fast”. Sadly the sentence that followed was “I reading your Blog where you say about cyclists telling little fibs”.

Early on in this Blog I wrote a post called “Those little fibs we tell” explaining how cyclist can be prone to exaggeration. This has now come back to bite me in the ass.

So here in writing, on what is obviously some sort of bible to cycling truth, I would like to state. Yes I really did, I cycled into work in 30 minutes and 30 seconds and I hope my wife reads this at some time!

More boringly, the only reason why I managed such a fast time over my usual journey time was because I picked up a rather fast cyclist (as compared to me) very close to my home. Therefore early on I was pushing much harder than I usually do, normally this only occurs near to work, when I see the time and realise unless I put my “peddle to the metal” (poor choice of saying I think for a bike Blog) I will be late for work. Anyway after struggling to hold on behind this cyclist for about 6 miles we came to a point where I know a bit of a short cut (good for about 30-40 seconds) being behind he didn’t see me peel off to take it.

After that, there then followed 5 miles of me cycling like a fox with the hounds behind him – the way I figured it, if he saw me in front, then he might start to really push it and overtake me. After all the effort I had put in, I was not going to let this happen! I rode like a man possessed with the devil behind him coming to take his soul. Now I am not sure but I think the guy may have been behind me as I pulled off to go into the road where my office was – I really hope he was, the thought of this person seeing my triumphant progress of the main route and him knowing that I had bested him – I can only imagine (with glee) how dour the rest of his day must have been.  In truth the reality is that I was probably hallucinating, due to oxygen starvation, by this point in the journey and he wasn’t there at all.

Anyway my joy was not long lived – on my way home that evening, going up the hill of pain (see numerous post before) the bugger overtook me!

As a final point I would just like to make a formal note on this Blog that the weather in London for the vast majority of the months of July and August has been a total crud hole. Never mind looking at the weather forecast to see what the weather will be like for a week – I am lucky if the bright sunshine hasn’t turned into a downpour by the time I reach the end of my drive. I am having a serious problem trying to think of a time when the weather has been so unpredictable and changeable, I much prefer sunshine to rain for cycling in, I therefore humbly suggest that God works for TFL after all he must hate cyclists to give us this weather!

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

We're running up that hill - we're running up that hill.

Just for those not in the know - the title is taken from an old Kate Bush song.

I haven't posted in a bit, basically things have just been ticking along - I am trying to get used to my new saddle (review will follow after proper testing) and am down to small changes in the angle of the saddle. Beyond that I have just been getting along with the daily grind with work seeming to sap me of most of my energy currently.

The one thing I am really trying to get a handle on, is my appalling hill climbing ability. To be honest it is now starting to become a real issue with me in my head. I am at a total loss to explain why I am so bad at hills. On the flat (as I have mentioned before) I shoot past 90% of cyclists and seem to be making a steady improvement in my average speed and fitness, therefore I am enjoying my commute more as it becomes less taxing and my recovery is quicker. But on a hill - 95% of people overtake me (this is not a lie) I just crumple, and hills seem to drain me of all of my energy very quickly.

Yesterday I was ecstatic I actually overtook someone on a hill! This was a truly rare event for me and it was with great pride that I looked over to the gentleman as I passed him - only to discover he was probably about 70. And it hadn't been that easy to overtake him in the first place. Back onto the flat and the speed ratchets up to 24 mph cruising speed again with no problem.

Why of why can I not master hills? Why am I so desperately bad on them?

I now have a new plan - one problem I noticed was I tend to be in the highest gear but on the largest chain ring at the front. This means I can sit in the saddle and maintain a reasonable cadence at least, going up the hill - but if I decide to stand out of the saddle for extra power the gear is just to high for my weight, so I quickly have to sit back down.

So now I have started a gradual process of lowering the gear on the hills - so far I have dropped one gear for the whole hill and am in the process of dropping 2 gears for the first half and one gear only for the second half. I am hoping this will increase the strength in my legs - but this is another weird area for me. I have always had very strong legs (or so I thought) - I was a very high level sprinter at one time and I also am able to do near maximum weights on squat machines if I go to a gym. 

So this leaves me feeling even more confused - hills just hate me but I hate them more! Anyway apart from the gradually upping of gears on the "hill of pain" on my way home from work - I am doing a few squats daily (not too much because I am always fairly tired by the time I get home and I don't want to over stress my tired legs more). I will see if this and the gearing will help - after all, I can't use the bad saddle excuse any more. Maybe just maybe, I no longer have the desire or ability in my mid forties to take the necessary pain required to develop my strength enough to cope with hills properly but I feel this hill problem is restricting my pleasure of cycling and before I set off on a new route I always take a fair amount of time to check out the hills I might have to face and alter the route accordingly - I don't really want t have to do this though - HELP!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Twitter - how looters use it and how you might be starting your own riots

Sorry non biking post today. It has been interesting watching how Twitter has worked during the London Riots, and I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to explain to people how it is being used by looters, and how to stop you inadvertently starting your own riot or at the least unknowingly assisting people in spreading disinformation for the benefit of the looters. Before I go into how innocent people may be assisting them – let’s have a quick look at what the looters are trying to achieve and finally we will look at how you can make sure you are not adding fuel to the fire (excuse the pun) inadvertently.

    So what do you need if you want to start your own riot.
  1.  Lack of police – done by making sure they are spread as thin as possible over a large area 
  2.  A sufficient amount of people to have enough critical mass to get the riot on the move.

So how do you do this? Well there isn’t some great master plan – yes amongst the more hardened criminals there is the use of Black Berry messaging (encrypted), but generally speaking to get the necessary critical mass you need then the use of Twitter is invaluable. The young kids following Twitter “looking for action” are your foot soldiers and cannon fodder. Even if you fail in your objective of getting enough of them mobilized in an area, even four or five kids snooping around looking for action will divert police time and resources.

So say you main target is town X – all you need to do is send messages out about towns Y and Z as well as X. The organised professional looters will know what that the main target is X and will be focused there and there will be enough of them to guarantee the nucleus of a critical mass. Meanwhile messages will be going out saying there is a riot happening and it is all “kicking off” in town Y and Z as well. Maybe just maybe something will happen in towns Y and Z also – if it does all the better as the police will be even further stretched, if not at least a few people will turn up to divert enough resources.

If a young looter hears it is all happening in town Y at JD Sports and he turns up there and there is nothing happening – by the time there are ten or so of them the crowd mentality will kick off, one guy will start by a quick kick of the metal shutters followed by a second looter giving it a harder kick and before you know it they are in full flow – then the false Twitter post of a riot becomes a reality.

Now we get to the point of how Twitter users are either deliberately or inadvertently helping them.

If I am looter I send out my false message that there is a riot in Town Y. He will have one or two mates who will either re-tweet this and then the army of Muppet tweeters will start re-tweeting it for him. What is a Muppet Tweeter and are you Muppet Tweeter?

A Muppet Tweeter is someone who is desperate for followers and will send out anything just to be notice – just generally a desperate attention seeker and basically of no value to how Tweeting in general.

Let’s ask a question – what is the point of you tweeting “Riot in town #Y buildings are burning #LondonRiots” – do you think your group of 5 followers from some far off country are desperate to hear your news? Are they waiting with baited breath for your next piece of investigative journalism or are you just attention seeking? Do you not think that just maybe anyone following Twitter will have searched with #Y and #LondonRiots already and already seen the post you are re-tweeting? Yes of course they have, all you have achieved with your re-tweet or new post is to increase the rumour mill, if enough people believe a lie it becomes the truth.

If enough people do the same as you – everyone will think the riot is actually happening – looters from the area around Town Y will start turning up in numbers and then false Tweet feed will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So that’s the negative message – how can we as individuals stop this from happening and also what could the authorities do?

  1. Do not re-tweet something people are using the same hash tags for searches as you. 
  2. Unless you have something of actual value – some information that you have actually witnessed then don’t bother tweeting it. 
  3. Find a person on Twitter who is actually in the area in question and follow them, that way you will get the actual events not some made up story.
  4. Realise that 5 kids hanging on a street corner is not a riot 
  5. Think before you Tweet – are you adding value to the information people are desperately searching for or are you just adding to the rumour mill? Remember to quote the WW2 phrase - loose talk costs HD TV sets (OK I adapted it a bit).

As for the authorities.

What the supposedly tech savvy police and local authorities need to do is to start sending out authorised tweets – if we see a tweet is from a police account or local authority, then we will know it is the truth and not some rumour or deliberate miss-information. But the problem with this is the procedures the police feel they have to go through in order to deal with health and safety and liability. If say for example the police send out a message saying things are quiet currently in town #Y and then it kicks off later someone is bound to say – I went for a drink in Town Y and ended up being mugged, it is all the police fault. Well these are extraordinary times and it requires a bit of bottle (not another pun please). Police should send out a message saying something like “Town #Y has no rioting currently, all is quite but please keep away for now”. 

The authorities must start understand that Twitter and social feeds are about FAST news - they can't wait an hour (or even 5 minutes to go through reporting channels before sending out a message) it needs to be fast and current. They need to sit down and set out a relevant procedure to achieve this aim.

Instead the police and local authority are just chasing around the Twitter feeds like a lost chicken and being drawn into false information as much as the rest of us – yes I am sure they know some of the “proper” accounts to follow as well though.

So now for something different.

A couple of funny things from the riots

Firstly someone received a mail from a friend abroad – in it the friend asked what JD Sports had done to annoy so many people and to make it a target of rioting.

Secondly a great picture from the Brixton riot – the girl in the photo was caught for looting the local Curry’s Electrical Store – the only thing being that it was a store she worked at during the day!

That’s staff loyalty for you