Thursday, 30 June 2011

Experience Counts

I take for granted the amount of years I have been on the road and the "6th Sense" I have gained from it. In all, I have been driving a car for about 28 years. 

When I started driving I was a walking (well driving) disaster zone - a one man wrecking ball of a driver. In my first year of driving I had 5 accidents - all of them reasonably large. One time, they had yet to complete the repairs from a previous crash (they had yet to put on a new bonnet ornament) when I crashed the car again, this time all down the left hand side whilst overtaking a caravan (sadly I had failed to notice that the car pulling the caravan was turning right as I was overtaking it). My main problem was driving at normal speed - if I was racing my mind was fully focused on the job and I never crashed - it was when I was idling along (well as much as a 17 year old boy considers to be idling) then I had crashes (yes I consider overtaking a car pulling a caravan as idling along).

As an aside here I would like to thank my father for keeping me mobile, by fixing the car each time I crashed it and having the patience of a Saint when dealing with his errant son (I would not have that kind of patience with my boys). Eventually I "wrote the car off" on my 5th attempt. 

My dad then bought me  a 1.3 slightly knackered Opel which I then had to really learn to drive in (the insurers had lost patience with me and were not going to allow me back into the newer and more powerful cars I had been driving). In that Opel I learnt to eventually drive (though there were a number of close calls) two years later I got a new Peugot 205 GTi - quite the car for a young boy in the 80's.

After my first year of terror - I came up with a routine to go through before getting in the car - the routine didn't matter - but it made me think before I got in the car. Ever since then (so the last 26 years) I have only had one accident when a car turned in front of me - so the insurers agreed it was 100% his fault.

Over the past 26 years I have come to think I am fairly good at driving - not great but I am at least competent on the road. This has not come about from some great revelation in car handling (though a few days at race tracks has helped this) but more from learning what the other idiots on the road are probably going to do. You learn to get a sense from the posture of the car on the road and it's position of how it it is being driven and by whom. This "6th sense" - really it is nothing of the sort, it is just experience, I take it for granted now - it has enabled me to avoid many crashes and a majority of experienced drivers have the same experience and knowledge.

Today I was out with my son on our bikes - it was nothing major just a quick dash to the shops (1 mile) - I used the bikes to avoid the hassle of parking. Because my bike lock is at work I took my son along to hold the bikes whilst I went into the shop and also to get him to see the bike as a way of getting around sometimes, instead of Daddy Taxi. On our way home we were passing down a residential street with cars part at various intervals on either side of the road. A car was approaching us and I immediately sensed that this was a driver who stopped for no-one and who has no idea of what a sensible speed for a residential road is - my son saw this about two seconds later, and whilst I came to a gradual and controlled stop my son went skidding to a halt - fortunately he didn't go into the back of me or fall off in front of the car (it was not travelling at a speed where it could have stopped).

So where is all leading us? Well the reality is, although my son "knows" the rules of the road - he hasn't got the experience yet, he is 13. Today he saw first hand that he lacks experience, but at least now he knows this is the case (we had a chat about it at home). The sad truth is though, there are a lot of cyclist on the road without years of road experience either. 

I could have 5 crashes in my car - I was protected - but a cyclist maybe doesn't get those 5 strikes, he may be out on strike 1. Sadly many of these inexperienced cyclists are unaware that they are lacking this road sense. The main reason I believe for so many young moped drivers being killed and injured is from the same lack of experience. 

When I started riding again there were a number of technical issues, such as position on the road, when to move across a road, how to overtake etc. where I knew I was lacking in knowledge. I took the time to watch people who looked to be experiences cyclists to see how they dealt with various situations, these are practical cycling skills which I had to learn (at least I knew I had to learn them). This is separate from the road experience I am talking about now, and I don't believe many people who have not driven or cycled for a large number of years have this knowledge and to me that covers a lot of younger cyclists.

The sad truth about all this is that if I am right there is nothing that can be done about it - you only get experience by being on the road and therefore putting yourself in danger.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The Good with the Bad

Yet more evidence of my mortality yesterday (as if I needed any more). I ended up in hospital with a boulder sized Kidney stone rendering my life over. So there then followed a trip (after suffering for 24 hours hoping it would move) to Accident and Emergency, they couldn't get it moved either.

Next stop, an operation under general anaesthetic 5 hours later (I needed a period of starvation) and a lot of prodding and poking down an unmentionable tube. Anyway 12 hours later I am fine and drove back from hospital.
Now there are some among you (the regular readers) that will start to realise that I have issues with looking at the negative side of things and I am not one to dwell on things to much (especially if that entails any form of effort on my behalf) not sure if this is due to an optimistic personality or the fact that I am just plain immature. Therefore I bring you the good news of the whole proceedings that have taken place. I noticed that in my blood pressure tests (after the operation as they were a little scattered beforehand) that my at rest heartbeat has dropped by 15 since I have taken up cycling 7 months ago, YAY!

I can hereby confirm that although I may getting a little frayed around the edges - I am at least a fitter person and I am sure that will help stop the other fraying taking place so quick - you will for obvious reasons, excuse the shortness of this post.

Whilst in hospital I was thinking I have done very few review on equipment as of late - this I intend to remedy.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Excellent Article I found on Bike Snob NYC

The following is copied from Bike Snob NYC - okay it is talking about the situation in NY but I think it is a very well written article (something I am not capable of) and it deserves reproducing for others to read.

A nice quote for the weekend

At work yesterday I was told of a wonderful quote for all bike commuters.

"Riding a bike into work, allows you to feel smug all day" - how very true.

An as an aside to all this I have been very pleased to see the number of readers of this blog has increased greatly over the last couple of weeks. I do hope that it offers some entertainment and occasionally some useful information. 

I try to offer an alternative view to what I see written in many other places. I feel this comes from the perspective of being a cyclist / motorist in equal parts and a fair amount of experience in actually working for some of the Government Departments so often criticized. Whilst it does not make the criticism less justified to me, it does mean I have an insight into how the often crazy decision making process comes about. 

I have no doubt that the Highway Experts in regional, Local and National Government look at some posts and think their writers are ill informed noobs, who don't see the whole picture (and in some cases this is right) but at the same time too large an amount of them do not really understand the plight of the cyclist. What has always made me wonder is why the two sides have never effectively sat down together and made each other aware of their various priorities. Actually, that is probably down to the fact even if you want to have a quick chat to the person sitting next to you in a Government office, then it seems necessary to book a meeting room and a time slot 3 weeks hence - I just find out what pub they use at lunchtime and accidentally bump into them there.

I shall content myself by sitting in my little bubble and continue to try and learn how to pedal properly, how to make it up a hill without having the urge to commit Hara-Kiri at the top, and concocting cunning plans to rid the world of London cab drivers. Whilst those with more knowledge than I on these matters, argue amongst themselves without educating each other.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Oh Lordy I am trying out Twitter!

So in a desperate bid to get more followers to keep my readers updated as to when I have put a new post up, I have set up a Twitter account.

You can see my handy links on the right hand menu - you can either Tweet to your many followers about one of my informative and hilarious useless posts - or you can even click on the link to follow me!

As you can see I have also discovered the witty use of the crossed out text format. OK maybe not.

Anyway please follow me on Twitter and make me feel of value.

Things that have changed since I started cycling

I thought it might be fun to go over some of the things that have changed since I started cycling, things I used to do and now I don't.

1) Obviously I very rarely go on public transport now and when I do I feel very claustrophobic - I also find myself getting irate with the poor service very quickly. Before I was resigned to delays and almost accepted them as a fact of life, nowadays I know there is an alternative and I am much quicker to condone the pile of cr*p that it is.

2) I have much more physical energy (feel the force Luke) - although inherently lazy I find myself running up steps two at a time without thinking. As soon as I realise what a crazy fool I am being, I quickly revert back to slouching up the steps one at a time and slowly - I don't want to break habits of a lifetime after all.

3) When cycling I never bother going through the gears on my small chain ring any more. Basically it is all or nothing with me - I am either on the large chain ring (99.99% of the time) if I need to go into lower gear then I know I am totally knackered and go straight to the lowest gear possible - as soon as the hill disappears I go straight back onto the large chain ring. The hassle of going through the lower gears is just to much hassle, besides I am too lazy to try and figure out exactly what gear equates to what effort.

4)  I never bother to look at the rear cassette any more. I have SRAM gears on my bike and they don't come with the handy "what gear you are in indicator". This really troubled me at first (and it made me think seriously about buying the bike or not). When I started I was continually looking down and back a the rear cassette to see what gear I was in (slightly dangerous I know). I have long since learned that it doesn't matter what gear number you are in, it matters what cadence and speed you have (and also just how knackered I am).

5) I don't bother with my cycle info app any more - nowadays I am happy enough with the little speed indicator on my handlebar - all the other diagnostics of the cycle meter app (and it is good) are just too much information for me now. Besides I was continually forgetting to turn it off or on before or after a ride.

6) I have long since learned that some people are just in a different league to me when I cycle, there is just no point in even trying to keep up with them!

7) I have learnt how to make a blog - before, although I was very "tech savy" and would make websites etc. This blog has shown me it is much more simple to use standard tools - I am concerned about being conformist now though.

8) I have learnt to take more care with cyclists when I drive - I was always a courteous driver (I think) - but now I give even more space and I always make sure I indicate when I turn left now.

9) I have a lot less colds and flu - this is down to me no longer being cooped up on public transport with the great unwashed.

10) If I go two days without some good exercise I feel really bad - before I could manage 2 years before even the slightest guilt overcame me.

11) I still drink as much - some things will never change.

12) I enjoy the rain more (as long as I have a waterproof top that is).

13) My saddle height has gone up and I am no longer afraid of the razor they call a saddle.

14) I each lunch now.

15) I seem to spend hours trawling through bike shops thinking about what to buy next and looking at all the alternatives.

16) Owning one bike no longer seems to be enough.

What has changed for you?

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Support the Three Feet Rule

There is an excellent article on which deals with the "Three Feet Rule". This is basically where it is written into the highway code that any car passing a cyclist must allow 3 feet of space between them. 

This law makes perfect sense to me and is one of those baby steps towards getting more people cycling that I am always prattling on about. It costs nothing to put this law in place, no expensive road works no big redesign. But the effects will be wonderful - the roads will be safer and feel safer - it will encourage new people to take up cycling and make current cyclist safer, this law will save lives!

The "GGB" post asks you to contact you local MP and to send them an email to ask for their support to the rule. Don't worry they provide you with a browser link where you can quickly find and contact your local MP and they also provide a template letter you can use (though I did change it a little to make it more personal to me). All in all the process took less than 5 minutes, I think that all cyclists should take the time to do this and send an email to their MP, rather than complaining about the danger on the road - do something that will help reduce it.
As the blood bank slogan goes - do something wonderful today.

Eco Warrior Alert

I love my bike - I guess you may have noticed this. But just because I love my bike it doesn't mean I can't love my car too, I do not have to be in a monogamous relationship with my bike, when it comes to transport I am allowed a mistress! 

Often as I do my daily trawl through the blogs, it seems like you have to be on either side of the fence - the car or the bike.  This maybe because, obviously the blog has to focus on the cycling element, but sometimes I am a little concerned as to the animosity that is directed towards the car.

The truth is both forms of transport have a role to play, it would be blinkered for anyone to suggest otherwise. For example there is no way on earth I could do the weekly supermarket shop on a bike (or even a bus come to that) the only way I am going to be able to get around 30 bags of shopping home is in the car. If I am going to take the family 50 miles to visit friends - the bikes are not going to do this (well yes they could but my 11 year old will never make it alive).

All in all the car has a purpose - that's why supermarkets offer free parking, they know that car bound shoppers equal more business. The same with local town centres, the little shop owners want people who are going to spend and buy a large amount of items - this is their livelihood, no business means no money for them and their families, so who is going to blame them if they push for more parking in town and therefore more cars. This is the economic reality that all cyclist groups must accept.

The bike though also has it's role to play in this scheme of things - commuting, recreational and even small item shopping. But we must all realize that both forms of transport have to work side by side and learn to live together in harmony.Cycling and it's increased used, has an part to play in making car driving a faster and less congested process. I would like to see this argument used more often.

The sum of the two forms of transports working side by side is greater than each individually.

I do about 10 miles on my bike to every 1 mile in my car on a normal week - but there are occasions when I will do some heavy mileage, quite seriously I could not cope without it - I am paying a massive premium for the privilege of owning it, but it is a cost that is worth it for me as otherwise my life would be inconvenienced to much.

I think this needs to be taken into account when we talk about priorities for road transport, if you see the argument through the eyes of the "opposition" then you will be able to construct a far more robust and inclusive argument and consequently make gains. Or maybe I am just an idealist.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Postive Taxation.

Here is an excellent link to an article on Going Going Bike - it talks about what the Government in Korea is doing to promote cycling as a form of transport, especially commuting. LINK HERE

Whilst all wonderful in itself and a very good way of promoting cycling I think there is a far more fundamental point here and something that is very important in the battle of getting people onto bikes. That is the policy of positive taxation.

One of the main drivers - not really mentioned here before for fear of me looking like a cheapskate - was the "cycle to work" offer set up by the previous Government and still being kept in place by the current one.

Without boring you with too much detail, when I bought my bike (and some extras), by doing it through my company, through the excellent "Cycle to Work" scheme - I was able to save the 20% VAT immediately, I then paid off the balance over the next 12 months (well I still am paying to be more accurate). The money I pay on the loan is taken off my PAYE bill and National insurance. All told I was able to save about 50% of the value of my bike (close to £650). Effectively it costs the Government nothing as I would not have bought the bike in the first place - maybe I would have spent it on things like more food (therefore no VAT anyway). Then there are the long term savings to the Government so often detailed across the web, such as less resources used in NHS (or maybe not with the way I ride). Less road congestion and damage - less overcrowding on trains etc. Either way it was the final push that got me into cycling - without it I may not have done it.

So this is positive taxation - it is rewarding me to do something and the long term cost to Government could actually be a saving anyway. It is really the same argument that is raging over recycling and the use of fines - my opinion is were ever viable use the carrot and not the stick.

Here is an excellent article describing current Government thinking - notice the use of the stick and no carrots.

Now I don't for one minute think the process of paying people to cycle to work will ever happen here - for starters they will reward the contract to SERCO or some other favored Private company who will charge £5 in costs for every £1 paid to the cyclist. Also on top of that there is a large section of people in this country who will work a fraud for this scheme.

So what are the positive taxation schemes that could be used in this country? They need to be a carrot rather than a stick and also workable in delivery.The cycle to work scheme I think is excellent - but I suppose for me, instead of direct positive taxation they could look at using money to create cycling lanes that are usable, or better yet - they could install some real parking options rather than relying on companies to provide them for their workers. If they could install a few of these in the cities of the UK I am sure it would go a very long way to helping people take up biking - and on top of that I am sure if they keep the charges sensible , it would help maintain these cycle parks if not pay for their initial construction.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Learning to pedal properly

Remember these?
When I was a child PC's were not common place - in fact when I started working in 1987 - I was one of the first people to use a PC on a daily basis. I took to it like a duck to water and have never looked back, except for one area - I can make a spreadsheet sing and do things you would have not thought possible I even have "mad skillz" (as my kids would say) in relational database theory etc.

There was one thing I never got to grips with and that was how to type properly - when I started using a PC it was mostly spreadsheets I was dealing with not writing letters and later emails - the need to type words just grew and grew each year gradually - now I probably say more in words on my PC than I say out of my mouth - but can I type properly - no I can't. The problem is that I (like many others of my generation) just sort of type in a self-taught way.

I have tried on a number of occasions to learn proper touch typing - but although giving it a good attempt I always go back to my old ways - the trouble is I am just too fast using my own technique and I slow down when I use the proper way. Time pressures being what they are I soon find myself reverting back to my old method to get my work completed on time and before I know it I have completely given up on touch typing. But my typing technique is far slower than that of a proper touch typist - I am therefore caught in a trap - I am fast enough to meet my needs but if I had started off typing in a proper fashion I would be 40% faster now, but sadly for me that is never to be.

So what this all leading to?

So taking the above into account let's get onto the topic of this post - I have the same issues with my peddling technique as I do with typing. As a child I just use the normal peddles - in my youth is where all my cycling habits were formed. 

I think there has been a long enough break though between my youth and cycling now, for me to break any old habits. I have been using clips for about 3 months now and I have tried to actually apply force throughout the whole turn of my peddle, but as soon as the "need for speed" rears its ugly head I forget all about technique - what is needed here is some patience and a desire to get it right before I am too old! 

I have started by making an effort to slow my frenetic pace down and focus more on my technique. I still do occasional bursts of speed just to shake the cobwebs out though. One of the first things I have noticed is I am getting cramp in my under thigh of my left leg too quickly when I cycle properly. This I have discovered is down to my saddle height, I have found a couple of good links for bike fit and saddle height.

Just how long are the legs of this bike owner?
Since following the advice on the links I have moved my saddle height up about one inch. This I found has helped quite a bit. I was totally under the impression that my saddle height was fine but I think a combination of now wearing cleats and ever growing confidence has shown me I need to increase the height, anyway since raising the saddle a little I definitely have less cramp. I think that if you are cycling without cleats you should probably have your saddle a bit lower than if you are.

Once the saddle height is no longer an issue, it is just going to become a case of me forcing myself to build gradually and for it to become natural to peddle correctly. I have a feeling that this more than anything else is going to be a major step up for me in how fast I can ride.


Now please excuse the fragmented nature of this post because I am sort of using this post as a diary of my experiences - today I ended up increasing my saddle height about three times (it has probably gone up about 1 3/4 inches in total which has surprised me as I thought I had it pretty near correct). I think I have it where I want it (at least for now, one of the things I found was that, this ended up with me needing to tilt the saddle a small fraction forward at the front - this seemed to be more comfortable to cycle with now the saddle is higher, I have not changed it a lot as I want to still be able to sit on my saddle without giving the handle bars a "Glasgow Kiss" (smacking my head on them). 

So far this new set-up (and I have still to test it extensively) seems a lot more comfortable when I use the peddles properly. Now I am less prone to cramping in the back of my legs from pulling the peddle up on the backstroke and I think I am able to get a faster spin going with the same effort. It is now also more natural feeling to use the correct peddling technique and I have to make a less conscious effort to do it properly (but that may just be because I have been working on it over the last few days). 

This may be a bold statement but I feel like all this is giving me about 8% increase on my average speeds (my timing on my commute run have gone from about 35 / 36 minutes to 32 /33 minutes. 

I have also adjusted my handlebar height down by about 1/2 inch - I could go more but my shoulders are suspect so I don't want to put too much strain on them - but anything to get less wind resistance on the windy London roads. I also put my saddle forward about 1/2 and inch.

The only minor downside to all of this has been that I am using my lower muscles in a slightly different way - so my muscles are going to need a bit of time to readjust to the new strains - but after that I am hoping for a even more improvement.

What I am noticing, is that there is plenty of good advice on the net - and as long as you are willing to put a little fiddle time in, the results can be quite stunning - but please bear in mind what you need your bike for - if it is for a commute, then speed is not everything - I have tried to ensure the changes I have made have left the bike still comfortable to use for longer rides and I am certainly willing to take a step back if I loose the comfort of my bike. Also I am one of those people who likes to mess with things, so the whole procedure has been quite entertaining!

Friday, 17 June 2011

Quick Post on London to Brighton Bike Ride

If you scroll down to the bottom of this page you will see a link to the London to Brighton bike route. I will leave it up for a week or so - so those who care. To anyone taking part - best of luck!

Edit: (map now removed)

Getting to a meeting - early for once!

So this happened a couple of weeks back but I have never got round to putting my experience down on this blog.

To start with let's get a few things in perspective - I have a reasonably responsible job, it is definitely a suit and tie type role (though I do seem to be able to get away without a tie nowadays more often than not). I live on the outskirts of London in the leafy burbs and work in central London.

Over the past 6 months (as anyone who reads this blog will already know- anyone? - anyone?) I have taken up commuting to work - now 95% of the time I use my bike for a journey - I use my big black expensive luxury car about twice a week now for about 10 miles in total (yet it devalues at about 5 expensive bikes a year). But what I have yet to do is to use my bike as part of my job - it has always been about getting to and from work.

Two weeks ago I had to attend an off-site meeting, it was for a very serious affair where I had to check out a deal for potential fraud (can't say much more than that now, so you can guess how it might have gone). Anyway, every time previously I have been to this off-site location for a meeting it has taken me about 80 minutes using a mixture of walking, tube and bus. But I noticed when I looked at it on my Sat Nav, that it was only 7 miles away by bike (so 14 miles all told), so I decided that as it was a wonderful day that I would use my bike instead.

I was amazed to find that, although I was already tired before I set out due to the large amount of miles (well for me at least) I had done during the week that I got to the meeting in 25 minutes. I had allowed 40 minutes for the route as I was unsure of what I would face on the way and my legs were already aching big time. The net result was that for the first time in my life I was early for a meeting (I am famous for being fashionably late). I wasn't grumpy at having been stuck on a various forms of grubby smelly public transport for an hour, and I was definitely the coolest dressed guy at the meeting (well I always think that anyway).

So here's my next mission - I will have to go out and check on a number of projects over the coming months and I have decided that as long as the weather is fine and it is not more than a 20 mile round trip (and there is somewhere safe to leave the bike) I will now try and cycle to these meetings.

One of the wonderful things about using the bike is you really get to see more of London - this is obviously limited on my commute as I basically do the same route most of the time with only small deviations - but if I use my bike for meetings then I can really get to see much more of London up close. It will also help me up my weekly mileage a bit. I think it something others should give a try to if they can.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

How to make cycling popular.

I am not a political animal – I have been working either directly or indirectly with many derivations of Government for a number of years and have long since learnt that there are too many varying factors from who is in charge down to whether a local government officer was well received by his better half the night before, for me to believe that politically lobbying is at best nothing better than a lucky dip.

Instead I would prefer to focus on a few factors that we can have some say over at one level or another. These I believe are:
1) The perception of cyclists by others – especially those who are considering taking the   plunge into cycling
2) Potholes – yep that old Chestnut
3) Bike theft

I truly believe that if you could find some solutions to these three items, then the number of cyclists would increase significantly. No it would not be the total answer, yes road safety is important but I have already posted on road safety in my “Cry Freedom” post. For me, it is about accepting the risks, using your experience to deal with them and to embrace the risks and enjoy them as a part of life (I see a hundred and one health and safety managers spitting their coffee into their mugs as they read that).

If we want to get more people cycling then we need to take baby steps – as the saying goes Rome wasn’t built in a day. But let’s get those potential cyclists on the road – even if it is only on sunny days. The more cyclists that are out there – the more priority they will have when it comes to planning and road layout decision making. Really it is a simple as that – politicians make decisions based on the greater good (often, the greater good for themselves) for cycling that will be based solely on whether it will earn them more votes. We have long since gone past the days of Governments making decisions based on what is good for the people, now decisions are mostly based on opinion polls as to what will earn them more votes i.e. be perceived by the greater number of people as being good for them. The line is further fudged by the Government following Green policies as this also lets us see them as environmentally friendly and therefore we will be more likely (or not) to vote for them, this side of the argument cycling has in abundance - but it needs numbers not just common sense.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Old age is killing me.

Life is getting me down - I have just recently discovered that I am no longer in my 20's and that I am also not indestructible!

It's my legs that have made this all abundantly clear to me. Last week I rode into work every day, I went at a reasonable speed but nothing too crazy. I had the intention of going on a longer ride today (Sunday) but I can't, my legs are really aching. Yesterday they seemed fine but today they are no co-operating with life on any level. Hence the reason for typing something into the blog for no-one to read (edit post typed on Sunday but added to blog on Wednesday).

The only thing I can sensibly ascertain from this, is that I am old. I know I can get better with more exercise and that there are people out there 30 to 40 years older than me still cycling. But the truth is that in the old days it took me a couple of months to get to a good level of fitness - now it is going to take about a year to make such a gain, all in all it is rather depressing and it will require patience and dedication (both of which I do not have in abundance).

I really am tired of people going past me on hills, on which, I perform a long way below the average. I have put a reasonable amount of time into improving my strength and endurance - but I really would like to see some gains in my hill cycling ability from all this effort by now, so far I seem to have improved not a jot.

Whilst I am at it (talking crud on my blog that is) - I just re-read the sub title of this blog and I fear that the "tongue in cheek" part has been severely lacking in recent posts (was it really there before)? Maybe I am becoming a grumpy old man as well now?

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

General cycling things on the web last weekend.

Often I trawl through all the cycling blogs, but sometimes more interesting things can be found in the general press. So with this in mind I searched through the Telegraph online newspaper on cycling and came across a couple of articles that, I thought, were worth a comment.

First of all - "Celebrities on Bikes

To be honest I am still uncertain as to who half these people are - but I will put this down to my lack of "coolness" or it could be down to the fact that I am not in the habit of watching reality TV. Also I have to ask myself - are these people really that fashionable.

What I like most about this article though is that it promotes the "casual clothing" look of cycling. I am as guilty as much of the rest of us - I wear tight fitting clothes and whilst not wearing Spandex pants on the outside, I do have them hidden under my shorts. I actually think that one of the main barriers to getting people back on bikes, is that it is seen as too macho - if you are middle aged with quite a large spread, you are not going to want to be in the mix with a bunch of "athletes" in spandex. To me this is as much a barrier to getting people onto bikes as lack of bike lanes. In the context of this argument, I would also like to say that I tend to sweat like a recently arrested Bangkok hooker when I am riding my bike and I would hate for that sweat to be on my everyday clothes - but maybe there is a balance to be found - certainly on weekend rides. The other reason for spandex pants is these razor blade saddles - the idea of cycling for more than 10 minutes without some padding in my pants induces even more sweating in me! But what choice do I have? Guess I will have to have a big comfortable weekend saddle.

Second link is to the "Naked Cyclist Serenade the Queen" - no pictures allowed here!

This is just awful in my opinion, way to go guys – yes you did bring attention to cycling in the city etc. but you have also made cyclist look silly and created an even greater gulf between cyclist and those thinking of taking it up. I agree with the point they are trying to raise but why do it in such a hippy / naturist way – and please to God – make sure you clean your saddles before you go for another ride.

Monday, 13 June 2011

The Politics of Cycling

Me first - No me first

What we have here, is two Russian MAMBO’s - how could I pass up such a photo opportunity!

If the two most powerful men in Russia take time to get out on their bikes, then it has to be a reasonable thing? They are for sure, not  what most people would assume to be your average tree hugging hippies on bikes.

A couple of things have come to my mind whilst I was viewing this:

1) Thank God they did not go down the Lycra / Spandex route – I think that would have been too much to bear.

2) The second is a far more important and political comment. There is a lot of discussion currently as to whether these two will run against each other in a Presidential race in 10 months time. But now I know for sure the Presidential race will be not be happening.

How could two men, especially Mr Putin who is a self-professed “Alpha Male”, sit there riding side by side and it not turn into a race? If you ever wanted an example of how cycling can give you political divination then use this picture. It is simply just not possible for two men on bikes not to turn it into a race – unless of course one of them is under strict orders to let the other go over the metaphorical finish line first. Therefore we can assume that Medvedev is trained like a Pavlov dog to follow his leader no matter what provocation and allow Mr Putin to win, it is one thing to give up on being President of an oil and mineral rich country but a much greater thing to allow someone to beat you on a bike. Therefore I can comfortable predict that Mr Putin will be the next President of Russia (again) and remember you heard it here first.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Just because it's Friday - Pot Holes

Nothing major - just the average road that makes life unsafe.
I thought I would go against the general feel good end of the week and post a serious link on Pot Holes (I think you might have guessed by now, these things really get my goat).

It drives me insane that I am paying more and more Council Tax and yet the roads seem to get worse and worse, and my bins now get collected only twice a week, why oh why wont those Muppets in the Council take pot holes seriously - they would rather demand more money for their over inflated pensions than have money spent on saving people's lives. To summarise my feelings about them - "What a bunch of twats".

Read this link for the real pain behind potholes.

Oh and have a good weekend.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

A First Time for Everything.

Since owning my bike I have done about 1,500 miles through the potholes and broken glass on the streets of London and thanks to my “Specialized All Condition Armadillo Elite” tyres, I have yet to have a puncture.

As I was cycling home, I was thinking about an article I had read on “Cycling Info” about a guy who had the same tyre as me and how he had yet to have a puncture in a year (except one when he had a 1 inch nail go straight into the tyre). All in all I was feeling pretty proud of myself that I had (by luck as they came as standard with the bike) got an excellent set of tyres adorning my bike. I kid you not, at the exact moment I was thinking this, there was an almighty bang (OK maybe not military scale big bang but still big enough) and my bike started to act differently.

I had gone over a one inch rusty nail and it had gone straight in – this nail was big enough to take out the tyre of a bus (oh why hadn’t it – or better yet a taxi). So I got off the bike turned it over and at last got to use my trusty saddle bag kit.

I am not one for messing around trying to find a leak and then sticking a patch on it. In my saddle bag I carry

1)      2 tyre levers
2)      A new inner tube
3)      A small gas cylinder with a simple valve
4)      £10
5)      The Garage door opener
6)    Two Alan keys

After flipping the bike over it took about 1 minute to half remove the tyre. I pulled the old inner tube out – releasing the quick release wheel out, I didn’t need to take the wheel off I just lifted it slightly to make a small gap to slip the inner tube out of the frame. Reversed the process to put the new inner tube in, slipped the one half of the tyre back onto the wheel, took out the gas canister which inflated the tyre with great ease and no leakage in about 5 seconds.

I then threw the old inner tube into the bin with the empty gas canister and put the other bits in my now much emptier saddle bag – all in all this process took about 6 minutes, and this for someone who has not fixed a puncture in about 30 years. I was really impressed with how simple the whole process had been – I will list below the products I used at the end of this post.

The only two things that I will do differently next time? Firstly I will not expect other cyclist to stop and offer help (I do this myself when I see someone in difficulty) and secondly I am going to put a couple of thin latex gloves into my saddle pack so I can keep my hands clean and not rely on spitting on a tissue to wipe / half clean my hands.

This was the star of the day (Bontranger Air Rush) - it is really small and light (most of the space is taken by the cartridge, the value is minature) it worked really well it was so easy to use it was ridiculous. Replacement cartridges cost about £5 for two Bontrangers or £12 for 6 innovations ones). 

You need small items that you can cram them all into your saddle pack (I use a 75cc one). If you don't have them all in one place you can be certain you will forget one thing when you actually need them and end up stranded.

I do have a pump at home and I used this to inflate my tires when they lose air – the Co2 cartridge is only there for travel punctures.

This is why everything needs to be compact. Depending on your bike you will be limited to the size of saddle pack you can have. I had to have a medium sized one because any bigger and I wouldn’t be able to attach my rear mud guard to my seat post when I need it. The small one is just pointless unless you want to take a puncture repair kit and Co2 pump. As you can see from above I am able to get everything I need in the mid-sized saddle bag. The tag at the back is handy as I cable tie my rear light to it.

What I most like about this saddle pack is that it has a clip at the top so you can release it very quickly and with no effort from the underside of the saddle and additionally it has a Velcro strap at the front to further stop it from falling off – or being grabbed from you at the traffic lights. I cannot stress enough how size matters (oooer) with all this.

I don’t know there are a hundred and one of these tyre levers on the market, all I can say is that this one worked and didn’t bend. One addition I would have liked to have seen would be a way to use it to pull the offending nail from the tyre (that was quite a pull). I only needed two tyre levers to do the job on my bike. I was carrying 3 before but now I have reduced this to two (more space now in saddle pack). These tyre levers also clip together which keeps them neat and tidy in the pack.

It is cold and raining – you have a puncture – do you really want to spend 10 minutes hunting for a little hole in your inner tube? Or maybe it is a split in the inner tube or a very large hole, no patch is going to fix this and you are stranded! So keep it simple and guarantee you can get moving again by carrying a spare inner tube instead. It is just so much faster to rip out the old one and slip a new one in, they cost about £5 so they aren’t going to break the bank.

As a side point I used to carry a Bontranger inner tube – my new one is a Specialized. The Specialized one appears to take about 20% less space, just thought you might want to know as half of the saddle pack space is taken up by the inner tube.

O.K. the picture was a bit pointless! But it is not such a bad idea to carry a spare bit of cash in the saddle pack. Maybe you have a serious breakdown and need to be collected – at least you can sit in the pub and have a drink whilst you wait. Maybe you get a double puncture and need a second inner tube, the list is endless.

The only difficulty is trying to forget you have the cash there so you don’t spend it before you actually need it.

I just carry a couple of the these – the two most commonly used – one for the seat post and one for my shoe clips (they also fit a few other things). These take no space at all, so it makes sense to have them there just in case.

Other than the above you may also need to carry a spanner(s) to remove you wheel. I have quick release wheels so it is not necessary but add these if you don’t.

P.S. if you see a fellow cyclist in difficulty – stop and help them – we are supposed to be a community.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Weather App for iPhone

Let take two given facts:

 1) When cycling, or more correctly before setting out on a ride. Knowing what the weather is going to be like is very important, the last thing you want is for halfway through a sunny cycle ride, is for the skies to darken and the rain to come pouring down and soaking you to the skin, or even worse to be carrying a whole bunch of waterproofs in your backpack and for it not to rain – you have just carried all that clutter around for miles only not to use it!

 2) The Met Office is bordering on criminal in how accurate it is. There was a time a few years ago that I used to take an umbrella when they said it was going to be sunny and visa-versa. To be honest, despite having access to enough computing power to send everyone to Britain to the moon and back they are still awful at predicting the weather. I think they must be more concerned about predicting global warming temperature rises in 50 years time, I would personally be more happy if they could get tomorrow mornings temperature right for the next morning in their nightly weather update.