Saturday, 30 July 2011

Battle of Blackfriars - is the message confused?

I had to think long and hard before posting this - I am aware that not all people will agree with what I am about to say, maybe no-one will. But I want to put this thought out there - even if you don't agree with it, at least know that what I say, is said with the best intentions.

Let me start off by saying that I was there at Blackfriars on Friday 29/6/11. I felt it was important to make a stand against 
1) lack of democracy 
2) that planners should start to take the bike into more account when designing road layouts.

For me Blackfriars Bridge represents a strong position for cyclists - here we can say that without any doubt we represent a significant amount of traffic (16% overall and around 60% during rush hour). As far as I am concerned we have the bums on seats here and we have a right to demand reasonable allocation of resources and planning consideration.

I have posted a few pictures I took whilst there, in this post (hope you get to see yourself in them, as I have spectacularly failed to do in all other photos or news coverage). Sorry for the poor quality but I only had my iPhone on me.

On the Demo, a few questions initially sprung to mind - why did we head off to Waterloo afterwards? Given that TfL are based a few hundred meters South of Blackfriars Bridge I think it would have been far better to meet up there or at least ride past them as they cross the road to Southwark tube station. 

As an aside when I was at the LDA I used to work in that building too (between you and me, on my way to our I.T. area which was on the same floor as TfL I used to always grab a few of their biscuits on the sly).

The demonstration was the first ever that I have been too, I don't do sedition that well and I am generally speaking not a fan of it - as far as I am concerned we live in a democracy (or as best as can be achieved) and although we don't necessarily like all the decisions made, we have to suck it up and deal with it. But because I felt (as mentioned before) that there was no evidence of real democracy having taken place - more like the asking and then ignoring of what was said. 

A similar example to this (although you will not like this) was the expansion of the congestion charge West - people were consulted, they voted and responded overwhelmingly against it - then Mayor Ken went ahead and installed it. Now I know Boris removed it - in my mind this was the right and democratic thing to do - but if this is the case and he is going to remain consistent then he has to halt and rethink the Blackfriars design. But both are examples of TfL going ahead with something against peoples wishes.

Anyway for the first time in my 45 years I went "on a demo". I think I felt like a vast majority of people there - I really was unhappy to have to screw up other peoples journey home - I saw many cyclists trying to wave at cars on the other side of the bridge and be polite to them, well aware that they were probably not feeling the love for us. I have a feeling many were like me and did not in general support the idea of demo's (on the bright side at least the "Socialist Worker" didn't feel like joining in and smashing up a few shop fronts in our name).

So there you have it - I supported the demo and I hope you understand I am on the side of the cyclist -now having made my excuses I shall go back to my main point. I think the message being given out is confused and not one that is going to win over the majority. Given that cycling accounts for 1% to 2% of overall journeys made, we therefore need friends - we need the motorist to support us! 

I wish I could hear more often about the benefits to car drivers from more people using bikes - if you are wedded to your car - wouldn't you support people who, if their number grew, would mean a big drop in congestion. Also what about, if in the busy sections of town there was segregated infrastructure - that way you can zoom along your merry way with only speed cameras to worry about.

Yet when I read all the news from the demo - the main talking point seemed to be about the 20mph speed limit. To me, far more important was to get the message about sensible design and infrastructure for the cyclist, this is what is needed.

Whether we like it or not - whether we think it makes total sense - no matter what we think, only a minority of drivers are going to want to see a 20 mph speed limit. They are going to turn round and say why should the 98% of other road users going to have a 1/3 cut in speed limit for the sake of 2% (and yes it is not going to come into their mind about pedestrians).

I was very aware of this feeling when Mayor Boris made his comments on the design of the Bridge and asking for a rethink - he was careful in how he chose his words making sure he did not align himself with the 20mph speed limit - the man is not a fool by any means, and he is not going to alienate himself from all the car users - and before we all go and get into a "class" argument. Nowadays most people rich and poor have a car of some description or another.

For me I would have much rather seen a simple and clear message go out there - we want properly designed roads, and sufficient infrastructure not only for current cyclists but also to help promote cycling as a form of transport over the coming years. Blackfriars is an excellent opportunity for us to unite and say we cannot be ignored on this request, but I feel we are doomed to failure if we muddy this argument with a blanket 20mph speed limit - that will become the focus (as it is rapidly becoming on Blackfriars Bridge) and any positive steps forward that could achieve will be lost.

Please note I am not saying a 20mph speed limit would not be a benefit to cyclists or improve road safety - I am talking here about sending out a popular and winnable political message right now.

OK flame on if you have to.


Thursday, 28 July 2011

Cycling not so dangerous - Told you So!

So once again, I can do a "Told You So" post. This time it is relation to my "Experience Counts" post a couple of weeks ago. In this I explained about how I felt I had an advantage on a bike (with respect to safety) due to being middle aged and previous car driving experience, thus giving me the "6th Sense" - or in reality the ability to spot a crap driver from a distance.

The proof I offer is in this post which looks at cycling accidents broken down by age group you can see it HERE. As can be seen the 40 - 60 age group rock in the safety game.


The share of bicycle and motor vehicle crashes in which the rider was at fault was above 70 per cent for those aged 12 to 16 years and just over 50 per cent for those aged 17 to 20.
The cyclist-at-fault rate tapered down to about 20 per cent for riders between the ages of 30 and 60, before rising again for older cyclists.
Ms Schramm said her analysis suggested middle-aged riders were “relatively safe” on the roads.
“What the graph is showing is that the younger the bicyclist is, the more likely they are to be responsible for the crash,” she said.
Ms Schramm said the departmental bike and motor vehicle crash data released this week seemed to be “an aggregate of all crashes regardless of age”.
“If you look at age or look at whether the rider had a [driver] licence or look at any other factor you may see other trends,” she said."

But there is more to this than meets the eye - and I think there is a correlation to the "Cycling is Dangerous" argument here that needs to be investigated.

I have been in heated debates on other Blogs about the "Cycling is Dangerous" that some people feel it is their moral duty to tell everyone. Because, they know better than everyone else and we regular cyclist need teaching. OK rant over at the nanny state and the cycling is dangerous eulogists.

I have consistently argued that cycling is not any more dangerous than any other activity (I believe 10 times more people die walking down stairs in slippers each year than they do cycling) and my main point of argument is the fact that you can manage the risk significantly dependant on how you ride.

I have always had this argument ignored whenever I bring it up - but I think the the evidence shown by the breakdown is quite strong. Generally speaking I think the 40 - 60 bracket of riders will ride more carefully (not significantly slower) but they will be aware of potential problems earlier and risky situations - this I would call "Risk Aware" and not "carefully". This is only down to longer exposure to roads and other drivers, but it definitely shows that the risk of cycling can vary greatly depending on how you ride. There is also the other side to the coin and that of riding too carefully - I believe this has been shown by the proportionally higher number of female riders in accidents, mostly due to the fact that they hold back at junctions and end up having "issues" with trucks turning left.

Anyway being "risk aware" to me seems to make a lot of difference and the danger of cycling is to a large part (but by no means totally) under your direct control as a rider. There is a small minority of idiot drivers out there - it helps if you can spot them and get out of their way.
 

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Deuter Race Exp Air

Deuter 20L Backpack
EDIT (20/2/13) - just to mention that since have the window of my car smashed and my Deuter Race Rucksack stolen (thanks low life scum) I have since replaced it with a 2013 version off the Deuter race Air. I suppose there is no better recommendations than someone buying the same rucksack a second time? 

The new one is much the same as the last one, except that it is a little lighter and the colours (black and white) are a little cooler in my opinion. The straps are a little better (especially around the stomach) the back is also a little more comfortable. The bag still suffers from a lack of internal compartments though.


A serious review for once.

I have spent a long time looking at different models of rucksacks – for once I was sensible and bought a cheap £10 backpack, it was about 18 litres and had a reasonable amount of vented padding at the back. It did the job well enough for 6 months until I figured out what I really needed. As part of my save £160 a month by not using the train and then spending a 1/3 to 1/2 of that on new equipment policy, I decided it was time to get a new backpack this month.

I really did do a thorough job of investigating this and even at one point dragged my wife being around various hiking shops looking at various models. I had some very definite needs:

  1. It needed to have an air mesh back 
  2. It needed a rain cover that was high visibility 
  3. It needed a helmet holder.   
  4. It needed to be large enough to carry a shirt and some underwear into work and various odds and ends 
  5. If possible it needed to be able to carry a hydration pack.

So why these requirements?

  1. For me the Air Mesh back padding was very important – one of the main problems with my cheap backpack was the amount of sweat I ended up with on my back after cycling even 8 miles on an average warmth day, maybe it is just me and I sweat a lot, maybe it is old age – maybe it is the fact I try and push myself hard when I cycle. Either way it is not pleasant – the only sensible solution I could see (given that my cheap backpack already had padding with air gaps) was to go for a mesh back (a little like those office chairs) this solution not only allows air in to cool you down but it also spreads the load on your back and stops certain items digging into you on the ride. A surprise bonus of the Mesh Back has been the slight reduction of the effect of cross winds and anything that stops the wind from blowing you in front of a bus is not to be sniffed at. 
  2. Generally speaking my cycle gear is black / grey – all fine on a warm sunny day with high visibility. But when it rains or is dark I like to switch to high visibility clothing.  Nothing seems more crazy to me than to buy one of these high visibility backpack covers (about £25) this on top of the cost of the backpack seemed a crazy waste of money. Therefore I decided that any backpack I would buy would come with its own built in rain cover and this needed to be bright. 
  3. Same with a helmet holder – I tend to not wear a bike helmet unless it is raining, icy or dark. The trouble I have found is that some days it is sunny in the morning and raining in the evening. You need an impractically large everyday rucksack to carry a helmet in it. Therefore if I wanted to make sure I was in possession of my helmet for such an occasion I needed to be able to carry it on my backpack (I realise this is a very personal reason but I think all cyclist need to be able to carry their helmet around from time to time). 
  4. The size of the backpack is always very tricky – it really is a personal needs choice. The Deuter Race Exp Air is a 12 litres (+ 3litres expansion) is enough for me personally to meet my commuting needs 98% of the time. If I ever need more, then I will just use a less comfortable but larger backpack on those odd occasions. But if the backpack is too large, then it is just additional weight and wind resistance you are carrying around with you every day. 
  5. With respect to the hydration pack – I don’t need one now but it is certainly my intention to do longer and longer rides next year and the ability to carry sufficient fluids will be a requirement. But why pay for hydration now when I don’t need it? For me it was important to be able to add a hydration pack when I needed it and also to be able to buy one of my choosing, not just one that happened to come with the backpack. Additionally the ability to carry a hydration pack also means you have “the plumbing” to run earphones from your phone etc. from your backpack into your ears and therefore not have to put your phone in your pocket or wherever you keep it.

So there is my eminently sensible list of requirements – on top of that obviously it needs to look the part!

Having search high and low I came down to the  Deuter Race Exp Air. My search was made shorter by the need for a Mesh Back – this cut out 95% of the backpacks on offer. In the end there were only 3 backpack that it came down to – another one by Deuter (20 litre Exp Air) and one more by Vande.

Deuter Race Exp Air - with the helmet holder in use.
I was really torn between the two Deuter backpacks and initially I was going to go for the 20 litre version as it had a helmet carrier. In a trip to the shop though, on seeing backpacks in the flesh, I discovered that the Deuter Race Exp Air did actually have a helmet carrier and even better it folded away into a specific pocket and could be taken out when needed. Also I had a good look at the insides of them to see how much they could carry. So my three main reasons for choosing over the 20 litre version were as follows.






  • The size was better for everyday use 
  • Price 
  • Comfort

There was also a far more frivolous reason in that this is black and grey and therefore matched my clothes in general.

Deuter Race Exp Air
So what does this rucksack offer? Quite simply everything I need. It has the helmet holder and better yet I can fold it away for all the time I don’t need to carry a helmet. It has a built in rain cover in high visibility colour – perfect! Now I will not have to waste another £25 of a separate high visibility rain cover. It has the compartment and a required routing hole for a hydration pack and at the same time it has not got some standard pack in it (that I might not want in the long term and will replace anyway when the time comes when I am looking for a good one).  It has a mesh pack to reduce sweat and increase comfort. What did surprise me though was the fact that it was more comfortable on the shoulders than the far more padded 20 litre version – this is very much a personal fit thing though I am sure – also the shoulder straps are very much set-up for increased airflow (once again keeping you cooler). As mentioned above the size was also perfect for me for everyday commuting. An additional small but nice touch is the fact that you loop you shoulder strap lightener onto the stomach strap to stop them flapping around as you ride (this is one thing that really bugged me about my cheap backpack).

Deuter Race Air - here you can see the Air Mesh back
You can really see that this was a backpack design predominately for the cyclist, in my opinion it really pays off when you buy something that was designed for a sole purpose – yes you could use it in other circumstances after all a bag is a bag but this excels at being a backpack for the cyclist.

Any negatives? Yes there are two – firstly I think there should be a few more or larger internal compartments – I carry around not only keys and money but also things like mars bars (needed for any potential diabetic hypos) phones and wallets. A separate compartment to store these things would have been nice, I like to keep them separate so I can access them quickly if I ever need them and leave them in my bag at all times. The other minor gripe I have is that it would have been nice to have a loop on the chest strap to stop the loose bit flapping around (easily remedied though with a piece of elastic). I also think they could have pushed harder on the expansion of the backpack and instead of making it +3 litres they could have gone for the + 8 litres size – this could have been possible, but I guess they have to take into account their whole range and make sure there is no overlap of products and also maybe they felt the straps were too weak to take the potential extra weight.

So now for the biggy – price. I bought this backpack from Evans. It retails at £65 – but if you buy online it is £58. But they also do price match and with a quick hunt on the internet I found someone selling it for £47. So I printed that off and took it with me to the shop – no arguments they matched the price. When I take into account the fact I don’t need to buy a separate rain cover, I effectively bought this backpack for £27 and that is a bargain!

MAMBO Score – a very pleased 9/10

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Pedals (again) the world of clippless pedals.

I posted very early on in this Blog about my multiple pedal purchases. You can find the post HERE. The conclusion of the post was that I went through 3 sets of pedals in the space of 3 months with ever increasing amounts of investigation and price and by the end of it still hadn't got the right pedals - mostly because I bought cycle shoes and the meant having to change the pedals to clip less pedals.

Today, I commented on a forum post in Road.cc - a guy asked which type of bike shoe to buy (Road or MTB) - to me this obviously and necessarily leads to the question of pedals - if you are a first time buyer you are going to need both obviously - DUH! And the type of shoe you buy may be affected by the pedals on offer. It then also occured to me that I never finished off the pedal saga and also had never put together a post with helpful hints on how to choose pedals and shoes.

Therefore I shall attempt to offer some advice to new cyclists who are thinking of buying pedals or bike shoes - if I had found this advice earlier (obviously from someone else) it would have saved me a lot of hassle and time.

The most important thing when deciding on pedals is to think hard about what type of cycling you are going to do - if you are unsure then go with a cheap pair until you have a good idea. Now all this might sound obvious - but if you are like me, you might end up being surprised how much more or less cycling you do than you expected. Here are some tips on the best shoe / pedal combinations.

Shoes
  • If you are going to have to walk in your bike shoes then mountain bike shoes are the best way to go - it is not easy walking about in road bike shoes and you run the risk of looking a bit of a plonker as you clank down the street. MTB shoes have the ridges (sole tread) either side of the cleat so you can use them to walk on - as normally as is possible in solid soled shoes.
  • If you are just using you bike for fast road racing then the road bike shoe is best - they also can attatch to lighter road pedals (though not massively in all cases).
  • MTB shoes can be more rugged and have soles were road bike shoes will tend to have a flat sole.

 Pedals


Road clipless pedals with no platform

MTB Clipless SPD Pedal with platform
  • All clip less pedals take a bit of time to get used to. All clip less pedals will improve your cycling - but there is a danger of falling sideways off your bike if you forget you have them on when you stop.  It is possible to get your foot out pretty quickly but obviously it is not as fast as no clip at all, but it is easier than toe clips themselves and getting them back in is 50 times faster. You will need to think ahead a little bit. I have fallen (comedy dismount) off my bike at least 5 times - this has not been due to me thinking ahead but has been due to something extraordinary happening on the road and my concentration being distracted by this, meaning it was too late to un_clip.
  • Having little and light pedals is all wonderful if you are racing along - but if you are going to be in heavy traffic I think it is better to have a pedal with a platform (the bit around the clip). With a platform to the pedal you can cycle along in and out of tight situations in traffic with your foot unclipped without difficulty. This means that is you need to make a sudden stop or whatever you can get your foot down super quick. I strongly believe that this is an important safety factor and although you pedal unclipped on the Road pedals (or should I say pegs) it is far more convenient to use a normal platform. Additionally having a platform means you can set off without needing to clip in without any issues. Both road and MTB pedals are available with platforms but there tend to be more MTB pedals available.
  • Having a platform enables you to use the pedals with normal shoes on.
  • MTB pedals tend to use the SPD clip - road bikes use the SPDR-SL (and others including SPD)
  • Clipless pedals in my opinion look difficult to master but they are surprisingly easy to master (please remember you have them on)!
  • Clipless pedals will improve your technique and speed without question.
  • The pain and hassle of toe clips (and believe me I know about this) was just too much to bear. It is marginally slower to get your foot out of them than to unclip but the main hassle of them is trying to put your foot back in (and this includes 1/2 toe clips). I know they are trendy for fixie bike riders to use but for me functionality is way more important than looks.


Normal Pedals
  • If you are going to commute and do less than 10 miles a day - or even if you do more but don't want to race along, then just stick to normal pedals, but get ones that are recommended, have reasonable bearings and take into account that generally speaking, the more grip the less likely the pedal will function with thin soled shoes or barefoot.
  • You will loose the benefit of speed and being able to fully control you pedal through the whole 360 degree turn but it is far safer when you need to put your foot onto the floor in an emergency.
  • The major downside to me of normal pedals aside from the loss of technique and speed is when you foot slips off them and the pain to your shin is something the Geneva convention would ban as an unacceptable level of torture.

So what did I go for and why?

I went for the Shimano M545 SPD Pedals - my reasoning was as follows.

  1. I wanted a platform around the clip - for me when in dangerous and close traffic I want to be unclipped and able to get my foot on the floor quick and besides if you are stopping and starting every 5 meters what is the point of clipping in? Also I wanted a platform because I wanted to be able to pull away from lights and then clip in later. Having a platform also enables me to use the bike on a quick ride to the shops in normal shoes without any issues.
  2. These pedals are double sided - they have the cleats on the top and bottom of the pedal and they have a platform on the top and bottom. Often pedals only have one cleat - this means you are going to have to look down to make sure you have the pedal the right way up before clipping your foot in (looking at the floor in traffic is not a good thing to do). Also it occurs to me that if you have two cleats - by the law of averages you will use each one equally and therefore you will get twice as much use out of them before wearing out. 
  3. There were road pedals with a platform one side and a cleat on the other - this to me seemed pointless - you still get the hassle of making sure your pedal is the right way up depending on whether you want to use the cleat or platform and secondly you still get the "one cleat" situation and therefore short life expectancy.
  4. Finally, there are two type of the pedals I bought - one which was lighter but had a plastic platform and the one I went for which was a few grams heavier but with a metal platform. My pedals get a good few knocks so I went for the metal - the weight is minimal but the look and strength made it an easy choice.
Finally - if this is your first time in cleats make sure the pedal has the ability to adjust the strength / grip of the cleat - when you first use it set it to low so you can get out of them with more ease, then just adjust them up if needed, as my feet have never come unclipped inadvertently I have never found this necessary.

Summary

I hope the above gives you  so help in making sure you make the right choices. But never forget also in true MAMBO style you need to buy something that you think you look good in!

OVERALL MAMBO SCORE for the Shimano M545 SPD Pedals - 9/10 (it looses one point for not knowing when I had forgotten to unclip when stopping)


    Monday, 18 July 2011

    Time for a relax.

    Just a little post to say I am taking a 2 week break from the Blog and from cycling on a regular basis. Multiple reasons for this:

    1) Oh Lordy! I have a lot of work to do over the next two weeks including trips abroad.
    2) I think I have overcooked it on the physical side of things recently.

    I think I have been cycling too hard and too much recently – not for a younger fitter person, but for a middle aged guy who was very unfit 7 months ago. Despite my best efforts of eating more, I think I have just lost too much weight recently – not in terms of weight loss, though there has been some of this but also in my conversion of fat to muscle. To most people this would seem great, but I personally believe that as you get older you have to make these changes on a gradual basis and my body feels like it has been in a revolution recently. Yes I want to carry on and get fitter but I think my body just needs a couple of weeks to recoup from the last few months.

    This last weekend I felt pretty awful – I was really tired and just could not sleep enough (despite sleeping 10 hours every night). So either I have a cold on the way (don’t think so) or my body is telling me to have a little down time. At my age I have learnt to listen to my body. I will still go for a couple of 5 mile rides (mostly at the weekend) just to keep my eye in but nothing too strenuous at all and certainly at a slow pace.

    On top of all this I have also pulled a hamstring (nothing bad but it hurts none the less) and today I am feeling the knocks of when the policeman threw a person in front of me (see earlier post). It didn’t hurt last week but today for some reason it is.

    So it is time for a chill pill, I will try and write on anything exciting over the next couple of weeks but work is definitely top of the agenda. I still want to do my mega post on the “getting people into cycling” that Google so kindly ate the first draft of, so maybe I can work on that when I have time?

    Saturday, 16 July 2011

    Some fun for the weekend 2

    It has been so serious mambo land recently, I have totally forgotten about cycling being all about enjoyment and laughing.

    For example this week I have been called an adrenaline junky because I get a buzz and enjoyment from cycling. Anyway I thought I would post the following pictures, I got off the internet (over time) - they are all cycling related - hopefully a few of them will be new for you and raise a smile. Either way, watching the #TDF or actually riding yourself? I hope you have a great weekend.


    Friday, 15 July 2011

    Bike fitting for the average cyclist

    In my recent post about learning to peddle properly – I explained how doing this had led away from just technique. It turned out that my style of peddling was not just something I needed to learn but actually it had more to do with how my bike was set up.

    I am sure that I am not very different from most commuters and recreational cyclist, I thought my bike was well set up, it certainly felt right and looked about right when I sat on it.

    Because of my previous experience as a sprinter though, I am very aware of the importance of good technique and having the right equipment in order to achieve this. I am also a very curious bunny and like to try and investigate things in-depth, this lead me to doing quite a bit of reading about peddling technique and then bike fitting. It turned out that peddling right wasn’t just about thinking and making sure I did it right, it turned out (for me at least) to be 70% about bike fit.

    So let’s put these  things into perspective. Since making the changes to my technique and bike fit – I would say my average speed has increased between 20% and 30%. What was my top “on the flat” speed is now my cruising speed. I can also travel further and with less aching muscles the following day. Overall it has been a total revelation and I really suggest you give a try. Yes I am aware that some of the improvement will be because of my improved fitness over the month I was doing all this. But in the previous 3 months of riding I felt I had reached a plateau and making any further advances was not happening.

    As luck would have it – I found what I think is the most helpful bit of information yet, now. I had already done everything in this video except for the fore / aft positioning of my saddle (though that required very minor changes).

    The video below shows what they look at in a company called  Bike Dynamics (http://bikedynamics.co.uk/) .

    Now obviously you can’t replicate the exact measurements they do – unless you have a very curiously stocked garage. But it tells you what to look for, you can then use our own improvisations to get as close as you can to the right bike fit. Obviously this is not going to be enough for a serious cyclists – but for the enthusiast or recreational cyclist, you can use it to get as close as possible to a reasonable fit and as I have explained above that could make a dramatic improvement to you enjoyment of cycling.

    One word of warning though. I did find that as I made the changes it meant using different muscles more or less, to that with which I was accustomed, this meant that initially I was feeling the aches more than with my original bike fit. Bear with it please, if you want, make the changes in a step by step process, this may make it less painful and create a smoother transition. The only danger with this is, for example, you will make half the saddle height adjustment and really enjoy the change after a small amount of time and then just settle with it where it is – keep updating your fit and testing it, you may end up going too far in one direction and need to dial back the changes one step, but make sure you give each alteration time to bed in and become natural.

    A good fit will enable your body to be more comfortable and mean you are using the best muscle groups for cycling – these may be weaker currently but they should quite quickly strengthen and the improved speed and comfort will be continual rather than fleeting.

    After you have watched the video you may want to read more about this – I am not going to give links because I think what is a good article for one person will not suit another – just Google “bike fit” “saddle height” and things such as this and find your own information.

    Anyway, after that long lead in – here is the video:  




    Best of luck - and if you haven't done this before I really advise you to give it a try.


    Thursday, 14 July 2011

    My next cycling dilemma – what to buy next?

    Some of you will know that I have a policy of spending what I save on public transport in new equipment for my bike riding. I save about £130 a month by cycling to work. When I started cycling I needed a whole raft of clothes and extra bits for the bike (for example 3 sets of pedals before getting ones that suited). The net result was that I ended up spending more than the £130 a month, this was further compounded by that fact that once I had stocked myself up for winter, it started to get warmer, this meant stocking up on Summer clothes.

    I don’t really mind this process – it is a bit like renting a house or buying – paying for train journeys is like paying rent – I will never see the money again. At least when I buy new things I have them going forward (well till they wear out) so next year I will need to buy less and less. Also last month for example I only spent £35 on a new short sleeve top – so it was a definite saver month.

    So here’s my dilemma – I need two items quite urgently. A new rucksack and overshoes (I count this as one item) and a new saddle.

    Cost of rucksack and overshoes about £90
    Cost of new Saddle about £160

    I really can make up my mind what I need! I need the rucksack because I am tired of my back being so sweaty – I have a £11 “Sports Direct” Karrimor rucksack – it does the job well and is excellent value for money, but I tend to sweat more than most when riding (must be old age) I therefore need a rucksack with a mesh back so I can get some air between me and the rucksack. It is genuinely a troublesome thing for me – I would also like the weight in my back pack to be more evenly distributed, and the ability to add a hydration bag for longer rides.

    With respect to the saddle – I have been reading (maybe a bit obsessively) about all this crushed nuts problem cyclists can get. Since setting up my bike slightly more aggressively (see learning to peddle properly) I have noticed this starting to slightly affect me – I have a body Geometry Saddle from Specialized – but it is a cheap end one and I think I should set myself up seriously and for the long term – this is why I need to go up scale a little on the saddle. Anyway over the next couple of days I shall go into my ruminations as to what may be best in each category.

    But what is bugging me is – what should I buy first? Common sense says the saddle but I am becoming obsessed with trying to make my back more comfortable, I have been meaning to buy a back pack for the last 4 months!

    As a side point I would like to thank the PCSO (part time policeman) for making me fall of my bike yesterday! They decided to move a bloke, who was standing in the bike lane talking to a taxi driver, out of the way – yes all very admirable. Unfortunately in the process of doing this they pushed him in front of me whilst I was cycling past, a little warning would have been appreciated chaps.

    To be honest, I shouldn’t have fallen off the bike but I ended up with this guy’s plastic bag hooked on to my handle bars – this odd scenario coupled with a minor collision meant I forgot to un-clip as I stopped to give the bags back – comedy dismount ensued in front of a thousand or so people at London Bridge – thanks Mr PCSO. Yes partly my own fault but I didn’t want to stop as I had about 10 cyclists behind me in a restricted area, also I wasn’t expect someone to do a  “Emily Wilding Davison” (Google it) on me whilst cycling. 

    The PCSO could have helped by just sticking his hand out to stop traffic or be a little more aware of the potential problem before going all Sweeny on this guy.


    Anyway my pride has been sufficiently dented that I will consider wearing a bur-qua next time I cycle past London Bridge train station.

    So what is it to be – saddle or rucksack?

    Wednesday, 13 July 2011

    Help out a fellow cyclist

    On a number of occasions on this Blog I have talked about the need for cyclists to stick together, for us to look out for each other and in the more general way to help and enthuse other people to start cycling.

    Currently I am having a bit of a debate about this issue and the “perception of risk” in cycling on the voleospeed blog. I strongly believe that cyclists need to do more to promote the fun and enjoyment of cycling, I am not going to go into great length over this right now but regular readers will already know my thoughts on this.

    I had written a very large post about getting people onto their bikes – it was not only long but it was well thought out (amazingly enough) and with plenty of links to other posts on the issue. Google swallowed it and I am a bit flat right now – I will have to write it all again – this time I will save it off-line as well though!

    As part of this supporting and helping other get back into the saddle, we must make that experience of cycling as pleasurable as possible – one way we can achieve this is to help other cyclists. I mentioned in my  post about getting a puncture that I was disappointed that no one offered me assistance. I didn’t need assistance but it would have been nice if one out of the 30 or so cyclists who passed me would have stopped to check I didn’t need help.

    On another occasion, I stopped (halfway up a hill by pure coincidence) to adjust the cleats in my shoes – I had been fiddling with their position to see if I could find a better position. What was nice was a guy, all in Lycra and on a road bike, stopped just to check I was OK. I didn’t need help but it was nice to know that someone was looking out for me.

    In the past few months I have stopped about 3 times to ask people if they needed any assistance dealing with a puncture – each time they were OK but they also thanked me for asking.

    Yesterday evening I saw another guy stopped by the side of the road – he was pumping up his tyre – I asked if he was OK, he explained he had a slow puncture and needed to stop every mile or so to pump his tyre up. He had no cash on him to buy a replacement inner tube (the current one already had 3 repairs and had just about given up for life). It just so happens that we had the same tyre size – so I offered to give him mine.

    I knew he had no cash on him and I “didn’t know him from Adam” but because he was a fellow cyclist and he was in difficulty, I gave him my spare. I texted him my address and he promised to send me a replacement over the next few days. There is no rush, as I will have to pop to the shops and buy a new one today – otherwise I am running around without a backup myself (maybe I wouldn’t be feeling such a good Samaritan if I got a puncture on my in this morning).

    Will he replace the inner tube?  I think he will – he texted me back this morning to thank me. If he doesn't, would it stop me from doing the same thing again? No it wouldn’t, this is because I actively believe that cyclists (and society in general) need to help each other out more. The cost of an inner tube is no big thing – but the random act of kindness by me, means that it is more likely to be replicated by the receiver and so on.

    So why no start your own chain of  “random acts of kindness” and think yourself fortunate for being offered the opportunity to start such a chain? There may be some new cyclist who is not fully set-up to deal with punctures etc. and they come into difficulty – if you help them out they will see how cyclists are a community that helps each other and that will make them far more likely to continue cycling.