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

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Some useful Info and a comment on the riots.

Having had an issue with my gears that meant I could not get either the top or alternatively the bottom gear at the same time meant quite a lot of fiddling around for me till I got it right - the kinda learn as you go approach (who needs a manual)?

Anyway to help you out of this problem Bike Radar has posted a video on how to tune your bikes gears and brakes. Some of the info is fairly obvious and the guy is working on a rather top end road bike but it does offer some very helpful information for us DIY basic bike maintenance people. You can go to the page HERE
But being the useful person that I am this is a direct link to the video itself http://bcove.me/ipt5aebn

Also a little link with loads of useful transport data HERE need some actual data to win / support arguments with then you will find a load of it here.

A couple of facts insights on the London Riots.

1) Why is it that there are always loads of cyclists at riots? Don't these people know what a bad image of cyclists they are setting - yep like I am sure that is on their mind at the time

2) Secondly the most stupid thing I heard on the BBC news channel was when some journalist wrote (not quoted verbatim) "one of the saddest things I saw was a large group of Turkish Kurds armed with sticks chasing after the rioters because they were sick of the damage they were doing to their shops - this riot has turned community against community"

Oh come on get real you liberal twat - this was not community against community - this was a group of working people who were sick of having their shops / lives, destroyed and looted by a bunch of scum and decided to group together and stop it. It was community taking action against scum not community Vs. community.

By the way I cycled through Lewisham and Catford this morning on my way to work - the damage was there but not so great. But I am very disappointed in Twitter and how people are spreading false rumours of riots - to look at most posts on twitter you would think half of Bromley was on fire - instead it was a minor skirmish on the High Street with the police and a TV shop looted - seen that many times on a Friday night.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Buying a Selle SMP Stratos

Time to go back to basics! It is very easy to get carried away with all this “we need proper infrastructure” and “is cycling dangerous” and forget what the hell we all bike for; be it cost, environment, health or as is the case for me – just the sheer fun and pleasure of it.

A few posts back I went into “What to buy next”. In the end I boughtr the Backpack and decided I would buy the new saddle a month later. After all the new saddle was going to cost £160 to £180 and with the best will in the world, that just seemed excess on a commuting bike. But me being me – whilst I went to my local Evans to buy the new backpack, I also decided to get them to check out my sit bone width on their Specialized and Bontranger Ass-o-meters.

I discovered (rather surprisingly) that I didn’t have a “wide” ass but I was in fact was quite narrow, I am not sure why this surprised me – I guess I assumed that because I was always uncomfortable on the saddle, it must therefore be too small for me and not the other way round. Currently the Specialized saddle I am using was the one that came fitted as standard and it is sized for the largest of backsides. 

As a side point here, given that this has been an issue for me then it must be the case for others, therefore I do believe that cycle shops and bike suppliers should offer at least a couple of different width saddles to each purchaser of a new bike. This would cost little other than a bit of floating stock but it might greatly increase the desirability of their bikes to a potential buyer.

So having been ass-o-metered, from then onwards my bike saddle just got more and more uncomfortable. I had only been using it for about 2 weeks prior to this (I had initially bought a heavier padded / gel number when I first got the bike and had gone back to the original saddle when I found the more padded one was constricting movement at higher speeds). So was the saddle getting more uncomfortable – was there a build-up in the pain I was getting in my backside? Or was the whole thing physiological now that I knew the saddle was a wrong fit, was I becoming more and more fixated on it? To be honest I really have no idea – all I know was that in my mind I was starting to suffer quite a degree of pain in my backside and down my right leg and it was removing the pleasure in cycling – so much so that today I took the train (rain also played a part in the decision today and very tired legs for some reason).

So last night I ordered my new saddle and this is it!

If you want to find out more about the saddle you can visit the company site here. I would also advise you to read thoroughly the support part of the site in helping to choose the correct saddle. I would also advise you check your sit bones width, either at your local bike shop (if they know you well and are happy to help) or at home, it is worth taking the time to get it right.

My initial reason was to keep "my laughing carrot" (best metaphor I have heard yet) in working order, especially as I am on the wrong side of 40, but also I started to realise through the reading of the benefit to your cycling in general from a well fitting saddle.

I read article after article after article about saddles. I spent hours and hours fixated over the problem and have read more reviews than your average actor. I really hope I have made the right choice, but with all these things you only are going to really know when you place your bum on the saddle. This is probably the thing that has most annoyed me about the whole buying a Selle SMP saddle, I just couldn’t find a single Local bike shop that stocked them and had a tester for me to try out. They quite obviously have designed of saddle that is a long way from the norm, you would think it would make sense for them to have a least one dealer in every major town that stocked their saddles and also had testers in store. I am a good Googler and I Googled my nuts off trying to find one but with no luck, there were plenty of places selling them online though. I am going to have a moan at Evans at some time and get them to start stocking these saddles. 

Anyway, I managed to find a cheaper online stockist, I bought the saddle from a store in Germany through eBay and by the benefit of a slightly weaker EUR I have managed to pick up a new saddle for £142 (including postage) instead of the £158 (+postage) which was the cheapest I found in the UK. The good thing about the German shop is I am also allowed to return the saddle (if undamaged of course).So I am going to have to fit it on very carefully and not scratch it in any way.

So I am going to keep you updated on how I progress with the saddle – to be honest I have no idea what benefits it will provide, I am hoping that it will help more than just removing my discomfort in the saddle, there are literally hundreds of posts by people who bought this saddle saying how good it is, but I am doubting Thomas and wont believe it unless I feel it with my own posterior. I will be honest in my opinion, even if it hurts to admit I made a mistake. Yet despite all this I can help feel I have spent too much for someone who manages about 5,000 miles a year. But this (apart from the replacement of broken parts is my last major purchase for the bike. I still need a bit more clothing to deal with commuting in the winter but nothing major.

Mambo Rating - Please God it works well!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Cartoon about Blackfriars Bridge and car drivers

I was inspired by a comment in my last post to come up with this cartoon - you will excuse me but I am not great artist.

Before I go any further and claim to have an original bone in my body I had better explain that I took the idea from this far side cartoon.

So I came up with my own cartoon based on this - basically I am trying to explain what I mean in my earlier post with a picture.

Whilst I am at it (i.e. potentially infringing Far Side copyright rules) I might as well post my all time favourite one from Gary Larson - I even used to have a mug with this one on it.

Hope I raised a smile or two.