Monday, 19 December 2011

The joy that is Winter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 16 December 2011

Review of Specialized S-Works Prevail 2011 Helmet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

It Has Been A While.

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

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

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

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

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

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