Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Back in the Saddle.

Nothing to do with post - just love it!
I am now back on my bike after my accident – I have cycled into work (22 mile round trip) 4 times in the last week and a half, also I did about five 6 mile rides to get used to riding again and two 14 mile rides just to get used to more distance.

Some elements of returning to the saddle have been easier than I thought but some others surprisingly difficult. Firstly the easy things, my fitness has picked up faster than I expected. In reality over a 4 month period I only cycled for about 2 weeks in the middle (this was due to breaking my rib 2 months prior to the accident and then having two months off to recover from the accident). So I realised that my fitness levels were going to be poor, but what has surprised me is that I am probably back up to 70% of my previous fitness level so fast. I expect the final 30% to get more difficult to achieve and then to move on from there (hopefully). I have been able to get to a comfortable cruising speed of 19mph easily and can fast cruise at 23mph. Obviously the length of time I can hold the higher speed is less and I am back to be being dreadful at hills again (as opposed to just bad as I was before). I am not sure how much of this is down to the £600 of upgrades my bike received but I am sure they have helped some bit.

What has saddened me though is the loss of confidence I now have. Now I expect ever car I meet to try and kill me – there is nothing wrong with being cautious after all but I think I am now over cautious. Because of the nature of the accident, it was totally unpredictable and there was no reason for what happened to have happened, it has made me fear every situation. This coupled with a very conscious effort by me to show cyclist in the best possible light by being very careful in how I act around traffic has made every journey I take a real “stop start” affair.

I really didn’t expect me to ever be afraid on the road – I have always had a fearless approach to life. It really just didn’t occur to me that I had “mental trauma” not until I started talking to the insurance doctor about what I felt. I realised that I am having flashbacks to when the car hit me – even as I type this I get an image in my mind of the pale green bonnet hit me, to be honest it isn’t fair!

I now realise given my very steady view on life and the fact that I am not one to ever panic in a tight situation, that the effect on the more panicky people who are hit whilst on the road must be very significant – it has been an eye opener for me. So where does that lead us? Well one thing is for sure – I agree that we should be careful in how we get the message across about the dangers of cycling whilst in pursuit of better infrastructure.

I am sure that over time I will relax back a little and be less nervous and God willing I will also get enough time in the saddle without injury to start building up my fitness. I will not stop cycling, I get far too much from it to even consider that, in fact I am busy planning my new bike and the best way to go about it.

I just wish that some drivers out there could learn how to drive!

Monday, 20 February 2012

The Good the Bad and the Ugly of the Cycling Week

A summary of the highs and lows of the week(ish) in UK cycling.

The Good

Well this is an easy one – the GB cycling track team, what a totally inspiring few days that was! I am not going to list out all the events and medals but a few things really stuck out in my mind. Firstly there was the disappointment I felt, when we only got a Silver or Bronze and my total disbelief when we didn’t have a finalist in an events (talk about high expectations). Secondly, there was the magnificent atmosphere inside the London Velodrome – there should be no doubting of the popularity of this sport now – OK it is not in the same league as football, but it seems to have a very large core of knowledgeable, vocal and ardent supporters. One wonders given the high level of spending by Mambos like me on cycling products and the average high income bracket of a large number of cyclists why Team GB Cycling cannot make a little more income from all this support to help it grow at the grass roots level.  This is going to be essential given the ever increasing competition, we need fresh blood to continue the success story.

Another thing that struck me was the general decency of the Cyclists themselves – not only in their interviews and team unity but also in how they showed respect to the other competitors, pride in their sport and gratitude for the supporters. All in all such a positive event from all angles, it is a shame that some other sports cannot achieve such lofty heights of behaviour and dedication.

Another thing on the good side, I went to the doctor for my personal injury claim this weekend so hopefully I can gather all the bills for treatment etc. up and get a final pay off – the money will be used to help complete my new bike build – I am giving my old bike to my 14 year old (not bad he will have a £1,100 bike for free – I just hope it inspires him to cycle more). 

The Bad

So we go from one extreme to the other – I am not going to go on about road safety as that is always a “bad” when it comes to cycling. Instead I am going to talk about something a bit left of field. Last week I was killing some time looking at BBC iPlayer – I decided to watch “Room 101 as it seemed to be in a different format. The programme I watched was originally aired on the 10th February. One of the celebrity contestants was a comedian called Ross Noble (someone who I generally find funny even if he is not my favourite comedian and who I had to Google the show to find out his name). One of the items he wanted to move to Room 101 (this is somewhere where you ask for things that annoy you to be placed) was commuter cyclists, what really disappointed me was his totally unoriginal lines he and the others pulled out these included. A link to this bit of the programme is HERE

Cyclists go through red lights
Cyclists are all Eco warriors out to save the world
Cyclists think they own the road
Cyclists risk life and limb daily.

These are just such sad stereotypes and I would have expected something far more original from a comedian, basically he seemed to be playing to the crowd. But the thing that brought me most down to earth was the general baying and applause from the audience, it was probably the most popular thing to hate of the episode, the crowd were really very strongly behind him and were very miffed when it was not chosen by the host.

What we as cyclists need to take from the above is that we must understand that no matter what our perception of cycling is, many (really a majority) do not agree with us or even dare I say it, like us. There is an image problem out there and it is something we as cyclists, should be conscious of. Yes we might know that all the hackneyed and predominately comments above may not be true – but unless you as an individual have cycled through town dealing with taxi’s, lorries, potholes etc. then they are not going to sympathetic to our problems and risks. Because of this more than anything I have started stopping at red lights more and more often, before if I was taking a left turn I would go through a traffic light – if there was a pedestrian crossing with no-one on it or near it I would go over it. Now if there are cars around I take the time to stop, just for reasons of PR and not for safety (though I doubt many car drivers will take the same safety concerns over me).

All in all it was a real wake up call to me though about the outright dislike for cyclists and I think we have to be careful not to get too carried away about the life in our bubble and be aware of the opinions of others (even if they are wrong)!

The Ugly

Bit more tricky this one – pauses for thought (when I started this article I had one lined up but I have forgotten it).

I was tempted to put the aforementioned Ross Noble’s face here – but that would be just sour grapes. Oh what the hell


Other than that I was thinking about putting the recent weather with suitable snowy picture in the ugly section – but then I realised that I only hated the weather because it has stopped me from cycling into work – normally I would cycle in during the bad weather but because I am still recovering from the accident in December it is too big a risk for me to start cycling in again – I am unfit and still a little nervous out on the road, this has meant the weather has stopped me even trying. This week though as the weather has picked up I am going to start trying to cycle in again – I will maybe do it only 2 times this week and gradually build it up.

I could throw in some pictures of my injuries from the crash – they sure were ugly – but that is all just too personal. Damn it what can I put in for the ugly section?

Let’s face it – the evenings are starting to get longer, the weather is starting to get above freezing, the Times cycling campaign and London Going Dutch campaign are gathering momentum, cycling just had a massive PR success in the Velodrome, so let’s just say there is no great ugly this week or none that I can think of! 

Except of course :-)


milky milky.

Once more for luck!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Is this the worse staffed "company" in the world?

So this landed in my email box - no I haven't independently checked the data - but the fact that I am willing to accept it is true is enough to make you wonder.

Anyway I hope it gives you a laugh at the start of the week.


Can you imagine working for a company that only has a little more than 635 employees, but, has the following employee statistics;

29 have been accused of spouse abuse
7 have been arrested for fraud
9 have been accused of writing bad cheques
17 have directly or indirectly bankrupted at least 2 businesses
3 have done time for assault
71 cannot get a credit card due to bad credit
14 have been arrested on drug-related charges
8 have been arrested for shoplifting
21 are currently defendants in lawsuits
84 have been arrested for drink driving in the last year

and collectively, this year alone, they have cost the British tax payer £92,993,748 in expenses!!!

Which organisation is this?

It's the 635 members of the House of Commons.

The same group that cranks out hundreds of new laws each year designed to keep the rest of us in line.

And just to top all that they probably have the best 'corporate' pension scheme in the country!!

Here! Here!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

My personal thoughts on the Times Campaign

Between the 3 months of September to December I was hit three times whilst riding my bike, the final being the most serious of these. All three accidents were not my fault and in one case I was using the cycling infrastructure that was in place.

To summarise the accidents briefly
  1. Riding down a cycle path only to be doored by a car passenger – I was travelling very slowly in heavy traffic and only had a few bruises on my arm. 
  2. Red Van overtook me (I was cycling down a bus lane) and then turned left just in front of me, no indication and no warning – by some quick action I avoided major injury but I did go over the handlebars. The driver initially made a run for it but after 300 meters came back when he saw about 10 witnesses writing down his number plate. I was shaken but not too damaged so I shook hands with him and let him go (I think I may have been a fool for that to be honest.
  3. Main accident – car coming from the opposite direction was stopped in middle of the road – as I rode on he set off for some unknown reason and T-Boned me. You can see more detail HERE. This driver is paying a visit to court for careless driving and I am in the middle of a largish insurance claim.

OK so that is a potted history of my last 3 months of cycling – without someone looking over me two of those accidents could have killed me. So what was I doing to deserve this – well I was going to work!

How have we come to a situation where I have to accept taking a frighteningly high level of risk so I can travel into work?

I am just an average guy – I do a reasonably high profile job, I am 46, we have two expensive cars at home but I choose to commute on my bike, I pay my taxes, have a clean driving license, I hope I am a decent, well-meaning person who puts into society more than he takes out.

Why do I commute? I do it because it is quicker than all other types of private and public transport (with the exception of a motorbike). It helps to keep me healthy (I don’t have the time or desire to go to a gym regularly) and I love the freedom it offers me and the chance to gather my thoughts twice a day. There is no way I am going to give up these benefits, I have had to accept the risk of cycling and I will continue to do so (when I am fully mended).

So how is it that such a mundane thing as cycling to work has to be so dangerous (or so it appears from my recent experiences). I don’t want a life without risk, I accept the chance that I may fall off my bike from my error, I accept there are risks in everything that you do, but why in hell is considered acceptable that I can have three idiots put me in varying degrees of danger in as many months.

Why should I not be protected? Do I not deserve the right to reasonable levels of safety? I pay more into central tax than most and I also am more than paying my way (due the high tax band of our cars) in Vehicle Exercise Duty and I don’t even use the cars on the road that often! I am not asking for a personal motorway – I just want a route that is direct enough and reasonably safe, I don’t want to be wrapped in cotton wool – but surely I have every right to reasonably expect to cycle home after a day at work without my two kids becoming orphans.

I do fear though that, as usual, the very erudite and passionate cycling community will rip itself apart arguing how this safety can be best achieved, to this day I have never understood why cyclist opinions are so polarised when it comes to what is best for safety, A bit of everything is good in my opinion and every step in the approximate direction takes you nearer to your goal – even if it isn’t your chosen or most direct route.

I really hope the Times campaign makes some real achievements and raises awareness and that it is no longer considered a joke or acceptable to non-cyclists about how dangerous it is to simply ride a bike - Good Luck and thanks "The Times".

Thursday, 2 February 2012

The Times newspaper cycle campaign

Just a quick post to let those who don't already know about The Times Newspaper cycle campaign. After one of their own journalists was hit a few months ago (she is still in a coma).

To get a major broadsheet behind a campaign offers a major opportunity (rather than us Bloggers writing articles only really read by the already converted cyclist) offers an incredible opportunity. Politicians will take notice. For Londoners it is doubly important as we have mayoral elections taking place, so the candidates will be forced to move cycling at it's safety further up the agenda.

If you have not done so already, I strongly advise you to sign up to the campaign and also use the link on the same page to write a quick note to your local M.P. to get them to support it (it is all easy to do and they automatically address the email for you).

The main article is HERE about why they are starting this campaign

The Link to join the campaign is HERE - Please take 20 seconds to add your voice!

The Times has launched a public campaign and 8-point manifesto calling for cities to be made fit for cyclists:
  1. Trucks entering a city centre should be required by law to fit sensors, audible truck-turning alarms, extra mirrors and safety bars to stop cyclists being thrown under the wheels.
  2. The 500 most dangerous road junctions must be identified, redesigned or fitted with priority traffic lights for cyclists and Trixi mirrors that allow lorry drivers to see cyclists on their near-side.
  3. A national audit of cycling to find out how many people cycle in Britain and how cyclists are killed or injured should be held to underpin effective cycle safety.
  4. Two per cent of the Highways Agency budget should be earmarked for next generation cycle routes, providing £100 million a year towards world-class cycling infrastructure. Each year cities should be graded on the quality of cycling provision.
  5. The training of cyclists and drivers must improve and cycle safety should become a core part of the driving test.
  6. 20mph should become the default speed limit in residential areas where there are no cycle lanes.
  7. Businesses should be invited to sponsor cycleways and cycling super-highways, mirroring the Barclays-backed bicycle hire scheme in London.
  8. Every city, even those without an elected mayor, should appoint a cycling commissioner to push home reforms. 

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Using a proper cadence on a bike

As part of the bike upgrade that I have recently been going through, I bought a CateyeVC Wireless Cadence Cycle Computer (I will review it in full later once we have become better acquainted). The reasoning behind this purchase was I wanted to not only know my speed but also my cadence (how fast my feet spin round). Whilst not knowing what my cadence was, I was aware in my subconscious that it probably was not as high as it should be.

There is no point in me going into the details of what cadence is best and why – there are a couple of good articles here:

I had a feeling that my cadence was around 60 – 70 area, my speed was fine but I was always in a high gear with a lower cadence. So in reality I am using my fast twitch muscles much more than slow twitch muscles (fast twitch = bulk muscles for quick sprints that burn glycogen. Slow twitch = lean muscles that burn fat and can keep going for a long time and recover quicker). Roughly speaking people recommend a cadence of 85 – 95 (though this will vary from person to person).

As some may know, in my younger days I was a sprinter (basically I excel at fast twitch muscles). The idea of a higher cadence was something that took some reading to get my head round – I had always thought that if I was a sprinter I would be the type of person who spins their legs fast – but the reality is I am subconsciously in favour of using power rather than spin. Now this predisposition of mine does not have a massive effect on my cycling as I only commute 2 x 11 miles a day, but on a long hill I am dead by the end of it! The fact of the matter is I need to improve my slow twitch muscles and start using them more – this is the only way I am ever going to be able to cycle longer distances as well as get up  the longer hills.

OK so great plan, increase my cadence, but putting it into action is much harder than I thought.

My new cycle computer has a rather nifty function – you set a cadence target range – the computer then bleeps at you if you are below or above that range. Bearing in mind my advancing years and my previously very slow cadence I have set the range from 80 to 100. Maybe if I survive I will up it to 85 lower range?

I have a fairly wide range of gears on my upgraded bike – I have a 53 / 39 front chain-set and a 11-32 rear cassette (I did this because I like a wide gear range and I found myself topping out on the 50 /34 chain-set, and also needing a really low gear by the top of some hills). This new gearing seems to suit me and now I am using lower gears than of old, I feel like I am using a far wider range on my rear cassette now and the lower front gear will stand a chance of being used from time to time now.

Problem 1. Bear in mind that I have basically only cycled for a week in the past 4 months due to various injuries I am very unfit.

Problem 2. I have used a slow cadence for the past year (60 – 70 range).

Problem 3. I am physically suited to power sports.

With all the above in mind I set off for my first real cycle on the upgraded bike. It was almost like starting from new – there is no way I am going to be able to make the commute into work right now and I figure it is going to take 2 or 3 weeks to become fit enough to commute regularly again. My bike computer was dialled in for the 80 – 100 range and I set off. As it was dark it was perfect – I could not look at my speed without putting the back light on, so basically I ignored this, and just listened for the cadence beep. For the couple of miles the beep was nearly constant, gradually I started to get a feel for 80+ cadence and what this meant in terms of spinning, but it was really hard work, the total ride was only 7 miles and reasonably flat (well for Kent anyway).

My body did not like the idea of working like this, it was not happy with this higher cadence, but I think this is probably the best opportunity for me to start cycling in a better way, before my body gets into bad habits again I can teach it and train it to use the slower twitch muscles more. I have had a fair amount of muscle wasted over the past 4 months so I am going to “take the pain” and get it to grow the right muscle type for the long-term and hopefully improve my cycling. It was shocking though (whilst bearing in mind that I was unfit anyway) how much more it hurt to cycle with a high cadence – by the end of my 7 mile ride I was knackered. That said I did recover quite fast (about 10 minutes) after the ride though. So we shall see how I progress over the next few weeks and see if it does get any easier and then I shall see how or if it improves my daily commute.

The idea of you improving your cadence is definitely a sensible one, I am working from the premise that if the professionals tell you that you need a cadence within a certain range and as this is what all the big boys do, then this must be better. For me it is a lot harder to put into action than I had assumed, but I think it is something that a lot of regular cyclists need to look into. When I look at a large number of cyclists on the road (who I recognise as daily commuters) they seem to be cycling with too low a cadence. The cost of the cheaper cadence bike computers is not too great and it might be worthwhile investment for the long term.  

As a side point – being a member of the great commuter race group – there is a little trick that people often do that is to race up to the person in front of them and then just before you overtake them you slip into a higher gear – this means as you go past them you are at a low cadence and looking very relaxed as if to say “look at me I am going past you and I am not even pushing it right now” – yeah don’t tell me you don’t do it! I am going to have to forget this “looking cool” trick now.