Saturday, 29 December 2012

Just for the sake of it

I use my bike a lot for commuting but, as the days are so short at the moment and weekends busy, don't manage to get out recreationally as often as I'd like to.

I have a load of time off work this Christmas and, although I have tried to be disciplined, inevitably the festive season comes with overindulgence of one sort or another.  And so for a couple of days post-Christmas, I have been promising myself a spin out on my bike.  Unfortunately the weather in the UK is pretty foul at the moment with high winds and continual rain pretty much every day.

Yesterday however, necessity got the better of my laziness/weakness and so I put on my cycling gear and went out for a ride.

Yes, it was wet.

Yes, it was windy.

Yes, I had a brilliant time!

I rode with pretty much no plan and certainly without timing myself, just a nice relaxed ride out to de-stress and burn off a few calories.  I found that although the weather was rough, it wasn't that bad and at least half of the time, the high winds were behind me pushing me a long.  Even when riding into a headwind, I dropped down a gear and pedaled in relaxed acceptance that nothing I was able to do would alter the weather.  This philosophical approach worked wonders and, once again, shows how much of a mental game it is we play.

It's not about the speed, the distance or the timer at all.  It's just about being out there, enjoying ourselves on whatever kind of bike we chose to ride.  Taking time to enjoy our surroundings and, as the poet said "to stand and stare".  I even saw quite a few other cyclists riding a variety of machinery.  Sure, I got a couple of "What do you hope to achieve riding that thing?" looks from the more "roadie" cyclists but in general I think there was just a mutual admiration for being out on our bikes in such inclement weather.

By coincidence I saw via Kent Peterson and Davey Oil on Twitter this link to Davey's own blog.  It pretty much sums up how we should think about cycling during the times when it all seems stacked against us.

To crown it all, when I got back my youngest demanded a few laps of the block together as well. Now that she can ride by herself, it's lovely to be able to just pedal alongside, even for the shortest of rides. And that pink Raleigh single-speed is an awesome little fixed-gear just waiting to happen!

The weather does not look set to improve here and with a dead car, I have no choice but to use my bike for shopping trips and other errands.  I'm not in the least bit bothered though, in fact I'm looking forward to the next excuse to get out and pedal.

And if an excuse doesn't present itself, I'll make one up and go out again just for the sake of it.

Life is good even if the weather isn't.

Friday, 28 December 2012

La voiture est tombe en panne*

*Well it is a French car, after all.

Some of you may remember that earlier in the year I got rid of my old car, thereby reducing us to a single car family. In all that time, we have managed perfectly well and there have only been a couple of occasions when the use of careful planning or clever logistics have been required to work around a situation.

The family car we have left is one of those large Citroen MPV "People Carriers".  It's only six years old, extremely versatile and with a small-ish diesel engine, pretty economical too.  It is also however very electronic and correspondingly complex and bug-prone.  In general I can forgive the latter characteristics on account of the former.

Last Saturday night, we were all on the way back from a Christmas Pantomime when just about every warning light came on and the car became very sluggish and unresponsive.  Having no breakdown cover (which has been on my list of "things to pay for" for several months) we managed to limp home and consult Google.  Apparently it seems, many modern cars have a "limp mode" whereby they operate but at reduced speed in the event of a control-related problem.  All indications were that this was what was wrong with the Citroen and so yesterday, once local businesses opened after Christmas, I took it to a garage.  An initial reset to clear any spurious alarms (and congenital electronic glitches to which these cars are prone) did not work and so the mechanic undertook a more detailed assessment...

Long story short, the turbo is completely shot.  I'm an experienced mechanical engineer and having now seen the rotor rattling around in the turbo housing, there can't be a bearing left in it anywhere!  As bitter experience has made me come to expect, it is not a simple job to repair either.  A bulletin from Citroen (shown to me by the mechanic) list all of the other parts which have to be checked and/or replaced in order that they will honour a warranty on the new turbo.  Turbo failure is a common problem on this range of engines it would appear.  Why are cars so unreliable these days or at least not simply fixable in the way they used to be?

Anyway, the upshot of all of this is a bill which will be between £1,200 and £1,800 and the car off the road until the New Year.  I was wondering what to do with all of that spare money I had left after Christmas as well...

So we are, somewhat involuntarily and in the short-term, a completely car-free family.  Always one to try and find a scrap of positivity in catastrophe, it will at least be an interesting experiment. We live in a rural village a couple of miles from a small town, three from the nearest large supermarket and four from a larger town to which we can get a bus.  I expect to be running quite a few errands on my Dahon, which is no great chore and will help to work off any excess calories stuffed in during the Christmas period.

And so the experiment begins.  Wish me luck and I'll keep you posted!

Friday, 21 December 2012

If all Christmas shopping was this easy...

Smugly, smugly past the endless queues of cars I cycle as they sweat and curse and struggle to park. A half hour Christmas shop on my bike (including coffee) would have been over an hour had I gone by car.

Online present reservations and folding bicycles FTW!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Veni Vidi Visa*

* With apologies to Latin speakers everywhere, "I came, I saw, I shopped."

On Saturday, I needed to get a little bit of shopping and pop some books back to the library.  To be honest, even as a regular cycle commuter, I would normally have hopped in the car but this week, fancied a change for the better.  Recent inspiration from a few blogs I've found via Twitter had a hand in the decision I’m sure, in fact I really ought to do a roll of honour at some point!

Anyway, with the decision to cycle made, I emptied out my rucksack (except for puncture repair items and a lock) and headed out on the Dahon.
Firstly, it was lovely to be out pedalling in the daylight for a change!  Most of my riding these days tends to be done in the dark or, at best dawn or dusk so broad daylight was a welcome break from the norm.  Saturday was one of those bright and clear, but cold winter days which I find so nice for cycling as it takes that much longer to heat up and get sweaty. 
Over all I probably covered about 7 miles on the round trip to the small town near where I live (dropping in the library book en route) and then out to Morrisons and back.  I could have used the smaller supermarket in town but (a) it’s more expensive and (b) I wanted to ride a bit further than that! 
And so, a short and pleasant ride later, I parked up outside Morrisons and got on with the shopping.  Like any large supermarket, it was exceptionally busy on a Saturday afternoon.  I however did not have to join the queue of cars crawling around looking for an empty parking space, I cycled straight up the shop and locked my bike to the rack without hindrance.  Another win for cycling over driving.  Smug? Moi?
After filling a basket with what I had come to buy, I paid at the checkout and loaded the groceries straight into my rucksack.  It’s a Lowe Alpine bag I have had for quite a few years and have used for all sorts from overnight trips, skiing, days out walking and more recently cycle commuting to and from work.  It is a very reliable bit of kit - not a specialist cycling rucksack but it holds stuff comfortably on my back so I can't ask for more than that really.  In total it has a 35l capacity but compression straps at each side allow it to be, well err, compressed I suppose if I don’t need the full volume.  It is water resistant enough to keep out a shower and usually anything important (clothes, phone, laptop etc.) get packed in plastic bags anyway.  With the compression straps loosened, it swallowed the shopping with ease. 
Hefting the bag up onto my shoulders, I knew that it was much heavier than it usually is fully-laden (which is about 7kg) but given the nature of some of my items (a large bottle of Pepsi and four cans of beer among other things) that was not entirely surprising.  Sometimes, you just have to grin and bear it for the greater good.  Furthermore, although heavy, it was not intolerably so and I cycled home without problem or incident.  Total fuel cost – nil.
As an afterthought, I had a bit of a weigh-in when I got back to the house and found that the full rucksack weighed 11.5kg.  As I said there were some bulky items but also enough food for Saturday dinner, drinks and popcorn for Saturday night plus Sunday breakfast and lunch.  Knowing the scale of the weight I had just lugged made me feel like I had earned those beers all the more.  “Hobgoblin” from Wychwood Brewery, if anyone’s interested.  Delicious.
And like any good cycling blogger, I was penning this piece in my head on the way back from the supermarket and so had the uncharacteristic presence of mind to take a few pictures:

My rucksack fully laden on the kitchen floor.  The orange hi-viz thing is a small viz vest folded
and held in place by the elastic straps on the back of the bag.  It's there to make me a bit more
visible when the rucksack is obscuring whatever bright clothing I have on.

And the goods laid out on the work surface.  The beer went down a treat and I could just
do with another right now.  Sadly, they all got drunk on the weekend.

We often have to pop out for a few bits from the shops – often fewer items than I had been to get on Saturday.  It just goes to show that cycling is definitely a sensible and practical alternative to a short hop in the car.  With so many journeys under five miles (according to the oft-touted statistics) I think that more people should cycle for small shopping trips.  Yes, my rucksack was pretty heavy but had I used panniers the load on my shoulders would have been much less.  Or had I used both panniers and the rucksack, I could have carried much more shopping.  All on a folding bike.  I’ll be doing it much more.  Maybe I’ll get really committed and buy one of those extra-long shopping bikes like this one or even a Dutch-style “Bakfiets” cargo bike with a huge front bucket.  A guy I follow on Twitter has even built his own - the details are here.  A fine bit of engineering indeed and a very useful bike.  I could probably haul a whole week’s shopping in one of those!
It’s really easy to talk ourselves off the bike and back into the car, especially with things like short shopping trips, where driving has been our default for so long.  However, as with many things in cycling (rain, wind, hills etc.) the reality is always much easier than we imagine it will be.
For me, another small part of my life just became car-free.  A happy feeling indeed. 

Friday, 14 December 2012

Ding ding

One of the first things I did when I bought my Dahon was to remove the unsightly (in my view) bell and reflectors. In my uneducated opinion, they were things of childhood, fitted only to satisfy some draconian EU type-approval law.

Then I watched that "War on Britain's Roads" documentary last week. Much has been posted about it on the Internet, including by me. However, one part which stuck with me vividly was where a cyclist riding along a footpath (or dual use path - it wasn't clear which) collided with a pedestrian who stepped out in front of him.

It was hard to say who was at fault. Both were heading in the same direction and as the cyclist moved to overtake the pedestrian and her friend, she suddenly stepped out across the path and was hit by the bike. The cyclist had no chance if avoiding her but she had absolutely no idea that he was approaching either.

It made me think about my own commute and the number of times I have to pass pedestrians and other cyclists on dual use paths. I do try to be considerate and make my way past safely, but most of the time they have no inkling that you are behind until you're close enough to touch them.

And so the other day, I refitted my small bell.

I have to say it has made a difference. I'm now able to alert others to my presence when overtaking or approaching a blind corner (as I have to a couple of times on my usual route). No one has yet taken offence either, although a polite "ting ting" followed by a cheery "Thank you!" are not really aggressive actions. I use my bell a lot now and it does make me wonder how close I came to an incident before I had it.

I doubt that when the "Project Fixie" road bike is complete (in about 2021 at the current rate of progress) it will have a bell as it for a different purpose than my Dahon. I'd say for commuting though that a bell is essential kit and I'll be keeping mine in place.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Winter working rides

In the days when I used to run a lot (before persistent injury put an end to it) I always used to struggle with the first bit of the run. Basically, the bit that involves getting out of the front door and taking the first few steps.

It's sometimes the same with cycling, although once I have the first few pedal strokes, behind me everything clicks into place and cycling feels great once again.

It's been damn cold over here in the UK recently. OK not Northern USA or Canada cold, but cold enough all the same! Cold enough, for instance, that my rear brake cable has frozen solid a couple of times. I must have got some water in there somehow, but however it happened, when you try to brake at a junction only to find your lever frozen solid, it's a buttock-clenching moment. I freed it up with some hot water applied to the outside of the cable and then a liberal dose of WD40, but it's a new malfunction on me, that's for sure!

I digress.

I had a client meeting across town today so rather than borrowing a company car (the choice of the masses), I took my bike. I did get a few funny looks (and more than one sarcastic comment) but again, once the first few pedal strokes were out of the way I knew it was the right decision.

One big plus in the cold is that you can really press on without working up too much of a sweat. Before long I was whizzing along sucking in great lungfuls of cold air and blasting the pedals round. The miles just disappeared beneath my wheels.

In high spirits, I took a minor detour to see what the city's largest park looked like and I wasn't at all disappointed. Have a look at the pictures below and you'll see what I mean. When your working day includes time out on a bike in bright sunshine and in a place as lovely as that, life is pretty good really.

And when you reach your journey's end with a tingling face, warming your hands around a mug of tea, there is no doubt at all that cycling is the right choice and the world seems a damn fine place all round.

Well worth those first few pedal strokes, I'd say.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Mileage, winter and plans for the future

Last week was a big week for me, mileage-wise.Train cancellations meant that I elected to cycle the whole route home twice, resulting in a total for the week of 132 miles.This is not huge by some standards – it is only a small part of a single randonneuring event – but compared to where I was at this point last year (barely riding a bike ever) I feel a real sense of achievement.  The long and short of it is that I have now topped 2,500 miles on my Dahon and over 3,000 miles for the year!  I've also managed to insert a text box on the right hand tool-bar so "Mileage to Date" can sit at the top of the blog! 

It is testament to the effect of regular, short to medium mileage rides that I felt absolutely fine at the end of the week too.Todd Fahrner of Clever Cycles in the US also observed as much in
this article.He tackled a 700 mile ride down the US West coast on a Brompton with only commuting mileage as “training”.It’s a very inspiring and well-written piece which is worth a read. It is also fine testament to the capability of my Dahon Vitesse D3HG that these high mileages were as easy on a folding bike as on my 21-speed hybrid.Yes, on those small wheels and yes, with only three gears!*

On longer rides, my thoughts often turn to future cycling plans and high on that list is to do some longer distance things on my Dahon.To that end, I have been looking at some cyclo-sportive events in the spring with distances of 40, 60 and 100+ miles.I love the thought of rocking up on my “shopping bike” and going the distance with the lycra-clad, middle aged, Bradley Wiggins wannabes.Maybe not quite as quickly, but equally as far.But then again, you never know.One of my favourite inspirational articles is
this one by Kent Peterson who rode the 1999 Paris-Brest-Paris (in all of its 1200km glory) on a Bike Friday folding bike!And in a damn good time too – an awesome achievement!**Thusly inspired, there is a small part of me that is starting to believe that Lands End to John O’Groats on the Dahon is a practical possibility…

The mornings round here are bitterly cold (by British standards at least) at the moment.So cold in fact that my back brake froze up this morning!I tried to pull the brakes at a junction and found the rear lever to be solid – totally immovable!I had stripped, cleaned and lubricated the calipers on the weekend so I knew that they were mechanically fine.A quick exploratory wiggle showed that the capiers were indeed mving as they should, just not the lever.Once I reached the train station I was able to free it all up - there must have been some moisture in the cable which had then frozen.I will dose it liberally with WD40 this evening – that stuff sorts any sticky mechanism out.

I also went shopping on the weekend and bought a nice hi-viz cycling jacket and winter gloves (both bargains from Decathlon) Even so, with the temperatures as low as they were this morning, it takes a little while to warm up and some bits never quite do!However, I know that when I get round to riding longer events, these hard winter miles will pay back dividends in terms of physical and mental development.

As the saying goes, “The soft iron thinks itself harshly treated in the heat of the forge.The tempered steel blade looks back and knows differently.”

*To answer the two most commonly asked questions from non-folding bike riders!

** Incidentally, Kent’s write up of his
2005 Tour Divide race (on a single-speed, rigid MTB!) is also an excellent and inspiring read.

Dr Alex Moulton CBE 1920 - 2012

On 9th December 2012, Dr Alex Moulton CBE passed away peacefully aged 92.  Dr Moulton was a British engineer and inventor who spend his career pioneering innovative suspension products and small-wheeled folding bicycles. 

I once had the privilege of meeting Dr Moulton when he visited a factory where I worked as an engineer.  We manufactured the conical rubber spring for the Mini and “Hydragas” suspension unit used in the Metro and MG-F, both of which were developed by Dr Moulton.

He had come to discuss the possibility of producing some new development samples of the Hydragas product and so I spent a fascinating and very enjoyable hour or two in discussion with a legend of British engineering.     He struck me as a very well-spoken, energetic and bright engineer with a real passion for the products he had developed.  The typical British inventor, if you will – right down to the tweed jacket!  Given that he must have been in his eighties at the time, his youthful energy and the sharpness of his mind were incredible.  That he was still developing products and innovating at a time in life when most people sit with their feet up, is a real tribute to the man.

I wish I had been a fan of folding bicycles back then as I would not have wasted the opportunity to discuss them with him!

There is also a short tribute to Dr Moulton on the Moulton Bicycles website here.  I hope that his products can go on inspiring future generations of engineers.  British engineering has lost one of its finest sons and my own thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

War on Britain's Roads

Like a lot of cyclists last night I watched "War on Britain's Roads" on the BBC.  Having read some of the grumbling complaints prior to it airing, I wasn't going to bother but then figured I'd rather be part of the informed debate than stick my head in the sand.

For those that didn't have the pleasure, it was supposed to be an hour-long documentary showing the relationship between cyclists and other road users in UK cities (mainly London).  I say supposed to be because it was actually like an hour long cycling version of "Police, Camera, Action" for bicycles.

Bluntly, I thought it was overly sensationalist and concentrated mainly on footage of incidents and accidents.  Car drivers ranting at cyclists, cyclists ranting at car drivers and a ridiculous "Alley Cat" race through the Capital. 

It did not (as far as I could see):
  • Explain why more people are using their bikes to commute
  • Explain why it is a really good idea for people to get out of cars and onto a bike
  • Suggest what could be done to improve the situation (in particular the patchy cycling infrastructure in the UK)
  • Highlight very much considerate use of the road by cyclists or motorists
There was one person on their whose story could really have been used to made a difference.  The lady who lost her 26 year old daughter to a collision between her bike and a cement mixer.  I genuinely felt for her but any learning points the documentary made from the tragedy were thin. 

A lot of the footage was dedicated to "exciting" confrontations between cyclists and other road users.  It was hard to say whose side the documentary was on as both were made to seem as bad as one another at times.  Sure we've all shouted in alarm when someone's pulled out on us but to follow it up to the degree that one particular cyclist did is asking for trouble.  If he hasn't had his head kicked in by now it is a minor miracle.  Motorists who drive like idiots are idiots. Cyclists that ride like idiots are idiots and give us all a bad name.

I was actually left feeling genuinely dismayed for the state of cycling in our cities.  I am blessed that my commute is not usually so busy, although it has its own unique issues.  It would be easy (on either side of the discussion) to have watched "War on Britain's Roads" and feel considerably more animosity towards the other party than you might have beforehand.  When they had the opportunity to make a situation better, I feel the documentary makers passed it by.  It was tabloid-esque voyeurism from start to finish.

And as for those of us getting angrier on the roads? 

Fighting fire with fire just makes a bigger fire.  How many times do we need to be taught that consideration for our fellow man and peaceful means better resolve conflicts.  Jesus said it, St Paul said it, Gandhi said it, Martin Luther King said it... the list goes on.  One day we'll actually listen, wise up and change our behaviour.  One day.

I can't help feel that there is something deeper going on here.  The "Me first!" and "Now, now, now!" pressures of modern life mean that many of us are carrying around a lot of pent up stress and anger.  Inevitably it is finding an outlet where it is felt worst - on the roads.  I'm sure that even if we all cycled, there would be instances of "cycle-rage" but as cardio exercise is proven to reduce stress, I doubt that it would be as bad.

To attempt, in my own limited way, to address the issue, I made a conscious effort to be observant and considerate in my cycling this morning.  A smile and a thumb up was given to anyone who let me pull out or even just didn't pull out on me at an island.  I even refitted my bell, the better to alert pedestrians on the shared pavement sections.       

A better infrastructure isn't going to happen overnight so we need to keep campaigning.  Car drivers aren't going to change over night so we still need to keep our eyes peeled and ride carefully. 

And above all, we all need to chill-out, get along and share the road considerately.

Peace and love.

On another note, this video has nothing whatsoever to do with the article, it was just the song I had on the mental iPod on the way to work this morning.  I like Billy Bragg and dislike tabloids.  Two birds with one stone - enjoy:

Monday, 3 December 2012

By the light of the silvery moon

Last night, like almost all nights recently, my commute home was in the dark.

Irritatingly, I had spent the day with my bike folded under my desk watching a perfectly good clear, sunny day come and go outside the office window. To have the two-wheeled antidote to my paperwork-induced boredom so close was a temptation almost too much to resist.

So it was with the disappointment of a sunny day missed that eventually I cycled off in the dark towards the station and home. Despite the traffic, once pedalling, my glum mood brightened pretty quickly.  It's always good to be out on a bike, whatever the weather or time of day.

However for the last few miles, once clear of the town and traffic, the ride became simply magical.  Just me under a clear sky, the moon and all of the stars.  Moonlight so bright that it cast shadows and that amazing silvery light which lets you see for hundreds of yards.  Had I not needed my headlamp to be seen by oncoming cars, it wouldn't have been necessary at all.  The light of the moon was more than enough.

Maybe on nights like this I'll have to switch back to the unlit lanes that I use in the Summer months.  Mile after mile of unlit lane, with very little traffic would be just awesome under a bright moon.

Happy days (and nights!)

Food glorious food

I like food and I like a beer now and again. Nothing wrong with that.

It is however a lifestyle which, if overindulged, will cause a rapid and alarming expansion of the waistline. I have long promised myself that I would not become the out of shape 40 something that populates so many of our workplaces. A belly bulging over trousers is not a good look and health-wise it's a real worry. We are as a population getting fatter though and there's a reason why it is so common a sight.

Before cycling to work, my daily activity consisted of little more than walking to the car, from the car to the office, around the office a little bit and then a reverse of the process to get home again. Most evenings, I'd then crash out on the sofa infront of the TV to recuperate before sleeping and starting the whole thing over again in the morning.  Day after day. Month after month. I started to get fatter and unfit. I did used to work out now and again but arriving home tired does not leave one in the right frame of mind for serious exercise and so it's easy to let it slip.  Excuses I know, but also just a sad fact of modern life.

I've always had a decent appetitie but once I started cycling to work, I got noticably hungrier.  A casual Google revealed that, on average, someone of my build cycling at the speed I do burns off 600 calories in an hour.  I cycle for just under two hours a day and so I now burn an additional 1,000 calories or so every day.  My expanding waistline, and fear of my rising weight, meant that I had not been near the bathroom scales in a while so consequently I have no idea what I weighed in March when I started riding.  There's no doubt though that I've lost fat.  Previously "snug" trousers now have plenty of room around the waist and I'm not nearly so paranoid about wearing slightly tight T shirts any more.  All good really.

However, it does mean that I need to carry food with me to work and try to make sure it's something that will fuel my commuting well.  Being obsessed with carrying as light a load as possible, I tend to try and make sure that my food is pretty light too.  As a result, tins and large containers of liquid are out!  Furthermore, as I work in an office, kitchen facilities are minimal (toaster, kettle and microwave tops) and so anything thast needs cooking also needs careful thinking about. 

Dried noodles are pretty good but I find that heavily flavoured "Pot Noodle" type things end up tasting dreadful after a couple of days of a similar thing.  Oddly, the cheaper supermarket "Value" noodles are not nearly so bad.  Fruit is good fuel and I always try to bring a banana or two with me.  When I'm organised enough to remember to buy some, dried fruit and nut mix is cycling-nutrition gold!  I continually plan (but have yet to organise) a mixture of porridge oats, powdered milk and sugar that I could just pour boiling water on for second breakfast when I get to work.  Both received wisdom and my own experience have shown that a combination of good, high calorie food grazed throughout the day give me the most energy in my legs for the ride home.

But, if push comes to shove, as it frequently does at the end of the month, I'll pack pretty much anything.  Jam, cheese or peanut butter sandwiches are great and also very cheap.  Inevitably though I am ravenous when I get home  and have to try hard not to scoff half a packet of biscuits before dinner is ready.

Despite all of the above detail, I'm not too obsessed with losing weight.  I don't have much of a spare tyre any longer and I suppose all of these hard Winter miles will get rid of a bit more.  Just staying healthy and staying in shape is what matters most to me now, which cycling manages in spades.  Best of all though, with so much exercise in the week, I can eat or drink more or less what I want the rest of the time and it doesn't shoot automatically to my waistline! 

Another beer?  Don't mind if I do! 

Forgot my lock today...

So the Dahon is tucked up in the warm under my desk. There are some things you can only do with a folding bike.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Road or path - a bit of a rant

There are two immutable facts about travelling by bicycle.  Cars don’t want you on the road and pedestrians don’t want you on the footpath.  So what do you do?
The better-lit “Winter Route” (as it has now become known) which I use to commute at the moment follows for the most part one of the Sustrans National Cycle routes.  This can mean one of many things from a dedicated, traffic-free pathway, a spilt level pavement, a cycle lane at the side of the road or a shared pavement.  I’m glad we have the cycle route system as it’s something which many countries cry out for.  It’s not perfect, but it’s much better than nothing and I think Sustrans are doing their best with the hand they are dealt.  I digress…
My route is generally of the shared pavement type.  It is well signposted but that doesn’t stop pedestrians blithely dawdling along in the bike lane (which I note they don’t do in the road).  The pavement (shared or otherwise) also has the disadvantage of plenty of kerbs to bump up and down which, on 20” wheels can be bone-jarring. 
So then there’s the road.  Cars, vans and trucks simply don’t want bikes there at all.  They are so locked into the rush hour race to get to the next static traffic queue as fast as possible (or so it seems), that a cyclist is quite an inconvenience to them.  Incidentally, I found an interesting site the other day explaining that historically, roads were not built for cars.  It is, appropriately enough, at and makes an excellent point.  A point which is sadly lost of my fellow road users, every morning and evening. 
My solution is to use whichever option is the safest and most considerate at the time.  If the road is busy and the pavement not, I’ll use the pavement.  If the pavement is busy, poorly lit or poorly surfaced I’ll use the road.  If there is a clear, well lit and well surfaced cycle path, I thank the Lord for my good fortune and cycle on unimpeded and with a huge grin on my face*.  Sometimes there’s no option and I just have to use whichever route is at hand in the best way that I can.  In other words, I stay switched on and ride to the conditions at hand.  This is something that car-drivers, on commuter auto-pilot, are shockingly bad at doing. 
Ideally, I don’t want my journey to work to be an inconvenience to anyone.  On the contrary, I want to have less of an impact in terms of noise, pollution, congestion and general annoyance to those around me.  However, very little of our transport infrastructure is built around the needs of cyclists.  This is despite the fact that cycling offers a genuine sustainable alternative to most car journeys (which are I believe under 5 miles).  Until the Government wises up to the fact and design roads and towns with cycling in mind, we cyclists are just going to have to keep campaigning, keep our wits about us and ride in the best way we can.
And to end on a lighter (but relevant) note, there’s this sign which I found somewhere on the internet (credit to whoever took the picture – it’s not one of mine):
A valid message!
*Throw in a decent tail wind and I’d die happy there and then. 

Thursday, 29 November 2012

In the moment

A beautiful clear, crisp and very cold morning. A full moon so bright that lights were not necessary (for vision at least) on the lane. Wheels crunching through the thin layer of ice on puddles, ears burning from the cold. I knew I should have worn my skull cap. Sitting on the train now, breathing settled, feeling the glow, thawing fingers with a cup of tea. It's good to commute by bike. It's good to be alive.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Some general randomness

I had a lovely ride into work this morning. One of those rides where everything seems easy, one's mood is positive and the miles fly by. It was in high spirits that I sat at my desk this morning with my usual banana and mug of tea. Even the prospect of an exceptionally dull day at work was not enough to break the spell!

When I used to run a lot, folk talked about the "runners' high" - the rush of feel-good, pain-killing endorphins that comes after exercise. No one really mentions a "cyclists' high" but there is a definite feeling of all being rosy and right with the world after even a short ride.

People pay good money to bad people or need a prescription to feel this good. When all you have to do is get out on your bike and get pedalling, it seems almost too good to be true.

Having used my large-wheeled, multi speed hybrid for a few weeks, I mused as I pedalled this morning some of the main differences between it and my Dahon.

Gear inch calculations show that, on paper, there shouldn't be much difference in speed between the two bikes. In truth, the hybrid is a bit faster and I think this is for a couple of reasons:

Narrower gaps between the gear ratios mean that one can maintain a particular cadence under most conditions by going up or down the gears. That is, after all, why they were invented!

Greater inertia from the larger wheels means that when coasting (or at a more micro level, between power strokes on the pedals) the bike carries itself forward better i.e. it slows less. This seems particularly so when grinding uphill or pushing into the wind.

However, though it may be a bit faster, it's not by a large margin. The minutes saved on my reasonably modest commute don't add up to much and anyway, who's racing? Besides, the lower weight of the Dahon make it much nippier and, well, just more fun to ride!

I have waxed lyrical about gearing a few times before and had planned to mess about with the Dahon's gears some more. However, I recently came across Justin Simoni's website ( He seems like a pretty serious cyclist having ridden the Tour Divide a couple of times (a 2,750 mile monster, unsupported mountain bike race) among other achievements. From his blog, most of his general riding (if you can call a 200 mile, mountainous, ultralight bike-packing trip "general") is done on a sort of single speed bike. Using a flip-flop hub and clever "dingle cog" arrangement he actually has (albeit with some mechanical messing about required) the choice of fixed and free in a few different ratios. What really interested me though, was that Justin's highest gear is set at about 60 gear inches. That's pretty low by geared bike standards and so it must be possible to spin along quite nicely at high speed in a low gear. Justin also wins races on this bike after all.

So it made me rethink. If such things are possible with relatively low gearing, I'm not going to mess with my Dahon's gearing for a while and just spin the pedals faster instead! It is after all supposed to be easier on the knees too.

I think when I'm managing 180 rpm with ease in top gear on the flat, I may have to rethink. But I doubt those days are just around the corner.

Happy spinning everyone!

Monday, 26 November 2012

It's dark out there

With just a month to go until Midwinter, it is very definitely dark out there and my commute in both directions now starts and finishes in pitch blackness.  I'm lucky enough to live in a small village which, although on a reasonable busy road, is a couple of miles out of the nearest town.  The upshot of that is though, that most of my usual and very lovely rural commuting route is completely unlit.

I discovered in short order on my first night ride that my front light, bright though it is, struggles to illuminate much beyond the first two yards of road ahead of my front wheel.  The road surface is not that great in parts either and so, with some regret, I looked for an alternative winter route.

I've found that by taking a different route to the station in the morning, it's only the first couple of miles out of the village that are in pitch darkness.  OK there's more traffic going that way, but a seriously bright, flashy rear light and a high viz jacket mean that I've done as much as I can to be seen.  No close calls yet either so it must be working! 

To be honest, commuting in the dark is not nearly as bad as I thought it might be.  As with riding in the wet (and to a degree, the wind) one's mind tends to make a bigger deal out of the situation than ever transpires to be the case.  Through a sleep-fogged, pre-coffee brain first thing in the morning, getting on the bike in the cold and dark is not often an appealing prospect.  However, after the first few pedal strikes, the world is a brighter place, figuratively if not literally!

To paraphrase something I read recently, it is not what you ride that counts but that you ride at all.  In any conditions, it is preferable to commuting by car.

In other news, I spent some of the weekend mucking about in the garage on the resurrection of my fixed-gear MTB.  It's an old bike that I used to commute on years ago which was converted to fixed-gear knock-around duty when I found this site.  An addiction to fixed gear (and other quirky bikes to be honest - folders being a case in point) was born that, even though I have other bikes, continues to this day.  I have raided it for parts over the years but decided to get it back together for reasons which escape me now.  It's not going to be pretty but will (I hope) be an absolute hoot for bombing around the local lanes and trails in the mucky winter weather.  Bring on a bit of snow is what I say!

Thursday, 22 November 2012

I've been unfaithful...

Dear Dahon Vitesse,

I have a confession. 

While you were left cold and alone in the garage this last month, I have been seeing another bike.  In fact not just seeing but riding her as well.  Sometimes as often as two or three times a day.

It's not my fault.  She enticed me with shiny red paint, promises of 21 gears and a high top speed and I, being but a weak human, was taken in.  Alas her promises were shallow.  Yes, she was faster than you but not nearly so reliable.  I even treated her to a rack, new slimmer tyres and mudguards.  But two broken spokes in as many weeks have shown her to be the needy, high maintenance bike that you never were.  She promised so much but failed to deliver.

So now I look to you my faithful old companion to forgive me and continue to deliver the reliable service that you always did.


Bloke (back on a Folding Bike)

Yes I've been back on my hybrid for a few weeks. 

I can't honestly put my finger on what made me make the switch but it seemed like a good idea at the time.  In truth, it has been a reasonably pleasant few weeks change and there is definitely a benefit in speed and flexibility to having 21 gears.  But a second broken spoke this morning in as many weeks has seen it go back in the garage in favour of the Dahon.  I only suffered spoke breakage once on the folder after a particularly rough ride home.  The hybrid hasn't been over any such terrain though so I think it's just the physical limitations of £250 Halfords bikes showing through.

So this morning I whipped out the Dahon again for the ride to work.  I had forgotten how light it is in comparison to the hybrid - really light and nippy - and I had a really pleaseant ride in.  I'd love to take it on a decent city tour (fantasy bike-ride plan no. 457...) as it would be perfect in and out of traffic.

It was nice and sunny this morning if a little windy, though that headwind will be an awesome tailwind on the way home so no worries there.  Best of all I was treated to a couple of huge queues of cars to cycle past, beating then through the traffic lights with ease.

I am constantly surprised how much faster a bike is than a car in even moderate traffic.  Between work and the railway station (4 miles) there are some decent roads but also several sets of traffic lights and buses etc.  The result is that I can usually get to the station in around the same time as a car that leaves the office when I do, even on the folding bike. 

As another case in point, last night was utter chaos on the rail network.  After a very long delay, the train I needed was eventually cancelled and the single replacement bus was nowhere near big enough to get everyone on.  To burn off my rising frustration, I elected to cycle home the remaining 19 miles.  This decision was vindicated when I passed through a small town about half-way there and passed a couple of people walking who had earlier been waiting at the station with me.  The bus had driven them about 7 or 8 miles in only a little less time than I managed on my bike.  I was enjoying myself anyway by then but that put a large smile on my face!

Cycle commuting for the win!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Follow me

Incidentally, I have a Twitter feed on which I post updates to the blog and other stuff.  If you're of a mind to, you can follow it here.

Thanks! :-)

A little more gear inchery


My technical geekery knows no bounds – truly it doesn’t. 

I posted a while ago about my bikes gearing and the science of gear inch calculations.  Well it seems that I had some duff information and my calculations were wrong.

On a three speed hub gear, one gear is a direct drive and the other two are ratios of that one.  I had always assumed that, since first gear on my bike was the quiet, non-clickety one, that it was by logical deduction, the direct drive.  However, the maths behind this never stacked up.  With a 38t front sprocket and 16t at the back, a direct drive on 20 inch wheels would give 47.5 gear inches ((38/16) x 20 = 47.5).  However, I also know that the Sram iMotion 3 speed hub-gear has a total spread of 186% from lowest to highest gear.  Therefore my theoretical top gear, if the original assumption was correct should have been 88.35 gear inches (47.5 x 1.86 = 88.35).  However this is a pretty high ratio and the Dahon always felt considerably lower geared than that!

So eventually, curiosity got the better of me.  I turned the bike upside down and in each gear rotated the crank one revolution.  By counting the number of turns on the rear wheel, I got the actual drive ratios in all three gears.  With its original gearing (38/16) I found that it was actually the Dahon’s middle gear that was the direct drive, giving as it did 38/16 or 2.375 turns of the back wheel for one turn of the crank (or thereabouts).  The hub gear’s spec sheet also stated that the high and low ratios were 36% up and down from the middle one (which ought to have been a clue as to which was the direct drive, but there you go.)  And so, that yielded the following results for the Dahon’s gearing:

Gear 1 – 34.9
Gear 2 – 47.5
Gear 3 – 64.6

All of which felt much closer to the truth in practice.  I have said before that I found these gears far too low in actual use – first was rarely ever employed, second some of the time and third most of the time.  It seems that the gearings mentioned for this bike on the Dahon webste (42 – 78 gear inches IIRC) are actually for the seven speed version and not the three speed.  Anyway, I started to look at options to raise the gearing. 
The simplest and cheapest option by far was to install a smaller sprocket on the rear wheel and so I found one (14t) on eBay and, for the princely sum of about three quid, ordered it.  It arrived pretty quickly and installation was a simple matter of removing the rear wheel, taking off the spring clip which holds the sprocket and then the sprocket itself before reinstalling the new item.  Owing to the 14t sprocket’s smaller diameter it has meant that things are now very “snug” around the rear gearing.  The chain runs pretty close to the bearing cover next to the sprocket but this does not appear to be causing any damage or other problem.  The ratios since installing this modification are as follows:

Gear 1 – 39.9
Gear 2 – 54.3
Gear 3 – 73.8

Which is better but still not ideal.  From my experiments into single speed riding, I have found a gear in the mid to high 60’s to be the optimum for me.  Low 60’s is acceptable but sometimes too low for the down hills, however with the higher gear option afforded by an internal hub-gear, that would not be a problem.  Having a lower but usable first gear would also be a bonus.  So having worked things through ad nauseum, I have a couple of options.  A 48t front sprocket and 16t rear would be the best compromise all round and would require the purchase and installation of a 48t crank.  This combination would give:

Gear 1 – 44.0
Gear 2 – 60.0
Gear 3 – 81.6

However, I do have a 52t crank in the garage from my ongoing fixie project and if installed on the Dahon would give gearing of:

Gear 1 – 47.8
Gear 2 – 65.0
Gear 3 – 88.4

I do think that this would be a good combination and, as I have the necessary hardware, may give it a go first.  

I read a comment about touring on a Brompton which said that six gears are enough as long as you have the right six.  I’d go as far as to say three is enough for most people but again, it needs to be the right three.  The key to it all, as I am finding, is to have a middle gear that you can use for most of your cycling with the higher and lower gears as added options.  The middle ratio above might even be so close to my ideal that to all intents and purposes I end up riding it as a single speed.  The lower gear 1 for “knackered thighs, end of the week riding” will be really useful though as will the higher one for bombing down hills!  What I’ll actually have, on reflection will be the original gears two and three as gears one and two plus an even higher option.

It could all be tinkering over nothing but I’m an engineer and a geek so I like messing around with machinery.  There are few things that I own which I have not considered modifying in some way.  Why should the Dahon be any different?

Besides, it is great fun and through all of that spannering, you do learn an awful lot about your machine!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

This thing is gaining momentum!

Wow, there have been some huge spikes in daily readership recently.  

I suspect that this is in no small part to a link that was posted on here.   I don’t use that forum or know anyone on it to thank them but a big “Cheers!” to whoever it was.  I started this blog as a means to amuse myself and close friends but if it’s reaching out and spreading the cycling word more widely then I’m a happy man indeed!

There’s a great comment on one of the bikeforums replies about the fact that I still, occasionally feel the pull of the car.  I have to confess that it is sometimes true and I’m glad that the option is no longer there.  It is now definitely more down to my inherent laziness than it is any inexperience now in cycle commuting though.  

The weather has taken a noticeable turn for the Autumnal now and my morning commute is often cold, dark and windy.  When I crank my eyelids open in the dark at silly-o’clock and hear the rain beating down or the wind howling, I do run a few “what options do I have than cycling” scenarios through my head.  However, I agree with what the poster on bikeforums says, in that once I’m out in it, whatever the weather, you wouldn’t get me back in a tin box for any money. 

Even if I had the money for a car of my own now, I’d spend it on another bike!

By jove, I've finally cracked it! (part 1)

I've generally been pretty happy with my Dahon bike since buying it.  However, there have been a couple of things that have niggled at me persistently throughout that time.  First among these was the need to carry my worldly goods in a rucksack with the attendant achy shoulders (on heavy days) and sweaty back that it caused.
I have always looked with envy at the front mounted luggage available to Brompton owners and wished that something similar existed for my Dahon.  There used to be a Dahon bracket listed in their website to mount bags and baskets on the front of the frame but it seems to have been discontinued (think it might still be available in the US).  I did consider modifying a Brompton one to fit the mounting holes on my bike but at over £100, the bags are a bit pricey had it not worked!  Pricey but with a super reputation for good quality, I might add.

Panners would be good too - I know plenty of cyclists who swear by them - but the standard Dahon rack sits too close to the floor and if anything sticks out beside it (as panniers would) you tend to hit your heels on every pedal stroke.  Not great.

Eventually however, and very randomly, I found an online link the Rixen and Kaul "Klickfix" range of products and was more than pleasantly surprised!  They do such a huge range of bike luggage and mounting options that it would be hard not to find a solution to most problems.  The website and downloadable catalogue is here.  They do a front mount that fits the Dahon and also a seatpost mount - all with a common interface to a range of bags and baskets.  The rucksacks that they make look great but I was concerned about the weight limit of 5kg quoted in the catalogue.  On a "heavy" day recently, with my own rucksack full of laptop, charger, change of clothes and lunch, I weighed it.  Unfortunately it came in at over 7.5kg and some of the roads I ride are a little uneven to say the least.  I had visions of snapping the bag from it's mount in the middle of a ride and, given the price of the kit, wasn't willing to fork out to try it!  Am I coming across as a cheapskate?

However, I did really like the idea of mounting luggage on the seatpost, out of the way behind me. 

Sooo, a short Google later, I found a number of seatpost-mounting luggage racks compatible with lots of standard panniers.  Even the good quality ones (with plenty of positive reviews on Amazon) were relatively cheal and so fewer than forty pounds later, I became the owner of a luggage rack and panniers.

I've had them on for a couple of weeks now and have to say that they are excellent.  It is so nice to ride unencumbered by a rucksack and although I still work up a sweat, it is nothing like before.  When heavily laden it does sway a lttle and make the bike feel odd - usually when standing up out of the saddle to pedal up hills.  It's nothing too bad though and I think would be improved if I fix a way of securing the bottoms of the panniers.  They have straps but I want something that will release more quickly to get on and off trains.

Both of the items I bought were "Avenir" products which I think are made by Raleigh:

Simple, strong and lightweight.  You can get them with removable sides
but those were wither expensive or had poor reviews.  This one is excellent.

Simple but good quality and most importantly my laptop (just) fits in.
A netbook or tablet would be no problem whatsoever.

And here's a (poor quality) picture of it all installed.  Not sure why the back tyre looks flat in the picture
as it wasn't!  Just the angle or a trick of the light I reckon.

The only slight issue I've had is that the Dahon has such a fat seatpost!  Most of the seatpost mounted luggage state that 31-32mm is the maximum diameter that they will fit.  The Dahon's is about 33.5mm.  However, although this means that the quick release link doesn't reach, by replacing it with a longer bolt and packing out any gaps (between seatpost and clamp) with rubber pads It is fitted safely and securely.  This set up has endured a couple of heavy days without any problems at all.

So the upshot of it all is that I am now a much happier bunny with a less sweaty back and less achy shoulders. 

And the second thorn in my side?  Well that'll have to wait until I have a bit of time to write it up!

Friday, 12 October 2012

2,000 miles and counting!

Well, well, well, another mileage milestone rolls beneath my wheels!

If I managed to update my blog more regularly, I could've bee closer to real-time with this post but sometime during last week, I topped 2,000 miles on the Dahon.  OK that's over several months of riding and not a few weeks touring but I never thought that my experiment in cycle commuting would go this far.

Although the nights are drawing in and the mornings are darker, I'm still enjoying it and wouldn't go back to the car out of choice.  Not that I have that choice as I don't own a personal car any longer, just the family one my wife needs.

If you'd told the overweight me a year ago (who was worrying about how best to keep his old car running againsta rising repair bill) that I'd be cycling everyday and lighter, fitter and happier as a result, I wouldn't have believed you.

I used to arrive home having battled traffic for an hour or more in a foul mood and literally buzzing from stress hormones and other such undesirables.  I can't have been too pleasant to welcome home or be around to be honest!

Nowadays, the only buzzing I do is on endorphines and so even after the toughest ride home, I feel great!

Getting rid of my car was out of necessity to be honest.  The repair bill had got to the point where it was more than the value of the car and so it had to go.  However, as I was already cycling at the time and hadn't used it for a while, it was pretty easy to let it go.  No borrowing money for a new one for me, either.

What being (sort of) car-free has done for me is reduce and almost remove entirely the crutch that a car provides.  On those cold, windy mornings or tired days when one just can't be bothered, it would have been easy to jump back in the car.  That would've gone from a day per week, to two days, to three and so on...

But I don't cycle simply because I have no other option.  I do it because I love being out in the fresh air on my bike immersed in my surroundings.  I love travelling cheaply and not harming the environment with my actions. 

I do it because I love cycling.

And so, here's to the next two thousand miles.  I hope they are as fun, inspiring and eventful as the first two thousand have been.

Mileage to date:

Week 30 - 102 miles
Week 31 - 92 miles

Total mileage so far - 2,186.5 miles

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Another puncture

Last night, for the second time in a couple of thousand miles, I got a puncture. Now don't get me wrong, two flats in all that cycling is pretty good going and testimony to the robustness of my Michelin City tyres. I always carry a spare tube and repair kit with me and, as the Dahon doesn't have quick release wheels, a spanner for the wheel nuts. I do not fear punctures - I am prepared.

So after feeling the inevitable "thump, thump..." from the back wheel on the way to the train station, I pulled over expecting to have the inner-tube swapped over in a jiffy. I flipped the bike over, took the spanner from my tool-kit and set to work...

It is here that I should explain about the spanner.

I used to carry a good quality, six-inch adjustable spanner. However when sorting through tools at home one day I found one of those flat "multi-spanners" which you often get free with a new bike. "Wow!" thought I, "This thing is versatile and so much lighter than my original spanner! I'll pack it instead." In truth, the weight difference was probably only a handful of grams but we cyclists are a weight-obsessed crowd. The puncture last night was its first test in anger.

And it failed.


I tried to turn one wheelnut but and the spanner bent and slipped right off.  I tried the other.  No chance! Next to busy, noisy traffic I didn't fancy my chances at finding and repairing the puncture hole. Also mindful of the fact that I had a train to catch and becoming increasingly desperate, as a last resort, I pumped a load of air into the tyre and carried on. Unlike the last puncture I got, this inner tube did not have "slime" sealant in it. This is a shame as my ride to the station, even with a puncture, would have been a simpler affair. As it was I limped along stopping every quarter of a mile or so to pump the tyre up some more. Eventually even this stopped working and I ended up running and pushing the bike, making it to the train just in time. A quick emergency "Rescue me!" text to my wife and I collapsed, sweating into my train seat.

Later in the evening, I changed the inner tube in the comfort of my own garage and with a proper spanner. I found that riding the bike with the rear under-inflated had caused the tube to slip within the tyre partially tearing the valve out of the tyre.  Result - one dead inner tube but fortunately no other serious wheel damage. Writing off the tube, cheap though they are, is a shame as the puncture itself was actually pretty small.  It could have been worse though.

All of life's experiences, good and bad, serve to teach us something. So the lessons I learned were:

- Don't sacrifice quality kit to save weight
- Don't place your trust in cheap, poor quality tools
- Test out any emergency kit you plan to use before you need it
- "Slime" in your tyres is a good thing

And finally, stop to offer help to other cyclists! Three or four cyclists rode past me while I was attending to a broken bike and not one offered to help or even asked if I was OK. Maybe I looked like it was all under control but I'd have made a point of asking if the roles were reversed.

So lessons learned and bike back on the road. It ought to have been easier with better preparation and hopefully will be next time.

If all I have to fix in the next 2,000 miles is a couple of punctures, I'll be a happy man indeed!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Mileage to date

It was another monster day of traffic on the way through the city today.  I have no idea what the problem was that caused it all (it never seems to take much to be honest) but it didn’t slow me down one tiny bit.  Having just checked on Google maps, one of the queues was a full mile long!  I simple cruised down the outside of it, to the front of the queue and turned right at the traffic junction as usual.  No fuss and no delays – lovely!

OK, so it wasn't quite this bad but you get the picture!
As predicted, the week before last was a big week on the bike for me and certainly the longest to date since buying the Dahon.  Five full days in the office plus a bit of to-ing and fro-ing from a clients resulted in a total of 117.5 miles for the week.  Last week was much shorter though, in large part because I worked from home for a couple of days.  Not so good from the point of view of exercise but very restful and my legs thanked me for the time to recuperate!  As a result, Thursday and Friday last week were (almost) effortless blasts of cycling fun in beautiful Autumn weather. 

Mileage to date:

Week 28 – 117.5 miles
Week 29 – 48.5 miles

Grand total so far:  1,992.5 miles

So I’m only a whisker away from the 2,000 mile mark.  I think I’ll allow myself a small moment of self-congratulation and a celebratory cup of tea!

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Life is good to be honest

Today is another one of those beautiful Autumn days.  It’s not that warm but the skies are clear and there is minimal wind, so the cycling is excellent.

I just took a lazy spin from one of our client’s offices back to headquarters, taking in one of the city’s largest parks.  On the way, just for the sake of it, I snapped a few pictures for the blog:

It's a tough life when your cycling route looks like this.

A nice bit of greenery in a city.

I could have a bit of a whine about the state of the bike lane but at
least there is one and when the scenery is this good, little else matters!

I sometimes moan about my job but to be honest, when I get to do this as part of it (or at least transportation between parts of it) life is pretty good really!  Winter, schminter – bring it on I say!

In other news, I fitted some new bar-ends to the Dahon over the weekend. 

The previous ones were a manky set of cheap steel ones which used to be on my fixie MTB beater but I wanted to see if I would use them on my folder.  Long story short, I find bar-ends most useful as the variety of nahd positions the bars allow take the load of an old elbow injury I seem plagued with.  This old set were pretty long though and interfered slightly with folding the bike.  They were also extremely scruffy and more suited to life aboard my fixie, whose bars they will soon, once again grace.  So I stumped up the princely sum of £6 for a new set of snazzy alloy ones on eBay:

Et voila - £6 well spent

These are shorter, smarter looking set and complement the rest of my bike nicely (I think).  It folds better with them in place, too.  I’m also pleased to report that they are supremely comfortable and therefore an all-round top bargain!  Quite why anyone would need to pay over the odds for a set of bar-ends, given the function they fulfil, is beyond me. 

We do like our toys though, don’t we, so maybe that explains it?

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

A good point well made

I came across a great post on Bicycle Bug's blog today. Kind of what I've tried to express myself a couple of times but more nicely written.

It's a great blog - you should take a look HERE.

Cheers :-)

Monday, 24 September 2012

I blame Bradley Wiggins!

I do love to see another cycle-commuter out there on my way to work.  If little else it means one car fewer to clutter things up but it's nice to have that sense of kindred spirit so lacking in car-commuters.

Over the summer I've noticed a huge increase in the number of bikes out there.  Both on the train in the morning and locked up at work when I get there.  I have joked, though I do also believe, that the upturn is due in no small part to the fantastic achievements of our Olympic cycling team and a certain Mr. Wiggins in "Le Tour".  In general, I think that this is a brilliant thing though it does have a couple of downsides.

Our small commuter train has a bespoke space to carry two full sized bikes and for ages it was only another lad and I storing their bikes in it.  Now however, there can be as many as seven bikes (including my folder) packed into both the storage space and the doorways at either end of the carriage.  To the train company's credit, they do get as many on as they can, and I've never known them to leave a cyclist behind, but it is somewhat congested at times!  Of course I have the advantage of being able to fold the Dahon which opens up another couple of places on the train that it will fit in comfort.  The lady who gets on with a Brompton from time to time has it even better.  I cannot believe how small those things fold up - a fully functional and very capable bike which will fit in the smallest of luggage spaces.  A versatile combination and (fingers in your ears please Dahon) very tempting when the Cycle Scheme comes back around.

There's also the issue of more bodies waiting to use the only shower at work once I get there.  Again, we've gone from one or two regulars to a gang of about five or six all wanting to shower in the morning.  I get on well with many of my workmates, but draw the line at cramming into a single shower cubicle with them.  Eurgh!  Pass the mind-bleach!

Inevitably, once summer turns to autumn (as it now seems to have done) then numbers will drop off.  In one way that is a shame but will make the experience more comfortable for the rest of us.  On a more serious note though, it just goes to show that if the government and employers want us to make greener choices in our transportation arrangements, the infrastructure needs to be improved to make that possible.  Unfortunately, the way the system works at the moment, it is reliant on more people using an overstretched system in the hope that some of th eprofits get diverted into making those services better for all.

On the whole probably a bit much to lay entirely at Wiggo's doorstep, he is an awesome athlete and all round hero after all.  But it is something that needs to be thought about in order that more people can make cycle commuting a practical reality.

Having just won the TdF and an Olympic gold,
he deserves a sit down, I'd say!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Mileage to date

I am planning to do a decent review of my Dahon Vitesse D3HG at some point along with a host of other blog posts. Time, the old enemy...

Anyway, just time to do a mileage update:

Week 24 - 116 miles
Week 25 - 64 miles
Week 26 - 69 miles
Week 27 - 81.5 miles

Total mileage - 1,826.5 miles

So the next big milestone of 2,000 miles cycled edges near. This week looks like being a big one as well so that barrier should be broken shortly.

Also worth noting is that I've passed the six-month mark and in all that time, only used a car on a handful of occasions. This time last year that would have seemed laughable. Now, anything is possible. The cold, dark half of the year has yet to come though I'm sure I'll cope. At least there might be more room for bikes on the train!


We are having utterly awesome weather here at the moment! There's definitely a chill in the air each morning but the lung-boosting power of cold, crisp air and bright, golden sunshine more than make up for it. When I look back over my shoulder to see dawn breaking through the mist in the fields behind me, it feels great to be alive and part of that scene! It also takes much longer to warm up than at the peak of summer so although I get a sweat up, being the air-cooled creature that I am, I never feel overheated. It's lovely weather in which to cycle. :-)

Not a bad place to have to commute!  This is looking back from the top of the first hill of the morning.
At this point, my legs are usually feeling somewhat shocked and I am very definitely awake!

All of the schools are back in full swing now after their summer break which means much more traffic in the city. I did think this would be an issue but to be honest, as most of the cars are generally stationary, they don't pose much of a threat, ha ha! I travelled in to work about an hour later than usual today which meant I hit town at the peak of the rush. The queues of cars waiting at traffic lights were enormous. One of them must have been a full my long and I cruised past the whole thing, straight to the front in perfect time to hit the green light. Sweet!

I know it's going to get colder and darker before long but for now I'll take this autumn weather with thanks. The memories will keep me going through the short days until spring.

Happy travels all! :-)