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Autumn Commute 2017

It’s been a while since I posted a bike video – but with the clocks going back I thought I’d capture the ride home  – next week it’ll be dark. 😦

Not that the dark’s a problem really. It’s currently pitch dark on my inbound journey at 7am anyway. I find that in the dark you can often see other traffic and they can see you, sometimes better than in the daytime. In the dark, vehicles are lit up (hopefully), and people on bikes, of course, should be lit up too! With lights, you can see vehicle’s lights approaching from behind, as well as hear them.

But for now here’s record of an Autumn 10mile commute out of Leicester. 3 x 10min films.

Autumn Commute 2017

 

…and below is a reminder of the old commute and weather from other seasons. Potentially weather to come – the thought of it is worse than the reality – Happy daze!

Snow:

Wet and Dark:

 

 

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Save £585 a year?

Ahead of #cycletoworkday this year, I thought I’d just look at some figures, as I’ve biked ~3700miles commuting over the last year.

Below is an update to my 2011 ‘Commute’ costs post.

Current 2017 fuel costs:
Driving ~9.6 miles @ 7.5mpl, £1.18p/litre, costs £1.51 each way, that’s £15.10/week.

You can read about a previous bus, car, bike experience and costs here: Commute

So simply on fuel, I’m saving us ~£15/week.
That’s 39 weeks x £15 = £585/year.

Yes, I know I’m lucky to be able to ride a bike to work, yes there are some jobs where it’s not possible, but there are a lot of jobs where IT IS POSSIBLE!  You may recall, when it was initially suggested that I could cycle to work once a week, my response was ‘never in a month of Sundays!‘ – it was seriously not an option!  The idea was simply crazy!

(i) I’d get wet and cold and be a gibbering wreck when I got to work.
(ii) I really don’t fancy the ride home after a day at work.
(iii) It’s too far.
(iv) It would take too long.
(v) The traffic would be a nightmare.
(vi) I like my podcasts in the car.
(vii)…

After a few months and a transition to cycling daily, I found…
(i) Buzzing! and ‘up for it’ when I get to work. (The weather is not an issue if the right clothing’s worn, and inclement weather is much less frequent than you think!).
(ii) Take it from me, surprisingly the ride home is a great tonic!
(iii) It’s not as far as you think.
(iv) At an average rush-hour, by bike’s not much more than by car.
(v) Don’t be part of the traffic!
(vi) Radio* in one ear on the bike is fine (low volume). and ride off-road where possible.  (*BBCRadio3 AM, BBCRadio6 PM)
(vii) …

It’s taken me years to rediscover, there’s a lot to unlearn, perspectives change and the world becomes quite a different place.

I am not a follower of the sport of cycling, worthy though it is. Just as an average driver is probably not a follower of Rallying or Formula 1, exciting though they are. I am not a lycra lover. I don’t (anymore) try to beat my time! I don’t think you should have to “dress like a cyclist” to ride a bike – practical ‘normal’ clothes can be found to suit most purposes. It’s just riding a bike to get from a to b.

The simple act of riding a bike is good for so many reasons – personally, socially, mentally, physically, community, interaction, pace, progress, ambition… all can be fed by a new way (an old way) of experiencing things.

Perhaps think again, and perhaps cycle again?

Read my previous Celebration of Cycling post here.

You can see my bike related posts here: bike

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The Call of a Calm sea in Summer

As you know, for 5 years now I have ridden a bike to and from work. This activity and perspective has seen many changes over time. It’s not for everyone I guess. It’s probably just me.

As mentioned before, generally I have moved from a driverly, ‘get there’ quickest, arterial-route, cyclist-culture mode, to a more pedestrian, ‘person on a bike’, safer, relaxed, more enjoyable mode.

I currently travel 9 miles twice a day. The route is 95% off main roads, 75% off roads, 62% separate cycleway, meaning the trip is often a 45 minute tonic before and after work. I tracked it recently, just for the record; 96 miles a week.

Locally, we suffer a lack of funds (or perhaps lack of political clout/will?) to invest in proper infrastructure for people on bikes. Outside of London, planners and budgeters seem not to grasp that provision of proper infrastructure will generate more bike use which in turn sees a healthier, happier population, a more vibrant community, a healthier local economy, personal savings… #yawn, it’s all been said before – the stats are all available.

In Leicester, authorities say it’s a Cycle City. Yes, there’s a lot of ambition and you can see their actions plans here: Cycle City. 

  • Deliver a 10% modal share of traffic cycling to the city centre and double everyday cycling numbers by 2018!
  • Develop an infrastructure network of high capacity, quality cycle tracks along main road corridors…
  • There has been refurbishments, traffic calming, access for cyclists, improvment to NCN cycle routes…

This is all great. Well done LCC, but…

For all the good plans, I don’t understand why obvious routes, like the 1940s cycle paths alongside Melton Road near Rushey Mead, are left in such an embarrassing state, year on year. They could be a jewel in the city’s Cycle City proclamation.

To encourage people to get on bikes, and suggest they use facilities in this state is embarrassing. It’s all very well having a back-slapping Sunday Sky Ride, festival days, Critical Mass fun and frolics, but when that sees no real change in basic provision it’s perhaps almost pointless.

Specific replies to my enquiries about the Melton Road section mentioned above are disappointing.
Leicester City Council’s Highways Managment considers there to be
no self-evident actionable defects here as per our Intervention Levels for highway maintenance.”

Leicester’s Planning, Development & Transportation Cycling Coordinator says it’s “not a current high priority for the city.” and “not a Highway Maintenance high priority either”.  They say the City Council is committed to developing the wider cycling network and hope for “additional resources and support for improvement”.  They say their immediate priority is “for improved links between the Pedestrian Zone & Belgrave Circle as identified by the City Council with widespread stakeholders support in the adopted Cycle City Action Plan”.

Leicester’s Mayor says “I cycled them recently … they do need some TLC”.  I say “Yes please Mr Mayor…”

I guess it’s not covered in their “Radial Corridor Improvements”, under their “forward planning for 2014”. 

Over the last 5 years, the state of the route has seen little TLC. My bike had suffered broken spokes, pedals, spindles etc all due in part to the state of the surface. If the equivalent surface was found on a road it would be near not fit for purpose. As I say, an embarrassing option to proffer to new bicyclers.

That all said, riding a bike can still be a tonic. Now riding off road, in a more pedestrian non-sweat-inducing manner, I am able again to have the radio in one ear and the world in the other. The ‘world in the one ear’ being the brightest birdsong, the greetings from the regular dog walkers and fellow bikeists, the passing early risers, vibrant street life, all not encountered via car. My radio ear usually has an energising Radio 3’s Breakfast Show during the inward trip, my return trip is sometimes sans-radio but often a frivolous Radio 6’s Steve Lamacq show on the return.

Like the idea of ‘riding a bike’ 5 years ago, the thought of ‘listening to Radio 3′ was laughably preposterous. But, give stuff a chance and you might see through the assumptions and preconceived pre-judice.

Often, it’s simply a nice accompaniment for the journey, but occasionally we’re served new-to-me treats.

This morning as I cycled into the elements I was lulled by Grace Williams’  Calm sea in Summer from her collection of ‘Sea Sketches’… Wow. Sensations of the sea, memories from Cornwall to Greece were momentarily transported to rural Leicestershire.

As I cycled through the meadow near Belgrave Hall, Ian Skelly offered a haunting The Call Of Wisdom’ by Will Todd… Again wow… #bigsigh.

 

 

Ain’t music brilliant?

Ain’t riding a bike brilliant?

I hesitate to say, when Radio 6 played the Beachboys’ ‘Wouldn’t it be Nice’ as I pedaled through the park, the heady mix of memories, air, endorphins, people laughing and commun-ity, can not be matched by a polished, pine-fresh, personalised, petrol-guzzling, procession in a prestigious safety-cage.

But perhaps that’s just me.

 

 

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Brooks saddle ~12,000 miles

WOW, thanks Brooks Saddles.

I treated myself back in 2013 to a ‘Brooks’ saddle. Alas, last month after about 12,000miles (been doing >3000 a year) I heard a snap.

I had to switch my Brooks Flyer for the old off-the-self saddle that came with the bike that, yes, looked comfy but after a day my backside was not happy about the cheap ‘comfy looking’ saddle.

After 4 years of 5day-a-week riding, my Brooks is like an old pair of boots! Snug as slippers!

Disappointed, and fearing the worst, I called and emailed Brooks with my ride history and proof of purchase. Seven days later my saddle’s been returned fixed! WOW, ready for another 12,000 miles at least!

Like I said, my brooks saddle’s like an old pair of leather boots – snug as! Thanks SG and Brooks Saddles.

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People on bikes – again

After the local press asked about my ‘person on a bike‘ experiences last week, they put a piece in the paper.
I put a blog post together for the record – see ‘Simply Riding a Bike

Now the local BBC TV have (again) asked me, and some local campaign groups, about our experiences of ‘riding a bike’ in and around Leicester.

As mentioned last week: People on bikes are simply asking for drivers to look out for and have a little due care and attention for, that person on their bike.

The TV article focused on the ‘close pass’ items:

  • The vulnerability of people on bikes mixing with motor vehicles needs to be recognised by authorities and drivers.
  • people on bikes’ mixed with motor vehicles are in a vulnerability position – this needs to be publicised, and where appropriate, people driving without due care and attention need to be prosecuted.
  • West Mids. Police have been doing this and I would hope other forces will see that it’s necessary if we are to encourage more bike use.
  • Almost every day I encounter at least one driver who does not give due care and attention when passing cyclists – hence a lot of my route is now off main roads.

BUT the rest of my TV interview and in my view a more important issue was along the lines of the below:

  • There is a healthy, cheap, invigorating alternative to the car.
  • Riding a bike is do-able –  I do it every weekday.
  • There are cyclable routes, but they are not ideal – inevitably, there are places where you’ll have to mix with motor vehicles traveling at speed. But for example, over my 9-mile commute, 8 miles of this are off roads!
  • Routes off the main roads are there, but design and creation of these routes need better consultation, planning, and investment. Bike routes need improvement and maintenance. Options for bikes; the value of encouraging and providing for people on bikes; needs to be embraced by authorities if we’re to encourage a broader section of people to ride bikes.

Who needs to exercise more?
Who would like to save money?
Who could do with space to clear their head?

There is a healthy, cheap, invigorating alternative to the car.

Riding a bike is do-able! I do it every weekday.

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“simply riding a bike”

I’ve wittered about this before I know, but after this recent encounter below, when the local press asked me about my experience of ‘riding a bike’, I had to respond.

Please look out for, and have a little due care and attention for, that person, simply riding their bike.

I like many other mums, fathers, daughters, and sons ride a bike to work.

The people you see on pedal bikes are just like you and me – people with hopes, cares, worries and ambitions. A person on a bike might be Mrs Miggins, Mr Chopra, cousin Johnny or little Veena. They have simply opted to ride a bike today*.

I’m privileged, as many are, to be able to bike daily to work rather than drive a car: It’s cheaper, it’s vastly healthier, and it has given me a new outlook on ‘stuff’ – an experience that I find priceless. After more than five years riding a bike daily, I’ve found myself having been through many ‘cyclist’ stages. Yes, the cycling ‘sport’, for fit adrenalin-fueled contenders is another matter – it’s not what I do. What I’m talking about is simply everyday people getting on a bike to pop to work, or town or wherever.

People on bikes find themselves in vulnerable positions and face frequent hazards when having to share road space with motor vehicles. One of the biggest discomforts is ‘the close pass’. When the driver of a motor vehicle, drives past a person on a bike without due care and attention; drivers travelling without monitoring and adjusting their speed and distance when faced with other more vulnerable road users. Motor vehicles travel at speed and they have bumpers, fenders, seat belts, airbags, impact absorption cells and safety devices. People on bikes do not. A collision between motor vehicle and a cyclist is speeding metal on mortal flesh – need I say more?

So why ride a bike when you can drive?

It’s taken me considered time to move from a driverly route and attitude to a more pedestrian one. My 9 mile cycle commute now takes me about 40 mins, while at rush hour in the car it’ll take perhaps 30mins. There is provision for people on bikes that is maintained, cleaned and signposted. Yes, it does need better management, upkeep and improvement in places, but it’s there if you look for it. For 90% of my journey I travel on shared pedestrian/cycle paths, designated Cycle Routes, and quiet back streets. But, of course I also have to share the unavoidable main roads.

Only about one mile of my nine mile commute is via main roads, sharing space with motor vehicle drivers. This main road space is where the cyclist can find themselves in potentially dangerous vulnerable positions.

All the law and common sense asks drivers is;

  • make sure the road is sufficiently clear ahead
  • make sure there is a suitable gap in front of the road user you plan to overtake
  • overtake only when it is safe and legal to do so.
  • don’t get too close to the vehicle you intend to overtake
  • pass quickly past the vehicle you are overtaking, once you have started to overtake. Allow plenty of room. Move back to the left as soon as you can but do not cut in.
  • give cyclists at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car
  • look out for cyclists before you emerge from a junction, turning, changing direction or lane
  • when passing cyclists, give them plenty of room. If they look over their shoulder it could mean that they intend to pull out, turn right or change direction. Give them time and space to do so.
  • cyclists may suddenly need to avoid uneven road surfaces and obstacles such as drain covers or oily, wet or icy patches on the road – give them plenty of room and pay particular attention to any sudden change of direction they may have to make.

The police have recently started promoting and hopefully enforcing the rules of the road – see here; closepass

“The most effective tool to curtail adverse driver behaviour is the threat of prosecution” West Midlands Police WMP Traffic

Worryingly, there are drivers who do not seem to realise the potential danger of driving without due care and attention.
There are also drivers who seemingly do not seem to care about the potential danger of driving without due care and attention.

*Yes, I agree, people on bikes equally need to ride with due care and attention, and abide by similar common sense rules of the road.

All people on bikes ask, is for drivers to please look out for, and have a little due care and attention for, that person, simply riding their bike.

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A bike’s for life, not just for Christmas…

And so with a Christmas break coming up – I had it in mind to put the bike in for a good rub-down and refurb.

As the Starwars droid said “Thank the maker! This oil bath is going to feel so good…” C-3PO, A New Hope

It’s well overdue, the bike sees 18 miles a day of varying city-cycleway; on & off kerbs; over potholes; through grit, glass and other variable detritus – it takes a good deal of flack! Especially at this time of year. I will not get into the politics of Leicester Council’s celebrated soundbites about cycling but lack of commitment and support for everyday bike riding and solid quality planning. This is my 5th winter. I am now doing 360 miles a month.

spokeAlas, a forced pit stop came a few days early due to:
(i) the Council’s neglect to keep the cycle/footway in good condition and appropriately lit
(ii) me not seeing the rabid branch!

On my way back from work, 300 yards from the LBS, a fallen branch in my path went straight through the rear derailleur, ripping off the hanger and pulling spokes from the rim of the wheel! I wish I had taken a picture of the rear mech!
A short roll to the LBS – and Carl and the lads at Thurmo City Cycles took the bike in for some TLC.
I had planned for new break pads, and disc rotors – the rotors were paper thin, the only original item left on the 5-year-old Specialized Specialized Crosstrail Sport Disc 2011. I had planned for a tune up and a clean. But due to the branch I had to add a new rear mechanism, hanger, and wheel! Hey ho, still cheaper than a car’s MOT and service!

City Cycles Thurmo did a great job again- the bike’s now solid as a rock – like a new bike, a joy to ride.

newmech

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A crazy idea!

Five years ago this month, I posted about my ‘small on the outside, big on the inside’ local town shop

Regrettably, ‘Cyclops’ in Syston are closing down this year – but the Serfas ‘True 250’ rechargeable bike light that I bought five years ago has been used week-daily through five winters, being used for ~2 hours a day, the charge still last all week.

Alas, due to the council not clearing leaves on supposed bike paths, I came a cropper this week but the only significant damage was my True 250’s bar mount! It fractured on pavement impact. The local shop’s closing; so I searched t’interweb and Serfas in Phoenix, Arizona replied within an hour and put me onto Leicester based Walkers, who stock Serfas lights etc! New bracket in the post, bingo, let there be light. Thanks Walkers!

It’s been a while since I banged on about the benefits of riding a bike – people must be bored of the media’s soundbites, but as my house (and family) is taken up with Saturday night’s BBC ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, I’ll write again about why I ride a bike.

This week I was scanning Momentum mag’s online news. They’re a Canadian bike mag – they’re about ‘people that ride bikes’ not ‘cycling’. It’s good stuff – I’ve not found a comparable UK publication. I was reading Danyel Jones‘ story – “her motivations for getting back on a bike as an adult“, and thought I’d repeat some of my own ‘motivations’.

What is the spark that inspires someone to get around by bicycle?

For me, now 48, Leicester UK, it was March 2011 – At the time it was a combination of lack of exercise, an extremely sedentary job, and a desire to save money and get out of the daily “sitting in the traffic” commute. I remember it, sitting there in the car burning £s, waiting for the steady stream of traffic (of which I was part) to nudge forward and my turn at the next junction.

When someone suggested why don’t you ride your bike to work, I didn’t even entertain it, “crazy idea”, who’d want to ride home after a day’s work? But Spring 2011 I tried it one Friday, and after a while I was doing it daily.

It took months, perhaps years, to really find my way amongst the options. There’s the whole cycling subculture that tells you to buy this and that, most of which you do not need! There’s the move from riding with the mindset of a motor vehicle driver to that of a more pedestrian person on a bike. It really is hard to shake the culture of ‘gotta get there, gotta get there’. In a motor vehicle, ‘the journey’ is neutered and the joy of the places and people you pass is smothered in new-car-smell clown-infested radio or comforting playlists.

The health benefits of riding a bike are perhaps immeasurable – Riding a bike you’ll see good aerobic activity twice a day. The daily endorphin hits are invaluable. The daily experience is arguably also more constructive than a similar trip in a car/bus and cerebrally, thoughts and feelings get a more intense workout. The experience is arguably exhilarating and elevating, depending on your psychological position/attitude to the road-space social-class struggle – this does need to be kept in check.

Over the years I have moved from road cycling and the driverly mindset, to riding a bike on separate (ideally segregated) cycle ways. No matter what the stats say, sharing with motor traffic is a nerve-wracking experience. If that’s your thing then good luck to you, but for me the daily dice with close passes, speeding idiots and irresponsible attitudes from people in charge of machines equipped with bumpers, airbags, roll-cages etc is unwise. My experience is that the rules of the road are generally unenforced and where action is needed authorities are under resourced, under funded and not greatly accountable. Even with video evidence, you’ll be in for the long haul through months or years of red tape and bureaucracy.

Once one realises that there is another way (ahead of most UK local authorities who still have no long term visions or balls) the separate routes can be found. Ideally, there will be routes separate from motor vehicles. Either on segregated bikeways, on shared bike-pedestrian paths, or on alternative routes for bikes. My nine miles has shared paths, segregated paths, alternative routes and a few sections where you have to share the road with motor vehicles. White lines on the road telling bike riders to ride in the gutter are useless, dangerous and patronising.

There is a lot of work to be done as facilities for people in bikes are often badly maintained and poorly designed, but don’t let that get you down. There is a real viable alternative to the motor vehicle. My 9 miles in takes me 45-50 minutes – In rush hour traffic a car takes not much less. My fuel is a banana a day, a car would cost more than £2 in fuel. The health benefits are significant; physically, mentally and spiritually. The thought of going back to commuting by car is a dark thought.

I hesitate to recommend things, riding a bike should be a personal thing – it can be a very tactile, physical, stimulating and dare I say life changing thing. Perhaps it’s not for you, but don’t take my word for it, think about it. To me, at first, it was indeed without question, a crazy idea!

More bike/cycle stuff here: bike/cycle

 

 

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Pause again…

I’ve been busy, new job, new routines, new life! Hence the lack of recent wittering on this blog.

But ‘tis Sunday night, the kids (and wife) are watching ‘Strictly’… and so here goes…

I recently had a chance to drive a car where it constantly reminded you of your real-time fuel economy. I discovered that I am all too often burning fuel when a slight gear change will see me travelling the same distance but burning less energy. Just a slight gear change required.

fee

The key thing is I often need to be reminded of this. Perhaps it’s often worth recognising that a slight gear change might be worthwhile in life. Either; stepping up to the plate, changing up, and grasping the bullish nettle by the horns, or more often than not, taking time out, more haste less speed, slowly slowly catchy monkey – or perhaps the monkey’s not needed, just let the monkey be.   

I also have been reading (thanks Brian) about how our energy hungry ego is easily enchanted by life’s trinkets. Our ego comforts us with life’s mediocrity and escapism. Our ego can pollute our dreams and visions and can numb or even smother our soul. It can do all this while feeding on our energies and our valuable instincts such as; love, joy, sharing, gratitude, creativity and wonder.

Without waffling more, here’s to the occasional gear change!

If you’re going through a chilly headwind and it seems you’re going one pace forward and two back, change gear and breathe. Pause, breathe through your nose… relax, you can smile… feel alive and step forward, one pace at a time…

If you have decisions to make, change gear and recognise that “you can get it, if you really want” (to quote Jimmy Cliff).  Pause, breathe through your nose…relax, you can smile… feel alive and step forward, one pace at a time…

I know I’ve shared it before but it works for me…

 

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94% off main roads…

I knew it was a pretty good ride, but thought I’d look at the stats…

 

My 9-mile commute into Leicester turns out to be 62% on cycleway* separated from the road.

It’s 75% off-road (includes a few terraced backstreets). And it’s… 94% off main roads!

*Admittedly the separated cycleway is significantly in a poor state of repair. (See Melton Road for starters) If it was a ‘road’ I’m sure it would be a priority for maintenance. I applaud the fact that there is this option of a route away from motor vehicles but with a view to the future and increasing its use, it needs serious attention. In some places, it’s surface is not ideal for purpose, and the decision to mix with vehicles has to be considered. In some places it’s dangerous and it remains to be seen if it’s kept safe for use in winter.

But for now, having the option to ride without motor vehicles is great, and I hesitate to say I recommend it.
Remember motor vehicles have bumpers, fenders, airbags and safety cages etc for a reason. People riding bikes can’t be straightened out so easily.

#KeepCycling