Monday, October 12, 2009

Perception of Cycling, BBQ Autumn and Exploring Beaten Tracks

It looks as if the BBQ Autumn they promised us is really going to arrive a report in the Times today suggests that forecasters are predicting close to record highs for mid-October. It also mentions the signs of drought in East Anglia ("The Flatlands") where we had only 16.5mm or rainfall in September, 30 per cent of what we would normally expect. (And we don't expect much as one of the dryer places in the UK). The weather does have some good days, although it seems to be every other day is a nice day.

Cycling seems to be getting a bit of attention in the press - here in Cambridge we have been warned that with the start of a new academic year that "Freshers will send the accident rate soaring". Apparently last year there were 22% more accidents in October than in the month before. The article in the Cambridge Evening News also includes a quote from one of the masters of the road - a Taxi driver - who commented how dangerous the new students are (although they get hurt most in any collision). Forgive me for being a bit cynical, but I know that Taxi drivers have a job to do, but whether I am driving, walking or cycling I do find them one of the least courteous groups of the road users in Cambridge. I had a near miss cycling into Wicken Fen when a Volvo driver scraped by me. This was not a boy-racer, just dozy driving from the over comfortable cockpit of a car - with no comprehension of how vulnerable it can be on a bicycle.

Indeed I think that sometimes the mentality that says go out and buy a Volvo leads to the same mentality that says don't let little Johny or Susan cycle to school as it is too dangerous. Which also indirectly increases the need for a car. It is a justification loop.And yet, we are also told that more cyclists on the roads will make it safer for cyclists. This is a bit like the Prisoner's Dilemma problem. Taken as a whole it does seem plausible that having lots more cyclists on the road will increase the safety of individual cyclists - but the first individuals who go out will not benefit until there is an increase.

My concern is that although the probability of a bicycle accident has probably fallen and I know that it is a safe activity, my annual mileage is quite high (12,000Km/ 8,000miles) which increases the probability of me having an accident. I also believe that there is a small but noticeable percentage of motorists who give cyclists no quarter. They will speed by and not give much room when over-taking and so if an accident does happen it will be a serious accident. Of course I have already been knocked off my bike, whilst wearing fluorescent yellow and cycling in the primary position, so that also colour my opinion. Mind you I also think that hitting a cyclist is viewed as the same as hitting another car - in most cases it is an accident. Here is another report in the Cambridge Evening News reporting on a driver who had his jail sentence overturned on appeal for causing the death of a cyclist through careless driving. Unfortunately, all things being equal, the consequences of careless to a cyclist are far worse than to a motorist in a reinforced steel box. At least I am male - reports suggest that women cyclists in London may be at more risk because they are law-abiding and follow those little red cycle "lanes" at junctions, but stop at the light and then suffer when lorries turn left without seeing them. Here is a report on the BBC website discussing it in more detail.

To cap it all the Cambridge Evening News reports that bike thefts are set to soar, although the reasons, blow the headline, is that we have an influx of 30,000 students. They must be a pretty lawless lot if the first thing they do when they get here is go out and steal bikes though. Actually the underlying issue is that with the challenges of getting around a bicycle is the only viable choice for a student, but there are not enough places to lock them up.

Enough ranting, I have also been cycling places that I have not been before and right on my doorstep. In the area between between Upware, Wicken Fen, Reach, Swaffham Prior and Quy there are quite a few interesting by-ways. I thought that I'd been on most of them but it seems not. Here is a picture taken from a by-way from Quy to Lode - dry fields and blue skies.


The same blue skies and dry soil on a by-way near Reach. Both of these I'd cycled on before though.


I visited Reach Lode, a no through river, which ends here - an ideal place to moor one's boat up at the bottom of the garden.


As I headed back to White Fen the skies seemed to get bluer and the soil darker.


When I set out on Sunday after such a pleasant Saturday I could only drag myself out by planning to cycle where I had not been before. I only had enough time for a short-ish ride and I have been over a lot of the roads around and about Cambridge. (Although not all by a long way). So whilst heading towards Wicken Fen I took tracks such as Headlake Drover, Split Drove and Harrison's Drove. These are part tarmac, part by-way routes used mainly by the farmers to get to their fields and also in places by Travellers 'cos the County Councils don't really know what to do with them. There is supposed to be statutory provision but I doubt there is sufficient. (It is also a NIMBY problem - Not In My Back yard).. Back to the tracks, this was one of them, quite a reasonable farm track, solid peat - pleasant to cycle along.


It turned to this at one point on the track. The adjacent field was being used to grow turf and so the field had been flattened and tilled and along with the track alongside. I guess if you are driving a tractor with big tyres it is not a problem, on my Hybrid with 25mm/1" tyres it was hard work as you can see from this picture of my wheel tracks. The wheels just dug in where it was soft and then veered to one side. Once I had stopped it was very difficult to build momentum back up again.


Here they had not tilled the by-way but left it and it was fine - just solid enough to provide traction.


On a bit of the road that had tarmac was a place where there had been Travellers. It looks as if they had bagged up there refuse, but the Council does not provide rubbish collections. So they rubbish gets left behind. It would appear that the Council check it out and then leave it behind with notices on it.


The notice implies that the rubbish has been inspected and then dumped by East Cambs District Council. This is a track where the odd (in more ways than one) cyclist, tractor drivers and travellers pass by. I can't see anyone ring the Council on the number provided - not a chance. So why did the Inspectors also dump the rubbish?


As I mentioned parts are grass track and parts are road - here the road surface is really good - Split Drove


The road then ends at a by-way today I'll take the left track another day.


Short of cycling on a mountain, or single track in a forest this is pretty good. No-one else out here, some bumps for interest and wide open skies.


From time to time there are slabs of concrete laid over the drainage ditches. Here is my hybrid - if you look closely you can see that the front mudguard waggles loosely in the breeze.


I reached another bit of tarmac and cycled up and down it to see where it went. This one was so rutted that the tractors drove on the grass to the left - fun on my Hybrid though. Whilst it looks as if it goes on forever it was only around 500m long.


Towards the end of the afternoon as the sun got lower in the sky it was time to take some "dramatic" sky pictures. These three trees have been in a few pictures.


These pylons don't feature so much - but it was the hole in the clouds that caught my eye.


There is an electricity substation at Burwell so there are quite a few sets a pylons marching around his bit of the countryside.

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