Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Sunny day in the Fens

So why do I head off to the Fens for my cycling? Mainly because it is quite and peaceful and to avoid the noisy, aggressive traffic. If I have to commute to the local station I generally take a more direct route, although fortunately here in Cambridge it is possible for me to cycle most of the way to the station on cycle paths. It got me thinking thought about the issue of conflict between cyclists and motorists.

Yesterday it was almost summery - well sunny and 8C - the warmest for a while and I was over-dressed and getting quite hot - but I was not complaining - until a speeding Volvo driver whizzed by on a single track road with inches to spare. The message - he was driving a car and I was on a bike - therefore the road was his and I should get out of the way to allow his "carship" by. Now there aren't many cars on the bit of road I was cycling along - but the next car, a Merc, behaved in the same way. (Well the driver did!).

Why? What is it that causes, what is essentially, dangerous driving. I can't believe that the driver really wants to harm the cyclist. Is it ignorance, a territorial grab or something deeper, some latent lack of self-esteem? Sometimes you need to try and think from both sides of the point of view. Certainly as a motorist there are things that annoy me - when you see vehicles inner-take when driving down crowded motorways or taking the wrong lane and then pushing in at the last minute to gain a 5 or 6 car advantage. Now I know why these annoy me - because it is just plain unfair. But I admit that I also can get niggled when overtaken when there is little point. But why get annoyed - it is not really a problem, if it is pointless then why do I worry about it. I think that is a more male competitive issue. So from a motorist's point of view there are two basic threads - competitiveness/territory and fairness.

In general I am more aware of my personal safety when cycling - not from being mugged - just run over. As happened last year. There is a very different result from a moment of inattention when cycling compared with driving a motor vehicle. So whilst cyclists are taught to ride away from the kerb and motorists told to overtake a cyclist leaving plenty of space it just does not happen like that. Too often a driver will seem to notice you at the last minute and swerve past. Other times cars will pull in right in front and then brake. This problem is due in part to a lack of understanding of what it is like for cyclists. Perhaps part of the problem is that since most people learnt to ride a bike when young, despite not having ridden for 10-20 years they feel they are still "experts". This means they have forgotten what it means to lose momentum on a bike. (That is one of the reasons cyclists jump red lights - a very stupid habit if you ask me though!).

An interesting sequence of letters has appeared in the Cambridge Evening News - it starts with an irate motorist describing how on being allowed to join a stream of slowing moving traffic from a side road a cyclist got annoyed (at being blocked unexpectedly) and showed no consideration for the driver, there are some predictable rants (from motorists, cyclists and "motorists who cycle a bit" and then an excellent letter written from the cyclists point of view. At the end of the day it shows that few drivers really understand or value the role cyclists play in reducing the actual traffic on the road. I wonder if there is a deeper insecurity amongst drivers, they know they are not as fit as they used to be, they know cars pollute (in several ways), they know petrol is running out. The insecurity is that someday they might have to ride a bike! Of course I am biased. Mind you whilst I cycle more miles than I drive I still value my car and the freedom it give me; to go where I want, when I want and carrying my bike in the back of course. Why can't we be like Holland eh - most people cycle and there is infrastructure to keep the two modes of transport apart.

There is a great Blog: A View from the cycle Path written by a guy who has moved to the Netherlands and describes and analyses the differences very well. Most people probably think Cambridge is a fantastic cycling city and wonder what I am moaning about - read the blog, we still have a long, long way to go.

I take the view that a bargain is only a bargain if you need the thing on offer. Well I have just bought a new pair of Keen Commuter Sandals. They are very comfortable, can be ridden in all day without socks and can take cleats to "lock" the shoe to the pedal for more efficient cycling. I bought a pair last year and have used them in India and ridden 100miles over two days with them as my only footwear. They are treated to minimise smells as well. Strictly speaking I do not really need another pair - but I received a 10% offer Webtogs - a UK website I bought them from. So I had a look - it turned out that they were also on sale at 50% off - with my size in stock. So I feel I did get a bargain - retail at £79.99 I got them for £35.00, delivered. Unfortunately the sale is no longer on but I would still recommend them. I am not going to use cleats with my new sandals but I will put cleats into my old sandals.

Back to the sunny afternoon, as I was cycling around I noticed that there was a sign for contractors pointing down along one of the Droves that will be part of the Connect 2 program providing another route (cycle, walk, horse) through from Cambridge to Wicken Fen. Later on I passed a fellow cyclist who confirmed the news that another of the Lode bridges was soon to be built with the first phase being an investigation of any possibility of archaeological artifact. Great news.

I did cycle along one of the droves that will form part of the new route - Headlake Drove. Here are pictures taken at the point Headlake Drove, Split Drove and Commissioners' Drain meet - this route will allow cyclists and walkers to avoid even the small amount of traffic on Great Drove towards Upware - great for young cyclists.


This is Commissioner's Drain - I liked the almost misty look of the trees silhouetted by the sun.


It was really quite a pleasant day - looking the other way along Commissioners' Drain a lovely blue sky.


Chocolate Heart.jpg It was such a sunny day that I had set off without front lights - so there was a bit of a dash to get home before it got too dark - a good job the sunsets are getting later. Mind you the skies were clear and it quickly got quite cold so a bit of hard cycling was good to keep me warm. There was also a some energy food to look forward to - Chocolate Fridge cake

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