Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Cycling superhighway (CGB) versus the country lanes (Sustrans 51) to St ives

It is Poet's day already ("push off early tomorrow's Saturday"), where has the week gone (and why am I writing this on Sunday?) They say that as you get older time seems to pass by more quickly - they weren't wrong. Although one effect is that it counteracts the fact that although I now cycle more slowly than I used to, the journeys seem to pass by more quickly. For some reason I had reached the end of the week without spending much time looking at a map to see where I might want to cycle which meant that on Friday when the opportunity to pop out for a ride presented itself I had not got any inspiration.

Friday was a dull day and although not cold, it was not quite as warm as it has been here in the Flatlands. The weather forecast also suggested showers which further dampened my enthusiasm. In fact I ended up putting on a fluorescent yellow top to add bit of cheer warmth, although it was a bit too warm really. So to save wasting even more time thinking about where to go I made it simple for myself and decided to cycle out to St Ives via Sustrans 51 and back via the Cambridge Guided Busway (CGB). It is a pleasant route, quite fast, I know it well, in the countryside, flat and the wind would be behind me on the way back.

I have added this route to BikeRouteToaster to make it easier to follow - here is the link: Cambridge/St Ives S51/CGB. Sometimes it is better to view the map using the Open Streetmap view - either Street or Cycle on BRT. The trouble is I cycle along byways and bridleways as well as roads and these are not shown on the Google view of the world and they are not always shown on the OSM views either. When that happens I use the Hybrid view. When creating the route I used metric measurements although it will show the data in imperial. There is also a Summary sheet showing the distance and and elevation chart. I would like to embed a view of the relevant map in this Blog - but Zoundry Raven (the off-line Blog editor I use) is Strict which precludes using frames.

This is not a clickable map - use the link to explore the route. According to the summary it is 50.68Km in length and reaches a maximum elevation of 28m and a minimum elevation of 9m - that's what comes of cycling in the flatlands.

OSM S51 to St Ives CGB Back.JPG

I have used BRT to plan routes and download them to my GPS - when I cycled from Hull to Cambridge via Boston - the Posts start here. I created and stored the route on my Garmin GPS (EDGE605) and it took a lot of the hassle out of the ride. I turned off the auto-touting and just had the route highlighted. That way I was able to stray depending upon the local conditions, but in the main stick with the Sustrans route. I figured it would also save power not have the GPS reporting on upcoming turns.

Generally when out cycling I tend to head somewhere interesting for a cycle ride, I then take pictures of anything interesting on route. Then when I look at the pictures I have taken when I return I write about what I saw. It was only a slight coincidence that I had been reading this blog: Cambridge Cyclist which highlights something that has irritated me for some time. The Sustrans 51 route follows some pleasant country lanes from Cambridge up North-West to Huntingdon and beyond, where it then heads South? Between Oakington and Longstanton the route follows the Longstanton Road around the Oakington Airfield (now a detention centre). This road prohibits motor vehicles, except for buses, taxis, mopeds and invalid carriages. Yet whenever I cycle along it there appear to quite a few cars and vans that do not fit into the categories using the road. They use the road as a short-cut illegally.

The problem is that the road is not well maintained, there are quite a few potholes, it is narrow and motor vehicles whizz along it with scant regard for other users. Why is nothing done about it? Check out the Blog you will see that loads of vehicles use it. Well that happened to be the way I was travelling on Friday so I thought I would see for myself just how much of a problem it was. My plan was to stop at each end and see how long it was before I saw a car come by. The answer was not long, in fact I had barely had time to take my camera out. These are the signs that greet you on the way from Oakington to Longstanton. The right pole on the left also does duty as a Sustrans route indicator.


As another car came along right after it would have been discriminatory not to take its picture.


Yet another followed in quick succession. Hum this was not difficult at all - this road that prohibits most types of motor traffic is busier than the Fen roads I cycle along around Swaffham Prior, Upware and Reach.


On leaving the prohibited access road again I barely had time to take my camera out in time to take a picture of this car. I share Cambridge Cyclist's concern - this road is actually quite dangerous as the cars whizz along and there are some unpleasant potholes. It must be awful cycling along here in the dark especially if the car drivers "forget" to dip their lights. For any none cyclists reading - when cycling down a rad if a car coming the other way does not dip their lights then you are completely dazzled and just cannot see the road. That is why I now have powerful rechargeable lights - even motorists seem to be able to see them!

A quick search on the Web and it would seem that this road has been an issue for some time - there was talk of putting gates at either end but political issues have led to paralysis and law-breaking. This road even made the news with its huge potholes, fortunately my bike did not get swallowed up.


The rest of the Sustrans 51 route out towards St Ives was much quieter. Although the weather looked gloomy the recent small amount of rain does not seem to have harmed the wheat and barley ripening in the fields - it did look as if it might rain again though. This picture was taken somewhere between Swavesey and Fen Drayton. Somewhere in the distance of the bridleway between Conington and Boxworth where I was caught in a Thunderstorm. (On checking the link I also realised I had a superfluous "e" in the title.)


As I turned the corner in Fen Drayton to cycle along Mill Road you could see dust being kicked up in the adjacent field. I stopped at a gap in the hedge and took a few pictures - the driver looks pretty relaxed as he sweeps across the field.


The worst bit of the route was crossing the A1096 near St Ives, where I headed into the town and then back down the CGB. The new CGB carrying bridge over the River Great Ouse has wire mesh along each side so I held my camera up above it and took the picture without actually seeing how the image was framed. I only took the one picture - sometimes you have to take chances - it came out quite well considering.


The CGB path runs alongside the site of the Cambridgeshire Steam Rally 2010 near Swavesey, which was being held on the 24/25th July. There were a few Steam Engines already smoking away.


Quite a few people seemed to be camping at the site and there was also a fair.


There is quite a lot of rabbit activity on the CGB maintenance path just down from the Windmill Bridge. They don't look too bad in this picture but they give quite a jolt through the handlebars when you cycle over the "potholes". It seems that the maintenance response has been to throw a bit of loose gravel over the top to disguise the holes. can someone tell the maintainers that loose gravel and cyclists are not a happy mix.


This bit of the route almost feels like passing through a railway station with the stone platform alongside. It isn't of course - the Rosebay Willowherb (I think) looks nice though.


The rabbits or perhaps larger burrowers (badgers?) aren't confining themselves to just digging small holes in the cycle path - they also seem to be digging large holes in between the CGB Concrete tracks. Or maybe this is where the foundations are being checked?


The ghost town CGB - you almost expect to see tumbleweeds blowing through - it is pretty weedy in places. Yes those are a couple of cyclists on the tracks off in the distance approaching the bridge.


The last time I took pictures of this building in my Post I mentioned that I was surprised that there wasn't any graffiti in evidence - obviously I was not paying attention - I noticed it this time.


Before I give a verdict in which is the better route there seems to have been an attempt to create some positive anticipation: "Stalled busway praised as engineer takes ride". Apparently "you have to try it to see just how good the ride quality is". Well I have tried it, the ride is smooth, but the bus I was on was very noisy. I was sitting at the back and could not hear the commentary being provided. It was also cramped where I was sitting. So my pecking order of methods of transport has to start with the bicycle, then the train, then the car and finally the bus. For a summary of the sorry tale of the CGB and another interesting site which see provides an overview of "Bus Priority Systems" round the world - apparently the CGB was provisionally dubbed "SuperCAM" - should that be "Super-lateCAM".

So my verdict - well I am firmly on the fence or perhaps that should be the horse - it is a case of horses for courses. Being able to take the circular route is what made it pleasant for me. The CGB could be a seriously good cycle route - and I would like the issue of the Longstanton sorted - I know not asking for much.

Oh and before you ask: I passed 19 cyclists using the concrete tracks, 13 on the cycle path and 11 cars parked on the "advisory" cycle lanes on Gilbert Road.


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  2. Hi Jamie,

    I had a fantastic ride on Sunday. It took a while to get going - the bike lorries were late and we didn't leave Midsummer Common until about 7am (so I could have overslept comfortably and not got up at 4.30am after all!) - but once we were underway it was smooth sailing. I teamed up with four others (my brother, an old friend and two very fit guys from the Frank Lee Centre at Addenbrookes) and we spurred each other along all the way. We started at about 8.40am and finished together just before 1pm, having stopped for about half an hour in total for refreshments. I am happy with the time (we averaged about 15mph whilst on the road) though completing it, ideally together, was always the most important thing.

    As you mentioned, the morning was less sunny than had been predicted (indeed there were a few spots of rain) and so, I think, the weather was about perfect. It was cool and overcast until about 12 noon and then became brighter and hotter (and the suncream came out sharpish).

    The route was well sign-posted and I never needed the map I was handed at the start line. There were plenty of marshals at junctions who, despite probably having very sore arms from all of the gesturing, were friendly and encouraging. Along the way there were also at least five well-stocked refreshment, first-aid and repair stops, four of them at local pubs and a larger one in a field, at Widford. Fortunately our group didn't suffer any mechanical or physical mishaps (other than a sheared-off pannier bolt on my bike that caused a bit of a rattle but was still secure) but I think we were lucky as I did see a fair number of puncture repairs going on by the side of the road.

    In our group we had a spread of equipment: a fairly battered mountain bike, three decent road bikes and a hybrid (my own). Overall there was a staggering variety (not surprisingly as there were reportedly 4500 cyclists taking part); I saw space-age track bikes, racers that would have looked at home in the Tour de France, custom-made fixed-gear machines, hire bikes, University messenger bikes and even roller-blades!

    I would recommend the event to anyone considering it. Aside from benefitting a brilliant cause (Breakthrough Breast Cancer), it was an excellent day out. OK, the start was a bit of a shambles with the lorries being about 45 minutes late and the loading of the bikes when they did arrive seeming a bit haphazard, but the staff remained calm, their communications were good and the route itself was very clear and the support very well done.

    Now it is done I feel, already, in a bit of limbo as I have been focussing on the ride and using it for motivation for some time. I think you have described this feeling very well in previous blogs: the need, or at least usefulness, of a goal, a target to get you out on the bike in the first instance. Once on and out on the road it is easy to stay there but that initial reason, a spark, can be very useful. I am off on holiday at the end of the week for a fortnight and will decide on whether to do the Oxford to Cambridge when I get back... :-).

    All the best, Tom.

  3. HI Tom,

    Well done. It must have been great to see so many cyclists out and about and be cycling amongst them.

    I carry a few zip ties for on-the-go repairs along with my multi-tool - fortunately problems are far and few between.

    At the moment my cycling plans are in limbo I was hoping to do another cycling holiday this year - but it is looking tricky to sort something out. So I might try a two-dayer before the summer hols are out if my son can find a bit of time.

    Have a great holiday.