Monday 24th January, 2011: Sometimes there is little to Blog about and then at other times it all seems to happen all at once. For what seems like the first time in ages I had the afternoon to myself yesterday and the weather looked good - not too cold, not windy and not raining so it was time for a lollop along the Lodes Way and in my case certainly not the last lollop. To cut a long story short it all looks the same, but I still have ten pictures in the Post to prove it. More of that later.
There has also been a lot of cycling stuff in the news recently. If you are looking around for a bike, but don't want to spend too much then there is a Cycle Auction coming up to be held at the Cambridge Museum of Technology.
More worryingly is the headline in the Cambridge News: "MP's safer cycling call angers drivers" - Dr Julian Huppert the MP for Cambridge recently spoke in the House of Commons on cycling and the concern that too many drivers "get away with the excuse that they did not see a cyclist after an accident". Rather predictably, but also very worryingly, his comments were branded as "divisive" and "righteous" by the RAC Foundation, a charity (a righteous charity perhaps)! One thing he suggested was the introduction of "proportionate liability" where the onus in an accident is placed upon the larger and more dangerous vehicle. It seems to me that there are two things that tend to moderate bad driving, the law and, the consequences, and the problem is that in any motor vehicle-cyclist accident it is the more vulnerable cyclist who is likely to get hurt (and so suffer the consequences). Personally I feel that in the UK we tend to treat damage to property (such as a car) as more serious than damage to a person and that this is reflected in the way the laws of the road are manifested in practice.
There is an implicit presumption that cyclists should get out of the way of cars (and other motor vehicles) - if you don't believe me go for a cycle. This presumption also seems to allow the SMIDSY excuse and yet Motoring Charities do not seem to acknowledge the wrongness that implies. What is it that should allow a car driver to barge through? To my mind it is motorised bullying pure and simple (or perhaps even worse, motorists really do fail to see the cyclists they share the road with.)
The trouble is that just as with motorists there are cyclists who push their luck so we often hear about the RLJs (red Light Jumpers) and the pavement cyclists. Well I agree that such behaviour is pretty stupid. Mind you cyclists are treated with contempt and "expected" to stop at every piddly "junction" when on shared-use paths whereas the road-users alongside don't. I also wonder whether a lot of motorists have spent so much time driving and so little time walking they don't realise that in many cases cyclists are allowed on many pavements (shared-use). Apparently in the Cambridge County area cars are now so safe that many people don't use their seatbelts - "Hundreds of people caught without seatbelts" (actually 2,155 - and those are the ones that were caught!).
It was also reported that fittingly for Cambridge, hi-tech is being used to catch cycle thieves. Bikes fitted with GPS have been used to track cycle thieves and already 11 suspects have been caught. Apparently bike thefts are on the increase at the moment. If you want tips on how not to lock up a bicycle then look here!
One of the benefits of cycling is that you get to cycle along routes not clogged by cars and vans, spewing out their exhaust. (Oops I am getting carried away here - I drive as well you know). It can lead to problems though as a cyclist was hit in an underpass in Bristol by two robbers. To be fair I have never felt threatened when cycling around Cambridge, even in the early hours of the morning. Mind you Cambridge is a pretty genteel place. I still consider motor vehicles as the principle source of potential danger to cyclists.
Sustrans NCN11 has several legs, one which runs alongside the River Cam between Cambridge and Waterbeach, where it ends. It seems that the East Anglian Air Ambulance was out again to aid a rower with a suspected heart attack. There is a lesson there that despite being fit you can still have unsuspected heart issues.
Which brings me onto my cycle ride - I really needed to get out to work on my "fitness". It was not too cold, around 6C and not at all windy so an ideal opportunity to get out along the Lodes Way. As this was my first longish ride of the year I did quite a lot of faffing around. The first thing was downloading all the Archers podcasts onto my MP3 player so I could catch up on the traumatic events of the last few weeks (Archers followers will know what I mean). Then I had to get togged up, I bought some new cycling gear before Christmas and wore my "Bib tights" without padding and a normal pair of cycling shorts underneath. (The tights in the link were similar, but I am not quite sure what I got in the end.) It was remarkably comfortable.
I also had to adjust my saddle on my Longstaff, it was not quite flat. I am not sure how it got that way, I think I adjusted it a while back when wearing different shoes and must have rushed it. This time around I got it flat then further tweaked the position on the journey.
I also failed to get my Sigma Speedo working, it is an older wired model and could be the handlebar mount - the contacts can get a bit corroded- although I did sand them a little bit. I am wondering whether to rely entirely on my GPS this year, which would cut down on the pre-cycle faff a bit. Then togged up and with my MP3 player rolling out the Archer's theme tune and my camera over my shoulder I set off - phew.
This time around I set off along NCN51 to Swaffham Bulbeck and then cut back to Lode and onto Lodes Way, then through to Upware and Wicken Fen and then to Burwell back to Lodes way via Newnham Drove. Then it was Lodes Way to Lode and I rejoined NCN51 at Bottisham for the last leg of the journey. as you can see it was a grey day - mind you crops are growing in the fields and you can see that there has been some rain recently. This field is alongside NCN51 between Bottisham and Swaffham Bulbeck - it seems to be prone to flooding.
There was time for a quick stop, just past White Fen, on Swaffham Bulbeck Lode Bridge for a photograph - a rather wintry sight.
Then I went up the Upware Road through Upware (as you might have guessed) - another quick stop to take a picture of the boats moored alongside Reach Lode as seen through the Lock.
Cycling along the Stretham Road (it connects Upware Road with Way Lane from a cyclists point of view) I was reminded how impatient motorists can be and how dangerous the Stretham Road is. I was passed by a car going reasonably quickly and as it went past Way Lane and approached the bend another car shot by me, overtook the car in front and only just made it back onto his side of the road before an oncoming car. In one stupid move a driver puts two other blameless drivers at significant risk. As it turns out there was an accident on the Stretham Road (near to Wilburton) that same evening. I can remember several accidents occurring on this stretch of road.
Then it was back through Wicken Fen - with a blue sky showing through near to sunset. I was quite surprised just how late is was and yet still light until I realised I had set the wrong time zone on my GPS. Having said that it was noticeable just how much later the sunset was, at the moment the sunset is getting later by just over 3 minutes a day. This is the blue sky reflected in Wicken Lode. Lodes provided an old form of transport and in the sky is a contrail - a modern form of transport.
Instead of carrying along Lodes Way I generally turn off towards Burwell and then back along Newnham Drove to add a little bit of distance to the journey. The road towards Burwell is just by a farm and as I turned the right-angle bend my bike went light on me. Having been doing more driving and some of it on ice just recently I must be more sensitive to slippery road surfaces. I am sure more by luck then judgement I steered out of the skid just before it really got started - although this meant I now wanted to start braking to avoid cycling over the verge and into a drainage ditch. Again more by luck than judgement I held off braking until my front wheel was straight and stopped just slightly on the verge. To an onlooker I probably looked like a pillock who hadn't realised there was a bend - I knew I'd had a close shave.
My wife "broke down" the other night in her car and nipping out to my shed to get some tools and jump leads I fell down three steps and slightly bruised my right hand side including the shoulder than took the brunt when I got run off my bike by a car. This time I managed to roll so didn't put any real shock into the collar bone. Perhaps that near miss also made be a bit more sensitive to problems occurring when cycling. As it happens her problem was a loose battery connection, I tightened it up and jump-started her car and marital harmony was restored.
My cycling tip for anyone thinking of using Newnham Drove - don't - unless you are on an MTB, it is not a pleasant road. There is quite a lot of peaty mud on it in places and there have been some road works at the far end reducing the road surface to a form of rubble.
The earlier article on the Police using GPS bikes to trap thieves also suggested ensuring you have a picture of your bike to assist Police if it gets stolen - here is mine. In the background is a hoop for locking bikes to. Next to it was a wooden bench - that was stolen. (I have a picture of that somewhere if it helps.)
This is where Newnham Drove crosses Lodes Way - quite soggy at the moment. However I did notice that there have been drainage channels cut along the side of Lodes Way between here and the Reach Lode Bridge. it has noticeably improved the track surface, it is nowhere near as soggy as before Christmas.
A quick stop on Reach lode Bridge to take pictures. This is looking North - the water surface was pretty still.
This is the view looking South towards Reach. Just to the right of the picture you can see what I assumed was flooding in the field, but no I wonder whether it was designed deliberately to provide a habitat for pond creatures and plant life when the bridge was built.
At the base of the bridge there used to be picnic tables, also stolen.
This is the track towards Lode as it leaves the ridge, this bit is fine, when it reaches the road (Split Drove) it is rather unpleasant to cycle along with loose rubble and lots of ruts and peaty mud - take care.
One thing I did notice was how few cars there were around the Upware Road, I was passed by one on the way out and on the way back there were only two. By this stage I had switched on my front light - although this was a standard low power light, not one of my more powerful rechargeable lights. I was most surprised that as I cycled along Headlake Drove towards the turn down to White Fen two cars both stopped some distance anyway for me to pass the. It is reassuring to see courtesy on the roads, especially to cyclists.
When I got home I certainly felt the miles I had cycled - which is what comes of not cycling regularly. I was really looking forward to a soak in a hot bath. Although the water ran cold, so I waited for the water to heat up. I was a bit surprised that there was no hot water though. When I went back half an hour later I realised that, for some strange reason I had used the cold tap, no wonder there was not hot water. This cycling lark must be getting a bit much for me I certainly slept well that night.