Sunday, May 15, 2011

Cycling amongst the clouds

Sunday, 8th May: After my long ride on Friday, which did fit around the activities of the rest of the family, except I was later home for supper than planned, I had to sort out stuff on Saturday. I suppose also it was good to have a rest day, I didn’t hammer round on Friday when cycled on the 228Km/142.5 mile loop, but I did spend a fair amount of time in the saddle. Come Sunday I thought a pleasant trip around Horningsea, Lode and Wicken Fen would be a good way to stretch my muscles and catch up with the week’s Podcasts. All in the Mind, More or Less, The Archers, Ambridge Extra and The Friday Night Comedy Show being the principle programs I listen to.

Mind you before that I think I’d better just run through the various bits of news that have accumulated on my Chrome Browser.  Some of these have happened after the ride so forgive me if they seem a little out of sequence.

One bit of interesting news was that there are: “More bikes, fewer cars on road with new cycle lanes”. This is a report on Gilbert Road in Cambridge, where on-street parking has been banned and wider Advisory Cycle Lanes added on each side of the road.  According to some reports the locals were revolting as despite having parking in their front gardens they felt that they should also be able to block utilise the road. 

The issue being that it is quite a popular cycle route and so cyclists would end up having to keep pulling out – something that can create unintentional conflict with drivers or be so intimidating for some cyclists that they won’t cycle along such roads. The results suggest that cycling increased by nearly 10%, the number of cars reduced by 12.5% and the average speed of motor vehicles dropped by 6%.

Whilst this looks to be good news and my own subjective experience of cycling along Gilbert Road is that is feels much safer there is no mention of confounding factors. For instance you might expect there to be more cyclists in May than in January so was the survey comparing similar times of year?  In the UK motoring fuel costs have gone up significantly which will might have both reduce the number of vehicles and caused the some drivers to slow down in order to increase fuel efficiency. It is also the case that we have had some very dry weather recently so you would expect more people to be cycling.

Whilst it would be nice to say aren’t the new markings wonderful and it sounds plausible that they have had an effect I do wonder whether we got any value for money from such a survey? (Don’t bother reading the comments at the end of the news report – unless it’s for amusement – some of them do raise the issues I’ve raised as well.)

Why does this matter, well because in the event of a collision between a motor vehicle and a cyclist the cyclist is the vulnerable road user. “A schoolboy stable after cycle crash” reports on a crash  on the junction of Queen Edith’s Way and Fulbourn Road between a car and cyclist resulting in serious head injuries to the cyclist. The car driver (33-year old man) and passenger (40-years old) were both uninjured.

There was a rather odd comment concerning the use of cycle helmets at the end of the report (in the Comment section), which seemed a little insensitive. However it does indicate that are some people who feel that is in order to hold cyclists to blame in some way if they don’t wear a helmet. Indeed Headway Cambridgeshire seems to be launching a propaganda campaign on cycling helmets as part of is “acquired injury awareness week”.  It was perhaps a pity that they chose to use Helium balloons – helium is a scarce resource much used in science and technology.  I would certainly have expected some rigour in the arguments used by Headway, but that was not apparent from the news piece.

Helmet wearing also cropped up in the Daily Mail, amongst other things it reports that a TRL 2009 study estimated that between 10% and 16% of cycle fatalities could have been whilst in the same year 104 cyclists were killed.  Apparently there are more than 10 million regular cyclists in Britain, so whilst all lives are important the suggestion is that we should wear a helmet because 10 lives in 10 million would be saved per year. One in ten thousand, whilst there are  approximately 3,000 people killed in traffic accidents.   I wonder what percentage of those deaths result from head injuries. According to a paper on “Head Injuries in Road Traffic Accidents” in which the major cause of head injuries is from road traffic accidents. Their study suggests that of those victims of head injuries 52.6% were Pedestrians, 31.6% drivers and 15.8% passengers. So perhaps all car occupants ought to wear helmets, that might save more lives?

To put a number on things, 10,000,000 helmets would cost around £400,000,000 (£40 each say), which if helmets were replaced every four years, equates to £100M per year. Apparently cycle paths cost between £100K and £200K per Km (Cambridge estimate £140K/Km – see page 44). So instead of helmets, we could have 500-750Km of cycle path a year. Which would save more lives? I feel that after motorists dodge kerbs and street furniture are the next most significant cause of cycle accidents.

Why doesn’t Headway recommend that motor vehicle occupants should wear helmets? Wouldn’t it have more benefit? Is it perhaps because they might get ridiculed? I don’t know but just having been to see Ben Goldacre and others at the Uncaged Monkeys Tour at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge I am (even more) reluctant to take what experts tell me at face value – no I don’t mean Ben’s advice. He discusses some pretty amazing ways in which drugs trials can be less than perfect – by design!

I’d better mention the Cambridge Guided Busway (CGB) – and the “latest steps in progress of busway” – it is now closed to walkers and cyclists – so that the blacktop surface can be put down. Let’s hope that gets done a bit quicker than the track itself. One thing the CGB has done is generate a lot of press – look at this Wikipedia CGB article with 119 references.

Whilst I am on a roll then I’d better get the last few cycling-related internet pages hanging around on my browser done with. The Cambridge News reports a “dramatic increase in the number of anti-social cyclists being stopped in Cambridge”. Once area reported 2,025 incidents between Dec 2010 and March 2011 compared with 1,529 for the same period last year. A quote in the article does mention that this might be because there is a dedicated Police squad though.

Personally I think that the roads are in general fostering more bad-tempered behaviour, my daughter, a newly qualified driver, drives as she was taught to drive, within the speed limit, and she regularly gets overtaken in a crazy manner by stupid drivers. Those are the same drivers I share the road with when I am on my bicycle. It would be interesting to know whether road rage is a bigger problem now than it used to be and what drives the problem? Here is one such “road rage incident when a bus driver flipped”. There are loads of websites where you can write about such incidents. I can’t readily find up to date figures but this Independent article  in 2000 suggests that “Britain is the Road Rage Capital of Europe”.

I’d really better get on to the ride – to set the scene we were promised some showery weather. which my wife was looking forward to as our vegetable garden needs it soon. April was dry, although the real reason for linking to the Daily mail article was the cyclist amongst the bluebells. we have not had any thunderstorms and practically no rain. Sunday looked no different in fact the clouds were quite photogenic.

Real clouds are much better than the Cloud (as in computing) – at least that’s how I feel at the moment..

This is what is turning out to be a fairly common Sunday outing for me. Around Honey Hill on the Low Fen Droveway and up to Horningsea, over to Lode around the back of Anglesey Abbey and then along Lodes Way through to Upware and back via Wicken Fen, Reach, Black Droveway and then NCN51. My actual route changes each time and depends upon the weather and my whim, but it is away from traffic and through some beautiful countryside. I haven’t included a map as there have been quite a few in past Posts. I cycled around 55Km/35 miles and even went a long a small byway around the back of Reach. If you follow the link it is in Burwell Fen connecting the Reach Road with The Hythe – a landing-place in a river, a harbour or a small port – Old English. Which give you some insight into how important the waterways used to be in the Fens.

Back to the ride – along Low Fen Drove it seemed there were peas growing in a field near to, but on the opposite side of, Honey Hill.

I didn’t think that the evidence from the last picture was that compelling so I took another picture – somewhat closer to the “action”. Yep those are peas, oddly I seem to remember that there were peas grown in this field last year, but they went dry before being harvested. Now perhaps that was deliberate as the pea is a nitrogen fixing plant, which can be good for the soil, but it depends upon Rhizobia, a bacteria living in a symbiotic relationship with the plant, and the bacteria need to be present in the soil. I’ll see what happens to this lot – as you can see the ground is already looking very dry. In these graphs you can see there has been nary (well almost) a blip in the April weather graphs for Cambridge and May weather graphs for Cambridge.

In fact the weather seems to have been so nice that anything that flowers seems to have had a short flowering period – this Oilseed rape growing alongside the Fen Ditton-Horningsea Cycleway is certainly past its yellow-ist peak.

Somewhere up Great Drove (there are quite of few Great Droves as well – CC) on the way to Upware  the fields were being sprinkled with rainbows. Round these parts irrigation is an important aspect of the farming. We might have a lot of water coming through from the highlands of middle England (from Rivers such as the Lark, the Cam, the Great Ouse and the Nene) but this part of the UK doesn’t get a lot of rain.  There seem to be two styles this gentle wide width method or a single nozzle that pumps water whilst turning a notch after each spray.

After Upware I was hoping to take a picture of the Linseed field in full flower, but I think that the wind had closed up the flowers a bit.  At the moment it is so dry that I am using Docking’s Lane to cut across onto Lower Drove (NCN11) rather than cycle down Stretham Road towards Wicken. The path is lumpy but fun to cycle, rather than ridged and soft and not fun.

As you might imagine Wicken Fen was busy with people wandering around. Some people respond well to a ting of the bell and step to one side to allow me to go by and acknowledge my thanks with a “no problem”. Others seem to resent not being able to allow their dog to walk on one side with them on the other and a lead in the middle. Perhaps they are also the cyclist-hating motorists who resent all things cycling?  I look forward to Wicken Fen hiring out bicycles and hopefully opening up a few more routes and getting more cyclists on the paths..

The entrance into Wicken Fen, just by the cafe and ticket place, is pretty awful at the moment. It has a little strip of firm path on one side and then a large expanse of loose large gravel on the other.  The best way to go over the gravel is to either walk or ride at speed. Watch your younger kids if (when) you hire bikes for them, it would be easy to take a tumble.

The rest of the path through Wicken Fen has stood up well to its increased use. This is the junction of Wicken Lode and Monk’s Lode, looking down Wicken Lode away from the entrance. An information board has been put up where the new Wind pump has been installed – but it is blank at the moment. (It is nearby, which is why I mention it.)

I have been trying not to re-trace my steps too much and so headed back through Burwell and Reach and then across  Black Droveway to Whiteway Drove (rather than Lodes Way to Lode). On the way out of Burwell along Weir’s Drove I did a bit of overtaking, past a pony and trap. A ting of the bell alerted the “driver” and we said our “afternoons” as I went past.

This is a picture looking back from the road (Whiteway Drove) down along Black Droveway through towards Reach.  From time to time these need a bit of maintenance and so they get harrowed and rolled with the biggest potholes being filled in.  This one has recently had some work and the dips filled with soft soil and vegetation so you have to be a bit careful that your front wheel doesn’t get stuck in and you end up going over the top. But hey that’s the fun – mastering it I mean, not going over the handlebars.

Whiteway Drove (the road between Upware and Swaffham Prior) leads down past more farming countryside on either side.

One thing I did notice as I cycled around was there there must have been thirty or so cyclists around and about. I reckon it was the Reach Fair Cycle Ride effect.  The effect of encouraging people to cycle around this lovely countryside is that they want to do it again and tell other about it. The more (cyclists) the merrier.

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