Saturday, January 14, 2012

Do bad things come in threes?

Sunday, 8th January 2012:

For some reason this doesn’t seem to have been published. I normally check after writing a post that it appears, along with the pictures. I must have either forgotten or accidentally reset this Post back to “draft”. So my apologies if that is what I did. It is appearing out of order no – but hey these things happen.

It was another grey day in the Fens and although it was not too cold I decided to wear leggings. That way if I needed to stand around a bit to get a picture of a short-eared owl then I wouldn’t get too cold. I am so used to cycling in shorts, or normal trousers that it felt slightly odd, if anything wearing tighter leggings made my legs feel colder at first – it must have been in the mind. I normally wear MTB shorts which have pockets and are quite heavy, the leggings were much lighter and bib-type. If I do wear “proper” cycling gear I find them more comfortable as they don’t bunch around the waist. They do look a bit full-on for a cycle-wander around the Fens though.

The other challenge was where should I cycle?  At this time of year the byways and bridleways can be a bit muddy for my hybrid Marin. I started out thinking I would do a circular route around Cambridge – out along NCN51 to Swaffham Bulbeck and then back down through the Wilbrahams, over the Gog Magogs and loop back round through Coton. As you can see I didn’t. I am not sure quite why. In the end I headed back down to Lode from Swaffham Bulbeck along the B1102 and headed out to cycle on and around the Lodes Way. Actually, my change of mind was a combination of possibly taking a picture of a short-eared owl and also to check out the tree damage after the gales.

The only thing was I’d set of quite early and so probably wouldn’t be at the right place at the right time to see (and take pictures of) the owls. I also hadn’t got my longest lens with me. As it happened it was fortunate I set out early as I had some mechanical issues to deal with.

After changing my mind about my route, in Swaffham Bulbeck I headed along Abbey Lane, around the back of Swaffham Bulbeck  towards Cow Bridge, before I got there I stopped to take this picture – of these ivy-clad trees beneath a grey sky.

As chance would have it, a chap cycled past me at the same spot and here he is. Although it is useful to wear cycling togs I do think that seeing cyclists in Lycra does put off people from cycling. As you can see this chap doesn’t need Lycra to cycle.  (I must admit I felt more self-conscious wearing my Lycra leggings than I do wearing a fluorescent yellow jacket.

As I often cycle in the gloom it seems sensible to wear something highly visible on some of these country lanes I cycle along. The trouble is there is an argument that says if all cyclists wore highly visible clothing then motorists would be able to drive faster as they would be more certain of seeing cyclists.

When I was cycling in India a couple of years ago it was interesting to see their approach to speed bumps. Here in England speed bumps tend to have warning signs on the road and are designed to provide a bump but not too much of a bump and often have paint on as well.

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In India the speed bumps are not signed, the tend to be more sudden and are almost invisible. The idea being to make it harder for motorists to slow at the last minute. I am not sure if it works or not though.  Even on a bicycle you had to keep a look-out for them.

Clearly there are limits – as a cyclist I wouldn’t really want to dress in black and cycle at night without lights. However whilst being visible is “sold” as a safety benefit to cyclists it also makes it easier for motorists to drive faster.

An important way of looking at the safety question is to consider how dangerous a road user is to other road users (including pedestrians) and focus on that as the issue that needs fixing. The Government helpfully produces road accident statistics - The latest data from the Department for Transport is “Reported Road Casualties in Great Britain: Quarterly Provisional Estimates Q2 2011”, published November  3rd, 2011. It shows reductions of 2, 4 and 7% in pedestrian, motorcycle and car user casualties respectively for the year ending June 2010. However for cyclists the pedal cycle casualties rose by 6% and deaths for by 8% for the same period.

Understanding what is happening is open to interpretation, it could be more ill-prepared cyclists taking to the roads, or cost-cutting of safety schemes,  reductions in bike training, or milder weather encouraging more cyclists during the shorter darker days. It could be a statistical anomaly. The independent has an article that highlights the growing toll of cycling casualties, many involving lorries. Now I am not trying to say that cycling is dangerous, what I am saying is that we need to re-balance the focus and responsibility for improving safety on the roads.

To decide whether to cycle or to drive or catch the bus or train or walk all involve making trade-off decisions. One of the factors is perceived safety (along with time, cost, flexibility, comfort…). A focus on the issues is good, although it will put off people from considering cycling as a safe form of transport. What we now need is a focus on fixing the root causes of cycling accidents. In my view the problem is that non-cyclists don’t just concern themselves with the perceived safety of cycling they also concern themselves with the importance attached by Local and National Government to the issues.  Would you take up cycling if you thought your council didn't take safety seriously.

A summary of Cycling safety by ROSPA has the interesting statistic that  80% of cycling accidents occur in daylight. What it doesn’t tell you is what proportion of cycling take place in daylight versus the dark.

Phew all that from talking about my yellow cycling jacket. Did I also mention just how noisy the road between Swaffham Bulbeck and Lode is – there is a shared-use path. Which is just a moderately wide pavement – two people can walk abreast just. Actually just before I joined the shared-use path I passed a horse-rider coming the other way. Now that would scare me – riding on the roads round here. I have done a small amount of pony-trekking on holiday in Canada and enjoyed it.

As I cycled along the shared-use path a couple of joggers were in front – I tinged my bell a couple of times – yes the noisy traffic. I think they were surprised to see me, I am not sure whether that was because I was on the path with them, or that they hadn’t heard me because of the traffic noise.

Pretty soon I turned off into the peace and quiet of Lode. Although it is alongside the busier road the village street is a no through road (except to cyclists).


On the far end of the village near where the railway station was there was some windfall. I suppose I am always a little surprised to see such a bounty lying on the floor. When I was a lad we used to do a lot of blackberrying and mushroom picking and my Mum kept a vegetable garden with a couple of apple trees. One of my Aunts used to come down for a holiday in the blackberry season sometimes and pick blackberries and make blackberry and marrow jam. At least that is what I remember, a Google search doesn’t throw up much although it does get a mention.

At first as one of these flew over I thought it was a Heron, but I don’t think so, the legs aren’t long enough

The first sign of a tree blown over by the gales. Although in this case it looks as if the tree has been cleared and turned into logs on White Fen Drove.

As it was a grey day I wasn’t taking many pictures. I did stop on Great drove (between Upware and Swaffham Prior) to take pictures of Commissioners’ Drain from the bridge. This is looking West.

The same drain looking east towards Wicken. There is what looks like a sluice on front of the Headlake Drove Bridge. On my way to Upware I was treated most courteously by several drivers coming the other way. In my mind I’ve classified them as Sunday-afternoon drivers and were elderly.  I know I shouldn’t stereotype, but they are most welcome to drive around the country lanes.

I also noticed that the verges on the edge of the fresh tarmac had been made up to the level of the tarmac.

As I cycled round Upware I did try out Docking’s Lane – but it was way to muddy for me – not impassable – just unpleasant enough to make the road look a more attractive route. (Another of those trade-offs.)

Although it was a grey day I was amazed how full the car park at Wicken Fen was. It certainly seems to be successful. It would be interesting to know how the visitor numbers have changed. It was even more surprising since this is not the Summer season. An old Press Release “Record Breaking Year for Wicken Fen” indicates they had 35,846 visitors during March to September.  The release talks about preparations for 2010 and the URL ends 09. I have been involved in marketing and was always taught to date a press release.

Clearly the NT want to make the area an interesting place to visit and given the positioning I can see that it is bound to attract cars.  I think that getting people and their kids out into the countryside is a positive thing to do. What I did find frustrating is that making progress down NCN51 is quite difficult. At least from the car park round through to Baker’s Fen (Normans Bridge where NCN51 crosses Monks Lode).

As I cycled down I tinged my bell, although some people didn’t seem to `comprehend what it might mean. Others seemed to begrudge making room for me to pass. Maybe it is my paranoia, but I was cycling quite slowly, I tinged my bell in advance, I always said hello or thank you – but some walkers looked at me as if to say what was I doing cycling on their path.

To be fair others stood to one side and gave a cheery hello as I went by. However tie in with my view that shared-use paths only really work when one of the sharers is an occasional user.

I wonder if the NT has any provision for an alternate route (the Maltings Path) if it becomes too popular or to maybe widen the path. The trouble is the shared space just brings users into conflict. Neither user (walker or cyclist) is right or wrong, they just are different. Ultimately one or the other user gets put off using it. As it is the first bit of the route just after passing the NT buildings is pretty bike unfriendly with the path made up of rubble.

When I go out to ride that’s is what I want to do, so I try to avoid places that become congested – which seems to be at odds with the idea of making the route part of the National Cycle Route. If anything the NT ought to encourage cyclists to help reduce the inflow of cars.

Here is an interesting post on “shared spaces” and the importance and dynamics of sharing. The only point I would add is that for “sharing” to work it helps for sharing to be part of the culture. That is not how many motorists see the roads here in the UK so even with those intentions in mind there is not much of a sense of sharing the road – just look at how car drivers moan about lorries blocking their way on dual-carriageways. The A14 has places where lorries are not permitted to overtake during certain hours to avoid holding up the car drivers. Yet many of the lorry drivers are under much greater time pressure than the car drivers.

There are some marketing opportunities there. It would appear that this year they are offering a Green Travel voucher (£1) for those who arrive by bicycle, to be spent in the cafĂ© or shop. I wonder if I would be eligible for that as a Member. I do stop for a drink sometimes when cycling by. All I would need to do is pop my head in, claim the Green Travel Voucher and then it would pay for my drink!

But they could do more and offer incentives for those cycling from Anglesey Abbey, they could also do cyclists’ picnics.  Anglesey Abbey offers a reduced rate for those arriving by bike, foot or public transport, although that isn’t mentioned in the prices from the 1st March 2012!. Come to think of it the Wicken Fen pricing doesn’t mention the Green Travel Voucher in the pricing from 1st March 2012 either.

Even on a grey and gloomy day you get the odd ray of light. This is either the sun shining through a rift in the clouds, or perhaps the Starship Enterprise is beaming something up/down.This is the view across Baker’s Fen

For a change I cycled down into Burwell, although about halfway down I did stop to take a picture of this beet clamp. The East of England is the largest supplier in England although it has declined in recent years.

It would also appear that the road here has benefitted from some patching work along with Whiteway/Headlake and Great Drove.

I re-joined the Lodes Way by cycling up Newnham Drove and then carried along Split Drove onto Headlake Drove. At this point I was thinking about cycling through to Horningsea on my back as the weather, whilst not photogenic was not bad for cycling. I stopped as a car seemed to be coming the other way along Headlake Drove. (It was at the crossroads). It flashed me so I sped up and then found myself skidding down the road with the pedals locked.

Fortunately my recent skidpan training had equipped me to deal with the situation. It was quite a skid 5-10 metres and on stopping (no choice really) I found my rear mudguard tangled up against me rear wheel. I had gone over a stick which had gotten dragged up under the mudguard and then dragged the whole lot round up into my wheel before breaking and dropping out.

I tried to yank it out but in the end had to resort to unscrewing it. The other complication was that I need an Allen key along with a spanner on a couple of the fixings – fortunately my trusty multi-tool separates into two halves.  I was thankful that I was doing this in the daylight and not the dark though. I had to take the back wheel out to get to one of the fixing bolts.

This is the rather bleak stretch of Headlake Drove looking back in the Wicken Fen direction.

I took my broken bits home with me, although my hand started aching from the slightly odd position. I didn’t get cold whilst sorting my bike either – wearing those leggings turned out to be a good thing.

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