Thursday, April 4, 2013

Excuses: for infrastructure? and to get me cycling!

Tuesday, 2nd April 2013: Sorry if I sound like a stuck record, but I am getting a little bit fed up with the weather at the moment. When I do get out on my bike I really enjoy it but the mental effort it takes is just terrible. I reckon I can deal with one unpleasant aspect of weather – say rain, or cold or wind. But once several gang up on me it becomes tough.  That’s when you need excuses or rather reasons to get out.

That is one problem with working from home – finding reasons can be harder. So for me meeting up for lunch with someone or meetings in general or having to go to London all present reasons to cycle. It probably also helps then that the alternatives to cycling are way worse. When I say alternatives I mean either driving or catching the bus. For a start any short to moderate drive is a missed opportunity and crap parking make the choice to cycle a no-brainer.

I am not opposed to buses, except they tend not to be the most convenient in terms of routes and timings. As soon as you have to change it becomes a real pain.

So on Tuesday I was invited to a dinner at one of the colleges, there weren’t that many of us eight or so, but it was an opportunity to catch up with people I’d first starting working with nearly thirty years ago. The dress code was smart casual, so it was an ideal reason to cycle. (I draw the line at wearing a DJ and cycling, although I am not sure why, perhaps because my DJ is a little tight on me and cycling would be tricky.)

As it turned out I wasn’t the only person to cycle there and we ended up discussing Thorn tandems (quite a large pdf), we both had them and agreed they were great for cycling around with kids. Whilst my kids are no longer teenagers (well the youngest has a couple more months to go) I would worry about them being on the roads if they were younger. Young kids (8+) can actually develop a lot of power to weight and they also dart around and wobble. I would hope drivers would give children on bicycles more leeway, but that doesn’t happen to me when I am cycling.

Pretty much any time I cycle more than say 10Km on the roads I will get a close high-speed pass sufficient to worry me. That is way too often and one of the reasons I cycle along routes such as the Lodes Way – it is less scary as well as being quieter and more pleasant. When I pop out on my bike for the paper in the morning most days in the kilometre or so I cycle I will see some evidence of poor of inconsiderate driving. Speeding cars are not unusual. When the road narrows because of parked cars then cars will dive past me to avoid being held up and oncoming cars will force their way through – despite the obstruction being on their side of the road!

The trouble is here in the Flatlands whilst there has been quite a lot of work on providing cycle routes over the years it is incredibly variable in terms of the quality and safety offered. Many years ago we went for a family ride, my daughter was in a child seat on the back of my wife’s bike and my son was on his own bike, probably 6 or 7 I think.  I seem to remember that he would quite happily “explore” for 15Km or so in those days. My role was one of a sheep dog keeping him going in the general direction. They are unpredictable at that age though.

We were on the pavement, it was shared use, but frankly these sorts of shared-use pavements are almost as effective as chocolate teapots.  I can’t remember whether the bus lane was in place in those days. You might recognise it as Newmarket Road, approaching the Ditton Lane junction.

Shared-use pavement along the Newmarket Road, Cambridge
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Although we were nearer the junction than the lest picture. In fact we were here. I failed as a sheep dog at this point, my son clipped the edge of the bus shelter and stepped of his bike. I cycled into the bus shelter to avoid cycling over him and made a rapid and unplanned dismount and sprained my wrist.

Beware bus shelters on shared-use pavements

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As it happens although it was cold there was some sun around and I had a most pleasant ride in to the centre.  When it came to going home the temperature had dropped below freezing, but the paths seemed adequately gritted and it made a most pleasant end to the evening.

I didn’t take any pictures on the way home, it was too cold to stop, I did take a few on the way in though. As I was cycling along the Riverside the sun was quite low, but adequate.

In fact it was so pleasant setting off in the light I almost forgot to take a front light with me, although I did have my emergency Knog lights on board.

Evening Rowing on the River Cam

These are the boats that seem to be causing the fuss alongside Riverside, as this part of Cambridge is called. Although it was cold somehow the sun cheered things up. Normally I tend to start off cold and then get too hot. This time around I managed to avoid cycling in a fast and furious manner and kept my temperature at a dinner-part-friendly level.

Evening Rowing on the River Cam

Photographers often talk about the quality of light at different times of the day, well even looking towards or away from the light can give a different feel to the picture.

Perhaps they are practising after the defeat over the weekend.

Evening Rowing on the River Cam

As I carried on so did this chap – you can see his wake quite clearly.

Evening Rowing on the River Cam

Whilst, at one level the ride along Riverside is so much more pleasant than, say, cycling along Newmarket Road, what I haven’t captured is the way you end up negotiating various barriers en-route. Random poles, across the road, odd jinks to the direct route and narrow channels with cattle grids. All of these things are not very child-cyclist friendly. Even here the route jinks around. Now this is looking back the way I came. Heading into the centre as I was was quite a challenge with such a low sun, it made navigation of the obstacles that bit harder.

Under Elizabeth Way Bridge

I parked alongside Great St Mary, which at this time of night had lots of space space. I parked next to an old bike, with a Brooks saddle and I thought I took a picture of it (the bike not just the saddle). Actually I meant to take a picture but was so consumed with locking my bike up and removing the lights (Knog and main front light) I forgot. As you can see the sky was blue – which lifted my heart!

Great St Mary, Cambridge

I almost forgot, I found an issue with the Knog lights. Although I was travelling light, I did have some extra clothing in my shoulder bag for the journey home and when I packed my Knog lights into the bag I found it tricky ensuring that they didn’t get accidentally turned on.

Then when I got back to my bike, after dinner I discovered that the rear Knog red light wouldn’t turn on. Now I have another more powerful rear light, so it wasn’t too much of an issue, however it is a bit a problem with the design, as far as I am concerned.

I don’t think that it was so much that the light had been flashing away in my bag in this case though. It should have been able to cope with 5 hours and still had charge left. When I got home I measured the voltage on the two batteries (CR2032 - 3V).  One was down to 1.3V and the other had gone open-circuit. I would imagine that the lights are shipped with low-cost batteries. The lithium batteries have a shelf-life of up to five years.  I have replaced them with Panasonic batteries (2 for 68p) although I bought a 12 pack a while ago (23.3p per battery). The link suggests the Panasonic ones have a shelf life of up to 10 years – can’t be bad.

Still I must be more careful when I take the Knog lights off the bike when it is parked in a public place.

And finally – the Cambridge cycling infrastructure is rather piecemeal, why, if so many cycle to work in Cambridge do we get treated to a third-class infrastructure? Even worse we are then expected to be grateful.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you.

      I am hoping to get out a bit more often no Spring has finally sprung!