Wednesday, January 28, 2009
One of the ways I follow my hobby is through reading two magazines - Cycling+ and the CTC magazine (Used to be the Cyclists' Touring Club - http://www.ctc.org.uk. If you have ever read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zen_and_the_Art_of_Motorcycle_Maintenance one concept is the need to keep up "gumption" levels, which provides the "enthusiasm" to tackle problems that crop up even with hobbies. For me "gumption" helps me go out cycling in the wind, rain and the dark. I always enjoy it when I do, despite not wanting to set off. One of the things that helps top up my gumption levels is reading about cycling in its various forms.
This month one of the CTC magazine articles was about a cyclist in Scotland who uses a video camera to record his journeys to work (and other routes I suppose). As you can imagine he also records quite a few cases of poor driving and cycling. It can be quite amusing to watch, although it has put me off from doing anything similar. There was apparently some fuss over whether it was "right" to record scenes in this way. Although why it should be ok for police cars and buses, but not bicycles was not really tackled.
I think that the problem arises when there are two types of road user with different characteristics. Here in the Cambridge area during the rush hour a nearby stretch of road bans lorries from overtaking during certain times of the day (rush hours). This is because the speed limit for lorries is different and they have tachographs that record their speeds, so when one overtakes another it can take quite a long time as the relative speed difference is small. So it becomes expedient to create a situation in which many car drivers benefit to the detriment of a small number of lorry drivers. Woe betide the lorry driver who gets stuck behind a very slow lorry.
The same occurs when cyclists and motor vehicles are brought into conflict. Both sides feel hard done by and in my view both cyclists and motorists could do with improving their motoring manners. One response was the creation of shared use cycling/footpaths - unfortunately this brought cyclists and pedestrians into conflict. I quite often get hard stares from pedestrians when legally cycling on shared-use paths, I have also been sworn at by an irate motorist because I was on the road rather than on the path where i "f!*&*ing belong".
The trick would seem to be to avoid bringing any two groups into conflict through good road design, but not easy when many roads are constrained by the areas they run through I would also help if motorists/cyclists/pedestrians understand each others' perspectives. It seems to me that much of the problem is a significant reduction in "manners". It seems more road users jump red lights, park where it is inappropriate, disobey road signs and fail to to be courteous to other road users - then spend time overlooking their own shortcomings whilst blaming others.
One of the benefits of cycling along certain country lanes regularly I that I am probably recognised by the other road users - mainly tractors and other farm vehicles. I have found that they are always very polite and wave, which in turn makes me more ready to pull in to let them by.
One of the cycling routes in Cambridge follows the River Cam, although it peters out at Waterbeach, the cycling route that is not the river. Here is a view up from Bottisham lock.
I also found myself cycling up from Cottenham along a country lane, this had the misfortune of running alongside a large rubbish tip. When I say large I mean huge, loads of birds were flocking round and the smell was very strong. A reminder of the need to re-cycle. Although with the current economic crisis apparently the demand for waste materials to recycle has fallen significantly.
I have also been cycling the "wrong way" round to change my perspective on my routes. Once again I have seen deer on White Fen. It is really nice to cycle through a field when it is pitch black - very peaceful. Here with some miles to go it was starting to darken.
Here at White Fen it was dark and I took pictures by resting my camera on the the new bridge and letting it take pictures with an exposure of 2 to 4 seconds, when normally it would be 1/60 of a second.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Yes I do have a mountain bike - it is around 15plus years old, so does not have any suspension and is great fun on really rocky paths and muddy single-track. Unfortunately here in the flatlands of East Anglia there are not too many places where it is really needed. I have taken it up to Thetford Forest, there are some great swooping tracks through the forest and it has been up to the Lake District a few times, but the big knobbly tyres are not so much fun on tarmac, they seem to soak up the pedaling energy.
What I generally do is mentally map out an area that I want to cycle around and roughly how far and how long it will take. At the moment I always carry lights with me. Even when I expect to arrive back in the light it does not take much to change my plans. One day I had three punctures and ended up having to take part in a conference call sitting on a bench in the middle of Burwell because I was not able to get back home in time. I am not sure what the locals thought of me, but at least there was cell-phone coverage and it was not raining. Cycling on a bicycle is much more comfortable than spending two hours sitting on a wooden bench though.
On the way round I then look at the map on the GPS to see if there are any interesting byways. It always surprises me how many byways and BOATS I pass. (Where BOATS means Byways Open To All Traffic - a UK legal term!). If the byway is roughly in the right direction or quite long and not too rutted then I head down it. Sometimes I end up turning around, most times I find myself in the middle of the countryside, away from traffic just pedalling. Here is one such track that seemed to be popular with the local horsey fraternity, well I saw one horse and rider. It actually shortened my planned route and the track included its own bridge across the M11.
Farther around my route I detoured through Fen Drayton along a "no through road" to find that it ended up in an RSPB reserve at Fen Drayton. (http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/f/fendraytonlakes/directions.asp) Just off the Sustrans Route 51, the only downside is that they are building a guided busway through the area (Cambridge to St Ives) and so the tracks were being used by heavy lorries. The lakes are man-made from excavations for gravel/sand and so have "roads" that are able to take the heavy traffic. and to be fair I only passed three trucks. Here are some birds!
I also detoured to another village - Conington I really like the shape of the church there, as seen here silhouetted against the sky. (http://www.honeyhill.org/cthi.html for a history of the church which dates from the 14th century).
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Here is the Great river Ouse just the other side of the Ely railway station.
In Cambridge the Sustrans' routes are generally very well signposted in other parts that signing is much patchier, and when a route goes off-road it can be almost impossible to find. I was planning on downloading the route to my Edge GPS but in the end decided to rely on a quick study of the map and then to follow my nose. First there was the 48Km/30mile cycle to get there . Where Sustrans routes go off-road there are normally alternate routes on the road as well. In this case the OS map indication was out of date, but the actual route was signed and was near by the place I had expected it to be. I used a website called http://www.bikehike.co.uk/mapview.php which shows a google map in one pane and an OS map in another pane, allowing routes to be created from either the OS map and/or satellite views.
I did not manage to stick to all of the off-road route but managed a reasonable portion of it. It was quite late and a reasonable distance to cycle back home again so I did not want to spend too much time exploring dead ends in muddy fields. As you can see in the composite picture some of the tractor tracks were quite reasonable even after the recent rain here. Although the track did follow a thinner path at one point with quite a few large ruts almost blocking the path in places. It all adds to the fun but does require concentration (and makes wearing a helmet very sensible). The photograph is made up of four pictures and is where the path turns at right angles, it was very bright and not too windy and of course traffic free - well actually not quite there were two lads out on small motorbieks and one other cyclist.
The route then took me back past three military installations, Feltwell with its large golfballs and two airbases; Lakenheath and Mildenhall. Nothing was flying on Sunday though, I have been past when 6 or so F16 (I think) fighters took off - the noise is incredibly loud, much louder than seeing a passenger jet take off.
Although it is a route I use quite often to get to Thetford it looks quite different going the other way and I did get a little lost and had to resort to checking the map on the GPS screen.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
The day before when out cycling the fog was freezing, ice accumulated on my gloves, jacket and bike. When I return at the end of the ride the temperature has typically fallen to around -2C. If I did this more often, cycled in the freezing weather that is, I would definitely try to find some way of keeping my feet warmer, it is great cycling on such crisp days. I hope we get some snow this year - cycling on snow is also good fun. The wheels make a crunching noise as they pass through the snow, but you have to keep your wits about you as they have limited grip on the snow!
The pictures are of Swaffham Bulbeck Lode in the freezing fog, the water moves and so less prone to freezing up.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
As I was cycling along, listening to a podcast, I could hear a noise like a leaf caught in the front wheel being regularly hit, I slowed to pass a woman pushing a pram. (Nothing like a bit of fresh air and bumping to get a baby off to sleep). I decided to stop where the road was a little less muddy and as I slowed I realised that the noise was air coming out of the tyre. Fortunately it was the front tyre, unfortunately it was very cold and getting darker. I had both spare inner tubes and patches and after finding the problem - a large bit of quartz sticking out of the tyre took the tyre off and thought I would just pull out the inner tube near the puncture and patch it.
"More haste less speed" I pulled out a bot of the the inner tube near the punctured area but could not find the hole so I pulled out the complete inner tube and inflated it several times to find the problem. It turned out to be a thin slit in the tube about 3mm long. It was almost invisible in the gloom and the easiest way to locate it was to hold the tube near my face and feel the puff of the air escaping. I then applied some glue and a patch, pooped it back into the wheel and pumped up the wheel - which did not seem to inflate. At this stage I wondered if the pump was working!
As I was doing this the pram-pushing lady, now on her way back, stopped to ask me if I wanted any help - people are not so impersonal in the countryside. It turned out that I had not pt the patch in quite the right place - it was dark by now and so in the end I swapped out the inner tube for a new one, double checked the tyre for any more sharp bits, on the inside, pumped up and and set off again. By now it was very dark and cold and my feet felt like lumps without too much feeling.
As well as cold it was also foggy as I cycled out into the Suffolk countryside. My re-chargeable light is great as it has a very bright flashing mode and so you get what seems like a regular pulse of light as the fog is illuminated around me - cars tend to give me a wide berth so I assume car drivers also see it. It was bright when I set off and I went along some bridleways, but cycling on icy, muddy rutted tracks is a little dodgy without a helmet so in the end I switched back to the road and took some fog pictures.
Here is a single tree in the middle of a field, you could just about see the glow of the sun off to the left.
Here is one of a church in the mist with a bit of post-processing of the picture. I converted it to black and white and then tinted it .
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
I have much less experience of Thai food and I was a bit surprised not to have heard of all of the ingredients. In fact it is a bad move to select brand new recipes just before nipping off to the supermarket. In the end we managed to find most of the ingredients and it was the less exotic ones that nearly tripped us up - the local Tescos has plenty of galangal (a root with earthy/citrus/lime flavours - but I had never heard of it) we could not find peanuts, we found some un-shelled ones that did the trick though. The dishes - Thai meatballs and curried noodles - sounds easy huh - 30 odd ingredients though.
The preparation required the use of a pestle and mortar, unfortunately, unbeknownst to me (nice word eh), our pestle and mortar had expired so we switched to a small blender we have. The blender is not very good - it replaced a great blender that we got to mix food for the kids as babies/toddlers (youngest is now 15) it died around a year ago and the replacement can barely mix up guacamole from soft avocados. (I know use a fork). So we ended up putting all the ingredients in the blender and then having to take out the chewed up pieces and laboriously chop them up, lemongrass stalks were the most troublesome.
In the end though the two dishes were delicious and definitely reminiscent of my cycle ride through Thailand. We also learnt a thing or two about different ways of preparing food. All in all it was a surprising success. Although my tip is not to smell the fish sauce before putting it in the food - it tends to put people off.
The weather here in the Fens has gotten much colder than usual. Last night it went down to around -6C and when I went out for a cycle ride it started at 5C but dropped to 0C by the time I returned home (over the space of 3 hours). As I mentioned before the gloves are great and I wear multiple layers of clothing, including a "sweatband" around my ears and a bright yellow hat. I also have cycling boots and leggings. With that lot I generally stay pretty warm, with the exception of my feet - they start to get colder and colder and at the end of the ride feel pretty solid and numb. If it gets bad I hop of the bike and "kick" to get some blood into them. I think the problem is that I have metal cleats (clips) in the soles of the shoes and they conduct heat away from my feet.
Last year they started the construction of a new cycle way across the fens starting with a wooden bridge across a lode. The earthworks included digging two pits to create a new wildlife habitat. Here is one of them - frozen solid.Looking the other way you can see the ramp up to the bridge and how clear and blue the sky is. The dot in the centre of the picture is actually the moon.
Although it is not recommended to go skating anywhere even when it is very cold it is a tradition in the fens to flood fields (shallowly) for ice-skating. On the way back through Wicken Fen I saw a couple of ice-skaters out on a natural "pond". It is where the field floods and I don't think it is too deep. They seemed pretty good - although I saw one or two tumbles.
The real challenge of cycling in the cold weather is that many of the roads and tracks I cycle on do not get gritted/salted and so get very icy. Halfway round I began to wish I was wearing a cycle helmet - the roads were extremely slippery in places, a good test is to pull on the rear brake quickly, although don't do it when cycling fast and see how easy the bike skids, I always unclip my feet when performing skid tests. At the moment it is very, very easy to slide.This path through Wicken Fen is actually pretty reasonable, it is not smooth and there was a light sprinkling of snow over it when also provides some traction.
So far I have cycled around 240Km/150miles my target for the year is around 12,000Km/7,500miles. I have updated my log, it goes back to 1994, with gaps for 2000/2001 when I tore the cartilage in my knee. Here is a bit of my log.
Saturday, January 3, 2009
As you get older the years seem to fly by faster and faster, but I am still amazed at how quickly 2009 has come by. I have gotten used to the cold weather again and although I have cut back on cycling during December I managed to hit my target for 2008 of 16,000Km/10,000miles. As mentioned before I am not the fastest of cyclists and amongst hard-core cyclists this is not a remarkable distance, however it is almost twice the distance I drove in 2008 and 6,400Km/4,000miles further than my previous years cycling best.
With the short winter days I find myself cycling in the dark quite a lot and just before Christmas was having problems with one of my bicycle lights, actually my best light. It is a USE Joystick - a rechargeable light, way more powerful than my best non-rechargeable light, yet much lighter and smaller. The company that makes them is Ultimate Sports Engineering based in West Sussex - http://www.exposurelights.com/.
The light is easy to clip to the handlebars of my various bikes, light - 105gms including handlebar clip and small (length of 102mm, diameter of 28mm). More importantly it had two power settings - high - with a burn time of 2hrs 20mins and low with a burn time of 7hrs 30min and could flash for ages. When working in London in the winter it was great for the ride to the station along country lanes and then for being noticed when riding to the office in London, it slipped in my briefcase during the day and was still good for the return journey.
I bought the light in 2006 so when it started rapid flashing after only being on for around 40 minutes I assumed that the lithium-ion battery was no longer holding as much charge and I searched on the the web for a replacement battery. I found two places that seemed to have offered them once upon a time, but no longer. so I contacted USE. Within 24 hours I got a response suggesting it might be a PCB fault and to return the light, within a week it was returned working as good as new, and in the run up to Christmas. That is what I call service - and for free as part of their 2-year warranty.
Father Christmas has also given me their latest update - Joystick MaXx-2 - brighter and smarter and even longer burn times. I generally carry two lights when cycling longer distances, there is no way I want to get stuck out in the Fens without a light. I tend to use the low setting when cycling around town and along cycle paths but use the high setting for off-road cycling and when cycling along country lanes. The problem with country lanes is that quite a lot of car drivers do not bother to dip their lights. When that happens it is almost impossible to see anything, even staying on the road is difficult. With the brighter lights car drivers do tend to dip their lights and even if they don't it is still possible to see some of the road.
I have been cycling around Wicken Fen in the dark this last week, which is great fun, although you have to watch out for the odd nature photographer in dark clothes walking along the paths. The other challenge is that the tracks are very slippery and rutted, in the daylight it is tricky enough picking the best routes, at night even with my brighter lights it is much more of a challenge. I almost had an unplanned dismount as one of the ruts I was cycling along was frozen and caused the handlebars to jink. I almost strained my wrist grabbing them back again.
Here is a photograph I took on the last day of 2008 in Wicken Fen, the sun had set but the clouds were lit by the sun beyond the horizon.I did not manage to summon the enthusiasm to go out for a spin on New Years day - it was quite a late night the night before and the temperature is around freezing at the moment. I have been out on the 2nd and 3rd though. One of the other presents I got (Mother in law) was a new pair of gloves. They are made by a US company Specialized (http://www.specialized.com/bc/SBCEqSection.jsp?sid=EquipGlovesAll) and have an inner and an outer glove. They have been excellent at keeping my hands warm but not sweaty, I still find that I tend to put too many layers of clothing on in the cold weather and I have also been wearing leggings, I then end up sweaty when I get back.
Although it is cold at the moment it is not very windy and it has even been sunny so the skies are blue and it is great to get some exercise after the calorie overload of Christmas with the added bonus that there aren't so many cars around. Here is the sun setting earlier today (3rd).
I cycled in the other direction today and headed off around the Stables surrounding Newmarket. It has the advantage of a few more hills but I am not so familiar with all of the roads so I took a somewhat circular route re-tracing my steps (pedals?) on one occasion.
As I set off I passed a pick-up truck parked on a by-way, rear end in. A couple of armchairs had been dumped on the trackand as I went by the driver started shouting abuse at me, it must have been loud as I could hear it over the Archers podcast I was listening to. He got quite excited, making me think that he had been the dumper. A little way up the road I did get a little worried that he might be inclined to side-swipe me as he went past and pulled in - as I looked round he was about half a mile back and on seeing me stop he stopped as well. Hum - not so good, I did wonder whether to get my phone out to use to video things. In the end I carried on and as he got closer pulled up on the banking. I should have taken his number plate. Since there is a County Tip around 8 miles away whoever did the dumping was pretty lazy and stupid and in the end causes problems for the farmers.
I did stop to take pictures of the purple sky, it was only just bright enough and I had to put my camera on a fence and use the self-timer to start the picture taking to allow me to let go of the camera. This stops any vibration which can be a problem when the picture takes 3 seconds.