Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Update- with two Hands - just

As readers of my last post will know I was unlucky enough to be in an RTA - Road Traffic Accident on Saturday. After visiting casualty I had my diagnosis of a broken collar bone confirmed. You can feel a big bulge where there used to be a bit of bone and the bulge could be pushed in. After X-rays and appropriate diagnosis I was given a sling and some painkillers and told to take 100% rest and report back to the Hospital Fractures clinic on the following Wednesday (today).

The first few days were very sore, it was not too much hardship to rest - anything else would have been too painful. Even getting undressed/dressed on my own was too painful - yes I needed help and I took painkillers before going to bed and getting dressed in the morning to ease the pain. Generally sitting propped up in one position was not too bad but anything else was low priority. When I was hit I was hot and sweaty from the cycling, but could not face a shower or bath for the first few days. I had to have my food cut up for me. By Monday I found I did not need the painkillers during the day, and was able to use my laptop, one handed with it perched on my lap. Going to the loo was not easy but at least I did not need help, the worst bit was the way my right arm/shoulder would move by reflex - the pain stopped too much of that.

By Wednesday I decided that I did not need the painkillers, things had stabilised and I was getting better at avoiding movements that hurt. Since I was off to the Hospital I decided to take a bath, it seemed only fair to Doctor who would be examining me. Getting the bath was fine and it was really nice to lie in the hot water easing the bumps and bruises. (Head and down the right hand side -Elbow, Collar bone, Ribs, Thigh and Knee). Washing with one hand was not too bad, it felt like I was returning to being a human being rather than an invalid. One thing I had overlooked - getting out. We have handles on the bath, but whoever designed them does not really seem to have tested them under real conditions. I had two choices, hang around in the bath, topping it up with warm water until my wife came home or persevere. In the end I managed to turn around so my back was to the taps and then the handle(s) were more effective. I have a lot more sympathy for older and disabled people, baths are not easy. Dressing and shaving was fine, helped by the fact that although I have hurt my right collar bone I am left-handed.

Here in Cambridgeshire we have a major hospital on our doorsteps - Addenbrookes. Each time I visit it seems to get bigger and bigger. The good news is that they have put in a decent multi-storey car park. Although I am a keen advocate of green transport, even with something as minor as broken collar bone the last thing you want to do is catch a bus or walk miles. Even the short car journey was quite unpleasant, they don't make roads like they used to, I felt every pothole. Once there it was a short walk through to the Fracture Clinic (Clinic 1). A place I had visited before, not for me but for both of my children (a broken arm apiece). It seems easy to knock the NHS but certainly at Addenbrookes things seem to happen quickly and everyone seems to be friendly.

It was also re-assuring that the doctor immediately made a point of mentioning that he wouldn't shake my hand - sit hows he had read my notes and had a sense of humour. As I had already found out the treatment for a broken collar bone is often conservative, or wait and see. My break is in the middle and it will be left to heal and checked after 6 weeks. Not all do heal, which then would require a plate but the first approach is to wait. As you can imagine I can't cycle or do anything too physical and will use the sling for a few weeks, but even after a few days I can feel things improving. I think the doctor did wonder about my mental health though. In order to check and test you have to push and pull and grip and it seemed I would always start by pushing in the wrong direction.

Although taking photographs has not been uppermost on my mind here is one- it sits on the dashboard of my wife's car - fitting, for me.

Actually this is my first proper bone break. I did break my nose 30 years ago playing "rugby" on my way back from work with some friends, but did not have anything done to it. My Dad (now a retired doctor) did offer to fix it, but since that involved some forceps up the nose I declined the kind offer. My brother broke is leg a couple of years ago jogging and my Dad broke his hip, but they have passed the mantle onto me, not that I wanted it.

Monday, February 23, 2009

One handed typing

Hiya. The weather is getting warmer, the days are getting longer. Just the weather to go out for longer cycle rides. Well that is what I thought on Saturday, instead of my usual route through the Fens I planned on a longer route. Unfortunately as I was cycling along the road past a left turn there was a SMIDSY moment. For non-cyclists SMIDSY is an acronym for "Sorry mate I didn't see you". A car turned left without seeing me, although I was wearing a fluorescent yellow jacket and fluorescent yellow hat. It caught me side on and I got knocked to the ground. The good news is that my bicycle does not seem to have suffered major damage. Unfortunately I realised something was broken as soon as I hit the ground. My collar bone took the force of my impact with the ground. So my pleasant little spin ended much earlier than planned in the Accident and Emergency Department. The X-ray looked pretty bad, but I was warned that it was not unusual.

I go back to the fracture clinic in the week, but apparently the normal treatment is to let it mend naturally. So no cycling for the next eight to ten weeks. At the moment I have to get my food cut up for me and getting dressed is a struggle. Although I do not need painkillers during the day, I do take a couple before getting dressed. One of my daughter's friends broke her collar bone at the beginning of the year, according to her the first four days are the worst. She is now out of a sling, but feels pain if she gets hit on the shoulder.

With only one arm in action it means no cycling, no driving and no photography as you really need two free hands. So I will delay my new bike purchase and might have to postpone my cycling trip in India. Still it is not the end of the world although I must remember to eat less now I am no longer exercising. There will be fewer posts to the blog as well.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Momentum, Dog walkers - again and a neat Website!

Despite that shortage of posts to my Blog I am continuing my cycling. The recent snow and ice is behind us and the weather has turned a little warmed and the paths have turned a lot stickier. Mind you, I am taking the advice of Chris from "Chris's Bikes" - (His placement of the apostrophe not mine by the way ;-). Most times when returning from a cycle ride I give the bike a quick hose down and brush off the mud and try to clean out the mudguards. If I don't the mudguards get so clogged up it rubs the wheels and as any cyclist will tell you it is all about building and maintaining momentum.

When you are out on a bicycle there is nothing worse than pointless slowing down. The worst culprits, in my book, are the wind and loads of unnecessary junctions on cycle paths. I do not mind hills so much as generally what goes up goes down. A hill is like an investment you put effort into going up and then you get the reward of going down hill. Not that there are many hills here in the Flatlands. I do find that when I cycle in places with some real hills it always seems harder than I remember. When it is windy I try to cycle in a direction that will put the wind at my back when returning home.

Even though I have a degree in Physics and have been cycling all my life I have never really thought about the "physics" behind the need for cycling momentum or to paraphrase the Top Gun film - "I feel the need, the need for momentum" hasn't really occurred to me. Now cycling is becoming a bit more socially acceptable even the "quality press" have positive and regular articles on cycling. So I learnt from CTC's Chris Juden - (, via the Sunday Times - ( that riding a bike at a steady pace takes as much energy as walking at a quarter of the pace. So cycling at 12mph uses the same amount of energy per hour as walking at 3mph - which seems reasonable enough. The rub comes when you stop and start. To get moving requires the building of Kinetic energy (moving energy) which is proportional to the mass of the thing you want to get up to speed times the speed you want to reach squared ( ½mvv - I could not find how to get a superscript small 2 sorry). This means that if you stop it takes 16 times the energy to get yourself back up to the speed compared to walking (i.e. cycling at 12mph vs walking at 3mph.) but since you also have the mass of the bike then it adds up to around 20 times the energy to get up to speed. (If you cycle at 16mph then it takes 36 times as much energy) According to the article it takes around the same energy to get up to cycling speed (12mph) as it does to cycle around 100m (they changed from imperial to metric not me) whereas a pedestrian starting from stop only takes a couple of paces.

So, relatively speaking each stop makes the journey feel to be around 100m further in terms of energy expenditure. My cycle journey to the local railway station is around 12Km, a pleasant cycling distance, which as long as I do not go too fast does not lead me to getting hot and sweaty. From memory, it has around 6-8 stops, if I obey the highway code on the road - eg. stopping for traffic lights but continuing without stopping on the cycle paths. If I were to stop at all of the junctions on the cycles paths then it could mean an additional 10-12 stops. So using the above rule of thumb the extra 10-12 stops makes the journey feel as if it were 1000m-1200m longer or like adding 10% onto the journey - certainly noticeable. My journey starts along country lanes, the same route in town could easily double or treble the number of stops - no wonder some cyclists tend not to stop at traffic lights - stupid though it is - imho.

Now the weather has picked up there are more walkers and dog walkers taking advantage of the weather. Once again I came across the little old lady in her Micra with a micro dog running alongside. I had assumed that she was reluctant to step out onto the icy pavements. I was wrong, she was car walking her dog with no snow and ice around. The dog is well behaved and does not seem interested in chasing my back wheel. Elsewhere on my route there is a farmhouse with a dog that occasionally gets free and chases me. It has happened around three times now - when I am prepared it is not really an issue, I can cycle faster than it can run and although the dog runs close to my back wheel it does not seem to be a kamikaze dog. It caught me unprepared though at the weekend, my heart rate certainly picked up momentum even if I did not. I felt like complaining to the owners or the police, but of course momentum is too important to waste on slowing down and complaining. The tragedy will come when it chases after a tractor or car though.

The route I take though Wicken Fen is getting very sticky indeed. The next two pictures show the entrance to the Fen, just after leaving the road close to the car park :-(. Unfortunately they (the National Trust) seem to run quite a few vehicles around this area and have thoroughly chewed it up. I always unclip from the pedals on this part of the track, but try to maintain some momentum. The trick is to try and avoid the really thick gloupy mud, which can bring a bike to a stop. The other thing you have to do is avoid sliding into a rut left by one of the vehicles. It is a shame that it is allowed to get so bad as the rest of this Sustrans route has remained passable even on my touring bicycle.

You also have to watch out for the puddles as they can conceal some much bigger holes and rocks, generally the best thing to do is stand on the pedals and be prepared to touch down.

Here is yet another composite picture, made from three pictures, I would normally cut the picture down, but left it this time to highlight the three sections.

On my way back from the Fen whilst cycling down the lane back to civilisation a 4x4 drove past me and 40m from a T-junction stopped. Although the lane was narrow at this point I gave the car a wide berth ( as by the time I had got there he opened the rear offside door and was leaning in. I assumed that he had a child that needed some attention, just before I went past he seemed to fling a big black Labrador out into the road. I only just managed to swerve past the poor dog. The driver did shout sorry to me, my comments were not really repeatable. Why he did it I don't know. It was not a place to stop and walk a dog, perhaps the dog was being sick, whatever the driver showed a total disregard for both the dog and other road users - me. He must have seen me because he had driven past me with a reasonable amount of space just before I went past!

One of these days I am going to cycle round recording "bad" driving/cycling/walking behaviour. Last week I was in my local shop buying a newspaper and the lady in front of me (horsey type) was talking on her mobile phone throughout her shopping transaction. After I paid and got back on my bicycle she was in her car, behind me. I cycled off only to have her roar up behind me, driving, whilst using her phone (not hands-free) and cut the corner so that I would not slow her down. This in a busy village with two schools. Is it any wonder that parents do not want their children to cycle to school and if they do to insist they use the pavement.

Just to end on a positive note. I have been trying to contact cycle shops on speccing my planned new bicycle. I have tried to contact a US company three times by email and web over the last couple of months, I have not heard anything. I emailed a company in Hunstanton (North Norfolk Coast) - Fat Birds Don't Fly, yes it is a cycle shop check it out at - I got a response the next day.

Also I have been using a new Website - Spotify to listen to music. They have heaps of bands old and new, reasonable quality sound, all properly licensed and you can select music and listen to it (via streaming) in return you get an advert every few tracks. For me it has been a great nostalgia trip - Ten Years After, Cream, Rolling Stones. They do not seem to have Frank Zappa Live at the Fillmore though.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Cycling and er... the Economy

There comes a point in time when even a committed cyclist can't keep on ignoring the state of the economy. As I have mentioned before one of the things I do when cycling, apart from listen to the Archers podcast (a UK radio soap, 15 minutes a day 6 days a week) is to muse. Well, the state of the world and UK economy has given plenty of scope for musing over the last few months.

Before I start on that though, a few words about the weather. Here in the UK it has switched from snow to rain, some reports indicate we have had a month's rainfall in a day. Certainly it has rained pretty steadily. I had to get up in the middle of the night a few days back, squirrel problems - don't ask, and the evening rain had turned to snow but by the morning it had turned back to rain again. On top of that we have had freezing overnight temperatures and our councils are running out of salt/grit for the roads.

There have been floods and loads of traffic accidents. When I popped out on my bicycle I was fortunate enough not to have too many problems with the ice, except for Wicken Fen, it was noticeable how full the rivers were though. Although I took this picture for the light it shows the River Cam full to the banks on both sides. In places the path was covered and the fields around were waterlogged.

I like the picture for the light but I also re-took the picture zooming in to the chimney stack. It belongs to the Cambridge Museum of Technology - although technology from a bygone age. If you look very closely to the right of the chimney are the electric power lines for the Ely to Cambridge railway line and to the right is the aerial tower for a Base Station. (Which is what your mobile phone communicates with.)

Whilst on the subject of light here is Ely Cathedral lit by a ray of sun light, I know it is a bit of a dot on the horizon, but not bad for a picture taken using my Sony pocket camera.

Later on that day the clouds were moving and the sky was clearing, which is why it froze overnight and we had problems with icy roads. This picture is a composite, made from three pictures taken at Wicken Fen. This was one of the few places where there seemed to be quite a lot of snow/ice and slush still around. It is not quite mountain biking but you have to keep your wits about you.

So what was I musing about whilst cycling. Well a couple of things, one was the Bankers appearing in front of a Select Committee here in the UK to explain themselves and as it turned out to say sorry. The other was the way in which our MPs seemed to get remunerated for their work.

One aspect of the current situation is that everyone is keen to seek to apportion blame. However whilst the good times were rolling no-one, including the politicians seemed to want to enquire too closely. It appears that some of those saying sorry did not have a background in Banking. I studied Physics at University and remember my tutor Dr John Acton asking me to derive a complex equation on the blackboard (I know showing my age!) I did it and smugly stood back with the board covered with my work. He then asked my how did I know it was right - well I knew it was right - I had memorised it and not slipped up - it was right. He then taught me a very valuable lesson, how to take this complex equation and simplify it so that I could get a feel for it.

Well I have taken that lesson and applied it to business, I have also had the benefit of working with like-minded people who don't take things for granted but dig in to things they don't understand. The point of my story - well if you run a business you really need to be able to understand the complexities of what you do, maybe not as well as the "rocket scientists" but certainly well enough to be able to consider the risks being taken. Having been involved in the management of a public company I understand the pressures to deliver profits and they are significant and perhaps that is were we all share some blame. The "more" culture we are all part of drives higher and higher rewards which leads to more and more risk-taking, it is only when it fails do we start to question things more closely.

So onto musing about MPs there have been press reports about the way MPs can claim a second house allowance. What amazes me is that whilst they might be adhering to the letter of the(ir) law they cannot see how their actions can be perceived as morally dubious. Some appear to be at the front of a greed culture yet act outraged when asked for more openess. With leadership like that is it any wonder that some companies follow suit.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Snow :-) and a dodgy ankle :-(

The fun of cycling in the snow was short-lived. I can't recall any particular point when I might have jarred my right ankle but last Sunday afternoon after about 32Km/20miles it started to hurt especially when the pedal was at the top of the "circle". It did not seem to benefit from stretching so when I got home I decided to rest it for a few days.

I also realised that my hybrid bicycle has longer cranks than my custom-made touring Longstaff because it hurt mote to cycle on the Marin. I figured it was better to go out on the hybrid in the snow and ice since the riding position is more upright. I did not resort to using my MTB (mountain bike - big knobbly tyres). Although the local schools have closed for two days during the last two weeks the snow was not too bad here in the flatlands.

The snow also tends to disappear pretty quickly so after the first drop on the Thursday it had pretty much gone by the Sunday. The only challenges occurred on one or two side roads when the snow had been compressed and shielded by hedgerows. Occasionally I had to put both feet down and glide gently along, perhaps that is what caused the ankle problem? However more snow was predicted and judging from the evening clouds in this picture taken at Wicken Fen it was imminent.

Indeed it did snow and as I noted previously you get to see a lot of animal and bird tracks. Because I was not cycling here are some pheasant tracks taken in my garden.

Here is the snow falling although we seemed to get a lot it did not settle like the previous week.

By the end of the week my ankle was feeling better and unfortunately the snow had gone as well, apart from in one or two sheltered areas

On my way back from White Fen I did come across a car driver "walking" a dog. The last couple of times this has happened the driver seemed quite concerned to get the dog back into the car before I got too close. The dog is often a huge Alsatian/rottweiler and I don't think the owner is worried about me crashing into the dog rather I think they are concerned about the bad press you get when "Dog eats cyclist". As I got closer it turned out the driver was a "Little old lady" not really the sort to own a fierce dog - this time the concern really was for the dog, it turned out to be about 15cm/6" tall.but not at all concerned about me either. I guess that in this weather it can be quite scary walking on the icy pavements.

Here in Cambridgeshire they do not seem to grit the shared cycle/pedestrian paths it is almost as if the pedestrians and cyclists are second class citizens. Mind you quite a few of the smaller roads don't get gritted either.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Snow on the Way!

Apparently there is a Chinese saying (curse) that goes something along the lines of "be careful of what you wish for - you might get it". Well as I have mentioned a few times I like cycling on snow and the weather forecasts started predicting it here in the flatlands of East Anglia. When I went out for a cycle ride on Sunday afternoon snow flurries had already started. Certainly it was cold - I ended up with a t-shirt, cycling shirt, fleece and my fluorescent cycling jacket, cycling shorts and longs, thin socks and thick waterproof socks, two layers of gloves, headband, bobble-less bobble hat , buff (tube for head/neck) and waterproof cycling boots. What happens is I get way too hot - except for my toes - they freeze.

As I cycled round the weather alternated between sunny blue skies and almost horizontal snow whipping along. When it was really bad I pulled up the buff ( if you want to see one - around my mouth and nose and pulled my hat down to just above my eyes - even then I get kept snow in my eyes. With all my gear I had forgotten my sunglasses - which have replaceable lenses - blue, clear, yellow).

When the wind stopped I took a few pictures of the wintry scenes, the advantage of two-layer gloves is it is possible to take pictures while wearing the inner glove.

Here the sun almost obscured by the fast moving clouds, although it looks darker in the picture than it was in real life.

Later on the blue skies were back with a few wispy clouds.

Ten minutes later it started snowing again, in fact when I looked at this picture later, on my computer, I was horrified as it has lots of blobs which look as if the lens has gotten really dirty. I could not work out how it had become dirty so quickly. My biggest concern was that dust had got inside the camera and on the sensor.

This happened to me on a previous camera and after searching the web I could only find instructions to dismantle a previous model. To get the camera cleaned would have cost as much as the camera cost to buy but I did see some advice that suggested using a vacuum cleaner with the nozzle over the lens to draw air through the camera. I tried it out with the vacuum cleaner on and was horrified when, as the nozzle got closer to the camera, which was lying on the table, the camera shot up to jam against the nozzle. Fortunately no damage was done and it had removed all of the dust in the camera.

As you might have already guessed the blobs were really falling snowflakes in the picture, although it is not so easy to see when the picture has been uploaded to the blog on a larger screen they look terrible.

The next day we had quite a lot of snow and as I was meeting a friend for lunch at a pub in a nearby village I decided to cycle the long way, 48Km/30miles vs 8Km/5miles is no contest for me. Around here several centimetres/inches of snow had fallen but there were not many cars on the roads. Where lots of cars had been there was a clear track in the road, where no cars had been it was crunchy snow, either are ok for cycling on . The worst roads were where a few cars had compacted the snow and left ruts in it. I did take my helmet and I unclipped my feet from the pedals on the really slippery roads and although I had a few moments where the front wheel started sliding away from me I managed to stay on. I had to give some of the shared use cycle/pedestrian paths a miss though - they are the last thing that gets salted around here. For once the few cars and vans on the roads gave me plenty of clearance when overtaking.

On my way through to White Fen, which is a no through road for cars I got to cycle on untouched snow. This road is actually quite uneven and damaged but the snow seemed to cushion the worst of it.

Here it is in the other direction, the best approach is to cycle down the middle as the edge of the road is not that clear. It was not very slippery but the snow did clog up my brakes, in fact they were virtually useless for a 100m/100yards. Which is fine on the flat but can be a little unsettling on even the small hills around here.

Here is my track down the middle of the road.

Once out on White Fen the snow blanketed the fields and the only tracks in the snow were made by birds and animals. I was amazed at how many deer tracks I saw, there must be loads of deer in the area, no wonder they are considered a nuisance.

This sort of track sharpens my bike handling skills as the snow hides all the potholes and rocks, it transforms the ride from a well-known path to a "new" challenge though.

The main problem I had was cycling, for me anyway, on slow is much much slower. By slower I was going at half speed, so the first bit of the journey took and hour versus the usual half hour. Fortunately after cycling through the Wicken Fen the back roads to the pub were not too bad and I was able to pick up the pace and managed to get there on time. I did see this interesting snow person though.

By the time I got to the pub I was boiling - the coldest bit of the journey was the last bit from the pub to home. By then I had cooled down and could not get up enough speed to keep my extremities warm.