Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dry and Dusty Tracks

Yesterday I woke up with a stiff neck - not too bad I thought - but in the event decided to take a day's rest from cycling. It would have made looking to the left very tricky. It was not too bad this morning and as I was meeting a friend for lunch it was an opportunity to ride earlier in the day. It was not the brightest of days, apparently the better weather is coming to an end. We do need some rain here in the flatlands though, wherever you look the fields are dry, garden lawns are looking brown and the leaves are dropping early from the trees.

When cycling to meet someone at a specific time I tend to allow myself a bit of extra time and then as I get near to the place (The Red Lion - Swaffham Prior) I cycle extra loops in the road, or along tracks I do not normally use. As I have mentioned before I think that the National Trust's vision for Wicken Fen - The Wicken Fen Vision to provide a "green lung" for Cambridge and to encourage more people to visit the countryside is great. I know that some are against it, however I think we need to encourage more people into the countryside and to foster a better understanding of the fragile ecological balance.

One thing that does annoy me is when you get visitors (who treat cars as the normal access mode and then park randomly), bring their picnics and then leave bags of litter behind. As you can see near the telegraph pole in this picture. Who on earth do they think is going to take it away? Refuse lorries do not pass along this way, unlike cities country lanes do not have street sweepers to tidy up after litter louts.

Litter cock up bridge.jpg

One track I did cycle down and back was by the side of Swaffham Bulbeck Lode. Here is the bridge built by the NT and Sustrans to open up new routes into the Fens. It leads to White Fen. It was built with high sides and sufficient width to encourage hire riders as well. I took this picture from an old footbridge about 200m down the path.


I am not quite sure how this piece of "litter" got here. At first I though that it was a stolen car that had been burnt to destroy the evidence, but the grass around does not appear burnt. So perhaps it was burnt elsewhere and then dumped along this track? I suppose we should be grateful that they dumped it at the side of the track.


You can see from this picture that it was quite a gloomy day and how dry the fields are.This was taken on a track behind the village of Reach.


This one was taken looking back to the vantage point where the previous picture was taken. These are what we get for hills in these parts from the OS map it looks to be about 20m high, my GPS reports it as 24m in height with the base at 0m.


As the time ticks away before heading off to India I have been buying essential items through the Web - primarily Wiggle and Amazon. I have bought some Mossie spray (same as I used in Cambodia last year) and some purple lubricant - a dry synthetic lube for the bike chains etc.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Autumn is near!

Although the day started out quite cold it soon warmed up in the sunshine when I went out for more track practice -(rough tracks/by-ways gravel tracks) the leaves were starting to fall. The trees that seem to be losing their leaves first are the horse chestnuts - probably because they have been afflicted by a leaf mite. Here in the flatlands we don't really get hills - so even this pimple seems a challenge - how I am going to find 2000m hills - ho hum. I know it is possible. The other more interesting feature of this pimple, which by the way is only 30m in height, is the way the leaves are already falling along the verge.


I went out at around 3.30pm and when I took this picture is was probably around 5.0pm and already you can see from the shadow that the sun was quite low in the sky. It is a good bit of track to cycle along though as it gets from Exning to Burwell without having to worry about cars. This time around I met a couple of dog walkers (and dog) but quite often do not meet anyone on the track although from the state of it you can see it is quite well used.


Tomorrow I must get around to checking what equipment I have and what I will need to buy before setting out to India. Oh yes after the memory full error on my Garmin EDGE GPS device I erased some history and it seemed OK today.

One other geeky thing that I have been playing with is Picasa - this is Google's free photo categorising ands editing software. It is a great way to view all my photographs and is pretty good at photo editing as well. They have just released version 3.5 (from version 3.0) which has added a face tagging capability It runs through all of the stored photographs and identifies faces, groups them and allows the user to add a name tag to them. I have around 18,000 pictures stored so it took an overnight run - but I am quite impressed. You quite often have to tag the same person's picture a few times as it does not always match them up but overall it works quite well. mind you I have around 3,500 unidentified pictures to either add name tags to or ignore. I do a few at a time. My digital pictures go back around 10 years so it is quite interesting to compare the kids faces as they mature.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

BBQ Autumn and Rough Track practice

Only 5 weeks (minus one day) to go before flying out to India and time to start thinking about what kit we will need and getting in some off-road practice. Most of the important stuff has been dealt with. The holiday has been paid for, a slight complication was that Far and Away is a US company, but Bob was flexible. The flights have been booked and paid for, we will fly into and out of Bangalore on a British Airway flight. (Their timings were better for us than Virgin in this particular case. having submitted out Visa applications on Monday, through our travel agent - Trailfinders we received our passports back this morning duly "VISA"d. I chose to go with the travel Agent, because they have always been good when dealing with holiday and flight bookings and as I had some Visa issues when when crossing from Cambodia to Vietnam last year due to a typo I felt that it would be useful to have experts involved. It costs more money, but with only 6 weeks to go (when I submitted them) if anything did go wrong I felt it would help to have experts on our side. It was certainly straightforward and efficient dealing with the Indian Authorities and their nominated Visa Processing System. My son also got his typhoid jab, he had to get it from a Travel Clinic as he could not visit our local Doctor's practice. As a result he had the full description of all of the potential illnesses that can afflict the unwary traveller.

Just as I assume that everything is working on my Garmin Edge GPS unit I had a memory full message - this might genuinely mean that I need to delete some of the track history, or like last time it might cause other problems. In the end I did a hard reset and that was 2 versions of the Operating system ago. I'll keep an eye on it but I would prefer it to be fully functional for the India trip. I will probably do a hard reset a week or so before the trip, it means having to re-program a few parameter but should sort things out.

The BBQ Autumn seems to be continuing, in fact it has been quite warm and sunny but what we have really noticed is that there has been no rain. As I have only 5 weeks to go it seemed a good idea to go out and cycle a few of the green roads, by-ways and farm tracks. I went out on my Marin (a hybrid bike) and pootled around on a lovely sunny late afternoon. I think I am going to have to think about carrying a front light though as the nights are drawing in and I don't want to get caught out in the dark. I always have a rear light on the bike though - and I turn it on before it gets dark - in flashing mode - you can't rely on the twilight vision of some motorists.

Back to the sunny afternoon - it was a pleasure, cycling along tracks not having to worry about cars, vans and lorries whilst the sky was blue with some wisps of cloud in the sky. I was surprised that there was quite a lot of stubble around as well.


One of the tracks; this sort of thing is fine on my hybrid bike and not too bad on my touring bike, I have to concentrate a little more on the touring bike with its drop handlebars though. There can be some potholes and loose stones that require some respect.


It amazes me how fine the farmers manager to till the soil, although there was an article in the Times advocating no-till farming to protect the soil. Certainly when the soil is very dry a lot of dust seems to blow around.


The track where the above photograph was taken - loose gravel, good experience when heading out to unknown parts of the world. (Well unknown to me)


Later on a cycled along a by-way near Lode - although it was a by-way it would appear to only be used by walkers and dog-walkers so that there was only one undulating mud track - good fun, but requiring even more concentration and some of it best negotiated when standing on the pedals to absorb the bounce of the track.This picture is taken just off the track and is three pictures stitched together.


Later, just after White Fen I followed a farm-track which was very dusty, so much so that the wheels occasionally got bogged down in it. The width of the tyres on the Marin where 25 mm/1 inch I will probably use wider tyres in India, they might be a little slower but tend to be a bit more forgiving on rough tracks. The sky stayed blue though!


One of the "crops" grown in these parts is turf, here a Farmer is towing a gang-mower, used to cut school playing fields. It would seem to me that quite a bit of soil would be lost when the turf is cut so I wonder if there is concern about the soil being "eroded". I must check it out.


One last niggle, Zoundry Raven, which I used to write this Blog off-line, stopped showing the pictures in the off-line version. After trying a few things I ended up creating a new off-line version and down-loading the Blog again, something it does remarkably quickly. All seems to be fine again. I must go and cut the lawn - despite it not having rained it is starting to look a bit scruffy. I spoke (wrote) too soon, Zoundry failed to publish this Blog - but it was a problem I knew about - you have to make sure the is a "return" at the end of Blog and not stop on a sentence. If you do it complains of an EOF error (End of File), the fact that this is readable of course shows that I fixed the problem.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Smoke across the ... Fens - yet again

Meetings in Cambridge this morning, which because it was such a lovely day led to a certain amount of smugness as I passed the motorists queueing for the pleasure of driving into Cambridge. I had to go slowly to avoid overheating and so was overtaken by a few cyclists today. At least that's my excuse. Once the day's work was complete there was time to get a breath of fresh air out in the Fens. The weather is warm (for England) but there were a few clouds in the sky - at one point I thought my optimism at not taking a rain jacket was unfounded - the clouds got quite dark. However, as you can see in this picture, the sun behind was strong - look at the shadow of the tree - the field almost seemed to glow against the backdrop of the stubble.


It used to be that after hay-making the stubble would be burnt and it was common to see plumes of smoke and fields alight. It was banned in July 1993, although there are a few exemptions, and nowadays it is unusual to see the smoke rising except perhaps when a haystack had been set alight by arsonists. This was not a field of stubble though it looked more like a haystack. At this point I was several miles away though.


It was fairly breezy and unfortunately on my way back I ended up passing through the smoke - it smelt like burning hay and was unpleasant to cycle through. This picture is looking back through the smoke, it threw up a dirty yellow haze. There were some houses nearby so I imagine that they were not very amused (the occupants rather than the actual houses).


I think that I saw a fire in a similar place last year, when I went to investigate to very large Alsatian dogs (or rottweilers?) ran barking at me - normally I don't get to phased but I jumped off the bike and held it between me and the dogs - fortunately the owner called them back before I was torn limb from limb.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Hedgrow Slashing

As you get older I find myself becoming more and more of a GOM (Grumpy Old Man). The preponderance of bureaucracy annoys me. The way in which, in the UK, the BBC advertise the need for a TV license also irritates me - it seems to presume guilt - along the lines of we're watching you - we've got you number. No it is not a guilt complex I have a TV licence and pay for it automatically each year. Today I had to pop into London and took the opportunity to take our (son and me) Indian Visa applications in rather than post them as there have been Post Office Strike rumblings going on. I had a very pleasant lunch and then when cycling back from Cambridge Railway Station to a scenic route. This is what I saw on a hedgerow near Fulbourn.


Here is some advice on cutting hedgerows - it is Irish - but the principles are the same. It ends with the advice:

"A clean cut is required. Shattered or frayed branches can lead to decay and

disease and reduce the vigour of the hedgerow."

This hedge looks like it was hacked with a flailing chain. I realise that farmers live on very small profit margins - but surely they can afford to sharpen their cutting equipment once in a while. Apart from that it was very pleasant - I could get used to this BBQ Weather - it is coll enough that I can wear work clothes when cycling to the station without becoming a sweaty heap.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

BBQ Autumn - perhaps it is

As I have mentioned before, I use a program called Zoundry to create posts for my Blog and then download them. In a hurry the other day I closed down my computer whilst Zoundry was loading. The next time I started Zoundry it crashed with an error message and whilst I could see my posts it refused to download them to my Blog. I re-installed Zoundry, but no luck. I did notice that it seemed to have left one or two temporary files around and I tried deleting them. The next time I started Zoundry it worked and had sped up the program startup.

That reminds me I must check to see whether it is worth taking my laptop with me to India - it is easier to keep the blog up to date if I do it regularly, but I am not sure I want to carry the laptop around if I can't also check out my email. I must also check to see whether I can get a Sim card which would offer cheaper phone calls when I am there.

Over the weekend my son and I have filled in our Indian VISA applications and will send them of tomorrow. It all seems quite straightforward and there is a useful Web interface. But to minimise the risk of typos/mistakes we filled them in and have then checked them later to help cut out any problems.

After the VISA applications it was time to enjoy the BBQ Autumn weather - although the air temperature was cool the sun was strong and the skies were blue. Because of other commitments I took my usual route around Wicken Fen so no new vistas, here is the onion field - neatly ploughed.


A bevy of young swans on one of the Lodes in Wicken Fen. It was pretty busy in the park - "lode"s of people milling around.


I am not an expert on clouds - but these looked interesting.


The only downside to Wicken Fen is that it is not that easy to get to by anything other than car or bicycle. You get quite a few cars dotted around the route parked wherever they can park.


Mostly, cyclists are treated well - but I can't help feeling that the grumpy pedestrians who really don't want to move an inch and block the path are the same people who when in cars drive as if cyclists should move out of the way immediately. It almost feels like a class war - car drivers are upper class and cyclists lower class- who me paranoid?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Great News - Shared cycle/foot paths can also be used for Car Parking (and white Vans)

The last few days have involved meetings in London and Cambridge which meant smart clothes and working to a stricter timetable than I normally have to when working from home. When I am off to London I usually cycle to the station and then park my bike there - I do have a Brompton but generally only use it in London when I have a pretty good idea of where I am supposed to be heading. When cycling to the station I always try to go slowly as I generally do not have time or anywhere to change into work clothes - it mostly works but there have been times when through being a little late I have had to cycle quite hard which to catch the train which means the first fifteen minutes sitting on the train can be a bit uncomfortable as the sweat dries. It is even worse when it rains. I normally carry a shower-proof yellow cycling jacket and waterproof leggings, as well as a few tools to repair punctures. I also have an aerosol can which will both inflate the tyre and seal the puncture - it gets a bit messy but is quick "get you going solution" when there is no time to fix a puncture. having said that I have not really suffered many punctures commuting to the railway station.

What does irritate me though is that if I am catching a mid-morning train (cheaper providing you don't want to return between 4.30pm and 7pm) then it becomes very difficult to find a bicycle parking space at the station, yet there are often car spaces, except if I drive to the station then the car spaces always disappear. If I am returning before about 6pm then I leave my bike at Station Cycles who for a small fee will keep it secure. Unfortunately I am not always able to return before they have closed. In fact I have had to carry lights with me as I returned at around 11pm on Tuesday - it was very pleasant cycling back through the town in the dark and quiet roads. I generally carry two front and two rear lights as well for backup. The cycle paths in and around Cambridge need respect at night. I think that the cycle paths are sometimes more dangerous at night than the roads as it is harder to see the problems like overgrown brambles. (The Station Cycles website also linked to this Mystery Shopper article sussing out some of the bike shops in Cambridge - I generally use Chris's Bikes and Ben Haywards)

TGIF - no scheduled meetings so I was able to pop out around the Fens today and the weather was really pleasant with some warm sun. As I passed through one of the local villages on the Sustrans route 51 there is a shared pavement/cycle path. I generally do not use it - it takes a tidal flow of cyclists to and from the local school but is quite a narrow path.


This is one of the other reasons I find this type of path irritating - great news for drivers of cars and vans - it is multi-use cycling, pedestrians and yes motor vehicles. Hopefully the vans will also dig into the pavement surface and create a few lumps and bumps to slow down reckless walkers and cyclists - can't have them speeding when there a precious vehicles parked on the path eh? These were working for EDF and seemed to have stopped for a lunch break and where eating their sandwiches - good to see that French influence (EDF - Electricite de France) encouraging appreciation of food - I did not see any wine though.


Once out into the Fens I was once again asked to respond to a Cambridge Council/Sustrans questionnaire on the new-ish route through White Fen. It is a lovely route, but not well signed and incomplete as it is intended to get through to Wicken Fen avoiding some of the single track roads through to Upware. Some of those roads can be a bit intimidating for inexperienced cyclists (actually not just inexperienced cyclists) as boy racers seem to delight in whizzing past with almost no room to spare. Certainly not a road I would take a young family out cycling on. So it seems to me that the Survey is perhaps a little early - apparently the Surveyors had only seen three cyclists through that day. Since the route is incomplete and so does not really go anywhere and it is a scenic route then I am not surprised, that not many people visit on a Friday - last week I saw far cyclists and walkers more out and about - I think they will be there tomorrow so perhaps I ought to re-visit.

I passed this field with an edging of sweetcorn - it is common around these parts as it is grown as a cover crop for game birds. It can be a little disconcerting to cycle past a field with around 30 shotgun wielding people blasting away.


I also passed some more sunflowers , on the edge of the village is a field where flowers are grown - and I think they grow them to harvest the seeds as they are allow the flowers to go past their best.


A sunflower in the blue sky.


All in all a great day for cycling and the wind was behind me on the way home.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

India Preparations & What are cycle lanes for..... parking of course

Today I had meetings around Cambridge and so planned to cycle to them as it is much easier to park and of course far more pleasant than being stuck in a car. Before setting off I had an appointment with a Nurse at my local surgery to get some travel advice. They have installed a self-service registration for people arriving for appointments - if it was an intelligence test then I failed it. I used to think I knew about computers but as part of the process you have to tap in your date and month of birth. Now I was born late in the month and every time I tapped the "two" button it went onto the next screen before I had chance to tap the second digit - it turned out you are a choice of 31 buttons, which I had ignored, so used was I to typing the date of my birth as the individual digits. I did learn that quite a few people do that though.

The good news was that the area I will be cycling in India is low risk, so we just need to take anti-mosquito precautions. The bad news was that my Typhoid jab needed renewing, apparently it was three years since my last one - mind you it only took a matter of moments to have the injection, which because I am left-handed I have in my right arm. I was left with a slight ache in my arm as I cycled around but better safe than sorry. The only minor hassle is that my son will also have to have the same injection as he also had his typhoid jab three years ago. Hopefully he will be able to get to a clinic close to where he works.

The company arranging the tour is US-based and so I have also had to transfer payment in dollars through my bank - but that went through today. Because of the overheads of credit cards they try to avoid them, which is understandable. I seem to have sorted flight details (well technically my travel agent has). I do need to book a hotel for one night in Bangalore for the turn leg of our journey. I have decided that we will stay in an airport hotel as the flight time is 07.50am in the morning and the airport is 40Km from Bangalore town centre.

The weather was not too warm cycling around Cambridge - but as I was wearing work clothes it was quite pleasant and I hope I was not too hot and sweaty for my meetings.. Cambridge has got a hodge-podge of cycling routes, with a lot of signage, although I tend to take the routes I know. As a cyclist I think you get so used to ridiculous cycle paths/markings that you ignore them. Cycling along Gilbert Road as I overtook yet another parked car I realised that cars were passing me very closely. I do think that cycle paths like this, which are advisory so that cars park along the road are probably more dangerous than no cycle lanes at all. In this part of the road there were four cars parked in the cycle lanes, further down there were a lot more. I wonder what the point is - what was the planner thinking when they had them painted - perhaps it is intended to train all motorists to treat cyclists with the contempt they deserve!


I don't have a picture of Histon Road, which has Mandatory cycle lanes along each side of the road, but I was passed with only inches to spare by a learner driver. It struck me, (the idea not the car phew), that it is true cars really do pass cyclists more closely when there is the MCL barrier (mandatory cycle lane). What magic powers the paint has.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

No news ... is no news

One of the great things about having a cycle trip planned is it provides a reason for getting out and about on the bicycle - not so much for my family, but for me. Before I had chosen, or booked a trip to India my wife gave me a book on India for Christmas as encouragement to go, because I had mentioned it. As my son is going along as well I will need to just nudge him to do a little bit of cycling before we leave, I am not worried about his fitness or ability to cycle 120Km in a day, but cycling is a more pleasant activity once you have gotten over the saddle sore phase. I am not sure what physiological changes take place, but, for me anyway, after not cycling for a few weeks I do feel a little bruised after cycling, particularly the day after, but after a week or so of cycling the pains recede as the "sit bones" get used to it, for more information here is an article on Bike Biz. Many non-cyclists assume that it is because of the saddle being too hard - personally I find that a firm saddle is better than a soft and squishy saddle. I use a Brooks leather saddle (B17 Ti), in fact I have two, one on my Brompton and one on my touring bike, the touring one went to Thailand/Cambodia/Vietnam with me and was the cycling equipment high-spot as the hired bikes were not! The theory is that after around 100 to 500 miles the leather moulds to the cyclist, certainly I have found mine to be very comfortable, my touring saddle has probably done around 9,000 Km / 5,600 miles including over 200 Km/ 125 miles in a day (with me on it of course!).

So with a trip in the booking stages I am getting flights/visas and jabs sorted. I visit the Nurse tomorrow to discuss what I might need - I have seen conflicting advice on the need for anti-malarials, but will use them if recommended. At the moment it seems that there is a sale on flights which is good.

Because of other commitments I am "restricted" to shortish cycle trips which tend to centre around Wicken Fen - here I have been going "off-road" on a short piece of track called Harrison's Drove. There are actually two on Google maps they are slightly parallel but separated by the various lodes. The one I am talking about is the one that heads to Wicken Lode. It seems that another cyclist had the same idea as we passed on the track. This bit is the easy bit - although you have to watch out for where the concrete slabs at the start of the road/track no longer align.


At the end of this bit of reasonable track there is a nice path across the fields, although I am not sure it is a path or not, I have not cycled along it, but would if it were allowed.


The track then turns to a rutted bit of green road. The National Trust use if for access on their tractors/land rovers. When the weather is dry it is fairly easy to cycle along, as long as you take the deep ruts in-line. When it is wet, some ruts become very muddy, not so bad on a MTB, but very tricky on my touring bike which has thinner tyres. I have come off once or twice on this track, but generally, you know the going is tricky and can respond and roll into the vegetation. When I have a bit more time for a longer trek I will pop up to nearby Thetford Forest, which has various classed of runs for a longer ride. The choice I have to make though is whether to drive there with my MTB in the car or cycle on my hybrid. Generally not driving always wins out it just seems wrong to drive to cycle when it is not so far away. I really ought to cycle on my MTB, but the thought cycling on roads with knobbly tyres is off-putting.


Now off to cycle to the Cambridge railway station for a meeting in London, the thing that will annoy me is if there are car spaces but not cycle spaces - arghh! Oops better look on the positive side it might never happen.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Grey days or BBQ Autumn and perceived safety

I do wonder how safety is perceived nowadays. As part of Cambridge's role as a Cycling City various plans are afoot to put in various cycle ways and path ways. The notable thing is that unlike Sustrans routes which can meander and sometimes err on the scenic side these routes are intended to be working routes. One such plan is to put in a cycle path/foot path from the village of Milton through to the village of Impington. Two adjacent "necklace" villages. The reason for the cycle path is that it would provide a route for schoolchildren in Milton to cycle to the Village College in Impington. The distance is around 2 miles, which is under the 3 mile limit for the provision of a free bus service, but because the current route is deemed dangerous a free bus service is provided anyway. The route follows a country lane -, but it is dark and has no pavement for three quarters of its length.

Assuming a cycling speed of 12Mph, which seems reasonable for the 2 miles as it is flat then the journey time is around 10 minutes, quite a pleasant cycle ride which is probably not much slower than taking the car and going a slightly longer way, compared with the path. Just the job you might think - a bit of exercise to blow away the cobwebs and be ready for the school day. However it turns out that many parents are complaining that if the cycle way is built, then it will mean that the "free" bus service will be removed so they will be forced to drive their children to school - thus adding to the traffic congestion and pollution as compared with the free bus service. It would seem that many parents are not comfortable allowing their children to cycle along a path to and from school and consider it sufficiently dangerous that they would be willing to spend real money to ferry them their by car instead. It seems that we perceive the danger of the cycling along the route as high whereas we disregard the problems of obesity (which is linked with diabetes and heart disease in later life). Perhaps we need to have adults taught how to critically analyse data to ensure their decisions are informed and rational. Mind you here in the UK there is a lot of fuss about the need for enhanced checks for anyone remotely involved with children - some estimates (an article in the Times) indicate up to 1 in 4 adults will need a CRB check and that the check will might include allegations as well as actual convictions. The approach seems almost treat all as suspects in order to catch the few who are and feeds the paranoia.

After the wonderful weather on Saturday things were looking up, there were even reports of a BBQ Autumn in the press as I wended my way around the Fens there were loads (well 27) other cyclists out and about. There were families taking advantage of the traffic free bits around White Fen, Lycra-clad cyclists out training and I also saw a group of foreign students out en-masse (well 7) getting to know the English Countryside. Pretty much all said hello as we passed each other - the good weather brought out the courteous manners, I even overtook a pony and trap. So obviously this BBQ Autumn could not last, almost as soon as it was reported on in the press it got jinxed, by Sunday the weather was dull grey and by comparison cold.. Mind you things are still growing in the fields.


I also passed a field where the margins had Oil-seed Rape growing, I think as a cover crop for the game birds, although this picture looks as if all of the field has been cultivated it is only a trip alongside one edge.


There were also a few errant Sunflowers growing at the edge of the same field, a remnant of a previous years crop, either grown as a cover crop or for the sunflower oil.


Mind you I did see 10 bikes, 11 cyclists out, a tandem accounted for the difference in bike/cyclist numbers.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Keep the home fires Burning

When I broke had my collar bone broken by a SMIDSY* driver back in February, my brother who broke his leg in a jogging accident a couple of years ago, mentioned that he still got the odd twinge in his leg in the cold weather. Well now the weather has changed and the mornings have suddenly turned autumnal (Fall-al?) with early morning temperatures down to around 8C I've noticed my shoulder has the slightest of aches - nothing to complain about, but perhaps a reminder of age.

Mind you I mentioned that a Tyre re-cycling centre in Littleport near had caught fire at the end of August - well it seems that they are allowing it to carry on burning to keep the air warm, no doubt to help my shoulder. Perhaps they are also trying to contribute to Global warming to raise the temperatures here in the flatlands of East Anglia. Although all those black particles in the atmosphere will reduce the effect. Actually it turns out that the fire is the biggest of its kind experienced here in the UK and they are struggling to put it out. The headline in the local newspaper - The Cambridge Evening News suggests that it will burn for another month. Here is the picture I took from miles away when it started - check the link for an update.


India Update; My son has conformed he will be able to come with me on the India cycle ride which is great news - now to get flights booked, visas applied for and I am just about to pop over to my local Health Care practice to check on whether we might need any additional vaccinations/malaria tablets. I also checked out the UK Foreign Office website offering traveller advice.

* Sorry Mate I Did Not See You

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Horses for Courses - cycles for Roads or Cycle Paths?

When I put my head outside of the door this morning - it seemed to be freezing, although not literally In fact the morning temperature was around 8C at 6.30am, which was quite a bit cooler than it has been. I put on a fleece for my morning cycle to fetch my newspaper. One of the advantages of working from home is that I can get up early get my work done and still have time to pop out for a late afternoon cycle ride. Although a quick read of the email "traffic" from my membership of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign highlighted extensive and passionate discussions on the subject of ASLs (Advance Stop Lines) and Cycle lanes in respect of some recent work on a bridge near to the town centre. It got me thinking, I certainly admire the passion whichever way the person might happen to be arguing, it got me thinking about why I cycle and what I want from the "powers that be" for cycling provision.

I cycle because I enjoy getting out and about, seeing the countryside and getting a bit of exercise and fresh air. I also used to find that cycling to work (when I did not work at home) put me in a good frame of mind for the rest of the day. I certainly like the fact that it is "green" but that is not why I do it, although I do think that we all need to live greener lives, I know I still use aeroplanes - not the greenest of transport, and whilst I appreciate the health benefits I don't cycle to be greatly fit. So taking those things into account I want pleasant,safe and fast routes to work/railway station and safe and pleasant scenic routes for my meandering rides.

It also turns out that today the Times newspaper (also on-line here) published a piece on some research which suggests that "Cycle lanes encourage motorists to drive closer to bikes". The sort of lanes they refer to are the ones where a white line is painted on the road and sometimes the lane is highlighted with a green or red surface. In the past there has also been research by Dr Ian Walker, a traffic psychologist from the University of Bath, indicating the drivers will pass cyclists closer if they are wearing helmets or Lycra. The suggestion being that motorists assume a higher level of competence on the part of the cyclist, or maybe the reverse is true that they worry that a wobbly cyclist might damage their paintwork and give them more room. The finally piece of research suggests that "More cyclists means fewer accidents" as reported in the Guardian newspaper.

So why I am telling you all of this. Well my attitudes have changed over the last few years. I believe that bicycles are fully entitled to their road space, but there are so many slapdash drivers I prefer to cycle on cycle lanes/quiet roads when I can. So my view is that we need to consider what the purpose of the route is/might be in order to decide what is best. I now firmly believe that there should be dedicated cycling commuter paths to encourage more people to cycle to and from work. Similarly I believe they should be of high quality, with direct routes and with priority over car traffic. Where the commuter route is at its extremity I accept that perhaps a shared cycle/pedestrian path is expedient and since commuter cycle traffic is tidal (in in the morning and out in the evening) it represents an acceptable level of quality. There should also be routes, as Sustrans does which encourage leisure cycling, the surfaces are less important, the more they can be traffic free the more they will encourage family cycling. Over the summer I have thoroughly enjoyed cycling on the converted disused railway lines.

I also feel that motorists need re-educating on the vulnerability of cyclists. In the last week I have had cars whizz by at 60MPH, whilst I was doing around 20MPH with a separation of around 9inches 0 I don't know about you, but if frightens me. I also find that when i cycle out in my lane, most motorists respond and slow down and wait until there is a gap in the traffic so they can pass safely. Great I think, assertive cycling really works, except every now and then an idiot flies by swerving in towards me. Now I am not a timid cyclist, I have cycled for over 40years and have cycled around 60,000miles in the last 12 years or so, but as I know it only takes one driver to mistime slightly his (or her) overtaking manoeuvre and I get a world of pain. When it happened to me in February - I only suffered a broken collar bone - but I do believe that a small minority of motorists are more intimidating. During the last 5 or so years the abuse I get shouted at me by passing motorists has increased - cyclists must not be treated as second class citizens - it is too dangerous. Now if I think that, then I am sure (and have heard anecdotally) that non-cyclists will be put off cycling.

Enough ranting - I have seen quite a few more cyclists out riding around the Fens over the last few days - here are two enjoying the late summer sun along a typical fen road. More cyclists along this road should help to slow the few mad drivers down.


Although it is a bit colder , there has been no sign of rain so the irrigater aeroplane was set to take off on this field of potatoes.


I can't resist taking pictures when the sky is blue and the clouds are puffy.


I even cycled up a rough old track, which I normally only use when on my MTB - but it leads to an inner part of Wicken Fen. )Yes I have tumbled off my bike once or twice on this bit of track, but in my experience non-car collisions don't cause anywhere near so much pain.


On my way back I noticed the the "traffic" counter checking on the usage along the White Fen path is solar-powered. I also passed a couple of cyclists here as well. It saves me having to cycle up and down a few times to ensure that the count is good!


All in all it was a really pleasant ride with the bonus of having the wind behind me on my return. It was one of those cycling days that I really enjoy and when I got home I realised that my total distance for the year had passed the 9,000 Km mark (around 5,600 miles) not bad considering I had a 6 week spell of the bike.. I have also taken over 4,000 pictures this year as well. I know it is not about quantity - but it shows that quite a lot has caught my eye whilst out cycling.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What a difference a day makes

With around 8 weeks to go before heading off to India to cycle around the souther parts I realised that most of my mileage has been around 50Km/30miles or less. The constraint being one of time, it is easier to fit in shorter rides around local loops than head off on longer trips. The upcoming tour does at least provide me with incentive to get out though - after a pleasant summer of cycling finishing with a few days last week in sunny Oregon it is harder to get out on the gloomier and windier days.It feels as if Autumn (Fall) is just around the corner. Here you can see the cloudy skies - although it looked gloomy it was quite warm (for England).


It does get a bit boring sometimes, always following similar routes you do notice the changes There is a disused railway line between Lode and Quy behind Anglesey Abbey which provides a bit of off-road. That is off-road in the sense of through the fields, rather than rugged and hilly terrain. You don't get hilly in the flatlands. Here it is - railway line straight and flat through the ploughed fields. I am not quite sure of the status of the path - but the Cambridge cycling Campaign show it on their Mapping/photograph page. Search for Quy to find it. This photograph is made up of three pictures. The path is easily cycle-able on my touring bike (25mm tyres), but a bit of care is required as it is popular with dog walkers.

LodetoQuy track.jpg

The next day and the weather had changed completely - enough that I decided to head out and make sure I covered some ground that I had not cycled along before and also to cycle a little further to get a few more miles in my legs. The skies were blue and the temperature was warm, in fact I had miscalculated and wore a short-sleeved top as well as a vest.


The clouds that were in the sky were very photogenic - at least that is what I thought.


Which I why I took several sky pictures.


This church is not on the beaten path, but I must pop up the path and have a closer look the next time I am in the area. The area by the way is Dalham and looking at Google Maps it seems there might be some tracks to explore as well, so perhaps it is not a dead-end for a cyclist.


In the end I managed around 80Km/50miles, but found ti more tiring than it should have been. Mind you I was fine the next day so I think I just need to do the odd ride over a longer distance to get my body used to "sitting" for a few more hours at a time. I also managed to ride along roads I had not visited before, up near Isleham. I also got slightly lost. I know I have a GPS how does that happened. Well whilst on the unexplored roads I checked a route but did not set the GPS back to its normal map following more. I noticed after a few miles that it had lost the map of the area and when I got home that it had not tracked that part of the route. It had continued tracking the distance/time and speed though. I sorted it by turning it off and on so it only lost a short part of the journey. When I got back I searched the forums to see if others had had the problem and discovered another software update - version 2.9. It did not seem to address the problem I found by I updated anyway - as I get closer to my India trip I will not update quite so readily though.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Potatoes, Onions and India

The jet-lag is slowly ebbing away, the main issue is that I feel a bit groggy in the morning, but that is about it. The weather today was dull but pleasantly warm and not too windy. In fact it must have been the ideal weather for cycling because I saw 15-20 cyclists out and about cycling through the Fens. From families with trailers and young ones pedalling furiously through to fully kitted racers. It was great to see and everyone was friendly. In fact the other thing I noticed was that whilst trundling around some of the tracks between Lode and Quy is passed quite a few dog walkers - most not on leads as the area is ideal for dog walking and none of the dogs was at all troublesome. My theory is that people who are prepared to take their dogs on serious walks into areas that are fun for the dogs are also people who know how to train a dog and ensure they are not a nuisance.

It has been quite dry and so the farmers are having to irrigate their fields - here is a potato field being watered. The thing that surprised me is that these potatoes will be late and I had always assumed that farmers tended to grow earlies for the price premium they gave. Mind you this could well be the second crop for the field this year.


I mentioned the other day that I had seen a farmer pulling up onions - well here they are drying in the "sun". The thing that gives the field away was the strong onion smell as you get close.


So what has all this to do with India - not much, except last week I got an email from the organiser of my upcoming cycle tour in India. It is good to see efficient organisation. He was reminding us to consider (if not already done so) booking flights, injections and visas. We have around 8 weeks to go so a timely reminder. I spent this morning researching flights. Well to tell the truth the first thing I did was check to see whereabouts in India the trip actually was. For more details of the tour see the Far and Way Cycling website - it is the India trip.

I have not been able to embed a Google Mymaps of the relevant part of India - but it is here if you would like to look at it.

View Cycle Tour in Southern India in a larger map

So I spent Sunday morning checking into when I would need to fly. There is a chance my son will also be able to make the trip - but he will need to take time off work which is not so easy. It looks like we will be able to fly out on a Saturday and return on a Sunday, two weeks later. We will probably have to fly out through Bangalore and catch connecting flights to the relevant areas as the tour starts in one part of India (Trivanundrum) and ends in another part (Kochi). We also get to go on a train journey. The total distance is around 680Km/425miles which should not be too bad in 14 days, we do get a few rest days thrown in. We will also climb up to around 2000m as well which should provide some great scenery, apparently the climbs are long but not steep! I work from home and in my study have a couple of white boards for work purposes - one of them is now taken up with trip planning.

Over the next week I must also check with my GP (family doctor) to ensure I am up to date on my inoculations, although having recently been to Peru and Cambodia I don't think it should be a problem. I must also check out how to get a Visa. I am also going to check out GPS maps to see whether I can get something to put on my Garmin Edge GPS.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Shaking off Jetlag - 1st puncture in a while

The weather is not very inviting to cyclists (well me anyway) at the moment. It is not just the contrast with the last few days of cycling in Oregon, with the warm sun and blue skies and surrounding mountains. It was also pretty winy today and there were spots of rain in the air. However I find that a good way to get rid of jet-lag is to get exercise in the "sun". If I have returned from the US then the best time is in the morning and if I have returned from the Far East then it helps to go out in the afternoon. Today I had no choice work had to be done so I popped out later in the day.

Although it might not have been cycling weather there were cyclists out - including this chap who I passed a couple of times - not because either one of us was fast, I took a somewhat roundabout route. At this point I was on the cycle path - but you can see that cycle paths are of little use to people who pedal trikes. They tend to be to wide and wibbly. You could imagine the uproar if most roads were built to small for 4x4s. It looks as if this chap was camping. I should have rode alongside and found out more - but at this point I turned off.


Most of the harvest seems to have been completed and so it it time for farmers to turn their attention to other things - such as seeding the road with lots of sharp thorns. I had my first puncture in around 4,000Km / 2,500 miles - as soon as I passed the tractor slashing at the hedge I did wonder if I was being a bit foolish - it was only a short stretch of road 200m long before I turned off - but after a couple of kilometres the back (of the bike) started going wibbly. Fortunately I was able to stop and sit down whilst repairing the puncture as there was a convenient bench.

It was the rear tyre, I could have fixed it on the bike, but it was pretty easy whipping the wheel off and then lifting the tyre of one side and slipping the appropriate bit of inner tube out and patching it. In fact the most difficult bit was removing the thorn which had jammed in.


I was reading that the National Trust were thinking of of running some sort of boat taxi up to Wicken Fen from Cambridge. It would help reduce the number of polluting boxes that hog the country lanes and enhance the experience of the Fen. This is not one of those taxis - but shows how grey the clouds were - I did think I would get wet - but the rain held off.


The smell of onions was strong in the air - I passed several fields being harvested - in one case the farmer was lifting the onions to the surface by a tractor for picking - this field was using the conveyor human-locust approach - although it was after the end of the working day. Actually these might have been leeks by the look of the picture. In fact a "zoom" of the picture shows that they are leeks.


Despite the weather it was good to get out and the weather was not that cold - around 22C.