Thursday, December 31, 2009

Last Cycle Ride of the Decade

For once it was not raining when I set of this afternoon and it feels good to be out getting a bit of exercise after the excesses of Christmas. I still wore some waterproof leggings though, just in case. It was not long ago when I was complaining that below 10C was cold - now I find that 0-5C is not too bad - as long as I ensure I have several layers on. Although as I sit an type this I notice that my toes are tingling a little in the warmth. I use Shimano waterproof boots for cycling in the winter. Well they are waterproof except for the fact that there is a lump of metal screwed onto the sole of the boot to clip into the pedal. I am convinced it acts as a heat sink and drain heat away from my feet as they are normally the only thing to suffer when I cycle out in the cold weather.

I did get a new pair of cycling gloves for Christmas - Altura Night Vision Winter Cycling Gloves to be precise, in fluorescent yellow. They have an inner glove and a waterproof outer glove, I find them very comfortable and when I stop to take pictures I just slip the outer glove off but leave then inner one on, so keeping a bit of warmth in my hands. That way I don't stop taking pictures just because it is cold.

I am looking forward to when the days get a bit longer though. Once again it was a bit of a grey day, but you could see where the sun was in the sky as it caused a bit of a lighter streak seen across the bleak fields.


All of the recent snow and rain has left a lot of water around - the Lodes look pretty full and some of the fields are waterlogged. This is a field between Bottisham and Swaffham Bulbeck on Sustrans Route 51 with a substantial pond in the middle.


The Holiday season seems to have draw out a few cars into the countryside - I am not sure whether it is people (probably farmers) out hunting with shotguns or people like me, looking to get a bit of exercise after the gluttony of Christmas. This time around I did see a Labrador across the field. Not the most thoughtful of places to park though! It would have been even more of an obstruction for a horse-rider. I am convinced that cars seduce us into being, unwittingly, totally uncaring about other "road" users. I am sure the driver of this car did not mean to cause an obstruction, in fact he or she probably does not even see it as an obstruction. Unlike those flippin cyclists that don't pull out of the way for cars behind them!


There is very little snow remaining after the snow fall before Christmas. What is left is where snow drifts have collected in the ditches.


The path through Wicken Fen was still icy but there were enough clear patches that I did not have to get off and did not find it too hard. I passed some dog walkers - who were well kitted out with bright yellow jackets. They though my cycle lights were a car - although the path I was one was not one that it would be at all easy to get a car on. Mind you they did agree that it was important to have good lights out on the tracks through the Fens. I also saw my last deer of the decade - it crossed in front of me 10 yards/10m ahead as I was cycling along.

As we move into another year I now have to think about some New Year's Resolutions and set some goals for my cycling - kind of interlinked. I finished this year having cycled around 12,600Km/7,900miles which was ahead of my original plan (12,000Km) and also included 6 weeks of no-cycling when I was recuperating from my cycle accident when some idiot car driver tried (well succeeded really) in running me off the road and breaking my collar bone. This coming year I will probably go for something similar, with some mountain cycling which means improving my power to weight ratio - which means getting my weight down a bit - like Bradley Wiggins - although I never will take up cycle racing, let along the Tour de France. (ps the decade's total mileage - 87,000Km/54,000miles - which also includes a couple of years of no-cycling with a dodgy knee.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mud and Rain in the Fens

Cycling two days in a row is not much of a record - but it was gloomy and rainy and only 3C in temperature when I went out. When it is this cold and wet I generally wear leggings as well as some form of hat. As is often the way - if you are appropriately togged up then the weather does not really matter too much. There was a bit of wind around - but not much. I went out a bit earlier today to check out the icy track in Wicken Fen to see if it was as bad as it seemed in the the dark. Well that was my intention - I headed along some almost never used droves again today - Headlake, Split, Straight and Harrison's Drove. All but Straight drove are battered tarmac and not too difficult to cycle along. Here are some leeks growing in a field alongside Split Drive. It really was as gloomy as it looks.


Split Drove was a different matter - as you can see in this picture it was chewed up mud ruts. When I could I cycled alongside or in the middle on the grassy bits. I should really have taken an MTB with some gnarly tyres - but isn't hindsight wonderful! Actually in the "daylight" it was not too difficult although there was one bit I walked as it ran right next to the Lode and I did not fancy an icy swim miles from home.


By the time I reached Wicken Fen I had to turn my lights on to see and there was still ice across part of Sustrans 51. This time it was a bit lighter though and so I was able to cycle pretty much the whole way - occasionally having to cycle on the grass at the sides - although here it was still frozen compared with Straight Drove.

A quick update on the Windows 7 front - I have pretty much got things to normal and re-started weekly backups. Although the first one took ages - around 24hours it seems. It is always the minor things that annoy you though. I use sticky notes to, well, make notes - I have a Wacom Pen Tablet - it makes editing pictures much, much easier. When I used to design silicon chips I used them all the time and use the pen instead of a mouse on my Desktop computer. The great thing was I could write directly into the Sticky Note and leave a hand-written note - that facility seems to have been dumped on Windows 7. Although reading between the (help) lines actually it is only available for Tablet PCs - so it would seem to be an arbitrary product decision. The other minor niggle is when installing programs and you get the inevitable pup up box asking if you want to go on the pen will not select the yes/no boxes I have to use the cursor keys. Ho hum.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Yet more - non-cycling - until today

One of the "interesting" things about this Christmas were the problems we had - nothing serious but still annoying. My wife's laptop spent some time ignoring the hard drive and refusing to boot - the helpful error message being to check the cable. My desktop computer refused to boot because of a disk error in the boot part of the disk. I got the laptop going again after a few attempts, but I had to dig out one of the programs that came with the desktop computer to allow it to boot from a DVD and then fix the boot code. The real challenge was finding the DVD to allow it to be booted from a DVD.

We have a gas fired radiator system to provide heating, but we do have a gas fire in the living room to provide rapid warmth as well as looking nice with real flames flickering. The fire is great when it works and s capable of pumping out a lot of heat quickly. We do not use it a lot - only over the winter when it is cold and we want to sit in the living room and quickly boost the heat. The fire is to complex for its own good though I think. It also has a computer system to control it. (Actually a micro-controller - but the same thing really). When it was installed we had problems - you switch it on to light it and the computer gets a spark going and turns on a gas tap. If it fails to detect a flame it turns it all off again. It only seems to do this around the Christmas holidays when it is quite difficult to get anyone to "fix" it. Last year, I think, we had the controller system replaced and it seemed to light reliably - until the Monday before Christmas when it went off and refused to light. The local company that installed it could not send anyone out until after Christmas - January 5th. as they we closing over the holiday period.

In the end I sent of a very unhappy email to the manufacturers of the fire - Bodart and Gonay, copying the local installers indicating how unhappy I was with the fire that seemed to fail just when it was needed. Surprise - the next morning someone turned up to "fix" it. Except it could not be fixed an inlet valve had broken and replacements were being shipped over from Belgium and would not arrive until the 18th January. So the 2 weeks extended to 4 weeks of unavailability. I then emailed both again suggesting I would pay for it to be FedExed over - it really can't take that long! I have yet to hear back.

The last thing that stopped working was the Central heating timer/controller - it crashed - (in a computer sort of way). A quick search on the web and I downloaded the manual - worked out the magic sequence to reset it and re-programmed it.

To continue the geeky theme, Father Christmas brought me a Windows 7 OS upgrade for my desktop machine. So I have also spent a happy several days backing up system and all my data before embarking on the upgrade. I've read user reports that suggested it freed computers from the resource tyranny of Vista and that my machine would be quicker again. The good news is that the Upgrade went smoothly - long 4 hours I think but pretty much everything worked. (Note I upgraded rather than did a clean install). My first impressions are that there are some neat improvements to the UI - although MAC users will claim they got there first. I am a bit disappointed that it does not seem to make my machine seem any quicker though. It might be because the Install was not a clean install or it might be because Windows Media Player 12 (yes one more than you get on Vista or XP) has been spending ages updating the media - I have a lot of CDs on my system so it is taking ages. Still time will tell. So far not bad.

for these reasons and others I have not been cycling much - but did manage to get out today. It was dark by the time I got going - pretty much all the snow has gone from the roads - but be warned the Track through Wicken Fen was sheet ice - I ended up walking along the first bit of it - I managed not to fall over though (either walking or cycling). No pictures though it was dark.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Be Careful What You wish For!

The day before yesterday I was looking forward to cycling in the snow. Well I certainly got my wish. I had to go into London - business and pleasure- a Christmas Lunch and a meeting. When I set off to the station on my bicycle the skies looked fairly clear - I did pack some leggings though - just in case, as there was a warning to expect snow. On getting to the station I managed to find a stand to lock my bicycle to - although it took a while and I have to lift my bike over several others.

I caught the train and got to Kew Gardens underground, which is really overground and had a jolly nice lunch - nothing traditional, by my choice - scotch egg to start and pork (including sausage, crispy bacon and black pudding) for the main course, followed up by an excellent sticky toffee pudding - which was almost as nice as the sticky toffee pudding at the Tower Bank Arms - a 17th century pub in the village of Near Sawrey, where Beatrix Potter lived, which in my opinion serves the best sticky toffee pudding.

I then travelled back into central London where we had the meeting - finishing with a swift pint before we all headed off to our various destinations. What I forgot to mention is that the train to London was packed with standing room only, although I managed to get a seat. So i was not too bothered that I was on a train after rush hour - in fact I caught the 7.15pm train - I should have realised that there might be a problem when the train pulled into Royston and the train driver told passengers to watch there step - in fact the platform was covered in snow - unlike London where there was no snow - at last when I left.

When the train arrived in Cambridge - there was a blizzard. I had planned to put on my leggings and fluorescent yellow cycling jacket when in the station - but it was snowing so hard I stopped in one of the waiting-shelters on the platform. This is the plastic wall - almost covered in snow.


Here is a picture from the door of the shelter. I used flash so the snow flakes look like white disks. Unfortunately you do not get a sense of the wind speed as the flakes are frozen in time and space.


The snow can't have been settling for long as the footprints on the platform do not look too pronounced.


I put all my gear on and found my bike - much harder when they are all covered in snow. Some inconsiderate motorcyclist had parked his bike right in the way making it even harder to lift my bike back out again. I guess that the station is a problem for all customers who use some form of transport to get there - from cars to cycles.

Unfortunately I found that the wind was blowing the snow right into my face - I used a scarf to cover my cheeks, nose and mouth but still struggled with snow whipping into my eyes. By this time the snow was several inches deep and I stuck to cycle paths/shared paths as the roads looked even more treacherous. Cycling on virgin snow it is less tricky than riding on wet mud - occasionally the rear wheel would spin a bit - but it was not difficult to keep my balance. I did have to pay a bit more attention to hidden kerbs though. Where I cycled on exposed paths it got really unpleasant - the snow was drifting and in the end I had to walk through one or two of the deeper drifts - it was impossible smash through them. A journey that would normally take around 30minutes took closer to 90minutes. However apart from the snow in my eyes it was not too bad. The exercise certainly kept me warm.

The wind blew though the night - but it must have stopped snowing not longer after I got back - here is what it looked like in the morning.


The only thing missing was Mr Tumnus!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cycle accidents caused by others - shock

Illnesses are like buses - nothing comes along for ages (fortunately) and then you get two in a row - well two in December anyway. I started the week with something or other - an almost migraine-level headache and nausea - it did not last for more than 48 hours but left me feeling washed out and reluctant to cycle out in the cold weather. (Or perhaps that is just laziness!). The trouble is if I don't venture out then I don't take photographs and then my blog postings start to dry up. So my apologies for the sparsity of posts recently.

There has been some interesting reading in the press recently. There has been advice issued to councils (Local government groups in England that organise and run local services) by the Government to start introducing 20mph zones in all residential areas and near schools and to reduce speed limits on rural single-carriageway roads from 60mph to 50mph where there is a history of accidents. It is reported on the BBC website - "Lower speed limits advised for road accident blackspots". The BBC website also has an interactive graphic which shows different breakdowns of the accidents - for instance 3/4 of fatalities are men. They also have a map which you can use to investigate your own area for where roads deaths occurred in the period 1999-2008.

I think that there ought to be a pro-active introduction of the lower speed limits, but would prefer not to see wiggly roads with build-outs and road humps. I would prefer that average speed cameras be used. Why - well that way drivers tend to drive at the limit bot slow down and then speed up. This would make the roads quieter as well as safer and help the perception that roads were getting safer - which is a major factor when people consider whether to cycle or not.

Apparently Cambridge has been named as one of Britain's safest cities, here report in the Cambridge Evening News. There accident rate here was 15.7% lower than the national average - so OK - but nothing to really boast about. The data was also based upon a survey of accident claims rates by insured motor vehicles so does not take into account other road users - pedestrians and cyclists for instance.

My theory is that the traffic flow in Cambridge is now so slow so that it is the congestion that has resulted in a reduction in the number of accidents. However it is also possible that there has been a modal shift - with more people using other forms of transport. The measure for the level of danger is number of reported accidents per insured driver. So as most people probably keep their car but shirt of other forms of transport for their daily journeys the measure of danger might just reflect a shift in car usage to other forms of transport.

And finally.. That old chestnut about reckless cyclists being the cause of accidents has been laid to rest. The Guardian reported on a Bike Accident Study that suggests risky cycling is rarely to blame. A tiny proportion of accidents involving cyclists was caused by red light or stop sign jumping or lack of lights or high-vis clothing. A significant proportion of the accidents were caused by vehicles running into bikes. This certainly supports my view that the real problem is bad driving. I think that driving has become harder than it used to be and certainly more stressful - in fact life has become more stressful. This leads to too many car drivers taking an arrogant stance on the road and trying to blame others for their own shortcomings - which leads to a lack of consideration for others. I have started taking more note when driving of what happens at traffic light junctions - in a short journey yesterday I saw one car go through after the light had turned red for several seconds and other cars accelerate when the light turned amber. For some reason it is not so noticeable when larger vehicles jump the lights perhaps.

Because I have not been out on my bike for a few days (except to get the daily newspaper) I have picked a picture I took earlier in the year after we had some snow in March. Ely cathedral is in the distance. Why - well apparently we might be getting some snow overnight!


I have to go to London tomorrow - so will be cycling to the railway station - let's hope there is a nice carpet of snow.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sunset around Wicken Fen, (is) Cycling (is) dangerous, Motorists still use mobile phones - whatever next

A tip for those who want to see the photographs at a larger scale - right-click on the picture of interest and open it in a new tab - it will be larger.

There is a general presumption that if we get more people out cycling then cycling will get safer. I think that is it partly because motorists get more used to cyclists and so better at understanding them and partly because there is better investment in safer cycling infrastructure as more cyclists exert more political power. However this article in the Guardian - "Are cyclist deaths really increasing?" examines the recent increase in the number of cycling deaths and serious injuries. There has been a 19% increase over a three month period comparing '08 with '09. What I noticed in the data was that it seems that the decreases in car and pedestrian deaths has been almost cancelled out by and increase in the deaths of cyclists and motorcyclists.

Ultimately I think that we have to raise the perception of the value of cycling and cyclists whilst the problem is that this chips away at the self-esteem of motorists and other motorised road users. Whilst we see professional footballers collect fancy cars, our politicians vie for bigger "company" cars and the necessity to keep up with the Joneses driving us to buy bigger and bigger cars then why is it a surprise that cyclists as a group are looked down upon.

Although perhaps one reason for the increase on deaths and serious injuries amongst cyclists is the fact that the illegal use of mobile phones in motor vehicles is increasing. The BBC website carries this piece of news - "More drivers using mobile phones since penalty change" A study in London found that despite the penalties the use of mobile phones (not hands-free) has increased to 2.8% of vehicles It was 2.6% and then higher fines and penalty points were introduced and the percentage dropped to 1.4% but has now increased. I am surprised that the actual figure is as low as 2.8% - when I am out on my bike it seems that more than 1 in 40 motorists are using there phones. The article also goes on to say that use of phones in this way increases the risk of an accident by 4 times. The challenge is that, fortunately accidents are rare and so many people will use their phones and not have an accident, so they tend to think the law is too harsh, if they also see other road users "getting away with it" then there will be a ground swell in the number of transgressors.

The problem is that we have lots of laws and the approach to policing them seems to be to use a batch mode. We have blitzes on car tax-dodgers, cyclists without lights, motorists not wearing seat-belts. Perhaps this is the most cost-effective way to keep the problems suppressed but to my mind it does make the law look a bit light-weight.

Why is this important - well another report on the BBC website - "20mph speed zones cut road injuries by 40%, study says" shows that speed really does kill. It is all very well for motoring groups to say that "no, no it is bad driving that kills". Well frankly there are a lot of bad drivers out there and when they are allowed to drive fast it is dangerous. At 30mph a pedestrian in collision with a car has a 1 in 5 chance of being killed - yet at 20mph this drops to 1 in 40. It does seem that we need to redress the balance of importance between motoring and life.

The real problem is that when I don't get out cycling I have more time to read stuff like this on the web and dwell upon it. I have not been out for a few days so today was a welcome change. Although I should mention this great blog by a guy called Doug who cycled 6000Km through the heart of the Amazon. it makes for great and inspirational reading - humm I wonder how long I could plan a trip for and get away with it?

I managed to get out earlier today and popped up to Ely on the Sustrans 51 route. This stretch of road is between Barway and Padney. It is not a through road, except to farm traffic and cyclists and so is a pleasure to cycle along. I saw no-one on it today and during the working week I find that the tractor drivers are very courteous.


he skies were pretty clear tonight with one large lump of cloud during the afternoon. This meant that for a lot of my journey back from Ely i could keep an eye on the sun as is moved towards the horizon. After passing through barway on the way back from Ely along Goose Fen Drove this is how it looked - peeping out from under a cloud.


A further 8Km/5miles or so down the road I was at Wicken Fen - here is Baker's Fen, which features in quite a few of my photographs, this is made up from 4 pictures stitched together.


Not much further along at Priory Drove the clouds seem to have gotten much closer.


I could not miss the opportunity to take a picture of the setting sun under the footbridge over Burwell Lode (just up from CockUp Bridge)


Here is a closeup of the sun with a flock of birds silhouetted to the top right of the picture. This time taken from the footbridge.


The same shot but taken with a wide angle showing how the clouds were lit from underneath by the low sun.


I also cycled along Harrison's drove (on the Wicken Fen side) This is looking over Adventure's Fen - the clouds make the sky look blue.


The same view as in the last picture - but with the tree in closeup - the clouds just above the horizon almost look like distant mountains - but of course there aren't any mountains here in the Flatlands.


After passing through Reach at the junction of Little Fen Drive and Barston Drove the sky had turned to a purpley colour.


In closeup the silhouette of the horizon has yellow dots in it from the house lights.


Although I have cycled this route many times I still enjoy the peacefulness of the countryside and still find myself taking as many pictures as ever of the Flatlands.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Swarming birds and Painting with Light

Apparently we are in for some cold weather here in the UK - we might even have some snow. Cycling on fresh snow is great - somehow it feels quieter and there is just the crunch of the snow as the tyres roll through it. There is also the uncertainty of hat lies below - you have to keep your wits about you. Yesterday I went out for a spin on my bike pretty close to sunset. Here is a picture of Swaffham Bulbeck Lode taken from the Connect2 bridge, the next bridge in the sequence, over Reach Lode is planned for 2010. 2010 - less than a month away.

It was as grey as it looks in the picture - it took a bit of mental energy to get out on my bike, but once out it was really pleasant - no wind, just cycling along some of the country lanes without a lot of traffic on them. In general the only problems on these roads happen around "rush hour" - when people are heading home from work. Quite a lot of drivers think it is reasonable to zoom past with inches to spare and headlamp on main beam - after all it is only a bicycle coming the other way.


There looked to be a front moving through - judging from the sky - cloud one side, no cloud the other side - dull skies either side though. There would be little chance of a decent sunset.


Once again I avoided the main route from Swaffham Prior to Upware and took a route along Headlake Drove, across to Straight Drove which then became Harrison's drove before joining again with the "main" Upware road. The track surface is pretty bumpy but in the main is tarmac and/or rubble rather than muddy ruts. When I stopped to take the previous picture the sky on the other side swarmed with a cloud of birds. I even managed to to take a video of it.

By the time I had gotten to Wicken Fen it was dark - which means that there are fewer people walking around - which is good. It can get quite tricky when there are dogs around in the gloom at the end of the daylight. Although in Cambridge there is a trend towards using led lights on dogs - it is rather odd seeing some red pinpoints of light bouncing around the grass. They also seem to have finally finished re-laying the path from the Fen through to Priory drove.

On a windless day it was very calm and peaceful cycling on back through to White Fen. Although I was in the countryside the orange glow on the horizon was a reminder of just how densely populated this part of England is. Mind you it was pretty dark heading back over the bridge into White Fen. In fact it was so dark I though I would trying painting with light. Basically you take a picture where it is so dark the shutter on the camera stays open and then you shine a torch/flashlight around at the things you want the camera to "see".

Here is my attempt. It took a little experimenting with the camera - in the end the camera shutter was open for a few seconds and I used one of my bike lights to provide illumination. I gave up after around 10 tries - it is quite difficult taking pictures in pitch black. I had to place my camera on one of the poles used to bar vehicles from crossing the bridge and use a delay so that camera had stopped moving by the time I took the picture


Here is a self-portrait - not quite so good - and I had to shut my eyes as the bike like is too bright to look at.


At least it was dry - it really was a very pleasant ride in the dark - dry and still. I should do it more often!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Roads - A valuable resource! & Torrential rain

One of the challenges of cycling at this time of year is that it gets so dark so quickly that there is not much time to take any pictures. So I have to make sure I take pictures when I seem them. Here I am on Sustrans Route 51 - which actually is on the pavement - it is shared use. The other side isn't - it is just for pedestrians. Obviously though since there aren't enough roads to go around then cars also park on the pavements. Sod the pedestrians and those Lycra louts


Yes - in this picture the van (and several other cars) are parked on the shared-used pavement. Just by the speed warning sign and the bus stop. So creating a pinch point for cyclists and waiting bus passengers, and making it hard for the bus to stop anyway. In the Times today was this headline: "Cyclists targeted as Westminster Council goes after Lycra louts'". Apparently Westminster Council is trying to "privatise" the ticketing of miscreant cyclists - as the biggest cause of complaints from residents.

Am I the only one who sees the irony here - when it suits, a council will, almost randomly, make pavements shared-use and then proudly boast about how cycle friendly they are - oh yes and then wonder why cyclists cycle on pavements - mixed messages or what. Given that 19% more cyclists were killed or seriously injured in the Britain in the three months to June (820), perhaps that is another reason for cyclists taking to the pavements. In the same article it states that almost 30,000 cyclists enter Westminster each day. Think of the chaos if they all drove in each day! Whilst typing in tagwords - I though of one for motorists that park on pavements - "pavement prats".


I also cycled alongside the Cam today and along by-ways around the back of Angelsey Abbey - this is taken near a place called Horningsea - pretty dull and the tracks were muddy. but it adds a little spice to the cycling when you back wheel slips from side to side.


I also got caught in torrential rain on the way back - so much rain that it ran down my arms into my gloves and into my waterproof boots (down the legs of the boots of course). My fluorescent yellow jacket is shower-proof but not up to the amount of rain I was in - my body was warm though - it was my toes and fingers that suffered as the rain soaked into my gloves and boots. When I got home I had to tip the water out of my boots..

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Clear skies but I missed the Sunset over Wicken Fen

The weather is remarkably changeable round here at the moment - when I got up it was puring with rain - fortunately it cleared by lunchtime and with temperatures of around 9C I just had to get out for a spin on the bicycle. Whilst it was raining I did a bit of photograph reviewing. There are a couple of competitions on the web for amateur photographers and I had a look though my archives. One thing led to another as I was looking through my India trip pictures I also looked at my Bangkok to Saigon pictures. Which then led onto checking out the Symbiosis Travel website to see what pictures they had. It turns out that they are running their tenth and final (according to their page on the B2S challenge) B2S challenge ride ride next year in 2010. If you have half idea to do it I would definitely recommend the trip. Cycling through three countries in this way is a great way to compare and contrast three beautiful places. I would also say the Cambodians are the friendliest people I have met in my travels to date - and of course you will also be helping some charities as the run is for charity. Here are some links to pictures I took on the trip: B2S pictures 1, B2S pictures 2. The ride is pretty much flat and the visits to the temples in Siem Reap are a highlight.

Before heading out I had to wash my bike - the brakes were clogged with mud and grass, along with the front and rear derailleurs. I was surprised I did not find the cycle ride harder. When I checked out the same track this afternoon it did not look too bad. Mind you this time I cycled along Headlake Drove to get their - which has a tarmac surface and then I detoured around the muddy bit on my way up to Harrison's drove. with such a clear sky I wanted to get around to Wicken Fen to get some shots of the sunset. Even in the daylight this track would have slowed me down significantly.


Of course "the best laid plans of mice and men". (from a poem by Robbie Burns: To a Mouse). The sun looked huge as it sank towards the sunset - unfortunately before I got to Wicken Fen. By the time I got to the spot I normally take pictures from (Baker's Fen) the sun was below the horizon and the sky did not look very interesting either. Later on as I cycled into Reach the sky was clear apart from an interesting cloud formation.


I also took a picture of some of the houses in reach silhouetted against the sky.


I must start planning my cycling for next year soon. I have hit my target of 12,000Km/7,500 miles for '09 and will probably hit around 12,800Km/8,000 miles. Which is my second highest annual mileage to date. if I am going to do some serious mountain cycling I do need to improve my power to weight ratio though. carrying a bit of extra weight in the flatlands has no penalty - it is a different matter when climbing 2000m and I rather fancy the idea of mountains. Mind you Chris (of Symbiosis) is going to cycle in between Vietnam and Laos in February - that would also be interesting!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Dark and Muddy paths

Two pieces of news caught my eye - this one in the Independent - "Cyclists three times more likely to die on UK roads than abroad"- which having just cycled in India seemed a little improbable. And there was this one in the Cambridge Evening News: "How finding a secure place to park is headache for cyclists". Starting with the second one first. Whenever I have to go to London I will catch the train - I have not driven in London since the congestion charging was brought in there. for most of those journeys I cycle to the local railway station. It is not a long journey but the journey home can be a great tonic after spending the day down there. I can also cycle in as quickly as I can drive in . The big problem though is finding somewhere to park my bicycle. They have a lot of spaces - but not enough for the number of cyclists. Normally businesses try to keep their customers happy - but as I understand it the level of commuter traffic is pretty much at saturation point. So no-one seems bothered that there are unhappy cyclists. So nothing happens - although the area is due for re-development and there is even talk of adding another platform - to increase the amount of rail passengers that can be carried at peak times. So as usual nothing happens.

Well the Cambridge Cycling Campaign have recently undertaken a survey - up to 400 bikes were not locked to recognisable parking stands as the station's 700 cycle spaces were full. That is quite a number of commuters - it seems an odd way to run the local economy - make commuting so unpleasant that people move away... Yet at the same time the police urge us to prevent crime by locking our bicycles - humm - not a lot of joined up thinking in this neck of the woods. Bring on congestion charging and teach the b*gg*rs a lesson.

The first article actually compares injury rates for cyclists in the UK with Holland and Denmark - surprise, surprise the UK is worse. Why is that - well frankly who cares about cyclists in the UK? We are seen as a nuisance delaying motorists on their already delayed journeys. You only have to look at some of the barmy cycle paths provided - even here in Cambridge to see that. Too often we are told about "wonderful" increases in numbers of cyclists rather than whether there has been a switch from motoring to cycling. The bottom line is that the UK culture favours laziness.

Wow - sorry a bit of a rant - some good news - Tescos has a two for the price of one offer on Jelly babies - time to stock up.

I have been out cycling today - later than normal and so most of the trip was in the dark. It was warmer but duller today - as seen in this picture of the Church at Wicken Fen.


I had to resort to a bit of Picasa manipulation to make any of the small number of pictures I took look interesting. This one benefited from a bit of tinting to highlight the contrast in the sky.


On the way home I took Straight Drove from Reach - it has certainly rained a bit recently - I had both front lights on - but that only illuminated the muddy ruts - it did not make it any easier - especially as I was on my Hybrid - Marin with thinnish, smoothish tyres on. It was quite good fun trying to keep my balance as the bike slid around and the rear wheel spun when a pedalled too hard. I managed not to fall off - although it did slow me down so I was caught out in the rain as well - but no matter. The only challenge is the bike is filthy and will need a good clean tomorrow.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Dark Skies

Whilst it is not as cold as it has been earlier in the week - it is colder than it was! My thermometer shows that the current temperature is around 5C and having just finished a 2 hour cycle ride my feet feel pretty cool. I have started wearing water-proof cycling boots now that the colder weather is upon us. They have the advantage of sealing at the ankle and being slightly larger than my normal cycling shoes or sandals. Which means I can then wear thicker socks - to help keep my feet warm. I usually use Sealskinz socks which are both waterproof and reasonably warm. My cycling boots have Shimano SPD clips - and I think that they conduct heat away into the pedals - at least my feet can get quite cold when cycling in sub-zero temperatures. In fact my feet are the most difficult part to keep warm on a long cycle ride in cold weather. My legs are doing the work and generate heat, I have some decent thick gloves and multiple layers of clothing keep my body warm - but after around 2 hours my toes can start to get numb with cold.

the socks have a waterproof membrane in and unfortunately my last two pairs of sealskinz socks got washed at too high a temperature and shrunk, so for once in my life some socks for Christmas would be a good idea. I have been catching up on radio podcasts missed whilst cycling in India - Windows 7 seems to be getting some positive reviews - using less resource than Vista - so it might be another Christmas present I'll be asking for. The challenge will be whether it really is compatible with the set or programs I use on my Desktop.

Lights are necessary by 4pm and I like to have some redundancy -two front and two rear lights. Although LED lights tend to be incredibly reliable - LEDs have a very long life you can get caught with a semi-charged battery. So I have been carrying a rechargeable lights - a USE joystick and a Cateye EL530 alkaline battery light. However I have been so pleased with my USE Joystick lights and their battery life that I have started carrying two of their front lights. One is a new model the other is an older model. Their beam focus and strength is just right - the only sacrifice is that I can't just buy some replacement batteries I they discharge en-route. The latest Joystick quotes a battery life of 3/10/24 hours depending upon the chosen beam strength - pretty reasonable. I often start out using them in flashing mode though since my concern is being seen rather than seeing. The other problem is that motorists don't always dip their lights when a cyclist is coming the other way with a dim light - with bright front lights they usually do. If you have ever tried cycling along a country lane with a car coming at you with undipped headlights you'll know how you can't see anything.

It will probably be a cold night as the skies were clear - here is the sun setting behind some clouds with a contrail at the top.


Clouds over Wicken Fen


Lastly a quick mention about Zoundry Raven which I use to produce my posts - I set the template so that it would start with the Arial font - unfortunately I could not find any way to set the colour (I like teal). So I was having to switch the colour every time I started a post. I then noticed that although the post when open in the Zoundry editor showed the Arial font - when viewing it from the list of Blog Posts it showed up as Times Roman. I now find it best to check the HTML directly and ensure that there is a Font change to Arial, along with the required colour - just to ensure that what finally gets published also has my desired font and font colour choice. I do hope the Zoundry gets going as an open source program.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Winter - time for those repairs you've been putting off

The weather was a little warmer today - so no reason for what seemed like a lot of local incidents reported in the local newspaper - Cambridge Evening News. Sometimes it is easy to mis-attribute motives when stories appear in the paper. For instance when you get a story about "a boy on a bicycle tried to rob a pensioner" it is easy to blame yet another cyclist! When it is really just a bad person happening to use a bicycle whilst committing a crime. That does not then stop the idea that maybe bikes should be licensed and have "number plates" - of course that just adds bureaucracy to the lives of the majority of innocent cyclists whilst the criminals will just break the law. There was also this story: "Cyclist Seriously Injured in Hit and Run", which reinforces the view that cycling is dangerous. Then this one: "Motorist Injured as Car Rolls into Ditch" - perhaps cars are dangerous as well. On a more positive note: "Bike facilities move up a gear with £80K gift" - which will be used to improve cycling facilities between two adjacent villages in Cambridge and provide more cycle parking at various schools (as well as other places). What does it all mean - well its "News" - pure and simple - no doubt it will evoke some disgruntled comments. At the end of the day I think that we have to wean ourselves off the "car culture"

When I popped out on my bike - the country roads were remarkably quiet - during the afternoon people waved at me from their cars and gave way and gave me room. It was not until the rush hour did I start to feel the danger levels increasing as several cars whizzed past me with inches to spare at 40+MPH. (Yes I had lights on at the time, it was quite dark and raining - maybe the car drivers should try cycling occasionally and see what it feels like!

It was light when I set off though - I got to see a local heron that nests by one of the local Lodes. Here it is - after flying off and settling down further away. One of these days I will sneak up and get a picture of it on the Lode.


For some reason I am on the email list of the CPRE - Campaign for Rural England - I think that I signed up to supporting a campaign for great safety on rural roads. This plea caught my eye. Here in the flatlands we have what seem to be a lot of pylons roaming the countryside - a pity that they did not start the campaign earlier. Although it really just comes down to cost - burying cables is expensive - so do we want to pay more for electricity - and lets face it if you live in a city then the pylons aren't something you see all the time anyway so why care. One snag with "majority" rule is that minorities can get the short straw.

cpre pylons.JPG

At the same spot I took the picture of the heron here is a pylon "marching along".


Now that winter is here it seems that it is the time to get those chores you put off all year long done. One of the challenges of the flatlands is keeping them drained - which is the job of the lodes. The trouble is that the lodes can be higher than the surrounding land and need banks which need repair. This is how they do it - they run a digger along the top of the bank mashing more soil down - this is Bottisham Lode.


And this is Swaffham Bulbeck Lode. The only problem with doing this work at this time of year is that it gets dark early and so the work has to stop by 4pm. To be fair there has been work on the banks of this Lode for most of the year I think.


The Sustrans 11 route through Wicken Fen looks like it will finally be finished. Work started and then stopped on this path during the summer. For a while the path surface was really unpleasant to cycle on - although after enough cycle and pedestrian traffic it has become tolerable. Apparently there were weather/materials problems. It looks as if they are now sweeping it? Those piles you can see are piles of loose grit.


The work had not started yesterday so this is what they have achieved in a day - quite a day's sweeping. If you look closely you can see my cycle track in both pictures. Which implies that only one person has cycled along since they started their sweeping (me!).


By the end of the ride I had hit my goal for the year of completing 12,000Km/7,500miles. Time to start planning on a destination for next years cycle tour/holiday - you've got to have some motivation for setting a target!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

First frost and a post-lurgy ride - yes around Wicken Fen!

The last couple of days I have been a bit dull - I seem to have some mild lurgy, so I have not gone out on my bike. Although if it had been a bit warmer I might have been out. The aches and pains had gone today so despite the first frost of the year I have popped out. This morning the pavements (sidewalks) were slippery with ice and the grass had turned white. According to the thermometer it was around -1C, but not windy and later in the day the it was quite bright. For me, as long as I have the correct cycle clothing, it is actually great cycling weather.

I do need to pop into town to buy some things - but I prefer to cycle in the relative peace and quiet so postponed the chores and headed out to the Fens. The clouds in the sky reminded me of this article I read on the Telegraph web-site. Actually I thought I saw it on the BBC web site - but cannot find it there. The top white horizontal line is a contrail caused by a passing aeroplane - I think the lower horizontal line was also a contrail - but from an earlier aeroplane and one that was now developing into a cloud.


As it got later in the afternoon the sun was low in the sky as cycled though Wicken Fen - a good time for pictures of the trees silhouetted against the setting sun.


This is one a bird-watching tower in the middle of Wicken Fen. It was a good place to head for when the kids were younger - a visible goal to aim stops any hassle over the actual walking.


I could not resist a couple of shots of Baker's Fen with the sun setting.


Here is the second one - a nice amber tint to the sky - who needs Photoshop when there a pictures like this to be taken.


A picture of the walking bridge over Burwell Lode shows how still it was.


This bridge is called "CockUp" Bridge - at least there is a nearby sign to that effect. It is normally in an up position so as not to impede the passing boat traffic. It is electrically operated and today I saw it in action, for the first time. A chap working for the Environment Agency drove his van over it. This route is slated to be part of the Connect2 route being set up - but there are some challenges over how to bridge the Lode - this bridge cannot be used for safety reasons apparently.


And finally there has been a program on TV looking at the challenges of cycling in Cambridge as well as the challenge of cyclists in Cambridge. Here is a video clip from the program along with a BBC East "news" piece. I think that one of the real problems is that there is little attempt at creating a mutual understanding - it makes for more interesting news to create division. So we have the classic shots of cars almost clipping cyclists and cyclists running red lights. The problem is that we have been sold on the idea, for a long time, that cars represent personal freedom. The reality is they don't - our roads are crowded and the country is already in danger of being an urban sprawl. In fact when we put in more roads we just attract more traffic onto them. So we have motorists who struggle to work each day on crowded roads, who have to pay to park and can only see the situation getting worse. So it is not really surprising that they see cyclists as far game and resent any loss of"territorial rights" to them.

Meanwhile we have some cyclists who want more cyclists on roads (safety in numbers) and resent the creation of Sustrans shared route and cobbled together paths, and many non-cyclists who quite frankly are too scared to cycle but if we had more segregated paths could be persuaded to get out on their bikes - maybe. Me - well I think that as we head towards scarcer and scarcer levels of petroleum then it will force a change of life -battery cars and the like will not be a good substitute - so we an either be pro-active or reactive - but change will happen.