Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Cycling–what is it all about

There has been a bit of discussion on Twitter recently about the Bristol-Bath bike path. With John Usher of Sustrans discussing the issue on BBC Radio Bristol


So what is the fuss about? Well the Bristol/Bath bike path is a victim of its own shared-use success.  Whilst many of us think of it as a bike path – actually it is a path which cyclists can share with pedestrians, dog walkers, prams and the like. It follows the route of an old railway line and forms part of NCN4.

Bristol – Bath Bike path 

Well to my mind there is a clue in the name – SUSTRANS – Sustainable transport – healthier, cleaner and cheaper and journeysAt its simplest the bicycle is an efficient way of converting physical energy into motion. We might choose to cycle for different reasons but ultimately it is a form of transport, with benefits.

Now I am not claiming all my maths is correct but whether we realise or not we cyclists like to maintain momentum. Lose it and it costs significant levels of energy and significant delays. If you have to stop 20 times on a 16Km journey then it can increase the journey time by 15 minutes and make it feel like you have cycled another 2Km on top in terms of energy consumption. In a car you tend not to notice petrol consumption, except perhaps when you fill up – you notice it when you are supplying the motive power.

I believe that the Bristol Bath path was what set in motion the Sustrans movement. It is straight, direct, more or less and has a decent surface. All the things that matter to a cyclist getting from A to B. As Sustrans has evolved I wonder whether the organisation has lost sight of the original ideals. There are some fantastic Sustrans routes – but they tend to be for the cycle tourist – willing to wend there way through twists and turns in order to enjoy a peaceful ride.  Don’t get me wrong  when I want a bit of time cogitating along with a bit of fresh air and exercise then the National Cycle Network is great – but “easier journeys” it isn’t!

An example of what I mean. Follow NCN51 out of Cambridge towards Newmarket and when you reach Bottisham you have this choice. Cycle to Newmarket 15 miles, drive to Newmarket 6 miles.

Sustrans NCN 51 to Newmarket

Or zoomed in.

Sustrans NCN 51 to Newmarket

The bottom lines is that If you want cycling to to become a real choice then the journeys need to be  healthier, cleaner, safer, cheaper and easier journeys. To get people to switch their method of transport focus has to be on the easier and cheaper and safer. Healthier and cleaner come for free once you get people cycling.

  • Cheaper and easier journeys cannot be implemented by cheap infrastructure.
  • Easier journeys cannot be implemented by relying on shared-use infrastructure
  • Easier journeys need to be direct for places regularly visited
  • Easier journeys need to allow cyclists to maintain their momentum without slowing and stopping all the time.
  • Safer journeys cannot be implemented with a lick of pain here and there and a twist and a turn and constant change of surface.
  • Safer journeys need segregated cycle routes

If a shared path is useful it is almost bound to create conflict.


Here are some of my calculations

At its simplest the bicycle is an efficient way of converting physical energy into motion. According to work by Professor D Mackay:

a cyclist at 21Km/h consumes about 3% of the energy per kilometre of a lone car driver on the motorway – about 2.4kWh per 100km

What’s more a bicycle is more efficient than walking – according to Wikipedia(!) cycling requires around half the energy compared with walking.  This website suggests that cycling can be up to five times more efficient than walking (it depends upon the speed the cyclist travels at).

So on the face of it a bicycle represents a pretty good sweet-spot as a transportation choice without even comparing the health benefits and the fact that bikes don’t pollute (noise or air) take up far less space (rest and motion) and do far less damage to the road (and pavement) surfaces.

The downsides are that cycling is open to the elements, less fast and can be tiring over longer distances. It can also be harder (but not impossible) to transport other people (children for instance) or shopping.

Now my personal view having cycled, driven and caught the train to commute over the years is that for commuting a round trip of 20 miles is fine. I have done more, but accept that for some it might seem too long. Part of the issue is not the energy consumed but time. Assuming a speed of  10mph (16Km/h) then one leg of the commute takes 1 hour, at 16mph (25.6Km/h) the journey time is 37.5 minutes.

The average commute time for men in Britain is apparently 58 minutes and for women 47minutes but varies by region – chart in this article by the DM. So time is precious when commuting, whether by bike or motor vehicle/train.

The other aspect that concerns the efficiency of cycling is momentum. Every time you slow down the energy required to get back up to speed is proportional to the square of the velocity you wish to achieve.  I wrote about it here. I reckon that at the speed I travel every stop adds the energy equivalent of 100m onto the journey.

Then there is of course the issue of lost time, assuming I cycle at 25.6Km/h and it takes me  say 200m to get up to that speed from a stop, it would then it would add approximately 30 (28) seconds onto the journey time. That is not to mention the actual delay from the cause of the stop.

So on a 16Km journey (10miles) at a steady speed of 25.6Km it would take 37.5minutes – if you had to stop say 20 times, with an average stop of 15 seconds then the overall journey time would extend by 20 x (30 + 15 ) seconds, which comes to 15 minutes. If my maths is correct. In addition the journey would feel as if you had cycled an additional 20 x 100m – 2Km.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Turbulent Traffic Flow

I have long thought that we use our roads inefficiently. I also reckon that there is less courtesy on the roads and that lack of courtesy is extended by and to motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. We seem to treat roads as  territory and lots of motorists follow the maxim “possession is nine tenths of the law”.

If you ask motorists what causes congestion then you will often get a short-sighted answer such as lack of decent roads or poor road layout or too many bus lanes or lorries or red-light jumping cyclists. When of course the simple truth is that there are too many motor vehicles competing for the same space and when I say compete I mean compete.

Indeed one way of improving the traffic flow along Motorways is to reduce the speed and homogenise the traffic flow.  I certainly reckon that Average speed cameras have helped to improve driver behaviour along stretches of motorway where roadworks are taking place.

There are occasions when I choose to use the Park and Ride system to get into the centre of Cambridge (rather than cycle). This is Newmarket Road – a road with two lanes in either direction. As the area has developed it has acquired an extensive retail park, a small retail park and a Tesco supermarket all within a mile. As well as bus lanes along each side. These bus lanes have quite a few breaks where traffic has to turn left.

Interestingly a news item in the Cambridge News had the idea that houses should be built on retail car parks and not the green belt – seems a reasonable question to me. With the increase in internet shopping and the huge amounts of space “wasted” on those car parks why not.

Another news item reported “Industrial estate redevelopment must not be ‘another cb1’ councillor”. Clifton Road industrial estate has been earmarked for major redevelopment – and the observation is that what was first promised around the CB1 site (railway station area). It is a tough one – stick shopping parks and houses together and you have issues with congestion. Build houses and you have issues with affordability, build multi-storey blocks of flats and people don’t like the look of them.  Although they seem to sell well.

This road gets overloaded – however there are lots of traffic light controlled junctions. It seems to me that the bus lanes are routinely ignored by a sizable subset of motoring traffic. Also during busy times the motor vehicles seem to flood the junctions and frequently block the routes for other directions when the lights change

Like this van that couldn’t wait for the next cycle of lights but had to cover the Bus lane, which meant we were stuck on the bus until the queue in the non-bus lane got moving. Lack of courtesy or failure to read the road? Should there be sin-bins? Why aren’t there sin-bins.

The trials of being a bus driver in the bus lanes of Newmarket Road

Currently motor vehicles are taxed on the basis of the level of pollution they emit. Some think that perhaps they should be taxed on the damage they cause to the roads. Council (Cambridgeshire) pays out more for damages than it does to fix individual potholes.  Interesting there is a lot of pressure on cyclists to wear helmets and insurance companies try to argue that damages awarded to otherwise blameless cyclists should be reduced if they aren’t wearing a helmet.  So if the motorists are paying attention why should they get such levels of compensation.

So  I wonder if they should be taxed on how efficiently they make use of the road network. For instance perhaps a car with only a driver should pay more than a car with a driver and three passengers.

Apparently cars spend an awful lot of their time not doing anything either – they are parked 95% of the time. I guess the question is whether that parking should be free or not. The roads are there to facilitate transportation not parking surely. Now we do have charges for parking in some areas  Which raises several questions including why should some residents be able to turn public streets into their own private parking enclaves? Apparently Barnet has been taken to court for raising parking charges as it was considered a stealth tax. It makes me think that the those residents of Barnet are being ungrateful. Maybe they should remove the restrictions and stop and policing and see how they like that.

This has been reported in the Cambridge News with a story - “Cambridge’s sky-high parking fees ‘should be cut’ after court win”. It seems to me that the residents want the benefits but just don’t want to pay for it. Even worse it seems that in Cambridge the scheme raises £320,000 from residents parking permits but costs around £400,000 to administer it. So the rest of us subsidise their privilege.

Perhaps the councils should sell of the bits of road that are currently used for the privileged few with parking permits and put the money raised to the benefit of their entire community.

The trouble is whilst we have a Highway Code not all of it is mandatory and different agencies deal with transgressions.

Similarly rather than a standard fine perhaps the punishment should fit the crime. In the case of this van driver stopped in the non-mandatory cycle lane – but on double yellows there should be a community service order involving delivering stuff by bicycle.

Cycle Lanes – just the job for parking

And finally some stars on their bikes – Bruce Willis and Goldie Hawn I know – but Philip Seymour Hoffman – smoking and pushing a bike – not someone I know along with Taylor Lautner on a custom bicycle.

And for a bit of weirdness the Daily Mail reports on a Vibrating bicycle seat – or maybe that is a news story you won’t get to see once the filters are in place.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

More flowers in the Fens

Tuesday, 2nd July 2013: A quick post with a few more flowers in it.  Although as I cycled along the “shared-use” path between Bottisham and Swaffham Bulbeck which is on the NCN51 route I spotted a dress on the hedge. It must be really annoying when that happens I would imagine. One minute you are wearing it and then it disappears.

As I am typing this Chrome Beta is being updated – a new layout has appeared for search results.  In fact the OSM maps have also changed their appearance.  Slightly annoying on the Chrome update some web pages have not appeared. It isn’t always that good at opening a bunch of pages at once.

Talking about OSM or rather about CycleStreets which is different I realise. I downloaded it onto my Galaxy S4. Which I reckon is a really good phone. It does loads of things and the call quality is good. The only let-down is that the data bandwidth is poor when using the cellular network. Now the problem might be compounded by the fact that at the moment I am trying to tweet pictures of off road places I cycle around the Cambridge area.  The tweets/pictures fail to go and take ages not going as well.

I also noticed that when using CycleStreets the maps would sometimes take ages to update (as did other mapping apps). Which is a bit frustrating.  It turns out I was just a bit out of touch. You can also download an off-line set of the OSM maps for use with CycleStreets – which is brilliant.  Well done chaps.

I have been experiencing some issues with my nearly 5 years old Garmin Edge 605 GPS. When I connect it to my computer it doesn’t always show the additional Mini-SD card that is plugged in. So I assumed that the card wasn’t seating properly in the unit and took it out. Now most of the time I don’t pay any attention to the GPS when cycling around the flatlands – having lived here and cycled here for quite a few years I tend to know where I am going.

Most of the time I use it to record my rides and then upload them onto my computer. Having said then when I do cycle along routes I have not been on before then it is great. I plot a route, usually using BikeRouteToaster download it  and then cycle in the unknown wilds (unknown to me) with confidence. I do take a back up just in case though.

I switched it into map view the other day and marvelled as I cycled up a hill passing the contours on the map. I am definitely very slightly fitter than I was 4 weeks ago.  A little while later, when cycling on the Roman road between Balsham and Cambridge I noticed an oddity.

The map view shows a map along with a triangle depicting where you are and a circle around the triangle which is an indication of how accurate the fix is. As you go under trees or between buildings it grows in diameter. Well the circle was huge – the diameter was at least 400m if not closer to a kilometre. I wondered whether I was in a dead zone, but now my phone’s GPS was able to plot my position to within a few metres. I compared which satellites I could see both the phone and Garmin GPS seemed to be in agreement.

Then I noticed that there was no map detail either!  On returning home everything seemed back to normal. I wondered whether the bumpy byways had shaken something loose and now it had returned to normal.

It happened again a couple of days later. I had a map in the vicinity of my house but once I cycled some distance way it disappeared.  It turns out that I had forgotten that I had loaded the entire UK map onto the Mini-SD card (for convenience) and because I had taken it out of the GPS it reverted to a smaller map tile I had down-loaded when I first got the Garmin Edge.

I have put the Mini-SD card back in, with 1.8Gb of the total 2Gb taken up with the UK map and it now works. Although I still can’t see the Mini-SD card (as mounted storage) when my Edge is connected to my computer.

Dress in the Hedgerow

This is the shared-use path, between Bottisham and Swaffham Bulbeck. It is not shown on the OSM cycle map. Which I think is deliberate as the path is far to narrow. Mind you the road is pretty narrow as well and cars do whiz along it. The County Council map of the area does show it as shared-use though.  Here is a link to the CC Central Cambridgeshire cycle map resources. A quick check and the Sustrans map shows it as shared use as well.

Shared-use Path – NCN51 between Bottisham and Swaffham Bulbeck

I followed NCN51 before heading down the 11-51 Link (Whiteway Drove) where there was a field full of flax.


It was quite a big field.


I then headed out along Black Droveway, Blackberry Droveway and Straight Drove before stopping where it crossed Headlake Drove (well the road that heads off from Headlake Drove – it doesn’t really have a name). That far is end is called Blinker’s Hill.

Poppies and Oil Seed Rape  - Headlake Drove

As you can see irrigation is needed in the fields.

Poppies and Oil Seed Rape  - Headlake Drove

There seems to be a lull in the agricultural activity – although there has been a bit of hay-making going on.

Turning hay to dry it – Harrison’s Drove

After reaching Upware I followed the bridleway down past Burwell Lode and then along Wicken Lode. There has been work on the Wicken Lode bank – it has left behind a very soft crumbly and tiring-to-cycle-on surface.

Wicken Lode – bank maintenance

There is grass seed down- but not doing much at the moment. Ah well I can console myself with the thought that it is making me fitter.

Wicken Lode – bank maintenance

A white waterlily in Wicken Lode.

Nymphaea alba – Wicken Lode

There are still flowers along the edge of the bank though.

Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra)

As you can see it takes a lot of signs to warn of the dangers – four. There was also a lookout man when I went past.

If you look closely it is also going to take a long time to do the work – 56 weeks, with 15 people on site and 4 contractors.

Wicken Lode Bank works

The bridleway turn off from Wicken Lode and down another Harrison’s Drove. The state of this part of the route is dreadful. (It is being worked on – but sporadically it seems – here are some of the Vision Warden’s pictures.  Watch out for thorny brambles hanging at arm height.

Harrison’s Drove – repairs

Nowadays bales seem to be round and large rather than small an oblong, when I was a boy. I struggled to lift the bales as a lad – I wouldn’t stand a chance with these round bales.

Round Hay  Bales

On the way back I cycled from Burwell to Swaffham Prior (and then NCN51 again). These poppies are growing in an Oil Seed Rape field alongside the Devil’s Dyke. (Just about visible on the left of the picture.)

Oil Seed Rape and Poppies – alongside the Devil’s Dyke

The edges of a field often get different treatments to the crops in the middle.  Here is the production cycle – there are quite a few treatments used as the crop develops.

 Oil Seed Rape and Poppies – alongside the Devil’s Dyke

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The times are a-changing

I rather like some of the changes that have occurred in my lifetime and what’s more I quite like the fact that we take them for granted. I also reckon that we tend not to realise revolutions have occurred until they have happened.

I mentioned before,  my fascination with the evolution of transport when cycling between Lincoln and Boston (actually part of a Hull to Cambridge ride). The route follows The Water Railway that follows the course of the River Witham, here is a link to a pdf leaflet and map. The route is mainly off-road and has a series of artworks and information boards along the way. Like this one:

From Lincoln to Boston and back – in one day

and this one:

The “annihilation of time and space”

They tell the story of what when travelling between Boston and Lincoln was like and the evolution over time from horse and cart, to boat to rail and road. The railway was built in 1848 and superseded by the mid 1900s on this particular route.

What will be the next “big thing”. Well I reckon that transport combines a bunch of different requirements – which include amongst other things; the haulage of goods and food, the movement of people and and from work, the movement of people for leisure and to provide services from plumbing to healthcare where people live.

The way we live has also changed, for a start the population density was less even 50 years ago than it is now. There has been a move away from the extended family to the nuclear family and even the fissile family. Mobility has increased, more people go away to university (although high fees are probably reining that in a bit).

One interesting aspect of social change has been the push for choosing you Doctor or kid’s school, based upon more data. The trouble is that requires more mobility and is something that probably doesn’t have anywhere near as much benefit as might have been thought.

Now I have always liked science fiction as well as science fact and Isaac Asimov  was one writer that caught my attention.  He is probably know for I Robot, although the film seemed to borrow the title and use a different story line. It was the Foundation series that got me interested. I have always liked stories that  extend over time (and many pages). However one of the themes that Asimov explored was in Caves of Steel where the Spacer Worlds had a low population density and  there was limited physical interaction instead people “tele-commuted” and used robots.

Well I am not sure that robots have quite taken over the day to day stuff in out lives quite yet. However the need to travel could be reduced for more people by telecommuting. Commuting is a waste of time, for those jobs based around computers or telephones then the need to travel is reduced.

Tele-care is being trialled to assist in helping old people continue to live in their homes, but with some dignity and security. Increasingly there has been quite a shift towards shopping over the internet. Social applications such as Facebook and Twitter have also assisted in helping people remain in contact with their friends.

I certainly buy quite a lot of stuff over the web nowadays. I bought all of the bits and pieces for my Desktop Computer build – from tools to circuit boards and the computer screen I am using to write this Post. I buy cycling gear and clothes, mainly cycle gear, but also casual wear.  We have shopped for food and stuff over the Internet – but tend to prefer to do that in person. (Mind you I do like not having to go into town.)

The advantages of shopping over the internet at that quite often you can get something quicker than buy visiting the shop. On Monday I bought some new water bottles and by Tuesday I was using them on my bike ride. Even if they had been in store I would not have been able to get their until Tuesday. It is also easier to compare options and specifications sitting in front of a screen and also to check out reviews. Something I did a lot of when selecting the components for my computer – I changed my mind on a couple of occasions because of information in reviews.

The trouble is the change is having quite a profound effect on the “High Street”. There is no doubt that some people enjoy going out to shop and there are some things you would probably always want to see and touch or try on first. That list is shrinking though. I reckon that part of the problem is that the property prices and rental were driven up as shops competed to be in the centre.

As shops crammed city centres then there was a need to parking, we saw the rise in out of town shopping centres with “free parking”. The cheaper parking was made possible because the rental on out of town locations was cheaper.  Mind you I reckon that one of the reaons that out of town shopping centres became popular was not so much the free parking as because the shopping areas were car free. As a result they are seen as safer areas for kids and seem easier for wheelchair users to use.  They also have cafes and and other forms of entertainment such as cinemas.

So we have had a recession, there is an inexorable change in shopping patterns and town centres are congested. There have been some changes such as using Park and Ride to get people more efficiently into the City centres.  You only need to look at how Charity shops spring up in empty shops, presumably at a reduced rental rate.  Here is a parade in Southampton that has so many closed shops they have painted faux shop fronts.

Now I don’t think it is all doom and gloom, providing shops focus on adding value a that enables them to compete. John Lewis here in Cambridge seems to be thriving and successful. Although I have realised that things are continuing to change

We have had to get a new fridge freezer as our old one was breaking down and although I could repair myself even the cost of spares was at a premium. So we did a bit of web research and checked out what John Lewis had to offer. Our old machine was a Bosch and that was our preferred choice of replacement. However we did want to check out what they looked like before buying one. One with an interesting spec was made by Samsung, but we have not had experience of their white goods, in any case apparently John Lewis only had them for order via Samsung and we read the web as implying they would not have any on display.

When we got to John Lewis – we were wrong they didn’t have the Bosch, but did have the Samsung machine. So we “bought that one”.  Although we didn’t actually pay for it, and we took a form away for the cashback and extended warranty. (Samsung seem to be on a marketing push at the moment). Apparently we would be contacted in the next few days to arranged delivery – in the next ten days or so, and if we didn’t hear then give John Lewis a ring. We also mentioned that we wanted our old machine taken away and we were told to let the Samsung delivery people know that when we rang.

It became a complete palaver with the first phone call from John Lewis asking us to pay, why didn’t that get done at the shop. The we were contacted by the delivers – no they hadn’t been told about taking the old machine. That meant phone calls to John Lewis – they then rang the deliverers and it got sorted, but there was more to pay £9. Not a big deal – but it was yet another phone call from John Lewis and another transaction.

The good news is that the delivery team were great – the new machine was in and the old out in no time. We are very pleased with the purchase and would buy another one. Then there was a palaver trying to work out how to get the cash back – I went via the web to Samsung – bit I wonder how many people fall by the wayside. Then I tried to track down the extended warranty – the John Lewis website was tricky and one of their links was blind.

So I complained to John Lewis– I wish I hadn’t, that then resulted in a flurry of phone calls -  all talk and no substance.

So the bottom line – I will go direct to Samsung next time – why talk to the monkey eh.  All it needs next are better ways to interact with the products over the web and I will buy even more stuff on-line.

Fortunately change happens whether we liker it or not – you can’t buck the market.

What has this got to do with cycling – well cyclists do buy things and represent a significant customer base. Town centres need to adapt – they can’t compete with unlimited car parking (and who would want to) cities don’t work that way. They can attract more people though  with better facilities that are more attractive and sociable. Adapt or die.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Flowers in the Fens

Saturday, June 29th 2013: The weather has been gorgeous this last few weeks and so I have managed to cycle at least 20miles per day for 12 of the last 14 days. I even find myself willingly cycling up hills. (Note for non-flatlanders, we call hills what most others would call pimples). I am three weeks behind on my posts and there is also other stuff I want to talk about – but I better make this a quick post otherwise I’ll run out of time.

I’d better stick in a bit of news though – “Woman cyclist injured in collision with car in Cambridge”. (It happened this morning – real time). It happened at this roundabout – Milton Road and Elizabeth Way. Fortunately it doesn’t sound as if she was badly hurt – but it made me think. (Also lets hope the Ambulance didn’t take 46 minutes to reach her, it can be very scary coming off a bike and not quite knowing what hurts where and how badly.)

When I cycle to pick up my morning newspaper it is a short trip along a backstreet type or road, but there is school traffic and some rat-running. At the moment someone is having some work done on there house and so they have builders completely legitimately parked on the road (not obstructing the pavement). My anecdotal observations are that there are three types of motorist.  When I am cycling and on the opposite side to the parked cars and it is my right of way then:

  • They see me, slow down and let me pass though
  • They see me and speed up to force their way through
  • They either don’t seem me or don’t register me as a road user and drive on through. 

Now I am happy to “take my lane” and am fairly conspicuous however despite all that the result is that my risk level is higher if I assert my rights than if I were driving a car, or cycled more sheepishly. Pretty much every day I cycle that sort of anti-social behaviour takes place. Anti-social behaviour that has a real risk to cyclists. Although I have not encountered being deliberately pushed off my bike by a motorist I have had abuse and water (I hope) thrown at me. The trouble is rather than planning a transport system for the future we have seen a piecemeal development over the last few years. With gradually improving standards, a lot of the time those standards are quite meant, in the name of expediency.

We also find cycle routes are created that seem to go all around the houses, literally.  Those routes may require frequent changes of direction, being held up whilst motor traffic has priority, sharing paths with pedestrians, using paths that are overgrown and using paths that are longer than the direct route. I resent that. Don’t get me wrong, when I am cycling for leisure, then I thoroughly enjoy some of the Sustrans round the houses routes.  But why is the choice indirect and slow or direct and dangerous.

Cycling has myriad benefits for society and yet even where the are significant numbers of people already cycling lip-service is paid to the needs of cyclists by those holding the purse strings. The provision for cycling in Cambridge(shire) is crap I reckon. It always will be until it stops being so motor-vehicle-centric and someone has the b*lls to re-allocate the way money is spent.

It seems to me that the name of the game is for there to be a Consultation and then after a bit of to-ing and for-ing we end up with, at best, mediocrity. Something that motorists scorn and that does not create proper cycling facilities. An example is the Histon Road Consultation, it is worth reading the CCyC letter as well. It seems to me that this is another piecemeal change without a real plan.

The strange thing is that it seems that huge amounts of money (£28Bn) can be spent on roads, yet the strategy is unclear – with the introduction of road tolls in a piecemeal fashion.  I have been against road tolls as a yet another piecemeal tax which seems to benefit the rich. However I am beginning to wonder if that might be the straw that shifts us away from being so car-centric.

The strange thing is we tend to focus on the wrong things. In Ely apparently there a “High levels of toxic gas found in air around Ely Station”. The solution spend more money on roads (a bypass around the station). The cause is not the motor vehicles it is the congestion! Yeah right. Unfortunately that seems to be treating the symptoms and not the causes. Traffic pollution is dangerous – so how do we encourage more efficient use of transport? It is strange that GM crops or (unseen) radiation strike fear into the heart of many, yet no-one seems to give a toss about pollution.

Ah well, small wonder that when I cycle for pleasure it frequently takes me to the fens. I can’t quite remember my route, it started on NCN51 to Bottisham and then on the Lodes Way then to Upware and around the back way into Wicken. Back along Lodes Way before detouring via Reach and Barston Drove and then on NCN51 to return.

The first pleasant surprise was to see some Linseed (Flax) growing in a field near Bottisham Village College on the Lode Road. It makes for a pleasant change from the chrome yellow of Oil Seed Rape. The flowers seem to close up under certain conditions, or perhaps the plants bloom in waves. The field can be blue earlier in the day and then there are no flowers at the end of the day.

Flax – Lode Road

As you can see I tried a few different viewpoints.

Flax – Lode Road

I was trying to capture the sense of blue that seems more intense when standing there than it does in these pictures.

Flax – Lode Road

In the end I think I like this view the best.

Flax – Lode Road

Pavement parking is a grey area – it is not always consistent. In London it is more tightly controlled elsewhere less so. Although  you shouldn’t completely block the pavement. At best it is totally inconsiderate. I think drivers do it to protect their cars from being damaged by vehicles passing through.  The nearer car has had the wing mirror folded in to prevent it from being clipped by passing vehicles – the owner was obviously less worried about pedestrians. The car further back has at least left a little room.

There is no thought give to people with pushchairs or mobility issues – another example of the car-centric society we’ve become?

Pavement Parking – Lode

As I passed along White Fen Drove – the farmer had cleared route through the potatoes. This is to allow irrigation equipment. Potatoes do need water to develop particularly at this stage so the loss of some plants is necessary.

Irrigation Channels – Potatoes – White Fen Drove Way

There are quite a few fields with spuds in them – depending upon the way the wind is blowing there can be a bit of water drift. Although it doesn’t look much passing through a fine mist on a hot day suddenly chills you right down.

Irrigation – White Fen Drove Way

All sorts of systems are used, with large bore pipes and a diesel pump somewhere in the system. This is a simple system than pumps water in a circle, the force of the water turns the nozzle around.

Irrigation – White Fen Drove Way


Lodes Way – White Fen

A lone poppy growing along side Lodes Way, just after Swaffham Bulbeck Lode Bridge. I seem to remember this field being full of poppies one year. They are grown for opium  for medicinal purposes.  Apparently the growing does not require a license, the production of opiate does. Presumably they are also grown for poppy seeds to sprinkle of rolls/

Opium Poppy – Papaver somniferum

Further up the road towards Upware another irrigation device – it also moves up the field, presumably powered by the water? Or perhaps it is a jet and preparing for take-off. (I have a water powered rocket.  I think it came from the Science Museum, it is a set of fins and valve that screws onto a plastic bottle. You put in some water and then pump air in with a bike pump and whoosh.

Bottle Rocket Take-off

It goes quite high, quite quickly. I am thinking of putting a flashing LED in the bottle and taking a picture at night (leaving the shutter open) and then using it to work out the speed.

Bottle Rocket

Irrigation in the Fens

A little bit further along the grass had been cut for either hay or haylage.

Grass drying in the Sun

After Upware I crossed onto NCN11 using the bridleway called Dockings Lane. It joins NCN11 between Ely and Wicken Fen, at the Wicken Fen end. Here are two cyclists heading along it towards Ely.  There is some irrigation in the background.

Cyclists on NCN11 between Wicken and Barway

I couldn’t quite remember where this was and why I took the picture. Well it is the Information Board on the ramp that will form part of the new bridge over Burwell Lode – when they find the money. I took the picture from the old footbridge and then enlarged it. It will also be suitable for horse riders and wheel chair users.

Information board on the Ramp alongside Burwell Lode

On the way back I cycled along Lodes Way and then down towards Reach on Little Fen Drove. The I cycled along the byway called Barston Drove to Swaffham Prior.

Barston Drove

There is quite a bit of Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca) in the hedgerows at the moment.

Tufted Vetch on Barston Drove

As it happens purple is one of my favourite colours.

Tufted Vetch

I stopped for a drink in Swaffham Prior, from my water bottle. Here is some history – what I call Black Droveway is Black Drove on the historic map.

Sunday, July 21, 2013


Tuesday, 25th June 2013: I had arranged to meet a couple of friends for lunch to catch up and frankly to give me an excuse/reason to get out on my bike for a ride.

We planned to meet up at the Six Bells in Fulbourn.  I am in no doubt that running a successful pub is hard work.  I am well aware that as you I get older you can become I am tending to become an old fart, always rambling on about how it used to be. Well the British “Pub” has certainly gone through a fair bit of change over the years. They used to be somewhat male-dominated places, a place to get away from ‘er indoors and have a pint and a game of darts. When I lived in Northampton I happened to be in my local and the darts team were short of a couple of regulars so I got co-opted in. Generally the only food on offer tended to be crisps (chips for US readers) and peanuts. Although when I lived in Somerset I was rather partial (as they say) to a pint accompanied by a pickled egg in a packet of salt and vinegar crisps.

In some ways change is inevitable, life moves on. we can’t pick and choose through rose-tinted spectacles. I guess if you are in the service industry then you have to give people what they want, or what they think they want. We have had many changes from communications to transport, even the types of jobs available have changed and our mobility patterns.

The world population has more than doubled in my life from 3bn to over 7bn people and is expected to be over 9bn by 2050. Here in the UK over the same time frame the population has increased from 50million in 1950 to 65million by 2015. (An increase of ~30%).

It is funny how life seems the same, but when you look back there have been huge changes. I suppose the changes creep up a little at a time and then feel as if they have been around for ever. This leads us to presume that it is the natural order, until the order goes in a direction we are unhappy with.

An interesting case in point is the building around the Cambridge area – based upon who knows what Plans. It seems that there is a hodge-podge of forecasting and planning. It would seem that the Social Fabric is funded from S106 money which seems an odd way to deliver such amenities. In the case of Cambourne it seems to have resulted in poor transport. There is pressure on the green belt with between 31,000 and 48,000 houses more houses being considered around Cambridge.. Yet in this rush to build, build build – what are we going to do about social infrastructure. – join up all the blobs of S106 money. Instead the hosepipe that is the A14 will be expanded to deliver yet more cars into the area.

There is talk of the need for affordable housing, although it is unclear to me how it works despite the pages of info on the link. Is the rentable housing like council housing, what about the buyable housing can it be sold on. It seems to me that the problem is that in general house prices are too high, but if they come down then the politicians have a problem – voters don’t like it. Why are they too high, well I guess there it comes down to supply and demand. People complain that it is to do with the affordability of mortgages, although all that really happens is that whilst supply and demand is out of kilter then if money gets cheaper house prices go up (and vice versa).

There are complications in that there can be local hotspots where housing is more expensive, perhaps because of proximity to railway stations. Rural housing can suffer from poor public transport and lack of amenities.

So where are we heading? Well it seems to be more of the same with more traffic under all scenarios (Page 5 of Road Transport Forecasts 2013). So more noise, accidents, roads.  There are some slightly more positive steps – more City Centre Cycle Parking in Cambridge – and about bl**dy time. I have tried to fill in the survey, but I reckon it is almost useless. It doesn’t really make the information easy to view and I have no idea what effect my filling in the survey will have.

The trouble is we have spent a long time thinking that growth and cars and housing is the only way. It seems that despite “consultations” the results are more expensive houses built with the presumption that multi-car ownership will be the way for our society. Even if the Fracking means more oil reserves we still have to deal with pollution from motor vehicles and the inefficiency inherent in burning stuff for one person to get around in a tin box whilst as a nation we are getting less fit and fatter. Yet the presumption is that cars we need a car, perhaps “to keep up with the Jones”, to help Britain’s economy. Then we get told how Londoners are moving away form car ownership and how much time is lost in traffic jams.

I reckon that underlying this is a presumption that cycling is not a real form of transport. Therefore it is never really taken seriously. Yet read this post form the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain: “Cycling is not practical for most people's transportation or commuting needs”. The reality is that cars are not suitable for most peoples transportation or commuting needs.

Why don’t people want to cycle – well having lived in the Flatlands for q few years, I tend to find myself taking indirect routes away from traffic more and more, the near misses seem to occur more frequently. Yet such indirect routes take longer, often require frequent slow downs and are more tiring. Most non-cyclists don’t realise that there are significant energy losses incurred each time to have to get your bicycle back up to speed after stopping.

A while back I worked out that it took the same energy to cycle 100m as it did to get back up to speed (I used 12mph in my example which was based upon a no longer available Times article – sorry - paywalls!).  So If you have a 5Km cycle to/from work and have to stop 10 times then it has the effect of seeming like another 1Km (or 10% onto the journey).  Once your route starts meandering along shared-use paths and cattle grids and the like then you can easily find yourself stopping  or slowing down.

So a quick check on the BikeRouteToaster map shows the journey from Newmarket Road P&R to Park Street as 5.4Km. A visual check and I reckon you will find yourself stopping 16 times and and slowing 20 times, roughly. So since a slow-down is less wasteful of energy than stopping I will assume that a stop feels like 100m and a slow-down feels like 25m.  This means the 5.4Km journey feels more like 8.24Km – or 53% further.  Now perhaps pedestrians and dog walkers might realise why cyclists get a little annoyed an being needlessly delayed. It costs time and energy.  Not to mention light-controlled crossings.  

Enough of this – although I must think about it a bit more, it might explain why some cyclists feel the urge to jump red lights, perhaps cycle couriers are worse?

Now another way of looking at the issue is by cycling along free-flowing routes you get to go further for the same expenditure of energy. So I took a circle route out of Cambridge along NCN51 and then via Wilbraham Road through the Wilbrahams. I must have been conscious of my energy levels as I didn’t stop to take that many pictures.

In the Eastern field adjacent to Little Wilbraham Road and Wilbraham Road there was one path of poppies showing. Was this a failure of some treatment being applied?

Poppies amongst the crops – Little Wilbraham

As I cycled through Great Wilbraham I had to take a picture of some real work being done.

Thatching – Great Wilbraham

A little further on a few pictures of the Graveyard in Fulbourn – alongside St Vigor’s Church.

St Vigor’s Churchyard, Fulbourn

I took a few pictures – in order to reduce the energy expended per picture – few stops.

St Vigor’s Churchyard, Fulbourn

St Vigor’s Churchyard, Fulbourn

We found that there was a whole large chunk of garden at the Six Bells that had been hitherto secluded. I have been to the pub a few times, but one of our group is a regular on first-name terms.

We also got to talking about marketing as we ordered our food and drink. The food there is good and they always have some interesting beers. But as a lad who grew up in Somerset – well my slightly under-age years I first started drinking Scrumpy. So I couldn’t resist the Scrumpy they had – it was quite strong, but absolutely delicious and worked well with my food. I hope they have it in the next time I am there.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Bee Orchids and other things

Monday, 24th June 2013: I know I have banged on about my aches and pains for a while, this hot weather is really welcome though. The warmth of the sun is definitely good and who can resist going out for a bit of cycling when the weather is so go. I can’t and have clocked up more miles in a week than the month before. Dare I say it I also feel that I am cycling a little faster again, even up hills.

The odd thing is whilst some may say the the Tour de France acts as an inspiration and gets more people cycling for me the reverse is true. Well that’s not quite right it doesn’t actually put me off cycling. The problem is that if I watch it it eats into the time I might be cycling.

The other thing I find amusing is that you do get a small surge in MAMILS some seem to fit into  the ATGNI category. (The link was chosen because it tells you what the acronym means – the website seems to suggest that they do have an idea.)  The surge doesn’t last that long and might be correlated with the weather rather than the TdF.

Anyways as a result of the aches and pains I held off from cutting the lawn for a couple of weeks – that’s my excuse. The problem is not so much following the lawn mower around and heaving it around to turn corners. No it is lifting the bag of grass cuttings and tipping it out that seems to stress my back.

The day I decided that despite the aches and pains I had really better get the grass cut otherwise it would look like a field and become really difficult to cut my wife noticed a small flower in the lawn. It was a Bee Orchid. So she stuck some sticks around it – not that she thinks I would deliberately mow it down – just that I might forget.

I duly mowed around it and then I got my close-up lens out and took a few pictures.

Bee Orchid

Bee Orchid

Bee Orchid

Bee Orchid

Whilst I am almost finished with the post I might as well close a few open tabs on my browser. The London to Cambridge charity bike ride is coming up – lets hope the weather holds.

Also having mentioned the TdF, which will be coming to Cambridge next year – well they might even close the city centre roads to traffic a few days each year as a legacy. I used to travel to Japan regularly on business, once upon a time. There they would close roads around the Ginza area of Tokyo every Sunday. Perhaps the cities’ ambitions should be a little bolder. Say a £200m cycle network perhaps. A new railway station at Chesterton has got the go-ahead – let’s just hope that the access for cyclists and pedestrians has a higher priority than for motor vehicles. I reckon that there should be no parking for cars and that they should use the P&R on Butt’s Lane.  There is a surge in Rail Commuter using their bicycles apparently and consequently a shortage of cycling parking at railway stations. We seem to have lots of strategic plans being developed around the Cambs area. Which seems to be code for stuffing the county with more and more housing. Yet they can’t even sort out a decent transport strategy. (E.g 750 homes for Godmanchester.)

Butts Lane being the site of one of Cambridge’s more dismal attempts at making a cycle lane. (Milton – Histon). It sometimes makes me wonder when I read about how brilliant Cambridge is for cycling – “one in three journeys is on a bike” – do they mean the narrow, disconnected, indirect and sometimes unfinished routes I cycle on?

A group called 2030 Vision has suggested that Cambridge city should introduce congestion charging to bankroll transport improvements. The message is basically a bold one that the city can’t muddle along as it is doing at the moment. Whilst I am not a fan of congestion charging in that it seems to benefit the rich and hit the poor I definitely  think that the idea is worth considering. Moreover the transport improvements should be aimed at discouraging all unnecessary private motoring in the city. (Here is the report website).


We certainly don’t want a revolution over parking fines in Cambridge. I am afraid I don’t have much sympathy for her approach – she claims the problem is the total chaos and wants to add to it!  There is a possibility that parking fines could rise – although it is a political hot potato.

And finally some pictures – torch images (skeletons)Orlando Bloom on a bike, Famke Janssen on a bikeStacy Keibler on a bike, Naomi Watts on a bike and some models spinningOh yes – taking pictures on a volcano, I’ll give that a miss.