Monday, December 21, 2015

Infrastructure–can we have it joined up please

I had the pleasure of cycling on the new bit of the Tins path in Cambridge. It is a shared-use route for pedestrians and cyclists that connects the top end of Mill Road with Cherry Hinton – well almost.

(Note: The current Open Live Writer does not have spell checking – so forgive me for my typos please.)

Some of the new Tins Path – between Cherry Hinton and Mill Road

A former footpath has been widened and the pedestrian and cycling areas separated, using coloured tarmac and a white line. As far as cycling facilities go, here in the UK it is at the top end of quality. As you can see it suffers from the usual swapping around of pedestrian and cycle paths. It is flat and fairly straight.  (There is a kink you can just about see further into the picture. However someone has thought about things like lamppost placement.

I personally cannot stand the ridged bits of yellow concrete that seem to be used widely wherever pedestrians and cyclists might cross paths.  They run in the direction of travel and the little kick the ridges give to the wheels as you run along them can be most disconcerting, particularly at night and in the wet. I reckon the best thing to do is take them at speed so that the bike’s momentum minimises the hit on the balance. However I don’t see other cyclists complaining so it must just be me.

Now it seems to be blindingly obvious to me that with the huge amount of development taking place around Cambridge and its surroundings (40,000+ homes) that there is going to be a huge pressure on to get in and out of Cambridge during the rush hour.  Unfortunately our past and present Governments have seen fit to preside over the rundown of public transport, a decline in funding for cycle infrastructure and an increase in the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured. Small wonder we have an obesity epidemic and that the police regularly have to crackdown on parking near Cambridge Schools (Cambridge News!). I wont get started about pollution – noise and air, or climate change.

We know that Cambridge traffic is already awful and that there really isn’t much space to build new roads, either in the city or near to the major places of employment. In Cambridge we have our “transport chiefs” seemingly patting themselves on the back for holding the “tide of motorists” back in Cambridge, whilst the motorists claim any road schemes are anti-motorist. Apparently there has been a 15% reduction in traffic entering the city along with an 88% increase in cyclists.

It seems to me that given the huge increase in population in and around the city particularly near some of the major routes into the city  there needs to be a foundational change to transport in Cambridge. (Cambridge Wing – 160 acres – up to 1,300 homes. c.f. Burwell 2,386 households.)   If we don’t then the already intolerable congestion will get worse, a bit of fiddling around the edges won’t do. 

So the decrease in traffic is due to the intolerable congestion already present, the increase in cyclists “driven” by the intolerability of driving.  For instance all the work taking place at the railway station must surely have affected transport choices for those wishing to use the train.

So whilst I welcome the current cycling infrastructure improvements both in progress and on the horizon for Cambridgeshire I can’t help but feel that they represent too little too late. So what has brought on the moan. Well cycling along the Tins, there is quite a nasty pinch point where it crosses the Cambridge – Ipswich Railway line. There is also another pinch point at the other end – Orchard Estate. The worst thing is that the path doesn’t even reach the High Street before it turns into a road and you are at the mercy of the Cherry Hinton chicanery.

Returning along the Tins is even harder.  If you follow this Streetview link, heading towards the railway line you find a cycle lane and bollard getting in the way of a right turn onto Railway Street. I have been cycling for a long time and am not easily bullied by impatient motorists, but for the sake of a quiet life this would stop me using the extension to the Tins path.  A grotty right turn of the High Street and then narrow “shared-use” path would put me off, I would stick to turning at the traffic lights by the church.

Now don’t get me wrong I really like the fact that the work has been done on the Tins, however I can’t help but feel that more courageous decisions need to be made to make alternate modes of transport more appealing if we are to see an improvement in the flow of people around Cambridge. I am sorry but to all you motorists driving around all alone in your tin boxes the time has come to switch to a more efficient mode of transport – one that makes better use of the limited space. The bonus is a bit of fresh air and exercise into the bargain.

I know that I sound like a whinging cyclist, but in Cambridge space is in short supply so there needs to be a space tax so that we make more effective use of that space. Otherwise we will all suffer the misery of congestion. Yes even cyclists get caught up in the congestion around Cambridge.

It rather seems to me that someone somewhere in charge of Cambridge transport has a fetish for convoluted cycle routes. Try cycling along NCN51 from Quy into the City Centre. There are right angle-bends, low priority crossings, side roads galore, cattle grids with narrow gates and conflict with people just wanting a casual stroll through the park.

Stourbridge Common – NCN51 to the right

Another example – the excellent Chisholm Trail, is gathering support – look at it – not the most joined up of routes. Bite the bullet Transport Chiefs  – make it straighter and give it priority over the motor traffic. (Another larger map of the current route is here.)

Another example of poor infrastructure – The wrong kind of bollard?. A seriously broken collarbone because someone thought bollards along a cycle path were a good idea.

PS OLW – Open Live Writer – works for me - thanks to those making it happen.

PPS – This is the calibre of our highways boss – “Cyclists should be considered for a Cambridge congestion charge”. What hope do we have?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Infrastructure–my pennyworth

To be continued…

I am going to write my thoughts – but in the meantime I am checking that I can actually use Open Live Writer to publish my posts.

LSS – Microsfot (sic) have stopped updating Live Writer, Google changed their  authentication method, Live Writer stopped being able to publish to my Blog.

Along came Open Live Writer – but wasn’t quite ready for the new authentication method, but now it is yay.

The post will follow… Honest

Meanwhile here is a picture: 

The Wintery, but Warm Fens

Monday, December 14, 2015

Punctures again.

Brilliant - Blogger changes its method of authentication and Live Writer is going open source - Microsoft can't be *ssed presumably. They stop working - open source comes to the rescue - but OLW doesn't work either. I find myself unable to post the newly written post.

The moral is - you can't really depend upon stuff continuing to work on the Internet - time passes and stuff gets dumped.

Is there a Wiki version of Blogspot - I can see I am going to have to look around for alternatives.

How do others create their posts -for Blogger?

Perhaps Wordpress would be an alternative - any feedback.

The post I wrote and had to bodge across is below. Arghhh - How to get the text sizing to work... Sorry.  I had to scrub all text formatting and add it again - hence the change of style. Sorry again.

Punctures - again

I hate punctures, I happily go for slower tyres if it means fewer punctures. My son rang me the other week and asked if he could pop over to help him fit some tyres. His girlfriend’s bike was in need of replacement tyres and he had gotten some Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres on my recommendation. However when he came to fit them he found it impossible.

He turned up on Saturday morning with two tyres, as it happens I had also got a puncture to fix – the front tyre on my road bike had split – much like the rear tyre, they were both Schwalbe Durano Plus tyres, nice tyres – but – once split very prone to going puncturing again. I have also fitted them with Slime inner tubes and so far it was something like 4.5 to Slime and 0.5 to punctures. It is a bit odd when you run over a sharp thing. The tyre makes a phsst noise with each revolution of the wheel. Generally it takes three revolutions and the puncture gets sealed. I don’t generally even bother to put more air in the tyre when I am out – partly because the small pump I carry would struggle to add much air at a decent pressure.

I might well try to patch up the Durano tyres – but if so I will leave that until the Summer – when there is less grit on the roads and also when roadside repairs are much less tedious to carry out. So the road bike has gone onto Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres – well the rear tyre had and I decided to fit the replace the Durano at the front as well. Normally I wait until my wife is out and then use the kitchen table in the Winter, but with my son popping over the kitchen table was cleared for bike maintenance duties. Sons get it easier than husbands when they have left home it seems.

So we had a tyre-fitting “masterclass”. Although it was that masterly. I fitted his first tyre – with the aid of my new Park TL4.2 tyre levers. It went on quite well, although getting the last bit of the tyre onto the rim took more effort than I usually find. I left the second tyre as an exercise for my son and started to fit my new tyre.

He got his second tyre on – but must have nicked the inner tube with a tyre lever – so it had to come off and fix the nick and then back on again. (As time was running out – I also got the tyre off for him – again harder than I am used to.) The second time around we spent a lot of time massaging the tyre into the rim to maximise the slack at the other end. Even then it took a bit of careful tyre lever work.

All the tyre fitting must have used up my gumption (see Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for the reference). The tyre did not lie flat – it had a bit of a kink. I even tried using zip ties to stop it springing off as I worked my way around the rim. I reckon it took me as much time to fit my one tyre as my son’s two tyres. I will have to remember to ensure the tyre gets a bit of flattening next time.

I do wonder what his girlfriend will do if she gets a puncture whilst out and about. Personally I would cycle on the flat tyre – they were so tight that they would probably be ok for a few miles.

In the process I also showed him how to fit new brake blocks and get them sorted – thankfully it was very straightforward, which is what I had expected, until the tyre battles got me worried.

I noticed that Ben Hayward Cycles are now offering a Tannus tyre fitting service.

Suffering with punctures? Now fitting Tannus tyres. Flat free peace of mind.

— Ben Hayward Cycles (@BenHaywardCycle) December 9, 2015

It will be interesting to see how they ride. I would certainly consider using them – well on my hack bike that I use when I have to park in Cambridge’s mean streets (mean for cycle theft anyway). Apparently they are good for around 6,000 miles. Using the magic of the internet here is a review. Definitely worth thinking about.

Whilst talking about mileage – I hit my revised cycling goal for the year of 12,000Km/~7,500miles. What I have found though is that what with the windy, gloomy and wet weather and having reached my goal getting out for a ride has become harder again! I really don’t know how Steve Abraham, who is one of two cyclists trying to beat the Highest Annual Mileage Record does it. It must require significant mental and physical toughness to go out every day doing the miles they do. Chapeau

I hate the grime on the roads at the moment and I also find the various byways and bridleways that I routinely cycle on offputtingly muddy, but I much prefer not to be cycling where there are loads of motor vehicles. Having said that I have been working in the centre of Cambridge a few times and I can generally get in via Midsummer Common and avoid too much of the traffic. Although I find the the turn into Downing Street from St Andrew’s Street can be a little dodgy.

Generally the cyclists pile up alongside buses at the lights with most cyclists ready to turn left. Although I have nearly been rear-ended by a cyclist who obviously was so used to “turn left on red” that they couldn’t imagine I would stop. The thing is that pedestrians cross at that corner and in the hierarchy of perceptions of danger; motorists jumping red lights is really, really bad, cyclists jumping red lights is bad, well pedestrians crossing red lights is just one of those things to be expected! As only cyclists can turn left at this junction (coming the Regent St direction) most pedestrians either don’t realise or don’t care that I might be heading down Downing Street. If I do have the temerity to ring my bell I often get a cross look.

I don’t reckon that the crossing lights are very obvious to pedestrians, nor the cyclists might be coming through. Whilst I am moaning I do like the fact that the route from Parker’s Piece onto Regent Street is light controlled, however it can create conflict between cyclists and pedestrians, since waiting cyclists can unintentionally block the pavement. The same is true of the Maid’s Causeway Crossing from Midsummer Common. to get to the buttons you have to cycle up to the lights and end up blocking the pavement. Yes I know you could roll back, but it gets busy and you can end up with a queue of cyclists behind.

Whilst I suppose something is better than nothing it does highlight the way in which too often the provision for cyclists and pedestrians brings them into “conflict” too often. My general rule of cycling to meetings is if it is dry when I head out to go for it. There is also a point where if I leave it too late then I have to cycle as it is the quickest most reliable way into the city centre. I did take a dry set of clothes with me on one day, I didn’t need them, but it was pouring when I cycled home and I was “encouraged” to change from my wet clothes to my dry clothes just inside the back door as the kitchen floor had just been washed.

A few pictures from the week – I have been contributing to the #badlyparkedbike display of irony. Why does it matter. Well in my opinion the roads are getting more dangerous for cyclists, not radically so, but the injuries and deaths figures for cyclists are going in the wrong direction. I feel that part of the problem is that cycling and cyclists are treated as inferior when it comes to funding and designing facilities. Yet at the same time we have Governments wringing their hands about pollution, we have significant deaths each year attributed to pollution. The same government goes on about the cost of the NHS and also Obesity and its related problems. Yet the obvious elephant in the room is that we seem unable to see motoring for what it is – a major factor in the causes. Talk about inattentional blindness.

I drive, I own a car and have done so since is was 18. (Well there was a period when I had a company car). I need encouragement not to use it and yet I cycling is something I have enjoyed since I could first ride a bike. If I need encouragement then what about those that are scared to cycle – even the Cambridge PCC said he wouldn’t cycle in Cambridge. The trouble is most responses tend to be piecemeal rather than strategic the outcome of a planned approach with targets and measures. An example of this – “Police name Cambridge Schools in crackdown on bad parking”. (Note this links to the Cambridge News so you have been warned.)

I almost got door’d when cycling through a village – it was close enough that it was an instinctive swerve that save me. Yes I could have cycled further in the middle of the road – but then I would have been on the other side, in danger I had put myself in. The second dooring incident was as I cycled along a road with parked cars along one side a woman walked around to the drivers side saw me coming and without looking to see what was the other way swung her door wide and climbed in. Her “right” to climb into the car was more important than my safety. Many motorists really do think that a car trumps a bicycle when it comes to the rights of way on the road.

#Badlyparkedbike - Exning

Having said that – this is also the sunset season.

Looking across Ditton Meadows towards Cambridge

Bakers Fen – Wicken Fen

An Ivy-clad Tree – dying in a hedgerow

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Thoughts for the week… Punctures and games

I reckon that the last month has been pretty gloomy and I generally find it harder to get out on my bicycle in the gloom, especially when it is windy and the sorts of roads I cycle on are covered in “my-tyre” seeking sharp bits of grit.

However thanks to the wonders of “gamification”  I cycled further in November than any previous month for the last couple of years.  (It was 1,815Km if you were wondering). I blame my son, he tracks his running and cycling on Strava, so I joined up. I also took up the Monthly distance challenge of 1,250Km and despite the gloom and the wind and the rain it added another extra push to whatever it is that gets me cycling.  A couple of weeks ago I even went out for a 200Km ride, which is not something I would normally think about in the Winter months.

The good news is that it makes me feel a little more cycling-fit and makes distances shrink just that little bit.

A View from the Green Wheel – Peterborough – River Nene

The bad news is that I have had to deal with three punctures over the last few weeks as well.  For a change I have been using Schwalbe Durano Plus tyres. Because I hate fixing punctures when my bike is muddy and it is wet and dark I have also been using slime inner tubes.  I have been using slime inner tubes on my MTB for quite some time and they have massively reduced the problems of flats.  So much so that when I replace my MTB tyres I will probably go tubeless.  At least on MTBs I am sold on the concept. 

My first trial using the Durano Plus tyres and slime inner tubes on my road bike (Willow) was a ride to Kings Lynn and back. It is a round trip of around 100 miles and following the first rule of enjoyable cycling I was heading out against the wind and would be pushed home by the wind. A few miles shy of Kings Lynn, I had settled into a rhythm and was looking forward to the turn-around when psssshhhhht,   pssssshhhht,… and the back started to go very wobbly. 

To cut a long story short, there was a centimetre cut in the back tyre. The slime (green) was evident, but struggling to patch what was quite a big hole.  I positioned the hole near the bottom and pumped some air into the tyre. (200 pumps using my mini-pump) It seemed to be holding, but my mini-pump which hardly ever sees the light of day was past its best.

Durano Plus Puncture

I set off, I had spare tubes and patches, but the bike was filthy, no mudguards and lots of muddy silt on the road gave the bike an organic look. Should I stop and head back to Watlington and catch the train back to Cambridge or should I carry on, or should I patch the tube.  I decided to carry on to Kings Lynn and make a decision there.  I had to stop a couple of times on the way to Kings Lynn to pump the tyre up.  The hole was too much for the slime and after a quick bit of mental arithmetic (about probability) I reckoned that the hole in the tyre was bound to get more grit and so I opted to let the train take the strain.

It took another three stops to pump up the tyre to get home from the station.  The annoying thing is the tyre was only around 11 days old (about 1,000Km though). So what to do. I am going to patch it, with super-glue (or a rubberised version) but I am probably going to wait until the summer months before putting it back on again.  I am going to switch back to Schwalbe Marathon Plus and since the slime inner tube did help me get home I am going to put a new slime tube in. 

Ely Cathedral – lit by the Evening Sun

A Heron along the banks of the Great River Ouse -  on my way to a puncture


Christmas is Coming – Soham


Fen Skies – it was a chilly evening

Leafy Cycle Ways

Evening Sun


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Another post–at long last

There is an inverse correlation between my cycling and my blogging. Well I suppose something has to give. I am ahead of last years distance cycled (2014-6,280miles) already at 7,050 miles cycled.  Although as I track my distance in kilometres last year was a shade over 10,000Km and this year’s goal was the same but I have now revised it up to 12,000Km.

In case you were wondering I use kilometers because the first cycling odometer I got was set for Km and I have logged my distances that way ever since. My records don't go back that far though.  They go back to 19th August 1994 - 21 years, which if my use of Excel is right works out at 157,251Km (or 97,711miles according to Google, although I generally multiply by 5/8).

Of course just because there is a correlation doesn’t mean there is causation. I do know that if a make a habit of doing something I generally keep at it. I fell out of the blogging habit 8 months ago it seems. What I really ought to try and do is a post a week, which perhaps ought to be a new year resolution.  What I probably ought to do is program my calendar to send me an email reminder each week.

To cap it all the way I used to insert pictures in my blog has changed.  I hope this one works.

Recent picture from a ride on the Peterborough Green Wheel

Monday, February 23, 2015

For whom the bells toll! (Or the start of a long-term test)

Sunday, 22ndth February 2015: Well I have managed to write another post without a gap of several months. My previous habit was to take pictures every time I went for a ride, whether for business of pleasure and then Blog about it, along with anything else, cycling-related, that cropped up in the world and caught my attention.

I am.changing my approach a little, there are still things that catch my attention and still pictures taken on my travels that I want to show, but I am going to cut back on the same-old-same-old. Mind you that is easier said than done. My previous blogging habit provided a routine that meant I would load my pictures and start my blog post based around those pictures, the post might have taken a wee while to then get published but it did sit there to remind me. I have yet to start a new habit that will provide the same “nagging” window to get something done.

This means that although I have thought about several things to blog about, ranging from the accident figures that show a sharp rise in cycling casualties to transport strategy (or rather the lack of strategy in transport planning) through to my new bell, I have yet to even start the posts. Until now.

Last week I found myself working in the centre of Cambridge on four days of the week(Monday to Thursday) in two different locations. Now for me I reckon that most/all of the time, using a car is a bit of a non-starter in Cambridge, particularly when you have to travel during the rush hour and cannot be late.  The snag though is when I have to be “reasonably” smartly dressed.  I have yet to turn up at someone else’s office and have a shower so it means that I have to be careful about what I wear to cycle and how fast I cycle. Which translate into allow plenty of time.

Cycling to a work situation makes me pay more attention to the weather forecast with rain, wind and temperature being my mine careabouts. I also tend to wear my smarter (aka newer) cycling gear – it is less smelly!

Last week was unusual in that on the 8 rides, 4 in and 4 back, I got wet on 3 rides. Although only one of those was on my way in.  That is quite a “fail” rate, if I have even a small amount of leeway rain in these parts can be avoided more often. On the day I went into Cambridge in the rain I wore my cycling cape, it is pretty good and I find I don’t get so hot compared to a waterproof jacket and leggings, but it does act as a bit of a sail and hand signals are much harder as well. It does mean that the bottom half of my trousers – lower shin, do get wet.  The cape works well when wearing shorts – it was a tad cold for that though.

I did have a slight mechanical during the week, the pinger fell off my bell. I much prefer to cycle away from traffic if I can.  The trouble is despite Cambridge being perceived as being cycle-friendly much of the cycle infrastructure has been built on the cheap.  Lots of the shared-use paths are really far too narrow, or swerve around 90 degree blind corners and I find a bell to be invaluable.  The same is true when cycling on NCN51, although it is a Sustrans city to city route it does pass through some rural attractions such as Wicken Fen.  At the weekend Wicken Fen gets very busy and it is pretty muddy at the moment and some of the visitors seem to resent making way for a cyclist, far less trouble to control their dogs.

So all my bikes have bells. I prefer single-pingers to multi-pingers and normally a couple of reasonable tings as I approach people does the trick. As I was cycling through town the pinger broke off. I don’t remember how old the bell is – but it has seen pretty good service. I reckon it has seen 10 or 2o thousand miles of riding.

Here it is in its pingless state.  It feels odd cycling without a bell, every blind corner becomes a threat.  So as I was on the east side of the city I decided to pop over to Ben Hayward Cycles in Horningsea for a replacement. Fortunately the shared-use paths were unusually clear – perhaps because it was half-term?

The bell was pretty good – but occasionally the bell bit would catch and the ring would muffle and die out pretty quickly.

Pingerless Bell

Pingerless Bell – released from active service

So I wanted something similar in terms of size and ability to locate it close to my left thumb on the handlebars. After all when you need a bell you probably also need the brakes. However I wanted something a little louder if possible. On another bike I have a bell that sounds long and clear with quite a pure tone, unfortunately I am not sure that  people twig that it is actually a bicycle bell.

After some consultation in the shop this is what I ended up with – the “Incredibell Omnibell”.  It is slightly larger and the “bell” bit has holes with all work to give it a louder ring, there are also some harmonics that help to distinguish the sound. The pinger can also be rotated to make it easier to reach.

As is common nowadays the bell attaches by means of a stretchy band rather than requiring a screwdriver.

Incredibell Omnibell

The Omnibell in position – although I hadn’t twisted the pinger round. It was easy to fit and I reckon that the bell bit will probably not catch like the other bell.   Here is a review – it gets 10/10.  I will wait and see. One thing I have noticed is that the bell isn’t as close to the brake as the last bell as the rubber strap is thicker. This means that I have to be careful when I hang my thermos flask next to it when heading out into the cold fens. 

Omnibell in position

So far so good. It works in the town and I have alerted a horse rider without scaring the horse too much either.  It didn’t ring so loudly in the rain, but I wasn’t paying too much attention so I will check that out the next time I am cycling in the rain.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A rather late Happy New Year

Tuesday 10th February 2015: This is the time that yet again I say “my how time flies”. What with one thing and another my Blog has taken a back seat. There have been too many other things to do/sort out and so this time around it was my Blog that didn’t get done. Most of the stuff has been good (fun times coding in MATLAB), and a brush with an MRI scanner also turned out to be ok for my wife. So mentally I have pencilled in the start of February for getting back to my Blog although even that slipped into February.

So where to start: a quick round-up of last year’s cycling distance I guess.

Month Distance (Km) Distance (Miles)
January    503    315
February    610    381
March 1,085    678
April 1,150    719
May 1,066    666
June   719    450
July   870    544
August   868    543
September 1,004    627
October 1,077    673
November   682    426
December   416   260
Total 10,050 6,282

I can’t complain, I managed to cycle more than I drove my car, despite a touring holiday in Scotland that accounted for 2,000-odd of my driving miles – well that is what it felt like. What I did notice is that with my cycling tailing off a bit during December all my back ache and knee twinge, well, twinged a bit more.  So far this year I have cycled 900Km and am ahead of the same time last year and the aches and pains have abated. Regular exercise (of the cycling variety) certainly makes me feel better.

I am also still taking pictures as well – so here are a few highlights:


Reach Lode Bridge is back in Action (16th Dec, 2014)

Happy Smaug-mass – we watched the first of the two Hobbit films on DVD at home and then the final of film at the cinema – so as has been the tradition we had a non-traditional Christmas Cake – it was also delicious.

Happy Smaug-mas

Anglesey Abbey Mill – last day of the year

A new year’s ride through a Frosty White Fen

A Rainbow heading into Swaffham Bulbeck on NCN51

A pretty soggy ride along Gun’s Lane and Rampton Drift and Reynolds’ Drove

A very, very muddy ride along the Roman Road to Balsham – it got worse!

A deer in Burwell Fen, I have seen quite a few deer, a fox, some dead badgers (roadkill), short-eared and barn owls and quite a few herons. The highlight was seeing three bullfinches in Wicken Fen. I bumped into the Swaffham Bulbeck Cyclist who pointed them out to me and let me view them through his new binoculars. They are on the RSPB  watch list with an Amber status.

“You looking at me” – Deer  in Burwell Fen

Sometimes off the beaten track is more beaten than the beaten track!

Harrison’s Drove, near Upware

I will try not to leave it a couple of months before the next update.