A typical utility cycling day

This is where I cycled yesterday (Thursday):


That is just over 13 miles. Yet the longest ride was only 2.6 miles.

Like most of my “normal” days it was made up of lots of small separate journeys.

  1. To someone’s home to plan Sunday’s worship
  2. To someone else’s home to plan a funeral
  3. To St Peter and St Paul primary school for an assembly
  4. To Queniborough Methodist Chapel to support an after school club
  5. To Wreake Valley Academy for a parents evening
  6. To Syston Methodist Church to open up and sort out recording for a choir
  7. A quick trip home to collect my headphones for the recording.

Note that

  • Car parking is not available close to all these destinations
  • Cycling avoids the busiest part of Syston (The Melton Rd especially the junction with High St and Barkby Rd)
  • My car engine would have never warmed up on any of these journeys. So it would have been both much less fuel efficient, much more polluting and cold inside)
  • I was able to park right outside (and sometimes inside) every destination

For the community, my employer and myself cycling is less damaging and cheaper than driving (much less likely to kill or injure someone else, no air pollution, no noise pollution, less damage to the roads, no congestion) with obvious health benefits and savings (I’m less likely to be obese, will take less time off work and won’t have damaged anyone else’s health).

Yet doing these short journeys around a small town involves significant levels of determination to ignore perceived danger and actual inconvenience created by planners. In a small town, where nobody lives more than a mile from the centre or from school we have developed an infrastructure that prioritises getting around this small area by car. This is crazy! It helps nobody and harms us all (road deaths, air pollution, congestion, noise pollution etc).

Drastic action is needed to improve the quality of life for everyone. Here are a few examples:

  • an enforced 20mph limit for the whole town.
  • Narrowing the Melton Road and adding segregated cycle tracks on both sides
  • Closing the Melton Road as a thru route for all but buses and cycles
  • Fixing the railway bridges on the High St and Fosse Way so HGV’s don’t need to go through the town centre.
  • Closing Upper Church St to all vehicles except for access to the houses.
  • Closing off Brookside at the east of St Peter Street.
  • Massive street calming on Parkstone Rd to stop parents using it to drive kids to/from school. Create a car park/waiting area alongside the Melton Rd in the sports field (reducing the size of the school car park to compensate)
  • double the width of the path along the brook between Fosse Lane and Brook St
  • traffic calming in the Hobby Horse estate (only buses to have through access)

Another Bivy Test

Going to do another Bivy test in the garden tonight as it is a cold night (currently about zero degrees according to my Garmin).

This time I am making it a bit more realistic by starting outside with everything packed as if I have just taken it off my bike. In the morning I’ll pack it all away again before coming inside.


So these are the bags I intend to use for off road Bike packing (ie The Winter Event and The Welsh Ride Thing). They all fit on my Bike for Life without needing any racks. They will also be used for my Sabbatical tours but with added panniers for extra clothing as you can’t turn up for a residential week with just one cycling specific outfit and nothing else ;-)

The top yellow bag (20 litre Alpkit Airlok XTra Dual drybag) will be under my handlebars held in a WildcatGear Mountain Lion harness. It contains my Tarp (Alpkit Rig 7), Sleeping Pag (Exped SynMat UL 7 LW), Exped Pillow/Pump, Bivy Bag (Borah Gear Snowyside) and thermal top and bottom for sleeping in. The bag isn’t full.

The bottom yellow bag (an Alpkit XTra Tapered drybag) will be carried behind the saddle in a WildcatGear Tiger. It contains my Sestrals Sleeping Quilt.

The bottom black bag is my WildcatGear Ocelot frame bag. At the moment it is not very full containing a 2 tarp pole set, pegs, cord for guys, lamp and headlamp.

The right hand bag is a WildcatGear Lioness with phone, wallet, kindle, phone recharging battery, usb cable and Nexus 7 tablet.

When riding I’ll also have an Alpkit Stem Cell for stove and pot plus a Medium Fuel Pod for snacks.

You can see my Garmin which is just checking the temperature (off the ground as it sits on the Lioness Bag). At the moment is says 1 degree Celsius. Based on previous nights I expect to be ok with this to a few degrees below zero, by adding a jacket I expect to be ok to at least -5.

My current expectation is the the most tricky part of the whole process will be deflating and putting away the Exped Sleeping mat. It took me a while to get it packed last time and that was in the house.

More Sabbatical Route Planning

Since writing my last post, Sabbatical starting to firm up, more progress has been made. I am now hopeful that I can go straight from The Welsh Ride Thing event to an 8 day Individually Guided Retreat at St Beuno’s. All good. So I have continued to play with setting up my cycle routes.

These are by no means final. So far I have done almost no tweaking of the routes from what Strava suggests. Note that Strava can’t cope with ferry crossings which is why the route is subdivided when I go onto Arran (to avoid busy roads and because it was so beautiful when I rode LEJoG) and Mull (to get to Iona). My plan is not to have many fixed points en-route for sleeping but to be more flexible than planning around campsites. None of the sections are so long that they it is worth the complications of routing via campsites. Instead I’ll stop when it seems to fit. I can wild camp when needed and by not using campsites that much I can use a hotel or B&B occasionally and still save money.

So here is the plan:

Part 1

Part 2

Total 1,497 miles plus whatever I do during 3 days of The Welsh Ride Thing

Sabbatical starting to firm up

At last some of the dates that I have been waiting for have been confirmed. So now I have a few fixed points in my Sabbatical tour.

  • 17-19 April: Bristol for Bespoked: The UK handmade bicycle show
  • 2-4 May: The Welsh Ride Thing I’ll be getting some practice for this at the Ford Fiesta Winter Event in January.
  • 13-19 June: Iona Abbey for
    • Unfurling
      We all dream of a better world. More peaceful, more harmonious, more caring and more celebratory. That peaceful world needs to begin in us. This week with Ian and Gail Adams will be an opportunity to explore how we might discover, nurture and then live out our deep God-given inner peace. This may gradually come to be experienced as an unfurling into a life of imagination, adventure and generosity. The week will offer a mix of teaching, conversation, stillness and spiritual practice.

As for the gaps.

Firstly, I hope to spend some time with Andy, Lois and our grandson Harry between Bespoked and The Welsh Ride Thing.

Secondly, I still want to fit in an 8 day Individually Guided Retreat at St Beuno’s, ideally either starting a few days after the Wesh Ride Thing or finishing around 10 days before the Iona week.

After Iona, I’ll come home via spending some time at Lindisfarne.

Obviously the plan is to cycle between everything. It does look like two separate trips at the moment with a few days at home between.

So trip 1: Syston – Bristol – Cardiff – WRT – [St Beunos?] – Syston

and trip 2: Syston – [St Beunos?] – Iona – Lindisfarne – Syston

although it might have to be three trips if I have to do Syston – St Beuno’s – Syston because of timing.



Dandy Designer for sale

We are currently on holiday in Cornwall in our Dandy Designer. After this it will be up for sale.

We are switching to a caravan with shower to make visiting grandson & family easier, especially in winter and to make it simpler to take grandchildren on holiday should they want to travel with aged grandparents.

Ours is a beautiful example of a Dandy Designer (ours is the light blue colour scheme). That is a 5 bed, compact folding camper that can be put up and taken down in the rain and which is made of insulated PVC so no mould to worry about.

It also has a lot of extras and upgrades:
– a proper Dandy PVC awning
– bed skirt for the “higher” double bed
– fully factory winterised specification
– fitted blown air gas heater
– roof lining

  • Alko stabiliser hitch (makes it an absolute delight to tow, whatever the load or weather)
  • upgraded suspension units. Factory fitted. 750kg units which also mean the trailer tows level
  • gas struts fitted to both bed units making it much easier to put up and down
  • new LED lighting units fitted for towing. Much brighter and more reliable.
  • roller fresh water bottle
  • trolley waste water
  • portable 3 way fridge
  • two strips of LED lighting (12v or mains) providing excellent light in camper and awning

We have had it just over 4 years with holidays in France and Netherlands as well as all over the UK.

You won’t find a better equipped Dandy anywhere :-)

Bivy explorations

So I have added the crazy idea of doing the Welsh Ride Thing (WRT) to my sabbatical. Also I’m planning to wildcamp during the journey sections to add flexibility (not that many campsites to choose from) and reduce cost.

Both the WRT and the Wildcamping will work best if I don’t have to put my my fairly large tent (Vango Banshee 300) which is well suited to comfortable nights on campsites.

So I am looking at a range of possibilities.

  • Week long camping (eg at Lindisfarne): Vango Banshee Tent with a Tarp as a large porch
  • Nice Campsite (chosen because it has showers): Vango Banshee Tent
  • Wildcamping in the rain: Bivvy bag with Tarp covering kit and my head
  • Wildcamping when discretion is needed: Bivvy bag. Tarp laid over bike and kit
  • Wildcamping when short of time: Bivvy bag for me

It looks like I might wildcamp for 20 nights during the sabbatical. It would also open up options at other times such as I could have wildcamped on my way to Synod last month instead of starting so early in the morning (well if I hadn’t had meetings the evening before). That does mean I could save maybe £200 in campsite fees (not quite sure of the fees for a cyclist with a single tent).

As I looked at Bivvy bags one that is cheap and very popular is the Hunka, the XL version in particular seems a good option.

But (and it is a big but) the Hunka has a simple draw string at the top. That means your head is always exposed. Not a problem with rain as I’d always have a tarp to provide protection (and keeping your head out helps reduce condensation in the Bivvy bag). However, during the months of my sabbatical when camping in the UK midges are going to potentially be a big problem. I have horrible memories of them from when I walked the West Highland Way some 30 years ago.

So I asked for help on the BearBones Bikepacking Forum and have spent ages looking at the suggestions and reviews. This is what I have found so far.

Midge Protection. Seems that “The Stopper” is going to be essential when stopped and not sleeping. I could potentially sleep wearing one using a Hunka Bivvy but it does not appear a very comfortable or attractive option.

So I have been looking at other options, specifically Bivvy bags with mesh protection from midges. My preference is for a Bivvy bag that my sleeping mat (Exped UL 7 MW on order) can fit in (so it does not get dirty or punctured so I can also use it inside my tent afterwards) along with my quilt (Sestrals Quilt on order) and which will allow me to sleep on my side (cos I hate sleeping on my back).

The cheapest is the Highlander Hawk available for about £50. Not a lot of information available about it. In particular regarding how breathable the material is (critical to reducing condensation and being able to sleep with it fully closed in heavy rain). Not yet sure how much space there is in it. It does not look like it will be possible to fully enclose it so it will need a tarp when it rains.

Another option is the RAB Ascent for about £150. I like the look of how you can hold it open with the mesh protection but it looks pretty claustrophobic if you had to close the zip due to rain. The reviews are pretty positive, however, it looks like if I can sleep in it with my mat it will be tight and I might not be able to sleep on my side.

I could go slightly larger with a Terra Nova Jupiter or RAB Ridge Raider. Both get excellent reviews, but are a fair bit heavier (plus more expensive) and almost like carrying an extra tent.

Then there are a couple of nice options that just don’t seem to be in stock anywhere. That includes the RAB Sierra and the Outdoor Research Helium or Alpine.

I’m told there might be new possibilities in the pipeline that might also be made in the UK.

Meanwhile the most promising seems to be an American product. The Borah Gear Snowyside eVent Bivy. This is larger than the RAB Ascent has more mesh than the RAB Sierra and has at least one excellent review. Generally Event fabric seems to be the highest quality combination of waterproof and breathable. With the side zip option it looks like a great option.

No decision yet. More thinking to do.

More sabbatical plans

I’ve been experimenting with possible Sabbatical plans a little based on the April 2015 dates for St Beunos and the Welsh Ride Thing on 2/3/4 May. I’m still waiting for the Iona Abbey dates to come out and the St Beunos dates for May.

One possibility itinerary is:

  • Stage 1: Syston to St Beuno’s 2 days 136 miles
  • 8 day Individually guided retreat at St Beuno’s
  • Stage 2: St Beunos to Bristol 3 days 175 miles
  • 1 day to visit the Bespoked: The UK Handmade Bicycle Show – arriving on my UK Handmade Bicycle :-)
  • Stage 3: Bristol to Cardiff 2 days a minimum of 50 miles
  • Spend some time with Son, Daughter-in-law and grandson
  • Stage 4: Cardiff to start of the Welsh Ride Thing at Forest Freeride 3 days 100 miles
  • Do the Welsh Ride Thing 3 days and no idea how many miles, I guess I’d be aiming for about 150?
  • Stage 5: Forest Freeride to Iona via Arran 11 days about 430 miles (4 ferrys)
  • Iona Abbey for 7 day course
  • Stage 6: Iona to Lindisfarne 6 days 265 miles (2 ferrys)
  • Quiet camp at Lindisfarne 7 day
  • Stage 7: Lindisfarne to Syston 5 days 290 miles

To give maximum flexibility I now plan to wildcamp where I can on the various stages. Otherwise I’ll use camp site stops (after all wildcamping is not officially allowed in England).

So far this looks like about 1,500 miles of cylcing although once I tweak the routes to be on quieter roads I expect that to increase a bit (which is why I have allowed so much time for the stages).

All this will be on my Bike for Life which will need to undergo a bit of a transformation part way through in order to be used off road for the Welsh Ride Thing. I’ll need to sort out off road tyres and remove the racks & mudguards just for that.

Bikepacking for on road riding and flexibility

My understanding is the Bikepacking is a new(ish) term for Mountain Bike touring without racks. Generally kit is carried in frame bags and in dry bags hung from the saddle and from the handlebar. Some people use a rucksack as well.

In recent months I have been getting a number of British Made Bike packing bags. I used some on the Epworth Pilgrimage and others on my long ride last weekend to and from Synod in Milton Keynes. My full collection of Bikepacking bags is now:

When touring in bikepacking style the expectation is that you will be doing very lightweight camping due to the limited volume of the bags. That means a Bivvy Bag and/or Tarp or a very lightweight tent. It means minimal cooking and accepting being very smelly ;-)

However, I’m using the bags in other ways too.

I have not fitted racks to my Whyte Road Bike (and do not want to) and despite these bags being originally conceived for Mountain Bikes they work really well on my road bike. They make the bike fast and convenient for long rides where I need to carry a change of clothing (such as to Synod) or more food (eg long rides when you won’t pass many open shops). Also they will allow me to use the road bike for lightweight overnight stops, a road bike version of Bikepacking.

I’m also looking at using them for my sabbatical. That is now looking at about 1,500 miles in 7 segments totalling 32 days. Plus 30 days on retreats, visiting etc. Also I’m hoping to add the Welsh Ride Thing. As the ride will include The Welsh Ride Thing I will need this bags for their originally designed purpose. However, the rest of the time they will be useful combined with my panniers as a neat way taking bulky stuff (tent, sleeping bag) leaving more space for the extra clothing I’ll need for the retreats etc. They also make stuff like food easily accessible while riding.

New and crazier sabbatical bike ride idea

Some, who may not know me well, might have thought my existing Sabbatical plans were crazy enough (Leicester to Lindisfarne for a week, then Iona for a week, onward to St Beuno’s in North Wales for an 8 day individually guided retreat and then back to Leicester).

But now I have had an idea that will make it even more crazy.

It starts with a growing interest in Bikepacking (more later) and lightweight, wild camping (in a Bivvy Bag). Initially that was about new ways of carrying stuff and alternatives to luxury (and expensive) campsites that are widely spaced.

Then I discovered The Welsh Ride Thing (WRT)

Next year The Welsh Ride Thing is 2/3/4 May. So now I am wondering whether to do my Sabbatical route in reverse order fitting in the WRT after St Beuno’s. It would mean finding a place close to the start of the WRT to stash my full touring kit (including mudguards, front and rear racks) and switch to off-road tyres. Sounds like fun though. I love the non elitist, non competitive nature of it which after all is particularly suited to slow and overweight 50 year olds like I’ll be :-)

Saturday will be my longest ride

So on Saturday I have my longest ride ever at just over 125 miles in total. That is 62.6 miles from home to the Northampton Methodist District Synod in Milton Keynes and then the same home again after.

The route is on Strava if you want a look.

As I need to be at Synod by 10am it will mean a pretty early start!!! :-(

While it promises to be a lovely ride I do have to admit it will not reduce my carbon footprint as I could have easily got a lift in a car that is going anyway.

I think my previous longest ride was a smidgeon under 120 miles so this is not a lot longer, although it will include about 5 hours of Synod as a long lunch break.

I’ll be riding my Whyte RD7 Suffolk with various Bike Packing style luggage:

It shows how much has changed over the last few years that 125 miles with 6,000 ft of climbing does not seem particularly daunting or anything to worry about :-)

I don’t know why cycling to day meetings does not get more coverage, it makes them so much more fun and healthier!


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