Monthly Archives: November 2010

Another amazing Danny MacAskill video

I love these videos “Danny MacAskill on the Streets of London”. Absolutely awesome, I ride my Bullitt cargobike in an almost identical way 😉

The attitude towards cycling infrastructure varies with its quality.

The attitude towards cycling infrastructure varies with its quality is an old post by David Hembrow but well worth reading and watching the video about the history of separated cycle infrastructure in the Netherlands.

My view is that most British car drivers are totally unaware of how inadequate nearly all British cycle paths are. They don’t realise:

  • That many cycle paths in the UK put cyclists in more danger at junctions than being on the road
  • That their surfaces resemble roller coasters
  • They they are frequently covered in glass
  • That they keep ending and abandoning cyclists at unexpected places
  • That they don’t go to useful places
  • That they have many barriers that bikes with trailers, bikes with children on the back, tandems, recumbents, cargo bikes can’t get through
  • That the “dropped” kerbs are frequently so poor that you can’t use them with road bike wheels
  • That they are almost never gritted, salted or cleared of snow
  • That they are rarely lit at night
  • That they go through wild places where it is scary to be alone at night
  • That they are so narrow that our bikes are sometimes wider than the path
  • That we often find cars parked in the bike lanes
  • That cars, vans and lorries often drive into the bike lanes
  • That pedestrians like to walk all over the bike paths and let their dogs roam all over them
  • That councils rarely sweep up leaves or other debris from cycle paths
  • That we get so little priority at many traffic lights that we wait for far longer than any motorised vehicle.
  • That many traffic lights don’t detect cycles and so don’t change for us
  • That they are frequently blocked by temporary road signs and that there are almost never diversions when they are blocked by road works
  • That many of them significantly increase journey times

If roads were as bad for drivers as cycle paths are for cyclists then there would be a huge uprising in this country.

Oop’s trolley nearly too full for Bullitt

Just back from Asda. This trolley load:

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Just fitted in my Bullitt. Here we see it loaded at Asda (and nice not to have to push the trolley across miles of car park). At this point I was beginning to wonder if I need a cargo net to put over the top.

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But as you can see from this picture of the Bullitt ready to unload at home everything stayed in place with no problems. Yes, the handling was absolutely fine. Before long I am going to need a front light in front of the cargo as it is starting to block the front lights from lighting up the road just in front of the bike 🙂

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One of the nice things about riding in this weather is that the frozen stuff stays frozen on the way home 🙂

I confess that before going into Asda I did nip into Starbucks for a coffee. It is nice to be able to park pretty close – especially as there was not huge demand for the outside tables 🙂

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Traidcraft collection

In Reduced stress Christmas Shopping I referred to making life less stressful and better by buying stuff from organisations such as Traidcraft. So last night, on my way home from the evening service,  I collected a box of stuff . Lucky I was on my Bullitt 🙂 So here are a few pictures:

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Note that I had turned the front lights off for the photos 🙂

It was only 3/4 of a mile home so I just dropped the box on top of everything else. So quick and easy 😉

39.5kg of books in the snow

I am just back from the morning service at Harrison  Road. As you can see from the two pictures below there is still plenty of snow and ice about.

So what was it like riding a loaded cargo bike a total of 7.6 miles in the snow and cold (according to the car -9C when I left home)?

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You can see that by noon the main roads are clear but nothing has been done to the pavements or cycle paths.

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Here is the bottom layer of stuff. Three bags of books plus change of clothes (my suit is too thin for these temperatures and my best shoes too slippery). Total weight of cargo (according to our bathroom scales) 39.5kg

The important thing to note is that the trip was totally without drama. I went pretty slowly, although on the way due to my forgetting that the service was at 10:15am not 10:30am I had to put my foot down a bit. The Bullitt was sure footed and gave me no scares.

I do get a lot of comments from people about how hard it must be to ride with a load like this. I have to say that exactly the opposite is true. The riding it is easy. The Bullitt gets steadier as you load it and the gears are plenty low enough for the hills around here. I think I got down to 3rd gear when I had to stop at the mini roundabout just before climbing over the Railway Bridge at Syston. But that made it very light and easy pedalling. I am pretty confident that just about anyone that can ride a bike can ride a cargobike with a load like this.

Obviously I am not going to break any speed records on the road. But then neither were the 54 cars queueing to get out of Syston onto the roundabout by Thurmaston Shopping Centre as I came home. Nor will the drivers who spent ages defrosting their cars so they could see.

When I collected the books from Syston I pushed the bike inside and loaded it in the warm without having to carry the books far. At Harrison Road I also went straight inside to unload. There are double yellow lines outside Syston Methodist Church and the Car Park at Harrison Road was already full. So I would have had to carry these heavy bags of books quite a distance too and from a car.

So this way was much more convenient (again) and probably quicker (count the time for defrosting the car in -9C, parking, carrying 2 loads of books, queuing). Plus I arrived unstressed and awake. Also a bit warm, still over estimating how much clothing I need 🙂 Remind me again why anyone would want to drive on a beautiful day like this!

Tips wanted for cycling in the snow and ice

Following my post Bullitt cargobike in English snow I am looking to collect wisdom on cycling in British winter conditions where there is snow and ice about.

There are plenty of films on youtube showing ordinary people cycling through snow, even blizzards in the Netherlands and Copenhagen.

However, things are somewhat different in the UK:

  • I have not yet been anywhere in England where any cycle path has been cleared of snow or gritted. Pedestrians are frequently forced to walk in the road due to ice on the pavement.
  • Generally we don’t get much snow (compared for example to the 40cm that fell in Copenhagen yesterday).
  • The result of doing nothing to make walking and cycling safer is that car traffic levels are often appalling when there is snow about. People panic about getting to the shops and so the roads fill up with frustrated and inexperienced drivers.
  • We have very little cycle infrastructure and what we have is rarely properly separated from motorised vehicles. Being on the road is very scary when there is snow about as the lanes end up narrower so there is little or no passing space and you are being followed/overtaken by several tons that can’t stop and do not realise how little control they have.

I am not very experienced to be offering advice. I have had 2 winter falls in the last 3 years. One where the bike just seemed to slip out from under me on ice and the other where I cam a cropper in deep snow when there was a frozen stream under the snow that I reached at about 20mph.

So I am interesting in hearing from more experienced riders.

Here are my initial thoughts:

  1. Consider studded snow/ice tyres such as the Schwalbe Marathon Winter range. I have got a front studded tyre on order for my Bullitt cargo bike (I think the front tyre is more critical as you can control back wheel skids but if the front wheel goes then you are likely to come off)
  2. I have been told it is a good idea to ride with lower tyre pressures fro better grip. Seems to me that works better if you have tyres with a lot of air in them rather than skinny road tyres.
  3. Lowering you saddle to make it easier to get your feet down might be a good idea.
  4. Make sure your bike is lit up like a Christmas tree. Car drivers are not expecting to find a cyclist on the road if it is not a summers day.
  5. Go slow, allow plenty of time. Use your bike as a support to walk across tricky bits. Don’t try to prove anything, particularly near moving cars.

Bullitt cargobike in English snow

So the Danes are used to coping with snow 🙂

Things are a bit different here in England.

  1. We don’t usually get anything like as much snow as the Danes (we had between 2 and 3cm overnight here in Syston, Leicester).
  2. We don’t clear cycle paths (or most pavements which I think this is a huge safety problem, especially for the elderly) of snow and don’t sprinkle grit/salt on them either.

This means that cyclists are frequently riding on roads where there is the full range from clear to fresh snow, then compacted ice via compacted snow. The edges often collect slush and ice making them treacherous for cyclists. As we don’t clear most pavements the snow gets compacted and turns to ice often lasting ages after the snow has gone everywhere else.

So I went for a ride this afternoon (after 5pm so it was properly dark) to try out some new clothing but also to see how my Bullitt cargobike would handle in these conditions.

Over 11 miles in -3C I tried a wide variety of conditions around here:

  • residential streets with no gritting/salt and a variety of traffic levels so conditions ranged from fresh snow through varying amounts compacting the snow to some that were just sheets of ice.
  • busier streets where the snow had mostly disappeared but the gutter sometimes had snow, sometimes ice in it
  • separated cyclepaths with either pretty fresh snow (encouragingly always some bike wheel tracks).
  • Paths through various bits of Watermead Park including some unsurfaced ones (exploring some bits I didn’t know in case I could find a route to Birstall from the northern part of Watermead that is not blocked by something impassible to cargobikes.
  • My route included four urban areas/towns/villages (Syston, Thurmaston, Belgrave, Birstall, Wanlip).
  • No real hills, steepest slope is from the canal up into Birstall where clearly cars had been slipping a lot

I did not fall off once. That will seems obvious to Europeans who are more used to bikes and snow. We English tend to assume that anything without 4 wheels and an engine will immediately fall over if there is any snow about.

In fact my Bullitt handled the conditions very nicely. I was in no hurry and was pretty cautious. I had my back wheel slip slightly under power climbing bridges over the canal twice. I locked my front wheel braking once (forgot that my Bullitt has the brakes the European way round, front on the left rather than the English front on the right) but the effect was much less than locking the front wheel on an ordinary bike so was no problem. I had a bit of deliberate fun with rear wheel skids a few times 🙂

I was actually surprised that the Bullitt went so well over quite long stretches of sheet ice (although I didn’t try stopping at that point I did make it over some speed bumps).

As you would expect the combination of hydraulic disc brakes and hub gears meant there were no mechanical problems. The only thing that did not work fully was that my phone camera flash was disabled due to the cold. So here are a couple of “atmospheric” shots as I left Birstall.

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All in all very encouraging for me to continue to ride each day. Tomorrow morning I expect it to be pretty icy, but I only have to go about 4 miles to Harrison Road Methodist Church. Mind you I will be carrying about 40 copies of the hardback Methodist Worship Book, so I’ll probably just cut through the ice 🙂

Cycling gear for cold weather

By English standards it is quite cold today (-3 C and 2cm of snow) so I took advantage of a trip to some shops to get a bit better prepared to continue my daily cycling habit (27 days in a row at the moment, cycled every day but 4 since September 1st).

I don’t have any intention of changing my habit of cycling in normal clothes for everyday usage (part of my 10 tips to making riding your bike normal. although see Breaking your own rules), but I did need some changes for this colder weather (with the assumption that we will get some more wet weather as well).

The only cycle specific clothing I normally wear in cold or wet weather is gloves. I have fingerless gloves for warm weather, I have some waterproof ones but they are not very warm. I have some nice (actually not cycle specific) thinsulate ones but while they are very warm they are not at all waterproof and are horribly cold when wet. So I got some cycle specific warm & waterproof gloves. They have good grip and are made slightly curved so gripping is easy. They have a superbly grippy palm.

In other clothing I got a North Face hat (I won’t tell you how horrible the old woollen hat I had was). Nothing cycle specific about it and no need for there to be.

I also got some nice Craghopper cargo style trousers, water resistant, smarter than jeans and with a warm lining. I can buy 6 of these for the price of one pair of the new Rapha cycling trousers. See Are these Raphas the ultimate city cycling trousers?

Finally I bought a Peter Storm thermal T-Shirt (wish I had been wearing at the time I was shopping as it was so cold). Hopefully means less bulky layers are needed. But there is nothing cycling special about it.

Besides the clothing I decided to treat myself to an early Christmas present, a metal thermos flash by Berghaus that I’ll be able to fit in a water bottle holder. Should save a few trips to Starbucks 🙂

So a while after we got home I decided I have better try this stuff with today’s ride. I went out just after 5pm in -3C with snow on the ground (mostly hard packed sometimes into sheet ice).

I was really comfy in my North Face fleece (made with windblocker) and two very lightweight fleeces on top of the thermal t-shirt, in fact a bit warm, could have done with one less layer and so had the North Face jacket mostly zipped open.

The trousers were lovely, very cosy, easy movement. The gloves and hat also did a good job.

I did stop twice to have some coffee from my flask (really just to test the flask as in 11 gentle miles it really was not needed). It worked well, in fact I finished off the coffee at home and after 90 minutes it was still too hot to just drink.

I had my waterproof jacket in the Bullitt box but did not need it.

So cycling comfortably in snow wearing clothes suitable for most meetings (other than those where I need a clerical collar) and only the gloves were cycling specific.

None of this will be any news to people who ride bikes in Europe, but here so many cyclists I see commuting look like they are in the middle of a road race. I don’t think it is normally needed.

What were they thinking of?

What exactly was someone thinking about when they installed this at the entrance to a cycle route that is part of the National Cycle Network?:
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You can (just) get past without getting off. But I am still trying to work out what the cage over the kissing gate is for. Also the little foot rest in the gap,  just there to trip you up if you are stupid enough to try to squeeze through. All this fun and games off Bath Street, Leicester:

Reduced stress Christmas Shopping

Today we went for reduced stress Christmas Shopping. So here are our top tips for getting the Christmas Shopping done with less stress:

  • Order lots online 🙂 We use a variety of fair trade organisations such as Traidcraft and charities for many of the presents we buy. Much reduced stress from not having to fight through crowds of shoppers and from the good feeling that comes from buying good that have been fairly traded and where our money helps others.
  • IMAG0250When you go shopping make a nice day of it by cycling into the main shopping centre (for us Leicester City Centre is only about 6 miles). We didn’t check the temperature this morning (our only thermometer is part of the car dashboard). But it was quite cold (below freezing anyway) Although nothing like Copenhagen 🙂
  • Gloves are critical, a nice hat helps. But elsewhere we both ended up removing a layer after a while.
  • Having bikes with cargo capacity is helpful. I think the ultimate would be a Bullitt with the lockable aluminium box. You could just move from shop to shop locking the shopping in it as you go to save you having to carry it all.
  • The money you save on car parks and fuel can be used for nice fair trade coffee 🙂
  • As you are not dictated to by traffic jams or availability of car parking you can be more flexible. Zipping across town for a specific shop is easy.
  • You can also enjoy  a nice cake with your coffee as you will burn off the calories as you beat the cars home 🙂

The only downside is the attempt by car drivers to pass their stress onto you with crazy overtaking, usually combined with a sudden stop. How come so few car drivers look ahead of the bike they are dying to overtake in order to see that there is a stationary car 20 metres ahead. Or a long queue of cars unable to overtake a bus, in which case why overtake the bike that is already in the queue. Coming back through Thurmaston this was particularly noticeable, makes you wonder just how many car drivers have had their brains destroyed by some mystery virus. Maybe it is particularly triggered by darkness outside.

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