Monthly Archives: January 2011 - Page 2

Make it easier for people

This morning in Belgrave, Leicester I saw someone bouncing along on a full suspension mountain bike and it reminded of a thought from the other night when I was riding along an unlit road.

Why does the Bike industry sell so many unsuitable bikes in the UK? I guess the industry would rather I worded it “Why do people want to buy such unsuitable bikes?”

A full suspension mountain bike is a hopeless bike for Belgrave, for a city environment. You see so many of them and almost without exception they are being ridden slowly because they are so heavy and inefficient. They almost never have lights, they offer nothing to keep the rider clean and dry, they have nowhere to carry anything. Their only “virtue” is that they are sold cheaply by supermarkets and discount retailers. No wonder so many people think bikes are unreliable, slow and tiring to ride.

My thoughts the other evening were not about mountain bikes but about the advantages of hub gears, well more accurately about the advantage of having only one gear control. When you ride in the dark it is so much easier to have one gear control. There are very few gear controls that tell you by touch which gear you are in (bar end levers are the only ones I use that do this). That does not matter when you use hub gears as you simply change up or down until you can’t change gear any further. However, when you use derailleur gears with front and rear changers it is suddenly more complicated and the relationship between the two gear controls matters.

So derailleur gears are more complicated for everyone in the dark, yes skilled riders will know what gear they are in without being able to see but that is not true for most people. In fact I see many people on cheap bikes who never use the front changer, with cheap bikes it is so stiff that they don’t believe it works,  so clunky that when it does they think they have broken something and so often not properly adjusted so they scrape against the chain the whole time. These riders would be so much better off with hub gears, they can change gear when stopped or when moving. There is only one gear lever to worry about, there are no gears you are “not supposed” to use (due to extreme chain mis-alignment).

If the marketers think people want mountain bikes then at least sell them with hub gears so that they are easier to use, then they might actually get used more. If they also provided lights, mudguards and high volume road tyres then they would double their safety, speed and utility.


Birdy folding maintenance

On Monday and Tuesday I am in London for the Methodist Council meeting. The simplest transport solution for me is to use my Birdy folder to get from London St Pancras to Methodist Church House (plus it will be a lot quicker to get from there to the Hotel than the coach they are providing).

But my Birdy has had a broken wing for a while. Well more accurately a broken stem hinge. I have had a new stem sitting around for a while but this has provided the motivation to get it swapped in. I find getting everything just right on a Birdy so that it works and also folds a bit tricky.

Our Birdy (which we got 2nd hand after a hard life as a demonstrator/test bike used at road shows all over the country) has as SRAM 3×7 rear hub. That means 3 hub gears combined with 7 speed derailleur gears giving 21 gears and a good range in all. This means 3 cables (1 brake and 2 gear) running from front to back, get these at all wrong and they stop the fold working.

The newer Birdys have a a lot of improvements. I find ours a great bike to ride (considerably better than a Brompton at least the older ones I have tried) but tricker to fold than a Brompton. Plus once folded it is not as small, neat or easy to carry.

If I were now buying new then I would probably go for a Brompton as my main use is when travelling by train and the folded size and ease of carrying folded is more important than the ability to use for a day long ride.

Anyway, it is all back together now with gears adjusted, brakes adjusted, tyres pumped up and fold checked so I’ll go for a short ride to test it.

As is always the case with bikes immediate availability is important. So now I have got the Birdy working again it will get more use, bikes need to be kept ready to use. If you need to do anything but walk out of the door with them opportunities to use them will be missed. I anticipate using the Birdy for our middle son by transporting it to him on the Bullitt for him to ride home (for that use the Birdy is ideal as the ride is more important than the folded size).

Folding Bikes are incredibly useful and if I were living in a big city I could see myself using one as my main bike to benefit from the gains in flexibility and security (no locking up, just take it in with you).

[Update] Back from a quick test ride. 3.5 miles average 12.75mph max 18.5mph you forget just how nice the Birdy is to ride. Yes there is flex in the handlebars but the suspension works well making it smoother than my road bikes on typical roads and cycle paths. The gear range is a really good feature of this model – although if buying new now I would probably go for an 8 or 11 speed Alfine hub gear for simplicity of maintenance and no vulnerable derailleur so close to the ground with small wheels.


If it could always be like this #ride:7miles

This afternoon to aid in my rehabilitation after my wisdom tooth operation Jane and I ventured out into the cold.

Yes we went to Starbucks, but we went the “pretty” way through Watermead Park. The roads from home to the northern entrance to Watermead Park are quieter than the main Melton Road. We then had a nice ride around the lakes coming out into Thurmaston at Miller Street (the only way from Thurmaston in and out of Watermead accessible for a cargobike).

We went very gently and it was lovely.

When you can ride on good separated cycle routes (and Watermead is at least separated from cars if not from pedestrians and dogs) then a gentle potter of 7 miles is really easy.

If people in Syston had a segregated cycle ride to Thurmaston Shopping Centre (and therefore also to Roundhill College) then I am sure lots of them would ride because it is so easy (the direct route is only about 1.5 miles). Instead almost nobody cycles because the route has been made so cycle unfriendly.

Similarly if the cycle route from Syston into Leicester City Centre worked properly ie

  • was actually complete (the last bit from Abbey Park into town is dangerous and very unclear)
  • properly surfaced (the bit between the Space Centre and Abbey Park has cracks wider than many bike tyres and huge bumps caused by tree routes)
  • with proper access from Syston itself (replacing the new “traffic calming” on Wanlip Road with something that does not make cycling more dangerous would be a start, but much more is needed).

then many more people would ride from Syston into the city which would help considerably with the congestion that makes Leicester one of the slowest cities in the country.



Transport Scotland safety first oxymoron

An extra part of the A9 is Scotland is being turned into a dual carriageway. An ancient track used by walkers, cyclists and horse riders will be blocked off with no provision at all for a crossing:

A Transport Scotland spokesperson told “Transport Scotland has undertaken extensive consultation about the dualling of the A9 at Crubenmore, with a wide range of stakeholders and over a number of years, with safety as a paramount design consideration.

“The decision not to provide a bridge or underpass was reached following review of the extensive consultation. This included consultation with the relevant local authority, Police, affected landowners, the Cairngorms National Park, Scottish Natural Heritage and key interest groups including the British Horse Society and cycling groups. via Scots Govt rules out A9 crossing point for cyclists (and everyone else) using ancient route |

It is an oxymoron to say that you have “safety as a paramount design consideration” when you will provide no support whatsoever for a safe crossing. In fact with no break in the central reservation barrier there is not even support for an unsafe crossing.

It is moronic to claim that a decision to provide no crossing at all comes as the result of consultation.

Shame on you Transport Scotland for a stupid decision that will cost Scotland in lives and in tourism.


The seduction of bike geekdom

Nowhere has the seduction of bike geekdom been so visible recently as in a series of posts on Ecovelo about chains.

Yes a whole series of posts on the wonders of clean chains achieved through a waxing process, all accompanied by stunning photos of bikes cleaner than mine have ever been.

It makes it all sound so seductive, the idea of a clean chain after hundreds of miles.

Can I resist?

Then I think about what is involved:

  • I need to buy a slow cooker to dedicate to this process.
  • I need to buy blocks of paraffin was and beeswax and  some teflon impregnated oil
  • I need to remove and very thoroughly clean my chain
  • I  need to melt all the ingredients in the slow cooker
  • Add the chain and leave for a while
  • hang up the chain to drip, give it a wipe
  • re-install the chain (but I guess onto a beautifully cleaned bike or it would be a waste of time)
  • repeat every 500 miles or so.

Then I think about my life.  I have ridden 283 miles this year. I have chosen a bike that requires almost no maintenance and since getting it in September I have cleaned the chain once (because I switched to a wax based lubricant). In that time I have ridden approaching 1,000 miles and have yet to wash the bike.

Then I think about my belief that we need to see a huge switch to cycling from car driving in this country:

If I descend the slippery (and let’s face it to a geek like me attractive slope into bike maintenance geekdom) then I throw away all hope of this becoming mainstream. No way are people who currently drive ordinary family cars going to be interested in waxing their bike chains.

So I have put the seduction behind me and am sticking to White super dry chain wax. Your chain won’t look quite as immaculate, but all you need to do is squirt some on every hundred miles or so (basically when the chain starts to squeak loudly enough to annoy you). It does a perfectly adequate job, is cleaner than oil and is very environmentally safe. Of course if you use a Dutch style full chaincase you can simply use Green Oil (only needed very rarely) without any concerns about getting yourself dirty.

For ordinary people who don’t want to worship their bikes but instead simply rely on them for everyday use I will try to fight my temptations towards superb bike equipment and maintenance 🙂


What cars do to us

I have written before about the effect our car culture has on a number of aspects of our lives such as The war on Children. Today as I rode to Starbucks I was thinking about another set of effects on us.

The practical problems are obvious (death of pedestrians and cyclists, especially of children; congestion; obesity; pollution etc). However, I have come to believe that cars have had other more insidious effects.

Have cars made us more selfish and less tolerant of others? Have they made us less patient?

At Thurmaston Shopping centre there is a roundabout at the junction between the two halves. Asda’s car park on one side and the car park for the other shops on the other side.

None of the four roads in/out of this roundabout have zebra or pelican crossings so there is no help for pedestrians or cyclists trying to cross from one side to the other.

The reaction of drivers at this junction demonstrates nicely what the car does to us. I see time after time that drivers ignore people trying to cross these road. There are always parents with pushchairs, kids, cyclists, other pedestrians trying to cross between the two halves of the shopping centre. However, the drivers are incredibly selfish and impatient. Almost none of them pause to allow people to cross the road despite the fact that so often they are queuing slowly.

I don’t believe that people are by nature this selfish, intolerant and impatient. They rarely are when you meet them face to face. The contrast when I cycled home through Watermead Park and met people face to face is quite different, I get people saying hi, giving way to each other, smiling at each other.

It seems our addiction to cars has blinded us to the negative effects on our very humanity.

Yet all our government can do is blindly encourage more of this addiction. What is it going to be like when the oil shortage really hits and society has to go cold turkey?


Avoiding the hospital queues

Yesterday evening I was visiting someone at the Royal Infirmary in Leicester. They currently have something of a lock down on visiting times due to the load on them caused by flu.

This means car parking is even more of a problem than normal.

So it was no surprise that I zipped past a long line of cars waiting to get into the visitors car park. However, I was surprised when I left to notice a long queue (I guess over 25 people) waiting to pay so they could get out of the car park. So I saved two queues 🙂

Today is my second attempt at having my operation to remove a wisdom tooth at the Royal Infirmary (last time they ran of of surgical sets and so sent me home).

So no eating this morning. However, to save getting up early I had my breakfast before going to bed 🙂

To avoid queues, keep the car park costs down and save Jane hanging around for hours  I’ll cycle into the Royal and then Jane will come and pick me up after the operation (I am not allowed to cycle or drive for 24 hours). Of course if the operation is cancelled I can just cycle home (via a big lunch).

Today will be my 81st day in a row cycling so I hope that before bed time tomorrow I’ll feel up to a short ride to keep the habit going.


Getting defeatist me up hills

I have a long history of struggling to cycle up hills. In 2010 I rode the Coast to Coast (C2C) with Christians Against Poverty and returned to the start by the Reivers Route on my own.

I was useless at the hills. I managed the C2C without needing to walk up any hills, but was last of the group I was in up every big hill – (often first down though 🙂

I found the Reivers Route even worse. I have plenty of excuses (I was towing a BOB trailer with my gear, it was very very wet, the wind was very strong in the wrong direction and I was a bit optimistic with the distances).  Basically the hills meant that I stopped enjoying myself and became overall very depressed and nearly gave up.

It seems to me I have two types of problem:

First, my fitness which is demonstrated by my fatty overweightness, note this is a technical term that I just invented and have copyrighted 🙂  The result is that when climbing I get seriously out of breath, my legs give way and I sweat so much that my glasses steam up so I can’t see where I am going. Yesterday included a fair bit of climbing with a cargo in my Bullitt (I managed ok’ish). However, it is interesting to compare that cargo to my weight. Since a (short lived) peak I have lost 50% of the weight of the cargo I was carrying yesterday. If I stay on target then by our summer holiday I will have lost more weight than yesterday’s cargo (will have lost in total about 20kg).  I am sure that losing that extra weight and generally increasing my fitness through continuing to cycle everyday and not use the car for work will help a lot.

But the second problem, and I think this is actually the bigger one, is that in my mind I seem to approach hills with the assumption that they will defeat me. I see a hill in front of me and my heart sinks. When I face a lot of hills on a route I get depressed and my mind keeps looking for excuses to give up. I am sure that a lot of my slowness and tiredness on hills is actually a mind thing rather than just physical limitations. This is not a new thing and I am fed up with it as it so often spoils days out and puts me off doing things I would like to do (eg touring).

Yesterday was by no means bad in terms of how I felt about it. I did get the sinking feeling when I saw the hills in front of me, I am sure it slowed me down but I didn’t feel too much like giving up. The 2.5 miles from Newtown Linford to the  M1 (avoiding the A50 by using Ashby Road) were almost continually uphill, the longest of the ride and I managed it and without collapsing in a heap at the top. I was down to first gear for a while but able to spin it reasonably.

I have had other bad experiences in the past. On a touring holiday with the whole family I ruined one day by getting depressed and even despairing about the hills ahead of us (plus a stretch of busy road that worried me a bit). Several of the holidays we had with the Company Cyclists left me with painful memories of long struggles up hills, they are not stronger than the good memories of those holidays but they do contribute to this general feeling when I see a hill or know there are big hills ahead.

While I can see progress with the physical side (weight loss and getting fitter) I wonder how to change this mental conditioning. I guess the obvious thing is to find more hills and ride up them lots and lots of times. But I don’t want to have to drive to big hills with my bike in the car so I am limited to what is available here. I have also been hoping that but riding my Bullitt (especially with cargo) I will feel stronger and more confident on hills when I ride an ordinary (much lighter) bike.

Locally I have found shortish hilly route (about 10 miles)  and I have ridden it the hillier way (ride to Beeby via South Croxton and then back the same way) as per this tweet:

I could ride this more often but even as I think about it that defeatist feeling comes over me 🙁

So suggestions please on how to (gently and realistically) tackle this defeatist conditioning and free myself from my hill climbing phobia.


Tumbling records

Today was a good day for riding. I had a couple of important meetings, one in Birstall for the morning (and very enjoyable it was playing working on the circuit website with Charles). The other was this afternoon and was a fair way away (the far side of the M1 off the A511). It turns out that Markfield (on the A50), especially the far side of Markfield is at the top of a range of mountains somewhat similar to the Himalayas. Well not quite, but there were some long, long hills that were pretty steep in places. According to my Garmin 705 I climbed 750 feet, however, it also says that I only descended 380 feet, yet I am back where I started 🙂

Anyway, this was the furthest single trip for work on my Bullitt (possibly the largest work mileage in a day as well) at 30miles.

It was also the furthest ride on my Bullitt with much of a load. I just weighed it at just over 16kg or 35.5lbs. That was laptop, 4 large computer books, various other largeish books (study Bible, Methodist Worship Book) plus odds and ends (eg I took an extra shirt as I thought it might rain a lot, it didn’t).

IMAG0371The route included a nice shortcut through Bradgate Park on the way (it closes at dusk so I couldn’t use it on the way home). I was very pleased to find that my Bullitt fitted through the gates into the park. However, they would not be very easy to use with a child trailer so more could be done to be family friendly.

Overall I averaged 12.2mph despite being gentle with myself and wearing normal clothing (by which I mean trainers, jeans, t-short, light fleece and at times my waterproof).

As you would expect there were no problems or issues whatsoever with my Bullitt Clockwork.

This makes 237 miles this year of which 146 have been for work. Both more than I expected.


I agree with David Cameron “I want to give the motorist a fair deal.”

David Cameron says:

“I want to give the motorist a fair deal.” via Student arrested after protest at David Cameron visit – JournalLive.

I agree, but I am not sure motorists want a fair deal. Let’s consider what a fair deal for motorists might include:

To me a key element of a “fair deal” is a sense of justice. So for a “fair deal” we should offer motorists justice. To do this we would have to:

  • Be fair and just in punishing all criminals, such as those who break the speed limit or who park where they shouldn’t. H’mm, maybe that is not the fair deal motorists want.
  • Be fair and just in our sentencing. A teacher that kills a child will be banned from teaching for life and imprisoned for many years. So a driver who kills a child should be banned from driving for life and imprisoned for many years. H’mm, maybe that is not the fair deal motorists want.
  • Be fair and just in our employment law. Someone using a mobile phone while operating dangerous machinery in a factory would at least lose their job. So drivers using a mobile phone while driving for work should lose their job. H’mm, maybe that is not the fair deal motorists want.
  • Be fair and just to employers. Dangerous machinery must have guards and safety equipment to protect the operator and others around, the consequences of not doing this are presumably fines and the risk of being shut down. So therefore all vehicles provided by or used for work must also have appropriate safety guards such as gps tracking that prevents them breaking the speed limit, breathalyser connected to the ignition,  full safety inspections and certificates, appropriate training, the requirement to wear safety equipment such as a helmet and hi vis jacket etc or face fines or shut down. H’mm, maybe that is not the fair deal motorists want.

It looks like maybe motorists don’t want a “fair deal” to mean justice.

Maybe by “fair deal” David Cameron is thinking of costs. Do motorists want to pay a fair cost?

  • A fair tax presumably means you are covering the full cost of your activity. For motorists that means the full cost not just of maintaining and developing the road network but also the external costs such as provision of emergency services, treating those injured on the roads, paying compensation to the families of those killed, paying for the damage caused by pollution (CO2, particulates, noise etc), congestion, health care caused by the motoring contribution to obesity, heart disease etc, the time lost to business through ill-health and congestion caused by driving etc etc. Sadly at the moment motorists pay far less in tax than the costs of these elements, therefore we will need to increase the cost of motoring significantly.H’mm, maybe that is not the fair deal motorists want.
  • A fair cost presumably means that motorists will pay a fair price for the space taken by residential parking as well as parking in town and city centres. With the current pressure on land space, the costs to the environment of parking (water run off etc), the opportunity cost of not being able to use the space for other uses (pedestrian, cyclist, parks etc) it is clear that currently car parking is highly subsidized and so costs will need to be raised by a very large amount. H’mm, maybe that is not the fair deal motorists want.

It looks like maybe motorists don’t want a “fair deal” to mean a fair cost.

After thinking about it I have decided that the very last thing many motorists want is to be given a fair deal by David Cameron. As a pedestrian and cyclist I fully support David Cameron in his brave decision to be fair to the motorist.


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