Monthly Archives: April 2011

A gentler ride

After doing my own personal time trial for two evenings I went for a more gentle ride this evening.

Turned out it was exactly 23 miles with 950 feet of climbing (oddly I descended over 980 feet but ended up at still at ground level when I got back home). My average speed was 15.1 mph.

The route took me to Wanlip, Birstall, Beaumont Leys, Newton Lynford, Swithland, Rothley, Crossington, East Goscote and back to Syston. Mostly very quiet. It includes a few stiff climbs (especially on the fixie).

Pleased to find that the Brooks B17 saddle is comfy. By the end though my shoulders were quite stiff as the fixie has the lowest handlebars of any of my bikes. A hour and a half like this makes a lovely end to the day.


Why don’t we do things the easy way?

Today I nipped out to join Jane for lunch at Starbucks after she finished work (nice to get away from kids on school holiday).

I checked when I was locking up my bike, which I can park right outside Starbucks, and it had taken me exactly 5 minutes to get there. As I looked around it seemed that people were taking nearly that long to park. One person took several attempts to fit a Porsche Cayenne in a space before giving up and parking it diagonally across a space and access to the ramp for wheelchairs, pushchairs and bikes.

My estimate is that a very slow bike rider can comfortably get to Asda or Starbucks at the Thurmaston Shopping Centre in under 20 minutes including locking your bike up. That is for an absolute maximum distance of 2.5 miles (it is approximately 1 mile from Syston Station and I don’t think anywhere in Syston is anything like 1.5 miles from the station). 20 minutes means an average cycling speed of 7.5 mph if you live at the furthest part of Syston and less for everyone else.

If you drive it will take between 5 and 10 minutes (unless you get caught in a queue in Syston or at the Thurmaston roundabout which could easily double your journey time at peak periods). If you visit Asda and another shop you will probably have to park twice (or spend 5 minutes walking) and you will frequently have to hunt for a parking space.

I estimate that if you live in the parts of Syston furthest from Asda a car can at very most save you a total of 20 minutes. However, most times it will save you much less and sometimes (particularly on very busy days around bank holidays) it will take longer.

I estimate that if you visit Asda and another shop (in the other part of the shopping centre) a car will never save time over cycling. You will lose the gains in either finding 2 spaces or in walking between the two centres.

Obviously this is based on going to out of town shops with huge free car parks. If you drive to the more local shops then a car will almost always be slower than cycling from anywhere in Syston.

So why is it that we make life so much harder for ourselves?

Why don’t people choose the easy option?

  • It is often faster to cycle.
  • Here it will never take you more than an extra 20 minutes per shopping trip to cycle (for just a few people on quiet traffic days)
  • The car will cost you far more in fuel and other costs
  • If you drive you will need to get exercise at another time or be less healthy and probably die younger
Why do the Council not do anything to help people choose the easy option that is good for the community? (eg a decent cycle path)
Seems that only if we were addicted to something could we ignore the costs and miss the benefits of alternative solutions.

More lovely fixie riding

So it turns out that my fear expressed in Potential bike upgrade miscalculation did not happen. Our oldest son decided that he didn’t want a bike for another term. I am clearly on notice though, as next year he will not be living right in the heart of Oxford.

So I have been enjoying my fixie while I can.

The new Brooks B17 saddle is already more comfy than the very light Specialized saddle I had on before (although it does weigh more than twice as much). I’ll get it nicely broken in before the end of the summer and then move it to the Trek Pilot. The most noticeable difference with a Brooks saddle compared to the synthetic ones I have use before is how easily your bum slides around it. Adjusting position is very simple and it feels like there is much less friction on the inside of your thighs.

Anyway last night I went out for a lovely ride on the fixie. Almost exactly 10 miles. It is running almost absolutely silent except when grit sticks to the tyres and flies off under the mudguard. The almost is because there is a very slight creak when powering out of the saddle which I need to fix. Possibly a pedal as I didn’t do anything to them when I did the maintenance, last time I had this I decided it was the velcro straps on my shoes.

Back to the ride. I averaged 17.7 mph door to door (so that includes the driveway at home and all warming up). The ride was Syston to Rearsby, then Thrussington, Ratcliffe On the Wreake, East Goscote, Queniborough and back towards Syston railway station. I think I’ll find a way to make it exactly 10 miles allowing for a bit of a warm up and then see what sort of time it takes. I am wondering if I can do a route like this four minutes faster (ie break 20mph) if I am warmed up and not negotiating our driveway and speed humps at the beginning and end. Doing the ride after 12:30 at night meant that I didn’t see a single car in the whole ride.

One of the nice things about a fixie is that when you are feeling good it just flies up short hills. That was very noticeable on Station Road in Rearsby and on Barkby Road from Queniborough. On the first I reached the level crossing and then thought to myself “I thought there was a hill before this”. Coming out of Queniborough I thought I had better give a bit of  a kick to get up the hill without having to stand and slow down. Towards the top I looked and the gps and found myself doing over 21mph which surprised me a lot.

Maybe I should strip it of excess weight (mudguards, rack, chainguard) and put the drop handlebars back on to get the speed up. Except that this evening I used it for a funeral visit so was moderately dressed up and still just hopped on, nice to not have to worry about trouser clips or tucking your trousers into your socks. Just get on and go.

I don’t like the idea of making a bike less practical just to go a bit faster.


Leicesters Golden Mile is in crisis.

The city’s Golden Mile is in crisis as a combination of pressures mean shoppers are staying away.

It is a pity that nobody recognises that one reason that people will choose to stay away from the Golden Mile is that the traffic makes it so unpleasant.

The road is always packed with cars, vans, lorries & buses. At most times of day it is faster to cycle than to drive. But it is a scary road to cycle on as it is so busy and lanes come and go.

If the Council want to make this attractive for shoppers then they need to implement significant traffic calming, provide good cycle paths and wider & safer pavements. Make it a really nice place to stroll along to visit all the shops and restaurants.

That process has worked in many other cities it would be a good idea for Leicester with it’s claims to be “Britain’s first Environment City” and a “Cycle City” to actually take action.

So my suggestions would be:

  • Change the road so that there is only one lane of traffic in each direction. No extra lanes for right turns or anything else.
  • Use the extra width to provide a 2m wide cycle path in each direction. This needs to be protected from the road by high kerbs that prevent cars etc using it for overtaking or parking.
  • Refurbish the pavements by relaying so that that are smooth and uncluttered. Surface with a nice brick.
  • Provide a level crossing of every side street for pedestrians and cyclists with total priority over all other traffic
  • Provide plenty of cycle parking all the way along the Golden Mile.
  • Turn the hatched off area of the Belgrave flyover into a clearly marked cycle lane with prioritised safe routes on and off the flyover (including in and out of both Sainsburys and Leicester College).
  • Provide much better pedestrian and cycle routes from the City Centre with excellent road crossings and clear signs.
  • At the northern end resurface the cycle lanes along the Melton Road past Rushymead. Give them priority at the small junctions and provide a safe crossing of Troon Way for cyclists and pedestrians. Make sure the cycle route is properly connected to Watermead Park, Thurmaston and Syston.
If people in Birstall, Thurmaston and Syston had a safe, clear cycle route into the Golden Mile then I am sure many more would want to shop there. As the moment it is unattractive to drive there due to the congestion and lack of parking. Cycling there is unpleasant and feels dangerous especially with the crossing of Troon Way and then horrible traffic in the Golden Mile itself.

New candidate for best all round bike

I have seen a few reviews but production models of what might be best all round bike are going to be available soon.

From a new company Milk Bikes.  Their first production bike is The Commuter and for me it ticks nearly every box as a great all round bike. If I could have only one bike then I think this would be at the top of the list.

So the design includes:

  • Disc brakes (and only support for disc brakes)
  • Gates Belt Drive (no more oily chain)
  • Shimano Alfine 11 speed hub gear (looks like this meets the sweet spot, cheaper than a Rohloff yet still runs the gears in an oil bath and has a wide & even range of gears).
  • Separate rack and mudguard mounting points
  • Space for large tyres for comfort (up to 44mm in a 700c size)
  • Track dropouts for easy chain tensioning (I would use MKS Tug nuts for easy of adjustment, found them excellent on my fixie and belt tension needs to be accurate)
  • Made of steel so should be comfy for long distances and least environmental impact in production (just a great pity the frames are not built in the UK)
  • Either straight or drop handlebars (and the drop handlebars use the Versa gear changer which is integrated with the brake lever just like a “normal” road bike).
  • Support for Schmidt Son dynamo hub with front and rear dynamo lights.
All the ingredients for very low maintenance, performance and flexibility. Yummy!

You can see pictures on Flickr.

Of course all this comes at a price with a complete bike starting at £1450 (or £1650 for the 11 speed).

Very desirable though.


Convenience: Bikes win everytime

I have been putting a new shed up and realised that I needed some felt adhesive (thought it was supposed to come with all the materials needed, but never mind).

It is 3/4 of a mile to the local hardware shop. A big tin of bitumen felt adhesive is quite heavy so obviously I went on my bike (the Bullitt Cargobike was handiest as I had just got it out to let Jane get off to work on her bike). I parked right outside, no queuing and no hassle. Got the tin and was back out in less time than it would have been to find a car parking space.

I can’t understand why people choose to use cars so much to come to the shops in a small town like Syston. Cars are just so inconvenient, expensive and unhealthy – they make no sense at all for trips to the local shops.

Meanwhile all these people making odd choices keep filling up the roads with pollution, noise and congestion. What a pity because it is a beautiful day and being out on the Melton Road would be great, friendly people, good shops – just a pity about the cars clogging it up and spoiling the atmosphere.


Potential bike upgrade miscalculation

Oop’s just realised today that my earlier offer to eldest son of having my fixie at university might mean my work cleaning it and upgrading the saddle was wasted. It might be gone for a while by Tuesday 🙁

Only consolation is that Oxford terms are so short it will be back home soon.

Today I had a lovely ride on it through Watermead Park to and from the evening service at Birstall. There is nothing to match the feeling of zooming along a smooth path in absolute silence 🙂


Gaining time by cycling for work

Yesterday highlighted the time that I keep gaining by cycling for work. By riding my bikes for work (so far 1225 miles ridden for work in 2011) I gain time in all kinds of ways. Here are a few of them:

  1. As I move more slowly than when driving (although the difference is never as big as I imagine) I tend to plan my trips out a bit more. So rather than just jumping in the car to go somewhere I gain time by being a little more organised and connecting things together.
  2. I never have to queue for car parks or junctions or road works or overall congestion. This saves significant lengths of time when moving around a city with very slow moving traffic like Leicester. Also I tend to visit several city hospitals a week and the queues to park at them are frequently 45 minutes long.
  3. I get my exercise by riding my bike to get to places so I don’t need to spend time at (and travelling to/from) a gym. This saves several hours per week (far more than any increased travel time compared to driving).
  4. As I am exercising more and getting somewhat fitter I find I can do more in a day without getting so tired. Yesterday was a good example. Holy Week (the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Day) is generally a busy one for ministers and comes straight after Lent which also tends to be a busy time. So yesterday I was leading two services, attended another and also supported a children and families event. In the past after a busy couple of months that would have left me to tired to do much else. Yet the cycling I have been doing has made such a difference that I did that work, cycled 12 miles and still was able to assemble a shed in the afternoon. It is as if I have gained hours in each day for doing things. This morning I saw another result as I reached a new low weight, making more progress on my diet. As I gain time through feeling less tired I also find it easier to burn off calories by being more active which contributes to a positive spiral.
  5. Cycling for work also has huge benefits in my work through being more visible and more approachable (getting out from a tin box makes you appear so much more friendly, for me that is helped by not wearing a bike helmet which tends to again reduce visibility and approachability). So I gain time by meeting people more easily and by more easily becoming part of the community. That has all kinds of knock on positive effects which make work easier and a nice side effect is saving time.
  6.  Possibly the largest gain is within our family. As I cycle for work and as Jane uses her bike for many errands (and where possible for work) we have reduced our dependence on cars. We have only one and we use it as little as possible. This is a huge cost saving and indirectly saves us as a family a lot of time as we don’t have to earn as much money or save as much money in other areas of our lives. One of the many opportunity costs of car ownership is reduced time for life. Sadly it is one of the costs of driving that is so often ignored. The irony is that cars are so often sold as ways of gaining time (through freedom, through increased performance etc) whereas the reality is quite different.
  7. There is plenty of research to suggest that cyclists live longer, I would certainly expect that having moved out of obesity and gradually heading for a “normal” weight that there will be a chance of long term health benefits. The chance is there of significantly gaining quality time over the long term. Though as a Christian I am not worried about this  and am not making living a long time a great target, eternity is going to be good enough for me 🙂
It has often been said that in our busy lives time is one of the most scarce and most valuable of our resources. I am very grateful that I find cycling for work a means to gain more (and better quality) time. What is especially great is that I would be willing to pay quite a lot for all this extra time yet cycling for work achieves all this and gives me loads of pleasure at the same time while costing peanuts.
Cycling for work is the greatest bargain ever!

Fixed gear bikes, handy on Good Friday

Having a fixed gear/fixed wheel/fixie came in especially handy today (Good Friday).

On a beautiful day it is great for transport (12 miles: to/from Syston Methodist Church then home to Rothley, then Birstall and home and then to/from Syston Methodist Church again).

However, I also used it in a couple of services (I’ll write about how fixed gear bikes and Brooks saddles help us interpret the crucifixion of Jesus on my other blog).

I got some admiring comments on how clean it is too 🙂 However, I also got a comment about was I off camping (2 panniers and rack top bag). While the fixie is lovely to ride and fast the Bullitt is very much more convenient for carrying things 🙂

One of the nice parts of the day was riding back from Birstall with Jane after she had been playing in a service there. It was a nice ride across Watermead (although very crowded). Jane was on her Ridgeback Avienda carrying her music stand, amplifier and electric violin. The violin is in a huge rectangular case, it just about drops into an Ortlieb backroller pannier but sticks a long way out of the top – lucky she has a step through frame as nobody is going to get a leg over that pannier to get on.


How sad, I need to ride my fixie more

I have just finished my tinkering with my fixie by fitting a new Brooks B17 standard black saddle.

So now I need to ride my fixie lots in order to break the saddle in.

How sad 🙂

I did just check and my last saddle weight 245g compared to the 540g of the Brooks B17 (cutting the weight a little by upgrading to Titanium rails would have multiplied the price by 3!). However, even without wearing in the comfort is already better.

This is exactly the same shape as the Brooks flyer on my Bullitt Carogobike but without the springs. I also went for the slightly more expensive “special” on my Bullitt which has hand hammered copper rivets compared to the machine applied ones on the standard model. This may reduce the life of the standard model slightly although well over 40 years seems to be quite normal.

The only problem is that I now have 2 Brooks saddles that will outlive me but I have 3 sons. To save arguments later about inheritance maybe I need to buy a 3rd Brooks saddle for my Trek Pilot road bike but maybe I should wait until Jane is convinced that a Books with titanium rails would be a good investment (after all variety is a good thing, so I should have 3 slightly different Brooks saddles for the purposes of comparison). This does mean it might be a long wait (but then it is probably sensible to break the Books saddles in one at a time).

So far my sons have not developed their good taste enough to realise how good a Brooks saddle is. So I hope to hand around long enough for them to begin to understand the value of their inheritance.


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