Monthly Archives: July 2011

Reducing bike height

When we booked our summer holiday we measured the height of the car with roof rack and soft Tule roofbox. I compared this to the Dandy camper and the height of a bike and figured it would be fine.

However, it turns out that my temporary (wooden) bike rack for the Dandy camper it a bit higher than I had thought. That is because I needed to allow enough height to fit some diagonal bracing.

So it means that besides all the other bits and pieces preparing 6 bikes for out holiday I have had to reduce their height as much as possible.

Saddles are obviously easy. Handlebars less so.

Three bikes have height adjustable stems (easiest way to raise the handlebars and shorten the reach when fitting a shorter person). I have lowered those and rotated the actual handlebars.

On the road bikes I have used a combination of moving the spacers above the ahead style headset & rotating the handlebars.

On the mountain bike which was the only one with a rising stem & riser bars I turned them both upside down.

The result is that depending on the tow bar height of the loaded car I should have about 1 or 2 cm to spare (will actually load the bikes last so I can check which end of the Dandy I should use for the taller bikes). A bit tighter than I would have liked!

Of course the ferry will probably have loads more headroom than we need (we will be a smidgen under 2.4m high).


Getting space from cars

One of today’s rides  illustrated nicely that the reason drivers do not give cyclists space is because they don’t see them.

I rode home from B&Q with a 1m long piece of metal sticking out of my “offside” (RHS in UK) pannier. I closed the pannier lid which held it roughly in place. However, as I rode along it swayed about a bit at times angled towards overtaking traffic.

For the first time cars overtook me like the picture in the highway code 163 tells them they should.

I was wearing a dark t-shirt and no high visibility anything. Yet suddenly because of a narrow, wobbly bit of metal that might scratch their car drivers gave me lots of room.

Anyway in my opinion the text of rule 163 does not agree with the image.

  • Drivers do not give other cars this much space when they overtake.
  • Drivers do not leave this much space when they pass parked cars
  • Drivers do not leave this much space when they pass a vehicle going the other way
  • May sets of road works have cars passing in opposite directions, each doing 50mph closer than this.
I believe the highway code rule 163 could be better worded. Such as
At 30mph or slower leave vulnerable road users at least 3ft/1m of space. At higher speeds leave a space at least as wide as your vehicle.

Gaining freedom of the City

In the last few weeks our middle son has suddenly realised how much more freedom he gets from his bike. There is no doubt that having a girlfriend who loves to cycle and it part of a cycling family has been a significant encouragement 🙂

So now he rides off to the other side of Leicester to meet the girlfriend, then together they rode to swimming at Beaumont Leyes.

We are fortunate that there is some cycle infrastructure here, it is of a poor quality (lots of sharing with dog walkers, terrible surfaces, narrow obstructions, overhanging brambles) and takes approximately twice as long as the straight route down the Melton Road.

However, poor quality though it is he feels a lot safer using it and now intends to switch from commuting to College by train to using his bike (I suspect a secondary motive that he thinks he will get to pocket the train fare).

Having the confidence to set out to places you have not cycled to before (as Beaumont Leyes swimming pool today) knowing that you will be able to get there ok is the key to having your freedom.

Sadly as our son is gaining the freedom of Leicester many are being denied the freedom of London as Transport for London are about to start work on making Blackfriars less safe for cyclists and less convenient for pedestrians. This goes against a vote in the London Assembly and against 1,000’s of people protesting.

More details at Crap Cycling & Walking in Waltham Forest: Blackfriars Bridge: the battle against TfL’s anti-cycling, anti-walking agenda commences.



Easy exploring

Yesterday I went to Melton Mowbray via a lunch with a colleague. I was there to try a specific coffee shop for research purposes – haven’t I got the best job in the world 🙂

I don’t know Melton very well and this trip highlighted just how much easier it is to explore a town you don’t know if you are on a bike.

As you come into the town you don’t have to worry about finding a car park and there isn’t the stress of holding up other people as you work out where to do.

Then you can gently ride around the centre, it takes far less time to find what you want than by walking plus you can see the whole town centre in just a few minutes. This time I found a couple of streets of shops that we had missed in the two ore three times we have been by car, they were just the other side of the main shopping area and we had not walked that far.

When I was leaving the bike was again so much more convenient, at cycling speeds you notice things so much more easily and not just notice them your brain has time to make connections. So I noticed a Halfords, remembered that I needed something and was able to go straight in via a short cut-through. If I had driven I wouldn’t have gone to that part of town and if I had been driving I would have been past and stuck in a one way system before remembering that it would be convenient to call in.

Cars are so inconvenient and slow. For a visit to a town you don’t know bikes are just so much better. It was a 23 mile round trip (including 2 or 3 exploring Melton) so about 1 hour 15 minutes getting there and back. When you factor in the extra time taken to walk around Melton I don’t think a car would have saved much time, plus I would not have been able to see so much of Melton by car anyway.


Two days of driving

Yesterday afternoon we drove to visit my sister & family, not a million miles away from Bracknell.

Today we drove from there to Lewisham to visit our first great nephew and then home again.

Around about 330 miles in total. That is the longest pair of journeys in months.

Strange when we look back to earlier years when it would have been pretty normal. I spent 2 years driving from Crawley to Manchester for the weekend about once a month. I spent several years driving 50miles a day to get to and from work. We used to travel a lot at weekends visiting friends & family and going to the coast etc.

The conclusion was that is was just unpleasant. The journey home from Lewisham was very slow with heavy traffic the whole way and lots of queues.

Sadly trains would have been an expensive alternative for four of us. I just confirmed the prices and booking Super Off Peak returns would have cost over £215.

That compares to about £40 in fuel or about £150 at the government 45p per mile rate.

Still it does mean that for two of us the train would have been cheaper, it would also have been a lot quicker on two of the three sections of the journey, far less tiring, much more sociable and better for others.

However, this weekend driving meant directly spending £40 instead of over £215 which sadly meant hours of driving for Jane and I.


Ironic Buses in Syston

Today as I rode from Thurmaston to Syston I was overtaken twice by a number 5 bus.

The first time it was not too bad. A lot more space would have been welcome but he did give me a couple of feet.

The second time was just after I crossed the railway bridge coming into Syston. From the railway bridge it is downhill with a mini roundabout, then the station entrance and then a parked car outside the Mace shop – all close together in less than 100m. I thought I was far enough out to have taken the lane and was accelerating hard.

Yet the bus came charging past me on the down side of the bridge (close enough to touch). Then the mini roundabout has a built-out kerb which meant I had to slow down dramatically to avoid being squashed between that and the bus as he zoomed right across the mini roundabout. Then he slammed on his brakes because he couldn’t get past the parked car. I had to stop completely as he left nowhere for me to go.

Completely ridiculous, dangerous driving and it got him nowhere as there was another bus stop some 50m after the parked car.

The irony is that plastered all over the back of the bus is an advert for car insurance saying that risky drivers are not entitled to a full no claims bonus.


New bike carrier finished and tested

More progress made following Solid foundations for new bike carrier now built the bike carrier for our Dandy Folding Camper is now complete and I have been for a test drive with it fully loaded with 6 bikes:


Sorry about the picture quality from my phone.

From left to right

  1. Trek 1000C (eldest son)
  2. Giant Expression N7 (normally middle son, for our summer holiday Jane)
  3. Ridgeback Avenida (normally Jane, for our summer holiday our future daughter-in-law)
  4. Giant Yukon FX3 (this holiday shared middle son and me)
  5. Ridgeback Storm (youngest son)
  6. Trek Pilot 1.2 (this holiday shared middle son and me)
Having fitted them all we have discovered the handlebars of the Giant Mountain bike are 2.5cm higher than we have declared as our maximum height for the ferry. Fortunately there are about 2.5cm of spacers on the headset and height to be easily lost by rotating the handlebars. Note that we will take Jane’s basket off before leaving home.
Ground clearance at the back is a bit tight for speed bumps etc, will probably ground the wood getting on and off the ferry. Fortunately the car will be fully loaded which will lower the towbar and raise the back of the camper a bit 🙂
Anyway they all seem pretty stable and the whole thing is nice and rigid. So I am pretty happy with it.
Just 4 bolts to remove and it will all lift off when we get to the campsite. I thought I might turn it into a big picnic table at that point 🙂

3,000 miles

Just been for a ride and have now broken through 3,000 miles this calendar year 🙂

That leaves me on an average of just over 15miles a day for this year or approximately 5,500 miles in the whole year.

Very pleased with this 🙂


Solid foundations for new bike carrier now built

I am quite pleased with progress on the Bike carrier for our Dandy folding camper. See Holiday Preparation:  Learning from the Tour de France for my initial plans. Folded the camper looks like this:

This year I am building it out of wood as my welding kit has not arrived yet. I will be able to reuse the holes drilled in the chassis for the metal version later and the wood will be re-used for another project (building the strongest chicken coop in the country).

I have now got a sturdy beam bolted to the A-Frame ready to attach the front goal posts.

Plus two supports sticking out of the back that are firmly bolted to an box section supporting the floor. These are ready to attach the removable rear goal post.

I now have 6 bike carriers ready to fit onto the two rails that will join the front and rear goal posts. (fortunately I have a couple of hundred kg of payload capacity available).

Fitting the frames to the chassis has been a messy and uncomfortable job. However, the rest should be much more straightforward 🙂

I’ll put some pictures up once it is all done.


Visiting London using Boris Bikes, the good and the bad

On Friday I went to London for a boo0k launch in the early evening. The oddities of East Midlands ticket prices meant that I decided to catch a train at 1pm to London and home on the 10:25pm. So I had plenty of time to do some shopping/exploring.

I considered 3 travel options with one constant (train from Leicester to St Pancras and back):

  1. Use one of my bikes (probably my fixie) to ride to and from Leicester Station (6 miles), put it on the train and use it to get around London.
  2. Use my folding bike to ride to Leicester Station. Take it on the train and use it around London
  3. Ride my fixie to Leicester Station, lock it up. Then use Boris Bikes to get around London.
I ruled out option 1 when I tried to work out from the East Midlands Trains what the rules were for taking my bike on the train. Very complicated, can only be done by emailing a word file at least 24 hours before your journey (having already bought your ticket).
I ruled out option 2 because on a multi-stop afternoon my Birdy folding bike is a bit cumbersome. When you want to go into a shop it is a pain to carry or tricky to lock up really securely. Plus it does not have a rack so I would be carrying my bag which I don’t really like.
So I went for the Boris Bike option.
  • I used my Courier bag for the stuff I wanted to take. I know it fits in the front “basket” of a Boris Bike and I could fit to my rack for easy transport to and from Leicester Station.
  • There are not many bike racks at Leicester station. I managed to find a space but had to lift my bike over others to get to it. The Sheffield stands are too close to a wall which means it is not possible to use a U-lock through the back wheel, frame and round the stand. Fortunately I had two u-locks and a cable so was able to make it nicely secure.
  • Travelling on the train with only “hand luggage” is much nicer 🙂
  • I found a Boris Bike just outside St Pancras using an Android App on my Galaxy Tab.
  • I used the Galaxy tab for navigation with Google Maps, just to find out roughly where things were. I was wearing 3/4 trousers with cargo pockets that the Galaxy Tab fitted in fine.
  • When I saw a shop I wanted to visit I just checked for the nearest docking point, left the bike and walked to the shop. Never more than 100m
  • I visited 3 bike shops (Velorution and Bike Fix are excellent for sensible, practical urban bikes), 2 Coffee shops and Foyles Bookshop. So 5 shops in all using 3 Boris Bikes and some short walks. Very easy and convenient.
  • After the book launch on London Wall, things were not so good. It was around 8pm and I started walking towards St Pancras using a fairly roundabout route as I went to every Boris Bike docking point that was supposed to have at least one bike. In the end it took 7 docking points before I found a bike that could be released, by this point I had already walked 3/4 of the distance. In several cases the app (the official one) said there were bikes but there were none. Other times all the bikes had red “out of service” lights. Twice when I put my key in a bike changed to being out of service rather than being released.
So in general recommended unless you are travelling in the same direction as commuters will have gone a little while before you.

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