Tag Archives: Birstall

Leicester on a Saturday evening

IMG_20110528_180651 by Dave 42 If the whole route into Leicester was like this bit (just passing Birstall) then maybe other families would also cycle into Leicester for a meal on a Saturday evening (especially when approaching a deadline for using up Tesco vouchers).

For us it is just over 7 miles from Syston to the Pizza Express in St Martin’s Square. Much of the route is off road.

However, none of the off-road elements are dedicated cycle routes, they are all shared with pedestrians and worse with pedestrians who have dogs with them that are not on leads.

Also the off-road elements are generally a poor surface, occasionally a very poor surface (such as south of the Space Centre which is still very bumpy despite some recent very minimal “maintenance” – which consisted of pouring some tarmac down some of the wheel swallowing canyons). There is also a lot of glass around on the off-road sections.

Unfortunately, the on road sections are much worse than the off-road.

On the way in there is:

  • The junction from Grafton Place to Abbey Street (crossing the Central Ring with a left then right). The traffic lights make this reasonably straightforward but both our sons feel unsafe doing this.
  • The junction from Abbey Street turning right into Belgrave Gate. The right turn is clearly marked as being for buses, cycles and taxi’s only but that is totally ignored despite being only 50m from a Police Station. Due to all the parked cars and aggressive driving getting into the lane to turn right is not easy and cars want to rush past you through the junction before they get to the roundabout.
  • The roundabout on Belgrave gate where we need to turn right at to continue up Haymarket. Buses and Taxis all feel they can and should push cyclists out of their way while car drivers who are trying to go where they know they are not allowed are very unpredicatable.
  • At the Clock Tower we join the pedestrianised area which is generally ok.

On the way out we take a slightly different route as Haymarket is one way. So we go along the pedestrianised Humberstone Gate and then turn left into Charles Street. The problems are:

  • Charles Street is very clogged with buses who ignore cyclists (however hard to try to make sure you are visible in their wing mirrors then seem to ignore you totally).
  • Charles Street also has a number of cars despite no cars being allowed. I guess that as the car drivers are already breaking the law it is no surprise that they often show very dangerous behaviour to cyclists.
  • From the end of Charles Street we turn right at the roundabout and then left into Abbey Street. As you go around the roundabout you can be sure a car or taxi will ignore you and pull out just in front of you while a bus tries to ram you from behind.
  • At the end of Abbey Street we go straight across the Central Ring into St John Street. As the traffic light phase is so short that car drivers get very impatient here and try to force their way past.

Of course at the Syston end we also have the horrors of the traffic calming on the Wanlip Road (all of which are bad for cyclists) and the aggressive behaviour typical of the Melton Road.

So we have a ride which is 7 miles long. 5 miles of which is safe and traffic free but the mile at each end does not feel at all safe.

With some basic work it could be made much more attractive for people to ride into Leicester from Syston, Thurmaston, & Birstall. Work such as:

  • enforcing the existing law eg
  • speed cameras are much better for cyclists than the style of traffic calming on Wanlip Road
  • traffic light cameras to catch cars turning right into Humberstone Gate
  • cameras to catch cars using Charles Street
  • connecting the national Cycle Route 6 into the centre of Leicester in a safe way
  • 20 mph speed limit in Syston and inside the Central Ring of Leicester
  • training bus drivers to be safe to cyclists
  • Of course if we were at all serious about attracting cyclists then in addition to sorting out the on road sections the whole route through Watermead Park and Abbey Park would be twice the width, a smooth surface and woith a very clear segregation between cyclists and pedestrians (different surface treatments and a kerb between).

    More of the route would also be lit at night and the bollards under Watermead Way and the barriers at Birstall, Bath Street and Thurcaston Road would all be removed.

    Finally the bizarre signs & route for cyclists at the Wanlip Road exit to Watermead Park should be improved (at the moment new signs have been added that contradict the white markings painted on the surface and cyclists are directed to use a narrow cycle entrance that is painted as a one way entrance as the exit as well).

    Sadly many people seem to believe that Leicester has a legitimate claim to be a cycle city and that it can expect to see significant increases in the number of cyclists. No doubt much of any increase will continue to be people riding illegally on the pavement because they feel the roads are too unsafe and they can’t find the cycle facilities (or indeed tell them apart from the pedestrian pavements).

    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.

    Filling a Bullitt

    This evening I rode to an evening meeting with my Bullitt box full enough that the rain cover only just fitted on (fortunate it did as it was raining).

    Here is the contents afterwards. Just under 40kg, mostly books but also laptop and my messenger bag with stuff in (not sure what the stuff  is, probably needs a sort out).

    IMAG0396

    A cargobike is the easiest way to carry a load like this from Syston to Birstall. I went straight through Watermead park so it was only 3 miles each way. At Birstall Methodist Church I was able to take the bike right into the meeting room – yes it got a mention in the talk 🙂 which made unloading a lot easier than using a car.

    I was late leaving home so averaged 13mph there, so less than 15 minutes door to door. Not bad in ordinary clothes as there is a bit of a hill up from the river into Birstall, plus there is the off road bridleway across Watermead and the narrow boardwalk.

    Just pondering how much safer it is for everyone else (and how much less stressful for me) when I am running late and travelling by bike instead of car. I don’t end up putting any lives at risk and I get a good workout as well 🙂

    Contrast that to the man driving the wrong way down Broad Street (which is a one way street in Syston) that I saw on my way home. When I asked him if he realised it was a one way street he said something about seeing signs for speed humps but he had not noticed all the no entry signs – agghhh!

    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.

    IMAG0255

    IMAG0257

    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 🙂

    Connecting the day

    I debated whether to title this post “Civilising the day”. Today is a good example for me of how cycling as transport makes better connections for the day. With three different places to be during the day it would have been possible to use the car but so much less efficient.

    First stop a staff meeting, sadly still at the unholy time of 9am on Monday morning, I am still wondering how my Superintendent wrangled that one past me 🙂 This week in Birstall, so my turn to travel. As I gently pootled out of Syston, I thought this is not so bad, as I overtook about 15 cars in a queue for the Thurmaston roundabout. Slightly nicer, I thought, as I gently bounced along the Melton Road through Thurmaston village centre (lots of speed bumps and poor road surface). Even laughed to myself at the car that just had to overtake me just as they reached a set of speed cushions where they had to brake hard while still nearly breaking their suspension (not to mention the discomfort of moving your breakfast up and down that viciously – ugh!). Then very nice I thought during the lovely ride across the top of the southern part of Watermead Park, just enjoying it and not sparing a thought for the frustration in the cars queuing up to and through the junction with the Melton Road and Troon Way.

    After the staff meeting my next appointment is at the Royal Infirmary for a pre med check up (I am having a wisdom tooth removed next month). The appointment letter reminds me to allow 30minutes to park my car. So instead I continue from Birstall, drop my bike at the Bike Park in Leicester and retire to Starbucks for some lunch (cheaper than the car park and diesel?) and to catchup on some paperwork (with a bit of time for blogging). From here I can make my way to the Royal Infirmary without any queuing or problems parking.

    Then on my way home I can pop in to visit someone.

    How would this have been by car?

    Firstly, I would have to leave home at least 5 minutes earlier to get to the staff meeting (traffic and a much less direct route) and I would not have had the gentle wake up on the way.

    Secondly, I would have had to choose between going home for a short while before the appointment at the Royal (which would have meant an extra 15 miles of driving) or coming into Leicester and paying for another car park.

    Thirdly, I would lose all that time queuing to get into the Royal Infirmary car park (and paying for the privilege).

    Visiting someone on the way home would be easy enough but given how close it is to home I would probably go home, leave the car there and walk. That is good for me but much slower than calling in by bike on the way home.

    When your work, like mine, involves moving around between lots of places during the day all in a relatively small area (for me about 8 miles across) a bike is so much faster and more convenient than car that even ignoring the financial, health and environmental costs I don’t know why anyone would choose to drive.

    Of course the fact that I can enjoy chocolate Yule log at Starbucks for lunch without guilt or worries about what the scale will say in the morning is just another added bonus 🙂

    I am wondering how many miles this way of working is suitable for. Obviously the worse the congestion the more miles you can cycle and still be quicker than the car. Also as you get fitter the more miles you can cycle without affecting your work. For me I think I am up to about 20 or 25 miles per day on my Bullitt. This week I will have three days at around 20 miles and the others a bit shorter (say 5 to 15 miles). So I guess about 80 work miles in total. Clearly there has been some conditioning over the past 3 months as in the past 80 miles in a week would have sounded a lot, now it is just about connecting the day in gentle and civilised ways.

    Don’t forget to do the zip up

    I felt a bit silly today. It was raining hard when I rode the 1/2 mile to Syston Methodist Church for the lunch club but I didn’t do the zip right up on my jacket. So I had a v-necked wet patch below my dog collar. Looked very silly and of course everyone noticed and commented 🙂

    Other than that I am getting more used to wearing the right layers and cycling at the right speed to avoid getting too sweaty and wet even in normal clothes. So this morning that was to Birstall Methodist Church with very wet ground and drizzle. On Sunday afternoon it was to Leicester Royal Infirmary which was just over 7.5miles in jeans and a clerical shirt.

    Cycling for transport like this should be absolutely nothing special although it is so often seen that way in the UK. Actually it was very pleasant as so much of the route was on segregated cycling facilities and I got to ride on a part of the cycle network I have not used before. But I have needed to get a lot better at cycling slowly without feeling rushed so as to arrive dry(ish) in normal work clothes.

    One of the things that does seem to be helping, just as I hoped, is my Brooks Flyer Special Saddle. As I had hoped it is very comfortable but also due to the shape and the shiny and slippery leather it seems to not wear out ordinary trousers as quickly as other saddles I have used.

    Bullitt 01Another thing that helps is riding a big cargo bike like my Bullitt, while it is fast for a cargo bike (which basically means I ride at similar speeds to most cyclists except those fully kitted up on road bikes) it does not punish me for riding gently. My sportier bikes tend to suck me into riding faster than I need and being the fat and unfit person I am that makes me sweat a lot.

    Plus the Bullitt is so quick and easy to take out. The locks sit in the box all the time, I just throw whatever bags or boxes of stuff that I need in and off I go.  Plus of course I keep my coat in the box as well which means I always have it with me and if it stops raining I can simply throw it back in the box. To make things even easier I will be buying the Infiniti3D security stuff as soon as it is available as it will make locking up the Bullitt much easier – just use a U-Lock or my Almax Series III chain to fasten the frame to something really strong.

    So all I have to do now is remember to do up the jacket zip when it is raining 🙂

    Crossing Leicester Centre by Bike

    Today we went to visit my Mother-in-Law who is living in Oadby south of the centre of Leicester. As we live in Syston on the North side of Leicester the obvious route goes somewhere near the middle of the city.

    Going from Syston to Leicester is fairly easy by bike although there are a few gotchas:

    • The cycle route which uses least road means heading towards Wanlip and going in the North entrance to Watermead Park. However, this adds a couple of miles to the more direct route. It also means navigating a tight kissing gate at Birstall. No idea why someone thinks Birstall needs a gate to go north into Watermead park but not to go south or at any of the other ways into Watermead Park. The gates at Birstall need removing.
    • We go from Syston straight towards Thurmaston on the “main” road. There are odd cycle lanes marked that come and go and which cars ignore.
    • At the big A607 roundabout by the Thurmaston out of town shops there is a cycle bridge. Sadly you have to cross multiple lanes of traffic to get to the bridge when heading towards the city.
    • The rest of the cycle route to the city is OK. Some huge bumps between the Space Centre and Abbey Fields caused by tree routes with cracks easily big enough for a tyre.
    • Eventually the cycle route leads you to the bus station and then abandons you completely. No signs at all and just busy roads with a maze of one way streets to navigate to get to the city centre. 0/10 for this section.

    On the other hand going from the City Centre to Oadby is appalling. No help whatsoever, we ended up cycling along the A6 with a mixture of no cycling facility, bus lane and narrow on road cycle lane. Pretty pathetic.

    Coming home we decided to take the country route to the east of the city (via Stoughton, Scraptoft, Barkby). Sadly busy with cars driven by morons trying to avoid the city traffic. Several near misses as cars overtook with not enough space or without being able to see around a blind corner. Had one driver who had to suddenly brake when she realised that she was about to drive through several bollards at a middle of the road set of bollards in her desperation to get past.

    Conclusions

    • We won’t use that country route again (especially at 4pm on a Friday)
    • Car drivers need training in how to overtake bikes
    • I believe we need a fully segregated traffic system where pedestrians, cyclists and cars are all kept separate on the Dutch model.
    • Until we get a proper cycling infrastructure I am going to continue to use vehicular cycling techniques when on the road. I am traffic and I am going to take the safest place on the road.

    I think it is sad that there seems to be growing conflict between campaigners wanting to increase cycling on the infrastructure as it is now and those campaigning for a better infrastructure. I believe we need both.

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