Sunday, 30 September 2007

Autumn beckons

So September has come to an end. The shorter days herald chilly mornings and return journeys in the evening are in fading light. The trees are starting to change shade and lose their leaves. This week I've had the lights on one day and my winter cycling jacket on another day when the mercury was a little above freezing. For a short ride like mine, the jacket feels justified since the journey is hardly long enough to break into a sweat. For a longer ride, a winter jacket would still be too warm. My cycling in September has been solely commuting. I suppose it's one of the reasons I do it. Finding time to exercise isn't easy when there are other things to be done and replacing a commute in the car with one on a bike is an efficient way to fit in exercise, whilst also arriving more alert for a day at work. Total miles: about 75 - around 30 trips.

Road works update (week 4): I stopped for a chat with one of the contractors from Bethell, who are replacing the Blakewater culvert at Philips Road. He was busy with his blue spray can marking datum points on the pavement (sidewalk). I mentioned last week that the focus had shifted to the Little Harwood side of the road after widening the outside of the bend. This is apparently where the main activity is going to be as the culvert runs parallel to the road. In the shot below you can see the culvert, with its concrete covering, being exposed. From here, it must run along the roadside. Knusden brook enters from the right before where the digger is.

Friday, 28 September 2007

Fly Tippers

In a previous post, I reported one of the businesses on my route has ceased operating. The yard at Fecitt's Memorials is no longer active. Some of the remaining off cut stone was purloined. Now it is being replaced by bags of rubble. Someone can't be bothered to take the stuff all the way to the tip, so has left it here for all to see as they pass. It could be a builder that doesn't want to pay the charge for commercial waste or it could be just a lazy DIYer. Either way it's a shame they haven't more social conscience.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Riding shotgun

I spotted this hulk of a pirate guarding a passing skip wagon.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Friday again

End of another week. Autumn really took hold as the Indian summer was transformed into a wet, cold and dark time as bands of heavy rain swept across Britain. I've even had the lights on this morning. That was more because of the pouring rain than the light conditions. Despite the weather, I cycled every day, but I'd have to say it is unusual to get wet quite so much. I think generally people perceive that it constantly rains and that of course would put people off cycle commuting. This week was one of those weeks when you might think that way, but out of 10 trips there are only 3 that I cycled in heavy rain. After getting changed into dry clothes I felt quite invigorated.

The week also involved a couple of potential incidents. One was what my American readers would call the dreaded 'right-hook', except in the UK it is on the left. I was overtaken, by an SUV, who immediately braked and turned left, causing me to brake suddenly. It seems to be a common problem with SUV's or as we tend to call them 4x4's. I think where cyclists are concerned, a mental calculation to judge a cyclist's speed comes secondary to all the other mental calculations going on in the driver's mind. It's definitely worth keeping ears and eyes fully alert to everything around. This is one reason I don't cycle with a personal stereo. I heard the vehicle accelerating quite hard and then the change of engine note as he drove alongside so I already had my hands hovering over the brakes when he cut me up.

Similarly I encountered an unusual 'right-hook' (that's a left one to those of you on the right!). A young lady was coming towards me in a car and wanted to turn right across the road into a side road. As I watched, I suspected early on from her unsure but continued movement across the carriagway that she was heading into the path where I was cycling. She clearly hadn't seen me. Again it was anchors on to avoid her and I would have if she'd carried on, but she saw me at the last minute. She was very apologetic, signalling that she hadn't seen me. A stark reminder that despite us thinking we are highly visible in bright reflective gear, there will always be someone who just doesn't see you.

This is week 3 of the major roadworks on my commute. Things are really hotting up at the corner where Beechwood Road meets Philips Road. The reconfiguration of the road on the outside of the bend was completed allowing the work to transfer over the road and temporary traffic lights to be installed. The delay waiting at the light is not significant enough that it warrants a detour although I might consider going through Little Harwood for a change. I'm not sure what they're doing now but it involves bigger diggers. Riveting stuff...

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Re-live the days of your youth

Remember when you first learnt to ride a bike? As kids we were always pulling stunts and doing crazy stuff on our bikes. Riding around the neighbourhood was exhilarating as we weaved inbetween houses, down alleyways and ginnels, jumping off steps and skidding on the gravel. No fancy suspension bikes with disc brakes then. It was just plain kids bikes. We used to go through tyres in no time and skin as well if we weren't so lucky.

Nowadays the big boys like to do exactly the same but with expensive machinery and full face helmets. You can do the same on the 21st October around Penarth, South Wales. It should be fantastic but only for the serious rider. I know the town because my father-in-law lives there. I've walked down many of the streets and back-alleys and think it will be an excellent venue for a downhill race. It is on a hill by the sea opposite Cardiff across the Cardiff Bay. Some of the steep descents down steps to the promenade will be great for cycling or spectating.

The guys at the Tredz store in Penarth are running the event called the Tredz Downtown Race and entries are going fast. Go to to get the entry forms or check there on the Friday before for the route.

To get a flavour of the event, check the Lisboa event below or the theatrical but entertaining Top Gear challenge above.

Last year Bridgnorth in Shropshire held an event. It's similar to Penarth in many ways. Here's a clip of that event to whet your appetite:

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Benefits of cycling

Cycling England commissioned a report on the benefits of cycling. The analysis performed by SQW consulting reports that the benefits of cycling are many fold. Not only are the benefits to the individual documented, such as improved health and fitness, but also considered are the benefits to society in areas such as reduced health costs, less road congestion, pollution etc.

Whilst there are many positives noted in the report, the current situation viewed against the backdrop of previously set targets are also noted. The story is not good. Not only will cycling targets not be met, apparently cycling activity is declining (by one fifth in ten years).

Some of the numbers and costs are quite startling. Life expectancy falling, cost of diseases and health issues due to inactivity £8.2bn in 2002. Road traffic is responsible for 22% of UK greenhouse gases. Commuting could save an average of £400 per cyclist. A 20% increase in cycling would produce benefits of £500m in the next five years. These include savings of £107m in reducing premature deaths in adults, £52m in NHS costs, £87m for employers by reduced sickness, £71m a year in reduced pollution, £201m by reduced road congestion. Bearing in mind the low number of cyclists currently, this 20% rise is nothing when compared with true cycling oriented cultures.

Cycling England have taken the findings of the report to propose a new cycling programme called 'Bike for the Future II'. This involves training and encouragement for children for travelling to school and producing cycling demonstration towns. The report contains detailed breakdown of the costs of implementing the programme against the possible benefits.

A summary of the main points also appeared in the newspaper Mail on Sunday.

The full 86 page document is available from with an executive summary at

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Weekly update

It's been a busy week. Only three outings on the bike this week although the weather has been fantastic. It's been cooler in the mornings with the mercury below 10C but the afternoons have been warm enough for cycling in a T-shirt. The two days dropped required the car to be used for ferrying gear around - a washing machine and 1000 litres of roof insulation. I did make up some extra miles by two trips to the town centre. Even so, September's total cycling mileage is not going to amount to much, as most weekends are also booked up with trips and other activities, leaving little time for extra bike trips.

Down at the road works, Bethell have also been busy, in this, the second week. As well as tree felling, the work at the side of Phillips Road appears to be changing the shape of the sharp bend in the road that goes round to follow the Blakewater down to Whalley Old Road. This work has not disrupted traffic because it only narrowed the road slightly. Next week the temporary traffic lights are likely to be causing some delays.

Happy pedalling.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Collateral damage

The culvert roadworks spread to include the cutting down of a tree today. Above is the scene this morning on the way to work. Below is the scene this evening on the way home.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Cycle Lanes

There is one bit of cycling asset on my commute towards Blackburn, Lancashire. It is a short cycle lane, one of two available on my commute. (The other lane is on the opposite side of the road for the return journey). You can see this typical English cycle lane is barely wider than the width of a cycle. There are some elsewhere that are wider but they share a lane with a bus. Another characteristic of the typical English cycle lane is that they are extremely transient. They appear and disappear almost at will, they lack continuity and are of marginal benefit. The one here is probably less than 100m long. One reason that the benefit is limited is because they tend to disappear at hazards because there is insufficient room. Then the cyclist often encounters a 'lane ends' sign painted on the road.

Compare and contrast with this picture from Fullerton, California where RL Policar of Bike Commuters lives.

The comparison may not be fair, since in the UK, space is more of a premium than in other areas of the world. Often cycling assets have to be interspersed with all other uses along roads that may be hundreds of years old. The main road on my route is relatively wide being an old turnpike road. The housing is typically 100-120 years old but it isn't as cramped as many streets. Even so, car is king. I'll show you in a future post how the wide space has been used to create parking along the road creating hazards for cyclists.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Roadworks update

I previously reported that major roadworks were expected along the route of my cycle commute. After being delayed, things are starting to move this week, so I thought it would be worth a quick update. The weather has been nice all week. During the four days on the bike (one lost because of the spokes), work has gradually commenced, mainly preparing the area affected by the works.

Captain Bethell and his expedition crew moved on site and established base camp. Peripheral fencing has been established to provide storage for materials and material removed from the works. Site boards have been erected giving the site the feel of a long-term civil engineering project. Some preliminary excavation has been done to prepare for re-routing services around the area of the culvert. There haven't been any significant delays to traffic yet.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Pressing on

Some mornings I feel like pushing harder
The faster I go, less seen on the periphery
Eyes focussed, for car doors opening
vehicles emerging, from side streets
kamikaze pedestrians crossing, eyes on txt
Impossible for photographs but exhilirating nonetheless
Slow is good too, all part of the mix
This on the other hand, is insane

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Indian Summer?

It's turning out to be a nice week. Not just fine a bright but warm as well.

Here, along Whalley New Road, you can see the road on the right. It is Emerald Street where Jay Kay of Jamiroquai started life.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Light vehicle

Couldn't resist. A truck full of balloons from the balloon and party shop. Take it easy round the bends or it might float away!

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Ding! A proper bike shop

Occasionally, as one rides along, little noises can be heard along with feedback from the road felt through the bike. The variety becomes familiar and gives clues to the maintenance needs of the bike. The noises might be squeaks or rattles indicating lubrication required or something needing tightening. In the ideal world, the ideal ride would be silent, but then, the roads would also be smooth and free from potholes.

I've given my old commuting bike more attention of late since it has been used more and I've gone further afield outside of the daily commute. I've never considered it a risk to do so since it has been so reliable. Even so, chain cleaning, brake adjusting and lubrication need performing to keep things safe and make the ride more enjoyable. This old bike has been great. It replaced an old Puch road bike that I used. A colleague and friend had a spare Raleigh road bike and donated it to me thus consigning the Puch to the scrapheap. I got the impression the 'new bike' was well maintained when I received it.

The Raleigh isn't now in quite as good condition because, three years later, it is starting to show the ravages of winter road salt, grit, rain, snow and standing outside during the day. Nevertheless the mechanicals are fine even if the paintwork is not pristine. The idea of using an old bike is purely for the reason that having a good/expensive machine to commute and leave outside the office seems nonsensical. I'm not the only one to think along these lines - check out Bike of Doom for a stories of similar bikes. The pedigree of my old Raleigh is probably a lot better than a $99 supermarket model, though the principle is the same.

Last week riding home, I heard an unfamilar ding of a noise that sounded something between a stone being flipped by the tyres and a puncture. I continued riding when everything seemed OK. It was only at the weekend, whilst doing some routine lubrication and cleaning, that I noticed two broken spokes. This could be a sign of some damage or just fatigue. As the spokes sheared at the hub end, I fear it's fatigue, so I'll be on the lookout for further problems.

I've been calling it an old 10-speed but I forgot it has 6 sprockets on the rear free-wheel. I don't know how old the bike is, though today, I got a clue from the bike shop. The frame is a Raleigh 10 speed but the 6 sprocket hub is squeezed in the frame, suggesting the frame may be older than the wheels. Being an old machine, I know spares aren't that easy to come by and that bike shops, although keen to have servicing work, are also keen to sell new cycles.

The local hardware shop has bits for bikes, so I tried there first. No luck. Moving down the road to the nearest bike shop, I got the usual story, the spares are kept at the Burnley shop. The remaining shops are over the other side of town, so I ventured to Halfords first, since they tend to cater for the cheaper end of the market. The helpful assistant informed me they don't carry spokes - maybe I should try a proper bike shop. Hehe - the chap next to me buying a bike nearly went somewhere else as well!. That left Ewood Bikes, which, as the girl in Halfords pointed out, is probably the only proper bike shop in Blackburn. It's with some reluctance I take in old gear because I always get a comment about it being a relic, an antique or scrap iron. Today was no exception, but despite pointing out my old 27in wheel was 27 years old and obsolete, a solution was forthcoming and the shop gained more kudos. Whilst I won't have made the owner rich, I'll recommend them so I or others can another day.

There must be loads of people who have old bikes in their garages and sheds. When they do get round to riding them it must be a shock to find the best place for them is the local tip.

Anyway for now, the Raleigh rides again.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Expect delays

Still not there. What are they waiting for? Maybe something to delay? This week school starts again after the summer break. Ideal.

Back to reality

After the heady days of sunny cycling in August, this week saw the return of dark dank mornings heavy with drizzle. A foretaste of things to come as autumn draws near. Thoughts necessarily turn to high-viz jackets for the dark mornings, warmer gear to keep out the cold and charging and testing the lights ready for remounting on the bike. The temperature was hovering around 10C and the sun was unable to break through the blanket of cloud. Getting muscles warm takes a bit longer and I find for a short commute, I'll wear more than I usually would for a longer ride.

It also felt strange to get back on the road bike after using the mountain bike for three weeks. It wasn't just the contrast between the skinny tyres on the road bike and the fat ones on the mountain bike. No, even though all the bits are adjusted for correct height and everything, the difference in geometry and riding position also make a big difference. I thought I'd feel fitter on the road bike but it just didn't seem as good. It'll soon wear off.

Hopefully this is not the end of good weather just yet as I want to leave the winter cycling jacket tucked away for as long as possible. There's always talk of an Indian summer and with luck, September will provide some nice days to get some rides in.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

End of August already

August was a good month, personally. It was a good month for others as well. Jill in Juneau bagged her 1000 miles in a month. Another commuter, Jeff, made his goal of cycling to work for a month. Well done Jeff and long may it continue. Jeff's commute is 8 miles each way, but what makes it impressive is that he lives in Phoenix, Arizona and the theme that comes over from his blog is his battle with the extreme heat and the ways to combat it. Back in the UK, Gus from Cardiff, continues his weight loss programme having lost more than a stone after six weeks.

Over in France, the Velib cycle scheme in Paris has also been deemed a success. A friend visited recently and found it worked really well.

I fulfilled the objective of cycling regularly to work plus getting in plenty of cycling on holiday.

In France we explored sentiers, chemins and Velo Tout Terrain tracks. I even got lost in a forest once, rescued only by the GPS showing me where on the hillside I was heading. There's plenty of great cycling in France. One of the more memorable days was sitting eating Neuchatel cheese in a baguette by a lock on the Canal du Nivernais in the Morvan region. That day we travelled 44 miles and saw lots of cycle tourists - a popular holiday in France. That's one for next year.

In the English lake district we had some excellent mountain bike rides. One day we took the bikes on the ferry across Windermere and did 15 miles off road around Wray and Claife Heights. Another day, we did a mixed route taking in a Scottish beer festival at the Watermill at Ings where Atlas Lattitude, a draught pilsner, was a favourite. We also enjoyed a day's outing on bridleways around the Winster valley. Most of the rides concluded with a refreshing drink in glorious sunshine. Definitely one of life's pleasures. As well as fine Scottish ales we had the excellent Hawkshead Bitter at the brewery in Staveley, the Claife Crier and Sun Inn at Crook. A sad note to end the month was that the renowned writer on beer and whisky, Michael Jackson, died on Thursday. He travelled the world writing and speaking about real beer. His advocacy helped bring greater awareness of small breweries and the variety of wonderful beers on offer across the globe. This post is dedicated to him.