Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Commuting year draws to a close

Here comes the end of another year on the bike. Getting to work. Getting out at the weekend. Even a holiday on two wheels. The more I've cycled to work, the easier it has been and just seems the logical thing to do. The weather is no longer a deterrent and can be looked forward to. Rain, snow, frost are all perfectly bearable and can be positively invigorating. After all, there's nothing quite like heading off into the rain of a dark night as an antidote to the brain mangling a day at a computer screen creates. The only weather I'm not too keen on is strong crosswinds but those are relatively infrequent.

For three months now, I've been commuting on an old steel frame Raleigh mountain bike with slick tyres on. This was my stand-in bike whilst I restored my 28 year old Raleigh road bike I've used for the last 8 years. The winter weather and road salt had taken its toll on the paintwork and having neglected it for so long, I decided it was time to give it a new lease of life.

The mountain bike, without the knobbly off-road tyres, worked well as a commuter apart from there being no mudguards. I see people using similar bikes without mudguards to get around. They must suffer the same problem of spray getting up their backs when it is wet. Not something I like, so to combat it, I've cycled slower when it is wet to try and prevent it.

The road bike is ready to take up commuting duties again, thankfully just in time for the new year. Christmas eve was the last outing for the mountain bike in its current form for commuting. That morning, I got it out of the (damp) shed to be greeted by a picture of fresh rust and lack of lubrication. The previous few rides had been in particularly bad weather. With no protection from the tyres, most of the mechanicals had been sprayed with a salty muck from the road and this was still on the bike along with the new rust a couple of days later. With little time to do much more than oil the chain, I set off enjoying the light traffic. The schools were closed and many people had finished work for the Christmas break. The heaviest traffic seemed to be shoppers picking up turkeys from butchers and getting their seasonal vegetables. I was looking forward to an enjoyable quiet ride to work, but ironically half-way there, I suddenly noticed a strange noise sounding something like a leaf rubbing the back tyre. I hadn't gone more than about 30 metres when it became obvious I had a puncture.

I pulled over and set to to replace the tube. Passing shoppers all looked but nobody said anything. They must have thought it a strange sight seeing this chap stripping his bike down first thing in the morning on the pavement outside the shops. Having checked the inside of the tyre for sharp objects, I got the new tube in and was soon on my way. I got to work about 5 minutes late and was quite pleased it hadn't delayed me much.

When I got home, I decided to wash the bike to remove the corrosive salt mixture. The frame on this bike is in a similar state to the road bike and rust is showing through the paintwork especially around the bottom bracket and chain stays. After washing it, I decided to mend the puncture in the inner tube and put it back in the tyre. I then noticed a broken spoke in the rear wheel. This is the wheel I practiced my wheel truing skills back in September. It was one of the old spokes that failed. Luckily I still had some new spares so I could fix it quickly. I also tightened some loose spokes in the front wheel. It's surprising what happens when you're not looking so cleaning a bike is a good opportunity to have a look around and make sure everything works as it should. I put the repaired tube in the rear tyre and pumped it up to the maximum pressure and discovered that the puncture site had three small holes, one of which was sufficiently large that it revealed the inner tube, one of the others had some glass embedded in it. I tried making an internal repair to the tyre, but I don't think it will be adequate so this bike is going to be in dry dock until I can decide what to do with it.

It's a year I've enjoyed, both cycling and gaining experience maintaining bikes, attempting previously avoided tasks. It has made riding them more enjoyable and given me satisfaction as I gained new skills. 2008 has been a good year on the bike with regular commuting, more day rides and a cycle tour in the summer.

Hopefully 2009 will be a good cycling year for you. Happy new year.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

"A Fantastic Year For Cycling"

Chris Hoy couldn't have put it better on being awarded BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2008. Britain showed how proud it is of the British Cycling team by voting for him. The team scooped three awards in a field full of impressive sporting achievements. Their performances brought pleasure and excitement to a vast audience many of whom never ride a bike. Hopefully it will encourage a few more people to get in the saddle and discover the enjoyment of cycling. Well done and thanks to the British Cycling Team.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Cold weather = Half a brain

The thing about cycle commuting in all weathers is that once you're out the door, you become instantly awake. At least that's how it is for me. The stimulus of piloting a two wheeled machine down the road and around various obstacles combined with the blast of icy fresh air gives me an instant wake up call. Unfortunately some motorists miss out on this benefit, their stiff tired bodies slumped in their frosty cars, driving off down the road half awake, peering through half defrosted windscreens. Today was a classic example of this.

You can probably tell from the mention of frost that December is still being wintery, which is what it should be. I was enjoying the ride out down the first couple of icy side roads. The radio this morning warned motorists not to leave their cars running unattended outside houses as thefts of cars is on the rise. I see people doing this most frosty mornings and today was no different. The enjoyment of the fresh air was
diminished somewhat as I passed through a fug of engine fumes in one street. No matter, pressing on, the commute was going well (apart from me catching one of the road signs in the clutter of the culvert works at Roe Lee -sorry guys).

I say well, it was until I was squeezed into the side of the road by a car. If we had a 'three foot' rule it would have been seriously broken as the clearance was only about a foot - slightly unnerving. Instead of braking and waiting until there was sufficient room, this driver made his split second decision to squeeze through the gap between me and the oncoming traffic. Motorists are in the main quite cautious around bikes and leave plenty of room. Not this guy. I caught the driver up at the next lights and tried to offer some polite advice through his closed windows. Hopefully he heard and he and his wife had a discussion about his driving
on the way to the shops.

Later, on Philips Road, I was on the roundabout when a driver failed to give way. He had clearly seen me riding round but didn't bother to stop. This was despite me having my Polaris II lights blinking away and it being reasonable daylight. What he was going to do I couldn't tell but the trajectory of his car and my bike would have had me on the front of his bonnet or under his front wheels. I slowed down and he decided I was in his way and also slowed down. Then we stared at each other passing a few words before continuing on our way. He could not see that he's failed to stop at a give-way. I was so incensed that I didn't have the wit to get my camera out and photograph his car pointing at me on the roundabout a good 10 feet from the give-way line. Maybe a caution from the police would modify his driving attitude for the future. This is the same roundabout that last week saw a number of shunts in the icy road conditions first thing in the morning, so keeping a bit more distance is extra important when the weather is like this but this guy was more intent on getting his son to school than worrying about the safety of
other road users.

These two examples illustrate why I think cold weather and dark mornings are a problem for some motorists. They begin their journeys in a less than prepared state. Cyclists beware because though hopefully
we will be fully alert, other road users might not be.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Cold snap

We're having a crispy time at the moment in the UK. It's rare to be able to say I've been out in the snow twice before December or having the advantage over motorists as I sail past whilst they're still defrosting their windscreens but this winter is turning out to be just that, winter. The weekend brought tremendous hoar frosts casting a white blanket on everything including the cobwebs. Apparently it is supposed to last until Thursday.

The number of cyclists commuting seems to have dwindled to the few hardy regulars I occasionally see. Perhaps the reduction in fuel prices has coaxed them back to their cars.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Rail works

The Blackburn to Clitheroe railway line is closed until the 27th November.

The rails, sleepers and gravel bed are being replaced.

The work is continuing through the night.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Major works at St. Stephen's

The land adjoining Robinson Street belonging to St.Stephen's school has become a building site.The diggers are playing where the children used to.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Tesco Express opens at Roe Lee

My daily journey takes me past the new Tesco Express convenience store at Roe Lee. During the six weeks from mid-September until they opened the store at the beginning of November, the place was a constant hive of activity. Multiple teams of workers were busy transforming the old unit into a modern grocery store. There are five parking spaces including one for disabled users, a cash machine and a disabled ramp. With limited parking it may not always be convenient for motorists but there are plenty of houses within walking distance. There is no cycle stand. The rails of the disabled ramp look like the only structure to secure a bike to.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

WTF - Hazard

Was this some kind of joke? It certainly made turning this left interesting this morning.

Friday, 19 September 2008


The only way through this mess in the rush hour this morning was by bike or foot. Two cars had a nasty shunt at the bottom of St. James road. I believe the occupants were OK. Hopefully nobody was on the pavement (sidewalk) when the incident happened as both cars came to rest off the road on opposite sides, one pushed in a shop front.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

One door closes and another opens

Pub industry hit by rising costs.

These headlines are seen daily among the mass coverage of the 'credit crunch'. Further evidence is seen here on my route to work.
I've probably mentioned the Brownhill Arms is the first pub to be reached on the way from the Blackburn town centre. All the pubs that used to exist along that route have closed (six in my living memory).
The Plane Tree is one slightly off that route being on the boundary of Little Harwood and Bastwell. It's probably a victim of the worsening economy and the change in local demographics. It's always looked a nice pub, nestling under the railway arches by the river Blakewater. Shame to see it go.

Retail conglomerate takes on convenience locals.

Whilst the local Thwaites brewery hasn't got confidence in some pubs' future, Tesco, the supermarket grocer, is demonstating faith in capturing market from the local Londis, Cooperative and Bargain Booze stores. They are opening an Express shop on Whalley New Road at Roe Lee - very handy to a sizeable residential area.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Autumn term

I can hardly believe it's been nearly a month since I last wrote here. It's been a busy period with many demands on my time resulting in little time for the cycle blog. Rest assured, commuting by bike continues, despite the damp and dismal August we've had. One of the major changes to the commute over the last couple of weeks is the dramatic increase in road traffic each day.

The relaxed commuting of summer drew to an end with the return of students and teachers to their schools after their long summer holiday. The difference is more noticeable in the morning when traffic queues have appeared where there weren't any for the last six weeks. The evening is also slightly busier as people are gathering their families and getting involved with after school clubs.

I'm hoping with the 'credit crunch' (don't you hate that phrase?) and the price of fuel, that more folk will be cycling. There isn't much evidence yet but there are one or two cyclists each way most days. They're not always the same because I, like them, cycle at different times.

There was a guy on the radio from Blackpool this morning. He was describing all the initiatives that will result from the near £6m investment from the town becoming a Cycling Demonstration Town. I also hope that, like Lancaster, this can improve awareness of not just the benefits of cycling but some of the fun and enjoyment that being liberated from cars can bring. A portion of the money is earmarked for training 10 year olds to pass their Cycling Proficiency. Maybe there should also be something to coax the middle aged back onto two wheels as well. The more normal cycling appears, the greater acceptance it will get. Then we can start emulating continental towns where cycling is so normal, folk happily go for a night out by bike - something pretty much unheard of round here.

What I like about the queue in the photograph is the space I have available to pass all the cars on the way to Brownhill. Very satisfying on a bike but very frustrating in a car.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Notes on a Dirty Island

Bill Bryson featured on BBC Panorama tonight in a program about Britain's litter problem.

I don't think you could argue with him. We do have a litter problem. Blackburn has a litter problem. Bastwell, where I pass through each day, is particularly challenged when it comes to dealing with its litter problem.

Every day the council cleaners pick up the litter.

And every day it returns. It's like a windy town from a western movie, except the brushwood is replaced by fast food wrappers.

Some people have civic pride and want to be proud of their neighbourhoods. Unfortunately it is spoiled by those who don't.

Panorama highlighted that the litter problem can be cured, restoring civic pride and lowering crime.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Temporary lights 2

Second in a series showing the temporary traffic lights that have recently appeared on my route to work. This second set is less temporary, being another culvert repair. The signs went up in early June warning of another year's delay.

I'll not bore you with weekly updates as I think this one is going to take even longer than the Blakewater repairs on Philips Road. The principle appears to be very much the same. The culvert houses the streams from a number of tributaries in the Roe Lee area of Blackburn.

On the way to work these lights are not much of an impedance as there is a temporary walk way along the side of the works which I can zip down without any problems as there are usually any pedestrians around. It doesn't always work out trying to use it on the way home since it's on the wrong side of the road then.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Taking bikes on Eurostar

Part 1 - The booking process

I mentioned previously I was planning a cycling tour and reported news of Eurostar's policy on bikes when it changed in April. In May I had the opportunity to travel by Eurostar (without the bike) and was heartily impressed. Whilst I was there I asked the staff about taking bikes and found the 'official' procedure was less than clear, hence the reason for this post.

Eurostar bike carrying options improved
on the 7th April by adding a third option, but not all the staff there are aware of it. I asked at security, where the scanners are, and was told the bike had to be in a bag to go through the scanner. The chap didn't know of other options. He pointed out the extra large scanning machines they have installed. I don't know the exact size but a number of other sites/forums seem to indicate 120cm x 90cm is about the maximum. I have also read of bikes being passed round outside the scanner - a possibility but a risky one in case there are problems.

I asked at the information desk and the lady there indicated there were two options.

The first was as carry on luggage using the method the security guy described. I pointed out that if going on tour, a cyclist doesn't want to carry a an airling style bike bag and asked if there was a way round it. She indicated that as long as it fits through the scanner and was wrapped up it should be Ok. For this it to work it seems possible to use some lightweight polythene sheeting wrapped around the bike and wheels and fastened with tape or one of the CTC shop's transparent bike bags. The wheels should be removed, but the advantage here is the process is mostly in your control, so, unlike the airlines, you carry the 'package' to the train and look after it. No drama of looking out of the airport window to see your precious frame under a ton of baggage. I've read reports of this method being used quite successfully by a number of cyclists. It seems there are some extra large luggage racks in which to put a bike bag/package at the end of some of the carriages.

The second option was using checked baggage, for which a bike ticket has to be purchased. The lady on information stated bikes have to be with Esprit the baggage handlers for Eurostar, 24 hours before departure to be guaranteed to be on the same train as the passenger. This is only an option if you live in London or are breaking your journey by staying in London overnight. The cost for this is £20 per bike per journey.

The information desk in the departure hall could only tell me about these two options and were unaware of the new third option available from April 7th. This option is basically option 2, checked baggage, without the 24 hour restriction. As long as you turn up to the Esprit depot at least an hour before you depart, then you can book your bikes in and travel on the same train. Collection of the bike is done on arrival from the baggage handling depot.

If you only have a lightweight bike, or one without mudguards and racks, option 1 would seem the best. If you are touring and have panniers and other equipment to worry about, then breaking down your rig and packaging it at security isn't so attractive, so option 3 will be your best bet if you can stand the cost. Panniers still need to be removed, but the rest of the bike can remain intact.

The only downside is the booking procedure, which isn't seamless but can be straightforward, given a little knowledge of how it works.

The procedure goes as follows:

  1. Identify when you want to travel and use the Eurostar website to do a dry run of the booking to check prices and times. Note: Esprit Europe is a parcels service, have limited space and timetable parcel carriage at times most convenient to their needs. This doesn't necessarily coincide with the cheapest train tickets. I wanted to go on the lunchtime train where the ticket was only £29.50 to Paris, but had to choose an earlier train at £59 because there was no room for the bikes. One train to avoid, according to the very helpful man at Esprit, is the 9042.

  2. Having identified which trains you want, ring Esprit (08705 850850, or 02079 023528) and check availability. If there is room you can go on to book your Eurostar tickets, if not ask Esprit what other trains have space for bikes - this is best done whilst being able to play with the Eurostar on-line booking to compare times and prices. At the end of this step you should know which train to book.

  3. Book the train tickets for the passengers using the Eurostar online booking and get a booking reference number.

  4. Ring Esprit again to book your bikes onto the train you just booked seats on. They need to know the train number, days and times of travel etc. They will take payment for the carriage of the bikes and give you a reference number for each leg of the journey. This is to be used at booking in, when they will issue labels for outward and return journeys. If the procedure is taking a lot of time ask them to ring back - unlike a lot of train reservation services, this one is user friendly and involves helpful humans. Having paid and got all your reference numbers, you're done.

  5. Take a deep breath, relax and have a cup of tea. Told you it wasn't easy, but having a bit of knowledge of how it works helps take away some of the difficulty.

Part 2 will describe the process of travelling on Eurostar with a bike using option 3.

photo : lewishamdreamer

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Skew Bridge incident

Tonight, on the way home the A666, Whalley New road was blocked by an articulated trailer that had become wedged under Skew Bridge.

Police were on hand to help sort it out whilst traffic worked its way round the obstacle.

Skew Bridge is one of the many low bridges that occasionally catch out higher vehicles. Often it's double decker buses that are prone to hitting the lower bridges although this one is just about high enough for them.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Temporary lights 1

In my July summary, I mentioned a couple of temporary traffic lights that are on my route. One of them is where they are repairing the wall alongside the River Blakewater on Beechwood Road. This where the vehicle crashed through before ending up on its roof in the water. There's no way round this one so we just have to wait, although sometimes, cars run the red light.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Events in Pendle

Locally, we seem to be coming to the climax of cycling events for the year. Recently there was the Grand Prix in Blackburn, which was part of the Celebrate Blackburn holiday festival. A week earlier was the Colne Grand Prix. This Sunday, the 3rd August, is the Pendle Cycle Show and Pendle Pedal sportive. The cycle show is part of the Pendle Cycle Fest and aimed to showcase cycling with displays, stunt riding, live music and numerous bicycle related activities.

Pendle Pedal Sportive, sponsored by Eric Wright Construction, offers a choice of routes between the main ride at 160km and a shorter option of 100km. The route passes through some of the most beautiful rural scenery in the country and includes many of the tough climbs used on bigger cycling races. Pendle, Ribble Valley, Lune Valley and Forest of Bowland countryside will be linked with famous climbs such as the Trough of Bowland, Waddington Fell, Salter Fell (MTB option), Tatham Fell and Nick O'Pendle. Entry is still possible on the day from 7:30-8:30am and 8:30-09:30am for the 160km and 100km routes respectively. The start is at the Rolls Royce sports ground in Barnoldswick.

We may just be out that way somewhere on the bikes so hope to see some of the riders.

A week later, on the 10th is the Tour of Pendle. An altogether more serious race over 90 miles, starting in the centre of Nelson and taking in three laps of a circular route around Barrowford, Gisburn, Chatburn, Whalley and Padiham.

Photo: M J S

Thursday, 31 July 2008

July report

Some of the blogs I read contain a small summary of the mileages ridden, weather and other assorted information. It's quite interesting to see, especially if you know the person is training for an objective such as an event. I'm neither training for an event or fastidious enough to record that level of detail. I do know roughly how many miles I've done and July being a good month, I'm proudly displaying my stats today.

Commuting has been pleasant, wearing shorts every day. The route has not been as fluid of late with 2 sets of temporary traffic lights, but during the holiday period, now the schools are off, the roads are much quieter so that makes up for it and makes for a more leisurely ride. I know July has had some wet and cool weather locally in the North West but I've managed to avoid it by having a touring holiday in Germany - more detail to come...I've a lot of catching up to do since things have been so busy of late.

There won't be many months I will ride more than two or three hundred miles, but now I have, it's something to aim for again.

Commute: 63 miles
Leisure/training: 107 miles
Touring: 502 miles
Weather: warm and sometime wet

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Blackburn Grand Prix

Last night Blackburn town centre hosted a number of criterium races around a half mile course around the shopping centre. The public were encouraged to have a go before the official races got underway. It's good to see local events like this encouraging participation.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Forest trails expand in England

There may be a long way to go to catch up on Wales and Scotland for mountain bike trails, but every bit helps. The recently (partly) opened Altura trail in Whinlatter Forest in the Lake District looks nice. Singletrack MTBers will want to add it to their todo lists. There is a map on the Forestry Commission website of where these man-made trails are in Whinlatter. They circle round Hospital Plantation, Comb Plantation and Beckstones Plantation through some steep and windy forest.

Looking at that map brought back memories of cold November days watching the RAC rally as powerful rally cars tackled the tricky forest roads. These days Rally GB doesn't get out of South Wales, so it is fitting that man-powered craft have replaced them in the Lakes.

Single Track Magazine reviewed it here.

Forestry Commission link.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Gear review: Dawes 'Sport/Touring' saddle

I originally titled this post 'What is this instrument of torture?', so you can guess the conclusion of this review.

Having recently got a touring bike, I thought I'd post some of my experiences with it. More details about the bike and ride will follow in future posts, but this entry is about the immediate changes needed to be comfortable on the initial rides. The bike is the entry level Dawes tourer, the Horizon model. Being at the entry level means some 'value engineering' and one of the parts that must have saved some money is the 'saddle', seen above. The brochure describes it as a 'sport saddle' on one page whilst on another it calls it 'touring'.

I put saddle in quotes because it is a euphamistic term for this perch looking approximation for what cyclists might sit on, but it transpires it isn't anything of the sort. In fact it is something far removed from that and should only be used to inflict pain on an unsuspecting enemy. It was obvious from the start, the saddle was uncomfortable and probably had to go but I decided to try it just to be sure. I was soon wishing I hadn't.

If you're a regular reader, you probably realise I
frequently ride but I don't often do large mileages. Recently, I've been on a few longer rides and can use those for comparison of this new saddle. My existing commuter has a Specialized spongy rubber type saddle and has been comfortable when I've done 30-40 miles. My mountain bike has a stock Scott saddle that came with it and is not so comfortable for a full day out but is tolerable nonetheless.

One of the first rides on the Dawes was for a distance of 27 miles. Three days later I was still suffering. I like to think of myself as fairly normal when it comes to body shape (though others might dispute this conjecture) but this Dawes saddle was definitely not made for a human. Whilst it looks like it has been anatomically designed with a cut out for the perineum, there is insufficient area at the rear to spread the load and nearer the nose of the the saddle, the edges of the cut-out create pressure points that cause soreness after only a few miles.

So the saddle has to go. It'll probably end up in the bin although I'm tempted to offer it for sale on an SM site!

What to replace it with? There are so many saddles to choose, many having elaborate and scientific designs using high tech materials and gels. Having had a Brooks leather saddle in the past, I decided to eschew these modern contraptions and replace it with a B17 standard. I'm taking a long term view, understanding these saddles adapt to the shape of the rider and therefore need a 'running-in' period, which can be about 12 months. Some riders find them comfortable from day one. I'm certainly anticipating a better initial experience with the new Brooks
but if I'm not totally comfortable with it before our tour in July, I'll temporarily swap the saddle from my commuter.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Carboard bike - whatever next?

I don't know what they're smoking over in Sheffield but it must be good stuff. Final year student, Phil Bridge, has designed a hexocomb structured cardboard bike that costs only £15 to make. The concept is based on the idea that companies wanting to advertise can use these disposable bikes to promote their wares and because the bike doesn't cost much it won't be attractive to thieves.

It sounds like a wacky idea until you realise this is a serious project of the Product Design course at Sheffield Hallam University. It's waterproof and should stand up to 6 months of constant use.

Sheffield Hallam article link

BBC video link

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Cycling demonstation towns announced

The winning bids in the Government's £100m investment in cycling has been announced. Bristol is going to be the 'Cycling City' getting £11.4 to invest in cycling infrastructure and training. This figure will be matched by local funding seeing the Bristol area having £23m to spend on cycle lanes and training for children and adults.

Following the cycling city are the eleven cycling demonstration towns. These have now been announced and are:

  • Blackpool (nearest to here ~25 miles)
  • Cambridge
  • Chester
  • Colchester
  • Leighton/Linslade
  • Shrewsbury
  • Southend on Sea
  • Southport with Ainsdale (next nearest)
  • Stoke
  • Woking
  • York.

Let's look forward to seeing these beacons as examples for our local councils who can aspire to provide matching facilities.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Rolling in the river

I had already penned a small blog entry about how nothing much seems to have been going on along the roads of my commute. I've been busy commuting every day in most pleasant weather and racked up, on average, about 100 miles a month (not much added to the 2.5 mile journey there!). Before I could post that entry, the daily landscape was transformed. This week I've noticed more activity going to and from work. I've seen more cyclists, perhaps because of 'Bike to Work Week' but maybe just new commuters because of the fuel prices - today's new find was a guy on a Hewitt, a rather nice looking tourer.

It rained heavily most of the day today. I can't remember a time, even in winter, when I got so wet. It had an effect on the motorists as well as Psychalist was on the scene of this incident this evening to practice his photojournalism. A driver of a Mitsubishi Shogun demolished the wall on Beechwood Road and rolled his vehicle into the River Blakewater. No other vehicle appeared to be involved. I didn't stop to interview anyone as it was raining hard. The police had the road blocked and were keeping people away whilst waiting for the recovery truck.

Is Bike to Work Week working?

I'd like to say more cyclists are trying cycling to work this week, but my statistical samples are not very significant. I have actually seen more cyclists. Yesterday I joined a stream of four, which is unheard of for commuting in Blackburn. At the lights there were three of us. I asked this chap if his efforts were for 'Bike to Work Week' and his reply was no it's just a regular Tuesday. Even better.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

What (not) to expect from a cycling holiday?

The Daily Telegraph travel section last week included an report by Johnny Morris of his family cycling holiday along the Danube in Austria. It was full of criticism and disappointment because it turned out to be a nightmare holiday for them. He booked a holiday with a fixed daily itinerary, pre-booked hotels and a luggage courier service. That just left him to get himself and his family a distance of about 25 miles from A to B every day. But what did he expect? Something easier it seems. A more leisurely start in the morning, a few days off, more support when things went wrong, and probably not a cycling holiday.

The writer naively arranged the wrong sort tour. For some gentle cycling, he should have arranged to stay in one place and have some hire bikes to explore the locality on easy cycle routes. Having done no preparation, he had no idea whether his family could cycle 20-25 miles, which on one day they struggled to do and ended up off the route on a busy highway because they missed the ferry. The holiday company could hardly be to blame for his tardiness but he criticised them them anyway and even had the gall to complain he had to pack his luggage to be ready for dispatch by 8:30am.

It sounded to me that the holiday he booked with Hooked on Cycling did everything advertised but he didn't adequately translate that into the needs of a non-cycling family with a young child. To be fair, he concluded with some thoughts on how to improve it next time if there is one and, hopefully, he will try again and stick at it. Like any adventure, there are bound to be highs and lows. With some anticipation and forethought he should hope for mainly highs and few lows.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Bike Week 2008

Bike Week this year is 14th-22nd June. Event are to be held all around the country. Nearest appears to be Bolton.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Local towns make shortlist

Out of sevety four towns appying for Cycling City, Cycling Towns programme, which is set to receive some of the government's £140m cycling funding, two local towns have made the shortlist: Blackpool and Southport. No mention of Blackburn.

Source: Cycling England

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Gun touting trio get 31 years

I like to think my commuting route is as safe as I can make it. Normal hazerd perception doesn't run to considering shootings. Last year there was an incident at Bastwell where shots were fired at a house. On Monday, three men got between 8 and 13 years each for their crime.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Irony of news gathering

I highlighted, some time ago in winter, the walking school bus that crosses my route. I see them regularly during school term time. This morning they had swapped their usual orange tabbards for brighter yellow ones. This must have been a big occasion as more children had joined the walk and there were more helpers. Whilst being distracted by all this colour, I very nearly ran over a photographer who was walking backwards into the road trying to get a shot of the group making their way to school. He was probably keeping one ear out out for traffic.

I come across quite a few pedestrians who enter the road first and look second based on what they hear. The photographer was probably getting a photo for the local newspaper for a piece on road safety.

Update: Link to article that has appeared here.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Positive thoughts

Weblogs provide excellent reading around the subject of bike culture, bike use , cycle sport or cycling technology. There's something for almost everyone interested in learning a little more about cycling. A lot of the blogs have a similar slant to Psychalist in that they providing examples of good things about cycling in the hope it rubs off on people. They provide a perspective that perhaps counters some of the negativity that people think about when considering whether to use a bicycle more, and then don't.

The many scare stories and negative press can easily make any of us think that cycling is fraught with dangers and drawbacks such as having your pride and joy pinched, damaged or getting injured etc. Sure, bad things can happen and do, but only in a proportionate way to any other activity. Strange but true, drivers and passengers don't generally consider the worst scenarios when travelling by car but would do so when asked about riding a bike. Indeed many discount the dangers of the road and don't wear a seat belt.

It is shocking to hear of a tragedy on the roads. Nearby, north of Blackburn, there have been too many tragic incidents in recent months. I'm shocked and saddened to hear of car or cycling crashes or any other road traffic incident. The local paper this week had stories of one motorcyclist and one cyclist killed. Both apparently were experienced riders.

This type of news, though shocking, should not stop anyone partaking of an activity. It should perhaps focus their mind to potential dangers but in a positive way. By making the right decisions and reducing danger we can all learn to enjoy riding in a safe manner. These relatively isolated incidents are unquestionably serious but relatively rare. All the successful journeys are not reported so it is easy to get a skewed perspective. It makes being positive more difficult but not impossible. Understanding these incidents is one thing but dwelling on them fosters an unbalanced viewpoint.

Dave Moulton, an ex-pat retired bike frame builder, recently posted about the power of positive thinking and provided examples of what happened to him when he was thinking negatively and positively. These are not just examples for riding bikes but for all aspects of daily life. Philosophy with a cycling angle if you like. Well worth a read.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

No excuses

If anyone needed convincing to try cycling to work, the warm spring weather and light conditions over the last week have removed some of the usual excuses. It's been so pleasant that slowing down to enjoy it has been a must. Honestly, don those relaxing work clothes not the Lycra, and give it a try. Just take it easy, no need to get in a sweat, just roll on by. Stop off at the paper shop and the butty shop and see how easy and convenient this commuting by bike can be. I've started looking for excuses to make it last longer, taking a longer route or running an errand or two after work. Hopefully this spell of fine weather will last a while longer. Enjoy

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Rare Trek folder

Rare round these parts anyway. Seen cruising up Whalley New Road. I think it was a Trek F400 folding bike, apparently made by Dahon. Not quite Copenhagen Cycling Chic but an interesting change nonetheless.

Oh, if anyone's wondering what the yellow H on the wall is, it's a Hydrant marker to indicate where the water hydrant is for the fire service or utility company. The sign also has written on it the distance from the sign to the hydrant grid, in this case, on the pavement (side-walk).

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Road Clear

Bethell's Surfacing Division were on site all last week to add the tarmac to the Philips Road culvert repairs. The place was positively buzzing with activity as they must have more than doubled the number of personnel on site.

Having prepared the road foundations earlier in the week, the whole roadway was planed in preparation for the top surface. The climax to week 35 was Friday when the top surface was laid. In the space of one day the works were transformed.

For the May Bank Holiday weekend the traffic lights were removed and two lane working restored after nearly 9 months of 'expected delays'.

The job is more or less complete apart from some landscaping and clearing up, taking the total time to 36 weeks. It took six weeks longer than planned and started two weeks late, but will soon be forgotten once the grass is grown and the trees are planted (BwD will plant some trees, won't they?). This will be the final post about the Blakewater culvert for a while.

When the landscaping is complete, I may just add a final picture. Meanwhile I'm glad to be able to cycle freely down the road.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Bike To School Week

This week, 5-9th May, is Bike To School Week. Monday being a Bank Holiday, it's a short week, but hopefully children can take advantage and create their own critical mass cycling to school. Apparently less than 2% of the 8.3 million kids actually cycle to school although over 30% would like to.

See the Bike for All web page Cycling to School for information, links and answers to common questions about the issues relating to cycling to school. Also, check out the Sustran's Bike It website. Bike It is a project aiming to improve the number of children cycling to school through the encouragement of local cycling officers. Encourage your school to get involved and begin to change the school run where you live.

Ride: Dunsop Bridge

The tiny hamlet of Dunsop Bridge is a pleasant collection of houses and a post office at the geographical centre of the British Isles. It sits at the gateway to the Trough of Bowland in the Hodder Valley in Lancashire. This was our destination for a day out on the bikes at the weekend. The weather was forecast to be reasonably warm with the possibility of heavy showers later in the day. Cycling shorts and short sleeves were donned with the optimistic view that we'd be getting quite warm on a longer ride. We packed rain gear nonetheless.

Travelling via Whalley and Mitton in the Ribble Valley, we circled around Longridge Fell to cross the Hodder valley towards the Whitewell, where we refreshed ourselves with some fine Challenger bitter from the Copper Dragon brewery in Skipton. Not exactly sports fuel drink but the sun was out and it was pleasant sitting out the back by the river.

A short ride from Whitewell brought us to Dunsop Bridge where we had lunch at the Post Office cafe, sitting outside in the sun. Being a bank holiday weekend there were plenty of visitors who had parked in the sizable car park. Some were feeding the ducks by or eating ice creams by the river. Others were off walking the fells or other outdoor activities. Dunsop bridge is a great place to start off many interesting walks around the Hodder or the Forest of Bowland. There are also some interesting looking mountain bike routes up through the forests onto the grouse moors.

We weren't going further, so we made our way to Newton and back to Waddington over the rather challenging Waddington Fell, which on the map, has three steep climbs. We couldn't argue with the map and vowed next time to go the extra distance to Slaidburn and back via Smallden Lane to Grindleton. That route has only one steep hill but is a lot lower. Waddington was hosting a scarecrow festival and on Monday, the bank holiday here in England, they have a duck race. It was busy in the village and, pretty though it is, it had a distinctly British seaside feel to it. Rather than queue here for more athlete's fuel we forged on past Clitheroe to Whalley where we sat and ate ice cream and drank tea before returning home. It was a satisfying 37 miles and it didn't rain once, so we felt we'd had a good day out in some of the best countryside there is.

Replacing Tyres

The weather earlier this week was getting invitingly warm in the afternoon. Looking out of the window at work, it made me want to go further afield on the route home. I set off riding thinking I'd take the road to Rishton and go through Great Harwood to Whalley to make the journey about 15 miles. Before I got to the Rishton road, I was looking at blossoming trees and hearing birds chirping their spring song and thought a trip down the canal towpath would be nicer. I hadn't gone more than a few hundred yards before my rear tyre punctured.

I'd run over an old bramble despite trying to avoid them on the path. I was surprised how quickly my tyre went down. I soon had it fixed and was on my way again but the experience was interesting for a couple of reasons. One was that three other kind cyclists stopped to ask if I needed help. It was very heartening and reminded me of tales my grandfather used to tell me about the halcyon days of motoring when motorists used to stop and help others. Thanks to the cyclists for asking. The other was, that although a tyre has tread, it doesn't mean it isn't worn out. I did know this one needed replacing because the casing was cracked. Winter cycling has taken its toll on quite a few bits of my bike and my intention was to swap bikes to allow my commuter some time in dry dock but I hadn't realised the tyre's internal carcass had deteriorated. Inflated to the maximum pressure this would have created a gap in the tread and exposing the inner tube enough to allow it to be easily punctured.

When inspecting tyres it's worth looking for cracks and exposed threads and internally for any discoloration of the internal rubber which could indicate ingress of water and dirt through the outer tread -all signs the tyre is on its last legs and worth replacing to avoid an untimely repair stop. I replaced mine with a Schwalbe (27in) tyre with integral puncture protection.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

The end is nigh

Not long now. Major changes down at the road works this week. Gone are the safety fences. The kerbs are all in place as is the wall round the parapet. The footpath is prepared. Now we just need the tarmac. Will next week (34) be the last? Tune in next week to find out!