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.