Thursday, 31 January 2008

New kid on the block

Back in June, I highlighted the plight of the local retail trade, with whole rows of shops empty, for sale or for rent. There has been little change since then, but a couple of units have moved. The florist has moved over the road and in its place is a deli sandwich shop called Brittney's. It's good to see new businesses coming along and I hope they can make a go of it against the competition from all the other food outlets around Roe Lee. I'll be stopping off on my way to work to try it since it's on the left and easy to access.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Cycling events

Blackburn and District CTC are organising two events with the theme 'Introduction to Cycling' on February 9 and March 8 2008, both starting at 11 am at Norden High School, Stourton Street, Rishton. The ride includes a lunch/refreshment stop. There is no need to book.

To find out more please contact one of the Blackburn and District CTC members:

Anne Stott: (01254) 232 537
Caroline Palmer: (01200) 445245
Ken Hartley: (01254) 260601

An hour makes all the difference

For some people, this time in January will still be synonymous with the depths of winter. Sure, the warmer weather is a long way off and we're sure to get some much colder weather any time up to April or beyond, but for me, it's the light that makes the difference. Perhaps its cycling through the mid-winter months that gives a heightened sensitivity to the change of seasons, but by the third week of January, it feels like spring is on the way. No longer is it dark by half-past three in the afternoon. Dusk is getting on for 5pm. Nor is it permanently gloomy until after ten in the morning. The daylight, even through the clouds, is much brighter and it feels better. The morning ride is accompanied by birdsong, audible even above the road noise. The birds know spring is around the corner and are busy preparing for a new nesting season and the trees although bare, are showing signs of budding.

I'm still cycling at both ends of the day with the lights on but it won't be long until I leave them at home. In some respects I'll miss cycling in the dark and I intend taking some evening rides through the year to make up for it. Meanwhile the next few weeks commuting can still be dangerous as low sunlight can obscure cyclists from drivers' vision. Stay alert and safe out there.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Roadworks update - week 19

Work continued in a similar vein to previous weeks at the site. Although I felt there was less activity this week, I'm sure there was a lot going on. The digger has continued to expose more of the old culvert, despite being backed into the extremities of the site. It seems the junction of the two culverts from Little Harwood and Knusden may be revealed after all.

Here you can just about see the general form of the culvert. The walls are broken down before being repaired with reinforced concrete and the roof replaced. The repaired culvert is on the left awaiting concreting over and the old culvert is on the right. The exposed bit is in the middle with the Blakewater running right to left.

Pothole gone - time to fix: 1 day!

Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council responded very quickly to the report of a pothole on Plane Street. It was notified to them on the 23rd by the Cycle Touring Club pothole reporting service. On the 24th it was filled in. That's a significant improvement in response time when compared with the previous pothole I reported. Impressive! Well done BwD. Now Plane Street is less dangerous to cycle along (but still very uncomfortable).

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Government unveils £110m increase in investment for cycling

The Department for Transport has published a document about an increase in funding for Cycling England over the next three years. Announced on Monday, it will get £20m in 2008/9 and in the following two years will receive £60m. Since it's inception in 2005 Cycling England has received £10m a year to promote cycling. The funds are used to develop cycling in England by creating local cycling schemes and training and education through local authorities.

Local Authorities have to bid for funding for their schemes. This year's deadline is 1st February, so get your skates on councils...

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Pothole returns

The diet of heavy rain and winter freezing has produced another pothole like a boil on the face of Plane Street at Bastwell. Ironically this is literally inches from the one I reported in October. The whole street needs resurfacing. Beech Street that joins Plane Street was in better condition and it got resurfaced.
Reported via Fill That Hole.

Winter Cycling Tip

January is turning out to be a miserable month weather wise with many areas of England experiencing flooding. The number of wet days is way above my normal monthly average. Cycling in the rain can be unpleasant without mudguards (fenders) due to all the spray and result in the need for a complete change of clothes on arrival at your destination. It's somewhat of a given that mudguards are a pre-requisite for comfortable commuting.

When choosing mudguards, it's worth considering getting a front one with a mud flap that hangs down. Occasionally, the roads aren't just wet but have lots of puddles and standing water. A mud flap prevents feet from getting a dousing when you have to cycle through water. If you want to retro-fit a mud flap, finding some suitable material and riveting it to an existing mudguard is a reasonable option.

photo: fotdmike

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Source of the Blakewater

I think this grainy monochrome pic will have to do as the one that shows where Little Harwood Brook and Knusden Brook join to form the Blakewater. By next week this section will be covered up. The upstream route is bending towards Little Harwood but how far the renovation will go is unclear. Back towards Beechwood Road a large concrete monolith, reminiscent of a space odyssey, has been installed. Presumably this will be the parapet of the bridge where the footpath from Little Harwood will come out. This is week 18 out of 30 and the poor guys from Bethell have endured some very wet and miserable days of late.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Road Rage

I missed the recent BBC documentary on Road Rage. I caught up with it on a promising new site run by Ben Ayers. The documentary is quite shocking, depicting an angry tribal battle between motorised transport, cyclists and pedestrians over road space. It's some time since I was last in London. I'm sure it has changed immensely with lots more cyclists (43% increase since the congestion charge was introduced). I remember the traffic choked streets but not the bikers. The school run is familiar, as in most towns, but the rush hour congestion depicted is not something I encounter on a daily basis, so I count myself lucky.

Road safety challenges were highlighted, including the use of 4x4's on the school run. Cyclists didn't get off lightly with plenty of air time given to the increasing problem of riders not stopping at red traffic lights. This is something I'm seeing more of locally. The cycle cops call these gamblers 'lycra louts' and fine them £30. Whilst there are plenty of arguments from both sides on this issue, proper infrastructure for cyclists would help alleviate the problem. Cyclists will risk shooting across a clear junction rather than wait, vulnerably, in the middle of a junction. It also highlighted the lack of facilities for pedestrians in a culture where car has become dominant.

The program included the story of athlete Emma Jones who was seriously injured whilst cycling in Manchester and now lives in Belgium. The contrast in approach to sharing the roads between there and England is marked.

The low points of the program were the sobering coverage of tragic fatalities of cyclists and pedestrians. Very sad and thought provoking.The high point of the program was an angry feminist whose rage at the 'World Naked Bike Day' was summed up by her observation that the bikes were all ridden by blokes with the smallest willies she'd ever seen. Very equitable.

Troubled times

About 6pm tonight, I came across someone else having trouble. This road traffic accident at the infamous no right turn junction of Maple Street, Plane Street and Beech Street, had just happened.

Breakdown day

Today, dark and rainy, was not the morning to be suffering a failure in your mode of transport. I encountered two this morning. The first was a chap on a road bike busily going about fixing a puncture. He was off to the left of the roadside on Whalley New Road and I didn't slow to capture him working proficiently with his wheel. I reckon he was probably back on the road within minutes.

The second was this Honda, in Beechwood Road, which appears to have a broken suspension. It is literally 25 metres from Cliff Monk's garage but no one was with the car. Definitely not a 5 minute repair either.

It got me thinking about how I would have fared today, if I had a puncture on my commute. It must be about five years since I had to do that. I recalled thinking that I need to carry some latex gloves to replace the previous pair that got damaged. They are what I would consider essential to combat the road dirt, mess on the rims and the grease and other muck on the chain and dérailleur. Note to self: Find latex gloves and put in bike bag. What essential tool do you carry to help in a roadside repair and do you consider different options whether you commute or ride for leisure?

Monday, 14 January 2008

Week 17 - Philips Road works

The digger has been struggling for operating room this last week as the next section of the culvert is revealed. In the photo above you can see it working on the edge of a large mount of earth obscuring the horizon. The culvert is just in front of it towards the camera. I had hoped this week would see the definitive photo showing the confluence of Knusden and Little Harwood brooks where the Blakewater is created. Knusden brook is on the right but it isn't clear where this joins Little Harwood brook.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Gear review - Smart Polaris II light set

It's not often I can do gear reviews but yesterday I received the solution to my need for a flashing front light.

I have to say I'm impressed both with the service from Wiggle and the performance of the light. I ordered the Smart Polaris light set on Thursday last week and two working days later (Monday), it arrived. The regular list price is around £25 so at £15 the sale item appeared good value.

Package Contents
Contained in the package is a small hand sized powerful LED light for the front that can double as a torch. With this is a neat mount for the handlebar that doesn't require tools to install. The small rear unit weighs very little and comprises mainly the red plastic lens. It comes with a choice of seat post mount or smaller diameter frame mount. There are some rubber spacers to adjust to most frame and post types. Alkaline batteries are supplied for each unit

The Details
The front light has 3 powerful forward facing LEDs focussed through a quality lens sealed into the head of the unit. There are models with 5 LEDs for a little more money. It takes two AA batteries that are fitted in the unit by twisting the head of the light off the battery compartment making it easy to fit replacement batteries without tools. The unit looks well designed and the materials strong. There is a sealing ring between the parts of the body to prevent the ingress of water. Operation is by a rubberised push button on the top of the unit. It cycles between off, flashing and constant modes.

The rear light unit has 7 LED's in a clever arrangement with 3 rearward facing, two facing 90 degrees to each side and two facing at roughly 45 degrees rearward. The light cover looks well designed with diffusion and focussing lenses. The unit takes two AAA batteries fitted by opening the unit with a coin - again a clever idea, not requiring real tools. The parts of the body are sealed with a rubber gasket. The light slides into the mount until it clicks in place. The clip on the light for this can also be used to clip the light to clothing or a rucksack. Operation is by pressing the case at the bottom where there is a small micro switch. This rear light unit has constant, all flashing, alternating flashing and off operating modes.

This couldn't be simpler for the front light. The mount is a simple strap fitted with the mount at the top and a cam locking lever underneath. This allows the mount to be quickly moved between bikes. The assumption in the design is that it will be used on the handlebar, which for me was no problem. The unit is small enough that it can coexist with cycle computers, GPS and hands. The only adjustment required is to push the strap into the mount by the correct amount to ensure that when the cam lever is closed, it provides a tight fit on the handlebar. Fine adjustment can be made by rotating the cam lever in its threaded locator boss. The whole process took about four minutes on my bike.

The rear light took slightly longer, but this was only because I was restricted by the small bag under my saddle. Ideally this rear light fits on the seat post in a vertical orientation but on my bike, there was insufficient room. Because of this, I chose the smaller frame mount and one of the spacers wrapped around the frame. With a screwdriver to tighten the fixing, this also shouldn't take more than a few minutes. Mounting on the frame has the disadvantage that the unit is offset to one side and this restricts the view of the lights a little bit from the kerbside. Whilst the rear mount is not easily moved between bikes, the clip on the light facilitates temporary mounting.

In Use
My requirement was for a very bright front light. The Polaris certainly surpasses my expectations. Both units do, in fact. The front has a narrow beam, which close up looks to have little spread, but when viewed over a distance it is obviously a good design because even at hundreds of metres distant, the beam is still very bright and easily picked out, especially in flashing mode. The 3 LED front light shouldn't be looked at directly because it is blindingly bright close up, but what I wanted to know, was how it would improve things as I'm on the road. My aim was to ensure my front light isn't lost in the headlights of passing cars and hopefully prevent someone opening a door or pulling out of a side road. This advanced warning is what I'm after to help ensure motorists consider a cyclist is there.

Having done three journeys with the lights, I can confirm they do the job well. The front beam is reflected off road signs, number plates, bollards and other reflective street furniture hundreds of metres away. I sense cars approaching from the rear are adjusting their speed earlier and cars, approaching junctions from side roads ahead of me, have been stopping where before they might have pulled out. The photo below doesn't do justice to the brightness of the light as it is significantly brighter than my halogen, which has a wide beam. I hoped it would give an idea of the effect from about 100m but it is actually much better than the image suggests. It's early days (or nights), but so far, I'm impressed and can recommend these lights as a road safety accessory that's well worth the money.

An update to this review appears in this later post: Polaris II Light Set Review Update containing conclusions from extended use of the lights.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

2008 - a new year

Shawcliff Lane, Great Harwood

A the end of the first week of the new year, it seems January has started like the last three months, with a wet spell. No photos from the daily commute last week as I only managed one day and that was too wet to even think about getting the camera out. Work recommenced at the roadworks (now in their 16th week). Not much changed other than digging out more of the culvert towards Little Harwood.

Kemple End and the Bowland Fells from Whalley Nab

As the days slowly turn to getting longer, I'm looking forward to some more daylight at each end of the working day. In the meantime I ordered a bright LED front headlight in the January sales. It's not the latest model but it should be bright enough at 54 candle power to alert motorists better.

Sheep grazing at Lower White Calf farm

Today's photos are from a short local ride around Great Harwood and Whalley. The weather was very pleasant and plenty of other cyclists were out in the Ribble Valley enjoying the bright spell.

St. James church Blackburn from Parsonage reservoir