Saturday, 29 March 2008

Eurostar update

I noticed a few visitors to Psychalist have been searching for information on travelling on Eurostar with bicycles. Since I posted about options for travelling by train with a bike, the policy at Eurostar has changed. There is now greater choice for how you take a bike on Eurostar trains. Previously, cycles had to be booked as checked luggage and were not guaranteed to arrive on the same train. This option is still available but now cycle touring, where you want to have your bike available on arrival, looks possible using Eurostar.

The Eurostar site
now clearly states that, if your bike can be reduced to the size of a suitcase, it can travel on the train as regular luggage without pre-booking. For this, Eurostar advise packing it in a bike bag with handlebars, seat, and wheels removed. Presumably also pedals etc. Not everyone is going to want to go to these lengths, unless they have a folding bike. However, there are other options.

From April 7th it will be possible to travel with a bike on the London, Paris and Brussells routes on the same train as the passenger. Using this option, the bike has to be pre-booked for the journey, costing £20 each way and is subject to space being available. This is good news indeed. I'm interested to know how well this works from anyone who tries it.

Reservations and further information on 08705 850 850 (that's 020 79023103 for anyone not wanting to use their premium rate number) or visit the EuroDespatch Centre in person at St Pancras International.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

I Bike Manchester

If anyone in Manchester for the Track Cycling World Championships 2008 fancies a bit of alternative urban cycling, the annual I Bike Manchester festival is kicking off this weekend. It is a month long festival of cycling related events and rides. It starts on Friday at 6pm with a critical mass bike ride from the Central Library. From 8pm to 3am there is a party with live bands. Survivors that make it to Saturday can look for treasure on a bicycle treasure hunt at 3pm around about Victoria Station. Sunday sees a bicycle welding workshop - sounds creative! Film night is on Wednesday 2rd April and on Friday the 4th, there is a midnight ride from Manchester to Formby. 40 miles in the dark followed by a dip in the sea - don't forget your swimmers.

Bicycle polo tuition is available on the Saturday (5th) with Ladies day on the 6th April. The following Friday is an alley cat and alley kitten checkpoint event in the city followed by a party. April 13th (Saturday) is bicycle art followed by a beer ride on the Sunday. The following weekend on Saturday 19th April they run 'Yo fixie III' events for the fixed wheel fanatics, and on Sunday a polo tournament. The festival concludes on Friday 25th with another critical mass bike ride from the Central Library followed by an end of festival party.

It all sounds like a month of jolly good fun and something for everyone. Details:

This is their press release:

A bike craze has swept over the UK and it looks like it's here to stay. We've seen our favourite celebrities, like John Snow and Elle Macpherson, riding around. We've seen the fixed gear bike craze hit the catwalks at the Wheel and Heels fashion show in London. And now swarms of bicycle lovers are heading to Manchester for the I Bike MCR Festival, taking place over March and April.

I Bike MCR is a grassroots festival organised voluntarily by a group of cyclists in Manchester, UK that want to promote cycling and bike related activities no matter how crazy they seem, such as Bicycle Polo.

They aim to promote cycling in Manchester and also introduce new bike sports and events to cyclists and to share our skills and experiences with cyclists that might not have had the opportunity to try something before e.g. bicycle polo or alleycat racing.

One of the purposes of the festival is to celebrate the bicycle over car culture, Nes Brierley, who is involved with organising the festival explains, the bicycle "is a healthier, greener, safer, less aggressive, more sociable and more fun way to travel."

The festival opens with a bicycle ride where many cyclists will take to our city's roads on the monthly critical mass bicycle ride. In addition to the other benefits of bicycling over car driving, bicyclist Anna Sawyer on a recent critical mass suggested: "Social isolation can come from encasing oneself in a steel shell and moving through an environment without regard to the full panoply of its sights, sounds, smells and, among other thrills, the joy of fresh wind blowing in one's face". They hope to encourage more drivers to ride bikes and enjoy what Anna describes as the "freedom of cycling"

"We are not anti-car drivers," noted another critical mass rider, "We just want to celebrate the joy of biking and to share that feeling with others and encourage others to ride instead of drive." What Critical Mass would like to see, she added, is a policy of "appropriate use" for cars. That means, "when no other means of transportation is practical," though, as one cyclist noted, "any place on Earth is within biking range, if you have the time."

The festival itself aims to encourage more people to cycle in Manchester. Cycling as opposed to driving is becoming a more and more attractive way to travel with 20% of Britains being obese, cycling will help to get us healthier. And the proposed congestion charge in Manchester may also mean that people taking the bicycle to work instead of the car will become more common.

The festival will be a hub for cyclists to meet each other and to be a chance to exchange tips toward creating a community with cleaner air, quieter streets and a supportive and supported bicycle community in Manchester.

There are a number of bicycling events planned for the month including bicycle treasure hunts, a midnight ride to formby, roller racing, social rides and a Bicycle Polo Tournament where teams from around the UK will compete to win.

The events are hoped to attract people from a wide background of cycling experience and those that maybe don't usually feel included in cycling events. For example Sunday 6th April is a day dedicated to females with female bicycle maintenance workshops and rides. This is due to the large gap between the amount of female cyclists in comparison to males, with 16% of men cycling at least once a week compared with only 10% of women (Department for Transport, 2002).

The TRL's"Attitudes to cycling: a qualitative study and conceptual framework" (1997) found that women were less keen on cycling due to concerns about personal appearance, stating that it spoilt their hairstyle and were "worried about the view from behind". By holding a bike day in the festival solely for women they hope to help overcome this feeling and encourage women to see what a fun, exhilarating, safe and easy way to travel cycling can be.

Smart Polaris II light set gear review update

A lot of people have shown interest in the light set I reviewed back in January. I got the lights because I needed a bright flashing light at the front to better warn road users of my presence riding along on my bike. My immediate reaction after a few days was that they worked really well and immediately improved other people's awareness of an approaching bike. I also found the seven LED rear light to be superior to my previous three LED flasher at the rear.

In January the mornings and evenings were very dark and the lights were very noticeable. The front three-LED unit has been great for alerting people at distance that a bike is coming towards them. The rear also seems to do the trick as it is also bright and I have felt conscious of approaching cars slowing down behind me sooner than before. Smart do have an even brighter rear and a five-LED front so it would be nice to do a comparison.

Now we've changed to British Summer Time, the lights are not really necessary, although I have found myself using them most days. Whilst I don't see the reflection of the front beam off signs and number plates hundreds of metres away, I still think it helps alert motorists to my presence. I also got to try out their portability the other morning when I swapped bikes because of a puncture. The front fitted to my mountain bike in about a minute and the rear clipped to the back of my cycling jacket - couldn't be easier.

In use, the units have been very reliable and have posed no problems. I had a comment from someone who's experience was the opposite, which is surprising because the set I'm using have endured some very wet and cold weather in the last three months. I have only changed the batteries twice so have been impressed with the battery life. With NiMh rechargeables the battery duration has been excellent and the tail-off when becoming discharged is sufficiently slow that I haven't need to carry spare batteries, as I can usually get home with enough brightness before a change would be needed.

The lights are light enough to carry even when it is lighter and I foresee continuing to use them
to go on evening rides rather than wait for much lighter evenings. For travelling into the countryside, where there is less ambient light, I don't think the front will provide a sufficient beam for serious night riding. It is excellent as a light to be seen by in towns, but for seeing into the distance on dark country lanes, something more sophisticated should be considered.

Overall I give these lights 9/10 as they fulfilled exactly what I needed and have performed well. They have proved to be value for money (on offer at £15) and I would recommend them to anyone looking for a good set of lights for urban cycling.

Likes: Brightness, battery life, price.
Dislikes: None
Rating: 4.5/5
Price: RRP £25

Week 27 - Easter

At Easter, the original revised deadline for the 30 weeks planned for the Philips Road works, the site is looking nearer completion. The steelwork for the last section appeared to all be in place as was the inspection access. The opposite side of the road, where Intack brook comes in, had the concrete poured for the roof of the culvert. Work on cladding the parapet wall with stone was also under way.

Monday, 24 March 2008

No waiting restriction - for improved road safety

Let's revisit the school crossing I posted about back in November. This picture of the location on Whalley New Road, Blackburn, is looking the opposite way to the sequence of photos in my post highlighting the danger posed by lines of parked cars.

It seems I'm not the only one with concern over the increase in parking around there. You can see in the vicinity of the school crossing, vehicles parked on both sides of the road, some of them parked on the pavement (side walk). This is of great concern to users of the school crossing and as a result the crossing patrol service have made representation to Blackburn with Darwen council to improve the situation.

Capita Symonds, who run the highways department on behalf of Blackburn with Darwen borough council, proposed to the Planning and Highways committee that a waiting restriction be placed on both sides of the road between 08:30-09:30 and 15:00-16:30. The result from the council meeting on the 17th January is a proposal for only the south west side of Whalley New road have the restriction placed on it. That's the left of the picture.

To me, it appears illogical, if the principle has been agreed to improve safety at the crossing, that only half the measure is implemented. It is no coincidence that both pedestrians and cyclists feel there is danger at these concealed junctions and crossings, and the highways department have proposed doing something about it. Why then are the council against implementing it? Is it because the local residents will object?

Queries regarding the traffic regulation order can be made to Capita Symonds, 01254 273393. Written objections to the order can be sent to Linda Comstive, Director of Legal Services, Town Hall, Blackburn, BB1 7DY, to be received before next Friday, 28th March.

Parking in junctions

One of the other items on the agenda for the same meeting resulted in a traffic regulation order for Parsonage Road to put double yellow lines at the junction with Brownhill Road. These would not be required if motorists obeyed Highway Code rule 243, which states "DO NOT stop or park opposite or within 10 metres (32 feet) of a junction, except in an authorised parking space". Whilst not a legal requirement covered by legislation, drivers breaking this rule could end up in trouble if an accident occurs as a result of their parking.

"Although failure to comply with the other rules of the Code will not, in itself, cause a person to be prosecuted, The Highway Code may be used in evidence in any court proceedings under the Traffic Acts (see 'The road user and the law') to establish liability. This includes rules which use advisory wording such as ‘should/should not’ or ‘do/do not’."

These consequences are not a sufficient deterrent, so we have to have more yellow stripes on the road. Ho hum.

Thursday, 20 March 2008


I've been nervous the last couple of weeks about getting a puncture. I guess I shouldn't have thought about it, or maybe it's because there's more daylight now and I've been seeing more detritus on the road in the cycling line. There's always some grit and stones and the odd bit of rubbish, but lately, I've seen much more glass, broken plastic and other crud. My bike tyres seem to have been bouncing around and pinging and popping on all these bits.

Around about last Friday, I came down the road and the line of rubbish was worse. I was following the path of aroad sweeper that had been down the road earlier that morning. The road sweeper is like a big vacuum cleaner with rotary brushes that bring the dirt out of the gutter. Like most vacuum cleaners, it must have needed its 'bag' changing, as many of the bits from the gutter were left right where I was cycling. I didn't notice anything untoward on my arrival home and put my bike away as normal.

It was only on Monday morning when I was getting the bike out, to set off for work, that I noticed the flat. Being short of time, I put it away and got my mountain bike out instead. That made a pleasant change even though it does require more effort. I can't remember the last time I had a puncture. It must be at least two years ago. By that reckoning, I've probably been lucky, but as a general rule for cycle commuters, it's not something to worry about or put you off cycling

Repairing the puncture was a lot easier on the bench than at the side of the road, where I would have just swapped the tube. And no, I didn't use a knife and fork like bok bok in the photo. It also gave me an opportunity to clean the rims and tighten up the brakes.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Road works week 26

The steel reinforcement for the roofs of the last open sections of culvert were the main focus last week. These are at the junctions of the two brooks and the bit on the opposite side of the road. Work began on a brick wall lining the monolith that is the bridge parapet at the downstream end. More pics next week.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Blackburn with Darwen gets £20k for training 500 children

Under the UK government's £3m Bikeability cycle training program, Blackburn with Darwen have bagged £20,000 for the training of 500 children in the next year. As part of a £140m package announced in January, it gives the chance for 10 and 11 year olds to acquire the skills to ride on the road confidently and hopefully the ability to get to school safely and independently.

Blackburn with Darwen appear to have been more ambitious than Lancashire County Council, who although having a wider and more populous area, have only received a budget of £11,520 to train 288 children.

Seen on bike for all.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Do The Test

Transport for London have a couple of new iniatives to help promote cycle safety and lower the casualty rate on London's roads.

One is providing free fresnel lenses to heavy goods vehicles and lights to cyclists. The lenses are to be mounted on the passenger side of trucks to enable drivers to see below the cab and hopefully spot any cyclists alongside the vehicle. The lights are wind up ones with the aim of improving cyclists' visibility to other motorists.

The other is a controversial video illustrating 'change blindness', the effect of people's brains not processing all the information presented. Concentrating on one thing can often lead to not noticing something else, known as 'inattention blindness'. The idea is to highlight how motorists can fail to see cyclists. Check it out at Spotted over on Urban Velo.

Friday, 14 March 2008

First signs of spring

They say hearing a cuckoo is one of the signs that heralds the arrival of spring. The urban setting of my daily ride isn't the type of environment conducive to supporting cuckoos, but then it also probably wouldn't be the kind of place you'd expect to see oystercatchers. Nonetheless, today, arriving at Greenbank, I was greeted by the screeching of three of them flying around the area. Last year, they were here in June. It must be a sign.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

To Clear an Urban Way, or not to Clear an Urban Way

That is the question. Or to put it another way, when is an Urban Clearway not an Urban Clearway?

This particular one at Brownhill in Blackburn is part of my cycle route and is very effective when it works. It allows the creation of two lines of traffic going towards town and facilitates the fast flow of vehicles through the traffic lights at, what was, Brownhill roundabout. It has been in place over 20 years, more or less since the junction was upgraded with traffic signals.

However, it only takes one car to park in the way, and the whole road backs up beyond the next set of traffic lights at the Bull's Head, and sometime beyond that, to the lights beyond at the Wilpshire Hotel. Regularly one or more vehicles are parked along this route and a queue occurs. It makes it equally difficult for cyclists as there is rarely room to pass between the parked cars and the ones waiting for the junction.

I've often wondered why these offenders are not prosecuted for illegal parking. Now I've discovered the reason. It's because this Urban Clearway isn't actually enforceable. To be an Urban Clearway, both sides of the road have to be included and signed accordingly. As the signs were only ever on the side approaching town, it's never been a proper clearway - in 20 years!

Blackburn with Darwen Council might have the solution. At the meeting of the Planning and Highway committee in February it was proposed to change it to a No Waiting and Loading. This would operate on the inbound carriageway for the length of the two lane section and also include the narrowest part of the outbound carriageway, where there is already a waiting restriction, outside the shops at Brownhill. The proposal should soon be advertised on a lamppost nearby. You can have your usual say by writing to the council. Whether anyone will take notice of the restriction, is another matter. Perhaps we'll see some of the many parking attendants from town out in the suburbs.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Blue Diamond up for sale

Between Brownhill and Blackburn the only drinking establishment left is the Orchard Working Men's club. From the Brownhill Arms, all the way to Blackburn, a total of six pubs have closed. One has gone altogether. Thwaites brewery closed Daniels. The Bastwell Arms became the Kebabish, Thrill of the Grill Asian food outlet. The Seven Trees stands empty and the Thwaites Arms has become a private business. Opposite that, and the Blackburn Cemetery, is what was the Cemetery pub. It became the Blue Diamond Indian restaurant about three years ago. Now it is closed and up for sale. It seems for every business that starts up, another shuts down.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Week 25 photo dump

The Blakewater culvert restoration is nearing its final stages.

It won't be long before the water disappears our of sight.

Some of the site has already been backfilled.

This will enable the road to be restored from the diversion and allow the final section of Knusden brook, under the current road, to be completed.

There is still a mountain of earth and quite a lot of steel work to complete.

Paint your bike claret

Burnley Football club are encouraging fans attending their last game of the season to arrive by bike. They'll be playing Cardiff at Turf Moor on 26th April. Last year over 11,000 fans attended the match. I wonder where they will put all those bikes? Will the car park be full of bike stands? Will there be bike park attendants in high-vis jackets helping out?

Hopefully they'll raise some money for charity and improve the profile of cycling.

Saturday, 8 March 2008


In my last entry, I wrote about a lack of change on my daily commute. One reason I may not have observed much is because, recently, I've been distracted by the fascinating story of the Iditarod Ultrasport endurance race. Through 'Up In Alaska', Jill in Juneau introduced me to another world, full of interesting characters seeking a huge challenge in stamina and survival. Men and women, from all over the world, who go to Alaska to take on the extremes of an Alaskan winter by crossing a remote wilderness. They test themselves against themselves, the incredibly cold weather, the terrain and, if strength remains, against each other. The emphasis is on endurance rather than on the racing.

Jill's write-up of her experience is a fascinating insight into what the competitors endure. Her frank and honest account of each stage of the race includes descriptions of not just the physical pain and challenge of fighting raging winds, frostbite and bivouacing in extremely low temperatures, but also the effect that wilderness, isolation and physical exhaustion has on a competitor's mental state. Getting to the finish is a major achievement. Thanks Jill for sharing with us and well done to all those who took part. The 350 mile race is over but there are some continuing on to Nome for the 1100 mile distance. 44 competitors started and 29 finished the 350 mile race. The competitors going to Nome are currently around the 700 mile mark. For them the scale of the task would appear to be an order of magnitude harder as they battle Arctic blizzards and push their heavy bikes for hundreds of miles. Respect.

Joe Johnstone (on foot), from the UK and the the youngest competitor, scratched with an ankle injury after Puntilla (mile 165)
Alan Tilling (on foot) scratched at Nikolai (mile 300)
Christian Cullinane (on bike) suffered because his tyres weren't fat enough but, in the face of adversity, made it to the finish. His story is a
Carl Hutchins (on bike) was fourth at the 350 mile stage and is currently with the top three going to Nome.

News from the race is at where there are links to photos and the messageboard.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Cycling routine

Commuting using the bike has been continuing as normal over the last few weeks. Lately it seems that little has changed along the route other than the daylight hours extending. The odd daffodil here and there heralds the beginnings of spring but, other than that, there hasn't been much happening. There's not much to report from the road works either.

Nevertheless it's an enjoyable routine I look forward to as the bookends of a working day. It works as a way of switching on before work or switching off after it finishes. The concentration, although required just as for driving, is somehow different. It is as if I'm more alert to the movement of traffic around me, but at the same time allowed to take in the scenery and things happening away from the road. It is this intimacy with one's environment I think makes cycling to work more refreshing than sitting in a car.