Monday, 21 December 2009

Solstice Commute

Great weather for a white Christmas. Very scenic, but not good timing for commuting today, on the shortest day of the year. Especially by bike, none of which spotted whilst walking this morning.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Smart Polaris II Light Set Review

5 LED front and 317 Rear

At the beginning of last year to improve my chances of being seen on roads at night, I added a set of flashing lights to my bike. My existing static lights, although visible, didn't seem to alert road users to my presence. F
rom experience as a motorist, I believed adding flashing lights would enable me to be seen better and sooner. Experience soon bore that out as I sensed cars and pedestrians taking extra caution around me. What I hadn't anticipated was how bright the lights were and so how successful they would be at improving my visibility to others.

The Polaris II's 3 LED front + 5 LED rear lights I got are still going strong and, despite initial feedback to the contrary from others, have proved faultless in their reliability. In the third winter of using them, I've already benefiting from the extra safety they provide as dark nights arrived.

Further details of the Smart Polaris II 3 LED front and 7 LED rear are in my original Smart Polaris review and follow-up.

I have taken the opportunity to check out the light-set next up the Smart Polaris range. The 5 LED front and 317 rear distributed by Fisher Outdoor and available from numerous retailers, mine coming from Wiggle and their latest offer (currently out of stock). The set comes in the same format packaging and with the same mounts as the previous set. Batteries are supplied, 2 x AA for the front and 2 x AAA for the rear. I'll not repeat the details of the mounting, the descriptions of the light housings and general operation as they are the same as before, so I refer you to my original review. One thing I noticed from the packaging I didn't mention previously, is the diameter supported for the front mount. It's stated to support handlebar diameters of 25.4mm through to 31.8mm. I have used it on bars at both ends of that range quite successfully and transferring the light is easy and requires no tools.

To make this review shorter, I'm
concentrating on the differences this new set brings. All the experiences of the original set are had with this uprated version. The quality is there and the same neat clean design provides a performant bike light set that should last many years. The difference is in the amount of light emitted from those powerful Nichia Japanese LEDs.

Front light

The front light has 5 LEDs and, logically, you might assume 2/3rds more light than the 3-LED version, but the rating is 298 candle power compared with 144 candle power of the 3 LED version, so twice as much incident light. How this is measured is not stated on the packaging. It does suggest this unit is using more efficient LEDs. Both sets are bright but the 5 LED version is like looking at a car with headlights on full beam so the claim to be visible from a mile away is believable. The reach appears similar but the extra brightness is noticeable and, on the road, the alert to road users obvious. Battery life, stated at 100 hours, is excellent (120 hours on 3 LED set) and understandably less because of the current that two extra LEDs draw.

Rear light

The rear light is probably the biggest design difference. Whereas the 7-LED rear of the other Polaris set had two LEDs to the side and two at 45 degrees and three to the rear, this set has three to the rear with the main brightness coming from the powerful 0.5 watt top LED. This has a dedicated clear lens arrangement, but also projects a good deal of light sideways, making up for the loss of the other side LEDs. Rearward, the brightness is significantly more than the 7-LED set and is more akin to a car with fog lights on. This makes it difficult for motorists not to see you at night and presents the option of not using in flashing mode since the extra brightness makes it a perfectly acceptable static rear light. Talking of flashing modes, the 3-LED set has three modes: all flashing, alternating and steady. This set has just flashing and steady. Having never used alternating, it's not a mode I shall miss. Battery life, like the front light, is less than the 7-LED version but still very good at the stated 60 hours. The mounting has a useful clip to hook the light on clothing, saddlebag or rucksack.


Experience for each individual light is noted above but some general comments might be useful. The packaging recommends only using alkaline batteries but I use NiMh 2500mAh rechargeables in mine and they last a couple of months of commuting using them in flashing mode, though my commute is quite short. I've always used rechargeable batteries and had no problem. The only downside to not using alkalines is the lights are slightly less bright than fresh alkalines since, with NiMh, the lights only get about 2.5 volts instead of 3 volts and at that level are lower down their specified operating voltage range. Lower voltage, means less current and therefore less light emitted. Typically, for each type of battery, this might be around 70mA/1.8 lumens compared with 150mA / 2.8 lumens per LED for LEDs of similar characteristics. The lower current using NiMh batteries may result in longer operating time depending on battery capacity. Perceptually there is a small difference visible in the light intensity and the choice will be yours, weighing convenience against brightness required. Certainly with both types of battery the units are very bright. Using good alkalines, producing a healthy current at 3V, is the way to achieve the rated luminous intensity but at some point during use, alkalines will produce less light than their rechargeable counterparts due to the way they discharge. Tail-off with partially depleted batteries of either type is gradual, giving a reasonable time to continue cycling before changing batteries although with this set it is quicker than the previous set. For me, this means not carrying spares on the commute but you have to be careful to notice when the lights are losing brightness so you can replace the batteries in good time.

Comparing 7 LED and 3 LED front lights

This is difficult to do as it is quite subjective. Based on perceptual differences with no scientific basis, the 7 LED is brighter both to be seen by and seeing with. How much brighter is difficult to tell really as they are both too bright to look at

The following two images were taken on an unlit country road with the same exposure for both lights taken from the same position. The brightness has been increased the same on each photo. You still may not be able to see much as a camera isn't as sensitive as the human eye. Consequently you may conclude they aren't for country lanes at night but, combined with a head torch, they are OK as long as you don't go too fast.

7 LED Front Light

3 LED Front Light

If when buying them there is no difference in price, it would seem sensible to get the 7 LED.


Overall, this is a great light set for the money (especially when you find it on offer). Ideal for winter commuting even in extreme cold (rated to -40C). For use on unlit roads or for off-road, this front unit is probably OK for occasional use, but not sufficient for regular full darkness runs or fast riding where a higher specification (and expensive) dedicated off-road light would be better.

RRP £34.99 (Wiggle offer 60% off £14)

Likes: Blindingly bright to look at (don't do it), functionality, easy mounting, battery life, price (on offer)
Dislikes: None

Quality: 9/10
Performance: 9.5/10 (for its target market)
Value for money: 9.5/10 (depending on discount)

Monday, 7 December 2009

Signs of the recessional times?

Compare and contrast

Top picture: September 2008 08:15

Bottom picture: December 2009 08:45

Where did all the cars go? I might have caught a quiet moment but there is certainly less traffic in recent weeks and actually, despite winter, one or two more cyclists. I even encountered a guy commuting on a fixed the other day - common in the cities but unusual round here.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

"You need to slow down"

It's been an eventful couple of days on the bike. Yesterday is best forgotten as it was the usual being taken advantage of plus topping it all my neighbour nearly running me over but he's forgiven as he's been threatening to do it for a while anyway. (We're still friends).

Today though was the pinnacle of a series of bad driving incidents, leading to my conclusion that we, as the increasing minority who cycle, will need gentle diplomacy to overcome the ignorance that some drivers exhibit when sharing the road with cyclists.

There were a number of the usual cars poking out of junctions and crossing the road in front of me. That's fairly normal. The first more major incident was at a give way I've had trouble at before. It's an awkward junction with two give ways right on top of each other. I approached to go straight on to the second give way but keeping to the left of the road. As I reached the give way line, a woman in an Audi A7 drew up to the junction and started to turn left. My shouting stopped her but she was less than understanding and didn't seem to understand she'd just overtaken another road user in a junction nearly causing a crash. My only solution to that one is to position myself so that a car cannot pull alongside but then I run the risk of being hit by cars entering the road especially the ones turning right who often cut the corner.

The second incident was a classic, if only for the dialogue. It happened on the straight going along the road in the picture. With the wind behind me, I was cruising along at about 20mph. The road is lined with cars either side. Consequently, I keep a decent margin on the left and use a fair amount of my lane to avoid being doored. As I was going along, the driver of a car, who had been hesitating to pull out from a road on the right, decided to come out just as I approached, clearly underestimating the speed I was doing. Realising that I was approaching she drove down the middle of the road until she thought she was in front of me but in actual fact ended up squeezing the amount of road I had available. It wasn't dangerous but it meant I had
both to slow down and change direction. It wasn't much of a deal but I felt I should see if the driver understood what she had done. She probably thought she'd got away, but half a mile later, at the lights I came alongside and tapped on her window for a quick chat whilst the lights were on red. Here's how it went:

Me: Tap tap.
Her: Thinking, ignore him, he'll go away.
Me: Tap tap.
Her: OK, he doesn't look too aggressive (probably couldn't see my red face in the dark). Winds window down.
Me: "I think you made a mistake back there"
Her: "I saw you"
Me: "But you pulled out anyway"
Her: "I was over on the right"
Me: "But you're suppose to give way"
Her: "You need to slow down, you could see me coming out"

At which point the lights changed and I'd had enough

A clear case of NSMIDSYBYOAC (Not sorry mate I did see you but you're only a cyclist)

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Taking the car

I went to work today by car. The less often I do it, the more unusual it feels - it must be a couple of months since I last did it. I'm sure for most, it feels natural and is just a case of hopping in the car but for me, it didn't feel that way. Partly because changing mode means finding all the bits I need for a day at work, which are usually organised for cycling. It's also partly because of extra needed to commence a safe drive in a car such as demisting windows, adjusting mirrors etc.

I didn't enjoy it as much as cycling. My cycle commute flows a lot better, short though it is. None of the queuing and sitting behind the car in front. Probably significant is the isolation - only interacting with the radio that doesn't answer back, insulated from the outside world by glass and metal. It's not the same as talking to people (even if it is to tell them to watch out). By bike, from the off, visibility stays constant, temperature is pretty much the same all journey and it's more direct as I can go down side streets I wouldn't consider in the car.

One advantage of going by car is the time saved getting changed at either end of the day. The other thing today was is that it was a really nice morning for cycling - bad timing on my part.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Rush-Hour Cycle Lane - Don't you just love school holidays

This was the main A road into Blackburn this morning during the rush-hour. Who needs a cycle lane when the road is so quiet?

Plenty of time to take some autumn shots in morning light, brighter since the hour change.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

The Darkness

It approaches, creeping like a thief in the night, with gradual increasing intensity. September and October are twilight months for the commuter. The remaining light is enough to see by and the visibility is good enough for us cyclists to be seen if supplemented with high visibility clothing and lights. This coming weekend sees the end to that softly softly approach. With the change in daylight savings time by one hour, we are thrown abruptly into real darkness, when ambient light conditions offer nothing to the cyclist.

From now on we have to rely on street lights and lights from vehicles to help other road users pick us out on the road. With highly contrasting bright lights and reflections in a black road scape, especially in the wet, the difficulty of seeing cyclists is increased dramatically. To make sure you stand out get some high intensity LED lights that flash. UK law dictates you should have a steady red rear light, for which you can use a cheap LED light, but for maximum effect a quality unit with Japanese LEDs is best. High intensity LEDS at the front also help bring us to a more equal standing with motorised traffic.

Stay safe, and happy commuting.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Coniston in Drizzle

This is a picture from the ride at the weekend when we went out for a ride with the South Lakes Group of the Rough Stuff Fellowship. It's an organisation with an interesting history of getting places with a bike that you might not think possible or is the domain of hardened mountain bikers. The RSF pre-dates mountain bikes and has been getting off the beaten track since 1955.

Despite the drizzle and rain, it was a great ride with some peaceful and moody views along Coniston and up to Grizedale. Plenty of folk out too, which I suppose is the norm for Grizedale. More photos on the South Lakes Group site.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

"Sorry Mate

- I didn't see you."

If you ride on the road regularly, this is something that is likely to have happened to you. It happened to Mrs P this very day when a woman turned left into the local recycling centre and nearly took out her front wheel. It happened to me a couple of weeks ago in Staveley when someone pulled out without looking.

The close-shave, near-miss or other heart stopping moment where man and machine nearly collides with another man and machine is all too common and often the excuse is they didn't see us. For the cyclist, being the more vulnerable one in the encounter, this is to be avoided as the outcome is not usually pretty should a collision occur. It's also a problem for motorcyclists.

What can you do to avoid it? There are a number of things but the Cycle Touring Club want to do more to raise awareness and support cyclists. They have created a new website where you can report your SMIDY incidents and get help and advice.

Other SMIDSY resources:

Something's eating my handlebars

I must admit to being somewhat bemused by this statement, utterred by Mrs P, on return from her ride. My mind pictured some terrible chemical accident that resulted in some corrosive potion getting on her bike and, more frightfully, herself. The damage, it turned out, was not done on the ride but was evident before she departed, it was just the way it was disclosed that caused my alarm.

Sure enough when I looked, the right-hand side of her butterfly bar's foam has small gouges all the way round. Our shed obviously has rodent visitors who like nibbling on rubber and plastic. The little blighters! They also destroyed some roof-bar covers. We need to nip this problem in the neck before any more expensive damage is done.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Aldi Bike Light Review

Aldi recently offerred a twin set of front and rear LED cycle lights at £3.99. A set of lights at this price is a snip but, like most things, you get what you pay for. So what are you getting for your four quid? Not a lot, it has to be said. The lights come in plastic sealed packaging is probably more durable than the lights themselves.


Included are two mounts and batteries. The mounts are of poor quality with nuts and bolts that don't fit particularly well and require tools to fit. Basic spacers are provided for fitting to different diameter bars and stems. The rear mount is for a seat post only not frame. The lights are fixed to the bike by sliding their clips into the holders on the mounts. This clip on the rear of each light is a nice touch since it can be used to attach to a rucksack or clothing.


The lights themselves are three LED units running off two AAA batteries. Both lights are of similar design and cheap construction with a hard plastic seal, which probably doesn't so I wouldn't anticipate continued operation in wet weather. They are basically a back plate with batteries either side of a central circuit board holding the four standard low power LEDs and the switch sensing circuit. These are not high power high intensity LEDs and consequently the light output is relatively weak. The battery contacts are also flimsy. On one set they didn't make contact with the circuit board so the lights didn't work. The lens cover snaps onto the back plate to close the unit, it's clear on the front and red on the rear. The units are are small, which is a nice thing about these lights - they are easy to pop into your pocket.


The lights work by pressing a small rubber button on the back of the light. Two modes are available, flashing and steady. The front uses cheap light-green LEDs rather than the better white LEDs more commonly found in lights and torches these days. The rears use red LED's. In operation, these lights fulfil the basic legal requirement for UK Road Vehicle Regulations but are not very bright. They certainly don't emit enough light to see by and only sufficient to be visible in the right conditions. For winter use in traffic and bad weather, these lights are inadequate to be seen by. Battery life is indeterminate - I haven't used them long enough to find out.


These lights are cheap for the money and it shows. They are suitable only to be seen by on traffic-free routes, cheap back-ups or, at a push, getting back from the pub. As a get-me home option, probably OK for the summer, but for busy road riding on winter nights, steer clear and get something safer.

Supplier: Aldi £3.99
Quality:          2/10
Performance: 2/10
Value for money: 4/10

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Three Peaks Cyclocross

A day out at the races today, in fine Yorkshire countryside, for this 38 mile epic over the three major peaks of Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen-y-Ghent.

1st Nick Craig 2h 54m 13s

It was my first time watching cyclocross and it turned out quite exciting as long standing title holder Rob Jebb was beaten by Scott UK rider Nick Craig with a 15 second margin.

2nd Rob Jebb 2h 54m 28s

It looked tough going up those hills, but very exciting coming down as the riders bounced off the rocks and tried to avoid both oncoming riders climbing uphill and fell-walkers.

3rd Neal Crampton 3h 9m 47s

Congrats to all who took part. I have nothing but admiration for the fact that you do it at all, never mind doing it in 2 hours 54 minutes and 13 seconds. Even more impressive is the number of veterans including some in their 70's - there's hope for me yet. I was also cheering on TwinklyDave and ShaggyJohn, who I don't actually know, but one's local and the other I found following the Iditarod. They set PB and single speed records - well done guys.

Full report over on the British Cycling website.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Winter Drawers On

As they say...soon be Christmas. It's getting cooler and darker on the morning commute. Especially last week when it looked like my shorts were to be relegated to midday rides at the weekends, as rain, wind and cool temperatures arrived. It's difficult to get warmed up in the limited distance between home and work, so it was back to the Ron Hills until our Indian summer arrives, which, according to the BBC weather forecast, is arriving today. It won't be long before the winter cycling jacket and lights come out as well.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Cycling Kentmere

I've just returned from a few days in the Lake District National Park. It has an abundance of hiking and cycling opportunities, both off and on road, none of them particularly flat, it being in a region of mountains and lakes. A popular destination is Kentmere, known to many cyclists but perhaps not familiar to non-UK readers.

Kentmere is primarily home to a community of sheep and dairy farmers but also a site of ancient and modern industry. For most visitors to the valley, it is a huge playground for walking and cycling. It is steep sided but relatively flat for the majority of its length. The valley winds its way northwards for 4 miles along the single track road from Staveley to the church near where the road ends. The rise from the village of Staveley is a mere 200 feet although the lane's ups and downs add up to more.

This is as far as motorists go but mountain bikers and walkers can follow along the River Kent for almost the same distance again, past Kentmere reservoir, to the head of the valley at Nam Bield Pass some 1700 feet higher.

The Lake District National Park is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Kentmere sits on its easterly fringe and, like many places in the Park, in addition to the natural beauty, was and still is a place of work. Rural life may appear to be dominated by working farms but industry also plays its part even today.

The River Kent provided power and water for a variety of mills and the valley was also the site of a number of mines and quarries including a silica mine that created Kentmere Tarn that we see today. The mining has long gone and now heron and other bird life frequent the water.

For a many, a day in Kentmere begins and ends at Mill Yard in Staveley. This centre of small artisan businesses, is home to the two principle magnets for riders, the cycle store, Wheelbase, and the eatery, Wilf's, famous for outdoor catering at orienteering and fell running events. Other businesses attract visitors to the bakery, brewery or specialist craftsmen such as jewellers and woodworkers. Cyclists particularly like it because of its proximity to great mountain biking, bike wash, supplies at Wheelbase and re-fuelling at Wilf's and Hawkshead brewery.

Kentmere presents a myriad of outdoor opportunities with the many paths and bridleways that link up across the valley. What you might know as trails are what we call public footpaths in the UK. These footpaths are rights-of-way, many going back to ancient times. They criss-cross between settlements, over hills and passes across the whole of the country, not just in National Parks. They are governed by rules ensuring public access and have to be maintained with functional gates and no obstructions such as fallen trees. Whilst not unique to the UK (other European countries such as Switzerland and Austria have their wanderwegs), these paths form a major characteristic of our countryside and allow public access to lowland and highland areas irrespective of ownership.

Local government authorities are responsible for ensuring access by liaising with landowners who's land the paths cross. Public footpaths often cross farmland, which can require navigating around cows and sheep. Going for a walk might involve linking a number of these paths (as would hiking, rambling or fell walking, the difference being the distance and height gained). This availability of these rights-of-way enables people access to the countryside to appreciate the outdoors and understand the make-up of our rural areas. The importance of this was realised in the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001 that decimated the rural economy and resulted in no-one being allowed to use paths and bridleways.

There are other rights-of-way, the most important of which, for the cyclist, is the bridleway. These take the form of paths and tracks. They extend access to horse riders and cyclists as well as walkers. These routes are often nothing more than an overgrown single track path but can also be double track unpaved roads. Motorised traffic is not allowed and, like footpaths, are often ancient trade routes between villages or markets.

A great asset we have for helping access paths and bridleways is the excellent mapping available from the Ordnance Survey.

View this map on
Get directions on

They provide detailed mapping at various scales for the whole country. The 1:25,000 scale is ideal for walking and off-road mountain biking as paths are shown with a green dotted line and bridleways are shown with a green dashed line. Field boundaries are thin black lines and help navigation through farmland.

Other unpaved rights-of-way exist. These include Byways Open to All Traffic (BOATs) and Roads used as a Path. As these also pass through remote areas of outstanding beauty, their use can be controversial, as they are available to motorised traffic. The presence of noisy 4x4 vehicles or trails bikes, often grates with other non-motorised users. In an attempt to harmonise the sharing of these resources, various groups such as Land Access and Recreation Association (LARA) produced a code of practice to minimise the impact of their activities. Despite this, the right to some tracks have been demoted to 'Restricted Byways' and motorised use outlawed in the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006.

Kentmere has a fair representation of all these rights-of-way. The valley floor has the metalled road and some paths and bridleways spreading out to the higher ground. The flat part of the valley is great for a blast on road, which combined with the Crook Road, near where we stay, makes for a nice round trip of about 14 miles, useful for a quick hour's exercise. For longer outings, the many paths, bridleways and byways can be linked to make testing days out for more of a challenge. These access neighbouring valleys allowing more options, west via the Garburn Pass to High Street (2500 feet), north to Haweswater or east to Gatesgarth Pass and Longsleddale.
The combinations are many and provide enough choices for many a return trip.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Bowling anyone?

Glenfield Park, a business space rental company, appears to have a lot of vacant units at the moment. A planning application has been made to convert the ground floor of its building into a bowling centre. I presume that's bowls as opposed to 10-pin bowling.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

What next for the Cemetery?

This former Lion Brewery hostelry had three attempts at being an Indian restaurant and proved it wasn't viable. It's up for sale yet again. I predict it going the same way as the Severn Trees pub and will become a private dwelling or perhaps offices. It's demonstration of a trend that people are increasingly staying at home rather than going out and sitting in front of their large flat screen TVs eating takeaways washed down with cheap supermarket booze.

Perhaps it would make a good cyclery: 'Cycle of Life' anyone?

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Spontaneous Critical Mass

What a great advert for cycling and one that organisers of local cycling awareness events must be jealous of, when a star of cycling invites one and all for a spontaneous group ride and 300 riders turn up. Lance Armstrong had a lot of new friends today after he organised a short ride around Paisley, near Glasgow. He set the time and place and said everyone welcome. Paisley's cycling advocacy received a serious spike as the group brought traffic to a standstill.

It was also a great demonstration of the power and influence of social networks as Lance Armstrong's Twitter invite connected direct with his fans.

BBC News:

Scottish TV:

Push Cycles (at slow speed)

Eh, those wert' days mi laddo. Nice to see signs like this one, down by the River Kent between Burneside and Kendal, still exist. You can almost imagine the squeal of the rod brakes on the chrome rims as the bicyclists slow down and their bells go tring-a-ling-a-ling.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Potholes Again

Recently, I expressed delight at some of the road I commute on getting resurfaced, but also some dismay at the bits in between that will be missed by the repairs but still represent significant hazards to cyclists. It seems, from what I've noticed on my route today, some of those will get repaired in the next few days. Potholes to be filled have been marked.

I've actually come up with a cunning plan because the men that fill the holes aren't the ones that designate which ones are to be filled. Before any actual repair work commences, the 'surveyor' or person responsible goes along the road and highlights the holes to be filled with spray paint. In this case, white spray paint. All it takes for the plan to work is for someone who feels the 'responsible' has missed some hazards, to highlight
with similar coloured spray paint any holes that need filling.

The one in the picture got its paint yesterday. I notified the council about this hazard via Fill That Hole back in February. Elsewhere on this blog I've praised Blackburn with Darwen Council for their responsiveness in making repairs but taking six months for this one is poor. Admittedly, it's not the worst one on the route but from today's evidence, the decision as to what gets repaired appears somewhat flakey.

Another hazard, notified in April by someone else, hasn't been repaired or marked for repair but holes either way along the road that present less danger have been marked.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Little Harwood

I thought we'd have a scenic piccy from my route since the weather has been looking up this week.

This is the war memorial clock tower in the civic gardens at Little Harwood. It was erected in 1923 at the suggestion of the local postmistress who proposed a lasting memorial to the local men who fell in the Great War.
In the background on the left is the old Star cinema, which sits in the shadow of the Clitheroe railway line and is now an Islamic centre. On the right is the NHS health centre.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Event: Tour of Pendle

This year's Tour of Pendle cycle race kicks off at 9:30am this Sunday (9th Aug) in Nelson. The race is three laps of a course taking in Brierfield, Barrowford, Whalley and Read and finishes around lunchtime.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

T'was not to be

Brave effort, but the LEJOG tandem record remains unbroken as James Cracknell and Rebecca Romero called it a day north of Lockerbie this morning due to injury. My knees have been giving me jip on long rides, but I can't imagine what kind of pain Rebecca Romero was in after cycling over 24 hrs.

I hope they have another go - but carry a GPS tracker next time. Their efforts are great publicity for cycling and engaging followers with an interactive web application is great for drawing more audience. Thanks for the tweets guys.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Sleepless in the Saddle

Not the more famous endurance race, but the condition needed for James Cracknell and Rebecca Romero when they pass through Lancashire in the wee small hours tonight. Their ambition is to break the world tandem record for Land's End to John O'Groats in 51 hours 19 minutes 23 seconds. Rest will encompass something like 3 minutes every three hours with a longer break at each 9 hour interval. They started 7am this morning from Cornwall and hope to be in Bristol by late afternoon.

Follow their updates on the Cycling Plus twitter feed or go out and cheer them on their way: their schedule is registered with the Road Records Association.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Roll on September

I just found out some of the roughest patches of road on my daily commute are going to be resurfaced. Whoopee! Everyday I bounce around over these worn out bits of carriageway. Over the last year, my bike has gradually been falling to bits and I sure the these roads are a large factor in its demise. After numerous spokes failed, my handlebars sagged with fatigue and today my rear mudguard split away from its mountings.

The road bulletin from BwD informs that: "A666 Whalley New Road from Cemetery Entrance to Pearl St and from No. 574 to No. 700 - Resurfacing of carriageway - Off peak restriction". These two sections contain some very rough road or uneven surface, though not obvious from the general pictures here.

The first section is from the Cemetery for 500 metres towards Brownhill.

The second is 200 metres from the beginning of the bend (between Amethyst Street and Topaz Street) towards the traffic lights at Brownhill (Opal Street).

The bumps aren't that noticeable in a car, but on a bike they are terrible, so this is good news indeed. Work starts 1st September for eight weeks. Hopefully the other poor sections particularly the mess at Skew Bridge can be put on the list next. (That problem was notified to the council by someone using FillThatHole.)

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Cycling infrastructure

I may be a bit premature calling this one, but a development on the route I commute through Blackburn is looking potentially disadvantageous for cyclists. St. Steven's primary school on Robinson Street has a new building in the final stages of being built and to address traffic problems there, some remodelling of the road layout is happening. The need for something has been obvious, as the rat-run that is Robinson Street, has become mayhem at peak school drop-off and pick-up times. I come along that road on the way from the confectioners and every time I do, I'm concerned for the children's' safety or my own as there is so much going on, with cars pulling out and stopping and people crossing the road. Recently it's been compounded by the building work with all the contractors' cars, vans and delivery vehicles.

To address the problem Blackburn with Darwen Council have commissioned remodelling of the junction at Robinson Street and Phillips Road, moving the kerb line, just visible in the photo above, and installing a mini-roundabout.

When not coming from the butty shop, my route is direct up Phillips Road. Whilst I don't have an issue with mini roundabouts, I do object to kerbs that force cyclists into the narrowest part of the road. Why, in this age of supposed eco-friendly traffic policy, has investment been approved to change the road layout without inclusion of proper cycling infrastructure but promoting on-street parking? These extended kerbs in effect narrow Phillips Road, allowing parking up to the junction, reducing the view and, as a consequence, safety. Is it because local building policy restricts the number of parking spaces for employees provided at new buildings so staff will now have to park on the street?

Provision of cycling infrastructure, if there ever is any on this road, will probably involve white road paint in the form of a bike symbol with the words 'Ends' just before this newly created hazard. With the space available there is so much more that could have been done to promote cycling. This appears to be an opportunity lost. From the bottom of the road, nearly the whole distance has been 'remodelled' in the last year or so and could have had proper cycle lanes integrated. My bet is that there won't be any.

Please tell me I'm wrong.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Another great day for British Cycling

I've been absorbed by the Tour de France for the last three weeks watching as the story unfolded with each day's drama. Today in Paris, Cav finished off an incredible tour with his 6th stage victory that also saw Wiggo roll in a very impressive 4th in the GC. That's not to belittle the achievements of the other riders in any way, just that it made it all the more enjoyable to watch from the Brits' standpoint with what is the best result since the 80's. I started out with the intention of seeing how Lance's comeback would fare and ended up enthralled by the strategies, breakaways and politics each day. Now I'm looking forward to next year's when there will be completely new British and Livestrong/Nike teams.

Local Bike Store Quality - Do it yourself?

My daughter went into a well known Lake District cycle store with her rather dilapidated old bike that had two perished tyres, one of which was flat. It had been stored for a long time and she was needing it now for regular short commutes. She wanted to be sure the bike would be reliable and wanted to practice riding before needing to go to work on it.

She organised with the staff at the counter to have two new tyres and tubes fitted. After a coffee she returned to see her steed looking much better with its new rubber installed and went for a short ride.

The next day I offered to go on a ride with her only to find when we got the bike out, the same wheel was flat again. Before we could go on our ride, I had to repair it. The tube was the original tube with the original hole in it. I know because it also had another patch on. This particular store gets a lot of passing trade from the many day trippers to the Lake District, which is what my daughter had done. Consequently, it was not easy to just pop back to the shop and get the mistake rectified.

She checked the receipt and hadn't been charged for tubes, so somewhere between the counter and the service guy, there must have been a communication breakdown. I still find it strange that a large bike shop, like the one she used, would not have staff experienced enough to ensure all cycles leaving their store are roadworthy and reliable. My daughter paid top price for the tyres and £10 for the labour. It's unfortunate that large stores such as this force the smaller shops offering better service out of business. Net result: my 'avoid' list of cycle shops is growing faster than my 'support' list. It also means those prepared to 'do-it-yourself' rely on Internet resellers, which would have been around £14 cheaper. In this instance, it was not about the cost but about the inconvenience.

This is another example I've encountered of inadequate service from a 'reputable' cycle shop. I don't want to dis' the shop in question but this experience does beg the question how a growing bike industry with a supposed bright future is going to gain mass acceptance by the general public when it seems odds-on that they'll be let down by their suppliers? The solution is to build a relationship with a local supplier you can trust, if you can find one, and hope when you're out of town, you find one that's equally as good.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Blackburn GP Cycle Race

Cycle racing tomorrow (Wednesday) in Blackburn town centre with juniors from 6pm, National Category B race at 7pm featuring many local and club riders and the main British Cycling Elite Men's Circuit Race Series race at 8:15pm. This last race features well known criterium racers from the recently televised Tour Series.

More information from Blackburn with Darwen Council.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Hiding in the shadows

One of the things I learnt from riding in the winter is the importance of visibility. I've been conscious in the past, that despite my large old style lights, I was not visible enough. I supplemented them with bright modern flashing LED lights because when I'm driving a car I notice the flashing lights of cyclists (assuming they are bright enough).

In summer, things are different. Without lights and with brighter weather, we assume we are able to be seen much easier. Often though, the reverse is true. Sunlight creates contrasting bright and dark patches along a road and drivers' eyes will automatically adjust to the brightest area of vision. They may be wearing sunglasses. This makes seeing into the shadows more difficult and it is easy to overlook a cyclist in the shadows. I try and counteract this by wearing bright clothing but often wonder if it is enough.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Gear review - Altura Airstream Windproof shell

Altura make an extensive range of clothing for a variety of cycling activities. This jacket is part of their Airstream range and is a general purpose cool weather long sleeve top that is windproof at the front and breatheable at the back. The windproof material is polyester in yellow and the breathable back, side and rear of sleeves is in black polyester fleece with spandex. There are three rear pockets and a full length zip at the front with a fleece lined collar. It is available in a radiant yellow or a more subdued blue.

Like most shells, the fit should be close fitting and the Altura Airstream works well in this respect and the stretchy back gives a snug feel. When I first put this jacket on, I liked the feel of it as the front feels light and airy and the back feels warm and cosy. Out on the road, the jacket performs well in medium temperatures. It would be too lightweight for really cold weather unless working hard. Slower riders will find it most suitable as a three season jacket. The arm length is generous and allows for stretching out over the front of a bike. The yellow jacket provides excellent hi-viz capability from the front but the back of the jacket is all black and very little of the yellow is seen from the rear - just the shouders. Wearing a bright rucksack helps but also decreases breatheability.

I've had this jacket for a few months now. I always look forward to putting it on for the morning ride. When it's a bit chilly for bare arms, this jacket does the trick without being too warm. With the pockets at the back also being made of fleece, it keeps the lower back warm too.

Altura have a large range of clothing with models that change frequently. I checked a few online stores and there appears to be limited availability in some shops but I did find all sizes and colours available in others.

Likes: Excellent close fit, warm feel, wind resistance.
Dislikes: No zip pocket, no silicone hem grippers, could be slightly longer at the back. Lack of hi-viz from rear.
Rating: 4/5

Price: SRP £45

Sunday, 21 June 2009


Circumnavigation of the Isle of Arran is a popular ride. People come over from the mainland for the weekend. There's plenty to do and see. Arran is desribed as Scotland in minature as it has mountains and lochs, (raised) beaches and a distillery.

Here at Blackwaterfoot, we're looking toward Kintyre the long peninsular of the mainland that juts out southwest towards Northern Ireland. That's tomorrow's destination. From there we head over to Islay, a flatter island with many of the famous malt whisky distilleries. In my research, I've also discovered there is good coffee and it is home to a number of enthusiastic cyclists.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Isle of Arran

The Scottish Isles are serviced by the legendary Caledonian Macbrayne Ferries. With thirty vessels in their fleet and a new Islay ship under construction, they provide a lifeline to the island communities of Scotland and a wonderful tourism opportunity for casual visitors. This is especially true for cyclists, who pay the single person rate and bicycles go free. The 55 minute crossing one way from Ardrossan on the Scottish mainland is £5.45. A car and two passengers would be over £50.

This is the MV Caledonian Isles, a 90m vessel capable of carrying 951 passengers and 70 cars. The space on the car deck for bikes can get a little crowded, particularly at weekends. Today we arrive after coming up the Ayrshire coast from Dumfries and Galloway.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

On tour

Last weekend the weather returned to more normal summer expectations (opposed to normal reality). It's actually been better than forecast with only a couple of thundery showers so the shorts are out again. Right in the middle of Bike Week, we're setting off on a cycle tour in Scotland. This follows our experience last year when, as touring virgins, we went to Germany.

Logistically a trip to Carlisle and cycling across the border is a lot simpler than getting ourselves to southern Germany but the aim last year was to keep the cycling easy until we had a measure of our capabilities. I intended to do some writing about last year's tour and still might but this tour is already upon us.

We'll encounter larger hills and probably some westerly winds but hopefully the mix of weather will be favourable. Above you see one of the places we intend to get to, Brodick on the Isle of Arran. From there, the intention is to cross Kintyre and get the ferry to the Isle of Islay. I'm looking forward to chatting with fellow cycle tourists and enjoying some traditional Scottish hospitality.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Bad example

You could observe that this cyclist is setting a good example because she is wearing bright clothing, riding carefully and making a clear hand signal of her intention to turn right. But then you notice the no right turn sign, which spoils the example as she's making an illegal right turn.

So many other drivers also take this illegal turn, that she's hardly likely to give cyclists a bad name. I once saw a motorist do this whilst not wearing a seatbelt and using a mobile phone. How many points on a licence is that?

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Where did summer go?

Since my ride at the start of the month, when June set out with the promise of being a sizzler, the east wind kicked up, rain set in and temperatures dropped. It's felt like winter this last week or so with the thermometer reading as low as 5C. Last year I think I wore shorts every day in June and July but they're back in the wardrobe now. Things are looking up as this week progresses. At least it's dry and the skies are brighter but the sun has been seen very little and temps have been around 10C. It was sufficiently unseasonal last week that this buggy rider had its cover on., It was spotted on the pavement (sidewalk in US), which is considerably safer than on the road.

Bike Week cometh

Yes, next week is Bike Week in the UK. Across the nation there are cycling events aplenty to feast on. Locally these are the ones I know about. There may be others.

Friday 12th June
Cycling Roadshow
Market Sq, Lancaster 12 - 4pm
Visit the pre Bike Week Cycling Roadshow to pick up lots of advice & information and get your bike checked out by Dr Bike.

Saturday June 13
Family bike ride
Witton Country Park, Blackburn 1 – 2pm
Meet at the Stables Courtyard for a leisurely afternoon bike ride to the beautiful village of Pleasington.

Sunday 14th
Bike ‘n’ Brunch
Millennium Bridge (Lancaster) 11am
An easy family friendly ride along one of the district’s prettiest cycle paths to the Crook o’Lune (and back).
Enjoy a tasty egg bun from Woody’s whilst enjoying the view or bring your own picnic. Free hot/cold drink courtesy of Celebrating Cycling Team

Sunday June 14
Ride organised by Blackburn and District CTC.
Whalley Abbey, Westgate at 9am.
Going via Fountains Fell Top including a track in the afternoon. Lunch at Horton in Ribblesdale, Afternoon Tea at Airton.
Contact details: Anne and Tony Stott, 01254-232537

Monday 15th June
Short Ride
Stables Courtyard, Witton Country Park, Blackburn 1:30 - 2:30pm.
Develop your skills and fitness with a short ride along the cycle ways from Witton Country Park to Pleasington. (Trikes are available).

Monday 15th June
Getting started
Stables Courtyard, Witton Country Park, Blackburn 2:30 - 3:30pm
A session ideal for beginners. Great if you want to learn to ride a bike or build up confidence on two or three wheels (Trikes are available).

Tuesday June 16
Family Bike Ride
Witton Country Park , Blackburn 6 – 7pm
Meet at the Stables Courtyard for a leisurely evening bike ride to the beautiful village of Pleasington

Tuesday 16th June
A Family cycle ride from Solaris to Fairhaven Lake. 6-9pm
Solaris Centre, Harrowside, New South Promenade, Blackpool FY4 1RW
Family /Children's short ride
01253 476261

Wednesday June 17
Towpath Trails
Stables Courtyard, Witton Country Park, Blackburn 9:30 – 11:30am
A longer cycle ride leaving Witton country Park and exploring the countryside around the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and the River Darwen Valley. Recommended for confident cyclists as the ride includes towpaths, quiet roads and hills.

Wednesday June 17
Around and About
Stables Courtyard, Witton Country Park, Blackburn 12 – 1pm
A cycle ride along the cycle ways from Witton Country Park to Pleasington to develop your skills and fitness (Trikes are available)

Wednesday June 17
Getting started
Stables Courtyard, Witton Country Park, Blackburn 2:30 - 3:30pm
Do you want to learn to ride a bike or build up confidence? If so, this session is ideal for beginners wanting to try out cycling on two or three wheels. (Trikes are available)

Wednesday June 17th
Bike 2 Work Day
A Lancaster district wide event encouraging all employees to cycle to work. Today is definitely the day to try cycling to work. Why not try riding in with a family member or colleague to get you started? Breakfast on the Bridge Come and pick up some free breakfast at the Millennium Bridge in Lancaster from 7am-9am, available to all cycle commuters. Whilst you eat your breakfast why not talk to us about the range of information and advice available to cycle commuters in the district.

Thursday June 18
Cycling into Railway History
Stables Courtyard, Witton Country Park 9:30am – approx 3pm
All aboard for a steady paced ride into railway history. Cycle from Witton Country Park to Whalley with our guard…sorry guide – Brian Haworth, keen cyclist and Community Rail Development Officer. Leaving Witton Country Park the route will take in the Leeds & Liverpool canal before veering off onto the trackbed of the former Harwood Loop just before Cunliffe. We will then follow the trackbed into Great Harwood and onto Martholme Viaduct. From here we cycle on to Whalley and view the spectacular Whalley Arches from close quarters. This cycle ride can be extended to Clitheroe and riders will be offered the opportunity to return to Blackburn by train.

Friday June 19th
After Work Bike Ride
Millennium bridge, Lancaster 6pm
Join up for a fun evening bike ride to try out the local cycle network and perhaps one or two local hostelries.

All week 15-19th June
Cycle fair
Royal Preston Hospital, Sharoe Green Lane, Fulwood, Preston 8am-5pm
A display of the cycle facilities available will be on display at both of the Trust's hospital sites.
More info: 1772 522700

All week 15-19th June
Blackpool and The Fylde College Bike Week
Bispham, Central and Ansdell campus, Ashfield Road FY2 0HB 10:30am-4pm
Breakfast challenge, bike training, bike safety, work place challenge, bike stands and information.
01253 504288

The Tour - hits Southport

For anyone following 'The Tour' cycle race series, the next round is in Southport today. It's kind of crept up on me after seeing the one in Milton Keynes on ITV4 the next one I watched was last night when it covered the event in Blackpool. That was run on Tuesday. Tonight it is Southport's turn. Events kick off at 3pm with cycling demonstrations and exhibits. It's televised on ITV4 on Friday evening.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Great day for a ride

The UK had its hottest day of the year today with temperatures reaching 27C in places. Here in Lancashire clear skies and a moderate easterly wind produced excellent cycling weather. We followed yesterday's 24 mile run with a 28 mile circuit of Longridge Fell calling in at Chipping for a cuppa at the cafe in the centre of the village. The aim was to build up a bit of mileage in preparation for our tour next month. We would have gone out for longer but there were other jobs to be done as well.

The cafe in Chipping is one of those well known watering holes that cyclists call in at the weekend. Today we bumped into Ribble Valley Cycling and Racing Club (A & B rides), some Lune CC riders, a couple of chaps doing the 100Km Audax from Lancaster and numerous others. It was great to see so many cyclists in one place. It seemed like all the country lanes around East Lancashire contained riders, some racing, some out for recreation and some touring - all happy with the warm sunny weather. It was so nice, I didn't carry anything other than drink, so no pics today.

Saturday, 30 May 2009


With the warm weather this weekend, there's no excuse for not getting out and enjoying some cycling. I know I have. We had a jaunt round the Ribble Valley before it got too hot this morning. If you don't do your own ride, there seems to be plenty of organised events in the next few weeks. Kendal is currently having its cyclefest. I can't be there but would have liked to have gone to some of the events. Lancaster is also organising plenty of events and come Bike Week in the middle of June, most local towns (or most countrywide for that matter) are organising races, family rides and other cycling activities. It's never been a better time to get encouragement to get on two wheels.

May 30th - 7th June

Kendal CycleFest offers a wide range of rides, talks, film showings and workshops across the whole of South Lakeland in Cumbria.

Sunday 31st May 09:00
The North Lancs Way & Bowland Forest Populaire
Bull Beck Car Park
Audax Events (long distance rides) (108 km / 67 miles)

Sunday 31st May
Rough Stuff Federation - South Lakes Group
A ride along the Old Shap Road: Meet at 10.00am at Ashes Lane car park on A591 between Kendal and Staveley.
Monday 1st: A ride down the Winster Valley: Meet at 10.00am at Ashes Lane carpark on A591 between Kendal and Staveley.

June 7th
Brief Encounters in Carnforth.
Women on Wheels, a programme of women only cycle rides on the first Sunday of every month (from March to October). The rides aim to encourage all women - whatever their ability - to get out and about with other like-minded women and explore our area by bike.
For more information call 01524 582392 - email or visit

Sunday June 7th
‘Le Terrier’
07:00 - 8:30am Entry Fee £20
Lancaster Cycling Club are pleased to present the Le Terrier Cycle Sportive with 2 challenging routes on quiet roads in the Forest of Bowland. The 45 mile route is a challenging ride taking in Jubilee Tower with over 1,500m of ascent. The 80 mile route, with over 2,600m of ascent, is bound to be a classic finishing through Wray, Roeburndale, Scout Camp and Stock-a-Bank - it has no junk miles! Proceeds and extra donations this year will go to Lancaster’s Homeless and St John’s Hospice. More information at

13th to 21st June
- Bike Week 2009 -
Loads of events nationwide. Check local council for information on criterium races, family rides, training and lots more.

Thursday, 28 May 2009


Down on the commuting route, the retail malaise shows some signs of optimism.

Probably swimming against the tide, but Brittney's butty shop is becoming Marshall's Munchies,

whilst the Eastern Delight (formerly Blue Diamond)

has become Shahee Dastarkhan

Over the road from Marshall's, the car dealer has packed up, which is a benefit to cyclists since it opens up a large car park for access to Tesco, Domino's and the off-licence meaning less cars parked in the road. Hey ho.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Safety in Numbers

Following on from yesterday's rant, here's something that we can all do that is positive and can help change perception of safety when cycling in traffic.

Support the Cycle Touring Club's ‘Safety in Numbers’ campaign to improve safety for cyclists.

The campaign was launched in Parliament last week by CTC President and broadcaster Jon Snow – see video. MPs from all 3 main parties attended the launch. After a presentation from Chris Watts of the Department for Transport outlining the Government’s draft Road Safety Strategy, CTC’s Roger Geffen unveiled new CTC research showing that cycling gets safer the more cyclists there are and called on the Government to aim for more as well as safer cycling.

The CTC is urging all cyclists to contact their MPs asking them to sign an Early Day Motion (EDM 1431) which has been tabled by Gwyn Prosser MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, in support of CTC’s “Safety in Numbers” campaign. You can do this automatically with just a couple of clicks . I did and this is the letter to my MP.

Dear Nigel Evans,

I am writing to ask you to sign Early Day Motion 1431, which acknowledges the evidence that cyclists gain from safety in numbers.

Cycling can play an important role in meeting Government targets relating to health, carbon reduction, safety, social inclusion and conservation of the natural environment.

There is abundant evidence to support the idea that cycling is safer the more cycling there is. CTC's Safety in Numbers report demonstrates this effect amongst UK local authorities. Cities with high levels of cycling, such as York, Hull and Cambridge, appear to be safer for cyclists than those where cycling is less common.

The main reason people don't cycle more is that they feel that cycling is dangerous. To get more people cycling the source of this fear - the danger on the roads - must be tackled. CTC's Safety in Numbers report calls for measures that encourage safer driving, make the road environment safer and more welcoming for cyclists and fund schemes that promotes cycling positively and promotes cyclists' confidence.

Please sign EDM 1431 in support of CTC's Safety in Numbers, which says that more and safer cycling go hand in hand.

The exact text is: "That this House acknowledges the evidence that cyclists gain from safety in numbers, in other words cycling gets safer the more cyclists there are; welcomes the target in the Government's draft Road Safety Strategy to halve the risks of cycling within 10 years; believes that this target can best be met by also aiming for substantial increases in cycle use in order to maximise the safety in numbers effect, thereby also benefiting health, communities, the economy and the environment; urges that the Road Safety Strategy should tackle the fears which deter people from cycling, such as traffic speeds, irresponsible driving, hostile roads and junctions and lorries; and calls for cycle training to be made available to people of all ages so as to achieve more as well as safer cycling."

Yours sincerely,

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Beggars belief

What right minded person would conclude that the fact a cyclist involved in a collision was not wearing a helmet should be a mitigating factor in sentencing an unlicenced driver who killed the cyclist. Surely the law is there to protect vulnerable road users no matter what they are wearing. There was no evidence presented to promote the argument that the cyclist might have survived had he worn a helmet.

Drivers have a responsibility to maintain a clear distance from cyclists and horse riders and this clearly wasn't the case for this poor cyclist. The driver got a 24 month suspended sentence. The car owner was fined £93, ordered to pay costs of £43 and a victim surcharge of £15. Next, we'll be seeing judgements about the colour of cyclists' clothes or the type of footwear they use.

Is that justice? It certainly won't encourage potential riders to take up cycling. Perhaps the judge needs to visit Copenhagen where he'd be lucky to find a cycle helmet. I can't see a Danish court reaching the same conclusion.