Thursday, 16 December 2010

Road slime

I got caught out this week on a ride home from work. I've cycled to work for many years and, although the location has changed over the years, much of my route has remained the same. I don't know how many times I've crossed over the mini-roundabouts on Whalley Old Road in Little Harwood but it must be in excess of ten thousand commutes. That's all year every year, even during snow, ice and heavy rain. For any readers unaware of what mini-roundabouts are (I know roundabouts are uncommon in the USA as a four-way stop is more the norm), it is a smaller version of a conventional roundabout but where the island, around which traffic circulates, is much smaller. The normal traffic rules of a roundabout apply even though the mini-roundabout may just be a painted circle in a regular road junction. That is what the ones in Whalley Old Road are, painted circles on what is an old road.

I know road paint provides less friction than tarmac and so usually make allowance when turning on it. Everything was going well with little traffic around and the ride was flowing nicely. When I got the the junction, the line I took was over the roundabout circle as there were no cars around and it makes the turn less sharp but does mean going across the paint. I misjudged the conditions contributing to a lack of traction and got caught out when my front wheel went from under me and both my bike and myself ended up sliding sideways across the road. Luckily I only suffered a bashed arm and bruised shoulder as I hit the road and a jacket that instantly went from day-glow yellow to black on the right side.

The weather had been dry for a few days but the roads, which were been covered with a concentration of road salt and were still damp. As it had dissolved, the salt instead of drying out had turned into a greasy, slimy damp black film. This is quite common in our damp north-west climate. Even tarmac becomes slippery when covered with this film as was demonstrated the next morning by a car skidding as it set off from a side road. I'm normally wary of this salt slime as there are one or two places where the tarmac is quite smooth and I've felt a loss of traction when turning. I allow for it and take the turn slowly, keeping as upright as possible. Now I'm even more wary and there's a lot of winter still to get through.

Safe (winter) cycling...

Monday, 6 December 2010

Never mind cling film Mr Wiggins

Snow boots for me for this morning's commute - absolutely necessary for the first and last few metres which were sheet ice. Some of the main roads weren't much better.
Saw 3 other cyclists braving the conditions. Minus 8 Celcius again already matching last winter's coldest mornings. Low temperature grease is looking a must have item for the Christmas stocking.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Rough and smooth

Conditions in this bridleway near Dinas Powys, South Wales were interesting when recently, I looked for a bit of rough-stuff cycling and found the cold early winter conditions provided some smooth going. I'd thrown the folder into the car on a recent visit in the hope of doing a little exercise. I wasn't sure what to expect but once off the tarmac, it coped amazingly well. This lane receives a lot of run-off water draining from the neighbouring fields. It had created a thick layer of ice along most of its length, which made progress slow but interesting - I was glad I was going uphill. I got some strange looks, perhaps because onlookers were amazed anyone would ride what is essentially a shopping bike on a bridleway, also because I don't think many cyclists explore bridleways around this part of South Wales.

The Vale of Glamorgan Rights Of Way Improvement Plan acknowledges that there are limited opportunities for cycling. It has only 27km of bridleways in its 550 km network of public rights of way and many are still poorly signposted or maintained. Their Local Access Forum represents all types of users of rights of way including the Cyclist Touring Club. In their survey they concur that signposting and maintenance is a problem. I didn't have to go far to find an example. This bridleway on Pen-y-turnpike road isn't signposted and has a locked gate.

View Larger Map

The Public Spending Review is likely to have an adverse effect on the future of public rights of way with maintenance and signposting receiving less funding as local authorities try to balance their books in the face of reduced budgets. I do hope it won't become a case of 'use 'em or lose 'em as there are many ancient ways that have been lost in the past and not all authorities treat them with equal priority.

Keep exploring - on two wheels.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

On tour again

I love the run up to going cycle touring. Now that I have most of the kit, well, most importantly, a bike, preparation this year has come down to gathering the small number of possessions required and some fitness training. Unlike last year, the planning and arrangements have been done by others, which has helped enormously. Adding small refinements and new equipment adds to the pleasure and anticipation, with past experience helping to provide some confidence that plans will turn out OK and be fun rather than too challenging or problematic. I would have liked to have done more long rides beforehand to help with training but I've had limited time available this year due to other commitments. Even so, I think we're fit enough to enjoy the 60 odd miles planned each day.

Recent runs for testing and training included a loop in the Bowland Fells with a climb up Beacon Fell (the one on the left in the picture). It doesn't look much, but it has nice steady climbs approached from most directions and commands impressive views of the Fylde coast, since it sits on the eastern edge of the coastal plain. It has a visitor's centre and forest trails and was very busy on the bank holiday. The cafe had tea and sandwiches in reward for the climb. I was trying out a birthday present of a Carradice saddlebag. I am very pleased with it and feel it is going to work much better than panniers for our short tour.

A previous weekend we did a ride around the Lune Valley taking in Barbondale. What a fine spot that is. We had hoped to meet up for the RSF ride that weekend but time didn't allow.

One of the joys of touring for me is the freedom knowing two wheels are going to carry us to a new destination each day with scenery and wildlife to enjoy along the way. A bike makes places more accessible and it is easy just to stop and take in the sights.

We'll be following NCN72 Hadrian's cycleway, which provides a mixture of traffic free paths and country lanes across the country as an alternative sea to sea (C2C). Extensive details are available on Doug Ridgway's excellent Hadrian's Cycleway web site. The route follows Roman antiquities across the north of England, starting at Glannaventa Roman bath house in Ravenglass, it works its way up the west coast of Cumbria and follows Hadrian's wall from Bowness on Solway. After Carlisle, the route visits Roman signal posts and forts along the wall and ends at Arbeia fort in South Shields.

The route is in the GPS, the bikes just need a last clean and lube and we're good to go. If this high pressure lasts it should be splendid riding in the sun with friends. On the other hand, if it is raining, we might be miserable, but I doubt it.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Mill roof collapse

Blackburn increased in size and population during the 1800's due to expansion of the cotton industry. The town became famous for the many mill chimneys dominating its sky line. Now, nearly all the chimneys are gone, along with most of the weaving and spinning. Many of the mill buildings are still standing but are used for other purposes.

My cycle route to work passes a couple of mills, one of which is Carr Cottage Mill. Part of the building has been derelict for some time. In July, the roof collapsed leaving the road-side boundary wall unstable. This is the part adjoining Florence Mill but the other (undamaged) part of Carr Cottage Mill houses a process plant business. One carriageway of the main A666 Whalley New Road has been closed for safety whilst the owners of the building sort it out. It looks like the whole lot is coming down but it's too early to tell. We'll have to wait and see. Meanwhile the traffic lights mean a small to delay to commuters, including me (he wrote, being a good law abiding citizen).

I looked for some information on the history of the mill. It appears previous owners of the mill were bankrupted in the 1800's when there was a cotton famine caused by supply shortages during the American civil war. During that time, many workers existed on welfare handouts of food and fuel and temporary jobs labouring.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Mini Tour to the Lakes and back

I got to the Lake District and back to Lancashire again in one piece. A total of 119 miles over two days. Some great countryside and very quiet lanes.

I know about it now though. Partly I think the heat was tiring, but distance, long hours in the saddle and my lack of training on that particular bike were big factors. Not that I'm exhausted, just enjoyably tired after all the exercise and looking forward to some food.

Whilst I was heading north, the South Lakes Group of the RSF crossed east and had a good day out on the Bowland fells.

My original plan took in a return via Dent, Deepdale, Kingsdale, Tatham Fells and home, but that would have been 7000 ft of climbing on day 2 after the near 3000ft on day 1, so I decided to stay west of the hills and come down by the coast for the return trip/

Whilst having a brew at the Cafe D'Lune some guy drove past with his family's mountain bikes on the roof of his 4x4 and didn't notice the gantry barrier at the entrance to the car park. It took some time to sort the mess out after he hit it and stopping a good car's length the other side. It looked like most of the damage was to the roof rack, though his expensive looking bikes took a fair wallop.

I got off early this morning to avoid the heat of the day, but might as well have enjoyed more recovery time since the football didn't go our way. There were a few dog walkers out first thing plus a balloon flight, a deer, a dead grass snake and some other wildlife that made the journey interesting.

Later there were plenty of cyclists out for their Sunday run including a guy who looked like he was doing a time trial that passed me as though I was standing still, and at that time I was actually going reasonably quickly!

The sting in the tail was crossing the Ribble Valley and climbing up the other side. Back in the saddle for a short ride to work tomorrow.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Near solstice ride

There's so much going on at the moment but there isn't much evidence of it on here. The cycling summer is firing away full bore with events and rides all over the place and I've been occupied too much to write anything. Seeing my previous entry showing a picture of snow reminds me how absent I've been. That's got to change. With long daylight hours, it's possible to cram a lot into a day, so no excuses.

My recent non-commute riding has been off-road, exploring the countryside. I've joined a couple of the Rough Stuff Fellowship rides recently. One with the Lancashire Group and one with the South Lakes Group. A smashing bunch of folk with so much to share. They have rides going on most weekends including family rides. For example, this weekend:

  • Saturday 26th Lancashire Group Family Ride: Cocklet Hill car park, Gisburn Forest, map ref SD745550. Meet at 10-00am for a cuppa, the ride will start at 10-20am
  • Saturday 26th South Lakes Group ride to Dunsop Bridge: Meet at 10am at the Cafe d' Lune at Conder Green.
  • Sunday 27th Lancashire Group ride: At 10-00am. Meet on the public car park near Wycoller Village, SD 925394.
  • Sunday 27th Welsh Borders Group ride: Meet at 10am at Tudor Tea Room , North Gate, Bridgenorth.
  • Sunday 27th Home Counties Group ride: Meet at 10am at the Polly Tearooms, High Street, Marlborough, Wilts.

More details and plenty of great photos up on the RSF web sites including glorious cake shots. Did you spot a theme to the rides? Yes - cafes.

I decided a while ago that I needed a long road ride around the time of the solstice and so that's what I'm doing this weekend. I'm heading up to the Lake District tomorrow from Blackburn. It means I miss the RSF rides and also the Pendle national road race with famous names from elite racing and the cyclo sportive, but I figure I'll enjoy doing more than watching. I'll likely cover some of the same route as the cyclo sportive but, because of a lack of preparation and fitness, I'll be taking it easy. Steady away.

Hopefully it'll be a good ride to end bike week.

Happy pedalling.

Friday, 5 March 2010


March is here and with it, first signs of spring. Snowdrops are out and other bulbs are poking their heads out of the soil. This first week of the month marked a change to cycling to work without lights in both the morning and evening. I don't remember the change last year. Maybe that indicates a yearning on my part for warmer, lighter rides or my subconscious telling me it's been a long hard winter. The extra visibility has allowed damage the winter has had on the local roads to be seen more easily. The battle of the potholes continues, but my impression is that councils are losing the war, because more holes appear as fast as they can fill the old ones. The white paint vandals have been out spraying the roads marking hazards ready for the repair teams. I counted fifteen repairs marked on the way home. The trouble is if they don't fix them promptly, the markings disappear and some of the holes, especially around ironworks, grids and grates are getting huge.

We Brits are known for our obsession with the weather, but everyone is if their climate is changeable. The met office tell us this winter has been the coldest for 31 years in England and the coldest since 1962/63 in Scotland. Of course, in the intervening years, technology and the way we live our lives changed immensely. A comparison in absolute terms may be irrefutable, but, when compared on a perceptual level, I doubt if most people thought it was so cold. I'm always amazed to see what people wear. Some don't seem to change their clothing habits to suit the seasons or daily weather. I see folk wandering around in shorts and T-shirts when the mercury is sub zero and 'dressed-up to the nines', even when the weather is mild. It defies logic, or perhaps indicates a better or worse tolerance of temperature change. It could also indicate their heating is very good, and that is where technology comes in, either at home or in the car. Remember the days of iced up house windows? There's not many that will see that on the inside of window panes these days but it was commonplace when I was a child.

This winter has certainly presented its challenges and, where commuting is concerned, will be remembered by many, for the inconvenience caused. Cycling to work this winter, in general, hasn't seemed more difficult, except for the couple of weeks when we had snow and ice. Then, although difficult, riding turned out to be the most effective way to get to work. If anything the colder weather has been better. I can only remember getting wet a couple of times, which is quite astounding really since we live in a wet climate. If next year presents us with the same challenging weather, I won't hesitate to do some more bike walking to work and may even think of a more suitable machine for the job. I intend, by then, to have a different bike to commute on and will consider adding some contingency options for riding in snow, such as a change of tyres, as it can be quite a lot of fun.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Pothole update

I reported three potholes this week via, including the one shown in the previous post. Two last Sunday and one on Wednesday. Two in Lancashire County Council's patch had been filled by yesterday - one of them was the one reported on Wednesday. I tested them last night and concluded they were filled in a hurry because there is never enough material or too much material, just to remind us that they are there ;-)

It's a great response from LCC and proves what a useful site the CTC have. The other in Blackburn has been inspected and marked for repair.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Potholes in the news

Have you noticed potholes in roads are suddenly big news?
Since the 'Big Freeze', it's become obvious the bad weather had a big effect on our roads. Motorists noticed and started complaining in their droves. Motoring organisations took up cause and demanded authorities sort them out. The media quickly recognised what was going on and followed with headlines about broken budgets and failing councils. Google not only shows an increase in news but also in an increasing trend in search for information about potholes.

This has come about because the holes are big enough to damage motorists vehicles and make motoring dangerous. Unfortunately for us cyclists, many of the worn-out roads already had potholes that damage our machines and are dangerous to cycle on but our voice is insufficient to be heard. When motorists start claiming for repairs for punctures, broken wheels and suspension, councils start taking notice.

I've probably mentioned previously about my broken spokes on poor roads around Blackburn but I've never claimed off the council. I doubt it would make any difference. Even though cyclists might not have a huge influence on the authorities responsible for roads, now is probably a good time to get those holes reported whilst the subject is in focus. Apparently the CTC pothole reporting site has been busy of late receiving new reports of potholes around the country. Get yours on your council's list now.

The hole shown in the pictures is on the A666 Whalley Road opposite Langho post office. It's a real rim breaker. I spotted it the other night doing about 25mph - a bit too late to swerve and avoid it but soon enough to bunny hop it. Today, the daylight revealed just how dangerous it is. There were loads of others on my ride today but this is probably the worst.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The light, the light...

Yes it cometh. Whilst I may still be commuting at both ends of the day with lights on, my sense of lengthening daylight hours is palpable. It's only a matter of days before commuting in light returns and I'm quite excited at the prospect. Not because of my commuting, for which it makes a difference - despite me enjoying riding in the dark. No, it's more for the fact it opens up prospects of longer rides during both the day and night. This is something I've done more and more of last year and I'm looking forward to this spring, as well as not having frozen toes.

I've been getting out for other rides in the dark, which on one hand, is quite relaxing - rather like listening to music - it creates a kind of bubble where you can lose yourself in your own thoughts. On the other hand it is quite restricting with limited view of where I'm going or what I'm riding over, so I'm ready for lighter rides. Bring it on.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Flowing free

What a difference a week makes. The 'Big Freeze', as our prolonged cold spell in the UK became known, ended over the weekend and all the snow melted. It seems like a distant memory now. As the days passed, most debris that collected on the roads has been cleared up and things are getting back to normal. It's only after the event, I realise just how much extra effort the really cold weather required. Everything just took longer. More preparation, slower to do anything, more time to clear up afterwards. Even existing indoors seemed like hibernation as we migrated towards the greatest source of warmth, the fire.

Out on the bike, it is like a veil has been lifted. Flowing movement has returned. I can pedal in a continuous rhythm for more than a few hundred metres and feel joy of power and motion without worrying if that patch ahead is a slick of ice. For readers from colder climes, this may sound a bit wussy, but it was an issue here because many roads, even minor ones, get quite a lot of motorised traffic. This compressed the snow into a wet layer and turned it to ice, which then remained around until the thaw. There was no treatment or clearing of many minor or rural roads. It wasn't so bad when the temperatures were well below freezing but when they increased to near melting point or above, there was no grip on the polished ice.

This week is so different with the mercury hovering in single figures (above freezing). Even the light is better and the days are noticeably longer. A couple of non-commute rides have removed that stir crazy feel and restored a degree of fitness. For those training for competition this must feel like a real release. I'm not, but the sensation is still noticeable. Enjoy, before the excitement of snow returns!

Monday, 11 January 2010

Winter biking

Last week's commuting was a learning curve in new bike skills due to the snow and ice. There's was plenty of opportunity to practice balance, smooth slow turning, acceleration and braking along with quick reactions when wheels twitched on ice or soft snow. Surprisingly I haven't had many moments and made steady progress with only slightly extended commute times. Most motorists were considerate and took time to find the right place to overtake. One exception was a driver that passed just as the road narrowed and nearly forced me onto some ice. Then, he blew his horn after passing. I wasn't impressed.

It's proved to be a an expedient way of getting to work, and as the week has progressed, For many leaving the car at home was the most sensible option and therefore alternative modes of transport were needed, many taking to the train or walking. The UK really isn't geared up to handle a prolonged wintry weather like this. Since it is uncommon, there aren't the resources to manage it, whether it be snow clearing or cars with winter tyres. Some must regard cycling in this weather as madness, but it has been a way of avoiding treacherous pavements (side-walks) and making reasonable progress. I've seen other people taking to cycling as a way to get about and the local paper carried stories of other cyclists who got to where they needed to be by using a bike, including a doctor who got to his surgery and patients during the worst of the snow on Tuesday.

Bearing in mind my commuter bike is a road bike not a bike well suited for riding snow and ice, this winter cycling was far removed from true snow biking. I've been doing it on narrow tyres. Where too much snow or ice was still on the road, I got off an walked to the next safer bit of road. I also changed my pedals because clips were a hindrance to getting my foot down quickly if I was losing control.

A snow bike on the other hand, is adapted for riding in snow, taking mountain biking to a new level with emphasis not on suspension and comfort, but on making progress. To do this in snow requires very wide tyres at low pressure and with plenty of frame clearance. Ice requires studded tyres and those are uncommon. My ride couldn't be further from a snow bike and and it showed. Progress was impeded by its inappropriate features. A times, riding on the flat seemed like going uphill or using a turbo trainer, the resistance coming from collected ice and snow in the mudguards (fenders). I think the moving parts were also a bit sluggish because the morning temperature has been -5C to -10C. The week ended with my front brake cable shearing the nipple - a possible failure due to thermal stresses at the end of the cable or just a fault?

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Commuting off to a good start

The weather is causing havoc with the return to work for many in the UK. Myself, I managed to navigate the snow yesterday, riding about 75% of the way to work and returning pretty much all the way on two wheels, albeit gingerly because of the frozen slush and tramlines of cars.

Today was another matter as snow hit at peak commuting time and continued until mid afternoon. Having walked before Christmas, I knew how long it would be and set off in time with my bike for company. I succeeded in travelling a few hundred yards on the bike, the rest was a trudge through 10-15cm of snow. Returning this evening, the roads were quiet and I went by the most major route, a 50mph dual carriageway, in order to actual ride some.

Bike walking has proved quite successful. One advantage is not having to worry about abandoning the car. Quite what it's doing to the mechanicals I'm not sure, but like last year, I aim to keep on top of maintaining my commuter bike so I can always use it.