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.