Saturday, 29 November 2014

Letters from MP & DfT about cycling

I wrote to my MP around the time of the last cycling debate in October, and received a reply thta he had contacted the DfT & Robert Goodwin on my behalf.

He has now replied back a second time, enclosing a reply from Mr Goodwin.
What's interesting is Stephen Hepburn's (Labour) comments about Labour prioritising cycling in three key areas. Infrastructure, safety and training.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Winter cleaning tips

At this time of year even a single trip out on the bike can leave it looking like mine below. That was after a weeks commuting, so you are going to want to clean it.

Regular quick washing and some very quick maintenance will make any bike run better and help spot  issues more quickly.

Don't use washing up liquid as it contains powerful salts etc which whilst cleaning the muck of the bike will steadily strip the protection from the paint. Don't bother with the overpriced specialist bike cleaners either.

Do use a decent quality car shampoo will do fine & is a lot cheaper.

Don't use a jet wash or high power hose & just blast the muck off as you will also wash any lube or grease out of bearings.

Do use a nice car wash brush with long soft bristles. Cloths  and sponges are good too, but I find a brush is quicker & easier and long bristles can get to some of the nooks better.

  1. Don't be afraid to use plenty of hot water
  2. Start from the front of the bike at the handlebars, and work down the front of the bike and the left hand front forks. Ensure you get the inside edge of the fork, and clean the brakes.
  3. Clean the front mudguard (if fitted)
  4. Wash the front wheel and tyre including tread & sidewalls, giving the forks a good wash with the brush.
  5. Work back along the frame cleaning the left side & always working from the top down. I.e Top tube, then seat tube, then downtube ending up at the bottom bracket.
  6. Clean the left crank and pedal. Using a brush with long soft bristles lets you get into the nooks where you couldn't get fingers and cloths.
  7. Clean down the left hand seat stay, and brakes. Also wash any rack and mudguards that may be fitted.
  8. Clean the lefthand chain stay, making sure you get underneath and behind the bottom bracket.
  9. Wash the left hand side of the rear wheel and tyre, including the tread and sidewalls, and spokes.
  10. Repeat the process on the right hand side of the bike, ensuring that you wash the rear of the chainset.
  11. A long bristled brush will let you clean the freewheel cassette, and also the gear mechs thoroughly.

Once cleaned, let the bike dry for a short while if possible then

  • Check all the brake and gear cables for any fraying, or cracks or kinks in the outer cables 
  • Squeeze the brakes and ensure that they release fully and are not sticking.
  • Ensure that brakes are well adjusted and take up any slack. Brake blocks wear like soap in the winter and may need adjusting or even replacing more often than in the summer.
  • Lubricate the chain with a good quality "wet lube". "Wet lubes" are designed to be more resistant to being washed off by rain etc. 
  • Don't use GT85 on a chain in the winter, or even worse WD40 (which will strip lubricant from the chain). You don't need to put loads on. Just a drop on a number of links and spin the pedals backwards to spread the lube thinly and evenly. Any more will just make you and the bike oily and mucky.
  • Cover the rear wheel behind and below the rear mech with newspaper or similar and put a few squirts of GT85 or similar teflon lube on the mech hinges, and also into the centre of the jockey wheels.
  • Do similar for the front mech (if you have one).

Then go ride it and get it mucky again

Saturday, 1 November 2014

11 Winter cycling tips for the dark

1 - Always have good working lights

Having good reliable lights in the winter season is a no brainer if there is even a possibility of riding in the dark. It's also the law. You can pick up a set of lights for just a few quid. I would avoid the pound  shop specials. But Bell lights from Asda are OK,and can be picked up with the shopping. It's worth checking the local Aldi as the set they do as a cycling special in September can sometimes still be found instore.

 2 - Carry spare lights or batteries

If you are using battery lights, then always carry a backup set or a spare set of batteries. It is worth running 2 lights on the rear in case the batteries die in one.

3 - Invest in a dynamo system

For regular or long distances in the dark, then the best solution is a dynamo, either fitted into a hub or running of a tyre sidewall.

Modern dynamos are much better than the horrid things you used to buy from Halfords which felt like the brakes were on.

Hub dynamos can cost the earth, but Shimano make some extremely competitively priced ones which you can purchase for as little as £30 or so, and they are fit and forget. They never slip and are very low drag so can be left permanently on for short gloomy autumn and winter days

Sidewall dynamos which run off a tyre sidewall are also good,especially if you use tyres like Schwalbe Marathons which have dynamo tracks moulded in. The AXA HR has been around for years and is well regarded as are Nordlicht. If the bike has cantilever/Vee brake mounts, then mounts are available which bolts onto them for dynamos and lights.

As dynamo lights are almost the norm on the continent, then for the best choice and prices, I'd recommend buying from a reputable continental internet store such as Dutch Bike Bits or Rose bikes. You can also buy them ready built into wheels. Ebay is also a good source,but can be riskier. I bought a full wheel from the 'bay for £30, and the whole setup including front and rear lights for under £60.

The same stores also sell  the front and rear lights. This site has very good comparisons of a lot of front and rear lights.

Whilst on the subject of lights, cheap hi-power LEDs which are basically torches chucking out raw white light are bad for seeing by as they just chuck light everywhere and not where and not in a pool in front of you. These are also poor for oncoming people as they can dazzle. Look for lights which have been approved by organisation such as StVZO

4 - Use Reflectives, and ditch the hivis & flouro colours

Hivis clothing uses UV light to make them seem brighter & stand out. in the dark and on gloomy days, the UV light is either not there or is much reduced & this makes hivis no better than normal clothes. Also street lights tend to wash the colour out, so just pulling on the hivis for the quick trip to the shops does not make you visible.

Instead, look for gear with lots of reflective bits. These reflect (obviously) headlights etc back and in traffic will make you more visible. Reflective patches on legs can help as the movement catches the eye (if the person is looking). if making turns, reflective bands on arms can help as well.
These are in addition to and do NOT substitute for lights though.

5 - Wear layers of clothing

Weaing layers of thin clothing in winter is better than one or two thick layers. Several thin layers trap air between the layers, which also helps insulate against the cold. If you do get too hot, then it is easy just to remove a layer rather than be uncomfortable.

6 - Wear a peaked cap or helmet

 Wearing a cap or a helmet with a peak,keeping it low over the eyes means a very slight dip of the head can help to minimise glare from street lights & headlights.

7 - Wear glasses 

Winter can often have wet & dirty roads even if it's not been raining. Glasses (plain if poss) guard against grit & road muck getting in the eyes.

8 - Know your route, and options

Whilst winter night rides on new roads can be exciting, for regular trips, knowing and being used to the roads on the route will help. Knowing what's around the next corner or where the potholes are is helpful and reassuring.  Knowing alternative routes to avoid busy traffic hotspots, or places where the road floods after rain can also be very valuable.

9 - Use bombproof tyres to keep moving

The last thing anyone needs is a puncture & flat tyre on a dark cold winter's evening. If you haven't, then invest in some top notch tyres such as Schwalbe Marathon Plus as these will almost eliminate the risk. Self sealing inner tubes can also help reduce the risk of a puncture. Keep tyres inflated to the max pressure as well, although if your route has lots of leaf fall etc or it's slightly frosty then dropping the pressures slightly can give a little more grip. If you only carry a small minipump, then if you can, keeping a cheap track pump at work can be a great idea to pop the tyres back up to pressure if you have had an issue on the commute.

10 - Regular maintenance prevents breakdowns

Even if your winter ride is just for the winter, keeping it clean and lubricated will make the ride much more pleasant and easier as well as making the bike and components last longer.
A quick weekly wash down and check doesn't take long and can help spot issues before they cause a breakdown mid commute.
Heavy rain can wash a chain of lube in one ride. If possible keeping a small bottle of lube at work is a great tip for such emergencies

11 - Just do it

Just get out there and ride.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Bike Hack! - Repurpose inner tubes as bar end covers

Lots of people riding flat bars have bar ends, which are usually either just painted or anodised alloy.
This can be cold and slippery in wet conditions and the winter.

Although bar end covers are available from many suppliers, this is about re-purposing sections of old inner tubes from a road bike to make a DIY hack. Why? cos it's cheaper (although covers aren't expensive) and about reusing materials that would otherwise just be thrown in the bin.

  1. Cut a length of tube, and slide it onto the bar end after removing the end cap.
  2. Spray hairspray on the bar end and inside the tube to enable it to slide on easier. It will dry firmly after a while.
  3. Cut the inner tube so a few centimeters is left over the bar end, and then tuck it inside the end.
  4. Firmly push the end cap back in

Repeat for the other side, and once completed, you will have a pair of ends that look like the photo below. A very neat looking finish

NHS & combatting the obesity crisis with active travel

There is an interview published on the Guardian website today with the Chief Executive of NHS England

He states that the NHS needs to lead from the front on the battle against obesity, and one of his suggestions is for gym membership & slimming clubs as options for those that want to take it up.
These options are all very well for the people with the time or the inclination to spend evenings at gyms etc. and should not be discarded. For may though it's too much time & after a long hard day at work it can be too much.

What the NHS  needs to do, which could be much more effective is to really encourage people to walk and cycle to work and whilst at work. This needs to be as big & as obvious a push as the campaigns to stop smoking, and to encourage take up of the flu jabs. Below is one campaign my Trust ran against smoking, photobombed for cycling!

Building exercise into the daily routine by replacing sedentary activities such as driving is an excellent way as people don't need to find extra time & it can save money in car running costs and fuel as well. A win win all round.

What could NHs Trusts do?

  • Keep cycle2work schemes open all year around. My scheme opened for only 2 months, but I can lease a car on salary sacrifice to save tax on that purchase all year round. 
  • Trusts should offer incentives to get people to change habits. Car use is often a habit that can be broken. Commuter challenges with prizes for the most journeys to replace cars & calories burnt etc. This month long challenge ran across Sunderland in September is an excellent example. 
  • Create prominent information pages & signage on workplace facilities such as changing space and secure cycle parking. I know when I started cycling to work, such information was hard to find.
  • Generate & publicise maps of safe(r) cycling routes to sites, and between sites along with timings. Travelling between sites can be quicker by car, but the time spent parking in busy car parks makes driving longer. A lot of routes do exist but people in cars do not see the possible alternatives. These routes could have timing as well as distance so people can see how quick journeys can be.
  • Encourage commuters with buddy schemes and user groups, so people can cycle together and encourage & help each other.
  • Have pools of loan bicycles and e-bikes to encourage people to swap from cars either for commuting or for inter-site travel. They could even include cargo bikes for larger loads
The biggest thing to get people riding to work is infrastructure. It should be noted that several large NHs organisations in London have expressed strong support for the proposed new segregated cycleways. NHS organisations are in a strong place to lobby local authorities to provide better & safer infra to and from NHS sites, both for staff and visitors.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Bollocks infra - with still wet paint & tarmac

Durham County Council have been busy for the last few months converting what was a fairly unexciting roundabout at the north end of Chester Le Street shown below on Google Maps

They have changed the layout to accommodate more lanes and signals at the roundabout.
The project page is here along with links to the plan, and the consultation report.

The consultation report does mention access to properties, but nowhere does it mention any consultation with groups or organisations representing the cycling community. This is surprising, not least because it is the route of the Sustrans NCN 725. I am presuming the give way markings are appeasements to locals.

Durham County Council replied to a tweet about the markings to Tim Beasley stating

They have removed grass verges and squeezed footpath space to make the extra room for vehicles and in the process created some fairly tortuous and frankly extremely poor space and routes for both pedestrians and cyclists resulting in plenty of potential for conflict.

The southbound route has been largely completed with the exception of signal installation, and the full horror has been revealed.

A167 north of the junction is now a massive 5 lane beast of a road as you can see from the photo below

Southbound approach from the A167. The have removed a section of the southbound painted label as part of the lane widening before meeting the off-road section which is segregated. Notice the give way markers for each private house driveway 

A closer look at the markings giving driveways priority over people cycling. Why? just why?

Here you can see a traffic light signal smack in the middle of the segregated cycle lane. You can also see just how much space has been given over to motor traffic compared to people walking and cycling
This is the shared path around the corner at what will be a signaled crossing across the A693 Blind lane.
That's a Moulton which is about 1.3m tyre to tyre. I estimate the width of the path at about 1,5M wall to kerb, but of course the signal pole reduces that considerably. It is also quite a tight turn for bicycles,

Looking across Blind lane from the traffic island, you can see that for some reason the path humps up with a high stepped kerb. This is on a corner so not a bus stop. Given the posts and the corner I could foresee this being a conflict point with potential for a serious fall if you come off the kerb.
This is a view of the above kerb from the path. Not very person friendly at all.

This is a view showing the exit to the A167 Park road South and on the right the new slip towards Chester Le Street town centre. The large island on the right has shared paths crossing it which are also shown below, which again will be signalised

There is a smaller island as well with more shared paths crossing it, these are not signalised though. This is the north-south route most cyclists will need to follow, unless the want to mix it on the now 3 lane carriageways . Once over both lanes, the southbound route picks up the existing off road path which continues south for a few hundred metres before changing into a painted lane.
Still some work to do northbound, but it still gives priority to private drives over cyclists. Also the cycleway has give way markings where it joins the road just before a bus stop (increasing risk of conflict). Previously there was a painted lane which has disappeared in favoure for 2 exit lanes, and now starts a few hundred metres further up. Could they not have linked up?

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Washington to South Tyneside - Recent Developments

Been toying with putting this post together for a while, and KatsDekker from Newcycling spurred me into action.

Below are a few photos showing the highlights of the cycling facilities between along Pattinson Road in Washington and upto the A1290/A19 junction at Downhill Lane in South Tyneside, which makes up a few miles of my daily cycle commute. Whilst not completed and even end to end, the facilities makes the journey doable. Without it the route on roads would be so risky and nerve wracking that I would chuck in the towel.

The photos were taken SW to NE.

This is the start/end of the shared path along Pattinson way West from here, you need to mix it on an uphill drag for 1/2 mile on a busy rough road with cars, vans and LGVs. Quite unpleasant at peak times.

Washington has floating bus stops too. Just past the stop on the right is a Sainsbury's store with cycle parking stands right on the route which is handy for picking up essentials.

For a distance the C2C route runs along the shared path.As a scenic leisure route it is fine, but as a transport route along this stretch it is twisty, convoluted and has some badly surfaced sections, unlike the shared path, which is actually has a better surface than the road 

One of the typical crossing points on the shared path along Pattinson Way. In the distance is the roundabout at the junction with Barmston lane. If you are heading straight on, you need to mix with traffic across the A1231 junction. An very quiet alternative is to head right along Barmston lane, and then left around the back of the Asda depot.

Once round, there is a quiet bridge over the A1231, again you kiss the C2C route here, which heads off to Sunderland along the narrow path to the right of the photo by the bollard.

Once over the bridge, you can either keep left along the single track lane, or use this short 25m stretch of permissive path to join the new road leading from Turbine business park to the traffic lights 2 photos down.

If coming in the other direction and wanting to use the single track lane, then look for the narrow tree lined entrance marked by No Through road signs.

This is taken from the same position as the above photo. The Turbine park road joins up at the traffic lights. The path up Cherry Blossom way & to Nissan starts on the left at the lights, hop on to the path even though the shared path signs have not been installed yet.

Once around the junction, you can easily see the widened path, and the concrete blocks designed to stop LGVs from parking on the pavement. Most of the time this stretch of road is a linear truck park with inter-continental lorries parked nose to tail along the full length.

Cherry Blossom way swings east at this roundabout with gates to one of the Nissan pounds for new vehicles. There is a typical crossing here, where the shared path switches sides for the rest of the run up to the A1290.

Just before the A1290 (that's it in the distance at the roadworks) the wide shared path terminates at the Unipress factory entrance. The now narrow path continues up to the A1290 and around to the right.  

The photo above shows the narrow path, and where the newly widened path along the South side of the A1290 ends. I understand this is to be continued as a future phase around to Unipress. 
The shared path is unfinished and is still waiting for it's top dressing, and as you can see below is a bit rough. Still preferable to the seriously deadly A1290 for all but the most hardened road warrior though, and quite well used already.

Once past Nissan, head along the old Washington road past the Transport museum, and over the A19 pedestrian/cyclist bridge to Washington Road on the edge of Hylton. 
There are various works ongoing (July 14) heading east, but if you are heading north, there is another widened shared path which runs to the junction with the A1290  

Currently when you get to the A1290, you are confronted with this crap junction,which is being rebuilt currently. If heading North,you need to cross the junction into Downhill lane, and then jump onto the footpath to join the cycleway heading north. There's no dropped kerb to get from the road to the cycleway. It will be interesting to see what a mess South Tyneside Council make of the cycling provision

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Sustainable transport funding on South Tyneside - A joke

WooHoo, CTC has crunched the latest PR from the Government and broken down the totals for local sustainable transport funds to LA level.

South Tyneside is going to get less than a quid per person per year until 2021

That's not just cycling though, that's walking, buses, Metro and anything else the council can tag with the labels local and sustainable to fund.

Crumbs, actually not even crumbs

Compare with the £4,000,000 pinchpoint bid to ease rush hour congestion between these two roundabouts That's about £27 per person on less than 1/4 mile of roads, which will last only a few years before congestion chokes it again.

Even worse is that inactivity related conditions costs South Tyneside about £43/head/year based on figures from Sport England in 2013.

The Get Britain Cycling report recommended £10 per head per year. That is less than a quarter of what treating inactivity costs. Surely that would be value for money for tax payers, even leaving aside benefits from reduced congestion, and reductions in air pollution and the lower healthcare costs that will bring.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Durham "celebration ride"

A couple of weeks ago, Newcastle Cycling Campaign forwarded an email about a "celebration ride" showing off some of the new cycle paths around Durham city. A infrastructure safari in other words then.

As I work in Durham and usually cycle in, I thought I take some time out, and would have a look down.

My strava track of the ride showing the route is below
The group met at Prebends bridge in Durham at 10:30 and there was some media attention. You could spot the DCC ride leaders in the obligatory council issue hivis vests.

After a few speeches from the leaders and a local councillor about the ride, and the new routes.
The group then headed off down to & across Prebends bridge itself before heading up and past the Cathedral to the Market Place. This section of the route has been carefully and sympathetically resurfaced using specialist teams due to the World heritage site status of the Cathedral and surrounding area. Although the climb on cobbles was fun, but that's Durham for you!

From the market place the ride ran along the narrow shared path over the Milburngate bridge, and then beside the A691 up to the DLI museum.

We then joined the first piece of new infra, which was a path heading from the DLI besides Ackley Heads, and then up to Pit lane at Newton Hall.

The path is well surfaced the whole way,with good clear access the whole way.

At the end of the path where it joins Pit lane at the Carr House Drive junction, Victoria (the ride leader and organiser) explained that there are aspirations/plans to convert the existing pedestrian crossing to a Toucan and extend the routes up to the busy shopping complex at the Arnison centre.

We then headed along Carr House Drive, and onto Canterbury road before heading on another section of newly surfaced path though the Low Newton nature reserve. It was explained that this path is surfaced with road planings.

The path lead us round to Dovecote kennels, where an arranged meet took place with the Kennels owner, and a regular user of the paths who uses a mobility scooter, who both explained how the new access had increased use of the path, and enabled more people to access it.

We then headed back to durham along a very minor (cosy) wooded lane which then broke out to poppied fields with a mile or two of the city centre. You can see the Cathedral in the distance of the group shot below. This lane is part of the existing Weardale way, and runs right into the centre of Durham along the river.

Once back in Durham it was a mishmash across the cyclist/pedestrian bridge and then up to the Market place. Some people darted off to get back to work, whilst several of us headed to a cafe for a post ride coffee and a chat.

Post ride thoughts.

The routes are great, and Victoria, & her colleagues are justifiably proud of their hard work.
There were comments about the funding being pulled from various sources, and to my view this indicates the shaky status of cycling within LAs. Even as leisure routes, cycleways like this are important tools to get people out and about on their bikes, and in my view deserves much better funding.

I was especially pleased to see the guy on the mobility scooter (sorry, really rubbish with names) as it shows how important easily accessed and inclusive paths like this are to the less able, and is something often missed when referred to just as cycle infrastructure.

It may have been me, but on the new routes, I did not see any signposting, which is a shame as people local and outsiders may not "discover" the routes. Again this is an issue that affects cycle routes across LAs.

It highlighted to me just how poor and disjointed some of the infra in Durham city centre is, especially across the river, up to the market place. Also across Millburngate bridge and alongside the A691 until past the viaduct. Again that's not a criticism of these routes

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Councillors and space4cycling

I met with my ward councillors this afternoon after emailing them about supporting space4cycling.

One of them is currently the councillor lead on Health and Wellbeing for the council, and next year will be the mayor, so has quite an opportunity to promote and encourage cycling both to the public and within the LA.

They had an idea which was whether it would be possible or feasible to organise rides in a similar fashion to the Sunderland rides. The intention being to promote cycling in the LA area, as an overriding concern is the levels of obesity and inactivity especially amongst children. I've heard worse ideas from councillors. 

Certainly there are several cyclable routes staying more or less within the borough boundaries which are safe. If I'd offered to lead/organise I think they;d have bitten my hand off. Sadly I struggle to find real time for that sort of thing due to personal circs (pity cos I enjoy that stuff).

The only real stereotype I had chucked at me during the meeting was the cyclists on pavements, as one cllr had a recent tale of a young mother suffering a broken leg. While that's regrettable, it was pointed out in strong terms that vast majority of people on bikes are responsible and considerate, and that drivers present a far greater danger even on the pavement. I highlighted the recent local case where an OAP driver hit a pedestrian and didn't realise until the police tracked her down.

A discussion about safety and enabling cycling as opposed to expanding roads to cope with congestion followed. Enabling more cycling, and even reducing car use by 5% would have a massive positive impact on congestion, and this was agreed.

We moved onto routes, and I pointed out that there is a lot of navigable safe routes within South Tyneside, but that a  lot of it is "invisible", unsigned, and often has a detail like a missing dropped kerb, or a barrier, All of  which hinders cycling. 

I suggested the idea of a tube style map of strategic routes, and this was thought to be an excellent idea (yes I stole the Newcycling SCR idea), although I added the stations like used on the Edinburgh Innertube.

I also suggested signed leisure routes as self guided circular rides, and also to specific destinations, linked to the above map. Again well received.

The idea of a "quick wins" suggestion list to tackle the small stuff that can make a big difference was also suggested and agreed with. the concept being similar to this from Camden Cyclists

I was promised that my suggestions would be put to the officers, and that they would keep in touch and relay back progress. I did offer to act as an "expert" and that I would be happy to work with them on trying to improve the lot of cyclists in the area.

Here's hoping. It all sounded very positive and they were very definitely on board.

We got though quite a bit in a short space of time.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Chris Hoy hasn't earned my respect

The comments by Chris Hoy and published in the Telegraph deeply disappointed me, although they are just the latest in a line from high profile cyclists. I've ranted about the myth of mutual respect before.

I expected more from Chris Hoy though, as he has always come across as a reasonable, intelligent, and thoughtful guy with a mature sensible point of view.

They legitimise the view among the ignorant  that all people riding bikes need to behave before any are treated as human beings, let alone equals.

If it was just the law that was expected, but it is the imagined laws.

"Cyclists should get off the road and on the path"
"Bloody cyclists always riding on the path"
"Riding all over the road 2 abreast"
"Riding in the middle of the lane"
"Not wearing a helmet"
"Wearing a silly bit of plastic"
"Not wearing hivis"
"Dressing up like power rangers at Christmas in silly clothes"
"Not paying tax"

There is a natural state that whatever cyclists do, there seems to be an equal and opposite reaction from the idiots and the haters.

Even suggesting that respect needs to be earned, just feeds into the hands of the bigots, as they will always invent another excuse or a made up reason to justify their hate.

So you wanna start riding to work/school etc? Part 2. You

The light nights and warm days are almost upon us, and some may be wanting to start cycling to work or to school.

Cycling will make any trip much more fun and pleasant than being in a car & what better way to round off a day in the office staring through the window at the sun than a bike ride home in it.

Riding a bike is simple and fun, And about the only special piece of equipment you will need is a bicycle. Here's some hints and tips which certainly for me make riding for transport a lot more pleasant and easier. Part 1 of this series covered the bike.

Do I need special kit? Nope.

You can easily and comfortably cycle in normal everyday clothes. If you are riding long distance or cycling for sport, then yea, don the lycra and cycle jerseys if you wish, but you don't need to for a short ride to the shops.

If it's warm, as there is nothing better than warm air on the legs, then walking shorts will be better than a pair of jeans, and less exhibitionist than a pair of lycra shorts. they often have plenty of zip up pockets for phones, money etc.

For colder weather, walking trousers are lighter and easier to ride in than jeans. If it rains while you are out they will not become as sodden for as long, although you can buy showerproof trousers as well. You can now even buy trousers from Marks and Spencer designed specially for cycling.

"Active" T-shirts designed for walking and jogging are often better than a heavy cotton t-shirt as they will wick away any moisture quicker and keep you feeling dry, and less smelly.

If you are cycling regularly, then investing in cycling shoes is wise as the soles are stiffened to maximise power transfer from feet to pedals, which also helps prevent foot fatigue and pain. A lot come in styles that look like normal walking/trekking shoes. Sizes vary so always best to try some on.

The other thing I always wear is a pair of cycling gloves. Gloves serve a variety of purposes.
Gloves improve your grip on the bars, and have padding for increased comfort.
Gloves usually have a towelling section for wiping your brow
Most importantly, if you do come off,  the natural reaction is to put your hand out. gloves can help against cutting or scraping your hands on the road etc.

Won't I be too cold or too hot? Possibly at times, but you wear several thin layers that you can peel off if necessary, rather than one mega-thick layer. When riding you will be creating your own inner heat anyway.

Won't I get wet all the time? It doesn't rain that often actually. Always carry a waterproof jacket unless you are just nipping to the corner shop. If it does rain, just grin and bear it.

Won't I get all sweaty, smelly and dirty? Possibly if you are really working it. If you ease back the effort a little bit and relax, then much less so. If you are riding to work etc, then a quick wash or a wipe down with wet wipes will easily freshen you up. You don't need a shower after every couple of miles riding.

If you are cycling regularly to work etc, then if possible keeping a change of socks/underwear and even keeping shoes and trousers at work saves having to lug them with you, and more importantly can be a blessing if you do get a soaking on the way in.

As for carrying everything, then stick it in the panniers you bought. Always line the panniers with tough plastic liners. You can buy expensive branded rucksack liners, but I recommend rubble sacks from the local supermarket.
Line the pannier with the sack, chuck everything in the liner, and then roll the top and tuck in, before closing the pannier. Unless you've pierced the liner, that will keep your gear dry through anything.
Always try and pack keeping the heaviest towards the bottom, and the lightest and most needed at the top

I've not mentioned helmets for a reason. Wearing one is a deeply personal choice.
I used to, but don't any more for regular riding as the risk is low. I'm equally at risk of tripping on uneven pavement walking to the shops, but don't wear a helmet for that. Helmets are of very limited and questionable use if a vehicle hits you as they are not designed for that.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

So you wanna start riding to work/school etc?

The light nights and warm days are almost upon us, and some may be wanting to start cycling to work or to school.

Cycling will make any trip much more fun and pleasant than being in a car & what better way to round off a day in the office staring through the window at the sun than a bike ride home in it.

Riding a bike is simple and fun, And about the only special piece of equipment you will need is a bicycle. Here's some hints and tips which certainly for me make riding for transport a lot more pleasant and easier.

The bike

If you haven't got a bike hiding at the back of the shed, then you'll be needing one.
You don't need a full suspension mountain bike with masses of travel or a top end carbon racing bike. Yea, they're great in the correct place, but riding to work or the supermarket isn't it.

All you need is a straightforward bike with no suspension, or just some simple front suspension. Look for places where you can attach proper full length mudguards, and a rear rack if (like most) it doesn't have them already. Lights are ace as well, and along with the guards and rack will allow the bike to be used anytime, and not just on dry days.

This Btwin night and day from Decathlon may not be the lightest bike, but for £230 with rack, mudguards and hub dynamo lighting it is a ready to run all purpose transport bike. If you have more, then something like this is available.

Carefully buy the best bike you can afford though as the extra money will buy a better lighter frame, and better more durable components.


If you can, then fit full length mudguards on as even on dry days with damp roads they keep the water and mud off you and the bike. Unless you have no option avoid the ones that clip to the seatpost and anything that is not full length.
If you are keen a DIY mudflap attached to the bottom of the front guard can protect your feet and the bike even more.

Racks and luggage

If one can be fitted then fit a rear rack, as they are so useful and cheap. If you have the mounting points on the seat stays, then a 4 point rack is best. You can purchase P clips if your bike does not have the mounting points. Alternatively a rack that fixes to the brake/mudguard bridge (a 3 point) will do, but will be less stable.
Cantilevered racks that attach to only the seatpost should be avoided for all but the lightest and smallest loads.
Also invest in some panniers that are separable, so you can use just one if you are not carrying much. Putting any luggage on the bike is much more comfortable than on your back, and will let you carry much more. Buy some rubble sacks (very heavy duty bin bags) from the supermarket, and use as liners inside the panniers. They will keep any rain out, and will last.
Keep a couple of elastic straps on the top of the rack as they will come in handy for the odd thing that is too bulky to fit inside the bags.


For commuting and transport, I swear by Schwalbe Marathon plus. Look for the ones with smart guard puncture protection. When you are buying and fitting the tyres, also replace the plastic tape that covers the top of the spokes with cotton rim tape such as Velox. The plastic eventually splits or moves, and can then allow the spokes to puncture the inner tube.


If you're gonna be using the bike all year round, then by far the best thing is a hub dynamo and fixed lights. I'll cover this in a separate blog post.

Having a set of lights on the bike (or in the bag) is handy as for most of the year, evening riding in the UK will be either dark or getting dark. LED battery lights come in all shapes and sizes and costs.
If you are relying on battery lights, always have at least a couple of front and rears, in case one fails.

Carry a spare set of batteries in the bag if you are going any distance, and practice changing the batteries in comfort so it will be easy in the dark when the rain is pouring (cos that's the only time batteries go flat!).

Lock it, don't lose it.

Never leave your bike unlocked. Buy and use a good branded U-lock, and buy a second lock or a cable extension as well. Wheel locks such as this one which are bolted to the frame are popular in Europe, and are a good thing to have fitted as an extra deterrent or for that 30 second nip in the shop whilst you can see the bike.

Always lock the bike to something immovable, and that the bike and lock cannot just be lifted over. Try to fill the space in a U-lock so things like jacks cannot be used to pry it apart. Wrap the cable or second lock around to lock as much of the rest of the bike as you can.

Be prepared

Unless you are only on a short hop where walking back would be quicker than repairing, then carry a basic toolkit.
A multitool - These vary enormously. I carry the now sadly defunct CoolTool. Whatever you buy, make sure it has the tools to fit your bike, and doesn't have a lot of stuff you won't need.
Tyre levers - Carry 3 or 4 of the plastic tyre levers. They weigh nowt, and occasionally break.
A spare inner tube - Easier to replace the tube and repair any puncture at home then on the roadside. Make sure you remove whatever caused the puncture from the tyre though!
A pump - Again, these vary in size and performance, but generally the smaller and cheaper they are the harder they are to use. Make sure the one you have fits the valves on your bike. Topeak are well regarded. I happily use a cyclair, but others have had mixed results
A puncture repair kit - It's not unknown to get more than one puncture. Kits are light and small, so carry one. Rema Tip Top kits are about the best I have ever used

Purchase and keep a full sized bicycle pump at home, and keep the tyres inflated. That will minimise the drag from the tyres, making riding easier, and reduce the likelihood of punctures, or tyre/wheel damage due to the tyre bottoming out over potholes or kerbs.

Regularly use a proper chain lube to lube and clean the chain. Most of the time in the UK a lube for wet conditions is best as the weather can be changeable.

Regularly check the brakes to make sure they are working properly, and that the blocks (assuming rim brakes) are lined up correctly against the rim. If you are unsure, then get them checked at a cycle shop.

Regularly check things like cranks, pedals, the headset for any signs of looseness or play. Checking regularly means that if and when something does loosen you will be able to detect the change.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

I ride a bike when I can cos...

I ride a bike when I can cos...

1. I just love riding the bike.
2. Riding keeps me healthier fitter & it's easy.
3. Riding burns calories, allowing me to indulge my other hobby which is eating & not feel guilty.
4. Riding makes me feel awesome, especially the buzz of achievement at the top of a large hill, or dragging a trailer full of shopping home.
5. Riding saves me money on fuel & car maintenance. I've reduced my car mileage by 1/3 over the last year.
6. Riding for me is often more direct & convenient than the car so quicker.
7. Riding turns every trip, no matter how mundane, into a mini adventure
8. Riding on a sunny day though a tree lined road/path with the birds singing and the sun shining though is just wonderful.
9. Apart from riding down hills,. Nothing is better than that :-)
10. Did I mention that I do it cos I just love riding the bike?

Sunday, 16 March 2014

How much does it cost to run a bicycle..

There is a story in the Daily Mail about MPs claiming 20p per mile for trips by bicycle, and it has elicited the usual and expected response by Commentards
"They're taking us for a ride"
"If they're cycling during the working day they're already being paid"
"It costs nothing to run a bike"

Actually the 20p/mile rate is a standard HMRC rate & anyone using the bicycle for business miles who can claim is entitled to claim including myself.

But is running a bike actually free?

Let's assume that you have actually bought the bike you use outright.

If you cycle approx 2000 miles a year and claim it back, which is about 200 return trips of 10 miles.

2000 miles will probably see off
One pair of tyres - Schwalbe Marathons - £60
One chain - £16
One cassette- £15
2 sets of brake pads (assuming V brakes, front & rear)- £20
One full service - £80 (Halfords Elite Service)

That's the thick end of £200 already.

As for fuel, the Calories burnt calculator here reckons about 600 calories per hour, which is about a 10-12 mile ride. That's the equivalent of 7 bananas (90 cal each). Or £1.40 (current ave cost of 20p each), or £300 worth of bananas for the 2000 miles.

So in terms of fuel  & maintenance, a bike will cost about £500 to run over 2000 miles a year, before the cost of buying the bike, and other items such as clothing/shoes is taken into account. Insurance, etc are excluded from this, as is the cost of buying the bicycle and depreciation.

Compare with running a car (bog basic 1.4 hatchback) for the same 2000 miles.
Fuel (at 35 mpg) would cost £340 using this calculator.
A years service will be approx £150.
Tyres will be £250 to replace, but will last about 20,000 miles, so about £25

So in terms of fuel  & maintenance, a car will cost a similar £500 to run for 2000 miles a year
Insurance, VED etc are excluded from this, as is the cost of buying the vehicle and depreciation.

Yet car mileage comes in at about 67p/mile, where bicycles only attract 20p.

So the real issue is why are car drivers subsided so much from HMRC, especially when the other  benefits to society of cycling are not taken into account?

We should pay much more people who cycle, and indeed the french are thinking about it

Saturday, 15 March 2014

New Bike parking at Brockley Whins Metro

Noticed that there has been some new bicycle parking installed at the Brockley Whins Metro station on South Tyneside.

The previous parking, which is a couple of sheffield stands behind the Westbound station building, cunningly placed to render half the capacity unusable. They are still in place.

These are the new stands. Only gripes are that they are not covered. Some lockable "pods" would have been nice to attract regulars. Also they have been placed under the CCTV mast, so it is very possible that they are not covered by CCTV, which is isn't good news. Other than that they seem to be reasonably well placed and accessible. The concrete plinth has been there a few years, since the install of the CCTV, and I always assumed it was for maintenance vehicles. Obviously no more.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Missing the point

The last 24 hours have seen cycling safety in the spotlight from a couple of normally driver centric sources.

Firstly Top Gear did a piece on making a public information film about cycling safety.
Since TG had basically morphed into last of the summer wine with 3 old blokes posing about for cheap and obvious  laughs, I didn't expect much. It turned out to be even lazier and more unfunny. It reminded me of the last, cheap , casual racist and sexist bullying humour of the 70/80s. The BBC should have amount higher editorial standards.

The saddest thing seems not to be that the Neanderthals that revere Clarkson as a god will (and are) hanging on any and all of the negative points raised, but that so many people on cycling forms such as and bikeradar thought that some good points were all raised.
With fellow cyclists thinking that, we don't need enemies.

The second is the announcement of the AAs bike safety campaign which will be officially launched this Friday, so this may be premature.

The pre launch information revolves around the idea of stickers given away for car mirrors.
Unless there's more this, like TG, misses the point, as mirror stickers won't guard against actions such as passing dangerously close, or left hooking people on bikes,

I applaud the AA for taking positive action, but I just fear that it's missing the main areas of danger to cyclists from drivers.
The campaign also seems to suggest that it will have the recommendation that cyclists need to adhere to the highway code, falling into the lazy stereotype we've come to expect that all drivers are saints and anybody on a bike is a scofflaw, when in fact it's usually the opposite, with virtually all success anything they habitually breaking the law.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Cyclists, Motorways and real dangerous roads.

There's been a furore today about Surrey Police stopping a cyclist on the M25 today

Apparently this was all after following the navigation app on his phone. Now a quick check on google maps offers as a cycling route along the A19 to my nearest town centre. Here it is. 70mph, same as an M-way with no hard shoulder or cycling facility. There is a footpath along the southbound carriageway  but that's not even shared use

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Which is the safer road?

About a mile south of this, this very road is the shortest road route for me to use a trailer to get to the shops, as the safe option is barriered up preventing a bike trailer from using it.

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My commute to work is alongside a similar stretch, although it has a shared use path. In icy or snowy weather when the path is uncleared, the route is unusable as cycling at 10-12mph (3-4% uphill grade) on a 70mph DC in rush hour is like russian roulette.
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And in case you think the real problem was the guy crossing the slip road, here is the A1231 though Washington, which is another 70mph road, with a road sign instructing cyclists to pull exactly the same manoeuvre

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The problem is not an odd guy on a bike getting lost.
The problem is not that he relied on his phone's navigation app.

The problem is that the Highways agency, and Local and national Government have steadily turned direct though roads into virtual motorways, with no regard for anyone but motorists.

These roads are often the only usable, visible and direct route between point A and point B.

Often these roads have NO safe or legal alternative for cycling on, and certainly if you do not have local knowledge or have a local map and the skill to read it, you are stuffed.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Why a terrible verdict shows how the ASA is wrong

Today's been a bad day for cycling in the UK.

First we had the ruling by the ASA about 5 (yes five) complaints about one of the Nicewaycode adverts, which we all thought had been put to death with a bicycle pump though it's heart to prevent resurrection.

If you haven't read the ruling (surely everyone reading this will have by now) it's here

The advert is below

ASA upheld the compalints about the final scene where where the cyclist is being overtaken by a car.
The car is not over the lines. At the very end of the clip it can be seen that the rider is riding to avoid potholes.

ASA ruled that:

We noted that the cyclist in the final scene was not wearing a helmet or any other safety attire, and appeared to be more than 0.5 metres from the parking lane. We also acknowledged that the cyclist was shown in broad daylight on a fairly large lane without any traffic.
We understood that UK law did not require cyclists to wear helmets or cycle at least 0.5 metres from the kerb. However, under the Highway Code it was recommended as good practice for cyclists to wear helmets. Therefore, we considered that the scene featuring the cyclist on a road without wearing a helmet undermined the recommendations set out in the Highway Code. Furthermore, we were concerned that whilst the cyclist was more than 0.5 metres from the kerb, they appeared to be located more in the centre of the lane when the car behind overtook them and the car almost had to enter the right lane of traffic. Therefore, for those reasons we concluded the ad was socially irresponsible and likely to condone or encourage behaviour prejudicial to health and safety.

ASA have banned the advert and have imposed the following on Cycling Scotland

The ad must not be broadcast again in its current form. We told Cycling Scotland that any future ads featuring cyclists should be shown wearing helmets and placed in the most suitable cycling position.

A few issues with that ruling

  • Firstly what the feck is a "parking lane" there are no lane markings in the clip other than the central one. Do they mean the pavement?
  • ASA think that no cyclists should be more than 0.5 metres from the edge of the road. That's about 18 inches in old money. Or not much more than the diagonal distance across most laptop screens. 
  • The argument about helmets is legion, and is recommended (not by me btw) but conclusive evidence about their effectiveness is hard to find at best, and they are not designed for protection in vehicle collisions anyway.
If you disgree with the ASA, then please sign this petition or write or email them.

The second blow to cycling was the aquittal of a minibus driver from Dorset who hit and killed a cyclist travelling in the same direction. This was in daylight and the cyclist was wearing a helmet, hivis, and lights. The BBC article is here

Leaving aside the legals, the driver admits that he hit something with his nearside door mirror although he thought he'd clipped a bus stop sign. How close to the kerb was he then?

Although we could never know, and it was certainly NOT the cyclists fault regardless of position, I suggest that if the poor cyclist had been riding further out,contrary to the ASA ruling, then the driver may have seen him and taken action instead of just ploughing on regardless.

The Dorset tale certainly highlights one of the main reasons for not hugging the gutter, and that's vehicles squeezing past given the slightest gap, which is extremely dangerous.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Bollocks infra... South Tyneside style

Spot of Limbo dancing anyone? Same barrier from both directions.

South Tyneside has a problem with Tanks illegally using cycleways

If the sign wasn't there.... A dropped kerb would be nice though

There wasn't much in the budget for a lot of paint, so went for the minimalist approach

They go to real efforts to keep cyclists safe on the busy roundabouts
South Tyneside does have some "dutch style" infra, even to putting the Give Way lines on the wrong side for the UK.
And where we're going we don't need roads (tbf this was "borrowed" from Gmaps although it is real!)

Monday, 20 January 2014

Cyclists on pavements are the wrong target

With the recent statement from the "cycling" (junior transport really) minister, Robert Goodwill reaffirming the advice to police not to issue fixed penalties for people riding on the pavement in a sensible and responsible manner, a flurry of responses from organisations have raised objections.

Most of these organisations have completely missed the point and an important opportunity.

Most experienced cyclists like myself, would rather not ride on pavements.

They are often narrow, rougher and badly maintained compared to roads, full of street furniture, and often have no dropped kerbs at junctions.

Organisations such as Living Streets and others need to get behind the space4cycling campaign and change it into a space4people campaign.

Safe separated cycling facilities should be provided from road space which is often plentiful, NOT from narrow pavements. Most road space is wide enough to provide this space, but local authorities find it easier to slap down a bit of paint.

Below is an excellent example from my town. Wide grass verges either side of a wide road with central turning markings, and a bus stop layby. But the narrow pavement has been converted into a shared use facility between pedestrians and cyclists. Why? Because it's cheap and doesn't upset the motoring lobby

The shared pavement along Temple Park Road in  South Shields.  Only benefits  Motorists. Plenty of road space available. See below

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South Tyneside council like many other LAs makes lots of pavements like this as shared use making it legal for bicycles to use them, which reinforces the belief of some that all cyclists should be the pavements, and often causes confusion then the shared status ends without warning. The shared path along the John Reid road is a perfect example of this, the shared path ends at a Toucan crossing, but isn't shared use on the other side. This is on a route put in to link primary schools as well.

It should also be pointed out that cars on pavements present much more of an obstruction and risk to pedestrians. approx 60 (sixty) pedestrians are killed by cars on pavements every year compared with 1 by cyclists. Drivers are the real inconsiderate and dangerous ones on the pavements. Drivers are often very inconsiderate and dangerous towards cyclists on the roads scaring some onto the paths.

Motoring is the real enemy, not people on bicycles. All the pedestrian and cycling organisations need to recognise that fully and form a united front against the real enemy and danger.