Thursday, 31 May 2012

A casual commuting chat

There are some things that don't happen much in cars, especially when commuting. When every other car is seen as an adversary (and I've had days like that myself) being sociable with your fellow travellers is one.

However bikes are different, certainly folding bikes at least it seems. I had to wait to cross a busy main road just now on the way home. As I pulled up to the traffic lights, there was a gentleman already waiting on a folding bike. Closer inspection revealed it to be a Raleigh Stowaway in very good condition indeed. I commented on the fact that it could be considered a classic and a good conversation about folding bikes began. Turns out that this chap owns a few of them. Anyway we ended up riding the same way for the next half mile or so and carried on our conversation as we rode.

OK so only a short chat with a stranger - not like I have a new best friend or anything. However, these things seem to happen when you're on a bike. Several people have stopped to ask me about my bike when at railway stations. No one has ever done that about my car!

I guess it's just nice when commuting can be about fun and conversation and not trying to beat the car in front across the next gridlocked roundabout.

And I should review my previously blinkered opinion about what cyclists are like to each other!

There and back again

"There and back again" is a favourite blog of mine written by Steve, a cyclist from across the pond in the US. I think it's a great place for well written, inspiring stories of long-distance bike rides, bikes and life in general.

The link below is to an article that I particularly liked though as so many of the points rang true!

It's top stuff and I recommend you go and have a read.

Keep it up Steve! :-)

A couple of good sites

When I was considering buying a folding bike, I was a little unsure of the diistance they were capable of covering.  I was still in the "shopper-bike" mindset I suppose.  So I had a bit of a google around to see what information was out there.

One of the best articles I found was from Todd Fahrner - a guy in the US who works for Brompton dealer Clever Cycles.  He rode, over a couple of weeks, 700 miles or so down the west coast of America and through what sounds like some really challenging terrain.  It is very well writtten and truly inspiring:

Another site that caught my eye was The Path Less Pedaled.  It is the blog of a Russ Roca and Laura Crawford - a couple who sold everything to go and tour a chunk of the world by bike.  For a large part of their tour they both rode Bromptons - for convenience but also to show what can be done on a folding bike.

I love the sense of adventure that sites like those inspire and I love the utter irreverence of hard-core touring on a folding bike.  It's reading things like this that give me something to put it all in perspective when my own cycling gets a bit tough.

And I want a Brompton as well...

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The scores so far

The miles are certainly adding up and the scores to date are as follows:

Week 11 – 79 miles

Total to date – 758.5 miles

Over 750 miles – another milestone!  Fitter, stronger, slimmer and faster – I just need to keep going when, later in the year, the dark, cold days begin.  I’m not going to worry about that yet awhile though as there’s a whole summer of cycling ahead.  Marvellous!

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Little wheels = hard work?

***WARNING***  There now follows a technical article.  I apologise in advance for inadvertant yawning, dribbling, sleeping on computer keyboards or "grandmothers being taught to suck eggs".  Pour yourself a strong coffee, forgive me my  geeky nature and read on...

"I'll bet your bike is hard work with those little wheels!"

If I had a pound for every time I've heard that since commuting on the Dahon, well I'd have quite a few quid, that's for certain.  And the simple, truthful but stock answer is, "No it isn't at all.  It feels like a big bike, not a kids bike."

The less simple bit is explaining why, but usually my inner engineer just won't let me get away without trying.  I think sometimes the point sinks in prior to them glazing over...

It's all down to gearing you see.  There are a few measures for bike gearing but the one I'll refer to is called "gear-inches".  It is calculated by working out the ratio of your front to back sprocket and multiplying that by your wheel diameter in inches.  So for example, on my single-speed, fixed-gear mountain bike it works as follows:

Front sprocket = 42 teeth
Rear sprocket = 16 teeth
Wheel diameter = 26 inches

Therefore I am running (42/16) x 26 or 68.25 gear-inches.  In meerkat-speak, "simples".

Conversely my 700c-wheeled hybrid has a range of about 28 to 100 gear-inches through its 21 gear ratios

It's a bit of a weird measure as it doesn't exactly tell you the distance moved along the road per pedal revolution, which it would if wheel circumference were used instead.  It does however provide a simple and comparative measure between one bike or gearing ratio and another taking differing wheel sizes into account.

Still with me?  I'll get to my point.

The Dahon tech stuff in the catalogue states that my bike has a range of 48 to 72 gear-inches in it's three gears.  They are pretty evenly spaced and so the actual gearings are something like 48, 60 and 72 gear-inches.  That's roughly equivalent (I know because I have the spreadsheets to prove it) to the spread of gearing on my hybrid when on the middle chain-ring.  The key difference being that the hybrid has that range with 7 gears whereas the Dahon has only three.

That not withstanding, for one rotation of the pedals in an equivalent gear, my Dahon and my hybrid (and any other bike) will both have the same number of gear-inches and will therefore move the same distance along the road.  Therefore, to all intents and purposes, the gearing makes it the same as riding a large bike and not the hard work that people imagine.

Sure, the Dahon's wheels will have gone round more times, but the pedals won't which is where I'm putting in the effort.  Indeed the fact that the Dahon has smaller wheels mean less rotating mass and thus marginally quicker acceleration (it does also mean that they have less inertia when rolling too but let's not split hairs).

I do find that having a range of more closely spaced gears makes it a little easier to ride faster.  With the larger gaps between the Dahon's three ratios you tend to end up either spinning in one gear or heaving in another.  It takes a little effort to "get on top of" the higher gear, if that makes sense?  With more ratios it is easier to tune the gearing to the amount of effort you can comfortably put into the pedals.  It also means you spend more time faffing with gears too which is why single speed bikes are so blissfully simple to ride (definitely another post for another day!)

Interestingly (I'm sure you'll agree) is that the derallieur-geared 7-speed version of my bike has a much wider range of gears.  I think something like 34 to 92 gear-inches which would be really useful as I find the 3-speed's maximum of 72 a little low when going downhill.  It would be nice to have a higher gear or two to be able to power down hills rather than spinning or coasting.  It's a small thing really though and not worth losing any sleep over.

So there you go.  I have it off my chest.

Folding bikes are not harder to ride by dint of their small wheel size and anyone still awake knows exactly why.

Monday, 28 May 2012


It's another beautiful day out there today and motivation to get out of the door on my bike is not generally hard to find. Sometimes though, especially when tired on the final, station-to-home leg of the commute, those negative thoughts can creep in. Suddenly, it all seems like so much hard work and a lift in the car would only be a phonecall away...

It's at times like those that I draw a bit if strength from some of the other cycling blogs and websites I read. Some are just regular commuters like me and some full-on around the world travellers. It's important though not to look for the differences between my exploits and theirs but for the similarities. If you're as reactionary as me, it is too easy to end up feeling rather inadequate - like I should be riding further, faster and somewhere more exotic. However, no matter where and why we cycle or what bike we ride, all of us are choosing a different path to the norm. All are getting fitter through their own efforts and are spending less on oil-based fuels than the majority.

And so as I haul my way up the long hill on my way home, although i'll be on a road I've ridden many times before, in my mind i'll be planning my next adventure. Sometimes something as simple as the next ride out with the family and sometimes huge and far-flung which may never happen. However I drift away in the confines of my head, it's that sense of kinship with other cyclists, (commuters, racers and hardened cycle adventurers alike), the knowledge that we are all out there really doing it, that keeps me going and keeps it fresh.

As some sage once said, "Those who will tell you something cannot be done should not interrupt those out there doing it!"

Friday, 25 May 2012

A grand day out

What a brilliant, brilliant day I've had!

Some time ago my wife organised a girly day away with friends. Consequently today, in my temporary wifeless condition, the school-run and various other childcare duties fell to me. With plenty of holiday left to take at work, I booked the day off.  Not wanting to waste the day on housework, DIY or other such drudgery, I rather fancied I could get a bike ride in between the school drop off and picking my youngest up from pre-school at lunchtime.  So, I packed my Dahon into the car along with the kids and, after the school drop-off, headed out.

I'd decided to go and have a play on the lanes round where we live but wanted to avoid my usual commuting roads where possible. So with only a loose plan, I pedaled and followed my nose...

The weather at the moment is glorious - clear blue skies and high temperatures.  A stiff breeze today took the edge off a little but was welcome additional cooling all the same.  And so miles of sunny lanes, dive bombing finches, swallows doing the most impressive aerobatics and field after field passed with a smile on my face.

The Dahon taking five.
A brief stop for a drink.
The beauty of the Dahon is that because I know it's not as fast as a higher-geared bike, I don't try to ride it like one.  Rather, I relaxed into the ride and just enjoyed the journey. I got passed by a few guys on race bikes but cared not a jot. If speed was measured in smiles per hour, I'd have won by a long way!  Kind of like the difference between driving a Porsche and driving an old (proper) Mini Cooper if you catch my drift.

I passed along some roads that I know, detoured onto others that I didn't and in the process found some lovely new routes and villages I've never before been to. I know I'm blessed to be able to live in a rural village but we aren't really that far off the beaten track. There are so many beautiful places just a short bike ride away from most towns and for all the moaning we sometimes do, we British live on a beautiful island indeed.

Babbling stream photographed by a babbling cyclist.

A lovely thatched cottage - quite a few quid's worth I'd imagine.
Typical English country church - picture postcard stuff (with a better photographer...)
"You'll have a bit of a wait for the express!" said an elderly local when I stopped to take this picture.
Another drink stop (it was hot) next to the canal.
I also tried out one of those bike GPS Apps on my iPhone (Cyclemeter)and while I don't really want to become obsessive over numbers, I did want to know how far I'd ridden. For the princely sum of 69p, I have to say I'm pretty impressed.  It tells me distance ridden, average speed, top speed, calories burned  (by putting in my weight) and a bunch of other stuff.  You can set the distance units to nautical miles too - anchors a-weigh!  It's even smart enough to know when you've stopped riding so that it can deduct that time from your average speed calculation.  If the operator is smart enough to enable that feature of course...

Anyway, long story short I rode a little over 20 miles and even with stopping for drinks and photos, arrived back in plenty of time to collect my youngest offspring from pre-school.  Lovely!

In the afternoon, i had a couple of errands to run and my daughter fancied feeding the ducks by the canal. And so began bike adventure number two. We hooked her little bike to my wife's hybrid with the trail-gator attachment thing and complete with handlebar mounted whicker basket, off we went.

The "errand-mobile" bedecked with whicker basket.

We rode a six or seven mile round trip to the post office a couple of villages away and back via the ducks.  I have to say that towing a chattering four year-old up a short but sharp hill is a serious workout for the legs. Col de Tourmalet? Pah!!

So I've burned thousands of calories and sweated buckets today which all helps to diminish my waistline. Far more than that though, I've had a really fabulous day. The long-promised recreational ride on my Dahon was brilliant and being able to combine cycling with time with my youngest was also a real pleasure.

I'm sitting here, hours later, showered and with a mug of tea, still smiling from ear to ear.  I predict a few more days like this one before the Summer's over.

The open road beckons...

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Hot, hot, hot!

Well damn my hide it's been a beautiful day out there today! On Monday the day started quite cold and so when it warmed up later on I was still resplendent in black Ron Hill's and a long sleeved T shirt. I ended up with my trousers rolled up to mid-calf in order to avoid my legs melting but ended up resembling something from Pineapple Dance Studio as a result! Today I wore shorts from the off but was still hotter than hot on the way home. However, I'm not going to moan about it - I'll be lapping up this hot spell because I know that on all of those freezing, dark commutes in the winter, I'll be praying for days like today!

There were a lot of bikes out on the way home too. Some commuters I guess but loads just out enjoying the sun. I'm finding cyclists quite an unfriendly bunch on the whole though. Strange as there was lots of cameraderie between my colleagues and I on our weekend adventure. Whenever I pass another cyclist going either way, I smile and say hello although it's rare that my greeting is returned. There's no reason that two strangers should be best friends just because they choose the same mode of transport, of course. However a little friendly courtesy never hurt anyone.

Walkers are friendly, runners are friendly, bikers are friendly so why not cyclists? Car drivers all seem to hate each other though and that's no way to be.

Life's too short and the weather too good!


I've often heard that Aldi sells good but cheap cycling kit though I've never bought anything from there. I popped in yesterday evening for a few essentials and found a load of cycling gloves in one of the bargain bins. A quick rummage later and I became the proud owner of a pair. All for the princely sum of £3.50!

First impressions are good to be honest. They seem well made and padded (gel on the palms) and they also have the all-important towelling "snot wiper" on the back of the thumb part.

Having seen similar, non-branded gloves in bike shops for a tenner, these are a bargain indeed, I'd say.

The scores so far

Seems I've fallen behind a bit with keeping this up to date but hey-ho.  The scores so far are as follows:

Week 9 – 64 miles
Week 10 – 67.5 miles (plus 100 mile weekender on my other bike)

Total to date – 679.5 miles

So the total on the Dahon is certainly racking up and the total on my legs is even higher.  In just ten weeks of bike commuting I'm slimmer, fitter and a lot happier.  I should add wealthier as my weekly travel costs are lower than they used to be but for some reason saving money rarely manifests itself as a pile of casj in my pocket.  However at least what I do spend isn't going to some big oil company.

On a side note, the weather is bloody lovely in the UK today.  Blue skies and bright sunshine so it'll be a hot one going home tonight.  Long may it continue because I'll be praying for days like this in the middle of December! 

A bit of an update

"It's been a long time since I rock and rolled..." sang Led Zeppelin and it's also been a long time since I blogged too. In the main this is down to my inbuilt idleness but also because I spent the weekend away cycling.

I went down to Herefordshire with a bunch of work colleagues where we rode 100 miles around the Malvern Hills and Forest of Dean in two days. Unfortunately (for this blog) I didn't take the Dahon, rather my hybrid.  I have no doubt at all the I could have done the distance on my folder but I worried about its slight lack of top speed.  I have ridden with the same crowd a few times before and it tends to be a speedy experience! That said, there were a lot of hills to climb which slowed everyone down although hammering down the other side of them proved to be exilerating indeed - I have never been so fast on a bike!

I was also really pleased at my general level of fitness and how well my legs stood up to the experience. Clearly the effect of high weekly mileage, even if broken into smaller chunks, builds up and makes a strong body. Everyone felt a bit dead at the end of the second day to be honest and who wouldn't with 100 miles of cycling in their legs

There's always an upside though and being able to indulge in much beer and curry on Saturday night without so much as a thought for the calories was wonderful. I did however also discover that a pint of bitter and a bacon and egg roll are not ideal sports nutrition prior to the longest, highest climb of the weekend...

We have a few Sundays out planned and maybe another weekend away too. I've offered a "home match" of a Sunday out in the lanes near where I live so one way or another, the Dahon will have its day!

Ready for the off.  This looked better on my iPhone!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

This has everything!

Clearly the title of this blog alone reveals that I am a fan of folding bikes.  However I am fond of fixed gear bicycles too and have, in brief moments of madness, considered combining the two.  I am also a great fan of the late Sheldon Brown's cycling website.  It really does have everything for the cyclist but for me this is the icing on the cake:

A fixed gear folder and an old-school one at that!  The link to the full story is here:

There's also another link from Sheldon Brown site to the site of a friend of his who has riden a pimped Raleigh Twenty for over 25 years:

Needless to say, I want one!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Time to stand and stare

Tonight's ride home was an absolute dream! The sun was out, I had a strong tailwind and the sky was full of those big lumpy clouds just like the start of "The Simpsons". Beautiful so I took the opportunity to take a few photos.

One of the downsides of the Blogger app for iPhone is that it won't let you put photos in line with the text. Or at least figuring out how to do so is beyond me so far. As a result, I've just put a load of pictures of my commute at the end of this post. As you can see, city commuting it is not!

A lot of the route is along country lanes and even the built up parts are really nice. The photo of the bike next to a tree was taken in a beech wood that I cycle past in the city where I work. OK so the main road is about three metres behind me but, it's still picturesque. For a country boy like me, it's just the ticket.

I find that on the bike I notice much more than when stuck in the car. It's not just a speed thing either because car commuters spend a lot of time stationary. More likely it's that you're immersed in the environment so to speak.

And as the poet wrote, "What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?" so here you are:

Friday, 11 May 2012

Be prepared

One of the complications I face as a cycle commuter is that I don’t always work from the same office.  If I did, it would be great in one respect as all of the “heavy stuff” (laptop, charger, notebooks etc.) could be left at the office all of the time.  However, the nature of the work I do means that, from time to time, I have to spend a day or two on a client’s site working from there.  I am lucky at the moment though in that the client I work with most is in the same city as our company’s office and only ten minutes from the train station.  Even so, using my bike means that a little judicious forethought is required in order to be successful. 

Basically it all comes down to planning or, as every good boy scout knows: “being prepared”.   I have an ongoing quest to find the best way of carrying luggage on my Dahon but that’s a subject for another post.  Suffice to say, resultant damp back aside, my favoured option at present is a decent rucksack.  I use one that is (just) big enough to get everything in if I need to.  Thus, even on lighter days, I use the same bag keeping all of the "everyday" things (tools, first aid kit, wallet, iPod etc.) in one place.  I know full well that if I constantly decamped my kit between different bags, eventually something essential would get left behind!  My load varies between occasionally very full (a complete change of clothes, all of my cycling and office kit plus laptop, charger and lunch) and very light (empty lunch-box and every day cycling stuff) 

I manage pretty well by leaving things at the office where I can.  I don’t need clean work trousers daily so leave them folded in my desk drawer and most days my smart shoes and the laptop stay there as well.  With the client being so near our office, sometimes I leave the heavier things there after a day on site. After cycling to our office the following day, I pop by the client's in a borrowed company car to pick my stuff up again.

The single most important practice in my opinion is getting things ready THE NIGHT BEFORE!  That means bike clothes ready, work shirt ironed, lunch made, bag packed and even (sometimes) breakfast things laid out ready for a quick and organised get away.  It sounds obsessive (maybe I am) but it gives me the peace of mind to know that I’ll have everything that I need with me the following day.  It takes a bit of an effort of will to be honest but pays dividends with reduced stress in the morning.

I barely notice the additional weight of the rucksack on lighter days when I only need to take lunch and a clean shirt.  And on the heavier days like yesterday?  Well sometimes they are unavoidable so you just have to cram it all in, grit your teeth and go for it.  I really don’t notice any difference in how I’m balanced on the bike either.  Ok I’m not lugging Royal Marine-esque loads here but believe me, it weighs enough!  Just like riding in the rain though, it’s never as bad once you’re doing it as you imagine it might be beforehand. 

So just click down an extra gear, think of all the calories you’re burning and enjoy the ride just the same. 

Thursday, 10 May 2012

I bailed out!

A combination of some running around to do this afternoon and the fact that my legs (and the rest of me) are feeling pretty knackered mean that I commuted by car again today.  I keep telling myself all sorts of reasons why I should be driving today and not cycling.  I have plenty of excuses. 

The simple truth is though, that when I woke up tired this morning, the little voice in my head that said “Take it easy today, use the car!” won over the determination to cycle.  There’s no more to it than that as I could have managed all of the jobs I have to do today on my bike.  Sure I’d have to lug my laptop around as well, which makes my rucksack heavier, but it’s not like I have to cycle mega-distances. 

It is very easy to jump in the car though – too easy.  As SaddleAmericana commented yesterday, it does make you realise how dependant on cars we have become and how our lifestyles are set up around the ownership of one.  If our family didn’t have the luxury of two cars, I’d have had to do something different.  I could have rescheduled a meeting (which I ended up doing anyway) and working from home or I could’ve manned-up and cycled.  I could even use a bus as well as the train to reduce the total distance on the bike if I’d needed to. 

But I did none of those things, I jumped in the car.  The easiest but most expensive, least healthy for me and worst for the environment option.  Maybe I should sell it and try out life as a one car family.  It would need a bit of planning and creative thinking but would, I think, be an interesting experiment. 

Food for thought…

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The scores so far

Last week was a bit of an odd one.  I had two separate days with cars in the garage and one day where work necessitated the use of a hire car.  Never the less, I still managed plenty of time on the bike bringing the results to date as follows:

Week 8 – 79.5 miles

Total to date – 548 miles

In other news I now have a Twitter account too (as if I didn't have enough ways to waste the day on the internet.)  It is @foldingbikeuk though I haven't really figured it out what it does yet.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Lastly, this blog has a follower!  Stand up and be counted Naz Scott - a mate of mine from church and an all round good-egg.  The first of many I hope.  Naz's own blog is here:

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

That's a lot better

I never realised how weather-obsessed this cycling lark would make me. I keep a general eye on the weather forecast but the most important portent of the day's cycling is the flagpole in the garden of one of my neighbour's. It's fluttering or lack thereof lets me know when I set off for the morning whether I'll have a headwind to cycle against on the way in to work. This morning I did. Not a big one but enough to make a difference!

However, come home-time the sun was out and this morning's headwind had become a slight tailwind. Not a big one but enough to make a difference. And what a difference!

I had one of the fastest, happiest rides of my cycle-commuting career. It was truly amazing - hills that have sometimes had to be crawled up in first gear were blasted up in third. I'm definitely getting stronger but the positive physical and psychological effect of the wind and fine weather played a big part too.

I was, but for tremendous hunger, almost disappointed to arrive home.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

A couple of pics

I'm still getting used to this iPhone thing and the Blogger interface. I took a couple is snaps on the way to work yesterday. The weather wasn't great so I didn't stop for any scenic ones. Here's the obligatory "bike on the railway station platform" shot:

Folded ready to get on the train:

And on the train (this phone has no flash so apologies for the poor picture!):

I wish I could've taken some on the move too. There was a huge double traffic queue like the one I sat in the other day. How I laughed smugly as I zoomed between them all to the front of the queue. I did stop to take this one though:

It's a road I ride downhill on the way in. The combination of telegraph poles and trees mean that (especially on bin day) it's like the Star Wars pod racing sequence! Laughs all the way!

Interestingly (or not) on the way home yesterday, I left the office car park at exactly the same time as a colleague in his car. Through a combination of traffic and traffic lights, it took almost the full four miles to the station for him to catch up with and pass me!  I don't know who was more surprised!

Added from laptop:  The iPhone blogger app is quite good but doesn't seem to let you put your pictures in line with the text.  On a personal note, I need to sharpen up my photography skills - some of those pictures suck on the big screen!

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Another car day

Yes it was another "needed to use the car" days today. I took my old runaround to the garage to price up a couple of things that need doing to it. The price quoted made me turn greyer - more than the car's worth to be honest - so there's a tough decision to be made there I think. I digress.

While some parts of me (not least my war-worn legs) were glad for the much shorter commute, I had to sit through a dreadful pile of traffic on the way home:

As ever I arrived back feeling dreadful and in dire need of fresh air and exercise!

I realise my cycle-commuter evangelism might read with a similar zeal to the rantings of, say, a reformed smoker. It's true though - commuting by car sucks and cycling is the way forward!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

I got hi-tech

I am currently glued to my new iPhone which, being way better than my old BB, means I can now blog on the go. Well maybe not actually from in the saddle but from the train at least.

Need one of those funky Bio-Logic phone mount/charger things now...hmmmm...

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

To work or not to work?

As I may have mentioned once or twice, I am really enjoying the cycle-commute to work.  Even in the wind and/or rain (like this morning) I wouldn’t swap places with any of the car drivers for love nor money.  Been there, done that, hated it. 

By definition however, there is work to do at the end of the commute.  I like the job I do but just recently days in the office have been grinding me down and sometimes, I really feel the need for a day out on the bike doing my own thing.  All it would take is to miss one of my usual turnings and head off for the day somewhere… 

The temptation is almost too much on some mornings!  Clearly I am due a day of fun…watch this space.