Thursday, 28 June 2012

Mileage to date and a bit of a disaster

Last week was a much shorter one than usual owing to my staying in a hotel all week.  However, I managed to clock up a few miles as mentioned earlier.  This week I'm back on the cycle commute but on my hybrid and not the Dahon.

On Monday morning, I set off as usual but felt my rear brakes rubbing slightly as though the wheel was out of true.  I couldn't figure out why until, about a mile and a half from home at the bottom of a hill, I braked and heard a "ping" from my back wheel.  Stopping to investigate the matter revealed this:

Broken spoke(n) - not one, but two!
Well I had a little bit of time in hand and didn't think it was wise to proceed all the way to work on a damaged back wheel.  I turned around, limped home and grabbed my hybrid out of the garage.  It's going to be at least the weekend before I can get it to the bike shop, although it's due a service and so needed to go in anyway. 

Therefore, the mileage tally on my Dahon stands as follows:

Week 15 - 34.5 miles
Week 16 - 3 miles

Total to date - 998 miles!!!

So tantalisingly close to the 1,000 mile mark but that's not going to happen for a week or so.  Shame.

However, having the "luxury" of 21 gears at my disposal has allowed me a little leeway to experiment.  I have a long-held plan to build a single-speed, fixed gear road bike.  I love the simplicity of a fixie and one or two sites I've seen recently have featured riders doing really long tours/randonee on such machines.  Rugged, simple and capable. 

So last night I tried to find one gear ratio that worked pretty well for all situations.  Such a gear needs to :
  • Be comfortable for pressing along at reasonable speed on the flat
  • Be low enough (but still have something to "push" against) when climbing hills
  • Enable me to spin down hills without running my legs round at a crazy cadence
And I found one.  It works out to about 65 gear inches but bearing in mind I was fully laden with a heavy rucksack, a slightly higher gear should also do the trick nicely.  I have a Shimano crank-set to fit to the fixie project and so by using its 39T chainring and fitting a 16T rear sprocket (commonly available)  I'll hit my perfect ratio pretty much dead on.  Happy times. 

I have an old but barely used early 80's Raleigh donor bike in the garage just waiting for a new wheelset and fixed gearing.  Maybe a summer project if I can free up a bit of spare cash!

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

It's been a while!

Well it’s been an eventful cycling week!  In a break from the norm, I spent last week away on a training course which entailed me spending the whole week in a hotel at Manchester airport.  Having had a look for cycle routes in the area, I found a link to what looked like a really pleasant eight mile loop around the airport.  And so, hoping for a nice way to unwind at the end of each day’s training, I packed my Dahon into the car along with my luggage.
The Dahon, tucked in the corner of my hotel room
I’ve had some fine experiences on national cycle network routes and so it was with some excitement that I ventured out on Monday evening.  The first part of the route followed a dual-use footpath alongside a fairly busy road.  That notwithstanding it was lovely to be out on my bike just for the hell of it.  A couple of miles into the ride came a real treat though in the form of the tunnels that take to road and footpaths under both of the airport’s runways.  I’ve cycled in some odd places before but I think this has to take the biscuit.  There are two large car tunnels a couple of hundred metres long (one in each direction) and to the outside of each a smaller tunnel solely for the use of bikes, pedestrians and (judging by the odd pile of poo) horses as well.  All of the pedestrian/cycle tunnels are surfaced with the smoothest and most cycle friendly tarmac in the world.  If only all cycle paths were so pleasantly covered.
The tunnels under the runway (pedestrian tunnels on the far left and right)

Inside the tunnel
Just after the tunnels, the route turned left, away from the main road and onto some lovely tracks and trails alongside the airport runway itself.  The route turns away from the road but unfortunately on Monday I did not.  It took until the hard-won top of the next hill for me to realise my route finding error and turn back.  At least I got to cycle down the hill again.
After riding alongside the runway for a while (and pausing to watch a few jets take off and land – the big kid in me, I’m afraid) the route joined some lovely leafy lanes for a couple of miles.  This route certainly had variety of terrain in spades!
Much more like it :-)
At the end of the lanes, the next section started to get a little more built up.  However, it was still well signposted and alongside the busier roads consisted of traffic free, dual-use footpaths.   Finally the route turned off the road again and through an urban park (complete with feral kids and bull-terriers galore) before rejoining the original road, about half a mile from my hotel. 
On Tuesday night, I managed this final section without a hitch.  Monday night was a different story.  I missed the turning into the park and ended up following the main road into really rough looking estate!  I had the route on my phone but needed to take care finding somewhere safe enough to stop and get my iPhone out.  I know I’d have been fine with a paper map but my ongoing disgruntlement with satellite navigation continues.  The root of the problem (other than the fact that I got lost in the first place) was that the little arrow on the Cycle Network app seems not to point in the direction you are facing all of the time.  This resulted in me stopping, checking and retracing my tracks more times than I care to remember.  All this at the same time as trying very hard not to look like someone worth stabbing for their phone/wallet!  I did eventually find my way back on track though after adding a couple of miles or so to the total distance ridden.
A fellow course delegate knew the area and told me the next morning that the estate I got lost in is where the sitcom “Shameless” is filmed.  I certainly looked like it too!
Requiring  something a little more restful on Wednesday I chose to follow the first part of the loop as far as the runway tunnels before turning right off the main road, away from the airport (and “Shamelessland”) into a network of lanes and villages.  I had much more luck with the sat nav this time especially as it was on terrain that I’m more used to riding.  I even managed to find a really rather good pub for a mid-ride pint and bag of pork scratchings.  There’s nothing quite like it in a sunny, summery evening!  In the end I covered about 16.5 miles and arrived back at the hotel feeling grand.
All in all, a nice week’s cycling really and it served to show yet another benefit of folding bikes.  Whenever I’m away with work from now on, I’ll be packing the Dahon along with the rest of my stuff.  Adventure beckons!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

A quick update

I've been working away this week and studying for a qualification (hence minimal time to update the blog). However, I did bring my bike and have adventures a-plenty to type up once I have the time...

However, I've also been reading rather a fine book too. It is called "One Man and His Bike" by Mike Carter in which Mr Carter tells the story of having cycling around the entire coast of Britain. As the blurb says, he got bored of the regular cycle-commute and just kept going. Inspiring indeed and definitely worth a read.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The scores so far

Well last week was a big week.  For the second time since I've been using my bike to commute to work I did over 100 miles during the week.  Amazingly, the first time I got into three figures was only my second week of cycle commuting - no wonder my legs ached!  Last week was a harder week though.  Back in week two, I managed to leave all of my heavy kit in the office for the whole duration and cycle two and fro with a basically empty rucksack.  Last week, at least half the time, I had a full load and by Friday really felt it.  Not in aching, dead legs or anything like that, more just in being generally run down and looking forward to a lie in and a good feed on Saturday.

I have also somehow managed to miss a week the other week so there are another 82 miles to add into the total on top of last week's figures:

Total week 12 - 82 miles
Total week 14 - 102 miles

Total mileage so far - 960.5 miles

Should hopefully top the 1,000 mile mark this week! 

A brief update

I'm away on a course with work at the moment. Stuck on my own in a hotel for the week with no car. So to make sure I have something to do, I've brought my Dahon and looked up all of the national cycle routes in the area. There's much fun to be had and more to follow...

Here's the Dahon, curled up like a loyal hound, in the corner of my hotel room

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

An impromptu adventure

Since borrowing the Sustrans National Cycle Route book from the library the other week, I've been itching to explore some of the routes around where I live.  One of the routes I've been thinking about riding goes from the town before my usual railway station on the way home, along a canal towpath for a few miles before picking up the route of a disused railway line.  Eventually it ends up back on my usual commuting route for the last few miles home.

Well this afternoon I'd had enough of work and desperately needed to blow out a few cobwebs.  So getting off the train a station early, I checked my route on the Sustrans App and started my iPhone cycle computer to check the overall distance ridden.

The first part of the route passed through quiet roads on a couple of housing estates. Out in the lanes near home, I've noticed very clear National Cycle Route signs - proper metal road signs - so I wondered how they would manage this in a more built up area. I needn't have worried though - using large stickers on lamp posts and similar, the route was clearly pointed out negating the need for hasty iPhone map reading!

After a mile or so, the route picked up the tow-path of a canal.  Talk about a change of scenery!  The path was really well made and fine for bikes.  Even given the heavy rain we've had recently there were very few puddles so it was top-gear flat out for the most part.  I really enjoyed the varied bankside scenery along this part of the route.  From open fields to allotments, a boat repair yard and more built-up areas.  I rode the few miles of towpath with a big grin, greeting all and sundry with a smile and even giving the odd shout or whistle under bridges like a ten year-old.  Brilliant!

I've had worse commutes to be honest...
...and busier ones too!

Eventually the signs led from the towpath to what the map shows as a disused railway line.  I was expecting wide, well surfaced loveliness but in truth it was narrow and pretty rough in parts.  As a walking path it would be great (there are signs for walkers too) and a lot of fun could be had there on a mountain bike.  As it was I had to tiptoe through the roughest bits and take care not to lose the bike on the slippier parts.

There were no mountains to climb but a few "streams" to ford
(OK puddles) and this bugger was deep!
This bit was narrower than it looks - really overgrown
and slippery, but mercifully short.
Eventually the path widened into this :-)

However, glad as I was when eventually the path joined the tarmaced lanes again, I enjoyed the whole ride rather a lot.  As cobweb blowing activities go, it was a good one!  Bizarrely though, I found that my bike felt a bit weird once back on the road.  Stopping to check things over revealed that my seat-post had slipped down into the frame an inch or two (making me glad for the umpteenth time that I have a marker pen line showing where it needs to be set.)  A quick readjust and tighten of the quick release sorted it and I was on my way.

At this point, my wife sent a text saying she had to pick up our eldest from school.  So rather than cycle home I decided to make a detour to go and meet them.  It shortened my ride by a mile or two but I was pretty tired and didn't mind too much.  I ended up having done 10.7 miles which would probably have been 13 or so if I'd gone all the way home.  No big deal really.

So, all in all a lovely ride back.  Probably a bit much to do regularly as the rougher, muddier bits slowed me down quite a bit, but as a change from the norm, just what the doctor ordered. :-)

Monday, 11 June 2012

The scores so far (and other rambling)

We're having a bit of a wet spell round here at the moment and it really doesn't feel much like Summer.  Last Thursday, I took a look at the weather in the morning and judged the liklihood of rain to be minimal and so didn't bother looking around for my waterproof.  Wrong.  I got rained on most of the way there and all of the way back.  I've observed as much before but once you're out in it, rain isn't as bad as it looks to be from inside a house or car.  I think we've grown used to the fact that rain is something to avoid as we cower hastily from house or office to car. 
 In my martial arts days I read a book called the "Hagakure" which was penned centuries ago by some samurai or other.  It's intended as a bit of manual for samurai living and is full of nice little snippets of wisdom.  Some are not immediately useful, for instance the one about taking boys to the execution grounds to practice beheading condemned criminals, but others still stand true.  Once that I always remember on a wet day goes something like:

"When it's raining, you can either walk cowering from it or walk tall.  You'll get wet just the same and this thinking applies to all things." 

I paraphrase but it's true enough and that sense of relaxed acceptance of things you can't change does make for a less stressful life.  When I can remember to, that is!

In other news, I notice via Facebook and Twitter that the IG Markets London Nocturne race was won by a guy in a Dahon.  There's a link and photos here:

And blimey - what a Dahon!  Just have a look at the photos.  I like that a lot and have almost started wanting one more than a Vector X27!  I noticed via a tweet from NYCE wheels in the US that theVector X27 is now available after quite a long wait.  Hopefully they'll be releasing it in the UK intime for my next cycle0scheme purchase.  I'm sure a bike like that would shave ages off my commuting time because obviously it's all down to the bike and not the guy riding it...

So the scores so far for my Dahon Vitesses D3HG and I are:

Week 12 – 18 miles

Total to date – 776.5 miles

A really short cycling week (bank holidays etc.) but rendered even shorter by the fact that I used the family car on Friday.  The weather was truly awful (howling gales) and my wife didn't need it.  She offered and, after a short internal battle, I sucumbed.  The thing is, I think that going most places by bike has affected my spacial awareness.  The phot below shows why I should not have driven on Friday and why I must take greater care parking next to small brick walls in future.

Ouch!!! :-(

Thursday, 7 June 2012

The health benefits

There's no doubt about it, by the end of 2011, I'd become decidedly porky!

I used to keep myself in pretty good shape through regular martial arts training and irregular running. Just for reference, that's irregular as in frequency and not a "Ministry of Silly Walks" technique...

A change to my job in 2010 saw me working away a fair bit and putting in extra hours which meant that a lot of my training went by the wayside. Add to that the nights out and drinking while away and it's little wonder I began to get out if shape.

So, a large part of wanting to cycle as part of my commute had to do with getting some regular exercise and losing a little weight. Unfortunately, I knew that I'd piled on the pounds and developed a consequent fear of the bathroom scales so I have no idea how heavy I was when I began.

It really didn't take long before cycling daily started to yield some positive physical results. Although overweight, I was reasonably fit to start with and so being badly out of breath has never been an issue. My leg muscles were another matter though. There are a few hilly points on my regular route that had my thigh muscles screaming in the early days. I spent days walking round with decidedly achy legs too, especially after climbing a set of stairs. That stage didn't last long though and I was soon able to whizz up hills that used to have my legs bursting.

I've lost a fair bit of weight too. I know I have no idea what my starting weight was but I have several items of clothing, especially trousers, which now fit much more comfortably than they used to. Standing side on to a mirror no longer shows a t-shirt held out from my jeans by a burgeoning waistline. It feels good!

A bit of a Google found some useful online calorie calculators. By putting in your gender, weight and exercise, it tells you how many calories per hour you've burned. I put my figures in to find I am burning a staggering 600 calories per hour! Add to that the fact that, in total, I'm often on the bike for a couple of hours each day and that's 1200 calories on top of the usual a person needs to stay healthy. No wonder I sometimes feel tired on the home stretch! Furthermore as weight is a factor in the equation, even though I'm losing a bit of bodyfat, my rucksack sees to it that my exercise rate is still that bit higher on heavy-load days.

Bitter experience has taught me several times that if I was working at that rate but running rather than cycling, I would have been injured to the point of packing it in by now. On a bike I'm able to bang in the miles, burn off the calories, get slimmer, fitter and spend much less on petrol. A win all round I'd say.

It seems that the challenge is getting enough of the right kind of calories to fuel my journeys without weighing a ton. However, that's another topic for another day.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Car free?

Well the extended bank holiday for the Queen's 60th Jubilee is almost over. In actual fact, most folk will have gone back to work today but I've taken an extra day's holiday to stretch things out a bit. So here I am chilling at home and lamenting my imminent return to life as a Project Manager in the morning. At least it will only be a two-day working week.

It has also been a fairly cycling-free bank holiday as well. Not for any particular reason, only that the things we did as a family didn't lend themselves to going by bike. I did manage a short jaunt to our local town with my smallest offspring in tow in order to take a parcel to the post office and pick up a couple of bits from the supermarket. Once again, my wife's be-basketed hybrid and the trail gator link acquitted themselves marvellously. In total, only about three miles were covered but didn't take long and it is great to be able to use a bike where once we'd have instinctively jumped in the car. I once went to an industry event on electric vehicles where one of the presenters showed an interesting graph. According to their stats, around 90% of car journeys made are less than five miles in length. Now they were advocating battery-powered electric vehicles as the alternative but five miles is also a really short distance to cycle. Cars are just so easy to jump into though!

There is a point to this ramble - I'll come to it now. For the last eight years we've been a two car family and before that I used a motorbike to get around leaving the car for my wife and the kids. Most journeys we've made for over fifteen years were therefore petrol-fuelled if not by car.

Over the bank holiday weekend, both the road tax and annual MOT certificate expired on our second car. It's been used more or less exclusively as my commuting run around for three years but has 175,000 miles on it and an ever lengthening list of maintenance jobs to do. Since buying my Dahon and cycle-commuting, I have hardly used it. Some weeks ago I decided to do without it but now, legally I have to. When I get round to it, I'll sell the old girl but even so, now we are, technically at least, a single-car family.

By modern social standards, this probably sees us slide down some scale of wealth or another. Plainly ridiculous as I'm spending far less on travel than I did with a second car and so logically should have more cash in my pocket.

Anyway, I'm sure it'll be an interesting experiment and a rich vein of blog material to mine.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

National cycle network

When I was out last week, I noticed that some of the lanes I was riding were part of one of our national cycle routes. I'd heard a bit about about them from cycling friends but knew very little really.

Looking into this a little more revealed that we actually have a huge number of these cycle routes which combine genuine traffic free routes (disused railway lines, byways and so on), quiet lanes and cycle paths next to larger roads. They are set up and managed by a body called Sustrans.

So yesterday in the library, I was delighted to find a book by by Sustrans entitled "Cycling in the UK" which shows, region by region, the cycle paths (including whether they are on road or traffic free) with more detailed review of a select few. It also lists some longer routes, points of interest, places to stop and eat etc. It's a really nice book to read, the information is easy to interpret and it's in large scale full colour too.

It really has me fired up for another day out now. There's a route I'm keen on that would involve a train ride out followed by a forty mile ride home including about sixteen miles on a totally traffic free path! Wonderful - and just the stuff folding bikes were made for!

Sustrans also have an iPhone app (free to download) showing all of the cycle paths on maps which are zoomable to a high level of detail. It uses the iPhone's GPS technology to locate you and show paths near to where you are.

Part of the fun of adventure is in the planning for sure, but now I can't wait for a warm dry day to take the Dahon out on some new roads.

Bring it on!

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Running on empty

My journey home from work yesterday was very weird.

I had been expecting to have to lug everything (laptop, shoes etc.) home over the weekend but it turns out that they want me back in the same office after the Bank Holiday and so I left all of the heavy stuff there. So, buoyed by the happiness that only a Friday afternoon before five days off work can bring, I fairly zoomed out of work on my bike.

The few miles to the railway station passed really easily and I noticed the lack of weight in my rucksack. Everything felt so smooth and easy and I whizzed along wearing a big grin and maybe even singing. On the final stretch home though l, things changed markedly. On a clear day, with light luggage and minimal wind, I found myself crawling in first gear up hills that that I almost top-out in third on a good day. I wasn't out of breath and my legs weren't burning with lactic acid or anything like that. I just had no power left in my muscles at all. Nothing. It was basically as though I'd run out of fuel.

This thought was compounded by the fact that the last two miles of the journey were spent fantasising anout ever more calorific foodstuffs. I started off very sensibly by imagining spooning down a huge bowl of muesli with fruit, honey and yoghurt but it wasn't long before I was mentally tucking into a Big Mac meal, large fries, full-fat coke, the works.

I made it home eventually, breaking no records on the way, and hit the kitchen like a swarm of locusts! After a couple of jam sandwiches (quick to make) and a large helping of pasta bake, I felt a lot better.

What's interesting though is it seems that when I'm low on fuel, far from craving the instant but short-lived high of sugary sweets or drinks, it's fatty calories and salt that my body wants. The only other time I've really felt like that was when I finished the Great North Run half-marathon a few years back. No Lucozade sports recovery drinks at the finish for me - I headed, almost zombie-like straight for the burger van and felt brilliant immediately afterwards.

As a learning point, I should probably carry some reserve food with me. I've tried those sports gel things before and frankly they're manky but I reckon a handful of wine gums would have seen me home in better shape. I'll stick a packet in my rucksack for emergency use I think.

I'll just have try not to scoff them when I get peckish at the office.

Friday, 1 June 2012

The things you see when you're out and about

I'm quite a country boy at heart and am very happy with my own company. However, I've also always loved being in towns being around people and "people watching". I'm just nosey I suppose.

Now that I cycle and use the train I see more of people than I ever did when driving to work. And I really do see all sorts! Like, for instance:
  • The guy in funky clothes who always drinks a can of cider on the train home
  • The young chap who clearly works in an office job but spends his commute drawing busty graphic novel heroines on a Mac Book
  • The Chinese computer programmer who just about stops tapping code into a laptop to get on and off train
  • The man this morning (who usually wears fairly dull office dress) splendidly attired in a cream linen suit and straw hat
  • The girl with a peroxide beehive and fake tan the colour of mahogany
  • The man with pink, patent leather shoes
  • The elderly Indian lady meditating on a small patch of grass next to a subway
  • The guy in a pinstriped suit and carrying a briefcase and umbrella but wearing those split-toed ninja shoes
  • And many trainspotters

I love the variety and the stories each person looks like they have to tell. It makes you realise just what a vibrant place the world is and that you don't need to travel to far flung places to meet interesting and unusual people.

Of course, as they say, when you point a finger at someone there are three pointing back at you. So when my fellow commuters look at me what do they see?

Well, a guy in shorts and sometimes geeky glasses who rides a shopping bike and reads the Bible on his iPhone. So nothing out of the ordinary at all then...

Variety - the spice of life. It would be dull indeed if we were all the same.