30 November 2007

Zen and the arse of bicycle maintenance

I hope those who took part in today's 'Critical Commute' had a great time. I couldn't join, and the reason was simple: through lack of maintenance and pure neglect, I have worn my tyres out (particularly the rear one) and yesterday I seem to have reached tipping point - got not one but two punctures.

The first one got me on the way in, as I neared Manchester Cathedral. I changed the tube as quick as I could and very carefully went over the tyre, inside and out, looking for bits of glass, nails and such like. It was then I realised that my tyre, which looks perky on the sides, is actually far more worn out than I expected. In fact, it is a miracle it hasn't been getting punctures more often!. There are lots of cracks and cuts and bits of glass embedded into the rubber - I took as many out as I could with my little knife.

In the evening I got to Chetham Hill (ah, my favourite neighbourhood) before I noticed something was amiss. Yes, another puncture. I had another new inner tube but was loth to put it only to see it punctured by some embedded piece of glass I'd failed to detect (in daylight - what chance in the dark?).

I contacted 'Solis HQ' to see if a rescue mission could be mounted, but sadly, 'Support Team' was busy feeding the troops, so I had to examine other options. I could leave the bike chained against a post, take the bus home then come collect it. Too risky, I thought, so I opted for the 'pump and ride' option. It took me six stops to reach home, and twice as much time as it normally would.

So, new tyres are 'go'. I intend to give the bike a wash (turning it over made me realise how filthy it's got!) and, as we are at it, take it for a full service, ready for the winter.
And maybe then I won't miss the January Critical Commute - don't hold your breath though.

22 November 2007

Charity begins at home...

Charity begins at home...
Look not the straw in your neighbours eye...
Pot calling the kettle black...

How can cyclists in all forums, discussion lists and blogs I see rant on and on about motorists and pedestrians, while hardly ever mentioning those other cyclists who routinely jump red lights or show crass inconsiderate behaviour towards everybody else - including other cyclists?

Yesterday, in heavy traffic going along Deansgate, in the rain, when pedestrians are at their most distracted, buriend under their umbrellas, a chap cycled between me and the kerb, at full speed in so narrow a space that he actually brushed against my rainmac - any movement from me and we would both have ended on the tarmac. Then he proceeded at the same speed, jumping on and off the pavement, through the red light (Deansgate and John Dalton St).

He was perhaps the worst I've seen for a while, but not the only one by any means. Within a minute there was another chap, who also went through the red light. I don't mean he cautiously slowed down and seeing the road clear slowly pressed on. I mean someone who just went through the light without any perceptible slowing down. I'm not too worried about him hitting a car - he'd come worse off and would only have himself to blame. I'm talking about the fact that this is a busy pedestrian crossing, at peak time, when people are rushing to work.

The last Friday of last month I left work late and, due to an errand, had to go past the central library in St Peter's Sq. Then I realised there was a whole bunch of -mostly young- cyclists. 'Ah' - it clicked - 'critical mass'. Naively, I expected, if not a cheer from the group, some sort of mutual respect between comrades-at-arms, despite the age gap. Instead, despite my carrying more flashing lights than a blooming Xmas tree, I got some of these people carelessly stroll on my path, then stare at me rudely as if they were about to swear.

I work in the city centre and incidents like the ones described above are all too common - going counterflow is just par for the course. Yes, some of these are hooded youths in black tracksuits, or Chinese students or Polish workmen in their building-site gear. But not all, not by any means. Many are fully kitted, 'proper' cyclists (OK, some wear black skateboarding helmets) with reflective gear, lights and the works.

Does this matter? Yes it does - how can anyone hope to promote cycling if our image is dictated by people who show little consideration to others, hold other road users in contempt or disregard for the rules of the road? Yes, the highway code isn't perfect and we all know how close the latest edition was to including nonsense about the use of so-called cycle lanes. But elementary things like traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and the flow of traffic need to be respected.

17 November 2007

Change for the worse...

The junction of Cheetham Hill Rd and Trinity Way has just become a lot more difficult for cyclists travelling north on Cheetham Hill Rd. They have built a traffic island where before there were just markings on the road. In the past, it was easy for me to change lane by simply positioning myself in the queue of traffic turning left into Trinity Way, then just 'cheat' by carrying on north on Cheetham Hill Rd.

Now I can't do that. I have to position myself on the lane going straight on, much earlier and in greater traffic. This has coincided with the end of British Summer Time - so it has to be done in the dark (mind you, with more lights than a Xmas tree I wonder if I'm not more visible now than in daylight).

My point is that, once again, changes on road layout have been introduced with not a thought for the needs of cyclists. Now I'm forced to often ride in between queues of slow moving traffic, including many heavy-goods vehicles. Or I have to dismount and use the pedestrian crossing.

13 November 2007


Time spent in Beirut: 72 hours. Bicycles spotted: 4 - yes, total. Here, cycling is not a sport but the resort of the deserving poor - those who through hard work have managed to rustle up a mountain bike to go to their jobs as cleaners or security guards.

The traffic does not really lend itself to cycling. Or walking, for the matter. Or indeed driving - it is that kind of traffic that knows no rules and owes no consideration to anyone. But there again, among the plush office blocks and apartments there is the odd civil-war block of flats, still standing, in some cases still inhabitted, riddled with bullet holes and sorrounded - like in Manchester not too many years ago - by a bomb-site, an open-air car park where once a building of some sort stood.