18 December 2009


Yes, snow fell overnight and made the journey in the morning "interesting". It's fine on the main roads, generally - although I noticed many stretches where the cycle path had been carefully avoided by the gritters - so on to the main carriageway, positioning and good observation the name of the game.

The main problem is the mile between home and the main road - here the gritters didn't make it, so the snow stays, freezes up and becomes slippy. I go slow, on a low gear. If going downhill, I walk - bikes are not good at stopping on ice. The late Sheldon Brown is spot on in his advice: front brake is best on dry surfaces, but on slippery ones you have to use the rear one. Since this one takes longer to stop the bike anyway (ie even on dry surfaces), the conclusion I reach is that you have to really slow down on ice. Really. Call me Sherlock.

15 December 2009

Jack Frost

What a beautiful morning the last couple have been. Cold, but dry - no ice on the roads, and very little wind. Less and less traffic too, as we near Xmas. No complaints. May it long continue!

06 December 2009

Danger! Risk! Menace!

Tell you what is dangerous these days: entrust journalists with the results of scientific research, especially if it involves emotive but little understood subjects - like climate change and, er, cycling...

Let's start from the end. I'm watching the morning news as I get ready and - oops! - the BBC is covering cycling! Surely, surely, the BBC who devote so much time and attention to climate change, subtly supporting those who care about it, will say nice things about cycling? But alas, no: they've picked up on 'scientific research' that 'proves' that cycling is more dangerous than driving.

For the sake of impartiality they interview a few random cyclists - we don't get to hear the question put to them, but the consensus amongst them seems to be - as edited - "yeah, cycling is pretty scary, what with all them cars and traffic, like". As the BBC are not just impartial but a saintly thorough lot, they need a quote from someone 'official' - cue a Sustrans volunteer, who tries to explain that the more cyclists there are the safer it is. This is true, and is what for instance CTC argue tirelessly - but he forgets to say (or the BBC remembers to edit out) that for all the perceived risk of cycling, there are huge benefits etc etc.

When the recorded report ends, it's back to studios and we have the live presenters 'completing' the picture by reading viewers emails - the usual rants about how cyclists are a damned race of road hooligans, in stark contrasts with holy drivers who never ever break the speed limit or push their way through an amber/red light. Thank you, Auntie Beeb: you've just caused a few people to abandon cycling, increasing their cardiac risk and impoverishing their lives.

The Guardian picked up the story - they are a little bit more balanced: at least their headline makes it clear where they stand, ie if cycling is more dangerous than driving then it needs to be made easier and safer for the benefit of everyone. Commendable, innit?

But hang on a minute. It is clear, when you read the Guardian article, that the research quoted seems to lump pedestrians and cyclists together in most instances. They are looking at what kind of cases arrived at A&E departments in UK hospitals.... between 1999 and 2004 (so, not exactly current,is it?). I've only had access to the abstract (I wonder if the BBC journalist who started this read much more) and in it the objective of the research is stated as "To report on seasonal variation in hospital admissions for traffic injuries to car and truck occupants, motorcyclists, cyclists, and pedestrians". It concludes that, while for car occupants seasonal variations are not significant, cyclists appear to have a harder time in winter. In passing the abstract remarks that "From April to September, there were more admissions for pedestrians and cyclists in England (44 875 in the six years of the study) than for car occupants (34 582)".

The italics are mine. In short, this is a non-story - and I can see someone, somewhere, being rattled by it, staying off their bikes and missing out on the benefits to their health, just because some stupid BBC journo (but I repeat myself) spotted a news angle in a piece of science they neither understood nor cared about. All paid by the TV licence-fee payers - us, ze pipol o'brittn.

20 November 2009

Eye of the Storm

Gale force winds today - or at least, that's what I expected. I did consider chickening out (I sort of did yesterday - had an appointment, just 'had' to drive), but I'm glad I didn't. Going into town in the morning there was a steady head wind - hard but didn't feel dangerous (it's the sudden gusts I don't like).

In the evening, I must've caught, literally, the 'eye' of the storm - it was fairly quiet almost all the way, having been windy earlier, and even windier as I write this. Thank Heavens, good luck when it comes is not to be sneezed at.

12 November 2009

Moments of joy

In my journey back home there's three 'moments of joy' - three 'checkpoints', if you like, where I feel I've achieved something.

The first one is precisely leaving the city centre - reaching the MEN Arena or thereabouts.

The second one is leaving Cheetham Hill and heading for Heaton Park - don't get me wrong, but Cheetham Hill's shopping area, buzzing it may be, but traffic-wise it is chaotic in all sorts of ways - parking is haphazard, speed limits are ignored (if traffic is moving at all!), pedestrians are notoriously careless (my Sep 2007 fall bears witness). Then you reach the crossroads with Middleton Rd and the change is stark - the same road becomes quiet and residential.

And the third one is turning into Thatched Lane in Besses O'Th'Barn - the home run begins there, and I know I'm 10' away from home.

View Three moments of joy in a larger map

In the bleak midwinter...

Well, not quite - it's a few weeks until winter 'proper', but we've had the first frosty mornings. Two weeks ago I checked and replaced batteries as my journey back home is now done after dusk. Last week I replaced shorts with long trousers and light mittens with fleecy gloves. Other people I've seen wearing hats or skull caps, so I'm not the only wimp!

It's not bad when, like this morning, it's bright out there, and dry. Other days I've got drenched, soggy shoes (must sort out better ones) being the main problem (I think by now I've got the right all-weather gear on the other departments).

Meanwhile, the city begins its Xmas preparations - the markets are being assembled, foreign vans are unloading their goods, the lights are on or soon will be. There is also that added bustle of people spending more time shopping. It's not a good time for cycling in Manchester city centre, I tell you - it is bad enough as it is, with poorly lit streets, careless pedestrians and diabolical one-way systems. But I dread Xmas time as it exacerbates all these things.

26 October 2009

Yellow leaves

Yellow leaves cover the roads now: they shine under the October early morning drizzle. Very poetic, except they accumulate on the side of the roads - if there's a cycle path, they completely cover it. Once moist with rain they are as slippery as a laundry floor after an overspill of soapy suds.

As I get to Lower Broughton a kid cycling to school with his mates proves my point the hard way - they are riding on the pavement (just as bad) and trying to climb the kerb slightly off angle ends up with him on the floor. At least he combines lower height and lower mass - sorry, but better him than me: when I fall, it hurts. He, on the other hand, bounces straight back and carries on, to my relief.

So, I ride well away from pavements and leave-covered cycle paths, and keep an eye on my speed downhill, especially if there are traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, traffic etc.

19 October 2009

Learning to ride

You can read it in books, but teaching your child to ride a bike is one of those life's experiences. Each child is different -

my 2nd one learn to ride at nursery, one day I turned up to pick him up and he was pedalling this tiny bike all on his own. My eldest didn't seem interested, but eventually learned the same way I had - you push them by the seat until they gather speed, then at some point let go.

The method involves a few falls, which is why I favour grass surfaces these days (my younger brother back in Peru wasn't so lucky; come to think of it, neither was I - it was pavement for us in them days). So I took No.3 to the park a couple of weeks ago, and gave it a go. Long overdue.

The good news is that she did get to ride on her own. We just run out of time as the weather closed in, and have not had the chance since, so next spring we'll have to try harder, for longer - so that she can reach that tipping point of self-belief that enables us all to carry on when our senses tell us we shouldn't be able to, without anyone else holding on to the back of our seat or rack.

Come to think of it, how handy reaching that tipping point would come in other spheres of life.

01 October 2009

Something I saw last week

Nothing to do with cycling - except that this is the sort of thing that tends to get missed when in a car: somewhere between Cheetham Hill and Heaton Park a bunch of orthodox Jewish kids are going to school. Out of one of their rucksacks something falls - they don't notice it and walk briskly on.

A muslim gentleman picks up the thing - a notebook or pencil case - and follows them. He catches up them at the traffic light and hands the thing over with a kindly expression. The kids look mildly bewildered.

That's it. The whole thing lasts 30", then we all move on, get on with our busy lives.

28 September 2009

Should've got on me bike

Went to the Southport Airshow yesterday. Yes, it's like admitting to liking bullfighting or Top Gear: I shouldn't, but I do. Hadn't been since 2005 - because then, getting there took hours stuck in traffic jams. But I thought this year I would be clever. Think again.

Going in took 2 hours - of which the last 4 miles took 1 hour. Getting out took 3 hours, of which getting out of the car park took 1h15min, the next 4 miles took 45' and then it was fine again.

What I should have done - what I saw others do - is cycle in. Perhaps not all the 45 miles, not with the children (yet!), but easily the last 5 miles. And who knows, one day we could do the whole hog on two wheels. In fact, I saw plenty of cycle lanes, just like in Crosby and Morecambe, so perhaps there's a 'West Lancs' cycle ride waiting for us?

22 September 2009

More cyclists out there?

At first I thought it was all down to pesky 'fair weather' cyclists - those who when the sun shines get the old bike out for a bit of exercise, then store it away at the first sign of rain.

Sorry, I'm talking about cycle parking and shower facilities where I work. In the past, most of the time I had the freedom of the building yard when it came to parking, and a choice of showers as there's one on the ground floor (open to all building occupants) and another one upstairs in my employer's offices (two in fact, since one is designated 'male' and the other 'female' but they are both individual showers, so the distinction is purely academic).

Yet recently I experienced for the first time a queue for all 3 showers - OK, a queue of 1 in each, but it meant a wait of 15'. And I notice that the yard bike racks are busy even in bad weather. So, it must be a sign that more people are cycling than before - or that the building's occupancy has risen. Or perhaps that Manchester College (one of the tennants) is using more of their space here as classrooms. I suspect is all of the above.

Now, it would be fine if it wasn't because many fellow cyclists (and this is an old bugbear of mine) tend to park their bikes in between racks, rather than mount their rides ON them. I know, these racks are not the best and they risk being 'wheel benders' but there's only so much room, yet people merrily plonk their bikes, on the ground, in between two racks. In some cases this is because they've got D-locks and that's the only way they can wrap it round both frame and at least the bike wheel. In other cases, it's just sheer laziness. In all cases, it feels inconsiderate and is a bit of a bugger for those of us who, after the school run, arrive at work that little bit later.

There is of course extra (and more secure) parking in the building's basement, but getting to it is like making it through the 36 chambers of Shaolin - three flights of stairs, four doors, a combination lock. The basement in question is the old factory loos of when this building was some sort of factory, complete with wooden panels separating white toilets against a background of green tiles. Behind so many doors, it is a very eerie place - nobody would hear you scream if you came across a ghost...

19 September 2009

The James Martin Bandwagon

Yes: me too! me too! I too have read about James Martin's silly (and now edited) little article, ostensibly about a modern electric car.

Despite the Mail editing out the description of James Martin callous offence, Mr Martin's infantile diatribe against cyclists has remained:

"God, I hate those cyclists. Every last herbal tea-drinking, Harriet Harman-voting one of them. That's one of the reasons I live in the countryside, where birds tweet, horses roam, pigs grunt and Lycra-clad buttocks are miles away. But recently, there's been a disturbing development.

Each Saturday, a big black truck appears at the bottom of my road, with bikes stuck to the roof and rear. Out of it step a bunch of City-boy ponces in fluorescent Spider-Man outfits, shades, bum bags and stupid cleated shoes, who then pedal around our narrow lanes four abreast with their private parts alarmingly apparent. Do they enjoy it? They never smile. I'm sure they just come here to wind me up.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-1211917/JAMES-MARTIN-The-Tesla-Roadster-electric-supercar-thats-fast-Ferrari.html#ixzz0Rb4qJ7Nz"

So, "we" - ie all cyclists - drink herbal tea and jump red lights as a matter of routine, while the likes of Mr Martin, surely, have never broken the speed limit in their lives and drive their cars with saintly restraint and patience?

Just like Nigel Havers before him, here's another moronic part-time journo trying to pander to their ultra-conservative (nay, bigoted) audience, by showing that they 'hate the things you hate' and that they can match their audience's ignorance (of, for instance, taxation - there is no such thing as 'road tax'!).

James Martin goes to show that a flashy car does not make you into a knob - but it helps!

14 September 2009

Missed chance

We went to the Peak District this weekend. Alas, we didn't go cycling - we thought about it, knowing that the Tissington Trail and the High Peak Trail run near Hartington Hall (where we stayed). We decided to keep it simple and spend Saturday walking instead - and Sunday visiting Chatsworth House - the ultimate haven for the terminally aspirational. We felt that packing enough bikes for everyone would be too much hassle for a Friday night, that the weather may not be so good, that renting bikes would be difficult.

Funnily enough, the weather was extremely good, and at the youth hostel we run into friends who had organised themselves and did go cycling - they carried some bikes, hired some and with a bit of planning managed to get two days of family fun on two wheels - why, they even hired a tandem bike to cater for a young lad with special needs, who thoroughly enjoyed it.

I try not to be consumed by shame when I make mistakes - we have vowed to return, properly equipped and armed with knowledge. Our friends' friends were also full of good advice on adult bike rides other than the C2C, so we had a good conversation about, for instance, Brugges to Amsterdam...

09 September 2009

Public humiliation

No speed; no style; no dignity...

I was working at home yesterday so as to be able to drop my car in the garage in the morning and collect it at the end of the day. I had planned to take a local radio cab to collect me from the garage in the morning, but they let me down - so I walked home, 30' in the rain.

By 4pm I realised I had to get the car - they close at 5pm religiously and leave your car in a dark alley overnight. Options:
- Call a taxi and risk being let down again
- Walk 30' in the rain again

Would cycling be an option? Not with a small car: how would I get the bike back home once I had the car? and then I remembered...

Three years ago I bought a cheap fold up bike. Ebay job, £30, this ain't no classic British beauty, no Brompton or such like. But could it rise to the ocassion and be the solution to my problem?
I got it out of the loft, pumped up the tyres (gone flat after 3 years). On the plus side, assembly was very quick indeed - one-two-three job with saddle post, steering and central hinge. Rear brake never worked, but at least the front one did.

So I set off - and how quickly did the bike's shortcomings become apparent! Not tall enough, my legs could not extend well. No gears - I know, I've gone soft but I do like my gears. Tiny wheels, too short a frame, it was more like riding my kids scooter propped on a stool on top of it. With my Altura hig-viz jacket, I must have looked like a circus clown - a group of youths I went past on the way told me as much (and more!).

Sorry, I took no photos.

01 September 2009

Back to school

Schools are gradually going back this week - some not until tomorrow, so roads still relatively quiet. Most of the summer roadworks that turn so many parts of the route into chaos are finished or nearly done. The routine of school time quickly reasserts itself. Once at work, a bit of fair weather had once more flooded the racks with bikes, all slotted in between racks rather than mounted properly on them - so, each bike takes the space of two or even three. Irksome, but infrequent - come the rain, two thirds of those bikes will disappear from view until the next sunny morning tempts their owners back on the saddle (and that only while summer lasts).

Not a lot to report otherwise - must clean & lubricate my bike. Must take the kids out on the bike more. Must teach my youngest to ride. Must start thinking about next year's touring ride - do the C2C for a 3rd time? Or try something else - and if so, what?

24 August 2009

My Sheffield bike

When I first came to the UK, as a student in Sheffield in 1989, getting a bike was not in my list of priorities - I had plenty on my plate with coming to grips with the language, the accents, customs, etc.

Eventually, some friends I made lent me a number of items that they knew would come in handy - first among them the TV (black and white - cheaper license!). One day they offered me a bicycle. In Sheffield, you understand, you don't think 'bike' immediately - what with all the hills to climb!. But I figured that I could always walk up the hill, but going down the hill a bike would save me time. I was right. Going from Broomhill to the railway station became much quicker (handy for early morning trains). Where before I'd have spent 45' walking, I could get there in 15'. Going back to Broomhill would take me an hour - but then, it always did.

The cycle in question was an old red Raleigh, a bit rusty in places but on the whole serviceable. There was a catch with this bike loan though: I was supposed to do my best to get it nicked, as my friends hoped that they'd claim it on the insurance and buy a swanky new stead to replace it. I have to say I signally fail to oblige. One day I went to the station and locked the bike using a D-lock I'd borrowed. A couple of days later my friend told me when I saw him "I saw the bike the other day at the station: Jay-sus man, with a lock like that you'll never get it stolen!". Another time it was Friday night and I'd parked the bike at the computer centre (remember, when all PCs where in a single building you had to go to). We all went to the pub afterwards and I "forgot" the bike. The following morning I turned up to retrieve it, hoping it'd be gone. It wasn't. Moreover, as I unlocked the flimsy padlock (I'd learnt my lesson) an old copper on the beat approached. "Young man - he said - if you leave your bike like this you'll have it stolen" he warned me sternly. If only........

02 August 2009

Trailer bike part II: freedom of the city

In the end, the solution was ready at hand: I managed to sort out the trailer bike - used a piece of plastic packing from an old D-lock holder and with some hammering it went snuggly around my seatpost. I tightened it well and presto! the trailer bike was up and running.

And what for? To take part in the Manchester Skyride. I'm no fan of big media, but this was a good event - it certainly was perfect for the family. We all enjoyed the city being turned over to us - roads closed, cars made to wait at traffic lights by diligent stewards. We enjoyed doing a lap round the impresive velodrome, and having a picnic in the good weather (Rupert Murdoch's influence obviously is far-reaching. I liked the free high-viz vests - the way in which they created a sense of shared purpose among the many participants. I liked the oddballs - the relatively few whose rides were unusual - unicycles, Danish-style utility trikes, chopper cycles glittering in the sun, a modern version of the penny farthing, and a telescopic bicycle with a frame that puts the rider six feet above the ground.

30 July 2009

Do you know anything about trailer bikes...?

I have a kid's trailer bike - or is the right term a 'tag-along'?. You know: a bike's rear-half, with wheel, seat, pedals, chain and a fixed handle-bar to hold on to. We got it from friends and I've used it once. The hitch is... well, it is the 'hitch' - the attachment that secures the tag-along to my bike's seatpost. It is too wide for my seatpost, I suspect because it was meant to come with some sort of plastic packing that got lost along the way.

I tried to pack it with bits of my old rubber inner tubes, and it seemed to work... but alas, only when going in a straight line. Any bends would cause the hitch to shift to the side, and because of the way it articulates with the tag-along, the more the hitch was out of aligment with my bike, the more the tag-along tilted. This happened, luckily, away from traffic one day I took my kids to Tatton Park (yes, I drove there - spare me the sermon).

My eldest gave me a shout at some point, for I had no idea there was any problem. My poor youngest was holding on precariously, the tag-along tilted at an angle behind me. Another bend and she'd ended up on the ground. Not something a 4-year old is likely to forget (or forgive) in a hurry.

Last summer we gave family cycling a miss - it was, if you'll remember, such a washout, and what with the two weeks in Spain (rented car for 1 week) etc. So, yesterday I naively went round a couple of shops with the 'hitch' in my hand, looking for alternatives to fit my bike. It is not, I fear, as simple as that. "Make and model of the tag-along?" No idea - it's a rusty old thing we got from friends. "Ah, well, there are different attachments depending on the manufacturer". And as for a new tag-along, they are, in my view, too expensive for what they are - half-bikes which won't carry heavy loads and for not very long.

The answer is probably to grasp the nettle and teach the little one to ride - off with the stabilisers!

23 July 2009


Blue little van, unmarked, driven by youngster in blue sweatshirt. Plonked on the cyclists green 'start line' at the junction of Princess and Portland St. I often use the red light time to shift to the right hand lane, so I can more easily turn when I get to Whitworth St (the next set of traffic lights) - at that point the right lane is 'right turn' only, and normally there's too much traffic for me to shift from left to right just by sticking my right arm and being 'assertive'.

Most motorists don't mind - I can see some feel I'm going to 'delay' them or that somehow I shouldn't be there, but on the left and out of sight. But once they overtake me (on my left - there's plenty of room) that is the end of it.

Not today. Today the chap in the van was of the redneck persuasion - territorial and with a big, big chip on his shoulder. How dare I get in front of him? It took him but a second to overtake me, but not without looking at me and shouting abuse like I had just taken his lolly. Poor baby.

20 July 2009

School is out

Ah yes. The summer holidays have an effect on my cycling routine. No school means some days I have to work from home (yes, really) so I can either look after one or more of my progenie, or deliver them to 'playscheme'. It just wouldn't make sense to go all the way into Town only to head back home by 3pm. Luckily my employer (in these times I should say 'my current employer') gives me a lot of flexibility in that respect.
So, today I said 'sod it' and went for a 40' ride after dropping the kids - so what if I start work 40' later? It's still 10am - my normal 'start work' time on Mondays and Tuesdays. I cycled to the end of Heaton Park and back. Just enough to give me a bit of a workout and keep my joints from rusting as they so quickly do nowadays.
The other thing about the summer holidays is that there is less traffic - but is it just me, or this year not as many people have bolted abroad as soon as the whistle went? I feel that, say, two years ago, Manchester on the Monday after the end of the school term was more like a ghost town. Now, while the usual mad race for the school gates is off, the roads were far from quiet. Yes, I did see quite a few cars with rooftop boxes, so perhaps it is next week I'll notice the difference, once all those Mancunians who have opted for UK seaside holidays this year have gone.

09 July 2009

Shedding a load...

For four years I have always carried a rucksack on my back when cycling to and from work. I did it because I wanted somewhere to put my valuables (now you know!) - my Peruvian instinct telling me that a pannier is all very well but it could possibly be nicked at the traffic lights or something. Sometimes the rucksack came in handy for extra loads, esp. in the winter, but more often than not it just filled up with stuff because it was there - the trully essential items didn't amount to that much.

But with the recent hot weather, I decided it was time to try something different. Why not load more in the pannier (those pieces of paper from work, my lunch, etc) and keep the valuables in a 'bumbag'?

After a week, I'm wondering what took me so long - how much unnecessary sweat my back has produced, for lack of ventilation.

I'll still carry the rucksack for longer rides, to carry my hydration bag (or perhaps I'll get myself one of those nifty little packs with a lower footprint). It may be that in the winter I come to need the extra room if I have to carry, say, a jacket or coat to work. But on any other weather I can't see myself going back to the old rucksack.

07 July 2009

Poetry in motion

Many an unsung poet the English language has! Take for instance the anonymous bod who penned the following verses:

Bollards in motion!"

A veritable urban haiku! In this case, a safety announcement used in various Manchester city centre locations to warn motorists about the moving, sensor-activated telescopic bollards that open restricted roads to buses only, and on which distracted or stupid drivers have been known to end up.

Of course, they are no obstacle to us cyclists - unlike pedestrians who mistake the absence of motorised traffic as a license to roam the road at their leisure and completely disregard us.

26 June 2009

Huffing and puffing

Leave the bike for three and a half weeks, and you'll feel the fall in fitness when you get back on the saddle. To be fair, I'm looking after my knees too - happy that they are not hurting anymore, but weary the problem may flare up again if I give them too hard a time - so I'm not.

Patience, I think, holds the key to a full recovery. I'll take a couple more weeks easy, then start increasing the pace, then try longer rides, little by little, so that by the end of the year I feel ready to plan the next C2C. The peace of the moors, even in the thick rain and cold wind, beckons.

17 June 2009

The Angel of the North

Her smile was pure, 100% British: honest, sincere and untouched by modern dentistry. She was young, but clearly a seasoned road cyclist - nothing about her had that air of 'new' that many other cyclists (especially, dare I say, female ones) have - the little rucksack, the lycra clothing, the bike itself all had the weathered look of things that have seen hundreds of miles.

All this I observed in a fraction of a second, as she overtook me on the way back home, just at the north end of Heaton Park. I was huffing and puffing with effort, trying to keep my blooming knees in their comfort zone, while she just seem to effortlessly glide past me.

By the time I reached the M60 I'd lost all sight of her.

15 June 2009

4 years later, part II

It seems as if I've broken the back of my knee trouble, at least for now: I've cycled to work and back, twice, and I feel fine (a bit of a tingle down at the knees, but nothing too bad).
I took it easy, mind - keeping the gears low and trying to be extra patient on the up-hills, even if to the passer-by I must look a bit ridiculous, pedalling fast while moving slowly. I imagine that's the way it's going to have to be, at least for now.

So, four years (and a day) since I started cycling, I'm still at it. To think that for the first year I pedalled on the higher seven gears - is it any wonder my knees give me trouble now?. Like then, this week the weather has been rather good in Manchester. Like then, work laid out a free breakfast for Bike Week (though it was a full English back then, now it can only extend to a bagel!).

13 June 2009

Baby steps, 4 years later...

Yesterday I got on my bike for the first time since I did the C2C, over 3 weeks ago. It was only to do 400yds, but it was a start. Today I was even more ambitious: 30' of cycling pleasure, to test my knee joint before I resume normal service.

The good news is the pain I felt before didn't oome back. But there is a bit of a tingle, in the wrong kind of way, there. So, I'll have to take it easy.

Meanwhile, tomrrow Sunday 14 June 09, I will celebrate 4 years since I started cycling again - my best decision in years.

05 June 2009

Knee trouble

Went to the doctor last Weds. Since doing the C2C, over 2 weeks ago, my knees have been bothering me, particularly the right one. Plus, I'm a hypochondriac and reading up about knee trouble in cycling websites may have worsened my condition (?).

Doctor says I shouldn't worry - a condescending smile as I explained I did the C2C with not much more training than my commute to work (from zero to heroe...?). It must be a sprained ligament, keep rubbing ibuprofen gel in, and take another week. So, back on the saddle next Weds, and then gently - build it up etc.

On another tack, yesterday I saw a cyclist and a pedestrian collide at the junction of Whitworth St. and Princess St. Or rather, I saw them get up - they were reasonably civil to each other. I don't know whose fault it was, but the pedestrian looked apologetic (and very shortsighted).

21 May 2009

C2C 2009

We did it. In a larger group, against a contrary wind, but we did it.

I'm not going to bore you with too many details - the route was a variation on last year. After overnighting in Penrith (for the sake of accommodation for 15 of us!) we were driven to Workington, where we started from this year. Then we rode through Cockermouth and on to Keswick (brief stop) and then for lunch to Threlkeld - a long story... here goes: some of us wanted to watch the Man Utd - Arsenal game. Yep, that one that ended 0-0 (hindsight is a wonderful thing). Mate Ian had googled the Keswick area for a pub that would show the match. He came across The Sanitation (or sumffin like'aat). When we turned up.... there had been a big mistake. Yes, the Sanitation had Setanta... but the match was on Sky Sports (the girl Ian spoke to was either thick, devious or just didn't give a monkeys).

The group at that point split into three - the fitter ones who had arrived to the pub in time for the game and decided to stay anyway; the three at the rear who were in still Keswick when the van got to Threlkeld, and managed to find a pub there that did show the match; and Ian and I who decided not to grace the offending pub with our custom, but to press on to Greystoke for a coffee instead (which we did). Then on to Penrith, where we all met back at the same accommodation.

The second day was the big one. This year we had decided, based on Ian and my advice (from last year's experience) to end not in Rookhope, but 7 miles further, at Parkhead Station. Don't get me wrong - Parkhead Station is an absolutely fine place to stay and I'll happily recommend it to anyone, and we did want to make the last day an all-downhill one, a rest, end on a high note etc. But we hadn't counted on the wind blowing from the East, a strong wind at that. The first day this had affected us a little - on the second day it made going downhill hard work, and going uphill (which you do, a lot) gruelling. The morning was fine otherwise, sunny and reasonably warm, but as we got to Hartside Top Cafe the weather began to turn. Suffice to say, hours later, as we stopped for a life-saving coffee at the Rookhope Inn (where Ian and I had stayed last year) I was cursing myself for having added 7 miles to the second day. It was 6.30pm and the weather was trully foul. We got to Parkhead Station at 8.15pm, wet, cold and shattered after 90' on the open moor under icy rain with bits of sleet thrown in for good measure.

The 3rd and final day should have been a breeze, but my knees were aching after day 2 - the right one seriously so. I limped to Sunderland at the rear of the group. It was a delight to get to the end, but I've not been able to cycle since (it's been a week now) and my right knee still hurts a bit. Watch this space.

Lessons? Larger groups are tricky to manage - navigation can be a challenge, as it is impossible to avoid becoming separated. Training pays off (I didn't do enough). Having bike serviced pays off (well, it cost me a bob or two, but it was worth it as the gears worked a treat).

Will I do it again? Yes, I hope I will - or perhaps a different route (Brugges to Amsterdam has been mentioned - all flat and more time for beer!).

15 May 2009

London calling...

Compared to Manchester, cycling in London is thriving - there's more of them, a wider variety of shapes and sizes and styles, from the Hell's Angel, nazi-helmet character to the genteel, continental style high-heeled lady - and of course, the lycra brigade in its various sub-species (incl. mine) are well represented.

That said, the experience of cycling in central London cannot be pleasant. The traffic, the pedestrians, the tourists, other cyclists, it all seems to me bound to make the ride that little bit less enjoyable. And the things I see some cyclists do - this chap, for instance, at high speed between the two slow moving rows of cars, then a sharp bank to the right and then counter-bank to the left to zig-zag around a double-decker - either consumate skill or tremendous folly. A pedestrian stepping in the way at the wrong moment or a car door opening, and it could all end in tears so easily.

Sometimes I toy with the idea of cycling in London - ie if I have to go to Head Office as I sometimes do, to take my bike in the train and then go from Euston by bike, then back to Euston etc. Or perhaps I could dust off the little, primitive foldable I bought nearly three years ago.

11 May 2009

Arse of bike maintenance III: I never learn...

"This is my father's hammer. The head was replaced once, and the handle six times"

Old chinese proverb (or was it Polish? Australian? Who cares!)

When I first bought my bike, back in July 2006, I knew very little about bicycle maintenance. Strewth! It's not something I'd ever bothered with as a child - much as I spent idyllic summers on the saddle, worn chains and shot bearings were not an issue you worried about. Thirty years and 80Kg later, I know more but do almost as much - very little.

By the time I started practising to do the C2C for the first time, in early 2008, my gears were slipping so badly I had to be careful to start any pedalling very slowly. Needless to say, I paid for my lack of care, in cash - the good people of the Bicycle Boutique restored my bike for almost the amount of money I paid for it in the first place! Add kevlar tyres (bought from Prestwich's "Bike Factory Shop" - where I got my Tourismo from) and I'd invested quite a bit on the old thing.

Come last October, I had to do it all again - well, almost. New chain etc. To be honest, my bike worked a treat after this. But how many times did I clean and lubricate my bike between late October and now? Twice. And by 'lubricating' I mean only the chain - greasing hubs and stuff like that are simply beyond my poor skills.

So, should I be surprised when, having taking the bike to the Bicycle Boutique again, the bill came to an eye-watering £99? I guess not. I was shown the chain and cogs - which I myself never inspect, precisely so as not to be burdened by guilt - and they were visibly worn.

Special mention should go to the pedals, which I'd had since October 2006 and which I never ever lubricated - they had more play in them than my car's gear stick. I did consider not having the work done until after the C2C ride - after all, this is the bike I've been riding to work and back, 14 miles at least 3 times a week. Why would it break just because I'm cycling 150 miles in a weekend, including steady climbs over the Pennines? Why indeed... so on reflection I chose to have the work done - and enjoy the ride.

Bicycle Boutique were as good as before - I did have to remind them to transfer my recently acquired toe-clips to the new pedals! But they are true cyclists' cyclists and know far more about bikes than I do - plus they are in the right place for me, and I still think they offer value for money.

28 April 2009

Close Encounters and Near Misses

I was cycling home along Bury Old Rd, just before crossing the M60.  I know, one should always be at max. alert, ready for anything, etc.  But the mind drifts after 45min.  Suddently, I felt something to my right - not 'heard', felt, for my bike had been 'touched', only slightly. t was another cyclist.  A lycra-man, nice racing bike, shades, no luggage other than a bottle of orange stuff, clad in white-red-n-blue like blooming Chris Hoy.  

A black van was next to him.  I figure he'd been overtaking me, the man in the black van had decided to overtake both of us, and the road had decided to narrow just at that moment.  How very inconvenient.  I did the only thing I could, which was to stay the course in as straight a line as I was able.  The van gave a bit more room, and lycra-man raced ahead, swearing loudly and waving a fist at the van.   The the van sped away, and I continued my way home, shaken - not stirred.

20 April 2009

Heating, uniforms and the return of...

In many countries of Eastern Europe, the 'central' in central heating means central government: heating comes on at a certain date late in the year (when cold weather is expected to kick in) and is turned off when Spring arrives. I once spent a few days in Skopje in early March (OK, it was 10 years ago) and because it was unusually warm at 16c, I had to sleep with the windows open to counter the effect of a huge radiator in full blast.

In Lima (Peru) the Police used to have a very rigid distinction between 'winter' uniform (a green jacket over a khaki shirt) and 'summer' uniform (just the shirt, no jacket). The changeover took place at a certain time of the year - usually, they'd end up enduring the odd day of hot weather in their winter attire, or shivering in Lima's persistent winter drizzle in short sleeves.

And what does all this have to do with cycling? Well, not a lot - I was just thinking that, luckily, I'm not bound by rigid rules like those, so I'm responding to the good weather... and the shorts are back!. It's a highlight of my cycling year, just like when I have to switch the lights on to go home in October.

Also, only four weeks to the Coast to Coast...

17 April 2009

The lady again

As I've said in a previous post, often on my ride bike home I come across this seemingly continental lady cycling the other way - into town. Well dressed in civy clothes (in winter these include leather boots and quilted coat), her bike very much a 'town' one, built for comfort (though I did notice a change from the original one - and hoped it wasn't due to theft). And no helmet - just like in the continent, some may say.

Worringly though, yesterday I saw her again, but this time... wearing a helmet. I sincerely hope this has not come about due to an accident or mishap, or that at any rate it was a near miss and no actual harm came to her. I can't imagine, though, that she's shifted to wearing a helmet out of a desire to keep up with UK fashion. I suspect that, like the rest of us, lack of safety (perceived or real) has led her to adopt this (perceived or real) safety measure.

Quosque tandem, Catilina...

12 April 2009

Collecting bikes...

It's Easter. Time to visit family - and collect a couple of bikes for my children. One is a hand-me down from Big Cousin. In perfect condition, 20" frame, front suspension and complete with cycle computer, my boy has been looking forward to getting it for weeks. He's very pleased with it - his first 'real' bike, one could say - a full size bike, almost too heavy for him to hold, but he'll grow into it.

The other bike has a more complicated history. My F-in-L's friend found it in his garden. Someone had thrown it over the fence. I reckon it's a 22" frame - a mountain bike, with front suspension and good 'rapid fire' gears identical to the ones in my 'Tourismo 24'. Even the brakepads seems fairly new. The only hitches with it are a bit of rust in two of the cables (but another cable seems brand-new) and the rear tyre shredded to bits (yet the front tyre is in good condition). A mistery - but still, a bargain: £13 on new parts.

01 April 2009

Turning left, the friendly way

Not all drivers are nasty pillocks. Some of them are polite pillocks - like this chap yesterday, who caught up with me as I approached a junction, and hovered, signalling to turn left, until we made eye contact.

I played it safe and stopped - I waved him on, my hint of sarcasm seemingly lost on him, who smiled and gave me the thumbs up: cheers, mate!

I count myself lucky that he didn't just make the turn and run me over. But how little effort and time it would have taken for him to just get behind me - I'd have cleared the junction in no time, and he'd been on his way just as quickly.

The location? Cheetham Hill, of course. Perhaps I need to try a different route.

26 March 2009

The helmets debate

This is a written answer to a parliamentary question to the Transport secretary :

Mr. Bone: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what timetable he has set for the publication of his Department's review of the wearing of cycle helmets. [261798]
9 Mar 2009 : Column 10W
Jim Fitzpatrick: The Department has commissioned a research project looking at a range of road safety and cycling issues. This will examine the following topics:
Road user safety and cycling data;
Cycling infrastructure;
Attitudes and behaviours;
Bicycle helmets.
The project has been commissioned from a consortium led by the Transport Research Laboratory.
The contract began on 21 August 2008 and will run for 24 months. The Department expects to publish the final reports in autumn 2010.

So, there we are - watch this space and all that

25 March 2009

That fiscal year end

End of March: end of the fiscal, or financial year in the public sector. Link to cycling? All cycle lanes and road markings in Manchester city centre have had a shiny, new lick of paint. I'm sure it was planned months in advance, you understand.

18 March 2009

Half toe clips

I've just fitted a pair of half-toe clips I bought on ebay. I had had the full toe clips before, with straps n' all, but after a couple of almost-comic falls (comic to bystanders - I wasn't laughing!) I gave up. Great while touring, but not for city commuting. So far, so good with half-toe clips - they provide some of the grip while being easy to get out of.

I know some people will say 'but why not just get SPD?'. It's a matter of choice, I suppose - personally, I can't bring myself to the idea. Special shoes, for a start. And although I've seen 'dual' pedals, the whole point is that you have to wear special shoes - not for me! To cap it all, SPD cyclists always seem to prefer to hover on traffic lights - showing that clipping on and off the pedals can't be all that straightforward.

16 March 2009

Juu, Juu

A near miss - nearer than normal. On Princess St, just past the Princess Hotel, as I've cleared the set of traffic lights on Portland St, a car showed its nose on my left, ready to pounce onto Princess St when traffic was clear - which it was, except only for me...

Not for the first time, I thought that I'd made eye contact - the driver had definitely stopped and looked in my direction. Alas, she was one of those whose brain cannot fully process all the rich information her eyes convey - so, the road clear of cars she decided the coast was clear (never mind the pesky cyclist in bright reflective clothing!) and off she went - or nearly. Both my quick reaction - a stroke of the steering away from her path - and hers (she did manage to stop, just) prevented a tragedy - at my expense, it would have been.

I can't lip-read but she looked apologetic - I'd like to think she was actually saying 'sorry' and acknowledging we'd both had a lucky escape (hers from insurance complications, mine from ending with my bones in A&E).

The car in question was an acrylic green Ford Fiesta (or was it a small Focus?), last 3 letters of the number plate 'JUU'. The date was 16 Mar 09, time about 0940.

26 February 2009

That competitive spirit

You must have been there: cycling, slightly uphill, then you sense someone's behind you. Then a tranquil ride back home turns into a war of wills until:

a) You regain your distance and leave the challenger well behind

b) You react too little too late, the challenger rides past you without breaking sweat

c) You struggle for a bit, but in the end yield to the inevitable, honour preserved having fought the good fight

I'm usually into (b) or (c). Of course, it can get more complicated. More than once I've been 'chased' by newbies who, for instance, try to 'under' take, passing between the kerb and myself - they must feel 'safer' that way. Very irritating. I have in those cases tried very hard to keep ahead without getting too close to the kerb myself, until a widening on the road would enable me to let them past. Pillocks!. Usually, these newbies' speed is down to straining hard on their top gear, 'walking' on the pedals for far longer than it is sensible if you want your knees to remain serviceable when you are 50.

And there are the cheaters. Yes: those you leave behind because clearly you are the stronger cyclist. Then you stop at the traffic light... and they don't.

The funny thing is, I always say to myself 'I'm not the competitive sort, I'm just commuting' but most of the time the desire not to be out-done kicks in.

Ocassionally, I'm overtaken by the friendly sort - they tend to be the serious performance, tour-de-Manchester cyclists, who glide effortlessly past you, often smile at you, perhaps even share some comment or witticism. Bless them.

20 February 2009

My noble Lords...

According to the Hansard, the House of Lords debated walking and cycling on 16 Oct 2008. The starting question, put by Lord Krebs (a real name), was "What steps they are taking with local authorities to encourage walking and cycling in urban areas?".

I'm not being political here (not in the 'party' sense) but I'm left feeling we shouldn't put too much hope in this kind of debate producing much of use to real cyclists - or walkers.

Yes, it is good that cycling should be on the agenda and that Parliament should worry about 'cycling' and 'walking' levels in the UK being well.

Yes, one noble Lord did manage to correctly identify that not feeling safe when cycling is the main deterrent (the point David Hembrow is always making).

But it all seems to have fizzled out into statements that either reinforce prejudices or seem detached from reality - or at least, lacking in a holistic view of reality. Take this utterance:

"the big challenge for us is to see that children and adults alike feel confident in riding their bicycles on the streets and taking them out into those superb national parks and other areas of rural beauty and extremely healthful living that my noble friend highlighted"

So, it's not about cycling to work or cycling to school or to the shops - rather, it lumps cycling firmly on the leisure sector, as a pastime to be made enjoyable. Perhaps I exaggerate.

Then, a Baroness what's-her-name interjects with a spiteful-sounding

"My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us how many successful prosecutions have been brought against cyclists who have jumped red lights?"

Never mind that she's just been told the UK ranks very low in cycling levels in Europe! Let's focus on cycling as the problem, rather than the problems for cycling!

And although this quote is about walking, it surely gives a good picture of the level and relevance of the debate I'm referring to:

"My Lords, a lot has been said about cycling but not as much has been said about walking, although all the evidence shows that the amount of walking that people do is declining. I know what keeps me walking: it is my dog. Perhaps the Government should consider encouraging more people to keep dogs."
(Lord Hanningfield - own blog an'all!)

So there you have it, my noble Lords and Ladies: forget cycling, it's dog walking the nation needs.

11 February 2009


I left at 7am today, lights on and flashing. And then at some point in the journey, it hit me: daylight! The worst of winter is over, at least as far as cycling in the dark is concerned.

I still cycle in the dark on the way back - though sometimes when I leave my desk it is still light, by the time I've changed and walked into the yard, the light is almost gone. But that too will change...

09 February 2009

Learning to cope

This year's snow and ice did affect me. Having slipped on ice back in December, I was a bit coy about cycling on snow or icy roads. The problem was not so much the main roads (which make up most of my route) but my road and those around the house.

In the end, common sense did prevail. I walk the kids to school, for instance, then walk on to the main road and then I get on the bike. It takes a bit longer, but spares me the frustration of driving or using public transport. And what with going soft in your heated car and all that.

26 January 2009

Bad back

Perhaps it's not cycling-related, but on Saturday night something just 'went' and I got a pretty sore back - a sharp, movement-related pain just below the right shoulder-blade.
On Sunday I went to the walk-in centre in Bury to have it seen to. Muscular, it seems - just rest it, take painkillers and enjoy!. Not a bad way to end the first week of my 44th year!.

13 January 2009


Two nights ago, as I approached a dark junction, a driver who hadn't seen me had to slam on the brakes - I had seen him in plenty of time and was in the process of slowing down, ready to stop if necessary.

A minute later, as I cycled uphill, they caught up with me and the wife lowered her window and told me my lights were too weak - ah, so it was all my fault.

Now, part of me felt angry. When I got home I propped the bike on the fence, walked 20 steps or so and checked that I could see the lights - I could.

The other part me went to Halfords yesterday, bought and fitted new batteries for all my lights. They've been going since October, and it may be that my mind is playing a trick on me - 'scenario fullfilment syndrome' they call it, ie 'you see what you expect to see'. Best avoided, for a few quid.

Preparations continue

Last Sunday, three of us went on another pro-C2C ride. We were supposed to go to Holcombe and Peel Tower, but thanks to PH's local knowledge it changed slightly - we got to Holcombe but then turn West and went back via Affetside.

View Larger Map

We covered 17 miles in 1h45' - no stops except to get our bearings after getting lost (a couple of times). Good stuff.

02 January 2009

T'was Xmas!

Yes, it's over. I'm back at work. And back on the bike, after 10 days of almost complete exercise-less, home-based overindulgence (OK, did a couple of very short walks in freezing cold). Must remember: 2nd January is a great day for cycling - and for working. Hardly anyone out. Today, the weather while cold was very dry... and gave me the opportunity to try on Santa's gifts.

Yes, the man who 2.5 years ago vowed not to wear 'specialist' gear, has succumbed, caved in, become another lycra-wearing statistic. To add to last year's Altura trousers, this Xmas I got short and long sleeves 'base layers' (glorified t-shirts), a micro-fleece top and an ultra-reflective cycling rain jacket. Apart from the latter, all items were good-value and on offer. Only on the jacket did I really splash out, an Altura number, bought from Evans mainly because I wanted to try it on and make sure it fits - sorry, CTC online shop!.

About my change of heart from my early days, let me just say I've taken my time. Yes, there are good arguments to promote a kind of cyclo-commuting that is about getting to work as you would by any other means - fully clothed and ready for the day, riding a bike designed to protect one's clothes, provide comfort and enable a genteel journey over well-designed dedicated cycle lanes. I'm all for that... but not for me. My commute is also my 'gym', and while I'm not into performance (believe me!), I do aim to stretch myself a little, trying to build the foundations for bike touring - I made a start on this last year, and hope to cultivate it further in the future.

Plus, I have been going through cotton vests like chainlinks over chainrings (hey!), the house looking like a launderette, sweatie t-shirts making the wash basket smell. The new tops, I hope, will be less of a problem - what with their antibacterial coating, evil-eye shielding treatment and what have you. It all makes sense. Next stop will have to be footwear... and pedals?