Monday, 31 March 2008

Farewell to h2h

I've no real excuse (other than it's good to have a break now and then) but I've not been out on the bike today. However, that left some extra time to watch the last broadcast of Head to Head on BBCi. H2H is "a lively topical discussion programme, with two studio guests from opposite sides of the political debate going head to head over the week's big issues and controversies".

Or at least it was.

I'm sorry to see the end of this excellent programme, which has been head to head, and shoulder to shoulder, above the normal standard of political coverage on the television.

With one notable exception, all the participants were pretty high value, but I reckon that David Aaronovitch and Janet Daly have been the most thought-provoking and challenging pairing. They proved willing to listen to each other's views, they responded thoughtfully; and in the process we discovered a surprising amount of common ground.

Goodness knows why the BBC is bringing this programme to an end. My inner cynic wants to think that the standard of debate proved too embarassing for producers of other programmes with higher profiles, and bigger budgets. More likely the viewing figures were just too low. It's a shame.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Here we are

A quick nineteen miles today, in great weather, so lots of people were out enjoying the sun. I took a well worn route, down the Jubilee River to Eton, across the bridge to Windsor, and then back home along the Thames path.
Meanwhile, in an alternative universe, I've now covered enough distance to be half way to Rome on my virtual European tour. I've reached Haute Savoie (virtually pictured above, thanks to Google Earth), and thanks to Meteo France, I virtually know it is raining here. So I think I'll head off for a virtual tartiflette, then back to reality.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Glory, hallelujah!

Today I reached another church on my Jenkins quest, bringing the total so far to ten, out of the twelve I have on my list.

This is St John the Baptist in Little Missenden, which ranks as the ninth most distant, but it is the first to be open when I arrived, without a service under way. So it is the first that I have been able to look around without seeking out a key.

It was well worth it. It's a lovely church, with a core that goes back at least to the twelfth century, and according to the plans in the church, to Saxon times.

Despite the grey skies and a fair amount of wind, the ride out was quite pleasant, with no rain, and the wind mostly urging me on. As soon as I left the church, though, things began to change. The rain built up, and the wind was pushing me back. By the time I was approaching High Wycombe it had really turned quite unpleasant, and a fast descent into Hughenden valley, through driving rain, was getting quite exciting.

I don't know a nice route into the centre of High Wycombe from the north-west, but I now know how to find the good cycle route from High Wycombe out to Loudwater. By this stage the weather had eased up a bit, and despite a continuing headwind it really wasn't too bad completing the loop back to home.

Little Missenden was definitely the highlight of the day, but I also managed to climb the hill from Wooburn Green to Beaconsfield without getting off the bike. It was all in bottom gear, but I'm still quite pleased with myself. I think it is called Glory Hill, because that's the name of the farm at the top, but in any case, I will think of it as Glory Hill from now on. Glory, hallelujah!

Friday, 28 March 2008

Mountain unicycling

"The unfortunate thing about mountain unicycling is that you don't get to look at the view"

There is more here.

Roundup of the week

Despite the crummy weather this has ended up as a reasonable week for cycling. For the first time, I have managed to get out on the bike every day (though, to be honest, today was a bit of a token gesture with only a couple of miles in gusty wind, mostly to put something on the board).

Overall, I've covered more than 75 miles in the week, which ranks as my second highest weekly mileage this year. I'm now somewhere near Bourg en Bresse (north of Lyon) on my virtual European tour. Bourg en Bresse marked the transitino from Stage 6 to Stage 7 of the 2007 tour de France. Oh, and during the last week, this blog has welcomed its first visitors from Sweden and South Korea.

The nicest trip in the week was an evening trundle around Cookham and Bray on thursday, with little wind, and some lovely light. The longest was a slog through driving wind, rain and worse on monday, which was mainly memorable as an exercise in grit and determination.

The weather forecast for the coming weekend is best described as "unpredictable", but I hope to get out a couple of times. Regardless of how the next few days turn out, after a couple of lean weeks, the graphs are starting to look a bit healthier. In a few days it will be the end of March, the clocks will spring forward, the current deadlines at work will either have been met, or missed, and we can look forward to a bit more progress.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Sonning bridge

I've always had a bit of a thing about numbers, and my business training and work on market analysis hasn't helped. I do sometimes wonder, though, whether the complicated set of cycling targets that I have set up is getting a little out of hand. Or to be more honest, I already know perfectly well that it is over the top.

Today, though, it worked as it should.

The idea, as regular readers know, is to set myself a series of goals, as an incentive to keep riding when the novelty wears off, and hence avoid my cycling getting usurped by less important priorities.

Over the last couple of weeks, I've not been doing too well. A combination of bad weather, more travel than usual, and pressure of work meant that all the graphs were starting to move in the wrong direction.

I did a little bit better over the first three days of the long weekend, and the forecast promised better weather today, so I was looking forward to a longer trip, and getting back on top of my targets.

It didn't quite work out that way.

The weather was still grim this morning, and by lunchtime I was beginning to wonder whether I should go out on the bike or not. In the end, the pressure of the numbers won out. I put on an extra t-shirt, packed a waterproof, and set off into a cold wind and light rain, hoping things would improve.

They didn't.

By the time I had covered a dozen miles, the rain had turned to sleet, and the wind showed no sign of letting up. Still, I pressed on rather than turning back. After a few more miles the rain cleared briefly, and things began to look better. However, on the way home, it all turned worse, and I was hit by a heavy shower of hailstones. By then there wasn't much I could do, other than press on.

Finally, as I covered the last few miles, the clouds cleared, the sun came out, and the wind got behind me, instead of blowing in my face. By the time I was home, and treated to a large mug of hot chocolate, I could see sunny late afteroon light through the window.

So was it worth it?

Yes - no doubt about it.

Apart feeling good after an afternoon's exercise and plenty of (very) fresh air, I have the satisfaction of having braved the elements, and overcome temptation. I also have another 37.5 miles on the log. That doesn't break any records, though it is among my longest five trips, and contributes to quite a lot of future Eddington numbers. It also means that I shouldn't have too much trouble achieving this weeks targets, and might even be able to bank some extra miles to cover future shortfalls. The graphs are starting to move in the right direction again, and I've covered some new routes around Sonning.

Job done.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Give me liberty or give me death

On this day in history, Patrick Henry, an advocate of the American revolution, made a speech urging military action against the British, which ended with the stirring words "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!".

But fine words butter no parsnips, and today is also the anniversary of the founding of Mussolini's fascist party in Italy, the first broadcast of Midsomer Murders, the birth of Wernher von Braun, the death of Peter Lorre, and the launch of John Major's citizen's charter.

So much to commemorate, and so little time...

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Let him who is without sin amongst you cast the first stone

Poor David Cameron: three words that I've never strung together before, and doubt if I ever will again. But on this occasion I can't help feeling sorry for the unfortunate man.

There are more than fifty comments on Conservative Home, mostly pointing out that we shouldn't make too much of this.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Making a bicycle basket

This is a video of David Hembrow doing just that.

His web site is here. Apart from pictures of all sorts of different baskets, I particularly like the link to other suppliers / cheaper baskets. As he points out, "not everyone wants to pay for a top quality basket...".


The weather has been a bit more sunny today, but very windy; and I laughed when my father-in-law told me that it wouldn't seem to bad once I was out in it. He was right though.

The climb up to Winter Hill with a strong head wind was a bit tough, but the drop back to Maidenhead riverside with a strong tail wind across Widbrook common was much more fun. So much so that I decided to carry on to Bray. Just beyond Maidenhead bridge I stumbled on the little Guards Club park. The park was created in 1977, on a site that had been a recreational club for guards based at Windsor. This pretty little footbridge leads to an island in the river. It seems the bridge is open in the summer, but closed at this time of the year for the sake of swans nesting on the island.

By the time I left Bray, light rain had started, and the wind fallen a bit. On the whole it was a pretty good outing. It was long enough to bump my Eddington number up to 12, but not far enough to bring the week's total mileage up to scratch. So unfortunately that makes two weeks in a row when I have fallen short of my goal. With a long weekend, and hopes of better weather, perhaps I will do better next week.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Getting from here to there

View Larger Map

I forget where I first saw this suggested, but thanks to whoever it was.

(if it doesn't make any sense, then try clicking on the pins)

I am currently somewhere near Dijon on my virtual European tour, with about 200 miles to go before I reach Héré. However, the weather has brightened up today, with the promise of more cycling, and hence better virtual progress over the next week.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Eddington number

The Eddington number, E, is the number of days in your life when you have cycled more than E miles.

It originates with Arthur Eddington, who was a physicist, who reached an E-number of 87 by the time he died in 1944.

Counting from the beginning of this year, my Eddington number is 11. Ouch.

The thing is that you have to plan ahead to reach higher numbers. I could increase my E to 15 fairly easily by doing a few trips of 15 miles, but after that, none of them would count, because an E-number of 16 only counts trips of 16 miles or more.

I have already "banked" seven rides that will count towards an E-number of 20, five rides that will count towards an E-number of 30, and two that will count towards an E-number of 40.

At the moment I am finding it quite a neat measure for stretching the distances I am covering, but like all these things if you start thinking too far ahead, it all gets a bit discouraging.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Pear shaped

A combination of tight deadlines, lousy weather, and more travel than usual means that cycling this week has all gone a bit pear shaped. I managed to get out today for a few miles, but the bottom line is that there isn't much to report. So as an alternative, here is KT Tunstall doing wonderful stuff. Hopefully, there will be more cycling coverage in the next week, but meanwhile I give you "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree".

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Sir John Betjeman

Sir John saw me off from St Pancras yesterday for a couple of days near Paris. So no cycling since sunday, I'm afraid. But then the weather has been so awful, it probably didn't make too much difference.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Squirrel: may contain nuts

We visited the farmer's market this morning, and saw this on one of the stalls.

This afternoon I did 30 miles on the bike, looping round Wargrave, Henley and Marlow.

Not so long ago, 30 miles would have been a major expedition. It is a sign of progress that it no longer feels like a massive challenge. Nevertheless, it was very pleasant. The weather stayed fine, apart from a brief, light shower just after I had set off. Thankfully I decided to press on; the sun came out, and for once the wind seemed to be pushing me along as often as it was pushing me back. There were quite a lot of other sunday cyclists around, and today they didn't all seem to be passing me.

I reckon it was a pretty good way to spend a sunday; and thankfully we've got roast pork (Gloucester old spot) to look forward to for dinner - not squirrel.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Jenkins quest on a map

You can see pictures of my Jenkins quest churches on Google maps by clicking here.

View Larger Map

This is thanks to a very clever little gizmo provided by Adam Franco which takes a reference to a Flickr set and converts it, and the geotags, to a KML file. The same device works with Google Earth.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Cyclist's special

"Now just look at us - special cycle wagons, rubber-covered hooks, and special excursions"

On sunday 8th May, 1955.

With thanks to Brian Arner.

The second part is here...

"The more we strive to be happy, the more miserable we are"

The UK's most depressing newspaper sells around 2,300,000
copies a day - it can't be helping.

"No matter how hard you try to boost your happiness, ultimately, you are destined to fail."

Needless to say, I beg to differ.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Cycling to Peking

A group of 105 cyclists is setting off from Paris on the 16th March to cycle to Peking for the olympics. The trip of 12,000km (7,500miles) will take them 140 days, and they plan to arrive just in time for the start.

I suppose it's a bit late to start preparing a similar effort this time round, but I reckon that if I keep working at it, I could be ready for something along similar lines in 2012.

I'm prepared to consider offers of sponsorship.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

How to cross the road

The first Zebra crossing was installed in Slough in 1951. Before that, pedestrian crossings consisted of parallel rows of studs in the road, and orange globes on poles (Belisha beacons), but no black and white stripes.

Unfortunately, both pedestrians and drivers ignored the crossings, so this public information film from 1946 shows how to cross the road safely. The studs and Belisha beacons are there - but no zebra stripes.

"Let me introduce you to Mr. A. Now Mr. A is a perfectly straight forward kind of person....

With a tip of the hat to martin97uk on Flickr for pointing out the link.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Sheldon Brown

Today's Times has both an editorial outlining their bizarre views on Europe, and an obituary for Sheldon Brown.

Sheldon's web site helped me get back into cycling. He was clearly a gifted writer, for which I am grateful. He was also clearly an enthusiast who was prepared to follow his own path, which I admire. But my gratitude and admiration is just a tiny drop in the wave of feeling expressed by the internet cycling community over the last month. It is good to see his work recognised in the traditional media.

You can view the interesting obituary here. Don't bother with the silly editorial.


Much of yesterday's ride was on canal towpaths. Not quite as much as I had planned, because part of the towpath near Denham was closed for repair work, and I had to make a diversion through Ickenham.

But the main point is that yesterday was the first time this bike has handled a fair distance off paved roads. It was OK, but it wasn't really in its element on the rougher surfaces.

To begin with I was taking things pretty carefully, but once I got used to it, I relaxed and just bashed on as normal. So it wasn't a great surprise to get a puncture.

In truth, the soft tyre only became apparent when I was almost home, so I guess it probably wasn't caused by something on the towpath. Rather than fix it there and then, I ended up pushing the bike the last couple of miles, and fixing it this afternoon. A tiny tack had gone straight through the tyre into the inner tube. Hardly the end of the world, and it would have been easily fixed earlier in the day, as I had remembered to take the repair kit with me.

After putting everything back together again, and pumping the tyre up to full pressure, I did my usual spin round the suburbs to try it out. On getting home, I discovered that the recorded mileage was down from 5.39 miles (on the immediately preceding trips) to 5.35 on this one. So I checked back to to the distances I have logged for the same route over the last few weeks, and they vary by about 1%. No doubt some of this is due to taking a slightly different line on the same roads, but I wonder how much is down to different tyre pressures. The front tyre has never been soft, so it's only the difference between a fully inflated tyre, and one that is ready to be topped up. Surely that couldn't make a significant difference to the diameter on the road - or could it?

Sunday, 2 March 2008

St Giles, Stoke Poges

Today I have cycled to two more of the churches that Simon Jenkins rates as the thousand best chuches in England.

To recap, I have measured the distance from home, as the crow flies, to the neighbouring churches in the list that Simon Jenkins picked. I am aiming to cycle to the twelve nearest this year.

St Giles, at Stoke Poges ranks as the fifth most distant of the twelve, but in chronological sequence, it is the eigth that I have visited.

All that might be important to me, but in the grand scheme of things St Giles at Stoke Poges is more famous as the church where Thoms Gray wrote "Elegy written in a country churchyard". The poem goes on a bit, but it begins with the famous words....

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me

The other church that I visited today is St Mary's at Harefield, which ranks as the twelfth most distant of the Jenkins churches, and the ninth I have reached.

There was a service in progress at St Giles when I was there, and St Mary's was locked - so I didn't see inside either of them. From the outside, St Giles is the prettier, so it gets the picture.

I have now reached nine of the twelve, and covered around 60% of the distance, and 50% of the climbing, and it is still only March. It is beginning to look as though I may have set my sights a little too low.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

February roundup

Yesterday marked the end of my first full month with the new bike. I am fairly satisfied with the amount of effort I have put in, pleased with the results; and delighted with the new bike.

The total distance covered at the end of February was 335 miles, which gets me to somewhere just south of Paris on my virtual European tour, and on track for my goal of covering 2,500 miles by the end of the year. This year I have done ten trips of more than ten miles, and I have ridden my age in kilometres twice, but I have not yet ridden my age in miles.

I have succeeded in the aim that I will "get out on the bike more often than not" in every week of February; with at least four outings every week, and six outings in three of them. I have also achieved my goal of covering at least 56 miles a week in every week of February.

Total mileage in February was 273 miles, the longest trip was 41 miles, and the average just under 12 miles.

I have now visited 7 of the 12 Jenkins churches that I am planning to visit by the end of the year. So although the remaining distances are getting longer, that goal may prove a bit unambitious.

I still need to work on getting faster - I am averaging round 10 mph on shorter journeys. Including breaks, I average about 7 miles an hour on longer journeys. I think I should be doing better.

Last, but not least, I have been able to move my belt buckle in by two notches since I started, which is better than I expected by this stage.

I reckon it is not a bad start, on the whole. The trick now is to keep it up.