Thursday, 31 January 2008

Road rage

I don't have much experience of seeing road rage from the bike, apart from one incident when a young driver passed me, waving his fist, and yelling " w..ker". Frankly, I suspect he was being a little harsh on himself, but in any case, it isn't something that he should have been bragging about.

I agree with those who say that the problem with idiots in cars, and idiots on bikes is nothing to do with the cars and bikes. The idiots are the problem. Unfortunately, not many of them are quite as keen as this young driver was to advertise their presence.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Thoughts on routes

The memorable trips are the longer ones, when I go exploring the countryside, but the reality is that I am covering at least as much distance on short circuits of the local suburbs.

I work from home, so there is no such thing for me as a commute, but over the last eighteen months I have evolved a standard loop of around five miles, that gives me just over half an hour break from work. On the way I can pick up a newspaper, or anything else we need from the local shop.

I vary the route slightly, depending on how long I have, and how energetic I feel, but basically it follows a standard pattern. There are no great views, although there are a few hills to stretch the muscles a bit. The route basically circles round residential areas. On the whole I use back streets to avoid busy roads, but I do have to share bus routes for short stretches.

I try to avoid the start and the end of the school day, because that brings much more traffic, heavy parking and turmoil in a couple of streets that are next to school entrances. So the traffic I see is fairly light, but there is a surprising amount of other activity. A mix of people, of all ages, are out and about doing their own stuff. Those at work are mostly builders (there is not much gardening at this time of year). There are lots of mothers with small children, and older people shopping or just watching the world go by.

The people vary, but the constant is the range of different housing. The local area has developed over more than a century - from Victorian terraces, through Edwardian villas, pebbledash and tudor-bethan from the twenties and thirties, to postwar council housing, dormer bungalows and rows of semis from the fifites and sixties up to individual executive detached to more recent pockets of infill, and new townhouses that are still under construction. A different decade leaving a different mark, every time I turn a corner. It is interesting how housing designed for different generations has all been absorbed into the same patchwork.

It is also interesting how both the different building styles, and different people are so much more noticeable from a bike than from a car. Taking half an hour off work for a quick circuit round the suburbs may not be as memorable as a few hours for a longer trip into the country, but there is still plenty to see.

Taking stock after a week

It is now a week since I got the new bike, and I've done 60 miles - half in one longish ride, and half as a number of short local rides. It is time to take stock.

I suppose the main difference is that this bike is built for longer rides. It is lighter than the other, with a bigger frame, larger and narrower wheels. Oddly, the change is most noticeable when freewheeling (it feels as though it will run on for ever), but even though I am a bit out of practice, It certainly feels up for longer outings, and I already get round the shorter runs more quickly. So it meets the main objective of getting something that would carry me a longer distance. The Ridgeback motto "go further" is etched into the stem to egg me on.

The second most noticeable change is that the stance is quite different. I am less upright, leaning forwards more, and with a longer reach to the handlebars. I had originally considered getting drop handlebars, but the bike shop advised that was a step too far, and I think they were probably right. I'm now beginning to get used to the new angles, and I suspect it will turn out to be about right in the long-run. The longer reach is certainly more comfortable on the wrists. It's quite an odd feeling going down steep hills though. The combination of a downward slope, greater speed, and leaning further forward sometimes makes it feel as though I am about to go over the front wheel.

There is no suspension on this bike, whereas the last had a sprung seatpost, and sprung forks. The difference is certainly noticeable. A hard push on the pedals feels as though it is going straight to the wheels. On the other hand, while the narrower seat means less rubbing on a long haul than before, any discomfort from this seat comes from bumping. I am now more conscious of uneven road surfaces, and I tend to put more of my weight on my feet, and less on my seat than I used to (at least until I get tired).

Changing gears on the previous bike was done by twisting the handles, but now it is a case of clicking a couple of little levers. There is probably a proper technical term for this, but whatever it is called, it seems to work fine, and it is certainly snappier. The choice of gear isn't quite coming naturally yet - I still have to think about where I want the ratios to go, and sometimes I have changed in the wrong direction, or pulled on a brake instead. Practice will no doubt sort that out before long.

The only niggling thing at the moment is that I can't get used to the toe clips. Once I'm moving they are not an issue, but having to fit my foot back into the toe clip every time I re-start is a bit of a nuisance. It doesn't come naturally yet, so there is a degree of fumbling around each time.

On the whole, I am pleased with the choices I made. To my eyes, it's a very pretty piece of machinery. I am certainly not fit enough to take full advantage of the improvements yet, but at least I am heading in the right direction, and it promises to be great fun getting there.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

New bike

About eighteen months ago, I bought myself a bike, from the nice people at Saddle Safari in Marlow. It was a Trek Navigator. Like me, built for comfort, not for speed.

My aim was to get more exercise, and nearly forty years after I had ridden a bike regularly, I'd forgotten how much fun it was. So for a while I had a great time exploring local byways. I did get more exercise, I lost some weight, and I felt much better.

Then a series of things got in the way of riding, and I got out of the habit. Finally, just before Christmas, we were burgled, and now somebody else has my old bike.

So I had to organise a replacement.

After giving it some thought, I went back to Saddle Safari, and ordered a Ridgeback hybrid, which is lighter, faster, and a bit more expensive (well, quite lot more expensive to be honest). It arrived last Wednesday, so this is my first week of trying it out.

This time I can anticipate that once the novelty wears off, there is a risk that other things get in the way. I don't want that to happen, so I'm setting myself a series of challenges and tasks, in the hope that they will encourage me to stick with it.

This blog is one of them.

There will be more about all of this to look forward to in future posts.