Friday, 29 February 2008
It all started with a minor health scare a couple of years ago. Not long afterwards I decided I needed to do something about the condition I was in. So I bought myself a bike. After nearly forty years as a lapsed cyclist, I rediscovered how much fun cycling can be.
For about nine months I enthusiastically trundled around the local area, exploring the countryside, and getting a bit thinner.
Then, just as the novelty began to wear off, a series of unrelated events got in the way of regular cycling. I began to use the bike less and less, until by late 2007 it only got the occassional outing.
As luck would have it, just before Christmas a burglar made off with the old bike, and I got the chance to start again.
In January I bought myself a new bike. Having learned what I enjoyed most about the previous one, I chose something lighter and suitable for longer and more demanding rides.
For the last month I have been gradually extending the length of my trips, and I am getting back into better shape; but I still fear that the enthusiasm will wear off eventually unless I guard against it. So I have set myself a number of challenges to keep up the interest.
This blog is both a record of how the various challenges are progressing, and an extra incentive to keep going. It is mostly read by members of my close family, but a couple of dozen others have visited since it began, including some from North America and Africa. All are welcome. The more the merrier. Apart from anything else, an audience lets me kid myelf that I must keep going, so that I don't let anyone down. I hope you enjoy my ramblings.
Thursday, 28 February 2008
Wednesday, 27 February 2008
A week or two ago my brother bought a bike, and as I am aging earlier than he is, I feel obliged to offer him some advice.
He was quite a keen cyclist when he was younger, so there isn't much point in pretending that I have anything to offer in the areas of fitness, diet, equipment, technique, riding etiquette, route planning, safety, or crime prevention. What he doesn't know already about any of these, he can easily glean from the internet.
But there are a couple of pieces of advice that I reckon I should pass on:
- Firstly, stop faffing about with the internet and go for a ride (and if you dont' have a good reason for going, invent one)
- Secondly, if you aren't enjoying it, then you are doing it wrong (so figure out what needs to change, and fix it)
Tuesday, 26 February 2008
It's taken me just over a month to get here.
Now, it's decision time - should I turn round, and head back home, or press on to Rome?
Last night I was dipping into a Nigel Slater book ("Eating for England"), and he was worrying about what do with apricot coloured toilet rolls that he had ordered off the internet by mistake. I am no great fan of apricot toilet rolls, but now I am aware of the issue I'm pretty clear in my mind what I would do with them. So this counts as a question that I didn't realise I knew the answer to. In Rumsfeld terminology, it is one of my unknown knowns.
But there is another category that Rumsfeld missed - the known unanswerables. "Where do babies come from?" is probably a good example in certain circumstances, but the most recent one I have come across is "Can you explain to my finance director why the size of the market is still increasing, when you show that growth has slowed?" I haven't been able to come up with a way of explaining this that doesn't insult the intelligence of a finance director.
Until today, when I approached a main road on the bike, a bit faster than I should have done. I applied the brakes, and I slowed down, but I carried on approaching the junction uncomfortably quickly. In the end, all was well, but it was still a pretty good reminder of the difference between velocity and acceleration. Next time I'm asked, at least I will have a story to tell.
Monday, 25 February 2008
Nor would this be possible without the love of my family. I want to thank my beautiful wife for her patience, tolerance, and enduring support. I'd like to thank my daughter for asking the interesting and important questions, like "where did you go" and "what did you see today" rather than "how far did you ride"; and my son for his encouragement, and for his example. I also thank all the other family members who make up most of this blog's readership.
I'd like to thank the greatest employer ever: a talented, wise, kind, generous and sensitive man; and our wonderful clients for supporting this lifestyle.
I am grateful to the many, many dear friends who take the trouble to read this, but unfortunately could not be here tonight. You are with us in our thoughts.
Oh, and I would like to thank the academy from the bottom of my heart.
Thank you so much everybody, I feel truly blessed.
Saturday, 23 February 2008
Today I visited the seventh church in my Jenkins challenge, which also ranks seventh in terms of distance from home. That leaves five to go.
This turned out to be one of the tougher Jenkins outings so far. It is my longest trip on the bike yet, at more than 40 miles, and involved some of the most challenging climbs.
Reaching seven out of twelve churches means I've crossed off 58% of the destinations. I started with the nearest, and I reckon I've done about 40% of the total distance, and 36% of the climbing.
The route I had mapped out beforehand took me via Hambledon, and would have brought me back through Marlow. In the end I decided to avoid even more hills on the return, and came back through Loudwater instead. I expected a grim journey, from High Wycombe to Loudwater on busy roads. However, I discovered a cycle path that avoids the worst. I imagine this will prove useful in future, when I want to reach destinations beyond High Wycombe, without having to brave some daunting climbs.
The weather was a bit warmer today than it has been recently, but it was overcast all day, with a suggestion of rain from time to time. It was also quite windy. Oddly, whatever direction I was travelling, the wind seemed to be in my face.
Thursday, 21 February 2008
In 2007, SQW carried out an assessment of the economic value of cycling for Cycling England. It works out as 91p per trip.
This is made up of:
- Increased physical activity reduces the risk of developing chronic disease and the risk of premature death: worth 21p per trip
- Increased physical activity also reduces absence from work due to sickness: worth 10p per trip
- Reduced inactivity and obesity reduces the costs to the NHS of treating asociated illness: worth 17p per trip
- Substituting car trips with cycle trips reduces pollution: worth 11p per trip
- Substituting car trips with cycle trips also reduces congestion: worth 32p per trip
At the current rate, I could calculate savings equal to the cost of the bike after about two years - as long as I ignored the fact that almost all of my rides are for recreation, on uncongested roads, and not a substitue for car journeys; and I've been bunking off work for a fair proportion of them over the last few weeks.
However, the health benefits alone are worth nearly 40p a trip to the government. I could, of course just give them 40p each time I feel like going for a ride, and save myself a lot of trouble. But then I'm not doing this to save the government money. So perhaps I won't.
Wednesday, 20 February 2008
"Isobel required on a bicycle"
No it isn't. The bike shop has to fit a bell on a new bike, but not on a second-hand bike. Although the highway code recommends that bicycles carry a bell, there is no law that says they have to have one.
Apparently bells on new bikes were compulsory until 1983, when the requirement was removed, but it was re-instated in 2004.
All this passed me by, since it happened during almost 40 years that I managed without a bike between the late 60's and 2006. Before then, my bicycle bell was a shiny metal dome, with an internal ratchet system that produced a tinkling noise when I pushed it. Now my bicycle bell is just a little black metal dome, with a rubber finger that produces a single ping when I flick it.
I haven't actually used the bell, other than accidentally. I tend to think that it's more polite to call "excuse me" if I need to make pedestrians aware. But it's encouraging that while the law on bicycle bells moves in circles, the supporting technology has made huge strides forward in the last 4o years.
Tuesday, 19 February 2008
According to the British Crime Survey, there were 482,000 thefts of a pedal cycle last year. Yes, you did read that correctly: nearly half a million. Equivalent to around one in eight of the number of new bikes bought.
Bicycle theft affects around one in 50 households each year (1.8%); and around one in 25 bicycle owners. The numbers seem to bounce up and down a bit from year to year, so it's not too difficult to make a case that the rate is either rising or falling (or fairly stable). 11% of households that have one bike stolen, then have a second or even a third stolen in the same year. So in case Bill is reading this, I should point out that my new bike is much more strongly secured.
What is surprising to me is that only a third of bicycle thefts are reported to the police - that's down from two-thirds reported ten years ago.
Around 2,000 offenders are caught each year for the theft of a pedal cycle, almost all of whom are male; with 35% aged between 15 and 18; and 20% aged under 15.
Strictly speaking, though, our loss of Bessie would be recorded as a burglary, not as the theft of a bicycle, because Bill made off with other stuff as well at the same time. However, whatever way you look at it, poor Bessie is now just a statistic.
Sunday, 17 February 2008
I've now completed half the destinations in the challenge that I set myself, and around a third of the distance, but only a sixth of the climbing. There is only one relatively easy ride left, but today was another glorious day to be out on the bike: clear and sunny but cold, with a hard frost all morning.
They don't call these the Chiltern plains, and there were a few challenging climbs on the route I chose. One in particular defeated me, from Wooburn Green to Beaconsfield, and I got off and pushed for half a mile. It's not eactly Alpe d'Huez, but even the "proper" cyclists who were passing me had the grace to look as though they were working hard.
Saturday, 16 February 2008
Use of a bicycle is most common among men aged 17-29, but even they make only 4% of their journeys by bicycle. Men in their forties make 2% of journeys by bicycle; and those over 50 make just over 1%. Most cycle trips are for commuting (38%) or leisure (31%).
- 87% of adults agree that everyone should be encouraged to cycle to help their health
- 79% of adults agree that everyone should be encouraged to cycle to help the environment
- 73% of adults agree that everyone should be encouraged to cycle to help ease congestion
Over the last 10 years the number of trips by bicycle has declined by around 15%, and the average distance travelled by bicycle has fallen by more than 10%, but both have levelled off recently.
- 31% of car users say they would reduce their car use if there were more cycle tracks away from roads
- 30% of car users say they would reduce their car use if there were better parking facilities for cycles
- 27% of car users say they would reduce their car use if there were more cycle lanes on roads
(When they say that cycling declines with age, I think they mean in quantity, not quality).
I was out on the bike every day last week, except for friday, and covered more than my goal of 56 miles over the week. That makes three weeks in a row that I've managed at least four rides, and more than 56 miles in total, so the pressure on myself to keep on track is increasing.
The weather has been lovely again today, if a little cold, and I managed to cover 18 miles in a couple of hours. The route lacked any real interest, but at least it left me feeling invigorated.
What's more, if I've done the calculations right, today's ride burned off the equivalent of three bacon rolls. I'm not sure if I should allow myself to bank those for future treats: probably not.
Friday, 15 February 2008
That's less than 100 miles a day, and if I started tomorrow, I could be back before the end of August.
But then we need to do some shopping tomorrow, and the family are coming round on Sunday. Then there is the report that needs to be handed in on Monday.
Maybe it had better wait.
Thursday, 14 February 2008
I now know that they came from Roscoff, in Brittany, and brought the onion harvest over in July or August, staying to sell their onions from door to door before returning five months later.
It seems there is now a museum to the onion sellers in Roscoff. Inevitably, there is a Wikipedia article, but best of all, there is a short BBC film from the 60s, with Olivier and Alain telling us about their lives - in accents that wonderfully manage to combine Geordie with French.
Maximum speed is not of great interest to me. I know I've exceeded 30 mph on at least one occasion, because the cycle computer told me so, but that's just the result of a long downhill stretch, a following wind, and a bit of over-enthusiasm.
I find the challenge of covering longer distances more motivating than the challenge of covering them faster, and I'm certainly not interested in racing. But without increasing my speed, longer distances are just going to take more and more time, so I have an incentive to increase my average speed over decent distances. On a ride of twenty-odd miles or more, I think I'm doing about six or seven miles an hour, including breaks. Not very impressive, but then I've not even measured it properly. So I need to start measuring the time I take for a longer outing. That way, I can give my family a more reliable idea of how long I am going to be out, as well as establishing a baseline that I can work on.
In the short-term it's more useful to know that, if I push it a bit, I can cover my standard circuit of the 'burbs in half an hour. So I reckon that a sensible short-term goal is to get that down to a consistent 30 minutes (which works out at about 11 mph).
However, today it took me nearly 35 minutes to do the standard circuit. I could blame traffic, or the cold wind, but perhaps it was really because my mind was turning over all this stuff, instead of concentrating on keeping things moving on.
Wednesday, 13 February 2008
In Greek mythology, Cassandra ("she who entangles men") was a daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy. Apollo fell in love with her, and in an attempt to seduce her, gave her the gift of prescience. Unfortunately she spurned him, and he punished her with the curse that nobody would believe her prophecies. Hence she was ignored when she foresaw the destruction of the city of Troy, and the Trojan Horse.
On a rather different note, we offer a link to Cassandra Wilson, with a compelling version of "Death Letter" by Son House.
Posting a link to this picture might become mandatory for blogs related to cycling. I saw it on Cycleliciousness.
Apparently the "Green path" provides a ring-road around Copenhagen for cyclists, and it seems that cycles have priority over cars, at least at this junction.
A topical topic, with this week's announcement of new plans for London.
Tuesday, 12 February 2008
This has nothing much to do with cycling.
Normally at this time in the evening, if I was watching anything, I would be watching Newsnight on BBC2. However, last week I got the new Freeview box working properly, so tonight I've been channel hopping.
I've just realised that I've ended up in front of BBC Parliament for the last hour; fascinated by the Economic Affairs Committee of the House of Lords, taking evidence on the economic impact of immigration.
Apart from high standards of courtesy, everyone involved seems committed, well-adjusted, well informed, and articulate. It is a treat to see witnesses being asked thoughful questions, and then given the space to deliver a considered reply.
The result is more interesting, more informative and more thought provoking than the adolescent sneering that poor old Paxo is forced to impose on us by his keepers.
The Economic Affairs Committee of the House of Lords may not be as entertaining as Newsnight, but then Newsnight isn't as entertaining as Top Gear. Right now, as intelligent current affairs TV, I reckon that the lords are out-performing them both.
Monday, 11 February 2008
Sunday, 10 February 2008
Today I ticked off two more of the Jenkins churches: this one, in Warfield, and St James the Less in Dorney. Having visited Shottesbrooke on Friday, and Bisham on Saturday, I have now reached the nearest four of the twelve in the last three days, and five of the first six in just over a week.
So the challenge is off to a decent start, but none of the easy ones are left to visit. I have reached 40% of the churches, but I've only covered 20% of the distance, and only climbed 10% of the hills. The pace will now slow down considerably.
I had the route carefully worked out for today, at 21 miles in total, but for much of the time I was on minor roads that I do not know, so I ended up doing about 25 miles, by not checking the map carefully enough.
All in all though, I suspect I've had more fun this weekend than the Archbishop of Canterbury. He is being widely criticised for moving off safe ground, to engage with issues that appear too subtle for the press to handle. Thank goodness some people in public life have such courage, say I.
Saturday, 9 February 2008
I managed to tick off another church on my Jenkins challenge.
All Saints, Bisham is in a lovely location, on the banks of the Thames, near Marlow. As usual there was no easy way to see inside: it needs an appointment to gain access. From the outside, most of the church looks Victorian, but the tower is twelfth century.
This is the nearest of the twelve churches on my list, at less than three miles as the crow flies. However, it is at the bottom of a steep hill from home. I avoided a harsh climb by following a roundabout route of almost sixteen miles, that took in Marlow, Bourne End and Cookham. In the process I discovered a more interesting way of getting from Marlow to Bourne End, that should prove useful in future.
It was a very pleasant way to spend Saturday morning.
Friday, 8 February 2008
76% of the market was supplied from outside the EU; 15% from the UK; and 9% from the rest of the EU.
All this, and more (including a 3% rise in the value of derailleur gears to £3million, at the same time as the weight fell 23% to 163,572 kilograms) from the Office of National Statistics.
The church was built in 1337, with a spire supposedly based on Salisbury Cathedral. A local legend holds that the mason fell to his death from the top after celebrating its completion. Apparently the church contains wonderful medieval memorials, but I didn't have time to seek out the key.
On a prosaic level, the outing marks another step in my Simon Jenkins challenge, takes my total distance on the bike for this week beyond my imperial age (again), and leaves me with a couple of hours work that still needs to be completed at some point.
Well worth it.
Wednesday, 6 February 2008
I've measured the distance, as the crow flies, to our nearest 30 out of the 1,000 best English churches selected by Simon Jenkins. There are three that are within 5 miles; another five within ten miles, and another three within fifteen miles. There is one more that is just over fifteen miles away. That gives me a round dozen within fifteen miles (or thereabouts). And twelve seems like an appropriate number in this context.
The total distance, as the crow flies, to these dozen is almost exactly 100 miles. Without working out routes in detail, I reckon that the twelve round trips will total at least 300 miles.
The ranked list is:
1) All Saints, Bisham
2) St John, Shottesbrooke
3) St James the less, Dorney (pictured)
4) St Michael, Warfield
5) St Giles, Stoke Poges
6) St Mary, Langley
7) St Lawrence, West Wycombe
8) Meeting House, Jordans
9) St. John, Little Missenden
10) St Mary, Harefield
11) St Michael, Chenies
12) St Mary, Ewelme
So my refined goal for 2008 is to reach the nearest twelve of Simon Jenkins' thousand best English churches on the new bike. I will revisit the three nearest: Dorney (picture); Shottesbrooke and Bisham. And I want to revisit Langley anyway once it re-opens after easter.
For what it is worth, there are another twelve within twenty miles, and at least six more within thirty miles as the crow flies. So there is plenty scope to extend the goal once I have reached the first twelve.
Off we go....
Monday, 4 February 2008
Let's examine my new bar bag.
The first neat thing is that my existing bar bag and this one clip onto the same bracket, so I can easily switch between different sizes, depending on how much I need to carry.
The second neat thing is that there are separate pockets with just enough room for my glasses, a puncture repair kit, my mobile phone, and a map, while the main compartment is big enough to hold my wallet and the camera, leaving just enough room for a couple of pork pies (or an apple and a banana).
Apparently a bar bag is the best place for a camera because the mount absorbs the worst of the vibration. Unlike putting the camera in a bag on the pannier, it also means that it is easily accessible without having to dismount.
To fit the new bag, I had to move around the other stuff on the handlebars, but after a bit of fiddling around, it all seems to be fairly well organised now.
Sunday, 3 February 2008
It's Sunday, so I thought a picture of a church would be appropriate.
That is not the main reason for this picture, though.
The point of all this is to set up a series of challenges that will encourage me to get out and ride the bike once the initial wave of enthusiasm wears off.
Some of the goals that I am setting myself are quantitative. they cover inputs (so many miles a week, lengthening the longest ride, increasing speed) and outcomes (shortening the notch where my belt buckles, and so on). But numbers are only part of the picture - I am also setting myself some qualitative goals.
One suggestion that I particularly liked was to visit as many as possible of the churches in Simon Jenkins' book of England's thousand best churches.
There are three that are fairly close to home (Shottesbrook, Dorney and Bisham), two of which I have reached on earlier outings. The next four represent a bit more of a challenge (this one at Langley, Stoke Poges, West Wycombe and Warfield). Of course the beauty of this idea is that, a bit like a computer game, it gets increasingly difficult at each level. Beyond the first seven, reaching the next three, and a total of ten is going to be a lot tougher. And it is probably best to think of the first 100 (or even the first 20) as a "stretch goal" for some time in the future.
St Mary's church in Langley dates from 1150, but apparently the outstanding features are a pew and library gifted by the Kedermister family in the 17th Century. As it happened, the church was closed yesterday, for refurbishment, and it sounds as though visitors are only welcome at certain times. So now that I've located it, a repeat visit is called for, some time after easter, with a bit more advanced preparation. Meanwhile here is a virtual tour.
I stopped reading political comment by Simon Jenkins long ago, as his world view floated away from any grounding in reality, but his book on churches is a treat, and a pretty good incentive to explore new routes.
Saturday, 2 February 2008
"Go further" said the bike, so today I braved the cold, and pushed it a bit, covering just over 38 miles. To be honest, it was more than I was ready for, but it establishes a number of milestones.
- It is my longest ride so far - my previous record was just over 34 miles
- It is the second time that I've managed to ride my metric age (the first was two birthdays ago, so the bar has risen)
- It allows me to tick off one of Simon Jenkin's churches (more of this to come in future)
- It takes me past 100 miles on this bike
Towards the end I was converting miles to kilometres in my head at one kilometre = 2/3 of a mile, because I knew I was close to reaching my metric age. As a result, I ended up doing an extra two mile circle around home to make sure I covered enough distance. Once I got home, I discovered that I only had to cover 0.62 miles for each kilometre, so I could have bailed out three miles earlier, and still reached my age in kilometres.
As it stands, I arrived home tired, but happy, and despite a hot bath, I suspect I'm going to feel the effects tomorrow.
Friday, 1 February 2008
I enjoyed this morning's ride. There was a very cold wind, but the sun was shining, and I had remembered my gloves so it was comfortable enough.
The first quarter of this route is a steady climb from home up to Winter Hill, and a good view across the Thames valley. This is part of a regional cycle route (52). Then there is a long downhill stretch through Cookham to the riverside at Maidenhead, and finally a few miles climbing back through the outskirts of the town to a hot coffee at home.
I should figure out a better route for the final stretch, but in the meantime it makes for a very pleasant hour (and a bit). Now I must really get on with that report.
Enough is enough, so now I'm going off for a ride.
Meanwhile, I've downloaded last night's Question Time onto the BBC iPlayer, and I'll leave it playing while I'm out. These interweb thingies are a real boon. Daily Mail columnists are much less aggravating when they are ranting to an empty room. If I time things right, then I'll get back just about when the nonsense ends, with my blood pressure at reasonable levels.