Thursday, 30 October 2008

Not a picture of me

This evening I squeezed in a seven mile ride before dinner. It was not the ideal circumstances for riding, with heavy evening traffic, gathering darkness, and a cold wind. I felt a bit daft for venturing out, when I could have stayed warm at home, but at least it cleared my head, and I will have to brave the elements once in a while if I'm going to keep the mileage up over winter.

So it was timely to come across the Icebike site, in a link from Everyday cycling.

Icebike is not a site about "everyday cycling" though. It is the "Home of the Winter Cyclist", and its about cycling in extreme winter conditions. They admit that "it can be really hard to explain this without losing your audience", but they do a pretty good job of conveying the appeal. It is not something that I'll be trying any time soon. But at least I now don't feel quite as daft as I did for venturing out on a cold, windy evening.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Light relief

Now that the clocks have gone back, and as the nights draw in, I expect I will be doing more riding in the dark. I have Cateye lights on the front and rear of the bike, and I am happy with both of them. I only have one real complaint. Without a manual, it is pretty much impossible to work out how to replace the batteries in the front light. Other than that, they both do what they promise.

But there is one thing that puzzles me.

Each time I push the button on the front light, it changes from a steady light, to a flashing light, then back again. To turn it off I have to hold the button down.

However, holding the button down on the rear light doesn't turn it off. Each time I push the button, the light changes to a different pattern of flashing, then turns off.

What this means in practice is that when I get home, and I want to turn off both lights, I have to hold down the button on the front light, but cycle the back light until it reaches "off" state.

What puzzles me is that these are both lights from the same manufacturer, bought at the same time, that achieve much the same thing, in different ways. Why do they not use the same system? Perhaps there is a logical reason why front and rear lights should work differently, but I can't imagine what it could be.

Can anyone tell me whether this is a design flaw, or a feature?

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Devil's Highway

Last weekend I followed a route from 100 years ago. This week I followed another from 2,000 years ago. This is the old Roman road from London to Silchester (near Basingstoke), known as the "Devil's Highway".

On the way out I followed National Cycle Route 23 from Reading to Silchester, parts of which touch on the old Roman road.

There isn't a huge amount to see of Roman Silchester, although the remains of the town wall are pretty impressive, and inevitably, at Roman remains, there were a couple of little boys brandishing imaginary swords.

On the return journey I followed the Round Berkshire Cycle Route from Beech Hill to Arborfield. There wasn't enough time for my original plan, which was to stay as close as possible to the Devil's Highway. That would have brought me back through Finchamstead, Crowthorne, and Sunninghill to Windsor.

Instead I took a more direct route home, through increasing darkness, via Wokingham and Twyford.

XLVII miles in total.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Hi ho silver

I work from home, and at the moment, if the weather is decent, I am trying to finish work by 5:30, then get out for an hour on the bike before dinner. By the time I get back, the meal is almost ready, and there is just time to put the bike away and scrub up before we eat. 

As I put the bike away, the same thought keeps coming into my head:

"A good cowboy always stables his horse before he eats" 

Goodness knows where that comes from. 

I know that I was a bit of a fan of the Lone Ranger when I was little, and I can only think that my parents told me how to be like a good cowboy to encourage me to tidy my trike away at the end of the day. 

If I am right, then this thought has been hidden away in some crevice of my mind for the best part of 50 years. It leaves me wondering what else is lurking in there, waiting to surface.

"Who was that masked man?"
"Why, he's the Lone Ranger!"

Monday, 20 October 2008

OSM cycle map on Garmin Edge

I've not been adding a lot of stuff to the OSM cycle map recently.

A couple of months ago I was regularly picking out a local village or estate that hadn't been mapped, and using that as an excuse for an evening ride. But as the amount of detail on the map builds up, there are fewer blank areas within easy reach of home, and even on longer trips I keep discovering that somebody else has already plotted the main roads.

I haven't completely stopped adding details. Sometimes I come across a road that hasn't been plotted before, or that has only been plotted roughly, but I need to get myself better organised if I'm going to be more useful.

Various good people have put together the tools to build and transfer OSM cycle maps to a Garmin GPS system. The maps themselves can be downloaded here. But it has been about three months since the downloadable UK maps have been updated.

So it seemed like a good idea to use the tools and produce my own version of the map.

I'm reasonably proficient with software, but it took a bit of trial and error to make it all work. To be honest, that is not so much a problem with the tools. It's really because I tend to rush into trying things out without reading the instructions properly. In any case, as the picture shows, I got it all working before too long, and now my GPS contains what seems to be a complete OSM cycle map of the UK.

So far I have used the default settings, but if I understand it right, there are lots of options that I can play with to change the format.

The met office are promising better weather tomorrow. If they are right I will go for a ride. But if they are mistaken, and we have another stormy evening, then I can always sit at home in the dry and twiddle.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Retro ride

Most of the time I ride by myself, but today I rode with the ghost of Charles G. Harper. 

In 1902 Charles wrote "Cycle Rides Round London", and today I followed the first of the 20 rides described in his book. He calls this one "Chenies and the Milton Country" and it runs from Southall, through Ruislip, Rickmansworth, Chenies, Chalfont St Giles, Jordans, Beaconsfield, Bourne End, Cookham, Maidenhead and Bray, to Windsor.

Charles says himself, that "Southall Station will probably strike the tourist as anything but a desirable locality", and I had my doubts about the initial part of his route past Hayes End and "the hamlet Cockneys are pleased to call 'illingdon 'eath". I had originally planned to bypass that section by following the Grand Union Canal to Rickmansworth.

In the event I went to look at Southall market, and I don't know whether it was the buzz of riding up Southall high street, or Charles' ghost insisting that I stuck with his original route, but I ended up following the Uxbridge Road (A4020), as he did, from Southall to Hillingdon, then Long Lane (A437 and B466) through Ickenham and Ruislip. 

A lot has changed since 1902. Charles describes what is now the A4020 as a "dusty high road", (which it still is) but nobody today would describe the A437 as "a pleasant by-road" or "a lane whose leafy beauty and luxuriant hedgerows might almost belong to Devonshire". Ickenham is no longer "one of those singularly tiny and curiously old-world villages" - though the pond and pump that Charles describes are still there. 

 In 1902, Charles observed that in Ruislip, "they grow hay, cabbages, potatoes, and other useful, if humble, vegetables; and, by dint of great patience and industry, manage to get them up to the London market". Today, there seem to be lots of 4x4's in Ruislip, but I doubt if there are many market gardeners. 

Charles drew a picture of the George Inn at Ruislip, which now seems to be a Harvester.
George, Ruislip

After Ruislip, the road climbs up Duck's Hill, of which Charles says the "gradient and the quality of the road-surface render this bit particularly dangerous". He is also exercised about the steep descent into Rickmansworth, which apparently, the CTC had marked with a "danger-board" in 1902. Today there is a standard steep hill sign at the top. I ignored Charles' advice to walk down this hill, on the basis that brakes are more effective these days, but I did note that the descent ends with a brick wall, some cottages, and a canal; and remembered his suggstion that if all else fails, on a runaway bike, it is best to aim for the canal.

It's a bit difficult to follow his original route through Rickmansworth, but in the end I found the road to Chenies. From here on the roads get less busy. I passed, but didn't enter the church at Chenies. I have already seen inside; and the main attraction is the Bedford family mausoleum, which can't be accessed by casual visitors. Charles is particularly grumpy about the local aristocracy, for some reason, and spends a couple of pages assassinating the character of various members of the family. 

I also passed by Milton's Cottage at Chalfont St Giles. At Jordans, on the other hand, the Quaker Meeting House has re-opened after the refurbishment following the fire in 2005. It was well worth stopping here. The building is lovely; and they have done a fine job.

By now I was back onto more familiar ground. Charles claims that "three parts of the road from Cookham to Maidenhead are exceedingly dull and uninteresting" but I quite like it, so I ignored his preference for the Thames path, and followed the main road, and Regional Cycle Route 52 from Cookham, through Maidenhead to Bray.  

His original route continued to Windsor, but by the time I reached Bray, I'd covered 40 miles, which was enough. I turned for home, and left the ghost of Charles G. Harper to finish the last few miles. 

I imagine that any route round here that was following reliable roads in 1902 will have ended up a century later following busy roads, and busy roads were definitely the down-side of today's ride. On the other hand, Charles has managed to link locations that were well-known at the time with some that have become well-known since. Seeing a hundred years of change adds extra interest. I wouldn't like to rely on Mr Harper and his contemporaries to design all of my rides, but once in a while it might be interesting to try another. 

The whole book of Cycle Rides Round London, from 1902 can be downloaded here

Friday, 17 October 2008

Vélocipèdes, Luchon

A photograph taken in Haute Garonne (South-West France, near the border with Spain) 70 years before the invention of Lycra, and more than a decade before the safety razor. 

The image was uploaded to Flickr by the municipal library in Toulouse, to which we should all be grateful.

It is worth viewing the large version, which is here

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

lliH retniW

A bit like a cloverleaf, I have evolved a series of familiar routes, each of which loops for around ten miles from home. There are four of them, heading roughly to the north, south, east and west. As a result, I can nip out for about an hour on the bike without having to think too much beforehand about where I am heading.

Each of the loops has a different character: so I can chose between something quiet, better views, or a flatter and faster ride depending on my mood. I am also learning that each loop works best at a different time of day. I avoid some at rush hour, because of heavy traffic; and some work better after dark than others.

That choice makes for some variety, but the route over Winter Hill, with the most quiet roads, and the best views, is the one I choose more often than any of the others. I must have ridden it, clockwise, a couple of dozen times - but until tonight I have never ridden it anti-clockwise.

In theory, anti-clockwise is best in the UK, because it normally means turning left at a junction, but in this case a clockwise route involves easier climbs, and sharper descents. The road down from Winter Hill into Cookham is exhilarating, but the climb from Cookham up to Winter Hill has always looked a bit daunting.

In practice it didn't really turn out that way. There are a couple of sharp ascents, but they don't last very long, and there is a level piece of road as a break between. I wouldn't say that I managed the climb without effort, but it wasn't nearly as tough as I expected.

The road was familiar, of course, but seeing everything from a different direction made for a bit of a change. More importantly, I've discovered that some hills might not be as challenging as they look.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

"On track to get all his colleagues cycling"

From today's Guardian...

"The idea for a college bicycle library was to collect bikes in any condition, do them up and lend them to students and staff who needed a bike to get around"

"Once I got the go-ahead from the college, I set about acquiring some bikes. We got our first from a guy at Street Scene, where the city's street cleaning machines are stored. We asked him to look out for bikes for us. Our next lot were donated by the Campaign Against Climate Change and the Bicycle Recycling Initiative Manchester. We've been offered some from the local police station and more are coming in from staff all the time. We've now got 23."

(Appropriate, in the current financial crisis, that they called it a bicycle library, rather than a bicycle bank)

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Steam canoe

I have quite a lot of work on at the moment, so after taking Friday off to visit the cycle show, and spending Saturday on domestic stuff, the plan for today was to make a start on earning next week's crust (after a short bike ride).

In the end, the short bike ride turned into 36 leisurely miles. With a late start, and a couple of extended breaks, it took up most of the day.

It was a cold morning, and there was quite a lot of fog, which the sun didn't break through until noon. By then, I had worked my way up to Stokenchurch, via Marlow and Lane End. Things soon warmed up after that, with lovely, hazy views along the valley as I cycled down through Ibstone, past the "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" windmill at Turville, and through Skirmett to Hambleden.

After a break for a late lunch, I had planned to head home through Marlow, as usual, but it was such a lovely day I headed in the other direction instead, along the bank of the Thames to Henley. Lots of people were out enjoying the day, including canoeists riding the sluice at Hambleden weir, this steam canoe, and various other boats, walkers, and a golden retriever with a gale in its tail.

From Henley I headed back home through Warren Row.

I'll need to do some catching up on work tomorrow, but that's a small price to pay for a glorious ride. It would have been a terrible waste to use the day more responsibly.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

The knell of parting day

The point of this whole exercise is that as I go along, I am working out what works and what doesn't (with a bit of help from contributors). One of the things I am learning is that things change as the seasons move along.

Depending on the weather and other commitments, I normally manage to fit in one long ride at some point over the weekend, but my riding varies more during the week.

During the longer days of summer, I often managed to fit in at least a couple of hours on the bike after dinner. The day had cooled down by then, and I had time to cover twenty miles, or thereabouts. Now it has got too dark to ride after dinner, so I am trying to squeeze in an hour before dinner. In an hour, by the time I get my stuff together, I only manage to cover about ten miles.

Ten mile circuits have to be fitted into quite a small local area. I've developed a few standard routes, so I can ring the changes, without too much planning. Still, it means that I am going back over familiar ground quite a bit. So it was a treat on friday when I startled a fox on one of the lanes leading back into Maidenhead. For a short while the fox ran ahead of me down the lane, then it disappeared into the hedge. I know that a fox is not exactly the kind of thing that would stir Simon King on Big Cat Live, or Spring Watch, but for me there is something exciting about seeing one at close quarters. It was certainly unusual enough to turn a perfectly nice, but rather mundane ride, into a bit of an event.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Here's a treat



Containing descriptions of the contour and surface with mileage of the main direct and principal cross roads in England and Wales and part of Scotland; 

particularly adapted to the use of BICYCLISTS and TRICYCLISTS

(Charles Howard, 1889)

As it says in the preface: 

"It cannot be denied that Cycling, ever since its introduction into this country as a means of locomotion, has been in want of a reliable Road Book specially adapted for its requirements—in short, one that will afford full information as to mileage, hills, and surface of, at least, the great trunk roads. 

A strong proof of this, if any be needed, can be readily found by reference to the columns of the papers devoted to the pastime, where enquiries about roads, &c., may be seen almost every week."

The book mainly covers the main roads, and it is interesting to compare the situation 120 years ago with what we find today. Here, for example is a description of one road that I am very familiar with, from Slough to Reading, which is still recognisable as the A4:

Slough to Maidenhead is a gently undulating road, chiefly downhill, through Salt Hill; good smooth surface, but inclined to be loose and sandy occasionally, with a bad and heavy bit just before Maidenhead Bridge, where cross Thames; macadam through the town. (Maidenhead: Bear; Bell; Cleare's; Cliveden, Queen St., Hqrs.; Lewis's; Queen's Arms; Ragmead; Railway; Saracen's Head ; Thames; White Hart.) 2 or 3m. on r., Burnham Beeches, lately purchased for public recreation by the Corporation of London.

At Maidenhead Bridge, on r., Taplow Ho., and 3m. Cliefden and Dropmore Lodge. 1m. S. of Maidenhead, the village of Bray, of " The Vicar of Bray" fame. 

Maidenhead to Twyford; hill to mount out of the town, then first rate level road to Stubbings Heath or Maidenhead Thicket, (where keep to L.), and the rest is rather hilly by Littlewick Green, Knowl Hil, Kiln Green, and Hare Hatch; capital smooth and hard road. Pretty scenery.

Twyford to Reading is undulating, chiefly on the rise for two-thirds of the distance, ending with a long gradual fall just before Reading ; capital smooth road, but not quite so firm a surface as the preceding stage ; macadam through the town, in which turn to L. into Minster street for the Bath road. (Reading: Black Horse; George, B.T.C.; Great Western; New Albion; Queen's; Upper Ship; Wheatsheaf.)

2m. past Twyford, on r., Holme Park. 

At Reading are remains of a Benedictine Abbey, built 1121. St. Mary's, St. Lawrence, and the old Greyfriars are the most interesting churches. Here is the large biscuit manufactory of Huntley and Palmer. On r., across R. Thames, Caversham Park.

The whole book can be downloaded here

Cycle show

I took today off, and went to visit the Cycle Show at Earls court. The variety of stuff was pretty baffling, but the highlight for me was getting up close to Alex Moulton's New Series Double Pylon. This picture of the front suspension does no justice to a stunningly beautiful bike. The word seems to be that the ride is as great as its looks, but unfortunately it sounds way beyond my means.

Apparently the way to think of it is this....

Every few years we spend several thousand pounds replacing the car. If we miss out just one of those purchases, then I can afford one of these. And it will last a lot longer than a car.

It all made perfect sense at the time, but thankfully I didn't sign anything.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

I never realised that I needed...

...a tyre cleaning brush.

A bargain at 30 cents (or $3.00 a dozen) from a 1900 Canadian catalogue of bicycle accessories, that can be downloaded here.

It is full of wonderful stuff, including wooden rims and acetylene lamps, with some fishing rods, rifles, dog collars and hammocks for good measure. Just 108 years too early for Christmas.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Slogan for the times

I was given this badge at the weekend, as a present from New York. It seems particularly apt in the current climate.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Working the numbers

This is the spreadsheet where I have been recording all my rides this year.

The rows at the top record daily rides and calculate weekly statistics, while the boxes at the bottom show progress against various goals. It also generates various charts, such as this one showing week totals, and various averages:

The idea is that by setting myself goals, and tracking progress, I am more likely to overcome inertia, and hence get out and ride more often, further, and more energetically.

I know this won't work for everyone, but on the whole it seems to be working for me.

At present I am on track to cover more than the 2,500 miles that I am aiming to cover over the year. I am trying to ride 56 miles each week, and though I only achieve this 60% of the time, I average more - at nearly 58 miles a week. In any week I try to get out on the bike more days than not, and I do average four trips a week - though half of the time I am doing fewer rides in a week.

The spreadsheet also tell me that my Eddington number is 27, I have ridden nearly four times as far on my current bike (in 9 months) as I did on the previous one(in 18 months); I have ridden my metric age 17 times, and my imperial age four times; I am approaching Berlin on my virtual European tour, and I would be a third of the way round the moon, if I had been riding up there this year.

Depending on weather and other commitments, my distances fluctuate quite a lot from week to week. I can see that my longest trips were in May and June, and I haven't had a stretch of more than 45 miles since. Similarly, my total weekly mileage grew to begin with, but is settling down at a fairly consistent 58 miles a week.

All this has been a bit of an experiment to see what works, and what doesn't. So the whole spreadsheet has got a bit messy and over-complicated. It needs tidying up for next year, and some of the goals will need to be reset.
Meanwhile the ground-rules seem to be:

  • It's best to set goals that are challenging but not too difficult. 56 miles a week was a lot more than I was doing previously, and setting it fairly high forced me to change my approach. But if it had been much higher, failure would have been inevitable, which would act as a discouragement, rather than an encouragement. 
  • Without some prior knowledge of how difficult things are going to be, it is OK to set an initial goal, as an experiment, then change it in light of experience. It is far more encouraging to aim low initially, then raise the goal, rather than the other way round.  
  • It is better to set objectives where it is possible to recover from a glitch, rather than ones where success and failure are absolute. Originally I was aiming to do at least four rides every week. Inevitably, a week came when it was impossible to do four rides. So I changed the goal to an average of four rides every week. That way, after missing too many days, a bit more effort in the subsequent weeks will get me back on track.
  • It helps to set a mix of objectives, so that on different days, in different moods, there is always something to work on. For example, when a long ride is impossible, it is best if there is still an incentive to go for a short ride
  • It is important to set some long-term and some short-term goals. Seeing real progress towards a big long-term goal is more encouraging than repeatedly achieving small short-term goals. It is also far too easy to postpone work on a big, long-term goal, thinking that there will be plenty of time later
  • I like to express long-term goals in silly ways. I find it quite encouraging to pass the big round numbers (1,000 miles; 2,000 miles, etc.) but sometimes there is a long gap between them, and despite my age (or perhaps because of my age), I get childish pleasure from imagining that I have reached Paris, Rome, or Venice on the bike. 
Finally, I need to point out that this is just one of the ways that I encourage myself to get out on the bike. The satisfaction of watching the numbers move on appeals to one part of my nature, but I also enjoy the adventure of exploring unknown roads; the pleasure of discovering attractive countryside; and getting a feel for the shape of the landscape. So finding routes that appeal is also part of my motivation. But more of that later.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

The Boring Version

Last Sunday's outing to Windsor turned out to be a bit more exciting than I had intended. Indeed, I have been accused of going to extreme lengths to spice things up a bit. So today I decided to do the trip that I had intended for last Sunday, and it all passed off without anything particularly interesting to report.

I looped around Windsor Great Park a bit, and stopped for a coffee at the Riverside Station in Windsor, covering 30 miles in total. Not quite as far as the original plan, but about enough, since the aches and pains from last week's tumble haven't entirely gone away, and the weather was less than perfect.

Despite a rather grey day, it was a very pleasant and relaxing ride - with nothing too strenuous. Spotting this peculiar speed limit in Windsor Great Park was pretty much as exciting as things got. Goodness knows why they picked that particular number. But then, where's the fun in being a monarch if you can't set wacky speed limits in your own grounds?

Friday, 3 October 2008


The only reason for posting this is that I like the picture. It is from the National Monuments Record, the archive of English Heritage. It was taken by John Gay, and shows Sheringham Station in Norfolk, in 1959.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Per ardua ad astra

"The objective of the Interplanetary Internet project is to define the architecture and protocols necessary to permit interoperation of the Internet resident on Earth with other remotely located internets resident on other planets or spacecraft in transit".

As a concept, I find that a bit hard to get my head around, so it's a relief to know that somebody else is working on it. However, it can only be a matter of time before an inter-planetary internet is going to lead to inter-planetary cycling blogs, and slippy inter-planetary streetmaps, and the like. And obviously I am keen to be up there with the pioneers.

By my reckoning, my mileage on the bike this year would get me less than 1% of the way to the moon, and even those who have cycled around the world would only have covered 1/6 of the distance to the moon. So I doubt whether a bicycle is ever going to be a practical proposition for inter-planetary travel.

However, cycling around other planets and moons looks a more sensible idea. My annual mileage would get me a third of the way round the the moon, a quarter of the way round Mercury, or a sixth of the way round Mars.

Presumably my GPS system wouldn't work up there, so I would need to find another way of mapping the Martian street network. But there is plenty time to work out minor details like that, and with work on an inter-planetary internet already under way, that's one less thing I have to worry about.