Saturday, 31 July 2010

July round-up

The bishop says, "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr Jones."
The curate replies, "Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!"
From Punch, 9 November 1895 
That's a bit how this month has turned out.

My total mileage continues to slide gently behind the plan that is going to get me to a total of 3,759 miles by the end of the year. I've made little progress on the subsidiary goals around Eddington numbers, Jenkins churches and the like.

On the other hand, I've been reminded that I don't just trundle around on the bike trying to accumulate numbers for the spreadsheet. It's been a good month to remember that the real satisfaction is in the ride itself. There's little to beat the sensation of spinning along a country road, with plenty of energy in reserve, feeling in touch with what is going on around. In July I've had more than a fair share of rides like that.

I've also met a number of people who are enjoying a variety of different kinds of cycling. Some of them just find it a convenient way of getting around. Some are cycling because it's a way of having fun with their children or their friends. Some are finding that it's an enjoyable way of exploring parts of the world that they know little about. All of those are important to me too.

What's more, the distances are turning out to be a bit of a two-edged sword. A few days ago I mentioned to a colleague that I might ride 20 miles or so to drop some papers off. A few weeks ago I rode 40 miles or so to visit friends in Oxford. On both occasions the reaction suggested that these were hugely impressive athletic achievements. On the face of it that seems flattering - but on reflection it isn't. The truth is that they aren't impressive distances - unless you add the phrase "...for someone of your age". And thinking like that is a bit dispiriting.

It's far easier for me to record the quantities, rather than the qualities. That's why I tend to rabbit on about numbers of rides, distances covered, and so on. In truth it's the quality that matters more. In different ways the last month has turned out to be a good reminder of that.

(I think that's a plausible enough excuse for now. I'm going to have to start racking  up the mileage soon though, or the spreadsheets will start to look really sick).

Thursday, 29 July 2010

National travel survey

The Department for Transport has released a heap of cycling statistics from the National Travel Survey here.

On average in 2009, people made 16 journeys by bicycle, out of a total of 973 journeys (i.e. 1.6% of journeys were on a bike). The average distance travelled by bicycle was 46 miles over the year, or 2.9 miles per trip. Over recent years the number of trips has been steady, but distances increasing. 14% of people say they ride a bicycle at least once a week and a further 9% said they do so at least once a month.

Men in their late teens and forties make the most cycling trips. Men in their forties are more likely than other adults to own a bicycle, and they ride the longest distances (or at least they claim to).

37% of cyclists mainly ride on the roads, 31% mainly on cycle paths, and 21% mainly off-road (the rest on a mixture of all three). Commuting, leisure and other reasons each account for around a third of cycle trips, and the months of March-October account for three-quarters of all cycle trips.

I'm left surprised at how many people own bikes (about a third of adults), yet how little they ride them. It's not so much the number of rides. As far as I can figure out, people who own bikes must be riding them about once a week on average, more in summer, less in winter - which sounds plausible. But an average trip of less than three miles means that an awful lot of rides must be over within a matter of minutes.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Roundabout samaritans

View Larger Map

This is the roundabout at the end of Maidenhead bridge. Several of my regular rides bring me back to here, heading northwards along Sustrans regional route 52.

The conventional approach is along Guards Club Road, the small road joining the roundabout from the south. To the left and right is the A4, which is almost always busy. Ahead is Ray Mead Road (the A4094) which isn't quite so busy, but at certain times of the day it will also have a queue waiting to join the roundabout.

Following the cycle route northwards involves crossing the A4 and continuing along Ray Mead Road beside the river. One option would be to dismount and walk the bike across the A4. There is a pedestrian island to help, but doing that seems a bit wimpy, and I'd much rather keep riding.

The trouble is that there is usually a steady stream of traffic entering and leaving the roundabout from the three busier roads. Joining from a minor road can involve quite a long wait, and it is very rare for a car driver to give way and let me out on the bike.

However, I've discovered that I can also nip through the hotel car park on the right. That means that I join the A4 just a few yards before it joins the roundabout. If I do that, I find that almost immediately a driver will drop back, leaving a gap for me to join the main road, and wave me out. It happens almost every time. While it won't necessarily be the first car that lets me out, it's usually within the first three or four.

At the roundabout drivers are conforming to the stereotype of not giving any quarter, but just a few feet away they behave quite differently. I have no idea why this works, but each time it saves me a frustrating wait at the roundabout. More importantly, each time it happens is like being given a little treat. Whatever the reason, it's a small pleasure on the ride that I've started to look forward to whenever I ride this way.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Tuesday, 20 July 2010


Back in March I treated myself to a Brooks saddle on the new bike. I was told that they were very comfortable, I like the look of them, and I was intrigued to see how it would differ.

There is a considerable amount of advice around on how to treat a leather saddle. Not all of it is consistent. This is my experience.

Even before sitting on it, the first impression was that it was very hard. You can knock on it, like a piece of wood. Sitting on it did not feel uncomfortable, though. The big difference on the first ride was that it seemed very slippy. It no longer feels slippy, but I'm not sure whether that is because I've got used to it, or that things have changed.

I didn't experience any discomfort on the first, short ride. After longer rides, though, it was certainly easy to identify the position of my "contact points".

I trusted the advice that the saddle would gradually adjust shape to fit my posterior, and that does seem to be the case. It took about 500 miles before I felt it had become really comfortable. That seems to be about the normal experience. I've now ridden about 1,600 miles on it, and if anything it just keeps getting better. Visibly the shape has hardly changed - just some slight indentations - but it feels different.

I did nothing to try and soften the leather, or accelerate the re-shaping process (other than riding on it). I have applied Proofide to protect it from the wet, and I expect to apply more occasionally. Underneath I have tried to get a lot of Proofide to soak in, by warming both the tin and the saddle. On the top I have used it sparingly. I also keep a little waterproof cover in the saddle bag in case I need to keep the rain off.

My overall impression is that it is very comfortable, and has been since the first 500 miles or so. I believe those who say that it will only get better over time. However, the level of comfort is very dependent on the saddle being at the right angle and right position. So it takes some fiddling to get the configuration just right.

It is a bit heavy, but that isn't a big issue with my kind of riding. I'm not sure how important this is, but I do take care to keep the rain off. And I've discovered that it is not a good idea to ride in light trousers.

I'm pleased with it. The saddle in the picture is not mine, which is a black B17 narrow. I suspect I will end up looking like the picture before my saddle does. With reasonable care, I imagine that my saddle will last longer than I do.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Images on a map

It's been done before, and to be honest it has been done better, but still it's nice to see the National Archives allowing us to search historical images on a map. They have started with a collection of 14,000 photographs from the 1920s-1940s, and promise more.

It's an interesting start, and fun to browse. I've voted for "quite useful" on their survey page, which is a bit less enthusiastic than most others. The specific feedback shows that some people seem to be having browser problems, but it works fine for me. My reservations are that it would be nice to see more precise locations, a bit more information the individual pictures, and a way to mix text and location searches. Perhaps all that will come (via crowdsourcing?), and meanwhile it is definitely worth taking a look. The link is here.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Non-stop braking system

This is the "spoon brake" on a beautifully restored penny-farthing bicycle that was on show this weekend at the Thames Traditional Boat Rally. I believe I have the Solent Veteran Cycle Club to thank for an interesting display.

A spoon brake is a bit like a spoon connected to levers, that are used to press it against the solid tyre. It isn't obvious from the picture but this type of brake on a penny farthing is working on a wheel that might be as much as five foot across. The bigger the wheel, the higher the speed that a strong rider could achieve. Speeds of more than 20 miles an hour were recorded over short distances, and the best riders could sustain 18 mph over distances of 50 miles.

At those speeds the inevitable question is how they would slow down.

There was no free-wheel, so to some extent the rider of a penny farthing must have been able to use the fixed pedals to control their speed. Even with that assistance, I find it hard to believe that brakes like this were very effective. Indeed, somebody pointed out to me yesterday that an effective brake on such a large wheel would just pitch the rider over the handlebars anyway.

"Taking a header" or "coming a cropper" was common, and could result in serious injury or even death. Apparently the term "coming a cropper" was lifted from horse-riding where it meant being thrown over the horses neck. In 1874 The Pictorial World reported "in truth bicycling is rather a dangerous amusement, but then it affords such excellent exercise". Indeed.

To reduce the risk riders would hook their legs over the handlebars when they were travelling downhill. Without helmets, the advantage was that if they were pitched over the handlebars they would be able to land on their feet rather than their head. The disadvantage (presumably) was that with their feet over the handlebars they couldn't use the pedals to slow their speed. So it was all down to the spoon brake.

In its heyday, what we know as a "penny-farthing" was just called a "bicycle". As better designs began to emerge, it became known as an "ordinary" bicycle. When designs much like today's diamond frame began to  supersede the penny-farthing they were known as "safety" bicycles. That makes more sense to me now.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

It's the others

AENEAS is an EU project which aims to encourage urban mobility for older people. The acronym stands for "Attaining Energy-Efficient Mobility in an Ageing Society". I fall comfortably into their target demographic, of people over 50. Like my peers, I am growing older.

AENEAS is working to raise awareness about energy-efficient travel options (walking, public transport, cycling, car sharing and public bicycles) and to promote them as alternatives to the private car.

A month ago they held a workshop in Odense (Denmark), and the presentations are posted here. They don't make particularly comfortable reading. It seems that the risk that older people will be involved in an accident, sustain a head injury, or be killed on the bike will rise as the years roll by.

However, as the risks of cycling increase, the benefits of better health more than compensate. Cyclists should still expect to live longer than non-cyclists. According to CTC the health benefits of longer life for each elderly cyclist is worth £235 a year to society at large (FWIW £235 is about the same as vehicle excise duty on a Ford Mondeo).

As a result AENEAS want to encourage older people to cycle. Unfortunately the elderly don't want to be treated as being old. Nor do they want to think about future illness or losing their mobility. They are in denial about their bodies getting fragile and becoming less mobile.

That would be the other old people of course. I'm all in favour of what AENEAS is doing for them. I don't have to worry about getting old, future illness, becoming fragile, or losing mobility.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Chilterns Cycle Route

I'm pleased to discover that the Chilterns Cycle Route is starting to appear on OSM. This 170 mile ride through the Chilterns crosses and links a number of my favourite circuits. It should have been be hard to miss on the ground, so I'm a bit miffed with myself for not discovering it earlier.

The route shows up quite clearly on Mapnik (as shown above) because it is not confused by the many other cycle routes in the area. The cycle map is better to get an idea of the contours in the landscape, though some parts don't seem to have been rendered on the cycle map yet. No doubt they will appear soon. Meanwhile the links above plot the relation as an overlay on the different base maps. It's quite a detailed piece of mapping, so a bit of patience is required while it draws.

Thanks to those who put the effort into adding this to the map, and introducing me to a few more roads that I can explore (once the weather cools off a bit).

Friday, 9 July 2010

Sound advice for the stylish

From "Cycling" by The Right Hon The Earl of Albemarle, and G. Lacy Hillier, 1896.

The more luxurious of our tricycling tourists go even farther in the matter of changes which they carry, as they not only take a complete suit of underwear, but also a complete change of outer garments; this is of course the acme of sybaritism, but it is doubtless a great comfort to a good many riders. Some take a pair of trousers made of the same material as their riding suit, but without any linings, and they generally choose a cloth hat of the same stuff, constituting the traditional "suit of dittoes" of the British tourist. The advantage of making the wearer inconspicuous as a pedestrian is gained, although the cycling uniform is now so common an object in all towns during the riding season that it may be worn without annoyance almost anywhere.

Others, again, have a suit made for the purpose of carrying with them whilst on tour. This suit will pack up into a very small space and is very light, and, if put on immediately on arriving at the hotel, it will soon lose the creases due to close packing.

A pair of woollen socks, a dry flannel shirt, and a pair of shoes, complete the costume.

The extra shirt should in most cases be of flannel, preferably a thin flannel, but in the heat of the summer and for short trips the lounging shirt as distinguished from the working one may be of light cashmere or stockingnette, some of the garments of this type being excellent.

Whatever may be the class of shirt chosen, these points should be insisted upon: it should open down the front, come well up to the throat, and have a good-sized lie-down collar as a part of the shirt.

A long stocking cap, or sailor's cap, of knitted material is a very useful addition to the kit. It can be used for night riding, being drawn down well over the ears, whilst, should the tourist entertain the slightest suspicion of the dryness of his sheets at night, he can obviate cold in the head or worse dangers by sleeping in this cap. For campers, whether it be a hot summer's night or not, the stocking cap, which is light and takes up very little space, is almost a necessity.

For those who when touring will insist on carrying an immense amount of luggage there is no excuse, as any amount of baggage can be sent on to various points through the usual channels, and a rider is not supposed, even by the most punctilious of his friends, to carry an elaborate wardrobe with him.

If a host really expects this, the guest had better either go by train himself, or forward his portmanteau before him. On the other hand, it is not necessary for the cycling tourist to be always carelessly dressed ; a very small amount of forethought will enable him to appear carefully and appropriately attired, if nothing more.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Sound advice for a cycling holiday

A parcel should be made up for each week of the tour: thus, if the rider is going away for five weeks, he will need to send on four parcels, including, in each, Combination garment, flannel shirt, handkerchiefs and stockings. These, having been well aired, should be tightly rolled up in the waterproof or otherwise securely packed and the fastening sealed, and a label then attached bearing clearly the name of the sender, thus:

On the back in smaller characters should be carefully inscribed Mr. Smith's name and home address, whilst it is always a good plan to have the same name and address clearly written on the inside of the bag or piece of waterproof used. 

The hotel people should be advised by letter and asked to keep the parcel in a dry place, and a couple of days before the rider gets to the hotel he can (in the case of a parcel) send on a note asking the people to open the package and have the things in it well aired. 

The parcels can be sent on to the C.T.C. or other houses, either before the rider starts on his tour which is the best plan for a single man in lodgings or otherwise situated in such a way that he cannot be sure of his orders being attended to at once or else from home on receipt of instructions as to when and where they are to be sent.

At the end of each week the rider will get his change of clothes, and will send the used ones home in the same package by parcel post (which is in many cases quicker and more certain than the railway carriers' delivery), and they can, if necessary, be washed and aired and sent on again to another point on the route followed.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Sound advice for when the hot weather returns

From "Cycling" by The Right Hon The Earl of Albemarle, and G. Lacy Hillier, 1896.

A man need not become a teetotaler, or, on the other hand, take to alcoholic drinks, because he cycles. If he be a water drinker, well and good, let him remain so; he will ride a bicycle none the worse. If he takes a moderate quantity of beer or wine at his meals, it will do him no harm.

Excess in either direction is dangerous, and alcohol between meals is always bad. With regard to tea, coffee, cocoa, and such like beverages, experience must teach each individual what is best for himself. The great bulk of present-day riders are devoted to tea ; some of the best racing men even drink it at dinner, and it does not appear to do them any harm. 

No absolute rule can be laid down as to what should be taken to drink between meals while actually riding on the road. Some simple non-alcoholic beverage is generally chosen, such as milk and soda water in equal proportions, the juice of a lemon squeezed into some fizzy water, soda or lemonade, or mixed with cold tea without milk or sugar. 

Stimulants, such as brandy or whisky and soda and the like, are always bad, and should never be indulged in even if the rider be exhausted. He will be whipped up for the time, but after covering a few miles the inevitable reaction must set in, and leave him far worse than he was before. This rule also applies to long-distance races. Many a rider's chance in such a contest has been ruined by injudicious friends plying him with alcoholic stimulants. Great quantities of fluid should never be swallowed at one time. Such a practice spoils digestion, and does not effectually quench thirst. 

Drinks, again,should never be taken too hot or too cold, and it should always be kept in mind that "Quibus intumuit suffusa venter ab unda, Quo plus sunt potae, plus sitiuntur aquae" (The more you drink, the more you want).

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

A sobering picture

This is a page from the cycling log-book of Lionel de Barri Crawshay, who lived at Sevenoaks in Kent. He was a keen amateur botanist, whose papers are held by the Wellcome Library.

From them we find that Lionel learned to ride a bike in 1900, and carefully recorded his progress: his first ride alone, his first accident ("collision with Miss Allingham"), his second accident ("lost control down a hill, run into hedge, cuts and scratches").

This part of the log contains totals from his "register" and starts a century ago in 1910, when he covered 5,674 miles. In 1911 he covered 7,123 miles. In July 1911 he covered 600 miles. Apparently the log also describes various trips through Kent and work on his bike, such as new tyres and brakes.

It all sounds familiar stuff.

Lionel made columns for the years up to 1919, but sadly the log ends in 1915, after which Lionel joined the army. In May 1917 he was killed when his troopship was torpedoed in the Mediterranean.

The Wellcome Library article is here. Thanks to Holly Tucker for the link.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Your freedom

Apparently the government is committed to restoring our freedom, and is looking for suggestions at At present the suggestions relating to "cyclist" or "cycling" are a mix of old chestnuts:

  • Allow cyclists to ride on pavements and footpaths (in various different forms)
  • Make it illegal to ride on pavements (in various forms)
  • Stop motorbikes using cycle lanes
  • Build more cycle paths
  • Make it compulsory for cyclists to use cycle paths
  • The driver of the bigger vehicle should be liable in any accident (in various forms)
  • Allow cyclists to jump red lights (in various circumstances)
  • Punish cyclists who jump red lights (in various forms)
  • Make it compulsory for cyclists to wear a reflective jacket
  • Make cyclists pay road tax
  • Make cyclists hold insurance
  • Bicycles should carry a registration plate
  • Exempt bicycles from VAT
  • Raise the speed limit on electric bicycles

I would have thought that best practice in consultation exercises would have been more specific about the scope of what is being covered, and made it clear what the range of possibilities are.  However, I suppose it's possible that somebody somewhere in government is taking this seriously. If they are, then the suggestions and discussion on cycling matters could look pretty balanced compared to some other subjects. For more loopy stuff, look no further than "Brussels", "immigrants", or "political correctness".

It looks as though the moderators are starting to close down discussion on any suggestions that completely miss the point by suggesting things that restrict freedom. Even so, I don't envy the poor civil servants (I think that would be "bloated bureaucrats" in newspeak) who have to assess all the contributions and make recommendations.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Chatley Heath Semaphore Tower

The weather forecast for this weekend suggested that Saturday would be a better day for a ride than Sunday, but I've had the semaphore tower at Chatley Heath on my list of places to visit for a while, and it only opens one day a month, so I decided to face hotter and windier weather for the sake of the destination.

Chatley Heath Semaphore Tower is one of a line of semaphore towers that were used to send messages from the Admiralty in London to the navy in Portsmouth (a distance of about 70 miles). It was used from 1822-1848, and restored by Surrey County Council in 1989. They have displays and models to show how it all worked. As you would expect there are good views from the top of the tower.

I rode out through Datchett, Staines, Shepperton and Weybridge, taking the passenger ferry from Shepperton to Weybridge. I came back through Ripley, Woking and Ascot, with a bit of a diversion in Woking on a whim to follow the Basingstoke Canal for a few miles.

The whole area around Chatley Heath is very thoroughly mapped on OSM, and there is nothing I can add from today's outing. Indeed without thorough coverage on OSM and the Cycle Map I wouldn't have discovered that the best way to approach the tower on a bike is from Pointers Road on the other side of the M25. The map showed me a local cycle route (E2) which runs from Weybridge, and makes a very neat negotiation around the junction between the A3 and M25. I could never have worked that out for myself, and would otherwise have avoided that route.

As predicted the day was quite hot, and the wind was a bit blustery. Apart from a few minor glitches, all went according to plan for total of 64 miles, and an unusual, but worthwhile destination.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Fill in the blanks

Search the internet for phrases like "the trouble with cyclists" and words like "smug", "sanctimonious", "holier than thou" tend to come up a lot. Search for phrases like "the best things about cycling are..." and this is what you find (in a rough order of popularity)

  • the post-ride snack and nap
  • that everyone can find some form of it that they really enjoy
  • the friends you make
  • that it feels like too much fun to be good for you
  • seeing things I wouldn't see from a car
  • that you don't have to be fit
  • that it helps offset all the flying I have to do
  • that cycling is appropriate for all ages
  • that you can burn a lot of calories
  • that you can eat almost anything you want
  • that I usually arrive in a better mood than when I left
  • that once you have a bike cycling is free
  • seeing the world at a slower pace
  • that so many other people share your passion
  • coming down hills
  • that it doesn't matter how old you are
  • the feel of breezing around
  • that you can make your own way across the countryside
  • the variety it brings to your life
  • that it rewards someone who puts in the effort
  • the sense of freedom
  • that you can do it for hours and chat with people while you ride
  • that you get to pass through areas around your town that you might not normally visit
  • that it rewards hard work and persistence
  • the independence
  • that almost anyone can do it anywhere at any time
  • meeting others who love it as much as I do
  • that it's simple - it doesn't need hefty infrastructure
  • the freedom - never having to queue
  • that with varied vistas it never gets tiresome or boring
  • that every time I get on my bike it takes me back to my youth - the feeling of all the freedom experienced comes rushing back
  • the freedom and adrenaline rush of being on the open road
  • that even the most routine of journeys can be a cause of pleasure
Having established that there is some basis to the "smug" accusation, and caught up with my weekly quota of  displacement activities, I think its probably best if I go for a ride now.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

June round-up

It's the first of July, so time to review progress in June - which has been a bit disappointing. I had planned to build up some surplus miles to get further ahead of my plan for the year. The 200 mile lead that I had built up in early May had already slipped back to 50 miles by the start of June, and now it has disappeared altogether.

Things have only moved forward a bit on my other goals. The Eddington number is up from 45 to 46, and I've visited one more church on my list. It's progress, captain, but not as we know it.

There are some good reasons why I haven't been out on the bike often enough recently, but it's starting to leave me with a bit of a gap that I will have to close over the next six months. What I need now is a few quiet weeks with cooler weather.

To make a start on July I headed out to Sonning this evening, and crossed the picturesque bridge. I knew this was a bit of a bottleneck, but I hadn't realised quite how bad it got. Around 6pm the lines of cars waiting to cross must have been at least a mile long in each direction.

On the whole it was a pleasant enough ride, but if I was compiling a list of 100 things to do before you die, I don't think I would include crossing Sonning bridge at rush hour. I'm not even sure that I would add it to a list of 1,000 things to do before you die. Seeing it once falls somewhere on the scale between an unusual experience and a local phenomenon. Next time I go to Sonning I'll try to avoid 6pm on a weekday.