Wednesday, 31 March 2010

March round-up

We are now a quarter of the way through the year. I'm aiming to ride 3,759 miles by the end of December, and so far I've covered 757 miles, or 20%. I'm about a week and a half behind where I would like to be.

That's not ideal, but it could be worse. Recent weather hasn't been great for riding, and yet I've managed to pull up from being three weeks behind plan at the start of March. Things are not as busy as usual at work, and the clocks have gone forward so there is time in the evenings for some longer rides during the week. As long as the weather improves, I should be able to catch up with the plan in April (touch wood).
Mildly interesting things are happening with the Eddington number. The dotted dark line in the chart shows that I've done quite a lot of rides under 12 miles this year, and 7 rides of more than 60 miles, but not very many in between.

I'd reached an Eddington number of 41 at the start of the year, but despite seven long rides, this has only moved to 43 in the last three months. The trouble is that in the past I'd left a big gap between the 55 rides of  40+ miles that I'd done, and the 40 rides that I'd done at 45+ miles. So it is taking a lot of rides over 45 miles to shift the Eddington number. Things should move a bit more easily climbing from between an E-number of 45 and 50, then I will hit another cliff.

Progress on riding to my list of churches is looking a bit better. Of the fifteen that I'm trying to reach this year, I've already crossed off 12, leaving 3 to go. I've already ridden to the four most distant on my list. As a result some of the recent trips have been a bit too demanding for comfort, but the next few outings will be a bit easier.

The hope for April is that the numbers will be boosted by better weather and more regular rides, Bluntly, more riding, and less fiddling with spreadsheets.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

OSM coverage

It’s been three months since I last tried to measure road lengths on OSM against the Department for Transport statistics, and I thought there might be some interest in how things are progressing.

Across the UK my measure of the length of roads in the OSM database has increased by around 2% in the last three months so the overall pattern of coverage stays much the same as it was in January. Major roads are well covered and I reckon that about 72% of minor roads are now on OSM.

The most significant increases in coverage of England have been in: Stoke-on-Trent (43% more roads), Luton (26%), Bolton (18%), and Redcar & Cleveland (16%). Another eleven local authority areas have seen the length of roads on OSM increase by more than 10% (Vale of Glamorgan, Walsall, Poole, Northumberland, Stockton-on-Tees, Bournemouth, Staffordshire, Dudley, North East Lincolnshire, Medway and Dorset).

There has also been big improvement in coverage of the highlands and islands. There's almost 10% more coverage across much of the north and west of Scotland, taking the proportion of roads that appear in the OSM database to more than 70%.

It’s the first time I’ve tried to add N. Ireland. I used NUTS3 boundaries (as I did in Scotland and parts of Wales) because I can't find usable Local Government boundaries. The figures show that coverage is concentrated around Belfast, which is not a big surprise.

The raw data is here.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Iffley & Radley

The weather forecast for Saturday was better than the forecast for Sunday, so I chose yesterday for my long ride, and two more churches for the destination. It turned out that the weather wasn't too bad for March. I got caught in a few showers, but only one that was heavy.

Both of the churches that I visited are fairly old. St Mary the Virgin at Iffley (in Oxford) dates from 1170, and St James the Great at Radley (near Abingdon) dates from 1290.

St Mary the Virgin, Iffley
Iffley is the more famous of the two, as an example of Romanesque architecture. I particularly like the beak carvings around the door. Pictures of the whole building always look distorted, to my eyes at least. It seems too tall and narrow, but that's also how it looks in reality. They built churches that way in those days - without side aisles.

I hadn't visited Radley before, but it's another nice building, noted for four massive wooden posts supporting the roof. I suspect that I'm doing someone an injustice here, but Radley is also the first church I can recall from my cycling trips that has provided bicycle stands.

The round trip came to just over 75 miles. I got a bit lost coming into Oxford, but otherwise everything went to plan. For once I had even estimated the journey fairly accurately beforehand, so I made an early start and I wasn't too late getting home. Because of the distance I tried to save time by not doing as much riding as usual on the quiet back roads. That meant quite a lot of traffic on some stretches, but on the whole the roads were pretty quiet. It was a long haul though, with some fairly demanding hills over Christmas Common on the way out, and then the climb between Wallingford and Nettlebed on the way back. It's a lovely long fast drop down from Nettlebed to Henley, but there's a price to pay on the way up.

There were a lot of other cyclists out - some club runs, and some individuals - with a particularly large number in the Christmas Common area. Most of them looked pretty serious. However, there were also a few who looked as though they were finding the hills bit of a challenge. I suspect that I'm not the only one who is suffering the after-effects this morning.

Friday, 26 March 2010

400,000 free acres

I use online maps a lot, I usually have the GPS with me, and I've discovered that there are maps on my new mobile phone. But there is still nothing to beat a paper map out on the road.

To my mind the scale of the Ordnance Survey Explorer (1:25,000) maps is too large for cycling. They show a huge amount of detail, and they are good for walking. They have the advantage that they make the distances on a bike feel further than they are. But a decent ride would mean carrying a lot of Explorer maps.

Apparently some people tear up road atlases for their long rides, but that isn't for me: they don't show enough detail. The Ordnance survey Landranger (1:50,000) maps are just about right for the distances I am covering.

Sometimes I hanker after a slightly smaller scale, like the Sustrans route maps, or the old Bartholomew 1/2" maps that my parents used to use. But the Sustrans maps only cover their routes, and I don't think the Bartholomew 1/2" maps have been published for more than thirty years.

The Landranger maps do me fine. Each one covers about 25 miles across, and 25 miles from top to bottom, and we live close to the middle of a sheet. So a decent round trip takes me off our home sheet onto at least one of the neighbouring sheets.

If I am riding near to the corners I sometimes have to cross two or even three of the neighbouring sheets, but it's a long ride that takes me further than that. Reckoning up, my round trips on the bike have taken me across seven of the eight sheets that butt onto my home sheet. The few rides that have taken me further were one-way, and involved getting the train home.

I bought the extra sheets one at a time, as I needed them. However, at the moment the Ordnance Survey has a "3 for the price of 2" offer - which runs to the end of the month. As far as I can work out, that's a pretty good price for any sheet that isn't discounted elsewhere. It saved me a few pounds on the maps I wanted for holiday planning.

Obviously there are cheaper alternatives, but until the end of March, for each two Landranger maps that you buy the Ordnance Survey will give you another 625 square miles, or 400,000 acres. It seems like a good time to stock up.

The link is here.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Two-Wheel Invasion

"On reaching the Normandy coast, British Commandos leave their tank landing craft, some carrying bicycles and make for the shore."

From the collection of pictures posted by the National Archives on Flickr.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The bottomless pit

Many of the roads around here have been looking like a particularly disappointing episode of Time Team. More and more holes appear in the hope that Tony Robinson and his colleagues will discover something interesting. But now that the weather is improving there's a lot of activity to fill the holes in again.

Last week big chunks of the road to Winter Hill were being replaced. The week before the boys with the black stuff  were busy near Shottesbrooke. Surrey holds a comfortable lead in the CTC league table of holes that need to be filled, and yesterday the main street in Ripley was full of equipment putting down a new surface. I imagine the situation is much the same elsewhere.

Whether I manage to swerve around them or just clunk blindly into them I'm afraid I haven't been reporting the holes that I come across. One excuse is that there are so many of them that I feel I would never manage to get anywhere. You might call that the "bottomless pit" excuse. The other excuse is that the local authority can hardly need my help to discover holes at the moment. If they ever get to the end of this we are going to have a lot of smooth new road surfaces to ride on.

CTC are not happy about Kia pinching this data

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Imagine my surprise

I've been getting more exercise over the last couple of weeks. One reason is the new bike. The other is lousy planning.

Today's trip was to visit two churches: St James at Shere, and St Peter and St Paul at Albury. On Saturday evening I worked it out at a round trip of about 50 miles, or maybe 60 at a stretch. By the time I got home this evening I had covered nearly 75 miles. I was out by nearly 50%. Even by my standards that's a big error. And for me it's still a bit far for a day trip.

Both the churches I visited have Saxon origins. So imagine my surprise when I got to Albury and discovered this one. It doesn't take an expert to realise that this isn't exactly Saxon. It turns out that the local landowner built two replacements for the old parish church in the middle of the nineteenth century. It sounds as though the village had to move a couple of miles westwards so that villagers didn't clutter up the new park that was being created around the big house, and there was a bit of a local religious disagreement, so each faction got their own new church.

The original parish church is a mile or two outside the new village, and is now looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust. Special thanks to the couple who helped me to find it. It would have been a long trip to repeat because I missed it by a couple of miles.

Apart from messing up the planning, and losing the destination the meteorological office had promised rain this afternoon, but failed to deliver (bless them). It was dry all day, and sunny for most of it. I've been forgiven for getting home late. So things went pretty well. Two more churches have been ticked off. The bike is thriving on it (even if I'm not) and the annual mileage is starting to look a bit more respectable.

The full size version is here

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Participatory budgeting

Our local council has set aside £500,000 from the budget for next year and is inviting residents to vote on how they should spend it. Having said that, there doesn't seem to be much of a check on where the votes are coming from, so maybe the results will be swayed by hordes of enthusiastic outsiders.

Anyway, I managed to get my contribution in before the deadline on Monday.

The options are:

  • Extra grit boxes and a small gritter with mini snowplough for clearing entrances to schools, day centres etc - £100,000 (on top of the annual winter service budget of £110,000)
  • Traffic calming measures - £100,000 (in addition to £200,000 already allocated)
  • Trees - £100,000 for planting projects, e.g. avenues of trees on main roads and new orchards in local parks (on top of the 2,000 trees already scheduled for planting in the year ahead)
  • Sustainable street lighting - £250,000 (additional to the planned budget of around £200,000)
  • Improved disabled access to council buildings - £100,000 (on top of £83,000 already in the budget)
  • Heritage projects - an extra £100,000 for arts and heritage projects across the borough (in addition to £500,000 already allocated)
  • Town centre improvements - £250,000 to upgrade paving and street furniture in Windsor, Maidenhead and Ascot
  • Cycling - £100,000 to improve cycling facilities across the borough, including links to schools, workplaces and town centres and work with schools to encourage children to cycle (on top of £75,000 already in the budget)

The details are: here. Although I have my preferences, I'm pretty much in favour of all of them, so happy to sit back and see what happens.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Only connect

Question: What do Kenneth Grahame, Guglielmo Marconi, and Timmy Mallett have in common, and which is the odd one out?

Answer: They have all lived in Cookham, but nobody has erected a blue plaque to commemorate Timmy Mallet (yet).

Full screen map here
Our local authority publishes a list of blue plaques, but the locations they give are a bit woolly, so I've been getting a bit of exercise hunting them out and adding them to OSM over the last couple of evenings.

Thanks to Mappa Mercia for the idea. And for anyone considering a similar exercise, Open Plaques provide an extensive list of Blue Plaques here They use OSM as a base map, and extract geotagging from Flickr.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Anyway, nothing exciting happens

Over the years I've become fairly adept at scheduling work so that I normally deliver stuff on time, and keep the pressure of deadlines at a manageable level, without having too many gaps where there is not enough to do. Sometimes plans fall apart though, and when a gap opens up I try to catch up on paperwork. Monday was like that, and by Tuesday morning I had a small pile of documents waiting to be posted.

As it was such a beautiful day on Tuesday and things were still quiet I thought I might as well get the bike out and deliver them myself. If I'd just done that it would have involved a round trip of twenty miles or so. In the event the trip seemed to extend naturally into the south end of the Chilterns. On the way back I ended up mapping a residential area that is one of the bigger gaps in the local coverage of Open Street Map. By the time I got home I had covered about 40 miles.

Somebody has described the remaining thin bits of OSM as the "ugly places", which is a little bit unkind, but not entirely untrue. The area I added yesterday was mainly 1960's semi-detached suburbia. I imagine it is a pleasant place to live, but I wouldn't normally go out of my way to visit. The main problems for mapping on the bike were that it was quite hilly, and quite a complicated street pattern. The hills are good exercise for the leg muscles. But when I got home and plotted it all I realised that I had missed a few streets.

It was all a bit reminiscent of the "maze of twisty little passages" in the early time-sharing computer adventure games. I had the same feeling of not quite being sure whether I had already explored a particular route. Along with the same feeling that I really should be working instead of messing about.

"Rubbing the electric lamp is not particularly rewarding. Anyway, nothing exciting happens".

Sunday, 14 March 2010

By popular demand....

...this is a picture of my new bike.

I've had it for a week now, ridden every day, and covered just over 150 miles. That includes one long outing yesterday, a shorter trip mapping in Bracknell today, and a selection of my favourite local loops in the evenings after work.

Previously I've been riding a hybrid, so the new riding position is less upright. The big difference is that different muscles tire first, but I'd like to think that I'm also moving a bit more swiftly, and I'm finding the brakes more of a reach. I imagine that will change as I adjust to the different position.

There are two things that need some work. I've not got the front gears adjusted to be quite as smooth as I would like, and I gather that a new leather saddle will take a few hundred miles to adjust to my anatomy. The saddle has been reasonably comfortable from the start, but the "contact points" do get a little sensitive after a long ride.

This isn't intended as a review, but seven outings and 150 miles in the last week represents about a third of this year's riding. I think that probably reveals how delighted I am.

Saturday, 13 March 2010


There is plenty for the visitor to see in Dorchester Abbey, but one thing that isn't always pointed out is the memorial to Mrs Sarah Fletcher. It says:


If thou hast a heart fam'd for tenderness and pity, contemplate this spot. In which are deposited the remains of a young lady, whose artless beauty, innocence of mind, and gentle manners once obtained her the love and esteem of all who knew her. But when nerves were too delicately spun to bear the rude shakes and jostlings which we meet within this transitory world, nature gave way. She sunk and died a martyr to excessive sensibility.

Mrs Sarah Fletcher

Wife of captain Fletcher. Departed this life at the village of Clifton on the 7 of June 1799. In the 29 year of her age. May her soul meet that peace in heaven which this earth denied her.

Read that, and you can't help but wonder what the real story is. We learn more from "Love's Madness: Medicine, the Novel, and Female Insanity, 1800-1865" by Helen Small. She quotes Jackson's Oxford Journal of Saturday 15 June 1799 as follows:

On Saturday last, an Inquest was taken at Clifton, in this county, before R. Buckland, Gent. one of his Majesty's Coroners, on the body of Mrs. Sarah Fletcher. This lady put an end to her existence by hanging herself with her pocket handkerchief, which she fastened to a piece of small cord, and affixed it to the curtain rod of the bedstead in the room in which she usually slept. After a full investigation of the previous conduct of the deceased, and the derangement of her mind appearing very evident from the testimony of the gentleman at whose house this unfortunate affair happened, as well as from many other circumstances, the jury, without hesitation, found a Verdict - Lunacy. The husband of this unfortunate lady is an officer in the Navy, and is now on his passage to the East Indies.

Then she quotes a local pamphlet:

Sarah Fletcher (one of the Fletchers of Saltoun) lived at Clifton Hampden - not far from here. Captain Fletcher was in the Navy, and, following the popular tradition of the sea, he was not only inconstant, but unfaithful. He actually proposed marriage to a wealthy heiress living some distance away, and he was on the point of committing bigamy when Mrs Fletcher was warned at the last moment - she had only just time to reach the church to stop the ceremony. 'It is not difficult to imagine the scene which followed . . . Captain Fletcher literally ran away, made for London, and sailed for the East Indies. The unwedded bride returned home with her parents, and Sarah Fletcher drove back to Clifton Hampden and hanged herself in her bedroom fastening her pocket handkerchief to a piece of cord which she fixed to the curtain rod of her bedstead.

The important point about the inquest verdict of lunacy is that in those days a suicide couldn't be buried in church.

There a more mystical history of the poor woman here.

I wouldn't want to encourage excessive sensibility, but it's an intriguing story.


We were in Dorset last weekend. So when I announced that I was planning to cycle to Dorchester today eyebrows were raised. I'm a bit behind plan on my annual mileage goal, and a round trip of more than 200 miles would certainly have helped that. But even on the new bike that would be ambitious.

I actually meant Dorchester-on-Thames, which is more like a 50 mile round trip. The Abbey Church of St Peter and St Paul is on my list of churches to visit on the bike this year. It's one of the few on the list that I've already seen, so I knew I could expect something a bit special.

Rather than follow the most direct route I took a slightly wider loop to include another church on my list: St Katherine at Chiselhampton. But the real point of the day was to give the new bike a good stretch.

I covered just over 60 miles, across fairly hilly ground. The journey out started by crossing Winter Hill to Marlow, then climbing to Stokenchurch. The weather for that stage was sunny and quite warm.

I then dropped down to Watlington. As I've discovered before the weather on the other side of the escarpment can be quite different. Today it was colder and more windy. So the journey up through Chalgrave to Stadhampton and Chiselhampton was less pleasant.

However by the time I had moved on to Dorchester the sun was back. The late afternoon journey back through Wallingford, Stoke Row and Henley was really lovely.

There were plenty of other cyclists on the road. Lots of friendly "hello"s. And for once those which passed me mostly had the grace to be half my age, and fully lycra'd..

In summary, I've had a smashing day. I've ticked off two more churches. The mileage is looking a bit more healthy. I'm tired, and I am chuffed to bits with the new bike.

Friday, 12 March 2010


Our local authority has Tweeted to say that they have filled 138 potholes today. I am tempted to say that they are barely scratching the surface, but somehow that doesn't seem to be the the right form of words.


It's friday afternoon, and the pull of he weekend has started early. So instead of finishing off the stuff I ought to be working on I've been prodding around the internet looking at old maps.

In the process I came across a wonderful collection that belongs to the National Library of Scotland.

Most of them are maps of - guess where - Scotland. However, they also have a collection of the lovely 1/2 inch Bartholomew maps covering the UK, and various other bits and pieces. There's a full list here.

The picture shows how Mull is represented on a nineteenth century travelling map of Scotland. Other highlights include aerial photography from the 1950's that can be viewed as an overlay to Open Street Map here.

Any minute now the phone will ring, and I'll have to get back to doing something useful. Meanwhile, it's not been the most productive couple of hours of my week, but still time well spent, I think.

The William Roy map, which came up in an earlier post, is here.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Political shopping

The Guardian Bike Blog has an item on manifesto pledges for cycling, based on a current CTC campaign. Both propose a number of ideas, and the Guardian invites further suggestions.

It's all good stuff that it's hard not to support - like better facilities, higher safety levels, and more commitment to cycling.

So I went off to see what the different parties are currently saying. As far as I can make out all of the major parties are in favour of cycling in principle, all want to see more of it (for the usual reasons) but all believe that it is fundamentally a local issue.

Labour don't seem to have a lot to say, but I suppose we can see their policy in practice. On face value the Liberal Democrats seem to have the most concrete proposals, but it's hard to see how they differ significantly from current practice. The Conservatives are trying to give the impression that they will transfer £200m from Congestion charging to walking and Cycling schemes - but they rather spoil the story by claiming that there has been a 15% decline in cycling since 1996 (based on number of trips in the 2007 DfT statistics), when the most recent figures show a 22% increase in cycling (based on distance travelled in the 2008 statistics). At least they got the decimal point in the right place - it's just the sign they got wrong this time.

The CTC campaign and Guardian blog are just a small sample out of a number of different election shopping lists that have crossed my path in recent weeks. Each is making a plausible case for a particular interest group that I could claim some allegiance to. It's all healthy campaigning activity by pressure groups, I suppose. But if I add all the ideas together what it amounts to is a combination of higher spending and lower taxes. To misquote Arthur C. Clarke, "any sufficiently advanced manifesto pledge seems indistinguishable from magic".

All this is generating some interesting discussion, but I can't help feeling that the principle is fundamentally flawed. I'm not at all sure that I want to vote for a party that makes promises to lots of different special interest groups - even when I am part of them. After all it's our money that they are promising to use to buy our votes. Perhaps I'm being perverse, but I'm not even sure that I want to live in the kind of society that puts the interests of people like me at the top of its priority list. But I suppose that if the majority of voters want to be presented with a bunch of shopping lists for special interest groups, then that is what democracy has to deliver.

Monday, 8 March 2010


The ideal number of bikes is supposed to be N+1, where N is the number of bikes you currently own. Until today, I owned one, so the formula made two the ideal number of bikes for me.

Today I collected my new bike. I now own two, so the ideal number has gone up to three.

There must be some kind of time delay in the formula though, because it certainly doesn't feel as though I am short of bikes. I still have a well-used hybrid, my faithful companion over several thousand miles exploring, mapping and generally pootling around. And  I have a shiny new touring bike, which has only covered ten miles so far, on a try out around my Winter Hill loop.

I'm very pleased with it. It rides well, and looks great, but I'm still unfamiliar with the different gears, and the different riding position, so my riding was a bit clumsy. I don't think the bike quite knows what to make of me yet, and I suspect I am more impressed with it than it is with me. But I hope it will reserve judgement until I get my act together. I have all sorts of plans for this year, and I would like to think that there are many thousands of happy miles ahead of us both. No doubt over time we will get more used to each other.

Friday, 5 March 2010

The thin end of the wedge is on a slippery slope

The Department for Transport is currently consulting on the safety of mobility scooters and powered wheelchairs. Although injuries are rare, there are already around 330,000 users of these vehicles and an ageing population means that the numbers are expected to increase. According to the DfT, concerns are starting to be raised about the risk they may pose to pedestrians.

Does that sound familiar?

The consultation is concerned with design questions, such as the maximum speed, and safety features. It is concerned with the users of these vehicles: whether the minimum age for drivers should be reduced, and whether fitness to drive should be assessed. And it is concerned with the use of the vehicles: such as whether they and their users should be registered, whether users should hold third-party insurance, and whether there should be a maximum speed limit.

The consultation is open until the 28th May, and the full details are here.

Hands up - this isn't an issue that I've given a huge amount of thought to. But on first reading it seems to make a lot of sense. It sounds as though the technology and the needs of users have moved beyond the way things were when the legislation was originally drawn up. Some considered changes might give pedestrians more protection, and users more mobility.

On the other hand, this could also raise some uncomfortable issues.

Electric bicycles currently have a speed limit of 15mph, compared to 4mph for powered wheelchairs. Some might argue that if users of mobility scooters have testing, registration, and the like imposed on them, then why shouldn't users of electrically assisted bicycles? If electric bicycles, with a maximum speed of 15mph have to be registered then why not a normal road bike, which is commonly ridden at higher speeds. There are a lot more of them, and we all know that some are ridden on pavements.

I don't really believe that changing the legislation on mobility scooters will end up resulting in a mandatory cycling test, and registration of cyclists. That cannot possibly make sense. I'm confident that there will be compelling reasons for drawing a line in the sand that will stop the floodgates being opened by the thin end of the wedge sliding down the slippery slope. I'm just not sure yet what those reasons are. However, I am pretty confident that we are going to see this issue raised.

Monday, 1 March 2010

February roundup

Another month has gone by, and my mileage total for 2010 has only risen to 337. That's almost exactly the same as I had reached at this time last year. It's pretty disappointing. I was doing alright until the middle of the month, and keeping more or less on schedule despite some ropey weather. But in the last couple of weeks I've slipped behind again.

However, the weather picked up today. It's been a bit cold but sunny and dry. So I bunked off work a little bit early, and I went for a quick spin of about 10 miles before dinner. It was great. The highlight was three deer wandering across my path on the way along NCN4 near Littlewick Green, then scattering in all directions as I approached.

Whatever the weather turns out to be like I'm not going to fit in a long ride over the weekend, because we have other plans. But the forecast for tomorrow looks good, and it's not too bad for the following couple of days. So I could be breaking off early again before the week is over.