Friday, 18 December 2009

How many of you made it in on a bike in the snow today?

All I can say is, thank the Lord for ski gloves. I've written about them before but once again they've proved completely indespensible.

I had an amazing moment this morning - I left much earlier than usual and cycled down the Regent's Canal while it was still pretty much pitch black. I was wearing just enough of the right kind of clothes to keep warm. The wind, for once, was behind me.  I only passed one other cyclist and there were no pedestrians. It just felt ... amazingly exhilerating cycling into the dawn, with a few dots of snow billowing about.


Any snow-related biking stories out there? Perhaps those in Canada can give us an insight?

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Real exercise ... running not biking!

Ran out of house to get to tube. Tried to relax on tube and allow sweat to dry. (Sorry). Ran from tube to work. Ran to meeting room to attend clearly very important meeting.

Now feel more exhausted than if I'd been cycling 10 miles.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Cyclists targeted as Westminster Council goes after ‘lycra louts’

Was quite intrigued by this article in the Times - on several levels ... I think it's right that cyclists do behave well ... I'm not sure we deserve to be fined and punished in that way ... and I agree that we need a better cycling eco-system to stop us taking to the pavements etc.

But most of all, I wonder who this poor guy is, cycling off the pavement (!) ... although he's clearly in the wrong, I feel a bit sorry for him for being picked out of thousands, and splashed over the Times to be the "lycra lout" the papers love to hate. Who is he? (Mr Yellow, that is).

A little addition to that post - there's a lovely article here by Keith Bingham - someone who's taken the trouble to go out with the police to see them in action at a traffic lights, stopping cyclists jumping reds and telling cars and lorries which have gone into the box to get back.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Should you dismount when told to do so?

I had two moments on my ride this morning when I was told by a sign to dismount. The first was on the Regent's Canal, just West of the Zoo, where there's some work going on and you have to go on to a jetty thing to get round it. I made a judgement: the dismount sign was probably for my own safety - in case it was slippery on the jetty - or because if there are lots of people it could be a hazard. I looked carefully - there was no-one in sight - so I biked carefully over the jetty. No harm done.

Then I went through a residential area just above the canal. I would normally dismount as there's a bit of a blind corner. But this time I decided I wouldn't, as every time I had dismounted before, I'd literally never seen a single pedestrian coming my way. But this time, of course, there was a pedestrian and although I was creeping along slowly, she was clearly angry (I got the impression this was quite a regular local issue) and told me off, said there could be elderly people coming through, etc etc. I tried to explain that this was the first time I hadn't dismounted but she was clearly angry and didn't want to enter into a conversation.

I left feeling guilty and angry. I got to thinking about the hundred times I had dismounted, but no-one had noticed my good work (!), and how you can ruin cyclists' reputation by one moment like that.

I sort of think I should write a little note and leave it by the bike sign explaining my point of view and apologising if she was shocked when I appeared, and that perhaps I should shout loudly whenever next go through and do dismount, alerting everyone to the fact that cyclists do dismount ... but there's another part of me which says - just forget it, and next time you go through, dismount.

Anyone out there got on any views on whether we should always dismount when we see the sign?

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Neck cagoule - the answer to the cold

It's got cold on the mean streets of London. Cycling is more challenging. The best item I think I've ever bought for the cold (apart from the obvious - gloves, something to go on your legs, waterproof jacket) - is a neck cagoule from Mountain Equipment Co-Op in Canada. It's cheap but it just keeps your neck brilliantly cosy.

Just spotted that they're sometimes called neck gaitors, or neck warmers. This is the kind of thing I mean:

Monday, 30 November 2009

A minor landmark for Karmacycle

Just a note of thanks to users of this blog - my page impression counter tells me I've reached the giddy heights of 2000 since I put it in.  A drop in the ocean for a lot of websites, but I feel quite chuffed.

The downside is that most people who come to the site leave pretty much straight away (!) so perhaps I'm not doing everything right. Anyhow, I'll keep trying to spread good cycling karma around the streets of London (and anywhere else in the world you may be reading this) and perhaps in a few weeks I'll be celebrating ... well, 3000 ... thank you.

Friday, 27 November 2009

The vulnerable alien - an update

I know you've all been hopping with curiosity to see what my broken light referred to in previous entries actually looks like. Do you think it has a bit of vulnerable alien to it?

Maybe it's just when it blinks a bit pathetically that it's more like a living being ...

Thursday, 26 November 2009

My bike started going down the drain ... literally

I don't like to alarm folk unduly but I have another hazard to add to the list of adversities us cyclists face. Drains.

I was leaving work in all innocence last night, just coming out of the exit and on to the main road. I pushed to go off and suddenly, clunk! I was stuck and had suffered a really painful blow to the parts of me which don't want a painful blow. I looked down, suspecting I must have fallen into an enormous pot-hole. But no - I was stuck in the drain!

Light of day

I went back to the scene of the crime this morning to provide documentary evidence for you, dear readers. Although in the cold light of day the drain looks quite innocent, you can quite clearly see that there's a gap in it almost specifically designed to take a bike wheel:

And of course I had to prove a wheel fits in, so here's the evidence:

So on the scale of human suffering, it's not a big deal - but do watch out, fellow cyclists, the drains want to eat you!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Houston, it looks like you're breaking up ...

On my ride home yesterday I discovered I've got a rather reckless side to me. I was cycling fast down the Bayswater Road. I've been getting fairly angry with my main front light for about 2 months. Every time I go over a bump, it kind of shakes and rattles and almost always the light goes out. It's got a dodgy connection. As I'm cycling, I have to kind of hold it a bit and push it back into place and about 50% of the time the light goes on again.

Space shuttle

But yesterday, the light refused to go back on. I pushed it around a bit, but nothing. Then suddenly, a bit like the space shuttle coming back into the atmosphere, the outer casing holding the batteries in place flew off behind me into the night. "Ha ha, I don't care, I hate you!". I was laughing like a maniac. I carried on at speed. Suddenly, the casing which holds the front bulbs in place also flew off behind me. "I hate you too!".

A vulnerable alien

This kind of sated my hatred for the light and my sensible side kicked back in. I don't want to lose the batteries, after all, no matter how much I hate the light. So in a quiet street I was able to take the wretched thing off, still blinking occasionally, and put it in my pocket. It looked a bit like one of those aliens which, when stripped of its horrible outer metallic shell, actually looks quite cute and vulnerable inside.

Anyway, I thought I'd share the story of my light. Am I actually certifiable or do others have love/hate relationships with their gear?

By the way, in case anyone is worried - I do have two other lights on the front ...

Monday, 23 November 2009

A machine to dispense inner tubes ... cool or what?

This is just outside a bike shop near the Truman Brewery area off Brick Lane in London

New bags please!

Right. That's it. I know my panier bags are not waterproof. That's why I carefully wrapped up my clothes in a Sainsbury's bag. Clever, I know.

Had my shower. Lovely. Reach for bag. Open bag. Somehow, enormous amounts of rain have gone through my paniers, penetrated the plastic bag, and ... my shirt is soaked across my chest. My trousers are soaked across my ... well, the bits that trousers cover. I'll have to dry off au naturel. Kind of.

Anyone know any good waterproof rear paniers? (!).

My increasingly sad bags - one of them

Note - hole at bottom of bag so you can quickly lose stuff. And what was once a fiercely waterproof  bag has become more like a sponge.

PS sorry about the extended absence. It's been tough at work and busy at home. I'll try to sneak in a few more updates.

Monday, 16 November 2009

What to do in a puddle?

And while I'm on - as it were - I'm never quite sure what to do when you have no option but to go through an enormous puddle. This one is not from these parts (New Zealand in fact) but gives the idea:

I supect the only thing to do is:

- slow down
- try to keep your feet as far away from the water as possible (so your peddles are parallel with the ground)
- go back to being a kid and stick your feet out in front of you
- or just get wet

Of course the big extra danger here is that if you haven't got a rear mudguard, the water will go all over your back and your bags, if you have them. The answer? Sadly inevitable - get a rear mudguard. Although I've singularly failed to take my own advice so far.

What the hell do you wear on a bike in this London weather?

I spent about half the journey this morning wishing I had worn just a T-Shirt (and shorts of course), then the rest wondering why on earth I didn't put on more waterproofs. It's always a bad sign when you're cycling along, clad in full winter regalia (waterproof jacket, several layers, a wooly neck thing to stop the wind getting in etc) and you spot a large group of travellers wearing shorts and T-Shirts and looking very comfortable. Then you notice that you're sweating rather more than you expected.

Then, as I approached Notting Hill Gate, the heavens opened and I was glad of my heavy wear, but wishing I had a bit more of it.

I'm not sure quite what the answer is. There's a secret part of me that actually rather likes getting a good soaking (I think it must be related to my days running around school playing fields in my youth) so I'm the type who likes wearing less as getting too hot is about my worst state.  I suspect there are some "miracle" materials which allow you to wear the minimum yet stay dry and warm. And I suspect that a few of you out there are going to recommend some of them. And I suspect I'll be quite pleased and really want to buy them but then be put off by the price.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

The joy of gloves

Aren't gloves fantastic? And isn't it nearly the end of the world when you can't find them and it's bitterly cold outside? I think I might soon be in the market for a more heavy duty pair than I currently have. I must confess I bang on my old skiing gloves when it gets really cold, but somehow they ... well ... get a bit sticky inside.

Actually I'm beginning to wonder if it's possible to dress up for a bike ride wearing clothes made up from other "disciplines" ... e.g.:

- hat from horse riding
- gloves from skiing
- boots from hiking
- jacket from ... canooing (?)
- trousers/pants from ... rafting (?)
- lights from ... pot-holing (?)
- A-Z from ... getting lost in London


Monday, 9 November 2009

How to tackle a new route on your bike

Today I had to go to a different venue for my work - Millbank to be precise. Here's what I think you're supposed to do when you are going somewhere different on your bike:

1. Study route the night before
2. programme route into iPhone, and place iPhone in handy iPhone strap-on device on handle-bars
3. If you don't have an iPhone, print off map
4. stop every now and then to look at by now crinkly map
5. Go back to old fashioned techniques - ask people where to go

Being me, here's what I did:

1. Hurriedly check address as I try to leave house, failing to print map
2. Go on normal commute route, hoping I'll recognise a few landmarks
3. Get lost around Trafalgar Square
4. Suddenly spot Big Ben
5. Find venue just in time.

I suspect that many people are more organised ... but is a cool iPhone the only answer?

Friday, 6 November 2009

Slow down the pace little darling ...

I think that's the Gregory Isaacs classic, is it not? Sometimes you've got to do that on your bike too. I was feeling pretty full of cold, a bit low, and took the tube a few times. Then yesterday and today I've been doing shorter rides at a very moderate pace and it's been great! I don't know about the rest of you, but I have an inbuilt need to push myself as far as I can - trying to build up speed, get past people, and yes, I admit it, outpace other cyclists (sometimes).

Proof that Gregory Isaacs has been near a bike - but it's not
clear if "slow down the pace" is about cycling
So how nice to deliberately slow down the pace, travel behind people and stay behind them, not really even break a sweat. I'm getting ready to jump on my bike soon, and I'm really looking foward to taking it slow. But I still promise not to position myself right in front of someone at a traffic lights who looks much faster than me ... (see previous entries)

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Depressed by cycling ...

Cycling adds time on to my journey, not least because I have to shower and change when I get to work. I don't spend enough time at work, I don't spend enough time at home. Sometimes I worry that cycling is the only thing with any flexibility and I should stop, or decrease. Two hours a day... too much? Can anyone give me a pep talk?

Monday, 2 November 2009

Every now and then, stop ... it'll make your commute much better

I've been meaning for a few days to stop and take a photo of Hyde Park. There's a particular spot where you just catch a glimpse into it and it looks like a paradise on earth, especially on a clear crisp day like today. Anyway - in spite of the fact that the bit where you have to pull over is tricky because it's on a fast road - and also annoying because it's right at the bottom of a hill so you have to start from scratch when you get going again, I did stop, and I did take a picture. It probably doesn't do it justice, but see what you think:

Note - saddle showing clear signs of wear and tear - see previous entries 
And while we're on interesting news - I spotted another person wearing a riding hat today. This time I'm pretty sure it was a real riding hat being used for cycling, rather than a fashionable cycling hat. And I spotted one of those really trendy hats I've talked about before. If you're wondering what the hell I'm on about, here's a link to previous entries on the topic.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Are you listening to your bike?

My bike has developed a new noise and I'm struggling to understand the language. It goes like this. I pedal, it goes "creeeeeeek". I pedal, it goes "creeeeeeeek". I pedal, it goes "creeeeeeeek".  I pedal fast, it goes "creeeeeeeeeek" faster. OK, that suggests it's the pedals or the chain. But then I kind of stand up on the pedals and it stops. I am led to the inevitable conclusion that it's my seat. But when I kind of wobble it, nothing happens. No creeking noise. I'm beginning to worry I might be alarming small children and unsuspecting cyclists with my new noise.

If only I was fluent in bike.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Are you the mysterious whistling cyclist of the East?

I heard him before I saw him. The distinctive sound of someone whistling the Pink Panther theme song. He stopped at the same lights as me. He seemed to be quite passive-aggressive. I took a very big dislike to him (this has happened before - see blogs passim). It was the loud way he was doing it, kind of pretending he hadn't noticed any of us other cyclists, and kind of trying to look totally "relaxed" while in fact pedalling as hard as possible to be at the front of the pack.

I wanted to get away from the whistling. A few minutes later, there he was again, at Old Street roundabout. Thank the Lord it wasn't the Pink Panther any more. He'd switched to some jazz number. This guy clearly thinks he's one of the all-time best jazz whistlers. And he's loud. He somehow managed to cycle right through a red light while whistling and only avoided being overwhelmed by the mass of motorbikes, other cylces and cars coming the other way by some very polite driving from the pack.

On reflection, I realised (yet again) that my instant reaction was silly. Perhaps the guy really is a musician - the kind who'd we'd all pay good money to watch in a club. And whistling is cool, isn't it? And it makes a lovely change from the silence you often get when a big pack of cyclists are waiting competitively at the lights.

Perhaps you're the mysterious whistling cyclist of the East and you're reading this. Let us all know. Or perhaps you've seen him. Or just heard him.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Have you ever followed a cyclist? Not in a creepy way ...

I had an odd experience the other day. As I cycled down the Bayswater Road, I noticed a fellow cyclist with a distinctive bag, slung around his back. Nothing too strange there. The bag had a kind of snake motif on it. He peeled off on a different route. But then I saw him again the other side of London on Old Street roundabout about half an hour later. He was still just ahead of me.

Then, weirdly, a few days later, I saw the same guy, again on the Bayswater road, and again in East London, just beyond Old Street. The bag identified him for sure.

Here's where my behaviour, arguably, gets strange. I figured: this guy is commuting to the same place, roughly, as me. He's obviously got a different route and it may be a bit quicker than mine as he's normally travelling a bit slower than me. If I ever see him again, I'll follow him.

Sure enough, a few days later, I did just that. He took me on a very different route, and, sure enough, we arrived at Old Street roundabout and he ended up going very close to my house before disappearing on a bit further.

It was a bit of a blur and I can only remember bits of the route, but I do sometimes now employ at least some of his route. It felt a little bit suspect following someone like that, but I don't think he minded or noticed, and I got some good info from it.

I don't necessarily advocate following complete strangers - and I dread to think what would have happened if, say, he'd decided that night to go and see a friend in a completely different part of London - but this was quite positive. Anyone done this kind of following? Or indeed been followed?  Are there better ways of discovering new cycle routes?

Karma rating ****

Monday, 26 October 2009

A bicycle stretcher ... puts things in perspective

I just spotted this on the BBC News site  - a bicycle used for carrying women in Malawi who are about to give birth and who have complications. It rather puts all my moaning about lights, rain and stuff into perspective.

Now is the time to put some decent lights on your bike ...

I don't normally drive my car around London in the evening. But at the end of last week I had to make a short trip out. I was driving on some reasonably dark streets in the Islington area. First of all, I was surprised by how many cyclists there were, obviously coming home in the De Beauvoir Square area. Clearly this is a good place to cycle, with few cars about and nice roads. But when I emerged from the dark roads on to a bigger road, which was also a bit dark, I was shocked to find a cyclist almost upon me, when I was just about to turn left. He was wearing dark clothes, had no lights and, like I said, it was pretty much pitch black. Luckily I did see him in time and refrained from pulling out. But it was a real lesson to me - light, and reflective bright clothing really does save lives. God, I'm sounding like I'm some kind of government safety film. But I can assure you that as a motorist, it really traumatised me - and then it made me realise that as a cyclist, we really need to arm ourselves with the best gear possible.

I've got a feeling that bike shops will have one of their busiest ever days today - with people stocking up on good lights.

Anyway - government safety notice over.

This site - Commuter Page Blog - has a good article about reflective tyres too.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Is this lazy or a clever way of using social media tools? Discuss

I'm really busy at work ("Thank the Lord, he won't be blogging so much about stupid things like airing cupboards" is your relieved cry) so haven't had any head space (don't you hate that expression?) to think about blogs.

So - what do you think is important on our roads? I've got quite a few things swirling around my head that I'd like to blog about - how to say sorry, how to spot a celeb, the art of seeing old friends as you cyle, new ideas for lighting on bikes, how to cope with the cold, motorbikes in bike lanes ... and a host of other things. But perhaps these are not the things which bother/interest you.

Tell me your worries, moans, moments of joy ... or I'll get back to my agenda.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Is it time for a change in EU law ... in order to dry cycling clothes?

I never could have predicted that this morning, not only was I talking to a total stranger on one of London's busiest roads, but I uttered the highly unlikely phrase:  

"Of course every workplace should be required by law to have an airing cupboard"

We were discussing the rather sudden onset of rain this morning (yup, it's a popular topic here in London, for fairly obvious reasons) and my fellow cyclist stated that that was the only thing that put him off cycling sometimes - having to get back into wet clothes when he left work at 6 in the evening. After a bit of a moan, we agreed that airing cupboards were clearly the way forward. I think this would be a tricky piece of legislation to pull off (any lawyers out there specialising in EU directives and legislation?) but perhaps if there's a groundswell of opinion, starting on the KarmaCycle blog, we could change the world. Or at least change our clothes. Into something dry. Here's a picture of a nice airing cupboard which is practically saying "please put your damp stinky cycling clothes inside me". Though it could do with some hooks. 

Sadly I haven't been mentioning this blog to all the lovely cyclists I meet on the roads. I'm thinking I should get a jacket with KarmaCycle written on the back. And a nice logo.

Sorry, my fonts have gone a bit crazy this morning - big, small, big - it's making me feel like Alice in Wonderland ...

Thursday, 15 October 2009

The nice mafia man

A while back I was cycling through Notting Hill Gate. I was following a very smart looking black car, possibly a Mercedes. We were going down a fairly narrow street and started crossing Portobello Road, where the market is. I thought there was a clear road ahead so was quite close to the car. I was just musing about how much the car looked like a Mafia one, when ... bonk! He stopped suddenly just as we'd crossed Portobello, I braked hard, but just eased into his bumper at the back with a small thud.  "Oh my God", I thought. This is it.  Sure enough, the door opened, and a man, looking not completely unlike Tony Soprano got out. I fully expected him to draw out a large revolver, shout at me and send me to an early biking grave.

However, instead he came round, didn't even look at his bumper, and asked me if I was alright. I was almost too shocked to say anything but managed a feeble "fine thanks ... " whereupon he got back in his car and drove off.

Funny how you build up a very clear picture of something which almost invariably turns out to be completely false. Or perhaps I have too vivid an imagination ...

Any mafia related stories out there? (I'm hoping for the "enjoyable read" kind rather than the "depressing violence" type please).

karma rating: *****

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Cycling on the big roads ... is it allowed?

I'm never quite sure if you're allowed to cycle on the overpasses on the Marylebone Road/A40 as you head West. I can't see any signs which tell you not to, but it also seems like madness to be biking along next to what is effectively a motorway. This question will mean almost nothing to anyone who doesn't cycle in London (sorry US and other readers) but I wonder if anyone knows the answer?

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Gear versus "normal" clothes

I had to divide my journey into two this morning - so I travelled half way in my usual get-up of shorts, bright cycling jacket, red socks etc - showered, had meeting, then cycled the rest of the way in my "work" clothes. I took things easy, enjoying the sunshine and generally felt great when I got in. There's always that horrible thing of whether you're going to be too "glowing" if you don't shower and change ... but arguably, as the days get a bit colder and you have to work harder to get up a sweat, there's more reason not to wear the full kit.

But then again, there's the rain. And snow. And everything else.

At this point I dissolve into confusion and get back to work.

Karma rating: **

Monday, 12 October 2009

Saddles are brilliant at retaining water - unfortunately

Do you remember the soaking most of us got in London on Friday evening? It was good proper heavy rain, and got most of us really, properly soaked. It was great for comraderie on the roads. I've never spoken to so many cyclists in my life - we all had a cheerful exchange of mutterings at the lights, about how we weren't properly dressed, how we forgot to bring the right gear, how we were looking forward to getting straight in a shower etc. Made me think that actually, we're a pretty friendly bunch, in spite of the thinly veiled competition between us all ... or is that just my imagination?

Anyway, so we got wet on Friday. I employed my getting-clothes-off-as-quickly-as-humanly-possible technique to great effect.

But I then cycled on Sunday. Without going in to too much detail, I noticed my ... nether regions ... getting increasingly wet, two days after the rains ...

On examining the seat, it turns out that it had soaked up the rain like a sponge (in fact, is there a sponge in there?) and was gradually being released as I sat on it. I must admit I do have quite a lot of holes in the seat and that's probably the cause. Is it time for a new seat, or is there a cure?

I guess it could be a useful feature if you're ever travelling through the desert on a bike.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Cycling ... and the art of forgetting

Have you ever done this? You're maybe about a third of your way along your commute. You stop at a set of lights. You reach down instinctively to take a pull on your water bottle. Shock. Horror. The water bottle's not there. Then suddenly a very clear flash enters your brain - you can picture it exactly - it's on the chest of drawers just by the kitchen where you left it so you'd remember it to put onto your bike before you left this morning.

The water bottle is something of a comfort blanket and gives me something to do when I'm at a long set of lights. Oh, and you need water to survive, of course.

Then I started thinking - what else have I forgotten in the past? Well, pretty much everything. I've certainly forgotten my helmet. (And usually cycled back home to get it). I'm someone who gets changed at work - and, without going into sordid details, have, on different occasions, forgotten: a sock, socks, underpants, trousers ... and all my clothes. I've left my lunch in the fridge at home, and on the kitchen counter. I've never forgotten my bike - that would be silly. A bit Pythonesque in fact.

My suspicion is that on any given day there are hundreds of lunch boxes and sandwich packs languishing in home fridges all over London which should be at work. There are hundreds of members of our great city's workforce without underwear, or at least a sock, or tights. Have a look around. Is that person really wearing cycling shoes instead of work ones?

Give them a break. It's not easy being completely organised day in day out. I always think getting ready for a day's commuting on the bike is like packing for a weekend away.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Can a grown man suddenly sprout two inches ... or is there something wrong with my bike seat?

I've recently been having a little nag in the back of my head which has been telling me that my bike seat's too low. But this can't be as I haven't touched it for years. And as far as I know, I've passed the legal age of growing. But there it is again - a feeling of the old knees sticking up too much, of my weight being too damn ... low.

So, at a pit-stop to buy a new gear cable (mine keep snapping with monotonous regularity), I took the opportunity to raise the seat by a couple of inches and ... what an amazing difference! I felt preposterously high above the cars (purely psychological, of course) and ludicrously distant from the road. I worried about whether my feet would actually reach to the ground when I stopped, but mercifully I was still in contact. But good grief - the extra cycling power! I suddenly felt like I could go like the wind - admittedly not that sensible while negotiating the T-Junction which takes you into Marylebone High Street. It must be said though that it's not all joys - I also felt much more knackered more quickly.

But my suspicion is that by raising your seat a tiny bit, you could make a substantial impact on speed and efficiency.

Karma rating: ****

By the way - just found a good post on bike seat height at Bike Radar - and it confirms the idea that a too-low saddle can have a serious impact on energy efficiency. So there you go.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

This KarmaCycle blog does have positive effects, I've found out ...

To my joy and surprise I discovered not only that the occasional person does read this blog (ooooh) but also they actually act on it. Steady now my friend. On Saturday night I bumped into a friend in what's often rather laughably known as "Victoria Park Village"* - basically it's the roundabout area just north of Victoria Park - we talked for a few seconds only, but then he said the magic words:

"I was reading your blog about the "incident" on the canal and when I biked on it this morning I was extra careful and extra polite".

Wow - a testament to the power of new media? Living proof that the brand known as KarmaCycle has finally made it mainstream? errr... more like a mate who I'd sent the link to had actually bothered to click it, but nonetheless, a first for me, and it gives me extra impetus to continue. ("For heaven's sake", I hear you cry, "don't give KarmaCycle any more impetus - he'll only go and write some more nonsense"... etc etc)

* Whoops, sorry, I've just found a link to Victoria Park Village dot com and found out that in fact the area is not only "delightful" but "a true East End London village". Actually to be fair, the first is certainly true.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Blogging technique - do less?

I once heard that to blog well you should occasionally blog a little less and spend the extra time on linking and spreading the word ... so that's what I'll try today.

Monday, 5 October 2009

How to cycle in the rain - your commute

I had a couple of nasty slips this morning - luckily they probably looked more comic than anything else, but they got me a bit nervous. I was thinking about how you should cycle when it starts getting wet and slippery - which could be about half the year in London. So here are my immediate thoughts - do feel free to add more and I'll come back to this subject:

  1. Ride more slowly. In a way that's all you need to know! But I guess there are a few more ...  
  2. Your brakes will not be as responsive - so allow longer to stop
  3. Be extra cautious when in traffic. Cars have a habit of not seeing as well when there's water on their windscreeens
  4. Wear more reflective gear and put on your lights, front and rear, even if the visibility seems reasonable - chances are it will get darker or if the rain gets harder it will be worth it
  5. Be extra careful when turning - go slowly
  6. Watch out especially for turning on metal or wood - both can be incredibly slippery (tip - the section of decking at Camden Lock where you have to go to get on and off the Regent's Canal is a real killer - slippery as ... anything)
  7. If you're a bit of a swot, give your bike a good clean and dry with a cloth or some rag when you finally get to the dry. It's a pain, but will help your bike stay nice, prevent rust etc
  8. any other thoughts? There's a nice simple guide at the League of American Bicyclists

Good British innovation spotted on the roads ...

As I battled the steady London drizzle on my bike this morning, I couldn't help but laugh when, as I passed through the back of Islington, the following arrangement:

- two ladies walking side by side
- one was pushing a wheelchair
- sitting on the wheelchair was a nice looking dog - probably a Jack Russell
- rigged above said dog's head was an umbrella held in place on the wheelchair

This reminded me of something I spotted on Friday as I was going over Old Street roundabout:

- man on normal looking bike
- strapped to the back of his bike was one of those posh wooden wine crates
- it was embossed with the very fine "Chateau de Beaucastel". A wine I've certainly tasted but almost equally certainly not tasted enough of.

I thought this was a great new way of carrying your stuff around on a bike. I suppose it's not impossible the guy actually had a few bottles of the great wine in there, though surely this would be a mad way of getting fine wine from spot A to spot B?

Friday, 2 October 2009

Being polite adds on another 5 minutes to your cycling commute

After yesterday's incident I was determined to cycle very politely and very considerately, especially on the canal. I also secretly hoped that I'd see both of the people I'd offended yesterday so I could either apologise or at least let them see that in fact I'm not a lycra lout. (I suspect they've completely forgotten about the whole thing by now and might be alarmed to see a strange looking man coming up and apologising out of the blue - but you never know).

I figured that taking extra care like this added a few minutes to my ride, but also made me feel a bit more relaxed. So on the whole, I think it's a good strategy. 

Tailgaiting through security

However, my karma levels were challenged again ("good grief, will he ever stop moaning?") when I was going through security at work. There is a big sign on the gate which says "no tailgaiting - do not let anyone else through". A fellow employee not only managed to get in behind me as I was getting ready to close the gate, but then cycled off as I was trying to get back on to my bike. It made me feel like he'd abused my trust and then didn't even have the patience to let me go first. Take deep breaths and say after me: "In with love, out with hate."

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Hoisted by my own Karma ... I'm now at the confessional

Pride comes before a fall, as they say. In my case, as you may be able to detect from this blog, I was just beginning to get a little bit preachy and smug about being a considerate cyclist. In my mind, I was giving myself a nice pat on the back for being better behaved on the roads than most. Then this morning, an incident which has set back my build-up of good karma several ... months perhaps.

Picture the scene: Mr KarmaCycle is cruising along the Regent's Canal going West, minding his own business. He's approaching a tunnel and spots a fellow cyclist waiting by the entrance. I slow down ready to wait too. But then I notice another cyclist nip in through the tunnel, ignoring the waiting person. The waiting person is showing no signs of moving, so my brain tells me that she must have stopped for some other reason and think she is on the phone or something. So I too nip in front of her, only to see that sure enough there are pedestrians coming through, including a child in a push-chair, and of course I stop to let them through. But quite rightly I am soundly berated by the waiting cyclist who is now behind me and the father who is pushing the push-chair - didn't I see she was waiting etc etc. I mutter my excuses, explaining that I thought she was on the phone, and of course she thinks it's the most ludicrous thing she's ever heard. I go on, feeling rotten and stupid and dwell on the incident for the rest of the journey.

Luckily I did recognise the dad concerned so will be able to offer an apology and explanation when I next see him. But if you, polite waiting female cyclist who goes West down the Regent's Canal at approx 8.45am near Victoria Park happen to read this: a big apology from me for an error of judgement.

Monday, 28 September 2009

New discoveries going East along the Regent's Canal

My last blog post turns out to be a bit erroneous - in fact yesterday (Sunday) was the nicest cycling day of the year. My eldest has suddenly become a huge cycling fan (nothing to do with me guv, honest) and we celebrated by taking the bikes East - from the easterly tip of Victoria Park, through the Hackney Marshes and beyond. We got pleasantly lost around the Lea Valley river/canal area but stopped for a picnic in Springfield Park which in itself turned out to be a bit of a revelation. With the sun shining, exploring a new part of London we fancied ourselves to be in a different country altogether - the outlandish graffitti art merely adding to the effect. This was the kind of day which cycling was invented for.

Karma rating: *****

Particularly liked this croc, just opposite the site of the main new Olympic stadium ...

Friday, 25 September 2009

Is this the nicest day for cycling so far this year? KarmaCycle says yes!

What a beautiful day in London! My journey along the Regent's Canal was lovely. I was enjoying it so much I forgot to take a picture til I'd come off the canal. It's one of those rare days which are not too hot, not too cold, almost no wind ... and somehow not too crowded.

Karma levels soared on the streets of London, and let's hope they'll stay high tonight!

Here's my picture from Wood Lane bridge taken looking East down the canal. The boat you can see in the canal is a strange tin thing - with the moniker Tin Tin - each "Tin" on one side of the bow. I guess it's a good case of something being what it says on the tin. Sorry, couldn't resist.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Blackpool "to become cycling capital of the UK"

It seems improbable, but that's what BBC Newsround is telling us. Apparently money is being pumped into the city, with a whole bunch of "bikes for rent" being the centrepiece of their plans. BBC Newsround has some video of a presenter trying out some of the rented bikes.

The Paris Velib scheme
On a recent trip to Paris I was determined to try out the similar scheme there, but got thwarted when I couldn't work out how to get hold of one of the special cards you need. Admittedly it was about 1 o'clock in the morning so it's not completely surprising. If you can read French you can the gist of the scheme on the Paris Velib site - and in fact I've just noticed that there is an English version available on the top right hand side of the front page. Otherwise the Europe for Visitors site has some good information on how to get hold of the bikes.

If you see a chained up bike painted white, it's a "ghost bike"

Sorry to bring the conversation to a rather sombre note, but I'd always wondered why you sometimes see white bikes chained up by the side of the road. I kind of guessed, but this article on BBC News which came out over the summer explains the reason. They mark the place where a cyclist has been killed.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Speaking Freely "I'm not commuting today but..."

"I'm not commuting today but I'm having a lovely day. Wondering around Victoria Park on my bike. Enjoying going at leisurely place ___. Please leave any comments on the issues discussed below. Thanks."
spoken through SpinVox

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Cycling and feelings about the Tube

For complex reasons, I didn't bike in to work today. I've developed a theory - the more you bike, the more you can actually tolerate (I won't go as far as to say "like") the tube. There's a novelty about it and I quite enjoy doing a bit of people-watching. And you're not completely knackered at the end of it.

I never thought I'd hear myself advocating tube travel - but once in a while it's just about bearable.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Couple of odd observations from this morning's ride ... bird noises and invisibility

A bird-bike

There is a bird which produces exactly the same noise as my bike makes when it's a bit unhappy about changing gears. Kind of grinding, whirring, whining, rasping, shrilling, scraping. I noticed a bird making the identical sound. In Notting Hill Gate somewhere. Spooky.

Assume invisibility

Thought it would be worth writing a longer piece ("Oh God", I hear you cry, "No") about how to start cycling in London and keep safe. My first rule would be to assume that you're wearing a kind of Harry Potter Invisibility Cloak. Assume no-one can see you, even if you're wearing two dozen lights, a full body suit of luminous lycra and you're sounding every horn and bell at once. It's safer that way. I wonder if anyone else has a "top rule" which I could shamelessly steal and add to this blog?

Friday, 18 September 2009

The perfect KarmaCyle breakfast for a London bike commuter?

I think I had it this morning. Porridge, a chopped up banana, liberal sloshings of maple syrup and a pour of double cream. It's the first time in ages I've arrived at work not longing for something big and sweet to eat!

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Do us London cyclists know the rules of the road?

I believe that you can be safer as a cyclist in London if you are also a car driver. When you drive you quickly get a sense of when cyclists appear to "pop up" from nowhere. This is useful information when you are then on a bike.

The other thing - you get a good sense of which side of the road to drive on. Quite often, on the Regent's Canal on my way to work, I'm surprised to find that fellow cyclists don't seem to be riding on the left. I put this down to the fact that they don't want to fall into the canal, so ride as far away from it as possible.

But another explanation might be that people really aren't used to roads, and road signs. A couple of days ago I went past this bit of cycle lane near Tavistock Square in London. I was amazed by how many cyclists did not attempt to follow the directions:

To me, this means: "OK guys, you now have to go over to the right, to the other side of the raised bit of concrete. Oh and by the way, the cyclists coming from the other direction have to give way to you so don't worry, they'll stop..." In fact, that's not how most people read it - certainly the bit about "don't worry they'll stop".  So I guess I'm wrong. Or, perhaps, it's just a really confusing bit of signage.

Sorry, I'm beginning to sound a bit ranty. I'll be quiet now.

Is it possible to overcome an irrational hatred for a fellow cyclist?

Does anyone else get this? Another cyclist does something (normally bad) and you develop an instant - and totally irrational - but big - feeling of intense dislike?

It happened this morning on my morning commute - I had stopped at a pedestrian crossing to let a few people over, and this guy wearing an orange jumper (a cyclist, of course) careered over the crossing at top speed, dodging the pedestrians as he went. I just thought - "what a selfish git" or words to that effect - and found myself dwelling on how annoying he is for a large part of the rest of my journey.

What to do? I suppose the grown-up thing to do is have a word with him immediately afterwards, but this is likely to end in a big row and frankly you don't need that first thing. In the end, I think I'd just about reached a state of some karmic equality by thinking that this could have been his first trip along that road, perhaps even in London - he could have not known there would be a crossing and not corrected himself in time - and I did later spot him waiting very nicely at some other red lights, so he's clearly not a monster.

In fact, I almost like him. No, let's not go that far. He's clearly not a good cyclist, but it's never worth the energy of hating ...

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

How to get into your house when you've taken a soaking on your bike

There are few things more miserable than putting on wet shoes the day after a soaking. That happenned to me this morning and ... it was misery.

When I arrived home last night I found myself a bit paralised because I couldn't work out whether there was a way of getting me and the bike through the house without causing maximum wetness all over the house. But even as I thought about it on the doormat, I realised I was already contributing to the flooding of the house.

I then reluctantly decided the only thing to do (and for all sensitive readers, please look away now) is to take off all your clothes very quickly, grab anything like a towel (dishcloth can work) and stand on that. It helps if you have a lovely wife or husband who can hand over said implement. Put all wet clothes straight in the washing machine while using above-mentioned towel/cloth to shuffle along the floor so as not to drip. Then, find proper towel and dry clothes.

This method is not recommended if important guests are visiting including, for example, parents-in-law or
new friends. The behaviour could be deemed eccentric.

I am still unclear though how you're meant to dry off your boots/shoes - I placed mine up against an admittedly cold radiator so they would "drain" - but overnight this had pretty much zero effect.

Anyway, as ever, keen to hear some tips!

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Spotted in London's Brick Lane - a modern-day Penny Farthing

I was amazed to see this for sale in a bike rack area on Brick Lane this Sunday. A bit of a look around the net reveals that there is a British company which seems to make these. But I've never seen anyone on one. Have you? It seems to be called the Qu-Ax Penny Farthing

Monday, 14 September 2009

Derrailleur bonheur!

It's amazing what you can achieve with an allen key. I didn't have much time at the weekend for mucking around with bike repairs, but I did go to the Spittalfields agricultural show (yes, it's the London event of the year!) and there the kindly folks from the London Cycling Campaign were in evidence. They showed me around a derailleur and gently pointed out that the whole apparatus could be "swung" around the frame, and that possibly my derailleur had simply slipped and that was why it was scraping against the chain.

Sure enough, early this morning I got to do a bit of fiddling - and lo and behold the problem seems to have miraculously gone away! How amazingly satisfying to feel that you've carried out a (albeit minor) bike repair on your own, not spent your money, and got a good result.

The words of the Jabberwock were on my brain when I cycled down the canal this morning:

"Oh frabjous day, callou callay!"

I haven't quite slain the Jabberwock - but I've moved on to first base when it comes to repairs!

Friday, 11 September 2009

Horse riding fashion is coming to cycling on the streets of London

I wonder if I've spotted a trend? I noticed a female cyclist around Mortimer Street (W1) wearing what at first sight looked like a riding helmet. On closer inspection (we'd stopped at lights!) it turned out to be a cycling helmet, I think, which just looked a lot like a riding helmet. I've done a bit of research on the net and I couldn't find the exact model. But it has made me now question whether it might really be a riding helmet, as plenty of the new riding helmets for being on horses, look like more like cycling gear. If you see what I mean.

Further proof of the trend was noticing another cyclist wearing what can only be described as long black ... wait for it ... riding boots. Again, you could argue that she was just wearing nice black boots, but it did make her look a bit like she was about to do riding.

Anyway, here's a bit of evidence that people are trying to make riding helmets look a bit more like "normal" hats - the company is called Yakkay

And here's a horse-riding site which clearly shows that horse riding helmets are moving in a biking direction.

It's called The Horse Riding Clothing and Saddle Blog

Final thought - do you think you could ride on a bike using a bowler hat for safety?

Stupid thought ... the kind you have on your bike ...

A cycle is exactly half way between a car and a pedestrian.

A motorbike is to a car what a jogger is to a pedestrian. The bike is a different species altogether.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Welcome if you've come from the TFL site

I've just seen that this blog is featured on the Transport for London site - so if you've just come from there, welcome. I hope you find this site interesting and useful - and I'm especially keen to hear from you if you want to leave a comment or thought about anything to do with cycling. Have a look around and tell me what you think.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

The weirdest place for cycling in London

I'm wondering if this is the strangest place in London. To get to it you have to pass through a no-biking canal boat section (I'm talking about going along the Regent's Canal travelling West past Regent's Park etc. Then you go through a really long tunnel. Possibly the longest along the canal? You're surrounded by these massive walls as you cycle to what feels like the end of the canal. You can't go any further as there's no footpath along the tunnel. You have to climb some very steep steps to get out. There's no-one else around ... Oh God. You get out quick. 

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

My derailleur has become a pain in my derriere

Yup - I went over some nasty bumps as I walked the bike along by the house-boats in Little Venice - and when I got back on my trusty steed, there were the tell-tale signs. My chain was "whirring" whenever I pedalled. I couldn't get into my third set of gears. And the clearest sign of all? I was rapidly losing my temper and therefore my karma. To cap it all, when I stopped and then re-started, sometimes my pedal would be "loose" and I'll whack my nether regions into the saddle. Pain.

Anyway - I've tried shoving the wretched thing across, but to no avail. I now need some advice on how to bring it back to a more workable state. Anyone an expert on derailleurs? Otherwise I'd better do some investigations.

Karma rating: poor.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Bicycle powered house?

I couldn't resist showing you this guy, who's built a tiny house which can be pulled by a bike. Fantastic. Anyway, here's Paul in his home, and here's where you can read more about it

It's enough to make us commuters green with envy ... looking at Mike Carter's trip on a bike around Scotland

I've been avidly reading Mike Carter's account of his travels around Scotland. Is this the sort of thing which us townies dream of?  I think so. Really, we'd much rather be cycling down a lonely glen than getting squeezed between several double-deckers ... here's a sample from this week's offering from Mike:

"I rode along the Ayrshire coast, the magnificent muffin-shaped island of Ailsa Craig seemingly acting as a pivot point as I swept around the wide bays, a quick loop around the Stranraer peninsula and then along the bank of the Solway Firth, indented with sandy coves and estuaries. For the first time in nearly two months I could see England, the hills of the Lake District rising in the distance, shimmering across the water like some mystical Avalon. I felt a tad emotional. Which was ridiculous, of course, but idealised and sentimental notions of home burn brightly. And somehow, when you have travelled every yard under your own steam, the sense of journey is magnified a thousand-fold".

Great stuff.  More can be found on the Observer website

Is there a "Sunday biking" syndrome?

I don't normally cycle on a Sunday. But I had occasion this weekend to travel to the Fulham Road from East London. In a slightly rose-tinted way, I was imagining clear empty streets, what little traffic there was pottering about as if in the countryside. I was imagining a throw-back to a more polite, easy-going society where drivers nodded and waved at each other and cyclists politely waited at the lights without that stressed look you see on weekdays.

Then I hit Brick Lane and the remnants of the Columbia Road flower market. If anything, there seemed to be more people and cars around than usual. Carrying things. Like flowers, and trees. And it didn't change for most of the rest of my journey (admittedly I did get rather lost and took a few bigger roads than I wanted to). It seems that London is not a city which has a rest on its roads on a Sunday.

The only observation I would make is - there was a slightly more leisurely attitude among cyclists - and more couples doing a bit more ambling along in pairs.

Oh - and how nice not to be wearing silly cycling clothes for once.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Never never clear your nose ...

... when you have a fellow cyclist behind you

Do yellow lines on roads have magical properties?

Has anyone else noticed this? You're cycling along beside traffic and you have to cycle over either single or double yellow lines (yes, we're frequently forced into the gutter!) and suddenly all normal control seems to go. Once, around that horrible section in Shoreditch outside the Town Hall I actually stopped my bike and got off on to the pavement, convinced I had a puncture as my whole bike felt so wobbly.
I examined the bike - and sure enough, there was nothing there at all. I then got back on the road and found that the same feeling could be achieved by going back on the yellow lines. What does this tell me?

Either that yellow lines have magical properties. Or they're deliberately concocted to feel a bit "slippery" and weird, so when cars and bikes go on them, they quickly want to get off. From what I can see looking around the web it seems that the paint they use can be sort of rubbery, so that may account for the odd sensation.
Speed bumps too?
This is now going to sound a bit nerdy ("when doesn't he?" I hear you cry) but I also wondered whether you can slightly benefit from this paint syndrome when you go over speed bumps, which can be terrible things especially if you're going at a fairly decent clip.

Here's the thing - I've noticed that if you aim your wheel so it goes over a painted part of the speed bump, you feel less of an impact than if you go for the other sections. Of course many bumps don't have the paint, so it doesn't apply. But try it - and let me know if it works for you.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Battling against the wind this morning made me think: can you attach a sail to a bike?

Good grief. Talk about struggling against the elements. My whole journey along the Regent's Canal this morning was far more like sailing than cycling. Sometimes you feel like you're barely moving, such is the intensity of the opposing wind. But it doesn't stop there. Even on the big roads you get sudden gusts which threaten to push you out into traffic. And for some reason, if you're travelling East to West in London, which I do in the morning, you're always going into the wind. I did actually read somewhere that in England the "posh" bits of cities tend to be in the West and the "poor" bits in the East, as the rich don't like the idea of the smell from the poor parts being carried by the prodominantly Westerly wind to them.

Anyway, I got to thinking - what if you actually could make biking a bit more like sailing and harness some of the wind? Clearly ludicrous for London commuting, but perhaps out in the open?

Clearly the main thing about sailing is that you use the wind to tack and you have to go diagonally when you have an opposing wind - and that wouldn't work on a bike as you'd never get from A to B. But who knows - if you had a prevailing wind, could you winch up a sail for a few minutes to help you along?

Needless to say many have got there before me - and a quick search on the net reveals some pretty funny drawings and photos, including this one from Grant McClaren who built his own sail-bike:

More details can be found on his site here:

I also like this one from a site called "Patently Silly" which seems to find amusing patents which will never come to fruition:

and here's that link:

And finally there's a nice entry in a book which I'd never heard of before called "700 Things for Boys to do"

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Cool lights for bikes - spotted on the Regent's Canal

I followed someone for a while this morning on the canal. At one of the many bridges, I was surprised to see that her lights were on at the back - I hadn't noticed it being on before.

Then we went through a very dark area where the natural light is obscured by scaffolding and some huge boards, making a kind of graffiti alleyway. Sure enough, her red light went on again, and soon turned off once we'd got into the full light.

Sherlock began to think: aha - she's got some kind of a cool sensor thing on her light.

My investigations led me to Google. And then to this link, where I found the "Busch & Muller Dtoplight Senso Battery Rear LED" (£27.99 from Evans) which I think is a match to hers. I must confess I didn't know this kind of thing existed, and now I'm a bit envious as I love all the gadgets and lights and I'm a firm believer that you can't have too many on a bike.

Anyway, here's the link for those interested:

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

What are the signs of unfitness?

OK, so I'm finally back "in the saddle" after two weeks of holiday. Little or no cycling in the last fortnight, so I was intrigued to find out how much my fitness had declined.

First odd sign: the bike felt strangely wobbly when I got back on. A guess an indication that my balance has deteriorated a little.

Next thing I noticed: a definite lack of breath, feeling a bit puffed after only a little cycling down the canal. It all felt a little more of an effort, and I certainly couldn't pick up the kind of speeds I am used to. I determined to retain a bit of that holiday spirit and take it a bit easy, enjoying the scenery etc.

Slight muscle twinges ... yes, a definite feeling that the old muscles were being asked to do something new, and that if I was to do something very quick or unexpected, I'd probably pull something.

But the competitive spirit is hard to suppress ..

It's a bit sad isn't it ... I'm only back for a minute or two, and I instantly feel that slight sense of "Hey, how come he's going faster than me?" ... "I'd better speed up and I'll show who's quickest...". How childish and silly, but I suspect I'm not alone. I have to consciously try to suppress this instinct.

Karma rating? *****

Great to be cycling again, and great to be having some decent excercise.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

What's the opposite of a speeding ticket?

I was looking at the ING initiative, where they reward people for "random acts of kindness" and video a few staged events - e.g. someone helping a person who's lost etc and the kind person gets a party etc etc.

It's all a bit worthy, arguably, but I like the principle. And I was wondering - what if police handed out tickets to drivers/cyclists etc who were driving particularly WELL? And instead of being fined, you actually got £50 or something in your bank? This could apply to cyclists who take the trouble of walking with their bike on the pavement, or even those who bother to stop at a red traffic light ...

Clearly it will never catch on, but I like the idea of it.

Social cycling

As a cycling commuter, it's more often than not a question of getting your head down, going as fast as you reasonably can without endangering yourself, fellow road-users or wildlife. You rarely get much time for looking around and enjoying the scenery. I do often cycle through London zoo on the canal path, and will more often than not catch a glimpse of wart-hogs, flamingos and occasionally a pack of hunting dogs. But it's just a glimpse.

I'm now on holiday and was able to take a small trip with my wife on our bikes. What a difference when you're cycling with someone! We took it slow, had a good look around, even chatted as we biked - unheard of when you're commuting. It reminded me of what an amazing pleasure it is to amble about at 10 mph, drinking in London.

I'm sure there's a lesson there somewhere ...

Karma rating: **** (out of 5)

Monday, 24 August 2009

Isle of Wight Cycling

I regret to say that despite spending a week on the Isle of Wight, I failed to spend a single moment on a bicycle. Having said that, I had a damn good holiday. But I got a good feel of what it's like to cycle on the island - and it certainly seemed like a cycling paradise. (BTW - this picture is not anything to do with me, but thought it gave an impression of what it's like).

For a start, the speed limit is almost everywhere limited to 40 mph, so you don't feel quite as threatened on the big roads. Drivers are generally much more polite and thoughtful than on the mainland. But here's the really exciting thing:

There's a "secret" network of cycle lanes all over the island.

For example, we were staying in Cowes. It turns out that you can follow the route of the old steam railway all the way from Cowes to Sandown on the other side of the island. While I was in the car, I kept seeing cyclists disappearing down little leafy alleyways.

This site seems to list many of the good rides, for those interested:

Anyway - it's not strictly about London cycling, this post, but it's worth thinking about a cycling holiday on the Isle of Wight.

And ...

There's a big cycling festival coming up there in September ... any more excuse to get out of London needed?

Thursday, 20 August 2009


currently taking a break from cycling as on holiday in the isle of wight - though i must say the possibilities here are endless - will provide sporadic updates when appropriate ...

Friday, 14 August 2009

I could smell his aftershave ... then he nearly hit a garbage truck

There are few things less pleasant than cycling behind an open top car if the reek of aftershave/scent is overpowering and, frankly, repellent. One's sense of good karma is further tested when the driver of said convertible is also ... how shall I put it ... rather limited in driving ability. This morning, a very nicely turned out gent in those 70's shades we know and love was ambling along in front of me, clearly in some sort of reverie and oblivious to any of the rules which us mere mortals worry and fret about throughout our journeys.

Sure enough, just as I'm thinking I might have to overtake the highly powered Merc, a garbage truck comes a little bit unexpectedly out of a side road. The Merc driver doesn't actually seem to know how to use his steering wheel, and comes within a whisker of developing an intimate friendship with the side of the truck. The garbage truck driver delivers the required abuse (rather mild in fact, involving something about actually looking through those glasses) and the Merc driver decides, just for good measure, to turn left down a side road without indicating.

Moral of the story: avoid getting too close to drivers who you can smell.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Sometimes you have bad traffic light days, and other times they actively conspire against you ...

Today felt very much like there was a little man sitting in front of 500 screens showing all the traffic lights in London, pressing buttons with a gleeful grin making sure that my journey would be hampered to the full. My worst stretch (and I would strongly recommend never biking down this bit) was going down Praed Street (W2) approaching Paddington Station. It really is a nightmare there with several sets of lights which all take simply ages to turn. On top of that, it's a really dangerous street for buses and lorries turning here and there. Overall, my karma rating for this area is: just say no.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Hunger and biking

Sometimes I feel really hungry on my bike. I am also desperate for a muffin or something else sweet in the middle of the morning. Apparently the type of exercise you take will affect the kind of hunger you feel. I believe it. Here's a really interesting article suggesting why. But note the corrections - it's only a draft so far.

Traffic lights etiquette

Here's a situation where I find it difficult to keep my sense of good karma. You pull up to at a red traffic light to wait patiently for it to turn green. Another cyclist - and usually someone who is going at a very leisurely pace - pulls in right in front of you. Sure enough, when the light goes green, they amble through, blocking you as you try to get away with a slightly greater sense of urgency. What is it that stops people realising that they may be blocking their fellow cyclists? I'm quite happy for someone to go ahead of me if they believe they have a fair chance of going quicker ... but this. Still, if I'm to stick by my own rules, I have to quietly grin and bear it and say "good karma will come my way" ...

Stairs versus biking - which is better excercise?

Just come up 5 flights of stairs from the underground car park where I leave my bike. The stairs always work up a sweat far more than 10 miles of biking. I'm not sure if that means that perhaps I'm not as fit as I thought, or that climbing stairs is fundamentally more exhausting than cycling.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Suddenly doing half your journey ... and the real Soho

I only had to do half of my normal route today ... strangely it felt unsatisfactory as I didn't quite get to that level of exhaustion that makes you feel you've really earned that muffin. Oh well.

On the other hand, it did mean a lunch in Soho. As a walked around looking for the venue, I was surprised (in my naivity) to see signs on various doors saying "This is not a brothel. There are no prostitutes at this address". It opens up a whole world of worry and anxiety I had not dreamed of before!

Monday, 10 August 2009

Blackberry season - it's catching on ...

Following my remarks a few days ago, I saw active confirmation - a fellow cyclist had put down her bike on the canal verge and was tucking into a blackberry bush ... either she's read my blog, or (admittedly slightly more likely) just spotted with her own eyes what nature's bounty is providing.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Competition: the most confusing cycle lane?

Does anyone know what you're supposed to do on this cycle lane at Shepherd's Bush roundabout? You kind of make your way along the pavement on a nice green lane. Then ... well, if you look at the video, the green bit just ends, and goes into ... nothing ... and then you start contending with pedestrians ... and then, well, you stop. No doubt those planning it had some idea, but I can't figure it out. Anyone know of any more confusing than this?

Thursday, 6 August 2009

I didn't know I was a hippy until a taxi driver started swearing at me

I guess it wasn't an atypical situation. Location: the very difficult junction at Gray's Inn Road and Theobald's Road. Loads of cyclists, loads of cars. Somehow, a taxi swerves outwards slightly and nearly touches a Volvo. Volvo owner goes beserk and the two cars go side by side down Thebald's Road shouting at the top of their lungs at each other.

Muggins here (for it is he) then calmly passes the taxi after he's finished venting ... only to suffer a volley of abuse from the taxi driver: "it was you - you were the reason I had to swerve in the first place you ****$%@***" and more in that vein. Some of me felt it then should have been my turn to find another cyclist and start shouting "and you - you were the reason I had to swerve" but for some inexplicable reason, all I could think of to say back to the taxi driver was "Don't spread the hate." I've never used that expression in my life, nor do I really know what it means. But every time the taxi driver said something else, I repeated this mantra.

Very odd to discover that deep in your psyche you're a hippy.

It is the blackberry season

I had a discussion last weekend (in the countryside) about whether it could possibly be the blackberry season already. Well ... I ate one today and although a bit sour, it was pretty good. And this bush - along the Regent's Canal in Scrubb's Park - surely proves my point.

Can there be a better start to your working day?

Once again, amazed by how nice it is to cycle down the Regent's Canal, and head through Scrubbs Park in West London - yup, it's where the prison is but the park around it is wonderful. Here's a view going along the canal path

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The rules of cycling ...

Never turn on metal, even when it's dry

When approaching a roundabout, junction, any difficult situation:

1) check for normal things - cars, other cycles, pedestrians, pets
2) check again - this time for very bad drivers
3) check a third time - for complete loony drivers

For all the rest, I might need a bit of help!

Speaking Freely "I am just about to start my..."

"I am just about to start my bicycle ride into work. I'm standing above the Regents Canal on a bridge watching the other cyclist go by. Feeling a little bit achy in my legs. Having psychod(?) (err... editor's note - this should have been "cycled" but Spinvox couldn't quite cope with that word!) so much in the last 2 days but looking forward to the ride. Catch you later."

spoken through SpinVox

Tuesday, 4 August 2009


I'm trying a service which allegedly lets me blog straight off email and my mobile … let's try it!

I've got pretty fond of this monkey ...

Odd sight - a seagull catching a fish

You don't see it that often at sea - but today I saw a seagull catch a pretty decent sized fish in the Regent's Canal, and swoop up to a nearby roof garden to try to eat it. A couple of other people stopped to wonder at ... well perhaps that there actually are any fish in the canal in the first place - and perhaps also how a seagul managed to spot it. But then I guess that's what seagulls do ...

The Karma worked!

Yes, I had two cyclists say very nice "thank yous" when I stopped at the front of a tunnel on the canal to let them through. It irritates me beyond endurance when you wait patiently to let someone through, and you don't even get a nod. I regret to say that I'm one of those self-righteous gits who says a sarcastic "don't mention it" if they don't ... but today was different.

Monday, 3 August 2009

It's good to be back ...

Fantastic to be back on the bike after a week of enforced quarantine at home (something which may have been the dread swine flu but which might just as easily have been anything else which causes a bit of a tummy ache and a bit of a temperature). You see things with new eyes and this morning's sunshine added to feeling that London is a great place to cycle.

But I saw a terrible piece of riding ...

I would have thought the message has got out to most people - don't go to the left of big trucks. I saw a cyclist creep to the left of a huge truck waiting at traffic lights, with his indicator out showing everyone exactly what he intended to do ... but the cyclist didn't seem to have registered it. Luckily she had time to slow right down and stop as he carried out his manoeuvre - but boy, did it make me scared. Irony - she looked a bit indignant.

Friday, 31 July 2009

The Cycle of Karma

When you're cycling around 100 miles a week through London, you develop some strange notions. The one I can't get out of my head is that you build up karma - good and bad - depending on how you cycle. So - if you stop at red lights, wait politely for pedestrians, smile at cars, you get rewarded - the next light turns green for you straight away, someone smiles back at you - you get the picture. Of course this doesn't always work, but it works often enough for me to try to cycle by those rules. Most of the time.