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.