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.