Brother and Sister ride through the rain

My sister and her family came to visit today, only the second time they have all been at our house togther, and, like their first visit, the weather was awful. The rain lashed hard at the window, driven into needle points by a gusting wind. This wouldn’t have been too much of a problem normally, but my sister had come over especially to try out my Lemond Etape with a mind to borrow it for her first triathlon. She has a bike on order, but it’s very unlikely that it’ll arrive in time for her race. She’s been practicing on a mountain bike, a completely different experience from riding a road bike, even an entry-level racer like mine. Finally, having consumed incredible amounts of pizza, there was a break in the weather, and even though the sky was black with boiling angry clouds, and the wind was still blowing hard, my sister and I set out through the lanes, she on my Lemond, and I on the Brompton.

The roads were slick and muddy, punctuated with sudden huge puddles. Unexpected gusts slammed into us as we passed gaps in the hedges, blowing us off course and spraying us with droplets from overhanging trees. A solitary crow bowled past us, tumbling rather than flying. We headed through Rudge, my sister getting the hang of mvoing the brake levers to change gear. I only intended to go three miles or so, but I found myself shouting to follow the road to the right at the Full Moon pub rather than turn back and soon we were crossing the A36 and heading towards Frome. Whenever my sister asked how far it was back to the village I replied two miles, which it kind of was… as the crow flies. We turned into the wind which slammed into us, forcing us down to a mere crawl. We turned off the main Frome road down a tiny lane criss-crossed by gigantic pylons. The wind shrieked and howled through the wires, tugging them backwards and forwards. As we reached higher ground we could see that the undulating grass in the fields was moving like a squalling sea, and beyond the electric steel sentinals the sky was furious and inky, long smudges of rain hung beneath the clouds, there was no way we could outride the deluge. We crossed a main road and passed Lullington creamery, climbing up towards the turning to Woolverton. With appalling suddeness the light dimmed to a dull grey and the clouds were upon us, however, they raced over without any rain falling. A huge dead tree, it’s bark stripped off, standing stark and white on the horizon on contrast with the raging clouds, marked the right turn towards Woolverton. Riding that quarter of a mile stretch, my sister foolishly stated that we had escaped the rain. Within a minute we were in the midst of a merciless soaking. The wind seemed to be coming from every direction, the rain stung our faces, as I hauled the bike down the linking track that would deposit us onto the A36 at the Laverton junction. There then followed a scary twenty seconds as we had to wait in the middle of the road while a bus passed on the opposite side. A car squeezed past my sister, barely missing her (my) handlebars. We rode passed the Red Lion, our faces either grimacing or stuck in a rictus grin of cold. Now only three quarters of a mile to the village.

We made 10.5 miles, my sister pointed out that I said it was two miles to home at 6.3 miles. According to the speedo we pulled 27.5 mph at our fastest, which may be one of the fastest speeds I’ve gone on the Brompton, nothing like a rainstorm to improve your average speed.

My wife took a picture of us as we stood on the back steps at the end of the ride. As you can see she had her new digital SLR set to ‘make husband’s head look a really weird shape’ when she took the photo.

My sister and I after our ride through a rainstorm. I promise you that my head is not normally this weird looking

My sister and I after our ride through a rainstorm. I promise you that my head is not normally this weird looking

Published in: on May 17, 2009 at 10:24 pm  Comments (1)  
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Riding into Spring

Spring can be a messy time of year

Spring can be a messy time of year

I had a ride planned with local smallholder, home-brewer, engineer and cyclist Mike, however as the hours ticked down the evening before I suddenly realised that my Lemond Etape was locked in the shed at my in-laws, and they were away. As the ride was scheduled to begin at 0745 on Sunday morning, this meant I would be trying to pull my mountainbike out from under the accumulated junk in our storage shed at 0700. Before going to bed I looked at the weather forecast, absolutely filthy. Rain, wind, cold and more rain. Nothing was going to stop me from getting in the first ride of Spring, (not even a sore knee) so I sorted out my waterproofs before calling it an evening, leaving a choice of cape or light rainjacket on the chair along with my cycling plus-fours and merino wool top.

On waking I was amazed to see sunlight streaming in through the window. Stepping outside to retrieve the mtb provided further amazement as the sky was colouring up a lovely shade of blue with not a cloud in sight. I began the task of attempting to find my mtb in the storage shed, this turned out to be a bit of an archeological dig as I uncovered a veritable strata of garden tools, cardboard, ladders, planks of wood and children’s toys, beneath which lay my mountain bike. In common with an archeological artifact it was still caked in the mud from the time of its burial. As my road helmet was locked up with my road bike, I was relieved to see my trusty old mtb helmet amongst the associated grave-goods. Once the tyres were pumped up, the mud scraped off and the chain cleaned and re-oiled, the bike looked half decent.

I saddled up and rode down to Mike’s farm, passing the tall grove of bamboo by the driveway which was now beginning to sway and rustle gently in the light breeze, the morning calm was immediately shattered by Mike’s dog running out and barking in greeting. Mike just had to feed the chickens and chuck some oil over the chain of his Dawes Supergalaxy and we were away.

I took us past the redwoods at the manor development and towards Woolverton. There we crossed the A36 and headed into the empty back lanes. Speckling the hedgerows were tiny buds, a promise of Spring that presented a subtle, barely perceived green fuzz as we rode gently along the meandering lanes. It was still stark enough that a chaffinch flittering amongst the scrub created a riotous blaze of colour that stood out like a flashing beacon amidst the branches. The landscape pulled us into steep hollows, giving us enough momentum to be catapulted effortlessly up the hills, until gradually we were pitched up to a point were the view in all directions seemed endless. Far in the distance there was nothing but whitish haze where the horizon should have been, it might as well have delineated the edge of the world. We turned the bikes toward the sun, and hit the high gears. Chains thrummed, driving us along a rare stretch of straight and level road. The lane switched suddenly right, and the ground to our left fell away. Now we were riding on the highest ridge of a lopsided valley with the breeze behind us and the countryside laid out below in patchwork to one side. Gathering speed, we pedalled in bursts as the road surface became sketchy. Water had eaten away at the edges and dumped gravel everywhere. Mike’s bike skittered about a little, but my shirehorse of an mtb ploughed through it all with ease. The velociraptor tyres spat mud, water and stones in all directions including up my back as we turned right again and sped into Faulkland and past the derelict Faulkland inn, one of many pubs to have shut down recently in the county. Our tyres barely touched the main road before we were off into the lanes again. Now the road began to undulate heavily, before flinging us down in to the valley. With the confidence that a heavy bike and fat tyres can give I let the brakes off and hurtled down the hill, it was about the only time that I was in front of Mike for the whole ride. At the bottom I waited where the stream had torn the tarmac into shreds, gouging a channel of water into the road.

A stream across the road

Mike rode up and carefully picked his way over the ruined road surface and impromptu stream. Away from the flood damage the road pitched briefly upwards before throwing us down again, but this time I took us right before the bottom of the hill, pulling the bike into a skid to make the turning. The lanes became narrower as we passsed Stoney Littleton long barrow, climbing up Littleton Lane which suddenly deposited us into the top of Wellow. We found ourselves entering the village in the slipstream behind a huge, red front-loader, its engine gunning noisily as it took the gradient. We peeled off from it’s fumes and hot engine air and dropped down into the valley again, this time down to the Wellow ford. Mercifully it was not flooded this time. Unmercifully we now had to climb Baggridge Hill, a long, long slope, much given to drifting about and becoming narrow here and there where the fancy takes it. Mike was way, way off the front and I was puffing away in the granny gear. It probably would have been quicker to walk it, but with such low gearing there’s no excuse to put a foot down or dismount in shame. I wheezed my way to the top where Mike was just pouring out a couple of cups of coffee from a flask he had secreted in his single pannier.

We stood there for a while and talked about that elation a cyclist feels when, towards the end of climbing a long and infernally steep hill, the cranks spin faster and the gears start to move up again. That feeling of having made it, of getting up the hill, the light at the end of the tunnel.

We were off again, turning into the wind. Wind? Yes, the horizon had cleared and was being troubled by clouds, the breeze was becoming insistent. It mattered not to us, for above us was deep, calm blue and ahead of us, flat road, for the next two miles at least. We crossed the A366 at Tucker’s Grave Inn. The site of the interment of a suicide from 1747, one Edward or Edwin Tucker. As usual with folklore the facts are not easy to come by. If indeed there is a grave here though, it is safe to say that Tucker died in some abnormal way, as crossroads burial was certainly not the norm, and was said to be a way of pinning down or confusing the doomed soul that could not find rest in heaven.

With the clock counting down, we left morbidity behind trapped at the crossroads and shot towards Lullington, the next node on our ride. There was hardly any mishap en route, save the boulder in the road we both managed to miss, and my failure not to throw the chain, though that’s what happens when you try to get from the big ring to the little one without touching the middle one. We skimmed the A36, frantically spinning the cranks to get off the main road and away from the hurtling cars. Then back into the village, where Mike paused briefly to engage in the well-known Somerset practice of gate-leaning and striking a deal with a farmer.

Striking a deal with the farmer.

Striking a deal with a farmer.

Clouds had gathered and the wind was starting to rage as I arrived back at the house. By the time I had finished having a shower the rain was hammering down. The last gasp of winter, but Spring cannot be stopped now, here’s to warmer weather and more rides.

Cycling into some Headspace

Sometimes all I need is a really small ride to sort my head out. I’ve been really busy for the last few months and up until now, I’d managed to convince myself that I had no time to cycle, telling myself that time spent riding would be time wasted. How wrong I was. My work suffers greatly if I just leap right in and do the first thing that comes into my head. I am one of those unlucky people who’s first idea is rarely the best. Working to a brief or series of briefs, as I do, can feel like very reactionary work. It’s easy to slip into a mindset of just working through one thing after another, to get things done. This will often involve a state of stress, a feeling of time slipping away, and a mind not fully in the moment, but worrying about what’s going to come next.

By taking a short bike ride, I get the oxygen flowing, I move into a rhythm, and more importantly I am restricted from acting on the first idea I come up with. In a twenty minute bike ride I will have come up with five or six different ways of dealing with a brief, and probably a strategy or an angle for how I will execute the work. This means that I am able to make decisons based on ideals rather than anxieties (something I think politicians should consider).

So on Friday, though the weather was looking a little uncertain of what it might do, I pulled out the Brompton from the workshop and rode to the local garage for a passable latte. I say passable, but this is rural Somerset so what’s passable out here would be considered a travesty in the city. I cycled extra gently out of the village as the rear tyre was feeling a little soft and Mike still had my pump. The wind was making a great show of gusting about, throwing casual lumps of freezing air this way and that. As I eased up the old forgotten coach road into Beckington a fresh newspaper skittered past me and down the hill, smacking into a skeletal dead elm where it flapped manically and loudly against the sky.

The Ghost Road up to Beckington

The Ghost Road up to Beckington

At the garage I folded the bike and left it in front of the kindling wood while I went inside for the coffee. Two workmen in what were once bright yellow jackets stood at the machine stamping the cold out of their boots. As they picked the paper cups from the nozzle, they cupped them in their grimy frozen hands and hunched themselves over the steaming beverages as if to pull the heat from the coffees. One of them had lost the skin on the knuckles of his left hand, whether from the skin splitting in the cold or an unfortunate shovel accident I couldn’t say.

I lidded the coffee and paid up, storing the cup upright in one of the compartments of my Brompton bag that could have been tailor made for slipping in a tall latte and transfering to a chosen destination with minimal spillage.

The wind was behind me now and the road home was easy riding. freewheeling through the semi-flooded lanes, I had plenty of ideas as to how I was going to tackle the brief. In fact I became slightly too euphoric and was in danger of stretching the ride out further. But no, I had work to do so I resisted, then cycled for home and within five minutes I was at my desk working and sipping away.

I think I’ve made a convincing case as to why I should be riding during the working day, I therefore rest my case.

Published in: on January 26, 2009 at 11:13 pm  Comments (2)  
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A Curse on all Hedgecutters

On Saturday night, the wind had howled and hammered around the houses in the village, probing at the gaps under the doors, rattling the windows and throwing rain and hail at the glass, the eight o’clock morning ride local smallholder Mike and I had planned was looking unlikely to go ahead.  Yet on Sunday morning there I was pulling into the driveway of Mike’s farm then knocking on his door. It was cold, and a gentle but sharp wind edged over the hedges in the village, yet the sun had managed to lift itself over the horizon and seemed as surprised as us to find the sky was blue and clear with just a gentle smattering of whispy cloud.

Mike was eager to head out towards Wellow and Mells so we eased over the A36 and into that delightful tangle of backlanes and tracks that weave around the villages and fields on that side of the main road. Mud and water soaked the lanes, and dropping down to Wellow we found we couldn’t cross the ford as the river was in spate. Luckily for us there’s a narrow bridge next to the ford which we could stand on and gather our strength for the climb up the hill on the other side. A car arrived at the flooded crossing, nosed up to the water like a wary wildebeest at an African watering hole, thought better of it, then backed slowly up the hill and out of sight again.

Mike on the bridge at Wellow

The Ford at Wellow

The hill was painful, especially as I couldn’t find the granny gear, the chain slipping uselessly and clicking pathetically against the deraileur as I wove my way up the hill. Then up and down the various gradients of this part of Somerset. Mike likes to ride at a steady 17mph and maintains a strong even cadence even on hills, he spent much of the time off the front, pulling easily away from me. I was not as unfit as I have been, but I struggled a bit on the slopes. Heading down the hill at Radstock, my back tyre went flat. I called out to Mike only for the wind to whip my voice away, he dropped down the steep slope and round the corner out of sight. Mike purposfully doesn’t carry a phone, so with no means of getting in contact with him, I hoped he would eventually realise I wasn’t behind him and wait somewhere. It was a good five minutes before Mike inched up the hill and round that corner again, to find me with the bike upside down and with the tube hanging out. Next problem, the patches I had were for mountainbike tyres so were a little too large, the only spare tyre I was carrying was the layer of fat around my middle. Luckily Mike’s puncture kit had some smaller patches and soon we were heading down the hill again.

Mike’s unerring ability to sniff out a teashop would have paid off, had the teashop he found actually been open. Never mind, we made our way to the cycle track at Colliers Way (as featured on the excellent and always interesting Biking Brits blog http://bikingbrits.blogspot.com). As reported on that blog, there has been some fresh tarmac laid down, which always deeply pleasant a surface to ride.

As we rode along, we surmised that there might be some merit in selling off the railways sleepers and rails to raise more money for the cycle path, but then we both agreed that there was something pretty neat about riding next to a railway line that has trees growing out of it:

Colliers Way cycle path

About a half a mile after leaving the cycle path, we hit an enormous patch of hedge clippings strewn across the road, my front tyre started looking a little soft. Before I could make an assessment we rode into a river where the road should have been:

River where roads were

Once back on dry land we passed some horses, then over more hedge trimmings and, yet again as Mike shot off down the hill, I suffered a flat, this time on that front tyre. Sighing heavily, I turned the bike over again and set about locating the puncture. Mike drifted back, drafting a woman on a hybrid. Now it felt very cold indeed as with oily fingers I felt my way around the tube. Eventually I located a snakebite puncture and Mike whipped out the patches again:

A curse on all hedgetrimmers

The tube was stuffed back in, the tyre reset and pumped up, but then, the tell tale hiss of escaping air. Gaah! Off with the tyre and the other puncture was located, this time a thorn. Of course I should have realised that the thorn would have caused the tube to collapse leading to the snakebite. So that was a grand total of three punctures in one ride. As the final patch was applied, Mike told me that his tyres have never suffered a puncture in all the years he has been riding. I pumped the tube up to the distant sound of a hunt meet over the fields somewhere. Why one needs to shout so much when hunting is beyond me, with all the yelling, horns, cheers, clip-clopping and revving of four-by-fours it would be a wonder if anything were caught, were it actually still legal to hunt with dogs.

Now with much time wasted we headed for home. A final annoyance was my chain coming off on a hill, necessitating a short stop and more grimy fingers. We skirted through Mells, then touched on the main road into Frome before taking the hill into the back of Beckington and home to the village.

A mere 24 miles, but a masterclass in puncture repair. I think some new tubes may well be in order.

Published in: on January 21, 2009 at 11:18 pm  Comments (3)  
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In a Cycling Utopia, pedestrians and cyclists get on just fine (and you can cycle on water)

At the beginning of September, Lucy and I spent a long weekend at our local Center Parcs (Longleat). It’s like living in some sort of cycling utopia! A forest environment, a mere handful of vehicles on the road, masses of bikes, loads of bicycle parking, special bike trails and paths.

If you read the popular press these days, you will learn that cyclists are a menace in pedestrianised areas, that they don’t use their bells, that they cycle too close to people, that they cycle too fast, that they appear out of nowhere. If you unquestioningly take the opinion pages of the papers as gospel truth, you may well believe that it’s a wonder that there aren’t horrific casualties every single day that pedestrians and cyclists go near each other, I guess it’s a miracle that there are only a handful of cyclist on pedestrian deaths/serious injuries every year. We must have been VERY LUCKY to get away with it!

What’s curious about Center Parcs is that cyclists and pedestrians mix completely and thoroughly, yet I heard not one bad word exchanged betwixt the two camps. Even though cyclists were weaving through pedestrians strung out over the routes. Even though there were queues to get through gates. Even though at various times cyclists and pedestrians would have to give way to one another in an environment that was not heavily regulated. The difference is in the expectation, you come to Center Parcs knowing full well that there will be shared-use paths with bikes. There are few clear definitions like ‘pavement’ and ‘road’, so somehow cyclists are prepared to meet with pedestrians and vise-versa.

It rained a lot on the first day, which I actually found quite pleasant in the forest. I was reminded of my favourite sequence in the film My Neighbor Totoro, where the Totoro is delighted by the sound of the rain dripping from the trees onto his borrowed umbrella. To live amongst trees is a special thing indeed.


Some pics:

Lucy took her Diamondback MTB and I took my Brompton, but when it comes to being on the water, you need a specialist machine:

Keep one in the garage for when the floods come

Keep one in the garage for when the floods come

It was a surprisingly smooth ride – moving downwind anyway.

In Rome you long for the countryside; in the country you sing to the stars of the distant city.

Recently I have been reading so much about urban riding, mainly on Copenhagen Cycle Chic, that I have been feeling that I’m missing out by cycling in the countryside. I have been longing to put on a suit and ride a classic roadster, or swing down to the coffee shop and pick up a latte, perhaps meeting a friend, also on a bike. Walking a bike over a zebra crossing, signaling to rejoin the traffic, waving at a van who’d let me in. Maybe I would have a newspaper rolled up under my arm, or I would be balancing the coffee or doing something equally urbane and sophisticated.

But today all that went away in one ride through some arcadian country lanes. I had worked hard all day and was feeling drained and lethargic by the time the evening came, so much so that I couldn’t be bothered to change into my cyclewear, and just clipped up my jeans – slapped on a hi-viz vest (the sky was bruised and dark) – and put on a cycle cap. The helmet sat on the rack of the bike while I decided which way to go, in fact I forgot about it and it sat there for the whole ride. Leaving the village I headed over the mill bridge towards Bath, but turned left when I hit the A36. Almost immediately I turned right where a small sign indicated ‘Laverton’. and I was off the main road and into narrow country lanes. As I rode down the rough tarmac the sound of the A36 diminished then disappeared completely, to be replaced by the sound of the wind in the oak trees and the sweet singing of blackbirds, sparrows and finches. The hedges closed in and the banks rose up, more old roads, older than maps and carved deeply into the hills over generations. Massive oaks, stag-headed, leaned over me as I wended my way along what seemed more track than road. At every crossroad and junction I guessed my way as there were few signposts to guide me. It felt wonderful, the few signs pointed towards villages that I had not heard of, and I was only four miles from home. The hum of machinery from the open door of a farm building, the smell of a dairy, something I remember from my youth, cows, straw and sweet milk – mingled into a cascade of scent and memory. The road continued through farmyards, disappearing under mud and gravel, stones washed away from the banks in a flood and left high and dry in the centre of the track, here and there water seamed to be bursting from holes in the road where springs had worked their way up through the tarmac, memories of rivers, streams born again after the rains.

Every now and again, the road opened up at a corner and the verge disappeared into a morass of cow hoofprints where the animals had stopped to drink at a roadside spring on their way between field and dairy. These were drovers roads once, before the days of the cattle trucks animals were funneled down these steep banks and high hedges to market, even today the air was thick with their bovine-stink, surprisingly a not altogether unpleasant smell.

Cornfields near Lullington

Cornfields near Lullington

I worked out that I must be headed toward Frome, and the roads opened out a little, now meandering past golden fields of standing corn, or the green fuzz of maize. I saw a hare with black-tipped ears nibbling at the base of the plants, unconcerned as I watched from a gateway. Then down a hill, the road crumbling and eroded by water until suddenly I was in Lullington and passing what looked like a castle. The old village pump still stands, protected by a wooden shelter. This village seemed ancient, as old as the roads that lead the rider into its boundaries. The foundations of its buildings were laid long before even the mightiest of the mighty oaks that stood amongst the houses was a sapling or even an acorn. The clouds swept overhead in the strong winds, dappling the streets with occasional flashes of sun, giving the impression of time moving fast, speeding up while the village remained constant and unchanging. The bike carried me through it all, my own time machine descending toward the river. Then suddenly a huge modern dairy, all sheet metal, pipes and carpark, loomed up from around a corner. Cars flashed past at the end of the junction, the main road to Frome.

I knew where I was now, back in the 21st Century. On the way home I reflected back on the ride and realised that I am lucky to live out in the countryside.

“Romae rus optas; absentem rusticus urbem tollis ad astra levis.”

In Rome you long for the countryside; in the country you sing to the stars of the distant city.*

*Translation taken from the site Sweet Juniper

Conference of the Birds

I actually completed this ride a week ago, but have been so busy that I haven’t had time to blog about it. Last Tuesday, the weather was good. Crisp and bright with very little wind. I took a deep breath and set off on the Lemond Etape for what would be my first proper ride since September. There was a lot of water on the road, throwing up a thin sheet of spray around my feet, the tyres rolled over the surface with a continuous hiss, underlaid with the crunch of tiny stones, dislodged from the banks by the recent flooding. Here and there, they settled in curious drifts in the middle of the road, surrounding a larger pebble or a bank of mud. The roads had become microcosmic estuaries, replete with channels of still and flowing water, miniature eddies and currents over the tarmac.

reflections

Over the hedge to the right of me, a flock of crows rose restlessly into the air, the beat of their wings made audible by the sheer numbers of birds. Here and there rooks pecked at the sodden clay, harsh calls filled the air. As I came to the junction crossing the main road, a magpie cackled out it’s warning cry, a sound akin to a box of matches being shaken.

Away from the relentless hum of the A-road, the lanes were peaceful if wet. Through the denuded hedges I could glimpse acres of muddy fields punctuated with the occasional oak tree, it’s stag-horned branches stark against the winter sky.

Once the initial chill had faded, and the thermal top had kicked in, the ride rapidly became hugely enjoyable. It felt fantastic to be moving again, standing on the pedals to provide a burst of speed towards Rudge, I could feel my legs waking up, the muscles protesting a little. Weirdly the knocking in the cranks seemed to have stopped, that removed the fear that the bottom bracket was suddenly going to shear off.

Into Dilton Marsh, I eased off the pedals and pootled through. Passing by the church I heard what seemed to be a buzzard call, very close by. It seemed a little odd, slightly lower that the usual kreeeee. Looking for the distinctive shape of a buzzard in the sky, my eyes rested on a male blackbird at the top of a small fir tree. As I watched, I saw it’s beak gape and the low-pitch buzzard noise came out again. By now I had drifted to the kerb and stopped. With one foot on the pavement I stood and watched the little mimic. I knew that blackbirds could pull off some good impressions, in fact I have a CD with a recording of one mimicking a modem of all things, but I’d never really heard it in the wild before. I continued on, but I hadn’t gone far out of the village when a brilliant flash of white feathers on the right caught my attention. I pulled over again and watched five Little Egrets circling low over a network of ditches by the long straight out of Dilton. They wheeled round gracefully with barely a flap of their wings. My bird book, published in the 1980s has these beautiful birds, part of the heron family, as migrant visitors to our shores, but now there are many breeding pairs and they have moved far inland. I hoped they would circle close to where I stood so I could get a photograph of them, but they drifted further away before settling gently on the ground and out of sight.

Further along the road two cars going in opposite directions were about to converge exactly where I was riding. luckily a handy layby presented itself and I simply steered into it without loss of speed. The car overtaking me gave me that really lovely unofficial thank you sign, by flicking first the left indicator then the right. I have used that signal myself a few times, it’s a nice way of saying thanks to someone who has just let you out of a junction, it’s not easy to say thanks when your headlights are facing the opposite way to the direction of the person you want to express thanks to. Perhaps it was just the fact that I hadn’t been out cycling for a long while, but the little gesture really made my ride for me. By the time I finished, I had managed to eke the ride out to twelve miles or so, every mile saw hedges festooned with birds. They darted out in front of me, shot past me at head height, scattered before my wheels and burst from the undergrowth in an explosion of feathers and noise. I can’t recall ever seeing so many birds on one ride. my guess is that the relentless rain had curtailed their feeding, so now with a bright, clear day, they were making the most of the opportunity to get some food.

There’s a couple more pictures from the ride to be found at the Highway Cycling Group Flickr page, here.

Published in: on January 29, 2008 at 11:57 pm  Comments (1)  
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High Water Everywhere

Well the rains are back, and things are looking pretty bad road-wise around here. Less than a week ago we had some incredibly heavy rainfall which led to almost instant flooding in the village. Three of the routes out became impassable and the river threatened to start crawling up the hill. The road to Telisford became a river, no tarmac could be seen. Yesterday I had an appointment in Bradford on Avon, it took me about three quarters of an hour to travel the five miles in and an hour to get out again. I sat in my car thinking it would have been a damnsight quicker to come in by bike. 

As I wrote before, bikes can really come into their own in times of flooding and disaster. Contrast this image from the BBC with the stranded cars and even lorries that have featured heavily in the news recently.

photo courtesy of the BBC

I have to go to the hospital tomorrow for a check up on the abscess, hopefully I’ll get the all clear, allowing me to get out on the bike again.

Published in: on January 17, 2008 at 10:49 am  Leave a Comment  

Bicycles in disaster zones, Japan and Swindon

An old colleague of mine, Coop, is currently living and working in Japan where they recently suffered a very powerful earthquake. As soon as I read about it on the BBC news site I was straight onto her blog to check if she was ok. Luckily she had posted soon after the quake to reassure readers that she was fine. Although she did feel the quake, she was a long way from the danger zone. Some of the best bicycle stuff in the world comes from Japan (Nitto, Shimano, loads of small frame-builders outside Osaka etc) and they have a strong sense of the aesthetic in their bike-culture, Western Messenger/Fakenger chic looks sensible and conservative compared with the Japanese versions. It didn’t really surprise me then to see this brief article posted up on cyclelicio.us recently, showing how bikes can really come into their own in terms of getting things moving again in the affected areas in Japan.

bikes in Japan after earthquake

Here in Britain, only yesterday an entire month’s worth of rain fell in one day. My mother was on her way home from looking after my sister’s children when she found the traffic coming to a complete halt on the dual carriageway out of Abbey Meads, Swindon. She had been there a little while and assumed there was just a crash or something that would soon clear, but then she saw a young man on a bicycle heading up the road through the downpour, stopping at each car and talking briefly to the occupants. When he reached my mother’s car he told her that it was total chaos in the road ahead, the canal had just burst its banks and the culverts couldn’t take the water off fast enough, cars were stranded in a huge pool of water that stretched across all the lanes. People were stuck, unable to turn round, unable to go forward. The lad himself had lifted his bike above his head and waded through the water to tell the cars further down the road to turn back. He then went on to help direct the cars as they turned round. She last saw him disappearing in her rear-view mirror, standing in the pouring rain, stopping cars and turning them back. It took my mother three hours twenty minutes longer than normal to get home, going far out of her way and getting redirected twice by the Police. But if it wasn’t for the young man on the bicycle who had quickly alerted the stationary drivers to what had happened, helped them turn round then redirected the oncoming traffic, long before the police got there, she would have been sat in that car a lot longer. I don’t know when the police turned up, but I bet it would have taken a lot longer to sort out and extract the traffic jam if that chap on the bike hadn’t have taken the initiative.

Surely that has to count as a good mark for cyclists in general and it must cancel out a few ‘red light jumpers’?

More on the Swindon floods from the BBC.

Published in: on July 21, 2007 at 10:14 pm  Leave a Comment