We dwell in a kingdom of rains

As is now standard procedure for the British Summer, it’s been belting down with rain over the bank holiday. Monday itself saw an astonishing downpour that lasted well into the afternoon and filled all four of my garden waterbutts to overflowing in the space of a couple of hours. It was the ‘straight down’ variety of rain that I don’t mind cycling in, however, no chance of a ride as I was looking after the anklebiters and also – need some rain gear.

Now I have looked at jackets and whatnot – I can’t really afford to be laying out for the type of technical doodads that one needs on a waterproof when cycling. Even when I’m pootling I’m averaging about 13-14mph and I get pretty warm, I would need one of those wicking fabrics. The colours seem to be quite garish and there’s a lot of logos and fancy styling around. I’m all for fancy styling and brand names etc, I think that’s fair enough for those who want to be associated with The Discovery Channel team, or if you don’t mind having ‘Chris Boardman’ on your helmet when you’re wheezing up a hill at 8mph. To me it would make no sense to wear something that advertises that which I am not. That’s why I have bidons with Rivendell Bicycle Works‘ logo and a no-name top and shorts. I am not really an aspirational rider in that sense. I am willing to pay good money for something that is well crafted and will last (a Brooks saddle for example) but not to have a whacking great logo splattered over me. I chose my Lemond etape bike for a few reasons:

  1. It was at the top of my price range
  2. It looked well made and had good reviews
  3. It had a triple chainring and I’m a weed on hills
  4. It looked elegant and nicely styled, particularly the typography and colours
  5. Greg Lemond is a great rider – but it says ‘Lemond’ not ‘Greg Lemond’
  6. Lemond looks French – which for some reason looks really good on a road bike

Above all that, it was the only bike in the shop that didn’t assault my eyes with garish blocky logos and hyperactive colours.

I guess that makes me a bit shallow, but anyway with that in mind I have decided that my wet weather gear will be this:

As it drapes over the handlebars and attaches to the rider’s thumbs, the ventilation is second to none. It’s bright yellow, bloody cheap and crucially, it has a matching sou’wester!

Ride Like The Wind

bike wind turbineanimated gif of turbineHere’s an interesting little device. I first noticed this in last month’s Wired magazine and thought it looked like an amusing bit of hokum. Now I see that Firebox are selling it. It’s a mini wind turbine that can power mobile devices like iPods. You need to have winds of 9-40mph to power it though, optimum charging seems to occur at around 19mph where 20 mins of charging will give you 30 mins of play time on an iPod or 4 mins talk time on a mobile phone. It tops out at 40mph. All well and good if you want to stick it out the window on a windy day, or if you’re camping, but crucially, you can also buy a bike mounting kit. Now 40 mins of riding at 19 mph should in theory give you one hour of iPod time, or 8 mins of talk time on a phone. I don’t know how an iPhone compares with that, but in theory one could be completely mobile powerwise, using an iPhone or similar to snap pics, upload to flickr and also blog all on the move without recharge. Ideal for touring.

charging times

What I want to know is would it be possible to use it to trickle charge a bike light? There must be a hack that would allow that. Now that would be really useful.

I took a brief ride today to the local garage to pick up some snacks. I was hungry so didn’t really feel like riding hard, the Brompton sufficed. Really summery weather, heat haze, chitinous wings bouncing off my face as I cycled along (mouth firmly closed to avoid ingesting ‘winged protein’). Lovely. On the way back I freewheeled into the village, seeing how far I could get without pedalling. Downhill, up again, sl o w i n g r i g h t d o w n – freewheel clicking slower and slower like a clock winding down – then speeding upagaininthedipbefores l o w i n g down again on the next rise. The answer was, right up to the front of the Cross Keys pub.

For details of the mini wind turbine and how to purchase it, click here to go to the product page on Firebox.

Published in: on May 7, 2008 at 10:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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After the Snows of April

The weekend had come with a curious blend of weather, veering wildly between the glorious sun of Spring and, well, quite frankly, a blizzard. With snow on the ground on Monday morning, the boys were out in the garden making a tiny snowman, but by the afternoon all that remained was a small puddle with two stones, a carrot and a couple of sticks sitting forlornly in the middle. Inside the greenhouse the sweetcorn, lettuce and spinach were pushing green shoots out of the compost, the washing was on the line and the air was warming nicely. After a hard day’s slog at the computer, it was time to get out on the bike. I selected the Lemond Etape again.

The roads were slick with melting slush, I didn’t fancy going up the Black Dog again so I headed through Rudge, easing down the winding Scotland Lane to look for the end of that byway on the way. Sure enough, there was a signpost pointing over a bumpy field towards a copse of trees. I made a note to return soon with the Mountain Bike and tackle it from the other end. Down Rudge Hill I plummeted, executing a rather splendid skid to take the corner towards Brokerswood. Near the country park I found myself needing to view the plough, so I lent the bike against a mossy pole and took to the ditch to answer the urgent call of nature. Soon I was back on the road, one hand on the handlebars, no urgency to my riding.

I’ve recently taken up running, which seems to have freed me up from the need to go ridiculously fast everywhere on the bike, or at least to push myself too hard, not yet anyway, I’ll save that for later in the year.

On towards Dilton, up and over the little railway bridges again, the landscape laid out in golden evening light. Beyond Warminster I could see the snow clouds slowly heading off over the plain, above me clear blue sky. It seems to me that it’s hard to fix in my memory just how brilliantly blue the sky is, it’s like seeing a kingfisher, the blue is always so startling and vivid. Perhaps I just think in muted tones.

At Dilton I decided to take a back route and ended up going up a very steep climb called Tower Hill. Suddenly I was beset by cars, growling and revving behind me as I inched up the twisty wooded lane. At the crest I swung left heading down a very narrow country road, about forty yards down, two gleaming 4x4s had arrived at a literal impasse and now sat head to head while the drivers, both dressed in quilted bodywarmers, motioned each other to go back. I squeezed past and left them to it, approaching a switchback I heard a crunch of gears and the whine of a Shogun reversing at speed so I took the first turning I saw. Immediately I needed another wee-wee. Perhaps it was the close attention of the cars, inducing nerves and anxiety, or maybe it was the six cups of tea I had drank during the day as I worked. No matter, much relieved I continued up the hill. The road was arched by trees, a squirrel bounced from branch to branch overhead as I trickled onwards. Birdsong flooded out from the greening undergrowth, enriching the air with clear, jewel-like tones. I’ve noticed that one of the digital radio stations has stopped broadcasting and been replaced with a loop of birdsong, apparently this has doubled the amount of listeners the previous station had. I like to listen to the channel when I’m washing up. Looking at the ukdigitalradio website I noticed it says:

“Please note that the line up of birds featured in the cast may change without warning due to illness, weather and migration.”

There was a blackbird alarm call and then a weird continuous ringing tone started up, getting louder and louder. It turned into a roar and suddenly a train rushed past on the track that I hadn’t noticed was right next to the road. A little way further up I came to a small bridge and a layby absolutely smothered with bin bags and flytipped rubbish. Paintpots, a skateboard, pizza boxes, dirty nappies, cans, someone had also decided to set fire to half of it at some point. It was a depressing sight and I quickly hurried past after taking a picture.

Reluctantly I headed back to the A36 and hurtled down Black Dog Hill, getting up to 42mph. Rather than take on the dual carriageway I turned into Beckington and pottered through the village, before skipping over the A36 and heading home.

A mere 16.5 miles, but proper bicycling none-the-less. More pictures at my Flickr page (including the flytipping).

Bicycling in the Spring

Before I get started on this one, it’s been pointed out that I’ve spelled Tellisford incorrectly, continuously. I really can’t be bothered to go back and change it all yet, but rest assured that when I say Telisford, I mean Tellisford.

Now the ride I am about to blog about was actually completed on Thursday the 27th March. However, I’ve just had so much work to do that every time I’ve turned on the computer I’ve ended up working instead. I’ve actually ridden out again since then, but let’s concentrate on 27th March first.

It felt to me as though it was the first proper Spring bicycle ride of the year, as I pedaled out of the village I surmised that perhaps I didn’t need my merino top, the air was warm. Plunging into the arched avenue of trees on the lead out quickly disabused me of that notion, in the shadows it was still very cold. My next door neighbour had just come back from her cycle ride (this is a very bikey street) and warned me to take my glasses, in the sun, the air was thick with freshly hatched flying insects and she had got an eyeful, several times. I felt like a bit of a meander so I headed over to the local farm shop, searching for a way through to the village that didn’t involve tackling the A36 or a roundabout. Past the farm shop is a no through road, in fact it’s the old main road, it still has the cats eyes.

The surface of the road is starting to break up, a few layers of tarmac have gone from the top leaving a tiny canyon landscape, spattered with microboulders. The centre of the road surface had split open and sprouted grass and mosses and at the edges the verge had blurred into a mat of creeping green and drifting twigs. I wondered how long it would take before the road is absorbed into the woods, ten? Fifteen? Twenty years. A few days after this ride I met a man in the village shop looking for Chapmanslade, he had lived here twenty-five years ago, but the roads had changed so much that he had started down the A36, hit the dual carriageway and had a sudden mental crisis, he had no idea where he was. None of the tunrings off the roundabout looked familiar to him and he had turned the car around, crawled back into the village and stumbled into the post office looking for some sort of directions. I showed him Chapmanslade on the map and he said “I know where it is, but the roads aren’t right anymore!”. I told him, up the Black Dog Hill and off at the top, it’s signposted. All he had to do was hold his nerve for four and a half miles. Perhaps this here was the road he remembered. Now it’s lost, there is nothing at the end of it,  it fades into a field of sheep becoming a mere footpath. How the sounds of the traffic screaming down the new road scant yards away must mock it, or maybe not. Maybe the road has served its time and is now content to fold back into nature, be sucked into the green oblivion, recorded only on ordnance survey maps from the 80s, a tarmac ghost whispering its fragmented memories of journeys to the steel phonemast at its terminus.

I found it impossible to believe that there could be no bridalway around there so I traced my way back towards the farm shop. Sure enough, right next to the pig pens a lichen streaked wooden sign pointed down an overgrown path. A public byway.  A glance down the track revealed a very overgrown pathway, with a little cutting back and care, it could be used for bikes. But where did it come out? It was too muddy down there to find out, especially since I was riding the Lemond Etape. This looks like a job for The Highway Cycling Group Expeditionary Force (who I’ve just invented). The HCGEF will take a Mountainbike and some branch lopperrs down there and see if they can find a way through. By my calculations the other end of the track could well be Scotland Lane in Rudge, if it is then it could be the passage through to the farm shop that the timid of the village have been longing for. No, they shall not have to brave the A36, nor shall they have to hang a right on the very busy roundabout at Beckington, for I shall blaze a trail through the overgrown byway for them! Can you see how I’m setting myself up for a fall here?

The location of the track duly noted, I set off again, once more with no idea where I should go. I took Black Dog Hill at speed, well 12mph anyway, searing my lungs in the process and electing to swing off at Dead Maids Junction. I passed a derelict garden centre, it still had its ‘open’ sign out.

This was another A road, though not as wide as the A36,cars were passing me pretty closely. I stopped to take a work call by a field scattered about with majestic redwoods, their glorious crowns towering above every other tree in the area. I skimmed down the incredibly steep Hollow at Dilton Marsh and hung a left at the railway bridge which tipped me into Penleigh. A range of goat breeds watched me drift past the house, their chewing was the only sound save for the soft whirr of my chain and the gentle hiss of rubber on tarmac. Over the delightful pair of railway bridges, set on an ‘s’ shaped road so that a rider can see the other bridge hove onto view as the first bridge is crested. Somewhere in the distance there is another two span arch bridge, but I guess it must be on a private farm track, it’ll take some courage to find it, another day perhaps.

Back into Rudge a little lost now, not used to coming this way. Passing old hand-painted lettering on the sides of decommissioned trucks. Here in the valley the air has a sharp chill where the Spring sun has not yet penetrated. Rudge Hill throws me over the road, left to right and back again, out of the saddle pushing hard on the cranks. Then a sharp descent back towards the village, rolling in past the post office standing on the pedals before a final sprint up the hill.

In total, 17.5 miles. Not bad for an hour or so of pleasant bicycling.

Pootle to the Garage

Just a very quick ride today. The sun was trying to get through the clouds as I freewheeled out of the village on my Brompton. In no particular hurry I made my way over the A36 and up the old Bath Road hill into Beckington. About four fifths of the way up the hill I suddenly noticed an old Milestone. I’d seen this one before, but then it had been obscured by brambles all summer and I couldn’t remember whereabouts it was on the hill. Strangely, someone had actually recently cut the brambles right back. This hill is almost un-used, it was once part of the main road before the A36 was sent past Beckington, so there is no real practical call to see this very old milestone, however, I think it’s lovely that someone trimmed the brambles out the way, it gives the hill back a little of its dignity.

close up of the milestone
The lichen has all but covered up the lettering, which looks like it was once painted on. I suspect this was once a whiteish stone, as there is a similar stone on Rode Hill, although in much better condition.
I wonder who cut that bramble back, and why.
Published in: on March 19, 2008 at 12:16 am  Leave a Comment  
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Thursday Broadmead by Brompton

On Thursday, I rode four miles into Broadmead, Trowbridge on the Brompton, hitting the Tesco Express to pick up some lunchtime supplies and have a screen break. I happened to take my camera and grabbed a little bit of lo-res video footage which I have assembled here.

It was a pleasant little ride, a Brompton takes away all the urgency from a journey. Nice also to see Roger Brunt here, a local driving instructor who taught my wife to drive over sixteen years ago, see how he gives me plenty of room when he overtakes. The music on the video is, believe it or not, actually a section of agricultural jigs featured on the soundtrack from Bagpuss.

Published in: on March 9, 2008 at 8:05 pm  Comments (2)  
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Winter into Spring

Tuesday the 12th of February saw me take to the bike for a forty minute ride in a desperate attempt to blast away the cobwebs and force some oxygen into my stalled brain. Work has been hectic of late, which for a self-employed person is of course brilliant, but it does mean my riding time is sparce, right at the point when my waistline indicates it should not be.

redwood tree and bikeAs I pedalled out of the village I attempted to formulate some sort of plan for riding. A time trial? An attempt on my personal best average speed? A pootle? Of course, the pootle won out, though I threw in a couple of sprints in an attempt to convince myself I was getting fitter. Leaving the chill in my wake I hit the A36 at speed, hands on the drops, high gears, the wind whistling through the vents of the helmet and roaring in my ears. By the time I turned off to Dilton Marsh I had reached the point where it was too late to go back and get my wallet in case I needed food to stave off the dreaded ‘bonk’. No matter, with the sprint out of the way I could take the rest of the ride at a leisurely pace and a sensible cadence.

The light was absolutley beautiful, bright and clear, but somehow slow. The sun, preparing itself for Spring, stretched out and gently flung its beams across the earth, sending light dawdling across the landscape, almost rolling over itself as it happened upon hedges and furrows in the frost-cracked fields, wrapping itself slowly around shattered elms at the roadside. The ferocity of the winter storms collapsing with a sigh into the outstretched arms of Spring. Again the hedges were alive with birds, their chatter swelling through the lukewarm air, forcing life into the ice-rimmed road shadows still claimed by Winter.

This was a day made for cycling to lift the spirits. It seemed to me that the earth itself turned beneath the tyres, compelled by the revolution of my cranks to continue its slow tumble through space, guiding the earth’s orbit towards the waiting, welcoming sun. This is why I ride.

At Southwick I pulled into the chruchyard to examine a young redwood, at its mighty base the first flowers of Spring had emerged. Redwoods are, I think, my favourite type of tree. I do not know why this is, perphaps it is their sheer size juxtapozed with their soft bark and relative fragility that I find so pleasing. Even this giant sleeps through Winter, the sap reduced to a sluggish crawl. But now this behemoth, though small for his species, was shaking off the frost to begin another year of incredibly fast growth, for though he towers above all other trees in his vicinity, he can be not much more than one hundred years old.  If left untouched and unchecked he will keep growing, perhaps for another 2,900 years or so. Then, even he must succomb to his winter.

The wheels keep turning.

Published in: on February 18, 2008 at 1:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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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Failed milk run turns into hour long country ride and semi-delirious yearning for tea and scones

Reading Rodinsky’s Room and drinking a cup of tea today, I suddenly had the urge to make some scones. This was perhaps because I had been baking bread (in a breadmaker so I hadn’t actually been baking bread, I’d been measuring ingredients into a container then pressing some buttons) but I really fancied mixing and baking some scones to go with my cuppa. Unfortunately the kids had slupped up all the milk. So I gave a cheery wave and saddled up the Brompton to head to the garage. I was slapdash with the gearing but not really caring as I wove out of the village and crossed the A36 to take the old Beckington Road up to the garage. However there was no milk to be had at my local dealer in petroleum spirit. Feeling a bit flabbergasted I remounted the Brompton and turned towards the local farm shop, visions of scones fading rapidly. Pulling into the carpark I thought “Excellent, not too many people here”, however this turned out to be because the place was closed, and only six minutes ago! Seven Damns and a great big side order of BLAST! I headed into Beckington, hoping against all reason that there was a secret village shop that I knew nothing about and not only is it well-stocked and welcoming, but also open at 14:15 on the Sabbath. Pootling through the village quickly disabused me of my fanciful notions and soon I was heading out of Beckington on a road I had not travelled down before. It took me under the A36 and along some very pleasant lanes past old farms and cottages. Now I really was off the beaten track, but there had to be a way back to my village along here somewhere. I phoned in to say everywhere was out of milk and I was out of luck so I was heading back to the house. However I missed my turning somewhere and went through to Rudge. I didn’t much fancy going back up the hill I had just come down so I continued along the road towards Brokerswood. It was very breezy but actually quite sunny. Dust blew across the road in billowing clouds from the dry ground at the field edges. With my upright position on the Brompton I could see over the hedges to the round bales gracing the stubbled fields. Swallows swooped close to the ground, hungrily feasting on tiny insects and preparing for their migration, it seems to me that the end of summer is a pleasingly melancholic time. I am by nature an autumnal person, though I shall miss the light Summer evenings and the opportunities for riding they afford.

I really wasn’t handling the gearing well at all, the bike drifted side to side on the road, moving under me as I made no effort to pedal smoothly, hills were laboured or taken in too low a gear, so much energy wasted. Into Southwick, only to discover that Southwick News closed at the ridiculous hour of one pm! I pictured the news-vendor at home with tea and scones, milk probably lifted from his own store at the end of its sell-by date. I wondered what jam he was dolloping onto the fresh sconnage, what brand of tea was infusing in his teapot. I imagined some Tescos value strawberry jam, all pips and oversugared gloop. PG tips in a cracked mug, stewing nastily, scum on the surface. Has this philistine no sense of service to the community? Can he not see that I’m hurting for tea and scones? I had the feeling that I was tipping over into a type of afternoon tea deprived insanity so I ceased hammering on the glass door and groggily rode the Brompton into a brutal headwind all the way back to the village.

I was saved later by a BBQ provided by my father-in-law and, now sit sated on sausages, steak and blackberry crumble.

I could still do with a scone though.

Published in: on September 2, 2007 at 8:03 pm  Comments (2)  

No cycling blues, feeling ill, cheered up by Laura’s Blog from Japan

Youngest son was up from four this morning, I’m feeling a bit tired and ill, bit of a sore tummy. It would be nice to get the bike out today as it’s lovely and sunny, however I just don’t feel up to it. Luckily my old colleague Laura in Japan has blogged about a fantastic ride she recently undertook. Reading it made me feel so much better:

“Yesterday was a rather lovely day, so to escape the stifling heat in my apartment I slapped on the SPF 50 and went out on my bike. I had planned to see how far along the river I could go by following the small road that runs along my side of the confluence, but after city hall it became a smaller road and ended up circling round some sort of stone works and then up along a main tributary to the Tenryu river which I had cycled along before. Knowing where I was I decided to cycle up this way and see how close to Takato I could get”.

To read more and see some of her pictures from this lovely looking ride click here to go to the entry on her excellent blog.

Laura says that in Japan the attitude towards cyclists is much more tolerant than here, most people have a bike and cars give them loads of room, there’s no problem about cycling on the pavement, people just gently move out of the way, sounds fantastic.

Published in: on August 16, 2007 at 9:10 am  Leave a Comment