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Tuesday 30 November 2010

Snow Cycle

After work, I rode the Yuba Mundo to Morrisons in Chorlton for some supplies. The only reason I go there is because I get to use the Fallowfield Loop. As you may have noticed, it is snowy outside; main roads are clear, side roads have a hard layer of icy crushed snow on them thanks to the cars and the Fallowfield Loop had largely intact snow. In the dark, riding along the snowy path was a very serene experience.



The camera on my phone wasn’t able to capture the quiet beauty of the environment, so I urge you to go and see it for yourself whilst you the snow is still there.


I thought I’d pull over and just enjoy the quiet for a few minutes, here is the Yuba all loaded up with shopping. The reflective tape on the side-rails/chainstays is new. It is mainly there to cover up the scuffed paintwork, but it also makes the bike stand out a bit more too, which is a bonus.

As is customary for cycling bloggers to do at this time of year, I hereby present my top tips for cycling in the snow and ice:

Lower your saddle a bit to make it easier to compensate for any slips. A bit of trial and error is needed to find the optimum height which allows you to stop a fall but isn’t so low it makes cycling tiring. This will also generally improve your stability on ice.

Lower your tyre pressure. This may also require a bit of trial and error; you will benefit from extra contact between the tyre and the ground but if you go too far cycling will become very laborious. Personally I let my tyres down to the pressure they are at when I usually think to myself, “These tyres could do with pumping up a bit.”

Increase your turning radius. If you are familiar enough with your bike, you will already have a pretty good idea of the smallest circle you could cycle with it, the sharpest turn you could make at a given speed. When on an icy surface, double this radius (sharper turns can still be made but require you to really slow down). Your bike will ride fine over ice in a straight line, it is when you try to change direction that the ice becomes a problem. If you change direction more gently, the ice will pose less of an issue.

Longer wheelbase. This is similar to the turning radius advice; if you are fortunate enough to own more than one bike, choose the one where the hubs of the wheels are furthest apart. This bike will  likely have less twitchy steering and handle better in the snow and ice. Wider tyres and hub brakes (drum/roller/disc) will help too.

Monday 29 November 2010

Plug-in Car Grant

In the 2009 budget, the then-chancellor Alistair Darling announced that like Germany, France and Italy, the government of the UK was to introduce a car scrappage scheme. Under this scheme, if you owned a car which was 10 or more years old (and you had owned it for at least 12 months), the government would put £1,000 towards the cost of a new car on the condition that your old one was scrapped. This done in the hope of boosting the economy. The scheme was essentially government-subsidising of car-dependency with dubious economic benefits (unlike Germany, France and Italy, the UK is not a major manufacturer of motor vehicles).

The worst part of the scheme was the fact that the government could have used this initiative to give people a nudge in the right direction when it comes to their transport choices. Imagine if instead of subsiding the purchase of a new car (which was likely manufactured elsewhere), the government gave those scrapping an old car a rail season ticket between their home and a place of work for a year or two, or if the scheme had allowed the money to be used for a bicycle and accessories, or even if it had just given those scrapping the car some money on the agreement that they do not buy another car for specific number of years.

The environmental benefits of any of these schemes would have been clearer than they were with the car-scrappage scheme. The environmental cost of manufacturing a new car and shipping it is greater than any benefit of increased fuel efficiency of the newer model. The scrappage scheme also caused social problems as these new cars were generally driven more than the cars they replaced. Economically speaking, with comparatively few cars being made here in the UK, the benefit to the UK economy would have been fairly minimal. There is also added downside of the fact that several car manufacturers may have been saved from going bust; whilst I am obviously not pro job-loss, it would have been better for the government to put money into creating new jobs requiring similar skills such as train, bus or bike manufacturing, rather than keeping car manufacturing capacity at its current level.

The government is now subsidising the purchase of electric cars, which at present come with all the downsides of petrol-fuelled cars, most of which stem from each individual person using a 5/7-person vehicle to travel everywhere alone. The government is throwing £5,000 away per new car, subsidising those wealthy enough to afford an electric car at the same time as allowing massive increases in public transport fares, scrapping Cycling England and generally reducing funding available for cycling projects. Electric cars are not the future (at least not in towns and cities), there are plenty of places which government money could provide society with a much greater benefit; particularly cycling and rail projects.

Saturday 27 November 2010

Saturday Out

I found myself at a bit of a loose end today, it was cold outside but cold inside my flat too, so I decided to go out on the bike to get warm. Heading towards town I decided to get onto the Ashton canal.



I was intending to turn off the canal and head to the Debdale end of the Fallowfield Loop but when I got to the turn I remembered the pick and mix stall in Ashton and decided to continue. The below zero temperature meant the towpath was frozen solid and quite rideable.


A section of canal had been drained for maintenance, and there were several anti-cyclist, anti-wheelchair barriers, but otherwise the ride was easygoing and pleasant.



This route would have been impassable on the Yuba Mundo, which is a shame.

I took the same route home and decided to turn off onto the Fallowfield Loop seeing as I was enjoying my ride. As LC recently posted, the Loop is looking very nice in the frosty weather:



I also saw some interesting political graffiti near Sainsbury’s in Fallowfield:



I covered a good 40 km and managed not to break a sweat or generate a thirst due to the cold. This kind of weather is great for just getting out there and having an explore by bike.

Finally, I saw this saddle. It seems that some cyclists have had issues with “Fake gel.” The manufacturers of this saddle apparently wanted to alleviate customers’ concerns:


Friday 26 November 2010

“Bike Snob” Review


As a long-time reader of the BikeSnobNYC blog, I decided to snap up a copy of Eben Weiss’s book, “Bike Snob,” whilst at Waterstones a few days ago. The book is an enjoyable read for anyone who is already a cyclist, the Guide to Cycling Tribes section will no-doubt bring a smile to anyone who spends a reasonable amount of time in the saddle. The book, in parts could persuade a non-cyclist of what those of us who do cycle get to experience when we ride, from the obvious advantages of cycling as transport in dense urban locations to the less practical aspects of cycling which can be troublesome to articulate to our non-cycling friends. Whilst this blog is not particularly concerned with sport-cycling, Weiss describes the enjoyment which competitive cycling brings him in a way even the most utilitarian cyclist can appreciate.

The book has a very American flavour to it, which is to be expected as it was written by an American. In terms of transport policy, particularly the relationship between motorists and cyclists we in the UK are much closer to the USA than most of the rest of the European countries, sadly. This is in part due to Britain being resistant to some of the best things the EU has to offer. Cycling as transport is inferred throughout the book but rarely specifically mentioned. The problems with motorists brought up in the book will be instantly familiar to anyone who has ridden a bike on the road in the UK. Weiss is known to be pro-helmet but takes the moderate approach of saying that “If it’s between riding a bike without a helmet and not riding a bike, you’re better off just riding the bike,” which I can respect, although my personal view is that if it is a choice between riding a bike with a helmet and not riding a bike, you’re better off riding with a helmet. He also points out the folly in relying on a helmet instead of things such as your brain and in the case of hipsters, brakes and does so in a moderate manner which is unlikely to alienate readers with different viewpoints.

This book could make a great Xmas gift for an experienced cyclist but the talk of pain and traffic danger could be off-putting to a non-cyclist you are perhaps hoping to inspire, which is a shame considering some of the positive, inspirational content of the book. Overall I would definitely recommend it.


Thursday 25 November 2010

It’s always dark

If you work office hours you may have noticed that it is dark during almost all of your free time. If you want to cycle during your free time this means you need some lights. This year I am fortunate enough to own more bikes than this time last year (when I only owned a single bike, a hybridised mountain bike at that). This has the added advantage of giving me more experience with different kinds of lights, experience I am happy to share.

Battery Lights:

Battery lighting I have used falls roughly into two categories; lighting for you to see with, and lighting to ensure you are seen by others.

Lighting to be seen by is sufficient to discharge your legal obligation, in well lit urban areas it will also be enough for you to get by. A popular example of lighting to be seen by are Knogs, also known as “Hipster Cysts.”


The Knog lights are basically only as effective as the £2 blinkies you can get from Tesco, but do not require you to attach a mount to your bike.

Unlike lighting to be seen, lighting to see with used to mean halogen lamps. Halogen lamps are bright and produce a lovely warm light but because batteries run out, ideally it is best to use a more efficient method to produce light with batteries. At present this takes the form of LEDs. Halogen lamps powered by batteries are still available and may even seem like a good deal, but any money you save will be paid for with batteries and often shoddier build quality. Currently I am using Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative’s Revolution Vision set:


The front lamp is a 1 watt LED with a re-assuring aluminium exterior. The beam is  relatively wide for an LED, although the light it produces is a cold blueish-white which is harder to see by than the yellow of a halogen bulb. The lamp also has a flash mode for when you are more concerned with being seen than with illuminating the path ahead. Replacement mounts are available for the front lamp making it easy to share one between several bikes (as I do with my Yuba Mundo and Raleigh Twenty). The rear light comes with 4 flash patterns in addition to the steady state flash. Sadly replacement mounts are not available for the rear lamp, although the EBC catalogue currently residing in my bathroom suggests the rear light has recently undergone a redesign which may filter through to the shop stock soon.

I also have a permanent rack-fitted light/reflector on the Yuba Mundo which is useful if I am caught out after dark:


Dynamo Lights:

Dynamo lighting is generally powerful enough to fall into the “to see by” category (apart from the rear lights for which being seen is the only purpose). Back in July I purchased my first ever dynamo lamp thanks to some advice from LC. I had owned a dynamo hub for a while before that, but I was initially more interested in the drum brake and the possibility of using the dynamo to charge my phone. The lamp I ended up with is a Busch and Muller Lumotec Retro (with standlight and switch):



Shown here on the bike before I installed the new tyres, also conveniently doubles as a reflector to make the bike street-legal. 

Because the dynamo provides an effectively inexhaustible source of power, halogen lamps become feasible once more. Whilst they are less durable than LEDs, they do produce a warmer, yellowish light which I find easier to see by, and the brightness is generally greater than that of my LED battery lamp and the beam is cast wider which enhances my visibility to others. The lamp includes an LED standlight, which on its own is about half as powerful as my battery-powered LED lamp. This is designed to ensure you remain visible even when stationary or at very low speeds.


This dynamo lamp is couples with a battery-powered permanent rear light which I originally considered replacing with a dynamo equivalent. In the end I decided to keep the existing light due to its low power consumption compared to a front light. So far I’ve had a few hundred hours out of the pair of AA batteries which came with the bike.

At present I do not have any experience with bottle dynamos, although Ian at Lazy Bicycle Blog has one on his new bicycle and seems positive about it. I am currently considering adding a bottle dynamo and lamp to the Yuba Mundo. I have become accustomed to the superior light level produced by the lamp on the DL-1 when riding in total darkness and after spending £4 on batteries a few days ago, the initial outlay doesn’t seem too bad anymore. It will also free up the battery lights for exclusive use on the Twenty. Whilst I am happy with my hub dynamo I favour the bottle dynamo approach on the Yuba Mundo because of the disk brakes. The only disk-brake compatible dynamo hubs are Shimano’s, and they use Centerlock mounts for the rotors. This would mean replacing my rotor with a Centerlock version (at an extortionate price for a piece of metal) or buying an adapter which may cause further problems.

Depending on the type of riding you do I would advise using dynamo lighting over battery lighting, at least for the front of the bike. A dynamo front lamp will be bright enough to illuminate the way when riding in total darkness. Whilst the initial outlay may seem high, the level of illumination provided is significantly higher than a £25 pair of LED lights, the battery won’t run out at an inopportune moment and you won’t have to continuously spend money on batteries. If most of your riding is on well lit streets and you are happy to have lights merely to be seen, cheap LED blinkies should suffice.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

The Guv’nor

I noticed a Pashley Gun’nor in the parking shed at work earlier this week and decided to snap some pictures:





Plenty has been written about the Guv’nor elsewhere online, but upon seeing one in real life a few things stuck me:

The Guv’nor is a very pretty bike, cream Delta Cruisers, leather grips, Championship B17 saddle and the lugged frame all come together to make a very attractive bicycle.

The Guv’nor however, is basically an ornament. It is a three-speed bicycle sold for £800 without any of the practical accessories you would get with other Pashley models such as even the basic £500 models of the Roadster and Princess. £600 would get you basically the same bicycle (with the handlebars flipped) including dynamo front light, battery rear light, mudguards, chainguards, a rack, a frame-fitting lock, a basket (on the ladies’ model), a stand and an extra two gears, in the form of the Roadster Sovereign or the Princess Sovereign.

The Guv’nor was likely aimed at collectors rather than as a bike to ride to work on, and I can see its appeal as an ornament, almost a museum piece. It does seem odd however, that someone would choose this over the Roadster Sovereign as a bike for general transportation. It seems to be a case of style over substance, much like the time an Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative salesperson suggested a rackless, lightless, chainguardless, mudguardless, kickstandless and possibly brakeless fixed gear bicycle would be better for “pottering around town,” than the Pashley Roadster Sovereign, despite the prices of the two bikes being nearly the same. Seems like a case of style over substance.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Rush Hour Ride 2

In October I rode to Rochdale during rush hour. Yesterday I made the same journey again, although this time due to the time change and the time of year it was dark the whole way there.

View Larger Map

The route was the same as previously but the change in conditions led to a pronounced increase in the douchebaggery of motorists. Thanks in part to sport-cycling lobbies I cycled in the only viable manner, vehicularly, due to a lack of any useable infrastructure. Sadly, lobbies such as the CTC represent members who are largely interested in preserving their right to the road for those Sunday club rides. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be able to go on Sunday club rides, but for a hobby/sporting lobby to inform government policy on something which is primarily a mode of transport is really very detrimental to cycling. Imagine if the government listened to the lobbying on the FIA on motoring matters, we might have an F1 circuit in every city but private motor vehicles would not even be allowed on public roads (which would be great).

On the ride there I was recklessly endangered by motorists numerous times, the worst of whom overtook me at a set of lights which had turned amber as I was riding through them. The driver of MJ51 HXC sped through the same set of lights after they had turned red and then overtook me with mere millimetres to spare. I happened to catch him at the next set of lights and firmly but civilly challenged him about his behaviour. He wound down the windows leading to the following productive exchange:

Me: You nearly killed me back there, that overtake was really dangerous.

Neanderthal: You were riding in the middle of the fucking road.

Me: I have every right to ride in “The middle of the fucking road.”

Neanderthal: Do you want me to fucking punch you?

Me: Yeah, I’m sure you’re going to do that.

Neanderthal: I’ll get out of this car and fucking knock you out.

Me: Sure, go on then, I’m sure you will.

[Neanderthal Drives off]

If it were not for the recent experiences of The Cycling Lawyer I would have reported the incident to the Police. Seeing as cyclists now know that the Police aren’t interested in upholding the laws which are designed to protect them, I decided to allow the exchange to become less civil. What is most worrying to me is that his defence for his reckless driving was that I was riding in the middle of the lane, which I am allowed to do by statute. He is merely licensed to use the roads based on his ability to behave appropriately and he should behave as such. The Police and CPS could do with reminding of that fact too.

The other main reckless motorists were a Ring and Ride driver who overtook extremely dangerously and another bad overtake by a private vehicle. Someone tried to cut me up whilst coming to a stop at a set of lights, they tried to squeeze me towards the kerb. This occurred at a very low speed so I decided it would be safe for me to refuse to give in to this bullying and they were forced to stop and before finishing the cutting-up manoeuvre to avoid scuffing their paint. One of the most annoying incidents was at Big Lamp roundabout in Shaw:


Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

View Larger Map

After going through the above ordeals I was understandably a bit less forgiving than usual. Roundabouts are inherently anti-cyclist, tackling them is very difficult for many cyclists because of the speed required to get through a roundabout in relative safety, combined with the observation that almost no-one in any vehicle seems very sure about what they are supposed to do on a roundabout. I was attempting to take the second exit when two lanes of cars waiting at the next road decided that because I was only a cyclist they would attempt to forcibly steal my right of way. This has taught me a new cycling top tip which I may not have discovered had it not been for my pre-existing exasperation; Screaming, “For fuck’s sake!” at the top of your lungs is necessary and sufficient to stop motorists from stealing your right of way on roundabouts.

At around 10 pm I made the return journey. The lack of cars made the return trip an absolute delight, I was tired but made better time than on the way there. It seems obvious now that the solution to Manchester’s traffic woes is to remove private motor vehicles from our roads. When I got home I noticed my day total on the odometer was 59 km, pretty good for a work day.

Wednesday 17 November 2010

DfT victim-blaming campaign update

In addition to myself and several other cycling bloggers picking up on the DfT’s backwards approach at road safety, also noticed it.  Unlike the rest of us (so far) they have gotten a reply from Mike Penning, the minister “Road Safety.”

“This game is part of a range of educational materials designed to give children the skills they need to stay safe on the roads as they become more independent.

“It is nonsense to suggest that, simply by explaining the consequences of different behaviour, we are attributing the blame for accidents to anyone. I am clear that everyone on the road has a role to play in creating a safe environment whether they are driving, riding, cycling or walking.”

It is easy to get the impression that Mikey hasn’t actually had a look at the site, or if he has it is a long time since he saw the outside world not through a windscreen.

“Tory MP Mike Penning claimed £7,978 in car mileage, although his Hemel Hempstead constituency is less than 30 miles from London.”

Based on the estimates from the BBC, this would place him doing around 30,000 miles per year.  But it is not as if this could possibly distort the minister’s perspective on how much of the burden of responsibility for safety should be placed on motorists…

Friday 5 November 2010

Raising The Bar

The handlebar that is.  A long time ago I replaced the fork on the Yuba Mundo with one which had tabs for mounting a disc brake.  The new fork has a threadless steerer, the whole arrangement is very sturdy and heavy-duty which is what I wanted, but ever since then the handlebar has felt just that bit too low.  Unlike with a quill stem, you cannot easily raise the handlebar with the threadless system. My lazy solution to this has been to have the saddle a little bit lower than is ideal to compensate, until now that is.  I picked this up from Edinburgh Bicycle Co-Operative on a whim.


Designed to allow that little bit more height adjustment when using a threadless fork.  I decided to document the installation for the benefit of others.


I unscrewed the compression bolt from the top cap of the Yuba Mundo headset and removed the bolt and cap.


The star-nut is visible inside the steerer tube.  Next I unscrewed the clamping bolts on the stem until they were loose enough to allow me to remove the stem.


Here is the exposed steerer tube after stem removal. I had to replace the headset spacer seen resting on the top bearing race with a slightly thicker one due to the difference in size between the original stem and the stem riser which was to go in its place.


The stem riser was installed in the same (albeit reversed) manner the stem was removed.  The stem was then clamped onto the stem riser, around 5 cm higher than it was originally.

The solution isn’t exactly elegant, but it is practical, which is what the Yuba is really all about.  I will test ride the bike with the new handlebar position soon and report on how much of a difference it makes.

Thursday 4 November 2010

Yuba Weekend

Friday the 29th was Halloween Critical Mass.  This time I decided to take a good friend with me on the back of the Yuba.  This was easier than I expected, but meant I couldn’t realistically take any pictures.  Luckily, as one of the biggest Masses of the year, there were plenty of other people taking pictures:



Both pictures courtesy of Papergirl Manchester, an art project using Massers as a means to deliver art to the public.  There was also a performance by the Spokes dance troupe.

I also managed to find a picture of our group at the starting point, courtesy of Spinneyhead:


Sadly the Yuba isn’t actually visible, but the group of us can be seen in the foreground.

The ride was longer than usual and ended in Platt Fields for drinks and a BBQ.

The next day, I attended an interesting Halloween/bonfire night amalgamation.  Basically costumes, drinks and fire.  I decided to use the Yuba and the availability of firewood on the Fallowfield Loop to contribute towards the bonfire.



Yuba Mundo loaded with brittle, long-dead wood.


The fire lasted long into the night.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Rail Replacement Bus


A train, image courtesy of Northern Rail.

Yesterday, (Remember the weather yesterday?) I went to Rochdale station to get the 21:52 train back to Manchester.  When I arrived I noticed that trains were cancelled in both directions for unspecified reasons.  Technical failures happen from time to time, it is just inevitable.  Annoyingly, whilst bikes are accommodated on trains, when the time comes to run a “Rail replacement” bus, the company simply contacts a bus or coach company and more often than not bikes are not accommodated.  The short ride to the station had left me soaked through and cold as I stood looking at the departures board and the thought of leaving my bike behind was less than ideal.  I decided that as I was wet already, I would cycle the 27 km home in the torrential rain.  Roadies ride in this kind of weather all the time, so why couldn’t I?

Luckily I had my performance cycle clothing with me:



Including a lightweight & breathable suede jacket, fast-wicking denim jeans and SPD Doctor Marten boots.

And my lightweight, crabon-fibré, aerodynamic racing bicycle (photographed on another day):


I made it home in about 65 minutes, a personal best. I also managed to avoid stopping for 5 minutes to have a drink as I would normally have done, the wind and rain stopped me from getting warm and dehydrated.  When I arrived home I had a performance sports drink to replace those lost electrolytes:


Obviously there is nothing at all wrong with sports-cycling, just the perception that cycling is a sport and that you necessarily need all of the associated gear just to get from A-B.  This acts as a barrier to the uptake of cycling by non-cyclists.  I think attitude and motivation are more important than cycle-specific clothes and sporty bikes. Mudguards help too.

Monday 1 November 2010

How I wish this were a parody

I managed to stumble across this Department For Transport website, “Be Bright, Be Seen.” It is aimed at young children and after studying the site and playing the game, the main messages of the site seem to be:

  • Cycling and walking are very, very, very dangerous and abnormal activities
  • If you choose to engage in this kind of reckless behaviour, it is you, the child, the victim who is responsible for ensuring you do not become the victim of a negligent motorist
  • To do this you must dress up like an Xmas tree whenever you dare to have the audacity to want to cross a road
  • If you do somehow manage to live long enough to become an adult, it will be one of your basic human rights to drive a heavy & fast vehicle inattentively in the presence of children, without the terrible burden of any responsibility if you hit one, unless they are wearing the Xmas tree outfit that is. Then you might be partly to blame.


Taken from the DFT’s victim-blaming website Flash game.


Obviously the bitch had it coming. Taken from the same site.

I also found links to some “Educational material,” for children, again provided by the government. This included Amir’s story:

“After I'd opened up all they presents – they wanted to get the birthday cake ready – so I decided to go over to Jordan's to show him the bike. I was sorted. I had my helmet, my trainers with the reflective strips and I even clipped on the lights and made sure the batteries worked before I set off. Well, it'd be dark by the time I was coming back, you see. You need to be seen by other road users. That's really important. Be Bright, Be Seen. They're always saying that in school. I was only going to Jordan's so I didn't bother with the pads or the gloves.

The road was quite quiet but there were loads and loads cars parked all the way along. Anyway, I'm going up and down gears, testing the brakes.

Then, just as I looked up, this car door suddenly opened - right in front of me. I tried to brake but it was too late. It knocked the wind right out of me. Banged my chin, broke my nose and cut all my hands up too. Good job I had my new helmet on.

This is a great way to promote healthy, ethical and socially responsible transport to the next generation. Pads and gloves as a safety measure? No mention of the fact that the motorist who doored him was responsible for checking that there was no oncoming traffic at the time. By the sound of it, the helmet didn’t do a thing to help him, as you’d expect.

“It's not put me off my bike though. No chance. But I'll be a lot more careful in the future. Deffo. Just as soon as I'm better... Two weeks and counting.”

I bet you will, it was your own fault that an adult opened a car door right in front of you after all. Being a kid is full of responsibility, I bet he can’t wait to grow up and get his driving license so he can do away with being responsible once and for all.

EDIT: Email the DfT about this awful site if you feel as I do. Hopefully a bigger blog which specialises in this kind of disgrace will help spread awareness of this DfT crap.