Monthly Archives: December 2012

Muck, Sweat & Gears

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Muck, Sweat & Gears is a little book I’d seen on the shelves of my local Waterstones, but always put back after a quick browse. I’m not a big fan of little books filled with trivia which seem to have become quite commonplace these days (e.g. Schott’s Miscellany, dressed up with a veneer of faux-Victorian antiquity and grandeur), and I had no urge to acquire one specifically devoted to Cycling. However, when I saw the same book in my local library, I thought it was worth a shot.

Muck, Sweat & Gears is a collection of facts and trivia about all aspects of cycling – historic inventions, race statistics, biographical facts, and so on. It is organised in no particular order, which makes reading it quite difficult. I suppose you’re meant to dip in and out, but you have no way of knowing what you’re dipping into. It’s like a jumbled encyclopaedia – and utterly hopeless for looking anything up, even if you wanted to. The information itself seems accurate enough, although some quotes and statistics are without attribution and source.

I can’t really summarise the book, since there are no chapters, sections or anything resembling organisation throughout. Each piece of trivia generally takes up less than a page, though some run for a couple, but none of it really links to anything else. On the whole, I didn’t mind the book while I was perusing it (usually on the toilet), but now I come to review it a couple of weeks after I put it back, I can hardly remember anything factual from its pages. It’s a collection of fleeting information – interesting the moment you read it, but gone the next. Personally, I wouldn’t buy it – but it might make a nice token gift for the cyclist in your family when their birthday comes around. It’s got to be better than one of the many general trivia books out there…

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Wey Navigation

Following on from yesterday’s ride, here is one of my “proper” pictures of the Wey Navigation:

Wey Navigation

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Boxing Day Ride

Feeling the need to work off some of the Christmas excess, I hopped on my bike this morning for a ride around the Wey Navigation – a series of canals and rivers running off the River Thames out in Surrey. My wife had gone out with her friend for an equally constitutional (though infinitely more boring – especially for cyclists) walk around Virginia Water Lake in the Windsor Great Park, so it was an ideal opportunity. I was assured by my ever-trusty guide, “Traffic Free Cycle Trails” (see below) that this was a short and interesting ride, though somewhat difficult around the canal towpaths. I decided to attempt the northern end of the navigation, starting in Weybridge, rather than the southern end, which stretches out as far as Guildford.

The Old Crown Pub in Weybridge

 

My ride started in the pub carpark of the “Old Crown” pub in Weybridge. It was deserted, this being Boxing Day at around 9am, with no obvious signage to any cycle paths. Behind me, shown in the photo below, was a rather soggy and flooded island, surrounded by boats in fairly poor condition, with the river running off to the southwest. I assumed this would lead me to the Wey Navigation, and headed off down a narrow alleyway – barely big enough to fit my bike down – following the river’s general direction.

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I then came to “Flockton Island”, according to my  guide, which was an equally deserted muddy stretch of grass, surrounded on all sides by a swollen river. It was connected to other equally muddy stretches of grass by some ornate bridges, but none of these seemed to lead to any paths I could cycle along. I tried to follow the course of the river a little way, but the only navigable routes I could find were through little residential side streets. These were somewhat charming, being filled with early 19th-century workers’ cottages, but I couldn’t get down to the river – no matter how hard I tried. Lots of roads were strictly “PRIVATE!” with no entry permitted, and I pedalled round in circles trying to find a way through. Every single house was terraced, and after a few minutes, I lost sight of the river altogether. My wife, who was brought up around here, assures me that I’d just “missed” the correct path somewhere around Flockton Island. I decided, instead, to head back to the main road into Weybridge, where I had seen part of the river earlier while travelling to my start point.

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I joined the Wey Navigation at a little canal just off Weybridge Road, pictured above. This road gave me two opportunities – to head west, apparently in the general direction of Addlestone, or south – as I had been led to believe the river went. However, the southern path was another “PRIVATE!” road – with “public footpath” written underneath in very teeny letters. Cars were also advised to keep their speed down. And dog walkers to stick to the left. In light of all these instructions, I decided that this road didn’t seem all that “PRIVATE!” after all, and cycled off – now alongside the river proper. I had covered about 3.5 miles by this time, just looking to get my ride started. I bounced down the potholed “PRIVATE!” road, breathing in fresh air and listening to the sound of rushing water alongside me. The ground was wet from recent flooding, and the river looked to be much higher than I imagined its usual level.

After about another mile down the road, I was treated to a good vantage point and a picturesque scene – shown below.

Alongside the River Wey, heading sout

 

I stayed here for a couple of minutes, letting the vibrations in my legs die down a bit, and took a few photos with my DSLR. I was confident I was now on the right track, and looked forward to seeing how far I could follow the river for. Unfortunately, I soon found out that it wasn’t for much longer – again, at the end of the road, were several houses and an estate – all of which promised me absolutely no access, and absolutely no way of reaching the river again. I had seen a muddy towpath on the other side of the river, but could see no way to get to it – and no obvious bridge leading over there. Cursing my luck once again, I turned by bike around and pedalled all the way back up to the main Weybridge Road.

This time, I followed the canal west towards Addlestone. The road was unusual, in that it sat beneath the level of the canal, which itself was raised up by a large grass verge. The towpath ran up this verge and directly alongside the water. It was here that I made yet another mistake. In all the recent rain, the towpath was like a quagmire. I vainly tried to ride it, acutely aware that I was only less than a foot from the canal water, and saw that other riders had tried to cut a new singletrack elsewhere on the verge in the hope of finding something drier, slightly to the right. I managed to get my front wheel into this dry rut, but my back wheel wouldn’t follow – it stayed firmly in the slippery wet mud close to the canal. Precariously balanced between the hard road below me and the canal to my left, I resembled a speedway rider rounding a bend, riding almost sideways on, just to stay on my wheels! After around a minute, I managed to stop my bike and walk the 200 yards to safer ground. As the guide had said, the towpaths were definitely tricky – and not for the faint-hearted.

I hopped back on my bike when the going was a little safer, and after a mile or so ploughing through even more mud, came to a lock in the canal. Dead opposite was a block of flats, which looked like an old converted mill to me:

John Bunn Mill

 

I took a short break here just to admire the scenery again, and to take in the sound of the rushing water. I was, by now, up to my knees in mud. My red/black Altura combination had turned into a shade of 70’s brown.

I cut through a footpath, now – for the first time on this ride – helpfully signposted as being back towards Addlestone. I had given up on finding the southern route of the Wey Navigation and wanted to get back into the warm and dry! After crossing through some more fields, gravel tracks and “PRIVATE!” roads (which allowed public access – hmm), I found myself back on the main roads and off towards home. I had failed to find the route I wanted to do, but I had a little adventure in my own way, and seen a whole lot more of this area that I never knew existed. I showed the pictures to my wife and even she didn’t recognise many of the places I had been to. It just goes to show that off-road on a bike, you really do see more of your world; even at this time of year, it might be cold and miserable outside, but there’s always something to see, and there’s nothing quite like being out there on your bike. I might have brought a significant percentage of the canal towpath home with me, got lost and ended up somewhere I never intended, but I thoroughly enjoyed this little sojourn. I’m not sure Mrs TWT’s washing machine will, though.

 

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Cycling Injury

I’ve had a couple of injuries in the past few months caused by cycling. In my first fortnight riding, I was hit side-on by a car and was fortunate to escape with only a twisted ankle and some minor cuts and scrapes. A couple of weeks later, I was taken off my bike by an extending dog lead, which some idiot had stretched across a cycle lane. It hit me in the neck and left quite a deep cut that took weeks to heal.

My latest injury, pictured above, alas is entirely my own fault. While bumbling about in the dark this morning, for some reason I stumbled into the chain ring. As well as knocking all my gears out of synch, it left me with a timely reminder to “handle with care”. Ouch!

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Back on the Bike

According to Strava, it’s been a whole 10 days since I was last on my bike. A combination of office parties and freezing cold weather has meant I’ve either been walking or taking the car – and, if I’m honest, I’ve been a bit of a wuss about it.

Today, I did my usual commute (3mi) and found that so much of the form and fitness I’d built up in the previous months had just gone. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m starting out over again, but it’s nowhere near as good. I was puffing and panting by the time I got to the station. This is what a combination of a sedentary life and bad diet did to me in just a couple of weeks – two of the main reasons I got on a bike in the first place!

Eat what you like, drink what you like, but stay on your bike!

Shirt Shuttle

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For cyclist commuters, the Shirt Shuttle has proved to be one of the most useful cheap gadgets I’ve bought. Once upon a time, I used to try and fold my work shirts against something firm and hope they weren’t too creased by the time I got to the office. It rarely worked, and me and a colleague chipped in to buy a cheap iron and camping ironing board so that we looked like we’d actually made an effort to get dressed. It added 15mins to the start of our working day, which was an annoyance for both of us.

While up at he Cycle Show in Birmingham earlier this year, I stumbled across the Shirt Shuttle. Designed to get your shirts from A to B without creasing or getting dirty, it sounded like an ideal product for me and my colleague – no more ironing! It consists of a sturdy plastic shell, designed to allow for the collar of your shirt, which is secured with a zip around the outside. It’s durable and waterproof. However, the real innovation is the plastic insert – this is what you fold your shirt around, following a simple procedure. The principle is, “something folded around a curved surface cannot crease”, and this seems to be true. Once folded around the insert (see photo above), the hanger doubles as a retaining clip, and the whole shirt is then just put in the plastic shell. Simple, safe and secure.

The Shirt Shuttle really does work. I’ve been using it for about 3 months now, and have nothing but good things to say about it. There is perhaps a slight tendency to put a tiny crease in the shirt pocket area, caused by the rubber feet on the inside of the case to help hold the shirt in place, but this is nothing in the grand scheme of things.

It retails at full price for £30, or £40 if you opt for the slightly newer model, which claims to be slightly smaller and lighter. Personally, I have no issues with the weight of the original, which can now often be found discounted – mine cost just £15 – but have a feel for yourself and find out. An ideal gift for cyclists this Christmas!

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Traffic Free London

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One of several books published by Sustrans, Cycling Traffic Free London promises to offer a selection of rides in the capital, all of which are safe and, mercifully, car-free. When I saw this on my local library shelf, I was excited – the idea of pedalling around London on undiscovered routes appealed to me, and I’ve had good experiences with some of their other books in the same series before.

The book contains a selection of 20 routes, all marked out with proper street mapping. So far, so good. The selection of routes takes in the whole city, so where ever you visit, there will be a route somewhere nearby that you can take advantage of. However, you won’t be going past many of London’s more famous landmarks – and here lies such an ambitious book’s major shortcoming; much of London simply isn’t Traffic Free. Even the new Barclays Cycle Superhighways – while sounding very grandiose – amount to little more than a painted 1m wide blue lane at the edge of otherwise very busy roads. As such, many of the routes in Central London are very limited. One suggested “route” from Waterloo to London Bridge isn’t even 3 miles long – shorter than my daily commute.

The other shortcoming is that some of these “traffic free” routes aren’t that “traffic free” either and, inevitably, you will encounter some areas on most routes where you will be advised to proceed with extreme caution. This isn’t to knock to the book too much; London is one of Europe’s most unfriendly capitals for cycling and this book is playing its part in getting more cyclists onto the capital’s roads – surely a requirement for them to become more acceptable to motorists and other road users. If you already have my previously recommended book, also published by Sustrans, you’ll find a fair amount of duplication in here – some of these London routes appear in “Traffic Free Trails”, which I consider to be much better value overall. However, there are some good inspirational routes here, especially in the outer boroughs of London, and it’s great to see some effort being made to promote London as a cycling destination.

My advice, if you decide to pick a copy up, is to use it for ideas to generate your own routes and then, along with the free maps available from TFL, accept that you’re going to have to deal with some traffic if you want to see the best of London by bicycle.

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No Cycling Today

No cycling for me, these past couple of days. Nothing to do with the weather, mind – it’s just that I have a job interview and need to be wearing a suit when I arrive (I can hardly arrive in my cycling gear and get changed there!). I can’t stand cycling in a suit and have no idea how people manage it without getting impossibly sweaty and uncomfortable.

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Frozen Bike

Yesterday, southern England experienced about 1cm of snow. For overseas readers, that’s about half an inch. By 9am, it had all melted. By 2pm, it was still causing chaos on the trains and by 11pm when I was coming home from work, it was still causing chaos on the trains. Imagine the same scenario in Canada, where 1cm of snow is considered “summer”.

Last night, when I returned to my bike, I found ice on the saddle – easy enough to deal with – but, worse luck, my bike lock had frozen shut. It took me a good 5 mins of wrestling with the Abus to try and get the key in & out, all the while being observed by smug commuters in big woolly coats, getting into their heated BMWs. Yes, car drivers, you win this round.

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The Power of Headlights

At this time of year, with the light getting dark at around 4pm, headlights are (in my view) an absolutely essential purchase – though, of course, not legally required.

When I first bought my Pinnacle, I also got a pack of Cateye lights thrown in on the Ride to Work scheme. “I only need them to be seen,” I told the salesman, and duly he gave me a pack of lights that could just about light up the inside of a paper bag. The folly of this purchase became painfully obvious to me when riding on the huge cycle paths near Woking in Surrey – they’re absolutely no good whatsoever. If you can’t see the pavement in front of you in the dark, you’re riding dangerously. Even street lights often don’t give you much light to ride by, and car headlights present all their own hazards.

For the winter, I purchased a Lezyne Power XL from Evans Cycles. Retailing at around £85, it came as highly recommended by Cycling Active magazine as one of the best purchases for under £100. Prices for bike lights can go to stupid heights – I’ve even seen one set for over £400. That’s more than my bike cost. Anyway, the Lezyne is powerful – with several modes of varying brightness, all of which give different longevity to the battery, which is USB chargeable. This is a constant balancing act for cyclists. Simply put, we don’t have the huge batteries of cars, and no alternator to charge up on the go. The more light you want, the less time your battery is going to last. Lezyne claim that the Power XL will give you around 4 hours light on its maximum setting, but in reality I’ve found it’s more like 2 – 3, and can get quite a bit dimmer as it tries to conserve energy in its death throes. The Power XL does give off a decent beam, though, and is ideal for commuters. The fitting to the bike can be a bit of a pain, and has a tendency to shake loose if you go over a hard bump, but that may just be the way I’ve got it installed. It’s frequently discounted, and the bargain price of £64 I paid makes it worth every penny.

Things brings me to my final point: other cyclists. If you’re in a 2-way cycle lane, coming head-on to other cyclists, and you have no headlight, you’re an accident waiting to happen. Twice in the last month, I’ve had to brake sharply because a cyclist couldn’t see the lane properly and was about to hit me head-on. Be safe, be visible, and invest in a decent light.

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