Tag Archives: cycle

Stolen Saddle Bag

Saddle Bag

Today, some odious little tosser has stolen my Bontrager saddle bag from my bike. It didn’t have anything in it, except for some mud, and it is quite positively the worst cycling accessory I have ever purchased in my life. I shan’t miss it. With a sort of gypsy’s curse, I hope it brings as much misery to the thief as it did to me.

The bag never really served any purpose for me. It was too small to fit anything in, other than perhaps a small bunch of keys or some energy bars – certainly nothing that wouldn’t fit in a typical jersey or jacket pocket anyway. It hung awkwardly beneath the saddle and all it really did was block my rear reflector and invite people to unzip it to see if there was anything inside worth stealing. It was an impulse purchase back from when I first got into cycling and I thought it looked like the kind of thing I “might” need, “just in case”. Well, I never did, and I don’t care, so there.

Enjoy your mud-filled worthless accessory, Mr Tea-Leaf.

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North Downs Link – NCN Route 223

On a mild day early in September, I decided to head out on one of the routes over the North Downs from Sustrans‘ excellent book, Cycling in South East England, by John Grimshaw, that I’d been meaning to try out for a while. The route I planned to take ran from Guildford to Horsham in Sussex, a distance of around 18 miles and largely following National Cycle Network route 223. I’ve now ridden many routes on the NCN all over the country and if you’ve never tried one, I urge you to do so. They’re not guaranteed to be traffic free, but they are mostly cycle-friendly and a great way of exploring interesting places on your bike.

I started from the Guildford end of NCN 223, heading south. It took me a couple of attempts to find the correct path, but nothing that caused any significant delays – this was entirely due to me not being terribly familiar with Guildford’s many cycle routes, and the start of the route being located in a park that wasn’t particularly well signposted. Once I was on NCN 223, the route was entirely straightforward, with no real opportunity to get lost on the way.

NCN 223 is a route that varies in surface quality, like many others. I found that the further south I went, the worse it became, and I wouldn’t recommend tackling it on a road bike as this route would largely be considered “off road”. For hybrids and mountain bikes, the route should be easy to tackle, but would get very muddy in wet weather. The route is 95% traffic-free, with only a very short section of main road to be tackled at the end toward’s Christ’s Hospital. However, only the northern end of the route near Guildford is properly tarmacked, with much of the rest of the route being an off-road dirt track that follows the route of the old Cranleigh Railway, part of which ran between Guildford and Horsham. There are a couple of disused stations to see on the route, with the largest being near the beginning at Bramley. The other large station on the way can be found at Baynard’s, but this is now in private hands and photography is strictly controlled around the area, with no access onto the station itself.

Bramley & Wonersh Station, closed in 1965. The cycle route runs to the right of the station along the tarmac, and there is a small display of the station's history on the platform.

Bramley & Wonersh Station, closed in 1965. The cycle route runs to the right of the station along the tarmac, and there is a small display of the station’s history on the platform.

For much of the route heading south, I felt like I was riding in a woodland tunnel, but this was punctuated by occasional views out onto the rolling North Downs and gorgeous countryside, linking the counties of Surrey and Sussex. There were no large hills on the way, apart from one particularly short sharp climb at Baynard’s Tunnel, and being a disused railway line, the route was mostly flat or with gentle inclines. The town of Cranleigh makes an ideal stopping point for cyclists at roughly mid-way along the route and boasts a good range of cafes and pit-stops close to the trail. The route also seemed to be getting a fair bit of use from the locals, all of whom seemed friendly and well-used to cyclists on the path.

If the route has one highlight, it has to be the unusual double-bridge outside Rudgwick crossing the River Arun. This came about during construction of the original railway, after the first bridge built crossing the river was deemed unsuitable by inspectors:

“The Horsham to Guildford line was beset with a number of difficulties when it was being constructed, largely due to local landowners dragging their feet on reaching deals with the railway company.

On 2 May 1865 Bannister reported to the board that the line was finally ready to be inspected by the Board of Trade which duly attended two months later. The Chief Inspecting Officer, Colonel Yolland, was unhappy with the traffic arrangements at Guildford and did not authorise public use of Rudgwick Station, set on a 1 in 80 incline, until it was re-sited on an incline of 1 in 130. As the company was contractually obliged to provide this station for the local landowner, it had no choice but to carry out the works, which also included the raising of an embankment and a bridge over the River Arun by 10 feet (3.0 m). This gave rise to the curious ‘double bridge’ over the River Arun just south of Rudgwick.”

Text courtsey of Paul Willis, the Worthing Wanderer

The route is particularly scenic at this point on the route, with excellent views from high above the river in both directions. I stopped here for a while and had a bit of lunch while other cyclists around me stopped for photos. There is no access onto the lower bridge, which goes absolutely nowhere – it was simply never demolished when the new one was built above it – but there is a steep path down to the river below.

Double Bridge over the River Arun

Double Bridge over the River Arun
Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   © Copyright Ron Strutt and
licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The final point of note is Baynard’s Tunnel, which I had to ride over and not through. The tunnel has been sealed for decades and is now home to a large colony of bats. This provides the only sharp climb of the whole route. It is quite a poor surface to ride on – very rocky – and there is little in the way of direction as you double-back on yourself. The descent down the other side could also be quite treacherous in wet weather and I found myself bumping down the track far faster than I was comfortable with. Those with young children should take care, but it shouldn’t be enough to put you off riding the route.

After the speed of the descent down Baynard’s, the route continues to the south-east for a few more miles until arriving back onto a main road leading to Christ’s Hospital, which has a local station run by Southern Railways back up towards London. I pressed on a little further into neighbouring Horsham, but for those with the inclination to do so, NCN 223 continues all the way south for a further 20 miles (approx) to Shoreham-by-Sea.

This section of NCN 223 is perfectly suitable for less-able cyclists and for those who just wish for a straightforward country ride. It isn’t up there with the best of routes I’ve ridden, but has just about enough landmarks to keep your interest up, combined with a flat (off-road) track and a couple of useful cafe stops on route.

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Cycle Superhighways

While I am all in favour of the excellent cycle hire scheme in London, I am considerably less of a fan of the Barclays Cycle Superhighways, which are gradually emerging in the capital. I’m not against the principal of more cycle lanes – quite the contrary – but these rather grandiose-sounding things, in practice, are nothing of the sort, as this picture demonstrates:

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The London cycle “superhighways” are little more than a streak of blue paint on the road, occasionally decorated with Barclays advertising. They do not particularly run to the most popular commuter destinations and many inexplicably stop in the middle of nowhere, usually due to a dispute with borough councils. The lanes are not segregated and there seems to be no penalty for motor vehicles in either entering them or parking across them. They are barely safer than riding on the main road, and the routes that do exist run down some pretty busy main roads. Earlier this year, a young woman was killed riding on one after being forced wide by some roadworks into a busy junction. My experience was similar when riding along one near Greenwich last year, when a black cab swerved into the lane in front of me and stopped to let a passenger disembark.

I understand that there are now plans to add segregation into future CS lanes. My question is – why wasn’t this considered from the start? Was there a political or advertising-driven urgency to get this project off the ground before it was really ready?

London now hosts thousands of cyclists every day, saving millions in fuel, harmful emissions and traffic jams. They deserve better than blue paint on main roads.

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Library Run

One of the many advantages of cycling is that it saves me money on trips to the city centre. Whereas I used to have to pay something in the region of £1.80 an hour to park my car, now I pay nothing for the use of one of the many bike racks in the area. The down side is that a bicycle isn’t ideal for doing much shopping – even if you have panniers fitted – though I would happily stand to be corrected if someone could show me a convenient way of doing it!

One of the things I enjoy most is a ride to the library. My local one is okay, but it’s a satellite library and often doesn’t have much in the way of stock. A few books can easily be fitted into my backpack, though, and the one in the city centre is always well-stocked. It   even has a particularly good cycling section!

Unfortunately, one downside of the route is that the cycle paths have largely fallen into disrepair. They look like they were constructed a number of years ago, and are largely shared pavements with pedestrians – not ideal, but much better than nothing. My ride into the city was plagued with pot holes, heavily cracked pavements, overgrown paths – even a tree across it at one point – as well as it being thick with moss and leaves, making the ride quite treacherous at times. Cycle paths need more than just to be painted and left indefinitely. They need to be maintained just as much as regular roads and pavements – so if yours is falling into disrepair, like mine, have a look at http://www.fixmystreet.com/ where you can report such problems and receive updates on progress. Let me know if you have any success!

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My Bible

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My cycling bible is “Traffic Free Cycle Trails” by Nick Cotton, shown above. Weighing in with a colossal 400+ routes all over the country, I think it’s a book that should be on every leisure cyclists shelf. It isn’t particularly expensive (around £14.99 if you pay full price) and gives you great value. Most of the rides it suggests are around 5 – 10 miles long, but the author assumes that you are cycling the route in both directions. Some routes are broken down into multiple rides, such as the famous Tarka Trail in Devon (in three parts here) or the Basingstoke Canal (also in three parts).

Unlike some books I’ve read, these routes are genuinely “traffic free”. At the start of each regional section, there are also notes on mountain bike trails and land owned by the Forestry Commission suitable for taking a bike over.

Perhaps one omission is the use of any OS mapping in the book, meaning that if you’re unsure of the route, you’ll either need to have a map to hand or photocopy the guidebook. Fortunately, having now ridden many routes in the guide, I can report back that most of the trails are very well signposted and I’ve never needed to purchase any additional material.

Use it as a guide to inspire rides, take it with you on holiday – whatever – but this book is a great source of days out, providing an excellent guide to pleasant leisure routes, catering to all ages and abilities.

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