Thursday, March 29, 2007

Bike quiz

The BBC's magazine site has a bike quiz. It's fairly noddy, but there are a couple of tricky questions, so I didn't get full marks.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Misty morning commute

Misty morning commute, originally uploaded by mike1727.

7:15- breakfast. "It's a lovely day, aren't you taking your road bike this morning Dad?" "No son, I'm riding the woods today"

The spring solstice has come and gone, leaving behind it daylight saving time as a reminder of the changing season. This morning is cool, still and fresh. A deep red sun glows through the mist as I wheel my bike out of the garage and coast down the hill with the children's shouted goodbyes ringing in my ears. Which route to take...road..trail..woods? Thirty seconds later I'm turning off the road into the first strip of suburban woodland, weaving through the trees, dropping in and out of small chalk pits and hopping over trunks of trees brought down by the winter gales. This section is short and easy, but coming so early in the ride it's always a good wake-up call.

Out of the trees, up the alley, lift the wheel for the step up onto the road, cross to the next section of bridleway which the kids and I walked the other day, counting squirrels and looking for treasure. Thirty seconds later cross another road, faster now on a smooth bridleway past another pit where the carcass of last year's pantomime cow decays gracefully, papier mache flesh falling away from its wooden skeleton. Cross the lane, carve a line past a sleepy schoolboy texting on his way to school. Keep the speed up, unweight and float the first drying-churned-mud bumpy section onto the footpath skirting a field of winter wheat. This was muddy drudge riding a month ago, but dry and worn smooth by tyres, paws and feet it rides fast today. Float more bumps past the mist shrouded pond where coots stand on the bank taking stock of the day, more narrow fast singletrack to another lane. Cross the road to the next bridleway, down to the middle ring for the hill because I'm still warming up and not in hero mode. Easy spin up, avoid the collapsed badger sett which is a real hazard on dark descents, crest the hill and ride along the ridge, past the clutch of cell towers in a corner of a farm compound full of well-used machinery.

Real countryside now, pause for a photo at the gate at the end of the ridge, cameraphone not doing justice to the view but good enough to record the moment. The first section of tarmac- change up and spin along a single track narrow unfenced lane through the fields. Looks like the farmer's planted wheat this year instead of last year's sickly-smelling rape, good. F*ck, I don't remember that pothole, deep, sharp-ended and wide it must've been caused by the winter frosts. Ten minutes in and the first car of the commute is behind me but hanging back nicely, just as well because it's too narrow to overtake and I'm not pulling in. T-junction coming, I pull in slightly to give it room to get past in recognition of its lack of aggression. It's Simon, he lives maybe half a mile from me and works in the building next door. Brief hellos though the open window- "Get a bike mate" before he's off down the lane. I follow, peeling left through a gate onto the next track. Another muddy rutted nightmare in the wet, it's drying now. Slightly downhill, picking a careful line between the soft bits and the ruts where I stacked last year though lack of concentration.

Right into Symondshyde Wood, smooth flat bridleway, 'improved' with a crushed stone surface last summer. Birdsong in the tree canopy above, bluebells pushing through the leaf litter and sticks below, a blue carpet waiting for late April. The bridleway is the boundary of a strip of beech, I'm riding though tall commercial pines now, muddy patches, narrowing. Shots in the distance, bird scarers perhaps- there are deer in this wood but I think it's closed season. Passing a couple of familiar landmarks- rusting machinery left over from planting the pines- turn left onto a forest ride. Less familiar, this wasn't the track I was planning to use but it's heading in the right direction judging by the position of the sunlight slanting through the trees. Easy ride down to the lane, left and right through the livery stables onto a long flat farm track through open fields recently ploughed and harrowed to a fine tilth ready for planting. Clock's ticking, short of time. Change up, pick up the pace, spinning fast on the smooth surface. Left and right around the corner of a field bounded by high earth banks awaiting sand quarrying. Looks like we'll get another few seasons before the quarry reaches here. That square green patch of grass on the right used to hide a ROC observation post; post cold war it's filled in and used by radio controlled fliers. 8:21 and I'm pushing pushing harder now, past the clanking conveyor, though the gate and over the road to a disused lane. Faster still, turn hard right over the berm, meandering track through the parkland next to new houses, gravel pinging off the downtube. Cycle lanes through the housing past the postman delivering to mews style townhouses. Ivy Walk, Cornflower walk, Campion road- echoes of countryside which came before the aircraft factory before the houses. Roundabout, first real traffic and last quarter mile sprint to work.

8:27, drop into the underground car park.

Another day, another dollar.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Being a responsible kind of bloke I can't condone road rage, but having been a hairsbreadth away from casualty on a few occasions I can honestly say that sometimes my thoughts do turn to responses beyond a good shout and the single finger salute. Cycledog wants guns, I want a portable EMP device to disable car the thread of comments on this post on an excellent bike blog.

CycleDog: "Everyone who uses the public way has both rights and responsibilities. That includes motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, and even horse back riders or horse-drawn vehicles. I'm getting fed up with motorists who think that their larger, heavier, more powerful vehicle gives them a greater right to use that public space, and I'm getting especially fed up with the pencil-necked geeks who use their vehicles as weapons. It's an annoying problem, and that problem has a solution.

Cyclists should carry guns."

Camden Cyclists googlemash bike map of London.

Camden Cyclists, an inner London cycle campaign group, have this excellent googlemaps mashup on their site which shows overlays of bike shops and routes. The combination of high resolution satellite imagery with vector overlays of routes in excellent since it adds a feel for the route which you can't get from a map alone- size of roads, complexity of junctions, shortcuts etc. They hope to add bike rack locations soon, though the ultimate mashup would combine this with a door to door routefinder- enter start and end locations and get a bike-friendly route map using quiet or less quiet roads according to your preferences.
Resources like this are a boon ror occasional London cyclists like me- I tend to go everywhere by tube when I'm in London, so it's difficult to relate to surface routes.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Car(e)-free shopping.

I took the bike trailer into the city centre for the first time for the weekly food shop on Saturday, eager to see how it coped with a load of fruit and veg from the market and happy to be avoiding shopping at Tesco.

Riding in from my house is easy- a round trip of 3 1/2 miles or so on flat roads, following pretty much the same route as I would in a car. Speed is never going to be an issue when pulling a trailer, just trundle along in a lowish gear and take your time, watching out for the extra length on sharp corners. Traffic was light that morning, so I've not yet found out what it's like to progress through lines of stationary vehicles. Once in the city parking was easy, just unhitch the trailer and chain it to the bike rack with the bike- no messing around queuing for a car park and searching for an empty space. There was plenty of room for the trailer, but parking might be a bit more of an issue when the racks are busier- we still need more racks in the city centre to make up for the loss of the railings on St Peter's street. Next time I'll push the trailer round the market to load directly instead of carrying heavy bags- another thing you can't do in a car.

Overall impression- quicker and easier than I was expecting.

A quick comparison of car vs bike costs for the trip- I was amazed by the amount of CO2 a car produces on such a short trip- as much mass as a bunch of bananas!

In the green corner, a bike trailer.
Ride into town- 10ish minutes.
Park on St Peter's Street, just accross the road from the market.
Buy food.
Unlock bike, load trailer 2 minutes, ride home 10 minutes.

Cost- approx £0.25. (Trailer depreciated over 5000 miles, bike over 12,000 miles)
Additional CO2- nil.

In the dirty brown corner, a diesel car.
Drive into town-5ish minutes.
Find car park space, park, walk to market- 10 minutes.
Buy food.
Walk back to car, pay car park ticket, queue to leave car park 10ish minutes.
Drive home 5 minutes.

Cost- £2.74
fully allocated cost per mile (<10,000>

CO2 814g
CO 2.9g
Hydrocarbons and Nitrogen oxides 1.7g
Particulates 0.2g

Thursday, March 15, 2007

If it's Thursday it must be puncture fix day

So there I was, up early(ish), kids dressed, bag packed and psyched for an off-road commute on the nicely drying trails through Symondshyde. Blue sky, warm, a beautiful spring morning. OPen the garage, unlock the bike, wave goodbye to the family (they always wave from the window and shout goodbye as I spin off down the road). Get on the bike and the front tyre's flatter then a very flat thing. Feck. Thornholio kicks my arse once more. At least the road bike was ok and I blasted down Hatfield Road fuelled by caffiene and raw pissed off temper because I'd been looking forward to this ride all week. And I got cut up by an aggressive wanker in a BMW who thought it was ok to leave a gap of nearly a whole foot as he passed me before turning left at the roundabout 10 yards ahead. Some days I think Spike Bike has a valid worldview, I tell you.

In a perfect world trails are always dry, horses wear snowshoes and hawthorns are afflicted by a GM virus which makes them bear marshmallows instead of thorns.


A busy weekend in the Spring sunshine, potting out, planting and sowing.

Existing plants are pushing their way through, Autumn plantings are doing nicely, with good colour from the hyancynths, crocus and primulas though they're a bit sparse and will need more planting this year. Tulips are still growing, though this isn't too surprising since most pf them were planted very late. First signs of shoots from lilies in containers (though not in the beds), hopefully they won't get munched by the Scarlet Lily beetles which decimated the container plants last year.

The pear and peach trees are budding. We had some problems with the peaches last year so they'll need wrapping with fleece this weekend since there's a frost forecast. I think I've left the pruning too late for most of the fruit trees, so they'll have to wait until June or July except where the branches are getting in the way. The furtinia is lookng a bit unhappy in its container so it will need planting out into the last gap in the main bed soon- this is good since it will give some winter interest as well as a bit of vertical definition.

There are signs of growth from both shallots and garlic, which is very encouraging given how wet the soil was when they were planted. No sign of activity from any of the spuds though.

Peas are doing well in the greenhouse, they'll be ready to harden off once the forecast frost has passed before transplanting in 10 days or so. Sweet peas are doing well, and the first few broad beans are coming through. The first batch of tomatoes are safely transplanted into pots and stashed on the new racking, which is filling up fast.

I need to get hold of some more guttering- freecycle seems the best idea.

Planted this week:

  • Another gutter of peas, planted nearer the centreline of the gutter this time to see if it makes a difference to root growth.
  • A gutter each of lettuce and sping onions.
  • Basil- a six pot tray under a propagator in the greenhouse and a girly pink 6" pot on the kitchen windowsill.
  • Cucumber- 4 in pots on windowsills.
  • Tomatoes- 8 each cherry/moneymaker/beef as before
  • Spinach- 2 rows
  • Spring onion- single row between the spinach to see if it works as a catch crop.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Speak up for bridleways

I have a love/hate relationship with horseriders. When it's wet, horses' hooves act like rotavators, churning surfaces into thick mud. When the sun comes out hoofprints dry into "Home Counties pavé"- a sort of inverted cobble which gives a tooth-jarring, arm fading ride. On the plus side, the British Horse Society (the equestrian's CTC) are very effective campaigners for off-road access, so I've got a lot of time for them.
Phil Wadey runs the local BHS cadre (Hertfordshire) email distribution list, which carried this alert the other day:

BRIDLEWAYS (No. 2)27.02.2007
Hoyle, Lindsay That this House recognises the
importance of bridleways for horse-riders to exercise in safety and enjoy the countryside; notes that many bridleways are in poor condition or are abused by people using motorised vehicles; and calls on the Government actively to promote the use of bridleways, ensuring that those who use bridleways inappropriately are fined, to look to extend the number of bridleways across the country and to ensure that existing bridleways are kept open and are well-maintained for horse-riders.
Some MPs have tabled Early Day Motion number 1004 in support of bridleways.
Early Day Motions (EDMs) are often used to find out how much support different policy choices might attract, and to see whether proposed legislation might get through the Commons. This could be such a flyer. Even if not, it's important to show the Government that there is as much support for new paths this year as there was last time such an Early Day Motion was tabled.
If you would like to see the EDM supported, you need to write to your MP giving the number of the EDM (1004), and reasons why you think it needs support. It is always best to give your own personal experience relating to one or more of the aims of the EDM rather than to use a form letter.

This is well worth supporting if you ride off-road at all.

St Albans MP Anne Main is silent on bridleways both in parliament and on her own website, and hasn't yet signed up to the EDM. (She's equally silent on cycling generally)

Find out who your MP is here, and then write to them using this free and convenient site.

Friday, March 09, 2007

First batch of tomatoes growing well

First batch growing well, originally uploaded by mike1727.

They're growing nicely, there were only a couple of seeds which didn't germinate. The weather's looking good for the weekend, sunny and temperatures in the mid teens C- so not too much of a shock for the seedlings moving from a warm house.
That leaves me room for another batch, which will give me a longer harvesting season and some spare plants to swap.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The top 10 unlikely partnerships

The top 10 unlikely partnerships -Sport-More Sport-TimesOnline: "5 Cycling and EPO Last year’s Tour of California was sponsored by Amgen, the company that makes EPO (if taken when you shouldn’t, a naughty, illegal, performance-enhancing-type substance). After the race the organisers boasted that not a single rider had tested positive for banned substances. Not a single rider was tested for EPO "