Monday, 24 March 2014

Public Art III: Village Pride

Last weekend, I found myself passing through "subway" under the A5 in the village of Markyate. I've used this underpass perhaps half a dozen times before but, oddly enough, always (a) in near darkness and/or rain, (b) in a group of cyclists and (c) with my mind focused on negotiating the barriers at each end of the tunnel without slipping or falling over in my road cycling shoes.

This particular sunny afternoon, however, I was pootling along on my own and had switched out my Speedplays for platform pedals. So for the first time, I came into the tunnel looking up and around rather than down. 

And this is what I saw: 

I was shocked! Where had this come from? Had it always been there? 

Friday, 21 March 2014

Book Review: THE GIRLS' CYCLING HANDBOOK by Caz Nicklin

Caz Nicklin, co-founder of the online retail shop specialising in cycling accessories for women, has a new book coming out on Thursday, 3 April 2014:

The Girls' Bicycle Handbook
Everything You Need to Know About Life on Two Wheels

This book strikes the right balance between depth and breadth: it covers a wide range of topics of concern to women considering taking up cycling or who are just starting out, and gives enough advice and explanation to truly be useful without being confusing. 

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Errandonnee #8-12 plus -- or, A Baker's Dozen

Today truly was Errand Day. I had a To Do list and a route planned to make sure I didn't forget any of the places I needed to go, to do what I needed to do.

First up:  an early morning appointment with my GP to talk about my Grumpy Knee.

Errandonnee #8
Date: Wednesday, 19 March 2014
Category:   Personal Care (Doctor)
Destination:  Caddington Surgery
Distance: 0.5 km
Steed: Bridget the Cross Check
What I learned/observations:

1. The "Caddington Surgery" sign on the front of the medical centre building has mysteriously lost the "Caddington" bit. That's a bit strange!

Monday, 17 March 2014

Armchair Critics -- or, What Does Custom Mean and What Does It Get You?

My journey to custom was so personal and need-driven, I have been caught off-guard by the reactions of others.

I may write a properly structured article in future, but meanwhile, copies of online exchanges I’ve had (with friends and strangers alike) may give some food for thought. 

RANT ALERT: Some of the extracts reproduced below were originally "written in anger". I hope I was still civil. However, the initial criticisms -- made as they were from a position of ignorance and assumption -- both bewildered and angered me and I know that comes through. I am still baffled and annoyed that some people seem to browse the Internet ready and willing to throw their opinions at complete strangers without first asking a few basic fact-finding type questions!  

Nonetheless, feeling driven to respond to Armchair Critics served to clarify my own views and to gain a better understanding of the benefits and advantages of having a custom bicycle frame built. In the end, I believe this route is remarkable value for money, given that it has enabled me to continue long-distance cycling for pleasure.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

The Transition Ride

As mentioned previously, Adam has a reputation for scheduling sunny skies for our local Luton and Dunstable Cycle Forum rides. Today he pulled off a further feat: a 10 degree Celsius rise in temperature!

English men and women all over the land stripped off to shorts and t-shirts! No doubt tomorrow social media will be overrun with 'selfies' of sun-burnt faces, arms and legs. (I have the sunburn but no 'burning' desire to photograph it.)

The funny thing is... this whole concept of the sun's rays actually conveying warmth is a very new one in these parts. Some people haven't made the transition yet. Perhaps it's an issue of trust: this new, friendly warm sun hasn't been around long enough to establish a relationship. At any rate, a few on our ride today were still clad in full winter kit. One chap stopped at least three times to shed layers and finished the ride still looking like an elk hunter in November.

No matter -- whatever our style, let's celebrate Spring!

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Reaching Out

Today I went out cycling with the Ivinghoe Velos for the first time. I've known about this group (club?) for a while. From what one local cycling friend had told me, it sounded like the Velos do the kind of rides I like. I've been thinking it would be nice to ride with other people once or twice midweek rather than always solo. The only 'downside': their location/meeting point is 12 miles away, west of the Chilterns on the edge of Aylesbury Vale. This means a solid hour of hard, hilly cycling just to get to their rides, and then the same again to get home afterwards.

However, it seemed worth a try. And boy, am I glad I did! The ride itself today was easy paced, well within my current capabilities, but the people on it were very welcoming and friendly and I've made a few new contacts that hopefully will become regular mid-week riding buddies. (I can't put into words right now how happy this prospect makes me.)

Friday, 14 March 2014

Errandonnee #7: Essential Maintenance

Errandonnee #7
Date: Thursday, 13 March 2014
Category: Personal Care (massage) 
Destination:  Breathing Space (fitness centre and spa), Harpenden
Distance:  19.2 km
Steed: Riley the Enigma
What I learned/observations:

1. This isn't a new lesson or thought, but... sometimes the part of the body experiencing the pain is not the part of the body that is causing that pain. 

For me, massage is not about aromatherapy or even relaxation. It requires a practitioner who knows anatomy, the skeleton and musculature totally, inside and out. Someone skilled in identifying and assessing even the tiniest spot of tension -- its source, its effect -- and treating it appropriately. 

For someone so injury-prone as me, regular massages are essential. There's only so much I can achieve and maintain through stretching and exercising at home. I find that a massage every 4-6 weeks is crucial to nipping little problems in the bud. 

2. Worse than having the tyres of passing cars drench you from standing water in the road? Having them raise a cloud of dust and grit that envelops you! Grit in eyes, nose, ears. Worst is mouth, especially if like me you wear lip balm. Blech. I coughed all the way home. Even after a long hot bath, sinus rinse and cleaning my teeth, I still felt as if grit lines my insides, if not my outside.

Thoughts on motorists around here, in general: 

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Errandonnee #6: Local Advocacy

Last night was the bi-monthly meeting of the Luton and Dunstable Cycle Forum, plus its Annual General Meeting.

Errandonnee #6
Date: Wednesday, 12 March 2014
Category: Community Meeting 
Destination:  Travel Choices Hub, Dunstable
Distance:  13.3 km
Steed: Riley the Enigma
What I learned/observations:

1. Sometimes day to day change is hard to measure. Now and again it's good to step back and look where we were... yesterday, a month ago, a year ago.

This was the Forum's second AGM. The duration of the inaugural AGM was almost entirely spent on hammering out the terms of the group's Constitution! There was little time left to make plans for events and bike rides, much less things like soliciting volunteers to run them or resources to promote them.

A year on, it was great to review how much progress has been made in concrete terms, i.e. activities not just talk! After a number of years of not being in a good position to influence the local authorities to improve conditions for cyclists (other than by lobbying people in specific roles at the relevant Councils), now there is a sound foundation for actually "increasing the number of bums on saddles" by having a presence at community events e.g. Luton International Festival, Dunstable Party in the Park and -- thanks to formal Ride Leader Training by Sustrans -- leading more community bicycle rides.

Last night's proceedings were lively and interactive, with several new faces. Everyone had an opportunity to voice their concerns, and everyone's views were taken on board. The Chair, Robin Cowan, is invariably enthuasiastic, always seeking to move any situation towards a positive outcome. This was beneficial on a number of issues where not everyone saw things eye-to-eye but in the end everyone was happy with the agreed plan of action.

Errandonnee #5: There Will Be Days Like This

After a very foggy morning, it was worth the wait: glorious sunshine. One of the things on my To Do list is joining the local library, but when the wide outdoors are beckoning like this, I couldn't wait to try a "Library Without Walls" errandonnee.

Errandonnee #5
Date: Wednesday, 12 March 2014
Category: Library (Without Walls)
Destination:  Dunstable Downs Visitor Centre
Distance:  26.7 km
Steed: Riley the Enigma
What I learned/observations:

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Errandonnee #4: Not The Grocery Store

Errandonnee #4
Date: Tuesday, 11 March 2014
Category: "Any Store That Is Not The Grocery Store"
Destination:  Medigreen Pharmacy, Caddington Village
Distance:  0.8 km
Steed: Lorelei the Mixte
What I learned/observations:

It's bloomin' freezin' again. 

Spring is fickle. 

Monday, 10 March 2014

Errandonnee #3: A Breezy Day Out

On the road again!

Saturday dawned dull and grey but I decided to trust the BBC and head out in expectation that the mist would clear away to spring sunshine. That prediction did come true though not until early afternoon rather than mid-morning. It was a great day to be outdoors though. The day's outing, in contrast to the previous day's, was almost entirely in the countryside. I had signed up for the fortnightly Breeze Ride and decided to tack on a visit to the Travel Choices Hub to pick up a few personal belongings I'd left there a few weeks ago. While the Breeze Ride itself did not qualify as an Errandonnee, the ride to the start and the detour to the Hub afterward certainly did.

Errandonnee #3
Date: Saturday, 8 March 2014
Category: Bike Shop
Destination:  PedalWorks, West Street, Dunstable (meeting point for Breeze Ride)
Distance:  6.5 km
Steed: Riley the Enigma
What I learned/observations:

Errandonnees #1 and #2: The Big Smoke

On Friday, I had an appointment to meet building surveyors at my old flat in London (currently rented out to a friend).  Taking the Brompton would get around the evening rush hour restrictions on full-size bicycles, so I decided to make a day of it and stop off in central London for a visit to the new Brompton Junction shop/cafe/workshop in Covent Garden.

I took my Carradice Stockport bag and it's a good thing I did: the day started grey and chilly but very quickly turned warm and sunny, so I was shedding layers of clothing at an astonishing rate and needed somewhere to stash everything!

Friday was also the first day of the Errandonnee challenge. My cycling on the day provided ample fodder for two Errandonnee submissions. 

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Nothing But Blue Skies

A day of firsts for 2014: First outing for mitts and sunglasses. First ride without a hat or a top baselayer.

I've been off the bike in any kind of meaningful way for two weeks now, waiting for the pain in my left knee to subside. It has felt better though still somewhat unstable, with the kneecap 'catching' when attempting full extension. The big deal for me though was when I realised yesterday that I was subconsciously postponing the next attempt to cycle, for fear of pain and failure.

Enough! So with today's forecast looking the best we've had so far this year, I got on the Enigma and rode up to the top of Dunstable Downs. I chose the Buckwood Road route as this is a steady 5km climb with a consistent gradient.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

#Errandonnee Challenge 2014!

Image: Chasing Mailboxes

That's right -- it's time for the Errandonnee, another ingenious daily-life-friendly challenge from Mary G, blogger at Chasing Mailboxes based in Washington D.C.! (Mary's other annual challenge is Coffeeneuring.)

The Errandonnee involves riding your bike to do 12 errands over 12 days, starting this Friday, 7 March and running up until midnight, Wednesday 19 March.

Yes, technically that is in fact 13 days -- we'll call it a Baker's Dozen!

The Rules are just complex enough to be interesting while also being supremely flexible so that just about anybody can do it.

Last year, 64 people successfully completed the challenge, representing numerous states in the U.S.A., several provinces in Canada, Sweden and Spain. I also know of participants in England and Scotland who did not quite complete the 2013 challenge but nonetheless had a jolly good time trying!

I'm looking forward to Friday as I have three distinct errands to accomplish that day, which will kick things off nicely!

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Why I Cycle For Transport, Part II -- or, The HOW of City Transport Cycling

This is the second in what I expect to be a three-part series on Transport Cycling. The first one is here and explains why I turned to cycling as my main mode of transportation while living in south London in the summer of 2009. Today's post aims to explain how I made a success of doing everything by bicycle -- whether it was getting to work, doing the grocery shopping, moving bulky items like furniture or meeting up with friends in other parts of London.


I must admit, when I finally bought my new bicycle, after months and months of researching and planning, I had a moment of shock. So now I've got the bike -- now what?

For a few days, it sat in my front room where I could admire it. There's something about a Brompton that's just so.... friendly. (A bit like daisies.)

Saturday, 1 March 2014

#30 Days Of Biking - Pledge to do better in 2014

Pledges for this year's 30 Days of Biking community initiative opened at midnight last night.

What is '30 Days of Biking'?

Joining 30 Days of Biking means pledging to ride a bike every day in April.

Through rain, shine or blizzard. To the store, around the block, or 20 miles. Make it happen, then share your adventures online—via Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, you name it—with our worldwide community of joyful cyclists. Hashtag #30daysofbiking. 

I didn't do so well last year and am determined to do better this time, even if some days it's only a ride into the village and back.

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