Archive | commuting

Cambridge, hills and races to come

I’ve been training fairly hard since the start of the year. The miles keep clocking up, and I’m starting to do a little bit more intense efforts now. At the weekend, I was away in Cambridge. The best weather of the year – and I end up taking two days off the bike. Typical.

cambridge-cycle-lane

Though it wasn’t quite off the bike, I did take my commuting bike and plodded around Cambridge, I couldn’t face walking around a city – I would feel bereft without a bike and walking is too slow! I’m coming to realise I need a bike, a bit like a coffee addict needs their morning cappuccino.

After a few rides around Cambridge, I became rather envious of the great cycling infrastructure they have there. No wonder it is the most popular place in the UK to cycle. As a biased Oxford person, I generally think Oxford is better than Cambridge, but, it turns out, not for cycling.

I could never move to Cambridge, full-time though. The best hill climbing training is the bridge over the railway.

Training philosophy

 

daffodils-winter-bike

With many miles in the bank, it’s a little tempting to get carried away and really start hammering yourself into the ground, but it’s a long season for me and I’m conscious of holding back – training hard, but not 100%. I’ll take inspiration from Paris-Nice, which currently seems to be a gentle winter training camp, with a little flurry in the last 10km. Still professional cycling is back on tv, and that’s the main thing. I don’t know how I survived the winter without images of the French countryside and Carlton Kirby waxing lyrical about the best way to make Paella.

I can’t resist Hill intervals

If I was very strict about training, I would probably be doing more level three and endurance stuff. But, despite trying to hold myself back a little, I can’t resist doing hill intervals. For a bit of a change, I’ve been choosing some long gradual ascents of around 3% – which take around 6-10 minutes. From the village of Hughendon, there are three different roads up towards Speen and the top of Whiteleaf Hill. It’s good to do hill climb intervals, which aren’t completely eyeballs out, but a bit more measured for the time trial season.

Early season targets

Looking forward to Circuit of Ingleborough at the weekend. My main early season target is the Buxton Mountain Time trial. It is a good excuse to up the intensity and do lots of hill intervals before early April. I will be riding the first two events of the Cycling Time Trials Classic Series, and hopefully more.

TT bike update

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When I got my time trial bike last summer, I wasn’t sure if it was any faster. It left me thinking that’s an awful lot of money for a new colour of paint. But, I’m growing to like the bike a bit more. I went out for a so called recovery ride today. Two hours, averaging 18.5mph. It was about 55% of FTP power, so I guess it makes it a kind of recovery ride. The thing that stood out is that the bike is really fast.

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Rules and practical advice for roundabouts

When in Dublin, I was surprised a friend had no idea about the basic rule of roundabouts. He cycles into town everyday, but didn’t know at roundabouts you are supposed to give way to traffic coming from your right.

I only noticed because at one roundabout. I waited, and he just cycled on into the path of a car causing it to slow down. He was actually surprised to learn you were supposed to give way. Maybe he spent too long in Paris, where it really is ‘first come, first served’

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The Basic Practical Rules of Roundabouts

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Roundabouts in theory

  • Give way to traffic on the roundabout. Only join, when it is safe.
  • If you are taking last exit or effectively turning right, you should signal right and ideally be in the right hand lane.
  • The highway code states that cyclists can stay in the left hand lane, even if taking last exit. If you do stay in the left hand lane it is important to signal right, until before the last exit where you signal left to turn off the roundabout.

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Bike parking and bike racks

One of the (relatively minor) problems of cycling in Oxford is the lack of parking for bicycles. Popular spots tend to be busy, and this can lead to un-organised chaos as you try to find yourself somewhere to park.

There is some good bike parking provision. For example on Broad Street.

racks-of-bicycles

I used to want to get right outside the shop I was visiting. But, now I’ve decided I shouldn’t be so lazy. So I park my bicycle here and make use of the good parking facilities, and walk the 50m into Waterstones.

Abandoned bicycles taking up space

The problem of bike parking is exacerbated by the number of bikes that get abandoned. Students buy a £100 Ammaco from Cycle King, then don’t worry about abandoning it for eternity.

abandoned-rusty-bike

The council do have a policy of removing abandoned bicycles, but it is painfully slow. You can see the same rusty bikes for 12 months in a bike rack you want to use. Then finally a ticket is placed on them saying the owner needs to collect it, but then the council don’t come back for another 2-3 months. Often the ‘bike is abandoned ticket falls’ off, in the meantime! So you have to wait another 12 months to hope it will get retagged and retaken. I appreciate the council not wanting to take genuine bikes, but in this case, they are being a bit too generous to bikes obviously abandoned.

Useless Bike Parking racks

another-empty-rack

This is quite near y home in Temple Cowley. There is a big shopping centre, and big car-park. Very recently some brand new bike parking racks have been built. But, I’ve never seen a single bike locked in them. The reason is that the shops (and car park is 200m in the distance). No one is going to cycle 200m away from the shops to park and then walk back. It feels like the owners of the shopping mall had to meet criteria to build bike parking racks so they put it in the least unobtrusive (and therefore most useless place). They meet their criteria to build parking racks, but it is useless to anybody. When I shop I lean the bike against the windows of Sainsburys and lock the bike to itself.

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Cycling and negativity

Last week, I was complaining about motorists who would pass too close. Unfortunately, there are plenty of other reasons to complain when you get on to British roads. This is a shame because cycling should be an enjoyable activity – get on two wheels and pedal happily off into the sunset. But, it seems the world of a cyclist is squashed between the impatience of taxi drivers and complaints about the dangers of the road. If you’re not careful, you can get sucked into a ‘political world of cycling’ that is negative and endless arguments of who is right and wrong.

cyclists-stay-back

The internet has not particularly helped. There is something about the nature of the internet which encourages outrage, strong opinions, a tribal mentality of ‘us and ‘them. These issues of sharing the road were always around, but the internet gives it greater currency and force – feeding antagonism in a way that I’m not sure existed when you had to send a letter by pigeon post or go down to the local post office to send a telegram.

CAR PASSED TOO CLOSE! – STOP – HAD TO COME TO EMERGENCY STOP! – STOP

By the time you had Morse Coded your feelings, most of your anger had long since dissipated anyway. A more modern telegram service like Twitter lacks this natural delay of several weeks as you wait for the boat from India to come into dock.

What did minor-celebrities do before having twitter spats and outraging some or another constituents of the easily outraged? I’m sure if you read the Cycling Weekly letters from the 1950s, you would find letters of complaint. But, at least in the 1950s you could read a newspaper, without, on every article, getting sucked into reading comments from 335 outraged internet trolls, who don’t have anything better to do, but get disgusted with cyclists / motorists / pigeons / and the latest reality TV show on Channel 5.

rolling-lanes

Of course, it may just be we are just looking through tinted rays of ‘The golden age of cycling’ – this mythical utopia of cycling in the 1950s, where you could cycle 100 miles on quiet roads through British lanes to enjoy warm beer and sandwiches on the village green, with nothing more than a Bobby on his bike giving you a friendly wave.

60 years later and this mythical golden age of cycling utopia has been replaced by pitched battles between Uber fuelled tax drivers who equate cyclists to ISIS and the relentless finger pointing about who is the absolutely the worst person on the roads. The only thing we agree on is that it is always someone else’s fault!

Yet, all is not lost. If you go cycling on British roads, it is not as traumatic as you might believe from the comment sections of the Daily Mail. It is still possible to really enjoy cycling – whether it’s cycling up Hardknott Pass or even, dare I say it commuting into the centre of London. Continue Reading →

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How safe is cycling? – stats on cycle casualties

November was a bad month for cycle casualties, with several tragic accidents reported in the press.

These are some statistics produced by the Department of Transport for road traffic accidents, which helps give a perspective on the dangers of cycling on British roads. (Source: Sept 2013 D o T)

Fatal Accidents

Fatal accidents have been falling in the past few decades. In 2012, 118 cyclists were killed. This was higher than in 2011 when fatalities fell to 107. However, it is significantly lower than early 1980s, when it reached a peak of 350. This compares to:

  • 420 pedestrian fatalities
  • 328 motorcycle fatalities
  • 801 car occupant fatalities.

2013-fatal-accidents

Fatalities and serious accidents

If we include all serious accidents in addition to fatalities, there has been a stronger upward trend since 2003.

2013-ksi-uk

Cycle accidents per miles cycled

If we look at cycle casualties per billion miles cycled, the situation looks less promising. There was a significant improvement in cycle rates in the 1980s. But, the increase in cycle rates since late 1990s appears not to have caused the hoped for ‘safety in numbers’ we might expect. This shows that cycle casualties per bn miles cycled is increasing in the past decade.

2013-cycle-casualties-per-bn-km

 

Relative risk of different forms of transport – Cycling vs Car vs Pedestrian vs Motorbike

These statistics show casualties per billion km travelled. They produce a slightly skewed figure in that car drivers will clock up many miles on motorways, which tend to have much lower accident rates per miles travelled, compared to rural and urban areas. Nevertheless, it still shows how much safer car journeys are compared to cycling or walking. Which is to be expected. In a car you are protected by crumple zones and a block of steel. Walking and cycling, you are not.

Casualties compared

2013-casualties-per-mode-transport

Fatalities by mode of transport

Using fatalities, pedestrians have a slightly worse risk than cyclists. Continue Reading →

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A good cycle path

Cycle path over Donnington Bridge offers a rare segregated cycle way for people to cycle without having to ride with traffic.

cycle-lane-clear

No near misses here.

cycle-path-donnignton

At rush hour, there is heavy congestion on this road. The cycle path offers a convenient way to beat the traffic jams.

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A fair number of cyclists use this path.

cycle-path-donnignton-behind

Quicker by bike.

cycle-path-donnignton-4

The cycle lane is often used by children and people getting to school. It also helps that there are quiet cycle paths by the river and other back roads which connect a local school.

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Cycling along.  cycle-path-donnignton-5

It’s a good feeling to go  past stationary vehicles.

donnington-end-cycle-path

An integrated cycle path – another rarity – when the path ends, there are decent options, you aren’t immediately thrown into fast moving traffic.

beating-congestion-donnington

I don’t understand the attraction of sitting in a traffic jam.

one-leg-cycle-path

Quicker with one leg.

 

congestion

Although, it is surprising how many still use the pavement.

bike-in-cars

There is also a (non-segregated) cycle path on the other side of the road. This is good because of you’re on that side of the road, you don’t want to have to cross the road, just to use the cycle path. Still, it is often too narrow because wide cars spill over into the cycle lane. It’s a shame it’s not a foot wider.

donnington-bridge-left-side

Cars often follow suit, if one person moves into cycle lane, everyone else tends to. This is quite an inviting sight for a cycle commuter.

frosty-donnington-bridge-cycle-pathA frosty scene on Donnington Bridge.

path-by-riverThe cycle path by the River Thames, which offers a traffic free way into the centre of Oxford. Just a shame it’s very bumpy and often muddy. But, it offers great views of Christ Church Meadow

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Commuting in the wet

Commuting in the wet.

line-of-cyclists-iffley-road-wet

When its raining and wet, the congestion in Oxford always seems to be 10-20% worse. I’m not sure why this is. But, with several serious traffic works, that extra 10% seemed to tip the city into near gridlock.

It does make you feel grateful for being able to cycle into town and avoid a near 30-40 minute journey which can take 15 minutes on the bike.

Though on the other hand, why do people drive when it takes twice as long?

waiting-lights-on-high

I used to think one reason for the perceived increase in traffic congestion is that when it’s wet, perhaps people use their cars rather than cycle. But it seems just as many people are cycling in the wet. If you have a reasonably waterproof jacket and waterproof trousers you can’t get too wet in a 15 minute commute. Your hands and socks may be a bit damp. (thick socks are as good as anything for keeping your feet dry)

line-2

This picture is good for showing the amount of cyclists who were able to squeeze down the narrow cycle lane – still a narrow lane here is probably better than nothing. What the picture doesn’t show is how stationary the traffic is – nor does it show the rising tempers which come from inching along a congested road at 3mph.

shadows

It is a little grim cycling in the wet, but I don’t mind. It’s kind of fun in a way, at least undertaking 100 stationary cars does make you glad you aren’t wasting too much time.

eon-advert-cyclists

The smiling E-On add in the bus stop where I was taking a few photos.

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Commuters in the usual mixture of clothes. Wet jeans are a bit of a pain though.

 

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On the high street.  grim-down-south

Reflection in the puddle.

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The camera exaggerates the effect, but when it is grim and grey, bright jackets do stand out. Look how the third cyclist blends into the road.

I’m glad Chris Boardman did his BBC piece wearing normal clothes. But, there are times when you need to be seen.

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The middle cyclist really stands out compared to the black clad cyclists.

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Patiently edging forwards

iffley-road-wet-cycle-lane

I went shopping at Lidl and all I got was this pair of wellingtons.

Not sure about that duffle coat it does seem to block sideways view, which you ant need. A good old fashioned cycling cap can keep the worst of the rain off and fits under a helmet.

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The universal appeal of cycling

I remember vaguely a few months ago, something about a local politician from  Birmingham (1) who said that cycling was the preserve of young adult men and therefore we shouldn’t spend money on cycling infrastructure because it only benefits a small percentage of the population. At the time I was too busy racing, but I made a mental note to write something about this later.

one-man-foot-squeezing-carIt can be hard work cycling on British roads

I’m probably three months late to state the obvious, but if the roads of a city are sparsely populated with cyclists – and predominantly middle age men – then it’s a very good sign that the opposite case needs to be made – It is a very good sign that a complete rethink is needed to encourage the broad section of society back into cycling.

You only get a skewed demographic of cycling – if the roads are perceived as too dangerous – making cycling appeal only to those who have different tolerations or risk, danger and dealing with intimidating situations.

The thing with cycling is that it is universal and democratic form of transport. It is cheap, accessible and at some point in time, most people have experienced some joy from learning to ride a bike. It is a shame, when this ceases to be the case.

In the US, this report states that the typical cyclists is a 39-year-old male professional with a household income in excess of $45,000 per year who rides 10.6 months per year.

  • In Europe, statistics for rates of female cycling as a % of cycling population are 45% Denmark, 55% in Netherlands, and 49% Germany, in the US  it is 25%.

Age differences

Another big difference is the age profile of people cycling:

Age profile cyclingSource: Cycling for Everyone at Rutger.edu

In the US for people over 40, only 0.4% of trips are made by bicycle. In the Netherlands this rises to 23-24%

 

The only question is why do people stop cycling?

Statistically, you can make a good case cycling is still relatively safe. But if you have to fight traffic and heavy goods lorries, no amount of statistics can change the real perception that it’s a tough job cycling on many cities. Too many near misses, too much stress. Perhaps some people don’t want to cycle because of the way they drive.

car-turning-left-near-miss

watch out!

A very simple comparison is to look at countries which have built suitable cycling infrastructure – Germany, Holland, Denmark. In these countries, the demographic of cycling is spread across all ages and gender. Cycling is seen as safe; when there are good cycle paths, cycling is an extension of a pedestrian mode of transport. Pedestrians simply going a little bit faster. Continue Reading →

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In praise of slow cycling

I was looking through my blog for posts of the past two months. It has been all about racing up hills or reviews of light-weight (and expensive) components. A very small niche of a sub branch of racing cycling. (Apologies if you have got bored of blog posts about weighing saddles and racing up steep hills). But, as well as being a racing cyclist, I’m also a commuter and cycle into Oxford every day.

The curious thing is that the more I’ve got into racing, the slower I’ve got on the commute into town. When I didn’t do proper races, I remember racing to and from work. It was all about speed. I think I may even have timed my commute home, and tried to beat my personal bests. – (A timetriallist in the making, if ever there was) But, as I’ve got more into racing, I’ve slowed down when cycling into town. I’ve not sure whether this is me getting older, needing more recovery time or just a different attitude.

cyclist-parked-cars-either-side

I suppose it is a combination of factors, including:

  1. With racing at the weekend, I don’t have any smouldering competitiveness or fresh legs during the week. If you can ride at 30mph on a dual carriageway on a Sunday morning the desire for racing down Cowley road on Monday morning soon dissipates.
  2. Slow recovery rides are good for you. As I mentioned in previous post, I used to do recovery rides at 18mph, now I do them at 14mph. To get a real recovery ride, you need to really go properly slow – either full on hill intervals or proper recovery is the motto today.
  3. Patience is a virtue which is surprisingly enjoyable. In the past, when I got in any mode of transport, it was always a race against time. As a consequence, it was very easy to become frustrated at having to wait, getting held up or crawling along due to congestion. With this mindset of speed, you start to look for short cuts, the quick overtake, the dash through traffic. But, if you change your approach and try to enjoy the journey, it’s less stressful; you don’t feel guilty for standing still waiting for traffic to move. You just wait your turn.

With all the evangelical fervour of a converted sinner. I now get incredibly frustrated when motorists are similar impatient to overtake cyclists in dangerous manoeuvres – you always want to preach to the unconverted to tell them – if they could happily wait for the odd 10 seconds, it really doesn’t have to ruin their day. Take it easy, wait 10 seconds – and everyone’s happy.

Slow Cycling is good for you

3-cyclists-high-st

So slow cycling is good for you. It makes you more considerate road user, but more importantly if you have a little more patience – you will enjoy the experience a lot more – if you give yourself an extra few minutes to get anywhere, you don’t have to squeeze through gaps which are really not advisable.

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Benefits of cycling to work

I was happy to hear it’s cycle to work day. I saw some signs advertising it near Rawdon, Leeds a few days ago. I didn’t notice any difference on the commuting roads of Oxford today, but hopefully a few people were inspired to dig out in the bicycle from their garage and cycle to work. I’ve been cycling to work for the past 13 years (I used to be a teacher starting at 8 or 9am. But, these day I call work – going to a cafe for 9am to write some economics). Even though I work from home, I still like to create a cycle to work in town.

suit-cap

I’ve only ever been late once (when I fell off a slippery manhole and lay on the ground for 15 minutes. Perhaps I also got a puncture once and had to go in by bus, but that is a very distant memory. The bike is very reliable – ust avoid those cheap tyres you may get on a £100 bike from Cycle King.

In those 13 years, I’ve saved a lot of money. An alternative is the bus. Roughly the bus costs £3 return 13 years * 200 work days a year = 2,600 days. 2,600 * £3 = £7,800.

cycle-lane

Beat the queue – cycle to work

£7,800 – Wow, that is nearly enough to buy a new bike. In those 13 years, I’ve had only two commuting bikes. (one got stolen). My current commuting bike is quite low maintenance. Every year, I spend about £70 for service at Reg Taylor cycles to get a new cassette, chain and brake blocks. Overall, I must be in profit by about £6,000.

By the way, if I’d driven into town, I would have faced a car parking charge of over £10 a day before even petrol and all the costs of a car. I’ve never tried working out how much it would cost to drive into town. I’m a great believer in expensive car parking charges, but that’s another story.

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