Saturday, 13 September 2014

Catching Up... And Looking Ahead

Sorry for the lack of new posts in the past few weeks! It's been crazy busy at work, with our small team of 6 legal brains working flat out way past normal leaving times. I leave home at 7.45am and have been getting home around 9.30/10pm with nothing but dinner and sleep on my mind. We all agreed over drinks in the pub last night though that it feels we are over the hump of it now, so normal hours and a normal life should be possible again for the foreseeable future. 

So, I hope to finish my reports on our Scottish cycling holiday in June and have them up soon for your reading and viewing pleasure... a bit of inspiration for your own next cycling holiday, perhaps? 

Nonetheless -- the cycling here at home carries on!

I had a very enjoyable day out in Kent a few weekends ago, with Lewisham Cyclists, the local 'chapter' of the London Cycling Campaign. My friend Jane is very active with this group and invited me along. My journey to get to the ride was nearly 3 hours each way, but it was one of those Ideal Days in stunning countryside so well worth the effort.

Typical house, next to The Chequers pub
in Smarden where we had lunch. 

Smarden High Street -- front of The Chequers on the left. 

Pond in the beer garden at the back of The Chequers.

Overrun with cyclists.

One of many traditional Oast Houses
in this part of Kent.

Gypsy Trotters (here, pacing not trotting) out on a training 'ride'.
Harness racing is not at all common in the UK,
so this was an exciting sighting!

Adam and I did a night ride last weekend, from London to Brighton. Unfortunately, the Grumpy Knee was not behaving very well in the days leading up to the ride and once again I willfully ignored the warning signs (stiff, achy) and ended up bailing after 30 miles. The bail-out point was very convenient however -- at Gatwick Airport! Adam and I hopped on the train and met our friends for breakfast in Brighton. (In fact, we found out that at least one other had also taken the Train Assist option just after we did. Have I mentioned before how useful trains can be? I am so grateful that, on the mainlines at least, they run right through the night, even if not at quite so frequent intervals as during the day.)

Adrian (with his Brompton) looking even more
dapper than usual.... although he did say Ditchling Beacon
was hard work, as he had nowhere to stash his bowler hat
and he got very hot!

The smooth ribbon of road that is Lonesome Lane.
Night Ride Nirvana.
30 cyclists with bikes --
 a bit more custom than Costa is used to at 3:15am --
even for Gatwick Airport!

Waiting for the 06:32 train (after a power nap!)

Lovely new waiting rooms on the platforms.

All that remains of the West Pier in Brighton.
Oddly sculptural and still unmistakably Victorian,
the ruins have become iconic in their own right.

The rest of the group arrives at the pub for breakfast.

I love moments like this.

After another Brooks saddle disaster and being so pleased with the Selle SMP Dynamic on my Enigma, I am trying the Selle SMP TRK (men's version, as the women's is much too wide) on the tandem in my stoker position. Our longest ride so far has only been 12 miles but included some climbing. The padding on this saddle may be a little too thick for my liking over long distances but that remains to be seen. We intend to do a few 30-40 mile day rides before committing to a longer night ride with me on this saddle. (Bailing out in the middle of the night due to saddle pain is just too embarrassing. Don't ask me how I know... twice!)

Astrid the Viking is doing very well though I had a moment of consternation on day 4 when... the left crankarm fell off! One more thing that hadn't been properly assembled. The left brake lever internal assembly is a little dodgy as well -- Adam has done what he can but upgrades to Tektro are definitely on the cards. This week, I arranged for her to be security-marked by the police at Kings Cross station.

On 4th September, we participated in National Cycle To Work Day, only the second such event in the UK. Adam commutes by bike (6 miles each way) every single day, me not quite so regularly (or so far) but still more often then not, so this was nothing unusual for us and it felt odd to take photos!

Adam ready to leave for work.
(He wears a helmet only for commuting and
only started doing so after a few
worrying recent incidents.)

Me, not quite ready to leave yet.
(And no, I do not wear a helmet -- except under extreme duress.)

Meanwhile, it's also been very busy on the campaigning front, with Transport for London's plans for the new East-West and North-South cycling highways going out for public consultation. I struggle to be objective while reading plans like these but, guided by the analyses of others who are very good at this (read these summaries by Danny Williams, Mark Treasure and Rachel Aldred), am inclined to think these should get built, as a massive step-change indeed a breakthrough in the way transport planners and engineers think about cycling (as a true option, not an afterthought). Even so, big businesses in London are fearful of the impact and are actively campaigning against it -- have they not heard about the tangible advantages that businesses next to cycle lanes gain, as illustrated recently in New York City?

Do you cycle in London - or indeed in other cities perhaps looking to London as an example (shining or cautionary)? What do you think of these proposals?  

In other news, I was contacted yesterday by a brand new bicycle manufacturing brand launching in London in a few weeks' time:  Fred's Bicycles in Dalston, London. They have developed two models of bicycle under a design brief of utility, reliability, simplicity and affordability.  A well-built steel City Bike under £300? Their models do not come with integral racks or lighting systems, but there are so few choices in the City Bike niche in the UK, this is a welcome addition. I plan to attend their official launch on 2nd October and have a good look at these bikes myself -- so watch this space for my impressions. I will be keeping an open mind as to whether this might be the longer-term solution to my own London Town Bike Challenge

Meanwhile, interactions within the online cycling communities continue to grow. I've made a number of real-life friends over the past few years that started with online 'introductions'. I have not yet met Josie Smith (cyclist, blogger, writer and advocate based in Decorah, Iowa) face-to-face but she interviewed me by e-mail a few months ago and has just published the outcome: Part I published yesterday and Part II published today.

I waffled on for so long in response to Josie's questions, I suggested that she edit it but she kindly said she thought I had important (?!) things to say, so, instead of cutting it down, would run it in two installments.  I am relieved to see that this was not an exception made just for me: one of my very favourite recent posts on Josie's blog (written as a guest blog feature, not an interview) also ran to two installments: Bike by Bike I and Bike by Bike II.

Next up is tomorrow's 100 Mile Smile Ride!

And then in just a couple of weeks, it'll be time to Coffeeneur again!

So while work may have lessened its grip on me, it's still go go go around here. Pedal on!

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Announcing: A Viking Invasion

Yes, I did it:  I ordered a Viking Bromley singlespeed mixte from Parkers of Bolton, taking my chances with buying via mail order. 

Opening the box.
(Is there anything else as exciting as taking
delivery of a big cardboard box
that by its shape and size screams NEW BIKE?!)

If you are thinking of doing the same, here are a few points to consider. 

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

WOMEN'S CYCLING Giveaway: And The Winner Is ...

... Sarah L. of Somerville, Massachusetts, USA!

Congratulations, Sarah, your copy of Women's Cycling is winging its way to you now. I do hope you enjoy reading it and pick up some tips to help you with your next cycling challenge, which I understand is a 50 mile charity ride next month. Good luck!

Monday, 18 August 2014

Combined Ops

What a busy weekend! Hard on the heels of a Friday Night Ride to the Coast (Whitstable edition - one of the nicest ever - dry, not too cold, light tailwind), Adam and his son and I headed off on Sunday to the Headcorn Aerodrome in Kent, for The Military Show & Vintage Aircraft Weekend. 

The main draw for us was the scheduled appearance of the only two airworthy Lancaster bombers (one kept by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the other by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum), reunited here in the UK this summer to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. They were to be based at Biggin Hill airfield for the weekend but scheduled to do fly-bys and aerial displays over airfields all over the South East, including Headcorn. Adam and Sam went down to Eastbourne last Friday for the airshow there, and saw the Lancasters along with a number of other WWII-era aircraft. But Sunday would be my chance to finally see them, too. 

Thursday, 14 August 2014

The London Town Bike Challenge: A Look at the Modern Viking

Just a few days ago, I wrote about the dilemma of finding a suitable bike for commuting in London with minimal risk of being stolen.

Recently I spied a new-ish Viking step-through framed bicycle locked up in the West End, one street away from my office.

I recognised the Viking name, partly because of a recent discussion on the Lovely Bicycle! blog about the Viking company, its English and Irish history and the "competent but un-inspired" reputation of its bicycles, but partly also because I run regular searches on Ebay for mixtes (as you do) and the Viking name comes up regularly as the main modern alternative to all the vintage Raleighs and Peugeots out there. From the Ebay listings, I knew the current owners of the Viking brand offer a 7-speed mixte called 'The Continental' and a singlespeed called 'The Bromley'. I also knew they are incredibly cheap! The Continental runs £160-£180 and the Bromley is often well under £150. Most are offered for sale by Parkers of Bolton, a well-established online retailer in the north of England. And if you visit Parkers' website, you'll find both models at even lower prices than those on Ebay. 

Frankly, I had assumed that the Vikings on Ebay were "Bike Shaped Objects" on a par with what you can expect to buy from the likes of Halfords. True, the Viking name has more 'heritage' behind it than Apollo but these days it's difficult to know who owns the Viking brand or where exactly the bikes are made. It certainly is not Wolverhampton or Derry anymore! 

But to be honest, I was really impressed by the bike I saw in person. It was obviously quite new so it's hard to say what it will look after the coming winter, but the welds were tidy and the build looked really quite nice. 

So at this kind of price point, is Viking worth considering?  I'm going to take a closer look at the two models of mixte.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The London Town Bike Challenge

A common sight in central London.  Basket optional.
Image courtesy Watch My Wallet 

For the past 5 weeks, I have been without a commuting bike that I could leave locked up in London overnight. As explained in previous posts, when I started a new job in central London last April, I had assumed that I would resume using Lucy the Brompton for round-trip commuting duties (especially with her more hill-friendly 8-speed upgrade), but found in reality that she's too heavy for lugging up and down stairs at Luton rail station (where there are no lifts to the platforms). I then thought that the solution would be to eliminate the need to carry a bike on the train at all -- simply have one bike that I ride back and forth between home and Luton station and a second bike that I ride in London between St Pancras station and my office in the West End. Obviously, however, the Brompton would not be ideal for either role: not really hill-friendly even with those 8 gears and far too valuable to leave locked up anywhere out of my sight, whether at Luton or St Pancras or my office. 

The Surly Cross Check is perfect for the Bedfordshire end of my commute -- it's tough as old boots with touring gears, full mudguards and a sturdy rack. The question was, what to use on the London end? 

Monday, 11 August 2014

Magazine Review: WOMENS CYCLING ** And First Blog GIVEAWAY! **

A new magazine launched here in the UK last year, aimed specifically at women cyclists.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I first heard about it. I had been reading the likes of Cycling Plus, Cycling Active and Cycling Weekly for years. None of these well-established titles expressly say they write for men, but it's pretty obvious that they do! Each occasionally has an article or two per issue dealing with issues specific to women, but these generally are along the lines of "5 Winter Jackets for Women" (when the corresponding article for men is "20 Winter Jackets for Men"). One of these magazines (I've forgotten which) tried including a separate supplement for women with one issue. It was about 16 pages long. All the articles had a whiff of condescension. You know the test for how to give advice or write a how-to article? Swap out all the pronouns and ask yourself, would I say this to a man?

The mainstream articles were spectacularly failing to address women as equals, but frankly I wasn't too confident that a womens-specific magazine would be the answer. Would everything sound as if it was pitched to beginning cyclists?  Or, at the other end, assume all women are interesting in how the pro cyclists are doing -- albeit the female ones, not necessarily Mark Cavendish et al.

Well, I am pleased to say that Womens Cycling has got it just about right. After reading two issues (and finding it just a bit of a bother to find them each time a new one came out, as not many shops were stocking this title yet), I took out a subscription.

Here's a little peak into the latest issue, which landed on my doormat a week ago.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

The Last Goodbye

It is with great sadness that I announce that Swoopy could not be saved.

We made another attempt to build her up -- this time with a proper plan and a selection of new components that all worked together, as opposed to a hodgepodge of old parts we happened to have lying around!

Unfortunately, the slight kink in the driveside rear triangle (just above the dropout) means there is no way to prevent movement of the wheel in the dropout. Adam believed that fitting a rear mech would help make allowance for any movement, but we have not been able to find a mech hanger that fits the dropout very well. The best fitting one we found could not be fitted so that absolutely no movement was possible.

So today I'm afraid we stripped the frame again and are awaiting the next visit of the rag-and-bone man.

I am very disappointed as she was a lovely ride -- quite sprightly and responsive.

RIP Swoopy.

In looking back at my first post about Swoopy, written with such excitement and hope, I am grief-stricken too by the fact that the kitty who inspected her that momentous day is gone now, as well.

Unbeknownst to us, she had heart disease and one morning in early June, her little heart just gave up. And with her last heartbeat, my heart was broken too.

RIP Sara.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

The Talisker Loop (#ScotTour Day 5)

On our first day based in Portree, we set off back the way we had come the previous day (I detect a pattern here...). We had an appointment on the other side of the Isle at 11am and could not be late!

This called for a Big Breakfast.

I left the B&B saying "Today, I am going to suffer". I dreaded the climb up out of Portree towards Sligachan (remembering the wind and inconsistent gradient) that was such an unwelcome surprise the day before) and figured I better resign myself to it -- make my peace with it, manage my expectations -- well before I actually had to do it. 

That "talking to" I gave myself must have worked, because it was... dare I say it, a breeze. Adam was waiting at the top and I cruised up to him saying "I don't believe it, my heart rate is still normal". 

At Sligachan, we turned westward off the A87, onto the A863. The day before, it had seemed to me that this road (across the middle of Skye from coast to coast) was siphoning off a great deal of traffic from the A87 -- for which I had been very grateful! So today, I was braced for quite a lot of motorhome and caravan traffic, on a road even less suited to it than the A87. 

We were immediately faced with a climb upwards into -- surprise, surprise -- low cloud and mist. There were no motor vehicles, none moving at least. Instead, we found ourselves negotiating a few families (with children) and walking groups, all strolling down (or up) the middle of the road. We went by a few cars parked up alongside the road, before cresting the backbone of the Isle and free-wheeling for miles down towards Loch Harport. 

The view across the valley, as we coasted to the coast.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Lifting The Veil (#ScotTour Day 4)

On Day 4, we left Elgol to cycle to Portree.

The first part of the journey saw us retracing our steps back to Broadford. This was not however a matter of seeing the same things twice, because -- you may recall -- the first time we cycled this road, we couldn't see much due to the mist and low cloud.

On this sunny Sunday, however, all was revealed.

Crossing the cattle grid leaving Elgol. 

The Highlander overlooking Elgol

I had my first opportunity to take close-up photos of Flag Irises, which were blooming in mad profusion all over Skye. I had no idea irises could be yellow. I learned later that this is one of only two species of iris that are native to the UK and the only one native to Scotland. Large "stands" of Yellow Iris in western Scotland form important feeding and breeding habitat for the endangered Corn Crake

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