Tuesday, 10 March 2015

An open letter to Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer of Devon and Cornwall Police

Dear Chief Constable Sawyer,

As a cyclist, I've pretty much given up on ever receiving any real support from Devon and Cornwall Police. This letter will try to explain how this came to be.

I grew up in South Africa, under the Apartheid regime that was propped up by a nasty and corrupt police force, so it was a breath of fresh air when I moved to the UK in 2000 and encountered an honest and professional police force. I have always taught my children that the police are to be trusted, and that they are there to help and support us, and keep us safe. Now I cannot say that in total honesty to my children anymore, and I've always been honest with them.

When my eldest two kids were old enough, I got them each a bicycle, and taught them to ride. At first that consisted of taking them to the park around the corner, but after a while their ability (and confidence) grew, and they wanted to go further. This led to me getting myself a bicycle, so I could go cycling with them. One thing led to another, and it wasn't all that long before I started cycling to work.

In those days I worked in St Budeaux, Plymouth, and my commute would take me along North Prospect Road. One morning I was nearly knocked off my bike by a driver who gave me a very close overtake, before immediately turning left across my path. That in itself isn't a unique occurrence, and sadly similar incidents happen quite regularly throughout the force's area, to many other cyclists.
No, what made this occasion memorable is the fact that there was a marked police car directly behind the lunatic driver, and inside that car were two uniformed officers. Sadly, as I was to learn the hard way in due course, they didn't show the slightest bit of interest.

I have had a number of incidents since and my commute has increased to a 26-mile round trip. The number of incidents I experience with alarming regularity appears to be increasing, and lately it is quite common for me to have five to ten *very* close overtakes on my commute. During a meeting of the Plymouth Cycling Campaign, I have raised close overtakes with the head of traffic for Devon and Cornwall Police, only to be told that the police require several things to happen:
1) the cyclist *must* deviate course,
2) this *must* be witnessed (or filmed) by somebody else, who can be an independent witness and
3) helmet camera footage filmed by the cyclist suffering the close overtake wouldn't be accepted, supposedly due to how different lenses can make it look.

Let's think about that for a moment, shall we? If I'm cycling at 15mph and a driver comes flying by at 40mph, quite literally missing my elbow by 6 inches or less, the police feel it is right to do NOTHING, based purely on the fact that I was concentrating very hard not to fall due to the wind draft of that vehicle. The fact that I didn't swerve into the road (and directly into the path of the speeding driver following closely behind the first driver) or into the kerb isn't viewed as an achievement by me as a cyclist, but rather as evidence that the driver did nothing wrong!

Additionally, apparently, as a cyclist, my word counts for nothing, and even when I have video evidence supporting what I said it is dismissed by your force.

Please don't think the example of six inches is an exaggeration: I have had vehicles actually touch the sleeve of my coat while overtaking at speed.

How can police justify such an obviously deeply flawed approach?

I have also been told that D & C Police won't issue Section 59 warnings to drivers that give cyclists close overtakes, as D & C Police claim the event MUST be witnessed by a uniformed officer. I have sought clarification on this from a well-known QC, who had assured me that D & C Police are quite incorrect in that assertion.
He went as far as to say "Your police seem to have such a relaxed view of close passes that they do not recognise them as amounting to the offence of driving without due consideration" and "a close pass IS a Section 3 offence". This is backed up further by other forces actually having issued Section 59 warnings based on first-person helmet camera footage received from cyclists.

Somebody, somewhere is telling porky pies, wouldn't you say? Who do you think that may be?

I have asked the police why they don't EVER enforce Advanced Stop Lines (ASL's, also known as cyclists' boxes) being encroached upon by drivers, to be told - in as many words - that if the police tried to enforce that they would be told to get on with "real" police work.

I have submitted video of a road rage incident I suffered, in which a taxi driver gave me two very close and dangerous overtakes, before stopping in the road, blocking it, getting out of his taxi and scream and swear at me. The PCSO that viewed the footage (because cyclists aren't worthy of "real" police officers, are they?) stated immediately she didn't see anything wrong. When I was unhappy with that, she referred it to her sergeant who, she later told me, said there was NO evidence of wrongdoing.

I've linked to the video below - please decide for yourself if this is what you would classify as "No evidence of wrongdoing".

For a long time, I didn't even bother reporting anything to the police, as I knew it would be a futile and monumental waste of my time. I had an incident when cycling home over Laira Bridge, Plymouth, where a car driver came alongside me (I was in lane 1, he was in lane 2) then started moving over, pushing me out of the way. As he was looking at me while doing so, I can only surmise that it was deliberate. I screamed at him, and on hearing my South African accent, he promptly told me to go back to my own country.

I posted this to Twitter, and D & C Police *jumped* on it. Apparently not because a dangerous lunatic had deliberately driven a car AT me (and could quite easily have killed me). No, because there was a "racist element" to this. That was an utterly misguided response.

Which do you feel is most worthy of police time and attention: him telling me to go back to South Africa, or using a car as a weapon and deliberately driving AT me?

I can give you a very long list of other incidents, none of which I bothered to report as yet again I knew it'd be a waste of my time.
I had a bus driver mount the kerb on Royal Parade, Plymouth, while swinging the double decker bus at me. I had a bus driver squeeze me to the railings on Laira Bridge, Plymouth, screaming I should be on the pavement. I had a taxi driver from Tower Cabs badly cut me up, then swearing at me while making rude gestures. I had a Mercedes driver push me to the kerb along Billacombe Road, Plymouth, while screaming through the open window that I should get off "his effing road". I crashed that time, in preference to being run over. On Plymouth Road, Marsh Mills, I crashed when I tried to bunny-hop onto the pavement to avoid being crushed by the driver of an HGV who insisted on overtaking me when there was NO space at all for him to do so. The list goes on and on and on.

In case you were wondering, yes, I do actually follow the Highway Code. I'm a good driver, and I'm a good cyclist - in fact, I've been trained by British Cycling to take groups of inexperienced riders out on the road. I don't go looking for trouble, and I make allowances for the fact that we're all human, and we can all make mistakes.

Yesterday morning, at the roundabout by the Elburton Hotel, on Billacombe Road, Plymouth, I was very nearly run over by a lunatic who just accelarated hard from a side road. The fact that I was wearing (as usual) a bright-yellow hi-vis coat and had a 3 500 lumen strobing headlight made no difference at all. I had full priority, and despite having made eye contact, he drove straight at me. It was scarily close!

In February, cycling inbound on Embankment Road, Plymouth, near the shops, I witnessed a driver drive AT another cyclist. That cyclist had done nothing wrong at all, and the driver only just missed him. I absolutely believe this was deliberate and intentional. The driver then pulled into a parking bay and started getting out of his car. The driver of the car directly behind followed the cyclist, who simply kept riding, and the maniac jumped back in his car and started pulling out, very nearly colliding with that other driver. I followed behind her, and while looking at me, the maniac driver (who stopped at the last moment to avoid a collision with the other driver) pulled out at speed, very nearly knocking me off my bike.

At the traffic lights at Cattedown Roundabout, the driver stopped again and hopped out of his car, running over to where the cyclist was waiting at the red light. I genuinely thought the cyclist was about to be assaulted, but fortunately it didn't come to that.
The second driver yelled at the maniac driver through her open window, saying that the cyclist had done *nothing* wrong, and that the maniac driver was in the wrong. I filmed part of what happened using my mobile phone, including the registration number of the maniac driver's car, and the registration number of the other driver's car.

I wasn't going to report this matter to the police, as I was convinced that yet again Devon and Cornwall Police would fail to act on road aggression against cyclists. Several other cyclists practically begged me to report it, and in the end I did so, even if reluctantly.

To nobody's surprise, I heard nothing for some time, and had to chase it up several times, including via the D & C Police's Twitter account. Finally I received an email from the PC investigating the matter, stating they couldn't view the video. This is despite another police officer having had no issues at all with viewing the video I'd shared online.

Finally, I received an email saying the other driver couldn't be located and in view of no other witnesses, the matter would be closed. The message I received quite loud and clear simply says "We couldn't be bothered to take this seriously and won't waste our time with it".

I am quite frankly utterly disgusted with D & C Police's continued failure to protect cyclists on our roads, but I was not at all surprised about the outcome. Experience taught me that out on the road drivers can do whatever they want with total impunity, and that D & C Police will NOT act to protect cyclists. I am NOT alone in feeling this way - there is a significant number of cyclists with stories similar to mine.
We're tired of all the PR answers we're given - about how so many police officers cycle, too, and suffer the same as we do on the roads. If that's really the case, it's even more mind-boggling why the police are so obviously reluctant to act on any aggression towards cyclists by drivers, or any endangerment of cyclists by drivers.

We're tired of all the usual victim-blaming "safety advice" we get from police - you know: wear a helmet, wear hi-vis, have lights, don't go up the inside of HGVs, don't skip red lights. Incidentally, I always wear a helmet and hi-vis, have excellent lights, never go up the inside of HGVs and don't skip red lights unless forced to do so to get out of the way of the speeding vehicle behind who evidently has no intention of stopping for the red light. I also count the number of drivers I see skipping red lights on my commute and I usually see around five of them. Every day.

Chief Constable, I put it to you that your police force is institutionally anti-cycling. You will naturally want to disagree, and I can only hope you will reflect on this, and have the courage to investigate deeper, until the true and awful picture emerges. Not the sound-bytes we're all told.

I now have some questions for you:
1) Why does D & C Police not issue Section 59 warnings, yet other forces do?
2) Why does D & C Police dismiss helmet cam footage, yet other forces don't?
3) Why does D & C Police view enforcing the very road laws designed to help make cyclists safe as not doing "real" police work?
4) Why does D & C Police seem to be utterly disinterested in cyclists' safety? And yes the force pays lip service to it, but as the old saying goes, you talk the talk, but you certainly don't walk the walk.
5) What will it take for D & C Police to start taking this seriously? One dead cyclist? Ten? More?
6) What do you suggest I tell my children about the police? Bear in mind, they know of several of these incidents (I haven't told them all the details though) and my 11 year old daughter asked me "But Dad, why won't the police do anything?" I had no answer for her then, and I still have no answer for her now.
7) What will YOU do about this?

I look forward to receiving your response.

Friday, 23 January 2015

The damage a Twitter-gang can do

Recently, a person tweeted something that I didn't quite agree with, so I replied, explaining why I disagreed. It was a sensitive and often emotive topic, so I suppose some response was to be expected. What the topic was isn't directly relevant to this post, so I'll not go into more details here.
What I didn't expect was the deluge of abuse that followed.

I tried to respond reasonably, but overall that had little or no effect, and the abuse continued.

While being on the receiving end of a stream of Twitter abuse, I felt upset, and not at all friendly towards those militant individuals who were the source of abuse. I didn't respond in kind, mostly because I felt many of them were simply venting a lot of legitimate anger and frustration and I was a handy target, and partly because I didn't want it to escalate.

Some individuals were very reasonable, and we had a fair exchange of views, without any personal attacks being launched. That was helpful, and refreshing, and yes, I learnt quite a few things from them.

Some individuals were simply nasty, refusing to examine anything outside their personally-defined, seemingly very limited scope of what was "good" and what was "bad". As is their choice. Everyone's entitled to their own opinion - they to theirs, me to mine.

The aftermath of it all had me thinking. See, I believe every single one of those who attacked me probably believed they were fighting the good fight. Regardless of their actual actions, I do believe their intentions were good and honourable.

And that is scary.

It is scary because I saw a parallel with what was happening to me, to what often happens on Twitter when somebody tweets anything negative about cyclists. Almost inevitable, the digital equivalent of a torch and pitchfork brigade forms to attack and frequently vilify that person.

It's scary because being on the receiving end of such abuse made me feel quite negative towards some individuals, all of whom support a cause I too am strongly in favour of.

It's scary, because if I ended up feeling that way, given that I support the same cause, imagine how somebody on the receiving end feels when they DON'T support that cause.

For example, when someone who already dislikes cyclists is on the receiving end of a constant stream of Twitter abuse from cyclists. That's hardly going to win them over to our side, now is it?

If anything, a bunch of cyclists being abusive on Twitter will in all likelihood risk changing somebody who dislikes cyclists into a rabid cyclist-hater. Is that a risk worth taking? I don't think so.

On Twitter, there seems to be a few cyclists actively searching for anti-cycling tweets, who then re-tweet any such tweets they find. (For those not on Twitter, re-tweeting means sharing that tweet with the people who chose to follow you on Twitter).

Two things follow from this:
1) The negative tweet is given the oxygen of publicity and
2) The Twitter lynch-mob starts

What I experienced at the hand of a number of individuals was seriously unpleasant, and had they - as individuals - engaged me without being dismissive, rude, and without getting personal, the whole thing could have been positive.

The reality is that I did learn from those who were polite and mature. Yes, even though some of them had entirely different views, I still came away better than I was before, and I'm grateful to them.

As stated before, I support their cause, which is why I can to a degree overlook the behaviour of even the unpleasant ones. Yes, they were abusive, but I don't think it was really directed at me, but rather at the very issues they still face on a daily basis.
Now of course I could be entirely mistaken here, and the abuse may well have been aimed at me, but even if so, I still believe that would've been the minority. In my world the sun is shining, you see.

What anti-cyclist Tweeters experience at the hand of cyclists is often ALSO seriously unpleasant. It is easy to say "But they asked for it", or "They started it" or even "They were nasty and unpleasant right from the start", but that changes nothing.

The way I see it, there are only TWO reasonable actions:
1) DON'T reply to an anti-cyclist tweet, or DON'T join in the lynch-mob that forms, or
2) If you feel you absolutely have to challenge it, do so reasonably, avoiding name-calling, personal attacks, and similar behaviour.

No, I don't expect we'd be able to change the points of view of all the cyclist-haters. With luck, we may be able to do so with a small number, or perhaps simply help soften their hatred a bit.

But the BEST outcome we can hope for in most cases is to not turn someone who dislikes cyclists into someone who absolutely HATES cyclists. The last thing we want is to have to share the road with an aggressive cyclist-hater looking to get even after suffering an outbursts of abuse online.
It is therefore very important that we all moderate our own behaviour, especially online. Because that cyclist-disliker on the other side of the country (or world!) that I antagonise today on Twitter may well turn into a cyclist-hater that runs YOU over tomorrow. Wouldn't it be great if we can avoid that?

Thursday, 27 November 2014

The story of Darkmoor

The story of Darkmoor probably began when I landed a new job. In my previous job, I cycled to work, along well-lit roads, and only needed little LED lights to be seen. In the new job, however, I had to travel to, and between various customer sites, and therefore needed to drive to work. That meant I was losing out of valuable cycling time, and the only time I could fit bike rides in turned out to be quite late at night - typically well after 10pm.

Now while I could simply have cycled on well-lit roads, I really wanted to go cycling up the Plym Valley. This was a problem, as the Plym Valley trail gets very dark. Of course, no self-respecting geek would be stopped by such a minor things as total darkness, and I started experimenting with various lights. Given that I rate Instructables.com as the absolute best website in the world ever, it would come as no surprise that I wanted to build a light, instead of simply buying one.

The first light was a 50-LED frankenmonster, powered by an old-school Nokia mobile phone. It was alright-ish, and allowed me to cycle in total darkness for up to around 45 minutes, but only at slow speeds as it simply didn't give off enough light.

The next light was better: a 12v 50 watt pin spot with a 30 degree angle, powered by my laptop's extended battery. I had to make a custom adapter to connect the light to the battery, but it worked and worked well. I had light, and plenty of it! Equally importantly, it lasted for hours.

At my new work there was another fellow geek, but he was almost permamnently working at a customer site. When that changed and he returned to the office, I found a kindred spirit: he was a geek, he liked building things and importantly, he was a cyclist, too!

What I didn't know at the time was that my new friend Simon had a very dark (or perhaps light?) secret: he had a terrible addiction! Specifically, he was addicted to lights and had an impressive array of torches and bike lights. Simon has specialist electronics knowledge and skills, too, and is an absolute fountain of knowledge.

As we were talking about bike lights, it soon became apparent that we'd need to test the various lights out. We planned a night ride that was called a Dark Side Ride (as in Darth Vader saying "Luke, come to the Dark Side"). The very first Dark Side Ride started off at Princetown, Dartmoor, along the disused railway track, at midnight, during a storm. We couldn't have picked a worse date for it, but as we'd invited various other people, we couldn't cancel. In the end, nobody else was foolish enough to go riding in that weather, and we braved the horizontal rain all on our own.

Following that shaky start, later we organised a second Dark Side Ride. On south Dartmoor there is a body of water called Crazywell Pool, and legend has it that if you looked into the water at midnight, on mid-summer's eve, you'd see the face of the next person in the parish to die. This was as good an excuse for a ride as you'd find, and on mid-summer's eve, during another storm and battling strong winds and torrential downpours, we cycled up the rough track to Crazywell Pool. The pool's surface was so whipped up by wind and churned by rain that it was impossible to see anything reflected at all, and so we left the legend as neither proven, nor disproven, and made our way back.

The third and final Dark Side Ride was a dry one, but it was bitterly cold. This ride was from Yelverton to Tavistock and back, along NCN27, crossing over the then newly built Gem Bridge and passing through the then newly opened Grenofen Tunnel. This ride proved conclusively that there isn't anywhere in Tavistock where you can buy coffee or hot chocolate out of hours, unless you want to go to a restaurant (which we didn't want to).

By this stage I'd moved on to a Cree T6 bike light, while Simon had progressed to a triple Cree T6.

Somewhere during all this, we found out about the Dunwhich Dynamo and later the Exmouth Exodus - both well-established through-the-night bike rides. In 2013 we were toying with the idea of doing the Exmouth Exodus, but in the words of John Lennon, life is what happens while you're busy making other plans, and indeed life did happen, resulting in neither of us doing the ride.

Just because we couldn't do a specific ride didn't mean we couldn't plan a new one though, and so at some stage the idea of Darkmoor was formed. Now creating a ride of half-decent length requires map work, and both Simon and I are map-geeks, too. Various route options were discussed, many rejected, until finally we agreed on the route and the date. Picking the date is slightly tricky: you want a Saturday night in June or July (so as to have the best chance of good weather) nearest the full moon.
What compounded things was that both Simon and I had entered the Dartmoor Classic for the first time in 2014, and the Dartmoor Classic is always on the third Sunday in June. Luck was on our side, and Darkmoor 2014 was arranged for the weekend before the Dartmoor Classic, the day after a full moon.

Now the first Darkmoor ride was meant to only have been 52 miles, from Okehampton to Plymouth, but I soon realised I may have a logistics problem, and that by far the simplest and least disruptive way of solving it was to just cycle from Plymouth to Okehampton. I made it known that this was my plan, and a few other riders decided to join me.

Simon's daughter was born not long before, so quite understandably, with a baby that didn't let them sleep much, he couldn't do the full ride, and instead rode down from his home to Plymouth, then cycled along with us almost to Horrabridge, before he had to peel off.

The first ever Darkmoor was done by only 12 riders, which is a very modest start. However, it was also a roaring success, as it proved that there were at least 11 other nutters out there who were willing to join us.
And if through actually very poor marketing we could attract 11 other nutters, chances are that as word spread we'd attract more of you guys.

There are a few things about Darkmoor that is worth remembering though: it doesn't "belong" to anybody. As organisers, we may pick the dates, but that's about it. The ride belongs to whomever does it.
It isn't a race, but if if you wanted to beat everybody else and finish first, well, someone has to be first, so it might as well be you.

As for me, I'll just be riding my bike and enjoying the experience, while making new friends. Life is good.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Space for cycling

There is a cycling campaign called Space4Cycling, which was started by the London Cycling Campaign, but has since spread nationally. You can read full details of the LCC Space for Cycling campaign here: http://space4cycling.org/campaign-info

Below I've copied part of the text found on the other side of the link above:

"It follows directly from our successful Love London, Go Dutch campaign in 2012, which won a promise from the Mayor, Boris Johnson, to make the streets under his control as safe and inviting for cycling as Holland.

Following this success we’re now calling on councils to also create Dutch style space for cycling in the streets they control. By working together the Mayor and Councils can turn the whole of our city into a place in which all Londoners, whatever their age or ability, have the choice to make and enjoy their everyday journeys safely by cycle."

Please keep in mind the bit that calls on councils to create "Dutch style space for cycling" - we'll revisit that later.

The Space for Cycling campaign has six main strands to it, as detailed below:
1) Removal of through motor traffic
2) Protected space on main roads and at junctions
3) 20mph speed limits
4) Safe cycle routes to schools
5) Cycle-friendly town centres
6) Cycle routes through parks and green spaces

Again, pay attention to especially point 2 - we'll revisit that later, too.

These six points are mirrored by the national Space for Cycling campaign, as can be seen here: http://www.ctc.org.uk/campaign/space-for-cycling with more details available here: http://www.ctc.org.uk/article/campaigns-guide/what-do-we-mean-space-for-cycling

You will notice the national campaign differs by making Protected space on main roads and at junctions point number one, something which I entirely agree with. It goes on to say "Often the most direct route for cyclists is along main roads - where they have to mix with fast moving and / or heavy traffic.  This can be intimidating for would-be cyclists.  We need to see protected cycle lanes on main roads that allow people of all ages and abilities to cycle.  This is distinct from inadequate pavement conversions that stop and start.  Adequate provision is also needed at major junctions."

Now it will probably be no surprise to learn that cycling advocacy groups are divided, and while there appears to be a slow swing towards supporting protected, segregated cycle infrastructure, there are a tenacious minority that actively resists that.

This minority is represented by many various individuals, some of whom are quite well known in cycling circles, and many of which have over the years worked their way up to exert the maximum amount of influence that they can.

One such individual is David Dansky, a National Standards Instructor and professional cycling instructor with Cycle Training UK (http://www.cycletraining.co.uk). CTUK have the following to say on their web site: "We deliver training that meets and exceeds the UK’s National Standards, standards we helped to develop.We believe that the best way to promote cycling is to teach people to use their bikes safely and with confidence."

Think about that for a bit: David Dansky's income depends on continued governmental funding (from local and national government) to pay for National Standards (Bikeability) cycle training. This training is largely based on Cycle Craft, and favours what is termed vehicular cycling (VC). VC involves concepts such as "taking the lane", which means riding in the middle of the lane, to try and avoid drivers doing dangerous overtakes.

Many cyclists, myself included, follow Cycle Craft guidelines when riding on the road. However, like I suspect most others who do so, I view it as a coping mechanism, and certainly not a way to grow cycling. In fact, to claim that VC would grow cycling is in my view delusional. For the past 40 years we've had VC advocates proclaiming that all that is needed is training for cyclists.
Now while I don't dispute that training does help a bit, it certainly is NOT the answer.

Crucially, somebody forgot to train the drivers, so drivers often get highly aggressive when cyclists "take the lane". I know, I've often been on the receiving end of that aggression.

Times are changing though, and campaigns like Space For Cycling are gaining increasing support. There is tangible evidence that the tide is slowly turning in favour what is PROVEN to work - protected, segregated cycle infrastructure.

Everywhere that protected cycle tracks are built, numbers of cyclists soar. There is a huge latent appetite for cycling, but research effort after research effort all say the same thing: more people don't cycle due to fear of mixing with other (often lethally dangerous) forms of traffic. And who can blame them?

However, when protected, properly segregated infrastructure is installed, more people choose to ride their bikes. It really isn't rocket science, and crucially, they ride their bikes without needing any advanced training.

It therefore stands to reason that protected cycle lanes are a direct threat to the livelihood of people like David Dansky, which explains why he's trying to hijack the Space For Cycling campaign, and why he's campaigning against protected cycle lanes.

Disappointingly, Carlton Reid, a cycling journalist, is defending David Dansky in this approach, which raises many doubts in my mind about where exactly Carlton Reid's loyalties ultimately lie.

I've nailed my colours to the mast ages ago: the ONLY way to really grow cycling is to build more Dutch-style and Dutch quality segregated infrastructure.

On Twitter, David Dansky posted a photo of a parent cycling in heavy traffic, with a child on board their bike, and he used the #Space4Cycling hashtag, saying that the parent claiming the lane is Space For Cycling. Many others challenged him on that, and Carlton Reid rushed to his defense.

Carlton went as far as to start questioning me on trivia, such as who's paying for the national Space For Cycling campaign, and he scoffed at my reply that it is various cycling companies and cycling organisations combined (which is actually correct). He pointed out his heavy involvement with the campaign, too, and said that segregation everywhere isn't realistic (nobody claimed it was - even the Dutch don't have segregation everywhere!)

So let's revisit those points I highlighted earlier, shall we? Let's start with "Dutch style space for cycling" - does that IN ANY WAY come across as "taking the lane" while mixing with heavy traffic? No, absolutely not!

The Dutch are renowned around the world for their separated approach. They separate cyclists from other traffic both in time and in space. In space, by building a great deal of high-quality, direct and segregated cycle tracks, and in time, by innovative junction design in locations where the different forms of traffic must share the same space. This keeps cyclists safe, and their track record for cyclist safety is magnificent.

The number one point of the national campaign, with which Carlton Reid is heavily involved, and therefore must know rather well, is simply this: Protected space on main roads and at junctions. Read that again - it says PROTECTED space. That most certainly is NOT "taking the lane" when mixing with heavy traffic.

The trouble is, David Dansky is viewed as an authoritative voice by many local authorities, and what he's saying allows them to deliver absolutely nothing in terms of Dutch quality cycle infrastructure, while claiming they've consulted with cyclists and have their support. The fact that Carlton Reid supports David Dansky simply reinforces the total abdication of their duty of care by such local authorities.

This needs to change.
David, you either support Space For Cycling openly and vocally, or you should step aside. Perhaps you can have a wonderful future as cycling advisor to the current Australian government, who seem extremely anti-cycling?
Carlton, if you're actually getting PAID to be involved with the national Space For Cycling campaign, isn't it time you opposed those who try to hijack it for their own benefit? Aren't you supposed to vigorously defend and support it? If you're uncomfortable doing so, you really should step aside and allow somebody who believes in those six points to take over.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Tour of Devon and some chance encounters

As we usually do, my mate Simon and I planned on cycling out to go and watch the Tour of Britain's Devon stage, which this year was on the 11th of September 2014.

I cycled into Plymouth at first, and in Yealmpton I bumped into Denis, who like me also cycle commutes. This was an unplanned meeting, and Denis normally rides in along the A379, while I take the back lanes. On this occasion he decided to ride with me. Not long after, we bumped into Felix, a member of the Yealm Rouleurs and fellow cycle commuter.
Again it was an unplanned meeting, the three of us rode together into Plymouth, where Denis and Felix split off to go to work, while I went to have a coffee.

After my coffee, I set off for the Plym Valley cycle path, riding along Embankment Road, when I bumped into Roger, another Yealm Rouleur and cycle commuter. Yet again this was an unplanned meeting.

Following this series of chance encounters, I cycled up the ever-gorgeous Plym Valley. Before long I was through the tunnel and had to exit the path onto the road where they were building the new ramp to Clearbrook. I headed up the steep and nasty little hill and soon was in Yelverton, where I met Simon.

Simon was quite unwell, and didn't feel capable of cycling, so we agreed he'd drive and find a good spectating spot, while I'll cycle out. We were planning on a quiet spot, away from the crowds this year.

It wasn't long before I was riding through Dousland, where to my surprise I saw even more Yealm Rouleurs waiting at the junction coming from Burrator. We said our hellos and I rode on. Shortly after, I had a very close overtake from a farmer driving a tractor and trailer. Clearly my attempts to communicate with him in finger language worked, as he turned off the road soon after, got out of his tractor and was waiting for me by the side of the road.

As I came within shouting distance he began to swear, shout and rant. I cycled right up to him and calmly pointed out why he was entirely in the wrong and I was rather surprised when he suddenly changed his attitude and apologised! Mind you, that may have had a lot to do with the fact that a whole bunch of cyclists came riding up the road, including the Yealm Rouleurs, who asked me if I was OK.

I cycled on at a reasonable pace from there, over the cattle grid and past Sharpitor. Soon I was descending into Devil's Elbow, before starting the climb into Princetown. I said goodbye to the Yealm Rouleurs here, as they were heading to Merrivale, while I was heading towards Two Bridges.

I do love Dartmoor and it was with a smile that I cycled past Two Bridges. About five miles later I found Simon, who'd found an excellent spot, and even parking for his car nearby. One of our requirements for an "ideal" spot was decent mobile data coverage, and the spot he found us did indeed have that. This meant we were able to follow the race live on his phone, and also on my phone, once ITV 4 started broadcasting it live.

While several cyclists rode past in either direction, only a single other cyclist stopped and shared our spot. We had a great view of the riders coming over the brow of the hill, down into the dip, then uphill to where we were.

It wasn't all that long before first the police outriders started coming past on their motorcycles, then some team cars started coming through and then suddenly we could see the TV helicopter, followed by the riders coming over the hill.

Though we picked an uphill, so they would be slower, they still barrelled past much faster than what I'd be able to do, and in just a few minutes even the broom wagon had gone by.

The only unusual thing that happened what a police motorbike was dragging a stick along (the rider seemed blissfully unaware of this!) and the stick just tapped my foot as the rider came roaring by.

The upside of a spot like what we had is that you don't get trampled by other spectators, and nobody pushes in front of you. The downside of course is that there are no sponsor tents, freebies being given away, etc. Even so, it was great, though as anybody who ever watched a race like this would tell you, it's over in a few minutes for most spectators.

Simon hopped in his car, while I cycled off towards Dartmeet. Dartmeet is where the West Dart and the East Dart meet and simply become the River Dart, which gave Dartmoor it's name, of course.

It is a beautiful part of the world, but the climb up from Dartmeet is a bit steep! For significant sections I struggled to keep the front wheel on the tar as I cycled up the hill. I headed off to Ashburton, and from there to Buckfastleigh. As I still had time, I decided to head off to Totnes.

I've never cycled to Totnes before, and I didn't know the road from Buckfastleigh, but it wasn't a bad road to cycle. Close to Dartington I veered off on NCN 2, which is a traffic-free shared path. I'm in two minds about that path: yes, it's gorgeous in parts, and it's always nice to get away from traffic, but it doesn't have a good surface between Dartington and Totnes. Far worse than that, there's a cycle bridge that's closed for repairs, with No Cycling! signs further along.

Imagine driving along a road, then encountering "Road closed" signs, with no legal way through, a *massive* detour that isn't signposted, but with the option of driving a very short stint on a perfectly good road despite signs saying you're not allowed to drive there. What would most drivers do?

Of course, drivers would never encounter such stupidity as it seems exclusively reserved for cyclists. In particular, South Hams District Council seems to be very anti-cycling, treating cycling at best as a slow, leisure activity. Needless to say, I pretended that I'd failed to notice any "No cycling" signs and simply rode on! Various other cyclists I encountered appeared to also have missed the signs.

I had a late lunch by the river side in Totnes, and as the tide was out I could see a few bikes stuck down in the mud. Apparently that's how some people there dispose of their bikes!

I set off for Avonwick along a busy A road that I know well from having driven it many times, but I certainly wasn't looking forward to cycling it. As expected, I got a lot of close overtakes. Thankfully I was on that road for just over 5 miles before turning off at Avonwick, heading towards Ermington.

This is a nice road to cycle, scenic, plenty of hills to make it interesting though none severe enough to make it feel like punishment. Before long I skirted the edge of Ermington, then did a short stint on the A379, before turning left towards Holbeton. The bit on the A379 is uphill, and while I generally like hills, I've never liked this one. This is odd, because it isn't very steep, it isn't very long, and (for the A379) it isn't very narrow.

Once I turned left, I was basically on the home run, and soon enough I was home, having cycled almost exactly 75 miles for the day.

It was a good day out, spent cycling through gorgeous parts of the world. And I can't really ask for more than that, now can I?

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Exmouth Exodus 2014

I'll admit it freely: I do like cycling in the dark and I do like through-the-night bike rides, so it's no wonder I signed up to ride the Exmouth Exodus.
For those that don't know, the Exodus is a 108-mile ride that starts in Bath (it used to start in Bristol) and ends in Exmouth. It is loosely modelled on the Dunwich Dynamo, the through-the-night ride that started it all.

I have to fess up to also having ulterior motives for doing the Exodus - as co-organiser of the Darkmoor through-the-night ride, I wanted to see how bigger and well-established rides do it.

I had a partner-in-crime for the Exodus, the lovely Philippa Davey, a Plymouth City Counsillor and Cycling Commissioner for Plymouth. Philippa picked me up from Yealmpton, an easy 5 mile ride from my home, and drove us to Exmouth, where we left her car overnight. What followed next was a treat - a casual ride along the Exmouth estuary cycle path, which is flat and gorgeous (and obviously popular!) to get us to Exeter St Davids railway station, from where we would catch a train.

There were a few other cyclists catching the same train as us, and they were heading for the Exodus, too. The train journey was uneventful and soon enough, following one changeover, we arrived in Bath and soon afterwards we located the starting point. There were already two other cyclists there, who arrived WAY too early and gradually others started arriving in drips and drabs.

I was well-prepared, with an external battery pack to keep my phone topped up (I used it during the Dartmoor Classic and ended the race with a fully charged phone, despite having run GPS all the way), I had a 6-cell battery pack for my triple Cree T6 headlight and I had a single Cree T6 light, with plenty spare batteries, as backup. Finally, as emergency, I had a small LED light and of course my tail light. The 6-cell battery pack for my main light is actually from my 5 x Cree T6 light, but I chose to bring the triple T6 as it would last longer before draining the battery pack.
On my phone I have an app called OSMAnd, which does digital navigation rather brilliantly. Basically, you feed it a GPX track, and it will guide you to remain on that track.

Now as Lennon put it so succinctly, life is what happens when you're busy making other plans, and life certainly happened!

I discovered that my external battery pack had died! That meant I couldn't use my phone to either guide me, or log my ride. That was rather annoying, though not absolutely the end of the world. After all, we had paper-based route sheets, so what could possibly go wrong?

Just after 8pm Philippa and I set off, together with a small handful of other riders. One of these riders had a Garmin, so we all decided to follow him. That didn't work out too well, as he took several wrong turns while still in Bath. There was a woman with plastic-wrapped, large-print route cards attached to her handlebars who turned out to be far better at navigation, so we all ended up following her.

She was riding at a faster pace than most of the group, and soon was way out in front, so I raced to catch up with her. The idea was to ride with her until we came to a major change of route, then wait for the group to catch up and point them in the direction she had gone. As the route follows the Two Tunnels cycle path, quite soon we were riding through the tunnels, and she sped up significantly. When I commented on her increase in speed, she told me she was a bit claustrophobic and just wanted to get through the tunnels and into open air again. Considering that the longer tunnel is over a mile long, that couldn't have been pleasant for her, but soon enough we were out the other side.

Given that the Two Tunnels path is quite new, I was disappointed to find that it had been surfaced with "self-compacting gravel", which is a cheap-skate botch favoured by local authorities who don't want to splash the cash to tar the path. It is a vastly inferior surface, certainly not suited for cycle paths and it becomes potholed and muddy quite quickly. Potholed and muddy would be an accurate way to describe the part of the Two Tunnels path that isn't tarred.
Update: I've been asked to point out the the un-tarred section isn't actually part of the Two Tunnels path. I really have no idea where the official end of the Two Tunnels path is - presumably right where the tar ends.

A couple of gates later, our navigator had long since disappeared over the horizon, and we were reduced to our paper route cards. Worryingly, Philippa was riding slowly due to an injury to her foot, something she tried to keep quiet about. She soldiered on despite the pain, and the two of us watched the rest of the group disappear in the distance.

Mostly I was riding with my main light on low, though in a number of places, where the road surface seemed dodgy and also on some descents I went to full power, and also switched on my other light. At around midnight my triple T6 light finally ran out of battery power and I switched to my backup light.

Gradually we made progress, with Philippa suffering more and more with her foot and we were glad to glide down Cheddar Gorge, knowing the first food stop is around the corner. What we could see of Cheddar Gorge was stunning, but the experience was marred by the lunatic convoy of boy racers we encountered!
Still, soon enough we made it to the first food stop. After having sampled lots of the delicious cakes and reinforced with a mug of coffee, we set off again.

Philippa said she'd see how her foot was holding up (she was seriously suffering by this stage) and mentioned that she might have to pull out at the next food stop, at Fivehead. Sometime before the food stop, we made a navigational error and ended up riding up a fair old hill that apparently we could and should have avoided, and we came upon a police car stopped next to a car embedded sideways in a hedge. Apparently it was a suspected drink-driver, who walked off seemingly unhurt, but it also highlighted certain downsides to night rides. Soon enough we were back on track and made our way to the food stop.

After a hot drink, Philippa decided (quite bravely, I thought) to pull the plug and bail out. Her plan was to try and organise a ride to Taunton station, less than 10 miles away, from where she'd train it down first the Exeter, then to Exmouth, where I'd meet her again. She also lent me her Garmin GPS watch, so I'd have a GPS log of the ride, and I set off again.

I rode for a fair few miles with somebody Philippa knew and we navigated by looking at our paper sheets at almost every junction. Given that it was raining on and off, the sheets of paper were slowly getting soaked. The ink was running and the paper was disintegrating. I was in a hurry, as I knew the remains of tropical storm Bertha was due to hit soon, and wanted to spend as little time as possible in that.

Soon enough we hit Blagdon Hill, which really was described by some other cyclists I'd spoken to as equivalent to Everest. Blagdon isn't very steep at all, though it does go on for a while, and I overtook a fair few other riders along there. When I got to the top, I didn't want to stop to look at directions as I didn't want a small group of cyclists I'd just overtaken to think I was being annoying by overtaking and then having to stop to catch my breath.

As a result, I cycled on, focusing on a cyclist's tail light I could just see way off ahead. That then became my navigational strategy: using other riders' tail lights as a bread-crumb trail and while not the most advanced stategy ever, it worked surprisingly well. I did miss one turning, purely as I didn't have any tail lights ahead of me at the time, but very soon realised my mistake and turned back.

Not long after I made it to the tea wagon at Luppitt (visible from space because of a VERY bright strobing light!) where I wanted to change batteries on my light. Only to find that I couldn't get it to work again, At all! That was VERY annoying and I really didn't fancy trying to complete the ride using my emergency little LED light.
At that moment, a sizeable group of riders set off again, all with decent lights, so I tucked myself into the group and relied on their lights. This strategy worked, as I could see where I was going, but the downside was they weren't very fast, and of course I didn't have a chance to east some of the flapjacks I'd baked to power me along the ride.

When it was light enough for me to not have to rely on their lights, I sped off again, and was followed by a rider who later told me he was from Launceton. He was quick, and more importantly, he knew the way, and we rode on together. Very soon after, the storm broke around us, with at times heavy rain and with strong winds that were to last all the way to the finish. Around Yettington he made a navigational error, but I can't complain at all, as he'd most probably saved me from making lots of navigational errors. Nevertheless, we ended up off route by a fair few miles.

By the time we were back on track and riding through Woodbury Common, I started to bonk and had to stop and demolish the last of my flapjacks. Fortunately, due to my secret formula (treble the amount of golden syrup the recipe calls for) the sugar soon enough kicked in and I was off again.

Very soon after I descended into Exmouth, a town I really don't know. I followed signs for the seafront, then simply followed that around until I found the Harbour View cafe, where the ride ended. If I hadn't been soaked by the driving rain by then, the waves crashing over the road certainly would've soaked me.

As I queued up for coffee in the cafe, I felt a tap on my shoulder, followed by a cheeky "What took you so long?" I turned to look, and there was Philippa, who'd been given a lift straight to Exmouth, from Fivehead, by some kind stranger.

All in all, despite the many things that went wrong, and the poor weather, it was a great ride, and I can't wait to do it again next year.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Dartmoor Classic 2014

Over a year ago, my friend Simon and I decided to sign up for the Dartmoor Classic. Now the Classic is classified as a Sportive, and not a race, and for good reason, too: if it was a race, seeing as it's held on public roads, loads more restrictions and regulations come into play. Now just because it's a sportive event doesn't mean people aren't racing! See, when you have two or more cyclists going the same way, at the same time, on the same stretch of road, by definition you have a race!

As it happened, the Dartmoor Classic was fully booked for 2013, and though we went onto the reserve list, neither of us actually secured a place. This was a double blessing: 1) On the day there was a severe storm over Dartmoor, and riders were battling ferocious winds and heavy rain, while 2) I certainly wasn't in shape for it, and it would've been a mistake to enter in 2013.

The Dartmoor Classic is one of the top UK sportives, and has three options: the Grande, which is a 107 miles route, the Medio, which is a 67 mile route and the Debutante, which is a women-only route of 37 miles. Advice Simon and I were given basically stated that it would be foolish to enter the Classic as your first-ever sportive, and doubly foolish to enter the 107-mile version of it.

Of course, Simon and I aren't always very good at following good advice, and so when registration opened for the 2014 ride, we entered the Grande, 107-mile option. There are only 3 000-odd places available for the Classic, and it sold out in under 24 hours. Still, that didn't matter to us, as we were in that number.

From that point on, it was simply going to be a matter of getting the miles in to prepare, then go ride the distance on the day. How hard can that be?

Well, as it turned out, there were a few holes in the master plan. For starters, Simon's wife gave birth to a gorgeous baby girl, and that meant that he almost never managed to get out on his bike, and was suffering from lack of sleep. I was getting miles in, due to commuting 15 miles each way on a daily basis, but when commuting through the dark, wet and freezing cold winter mornings and evenings, any thoughts of a structured training programme soon fades from your mind. OK, from my mind, anyway.

I told myself I'd start putting in serious effort from the start of April, when the weather's improved. April 2014 surprised all by being the wettest on record, with widespread flooding. This meant that most of the miles I was riding were actually quite slow. Nevertheless, I managed to clock up over 600 miles in April and gradually my average speed was increasing.

On most Saturday mornings I'd go riding with a bunch known as the Yealm Rouleurs. They're totally mad, and a really good bunch. They also happen to have several riders that are rather quick. WAY quicker than me! That is a good thing, as it challenged me to try and keep up with them. During the dark, cold months, Saturday rides were rather short, between 20 and 30 miles on average, but as the weather improved the distances started stretching and I believe these rides above all helped me greatly. Well, these, and the hills on my commute!

Now I'm no pro hill climber, but I do like hills. Devon certainly is a good place to live if you like cycling up hills, and there are a few big ones on my commute. On some of the hills I have pretty good times (as per Strava) and I'm well proud of those times, as they mostly were done with either laden panniers on my bike, or with a backpack on my back. Now the ONLY way to get better and faster at cycling up hills is to ride up more and more of them. I find riding up hills while weighed down builds strength, too.

This was basically my "training plan" then: cycle up hills while weighed down, and try to keep up with faster riders on Saturdays. It isn't exactly the most structured, nor the most scientific training plan ever. As a member of British Cycling, I have access to actual, proper training plans, but there all rely on using a heart rate monitor. I actually own one of those, but for a very long time now I've not been able to find the chest strap, and so I couldn't use those plans.

Of course, my entire training strategy has one major flaw: Almost all the distances I was doing were on the short side. My commute's only 15 miles each way, and most Saturday rides were below 50 miles. This doesn't really help prepare you well for a 107 mile event, as I was to discover.

As the date of the Classic came closer and closer, Simon and I started making logistical plans (basically that meant he was giving me a lift) and I was getting increasingly nervous.

On the day, we set off in the second batch of riders, just after 07h05. In our batch was a rider on a Pinarello TT bike, just like what Bradley Wiggens rode in the TdF - all carbon fiber, tri-bars and all.

The ride out of Newton Abbott was easy and in no time at all we were riding through Bovey Tracey and we knew what lay ahead - a loooong uphill all the way past Becky Falls. The route then diverted up a steep lane that Devon County Council had thoughfully "surface dressed" in time for the Dartmoor Classic, meaning we were riding on thick, loose gravel. That was VERY unpleasant and bikes were wheel spinning all over. Some riders got off and walked. We also had to descent on that appalling surface, before turning right up Haytor.

Simon was riding fast and I had my work cut out to keep up with him. It wasn't all that long before we rode through Two Bridges, then Post Bridge and then up the long hill before Princetown. I had a grin on my face when we overtook the guy on the stupidly expensive Pinarello up that hill. He looked like he was already struggling!

We spent too long in the feed station at Princetown, and were glad to get going again. Simon shouted "My roads!" to me (he lives in the general area) and set off at speed. We raced down through Devil's Elbow and all too soon were turning right in Dousland, towards Horrabridge. Coming off the moor towards Dousland is a really good descent (I clocked 53mph down there on the day) and I was surprised by the number of riders who simply weren't taking full advantage of that descent, preferring instead to pootle along.

The climb out of Horabridge was OK and soon enough we descended into Tavistock, knowing there was a fair old climb out of the town. We veered off to Chillaton where there's another exhilirating descent into the village. Sadly, we encountered a MASSIVE tractor coming the other way and had to brake and swerve rather sharply to avoid ending up plastered all over the front of it. Not too long after, and a few climbs later, we dropped down into Lydford, where there was another watering station and control point.

Of course Lydford means Lydford Gorge, and that means another climb, but soon enough we were past it, through Brentor and Mary Tavy, riding south bound on the A386. Because we knew this part of the route, we knew what was coming up: Batteridge Hill, followed by Pork Hill, followed by Merrivale. Three big hills in a row. Normally Pork Hill and Merrivale feature in the Devon stage of the Tour of Britain, and with good reason, too.

Simon was worried that he might be on the verge of pulling a muscle, and said he was going to slow right down. That was a good decision, as a pulled muscle would've ended his ride there and then. He waved me on and I set off for Princetown, where I desperately needed to top up my water bottles. Batteridge Hill was OK, Pork Hill was bearable, but Merrivale just seemed to go on and on and on, and I was very glad to get back to Princetown.

Suitably topped up, I set off again and was happy to see that I was overtaking Medio riders by now. It's probably petty, but I distinctly remember thinking that I'm doing almost twice the distance they were, yet at a faster speed. There was another climb of toward the Warren House Inn, followed by climb very soon after.

By this stage, my feet felt like they were on fire, and my rear end was hurting, too. I had to try and find a balance that allowed me to either stand up on the pedals, or take the weight off my feet, while continuing cycling. Near the top of the climb the Yogi cycling club from Plymouth had set up and were dishing super-sized jelly beans out to all riders coming past.

Once over the brow, I was rewarded with a nice descent to Moretonhampstead. Now all along, to me Moretonhampstead respresented the end of the climbs, but that is certainly not the reality. Soon after leaving the town there was a big climb that went on and on and on. Within sight of the top I simply had to stop for a minute or two. This was the only time (other than at feed or water stations, or traffic lights) that I'd stopped. The descent on the other side was bliss, and while long, it felt like it was over in a flash. Annoyingly, I was caught behind two cars, who were caught behind a cyclist that was going really slowly. What a waste of a descent!

The final run back to Newton Abbott was mostly flat, along the Teign valley, though there were a few bumps here and there. I was seriously lagging by this stage, and just wanted the ride over. Before long, I rode through Newton Abbott and turned into the race course grounds with a grin on my face.

I'd done it! From the outset, when I entered the Dartmoor Classic, I had set getting a bronze medal in my age group as my target. On the day, I finished in 7 hours 48 minutes, 14 minutes too slow to get a silver medal, but comfortably fast enough for a bronze. Simon came in not all that long after me, also qualifying for a bronze, which was amazing considering he'd nearly pulled a muscle.
This meant that not only did the both of us complete the 107-mile Grande route, but we both got a medal. Not too shabby for your very first ever sportive!

I ate mostly home-made flapjacks, though I topped up my bottles with some sort of rocket fuel they had at the Princetown feedstation the first time I went past, and I also grabbed a few gels. I used two gels along the final Teign valley stretch as I could feel my energy levels dropping. If anything, I was carrying way too much food.

What was really nice is the support from complete strangers. In places, like the climb out of Brentor, there were people with spray bottles, who'd run alongside and spray riders with water, there were the girls who'd set up their own watering station in the middle of nowhere after Haytor, there were the Yogi's dishing out jelly beans, and the many, many people who cheered any and all riders on from the side of the road, all along the route. Honestly, you were all brilliant and you helped a lot!

See you all again when we do it again next year!

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Darkmoor 2014

Darkmoor is by its very nature unpredictable. It is a semi-organised bike ride over Dartmoor, through the night and there's NO registration. As a result, there is simply no way to know beforehand how many people will turn up.

When Simon and I started talking about setting up Darkmoor, we deliberately wanted to emulate the model followed by the Dunwich Dynamo and the Exmouth Exodus, both of which are light on organisation and have no registration process.

Originally, Darkmoor was simply going to be a ride of 52 miles from Okehampton to Plymouth. And then I realised I didn't have a reasonable and realistic way of getting to the start, other than cycling there. Besides, at only 52 miles, Darkmoor isn't exactly the longest ride ever.

As a result, I added the pre-ride, from Cap'n Jaspers on the Plymouth Barbican to the official start in Okehampton. I thought I'd set off at 17h00, as that would give even slow riders plenty of time to get to Okehampton before the official start at 23h55. Additionally, it meant riding up in daylight, so saving battery power.

On the 14th, I cycled the 15 miles from home to Cap'n Jaspers. Of course, as per Sod's Law, the swing bridge by the Barbican was closed for repairs and the Barbican Jazz Festival was in full swing, while there was also an international yacht race taking place. Predictably, the Barbican was PACKED. None of this featured in my planning!

I arrived early enough to have a coffee at Rockets & Rascals, where I met two Canadians who were cycle-touring the UK. I organised them a Plymouth cycle map from the friendly staff at Rockets & Rascals, and drew a line on the map, showing them the quickets way to the Torpoint ferry, as that's where they were heading.

Having made my way round to Cap'n Jaspers, I had another coffee as I stood around wondering if anybody else would turn up. As it happens, one other cyclist did turn up. He's called Dave and he was absolutely brilliant on the ride, as you'll find out.

My co-conspirator, Simon, was cycling down from north of Plymouth, but sadly due to family comitments he wasn't able to do the whole ride. We met him along the way and followed NCN 27 to Coypool Park and Ride, where another rider joined us.

Suddenly, Darkmoor was real! It wasn't just me and my crazy ideas anymore - here was a few total strangers, ready to do the ride. That felt good!

Simon, Dave Nr 2 & Dave Nr1 in the background
Simon rode with us as far as Yelverton, then had to turn back. By this stage it had just gone 6 pm, and it was painfully obvious to the three of us riding on that we were going to be WAY too early to Okehampton.

Tavistock disappointed by having nothing other than pubs open at 18h00, when we were hoping for a coffee and cake stop, so we continued on to Lydford. As Lydford was effectively the last place to stop before Okehampton, we went into the pub and had a leisurely beer each.

The Castle Inn in Lydford was very busy, and it took some time to get service, but despite this we were riding again all too soon. The one good thing is the new traffic-free cycle path between the old Bridestowe station and Bearslake viaduct. Before long we cycled over Meldon viaduct and into Okehampton, with some two and a half hours on our hands.

Quite surprisingly, a car pulled up shortly after we got there, and two more cyclists got out to join us, while yet another came walking up the hill with his bike. Suddenly there were six of us! I also knew two more cyclists were riding up from Plymouth, having had the good sense to set off much later. One of the cyclists was Plymouth city councillor Philippa Davey, who was the only woman on the ride.

Before long, those two riders joined us, followed by three more riders being dropped by different cars. Finally, another rider (named Alex) appeared, having cycled up from Plymouth in 1 hour and 40 minutes! And he didn't even have the common decency to *pretend* to be tired or out of breath!

We set off at 23h55 and the first bit of a climb out of Okehampton made it obvious that we'd never stay together as a group. Some riders zoomed up the hill, led by Luke on his 29" mountain bike with chunky tyres. He established that rather quickly as a model for the rest of the ride, and was way out in front the entire time, shaming all the roadies in the process.

Soon after Moretonhampstead we started encountering quite a number of cyclists going the other way. They were competitors in another event that was taking place at the same time - the Dartmoor Ghost audax (http://www.aukweb.net/events/detail/14-253/#more). Some shouted "You're going the wrong way" at us, presumably thinking we were part of their event.

We regrouped at major junctions, and before long we hit the climb after Moretonhampstead. This really spread the group out, with some riders zooming up the climb, while others were doing a steady-Eddy instead.

The rider I met at Cap'n Jaspers, Dave (Nr 1, because there were two Daves on the ride) from the outset was a great help to me, and often turned back to check on stragglers. We stopped regularly to wait for everyone else, and counted the riders past.
Some of the riders didn't seem to have spare tubes, or pumps, and I wasn't happy to just leave them to it. Once satisfied that the stragglers were OK, I set off trying to catch the leaders. After Postbridge I caught the riders in 2nd and 3rd place and some distance after I saw another rider up ahead. When I caught up with him I found it wasn't Luke on his MTB, as I had hoped, but rather a Dartmoor Ghost competitor (with race number 44 on his back). I never saw Luke again - he was that far ahead!

As I reached the junction just up from the Two Bridges hotel, I stopped again and counted riders as they were going past. Dave Nr 1 stopped with me, as did another rider, Tony, who was a bit concerned about his friend, Harry. Some of the riders told us that a Dartmoor Ghost rider crashed into a sheep lying on the road and was taken to hospital, but they weren't sure whether or not it actually was a Dartmoor Ghost cyclist, or one of the cyclists on our ride.

The three of us turned back and went looking for Harry. We found him, safe and well, quite some distance on the other side of Postbridge, where he was dealing with his second puncture. Tony gave him an inner tube and I contributed a CO2 cartridge, but before we even set off again the wheel was flat again. It turned out that he has a gash through the tyre. Dave Nr 1 did the old empty-gel-packet-inside-the-tyre trick, and gave him another inner tube, and soon after we were off again.

By now it was visibly getting lighter and Dartmoor was simply stunning.

One other rider, Mark, waited for us in Princetown and not long after we rolled into Yelverton. Tony convinced Harry to take the shorter route into Plymouth, via the Plym Valley cycle path, with Mark to accompany him. This was because we were all wondering how much longer Harry's tyre would last.

Dave Nr 1, Tony and I set off along the "official" route. By now I was starting a lag a bit, and again Dave showed what a great guy he was by waiting for me, but without making it obvious that he was waiting for me.

After the climb out of the valley where Imerys' china clay is, I knew I was starting to bonk, but I had nothing left to eat. Tony offered me a bag of raisins, which worked a treat and by the time we rode into Plympton I was feeling much better again.
All too soon we arrived at Cap'n Jaspers, who true to their word had opened up at 5am just for us. What nice people! They even had free coffee going, as a reward (they said) for being "nutters". Apparently that is coded Jasper-speak for "highly respected and much-valued customers".

I left Cap'n Jaspers at 06h00, with a choice of either 15 miles or 12 miles home, depending on my route choice. I figured (correctly) that at that time of day the normally unpleasant A379 would be quiet and as I was rather tired by then, I just rode up the A379.

The twelve people on the first ever Darkmoor ride are pioneers. Darkmoor will be an annual event, and these riders will forever be able to say they were there when it started. Thanks a bunch for coming along, and see you all next year!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Blah, blah, blah...

Politicians so love the sound of their own voices! Sometimes they drone on endlessly, hardly ever saying anything at all, and we, every single one of us, to some degree or the other are guilty of letting them get away with it.

Politicians have devolved into quite a different sub-species, often unable or unwilling to give straight answers and trying to please everybody.
Sadly there's a simple secret politicians seem unable to grasp - you CANNOT please everybody all the time. In fact, the most fair you can be is to aim to displease everybody equally. Politicians won't do that though, as their primary purpose in life appears to be self-preservation.

And that's the rub - how can we trust politicians who claim to have our best interests at heart when it's so clear they don't?

Experience has taught me that, with very few exceptions, politicians will tell you what they think you want to hear, as opposed to the simple and factual truth. Regularly they will also try to spin EVERYTHING to cast themselves in the best possible light, at times even at the expense of truth.

So how can we work with people like that when we campaign for better cycling infrastructure?

I'm a huge believer in the carrot and stick approach. The trouble is, using the carrot too often simply doesn't work. Politicians must be shown up, if they told lies those lies must be exposed as publicly as possible and politicians must be embarrassed as publicly as possible.

That would be the stick. Once the stick has been used, even once, politicians should start learning that a) we are prepared to use the stick and b) that it is to their benefit to work with us, and to allow us to work with them.

Personally I'm quite happy in most cases for politicians to grab credit, glory and publicity for anything positive to cycling, regardless of who did the real work. In fact, whenever possible, I'd be happy to engineer situations where it becomes easier for them to grab credit and bask in any publicity, while I remain in the shadows.

That would be the carrot. Once politicians realise we're not out to destroy them, and that we'll happily work alongside them (provided there is no political-party alliance and it is to our benefit to do so) they should soon realise that it really isn't in their own best interests to fight us.

We have to be realistic of course and accept that whatever we aim to achieve will somewhere be reduced to a spreadsheet and will somewhere need to fit into limited budgets. The greatest, most wonderfully practical ideas are of no use if funding cannot be found to turn them into reality.

That isn't to say we shouldn't try! In the 80's, Depeche Mode had a minor hit song entitled New Dress, and some of the lyrics go like this:
"You can't change the world
But you can change the facts
And when you change the facts
You change points of view
If you change points of view
You may change a vote
And when you change a vote
You may change the world"

While this may be slightly optimistic, there's more than a hint of truth in it. To most drivers (read voters) cyclists are an annoyance that slows down traffic. To their minds, this is a "fact".

We need a concerted effort to change that "fact" and to show the advantages to drivers of improving things for cyclists. By doing so, we can establish new "facts" in drivers' minds and if we can achieve that, politicians prepared to work with and support us will stand to benefit when elections come around.

By changing people's point of view, it may be possible to change budgetary priorities, making funding for cycling available even in austere times.

Somebody said that if you kept a lie simple enough and repeat it often enough, most people will believe it, and many politicians throughout the world have since employed that same strategy with great success.

We should use it it, too, except we will instead only be telling simple truths.

Erwin Rommel achieved runaway success during World War 2 by implementing the strategies thought up by the brilliant British Captain Lidell Hart. Those strategies above all else may be summed up as simply this: concentrate your forces in time and space.

In plain English, this means you apply all your resources at the same time, in the same place and as cycle campaigners we should follow this strategy.

There are MANY things wrong with cycling provision in the UK, but all we'll achieve by taking on all those issues at once will be to dilute our efforts to the point where we may as well not have bothered. No, instead we need to identify perhaps as many as five top priorities, then relentlessly target those.

If it was solely my decision, I'd make the top priority space for cyclists, focusing on unsafe overtakes. To my mind, this more than anything else can deliver immediate results and immediate improvements, without any budgetary constraints.

To effectively deliver this message, it needs to be kept simple and repeated ad nauseum by as many people as we could possibly get to repeat it.

Of course, human beings are naturally self-centred to at least some degree and people often won't buy into any message unless there's something in it for them.

Third world relief charities exploit this by showing pictures of sad, emaciated children, often followed up by images of happy, apparently well cared for children, with the implication being that you'd feel good about yourself if you helped bring about that change

Our challenge is to find a way to make drivers realise that there is a benefit to them in giving cyclists plenty of space when overtaking. This will not be easy and won't happen overnight. As the old saying goes, it takes time for a ship on the open sea to change course.

To achieve this, we need to make it clear to drivers that almost every adult cyclist on the road represents one less car and one less car equates to more road space for everybody else.

If we can achieve this one thing, then politicians won't see it as political suicide to strongly support cycling. If we can get drivers to want better infrastructure for cyclists, we'll empower politicians to stand up for cycling without triggering all their self-preservation circuits.

The most worthwhile fights never are easy and this fight, sadly to some of us, will literally be a life-or-death one. Are you with us?

Friday, 6 June 2014


I do a fair few miles per week, averaging around 160 miles, with most of those done on rural lanes. Now some lanes are quite good, but others are in shocking condition. All rural lanes are often debris-strewn, especially in winter. As a daily cycle commuter, cycling to work and back in winter, more often than not is done in darkness, and though I have a 1000 lumen light, it is still easy enough to miss a pothole or other obstacle, particularly if it's raining.

Because of all this, as you can imagine my bike takes quite a beating and my bike's wheels bear the brunt of that.

I've been riding a B'Twin Triban 3, which is a brilliant bike and an amazing bargain. I had problems with the stock rear wheel - after only about 1 000 miles the bearings were shot and I was sent a replacement wheel. This wheel lasted around 750 miles before the same thing started happening and I ended replacing the wheels with Mavic Aksiums.

The Aksiums were brilliant, although you have to keep on checking that you don't have spokes that worked themselves loose. Despite this need for regular tweaking, I was still impressed with the Aksiums. One downside to them is the lack of wear indication groove on the rim, and I wore the front rim through in about 9 months.

That is VERY quick to wear a rim out, and left me less than impressed. The end result was that I put the stock front wheel back on the bike.

I had a chain snap on the bike, and it wrapped itself around the rear derailleur, bending it into the spokes of the rear wheel and resulting in a rear wheel lock, with part of the derailleur being sheared right off.

After having replaced the chain and the derailleur, it wasn't long before the first spoke on the rear wheel snapped. This spoke was damaged by the sheared off derailleur and I immediately ran into an issue: nobody stocked Aksium spokes. These are bladed spokes and are very different to normal spokes. Normal spokes don't fit the Mavic hubs. This meant I had to use a different wheel, while I waited for the Mavic spokes I ordered to be delivered.

I took the rear wheel from my hybrid and fit it to the bike, then replaced the broken spoke when the packet of spokes arrived. After trueing the wheel again, I was good to go. The thing is, the Aksiums only use 20 spokes per wheel, so if one goes the wheel warps quickly.

A week or so later, another spoke broke on the rear wheel, this time not on the drive side. I had no spares, so removed one from the failed front wheel. The following few weeks saw a few more spokes snap, on both sides of the wheel. One spoke, after snapping near the hub, got caught in the chain and sheared out of the hub. This was some 15 miles from home, and I limped slowly home on a pringled rear wheel.

Of course, I had a new bike on order, but as per sod's law there was a delay at the factory, so I had to ensure I kept the Triban 3 going. When I looked at the rear rim, I realised that even if the damage caused by the spoke wasn't as bad, the rim was virtually worn through.
Getting a replacement rim is easily done, for 32-hole or 36-hole rims. For a 20-hole rim it's much more of a problem.

This wasn't a crisis, as I still had the rear wheel from my hybrid to fall back on. And yet, as I've always wanted to build a wheel from scratch, I started eyeing up the 32-hole rim that was part of the original stock wheel that had failed.

Looking for advice, I took to Twitter, asking what would happen if I laced a 20-spoke hub to a 32-hole rim. One reply was simply a single word: Hilarity

And that pretty much made up my mind: I simply HAD to build what I've come to call the Frankenwheel!

Now to build a wheel, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. For starters (though it seems obvious) you need to ensure the hub is EXACTLY in the centre of the wheel, else you'll have a very wonky wheel that would be better suited to a clown's use in the circus. Additional to that, as it's a rear wheel, it must be dished - that is the spokes on the drive side must be closer to the centre of the hub than what is the case on the other side. This is to allow space for the cassette. Also, the wheel must be true and free of kinks or wobbles. Finally, the wheel must be well balanced. This last one was the only bit that worried me, as there was simply no way to absolutely evenly distribute the spokes.

It REALLY helps to have a wheel truing stand when building a wheel, and I didn't have one. Some searching on Instructables.com, some scouring the shed for material to use, and some time later I was the proud owner of a crudely-made wooden wheel-truing stand, and the build began.

As I had a packet of new drive-side spokes, I replaced a few spokes with new ones and it really wasn't long before the wheel was taking shape. I was heavily focused on building it with the hub right at the centre that I lost track of the dishing. I ended up with a perfectly centred, totally true wheel that wouldn't fit the bike as I hadn't dished it. At all! D'oh!

Back into the stand it went and I got on with adjusting the spoke nipples. Now on a normal spoke, that really is simply a matter of turning the spoke key, but with Mavic bladed spokes you need pliers, or something similar, to hold the spoke and stop it from rotating. Still, before long I had a wheel that was centred, true AND dished. Was it balanced? Well, surprisingly so, though not completely.

I then fit the wheel onto the bike and yes, I started commuting on it. Additionally, I also went on a few club runs on Saturday mornings, and in no time at all I locked up around 700 miles on the Frankenwheel, without any issues whatsoever (except a puncture, which in this respect doesn't count).

I've since received my new bike, and I've been riding that exclusively, so I haven't put more miles on the Frankenwheel. I am planning on re-building it again, using a 20-hole rim, and it was never intended to be a long-term solution. Instead, it was something I did because I could, because it was a challenge and because sometimes I really do like to go against the advice I've been given.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Pervasive bigotry

Some mindless individual, R Henshaw of Liskeard, Cornwall, saw fit to write the following letter to the Evening Herald, Plymouth's local newspaper:

As ever, clicking the image will enlarge it on-screen, which should allow you to read it.
For the benefit of those who can't clearly read the picture, I copied the text of the letter below.

The printed version of the letter was in the paper published on the 14th of April 2014. Initially, there was no online version available, but early on the morning of the 15th, the Herald tweeted a link to the online version of the letter. Later on the same day they had pulled the online version again, though despite requests they have not disclosed why they did so.

"Cyclists should play by the same rules

When, and only when, cyclists are subjected to the same sanctions and penalties for breaking the law on the road, as other road users, should they be treated as equals.
  The minority who taint the remainder of responsible cyclists, must be made to realise that they do not own the road and that rules apply to them just as they do to the drivers of other vehicles.
  They should be liable to comparable fines for offences and costs for registration of their 'vehicles' the same as everyone else on the road.
  If there were any justice remaining in this once great country, all motorists would be allowed to eliminate rogue arrogant cyclists without penalty. Scores could be displayed on passenger doors (visible to cyclists) aka pilots in past wars. Seriously, until cyclists, good and bad, are subjected to the same rules and penalties regarding traffic lights, speeding, riding on pavements, vehicle lights etc, as other road users, no amount of official pontification will be of the slightest use.

R Henshaw

The bigotry and sheer arrogant ignorance of the letter writer is staggering, but the fact that the Herald chose to publish such drivel is even worse.

So, let's deconstruct these "arguments", shall we?

We'll start with R Henshaw's opening sentence. Basically, they gist of it that cyclists cannot be seen as equals unless subject to the same sanctions and penalties for law-breaking. Now, like most cyclists, I have no issue whatsoever with errant cyclists being fined, or taken to court, but to have the same standard for every road user means vastly unfair real-life implementations of the law would be required.

For example, let us look at the contentious matter of skipping red lights. There is this urban myth that ALL cyclists skip red lights, yet the cold research paints a different picture.
Research shows 1 in 6 drivers skip red lights. Yes, that is 16% of all drivers. Add to that the fact that drivers cannot always skip red lights, due to other vehicles in front of them stopping, and the real image starts emerging.
To get back to cyclists, according to Transport for London's own research, a certain percentage of cyclists also habitually skip red lights. Guess what percentage? Yep, 1 in six, or 16% of cyclists skip red lights, despite most cyclists having the ability to move to the front of the queue to skip the lights.

Or perhaps it is simply a case of 16% of PEOPLE skip red lights? Clearly the letter writer realises that a minority of cyclistsbreak the law, but they are unable to grasp that the same holds true for virtually any group. THAT is signature behaviour of a bigot, who tries to shape the world to fit their views, as opposed to making informed decisions based on reality.

Now given that the same percentage of cyclists and drivers skipping red lights, does that mean R Henshaw would accept cyclists as equals? No, I didn't think so either.

Of course, the full picture is vastly more complex. For starters, cyclists who do skip red lights tend to slow down, often stop, before proceeding, although there are of course exceptions. However, when drivers skip red lights they more often than not do so at speed. Speed, combined with mass, gives a far higher level of kinetic energy than what cyclists can achieve, and kinetic energy ultimately is what does the damage.

See, a cyclist weighing 75kg travelling at 18mph has 2.1 kj of energy, while a 1.7 tonne car at 35 mph has 208 kj of energy. That is an absolutely massive difference that can literally mean the difference between life or death.

R Henshaw clearly doesn't know the law very well at all, and expects cyclists to be subject to exactly the same penalties "regarding traffic lights, speeding, riding on pavements, vehicle lights etc." Except speed laws don't apply to cyclists. At all. Yep, that's right, cyclists (who are capable of doing so) can legally barrel along at 40mph in a 30mph zone, provided their manner of riding isn't dangerous.

This clearly makes a mockery of their claim that all rules should apply to cyclists as much as other vehicles.

But wait, then we get the call for registration of bicycles. Hmmm. Shall we begin by asking what the object of this exercise would be? Around the world, compulsory cyclist registration schemes have all suffered a fatal flaw: they simply cost too much for the tiny benefit they may offer. Nothing to see here, folks, just another empty thought from R Henshaw.

Then we get to the real core of what R Henshaw is about: saying drivers should be allowed to "eliminate rogue cyclists" without penalty, with a score count being kept on the vehicle, like WW2 pilots used to.

Let's pause a moment to think about this. R Henshaw is advocating that drivers be permitted to kill or maim total strangers, based purely on their irrational hatred of such strangers due to them having a different form of transport, while compounding the situation through total ignorance of the law on the part of such drivers.

What sick and twisted mind wants to do that to fellow human beings?

Would it then be OK for pedestrians to be issued with machine guns to shoot and kill drivers that misbehave? Because drivers DO misbehave. Between 2006 and 2011 there were 1011 pedestrians killed ON THE PAVEMENT by drivers. Where would this end? Who would want to live in a world like that? It'd be like living in a Judge Dredd comic!

This letter is a twisted and failed attempt to back up sick, bigoted views using solid arguments. The arguments put forward are hollow and don't stand up to scrutiny, though I fully expect the writer to be unable to understand that.

In an ideal world, people with an attitude like the one displayed by R Henshaw shouldn't be allowed to drive at all, as there is simply no way somebody like that can be a safe driver.

As for the Evening Herald publishing a letter that clearly incites violence, and possibly death to cyclists, I can only shake my head in disbelief. To be fair, the Herald was never going to be winning oodles of rewards for good investigative reporting, but this is simply despicable.
Clearly somebody at the Herald shares the views of R Henshaw, or somebody at the Herald appears to have been utterly unprofessional in allowing such hateful drivel to be printed.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

New Year

I've always viewed the start of a new year not as an event to be celebrated zealously, but rather as simply moving forward by another day. As a result, I don't make grandiose resolutions and I don't ponder the past year too much. That also explains why this post wasn't posted at the start of the new year.

Having said that, a calendar year is a nice (reasonably) precise usit of measure and indeed I use it as such. For example, at the start of 2013, I set myself a target of 4 500 miles. This wasn't an arbitrary target and actually wasn't as much a target as a prediction, based on my expected mileage commuting to and from work. At the end of 2012, I had moved house, and that meant a significantly longer commute, hence the prediction.
In the end, I cycled 5 052 miles in 2013 and that led me to set an actual target of 6 570 miles for 2014.

This sounds like a lot, but averages to just 18 miles per day. My commute used to be 12 miles each way, but I've since altered my route, opting for quiet and scenic rural lanes instead of the busy and very unpleasant A379. The upshot of that is that my commute is now 15 miles each way.
This breaks down to 30 miles per day, or150 miles per week, simply commuting.

As you can see, just by commuting I should hit my target. In addition, I ride for leisure and usually go riding on Saturday mornings with a group of riders local to the area I live in. Typically these Saturday morning rides are in the region of 30 to 50 miles.

This means that if I commuted for 40 weeks of the year, and went for a 30 mile ride for each of those weeks, I could be hitting 7 000 miles for the year, making my target of 6 570 seem rather tame. Then again, I could also cycle significantly fewer miles.

2014 will be the year in which I do my first cyclo-sportive, the Dartmoor Classic. Although officially not classified as a race, effectively it is a race. Entrants set off at different times, in batches of 100 or so, and cycle either the 107-mile or the 68-mile route criss-crossing Dartmoor, with final standings being determined by each individual's time. I've signed up for the 107 mile option.

I have a lot of training to do before then, as I have never ridden that distance in one go before, plus there are some rather sizable hills along the way. Haytor, Pork Hill and Merrivale are hills on the route that have all featured in previous Devon stages of the Tour of Britain, and for very good reason, too.

Also during 2014, and a week before the Dartmoor Classic, I'm doing something called Darkmoor. Darkmoor is a semi-organised ride, through the night, from Okehampton railway station to Plymouth's Barbican. It's only a 52 mile ride, but I'm extending it by cycling from Plymouth to Okehampton, via Tavistock and Lydford, adding another 38 miles.

2014 is the first year that Darkmoor is taking place, but I'm intending on making it an annual event. I'm rather hoping that the first event will be a success, but I suppose time will tell.

Also, 2014 will be my second year as a British Cycling Ride Leader. As a Ride Leader, we take groups of cyclists on organised rides (called SkyRide Local) - search for rides near where you live by going to www.goskyride.com.
Being a Ride Leader is very rewarding. You get to meet all kinds of people, from across almost all ages, and the rides themselves vary from a pootle in a park to 20 mile rides, and everything in between.

I'm very much looking forward to 2014's SkyRide Local rides starting again.

Once the Dartmoor Classic is over and done with, I look forward to doing less training and more riding. And yes, there is a difference. I'm looking forward to going on long rides, where I can simply stop and admire the view and not have to worry about any adverse affects on my Strava segment times, nor care about my average speed.

Competitive cycling is all well and good, and I am indeed looking forward to doing the Dartmoor Classic, but I took up cycling not to become a racer, but because I enjoy it.
And to me, that enjoyment is as much part of cycling now as it was when I started cycling again some six years ago.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Vicks Vapourhub

Last year I did a little over 5 500 miles of cycling, most of it with laden panniers on my bike. I ride a B'Twin Triban 3 road bike, which (although the frame offers anchor points for a rack) was never really designed for heavy-mileage, weight-laden commutes over often bumpy and poorly-kept country lanes.

In very wet months I seem to be wearing a set of brake pads out in around four weeks, which is also testament to how hilly my commute is. I tend to wear a chain and cassette out in around 2 000 miles, so must replace it several times per year.

Very recently, I replaced the chain and cassette with brand-new Shimano kit. When it comes to the drive train, I do believe in sticking with trusted brand names. This was in the second to last week of February 2014. On Monday, 24th of February, the chain snapped. Yes, the new chain.

I was on a roundabout at the time and for a moment or two things were a bit hair-raising. The chain wound itself around the cassette, and dragged the derailleur along, shearing the derailleur off and destroying it. The rear wheel locked as the derailleur and chain mess got in the way, and I was left unable to ride at all.

When I finally got the bike home (having phoned for a recue lift) I set about fixing it. As luck would have it, recently I purchased an older Shimano Sora derailleur, so I fit that on the bike to replace the destroyed Sora derailleur. I carefully inspeacted the chain, but couldn't see any defects other than the sheared off bits where it failed. After having removed those segments, I replaced them with the bits I took off when I fitted the new chain originally, to ensure the chain won't be too short.

With that out of the way, I tested the bike and it seemed fine, so I resumed cycle commuting the very next morning, without any trouble.

My trouble-free cycling came to a rude end on the last day of February - having cycled less than 50 metres from work on that Friday afternoon, a spoke snapped on the rear wheel, and the wheel immediately buckled noticably.

I limped along to Evans cycles, hoping that they'd have spokes in stock, as they're a larger national chain.

I have Mavic Aksium wheels on my bike, and they're brilliant. They also use bladed spokes of their own design, and Evans, I discovered, doesn't stock those, but instead must order them in. Except they couldn't, as they had no stock.

Over the weekend I located the right spokes and ordered it from JeJamesCycles.co.uk. But that didn't solve my immediate problem of being able to cycle.

When I upgraded the wheels on my bike, the rear wheel was failing, and I gave it to a friend of mine, Simon. He cleaned it up and rebuilt it, and immediately offered it back to me to tie me over. Of course I accepted his kind offer and by Sunday evening the wheel was on the bike and I was ready to roll.

Earlier this week, Simon asked me how the wheel was performing. Apparently, he was a little concerned. See, when he re-built it, he didn't have any grease available, so he used Vicks! Let's hope the wheel degongests the roads as I cycle along!I guess that redefines Vicks VapourHUB?