Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Exmouth Exodus 2016

The Exmouth Exodus was started as either an alternative or an addition to the Dunwich Dynamo, with the Dun being the original through-the-night bike ride.

I've only cycled the Exodus once before, back in 2014. In 2015 life got in the way, so I was determined to ride it again in 2016. Towards the end of May I crashed into a car that suddenly pulled out on me from a side road and I injured my back, as well as ended up with a partially torn calf muscle.

My back still hurts, though oddly enough the most comfortable it can be is when I'm cycling, when my back isn't hurting at all. Sitting upright, or even lying down results in it hurting, but at least I can ride.

My calf muscle is a different story: for starters, I cannot climb while out of the saddle, and that makes a huge difference. I pulled out of the 2016 Dartmoor Classic as I know I wouldn't be able to finish, let alone finish in a decent time, and overall my average speed has nosedived. Sadly, between cycling far less (in the first few weeks after the crash I drove to work, and I've yet to do a full week's cycle commuting) and cycling far slower, my fitness level has dropped too.

In view of this, I had some serious apprehensions about riding the Exodus. After all, 108 miles is a long old way, and I had no idea whether or not my calf would hold up. From the outset, the plan was to take it easy and aim for a social 12 mph average pace.

As I live close to Plymouth, I set my mind on driving to Exmouth, then leaving the car there. From Exmouth I'd cycle the 12 miles to Exeter to board a train for Bristol. Once in Bristol, I'd cycle the 16 miles to Bath.

In my plans all this would've happened under gorgeous clear blue skies as we've been enjoying until very shortly before the Exodus, but the reality was somewhat different: the forecast was grim, with rain and gusts of up to 50 mph.

I followed my plans and drove to Exmouth, arriving with time enough to eventually find parking and cycle to Exeter St David's train station. I got to the station early enough to have a coffee before my train arrived. On the Exmouth Exodus Facebook page another cyclist, from Exeter, asked if he could join me cycling from Bristol to Bath and I met Richard on the platform.

I had cycle and seat reservations and had a small run-in with an unsavoury character who was sat in my seat. I'd booked a window seat to be next to the electrical socket, and he took exception to me asking him to move. A few words were enough to quieten him down and soon enough the train arrived in Bristol.

Richard and I set off, with me navigating. Bearing in mind I've never cycled from Temple Meads station directly onto the Bristol-Bath railway path, we took a slightly circuitous route before getting onto the proper path, but from there it was easy-peasy.

I'd never cycled all the way to Bath, so I studied maps and Google Streetview to find the easiest route to Green Park Station (which hasn't been a train station for a long time) except again things didn't go according to plan: we were meant to follow the tow path, but at some point it was closed and we were forced onto the roads. Which I didn't know. After a few wrong turns we consulted Google Maps on Richard's phone, and soon enough got to the start. Early of course, but that genuinely was planned.

In the week or so before my appetite's taken a nosedive and all I had eaten all day was a bowl of Crunchy Nut (I was out of porridge!) and a packet of M&M's - this is NOT how to prepare for a ride like this! I bought a large bar of chocolate and shoved that in my backpack.

And then the next problem started: I use a Garmin Edge 500, which can do turn-by-turn navigation, but only if you prepared a route in TCX format beforehand, and saved that to the device. I'd added loads of points to the TCX file, telling me to turn left, right, etc. some distance before I got to a junction and felt I was well-prepared. Except my Garmin wouldn't load the file!

Dave Atkinson, from online cycling magazine road.cc, is the organiser or the Exmouth Exodus, and he very kindly allowed me the use of his computer to re-download the TCX and copy to my Garmin. This time it worked - phew!

Richard has gotten talking to two other cyclists, another Richard and Dan and at 21h15 we set off as a group, with  5th cyclist whose name I never caught riding along. Richard Nr 2 is a serious Audaxer, and as we were riding I learnt that he'd done Paris-Brest-Paris last year. He regaled us with many stories of his Audax adventures during the night.

Dan was more quiet - apparently he'd never cycled further than 30 miles before and I think he was a tad nervous. He's a very friendly fellow though and I don't think he once stopped smiling.

My calf muscle was holding up (though I was being careful and not once did I climb out of the saddle during the whole ride), the rain wasn't very heavy - though constant - and the wind wasn't much of a bother. Yes, it was far more windy than any of us would've wanted, but it was mostly a cross-wind, and nowhere near as strong as the forecast suggested.

The miles were flying by and after a while the rain eased, then stopped altogether. It would stop and start a few more times along the route, but the majority of the ride I'd say it wasn't raining. In Langport we stopped for a bit while Richard 2 adjusted his luggage rack, when a car full of young lads pulled up, asking if we indeed cycling to Exmouth. When we said we were, they asked why and were we doing it for charity. They really couldn't accept we were doing this for fun.

Before long we started the descent down Cheddar Gorge. It wasn't raining at all, but the road was very wet. The wind, however, was something else! The gorge was a huge wind tunnel and we were being battered by the wind. I was doing 20 mph down there and my bike was quite literally shaking under me from the wind. And the next minute Richard 2 came flying past me, going quite a bit faster than me! That man is fearless.

On a good day, in the dry and with daylight to guide you, lots of people can go much faster than 20 mph down Cheddar Gorge, but we did it at night, in viscous winds and on very wet roads. I already thought I was pushing limits and wasn't nearly as brave as Richard 2, so I let him go and only caught him up at the bottom. Dan's grin was even bigger than usual when we got to the bottom and he simply said "That was intense".
No time later we were in Cheddar Scout's Hall having coffee and cake. And a banana, in my case. Our 5th rider had decided to leave our group and continue at a more sedate pace, so our little group was reduced to four.

Leaving Cheddar and the Mendips behind, we knew crossing Somerset wouldn't involve all that much climbing, though of course there are still hills in Somerset. It wasn't very long before we approached the second stop for the night, at Fiveways village hall. Now the hall is a bit off the main road and as we were about to turn some lowlifes in a 4x4 drove by and shouted something along the lines of "Get a car" which caused much laughter amongst our group.

At Fiveways one of Richard 2's Audax club mates had a snapped gear cable, so Richard 2 helped him out, after having enjoyed  very delicious vegetable curry. I really must get the recipe! I also scoffed a fair few jelly beans, and soon enough we were on the road again.

The route goes very close to Taunton and we saw the town's lights dead ahead before turning further south once more. At this stage everyone knew what was ahead: Blagdon Hill. Now all truth be told, Blagdon's really not bad. At under two miles long and with a max gradient of 10% I can think of far worse hills.

Hill climbing is best done at your own pace, with the unspoken rule being you wait for everyone at the top, so when we hit Blagdon that's what I did. I didn't go hammering up the hill, as I was nursing my calf, and besides, my fitness isn't quite where it ought to be.
I could see the light of another cyclist just off to my left, and I thought that was Richard pacing me up the hill. When I got to the top I turned and told him we'll have to wait for Richard 2 and Dan, only to find it wasn't Richard at all, but some other cyclist.

A short while later we regrouped at the top and set off again, knowing it wasn't all that far to Luppit Common, where the last stop for the night was. Richard 2 said he wasn't stopping and we said our goodbyes as he cycled on while the rest of us stopped for a much appreciated hot drink.
Day was starting to dawn as we set off again and Dan's smile grew bigger still with realisation that the end was near. Not very long after we were rejoined by Richard 2, who said he was feeling weak and had stopped to eat first.

Reunited, our little group cycled on, heading for the last climb of the ride, Woodbury Common. And then I bonked. My poor diet had caught up with me, despite consuming seven gels during the ride, as well as some food at the stops. Richard wanted to stop too, as did Dan, but Richard 2 rode on, having agreed to meet his wife in Exmouth. I devoured almost an entire large slab of chocolate, as well as my last gel, a caffeine one. Just a few minutes later I felt either the gel or the chocolate kick in and I was ready to ride again.

By now it was daylight and we no longer needed lights and my Garmin kept us on track. Along a very narrow lane, with no houses anywhere nearby in sight and no cars parked anywhere close, we passed a solitary woman sitting on a gate, who cheered us on and said what we were all thinking: "Almost at the end!"

I'd prepared the TCX file my Garmin was using to navigate to tell me when we were halfway up Woodbury, and when we've reached the summit, then it was time for that lovely descent into Exmouth. At a roundabout, where I'd obviously failed to enter instructions into the TCX file I took a wrong turning, but Richard, who knows Exmouth, soon got us back on track.

In no time at all we were riding along the Esplanade, with stunning sea views to our right, and then we reached the Harbour View Cafe, where we found Richard 2 halfway through his breakfast already. His Bristol Audax Club co-member who he helped with the broken gear cable was there too - he was going to cycle back to Bristol!

After a good fry-up and a steaming mug of coffee, I bade them all goodbye, mounted my bike and cycled off to where I left the car some 136 miles ago.

There is some uncertainty about the future of the Exmouth Exodus, as the Harbour View Cafe is to be demolished as part of a big new development. Time will tell what will happen, but it certainly will be a very sad day if the Exmouth Exodus came to an end.

Being an optimist, I'm planning on the ride just having a slightly different end and I've already made up my mind to ride it again next year. See you there!





Monday, 4 July 2016

New bike!

Well, not brand new anymore - I've had it for a a number of weeks now, but I wanted to hold off for a while before expressing my opinion.
I am mostly a commuter. Yes, I ride for fun and enjoyment, and yes, I do the occasional sportive, but the vast majority of miles I do are commuter miles.

For the past several years I've been commuting on road bikes. My commute is 15 miles each way, unless I take the long way round, something I do whenever I get a reasonable chance to do so.

Around 8 of those miles are on rural roads, which vary from OK to rather iffy. Especially in winter, the rural lanes can be debris-strewn but even in summer they are bumpy, often full of muck and occasionally potholed. That simply means my road bike takes a beating and on average I find I wear through a set of rims in around 9 months.

My road bike came with 700cx23 tyres as standard and I upgraded to 700cx25, which are the biggest tyres it would take.

For a long time now I've been wanting a fast touring bike - a bike that can take full mudguards and a rear rack, with gearing that can cope with the Devon hills I face almost daily and with bigger tyres. I toyed with the idea of building such a bike myself.

And then someone on Twitter (actually a few people) suggested I look at a Genesis CdA 20. It is marketed as an "adventure" bike, though the reality is it's a CX bike with 700cx32 road tyres. The CdA has an aluminium frame that can take a rear rack and full mudguards. The forks are carbon, with an aluminium steerer tube, and quite surprisingly can take a front rack.
A Sora groupset means it's a 9-speed and further it has cable disk brakes for predictable braking even in the wet.

As you'd expect from a CX bike, it has a more relaxed geometry than an outright road bike and it is very, very comfortable to ride.

The CdA is a bit heavier than my road bike, and that weight difference would show on the hills. Despite this, it remains quite a fast bike. I've done almost 600 miles on it so far and I like it more now than what I did when I first got it.

The CdA is not perfect though: cable routing is strange and perhaps even untidy. Other that this, to have been almost my perfect bike, I'd have preferred a hub dynamo in the front wheel - a pity this isn't even an option.
I accept not everyone shares my idea of the perfect bike, but having a hub dynamo to me would be a great bonus, as it means I never need to worry about charging lights up. Considering that 6 months of the year I commute in darkness, this would be a big step forward.

In addition to dark winter commutes, I also organise something called Darkmoor - an annual through-the-night bike ride and I usually ride the Exmouth Exodus - a very smoothly organised through-the-night ride. Darkmoor is only 87 miles, while the Exodus is 108 miles. On rides like that you need to keep changing battery packs for your lights, and dynamo lights would be very welcome indeed.

I'm being unfair towards the CdA, of course, expecting far more than what I reasonably should. Besides, the cable routing really is no big deal at all, and of course nothing stops me from buying a hub dynamo and relacing the front wheel around that.

Overall I'm really happy with the CdA. It's a tough bike, ready to take whatever I can throw at it (within reason - it's not a downhill MTB!) and come back for more. In addition, it allows me to quickly and easily add racks and mudguards, allowing me to go touring with it.

The biggest litmus test for me of any product I buy is this: after having owned and used it for some time, given the choice, would I buy it again if I knew then what I know now. In the CdA's case, the answer is a simple and resounding "Yes!"


Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Darkmoor 2016 - at a crossroads

There are three big rides I look forward to all year: Darkmoor, the Dartmoor Classic and the Exmouth Exodus. The wily amongst you will have noticed that two of those are through-the-night rides, and I suppose that says a great deal about me, though what exactly it says I have no idea.

Darkmoor was different this year. Oh, the route is still exactly the same, as is the start end finish point (Cap'n Jaspers, on the Plymouth Barbican) but the feeling was different. Early on I got the impression that there wasn't a lot of buy-in this year. Sadly several of the regular riders pulled out too, all for different and entirely valid reasons. I would hate for anyone to feel obligated to ride Darkmoor!

Also, some four weeks earlier I crashed my bike at speed into a car that had pulled out into my path from a side road, and I'd injured my left shoulder, my back and my right calf muscle. Riding some 90 miles over Dartmoor whilst injured was never going to be the easiest thing I've ever done, but I figured I'll use Darkmoor as a test to see if I'd be able to ride the Dartmoor Classic. The thinking is that if my injuries caused problems on a slow, social ride, then they would cause havoc on a race-pace sportive with far more climbing.

When the day of Darkmoor arrived, I woke up just after 07h00. This was unplanned! The plan was to have as long a lie-in as I possible could, to offset the fact that I'd be cycling through the night, but for some unknown reason I was wide awake early, and couldn't go back to sleep.

Early evening my wife gave me a lift to the Barbican - yet another thing that was different, as usually I cycle there. I was early, as planned. There was a chilly breeze blowing, so once I ascertained that nobody else was waiting for Darkmoor to start, I went for a bike ride out to West Hoe and back, just to generate some body heat.

Once back at Cap'n Jaspers, I ordered a coffee and waited. Shortly after the first other rider showed up. He came down from Bristol and would be riding with a friend, David. David was one of the original twelve riders doing the very first Darkmoor, and he hasn't missed one since.

Other riders started trickling in, but the clock was ticking and it became obvious that attendance this year would be disappointingly low. By the time Simon (my friend and co-organiser of Darkmoor) arrived, we were only eight riders in total.

One rider said from the outset that he would be going slow, and that we shouldn't wait for him and it very soon became obvious that he was significantly slower than the rest of the group. We rode on and soon found ourselves on the Plym Valley path, which we followed all the way to Clearbrook where David and I each had a pint from the pub, the Skylark. While we were having our pint, Toby, the slower rider, came riding past and disappeared up the hill.

The leading three riders were setting a much faster pace and had already disappeared some time before and of the four at the Skylark, only David and I were foolish  sophisticated (yeah right!) enough to have a pint.

Anyway, we were soon on our way again, and while I was far from inebriated, I can't deny I felt the effects of that pint! I drink very little and consequently don't have much tolerance for alcohol.

By Horrabridge we passed Toby again. Simon and I were delayed along here for a short bit, which meant David and his friend had disappeared up ahead. Simon was unwell, and his adorable toddler at home has trouble sleeping through the night, so he and his wife are suffering from long-term sleep deprivation (a recognised method of torture!)

As a result, Simon was always going to turn around at Tavistock and head back home. Still, by the time he made it home he'd already done 44 miles, half of the overall distance of Darkmoor. We said our goodbyes as he turned back, and I continued on, realising that I'll be riding Darkmoor completely on my own this year. I'm not scared of the dark and often go on night rides on my own. I would say I genuinely enjoy night rides (hence organising Darkmoor) but Darkmoor to me is and will always be a social ride.

Still, I accepted that I'll be riding solo this year and continued on. As I turned the next corner in Tavistock, much to my surprise I found David and his mate waiting for me. They waited a minute or two longer while I paid a quick visit to some dark bushes to rid myself of some liquid weight and we set off again, up the big climb out of Tavistock.

That climb also forms part of the Dartmoor Classic route, which David and I are both entered into. Once the climb was behind us it was fairly flat (well, for Devon, which means still quite undulating) and soon enough we were descending into Lydford Gorge. There's a short, sharp little climb out of the gorge and with that out of the way we entered Lydford, where the pub was closed despite the lights still being on.

After Lydford we followed the gorgeous Granite Way to Okehampton. David told me he'd never cycled it in daylight, so we started making plans to remedy that, as part of a Devon Coast To Coast ride that Simon and I are planning.

As it did in years before, Okehampton offered the usual bunch of drunks stumbling about and staring gormlessly at us as we rode through the town. Almost every car was a taxi and as per usual, I was stunned by the Okehampton taxi drivers: without exception, they all gave us a wide overtake and zero aggression! Coming from Plymouth, where the average taxi driver seems to think it's fun to skim past cyclists with millimetres to spare, it is such a welcome relief when taxi drivers behave like decent people. Honestly, you have to experience it!

As ever, the next pit stop was at the 24-hour petrol station, where we had coffee and sandwiches. The year before I did Darkmoor powered only by Snickers bars, which proved to be a mistake, and I bonked* with Plymouth almost in sight. Last year I did it using only energy gels, which worked well, but sometimes you just want some proper solid food, hence the sandwiches.

At the petrol station we bumped into a Tesco HGV driver that was visibly shocked when in reply to his question we told him the rough outline of the ride. He offered to load us into his truck, with the bikes in the back, and I think he was only half-joking. Still, he was a very pleasant fellow and it's always good to build bridges with HGV drivers.

The road to Moretonhampstead was uneventful and on one of the climbs I even did something I'd avoided up this point: I climbed standing up out of the saddle. That was a mistake, and soon after my calf muscle started complaining. Annoyingly, we still had the steepest climb ahead of us.

David's mate was flagging a bit by this stage and we slowed the pace to accommodate him. I have to be honest here and point out that if we didn't slow the pace for him then I certainly would've had to slow the pace for myself as my calf caused me some suffering.

The big climb out of Moretonhampstead starts just as you pass the miniature pony centre, but we took it slow and steady and soon enough that was over. Those of you that know the route will know what follows is called the three steps - as the name suggests three noticeable climbs follow in succession but it wasn't long before we passed the Warren House Inn and started the descent towards Post Bridge.

Post Bridge flew by, as did Two Bridges and then we were climbing into Princetown. A nice descent into Devil's Elbow followed, but of course what goes down must go up when on Dartmoor. The climbs weren't too bad though and we briefly caught sight of flashing tail lights on the last climb on Dartmoor itself. That climb up Peak Hill was followed by the fast descent to Dousland. It was on that descent, during the 2014 Dartmoor Classic when I set my personal speed record by hitting 54mph.

Day was certainly dawning by this point but it was still quite dark and I'm chuffed that this time round I still hit 50mph down there, despite the poor light! Towards the bottom a soft drizzle started which would last all the way into Plymouth.

We passed through Yelverton again and were surprised to meet the leading three riders there. It was their tail lights we'd briefly seen flashing near the top of Peak Hill. We set off as a group of seven and breezed down the hill past the Skylark to hit the climb out from Meavy. Once at the top the day was getting brighter.

All that remained were the climbs from Cadover Bridge and past Lee Moor and pretty soon we rode into the eastern edge of Plymouth with silly grins on our faces. The route is flat from that point onwards and we made good time on almost completely empty roads.

Riding past the Thistle Park Tavern, we were subjected to bleary-eyed stares from drunken revellers who'd stepped outside for a smoke break as we rode past and minutes later we saw the welcome sight of a lit-up Cap'n Jaspers. Darkmoor was over for another year. Well, after some much-needed coffee and a bacon, egg and cheese bap it was all over.

Riders started saying their goodbyes and we all set off on our own directions. For me that meant mostly following the route of my daily cycle commute, except I kept to the main road out of the east of the city.

My calf muscle was complaining quite loudly at this stage and I was faced with a choice: take the longer route with the less evil climb, or the far more direct route with the brutal climb. In the end I just went for the shorter option and suffered up that category 4 climb.

When I finally made it home at 06h00, I changed out of sweaty kit, put on PJs and fell asleep, to only wake again at almost 14h00.

I've had some time to think about Darkmoor, and the future of Darkmoor. It's no secret that Darkmoor is modelled on the Exmouth Exodus, which in turn is modelled on the Dunwich Dynamo.

The whole idea of Darkmoor is that it in essence becomes "community owned". That it belongs to the people that ride it. I'd love to get it to the point where we can organise feed stops, like they do on the rather excellent Exmouth Exodus. That would require the number of riders to grow significantly though.

The first Darkmoor had 12 riders, which I was happy with. Up to that point it could just as easily have been just another of my mad ideas (though personally I blame my mate Simon for being a bad influence!) Once the other riders started showing up, Darkmoor was real, and I've met some really nice people as a bonus.

The second Darkmoor had around 28 riders - a huge increase! There were some familiar faces from the first year, and plenty of new faces.

Then there was Darkmoor 2016. We had a total of just 8 riders. Eight. Three quarters as many as the very first year. That was very disappointing.

I have no idea where things went wrong this year, or why attendance was so poor. Some regular riders guiltily explained why they couldn't ride it this year, thereby missing the point: nobody should have to ride Darkmoor and if we had sufficient numbers overall, having ten or twenty people pull out wouldn't matter. Nobody should ever feel guilty about not riding Darkmoor, even if their reason was simply because they just felt like pulling out.

Some people suggested reducing the length of Darkmoor. That simply is never going to happen! As it stands, Darkmoor is shorter than I'd ideally like - I'd prefer it to be at least 100 miles. Those that want to do a shorter version is welcome to start in Okehampton, reducing it to around 50-ish miles.

Clearly I'll have to get far better at marketing, and find ways of attracting riders from further afield. Darkmoor isn't and shouldn't be just a Plymouth ride, despite starting and ending in Plymouth any more than the Exmouth Exodus should be just a Bath ride.

I don't expect the around 2 500 riders that the Dunwich Dynamo attracts (we can only dream!) and I'd be perfectly happy with a few hundred. Except this year we had eight.

So the question is, where to go from here? Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing again and again but expecting different results all the time. While I'll never claim to be completely sane (a little insanity is a good thing, in my opinion) I'm certainly not stupid enough to not realise that things have to change.

I talked this over with Ross, one of the riders who did Darkmoor this year, as well as last year and he came up with one great suggestion: changing the month that Darkmoor is in.

The original method of picking the date was simple: It had to be in June, to get maximum daylight as that impacts on how long battery packs powering people's lights last. It had to be on the Saturday nearest the full moon and it had to NOT clash with the Dartmoor Classic (purely selfish reasons, as I ride the Dartmoor Classic and don't want to miss out).

Sadly there are two other events that appear to follow the same criteria: the St Luke's Midnight Cycle, which is a mini sportive and the Dartmoor Ghost, which is an Audax event. The past three years all three events took place on the same night, despite efforts to try and avoid a date clash with St Luke's.

The easiest way to avoid a date clash is to move Darkmoor to July. There'd still be plenty of daylight and no other night rides in the general are that I'm aware of.

Marketing will have to change, too, though I'm adamant that Darkmoor will never need a dedicated PR department. If that's what it takes to keep the ride going then I'd rather stop organising it.

And that's the other option. There will be a Darkmoor 2017, but what happens beyond that will depend on how many riders we get. Ending Darkmoor altogether remains an option, albeit one I'd prefer to avoid.

Any ideas you can share will be much appreciated!



Friday, 17 June 2016

But there's a lovely new bridge for cyclists there, so why do you ride on the road?

The city of Plymouth is hemmed in by two rivers - to the west is the Tamar, which also forms the border with neighbouring Cornwall, while to the east is the Plym, which gave the city its name.

Rivers are great, but they sure mess with transport links and the main bridges over the Plym is Laira Bridge to the south and an unnamed bridge on Plymouth Road a bit further north. Laira Bridge is the primary link for whole swathes of Plymouth, such as Oreston, Plymstock and Elburton, and it's also used by commuters travelling into the city from the South Hams.

As Laira Bridge is only two lanes in each direction, it is a significant bottleneck especially during rush hour. Even a relatively minor collision can rapidly cause large tailbacks of traffic to form. 

To make matters worse, a new housing development is nearing completion just to the east of Laira Bridge, while the new town of Sherford being built on the eastern edge of Plymouth will add even more cars into the mix.

I cross Laira Bridge most days while cycling to or from work. When cycling in, I tend to go on the shared south pavement of Billacombe Road before continuing along the shared south pavement of Laira Bridge itself. This is purely as it is usually quicker than filtering through traffic with cars changing lanes all the time.

When I cycle home however, I ride on the road. Most of the time traffic is slow along here and I am forced to slow down as a result, but often I reach the speed limit along this stretch of road to the roundabout at Morrison's.

Now parallel to Laira Bridge is an old railway bridge that has recently been revamped as a shared path for pedestrians and cyclists. The revamp was well done, or rather as well as shared paths can be. It is important to point out at this stage that shared paths are bodges that introduce designed-in conflict. Guidance to cyclists state we shouldn't exceed 15mph along shared paths and that we should instead ride on the road if we wanted to go faster.

I was recently asked why I cycle on the road over Laira Bridge, and why I don't use the old railway bridge.

There are several reasons:

1) The rail bridge is a shared path, and as pointed out above, cyclists aren't supposed to exceed 15mph on shared paths. By contrast, I often do 30mph, which is the speed limit, on the road.

2) To use the rail bridge, I have to exit the traffic stream I was riding in to take a ramp up onto a shared pavement. I then have to slow down, turn sharply left, weave through stupid chicane barriers before stopping at a completely blind t-junction. IF clear to proceed, I will then have to turn right to ride over the bridge. On the far side, I have to double back along a ramp before trying to join the road on The Ride. Once on The Ride, I have to wait at the traffic lights (that often don't detect cyclists!) before turning left onto Billacombe Road, where I *have* to ride on the road as the north pavement isn't shared.

All that, instead of the 20 seconds to ride straight over Laira Bridge on the road, while NOT yielding priority.
The Google Maps image below shows it clearly: why would you choose to take the yellow route instead of the blue route? It simply doesn't make any sense to do so.



Drivers very often think cyclists are selfish for not using infrastructure provided for them, usually describing such infrastructure as "perfectly good".

And yet, if I presented drivers with a route alteration that will take them off course, force them to stop and start several times, negotiate obstacles deliberately placed in their way before rejoining the road they'd left and had surrendered priority to, they'd ask me if I was mad.

Here's the thing - stopping and starting in a car requires far less effort than on a bicycle, so cyclists quite naturally want to preserve motion. This means NOT turning off unless that is needed to get where we're going, and it certainly means NOT surrendering priority only to be forced to wait for ages later on to rejoin traffic.

Bicycle infrastructure in the UK however is mostly absolute rubbish and mostly based on the Sustrans model of shared paths. Such paths are based on the concept that cycling is a leisure activity only done occasionally, and never at speeds exceeding 5mph, by people who'd rather cycle through deep muddy puddles than share a road with cars.

As a result, the vast majority of cycling infrastructure is utter crap. If roads were built to the same standards, driver would be up in arms all the time, but cyclists are expected to be grateful for the crumbs thrown our way.

There is a HUGE latent demand for cycling throughout the UK and Plymouth is no different. During big Sky Ride events, on closed roads, people came cycling in their thousands.

All relevant research about reasons why people don't cycle more tells us exactly the same thing: fear of traffic. And yet cycling is the only reasonable way cities across the UK, and indeed the world, can solve their growing traffic and pollution crises.

But to do so, we need to change the quality of cycling infrastructure that we deliver. For starters, shared paths are a definite no, as are pavements "converted" for shared use. Decent cycling infrastructure is segregated from other traffic, is continuous, doesn't desert you when you need it most, doesn't treat you like a second-class citizen by forcing you to yield priority all the time and allows you (as far as possible) to maintain momentum.

The rail bridge over the Plym does none of these things and while it's the ultimate fantasy of those who think cyclists only ever pootle along at 5mph, for commuters at present it is simply a bridge to nowhere.

Npw the city of Plymouth received funding to extend the route further, avoiding having to double-back down the ramp onto The Ride. When that's completed, depending on how well it was done, I might change my mind. Until then, I'll ride on the road over Laira Bridge and I can find no logical argument at all for me to stop doing so.

The take-away from all this is simple: if you build decent infrastructure, then cyclists will use it. If you build rubbish, they won't.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

It all started innocently enough...

On Twitter, Inspector David George (@MPSHillingWest) tweeted the following message:
"Goodness me!! Just driven into work and within 6 miles I counted 17 cyclists jumping reds. Targeted operation required !! Cyclist watch out"

Now on the surface, that tweet seems perfectly fine. After all, this is a police officer, whose job it is to enforce the law, commenting on a number of people who were seen by him to have flagrant disregard for the law. Nothing wrong with that, now is there?

Well, that depends on your point of view. See, in an ideal world, where police had all the resources they could possible want, and some spare, where they can apply increased resources in a specific area without anything else suffering, and where all law-breaking is pursued with equal vigour there would indeed be nothing wrong with the Inspector's tweet.

Except we don't live in that ideal world. We live in the real world, where government cuts have decimated police forces across the country, leaving them unable to respond to burglaries and more. In this real world, roads are becoming increasingly lawless, and police appear to be doing less and less to effectively police roads.

As a direct result, quite predictably cyclist killed or seriously injured (KSI) statistics have been steadily rising. Equally worrying is the commonly held belief amongst most cyclists that there is no point reporting anything to police, as the police aren't interested. Sadly, that belief formed from the collective experiences of many cyclists.

Now let's go back to the good Inspector George, shall we? During ALL of 2016 up to when he tweeted about cyclists he tweeted not a single instance of bad driving, though he will have observed thousands of examples of very poor and dangerous driving. Despite the fact that drivers kill a great many more people than cyclists, the Inspector isn't concerned enough about the speeding, tailgating, driving while using a handheld phone, red light skipping and other forms of dangerous driving we all witness on a daily basis to tweet about it, much less to threaten "targeted action" against such scofflaw drivers.

That is called being biased. It is a simple and clearcut case of bias. Remember, the issue is NOT targeting cyclists who jump red lights. The issue is ONLY targeting cyclists who jump red lights, while ignoring far bigger and more common dangers on the road.

Now as I said, we don't live in an ideal world, and we have to accept from the outset that in some way or the other we are all biased. That's OK, to a degree. It is NOT OK when you command police resources, and your bias allows you to take those resources and target them at the road users causing the least harm, while ignoring those that do most harm even more.

Sadly, the Inspector seems utterly unable to grasp just how biased he is. Worse - he appears totally unwilling to even consider the fact that he might indeed be biased. This is a man we're supposed to rely on to help keep our roads safe!

It is little wonder then that cyclists generally have such little faith in the police. Remember, this is a senior officer whose opinions and attitudes will filter down to the police officers serving under him, leading to increased lack of support for cyclists from police and in that actively making the roads more dangerous for cyclists.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Wiggle - best avoided

I do roughly around 7 000 miles per year on my bike, with my main bike up to very recently having been a B'Twin Triban 500. My commute's 15 miles each way, unless I have time and take the long way, which I do from time to time. Sometimes I take the shortest route, in which case my commute drops to 12 miles.

Of those 15 miles, around 8 are on rough rural lanes, and the remainder on urban roads in Plymouth. As anyone who rides rural lanes would know, tyres do take a beating. Usually I'd ride on Bontrager Hard Case RaceLite tyres. They're tough, with decent puncture-resistance, but can struggle to grip in the wet.

With this in mind, I researched alternative tyres. Puncture-resistance is critical to me, and given that a tyre only lasts me around 2 000 to 3 000 miles (or far less, if I'm very unlucky, which sometimes happens), I also didn't want to spend a fortune.

I do almost all the maintenance on all my bikes, with the exception of replacing the bottom bracket on my Triban 500, as I don't have the tools to replace hollow-tech bottom brackets. I do replace square-taper BB's on my other bikes.
I also hand-built the wheels on my Triban 500. Given the mileage I do, and the average lifespan of a tyre on my bike, it becomes obvious that I fit new tyres several times per year, per wheel, and it's been a very long time since I thought there was anything tricky to fitting a tyre properly.
I'm no pro-tour bike mechanic, but I like to think I know how to fit a tyre correctly!

I'd done my research and decided to try a Continental Grand Prix 4000S II as all the reviews I've seen were great. Wiggle had the lowest price, so I ordered one online, and it soon arrived.

Fitting the tyre presented no issues at all, and soon it was inflated correctly and the wheel was back on the bike. Now once I put a wheel back on the bike, I always first spin it by hand to ensure it's free-spinning, while at the same time checking that the wheel is still true. I expect most people do the same. When I do this, with the wheel on the bike, I find the easiest way is to check the gap between the rim and the brake pads. Obviously if I found any issues, I'd rectify it there and then, but in this case I found no problems at all.

The following work day I cycled to work, same as usual, except that I took the shorter 12-mile route. The bike was fine, brakes worked and there were no odd noises, nor the trademark drag you get if a tyre was rubbing against the frame.

I was just over a mile from work when the rear wheel (the new Continental tyre) suddenly blew. Although I was doing around 25mph, very fortunately I was on a flat section of road (very rare on my commute!) and it was also dead straight.

Obviously you don't go from 25mph to 0mph instantly, and I rode for a short bit on a completely flat rear wheel before I managed to stop and get off the bike. The sound of the blow-out meant it wasn't a simple puncture and I started examining the tyre, to find that it had torn on the sidewall, quite close to the rim. I knew I couldn't repair that by the road side and walked my bike the last mile to work. And yes, I was wheeling the bike on the flat wheel.

I contacted Wiggle soon after and they said that subject to an examination they'd refund me, so some time later I posted the tyre to them.

When I next heard back from Wiggle, they said they would NOT refund me as they felt the tyre was incorrectly fitted! They claimed the tyre was rubbing, and that caused it to fail.

I know that tyre was properly fitted and not rubbing anywhere at all. Indeed it would be impossible for the part of the tyre that failed to touch the frame, even if the wheel was badly warped (which it wasn't!). When I pointed this out to Wiggle, they suggested the rubbing may have been caused by a mudguard. They didn't respond to me having pointed out that my bike doesn't have mudguards.

I hadn't adjusted the brakes before, or after fitting the failed tyre, nor have I adjusted them since fitting another Bontrager tyre afterwards. This simply means the brakes didn't touch the tyre at all and so wasn't responsible for any failure.

And STILL Wiggle blamed me and refuse to exchange the failed tyre!

My advice to you is simple: avoid doing business with Wiggle. A company that won't refund a defective product doesn't deserve your custom!


Tuesday, 24 May 2016

T-shirts

OK, this is a shameless plug for the t-shirts I've started selling. Top-quality t-shirts with direct-digital printing, all at very good prices. More designs being added soon.

So what are you waiting for? Go have a look: https://shop.spreadshirt.co.uk/willcycle

And while you're at it, please tell all your family, friends and neighbours as well as your postman, milkman, window cleaner and more?

Monday, 25 April 2016

B'Twin Triban 500

My first ever road bike was a B'Twin Triban 3, the red model, and I was very impressed by it. So much so, that little over a year later, when I got another bike, I ordered the Triban 500, again from Decathlon.

Now you may ask yourself why, if the Triban 3 impressed me that much, I went for a different bike, and that would be a fair question. The answer is quite simple: effectively I didn't go for a different bike - I got the same bike, but with upgraded components.

Allow me to explain: The Triban 3 that I still have, and the Triban 500 have exactly the same aluminium frame and carbon forks. By the time I got the Triban 500, Decathlon had discontinued the Triban 3. In it's place was the Triban 300, which had steel forks along the same aluminium frame. The gear shifters were of a lower spec too than the original Triban 3, while the Triban 500 had upgraded components, from gear shifters to crankset, brakes and derailleurs.

It was a no-brainer, really.

Both the Triban 3 and Triban 500 has Shimano shifters, but the Triban 3's shifters are 2300's, with the little thumb lever, while the Triban 500 has Sora shifters, with the paddle behind the brake lever.
The Triban 500 also has Sora brakes and crankset. Finally, the colour scheme is completely different.

Aside from these differences, it is essentially exactly the same bike, and sadly suffers from the same flaw: the stock B'Twin wheels really are only good for stopping the sharper bits of the bike making marks on Dacthlon's nice showroom floors.

I cannot stress enough how poor the stock B'Twin wheels are. Expect the bearings on the rear wheel to go after between 700 to 1000 miles, with the front wheel typically lasting to around 2 500 miles. The only guarantee that you'll get with those wheels is that they will have bearings that fail.

Once you have better wheels on the bike, it really is superb value for money. The carbon fork helps ease out annoying road buzz that aluminium frames sometimes suffer and I've never seen any reason to change the stock saddle. Bear in mind that I average around 7 000 miles per year - that's a long time on a bike saddle.

Like the Triban 3, the Triban 500 can take a rack and also mudguards, making it more of a commuter than a racer. Having said that, I've done the Dartmoor Classic on mine and it was faster up the hills than a fair few expensive carbon bikes.

It has a position that's a balance between a race position and a long-distance touring position and I've always found it a very comfortable bike to ride, with responsive handling.

Are there better bikes out there? Oh undoubtedly! There are far better bikes than the Triban 500. Are there better bikes out there in the same price range? The Triban 500 sold for well under £500 and you'd need to spend £1 000 or more to start equalling it. That just means, in my opinion, you simply won't get better value for money.

Gotchas: Don't confuse the Triban 500 with the Triban 500SE. The SE model uses Microshift shifters and other cheaper components. Also, Decathlon has updated it's range again and the current Triban 500 being sold has steel forks and Microshift shifters. I'm not saying it's a bad bike, but it certainly isn't in the same category as the one I got.
To get nearer to the one I got, you'd need to go for the Triban 540.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

The Hill

Gasp. Pant. Feel the burn. Feel the burn.

Hills. Many cyclists hate them, and I'll admit I never used to like them.

I don't know if ever there was an exact moment when things changed, but I do now know is that they did change for me. That change was subtle, but massive. I used to choose cycling routes that avoided hills. Now I live in Devon, and down here it's very hard to find a bit of road that is NOT hilly, so as you can imagine, my strategy of avoiding hills soon got watered down to picking the smallest hills I could get away with instead.

When I got back into cycling it was as an adult, with three young kids. My eldest two were old enough to be fed with cycling up and down the street where we lived at the time, and wanted to go explore further afield. That meant I needed a bicycle to go cycling with them and the bike I got was a rather cheap and nasty (not to mention bloody heavy!) full-suspension "mountain bike".

I loved it!

Of course, cycling slowly along with two young kids isn't exactly challenging, and soon I found myself wanting to go out cycling on my own to do some man cycling. One day I cycled with them to Plym Bridge, which was a good 8 miles. They were getting tired, so I motivated them with a promise of an ice-cream at MacDonald's (it's along the way home) and phoned my wife to meet us there. While we were waiting I had a chance to rest too and once the kids and their bikes were loaded into the car, I was free to do some man cycling!

I knew there was a cycle route from the MacDonald's, through Marsh Mills and to Saltram House in Plymouth, but didn't know the route and figured I had a great opportunity to go and explore. If you're familiar with the area, you'd know there's a narrow bridge over the main railway line, which is shared with pedestrians. Once over the bridge, the path is flat for a short while, before heading on to the Saltram Estate.

I was stuck behind a group of cyclists even slower than my kids and it was a great relief when I was finally able to pass them (by going off-road, as I was on a manly "mountain bike", you see). With what I must've imagined were powerful pedalstrokes I went zooming* past them, doing some proper man cycling.
*Zooming past, as in going slightly quicker than a group of older cyclists more focused on sight-seeing than speed. I wouldn't be surprised if they could've left me for dust, had they had the inclination to do so.

In my mind's eye I was invincible as I positively flew down the track. And then, as I went around the curve in the track, I was faced with Everest! In front of me was this huge, no, blinking ENORMOUS mountain!

My fragile male ego dictated that I simply COULD. NOT. STOP. I considered several possibilities: I could fake a puncture (but they'd immediately see my tyres were fully inflated), I could feign injury ("Help! Call an ambulance! I think I'm having a heart attack!" But no, that would ruin my manly cycling image). In the end I meekly accepted that the ONLY way to save face was to cycle up that bloody great big mountain, and somehow I managed to do so.

Once I reached the top, it was still an ENORMOUS 3 miles or so to get home and while I had no more Everests to conquer, there was at least several Alpine peaks I had to ride up. When I finally made it home, I was broken!

Again, if you're familiar with the general area, you'd know that there is NO enormous mountain along that path, but there IS a small hill to cycle up. It isn't very high, and it isn't steep, but that day to me it was Everest!

Gradually I cycled more regularly, cycled further, and yes, I even started cycling faster. In fact, within six months or so I've made so much progress with my cycling that I could admit to myself that what I'd previously thought was athletic, manly cycling really was just the obviously feeble attempts of an unfit, overweight, middle-aged smoker (because I used to smoke in those days) to fool himself.

But, and this is important, those feeble, wheezy cycling efforts were still miles ahead of anyone still sat on the couch. They really were modest beginnings, but they were beginnings.

Not much later I decided to start cycling to work, a distance of just over four miles each way. Work, however, was situated on top of a sizeable hill. Ask anyone who's ever cycled up Weston Mill Hill and if they're honest they'll say it certainly isn't the smallest hill in Plymouth. I nearly died on that hill that morning and had to do the walk of shame from around the halfway mark. When I finally did make it to my desk I was too knackered to do any work for at least an hour! That was NOT the glorious introduction to the glamorous world of cycle commuting I had hoped for.

Still, I kept at it, and s-l-o-w-l-y I got better at it. Mountains became hills, and hills became manageable. I finally wore out my cheapie "mountain bike" and progressed to a hybrid with 700c x 35 tyres. I got panniers to fit the rack of my bike and kept increasing the mileage I was doing. It was during this time that I started looking for hills, ensuring every ride I went on incorporated at least one good hill.

Now I'm no pro-cyclist, and of course there are many amateur cyclists faster than me. Yes, even on hills. Overall though, I discovered I'm faster than quite a few others on the hills and that just made me hunt for more hills.
Slowly, ever so slowly, my whole outlook changed and I started loving the hills.

Today I have a cycling motto that's also become my life philosophy: The hill is not IN the way - the hill IS the way.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Police Focus

Police perform an extremely valuable and often dangerous job. I have long been of the opinion that without police, civilised society as know it would incredibly quickly descend into total chaos. That's quite bit more responsibility than simply ensuring end users can send email, which just happens to be one of my many responsibilities at my job. Equally, police officers often are sworn at, threatened, assaulted at work, and get to deal with some of society's most depraved members on a very regular basis. If *you* had to do that, it would be only natural, necessary and even healthy for you to develop mechanisms to help you cope mentally with such threats. Bluntly put, to at least some degree, you will become jaded and almost detached from the suffering you get to witness repeatedly. Perhaps the greatest testiment to how tough a job I consider policing to be is that I wouldn't want any of my kids to join the police.

I am an outspoken critic of roads policing, where I believe much needs to change, but I remain overall very supportive of police. If you are one of those "All police are pigs" types, we won't get on well. At all.

Historically, roads policing has always been seen as a bolt-on to police work, as opposed to something that is central and core. Everything I've seen so far leads me to believe police themselves view roads policing as not their most important priority.

Of course anybody can make wild assertions, but backing them up with facts is a different thing altogether. In this case, I will back up my views with facts obtained from Devon and Cornwall Police themselves, via a few Freedom of Information requests.

Specifically, I wanted to contrast the focus on murder investigations as a core police function with roads policing, often viewed as an unfortunate bolt-on.

I asked D&C Police for the total number of deaths classified as either murder or manslaughter during 2014, and I asked them for the total number of traffic deaths during the same year. Additionally, I asked them for the total number of officers available to murder or manslaughter investigations, as well as the total number of officers assigned to traffic policing.

The answers I received weren't clear at all, with D&C Police saying the number of officers assigned to a murder/manslaughter investigation varies greatly, even during an investigation, and that it would therefore take far too much time to provide a clear figure. This was a fair point, and one that I hadn't considered when I submitted the FoI request, so I revised my request to ask only for the number of officers permanently assigned to such investigations.

Here are the results:

Total number of deaths categorised as murder or manslaughter during 2014: 10
Total number of road deaths in 2014: 56

Total number of officers permanently assigned to murder/manslaughter investigations: 59
Total number of officers assigned to roads policing: 177

On the surface this is actually looking pretty good for roads policing, isn't it? But let's dig a bit deeper, shall we?

For starters, the number of officers assigned to murders and manslaughters can be far higher than 56, once we factor in SOC officers, additional constables drafted into an investigation on a temporary basis, trained search officers and even occasionally police divers. However, since we cannot put a number of those, we'll work with the numbers we've been given.

Basic maths tells us that on average there are 5.6 officers permanently assigned to each murder/manslaughter case. Of course, in the real world that number would vary with the complexities of each case, but for our purposes the average value would suffice.

Basic maths also tells us that on average there are only 3 officers assigned to each road death. Once we accept that the murder/manslaughter cases always have additional officers assigned, while traffic police also double as armed response officers (and are therefore not dedicated to roads policing, and not always available for such duties) it becomes quite obvious that Devon and Cornwall police dedicate more than double the resources to murder and manslaughter cases than what they do to traffic policing.

Now let's step this up a bit: Devon and Cornwall are mostly rural, and population density overall is low. However, Devon alone has more miles of road than all of Belgium. There is research that suggests a strong link between violent crime and population density and certainly D&C Police's own figures seem to support this: of the six murders in the force's area during 2014, at least four were in urban areas. Equally, of the four manslaughter cases, all were in urban areas. That means out of the ten deaths, eight were in urban areas, one was on a farm, while the last was at a quarry.

This simply means, statistically speaking at least, that you're rather unlikely to be murdered anywhere in Devon or Cornwall, and far less so outside of cities and towns.

On the roads, however, it is a completely different picture, and road deaths are distributed all over, with rural roads featuring higher than urban roads. This means that D&C Police chooses to deploy fewer resources to a cause of death that kills many more, despite the fact that policing the roads is more difficult.

It is plain to see where that strategy is leading: carnage on the roads, with ineffective or often non-existent policing. It is clear as day that we need a big increase in resources dedicated to roads policing and that roads policing really should become the primary focus of the force's area. After all, of everything the police deal with, NOTHING causes more deaths than traffic violence.

Even more scary is the fact that we all need to use the roads. It is not like we have a choice. Sure, we can travel by train, but that isn't door-to-door, and to get from home to the train station and back we still need to use roads.

With murder or manslaughter investigations, police tend to make a difference after the fact. With traffic policing however, police have the opportunity to make a massive difference to prevent deaths due to traffic violence, but for that to happen, the force needs to shift its focus and accept traffic policing as absolute core to what it does.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

A tale of hope

On the eatern edge of Plymouth a new town is being built. It's called Sherford, and eventually it will contain 7 000 new houses, a few schools, shops and more. Naturally this will generate a rather large volume of new traffic and various bits of road around the area are being upgraded or changed.

This includes the junction of Stanborough Road and Haye Road with Elburton Road, where the roundabout is being removed and being replaced with a traffic-light controlled junction.

When work started, the cycle lanes on Elberton Road were suspended, and the despised "Cyclist dismount" signs were put up. This happened despite the DfT's guidelines clearly stating that those signs should NOT be used where motor vehicles are still allowed through (excepting motorways, of course).

Elburton Road is a 40mph road, and that junction is on a hill top, meaning regardless from which side you approach it (excepting Stanborough Road) you'll be cycling uphill. You will then be faced with the stupid suggestion of dismounting and walking your bike through the roadworks, or taking your life in your own hands by trying to merge with a 40mph traffic stream consisting of drivers who get aggressive at being held up because they saw the "Cyclist dismount" signs.

That was predictably a stupid situation and the mind boggles at why supposed educated people couldn't foresee the trouble that would cause.

I objected loudly to that situation, and various other cyclists joined in. And then Plymouth Cycling Campaign waded in, too.

Now the work on Sherford is being jointly coordinated between South HAms District Council and Plymouth City Council, and sadly (though unsurprisingly) the response from Plymouth City Council (PCC) was, well, pretty much non-existent.
Given that the road works were taking place inside the city of Plymouth, you'd have thought that PCC's cycling offiver, who sits in on Plymouth Cycling Campaign (PCyC) meetings and has had heavy involvement with the Sherford project would've foreseen this issue, and have acted sooner to avoid it. You'd be wrong if you thought that. His silence was deafening.

A sub-group within PCyC sent a strongly-worded email to the contact at South Hams District Council (SHDC), asking if they should request the Health and Safety Executive for input, and the response from SHDC was quick: they arranged for PCyC to meet the project manager on-site the next day.

Within days, the "Cyclists dismount" signs were removed. In their place, new signs appeared, saying "Do not overtake cyclists" and "Allow cyclists to merge". Additionally, the speed limit was dropped to 30mph through the roadworks.

The contractor doing the work also does a great deal of other work in and around Plymouth. We can only hope that they've finally seen the light with regards to keeping cyclists safer through roadworks, and with just a bit of luck the changes implemented here they'll start doinmg as standard elsewhere. Time will tell, but there definitely is hope.

As for Plymouth City Council? Well, we're STILL waiting for them to respond.

Friday, 13 November 2015

CPS Campaign

There is an old joke saying that if you wanted to kill someone and get away with it, run them over with your car.
Sadly, that joke pretty much reflects the reality in the UK and what is painfully obvious to see is that the UK's justice system is failing cyclists. Badly.

Drivers who kill typically walk away from court free, if they even go to court at all.

CTC was so concerned about this that they started their Road Justice campaign, lobbying for stiffer penalties and better prosecution. That certainly is a step in the right direction, although it's anyone's guess as to how effective that campaign would be. Ultimately, it is a political campaign, and while campaigning on that level is essential, it can be a very long time indeed before it starts yielding any benefits. If it ever does.

There is room, and great need, for a more direct approach - for a campaign that targets the Crown Prosecution Service directly. CPS, like most government departments, had their budgets slashed to breaking point. They are overworked and under-resourced and so it is little wonder that they have such an appallingly poor record of successful prosecutions of drivers, that result in meaningful sentences.

Cycle campaigners often completely lose sight of the fact that most people don't have their level of understanding. If you walk up to a complete stranger and start telling them you were "taking the lane" or "riding in primary" they wouldn't have a clue what you're on about. If you explained that it meant you were riding in the middle of the lane, chances are they'd think you were a selfish idiot for having done so. And crucially, if you speak to enough complete strangers that feel that way, sooner or later one of them will be a prosecutor and that prosecutor would also think you were a selfish idiot.

Cycle campaigning has been reasonably successful in teaching cyclists how to ride on the roads, but has failed miserably at explaining the same to drivers.

And that then becomes our first major stumbling block: the prosecutor in court, who is supposed to deliver damning evidence to court about the indisputable guilt of the driver in question often a) doesn't believe in that guilt, b) doesn't know how to effectively destroy the arguments put forward by the defense (blinded by the sun, anyone?) and c) doesn't have a clear strategy, backed up by evidence, to help justice be done.

That is a massive failing within CPS, but oddly enough it also represents the single biggest opportunity for change.

Clearly what is needed is to create a dangerous-driver-prosecution pack that contains the strategies, the facts, references to case law, references to relevant legislation, perhaps links to the latest research (for example about the effectiveness of helmets and hi-viz) and tested arguments to destroy the often feeble defenses that drivers use to walk away free from court.

Make no mistake - this is a monumental task that will never quite be complete, but will instead always be a work in progress. This task requires expert legal input, expert medical input, access to expert witnesses, maybe an online portal containing reference material, senior support from within CPS, cross-party political support and of course funding.

In a worst-case scenario, even if we could only compile a bound volume covering main points and have this distributed to CPS offices it could potentially already help a great deal.

I'm no legal expert, so I cannot realistically make suggestions about the exact format of such a volume, save to say it should be fairly simple, so an tired, over-worked prosecutor can scan-read it in the taxi to court, which appears to be when many of them first get the opportunity to read any details of the case they're taking to court.

There is some astoundingly good news: Martin Porter QC, who has given evidence before the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cycling, has said he supports the idea, and his legal input would be absolutely invaluable. Crucially, Mr Porter is a highly educated and highly respected individual, which changes things immensely. After all, I'm just a guy who rides a bike, and as such nobody will pay me much attention.

Nevertheless, it would be unfair and impractical to expect Mr Porter to do everything and so it remains essential to get as many other legal people involved as we can. If any such people hold senior positions within CPS, then so much the better. We will also need medical experts to come forward, specifically to provide evidence to counter the frankly absurd levels of protection defense lawyers seem to attach to polystyrene cycle helmets, as well as give other evidence, such as the likelihood of injured cyclists dying from pelvic injuries.
Such evidence could take the form of statements that are easily copied and submitted as evidence to courts.

People with a deeper understanding of courts, and a good insight into sentencing guidelines will need to compile the strong arguments that the tired, over-worked prosecutor can deliver in court and over time, as defense teams change tactics to adjust, these will need to be reviewed and amended as required.

The entire project will require publicity, so any friendly journo's wishing to jump in would be most welcome. Again there is good news, with John Stevenson of Road CC being very supportive of the project, too.

And this is where YOU come in: can YOU help with this project? Can you donate time, knowledge, support or resources? Can you arrange cheap (or free) printing of the finished product? Any and all help will be much appreciated.

Please understand though that not all offers of help may be needed at any given point in time and please don't feel offended if at at point your kind offer isn't taken up. This project will be quite challenging to manage if it was done in-house, by a single organisation. Working with a distributed bunch of volunteers it could at times be extremely difficult.

As a starting point, I eblieve we will need to establish a core commitee to co-ordinate things, just to get it off the ground. The member ship of this comittee will need to be reviewed in a few months, at which point hopefully we can give a more formal and more permanent structure to the project.

So, are you in? Will you help? And if so, how can you help? In the complete absence of any other structure at this moment, please post a comment. Later, as the project gains momentum, I'll update this to point to a more appropriate means of communication.

Monday, 13 July 2015

New wheel

As regular followers will know, I ride a B'Twin Triban 500 road bike. B'Twin is the house brand of French chain Decathlon and while it's a cheap bike, overall I'm very happy with it. Besides, it seems to climb hills better than a few hideously expensive carbon-framed bikes I've encountered out on the road. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Say no more.

Now while I rate B'Twin bikes (I also own a Triban 3 road bike, though that's in need of some serious TLC) at least on their road bikes the stock B'Twin wheels are rubbish. In fact, the bikes are probably only fitted with B'Twin wheels to stop the chainrings digging into the showroom floor. Seriously, the B'Twin wheels *are* that bad!

With both the Triban 3 and the Triban 500 I ran into exactly the same issue - after around 1000 miles, the rear wheel bearings pack up and the wheel needs to be replaced. The front wheels tend to last longer, perhaps 3000 miles, but it is still only a matter of time before they too fail, again with the bearings packing up.
I've had a deal on Mavic Aksium rims and while the Aksiums are nice wheels, with super-smooth, sealed bearings, the Mavic rims are soft as butter. To me, that simply means the rim will wear out completely in 6 to 9 months. By contrast, the rear rim on my old hybrid has given many years of faithful service, often over offroad terrain, while carrying laden panniers. Now to be fair, my hybrid has wider, heavier rims, but what I'm referring to here is the brake surface on the rims. That's where the Aksium rims wear through in a hurry.

Some time ago I bought a new Shimano Claris rear hub and rebuilt the rear wheel around that, re-using the B'Twin rim and spokes. That was the 1st proper wheel I'd built. I didn't have any wheel-building tools - other than a spoke tool - and made a crude wooden wheel-trueing stand. I chose a Claris hub because Claris is Shimano's entry-level road bike range and it was cheap. The idea was that if I messed the wheel up badly then it wouldn't have been a very expensive lesson. Since then I've done around 2000 miles on that wheel and it's still true.

I've mostly been riding on the Mavic wheels, but recently I had the rear rim failed on me. Usually I'd expect the front rim to go first, though close examination showed it wasn't far from failing either.

As a result, I ditched the Aksium wheels. On the rear I fit the rebuilt Claris-hub wheel, while a stock B'Twin wheel went on the front. The bearings on that wasn't good, but I still managed to finish the Dartmoor Classic on it, and gain a silver medal in the Grande. During the Dartmoor Classic the bearings started making a fair bit of noise though!

Confident that I can build a front wheel (rear wheels are harder, as they are "dished") I ordered a new rim and hub. The rim is an aluminium deep-section (3cm) semi-aero Rigida rim and the hub is a Shimano Tiagra. Though the rim is far from the lightest on the market, they have a well-established reputation for being strong and besides, I felt the semi-aero design will offset a marginal weight gain. Both rim and hub are 32-hole.

Now I'm no wheelbuilding world expert. I don't claim any secret knowledge and I openly acknowledge that I have lots to learn. When ordering the hub and rim, I deliberately didn't order any spokes, figuring I'd simply re-use the B'Twin spokes and nipples. Except there was a problem...

As the Rigida rim is far deeper than the B'Twin rim, the space between it and the hub is smaller, meaning shorter spokes are needed. I started lacing the wheel, using the traditional 3-cross pattern and had done one side of the wheel before I realised I'd never be able to tension the spokes enough. They were simply too long! A schoolboy error, really, but there you go.

The next course of action seemed obvious: buy new spokes of the right, shorter length. While looking online for spokes (I didn't have a clue at this stage what length spokes I'd need) I found a number of wheel-building sites and some of them had photos of non-standard ways of lacing wheels. This reminded me of something I'd once seen on the absolute best web site in the world, ever, Instructables.com - a wheel laced so the spokes made a flower pattern. Some Google-fu later and I was looking at the relevant 'Ible and decided that I wanted a wheel laced like that. Even better, when deliberately setting out to build a wheel like that, you will need longer spokes! Clearly the fact that I only had longer spokes was a sign. This was destiny knocking on the door loud and clearly, and who am I to go against destiny?

The process of lacing a flower wheel starts off by 1st lacing it as a 3-cross. Once both sides of the wheel are done, the fun* starts. From the hub flange, follow 2 spokes that cross each other - one with the spoke head on the inside of the flange and the other with the spoke head on the outside. Unscrew the nipples holding them to the rim, then swap holes, twisting the spokes around each other as you fit them. When done, move on to the next pair, until you've done both sides.
*Fun = slow going with many muttered curses.

Once done with that step, you will need to start crossing over one spoke from a pair of crossed spokes with the nearest spoke from the next pair of crossed spokes, and keep doing so until you've worked your way around both sides of the wheel. When done, your wheel should resemble this:

Of course, all you've done so far is get each spoke wrapped around other spokes in the right way, and secured it with a nipple in the correct rim hole. You still have to true the rim and ensure that the wheel isn't egg-shaped. This is where my crude, wooden trueing stand comes into play. With the wheel secured in the stand, able to spin freely, I started the task of trueing the wheel and adjusting each nipple so the hub was at the absolute centre of the rim.

Trueing a wheel is relatively straight-forward, usually, but this lacing pattern adds some *interest* to the whole process, making it far more tricky. Once the wheel is true, the spokes still need to be properly tensioned, so a fair old bit of work remains. I had to be careful, making small adjustments as I went along, so the wheel remained true while I was increasing spoke tension. As the spoke tension started increasing, the curvature of the spokes started easing out. When you increase the tension on one spoke, it automatically increases the tension on the spoke it's twisted with, several rim holes over. Finally after some time, the wheel ended up looking like this:

From what I've read (no, I've never built a wheel laced like this before) I knew it was very likely to go out of true during the first few miles and that I may have to tweak it 2 or perhaps even 3 times.

This is due to the spokes settling down. I was also prepared for some noise from the wheel, as the spokes initially twanged and shifted against each other.

As I'd moved the tyre and inner tube over from my old front wheel, I didn't have a spare wheel to ride on. This simply meant the new wheel was tested in anger, so to speak, during my shorter-route 12-mile commute to work. At the start of the first hill the noises started, especially when I was climbing out of the saddle, but as the miles went by the wheel became more silent. After around 6 miles, it started rubbing against the brakes, so I knew it had warped somewhat. I stopped and inspected everything and was happy to proceed, after having adjusted the brakes a smidgeon, just so they don't rub against the rim anymore, then set off again.

The rest of my commute was fine, with only a very occasional noise from the front wheel.

What I had noticed was that my free-wheeling speeds were higher. Down Chittleburn hill on the previous front wheel I'd usually go up to around 28mph, but coming down the hill I went up to 32mph. This rather large difference I put down to the old wheel's bearings being shot. I'll have to test the long-term stability of the wheel, of course, but I expect my commute alone will be a good enough test. I typically take the shorter 12-mile route to work and the slightly longer 15-mile route home. Both routes include some iffy road surfaces and a fair amount of climbing.

I'll update this post over time and report on the wheel's stability.

Update:
I have so far done 420 miles on the new front wheel, and had to true it 5 times. Currently it's holding steady and I don't expect it to warp from here on. I've also built a matching rear wheel, which is on the bike now. I'll do a separate post for that.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Dartmoor Classic 2015

I cycled the Dartmoor Classic for the second time this year, having entered it in 2014 with my friend Simon as the first ever sportive either of us had done. This year Simon didn't enter due to a jealousy-inducing French cycling trip that almost overlaps the Classic and involves riding up bloody big mountains, so I planned to ride on my own.

Around a month before the event, one of the guys from the cycle club I often go riding with, Ian, said he's doing the Dartmoor Classic too, and conveniently (like me) he was entered into the full 107-mile ride. Ian then suggested that we ride together, which is clearly a good idea.

See, what most people don't realise is that cycling is a team sport, but absolutely unique in that even some of your competitors can temporarily be part of an imprompto "team" you find yourself a member of. When riding in a group, all members of the group get to go faster than what they can when riding on their own, and especially when cycling into a headwind this makes a massive difference. Cyclists

will bunch together, often with only a 6 inch gap between the rear wheel of the leading rider and the front wheel of the rider following behind. This creates a major aerodynamic advantage for the following cyclist, who doesn't have to use quite as much energy as a result, and that in turn simply means they can keep going for longer, and at higher speeds.

Last year I had my sights set on gaining a bronze medal in the 107-mile event, and Simon and I both succeeded in that goal. My official time was 7:48, meaning I'd missed a silver by 14 minutes. While it would've been great to have gotten a silver, last year I simply didn't have the fitness required to go any faster, and I was totally worn out towards the end.

For 2015, I set my sights on winning a silver medal. I'd been putting in the miles, and I knew I'd gotten faster. Now I've never followed any actual training plan, and like last year my training consisted of mainly cycle-commuting with a backpack, with the fairly regular Saturday morning rides thrown into the mix. Some of these rides were of reasonable length, though none came close to the distance of the Dartmoor Classic.

What was different for 2015 is that I'd started pushing myself harder. Especially when cycle-commuting, it becomes so easy to get stuck in a rut, riding the same route at the same pace, day after day. I use Strava to log all my rides, even little ones, and could see my average speed slowly improving. Where once I was chuffed at averaging 14mph to work, or back home, now I was disappointed if my average speed wasn't at least 15mph. This focus on average speed was a good thing, I believe.

I'd also changed the cassette on my bike's rear wheel. The stock cassette was a 12-25, and I replaced that with an 11-28. The difference was huge! My bike has triple chainrings, and I was used to changing to the granny ring to haul myself up big hills, but found with the 11-28 I could ride up those same hills while staying in the middle ring. After a while, I started pushing myself more, and managed to cycle all the way home while staying in the big ring. Given how hilly my commute is, I'm proud of that, even though I was actually slower when I only rode in the big ring.

My co-conspirator for the 2015 Dartmoor Classic is a fast rider, certainly faster than me and I knew I'd have my work cut out for me trying to keep up with him! Ian also has a FAR better bike than mine. You know some tosser who thought he'd won 7 Tour de France races once wrote a book called "It's not about the bike"? Well, he wasn't quite right - the bike can make a big difference!

I ride a B'Twin Triban 500. It's essentially a supermarket bike from a French company called Decathlon. For its price it offer impressive value, but there's simply no escaping the fact that it's a cheap bike, and the stock wheels it came with are really only good enough for rolling it out of the shop. I'd replaced the stock wheels with Mavic Aksiums. These are entry-level "faster" wheels, and I quite like them. They have very low rolling resistance, and I became used to freewheeling faster than most other riders on downhills. They suffer from two major flaws though: there is NO groove to indicate rim wear at all, and the alloy the rims are made from is about as durable as butter in a heat wave.

Four days before the Dartmoor Classic the rear rim gave out. I'd worn it through and it simply flared open, causing me to have a rear-wheel blow-out at around 20mph. Fortunately, this was on a flat, straight road. The fastest I'd ever gone on a bicycle was during the 2014 Dartmoor Classic, where I clocked 53mph coming down Peak Hill. I shudder to think what would happen if I suffered a blow-out down that hill, at that sort of speed!

Careful examination showed the front rim was close to suffering the same fate as the rear one, and I decided to remove the Mavic wheels from the bike. Now the stock B'Twin wheels only last around 1000 miles before the bearings go on the rear hub, and perhaps 1500 miles before the same happens on the front hub. I'd replaced the rear hub with a Shimano Claris hub, which isn't exactly top of the range, but it meant I had a solid, if slightly heavy rear wheel to use. Sadly, on the front I was stuck with the stock B'Twin hub, and the bearings on that had started to give up. Still, it was the only front wheel I had, so it simply had to do the job, even if it wasn't as free-spinning as I'd have liked. I simply didn't have the budget to go and splash out on new wheels.

On the Saturday I drove us up to Newton Abbott to register, and on the Sunday morning Ian drove us up for the start of the ride. Riders were setting off from 6am, but Ian and I both felt that was too early for us, and we arrived in time to set off at 7am. The skies were cloudy and there was a slight chill in the air - a marked difference from 2014, when it was a scorcher. Ian parked at the rugby club and we cycled to the start where we were pretty much the last 2 cyclists to joing a batch of riders about to set off.

Our strategy was simple: find other riders going at about the pace we wanted to ride at, and stick with them. Right from the start we fell in with a group wearing Royal British Legion jerseys, but as soon as the hills started after Bovey Tracey, their speed nosedived and we left them behind as we rode on. Before long we hit the first of the serious climbs where this year there was a Strava King/Queen of the Mountains segment (my time was 6 minutes 43 seconds, way slower than the KOM time of 4 minutes 4 seconds!). Soon after that we crested Haytor, but I'd forgotten how steep the next climb was.

Holne Chase had some riders walking their bikes, while many more were slowly wobbling their way up the hill, making the task of getting past them more tricky than it should've been. Many people say the worst of the Dartmoor Classic climbs are within the first 30 miles. Those who say that obviously haven't done the Grande route, but after Holne Ian and I knew there were no major climbs for a while.

There was an almost direct headwind that made progress slower than I'd have liked, and harder work than anyone liked. Still before long we started the climb to Princetown. Things were going pretty smoothly, until Ian's chain came off. Still, that was a momentary annoyance, instead of an actual problem, and soon enough we rode into Princetown. Of course, the feed station is set up in Princetown and the timing scanners were at the feed station. Ian had earlier suggested that we don't actually stop, but just ride on through, and I'd agreed with that. You can so easily lose lots of valuable minutes in the feed station, as I discovered last year. To the Medio riders, Princetown is the turning point, after which they start heading back, but Grande riders will visit it again a second time.

Because it was quite a mild day, I still had one full water bottle. Before setting off I'd squirted an energey gel into each water bottle, and I swallowed down two more gels while cycling to Princetown.

Last year I'd baked flapjacks to power me through the day (I make rather yummy flapjacks!) but this year I ran out of time and simply bought flapjacks from a supermarket.
That was a BIG mistake! The flapjacks were disgusting, stodgy, tasteless and hard to eat while cycling and trying to breathe enough oxygen to keep going. I'd go as far as to say I'd sampled better-tasting cardboard in my life.

Leaving Princetown I had only two gels left, both with added caffeine, and really I was saving those to get me though the last 25 miles, which includes a nasty climb. I was feeling fine though, and happy to not stop at the feed station.

We were still fighting the headwind and coming down Peak Hill the best I could manage was 45mph, far slower than last year's personal record of 53mph. Soon enough we turned towards Horrabridge, with a sharp climb just as you leave the village. A steady uphill had us slowly gain elevation until we turned to Tavistock where the descent was all too brief. The climb out of Tavistock I know well - it also features on the Darkmoor ride that I organise - but I wouldn't classify it as particularly brutal. Despite this, some riders were miserable and complaining as we passed them on this hill.

Ian, for some obscure reason, was lagging a bit along here. This is most unusual for him and typically, if he wanted to, he could leave me for dust. Still it wasn't too long before we descended into Chillaton. I was really glad, as that meant the water stop at Lydford wasn't too far away and by this point in time both my bottles were empty. When we finally rode into Lydford I was pleased, then shocked to discover there was no water point. I'd foolishly expected it to be in the same place as last year. Hoping that the water point would be in North Brentor, we rode on and was soon out of Lydford Gorge.

I was *really* glad to see the water point was indeed in North Brentor. Both Ian and I filled our bottles and set off again as soon as we could. There's a sharp little climb after leaving North Brentor, but then things level off before descending to Mary Tavy, where the route takes the A386 for a while. Ian had recovered and was speeding along this section and soon after we hit the turning for Peter Tavy, then headed up Batteridge Hill. Now Batteridge Hill isn't overly steep, nor particularly long, but it is narrow and congests very easily. As we were riding up it, along a slightly wider section we were overtaken by a Tesco delivery van. Soon afterwards, the van stopped, faced with no less than 5 cars coming down the hills.

All the cyclists had to dismount and we found that by walking our bikes on their rear wheels ahead of us we were able to just squeeze past. Several riders continued walking their bikes after having cleared the congestion, but most cycled on to the junction with the main road, where we turned left towards first Pork Hill, followed immediately after by Merrivale.

I followed Ian's lead and drank enough water, then dumped the remainder as we started up Pork Hill. Again I was glad for my granny ring that allowed me to spin up towards the top, and I actually set a Strava personal record for going up the hill. Pork Hill is steeper than Merrivale (in places) but at just under 2 miles it isn't a very long climb. Merrivale always seems to go on forever, with many false summits along the way. Fortunately I was prepared for that, but I could tell several of the riders we passed were deeply disappointed to discover the "top" they'd reached was just another false summit.

With a climb like that the best thing is simply try and get into a rhythm, keep that going and not over-cook it while still quite low, and that's pretty much exactly what we did. Soon enough we turned into Princetown again and this time we did stop at the feed station as I needed gels, and both of us needed to refill our water bottles again. I had one gel there and then.
There also was powdered additives for our water bottles, turning the contents into some type of rocket fuel (or so I hoped as I scooped it into my bottles) and within a few minutes we were done and back on the bikes.

From this point onwards we were starting to pass Medio riders, who were doing the shorter 67-mile route and same as last year I found it to be morale-boosting when we overtook them. Not long after we were past Two Bridges and zoomed through Postbridge, with not that many big climbs ahead. By the time we finished the climb to the Warren House I could see that we were going way too slow for me to get a gold medal. Still, my target was a silver, so I was happy with our pace and I knew that barring a mechanical or similar event, we were both on track for a silver medal.

There's a final climb before a lovely, fast descent into Moretonhampstead, but I remembered quite well from last year what still lay ahead: Doccombe. The climb at Doccombe is pretty steep in places,
going up to 14% and it drags on. We passed quite a number of riders walking their bikes up there. I was lagging at this stage, despite having had several gels, including a caffeine one, but Ian zoomed up the hill as if it was flat.
After some time we crested the top and started the brilliant, speedy descent. Our descent was only marred towards the bottom when we were caught behind a car that in turn was caught behind two Medio riders who were wasting a good descent by going slowly. Once the driver found a safe gap to overtake, we could overtake them too and I had to pedal like fury to try and keep up with Ian.

We encountered two other riders going at a similar pace, and the four of us formed a chaingang that was eating up the miles. Despite the benefit of being in a chaingang, I could feel myself struggling and even small inclines were tough. When I took my turn at the front it was really hard going, but before long we entered Newton Abbott.

Ian was slightly ahead of me when I got caught by a set of traffic lights, but in truth I wouldn't have been able to close the gap between us even if I tried, so I was glad for the enforced break while waiting for the lights to change again. A minute or two later I turned into the Newton Abott racecourse and my Dartmoor Classic was over for 2015.

My final time was 7:06, which meant I comfortably qualified for a silver medal and missed a gold by 21 minutes. It was a 42 minute improvement on the time I took in 2014, when I rode the Classic for the first time, and I'm well happy with my achievement.
My crappy B'Twin front wheel's bearings had been making a noise for almost half the route, which partly explains why I found it so hard to keep with Ian on descents, with him tucked and freewheeling and me pedaling like crazy and I'm convinced that wheel added many minutes to my overall time.

Still, I'd comfortably achieved what I set out to achieve and I'm happy with that.

Next year I want a gold medal and I'm under no delusions about how much I need to improve to achieve that. I will need to follow an actual training plan, as opposed to simply cycle-commuting and going on Saturday moning club rides. That means I will need to use a heart rate monitor, which in turn means I simply have to get something like a Garmin Edge 500. Additionally, I'll make absolutely sure I have half-decent wheels on the bike! Light wheels make a huge difference on climbs, and having smooth-rolling bearings makes a huge difference everywhere.

One thing I learnt about the Classic is an oddity about the medal times. Basically, Medio medals are far easier to get than Grande medals, which is really strange if you think about it. This year I averaged dead-on 15mph over the 107 miles, which got me a silver medal in my age group. However, if I was riding the Medio instead, averaging 14.88mph or faster would've landed me a gold. So Grande riders not only have to ride an extra 40 miles, with several big climbs thrown in, but they also have to average a faster speed. I'm unsure whether this is a good thing or not a good thing. Perhaps the best strategy is to not think about it and accept it as it is?

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Devon and Cornwall Police - Episode 2

Back in March 2015 I posted an open letter to the Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police, asking some rather pointed questions about the lack of support cyclists receive from the force. Before reading the rest of this post, I really suggest you read that post first, as this is a follow-up.

In that post I asked 6 specific questions:
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?

After having posted that, I notified D&C Police via their Twitter account. I also notified the Assistant Chief Constable directly, again via Twitter. In the wake of that, I received responses from other D&C Police officers. One of those officers, a Superintendent, suggested we meet up and an email exchange ensued, which I copied in below in full, only removing names. In case you wondered, I removed names because this issue is NOT about individual officers, but rather about the force as a whole. As a result, highlighting any individual officer would serve no purpose at all and instead I want to keep the focus on the issues, rather than the personalities.

The first message I had was via my web site:

"I have tried to respond to your open blog to the Chief Constable. I am the Supt with responsibility for East Cornwall and have, amongst other things, road safety in Cornwall as part of my role. I have worked in Plymouth so have an understanding. I have been asked if I will work with you nto address some of your concerns but our "webmarshall" will not let me respond direct to your blog!!
I have just started a small 'interest' group in Cornwall as cyclists have been recognised as a priority group for the county. It may be we could do similar in Plymouth. I can also answer your questions.
Perhaps you could drop me an e mail and we could arrange to meet to see what can be done.
By the way, I am a cyclist too. 
Thank you."

This I followed up with a direct email:
"Thank you for your reply to my blog post - innovative thinking to get the message through to me the way you did.
I would really like to meet with you and find out what, if anything, D&C Police can or will do. 
Perhaps I should clarify a few things first: I am not and have never been one of those people who only say negative things about the police, and I have on several occasions publicly defended the police. To me it is important that D&C Police grasp that I am not some anti-authority anarchist, but equally, I won't ignore what is wrong.
I accept and understand that police are squeezed from all sides, with fewer resources and lower budgets added to falling morale creating a volatile and difficult environment to operate in.
Despite this, I believe there is major room for improvement.
It is important to realise that, like most cyclists I expect, I'm not out for revenge. A driver that is heavily fined or prosecuted for having endangered, injured or even killed a cyclist is most likely going to continue to blame the cyclist, and the last thing we want is to share the road with angry, aggressive driver who hold a grudge against cyclists. That would be very counter-productive.
More often than not, some words of advice, or a firm warning could be far more beneficial, while not adding to your workload.
In more extreme cases, steps like Section 59 warnings may be more appropriate, although for some unfathomable reason D&C Police don't seem to want to use those.
I expect my schedule would be far more flexible than yours, and as such I'll do my best to fit in with you. With this in mind, please will you let me have some dates and times you have available for a meeting?
Also, would you be happy for me to bring along another cyclist to the meeting?"

Now a Superintendent will always be busy, and several emails were exchanged trying to find an opening in his diary. Eventually I received this:
"I am so sorry,  I have been involved in a load of protected visits by politicians and the diary has been rammed.
How are you fixed on any of the following.
·         29.4.15 3pm
·         30.4.15 4pm
·         5.5.15 1pm
Venue/location to suit you.

Just to let you know, we are setting up an electronic inbox for reporting issues to the police and our road safety partners in Cornwall.  Issues such as possible inconsiderate driving, bad road lay out/surface/signage, poor cycling etc etc.  The stuff that probably wouldn’t see a prosecution but which is still an issue for us as cyclists.  We will then try to categorise the issues into education, engineering or enforcement matters.  What we might find for example is several cyclists reporting a similar issue or location or car which would normally not get resolved but if we get a few people sending in messages to the inbox on the same matter then we may get “critical mass” on the issue and be able to act.

It’s only a thought and an idea but I am optimistic.  We could do the same for Plymouth if it works."

The setting up of a mailbox to report issues is a great start, let down by the fact that it is limited only to Cornwall. I followed up with this message:
"Can we arrange to meet on the 30th of April, at 4pm? Provisionally, I'd suggest the community cafe on George Street, Devonport, right next to The Bike Space's new shop. I say provisionally, as I'd need to check whether or not they'd be open (I expect they will be).

The electronic inbox sounds like a good idea - much like the RoadSafe system the Met has. 

To me there are a few fundamental issues though:
- Reporting has never really been the issue. People don't report issues to the police anymore  because they've learned through past experience that nothing will be done. That is downright frightening, that people should have such little faith in the police, don't you think?
- There is a denial of the problem, or at very least the scale of the problem by the police. Until that is acknowledged, I really cannot see anything really changing. It really is a bit like being an alcoholic: the road to recovery MUST start with accepting that reality.
- Devon and Cornwall Police refuse to issue Section 59 warnings for antisocial driving, based on evidence-supported reports from cyclists. Worse still, D&C Police claims the offence MUST be witnessed by a uniformed officer, which is patently false.

I look forward to receiving your reply."

I have not received any replies since.

Seperately, I was contacted via Twitter, asking me to contact a Plymouth-based police officer, who also wanted to meet up. That exchange is posted below:
"I've had a message via Twitter from the Stonehouse Police team that you would like to discuss cycling-related matters with me?"

I soon received a reply:

"I was told of your passionate views on cycling and have had a quick look at your twitter and blog.

I would like to meet up and discuss how you feel you have been treated and try to work through some ways we can make your contact with the police a little more positive.

Could you let me know who the head of traffic was as I’m a little concerned about their opinion on your ‘go pro’ type footage.

I’m also a little concerned about the attitude of some of the officers.
I take your view on what the police should do and we all have an opinion on that, let’s talk it through.

We all want the city to be a safer place and if we work together, we may be able to make a difference.  You will be surprised at the number of officers that are also keen cyclists.

I am unfortunately on leave for most of the Easter break and when working, my diary is full.  I have some space free on the mornings of 7 or 8 of April. Would that be suitable? I also have some time tomorrow.

I am finishing for the day now, so either let me know, or if you have a phone number I can call tomorrow during the day."

I followed up with this email:

"I am a simple man, and I live quite a simple life. I go to work, I try to provide for my family, I don't harm others and I expect them not to harm me. My views on cycling are also simple, really: cyclists, like all road users, deserve to be safe, but are regularly and needlessly endangered by drivers, often inadvertently but deliberately from time to time.

I'm not unrealistic - policing must be a very challenging job already. In an age of shrinking budgets and resources disappearing almost as you're planning anything, it simply means a tough job can rapidly become near-impossible. I fully understand a cyclist receiving a "punishment pass" is nowhere near as high a priority as catching a rapist and I certainly don't expect that protecting cyclists should be the police's top priority. (Does D & C Police even understand what a Punishment Pass is?)

However, I am one of many cyclists who quite justifiably feel that we receive NO backup or support from police at all. We feel police forces throughout the UK, including D & C Police, are inherently institutionally anti-cycling.

I accept that many police officers are cyclists and I know many individual officers do look out for cyclists. The problem is that overall the force quite obviously doesn't care much about cyclists. The only time police seem to show an interest is when a cyclist was run over, and even then the "investigation" tends to start from a victim-blaming point of view, asking if the cyclist was wearing a helmet or hi-vis. Usually when I raise this point, police officers respond that those are perfectly valid questions to ask, which simply highlights how a) uninformed and b) institutionally anti-cycling they are. 

Research clearly shows that hi-vis make virtually no difference at all to driver behaviour. Within the past three weeks I have had a few instances where drivers pulled out on me, despite me wearing hi-vis, and despite me riding (during daylight hours) with a strobing light of 3 500 lumen. A driver that can legitimately claim they couldn't see me is a danger on the road and shouldn't be allowed to drive. 

Additionally, cycle helmets are designed to protect against low-speed falls, involving no other vehicle. In a 25 mph crash with a car doing a similar speed in the opposite way they will do nothing but disintegrate. Research also shows that, contrary to the popular belief of how a broken helmet saved a life, a broken helmet is a helmet that failed. They don't have designed-in crumple zones like cars - the simple polystyrene was exposed to forces far greater than it could withstand, and therefore broke. It really is as simple as that. And yet, if you have a discussion about helmets with your officers, I expect most, if not all, will say how many crashes they've seen where the cyclist's life was "undoubtedly" saved by a bit of polystyrene. The scary part is they will parrot such statements without having any idea about the limitations of cycle helmets, and without in any way being experts, and those views are held as the gospel truth. Please, please have that conversation with your officers, and see how closely their responses match my words?

That, in essence, is a simple demonstration of just how institutionally anti-cycling D & C Police are. Police aren't alone in this - most drivers feel the same. Indeed, many cyclists themselves have bought into these false claims.

Like most, I do wear a helmet, but I don't expect it to save my life during a high-speed impact. Instead, I wear it to avoid road-rash all over my head, should I crash and scrape along the ground.

I average around 160 miles per week on my bike, and on most days I will experience aggression from drivers. In fact, a day without aggression from drivers is unusual - so much so that I'd usually brag about it. 

On Sherford Road, between Station Road and Vinery Lane, the road narrows, with outbound traffic having priority. That is part of my commute and at a guess I'd say 20% of the times I ride through there drivers refuse to yield and drive right at me. This isn't an exceptional thing - it's normal and there isn't a thing I can do about that. I have lost count of the number of times I almost got knocked off along there.
With all due respect, what do you think would happen if I reported that to police? Other than me simply wasting yet more of my time? Do you really think there is even a tiny chance any police officer would take it seriously and act on it? I think we both know that nothing will come off it.

Experience has taught me to expect police to at best go through the motions, only to follow it up (after much unanswered requests for updates from me) with a reply saying there's nothing they can do. Very much a "Don't call us, we'll call you."

Last year, 2 female cyclists - both experienced, fast road cyclists - were pulled over by a marked police car for cycling on the road along Embankment Road, during the day. Apparently, the patronising and condascending officer wanted to "offer them words of advice" that was "for their own benefit" and he was simply "trying to keep them safe". By telling them to go ride on a bumpy shared pavement, when DfT advice clearly says cyclists going faster than 15mph should ride on the road. This is the unhelpful attitude we as cyclists get from police, instead of ensuring drivers give them safe overtakes and sufficient following distances.

You will forgive me when I say that I expect the sudden interest from police to be due to my open letter to the Chief Constable, who wouldn't like any hint of public embarrassment of the force, and who therefore wants the cracks smoothed over. You may think me cynical for having said that, but that is exactly what my previous interactions with the police have taught me to expect. For things to change, to really change, D & C Police will require a bit of a culture shift, and I can't see that happening at all. Can you?

 I don't know if you're familiar with the Broken Windows approach, as used by New York city? The short version is that everything was reported as a way to counter the sliding goalposts that naturally follow as people (and officers) became more jaded, and even accepting of wrong-doing. That principle is partly credited with massively reducing New York's crime rate during the 1980's - the other reason I believe has to do with lead-based paint having been phased out, which led globally to reduced crime levels roughly within the same amount of time after the phasing out of lead-based paint.

In Plymouth, drivers push their luck. They amber-gamble, they speed, they take stupid chances. And as there are usually no consequences at all, they learn that they can get away with it. The result is that the borders have shifted. Once they have shifted, drivers will again push their luck. Only this time, they start skipping red lights. 

You may choose not to believe me, but I'd like you to go stand at the traffic lights by Staples on Charles Cross roundabout, within clear sight of Charles Cross police station, and count the number of drivers skipping red lights. Obviously you'd need to be in plain clothes. I cycle that way to work every day, and I usually see drivers skipping red lights there. When filtering through rows of stationary traffic, I usually count many drivers on their phones, and daily I'd expect to see one or two texting, or openly talking on their handheld phone while they're driving. In town, along Royal Parade or Union Street. They do that because they know from experience they can get away with it.

Reading all the above, you may think I'm an angry, bitter, negative man. I'm not. I am just a man who has lost complete faith in the police to keep vulnerable road users safe, and in that, I'm not alone. I am angry at times, following specific incidents: I've lost a (full) water bottle when I lobbed it after the car of a driver who nearly knocked me over. Despite the dent in his car, he wouldn't accept my invitation to pull over and discuss him nearly having killed me.

As a police officer, I'd expect you to say I cannot take the law into my own hands, and that I was in the wrong. Statistically, if the same driver gives me a very close overtake again and again, it is simply a matter of time before they finally run me over. My question to you is this: after how many such dangerous overtakes does it become acceptable for me to pull him out of his car and punch him? At which point would my actions become self-defence, especially given that we both know no police officer will do anything at all if I reported such close overtakes?

Can you see my predicament? I'm damned if I do, and damned if I don't.

The officer who told me that D & C Police won't issue Section 59 warnings unless the poor driving was witnessed by a uniformed officer is . This was during a meeting with the Plymouth Cycling Campaign, of which I'm a member. It was at that meeting that he also said what he did about helmet cam footage. Additionally, he said that close pass reports cannot be acted on by police as it is a very subjective thing. Now to be fair to the man, he came across as very likeable and a really nice guy, but those comments don't exactly fill me with confidence in the police.

So if you could offer a sensible, realistic, resourced and believable way forward, then yes, I'd love to meet with you and hear your plans. Hear your strategy for making our roads less lawless and safer for especially vulnerable road users.

I look forward to hearing your reply."

In response, I received this:

"My apologies for the delay in contacting you.

I have spoken with and about the previous meeting you had with the police regarding cycling in the city.

I can confirm that is still acting as a point of contact for any footage or information that may constitute an offence, which we can then deal with. He can view the footage and ascertain if there is sufficient evidence to proceed to a court hearing or any other appropriate action. He is what we call a gate keeper and is aware of the evidence standards required by the court for a prosecution. Our personal opinion of what is right or wrong is often a lower level.

I have now found out what ‘punishment pass’ is and if there is evidence of such a thing, that may be sufficient to take the matter further. Please report matters at the time or soon after.

I’m sorry that you feel your sweeping statement of how you believe the police treat cyclists, as there are many cyclists here who commute, compete and enjoy a family ride out.

I look forward to hearing from you in the near future and if there is anything you think we could work together on to improve the safety and enjoyment of riding in our city please let me know."

So in summary, I've received absolutely no straight answers from police, and I've not had any meeting with any police officer. Quite obviously, those who may have felt at first that I wasn't giving police sufficient time to respond cannot still feel that way. In the open letter, I stated that "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." And yet much of what I received via email is exactly that.

To summarise:
- D&C Police refused to answer a single one of my original six questions
- They failed to put forward any suggestions how these issues may be addressed
- They clearly refuse to accept that there are any failings on their part
- All this simply means NOTHING will change

There's an old saying: Nobody is as blind as he who chooses not to see.

When it comes to cyclists' safety, D&C Police chooses to bury it's head in the sand and refuses to even consider the possibility that there are force-wide major failings, with huge room for improvement. Until the police wake up and start doing some mature, open and honest self-analysis, cyclists in Devon and Cornwall will remain unprotected, unsupported and drivers will continue to put us at risk with total impunity.

Thanks, Chief Constable Sawyer. By not engaging directly with this issue, you have spoken very loud and clear about how you and your police force REALLY feel about cyclists.