Is It Summer Yet?

It is currently two degrees out there today. It was one and a half yesterday (with a wind that felt like it was minus two). It was thirteen last weekend. It is that ever changing time of the year when the weather comes over all peculiar and has hot flushes in between bouts of biting cold.

How many of you braved the snow the other week and cycled to work? I took one look at the blanket of snow on the floor and caught the train instead. I did not see too many cyclists on the roads but there were a couple of hard-core types who were putting me to shame as I walked to the station in my warm clothes and comfy walking boots. Personally I thought that they were slightly mad yet I doffed my woolly hat to them all the same.

Thankfully it does not seem to rain as much here in London as it does in the West Country. When I first moved here I thought I had entered some magical world where rain would only appear at night and cyclists did not drown going a few miles down the road. That’s not to say I have not gotten wet, just that I do not feel the need to wear an all in one cagoule every time I get my bike out.

The point is that the weather changes from week to week here in England and as a cyclist it pays to be prepared for every eventuality. Too many clothes on at the start of your journey and you sweat profusely and need to start stripping off at the side of the road. Too few and it is likely to rain or the temperature will drop considerably.

Now I have never fully embraced the lycra. I do have a couple of pairs of lycra leggings, a pair of shorts and a full length pair with the spongy crotch. I am not, what is called, a Mamil (middle aged man in lycra) even though I am nearing middle age. I will say though that it does have its merits when the wind is bitterly cold out there. It dries pretty quickly, is rather comfortable, and keeps the cold out.

I have no intention of going the whole hog and squeezing into one of those all revealing lycra suits that a lot of cyclists wear. You know the type, they have expensive looking bikes, are thin as a rake, the little clip on shoes that attach to the pedals, and whizz along at terrific speed. I suppose I’m a little jealous, being as if I were to wear something like that, I would look like a sack of potatoes wrapped in cling-film. No, I think I’ll spare the world that vision for now.

Comfort is the key to riding a long way. I prefer to wear shorts but sometimes the weather does not allow this as my knees would fall off.  Gloves, though, are the key to surviving the cold and the wet weather. A breathable cycling jacket is the other essential. Without gloves my fingers would have fallen off a long time ago. I have actually seen people cycling in the cold and the wet without gloves. I don’t know how they do it to be honest. It is just crazy. Wind proof, water proof gloves that keep your fingers free from frostbite will make the cycling experience a lot more enjoyable.

A good jacket can be very expensive. I, unfortunately, bought mine very cheap. It does keep out the rain and is good for keeping me warm but only for a short period. It is 100% polyester and heats me up like a microwave after a couple of miles. It is only really useful in extreme cold weather. There are many decent jackets out there on the market and it pays to shop around which is advice I should take myself. Of course all of this will change when we get that summer sun beating down on us (derisory snort). The lycra can be put in storage, the jacket will only get few brief outings, and the gloves will only be needed at night. This is one cyclist who cannot wait for the winter to be filed away for another year. It won’t be too long will it?

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Red Means Go?

Colliers wood traffic lights“Oi,” shouted the taxi driver, as he pulled up along-side me, just past Colliers Wood station, the other day. “Not only did you jump a red light back there, but you are wobbling all over the place; are you trying to get yourself killed?” and then sped off round the corner before I could tell him politely to “go pick up a fare”. Now, in my defence I would like to say that: a) I did not jump a red light; I had pulled up at the pelican crossing (or is it a Toucan, a puffin or an equestrian; I’m not sure) so that people could cross the road; b) I was wobbling because a huge gust of wind had just very nearly de-saddled me in the middle of a very busy road; c) I was concerned about the idiot taxi driver who was trying to: first get round me on my right, and then my left.
The debate surrounding cyclists who jump red lights is an on-going one and has been raging for a long time. There are cyclists who cannot see what all the fuss is about; there are cyclists who follow a very strict adherence to the law; there are motorists who despise all cyclists; and there are motorists who couldn’t care less, but like to tut now and then. Let’s get one thing straight from the start; it is a matter of legal fact that you are not allowed to go through a red light, no matter whether you are on a bicycle or behind the wheel of a car (RTA 1988 sect 36 & TSRGD reg 10(1). That being said, there are many cyclists who do jump red lights (there are also a large number of motorists who jump red lights as well; I’ve seen them). The Times reported in 2012 that, of pedestrians injured by vehicles jumping red lights, 4% were caused by cyclists as opposed to 71% caused by motorists. I must say that I have been guilty of jumping the odd red light myself. I do not, however, go through red lights at busy junctions, nor do I tear through red lights at pelican crossings dodging pedestrians. I’m not placing myself on some sanctimonious pedestal here; I just have other plans that do not include being under the wheels of a lorry or bashed by an irate pedestrian. (A note to the horrible little cyclist who scattered pedestrians in Brixton last Friday: If that fellow had gotten hold of you, I think he may have found a place to park your bike for you).
The Times reported on January 2 2013 that 122 cyclists had been killed in 2012. This was, it said, a five year high. In London alone, fourteen cyclists were killed. This is obviously 122 too many, but a surprisingly low number if you take time to notice how many cyclists are out there on the roads. I am relatively new to this city and I will say that I do feel safer cycling here than I imagined I would before I moved here. There are idiots on the road; there always will be, because there are idiots in life, simple as that; but that doesn’t stop us from having the right to cycle without being squashed. We as cyclists have to be extra careful and extra diligent when we travel across this congested, wonderful land. Unfortunately there are times when we have no control over our safety, but that does not mean that we should ever let our guard down. My simple rule for cycling is: Do not trust anybody and do not put yourself into unnecessary danger.
Although there are many cyclists who jump red lights, there are also a larger number who are very careful and adhere to the highway-code (or at least have some semblance of common sense). Unfortunately these law abiding souls are overlooked by the ranting, cycle hating motorist. I have actually spoken to people who have admitted that they go into a furious rage when they find themselves behind a cyclist. However, the more cyclists that ride the main roads of the UK without lights, without any protective clothing, with headphones on, whilst arbitrarily riding through red lights at busy junctions, and then shout obscenities at the motorists who nearly hit them (I actually saw someone do this the other evening in Tulse Hill) the more that the cycle haters opinion will be strengthened. Anyway, must go, I have a taxi waiting.

4000 miles of potholes

Pothole 2I’ve been doing some rough (and I do mean rough) calculations to determine how many miles I have cycled since moving to London in September 2011. I’ve figured it out to be around 4000 miles; give or take a couple of hundred. Now, I am by no means a fitness freak. I hate (HATE) running and I have absolutely no desire to join a gym. Yet I think nothing at all of cycling long distances. No, I don’t get it either.
I hail from a quiet little village in the west called Bristol where cycling is compulsory; failure to be seen on one the many cycle routes at least once a week is punishable by death. Mind you, it does only take approximately ten minutes to ride from one end of the city to the other. Over here in this behemoth of a city called London it takes considerably longer.
As I said, I moved here in September 2011. I moved to Honor Oak Park in Lewisham and I attend Kingston University in Kingston-Upon-Thames. Before I packed my bumpkins satchel and made the arduous journey east, I bought my first, for many years, brand new bicycle. I had already made the decision to cycle to Uni and knew that I would need a decent bike. I asked a few cycle enthusiast friends for their recommendations and they all said that I should get a road bike (I had previously been running around on a mountain bike even though there are no mountains in Bristol) with thin tyres and no suspension. So off I went to the local bike shop and bought myself a brand new Trek hybrid with 21 gears.
Now, nobody told me that my testicles were going to take such a battering. Potholes, lots of lovely potholes plus no suspension equals pain in the nether regions. The Guardian has a very good bike blog at the moment http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/bike-blog and Trevor Ward has posted a very interesting article about potholes and the likely hood of compensation should you come across a pothole, hard; definitely worth a read. Also, the National Cycling Charity has released a smart phone app for cyclists and others to report any potholes they should find. If you are a regular cycling commuter you will definitely find this helpful. I’m going to download it and try it out. I’ll let you know how I get on.
In this blog I will regale you with my experiences as a cycling commuter across south London. Grumble about other road users who annoy me. Report on any new safety measures for cyclists that I come across and basically write about all things to do with cycling. Her is a video I made of my journey from Kingston to Lewisham, enjoy.
Happy cycling.