Meeting my new bike for the first time

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I had a brief rendevouz with my new bike — a Specialized Sirrus Sport Disc 2006 Hybrid Bike — tonight. Gorgeous, isn’t she?

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to bring her home because I’ve asked the bike shop to ‘spec her up’ by putting on mudguards, a bottle holder and a new rack at the back and bolting in the quick-release wheels — and they were so busy when I called in after work tonight I have to wait for a mechanic to do the work tomorrow. This means I’ll be able to pick her up — and ride her home —  tomorrow night. I can’t wait!

In the meantime, I’ve got to think of a name for her. Any suggestions?

Look out for cycling guide in The Guardian this Saturday

The Guardian is running an interesting banner ad on its website right now.

Apparantly the newspaper is publishing a 92-page guide to cycling in Saturday’s edition. I haven’t bought a Saturday newspaper in years, but I might make an exception this weekend. I’ll let you know if it was worth it…

Cycling 10: Chris of Life Cycle

Chris Lewthwaite, a Queensland-based cyclist, maintains the blog life cycle. His posts, often about awe-inspiring rides through lush, leafy landscapes, are always accompanied by stunning photographs. Here are his responses to my 10 questions about commuter cycling…

How long have you been commuting by bicycle, and what made you decide to do it?

I have been officially riding to work since 1999, but I was doing "other" transportational riding before that.  In fact, when I was growing up in the country, it wasn’t unusual for me to ride to the next town to visit friends or do the family’s shopping.

I started riding to work specifically because I got frustrated with the inefficiency of public transport in this city [the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia], and didn’t want to pay mega bucks for a car (I was a student at the time).  I figured that if I was already riding up 1,000 metre mountains on weekends, a ride to work or uni shouldn’t pose any problems.

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Bike shopping

I’ve just taken the plunge — and ordered a bike off the Evans Cycles website.

For no charge, I am having it delivered to their Fulham branch. Which means that when I go to collect it, I can buy my mudguards and a pack rack while I am there — and then I can ride it home. Woo-hoo! Hopefully it should arrive within the next 5 days.

Unfortunately, I am unable to take advantage of the Government’s Ride-2-Work scheme, which would have entitled me to get this bike for half-price. This is because my employer has temporarily stopped processing bicycle orders. I contacted our HR Department yesterday to find out if they were going to re-open it and was told "Yes, sometime in the next six months".

Obviously, I can’t wait that long. I need a new bike now, not some indeterminate date later in the year. So I’m going with the full-price option (although, technically, this is less than full-price because it’s last year’s model) and hoping that my employer doesn’t announce any time soon that it’s re-opening the scheme. (They don’t backdate; I already checked.)

Knowing my luck that’s exactly what will happen, but I’ll just notch that up to Murphy’s Law.

But why should that worry me? I’m going to be riding a shiny new silver bike with disc brakes and gears that work! I can’t wait.

RIP, my little Falcon Adventurer

You’ve heard the expression "the wheels fell off", well, that’s kind of what happened to my bike this morning.

My commute was going beautifully, but about a mile in I noticed that the rear of the bike didn’t feel quite right. Perhaps a puncture? Or a problem with my brake?

I stopped and checked. No puncture. Brake okay.

Another 200 metres along and it was impossible to pedal, almost as if someone was holding the rear wheel and dragging me backwards.

I stopped, got off and wheeled my bike into a quiet side street. I took a closer look at the back wheel. Something was obviously loose or broken because I could wobble it from side to side by about an inch. Not good. In fact, I think the technical term is fucked. There was no way I could fix it, and no way I could continue riding it. My only option was to walk it home, the wonky wheel screeching all the way!

Which I did. In the rain. And then, once I’d parked it up and got changed into my work clothes, I had to catch the tube into the office. No rest for the wicked and all that.

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Fire near the Royal Albert Hall

Now I know why I had to cycle through a cloud of choking, acrid smoke on my return journey tonight.

I thought the fire must have been in the Royal Albert Hall, as it was cordoned off and there were several firetrucks and police vehicles parked out the front.

It must have been a pretty big blaze. The newstory states that the fire began at 10.30am; I cycled past at 5.45pm and it still seemed to be burning!

Today my route suddenly became a congestion zone one

Four years ago the London Mayor introduced a congestion charge in the capital. The scheme, operated by Transport for London, charged vehicles £5 to enter the congestion charge zone in Central London between 7am and 6.30pm on weekdays. Recently the charge went up to £8.

Today the congestion charge zone expanded westwards, almost doubling in size.

I live less than half-a-mile from the new western boundary. This means 95 per cent of my commute route is now in the congestion zone.

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That blue squiggle is a rough approximation of my route.

This morning I was anxious to see how the new extended zone would affect traffic levels, especially on the busier roads of my route — namely Kensington High Street and Kensington Gore.

I left the house a little earlier than normal and was on the road at about 7.40am. The traffic did seem a little quieter, although whether that’s due to the congestion charge or the fact that it’s mid-term break right now, I’m not sure. (School holidays always mean the traffic is considerably lighter.)

But the thing that struck me most — and I’m not sure if I was imagining it or not — was the number of new cyclists on the road. You can always tell new cyclists by the BRIGHTNESS of their new hi-viz coats. They just GLOW more brightly because they haven’t yet been tempered by mud and rain and pollution and god knows what else.

Tonight’s return journey was particularly quiet. I especially noticed the difference in what I’ve dubbed the "danger zone" — the area, including feeder roads, around the intersection of Kensington High Street and Kensington Church Street. This evening I zipped on through with barely a car in sight. It felt liberating!

But I guess we won’t get a better picture of the impact — or otherwise — of this congestion zone expansion until next week when it’ll be back to business for schools. If it was anything like today then I’ll be a happy woman!

Introducing a new series…

If you believe everything you read, commuting by bicycle is soaring in popularity, particularly in areas of the Western world dominated by motorised traffic. Figures released by the London Mayor in late 2005 — at about the same time I started cycling — revealed that cycling across the capital had leapt by 100 per cent in just five years. Judging by the amount of people I see on the road, even when the weather is miserable, I reckon the boom is still happening.

But what makes people decide to get on the bike, and what is their average commute like? What do they like about cycling? What kind of kit do they use? And what advice would they give to someone thinking about becoming a regular cycling commuter?

I thought I’d put these questions — and a few more — to some fellow bike bloggers and post their responses in a new series I’ve dubbed “Cycling 10”, which I’ll post on a semi-regular basis.

The first kind soul to answer my 10 questions about cycling is Richard Masoner, aka Fritz, from the US-based Cycle-Licious, a news-based blog that’s always jampacked with interesting cycling snippets…

How long have you been commuting by bicycle, and what made you decide to do it?

I used a bicycle to get to class and work while in college 20 years ago and I just never stopped. There was a pause of a few years when my children were very small and my commute distance was long (20 miles). I started up again when my truck (yes, an evil SUV) broke down in 2002. I just hopped back on the bike and somehow I never got around to fixing the truck.Can you give a brief description of your route? These days I live 40 miles from work because my wife attends graduate school; we decided that one of us should be close to the children during the day and the housing situation worked out where my wife is two miles from her school campus. My usual commute is mixed mode bike-bus-train-bike, with the final bike leg being a 3.5 mile (6 km) jaunt on surface streets through very busy San Francisco Bay Area traffic.  I sometimes extend this last leg by stopping at a different train station.

What’s the best thing about commuting by bicycle?

Even after 20 years I still love riding to work. Cycling puts me close to the people around me and to the environment. Rather than segregation in an enclosed cage, I’m completely exposed. It’s exhilarating and reminds me that I’m alive.

 

And the worst?

In the San Francisco Bay Area, heavy exposure to car and truck exhaust is my greatest concern. Unfortunately, there’s not much I can do about the air pollution. I can drive, but that only adds to the problem.
What sort of bike do you ride?

Bikes get banged together on the train, so my usual commuter rig is the bike I bought as a college student in 1987 — a CroMo steel Centurion road bike. I converted it to a fixed gear about four years ago because I lived in Colorado at the time — derailleurs and brakes aren’t always compatible with ice and snow. I also ride a 2002 Trek 1000 (aluminum or “aluminium” for you Brits) and a 2007 Specialized Roubaix (carbon fiber ooh la la). If I feel like punishing myself, I’ll occasionally drag out my old, heavy, fat tire GT hardtail mountain bike. All of my bicycles are equipped with SPD MTB pedals.

What’s your favourite piece of cycling kit/clothing/gadget?

My bike commute is short enough that I normally wear street clothes while commuting. I’m in the computer industry, but I’m not really a gadget freak — I prefer minimal clutter on my bike and body. My bike computer is usually the only accessory.  I always ride with front and rear lights in the dark.
Helmet or no helmet?
I completely oppose all efforts to mandate helmet use for casual and transportational cycling. Nonetheless, I do usually  wear a helmet. I may doff the lid in very warm or humid weather.
 

Cycle lane or no cycle lane?I appreciate bike lanes and use them where available, though I won’t go significantly out of my way to use a path or laned street. My commute is a mix of narrow streets through commercial and residential areas that are striped and not, and a very busy arterial that crosses a major highway with striped and non-striped areas.Are you a member of any cycling organisations/clubs? If so, which ones?

I’m a member of the League of American Bicyclists and the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. In the past, I’ve been active with Bicycle Colorado and Bicycle Longmont. 

What would you say to convince someone who is considering commuting by bicycle to get on board their bike?

The big concern most people seem to have is safety. Even if they have the intellectual knowledge that cycling is about as safe as driving in the U.S., the visceral fear can be difficult to get past. I offer to meet the newbie bike commuter at their home or at the train station and ride with that person. I’ll set a date — “I’ll meet you tomorrow morning at 7:30 a.m.” — and I’ll show up. They’re now obligated to ride with me to the office.

Fritz leads virtualization technology bringup for the x64 group at Sun Microsystems. He lives in the hills near Santa Cruz, California, where morning fog waters the towering coast redwood trees. His blog is at www.cyclelicio.us/

Filthy weather for cycling

Today’s commute — at both ends of the day — was marked by rain, an abundance of puddles and taxi drivers who deliberately went out of their way to make sure I got splashed.

When I initially set off this morning it wasn’t raining. But by the time I’d got about half way it was bucketing down. It was pouring off my helmet visor like Niagara Falls. I could feel it seeping through my gloves and my fleecey tights.

When I got to George Street, which leads to Parliament Square, I was pretty much wet all over. And then I rode through a river where a river shouldn’t be. It was a puddle — or should I say lake? — that I simply could not avoid cycling through. The ensuing back wash filled one of my shoes with icy cold water. Both of my legs got drenched up to the knee. I think I mouthed the word "fuck" and then I started to laugh. What else could I do?

It stopped raining not long after and I rode the rest of my route in relative dryness.  As soon as I locked my bike up I took off my right shoe, tipped it up and poured out what seemed like a whole pint of water! I spent the rest of the day trying to dry my shoes and my clothes: I had all manner of cycling gear adorning the air vents and heaters at work! Anyone would think I was running a Chinese laundry not editing a magazine!

The ride home was also wet — and if that wasn’t enough it was dark and very windy. The good bit, if I can call it that, was the fact that for much of my ride I was the only cyclist on the road. This meant I only had to concentrate on the motorised traffic and the odd rogue pedestrian dashing across my path with inside-out umbrellas, and so I was able to travel quite quickly, pushing myself to get home as soon as I could — if only so I could thaw out under a scalding hot shower.

The breakfast of champions

Muselibars_2
Bananas2_1So far this year my Sunday afternoons have been marked by shopping expeditions to stock up on the week’s cycling food.

By cycling food, I mean what I eat for breakfast after I’ve made my morning’s trek on two wheels. I’m not a big breakfast person. I never have been. And I certainly can’t eat anything before I get on the bike.

But now that exercise figures pretty highly in my day-to-day routine, I’ve found that if I don’t eat breakfast I get incredibly ravenous and my stomach starts grumbling to the point where it becomes embarrassing.

So, once I’ve locked up my bike and am sitting at my desk, I munch on a banana and a muesli bar, which I’ve carried in my  bike bag.

Occasionally, if I’m still feeling peckish, I have a bowl of cereal (I keep a pack in my desk drawer and use the communal office milk)  or I nip out to a nearby Pret for one of their delicious breakfast baguettes (egg mayo and sunblush tomatoes) or  a muffin (yogurt and pecan).

I’ve also become slightly addicted to Innocent Drinks’ juicey water (mango and passionfruit), even though I know it’s essentially posh cordial and I could save a stack of money if I just stuck to water!

Oh, and I can’t get by without a mid-morning coffee, either. Usually a brewed one with a splash of milk.

And after I’ve consumed all that lot, I start thinking about my lunch…