Driving is officially “Hell on Wheels”

At some previously undocumented point, cycling became my primary means of transport. Since I spend so much time commuting and so little time driving, this should be largely self evident. What’s more interesting is the way my perspective has flipped by switching from four wheels to two.

Twice this week I’ve re-aquainted myself with the joys of motorised travel and its’ not been a pleasant experience. Firstly the tetchy reunion of me and my car keys took far longer than expected as they’d virtually carbonised at the bottom of the key basket. Then in a moment of early onset Alzheimer’s I couldn’t remember how the radio worked. Or the lights. And the ventilation system was just a set of symbols I randomly prodded until the windscreen cleared.

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Life is just too weird sometimes

First on registering at http://www.technorati.com/ I find that 27.2 million blogs await my perusal. Twenty Seven point Two million. Take a moment to consider that – that’s a whole lot of people with too much time on their hands. What did we used to do rather than avoid our families, shun contact with real humans and, essentially, waste our life? Ah. I’m beginning to see 🙂

For amusment, I typed in “pickled hedgehog” and as I sort of suspected, the results were distubing.

Talking of disturbing and pointless, take a look at the ten oddest things to do with a USB port of which only the last is very very odd. The rest are mainly solutions looking for problems or the experiments of a diseased mind. I thought it was great.

But don’t get me started on the “cluetrain” which I’m not going to dignify with a link. I assume cluetrain was chosen as pretentious_bollox.com was already taken 😉

A 1000 miles is a long time in commuting

I kept a diary of my first couple of months commuting, mainly for my wife to read to the kids when the inevitable death by BMW finally happened. Now less scared and more scarred, a veteran of over a thousand miles and sixty instances of playing “the running man” with bicycles, things have changed.

I’m a little fitter, a lot more confident and completely engaged in the battle of good (that’s us riding bikes) and evil (that’s everyone else trying to kill us). I’d only offer the glove of friendship to a fellow non cycling road user if it gave me the opportunity to slap him across the chops. I’m bored of the cold and sick of the dark. If I’d started December 1, not June 1, I wonder if I’d still be doing it. I think probably not.

Still having driven round the M25 this weekend to watch the rugby (more on this later), it’s clear that my right to whinge should be negated by the awfulness of the alternative.

It should be, but it isn’t. I shall whinge on 🙂

Here’s the extract. I culled the rest on the grounds that you’ve suffered enough.

Merino wool – stinky by design.

Tonight I caught the early train.

A swift and potentially career limiting exit allied with a spirited pedal to the station bought me just enough time. Time which I spent hastily locking the bike – engage smug mode: with my frame attached lock – and dropping the majority of my worldly possession while wrenching the key from my pocket. The remaining small change was enough for me to sprint breathlessly up the platform before ram raiding the train doors messenger style.

So yeah, I caught the early train but so did everyone else. This is the service that runs snail to harrow and then glacial onward to Aylesbury. But as the novelty of a Chiltern Railways’ train leaving on time never fades, it seemed appropriate to give it a go.

Continue reading Merino wool – stinky by design.

Morning Morningitus

There was a certain “MondayMorningitus” about my commute today. Firstly the electronic ticket machine had rejected its’ “pin required” upgrade like an unwanted spleen, and so mirrored the operational state of the uninformative passenger information system.

The rather touchingly simple platform ticket machine showed solidarity with it’s electronic brethren in a “one out, all out” scenario leaving me the solitary option of dealing with a real person. Sadly this endemic malady had crossed the electronic/carbon barrier and the station master (mistress?) was also off on the sick.

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Cycling Myth#4 – Riding makes you fit

Okay not fit but thin. I’m currently in denial about what could be euphemistically referred to as “organic body armour“.

The mid torso blubber has made itself known through a slight tightness in the trouser and a noticeably enlarged belt hole. Loosening my belt would alleviate both these problems, but this would be an admission that cycling 70+ miles a week does not nullify the consequences of a confectionery based diet.

Continue reading Cycling Myth#4 – Riding makes you fit

Bikes and Beer. A winning combination.

Sometimes stuff all comes together to create the perfect weekend. Not often and rarely does it involve paintbrushes or aged relatives, but this weekend we had a good stuff implosion centred on the Quantock Hills. Firstly proper winter weather – crunchy underwheel, windchills up to minus six and endless muti-toned blue sky. Then add commuting fitness, a great bunch of friends, huge plates of dead animal and, of course, beer. Or in some cases Cider. You know the stuff they make in Somerset – tastes like some unholy union of marmalade and rocket fuel.

When riding in summer, there is an expectation of dry trails, sunny days and cold beer. But I’d forgotten the unconfined joy of finding the same deep in midwinter. In 2006, I’ve already had two great rides (although this has to be offset by one pantless morning) so I’m starting to believe this could be a fantastic year.

You’ll be glad to hear that I’ve decided to let a picture or two paint a thousands words rather than drivel on about how great mountain biking is.

Nigel descending to the tea room

Andy having a collective moment

Gets a bit windy on top!

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Cycling Myth#3: Ice riding is a winter sport

Riding mountain bikes in winter presents certain challenges. Many of these are around removing ones warm body from the bed to do battle with mud, rain and other general unpleasentness. Another is trying to earn enough money to fund entire drivetrains to replace those lost to the grinding paste of winter.

Once actually on the bike, riding ice is generally a precurser to landing on your arse but even with this historical precedent, some riders insist that through a combination of slick bike control, balls of steel and a smattering of good luck, they can glide serenely over any challenge.

This weekend in the Quantocks, one such foolhardy soul goes by the name of Nigel. Here his attempts are mapped out through the magic of photography.

The challengeThe challenge

A 30 foot long ice sheet glistening evilly under an azure sky. We all detoured around with the respect such an obstacle demands. But the gravitational pull of the focal lens was too much for one of our party.

The challenger

Nigel “Elephant Rider Extrordinaire” slips onto the ice sheet. As you can see, his front wheel has seen the danger ahead and made a command decision to turn sharply towards safety. As you can also clearly see, turning the bars makes absolutely no difference to his direction of travel.

The FaceThe face

Yes check out that face; the face that lauched a thousand shits. Nigel is regretting his decision to dispel myth#3 while simultaneously coming to terms with an icy face plant heading his way.
The Result

Nigel demonstrates the ancient art of eskimo fishing by plunging his gloves below the ice. Excellent technique especially as he’s also had to content with throwing himself off the bike.

The Aftermath

“Just chuck it away Andy” Nigel pleads. He’s not happy with that bike at all. It may be lacking useful bike like functionality such as being able to climb hills but it’s superbly equipped as am ice pick!

One solution, many problems.

Those with a modicum of common sense – which frankly excludes the readers of this blog and, of course, it’s author – would have reconciled the omen of “pants on the desk at home, willy unencombered in the office?” with a zero tolerance response to anything difficult or challenging on this particular day.

But no. Of course I didn’t. I had a handful of bike parts, a half baked idea and the remainder of my lunch hour. Sadly not really enough bike to fit them to due to the little known “theory of Rush Hour?. Rush Hour is a kids game where a grid of toy cars block the hero’s (rather modest) sedan from making a quick exit. Only by understanding fourth dimensional phase space and the theories of quantum can one progress to the higher levels. This was pretty similar to the problem my already frazzled brain attempts to solve.

Replace truck, van, car, motorcycle with crud guard, lock, light and bottle cage. There was clearly some Fibonacci sequence by which component karma could be achieved but just as clearly, I’m too stupid to understand what this is.

After much lateral thinking tending towards whether wheels were really necessary on a bicycle, my patience snapped and I chucked away the rear crud guard. This left me with just the rear light, bottle cage and lock on the “grid?” But if we extend the metaphor back to Rush Hour, the only way our hero’s car could have left the board was with a personal missile launcher and an alternative view of the highway code.

A sidebar here: my rationale for installing a portable lock was driven purely by an intensely frustrated five minutes Kryptonite hunting at Marylebone, while the engine of my train revved to depart. My motives were good – lock the bike wherever you can find a space – but were let down by shitty execution. Yet having bought the lock, (in fact this is the second time I tried this, the first time involved a short conversation with my wife in which I advocated purchasing yet another frame because this one couldn’t accommodate a lock. Yes kids, I really tried that) I was determined to fit it even if I had to sell my soul to gain access the fourth dimension mentioned previously.

So after much grunting spannerwork, I’ve removed the need to find my lock. I have however created the need to find a dry arse. Also the lock is so massive that it obscures my rear light so there’s a good chance I’ll be wearing a delivery van before the winter is out but on balance – I’m sure you’ll agree – a worthwhile upgrade.