Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Dartmoor Classic 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Darkmoor 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Blah, blah, blah...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, 6 June 2014

Frankenwheel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Pervasive bigotry

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

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

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

"Cyclists should play by the same rules

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

R Henshaw
Liskeard"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Wednesday, 9 April 2014

New Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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












Friday, 7 March 2014

Vicks Vapourhub

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, 12 February 2014

One step forward, two steps back

From the eastern parts of Plymouth, short of taking a huge detour, there are almost only two routes into the city: Embankment Road, or Laira Bridge. This is true for cyclists as well as drivers.

With very short notice, Plymouth City Council published notice of a new flood defense wall, funded by the Environment Agency, to be built along the edge of Embankment Road: http://www.plymouth.gov.uk/newsreleases?newsid%3D330356

As is usually the case, the council's pet contractors, Amey, will be doing the work, and as per usual, Amey makes NO allowances for cyclists at all.

The southern pavement along Embankment Road is a shared path, and a busy cycle commuter route. As part of the work, the pavement is closed, with pedestrians diverted onto part of lane 1, as lane 1 is closed to traffic.

Amey's idea of "cyclist provision" is the put up the despised, unwanted and unnecessary "Cyclists Dismount" signs.

I emailed Plymouth City Council about the issue before the closure, asking specifically what provision will be put in place for cyclists. The silence was deafening, so I followed up with a second email, only to be told that my request was forwarded to Amey, who would get back to me in due course. I have not received that promised response.

Clearly that means that Plymouth City Council has NO INTENTION of stepping to to ensure adequate provision is made for cyclists, and that (as usual) Amey couldn't care less.

The lane closure is actually only about 300 metres, and provided there is a break in traffic, faster cyclists can actually take to the road, sprint into the the traffic stream and ride on the carriageway past the works. That assumes several things:
1) That all cyclists are capable of sprinting at such speeds, which isn't the reality,
2) that there would actually be a gap in the traffic, which is highly unlikely during rush-hour and
3) that the cyclist is travelling into the city.
Cyclists travelling out of the city simply cannot go onto the carriageway at all.

The pavement on the northern side of Embankment road is NOT a shared path, and is NOT safe to cycle on, even if it was a shared path.

The approach taken by Amey, and apparently approved by Plymouth City Council, seems consistent: ensure that there is NO PROVISION AT ALL for cyclists just at the point where it is most needed.

This approach is also shown by the roadworks on Billacombe Road, where the cycle lane remains closed for a significant section of the road. There is NO other provision for cyclists, no temporary reduction in speed limit through the road works and no signs to tell drivers not to overtake cyclists.

There is a solitary "single file traffic" sign, which evidently means nothing to drivers, who still overtake any cyclist not riding in the middle of the lane, and there's no instruction telling drivers to let cyclists safely merge with the traffic stream.

Combined, the section of road works is dangerous to cyclists, but Plymouth City Council appears happy to dismiss or ignore that danger.

Along Billacombe Road, work was done by two different contractors. Those that dug up the cycle lane nearest the Morrison's roundabout did a very good job of restoring the surface, leaving a smooth cycle lane once they were done.
The contractors that dug up the cycle lane further along did a pathetic job, leaving a corrugated and uncomfortable-to-ride-on surface to the cycle lane.

Plymouth City Council appears to have no issue with this sub-standard surface.

What will it take to get the council to act on issues such as these?

Sometimes I really despair!

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

To the brink

The city of Plymouth is mostly situated between the rivers Tamar and Plym, and as anybody with just a moderate degree of intelligence would gladly tell you, rivers tend to be disruptive to roads.
To cross the Tamar, drivers can choose between the Torpoint Ferry, the Tamar Bridge, or a very long detour via Tavistock.
To cross the Plym, driver can choose between Laira Bridge, Marsh Mills, or another long detour (via some at times iffy rural lanes).
Here's a rather crudely annotated map:


The blue bits are obviously water, and as you can see, there's a fair bit of that around. The two yellow shapes represent the new town of Sherford (building of which is to start during Spring 2014) and Saltram Meadow, a new housing estate already being built as I'm writing this.

Sherford will have 5 500 houses, while Saltram Meadow I believe will have up to 1 700 new houses. That is a potential 7 200 new houses, which is good for Plymouth. Except if the people moving into those houses want to travel across the river Plym into Plymouth.

Plymouth's arterial roads are, during rush hour, at capacity right now, before adding all those extra cars to it. Travelling into Plymouth from the South Eastern Area roughly drawn on the map would in almost all cases mean crossing Laira Bridge. Laira Bridge offers 2 lanes of traffic in either direction and during rush hour is struggling to cope.

A minor collision, or simply a broken-down vehicle usually results in delays of half an hour or more at the moment. Increasing the volume of traffic over Laira Bridge means the congestion will start earlier and last longer, while the risk of a collision or broken-down vehicle is greatly increased. Subsequent delays will also be far worse, due to the added traffic.

Travelling into Plymouth from the North Eatern Area would mostly pass through Marsh Mills roundabout, then following Embankment Road in. This route is also at capacity during rush hour, and minor disruption often causes very long tailbacks.

To make matters worse. most traffic from Embankment Road or Laira Bridge then merges onto Gdynia Way. Almost any disruption to Gdynia Way causes havoc with Plymouth traffic and when it's closed for whatever reason, the city gridlocks. When gridlocked, a journey of 3 miles from the city centre to Plymstock can take two hours, or even far longer.

There are very few alternative routes to choose from, and what alternatives there are rapidly gridlocks as drivers try and avoid the jams.

Plymouth simply was never designed to cope with such levels of traffic. Sure, it is theoretically possible to widen certain roads, and either widen Laira Bridge, or build another bridge alongside it, but the costs of doing so would be so vast it would certainly outweigh the benefits such schemes may bring.

Add to that the old saying of "Building more roads to easy congestion is like loosening your belt when overeating". Put plainly, that really is no solution at all, and as various new roads schemes around the world has shown, traffic simply grows to absorb any spare capacity.

Clearly we need a new plan, a better plan, a plan that will reduce traffic.

There are only a few ways of reducing traffic. We can force people to have staggered times of work, so everybody won't hit the road roughly at the same time, but that will create huge problems in itself.
We can improve public transport, to get as many people out of cars and onto buses, boats and trains as possible. While doing so will undoubtedly reduce traffic, it isn't an ideal solution. Ever tried taking a bus from Plymstock to say Derriford? First, you take a bus into town, then wait to catch another bus out of town. Not exactly an elegant solution, to be taken around two sides of a tri-angle, now is it?
More importantly, simply by ensuring public transport is available won't coax most drivers out of their cars. After all, we have public transport right now, yet most cars travelling into Plymouth have a single occupant.

A far better solution is to change the road hierarchy, favouring public transport and alternative modes of transport, such as cycling, over cars. To take road space away from cars.

Plymouth is standing at a crossroads and needs to decide where it's going.
Will it choose to continue tinkering with roads, trying to maximise motorised traffic flow, or will it make a bold decision?

Will the city decide that cities are all about people and not about cars? Will it accept that roads are corridors to move people, and that roads shouldn't be the domain of cars? Will Plymouth have the vision and the courage to free itself from its current bondage to cars?

The Plymouth 2020 Partnership has as strapline the aim of becoming one of Europes finest, most vibrant waterfront cities. That's a noble aim, which I support completely.
Except, let's go and take a look at Europe's actual finest, most vibrant waterside cities:
Paris banned HGVs from entering the city, and have turned roads into parks for people. Seville installed hundreds of kilometers of properly segregated cycle paths, igniting an instant boom in cycling (with an associated reduction in motorised traffic).
Copenhagen has exceptionally good cycling infrastructure, resulting in over a third of all journeys there being made by bicycle.
And that;s before we even mention Amsterdam.

It is time for Plymouth to be brave!

The only realistic way to significantly reduce traffic over a route such as Laira Bridge is to put in place safe, segregated cycle expressways that don't force cyclists to yield priority for no apparent reason. Cycle expressways that are as direct as we can make them, and that are safe due to being physically segegated from motorised traffic.

Research effort after research effort all confirm the same thing: there is a huge latent demand for cycling, but most current non-cyclists won't cycle due to the fear of mixing with motorised traffic. Build the safe infrastructure and watch cycling levels boom, with a corresponding reduction in motorised traffic. Everybody's better off, even those that can't or won't cycle.

Come on, Plymouth, we can do this!


Monday, 27 January 2014

Jacketts Coaches

On Tuesday, the 21st of January 2014, I was cycling to work as I do pretty much each working day. My commute leads me into Plymouth from the East, over Laira Bridge and along Exeter Street.
I was cycling on the last bit of Exeter Street, that goes over the top of Bretonside bus station,  at approximately 08h30, when I was overtaken very closely by a bus driver.

There are two lanes in each direction along this stretch of Exeter Street, and I was in lane 1, about a metre off the kerb, in what cyclists call the secondary position. Lane 2 was empty, and there really was no need whatsoever for the bus driver to give me such a close overtake as he had done. I could've touched the side of the bus without straightening my arm, as he went by.

This is the part of Exeter Street where it happened
 To be clear, I was dressed in a yellow hi-viz rain coat, with 3M retro-reflective patches all over. In addition, I had a steady red tail light, a second and flashing tail light, and yellow 3M hi-viz ankle straps with flashing LEDs on. Add to this the extra wide 3M reflective patches on my panniers, I know I had made myself as visible as I could.
In case you're interested, at the front I had three white strobing lights, one of which outputs 1 000 lumen and is rather noticable even in bright sunshine.

The weather was overcast, but it wasn't raining and being well after dawn, visibility without lights was good.


I followed the bus down into Bretonside bus station, and when he parked up I pulled up alongside the doors and knocked on them. The driver then opened the doors, and I politely asked him why he had given me such a close overtake.

His response was that he hadn't done so intentionally, which actually alarmed me more, as it implied he quite possibly hadn't even realised that I was there, and therefore may just as easily have run me over.
I replied by pointing out that intentional or not, he'd still given me a dangerously close overtake and in return he asked what I'd like him to do about it.

I told him I'd like him to read Highway Code Rule 163 and educate himself on how to safely overtake cyclists. For clarity, the following picture is from the Highway Code, and demonstrates how much space drivers are supposed to give cyclists:





 At my mentioning the Highway Code, the bus driver became visibly agitated, aggressive and foul-mouthed and he told me that he knows his f---ing Highway Code.
He then immediately followed up by saying "If you started paying f----ing road tax, then you can f---ing tell me what to f---ing do". Clearly the F-word is his absolute favourite.

In response to my pointing out to him that he doesn't actually pay road tax, as that was scrapped in 1937, and that he pays VED instead, he told me to go "f-ck" myself, loudly, and within earshot of a group of school kids walking by. Charming character.

At this point, he was getting out of the bus and I invited him to the bus station, to discuss his behaviour with a manager. I had made the mistake of at first having thought it was a First Bus driver, and knew First wouldn't tolerate such behaviour, but he corrected me by saying "They've got f---all to do with me."
I asked him for his name and he refused to give it. When I asked him what company he worked for, he replied by saying "Jacketts".
 
At no point at all did I swear at him, and I actually impressed myself by how composed I remained throughout the incident.


I looked up Jacketts Coaches and emailed them. Below is the email exchange between me and them:

"Dear Sir/Madam,

This morning, at approximately 08h30, I was overtaken by one of your coaches, registration NRBY05 HDV, displaying the number 52 on a sign at the front, inside the windscreen.
I was cycling along Exeter Street, in a westerly direction, between Charles Cross roundabout and Royal Parade, when your driver overtook me so closely that I could have reached out and touched the side of the bus, without straightening my arm. 
Exeter Street has two lanes there, and the second lane was empty at the time. I was wearing a British Cycling Ride Leader hi-viz jacket (I'm a trained Ride Leader with British Cycling) and I had one flashing rear light, one steady rear light, as well as hi-viz reflective anklets, with flashing LEDs. In addition, the panniers on my bike have large, wide reflective strips. No driver can ever claim that I am not visible on the road.

Highway Code Rule 163 clearly shows how much space drivers are supposed to give cyclists when overtaking, and I suggest you look it up and educate ALL your drivers.

I followed the driver into Bretonside bus station, where he parked up. I came alongside and asked the driver politely why he had overtaken me in such a dangerous manner. He replied that he didn't do so intentionally - which beggars belief, as it suggests he'd done so without realising, in which case I'd like to know why he wasn't concentrating on the road.

I replied that whether intentional or not, he'd still done it, and his retort was to ask me what I wanted him to do about it. I replied by saying I'd like him to read Rule 163 of the Highway Code. At this point he became immediately aggressive and abusive, and told me (verbatim) that he knows his "f---ing Highway Code".

He then immediately followed up by saying "If you started paying f----ing road tax, then you can f---ing tell me what to f---ing do". I was appalled that a professional driver is unaware that road tax was scrapped in 1937, and that drivers pay Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) instead. VED doesn't directly fund the roads.
Instead, roads are paid for from general taxation (PAYE, VAT, Stamp Duty, etc.) as well as Council Tax, which everybody pays. Additionally, VED is calculated on emissions produced, and even if cyclists had to have a VED disc, it'd be zero-rated, as bicycles are zero-emissions vehicles with FULL entitlement to use the road. Yes, even the full lane, should a cyclist so prefer.

Your driver continued swearing, and told me - in public, with a group of school children walking by within earshot - to go f-ck myself.

Is this the standard of driving and behaviour you expect of your drivers?

I'd like to know with some haste exactly what you intend to do about this.

Kind regards,"

The first reply I received was this:

"This is a quick email just to state that we have received yours and will be dealing with the complaint immediately.
Thank you
Dannie
Office Manager"
 The following day, having heard nothing at all, I emailed them again:

"Hi Dannie,
Do you perhaps have an update on this matter?
Regards,
William"

Here's their reply:

"Dear ,
We have investigated the complaint put forward by yourself. We have spoken to the driver in question he politely told us that it was you that swerved towards him and he had given you enough room. Unfortunately a bus cannot move as quickly as a cyclist. The driver also informed us that when you went down to the bus station he did infact apologise immediately it was only when you continuously pursued the matter and started to swear at the driver that he did so back. He apologised the matter should have ended there. 
Rather than waiting for us to get back to you with the conclusion of the matter you have gone onto post slanderous allegations across social media. This is an action that we do not take kindly to. 
Dannie"


Here's my last email to them:
"Dear Dannie,

If you feel I have slandered your company in any way, I suggest you proceed with legal steps. Good luck with that, as you won't get very far.
I will now endeavour to obtain CCTV footage from Plymouth City Council, which will clearly support what I had claimed. 

I find it extremely disappointing (though entirely unsurprising) that your firm simply won't accept that your driver had done anything wrong at all.

Let's evaluate things, shall we? 
1) I didn't swerve at anything, but instead your driver overtook me in a dangerous manner.
2) Your driver wouldn't have apologised at all if he didn't accept that what he'd done was wrong.
3) I am not in a habit of swearing at people and I certainly did not swear at your driver at any point.
4) I was polite to your driver, and walked away when he became aggressive.
5) I notice you didn't comment on your driver's incorrect views about "road tax", which suggests your firm holds the same views.

As a final note, Dannie, stating verifiable facts is not slander. I expect your solicitor would tell you the same.

Kind regards,"
Think about it for a moment - why would ANY cyclist endanger themselves by swerving towards a bus weighing however many tonnes? What could that possibly achieve, other than place the cyclist at great risk? Who would be stupid enough to do something like that? Certainly not me, nor anybody else, I expect.
Yet Dannie from Jacketts Coaches thinks it is entirely plausible. The mind boggles!
As for the next point, supposing I was suicidal enough to swerve at the bus, why would the driver apologise to me? That simply doesn't make any sense, and the fact that the driver admits he apologised indicates he acknowleged that he had done wrong.
That makes a mockery of their claim that the driver had given me enough room!
I did NOT swear at the driver - not even once. In fact, I didn't even almost swear, and I remained calm thoughout. I'm still pretty chuffed at myself for having remained calm.
Now as for my "slanderous allegations on social media", here they are - this is what I'd posted to Twitter:
"Had a run-in with a driver from @JackettsCoaches this morning, following a very close overtake he gave me despite an empty road"
 "The @JackettsCoaches driver became abusive & aggressive when I politely asked him why he didn't give me any space when overtaking"
 "The @JackettsCoaches driver said "If you started paying f---ing road tax you can f---ing tell me what to f---ing do""
"The @JackettsCoaches driver didn't like it when I told him that road tax had been scrapped in 1937 & loudly told me to go f-ck myself" 
"I emailed @JackettsCoaches & received a reply saying they're looking into the matter. Not holding my breath, to be honest"
"Oh, he is. A Class-A idiot and a foul-mouthed dangerous driver that shouldn't be on the road."

Then after their last email to me:

"Had an email back from @JackettsCoaches re. the incident where their driver gave me a close & dangerous overtake & ranted about road tax"   
"Sadly, as I expected, @JackettsCoaches say that a) I swerved at the bus (because cyclists are kamikaze pilots, right?)" 
 "b) @JackettsCoaches say the driver then apologised to me (whatever for, if he'd supposedly done nothing wrong) & c) that I supposedly swore"
"@JackettsCoaches didn't comment on the road tax rant the driver gave me & don't accept that he swore at me AT ALL." 
"Oh, and @JackettsCoaches said they're VERY unhappy about my "slanderous allegations" made on social media." 
"It seems just getting @JackettsCoaches to accept "road tax" doesn't exist might help!"

Now Jacketts Coaches very recently landed a contract from Plymouth City Council to run two or so bus routes. This means the people of Plymouth effectively paid that idiot of a driver to endanger my life (and who knows how many more?). That is simply not on!

Companies that expect to receive public subsidies paid by YOU should ALSO have to ensure that a) their drivers are safe, b) their drivers know and keep to the Highway Code and c) their driver agree to abide by a code of conduct.

Without these in place, the system is open to abuse, as this incident clearly demonstrates.

I'm rather disappointed that Plymouth City Council would award companies such as this ANY contract, and I view this as Plymouth City Council failing in its duty of care towards all road users.

As such, I will be campaigning hard to get the council to implement a compulsory cycle-safety scheme for ALL public transport companies it licences to use public roads.