Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Police Lottery

This is a story of a lottery. No, not that national lottery, but a post code lottery. Specifically, a post code lottery in which where you live determines whether or not, as a cyclist, you can expect to receive any justice from police.

If you live in Devon or Cornwall you're bang out of luck, as Devon and Cornwall Police don't take driving offences, that other forces prosecute drivers for, seriously at all when reported by cyclists.

On the 2nd of November 2016 I was subjected to a very close, dangerous and utterly pointless overtake, which you can see here.


As you can see, I was cycling in primary position (specifically to try and discourage overtakes where clearly it would be unsafe) when the absolutely idiotic driver insisted on overtaking me, despite oncoming traffic. Twenty seconds into the clip you can briefly see both the oncoming car and the overtaking car in the video clip, proving that they were both alongside me at the same time.

The oncoming car looks to me like a Seat hatchback, while the overtaking car was a Vauxhall Corsa, which is 1.944 metres wide. Assuming for the moment that oncoming car was indeed a Seat Ibiza, that would mean it was 1.81 metres wide, which is a fair average width for a large number of hatchbacks in the UK. Placed side-by-side, with the wing mirrors touching, the two cars would be 3.754 metres wide.

The road itself is 6.8 metres wide - yes, I went and measured it with a tape measure. In the video you will see a manhole cover in the road. This extends over a metre into the road and is over a metre wide. As I was riding to the right of that we can see that I was riding at least two metres away from the kerb.

If we deduct the combined width of both cars (3.754 m) from the road width (6.8 m) we end up with 3.046 metres road space. My bike is 40 centimetres wide, reducing that further to 2.646 metres. From that we should deduct the minimum of 2 metres I was away from the kerb, bringing us down to 0.646 metres in total. What we haven't factored in yet is the distance the oncoming car was away from the kerb. Given that cars cannot drive properly with their tyres scraping the kerb, it would be fair to look at a distance of at least 0.3 m from the kerb. That reduces the total available space between both cars and me on my bike to 0.346 metres. Divided by two (assuming there was an equal gap between the two cars and between the overtaking car and me, we're looking at an overtake distance of 17 centimetres.

Next time you see a cyclist ride through a puddle, look at the wet tyre tracks they leave behind: they're not in a straight line. This is part of what the Department for Transport refers to a bicycle's "dynamic envelope". In the DfT's LTN 2/08, Cycling Infrastructure Design it suggests the dynamic envelope of someone cycling will be 0.2 metres (20 centimetres) wider than their static width, and significantly wider than that at low speeds.

Without factoring the dynamic envelope in, we're still looking at 17 cm, which is stupidly close already.

I think we can all agree that this certainly amounts to a dangerous, close overtake.

Now let's look at Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) guidelines for driving offenses, specifically for the charge of driving without due care and attention. The guidelines are available by clicking here.

Specifically, read the following:

"There are decided cases that provide some guidance as to the driving that courts will regard as careless or inconsiderate and the following examples are typical of what we are likely to regard as careless driving:

  • overtaking on the inside;
  • driving inappropriately close to another vehicle;
  • inadvertently driving through a red light;
  • emerging from a side road into the path of another vehicle;
  • tuning a car radio; when the driver was avoidably distracted by this action;
  • using a hand-held mobile phone or other hand-held electronic equipment when the driver was avoidably distracted by that use (note that this is an offence itself under Regulation 110 of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2003).  If this is the only relevant aspect of the case it is more appropriate to use the specific offence;
  • selecting and lighting a cigarette or similar when the driver was avoidably distracted by that use."


Given the distance of the overtake I experienced, I'm confident you will agree that we have indeed met (or rather far exceeded!) the CPS threshold for charging a driver with driving without due care and consideration.

Except Devon and Cornwall Police disagree, and repeatedly said the evidence supplied falls short of what courts would require. Despite repeated requests, they have yet to clarify WHY they say that.

Allow me to regale you with the deep joys that are to be found in trying to report bad driving to Devon and Cornwall Police when you're a cyclist. I first reported the incident to the force's 101 email address, on the 2nd of November (the date of the incident):

"Dear Roads Policing Unit,
This afternoon, 2nd of November 2016, at around 15h35 I was cycling along Millbay Road, Plymouth in a westerly direction, when I suffered a very close, dangerous and utterly pointless overtake by the driver of a Vauxhall Corsa, reg WL12 FSO.
You can see video of the overtake here: https://youtu.be/FvNlWCxuTTc
It was clear and sunny, with excellent visibility and I was doing 18 mph, pacing the speed of traffic ahead of me. As that segment of road is a downhill, I can go significantly faster, but didn't as I'd simply need to brake for traffic ahead of me anyway.
As I was approaching a roundabout, I was riding in what Cycle Craft (available from the Government Press, and upon which Bikeability cycling training is based) refers to as primary position: this means riding in the middle of the lane specifically to try and discourage overtakes.
There was oncoming traffic, yet the driver of the Corsa still decided she was going to overtake me, no matter what.
I've spoken with the operators of D&C Police's Twitter account, who asked me to email a report to yourselves.
Many thanks in advance.
Kind regards,"

The first human response to that email was to say they couldn't view the attachment. This is hardly surprising, given that I didn't attach anything to the report, but instead sent and email containing a link to YouTube.

Various emails were exchanged, many of which were NOT inspiring confidence in the technical abilities of D & C Police. I was asked to send the video via email. This I did, attaching the 16 MB video, only to receive an immediate bounce-back saying the attachment (of 16 MB, remember) exceeds the force's attachment limit of 20 MB. Last time I checked, 16 was certainly smaller than 20, but apparently D & C Police feel differently.

I tried using WeTransfer.com - you upload the file and the recipient receives an email containing a hyperlink to the file. They couldn't access that either. Next, I shared it via Dropbox, but they couldn't access that either. I'm still unsure whether this was due to system limits or people struggling with hyperlinks. Suffice it to say I don't rate D & C Police's collective IT skills very high at all at this point.

I emailed the head of Armed Response and Traffic directly, and also contacted him via Twitter. He informed me that he assigned the case to a named officer. Some time later, on the 10th of November 2016, the named officer emailed me to explain that he's looking into my report, but that he's terribly busy.

Police are, quite unsurprisingly, governed by many laws. This includes the requirement to issue what is known as an NIP (Notice of Intent to Prosecute) on an offending driver within 14 days from when the offense was comitted. If the NIP period expires without an NIP having been issued, police will simply turn around and say that there is nothing more they can do and close the case without taking action.

Mindful of this, I kept emailing, asking for an update. Finally, on the 28th of November 2016 I received an email from an Inspector, saying the following:

"Regarding the cycle camera footage that this email chain refers to. This footage was viewed by various officers including myself. In this type of incident, we as police officers decide on the evidence available, whether there is sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction. I fully appreciate that you feel this was an incident that caused you concern, due to the actions of the driver. Unfortunately the video evidence was not sufficient to provide a realistic prospect of conviction. This was because of continuity issues around date, time and the ID of the cyclist, at the time of the incident. This is not in any way placing your integrity into question but would be points raised by a defence that would put in place reasonable doubt and therefore prevent a conviction.

With that in mind I don’t believe that a NIP was served on the other driver, but I do believe that the driver has been spoken to by MPC [name redacted]. I believe it was for these reasons and others that MPC [name redacted] requested a telephone number from you, so that he could fully relay the information to you in person.

As there is no planned prosecution there is no case number."

And there is was: the NIP notice period had run out, and D & C Police's finest couldn't give two hoots about an overtake calculated above to have been 17 centimetres, in the face of oncoming traffic, despite this clearly exceeding the threshold for successful prosecution set by CPS.

What a lovely work-reduction strategy that is: simply sit on something and do nothing, until the NIP notice expires, then fob the cyclist making the complaint off with an entirely spurious reason.

Let's examine those reasons given, shall we? The YouTube video (the only video police have seen) doesn't contain any date or time stamps, so there absolutely are no "continuity issues around the date and time". Bizarrely, the good Inspector also claimed there are continuity issues around the ID of the cyclist! What does that mean, given that *I* am the cyclist? Have I suddenly become Schrodinger's Cyclist, being me and not me at the same time? Do I fade in and out of existence? Does my identity change like some super spy?

I have objected to the reasons given, and asked for clarification regarding what exactly is meant by them, but it seems I'll be growing very old while waiting for an answer.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Dynamo update

Several months ago I finally got round to rebuilding my bike's front wheel around a Shimano hub dynamo and I fitted a dynamo front light.

I've had a crash in May 2016, which injured my spine in three places, damaged my left thigh and left shoulder and resulted in a torn right calf muscle. As a result I've not cycled much recently - certainly FAR less than I otherwise would have.
I used to cycle to work and back daily, with my commute a round trip of 30 miles. That's 150 miles per week just commuting - on top of that I used to go on club rides (typically around the 60-mile mark) on Saturdays, and often on Sundays I'd do Sky Rides, as I'm a Ride Leader.

Lately it's a good week if I manage to ride 60 miles, and almost all of that would be by occasionally cycle commuting. This means that I actually had little chance of properly testing out my new dynamo lights.

Even commuting home wasn't in real darkness and I got home well before dark. Despite this, I kept the front light switched on all the time. As is the case with most dynamo lights, it has a built-in sensor that can cause it to switch off automatically during the day, and back on when it starts to get dark. I leave it switched on because I try to be as visible as I can be on the bike.

As I was told by many dynamo evangelists would be the case, I couldn't notice any extra drag caused by the dynamo, even with the light switched on, so at least I managed to test that part.

And then the clocks changed, meaning was dark by the time I leave work, and pitch black before I get home. I've now had a good many proper dark commutes with the dynamo light and I am as happy with it now as when I first received it!

My dynamo light is everything I had hoped for.

Before, when I used to ride with a 5 x Cree T6 battery light, I also used a single Cree T6 torch, zoomed to light the road much further ahead. This is because, despite the large amount of light produced by the 5 x T6 light, it's scattered everywhere and only a relatively small amount directly lit the road ahead.

The dynamo light outputs less light, but uses it SO much more effectively that I never felt any need to slow down for lack of light. According to Strava, my fastest speed was 34 mph on one descent and even then I had plenty enough light to safely ride.

The Cree lights undoubtedly lit the road directly (as in a few metres in front of me) better than the dynamo light does, but that caused my night vision to be affected by glare. The dynamo light doesn't have that same glare, but I can clearly see debris, potholes, etc in the way.

The beam pattern of the dynamo light is just SO much better!

If you're still sceptical about dynamo lights, like I was for a very long time, and if you're anywhere near Plymouth, I'd be happy to meet you somewhere like the Coypool Park & Ride, then go cycling up the Plym Valley for a bit, where it gets proper dark.

Failing that, turn up for Darkmoor 2017 and you'll have all night to see my dynamo lights being used in anger.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Sorry

Dear Kids,

I'm sorry. I have failed you. As a dad, my job is to try and make your lives as safe, secure, stable, happy and good as I can.

I've tried to be a good role model (even if I can be a tad grumpy at times, and despite having worked WAY too long hours for several years until around 7 years ago). I tried to teach you right from wrong, but still allow you to freedom to make your own decisions. I tried to create a safe space where you can be you and I tried to not constantly impose my will upon you, but to also listen to your point of view.

I suppose the varying tastes in music must mean that at least to some extent I have succeeded! :-) (Seriously, I don't like RAP and I don't think I ever will!)

I have tried to make the world a slightly better place for you, in so many different ways.

From where I stand, there are several threats I needed to protect you against.
The world isn't a fair place, and I needed to teach you that you won't get what you're after simply by relying on it being fair, but that instead you need to learn to trust in your own abilities and go after your goals with everything you have.

I needed to keep you physically safe, warm and well fed, and that I have done until you became so independent that you could go off on your own to places.

I needed to make you feel loved, and valued as a human being and I hope I have succeeded in this (though I suspect even if I did I wasn't nearly as good at it as your mom).

People often refer to the pyramid of human survival, which starts at the very base level with food & water, warmth and shelter. Without those things we die, and I have provided you with those.

Now here's the bad news: I thought I have succeeded in protecting you, at very least at the base level, but the reality appears to be that I have probably failed you.

See, our world, your world is under threat, grave threat. The very survival of your world as a host to human life is under threat. CO2 pollution is increasing and the Earth is warming faster than expected. At this stage, we're looking at a 3 degree Celsius overall rise in temperature within your lifetimes and quite frankly the effects of that will be catastrophic.

The Arctic will soon be ice-free in summer. Australia is slowly turning into a dust-bowl and deserts in Africa are growing at an enormous rate. Here in the UK the air will be able to carry more water, resulting in heavier rains than ever before, destroying food crops and causing widespread flooding.

Food and water wars will become reality in a world where millions will face starvation.

And I am partly to blame. Yes, little old me. I carry part of the blame because I didn't campaign hard enough against cars, against burning fossil fuels, against pollution. I carry part of the blame because once I didn't believe there was anything wrong with burning as much fuel as I could afford to.

I carry part of the blame because I failed miserably in the campaign against greed. In fact, in the end good old human greed was such a powerful enemy it simply decimated us. Greed consumed our financial institutions, our corporations and eventually even our leaders.

See, campaigning to get people to burn less fuel would have resulted in less profits for the oil giants, and they spend enormous amounts of money on propaganda wars to ensure most people remain fooled. And they succeeded.

Despite enormous scientific evidence of global warming, there are still many who refuse to believe it, who instead choose to dismiss it as some fairy tale. They do that because we have lost the propaganda war.

Adolf Hitler once wrote something along the lines of "if you keep a lie simple enough and repeat it often enough, people WILL believe it". That is exactly what the oil giants had done, and Hitler was proved correct in that theory, as most people believed it.

Even as I'm writing this, the oil giants are moving closer with plans to drill for oil in the Arctic, ironically only made possible due to the devastating ice-melt global warming already caused.

Our government is complicit, and has turned against the people it is meant to protect and is instead protecting the profits of large corporations. They are changing laws to take rights away from people, they are actively vilifying the poor, the infirm and the disabled. They are implementing "terror laws" which ironically are mostly used to spy on and terrorise their own citizens. They are reading all your email, eavesdropping on your phone calls and monitoring your web usage.

Greenpeace coined a slogan a long time ago: think global, act local. The idea was that if each of us only made small changes, together we could achieve enormous amounts. That strategy is absolutely true, but sadly there weren't enough of us to really make a change.

Greed has won. The rich has it all and will punish you for trying to change that. Greed is killing our world. Large corporations need you to be good little consumers to maintain good profits.

Sorry kids. I've failed you.



Thursday, 24 November 2016

Seaton and the Rame peninsula

If you live in Plymouth, you're spoilt for choice when it comes to gorgeous cycling routes. From coastal vistas to high moorland and much more are within reach, so it always surprises me that so many people cycle the same route again and again.

To me (well, this is my blog after all) a good route offers a combination of things: we want half-decent road surfaces, not too much traffic, several good climbs to get the blood pumping, views that make you glad to be alive, and of course a pretty decent cafe to stop at. Whether you ride with friends, a cycling club or on your own doesn't really matter, as long as you get out there and ride.

This post is about one of my favourite routes, a route that crosses the Tamar into Cornwall, to meander over the Rame peninsula. Where in Plymouth you may be starting from doesn't matter - just make your way down to the Torpoint ferry (Europe's largest chain-driven ferries, in case you didn't know) and cross into Cornwall. Cyclists, like pedestrians, cross for free in either direction on the Torpoint Ferry.

Once off the ferry in Torpoint, follow the road, but turn left into Marine Drive and follow the water's edge. After a while Marine Drive will become Carbeille Road - just follow that up the gentle hill until you get to a mini-roundabout, by the Carbeille Inn, where you should turn left onto Trevol Road.
Follow Trevol Road all the way, past HMS Raleigh, until it merges with the A374 (you'll be turning left here) then just follow the A374 all the way, keeping the Lynher river on your right.

A word of caution: the A374 can get a bit busy, with fast traffic. If this concerns you, go ride this route early on a Saturday or Sunday morning, when the road should be nice and quiet. Also, the road surface along here is quite rough in places - just grin and bear it, as the rest of the route will make up for this temporary annoyance.

Stay on the A374 through Antony and Polbathic, then turn left on the A387, sigposted Looe and Hessenford. Although still an A road, the A387 is far more quiet than the A374, but it is also far more narrow. Soon after turning left you will encounter the first real climb of the ride, as the road winds its way up to the top of the hill. You will be rewarded with a nice descent down into Hessenford, but do slow down once there are houses either side as you need to turn left on Hessenford Road just after having crossed the river Seaton by the bridge.

Hessenford Road will take you all the way to Seaton, where you will find the first option for a cafe stop at the Seaton Beach Cafe. The coffee here is pretty good and the cake is acceptable.

Should you wish to forego the cafe stop for the moment, simply continue along across the bridge over the river. The road now is called Bridge Road, and will skirt the edge of the beach before turning up a sharp little hill to take you into Downderry. Just follow the road all the way. It will change names a few more times, first to Brenton Road, then Main Road and finally Tregannus Lane. Tregannus Lane will make a U-turn before presenting you with quite a relentless climb. This is one of my favourite climbs in the general area and you will find it goes on for just over a mile and is fairly steep, hitting 15% or so in a few places.

Follow the road as it curves to the right at a junction shortly before the climb ends, and simply continue along. Soon you will be rewarded with often breathtaking views over Whitsand Bay on your right. The road will undulate for a while and will take you through Crafthole. Just continue to follow the road until you can see an old fort on your right.  This is Tregantle Fort, which is still in military use. A mild uphill later you need to turn right (not the entrance to Tregantle, but the road soon after).

Be careful here - lots of beachgoers park on the edge of the road and often simply walk out on to the road without checking! The road will sweep closer to the sea and will follow the cliff tops, taking you through Freathy. Soon enough you will see a road turning left, with signs for the Whitsand Bay Fort Holiday Park. Directly opposite that road there is a little dirt track leading off downhill. Tucked away just out of sight is the Clifftop Cafe - well worth visiting, even if it does mean walking your bike a very short bit down the track.

If you choose not to stop (well, it's your loss) then simply follow the road, which is now called Military Road. A while further there will be two lanes leading off to the right - don't take those, but instead stay on the road you've been following. As you turn the corner, the road changes name to Trehill Lane. It's a nice descent but there are some sharp corners. One curve in the road especially from a distance looks like the road continues almost straight, when in fact you need to take a sharp left turn, so if you're not familiar with the road I suggest at first taking it easy here. Trehill Lane becomes Rame Lane, and shortly thereafter Forder Lane, before taking you down into Cawsand as it becomes New Road.

Simply follow New Road through Cawsand. Where it turns uphill it becomes Jackman's Meadow and you should follow it all the way up the hill to a junction with a bigger road. This is right by Fourlanesend Primary School, and you will have a choice to make: turn left, towards Millbrook to (eventually) take the Torpoint Ferry again, or turn right towards Mt Edgecombe, to catch the Cremyll ferry. Just be aware that the Cremyll ferry charges for pedestrians, plus extra per bike.

Cremyll Ferry
If you opted for the Cremyll Ferry, you will turn right at Fourlanesend and simply stay on that road. You will ride past the Mt Edgecombe chapel entrance and past the Mt Edgecombe entrance to descend all the way to Cremyll. If you've timed it well, you will just have missed the ferry and be forced to make good use of the Edgecombe Arms pub while waiting for the next ferry.

Millbrook
If you opted to take the Torpoint Ferry, you will turn left, towards Millbrook. Exactly half a mile down the hill you need to turn right on Millpool Head, then follow that road as it winds its way through the village to the waterside. You will end up cycling on The Parade, with the water on your right, before taking the 1st exit at the first roundabout you encounter.
This will take you up St John's Road and you will have quite a sharp little hill ahead of you.

Simply follow St John's Lane all the way through the village of St John's, veering right at a junction where i signpost on a grassy circle points towards Torpoint. Follow the road uphill until you get to the junction with Trevoll Road, where there are yield signs painted across the road you're on. Turn right on Trevoll Road, and head back through Torpoint, past HMS Raleigh. When you get to the mini roundabout, at the junction with Carbeille Road, you can either turn right and return the same way you came, or just continue straight to the T-junction with Antony Road.  Turn right on Antony Road and follow it all the way to the Torpoint ferry.

Here's a link to the route map, from where you can download the GPX. The map opts for the route through Millbrook.
https://ridewithgps.com/routes/17819138

Friday, 14 October 2016

There's a long, long road a-winding...

Sometimes I despair when I realise how far we still have to go to get safe cycling conditions. On the 11th of October, a man called Quentin Willson posted the following tweet on Twitter:

The picture is of a new Cycle Super Highway (CSH) - yes, I agree, it IS a stupid name - in London and the point Mr Willson was trying to make is that the road is congested, yet despite all the road space given over to cyclists, only a single cyclist was using it. Seems legit, doesn't it?

Well yes, to a degree, until you realise that the CSH in question is still under construction and isn't open yet. This is something Mr Wilson would have been painfully aware of at the time, as the closure was just behind him when he took the photo. 
This is a classic example of misinformation by a motoring journalist and is downright dishonest. And yet, as Churchill said, a lie is halfway around the world before the truth even has it's trousers on.

This is the view from roughly the same spot, but looking back:

The opening you see above is NOT to allow cyclists access to the CSH, but rather to allow pedestrians to cross.

So far it seemd a dishonest attempt to build opposition to CSH's in London was rapidly countered by cyclists - not much of a story and quite a common occurrence.

So let's skip to Devon and Cornwall quickly. Or rather, let's skip to look at the response to this from Devon and Cornwall Police's finest. 
In D & C Police, armed response officers double as traffic officers. This is an important point, because naturally you'd expect such an armed response officer to be well trained not only in firearms, but also as a traffic officer.

In particular, you would expect a prominent sergeant, in charge of a section of traffic/armed response officers, to know the law and know it well.

And yet, this was the response from such a police sergeant on Twitter to Mr Willson's tweet:

Yes indeed - a fairly senior police officer, working in a traffic police capacity tweeted that he doesn't agree with cyclists being on the road when there's a "cycle lane". He failed to respond to requests to let us know where this cycle lane is and he quite clearly doesn't understand the limitations of the vast majority of "cycle lanes".

In case it isn't clear, here's the "all of the above" Sergeant Tangye agreed with:


In doing so, Sergeant Tangye added official police approval to the attitude of drivers who often deliberately intimidate cyclists who don't use inferior cycle infrastructure. He evidently also doesn't understand the difference between a cycle lane, a cycle track and a shared path, which is worrying, given his role in roads policing.

Policing is a profession that prides itself on an evidence-driven approach, but Sergeant Tangye was quick to publicly condemn cyclists and completely failed to do basic fact-checking in this instance.

Had he done so, he would've seen the CSH in the original tweet is NOT open for cyclists to use. Furthermore, he would also have learned that often cycle infrastructure is poor quality and really not fit for purpose.

Clearly Sergeant Tangye prefers to NOT have cyclists using any part of the road, given his agreement that he tweeted. This is despite cyclists being legally entitled to use practically any road (aside from motorways).

Attitudes such as what was publicly displayed by Sergeant Tangye actively emboldens the worst sort of drivers, who feel that they now have official police support for their hatred of cyclists. As such, the good sergeant has succeeded in making the roads that bit more dangerous for cyclists. 

For an officer tasked with roads policing, surely that is a massive failure?

I invited Sergeant Tangye to meet up and discuss why he feels cyclists shouldn't be on the road whenever there is a cycle track present (regardless of the quality of such a track) but he didn't reply to my invitation. 
His views are also at odds with the Highway Code (Rule 61), which specifically states: Use of these facilities is not compulsory.


It really is time for Devon and Cornwall Police to nail its colours to the mast: either the force will take roads policing seriously - especially the protection of vulnerable road users - or it won't. Either way, it needs to be upfront and honest about it.

To date, D & C Police have always been quick to respond with "Many of our officers are cyclists" in the face of any criticism from cyclists. There's a simple reply to that: So what? 
That doesn't automatically mean the force does all it can to help protect cyclists on the roads. It certainly doesn't mean the force isn't institutionally anti-cycling.

Contrast D & C Police's approach to that of West Midlands Police, who decided to base their approach on actual research and evidence. After all, isn't that exactly what we could reasonably expect all police forces to do?

In fact, as Sergeant Tangye's approach clearly shows, D & C Police have a long road to walk to eradicate an anti-cycling bias from its ranks. 

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Dynamo!

For years I've been threatening to upgrade to a dynamo hub as the idea of generating the power you need to light your way yourself has always appealed to me. Add to that the fact that I enjoy all-night rides, where battery power can rapidly become a problem, and dynamos start looking ever more appealing.

Shimano DH-3D32 dynamo hub
A number of years ago I purchased a Nokia DC-14 kit, which is designed to keep Nokia phones (remember those?) charged up while cycling. The DC-14 relies on a bottle dynamo which, while it does work, is very noisy. Annoyingly so.

The DC-14 does however offer sealed, waterproof circuitry that takes the fluctuating 6V AC feed from a dynamo and converts it to safe, smooth USB. More on this later.

Anyhow, something that always prevented me from buying a hub dynamo and dynamo lights is the fact that it didn't make sense to do so. Bear with me while I explain.
My main light used to be a 5 x Cree T6 light, driven off a 6-cell battery. A single Cree T6 chip outputs anything between 700 to just over 1 000 lumens, though lights like this are more often than not sold with greatly exaggerated lumens claims. In fact, mine was claimed to be 8 000 lumens, which is of course total rubbish.

I always calculate the lumens on the lowest rating, so a 5 x T6 light outputs around 3 500 lumens. That's a lot of light - enough to make oncoming drivers dip their headlights on country lanes before rounding the bend. It is also not possible to drive a light like that off a 6V dynamo - the physics simply don't add up.

And this was my problem: by moving to dynamo lights, I'd have less light. Several people tried telling me that while this is true, dynamo lights focus the light just where it's needed. As a result, while having less light overall, the available light is used better.

What doesn't help, and makes direct comparisons so much harder, is that battery lights tend to be rated in lumens, while dynamo lights are rated in lux.

Despite that making perfect sense, I wasn't ready to commit until I saw a dynamo light being used in anger. My 5 x Cree T6 light would light the road ahead of me, and the hedges to the side and the trees hanging overhead, so I know just a small amount of overall light produced actually directly lit the way.

When I rode the Exmouth Exodus this year (2016), one of the riders in the group I was cycling in had a dynamo light and his light was pretty good. Unlike me, he didn't have to worry about swapping batteries and he had enough light to cycle safely at a fair pace.

That was the turning point, and a while later I bought a Shimano DH-3D32 dynamo hub from Rose Bikes in Germany. For some unfathomable reason they were cheaper overall, including delivery, than any UK-based supplier. Along with the dynamo, I also bought a Herrmans H-One-S dynamo front light.

Once the bits arrived, I removed the front wheel from my Genesis CdA and removed the hub, before rebuilding the wheel around the dynamo hub. I was quite worried at one stage that the hub I'd bought was a dud: When trying to spin the wheel, while holding the hub in my hands, it wasn't free-spinning at all, but rather had distinctive "clicks". I was concerned that cycling with the hub was going to take LOTS of extra effort, which isn't how hub dynamos are supposed to be.

A quick Twitter conversation with a good Twitter friend and dynamo hub evangelist later I was assured the hubs behave like that when not clamped in the forks by the QR. Sure enough, once properly fitted back on the bike, the hub was smooth and free-spinning.

With the addition of a dynamo hub, my Genesis CdA has taken a big step forward to becoming my "one bike to rule them all". Though (obviously) heavier than my road bike, the CdA is still quite a fast bike. Essentially a CX bike with road tyres, it's sturdy enough to tackle rough terrain and the rack mounts means it can carry  a load too.

Though I've yet to add full mudguards and a new rack, my CdA is almost at the point where it is (to me!) the perfect commuter and light tourer. Dynamo lighting means I will no longer have to worry about charging up batteries.

After the rack and panniers, the final step will be to fit my Nokia DC-14 to the bike and wire that in (via a waterproof switch) to the dynamo. This will then allow me to charge various USB-powered gadgets up during the day, when I don't need the dynamo lights switched on.

The plan is actually to use the DC-14 to charge up a power bank, which in turn can be used to charge up or power any gadgets that may need charging or powering up.
The CdA has 3 bottle cage mounts, with the third on being on the underside of the down tube, forward of the bottom bracket, and I'll be using a bottle cage (and some cable ties!) to securely hold a water bottle repurposed as a waterproof enclosure for the power bank and the DC-14.

Here's to brighter cycling!




Thursday, 29 September 2016

Princetown NIMBYs

Not too far from Plymouth, up on high moorland, lies the village of Princetown. History tells us the village sprung up around the prison built there, and the prison was built there precisely because it can be such a desolate place, especially in the midst of winter.

At 435 metres above sea level, it is the highest village on Dartmoor, one of the highest in England and on a clear, sunny day the views are amazing. In the depth of winter, after snow falls, Princetown is often very popular with hordes of snow-seekers, mostly from nearby Plymouth.

The village has a few shops and two pubs, all of which are heavily dependent on tourism. Indeed, during the summer months, Princetown is often overrun by coachloads of tourists, with yet more arriving by car, bicycle or on foot.

One per year the Dartmoor Classic sportive passes through the village. Now contrary to what many people (including the Dartmoor Forest Parish Council, under which Princetown and nearby Postbridge and Hexworthy fall) mistakenly believe, a sportive is not a race.

Instead of a race, a sportive is a timed ride, on open roads, with riders set off in batches. The Dartmoor Classic is very popular, and places for it usually sells out in under 24 hours. Organised by the Mid Devon Cycling Club, the Dartmoor Classic makes a significant contribution to the local economy of a rural area already heavily dependent on funding from outside the area. The Dartmoor Classic has become an iconic event on the sportive calendar and is well known for being tough.

Every year Mid Devon Cycling Club supports various charities through the Dartmoor Classic event, including the amazing Dartmoor Search and Rescue group.

Given the positive economic impact the event has on Princetown and Postbridge, you'd imagine the locals would be be very supportive, protective even, of the event. After all, the influx of money helps sustain local businesses, which in turn supports local jobs. It's a desperately needed loop of positivity, given that the other major economic contributor to the village, Dartmoor Prison, is set to close soon..

And yet there are parish councillors who would like the event moved away from Princetown, which is so short-sighted it beggars belief. The impact of the event was discussed by the Dartmoor Forest Parish Council on the 28th of July, 2016.

The minutes of that discussion are as follows:
"6. Dartmoor Classic Sportive Cycling Event 
The event held on 22 June 2016 has generated considerable feedback from councillors. This initial feedback has been sent to DNPA to share at the next meeting of the safety advisory group that are holding with the organisers in early August.
The Parish Clerk has drafted a letter (previously circulated) to the organisers to raise our concerns at the impact of the event. The Parish Council to agree what, if any, changes they should request of the organisers and wider authorities, recognising that no formal parish wide surveying of the economic impact of this event and cycling in general to business has been completed.
Potential requests of the organisers and wider authorities:
a. Applying to close roads for the event.
b. Requesting the number of cyclists is significantly reduced for the event.
c. Running the event over two days with reduced numbers of cyclists on each day.
d. Re-routing the event away from Hexworthy Hill.
e. Re-routing the event away from Princetown.
f. Changing the route annually to avoid villages having the congestion and inconvenience each year. g. Requesting that the organisers make significant, community donations for the benefit of the Parish e.g. contributing to the cost of funding Princetown Play Area Phase 3. (relevant examples include; Tavistock Carnival is an event that could be viewed as disruptive to the town but makes significant donations to community organisations, Epic Kidz www.epickidz.co.uk is a charity that receives funds from athletes participating in cycling and running events in the North West that are then used to fund donations to youth and community organisations in the area). 
h. Work with the organisers and other bodies e.g. DNPA to use the event to promote Princetown and wider Dartmoor Forest. "

Now despite the conflicting suggestions listed, those minutes don't by themselves seem immediately overly negative, and we have to acknowledge that an event such as the Dartmoor Classic will of course have an impact on the village.

Let's look at the listed potential requests:
Point A suggests holding the event on closed roads? If the parish council is concerned about the negative impact of the event, why on earth would they propose making it far worse by closing roads? The level of misunderstanding of the issue is rather scary! The Dartmoor Classic takes place on open roads, meaning cars can and do share the roads at the same time. Closing the roads will mean cars cannot do so, and will worsen the impact on local people.
Points B, C, D, E and F are essentially the same thing, and translates as "we don't want all those cyclists on our roads" and is the very essence of NIMBYism.
Point G is actually a damn good suggestion, and one I hope Mid Devon Cycling Club will take forward. Make the event even more positive locally!
Point H is bizarre - how do these people think their attempt at banning the Dartmoor Classic from Princetown would help promote the village, or the wider Dartmoor Forest, is beyond me.

Following on from these minutes, the parish council published a rather biased SurveyMonkey survey on their site, which asked some leading questions. Cyclists got wind of this and started responding, and the parish council pulled the survey, presumably because they weren't getting the overwhelming negative response they were after.

In its place they printed and circulated paper surveys to all households in the parish. This is a copy of that survey:
Questions 1 to 3 are quite straightforward and I doubt anyone will have much of an issue with those, although the psychology students or legal experts may feel that they're used to set the stage for what follows.

Question 4 is absolutely leading and leans heavily towards the survey's ultimate aim: garnering support for forcing the event out of Princetown, Postbridge and Hexworthy.

Question 5 seems tacked on as an afterthought, and is unlikely to have enough influence to balance the skewed view presented by question 4.

Given the minutes that precede this survey, the intention is undeniably clear: it is an obvious attempt by some NIMBYs to move a highly successful and overall very positive event away from their village, and off their roads.


A subsequent meeting, held on the 22nd of September 2016, had the following to say:
"6. Dartmoor Classic Sportive Cycling Event The Parish Council agreed to complete a parish wide consultation on the impact of this event and cycling to help determine what, if any, changes they should request of the organisers and wider authorities. Cllr. Alison Geen circulated a draft survey which was agreed in principle. Cllrs. Alison Geen and Suzanne Davies to finalise questions and agree method of distribution and collection. Agreed to trial using email and survey collection software such as ‘Survey Monkey’ which can be used on a free basis."

Now an important bit is this: "what, if any, changes they should request of the organisers and wider authorities", because that's all they can do: request. The parish council has no authority to stop the event.

Also of note is the fact that councillor Suzanne Davies joined the Plymouth Cycling Campaign's Facebook group on the 27th of September 2016, perhaps in an attempt to gauge cyclists' reaction to this? On that same Facebook Group I was slated by another person, Chris Wright, who called me an "idiot trying to wind people up" when I first raised the survey there. Mr Wright has also since joined Plymouth Cycling Campaign's Facebook group.

Yes, you guessed it: Chris Wright lives in Princetown and is a Land Rover fanatic, and who feels strongly that the Dartmoor Classic should not pass through "his" village, but is happy for it to continue along a different route. Oh, and in a masterstroke of irony, he took exception to me calling him a NIMBY.

If you're not familiar with the area, suggesting the route be altered may seem so reasonable, until you realise how few roads there are to choose from. Crossing Dartmoor pretty much means passing through Princetown, unless the parish council has plans (and funding!) to suddenly build a bypass road.

This issue is as silly as it is sad. Devon County Council has repeatedly acknowledged the extremely valuable contribution cycling brings to the rural economy, and has clearly stated its intentions to further capitalise on that by attracting more cyclists and more cycling events. It is no coincidence that the Tour of Britain has a Devon stage - the county council part funds it, knowing it's a very worthwhile investment.

We simply cannot allow a handful of NIMBYs to spoil things for everyone. The roads and other public infrastructure used by events such as the Dartmoor Classic was heavily subsidised by tax payers that live outside the local area. This is true for any rural area and nobody in their right mind would object to that.

We do however object rather strongly to a few NIMBYs trying to prevent us from legally using those roads we have all contributed towards.
Please email the Dartmoor National Park authority on hq@dartmoor.gov.uk to express your support for the Dartmoor Classic, and your opposition to the NIMBYs' plans? You can also tweet them on @dartmoornpa

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Camera

I've been putting it off for a long time now, but I finally got another camera to use on the bike. Instead of helmet-mounting it, I went for a straightforward handlebar mount.

The camera itself is cheap, which obviously shows in the video quality, but at this stage I'm not complaining. It's called an Object - yes, I agree, that IS a stupid name - and it's a cheap copy of a GoPro that I bought at a petrol station for £20. I figured at that price it's worth taking a chance on a totally unknown make and model and to be honest I really didn't expect much of it.

The instructions are minimal, but suggests the camera can take 12 MP photographs! Not very likely at all! It turns out that the camera by default is heavily reliant on something called interpolation.

Now interpolation is a technique where software is used to calculate pixels that the CMOS sensor cannot actually see. Think of an A4 piece of paper, with a perfectly clean black line down the centre. To the left of that line the page it pure black, while to the right it is pure white, with the edge of the line being crisp and sharp.

If you used a camera relying on interpolation to take a photo of that sheet of paper, the line would no longer be clean and sharp, but fuzzy. This is because somewhere the software detected a white and a black pixel alongside each other, then inserted a few more pixels in between: a 25% grey, a 50% grey and a 75% grey pixel, in our example. These pixels never existed in the original image, but were artificially created. That is a simplified example of interpolation, and it becomes instantly obvious that it isn't something you wanted.

Indeed, early testing confirmed the video quality was VERY fuzzy, so I changed the resolution down to minimum, 640 x 480. That improved the image quality, but there's no escaping the fact that it's a cheap camera and when moving, the liquid effect is obvious on recorded video.

Still, it's way better than no camera at all, and aside from the less-than-stellar image quality, it does have rather good battery life. I used mine with an 8GB micro SD card, which (at 640 x 480 resolution) allows for roughly 2 hours of video. The camera will automatically switch off some time after having filled the SD card, and testing shows that those two hours of filming used up around a quarter of battery life.

That suggests (and I haven't yet tested it) that the camera would have a battery life of around eight hours, if used with a 32GB SD card.
Now I'll be very happy with 8 hours of battery as that means I can video the entire Dartmoor Classic.

The camera has a setting to allow for circular recording, where it will indefinitely over-write video previously recorded, but I'm not in favour of such drastic measures.I'm a geek at heart and anything that auto-deletes or auto-overwrites data makes me nervous!

Annoyingly, the camera breaks the video up into separate files of roughly ten minutes of video each, so if you wanted to use it with Suffervision or Dashware you'd need to first use a 3rd party utility to stitch all those segments together.

The audio quality is acceptable, except when moving, when the wind means you cannot hear anything other than wind noise. This is an important fact to bear in mind. On my old camera, I learned that you won't always be able to read the reg number, so when you have an incident on the road you always call out the reg number. That way you will have a record of it in the audio, even if not in the video, but with this camera (at least while on the handlebar mount) the audio will be useless, unless you were stopped at the time.

Anyway, here's an example of what the video quality is like - I had 2 separate incidents in this clip, at 3 minutes 30 seconds and at 4 minutes 20 seconds:

Friday, 2 September 2016

Staying alive

Now you have the Bee Gees singing Staying Alive in the back of your mind, let's look at perhaps extending that philosophy to cycling.

Broadly speaking, and with many exceptions, cyclists tend to be split between the Vehicular Cycling (VC) crowd, and the Segregation bunch, and a great many epic online battles of words were fought over those two approaches.

It is of course pure rubbish when applied to the present moment, as the sad reality is that cycling provision in the UK at the moment ranges mostly from poor to non-existent, with very few exceptions. Sure, there are rays of hope, like the new cycling "super highways" in London which seem great, despite the appallingly stupid name.

Having called the spat between the two groups rubbish, I wouldn't at all be surprised if I end up with a virtual lynch-mob after me, but stick with me a while longer and things will become clearer. Hopefully before any virtual blood is spilt!

To nail my colours to the mast, I believe segregation is the only real way forward to grow cycling. Now to add a heap of confusion into the mix, I must admit to being a Vehicular Cyclist, and I very much fit the stereotype demographic: fast(ish), white(ish - I'm actually racially mixed) and male. Oh, and middle-aged and dressed in Lycra. No, only when cycling - I wear Lycra for practical reasons, not because I have a fetish!

Anyway, if like me you ride regularly on the roads, you'll probably have found that the only real way to increase your safety in to ride like a Vehicular Cyclist. You may not like it, you may call for decent, Dutch-quality segregated infrastructure, but in the absence of that, you're basically left with two options: ride on the roads using VC techniques, or slowly pootle along on the crappy shared pavement.

In theory there is a third option too, cycling in the gutter, but that will get you run over.

So what's so great about VC techniques, I hear you ask? Well, let's examine that in detail, shall we?

For starters, VC cycling stipulates there are two parts of the road to ride one: primary position and secondary position. Primary position is riding smack bang in the centre of the lane, while riding in secondary position means riding between 50cm to 1 metre away from the kerb.

The thinking behind the concepts is fairly sound - you ride in primary position when cycling past parked cars, as that vastly reduces the likelihood of getting hit by a car door suddenly being opened in your path. You also ride in primary when going through a pinch-point or on narrow roads, as that will reduce the likelihood of a driver trying to bully their way through when there simply isn't enough space for them to safely overtake. Other times you should ride in primary is when cycling past the mouths of junctions, with the reasoning being that drivers are more likely to look for traffic in the middle of the lane.

This, plus the ability to have a sprint-speed of 20mph or more is the foundation of vehicular cycling. In essence, you cycle as if you're driving a far bigger vehicle, and if followed correctly it should keep you safe on the road.

Except it won't. I wouldn't go as far as to say VC is complete and utter tosh, but the sad reality is that it WON'T give you the safety you've always been told it would.

What VC techniques will do is reduce the risk a bit, particularly overtakes through pinch points, but it will also lead to a new experience: the punishment pass.
Basically, some drivers have the mindset of "Oh, so you think you can deliberately prevent me from overtaking when and where I choose (even if it isn't safe for you)? Well, I'll show you! I'll get as close to you as I can without actually hitting you!".

VC techniques will, if followed blindly, get you in a whole bunch of trouble and I must admit I've had days that left me seriously considering quitting cycling.

So what's the solution, I hear you ask? The only real solution is segregated cycle lanes that are continuous (especially through junctions), that don't desert you when you need it most, that are direct and doesn't force you to yield priority all the time. Until we have that, there is no solution, only coping strategies.

I cannot tell you what you should do, but I'll tell you what I now try to do:

Out on the roads, you will often be in a situation where you are 100% in the right and the driver 100% in the wrong. An example would be where a buildout restricts a normally-two-way road to a single car's width, usually with signed priority for one side or the other. Even if you have clear signed priority, you will often find drivers ignoring that and driving straight at you.

At that point, you can dig in your heels and stand your ground, but I won't be doing that. A car is far bigger and heavier than me, and I won't stand a chance if the driver absolutely refuses to stop. As a result, I'd rather get myself out of the way than risk being run over.

The Net is awash with YouTube helmet-cam videos from cyclists who got into a spot of bother because they insisted on defending their priority. Yes, technically they may have been right, but they still ended up with their lives endangered, and were left angry, shocked or sometimes traumatised by their experiences.

Why not try something else? If a driver pulls out on you, but you have plenty of time to take evasive action, do yourself a favour and let it go. That idiot isn't worth your time, or your emotion. You deserve better.
After all, what is the point of getting into a full-blown argument at the next set of lights? How exactly will that improve your life? Remember, this isn't about the driver, but about you.

Finally, because sometimes run-ins are unavoidable, after having had a run-in with a driver, regardless of the cause, I try to NOT get ahead of them. The last thing I want is a pissed-off driver having the opportunity to give me a punishment pass. Or worse.

This isn't about allowing them to get away with things. In reality they'll get away with it one way or the other, as police more often than not will refuse to act on anything short of you getting knocked off and even then most probably nothing will come of it.

This is quite simply about staying alive. Because hanging back, or even waiting a few minutes to let the idiot driver get well clear, is infinitely preferable to getting killed.

Out on the roads it's not a game, even if some may see it as such. Sometimes, it quite literally is a matter of life or death and given the choice, I'm sure you'd agree that choosing life is by far the better option.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Exmouth Exodus 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Monday, 4 July 2016

New bike!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Darkmoor 2016 - at a crossroads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any ideas you can share will be much appreciated!



Friday, 17 June 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are several reasons:

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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