The joys of the post-service bicycle

It turns out that there is a three week wait for a bicycle service at the moment. Looking at the number of people cycling each day, this shouldn’t really be a surprise. Whilst I don’t really take great (any) care of my bike personally, I do get it serviced pretty often, and accept cycling isn’t actually “free”. Sure enough, supporting this philosophy, my rear mech completely gave up on my way into work yesterday morning – mercifully the day of the long-awaited service. 

As ever, the original quote is £55 and the final cost is £110 as they discover the horrors lurking on my bike. I think I outdid myself this time, as my rear pannier rack was actually broken. My desire to lug crap from A to B has actually broken metal. Snapped in two. Even the sales person who returned my bike to me had heard whispers of this from the workshop, and was impressed (well….maybe more shocked). 

But what a lovely ride home I had. My bike was silent. The energy I put in seemed to be 100% converted into output by the bike, and that dull pain in my knees has temporarily pissed off. Definitely money well spent! I now am full of good intentions to keep my bike clean, which apparently would have a radical impact on how my bike runs in the longer-term. Just cleaning it once a week. Sadly, this sits on a list with “cleaning the skirting boards”, “doing that sit-ups DVD” and several thousand other tasks all fighting for my time. Perhaps I’ll just have a cup of tea and a little sit down first…..

Didn’t Ask Didn’t Get

As I slowly but surely turn into my mother, I am pleased to say this has been a very successful week for complaining – and it’s only Wednesday! So don’t piss me off….I’m on a roll.

First of all, roadworks closing (and coning off) one side of Cannon Street meant that when buses stopped on the open side of the road, no one could get past. A quick Tweet to City of London, which was passed on to Square Highways (also on Twitter), and the cones have been moved, allowing traffic to get past the the bus stop. It took less than 24 hours and made my ride in this morning a lot easier. Result!!

Secondly, anyone who uses CS7 will know that heading north into town on the section which bypasses Elephant roundabout has been a nuisance from the very start. First of all, the lights allowing you to cross the A302 used to be permanently on red as you went north. Cyclists just had to go when the adjacent pedestrian crossing got a green man. I complained about this about five times over a six month period, and finally – FINALLY – it was fixed.

Just as that got fixed, the next juntion up, letting you cross the A201, stopped working for cyclists going north. Why must everything be so bloody hard??! There are little cameras which are clearly there to detect cyclists and activate the lights. Coming south, the little camera has a little red light which pops on when you pull up. Heading north, this red light never came on, and sure enough, the traffic lights wouldn’t change unless a pedestrian activated the pedestrian lights next door. Often I have spent what felt like hours – no, DAYS – waiting in vain for the lights to change, until someone gave in, and wheeled over to the pedestrian lights. What I (and presumably everyone else?) failed to do was actually report it to TfL. Every morning it would jump to the top of the “to do” list, as my blood boiled waiting for the lights to change, only to slip down again until it completely fell out of my mind by the time I got to work.

Well, on Monday I finally used the TfL REPORTIT tool. Cue automated replies, and I held little hope that it would be fixed without many more complaints. Then this morning, there it was – the beautiful little red light of hope, telling me that the system knew I was there, and about 10 seconds later, the lights changed and I could cross.

This does make me think – how many similar situations are there on the roads of London, where no one complains to TfL? Sure, the response can sometimes be painfully slow, and of course it could be several people have complained several times about the traffic lights, and I just got lucky (and am of course now taking FULL credit) but ultimately, Didn’t Ask definitely didn’t get.

Rain rain go away!

Staying dry isn't the only concern when cycling in the rain

Staying dry isn’t the only concern when cycling in the rain

I have seen two unfortunate cyclists completely stack it in the past week, on both occasions in the rain. Much attention is given to clothing which can help you stay dry whilst cycling in the rain (something I definitely appreciate), but I am way more concerned by staying upright and safe when cycling in the rain.

Whilst not an expert, I definitely have learnt some lessons the hard way. Learn from my mistakes people!!

 

  1. Your stopping distance increases significantly. I have had several near misses where it felt like my brakes simply didn’t engage. Sometimes it shocks me how long it takes my bike to stop in the rain. Keep this in mind, leave yourself plenty of room, take extra time, and take it slow.
  2. Manhole covers are LETHAL. I remember the day I learnt this lesson. turning into a side road, my bike totally skidded out from under me. “How odd” I thought, “that doesn’t normally happen”. And on I went. Ten minutes later, I went to brake for some traffic lights, and my bike skidded out from under me. “Huh….talk about your coincidence!” (I’m sadly not joking). The third time it happened, I twigged. My advice to you is to avoid cycling over them entirely when the ground is wet. If you do have to, do so at a constant speed (without braking) and in a straight line. It will take you by surprise how slippery they are.
  3. Take corners slowly. This morning it was raining, and the woman in front of me was turning right on her bike. She nipped in front of a lorry and took the corner a bit too sharply, a bit too fast. Bike skids out to the left, she lands on her right shoulder, mercifully in the road she was turning into, not the lorry’s path. On a dry day, whilst perhaps not the wisest move, she would have made it. Take corners really slowly, as your bike won’t grip the road as you expect.
  4. Be seen. I know this one goes against the religion of cycling, but it is the advice I would give my loved ones. Put your principles to one side (“they should be looking out for me, don’t put the responsibility on the victim” etc.) and stick on your lights, and wear something people will see you in. There are lots of morons driving around in steamed up cars, seemingly blinded by the rain, and I don’t want to be hit by them. Even if it’s completely their fault, it will hurt.
  5. Take care around pedestrians. The other cyclist who fell off this week was the victim of a pedestrian using an umbrella just walking out into a cycle lane, where it crosses the pavement. She braked and swerved, and this on the slippery ground this caused her bike to skid, and she fell sideways. Whilst not her fault, I saw it coming and was already ringing my bell. This could have easily been me if I’d been in front and not looking out for it. Pedestrians can be extra blind when hurrying through the rain and wielding umbrellas. It’s very annoying, but it’s a fact. Give them room.

Now, fingers crossed this morning’s rain has gone, as I have not one, not two, but THREE barbecues this weekend and I don’t especially want to be writing “Hannah’s Guide to Barbecuing in the Driving Rain” on Monday.

I love my shed!

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Bike storage is a much-discussed problem, especially in cities where many people live in flats and space and access are limited. I’m exceptionally lucky at work that we have secure underground guarded bike parking and access to 12 showers which well exceeds demand. I probably wouldn’t be too concerned about leaving my bike on the street near work in any case, but near home there are far fewer bikes on the street, and far fewer passers by removing any sense of security. Even if it didn’t get stolen, I would worried about vandalism if I left it out overnight, not to mention the damaging effect of the elements.

Fortunately, although we live in a flat, we have a back garden and the plan has always been to somehow secure the bike back there. We did lots of research into various bike boxes, but these proved difficult as they needed a concrete base to be placed upon and our garden has paving. We eventually discovered the Shed Shackle. As you can see above, this attaches along one wall of the shed, and then lets you chain your bike to the shed itself. The key thing here is that the shed shackle is fitted with shear nuts, and cannot be removed. To get the shackle off, they would need to actually saw or smash through the back wall of the shed or take the entire back wall. Hardly a discrete operation. Since getting into our garden involves climbing over an 8′ gate, or climbing through three neighbouring gardens, this would be pretty tough carrying a bike attached to a large proportion of a shed wall, and I cannot envisage anyone bothering to do this to get my bike, which whilst important to me, is probably worth about a tenner sold down the pub. Coupled with a chain that’s almost too heavy to lift and a padlock the size of my head, it seems pretty robust, without any messing around with concrete. 

Now clearly the test is simply “will my bike get stolen?” and the only way the Shed Shackle could really prove its worth is if someone broke into the shed and didn’t manage to get the bike. Until then, it’s all hypothetical. Nonetheless, I feel confident that we’ve got a decent solution; easily as good as having the bike in a communal hallway, behind a front door which is only secured with a Yale lock.

Last night was spent scrubbing the communal hallway wall that had been desecrated by my handlebars, tyres and pannier rack, and it creates a far better first impression now without my bike cluttering things up. What’s more, at the weekend I plan to move all my bike junk out to the shed – baskets, pump, spare helmet etc, freeing up more vital space in our flat. I also no longer have a watering can in my bedroom or a barbecue and two deck chairs in my front room. 

Yes, I do in fact love my shed. 

A new kind of fair weather cyclist

Every summer, the fair weather cyclists dust off their rusting bikes, pump up their tyres just enough to make it possible for them to ride, and set off so very slowly onto the roads. I am all in favour of the fair weather cyclist, except when he/she is in front of me in the queue for the showers – but this is pre-coffee, and I reserve a special hatred for anyone who’s in front of me in the queue for the showers. Fair weather cyclists might be a bit wobbly and slow – who wasn’t to begin with?! Okay, so they haven’t cycled through the cold, wind and rain we get for 10 months of the year. This isn’t an obligatory right of passage. Cycling isn’t an exclusive club, and there’s no need for such snobbery.

However, this year, the fair weather cyclist is of a different kind. When the sun comes out, the roads are filled with very fast men, going very fast on very sporty bikes. Forget me smiling patronisingly at a newbie who misjudged a corner. I’m being tutted at impatiently by the peloton who can’t slow down for two seconds to allow me to overtake a bus.

If there has been a “Bradly Wiggins” effect, it has definitely impacted the fair weather cyclist. I’m purely a utility cyclist, using my bike to get me where I need to go, but my guess is that cycling clubs have seen a huge increase in members. This is great – more people getting exercise and hopefully enjoy themselves.

However, new fair weather cyclists – please spare a thought for those of us who aren’t going 30 miles an hour as we try to get to work. If you see a queue up ahead as people pass through a reduced space, join the queue – don’t force your way to the front and then block other cyclists out. We know you can go really really fast – well done you. There is a reason your club run doesn’t go through the centre of London, so save your speed for your Saturday rides down long wide country roads and terribly boring though it is, accept your ride into work will be slower and give everyone the space they need. 

One Cyclist Halfords Forgot

The “Get on your bike” video has been doing the rounds this week. This really is spot on, and worth a watch if you’ve not seen it. In case you’re interested, I am definitely in the geeky-high-vis-hand-signals crew, right down to the facial expression that man pulls at 36s

Howver, Halfords seem to have missed a new type of cyclist, one that I only spotted this morning. The topless cyclist! And no gentlemen, no need to get over-excited; this was a man, and he was definitely not cause for excitement for anyone. Mild disappointment at best. Outright disapproval in my case

I mean, really? This wasn’t the standard “lout without a top on” look. This was full-scale lycra on his bottom half, and nothing on top. Is it that hot? Will his backback not chafe to a dangerous extent? Hopefully he was just a one off, as this wasn’t something I needed to see before my first cup of coffee this morning.

 

An unusual talking point

Despite some asserting that cycling is a sociable method of transport, in my experience interaction tends to be limited to apologies and/or shouts of indignation. It’s not often someone talks to me, and if they do, I react much as I would if I were on the tube; with great suspicion.

I’m not alone here: my friend thought he’d spotted me when he was cycling home, and came up behind “me” and said (*use voice from Scream movies*) ‘hello Hannah’. It wasn’t me. Even though my friend explained, Fake Hannah did everything in her power not to acknowledge him, and seemed to speed up considerably when the lights changed. (In fairness, even his impression of events makes him sound pretty creepy). You can imagine my surprise to find I am wearing something which seems to be conversational gold:

Sadly for City Space, this was all too true!

Sadly for Cityspace, this was all too true!

“You should always have access to cash” commented one man. Wise words Sir.

“What’s a Cityspace engineer then?” queried another.

Well, they are in fact no longer in existence – ironically as the statement on the back of the high vis was all too true (well….check out their product, below). Oh well, at least I now amuse and intrigue cyclists across London.

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Me and a Cityspace “kiosk”.

I love my bike basket!

The perfect solution!

The perfect solution!

Today is of course FRIDAY! (If you hadn’t seen that before; you’re welcome).

And what would Friday be without a couple of drinks with friends? As I continue to perfect the bike-to-bar look, the most invaluable item in my arsenal has to be my bike basket.

I had been looking for a handbag-come-pannier-bag for some time. There seems to be one clear favourite our there; the Bobbin Bicycles Straw Pannier. It looks great and is clearly a very functional thing at the same time. My main concern was that I might sometimes want a smaller bag, but more likely, I often need a far bigger bag. Also, what if I want to carry a coat to wear that’s too thick to cycle in?

After much research, I found the Basil Milk Bottle Basket. It very firmly hooks onto my rear pannier rack, and for under £20, I can now take any bag I want on my bike with me. I use a padlock to lock the bag and basket to my bike when I’m cycling, and to secure the basket to the bike when I lock it up. I also loop my cable lock through the basket when I’m leaving it locked to the bike, for added security.

Clearly there are *some* downsides. My handbags aren’t waterproof, so I deploy a large Sainsbury’s bag when it’s raining. It can also shorten a handbag’s life expectancy to be shoved into this basket repeatedly. Clearly some care could be taken to protect handbags (probably by a more patient and delicate person than me), but nonetheless, it’s perhaps not the mode of transport for your favourite Mulberry bag. Fortunately, I am not one for expensive bags (let’s pretend it’s a choice), and have a small army of cheap over-sized handbags which I’m happy to wear out. Finally, the basket struck me as a little clunky at first, but I honestly don’t notice it once I set off, unless I’m cycling on cobbles. That will get people’s attention, I assure you. I had worried it would be too bulky, but in reality it doesn’t jut out further than my handlebars, and I am definitely not one for swooping through tiny gaps in traffic anyway.

So all in all, this was a fantastic and well-used purchase, and one that I strongly recommend to others. Happy Friday everyone!

A sad farewell

This morning, I saw some sad news on Twitter….the helpmychaincameoff blog is ending :( Although I have been a very silent reader, almost never commenting, I have been an dedicated reader, and have really enjoyed the lifestyle approach to bike blogging.

The end of this blog (what will I read over breakfast now???) makes me more determined to post regularly on my own blog. Cycling for me is a lifestyle of good health, ongoing attempts at weight management (sigh), getting to work, and saving money. I enjoy the sunshine, and try to survive the rain and the cold as best possible. I loved her blog for this lifestyle approach, and will endeavour to do the same here. I’m far less glamorous, so there might be just a touch more lycra to it. Sorry Jemma… :)

“Oh, this is just awful”

I muttered this to myself several times during my ride in today. Well, that’s the clean version.

Was it traffic passing too close to me? Was it the cold? Was my bike playing up? Was it that Southwark Bridge cycle lane into the city is STILL closed so pedestrians can use it? No, despite all four being true, and the last one really irks me.

It was the wind. My legs, well used to propelling me 18 miles a day, were aching. My lungs fit to burst. My jacket like an enormous sail billowing behind me. But was I moving? Was I heck. My heart rate to speed ratio must have been at an all time high.

So, surely it will be a nice easy ride home, right? RIGHT? You can bet your bicycle that it won’t be. Yesterday I rode South West to City, City to West End, West End to South West – and every journey seemed to involve an immense head wind.

Grumble grumble grumble. I think I’ll channel the anger into an email to Southwark Council asking them why they’ve closed my bike lane.