Shared paths and close passes

Harlow. It’s one of a number of New Towns built near London in the late 1940s to accommodate those left homeless during after WW2 and to provide affordable housing. This year it celebrates 70 years of existence. As you may read, it doesn’t enjoy the best of reputations but it is here that I ride my bike to and from work on most days.  The inner part is connected with a series of main roads, numerous roundabouts and a series of shared paths that I am led to believe lead to older, smaller villages that now make up its suburbs. 

I use these paths a lot to avoid the rush hour traffic and with it comes the omnipressant need to anticipate the unobservant and the towns “yoovs” who seem to take a delight in getting in my way.   I don’t know whether they’re too mentally challenged to courteously move aside or trying to big themselves up to their equally brainless mates in a game of chicken. Perhaps both. Some are too engrossed in their addiction to digital media to bother looking up as they’re engaged in some game on their phone or wired in to listen to the latest “choons”. As the days are getting longer I spend more time riding along this network (not everyone uses lights at night here) and I am sometimes reminded of my own youth as my nostrils fill with a familiar aroma of cannabis as someone, somewhere sucks on a crafty joint. At least the dog walkers seem to take care as I rarely fly through any presents left by their canine friends. This 5km ride on bumpy, poorly maintained surfaces is the price that I pay to avoid the busy roads as I do what other commuters do-get outta Dodge, as fast as possible! 

Yesterday was no different as I rushed through work to leave early so that I could be home in time to provide the usual taxi service to football training for master9*. I took a short route through town with the plan of joining the main road out up to Sheering. I hate that ride up the hill to Sheering. It’s always busy and on a Friday it is the worst as many impatient drivers pass closely in the attempt to get home while staying in the lane. It is impossible to pass a bike safely on that road to avoid oncoming  traffic. I have had a few close ones on that stretch so I avoid it when I can. After a relatively quiet run on the path and with a bit of time to spare, I was in no mood for the Sheering road so opted for the quieter but longer route.  

It was mild and sunny and I had a tailwind of sorts so looked forward to enjoying the ride in the quintessential English countryside as spring awakens. Ah yes, I could see it all before me; cottage gardens flowing with flowering bulbs, a patient bird of prey hovering, alert for a kill, rabbits darting in and out of hedge rows, great vistas of green fields, the slow setting sun winking through cloud casting long shadows across my path…out here I am taken away from chaotic survival, where average speed and time have no relevance, where I can feel the beauty all around.

But for yesterday at least, the Friday escape from Harlow extended to these back roads too with a number of drivers choosing the close pass option in their apparent haste-yes dpd courier, I’m talking about YOU! It seemed that everyone was in a hurry to be somewhere fast, like a mass panic in a disaster movie. It wasn’t until I got 4km from home that I felt that I could relax but by then I was too spent from 100miles in 3 days to enjoy any of it. It ended as a grind of high cadence, complaining legs and stinging sweaty eyes. Yuck!
* I am not a grass roots football fan but I do enjoy helping out with the coaching and being goalkeeper in the end of session kickabout games. That’s good fielding training for cricket for which I am a grass roots fan. Yesterday was great fun-apparently I am the best goalkeeper that the boys have EVER seen ūüėā They’re only 10 but as they regularly watch Lloris, DeGea, Hart and Courtois I’ll gratefully accept that compliment!

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Sitting, waiting…

I’m sitting at the kitchen table waiting for a courier to collect 2 bikes from the bike club. This is an exchange scheme whereby you change the bike as your child grows. What a great scheme I thought- pay monthly with the option of up sizing for a small cost. If you can’t afford a child’s bike up front that is lighter than the cheap heavy metal ones in shops that make riding difficult with little legs, this is a really good option. It’s a newish company so not everything is that well organised.  

I got our youngest a crosser as a Christmas present but by February he had grown another 2 cm and the frame was on the smaller side when it arrived anyway. So I arranged an exchange but had no option to choose a colour. We both decided to go with flat bars, 2 sizes up in his favoured red. I returned home 3 weeks later to a box that our cleaner took delivery of. Great I thought, no need to contact them to hurry up the order for the coming warmer, drier temperatures. Except that it was another crosser in only 1 size up! At least it was red…My email was swiftly replied to apologetically and we sorted it out once the preferred size was available. Then last week at work I get a call from a courier wanting me to sign for a delivery. No forewarning, no arranging a delivery from the company but conveniently Andy 2 doors down was able to accept and store in his garage with his plentiful array of bikes until I got home. It is a hybrid that came with hybrid tyres but also nobbly ones for off road trails but it is black (Team Sky black apparently-whatever that means). Thankfully master9 was happy with it and we took a early 9km trundle on Mother’s Day to test it out and figure out the when and whys of gear changes, defensive riding & road awareness.

Quiet roads & off road riding-ideal for a bit of learning

I arranged preferred collection for today and enquired last night what part of the day I would have to be at home. No answer until this morning stating that collection would be between 09.00-15.00 but was assured that they, “usually do collections in the morning”. It is 1pm. There goes my 40km ride in sunny 15degree temperatures with a cool NE breeze. I am cross & will make them aware of the inconvenience. I am sure that the feedback will be used to improve what seems to be a fledgling organisations exchange arm.  At least I have used the time wisely to clean the floors & bathrooms but am limited to downstairs as I want to get rid of the 2 boxes that both bikes are contained in & don’t want to miss the courier and start all over again.

Would I recommend this company? Yes, if you can’t afford to pay for a good quality kids bike up front. The bike itself is well made and light with 8 gears on the rear cassette. It also came with mud guards to fit as necessary.  I don’t think that I’ll take them up on the free repairs unless it is something major though. I don’t think that I’ll bother with the hassle of the enforced waiting due to the disorganisation of delivery and collection etc.  The frame sizing seems a little less accurate than the guides on the website. Master9s inside leg is 66cm and this one is supposed to fit a minimum of 73cm. I guess that this may relate to his height and reach-he is tall for his age. I used my experience of the previous frame sizing on the website and pedalling on his brothers larger frame as a guide-he is just about comfortable on that but looks awkward.  This is why I went 2 sizes up.

So I’m sitting, waiting impatiently for collection. At least my legs are getting a rest even though the mind is more than willing…

* UPDATE. By 14.35 I was getting anxious that I would miss the courier so I called them. Apparently the time offered by ParcelForce is an indicative guide, not a guaranteed time. He arrived at 16.05, 15 minutes after I returned from school and 25 minutes before Pater’s taxi service left to transport master12 to his “Hairspray” rehearsal. The lounge now has more space and we are back to being a 5 bike family. 

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Park and riding winter miles…

…or in my world kilometres.

I was having a think about my January post and about the angst of slavery to numbers, my crappy phone and a general ambivalence towards riding. So while Mrs B2W was out marathon training, I decided to have a look and compare to see where I am in comparison to my first winter of regular riding:

Last winter (Oct-March incl.) 4124km

Current winter (Oct-20th March) 4002 km

I had to look more than twice to see those stats. Not bad but it was a wonder exactly WHY after making the decision to shove the distances that I am only 122 km shy of last years effort. Indeed, I rode 200 km less in Jan than I did for the same month in 2016. I suspect that last year was a first riding through winter, a novelty and that I looked at it though my rose-tinted spectacles. I won’t bore you with details except to say that October 2016 was relatively mild and dry and before the paradigm change 3 months later. I covered ~ 300 km more than Oct 2015 & this compensated for less distance in Jan 2017 quite nicely thank-you very much. With the temperatures in the UK consistently staying at a maximum 2-3 layer comfort level and the days getting longer, I am going to smash that record- another week of riding should do it which will leave me with an optional week off for good behaviour.

1st cycle selfie of 2017

The purchase of a new 29er in August fired me up for winter adventure. But surprisingly, the enjoyment and satisfaction of conquering the elements was not there by January. I had grand visions of muddy adventures, reverse cambers, heroically jumping boulders and tree roots in MacAskillian fashion after which I would ride off into a watery sunset. Not so but the variety has been realised in other ways.
Being 2+1 gives my commutes greater flexibility – varied on/off road routes and options of the newly discovered informal “park and ride”. Some towns and cities in the UK operate a system where you park your car at one of these centres on the periphery and commute by bus into the centre of town. Up until recently, the parking is free while the commuter pays the bus fare to and from town. It is supposed to reduce motor traffic within the city centre and the burden of car parking. ¬†I have modified this somewhat, using a local supermarket car park to leave the van all day while I ride in to work or back home after the school run on my day off on a Monday. ¬†To avoid suspicion of the supermarket owners, I rotate these car parks weekly-one supermarket in the town where I work that now limits parking to 2 hours to stop commuters parking and walking to the train station so I’m trying to be discreet¬†while this free parking lasts!

River ride to work on the 29er. 5min sqeezed into 40 sec


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Monday errands

Today was a short one. ¬†I parked the van up at a well known supermarket car park and went into town to bank a cheque and get Mr9 yet another pair of swim goggles-I’m sure that he has lost more pairs than I rode miles¬†this morning…I looked¬†around SportsDirect and tried hard not to listen to the 2 millennial shop assistants discuss their weekend and decipher their slang. ¬†We were the only 3 people in the shop but I wasn’t offered any service so I went next door to Argos and scored a pair¬†the electronic catalogue in half the time that I wasted in the previous shop.

I rode home mostly on off road trails to avoid traffic on the M11 roundabout. Here, last week on my way home from an errands commute from work ride, ¬†it was strongly suggested that I am a “knob-end” by an angry bald red truck driver. ¬†Presumably I was in his way going about my lawful business-he should look in the mirror sometime… The weather is 2 layers warm and 11C so I’ve cut this mornings ride short to get out and tidy up our small front garden.

I am now procrastinating and putting off completing a work presentation, cleaning the commute bike and the gardening before I go back to school to collect the boys this arvo. ¬†Here’s a bicycle lean method that Jim omitted in the weekend with aforementioned garden about to be given some spring time love.


The pedal park


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31 days of sobriety

On New Years eve, I decided to take a break from alcohol. ¬†December had been a pretty rough month for a couple of reasons¬†and my intake was, well beginning to feel unhealthy to the extent that I would pick up a beer, pour myself a wine (or a vodka & ginger beer) without really thinking about why I was doing it. ¬†I guess that one of my weaknesses is that when I am busy, I fail to take time to question myself exactly why I am doing what I do, as if I’m on auto pilot, not having¬†a mindful approach to my actions or behaviour. The Advent & Christmas period was no different and it is fair to say that I took advantage of the increased availability of booze and moreover an alarming¬†social acceptability of such an increased intake.¬†A discussion with my wife revealed that we would both make¬†the month of January a dry one in terms of alcohol as both of us had reflected that we had over-done it and it was time to regain control.

A lot of her friends were doing the “Dryalthon” in January. I resent the fact that I was a part of this crusade by default, even though I did not call it this and think that the term is stupid. Don’t get me wrong, stopping boozing for 31 days is an admirable way to re evaluate ones perspective and dependence on alcohol but can you really call a period of 31 days of self control¬†anything ending in “..athalon”? ¬†I mean the Brownlee brothers exhibit far greater self control, training and dedication to compete in Triathalons. ¬†They are deserving of the name Triathlete. ¬†Stopping alcohol for one month is what it is-an exercise in mindfulness and self control. ¬†So no, I am not a “dryathlete” (ridiculous!)

Once the novelty had worn off, I was expecting it to be tougher than it actually was. ¬†The hardest part was a Friday & Saturday evening after the boys had gone to bed, the occasions when we would open a bottle of wine, cuddle up on the sofa and “relax”. I was surprised and even disappointed to find that as the month progressed, I didn’t feel any better, fitter, less tired that I expected to be. ¬†But I felt better in many other ways & here’s what I discovered:

  • Tired, yes but felt more energetic if you can understand that.
  • Blackcurrant and soda and many other non alcoholic beverages.
  • Not staying up late and over eating.
  • My weight stayed stable-the reduced calorie intake from not drinking was made up for in the consumption of¬†chocolate & biscuits.
  • My normally short fuse and intolerance of others ¬†was longer. ¬†I suspect that had something to do with exercising more mindfulness in other areas of my life.
  • Not being a slave to Strava distance nor competing with others in the often ¬†guilty¬†effort to burn the calories consumed through alcohol-I cycled 199km less last month¬†than I did in January 2016.
  • More money

By the time February 1st came around, I didn’t want nor feel the need to go back to it. ¬†But out of curiosity, I did on the 5th over dinner at some friends. ¬†The 3 bottles of beer, 3 glasses of wine and the 4 hour sleep left me with a headache and¬†lethargy the following day to the extent that I felt that I needed a drink to “pep” me up again. ¬†I did have a couple that night and felt worse the following day too. ¬†My sleep was worse and my mood became flat. ¬†I resolved to stop again which I haven’t completely but have felt better, less moody and no longer using drink to cope with a “bad day at the office” to feel¬†better. ¬†Having thought about it a lot recently, I definitely feel a potential¬†to dependence, one which I never considered I¬†had.

I don’t want that so¬†after this¬†11 day February pause, I am approaching Lent with the¬†positivity that I can again go without it and this time for longer. ¬†Lent is a time of sacrifice, thoughfulness and reflection. ¬†The only thing that I will sacrifice is my health and well being if I don’t stop.

I am looking forward to that blackcurrant and soda already…

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The numbers mind game

Today I did my usual park and ride from one of the local supermarkets near the boys schools. The aim was to ride along the river on my 29er to the M25 and back again. I calculated this to be ~70km. The trail was rutted, iced up mud for the 1st 10km which made for a bumpy ride. To avoid the worst sections I had the choice of following less bumpy terrain either side of the trail-on the river side or on the fenced barbed wire side.  Given the temperature and the state of the river I chose the risk of a ripped jacket and painful fall over an ice bath. 

Parts of the river were frozen, an inch thick in parts. I know this because a barge was heading upstream cracking ice leaving broken islands of the stuff in its wake floating towards the bank. 

I stopped at 19km to take a photo at Parndon Mill lock to show off on Strava. This is when I discovered that my phone wasn’t responding to any touching, button pressing. I spent a frustrating time restarting, taking the battery out…whatever I could think of to restart the ride app to no avail. Even switching it off gave it a life of its own, restarting without a command! 

So I made my way further, resigned to visions of using old phone number 2 that is not “smart” so would be unable to track ride numbers.  “F@‚ā¨# it” I thought,”my Strava timeline is chocka full of virtual reality training rides anyway which has become boring. Dont get me wrong, I’m not in the camp that doesn’t think that these aren’t “proper” bike rides. I get the training aspect but miss seeing others’ routes that I might like to ride parts of some day. Maybe part of the enjoyment is gone with this obsession of chasing targets, numbers & distances that I would probably cover anyway if I didn’t measure them…but wouldn’t I miss it? Achievement of the goal,  accomplishing something?”. I had this conversation with myself all the way to Dobbs Weir save for taking a detour around a closed section of the towpath and watching a heron successfully hunt and kill its over sized fishy portion for brunch. 

This conversation struck me as remarkably similar to the giving up smoking one-being afraid of living without a psychological need for a prop, leaving the comfort zone of a familiar “friend”. “I am not buying another phone this close to contract renewal so I’ll just have to do without” I told myself. “Who knows, maybe you might even enjoy not having to worry about metres climbed or average speeds etc while stopped in traffic…”. At Dobbs Weir I decided to turn around. It was cold and with my new found liberation of not having to grind out numbers I decided that I didn’t need to prove anything-this will be a great summer ride anyway.

By the time I had convinced myself that this was a great idea I was back at Parndon Mill lock and decided to stop for my packed lunch. Out of habit I looked at my phone. Off. After I ate, I tried to switch on again and hey presto it restarts the Strava app but the screen froze on the ride stopped page so I threw it in my pocket and made my way back to the car park. 
When I got back and started to charge, I stopped my ride and uploaded it. My map of the ride follows my route for 19km to Parndon Mill only but the route back follows 2 straight lines (as the crow flies so to speak)  back to the van. That malfunction cost me 18km and I’m still in the process of convincing myself that it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t appear on Strava.

Foggy Parndon Mill lock. Scene of the phone mystery

The phone is an old Samsung S3 and the temperature of 0¬įC may have something to do with the malfunction. But I’ve ridden in -7¬įC using that phone recently in the same jacket pocket with no problem. Maybe it is a sign that the phone is nearing the end of its usable life but it does make me wonder if anyone else has had this issue with their phone. Please comment below if it has happened to you. 

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Bike numbers quickie-2016

Last year I rode my bike 320 times according to Strava, roughly 88 days out of every 100. ¬†“Impressive!” I thought until I realised that 200 of those rides were covered over the 100 days commuting. ¬†The other 120 rides happened over the remaining 265 days.

I commuted to work 100 times out of a possible 176¬†work days, just a shade over half¬†of my journeys to work. ¬†Roughly that’s:

  • ~¬£700 saved in petrol cost
  • ~2 500miles of wear and tear on the car avoided (dunno what that works out to but I’m sure that there’s an app for it).
  • ¬£120 minimum saved on car parking ( I went with the “pay as you park” tarrif in September as only travel by car 1-2 times per week-I don’t always pay it as the machines don’t accept cards, don’t give me change and the outsorced “security” company employees are lazy/scared of the rain or both and don’t always check the¬†carpark outside my building because its too far away from their nice cosy, warm offices on the main Hospital site).

My bikes cost me:

  • ¬£200 repair and maintenance (thanks Back on Track)
  • ¬£150 for the MTB bought on the Salary sacrifice scheme
  • ¬£45 to get to/from the Gravel Grinder (a¬†45mile¬†off road event)
  • ¬£30 for 2 Merino mid layers (I use them as a base layer-my current one has 5 rides without a wash and still doesn’t smell)
  • ¬£29 for a stand pump
  • ¬£26 for a new tyre
  • ¬£10 for new tubes
  • ¬£10 for puncture repair¬†stuff

Its payday next week but where is this ¬£320 balance?! I need it now…


Posted in bike commute, commuting, cycling | 2 Comments