Bike commuting-what do I have?

I have my health for a start and at a high level for my age of nearly 50 considering that I spent my youth drinking and smoking my way to an early grave. The seeds of the idea of riding my bike to work came late to me in the summer of 2011. At the turn of that year, I was fat, overweight (110kg) and desperate to lose it and become fitter. It was a mid life crisis of sorts. So I decided on the couch to 5km running challenge, downloaded the programme and set off in the cold & dark early mornings of January to make that change. I also started to eat more healthy and mindfully. Except that I started to run as if I was 18 again, unbeatable and indestructible.  It took a couple of weeks to strain my calf which laid me up for a further 2 weeks of frustration and delay. I started again only to succumb to the same injury.

It was then that I remembered my old beat up MTB in the shed. Desperate to burn calories I started to ride it along the converted railway path at the back of our house. I wasn’t fast and I didn’t go far but I was reminded of my teens and early adult years riding a 2nd hand 10 speed to and from school and uni before I had my driver licence. It wasn’t until I switched on the tele one day and came across the TdF and the stage where a rider crashed, gouging his jersey and a fair amount of his skin on a barbed wire fence. He just got back on a rode to the finish! That riders guts and determination inspired me. I was hooked and followed that Tour to the end. One Sunday while out for a post lunch ride, I took a wrong turning and got lost. I made it home and was pleased with the 35km, my longest ride. Once I knew how far I could go, I started going further on my Monday day off (at the expense of the garden).  Then one day during a ride I thought, “Wait a minute, how far is it to ride to work and back?”. A look on an online map when I got back told me that the shortest route is only 19km. I was already doing over twice that on a Monday so the distance seemed easily achievable. There is a cycle change facility at work so once I got the building code, investigated getting a locker and tested the shower I was ready to ride in and back one day a week out of a possible 4.

Little did I know what I was actually doing. I had no idea that I would end up saving £9.50 per day doing something that I actually like doing. That is the cost of the round trip in petrol and car parking. I quickly realised that I only had to leave home 30min before I left by car. I now aim for 3 or 4 commutes per week  A year later when I purchased a new bike through the cycle to work salary sacrifice scheme, I did realise what I had started. I was now getting between 6-8hours per week of cardiovascular exercise and it is a part of my daily routine. So much so that I consider that this is normal as do my family and work colleagues. Although a number of people think that I may have a screw loose when I cycle into work during what is to them awfully cold, wet or windy weather. The added benefit of fitness allows me to compete with and outperform many people half my age near the end of a long hot day playing a good standard of club cricket.

It is cost neutral as the savings on petrol (not including “wear and tear” on the car) are used on bike maintenance, clothing and my own fuel intake. I have even managed to buy another bike and upgrade the children’s and my wife’s bikes AND keep it cost neutral.

And then there’s the views:

Good day post misty watery sunrise!

Not a bike to work ride-having a breather on the long way home after dropping the boys off at school.

Sleeveless September 2016-20°C at 6 a.m. what’s not to like?

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Wednesday thoughts

From the Rootchopper institute of writing down random thoughts from the ride, here are mine today.

  • It’s cold this morning. Gald that I wore the leggings and full finger gloves.
  • What was I worried about riding the crosser after weeks on the 29er? I’m comfortable & feeling fast. I’m gonna take a 30km reverse home route on the quiet roads and skip coffee. Morning coffee stops are on Fridays.
  • This WSW headwind is a bugger after a summer of hiding from wind behind hedgerows off road. I hope Scott can fix it by tomorrow….
  • Why is it that whenever I get within Harlow, no other cyclists wave or say “Hi!” back?
  • It’s just a matter of time for that woman without a helmet in the high viz jacket, weaving all over the busy road while talking on her phone. I wonder if she’s calling the ambulance in advance?
  • It doesn’t matter that the 29er has a buckled back wheel and won’t be fixed for a while. Doris is fun to ride with for a change. And she fits in the van better making it easier to get out.
  • Oooo! A hypnotic bright light ~ 1km down the road slowly coming towards me. I feel like Marlon from Finding Nemo (except without Dory). It’s another rider, “Hi!”. They don’t answer back. I’m 3km from home, in the countryside where other riders always wave or say Hi back. Must be from Harlow…
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The chain

I had it all planned yesterday. Drop the boys off at school, drop the van at the garage for a full service and take the long way home via some well travelled bridalways and paths. Since riding an off road event at the end of last year, I have really enjoyed the adventure of exploring alternatives to roads in getting from A to B. So much so that the 29er has been my ride of choice over the past 7 months. The distances may be shorter this year as the speeds are slower.  But the variety of routes, terrain and sights has been just the tonic to cure the sense of boredom with the same old road routes on the crosser.

So I’m 3km out of town tonning it up a farm road and the chain comes off. I re-thread it and start again only to befall the same fate almost immediately descovering that pedalling was impossible. My feelings of escape and adventure were replaced with the frustrated realisation that with the van in the garage there was no easy way back. A closer inspection showes that there were a couple of twisted links in the chain. I don’t understand it- I hadn’t fallen off or knocked it last week so dunno why or what happened. 

One of the ‘ucking offending effing chain links.

Stuck 5km away from the nearest decent bike shop which is a further 15km from home, I quickly resigned myself to the 12km walk home after a few choice curses. The gradient back home was mostly up so couldn’t even glide downhill though I tried in parts. After a 2hour-ish walk on a nice day I was back to clean the muck off the bike while envisaging a boring week road commuting where close passing appears to be the norm.

Thanks to Scott, I should have it back for Thursday’s ride in which is great as the best route after the school run is cross country and the most fun. If anyone can tell me why a new chain could do this please let me know in the comments section. It was changed 350 miles ago along with a new cassette.

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Back again

A recent post from Dan whose posts I have enjoyed reading made me think about why I started my own blog. I can understand why he wants to stop. As you may have noticed, the summer months of cricket, work, family and more cricket relegate my writing to absolute zero. I only get time to read posts of those who I follow and my initial guilt at living vicariously through others’ adventures was offset by my lack of time to craft something interesting, meaningful.

I always liked writing but was never really encouraged much to pursue it. I liked poetry and even wrote what I considered to be quite a good piece in  “Ode to our American Friends on their hosting of the Games of the XXIII Olympiad”.  It was influenced by a New Zealand poet called J.K. Baxter who was great at scathing political and socio-cultural comment.  However growing up in an all boys, rugby dominated school in 70s/80s writing wasn’t entirely considered masculine enough so I caved to peer pressure and drifted away from it.

My academic career extended to an MSc in the early noughties and I would spend painful hours on crafting arguments, offering opinions and recommendations during my coursework. Except that it wasn’t painful. I loved it. 

I loved the exploration of creating new phrases and being creative, often the result of making my words more efficient due to the word counts. But lacking a natural flair, it took me time, time that I did not have. Except at 11pm when the distractions of a young family, tired wife and house chores had been managed. I even published my dissertation in a professional journal and I was again in a world of creativity determined by word counts and deadlines. It felt so satisfying to know that I got a distinction for the MSc and a published author in a journal. I felt that I had arrived but my writing became limited to funding applications, article submissions and policy/protocol and guideline development. Not exactly forms of writing to enable creativity but you would be surprised.

So in short, I haven’t truly had the time to craft something to my standards. To bare my soul is in itself difficult let alone have the time to actually write about it.  But I am going to try to find the time but only if I have something worth saying or meaningful. I have had a summer  on the bike going to and from work and being alone on most of them there is a lot of reflection in there that I haven’t paid true attention to.  Someone told me that Hemingway once said,”write with a full bladder, reflect on an empty one”. 

Apparently true creativity requires a deadline so in the spirit of the first part of that quote, I wrote this while at Master 10s soccer training with hardly any editing at all.  Maybe he was right. Or not.  Either way I am back to contributing to WP for a while…

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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 😂 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-20tMarch) 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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