Thursday, 22 October 2009

Cycle Ride 2010 - WWI Western Front

I've worked out a route for next summer's cycle ride with my brother James - following the route of the World War I Western Front from the Belgian coast to Switzerland.

French Bicycle Soldier

It's about 560 miles and we're planning to do the ride in about 7 days - I've caved in to criticism that my daily routes are too long, so this is about 80 miles per day. It might give us a little more time to look around properly...

But I might sneak in a couple of hundred extra miles by cycling from Birmingham down to the ferry in Kent over a couple of days beforehand.

The reason for the route is two-fold: first, I really want to cycle in France again, having enjoyed it so much in 2006; second, I'd like to find where my great-grandfather fought as a gunner, until he was invalided in September 1918 (at the age of 42!). He never recovered and died in hospital in 1923. It'll be a sort of mini-Who Do You Think You Are?

It's all going to depend on how things work out with our new baby in the new year. I may not be given time off to gad about on my bike!

Also inviting along regular cycle-buddy Gary and will ask my university mate Pete, who lives in Sweden.

Anyway, here's the map:

Bike route 322271 - powered by Bikemap 

Monday, 19 October 2009

Brooks Saddles - Video Part 2

And here's the rest of the video on Brooks. They may look retro - and they weigh a tonne - but they are very comfortable when you've worn them in and, as the guy says in the film, if looked after they will outlive their rider!

The world has changed a huge amount since they started making Brooks saddles, but they haven't changed how they make them - if only the rest of the world could be like that...

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Brooks Saddles - Video Part 1

Following on from last week's soundslide by Nick Hand, here's part 1 of a little video about the West Midlands-based saddle makers Brooks, who've been making leather saddles the same way since 1866. It explains about their history and how they make their saddle the old-fashioned way...

Monday, 12 October 2009

Are Women cyclists at more risk than men?

According to the BBC web site, 7 out of 8 people run over by lorries in London this year are women - despite only 28% of cycling journeys being made by females.


Woman cycling in traffic (Photo: BBC)

In a 2007 report, Transport for London blamed the fact that women "tend to obey red lights and wait at junctions in the driver's blind spot" and that men are quicker at getting away from the lights - or indeed jump red lights.

Sustainable transport charity Sustrans think it may be due to women lacking confidence on bikes - leading them to cycle too close to the curb, and to drivers not giving them enough space. Others suggest spacial awareness being an issue.

I'm not so sure it divides so cleanly along gender lines, but confidence - as well as assuming that all drivers are idiots who are trying to kill you - is definitely the best way to be safe on a bike.

In fact asserting your right to be on the road, bordering on aggression, is probably the safest bet - even though it's the exact thing that most annoys drivers. Perhaps men are better at that...

Cycle lanes aren't the answer - unless done properly like in France or Switzerland - and helmets and fluorescent clothing can only help to an extent. Driver education must be part of the solution, as is more cyclists being on the road.

But, sadly, being on a bike is dangerous by definition and there's nothing you can do to make it completely risk-free...

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Brooks Saddles Soundslide

Photographer and cyclist Nick Hand has created an atmospheric 'soundslide' (a combination of sound with pictures) about Brooks Saddles, a West Bromwich company who have been making leather bike saddles since 1866.

Brooks Swallow Saddle - I've got one on my road bike...

I have to declare an interest - or rather several interests - I own two Brooks saddles and think they are amazing, they are made in the Black Country and I love Nick's soundslides.

The saddles are made of really high quality, and very thick, leather which take hundreds of miles to mould to the rider's sit bones. But once they do, they saddles are incredibly comfortable.

Having ridden thousands of miles on mine, including consecutive days over 100 miles, I would personally swear by them (as would many endurance cyclists, or 'Randonneurs' as they are known). However you won't see many Brooks saddles on the Tour de France as they weigh many times what a modern saddle does!

So enjoy the soundslide. Whether you can understand what they're going on about or not...

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Dave Gorman Completes Stand Up Cycle Tour of Britain

Comedian Dave Gorman has just finished his 1,563-mile tour to the southern-most, northern-most, western-most and eastern-most points on the British mainland.

Dave Gorman in Morecambe (Photo: Dave Gorman)

It would have been an achievement to be proud of, especially risking the autumn weather, even if he weren't also performing every night as part of his Sit Down, Pedal, Pedal, Stop and Stand Up tour.

The ride started at the southerly point, The Lizard in Cornwall, and finished at Dunnet Head, which - contrary to popular opinion - is actually the northerly point. I'm pretty jealous, having done Land's End to John O'Groats - although I didn't have to do a job of work every night too!

There were some weird and wonderful locations, including Glenfinnan Station in the Highlands. He also used 'human SatNavs' to guide him (other cyclists who volunteered to show him the route)...

Here's a review of the actual stand-up tour, which carries on - without bike - next year.

Gorman finishing the ride at Dunnet Head (Photo: Dave Gorman)

And here he is discussing the ride, amongst other things, with comedian and presenter Robert Llewellyn:

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Charity Bike Rides - A Waste of Time?

Matt Seaton, writing on the Guardian's Bike Blog, asks whether there are too many charity bike rides.

"I am all for raising money for charity," says Seaton. "But I balk at being required to be impressed by something that many of us do most weekends anyway."

Charity Bike Ride - A Waste of Time? (Photo: Andrew McCargow)

His argument continues: "Why should anyone make a donation to charity because you've ridden 50 or 60 miles across some nice countryside? Given four or five or six hours, virtually anyone can cover the distance. It simply isn't a physical achievement worth recording; it is, so to speak, a walk in the park."

I have to say that I disagree with Matt on three counts:

1. Cycling 50 or 60 miles is a sizeable physical achievement for most people - the majority of the population would seriously struggle with London to Brighton without sufficient training.
2. I'm willing to see anything that encourages people to get out cycling - and raising money for charity is a great motivator when you feel like giving up on a dark and wet February.
3. I don't think anyone said that charity events had to be life-threatening in their seriousness - sitting in a bath of baked beans isn't exactly physically demanding. As long as they raise money - as well as issues...

Having done a couple of cycle rides for charity (Land's End to John O'Groats and Birmingham to the Mediterranean, both around 1,000 miles) the charitable element was certainly a help in motivating me and gave the rides a sense of purpose (although mine weren't organised rides, just me and a bike). And I raised about £4,000 along the way for some very worthy charities (MS, Motor Neurone Disease and Alzheimer's).

I didn't intend to do the Land's End ride for charity, but my wife Clare suggested that as I was doing it, why not use the chance to raise some money?

Land's End to John O'Groats - Raised £1,500

What I can agree with Matt on is that charity fatigue can start to set in, with seemingly endless requests for sponsorship for relatively trivial distances (especially when I seem to be expected to sponsor people for a 5k run what they sponsored me for a 1,000-mile cycle tour!). And I don't look for sponsorship for every tour for that reason - the next one I do will probably be America Coast-to-Coast in about 10 years.

Of course the most annoying requests are the 'Climb Kilimanjaro' type Matt mentions where the donations go towards paying for someone's trip. I've never taken a penny towards expenses from people's donations - why should I get a free holiday?

But I disagree on Matt's broader point - long may charity cycle rides continue!

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Over The Hill...

To celebrate my 40th birthday tomorrow, here are a couple of pics of me as a young cyclist:

I'm not the world's greatest judge of age, but I guess I'm about 4 or 5 there. Quite a funky little bike, probably someone else's cast-off judging by the broken pedal. Eeeeh, we 'ad it tough in them days...

I have no memory of this unusual bike. It looks like I'm about 7 or 8 there, so it would have been the late 70s. Good to see the cycling tan already in evidence on my arms. The bike looks an odd concoction, although it's certainly not lacking in storage racks. Not sure about the skimpy shorts or the dreadful blonde mullet I'm sporting...

My next bike was, I think, from one of my (female) cousins, so had a dropped top tube. It was painted a sort of burgundy colour and I tried to disguise the fact it was a girl's bike by painting flames down the side. I'm sure nobody was fooled by that.

Of course at the same time, my friends had much better bikes - Neil Grey had a Raleigh Chopper, which was the acme of cool at the time. Of course it was utterly useless and weighed a ton. But it did have the fantastic gear lever!

A Raleigh Chopper (Photo: Raleigh)

Anyway, I am now officially over the hill. At least on a bike that means I can coast downhill...