Archives for October 2012

We Are Puny

I’m writing this after a day’s ride was curtailed by some quite foul conditions: heavy rain with a strong wind for accompaniment. (A Full Hengistbury on the Hengistbury Scale*.)

Alternatively, I’m writing this after the day’s ride was curtailed by my pathetic capitulation to some heavy rain and strong wind. Yes, I could have carried on; it wasn’t impassable or dangerous. It was merely unpleasant in South Oxon – somewhere on the wrong side of bracing.

Either way, my tiny, unimportant plan for a decent length ride didn’t happen. Still, I suppose there’s something to be said for being reminded how puny we are.

‘Sandy’, the storm that’s been doing so much damage first in the Caribbean and now in the USA and Canada, demonstrates human puniness with all the impassive, remorseless aplomb ascribable to dear ‘Mother Nature’.

I say there’s something to be said for being reminded of our human frailty but quite what that ‘something’ is, on reflection, I’m not sure. If you feel the need to be put in your place, just look up at the stars. Our puniness in the face of extreme natural events on Earth is one thing; the insignificance of even that puniness in the light of our position in the Universe is quite another.

I suppose the real upshot of it all is that we are unable to fully, truly comprehend or assimilate how feeble or insignificant we are. Instead, hope and resilience and all the similar, generally lauded, qualities triumph, if ‘triumph’ is the right word for the defeat of rationality.

*The Hengistbury Scale.

Wet Leaves, Mud, Low Sun And Darkness (Just For Cyclists)

A while back I wrote some tips for novices, for riding in the wet. These proved popular so herewith a few more Autumn-inspired thoughts in a similar vein:

  • The sun can be very low – and blinding. If you’re riding in to the sun and having trouble seeing, bear in mind that drivers might be coming up behind you and struggling to see too – and that includes spotting that small-profile bike and rider combo in front of them. If it’s really bad, get off and walk on the path.
  • Darkness sneaks up – quickly. On a dull Autumn day, you can need full night lights by mid afternoon. Don’t get caught out with thoughts of “dusk isn’t until 5” or whatever.
  • Leaves look lovely. They are also quite lethal if you come across them in the wrong place – the classic being a leaf-strewn corner. Sliding on leaves isn’t fun. All you can do is think about where you’re riding – if it’s tree-lined be a bit more careful about what might be around the corner.
  • Mud is evil. A coating of mud on a road is as slippery as anything – snow or ice included. There’s plenty of mud around this time of year. Around here at least, there currently seems to be plenty of farm activity that involves mud-bespattered tractors driving down lanes with all the obvious consequences, but it’s by no means solely caused by tractors.
A sheen of wet mud on a road

Mud: slippery for the unwary

If you’re riding an off-road bike off-road, with the right, deep-treaded tyres, then mud and leaves aren’t so much of an issue – though a thick build-up of leaves on hard pack, particularly, can still catch you out.

If you’re riding on-road with hard narrow tyres, caution is advised. I have read that tread on road bike tyres is nonsense and that seemed to make sense: the logic goes that road tyre tread is all about dispersing water to prevent aqua-planing and bikes will never go fast enough to aqua-plane. Thus, you’re better off with no tread to maximize the amount of ‘rubber’ that’s in contact with the road, as that’s what will give you grip. Knobbly bits on road tyres won’t help with muds, leaves or anything else – so don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll be OK.

Toot Toot (Just For Cyclists)


In a brief aside from my normal entries – I’m very pleased to be able to say that a piece I wrote for a competition being run by cycle clothing company Velobici has won! It’s very much in the style of ‘Codgertation’ – I hope you enjoy reading it and agree with the sentiments expressed in it.

Click here to read the story – ‘The Race’.

The prizes – Velobici shorts and jersey – have arrived and I’m looking forward to trying them out on the road shortly. If they ride just half as well as they look and feel, they’re going to be pretty special. I have to say there’s something very pleasing about a product that is tangibly high quality.

And now I’ll stop blowing my own trumpet.

Observations And Reflections On Using Flashing Rear Lights Whilst Cycling

I’m very fortunate – I’m able to do most of my bike riding during the day, on (relatively) quiet roads. On the whole I don’t feel I need lights, high-visibility clothing and so on; I don’t feel that vulnerable. (I would have a very different attitude if I was riding in towns / commuter traffic.)

Lately though, the days are just not brightening up and there’s a lot of general murk around, and so I’ve been riding with a flashing red LED back light on at all times.

The interesting thing about this is that I’m pretty sure it does make the average driver give me a wider berth as they overtake me. For that I’m grateful – it all contributes to making for a more pleasant ride.

The very interesting this is that the average driver is giving me a wider berth but often taking quite significant risks to do so – going over the central line despite approaching blind corners; in some cases despite approaching traffic.

I don’t know how I feel about that. On the one hand, I’m still the winner – I’m getting a wide berth and if drivers are taking risks to do so, that’s their look-out.

On the other hand, it would appear that by riding with a flashing back light I’m creating a conflict in drivers: they feel compelled to give me more room than they might otherwise, but they can’t fight what seems to be a deep-seated urge to get around me even at considerable risk to themselves.

No, I don’t think I would feel guilty if, in overtaking me, a vehicle takes a risk and they don’t get away with it. I can’t be responsible for another’s actions and, surely, it’s reasonable to expect competent adults – especially those judged capable of driving a vehicle – to be able to exercise a degree of foresight. They can easily wait for a safe spot to overtake me.

That said, I drive a car too, and I know how deep-seated the urge is to get around something that’s going very slow; how innate that urge seems. I’ve been there – I’ve felt it.

The upshot, perhaps, is that we need to look at the expectations that are somehow engendered in drivers, of driving; what is it that makes the urge to get by something slower so strong. Is it over-crowding – are we feeling too pressured, too hurried to cut anyone any slack? Is it the image of motoring that’s ‘sold’ to us – the very attractive myth of forging ahead on an open road?

I don’t know, there could be any number of reasons, but I know the problem’s real, and I know that while I might not feel guilty if a car overtaking me foolishly then crashes, it’s not going to be a life-enhancing event for anyone – me included.

And the other upshot? Using flashing red LEDs at all times seems sensible. While we wait for a solution to the urge to overtake, perhaps cyclists will have to learn to live with witnessing accidents. Witnessing is better than being involved.

Top-Level Sporty Types (Are Just A Distraction)

A decent-length ride circumnavigating Reading (Twyford, Aborfield, Theale, Pangbourne) and, in truth, it was fine – not much traffic, no wind to speak of, not that cold. However, it was unremittingly dull – that grim uniform grey sky that the Thames Valley in particular seems to do so well – and everywhere is soggy and starting to get a winter sheen of dirt on it. It’s not enticing.

An artist’s impression of today’s sky over Berkshire

An artist’s impression of today’s sky over Berkshire

The Lance Armstrong scandal about doping is raging at the moment. I suppose it’s understandable that people ask me what I think about doping in cycle racing because I ride a bike … but in reality it is of very little interest to me. Besides, in what way is a highly paid sports person cheating really news?

Even if there wasn’t a hint of drug taking in any sport, I can’t seen any top-level sports person as a good role model; they are almost by definition mono-maniacs; freaks, if you like. I can’t see what I’m going to usefully gain by taking an interest in them. You may or may not admire their ambition, their drive and their achievements, but don’t hold them up as people to ‘follow’ or emulate. Enough already – I’ve gone on about this before.

I guess that I get asked my views on doping in pro cycling is a reflection of how few cyclists many people actually know. In reality, it’s akin to asking any car driver his views on Formula One racing drivers: no-one assumes every car driver will automatically have something to say on that front. I don’t mind being asked, it’s just a misplaced thing for people to do and a sad reflection on how relatively rare cycling still is.


A dumped fast-food chain's cup with 'thirsty fun' written on it. It is not fun.

This is not fun.

Brilliant fun; great fun; excellent fun – really, really, bloody good fun. Jolly fun. Damn good fun. Simple fun or, maybe, innocent fun. Good, old-fashioned fun. Even fantastic fun if alliteration’s your thing. Any kind of fun you can think of – a fast-food-chain’s cup with ‘thirsty fun’ written on it is none of them. This is ‘fun’ eviscerated. This is fun abused. This renders the notion of fun wholly, utterly and completely meaningless. This is desecrated fun; debased fun. If this is now understood by anyone as fun, whoever they are, however old or young they are, where ever they are, however otherwise deprived of fun in any sensible sense of the word they are, then they have been cruelly conned. If I was feeling forgiving, I’d feel pity for the foul, fun-free, fun-wrecking individual responsible, because somewhere along the line, someone was.