Cycling Smells

There’s more to cycling than all the sights you see, the terrain, the weather, traffic and the nation’s rotting infrastructure and its institutionalized neglect. Smells are just as much part of your environment, your context.

The other day I had the misfortune to ride through some residential streets in Sonning Common on a hot day just after a street sweeper had been through them, ‘washing’ them with what smelt like sour milk. It wasn’t quite stomach churning but it wasn’t great. On Friday I rode past a barbecue going on at the village hall in Checkendon and it smelt gorgeous.

Ride the lanes near Reading golf course at weekends and you’ll often catch a strong smell of bacon from what I guess is a refreshment hut half way around. It’s all too easy to find yourself riding behind a rubbish cart if you’re out cycling during the week and, in summer particularly, there’s a uniformly unpleasant – but, again, not sickening – smell to them that’s much the same as you’ll experience at a tip. I guess if you work with it you just get used to it.

You’ll occasionally catch a whiff of a coal fire and that’s very distinctive; wood fires vary a lot depending on the wood being burned. The smell of cigarettes is very strong and relatively rare now; the smell of pipe tobacco even more so. (I have to confess, as an ex-smoker, fresh tobacco smoke smells lovely.)

Stinking diesels aside, traffic doesn’t smell much – something you realise if overtaken by a vintage vehicle still running on leaded petrol.

Pig farms can be pretty noxious and I’ll turn and go another way rather than ride through crop spraying, and when I have caught it in my nostrils you know it’s not a good smell, whatever it is. For that matter, ‘natural’ fertilisers can be pretty whiffy too.

And sometimes you’ll smell death – I can’t say I’ve analysed it closely, but rotting mammals seem to have much the same smell about them whatever the animal that’s died. If it’s a strong stench that can be stomach churning, which I guess makes sense seeing as we’re mammals.

Nearly Killed

Let’s not mince words: today I was nearly hit by a Range Rover travelling at speed around a blind bend on a narrow lane. Range Rovers being as they are – high, square – it could easily have killed me. I heard and saw her/him before s/he was aware of me, took the few remaining inches of tarmac to the left and squeezed by – handlebars in the hedge; s/he swerved but too late to be of any use to me.

I could go on about moronic Range Rover drivers but that’s surely a tautology. I was riding in the Windsor area and, this being Ascot week, the roads were filled with the bloatocracy in those ‘top end’ vehicles that, everything aside, are just plain pug-ugly: the very expensive Mercs and BMWs; those hopeless Porsche 4WD efforts and, inevitably, lots of Range Rovers. The percentage of them that are driven badly is always far higher than other classes of vehicle, and that includes ‘white vans’. These are vehicles that can hold the rich and corpulent comfortably but have no other merits. Money doesn’t buy taste. As someone else said, if you want proof that God despises money, look at who he gives most of it to.

But anyway, I could rant on and on about all that but sod it – it would only blight my day and possibly yours too. So, instead, here’s a picture of some trees in summer – a quiet lane just perfect for cycling. If you ever find ‘Codgertation’ falls silent and it transpires I’ve been wiped out while cycling, find a way of planting a decent sized tree or two for me.

Beech trees in summer

Plant a tree for me

A Human Pace

And just like that it seems we’re in quite settled, quite warm weather. It changes everything, not least how long I feel like being in the saddle. I’m now doing 30+ mile (50-60 km) or longer rides in Berkshire, South Oxfordshire or North Hampshire.

With the warmth comes a change in pace – if they can, people seem to slow down, or at least want to. Where they can, there are more smiles to be seen; people seem happier and more relaxed.

In the villages (numerous) and small towns (Wallingford- or Watlington-sized, for example) that I’ve ridden through lately it seems palpable. People are still doing what they have to do, of course, but there’s less bustle and less hustle.

In contrast, in larger towns, Reading most obviously, the hot weather seems more likely to generate frustration – people want to slow down but can’t. The heat serves only to increase the tensions that come with the inevitable traffic jams or car park queues and so on. You can only pity the slow-cooked commuters on the trains.

And it seems to me the key thing is that it’s not the case that warm weather makes us want to relax and makes us happier and thus makes us slow down. Rather, it’s that we are wiling to slow down when it’s warmer, and it’s when we slow down that we find the slower pace makes us happier.

Obviously, that’s all just unscientific impressionism – it’s how it strikes me, that’s all. But it did make me wonder whether there’s such a thing as a human pace – a speed of things, a speed of life, that somewhere, somehow, deep down, chimes most happily with our internal body clocks or some other internal, instinctive rhythm.

If that were true, the natural conclusion should be that we ought to be trying to match the speed of our collective lives to that pace. As it is, collectively we seem remarkably willing to let any number of external factors dictate to us how fast we must live our lives: from the non-negotiable demands of the working day to the incessant nagging of social media.

PS: Apropos of nothing, I work with ‘‘ – newly launched and which you might like.

Fox gloves in the sun

“Time to stop and smell the …”


Summer is over! It feels like I’ve not worried about rain for ages … today getting a soaking was back on the agenda.

Rain Clouds

I’m not going to worry about you and your mates raining on me

There were ‘Met Office Weather Warnings’ for rain, and there were ‘Met Office Weather Warnings’ for gusty winds and it’s very easy to suspect their unstated aim is to ensure we’re all infantalized by the whole approach they take – and thus end up dependent on them. They wouldn’t be the first institution to take that approach.

And the worse thing is, it’s very easy to let this attitude creep under your defences and start infecting your own outlook. Today I rode around for a while worried about getting wet. I mean … for pity’s sake. If I get wet I’ll go home and I’ll dry off. I’ll perhaps have to oil-up some bits of the bike. Nothing about it would be a big deal. UK Rain is very rarely life-threatening.

So, after about 15 miles of keeping a wary eye on the clouds as if it’s going to be a disaster if I get caught out … I finally came to my senses, and spent the next 20 miles feeling all the happier for it. And, of course, absolutely nothing weather-related happened that merited any kind of warning.

I can only recommend making your own mind up as a key factor in your own happiness.

Summer Fixed Wheel Revelation (Just For Cyclists)

‘Ride a fixed wheel in winter’ is – I’m told – the old British approach to training and I guess I’m traditional enough to do just that. I don’t ride to train, I ride because I enjoy riding, I enjoy riding a fixed wheel and because they’re such simple bikes, they take the winter battering very well. I tend to do 15-20 milers, and do fewer geared road and off-road miles.

However, this summer I’ve been doing one or two short (10 mile or so) fixed wheel rides a week on top of longer geared road rides and I’ve been surprised at how beneficial it’s proving. The improved fluidity in pedalling is marked; there’s something about how your legs ‘learn’ to keep turning regardless that I find they don’t unlearn when on another bike. The result’s very positive – particularly so when you’re faced with a bit of a slog like I was today – the last 10 of 40 miles were into a stiffening headwind.

It might not work for everyone, but if you’ve a fixed wheel that you can get out on, try it in summer and see.

Make Your Own Mind Up

Level Two Heatwave Warnings! Level Three in places!! Rooms can get hot on hot days so do be careful. Outside can be hot too if it’s hot out. Drink plenty if you’re sweating, especially if you’re thirsty. Don’t wear warm clothes in warm weather, wear cool clothes instead. Consider opening windows to cool a room down. Watch out for the coming crime wave because there’s always a near breakdown of law and order whenever there are a few sunny days.

If you’re not feeling scared by a spell of hot weather you should at least be worried. If you’re neither then you haven’t understood the risks so we’ll say it again – there are Heatwave Warnings! Official Warnings! Real life Experts and Scientists are issuing Warnings!

A moment’s thought and it’s obvious that the fear industry is actually quite ludicrous. It gives idiot journalists something to write. It gives officialdom reasons to justify itself. It merits only ridicule. There are people vulnerable to health problems in hot weather but they are a tiny proportion of the population. They do not justify the scaremongering.

The alternative, that all the trite advice and warnings actually are necessary, requires that we be a nation of imbeciles. If that is true, then that self-same officialdom has an awful lot to answer for regarding the nation’s education over the past several decades.

As it is, contrary to all the indications, today I enjoyed a bike ride that included The Bell at Aldworth for lunch – and that can’t be bad. Happiness is making your own mind up.

Shady Woods

A welcome bit of bosky shade