bicycles

My approach to bad weather is to just keep cycling

It’s been a bit dreich in Edinburgh these last few days. The weather has taken a big huff, and is currently gusting itself into exhaustion. Looks like we’ll have to wait until Wednesday for the watery sunshine of late autumn to reappear, so in the meantime it’s worth remembering that when you’re cycling there’s no such thing as bad weather – only bad kit.

My urban armour

How to combat crap weather – become a gore-texasaurus

To combat the wind and wet, I’ve finally cracked out the winter gear. You can still cycle through the worst of the year without turning into a MAMIL-esque wannabe.  My garment arsenal consists of gore-tex boots from Clarks, waterproof trews, fluffy buff, Vulpine winter storm cap, waterproof gloves and winter waterproof jacket. This keeps me snug as a bug in a warm and cosy rug and conveniently goes over whatever normal everyday clothing I’ve got on.

I was out today in double-dot rain and 45mph gusts and felt totally invincible in my urban armour. My other half ventured out with me in the appalling conditions too, and decked out in waterproofs head to toe he took to the jaunt like a duck to water, which was quite fitting really seeing as we were cycling through a deluge. Other than utterly slaying the weather, the best part was getting into the house and stripping off our outermost layers of proofing; underneath our gore-tex forcefields we were both bone dry.

It’s all about mentality and kit. So long as you know you are conquering Scotland’s hostile climes in your winter get up, it doesn’t matter how much of a hissy fit the weather takes. The elements literally roll off you.

So do your worst, winter. I am ready.

Winter is officially closing in

The clocks went back today. The light and any remnants of heat have gone along with the hour, leaving wind and darkness for the next four months. Autumn is my favourite time; the colours of the leaves, the smell in the air, the crispness and cooler temperatures all conspire to make September and October splendid months to cycle. But that’s all starting to come to an end with winter firmly on the march.

I squeezed in some great autumnal rides while the light was on my side these last few weeks. Last week I went out with Lothian Cyclists and did 50 odd miles around South Lanarkshire, a part of the world I know almost nothing about. I always enjoy going out with that group – the pace stretches me and I get a chance to give the road bike a spin. The cycling was excellent and despite an epic number of punctures it was a near perfect ride with blue skies and red leaves. Thanks to CJ from the group for his snap – isn’t this view cracking? Route here.

simple symington

Image courtesy of CJ from Lothian Cyclists

Closer to home, I did a shorter ride with the Edinburgh Belles out to Ratho in order to feast on The Bridge Inn’s utterly enormous onion rings (they are approximately the size of basketball hoops). That was another lovely little ride – 20 miles in ideal autumn conditions and only one puncture to put a dent in our day. Thanks to Jo from the group for her pictures. It’s clear that my photography skills have got some catching up to do! Route here.

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Thanks to Jo from the group for these images

Aside from recent leisure rides, the bike mileage has been kept consistent over autumn with my daily 14 mile round trip to work. I prefer my new commute to the old one by a considerable margin, as it’s more varied and the on-road part tends to be much quieter than the old streets I had to deal with. I’d say I only have a mile or so of commute on road with the rest comprising parks and path. There’s also the added bonus that I no longer live at the top of one of Edinburgh’s seven hills – my knees are considerably happier!

But now winter is coming. It feels kind of appropriate that I am reading George R.R. Martin’s epic A Song of Ice and Fire as the new season approaches. My winter will never be as bad as the Starks’…

The Great Edinburgh Bike Experiment – June, July and August

Summer has been and gone, and with it three months of my Great Edinburgh Bike Experiment. At the end of May I was up £331 against the fictional car, so let’s see where I’ve managed to get to with warmer weather and more favourable cycling conditions in June, July and August.

Summer’s bike numbers

  • Total journeys: 116
  • Total distance: 737 miles
  • Total calories: 29,925 kcal
  • Total climb: 27,088 feet

My bike and I managed to climb to the peak of the south summit of Annapurna in the Himalayas this summer by visiting friends, getting to work, going to yoga and so on. The 10th highest mountain on our planet, Annapurna stretches 26,545 feet to the heavens, so I’ve also started a 500 foot decent. This is considerably more climb than the last quarter – over 11k feet in fact. Just goes to show that summer is the cyclist’s friend.

Annapurna's south summit

I cycled to the top of Annapurna’s south summit. Thanks to creative commons twiga269 for the use of the image

Bike expenditure in last three months

  • No bike maintenance over the summer period – the bike was happy as a clam, just like me.
  • £21 – Bus fares in total. I didn’t take the bus much over summer at all because my knees have been behaving.
  • Total = £21.00

Public transport equivalent

  • I substituted £219 worth of bus fares in June, July and August so the £51 monthly Ridacard would have been considerably more cost-effective.
  • Ridacard cost = £153

Car equivalent

  • Monthly car running cost – £39.16
  • Petrol cost for 737 miles – £91.82. The majority of journeys I’ve been doing are in the city, so I’m going to round it up to £95 to account for congestion.
  • Total running cost = £251.64

Gym equivalent

  • Total cost – £91.50

Grand totals!

  • Public transport (£153) + gym (£91.50) – expenditure (£21.00) = £223.50 savings
  • Car (£251.64) + gym (£91.50) – expenditure (£21.00) = £322.14 savings

Year to date totals

  • Bike vs Public Transport – £528.50 in pocket
  • Bike vs Car – £653.77 in pocket

To the end of August I am up over £650 on the car. That is definitely not to be sniffed at, especially with four months to go. The summer period was always going to give numbers a boost because of the better weather, longer days and any excuse to get on the saddle. I’m starting to wonder if I might hit £1k savings by the end of the year?

With £650 in pocket, I could buy an old banger of a car to wipe out my gains from cycling, pay half of my yearly council tax bill OR buy the EBC Revolution tourer for £550 and have £100 left over to buy a nice wee lightweight tent and a couple of nights’ campsite pitch fees…

revolution-country-traveller-15

Hmmm… 😉

 

My Mini Cycle Tour Around Comrie in Perthshire

I haven’t had much time to get out touring this year because of all the house stuff that’s swallowed up my life, but this weekend I got the opportunity to go camping in Comrie, which is nestled in the hills just outside of Crieff. I decided to cycle there from Dunblane, and it was all just so easy and wonderful that I’m kicking myself for not exploring more of our fine country of a weekend.

I was pretty excited about this wee mini tour because I had to load my bike up with sleeping mat, bag and tent as well as perfectly packed panniers for a potentially rainy weekend of cycling. Previous bike expeditions have always involved the glamour of hostels, so this was new to me. Gosh, it was SO exciting.

me and my load

me and my load

The first time on the bike with all the weight was a bit daunting, but I soon got in my groove and pedalled to Haymarket station, where I jumped on the train to Dunblane. From there, I did a gorgeous 20 mile ride up to Comrie Croft, which I highly recommend for a visit.

The high road on the B827 was absolutely stunning and I was rewarded for my climb. The landscape was beautifully bleak, and I was treated to a glorious tailwind for most of the leg. It’s quite difficult to explain just how contented I was on the bike, in the middle of the countryside, feeling completely self-sufficient, strong and enjoying getting to my destination on my own steam.

The B827 high road to Comrie

The B827 high road to Comrie

The camp site at Comrie Croft was fabulous, with extensive mountain bike trails (if that’s your kind of thing), a tea room serving delicious bacon rolls, a bike shop, several camping fields and a hostel. I will absolutely have to return. A pitch was £10 a night and included hot showers, plenty loo facilities, fire pits and a glorious view. There was also a tonne of tea on offer.

The tea room at Comrie Croft

The tea room at Comrie Croft

I was a bit doubtful about my tent, newly purchased from Decathlon for a meagre £20, and it did look a little bit sad and decrepit once it was up. However, it was the best £20 ever spent, as not a single spot of rain managed to get in despite Saturday taking a leaf out of the Deluge’s book and utterly drenching everything in sight, including me, for almost eight solid hours. It was cosy and dry and I cannot believe it didn’t blow over, leak or refuse to pack back into its bag. It was a quality bit of supremely cheap kit!

My pokey wee tent from Decathlon

My pokey wee tent from Decathlon

We spent Saturday afternoon in the saddle and did another 20 odd mile ride exploring the countryside around Comrie. Myself and friends Suzanne and Lizzie layered up, braved the weather and enjoyed being badass cyclists in headwinds from a horror show and biting, stinging rain for several hours. The weather was so atrocious we even had to have a stab at drafting each other, which is generally unheard of when I get on a bike.

Badass cyclists ahoy

Badass lady cyclists ahoy – thanks to @backonmybike for the snap

Sunday was the return to Edinburgh, much to my disappointment. I packed up the tent and panniers and cycled back to Dunblane, this time with Lizzie to keep me company. It’s much more preferable to have a chum as we were evenly weighted and paced, happy to natter or just enjoy the ride.

Lizzie enjoys the Perthshire countryside

Lizzie enjoys the Perthshire countryside

I really need to invest in a better tent and lighter four season sleeping bag, because I can see this kind of mini adventure becoming a bit more regular. This time round I didn’t do lots of miles or spend much money, because I wasn’t sure how I’d take to a full load on the bike and sleeping on the ground for several days. But it turns out it’s bloody wonderful. I had such a good time. Honestly, it was just so much fun. For those interested, here is the A to B and the Comrie loop on Strava.

The only problem I can see with cycle touring and camping is when stuff gets wet. Without a drying room, clothing and feet stay damp and cold, which is rather miserable. In Scotland it’s pretty difficult to avoid wet weather. So I figure the best way to avoid this is with better kit…

Now I know what I’ll be asking for at Christmas! 😉

My much less woeful George Street consultation experience

Since writing up my experience of the George Street design consultation in mid-August, there’s been a fair bit of discussion and chat about it. The City Cycling Edinburgh forum has several threads dedicated to the consultation, the blog comments have some good discussion points, and I’ve had quite a few face-to-face conversations about it, too. Who says democracy is dead, eh?

In a surprising twist, I also had a chap from the council on the phone to me last week. He was keen to hear about how I felt the consultation exercise went, and I hope I came across as honest and not-mad. We spoke for probably around 20 minutes, and I recounted my confusing and slightly depressing foray into public consultation. He was really helpful, attentive and promised to feed back my experiences. Which is really nice. Bear in mind he’s not taking forward my actual input on the George Street redesign because I’ve already done it via a blank sheet of paper and even blanker stares from consultants.

Here’s his blog comment that led to the conversation, which I think is very useful and relevant for anyone interested in George Street:

Hi Claire
I’m the guy at the Council who has been in charge of the George Street Experimental Traffic Regulation Order from the outset, so I wanted to say I’d seen your blog and thanks for posting it.

The meeting you were at (13/8) was in fact the only part of the George Street trial that I have not been in charge of and I wasn’t in attendance. I’m sorry to read how negative it was for you, especially as the rest of the project to date has been characterised by a huge effort to engage the public and to value people and their needs above all else.

By way of example, from July 2014 to July 2015 there were some groundbreaking aspects of the project. We took the view that there was only any point in running a trial if it is tested properly, and to everyone’s satisfaction. Otherwise, why trial. So to reassure and to overcome people’s (natural) scpeticism, the public were put in charge of the research aspects.

The Council paid for an independent research company to undertake 1200 interviews and other traffic-based research, but there have been quarterly meetings where the public have been first to receive the results (before any elected members or senior officials) and it has been the public who have interrogated and scrutinised the feedback. It’s been a refreshing approach, in many people’s eyes – for example here http://www.broughtonspurtle.org.uk/news/george-street-experiment-thrives-success-and-failure)

So, with this meeting being the first to have moved away from this model, I was interested in your feedback, sorry to read it was negative, but I’m interested in hearing from you about your thoughts. The street is so important to the city, to its many stakeholders, and getting the design right for the long run is something I am passionate about. I’d be happy to pick up the conversation with you if you’d like.

Well done, council! Thank you for taking the time to do this 🙂

It was brilliant to be so pro-active and I was pleased to hear that the council’s staff working on the street design are so invested in the project and keen to get a positive outcome for all users of the street.

I believe there are more George Street consultation bits and bobs lined up, so I will be keeping an eye on how it all goes. I might even go to another event! 😉

 

 

 

 

My woeful George Street Design consultation experience

For those not in the know, George Street has been under an experimental road traffic order for the past year. As part of the experiment, the 30 metre-wide road has given over some space to cyclists. Which is nice.

What’s not so nice is its poor design. I’ve been using it for the last year as part of my daily commute, and although I absolutely embrace the council’s decision to offer some proper space for cycling, in practice the experience is flawed for all users of the street. There are plenty other online discussions that are much clearer than I could ever be when it comes to George Street’s ETRO, so I won’t go into detail here.

I did, however, attempt to go into some detail at an open consultation event yesterday. I am not a very vocal cycle campaigner, as this blog confirms. Nor am I a transport planner. I only have my opinions from first-hand experience of riding a bike and reading a lot of cycling literature. I also walk, use public transport and occasionally drive. I feel frustrated and isolated whenever I attempt to “discuss” cycling issues with people that don’t ride a bike for transport, but I felt it important to attend the event and weigh in with my two pennies.

When it comes to cycle campaigning, my usual tact is to write to MSPs and the like as I feel I can be much more considered and back up my observations with links to relevant studies and evidence. Of course, in conversation that’s not so easy to do and I can get frustrated and emotional and can’t articulate myself.

My George Street design experience was almost a carbon copy of that template situation. I was dismayed to hear a range of bizarre and sometimes frightening responses from some of the consultants hired to undertake the consultation, as well as attendees. I couldn’t fight the good fight because I was too busy disliking conflict with strangers.

Some choice exchanges and overheard conversation included snobby opinions on how all the traffic should be moved onto Princes Street because the shops there are very tatty (!). Another grim comment went along the lines of how George Street needs loadsa parking, as posh people will only shop in posh shops if they can have their cars parked outside.

I had a classic conversation when I asked the consultants whether they thought people on bikes were shortchanged in Edinburgh due to the lack of space for them. Pedestrians get footways, traffic gets roads, bikes get a useless hybrid that encourages conflict. They disagreed.

I also had a cracking comment from a consultant who stated that cycling was embedded in Dutch culture, so they are not very relevant as a comparison to the UK. I was too flummoxed to mention that the Dutch only have a cycling culture because investment was made in infrastructure 40 years ago and it has grown from nothing to amazing.

Another choice snippet came from a fellow consultation participant, who stated that the cycling lobby in Edinburgh was getting too strong. As if fighting for cycling as a legit transport mode is the enemy. Because bikes are such a bad idea by easing congestion, being environmentally friendly, keeping people fit, encouraging more robust and connected communities etc etc.

Of course, I also got the standard red light jumping, cyclists on pavements crap and that “You don’t do yourself any favours”… Because if one cyclist red light jumps then we all do it, OBVIOUSLY.

I appreciate that the point of consultation is to gather feedback from lots of different people. I totally get it. And I also understand that some people don’t think bikes are brilliant. What I don’t get is the thinly veiled vitriol and meanness directed towards people riding bikes and the willful ignorance of the problems that too many cars create.

So it’s back to the old considered email, I think. I’m a bit fed up feeling belittled because I choose to cycle in my city.

*** Update 01/09/2015 – I have since been contacted by the council re the above blog post and experience, feel free to read about it.

The Great Edinburgh Bike Experiment – March, April and May

I’m a bit behind with my Great Edinburgh Bike Experiment. The stress of the house move got in the way of regular updates and I’ve only now looked at all my data.  This is cool in hindsight, because any savings and my mileage will look more impressive…

The bike numbers from the last three months

  • Total journeys: 103
  • Total distance: 490 miles
  • Total calories: 16,102 kcal
  • Total climb: 15,644 feet

This means I cycled to the top of Mount Churchill (a badass volcano in Alaska) while commuting to work, grabbing bottles of milk and undertaking other quaxing activities.

mount churchill

Credit to Game McGimsey and the Alaska Volcano Observatory / U.S. Geological Survey for showing you where I cycled to the top of in the last three months.

I’m not gonna brag or anything, but as mountain climbing goes, I’m not too disappointed with that ascent. I also managed about 6 feet of descent. So I’ll need to get wheeling down it again over the next few months…

Bike expenditure in last three months

  • I heard a weird squeak on the hybrid, so the bike shop guys gave it a wee service. £10 down.
  • £47 – Bus fares in total. Dumb knees! These fares also included journeys I wouldn’t have taken by bike anyway, but let’s just leave it at that to make things easier…
  • Total = £57.00

Public transport equivalent

  • I substituted £162 worth of bus fares in March, April and May. So the £51 Ridacard would have been marginally more economical.
  • Ridacard cost = £153

Car equivalent

  • Monthly car running cost – £39.16
  • Petrol cost for 490 miles – £47.83. Now, the journeys I’ve been doing are in the city, so I’m going to round it up to £55 to account for congestion. I think that’s being generous.
  • Total running cost = £165.31

Gym equivalent

  • Total cost – £91.50

Grand totals!

  • Public transport (£153) + gym (£91.50) – expenditure (£57.00) = £187.50 savings
  • Car (£165.31) + gym (£91.50) – expenditure (£57.00) = £199.81 savings

Year to date totals

  • Bike vs Public Transport – £305 in pocket
  • Bike vs Car – £331.63 in pocket

The first five months of the year have me up just over £330 on the car. Maybe by the end of 2015 I will be almost £800 better off in my highly unscientific experiment. I am being let down by my knees, which are eating into my costs via bus fares…

So far, I could buy a nice new telly with my savings, go on a last minute week-long holiday, eat 44kg of Dairy Milk (it’s 2 for £3 in Tesco) OR buy this Charge Plug…

Charge-Plug-0-2015-Single-Speed-Bikes-Silver-BYCHM5PLUG0XSSLV

Decisions, decisions… 😉

 

Clipping in, finally

Well, it only took about three years of solid cycling, but I finally clipped in last week. I got some cash for my birthday and decided there was no better way to treat myself than by buying a fancy set of Shimano pedals (£50!!!! Has the world gone mad? My first bike only cost me £80!) and a pair of corresponding shoes that would encourage me to fall over repeatedly.

For those that read the blog and don’t go in for all the cycling nomenclature, a brief explanation of clipping in is when you literally clip your feet to the pedals of a bike so they are stuck on. You buy these shoes with little metal bits on the bottom that slot into the pedal (aka cleats). Bizarrely, when you clip in to your pedals, the corresponding phrase is to go clipless. Which all sounds very weird and bonkers and makes no sense.

specialized shoes

My new Specialized shoes, complete with cleats and excellent shoelaces.

When I try to explain my newfound clipped in-ness to non-bike people they rightly look horrified, and couple their looks with lots of comments about things being dangerous or silly or both. It is clearly strange to non-cycling people to glue your feet to a bike.

I’ve been practising with my new Specialized shoes, which, by the way, are spectacularly ace. I love them. The cleats are on the sole but you hardly notice they are there. Passers-by don’t think you’re some crazy bike person with clippy cloppy road shoes on. They just think you’re a regular nutter with crazy purple trainers.

Specialized cycling shoes

Check out the cleat…

I am starting to get the hang of it now, because I’ve gone in at entry-level. The cleats are for mountain bikers rather than the road shoe milarky, they are set to be as loose as possible and the pedals I bought have one side that is just regular and flat. This means that if I get the fear, which is regularly, I can just ride about on my run-of-the-mill standard pedal instead of being quite literally attached to my bike and freaking out.

So far, I’ve fallen over three times. Thankfully, the errors happened on an enormous grassy mattress that I cycled out to at Blackness Castle. I had a small audience of castle visitors who watched me faff about and topple over, and they accompanied the entertainment with applause every time I took a fall. At least it was a beautiful place to embarrass myself.

Blackness Castle and forth estuary

My trip to Blackness Castle, including multiple tumbles.

Anyway, now I’m getting the hang of the things I’m quite liking them. I’ve noticed that hills are easier to climb already, and can see why riders favour them so. Roadies must see enormous benefit from longer rides.

I’m not sure about being glued to the bike in the city, because the environment is so unpredictable and I can’t unattach myself quickly yet. But once onto the open road I totally get why they exist.

Next step? Get clipped onto the road bike!

What volunteering a couple of hours a week can achieve

This week is Volunteers’ Week, an annual campaign that celebrates the incredible impact of millions of volunteers across the UK. As a third sector person I’ve been well aware of the importance of volunteering for a long time, having read endless press releases and infographics about just how much volunteers add to the economy and local communities. However, until recently I never practised what I preached. I’m a recent volunteer convert.

I’ve only been offering my time in the last year or so, but I’ve come to realise just how satisfying a volunteering role is. For readers unfamiliar, I am a cycle ride leader for Belles on Bikes Edinburgh.

Along with a handful of amazing Edinburgh ladies, we have built a busy, friendly women’s cycling group from scratch over the past year or so. We launched the group officially at the end of June 2014 with small grants funding support from CTC and Cycling Scotland, and have accumulated around 280 members, led around 40 rides across Edinburgh and the Lothians and encouraged approximately 460 participants to explore and discover new parts of the city and its surrounds.

This has been achieved in our own time and it’s great fun. Some of the Belles think that the ride leaders get paid for the work we do leading rides. But of course, we don’t. We plan, recce and risk assess each route, ensure that the women on the ride are in a safe environment and, maybe most importantly of all, plot in an acceptable cake stop on route 😉

Goodbye cake. You snooze you lose

By the time I remember to take a photo of cake, it’s usually a scene like this…

Some people ask me why I would spend my spare time planning and running rides for strangers. Which is a good question, I suppose. But the answer is pretty straightforward. I love cycling and think more women should do it. My bike has opened up freedom, fitness and huge opportunities for me, so I think it’s only fair to share the happiness.  Within Belles, women gain confidence, learn new low-traffic routes, meet new friends and improve their health. What is not to love about that? Of course, I get the added warm, fuzzy feeling from hearing positive stories and feedback. It’s a win-win situation.

Belle looks across the Forth

One of the Edinburgh Belles snaps a photo across the Forth

We have recently been successful in gaining some funding from City of Edinburgh Council and plan to extend our offering, with some basic bike mechanics classes, events at Edinburgh Festival of Cycling, training opportunities and more for the Belles members. So there’s plenty to be getting on with!

The Edinburgh Belles is a perfect example of how a local, grassroots approach can pay big dividends. On average, I spend maybe a couple of hours a week with Belles and the results are pretty wonderful:

belles residential

The Belles leaders’ residential in Stirling – volunteers from across Scotland, all encouraging more women to cycle!

 “Very much appreciate what all you leaders do and I just turn up and tag along, sometimes even when I don’t have my name down but adamant that I do. Lol. I enjoy it so much I’ve bought another bike!!!!!! Many thanks” – Belles member

If you don’t already volunteer, imagine what you could do with your time if you offered your enthusiasm and expertise to a cause you cared about 🙂 Doesn’t need to be cycling – could be anything! I highly recommend giving it a go…

Normal service will resume shortly

It’s all been a bit quiet lately on the old bike blogging front. My poor Great Edinburgh Bike Experiment is running two months behind schedule, I’ve had very little time (or inclination) to sit down and write and cycling has taken a bit of a back seat, too. For April was the month of The Move.

The Move was a sensationally stressful experience, but I am happy to say it’s over and done with. My now ex-flat needed 13 years’ worth of nonsense scooped out and deposited in an already full garage. And as I am without a car, I can advise that moving house with two wheels is a bit of major hassle. Even multiple cargo bikes at my beckon call would have been unlikely to stem the flow of stress leaking out of me.

My housing situation has been an ongoing saga for a while now. I am hamstrung in many ways, not least because I have four bikes and nowhere to put them. My humble chariots of awesomeness have been shunted from pillar to post in a bid to keep them dry and rust-free. Remember that old puzzle about the man with his chicken, grain and fox needing to cross the river? Replace the zoo with bikes and that accurately describes my life up until the end of April.

Now I am in a position to stop stressing about moving out and relaaaaaaax. Which means I can blog a bit more. And ride my bike a bit more. And focus on sorting out my knees a bit more. Huzzah.