Monday, October 31, 2005

Darkness falls in Regents Park

Today is the first weekday since the clocks went back, and it sure is noticeable on the ride home from nursery! It's pitch black by a six or so, which makes it a little scary in Regents Park in particular.

On the inside (counter-clockwise) side of the park has no streetlights at all, so a cyclist is only as visible as his lights and reflective wear - and there's also the question of seeing what's coming up on the road surface. So it looks like we'll be using another route home until springtime!

Fortunately, we've blazed a very nice new trail: Instead of going round the Outer Circle, we head up through Primrose Hill on Gloucester Avenue, down King Henry's Road to Elsworthy Road, which takes us straight over to Boundary Road again. Only a tiny bit longer, and much safer at this time of year.

Bobike in Holland

I got a nice email out of the blue from someone in the Netherlands who saw my article on the Bobike child seat we use:

Just saw your piece on the Bobike front seats, and could not agree more. We are avid cyclists, with young children, and like just about every Dutch family, we used Bobike seats (they are generally believed to be the best available in Holland). As you may not know, many Dutch mums ride their bikes with both a front and a rear Bobike seat... It can be done, but I have never liked it. For the same reason, several Dutch bike manufactures have now come out with special 'mum' bikes, with longer top tubes, heavily swept back handlebars, and beefed up frames.

We were very confident about the seats, and the side protection (plus thier helmets, of course) in particular perfectly protected our children on the few crashes they experienced (life is tough on the road).

Riding with the front seat in particular was a treat, since you are so close to the child. It is intimate, you can talk easily, and very safe since the child is largely surrounded by you and the handlebar. When they get older, however, and on balance, I prefer a trailer.

When we were living in Camnbridge, I had my 3.5 year old son in the front seat, and my then six year old daughter at the back of a Thorn Voyager Childback. It worked great for short trips up to about 5-7 miles, but your legs are spread out a bit, so it is hard on your knees. For longer urban trips we had a trailer, and for our holidays (cycle camping trips such as in the Ardennes see our younger would be at the back of my wife's solo bike, and my daughter would be at the back of the tandem, with a luggage trailer behind. By now, she rides her own bike, and it is my son who is on the back of the tandem.

Couldn't have said it better myself! Of course, now I'm all the more obsessed with a Thorn tandem!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Good news from Freestyle

I emailed Freestyle yesterday to see about repairing the little tear in my jacket, and here's the response I got:

We can repair the jacket and the cost is normally about £23.00 plus postage and packaging, I cannot envisage it costing any more than that, please forward it to us washed and clean, we will return it the following day.

Nice! Will do.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

South Hampstead to Ware

After a grueling week (including two days in Sweden and another two in Woking), I really was really hoping to get a good ride in on Saturday morning. I almost didn't make it, though - the later it got on Friday night at work, the more I started thinking I'd never have it in me to do anything interesting. For me, too, part of the fun is laying out all my kit the night before... and if I couldn't make it home before nine, there didn't seem to be any way I could plan my route and assemble all my stuff for a good adventure.

In the end, though, I did get home just before nine, and I had plenty of time to pull things together. I found my 3/4 length Enduro tights (got em last year: really durable and comfortable, and just right for this time of year); base layer and long-sleeve jersey. Plus my good new jacket, socks and shoes. I also dug up my rack pack and stocked it with a cable lock, a few tools, spare inner tube, and patching bits. I added some nourishment: several Frusili bars (bought by Kim that day at my request), a couple bananas, some raisins, and a pb&j on leftover baguette. Also my Ordnance Survey map and a couple Multimap printouts to set me off on the right track. Finally, I chucked a couple of my new bidons in the washer to try to get some of the plasticky smell out, then set the alarm for 06.00.

My goal was to ride up to Ware in eastern Hertfordshire via the Lee River Navigation. I'd ridden part of the way already, several times. The River Lee starts (or ends?) in East London somewhere, and the navigation intersects with the Grand Union Canal just east of Victoria Park, where I've ridden lots of times. That's the canal that goes very close to us, through Primrose Hill, and around the top of Regents Park. Most often, I've followed the canal past Victoria Park, then headed south to the Docklands and Greenwich via the foot tunnel under the Thames. I've ridden north along the River Lee, though, just a couple times to Waltham Abbey.

This would have been an ideal ride for my Raven, since it's classic tow path surfaces, ranging from nice smooth paving to hard packed gravel to mud and deep puddles. The last time I rode up there was on my Fahrrad, which did well with everything but the mud. I have to admit to some paranoia this time, since the southern-most part of the track goes through some pretty dodgy areas, and I've heard of various muggings and bike thefts around there.

So I decided to bypass the dodgiest bits by riding north through Finchley to Barnet, then east from there along the A110. This plan worked perfectly! I ended up leaving the house at around 06.30, thanks in large part to my night-before preparation and premature waking at around 05.45... I know this route well, since it's also the first part of my regular northern route. Up the Finchley Road to Hampstead Village, then to Kenwood House and The Bishop's Avenue until it dead ends at the A1000. I took that north to the A110, which was reasonable enough; I'd been a little concerned that it would be really busy, and it might have been if it hadn't been at dawn on a Saturday! It was solidly suburbia, though, with one giant eyesore of a semi-detached house after the next. Two displaced countryside features were the Trent Park Equestrian Centre where Kim and I had a hair raising gallop a few years back, and Enfield Town, which is just a cute little village. Otherwise, little of note until arriving at Lee Valley Park and the navigation.

It took a just a little ingenuity to identify how to get to the towpath from the road, which involved crossing the street and following an access road through a funny industrial estate to a giant pub (The Navigation, which seemed either derelict or just down at heel), and onto the path right next to it. The access point was at Ponders End Lock, which is four miles south of Waltham Abbey (according to the signposting, which also indicated that I was now on National Cycle Route 1).

So far, I'd ridden almost exactly 15 miles, which was about what I would have expected. And it was just past 07.30 then, so I was also maintaining a pretty good pace. It was properly light by this time, but still not many people around, except for the odd angler here and there. They tended to congregate in clumps because fishing is not allowed in many areas (most worryingly at the points where electrical wires are over the canal, and with signs indicating that the fish "may be affected"); in my experience, they pretty much tolerate cyclists and vice versa, but there's no cordial "good mornings" between us.

I have to admit that I've not explored all that much of Lee Valley Park; in fact, I've only once or twice strayed off the Navigation at all. Seems like a worthy pursuit, though; there's a great variety of sporting facilities, parkland, farms, and other stuff to explore. There's also the Lee Valley Cycle Circuit, which I've never actually seen, but seems like fun for the more velocity-minded. I believe that the area could be redeveloped for the Olympics, so it's probably worth having a look soon.

I know that some cycle tourists think riding endlessly along canal towpaths is monotonous, and I can understand that. But for the 15 or so miles from Ponders End to Ware, it was certainly enough to keep my interest. There were a dozen or so horses grazing along the first leg, and lots and lots of swans, geese, and ducks all along the way (which kept me thinking about bird flu, unfortunately). The locks are always interesting - Ponders End is number 14, and they count down to number 1 in Ware, so there were plenty of them too. Also some specific points of interest that I didn't stop to experience, like historical Waltham Abbey and the village, Broxborne Village, and other curiosities. It'd be great to do with the girls and do some real sight-seeing one of these days. It would also be nice to stop at one of the many pubs along the route like the Fish & Eel.

My only real mishap I can honestly put down to my own bravado, combined with what I believe to be a bottomless puddle. I was having great fun trucking along a stretch of hard-packed earth with lots of puddles when my front wheel somehow went out from under me and I went down hard. My left bar-end and pedal took the brunt of the impact from the bike's point of view; I broke the fall with my left hand/forearm and left hip. The sensation was similar to the one I experienced in the Alps this summer - mostly confusion and embarrassment (though no one witnessed this fall, fortunately), followed by regret over my irresponsibility. This fall is slightly more excusable, but I probably shouldn't have been going so fast (probably 17mph or so).

My bike was a little muddied up at the points of impact but otherwise unaffected; but there were two casualties: me and my brand new jacket. Interestingly, that was my first thought - did I tear my new £200 Gore Tex jacket? It was substantially muddy, and indeed, I did manage a little tear; but the rip-stop fabric seems to have lived up to its name, and I should be able to patch it with without too much trouble. My own injuries will also heal, of course, but I managed to do something pretty gruesome to my left pinky, trading much of the skin and a little of the nail for a bit of mud. I also took some skin off my elbow, but nothing nearly as severe as the last time. My fingers are a bit stiff (particularly at night when they haven't been moving), but I was lucky to make it out of that one more or less in tact.

So after 15 miles on the towpath I reached Ware. I'd set it as my destination because it's the last village within the bounds of the park, and also since it shares its name with the Massachusetts town where lots of my maternal relations lived. It's been so long since I've been to the US version (almost 20 years!) that I'd be hard pressed to make any real comparisons unfortunately. This one, though, for all of its touristy trappings, seems to be little more than another sweet old village desperately trying to cling to its small-town quaintness as the high street goes one-way and family-run shops are replaced by Boots and Dixons.

Maybe on my next visit I'll have to take a closer look. This time, though, I pedaled through town and on to the train station and waited a half hour for the service to London, which I took as far as Seven Sisters. I had intended to go all the way to Liverpool Street and ride home from there, but it occurred to me that the bike and I were both so muddy that it might be a good idea to banish it into our self-storage space in Holloway. Which is what I did, and in my day's only real cop-out, I took a taxi home (I was wearing my cleats, precluding any long walking, is how I rationalised the £10 I spent).

In addition to having a good ride and a moderate adventure (which I certainly did), my other goal was to scope out the route for a possible ride with Gem, and I believe it seems suitable. There are barriers positioned every few miles to keep motorbikes out, though, which nixes the trailer, but it would be fine with the bike seat - also more interesting for Gem. The real issue is how to get to the route from our house. There are a few possibilities. We could bike to a suitable train station and take the One line up to Waltham Abbey or one of the nice stops to the south; we could (shudder!) hire a car and drive to a good start-stop point; or we could do virtually the whole thing traffic-free if we were to ride out on the Grand Union Canal and head north from there. This does raise a safety issue, though I'm not convinced that the lower part of the Lee Navigation is really any less safe than any of the other bits. One thing's for sure: it wouldn't be a good idea to attempt a long ride like that (especially if we have a night at a B&B in Ware before coming back the way we came).

With the days shortening and weather on the decline, it will probably be next spring before we can manage it - so I'll need to find a suitable riding partner before then.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Cool new Triobike

I suppose that if any airline magazine was going to have an interesting cycling feature, it would be SAS (Scandinavian). Which is exactly where I saw a blurb about the new Danish Triobike. It seems exceedingly clever, with a child carrying pod between two front wheels and a regular bike on the back - but the really clever thing is that the child carrier can be used separately as a two-child pram, and a fork and single wheel put in its place to form a regular city bike! Looks like really nice design too, and at about €2500, it's not even as expensive as you'd think.

Of course, it appears to be on the drawing board still - not like others we've considered, like the Nihola Cigar Family and the Christiania.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

London Cycle Show 2005

The big London Cycle Show is on now. It's always pretty exciting, and this must be my fourth year in a row. For the first time, it was held in the Docklands at the Excel Centre instead of at the good old Business Design Centre in Islington. Not a bad venue, but I preferred the old one - much easier to get to, and the mezzanine level created lots of nice space for smaller traders (many of whom where notably absent this year). The real shame is that because I didn't have a lot of time today, I had to go on public transport instead of cycle there!

I did get there in good time, though, and was one of the first in line. (After negotiating the throngs of dermatologists and hangers-on at the acne conference next door, that is.) The big difference compared to last year was that it was one continuous space, allowing the try-out track to be in the middle instead of in the car park downstairs. That was nice, and they did a good job kitting it out with London props. Lots of good bikes to try, too, but the track seemed overrun with 14-year-olds practising their bunny hops.

There was the usual assortment of lighter and shinier racing bikes and mountain bikes, none of which grabbed much of my attention. There was a distinct lack of smaller stands, though, with a just a couple exceptions. Very little dedicated to touring, kids, or utility cycling, though, which was disappointing but not surprising.

There were a couple highlights, though. The first one was at the always exciting Thorn/SJS Cycles stand, where I spied a step-through Raven Tour, essentially a ladies' version of my own bike! It's a design I haven't seen before, and it was launched at the show. Sure, not a big head-turner, but it might be just what Kim needs! The one on display had a Klikfix wicker basket and a Blackburn rack. They also had a crazy superlight Rolhoff-equipped bike that's certainly out of my price range, but nice to see anyway. Nice time talking to the guys on the stand, of course.

I also had a nice time learning about all the new Like-a-Bikes and all the fun bits you can buy for them now. Saddle bags, baskets, trailers, and a whole new range. I can't wait for Gem to have one! They're good from about 2 years old, so that'll be perfect for her birthday in December.

Trek and Specialized had big stands as usual, but virtually nothing of interest, really. Decathlon also had lots of stuff there, including some rubbishy kids' bikes - and a trailer virtually identical to mine, though with a different sort of hitch.

The real surprise of the show, though, was Ride Low, a shop that imports the wackiest lowriders and choppers from Taiwan and sells them for virtually nothing! I don't know how road-worthy these things are, but the street cred you'd get in a week would be be worth twice the price!

I headed back home after a couple hours, including fifteen minutes watching the trials competition outside. No big revelations, but the Thorn stand really made it worthwhile - great to see the new stuff there.

See my .mac photo gallery for more pictures.

Cycle parking @ E&Y London

I had a couple days work with E&Y last week, and I cycled there as usual. The first day, I locked up on the street, no problem (it was pissing down with rain that day, incidentally, but my new jacket kept me warm and dry!).

The second day, I was a bit early, so I decided to see what would happen if asked where the cycle parking was. Their new UK HQ is this fabulous Thames-facing construction, part of the brand new MoreLondon complex, right next door to City Hall. So I figured the must have some facilities.

I left my bike just outside the main entrance so I could find out more, and I was stopped immediately by a friendly security guy, who directed me around the corner to Loading Bay D.

Once inside, finding E&Y's bit was pretty straightforward. And I was pleasantly surprised! There were probably 200 bikes there already (ar 9.00), and only room for another 50 or so. The racks were a bit bizarre, these upright contraptions requing me to lift my bike upright and slot the back wheel into a groove... The, it was hard to see how I could lock all the bits, but none else had, so I made do with locking the back wheel. Even for somebody moderately fit, a heavy, largish bike is pretty awkward!

There were also about 60 small lockers there. No Idea how they're allocated or managed.

All in all, pretty impressive! Clearly not for guests, though... I had no end of trouble without proper ID or a keycard! I'll lock up on the street next time.

Friday, October 14, 2005

I create another outrage on CCC

I've been known to cause some of the most active flurries of activity on the Camden Cycling Campaign mailing list with my inflamatory ideas. (My fave: proposing buying a Transit van and parking it on the street to store bikes in!)

Now, someone has sent a message to the group warning all of a sudden police presence in Primrose Hill. My response (predictably) was in support of that. I got a couple challenges right back, and here was my reply:

I know that many people don't agree with me on this one. But for me, it's all a slippery slope. I don't like people cycling on the narrow paths of Primrose Hill or on the bridges over Regents Canal because it's dangerous for pedestrians. And if I don't like that, I also can't like cycling down the Broad Walk.

Sure, you see lots of people cycling slowly and carefully, filtering through the dog walkers, old ladies, children, and pram-pushers - but it's hard to make a moral distinction between that and the less considerate who plow right through. For me, this also falls into the same quagmire as cycling on pavements, jumping lights, and going the wrong way down one-way streets. We can justify these all we want to ourselves, but in the end, it only helps to turn the tide of public opinion against us.

A surprising number of messages since this one have been supportive, which is very encouraging!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Terrible parking at Waitrose

Looks like the work is almost done in the forecourt at Waitrose Finchley Road. And it seems that my initial concerns were well-founded: As we can see here, though five sheffield stands have been installed, they are so close to the curb and so close to one another, we'll be lucky to get five bikes locked to them safely. Few people would want to lock up on the street side of the stands (being so close to the A-road traffic).

What a disaster! There's certainly enough room for them to do it correctly here. I'm not sure how the scheme squeaked by us at the CCC either. I'll post another photo when the rubbish is taken away...

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Whenever we bike to nursery in the morning, we always look out for the troops riding out from the barracks in St John's Wood. I see them most frequently when going to work at an ungodly hour like 07.00, but today, Gem and I had a treat. It was just coming up to eight, and they were just emerging, along with their giant cannons! I suspect that they were heading up to Wormwood Scrubs to practice galloping around with them.

London's newest cycling instructor

Hooray! Kim has completed her training with Cycle Training UK, now she's a provisionally accredited cycling instructor! Before she solos, she'll need to observe some lessons and work with a mentor. She'll also be doing training in first aid and bike maintenance (does this mean no more "most expensive services ever?").

Congrats to Kim and the rest of her classmates!

Monday, October 03, 2005

LCN on foot

After Gem's swimming class yesterday, we went to Justin's for a fantastic lunch. The question was how to get from Friern Barnet to Crouch End...

The buses are infrequent around those parts, and TfL estimated about an hour to get us from there to there, and I really didn't want to risk interrupting Gem's naptime, which is exactly then, so we decided to walk it. For fun, we used Cycle Guide no 5 and tried to stick to the recommended routes. All in all, very successful, but it was a bit of a mess around New Southgate, which put us on to a dodgy bit that ran along the rail line, eventually spitting us out into a confusing but well-maintained set of segregated tracks near the shopping centre along the North Circular.

We made it to Crouch End in about 90 minutes, not bad considering the time it would have taken on the bus!

The fox and the rainbow

So after Gem's nap on Saturday, we set out for a ride to Kenwood via Hampstead Heath. On our walk last weekend, it occured to me how nice that might be, so this was our chance to give it a try.

The only trouble was that clouds seemed to be moving in all day long... but if we scheduled our lives around the whims of the British weather, we'd never go anywhere. So we set off around three, and by the time we'd reached the top of the hill in Hampstead, the skies opened up and we had to seek shelter under a tree for about 20 minutes. Fortunately, though, I'd worn my new waterproof, and I'd packed Gem's rain poncho, which she wears happily.

The rain finally cleared and we had a very nice ride across the Heath (mostly on official bike paths, though we got a little lost when it started raining again and I stopped paying attention). We had a lot of fun spottiing the squirrels and dogs. Then when we were humping up a steep hill in Fitzroy Park, we saw a fox! It trotted along in front of us for a while, as Gem pointed and shouted "fox! fox!" I suspect that she knows foxes from the Gruffalo, but she might have picked it up anywhere. Very exciting.

By the time we got to Kenwood, the rain had stopped, and the sun was out, which meant that the revelers from a wedding reception had spilled out onto the lawn, and many of them admired Gem, who was concerned with picking up good rocks to put in her pockets.

We went down to the bottom of the lawn and had a nice picnic before heading back.

It rained a little bit on our ride home, but it soon cleared up and a giant rainbow appeared! We noticed clumps of people in Hampstead folding up their umbrellas and pointing at the sky behind us, so we stopped and there it was. Gemma's first one.