Friday, November 16, 2007


Hiatus, originally uploaded by John the Monkey.

I'm not sure if it's the dictionary definition or not, but you take one of these when the disk with your photos crashes, and you have to boot your computer into Knoppix while ddrescue attempts to recover your data. In some ways, it's quite nice to be using Linux again, although most of my photo software was on the damaged drive (and works in windows in any case) so I'm having a bit of a break from flickr and processing photos while the recovery runs. As Knoppix is a livecd, running from a RAMdisk, there's not much point in setting up permanent alternatives either, although I did make sure that ddrescue's logs go to a permanent location.

In other news, we should be moving house soon, and the fact that I *can't* do much photography stuff is, if I'm honest, probably helping to get more packing done, so it's not all bad.

Lastly, Mr. Boncey has an interesting blog about his experiences of cycle commuting (he seems to have started at roughly the same time of year as me). I found it on CycleCluster, and thought it might be worth adding my experiences from my commute to the general fund of knowledge too.

I did the first couple of days of my commute in cotton t-shirts and generic baggy shorts. I found quite quickly that I'm not fit enough to do 8 miles each way at a decent clip and not sweat. I also found that cotton gets wet, stays wet, and rubs under your rucksack very uncomfortably. For that reason, I invested in some "proper" cycling tops, which wick sweat away, dry quickly, and keep me feeling comfy.

I like the "road" style jersey myself, fairly slim cut, and two or three useful pockets in the back. People not wanting to look too hardcore could go for a technical t-shirt, or "freeride" style top. Although opinions very, I'd say get them brightly coloured, and make sure they have decent reflective bits on them (or suplement with something like this). Loose tops will flap about at speed, so unless you're a pootler, or incredibly self conscious, a degree of snugness is good.

In terms of shorts, what you wear really depends on what you carry, and where, in my experience. If you're using pockets, cycle specific baggy shorts make a lot of sense, because they're cut to allow things to sit comfortably whilst you're in the riding position. I favour Altura's "Ascent" short myself). I supplement those with either cycling shorts (cheap Decathlon ones) or dhb bib 3/4 longs in winter, worn underneath the baggies.

Incidentally, you can find some useful rules of thumb for Winter/cold weather here - (see "Knowing How Much is Enough"). I like a short sleeve jersey with a l/s base layer myself, although long sleeve jerseys can be good too.

Whether you need padded shorts or liners will depend very much on your ride length, saddle/bike type, and how comfortable you are - I reckon they're a worthwhile purchase, but then I ride a road bike with a fairly unforgiving saddle.

On Gear
Even in summer, you'll need gloves - they protect your palms in the event of a fall or crash, and help soak up some of the vibration from the road. If you ride straight bars, especially using grip shifters, they'll stop you ending up with blisters too.

I favour Specialized's BG Comp mitt - the body geometry padding works fantastically well, and my hands feel far better at the end of the commute than they did in my old mitts. In the colder weather, I've simply added Altura glove liners underneath. The jury is still out on this - my fingers are warm enough, but I'm not sure the liners will last more than one winter.

A nice addition to a saddle bag is a tri-bag - these are small, top tube mounted bags that sit just behind the handlebar stem. I use a Topeak one with a rain cover that holds a small cycle spanner and a glueless patch kit, it'll also fit a mobile, keys or energy bars too. Keep stuff in here that you might want to get to mid ride without having to get off and go into the saddle bag.

Also on my bike are;
  • an Exertec saddle bag with spare tube, spanner (to fit seat tube clamp and saddle adjustment bolt) and glued patch kit. On a more modern bike, this would contain a multi-tool, but my bike (aside from the handlebar stem) is entirely allen key-less meaning that a spanner for each bolt is necessary. (I'm a fairly firm believer that it's a good idea to be able to tighten/loosen anything on the bike as necessary, wherever you are).
  • Blackburn Mars 3.0/Quadrant Light set (plenty bright enough to be seen by, but if your commute isn't streetlit, you'll need a more powerful front light to see with).
  • Kryptonite Cable Lock - basically because my bike is locked up in a fairly secure building - if I left it elsewhere, I'd add a good D lock to that.
  • Pump - riding a road bike, you'll quickly realise that there is a reason that cheap pumps are cheap, and that's because they can't get your tyres above 60psi (if you're lucky). When you're looking for pressures of 100-120, I recommend this Topeak Road Morph G as the best portable pump I've used. 120 psi is easily achievable using it, and it doesn't start to leak air/become impossible to move above 40psi either. It's only downside is the mounting bracket (it mounts to the front, rather than side of the bottle cage bosses, meaning you have to give up a bottle cage to mount it, or use the supplied (and admittedly very good) zip tie kit). I carry a Revolution mini pump as an "enough air to get me home" back up too.
  • Last, and probably least, I have a ping bell - I'm not entirely sure why, as everyone ignores it, other than people of a certain age (who probably remember what the sound means).
On other people;
I think my favourite response to my saying that I was cycling to work each day was a friend who said "Well, I think you're very brave" in the tone of someone consoling a friend with a serious disease. As Boncey says, I've been surprised at how much fun I've had, even at my lamentable level of fitness (and how rapidly that has improved). My commute is currently 8 miles, give or take, and I honestly reckon nearly anyone could do it. The key to the route, as Paul Dorn has said, is not to think like a car driver;

"A big reason why many people don't commute by bike is because they think like motorists. As drivers, they know that the quickest way to get from Point A to Point B is by Route C. Unfortunately, Route C features abundant high-velocity traffic, plenty of potholes and rough pavement, a few steep hills and several dangerous intersections. Not very attractive even for a seasoned cyclist, let alone a beginner. ...

However, there just may be a Route D that runs parallel to Route C. Route D features slower - and thus less abundant - traffic, and is flatter with good pavement, more trees, interesting scenery and many smiling pedestrians."

Obviously there were no TfL maps for me, but the guys at my local bike shop suggested a great route, which is the one I use every day now.