The benefits of cycling

Ok, so I’m six months out of date, but this is such a good article that I just had to link to it:

I don’t ride a bike, why should I support measures to boost cycling?

To paraphrase Monty Python, apart from less congested streets, less overcrowding on public transport, fewer deaths on the road, less NHS money wasted on obesity, a boost for the high street, less pollution, and a more affordable form of transport for those priced out by rising petrol prices and rail fare, what has cycling ever done for us?

The 2013 Dunwich Dynamo

DunwichShirtLast weekend (20th and 21st July) was the 21st Dunwich Dynamo, an overnight ride from London Fields, in the heart of London out to Dunwich on the Suffolk coast. I was persuaded to go this year by a work colleague. In some ways no previous decision is necessary as there is no organisation, it’s just turn up and go. The difficulty, of course, is getting home again.

Last year 1500 cyclists took part and the numbers tend to go up each year. There is a railway station not far from Dunwich at a the village of Darsham. There’s a train every two hours. I imagine it would be somewhat swamped by 1,500 cyclists suddenly turning up and expecting to get back to London. So in their wisdom Southwark Cyclists have organised a relay of coaches to take the riders and removal vans to take the bikes. To stand a chance of being on one you need to book in advance – well in advance. So some time back in April I booked my coach place and told a number of people I’d be going, and several of them even said they’d come too. I thought ‘110 miles – never cycled that far before. Some training might be an idea.’ And then I put that thought on the back burner as unworthy and carried on with my life.

Now when I say I’ve never cycled that far in my life I wasn’t kidding. I once cycled from Abingdon to Horsham, a distance of about 75 miles. Once. A long time ago. In fact, over 30 years ago. In my life I’ve racked up a fair mileage on bikes. I now own four bikes and the total recorded mileage on them is around 33,000 miles. I suppose I bought my first cycle computer around 15 years ago, so about 2,000 miles a year. Over a lifetime that adds up. But the thing is, it’s all been done in little bits. I’ve cycled to work quite often, but that’s only 22 miles each way. And with the truly rotten summers we’ve had of late I’ve not done that as much as I could have done.

Dunwich1Add to that the fact that we’ve moved recently and I’m now a bit further from work, meaning I’ve stopped cycling to work and bought a Brompton instead. From the end of March to the Dynamo I’d logged 650 miles on the Brompton, but almost all of it in stretches of 3 miles – hardly preparation for a 110 mile marathon. On Fudge, the Challenge Fujin recumbent, which I planned to ride to Dunwich, I’d done: 2 x 25 miles to work and back, 1 x 30 miles up Epsom Downs and Boxhill, and 1 x 25 miles to Regents Park. So it would be fair to say I’d not really done enough training.

To cap it all, none of my apparently enthusiastic friends had been quite that enthusiastic when it came to it. And then two weeks before the ride Ian, my work colleague, fell off his bike and munged up his collar bone. That left one person, Ian’s friend Bryn, doing the ride who I could be said to know a little (I’d sold him a roof box), and one other person that I knew of: Denise, who I’d met on Clapham Common while she was giving out information for SusTrans.Since my bike is too weird to fit on cycle racks and too big to go in the back of the car I had little choice but to let the train take the strain – all very well, except that this also meant I had to cycle from the station to the start of the event. Only five miles, but it meant negotiating some very unfamiliar parts of London. I set off along the South bank of the Thames towards London Bridge – and immediately screwed up by crossing at Southwark Bridge instead. Fortunately I met another bunch of riders heading for the start led by someone who actually knew where they were going, which is what I had hoped would happen.


The start at London Fields

I queued up for my coach ticket and then called Bryn … who was running almost heroically late. I said hello to Denise, also riding a recumbent, but naturally she was with her own group of friends. So in the end I rode with nobody that I knew.The whole thing is completely informal, but a sort of momentum begins to generate at around 7:30 to 8pm. I got myself into the queue heading for the bridge and actually set off at around 8:20pm. We set off from London in pleasantly warm if overcast conditions, the only downer being that we were going to have a headwind for pretty much the whole route – although on my recumbent, of course, I would hardly notice that.

Getting out of London was very slow, but gradually the traffic clears and you start to get a good momentum up. At a number of spots along the way locals had turned out to cheer and clap us as we went by, and at least one of the groups had a track pump with them. I had to take my first comfort break fairly early on in terms of miles (I don’t remember exactly but it was less than 20) but the time was already gone 9:30pm.


A car trying to escape at Moreton

We passed through Moreton at mile 21, the first village with a pub, and there I saw a sight that would soon become familiar: every pub along the route acted as a bike magnet, with bikes and riders all over the road and cars battling to make their way through. I stopped briefly for a drink (of water) and then pushed on, having decided to take a break for food every 30 miles. At this stage I was developing a bit of a neck ache and was aware of some discomfort in my back. It seemed to take forever for that magical 30 miles to come up – roughly a quarter of the distance – when I could stop for my first flapjack. Oddly the miles seemed to pass quicker later on – perhaps helped by not being able to see the bike computer. I turned the backlight on my Garmin Edge on for a while when it got dark but decided in the end not to chance it running out of juice before the end.

By mile 50 my initial concern about neck and back ache had been replaced by a considerably larger concern for my right knee, which was giving me some serious attitude. Since the bridge at Sible Hedingham was closed and we all had to get off and push our bikes over a footbridge it gave me a chance to stretch my legs. That would have been fine except that my left knee, which just been aching a little while pedaling, then decided it wanted some of the TLC I’d been reserving for my other knee and made it’s presence known in no uncertain terms when I tried to push the bike.


Feeding the 2000

Just over the bridge the locals open up their village hall every year to provide refreshment to the weary cyclists, and I was happy to take a slightly longer break for a cup of tea and some bananas, and a chance to top up my water bottles before pressing on. There was also pasta salad on offer, but having stoked up on pasta for lunch I decided to give it a miss. It was a very well run operation, though, with both locals and cyclists in very mellow mood. It was nice to be able to drop the bike outside and have no worries that it, or any of the contents of my rack-top bag would be missing when I came back. There’s a great camaraderie with so many people united in a common purpose.

After the food halt the crowds started to spread out a little, until there came points where you would sometimes be out of site of blinking red lights ahead. Occasionally you’d come to a junction with a little huddle of cyclists where phrases like ‘Do you know it’s that way, or are you just following the others?’ and ‘Has anybody got the instructions?’ would be heard, followed by muttering of incantations over a limp, rumpled route sheet. In due course a consensus would emerge and we’d all set off again.

The Dynamo is always run on the weekend closest to the full moon in July but this time there was sufficient cloud cover that there might as well have been no moon. I have very good lights on the recumbent so seeing wasn’t a problem – other than when cars coming the other way fail to dip their lights – but riding in complete darkness is strange. You have no idea whether the road is going up or down other than the effort required, but even odder was that my brain started to play tricks with the blinking lights ahead. At one point I was convinced I was following someone on a skate-board, and at another time what I thought was a car behind me turned out to be two fast cyclists riding parallel with each other.


Dawn at mile 70

Dawn came up around mile 70 – I have no idea where I was by then other than I hoped it was Suffolk! I stopped to give my aching knee a rest and tried taking photos of the bikes streaming by but the bright lights seemed to upset the autofocus on the camera so most of the photos were pretty poots. I’d laid my bike down in the grass initially and when I went to pick it up again I managed to break my rear-view mirror with a carelessly placed foot. With most bikes it wouldn’t matter, but you can’t look behind you on a recumbent. Fortunately it was merely cracked, so I still had a view of sorts.

It was around this point that I started seeing cyclist walking their bikes up the hills: I was determined that wasn’t going to be me, partly out of dogged determination but also because I was very aware that my left knee absolutely didn’t want to walk anywhere so, painful as it was to keep on pushing up the hills, it was even worse not to.

At mile 90 I stopped again for a nibble on my last flapjack and to compare notes with some other cyclists who, like me, were balancing the benefits of a longer break with the desire to just get it over with. We compared notes to try and work out how far it still was. As is common in endurance scenarios I’d been breaking the journey down in to manageable chunks and I now realised that the distance to go was one commute to work. It’s true that most people wouldn’t consider cycling 22 miles to work, just like most people wouldn’t consider riding 110 miles overnight, but for me that felt like I was nearly there. So determining I wouldn’t stop again until I reached the end I climbed back on Fudge. By now there was a penetrating dampness to go with the headwind, as if we were cycling through cloud, making stopping a little chilly.


Me and Fudge at the finish

In spite of my resolve, though, I had to stop again at around 106 miles in order to massage my right knee. If I’d realised just how close I was to the end – I was never sure until I got there whether it was 110 miles, 120 or something in between – I might have been able to carry on – a mere four miles to go. I was mighty happy to finally start seeing sign posts for Dunwich, and even happier to round the final bend and see a waving, cheering bunch of people holding up a banner saying ‘You Made It’. I headed for the cafe and another cup of tea and a snack. I thought about a fry up but the queue was right around the car park so, after warming up and getting someone to take a photo of me and Fudge I set off to find the coach home, my first Dunwich Dynamo over at last.

Of the roughly 2000 people taking part the majority had fairly modern road bikes. There were a few other recumbents taking part, though. For those who care I saw: 2 HPV Streetmachines, 1 HPV Speedmachine, 1 HPV Grasshopper, 1 Kingcycle, 1 Raptobike (nice!) an ICE trike and a Windcheetah. Also numerous Bromptons (apparently the London Brompton club), a couple of Moultons, at least 1 post-office delivery bike (I think more unless I kept overtaking the same guy), numerous classic British bikes like Mercian and Hetchins, 3 tandems (including a Mercian) and just about everything else you can think of. There must have been hundreds of thousands worth of lights there alone, ranging from top-end retina burning multi-cluster LED systems down to candle-power fairy lights. Bikes went past covered in luminescent bracelets, looking for all the world like something that had escaped from the set of The Abyss, others sporting no lights or reflective strips at all, relying on being surrounded by the glow from others to keep them safe. Every gate and layby seemed to have it’s share of cyclists clustered around one of their number fixing punctures, putting chains back, fiddling with recalcitrant lights and doing other ‘bikey’ things.


Fudge with a Speedmachine awaiting transport back to London

I have to put the fact that I finished it down, in large part, to having Fudge the Fujin recumbent. I took it really easy up the hills, but it cuts through the air so easily that I was able to stroll along level roads at around 17mph with almost no effort at all – it really is a wonderful bike. The fact that I had sponsorship also helped me to keep going as I really didn’t want to let those people down. Would I do it again? Well, let’s just say I now understand why women go back and have more children! Now I’ve forgotten the pain and the cold and just remember the camaraderie and the satisfaction. If I do it again, though, I shall do a bit more training! And get serious about sponsorship. Here’s a few statistics for you:

  • Total distance:112 miles
  • Total distance for the weekend: 127 miles
  • Total time: 10½ hours
  • Time actually cycling: 8hrs 20mins
  • Avg. speed: 13.5 mph
  • Max speed: 34.5 mph (dropping down into Sudbury)
  • Avg. heart rate: 134bpm
  • Max heart rate: 162bpm
  • Weight lost: 7lb
  • Weight lost after rehydrating: 1lb
  • Punctures: 0
  • Mechanical failures: 0

Click here for a few more pictures of the ride.

 For more about Sands click here and for Surrey Sands click here.

If you want to know why I’m supporting Sands in particular click here.

You can give to Surrey Sands here.

How to adjust the boom on a recumbent

Adjusting the boom on a recumbent can be a tricky business. Too long and you might hurt your knees, too short and you’ll be wasting power. So here is my infallible guide on how to set it up correctly:

  1. Set it up so it’s about right
  2. Go for a ride
  3. If it’s not right adjust it and go to step 2
  4. Congratulations, you’ve done it.

There, now. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

Reflections on lights

Riding a recumbent bike through London I’m obviously somewhat aware that I’m sitting rather lower down than the average cyclist. On the whole this doesn’t bother me: London drivers, on the whole, are a pretty polite lot and seem to give me plenty of space. However, now that the clocks have gone back and the evenings are pitch black My thoughts turn to making myself as visible as possible. 

Interestingly the rear light on the recumbent is actually at pretty much the same height as on any standard bike, but with the idea of fitting a light as high up as possible I dropped in to my local bike shop with the idea of getting a light on the back of my helmet. I was somewhat taken aback to find that such a thing is hard to come by. I’m sure there are manufacturers out there who do such a thing, but the captital’s biggest chain of bike stores apparently don’t sell it, whatever it is. 

Fortunately one of their staff was a bit more of a lateral thinker than some and suggested that Cateye’s SL110 loop light may well fit the bill: 

Cateye rear loop light

It isn’t obvious from the picture, but that thing that looks like a piece of string is actually elastic so you can loop it through a vent in the back of your helmet.

I’m of the opinion that you can never have too many lights on a bike, though someone I recently read of who claimed to have 40 LED lights on his bike was perhaps a little extreme, so although I can’t afford to buy up the whole shop I may well have a look around to see where else I can fit a neat little light like this. I may have to buy a whole raft of CR2032 batteries to keep them going, of course, but since all sorts of devices now use these slim line batteries I’ll have plenty of use for them.
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