Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Long distance cycle commuting

Long distance? What constitutes long distance?

4 or 5 miles between home and work might seem plenty far enough to a non-cyclist. 10 miles each way is nothing unusual to a seasoned cyclist. It all depends on perspective.  My 41 mile round trip is probably at the upper end of what most cyclists would consider doing but even that doesn't come close to some mammoth commutes such as this once a week 144 mile round trip undertaken as part of training. I don't commute by bike every day as I'll sometimes work from home and occasionally do a combination of bike and train but at the present time I'm probably averaging 3, maybe 4, days per week.

I can tell from the look on numerous, non-cycling, work colleagues' faces when they first discover this that they consider me deranged but why would they?  All told, the drive to work, including finding a parking space etc would take 45 mins. And that's on a good day. It can be much longer.  Cycling takes around 90 mins and usually a bit less on the way home when I have the prevailing wind behind me. So I only need to set off 45 mins earlier and I'm integrating 3 hours of exercise on the days I do this. The fact that I'm a sweaty mess when I get there isn't a problem either. I'm lucky enough to work somewhere with brilliant showers.

Yes, they say, but what about the wet British weather? Well, that myth needs busting.  In England there are only 131 days per year where the total daily rainfall is >1mm. And that's for the whole of England. Its actually less than that for places east of the Pennines. So, the number of rainy commutes is MUCH lower than you would imagine. And anyway, as Billy Connolly once famously opined: 'there is no such thing as bad weather. Only the wrong clothes'. Or something like that.  Rain doesn't really bother me.  I will admit that I don't like cycling in high winds, when it is really cold/icy or permutations of rain/high winds/extreme cold but those days are few and far between and I don't feel guilty taking the train on days like that.

There are other considerations. Contending with traffic and wear & tear on the bike are two that are worthy of quick comment.

Cycling per se is NOT, I repeat NOT, a dangerous activity but whenever you mix it with traffic the risk of injury or worse can increase. This is especially true in the UK where, compared to, say, The Netherlands or Denmark, there is no significant cycling culture and relatively poor cycling infrastructure. However, by avoiding the busiest roads/routes, riding defensively, not putting myself in dangerous situations (e.g. filtering down the near side of vehicles), making myself very visible and so on I minimise these risks.  From time to time I encounter idiots who really shouldn't be behind the wheel of a vehicle and obviously the more you cycle the more likely this convergence will be. Thankfully they are a very small minority.

Choosing a bike suitable for long distance commuting is really important.  They get a lot of hammer.  Ideally I'd use my fixed gear bike cuts down the number of bits that need maintaining/replacing but my commute is a bit too hilly for this and so my old, battered tourer (Orbit Silver Medal) has been pressed in to service.  It's quick enough to get me there in a reasonable time, has mudguards that stop me getting splattered with spray and sh*t, pannier rack for luggage and no high end components that are guaranteed to wear out over the course of a winter. I also make sure I regularly check the condition of the brake blocks, wheel rims and tyres. On the subject of tyres, it's important to go for a compromise of low rolling resistance (easier over long distances) and puncture resistance. I like 28mm Schwalbe Marathons.

So, yes, my commute is long but I wouldn't give it up. For me it's a perfect distance. Long enough to give me time to ponder the day and I burn off LOADS of calories which ultimately means I don't have to worry about having an extra pint of an evening. Check. Mate.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Kinder Scout circuit

Catching up again.

I've walked on Kinder Scout many, many times but had never done the whole edge walk so took advantage of a fantastic summers day back in August to tick this one off.

Most people travel to this part of the Dark Peak by car and park in Edale but it is far better to get there by train and there is a (fairly) regular service running between Sheffield and Manchester. From the station and through the village of Edale I took the (popular) Grindsbrook route up on to the plateau and traversed the edge in a anticlockwise direction.

The route up Grindsbrook is a gentle ascent but gets a little tougher near the top as you climb up one of the steep, rocky paths to the plateau. This can be 'interesting' in the winter when the cloughs are frozen but on a summers day it's an easy scramble up and you are rewarded with an excellent view back down.

From here I followed the obvious 'edge' path to the east and basically followed my nose. Looking south towards Mam Tor I could see lots of paragliders taking advantage of the conditions.

For the most part it is easy walking and difficult to go wrong although the path does fork near Jaggers Clough and you can end up heading towards Mad Woman's Stones if you take this route. I made this 'mistake' and ending up cutting the corner, missing Crookstone Knoll.  No problem though as another worn path soon took me back to the edge.

After the first stretch of the northern edge where you can hear a bit of traffic on the Snake Pass the path heads north for a short while before heading west again at Seal Stones and following Seal Edge towards the promontory of Fairbrook Naze. The top of Fairbrook is probably my favourite part of Kinder Scout with lovely views across to Bleaklow so I stopped here for my sarnies.

A couple stumbled across me here without seeing me (I must have blended in to the grass, peat and heather somehow!) and they jumped a mile.

The rest of the N and NW edges of Kinder make for wonderful walking and it is rare to see a soul along here. There are lots of interesting rock formations and outcrops along here too.

It does get considerably busier as you get to Mill Hill rocks and the junction of the Pennine Way. There was a lot of teenagers around this point today. Some were loving it while others looked they'd been dragged up there kicking and screaming judging by their sour faces.

At this point I was getting low on water as I'd underestimated how hot it was going to be today and so filled my bottle with water from the Kinder river at the top of Kinder Downfall. It was a bit discoloured and, in hindsight, I probably should have filtered it as plenty of sheep walk through (and probably more) the river at this point. Tasted fine though and no nasty after effects.

From this point it is fairly easy going past the trig point at Kinder Low and Noe Stool, turning east along some paved sections towards Crowden Tower. Lots more eroded rock formations along this section that look superb. Some even resemble animals and human faces if you look at them from the correct angle! By now my feet were beginning to ache but I knew it wasn't that far back to the top of Grindsbrook where I could then descend back to Edale

As usual it was harder going on the way down the steep rocky section but the path soon levels out a little and I just had time for one quick pint before catching my train and looking forward to more well deserved beer in the Sheffield Tap while waiting for my connection back home. My GPS indicated that I'd walked 19.3 miles and it took me just under 8 hours.  More details of this walk here. Back in Sheffield the Thornbridge Jaipur had rarely tasted so good :-)

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

A trip to Anglesey and some vile weather on Snowdon

For the 2nd consecutive year we went camping in Anglesey during late summer. A lovely part of the UK and great for cycling. You could cycle round the edge of the whole island easily in a day if you were so inclined but the inner parts comprise a network of hidden little lanes (with very little traffic) that are definitely worth exploring on 2 wheels. Its not particularly hilly but it isn't totally flat either with enough ups and downs to get the heart rate up.

The area around Newborough in the S.W corner of the island was particularly pleasant to pedal around. Tracks and trails weaving through pine forests, wide beaches to cycle along and, on clear days, stunning views across to Snowdonia.

Cycling along the beaches here was excellent although I was the only one careful enough to:
  1.  Not ride through the surf
  2. Clean the bike afterwards
The drivetrains of the others' ended up rusted to buggery! It was good fun to video though.

Don't let the weather in the video above fool you! This was far from the norm with low scudding clouds and frequent heavy showers blighting most days and the day that David and myself chose to walk up Snowdon was particularly vile with heavy rain and strong wind the whole day. I've been up there quite a few times but this was easily the worst weather I've experienced on the mountain with the wind threatening to blow you over at times.

Despite the weather the ascent and descent took no more than 3.5 hours (Miners track up and Pyg track down) but probably because there was no need to stop and admire the view from the summit. This was our view :-) :

And this snap gives some idea of the conditions at the top. We really were just about hanging on to the trig point!

My Rab eVent jacket and waterproof trousers did their best but the only part of me NOT absolutely soaked through afterwards were my feet. Thank you Meindl. I also lost the waterproof cover for my rucksack and so everything in there was knackered too. Hey ho. I'd still rather be out walking and cycling in weather like this than working!

The one thing that continues to puzzle me is why people bother to pay through the nose to get the railway to the top on days like this. I just don't get it.

Monday, 25 June 2012

About the PBC Foundation

The PBC Foundation is an extremely worthy charity and one that is often overlooked. In fact I'd never even heard of Primary Biliary Cirrhosis or the charity until my friend and work colleague, Angie, was diagnosed with the condition a short while ago.  PBC is a degenerative liver disease which effects 1 in 4000 people, and is more common in women.  You can find out loads more at:
Better still, have a read of Angie's Blog about her experiences of living with PBC.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Blog resurrection

This blog, rather like me in many ways, has laid dormant since the end of my Lands End to John O'Groats ride in 2010 but now, like the proverbial Phoenix, it rises again.  This is largely because I've got some exciting stuff planned over the next year or so; chief amongst which is a cycling the 3-Peaks challenge. At present I am woefully unprepared for tackling this in the planned 4 days but hey, I've got the best part of a year to get myself in better shape for it and the preparation will be a great excuse to spend loads more time on the bike and in the hills. Tally Ho.