Cycling – free under the air

When Jacqui and I started cycling we were both in reasonably high pressure jobs. Cycling on day runs of short tours had to be fitted in as time and work allowed.

However, we soon came to see cycling as a way of releasing us from the pressures of work.  We knew that two hours into a run we would begin to relax.  We referred to cycling as our ’emotional laxative’: it freed up bits of us physically and mentally and helped us relax.  This relaxing was very obvious and happened pretty well ever time we went out for a few hours or days on the bikes.

IMG_0829
Translation: No Dual Carriageways Ahead

At the time we though this was down to the rhythm of pedalling and the physical demands of the exercise.  We both knew that exercise was a good way of reducing stress and assumed that was what was going on.  Cycling seemed to reduce our stress, ‘in the moment’ and overall.  Jacqui has done yoga and meditation for years: I knew something about ‘mindfulness’ and so we assumed that cycling was a form of mindful activity that put us in touch with our breathing and so our thoughts.

Likewise, when I used to commute to work, the cycle home was always a chance to re-visit the battles of the working day, celebrate the ones I’d won and re-run the ones I had lost.  I never failed to come home more energised and refreshed than I had left work.

I put this down at the time to the emotional release that came from physical exercise and the rhythm of the ride. But now an alternative explanation has presented itself.

I am reading, Richard Louv’s, “Last Child in the Woods: saving our children from Nature-Deficient Disorder”.  It’s fascinating, in part because Louv has the ability to use words to say what others have felt for themselves, but have not been able to express, so his reflections reframe his readers’ experiences.

His big point is that children and adults alike benefit from being in nature – out in the wilds if possible.  Nature opens the individual’s senses and lifts their spirits.  As he puts it, “The woods were my Ritalin. Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses”.

Photo on 25-03-2017 at 09.56

By Louv’s ideas, nature is part balm, part stimulant and altogether an anti-depressant. So. is it possible that this was what was going on when we were out on our bikes?  Could it be being in nature for a few hours or days works the magic, rather than the exercise I thought was the key? Did my cycle-commutes home relax me because my route home took me along the Aberdeen seafront?

One well-remembered fact speaks to the truth of this.  Just beyond Aberdeen’s football stadium a tunnel takes you through onto the esplanade.  I never once made that turn onto the beach-front without a whoop of joy as I saw, heard and felt the force of the North Sea waves as they came to shore.  Whatever the weather conditions, however good or bad, the effect was always the same – a sense of elation and release, immediate and powerful in the same moment.

Next time we are out on the bikes we will have something else to talk about: but in truth whatever the answer, it will only be another reason to be thankful that its possible to be out there on the bike, hearty and reasonably healthy – pedalling on regardless, if you like.

 

Back in the saddle

I’m in recovery. From a head-cold and a bad case of the winter doldrums – as far as exercise goes. I’ve kept busy in the workshop over the months since Christmas, but the bikes have hardly seen the light of day.

Today I cycled to the university and Sports Village.  That makes for a nice six and a half K downhill run.

Screen Shot 2017-03-20 at 17.16.25

At 21 minutes in traffic it seemed fast to me: I wondered why?  Any guesses?  All will be revealed.

My physio had directed me to the gym.  He wants me doing resistance exercises to strengthen calves and gluts – in the hopes of ending my chronic recurrence of calf tears.  I dutifully did my 3 reps of 1 minute ‘pushing’ against a ‘dead’ treadmill set to a decent incline.

I thought I’d have my first go on an exercise bike.  I have avoided them like the plague in the past.  To be honest, I was a bit surprised.  I dialled up a run through Provence: and with a mate alongside it was almost enjoyable as we chatted away.  I might well add this to my winter fitness regimes in the future.

Then it was back on the Thorn for the cycle home.  I know it’s uphill: what goes down must come back up, but somehow I had not noticed the strong tailwind on the outwards leg.  I sure noticed it on the way back!

However, it was good to reflect on a day spent with exercising at the heart of my plans. I need more of these days.

This got me thinking about how, in the blues of the winter doldrums, I have frittered away time. Too much sitting in front of YouTube, unfocused in way too many ways: too little time learning or doing stuff that mattered.

So, I spend my afternoon preparing and priming some hand-tools, sowing some seeds and when I needed a break off my feet, reading Peter May’s, Coffin Road.  All good stuff.

And tonight I am here, writing and planning tomorrow around some exercise and more doing. As I said, back in the saddle and setting a direction forward.

What Traffic Fumes Do to Our Children

 

Should cars have etched into their windscreens the message that “Driving may seriously damage our health” just like cigarette packs carry the same message?  I suspect it is becoming ever clearer that they do.  I gave the bikes their spring clean and fettle this week.  Just in time it appears.  It’s time to target more bike miles and fewer car miles.  At the very least.  Thanks to Rachel M for putting this my way and to the original poster.

Source: What Traffic Fumes Do to Our Children

Then, as if brought on a magic carpet this commuting guide arrived in my mailbox from Greener Scotland.

CTC and Hi-viz clothing: as clear as they think?

Some ‘expert advice’ in response to a letter in the current CTC “Cycle” magazine caught my attention: and rather got my dander up. CTC member David Watson wrote in lamenting the organisation’s unwillingness to recommend cyclists wear bright clothing and the current fashion for very dark cycle apparel.

In response, Cherry Allan comments that  CTC would be happy to recommend wearing hi-viz or ‘day-glow’ clothing if there was any evidence it made cycling safer: as they have found none, they are not willing to do so. Several comments are made to support this stance, but none of them throw much light on matters.

Firstly, hi-viz is not to be recommended because it might lull wearers into a false sense of security. Well, yes it might, but equally so might a dozen other factors or inclinations.  Is there any evidence that this is the case?  I thought we were taking an evidence-based approach?  No evidence is advanced for this proposition. Quite why someone concerned enough about their safety to wear hi-vis clothing would then assume wearing it made them safe I cannot imagine.  In my experience the wary stay wary.

Next comes the statement that cyclists have been killed or injured while wearing hi-vis clothing. I don’t think this is an argument of any kind. For all we know the unfortunate cyclists might have failed to take a corner at speed with no other party involved: or the drivers concerned were colour-blind, or for that matter, blind drunk.

In relation to both of these points, nobody is saying that having hi-viz will guarantee your safety: only that it might make you easier to see. Defensive cycling and vigilance are still a big part of staying safe.

The ‘expert’ goes on to say that suggesting people should consider wearing hi-vis is somehow, ‘pandering’ to the lobby that seeks to blame cyclists or suggest they have somehow contributed to their accidents and injuries by not wearing protective gear or conspicuous clothes.  This is a big red herring in this debate. The issue is whether these items contribute to personal safety or not.  CTC is confusing its purposes here: taking a sensible attitude to conspicuity ought not to be seen as somehow reducing the effectiveness or potency of their campaign for other measures to make cycling safer.  The one campaign is in no way dependent the other.

The CTC spokesperson ends by saying that their policy is informed always by the best available evidence and repeats they have found no evidence of hi-viz kit contributes to safety and they want to take an evidence-based approach to all issues.  The trouble is, there is, as they say, no evidence to hand either way on this issue, so what are we to do?

Well, in the absence of evidence, surely it’s not a bad thing to fall back on common sense? If drivers see you, they are less likely to hit you, always assuming they are not doing so intentionally. If in doubt, play it safe: err on the side of common sense and caution. Be bright and be seen.  What’s the down side?  I just cannot see one.

Certainly we two will continue to sport our hi-viz waistcoats.  They are second nature to us now and we don them as routinely as we do our helmets. We feel naked without them.  Even in bright and sunny climes, where we are often almost unique exceptions.  The only down side is that all our tour photos show us wearing the same gear!

Or maybe there is something I am missing?

Are we lost yet?
A sight for sore eyes…

 

 

 

 

Spring Cleaning

OK so I may be just a tad on the optimistic side, but with Spring and a new year ahead of me I thought it was time to give, “Pedalling on Regardless” a bit of a spring clean. Or at least a wash and brush up. So it is out with the old, but trusted and reliable, Coraline Theme and say hello to, “Publication” – all, ‘swishy in her satin and tat’ and about as subtle as a slap in the face with a wet cod. Who says old dogs must be stuck in their ruts?

I hope readers will bear with me as I learn and apply all these new features and frills.  What do you think?  Is the new look worth persevering with on first meeting?

Cycle Safety: separation or segregation?

Three cycle safety stories caught my eye this last week and they did not make for comfortable reading. It seems that the route to more popular and safe cycling may be more long and winding than we thought.

 

Firstly, in The Herald came the story that the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured in Scotland is now running at its highest level for over five years: Provisional stats for 1012 suggest that cyclists make up 1 in every 14 seriously hurt or killed on our roads. Almost 900 cyclists were involved in serious incidents across the year.

 

English: Beware pedestrians Cyclists be warned...
English: Beware pedestrians Cyclists be warned! I wonder why there is no safety barrier? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Secondly, it appears that we cyclists are a growing risk to another vulnerable road user group – pedestrians. According to a piece in, “The Conversation” British government data over a period of 9 years to 2012 show cyclists killed 23 pedestrians and seriously injured a further 585.

 

I find this latter figure extraordinary, but both cycle and pedestrian casualties point to the same problem. In Britain, in contrast to, say The Netherlands, pedestrians, cyclists, cars and heavy vehicles have to use the same congested and contested routes.  Too often this contest and congestion  pits them against each other.

 

However, a third story suggests separation itself may be a mixed blessing. An evaluation of the proposed London SkyCycle Route begs the question: will separate but not equal  prove again to be a mask for apartheid, segregation and institutional disadvantage for cyclists?  Is the point to put us out of harm’s way, or out of the car drivers’ way?

 

I suggest that against the car, we cyclists and pedestrians ought to make common cause.

 

 

 

 

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A Cyclist’s Tale of Two Cities

I confess I was pretty dismayed when I read of the Mayor of Liverpool’s decision to pilot the abandonment of bus and cycle lanes in the city.

BBC Liverpool Coverage
BBC Liverpool Coverage

My gut feeling was that this was a backward step and further evidence of the pro-car, so-called populist politics we are coming to expect these days.

So I was pretty relieved later in the same week to come across The Traffic Commissioner for New York’s account of their recent experiment that firmly pointed in the opposite direction. In recent years and months they have set out to ‘re-imagine and re-invent’ their streets as shared resources for people, cycles, busses and cars – with great success. In summary, they have:

  • used paint and temporary materials to create 50 pedestrian plazas
  • converted 26 car lanes into open squares
  • built 57 miles of speedy bus lanes
  • created 350 miles of bike lanes
  • introduced 50 miles of new parking protected cycle lanes
  • provided 6000 rental bikes which now see 35000 average users each day who have cycled 7 million miles between them since the introduction.
  • seen a 49% increase in retail sales along bike lanes
  • seen a 50% decrease in cycle and pedestrian injuries
  • seen a 170% increase in economic activity in the areas concerned.
Figures Speaking for Themselves?
Figures Speaking for Themselves?

So I started out pretty depressed, but ended up impressed and even a little optimistic. If New York, capital city of ‘the bottom line’ can manage this, then surely any city can?  Unless, perhaps, you are Liverpool and managed by dinosaurs pointing the city backwards to the future?

Janette Sadik-Khan’s TED Talk is well worth watching – thought-provoking and funny.

The universe is conspiring to help us : Kevin Kelly’s take

Kevin Kelly is a very interesting man with a very interesting back story.  He was a founder of Wired Magazine and cycle toured in the States as a young man.  I first came across him when he published a book of haiku drawn from his trip.  Later he travelled widely in the far east, picking up some arresting ideas that counter many of our western perspectives.

In this essay he develops his theory with reference to cycle touring and how we can help ourselves by accommodating other’s predisposition to help us – if we first cultivate the correct approach and attitude.

If you can, listen before you read.  He has a great voice for story telling.

Cycle Touring Advice from the late, great Anne Mustoe

I have just finished reading the last of Anne Mustoe’s cycle touring books and thought it would be a good time to catch some lessons from how she organised her trips.  Here goes:

Choose a route that serves some purpose or explores a central theme.  Mustoe was a classics scholar and historian and chose to follow her heroes: the Roman roads to the east; Alexander the Great; the Pilgrims’ camino to Santiago de Compostela, the Lewis Clark trail to the West of America.  We tried this on our recent trip down through France, following local traces of The Resistance in World War Two and it worked well to give us a sense of focus.

Pick up some language before you set off.  Mustoe was a natural linguist, but still worked hard at it, learning Mandarin and Turkish.  She is right about this.  Touring without a grasp of the local language is isolating – as we found to our cost.

Plan to exploit prevailing winds where possible.  This is bang on: we suffered like dogs fighting into headwinds from the Southwest on our recent trip down through Spain and Portugal.  It was the worst downside of going in Autumn.

Choose a season when the climate and weather will work for you.  Yes, we know you can cycle in the wet and cold, but it is so much more enjoyable with the sun on your back.

Set a pace and range right for you.  Mustoe was a fan of 50 miles a day, 5 days a week, and so 1000 miles a month.  We think she has that just right.  You need time to recover and to explore and to reflect if you are going to get the most out of your tour.

Decide a realistic budget and stick to it.  Mustoe was no fan of camping: neither are we.  Old bones need to soak in a tub at the end of most days!

Work hard at managing weight.  Mustoe cut maps into strips, used postal services and left unwanted clothes behind in her fight against weight.  We did the same (we carried less than 9 kilos each) and like her came to love the liberty of living life with a minimum of stuff around us.

Take layers of thin, light clothing to manage temperature differences.  Most of the time this worked for us, but we were lucky most of the time and in truth we were inadequately prepared for soaking wet days.  We banked on sunny, dry days: we could keep warm when dry, but not in the wet. A lesson learned hard!

Don’t worry about mechanical matters – help will appear when you need it.  Mustoe boasted she could not fix a puncture.  On our last trip we cycled 2246km without needing to touch the bikes – but they were well prepared before we left and we were using them well within their capacities.

Travel with an open heart and mind. Mustoe believed, ‘travel for me has been a change of soul’. She is right.  We learned to travel each day optimistically and we were met with nothing but kindness.

Aim for tranquility and balance.  On the bike and off.  Remember Mustoe’s final rule – a beer or a glass of wine at the end of the ride is always a good way to close a day in the saddle.  Cheers to that!