Friday, 26 November 2010

Favourite Cycling Websites


Like most people who think of doing something new, I turned to the web when I first thought about to start cycling. Over the last few months I've found quite a few informative, entertaining and damn right useful websites related to cycling. Here are some of my favourites:

Route Planning

CycleStreets - best online cycle route planner,  period. They also offer a free IPhone app and

OpenCycleMap - built upon the open source map site  OpenStreetMap,  this is the only online map which highlights cycle routes. CycleStreets uses this too to display routes.

TFL Cycle Journey Planner - a cycle planner from Transport for London. Not as good as cyclestreets but it does show where you can find Boris Bike cycle docks.

Blogs

London Cyclist Blog - one of the most popular cycle blogs out there. Lots of useful information, product reviews and cycling tips.

The Trusty Steed - a very entertaining blog about a girl in London and her bike named Trusty.

i bike london - another blog about cyling in London. This blogger's aim is to rehabilitate the bicycle. 

Cyclists in the City - blog on problems of cycling in the City of London and what can be done about it. If you there is a particular road or junction that you think is a problem, this is the site where to raise it.

Guardian Bike Blog - cycling blog posts from various posters at the Guardian

General

TFL Cycling - General cycling info from Transport for London

Cycle Lifestyle - online cycling magazine that promotes cycling. Lots of useful cycling information and reviews.

Shopping


Wiggle - online cycle store , lot's of good deals

Evans Cycles - one of the biggest cycling store chains in the UK. Good thing is that they price match from other sites and also check out a 10% discount voucher at tfl.

Leave a comment if there are any cycling sites that you like that aren't mentioned above.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Winter Cycling - from a driver's perspective


On Tuesday last week, on that foggy frosty morning, I wasn't cycling , but I did need to get somewhere by car. After scraping the ice of the windshield and then waiting for the car to warm up to get the demistifier into action I was finally on my way.

It was the first time I had been behind the wheel during the morning rush since I had started biking to work a couple of months back, so I was trying to take particular care to watch out for my new fellow cyclists.

What I realised is that driving in rush hour in London is not great and while, trying to peer through a misty windscreen on a foggy morning and negotiate the numerous potholes, it can be easy to miss that cyclist undertaking you on the left (something I frequently do) as you fight for space on the road with the other motors all around.

The point of this post, is that driving in London in the winter especially at rush hour can be quite stressful, so as a cyclist we should do what we can to make sure we are safe. I'm not saying make sure we should all be lit up like a christmas tree, but to ride responsibly  by doing things like maintaining a good road position i.e. not to close to the curb and leaving a some extra space between yourself and the vehicle in front.

I don't want to sound like I am being negative about cycling, I just want cyclists to think from a drivers perspective. I still think cycling is one of the best ways to get around London, regardless of the weather and I encourage everybody I know to try out two wheels.  Actually I think the more drivers who have some experience of cycling, we have on the roads the safer it would be.

As Atticus Finch says in To Kill a Mockingbird "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view - until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

Winter cycling posts in the blogosphere:
Tips to keep you cycling safely this winter from the London Cyclist
Are you ready to cycle through the winter from ibikelondon
Men in tights from The Trusty Steed

Friday, 5 November 2010

Conquering the hill


The part of cycling to work I least look forward to isn't  dragging my bike out on a cold winters morning, neither dodging the white vans , buses and trucks on the city's narrow streets, it's the thought of getting through a tough uphill stretch (for me anyway).

Luckily London's streets aren't as crazy as San Francisco pictured above, but if your journey takes you to further than zone 2 you're likely to hit a steepish hill at some point.

After a few weeks of perseverance, I'm not exactly sailing over climbs like this, but I am getting over the top without stopping or jumping off to push the bike uphill.

So here are my tips on getting over those hills:


  • If there is a climb where you need to get off and push, each day set a target of riding a little bit further before you jump off. Today the bus stop, tomorrow that corner shop, and after a while you'll get to the top without needing to stop.
  • Master the art of gearing. Start in a higher gear at the bottom of the hill and gradually shift down as you go up. 
  • Don't push too hard near the bottom otherwise you won't have any juice left when you get closer to the top. 
  • Don't look at the top of the hill, it will only stress you out. Look at a point nearer and make that an intermediate target.
  • Don't give up, the more times you go up that hill the easier it will get.
There are lot's of other useful tips at the links below:

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Another Tube Strike & Bike Shop Discounts

Tube Strike



Another tube strike hits London on Tuesday/Wednesday, which means lot more people will be cycling into work than usual.

If you are thinking of cycling in and haven't done so before, have a read of my post from a few weeks ago , "Advice to new commuter cyclists from a new cyclist."  Also take note that it may rain tomorrow, so wear something waterproof, but it is still kind of mild, so nothing too thick.

For those who are regulars on 2 wheels here are some things to watch out for:

  • There will be a lot more cars and buses on the road than usual, especially closer into town. Which means a. traffic may move slower and that may make your life easier and b. there are a load of people behind the wheel who don't usually drive in and may not be use to cyclists coming in from all angles. So in summary take a bit of extra care.
  • There are probably going to be quite a few newbie cyclists and irregular riders out there. They maybe sticking to the curb too much, slow off at the lights and generally a bit nervous on the roads. Again take a bit of extra care, but also try to be accommodating to your fellow cyclist.
  • Leave a bit early, as last time there was a tube strike there was a queue in the changing rooms at work for the showers because of the added numbers.
  • and best of all, you will be in earlier than a lot of your colleagues, gloat gloat gloat. 

Bike Shop Vouchers



While reading about the strike on the tfl site I came across a page of vouchers which offer discounts at places like Evans decathlon , etc.  For Evans it's 10% off all non sale items and they even provide online voucher codes. Every little helps:

http://www.tfl.gov.uk/tfl/roadusers/cycling/offers/default.aspx

Monday, 1 November 2010

Riding into the wind

I've previously expressed my enjoyment of riding in the rain, but now I have to tell you how I just do not like riding into the wind!  It feels like your wheels are been dragged through treacle. Add going uphill to the mix, and it feels like somebody has attached a bungee cord to your back and you're pedalling furiously to escape.

Maybe I just need more miles on the road to build up my strength, or this is one part of cycling that just won't get any easier.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Riding in the Rain

I don't know what it was, but the other night while there was a bit of drizzle in the air, my journey seemed a lot faster. It felt like the bit of rain on the roads made the surface like a smooth track and it was as if I was flowing across the tarmac.

As others walked home shielding themselves from above, I sliced my way through the moist air without a care that as getting hit by rain drops.

So instead of battling against the weather, cycling uses it to it's advantage.

Let's see how it goes as it gets colder.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Good Value Cycling Accessories at Sports Direct

Cycle stuff can be expensive, so In the spirit of posting deals on cheap cycling gear from fellow bloggers, I thought I'd do my bit by telling you good people of the deals at sports direct ( I am not an employee, or related to anybody there, blah blah blah).

As the weather has now decided to act it's season, I was in need of a pair of cycling gloves. Instead of shelling out at least 20 quid at Evans, a friend pointed me down to sports direct where they have great deals on cycling gear. I picked up a pair of Dunlop gloves for £7.99, bargain really.

All their goods are not 5 star quality, but how can you go wrong with a floor pump for £3.99 ?
They have a decent range of cycling clothing too, with long sleeve cycling shirts for £10.99 looking like a good deal.
Take a further look at the following sections:
http://www.sportsdirect.com/cycling/cycling-accessories
http://www.sportsdirect.com/cycling/cycling-clothing

Monday, 11 October 2010

Police Cycle Marking - Today at Blackfriars

If you have cycled to the city today, get down to Blackfriars Bridge between 4 and 7pm. The Met Police are offering free cycle security marking and are giving advice on bike registration. This helps if your cycle is stolen, and the police recover it, they are then able to trace it back to you.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Following the rules


Last month I was not a cyclist and like a lot of the general public I didn't really understand why so many cyclists jump red lights and ignore other rules of the road. But over the last few days I seem to have acquired the urge to cross red lights, and ride across pedestrian crossings and other road rule breaking behaviour.

When I'm at a traffic light junction , I start thinking if I can see that no cars are coming from either side and I feel it is safe to jump the red,  which will give me a bit of a headstart over white man van who thinks he's playing mario kart and wants to knock me over with a red shell, why not do it?

It's kind of the feeling when you're driving on the motorway, you know the speed limit is 70 mph, but you don't see any harm in doing 80. Everybody else seems to be doing it and you don't feel any unsafer by going this little bit faster.

Yes both things are wrong and you are putting your own and other peoples safety at risk by basically breaking the rules. But I want to make the point that it's not just cyclists who think they can circumvent the highway code on occasions,  those on four wheels do the same but just in different ways.

Also read:
Respecting the Red on The Trusty Steed.
the myth of the red light jumping cyclist on ibikelondon
The Highway Code : Rules for cyclists 

Monday, 4 October 2010

What Tube Strike?

Today was my first experience of riding in whilst a tube strike was going on. It felt so good not working out how to get in via Bus or Overground trains and then have to experience the ensuing crush. Only downer is that I don't have an excuse to work from home.

The roads in North London didn't seem any busier this morning, but this was around 7.15 before the real rush. But when I did get closer to the city there seem to be a lot of traffic on certain roads. Luckily my route was free flowing and largely unaffected. I heard from others that it was a lot more difficult on the bigger roads in town.

There were probably a few more bikes on the road too, but not a noticeable number. Maybe as I'm still a newbie, it doesn't make much difference to me.

Hope all your journeys were fine too.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Back on the tube for a day


After more than a week of straight cycling to and from work, I had to get the tube yesterday and what a joy it was.


On the way in there was a problem on the line and the train crawled a long for about 20 mins. Due to the problems the people traffic was worse than usual so I could forget about finding a seat.It  ended up taking more than 20 mins longer to get in compared to if I was cycling.
The way home was worse. It was chucking down and even with an umbrella I was so wet. When I got to the station I realised I didn't have my oyster card with me so I had to shell out 4 quid to get home!  Then as I raced to get on to the tube, the doors shut on me and it was like two skinheads walloping me from either side. Ok maybe it was my fault to try a jump on while the door closing beeps sounded.
Anyways, both journeys reminded me how much more I enjoy cycling in and further convinced me to perservere as the cold sets in.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

TFL Cycle Planner Route to Google My Maps on your Android phone

5-Nov-2010 - Since this post , I've discovered CycleStreets.net which offers a much superior cycle route planner than the tfl website. The below instructions can be used to export a route from cyclestreets to your android phone. Once cyclestreets has generated a route, click on "Fly this route on Google Earth(KML Export)" and save the kml file. Then follow from step 5 below.

As mentioned in a post last week "Advice to new commuter cyclists" , I used the tfl cycle planner to find my route between home and work and then saved that route to my Android mobile phone. This helped me out so much on my first few journeys, when I wasn't sure where I was going.

So this is how to do it:

1. Search for your route on the tfl cycle planner site.

2. Once you have found your route and it is displayed on the map, click on "Upload to GPS device".

3. Save the gpx file to somewhere on your computer.

4. On the site GPS Visualizer , convert the gpx file you just saved to kml. Select your file in File #1 and change the output file type to kml.


5. Save to kml file to somewhere on your computer.

6. On Google Maps log into your google account and select My Maps. Click on Import.

7. Select the kml file you saved in step 5 and click on Upload from file.

8. Wait a few moments and your route should now appear on Google Maps and listed under My Maps.

9.  Now on your Android phone , open up the Maps application, hit the layers button, then from the menu hit the More Layers button. Select My Maps, and the map we saved earlier should be available in the list. Select this and wait a few moments and you should see your route on your phone. For more info on google layers see the youtube video below:



If you have any trouble , leave a comment and I'll try to help out.

Friday, 24 September 2010

First Puncture


Yesterday morning I set off earlier than usual and was planning to get into work and have a relaxed breakfast. However it wasn't meant to be. About half way into my journey as the Emirates Stadium came into view I heard that dreaded sound of deflated rubber on tarmac and lo and behold there it was my first flat.

First thing I thought was "Sh!t", I knew I should have been carrying a spare tube or a at least puncture repair kit, but I didn't have either in my bag.


Also it was so early in the morning no cycle shops were open, even though there were about 2-3 shops within a 10 minute walk from where I was.


There was a Texaco petrol station close by,  and it did sell puncture repair kits. I spent about 20 mins trying to work out how to get my front wheel off and then I was trying to pull the tyre off  to release the inner tube. By this time I was getting frustrated and I realised one of the close by bike shops were about to open. So I got myself there and the guy in the shop replaced the inner tube straight away for a tenner.

So here are my recommendations to avoid the trouble I had yesterday:

1. Read up on how to change an inner tube. See the following links:
http://www.bikewebsite.com/bike-tiretube.htm
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BmNo6rFKMzE
http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A480313

2. Carry a spare inner tube, tyre levers and a pump with you at all times.

3. Find out where cycle shops are located near your route and keep a note of there opening hours. If you are travelling somewhere that's unfamiliar to you, check google maps or call 118 118 who can tell you where the closest shop is and their timings.

4. Reduce the risk of getting a puncture. Keep your tyres well inflated and remove small stones and other things that get stuck in the tyres.  Also avoid riding through a glass on the road :-P

5.Go through a trial run of changing the inner tube in the warmth of your home, instead of a cold rainy morning for the first time - tip from Paul in comment.s

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

London Cycle Map Campaign

The guys at cyclelifestyle have launched a campaign to get a "Single 'London Cycle Map' that's clear and easy to use and corresponds to a unified network of signed cycle routes throughout Greater London: the cycling equivalent of the London Underground Map."

I really like this idea as I spent a lot of time working out my route, and I will need to do it all again whenever I go somewhere else. Also this will be a especially useful for tourists and anybody who cycles occupationally such as Boris Bike users.

You can help by signing the petition on there site:

There's also a facebook group to join too. 

In the mean time if you are looking for an online cycle map for London check out:

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Advice to new commuter cyclists from a new cyclist.

Even though I have less than a weeks experience cycling to work, and I am sure there are lots of better sources of advice, here are some things I wish I knew before I hit the road on two wheels.

1. Make sure you get a bike that is the right size for you and the seat is set at the correct height. I have seen that a correct setup up makes a huge difference to your comfort and lets you ride for much longer with less effort.

2. Plan your route beforehand and if you have an Android phone, plot it out in google maps and you will be able to check your route wherever you are. If you are in London use the tfl cycle planner , it will pull out routes you probably haven’t thought of yourself. Also you can export the route from tfl as a gpx file, which can be converted to kml which goes straight into google maps. This can be a bit fiddly so read my post with full instructions to see how.

Also OpenCycleMap.org is a really useful website which highlights cycle routes around the UK. I found a few hidden shortcuts from here.

You can also order free cycle maps from tfl which cover all of London. It shows generally the same info as what's on OpenCycleMap, but it's useful to have in your bag in case you get lost. 

30-Sep-2010 - In recent days I've also discovered the CycelStreets website and iphone app. It provides a route planner like the one from tfl but a lot faster and intuitive. They are also developing an android version , but there is already an app out there which uses the same engine called BikeRoute which seems pretty good.


3. A pannier bag is definitely better than a rucksack to carry your bits and pieces. With a pannier I hardly notice the extra weight of even a bulkyish laptop. Also a rucksack restricts you movements and makes your back really sweaty.

I picked up this one for £30 from Evans. Does the job.

4. If you hit a steep incline, there’s no shame in walking. When you’re new steep uphill climbs are daunting and can feel humanly impossible to tackle. It’s better getting off and pushing the bike for a minute or so, then trying to pedal against the big G(ravity) and move at a snail’s pace.



5. Think about where you’re going store the bike at home and work. Lot’s of offices in the city have great facilities to lock up your bike in loading bays and other securish places in or around the building. At home think about whether you are going to keep it in or outside and whether there is something strong and secure enough to lock your bike to.


6. Register your bike for free at bikeregister.com. Get the serial code from your bike. On my Ridgeback Meteor it's hidden under the bottom of the frame where the pedals are. If your bike gets nicked,  and the police recover the bike, they will be able to find you.

And finally…

7. You can probably ride for longer than you can think. I thought I wouldn’t be able to ride 9 miles straight away, but I did it okay and I have real average fitness. I’m not being modest, and I am out of breadth if I run up the stairs.

There are also loads of useful information elsewhere on the web:

http://www.cyclelifestyle.co.uk/
http://www.londoncyclist.co.uk/
http://www.tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/cycling/11598.aspx

Monday, 20 September 2010

Newbie Cyclist in London

Last month, with all the hype around the Boris Bike scheme, I decided to sign up for it and give it a go. I do so much walking around the City; I thought it would make sense to jump on a cycle where convenient.

While I trawled through the tfl website I came across the cycle route planner and out of curiosity I plugged in my home and work locations to see what it would come up with. To my surprise it calculated a 9 mile route between North London and the City, which avoided a lot of the major traffic heavy roads and estimated it would take approximately an hour at an easy pace.

Given that it takes me at least 45mins to commute into work via Tube, this sounded pretty attractive. I started to think about all that money I could save by not topping up my oyster and all that exercise I would get with only adding 15 mins to my journey each way. Plus the benefit of avoiding the crush and uncertainty of the tube, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of this earlier.

All the stars seemed to be aligned as I found out the firm I work for are participating in the cycle2work scheme which makes buying a decent bike very affordable as the cost of the bike is spread across your 12 months salary and it is taken out before tax.

So I got down to the local bike shop and got the low down on what’s out there.

I decided upon getting a hybrid, which has become one of the most popular styles of bike for city commuters. It has the sturdiness of a mountain bike, but not as heavy. I can’t envisage sticking the bike on the back of the car and drive up to Snowdonia for a biking weekend, so a hybrid seemed to be a right fit.

After chatting to the guy in the shop and checking out different models on the web, I opted for the Ridgeback Meteor. At £380 it’s a reasonable price and it comes with mudguards and rack as standard.




So with shiny new bike I was ready to hit the road. I had plotted out my route on google maps and had it accessible from my Android phone. I chose to go on a dry run on the weekend to test out the route.

First problem I had was that I didn’t know what I was doing with the gears. But after about 15 mins I think I got the hang of it. I also slipped into a low gear at the wrong time and my chain popped off. As any person who doesn’t know what they’re doing does these days, I googled what to do on my phone. I found out that cycle chains are flexible and I was able to pull it back on.

A few days later I decided to cycle for real to work and I had a great time. I had a stop a few times to check I was going the right way, but it felt so good, driving down pretty clear streets and once I hit Highbury and Islington I was joined by dozens of other cyclists and the remaining route was nearly all the way on cycle paths. I had a shower at work and I swear I felt more refreshed than sitting all the way on a stinking tube.

So far so good for the first week. I'm having loads of fun tracking my journeys using the free MyTracks app on my Android phone too. I can see how fast I have been going, where the inclines are and saves exactly where I ride.

Please keep checking back to see how I get on and whether I can keep going through the winter!.
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