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 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:

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 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 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:

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!.