Riding safe

With the deaths of six cyclists in London making headlines and subsequent appeals for increasing safety levels I wanted to write a blog that took both the perspective of cyclists, car drivers and truckers into account. Far too often the arguments are polarised, completely biased and quite frankly lack a level of honesty that I believe is critical to move the debate forwards.

I’ve driven trucks, up to 7.5 tonnes, held a driving licence for 21 years and have ridden thousands of miles on my bike. Maybe I’m lucky and there will certainly beĀ  many incidents people can point to where they were blameless but, while I have met with very aggressive road rage having shown my dismay to a driver overtaking way too close, I have never been knocked off my bike. Long may that continue.

I find it ludicrous that in the UK bike lanes are shared with buses, end in the middle of the road or are in gutters where potholes render them unusable. I find the “no road tax” argument utterly ridiculous. As is often pointed out, not only are many cyclists also car owners but the very nature of tax is that we all pay for services we may or may not use. It’s how we create society/ community – I wonder what it is that those of us on bikes have done to be singled out in such a way?

I find cyclists with no care for those around them just as annoying as anyone else. They give me a bad name too. They make the road less safe for me too.

As a member of CTC I follow the debates and lobbying. I understand the need for a hard line at times (drivers seemingly getting off with manslaughter on killing a second cyclist through dangerous driving) yet wish there was a recognition of bad riding and an understanding of blind spots on larger vehicles (sometimes lorries and buses really can’t see you). I don’t agree with the call that all lorry drivers should be called to account on the death of a cyclist. I do believe that we should try and determine if accidents were due to bad driving or bad cycling.

Every new driver is taught mirror, signal, manoeuvre yet having past their test this three stage process is often long forgotten. I ride assuming no one uses the side view, few regularly check the rear view and people will pull in or turn without an indicator. I look over both shoulders frequently, expect people to pull out, turn left front of me and open their car door. With all this in mind here are my tips for riding safe.

1. Value yourself. Ride to live. Look around you. Anticipate actions of others and adopt mirror, signal, manoeuvre. That’s what everyone else on the road has been taught. Exemplify this behaviour.

2. Wear a helmet. I think this is a no brainer though am aware some folk differ. Better to arrive with messy hair than not at all!
I’ve seen a number of cracked helmets that have saved riders from serious injury.

3. Be visible. Lights, clothing and eye contact. I do my best to make people see me and acknowledge they have done so – get a smile from the person behind the wheel while you’re both waiting to pull away.

4. Don’t sneak between cars leading up to lights unless you know they are not about to turn red. Cars pull away assuming all is stationary and lined up behind them. This is a time when people really don’t check mirrors. It may not be right but it is what happens.

5. When riding near buses and lorries give them space to turn. You know the length of their vehicles. You’re not stupid and you know how far they will swing out when turning so give them room. If you’re behind them – it’s your responsibility – they have a much bigger blind spot than a car.

Of course, I won’t be perfect and not everyone will agree with my red light policy – avoid stopping late at night and go when it is safest (occasionally this will be when lights are red) but we’re in this together.

We all use the roads….the only irony….if more people felt safer they would ride and if there were more cyclists we would be safer.

The Captain is back!

Those of you who read my blog “bike swap nightmare ” will be aware that for the last section of my trip I had needed to borrow a friends tourer at the last minute in order that I could do the trip as planned. An incorrect sprocket had been fitted to my Rohloff hub gears meaning my belt drive would no longer fit. With this becoming apparent the day before we were booked on Eurostar to meet friends in Epernay there was no way it could be fixed in time. Apparently only one place in the UK had the tools needed to do the work. I was very fortunate to have a friend, Cath, close by who lent me her Specialised Rockhopper for my tour. Following a few adjustments, Bob, as he was named, was soon fit to ride. Despite being very grateful I was very pleased however to know that my custom bike would be ready for my South East Asia tour.

While I had been in France and Italy, The Captain was collected from John Atkins cycles in Leamington Spa to my usual bike store, Edinburgh Bike Co-op. The guys in Leamington had been really helpful but with Edinburgh now taking on the job of getting my bike back in working order I was left with little choice. I’d been very frustrated on finding I could not take my own bike and had been desperate to know how such a mistake had happened. The bike store had only been able to order the one sprocket available; suppliers did not say the system had changed; the next mechanics undertook the sprocket change without raising any questions. It seemed my predicament was due to a chain of human errors. All I could focus on now was getting my bike fixed for the next stage of my tour.

An upgraded belt had now been fittedĀ  (thanks Edinburgh Bike Coop) and the wheel had been returned to Rohloff to check for any damage. Apparently all was now working though I would be in Singapore before I had the chance to test this out. All was good. The new belt was like velvet, revolving in near silence. Gears changed smoothly after a full hub service. The Captain was back.

The only thing to work on now would be the decor and boy, have I seen some ideas for that….



These machines certainly had more flowers than I’d ever seen on a bike before…and at night – well, that’s when they were really bling.



So, inspired by the tri-shaws in Melaka I purchased a set of L.E.D lights, 5 metres long, from one of the bikers there. I’m not sure I’ll fit them just yet but a marker has been set and I do think a rickshaw would make a great addition to my bike collection when I’m done.

Captain, my captain.

I remember riding my bike as a child, primarily in school holidays. As an only child I would often amuse myself in long summer breaks, back in the days when children were allowed to play. Most frequently I would ride through quiet lanes to Cotwall End , a local nature reserve in my home town of Dudley. Looking back I remember the freedom and ability to get myself around that was the great appeal of my very own two wheels. Despite this I was never keen on sport as I got older and the fact that I am now exploring the world in this way would come as a big surprise to many. One day I’ll have to do a blog based around my old sports school reports!

These days I have six bikes in my collection. For many folk they would question this. Two tourers, a tandem, a cheap city bike, an off roader and a folding bike. To date they’ve all served me pretty well but given the number of miles now covered on my newest trusty stead I thought it was about time to do an Ode to The Captain. A number of people have asked me how I’m finding the bike so I thought I’d do this update.

dead camel to windy camp 029

For those who have yet to be introduced “The Captain” is my world touring bike – a custom built Koga Signature. (you can read my blog from June 2012 for a full spec). With his black aluminium frame, butterfly bars, Brooks saddle, dual pedals (SPD and flat sided), Rohloff hub gears and a carbon belt drive he is one smart machine.

I chose the frame size based on my Dawes Super Galaxy – another bike I had done many miles on and found very comfortable. The Brooks saddle, now well worn in, has been as comfortable as a seat can be when riding and average of 80/85 miles per day and to date I have used chamois cream only once, applied antiseptic cream only twice and have a bum that’s bearing up pretty well. To take the bumpier roads into account and indeed an increase in the distances I would cover I added suspension and butterfly bars. While there is not as much give in the suspension forks as perhaps my much lighter mountain bike may have offered in recent off road sections the suspension forks were a critical addition and have proved reliable so far both on this trip and on the Annapurna circuit. This bike has certainly been put to the test. Dual pedals have allowed me, as a sightly nervous off roader to remain unclipped on tricky section,s though care has still been needed on wet days as metal slips on metal – the only other shoes I have being flip flops and crocs – not neccesarily suitable for a long ride.

Hub gears were new to me. Initially I was going to go with the standard derailleur system. I am so pleased I made the change to the Rohloff. After the initial 4,500 miles of stage one I (well, Edinburgh Bike-Co-op) undertook an oil change ready for the Africa leg. I watched and will emabark on this myself after another 5,000 miles. While I had one afternoon where i strugged to get into the granny gear to climb to Kumbalgargh fort in India simply reconnecting the cable to the hub after a quick clean fixed the issue. Since then the range of gears available has got me over 2502m climbs and along long flats with strong tailwinds. While on odd occasions speed has been hampered as I could not pedal fast enough overall the ratio has proved well.

Perhaps the part of my bike that has been of most interest has been the belt drive. It brings many a mechanic out for a look, even a photo. Like a motorbike with no engine and not as fast has become a standard reply. I still of course have to wait to determine reliablity up to 70,000km but the need for much less maintenance, clean and also therefore no need to carry lube all get a top vote from me. This was especially true the day after a sandstorm. It was on the off road, gravel and sand that the belt drive was not perfect however. The pedals felt sticky and the belt was noisy as I cycled across off road Sudan. While a quick wash with water was a quick remedy it did not take long before poeple heard me coming again. Back on tarmac again all is fine and I hope the belt has not suffered – there is more off road to come.

Last but not least – the bell – (in reply to a special request as to how the dinosaur is from Jared and Aden Harris – aged 4 and 7 respectively). Dino, my sqeaky hooter purchased in Astoria, USA, sat comfortably on my handle bars for stage one of my trip. Unfortunately India and its incessant horn culture took its toll and while Dino remained in position until I returned back to the UK having lost his voice it was time for a replacement. So, my new bell (given to me courtesy of Fred William bicycles, Wolverhampton, UK) is big silver and makes a fantastic ding dong.

So, on that note – that’s my review. Here’s hoping all stays well. Riding begins again tomorrow.