Monday, 30 December 2013

Ice, Ice Baby

All this, in about 2 seconds: "I think Doug is about to skid.  But look, he's going to steer through it.  There: he's done it no he hasn't he's down.  Quick! I'd better steer round him.  But why am I skidding? I'm about to crash, here I go.  Damn.  That hurts.  I'm still sliding.  There goes my bike, sliding past Doug who's still on the floor.  Ow that hurts".  I stand up, thinking what an idiot, what if I've broken something before the baby comes (which is due in a couple of weeks), and then almost slip over again.  At about that point, the chatter above that had been going on somewhere deeper in my brain matches up with slower, conscious side and I realise that we have found a long chute of black ice: the first sign of the frozen stuff on the network of small roads that we had been following from Seven Sisters' Road to Burnham-on-Crouch.

Taking some good advice from Doug, who slowly checked his appendages and unclipped from his bike as he lay on the ground, we wolfed down some energy gels and drink and took stock.  The bikes were fine.  We were plenty bruised and pretty sore, my ancient Rapha softshell neatly shredded on the elbows and new for Christmas gilet ripped and imprinted with cog and chain oil marks, but otherwise fine.  The black ice, which brought us down, also saved us from too much road rash.  Plus, we were probably just pootling along.

Doug points out the ice
A few moments earlier, I think we were both struck by the beauty of the Essex countryside, as we rode past a gathering of beaters about to head out for a shoot, and then turned right down a narrow lane, the green fields, hedges and blue sky stretching out in front of us.  It had been a good route: the Epping Loop, but turning right into the flow of cyclists we had always noticed heading the opposite way to us, and then working our way east, with the plan of reaching Burnham-on-Crouch -- always noted in the BBC weather forecast, and intriguingly placed at the start of the Dengie peninsular.  50 miles or so, 80km, and a train back, since it was Christmas.  Already, we were yapping about plans for a longer route in summer, perhaps with a ferry and a Kent route back.  

Instead we had to push on, a little glummer, a lot sorer, and with Doug struck by a strong sense of déjà vu when we reached a ford.

Have we been here before?
The route picked up, and in about another hour we were coming into Burnham, a long, busy B road with mostly courteous car drivers.  The last 10km or so was reminiscent of the run into Whitstable - wind, taking turns at the front, and slowly turning up the gas.  

I left Doug at the station for a bit, and had a peek around the town, famous for its yachting.  I'm glad I did.

Bruised, but not broken, we give the route a thumbs up. We'll be back. (Here it is on Ride with GPS.)



Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Merry Festive Christmas from the TroisV!

As the TroisV are currently split between Birmingham and Kent*, Dr Matt hitched his wagon to the Rapha Cycle Club, who are doing a series of rides for their Festive 500.  A leisurely ride through a deserted London (except for a few tourists and hipsters taking pictures of the hipsters taking pictures of the tourists taking pictures of the tourists, etc.), and a welcome at the slick Rapha cafe.   Some coffee (see fig 1), then a chain gang around Regent's Park to wake up the legs, a long gentle climb up to Hampstead, then a couple of loops around Hampstead Garden Suburbs.  Over to Highgate, down West Hill, which was turned blinding gold on the descent by the winter sun on the wet roads (no sign of myrrh), and an ascent of Swain's Lane: just what everyone would want in their Christmas stocking.  Back to the park, and I peel off at Parkway (fig 3), to come home, rather overexcited according to house inhabitants.  I put it down to the coffee.

fig 1: Some excellent pre-ride coffee

fig 2: Empty streets (and some Castelli)

fig 3: Camden - almost deserted


[*30.12.13 Correction: Kent is not correct

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Road Courtesy

Dear Mercedes-Benz Driver,

When I'm stopped in a line of traffic, a few inches from the rear bumper of the car in front of me, this is not an invitation to try to squeeze into that space with your large sedan; when that traffic starts moving, and the steep uphill road narrows for fifteen feet into a single lane before expanding back to two lanes, this, sir, is not the time to try to pass me; and when I look over my shoulder to see exactly where you are and how fast you're coming, and perhaps just to show my face to remind you that although I'm a cyclist, I'm also, you know, like a human person, too, this, sir, is not an invitation to throw your hands in the air and start yelling at me about whatever transgression you think I've made by pedaling my bike up a steep, single-lane section of road; nor does drifting over to pass me as close as you can without hitting me, while also squeezing out the cyclist right behind me, make you the bigger, better, or smarter person; it just makes you the bigger asshole.


Monday, 30 September 2013

Pixies, Tadpoles and Phones

By about 7.59 am, it was clear we were out of practice. Sitting on the doorsteps of the northern meeting post (aka Dr Doug's flat), I wondered whether to ring the bell and wake up the residents.  Instead, I left a message on Doug's phone: clearly something had gone awry, the planned Trois V ride to Epping or up the Lee would be called off, and I was going to do some laps of Regent's Park.

Then, I picked up the Squadra and began to cycle off.  At this point, of course, Doug appeared, having gone to the other northern meeting post, Seven Sister's Lane.  Having no phone with him, and not seeing any members of the Trois V arrive, he was returning to do some laps.   With that, and my accusation that Doug was suffering from a hangover and unable to ride languishing unheard on his answerphone, waiting to detonate later, we headed north.

We had lost some time, so resolved to head straight to to Toot Hill.  This we did.  As ever, the moment you leave London and enter the countryside made it all worthwhile.

Essex and the Outside
Before this I had a descent which contrasted unfavourably with the Pyrenees.  For one thing, Broadhill in Woodford is very straight.  For another, drivers drive very close to you compared to the cycling-friendly French, Catalan and Basque.  A young man in a small blue car decided to hit what felt like sixty as he almost hit me.  At the bottom.  I gave chase, with the advice from Doug sounding out behind me 'Calm Down Matt!!!'.

A deep breath, pull up by his window, and very politely, I hope, suggested if he was going to drive so fast he may like to consider giving humans a bit more of a berth.  A second of staring into each others eyes.  He folded first and nodded assent.

The out to Toot Hill, discussing the Pixies en route and discovering that there were a lot more hills than we remembered on the way, and back, as we planned.  Stava records the route something as a tadpole.  One day, it may be a frog.

A constitutional amendment: henceforth, all meeting points will be confirmed by name and street the evening before.  And, noted, Dr Doug always announces his hangovers in advance.


Tuesday, 3 September 2013

More Space for Cyclists!

On Monday, 5000 cyclists rode around the Houses of Parliament to demand Space for Cycling in London.

Today, while riding some evening laps of Regents Park, I came upon one of the traffic lights. A minivan had stopped in the bike bay. Stopping a motor vehicle in the bike bay at a traffic light is an offense that carries a £60 fine and costs you three points on your driving license as well.  So what did the Metropolitan Police van sitting behind this minivan do?

Gunned the engine and nearly sideswiped me while trying to overtake me from the light, because instead of being in the bike bay at the front of the light like I'd expected, I was trapped alongside the minivan.

Safe cycling in London has a long way to go yet.


Friday, 16 August 2013

Going Dutch: a cautionary tale

On the whole, I think that the Trois V is in favour of the move towards cycle lanes in the Dutch style (and certainly towards a legal system that puts pedestrians at the top, then cyclists and then vehicles).  But, as the Tristesse Endura ride showed, cycle routes are not without their difficulties, and we're aware of the perils of the crap cycle path as much as anyone.  I suspect that at least some of us also favour John Franklin's view of roadcraft, while being aware of the debate that is going in cycling blogs and Twitter.  But this is not a manifesto, nor a position statement (our Constitution eschews such things) but by way of explaining what I was doing here:

View Larger Map

As it turns out, I was doing bad things.  En route to the Team Bike marshalling station in Gunnersbury to drop of the Squadra and a heavy back filled with sugar in the form of High 5 gels, I had my departing instructions from one of the Friends of the Trois V running round my head: 'go safely, darling'.  This, combined with a curiousity about bike lanes and going Dutch, the recent history of three minicabs turning in front of me and two pedestrians stepping out without looking, led to me acting on a whim at the arrival of what I mentally called the Hammersmith roundabout, but now view as the Hammersmith Gyratory - the name captures more of the urban horror.

There was a sign of a little bike, pointing onto the pavement, followed by a series of bike height Pelican crossing buttons and lights, rather like the lights for horses (again, this was too urban for such Constitution Hill indulgences).  I followed one set, slowly, and then another, at a gentle pace, and began to make progress towards my destination: King Street on the other side of the roundabout (which, in case you are unfamiliar with it houses Coca Cola, a bus station, a tube stop and some butt-ugly half-baked-PoMo office blocks).  To my right was some bike parking - a good sign - but the sense of bike path was no fading.  Where to go? I freewheeled on slowly, looking for a sign, was momentarily distracted by a very bad and loud busker, when I head a voice:

'Do you know why I stopped you?'

I looked around and a slight, young British transport policeman was trying to get my attention away from the busker. That was a good thing.  But the series of smart alec replies that ran through my head ('because of these red shoes?', 'to save me from the busker') were wisely suppressed.

'No, officer'.

And so it began.  I have become a pavement cyclist, the lowest form of life, pretty much.  Despised and loathed by the Trois V, the comments section of the Daily Mail and Standard, as well as giving fellow wheelers a bad name.

I explained that I had been directed here by the cycle lane, wondered about saying how slow I was going, and that I was only one abreast this way, that three cars had earlier decided to try and kill me, but instead suggested he should point out to his superiors the poor design, the lack of signs (visible ones anyway), and that I never normally did such a thing (true) and had just decided to follow the cycle path rather than attempt the gyratorory, as I normally did (en route to Richmond Park, a detail I didn't go into).  Floating above all this was a sense of ridiculousness, a slight worry I would be late for the marshalling point, and a slight wondering whether this was all on CCTV.

Perhaps not wanting the paper work, I was given a verbal warning, had my date of birth and name taken (which I gave up trying to spell after a while.  The curse of having such an unusual name as 'M[redacted]').  All done with a half-thought about the times one does or does not have to give up such information, how efficient their records were anyway, and what computer systems they might use.

And then we entered a long digression about who partly paid his wages (TfL), so it would be better if the complaint to them about the lack of the above would come from me.  It actually began to be a pleasant chat at that point.

So, sent on my way with a verbal warning (ingested as 'don't bother with cycle paths') and some homework ('Dear TfL, would you like a trip to Amsterdam?'), I clip clopped in my red clogs precariously on my way.  I remounted, and promptly had a Mercedes pull in front of me and a man stepped into the street.  Good work, Condor, on the brakes, btw.



Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Ride London Surrey 100 Sportive: Putting the Hammer Down, or, ‘Waiting for Sagan’

It was 6:38 am, and I was in pen ‘G’ along with 1,000 other Mamils, waiting for our wave to be unleashed, not onto the Normandy beaches but onto the A12.  Unlike me, Dr Doug missed out on a place in the ballot for the inaugural Ride London Surrey 100 Sportive (doesn’t that just roll off the tongue?), so this meant only one thing: who would I wheelsuck for 98 miles before jettisoning my water bottles and racing to the finish?  These, and several other questions, would be answered over the next 5 hours and 15 minutes:

Q. Is Box Hill really just a false flat?
A. Yes.  Especially if you think you recognise someone from Team Bike, but it turns out that they bought the jersey randomly at the Tour of Dartmoor; nonetheless, you enjoy a nice chat spinning up the ‘hill’.

Q. Is Leith Hill really just a false flat?
A.  No. Nor are the ones before it.  Like any sportive, you can enjoy the sight of people getting off and pushing.

Q. What is it like riding on closed roads?
A. A bit like getting upgraded to First or Business.  Turning right after this is a bit of a let-down.  That said, it took a while to stop slowing for lights or junctions, and to remember to use the right hand side for overtaking, choosing a good line for a descent.  A bit like remembering to put your seat flat and making use of the free slippers.

Q. How often do you fly first class?
A. Not as much (ever?) as some of the other Mamils on the route, I suspect: 'accountant' was the occupation most cited by participants.

Q. How good is your race plan?
A. First, it’s not a race, it’s a ride.  A timed ride, with thousands of club riders on well-specced bikes, all relishing the thought of a hundred miles of closed roads, but still a ride not a race.  And this was my plan; enjoy the sights of London, see how much of an event it is, soak up the atmosphere, and not go to fast too early and blow up somewhere on the flanks of Leith Hill.  This was a good plan.  It was a rare treat to see London and the roads of Surrey like that, plus there were odd acquaintances to bump into and have a bit of a natter.

Q. But didn’t you put the hammer down?
A. Yes, but mostly out of laziness (see wheelsucking above).  The first third was a bit of a haze, what with it being a 4 a.m. start.  But whirring along the A12, through the Limehouse link, past early well-wishers in the City and Docklands, and then through the West End and out towards Richmond Park took on a splendid dream-like quality.  The same could be said for the stewards of the first wave at 6 am (send on their way by Boris), as they directed these whippets towards the Blackwall Tunnel.

I took on some water at Hampton Court, spent some time in the portaloo (be cautious in your beetroot intake in the days before), and then made a 19 mph average towards the Surrey Hills, mostly riding alone.  These turned out to be nice spins up to pleasant views (Leith Hill excepted).  And I began to realise that this was more than a decent day out, but an Event!  With Closed Roads! Cheering Crowds!

I cautiously opened the toolbox and rummaged for something rusty.

The average crept up.  The legs still felt okay, with a slight hint of weariness kept at bay by gels. 30 miles to go.  But it was gusty, and even a bit of an unexpected headwind.  The legs now started to get tired.  A group was needed.  Around Esher a well-drilled train zoomed by.  I jumped on their back and then, unlike others, they noted took my turn at the front.  10 mins at 26 mph.  About 15 miles of this, and we got separated, so I tried to get someone to work together to catch them up; even deployed an old trick to get someone to take the lead.  And by Wimbledon we were back together (helped by volunteers handing out gels and water on the street as we rode by).  A whizz down Putney High Street brought cheers from Friends of the Trois V who had made the trip to a point recommended by 10 mile emails from Cyclemeter, and we crossed the river at speed. By now there was a touch of hanging on for dear life.

Then, The Mall appeared after  a sharp left turn at the foot of Trafalgar Square.  Where was the line?

There! There! Sprint... and... ride done.  Medal, shandy, and home (with a Schleck on the way).  The orange group appeared on a populist newspaper website the next day, crossing the line in a variety of Sagan-esque poses.  Thankfully, I had just slipped through.

Q. But I thought this was the year of the no sportives?
A. Let's keep this among ourselves.


Here's the movie:

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Space for Cycling

The Trois V are also members of other organisations: this includes the excellent London Cycling Campaign.

On Tuesday they called for their second protest in a week, demanding space for cycling on London's sometimes worryingly congested roads (we know that cycling is a very safe activity, compared to golf and fishing, but the pitiful provision for cycling surely accounts for the small percentage of journeys compared to Paris or Berlin, and, partly through bad design, to the horrific deaths of the past few weeks.)

Matt and Doug went along, to pay our respects, and to call for change.


Here's your video for today (and some photos):

Thursday, 4 July 2013

TroisV Conundrum Corner!

Q: What's that weird noise coming from my front wheel as I climb Swain's Lane?

A: Oh! It's a leaf stuck in my brake calipers.

It's super annoying.


Saturday, 29 June 2013

Something for your Tool-Bag, Sir?

Dr Matt is at work today (Saturday), in part to find out which of these terms is the most apt self-definition, but mostly to assist with the dissemination of Work Package 4, otherwise known as a First World War digitisation project.  It must be pretty interesting, as he currently doesn't mind being inside, missing both the sun and Phil and Paul offering up such sensible strings of pearls as (on the Corsican Grand Départ breakaway), 'Well, they're just being silly with themselves, really'.

Which brings us to the first point of today's post.  How do you know if your balls are defective?  Well, the answer in most cases is simple:  if 'they are not spherical owing to war.'  They may also be 'in one or more pieces'.  Watch out, too, if they are worn, pitted or split.   Inspect regularly, and oil if necessary to avoid these embarrassments.

Such sage advice comes, as we're sure you know, from that most eminent of bedside reading, the Handbook on Military Bicycles, 1911.  Here it is:

Handbook on Military Bicycles, 1911. This artistic work created by the United Kingdom Government is in the public domain. Image: The British Library,
And here's the page with the useful information on ball-bearing maintenance.

The Handbook was issued to the many soldiers* in the First World War provided with a military bicycle.  The poor sods, must have made NCR4 look like the Regent's Park or an afternoon in LMNH.


*Or, rather, to the bicycle itself.  The handbook was to be kept in the tool-bag, and the person issued with the bike had to record the fact in the log at the rear. The bicycle could then be transferred to someone else, should the need arise... or should the worst happen.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

New Bike Shop in N19

As we all know, the worst thing about dropping your bike off for repairs is now you've got to walk home some kind of schmoe, or uh, y'know, a pedestrian. Yuck.

For the past couple months, therefore, I've been following with interest the "New Bike Shop Coming Soon" sign painted on the windows of a shopfront a mere block or so away from my home, especially since my bike needed some minor "repairs" (about which more in a minute).  Late last week, "Coming Soon" became "Now Open!" and so on Tuesday I stopped in on my way home to drop off my bike for fixing.

As I was discussing with a friend of mine the other day, bike shops can often be like guitar shops: arenas of condescension towards the neophyte, the inexpert, the incorrectly hairstyled. BikeZTube at 118 Junction Road is no such place.  It is, pretty simply, the friendliest bike shop I've ever been in.  I was greeted by the husband-wife team that runs the place (I'm assuming here).  They were, understandably, after being open only a few days, happy to see me.  I told them the things that were wrong with my bike (again, more on that below), they confirmed what I wanted done and then, Mrs BikeZTube adopted a look of seriousness/minor horror.  "You'll have to leave your bike here, though," she said, possibly bracing for outrage and anger.  It was a little after 4pm.  I laughed and told her that made sense, unless they wanted to come over to my house to do the repairs.  She said it'd be ready the next day, but I explained Thursday was soon enough since I had to be at work early and until late on Wednesday.  "Lucky you," she said.  I told them I'd been looking forward to the shop opening for a while, because I'd been waiting to get these repairs done there; Mr. BikeZTube (whose English was limited, and whose beard was impressive, and whose enthusiasm and general charm I would rate in the upper reaches) lamented that it'd been a long two months.

Anyway, my bike needed some new rear brake shoes because something had gone wrong with the old ones.  I'm surprised they didn't rub my tire into oblivion.  Also, for quite some time now, my handlebars and brake levers have been screwed up, and the bar tape has been unraveling because it was too loosely wrapped.  Basically, when I bought my beloved Kona Paddy Wagon the shop where I bought it did a crap job of putting it together; due to both my own and various friends' past experiences with this shop, I decided I wouldn't take it there. 

Today I picked up my bike from my new neighbors, all newly repaired.  I was happy to be in the shop again (they also had a dog in there today, a Scottish Terrier), and I was happy to chat to the owners again.  They took the time to explain exactly what they'd done, and also that though I hadn't asked (in fact, I'd forgotten to ask, because I wanted it done) they'd also adjusted the handlebars to a better riding position.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is good service.

BikeZTube is at 118 Junction Road, N19 5LB.  They've got a great (I hope) location, on a main commuter route.  They've got a great attitude.  They've got a tiny shop, packed with bikes (I didn't, to be honest, check out the selection, but it is at a glance a family/casual/commuter cyclist oriented place) and packed with accessories (lights, tubes, etc., standard fare).  It's nice to go to a shop to get a bike fixed and come out feeling that you've made a great find.


Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Shaw's Corner

Part of the mission of the Trois V, although not currently enshrined in The Constitution, is the proper naming or misnaming of things.  We can include in this Hudson's Corner, which leads from the Outer Circle into the Inner Circle in Regent's Park.  It's kind of a cut to the clique, or a line to the inside track, and its naming is lost in the mists of time.  We hope that the OS, or perhaps Google Maps, or even Open Street Maps will soon follow our nomenclature.  For now, we are happy just verbing it, as in 'let's Hudson Corner it', escaping the Fredoton that loops the park in the evenings, and gathers, gentlemanly, it must be said, at the lights on the southern end of the famous central London loop.

But it looks like we weren't the first to put our mark on this fair land.  Beardy, writerly folk seem to have done it to spots along Lilley Lane:

Behold the gates of Shaw's Corner.  Pleasingly, it is opposite 'Dove Cottage'.

Nice ironwork, non?  But how was this spot discovered by the Trois V? Well, by skiving, essentially. Or at least leaving work early (after clocking up a substantial amount of unpaid overtime), hopping on the 3:48 from London's most-statued station, and alighting twenty minutes later at St Albans. 

Dr Doug was supposed to be in attendance, but was still making his way from the US of A, so Dr Matt represented the Trois V on the ride, which was organised by our sister organisation, the Pannierizzis.  

We can recommend it.  An excellent 2:30 ride, 60km, two pubs, setting sun, bluebells, quiet-ish roads, some gravelly tracks, bunnies, birds pausing on a wing, small horses, Twangers (a kind of sweet), spots to tie up one's steed, fords, watercress fields, and even the moon to ride towards on the way home.

All the things mentioned above


Sunday, 19 May 2013

Valentine's Day Ring

Yes, we know it's been a while...

But we also know it is a truth universally acknowledged that the day after St Valentine's Day is often marked by sore legs.  And, to accomplish this, Dr Doug and 'Teen Spirit', mounted their steeds of scandium, and boarded the 10:05 Euston to Tring express for the first of a series of 'bicycle rides'.  Eschewing the sportive, and other pursuits of the MAMIL (the London Loop-excepted), 2013 will be marked by rides characterised by their exploratory character.

1/2 a mile of broken over-head cabling scuppered our initial plans of a fast train to Bedford, and then the countryside beyond, but taking the spirit of spontaneity to heart, put a plan B into operation, which consisted of tickets to Tring, an Ordnance Survey map, a lunch spot, and the notion of a bicycle-crafted M25 circling the Bucks town of Aylesbury, rather like the foot-focussed Aylesbury Ring.

As a plan, it seemed to work.  Setting off, as usual, at too zippy a pace, we soon made it from Tring to Wing, and remarked on the undulating nature of the route.  We had a puncture, which took a bit of time to fix, thanks to the valve giving up on the inner tube after we'd extracted a chunk of flint.  By 12:30 (or something like that; it was tricky to tell as both our odometers were running on variants of Central European Summer Time or BST) it was time for lunch, and Winslow offered up the perfect pub: a warm welcome, a big table for the map, cheese baps and a scotch egg made by one of the bartender's grandmothers.  The Tour of Wessex should outsource their feed station to them immediately.

The return was marked by some spectacular ups and downs, some very pretty villages, a long drag to the railway station, and lots of signs for Whipsnade Zoo.  We may return for the elephants in summer.

Here's the route.  Let us know if you can suggest a song [edit: added Miles Davis].