Thursday, 22 December 2011

Season's greetings for bicycle lovers

Ah, Christmas time is finally upon us, the season of no work and an excuse to gorge yourself on treats! I suspect that my bicycle thighs of muscle (yes they have grown, and no I don't like it!) will turn into bicycle thighs of wobble.  Besides that, I'm going to be getting down and technical by fixing the puncture I got on Tuesday caused by all the glass which seems to be decorating the roads at the moment. I was confident that I had perfected my bike-dodge-glass-manoeuvre but perhaps I need a little more work polishing my technique.  I have been recommended to buy Schwalbe marathon flat proof tyres which I'm going to purchase in the new year, they promise to 'make punctures a memory' - now we're talking! As someone who knows NOTHING about bike maintenance, please feel free to let me know any tips/links etc for changing tyres! I am somewhat clueless about the world of bike maintenance...As clueless as Boris is about #howtomakeacyclingcity

Right, back to Christmas cheer. Have a look at what a received in the post today from a dear friend-

 A package wrapped in bicycle fabric, beautiful! I'm going to turn it into a cushion in the new year.

And if you are a lover of vintage pictures and bicycles then here is a glimpse of retronaut's most recent post, Vintage Christmas Bicycle Ads! These are my favourite:

Season's Greetings to you all, have a lovely Christmas! Don't forget that turkey makes for excellent bicycle fuel!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

My shiny new winter rain coat

The last week has been a microcosm of British winter weather with wind, rain, freezing coldness and a little bit of snow chucked in. It is quite clear that the weatherman/woman now means BUSINESS, so this meant I needed to up my game fast, super fast. So I purchased a new raincoat to help protect me from the worst of England’s elements (well hopefully!) when I’m cycling to and from that place I love so much, work.
Bought from American Apparel for £98, I’d say it is on the expensive side, but who can turn down a nice parka with a warm lining and made in America! This raincoat caught my eye because it has a nice snug lining in a lovely tartan pattern to keep me warm on the windy days. The length is also appropriate for cycling with the coat just finishing at the knee which means firstly, I can wear a short skirt and have decent coverage, and secondly, my knees won’t get cold and wet. WIN!

It has a secure zip and poppers for extra rain protection and it pops right up high on the neck. Team it with a helmet or a hat and it will keep your barnet nice and dry from an icy downpour.

I know, I am headless here. It was a bad hair day!
So the true test my friend is how it stands up to the cold and rain. Well I know it's not what you want to hear but I have been doing a rain dance everyday to entice the skies to open on my morning cycle commute. When I saw grey clouds the other week I thought the time had finally come and sure enough, the rain never happened. Then came Monday this week. The weatherman on the radio promised rain in the southwest of England, not in the SOUTHEAST. So I left my new coat in the wardrobe and wore my winter cosy, thick wool coat. 5pm rolled up and what was there? RAIN! Rain, rain rain and there I was cycling home with my nice new raincoat at home tucked up warm and dry, and me in the cold chilling rain getting drenched. 

Ah well…..! Never trust BBC weather! I learned my lesson and will be more prepared next time. A cup of tea cured my woes of a soggy winter bike ride.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Cambridge - a cycling city

Don't worry cycle friends! It may seem like I've cycled off the edge of London in the last few weeks, but fear not, I have been pedalling around as usual but now with icy fingers, toes and nose in this cold chilly weather!
Cycle parking outside the train station

And what a better way to spend a chilly December day than visiting our neighbouring cycling city, Cambridge. As you may know, Cambridge is recognised as a 'cycling demonstration town', along with other cities such as Brighton and Darlington.  I worked one summer with Brighton and Hove council on their 'journey on' project which aimed to promote the use of cycling and other forms of sustainable transport use in the city. However Cambridge by far exceeds the amount of cyclists than Brighton and they do so in style. It is a true cycling city. 

Wandering around the cobbled streets, I was pleased to observe a wonderful mass of wrapped up cyclists braving the bitter cold weather to the beautiful backdrop of the city of Cambridge. And here are some of the observations I made, they are not fact but just some of the interesting things I noticed:
  • Cyclists freely made use of the pavements in the city centre. I counted 12 cyclists within an hour during non-rush hour using the pavements. Whether this is a good thing or not, it seemed that the pedestrians turned a blind eye in the occasions I witnessed. It reminded me of when I visited Berlin a couple of years ago where cycling on or off the pavement is permitted, a feature of cycling which denotes pure freedom and is ideal to entice more vulnerable people to cycling. Controversial to some but I think it works!

  • Cambridge cyclists are stylish! Men and women alike wore everyday clothes and didn't dress head to toe in lycra. Maybe it was because they were cycling a short distance?? Whatever the reason, they know how to do it well!
  • There is not enough bike parking. Coming out of the station I was witness to what looked like a metal graveyard of rubber and rusting frames. I noticed that many bikes were not even locked to a fixed object. 
  • Cambridge is relatively flat. A cyclists dream. No north London hills to stagger up, however this means no north London hills to cruise down...
  • There are lots and lots of female cyclists. I cycle everyday in London and there is a growing number of female cyclists on our roads, however in the short time I was in Cambridge I spotted more women cyclists than men. Hurrah! We are winning the battle of sexes!

So I can only say that visiting a stunning british city which has embraced cycling only leads to one conclusion, I'm going to move there when I'm grown up. And when I do, I will buy one of these beauties from the lovely Cambridge based company Beg Bicycles:

And I will take to the streets and cycle with all the other stylish cyclists...

Source: Youtube by George69w

Wrap up warm folks, it's going to get colder!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

London Rugby Tweed Run 2011

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, let me bring to your attention the London Rugby Tweed Run 2011 which took place on the 26th September 2011. Suitably tweeded up and groomed to go, fellow riders grouped together to start the event in Covent Garden outside the Ralph Lauren shop. To fuel up our tweeded bodies we scoffed plenty of muffins and pasties galore, whilst donning our best I look like this everyday face for the cheery tourists.. 

After a few snaps and plenty of posing, we were ready for a gay old time on our bicycles. We gathered at 
the front of the line for a photo and then chocks away, we were off!

Winding around Covent Garden, everything was tickety boo until a fellow tweeder had a wobble and came gallumphing into my bicycle, oh what a calamity! Thankfully I managed to stay just about upright, however my bicycle took a blow and Gordon Bennett within 4 minutes I was out of the run! But no sooner than you can say 'tally ho' was there a kind english gentlemen kicking my mudguard back into place. I was back on the road! Hurrah.

Feeling parched and a little hungry, we stopped for some good english tea and a natter. Here I chattered with Kathryn from Bikeminded (remember the coffee and cake cruise?), Jools from the lovely Velo-City-Girl blog and Mark from i b i k e l o n d o n (check out his tweed run video!). All three looked suitably dashing and vibrant.

Back on the road, we frolicked around Hyde Park and headed to our final stop, the Caledonian club in Belgravia. Decked with grand pictures and chandeliers, the club was a suitable venue for drinking fine whisky and applauding the winners of the best dressed and best moustache competition.

All in all, it was a spiffing day. Tally ho chaps...!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Wear your skirt with pride - How to cycle in a skirt

GOLLY GOSH, STOP THE TRAFFIC PLEASE...I have noticed a MAJOR cycle chic problem on our roads and it's not looking pretty. Please tell me, why aren't more women wearing skirts on their bicycles?  It is very rare for me to see fellow skirted cyclists in the mornings, so rare that I feel like applauding when one gracefully cycles by. They certainly aren't pedalling around my patch of London.

I try my very best to not change my wardrobe to suit cycling. I believe that you don’t need lycra and pink cycling jerseys to get to work in the morning and anyway, cycling leggings just don’t do me any favours! With my reluctance to succumb to the wonderful world of cycling attire, I like to think that I have mastered the technique of cycling in a skirt. So I thought I’d provide a few pointers of what I have discovered over the years in my quest to cycle in style.

Firstly, I couldn’t help admire these stylish women on their bikes from the Paris Cycle Chic blog (good for inspiration too!).

French chic... by CycleChicParis

Paris Cycle Chic by Txell HGTenue de soirée... by CycleChicParis

Velib' - Paris by Bart Omeu

So let’s get down to business.
Choosing your skirt

I have found that short body cons skirts and very tight pencil skirts are best to be avoided. It may be good for the office but trust me, there is no room for your lovely thighs and knees to move around when pedaling. You end up resembling an Egyptian mummy rather than a dapper cyclist. The two skirts in the pictures above are firm favourites with me. The hounds tooth skirt on the left is just the right length and has a little bit of stretch in the material. The pleats in the skirt on the right adds extra coverage and flows whimsically in the breeze, very FRENCH. Both are nice for the office and means I don't have to change when I get to work.

Watch out for the shortness of your skirt. Going too short will alert the fashion police.  I have found that I can’t go shorter than 12 cm above the knee before I end up showing the world more than my thighs. To find out how short you can really go, try out a couple of skirts by cycling around the block before you brave a longer journey.

Make sure your skirt isn't too flowing. This can be a problem if your skirt is also very short, the wind ends up flowing underneath it like a tent and you will be spending more time holding your skirt down than holding your handlebars.

For extra comfort, wear a skirt with a little bit of stretch in it. This can be a godsend when you're manoeuvring on and off the bike and riding at speed.

Now that it’s cold outside, I find that wearing tights provides me with more opportunities to wear shorter skirts. A longer winter coat also gives extra good coverage. Bonus!

Starting your journey
When getting onto your bike you may risk a brief flashing, or if your skirt is a pencil skirt, you may find you are restricted. Whenever possible, elegantly hop onto your bike using the curb of the pavement. The extra height makes it a whole lot easier and more eloquent. If there isn't a curb nearby, just nip on quickly making sure to maintain that air of sophistication.

Once on the bike, be sure to check that you are sitting on the back of your skirt. You don’t want to give the car drivers an extra reason to beep you. To do this, I like to stand up slightly whilst cruising and push the skirt down as I sit back on the saddle. It’s an art form.

...and knees together..
On the ride
When you cycle your skirt tends to hike up a bit, you can re-adjust when in stationery traffic or at traffic lights.

If my skirt is short, then I like to cycle with my knees slightly together to avoid any mini flashes.

                                                        Off the bike
Getting off the bike is easy peasy if you have a ladies bike, they are made for such dignified manoeuvres! Just put your knees together and hop off. Get it? Knees together and HOP.

Last but not least, if you are locking your bike and wearing a short skirt make sure to not bend over too far!

So let's all get this straight....let's ditch the cycling leggings and WEAR YOUR SKIRT WITH PRIDE, repeat after me, WEAR YOUR SKIRT WITH PRIDE.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

A salute to the cycle campaigners

Source: Pinterest
If you are a twitter fiend and a blogoholic, you wouldn't have missed the coverage of the Tour Du Danger ride. It really has been a busy couple of weeks for the cycling activists out there!  And I'd like to say, let's all take our cycling helmet off to the winner of the London Cycling Awards, Danny Williams who won local campaigner of the year for his outstanding blog Cyclists in the City! I regularly read this blog and am completely enthused by the passion and persistance Danny and fellow blogger Mark from I B I K E L O N D O N have. Having such spirited people constantly dedicating their time and energy into standing up for cyclists and voicing the concerns we all have about poor cycling provision in London is wonderful.  Protests like the Tour Du Danger and the Blackfriars Flashride being arranged means us cyclists have a channel to express our dissatisfaction with TFL's attempts of creating a bicycle friendly city.
So, I'd like to dedicate this post to some of the cycle activist bloggers out there and the hard work they do in trying to change the roads for the better. Let's support them, because clubbing together means progress. Here is a handful of some of the blogs I like to read:

Cyclists in the City - As mentioned above, Danny Williams has just won cycle campaigner of the year 2011, he constantly posts about the recent political developments of cycling in London and persistently pressurises TFL to improve provision in dangerous junctions in London.

I B I K E L O N D O N - This blog goes hand in hand with Cyclists in the City for protesting against poor cycle infrastructure in London. Mark was the heart of the Blackfriars protest and has documented the problems of the Bow roundabout and the cycle superhighway. His aim 'is to stimulate discussion about the place of the humble bicycle in the urban realm' - This he does well.

Kennington People on Bikes -  I'm not a south London girl, but this blog really highlights local problems in Kennington, problems which occur pretty much in every borough and town which all cyclists can relate to. Charlie Holland is inspirational in pushing local authorities to make small changes which make a big difference for the ease of cycling in and around Kennington. Of course, he also campaigns for bigger changes in London as a whole such as the Bow roundabout and Blackfriars Bridge.

UK Cycle Rules - Ok, its not an activist blog as such, but it is a rock for the urban cyclist. This blog outlines all the legalities and rules of cycling in England. Excellent reference if you are unsure whether you are in the right or wrong when it comes to your own conduct and the conduct of vehicles on the roads.  I found the post about potholes really useful as I have my eye on a few to mention to Islington council (If you have read my previous post you will know that potholes are my arch rival). Plus the blog has a really nice banner!

The Grumpy Cyclist - Need I explain anymore? The Grumpy Cyclist is exactly what it says on the tin. There is more than a hint of Victor Meldrew in the posts which add a touch of humour to the road troubles portrayed. The video footage which sometimes assist the posts are perfect for brutally exposing the hard times the Grumpy Cyclist experiences due to silly, useless drivers.

At War with the Motorist - Three authors of this blog contribute to posts tackling the problems cyclists experience from in London and across the country. This blog has well-researched and written topics from cycling to school in the West country to evidence-based behavioural policy. Good sunday afternoon reading!

Vole O'Speed- Gorgeous header of a guinea-pig on a Brompton, at closer inspection it is not a real Guinea pig but is a great start to a blog about cycling. Blogger David, writes in detail about the trials and tribulations of cycling in Brent and other Boroughs. David has superb posts explaining every detail of poor cycle provision Brent has to offer.

Friday, 11 November 2011

My very short conversation with a car driver

We all know that the cyclist vs. car driver debate is a well trodden path, well I tend to take a walk down this path every now and than with a good colleague at work. He is a driver, I am a cyclist. Even though he thoughtfully checks that my bike is still safely parked outside the office everyday, he still can’t resist a bit of banter about why cyclists don’t belong on the roads. I’m not one to engage in this kind of argument because it is usually futile, but I was bored at work so I thought I would indulge him.
Here was our conversation on Wednesday:
Me: I was sandwiched really close between two cars this morning and whacked a parked car wing mirror. I didn’t damage it but I had no where to go.
Him: Cyclists shouldn’t be on the roads. Roads are made for cars. It’s cyclists like you who will damage my car.
Me: Cyclists reduce traffic congestion. If all cyclists in London got in a car instead of cycling, you’ll be stuck in traffic jams all the time.
Him: Cyclists shouldn’t be on the roads. My neighbour always parks his car really close to mine, it’s really annoying.
Me: If only your neighbour cycled, then you will have plenty of space to park your car
<no comment from him, conversation ended and work recommenced>

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Food fuel for cold morning cycle rides

Cycle friends, I don’t know about you but I’m starting to notice that the mornings are feeling rather nippy, especially when I’m going downhill with the fuzzy rain smothering my face. However, I don’t think this is entirely a bad thing, for instance when I arrive at work and peel off my helmet, I am no longer welcomed with a sweaty, hot, matted fringe. If you want pictures then click here.

Yes, the cooler air means a cooler body temperature for when you’re cruising along on the bicycle, and what more do you need than a decent breakfast to keep you going. With this in mind, I would like to share with you my very own helpmychaincameoff breakfast. This is the ultimate fuel for Jemma’s and cyclists alike, it gives you the energy you need for powering those pedals in the early morning fog. So here it is… Nutella Porridge! Everyone knows that oats are packed with carbohydrates and is a perfect source of slow burning energy, plus it really is like central heating for your belly! It is the perfect breakfast for chilly mornings.

I like to make a large bowl of porridge using Ready Brek, because this is the way I have rolled since being a kid. Don’t be shy, make sure to be generous and use no less than one and a half heaped tablespoons of Nutella for the topping. This melts into a chocolate swamp…tasty. And believe me, you don’t want to be messing around with honey or fruits, Nutella is the only way to help you get to work on those cold mornings on the saddle. Remember chocolate equals happiness.

So since making the transition to my winter breakfast, I have found I that I don't need to snack in the mornings even though I have pedalled all those miles! I don't think any breakfast could be any better.....apart from american pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, but who's got time for that in the morning! How do you fuel for your morning bike ride?

On a subnote, I’m going to tell you something breakfast related which you might think is creative and intuitive, or just a little bizarre. Let me explain. Porridge uses a grand amount of milk, which means I am forever going to the shop to buy a couple of pints. Indeed, this is what I did last week on my lunch break when I purchased a two pinter. With my milk in my bag I met my boyfriend on the bike before going to a gig in King’s Cross. Pleased that I had thought ahead and wasn't going to miss out on my morning Nutella Porridge, my partner helpfully reminded me that liquids are not allowed in the venue. So, I came up with the idea to lock my milk to my bike! Observe below.

Before you think I think I am crazy, I would like to let you know that #1 my bike and milk was in a lockable, private bike storage and #2 I implemented the rule that if the milk seal was broken then I would not keep it. Alas, it was in tact and I enjoyed my porridge the next morning! I'd call that creative thinking!

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Final Destination: The horror of London streets

HALLOWEEN DISCLAIMER: Before you read this post, I want to remind you that the positives of cycling always outweigh the negatives, so don’t let my Halloween post put you off cycling!!
I’m scared of a few things in life (SPIDERS), but when it comes to the roads I have a few terrors. And on this Halloween,  I thought I’d share with you my top 3 cycle horror scenarios I fear most when cycling in London everyday; you may call it my very own cycling nightmare...
1.       The Car Door
It starts off with the car door. In the summer, I learnt of the sad news of Sam Harding who sadly died after a collision with a car door on Holloway Road. Hearing this news has made me wary and fearful when cycling down streets lined with parked cars. Only on Friday my partner narrowly escaped being knocked off his bike by someone carelessly opening a car door in his pathway. It also doesn’t help that I stumbled across this website [BE WARNED, it might make you want to stop cycling!]. I am now completely paranoid of car doors and try my best to cycle more central in the road. Of course, sometimes this is unavoidable when cycle lanes are placed right alongside stretches of parked cars like on Percival Street in central London.  Let's put in bike lanes away from parked cars Boris!
2.       Heavy Goods Vehicles
Source: Cyclists in the City Blog (minus the red horns)
HGV’s, the ultimate beasts of the road! The thunderous sound of the engine and the heavy load pounding the pavement behind you is enough to make you want to crawl into the gutter and hide. Well this is not advised!! My fear is accidentally falling off my bike in the path of an HGV revving up behind me, or being trapped on the inside of an HGV making a left turn, or being in the advanced stop line and the HGV driver not noticing I am there and running me over.....just a few things which pop into my head on a daily basis. These beasts are a continual haunt!
3.       Potholes
Lastly, this might not sound scary but when it’s dark and if you are cycling in Islington/Camden then you are in for a frightful ride. Visibility is low at night-time which means I am often unexpectantly flung to-and-fro on my bike from cycling over potholes. I cling onto the handlebars hoping my grip will remain and won’t be knocked off by the lumps and bumps of our roads. Watch out for Hornsey Lane, it’s like a scary rollercoaster.
So there we have it, my top 3 terror list of the roads! Let’s get an exorcist and remove all these frights from our rides forever. Happy Halloween cycling!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Autumn cycle ride around Hampstead Heath

With last weeks crisp, cold weather, I have been thinking hard about my autumn/winter cycling wardrobe trying to take into account style and warmth for my cycle to work. Last week I made the transition from light jacket and no gloves to winter jacket and thick gloves. This ‘look’ didn’t last long because once again our warm autumn sun returned for a brief farewell on Sunday for my cycle ride around Hampstead Heath.
I know, my eyes are closed!
I was planning on putting my winter coat get up on, but sensibly decided to wear a summer T-shirt, corduroy trousers (I know it’s not 1999 but they are coming back I tell you!) and a thrifted duck scarf for a touch of granny chic to complete the look, after all I was going to Hampstead Heath!
I found the cycle route of Hampstead on the London Cyclist Blog. It was a lovely ride on roads full of large houses I wish I owned, village-esque sights and a fair few hills!! The ride takes you around and through the Heath passing one of the bathing ponds where I got to see two brave men taking a dip in the swampy water. The best part of journey was stopping off for a walk around the Hampstead Pergola, along Inverforth Close. It was like a hidden secret garden in Italy rather than London!

I’m not all up to speed with GPS and bike computers so instead I used my TFL cycle map and inked the route in red pen. This worked well, but as you can see from the picture below it turned out that I am not skilled in folding a map in gusty winds.

Red pen to mark out route
Overall, it was a beautiful and relaxing autumn ride which I highly recommend. The London Cyclist e-book has plenty of other rides around London and you can buy it here. It’s going on my Christmas list!
On a final note, I just want to say that autumn is my favourite month to cycle in, but I really do find it hard to dress appropriately, I’m either far too hot under my winter jacket, or far to chilly without. The same goes with my hands -gloves can make them hot and sweaty but without they are throbbing with numbness.
Have you been on any autumn cycle rides and what did you wear? How to you dress for the changeable weather?