Thursday, 26 April 2012

Keeping dry in my Cambridge Raincoat

Like many people, my rainy weather cycling debut wasn’t one to feature in the pages of Vogue. I was 17 on an electric bike called ‘Georg’ travelling to my part-time job, wearing a purpley pink ‘mac in a pac’. I often looked like I was going camping. It didn't help that I regularly suffered from a very low bicycle battery! Practicality had well and truly overtaken style in this stake and I was fighting a losing battle.

These days I have stepped up my game big time with the help of a beautiful coat from the Cambridge Raincoat Company (and ditching the electric bike in 2003). Many of you may call yourselves lycra-clad cyclists who enjoy wearing a sporty raincoat, but me? Why, I like to look like I had never even hopped on a bike when I arrive at work in the mornings! But when those clouds are grey and it rains, this ideology quickly evaporates and I end up turning up to work looking soggy and messy.

This all too familiar scenario has thankfully inspired Sally Guyer, owner and founder of the Cambridge Raincoat Company, to produce a stylish raincoat which takes into account practicality and comfort, marrying it with style and some serious cycle chic.

It seems that Sally and I share the same ethos about clothing and cycling. It’s not about having to dress for the bicycle ride and get changed at your destination, but instead wear something you like and would wear even off the saddle. This is simplicity, the less accessories and clothing for my bike ride, the better!

So with these April showers well and truly making their ugly mark on the grey buildings of London and my trusty commute in the past month, I sure have had the chance to test the raincoat out in all weathers.

So here's the deal:

Style

I’m a navy kind of girl so when I saw the coat has been recently produced in this colour, I was super pleased, but if you fancy something brighter to maximise your visibility to cars on the road then the coat also comes in vibrant green, tomato red, iris orchid, poppy red and aspen gold. All colours to swoon at!

Super easy to cycle in

The Cambridge Raincoat is a style classic. The single-breasted design with a shawl lapel looks smart and is a far cry from the common sporty rain coat style! The coat is also cinched in at the waist, which makes for a trim waistline rather than the boxy waterproof jacket shape I have grown to hate. Every detail from the buttons to the sneaky inside pockets have been thought through and produced with exceptional quality.
Gorgeous half-belt detail on back

Also, check out the jazzy lining!
Comfort

Comfort is secondary for me when I buy clothes, but if an item ticks the comfort box as well then it’s a bonus in my book! I can well and truly vouch that this coat has the comfort quality BIG TIME! The material 100% Cordura which to you and me translates to sumptuous light and soft material, not hot nor itchy. Additionally, the tailoring of the coat is such that there is enough extra material to move your arms and legs freely, so if you want to pelt past those Brompton Divas, then this coat sure isn’t stopping you!

Functionality

The Cambridge rain coat scores highly in the functionality category tested by my ability to freely be able leap on and off the bike successfully in the event of a van/Addison Lee/SUV attack. Additionally, the lightweight material of the coat surprisingly folds up nice and small leaving plenty of room in my pannier for other delights. The only qualm is that the sleeves are slightly short on me, but that could just be because I have extra long arms!
Flattering shape
The big weather test

There sure hasn't been a shortage of wind and rain these past few weeks and I have to say, this coat has been a life saver! The material is 100% waterproof and wind resistant which exceeded my expectations. With other waterproof jackets I have often found that I will have patches of wetness around the shoulders, but this jacket managed to repel the rain away. The long skirt is designed to cover the knees and has saved me on numerous occasions this month from having to change my what-would-have-been rain soaked tights when I get to work. There is also a low button lapel, which helped to keep my skirt down in blustery conditions. The collar can also be pulled up high to stop any sneaky drops of rain from falling down your top.

Collar you can pull up high to stop the rain getting in
The coat passes the wind test and succeeds in not inflating to make me look 5 stone heavier resembling a floating marshmallow like so many raincoats tend to do.
Low button to help stop coat flapping in wind
And finally…..The Help! My Chain Came Off Factor

It's made in England! Which means it is produced ethically with quality by people who are paid a decent wage.

These darn April showers no longer get the better of me and I no longer turn up to work looking dishevelled and windswept after a ride in a storm. So long purple mac-in-a-pac, your days are OVER!

The coat retails at £250. Currently the Cambridge Raincoat Company are developing a stylish mens coat so watch out!

Monday, 23 April 2012

The Addison Lee 'die-in'


Picture courtesy of @laura_scott on Twitter
Oh dear, Addison Lee (London Taxi firm) sure did get their comeuppance when the big boss, John Griffin spectacularly boshed up and did that thing which not-so-clever-people-do which is publish their ignorance and stupidity to the public domain and even worse, refer his employees to use bus lanes illegally AND insight that accidents are the fault of untrained cyclists AND suggest that cyclists should pay road tax.

You can read all about it here, it’s quite spectacular. Mr Griffin’s opinion about cyclists finally explains why Addison Lee drivers have a reputation of being reckless and selfish when navigating the roads, and they have long been one of the biggest menaces on the London streets to us two-wheeled cool kids. Heres just one quote from his controversial column:
These cyclists are throwing themselves on to some of the most congested spaces in the world. They leap on to a vehicle which offers them no protection except a padded plastic hat. (Add Lib magazine)
Throwing themselves? Leap? Do we leap? Ah, perhaps he's referring to some of the Frog cyclists out there!

Mr Griffin also forgot that cyclists are a passionate bunch, and we don’t take senseless opinions promoting irresponsible behaviour of Addison Lee drivers lightly. So what did this call for, a ‘die-in’ of course! Yes, an invitation to protest outside of Addison Lee's offices and play dead on a London street on a Monday evening, sure sounded exciting. How could I resist?

Unfortunately a Monday morning fluster leaving my flat meant that I left my phone/camera at home all day and even managed to leave the directions to get to Addison Lee HQ on my desk at work. The odds of attending were against me, but with a little intuition and bike love I managed to navigate myself to the HQ to show my support.

A 'die-in' involves laying on the floor acting dead. Looking at the grotty and very wet street I certainly had my reservations about acting out the 'die-in', but apparently they are cleaning up London for the Olympics, so hey ho, off I laid on the road and so did everyone else!

And I was not alone. Usually a bike protest consists of a gang cycling to the sounds of pretty bicycle bells, but this protest was different. I had to dig deep back to my year 9 drama days and bring out of the bag some serious acting skills.  And there we were, just laying dead for all of Addison Lee and their big fat security guards to see. Would love to have shown you a picture, but I'm just too clumsy and forgetful on Mondays! Garrrgh!

Black cabbies tooted on by showing their support for cyclists and they were rewarded with a loud cheer. Is this the start of a beautiful relationship between cyclists and the black cab? Who would have thought! We were even graced with an appearance from Mr Griffin himself who read out his latest article. I couldn't tell you what he said because he didn't shout it out loudly but I think its fair to say he is trying desperately to climb out of that humungous big hole he has got himself in.

Funnily enough, on my cycle home I got cut up by an Addison Lee cab! The battle on the road continues...


Picture courtesy of @laura_scott on Twitter

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Puncturegate


Last week I was embroiled in a saga named #puncturegate, did you hear about it? I’m not going to report on the difficulty I experienced because I have now buried the memory into a deep, dark place where other bad cycling memories go, such as when I got my shoelaces stuck in the bike chain circa '90 and the time an old man shouted ‘I wish I was your saddle’ to me in 2009.

As a regular cyclist, getting a puncture is like having your feet chopped off, it’s debilitating and just isn't fair. Sometimes I think punctures are caused by sharp objects purposely placed on the roads by evil car-centic people who hate cyclists. As much as I reason with myself, I can help but believe in this conspiracy.

My experience of #puncturegate has allowed me to evaluate how I manage and deal with the punctures I get. This reflection was sparked last week by the shop assistant in CycleSurgery telling me that they always try to encourage their customers to fix their own punctures. I guess he knows that £17 a pop for getting your puncture fixed by CycleSurgery is a tad bit overpriced and sometimes not that good.

Puncture kit ready? No WAY! Get it out of my bag will ya?






































I seem to get a puncture about every 3 months, often when I am rolling up to work at the end of my morning journey. On these occasions, I will stick my bike straight into the shop. I know, I can hear you saying ‘Don’t spend £17 for a 5 minute job! DO IT YOURSELF!’ Well cycle friends, I just don’t want to! Well, not whilst I am at work that is.

I have come up with a list of reasons justifying this extravagant behaviour:

Reason 1: It’s not clever Trevor to be wearing business attire and rubbing my clean hands all over my wheel trying peel the slithery inner tube out, outside my workplace and on my lunch break.

Reason 2: I would rather read my book on my lunch break than do a chore.

Reason 3: Bike shop is only 2 minute walk from my office

Reason 4: My working day isn’t always that interesting, so why make it worse?

Reason 5: I don't get punctures often so can just about accept the cost of paying a bike shop to fix it, even if it's £17, I'm over it, I'm over it, I'm over it.

Reason 6: I like to uphold the illusion that my puncture never happened. Handing my bike over to the bike shop on my lunch break broken and then collecting it at the end of the day all fixed up and inflated again upholds this fa├žade. Cycling for me is about simplicity.

Satisfied? Or would you just say I'm lazy? One thing I have learnt is that to avoid #puncturegate again, I am going to invest in a puncture resistant tyre (I already have one on the back wheel) so those malicius car crazies who strategically place the sharp objects on our roads as an attack on cyclists won't have the satisfaction of ruining my day again. Same goes for CycleSurgery.

What do you do if you get a puncture at work? Do you get down and dirty in your work clothes and fix it on your lunch break? Or would you rather get a bike shop to fix it hassle free like me?

Funnily enough, during the height of #puncturegate, Andreas from the London Cyclist Blog released the post called ‘How I learnt to love punctures’. I think I’ve still got a long way to go….

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Speed control or squash control?

I’ve told you about the hazards of my bicycle commute before on this blog, well folks, I’ve come across another menace to my journey. Sandwiched between the ‘Brompton blackspot’ and Zone one (or MUST STAY ALIVE ZONE), I would like to introduce you to Barnsbury Road, Islington or better known as ‘Squash a cyclist’ street.

The only thing I can think of is that there must be some sort of unwritten code between car drivers that they get extra nectar points for squashing cyclists on this stretch of road. And the reason for this unforgivable behaviour is Traffic Islands. Traffic islands are apparently for traffic calming, but primarily, on this road, it's main use seems to be for cyclist squashing. 

Cyclist about to be squashed

 
 I have been reading up about these beasts and they are installed by councils as a way to introduce speed control, or what I have now named SQUASH control. Let me give you some context. The traffic islands on 'Squash a cyclist' street are a central island narrowing design. These islands are in the centre of the road with traffic flow on either side, meaning that the road narrows significantly without a cycle lane omitting the cyclist from passing through the narrowing. See picture below:

Cycling along this road, it always seems to end up as a game between the cyclist and the car. Let me tell you how it goes:

Cyclist is happily cruising along when suddenly a car is on their tail revving the engine as if they are going to take over the cyclist, however car stumbles upon the traffic island and has to reluctantly hang back whilst both car and cyclist past through. Car then speeds up and attempts to overtake cyclist again, hovering impatiently to the left of the cyclist but then comes across another traffic island and is forced to hang back. Repeat this 5 times and you've experienced the joys of Barnsbury Road.

Unfortunately, more than often the story goes a little differently. Hold tight kids, this is the nasty experience. It starts the same... Cyclist is happily cruising along when suddenly car is on their tail revving their engine as if they are going to take over the cyclist, however car stumbles upon traffic island and impatiently attempts to overtake cyclist through the narrow section, causing the cyclist to be well and truly SQUASHED and having to seek refuge on the pavement for space and recovery. Car speeds off down the road and sits in traffic. Angry and squashed cyclist catches up and passes car in traffic and wishes they had Timmy Mallet's mallet to hand. Car driver revels in (or doesn’t even notice) their misdemeanour and pockets their ‘Squash a cyclist’ bonus nectar points. Hard times.

I have found that if you are not a confident cyclist, there are two ways you deal with this situation.

1. Cycle as fast as you can to try a lose the chugging motor on your tail. This is like a game of cat and mouse which I’ve dubbed the SPEED OR SQUASH approach.

2. Cycle along right on the edge of the road (so you are eligible for a good car dooring by the parked cars lining the curb) in an attempt to allow the car to overtake you before you hit the narrow island section.

I have been thinking hard about these approaches and there is really only one option to brave this level of the ride and come out unscathed. Take the PRIMARY POSITION. When doing this it’s best to cycle really, really, really, really slowly whilst whistling nicely out of tune to drown out the angry revving sounds of the greasy car behind you.

This is my experience on this particular road. Usually I have pleasant experiences of traffic islands and can see how they can improve the cyclists experience, if installed correctly. Sustrans state that-

The object of traffic calming is to modify driver behaviour, control vehicle speeds and, in some circumstances, to reduce the volume of traffic. This reduces danger from traffic and can enable local residents, including children, to reclaim the streets as social places where walking and cycling can flourish. (Source: Sustrans Guidelines to Traffic Calming)
Indeed the islands on Barnsbury Road offer a safe refuge for pedestrians going to the park alongside it, but ultimately it seems to be the cyclists duty to calm the traffic and pay the price.  No extra nectar points for us.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Dear Evans Cycles, [OPEN LETTER]


Dear Evans Cycles,

I don’t tend to take much notice of the junk mail which comes through my door, however the other day I noticed that you had kindly sent me your summer magazine/catalogue called RideIT! ‘What juicy reading!' I thought and sat down with a cup of tea, in the sunshine with your catalogue.

I planned this be an enjoyable event as anything to do with shopping and cycling is ace-of-spades to me, however, being a cycling enthusiast with a penchant for womens cycling, I was terribly disappointed by what I discovered on your pages. Now you may assume that most women would be happy to be thrusted images of heroic, masculine, 'lyrca-ed up' male cyclist, but let me tell you this is not the case! In fact, it has the opposite effect.
Lycra man bums
The reason being, Mr Evans (and I am not sure you have even noticed this) is that out of 80 photos of cyclists in the your magazine, just 6 of them are women. That is a mere 7.5% of all photos of people in your magazine pages! Now I know that men dominate the cycling industry but do you really feel that the gender split is THAT wide?
The token woman cyclist!

After my shock and inability to identify with your rogue male cyclist images, I took to the internet to find out some hard facts. Let’s look the last census. In 2011, 650,000 people commuted to work each day by bicycle in England and Wales, 27% of which are women (bikes.org.uk) (and that census didn't even include me!). So if 27% of cycle commuters are women, then why is your magazine so male-centric? I know that a large amount of your consumers are men who cycle for sport, but this does not excuse you for ignoring the growing female cyclist consumer market.

Mr Evans, it makes me wonder who is advising you about the bicycle industry? I am always at hand to offer my services if need be, for example, I would like to point you to the direction of some companies who are business smart and savvy to the increasing female market for bicycles and accessories. Just to name a few: Beg Bicycles, Bobbin Bicycles, Cycle Chic. These are companies which offer a female-friendly brand and sell products which I could easily spend my monthly salary on. Please feel free to peruse the photos on their websites and take note that they present a contemporary, carefree image of cycling, with plenty of women on bicycles!!

Furthermore, I would like to highlight a couple more misdeeds in your RideIt! catalogue. On page 50, you talk about the RideIt! organised bicycle rides, mentioning the 'Family Fun' rides you offer for all abilities. You state:
'All our rides have different route lengths to choose from so you can set the distance you feel comfortable with. Our 'Family Fun' routes are designed so the whole clan can ride, and kids cycle for free!' (Pg 50)
‘Hurrah!’ I thought, you’re finally writing for real, everyday people and not superhero cyclists. But to my aghast, the picture accompanying this family bicycle invitation is........
.....more lycra men! AND going uphill! Memories of my family bicycle rides were certainly a lot more pleasant than this family image you are promoting.

And whilst we’re on the family theme, let’s skip to the kids page where you feature bicycles for children. Please see picture below. 
I think you can agree that one of the crucial ways to get people on two wheels is to introduce cycling at a young age. Unfortunately, you seem to have prioritised boys bikes over girls by showing 6 bicycles of which just 1 is for girls (and in a very sickly pink colour at that!)

So Mr Evans, I think I have made my point clearly. I do accept that your brand caters for a large sports market which men seem to rule, however I hope you can agree that you could put a bit more effort in to representing women in your catalogue, after all, we are your customers too! 

I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,


Jemma Leahy
AKA Help My Chain Came Off
H.M.C.O Headquarters