Headwinds I Lose

January 8, 2019

Ever since we moved to a house that was not only up a Category 3 hill, but also, crucially, into the prevailing wind on my way home, I’ve been trying to develop a love – or at least a vaguely positive feeling about – a headwind. After all, if cyclists can learn to love hills, and supposedly enjoy suffering, surely we can relish the prospect of battering into a block headwind?

sunshine and river

Typically, the photos don’t show the headwind …

Today and yesterday have been good opportunities to put it to the test. Yesterday was one of those days when I realised on the way into town that I had a stonking tailwind of the push-you-up-the-hill variety which is never as much fun as you might think when you get it on the outward leg of a journey (even worse is the undetected tailwind which only manifests itself when you turn around and realise that, no, you weren’t just super fit and awesome on the way out). Today was, if anything, worse – I set off on a bright, sunny, chilly but calm day, the sort of day that makes you glad to be alive and on a bike and faintly and smugly sorry for all the poor people stuck in their cars – only for the wind to get up just as I was setting off for home, and strengthen as I turned to tackle the final climb.

January sun

One thing about headwinds is they give you plenty of time to think. Indeed, I swear that time slows down when you’re going into one (this may be why Einstein* allegedly thought up the theory of relativity while riding his bike) – yes, you’re a bit slower going into the wind, but that doesn’t explain how you feel as if you’ve been battling it for eternity. So I’ve had time to consider some of the positives of headwinds and I’ve come up with a short list:

1. Unlike a crosswind, a gusty headwind won’t send you right across the road and into oncoming traffic.
2. er, that’s it.

Surely there must be some others? Because it’s going to be easier to learn to love the damn things than it is to move house, or change the rotation of the earth so our prevailing winds run from the east.

* “Never believe anything I’m supposed to have said if you read it on the Internet” – A. Einstein.

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New Year, New You

January 1, 2019

Some mornings, heading out on the bike to lead the Bigtown Cycle Campaign winter rides can be a bit of a chore.

new years day sunshine

This was not one of those mornings.

group ride photo

Amazingly, it turns out 20 other people thought that a bike ride in the winter sunshine was an excellent way to start the year. As I mentioned on the ride back, it’s days like these that get us through the winter.

I hope your 2019 had as promising a start.

dead end road and blue skies


Let the Record Show …

December 29, 2018

…That I have successfully patched the slow puncture on my bike – something that involved removing and replacing a fairly new Marathon Plus tyre (and by ‘fairly new’ I mean ‘replaced this year’ – I like to get my money’s worth out of a bike component). Not only that but I did it with a minimum of swearing, sighing and looking around for A Man To Help. In fact, the tyre was actually the easy part (I may have been watching a few YouTube videos on the subject) – the difficulty came in getting the back wheel back into the dropouts and (embarrassingly) trying to pump the wretched thing up again afterwards. The other half did wander past at that point, heard me muttering something about why presta valves are even allowed to exist,* and beat a tactical retreat. The whole thing still took an hour, but that did include the whole ritual of waiting for the glue to get almost dry on the patch and washing approximately half a kilo of mud out of my mudguard.

Anyway, it doesn’t exactly count as ‘getting the hang of bike maintenance’ in 2018 but it has at least convinced me that I’m not going backwards. Next step – the unassisted roadside repair. Hopefully not any time soon though …

* despite explicit instructions to the bike shop to the contrary, I still have one wheel with a schraeder valve and one wheel with a presta valve although someone has now shown me how to turn my bike pump inside out so it can handle both kinds. I’m still unconvinced that whatever benefits there are to a presta valve are worth their tendency to just dump all the air out of the tyre in an instant if you look at them funny while detaching the pump. But no doubt there’s a YouTube video that will enlighten me…


Today’s Cycling Adventures in Full

December 18, 2018

– Wake periodically in the night to the sound of the wind rattling the house

– Rise in the morning to the sound of the rain now blattering against the windows. Check weather forecast repeatedly to see if possibly it is going to relent on the double dot rain and gusting wind. It doesn’t.

– Check phone periodically for any text cancelling the thing I really need to be at today, or end up letting people down. None arrives.

– At the appointed hour, review my rain protection. Don actually waterproof jacket. Don not-actually waterproof trousers. Round up all my gloves – a pair to get soaked on the way there and a pair to get soaked on the way back. Cram hat on head. Zip jacket up to chin.

– Step over developing puddle where the wind has squeezed the water under the door frame and go outside.

– Almost lose the battle of wills between me and the wind and the garage door, but prevail. Step cautiously into the garage in case the wind decides to make it ‘best of three’. Wheel out bike.

– Decide bike will not be standing up in this weather, kickstand or no, and lay it pre-emptively on its side.

– Realise bike has a slow puncture. Get out track stand and pump up tyre.

– Pick up track stand from where the wind has blown it over.

– Retrieve hat and gloves from where the wind has deposited them.

– Do battle with the garage door again.

– Set off into the teeth of the wind. Get buffeted into the hedge about 100 yards from our house.

– Contemplate the B-road ahead.

– Turn around and get blown back up the hill, with another near side trip into the ditch for good measure.

– Text and cancel my appointment.

I can’t decide if I’m getting sensible, or cowardly in my old age…


Come Back Rita, All is Forgiven

December 8, 2018

I think I write a variant of this post every time I’m forced onto two feet instead of two wheels for extended periods around Bigtown and realise that it’s often actually worse for the poor beleaguered pedestrian than it is for us cyclists who can at least pretend we’re cars. Still, it’s my blog and I can repeat myself if I want to. And the subject has been on my mind for the past few days, partly because I’ve been taking part in a mostly pedestrian street audit, albeit armed with the biggest, baddest trike in Bigtown, and paying closer than usual attention to the all the things that make walking feel like a third-class means of transport: the caged in crossings and railings, the cracked pavements, and the endless wait for the green man.

bike at the butchers

It’s also been on my mind since I used this old photo last week to illustrate something for the Bigtown Cycle Campaign and realised I could tell it was taken a good 4 years ago (and not just because it was two panniers ago) – because the street in the photo shows people freely strolling down the street, happily checking out the nice independent small shops. Parking in Bigtown has always been a bit of a freestyle affair but ever since people have taken on board the fact that there really are no parking wardens in the entire county a small but growing minority of drivers have taken to effectively parking wherever they sodding well like. The street in the photo is still, officially pedestrianised, but a photo of it taken from the same spot today would basically show a linear car park. It’s a change that’s crept up on us so gradually that we’ve barely noticed what we’ve lost.

So on Thursday, in town without my bike for once, as an experiment, I tried just walking down the same street on Thursday as if it was the genuinely pedestrianised street it used to be. I think I got about two thirds of the way down it before the driver behind me couldn’t stand it any more and hooted their horn, to let me know that there was someone in a more important means of transport behind me, someone I must clearly not have noticed as I would otherwise have got out of their way. Confirmation, if confirmation were needed that the street has been reconquered by cars, all in the name of the God of Parking.

We’ve started trying to fight back – but I think it’s going to take more than the odd pop-up park. Traffic Wardens may once have been the most reviled officials in Christendom, but conversations I’ve had around town in the past week or so suggest they’re starting to be missed. There are complicated legal reasons* why the Coonsil can’t just bring back traffic wardens, but I do occasionally fantasise about the day when they finally do.  And as they turn the corner into the Vennel with their little notebooks in their hands (or whatever the modern traffic warden uses these days), their eyes lighting up at the rich pickings before them, I can only hope I’ll be there to witness the carnage that ensues…

* Anyone who wants an explanation, touching on decriminalised versus criminal parking enforcement and the implications of current Transport Bill going through the Scottish Parliament – feel free to ask in the comments because, sadly, I know …


Safe Mode

December 4, 2018

Hmm, what was that I was saying about December sunshine? Things were looking a bit less inviting for cycling this morning, especially for someone who hasn’t yet put her magical ice tyres on the bike …

frosty start

I’d hoped the overnight frost would have been burned off by the forecast sunshine by the time I needed to set off for Bigtown, but instead we got fog, which was barely thinning by mid morning – and once down in the valley, it was thicker than ever.

foggy road

As cyclists we get lots of safety advice, much of it unhelpful, but there’s one thing I don’t see repeated anything like enough – for cyclists and drivers alike – and that’s to allow enough time, especially when conditions are challenging.

fog and sunshine

I know myself that when I’m in a hurry, that’s when I’m going to take those little extra chances which are normally fine, but occasionally end up with an altercation (or worse) with an equally impatient driver. Being in a rush also makes us less likely to be empathetic (there’s even some ingenious research I read with trainee priests that showed they were less likely to stop and help someone if they were in a hurry to get somewhere, even if the thing they were in a hurry to go and do was to preach a sermon on the Good Samaritan) which doesn’t help on the roads much either.

river and fog

So today, I made sure I’d left myself loads of time – to get off and walk if I needed to if the back roads were icy. Not perhaps as satisfying as steel spikes on your tyres … but just as important when it comes to keeping safe.

frost and trees

And if it turns out the roads weren’t too bad after all? Then there’s all the more time to stop and take photos …

temperature inversion


Wind Assisted

November 28, 2018

So I survived my guest lecture this morning – the students seemed to largely pay attention throughout (I had visions of competing with their urgent snapchat conversations but it seems Young People These Days have absolutely no difficulty in putting their phones away and listening to someone rabbiting on, despite what you might think from the media). After some lively discussion and a (rather more academically informed) presentation on Warm Showers I climbed back into my Not Waterproof in Scotland waterproof trousers and my Actually Pretty Waterproof in Scotland rain jacket, and headed for home.

foggy road

The ride in had been damp but in the end not too miserable, but as I had been pontificating about the joys of the authentic experiences available to those who travel by bike, the Weather Gods had been brewing up a properly authentic weather experience for my ride home. Well, authentic in all but one detail – true authenticity would have required a grinding headwind. Instead what I got was a fairly epic tailwind through town (interesting on the riverfront where, had there been any actual pedestrians hardy enough to be out on it, I would have had trouble slowing down for them) and then a properly epic cross-tailwind for the final climb up to the house. It’s quite something to suddenly find yourself cycling along on the wrong side of a B road when a gust catches you unawares; fortunately there were no other vehicles foolish enough to be out in this weather.

From the outside, had there been anyone to witness it, I must have looked a miserable sight – rainswept and windblown, battering uphill on a pushbike, my cap stuffed in my pocket for safekeeping. But I have to confess that it was actually a lot of fun. It’s one thing to leave a warm house and go out into the wind and the rain on a bike. It’s quite another to take on the wind and the rain, knowing you’ve a warm house to get home to.

Of course, this all depends on said wind and rain then not taking out your power for a couple of hours once you do get home. Thank goodness for woodburners, and laptops with decent batteries. And engineers who are willing to go out and repair power lines in a howling gale… now that really must be miserable.

candlelight and laptop