Two for the Price of One

January 29, 2023

The Bigtownshire Cycle Campaign monthly social ride took us to Papershop Village today. Which led to the following conversation on the way back:

“You used to ride all the way here for a paper? Every day?”

“Yup. Five and a half miles” (the half is always important).

“Five and half miles round trip?”

“No five and a half miles one way. 11 miles all told.”

“Just for a paper?”

“Just for a paper. Well, a paper and a bike ride.”

We ride for a while in silence.

“You know, I probably get out and ride 10 miles every day. Just to be outside, have some fresh air, get some exercise.”

“Yup. And I get all that AND a paper.”

Cloudy skies with a break in the clouds above a country road

And that, my friends, is why utility cycling is so awesome.

All of a Sparkle

January 22, 2023

The winter grinds on, as it tends to do in January (and February, and an unfair amount of March too, in my opinion). It is this time of year when my commitment to cycling for transport is tested most fully – not so much during the day, but when I have an evening appointment which means dragging myself from the house when the stove is already lit and the curtains closed and the temptation to just curl up on the sofa and stay there is all but overwhelming.

We’ve just had a few days of that crisp bright frosty weather which lifts the spirits during the day but allows the temperatures to plummet as soon as the sun goes down. On Friday I wanted to attend a local climate kitchen event, and I wasn’t about to drive down there in the car, so bike it was but I’ll admit it was a wrench. But then, as I left, the sun was just below the horizon and air was still and the sky was beautifully graded with every shade from blue to gold as the light faded. It was glorious and breathtaking and there are no photos because it was, as mentioned, pretty chilly, and I wasn’t about to take my gloves off just to disappoint myself with the results.

Coming out at eight, the clear skies had brought the expected freezing temperatures and it was pitch dark. Fortunately, new glasses and a new light have rekindled my love of night cycling (it turns out that there was nothing sinister going on except that my eyes are still getting more short sighted despite my advanced age, and a new prescription has restored my night vision). The climb up the hill soon got me feeling warm, and as I turned into our quiet road I found that the night was full of glitter. The hoar frost settling on the road and all around me – and even in the air – was catching in the beam of my light and the whole world was sparkling. You don’t get that on your balmy summer evening rides, I tell you. Of course, you don’t get chilblains either, but swings and roundabouts, eh?

Rattle and Bang

January 19, 2023

Hmm. No sooner do I sort out my mysterious on-again off-again puncture, and make a passing comment about the bike needing to find new and entertaining ways to go wrong (from my mouth to God’s ear and all that), when it does just that. Shortly after that post, my bike developed what I can only describe as a percussion section – not just a click or a creak, but a whole symphony of clicks, rattles, bangs and pops which would start up when I got on the bike and continue to a greater or lesser extent regardless of whether I’m pedalling or not, or even sitting in the saddle or not, until I get off the bike and try to investigate the cause, whereupon it would revert to complete silence. This was beyond irritating, not to mention embarrassing, especially in town, although at least it completely eliminates the ‘bell or no bell’ dilemma when coming up behind pedestrians on a shared path – long before I need to warn them of my approach, they have already turned to see what on earth was coming up behind them sounding like a free-form jazz percussion solo.

Given that I can’t reproduce the noise except when I’m actually riding it, I’m a bit stuck as to what might be behind this racket, unless there’s a mouse-sized samba drumming band concealed in the frame somewhere. The local bike shop guy – who was treated to an impromptu performance when I passed him while he was out walking his dog on his lunch break – had no suggestions either (at least when I bring it in I won’t have to persuade him that it’s not some figment of my imagination). It does seem to happen slightly less when I’m pedalling uphill, or putting in more than my normal effort – going uphill and into a headwind seemed to hush it almost completely – suggesting something related to the saddle and/or loading on the frame.

And so it went on until today when I got on the bike to head into town, musing about other matters. I was almost at the outskirts when I noticed a disturbing new noise: the sound of silence. After a whole week of pure annoyance, the noise had gone. And remained gone, all the rest of the way into town and all the way home again. I’m fairly certain that self-sorting rattles are no more common than self-repairing punctures so I regard this as a sinister development (while welcoming the quiet). My suspicion is that the noise was due to something that was breaking and which is now completely broken, and I can only hope that it wasn’t something safety critical. The alternative is that the bike is simply possessed. Either seems equally likely at this point…

Don’t Make Me Tap the Sign

January 15, 2023

In ‘be careful what you wish for’ news, the coonsil have upgraded their ‘road closed’ sign on my nice cut through to town to a ‘road really closed’ barrier (backed up with the stern injunction that this also applies to cyclists, horses and pedestrians).

Road closed sign with barrier behind it

Clearly they’d got a bit sick of picking their sign up out of the hedge and/or moving the cones back as the locals decided what was a bit of road washout between friends as long as there was enough tarmac hanging on over the void for their vehicle, and kept moving the road block out of the way to get past.

Road closed sign lying in the hedge
Road closed with cones moved aside

I can’t really point the finger here as I was equally willing to risk it and keep cycling past the sign (although I did try and help by moving the cones back into position when they’d been moved aside). The thing is, the alternative route involves an extra couple of miles on a relatively busy and fast (and also prone to flooding) road so the risk from traffic feels much more immediately present than the largely theoretical risk of the damaged road collapsing while I’m cycling over it. But I imagine everyone else who’s been taking the shortcut has argued the same, so I’m being good and sticking to the main road rather than picking my bike up and hopping over the barrier.

It’s a shame not to get the rural filtered permeability I’d hoped for, but if that’s the worst weather damage we suffer this wet winter then we’ll have got off lightly. And at least it gives me some new perspectives to test out the shiny new phone…

Trees at dusk

Pepperpot Achievement Unlocked

January 11, 2023

Are we bored of 2023 yet? It’s certainly shaping up to be one of THOSE winters, when the radiators steam with damp gloves, shoes, jackets and hats from the last outing and you have to pick the driest combination for your next.

But never mind all that, because I have a new phone! Well, new to me. And its previous owner was a proper photographer so it’s got a super duper camera with all sorts of settings, none of which I fully understand but which I’m looking forward to playing around with at least until I have a grand total of three I know how to use and then stick with until the phone dies on me.

View out into the garden through heavy rain.

I didn’t have much scope for it yesterday as it basically rained all day, but today we had something of a break in the weather. Even better, the planets had aligned allowing me to attend an outing of Bigtownshire’s most venerable cycling group. For those without long memories, these cyclists don’t organise rides as such, but designate a lunch spot every Wednesday, and then descend on it like so many wiry locusts to refuel before ‘taking a slightly more lumpy but scenic route‘ home, usually involving an extra few hundred feet of unnecessary climbing. I haven’t managed a lunchtime session with these guys and gals for years and I was a little worried that the pandemic might have carried it, and them, off, but it turns out they have been back in full swing since March. And today I had a day free, and their designated lunch spot was actually Papershop Village, where they open the hall specially and the local Rural caters lunch. What better excuse did I need to get a few more miles in the legs, test the repair of my mystery flat,* and give the new phone camera a shakedown cruise.

Water roaring over rocks

Having stopped off briefly to check on the level of the ford (about as expected, but the depth gauge itself seems to have suffered in the flooding), I caught up with three riders who were on the same mission and we joined forces. Naturally we got chatting and within minutes established that two of them knew my parents from church and the other one lives on their road. This is very Bigtown, where we don’t really do six degrees of separation, maybe more like three. People have been asking me how my parents have been settling in since they moved in April and I can honestly now say that they have arrived…

View of the ford, showing almost a foot of water

Anyway, I had a lovely lunch, managed to get to the tray bakes before they had been completely depleted, caught up with a few of the old stagers and met some new ones, and then set out into the next instalment of rain giving thanks that I wasn’t facing 20 miles into the teeth of the wind like the group who’d ridden in from Kirkcudbright. I don’t know when I’ll be able to join them again, but even with the latest batch of soggy kit steaming gently in the hall, I’m glad I made the effort.

Grey day looking into the distance

* As suggested in the comments in the last post, the problem appears to have been the slime clogging the valve, something which came to a head after the tyre went flat on me twice in quick succession having been fine overnight. Fortunately it then held air long enough to get me to the bike shop where they replaced the valve core, which so far appears to be holding (although I have bought a spare inner tube as well as an offering to appease the puncture fairy). Roll on the arrival of the Tannus inserts, whereupon my bike will have to think up a new and entertaining way to go wrong, preferably when I am far from home.

In Search of Schrodinger’s Puncture

January 8, 2023

As my adventures in bike maintenance continue, it never fails to amaze me how something so simple as fixing a puncture on my bike seems to throw up a new problem every single time. But as puncture season (approximately October to September round here) continues in full swing, the surprises continue, and now I’ve apparently got an intermittent puncture which is a new one on me.

I’ve long argued that there’s no such thing as a self-fixing puncture, although I also believe in ekeing out a slow puncture for as long as I can, mainly because as soon as you actually repair them you just get another one. So when I set off home from the Pepperpots last week and discovered my back tyre was flat as a pancake, I pumped it up (hooray for the miracles of my tiny folding track pump) and took it home, meaning to deal with it later. The next morning it was still apparently holding air so I assumed it was just a very slow puncture and took the bike into town and back. The next day it was a little soft so I pumped it up and then we seemed to settle into the normal pattern of pumping it up daily until I had the time and the energy to fix it properly. Fast forward to the end of this week and it suddenly went flat on me after five miles. Fair enough, slow punctures usually become fast ones in the end, so I pumped up enough to get home and resolved to fix it at the weekend.

Anyway, this afternoon I duly took the back wheel off, removed the (once more flat) inner tube and started hunting for the culprit, to no avail. No hiss of air when I pumped up the tube. No tell-tale bubbles when I dunked it in a bucket of water, not even from the valve. And nothing inside the tyre that might have caused the puncture in the first place. Odd. This tube does have slime in it (apparently, the bike shop replaced it when I was getting the bike serviced) but I can’t see any sign of where it might have sealed up a hole. Or work out how it could do it while the bike was sitting in the garage with a flat tyre. But if I couldn’t find the puncture I couldn’t fix it so all I could do was put the tyre back on, pump it up again, and hope for the best. Perhaps my bike just wanted the attention. Or decided I needed the practice. Either way, we will see what tomorrow brings.

Meanwhile, I do have Tannus inserts on order, which I hope will sort the problem out for once and for all. Although I do realise that the Puncture Fairy laughs in the face of such optimism.

Periscope Depth

December 30, 2022

I thought I’d been a bit cunning in finding a window in the weather for today’s ride down for the paper. We’ve had an amber weather warning for rain, but it was forecast to stop at lunchtime and then the dangerously gusting winds weren’t due to kick in until an hour or so later. Just time to make the 11-mile round trip to the garage without being drenched or blown off the bike. So as the rain duly eased around noon, I hopped on the bike to take advantage.

Road flowing with water and covered in stones and debris

What I hadn’t factored in was that, for all it was no longer falling out of the sky, there was a hell of a lot of water lying about on the ground. I mean, we’re used to flooding here and I’m used to dealing with surface water, but for some reason I looked at the fact that the road outside our gate had transformed itself into a fast running burn and didn’t even go back to change into wellies. I just picked my way as carefully as I could through the running water and the banks of debris, trying to remember where the worst potholes were and wondering if we’d been right when we’d all laughed at the concept of an ‘all-road bike’ and whether, in fact, they did an amphibious model

Once on the main road things improved a little – at least apart from the driver who was in too much of a hurry to slow down going past me through surface water so sprayed my feet and lower legs with their wake. As it happened, this wasn’t going to matter long. For as I turned off the main road and headed down towards the river, it was clear the flooding was extensive. On my way into town, it was pretty bad, but not the worst I’d ever pedalled through. But water runs downhill, and it takes its time doing so, meaning that things had got worse on the ride back. One long deep section of flooding left me no option but to pedal steadily through it rather than try and coast with my feet up, even though that meant filling my shoes with icy water. I was relieved to note that the little car waiting for me at the other end of the stretch of water just turned around and went back the other way – I was a little worried that the driver would think ‘well if that bike can get through, then my car should no bother’, rather than ‘if the cyclist’s feet are underwater, then important bits of my electrics will be too…’

The (soggy) boot was on the other foot as I turned into the next road and stopped to let a tractor through. Its driver was then very reluctant to let me proceed at all, suggesting I take a five mile detour rather than continue along that route, something I was not that up for given my feet were by now freezing cold in the brisk wind. I have to admit, I thought he was being overly cautious because I had cycled in with no real problems, but he was insistent that things had got worse and when I got to the part he meant, I had to admit he had a point. One flooded field was basically emptying into another and it was as if the road wasn’t there, just a brown fast-flowing river. I just had to guess where the tarmac was and hope I didn’t hit any rocks or chunks of wood, keeping pedalling forward as the flow of the current tried to carry me sideways. This did feel like the sort of Very Bad Idea that usually opens an episode of Casualty, but by this time I was committed, so I just took it slowly and made it to the other side before lighting off for home as quickly as I could.

(I have just seen this tweet which confirms the tractor driver’s concern)

And for those of you wondering why there are no photos of this epic flood, well, that may be the subject of another post, but basically my phone is currently on its last legs and requires coaxing into life before it will take photos or do anything, really. I wasn’t about to do that when there were dry socks waiting for me at home, so you’ll just have to use your imaginations.

Caution, I Brake for …

November 29, 2022

Regular readers will know that I have something of a love-hate relationship with bike maintenance, in that I hate doing it and I love moaning about it on Twitter – mainly because half the time when I attempt to fix my bike I end up making things worse. One task I can perform reasonably competently, however, is changing my brake blocks, which is a good thing when you live up a bit of a hill and the roads for most of the year are filthy enough to wear down even the toughest brakes.

Of course, there’s no point being able to do something if you don’t actually get off your arse and do it. I’ve been noting the gradual decline in stopping power of my brakes and thinking I ought to sort them out, but as I knew the bike was due for a service anyway, I didn’t get around to it. And, having finally booked it in for a service, I decided to leave the brakes to the bike shop as well as everything else and hoped that they’d last me the week until it was due to go in (see also the slow puncture that I’ve been nursing since early November).

View looking out over Lochrutton church and Lochrutton Loch behind

And then Sunday we had a lovely ride to visit a stone circle that just happens to be reached from a steep track, and I found myself having to walk down the steepest bit because I just didn’t trust my bike to stop if I asked it to. That gave me some concern, but I still thought I’d make it through to Wednesday if I didn’t try anything too ambitious and kept my speed low. All was well until half way to Bigtown on Monday afternoon, when my back brake took matters into its own hands and disconnected itself entirely from the lever. After hastily rearranging my afternoon plans so I could drop it off at the bike shop, I attempted to keep going with my (still sort of working) front brake for the last couple of miles into town…

Reader, it turns out that worn brakes go from ‘sort of working’ to ‘really not working at all’ quite quickly once they’re the only brake being used. Fortunately for all concerned, I was riding very slowly and there was no real traffic around when I discovered this for myself. I also learned that, in extremis, you can stop a brakeless bike by pointing it up a dropped kerb and then using your foot to scrub off the remaining momentum. On the whole, though, I do not recommend this.

Anyway, lesson learned, and thoroughly chastened, I walked the final two miles to the bike shop, which has restored it to working order (and removed TWO bastard big thorns from the back tyre). I am lucky to have escaped with nothing but somewhat dented pride and a renewed resolve to keep on top of the bike’s stopping power. Hopefully, the latter will last me until the brakes start to need attention again… slow punctures, on the other hand, will continue to get ignored as long as possible.

In an Ideal World …

November 16, 2022
Train pulling into Lockerbie station

‘… woman takes train to Edinburgh without any problems’ would not exactly be interesting even by the low bar for ‘interestingness’ set by this blog.

After all the contingency planning and general fretting, Saturday’s trip to Edinburgh was entirely trouble free – the train came in approximately 2 minutes late, and the return train left without a hitch, and I even got a coveted table seat in both directions. It was notable that every person who walked into the station while I was waiting (ahem about an extra half hour as I’d decided to get the early bus just to be sure) felt they had to ask the ticket lady if the Edinburgh train was actually running. But other than that (and the fact that two trains to Glasgow had been cancelled), the only evidence that this could be a difficult journey fraught with complication and delay, was in my own head. Had I done entirely no contingency planning and rolled into Bigtown a good half hour later after a leisurely coffee at home, it would have had absolutely no impact on the outcome. There’s a lesson there, but I’m not sure I’m ready to learn it.

Holding the Pedal on Parliament 'this machine fights climate change' banner

And then we marched, along with thousands of others (and then went to the pub, because marching and shouting is thirsty work).

I know from my own experience that it took a hell of a lot of planning and preparation by what was probably a team of unpaid volunteers to get all those people out on the streets in an orderly fashion. And I also know that lots of people had come quite a long way, and given up their Saturday, to be out there. So it’s kind of galling, but not surprising, that there was effectively zero coverage of it – compare and contrast with a small handful of people closing the M25 or dishing up some soup to an artwork. Whenever someone glues themselves to something inconvenient there’s a massive outcry at the use of such disruptive tactics, and angst that it’s not doing the cause any good. But then again, if asking politely and doing things the proper way doesn’t work, what are people going to do?

Don’t worry, I’m not about to start gluing myself to anything soon (if I were to take any more direct action, this would be much more my style). But I can see why people do.

Meanwhile, I am glad to see that the slogan I thought up (or rather stole from Woody Guthrie) last year for POP has taken on something of a life of its own, and has even popped up on a bike at COP:

Perhaps if it goes far enough it will end up having more impact than anything we’ve directly organised, legally or less officially. Either way, every little helps.

I’m not Superstitious

November 11, 2022
Road strewn with hedgecutting debris

‘With all this on the road it’s a miracle you haven’t had a flat tyre yet,’ the other half remarked before I could stop him on one of our state-sanctioned daily walks this week (yes, we’re still doing them; judge away). Obviously, I don’t believe in the puncture fairy, but why would you risk deliberately invoking her? Either way, whether due to confirmation bias, regression to the mean or, more likely, the fact that our local farmers have spent the past few weeks energetically coating our roads with Bastard Big Thorns, the next day my bike had a flat back tyre.

So far the puncture is only a slow one so I’m nursing it along by pumping the tyre up every morning and hoping for the best (I may not believe in the puncture fairy but I can’t shake the belief that you only get one puncture at a time, so it’s safer not to fix a slow leak that gets you to town and back until you absolutely have to, or you’ll only end up with a worse one). But I believe the time has come to look into upgraded puncture protection (standard disclaimer: I already have Marathon Plus tyres, slime made absolutely no difference, and no I’m not going tubeless, but thank you for your suggestions). Last year I tried out supposedly puncture-proof inner tubes, which shall remain nameless as front and rear wheels both went flat within two weeks of being put on the bike). So now I’m considering inserts, possibly instead of the Marathons or perhaps as well as, considering the density of blackthorn around here. My hesitation – as with all of these solutions – is that they tend to make fixing a flat even harder in the event that they fail. But if it saves me another walk of shame (or cyclist’s full-body workout) then it will be worth the risk.

Even better would be if the local farmers could somehow find a way not to coat the roads with the local equivalent of caltrops. I am reliably informed that the Germans have special hedge cutting machines which blow the debris into the field rather than spreading it along the road, but that’s the Germans for you (they also apparently have special slurry spreaders that just directly dribble it onto the ground rather than spraying it everywhere, which lessens the stink). I had hoped that the past few weeks of rain might have at least rinsed off the worst of the debris, but no such luck. Meanwhile, I might have to resort to sweeping the road again myself. So perhaps I will get that full body workout after all …