Slime vs Bastard Big Thorn: no contest

November 22, 2017

I was a little disappointed in my Slime inner tube when it failed me yesterday, but having investigated a bit more closely I’m inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt.

You know how frustrating it can be, trying to track down the source of a puncture with nothing visible to the naked eye, and no sign of what might have caused the problem? That definitely wasn’t the case with this flat.

second thorn

First thorn

I think Slime works by centrifugal force – as you rotate the tyre, it is forced out of the hole under pressure and then sets to form a seal. That assumes that the hole is on the outside of the inner tube, and that the Bastard Big Thorn(s) didn’t end up going all the way through the inner tube and out the other side.

extracted thorn

This wasn’t even the one that caused the worst damage …

As it is, my backup innertube was a normal one, so it’s going to have to battle through the thorns unassisted.

mud under mudguard

At least this shows my mudguards are doing their job

As you can see from the state of my bike when I took the wheel off, the local farmers have not been very assiduous at sweeping either the mud or assorted hedgerow debris off our road. I have now cleaned my bike, but that’s going to last until the next time I cycle out of our front gate.

Our neighbour up the hill actually has his own petrol-powered mini road sweeper (it’s like a giant carpet sweeper) because he was sick of his car getting punctures. I have to admit, I was amused by this at the time, but I might have to borrow it if today’s rain hasn’t swept the worst of the hedgecuttings away.


Punctureproof in Scotland

November 21, 2017

“Well, at least it will give you a chance to test if your new jacket* is Waterproof in Scotland”, the other half observed as he watched me don waterproof trousers and gaiters ready to cycle down to the station on my way to Embra this morning. As bright sides go, this felt less than compelling but as it turned out, by the time I had wrestled all the various bits of conflicting velcro that hold my rain gear together, stuffed dry socks and gloves into my bag (the only thing worse than spending the whole day in wet socks is putting wet gloves on to cycle home), and got the bike out, the rain had eased off, which if I’m honest is the way that I always hope raingear will work.

Feeling pleased that I had cheated the Weather Gods out of a home win, I headed off, not hearing the wry chuckle of the Puncture Fairy who when hedgecutting season is in progress, laughs in the face of puncture resistant tyres and – it turns out – Slime-filled inner tubes. At least, that was the conclusion I reached as I got to the main road and registered the thumpa-thumpa-thump of a flat tyre. Pushing the bike hurriedly home to grab the Brompton and a lift from the other half, I discovered that my raingear may or may not be Waterproof in Scotland but is not Breathable when Pushing a Bike Up a Hill in a Hurry so either way I end up damp, but at least I did get the pleasure of hopping out of the car when we hit the first morning tailback in Bigtown, unfolding the Brompton and cycling merrily away from the traffic.

Tomorrow (which, if the Met Office’s rain warning is anything to go by, looks like a good day for testing if the house is Waterproof in Scotland, never mind my jacket) I shall have to track down the source of the problem and discover whether dealing with a slime-filled inner tube which didn’t do its job is as nasty as people say. And then on Thursday I get to go to Embra all over again to kick off the planning for next year’s POP.

Did I say that I hadn’t been all that busy recently? Silly me.

* It claims to be ‘tested on Cornish clifftops‘ but a) that is not Scotland and b) you notice it doesn’t say whether it actually passed the test …

To the Drivers of Bigtown: Thank you

November 20, 2017

I’m feeling uncharacteristically cheery just now, partly thanks to the staff of the shop in Bigtown who have finally worked out how to put a sock in the animatronic Santa, which still dances tirelessly to the Christmas music in his head as though at a silent disco but, crucially, no longer sings, and partly thanks to the people and coonsil of Doncaster who between them have named one of their new gritters Gritsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Anti-Slip Machiney (the other one is called David Plowie).

So, I’d like to give a vote of thanks to all the drivers out there who – mostly – do their best not to kill me on my bike. Because it’s easy to forget that for every white van driver who overtakes me while they already had their left turn indicator on to turn into the industrial estate ahead, there are many many morewho hang back because there’s no point overtaking the bike when you’re going to turn anyway, or at least wait until it’s not a blind bend, and who fully cross into the other lane to pass me even though everybody knows bikes have no width at all. And who slow down (or even wait) when they see me approaching on a narrow single track road, and who wait rather than just nipping out of a side road when they see me coming even if it means getting stuck behind the bike. And who never park over the dropped kerb, and who obey the speed limit and who remember that an amber light means ‘prepare to stop’ not ‘go on son, you’ll make it if you put your foot down’. And who never so much as glance at their phones while they’re driving because they are at the end of the day, piloting a tonne of metal at speed around vulnerably breakable people. After all, there’s no reason to tar all drivers with the same brush just because a tiny minority of them drive like dicks.  It’s just you only tend to notice the ones who do…

Turning Left (Well, Right, Actually) in November

November 11, 2017

The other day I surprised a friend by saying that I wasn’t busy – by some strange configuration of events, I’ve got no work on at the moment and only light cycle campaigning duties, and while the garden (and, you know, writing) is taking up some of my time, I’ve also been enjoying the leisure and trying not to start any cycle campaigns by mistake, having made it almost all the way through 2017 safely so far.

setting off

That all means that I have absolutely no excuse not to fulfil my other New Year’s resolution and head off on my month’s micro adventure. The problem was where to go – I’ve done a reasonably thorough job of exploring the best routes around here. It was only yesterday when we were taking the scenic route to the garden centre that we passed this fork in the road and I remembered a little bit of unfinished business.

Fork in the road

“You come to a fork in the road …”

Years ago, when I first moved here and I was doing a bit of Open Street Mapping, I’d taken this right hand fork to explore a new road and been defeated by the resulting hill, having to get off and push (I thought I’d blogged about it, but I can’t find it). It was back on my old bike, and before I’d done as much cycling – or indeed taken to living up the side of a hill – so I was wondering if I could manage it now. Technically, this is not a new route, but as I had to walk the last section, it would be the first time I’d actually cycled it, assuming I made it, so I decided that would count. So today, with the sun shining, and almost no wind, and a morning to myself, was the perfect time to try.

November adventure

Top of the first hill. If anyone knows how to photograph climbs so they look impressive, rather than as flat as the Netherlands, let me know

First, I had to get there – which meant a hill in itself. The river valleys tend to run west to east around here, so any ride north or south normally means going up and over a hill. This is a road I’m getting quite fond of, despite its gradient, because there are few things lovelier than an avenue of beech trees, in almost any season.

november beech trees

Then, after a few more miles, I reached the fork in the road. The road wound up to the right, but as I started up it, wasn’t all that bad, to be honest. I began to wonder whether I’d just been terribly unfit back then when I’d been defeated by this road.

heading up

There was even a spot where it levelled off sufficiently to stop and take photos of the view of Bigtown in all its loveliness.

view from the road

And then I turned the corner and it kicked up enough that I had to give it the full Thomas Voeckler gurn (tell me you also make faces when you’re struggling up a hill on a bike…). As I battled up and round another corner, not only did it kick up again, but there were a couple out for a nice stroll who had to witness my hill-climbing face in all its glory.

‘Keep going’, the woman said, and I did – I made it. It wasn’t pretty, but I cycled all the way up. I don’t know whether because I’m fitter, have improved my technique (or my gurning) or if it’s true what Greg Le Mond didn’t say – “It doesn’t get any easier, you just get a better bike”. But I’m glad I’ve laid that one to rest all the same.

At the top

Sadly, this wasn’t the kind of hill where you get impressive vistas from the top – or even any sense of how steep the road was, but I stopped to take a few photographs anyway, once I’d finished leaning on my handlebars trying to breathe in all the air in Bigtownshire.

hill avoided

I remembered that I’d actually photographed this road from another vantage point which maybe gives you some idea. Trust me, it’s bloody steep.

Then it was just a matter of cycling home, where I noticed that the pipeline people appear to have started using their pipeline route as a handy shortcut. But that’s an adventure for another day – and a different bike …

pipeline road

Making the Most of Meetings

November 4, 2017

So today I had to be at someone else’s AGM in Notso Bigtown. I had an offer of a lift but as my fellow attendee was also a cyclist, and the forecast was for a lovely day, I had a much better idea.

en route to the meeting

The meeting, like most meetings, was probably best filed under ‘one and half hours of my life I’ll not get back’ – and there were NO BISCUITS despite being organised by cyclists – but Notso Bigtown is 20 miles away as the bike flies (19 miles there and 21 miles back to avoid a horrendous hill from a standing start). In my book, a total of four hours of riding, mostly on roads where we could chat as we went, the excuse to wolf down an egg, sausage and tattie scone roll, and racing back home in the gathering dark with the wind at our backs, to arrive just as a glorious moon was rising, meant we ended the day ahead on points.


Even so, it’s not too much to ask that all meetings come with biscuits, is it?

Slow Cycling Champion

November 1, 2017

Barely had I unpacked from our Northern Ireland trip when I had to head up to Glasgow for the Cycling Scotland conference, where some of you might have gathered on Twitter, I won an award:

(my favourite response on Twitter to the announcement was “over what distance?” “Five years”, I suppose would be the most accurate answer …)

Anyway, it was nice to be recognised even if I feel a bit of a fraud as so many other people do a hell of a lot of work too. It did mean that I then had to work out how to cycle back up the hill from the station with not only a large glass weight* but a bottle of prosecco, a bag of chocolates and a rather delicate looking little pot plant. I feel certain that a real cycling champion would have managed but in the end I had to give the pot plant away to a good home. My shiny new pannier otherwise rose splendidly to the occasion though, and the chocolates certainly helped…

cycling champion plaque

Cycling champion award loot

After a lovely couple of weeks off, and an energising and interesting two days (not something I would have said about the Cycling Scotland conference back in the day when it was usually a bunch of men in suits reading their powerpoint slides to you), I am hopefully now refreshed and ready to get back into the campaigning saddle for the next five years…

* As someone on the night commented, “Typical cycle campaigner, even when you give them an award they moan about it.”

Turning Left in October

October 22, 2017

So you’d think that cycling somewhere new would be pretty easy this month, seeing as we actually are somewhere different and we remembered to bring our bikes. There’s just one problem with cycling around here though, if you want to go a bit further afield – the map* looks like this:

OSNI map of the Mournes

Note: not a lot of roads, but a large number of contour lines

There are only really 4 roads out of Newcastle, and none of them are a lot of fun to cycle on, and we’ve already cycled to the two nearest places that aren’t too horrible to ride to. Anyway, with a bit of discussion and looking at various maps, paper and digital, we settled on Castlewellan, via some back roads which turned out pretty pleasant for cycling.

Back road to Castlewellan

Even though we were cycling away from the worst of the contours, Newcastle is on the coast and Castlewellan is not, and I hadn’t really clocked just how uphill the whole outward leg was going to be, nor that it was straight into a fairly ferocious headwind, so I was glad to have a little encouragement just before we topped out the climb.

big ring time

(There were slightly less encouraging words on offer for the way down. We did wonder if these get changed seasonally …).

The harvest is past, the summer is ended and we are not saved

I suddenly realised, looking at the chapter and verse for this, why we talk about ‘jeremiads’.

Still, it was worth it when we arrived – not just a lovely walk around the lake at Castlewellan Park, but the warm fuzzy feeling of knowing you’ve saved £5 by not arriving by car.

beech trees in Castlewellan forest park

We then invested the savings in our ongoing project to sample the cake offer in every cafe in the area (chocolate fudge cake with ice cream plus two bottomless coffees in Bilbo’s Bistro, if you’re interested), and rolled home, very glad it was downhill all the way …

downhill home
* If you were following along in July, you’ll know that this is an OSNI map, not an Ordnance Survey one.