February 23, 2005

I am not mad.

Why O Why O Why…

…is it that every time the weather is anything other than summery, when I get in on my bike people say 'Ooh you must be mad, coming in on that thing in this weather'?

Well, why might that be, then?

It's cold/wet: Cobblers. I have a set of waterproofs that are, and a set of thermals that work. You probably got colder clearing the snow off your windscreen than I did riding in.
It's icy/slippy: More cobblers. The roads have all been gritted, the temperature is about 2 degrees so there's no ice. Skinny bike tyres cut quite well through slush and snow anyway.
It's hard work: More cobblers.(I could open a shoe factory). It's hard work riding in for the first month. Then it's easy. This applies for any length of commute between 5 and 20 miles each way, IME. and you can eat chocolate and cake when you get to work and still have a flat tummy, if that's your thing.

Besides which, riding in is fun. If it wasn't, I'd come in in the car instead of leaving it at home. On my bike I get to see all sorts of stuff that I'd miss from the car. This morning's haul included

– 2 Muntjack deer in a field outside Offchurch

– 6 blackbirds in the hedge between Cubbington and Stoneleigh, all puffed up to the size of a pigeon and all singing away

– a buzzard over Wappenbury woods, beeing harrassed by 2 crows

– The sun reflecting off the snowy fields opposite Stoneleigh golf club.

I might have spotted the buzzard briefly from the car in a neck-craning sort of way, but I would have missed the rest. Which would have been a shame. And there's something about spinning down the long exposed bit of road outside Cubbington with only the tyres hissing and the chain chattering that just feels better than sitting in the car flipping between CDs you've heard before and annoying interviews on radio 4. Why wouldn't I want to ride to work? Why doesn't everyone?


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  1. I love cycling. I have ridden all my life. I have two bikes.

    I wish I was as fit as I used to be, and had got to the take-off point for longer rides that you Chris passed long ago, but you are right — for whatever distance one can ride, riding itself is not a problem.

    I don't find the protective clothes make enough difference, especially in very wet weather, and changing into them and out again is a real nuisance. They are also uncomfortable. Footwear is an even bigger problem. It also makes me sweat a lot and then there's what to do when I arrive (what sort of clothes do you need to wear for work? I wear a suit and tie).

    But all this can be overcome if one wants to, and why should one not want to? The wildlife alone is good enough reason to make the effort. It makes one lovely and healthy. It's liberating, satisfying, independent and costs almost nothing. It can even rival motor journey times.

    The one thing that turns me off the idea totally and makes me want to sell my bikes is the f*cking government trying to force me to ride. Propaganda paid for with public money. Messing up the roads. Idiot councillors endorsing the stupid "traffic plans" the bureaucrats come up with. Massaged statistics. Comparisons with European countries. What a sickening interference with people doing what they want because they want to. Any wonder people come on hostile and angry.

    23 Feb 2005, 14:14

  2. Chris May

    re. protective clothes: I usually don't wear a full waterproof unless it's chucking it down (which is rare). Most of the time a showerproof with a fleece underneath it is fine, and less sweaty. On my feet I wear bike shoes, plus overboots and/or waterproof socks if it's wet. If you find bike clothes uncomfortable, I think you've just got some that don't fit properly. Mine are lovely :-)

    I usually wear jeans and a shirt at work, but it wouldn't make a difference if I wore a suit, since I keep a complete change of clothes at work (I take in fresh supplies a couple of times a week), which means I can ride in silly lycra outfits which minimise the sweatiness effect (although they do make me look a bit of a gimp :-) . On wet days (when it can, I conceed, be a bit of a sweaty job riding in) I have a shower at the sports center opposite uni. house on arrival, other times I don't bother and just change in the broom-cupboard.

    It seems a little contrarian to refuse to cycle just because the government wants you to, though. After all, the government also want you to have a job, read books, stay healthy, vote, eat food, and generally do a lot of things that are fun and interesting ( feel free to adjust my list to suit your own tastes ). Clearly you can't refuse to do everything the goverment want you to, so why pick on cycling?

    23 Feb 2005, 14:54

  3. Steve Rumsby

    The only time I would consider not cycling is when it is icy. That's icy, not snowy. Snow isn't slippy, even in semi-slicks running at 100psi. Or maybe that should be especially in semi-slicks running at 100psi. And anyway, as Chris says, cars do a pretty good job of clearing the major roads of snow anyway.

    Last winter I did come off twice on ice, once on some black ice I simply didn't see, and once on frozen snow. No permanent, or even long lasting, damage either time, but it has made me a bit more wary of cycling on ice. Since I only live a couple of miles away, I would probably be tempted to walk rather than cycle if the roads were actually icy.

    Apart from that, though, I cycle in rain, hail, snow, wind, fog and even occasionally in the sun. Working in University House, with access to lockers and showers does make it much more practical. I can cycle in suitable clothing and change when I get here, and I can shower if I need to. I'm never cold when I arrive. Even just two miles is more than enough to warm up, unless you pootle. And the only bit of me that gets wet is my face – I have waterproof coverings for everything else, when the rain is bad enough.

    Admittedly I only cycle a couple of miles, which makes lots of things more bearable. If I'd lived significantly further away I might not have started, but now that I have I would happily cycle much further.

    23 Feb 2005, 15:15

  4. Helen

    The person who I saw on his bike this morning made the snow look mighty icy. He almost skidded his bike sideways twice, once into the bus and once into the kerb. He got off and pushed then. Felt sorry for him, but couldn't do anything to help as my feet weren't carrying me much faster (and I didn't have waterproof socks :( though think I needed ones with heat elements in them to be of any use this morning )

    23 Feb 2005, 16:33

  5. It is absolutely no business of the government that I enjoy myself, and (as I see it) it has very little right to encourage health, reading or anything else (supposedly) good for me. But I do agree, it is irrational not to do things one wants to do just because the government is propagandising about them.

    What I was trying to say was that the government creates an environment in which many people are fed up of being nannied and bullied and pestered to do things they don't want to do, and cycling is one of those near the top of the list. And the reasons they don't want to do it are absolutely fair enough and reasonable (weather, discomfort, too much effort etc) - they are just not strong enough to dissuade people who do like cycling like you and me. (btw, if a 1 mile cycle journey was undertaken by every bureaucrat every time he/she made life miserable for drivers in the supposed interest of cyclists, the roads would be clogged with bikes).

    I live in Leamington and just know I would never manage rides to the University and back every day. But if I lived 2 miles away I would be 75% likely to ride to and from work every day.

    23 Feb 2005, 16:33

  6. Chris May

    I live in Leamington and just know I would never manage rides to the University and back every day

    I suppose it depends how you define 'manage'. Physically I've not the slightest doubt that if you (or indeed more or less anyone under the age of 55 with a full complement of working limbs) wanted to, you could do it and enjoy it. Sure, your legs will ache for a few weeks, but they soon get the idea. (I wouldn't choose february to start though). But I suppose there are other kinds of managing – managing to motivate yourself on days when it looks like it's not going to be fun, managing to co-ordinate getting enough clean, ironed shirts in to last until the next car-day, managing to find a jacket that's warm and waterproof but doesn't smell like a dead badger, and so on.

    I think it's a shame, though, that there's a feeling that this kind of thing is actually difficult, or uncomfortable. 25 years ago few people would have thought twice about riding the 10 miles or so from Leamington in to uni – usually on a 5-speed clunker that weighed about 40lbs, quite probably wearing a pair of suit trousers, a tweed jacket and one of those yellow cape things. Now the working assumption seems that if you bike from Leamington in the winter you probably swap training tips with Lance Armstrong. What I'm trying to say, I suppose, is it's easy, if only you give it a chance.

    Doubtless I got a few odd looks as I rode home in the snow this evening with my tongue out catching snowflakes, and a huge grin on my face, but trust me, it was fun.

    23 Feb 2005, 20:30

  7. I agree with you Chris. I might yet manage it. Hope I will avoid the dead badger smell – even the thought of dead badgers makes me sad.

    You're right, too, about the general decline in self-propelled movement.

    Vaughan Williams used to ride his bike regularly from Cambridge to Ely to listen to the choir (he claimed to have heard all Schubert's masses that way, which is something no distance would bestow today!) – but on that flat, soggy wilderness the wind can make it feel like riding up the side of a mountain.

    Elgar too used to ride his bike several times a week 30 miles and back to cathedral towns and to give violin lessons. Loads of hills in his neck of the woods.

    Those bikes would have weighed a ton, and neither composer was a Hercules. But it was that or nothing then.

    24 Feb 2005, 02:02


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