Wednesday, 10 December 2008

As-Salamu Alaykum...

... and let me be upon Peace! What am I on about? I have a new bike, check out its name:

It's beautiful and was a real bargain. It's very fun to commute on and has got even better with the addition of slightly longer forks and brilliant Shimano hydraulic discs. We had a little accident on the way to work yesterday when the ice got us, but we only received minor injuries: mine will heal (though my hips are currently different shapes!) and the bike's were superficial.

I love my new Peace! Now it just needs a name...

Here's where I work!
My cosy and almost tidy workbench. Hey, I know where everything is!

Happy birthyday Dad!

Shalom aleichem!

Getting Even!

(This article was originally published on Saturday, 1 November 2008 but later removed for editing. It is republished here.)

As you may have seen in previous posts in this blog I consider cars (including vans, stupid 4x4s, trucks, etc.) to be a bit of a problem on our roads. They're big and dangerous and, most worryingly, encourage endangering behaviour. Every time I go out on my bike I am endangered at least once (and I do mean at the very least). What really gets to me is that I am a human being and the person in the car is a human being. We have the same rights to the road and to safety but because they have protection and power and because it's not illegal to poo all over cyclists, they can behave exactly as they like and can do so with complete impunity.

But what if they couldn't?

What if they couldn't just do whatever the heck they wanted?

What if there were consequences to dangerously bad driving?

What if when they, for example, drove aggressively and needlessly close past a cyclist they were punched in the guts or kicked in the nuts?

I've thought about this a lot and I can't think of any other solution to the problem. People are so wrapped up in their little world where it's essential to drive a car and driving is cool and a sign of success and cars are the only road users with any rights and cyclists should definitely not be in their fat and lazy way that there will never be a change. The way the road system works discriminates against cyclists due to the prevalent polarized viewpoint: foot ways are for pedestrians and carriageways are for cars. Since cycling on foot ways is illegal (and dangerous and very slow) bikes have to use the carriageways. BUT, are the twerps in their cars willing to share the carriageway??!???!??

Well, most of the time, yes they are and hoorah for most people. BUT, like a lot of things, the minority spoil it for everyone else. This minority lack two very basic functions, the first of which is patience. How the heck can anyone drive in London (or urban area of your choice) and not have massive patience? There's shedloads of traffic lights, rubbishly designed junctions, random roadworks, crateresque potholes, infinite tailbacks and so much, just sooooooooooooo-bleedin'-much bad and illegal parking (though that's a very big subject for another time perhaps). If you haven't got patience then you're boned, you'd think.

So why the heck am I so often the victim of impatient people? Why do people regularly seek to overtake me dangerously and aggressively? If they waited for a few flipping seconds they could overtake safely. But no. No, that would mean a delay. Like it would be the only delay they suffered on that journey. Yeah, here's me on my bike delaying you, there's you driving like a idiot past me and here's me laughing as you, less than a hundred metres later, have to stop at the tail end of a traffic jam. Well done. Sure I like a laugh at a fat moron in a SUV as much as the next guy, but I'd rather the idiot hadn't just endangered my ass.

It's like people have to overtake cyclists as soon as physically possible: that someone on a bike isn't a fellow road user, just an inconvenience that has to be gotten past sharpish. No matter that that someone on a bike is a fellow human being and worthy of the same patience a driver would have to express if, say, a car driver in front of them slowed down. No, because that someone on a bike is easy to overtake dangerously and has no comeback whatsoever no matter how rubbish your driving, "Why not? Let's speed past their slow ass at several times their speed and scare the willies out of them. Yeah! I'm such a big man sat here in my air-conditioned mid-life-crisis-mobile! Woo!"

Oh yeah, right, the second lacking basic function: knowing when not to show off. It's quite simple.
When to show off: when you can do something cool that others perhaps can't do so well and would like to aspire to doing as well as you.
When not to show off: accelerating your car dangerously past a cyclist.
Let me make this really, really simple: any silly fool can press the pedal on the right and make their car rev loudly and go a bit faster and then immediately have to brake for the traffic jam you could see was up ahead. You're not special. No one wants to be you. You're a loser who, when out of their magic box of infernally combusting tricks, has no power what so ever.

Unfortunately for me on my bike, they do have, when in their cars, the power to endanger me and get away with it. This is the injustice I am seeking to redress. Sure I can shout and swear and ring my little fricking bell, but that solves nothing. The show-off plonker just keeps on going, no lesson learnt.

Well turnips to 'em, I want some retribution. I don't think people who behave like that (and I hesitate to call them people) should continue to live in impunity. Hence the gut-punching and nut-kicking.

Yeah, I guess it's quite gruesome and do these people really deserve to be injured and all that, but how else are cyclists to get retribution?

Right, time for a conclusion, that'll certainly contain ideas not presented in the main body of the article. Pro. Anyway:

I am sick of being treated as less than human on the roads simply because I drive a bicycle rather than a car. There is no way of redressing this balance as driver training and the law will not change. Why not? Because not enough people die as a result of it. These drivers who drive in this way will forever continue their impatient aggression and we cyclists will forever have to suffer in the rubbish hand they see fit to deal us. If these car drivers continue to act as if they believe cyclists should not be on the road, I will continue to pray for a trigger at my finger, or else some way of making them realise what they're doing.
Have a nice day, y'all!

Update: Why do drivers drive with impunity? Well, that's actually fairly obvious. Despite the thousands of people who are killed in collisions every year, many, many more vehicle occupants are saved by the devices put in place to protect their pansy bodies: air bags, side impact bars, crumple zones, seat belts and of course, the bloody great metal cage they hurtle along in. They don't have to drive carefully as they're immune and unconnected from the outside world.
As a cyclist I have no choice other than to drive safely: any collision be it my fault or someone else's is going to result in me coming off worse. What if drivers had to go around with as much care as a cyclist?

I reckon for drivers to drive with the neccessary care they need to have LESS protection. For a start let's make all cars roofless and windowless so the driver can't hide behind their stupid tinted glass after committing an act of inconsiderate driving. Then let's get rid of the driver's seat belt and airbag. In fact, let's make it so if a car is involved in a collision the driver gets slapped across the face with a comedy robotic gloved hand.

You might think this is a bit harsh as some 'accidents' are not that drivers fault, but it all comes down to requiring EVERYONE to drive more slowly, safely and attentively. Drivers are all too often filled with a sense of invincibility and that's when they drive like morons. If there were actually consequences to driving like a twat they'd act more like humans towards other humans, cos, basically, that's what we all are and should treat each other as such.

Ahhh, the calm conclusion that returns me to my state of 'zen' after an uncharacteristic expression of violent feelings. Serenity and peace.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Touring & Trancing

Gotta admit peeps this was gonna be a pretty depressing article about the shittiness of England and how nothing has really changed since the Dark Ages and our country is still occupied in the majority by a minority of rich land-owners with their 'No Trespassing' signs BUT...

Planet Bananaworld has been invaded by Planet Perfecto! There's not a lot that gets me going more than bouncing around the flat like a fool with some seriously loud popular trance banging out of the system! Woop woop! I'm talking cheeeeeese like ATB, Tiesto, Sash!, & even Camisra (which I love even more having just seen the 'Spaced' episode featuring the classic track).

So why was I going to write about England being rubbish? On Thursday afternoon I loaded up my trusty steed ('Kring', like the sword) and struck out West, hopefully to Wales. I didn't quite make Wales, but it was border country and I did get a pretty long way from home.

Day 1, Thursday 21st August 2008
I set off at around 1400 after procrastinating and pissing about for most of the day. I probably should have left earlier but decided to do stuff like shopping and cleaning the plughole in the sink instead. After finally planning my route and getting my panniers packed I headed out of London and into the wilds of Berks & Bucks. I did about 65km that day and what nice riding it was! It was great to gradually leave London behind, cross the M25, skirt carefully around Slough, skim some Thamesey towns and villages and head up into the Chilterns. Actually climbing up the hills wasn't too bad and as the day drew to a close I spotted a likely looking wood (having marked suitable woods on the GPS beforehand using maps and Google Earth). A little further along the road revealed a massive bit of common land where I settled down to cook and eat.Kring (my wondrous Thorn Raven Nomad) taking a breather.


... & eating! I really love my Jetboil.

And then it was time to find somewhere to sleep. I'd spied the woods I intended to camp in and headed back that way... to be confronted with a muddy-ass bridleway and overgrown, nettle-strewn woods. I hadn't intended to do anything in the way of mountain biking this trip (but this was just the start of it, as I discovered the next day) so it was kinda nice to get off road. The bike was a little bit of a handful, having not a lot of tread on the tyres and the gods only know how much kit piled on the back. I scrambled through and found a suitably discreet space.

Blimey, it was pretty scary! I left it pretty late and it was getting dark fast. I didn't want to use any torches in case I drew attention to myself and I'd only put up my hammock once before (lesson learned!). Whenever a large shape moved through the undergrowth I froze, but the deer involved was always far more scared than me eventually. This all slowed things down but it all came together in the end and I slumped in to sleep.
The Hennessy Explorer in situ...

Well, sleep was attempted. Then the pheasants & foxes started. Holy crap those animals can scream. I did sleep in the end and only awoke oh, maybe five or six times to screeches that sounded like babies being boiled in canola.

Day 2, Friday 22nd August 2008
It was a true relief to wake up and it be light again. The hammock was a delight to sleep in: it was the first time in ages that I've got up and not had even a hint of back pain- hoorah!

I shoved all my crap back in the random selection of Ortliebs I have and then it was back on the road.

My first priority was water and I attempted to use my water filter to extract some from a village pond in Russell's Water. It wasn't all that successful as there were a few nosey locals around so I plugged on. Since found out that this pond was driven into in the film 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' so maybe taking the villagers' holy water is a sin or something.

A blinding descent down off the Chilterns presented Wallingford with its associated luxuries of drinking water and a nice spot to breakfast by the Thames.

It was fairly easy-going for a while, pootling along the Thames plain and White Horse Vale... until the road ran out:

Riding on grassy potholes...

A little note about my navigational technique is probably in order. I've found in the past that the quickest way to get around is to figure out a route on the computer and then stick it into my pretty basic, but ever-faithful GPS gizmo. Yeah yeah yeah, I should probably have a compass and map and sextant and all the rest but it's just so much quicker to follow a little line on a screen in front of your face. Quick it may be, but the major disadvantage is you have your programmed route and no way of finding a way around should a slightly impassable obstacle present itself. When I found that my route was down this never-used bridleway I had no choice but to plod on through. Heck, what's the point of a touring mountain bike if it's only gonna do roads?

Made it! And only nearly fell on my face once.

Then came the Cotswolds. They were up. I thought I would die.

I had intended to get as far as Gloucester but when the Cotswolds presented their terrible upness I doubted my ability to get there. BUT, for every up there is a down and the 160m drop into the Slad Valley was fast as feck.

Or was for half the way and then my genius route planning came into force and I was directed (by the me who was sat at home cosy in front of his computer) onto a bridleway that was dark and scary and secluded and had someone living in a caravan in the middle of the woods. I took a couple of wrong turns, proceeded to go down steeply down hill, and panicked a bit as I couldn't see where I was going. Then I took off my sunglasses and found I could see in the dark! Yay!

... unfortunately what I could see was that the path was the gnarliest downhill I've ever done: slippery loose Cotswold Stone rocks, drops and a babbling brook actually part of the path. I had a Zaphod Beeblebrox moment and put my sunglasses back on.

Bless the maker for having me put a disc brake on the back of my bike. My laden bike and I bumped and dropped down the rocks and eventually I had to get off and slide me and bike down the path until I could ride again. I need to go back there with an unladen bike and show dem rocks who's the boss, yo!

That was off-road '1' on the map:

(I was heading East to West, or at least, attempting to)

Then came the slog up the other side of the valley. Bastard valleys, why do they have to give and take in such equal measure???

This led me up along a 'Byway' which on the map looked simply like a track, rather than a path so I thought it would be easy going. Take note people: 'Byway' translates as 'No way' (possibly with a silent 'mo fo' in there too). The climb was ok but then came the downhill ('2' on the map) .

Looks nice huh?

That's what I thought too when I took this photo at the top, very glad to have found a pleasant route away from roads. Then it all went a bit more vertical and I plunged... but I was able to keep riding this time as it was drier and not as dark, though the bastard rocks still tumbled around and left plenty of drops. As I clattered down the 'path', a couple walking their dog on the road at the bottom of the path gave my expression of consternation and dust cloud quite a concerned look.

I survived, though I wish I'd perhaps not as all I then had to look forward to was another climb out of a valley. I had to stop at least every 20m to hang my head and pant and drool on to my bike a bit and check to see if I definitely didn't have any lower gears (didn't). Thought I was going to die. The shitty road climb up to the A4173 was particularly vicious, but the views from the top might well have taken my breath away if I hadn't already had to leave it about 50m vertically further back.

I was on the very 'Edge' of giving up but this road rescued me: a few kilometres at over 50kph does wonders for the soul. I deserved that descent. Did feel a bit sorry for a girl coming the other way on a road bike. She was probably doing less than 1/10th my speed and her "Hello" was weirdly dopplered as my weighty steed & I gave up our hard-won (curse you, inertia) potential energy.

And that crazy coast was when I knew I would make it to the 'campsite' I'd picked out just beyond Gloucester. I entered Gloucester through, what I guess was, the nasty end, but did pop into a handy Lidl to touch base with true civilisation.

I won't say exactly where I camped as it was perhaps even less legal than the night before, but I did have to duck into the undergrowth a few times in what I thought was a very secluded wood as a gamekeeper drove past. Note: when wild camping, if you spot a pheasant enclosure anywhere nearby, just go somewhere else. Those idiots who enjoy their 'game' employ some pretty protective people to ensure the safety of their birds.

I collapsed into the hammock that night, satisfied at having crossed the Thames, the Cotswolds and the Severn, but feeling a bit achey...

Day 3, Saturday 23rd August 2008
I slept ok, despite the very disturbing noises coming from the other end of the wood (I think it was just kids getting loaded), but woke up very cold sometimes and couldn't feel my feet in the morning.

Then the karaoke started. There I was trying to be all stealthy and pack quickly and quietly and a bunch of kids with a PA were drowsily, but enthusiastically, singing along to 'Love Shack'. It was very surreal, especially as all I could see when looking in their direction was very dense scrubby woodland. I did some investigation when I got home, and, at the risk of giving away where I was, feel I just need to pause to both curse and salute (for making me laugh) the students of GAM.

Anyway, they shut up as I finished packing (with plenty of swearing at my old nemesis, Crataegus monogyna) and I went to make my exit from the private land (oops!) I was on. The gamekeeper had come back that morning, presumably to check no quick brown foxes had jumped into the lazy pheasant pen, and I'd seen him drive down the hill the enclosure, but not back up. I did a little recce on foot and couldn't see him so wrestled my bike through the evil brambles and back out onto the track and headed for the road... only to find the gamekeeper on the track at the top of the hill, inflating his 4x4's tyre. Bugger. Oh well, if in doubt, or caught trespassing, lie.

"Hi there!" (wave, ignore his incredulous look and question about what was I doing there) "Is this the Gloucestershire Way?"

Genius I thought: act the lost fool. He was very skeptical to begin with and questioned me about where I'd come from, how I'd got onto the private land, were the bike tracks the previous night mine (shit!). I managed to blag my way out of it all and he ended up giving me directions! I pedalled away gratefully and apologetically at first but as soon as he was out of sight I legged it: sooner or later he would either match my tyre prints to the other ones from last night, which he did bloody well to spot, or work out that my lie about coming from Stroud that day was utter cobblers (I told him I hadn't crossed the railway when he asked me how I got across it, but he somehow failed to realise that there was a massive great river in the way. I was a lucky bastard!)
Anyway, he was a nice and reasonable guy and he did provide me with directions for a pleasant ride away from the main road back over the Severn and into Gloucester.

There was no way I was gonna be able to get laden Kring back up those bastard byways and I was a bit sick of the stress of wild camping and had cycled 130km the previous day so popped into Sainsbury's, ate bread & houmous at Gloucester station and waited for the railed beast to take me home. I even went to the effort of changing at Reading so I could get a train to Ealing and not have to cycle home from Paddington!

In conclusion, I'm a lazy git :-)

Very quick rant: wild camping should not be stressful. When will the whole of this country realise what Scotland has done and see that there's millions of hectares of pretty much unused land that people should have access to. But as it's all the property of someone (evil feudal-throwback landowners take note!) we are currently denied anything that is not a RoW or Access Land. That's why this was all going to be a rant about the shittiness of England.

Woah woah woah! Hold it right there George! Get your glad rags on:
...put on some banging electro house and get down.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Cycling City: A How-to

Bristol has been chosen to become 'our' first cycling city. Measures will include more cycle training, dedicated cycle routes and “state-of-the-art facilities for cyclists commuting to the city centre” and... that's it! Can I be amongst the first to say: RETARDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That bunch of bullshit doesn't make a city a cycling city, it just makes a few cyclists (not sure which ones) go “oh goody” and it makes lots of politicians etc. feel better about themselves. No, crap like that is NOT the way to make a “cycling city”, this is how to do it...
How to make a cycling city:
- Deny cars etc. access to lots of roads so cyclists can use them without getting fucked up/slowed down by fatarse cars.
- Build lots of speedbumps everywhere so fatty drivers have to actually slow down sometimes.
- 15mph speed limits where the above two points can't be used. Only for cars etc. obviously, and ENFORCE it using summary executions. Or fines.
- Just ban on-street parking. It's a crime against humanity and just makes cycling harder.
- Wanna drive a car etc. into a “cycling city”? Well, you better have one of those new-style driving licenses that require you to cycle at least x-hundred miles in busy traffic and write about your experiences and submit your scribblings to review by an ultra-cycle-centric committee of anti-car extremists (basically, to me). Not got one of these licenses? No? Well, shit, looks like you're using the park 'n' ride 'til further fucking notice, ay? And while we're at it, if you, dear motorist, answer anything other than “But road tax doesn't exist, it's Vehicle Excise Duty” to the question: “Should cyclists pay road tax?” you get banned from driving for mucho long time and a kick up the arse.
You see the difference between pussies making a city a cycling city and cyclists making a city a cycling city? Basically, a city can't be a cycling city if it allows motorists to just continue doing whatever they please.
Cyclists are not the problem. Cars etc. ARE the problem. Geddit? THE PROBLEM IS THE CARS. The solution is NOT putting cyclists on some random sodding disused railway on the fringe of town or even giving them cycle training to help cope with constantly getting shat on by motorists. Maybe, as I cyclist, I don't want to use some meandering dedicated cycle route full of broken glass, dog shit and knife-wielding hoodlums. Maybe I just want to get to wherever I'm going. Maybe the quickest way to do that is to use one of the well-established routes already in place. I think they're called roads. And how do we make the roads “cyclist friendly”? See above, baby, see above.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Cars crashing!

I hate cars: they're fat and slow and get in my way. Worse than this, they kill people (unlike guns, rappers, etc.)
There was a nasty car crash over the weekend and it was not glamorous in any way... unlike Hollywood!
Which is why cars should be limited to only existing on film! A couple of weeks ago I saw the film Final Destination 2. It wasn't brilliant, but good for a laugh and featured the most jaw-droppingly incredible car crash scene I have ever scene. I would definitely recommend seeing this film just for this crash. You don't have to watch the whole film, just the first 15 minutes or so. I was awed.
And so to Transformers: holy crap! The film's a little bit boring in places but some of the massive stunts are frickin' amazing. The reason I mention it here is because of a car crash. In one scene the Decepticon robot Bonecrusher ploughs through a bus... Yeah, this scene was killed in the blanket trailers of the film, but in context, and followed by the mental hand-to-hand with Optimus Prime, it was, again, jaw-dropping.
(On the subject of Transformers, why is it that the Decepticons have cool names, like Devastator, Tentakil, Skullcruncher and Motorhead whereas the Autobots have, frankly, fag names; Huffer, Bumblebee and Machtackle being pretty bad ones with Skids and Hot Rodimus being decidedly wanky? Oh dear, Earth is boned.)
I didn't want this post to turn into some kinda movie review but I just have to mention one more film, pretty much car-crash-free this time: 28 Weeks Later. Not nearly as creepy as the first one but with some BIG scenes. I like planes zooming between buildings and dropping expressive ordnance (which good ol' Transformers had too!) so this film beat 28 Days Later in that respect, as well as having the most worrying scene I've ever seen in a film... I won't spoil it if you haven't seen it (which you should unless you dislike endless gore) but the scene in question features people running in mad panic from terrifyingly fast, hungry-for-blood zombies through very dark streets under the observation of snipers with night-sights. It was horrible and I shit my pants.

Enough film rubbish!

I'm giving away a bike! That's right, I've got far too many bikes and have one, featured in a previous post, that I don't really need or want and didn't cost me much. The mighty Marin Shoreline Trail:
So I set up a competition at work: "The best things in life are free - discuss", with the intention of giving it away FREE. Interest was quite limited, disappointingly. I did take off a few of the shinier bits to make it easier to part with, but it's still very cool and FREE. I extended the deadline for entries so hopefully a few more people will get their arses in gear and provide me with the required amusing entries. Damn them.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

I don't like: taxis.
I do like: mollasses.