Monday, 26 July 2010

Car Sick Highway Engineers

Even in a car sick motor centric society like ours this takes some beating.  There are roadworks on Staines Bridge which means it has been narrowed.  The Highways Engineer has scrubbed out the cycle lane markings and instructed cyclists to dismount.
The above is a still from one of my Headcam videos here
I make some further intemperate comments on youtube; but really how can Highways Agencies employ people who think like this ?

My cycle training session

I have mentioned before on these pages that I was planning to have a session of cycle training and the particular concern, that I voiced when I booked, was over the aggression I was attracting from some motorists.
I met my instructor, Colin, at the Imperial War Museum and it was immediately apparent (and I do not blame cycle training organisations for this) that there were hoops to be gone through before we could take to the roads to deal with bikeability level 2 and 3. First the bike check which resulted in a rotating downwards of my brake levers to make it easier to cover the brakes the whole time (I commute on a flat bar bike). Then on an unused tennis court I demonstrated the ability to look behind without falling off and to do an emergency stop.

Finally on the roads Colin followed behind and had the following suggestions:

- Cover the brakes the whole time. I think this makes sense in heavy traffic and I do it instinctively if I am unsure about surrounding traffic. Novel idea for me to do it all the time.

- Road positioning. Was essentially good though I unconsciously come out before turning left (an HGV turn). I suppose I am trying to widen the turn and will think in future about slowing more and maintaining my position in the road until I can see into the left road before making the turn. Also left and right turns into a major road from a side road are made from the same position in the centre of the lane. This was news to me I have been taking the centre of the road before turning right and letting left turning traffic past to my left but this is apparently frowned upon.

-Signalling. I should not have signaled when in a left hand only lane. Apparently signalling with thumb at the top of the hand rather than at the bottom appears more assertive and is therefore recommended.

-Speed. My speed was appropriate, but when slowing when I had priority over a vehicle just in case he pulled out, it is better to carry on soft pedaling otherwise some motorists might think I was stopping.

-Right turn into minor road. My instructor would have liked me to take position in the centre of the road even earlier than I did (which I felt was quite a long way in advance of the junction).

It was not possible in Southwark to replicate my dual carriageway riding but we discussed it at length at the end of the two hour lesson. Colin at least affirmed that my road positioning was appropriate and his suggestion was 1.2 metres out from the kerb. I am generally in that region (the lanes are 3 metres wide). There was some discussion about slowing and letting traffic past but I think we agreed this was not a practical solution. The advice I got was that I am attracting hostility from bad motorists, not good ones, and I was firmly encouraged to report abusive behavior to the police. I have, of course, tried that and got nowhere (I will keep you posted on the correspondence I intend to have soon with the unsuspecting Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the Chief Constable of Surrey on that topic.)

Overall, a useful session with some interesting observations and some reaffirmation that the hostility I am encountering is not due to inappropriate riding on my part.  I left with a piece of paper confirming that I have achieved bikeability level 3.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Etape Diary Monday 19th July

A leisurely start to the day but became more stressful as the taxi to the train arrived late and took 10 minutes to get the bike boxes into the back. The 1144 train turned out however to be running late. Hardly surprisingly dozens of cyclists needed to get bike bags and boxes onboard and there was hassle fitting them all on board exacerbated by the fact that the doors to my carriage had malfunctioned. Safely aboard we travelled northwest to Bordeaux before whizzing off to Paris. The train was a little late which only increased the stress of getting across Paris on the crowded Metro. With a bit of mutual assistance Angus and I managed alright and probably much faster than any taxi. I was, though, beaten to the Eurostar check in by two guys who had travelled light and not dissembled their bikes – so they rode from Montparnasse to Garde du Nord. This struck me as a good idea which I will look into if I ever do this again. It would save the shoulder wrenching experience of the Metro. There is one thing our transport services do much better here than in Paris and that is step free access.

Etape Diary Sunday 18th June

Already awake by the time of the 5 am alarm call. Breakfast at 0530, not a time at which I have much of an appetite. Then some time preparing bidons and finding room in jersey pockets for route card, food, telephone, wallet and (last but not least) some aspirin.
At 0620 I decided it was sufficiently light to venture out and I found my way to the correct start pen by about 0640. The Avenue de Pyrenees and the area surrounding Park Beaumont was packed with 10,000 cyclists. At 0700 a siren sounded and around 8 minutes later I rolled over the start. There was an immediate slightly hairy dip down to the station and a sharp left over the Gave River followed by a fairly speedy undulating ride until we hit the Parc National du Pyrenees at Escot and the start of the day’s first climb the Marie Blanque, a vertical climb of about 1,000 m over about 6 miles. The terrain was wooded providing shade from the early sun and was comfortable enough. The road did narrow though and there was congestion particularly as we picked our way past ambulances and other slow moving vehicles. Fortunately I was over the top before the congestion deteriorated to the point where people had to dismount and walk.
Over the top there was a fast descent and a flat stretch through woods with a bubbling brook on our right hand side. Then came the Soulor which took us up to about 1,500m over around 9 miles. With the heat increasing I found this harder but still manageable.
Over the summit and as I was picking up speed on the descent I heard a Frenchman yelling at a sheep. He was scaring the animal across the road into my path. I missed by a couple of feet and that was my scariest moment of this year’s etape. There was then a long long descent which took us almost to the foot of the Tourmalet. The field was a t last beginning to thin and groups were forming with gaps in between.
As we started to climb again I clocked up 100 miles in a steep sided gorge with a river to the right and cliff to the left. At this point I had been going for 6 ½ hours and I thought a silver at 8h15m could be achievable. It would require just 12 miles in an hour and three quarters.
However I had not reckoned on the energy sapping properties of the Tourmalet on a hot day. I had climbed this mountain before in the 2008 etape, though from the other side and on a positively cold and wet day. Early in the climb I was offered a coke from a Cyclefit feed station but I felt I could manage without and didn’t feel like stopping – that may have been a mistake. Before long, like most of my fellow etappers to whom I have subsequently spoken, I cracked. My feet were killing me and I was draining liquid from my bidons faster than I could get them refilled.
The locals were marvellous with their pouring of cold water over our heads. Some of the water offered was said to be ‘potable’ so I gulped it down. At the water stop at the treeline I gulped, filled bidons and sprayed my feet with water (unlike Mt Ventoux last year this water was on tap).  I took a couple of precious aspirins. Thus fortified I set out for the top. This could now be seen through the clear mountain air in the far distance. I ground on slowly as the kilometre signs counted down the distance to the summit. The last 2 km are the longest I have ridden on my bike. People were asking for and getting pushes up the mountain from the many spectators who had congregated near the top. Eventually after a final switchback to the left the summit was in sight and I passed over with a time of 08h40m for a solid bronze. Details of my ride can be found on my Garmin record..

I just had to rest my feet at the top before descending to La Mongie and begged a first aider for a half bottle of water shared with a similarly dehydrated rider. Eventually with loose shoes I headed down to the finish village and had my meal before heading down the mountain to Lourdes to catch a train back to Pau.  On the way this sign caught my eye (1.5m = 5 1/2 feet).

I smuggled my bike aboard the train with a young Englishman who had done a stonking time to the last climb and then, like me, had cracked and taken forever to cover the last few miles.
Once back in Pau I just made it for the planned dinner at 7.30 with Alex but, alas, he struggled on the mountain too and did not make it back. (Postscript: actually he was busy recording a video for the BBC).  So after a few bananas, snacks and whatever I could lay my hands on it was to bed for a deep sleep.

Etape Diary Saturday 17th June

A chance to explore the city of Pau. Its most noteable feature is the castle standing guard over the river and the passes from the Pyrenees. Stumbled across a plaque reporting where Lord Allenbrooke (the World War II CGS) had spent his early life; a reminder that there had been a British Military post here for many years after the Napoleonic Wars. We checked out where the start pens will be with but demonstrating admirable efficiency there was no sign of the chaos to come.. For lunch there was pasta in the City centre coupled with very slow service. For dinner the Garmin found us a small restaurant with very good steak and desserts. A dull day, it actually rained on us quite hard in the evening.

Etape Diary Friday 16th June

At 0710 we rolled into Pau and the four of us enjoyed a breakfast in the still relatively cool morning air. Through a complete miscomprehension of where my hotel was, I set off by foot with bike case to my hotel, enticing Alex to come with me. It was nowhere near as close as I had thought and after seeking directions we found our nearly adjacent hotels 6 kms away. To his credit there was never a word of complaint from Alex, though we did resolve to share a taxi back to the station on Monday morning. There are some limits to how low carbon I can make my holidays.
Got into the room and reassembled the bike before a very rare steak at a supermarket restaurant round the corner. Returned to my room to watch the Tour and then headed off to the etape village at the Racecourse, hoping to avoid the worst heat of the day. I duly presented my passport in return for my rider number. It did not take long to explore the village; just a very quick ‘Hi’ to Sandy at Bikefit, who recently fitted my feet out, as he was with a customer, before returning to the hotel, dinner and a chance to catch up some sleep.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Etape Diary Thursday 15th July

A morning spent swapping in larger sprockets and packing the bike box, then the train to St Pancras. I still miss the demise of the International Terminal at Waterloo as it takes an extra hour to get across London via Richmond and Hammersmith so as to avoid stairs to St Pancras. However the compensation came in the form of the restaurant at St Pancras where I met a work colleague for a late lunch to discuss, amongst other things, how to take forward our sports law expertise within 2 Temple Gardens. My contribution is some knowledge of cycling!




That discussed, I moved through security, my bag was comprehensively swabbed for explosives and I set off on the fast journey to Paris. Not much more than 10 minutes to get to the M25 which is impressive but almost all in tunnels. I celebrated being underneath the Channel with an expresso in the buffet. In France my Garmin GPS recorded 190 mph.
Once in Paris, the presence of bikebags gave etappers away. Angus and I struggled together jointly by hot metro to Austerlitz. There was time for a beer and a snack before we were joined by Alex, who I know from 4th cat races at Hillingdon. At around 11pm we boarded the sleeper, where I was berthed with another English etapper, Paul – like Lance Armstrong he has come over to cycling from being a triathelete. There was an area for bikes which we were able to make use of once a pilgrim to Lourdes, who appeared to be intent on spending the night curled up in the luggage area, had been persuaded back to a seat. My bed was comfortable but we seemed to be making haste through the countryside in wheel shaking jerks which I did not find conducive to a good night’s sleep. In the middle of the night peace descended as we stopped up somewhere for a long time, presumably while the train to Biarritz was being detached.

There is no doubt that the French do trains better then we manage.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Racing

Obviously with the Tour underway the thoughts of many of us turn to racing.  Anyone who followed my reports of the Winter Series will have gained the fair impression that I am a lot more enthusiastic than talented.  This is my third season.  In my first (2008) I scored 2 points with an 8th place in a torrential downpour; last season I managed 2nd in a 'Go-Race' after a long 2 man break but 'Go-Races' do not really count and I got no points all season.  In my last etape preparation report I proudly boasted a 9th place and 1 point in a Circuit Race at Hillingdon.
Last weekend I picked up 7 points.  1 for a 10th place at Dunsfold following a long, but ultimately unsuccessful, 2 man break with the guy who was strongest in the race (he proved that by winning the bunch sprint); then on Sunday I kicked myself for missing the 3 man break in roaring winds at the Omega Thornley Island Circuits, but managed to get in the second break of 3 and outsprinted the other two for 4th place and 6 points.
A flash in the pan? - or am I finally finding some racing legs? - time will tell though time is already running out for me this season with the etape and the (for me, non-cycling) summer holiday.
For the uninitiated, at the lowest level of British Cycling 10 points are required for promotion from a 4th category to a 3rd category rider.  The rules are deliciously vague about whether these points need to be acquired in any particular time; but since many take the view they should be acquired in one season I shall continue a 4th cat as long as I can, whilst still trying to do the best I can in races.
My recent focus on racing may backfire at the etape if I go off like a rocket and lose all oomph after a few hours.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Post Office



Alright it is poor driving that is all too frequent on the roads and not by any means exceptional.  However the Post Office have a lot of vehicles varying from large to enormous.  It would be good to think that they were trained and drove to the highest standards.
Here is my e mail to the Chairman (surprise, surprise the website does not volunteer an e mail address to comment about driving so better head for the top).

"Dear Mr Brydon,

Please find attached some footage showing how I was overtaken by a Royal Mail van BX08NHM in Chiswick this morning. Clearly the driver should not have overtaken me alongside a traffic island and even with my swerve to the nearside this was much too close.
I am sure you would wish Royal Mail drivers to demonstrate the highest standards of competence and safety. They should no doubt all be very familiar with the Highway Code including rule 163 (I attach a part of the code for you convenience).
It is a sad fact that many vehicles give cyclists insufficient room and thereby endanger them. Please do not think I am picking unfairly upon the Post Office. However I hope you may find this of interest and be able to respond constructively with appropriate improvements in driver training.
Yours faithfully,
Martin Porter"

The attached part of the code was of course this:

I have received a reply the material part of which reads as follows:
"I have therefore spoken to the Acton Delivery Office Manager and passed with my concerns regarding this matter. I have also forwarded your footage to them so they can appropriately address the matter with the driver in question. They have also confirmed that they will be speaking with our other drivers to remind them of the importance of driving safely and appropriately, so as not to endanger other road users. I am confident that this action will be sufficient to prevent a reoccurrence of this problem in the future.
Please be assured that all of our drivers are subject to ongoing driver training and assessment, and we take instances such as this extremely seriously and I will ensure that the information you have provided is utilised to make further improvements where necessary."
It seems to me to be a reasonable response.

Heard nothing yet from AXA or from Tellings Golden Miller to whom I have directed similar e mails.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Etape - 2 1/2 weeks to go

With the Grand Depart in Rotterdam on Saturday, and the Etape on 18th, we are onto the final countdown.  I managed to top 1,000 miles in June (1,007 to be precise) in 67 hours with quite a few 4th cat (got 9th and a BC point at one of these!) and LVRC races at Hillingdon; one 3/4 at Eelmore (I still get dropped there with the constant accelerating required).  Only been able to make one Surrey League Handicap Race, unfortunately, but discovered and did my first of their Dunsfold Park series.  Two cyclosportives and a club run for greater distance and the usual handful of commutes.  I probably will not be doing an awful lot more before I head off two weeks from today on the Eurostar.
Got my weight down to (well more or less) what it was last year to tackle Ventoux, and have taken steps to try and alleviate the footpain I have been getting on longer rides.
I now have my entry number, 2904, which is closer to the front than I have been before, so hopefully I won't have to pick my way past quite so many people on the first hill.
I'll be riding in my Thames Velo kit, so if you see me there, say hello.
Enjoy this year's Tour