This is a cracker!
Check out the website for more information — and laughs.
Earlier in the week I purchased some new socks from Blacks with a view to keeping my tootsies nice and warm while out cycling. I opted for some "unisex anatomically designed walking socks" — according to the packaging they incorporate Silpure and Coolmax® technologies, whatever that means — and hoped they'd do the job.
So much for splashing the cash. My feet were toasty and warm for about half my journey. Then they started to cool down and before I knew it the toes on both feet were numb.
When I got back home I barely had any feeling in my feet at all!
The thing is, it was bloody cold out there. And I only saw a handful of cyclists during my journey indicating that everyone else had more sense than me to be out and about late on a Wednesday morning doing a loop of Richmond Park.
And yes, my face was frozen — is it acceptable to ride in a balaclava, do you think? — but the rest of my body, including my hands, was lovely and warm.
So, should I invest in some even higher grade thermal socks? Or do I bite the bullet and get some overshoes? Note that I don't cycle in "proper" cycling shoes — I've been wearing the same pair of Puma speedcats since 2007 and find them perfect for grip and comfort on the road — so they may be part of the problem.
Advice, suggestions and recommendations on the whole how-to-keep-my-feet-warm issue are very welcome...
Total distance: 15.40miles (24.77km) | Ride time: 1hr, 28min and 30sec | Average speed: 10.4mph | Top speed: 19.9mph
While the recent weather in London might be a lot milder than normal, the nights are still drawing in. That means cycle commuters need to use lights for their evening journey home.
But if you have ever gone shopping for a bike light you will know it's almost impossible to choose from the vast array of products on the market. Over the years I've tried various solutions, but by the far the best light I've ever had is the Cateye HL-EL610.
It also happens to be the most expensive. I purchased mine from an online retailer in 2008 for roughly £80. It was worth every penny.
I love this light and highly recommend it to anyone looking for something sturdy, reliable and bright! It's expensive, but I think this is a good example of getting what you pay for — and if you factor in the cost savings in terms of not having to buy batteries, it won't take long to recoup your costs.
While it is listed on the official Cateye website, it doesn't look like you can buy it from the UK site. At the time of writing it is listed on the Chain Reaction website for £89.99 and Wiggle for £79.99, but do check other online retailers — you might find a better deal.
Note that the headlight was NOT supplied to me for review purposes. I purchased this one with my own hard cash a couple of years ago.
Yesterday I sold my first hybrid bike — a Specialized Sports Sirrus — which I purchased in February 2007.
I rode her fairly solidly throughout 2007 but only intermittently in 2008, mainly because of ongoing shoulder and flank pain. But in December of that year I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in my hands and for the next two years I barely rode the bike.
When I took workplace redundancy last year, one of my goals — aside from taking some time out and doing some travelling — was to get my health back and regain my fitness. In Australia last December I bought an entry-level Trek hybrid to see me through a couple of months of leisure cycling — and a new love affair was born.
Riding that new bike put things into perspective for me: the Specialized, back in London, was too small and the ride position too uncomfortable.
That was confirmed when I returned to the UK in February. I was 9kg lighter and the fittest I'd been in years. Despite the winter weather I was keen to get out and about on the bike. But no sooner had I got back on the Specialized than my shoulder stiffness returned and I could feel the pain in my left flank that had plagued me throughout 2008.
I promptly went out and bought another bike — the exact same one I'd bought in Australia (and left behind for my mother) — and there's been no looking back.
But my poor Specialized, which I so loved when I first bought her, was taking up space in our storage room and I knew I'd have to sell her on at some point. I ummed and ahhed about it, though. It would be like saying goodbye to an old friend — even if the friendship had soured a little towards the end.
I placed an advert on the intranet at the publishing company where I'm currently freelancing last week half hoping no one would see it. But within a day of it going up I had a potential buyer.
I cleaned her up over the weekend and took her for a quick spin to make sure all was in order. Then I cycled her in yesterday, parked her up and at lunch-time made the sale.
It felt weird saying goodbye to her, but when it comes down to it, we just weren't made for each other. Sometimes you've got to be honest with yourself and get rid of the things that cause you pain...
I'm not sure where August has gone. The month has whizzed by — and I'm ashamed to admit that my cycling mojo has been slightly on the wane. On average, I have only been cycling twice a week and last week I did not cycle at all. But that's largely due to a hectic social calendar (I don't cycle in when I'm going out after work), rotten weather (look at those clouds in the photograph above) and a horrible chest cold that is still lingering almost 10 days after I caught it.
In fact, I think I came down with the cold after cycling in the world's greatest downpour on Thursday August 18. It didn't help that I had a sore throat when I got on the bike, but by the time I'd struggled home six-and-a-half miles in the wettest conditions I've seen in quite some time I was slightly feverish. A hot shower, a change of clothes and a mug of tea made me feel a little better, but by bed time I wasn't in a good way.
Other events that happened this month:
★ My bike computer broke — well, the mechanism that reads the wheel's movement and "beams" it wirelessly to the computer on my handlebars stopped working. I think I knocked it taking my bike lock off one evening. I then rode home without any figures being registered. And then, when I was taking the bike out of the lift, the mechanism fell off — luckily I heard it hit the ground so was able to rescue it. I had to get my Other Half to reinstall it for me. Thanks, T.
★ I got my bike serviced. I took it to the London Bicycle Repair Shop in Southwark, which I've used before: it's cheaper than Evans and the service is definitely more personalised and quick. No need to book your bike in about six months in advance, you simply turn up before 10am and they'll have it ready for you by 6pm. It cost me £82 all up: £58 for labour, £15 for a new chain, £3 for a new gear cable and £6 for new brake blocks. That's about the equivalent of a one-month ticket on the tube, so I better claw back the cost by cycling as much as I can in September!
Total distance: 99.56miles (160.2km) | Ride time: 8hr, 59min and 16sec | Average speed: 10.9mph | Top speed: 20.4mph
One of the key pieces of kit for any regular cyclist — whether of the sporting, commuting or leisure variety — is protective eye-wear.
In the past I have struggled to find a pair of sunglasses suitable for cycling. My day-to-day Ray-Ban sunglasses might look good, but they tend to slip off my face when I get sweaty. And there's nothing worse than cycling along one-handed while you use the other hand to push your eye-wear off your top lip and back onto your nose!
I also find my Ray-Bans aren't suitable for high-glare conditions, and sometimes, if I'm cycling in dark shade it's almost impossible to see through the lenses.
I often can't be bothered with the hassle, so tend to cycle without eye protection. As a result I've lost count of the number of times I've had insects fly into them — ouch! And god knows I have struggled with that horrible "hairy" pollen that falls from the London plane trees every May, resulting in red, itchy eyes. And dare I mention the odd bit of gravel that has flicked up and caused me to duck, lest it land in my eye?
But then I discovered it doesn't have to be this way. Polaroid has produced some cycle-friendly sunglasses which sit snugly on the face — their Contender P7121B model also offers interchangeable polarised lenses, so you can select the lenses to suit your cycling conditions.
I've spent the past six weeks wearing the sunglasses during my daily commute and here's what I think of them.
I love these sunglasses! I love the way they fit, I love the interchangeable lenses and I love the glare-free vision they offer. But their styling could be made a little more under-stated and subtle — that way I might wear them just as much off the bike as I do on the bike.
You can buy Contender P7121B sunglasses for £89 direct from Polaroidsunglasses.co.uk and other leading retailers.
My sunglasses were supplied to me for review purposes by Polaroid. This is the second set I tried. The first were faulty, but the firm were efficient in ensuring a replacement was dispatched to me promptly.
It might be summer in the city right now, which means there's little requirement for bicycle lights. However, you never know when you might get caught out, so it pays to be prepared.
I normally use a rechargeable Cateye EL610RC on the front, one of the most powerful headlights on the market, and a standard run-of-the-mill red tail light at the back. But at this time of year, the headlight goes in storage. It's certainly too heavy and bulky to carry around in my pack rack for emergency use.
But what I have been carrying around is a pair of Grip Lites, which I've been using when I've felt the need to increase my visibility on the road, for instance, when afternoon cloud cover has resulted in poor lighting conditions.
Grip Lites are weather-sealed LED lights that grip onto almost any part of your bike or helmet. Each light is made from silicone (so weighs next to nothing) and is about the size of a man's wristwatch. It uses one 3V lithium CR2032 battery.
These are handy little lights and useful for emergency situations. They clearly aren't a substitute for a proper European CEN standard safety light, but are excellent as additional lighting and to increase your visibility on the road.
Grip Lites come in packs of two and retail for £9.99 from JML Direct, Asda and Robert Dyas.
My Grip Lites were supplied to me for review purposes by JML Direct
Coming face-to-face with a giant stag, wasn't on my list of priorities when I went on yesterday's 20 mile cycle. But here I was, somewhere in the depths of Richmond Park, with a huge male deer with worryingly big antlers blocking my way on the shared bicycle-pedestrian path.
To make matters worse, a woman walking three tiny dogs was approaching from the other direction. If those dogs decided to bark or strain at their leads, that stag was going to bolt -- and probably in my direction.
But, as luck would have it, I needn't have worried. The dogs were well behaved and silent. The stag just stood there, only his eyelids moving as he blinked in a dumbfounded fashion. And I was able to slowly and oh-so carefully inch my way around him.
That was just one of the highlights of yesterday's adventure in the rain.
Others included seeing a pair of rather odd-looking ducks, which were rooting around in the mud, looking for goodies to eat. They ignored me, even when I was only a few feet away from them.
I also had a bit of an 'aaaaahh, isn't that beautiful moment' when I came across this pond, just inside the park near Ham Gate. It was so still and quiet here, no traffic on the road behind me, no people anywhere to be seen, that I stopped, parked the bike up and took stock of my surrounds. By this stage I'd been cycling for 12 miles, in the drizzling rain, but it felt good to be alive.
When I started my cycle in Hammersmith it was shortly before 1pm, and the weather, while cold, was dry. No sooner had I hit the tow path along the Thames than it started to rain. The mud, in places, was horrendous. But my new tyres were awesome. (After my last cycle in which my flimsy Bontrager tyres succumbed to a piece of broken glass, my Other Half swapped out both tyres for 'puncture-proof' Schwalbe Marathon Plus ones. I've had these tyres on a previous bike and highly recommend them.)
Here's an example of the mud. This was the section between Richmond and Ham, by which time I was used to cycling through it. It was the initial section, between Hammersmith and Barnes, that proved more slippy, a bit like cycling through, well, um, mud.
Of course, the entire route wasn't all wet and slushy. When I got to Ham I cycled down the High Street and round the common, before hitting the clearly signposted National Cycle Route 4.
It was lovely to cycle along this avenue of deciduous trees with moss-covered branches, which seemed to stretch forever into the distance. It took me directly to Richmond Park, through Ham Gate, and from there I was able to cycle through the park, anti-clockwise, on a gravel path, all the way to Roehampton Gate.
I stopped at the little cafe near Roehampton Gate to thaw out. I'd cycled 16 miles at that stage and while I was all toasty warm in my fleecy clothes and waterproofs, my feet felt like blocks of ice. I sat by the radiator drinking over-priced coffee with a slice of Genoa cake and felt all the better for it.
Then it was time to tackle the remaining four miles of my journey, through Barnes and back across Hammersmith Bridge to home and the comfort of a stinking hot shower!
And finally, thanks to a new bike computer, I can provide some statistics of my ride:
Total distance: 20.2 miles (32.5km) | Ride time: 2hr, 3min and 40sec | Average speed: 9.8mph | Top speed: 18.4mph
This is going to sound really extravagant, but yesterday I had a rush of blood to the head and bought myself a new bike. It's the exact same model as the one I bought in Australia in December. I've had it "blinged up" with front and back mudguards and a pack rack. Total cost, including my CTC membership discount, was £360.
I figured it was worth spending the money to get a bike that fits me properly. Although there is absolutely nothing wrong with my old bike, a Specialized Sports Sirrus, which I bought in 2007, it's only become clear to me in recent months that it is too small for me. This causes me to hunch my shoulders, which leads to stiffness. And because the seat is too close to the handle bars I get a soreness in my left flank.
It wasn't until I went on my ride around Richmond Park on Monday morning that I figured I should do something about the situation. Within minutes of riding my Specialized I could feel the old flank pain returning and my shoulders stiffening up.
So yesterday I paid a quick visit to my local Evans bike shop, thinking I'd just have a look and see what was on offer. When one of the sales guys asked if he could help and I told him I was looking for a Trek 7.0 FX with a 17.5 frame I did not expect that they would have one in stock. But there she was sitting right in front of me. The only thing she didn't have was my name in lights flashing above her!
The rest, they say, is history.
This afternoon I took her for a quick spin around Hyde Park. She felt fantastic. Really smooth and easy to pedal. Best of all, no flank or shoulder pain for me.
I do, however, need to make some slight adjustments, first to the position of the gear levers and second to the height of the seat. Once that's sorted there'll be no stopping me! Oh, the places we'll go!
I remembered why I normally make sure I'm on the road by 7.45am when I got stuck in never-ending bumper-to-bumper traffic at 8.45am today! Yes, I left the house very late this morning. I wasn't quite with it and left my sunglasses behind. I went back to get them, only to get out on the road to find I wasn't wearing my gloves! Well, too bad. I wasn't going to return for those as well or I'd be really late to work!
Mind you, I don't see that many cyclists wearing gloves. I don't know how people commute without them, to be honest. Perhaps they just think it's too hot to wear them?
I've said all this before, but gloves have multiple uses, even in summer. They make it easier to grip the handlebars, they help soak up the sweat and, if you have gel ones, they absorb some of the road shock. And, if you fall off, they might just save your hands from a nasty case of gravel rash.
Which reminds me, I think it's wonderful that so many people are out and about cycling, but some of them need to seriously re-think their footwear. I have seen countless people, men and women alike, cycling in flip flops and slides. How is that a good idea, particularly when you are cycling in heavy traffic? You only have to get your flip flop caught underneath the pedal and you're in trouble, and if you put your foot down too quickly, say to save yourself from an accident with a vehicle, you'll seriously stub a toe or shear off a layer of skin. Ewww.
(I know everyone in Copenhagen cycles with flip flops, as someone is bound to point out, but London isn't Copenhagen, and bikes here fight for road space with everything from double decker buses to motor scooters: I believe you need to dress appropriately for the conditions.)
On another note, I got told off by a fellow cyclist on my route home tonight. She was quite right, because as I merged into the traffic I did not see her and almost collided into her. The thing is, I had seen the chap in front of her and let him go by, but I did not see her at all even though I looked.
"Sorry, sorry, sorry!" I said, as I swerved to avoid her.
"You should look where you're going," she said in a very calm, posh voice, as she whizzed on by. I mean, if the situation was reversed I would have been effing and blinding, but she was so darn polite about it all, I kind of felt like I'd been told off by a school marm.
It was only later on as I tried to analyse what had happened that I realised I had not seen her because she was wearing dark clothing and cycling in the shade. I had seen the cyclist in front because he was wearing high-viz clothing, but I missed her completely. I know this doesn't alleviate me from responsibility, but it does prove my point that cyclists need to be highly visible on the road at all times and in all conditions.