Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Childerley Hall Route

With the warmer spring weather arriving, I can start to take longer routes to and from work for fun.  My favourite way to get between Cambridge and Cottenham is undoubtedly a route I call the Childerley Hall route. A 36km route, about 50% off road.

Cambridge to Cottenham via Childerley
(open on bikeroutetoaster)

I love this route for so many reasons.  

Firstly it leaves Cambridge right from the centre on a route thats virtually traffic free.  Past the Senate House, and down Garret Hostel Lane, and over the Cam looking out for punts on the river.  From here its head west past the University Library and eventually on to the Coton Cycle path. Crossing over the M11 reminds you of the world of rush hour traffic.

Leaving Coton brings on a series of straight but enjoyable and undulating bridleways which I take as far as Highfields Caldecote, just short of Cambourne.  The main traffic is out here is well, me and some  wildlife, flapping or running off into the distance.

A lot of the route is quite bumpy, and probably too much for some, but I have a full suspension mountain bike, and with the Rockshox Reba setup to hare mode, that's fast reacting and undamped suspension, and running 2.1's at at 30psi, the vibrations are mostly smoothed out.  My gears were also running totally slick after treating my bike to a new gear cable and outer.

Turning North, a short section of road brings you over the busy A428 where you take the private and empty no through road to Childerley Hall.  It is normally here, where I go from Westerly doubling back to Easterly I find that my good speed was wind assisted. Today I find that wasn't the case and find myself now pushing on to see if I can beat my personal best for this route - a sure fire way to ruin a pleasant ride.

Arriving at Childerley Hall, a pleasant oasis in surrounding farmland, you get a glimpse of the Elizabethan House and garden, then turning left at the Grain Store sign post, then right through the lush green cow field.

On the way out of Childeley and towards Lolworth there is a lovely tree lined byway.  I have never seen another soul here.  Last week I came through in the dark, and the trees look fabulous when uplit. 

Byway between Childerley and Lolworth at rush hour.

At Lolworth I turn left for the smile inducing downhill through Yarmouth Farm (a rare treat in Cambridgeshire!), and edging hedge lined fields with the distant hum of the A14 to Boxworth Manor.  This is another hidden gem. I've never quite worked out if it is open to the public or not, I just enjoy passing through, past the lake and gardens, walls and country cottages.

At the road I don my high visibility vest.  The road section to the A14 services roundabout and onto the fast 60mph (or is that 80mph!) road to Swavesey is the only unpleasant part of this ride.  This time a group of lycra clad but older roadies were out for a group ride. I wasn't expecting to but I caught and passed them doing 30km/h on my knobblies pushing for my personal best.  I couldn't help thinking how I should go slower and have a more pleasant ride next time like them, rather than endure lactose legs and strained lungs.

Just before Swavesey I take the gravel tracks on the right (Tipplers Drove and Uttons Drove), and onto the NCN51. It's a road section but quiet enough. The last section of off road is been Longstanton and Rampton.  Sometimes I arrive here feeling tired, but today on an endorphin high and the cherry was cleaning (without putting a foot down) the four tall and awkwardly spaced kerbs of the Guided Busway tracks.

Watching the clock and legs burning I pulled in a 1h27m for the 36km averaging 24.5km/h.

A fabulous way to combine commute, gym and totally stress busting.  A hard effort, but it makes future group rides easier and longer and therefore more fun.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Response just in from Andrew Lansley MP re CycleSafe

On the 10th Feb I wrote to my MP, Andrew Lansley asking him to attend the Cycle Safe debate arranged by Julian Huppert.  I had given up all hope of a response given his role as Secretary of State for Health and the trouble with the Health Reform Bill, but no, I got a response, a cookie cutter response but at the very least I hope he read my letter and it may in a small way help him to represent my views.

I wrote (in a hurry) on 10th Feb 2012:

Please attend the Cycling Safety debate on the 23rd February.

I have been cycling to work 3 days a week for the last 6 years. It is has been a life changer for me, turning me from an inactive health timebomb to a healthy middle aged man who won't drain NHS resources.

I meet so many people who would like to cycle to work but do not think it is safe enough. The feeling of danger which most normal people feel when cycling in traffic is such a barrier, people do not have a choice but to take to their cars.

Safe routes such as the Cambridgeshire Guided Bus cycleway have proved that if you build good safe facilities, people will cycle.  But it needs more money. Cheap paint-only cycling facilities create danger for cyclists and push them to drive everywhere.

I also support 20mph as the default for residential areas.  My village, Cottenham, has a high proportion of children and the car is the default way for them to get around the village. This behaviour will lead many of them to obesity. Making it safer for them to walk, scoot or cycle will help reverse the obesity trend.

Obesity; air pollution; traffic queues; Health. Cycling solves so many of societies problems. Britain needs more people to cycle, but safety must come first.

Yours sincerely,

Response: 19th March 2012  (five weeks later)

[you may recognise this]

Thank you for contacting me about The Times campaign on safer cycling in cities.
Firstly, I commend The Times for highlighting this important issue and I know Ministers will consider the points raised as part of their ongoing work to improve safety for cyclists.

The Coalition Agreement contained a key commitment on cycling, stating that the Government will support sustainable travel initiatives, including the promotion of cycling and walking. As part of this, the Department for Transport announced funding of £560 million for the Local Sustainable Transport Fund to finance a range of travel measures which could include cycling infrastructure projects. Ministers announced the first tranche of funding in July last year and 38 of the successful 39 projects in the first wave included a cycling element.

The Government takes the safety of cyclists extremely seriously and I understand that Ministers are taking a number of steps to ensure that Britain remains a world leader in road safety. Ministers have committed to continuing to improve the driving test and driver training and have pledged £11 million for Bikeability training to help a new generation of cyclists gain the skills and knowledge they need to cycle safely.

In addition, the Government is leading discussions at European level on further improving standards for heavy goods vehicles to help reduce accidents caused by poor visibility. Ministers also want to see more innovative measures being put in place to improve cycle safety and, after a successful trial in London, councils across the country can now apply to use Trixi mirrors to make cyclists more visible to drivers at traffic lights. Ministers are providing local councils with the tools they need to improve safety on their roads, for instance cycle lanes and 20 mph zones. The implementation of these will, however, depend on local decisions and need to reflect local priorities.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me about this important issue.

Yours sincerely,
Andrew Lansley

Identical except for two words to:
I had to format the paragraphs for you.  You just can't get the staff these days, well not those who can copy/paste correctly.

I cannot believe he didn't address my concerns re safe scooting to school!  ;-)

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Thetford MTB Map - an early look

One of my favourite places to cycle is Thetford Forest.  It is 45 minutes away but boy is it worth it if you like twisty single track.  I probably go 10 times a year, and I have slowly learned my way round bit by bit.

There are well sign posted routes, the Black, Red being the best for the MTBer. But if you hunt around, there are some fabulous single track routes well away from the crowds.  They take time to hunt down but in the end you are well rewarded.  They are also a moving target.  Sometimes the single track routes fall out of use and become overgrown, and right now they are felling areas all over.  But elsewhere new routes are being created as race routes for MTB and Motorcross Enduro.  

If you cycle offroad, you come to rely on maps for planning your cycles.  Most people grew up with Ordnance Survey Maps which are great, but they have one big disadvantage - you can't update them.  That is where OpenStreetMap comes in - it's the Wikipedia of the map world.  You can put routes in the map yourself, be it from a GPS recorded track, by tracing over Bing Satellite Maps.  

Thetford Forest is mapped as far as the straight and boring tracks go.  Somebody has put in most of the main tracks and tree blocks by copying data from maps.  The singletrack routes are not visible from the satellite images so you need a GPS to record them. Actually if you know an approximate route you can put that in too, and somebody will improve the data later.  It is a collective effort.  I have put some of my GPS traces into OpenStreetMap and so have others.

Once the data is in a database, you can do useful things with it.  Within just a few hours of adding data, you'll see your updates in the Standard map view.  There is also the  OpenCycleMap view which highlights the routes a little better.  I also use OpenMtbMap, a map for Garmin GPS's which is updated weekly.

Inspired by OpenMtbMap, I thought I could produce an MTB map of Thetford.  This time, suitable for printing out.

There are maps of, the Red and Black Routes; Brandon Country Park; and Santon Downham in a Google Picasa Album - Thetford MTB Map.

There is no map key as yet, but effectively the important bits are:
  • red line is a confirmed singletrack
  • green line is a path, likely to be singletrack but unconfirmed.
  • dashed green: overgrown, invisible or a confirmed unpassable without effort to clear
  • background under-highlighting of marked routes, green, blue, black and red.

Here is one of those maps, the Brandon Country Park side:

Brandon Country Park.  A map you (yes you!) could update.
Go to album for full size and other maps.

It's out of date as they have just felled a whole load of sections.  It needs updating and that is something you can do if you want this map to be great.  Soon I will put this on an automated rebuild once a month and put up more details on how to edit the map if you want to help out.

Creating the maps is based upon so much work of others who have given their time for free.  If we all contribute a little, we can make great stuff together.

I have written scripts to control a whole raft of free stuff:  OpenStreetMap data, coverted to svg using Osmarender, then to png using Inkscape and uploaded to Picasa using googlecl. And not forgetting the Linux operating system and applications I am using.  Flippin' brilliant !

And the end result, is having fun cycling.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Cyclists without lights

Cambridgeshire Police: Specials target cyclists with no lights.

In short, 4 specials each handed out one ticket per hour, totalling 15 tickets in 4 hours.  Those numbers appear to be suspiciously low and I wonder why.

If you drive or cycle through Cambridge you will see many cyclists inadequately lit.  There is a pattern to it too.  My anecdotal observations show those of student age, teenagers and twenty somethings, are the most likely group to fall foul of the law.

I imagine that hassle and risk of keeping lights on your bike which is left at college outweighs the risk of cycling unlit in areas with street lighting.  They do have a tendency to get lost in dark patches around the city however.  Thankfully, most leave their reflectors on.

A frequently cited Guardian story reported on the causes of cycling accidents in a study for the DfT.  "Wearing dark clothing at night was seen as a potential cause in about 2.5% of cases, and failure to use lights was mentioned 2% of the time".  I guess those students have some sort of self preservation gene after all.

I don't think the real percentage of unlit Cambridge cyclists is anywhere near as high as some people think. If you observe cyclists, they do appear to be cycling without lights.  Look more closely and you realise that quite a lot are cycling with very poor lights, which probably just need new batteries, and commonly long coats and bags cover lights attached to the seat post.  In many cases, the reflector does a better job of showing the cyclist than the lights they have.

I wonder what the Police do when somebody has lights, but they are next to useless ?  Words of advice or a ticket ?  This might partly explain why officers are catching so few.

Out here, between Histon and Cottenham it is properly dark.  Very few cycle without lights here and if they do, I suspect they have been caught out with a failing battery.  If anything, rural cyclists live in fear of not being seen and many have more than one light just in case, plus a whole load of reflective gear.  You'd have an easier time finding motorists with defective lighting.

Still, I think the numbers the Police caught is still on the low side.  But if they are as visible as the cops with speed guns it would be easy to avoid being caught.

Update:  The morning after I wrote this, it was foggy.  Visibility was down to 100m or less in places between villages just outside Cambridge.  I was gobsmacked at the amount of motorists not using their lights on their vehicles, about a quarter of them.  What is worse, is that the default choice of colour for a modern car is silver, or fog colour.  Perfect camouflage.

It all comes out in the wash

This morning there was a story on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire about parking reaching saturation point in Cambridge.  A lady phoned in and made the point that we have to make it less convenient to travel into Cambridge by car.  This reminded me of my most favourite comments on a CEN story ever.

Gas Works Slow City Traffic to a Crawl

The comments are full of tales of woe, grid lock and stuck buses as people were prevented from getting to really important places and doing vital things in their life. But, this frustrated motorist's comment is special for so many reasons:
Jane: Had to pop to the Beehive for guinea pig shampoo. Traffic around there was like a pre-Christmas Saturday.
Where do you start ?  Well Tench spotted the lost cause and the brutally honest solution is perfect:
Tench: Guinea Pig shampoo??? Just hold the thing under the tap for a minute or so!