Wednesday, 26 September 2012

8:35am commute by motorcycle.

Following on from yesterday's bicycle commute, the other half of my commutes are by motorcycle. People try to make cyclists appear as an out group, something different and unusual but we are like everybody else - I motorcycle and a drive too.  I get to relax more on a motorcycle and I'm able to make a lot more observations of the world around.

It's 8:35am and I don protective gear head to toe, helmet, jacket, trousers and boots. If I ever crash, I should get to keep my skin on my body instead of leaving it on the tarmac. I can go into central Cambridge two ways, directly south, or via the A14, M11 and Barton Road. But the A14 is a death trap at this time. If I join at Oakington J30 the left lane is a static queue, then lanes 2 and 3 are 50mph+, its just impossible to merge safely and would be certain death if I made a mistake.

I fire up the engine and the high level exhausts, just two feet away from my nose, deliver a waft of poisonous gasses to my nose, then the wind takes it away.  I'm well aware of the pollution I'm generating on the motorbike.

I join the High Street at the Broad Lane mini roundabout, a popular crash spot.  It's a T for me and traffic from the left comes over at full speed so I have to eye ball drivers and wait for them to stop even though I have right-of-way.

Once on the High Street I have cars ahead and behind and it feels like we are an unstoppable tidal surge.  Past the Post Office and towards Co-Op corner the road thins.  A group of teenagers are on the left path which is about 3 feet wide.  The car in front just whizzes past without slowing, its wing mirror close shaving the kerb at 25mph.  I always fear wing mirrors when walking around the village.

Up towards the village college, children start to dart across the road. There is a child on a bike waiting to cross at the pedestrian reserve so I stop and let him cross.  He looks surprised that somebody stopped.  I'm slightly earlier today and there is less vehicle chaos in and out of the school but more children on foot.  As I join Histon Road, two school children are on bicycles on the path, and wow something I've never seen before, a teenage girl on a bicycle on the road.  I can see the traffic overtaking her.  If that was my daughter I'd have to think long and hard about letting her cycle on such a busy road.

As I ride Histon Road at 30mph it seems a lot quieter than yesterday.  I think it is partly because I am 10 minutes earlier and so there is less traffic, but also because I go at the same speed as the rest of the traffic and nobody overtakes me.  As I approach the end of the 30mph zone, a car catches me but is not pressuring me as usual.  Beside the cycle path I recognise a female commuter, there are not many.  In all there were four cyclists using the path in the minute or two before I get to Histon.

Just before Orchard Road the traffic queue starts.  The traffic may be lighter but the queue is just as long as yesterday.  I filter past counting 41 cars waiting for the lights.  If they got out of their cars and stood in a group, you could probably fit them in the cyclists advance stop box :-)

While waiting at the lights it is heaving with pedestrians and bicycles, so many more teenagers cycling than I have ever noticed before in Histon. There really is a bicycle culture forming here. There are still a huge amount of cars heading in the direction Impington Lane and the school.

South of the green the traffic is static. I filter past it all. It's stop-start filtering because today I don't have my own lane, just the hatched area and central islands to squeeze past.   At the next set of lights at Station Road, the lights go amber, then red and cars keep coming. The last car to jump the lights, a BMW, is now blocking two lanes and can't move because of the queue.  I manage to squeeze round its nose.

New Road is next, yesterday this was where cars were being let through and people were angry.  Again, cars come across without looking for filtering two wheelers.  More filtering, more red light jumping cars at Station Road.

I just can't trust traffic lights on my motorcycle. If blindly went across junctions on green, I'm certain I would be dead. The light jumping, amber gambling and follow through by motor vehicles is endemic and a great issue for me as a vulnerable road user.  I wish there were red light cameras. I never quite get why the world points the finger at cyclists while ignoring drivers.

Histon Road is moving, that is a surprise, non stop all the way past the Gilbert Road lights. An adult cyclist with child trailer sits in the middle of the junction while traffic either side passes at 30mph. They look trapped and isolated.  There are loads more parent and child cyclists waiting to go across from Warwick Road into Gilbert Road. I can't believe all the fuss about the Gilbert Road cycle lanes. These families need them.

The rest of Histon Road is uneventful, until the lights.  A car came across when we had green, I estimate about four seconds after the red appeared.  At the roundabout at the bottom of Madingley Road I got SMIGAFed by van coming through at 30mph. This happens a lot here.  "Sorry Mate I Don't Give a F**k" - they look, they see you, they go, perhaps because they are going too fast or in a bigger vehicle. "If we crash, I die" is what I always tell myself.

The traffic is also moving freely on The Backs, then I enter the 20mph zone.  On Pembroke Street I have an Audi accelerate hard and sit on my tail.  I am doing 20. As soon as I indicate it dodges round me and speeds up.  This would be a good spot to catch speeders, it can be hard to cross this road on foot.

Parking is not an issue, there is always a space for a motorcycle, even on the rare occasion there is no official space, I can find somewhere to squeeze it in.

That journey probably sounds more eventful than it actually was. The big difference having a motor makes, it that I don't have to worry about overtakers and close passing (just the occasional tailgater).  Almost all danger lies in front of me and I have learned to deal with that.  Statistically it is more dangerous to ride a motorcycle, but you can avoid a lot of that danger with training and experience.

The rush hour journey actually takes 30 minutes, 5 minutes longer than cycling because the filtering is harder with no dedicated lanes.  I do arrive ready to work immediately, no cool-down time required, bbut also remembering that I've had no exercise today.

I've always wondered how long it would take if I didn't filter like a car but I don't want to waste my life away.  Last time I took the bus it took about 45 minutes once on the bus but waiting for one to turn up was a big chunk of time and £5.70 return.  It's £2.50 in fuel for the motorcycle plus other costs of course.

Later that day ...

As if to prove a point I was waiting at the junction with Queens Road and Silver St the lights turned red for all directions and the entire junction turns to a pedestrian phase, you know, the green man and beeping. Out of nowhere a car ripped across the junction obviously accelerating like Amber Gamblers do but it was so late a pedestrian was already crossing in front of them.  Thankfully the pedestrian had learned like me that cars cause fatal injuries and kept watching as they walked and saw it and backed up. The car had to go around them at high speed.

The irony is that motorists complain bitterly about Red Light Jumping cyclists (not pedestrians by the way) and this junction is a very popular place to do it. Cyclists every day go on the pedestrian phase to gain convenience and to negotiate the junction without motor vehicles. I have never seen a pedestrian worried about this type of RLJ.

Vulnerable road users feel totally powerless to control the lethal behaviour of a few motorists and there is little point reporting what happened here because the Police require too much proof.  There are so many eyes out there, if only they could be used.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

8:45am commute. Cottenham to Cambridge.

I normally commute after 9am but every so often I have to leave a little before.  The traffic on the road has a very different feel to it.  Everybody is in so much more of a rush, like at 9am the world will end if you are not at your destination.

First up, I have to cross the High Street.  There is a constant stream of traffic and often I have to use the pedestrian reserve because I can only cross one lane at a time.  Then down the High Street I go, past the Post Office hoping nobody will squeeze through close to blind Co-Op corner - they sometimes do.  And past the lady and son on bikes hoping to cross here. They'll have a long wait, I think to myself.

Down towards the green, Village College children darting across the road near the pedestrian reserve.  So many cars in and out of the College road, and drop-offs at the bus stop. It's like a small zone of chaotic behaviour with motor vehicles darting around in all directions.

Next onto Histon Road.  The traffic really wants to put its foot down now.  The mini-roundabout to Dunstall field is not a great place for cycling.  Cars often pass here but don't think what might happen if a bus comes round the blind bend.  Today was fine.

Down Histon Road, with traffic looking for every opportunity to pass now.  Most give a good amount of room but some are within three feet and I hate that.  The close passers are usually the ones who set off the 30mph flasher too.  I am every bit alert as I am on an adrenaline filled Mountain Bike downhill run. This is not how a like to feel on a commute - I want mundane.

Nearing the start of the cycle path, the traffic gets faster and faster even though we are still in the 30 zone.  Then I reach the safety of the cycle path. Time to relax a little.

An uneventful run down to Histon Green, this is the norm. Dull and safe, just keep a careful eye for cars leaving driveways.  I wish the whole route could be like this.

Near Ambrose Way I catch all the cars that were in such a desperate hurry to squeeze past me in Cottenham. This is where the exhaust fumes start to build, getting worse all the way into Cambridge.  You really notice it on a bicycle and its the diesel fumes you notice most - even from the new cars.

I waiting at the lights at the green now.  I watch the last Amber Gambler go past and then we're off.  You have to assert yourself over this junction or cars come really close as you go across the junction.  Just round the corner is a queue of cars, no need to race me.

I'm following another cyclist down the cycle lane, its only 1 metre wide, not really enough room to dodge obstacles.  We weave between wing mirrors and drains then suddenly he stops.  There is a flat bed truck with a load too wide, the triangular gable end of a wooden shed is sticking out by about 2ft over the cycle lane, ready to garrotte anyone who didn't see it.  I think about taking a picture with my camera and pass it on to the Police but on past experience they are not interested until there is a collision or witnesses.

Now passing New Road, the junction just before the bridge. Queuing traffic next to me, but a driver lets across two cars.  Neither look to see if any cyclists are coming and I hit the brakes. It's such a common cause of accidents. At the same time, someone hoots aggressively, unrelated I'm sure, people get so angry and frustrated driving. I don't know why they do it.

I pop over the bridge and down to the Holiday Inn junction. Again, a car comes across, a taxi this time, and I have so much time to watch the driver I can see that as soon as the oncoming driver left a gap, he never looked up the road towards me. It's beyond a SMIDSY, he didn't even look.

Up to the A14 roundabout now and I have to cross the slip road without a crossing.  I have a guess as to which cars might be hurtling off the roundabout towards me, I gamble correctly, I'm actually pretty good at reading driving situations, but I've seen so many teenagers who don't yet have the skill.

Today, I think cars might be queuing on Histon Road, so I gamble and take the direct route to Cambridge. Blast! ... they are moving and I constantly worry that a bus might come and attempt to pass. Thankfully not this time.  Normally I take Arbury Road.

I watch more Ambler Gamblers at Gilbert Road and Victoria Road, plus a yellow box blocker.  From here the traffic gets lighter, as the city is a no-through zone for general traffic.  Then its an easy uneventful ride into central Cambridge just watching for the odd lorry back door, and zombie pedestrian.

To be honest, that is a reasonably typical commute before 9am.  That's why its still mostly assertive males 30-50 who commute by bike.

The next day I commuted by motorcycle.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

OpenStreetMap on your Garmin: OpenMtbMap

OpenStreetMap is a database full of really useful free mapping data. There are several views of the data, such as the Standard map and OpenCycleMap you may have seen on the web or via a phone app.

Some clever people have also converted the data for use on Garmin GPS devices.  There are an overwhelming number of maps which all look different.  The best map I have found for cyclists is OpenMtbMap. Screenshots are hard to come by so here are some running on a Dakota 20 ...

The overview map (see on OSM). Note the scale is 8km. The Dakota 20 struggles to redraw the map at this scale, taking around 5s to draw the map. It gets quicker if you zoom in.

Planning a route is too painful on such a small screen so I do that with a paper map or at home, saving a gpx track of a planned route and copying to the Garmin.

Zoomed in to 2km (OSM), the map data starts to come alive. The green, orange and yellow routes are standard roads, primary(A), secondary(B) and tertiary(C).

Solid black is an unclassified and paved road. Eg north from Rampton.

Other OSM-on-Garmin maps show some unpaved routes but not with any great detail, it is really hard to tell the difference between a smooth track and a muddy footpath.  OpenMtbMap does a better job. More in the next pictures.

Zoomed to 800m in near Rampton (OSM).

Red is a track of some variety. In the UK this does not mean a legal right of way. All of the tracks on this screen can be legally used.  The marking, solid or dashed is telling you something about the quality of the surface. Haven Drove G5 is a Grade5 track in OSM data on a scale of 1(smooth) to 5(bumpy and having a soft surface).

Brown and Grey (in the lower left quarter) is a bridleway. In the UK legal for bicycles to use but not motor vehicles and is an important distinction.

Dotted black is a footpath. In the lower right quarter there are a pair running either side of a drainage ditch (blue).

Very useful is the marking of the National Cycle Network (see on OpenCycleMap).  The thick black marking denotes a cycle route.

Note when selected with the pin, the name appears at the top. The menu reveals the full name "Ucl Ncn Natonal Route 51".

OpenMtbMap is of course aimed at mountain bikers.  It has a lot of special markup for hills and terrain used much more in Europe. Here in Cambridgeshire, it is an extremely flat part of the country but we have Thetford Forest locally with both marked an unmarked mountain bike trails. The screenshot area is on OSM and the OpenCycleMap layer. There is a lot of detail.  Working left to right:

 Green dashed is mtb:scale=1.  This is what I have marked as good singletrack for mountain biking. It is useful to distinguish from other paths that are either uninteresting or for walkers (appearing as solid dark red but not on the screenshot).

Thick orange is a B road.

The trail marked with a blue edge is a marked cycle route known as the Lime Burner Trail, with this small section named The Beast.

The three brown trails are all highway=path in OSM speak with subtle variation of surface.

The red dashed and straight sections are tracks. The whole forest is on a grid system and these are everywhere. The Fire Roads are wider and harder packed with many marked solid red in OpenMtbMap.

Road names also appear when clicked, such as Lack's Close (OSM). Also note the brown dashed footway which is a useful pedestrian route between houses in my village.

There is some useful data that can be searched.  In the screenshot it is displaying the points of interest in the Shopping menu. Not all shops are there, only the ones that are in OpenStreetMap but it is useful having positive information about the location of a shop when cycle touring.

Sadly, additional information such as phone numbers does not make it into the Garmin.

A few nuggets of information:

It is worth noting that postcodes are not generally in OSM data so you cannot navigate like you would with a car satnav.  Additionally, address searching by road name also does not work in my Garmin. The reason is because to get OSM into a Garmin format, the data format has been reverse engineered. I believe you can get this working if you upload the map via Garmin's MapSource software.  The work around is to find the road you want on the map, highlight it and navigate to it. Also, auto routing is very hard to do when you go off road, mostly because of the data. OpenStreetMap data is going to give you the best chance if you want to do that but you should be aware of the quirks of OpenMtbMap's routing.  One example is that it will not route you on Primary Roads (unless specially tagged). This is a good thing in my opinion but a quirk is that it prevents my Garmin routing my over this staggered junction. If you are a road or touring bike rider you probably don't want to install OpenMtbMap.  The same author has created VeloMap which should not route you over aggressive mountain biking routes.

I do not rely on autorouting. I prefer to follow a pre-planned gpx route.

You can get contours. I prefer without because they clutter the map.

If you want a plain map for just road use, the Talky Toaster OpenStreetMaps are very good. I switch to these if I need to use the Garmin Dakota on my motorcycle.  You can see offroad trails in the screenshots but you'll see they are all simple grey lines.

Installing OpenMtbMap on your Garmin: The way I install this is to download the UK build from OpenMtbMap, run an exe to build me an IMG file, plug in the Garmin via USB, and drag and drop the file onto the Garmin disk.

As a final note. Around Cambridge we are blessed with very good quality OSM data.  When I travel to other locations such as the Peak District I find lower quality map data. This is most often bridleway routes marked as footpaths, and occasionally missing routes entirely. My pattern is to plan the route (on BikeRouteToaster) using an OSM map view, falling back to Google Earth if unmapped, then save a gpx file of the planned route.  I follow that on the ride then upload the missing gpx data to OSM (you should not copy data from other map sources, this keeps OSM data free).