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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Stourport-on-Trent

Most of my riding has been the daily commute in to Aston University. Most of these rides have been on the trusty Avanti Montari and the occasional journey on the Trice QNT trike. One such journey was so that the students building an echo car could examine the steering geometry. They almost stripped it down to see how it had been designed.

On the 3 December, the Worcester-St Johns cycling club had booked the Stourport Sports Centre circuit for the afternoon. Having been invited to join them, I decided that it would be a good endurance test ride for the trike. I had hoped some brackets to shorten the cranks might have arrived but postage from the US at this time of year seems slow.

The ride out was supposed to be into a head wind but the primarily downhill ride seemed to make it quite an easy journey. Heading through Kidderminster, I pulled in at Smiths Cycles. They are agents for the ICE trikes and Andrew is quite helpful. If I was buying a new trike then Andrew is the person that I would purchase it from.

At the circuit, I completed about five laps. The wind was more noticeable on the circuit and it was the first time that the wind seemed to have any impact on the riding of the trike. I also learnt to control the trike on two wheels as I tried to hard through one of the hairpin corners that dipped into the apex.

The ride home was more of an uphill grind than I had expected. I also tried to explore what was marked as a cycle path and an alternative route off the main traffic flows. I soon learnt that not only do I need to shorter cranks but I need to consider shortening the boom. I find that I kept sliding forward on the seat as I put the pressure on to climb the hills.

At 69km with a duration of 4 hours 19 minutes and 19 seconds, this was my longest trike ride so far. My maximum speed was 53.1 km per hour and I suspect this could have been faster with shorter cranks and a better ability to spin when pedalling. The average speed of 15.7 km / hour was slower than anticipated but I did fade badly on the return journey.

Despite this being a shorter journey than previous rides on the Avanti Montari, I still feel more relaxed on the trike. At times, you seem to drift along taking in the scenery and enjoying the ride. However, I was frustrated that I forgot to take my camera with me so there are no photos of this journey.

This cycle journey did take me past a variety of homes and so does my ride too and from work. The Equality Trust (http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/) pushes the way that inequality impacts society. As I cycle around Birmingham and the nearby country side, this inequality is quite clear to see. The small terraced houses of some of the Birmingham suburbs are a stark contrast to some of the large detached houses not that far away. Head out into the country and the contrast is even more noticeable.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Birmingham-Fazeley Canal

One of my routes in to Aston University takes me along part of this canal system. I mentioned this in a post just after I started at Aston (4 July). Over the last month, there has been some glorious still mornings and I decided to get some photos. This collection takes in the Digbeth branch that goes to the Grand Union canal and the section that runs along the northern side of the city. Both of these sections have plenty of locks with the section along the northern side of the city having at least fifteen. Enjoy the photos.

Birmingham Canals

The trike hasn't been getting much exercise over the last month. A ride to and from work on Friday (30 Sept) was the only time that I have had it out since the last bank holiday (31 Aug). I realised looking back over my blog that I didn't write up that bank holiday ride. On that ride, I decided to try the trike on part of national route 81. The initial goal was to reach the junction or route 5 and route 81 on the canal. However, I chose the wrong roads and found myself on the Old Main Line Birmingham canal.

The initial tow path of the Old Main Line canal was easy riding but once the canal went under and followed the M5 (maybe the M5 is following the line of the canal), the tow path became narrow and difficult to pass on the trike. I had to carry it on on part. Being under the M5 was quite interesting although barren. The Old Main Line crosses the Main Line beside the M5 and then joins a junction were you can go either way to the Main Line canal. I chose to head west past a lake like area in the canal as it dropped down through a couple of locks. Some narrow patches here saw me off the trike to negotiate the grassed edge of the canal. Not really a tow path here.

As I went up a grass bank to cross a bridge on the Main Line canal, I managed to break the chain. I had shortened it in the morning before coming out but this didn't break at the join point. Fortunately, I had the chain tool with me and with the help from a fisherman cyclist, had it repaired and I was soon on my way. However, with it now late afternoon, I headed back in toward Birmingham down the Main Line Canal tow path passing under the M5 and Old Main Line canal bridges. On these flat wider stretches of path, holding 20 km / hr plus wasn't difficult. On one stretch, I reached 28 km / hour on the flat. I haven't done that for a while but then I haven't ridden a race bike for a while. I suspect with fitness, I might be able to hold those 30 km / hr plus on the trike but then I am not looking at speed but enjoyment of the ride and the trike is delivering.

The ride to work on Friday confirmed the cruise ability of the trike. Hill climbs are definitely slower but on the flat, I don't have any problem holding speeds close to those on my commute bike. Navigating obstacles is a difficulty on the trike. Its width means that it needs to be lifted over some barriers such as gates on the canal paths. However, it isn't too heavy to lift on your own unless you have panniers on. The other frustration is being a exhaust fume level in traffic. On a bike the extra height puts your head above the bulk of the fumes. Not so on the trike but cruising on a smooth piece of road is much nicer on smooth flat roads.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Testing the limitations

This ride wasn't planned but became exploratory in nature. I initially heading off through Bartley Green where I took to a track through to Woodgate Valley Country Park. This track was a combination of dirt and grass with a little downhill and uphill. The trike handled it well. After another short road ride, I again took to a gravel cycle track through to Harborne Lane and the University of Birmingham. A quick run through the university and along Bristol Road to Priory Road and Edgbaston Road. Following National Route 5 through to Digbeth where I found the beginning of the Grand Union Canal. I followed the canal taking a short detour on the Birmingham and Warwick Canal to Yardley Road. The early part of the Grand Union Canal tow path was paved and easy riding but by the time that I got to Yardley Road, the path was almost single track with mowed edges. With one front wheel on the grass and the other on the track, the rear wheel settled on the track and I was able to keep the drive on. The worst riding was over a couple of heavily cobbled bridges. These were so rough that it was difficult to maintain grip. Even with the rear suspension, the down hill bounced me around considerably. I navigated back through Spark Hill and Moseley to Canon Hill Park and followed national Route 5 back to Wychall Lane where I exited onto the road to head through Northfield for home.

A total distance of 38.4km in 2 hours 35 minutes 45 seconds of riding. An average speed of 14.8km/hr and a top speed on on of the downhills of 58.2km/hr. What was pleasing was that without trying and with negotiating quite a stretch of rough canal path, I had achieved a reasonable average speed.

Only once did I get off to get the bike up one of the slopes. I had gone onto the slope in too high a gear and the wheel spun when I tried to put the power down. Other stops along the way were to talk to people who were fascinated by the trike. It certainly gets people's attention.

Really rough terrain is only difficult to ride because of being bounced around. On smooth roads, the trike glides along with ease. Hill climbs aren't a problem if you are in the right gear. Admittedly, I seem to have the leg strength to use higher gears but I believe it is more comfortable riding if I use a lower gear and spin my way up the climbs. I suspect that I climb slower than on a conventional bike but I am not feeling as tired after my ride.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A trial trike ride

This ride was about becoming familiar with the trike and also seeing whether I could ride it to Friday night track leagues for the rest of the season. In the car, the journey is only 4.1 miles (approx. 7km) and should take about 13 minutes. The return journey is slightly different because of the way the roads are set up around the track.

For this ride, I tried to follow the same route although I did take one wrong turn on the way out that added slightly to the distance. The outward journey was predominately downhill and on the longest and steepest of these I managed to hit 50km per hour (approximately 30 miles per hour). I have gone faster on two wheels but I am not convinced that I would have achieved this on two wheels at least not with the same comfort. The trike sits firmly on the road and so far has negotiated corners even at speed with little difficulty.

The only difficulty is some of the bumps. The trike tends to bounce around a lot over rough road and since you are not strapped in, you also bounce around. The rear suspension does take a certain amount of roughness but the front has no suspension and is important for maintaining control over the trike. Smoother roads are preferred over rough.

The ride back was primarily a hill climb with a slight downhill near the end. According to MotionX-GPS, the maximum gradient was 7.7% so in some respects is not too steep. However, I have had a lot of people contend that trikes are poor hill climbers but I am not finding that. OK, I am not trying to set hill climb records but I don't want to climb up hills at a crawl. The heart rate monitor tells me that I wasn't working as hard as I might have on two wheels. My maximum heart rate was 156 bpm. Last time, I rode two wheels with the heart rate monitor, the heart rate peaked at 172 bpm. The average heart rate at 119 bpm was also lower than what I normally have after two wheel bike ride. Maybe I am more relaxed on the trike.

At 16.9 km per hour, the average speed wasn't much down on what I have been achieving on the Avanti but I have no direct comparison since I haven't tried this ride on the Avanti. My last ride to work and return (12.5km each way) was at an average of 17.4 km per hour and has similar characteristics.

This ride was 15.1 km and took 53 minutes and 43 seconds. With the outward journey taking a little over 20 minutes, it compared favourably with using the car. The homeward journey with its hill climb was closer to 30 minutes and over double the time of the car journey.

Was the journey safe? Manor Way past the Halesowen track is a busy road but on a Sunday morning, the traffic was reasonable. All vehicles gave me plenty of room. On the road home up the hill, cars waited behind me for clear road and when they passed me, they left plenty of room. Most gave a friendly wave. Pedestrians also took second looks as I went past. My confidence in the safety of riding the trike is increasing and I am looking forward to longer rides as I become more comfortable with riding it.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Why attempt a long ride?

This blog has its origins in a conversation that I overheard while commissairing closed circuit races. It centred around completing the Lands End to John O'Groats ride and the way people perceive the challenge of that ride. A web search reveals a range of different options from fully supported group rides to individual rides.

The journey is approximately a 1000 miles and can be completed in nine days but some riders want to take an easier pace. The question raised by the discussion was what makes the ride a challenge? One voice clearly believed that if it didn't push the rider to do at least a 100 miles (160 km) a day then it really wasn't a challenge for a cyclist. But is that a fair assessment?

My daily commute used to be 50km a day. To turn it into training, I often pushed it over 100km. That is nothing compared with professional cyclists. For the last two years, my commute was only about 15km per day. It has now gone back up to 25km per day.

If you have read this blog, you will see that my exploration of the National Cycle network has involved rides of over 100km but the distance hasn't been the issue. If I was interested in the fastest time between two points then I wouldn't follow the National Cycle network. Instead, I wouldn't be looking for the fastest safe route that took in roads that were easy to maintain a good speed. I would be looking to average close to 30+km per hour and I would ride a good road bike.

But that isn't my objective. I am out to explore the National Cycle network and the places that I pass through. I want to have a photographic record of the journey and along the way, I would like to be able to find time to dialogue with people. It isn't easy to achieve those objectives if you are on a time a distance schedule.

I want to do a John O'Groats to Lands End ride but as part of my National Cycle Network exploration. I would like it to be part of a ride that took me to the extremes of the National Cycle network (i.e. Shetland Islands to Lands End, Dover, Isle of Wright, Isle of Man, and Londonderry (Northern Ireland)). You could say a circumnavigation of the UK coast line but there is also plenty in the central UK to explore. There are even some routes that don't seem to appear on the National Network. Of course not all of this will be done at once but there will be some major journeys taking in a week or two of riding.

My mode of transport won't be a road bike (I don't own one any more). My preferred transport will be a recumbent trike however, I will also have available a mountain bike for some single track riding. This is a journey of exploration and hope research. Not only do I want to see this country, I would like to explore how people deal with the economic conditions and whether they see any alternative economic strategies. How would people survive if the banking system collapsed? I believe they will some more easily than others.

The point that I want to make in this blog is that the objective that someone sets themselves will determine whether this ride is a challenge for them and whether they will achieve what they set themselves as a goal but then life is a lot like that. Each of us has different objectives with different levels of difficulty. Just because your objective to me doesn't make it challenging, it doesn't mean that it will not be a challenge to you.
If you see me triking around then don't be afraid to stop me and have a chat. You never know we might both learn something and that is what I believe life is about.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Stratford-upon-Avon to Oxford

We set out reasonably early to try and give me as much time as possible to complete what Sustrans described as 61 mile (97.6 km) ride from Stratford-upon-Avon to Oxford along Route 5. I realised along the first segment of the ride that the only thing I had left at home was the camera so no photos on this journey. It was a pity as there were some good opportunities along the ride.

The first part of the ride was along what used to be a railway line. Near the start there was a rail carriage and there was another about half way along. Both had been set up as caf├ęs.

The route passed through Quinton, Ilmington, and Shipston-on-Stour although the path that I took missed the central shopping area. As I neared Banbury, the rolling hills became steeper. The route also went off the road to a trail that was almost over grown. This track skirted the south western boundary of Banbury and was more open as the track went along behind the houses and came to an end at Bodicote. There seemed to be a fayre happening here but the sports ground down the road was empty and had a seat that I could use for a break and lunch. My average speed over this part of the journey was over 20 km per hour.

For the next 20 km involved some fairly step hill climbs. As a consequence the average speed declined and my legs began to ache. I was beginning to wonder whether I would reach my intended objective. After passing through Bloxham and Barford St Michael, the route took to farm tracks through Over Worton. At one point it went through a paddock with a heard of sheep.

The hills reduced over the last part of the journey but the route seemed to do a detour in order to take in another segment of track that boarded on single track in places that took me into Woodstock. After heading down the main road toward Oxford, the route took another detour along the canal leading into Oxford. Although these off road tracks keep you off busy roads, some are difficult to negotiate. On this part of Route 5, it would be difficult to use a recliner trike on many of these off road segments although it would have been possible to take a road based alternative in most places. It also showed the differences in levels of maintenance of the tracks depending on the county through which the track passed.

According to the bike computer, the journey was 95.56 km and took 4 hours 56 minutes and 24 seconds at an average speed of 19.3 km per hour. My maximum speed on one of the down hills was 61 km per hour and this was without pedalling. According to Motion GPS, the maximum down hill and up hill slope was over 10%. This gave me some idea of what the Tour de France riders went through.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Exploring the City Canals

I hadn't intended it to be so long between rides on the National Cycle Network but these last two months have seen major changes. Our house purchase finally went through so we were into house shifting (I caught a cold in the process). My contract at the University of Birmingham came to an end and I went through an interview and appointment process for a Teaching Fellow position at Aston University. On top, the new cycling race season has started and as a commissaire, I have been involved with circuit races at Sundorne circuit near Shrewsbury and at track events at Wolverhampton, Newcastle-under-Lyme, and Halesowen. Suddenly, I don't seem to have free weekends for cycling.

However, over the last couple of weeks, I have been getting back into cycling as I prepared for my first day at Aston University. On Wednesday last week, I did a trial ride into Aston (25km) then on Sunday I joint friends on the Sky Ride (30km), and finally today, I rode into work at Aston (27km). Although I went in by the recommended route. In Digbeth, it turned onto a canal path to go around to the far side of the university. As a result, I have found canal locks in Birmingham and lots of them. As I didn't have my camera out or the iPhone tracking the journey, I don't have information on the route.

Riding along the short stretch of the Digbeth Branch Canal on the way to work in the morning inspired me into exploring a canal ride round the north of the city coming home. Late last year, I had talked of exploring the many canal paths around Birmingham. Working in the central city is giving me that opportunity.

The Digbeth Branch Canal joins the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal just north of Aston. In the short distance that I travelled along the Digbeth Branch Canal, I discovered more locks and then as I headed toward the junction with the Birmingham Canal Navigations, I passed even more locks and some interesting buildings built on the edge or over the canal. I have decided that I need to explore this area with camera in hand probably on foot.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Nottingham to Lichfield

With the lead up to Easter, I hadn't done much riding so decided that I needed to get out and do a good ride on one day over Easter. Monday, 25 April 2011, isn't just Easter Monday for a Kiwi. It is also ANZAC day. Still I am not into celebrating events around wars so it was time to head off for a ride. The ride from Nottingham to Lichfield sounded like a good challenge. The first challenge is how to get to Nottingham and then back from Lichfield. The train was my chosen option but Lichfield isn't on the same train line as used by the Cross Country service to Nottingham. Two tickets rather than a return trip ticket. I had to swap trains at the University station on the way into New Street station only to find the train returned back to Cotteridge. Seemed a waste of time but the train didn't stop between New Street station and Tamworth so I had no other option.

On reaching Nottingham, I decided to head to Nottingham castle before heading off to find the cycle route. This took in a loop round the central city and back to the station. Once on the canal path and working out which way was west, I headed off in search of Route 6. There were no signs for the National Cycle Network along the canal path so with the terrain map in MotionX GPS having the cycle route on it, I used it to ensure that I didn't overrun the point where I needed to make the connection. The iPhone screen in the bike mount isn't easy to read partly because of the mount angle so it meant stopping at possible exit points to check I was on track.

The Nottingham canal path was busy with walkers and other cyclists so it was finally nice to get off and into some quite back streets. I find it easy to miss the signs when the cycle way is in a city. Part of this is because the cycleway sometimes takes narrow paths between houses and if you are like me, riding on the road, you don't always see the. Fortunately, I only did one such detour in Nottingham. Although there were places where the ride took me through parks, it seemed to take a long time before going over the M1 and finally clearing the housing of Nottingham.

The journey to Derby would follow Route 6. In Derby, I needed to change to Route 54 but the connection was labelled Route 68, 6. This proved a little confusing so I took a lunch break while trying to work out in which direction I needed to go. When I found Route 54, the signs pointed along the river heading north. Although some (not many) had place names, they tended to be local destinations rather than the more distant destinations that I would recognise. At this connection point, there seemed to be no signs pointing in the direction that I needed to travel in. Without the maps, I would have struggled to be on the correct route.

The mile posts were better at having more major towns or cities on them so they acted as a better guide as to whether I was heading in the right direction. These are scattered along the routes but not always a key decision points along the route. I didn't see any in central Derby when I could really have done with one.

There were too additional problems with the route marking. Some of the signs had stickers on them obscuring the route number and one had been turned to point in the wrong direction. Fortunately, I recognised that when it said city centre it should have been pointing in the direction that I was coming from making it easier to select the correct direction.

There were some interesting sections on this part of the ride and on the section between Mickleover and Etwall, I passed a Sustrans Volunteer talking to other riders about difficulties maintaining the cycle route. A lot of this section of the ride skirted around the edge of small villages. Some did have signed routes into the village centre.

Route 54 joins Route 5 at the back of Lichfield Cathedral. A quick ride around the cathedral and it was then off to the station to catch the train back to Kings Norton for the 2 kilometre rid home. It was nice to have the rest on the train and meet other cyclists who had ridden part of Route 81 in Wales. They had caught the train back from Shrewsbury.

The total journey distance including the ride to and from Kings Norton station was 94.1 km. I was on the bike for 5 hours 20 minutes and 12 seconds at an average speed of 17.6 km/hr. The photos on this journey were taken with my Canon EOS 300D. It wasn't as easy to carry so that I had easy access and for a lot of the journey, I held it in one hand while I rode. The more compact Canon SX210IS is easier to carry and keep in a camera bag strapped to my Camelback back pack strap.

One of my objectives on these rides was to meet people. I am not finding that this is happening. Apart from other riders or walkers, it is proving a lonely existence. Admittedly my current format, which means that I am fairly self sufficient and I don't stay anywhere along the route, means that I meet people on the way to the beginning of the ride or on my way back at the end. Occasionally, I have asked for direction but that really doesn't get you talking.

This ride took in some country lanes and paths across farm land. It also took some back allies or followed along beside roads through cities. In Nottingham, there was a section through a park were sports were happening. You do get to see a diversity in styles and standards of dwellings but if you want to explore some of the UK's heritage then you have to plan side excursions. The ride to Stratford took in some historic sites but the objective of the routes isn't to take in historic sites or necessarily scenic beauty (although there is some of that), the key objective is to have safe cycle routes that are free of heavy traffic flows. As a result, you end up on relatively quite roads or tracks that are traffic free. However, other than in areas close to cities or towns, they are also free of cyclists and pedestrians. Even in some areas close to cities or towns, the volume of users is extremely low.

I have found a way to put all of my rides on a Google map so that it is easier to look at the details of the ride. One of the options shows the cycle routes as well so I am looking at how I can adapt this so it can be accessed from the blog. It would also be good to be able to link back to the blog entries from the map / index. Another small project.