Commuting tips

I have been commuting for about a month now. Soon I will break-even on the fuel savings I have made against the additional equipment I have bought.

People who think commuting is “free” are deluded. To commute properly, especially over the sort of distances I travel (44 km roundtrip), you need the right equipment and it needs to be maintained.

Racks, panniers and lights are needed. My rack was around £30, my cheap starter panniers around the the £40 mark, my SKS Raceblades were also in the same ballpark, and I have spent around £100 on lighting: (2 x Knog Blinders, and a SSC-P7 lamp). You need to be seen, and you need to see where you’re going.

I already had a yellow hi-vis cycling jacket, shorts, jerseys and base-layers. But these things get worn out quickly with regular all-weather riding — especially when you come off at the level crossing just outside Collingham! So replacements have to be funded.

I also had to invest in winter gloves, new shoes covers, and some arm and leg warmers. So as you can see, this gig ain’t free…

That said, I’ve halved my weekly diesel bill and I will continue to save every time I ride to work.

The thing is, every time I commute I learn something new and become a better cyclist. So I thought it would be cool to share a few tips on here.

  • You need lights, but they don’t have to cost the earth. Get a rechargeable blinker (front and back) and a cheap SSC-P7 headlight from Amazon or eBay. You will be amazed how powerful they are for around £30

  • Fenders (aka mudguards) are a must. Fenders will keep your bike and your legs much drier and cleaner. Grit and dirt in your drive chain or brakes will lessen the equipment’s lifecycle and create all sorts of annoying creeks and squeaks — I mistakenly bought Raceblades as the bike shop said they would be the only ones that would fit my disc brakes. A crock. You want a full length fender like the SKS Chromoplastic (I have just ordered some) or Crud RoadRacer Mk2

  • Don’t worry about weight. You want your bike to be reasonably light, especially if your commute has some climbs, but don’t get hung up on carbon or the most expensive lightweight gear. You’re going to be carrying a second set of clothes, some waterproofs, possibly a laptop and your lunch. So shaving a few grams off your bar-ends won’t really make that much difference. Also, replacing carbon parts is expensive if you take a fall (and you will)

  • Tyres. Tyres. Tyres. I have had two tumbles because my skinny race tyres are simply not up to the conditions. It’s November — the roads are slippery and the cycle trails are boggy. Today I ordered a pair of cyclocross tyres to see me through the rest of the winter. My slicks will have to sit this out

  • Baby wipes and roll-on deodorant. Keep these in your locker or desk. If like me, you don’t have a shower at work, you can keep fresh and clean for the work day. Keep a spare pair of socks at work too

  • Clean and lube. Depending on how far you’re commuting and the conditions, you’ll need to ensure your bike is washed down and properly lubricated. You don’t need fancy cleaning sprays, but a bucket of soapy water and/or a hose are a must. Remember to use a water displacing lubricant spray around your components and chain oil to keep the drivetrain running nicely in all conditions

  • Finally, have a healthy snack at hand. You’re using far more calories than being sat behind the wheel. You might not make it to your usual lunchtime — so don’t get caught buying crap from the vending machine. Have a box of cereals in your drawer or some fruit — refuel properly, don’t throwaway all your hard work

    I’ll probably post some more tips from time to time, so do drop in or feel free to ask me any questions you might have.


  • Back on the bike

    Recently I have begun cycling again. In my early-to-mid 20’s I was an avid and passionate mountain biker. I rode most evenings, and I would be out on the trails almost all of the weekend. I stopped cycling when working shifts and having kids meant time had become a premium commodity.

    When I was about 24 I was fit — I mean really fit. I regularly went away to the Lake District for a long-weekend and rode up and down hills for 8-10 hours a day. I loved it. But then I stopped. I stopped and I got fat. I even gave up football.

    I am now several stones over my ideal weight (if several can be stretched to about 5?). I’m unfit and I drink too much. My weight has meant that I have a bad back and I get out of breath if I try moderate exercise.

    I started cycling again before Christmas. I took on a local trail that before would have been a quick week-night blast in my heyday. I was fucked. I could barely do it. If it hadn’t have been for a puncture half-way around, I think my riding buddies would have just shot me.

    Obviously, with long winter nights and working through the day, riding opportunities are rare. But I have made sure I get in at least one ride each weekend — even when the ground is covered in snow and ice. And yes, I’ve started to build up my stamina and general fitness. The impressive leg muscles I used to display have woken from their decade long slumber, and while still yawning and getting used to the bright light of routine exercise, awake they certainly are.

    Cycling isn’t cheap. Well it could be if I wasn’t such an insufferable geek. Anyway, since December I have bought a £1,000 slick-tyre hybrid, and my beloved Orange mountain bike has been booked in for a serious overhaul (well-worn late 90’s kit is no good on the fashionable trails). A full new 2012 Deore XT transmission, Race Face finishing kit and set of fancy new Rock Shox forks are sitting in a Merlin Cycles checkout basket, waiting for me to find the funds to pay for them.

    To finance my rekindled interest in cycling I have started selling my hi-fi and other gear on eBay. I have never sold anything on eBay before so it’s a new experience for me, and I have to say it, I’ve been bitten by the eBay bug… C’mon everybody, let’s party like it’s 1997!!

    Every ping of my phone gives me the shivers. Is it a bid on my loudspeakers or my CD player? Or maybe it’s another 50p placed on the XBOX X-Factor game the kids never even opened? Anyway it’s all coming along beautifully, and my Paypal account is beginning to swell, ready for the day when I click buy on that bumper Merlin shopping cart.

    To make the most of this cycle-based spending, I need to continue to work hard on my fitness, and that includes making time in the evening to do some exercise every day — either on my hybrid, my fixed bike, or getting out for those runs I’ve been threatening for weeks. So that’s why I have written this post. I want to document (and shame myself into) getting down to the twelve-and-a-half stone target I have set myself. I have 18-months from today. You with me? Great.

    UPDATE: While I’ve just posted this, I actually wrote this on Tuesday. Since then I have got two of those runs in and a decent bike ride today.

    Fanboys. Bite me

    Comic Book Guy, a Tad Pensive, don't you think?

    Image by Pocheco (Creative Commons).

    I’ve been going to write this post for a while. It’s about fanboys. As someone who’s always been into gaming and tech, I’ve had long exposure to fanboys.

    I remember just before Christmas when I was a young teen (thirteen or fourteen), I had asked my parents for a Commodore Amiga — which subsequently, they kindly bought for me. I was looking forward to Christmas morning, but every evening on the way home from school, my friend Adam would run-down the Amiga, and list all the reasons his Sega Megadrive (AKA Sega Genesis, which he had asked for) was going to be so much better.

    I never challenged Adam. Not because the Amiga was inferior (it wasn’t), but because even then I knew it was a waste of time. I don’t enter debates when someone is fundamentally unwilling to compromise. This is why I no longer write a politics blog.

    There was no-way I could say anything that would make Adam concede even the slightest point in any discussion, so why bother? To Adam the Megadrive was the dog’s dangly bits, and nothing I could say could make him think otherwise. Adam was a fanboy.

    A year later and Nintendo’s SNES had been launched, and the second console wars had begun. If you’re a man of a certain age, you know all about the SNES vs Megadrive hostilities. I got a SNES the following Christmas and Adam switched to Nintendo, and somewhat ironically, we were “allies” for a short time. This certainly made the walks to school less combative.

    I imagine the N64 vs PlayStation debate was similarity bloody, but by that time I was at Uni and more concerned with getting laid. I did get an N64 though, and we had a shared PlayStation in the digs.

    As regular readers will know, I’ve been an Apple Mac user for many years. Naturally I’ve also had significant exposure to the Mac vs PC debate. At work I use Windows, at home a Mac. I prefer a Mac, but I don’t have any appetite whatsoever to get into an argument about it.

    Probably the most vicious debate these days is about smartphones. You read the most ridiculous bullshit about smartphones. Most of the comments and tweets I read about the iPhone, are by people who’ve clearly not spent more than a few seconds in an O2 store with one. Likewise the idiots who claim that Android phones are over-complicated, or that there are no good apps available.

    I use Macs, Windows and I have a Linux netbook. I have an iPhone 4 from work and my personal phone is a Samsung Galaxy SII rocking Android. They’re all really good devices and great operating systems. And for a long time I totally loved BlackBerry.

    If you like your phone, games console or computer operating system, then great. And by all means tell people how much you — personally — really enjoy using it. But if you’re going to spend your time on Twitter or in the comments of a popular tech blog, commenting on devices or software you’ve never actually used seriously, then you Sir, are a moron of the highest order.

    Fanboys are like the X-Factor or tabloid newspapers, they’re diverting but ultimately pointless.

    We’re all capable and guilty of prejudice. But if you allow your loyalty to a brand (think about how stupid that sounds), to consume your ability to have a rational discussion, then you really should find a better outlet for your repressed insecurities.

    This is not a blog for fanboys, this is a blog for rational geeks.

    Persecuted? Whatevs.

    I generally don’t do religion. My own thoughts/persuasions are private. However I really hate the media’s obsession with Christian victimhood.

    From the Mail:

    An electrician faces the sack for displaying a small palm cross on the dashboard of his company van.

    Former soldier Colin Atkinson has been summoned to a disciplinary hearing by the giant housing association where he has been employed for 15 years because he refuses to remove the symbol.

    Mr Atkinson, a regular worshipper at church, said: ‘The treatment of Christians in this country is becoming diabolical…but I will stand up for my faith.’

    As my buddy Merk points out, this is not his own van. It’s the private property of the company he works for. This is not his call.

    Anyway… nowhere in the bible does it say, ‘You must adorn your chariot with a cross made of lollypop sticks’.