A bike for pootling

This week I took delivery of a new steed – a hybrid bike.

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Whilst I do have a mountain bike, it’s no longer fit to ride, so for a long time all my cycling has been on my road bike. However, I fancy having the option to have a change of pace from time to time; rather than racing around the roads, I want the choice to have a more leisurely pootle in the countryside. I also want to do some utility cycling, that is cycling for local journeys rather than sport/leisure cycling and I want a more comfortable bike to take on holiday so I can cycle around new areas rather than driving everywhere. A hybrid bike seems the perfect answer.

Hybrids bridge the gap between speed focussed road bikes and pure off-road mountain bikes. Mine, a Specialized Crosstrail, is closer to a mountain bike than road bike with front suspension, disk brakes and fatter tyres. I made this selection as I wanted to use it both on and off road; being able to take it off road gives me a greater choice of routes and enables me to get away from the circuits I would usually do with my road bike. I particularly want to give towpath cycling a go as there’s quite a good selection close to where I live with the Trent & Mersey, Shropshire Union and Llangollen all within easy reach of home.

Yesterday I gave the new bike a first proper run out and headed into Nantwich and onto the Shropshire Union. I pedalled north until the junction with the Llangollen where I turned west and cycled out to Wrenbury. I then joined the local country lanes, passing through Aston and almost getting into Audlem before heading north and back onto the Shropshire Union to travel back into Nantwich.

Riding along the towpaths certainly gave me some new views to take in and the journey was more relaxing than my usual cycling. The only issues I came across were the lumpiness of some of the paths, which made riding a bit uncomfortable in sections, and walkers getting in the way. I tried to be as courteous as possible, they have right of way after all, and I used the bell each time I approached a group. However, it seems that people have forgotten what a bike bell sounds like and on a few occasions they didn’t connect the sound of a bell to the possibility that a cyclist might be wanting to get past – one couple even thought I was a chicken! It seems that cyclists need to use them more and walkers need to be a little more aware their surroundings.

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I have to say I wasn’t sure cyclists would be welcome on the canals. Cyclists are allowed to use towpaths, most of them are permissive paths rather than rights of ways, and a permit is no longer needed (see Canal & River Trust website) but I got a big range in reactions as I travelled. Some people completely ignored my ‘hello’ as I passed and appeared unhappy that I was there while I had long conversations with others, interested in where I was going.

After yesterday’s first trip, I couldn’t stop myself and went out on the tow paths again today – a shorter route on a different section of canal but just as nice and a bit less lumpy. So far, so good – I can’t wait to see where my new bike takes me next.

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Cycle helmets: making your kids wear one…

…but not wearing one yourself?

I don’t really want to engage in the whole debate about making wearing a cycle helmet a legal requirement – I have my views and I’ll stick to them. However, as someone who always wears one, I find it hard to understand it when I see a parent out cycling with their child, with the child wearing one but not the parent.

What kind of message is that giving to the child? ‘Its okay, when you grow up, you won’t need to wear one either!’ Whilst these children are clearly precious to their parents (they are making them wear a helmet afterall), it doesn’t exactly do the children much good to have a parent in hospital with severe head injures, or worse, does it?  Furthermore, when does a child stop being precious to their parents?  By not wearing a helmet, the parents are indirectly encouraging their children not to wear a helmet later in life, increasing the potential that they could come to harm if they have an accident.

That is all.

Cyclist trouble in the Glaslyn Valley…

Back down the winding track through the old woodland, the rainfall rivers across the way have now dried, as has the protection site. While last week, the river was threatening to break its banks, this week it has a mellow calmness about its movement and it has dropped well below the field level. High up in the tree now sits a complete clutch of three precious speckled eggs.  It’s not all peace and quiet though – there’s a fair bit if mutual antagonism between the ospreys and their carrion crow neighbours with the ospreys giving chase or being mobbed over the course of each day.

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On Saturday I retuned to the Glaslyn osprey protection site near Porthmadog in North Wales for another eight hour shift. This time I had company in the form of Jack, one of my fellow volunteers from my local conservation volunteering group. To break up the shift, Jack and I took it in turns to go for a walk in the woodland near to the site. It’s a lovely spot in amongst the old moss-covered oaks and the small craggy hills. Spring bird song was all around and no road noise to disturb the peace; in fact it was almost silent when we arrived at the site. The bluebells are starting to come through, a little later than at home, and the trees are just starting to burst their leaf buds.

It’s not just the ospreys that keep our interest while on shift; the valley is full of life. The birds are the most obvious with 38 different species seen or heard by me on my three visits so far this year but there are mammals too.  The bank voles scuttle on the drystone wall beside the caravan and often a weasel isn’t far behind. There are badgers in the vicinity of the protection site and a lucky few get a glimpse of otters in the river – but not me so far!

In my 30-odd shifts over this and the previous two springs, I have never had an incident to deal with but this changed on Saturday.  Part way into the shift, a cyclist came through the gate by the caravan and proceeded past and towards the bridge over the river.  I spoke to him and made him aware that while the footpath wasn’t closed,  there were nesting ospreys in the area and that if he continued across the bridge and into the field he risked disturbing them.  I told him that if he did indeed disturb them, he would be breaking the law (Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981) and if this was a serious disturbance I would call the Police.  This didn’t seem to bother him and he dismissed my warning with some mutterings about cycling on footpaths and off he went.  He said he would push his bike around the edge of the field but got back on to his bike and rode straight across once over the river.  When he approached the vicinity of the nest tree, the female flew off, circled above and then appeared to dive towards him before they both disappeared from sight.  However, the male stayed firmly on the nest, keeping the eggs warm and the female soon returned.

No harm was done in the end but it just shows how little care some people have for wildlife when their presence risks inconveniencing them.

 

Car v Cyclist Conflict

On my walk each morning from my parked car to the railway station, I frequently have to move aside while on the footway to avoid being knocked over by a cyclist.  When I say ‘frequently’, I mean this happens several times a week to me and I’m sure it happens on an hourly basis every day in that particular area.  Yes, the road isn’t that nice for cyclists; with cars having little room to pass, I’m sure it can be a quite intimidating stretch of road. However, out of concern for themselves, these cyclists show no concern for others, and this is the real issue I’ve been thinking about.

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Car versus cyclist conflict is rarely out of the media these days and most people can gripe about cyclists on footways.   I’m a driver, cyclist and pedestrian, and my views change whenever I change mode. Cyclists on footways annoy me but so do drivers passing too close to me when I’m cycling, while cyclists riding two abreast on narrow roads is just plain stupidity; so I can see arguments from all sides, but most people should be able to.  This leads to the over-riding issue, as it really is about thinking about the other person.

The big issue isn’t about cars versus cyclists, cyclists versus pedestrians, or cars versus pedestrians for that matter, the issue really is about an absolute lack of care and respect for each other.  The society we live in has led to people becoming so self-absorbed and blinkered towards their own well-being and comfort, that many, if not most, people show a complete disregard for their impact on others. If we all started to consider the impact we each individually have, instead of automatically putting ourselves first, these kinds of conflicts would reduce.  I think it likely that a change of attitude towards each other would have a bigger impact than spending millions of pounds of road safety engineering.

Unfortunately, changing behaviour is a lot more difficult than putting in speed humps.

Link – THINK! Road Safety

Summer is here!

…well almost.

The change to British Summer Time signals the real start of my cycling year.  While I do cycle during the late Autumn and Winter, the light nights after the clocks go forward mean I can make the most of the evenings and cycle out into the countryside. The state of the roads in South Cheshire and the lack of care taken by some drivers, means that I don’t feel safe cycling in the pitch darkness, so I keep most of my cycling to the Spring, Summer and early Autumn months.

I’m a moderately keen road cyclist with a occasional return to my former mountain-biking ways.  I try to cycle as often as I can and since last Summer I’ve started cycling and running, one immediately after the other, with the hope of getting to a good level of all-round fitness.  This approach has started to pay off but I need to get back into the cycling element after this took a back seat over the winter (and following my bike being pinched).

Yesterday was the first really nice evening when I could cycle after work.  With light winds and a strengthening Sun, the Summer seemed just around the corner and I was quite pleased with my time over my usual 15mile route around some villages close to Nantwich.

My improving ear for picking up bird sounds seems to have spilled over into my cycling and I noted many more birds than I have done on any previous ride.  The highlight was a skylark singing high up in the warm Spring air as I passed along a quiet country lane – I almost paused to listen but once I get pedalling, I find it hard to stop. I also noted mute swan, canada goose, mallard, carrion crow, jackdaw, magpie, starling, blue tit, great tit, chiffchaff, greenfinch, goldfinch, chaffinch, dunnock, house sparrow, robin, wren and woodpigeon.

No swallows, martins or swifts yet, but they’ll soon be swooping past while I’m on my evening pedals around the Cheshire countryside.