The Morgan Two…a brand extension too far?

Iconic English sports car company, Morgan Motors, has jumped on the popular cycling bandwagon by announcing a limited edition bicycle of its own – the Morgan Two. The two-speed bike weighs a bulky 15kg or so, has a Brooks saddle, handlebars and saddlebag, and uses a Shimano Tiagra front caliper brake to complement the Sturmey duo-matic hub with pedal brake on the back. According to the web site, “The special edition revolves around cromoly 4130 double butted steel frame manufactured by Foffa of London, which makes it sturdy on the roads and at the same time light as steel can get.” Clearly, they don’t know about Reynolds 953, and wouldn’t it be nice if they could spell ‘chromoloy’ correctly?

Morgan Two
The Morgan Two is being produced in a limited edition of 50.

Looking the spec, this is a totally unremarkable bike which, at £1196.40 is expensive. In fact, the only remarkable thing about this bicycle is the over-inflated price.  This is just one example of a far better machine at half the price. Alright, the Morgan Two is being produced as a limited edition of 50, but you’d need a very limited knowledge of what makes a worthwhile bike to spend your hard-earned cash on this one.

Should one-way streets be two-way for cyclists?

Having spotted this recent piece on about a Brighton cyclist fined for cycling against the traffic in a one way street, my memory was triggered about a Department for Transport trial scheme in London to permit cyclists to do exactly that. I dug around a little.

The first story I found was a 2009 one in the Daily Mail announcing the trial scheme, and pointing out that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, had recently been caught cycling the wrong way along a one-way street. The goal of the trial was to encourage more cycling by enabling cyclists to use the most direct routes to their destinations. The Daily Mail has a poll on the online story, the results of which can be interpreted as disappointing, with 84% of respondents stating the cyclists should not be allowed to cycle against the traffic. Of course, at least 84% of respondents are likely to be motorists who don’t cycle, so I think we can safely dismiss that bit of nonsense as not being relevant to the issue.

I couldn’t navigate my way through the DfT website to get an update on the trial but this blog story from BikeMinded last September warmed my heart because it’s clear that London is opening more and more of its streets to cyclists.

More London one-way streets are allowing cyclists to ride against the flow of traffic. When done responsibly, perhaps this is safer than having cars and trucks come up behind you?
More London one-way streets are allowing cyclists to ride against the flow of traffic. When done responsibly, perhaps this is safer than having cars and trucks come up behind you?

Brighton on the other hand remains in the cycling Dark Ages. Reportedly, Brighton police officer Elaine Welsh, said: “Cyclists travelling the wrong way in St James’s Street is the biggest complaint from local residents and business owners and can end in serious injury for both pedestrians and cyclists. We will be actively looking for those caught ignoring the one-way signs and issuing them with on the spot fines. I am pleased that Blaison’s (the offender) appeals were dismissed as he refused point blank to accept responsibility for his actions or almost hitting the pedestrian.”

Two things struck me about PC Welsh’s comments. First, her claim that cycling the wrong way along St James’s Street can end in serious injury for both pedestrians and cyclists is a statement of the blindingly obvious. Cycling anywhere there are pedestrians can do that. It doesn’t necessarily follow that cycling against the traffic along a one-way street is more dangerous than cycling along any other city street. Second, she felt that the cyclist should have accepted more responsibility for “almost hitting a pedestrian.” On that basis, shouldn’t we be able to prosecute all of the motorist that almost hit cyclists, or all the pedestrians who, on my commute into Bath, almost topple me from my bike by walking into the road without looking? If almost causing an accident is an offence, I’m sure Brighton’s streets could keep PC Welsh very busy indeed. She could probably notch up enough prosecutions to get promoted…so this could be just the thin end of the wedge.

The London experiment has shown conclusively that it is possible for cyclists to use one-way streets in both directions without increased risk to themselves or other road users, or pedestrians. It’s standard practice throughout most of Europe and expansion of such schemes in the UK has been encouraged by the CTC for many years. The most important thing is to ensure that we cycle responsibly and safely. At least when we’re riding against the traffic, we get the opportunity to look motorists in the eye, and to see where they’re looking as the come towards us. I think it’s time for a call to Bath City Council to see what they have to say on the matter…

Now you don’t need to wear lycra to be a real cyclist

Lycra has its upsides – it dries fast after a shower, it reduces your wind resistance and it shows off your figure. But having seen a few thousand cyclists at various events this year, its clear to me that not all figures are ideally suited to lycra. In fact, I’m on a bit of a mission to get everyone over 40 out of lycra, so to speak. The problem for the mature road cyclist is that there isn’t that much choice, at least in terms of dedicated cycling trousers, if you don’t want to wear lycra or the ridiculous baggies worn (inexplicably) by mountain bikers. But I have found one supplier of cycling clothes, some of which I’ve come to really like.

Let’s put this into perspective. First, my idea of a designer brand has always been M&S. In fact, I’d struggle to name more than a couple of designer clothes brands, assuming that there are more than two. Second, I have no commercial connection with the company and it’s apparent that its clothes are designed for a younger generation, but some Rapha stuff is terrific. My favourites are the 3/4 trousers, reminiscent of plus-fours but tailored for cycling with a lower front and higher back, and Rapha denim jeans, which seem to be a perfect fit for me. Also, I recently bought one of the company’s inappropriately named ‘hardshell’ winter jackets – great fit, warm and waterproof – and nothing ‘hard’ about it at all.

Me modelling a lycra alternative - Rapha tailored plus fours and waterproof jacket. A new career beckons....
Me modelling a lycra alternative – Rapha tailored plus fours and waterproof jacket. A new career beckons….

Rapha gear is not all good. I tried the padded undershorts and they gave me serious thigh chaffing due to the poor placement of the pad stitching, so I returned them. But when riding a Brooks B17 saddle, which I do most of the time, I find I don’t need undershorts if I wear decent cycling trousers. (I’ve never understood why a saddle, or a Hercules aircraft, would be called a B17?) The other product that I’ve found to be completely useless is the Rapha’s fingerless leather gloves. In the winter it’s too cold to wear them and when you get sweaty hands in the summer, they just stick to you in a very uncomfortable way. And beware, the sizing is a bit on the Italian side – I’m about 77kg and 5 ft 11″ but need a large size. No wonder all their SALE items are small.

Like a lot of people involved in marketing, I am of course totally immune to the wiles of advertising and brand promotion in general. But for the most part Rapha has won me over, despite one cycling friend of mine dismissing it as “over-priced crap”.

Free Country by George Mahood: irreverent, amusing and revealing

This self-published book by George Mahood is great fun. In Free Country: A Penniless Adventure the Length of Britain, George and a fellow adventurer set off to prove that the people of Britain are generous, considerate and generally good eggs. The experiment to examine this thesis involves setting off from Land’s End towards John O’Groats to complete the journey by bicycle. The couple’s only possessions at the start are a pair of union jack boxer shorts each plus a camera, notebook and pencil to record the journey. No bikes or alternative means of transport, no other clothes, no money. For 18.5 days they then blag their way to John O’Groats and cover the 1000 miles on the most unlikely bicycles, which were acquired along the way.

Free country
A heart-warming tale of British generosity, and cycling lunacy

There are interesting descriptions of the places visited but this is a travel book that’s much more about people than geography, revealing the stark contrasts in attitude that travellers might encounter on a bizarre journey such as this. And, before you ask, the Scots come out of if at least as well as the English for their generosity and good humour.

Towards the end of the book George comments, “It doesn’t cost anything to cycle or walk through the beautiful British countryside… It doesn’t cost anything to make new friends, and it doesn’t cost anything to smile and have fun.” Amen to that.

At £1.99 for the Kindle edition (£10.99 in paperback), this book is a steal.

Biking and breakfast…a great way to start the day

One of my favourite things about cycling to work is how great you feel when you arrive…alive, alert and ready to face the day. My commute is about 7.5 miles from South Wraxall in Wiltshire to my office that overlooks the Royal Crescent in the beautiful city of Bath.

Royal Crescent, Bath
My commuting destination, an office adjacent to Bath’s famous Royal Crescent

It starts with a 2 mile climb, nothing too strenuous, then a steep 2 mile descent into Bathford followed by a fairly level run into Bath, dodging the trucks and other traffic. There’s only a token gesture by Bath City Council towards this being a cycle friendly route. A few white lines on parts of the road through Batheaston and then a couple of minor diversions as the road narrows whereby the cyclist is taken briefly off the road onto the footpath before being thrown back into the path of following traffic about 10 metres further on. Whoever designed these ‘cycling safety lanes’ has obviously never ridden a bike in his life!

Chai tea and porridge..a reward to myself for the winter commute
Chai tea and porridge..a reward to myself for the winter commute

This morning I set off in the dark, the only downside of which is having to dodge the potholes on the descent toward Bath. As I write this now, I’ve just finished breakfast: a pot of porridge with honey and a cup of Vanilli Chai tea (I keep wanting to call it Tai Chi, but that’s just my age..). This indulgent breakfast is my little reward to myself for not taking the easy option and hopping in the car. And in some ways it’s the best part of the day. Off to work……

This Sunday’s family cycling trip…the Forest of Dean

I am not by any stretch of the imagination a mountain biker. I do own a mountain bike, a hardtail built up from a second-hand Genesis Ti frame and some mid-range Shimano bits, but it’s normally shod with tyres more suited to tarmac than to mud. Riding a mountain bike from can sometimes be pleasant change from riding a road bike. A bit like getting out of a Ferrari and onto a tractor I imagine, although I’ve never owned either. There’s a soft and comfortable feeling to it, a sofa on wheels. Today, we made our second visit to the cycling centre in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire. It is a superb place to cycle with all the family (in my case my wife and 9 year-old twins, Harry and Matilda) and there are routes catering for riders of every standard, from casual to verging on lunatic.

Cycling Forest of Dean
Cycling in the Forest of Dean can be as relaxed or demanding as you like. This is not us…we all wear helmets!

We took the 20km family route of largely dry and undemanding trails with the occasional small diversion over humps and dips so that the kids can let off steam. Back at the start there’s a smart cafe, bike shop and workshop, and even somewhere to hose off your bike.

On My Own Two Wheels: Back in the Saddle at 60. A book by Malachi O’Doherty

At the start, I thought I’d enjoy this book more than I did. I had taken up cycling seriously again at the age of 56 and the author at the age of 60. I thought we’d have a few things in common but, apart from the desire to lose a bit of weight, we didn’t. “On My Own Two Wheels” is a deeply introspective and rather sombre book and if you don’t know your way around Eire and Northern Ireland, then read it with a map your other hand, otherwise many of the journeys described will be rather meaningless. I battled through to the end of the book but I don’t think it ever succeeds in expressing the sheer joy and freedom of riding a bike; the author seems to take everything so very seriously.

On My Own Two Wheels
A rather introspective and joyless book about cycling

However, one particular idea from the book stuck in my mind: “We had the wheel for about ten thousand years before discovering that one behind another was enough for an elementary vehicle…” I did a little more research. According to Wikipedia: “The oldest known example of a wooden wheel and its axle were found in April 2002 in the Ljubljana Marshes some 20 km south of Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. According to the radiocarbon dating, it is between 5,100 and 5,350 years old. It has a diameter of 72 centimetres (28 in) and has been made of ash wood, whereas its axle has been made of oak.” The predecessor of the modern bicycle, the dandy horse or Draisienne, dates from 1817. It is quite staggering to think that it took 5000 years for mankind to make the leap from wheel to bicycle. How could Leonardo da Vinci have missed this one yet still figured out the idea of helicopters, particularly when the earliest wheel was already the right size for a bike?

Should the wearing of bicycle helmets be made compulsory in the UK?

I’m as sure as anyone can be that a bicycle helmet saved me from more serious injury, or worse, when I had a cycling accident in 2010. On a bright, clear, May morning, as I was coasting downhill on my Airnimal Chameleon folding bike, a jogger emerged from between parked vehicles directly into my path. He didn’t even cast a glance in my direction. As I swerved to avoid him, which I did reasonably successfully, I lost control of my bike. I hit the ground hard and slid across the road, only coming to a halt as the back of my head hit the corner of a raised kerb with enough impact to leave a deep dent about 3 inches long in the helmet and leave me unconscious on the tarmac. A doctor friend of mine who was riding behind me is also convinced that the helmet was a potential life save in this accident. None of the drama of a car crash, or getting caught in the left-hand blindspot of a lorry, but this simple accident, which happened at about 15 mph put me in hospital for two weeks and out of work for six. Unsurprisingly, I’m a very strong advocate of wearing a helmet when cycling. But then again I always have been, and perhaps it saved my life.

Meanwhile the arguments for an against compulsory helmet wearing rage on, some supported by “scientific” papers and others by anecdote or “common sense”. The most recent CTC campaign brief (which by its very title suggests that it comes from a position of bias) is called “Cycle helmets: An overview of the evidence.” It pushes the same tired old arguments we’ve been hearing for years and even throws in some statistical equations to bolster its credibility. You would have to devote months of study to really get to the truth about the quality of most of the evidence presented and I am sure there will holes in the methodology and/or conclusions of most the papers referenced. And don’t forget, when giving an overview of any evidence, you can be selective in exactly which evidence you choose to review. How much of the evidence in favour of wearing helmets ended up in the waste bin under the reviewer’s desk? It’s not unknown for a researcher to respond to the question, “What do you think the result will be?” with “What result would you like?” The CTC has a clearly stated position and it’s not going to publish evidence that contradicts that position. To be fair, this most recent paper does cite 140 references to others, in case you’ve nothing on your plate for the next couple of years. But, having reviewed a random sample, the relevance of some of these papers to the arguments presented do seem rather tenuous and a large number of them are for studies conducted outside of the UK, where cycling conditions are often totally different to those encountered on our roads.

Cycling helmet
Is it really not worth £50 to reduce your chances of injury in some cycling accidents?

Despite my advocacy for helmet wearing, I agree with the conclusions of a paper published in the Journal of Medical Ethics last year (2012) that argues convincingly against the imposition of a legal requirement to wear a cycling helmet, except perhaps in the case of children. In a paper entitled “Liberty or death; don’t tread on me“, authors Hooper and Spicer provide a very coherent case for civil liberties to be to taken into consideration, whilst acknowledging that helmets do provide a degree of protection against head injuries in some instances (as concluded by the BMA’s research). If over 30,000 smokers die of lung cancer and tens of thousands die from alcohol related diseases, why should we legislate for the 200 or so deaths and 2000 or so injuries that are inflicted on cyclists each year, particularly when most of these outcomes would not be prevented by helmets, when we don’t prevent people causing themselves serious harm in other ways? (By the way, if somebody cycles for 50 years, don’t the numbers become a bit more scary: 10,000 deaths and 100,000 serious injuries over that period.)

I will always wear a cycling helmet because I believe I have benefited from that practice and may well do so again in the future. I would much rather that somebody took up cycling than be put off by a legal requirement to wear a helment, and we all have a duty to our children to do everything we can to protect them. I’m in the fortunate position that the cost of a helmet does not deter me from cycling at all, but I recognise that for some it probably does. I would rather they cycled without a helmet than not at all, so long as they understand that the head is a pretty important piece of kit, and of far greater value than the price of a helment. It’s also the heaviest part of the body and striking the ground with it is more than a little risky.

When I see others cycling without helmets, I don’t consider them to stupid. However, I do think that their decision is unwise and I will  encourage them to reconsider. In this controversial matter, doing what we believe to be right does not mean imposing our opinions on others through legislative process. I just wish the CTC would stop clouding the issues with irrelevant data, and start promoting helmet use in a positive way. Or maybe the organisation is frightened of giving the government a stick to beat them with: “You think it’s important for cyclists to wear helmets, so why shouldn’t we compel them to do so?”

After the accident I mentioned at the start of this post, I was very ably supported by the CTC’s legal firm in gaining significant compensation from the jogger for the injuries I suffered. (Incidentally, the guy at no stage during my extended and painful recovery ever bothered to enquire about the state I was in, or even if I had survived the fall – despite the fact that was unconscious on the ground after the event.) The final irony of this story is that I was advised by Paul Kitson, the CTC’s legal eagle at Russel Jones & Walker, that if I had not been wearing a helmet, I may have received a lower level of compensation due to contributory negligence. How do you square that with the CTC’s neutral stance on the subject?

Bifocal cycling glasses – why don’t bike shops sell them?

With the dramatic rise in the number of older cyclists (the definition of ‘old’ being 15 years older than you are today), there must now be millions of riders around the world who need reading glasses. For cycling, these would ideally be wrap-around bifocals so that you can read both road signs and your GPS screen or map.

But what do you find when you go to your local bike shop, or any of the major online cycling kit dealers? Absolutely nothing.

I found a solution on eBay by searching for “safety bifocals”. This turns up a lot of options, some of which are indistinguishable from sports glasses and do the job a treat. I wear clear ones all year round for protection against flying debris and insects but you can also find dark tinted versions and glasses with yellow lenses. Prices start from about £5 per pair, a fraction of the price of designer sunglasses that appear to be almost identical, bar a logo.

Cycling bifocals
These bifocal safety glasses from eBay are ideal for cycling, eliminating the need to carry a separate pair of reading glasses and providing good eye protection. You can find dark or yellow tinted versions too.

Searching on “bifocal sports glasses” brings up even more options, although my impression is that adding in the word “sports” seems to make exactly the same products about 50% dearer, and one that boasts “Italy Design” is around twice the price of most of the others, but looks no different.

Nearly all of these glasses come from the US, so it’s worth buying a few at the same time so that postage doesn’t add too much to the cost of each pair. In my experience, every time you show them to another cyclist who’s long-sighted they’ll say, “you don’t happen to have a spare pair, do you?”

Mud, Sweat and Gears…a book about beer with some incidental cycling

Ellie Bennett’s book is subtitled “Cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats (via the pub)” and really is more about pubs and beer than cycling or bikes. In fact, having read if from cover to cover (if you can do such a thing on a Kindle) I’m still not sure what kind of bike she was riding. The book is easy reading. It has the usual complaints about hills, rain and headwinds but is full of very interesting historical stuff about the places that Ellie and her companion Mick pass through or visit along the way.

Cycling book
If you’re a beer and cycling enthusiast, this is the book for you

My only reservation is that the style sometimes seems to change very abruptly between the general narrative and descriptions of places or events. It feels like chunks of it have come from from tourist guides or history books before Ellie drops back into her own easy-going writing again.

The beer bibliography is extensive; how she managed to complete the journey with so much drinking along the way is baffling. The book shows that even if you’re 50-plus, and perhaps not in peak condition, you can still achieve, and enjoy, great bike rides in the UK. (I’ll correct this post in due course if Scotland votes for independence; if that happens, it might be a nice challenge to be first to complete the Land’s End to John O’Groats run through two independent states!)