Monday, 31 October 2011

Boris Bikes

A recent trip to London finally gave me the chance to have a sit on one of the Boris bikes. The bike hire scheme in London seems to have been amazingly successful- everywhere you go in London now there's someone nipping past on one...I wasn't brave enough to take a trip out -I was a little too easily distracted by the bright lights and big city to be safe. I understand the scheme is open to visitors in much the same way as Oyster cards for the underground are- so if you're feeling brave you can find out more about hiring a bike here

Having had a good sit on one now i'm not sure i'd want to spend a long time cycling one, they weigh a fair bit...somewhere around 23kg which (although great for toning flabby legs) is two and a half times the weight of the bike I ride most days- despite this, one was recently ridden the 450 miles from Newcastle back to London. There's some great blogs out there dedicated to a growing community of Boris bikers- you can join in here

London is a fantastic city for cycling and cyclists, it seems that everywhere you look there's an old moulton, a vintage tourer or a fab fixie resting casually against a railing...I'm popping back in a week or two so will try and get a few more pictures of the best.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Sharing the space?

Having to travel in and out of Coventry quite frequently has given me a varied experience of the new 'shared space' in the city centre. Even after having lots of practice I still feel like I'm taking my life in my hands each time I venture across...I think its knowing that i'm relying on the goodwill and awareness of others in order to make it to the other side safely.

The new junctions seem to work best if you are either a bus or you are travelling straight on, on several occasions recently I've had to get off the bike and move to the path in order to avoid a steady flow of buses coming up the hill from Gosford St who haven't yet heard about sharing the space.

Shared spaces aren't a new idea and are most associated with the dutch who seem to have successfully developed the idea over many years, but so far the way in which the concept has been implimented in Coventry has caused problems for many of those who had hoped to benefit from a new approach to road usage, particularly cyclists and pedestrians. Its early days yet though, lets hope with time and a bit of tweaking it all works out!

Monday, 17 October 2011

Finding my lost bicycle

Over a year and a half ago I lost my bicycle. For reasons that I still don't fully understand I managed to completely forget where I had left it, no matter how hard I tried to remember. Anyway, last week (and very much out of the blue) I suddenly remembered where I thought it might be,so onto a bike I jumped and away I went to see if it was still there....this is what i found

Amazingly still locked up to the bike rack where it had been left, a little worse for wear with flat tires, rusty wheels, leaves in the basket and cobwebs on the handlebars...but still there! It was such a relief to finally find it, it isn't an expensive bike or particularly pretty but it rides beautifully which is why I had used it every single day. The only slight problem I have now is that after 18 months I no longer seem to have to key to the D lock I secured it although I've pumped up the tyres, cleaned and oiled the moment its still locked to the same railing until I can either find the key or cut through the lock...any ideas much appreciated.

Friday, 7 October 2011

How much damage can a worn chain do?

Apart from feeding it some oil now and then (probably to stop the irritating squeek) I reckon the chain has to be one of the components given the least amount of thought. Unless it gets really really worn or you're particularly unfortunate it'll keep turning your wheels until you decide to get another bike...but if you're like me and have a bike that you love and would rather not spend pots of cash maintaining it then please read on!

The last few days have seen a couple of bikes arrive for repair with the same fault caused by the same easily remedied problem, they each had chains which were so very worn that they had started to wear away the rest of the drive chain ( the chainwheel and rear derailleur/ jockey wheels). Its easily preventable and if caught in time will only cost you the price of a new chain (£20) rather than the cost of a derailleur/ jockey wheels and chainrings (£50+....+ fitting)

Worn jockey wheels have pointed teeth (left) rather than nice square edged teeth like the one on the right.

A little further investigation will probably reveal a worn chainset, on this one you can see that the outer rings are far more worn than the inner probably as a result of far more use of those gears.

Eventually a combination of a worn chainset, a worn out chain and damaged jockey wheels will result in missing gears and a slipping chain...which can prove a little painful. The answer is very simple, periodically check the chain for wear- it doesn't require any special tools and only takes a minute or two. To check your chain all you are going to need is a chain and a 12"'s how...

Prop your bike so that it'll stand on its own, then rest your ruler along a length of chain. If your chain is in optimum condition it should measure 12" for 12 complete links- when measured from/ to the centre of the link. Unless new most chains when measured have stretched a little- if its anything more than 1/16th inch then you need to think about getting a new chain.

....Just in case you're not sure- this is one complete link, count twelve of those and then measure.

I'm not sure what the average life of a chain is, as with most things it depends on the quality of the chain, how well its been looked after and the punishment it's endured. I do check and oil mine but commute daily in all weathers- so tend to check it monthly and change it annually.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Autumnal foraging

Now that its a little colder outside its easy to look a few months forward to the fast approaching winter and forget entirely about the fruit filled hedgerows which are itching to be turned into jams, wines and preserves. Thanks to the wonders of freegle I was lucky enough to acquire a pile of brewing equipment which i'm hoping will produce a range of interesting (and cheap) christmas pressies this year to accompany the jam pots and knitted wares already on the way. With this in mind I popped out for a quick look around to see what i could find...

First to be found was a pile of crab apples, on the floor so ready to use, helped down from the tree by a freezing wind...not sure shorts were the right choice for today's forage! Crab apples alone or mixed with other fruits (elderberries, blackberries) are good for jellies

Next to be found was a tree filled with sloes, not quite ready yet- I think they need to be picked after the first proper frost. I saw lots of these, not too popular other than as an addition to gin because they are amazingly sour. Processed properly they can apparently be turned into amazing sloe cheese

Next up was a blackberry bush, I'm not sure its been a great year for blackberries this year but the few I found still tasted lovely.

A little further along was this fantastic plum tree, great for just eating although i've used the fallen plums from this tree to make the most beautiful jam for the last few years

Elderberries will grow just about anywhere that they are allowed to, usually seen on bits of scrubland, by the sides of roads and lining the canals- great in jams and good in wine. Its easy to spot when they are ready to pick because the weight of the fruit begins to pull the end of the branch back towards the ground

Rosehips are easy to spot and are good for turning into rosehip syrup- rosehips are rich in vitamin 'C', far richer than oranges apparently

Last up was a surprise find- wild hops, perfect for a little bit of home brewing!

There was more to be found but I had to head home, my bag filled with fruits. If you do decide to go out looking for useful fruits make sure you have a look in a good book first and/or take someone with you who knows what they are picking and definitely avoid anything low to the ground and near to the path, its bound to have been drenched by the local dogs