Hell is other cyclists

I’ve been mingling with a lot of students recently, and it’s been rather enlightening.  I’ve experienced the suicidal nature of students before, as my wife was still a student at Manchester university when I first met her (she’s a doctor now!), and the hospital where my son was born is right next to Manchester university, so I’ve spent lots of time driving around the area in a car, having to be constantly on the lookout for people obliviously wandering into moving traffic.  It’s as if the students think they have a force field that vehicles can’t penetrate, and apparently that force field is still with them when they cycle!

When I first started commuting in Manchester, I found red light jumpers annoying, but there wasn’t many of them.  On the A6/A34, there was maybe a 1 in 10 chance of a fellow cyclist jumping a red light.  Sometimes I’d shake my head or try to visibly tut, hoping a motorist might notice and ponder that not all cyclists are RLJing cretins.  I don’t like people who get motorists riled up – a raging motorist is a bad thing for all cyclists.

If I tried that on Wilmslow Road/Oxford Road, I’d do my neck in from the continuous shaking, and my tongue would fall out from the tutting.  On this road, the chances of a cyclist RLJing is more like 2 in 3, and unlike the cyclists on the bigger roads, these people are doing it without thinking.  They RLJ through moving traffic, they RLJ through pedestrians.. they’d probably RLJ a train crossing if there were any on the route!

If it were just students doing it, I’d put it down to inexperience, but there are plenty of other cyclist sub-groups doing the same thing.  I guess when you’re stopped at a light, and 3 people cycle straight through it, it must be hard to fight the urge to do the same.  The more people do it, the more it becomes a “but everyone does it” grey area, like ignoring box junctions, or driving at 80mph on a motorway.

When they’re not jumping red lights, the inexperienced are stopping at them, but that doesn’t mean they’ve lost the urge to get ahead – they prefer to shoal.  Shoaling is a term for cyclists who, when required to stop at a junction or a red light, will amass at the line with no order or respect for ability.  If someone’s at the line before them, they’ll stop ahead of them and the line.  If people are already ahead of the line, they’ll stop next to them.  If that area’s full, they stop behind them  This means that the poor soul who got there first is now surrounded by other cyclists, and it’s guaranteed that the people who pushed to the front are the slowest and wobbliest of the group.  Being a well mannered softy, I tend to be the one who’s trapped, and I start to realise why some people risk death to ignore red lights.  The risk is probably worth it if it means not getting stuck in a shoal of wobbly bikes!

Shoaling isn’t specific to cyclists, of course.  I’m quite a fast walker, so this also happens to me while I wait at pedestrian crossings.

I hate other people!

Helmets!
So, in one post I suggested that everyone should have life insurance, and in the next one I confessed to being quite glad that I had an excuse to not wear a helmet.  It took a couple of days for the logic to seep in and propogate an idea, but eventually I realised that I should probably be protecting my head!

I mentioned that I prefered ‘rock climber-ish’ helmets, which are apparently BMX helmets, so I searched for one of those first.  The one that seemed to fit the bill was a Lazer Armor; the size (58-61cm) sounded like it would match my head, the manufacturer was well respected, and the helmet looked alright, without too many graphics (none, in fact), so I bought it.

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It seemed to fit alright at first, and I wore it for a few days on my commute, but my opinion of it started going downhill, and not in a good way.  The helmet has no proper adjustments in it – it’s just polystyrene and some padding.  It fitted a bit tight on the front and back of my head, leaving a triangular indentation on my forehead whenever I wore it, but the sides of the helmet were almost an inch away from my actual head, meaning it tended to wobble from side to side, using my head as some kind of axle.  It often felt like the chin strap was the only thing keeping it on.

On top of that, the white line that runs around the edge of the helmet started to crack and flake off after only a day!  I didn’t like the line too much anyway, so removability is probably a plus rather than a minus, but it was a bit disconcerting.

Finally, the helmet was just too silly looking, due to the width.  Not as bad as most helmets I’ve tried on in the past, but still pretty ridiculous.

So much for internet shopping, and so much for BMX helmets.

After that failure, I tried to find out if other people have the same problem as me.  It turns out, they do!  I’ve got what’s known in motorcyclist terms as a long-oval head; my head is long from front to back, but relatively narrow from side to side.  Most helmets are designed with a more rounded head profile in mind, so when someone like me puts one on, I get the problem that I mentioned above.  I found several posts across different forums, with people recommending brands that make more elongated helmets, but there was some contradictory advice going on.  The only companies that were consistently mentioned as being suitable were Rudy Project, Lazer (errr..), and Specialized.

I’d gone off Lazer somewhat, and Rudy Project were way outside my price range, so Specialized were my only hope. I decided to find a bike store that stocked Specialized helmets and had a large showroom.  It just so happened that such a place was on my commute, and so I paid a visit to the Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative.  I’d been there once before, to get my bike serviced in less enlightened times, and their service had been a bit sloppy.  Thankfully, I didn’t need them to do anything to me or my bike – they just had to have a selection of half-decent helmets, and I can’t fault them in that regard.

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The helmet I’d had my eye on was a Specialized Echelon II. Much like my bike, it’s was pretty much a bottom-of-the-range model, but much better than unbranded or low-aiming brands.  The medium (54-60cm) helmet that was on display wouldn’t even get past the top of my head, so the assistant got out a large (57-63cm) model, in black.  It was initially too big, which is a new experience for me!  A few twists of the adjustment dial sorted that out, and I found myself wearing a helmet that actually fitted, and didn’t look particularly silly!

So, I’m now a helmet wearer.  You’re not gonna catch me wearing lycra, tho.  A man’s got to know his limitations!

Hello, old man. Hello, heron.

That pesky camera
I don’t wear a helmet.  This is mainly because I can’t find one that fits me, but I confess that I’m really rather glad that they don’t fit.

It’s easy to ridicule the helmet companies for not making helmets that fit everyone, but head shapes are more varied than boob shapes, and look at how many differently shaped bra’s you can buy!  You don’t have to have spent hours wandering behind a partner, wishing you could sneak off to HMV or Currys or ANYWHERE, to tell how many there are – massive areas of department stores are dedicated to them, whereas the helmet range in bike stores is tiny.  Admittedly, I don’t think there’s much call for helmets that actively try to shape people’s heads differently.. lift and separate?

Also, helmets generally look stupid.  I’m sure all the contours and vents do something snazzy, but they look like capsized catermarans.  I’m more of a fan of the simple rock climber-ish helmets that you can get, but so far I haven’t found one big enough, or that doesn’t jab into my cerebellum like a woodpecker hunting for grubs.  Maybe I should look for helmets in a rock climbing equipment store (do they exist?).. they’ll probably have a big range, and a helmet designed for protection when falling off a cliff should be okay for falling off a bike, I would imagine.

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Anyway, why was I talking about helmets?  oh yeah – my helmet camera!  Without a helmet, there’s no good place to mount it.  I was hoping I could get away with mounting it on my bag, so it looks out from my shoulder, but my choice of clothing has scuppered that plan.  All the video footage I’ve had so far has been of the hood of my red hoodie, and looks rather a lot like a colonoscopy.  It’s not ideal for observing the traffic and ducks of my commute..  The bag I use has sturdy waist strap thingies for hiking, so last night I tried attaching it to one of those, but the flaps don’t half flap about when they’re not being used properly, so the picture quality turned out a bit rubbish, and mostly looked out too far to the left to be of any use.  Tonight, I’ll try attaching it to the frame of my bike, but I suspect it’ll be too bumpy.  The next plan is to attach it to my glasses, which might make people think I’ve got a Google Glass (or whatever it’s called) headset on, especially with the USB cable poking out of it, and disappearing into my bag (to the battery).  Failing that, I might have to have another look for a helmet!  😮

Is this even a commute anymore?

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I forgot to mention something about my new approach to commuting; I’m not trying to be as fast as possible anymore!  Last year, I always tried to go flat out, especially when I was on the singlespeed (it was harder not to).  Now, I’m trying to be more relaxed and enjoy the ride.  It was difficult to do on the old commute, because keeping up with traffic was essential, and the route itself was so annoying that I just wanted to get it over and done with ASAP.

The new route cures all those ills!  While I’m in the suburbs, there’s so little traffic that I don’t have to worry about keeping up with it.  I don’t have to worry so much about being squished by people turning, because they can see me coming a lot more easily.  There’s no buses or taxis on the route, so I don’t have them suddenly turning in/out in front of me.  There’s no HGVs, so I don’t have to worry about them not seeing me, and the road is so wide and quiet that anyone overtaking can give me a ton of room.  I don’t even see many other cyclists, so I don’t have to fight the urge to keep up or overtake them too often.  All in all, I wish I’d tried this a year ago.  It’s adding an extra 20 minutes to my commute, but that’s a small price to pay for a relaxing pootle.

oh, and I saw a heron and some coal tits (I only ever see greats and blues normally) on my way home last night, and an old man on a pushbike said hello to me this morning.  I’m pretty sure an ice cream van is lurking in Edgeley Park somewhere, so the journey home might start taking even longer sometime soon.  Hooray!  😀

KOM!

oooooh, yeaaaaah!  I got my first ‘KOM’ (king of the mountain?) on Strava last week!  You’d better all watch out – I could be overtaking you at any moment!
ImageAs long as you’re cycling through a park, that is.  A park that apparently only 4 people are cycling through…

So, yeah – I’m the top out of 4 people, and I wasn’t actually trying.  The first time I got onto the segment was when I went into the park to swap my 16 speed cog for a 14 speed, and spent 15 minutes at a park bench doing the swap.  Strava only tracks moving time, so the time stopped wasn’t counted, but I still veered offroad, braked to a stop, then had to accelerate out again.  That got me second place, so gawd knows what the other three have been doing!  Jogging, probably.  😛

I’ve ran Strava on my phone since I found out about it a few months ago, mainly just to see if my speeds are improving, or if variations of routes are faster than others.  I never expected to be beating anyone elses times, because I don’t jump red lights, I’m not great at filtering through traffic, and I’m just too cautious in general.  That’s one of the reasons why I’m a softy (should that be softie? I need to consult the Beano!).

While I’m talking about me, I suppose I should mention all my cycling foibles, then you can guage the kind of cyclist I am. From good to bad to personal taste..

1) I stop at red lights
2) I always have lights fitted
3) I don’t cycle on the pavement
4) I never undertake HGVs or buses
5) I don’t wear a helmet
6) I’ve always got headphones in
7) I usually filter on the left
8) I don’t wear lycra
9) I wouldn’t be seen dead on a hybrid

When I’m on my bike, I’m a road vehicle, so I try to abide by the highway code, even if I’m the only one.  Sometimes I’ll use pedestrian crossings by getting off the bike and walking, but I never cycle through.  I think cyclists who jump pedestrian crossings are the worst kind of cyclist, because they could really hurt someone.  By all means risk your own life around cars if you have to, but don’t risk injuring the peds!

I’ve never found a helmet that fits, so I don’t have much option with helmets.  Having said that, my life has been saved by my peripheral vision on a couple of occasions, and I’m not sure how I’d like having my head restricted, so even if I had a choice, I might not take it.  I never have my headphones turned up very loud, as I hate not being able to hear traffic.  It effectively removes one of my senses, and it’s a bloomin useful one.  I’m the same in the car – I have to be able to hear the engine, and can’t stand it when the radio’s on too loud.

My left filtering is just me being a bad cyclist, and it should improve with time.  It’s a hard to get into the habit of filtering on the right, though, and every time I try it, I get stuck in the wrong lane while HGVs surround me.  It’s no fun!  :s

Lycra.  lycra, lycra, lycra..   I don’t care what benefits it has – it looks ridiculous!  I’d rather be one of those lunatics who cycles in their work suit than wear lycra.  A few people can get away with it, but I dunno if most lycra wearers realise that what might look passable while standing in front of a mirror looks positively repulsive when they’re hunched over a bike.  One guy on my commute has the proportions of Greg Davies, yet wears lycra.  I’ve now started altering my commute when I find myself behind him – my poor eyes can’t take it!

I don’t think I need to say anything about hybrids.  Also; lycra on a hybrid?  What on earth is wrong with some people?  😛