Petition to ban surface dressing on roads

Now this is a petition that I’m sure most cyclists will support. Surface dressing, or “top dressing”, is the practice of sealing and “protecting” a road surface with tar that is then covered with gravel. This loose gravel is then gradually compressed into the road surface by passing traffic.

Personally I hate this way of resurfacing roads because it is so unpleasant – and sometimes dangerous – to ride on. The gravel is loose for weeks and months after it has been spread on the road, increasing the risk of skidding. The gravel is particularly prone to accumulating at the edges of the road meanign that you have to cycle close to the middle of the road than you probably would otherwise and increasing the risk of coming off your bike if you should have to ride over it. Passing cars that should in theory be doing only 10 or 20 mph fly past sending gravel towards you and your bicycle.

Even once the gravel has become embedded in the road, the end result of top dressing is usually pretty bad. Any imperfections and undulations in the surface tend to get accentuated by surface dressing but also be less visible, meaning it is more difficult to spot bumps and crevices in the road.

Well one guy got so sick of surface dressing that he has started a petition on the UK government website. Christopher Caswell’s petition has, at the time of writing, amassed over 12,600 signatures. If 100,000 are reached by the end of March 2015 the question will be discussed in arliament. No guarantee of a ban, but at least it will raise awareness and let the government and councils know that we are not happy with surface dressing! If they can resurface some roads properly, why not all of them?

Sign the petition against surface dressing roads here.

Autumn Epic

Somewhere on the Welsh border!

Somewhere on the Welsh border!

A few months ago I did the Autumn Epic sportive route with a friend of mine. The 95 mile route starts in the town of Knighton which sits on the border between England and Wales. I say did the route, rather than do the actual sportive because this was done in May, and the idea was to do a trial run of the route with a view to doing the actual sportive in September.

The views on the route are just amazing, and it is worth riding it purely for that. Starting in Knighton, you head off towards Rhayader on a northern loop, do a loop around the reservoirs of about 15 miles, and then do a southern loop coming through Presteigne to finish back in Knighton. The first 60 miles were definitely the most enjoyable. The last third, to be honest, was a little tiresome in places due to the poor state of some of the roads and the constant up/down nature of the route, there is literally no flat on the last 30 miles, whereas the first 60 or so does have its fair share of hills but they tend to be longer both up and down. For this reason I decided not to enter the actual sportive. However a couple of weeks ago I returned to Knighton, and started a ride at the ungodly hour of 5.45 am (to avoid the July heat), this time following the northern half of the loop to Rhayader, doing the reservoir loop, and going back the same way I had come, this worked out at around 85 miles and I found it to be a more enjoyable ride than the Autumn Epic route. I wouldn’t want to put anyone off doing the Autumn Epic because it’s definitely worth doing, but I just didn’t feel like repeating it after having done it once. And just in case you’re wondering I didn’t get off my bike up Glascwm Pitch!

Road cyclists wanted in Wyre Forest District

If you live in North Worcestershire, particularly the Wyre Forest area, and you enjoy road cycling, email me at contact [at symbol] lifesprinter [dot] com. I’d like to meet up with any cyclists who enjoy brisk 30 to 50 mile rides along hilly routes. I am not a competetive cyclist, I typically ride at an average of around 15 to 16 mph on countryside B roads, a 40 mile ride would take me around 2 and a half hours, maybe 2 hrs 45mins.

I am a member of a local club but find that they tend to ride in pretty much the same (faily flat) area every week.

Hills: Up or Down?

Photo: Watty Rugby

I realised yesterday, while climbing Clee Hill, just how much I love hills. Not freewheeling down them at speed, so much. More the steady climb to the top… and the longer the hill the better; and up to a point, the steeper the better. To me there is nothing more enjoyable than the satisfaction you get from the slow burn all the way to the top. Climbing requires fitness; it builds fitness. It’s true that fast descents require skill, but to me they are fraught with inconveniences and dangers – uneven road surfaces and pot holes make for a more menacing and uncomfortable ride, a car over-eagerly waiting to overtake and hanging off your back wheel can be a real annoyance, and gusts of wind at 40mph can be much more disconcerting.

I know so many cyclists who avoid hills like the plague. But for me, climbing hills is one of the best parts of my ride.

Cube Acid 29er For Sale

NOTE – THIS WAS PUT ON EBAY (Feb 14th 2013) – and sold for 400 pounds.

OK, that’s it… the Cube Acid has to go. Much as I love it, much as I think it is a really great bike, I just don’t have the time to dedicate to both road and mountain biking. Overall I enjoy road cycling more than mountain biking, and I want to get a proper road bike (mainly for summer use – in winter I’ll still be using my trusty Lifesprint) so I’m selling the Cube Acid.

It has had very little use and is the 2012 version. I’ve been out on it about 15 times. It had a full maintenance service on January 9th (2013). I have all the original documentation, manuals, etc that came with the bike, purchased from Leisure Lakes in Cheltenham. Pick up only (N. Worcestershire) / cash only. Price: £500


21″ frame

Frame:Alu Superlite AMF 6061 Double Butted, Agile Ride Geometry, Disc only

Fork: Rock Shox XC 32 29, 100mm, Poploc

Headset: FSA No.10 semi-integrated

Stem: Easton EA30 Oversized

Handlebar: Easton EA30 Lowriser Oversized

Grips: CUBE Performance Grip

Rear Mech: Shimano Deore XT RD-M780 Shadow 10-speed

Front Mech: Shimano SLX FD-M661-10 Direct Mount, 10-speed

Shifter: Shimano Deore SL-M591 Rapidfire-Plus, 10-speed

Brakes: Shimano BR-M445 hydr. discbrake(160/160mm)

Chainset: Shimano FC-M522 42x32x24T, 175mm, with BB-ES25, 3×10 speed

Rims: RFR ZX24 29

Hubs:Shimano RM66 Disc

Spokes: DT Industry 2.0

Tyres: Schwalbe Rapid Rob Performance 29×2.25 (I still have these but at the moment the bike has On-One Smorgasbord 29″ x 2.25″ tyres)

Tubes: Schwalbe MTB AV19 29

Pedals: Fasten Alu

Saddle: Scape Active 8

Seatpost: Easton EA30 30,9mm

Seatclamp: Scape Varioclose 34.9mm

Weight:13.2 kg

Get in touch via the Contact page of this site.

New Tyres: On-One Smorgasbord 29″x2.25″

So … as I was sliding all over the place on my not very knobbly and fairly worn Rapid Robs, and as we are already half way through a very wet and muddy winter (yes, the older you get the faster time flies), I thought I should pull my finger out and get some new tyres that might be able to cope a little better with the local terrain (the Wyre Forest). Being on a very tight budget recently, I scoured the internet for some cheapish but hopefully quality 29″ tyres that would fit the bill. I liked the look of the On-One Smorgasbord 29″ x 2.25″ which were “created with UK and Pacific Northwest riding in mind (and offer) performance in a wide range of conditions world wide”. OK, they’re not just for mud, but hopefully a hell of a lot better than what I had, and anyway, since mountain biking is not my primary cycling preference I’m really not into swapping tyres every time the weather changes, I decided to give them a shot. At £12.50 each (reduced from £30.00) they were well worth a punt.

smorgasbord tyre

smorgasbord tyre just mounted on front wheel

Anyway the tyres arrived very promptly between Christmas and New Year (I think I ordered about 2 days before Christmas Day), and the next day I took off the old ones and stuck these on (a very easy job with big chunky 29″ tyres).

How did they stand up to the swamp-like conditions of the forest? Well, certainly a lot better than what I was using before. The tread pattern sliced nicely through inches of gunk, and gripped better, meaning that pedalling actually drove the bike forward rather than just making the back wheel spin round while I stay in pretty much the same spot (until I fall over). Was I totally blown away? No, but then I didn’t really expect to be. On-one don’t market this as a mud-only tyre. It’s sold as a tyre which will get you through most conditions, but if you want something designed purely for the grimmest and grimiest terrain you’ll need to get yourself something more specialised.

Overall I would definitely give this tyre the thumbs up. Even at the full 30 quid it wouldn’t have been a bad buy, so for 12.50 you can’t go wrong. Get ‘em while they’re hot, say I.

Smorgasbord tyres just deflowered. Ignore the bell-end next to the bike.

(No, I haven’t been paid or given any freebies to write this review. However if there is anyone out there who would like to give me free stuff in return for me writing about it, I am prepared to sell my opinion, credibility and soul at a very economical price).

Threats To Cyclists from Motorists on Twitter

“If one of your number cycels (sic) past me in an irresponsible manner I will now instead nudge him or her into a hedge or wall so they can have time to reflect on.. Road tax, the highway code and the values of fossil fuel”


“If you’re on a push bike at night with no light & wearing dark clothes, then I will run you over & I won’t feel guilty.”

The above two tweets are actual tweets from drivers. I see them as threats to maim and kill people. A judge may do also. So whenever I see a tweet of this nature I take a screenshot of the tweet (I click on expand first so that the time and date of the tweet can be seen), and I set up a Google alert with the name of the person who posted the tweet. If there is ever a newspaper article or other mention on the internet concering that person, I will be able to read it, and if the person in question has been involved in a serious accident I will be able to provide evidence that the person, at best, had previously displayed scant regard to the safety of other road users, and at worst, had intent to kill. After setting up the alert, I inform the tweeter of what I have done and advise them to drive carefully.

The people tweeting these comments may or may not be serious – who knows? Whatever the case, it is clear that they don’t take cyclists seriously and they don’t view them as road users with the same rights that motorists have. Let’s hope that their words don’t come back to haunt them.

How much room do you give cyclists when overtaking?

Like many other cyclists I am also a driver. My experience is that cycling makes me a better driver; it teaches me to be more aware of traffic – as a cyclist you quickly learn to expect the unexpected. But equally importantly, cycling teaches me to have a greater respect for cyclists when I am behind the steering wheel; I know how much space a cyclist needs and I know what it feels like when a vehicle gets too close.

The highway code states that drivers should “give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car”. They even include a photograph of a car overtaking a cyclist and giving it the full lane.

However it is rare that a driver will adhere to these recommendations. While the majority of drivers are respectful of cyclists, they is a large minority that are not. Often drivers will not slow down, but just squeeze past in the space that is available, whether or not it is enough to guarantee the safety of the cyclist. Some drivers are reckless, being more concerned about getting somewhere quickly, others allow themselves to be intimidated by drivers behind them who they think may be impatient to get past the cyclist.

As a driver I always make sure I give cyclists plenty of room. If this means that cars behind need to wait a few extra seconds so be it. What about you? How much room do you give cyclists?

Ecotricity – was it worth the switch?

Disclaimer: I have not received any compensation from Ecotricity for this article. I write it merely from the point of view of a customer.

A few months ago I switched to Ecotricity. I’d previously been with E.ON. The question I’m asking today is – was it worth it?

The answer is a resounding “yes”. Firstly, bills have not increased. In fact, they have gone down. Ecotricity matches the standard “brown energy” tariff of the Big Six energy suppliers, but E.ON had been over-estimating my monthly usage, billing me about £12 per month more than necessary. Of course I got this back but it’s very handy for E.ON to over-estimate and keep the interest they are getting on these overpayments. Multiply £12 a month by 12 months and however many million customers they have and you’ll see they’re probably getting a nice little extra earner. Ecotricity’s monthly estimate of £72 per month (including both gas and electricity) is a lot closer to a realistic estimate of my usage. I didn’t primarily join Ecotricity because I wanted cheaper bills – but it’s nice to see that my monthly outgoings have been reduced.

The main reason I switched to Ecotricity was that I wanted to stop funding brown energy companies. I was sick of seeing such a large proportion of my outgoing monthly expenses go to a big energy company whose values are directly opposed to mine. Why didn’t I just switch to a green tariff with one of the Big Six? The answer is because these are just “off the shelf” packages – none of my money (or very little of it) would have been invested in new sustainable sources of energy. Ecotricity spend more per customer on investing in sustainable energy sources than all the other UK suppliers combined. This is extremely important. Only about 6% of the UK’s energy mix is currently from green sources. By being an Ecotricity customer you are helping to change that. The government isn’t doing enough. We have to make things change by buying from companies whose values reflect our own. Ecotricity doesn’t have any shareholders to answer to – or pay dividends to – its profits are re-invested in green energy.

Lastly – but certainly not least – there is the question of customer service. How many companies can you call these days without having to negotiate a complex roboticised menu? Phone Ecotricity and the phone will be answered by… a human being. That human being will give you their full name, not just a chummy “let’s pretend we’re pals and everything will be alright” first name. Call again, and ask to speak to the person you spoke to the first time… and guess what, they’ll put you through to them. Same goes for email contact – you can be sure you’re emailing the same person each time. Ecotricity are top of the customer service league table – a table that OFGEM could not be bothered compiling, for reasons best known to themselves. Welcome back to the experience of being treated like a human being.

It might sound like I am being overly enthusiastic about this company, but there is nothing insincere of forced about this. Rarely do you find a company that does things differently from the crowd. Ecotricity stand out because they are doing something to actually make the world a better place. They’re not just in it to squeeze as much money as they can out of you, and out of the planet. Ecotricity are the only true way forward.

Learn to ride before you learn to drive

Nobody likes being treated like a second class citizen. And when it comes to using the road I’m tired of being treated like a second class road user just because I’m riding a bicycle. There can’t be many cyclists who don’t get cut up, blocked, driven too close too, shouted at and threatened by inconsiderate drivers on a regular basis.

What’s more, there must be thousands, if not millions of drivers and users of public transport, who, seeing the vulnerability of cyclists in traffic, are put off from taking up cycling as a means of transport.

I think there is one thing that could be done to make the roads safer and more tempting to those who wish to ride their bicycles on them, and that is to introduce a cycling component into the driving test. And I don’t mean “cycling awareness” – the theory exam question bank already includes  questions about what you should do when approaching cyclists: the theory is not the issue, everyone knows that they are supposed to slow down and give at least a car door’s width of space when overtaking. The problem is that as many people never cycle on the road, they are not aware of how it feels to be overtaken by vehicles moving 30, 40, 50 or 60mph that only give you a few inches of space, so they don’t treat cyclists with the same respect as they do other road users. So my proposal is this:

1. Every person who wishes to take a driving test should be required to undergo 10 hours of monitored cycling on various types of roads (urban, country, A and B roads).

2. They should be required to pass a cycling proficiency test.

An alternative could be to have the cycling component taken out of the driivng test and have it as an entirely separate test to be taken as a precursor to the main driving test, in much the same way as the theory test is now.

Whatever method is chosen, with the increasing traffic on the roads, something needs to be done to curtail the dangerous driving of many motorists. I don’t want to feel I’m putting my life in danger every time I go out on my bike, and we need to encourage more people to get out of their cars and save money and get healthy.