Monday, 5 June 2017

A nostalgic run

A few days ago we had the Spring Bank holiday and, to cut a long story short, I decided I would run an old route.  I drove over there and parked my car at Preston, a pretty village on the top of a hill.

This run involved Charlton Hill Road, just outside Hitchin, Hertfordshire.  Normally I would run in an anticlockwise direction having started at Preston and this means the first couple of miles is mostly down hill as far as Gosmore.  It's then fairly flat until you turn onto Charlton Road.  This was fine as I need to take at least 20 minutes to get warmed up these days, possibly more.

I was on the road for the entire run of about six miles.  Traffic wise it was extremely quiet with only one or two cars, two motorbikes, two cyclists and one other runner.

Running along Charlton Road you're aware of the gentle gradient until you get to a wooded area where it then starts to climb (at the point of my above selfie).

I remembered how I used to do this run while I worked in Stevenage.  It involved changing into my running gear before I left work and then driving there.  This run was a wonderful way of blowing off some steam as I de-stressed and mentally relaxed myself.  It generally worked well.

It is quite a hilly run with Charlton Hill being THE climb.  At its steepest I think this is about 1:4 and this occurs when you're three quarters of the way around and probably the part nearest to West Wood in the above map.  This climb is always very testing and generally enjoyable.

Having run this a number of times I think it's good to have a little energy still in the tank for a sprint once the road starts to level out - this will enable a runner to get a good Strava time on the segment which is there.  My personal best for the "Charlton Hill Steep Bit" is 2:31 which puts me at 41 out of 262 runners.  Not bad but I can't match that right now.

The difference in performance was absolutely amazing, I was astonished.  On this run my average time per mile was a rather slow 8:50mins/mile.  My fastest time on this route, in October 2015, was a mere 6:52mins/mile - almost two minutes faster for each mile!  I toyed with some of the possible different factors.  These could include obviously being a little older, perhaps a little heavier and the effects of having high blood pressure these days.

I could easily depress myself by dwelling on this too much; it had to happen sooner or later in terms of slowing down.  Having said that I always think that the best is yet to come (as I'm a born optimist!).

By the time I was nearing the end of the run, the rain started and I thought this was utterly wonderful.   I was quite hot and the rain was wonderfully refreshing.  I spotted a friendly-looking cyclist and I held out my arms with the palms of my hands facing upward as I grinned.  He shouted back "I know exactly what you mean, it's lovely!".  Enough said.

Finally, here's a shot taken a couple of years ago with the Charlton Hill climb in the background.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

The importance of saying "thank you"

This is my friend Geoff.  We have known each other since the last century when I lived in Hereford and I recently paid him, his wife Lorraine and his collection of bicycles, a visit.  I had wanted to do this for quite some time but it was hearing a radio programme which made me do it for sure.
The radio programme was Saturday Live and it's broadcast each Saturday morning on Radio 4 (and I do like Radio 4!) and presented by the smooth talking Rev Richard Coles and Aasmah Mir.  It is a kind of chatty magazine programme which includes a section where listeners can phone in to say "thank you" to someone.  Often these are people wanting to express their appreciation for something which happened many years ago.  As they say on Saturday Live "it's never too late to thank someone".
The "thank you" which caught my attention was someone calling to thank a Dr Ivor Chance (yes really, this was his name).  The woman calling in said that she was only alive through the work of Dr Chance.  Apparently her mother was in Uganda, pregnant with her and went into a difficult labour, fortunately she was able to find her way to a remote mission hospital where Dr Chance was able to deliver her.  The labour was very difficult and the mother lost a lot of blood, so Dr Chance donated some of his own and therefore saved the life of the mother and the newborn baby.  Rolling forward many decades, it was time to say "thank you" to Dr Chance for saving her life as a newborn baby and her mother.
The remarkable thing about the story was [the late] Dr Chance's daughter was listening to the radio programme and was stunned to hear of her father being talked about on the radio.  So she contacted the Saturday Live programme and explained, the following week, how much she had been moved by hearing the account of her father.  It had also spurred her on to make a point of saying "thank you" to a number of people in her own life who had made some kind of impact or long lasting impression through friendship.
So that's why I decided to thank my friend Geoff for his friendship over the years.
The bonus was also being able to have a poke around his garage at his collection of bicycles, many of which I could remember.  You see, Geoff, appreciates nice bicycles and cars (he has restored the old Ford Anglia in the above photograph to a high standard).
I love the Moultons he has.  There's a couple which date back to the 1960s and what I think of as being a modern contemporary version which actually dates back to the 1980s - this could be an AM7 or 9 - this is my favourite.  There's also some Curly Stay Hetchins, a curious Flying Gate which I hadn't seen before and apparently the first one made by the frame builder.  A nice Dawes Galaxy, a titanium Raleigh MTB and the list goes on.  All lovingly restored and cherished.
I love hearing all the anecdotes about each of these projects; the stories in acquiring the bicycles (and cars) followed by the research and steps taken to restore them.  Sometimes it's a case of restoring something to the original factory condition, other times it can be appropriate to update or improve the original specification.  Each time this is done, there's always quite a bit of thought taking place to ensure it would be honouring to the original design and concept.
So, old friends rightfully thanked for their friendship; to admire the handiwork, to be nostalgic and reflect on where we've been in life.  As the years tick by, it's good to reflect on the lives that have touched my life for the good - right from long standing friends to fleeting acquaintances - these are all cherished and valued.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Chatting to an elderly runner at Weston

Last weekend I visited my Mother in Weston-Super-Mare.  As she lives near the sea front I generally have a run along the promenade or perhaps the beach.  I have done this many times before and normally the other runners are friendly enough.

So on the Sunday morning run I ran past a runner who looked quite elderly.  He was about my height and a little slimmer, grey hair.  As I went passed him I noticed he was quite elderly.

I was thinking about him as I continued and couldn't help but wonder how old he was.  Perhaps in his 70s?  He certainly looked in pretty good shape and I couldn't get him out of my mind; curiosity about his age was bugging me.  So I simply decided to go back and ask him.

I turned around, took a few strides back and then ran alongside him.  We said "good morning" to each other and exchanged a little small talk.  Then I decided I had to ask, doing my best to ask in a pleasant friendly way.

"Would you mind if I asked you a personal question?"

He looked a little wary and so I quickly followed it up by asking "I was wondering how old you are, I hope you don't mind me asking".

He explained he was 81.  I said something about being seriously impressed with the hopes that I can still be running when I'm his age.

"Have you always been a runner?"

"No, not always.  In fact I've always been a cyclist until I had an accident a few years ago".

He went onto explain he's had an accident with a pedestrian stepping out in front of him in town.  He fell off his bike and shortly afterwards had a brain haemorrhage.  This caused his wife to say he shouldn't cycle anymore.  She was worried for him.

So instead he started walking around as a way of getting some exercise.  This wasn't enough so before long he started jogging and then running with regularity.  He certainly looked good.

I said "I hope I'm still running when I'm 81" and then I needed to peel off as I was nearly back to my Mother's road, just off the sea front.

Many times I've thought about him since.  I really did admire him as he was very unassuming, modest and in such good shape.  He was in exceptionally good condition and, to be honest, would put many a thirty year old to shame.  Certainly hope I remain in good shape for the next thirty years!

Monday, 22 May 2017

Checking your running shoes

If ever we need to be reminded on why its important to check your running shoes, this is it.

Recently on a run I could feel something unfordable with the heel in my left shoe.  At first I thought it was a small piece of grit that would come and go, I hadn't made the connection between the terrain and what I could feel.

As the thorn had pierced the sole of my running shoe in a recessed part, I could only feel it if I ran over rough ground where it would push against that part of the sole.  When I tried to find the grit, nothing was there, instead I was very surprised to find a thorn poking through into the inside and even more amazed at its size - and how tough it was!

So I really must resume the habit of checking over my shoes from time to time.  When I have done this in the past, I have spotted damage and areas where I need to keep an eye on.

Having said all that, this thorn was amazingly sharp and strong, quite difficult to extract and quite freaky.

Besides, I can feel a future post coming on - runners with piercings.

Check your running shoes
Are my running shoes worn out?
Two pairs of running shoes?

Sunday, 21 May 2017

A Moulton at Waitrose, Ampthill

A Moulton bicycle at Waitrose, Ampthill

I spotted this Moulton bicycle outside Waitrose, Ampthill, Central Bedfordshire.  It caught my eye as I have arranged to visit my friend Geoff in Hereford next weekend and he knows a thing or two about these bikes.
For myself, I'm not too well informed about these bikes, although I think they have probably been underestimated over the years.
This particular Moulton seems quite an eclectic mixture.  The frame looks as if it could be from the original 1960s stable with its straight tubes and made in an uncomplicated way.  The suspension appears based around a piece rubber.  This might seem basic by today's standards but I reckon it was way ahead of its time.  The frame has almost certainly been resprayed.
The components appear to be more up to date.  The wheels look fairly fast with the radial spoking and slick tyres, although I'm not so sure about the hub gears and what could be in there.  Quite a few weight-saving aluminimum components are there also; the seat post, handlebar etc.
All in all, quite an interesting looking bike.  But who could ride it?  What kind of a cyclist could it belong to?  My guess, and I could be totally wrong is....
  • someone fairly tall
  • fairly affluent (parked outside Waitrose)
  • perhaps a London bound commuter (not sure about that!)
  • likes stylish things but probably driven by practicalities over appearance
  • has more than one bicycle
If you know about this bicycle, please put me straight!

Saturday, 20 May 2017

If I were Prime Minister for a day

We had a funny conversation while driving along. It was if I were Prime Minister for a day - what would I do.  I thought it could be fun to mention here.  Here goes.
Sugar tax
Yep, I'd bring this in properly and not just for fizzy drinks.  I'd include all kinds of chocolate, sweets and the like.  While I'm at it, I'd have a good look at McDonalds, KFC and so on.  Why?  Because KFC = Keep Fat & Chubby.  Feeding such crap to your kids could be described as child abuse.
The Government has previously missed a trick with not introducing minimum alcohol pricing, although perhaps Scotland might have had the foresight to do this.  Considering the immense harm to people's physical and mental health through excessive alcohol, there is a strong case for this.  Add the misery caused by drunk people getting into fights, domestic abuse and general rowdiness, I think a significant hike in price is valid.  Although I am loathed to agree very much with David Cameron, I think he was right in wanting to create a cafe culture to replace a pub culture.
You can probably predict what I'm going to say here.  Double the tax on cigarettes now.
Transforming Rehabilitation
I would order the Ministry of Justice to undo all of the harm Chris Graying has done to the justice system and probably sack him by the time I have my morning coffee break.  I think also I'd look to change sentencing policy so the prison population can come down and invest the money saved in rehabilitation.
While I'm at it, I would transfer much of Whitehall out into the regions i.e. moving the power from central London closer to where it is needed.  So sorry Sir Humphrey, your days are numbered.
Freedom of speech, political correctness
It saddens me when I hear of street preachers getting into trouble for preaching.  This has to change.
The unborn children
Far too many babies are aborted for very dubious reasons.  There is a fine line between medical need and murder.  Apparently in 2015 there were 185,000 abortions in England and Wales.  Something has to be done about it.
Range Rovers and other high performance cars
Sorry folks, your days are also numbered unless you're willing to pay through the nose for your gas guzzlers and status symbols.  While you're doing this everyone will think you have more money than sense. I think I'd do this through VAT in purchasing the car in the first place and then the annual road tax.  If it costs £500 a year to keep a Range Rover taxed, well I'd make it £5,000.  As for cars with blacked out windows, you have it coming as well.
Private education
As someone who has put his own children through a private school, you might be surprised to know I would charge VAT on the fees but introduce it over a period of years.
It will come as little surprise that I'd spend more money on making life easier for the cyclist who, in the UK, puts up with a lot.  Dreadful roads, poor junction layouts, potholes, few cycle lanes and the list goes on.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Honor Cycles; a conversation

So you’ve started a new bike servicing business.  Tell me the basics - what’s it called and where do you operate?
Honor Cycles is (and I like to call it) a social enterprise. We provide on-demand bicycle repair services for both individuals and companies. As a mobile bike service, we go and collect bicycles for the repairs, and deliver the bikes back after our job is done.

Since we don’t actually have a high-street bike shop, we have significantly lower operating costs. That allows us to, among other things, pay our bicycle mechanics more than the living wage standard and support various local, bike-related social causes. We’re based in London, currently covering areas in Islington, Camden and Hackney Boroughs.
What services do you offer?
In terms of actual ‘mechanicing’ services, we offer everything a standard bike shop does, although we can also go the extra mile and do professional bike cleaning.
The main thing we offer our cyclists, though, is time saved. By picking-up and re-delivering the bikes, people don’t have to take time out of their days or weekends to go to a bike shop and wait in the darn queue.
Now, this may seem like a small thing at first, but you’d be surprised by how many people stop cycling altogether simply because their bike has broken down and they didn’t have the time to get it down to a bike shop. Life’s a busy place, and bikes are not high priority for most people.

There must be loads of places where people can have their bikes serviced.  What makes Honor Cycles stand out?
For cyclists, it’s rarely a great experience to visit a traditional bike shop. First of all, the quality of the bike shops varies wildly. These days, you’re lucky to find a bike shop you can really trust. For many reasons (low wages included) many bike shops don’t pay full attention to their service, or might not be completely transparent about their fees.
Secondly, cyclists usually go to bike shops before or after work. If you’re there during peak time, you need to wait to get served or even just to get a booking. As I mentioned, life’s what happens while you’re making cycling plans. If your bike breaks down and you don’t have half a day to take it to and from the shop, you’re that much more likely not to get it fixed in the first place. And that sucks.
We’re a group of young guys. Bike mechanics, techies, entrepreneurs. We’ve seen how technology changed nearly every service industry over the last 10 years or so. There’s on-demand laundry services now, delivery services, quasi-taxi services and so on. We want to apply that same basic model to bicycle repair services. Why should we be stuck with a 20th-century business model?
What a minute, why doesn’t Honor have a letter ‘u’ in the spelling?
Ah. I wish there was a really clever answer to this. Something about wanting to grow the business and eventually taking it overseas, transforming the entire US cycling industry. The truth is, we really just preferred how the logo looked without the ‘u’. But I’ll definitely try to come up with a better story for future use.
What’s this about being ethical?
I think that in terms of social responsibility, cyclists tend to think pretty highly of themselves. Some of that has merit, of course, (bikes > cars), but the truth is that our industry is still ripe with unethical (or otherwise irresponsible) practices.
Josh, my co-founder and I started Honor Cycles to support bicycle mechanics. In a nutshell, we think they’re the unsung heroes of the bicycle world. Most of them are so passionate about cycling, but only the very few get treated fairly. Most of the bike shops in our service area actually pay them less than the London living wage. Needless to say, that’s not nearly enough to get by.
So our mission is to pay all of our mechanics fairly. One of the reasons we’re able to do that is that our ‘unconventional’ business setup allows us to avoid high rent. In return, we can use that excess money to pay our workers what they actually deserve.
Also, for an industry priding themselves on eco-friendliness, we sure use lots of unsanitary tools. So we make sure all of our oils, de-greasers and service vehicles are environmentally sound. I like this planet, so I’m trying my best to keep it healthy.
We also want to give back to the community at large, so we pledged to donate 5% of our labor time on bicycle-related causes for the communities in need. There are lots of great cycling causes in London - we’re getting in touch with some of them as well as trying to do our part alone. I’ve seen firsthand how transformative to one’s life cycling can be, so I want to try and help as many people as possible discover their passion for cycling.
What’s the most unusual or exotic bike you’ve worked on so far?
I've worked on so many bikes that it’s hard to pick the strangest. Out of all of the custom one-off designs and bike shed projects, I have to go with a low-pro style bamboo & hemp single-speed bike that had 80mm deep section carbon wheels.
I wish I’d taken a photo of it at the time because you really have to see it to understand just how off this thing looked. It was like some sort of aesthetic mash-up of Tron and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. It had quite a good back story too - the owner had been an expat in China for a while and built the frame himself, using bamboo and hemp local to where he was staying. The frame he was riding around in London was one of many iterative prototypes, and he was mighty proud of it.
How do people get in touch with you?
Most people get in touch via our website ( that has all the services we offer (and pricing) clearly outlined. A few people call in when they're not entirely sure what might be wrong with their bike, and need some help choosing the right service.
Is there anything else which you were wanting to tell me about?
Bikes are the most intimate vehicles, I really cannot think of any other vehicle that compares. People say that what car you drive says a lot about you, but the bike you ride says so much more. The time you spend in the saddle wearing down components and adjusting things to your liking makes even the most mass-produced bike unique to you, your body's geometry, your riding style and where you ride.
As a mechanic you can really see the rider's character when working on their bike, so it’s important to respect that and treat it as you would your own bike, putting things back exactly where they were. In a way it can feel a bit strange when handing a bike back to the customer because you feel like you know them a little, you almost can't help but want to have a little chat. For me that is the sign of a true mechanic: skills are good, but caring is king.
Thanks to Simon in Honour Cycles for the conversation.  I wish him all the best with this interesting and very worthwhile enterprise.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Fossilised brain?

I have some lovely colleagues in the Council, including some who are not inhibited in speaking their mind.  One of my colleagues who is managing to survive on a slice of cucumber for lunch (and looking increasing like a stick insect) happened to give my executive lunch box the once over.
She has my best interests at heart as she peers in, commenting on this and that.  She thinks I'm a real heathen for having peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwiches , let alone having three fruits each day.  Then I often have a little plastic pot with a few nuts and seeds (healthy eh?) to make sure I get some of those really good omega oils.
However it was the dried fig which caught her eye the most.  She reacted in a way like she's never seen a dried fig and asked what it was.  I explained I like to have these from time to time and they do have quite a few nutrients tucked away in them.  This includes being a useful source of magnesium, manganese, potassium and so on.  All of these minerals survive the drying process and bring their own health benefits.
"But they look revolting!  How can you possibly eat something like that?".
"Simple, it's no problem.  THey're a little chewy but actually they taste quite nice, fancy trying one?".  I offered her the little pot with a fig left in it.
"Yuck that looks disgusting! Actually it looks totally inedible, like a stone or something"
The rant continued as she ate a thin slice of cucumber.  She said she couldn't possibly contemplate eating something which looked like a cross between a rock and the brain of a dead animal.  But then, she knows of the terminology we use at home in describing some of the food I eat, so we'' just have to add figs to the list.....
  • Muesli = gravel
  • Watercress = pond weed
  • Salad = compost
  • Ground coffee = mud, soil, dirt
  • Dried fig = fossilised brain

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Feeling so smug

There are times when I'm feeling so smug on my bicycle.  This includes the times when I go from A to B faster on a bike than people in cars.  Naturally this will infuriate some motorists and I'm pretty unrepentant with this.
Perhaps the time when I'm feeling the most smug is at our local Sainsbury's.  I quite often do some of our shopping there by bike and normally I'm fairly good at judging how much shopping will fit in my pannier bags.  Last Saturday I slightly underestimated how much I had and had difficulty in squeezing everything in.
As you can see, luck was on my side as I discovered Innocent smoothie bottles are a perfect fit for the standard water bottle cage.  How thoughtful of Innocent to do this, especially as it fits so perfectly and this particular smoothie even looks good against the colour of my blue frame.
It's true I had some funny looks from other shoppers.  These were shoppers pushing their heavy trolleys towards their cars and they looked sorry for me loading my shopping into my pannier bags, probably thinking I couldn't afford a car or possibly lost my licence.  I just don't care!  And yes, I did feel so very smug as I passed them all getting out of the car park and into the congested town centre roads.
Definitely feeling so smug.  Perhaps this could be the 51st reason to be a cyclist?