Summer cycling: bike route signs for the uninitiated

With the absolutely glorious weather we’ve had of late, I’m seeing a rise in the number of cyclists I see out and about, most of whom have a general look of being lost and unsure. Many of them seem completely unaware of how to use the fantastic network of cycle routes and paths available, but thinking back to when I first started using these routes, they can be pretty confusing to get your head around. Kate and I thought a wee blog post to help explain where to find information on local cycle routes, how to plan your day out and what the rules and expectations are for when you use them might be a useful thing to put out.

Planning your cycle ride

There is a network of fantastic routes made up of traffic-free paths and quieter roads that can let you cycle all over the UK. They are called National Cycle Routes (NCR) and are all given numbers to identify them so you can easily navigate your way around.

National Cycle Network Route 1 (NCR1) is a thing which has become both dreaded and a source of fun and amusement in our lives. Back when I first started doing the longer cycles trips (feel free to delve into the very beginnings of this blog and read about them), NCR1 became synonymous with all things arduous and dreaded, it was the part of my journey where I was exhausted and the hills kicked in.  Now we live in a house on this very route and smile at the big blue sign we see from our back garden fondly. We were even married under it! But how do we know about this network? Well, cause back then I had to do a bit of work to investigate just how I was going to cycle to Edinburgh and this introduced me to the most amazing network of routes and paths which until then, I hadn’t even known existed.

The paths and routes throughout the UK are managed by a group called Sustrans, a group formed to promote active travel. Their website is a really useful tool for finding out about routes near you. They also produce great maps showing the routes and over the years I have gathered quite a selection of these. One thing to be aware of though, they are broken up into areas, so you might need more than one map for your route as you pass from one region into another. You can get these at your local bike shop or from the Sustrans website.

Before Kate and I go on any new cycle, we check out these maps just so we are aware of what to expect, where the route will take us and importantly, nearby train stations (just in case).

Another great source is Google Maps, which has been updated over the last couple of years to include all of these cycle routes. You can search for directions and then specify cycling to see the NCRs available. The other fantastic benefit to Google Maps is that you can also use their street view options to actually virtually travel the route in advance to help you learn what landmarks to watch out for and if there are any weird twists or turns in the route.

What to look out for

One of the main lessons I learned from using these routes is that the signage isn’t always brilliant. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it is fantastic, especially if it’s on a dedicated “cycle” path, but if the route uses roads as well, the signage can be difficult to spot.

On the dedicated paths, which are shared use paths for cycling, walking, mobility vehicles etc, signage tends to be quite good.

You’ll see these blue arrows which will tell you the direction to go in for a specific route, the distance to the destination and even a small red box with a number in it. This tells you what NCR this is. On the photo of one of our local signs, you can see that the route is NCR1 and that QMU (Queen Margaret University) is one way and Musselburgh is the other.

Very occasionally the signs take on a bit of an artistic/sculptural theme like the one at our local train station.

A more artistic sign, you may have to stop and dismount to read these ones

Another thing you might see if the big blue circular sign which shows a bike and pedestrians. This lets you know that this is a shared path, so be aware of walkers, dogs (off the lead or on extending leads), people wearing headphones or even just older people who don’t hear so well and may not be quite so aware of their surroundings, so be aware and be safe.

Once you are on a route which involves using quieter roads, however, you will not see nice, easy to spot big signs like this. Now you have to be really aware and watch out for a different type of sign. Still blue, always blue, but now it is more likely to be a small sticker on a lamppost. So you really have to be looking out for these, as they are really easy to miss. One thing to note is that they usually appear when the route is about to change direction or when there is likely to be confusion about which direction to take, if there is a directional change, look out for arrows on these stickers.

Another thing to be aware of is the surface, although a lot of the routes through towns and cities are proper cement surfaces, the lesser used routes can sometimes be grit or gravel surfaces which can be more difficult for bikes which don’t have fat, mountain bike style tyres. Just be prepared and if it becomes too slippy, get off and push until the surface improves.

The very last thing I will mention is about these paths and routes being shared. I’m sure we all have a story or two about other people not being very considerate, but trust me, getting annoyed or angry about this is going to take all the fun out of your cycle, and I’m saying trust me because I spent a long time angry before I realised I needed to just chill and remember to be the example. The routes are shared but not everyone will have the awareness of how they should think about others around them, so to make sure you get the very most out of your cycling adventure, and of course for your own safety as well as others… pay attention, be prepared to slow down or stop and make sure you ring your bell well in advance to give people time to process and react.  Most of all, just have fun!

Want to see what it’s like to cycle on these routes? Here is my daily commute.




youtube, the blog and our community – changes

Day by day we are seeing the blog become more popular and more and more of you are getting in touch with your amazing stories and interesting questions. It’s been so much fun sharing our adventures with you all over the last few years but due to the size of this community, we have had to make some small changes. Nothing scary, don’t worry.

As I mentioned, the blog is growing daily but so is our youtube channel so we thought it was time to get organised and make sure it is easy for everyone to find the content they were looking for.

Originally, our youtube channel wasn’t a channel, it was just a place to make videos available so that we could share them here, but it grew and grew and now it even has its own following separate from this blog. So with that thought, we have decided it was time to separate out the videos into separate channels to make life a little easier for our viewers and readers. We do still encourage you to use this blog as your method of contacting us though, just because it can get difficult for us to keep track of you all through all the different ways you get in touch and we don’t want anyone feeling like we are ignoring them.

So with no more waffling, the channel address to visit should you wish to find our videos on …

click to visit our youtube channel

click to visit our channel




Cycling without age – help buy a trishaw to let older people enjoy cycling

There have been a couple of news stories of late which have really captured my attention, stories about new schemes to help older people carry on enjoying the fun of cycling even when they are no longer capable of doing the cycling themselves. One such scheme is currently the dream of some local residents here in Musselburgh, Ewan and Morna. They have set up a just giving page to try to help raise the £7000 needed per bike. Ewan had seen this type of thing in denmark, but never thought for a second that it could take of in the UK and now here is he part of the movement making it happen.

The Cycling Without Age scheme gives people in residential care or otherwise stuck in their own homes the chance to get out into the fresh air. This is an important aspect of the scheme for Ewan, he is keen that not only the elderly benefit from this opportunity but other residents with mobility issues too. Specially adapted trishaws (awesome passenger carrying bikes) take these people out on traffic-free routes. This then lets the pilots (person riding the bike) and older people (enjoying the ride) share stories and experiences. As you can imagine, this has already had tremendous success in more cycling friendly countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands, and Scotland’s first chapter was started in Falkirk where the scheme gained national attention and has won prestigious recognition at the Pride of Britain awards. You can find out more about Cycling without age from their website: http://cyclingwithoutage.org/about/

Kate & I, being Musselburgh residents and keen cyclists, completely support Ewan and Morna with this project hence why we thought we’d share their story, but as always, please don’t feel pressured into supporting this scheme, we are just trying to raise awareness and do our bit to help something we think is really worthwhile. Although it would be amazing if you could spare a few pennies to help.

A local charity group “Walk With Scott Foundation” got in touch with Ewan and Morna and offered to match their funding if they could make the £3500 mark, which they did in January, so that has secured one bike, but there is still insurance, storage maintenance etc. Ewan is hopeful that they may even manage to raise enough funds for two bikes and a town the size of Musselburgh would definitely benefit from having two bikes.

You can read about the Falkirk success: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-tayside-central-40728410

or watch a video from the BBC

Donate at: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/cycling-without-age-musselburgh




Can you crash your bike with dignity?

I’m at an unfortunate point just now where I am cycling through the stages of emotion after having a bike fall.  I should point out, not the seriously dramatic and life-threatening type we see in The Tour, but just one of those winter skids that see the back wheel slide out from under you on a corner. The joy of black ice.

What I have learned from this though is that long after the injuries heal (in my case some torn ligaments in my shoulder), emotionally I’m still not healed. I’m terrified now, every small fissure in the road surface feels like an accident waiting to happen, every corner is just “too tight” and even worse, coldis my nemesis. We won’t even mention ice or frost cause well let’s be honest, my brain screams death trap every time I see frost now.

The thing is, I’m not sure if it was the fact that I was injured which has made this into a big deal or if I would be this terrified if I had come off the bike but been unscathed.  What I do know is that the injury was my fault, I put my arm out to break my fall and bang, shoulder injury. Even now I’m chastising myself, I know you shouldn’t put your arm out, so why did I do it? Like the time I was testing out clipless pedals and I didn’t unclip fast enough and so fell over like a sack of tatties… that time I stuck my knee (foot still clipped in) out to break my fall, and yes, torn knee ligaments for the effort.

So this has got me thinking, can you learn to fall “properly” so that you don’t or at least reduce the chance of injuring yourself? I’m not sure because I “know” I’m not meant to shove my arm out, but I did it…  a bit of a google and I came across this gem which I wanted to share.  It’s from bikeradar and the article tries to explain how to cope with the most common types of cycle crash.

http://www.bikeradar.com/gear/article/reduce_cycle_crash_injuries-24316/

 

 




Changing gears – busting the myths about internal hub gears (with the Kalkhoff Endeavour 8)

It has been such a long time since I wrote a post for this blog and I feel immensely guilty, but I just felt like I didn’t have anything blog-worthy to say. I cycle to work every day, but there are only so many blog posts you can write about your daily commute.

Finally, though, I might just have something interesting to tell you about, well I’m quite excited about it anyway.

It all started in the summer, when it was time for Kate (my lovely wife and cycle buddy) to trade in her trusty old bike for something which squeaked less, needed less constant maintenance to keep it running and in my opinion, wasn’t a bloody danger. We disagreed on the last part. She hadn’t really thought much about getting a new bike, so we had a bit of a blank canvas when we popped into the local bike shop to have a look, and there she fell in love, only this time not with me.

Internal hub gears, disc brakes, gates belt drive, dynamo lights, very low to no maintenance. The Kalkhoff Endeavour 8.

Being Kate though, she couldn’t just buy it on the spot, she had to research to make sure she was making the right decision. After all, she absolutely loved her Marin road bike, this would be a bit of a change.

What’s it like switching to internal hub gears?

Well, this was the big question, and amazingly the internet seemed to fail us when we were trying to find answers. We know a couple of people (who now live in another country) who use internal hub gears on their dutch style bikes but couldn’t advise on our commute really, and we’ve heard lots of folk say that you couldn’t manage the Edinburgh commute on internal hub gears, they just won’t handle the hills. So we were a little apprehensive. Almost everything we found online backed up the don’t do it type advice, but it just felt like it made sense. I was getting really annoyed at the lack of info.

So here we go… for all those people thinking about the switch, worried about the switch, being discouraged, this blog post will hopefully answer some of your questions, and if not… ask…

The truth about internal hub gears.

Ok so let’s look at the first piece of advice we found.

They are no good for hills

Myth busted! We both have hills on our commute, Kate more so as she has to climb Queen’s Drive every day, oh and that zigzag from the Innocent Cycle Path to join the Holyrood Park Path. Those are both substantial hills.

So what’s the verdict?

Well, Kate’s bike had 24 gears before, and those were road bike gears. She couldn’t climb those hills straight away after she started cycling, she had to build herself up to it and on her first attempt at those hills on the new bike which has 8 gears she did notice a real difference, she still managed, just a little slower. She used to climb the hill at around 8mph, now she is between 6-7mph  The world did not end and she didn’t have to change her commute. Just her gear choices.

They are really slow

Partially busted! Ok so let’s be honest here, the new bike is slower than the old Marin. It is however also a different bike. Going from a road bike to a more upright position, yep, it is slower. However, not insanely slower, at least not for us. At first, it did feel a lot slower to cycle and we were then shocked to see the actual speed we were doing, but we’re not doing granny speeds. Kate used to average around 12 – 13mph for the commute on her old road bike, on the new commuter bike she averages 11 – 12mph, so not a massive difference, unless you are a speed demon.

I guess on this one, you just have to weight things up for yourself. For us, the speed wasn’t such a big issue after we’d tried the bike out. It just felt like such a good bike, so enjoyable to ride and felt so much safer, especially coming into the winter weather. So we were happy to have an extra minute or two added to our commute. Although on the safer thing, ironically, I had a fall yesterday and I’m currently wearing an arm sling 🙁 and yes, I was riding this bike! Darn black ice!

They are really heavy

This bike is definitely heavier than the Marin road bike, although not much heavier than my Whyte Portobello, so yep the internal hub is a little heavier on the back end of the bike, but not hugely and to be honest, you don’t notice the weight when you are cycling, only if you are trying to lift the bike upstairs.

You can’t get a service for them locally, you have to send your bike away

Myth busted! I have to say,  this was one which I was concerned about as I am a bit obsessive about keeping my bike in tip-top condition. However, I am pleased to say it appears that this myth is well and truly busted. The local bike shop is happy to do all maintenance on internal hub geared bikes.

I have to say though, for me, the biggest positive is the lack of maintenance and cleaning. Now that its freezing, cold and dark, it sucks that I’m out cleaning, degreasing and regreasing my bike while Kate literally does no more than wipe the fame with a damp cloth.

The bike is eerily quiet too… I’m going to have to put a bell around her neck so I know where she is on the cycle path!




The showerless commute – result

I gave the showerless commute a try last week and promised an update to let you know how I got on. I’m glad to say, a success and I will be a showerless commuter from now on.

My routine is that I get to work, clean up with baby wipes, perfume deodorant, the usual,  then get changed into clean work clothes. All in all it saves me about half an hour in the morning that I can use for other things. Unfortunately, that is added on in the evening when I shower before bed, to make sure I am clean for the next day. My wife is also a cycle commuter and doesn’t shower so there is a bit of a traffic jam waiting for the shower at night but hey we’ll cope.

All in all I’m very happy, no pongy, sweaty smells and I don’t feel like a yuck monster. I think the baby wipes are the way to go.

All in all I’m very happy, no pongy, sweaty smells and I don’t feel like a yuck monster. I think the baby wipes are the way to go.

  • Morning activites: just the commute and breakfast
  • Time saved: 30 minutes
  • Smell rating: 2 out of 10 (on Friday afternoon after a busy day)

A success.

Feeling clean and fresh after my commute




Cycle commuting – to shower or not to shower

For a lot of potential cycle commuters the issue of “ponging a bit of sweat” is what puts them off giving it a try and I must say I’ve been very lucky. The last few jobs I’ve had provided decent facilities for their cycling workforce, including showers. So I’ve always got showered and changed when I got to work. Not everyone in my office does, though, even though there are shower facilities, some folk don’t see the need.

That very thought has led to a bit of an experiment this week, there is currently road works on my route, meaning I’m getting to work about 25 minutes later than normal and the normal routine of getting showered and then eating breakfast before I start work is a struggle. Add to that the fact that there has been no hot water in my building for a few days (ice cold shower in the morning) and the decision was made. This week I’m going to test the no shower routine. I must admit to being a bit apprehensive but I love a challenge.

There is a wealth of advice on ‘tinternet about commuting when you have no access to a shower, mostly around not cycling too fast or putting in enough effort to make you sweat. This isn’t really for me. My commute is 7 miles each way with a few hills thrown in, plus my cycle commute is my exercise as well as my commute. I’m going to get a little sweaty.  So for me, the option is to carry on having separate cycling clothes and work clothes and to keep some baby wipes at work to get cleaned up.

Clothing wise, I always wear cycling clothes that will dry quickly as there is nothing worse than putting on wet, damp cycle kit to come home after work so I tend to go with nylon. It’s not pretty, and it can get smelly but it drys super fast. I also wear a high viz reflective jacket in the dark and a bright, yellow jacket during the day. Not to do with showering or not, just part of my cycle commuter kit. I also avoid having a bag on my back, because that basically leaves you with a big sweaty patch on your back and your shirt. I prefer to use a good pannier bag. I must stress though, you do get what you pay for here so it’s worth shelling out for a good bag, with plenty of room and make sure it say it’s waterproof. NOT just shower proof.

So today is day one, it’s still early and I still smell of baby wipes and deodorant. Check back on Friday and I’ll let you know how this experiment goes.

  • Morning activites: just the commute and breakfast
  • Time saved: 30 minutes
  • Smell rating: 0 out of 10 (at 8:30am)

Me in my commuting gear.




Winter cycling for the newly converted.

Most folks seem to have come back to work today after the winter break and I’m wondering how many of the shiny bikes in the rack belong to new cyclists who made a new year’s resolution to get fit, get healthy or lose weight? It can’t be the most fun part of the year to commute by bike for the first time. This morning it was pelting with rain, a bit windy and dark. Did I mention dark? So that got me wondering if all these budding new cyclists really knew what to expect when they promised they’d start commuting by bike. That’s ok, though, there are loads of more experienced cyclists out there who can give some great advice based on proper experience. So, in that vein, I thought I’d do a wee blog post to offer some advice on bicycle commuting during the winter.

I have two pieces of advice I’d give any new cyclist for this time of year, get good clothes and gloves and by good I mean warm and rain proof and importantly for this time of year, reflective, secondly get decent lights, not just whatever cheap ones the bike shop had on sale.

At this time of year, it’s pretty much going to be dark when you leave in the morning and dark when you leave to come home so good lights and reflective kit is really important. You need to be able to see and to be seen.

But cycle kit is expensive

Yep, it can be, I absolutely hear you on that one but you don’t have to go out and buy yourself all the gear in one go. Start off with the essential items, like good lights and a good waterproof and highly visible jacket. You want something bright for during the day with lots of reflective areas for the night. With lights, don’t waste your money on the cheap lights in the bargain bucket at the bike shop, you really do get what you pay for. Think about the type of places you will be cycling. Will there be street lights for instance?

I regularly cycle on a path which has absolutely no lights at all, so for me, lights are as much about being able to see as well as being seen.

The same goes for cycle clothing, I mentioned having a decent amount of reflective areas but again, you don’t need to go buy a really expensive cycling jacket you get all sorts of reflective strips and arm bands etc that work really well.

So start off just making sure you are safe, then if you stick with the cycling, you can start asking friends and family for bits of kits for birthdays etc.

Easy and cheaper solutions

An easy solution is reflective stickers. They are cheap and can be applied to the bike, bags, helmets etc and are really effective.

We stuck some stickers onto our helmets which are black normally but light up when a light hits them.

You can also buy click on spoke reflectors, I got these online for 2 quid.

A bit more expensive but long lasting

Buying cycling specific reflective kit is more expensive but depending on your journey it might be recommended. I do parts of my route in pitch black, so my super reflective jacket is great.

A little bit can make a difference and maybe just help you to feel comfortable now the nights have drawn in.

Look at the difference between a cycle who wears bright, reflective kit with good lights and a cyclist who doesn’t bother. Yup there are two cyclists in this shot




Pedal for Scotland 2016 – all done and over £500 raised for a great cause – Eli on a bike

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Firstly I want to say thank you so much to all the people who donated to Alzheimer’s Scotland on my behalf. As I write this blog post we have raised over £500 for this great cause. So the big day has come and gone and I thought you might like a quick update and some photos.

I was on the 8am start schedule from Glasgow Green and my fantastic sister Leigh came and saw me off with lots of cheers of good luck and well done. She took photos and recorded videos and in one video clip you can hear her panting for breath as she cheers me on. It tuned out that her bus hadn’t turned up to get her to Glasgow Green and she was worried about missing the chance to see me, so she had to run across the green to find me.

She did a great job and I now have lots of photos and video snippets of the day as little reminders.

On the weeks before the actual cycle, I had been worrying about how punishing the new route would be, I’d heard that it was more hilly than the route I’d previously cycled and a lot of people found it quite hard going. I have to say that yes the route now is much more hilly, I’d describe it as 48 miles of one hill after another, but I found that being clever with your gears and prepared meant that no hill felt awful or too challenging. Yes I was out of breath for the entire 48 miles, but not to the point where I couldn’t hold a conversation with the other cyclists or thank the locals who had come out to cheer us on.
There were a few other changes to event itself from the last time I took part the biggest being that the roads were closed to traffic making it a really pleasant and safe cycle, well there were still quite a few newbie cyclists who didn’t signal before moving or slowing down and rather a lot not sticking to the rule about keeping left to allow people to overtake but in general I did find it a great cycle thanks to the closed roads. My only grumble in this regard is maybe that I don’t think it worked very well to have the kiddies ride take place at the same time and on the same route as the main rides. The last ten miles of the route was where the “Wee Jaunt” kiddies ride took place and it became quite scary in places with families taking up the entire road and kids swerving in and out in front of other cyclists but I understand that it’s probably a logistical nightmare to organise the multiple cycle events going on.

On the weeks before the actual cycle, I had been worrying about how punishing the new route would be, I’d heard that it was more hilly than the route I’d previously cycled and a lot of people found it quite hard going. I have to say that yes the route now is much more hilly, I’d describe it as 48 miles of one hill after another, but I found that being clever with your gears and prepared meant that no hill felt awful or too challenging. Yes I was out of breath for the entire 48 miles, but not to the point where I couldn’t hold a conversation with the other cyclists or thank the locals who had come out to cheer us on.
There were a few other changes to event itself from the last time I took part the biggest being that the roads were closed to traffic making it a really pleasant and safe cycle, well there were still quite a few newbie cyclists who didn’t signal before moving or slowing down and rather a lot not sticking to the rule about keeping left to allow people to overtake but in general I did find it a great cycle thanks to the closed roads. My only grumble in this regard is maybe that I don’t think it worked very well to have the kiddies ride take place at the same time and on the same route as the main rides. The last ten miles of the route was where the “Wee Jaunt” kiddies ride took place and it became quite scary in places with families taking up the entire road and kids swerving in and out in front of other cyclists but I understand that it’s probably a logistical nightmare to organise the multiple cycle events going on.

All in all I really enjoyed the day and even managed to post a few pictures and videos along the route so that friends and family could keep up with my day. In one such video I can clearly be heard to be quite out of breath but that was nothing compared to how my lungs felt when I got off the bike at the finish line but I’m thankful to say that come Monday I was back to normal with no aches or pains.

Kate was there to cheer me through the finish line and give me a much needed hug at the end and it’s amazing what a boost it was to approach the finish line and see Kate cheering me on.

All in all a very good day and Kate is already talking about doing it next year.




Pedal for Scotland – the training is done

Well folks that’s it. The last pre-event cycle ride is done and all that’s left to do is to clean and grease the bike and pack my stuff ready for Sunday.

The ongoing niggles of my new saddle are no longer an issue as it’s now nice and broken in but alas I sill have the occasional numb or sore feet. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to the bottom of that one. I’m confident though, I’ve been adding in hill cycles and I’m becoming more comfortable with the gears on my bike (can’t believe a year on I’m still talking about getting used to the gears) and I’m actually starting to get a little bit excited about the big day. It’s sure to be great fun, as long as it doesn’t absolutely piss down with rain or blow a gale like it has today. Fingers crossed!

I have to say thank you to all the fantastic people out there who have donated to Alzheimer’s Scotland on my behalf, the fantastic charity I am raising money for. You are great people, I’ve managed to beat my target of £300 pounds but if you haven’t donated yet you still can so grab your mobile phone or computer and donate. Every penny goes to making the lives of those affected by Alzheimer’s just a little bit better.

Watch out for tweets and videos on the day, I’ll try to update you when I stop for water or a jelly baby 🙂

Follow @Eli_App_D on twitter to see my progress.

How to donate

You can donate online at: https://www.justgiving.com/EliApplebyDonald

or on your phone by texting 70070 and in the message writing EJAD74 followed by the amount (£10, £5 etc)