The View from the Bummel

Mr (or perhaps Mrs) Collins has let me down badly with the title, but I have the word “bummel” on no lesser authority than Jerome K Jerome, so it stays.

As has previously been alluded to, I cycle around quite a bit – it’s a great life awheel!  With nothing between you and the world, you see a great many sights – and you can also get quite wet and exposed to vicious wind chill (but I’m British, and my ancestors built an empire by totally ignoring the weather).  You see a lot more of nature than in a vehicle – and because nature isn’t quite sure what a bicycle is, you frequently have to swerve to avoid it.  The wildlife I’ve nearly hit with my bike would fill an episode of Springwatch (or a very tasty casserole) – though perhaps a rather rabbit-heavy one.

However, rather than turn into tales from the riverbank I was planning to waffle on about road safety (thus helping to fulfil the public service remit of this blog).

I often wear glasses with polarised lenses and these help you see into vehicles very nicely.  What you see is often rather scary!  I have often seen lorry drivers using one hand to hold their tab and the other to hold a mobile phone.  They are usually also breaking the speed limit (presumably as a result of the dilution of attention) and so each of their two hands and their right foot are simultaneously breaking a different law.  I have racked my brains, but have been unable to think of any obvious law they could break with their left foot – which seems a pity.

Of course, it is not only some lorry drivers who have only a nodding acquaintance with the laws of the land.  My fellow cyclists often seem to feel that the red, orange and green lights that you see mounted on poles near junctions are attractive street art or early Christmas lights – certainly nothing to trouble them.

Whilst at times of perfect visibility during the hours of darkness many cars have enough lights on to stage a Premiership football match or support an ack-ack battery, it’s a rather different story during the hours of nominal daylight when visibility is poor.  Many drivers, especially those of drab or tarmac-coloured (tautology perhaps?) vehicles, feel that this is the time to save energy (very laudable in these carbon-conscious times) and run in “stealth mode” without a single light showing.

Around Cambridge, a worrying number of cyclists feel that night is the perfect time to try out their ninja skills – removing all reflective surfaces from their mounts, using no lights and dressing entirely in black.  This makes driving, and even cycling, in Cambridge during the hours of darkness really quite exciting.

I take the opposite approach when astride my steel (or aluminium) steed, wanting to be as visible as possible.  If I am mown down by a passing vehicle, I want them to really mean it.   I take the view that you never want to be the victim of an unprovoked attack as the provocation is where the fun is to be had; it would be like having a hangover without the preceding night on the lash.

However, I would not want to give you the impression that cycling destroys your faith in humankind (though, for rabbit-kind you should definitely leave with that impression).  On the contrary (and a bike) you are very well placed to see lots of acts of everyday kindness and courtesy on our public highways.  Oddly, perhaps, the people who commit these acts always seem to be so much happier than their fellow road users – and often spread that cheer as they go on their way.  There might even be a lesson here for us all – though I fear that several of the world’s major religions and a fair number of its heavyweight philosophers may have beaten me to that particular revelation.

OMG, a moral – even I didn’t see that coming.

Saddle the Wind

A perfectly serviceable western of 1958 from what I have read, perhaps most notable for being written by Rod Serling who went on to find fame with the Twilight Zone. However, in this instance it is merely being used as a small artifice to introduce today’s ramblings.

Most of my shorter journeys (sub 10 or so miles) I tend to make by velocipede, not through any great virtue on my part but because I much prefer cycling to driving (and in these traffic-choked isles it is often faster – and always cheaper). Living near Cambridge my life awheel is pleasingly free of major gradients – but is oft afflicted by the blight of wind (not a reflection on my largely vegetarian diet but on the local weather). Friends have suggested that they would prefer more varied topography but lower average wind speed – to which I tend to reply that a hill is there every day, whereas sometimes the wind dies down and (very occasionally) a passing zephyr can provide assistance.

This morning the wind was in its more typical mode of hindering the cyclist – in fact, at the time I headed out to the west it achieved its greatest force in 2011, gusting to gale force from (yes, you guessed it) the west. This was rather hard work for my ageing limbs – to be honest, only the two lower ones were doing much work, the other pair were very much hangers-on.

The Beaufort scale is a handy method for describing wind strength (this morning’s gusts were force 8, Whole Gale) – but the old Admiral was a naval chap and the descriptions of wind speed do have a rather nautical bent. I feel someone needs to create a Beaufort scale for the modern cyclist, for whom, knowing that the sea has “moderately high waves with breaking crests forming spindrift” is of rather limited utility. Based on this morning’s experience, force 8 equates to “hard work cycling down hill” (describing the up hill portion of my journey would lose this blog its PG rating).

I’ve often wondered about the possibility of using the wind to my benefit on the bike – to, as it were, saddle the wind (see, this blog isn’t just thrown together, it has production values!).  However, I have yet to work out how to tack successfully, which would be vital for successful bicycle sailing given the frequency with which the wind is agin me. I am also rather worried about gybing – it looks scary enough in a boat. If anyone has any ideas to make my wind assisted cycling dreams come true don’t hold back…