All weather Commuter Cyclist and cycle gadget junkie. Liverpool, UK
Posted in Uncategorized on May 22, 2014
I happen to work for Liverpool City Council – although my work is not in any way cycling policy related. I was asking around for a copy of the new “Cycling Revolution strategy” as promoted via the Liverpool Express website the other day (liverpool express story) and mentioned that I was interested in sharing it via this blog. The Council’s Cycling Officer asked if I would be interested in sharing the following documents with the local cycling community to ask for any cycle infrastructure related suggestions.
It turns out that as part of the council’s ongoing road maintenance programme, the two areas below are scheduled for works in the near future and comments and suggestions regarding improvements to the cycling infrastructure have been requested before Friday 30th May.
I understand that these schemes have already been shared with other Liverpool cycling groups, but I hadn’t heard about them, so I’ll share them here in case they’re news to anybody else too!
The first scheme is between Walton Vale and Rice Lane – click the map for a larger version
This isn’t my area, but any suggestions people have about pinch points, signage, crossings, parking, cycle lanes etc will be gratefully received. Obviously there are no guarantees that any suggestions will definitely be implemented but they will be passed on to the right people and considered as a part of the maintenance works when they take place.
The same applies for the second scheme – a lot closer to my home as it forms part of my commute to work along Smithdown Road and Ullet Road.
I have my own two-pennuth to contribute regarding the second route but I’ll be sure to pass anything left in the comments to this post (before Friday 30th May 2014!) along. Please don’t ask me for any more information (dates, extent of works etc) – this is all I know!
Posted in Uncategorized on November 16, 2013
What a horrible week it’s been for those of us who cycle to work. Not just for the lousy weather of course – if only it were just that. I love the challenge of heading out into horizontal rain and a vicious headwind – one arrives at the office red faced, drenched but with a real sense of achievement before the day’s even started. I’m buried in a huge project at work right now, to the extent that even the normally insistent buzz of social media is dulled to a faint hum in the background. The ride to and from work allows you the chance to decompress from that – to just focus on the road ahead and the battle with the elements to get home.
The news this week has broken that. It’s sadly not that unusual to hear of the death of a cyclist – in the close and friendly social media circle around cycling a story usually breaks every couple of months or so which sobers us all, reminds us of the campaigns we all subscribe to and makes us think twice about being quite so reckless on the cycle home. I hope you don’t think I’m being cold though when I say that I can normally put it out of my mind fairly easily. I think it’s necessary if you’re going to go out into traffic without hugging the kerb and flinching at each passing car to grow a kind of mental armour. Of course one is careful and “owns ones space” as much as possible, but a lot of that has to do with not feeling vulnerable – which is tricky if you’re thinking too hard about the last cycling death. This week has been different though (for me and my fellow commuters at work anyway).
Each of the deaths in London has slipped, stiletto like under our mental armour. I’ve found myself feeling a bit, well, vulnerable. And that’s how it happens – I’m convinced of it. There I was last night stuck in a queue for the lights and instead of boldly riding up the outside of the queue as usual, I hugged the kerb and tried to struggle to the front. The guy who hit me didn’t have a chance of seeing me – despite my being lit up like a Christmas tree – he was crossing the flow of traffic having been “let through” a gap to access a side road. I don’t blame him, he was no more to blame than me.
Why am I always so bloody NICE to somebody who’s just nearly killed me? I’m lying here a day later and the whiplash pain is just starting to flare up – my neck and shoulders are on fire, it hurts to yawn and my stomach muscles hurt like buggery when I laugh, I can’t grip things properly with my hands and I think back to yesterday – I remember tensing my neck muscles with all my might just before my helmet hit the Tarmac, thinking that, actually this might be really serious this time. I remember gingerly getting up a few minutes later and seeing him walking over – I didn’t see where he’d parked – I never do under these circumstances, my consciousness seems to shrink down to a roughly circular zone of about a couple of metres around myself. He was a nice bloke – genuinely concerned and obviously shaken himself. He wanted to know if there was anything he could do to help, did I need an ambulance? Was I Ok? At the same time a few witnesses wandered over with bits of debris – my lights, the peak off my helmet – they all wanted to help but what was I doing? I checked my bloody phone to see if I’d smashed the screen, I looked in my bag to see if my iPad was damaged, took a couple of minutes to superficially check the bike was ok….Beyond realising that I didn’t have any broken bones I gave no thought whatsoever to myself. I shook the guy’s hand, told him it was OK, I even asked him if his car was damaged before allowing him to go.
What am I trying to say? I don’t know – in a case like this where it’s hard to ascribe blame – neither of us was doing anything wrong – I think it’s still important to exchange details and that’s what I’ll take away from it. I’ve obviously got to buy a new helmet, possibly a new front wheel – should that come out of his insurance? I honestly don’t know where I stand on that one. I’m fairly beaten up – far more than I thought I would be yesterday and far more than I was when I made a perfectly legitimate whiplash claim against a motorist who ran into the back of my car 15 years ago – but because I was on a bike the compulsion to exchange details just doesn’t seem to be there on the part of the motorist. For myself, although this was a fairly low speed incident (neither of us were doing more than 15mph), the shock of going over the bonnet was such that I just wasn’t thinking straight – so some kind of campaign to make sure we as cyclists think about getting the details of the motorists who hit us is important I think. I wasn’t using my helmet cam as it had broken – I’ve ordered another – if only so that if something similar happens again I KNOW for certain what actually happened – if you’ve exchanged details then sending the motorist a copy might help him see things from your point of view.
Most importantly I take away that I’m lucky to be alive. My heart is with the families, friends and loved ones of the cyclists killed in London and all over the country this week. Let’s not forget that it’s not about cyclist VS motorist, it’s about the fact that our infrastructure is too motor-vehicle-focused and cycle-hostile. A car, truck or bus does not have to be going fast to kill a cyclist, it just needs to be on the same piece of road at the same time. Also, don’t let the news make you scared. Ride safely, ride confidently. If I hadn’t been scuttling along in the gutter this accident wouldn’t have happened.
A colleague pointed out to me this morning that there was a new option on his google maps “get directions” page today –
Sure enough it seems that this option has been available in the US for some time, but has been ported across to the UK today.
A bit of digging around suggests that they’re using Sustrans data (sustrans routes such as Liverpool’s Loop Line are marked in a dark-green on the map) – see CycleStreets comment here
There’s a pretty large disclaimer attached that the feature is “in Beta” and users are requested to feedback any errors – I hope in vain that any feedback received is going to be put back into cyclestreets to help improve their excellent service, rather than just improving Google’s results at the expense of a hard-working endeavour which has been beavering away in a comparatively dark corner of the internet purely for the good of us cyclists…
Not having used the service “in anger” ,I’m not going to comment on its accuracy here, but I would say that some of the suggested routes (at least my commuting ones anyway) are a little odd – whilst cycle route 56 is pointed out, the alternatives don’t seem to to offer me anything different (faster, more bike-friendly) – which is unfortunate, as this is a feature cyclestreets DO offer in their data.
Still, not wanting to sound like a big whinger – it’s great that Google are raising the profile of cycling by adding this functionality and here’s hoping that the service improves over time (how about adding known accident blackspots?)
OK, another day, another cycling trousers review, it will all make sense when you guys have (hopefully) the definitive “which are the best though” review – which is coming soon, I promise.
The outliers are the first serious cycling trousers I bought. I’ve had the pair I’m going to be reviewing for getting on 2 years now and (not wanting to spoil the review or anything) I bloody love ’em.
Outlier are a US brand with a similar ethic to Rapha…
“Clothing should be liberating. What you put on in the morning should never restrict what you do with your day. We make garments that dance around the boundaries of fashion using a function driven design process and high quality technical fabrics.”
I’m not sure I need my trousers to have a philosophy, but I’ve never been afraid of dancing round the boundaries of fashion (granted, I normally stick to the less visible boundaries of fashion if it can be helped).
I did do some fairly intensive research before buying these though – I remember well thinking if I was going to spend over £100 on a pair of pants I’d better be getting the best…
So, what we have here is “Schoeller dryskin double weave” with a nanosphere coating. I don’t claim to be an expert in fabrics (and schoeller’s website seems to be down as I write this) but this does seem to be a different fabric from the other pants reviewed here – it has a similar lining but it does feel slightly, well, “pointy”… Outlier claim that the under a microscope, the fabric consists of millions of points which water and dirt cannot cling to, making them uniquely slippery and whilst I don’t have a microscope I can attest that these pants shrug off dirt and water better than any of the others I regularly wear. They rock the same nanosphere coating as used on the Levi’s commuters, and it’s still there, doing its job after 2 years.
What sets these apart for me is the weight of the fabric – Outlier seem to have got it just right for a commuter / office trouser. The swrve pants feel more like a jean in terms of weight, these are more like a pair of suit trousers – very lightweight. What makes them truly magical is what makes them truly worth the “4 season” tag.
These trousers are genuinely warm when you need them to be (down to -10 c) and yet cool and breathable when rolled into shorts for the summer. This is dark magic.
Fit & Style
What we have here is a suit trouser – I’m not a suit trouser aficionado. To me, I’ve got to be honest, when I first tried on my (black) 4OGs I just thought – “well, they’re like a pair of school trousers”. Outlier make great play on their website about how they’ve adjusted the tailoring around the hips etc and that may well be the case and I’m just too much of a philistine to recognise it. They’re certainly comfortable – nothing is going to “hang” well on my frame, but they certainly aren’t too tight or loose – they don’t make any claims to a “cycling specific fit” like Rapha or Swrve, but I haven’t noticed anything significantly lacking in that respect. I don’t consider these to be a particularly “stylish” pair of trousers and that might just be what makes them the most stylish of all the trousers here. They are unobtrusive, functional and comfortable in all settings. They do work very well rolled up into shorts – the lightweight fabric means the turn up doesn’t look too bulky… In short, while not making any pretensions to cycling fashion, these somehow manage to be pretty much the perfect cycling commuter trousers.
Cycling Specific Features
Well, there aren’t any. Other than the fact that they are perfectly comfortable when riding a bike whatever the weather. There are no trick belt loops or glow in the dark seams, no u-lock park, no pencil pockets at all. No articulated knees or double thickness saddle pad. Just a pair of fairly unobtrusive trousers which manage to be the best I’ve ever worn.
These are the best
cycling trousers I’ve ever tried. There is magic in both the cut and the material which makes them somehow just the right pants to be wearing, pretty much whatever you happen to be doing. They’re not that easy to find in this country – so far as I know the only UK retailer is Tokyo Fixed Gear in London (who don’t believe cyclists have larger than 34″ waists for some reason) but carry the 4OGs for £130, the alternative is to buy from Outlier direct (http://outlier.cc) where they’ll cost you about £120 with another £18 – £36 for postage but you should buy yourself a pair – really, you will not be disappointed.
When I first heard Levis were doing a cycling range I’ll admit I was pretty excited. Until I heard that it wan’t coming to the UK that is – well 18 months later and now we have the whole Levis commuter range. I’d admired Rapha’s jeans for a while but couldn’t justify £150 for a pair of jeans (even if they do have funky reflective writing up the inside of the right leg). Jeans are an important part of any wardrobe, but I hadn’t bought a new pair since I started cycling about 3 years ago – any clothes money I managed to sequester away had been spent on techno-trousers, merino t-shirts and breathable underpants.
Jeans are your weekend wardrobe, and I don’t tend to cycle on the weekend, so they were pretty far down my priority list – but my stock of jeans were getting tired and LO! Levis – a proper jeans brand had launched a “Nanosphere technology” cycle friendly pair, and what’s more they’re a comparative snip at just £80 a pair.
Regular jeans just don’t work on a bike – the fit is wrong, they get all wrapped up around the top of your thighs and- well, it’s just a mess. Woe betide anybody trying to wear a pair of jeans on a bike in the rain – clinging, heavy cold denim is enough to put anybody off riding a bike for good.
Material & Construction
What sets these apart from your regular jeans is first and foremost the composition – they’re cotton, yes – but they’re rocking 2% lycra as well which solves the whole “bunching up” riddle immediately. It’s a reasonably lightweight denim too, which doesn’t betray any of its techno-magic in day-to-day wear…
It’s also “magic” waterproof denim. It’s really weird riding in the rain, watching the water just form into droplets and fall off the top of denim – I’d kinda got used to this with Schoeller and softshell, but it’s downright spooky when the material is denim. The “nanosphere” label is attached to the schoeller fabric used in Outlier and Swrve’s pants and it’s clearly similar here. The pants are not completely waterproof – in a similar way to the Swrve WWRs they will allow a little water into the weave in a downpour – but this is easily dried with a quick towel over when you arrive. I’d give these about 6/10 for waterproofing – which is berloody good for a pair of jeans!
These jeans feel just like any other pair of good jeans – snug, comfy and sturdy. Like any other pair of Levis, they suggest you wear ’em well at first before washing – give them a proper “breaking in” to get them used to your shape and the way you sit/stand/walk/ride. The dye rubs off just like any other pair of new Levis too – so be careful putting any important papers in your pockets – they’ll come out with dark blue edges!
These are a comfortable pair of jeans – fullstop. They work off the bike as well – whilst I’m not usually a skinny fit kinda guy, these don’t carry the obligatory “wear them like they’re falling down” recommendation that normally goes along with carrot type jeans – they’re Levi’s 511 fit – which turns out to be a good compromise between a fashionable leg and a sensible (protective) fit on the bike. For my taste they are just a little too snug on the calves, but the plus side to this is that when rolled up they stay put.
If you’re a fatty like me (36″ waist) then you’ve only got one length to choose from – 34″, which is about 2 inches too long for my stubby little legs – I will get them tailored eventually, but I’ve never had a problem rocking a turn-up if need be. The turnups on these fellas are a bit special too… There’s a strip of reflective 3M scotchlite trim sewn into the seam to help you get seen at night.
Cycling Specific Features
I’ve already mentioned the reflective lining and the waterproofing. The denim has another trick up it’s sleeve too – it’s “sanitized” – which doesn’t mean it’s had its street cred bleeped out, it has an anti-microbial (read “anti-stink”) formulation, which has to be good if you’re cycling in denim – no matter how clever, it’s still denim and you will sweat. The pants are constructed with flatlock seams and reinforced around the saddle region so they’re going to prove both comfortable and hardwearing on the bike. Many cycling tailored pants claim to accomodate a D lock in the belt loops – this is a bit of a con in most instances – it just means you can fit your lock into your belt (should you be wearing one). The Levis go a step further and attach a D-Lock sized strap of denim to the waistband, meaning you can tote your lock when you’re not wearing a belt
These jeans are most definitely not a cycnical marketing ploy by Levis. The company has spent time looking at all the aspects which might stop your everyday cyclist wearing jeans and carefully applied logic, materials technology and good old invention in each instance. You’re not going to see your hard-core roadies swapping their bibs for a pair of these, but for the rest of us (particularly on “dress down Friday”) these pants offer bucketloads of WIN: They’re as comfortable as any other cycling pants I’ve worn, they offer decent weather protection, they breathe, stretch where needed, they’re tough and fashionable on and off the bike and are from a world renowned brand. All this and they’re reasonably priced too. I have no hesitation recommending ’em and I give them a solid
If I could wear ’em every day they’d be nearer to 95%
I’m on my second pair of Swrve WWR’s (wind & water resistant, since you ask). These are my go-to pants most days in the winter, spring and autumn (fall if you must). They’re made from a mix of nylon and Lycra (90% – 10%) which somehow manages to look like doesn’t contain either material (!)
Style-wise they’ve got a simple chino vibe going on, but they’re packed with bike friendly features – articulated knees mean they’re as comfortable bent as straight, a traditional hipster fit (ie low front waist – not drainpipe and low crotch) means your gut sits over the waistband comfortably and they’re ridiculously over-compensated with pencil pockets for some reason. Rear belt loops are constructed so as to hold a mini-D lock.
They rock a reflective rear belt loop which I’m dubious as to the real value of – but it looks cool I suppose.
The big deal about these trousers is that they are just SO COMFORTABLE. Seriously – you can just pull these on and not worry about anything. Want to roll the legs up? Fine – just do so, they’re cool with that.
They fit like jeans – but the 10% Lycra mean they fit on the bike like jeans never can. They don’t need ironing – in fact the label actively prevents it, but they never look scruffy – they are the perfect office trouser – casual yet unquestionably smart – your boss isn’t going to tell you off for wearing a pair of these (although he may be jealous of them).
In terms of weather resistance, I’d give them about 80% (against the Rapha softshell’s 100%)… In utter downpours they will let water in (a little), but this is easily remedied with a quick rub over from a towel, with the trousers still on (you DO have a towel in work don’t you?) – they are my original “magic trousers” – I’ve never been left sitting in a puddle in these, they strike a perfect balance between weather resistance and ease of wear.
If I’m pushed to find a downside it’s that they are a little too warm for summer use – if it’s over about 20 degrees Celsius, then the brushed interior construction is gonna get your legs sweating a little… This is only exacerbated by swrve’s decision to alter the cut slightly – my euphoric review thus far is for my original pair of WWRs – which were a regular boot cut fit: low front, regular leg. They’ve recently (last 12months) changed to a slimmer leg which is doubtless more popular for the LA hipster crowd, but exaggerates the “ooh that’s a bit warm” effect of the brushed lining. I actually blame Levi’s rather than swrve for this – their “commuter” range (reviewed here) decided to opt for the skinnier 511 profile rather than the classic 501, and suddenly all cycling pants have to fit like a pair of tights – here’s a thought guys… Cyclists have calves!
The only other issue I’ve noticed With the WWRs is pilling – the material tends to pill around the crotch and saddle areas after a while – this is relatively easily solved.
Why am I on my second pair? Not because the first pair wore out, but because I want to wear ’em every day and I need more than one pair.
They run out at £80 a pair (yes I know that’s expensive, but your alternative is your suit trousers and a pair of “waterproof over-trousers” ferChrissakes).
Buy a pair from swrve directly. Like the othe rmanufacturers I’m recommending in these tests, they’re not avaialable from the likes of wiggle or chain reaction, these are small, specialist companies – but the quality of the product is so much higher than what you might expect from an altura or other high street brand that it really is a no-brainer.
Get yourself a pair – you’re going to be wearing them a lot. At £85 a pair, they’re expensive, but they’re significantly cheaper than both the Rapha and Outlier offerings. A little warm for summer perhaps and the pilling issue is a bit of a pain, but otherwise a faultless
The Rapha softshell trousers are the most “specialist” pants I’m probably ever going to test. I bought these in the middle of a lousy winter and that’s what they’re for. Rapha advertise the softshell trousers as for “the worst the city can throw at you” and that’s about right – you can cycle through a blizzard in these bad boys. They shrug off downpours, freezing temperatures, snow, hail; whatever, whilst still letting your skin breathe. They make the days when you’d normally say “no chance” possible. The softshell construction and waterproof coating make these without doubt the most weatherproof trousers I’ve owned.
They do that, of course, whilst retaining Rapha’s famous tailored good looks. They’re full of clever details – an abrasion resistant seat panel matched up to a waterproof neoprene panel to catch tyre spray at the very back are somehow styled into the cut to look like a design feature. The taped seams and superb tailoring mean they fit like a glove and remain comfortable when you’re in the most uncomfortable situations – like in the middle of a downpour.
A pair of these would not look out of place anywhere – they may be tough as old boots, but they look like a million dollars. Which is almost what they cost – if you buy these at full price (rather than in one of Rapha’s regular sales HINT HINT), you’re looking at £110 a pair – (so make sure you get the right size). Quality does cost however and the quality of materials, cut and overall finish mean that these are worth every penny.
The only faults with these pants are the flip-sides of their plus points… They’re made to be warm in the winter and that they are – whilst you’re riding through a blizzard. Unfortunately, what normally happens at the end of such a ride is that we climb off the bike into a nicely heated office. Whilst the pants let your legs breathe, the Brushed lining is simply too warm to sit indoors in for any length of time. I teamed these with a pair of merino boxers one cold winter day and within 2 hours sitting at my desk I had sweat running down my legs. This is a major fail for me for trousers branded as “city” (ie commuter) trousers. If you’re going to wear them, you will need a pair of suit trousers at the other end – which, after being stuffed in your rucksack will look nowhere near as good as the Softshells!
Secondly, softshell rustles. Which you sort of expect from a sporty, weatherproof jacket – it’s unnerving coming from a pair of beautifully tailored suit trousers.
Thirdly – well, it’s the waterproof coating in combination with the “breathing” pores I suppose…. If you’re riding in a downpour then you’re probably wearing overshoes too right? Well, I made the mistake of tucking the pants into the overshoes and, well the trousers inflated like a pair of balloons tied to my legs… NOT A GOOD LOOK!
[Update (21st Jun 2012) in order to check that I wasn’t being unfair, I tried the softshells out again today – it was chucking it down this morning, so I figured they were appropriate. Everything I wrote above was true again. They’re just too warm. To the extent that I was really slowed down on the way home (when it was still raining, but not so heavily) – the pants were heavy and waterlogged (although my legs were dry, they were so hot I was sweating!) They’re too heavy to roll up effectively and they really became a hindrance.]
I’m a real Rapha fan. A raphanista if you like, but I’m afraid I really can’t recommend these trousers. I live in the north of England and even cycling every day in the middle of winter can only find maybe two or three days where I can justify them – and then I’d have to take a pair of regular pants to change in to when I got to work. They’re just too damn hot for commuter pants, they rustle and they inflate if you tuck ’em in your socks. It’s a shame, because they’re beautifully tailored but for me they struggle to a measly
Posted in data on June 6, 2012
In my day job I produce the website for Liverpool City Council – It’s a nerdy but worthwhile enterprise, which brings me into touch with some of the more esoteric aspects of large scale web site production.
One of the most important tenets currently being espoused, both in government and journalism is the concept of “open data” – this is what the “Wikileaks” furore was all about – it’s more than just the freeing up of data hitherto locked away in dusty filing cabinets, it’s making that data available in a format which can be transformed into something useful. After all, it’s all very well the council providing the full details of every planning application made in Liverpool since 1965 – it’s something else extracting the planning decisions made this week in your street…
What this opening up of government data allows is for those with other datasets to “mash them together” – this is effectively what’s going on whenever you see a google map with a bunch of pins stuck in it, showing your local whatever…
Take that principle and run it by a keen bunch of cycling nerds and you get CycleStreets. CycleStreets build upon Open Street Map – an ambitious collaborative project to create a free editable map of the world. They add cycle specific data in “layers” on top of the Open Street Map views of the UK. What they have produced is nothing short of a full cycle-friendly “sat Nav” for most of the UK – the app allows you to draw routes from A to B and aims to give the most cycle friendly routes, including details of hills, cycle paths, traffic density, calories burned, number of traffic lights passed, elevation and step-by-step instructions. The user can choose from the fastest, the quietest or a balanced route giving the best of both.
The app is available as a desktop website (useful for plotting in advance and research – more of which later), a HTML5 mobile app – viewable from any smartphone with an open internet connection or as (FREE!) apps for iOS and Android phones.
There are a number of other applications using cyclestreets data – notable among them being “BikeHub” – a full turn by turn satnav system which operates like your TOM-TOM, telling you when to turn left or right so as to follow the route and correcting itself should you go wrong.
Now then, I mentioned research didn’t I? If, like me, you got caught up in the Times’ “Cities fit for Cycling campaign” (and if you didn’t, DO SO! go here) to the extent that you entered some of your more scary junctions into their road hazard map, then you might be intrigued at the data it shows with respect to cycle accidents.
Their map is, however, slightly clunky. It uses perhaps unsurprisingly, more data from CycleStreets. CycleStreets have mapped the governments road accident (Stat 19) since 2005 against their other mapping tools and made it available at http://cambridge.cyclestreets.net/collisions/ warning: it makes pretty scary reading!
Obviously if you’re going to use your phone as an on-board satnav, then an effective handlebar mount is essential. I’ve tried a couple of these out and can affirm that it’s vital to get a waterproof one(!) A full review will be coming soon – in the meantime, this one seems popular on Amazon…
I love a speedo me. I remember my excitement at age 14 when my mates and I were looking after my Grandma’s house when she went on holiday (how trusting was she?) I “baggsied” my uncle Andrew’s racer for the sole reason that it had a Lucas odometer fitted to it. This little analogue miracle sat right on the wheel hub, a little “spider” attachment turned directly by a peg screwed to a spoke. I dunno why, but I was completely fascinated watching the little red dial turning as I rode – It was somehow as near as I could get as a spotty schoolboy to driving my Mum’s Escort Pop estate.
I suppose it plays to my nerdy side – if I’m capturing data, then I can note it down and improve upon it. It’s the same impulse which made me buy increasingly complicated bike computers for every bike I’ve had since (except Hector – Hector’s far too cool for a speedo).
The Cat Eye V3 fitted to the eBay Flyer is kindof the ultimate expression of this, the “Cycle computer” – it reads my heart rate, it tracks my cadence, my elevation, it calculates my calorie burn and counts the remaining seconds/miles of my “training session” down to zero.
When I was running the electric Bike I downloaded an iPhone app called “Cyclemeter” – I’m going to do a standalone review of the app on here – it’s amazing – It does everything the Cat Eye does, and more – it tracks all this data alongside your GPS position on a map and uploads it all to the internet, building up a training profile, allowing you to set yourself goals against previous Personal Bests. It tweets your progress and reads back people’s replies to you – all for about a fiver (although you can spend a lot more to hook it up to cadence / heart rate measurement and view it in its own waterproof case on your handlebars) – utterly amazing.
Which is all very well… BUT
I’m not a professional cyclist. I’m actually way too lazy to draw myself up a training schedule – because I fundamentally don’t care about “training”. It’s hard enough getting out of bed on a sunny Sunday to go for a 20 mile ride in the country – never mind punishing myself on endless laps around the park on a cold wet Wednesday.
Which is where Strava comes in. Strava (www.strava.com) is a freemium web service which offers a similar kind of data capture to Cyclemeter (or Nike Plus if you’re a runner) – there are many of these kind of services around – Runkeeper (www.runkeeper.com) probably being the best known. But Strava is different. Why? because Strave is competitive
Strava was set up (I’m sure) for serious athletes to test each other out by pitting their PB’s against each other on common routes. There are a fair few professional athletes registered with the site and their (publicly published) times are quite something to behold.
I’m not interested in pitting myself against professional cyclists however – I know I’m going to lose. My work colleagues however – now that’s a different matter. It happens that about 5 of us at work all cycle in regularly, and we all happen to live roughly the same distance from work in roughly the same direction.
We’re sociable people and there’s normally no issues between us – cycle home together however, and everything changes – we are men. Therefore we are competitive. We have all spent lots of money on machines which we think make us superhuman – so inevitably it turns into a race. Which, as the oldest and fattest member of the team, I’m fairly likely to lose. Plus there’s something – well – ungentlemanly about a direct race especially between colleagues of different ranks.
I’ve often thought it would be great if I could compete against my colleagues times along the same routes. Cyclemeter and Runkeeper technically let me do this, but it’s not simple. With Strava I just have to push a single button. Strava GPS tracks the route we take and plots it on a map/elevation index.
My colleagues and I have all signed up to Strava’s free service. We have all downloaded their free iphone app. We have joined our profiles together into a team. Our times/speed/calorie burn/power figures are therefore pitted directly against each other in our team view.
The really cool bit however, is that Strava recognises sections of our journey that we all share. Our times along these sections are pitted against each other and a league is drawn up. At the same time our times for these sections are put up against the Pros (who may just have happened to ride that section as part of a 100 mile training session the week previously). Any user can define any section of a journey as a measured segment and figures for anybody who happens to ride that piece of road are compiled into a league table like this…
What I particularly like about this is that you can race without actually racing – when you’re side by side with somebody to talk to every day at the office, you don’t want to show that you’re really trying hard to beat them (or that you’re struggling to keep up!) With Strava, you’re just trying to get up the hill as fast as you can – it’s more like a videogame, where you struggle to get the first place on the leaderboard – except the leaderboard is you and your mates…
The app has all the usual goodies you’d expect from a fitness app – you can map your sessions, show your progress over time – even set out training sessions. But for me it’s the competitive bit which puts this head and shoulders above other similar apps.
The app works with iPhone, android and Garmin GPS devices. If you have ANT+ sensors (such as cadence and heart-rate monitors) the app will save those settings too, calculating a “suffer score” for you.
I’m not going to show you how to use it – get yourself over to www.strava.com and see for yourself!
Posted in Gear on February 15, 2012
A good commuter helmet is a slightly different beast from a good racing helmet. A racing helmet is all about light weight and airflow (and, lets face it probably just as much about how much it costs, who wore it in this year’s TdF and how rare and “unique” it is).
You’re going to be wearing a commuter helmet every day, Winter, Summer, wind and rain. It has to be comfortable, robust and reasonably stylish. It needs to not give you a headache and offer a mount for your helmet-cam whilst matching your business suit AND waterproofs.
Most importantly, it should do all this without completely ruining your hair so you look like you’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards in that 9:30am meeting.
A tall order then.
Bell’s “muni” helmet and the slightly smaller women’s version called the “Arella”, launched in 2011 claims to offer all this and a bit more. A lightweight (290g) shell is married to your head with Bell’s unique “OneStep Plus fit system” strap, which they claim fits pretty much everybody out of the box. In reality it took me a bit of fiddling to get a snug fit – but the mechanism is simple and once adjusted remains snug and true to the shape of your bonce, while the ratcheting buckle allows you to fit winter scarves, oxfords and collars without having to adjust your summer fit.
Speaking of winter, the helmet comes with a pair of integrated blinkies on the back strap as well as fittings for front and rear “Blackburn Flea” high-power rechargable LED lights (not included). The built-in blinkies are a bit of a waste of time to be fair – they’re REALLYfeeble and the batteries fade in no time – probably best to forget they’re there unless you have an emergency – after all, any lights are better than no lights.
The blackburn fleas are a different ball-game however – I’m going to save my full raptures for these little beauties for a dedicated review – suffice to say they are VERY bright, VERY convenient and VERY clever. The mounts are well positioned and hold the (expensive) Flea lights very securely. My only slight gripe is that it’s fiddly to set the Fleas’ (quite stiff) multi-tap switches with the helmet on your head, so if you’ve not got a mirror to hand, it’s hard to tell what mode you’ve selected without taking the helmet off…
The helmet’s ventilation is, on the whole, good for a commuter model, although you are left with a sweaty forehead band after anything but the most gentle ride.
Bell offer a folding helmet mirror attachment for the Muni/Arella which can be seen in the marketing video below and while I am a keen helmet mirror advocate, I can’t recommend this attachment – A helmet mirror must be very firmly attached if it is to be of any use – the Bell unit attaches purely to the (flexible) visor, by way of a folding, jointed plastic arm. My limited experience with this showed it to be next to useless – I couldn’t get a good over-the shoulder view and what I could see was jittery and shaky – this is more of a distraction than a useful safety feature.
I personally go with a Zefal mirror, with a metal arm, which I attach to the helmet AND visor to reduce shake and bounce.
I’ve been rocking my muni now for the best part of a year and I’m very happy with it. It replaced a Bern Watts which, while cool I couldn’t ever get to fit me and was heavy and hot – the muni by comparison is a joy!
UPDATE!!! My bell muni saved my life last night. It is being replaced by another, newer model. Review to follow