Hot and Sandy

Travel writing, pictures and stuff for people I know. Quite a lot of cycling talk, and some semi-controlled ranting. Hiking, outdoor and two-wheeled stuff, perhaps a little computing when it's worth talking about. Meandering thoughts.

Thursday, August 31


Lots of work to do today, sho' nuff. Wore a merino jersey for the first time this year today. Was far too toasty so I sweated like a muthatrukka all the way in. Serves me right. The people who made mine are holding a sample sale in central London this weekend (to coincide with the Tour of Britain coming to town), email for details.

Wednesday, August 30


So I'm riding home and things are going OK, except I can't work out why Supertramp keep coming round on the iPod.  

I'd been following a lady in a Corsa for best part of a mile round the Isle of Dogs.  She slows down a bit and starts indicating right (irritatingly in that order).  As I decide to go past her on the inside, she changes her mind and rapidly pulls into the kerb, still indicating right.   

Having used ninja braking and ESP to avoid a horrible accident I knocked on her window.  She had a nice face and was very polite - but could not see that she had done anything wrong, which made it all the scarier.


OK, so back to the graph. You can open it here, too.

The point is that in a race, graph 2 would be the most important - fastest rider wins. This is where geared bikes, shown on the red line, have a clear advantage. Especially in the zone c-f, the geared bike is much faster. But is life a race? Or is it more important to be one with the journey by maintaning a work-rate that is acceptable (adjusted by changing your gearing), and which directly reflects the landscape?

The blue line on graph 3 shows that the fixie rider remains in a small range - "the zone". Although the work rate is high when climbing, cadence limitations prevent the VO2 Max-derived wall that limits the speed of geared bikes. Each rider finds a compromise of cadence and strength. Likewise, the geared rider is a passenger on a freewheeling missile on the descent, but the fixed rider is kept warm by spinning down the descent.

Now look at the relationship between graphs 2 and 3. When the lines converge, riders are working hard yet travelling slowly, taking advantage (or taking shelter perhaps) in the mechanical advantage of gearing. When they diverge, riders are not working, but are travelling quickly. The blue lines remain a certain distance apart, and any elasticity in their relationship is because of the flexibility of the rider. New illustration of this here. This is the pleasure of fixie-dom in graphical form. Or something. :-)

Wow. A graph.

This is a quick doodle to explain how I feel about fixie riding. It's a sketch of a ride, which starts at "a" and finishes at "f". The top diagram is the route, second graph is road speed and third is rider work-rate.

Before going further, I'll just have a ramble. There is a perception among the cycling mainstream (or possibly just the press) that riding fixed is somehow hardcore, and requires more commitment than ‘regular’ cycling. This is far contrary to my experience. When I ride my free-geared bikes I am amazed -and a little dispirited I suppose - by the sheer volume of technology that it involves. Achieving the utopia of a silent bike is a challenge with modern gears. Something always seems to tick, clatter or rub so I have to tinker a lot more. I can be a lot more laissez-faire with my fixies. There are no pawls or ratchets and nothing is under spring tension. So perhaps the laziest option is, after all, a fixie with a single front brake…

My bike uses a fixed gear of 42x15 on 700c wheels with 28mm tyres. For each pedal revolution I can therefore progress 6m, which means each pedal-stomp is around 3m – three times further than I could manage with legs alone. Wheels also eliminate any up / down movement, removing me from the clutches of gravitational inefficiency, a hindrance if I was walking or running. Finally, I can assist the stepping leg with the ascending leg by pulling on the rear-most pedal. Obviously this isn’t possible when walking. All of this offsets the few kilos of weight my bike adds to the moving package. There are six bearing-sets in a fixed-gear bike, exempting the chain. One of those is the headset, which doesn’t really contribute friction to the ride. So five. Two pedals, bottom bracket, two wheels. Done. Simple, efficient machine.

Friday, August 25


Another event for your cycling diaries. The time has come to discover who can "walk the walk" - Speed, Skill and Sausages is here. On September 17th, ze crazy London couriers (and friends) will be racing and generally messing about at Herne Hill. Well worth a visit even if just to spectate and purchase items from the Bike Jumble. This is a taste of last year's event on Google Video.

A Nice Cup of Tea

It's going to be dry today so I'm riding my Boeris. It finally has proper track nuts instead of the scandalously cheapo ones included with the Surly Fixxer.

On the horizon is the bicycle film festival, which has special significance for me. It was the venue for the revelation of the depth and severity of my bike-geekiness to my girlfriend. She came with me to the special messenger night last year. I remember being a little worried that she'd be overwhelmed by the courier-culture and the sheer bicycle-intensity of it all. During a short film about the Japanese CMWC I turned to look at her and she was gripped. Good stuff. As always there is a courier-focus evening this year, with a new film about London messengers (who seem to have an irresistible draw for so-called "creatives"). Comment about that on MT here. For good US messenger films you should watch Lucas Brunelle's early work. Not sure if there's anything on the web from London. If you know of anything, post a comment / link!

Tonight is London Critical Mass. If you've never been and you have 7.5mb spare, you can download my video from a couple of years ago. There are more on the CM site. Be warned, it does tend to be full of activists who happen to ride bikes. And it is very, very slow!

Thursday, August 24

Search Added

As the beast is growing and I lose track, I've added a search bar under the profile link to the left. Going to tidy it (add proper title) when I can work out the Blogger CSS structure. It won't work properly till I've been "crawled" anyway.

I am planning to get an easily-updated links section. Might have to nick the code from someone else's site though (one much more organised than mine, obv). Have had a quick go at it and can't seem to work it out. Fo'shiz. As they say. Time to let the prevailing wind push me home, I think.

Blowy Day

Nasty ride in today, into a howling head-wind that was jabbing my face with drizzle. Legs felt leaden and sluggish, and I ached. Not sure why, but it was the most autumnal day we've had since spring (if you see what I mean). First day in a long time I've had to sit up and do rev-counting and ankling to get me through. Yurgh.

I was looking round the web for a map of prevailing winds. The idea is a GCSE Geography one: in immediately post-industrial London, if you were looking to build a luxury home then you would build to the West or North-West, because this is the origin of the prevailing winds (and the newest and best railways). So it was less likely that your swanky new pad would be choked by smoke and fumes. For the plebs and dock workers, the South-East of the city was fine: they didn't have a lot of choice. When the Tube was developed, this partly explains the poor coverage south of the river (although there are also geological reasons, which I may Google in more depth later).

This is why Kensington, Primrose Hill, Hampstead, Highgate, Notting Hill etc (and all the Royal residences) are to the west of centre - and why the rents to this day are skewed in the direction of the "clean" side of town - perfect for "taking the air" and avoiding pea-soupers. Unfortunately, it also provides a meteorological excuse for my ride being difficult. Up the river valley (don't have to be a genius to work out that the Thames flows downhill, dur), and into the prevailing wind.

While mooching, I found this (need recent Java). Brilliant stuff, from my very own UCL. His blog is pretty interesting too. Am listening to jazz, Collateral soundtrack and lots of Duran. Sweet. Also read a nice Amer'can report on a London visit. Bl00dy tourists ;-)

Tuesday, August 22

Laid Up!

For the last two days I have been lying around and mainly doing nothing. Although in most cases this wold be because I'm lazy, I do actually have a good reason this time. On Sunday morning it seems that I trapped a nerve in my neck, which made it go into (exquisitely painful) spasm. Doc prescribed a few days of rest, along with a very potent cocktail of co-codamol, 800mg Ibuprofen and Valium, three times a day. Hell yeah.

I've been thinking about this Brazilian magazine article too. Along with some other (much more long-standing) London courier people I suspect that the most vocal members of the community are not its best representatives. Some very articulate messengers, and some of the most professional, are those who do not drink at the Duke, who do not adhere to the rules (OK, guidelines) of the so-called "subculture".

There are plenty of normal, hard-working people who ride bikes for a living in this town. Those who aren't mouthy on-circuit, who don't go on about this or that van-rate job to Timbuktu. People who are fit, strong, fast and efficient - but quiet, making the money to pay rent or feed kids. I suppose my concern is that these sorts of people do not feel the benefit of the mechanisms set up for their own protection (the BMEF and LBMA spring to mind). Because they do not wish to partake in messenger bonding, they are excluded, unfairly.

As it is, I don't really have any ideas for including these riders. Any attempt at formal unionisation will be hijacked by Red Ken and the Powers That Be, and turned into a rider registration fiasco (licensing bicycles - what a stupid idea!) Many messengers are part-time, many are itinerant, and many drop in and out of hte job. So whatever the scheme was, it would need to be incredibly flexible. Hmmm.

For more about London couriers, read these sites.
And keep reading them. Pip pip, ouch.

Moving Target (follow the links too)
MT regularly links to several courier blogs. Photos here.
London Bike Messenger Association
Bicycle Messenger Emergency Fund
SS&S courier trackday
Cyclone - the best courier company ever.
Creative - the other half decent London employer. Apparently.
Special mention here and here. Cool sites.

Oh yeah, one more thing. This is why it's stupid to hold onto other traffic. Eventually I'll add a permanent linky area to the main blog thingy, but for now I'm not sure how to do it, and I don't have time to look. Salut.

Saturday, August 19

Web Links

Tonight I spoke to some guys researching an article on messenger culture for a cool magazine in Brazil. 

I said I would try and connect them with some interesting people in the London courier scene.  And that is what I will do, by giving them names and a list of must-visit web links. 

Tomorrow. :-)

Friday, August 18


Interesting Wiki article here on the Browser Wars. Can kill loads of time in that place...

Thursday, August 17


Another thoughtful ride in, pondering the joys of a cycling life. It allows me to opt out of so much, to regain control over route, speed and mood. Even toiling into a howling headwind I am happier than I would be on a train with "a good book".

For a committed bikie like me, it's cheap too. Even the best stuff costs less than a few months on the train. This morning my mind kept returning to my wheels, which I built. It fills me with pride and satisfaction.

Recently I've been pottering a lot more. This means stopping at reds - a great excuse for one-hand trackstand practice - and generally being less pressed. I back off, I enjoy the journey. Unlike some people, I don't have any problem with being overtaken. It seems that a certain breed of commuter sees my baggy shorts, filthy Timbuk and SIDIs and assumes I'm fair game for a race. Nope.

If I have been working on the bike, chances are I've already done more miles that day than commuters do in a week. And if I've been to College I'm probably daydreaming or listening to relaxing music on my iPod. You can keep your race, and the oh-so-hollow victory of beating someone who is soft-pedalling.

It seems a little pointless sprinting for a red light that is 300m away anyway - typical pedalestrians and commuters obviously aren't looking 300m ahead.

This week I put an old tax disk on my bike, with "Ken, NO!" written on it. Perhaps he'll read it if I park up near City Hall. Doubt it.

Wednesday, August 16


Last night I cut my nails so I could type faster today - this is just how serious I am.

Work is going slowly, hampered by technical difficulties that can only be resolved by UCL tech people. Writing is better, but still like getting blood from a stone. I had a dream last night that I failed the viva and left UCL with nothing.

On a more positive 2-wheeled note, had a good early ride in this morning (at my desk with a double-stregth Mocha and a yoghurt by 0900), although some dude on the A13 was driving me barmy by not letting me past. One of his moves is captured here, in my Idiot of the Day doodle. I wouldn't be so bothered, but stupid pedalestrians make my journey more dangerous!!

Brought my camera into work, and will take the FGG shots of the Boeris later. Also ran some '94 Campy Chorus calipers through the dishwasher last night. Worked like a charm and they came out sparkling.

Tuesday, August 15

Boeris (again!)

Wow, this new / old bike is awesome.  It's the sort of bike I've always dreamed of spinning round London, and now I'm here, living the dream dude!

Yesterday my bag was so heavy I weighed it when I got home.  15.5kgs.  And you were wondering why I was moaning.  Lovely sunny day today, short sleeves and a sweat on coming in.

Tasty new bike bits courtesy of Pink Andy, and a light bag for the way home.  Last night had to run the gauntlet of obliviously dangerous pedalestrians, jumping lights, undertaking me and generally being a liability.  Sheesh.

Serves me right for going home at office chucking-out time.

Monday, August 14

Heavy Bag

Today I fitted full-length SKS mudguards, complete with mudflaps and reflector to my Pomp (which I have decided is no longer for sale).  I remembered why I bought it in place of a Condor Pista, as the threaded holes and eyelets made installation easy.  

I have learnt over the years that fitting mudguards to a bicycle cannot be rushed or they rub, clatter and eventually fall apart.  By the same rationale, cheap 'guards are a waste of time.   Just the right amount of threadlock, grease and washers are called for.  Using stainless allen-head fittings is a good idea.  I was surprised at how light-weight the 'guards were actually.

Feeling like I could ride to the south of France if I wanted to (where's my carradice?!) I popped into Lidl on my way into town.  This involved buying several bargain cycling tops (CoolMax for £5.99), tools and a new kitchen tap.  Holy moly was my bag heavy!  And I have to carry it all home.  

New bike had a blowout on the front tube, caused by knackered rim tape.  I'll ride it tomorrow and take some pictures, if it's not pouring with rain (like today)...

Friday, August 11

New Bike

Rode in on my new bike today. Very exciting, more later. 

Thursday, August 10


A  new one today - I got spat at by a fellow cyclist.  He was even riding a fixie (a nice orange Roberts with yellow mudguards.)  If you read this you should be ashamed. 

I suppose it serves me right for having a stealthy, silent bike.  Ticks, rubs and clicking drive me mad, so I can only assume he didn't see me as I approached like a killer-ninja cyclist. He emptied 'both barrels' onto the road - and my lower leg. Yuck. And no apology! Perhaps he was trying to stop me from getting a tow?

Wednesday, August 9


I'm on a diet. My bike is also on a diet. How much would cyclists pay for a weight saving of 140g do you think? I think a lot. Anyway, I lost 140g for £11.00 and some eBay time.

Bit of talk about it here. And pictures of the whole sordid affair. Basically, I don't mind reaching down to shift chainrings - I don't even do it that often! It's a look some pros have sported in the Alps.

Probably none tomorrow unless exciting stuff goes down. Have to get my head down and work, work, work.


Today's commute was livened up by a moron in a Mercedes death-machine, who decided to turn left at the last moment when he saw a traffic back-up ahead.  He didn't check his mirror.

Fortunately the whole episode took place at five or six miles per hour, so I was able to simultaneously hop onto the pavement and give the side of his car a hefty thump.  Actually, thinking back I could have just got out of the way.

That doesn't fit in with my position as a legitimate road user though, does it?  I'm glad I stood up fopr myself and defended my space in retrospect.  Had I been riding along with a new £3 mochalatte-cino in my hand, there would have been trouble.

PS > I think Greg Lemond is great, but I like a funny Greg-bashing article as much as anyone.

Tuesday, August 8

Bike talk...

God, I love eBay. Love it. Today my new old levers arrived, pic and pic.

They are a little more scarred than I would have preferred, but I have always been of a "ride it, don't just polish it" persuasion, so it doesn't matter too much. SLR600 is the precursor to Ultegra (the clubman's friend), so the levers are the right ones for my bike. Having said that, if a nice pair of Dura-Ace do come up, then I *will* be bidding.

Went out onto the roof and took some well-overdue snaps of the bike, too. There's a gallery online. This bike was originally equipped with 105 STI with Campagnolo Mexico deep-section ally rims. OK at the time, too old and heavy now. When I retired (ha!) from racing I took all the nice bits off my race bike (a Condor Columbus EL Oversize frame, yum).

The yellow frame is now a really lovely "day bike". It's supple and comfortable because of the long seatpost and steel frame. Any flex isn't problematic, but manifests itself as a pleasing spring, like a new pair of trainers. Obviously it's never going to be a featherweight with that frame (did you see the nice seatstay lug), but with full Ultegra with an American Classic ISIS b/b, a ControlTech carbon chainset, a full-carbon Vitus fork and the superlight seatpost and saddle, it's a healthy weight for a middle-aged bike.

The wheels are a little special. There are two sets and an extra rear. For rough roads or salty winter training I use Mavic Classics, with 32 straight-pull 3x spokes and really nice SUP rims. These were designed for Paris-Roubaix, so they're *strong*. Summer rides or longer distance mean that the Open Pros on 28h (NOS) Dura-Ace hubs come out. Lovely wheels. Then for hilly circuits or on windy days I have the non-UCI approved Spinergy. Fast wheel. And I love it inside the mudguard!

Enough! Back to work.

Sunday, August 6

Writing break

Am back in Londinium and ready for a week of finger-blistering productivity. It was great to leave the work for a couple of days and just chill on the Isle of Wight. We had a barbecue on a remote beach, went to the county show, watched fireworks etc. Just what I needed.

To keep my bike-bore quota up, I've decided to go a little old-skool with my road bike (a custom-made Reynolds 653 beauty, which has mellowed in old age into a sort of fast club-run / audax machine). When conceived, it was a race mount - but that was before the days of carbon fibre and UCI weight-limit busting machines (have a look here, drool).

I've decided to look back to the Pro machines from the years when my bike was new - think of the climbing machines of Bugno, Chiapucci and Lemond. To this end, I've bought these and these. The idea is to remove the left-hand Ultegra STI (which is as heavy as the right one, and never trims the front mech finely enough) and to replace it with a Shimano 600 aero lever. Then, on the left-hand side of the downtube I will fit the Dura-Ace friction shifter. Beauty.

Pics and weights coming up. Plan is to weigh what I take off, and weigh what I'm putting on. Then I'll know the difference. I mean, how often do you *really* need to adjust the front mech? Other benefit is that I can flog the STI. More soon folks. PS > Applied for a great job today. Fingers crossed!

Thursday, August 3

As Easy As Falling

My legs burn, my teeth bite into chain-steel,
The lever of a radius – my wheel.
I am attached on many levels to allow
Acceleration and braking, only though pedals.

Life seems a fiery time-lapse of lights
As I feel evolved – my air is spiked.
The rush of risk, driving me to live, move.
Distilled liquor of Man’s ingenuity propels me.

Tube, link, cog, chain, lock-ring, cork, alloy.
A bicycle Cossack charging the marauder, lines of
Barbarians keeping their metal defences high.
Red Blood. Green Grass. All new symbology lost.

I flow like water, mind at once empty
And full of flashing, raw animal intensity –
Sixth sense turned up to eleven
A roadblock turns and steps, I see it in slow-mo.

Harrods Hamleys tourist, an alien unprepared
I predict, see, smell and react – thinking for them, too.
Before I am ever registered, a shadow: I am gone
Trickled away through gnarled city fingers

My strides geared by a loved machine
Into motion at once manic and serene.
Gritty, visceral yet wrapped in velvet cloth
Beauty, tradition, belonging and souplesse.

I am a working rider, on a crest of euphoria.
A day-full of rain slides easily off my skin,
Limited others forget how waterproof they are
And deny gifts of movement, and life. And riding.

Tuesday, August 1

Rail Commuter!

Tonight I was processing Landsat images of an area of Finland called Kivalo ... while sitting on a train to Portsmouth.  It was overpriced, but my fellow passengers were charming and very English (super-polite, which makes a nice change from the East Lahndahn DLR).

Am on the Isle of Wight until Sunday.  I have a motorcycle and a camera here, so I'll probably play about and snap some pics; it will make a change from taking pics of people who'v nearly run me over in the 'smoke!

Less ranting and raving from me from now on.  Although there was an interesting piece in the Independent today, which I will link to at some point.  All about RLJing and London cyclists.