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, September 28


I'm home from my trip abroad. Had an awesome time in Dubai and Hong Kong: the perfect combination of beach-side chillout with urban break. Swimming in the Gulf, where the water is like a slightly cool bath, then mixing with the crowds and intense lifestyle of HK. I will write some more about things I've seen and done (the Sheikh's air-conditioned stables were a surprising sight), but for the time being there are some photos of Dubai and HK online. Work is stepping up, so I expect to be pretty busy for the time being. I am also planning to sell off some bike bits, so if you need anything and you're in the London area, drop me a line!

Friday, September 15

Links and...

Finally got some link code and put it on the left-hand side of my page - might be worth a look if you're bored and locked in a web cafe.  If anyone knows how to make them open in a new window, that would be great.  I'm not going to be able to rant and rave as much over about the next fortnight, as I'm up to something.  All will become clear in good time.  Stay loose.

Thursday, September 14


Was glad I left late this morning, because I rode behind the worst of the rain.  Very slow and tired today, not helped by a heavy bag again.  Good news is that I sold one of my wheels (a lovely radial 650C that I built - my first radial) which will pay for some more fun on holiday.  Am sad to be missing the festivities this weekend (especially the bike jumble!)...

Wednesday, September 13

Crash Stories

I’ve been riding for a few years now. What follows is an account of one of the most major accidents I've had to date. I had been working as a messenger for at least a couple of years: part-time while I was at College and later as my Job.

It had dawned on me that perhaps I was never going to make it as a Pro cyclist – even a domestique. At the time I was between degrees (students, eh?) and I was riding harder than ever, putting in the donkey-work and making decent money without lying about it. Bayswater to Canary Wharf one-up? Yebo, roger that, pip pip. Late shift again? You betcha.

I would sometimes daydream that I was in a history-making breakaway, belting beneath the “flames rouges” of London’s traffic lights towards a stage victory at 215 High Holborn, dodging spectators and the cars of Commissaires and Directeurs Sportifs. Autumn had started and now I wasn’t on the plot for more than a few minutes at a time – I had the best job in the world. The stable client list we had meant the A-Z stayed in my bag most of the time. Well-worn routes, familiar receptionists, and clients with hot coffee and sweets for the regular riders.

Anyway, it was midweek. Cold but clear, with bright, reddish sun. Probably Wednesday because I didn’t feel fresh. I always used to get a midweek slump: I’d leave my flat on Elephant and Castle and by Waterloo my legs felt like someone had beaten me up overnight. Tight, weak and empty. With a whole day ahead of them. They were long days, but by mid-morning I always seemed to find my second wind, as though my bike simultaneously drained energy and replenished my aching frame.

In common with many couriers, I had a love/hate relationship with my work bike. Some days I felt like you do when you’ve spent too much time with a mate: their habits grate on your nerves and piss you off. Other days I’d be loving the riding, all the way to my door.

I had a large Jiffy full of tapes in my bag, heading to South Bank Studios. I had come from a client on Bedfordbury, so I had no distance to cover. I was hoping for more work from Kings Reach Tower on Stamford St, because their parcels were always small (tapes or proofs) and were often rush (so mo' money for me). I remember thinking how nice the bright sun looked shining on the new Imax cinema on the south side of Waterloo Bridge, as I spun up the small incline to the break in slope. Bridges are funny like that – they work you, but as soon as you reach the crest they roll over, dead and beaten.

Anyway, I was spinning out (as fast as my legs could pedal) as I crested, riding along the paint of the Bus Lane marker because it’s smoother than the tarmac, thinking that my bike was running nicely. It was a Kona Cinder Cone with Project 2 forks. It was set up as a singlespeed by using spacers on the rear cassette body and a single chainring. It was XT and XTR, with a nice USE seatpost and a Flite Alpes saddle. A lovely bike, fast as hell.

There was a bus ahead of me, going pretty fast, sucking up dust and leaves from the gutter as it thundered over the bridge. Behind me there was a vehicle (dunno what it was), too close to my ankles. My radar was going off and I was conscious of defending my space. I was trying to make space for the bus, because there is a series of stops on the southern side of the bridge (here). I didn’t want to have to stop behind the bus, so I was trying to get him to let me move out, as my vision flicked between safeties under my arm, glances at the driver, and an eye on the bus. My road-sense is pretty good, so I was as surprised as anyone when I woke up against the wall on the bridge.

The pavement is pretty wide – at least three or four metres. Around me there were pieces of red fibreglass. Everything hurt: literally every part of my body, from my toes to the stinging stars which swung around in my vision. I could taste blood. I remember seeing a Policeman getting off a horse, which seemed ridiculous at the time. I thought I must have been hallucinating. I had ridden into the back of a stationary London bus. A bus. Jesus Christ.

From people on the pavement and the bus driver, I think I was trying to pull out to overtake, but the driver next to me wasn’t giving me room, so I was looking back when the bus stopped suddenly. The Police told me that his offside brake light was faulty (the one nearest the middle of the road, which I was watching). There was no liability, as the high-level lights and the other side were working. There were no bus skids on the road, so it was tough to prove that the driver stopped suddenly. The busted light, the position of the sun, the selfish driver. The perfect ingredients for my pain cocktail.

I had hit the left-hand corner of the bus as I was trying to bail onto the pavement – it seems the driver didn’t give me enough room, leaving me with a choice between a rock and a hard place. The impact was probably at about 25mph, based on marks from my rear tyre and the damage. Apparently I was very lucky that my head did not hit the back of the bus – my right-hand shoulder took the impact. My radio broke my collarbone in two places. Thanks boss. The front of my bike gashed my leg, and my head hit the left-hand rear side-panel of the bus (which gave me a lovely cauliflower ear and a proper black eye).

My helmet disintegrated. It probably saved my life.

In addition I had a couple of broken ribs, a couple of cracked ones front and rear and a chipped scapula (shoulder blade), probably from my pavement-surfing. My right hand swelled up like a purple water balloon, with bruised knuckles. My right-hand upper arm became technicolour.

The frame on my bike broke. The front wheel was unrecognisable, and my bars and forks were also bent beyond repair. I got a patronising letter from the bus company, stating that they had decided not to make me pay for the damage to their vehicle and wishing me a speedy recovery. I got a letter from the Police, stating that they would not pursue any claim. And I became skint. Two and a half weeks later I was interviewed for the “IT Guy” position at my courier company. I got the job, they looked after me and I rode to work on a lovely Kona singlespeed bike. Kiluea frame, Project 2 forks…

Have a look at the LBMA - if the same accident had happened today I would have been able to recover fully and return to work. Enough from me.

Wednesday Already?!?

I was feeling a little aggrieved when I was writing about the film festival, but this has mellowed down over a weekend away, including a trip to the Isle of Wight followed by a day visit to Cambridge. Very nice.

I still think "Pedal" is a load of sensationalistic, unrepresentative nonsense. But I'm not that bothered. Incidentally, I don't really agree with the review posted on MT: perhaps Jono was is a very good mood or summat? Mo' after the jump, as lots of bloggers seem to say. Look on eBay for loads of stuff I'm selling. Username is pob_vd. Link later. Buy something!

I've got a couple of interesting links to post later, but for now work calls. Huzzah. PS > Have been using the Boeris more than any other bike recently, which is effing awesome. Only blip was some prat undertaking me on a hybrid, as I soft-pedalled towards a red light. Nice one.

Share the Road is going very well - I have been jumping reds like never before. Arf Arf. What a renegade I am.

Friday, September 8

BFF Report

Last night I went to the Bicycle Film Festival - in its second year in London (I went last year as well).  

The programme included some classics (Lucas Brunelle's Moster Track, the very funny On Time and the Brazilian flatland BMX Docco) as well as a relatively high-budget new production called Pedal, which aimed to characterise NYC bike couriers.  I say "aimed" - well personally I think they failed. I was disappointed and I don't think Pedal gives a clear or representative impression.  In fact, I would almost say I feel let down, in an odd way - surprise surprise, the cliches of mucky but plucky messengers, some on crack, sleeping in the subway and in and out of jail emerged.  Very tired viewpoint, guys.

There were lots of messengers, ex-messengers and controllers at the screening; many were grumbling on the way to the exits, stating that many couriers are drug-free, articulate individuals making a considered life choice.  It seems that perhaps this is a difference between the US and European messenger scenes?  I'll write more and probably edit this little lot later.  Woot woot.

Thursday, September 7

G and T

I haven't been hitting the bottle; I'm talking about give and take (here we go). I used to joke with a mate of mine that in life, people give with one hand while taking with the other - there is a biblical reference there I'm sure, but it's all hokum, so let's ignore it. This has just happened to me.

Finally, we collected our new camcorder from the Parcelforce depot. The moment was even finer for having been postponed for so long by their ineptitude ("yeah well, driver couldn't find your address"). The asking price for the camera is easily justified by the happiness its gadgetry instils in me. What a bloody brilliant thing it is. I am hoping to use it to make some movies (like these that I did with my digicam), to possibly film some commuting moments and general geeky bike-ness. That was the give.

I am, of course, exaggerating about the take, which has two elements. I have got full-length mudguards on one of my bikes. They are black, and they not only have a mud-flap, but also a charming reflector. Now, where did I leave my street-cred? I'm not really bothered; it adds an entertaining further killer clause to the old situation: "Oh, did I just overtake you, city-boy (on your £2k full-carbon race bike)? Did you see that my bike is steel, low-budget and fixed-wheel? And that I have a 15kg courier bag on? And that I have already done 50 miles in town today? And that my bike has full mudguards?"

Other much more serious thing is that I can't seem to be able to write at the moment. I sit and stare at the computer. It's not even new material, but an edit of previously-reviewed stuff! I've had that feeling that my brain just isn't quite good enough too often recently. Time for more office-hours and more coffee I think.

Tuesday, September 5


Well, what a surprise.  No bloody delivery.

In the best tradition of British customer service Comet promised me that my goods were on the delivery van, at just after 4pm.  This was after their promised delivery was between 7am and 6pm - this precipitated a day of monk-like meditation by the doorbell for me.  

At 6pm they told me that Parcelforce had held the goods after a failed attempt at delivery.  The Parcelforce helpline shuts at 6pm, and the tracking number given to me by Comet is wrong.  

When I called (just before 8pm) to complain to a supervisor and arrange delivery tomorrow to my work address I was put on hold, only to be cut off at 8.10 when they turned off the phone system.  Oh joy of joys.  Battle recommences tomorrow morning.


Brilliantly productive quarter-hour spannering my bikes.  First did the top and bottom stops on the front mech of the yellow bike (see gallery), so I can now wang the d'tube shifter from one end to the other without unshipping the chain inside or out.  

Then I set about truing the rear wheel on my Pomp.  Within 5mins it was within 2mm of true, laterally and vertically.  Could be better but that the elusive final couple of mm could take another half an hour and I have work to do.  Noticed that I have broken one of the rollers on the chain.

Took some pics of my anti-Ken tax disk and of the m*dguards, which are complete with rear reflector and mud flap.  Yes, mud flap.  Now I am off to work fervently for the rest of the day. As if you needed to ask, delivery-guy hasn't shown up yet (he said "yet" - ha! what an optimist!)


I was just ranting and raving about no-brakes fixies, and I thought I'd copy it here, just eff-why-eye.

"Basically cool young things like working with no brakes. Many half-decent courier controllers (when I last checked, cyclone, creative and reuter-crooks) will not give work to brakeless riders. You have to go slower because brakeless bikes take roughly twice as long to stop. People on brakeless bikes are therefore not earning the money, but are busy walking the walk. The theme seems to be 1)arrive in London 2)pose on brakeless for a few weeks 3)have big / small accident 4)fit brake to please controller and start actually making money. In the UK you *must* be able to independently slow each wheel, which means (bing!) a front brake. You hit someone, and suddenly the previously-not-bothered City police willl nick you good and proper if you don't have a brake, especially if there is serious injury. Your professional insurance will also be void because of the illegal work vehicle, so you'll end up paying for the tourist's broken nose and compo claim for the rest of your life. And to prevent theft?? Don't be daft. Most thefts in central London are lean-locked work bikes thrown either onto the shoulder of a running crack-head or into a van. Brakes make zero difference to either. It's a misguided and small-minded fashion. End of rant v.2.0"


Today I am waiting for a delivery-person, who might smell bad and might be surly. In my experience this is likely. Despite the infor-super mation-highway and the digital interweb, the best they could give me was "Tuesday". Lucky for them I can work from home. Or some ass would get whupped (clearly not true).

Other than that I am marvelling at the stupidity of Ken again. We have a troubled relationship. Some things he says are cool (trams running on Oxford St and Lwr Regent St, replacing all motorised traffic). Then he says he wants numberplates on bicycles. Now he has started a "share the road" campaign. It is not, perplexingly, aimed at trying to get the drivers of murderous HGVs and cars to share peacefully.

Oh no. Ken has bigger fish to fry. Like catching people jumping red lights on bicycles, which hardly ever kills anyone, statistically. Ken is trying to buy popularity at the expense of a minority group. Again. Outside these ramblings, I have just finished an online personality test (for a J-O-B), which was troubling, and very hard work.

I must also true my rear wheel today. It was perfect for over a year of commuting, the Dun Run and numerous miles. Then I lent my bike to someone and now it has about 5mm of runout, which needs truing. Typical. To add to the fun it is unspeakably filthy. Yurgh.

Friday, September 1

Path Designing

Near my flat there is a supermarket which shares grounds with a doctor surgery. Between the two there lies the car park, and several paths surrounded by grass lead from one to the other, and around the premises.

Alongside the paths there are unsightly patches of dirt, dusty in hot weather and like miniature mud-wallows when it rains. It must be really frustrating to design a public space, only for it to not work as planned. Why would the General Public choose to abscond from the paths so thoughtfully provided for them?

The answer can be divided into three causes. The most significant is that the paths are simply in the wrong place. As human beings, we can all calculate effective routes between two places (sofa > fridge > sofa, for example). When we can simultaneously *see* both places the process is childsplay. Why would a rational person walk a sinuous route when a straight line would be better? Even worse, why would we choose a couple of 90-degree dog-legs? Is it any wonder that users reject a route which looked great on the architect's model? It's almost an insult to intelligence, a triumph of design over function.

Other reasons for the wholehearted (subconscious) rejection of stupid paths are individualistic decision-making and pack behaviour. Perhaps if the grass was in Fred's back yard he would stick to the path a little more, because guess who has to keep re-planting the grass? Fred. In a public space, nobody cares about this because the cost (although arguably still borne by users) is shared so widely. People move in packs. Families all move together; even strangers tend to mimic route decisions. I was once at a hugely crowded gig. Some renegade discovered that a fire door could be opened without an alarm sounding. Suddenly everyone moved to try and leave through the illicit exit, and it became quicker to go through the main doors. Same thing happens when the magical winking of a new till opening happens at any shop...

The point of this is to issue a plea - Titchmarsh, that Sven guy, and other garden design people PLEASE STOP encouraging entirely impractical paths. I do not want to run the gauntlet of a "leprechaun's stepping stone" zig-zag bloody obstacle course to take my coffee to my aunt's (new) Thai-style mini-gazebo featurette. I'd rather do what my ancestors have done for millennia, and just take a stroll on the grass.