Thursday, 31 August 2017

Legal Issues

Cycling has been in the news a lot recently, in particular there has been a lot of media attention around the case of Charlie Alliston.

In case you weren’t aware the facts of the case are that Alliston was riding on Old Street in London when he collided with Kim Briggs. Tragically Briggs was killed in the accident from a head injury. Alliston was charged with manslaughter in an unprecedented move by a prosecution that relied almost entirely on the fact that he had been riding a bike with no front brake.

The case was reported by the Guardian here in an article that uses a large amount of emotive language to lay blame firmly at the feet of the cyclist. There is no denying that Alliston should legally have had a front brake on his bike. Nor is there any question that it is a tragedy that someone was killed in the collision but there is a lot more going on around the case to look at.

Reporting of the case was widely against the cyclist, with headlines that suggested he “ploughed” into Briggs or “mowed her down”. One radio report said he had no brakes (which is legally inaccurate as the fixed rear wheel on his track bike counts as a brake). The first problem is that Alliston is not a very likable person based on what we know of his actions. The judge in the case said he showed no remorse and while the evidence that he shouted at Briggs following the accident might be put down to the heat of the moment, his decision to go on social media shortly after the incident to protest that it was in no way his fault is less defensible. However, Alliston wasn’t on trial for being a massive twat, but rather for being responsible for Briggs’ death.

There are some very good points made in this piece by a QC for the Guardian, which cover some of the legal and technical points. My concern is over the precedent this potentially sets to blame cyclists for every accident on the roads. Let’s be clear, Briggs stepped into the road less than 6.5metres in front of Alliston. He was travelling at 18mph and shouted at her to get out of the way as he swerved to avoid her. She stepped back into his path resulting in the crash. His reactions look to have been designed to make every effort not to hit her, and there is a question over how fast he might have been able to stop, safely, with a front brake. Had this been a motorist, hitting the brakes and swerving from 18mph as someone steps out a fraction of a second ahead of them would we be having the same discussion?

The prevailing attitude towards cyclists at the moment has fuelled this entire case. On the roads they are seen as law-breakers and risk-takers by a society that puts the rights of cars above all else. As has been shown time and again there are some people who do break the rules of the road, just as there are drivers and pedestrians who do the same thing. In this case there was evidence given that Alliston enjoyed watching Alley Cat videos, with the suggestion that this made him a danger. Of course these videos are exciting because of the danger, as are many forms of bike video, but is anyone suggesting that a driver who also enjoys watching films including dramatic car chases can’t separate them from real life when they are driving themselves.

The prosecution in this case dredged up archaic laws to prosecute Alliston demonstrating the rarity of fatalities from cycling accidents like this. In contrast there are clearly defined laws to legislate for causing death by driving as it happens much more regularly and never makes front page news. The result of the case takes yet another step towards the blaming of cyclists rather than encouraging more people to use it as a form of transport. How many people have now been discouraged by the risk of the consequences of an accident they may have been able to do very little about.

In my opinion Alliston should have been fined for riding an unroadworthy bike and nothing more. While he’s come across badly in the press let’s not forget that he has to live on with the knowledge that he killed someone at close quarters. The impact of his life of this tragic accident is significant even without the extra weight of the trial and potential prison term. Is it possible to really believe he took any actions that deliberately made him responsible for this death?

So what can we do as cyclists? I have said before that one way is to remain whiter than white in terms of obeying the rules of the road to be beyond reproach. It would seem that this should also go to being on the money with the way your bike is set up. The Highway Code has no grey areas around things that many people run without, including pedal reflectors for example, and riding without them may open you up to blame for any accident you may be involved in. There needs to be a wider move to see cycling as a valid method of transport with the prejudice against it removed and more people encouraged to take it up.


Wednesday, 30 August 2017

A Return to North Wales

It was actually a pretty long time after my car-park shame with the full susser before I rode it again. I filled my time with waiting for parts to arrive, fitting them, but mostly with riding the hardtail. On various loops around Hertfordshire I enjoyed the changing fields, the fast running dry dirt and the sunshine.

In the middle of this period I went on holiday and squeezed in a ride on a terrible Rocky Mountain hire bike around brilliant trails at the Lac Du Salagou. Apparently a favourite of local French DH star Miriam Nicole the classic lake loop was more than I hoped for, with red, iron-rich, rocks and challenging technical sections that flowed beautifully and made me wish for a better bike. On flats with the cheap fork topping out every time it left the ground it could have been a frustrating ride, but actually left me wanting to explore more of the area.

It was the beginning of August before the Process got another chance to get outside. I felt by then it had learned its lesson and would behave so I gave it a quick chance in the Chilterns and at Swinley (to also check that everything was working) and then headed off up the M1 for a bit of a trip. I had tried to persuade people to come with me, but ended up broadly alone for the few days riding more technical fare.

First stop was at Cannock. This was designed to break the journey, but also to introduce a friend to the wonders of mountain biking. We learned a lot about the levels of fitness required, inspired a bit of work to happen on that front and still (I think) managed to have fun. Guiding round half of the trail was good form a social point of view, but I couldn’t resist a blast round the second half after pointing Dave back to the car.

From here I continued to outrun the rain and head North West into the mountains. A-roads revealing the solid peaks of Snowdonia easing closer and closer took me all the way to a campsite in Llanberis where I pitched the tent, worried about ever removing the car form the field I’d parked it in, broke out my new camping stove, had a mediocre shower and put myself to bed by something ridiculous like 9pm.

At half past four the next morning I was up and dressed and watching the light slowly coming in as I nervously packed a bag (properly for once), ate breakfast and lightly fretted. At twenty-past five I decided it was light enough and rolled out of the site into the silent village, then onto the brutal road ramp to take me to the bottom of the Llanberis path up onto Snowdon. The early start meant I would have plenty of time before the voluntary bike ban kicked in at 10, but made for an eerie and unsettling climb up into the clouds with the imposing bulk of Snowdon occasionally making its presence known. The climb is hard but steady on the lonely mountain side up to a point where it really becomes a hike-a-bike, and where I also met the first people also up there at the early hour. I pushed on up, with stunning views as the sun fought through the clouds, pressing on up the ridge walking and riding and eventually making it to the summit. There is a slight culture shock as you hit concrete steps and the café but early in the morning there were only a few people around and it would be hours before the café opened so it retains a sense of drama. This drama was heightened as the clouds parted for a moment revealing a view all the way to the sea, but then closed in again so fast as to leave me wondering if I’d imagined it.

Summit pictures taken and another layer pulled on I checked the map and rolled back carefully from the summit looking for the Snowdon Ranger path. This is perhaps the classic Snowdon bike route and mixes a steady climb with a more sporting descent.

The Ranger Path starts loose and open and closes to narrow rocky sections, steeply dropping you off the mountain. In good weather the views are spectacular but the clouds were still heavily down and I dropped through fairly low visibility until the technical level of the riding eased and I flew out into a sunny morning valley. From this point there’s a brutal grass climb (push) that rewards you with a rattling long steady descent through Telegraph valley and back to the campsite. At 8:30 I was back at the tent, packing it up and starting the drive out of the heart of Snowdonia.

By something like ten thirty I had arrived in the early spiritual home of mountain biking, at Coed Y Brenin. Here the original trails have grown into an extensive outdoor centre including walking and running trails as well as mountain biking to challenge everyone. I was unconvinced by the weather for the next day so decided to get a ride in here rather than saving it for the morning.

The MBR trail is a classic technical black loop, not for jumps and drops but for the punishing rockiness and climbing. It was great fun to ride and left me feeling reasonably ok about an afternoon sitting in the sun in a campsite.

The next morning I followed this up with the other short black route and dragged my developing cold around the Bull complete with technical rock-rolls and more rocky batterings to leave you grinning.

I arrived back at the car just as the threatened rain turned from drizzle to doing it properly and so got changed, and took refuge in the car and then on the A470 cruising back down through Wales as the rain set in steadily. I drove back with mixed feelings. I’d ridden some excellent rides, but hadn’t covered great distance and wondered if I could have, or should have, done more.

In Bristol I had other priorities, but squeezed in a classic blast round the Mendips, finishing the trip as I’d begun and guiding someone round a route I know well to introduce him to the riding on his own doorstep.

For those of you with an interest in my health the cold that hit me in Wales lasted well in to the next two weeks and would result in a wholly unsatisfactory struggle around Kent a week or so later.


Monday, 10 July 2017

Summer Riding

We last spoke when the full susser was in the shop to be fixed. When this was fixed I had a big plan to rebuild it in a carpark at Swinley and pop out on a fun lap. It turned out that a new chain on an old cassette didn’t want to behave and the ride was frustratingly abandoned.

Since then the hardtail has been getting some serious action around home. This included taking full advantage of the dry weather to head out onto those paths that are impossible to ride in the winter. At this time of year there are clattering field edges to ride fast, sweeping past crops that are slowly ripening from green to gold as the summer progresses.

I also headed North West to explore the winter ride in faster and drier conditions. This was a ride that would also inspire a visitor from Australia to follow the route having found it on Strava, and validate my view of it by enjoying his ride. In the end I did it both ways round to see what was best.

In order to not restrict myself to riding to the North of London I also ventured round the M25 to explore another ride on the Eastern end of the North Downs. I had been hoping for wide open spaces here, but found a ride dominated by woods and steep climbs up onto the escarpment. This was no bad thing in the sunshine and made it all the more dramatic to come out of the woods to a view of the Medway.

Looping back and forth over motorways and the Eurostar line, this was a feature-filled looping ride.

As the good weather settles in I find myself wanting to make the most of it by being on the bike for longer. It’s always satisfying to achieve something, and a loop around a city is as good a target as any. I’ve investigated ways to circumnavigate Hertford before but this version took some of the closer options, giving a taste of the combination of woods and sweeping waves of crops that make up the countryside around the town.

The medium circuit of what Hertfordshire has to offer got me thinking further about a plan that I’ve had since last year. This involved a wider loop, taking in the edges of all the rides I’ve done in recent years, and with the aim to hit 100km. During the week I planned it out using the excellent justgoride website and felt the nerves build. It came in just over the target at 116km, which I expected would take around 6 hours. The distance is more than I’ve ever ridden in one go, but I’ve done 6 hour rides before and it would be interesting to see which had the bigger impact.

The Hertfordshire Hundred

For this day out I planned much more thoroughly than I usually do for a ride here. I bled my brakes and gave the bike a once over, adding a bottle cage. I made sure I packed spares and tools, but added food and several bottles of water and energy drinks.

Rolling out I switched my watch over to a map view so as not to watch the distance tick by, and settled into a routine of thinking about what I was riding and no more than one section ahead. On this basis I rolled through the wooded areas, in the early morning clouds and started to make sure I drank plenty on every tarmac section where I could relax slightly. I worked round the mix of lanes and singletrack and through my first checkpoint at Hertingfordbury and then out into the more open North West, towards Tewin and then on towards Watton at Stone.

After Watton there are more fields with a section on the second Roman road of the day before turning south to make my way into the really wide open corn field sections with main road crossings sharp climbs and a couple of fords as the route snaked East towards Much Hadham.

The village of Much Hadham had me just short of the 100 and felt like a real landmark as it represented the last portion of the ride, briefly out towards Bishops Stortford and then south back towards the start. Here it started to get hard, as the time riding ramped up and the tiredness in my body and mind made everything harder. A silly crash, dropping my front wheel in a rut and my body in the corn, woke me up a little and I pressed on, eating the last of my food and switching to Lucozade rather than mixed energy drinks. The last field edges and the final climb were an effort, but I was soon rewarded with the sight of the car and the satisfaction of not feeling as bad as I feared I might.

This was a brilliant, long, tough but hugely rewarding ride that covered the whole range of what Hertfordshire can offer. It’s hard to remember the start as you hit the end of the ride and every section offers something new and extra variety. There’s the landmark of the hundred km and I’d like my time to cover it to stand as a (very) minor distance challenge for anyone else who wants to try the same ride.


Monday, 12 June 2017

What Do I Ride 1 - Kona Caldera

Any bike publication worth their salt eventually does a “what do we ride” feature and I don’t see why I should do anything different. There’s only me so it’ll be a short and irregular series.

This weekend the full-susser went into the bike hospital and I was battering my body on the hardtail, which gives me the perfect opportunity to start the series with:

2004 Kona Caldera

Frame – 2004 Kona Caldera
Fork – Rockshox Recon
Wheels – Mavic Crossride
Tyres – Continental Mountain King
Brakes - Shimano SLX
Crankset – Shimano Deore, modified to only run the middle 34t ring
Drive – 10 speed cassette with Shimano SLX Shadow+ mech, Shimano XT shifter, e-thirteen chain guide
Contact – WTB Volt saddle, Ritchey Rizer Pro bars, Shimano LX pedals

This is broadly my second choice bike and as such runs a mixture of solid reliable parts and budget decisions to match its status. The bike is built around a Caldera frame that was my main bike for years and reflects the fashion from the time, with steeper angles on a stiff aluminium build. There have been many iterations of the bike around gearing options, and it’s now settled on a 1x10 system using a modified Deore crankset. The chain retention device is a hangover from before it had a clutch mech keeping things in place and I haven’t seen any reason to get rid of it, preferring a belt and braces approach.

The Recon forks are a recent replacement for a Sektor R that reached the end of their life, offering air sprung smoothness over coil suspension. Wheels come from Mavic and are light, with bladed spokes despite being very competitively priced, and the tyres are also on the cheap side. Conti Mountain Kings are fast rolling but not very subtle, but are adequate for what the bike does.

What it gets used for is non-technical riding and muddy days out where speed and simplicity is the most important thing. On rockier or rougher terrain it’s skittish and a challenge to control especially on narrow 90s riser bars but I still love this bike. Pedals and saddle are old favourites, the seat is a cheaper copy of the one on my other bike and brakes are the same, while the pedals are old favourites as I run SPDs on every bike.

It’s a light, fast, bike that reminds me every time I ride that hardtails are great in the right place. It climbs incredibly and helps to keep me honest when I’m riding the big bike.

This weekend this bike got two excursions, at least one reminding me of the advantages of riding on suspension as I clattered down the lines I would have taken on that bike.


Tuesday, 30 May 2017

A Peak District Tour

After a week of beautiful sunshine it seems only natural to want to celebrate with a big ride.

In terms of landscape the Peak District offers some distinct big-ness. After much debate I woke up early, and hit the M1 for 3 hours to go and get some time on some real hills. This was how I found myself in the carpark in Castleton at 9:30 with a plan and even some lunch. It was raining.

The rain gave way quickly to a muggy morning to start the climbing, out of the town and up towards Mam Tor on a road that famously has fallen off the hill and so now makes a nice traffic-free and slightly off-road start to the day. From there proper tarmac took me up to the first pass at Rushup Edge. This track hit the headlines a while ago as it was the focus of some less-than sensitive repair work, but the bedrock remains with loose rocks on other sections and it still stands up as a good warm up for Peak District descending. More of the same on the Pennine Bridleway dropped me into a steep valley and onto my first pushed climbing section. The climbs here are tough and often loose and the heat and my lingering cold were not working in my favour. I pushed a little, then remounted and rode on. I was doing this section in the opposite direction from usual and it seems to work as well either way, with each brutal climb I remembered becoming a clattering downhill.

Soon I was approaching the long loose climb up to Kinder Scout which was dealt with in short bursts, and fully ridden up to the seriously steep, loose and challenging top section, where I was on foot again. Halfway up I passed a pair of e-bikes with riders fixing a puncture and I wonder which way they were addressing it, and what the legal position of powered bikes on bridleways is. Finally reaching the top of the climb, with sweat pouring off me, it was time for the point of doing this “backwards”, which was a descent of Jacobs Ladder. This starts with steep rock sections where the pack road has fallen apart and then drops into a loose switchback across the hill on rocks big enough to move considerably under your wheels. Crossing the stream at the bottom led to a recovery cruise down the valley to the road again.

Another tough climb, that I’d be lying if I suggested I rode all of, followed to take me up to Rushup Edge again and then off on a couple of road sections before a wide steady climbing track into the wind to put me above Castleton again, with the highly technical Cave Dale to drop through to get back to the car. It felt like I dealt with this tough descent better than ever before, but any comparison was lost as I somehow managed to mess up the GPX file for Strava.

Even without analysis of my performance this was a brilliant day out in the hills, well worth the 6 hours’ driving and leaving me with videos and sunburn to show for a day of real, proper mountain biking.