Monday, 26 December 2011

A Christmas Eve wander in the dark

It was Christmas Eve, the children were tucked up in bed after exhausting themselves with excitement about the the next day and I'd been at home all day and now it was dark.  I have invested in good lights so I am not restricted too much by winter day-light hours - there are not enough of those at this latitude.

I headed out via Rampton at 9pm and the roads were unbelivably quiet. There was little evidence of any people on the streets at all.  Just flashing Christmas decorations and cosy lights peering from between curtains.

I joined the bridleway near Rampton Breakers - I been confronted by a couple of different dogs down here in the past.  In the dark, alone, my mind and imagination play tricks and you wonder what evil may jump out.  Of course nothing ever does and after a while I settle down.  I joined the Guided Bus track.

I went out with two lights.  My commuting light, plus my newest offroad light (a T6-XLM led), that was unnecessary, it can light up everywhere for at least 50 metres.  My phone's camera just cannot pickup the low light away from the centre spot. You get a much wider vision and subtlety with the naked eye.

Just a fraction of the visible light

I love to see all the different lights and patterns at night, and the Guided Bus track is really dark in places.  I read that a cyclist nearly ran over some people lying on the cycleway - they were star gazing.  Good bicycle lights help avoid the unlit but as the lumens go up, some lose and I also hear that plenty try to commute or run along here with inadequate lighting and get annoyed by those who blind them until they are close.

Longstanton Park and Ride looked amazing as I approached with such a vast amount of lights over the car park. Hundreds of lights in the air like Chinese Lanterns.

Longstanton P+R from a distance.
A close up of the building and one cycle rack.  There were no cars, no buses running, but a few bikes in the racks. It is strange to see so many lights for almost no purpose other than to light empty parking spaces.  I wonder what use this lit up space might be good for. Free flood-lit football pitch anyone ? 




I love thing small things that pop out at you, such as the horse crossing points and the excellent green glow of a man and bicycle:

Horse crossing
Glowing bicycle and man
Light patterns cast on fence.

That rear light is new.  It is a Cat-Eye TL-LD610 with 5 LEDs.  It think it is fog-light bright if you catch it at full focus.  I dare not use it on flashing mode, that would be just too evil. I think some of the rear lighting has gone too far, and the flashing of some is so distracting it prevents car drivers seeing past you to overtake safely.

The only wildlife I saw was one rabbit.  I was a little early to see a sleigh in the night sky.

The next day, I received this t-shirt as a Christmas present from my luverly wife :-)




Saturday, 17 December 2011

One more converted

A chap at work used to get the bus into work everyday from the edge of Cambridge to the centre. Several times a week he would grumble about buses not turning up for 15 minutes, sometimes longer and having to stand waiting in the cold. The worst thing was waiting for the bus not quite knowing when it would turn up.  Then, he hands over £2 something for a return journey and it takes another 15 minutes travel time. Sometimes, he could have walked in the time it took to wait and travel.

We badgered him for a whole year, saying you could easily cycle within half an hour, its not even 3 miles.  Buy a bike and you'll be saving money after about 125 journeys and it will take the same time every day. The bus is there as a backup if you ever need it.

What delayed him getting a bike was our tales of woe, about being cut up by cars, taxis and buses.  Actually, these are minor events that never stopped us from cycling, but that's a big part of what he heard. Somehow the joy of just cycling, the reliability, and cycling past stationary traffic, the independence, didn't come over as loudly.

One more barrier was having not cycled for 15 years.  That went away after a few wobbly but confidence building practice rides at the weekend.

Eventually, the frustrations of waiting for a bus pushed him in the right direction.

He started in the summer, and now he is still cycling in December.  The moment I knew he was totally converted was when he said:  It's was bloomin' cold this morning, but as I cycled past the bus stop near my house I realised that I used to stand at the stop chilled to the bone whilst waiting, but on the bicycle I was already starting to warm up.


Cambridge Bus Prices
Park and Ride return: £2.40
StageCoach Day Rider: £3.50

Monday, 5 December 2011

Adrenaline junkie asks: is cycling in Cambridge more dangerous than extreme sports ?

The Cambridge News recently had one of its usual sensationalised articles on cycling. The title:


This of course lights the blue tough paper locally - look at the amount of comments. Personally, I am waiting for the day a Traveller cycles to the Guided Bus and sets up camp on one whilst claiming benefits - I think Cambridge will literally explode.

As a fully paid up extreme sports junkie, I thought I had better pass comment.

Nut-job

My background is littered with skateboarding, BMX street and ramps, Mountain Biking in various forms, such as riding down stairs, jumping up and over obstacles down hilling, and rut riding in the slippery Fens. I did a taster weekend of paragliding, only living too far from hills stopped me taking that up, and I still have the equipment for kite-buggying (being pulled around and sometimes up in a tricycle), and kite-land-boarding (think kite-surfing on a skateboard). I currently Mountain Bike, throwing myself down some rather knarly descents in the Peak District, mud, snow and ice don't stop me commuting and I also motorcycle on a 600cc bike capable of 0-60 in under 4 seconds and 130mph.

For my entire adult life I have had people tell me that I am nuts, foolhardy and doing some really dangerous activities. The oddest thing is, I have never broken a bone (touch wood, think I have been close though), I get a few bumps and bruises from time to time.  Even odder, is that in many work places I get the sense that those who actively avoid risk are the ones who get themselves into accidents.

At this point, before you think I am some SAS hard nut, I will reveal that I am actually a Scaredy Cat.  Danger makes me seriously nervous.  I hate heights and I never go on rides at Fun Fairs, but there is something about conquering your fears and the adrenaline rush that makes these activities addictive.

What I have learned from a lifetime of doing dangerous things is that the people who do these sports cannot simply be classified as reckless.  Everybody has their own level of danger that they will accept, and you can do these activities without risking your life. How far you progress is is a balance of fear, courage, bravery and skill.  Get the balance wrong, and you will get injured, or perhaps your fear will prevent you from taking part.

The Fear

'Fear' is a word we hear a lot when we ask why won't people cycle.  I get the fear big time in all of my activities but it is something I listen to and embrace.  It is your subconscious telling you that something is wrong, that you are about to exceed your risk and skill levels.  Instead of letting fear prevent me from doing something, I learn from it. How can I lessen and mitigate the risk ?  For cycling, that might be to read Cycle-Craft, about road positioning, or perhaps to avoid risky roads and stick to National Cycle Network routes.  By upping my skill level, I can mitigate risk. You can't avoid all risk, but you can let yourself near a bit at a time, learn from it and conquer it.

In the kind of fear I embrace, I am generally in control.  If I don't like the look of a rocky downhill, I stop avoid or go around. But when I cycle to work, the thing that gives me the biggest scare is traffic. It is the overtaking traffic while on my pedal that I fear and gives me the biggest scare.  I feel I have done all I can with road positioning, and now all risk to me is in the hands of other people.  And being a Scaredy Cat I don't take risks on my life very easily. Passes that I consider close are brushed off as nothing by other cyclists I know.  Close passing motorists are a risk that I cannot easily prevent.

Actual risk

So which type of cycling is the most risky in my life ?  Mountain Biking, Motorcycling or Cycle-commuting?

I can tell you that I fall off my MTB several times a year.  I have never fallen off or crashed my motorcycle or while cycle-commuting. I have regular fear inducing close passes a few times a year while cycling.  For incidents, MTB'ing is most risky, then cycle commuting, then motorcycling.

In all honesty though, the sheer speed of motorcycling, (max 50mph between home and work) is enough that if I am involved in one incident I might die.  On the bicycle, I feel I am unlikely to be rear ended at speed, and if hit I will probably be pushed aside with a glancing blow.  Mountain Biking, is likely to be broken bones.

The answer

Is cycling in Cambridge more dangerous than extreme sports ?  Perhaps a little, but not significantly.  However, there is a huge amount you can do to mitigate against that risk.  I wonder how much the couple in the story above knew about road positioning ?  Most people have never heard of primary road positioning or the door-zone and by not knowing they expose themselves to risk on the roads. Those same people will probably take the same attitude to risk to extreme sports and get themselves injured whilst doing that.

Its a shame that cyclists and motorcyclists have to take their level of knowledge to such advanced levels to stay safe but that is not going to change in the near future. Use the safe cycle facilities when you can, but when you take to the road, use your fear and learn from it. You'll live longer, and get less bruised along the way.

When I hear somebody categorically say cycling in Cambridge is or isn't dangerous I don't believe them. That can only be their personal opinion based on their own skill and bravery levels. The fear of the couple is legitimate.  Only training or better cycle routes can help them cycle right now.

An interesting link:

Motorcycling is dangerous right ?  Think again.  Look at the graph in the link below.  It looks like weekend biking contributes significantly to motorcycling death rates. Motorcycle commuting feels safer to me than cycle commuting with my skill level. By avoiding being a speed freak weekend biker, I think I have at least halved my risk of being a statistic.

BBC News: Bikers account for 1% of road traffic, but 21% of fatalities.

KSI per billion miles travelled:
Motorcycle 1659
Pedal cycle 880
Pedestrian 514
Car 27

Friday, 25 November 2011

Rules of the road are there to be ignored if you disagree.

I took the long way into work last week. I ended up on the Oakington Airfield Road, at both ends it has a No Motor Vehicles sign except for access.  It is also part of the National Cycle Network route 51.

No Motor Vehicles except for access, buses, taxis, mopeds and invalid carriages.

I found myself being followed by a car at 8:40am so I couldn't help myself, I tried to enter into a conversation with the driver. It's only by talking to people that you find out their real state of mind.

I tried to tell the driver that it was a closed road and they disagreed, it's an access road.  It was a bad choice of words, but its difficult to give a full explanation over engine noise and whilst cycling next to a moving car.  It's not quite closed, but its clear that this is not a through road for local residents to get between the villages of Longstanton and Oakington.

Locally, it has been shown that drivers do not understand low flying motorbike signs and we have had successful trials for No Entry Except Cycles signs.  But, in the case of Oakington Airfield there is enough chatter from comments in local stories and the local Parish magazines (eg Longstanton Life see letters in large pdf) to make me think that all locals (except hermits) know about the restriction and anyone using it is either taking a calculated risk or is acting dumb to justify their actions.

Airfield Road still no go, drivers off A14 warned. 12/Oct/2011
I particular enjoy the short sighted comments calling for the road to be opened to all. That'll include all of the A14 traffic when it backs up, such as HGV's.
The restricted airfield road runs between
Longstanton (top) and Oakington (middle) 
Its a big shame the drivers can't see beyond their own convenience and abide by the rules.  As I spoke with the lady driver, I noticed that between us was a young boy, about 6 or 7, in his school uniform, he was obviously being driven from Longstanton to one of the schools on the Oakington side. He was peering out of the window having a good look at my road bike. He looked like he would enjoy cycling to school.

If he lives in Longstanton and goes to school in Girton, it is National Cycle Network all the way.  Its not Dutch standard but where it is not along the airfield road, it is a reasonable shared-use path suitable for confident young cyclists or tag-a-longs.

Perhaps if the airfield road was not such a rat run, and it was a bit more inconvenient to drive, more people would consider cycling between villages.

The four primary schools in the local area:
Longstanton - Hatton Park Primary
Oakington C of E Primary School
Girton Glebe Primary School
Girton, Gretton School 
The lesson for the child in that car is that it is fine to bend the rules so long as you can justify it to yourself. A bit of harmless speeding, mobile phone use. A bit of amber gambling (running-a-red for cars), or how about parking on double yellows to nip into a shop ?  When he becomes a teenager, will he be perfectly law abiding or perhaps think its ok to jump to red lights and ride in the dark with no lights ?

Today, we have the lowest number of traffic officers patrolling our streets that I can remember, and I feel that it is contributing to a slow decline in driving and riding standards. It's not all terrible news.  Most drivers are considerate, but without the occasional worry that an police officer is watching, some will keep asking themselves if they can get away with it, why not ?

[edit, more info].  I had a discussion with a colleague about the slow decline in driving standards.  There is always going to be a small percentage of society that will break the law, but the masses are generally kept in check by monitoring by the police and community, and through the communal discussion of issues.  Also of interest is the Broken Windows Theory.  I wonder if this theory applies to traffic anti-social behaviour too ?

Sources

If you want definitive proof of the access restrictions, these sources are for you:
Longstanton Parish Council Meeting Minutes. 6th December 2010

http://b1049.wordpress.com/other-roads-in-the-division/lonstanton-road-oakington/


Update - Addenbrookes Access Road.

Same problem, same excuses.

1,500 drivers caught using off limits road (in one month)


Have you noticed cars RLJ ?

The other rule that is very much ignored is the amber light.  I think it has become the signal to floor it but it means stop. It is a form of red light jumping that drivers ignore, and is so common I doubt many would think it was breaking the law or think it has any harmful effects. Even so, a lot of drivers will happily point the finger at RLJ'ing cyclists. In my mind they are similar offences.

I have seen the aftermath of two vehicles colliding on my commute.  One of them must have amber gambled.  One of the drivers was being carried away by the ambulance services on a stretcher.  It was the junction of the B1049 Histon Road and Gilbert Road.


See this FAQ for red light rules:  "I went through on amber ... If you crossed on amber, you have still committed the offence, unless you can show that it was unsafe to stop."

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Fuel prices on the up. Gasp!

Do you remember the UK fuel protest ? I mean the big one, where lorry drivers blocked the oil refineries because they objected to the high taxation of fuel ? It resulted in panic buying, long queues at petrol stations, some limiting the amount of litres per customer. Well, that was in 2000, eleven years ago.

If there was one big lesson to learn from 2000, it was that fuel is only going to get more expensive. It has risen from around 77p per litre in 2000, to 135p 2011.  There is an interesting table here, which tells me that fuel is only 25% more than in 1983 adjusted for inflation. The sting recently has actually been the price fluctuation.

The message was clear, if you or your business depended upon cheap fuel, you needed to adapt or suffer. So here we are 11 years later, high fuel prices are being discussed in parliament and it reads like a country in panic, like this is a surprise.

Have a read of the transcript of the discussion:  

There is some discussion about rural communities being hit hard by the fuel costs.  I was going to pull out a quote, but this comment from a BBC News Story: RAC Fears Over Lack of Roads Spending As Cars Increase sums up the pain very nicely:
229. TonyL99
Try living without a car where we live in Wales. 15 mins drive to the nearest shop now the village store has closed...due to the Post Office's branch closures. Public transport ? There is none....zilch, nowt.
Home deliveries ? Nope...too far.
Cycling is possible, have tried it. But the 20 mile route to the nearest town is extremely hazardous due to high speed traffic heading to the coast.
I can imagine their pain.  Over my lifetime, I have seen the growth of car ownership, the growth in numbers of out of town supermarkets (which you need a car to get to), and, the reduction in public transport (due to mass car ownership), and the closure of local shops (due to supermarkets).

It does seem that as we have become more affluent, we have bought cars, travelled further and decimated our own local services.  Now we are dependant on our cars and more and more people are feeling the pain of the fuel prices. 

There is a group of people that are often forgotten in this subject - those without cars, such as the elderly. More recently, the high cost of insurance means the young are also unable to drive. Even if you took away all duty from fuel, significantly reducing its cost, it is unlikely to solve the problems that the car-less have. How do they travel to food shops and jobs ?   All a fuel duty cut would do is help those with cars maintain their ability to drive to out of town supermarkets and far away jobs, leaving the car-less stranded.

In my opinion, we need to be Localized to get us out of the fuel price hole.  More local shops, more public transport, more cycle infrastructure.  France is a great example, full of rural communities, a long way from supermarkets, but their dislike of manufactured food means they still have local shops selling fresh goods. You'll also find mini outdoor markets where the local farmers sell their local goods. I'm sure its not all perfect, but as a tourist on a bicycle, I found it worked well.  Perhaps living in the country will become less viable for the long-distance commuter and then those communities will return to local workers, and local shoppers. More community, less dormitory. 

So fuel prices are on the up. You should have seen in coming and you should be adapting, rather than complaining. I see people adapting everyday, cycling to work, running to work, walking to Histon to the cheaper bus zone, getting the supermarkets to deliver their weekly shop, and an increase in local shop use.  I see it as a good thing and as we get better cycle facilities and closer shops, the young and the elderly will benefit.  Building more roads will not help. Spend our tax money on public transport and cycling and walking improvements.

I leave you with some choice quotes, mostly from those who need to adapt:

From parliament:
Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest) (Con): Speaking as somebody whose combined family mileage approaches 50,000 miles a year, ...
Mark Garnier: My hon. Friend raises a very good point. The cost of car insurance is unbelievably high for young people. That is a particular problem when they are trying to get on the job ladder. We should certainly be doing everything that we can to help young people. 
Robert Halfon:
I will turn to the social impact. In Harlow, the cheapest unleaded petrol costs £1.33 per litre. Most Harlow motorists are therefore spending £1,700 a year just to fill their tanks. For most people, that is the equivalent of £2,200 of income before tax—a tenth of the average Harlow salary. I met a Harlow man called Mr Barry Metcalf a few weeks ago. He is self-employed and uses his own car to commute to West Ham for work [33 miles each way]. He spends nearly £60 a week on fuel and has seen a 35% increase in the past year or two. The Government define fuel poverty as spending a tenth of one’s income on heating bills. What about spending a tenth of one’s income just on driving to work?

ph73: Yeah ok, I'll start doing my 100 mile daily round trip commute by bike. Don't know why I hadn't thought of it before, seems so obvious now. 
Martin: I very rarely use my car but its very hard to carry 8 or 9 bags of family shopping on a bike and the vast majority use the car for work. Why poor public transport, poor cycle lanes ( my council took bikes of the road by allowing them to share footpaths ). more can be done to reduce the number of cars on the road but no one seems prepared to kick start it.
Maybe Martin needs a bike trailer or cargo bike ;-) 

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Environmental impact. That'll be your fault.

A few times a year, I try to make a trip to somewhere special for a spot of mountain biking. Last Saturday I popped up to the Peak District with a friend.  The most popular routes are found in the Dark Peak are near Edale, and the Upper Derwent Valley's Ladybower Reservoir.

Climbing to the moors along Cut Gate,
Peak District. Between Langsett and
the Upper Derwent Valley. 
The terrain consists mostly of gritstone rocks interrupted by grit sand and peat.  The climbs are lung busting at the best of times, but also sprinkled with rock step-ups. The downhills are peppered with step-downs and full of sections of rocks, varying from fist sized to football sized. Some are loose, some fixed in the ground. If you can ride fast enough to glide over the top, you are rewarded with some extremely satisfying riding.  

The scenery is wild with such beauty.  No wonder this was the scene of tension and trespass that took the moorland from the private property of the rich to Britain's first National Park in 1951.

The area is now so popular, erosion is a problem, and some paths have had to be managed, in some cases with stone paving slabs. [more info here]

We hadn't realised that the route we were taking had a boggy peat section near the top of the moor. That section was about a kilometre of eroded path with sections of squelchy peat that could easily swallow a boot and in places was as wide as a bus was long. The bog was unridable and I was using my bike to pole vault between solid sections.

Slippery Stones. A crossing point
over the River Derwent at the
northern end of Howden Reservoir.
Whilst literally bogged down, some walkers caught us up. Dressed in full waterproofs, days sacks, poles, boots and gaiters I guessed they knew the area and I enquired about the length of the boggy section.  Maybe they misheard me, but the lady's response was: "the erosion is caused by the cyclists riding on the grass at the edge" and strode on through the puddles.  I had heard of the conflict between countryside users, but never experienced it first hand before.

Were the cyclists to blame for all of this erosion ? I had my doubts but the proof was up ahead.  We were outnumbered by walkers, no others had gaiters and poles. They were avoiding the bogs by going round the edge.  And when we got to the summit, the route split into a descending bridleway, and a footpath following the top of the moor. It was the footpath that was most eroded.  The greatest irony was that I saw my accuser rounding a bog on the grass.

I am always amazed at how narrow minded the British can be. Problems are often somebody else's fault and if at all possible, blame a minority group with a divide and conquer technique.

So erosion is blamed on cyclists. Unemployment ? Ah, that's the immigrants taking our jobs.  Crashes on the A14, that'll be the lorries, and if we want to marginalise even more its the foreign truckers.  Anti-social behaviour, that's the teenagers, the Chavs.

A classic has to be congestion - ask a man who drives to work who's fault the congestion is, its all those mum's driving their children to school.  I have also been accused at the side of the road for causing congestion by holding up traffic, unable to overtake me. The blame was not put on drivers in the oncoming lane or the waiting driver for bringing an inappropriately wide vehicle into a busy city.

For environmental impact, the truth is we are all part of the problem, but nobody wants to change their own behaviour and its easier to blame someone else.

In the case of the erosion, I definitely caused some, as did everybody on Cut Gate that day. One solution that reduces erosion would be for serious-walking-lady to not visit the Peak District if they really cared that much.  Also, I wonder if they caught a bus into the National Park, or gave a thought to the impact buying foreign made clothes ?

Ah well, lets leave the negative finger pointers behind.

The most heart warming story on that day was meeting a father and his two boys on our return to the summit.  They cycled, the youngest about 10, looking exhausted, his legs and face covered in mud. It was his first time on a moor, and had fought his way up a hill and nearly drowned in a bog to get here.  He made it and he was elated, and he was enjoying the beauty of the landscape too. An experience that will last a lifetime. I felt the same way.

Monday, 7 November 2011

DIY street design

Last year, Glebe Way in Histon had some new road markings to help cyclists.

40mph zone, 116cm cycle lane at its thinnest
point, with hatched central area.
Before the markings were changed it was a standard single white centre line road - I rarely had trouble.  As soon as the new layout went in drivers I had some issues.

I started to ask question the safety and was told by the council that my comments would be put forward for the "safety audit". I dug deeper and was disappointed to find that the safety audit was conducted to make sure the road layout was safe for cars.

That was a small insight into how car centric our councils are.

[To be fair, Cambridge has dedicated cycling officers who have been improving their designs over time (such as the shared use path on this very road) using quite limited budgets. Lessons were being learned and were starting to stick.  Then Cycling England was disbanded along with funding and the council has been trying to cut dedicated cycling officer posts]

What I have noticed over time is that our largely car centric councils (or is that housing developers?) keep coming up with car centric designs for infrastructure, then cycling and walking campaigners complain and the car centric planners get their pencils out again.

Recently though, I have seen some encouraging and inspiring blog articles that could be the start of a new trend - the community making their own designs and showing their councils how it should be done.

Of course, there is the excellent and well established A View From the Cycle Path showing how the Dutch have made their cycling infrastructure the envy of the world.

Recently, the London Cycle Campaign have redesigned the Blackfriars junction for walkers and cyclists.  Transport for London were unwilling or unable to do this with their focus on smooth traffic flow for motor vehicles.

Here is a post on Vole O'Speed - Cycle of Decline in London - long but very interesting, especially the comparisons and ideas for real outer London Streets.

At War With The Motorist have a series titled What would you do here ? My personal favourite is On the Village High Street, particularly the roads with their width artificially restricted.  Also in that series is On Rural Main Roads and On Country Lanes.

Edit: How could I forget the very inspiring Beach Croft Residents Association story.  A street who pulled together to redesign their own road using planters and a 'road carpet'.


I am suitably inspired, and have some the local knowledge about where walking and cycling is difficult in my village, and now I am starting to think about ways to improve my community.  There is no easy money about right now, but pots of money do appear, and when they do, perhaps we can have the car centric infrastructure designers on the back foot.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

My first MTB race - Thetford D2D

The oasis for locals who like the mud is Thetford Forest. There's barely a hill there either, but it is full of tight twisting singletrack through the forest on surfaces from sand to flint, with a few bomb holes thrown in. Some of the man made (by Timber) trails have berms and occasional jumps. You can easily piece together an energy sapping 20 mile cross country route that's great fun.

[ Somebody else's video of Thetford giving a flavour of the singletrack ... ]
 


If you have some capable lights (not as expensive as you might think), you can ride in the dark. Everything looks so different at night, spooky even, with a whole different challenge. You see some fabulous nocturnal wildlife too, and it feels so special as nobody else is there to see it.

Thetford Dusk 'til Dawn

Every year at Thetford, some crazy folks all set off on a endurance race through the night. It starts at 8pm and ends at 8am. The aim is to complete as many laps in the 12 hours as possible. Teams can consist of 1-4 riders and is a relay race, so only one member can be on the course at any time.

A riding buddy of mine saw the start last year and has been as excited as a 5 year old ever since and asked me to enter with him. At the time, it didn't appeal entirely. The two previous years were solid rain, riding through mud, with 10 mile lap times starting at 1 hour and final laps for some were over 2 hours. It sounded like hell. Actually described by someone as the best and worst thing I have ever done.

Not wanting to disappoint, we entered as a pair, and then I found some more local riders to mentor us - they are veterans of the D2D and entered as a mixed four. "A pair ? That's going to be tough". I have ridden with our mentors before, and they are fit and fast. Gulp. Later and luckily, we found a third member to join us. As the race got nearer, the more I warmed to the idea and the challenge.


A rainbow coloured procession of D2D riders
Race Day


Forecast was quite good, mostly dry with a shower in the middle of the night. We arrived in the afternoon. Most competitors pre-rode the course but I decided to save my energy having been a little ill the week before. My team mates rode the course the day before. Somehow, it was decided that I should start the race for our team.

At 6:30pm we all stood in the arena listening to the rules. Race Director on the microphone: "There are bomb holes on the route, I hope you have all pre-rode the course". Err, no ... gulp. What could possibly go wrong riding in the dark in a jostling field of race crazy mountain bikers ?

Thetford's single track can be hard to pass on, and having never raced before I was nervous about holding people up. "Mountain biking is a friendly sport ..." followed by orders not to barge, be aggressive or rude to get past. Phew, that's a relief.

I then briefly saw my family who had come to see me start. You wouldn't believe how inspired my 6 year old son, and 8 year old daughter were, seeing their Daddy enter a race.


The start of the 2011 Dusk 'til Dawn
7:15pm I am alone in the tent, nervous and getting ready, then I hear the unmistakable sound of rain on tent. I decide not to go out early and get wet. I leave the tent a 7:50pm to get to the start, where is everybody ? I hope they havn't started.

7:55pm, I join the queue of riders near the back. I am not a race fast rider so I am happy to start here and see how it goes.

8pm, a bang and some fireworks in the distance signals the start which was a 4km warm up before the 16km full laps. Wow, what an atmosphere, riding with a pack of like minded riders into the night, through a cheering crowd. Audience I thank you, it felt so special !

I didn't see it myself but a quad bike led the hundreds of riders through the arena and into the dark trails. Saying that, it wasn't that dark with so many powerful lights. And what a sight seeing a now spread out stream of riders, illuminating the primary colours of cycling jackets. It was a like a rainbow coloured procession for mass.


Just one minute out of the arena and I saw someone changing a puncture already. The next corner, a faller, no apparent injuries. We are still packed in so speed is low. Once we got to the wider trails where you can overtake, I realised the pace was easy. I sped up, then realised why. I must have passed about 40 riders with glow sticks on their seat tube. These were the solo riders with 12 hours of riding ahead of them. I think I was only passed by two riders on my first lap (when not stopped) and spent a good portion overtaking.

The first technical riding was Tom's Bombhole. I didn't know it and there was a queue at the top. It is a reasonably steep entrance and a steady but sandy climb out. Once one person failed to make it out, a queue of riders behind had to stop and walk out. I had to walk out on all of my laps because of the sand. It was cleaned up after the race and was easy to ride out.

Some rooty single track and then the entrance to the second bombhole - Howie's Run (from the north side). It looked steep with a v shaped channel down the middle requiring weight shifting to balance instead of steering. With riders following, I couldn't pontificate at the top. People before me made it so I went straight in, and made it too. All bomb holes look steeper at night, especially the far side, adding to the challenge of night riding.

Howie's was closely followed by the Double Shocker, already slippery. My tyres were Maxxis High Rollers and not feeling that grippy on lap 1.

After Double Shocker the route led north up the hill parallel with Bury Road before sharply turning south again. My main bar light started to fail intermittently, still surrounded by riders but now at two bike lengths apart. Then the track had a 4 foot deep trench, it was pitch black and I went in blind, not reading the immediate steep exit correctly, my weight went over the handle bars and my back wheel in the air. I was aware of the potential for a pile up, and somehow managed to unclip my left foot and hop left with the bike clipped to the other off the track. "Well held!" the following rider shouted as he passed.

 I continued nervously, then one minute later my GPS came off its mount and dangled by its landyard. I pulled over, put it into my rucksack, and also fixed my bar light - I hadn't screwed the battery cover on properly (slaps forehead).

The rest of the lap was a drag uphill (for locals) and I was feeling tired I was glad to be back into the arena to the handover point. A crowd of riders were standing on the other side of a fence waiting impatiently for the wrist band. I heard my name being shouted, and a silhouette coming my way. Handover, then relief.

Lap 0 + 1 (about 12 miles) took me 1h12m. My GPS showed 58m for Lap 1.

Muddy and damp I now had two hours before my next shift. I had a cup of tea, some soup and bread. Earlier in the evening and before the race I eat wholemeal pasta. In hindsight, I should have been eating more fast absorbing calories and should have eaten on the bike according to our experienced mentors.


Lap 2

My second lap (our teams 4th) started at 11:35pm. My inbound and tired looking team mate warned me it was slippery. Their road biased tyres were swapped out for £70 a pair Nobby Nics later while I was out.

The first half was not too bad, reasonably hard packed, but the second half was bad. It rained harder. The worst part now had V shaped channels worn down, 1 foot deep, only just wide enough for pedals. You couldn't get a continuous ride out of the trench due to undergrowth. I nearly slipped over several times because the sides of the trenches were so slippery. I had to stop to take a break to rest for exhausted legs and eat a breakfast bar. Riders were much more strung out now. It was a minute before another rider arrived where I was and stopped to catch their breath. I think this was around mile 6 of 10, still dark, still raining, and after midnight.

I also realised that my rear brake pads had significantly worn down. They were brand new for the race! I had to start to avoid using the rear brake and only use the front in a straight line. Speeds were reasonably low anyway and wrong line could be used to sap speed.

Later, near mile 8 on a long drag uphill after the Double Shocker was a small but sharp elevation requiring a quick burst of energy to get over. Aaaarrrrrg the pain. I had to pull over, unable to straighten my legs. I was bent double over my bike wincing for about two minutes. This I guessed was cramp. I was able to continue but with much reduced energy output. I had only ridden a bike a couple of times in the 6 weeks prior due to illness, it was showing. Also, I guessed that I had not been drinking enough and perhaps not enough salt. The energy gel stall I had laughed in the face of earlier now started to seem like a good idea, even at £1.25 a shot - enough calories and minerals for 20mins of riding.

I dragged myself in after 1h14m at 1am. That was a tough one.

Again I got dry, had a cup of tea, a yoghurt bar and some chocolate handed to me by my team mate. I don't remember eating much else. It was hard eating at night. I climbed into my sleeping bag. So warm and cosy, sooo nice, lovely to see the insides of my eyelids.

I didn't sleep, too much activity with my team mate getting ready for his lap. But, the rest had perked me up. I had to get up in the rain again and start another lap at 4am. If on my own, the motivation would have been hard, but being part of a team pushed me to the handover point. All the other racers were in the same situation so they would be having it bad too.


The arena atmosphere


Lap 3


So I started my third lap, our team's 7th at something like 4am. The bike coral where I waited was a quiter place, with less anxiety and impatience. We had a roof to wait out of the rain at least. I don't recall the changeover, perhaps I was on autopilot.

A mile or two in I noticed I was just pulling in a solo rider, so I thought it might help them if I talked for a bit. It turned out, he was on his 8th lap, more than our three person team ! Knowing how hard it was pushing through the mud and rain, I was in awe of the effort and mental staying power. He looked like he was truly suffering now. Chapeau. The winning solo rider completed 12 laps. The winning team of 4 completed 15 laps..

Throughout the race if I passed a lone rider at the side of the course I always asked if they were "alright?". They always were. The race organisers had placed some marshalls throughout the course but you could easily be a mile or two away from them and help.

The terrain felt easier somehow on lap 3. So much mud had been worn away in places, it was now down to hard pack again. I took the centre line, splashing through all the puddles which paid off apart from the one large puddle I found. My Specialized Defroster waterproof boots were just that. But enough water had made it in down my leg and I managed to pour some out at the end of the lap.

Between laps I had failed to wash my bike. Gear issues crept up on me and on lap 3 I was down to two gears on the rear 9 speed block. At times I was pushing too high a gear. At home I discovered that the cable just required some lube, the mud wasn't an issue.

Up to mile 7 wasn't a great problem, a little slower due to fatigue but feeling ok. Then I slowed a lot. Then mile 8 where at the very same obstacle I got cramp - again. Bent over double yet again, but for less time. I had been careful to use salt in my water and drink more this time. The last two miles were done at such a slow pace they seemed to go on forever. The classical music played from a speaker at mile 9 raised my spirits as did some joyous motivational rider and the chaps wearing flashing skull masks on the backs of their helmets. There were other riders going my pace too, but some still flying as fast as lap 1.  But, before I came in, I had already made the decision that this would be my last.  I kept quiet about this.

My Lap 3 (or teams 7th) took 1h42m. Very inconsistent compared to my first lap of 58m and only 30 miles completed in total.

I climbed into my sleeping bag again, this time sleeping, while a team mate battled the course for 2h20m, arriving at 7:55am. Our third team member was able to go out again and do another lap meaning we all did three laps, and thankfully, there would be no time for me to do another. He arrived back an impressive 1hr35m later at 9:25am with us greeting him. The prize giving had been and gone, and so had the night. The only busy part of the arena was the burger bar but we cheered him in all all the same. A real victory for us lasting the whole time, the terrain hadn't quite beaten us.

As D2D virgins we came 31st of 57 in our category, way better than we expected. Just one more lap would have bagged us 17th place. Oh no, that temptation means we have already convinced ourselves to enter again next year.

If there is one thing I agree with, it is both the best and worst thing I have ever done. Best of all, was being able to ride amongst some amazing riders, but in a very inclusive event. And, it can't rain for a fourth year in a row, surely !

I am looking forward to entering in 2012, but can't quite pin down why I need to do this.

Drivetrain the morning after. Thetford sand eats them.


Detailed lap times here. We were the Falloffalots.

VC Rutland have put together a great video here.  There is a little onboard footage towards the end.

Monday, 17 October 2011

12 year olds' route to school, UK style.

I was cycling my way into Cambridge, passing over the A14 then going past Orchard Park.

[ If you don't know the area or the UK, Orchard Park is a new housing development, fairly typical for modern edge of town developments.  I bet you are imaging some lovely houses nestling in an orchard of fruit trees.  Well that is some cruel joke, there is no orchard, it is just something dreamy to put in the marketing material. Housing estate names are often related to what was bulldozed to make way for concrete and tarmac. ]

As I was pleasantly riding though the apple trees dual carriageway, I noticed I was following a school boy on his way to school. He was using the tick-box cycle facility - a wide footpath next to the road.  He arrived at the Kings Hedges Road junction.  A truck was at the lights waiting to turn left.


Next to Orchard Park, Cambridge.  Click to view in Google StreetView.  

What happened next, sums up very nicely cycling in the UK and what behavioral traits the current road and cycle design practices breed.

So, you are 12, wanting to cross a side road, that consists of 5 lanes of traffic and three separate pedestrian crossing stages.  He came to the obvious conclusion that waiting three times over is very inconvenient. So while the truck is held at a red light and his crossing phase is also red he might as well cross to save some waiting time. He dithers then goes for it.

Meanwhile, Mr Truck driver is watching his red light, it goes green, he floors it to be immediately faced with gambling-boy crossing, and then pulls an emergency stop, skidding, wheels locked up, drawing a one foot long black stripe on the tarmac.  Mr Truck then angrily shouts at a 12 year old boy.

End of witness statement.

If it isn't obvious, although the cycle and pedestrian facility is reasonably safe, it is massively inconvenient.  Waiting at lights in a car is inconvenient too, but you have the advantage of a high top speed to offset the delay.  Pedestrians and cyclists take a big hit on their journey time with each delay. Personally, I get round the waiting time by jostling with the traffic and only waiting for one set of red lights. I am odd though, its far more convenient and safer to drive or to be driven to school.

For a careful driver it was plainly obvious that a dithering child next to a crossing is a hazard that needs to be watched. My observation of the typical British driver shows that hazard perception and prediction is not well practiced unless it appears directly in front of them - they drive with a tunnel vision.  The vulnerability of cyclists and pedestrians is not a consideration.


I could let my observation pass, but I see the Cambridge Cycling Campaign constantly fighting against these kind of defacto standard cycling and walking provision at new developments. It should be the job of the planning departments to look out for the future 12 year old boy and his route to school, and protect him from the unobservant modern motorist.  Otherwise, we continue to approve and build car centric communities.  No wonder the congestion charge was opposed, we need our cars.


Also of interest in this area is the Cambridge Cycle Campaign's proposed Ring Fort Path, trying to create a convenient route for residents of Orchard Park rather than long detour.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Trying to lose weight

For a lot of people, cycling forms part of a healthy regime that keeps you fit and strong.  For others it is a way of losing weight.  Check out the Amazing 39 Stone Cyclist for an extreme example.

About eight years ago I decided it was time to improve my health.  At the time, I had not long quit smoking, I was a car commuter with a tendency to snack on chocolate bars and crisps, and I was doing little exercise. My weight, an overweight 15 stone, was gradually increasing with every month that passed.  That's where my cycling and diet improvements kicked in.

Fast forward to today and my diet is looking more like general advice - full of fruit nuts and seeds, quite low fat, fish, lean meats and full of whole grains. Most white flour products are out, and I'll always be searching for wholemeal bread, whole wheat pasta and brown rice.  The combination of diet and rather intense cycling has brought my weight down to a more healthy 12 and half stone and my resting heart rate is 42bpm.  

That sounds great in theory, but the reality is different.  If I stop cycling, my weight starts to climb. Cycling has become a way to keep my weight under control and without it, despite the change in diet, my body cannot maintain a weight without intervention. Obviously, my balance of calories in calories out is tipped towards calories in. Quite simply I am eating too much regardless of how healthy it is.

Starving

I have tried eating less, but I but it always feels like I am starving myself. Just two hours after breakfast, I would be starting to feel cold and my body would feel jittery and I couldn't concentrate. My body was telling me to eat something. I knew something wasn't right. 

Internet investigations kept leading me to pages on Diabetes and Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar). Thankfully, I don't have anything serious (confirmed by my doctor), I think it is a form of Hypoglycaemia called Post Prandial Syndrome.  The advice is to eat often, more protein and less carbs.  

What I thought was a reasonably healthy diet is laden with carbohydrate foods such as breads, potatoes, pasta and rice which are doing me some harm. I am now trying to reduce carbs and add more proteins, especially at breakfast time.

The modern Western diet

Whilst trying to work out what my problem was, I started to browse around the subject of food. What is really quite interesting is that the conventional idea of healthy food is being challenged.

For the last few decades we have been adviced to eat a low fat diet. More recently, there was the Atkins Diet, essentially a meat and low carb diet.  I dismissed this as a diet fad at the time.  The new diet I am hearing about is the Paleo Diet, essentially eating foods of an ancient hunter gatherer lifestyle, with no modern starchy foods like grains and legumes, and it loses dairy and processed foods. Like Atkins, it is rich in proteins and vegetables, but low in carbs. 

My natural instinct is to think that both of these low carb diets are totally insane, losing an entire food group (grains) and increasing meats (sometimes with saturated fats) goes against all current advice. However, when you look into current health issues, you start to see a link between scientists messing with our food, and food related health issues such as Diabetes. These fad diets, appear to be wiping the slate clean right back to the diet of our ancestors and removing science from food in the hope of improving your health.

The picture that is emerging is that the low fat diet could be wrong, and that many modern health issues are related to high carbs. 

The following sources of information are really quite fascinating:
I personally remain sceptical but interested.  For now, I shall be tweaking my diet rather than being radical, and sticking to the golden rules of mine:
  • Listen to your body (mine was definitely grumbling)
  • Eat everything in moderation (and don't overdose on one type like I did)
  • Eat foods as close to their natural state as possible (eg raw veg, and butter instead of marg)
  • Don't believe the claims of advertisers trying to sell you their product.
  • Don't believe anything you read on the internet :-)

Monday, 5 September 2011

Somebody died on my commute route


It was reported in the Cambridge Evening News that a cyclist, Michael Smyth had died after a collision with a car on Histon Road in the early hours of Sunday 28th August.

It was only a couple of days later when I was cycling into work did I realise exactly where this happened.  Flowers were laid at the roadside which I stopped to read.  There were messages from friends and family, including his children and carried such grief that they moved me greatly. It is not pleasant to think about, but you can see a blood stain on the road which I pass by on my way to work which really brings home the loss of life. This man, Michael, was just like me, a similar age, with a young family and was at the pub close by with friends. This could have been me.  I could not bring myself to take a photo at the scene, thankfully the CEN did - you can see a photo of the flowers, and read some of the messages on this subsequent CEN report.

This is not the only tragic death on my commute route.  There was grandmother, Mary Scott killed whilst cycling by a turning lorry while the driver was using his mobile.  There was also another father, Alan Barry killed whilst cycling between Cottenham and Histon.  Infact, the CEN regularly reports on collisions between motor-vehicles and cyclists, motor-vehicles and pedestians.  The end result is always tragic for the person, family member, loved one, who was not protected in a metal box that day.

It is the memory of these deaths and my own experience of cycling and walking on our local roads that motivates me to try and do something to fix the problem of cars and lorries killing people.

To keep cycling, I have to remind myself that statistically, my cycling will be more likely to lengthen my life than shorten it.  It's not easy when you are regularly buzzed by traffic (close passed) and you really feel the fear of traffic and your adrenaline pump - a sure sign that your body thought you were under attack.

It's not easy when you look at a map of the incidents either.  This is taken from the council's web site and plots Cambridgeshire Accident Data 2008-2010.

The more red it looks, the worse it is.  My typical route follows the yellow road, the B1049:


Accidents spots and cluster sites 2008-2010, north of Cambridge.

Another interesting plot of data is BBC: Deaths on Britain's Roads 1999-2009. If you click around you can see what kinds of vehicles were involved. Within Cambridge the serious incidents are often car-bicycle or car-pedestrian.

The problem I have is that I see bad driving almost every day.  I see drivers taking risks with other peoples lives.  Sometimes I experience drivers taking risks with my life.  And the bigger problem I have is that the risk to drivers is low.  When there is a collision, and no good witnesses the driver cannot be proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt.  In my opinion the balance of law is wrong and I support Presumed Liability. Where there is no evidence, the person with the larger vehicle should be deemed at fault as they had the greater duty of care.

What's worse, is that even when a driver is convicted, the sentencing is low.  Take the example of Mary Scott, killed by a lorry driver on his mobile - simply banned from driving for 12 months.  Its cases like this that coined the phrase: If you want to kill someone, do it in a car.

I have seen how a small subset of people drive around Cambridge, around our loved ones. So, when I see that Micheal Smyth was killed by a Ford Tourneo, a van decked out with rows of seats, I would put money on that being a taxi driver, because I have been in one at 1am and the speed they drive at is shocking. I have also experienced the way they drive around our city in the daytime. Cyclists are not fans.  Licensed to drive on our roads badly, by the council, representatives of us.  I really hope that the recent Taxi Policy Consultation (comments by Sept 11th 2011) does something to improve driver behaviour.  Let me just be fair to the driver in this incident - I do not know the cause of the accident or who was at fault.  What I do know is whenever a car and pedestrian collide, the outcome for the pedestrian is always severe.

I would not stop at taxis.  I have experienced the way some of the buses are driven. Here is a mockup of a pass that happened to me (its not the only one). This footage was taken on the same road, the B1049 Histon Road, just half a mile north of where Michael Smyth died.




Buses authorised to drive around our loved ones like this, by us, by our elected council.  Like taxi's, they have a bad reputation. These near misses are not represented on the statistics.  If this were air traffic control, a near miss would be taken extremely seriously, and the planes have black box recorders so they know as much as possible about what happened.  The newer StageCoach buses in Cambridge have CCTV facing in and out, but as I found out, the footage is rather difficult to get hold of. Perhaps one day, black box recording will be mandatory for motor vehicles.  For now, if you want to prove what happened in an accident, pedestrians and cyclists will all have to wear cameras such as Magnatom who's famous video - 20cm from death - is shown on the TV every time there is a debate about cyclists.

The statistics tell us there will be death and serious injury on our roads. We all know what the problem is.  So why can't we solve the problem of dangerous driving ?  It is all so predictable. It's easy to sweep it under the carpet, but its not easy to wash the blood off the road.  Please push your councillors and MPs to do something to fix the problem of dangerous driving.


Minor update:  Sentencing.

On the subject of sentencing, I have read a lot of news reports about deaths caused by drivers over the last few years. Typically, the sentencing a very low in my memory - fines and community service.

The death of Mary Scott mentioned above, resulted in no jail time and a 12 month driving ban for the lorry driver who killed her whilst he drove using a mobile phone. The driver was convicted of driving without due care and attention.

Today the BBC reports another lorry driver who killed one person. He gets 6 years jail, and a 5 year driving ban. This one was convicted of dangerous driving.

I am not sure why these drivers were charged with different offences and such a large difference in jail time. You can make your own mind up by reading the CPS's Sentencing Manual on dangerous driving.  Also interesting is the more general page on the CPS site: Road Traffic Offences: Guidance on Prosecuting Cases of Bad Driving.

Update:  The last three weeks.

It has only been three weeks since the death of Michael Smyth. Unfortunately the incidents on the B1049 continue:

  • I came across an ambulance taking away a driver after two vehicles collided at the junction of Histon Road and Gilbert Road. It looked like somebody had jumped the traffic lights. Cyclists get a lot of stick for jumping red lights (I don't condone it) but the outcome is never like this.
  • I have seen a bus close pass another cyclist exactly where I was close passed.  There was no traffic coming the other way. My complaint to StageCoach has had no effect.
  • Yesterday, 21st September on Cottenham village High Street, two cars collided, one mounting the pavement and crashing into a mother and child.  The pedestrians were taken away by air ambulance. Click for the CEN story.  This particular piece of road is constantly troubled by cars trying to push through a busy area with a shop, churches, and other useful community services. There is lots of on road parking and poor sight lines.  The exit from Rooks Street onto the High Street is a common short-cut or rat run but the exit has the driver is pulling out almost blind due to parked cars. Cottenham High Street in general is one where the car is more important than the pedestrian.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

An uphill struggle (in Cornwall)

For some reason, one of the reasons people like cycling in Cambridge is because it is flat. If you are one of those people I'll warn you now, the headwinds out here can be evil. I'll take hills over headwinds any day.

When I say flat, the climb into Cottenham from Rampton is 5m. The land is so shapeless, it does take some getting used to. I think it was a couple of years before I finally felt at home here and I have spoken with others that felt the same. It's not like I was born in the mountains, just somewhere with rolling hills.

I do like spending time in the hills when possible so when we decided it was time for a camping holiday in Cornwall I couldn't resist squeezing a bike into the back of the car. Unfortunately, the only one I could fit was my road bike, and that has Tour-de-France gearing on it. It has a double front chain ring, with 39 teeth on the smallest cog and 25T the largest at the back. This 39/25 combination in real terms means that 10mph is the lowest speed you can comfortably go at. Once any significant hill begins, I am out of the saddle and and heaving the pedals round. Lesson learned, I shall get a triple next time.

The landscape in much of the south of England is short sharp hills that over a ride add up to a lot of ascending. Cornwall's highest point is only 420m but you'll struggle to find a flat part.

One of my rides took me via Perranporth, Saint Agnes and it's beach - Trevaunance Cove.  Fabulous views and scenery, steeped in pirate history and now surfer dudes.  

Surfers at Trevaunance Cove, St. Agnes, Cornwall, surrounded by cliffs.


Trevaunance Cove slipway.  Cliffs behind.


I find myself planning a lot of rides in hilly areas. It is a difficult balance, seeing enough landscape but without inflicting an impossible amount of pain on yourself.  I last did that in Normandy, cycle camping with friends. I think we are still friends at least, we had to abort a route I had planned due to too many and too steep hills.

I have learned the hard way that online tools are not always accurate when planning a ride through a hilly area. They can cope with mountains, but the when they are short and sharp, the resolution of the elevation data is not good enough and they begin to under-estimate.

Take this ride via Perranporth, then an anti clockwise loop around St Agnes:



Trevaunance Cove is the last trough in the elevation profile:


Elevation profile of GPS trace.  399m ascent, but only 208m predicted by BikeRouteToaster.

I took a less steep descent in, and then took a steeper road out.  As it turned out, the road out was an impossible climb on my double chainset.  The damp road caused my smooth tyres to spin when I was out of the saddle heaving with all my might.  I was unable to deliver smooth spinning power with such high gearing.  The OS map has (disappointingly) only one arrow on this section of road:  14%-20% (or 1-in-5 to 1-in-7). 

Google Earth is quite a good tool for getting a feel for the landscape.  If you export a GPX file from your GPS or BikeRouteToaster, it can load a GPX file and plot it over the terrain in 3D.  This gives a general feel for the landscape, but its resolution is limited, meaning sheer rock faces will be smoothed out.  I find hills look more realistic if you set the Elevation Exaggeration value to 2.

The total ascending measured by my GPS was 399m.  BikeRouteToaster estimates 208m.  This is quite a typical difference in my experience. Which is right ?

Google Earth's view with Elevation Exaggeration x2


When we all worked from paper maps, we would calculate ascent in one of two ways:
  • The difference in height from bottom to top.  There are some minor descents and re-ascents of around 10m on my elevation profile. Adding up any ascents bigger than 10m, I get a total of 308m.  
  • The other way is to count contour lines passed.  This is tricky in steep areas, but I can do this with the elevation profile above. I count 350m. 

They all disagree, with BikeRouteToaster giving the lowest ascent value.  To be honest, I don't know which value is right. It's a bit like calculating the length of a coastline - it really depends on the resolution you want to work at.  It's what it feels like to your body that really matters. Total ascent is a nice statistic, but the steepness of your route is more likely to make or break your ride - its no fun pushing a bike uphill.

Crackin' ride and a Cream Tea well and truly earned.