Sunday, 21 December 2008

Christmas almost here, but....

I'm nights now up to and including Christmas eve, so not really getting into the Christmas spirit. The good news is, however, is that, for the last 3 days, I've commuted to and from work on the Subway 1, my shoulder has been a bit stiff, but otherwise the trips have gone well and were very enjoyable. No chance of any pictures though, it's pitch black when I leave in the mornings, and the same when I get home.

Last week, sorry 3 weeks ago, on the 1st December, I had to go to Bristol for a medical, part of the rules if you're a signaller, like me. I was given a clean bill of health thankfully, then the very next day, I had my fall on the way to work, and was off for a full week. Strange how things work out.

But now the cycling seems to be going very well again, as I've felt very strong on my commutes, though today I'll be taking the car, as I'm feeling rather stiff, all over in fact, everywhere else is coming out in sympathy with the old shoulder and knee. Anyway I need to be home early tomorrow, as Elizabeth needs me to take her shopping, for all the last odds and ends, needed for Christmas, in the Curtis household. I'm hoping a day's shopping with Elizabeth will get me in the mood for Christmas, because it doesn't feel at all Christmasy to me yet.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

From bad to worse,.....nurse!

I had alot of sympathy for Doug, mnbicyclecommuter, in Minnesota, when I read about his unfortunate accident on some ice in Duluth, I have even more now. I don't know if reading that post has had some sort of effect, but I've now fallen because of ice, twice since. The first one I reported in this blog, in my last post, sadly I have to report another.

Yesterday, Monday my pre-commute to work began with an inspection of the outside street and path, a little frosty, but nothing to be concerned about. Then I packed all my gear, and went to the shed to get my Subway 1, by this time I could feel it had started to rain a little, so I went back inside and changed my long trousers for waterproof ones. By 05.30, I didn't need to be in work till 07.30, I was riding through the village on my way down the Neath valley, within 10 minutes the rain had stopped.

The ride was great, didn't see any cars on the old road at all, and I was enjoying myself, even got up that stretch of hill I hate, without too much bother. My ride continued as normal into Neath itself. I decided to cut through Morrison's car park, that's a large supermarket in this part of the world, I've done it loads of times before. I crossed the entire car park with no problem, and as I thought no hint of slipperyness or ice, then as I left the car park to go into the pedestrianised area of the town, the next thing I knew I was smacking into the ground.

I think it was shock that made me lie still for a few seconds, my leg was hurting, and my first thought was, ' have I broken my leg?' , then ' had anyone seen me fall?' Though my leg was hurting I decided it wasn't broken, and gingerly got to my feet to discover my left shoulder was really painful. I got my bike up, and despite the pain, again probably because of shock, I started to um and ah about continuing on to work. Like this I dithered for, I guess 5 minutes or so.

Finally, I rang my work, told them what had happened, and that I wouldn't be coming in. Then I rang home, because I knew Tierloch would be up, getting ready for work, it was now 06.20. Well then I spent 20 minutes shivering, and getting more and more uncomfortable with both a stiff and sore left knee, and a really painful left shoulder. It was a great relief to see Tierloch drive round the corner into the car park.

We loaded the Subway 1 onto the bikerack, while Tierloch told me of the numerous car accidents he'd seen on route, and also how he'd almost lost control driving because of ice, on the roads and especially when he came into Morrison's car park. I just couldn't understand it, I hadn't seen a sign or felt any kind of slipping or sliding.

I soon saw for myself that there was a problem with ice, in the form of another very forlorn and sorry looking cyclist, pushing his bicycle along the pavement. Let's hope he didn't have far to go, anyway Tierloch safely transported my bike and I home, where I've stayed since, save for a trip up to the surgery yesterday afternoon. The doctor said nothing was broken, but both my left knee and shoulder had been badly bruised and traumatised, they would get more painful for a few days, and that I'd need a week's rest, stay off work, for them to get back to normal, and to go back if things didn't improve. She gave me some painkillers, which have helped immensely.

Today my knee has swollen even more, and is difficult to bend, but, my shoulder has eased a little, I have more movement in it, but if I try to do anything it really hurts, and makes me shout " ow".

Since Tierloch put it in the shed, I haven't looked at the Subway, when he took it off the bikerack I noticed that the chain was off the cog and derailleur, I just hope no real damage has been done. Having said that, I am very reticent about cycling in this weather again, and concerned about having to leave off commuting to work through the winter.

Which leads me to the big question, I need to put to all you winter commuters out there,

" How do you all stay upright, most of the time, because I assume the occasional fall is inevitable, during icy conditions?"

I'd be grateful for all your advice.

Where's my nurse, "Nurse!"

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Saw it coming, but couldn't take evasive action.

The weather's turned much colder, these last couple of days -3, and -6 degrees yesterday and today respectively. I've been off work, this weekend, no commutes, and so decided to cycle my usual loop down and up the valley. Getting up at about 06.30, late for me, I was out and riding down the valley by 07.00, it was still dark but the sky was lightening from black to light blue, and the stars disappearing, as the sun rose behind me.

Normally I wear baggy shorts, with my knees bare, but discretion being the better part of valour, and to combat the cold, which has been getting into the old knees of late, I wore some work trousers over them. On top of that, my left knee has been giving me some irritation, this past week or so, a strain I suppose. I've always had trouble with my left knee, since my soccer and rugby playing days, I badly strained the capsular ligament when I was sweet 16, which left a permanent weakness. Whenever I've had an accident since, it always seems to be my left knee that takes a direct hit, ouch, in fact double ouch!

The ride was going great, and I was enjoying the icy air, and the solitude. I'd brought my camera along to get a few shots, the strange names of local farms, the remains of old building long disinhabited, and any wildlife I might happen upon. It was too dark on the way down, but light enough on the trip back up the valley. Making my first stop just outside Ynysarwed, I was going to take a photo of a farm gate, with its unusual name, Bwlchfaron. I clicked, but nothing, no flash, no red or green light, the camera seemed dead? I had no idea what was wrong, so gave up and resigned myself, both to putting in new batteries later on, and not being able to take any of the pictures, the occasional reader of this blog, might like to peruse. That's the way the cookie crumbles sometimes, I suppose.

So I continued my ride back up the valley to Glynneath, stopped at McDonalds, had a cappocino with plenty of sugar, my feet were freezing at this stage, foolishly I hadn't bothered to put on my new overshoes. Fortunately the coffee, and the warmth of the restaurant brought them back to life, ready for the last mile and a half home.

As normal I set off heading toward and then through the village, taking a side road that runs parallel with the main road, to avoid traffic, not that there's much early on a Saturday morning. Whilst turning into this side road, I could see ice, not just frost on the road a couple of yards ahead, not that I was travelling fast, but it was too late to take evasive action. First the front wheel went, then the back wheel, both in different directions, or so it felt.

Fortunately, because I had recognised it was ice ahead, I was prepared a little, and so with wheels striving in different directions, I was able to throw myself one way, while at the same time heaving the bike in the other. I still managed to hit the ground with a veritable thump, but because I was wearing long trousers, my Network Rail vi-vis coat and my gloves, I was able to get away with just a sore elbow. Plus the Subway 1 came off unscathed, so all in an experience with no cost, other than my damaged ego.

It might have been a different story had it still been dark, and I had no inkling that ice was in front of me.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Just messing around with my camera.

No cycling today, I've got a cold and a bit of a temperature, so thought I'd stay indoors, and experiment with uploading images from my camera, as opposed to using the camera on my mobile phone. The mobile phone got me started, but the quality is poor, at only 2 megapixels. Mind you my camera, that I hope to be using from now on, is an old one, it's a Kodak Easyshare C530. I'm hoping that not only the quality will improve with its 5 megapixels, but also the occasional reader to my blog, will be able to click on the picture and get a larger image, just as I'm able to do when I view my favourite blogs, namely mnbicyclecommuter, and up in alaska.

The first picture is of my garden shed, which is stuffed full of all the bric a brac of our house, home and garden. I promise to get a shot of inside soon. But I'm quite proud of the organised chaos inside, there is so much inside, yet, I still manage to park and gain access to my Subway 1, for my commutes and leisure rides. In fact I think I'll go and take that shot now, won't be a moment.
Some mess eh? But the good news is I've just clicked on the image, and yes my reader(s), can get a magnified version if they want/need to. So some progress is being made slowly but surely, one day I hope to be as professional as you other bloggers out there. So be patient with me.

The picture below is of Elizabeth and my youngest son, Tierloch, that I took a couple of weeks ago, when we went for a walk along the canal at Resolven. They are stood on the cycle path I sometimes travel along.
I had a couple of other shots of the shed, interesting subject I know, which I uploaded to the blog, but had to give up trying to manoeuvre and delete, so I'm going to try to upload again and reposition, here goes.
Success! This shows the confined space I have to work in,
you can plainly see the Subway 1, in the bottom right hand
corner, and all the "vital household supplies," that Elizabeth and the boys, Keiron and Tierloch banish to the shed.

Here's one final shot for you to look at.

As you can see, a study of the shed door with various jackets hanging on it. These are my high viz jackets, essential now we're on winter time, pitch black when I leave in the mornings, and the same on the way home at night.
Talking about the shed, it's long been my goal to use it as my bicycle workshop, and storage area. Keeping all my cycle specific gear, as it grows is proving a nuisance for Elizabeth, so storage in the shed, is definitely the answer. However, as all of you can see, there's just no more room. Back in the summer, we bought a shed in kit form, that currently is stored in Tierloch's garage around the corner, we just haven't got round to laying a base for it, and erecting it, I'm not a good mechanic/engineer etc., I think I'm more of a thinker than doer. Still it's all waiting in the wings for these major leaps to be made. Time is the key, and who was it that said tempus fugit.
I'm off now to pick up Elizabeth from the haidresser's.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Feeling so helpless, useless....

Just responded to the TV appeal for aid in Eastern Congo, donated £20, whatever that's worth in this 'credit crunch.' Can't get the image of a little boy of 6 or 7, carrying a sack, of what I presume are his only belongings, to fade from my mind. But it's the look of total fear and dejection on his face, that already haunts me, a little boy lost and alone, trying to survive. It is heartbreaking.

What kind of world is it we are living in? What can we do, better still what can I do?

Making a donation is something, but not enough, and I feel just so helpless and useless...

Monday, 17 November 2008

What did I say about time?

Looking west across the Neath river meanders
across the wide valley floor in it's "old age stage"

Yet again time has flown, I haven't been on my bike for 3 days now, and didn't manage to write up about my last ride either, which I was very pleased with, and enjoyed, because it was a new route for me.
Virtually the same shot, just trying to improve
what can be seen, on this damp morning, as you
can see, with no success.
A nicer image here of the old church at Cadoxton,
I presume it is St. Cadoc's. one of the famous
saints of Wales.
This new route then, it was down the opposite side of the valley. I travelled down the valley as far as Resolven, then crossed over the bridge, travelling through Resolven itself, then along the B road, from there into Neath itself, via Aberdulais, and Tonna, but on the left side of the river.
The road is more up and down, than the one on the other side, which is the main reason I've never ventured upon it, because of what I now believe is my psychological fear of hills. Also it's a longer route into Neath.
Well I was very pleasantly surprised, because the hills did not give me any grief at all, and I'm getting more comfortable using the derailleur gears. I don't think they were as bad as I'd allowed myself to imagine. Consequently, the ride was very enjoyable, but I didn't tarry, as I had to get back to Elizabeth, so didn't have time to take any photos. Well just three, again not very good quality, but the good news is, I've just figured out how to upload pictures from our old camera, which has twice as many pixels, so hopefully the said quality will improve. Of course I'll have to remember to carry it with me.

Friday, 14 November 2008

So much to do, so little time.

That heading, no doubt, will strike a chord with everyone. I've thought about those two facts often, but now as I get older, it rings truer and truer. The world is a massive place, no one will ever see it all, indeed my small home country Wales is a huge place, if one was to try and see it all, but at least on that scale, it could possibly be done. How much time would it take? I've no idea, except to say, maybe a lifetime.

What about this beautiful valley that I live in, could I see it all? I presume I could, but I don't just mean see it , I mean "see it" in all its clothes, winter, spring, summer and autumn, in snow, rain, winds and mists, also to understand its history, through pre-history, the iron and bronze ages, Celtic, Roman times, the middle ages, the Tudors, the Stuarts, through the industrial revolution, what happened here in the two World wars, and so, so much more.

I think you'll all agree, it would be a lifetime's work, to see and understand the whole of this Neath valley. That lifetime would need to be free of any other committments, with a ready supply of finance etc..

But what a joy that life's work would be, and best of all, it could be done from the saddle of a bike. What better way to traverse the whole of this place, and at a pace that gives one the chance to see all and miss nothing, though it might take many repeated trips to note all its wonders, and hidden charms.

So much has been achieved by so many around the world, incuding, no doubt, in this little valley in Wales. I'd love to see it though layers of the past, to see what common themes, if any, have survived down through the centuries. But it all takes time, something that is hard to come by, with a partner, full time job ( thank God ), and a family home to keep going. I often kid myself, when I retire I'll have time..... Just a pipe dream, but hopefully I'll keep my cycling going, up, down and across this beautiful valley, getting to know it ever better, but only ever scratching the surface to seek all it has, is and will be.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Photos on stream again.

Took this shot on my way home from Pontneathvaughan
( Pontnethfechan in Welsh )
I had a great autumnal ride this morning, I got up with Tierloch, my youngest son, who leaves for his work at 05.45, and I was out on the road, lights ablaze pedalling down the valley, away from the sunrise. I did my usual loop, through sleeping Glynneath, around a silent Cwmgwrach, down the valley, through Resolven, but then turned back at Ynysarwed. By this time it was getting light, and I started to take a few photos.
These shots are not in the same sequence as my ride, I uploaded them all first to this blog and am now writing around them, if you understand what I mean. Still very much a novice at this.
This is the walk/cycle trail towards some waterfalls
at the very top of the Neath valley.

Another shot of the same trail.

At the foot of the falls, I'll have to look up the name.

This is the end of the trail, looking up at the falls.
This is actually a bridge over the dissused section
of the Neath canal, built to carry coal from Cwmgwrach washery.
Fascinating how it's become overgrown.
This is the road I travel on my local rides, as well
my commute, passing the above bridge on the right.
Looking back up the valley towards the sunrise
from the same spot.

This is the dissused canal looking back towards
Glynneath, this is where I saw the female otter
and her two cubs, earlier in the year.
Still on the same bridge, looking down the canal,
notice it's only a trickle this side, the canal preservation
society has been levelling the left side, and strengthening
the bank. Sadly it comes to a deadend a couple of hundred
yards on.
Here's the river Neath, looking from the now
defunct railway bridge, that used to carry coal
over it, to the washery, and back again, before being
carried down to Swansea docks, via Neath, either
by rail or the canal.
Looking upstream from the same bridge.

Sadly my phone camera completely fails to
portray the beautiful autumnal colours of the
trees, on the edge of Rheola forest, approx.,
halfway between Glynneath and Resolven.
I cycled up into the forest along a forestry road
and took this picture of a stream flowing towards
the Neath river.
This is Pontwalby, my part of Glynneath, I live
up the hill, turning left past the top house. When
I first started cycling, I found it hard, still do, on
occasion, when I'm tired after a long day at work.
This is the bridge at Pontwalby, which means
Walby bridge, but what you see is the Neath
river, Walby must refer to the tributary that
joins the river just round the bend downstream.

Looking back upstream from Pontwalby bridge.

The Subway 1.

Looking down the Neath canal towards Ynysarwed,
which means Arwed island, presumably because the village,
or should I say, small terrace of houses, sits on a little hill
at the side of the valley. Notice the towpath, which I cycle along,
and the bridge, which is mainly used by a farmer to get to
his farmhouse to the left.

This part of the canal is in total disrepair, this
used to be one of the locks, at Abergarwed.

Looking towards Ynysarwed again, but this time
from the lock, quite a pleasant scene, as nature
reclaims its own.
Here's the Neath river at Abergarwed which means
mouth of the Arwed, this is where the Arwed river or
stream joins the Neath river.
A quieter section of the river upstream from

And again.
This is the cycle trail I use at Cwmgwrach.
Well I hope this gives any reader a further taste of my neck of the woods.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Time flies, doesn't it.

It's almost 2 weeks since my last post, where does the time go? The weather has been horrendous, but I've braved the rains and winds, to keep up a daily average of 20 miles at least. I can do a 2 hour loop each day before Elizabeth is up, and then share the rest of the day with her, when I'm not working, and do my 40 mile roundtrip commute, when in work for the day or night. The Subway 1 continues to perform well, but I've decided to get some pedal clips, because my new cycle specific shoes slip on the pedals when wet.

Stupidly I thought any pair would do, so I bought a pair in Halford fo £6.99, brought them home to discover they won't fit the Subway 1's pedals. We live and learn I suppose, so for the moment I'm back to square one. The slipping is a real problem when I stand out of the saddle going up hill, it's only recently that I've acquired/used this skill, I believe the geometry of the Subway 8 made it difficult for me, while the Subway 1 is more accomodating, then again perhaps it's all in my head.

Going to have to stop for now, I'll try to write up some more asap, time certainly does fly, sometimes I wish I could, but even that skill would be pushed into 2nd place after cycling.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Another beautiful morning

This is the Neath river, as seen from the bridge
at Dinas Rock.

Got out early again this morning, cycling down the valley by 05.45, it was dark and the stars were out, but a little bit milder than yesterday, still nice and crisp. I made it to Aberdulais by 06.30, and turned back. I'm moving much faster on the Subway 1, I know it's lighter but I think also, the fact, that I'm wearing cycle specific shoes, has improved things too. Perhaps that helped me on the Rhigos bank yesterday as well.

Cycling back up the valley towards Resolven, the wind blew up and of course it was a headwind, and quite stiff, had to drop a couple of gears to maintain 13-14 mph. Not good news though, as my new Shimano shoes seem to allow my toes to get really cold. After yesterday's ride they were numb, and so too today numbness was setting in, well before I got back to Glynneath. So much so, I stopped at McDonalds by Cwmgwrach, to have a coffee to warm up. Yesterday, I thought the problem had been caused by the tight fit of the shoes over my hiking socks, which until now, have never left my feet/toes numb. So today I wore football socks, old ones of Conor's, they are thinner, but still my toes ended up numb. Therefore, I believe the shoes are just too tight across the toe area, somehow I'm going to have to stretch those parts of the shoes.

After my coffee, I did my usual circuit of Cwmgwrach, headed back through Glynneath, then on up to Pontneathvaughan. When I got to Pontneathvaughan, I decided to try the hill that climbs out of the valley towards Ystalyfera, much steeper than the Rhigos Bank of yesterday. It zig-zags up the side of the valley, and I made it only about 200 yards up before turning back down. Then I took my usual route, up the river valley floor, alongside the Neath river, towards Dinas Rock.

This is the Neath river as seen from the other
side of the bridge.

This is my Subway 1, at the gate to Dinas Rock
car park, as you can see, not open yet.

This is a tributary to the Neath river, as seen
form another bridge at Dinas Rock.

Looking down the road from that bridge
towards the Dinas Rock car park.

Not a very good picture, I know, but this is
Dinas Rock, looking over that gate.
Well I've got a few pics in, not the best but I hope they give a feel of where I ride, at least when I'm not commuting. I shot them all, as you can see by Dinas Rock, which is virtually, at the head of the Neath valley.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Improving in leaps, if not bounds.

Had a great morning on my new Subway 1, I was up and out on the road at 06.15, to do my usual local run, down through Glynneath, to Aberdulais, then returning back up the valley, a quick circuit of Cwmgwrach, back though Glynneath, up to Pontneathvaughan and home. Well that's what I intended, but when I got home, I decided to try the Subway 1 on Rhigos bank, the hill behind our house, that leads up and out of the Neath valley to Hirwaun and Aberdare.

Several times before, after my local rides, I've tried the hill on the Subway 8, and only managed a few hundred yards, it climbs for about 2 miles. Consequently, I thought to myself, I wouldn't be going very far, but I hadn't taken into consideration the better range of gears on the Subway 1. With 14 to choose from, as I climbed I dropped down through the gears and settled into 3rd, very much a granny gear, happily rolling up the hill at 6mph. Initially, I kept going because I wanted to find a spot, to take a photo, looking down the valley, it was cold this morning, but by 08.15, the sun was up in a blue cloudless sky, it was absolutely beautiful.

Halfway up I thought I'd found such a vantage point, but when I pulled into the side of the road, getting off the bike to take a look, the view was blocked by trees. Returning back to the road, I looked back down the hill, to see 3 riders on road bikes, and in all their regalia, powering up towards me. I decided to wait for them to pass, before continuing my climb. As they passed I exchanged hellos and a smile, it was 2 men, and a girl, then I spotted a 4th rider about a hundred yards behind, and decided to let this one pass as well. When this rider was close enough I could see it was another girl, and she was obviously finding the climb alot more difficult than the others. As she approached I gave an encouraging, " Well done, keep it going," to which she gave me a beaming smile.

I watched them continue their climb for a couple of minutes, and then continued with mine. Steadily I kept going, in 3rd and 4th, all the way to the top, and on to the outskirts of Hirwaun. In all the 3 years I've been cycling I've never dared to try that hill, yet today, I conquered it, seemingly with ease, with the aid of the Subway 1, so I'm a very happy cyclist, who feels he is improving his stamina and fitness, those are the "leaps."

By the way, those road cyclists were long gone and out of sight, well before I made the top, so I can't claim both "leaps and bounds." On top of that, I forgot to get a photo! But I did enjoy my ride today.

Mileage: 36

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Fresh start??

Went to and back, from my work, yesterday, on my new Carrera Subway 1, that Halfords gave me as a replacement for my Subway 8. Halford admitted they could not service/repair it, because their staff neither had the training or tools to do so. I think that is very strange indeed, and so I've been trawling the internet, to find out more.

Found this Guest Review at :

It seems I've been a little short changed, by my local Halfords, when compared with this gentleman, who at least had 2 years service from his second 8 speed hub, I only got 6-7 months from mine, before Halford gave up on it. The big question, however, that is begging to be asked, and of course answered is:-

" Why has Halfords sold, and is continuing to sell the Carrera Subway 8, alongside it's Bikecare Plan, when they, as a company, cannot service, or repair, or support the product?"

I wrote to Shimano, makers of the internal hub gears, the Nexus 8, which has given me so much grief, I'm hoping to hear from them about replacing/repairing the hub, because Halfords have said I can have the old Subway 8 back, all I have to do is pick it up from the store. My way of thinking is, if I can get the hub repaired/replaced, I can then refurbish the Subway 8 back to working order, we'll see.

Getting back to the Subway 1, Saturday I used it, as I said for my commute, I was very tentative about taking it, because of its derailleur gears. But quite frankly I was very, very pleasantly surprised by the whole experience, and I was able to change gears, when needed, with no bother, having twist grips for the 14 speed was great. The bike as a whole is so much lighter, it was a veritable revelation, and my average speed increased accordingly. Normally I manage about 12.8 mph on my 3 hour roundtrip, yesterday it was 14.2 mph., or was it, simply the joy of being back in the saddle, and actually having a bike to ride again, only time will tell, as I continue my commutes.

Sadly today I didn't commute, the weather was horrendous last night, I got absolutely drenched cycling, and it continued to pour down all through the night, when I got up this morning, all my gear was still soaking, so very unusually for me, I decided to take the car. Of course, a couple of hours after getting to work, the sun came out, despite the forecast for the opposite, and it hasn't rained since. So I've been kicking myself all day, for not managing to get a ride today.

My wonderful shift pattern plus using up my leave, sees me off work now, until a week next Saturday, unless I get some overtime. Yes, I'm off until Saturday 8th November. So I have to be strict with myself, and get in a substantial cycle ride everyday, because I have only been using the Subway 8 for the commute, I've tended to be rather complacent when I've been off work. Hopefully, the newness of the Subway 1, plus it's, seemingly, faster qualities will spur me on, to keep the good work going. I just feel so great as a direct result of my cycling, I have more energy, and am more willing, able, and don't feel so bothered about, taking on things, that really need doing, especially around the house.

I believe I had become a bit of a slouch, almost a couch potatoe, it's no wonder that 3 years ago I was up to 17 stone 6 pounds, I took no real exercise, and had got into a rut. I just couldn't be bothered to do anything around the house, and on the odd occasion, when Elizabeth shamed me into doing the odd bit of decorating or DIY, I soon tired of it, as too much of an effort. Things have changed, last week, saw me painting Tierloch's room, and also painting the living room, everyday. Elizabeth even commented, that it made a nice change for me to do it all without moaning or losing my temper. But then honestly I really enjoyed doing it, this newfound energy is there to be burned.

So while I'm making a fresh start on a new bike, perhaps it's also a new start, at home, with me being more DIY inclined. Again, we'll have to see how things progress.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Halfords give up!

Sadly, according to Halfords, the Subway 8 is beyond repair, I'm far from happy. Russell rang me last Monday, to say that the Nexus 8 was worn out, a new one, would cost me £110, I told him that because of the history of failings with two hubs on the Subway over the past 13 months, I had no intention of paying for a replacement, and I would take the matter to Trading Standards.

A couple of hours later he rang me back, to say that he'd had a word with the store manager, Steve, who was going to have a chat with head office, to see what they could come up with for me. When I asked what they had in mind, he said possibly a swap for a new bike, but that Steve wouldn't be able to ring me about it till Wednesday.

It wasn't until after midday on the Wednesday that Steve rang, he offered to give me a new Subway, but with a derailleur gear set-up, as HALFORDS COULDN'T SUPPORT THE NEXUS 8 HUB, BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T HAVE THE TRAINING OR CORRECT TOOLS, I am gobsmacked. We had a brief discussion, I said I'd have to try the new bike, that I'd come to the store for 14.00., he said he'd have one ready for me.

When I arrived at the store, I had to wait 20 minutes or so, but then Daniel brought it out, and I had a go around the carpark. I have to admit I didn't like the idea of going to a derailleur set-up, but this bike had twist grip shifters, which I found easy enough to use. I agreed to the swap, and Steve agreed that all the accessories would be transferred from my old Subway to the new, as well as tyres etc.. The new Subway would be ready late Thursday, and I arranged to pick it up on my home from work.

So today is the 8th day I haven't ridden my bike, and I'm missing it dreadfully, but hopefully I'll be back commuting tomorrow. Since I made the decision, to agree to the swap, I've been thinking a good deal about the ramifications, but I'll have to talk more about all that next time, but be assured things are afoot.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Not a good few days, bike in for repairs.

There have been pluses in the past week, but overall I'm not very happy about the way things have gone. My shift pattern /roster dictated that I'd be off work from last Wednesday, with no overtime available, and I'd booked Monday(tomorrow) and Tuesday as annual leave, I have to use it up or lose it, so I was looking forward to riding my Subway 8, every morning until I return to work next Thursday, back to my normal commute. It hasn't worked out that way.

Tuesday morning on my way home, after my nightshift, the internal hub gears of the Nexus 8, on the Subway, started feeling ropey/rough/not right, and then came back to normal again. When I got home I lifted the backwheel, and went through the gears and they seemed fine, so I checked my tyres for glass, oiled the chain etc., ready for my next day's ride.

Early Wednesday morning I set out for a local round trip, up to Pontneathvaughan, back through Glynneath, in and around Cwmgwrach, down to Resolven before heading home. The gears started giving me problems again about 3 miles to go, very rough, slipping, locking until I had to settle for 5th gear for the rest of the ride. At home I tried messing around with them, with no effect, and so resigned myself to the fact, I'd have to take the bike to Halfords, under my Bikecare Plan.

I took it in on Thursday, Elizabeth and I were going shopping, anyway, and for a walk around Llansamlet lake, in Swansea, very close to the Halfords store where I bought the Subway 8 and Bikecare plan. Dropping off the bike, I explained to the lad, on the bike repair counter, the problems with the gears, and also agreed, on his suggestion, that the bike was due for its annual service, yes I've had the Subway for a year now. Hasn't that year slipped by so quickly? He asked me when I would like the bike back I said Saturday, he told me that should be O.K., but that he wouldn't be able to start on it until 11.00 a.m., next morning. We agreed that if there was a problem with me picking the bike up on Saturday, then they(Halfords) would ring me, and I gave him both my home and mobile telephone numbers.

Friday came, and when I hadn't heard anything from Halfords, I thought to myself I would be able to pick up the Subway next day, and be set for a ride on Sunday morning, however experience with Halfords told me to ring them, to make sure. So I rang Halfords late in the afternoon, Russell, the manager, tried to put me through to the repairs department, but couldn't get a reply, so asked me to hang on while he went over to check, which I did. When he came back on the phone, he told me the lads behind that counter were busy dealing with customers, he wasn't able to talk to them, but saw my Subway 8 on the workstand, so yes it should be O.K., for me to pick the bike up, about lunchtime Saturday.

Sadly though Saturday morning Daniel, one of Halford's bike mechanics, rang me to say they had begun stripping the Nexus 8 gears, had found water inside, and that the bike wouldn't be ready until late afternoon. Disappointed, but relieved I would still have the bike for the next morning's ride I carried on with my Saturday. A bit of home decorating under the guidance of Elizabeth, then after lunch I went to watch my middle son, Conor play football, in the local park, for Glynneath. At 30 he's decided to play again, after a couple of years off?

Halfway through the 2nd half of the game, my son's team were losing 4-1, at that stage, Daniel rang me again, on my mobile, basically saying they couldn't continue repairing the gears, as they didn't have the relevent manual, that inside the gears were very rusty, and they would have to consult with their manager, Russell, on Monday, as to how they would proceed. I reminded Daniel that they had renewed the entire backwheel, including a new Nexus 8 hub only 6 months ago, and that I shouldn't be expected to pay for a new one. He simply replied he would need to consult with his manager, yet again Halfords had let me down.

It's staggering to find that Halfords sold me the Carrera Subway 8, which is their own brand, alongside their Bikecare plan, and are completely unable to service the agreement, neither having the trained staff capable of doing the work, nor the manuals to work with. An incredulous situation, don't you think? I certainly do, consequently I sent an email to Halfords customer services department last night so they should be contacting me Monday morning.

Meanwhile, and not for the first, second, or third time, I'm off the road because of Halfords incompetence. When I took out the Bikecare plan, I thought I had a bargain, free labour, maintenance, and servicing, just pay for any parts used. At £29.95 for a 3 year agreement, what a bargain! Everything isn't as it seems though, and I feel badly let down.

I checked out the price of servicing the Subway at Tredz, a bike shop round the corner from Halford, £60 plus parts!! I simply can't afford that.

All I seem to do is moan about poor Halfords customer service, on this blog, I'm sorry folks, but there's more to come, but with a happy ending this time. You will remember back 6-7 months ago I had a horrendous time with punctures, 8 in 10 days at one stage, in fact that's when Halfords changed my entire backwheel, hub and all, because all the punctures were being caused internally, and they could not pinpoint what was the cause. The tyres I was using were Continental Safety System, which are gauranteed against puncture for 12 months or a replacement tyre and inner tube provided free of charge, well the company, sorry, agents, in this part of the world, for Continental Tyres which is a German manufacturer, only provided one set of replacements.

When I complained to the agents about this, they replied that they only provided one replacement set per tyre bought, if punctured, so I wrote and complained to Continental's base in Germany. As a result I took delivery of 2 new sets of tyre and inner tubes, last Wednesday, so thankyou Continental Tyres. They sent me the reflex tour version of the Continental Safety system, one of which has been on my front wheel for the past 6 months, and I'm very pleased with.

So there are companies, out there, with a conscience. Will it prove the same with Hafords? That's very debatable at the moment, I've complained in the past to their customer services department before, about their poor service under the Bikecare plan, only to be told they were "sorry I had found it necessary to complain, that they took such complaints very seriously, and would work with their staff to ensure an exceptable standard of service would be provided, and if I wanted refund on the cost of the Bikecare plan, just to return the pack." As far as I'm concerned they were admitting they can't provide that service, why else offer a refund? By accepting that offer, it would only let them off the hook, scot-free, no way.

The ball is firmly in Halfords court for the moment, all I can do is await developments, but I'll keep you up to date, as best I can, as the story continues to unfold.

Going on now to some other good news, while I was at Tredz, checking out bike service charges, I had a look around at bicycle gear and clothing, bearing in mind I will be commuting through the winter. I've been in the shop before, they've a great range of bikes, but now I've seen a Rohloff hub for the first time, rather than on the internet, it was on a commuting bike, over £2000, so way out of my reach, no harm in dreaming though. Still I was looking for a bargain to do with clothing, and I found, in the sale section for shoes, a pair of Shimano cycling shoes, down from £40 to £12. I tried them on, perfect fit.

From now on I'll have proper stiff soled cycling shoes when I cycle, they've got cleats as well, but you have adapt them, so they can stay as they are, for now, or until I decide to fix my shoes to the pedals. Not something I fancy really, but hopefully these shoes will stop the outer toes on my feet, particularly my left, from suffering numbness towards the end of my commute home. I think its caused by my toes curling around the pedals, let's hope that will be the end of that discomfort.

A really long post this, and not a photo to be seen, sorry about that. Talk to you again soon.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Nice day, nice ride, sorry about the photos!

I had to go to Cardiff today, for my 12 weekly competency tests as a signaller, we have to do question and answer tests on the computer, it's the way of the world we live in today. To cut a long story short, I passed all of them no problem, but had to sit through the quarterly safety briefing, boring!!!

The only good parts of the day, for me anyway, were the ride to Port Talbot this morning, and then the ride back home to Glynneath. It was dark when I set out at 05.45 and quite cold, could still see the stars in the sky, and saw very little traffic, just a couple of cars passed me on the old road as far as Aberdulais, but things livened up from there on in, through Neath, and into Port Talbot. I got to my home signalbox, at about 07.25, having stopped at a Spar shop, to get a breakfast roll, and something else to eat. Had a quick bite to eat, a clean up, a chat with the lads manning the box, then went on the train to Cardiff.

Sounds a bit strange I know, for a railway signaller, like myself, but I very rarely travel by train, in fact once a quarter, i.e., 4 times a year, to complete these tests. It's not that I dislike travelling by train, in fact I love to look out of the window, at the scenery, wildlife etc., but the cost is very prohibitive. That isn't a problem for most of my colleagues, because they have subsidised travel, which virtually means they can wander the whole of the country, and Europe for that matter, free of charge. I joined the railway six months too late, August 1996, when conditions of service were changed, meaning new starters were barred from getting this valuable perk. Still what I've never had I don't miss, I suppose.

Fast forward now to the trip home, the sun was shining, but the skies were starting to cloud up, as I started my ride home, at about 14.05. It was a pretty ordinary ride home, but I stopped a couple of times to take photos of my environs, so that anyone reading, this very ignored blog, in the future, will know what the route I travel has to offer.

This is a shot of the A465, from Neath to Merthyr Tydfil road, taken looking down from Aberdulais, as it snakes up the Neath Valley.

And this is Rheola pond, between Resolven and Cwmgwrach, taken from the old road, which hugs the northern side of the valley up to Glynneath and beyond, alongside the aforementioned A465. Sadly my mobile phone's picture taking qualities are, it seems quite poor, obviously not enough pixels. I used the magnify setting on this shot, which results, now I learn, in a small shot like this. So sorry, but I'm now on a learning curve, hopefully quality will improve.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Slowing down--- big time!

Last Monday morning, 30th September, I cycled home from work, after my night shift, and because of my very strange, but at the same time, very nice roster, I have not been back since. In fact I'm not due for another shift until next Wednesday, and Thursday, for two day shifts. I think I've mentioned before on this, very rarely visited blog of mine, that I haven't done alot of cycling, except for my commuting, to and from work. Sadly that has been the case since last Monday, no commute, so no cycling, until yesterday.

I was itching to get out, hadn't been getting up till after 08.00 a.m., which is extremely late for me, anyway I was up at 06.30., and waiting for my eldest son, Keiron jnr to join me for a ride. The weather forecast was poor, wet and windy, that didn't matter at all to me, but it wasn't until 07.30 that we finally set off. We had to take it sedately, because junior doesn't bike much, and the ride had to be quite short.

We ended up doing 16 miles or so, cycling first up to Pontneathvaughan, back through the village, up to Cwmgwrach, back into Glynneath, down along the canal, then on the old road to Resolven and back home. We got thoroughly soaked, but enjoyed, especially me. The Subway 8 was much lighter, without the 15-20 lbs of gear in pannier bags, that I carry on my commute, so getting up the hills, ( not that there are any of real significance, on the rides I chose to make ), was alot easier, and my legs felt good, particularly with the slower pace. It took us an hour and a half, from start to finish, so the pace wasn't that slow, when you take into consideration the stops we made, to shelter from the rain a couple of times, to show Keiron where I saw the otters, and to look at the river and waterfalls etc..

All in all a good ride.

This is the river Neath at Abergarwood.

Photos at last!!!

This is Elizabeth, my wife, sorry partner to be politically correct, and Jack, my son Conor's and Anne's, his partner, little boy, who is 10 years of age.

Well, at last I'm having a go, I really thought it would be alot more complicated, but my son, Keiron jnr spent 5 minutes showing me what to do, so here goes....

At long last I can publish a photo to my blog, the above is a barricade scene form the Irish War of Independence c. 1919-21, courtesy of my eldest son Keiron jnr., who completed his PhD on the subject. Next I hope to be uploading pictures, from my mobile phone, that I take while on my commute or travels on the Subway 8.

And there's another one, this time a shot of Blarney castle, where we lived in County Cork, Eire, not the castle of course, but in the village, between 1975-1979.

This is a photo of my middle son, Conor with his new wife Anne, just after their wedding on 5th May 2007.

And these are from Elizabeth and my wedding way back on 16th August 1972, black and white, how times have changed. Well there are going to be alot of photos in this blog of mine from now on, not that I'm any good with any kind of camera, but I should get an 'A' for trying.

Now I'm going to try to upload a picture from my mobile phone, so I'll have to save this in draft form for now, to come back later.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

The continuing tale of woe.

I feel so embarassed about, what seems to be, my continuing tale of woe, it seems every time I post to this blog of mine, something has gone wrong with my Subway 8 and my efforts to commute. Either I am the victim of hopeless bike maintenance, from Halfords, my local bike shop, or just the unluckiest cyclist in the world.

Well what has gone wrong this time ? I hear you all say, with a yawn, you too must be getting bored with my endless bicycle problems.

Today I was looking forward to picking up my Subway from Halfords, after the replacement of the faulty inner tube, ( leeking valve ). I rang, to make sure it was ready, and was told " was just going to have a look at it....", I told them again what was required, a new tube, and a replacement spoke, and between us agreed a time, after 2 p.m., when I could pick it up. Sadly, when I arrived the bike was still in pieces, and not finished, but someone, at least, was working on it, and told me it would be ready in 10 minutes. I went outside, put the bike rack on the car, and had to wait another 30 minutes.

Finally it was ready, I told the " mechanic ", who had been working on my bike, that I'd take it for a spin around the car park, remembering only too well, what had happened last time I'd picked it up from there. As soon as I began to pedal it was obvious something was wrong, the pedals seemed to be dragging, not moving smoothly, my immediate thought was, oh no, not again! Miserably, I took the bike back in to the " mechanic ", and showed him, his reply was staggering. He said he'd have a look, but it might have to wait until......"...THE MECHANIC CAME IN ON THURSDAY..!!!!!! ".

Flabbergasted, I simply said to him, I hadn't the time to wait, while he, yet again tried to sort my bike out, that I would ring in the morning. Since returning home I've sent a very long email to Halfords, explaining the dreadful year I've had under their totally useless " Bikecare Plan ", and incompetent service. Getting it all off my chest, however, does not solve my problem, i.e., not having my bike to commute, it's so "..*^%$£*+.." frustrating. I'm constantly back to square one, no two-wheeled transport for my commuting.

This type of thing has happened far too many times in the year I've had the Subway 8, I am completely exasperated with Halfords, and need them to do something big to put things right....

So far I've only received an automatic email reply from their customer services office, stating they will reply within 7 days, the clock is ticking.

Sorry again for this tale of woe.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Back in the LBS!!!

Just dropped my Subway back to Halfords, back tyre flat, by the sound of it a faulty valve, am I sick and tired of punctures, they have continuously taken a whole lot of the enjoyment out of my cycling. The tyres I've used i.e., the Continental Safety System, are supposed to be guaranteed against puncture for a year, or a replacement plus inner tube provided free. Now since I took delivery of the Subway, I've used SportContact, Contact and now CityContact, had at least a dozen punctures in the Sport version, 15+ in the Contact version, and now one, within a week, in the City version ???? The punctures mainly hit the back wheel, but the front was involved too often also, yet though all these versions carry the same guarantee, only the Contact version attracted free replacements, and then only once?

What is going on? When a supposedly respectable company like Continental Tyres, can fail to back up it's advertised guarantee?

Consequently, I've written to the company's head office, in Germany, asking that very question, we'll see what they have to say.

Meanwhile, as this blog reveals, over the past year, cycling on the Subway 8, I have been left stranded far too often, and unable to cycle for weeks overall, enough to make a lesser dedicated cyclist give up the ghost, and return to using the car to commute. Considering the added disincentive of this dreadful summer weather we've been subjected to these last few weeks, it's amazing I still want to be out there on my bike. That's where " I'm nuts ", comes into the equation, I suppose, because you'd have to be nuts, wouldn't you, to still crave the cycling experience against all this adversity stacked against me, and causing such frustration to me.

What's it they say ? The only way is up ?

All I want is a few months of puncture free cycling, not much to ask, when you consider Mark Beaumont cycled 18,000 miles around the world, only had 10 punctures. What's that ? An average of 1,800 miles per puncture. I can only dream, or is it simply that the roads, cyclepaths and towpaths of Neath Port Talbot are, in fact tougher than any of the streets, roads etc., that the rest of the world has to offer ?

Could be that I live in the toughest cycling country in the world, well if you go by Continental Tyre standards anyway. It will be very interesting to read their reply.

By the way, I'm sat here with no bike, and guess what--- it's raining!!!

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Off the road...

My Subway has been in my LBS, Halfords, they finally took delivery of a replacement tyre, it was fitted for me last Saturday. I made the mistake of not trying the bike out, after picking it up, but I was in a rush to get back to work. Then Sunday, I didn't get out at all on it, so that Monday morning, when I started my commute, was the first time I rode it. It soon became obvious that the gears were all wrong, had to turn round, head home and take my car, to do the trip, extremely annoyed.

I've been here before, new tyre fitted to the back wheel = gears cocked up, it seems they forget to readjust after refitting the back wheel!! Monday was a bank holiday, so Halfords basically were able to fob me off, saying no mechanic would be available till tomorrow, Wednesday. Anyway, I had a look at it, and it is clearly apparent that the gear cable was in correctly routed, which I was able to rectify, then I read up the late Sheldon Brown's article about the Nexus 8, and feel confident that I can sort it out myself. I'm going to do it tomorrow in my break, if I fail I'll take it back to Halfords, but hopefully I'll be back commuting for Thursday night shift.

These past few days have been extremely frustrating, seeing loads of new cycle commuters giving it a go, while I've been stuck in the car.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

What sort of weather is this?

It's been a while since my last post, the weather has been awful, nothing but rain, rain and more rain. Not that, that has taken anything away from my enjoyment of my commute, quite the reverse, I love to cycle in the rain, but drying my gear has been a problem, especially at home. It's been a constant rush, getting in from work, stripping, loading my gear in the washing machine, having a shower, eating my evening meal, putting my gear in the tumble drier and finally having them ready for the morning again. These couple of weeks, no change, and it's August, I thought global warming promised the same weather as Portugal for Wales!

While there has been heavy and constant rain, unusually, we have not suffered any flooding of note. Last year and the year before we had terrible flooding in some areas, so perhaps alot of the flood prevention work by government agencies has paid off, which is very encouraging. The cycnic in me just can't believe such an organisation can get something done right, so not convinced yet.

Last night I arrived home soaked to the skin, as usual, didn't bother with the washing machine routine etc., as no work for me today, just had a relaxing shower, ate a fantastic bangers and mash, that Elizabeth had made and watched a bit of TV. Old shows i.e., "Murder she wrote", and "Ryan ace of spies". Then I had to go and pick up Keiron, our eldest son from Neath train station, he's been in Scotland for the last week, on a writer's course. As soon as I got him home I opened a bottle of cider, and quenched my thirst, since arriving home earlier in the evening I'd had several galsses of water, but it wasn't until I'd had the cider that my thirst was sated.

Had some disappointing news from Halfords, which remains my LBS, telling me that Continental tyres were refusing to replace my "guaranteed" tyre, stating that, as they had replaced the original tyre once because of puncture, they had fulfilled their obligation to the warranty/guarantee. Russell at Halfords, however, said that they would replace the tyre free of charge, as a measure of good customer relations, because they too, felt that Continental tyres, had let me down badly. It turns out that Continental tyres have stopped producing/manufacturing that tyre model, perhaps it was failing to live up to the expectations of both clients, like myself and themselves as manufacturers'. Russell told me that the closest spec he could get to the original was more expensive, but Halfords would stand the cost, and he believed it to be a much better tyre? Let's hope so, anyway I'll be writing to Continental Tyres seperately, to complain about their poor service and poor standard of customer service. If they continue to evade their responsibility on this issue, I will be writing to cycling magazines etc., to make sure as many as possible in the cycling community know about their dreadful customer service, and poor product.

I think I may have solved my lights problem for my early morning commute, when certain sections of my route are almost pitch black, particularly the hill I dread. Meirion, a colleague of mine at work, knew I was looking for something to light up the road ahead, and he has a friend in the village where he lives, Llanpumsaint, who runs a bicycle shop. Well he got his mate to let me try a double front light system which is rechargeable, Meirion helped me set it up on the bike yesterday, but it's in the morning that I'll be testing it, on my run to work. So fingers crossed.

By the way my mileage, as shown on my cyclecomputer, is now over 2,800 miles, I'll have to look back through my blogs to ascertain exactly how long it has taken me to achieve that figure. Just checked back in an April post, when I'd recorded that I'd just passed 1000 miles, and had set up the cyclecomputer on the bike, back on 7th January this year, so I've done 2,800 miles since that date. That works out at approximately 400 miles a month.

Still small beer when compared with some of my blogging heroes, but it's onwards and upwards.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

As usual, got the facts wrong...

I really should get a diary to make notes in, my last post said that I'd had 6 weeks of puncture free cycling, but having looked back over my posts, I can plainly see that I haven't had a puncture since at least 14th May, which almost doubles the time to 11 weeks..... a much better result eh?

Didn't cycle today and missed it, no work for me today, but I had to do some shopping with Elizabeth, will be back commuting to and from work tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday.

Got my Subway back on Tuesday, they established the guaranteed tyre had been punctured, by a piece of bone, about half an inch thick, tapered to an extremely sharp end. It went straight through the tyre and tube, and was lodged in the tube itself, so they've put a new inner tube in the old tyre for now, while we wait for a new tyre to come into stock at Halfords. All free of course, because of the guarantee and my 'Bikecare' agreement.

Did the commute yesterday no problem, with the Subway at least, I found it very warm and humid, on the way in, in the morning, and was soaking in sweat when I arrived, thankfully it was alot cooler when I made the trip home. I'm still struggling on the one hill, on the way in, mainly because I need a better headlight, it's so dark in the mornings now, at about 04.30 that I can't judge when to change gear. Usually I get half way up, then sit back and tootle up the rest in 2nd gear, so not extending myself there then! On the way home, when it's light, I have another problem, self-conciousness. I hate other people to see me, when I'm obviously struggling up an incline of some kind, sad I know, but if there are people around I climb quicker, pushing harder and for longer, usually ending up exhausted out of the sight of those prying eyes. If I can't make it out of sight, I hope I'll have the courage to get off and push, or I could end up in casualty. Worse, what would a psychologist make of that?

Sorry but that's all I have time to type for now, ugh 3 days in work now, if it wasn't for the cycle commute, and of course, if I could afford it, I wouldn't bother to go.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

6 Fantastic weeks

Well I've had a good run for my money, as they say, but after 6 weeks of cycle commuting pleasure, disaster struck yesterday, with a flat tyre. Fortunately, I was on my homeward leg of my commute, and the Cycling Gods must have been watching over me, because I was only about 500 yards from home. I heard a bang and felt the complete loss of pressure on the back wheel. So I pushed my Subway the rest of the way home.

I checked the tyre over, and couldn't find any obvious cut/tear etc., because it was the back wheel I didn't attempt to take it off, too much hassle, I'm not back in work till Tuesday, so I'll take it to Halfords to repair, as the tyre is guaranteed against puncture for 12 months, then, if it is a puncture, I'll have a replacement tyre and inner tube for free.

6 weeks, is probably the best run I've had, without a flat, since I've been back cycling, which must be approximately 3 years now, averaging it out, at say a flat every 6 weeks (that's being generous), that is 156 divided by 6 weeks, then I've had to contend with 36 flats, adding inthat horrendous period of 8 punctures in 2 weeks, back in June, I come to a figure 44 flats, or 156 divided by 44, which gives a depressing return of a flat every 3 and a half weeks!!!

Cycling must be very important to me, for me to have persisted against such disappointments and frustrations. But let me try to remain positive.

These last 6 weeks have been great, on average I've commuted at least 3-4 times a week, only used the car twice, once because I overslept, and the other I had to run Elizabeth to the airport, she was going to her niece's graduation and to stay with her mum, in Belfast. So my commute is 40 miles a day round trip, I reckon I've knocked up over 800 miles in those 6 weeks. This is where I need a diary to make a note of such details, also for what has happened on my commutes, weather, widlife I've seen and so on, in order to write it up in this here blog.

For the moment, I'll have to regale you with the fantastic 10 minutes I experienced on my way home the night beore last. I was on my final leg of the commute, I'd just passed Aberpergwm mine coal washery entrance, along the front of which is an old section of the canal. You'd have to know it was there, because it's hidden by reeds, and overgrown with weeds. I had been cycling through really heavy rain, and enjoying the ride immensely, as I passed the entrance I heard a squeeking, some sort of distress call, from an animal, as I cycled it got louder, then I knew it was coming from the reeds on my left next to the hidden canal. I stopped parked my bike next to the road as quietly as I could, stepped over the low fence, and crept towards the reeds. As I approached the squeeking stopped, but then I heard anothe squeeking back towards the entrance, the reeds were above my waist in front of me, and I carefully looked over them to see what was happening, keeping as still and silent as I could.

To be honest, I thought I had stumbled across a family of mink on the move, a female transporting her kits to a new location, which was tremendous the first time I saw it, oh a couple of years back, whilst riding my first bike, the Raleigh Chiltern along another stretch of the canal. Getting back to this present scenario, I watched and waited hoping to catch a glimpse of something, within a few moments I was rewarded, with the sight of something swimming through the water, submerging and rising between the reeds. It was far too big to be a mink, but the same colour as a rat, but again much too large an animal, almost immediately it dawned on me, that this creature was, an otter. It continued purposely, on it's course, disappearing into the reeds on the bank of the canal directly opposite me, then reappeared with a smaller version of itself, swimming alongside, submerging , diving in and around the weeds, swimming now towards another squeeking, further along to my left.

The waist high reeds in front of me hid me from this pair completely, as they swam slowly and quite leisurely, and I was able to follow their progress, padding gently through the grass, which fortunately had just been cut. I followed them this way for about 15 yards, only at most about 7-8 yards away. At this point I was rewarded again when another otter cub, came out of the weeds on the far bank to join them. All three of them, a mother and her two cubs then swam on almost as one , undulating in and out of the water and weeds, till sadly I could see them no more.

This whole episode lasted a maximum of 10 minutes, but it was a brilliant experience for me, and I couldn't wait to tell Elizabeth and the boys about it. I feel very priviledged at having been able to view wildlife such as this, the opportunity came simply because I was riding my bike, if I'd been driving by in my car, like everybody else, I would not have heard the squeeking of the otter cub, and so missed it all.

To some of you, such a sight/experience might be somewhat more commonplace, but otters have only recently started to return to the local rivers, as these have become cleaner etc.. I knew there were otters around these parts because sadly, I had seen a very large specimen, presumably a male,dead at the side of the dual carriageway I used to travel, in my car, to and from work, about 3 years ago. But now I have seen an otter and two cubs, which means they are, hopefully, established in the area, great news indeed.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Cycling all the way?

For the first time, since I began to cycle-commute in earnest, these last couple of days, I have felt I finally was making some progress. True I've been cycling a good deal, but I'm afraid I've always been envious of the mileages other bloggers, such as Doug the mnbicyclecommuter, and Gill, of up in alaska fame, who seem to knock up 30+ miles daily, and more. Working 12 hour shifts, and my other commitments at home, hasn't helped, but I've finally increased the mileage, and seemingly, with very little extra effort, save time.

I started out this week, looking to cut the car out of my commute to work completely, by cycling to Neath, then making the rest of the journey, on the train, with my bike. Wednesday was the big day, I cycled to Neath, on my way to my dayshift, left home at 04.10, arrived at the station at 05.00, well in time for the 05.09 train, tried to buy my annual train ticket, but couldn't, because I needed a photo, all the time I've been enquiring about this nobody has mentioned the need for one? So I bought a single ticket to Port Talbot, intending to go out on my break, and get some passport photos, from a booth, to use when I bought the annual train ticket on my way home, later.

The day raced by, and we were busy at work, and I didn't get out to get the photos, home time came, my relief arrived, so I headed across the road on my Subway 8, towards the station. I decided, out of the blue, that no I wasn't going to wait the 20 minutes for the train, and would go for it, and cycle all the way home.

I was a bit dubious that I would make it all the way, but I needn't have feared, because though it took me 1 hour and 25 minutes, I enjoyed every minute of it, even the hills, mileage 19, giving a total for the day of 30. Thursday, I decided I wanted to ride all the way in, but would leave it till I got to Neath, whether or not to take the train. I got there in plenty of time, and just carried on, once more I cycled all the way, none the worse for wear.

My colleagues, at work, quickly decided I was completely mad, to get up at 03.55, and cycle 19 miles to work, but I felt great, and couldn't wait for the leg home. So far my extra long commutes, had been in fine weather, but during the day the weather started taking a considerable change for the worse. By home time, the wind had got up to 20 mph or so, and would be a headwind for me to battle against, and rain was imminent.

Setting out at 16.40, I was able to cycle strongly into the wind, surprising myself, that I was comfortably pedalling in 7th gear. The rain kept threatening, but I wasn't subjected to a real downpour, until I got to Neath, there I had to put on my waterproof jacket, I didn't bother with the trousers, preferring to stick to my ordinary shorts, I didn't want to get too hot. Showers kept coming in heavy bursts, but that only made the ride, that much more enjoyable for me.

I made it home by 18.10, one and a half hours, I know that isn't fast, in anyone's book, but I don't want to go fast, and I'm so proud of myself.

Friday was a day off for me, I didn't ride the bike at all, Elizabeth and I went out to do some shopping while we also babysat Jack, while his mum, Anne had the car serviced, after shopping etc., we went and picked up Conor, then Anne, and dropped them all back to their car. Meanwhile, I had a call from work asking, me in to do a nightshift. I need the overtime, so I said yes, but was annoyed that it was too late to cycle to work.

It's Saturday evening now, I've just been outside, checking my tyres for glass etc., pressure, I also lubed my chain, pedals and hubs. Really pleased with my tyres, but disappointed that I had to dig a shard of glass, out of the front, why is there so much glass out there? Anyway, the Subway is ready for my commute tomorrow, and guess what, I'll be cycling all the way.

That annual train ticket will have to be bought, I've finally got the passport photo, because it will always be a backup, the car could well be resting alot, as far as travelling to and from work is concerned at least.

Monday, 23 June 2008

I need self-discipline to keep up this blog....

I'm enjoying my cycling more than ever these days, thanks to having no punctures, dare I say it, for quite some time now, I'm touching wood for luck, when I say that, and now my fingers are crossed, which is difficult while typing this. 25 miles is a regular daily trip, for me lately, everyday this week, so far, it's only Monday, having said that, but anyway, yesterday and today I rode into Neath station and back, as I did a couple of days, last week. Basically checking out my new part-commute route.

With the price of car fuel, I use diesel, rising so much, I've decided to cut the car, completely out of my commute. Instead of driving to Aberdulais and then cycling, about 11 miles each way, I'm going to cycle to Neath, then catch the train to my work. It will increase my daily mileage by a mere 2, but the road is a bit more challenging i.e., bigger hills to contend with. A big plus on top of that benefit, is the fact it will save a lot of money on fuel, and will be an extremely cheap way of commuting.

The company I work for, Network Rail, has a green policy, of encouraging, one cycling, hence I bought my Subway 8, through it's Cycle2Work scheme, and two, trying to get its staff to use public transport. So now I'm buying an annual rail ticket, to use from Neath to Port Talbot, the cost is £312, but the company will pay half, great isn't it? Therefore, for the princely sum of £3 a week, I can travel back and fro Neath and Port Talbot, as often as I like. If all goes well the car will be missing me a lot.

Unfortunately there is a down side to this new commute system of mine, there always is, isn't there? Oh to live in a perfect world. The bad news is, my day will get longer, when on day shift, in particular, because to travel home, in the evening, I'll probably have to wait till 18.30 to start my journey home, that means I won't get in until 19.30 at best, which is a long day, when you have to get up again at 04.00!!! But I'm determined to give it a go. No turning back now, anyway, the company has paid its half of the ticket already, so unless I want to give the money back, there's no other choice, as Hobson would say.

I have failed, miserably, to keep this blog going on a regular basis. One of my biggest problems, I'm very sad to say, is quite simply, distraction, my better half will tell you that I drive her to distraction, but that's another matter. The fact is, I'm prone to get sidetracked, when something needs to be done. I keep putting things off, until they're all queueing up, urgently needing to be sorted, I've done it all my life, what a ditherer, eh?

One of the things I've been saying I'll get on top of is downloading photos from my mobile phone to this, my blog, still no progress, another is to improve my typing skills, so that I can update the blog more quickly, no progress there either. I won't touch on all the things Elizabeth is patiently waiting for me to sort out around the house, it's really an endless list, built up by my fantastic ability to be distracted. Can I help it if I find all sorts of everything to be interested in, or need to take a closer look at?

Well that's my story and I'm sticking to it. Happy cycling everyone.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Victoria Pendleton

Victoria Pendleton
Originally uploaded by twotone666
Discovered this young lady quite recently, she is most definitely the sexiest female, I've seen to date, on a bicycle

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

I think we're back on course (fingers crossed).

Picked up my Subway 8 from Halfords on Saturday, only managed a quick tour of the car park, and no ride on Sunday, so it was straight back to commuting on Monday morning. Disaster, same thing happened, got a flat at roughly same distance from work. Couldn't face asking a workmate, yet again, to come out and rescue me, so got a taxi to deliver myself and the bike to work. At least I was on time, 1st time in 5 attempts, all due to flats on the back wheel, what is going on?

Couldn't find any sign of a puncture externally? Once 09.00 am., came I was on the phone to Halfords, told them I'd be taking another taxi, again at their expense, and would be dropping my bike to them, during my break at 11.oo am., for them to sort out, and FIX!!

I rang them again in the afternoon, they said the inner tube had split, and they could not find out why? That they had decided to go back to basics, they had removed the green slime, the self sealing inner tube, and the new rim tape they had put in?? That they had put back ordinary rim tape, and a bog standard inner tube, that they had done this because they could find nothing at all wrong with the wheel itself, ergo it must be down to one of the things that had been added. I understood their logic, and said I'd pick up the bike on my way home from work.

When I eventually picked it up, the manager had a quick word with me, and said that if it punctured again, in similar circumstances, i.e., no intrusion from the exterior of the tyre, I would have to take it to an independent bike shop for a report as to what was causing the problem. I pointed out to him the opposite fact, i.e., that if I did not get a similar puncture, the cause would be found, i.e., Halfords faulty installation of either the green slime, or their " manufactured " rim tape set-up.

The good news is, I haven't had a repeat flat, (touch wood), since, and that's 2 days now, 44 miles later. It's been pretty stressful mind, riding all the time with the fear a puncture could strike, at any time, and constantly looking down at the rear wheel, imagining the tyre feels soft???

I'm sure I'll need counselling for awhile. Perhaps, Halfords should be made to foot the bill.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Where do I begin? What causes punctures?

What a week this has been, and no mistake. I've been back and fall to Halfords, my local bikeshop, or LBS, as some of you fellow bloggers refer to it. Why? As usual it's a long story, which I've partly related to Svenny, after his comment to my last post, and by the way Svenny, hope I haven't confused you, by using my real name, on my return comment.
But getting back to my travails of this past week, it goes like this....

Last Sunday, on my cycle ride to work, I got a puncture in my back wheel, about 3 miles from my workplace, I was fortunate, I was able to get one of my colleagues to come out and pick me, and the Subway 8 up. At work, first I fixed the puncture, then punctured the inner tube again, when one of my tyre levers broke, whilst popping the tyre back on. I patched this new puncture, but when I pumped it up, the patch broke. Consequently I had to get my eldest son to come out and drive me and the bike home after work.

What caused the original puncture?? It would seem, no that's incorrect, it was caused by poor workmanship. The last time I went to my LBS, due to a puncture in my front tyre, I had a new inner tube, and extra puncture protection, in the form of a strong plastic strip, inserted into both front and rear tyres. That was done last Saturday, I thought I was then raring to go Sunday.

It wasn't to be, because the subsequent puncture, on the Sunday, was caused by the plastic strip overlapping, which formed an edge inside the tyre, which after 8 miles, cut through the inner tube.

On the Monday I took the bike to my LBS, they fixed the puncture quickly, and got rid of the offending edge, installed another inner tube, all gratis.

Tuesday, I was on a short shift, and had decided to cycle all the way to work. I duely set off at 06.00 am, allowing myself 2 hours, for the journey. I cycled by road to Cwmgwrach, then picked up the canal towpath, by Union mine. I was able to stay on the towpath via the new aquaduct, at Ynysarwed, through Tonna, Neath, Giant's Grave, and on to Briton Ferry, where I joined the cyclepath alongside the old A48 road by McDonalds. Only I didn't pass McDonalds, I got another puncture, yet again, in the back tyre.

Once more, I got a colleague to come out and rescue me, I now was known, in the Welsh vernacular, made famous by Dylan Thomas, in "Under Milk Wood", e.g., Dai the post, and so on, I am "Curtis the flat". A bit of a comedown from my rugby playing days when I was known as "Curtis the crash", for my tackling prowess. At work, I, once more, examined the tyre for any kind of penetration, finding nothing, I rang my LBS and complained.

They said for me to get the bike to them, and they'd sort it out. Borrowing a car, I should say van, I took the Subway 8 to them, during my break, and picked it up, on the way home. Once more they found the problem, the rim tape had moved, (presumably when they fixed the puncture last time?), installed a new inner tube, and hey presto!

Wednesday morning, as usual I parked the car at Aberdulais, to cycle the rest of the way to work, I got as far as Baglan, 2 miles out from my destination, when I was struck again with a flat back tyre, a third colleague volunteered to pick me up, and I rewarded them all with a bacon and sausage buttie, when I, eventually arrived, I'd got my flat, this time, outside a local bakery. As soon as 09.00 am arrived, I was on the phone to my LBS, Halfords, complaining bitterly, They agreed to pay for a taxi to get me and the bike to their shop at midday, on my break, so that they could solve the problem!!

Yet again, the now very red faced bike mechanic, and the store manager went about taking the back wheel off, examining the tyre for any incisions, shards of glass, anything, to get them off the hook. Finding nothing, they set about taking the tyre off, crefully looking for any intrusion from outside..... once again nothing. Then they had a really good look at the inner tube, to find a tiny hole, which would have sat next to the rim tape??

The new rim tape was removed, a layer of electricity tape was wound round the rim circumference twice, a new rim tape, a new inner tube, and more plastic puncture proof strip were all installed, free of charge, while the manager apologised and refunded my £20 for the taxi ride. I cycled back to my car, feeling very paranoid about having a puncture, loaded the bike up and returned to work. Needless to say, my paranoia was such, that I drove home, that night.

Thursday, I had a great trip into work on the Subway, my colleagues clapped and cheered, that I had made it, without a flat. The day flew by, and I was looking foreward to my return trip, and as my son, Tierloch, wanted to be picked up at Aberdulais at 07.00 pm., I knew I had alot of time available to make a big diversion, to take me all along the Aberavon seafront, add to that, that the sun was blazing down from a clear blue sky, on what seemed a perfect evening. Leaving time came, my relief signed in and I was off.

I didn't make it to the seafront, didn't make a mile, I felt the tyre softening, 1st I thought I was imagining it, but all at once all the air had departed from the rear tyre, for the 4th time in 4 days. Perhaps, I thought, I could pump it up, I'd just had a bit of bad luck, anyway I succeeded in re-inflating it, and continued my trip, returning to the shorter route, while at the same time convincing myself, that it was a slow puncture, and if need be, I could pump it up a couple of times on route to my car. Only managed a mile or so, before I had to try to re-inflate it again, try being the operative word, it would not hold any air at all.

Using my mobile phone, I rang for a taxi, the same firm I had used, the day before, to get to Halfords, I must be getting famous , I thought to myself, everybody knew, or had seen, or had given a lift to, or had heard about "Curtis the flat". The taxi said they'd be with me in 15 minutes, while I waited, I examined the outside of the tyre for the tell tale damage of a puncture, to find nothing. Then I rang Halfords, to tell them that, yet again, the unthinkable had happened, and I would see them in the morning, and by the way, they had another taxi fare to pay for.

It's Friday evening now, the Subway is still at Halfords, they say they've fixed it, but the mechanic is putting a few miles on it, to check it's really OK, this time, and that it stays inflated overnight etc.. We shall see.

I told them this morning, that there has been one common factor throughout this extended fiasco, the back wheel, that they replaced a couple of weeks ago., because of the problems I was having with the internal hub gears?? I think they should replace that with a new one, but we shall see what happens tomorrow.

I really must learn to touch type, it's taken me ages to post this, and I've so much more I'd like to add, but Elizabeth is all on her own in the front room, so I'll have to go.