Tuesday, 26 November 2013

City cycle survival guide

It is a sad thing that has triggered this post. The recent spate of cycling deaths in London has sparked real debate. Unfortunately, when events lead to such tragic consequences, there can be no satisfactory answers. I express my deepest sympathies to the families of those affected.

While this debate has been heated and vigorous and ended up as the usual blame-game. I hope that we can try and salvage some good from it all.  Use it to raise the profile of cycling, improve conditions for cyclists and raise the awareness of other road users. If we can make even marginal improvements to conditions for cyclists, hopefully more and more people will be convinced to hop on their bikes and give cyclists an even bigger voice going forwards.

Me and my bike, out on the town together :)
(And sporting my medal and at the end of the London to Brighton Cycle Ride!) 

I am by no means a cycling expert, but I do cycle an hour a day up to five days a week through central London to work and back most days. I've had my fair share of close shaves, just ask any cyclist - they'll have hundreds of stories to share, but so far I am still here to tell mine. Rather than share those here, I  instead wanted to set out my personal top tips to keep in mind as you cycle the streets. These are not the usual wear a helmet, use hand signals etc. and they are not fool-proof by any means, but these are the five key mantras that I run through my head each day as I cycle:

1. Assume everyone's an idiot. This goes for driver, cyclists and pedestrians. Always assume that car will turn left without indicating, that pedestrian will step into the road without even looking and that cyclist will pull out without even looking. Never assume other road users will abide by the rules of the road, in my experience they never will. And while in a car that might simply mean you get a scrape or loose a wing mirror, on a bike it can mean a whole lot more. So be prepared to respond at all times.

2. Know your route. Learn where all the pot holes are, learn the order of the traffic lights, and know the black spots where other road users are likely to do unpredictable things! This is all stuff you pick up slowly over time if you ride the same route regularly, but make a mental note each day to deliberately remember these things. Cars always pull out on me in exactly the same places each day, the giant pot-holes don't move but they do get bigger and more treacherous over time! Being able to pre-empt the changing of a traffic light will help alleviate the stress of the routemaster bus revving right behind you and breathing down your collar! Knowing these little details will always put you on the front foot compared to the rest of the road traffic and keep you one step ahead of them at all times.

Fixing a puncture on Stu in Richmond Park a couple of weeks ago!

3. Be visible - but don't assume this means people will see you! Even in a fluro jacket, fluro rucksack cover, cat eye LED lights on back and front and coloured lights on my wheels I STILL get drivers mouthing 'sorry I didn't see you' as drivers pull out on me! What they really mean is 'I wasn't looking for you'.

There's not much we can do about that, we must simply be prepared. But, on the other hand if you do chose to go for the cat burglar look (head to toe black, complete with balaclava!) then that's totally up to you!

Sporting some of my favourite neon cycle gear, classy!

4. Don't rub other road users up the wrong way. Every time a cyclist pisses off a driver or does something irresponsible, that reinforces the drivers perception of cyclists as idiots. As a result, the driver won't leave as much space next time he passes a cyclist, he won't be as patient at the lights as the cyclists start off, he won't check for cyclists as pulling out of a side road. If we expect other road users to abide by the rules, then us cyclists must do so too.

5. Lose your pride. As you get on your bike, leave your pride on the pavement. Trying to win an argument with someone in a one-tonne chunk of metal is never going to end well, regardless of who's in the right! Instead, swallow your pride, leave the cars well alone, smile and feel happy you're still alive to cycle off on the moral high-ground.

"Sit back and relax' - Taking a little break in Richmond Park to admire the view!

Obviously this is by no means an exhaustive list and neither will it guarantee our safe passage through the city streets. Indeed, every single commute is a mini-adventure and we always share anecdotes from the day's commute when we get home each evening! Some ridiculously comic and some downright terrifying. Either way I still remind myself of these five mantras as I get on my bike each morning and evening.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

DIY Fantastic: Maxi Dress

With winter closing in, hems are lengthening and I need a maxi dress fit for the cool weather! I found some striped jersey material in the local fabric shop that was on offer so I took the remaining bolt and set to it.

First off we had to make a pattern. I took a favourite vest top, that I like the shape of, and used it to create a pattern for the top of the dress.

Step one - I drew around the vest top, creating two patterns, one for the top and the other for the back. Step two - we then added half an inch as a seam allowance to the outside of the pattern.

At the end of the top I simply continued the line down to the floor, holding up the newspaper (taped together) against my body to get the right length (technical stuff!!). If I'd already owned a maxi dress, I could simply have used the whole thing to create a pattern. But then, if I had a maxi dress already I wouldn't have needed to make one!

Due to the constraints of how much material I had, I made one whole single piece for the front, but two half pieces for the back. But ideally, it'd be easiest to make this with just two pieces.

Step four, once you're happy with your pattern, cut out each component. To get the full length, and in the absence of rolls of pattern paper, we simply taped lots of newspaper sheets together. Crafty and effective!

Step five - set out your material and arrange the patterns you have cut in a suitable way. This can be a bit like a jigsaw puzzle! Things to remember - if you have a patterned fabric, such as these stripes, it's important to think of how you want it to lie when done. We were also very fussy and tried to get the stripes to match up on each seam. Once you're happy pin the pattern on and cut around it.

Step six - keeping in mind our matching stripes the next step was to pin everything together inside out. Then all it takes is a simple stitch along each seam. :) I kept trying the dress on at each stage and making a few tweaks here and there to get the fit just right. So we took in a couple of the seams a tiny bit until we were happy!

The final touches can now be added, we opted for a autumnal hot orange trim for the neck and arm holes. I've got a few pictures of this above as it was probably the trickiest part of the whole project! We started off by folding the tape over the hem, affixing it with lots of pins and then sewing. The trick here is not to stretch the jersey material as you sew or else the seam will be baggy (not great!). This was tricky to begin with, but by keeping the pins close together it gave a good indicator if we were stretching it as we sewed.

Finally we added a little tack at the front of the neck hole as a little feature and we were done! :)

And how about some strange jumps (in soaring wedges) to show off the maxi-ness of the dress? WARNING - Please do not attempt this bit at home folks! But if you do, I can't be held accountable for the consequences....!

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Fantastic travels: Switzerland

Ready for a bit of reminiscing from the last days of Summer 2013?! We had a fabulous long weekend in Switzerland with the wonderful Chase-Holzhauers as our hosts. We did ALL things Swiss - ate fondue, hiked in the mountains and swam in rivers. In fact, we swam in a river every day of our visit, result!

First off a visit to the deer park and zoo in Basel where we had a little paddle. Lisa experimented with an impromptu dip in the deeper end (aka slip on the rocks!) and we realised it was a great idea and soon all followed suit in our undies. Thankfully I've spared you photographic evidence of this, not pretty! :p But Lis still managed to keep smiling after her dip. :)

Cute little pig at the zoo. So furry!

The full Swiss Monty welcome dinner - fondue, and more fondue! Out on the terrance as the sun set, bliss. All followed by a competitive games night that went on into the wee hours!

The next day we set out to explore the neighbourhood on foot, taking in lots of the local villages, a river crossing and a couple more dips in the river (I did warn you!).

Such pretty, well kept houses, gorgeous countryside and warm rivers (ish!).

On our last day we hit the big boy - the Rhein through Basel. Here we are armed with our Wickel fish waterproof bags ready for the ride. There were hundreds of bods floating downriver, hopping out towards the end of the town, shaking off, walking back upstream and doing the same thing all over again! This is how the Swiss rock and I loved it! 

Oh and just to prove we saw a teeny bit of culture in the histroic town of Basel: