off the beaten track

Today I cycled 8 and a half miles, saw two rabbits, a squirrel, a fox and a *huge* dragonfly.

I also got quite lost and had a puncture.

I had a brilliant time.

Regular readers may recall my recent bike-related post, the road less travelled, in which I trundled my merry way around bits of the Wakefield area that I hadn’t explored. I mentioned there was a track down by the golf course under a bridge that I hadn’t yet explored, so today was the day.

I’d had a busy day and only an hour or so to fit my ride into, so set off from home towards the train station. There’s another interesting track down there which I’ve always wondered where it would end up. Turns out it runs alongside the railway track for about half a kilometre and brought me out roughly in the right direction for the golf course. Cross that one off my ‘where does it go?’ list.

I got up to the golf course, found the track and trundled along there quite happily for a while before coming out on the main road about fifty metres from the road leading the golf course.

Cross another one off the list.

Quite pleased with my exploring, I reckoned I had about half an hour left. There was yet another unexplored road nearby (as mentioned in the previous post), so I set off down there.

Up past the houses the road drops to a single track down between the hedges. I spy a couple of fellow cyclists up ahead, just as the road forks. They head off to the left, but I spot a sign saying that Newmillerdam is 2.5 miles off to the right. Now, Newmillerdam is roughly on my way home, ish. So I turn right.

The road disappears at this point, and I’m bumping along a dry track next to some fields. It’s all very scenic and quiet and as I’m bouncing along I spot a rabbit bounding along ahead. It takes off into a field on the left and I come to the end of the track.

There’s a field ahead of me with some fledgling cabbages neatly planted in rows, but there’s a fairly clear path across it, and on the far side I see a yellow marker post for the path. I set off across and soon get to the trees on the other side. The track here is pretty narrow, but just wide enough to cycle down, albeit very carefully. There’s a bridge at the bottom crossing the railway track, then it opens out onto another field.

This is where it goes slightly pear-shaped.

Now, this field is thigh-high with greenery. There’s no obvious track going across it. I can go left or right. Right looks a bit overgrown, and left is downhill.

Left it is. I get to the bottom of the field and there’s still nothing obvious indicating which way to go. I pause for a swig of water and another rabbit bursts from cover, spots me and hurtles off into the hedge to my left.

Oh well. I continue down the edge of the next field – I can see a road in the distance, and have worked out roughly where I am. I just need to go down this field, find a way through the hedge, and I’m back on the road.

After a dozen or so yards I realise that I really need to be carrying my bike so it doesn’t damage the crops. I’m being nettled and brambled, but the sun is shining and I’ve just spotted the biggest dragonfly I’ve ever seen keeping pace with me. The bottom corner of the field yields no exit, but a curious fox pokes its head out to see what this lycra-clad lunatic is doing.

Along the bottom of the field then, and there! The road. I send an apologetic text home to say I’ll be a little late and set off up the hill.

Hmm. It’s very bumpy.

A little… too bumpy.

Puncture in my rear tyre. And guess who didn’t pack a bike pump? I’ve got all the other paraphenalia for fixing a flat, but the pump is handily attached to my other bike. Ooops.

Still, it’s a fairly slow puncture, so I struggle on up the hill and make it home, a little late, a little sunburned, a little bloody from the brambles, but with a grin on my face.

Look. If I hadn’t taken that track, I’d not have seen the rabbits, the fox or the beautiful dragonfly. I now know that the path *does* lead directly across the field.

But that’s for another day.

The road less travelled

cycle path

It was a glorious day for a bike ride. I dug my bike out of the garage and set off down our street, got to the end of the road and paused.

Left or right?

Left would take me downhill, and into Wakefield. Right would mean a short uphill, but heading out towards the countryside. Not much of a choice then. I dropped a gear (or two) and set off.

Up and over the top of the hill and I’m faced immediately with another choice. Left at the lights, or straight on? Straight on follows the main road down past the big supermarket and out towards Pugney’s Country Park. It’s nice enough, but always busy on a nice day, plus the road by the supermarket is often heaving with traffic.

Left it is then.

Within a few hundred yards we’re away from the traffic and into the countryside. Up another hill (and down a few more gears) and I’m huffing and puffing up past the golf course on the outskirts of Wakefield. I’ve been cycling around here for many years, but oddly this is a route I’ve never taken. Towards the top of the hill I’m passed by a bunch of lads in a white Audi, who wound the window down so they could lean out and yell at me.

Out of breath as I am, I reply with a one-fingered wave in their general direction, to which I get a toot of the horn in reply. It puts a grin on my face, made wider as I reach the brow of the hill and I see the rolling fields ahead. Quick swig of water and I’m off again, zooming down the hill hunkered over the handlebars, half an eye on the bike computer’s speedometer and the rest on the road. I coast up to the next junction and again face the choice. Straight on, or left again?

Left heads towards Haw Park Woods – we’ve been there with the Scouts a few times so I take the turn and trundle off down the road. It’s not long before I come across a sign for a cycle track. It’s off to the left, and it feels like a left sort of a day, so I turn onto the bridleway. Up a short track and I find myself at Cold Hiendley Reservoir – somewhere I’ve seen on the map many times, but again, I’ve never been. I cycle along past anglers enjoying the sunshine and a cup of tea, couples out walking and a few dog-walkers. It really is a nice day to be out and about, made all the better for being off the road.

Not too much further along the track is Haw Park Wood itself. There’s a fence in the way, with one of those V-shaped sort-of-gates designed so that walkers can get through but not bikes. I half consider going through and up through the woods, but notice the main track heads off to the…

You’ve guessed it. Left. Off we go.

I’ve no idea where I’m likely to end up, but reason that as I’ve been turning left quite a lot, I’ll either end up back where I set off, or cross one of the tracks or roads I’ve already cycled down. Besides, the sun is out, the sky is blue and my bike is whirring along underneath me. It’s a glorious day for a bike ride.

It’s along this track that I took the photo above. The light was coming through the trees just so, there was nary another soul in sight, and it felt like I had the world to myself. I stopped, took the photo then just enjoyed the peace and quiet for a few minutes.

Off we go again and it’s not long before I reach the far edge of Haw Park Wood, and find myself at Waterton Park Golf club – another of Wakefield’s golf courses, and a different one to the one I passed earlier. The track continues enticingly on under the bridge, but as I check my watch, I realise that I’m running out of time and need to head home. One for another day.

As I’m leaving the grounds of the golf course, I realise that I always turn right at the end of the road to go home. I’ve got a few minutes, so I see where left leads me. Another enticing single-track road soon appears, but I add that to my list of places to explore another day and turn back.

I’m soon home, having clocked up a very modest distance of just under seven and a half miles in about 45 minutes. It’s not far at all compared to the distances I was getting to last summer, where a 30-miler wasn’t uncommon, but for today, it’s enough. I’ve done some exploring, found some new places and had a splendid time.

That’s what I love most about my bike. The freedom to just get out there and explore, to see where the wheels will take me. All part of life’s big adventure. In the words of Ferris Bueller:

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

Stop and look around. Then choose.

Left or right? Where will it take you?

Cycling: Let’s be safe out there

Today’s prompt for Blog Every Day In November is ‘Newsflash: talk about something in the news.’

This story in particular struck a chord with me as a cyclist.

Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, has said he will consider the possibility of banning cyclists from wearing headphones, following a spate of deaths in the capital.

Six cyclists have been killed on London’s roads in the last two weeks.

Speaking on BBC London radio, Johnson said headphones were an “absolute scourge” and it was “absolutely nuts” to wear them while cycling.
Boris Johnson considers ban on London cyclists wearing headphones

Boris’ comments have come in for some stick – on the face of it they could appear to be pointing the finger of blame at cyclists and taking the focus away from HGV drivers. And nine out of the 14 fatalities this year have involved HGVs.

Strange as it is to say it, I think that Boris has a valid point on this – cycling with headphones in makes you less aware of your surroundings. You simply can’t hear the other vehicles on the road as well. It’s an incredibly dangerous thing to do, for yourself and for other road users.

And of course Boris is a bit of a twit, as we can see in the photo in this tweet.

Come on Boris, put the phone away. Numpty. And then Boris got caught on film cycling through six red lights, failing to stop at a zebra crossing AND mounting the pavement (thanks to @susborne for the link)

I used to commute into Leeds by bike most days until I moved to south of Wakefield, making the journey impractical. My approach to other road users was always to assume they hadn’t seen you. Never undercut another car/van/bus at a junction. Yes, sometimes it takes a little longer to get to where you’re going, but I’d rather get there in one piece.

Of course there are still accidents, and always will be. Take your eye of the road for an instant, hit a loose rock or pothole and bad things can happen.

Now just to be clear – I’m not for a moment suggesting that it’s the cyclists’ fault.

Other drivers, especially those in vehicles with limited visibility need to be just as aware of their surroundings as cyclists. It’s our duty as road users, all of us, to be safe on the roads, for ourselves and for others.

The Department of Transport has some excellent (though largely common-sense) advice for cyclists… (from the BBC article Is cycling getting more or less dangerous?)

  • Ride positively, decisively and well clear of the kerb
  • Avoid riding up the inside of large vehicles, like lorries or buses, where you might not be seen
  • Always use lights after dark or when visibility is poor
  • Wear light coloured or reflective clothing during the day and reflective clothing and/or accessories in the dark
  • Follow the Highway Code including observing “stop” and “give way” signs and traffic lights
  • Wear a correctly fitted cycle helmet

Don’t get me started on people not wearing bike helmets. That’s a rant for another day. And yes, I have read the research.

le Tour is almost here…

Tour De France route 2013
Tour De France route 2013

One more week until le Tour kicks off in Corsica (and a year until we get it here in Leeds!). Very excited. I’m not usually a huge sports fan, but when it comes to July, I’m hooked on le Tour. Three weeks of hurtling past fields of sunflowers, dragging themselves up the Cols and Alps (Alpe d’Huez and Mount Ventoux amongst them this year, it seems) and whizzing back down them at ridiculous speeds.

It’s a shame Wiggo isn’t there to defend his title from last year, but it’ll be an exciting race anyway. Can Froome pick up where Sir Wiggo left off? And will we see the Manx Missile make it five out of five on the Champs-Élysées?

Over three weeks they’ll cover just over 3,400km, with:

  • 7 flat stages
  • 5 hilly stages
  • 6 mountain stages with 4 summit finishes
  • 2 individual time trial stages
  • 1 team time trial stage

and a couple of rest days thrown in for good measure.

Brilliant. Can’t wait!

D is for…

dakegra

day 8 - 08-20-11

That’s me. Hi.

My name is Dave. I’m a blogger, cyclist, photographer, writer, geek, juggler, caffeine junkie, the list of labels is as long as your arm. Married, father of two, the irrepressible EB and Ms LB.

I go by the username dakegra online. It’s pronounced dah-keh-gruh, though I’ve heard it pronounced various different ways – dah-kee-grah, dake-grah, dake-gray. It’s made up of the first two letters of my first and middle names, and the first three of my surname.

I decided to use it many years ago when I was looking for an good username. It’s got the advantage of being fairly short and also (more importantly) unique. If you see a dakegra around the internet, chances are it’s me. Unless they’re doing something naughty, in which case it’s definitely someone else. 🙂

In my time I’ve studied astrophysics and information systems, worked as a librarian in a big law firm, designed and built automated workflow systems and mortgage forms, done a bit of coding, worked for various financial services companies and am now doing clever things with digital in central Leeds.

I do a bit of writing – I’ve written a few short stories, including one *very* short one which was published in a very swish glossy coffee-table magazine. I’ve even ‘won’ NaNoWriMo, but only once.

I like cycling too – in June 2012 I cycled 100km around London, at night. I’ve written a fair bit recently about bikes & stuff.

I write about all sorts of weird & wonderful things. You may have noticed. This blog doesn’t really have a focus as such – I tend to write about anything that comes to mind. A mishmash of thoughts that fall out of my head, though there tends to be a fair amount of coffee, photography, books, bikes and allotmenteering.

I set up this blog to talk about any and all of the above. You can also find me on flickr, twitter and other places around the internet.

Or you can email me: dakegra@gmail.com

I like emails.

building a bike

This morning I saw a great article on the BBC News website: How to build a bike: The revival of a British craft. Thanks to Mark Fairhurst for the heads-up. Go check his website out, he does some brilliant cycling art.

The Beeb article is well worth a read, as is Robert Penn‘s excellent book It’s All About the Bike.

I’d *love* a custom-built bike, but sadly it’s probably always going to be out of my price range (lottery win notwithstanding).I keep toying with the idea of going on a frame building or wheel buliding course. Maybe one day. I think I’ll stick to tinkering with the bikes I’ve got for now. 

I mentioned the other day that I’d like to do up my old MTB and get it up and running again. I’ve done a bit of poking around and reckon that it won’t take much for it to happen. Ebay seems to be a great (cheap) resource for bike bits – I definitely need a new front derailleur, probably some new gear cables. Maybe swap out the whole drivetrain.

I also want to pick up some new bar-ends – I swapped the battered old ones from my MTB onto the Boardman last year, leaving the MTB with horrible cut-off grips. This is despite being (wrongly) informed by Halfords guy that I’d need new handlebar grips to do so! They’re a bit old and battered, but match the MTB nicely. New bar-ends for the Boardman then.

New bikes? Pah. Who needs ’em? 🙂

B is for…

B is for… bikes

It was going to be for books, but I’ve written about that before. It could also have been about Bond. More of that another day.

So, it’s bikes.

bikes
image from hub ‘n ride

A couple of years ago I decided that I needed a new bike, and settled my sights on a Boardman Hybrid Comp. It wasn’t *quite* the model I wanted (long story), but I was more than happy with it.

A couple of months pass and I hadn’t really had a chance to ride it. Then my friend Ned suggested that we sign up for Nightrider 2012, a 100km charity bike ride around London. At night. Done. Cue lots of training. Here it is, ready for an eventful trip. More of *that* another day too. Such a tease, I know.

bike

That’s where the problems started. I discovered fairly quickly that the bike had been set up badly. I’d bought it from the local Halfords (another part of the above-mentioned long story) and the handlebars were badly aligned, the disc brakes made one heck of a racket and so on.

Luckily I’m fairly good with bikes, so an hour in the garden with a large mug of hot tea and my bike toolkit set me right. I learned a lot about disc brakes in the process, having never ridden a disc brake bike before. Thank goodness for YouTube!

I also discovered later that the freewheel wasn’t behaving quite as I expected. On my old MTB, if you spin the freewheel, it, well, spins freely. On the Boardman? Not so much. It felt gritty. I’d only done about 250 miles on it by this point (as opposed to 3,000 on the MTB), and with only a couple of weeks to go until the Nightrider, I took it back into Halfords to sort out.

Wish I hadn’t bothered. The guy in there insisted that they were all like that (no, they’re not) and that they could *possibly* get me a new wheel, but it’d be weeks, or they could *possibly* swap it out for one on display (but they didn’t) and gave it a healthy squirt of GT-85 and sent me on my way.

My advice? Find a friendly local bike shop and get them to look at it. Someone who knows what they’re doing. I took the bike into Evans Cycles in Leeds for a pre-ride service, explained the problem and got back a properly working bike later that day.

As the photo says. Life’s too short.

Do it properly the first time.

Oh, and here are some photos of the Nightrider event. Enjoy!