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The token fat bird

June 19, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s been ages since I last blogged, mainly because I started a new job, which has been harder and longer work than I’ve ever done. It’s also involved a better salary than I’ve ever had before so I’m not complaining, but it’s been a logistical juggling act juggling long hours & stress, trying to see Eleanor before she goes to bed and also keeping a modicum of social life going on.

One thing that I’m super pleased that I’ve managed to squeeze in in the last couple of months is training for a “fun” triathlon, which I completed today. Most of you, like me, may wonder how the words “fun” and “triathlon” get to co-exist in the same sentence (never mind day), but the concept comes from the fact that it’s much shorter than a usual triathlon, and is meant to be a (relatively) easy introduction to the concept.

I only signed up to this by accident (ie: when pissed). A couple of friends were planning to do it together, and then one of them landed a new job in Qatar (about which I’m sure we’ll all learn more when we do our first trip); and since she’d signed up to swim/bike/run in aid of Cancer Research, and I’m a sucker for cancer causes, I felt like I had to step in to make sure the charity didn’t lose out.

So, the concept was 200m swim (8 lengths of a 25m pool – not too bad I thought), a 12.5K bike ride (longer than I would normally do but dealable with) topped off with a 2.5K run. Each of them I figured was do-able (the biggest worry being the run), so it was just a case of doing some training and going for it, right?

Me & Lorraine before we got too sweaty & hecticNot really. 8 weeks of 6am runs 3 x per week, plus a bike ride at the weekend, and I thought I was getting close, but my experience today involved being overtaken during every leg (even in the 7 minutes I spent in the pool), being the only person with seemingly more than an ounce or two of body fat, and (results pending) being probably the last person in the entire fun run to finish.

The weird thing is, I actually enjoyed it, and when people say that exercise is addictive, they’re not wrong. I’m already determined to enter next year, beat my time and raise more money.

If all this makes you want to donate a few quid on my justgiving page http://www.justgiving.com/Melanie-Mack0 then feel free.

Thanks & toodle pip.

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ASLs, cycling, scooters and a bit of empathy

October 13, 2010 3 comments

Okay, I know how passionate cyclists are about cycle lanes etc, and I’m probably going to be (virtually) lynched for saying this, but I don’t get the problem with scooters & motorbikes courteously going in cycle lanes or past the advanced stop line. I do get massively annoyed by cars/buses and lorries though, sitting happily across it without even a passing thought for other road users.

Advanced stop lines for cyclists

Here’s a reminder below for those who don’t know what an advanced stop line  is (it’s not there so that you are slowed down – it’s there to place the cyclists in  full view of the rest of the traffic, as this awareness has been proven time and  again to be the best way to improve riser safety)

In the interests of total transparency I have to state that I’ve been either a  pedestrian, scooter driver, cyclist, train commuter or car driver (or more  than one during the course of any one week) for the last 17 years in London,  and hence do try to look at road issues with a relatively objective view.

 

I’m well aware of the frustrations of London traffic, and how vulnerable you feel on a cycle or scooter, but I’m always a bit concerned about the apparent lack of understanding, nay sometimes hatred, between cyclists and PTWs (powered two wheelers- easier than saying ‘motorbikes or scooters’). I think we’d all get a better reception from car drivers, traffic planners and the media if we spoke as one, and shared our very similar experiences of feeling vulnerable, being verbally abused, hounded off the road and/or ignored.

Personally I am convinced that the single best way to create understanding amongst road users is to make the car driving test include a mandatory cycling proficiency test, and the CBT (compulsory basic training – all PTW drivers have to do it before they’re allowed out on the road even with L- plates).

Unlike many cyclists/PTW riders I don’t think that all car drivers are evil selfish bastards, out to kill us (although my experience out there often feels like they are); instead I think that they seriously just don’t understand what it’s like to be on a two wheeler, and we could solve the majority of the issues by just getting them to experience it from the rider’s saddle.

For good measure, it can’t hurt to make both cyclists and car drivers sit in the cab of a lorry, so that they can understand the concept of ‘blind spot’.

Before I get roundly beaten up by cyclists who say PTW riders are aggressive and dangerous- note that I did use the word ‘courteously’ for people using cycle lanes etc – it would do us all good to be aware of people more vulnerable than us (yes, cyclists, those people called pedestrians who you scare out of their skin sometimes).

Mel Mack’s abridged highway code:

  • ALWAYS be on guard for those more vulnerable than you
  • Remember not everyone has an engine and they may be going as fast as they can.
  • Car drivers
    • stop thinking of riders of any 2 wheeled vehicle as nuisances who make you set off from junctions a bit slower. It may help with context if you imagine how much worse your journey would have been if each of those people had chosen to drive a car instead.
    • use your bloody indicators- the rest of us are NOT psychic
  • Pedestrians: look carefully before crossing
    • cars take TIME to stop at zebra crossings
    • bikes may be weaving between stationary traffic
  • Everyone:
  • The more exposed your method of transport is, the more vulnerable you are, so take responsibility for your safety- assume people won’t see you, wear high vis clothing and if in doubt, don’t take chances.

Two wheels good?

August 22, 2010 1 comment

I write this in my third week of using the new London hire bikes, and must say I’m hugely impressed.

Trying to get rid of the post baby fat hasn’t been easy due to mad timing schedules whilst commuting and working, so this seems like a great way to fit the exercise around a trip I have to do anyway.

For those who haven’t given them a go yet, this is the scoop:

  • At the moment it’s open to “Pioneer” (beta) members – anyone over 18 who has a UK registered credit card and an address to receive the key fobs can register, but it’s worth remembering that it’s still the trial period so a little patience is needed – it’s not perfect yet.
  • Members pay for three things:
  1. £3 deposit for the key fob (like you do for an oyster card)
  2. Access fee. This ranges from £1/day, to £5/week or £45/year. These can be set to automatically refresh, so what I did before I was convinced I’d use it that much was sign up for the £1/day membership on auto renew. The 24 hours starts when you first put your fob in the cycle dock. I’ve now used it so much that I’ve upgraded to annual membership already.
  3. Hire charge: This is free for the first 30 minutes, and you’ll find that this is more than adequate most inner London rides. £1 for 30 mins-an hour, then £4 for up to an hour and a half. They’re clearly setting the charges like this purposely to encourage short hops rather than longer journeys/stops on the way, and I haven’t had to pay a hire charge yet.
  • Once you’ve paid the deposit & access fee, you can use the bike as many times as you like within that period, so if you do three journeys in a day, each 30 mins or less, they’re still all free of hire fees, so all you pay is your access fee of £1 (or equivalent of less if you’ve signed up for a week/year).
  • In a few weeks/once issues have been ironed out it’ll be open to casual members; who will be able to swipe their credit card at the docking station.
  • There are loads of docking stations around central London, although there seems to be a huge gap around Covent Garden. It seems that the locals have dreamt up ridiculous nimby-ish excuses for not wanting the docks nearby, but I’m hoping this will change.
  • There are no locks or helmets provided, so you need to take a helmet with you if you want to wear one, and make sure you dock the bike in a docking station rather than leave it somewhere while you have a coffee.
  • If you’re not a confident London rider then take your time planning your route and stay on back roads. There are tons of them and it’s actually really pleasant to discover lots of lovely leafy Georgian squares and residential streets, 2 mins from a heaving multitude.
  • Free maps of docking stations can be found here.
  • There’s also a free iPhone app, which shows you where the docking stations are, but also how many are full/free in realtime.
  • If you arrive at a docking station and there are no bikes left, or no docking stations free to park your bike, you can find out the closest other docking stations on the info screen on the dock. If you arrive and can’t dock your bike your access period is also extended by 15 mins so that you’re not paying extra because you couldn’t find a dock in time.
  • Until the usage trends and logistics are learned and understood, there will inevitably be docks near train stations emptying with commuters, and those near offices filling up to bursting, meaning bikes won’t always be where they’re wanted at any one time. There are little lorries with trailers going around the docks specifically to redistribute them as necessary, but it’s going to take some time until they have it totally smooth.

I’m chuffed to bits – have done loads more exercise, turned up quicker (if a bit sweaty) to most appointments and enjoyed the process rather than cursing on the tube.

Give it a try!