World Bicycle Day & life in the slow lane

Today is World Bicycle Day, but cycling needn’t just be about two wheelers – and it needn’t just be about leg power either. Cycling Dumfries member Dik Toulson has written us this guest post about his adventures on his handcycle and how he upgraded it to  tackle some of our gradients …

Life in the slow lane

You may or may not have seen me around on my handcycle. ‘A what?’ I hear you ask. It’s a recumbent tricycle that you pedal with your hands, which is pretty convenient when you don’t have any legs due to an RTA in 1979.

Dik on handcycle
Powering away on the handcycle before its upgrade

Now I am not a small bloke and despite having a granny cog, the hills around Dumfries are punishing and to tell the truth, they put me off going out cycling. The one good thing about a tricycle is that you can go very, very slow and not topple off, but its not much fun at 1mph.

My wife has an electric bike with a trailer in which we put my wheelchair for when we go out together, but I can see her wobbling with how slow I go. She smiles and says it’s fine, but I know that going so slow is making her feel like a circus clown doing a balancing act. This must change. I need to put an electric motor on the handcycle to make it easier for me, and a bit faster for my wife.

Bafang. After a lot of research, and after finding someone with the same handcycle who has also electrified their machine, I went ahead and purchased a Bafang kit. You must bear in mind that these kits are designed for bikes, and I knew there would be one or two issues with installing it. I was not let down. Sure the battery rack would not just slot on as it was designed for the back of a bike. And the wiring was too short in places which caught me out.

I have a good friend, Duncan, who is very much hands on with a garage more akin to Aladdin’s cave for boys and their toys. From boats to bikes, wood to wheels, Duncan has it all, ‘just in case’ he would say. He adapted the battery mount and made the wiring longer. He also ‘fixed’ the wiring when I pulled the connectors off by mistake. I could not have managed this project with out him.

It is also worth mentioning that YouTube is also an essential these days when undertaking a task you know nothing about. I watched many a video about installing the kit, albeit on bicycle. Becca from REV bikes in Australia was particularly good, and she responds to emails if you need help – nice touch.

installed motor

So, I am pleased to say, that the Bafang is on the handcycle without too many problems. The biggest surprise, in my naivety, is how heavy the handcycle has become. Made from a special alloy and fairy dust, it was light as a feather in its original format. It was easy to pick up and move around the garage. Now though, it’s the weight of a small tank. This extra weight is pretty high up as well and I may have a look at lowering the battery to get the centre of gravity down. But that is for the future.

On the road, I find life very comfortable between 8 – 10mph and I generally only use one gear out of the 10 I have available on the derailleur. I use the Bafang on number two or three out of the nine assistance modes available and changing this mode is very simple. Dump the gears high, turn the power up and you can hit the legal limit with ease, very easy in fact. But then you will drain the sizeable battery quicker and reduce your range.

Now cycling is a breeze and a pleasure. In the past I would do a ten mile loop maximum, now, the only limit is the range of the battery, which I suspect will be about 50 miles. And that extra range means I can take in more of the beautiful sights. Glenkiln Loop, check. Waterside ride, check. 10 miles loop with a bit more thrown in, check. It is all so pleasurable. And yes, you have to pedal to get the power assistance, but the pedalling has become more aerobic, rather than the punishing anaerobic bouts on the hills.

thumbs up

So what is next for the handcycle? A new front wheel. As already mentioned, I have a derailleur set up at the moment and I would like to change that to an internal geared up. I like the simplicity of only having one cog instead of a cassette and the ability to change gear when stationary would be very handy. A new chain tensioner would be required as it is a bit longer from the crank to the wheel than a standard bicycle. Also, my tyres may be changed in the fulness of time to Schwalbe Big Apple’s or maybe Big Ben Plus.

If you have some cash sloshing around in your saving account earning 0.01%, why not put it to good use and buy a Bafang electric bike conversion kit? You will be amazed at how well it works and how much the hills are ironed out for you. It really has put the joy of cycling back into me.

I live near Maxwelltown Path that we have recently been clearing, you may see me around in the not so slow lane now!

First comers
Dik (on right) in his power chair at our first Maxwelltown path clearing session, which he instigated …

Cycling to the Hospital

visitor parking
Parking may be limited for cars, but there’s plenty of space for bikes to park, under cover, and right by the entrance.

A few days ago, prompted by a hospital appointment letter, we tweeted the following:

In the discussion that followed, we got this reply, which got us thinking:

It’s easy to forget that, if you don’t already cycle a lot for transport, you’re unlikely to know all the routes and paths that (sometimes) make it possible to cycle to places without having to deal with big roundabouts – indeed, even those of us who cycle a lot are still finding new routes, partly due to the council’s inexplicable unwillingness to signpost the paths it has.

A75 roundabout
The roundabout at the hospital entrance. Not an appealing prospect on a bike. Fortunately this is the closest you have to get to it.

So, partly inspired by Dutch blogger Mark Wagenbuur, who’s just shown how he gets to his new out-of-town hospital by bike on his blog Bicycle Dutch (a must read if you want to be inspired and/or depressed by the progress being made to provide for cycling in the Netherlands), and especially for those who’ve only ever approached the new hospital from the bypass – here’s a pictoral guide to cycling to the hospital from Lochside (we chose Lochside because it was convenient, but it’s easy enough to get onto the Maxwelltown path from the centre of town too).

Dumfries’s cycle network is nothing like as comprehensive as its equivalent in Den Bosch, but as it happens, you can get to the hospital quite easily and mostly on cycle paths (and it’s dead flat too). Here’s the route we used.

Lochside road
Lochside Road, which would have plenty of space for a cycle path

Lochside Road is probably the worst part of this particular route – it’s a 20mph road but unfortunately the council have used speed cushions to enforce the limit, which can encourage drivers to pass cyclists too closely – and can leave cyclists riding in the ‘door zone’ beside parked cars.

From there, the new school campus means there’s a nice wide shared path along Alloway Road. It won’t be much use when the school run or lunchbreak is in full flow, but for the rest of the day it’s  fine. Ideally we’d suggest moving this bus stop so that bikes go behind any waiting passengers, instead of being forced to get between them and their bus.

Alloway Road
At busier times, there’s potential for conflict here – ideally we’d recommend moving the bus stop closer to the road and putting the bike path behind it

As we noted this summer, the cycle path along Hardthorn Road is much improved so you can now ride straight to the Maxwelltown path entrance without having to cross the road. You do still have to negotiate a somewhat pointless chicane, unfortunately

Cycle path entrance
We’re not sure what purpose these gates serve, other than making it harder to get an adapted bike onto the path.

And once on the path, no sign that you can get to the new hospital this way

Perhaps one of the local graffiti artists could add a pointer to the hospital?

Gripes aside, once on the Maxwelltown path it’s plain sailing all the way out to Cargenbridge – a very pleasant route, well surfaced, direct, and well lit. It might feel a little lonely after dark, but there are usually enough other cyclists and dog walkers about to make it feel safe.

zig zags
Getting off the path at the other end is a little challenging but a good test of your bike handling skills …

We’re still disappointed that the council didn’t agree with our request for a light-controlled crossing of the Garroch Loaning, but at least they did create a new crossing point away from the viaduct, which has much better sight lines than the one on the other side of the roundabout. So far, this has proved easier to use than we feared – and now we have picked up signs to the hospital too!

Crossing Garroch Loaning

From there, it’s cycle path (or shared use path) all the way to the entrance, with just one road crossing once in the hospital grounds. The zebra crossing is a little bit confusing, as they’re usually only for pedestrians. There’s no sign indicating cyclists should dismount though.

Hospital entrance
Last leg – right to the hospital front door

The whole route was less than three miles and would have taken 15 minutes without stopping to take so many photos. We know from our summer rides that it’s suitable for all riders – we’ve taken kids as young as five along this route with no problems.

Obviously, some people going to the hospital won’t be able to cycle, but there are plenty of outpatients or visitors who could easily do this journey by bike – and potentially save themselves a long walk from the outer reaches of the car park too.

overflow parking
‘Overflow parking’ – right on the end of the bike path…

So next time you’ve got an occasion to visit the hospital, why not try cycling in if you can? If only so those who really need to drive can do so – without having to park on the cycle path when they arrive.

10 Ways to Get the Most out of Beat the Street

Almost two weeks in to the Beat the Street game and we thought we’d give you our top ten tips maximise your points (especially if you’re signed up to the Cycling Dumfries team – we need to keep our place on the leaderboard!) but also the benefits to you …

1. Get on your bike

Sure, you can walk around the beat boxes easily enough – but to cover more than a handful of them in a go, a bike is the thing. It’s the quickest way around town when the traffic is bad anyway, and with lots of the beat boxes on the cycle paths, it almost feels like cheating to whiz between them on a bike! If you’re not comfortable riding in traffic, then try the Maxwelltown path – there are beat boxes at either end, and one half way along, as well as one just at the Cuckoo Bridge exit. The Caledonian path also has a few points you can easily pick up without getting out of your comfort zone.

Group at Kingholm Quay
Out hunting beat boxes last week

2. Go in a gang

The kids have worked this one out already – it’s more fun to play with friends, as we found last week. And it also makes riding on the roads feel a bit safer – you’re more visible as a group, and if you’re not that used to riding in traffic, then following the lead of a more experienced pal can be a great way to gain skills and confidence, as well as learn sneaky routes which avoid the worst roads

3. Find new places

Sure you could maximise your points by finding the two beat boxes which are closest together and riding back and forthe between them – but where’s the fun in that? Get the map out and look for some new places or work out new routes to old places – even if you’ve lived in Dumfries all your life you might well discover somewhere new.

Beat the Street map
Beat the Street – where will it take you?

4. Find new routes

There are some strange omissions in the beat box network, in our opinion – really not a single one on the Whitesands? – but that just means planning new routes around town that maximise point opportunities instead of sticking to the beaten path. You may even discover new routes which turn out to be better than your old ones.

5. Build it into your everyday life

You might not have time to get out cycling just to play a game – but if you can switch to riding your bike for trips you’ve got to make anyway, then you can multi-task. Have a look at the map and see if there are opportunities to walk or cycle some of those journeys, and you may actually find you’re saving yourself time (you’ll definitely be saving yourself money). If the roads look too scary, then maybe we can help with route planning – there are many unsigned cycle paths that you might not even have noticed that could take you off the worst roads.

bike at the butchers
Heading to the shops? A bike might actually be quicker than the car anyway – and you can park where you like

6. Make it the nudge you needed

It’s fairly common for people to think about cycling to work, or school or college for ages, but not to actually take the plunge until something finally tips the balance – and then when they do, they can’t believe it took them so long. If that’s you, why not use Beat the Street as the trigger for giving it a go? And again, we’re happy to help with routes if that’s what is holding you back.

7. Park and ride (or stride)

If you don’t live close enough to town to cycle in, or the roads are too hostile (think Collin, Torthorwald, Lochmaben…) you can still join in the fun AND save yourself some time by parking towards the edge of town and walking or cycling the last bit of the journey. There’s free all-day parking at places like Dock Park and Lochthorn Library, with plenty of opportunities to pick up points as you walk or cycle the final couple of miles. You’ll miss the worst of the traffic in town and have a great start to the day made all the sweeter as you pass everyone else stuck in a jam.

Health benefits

8. Challenge yourself

Already riding a bike or walking a fair bit? You can always benefit from stretching yourself that bit more and taking your fitness up to a new level. We’ve heard on our Facebook page that people have done all the beat boxes in one session (a 26 mile circuit), and others are running round the boxes. Even if that sounds a bit energetic, once you get the tapping habit, there’s always one more box within easy reach, and the next thing you know you’ve gone much further than you might have thought possible. If you log into the Beat the Streets page it tells you how many miles you have done – you might just surprise yourself.

Jim animation

9. Get into the habit

Challenges aside, the real benefits come when you start to make it a habit – and don’t let it stop once the game is over. Yes, you’ll no longer have the fun of seeing the points mount up or your team climbing the leaderboard – but you’ll still be out in the fresh air and getting some exercise, and that brings loads of benefits from improved health to saving money, better mood and weight loss (or at least being able to have that extra treat without feeling bad about it).

10. Get a free breakfast

Speaking of extra treats … don’t forget that on Friday 22nd of September we’re having our Big Bike Breakfast, and if you show up on a bike you get a free bacon roll (or vegetarian equivalent). It’s also a chance to meet councillors and council officials and let them know about all the changes you’d like to see having spent more time out and about on Dumfries’s streets and cycle paths. There’s a beat box right there at English Street so you’ll also get some extra points right there. And did we mention it was free?

bike breakfast reminder

Time Flies when you’re having fun

As a Cycling UK affiliate group we were invited to make a brief presentation to their AGM and gathering in Edinburgh today. It was a ‘pecha kucha’ format (20 slides in 6 minutes) so it’s a bit of a whistle stop tour (and no words) but it’s made us realise we’ve been going for five years since we started in 2011 …

Some things have changed, some have stayed the same, but it sometimes it’s good to look back at where you’ve been and look forward to where you are going

Here’s to another five years…

Why Cycle in Dumfries? Jill’s story

In the run up to our bike breakfast we’re sharing stories of people in Dumfries who use their bikes to get around, whether they’re new riders or old hands. Cycling Dumfries member Jill Asher kicks off:

Jill Asher
Jill admiring someone else’s puncture earlier this year on one of our winter rides

I love getting about town on my bike…  walking just seems so slow by comparison!  And I also love my panniers which make it easy to do some moderate shopping, put a jacket in, or whatever bits and bobs I need for my outing.    One day last week, I was asked to make a spur of the minute visit to someone in Troqueer.  This is right across town from where I live in Nunholm and I was there in less than 15 minutes, much to their surprise.  Certainly hardly slower than making the trip by car, and quite possibly quicker and I was able to pick up some supermarket items on the way home too.   Never any issues with parking either, which has got to be a bonus!   Check out the new bike racks at Lidl……  (just a shame they are not under cover).

Lidl Bike rack
New bike racks at Lidl (take note Tesco and Morrisons …)

(Editorial note: we agree about the racks – finally a supermarket in Dumfries that installs racks you can actually lock your bike to …)

If you ride a bike in Dumfries and have any encouragement, tips or advice for anyone thinking of starting it up – let us know! Email or add a message in the comments.

Joining the dots …

Bike Message Challenge sticker
Bike Message Challenge stickers already appearing in the shop windows

As we put in place our final preparations for the start of the Bike Message Challenge next week, we’ve been out delivering packs to all the participating locations (and there are amazingly well over 100 of them so it’s been quite a task!). Most are bang in the centre of town but if one of them is the Hazelbrook Dental Practice on the Glasgow Road – for yes, even getting your teeth seen to can count as an errand for our challenge – which gave us the chance to try out the new cycle path between College Road and the Glasgow Road for the first time:

New cycle path
Looking good!

The new bits are actually pretty nicely done (you see we can say nice things about the council occasionally) – wide, gentle curves and well lit. At the other end, the council have even resisted to the temptation to put up a ‘cyclists dismount’ sign and invite us to rejoin the carriageway instead

rejoin carriageway sign
The other end of the path. Not looking quite so inviting…

The problem is, the carriageway in question is the Glasgow Road, which is effectively a dual carriageway although if you can find a gap in the traffic, you can nip across to the other side if you can …

Glasgow Road
Not really sure how we managed to create that effect with the car … but it does illustrate that it’s not the most inviting road to be cycling on

This is the problem with the council’s current attitude of only building cycle paths where it’s easy instead of where they’re needed. The path was already mostly there, it just had some steps so it was a matter of bypassing them to make it accessible to bikes, wheelchairs and buggies. It’s just that – unless you’re going to the dentist (which is right next door the the path) or are brave enough to tackle the Glasgow Road – then it doesn’t really add much to Dumfries’s cycling network.

One day, maybe, all these little bits of path will join up and we’ll have a complete network – but that’s going to mean a bit more than just plucking the low hanging fruit. Wouldn’t it be great to see a path of that quality actually plugging the real gaps, such as along Brooms Road – or joining Collin to Dumfries.

We can dream eh?

Dumfries High School link opens! Well, sort of …

We were doing a bit of a recce for our Candidates’ Cycle Ride next week and went to check out our old friend the half-a-path that connects the Dumfries High School to, well, the back of Dumfries High School:

end of the path
This has been how the Dumfries High School path has ended for years…

Imagine our surprise to find …

new housing

It now leads to some new housing. Hooray! That’s only taken six years since the first half of the path was built at public expense. But could we get to the Caledonian Cycleway? After a brief detour that ended up at the edge of a building site we were directed to another tract of new housing where we were told we would be able to join the cycle path – but it didn’t look good. Had we come to a dead end?

dead end?
End of the road?

Not quite!

gap by the fence
Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Once we’d squeezed past the fence (and we clearly weren’t the first to do so) we found a nice piece of ‘filtered permeability’ (that’s ‘a short cut’ in English) that eventually took us to the Caledonian cycle path

If you ignore the toppled fence, this is a handy shortcut to the Caledonian cycleway

There’s a lot more building to go, so it’s probably not a sensible route for school kids just yet, but it’s good to know that the path will finally lead somewhere, linking up houses in Heathhall and the surrounding area into the school without kids having to brave the Moffat Road. It’s just a shame a whole generation of High School students will have come and gone while we’ve been waiting.

And on the way home, we found an old friend

I think that traffic cone has now been in situ longer than the bollard it was ‘temporarily’ replacing.  Imagine if they built and maintained roads the way they do cycle paths…

Something for our Scottish Parliament candidates to ponder on their ride on Tuesday.

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Everything up to the bollard’s the cooncil’s fault, after that, it’s Amey’s…

We’re all for good new cycle paths here at Cycling Dumfries, but sometimes it’s not so much a shiny new cycle path that you need, as the old one (or, indeed, the road) kept maintained. There was good news this week that the cycle path at the end of the Glen Road had finally been cleared of encroaching vegetation. As this is a key route for anyone cycling west out of Dumfries (sure, there’s NCN7’s Old Military Road but, scenic as it is, we prefer a road that doesn’t have a compulsion to go up every single hill) we’re pleased that it’s finally been sorted. Still, it raised the issue of who was responsible for maintaining this particular stretch of path. Apparently, the Glen Road, as a local road, is the responsibility of the council (up to and including the bollards), as is the Seeside road it joins to at the other end. The bit in the middle, though, being a path, counts as part of the trunk road and is (until April) the responsibility of Amey.

As any cyclist knows, the potholes, flooding, downed trees and broken streetlamps that are an annoyance in a car can be positively dangerous when you’re on two wheels so it is important to report them when you find them. While the authorities can’t fix all of them, they can’t fix any of them if they don’t know where they are. After all, far better to get it sorted before it takes your front wheel out than afterwards.

There are some useful contact details here (and they’re also on our sidebar links as well)

If you’re not sure who’s responsible for an individual street or road, these sites will pass the details on to the relevant authorities:

And, with that time of year coming up, here’s more information on winter treatment routes for salting and gritting:

Langholm: A View from the Netherlands

We’ll be reporting on the Doors Open ride shortly but just a quick post to say that the excellent blog ‘A View from the Cycle Path‘ – written by an Englishman, David Hembrow, who moved to Assen in the Netherlands to enjoy really civilised cycling conditions – has picked up on the 20’s Plenty campaign for Langholm, looking at how traffic can blight Britain’s villages. We’ve covered Langholm before, but this video really makes the point, much more strongly than words ever can (although the words underneath the video are pretty powerful too):

Anyone interested in how cycling could be is recommended to have good browse through David Hembrow’s archives, by the way. There’s no better introduction to the sort of top-class cycling conditions that the Dutch enjoy.

Happy New Year

2012 seems to have got off to a good start with some unseasonably fine weather – here’s hoping everyone managed to get out on their bikes to take advantage of it, and that the year continues in a similar vein as we could certainly do with a bit more good cycling weather.

If you’ve not made your New Year’s resolutions yet, may we humbly suggest a few for you to consider?

  1. Ride a bike more – well, we would say that! But with petrol prices only going in one direction these days, it could save you some money and make you fitter, happier and healthier to boot. You don’t have to rush out and start riding everywhere every day, but could you find a short (1, 2, 3 or even 5 mile) journey that you could tackle by bike instead of by car? You might find it’s easier than you think – but if you’re daunted by the thought of where to start, contact us via our about page and we’ll see if we can help.
  2. Be considerate – cyclists (and pedestrians) are more vulnerable than people in cars, so spare a thought for them and don’t pass too close or be too impatient if you can’t immediately get past. And if you’re on your bike, don’t whizz past pedestrians or run red lights or cycle on the pavement where it’s not allowed. A little bit of consideration goes a long way on both sides! Follow the AA’s advice here.
  3. Join us! If you haven’t already signed up, please do so. The more members we have, the louder our voice will be, and the more effective we can be. We meet regularly (the first Thursday of the month) but it’s very casual and you can just show up and join then. Our next session will be this Thursday (the fifth) at the Station Hotel, at 6pm.

Here’s to a happy, two-wheeled 2012