excursion discussion

mv alfred

i may well have mentioned that, in the current issue of cyclist magazine, there are nine wonderful pages documenting a bike ride that editor pete muir and three members of the velo club undertook around the principality last july. the object of the exercise was to hypothetically explore the supposed connection between cycling and whisky, by visiting as many of islay's nine distilleries as the ferry timetable would allow. as a spoiler alert, the only two omitted from the feature were those of bunnahabhain and caol ila, the former because it was just a ferry departure time too far, and the latter because it was closed for its johnnie walker refurbishment.

if you'd like to read whether any connection between cycling and whisky came to light, perhaps you could acquire a copy of your own; it's outwith my remit to say. quite how you might view the possibility of replicating at least a portion of the ride depends very much how you'd approach the fact that, on the hottest day of 2022 in the uk, it rained all the way from kilchoman distillery to ardnahoe. but if there was anything to be gained from publication of pete's excellent article, accompanied by patrick's superb photography, it was surely to publicise cycling on the hallowed isle. i doubt any of the distilleries needed any more publicity than they have already achieved, but it may be that few in the velocipedinal realm have considered riding to the distilleries by bicycle. on observational evidence, it would appear that the majority of whisky aficionados do so by employing the services of one of the island's many taxi services.

however, as i have doubtless reiterated to the point of boredom, as have scotland's daily papers, islay's local paper and several online sources, getting to and from the island might be the bit that offers the greatest hardship.

it's no secret that there are still two calmac ferries stuck at ferguson's yard on the clyde, one of which has already been christened mv glen sannox and due to have been apportioned to the isle of arran route some five years ago. the fact that the ship lies unfinished, and unlikely to see professional service until autumn this year, at the earliest, is one of the reasons that scotland's west coast ferry services are currently in a serious state of disarray. the second hull at the same shipyard is simply known as hull 802, a long way from being completed, just as far from being officially named and even further from being applied to a specific west coast route.

at one time, the expected lifespan of a calmac west coast ferry was 25 years. when it became clear that the fleet was ageing quicker than replacements could be procured, the lifespan was extended to 30 years. however, the two oldest ships on the fleet, both of which ought to be plying the islay route before the end of this week, are 39 years and 40 years old respectively. had the two incomplete vessels in the clyde shipyard entered service when expected, there quite likely would be far less of a problem than is currently the case. there are two new ferries under construction for the islay service in turkey's cemre shipyard, but the first won't arrive until october 2024, and the second by march 2025, so succour for the intrepid whisky traveller won't arrive anytime soon.

calmac, to their credit, have been looking at every possible option to bolster the fleet and head off further disruption at the pass. the latest of these exploits resulted in leasing orkney ferry operators, pentland ferries' catamaran, mv alfred. of course you'd hardly expect even this to run smoothly. having agreed to pay pentland ferries £9 million for nine months' rental, this weekend was earmarked for the catamaran to undertake berthing trials, because despite the charter, nobody actually knew whether the boat would fit the piers (you probably couldn't make this up).

as any of you who have previously visited islay or jura will know, islay has two ports: port askaig and port ellen. mv alfred will 'sort of' fit the pier at port askaig, but definitely not port ellen and definitely not the mainland port of kennacraig. therefore, the route due to be undertaken by the alfred was either port askaig to campbeltown on the southern tip of the kintyre peninsula, or all the way to troon, on the scottish mainland. according to calmac, there will be no onboard catering service on either of these routes, despite sailing times ranging from four and a half hours and six and a half hours.

but then arrived the news on sunday morning, that pentland ferries other catamaran, the mv pentalina, had run aground on orkney on saturday, taking in water and suffering a fire in the engine room. the possibility exists, therefore, that pentland ferries might want the alfred back before it came even close to providing welcome relief for calmac.

i would not be the least bit surprised if you are wondering what on earth any of this has to do with cycling, or more specifically, cycling on islay, but i'd be most grateful if you'd accept this as a bit of background as to why, if you're planning to visit islay by bicycle, or even by car with a view to cycling when you're here, it might be very, very hard to book passage either on or off (or both) islay, particularly if you've designs on experiencing this year's whisky festival. bicycles are carried free of charge on all of calmac's ferries, but that doesn't except them from being placed on standby, depending on available car deck space.

one of the ferries currently serving the route has serious weight restrictions, due to having had a new car deck built on top of the old one.

this does not serve to undermine cyclist magazine's message that islay is a marvellous location on which to ride your bicycle, nor indeed that one of the best means of visiting all the current crop of distilleries is by bicycle. but as i mentioned above, it could be that the hardest part of your intended excursion would currently be actually getting here, no matter how many distilleries you expect to visit if you ever get here.

island life is possibly a great deal more intriguing than you might think.

monday 1 may 2023

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cost of inflation

inner tubes

the invention of the duvet, wonderful as it might be, effectively did for the quilt as far as keeping nice and warm in bed is concerned. however, the art of quilting is arguably more intense and intricate than attempting to cram a set of integrated cables inside a headtube. and, tucked away in a corner of islay house square, is the shop and workshop of islay quilters who, so they told me, have been in those particular premises for nigh on twenty years. inside the old stone outbuilding of islay house (curently an hotel), there is a cornucopia of quilts, hand-made bits and bobs, materials, quilts (naturally enough) and all manner of colourful oddities to grace any home or bedroom.

the problem, from their point of view, is that hidden away is perfectly true. while islay house square is home to islay studios photography and framing premises, a building that also houses a rather attractive cafe, islay gin, ma mackinnon's marmalade, a soon to open vintage whisky shop and tarff valley agricultural supplies, all of the above are in plain sight. the quilters is concealed behind a small archway and often missed by visitors.

the point of my visit, therefore, on saturday afternoon, was to take some photos inside the premises, with the intention of posting a short article in the local paper. for not only are they keen to attract customers, but also new recruits who might help with the quilting. the object of their exercise is not only to teach the art of quilting, but to produce one or two quilts to be auctioned for charity, the latest recipient being islay's sidekick charity, one that has the best interests and mobility of disabled children and adults at heart.

in order to cater to their needs, the charity invited members of a similar service on the east of scotland to visit islay and demonstrate how they catered to such needs, bringing with them a few specially adapted bicycles, one of which offered the opportunity for a disabled person to sit side by side with an able-bodied cyclist, but still allowing the former to be in charge of steering and/or pedalling. it's through efforts like this that the bicycle continues to demonstrate not only its versatility, but its power to do a lot more than most folks might think.

however, following my saturday afternoon visit to islay quilters, one of the unheralded downsides to riding a bicycle made itself rather obvious. the majority of ground in islay house square is unpaved, consisting predominantly of potholes and gravel, quite probably in equal proportions. some of that gravel is perilously close in size to boulders, an example of which i appear to have lumbered into as i exited the square, suffering a rather speedy deflation of the rear tyre.

saturdays are inevitably cyclocross bike day, with the specialized crux shod with a gnarly pair of challenge grifo 'cross tyres, up until saturday, more than the equal of anything across which they may have been ridden. neither they, nor the wheels, are tubeless compatible, a situation that causes me no grief whatsoever, since i still have little faith in the tubeless genre. of course, since said puncture appears to have been the result of nipping the inner tube (i believe a snakebite is the colloquial term), i am obviously now hoist by my own petard.

however, the simplicity with which it was possible to remove the wheel (thru-axles), remove the punctured tube and replace with a new one, inflate it to a reasonable pressure and replace the wheel (roughly five minutes), was hardly an onerous task. i'm aware that, devoid of an inner tube, the puncture may never have happened in the first place, but i'm afraid i still harbour doubts that the gloopy fluid in a tubeless tyre will carry out its singular task. however, should my misplaced faith have been proved entirely wrong, firing a plug into the tyre to seal it and subsequently re-inflating to a suitable pressure, though perhaps a few minutes quicker than replacing an inner tube is, in my humble opinion, not worth the faff that got us to that state in the first place.

though bicycles can prove to be very quick, much of that is at the behest of the rider, and doesn't really entail that everything about the bike needs to be achieved at speed. i witnessed a youtube video recently where the recognised king of slow cycling, jack thurston, was accompanied across yorkshire by the inimitable ned boulting, in what appears to have been a very wet and inclement bike ride. i've no idea if either of them were on tubeless, but i do find it quite odd why society at large seems overly invested in doing all in its power to save time and effort, particularly in situations where no-one appears to have asked them to. (hs2 for example, where billions are being spent to save probably less than an hour).

the ladies at islay quilters are invested in the labour intensive methods of creating marvellous quilts, if for no other reasons than keeping the skills alive while producing items of beauty. rather than necessarily succumbing to the inevitable march of the duvet. i'd agree that changing an inner-tube is a rather poor example of a situation that was crying out for a speedier solution, but obviously others thought differently. while clinchers and inner-tubes continue to exist, i'm well within my rights to ignore the march of technology, but my principal fear is that there will come a time when options are no longer an option.

sunday 30 april 2023

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does it work?

bike shop

i write the following from a position of total naivety, unable to join the expected happy throng optimistically expected to have crowded the sale floors of their local bike shops today. neither islay nor jura is home to a bike shop of any shape or form, so even should our boundless enthusiasm for the association of cycle traders (act) curated 'local bike shop day' become an emotional burden, this particular band of hebridean cyclists has no means of achieving closure. in fact, a quick, totally unscientific survey of scotland's west coast islands would tend to suggest we're not alone.

however, it's highly unlikely that the association had islanders uppermost in their corporate minds when the idea arose in 2018. but, in a world that has arguably lost the ability to behave in a 'hippy dippy' manner, possibly last seen in the late 1960s, the sentiments behind the event seem, if you'll pardon the cynicism, just a tad less than pragmatic.

while citing my naivety once again, my understanding of the cyclist/bike store interface predominantly revolves around the notion that customers step across the threshold for one of a number of reasons. either the bicycle has reached a state of infirmity and requires the tender loving care that only a professional mechanic can dispense, the bicycle is now an ex-bicycle and requires replacing, you've managed to convince your better half that a squeaky pedal demands a completely new bicycle, or you want to buy something on display in the window. of course, there are any number of other reasons why you may wish to visit a bicycle shop - perhaps it's one of those local hangouts that serves coffee and dlights in the great unwashed occupying its inner recesses every weekend; who knows?

any or all of the above would seem perfectly in order, but most are predicated on specific demand, rather than impulsive choice. but the explicit reasons behind local bike shop day seem just a smidgeon less coherent. director of the act, jonathan harrison said, "local bike shop day is designed to encourage the cycling community to do just that - whether it's dropping your bike off for its service at your regular independent bicycle dealer, or cycling out to a shop you haven't visited before in a neighbouring town, cyclists drive this campaign."

you will perhaps forgive me if i scratch my head, but i'm at a bit of a loss to comprehend how my turning up at a hitherto un-visited bike shop for an hour or two, at the behest of mr harrison's exhortations, is suddenly going to make them financially solvent and appreciative of their place in the community. especially if it's not actually my community. one of the avowed aims of the annual event is to 'encourage the local community to recognise the benefits of their local bike shops'. extending that particular meme across the board would surely entail the need for a local book shop day, local café day, local hardware store day...". i'm sure you can see where i'm going with this.

the office in which i work offers printing services, photocopying, passport photos and publishing services. customers tend to visit when they have need of one or other of the above. and, i would imagine, bike shops receive visits from customers for similar, bike-related reasons. i cannot say that i have ever dropped in at my local averagemarket just to hang out near the checkout, while congratulating the staff on providing quite so many benefits to the island community. similarly, my weekly visits to debbie's café in bruichladdich are mostly for the coffee, cake and double-egg rolls; i have never been known to hangout, simply to appreciate debbie's contribution to the locality.

do not misunderstand me; in today's increasingly online world, it cannot be other than an uphill struggle to achieve anything like a meaningful profit from owning a bike shop. if there's a bike shop anywhere near you, i would strongly suggest that you make use of it whenever the need presents itself. as the saying goes, 'the internet won't repair your bicycle', and it sure won't send you a christmas card if you buy parts online and ask them to fit them.

but that has to become a regular state of affairs, as and when necessary. creating an artificial land of oz is unlikely to help anyone. instead of local bike shop day, the association of cycle traders would surely be better concentrating on a local bike shop year, starting on 1 january and ending on 31 december. and make it an annual event.

saturday 29 april 2023

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spot the difference

quantum computer

if memory serves correctly, it was at an early edition of the rouleur classic held in central london, only several lengthy stone's throws from euston station. a display of shimano componentry featured a set of hydraulic disc brakes and the attendant levers, the accompanying caption taunting any attending professionals by pointing out that, while you and i could benefit from the alleged improvement in braking power, those with a contract in their back pockets had to 'make-do' with puny rim-brakes.

had i heard it said during the on-stage interviews with the professionals, "...if only i'd had disc-brakes, i'd have won", i might have been a tad more persuaded. but the availability of hydraulic disc-brakes on road bikes (they'd been available on 'cross and mtbs for years) was very much manufacturer led, as opposed to persistent clamouring from the professional peloton. look at it from this point of view: while steel frames could relatively easily be upgraded, that possibility applies to neither aluminium nor carbon.

though the uci dilly-dallied over tacit approval for their use in world tour events, the security of the floodgates was always going to be in dire straits once discs were readily available to the pros. following their full-scale introduction, the implicit wannabe nature of road-racing acolytes meant that there was an eager and willing, ready-made line of customers outside the world's bike stores. and, assuming you were in possession of an aluminium or carbon framed bicycle, there was no other option than to purchase something new. which bicycle or component manufacturer would not be enthused?

but have they made any difference? coupled with rapid developments in electronic gearchanging, those suitably equipped can arguably now stop more quickly and save micro-watts by not having to physically push a small lever. in thewashingmachinepost bike shed, my two favoured bicycles have a wheel in both camps; the ritchey has campagnolo record rim brakes, while the specialized sports a set of sram rival hydraulic discs (electronica holds no sway at all).

i would be labelled a 'big fibber' if i made any disparaging remarks towards those disc-brakes; they work very well, though i'm a bit put off by the squealing when the rotors are wet. but, for my level of riding, even downhill with a following (galeforce) tailwind in the pouring rain, the rim brakes on the ritchey are more than adequate. i tend to think that state of affairs is every bit as applicable to sunday pelotons all across the world. but remaining true to the spirit of eddy has already become a test of one's resolve, with the majority of manufacturers having switched wholesale to discs, particularly at the high end.

i defy anyone reading to contest the fact that the professionals are in a class of their own. while even they may not have gained any leverage (pardon the pun) with the adoption of electrons in the gearing department, they, and only they, can likely squeeze every last advantage from their hydraulics. however, the question ought not to be whether either of the above developments confer any speed or handling benefits, but whether they have made road racing any more exciting, or better, than it previously was? as pippa york once told me, "never forget, it's all entertainment."

it's a subject for which i make no apology over my total lack of scientific research; my appreciation of world tour road racing is, i believe, every bit the equal of anyone else's. despite my distinct cynicism and luddite tendencies, i truly cannot fathom any diminution of excitement when watching the tour de france, paris-roubaix or liege-bastogne-liege, simply because the riders are equipped with electrons and hydraulics. assuming that the majority share my observations, it seems there may have been a substantial amount of research and development indulged simply to remain no further forward than when we started.

a campagnolo super record eps groupset is more than £1000 more expensive than its mechanical sibling. same goes for the difference in spend between shimano's mechanical ultegra groupset and its electronic counterpart. once again, i defy anyone to say that the difference in user experience is worth £1,000 of anyone's money. and though i have no peer-reviewed studies to confirm, i have ridden every make of electronica currently (pun intended) available. i cannot deny that they work, but none was easier or qualitatively better to use than the mechanical equivalent. never yet have i arrived home, patently exhausted from all that lever-pushing; even following 500km from london to paris over the course of three days.

i am not alone in questioning, not whether discs and buttons are superior to rims and levers, but whether, in fact, they have made any demonstrative improvement to the velocipedinal experience, or to the excitement generated during any given cycle race? perhaps, before someone has the apparently bright idea of incorporating artificial intelligence into the equation, we ought to seriously reconsider what it is that cycling is supposed to be all about and whether it warrants the amount of inveterate meddling it seems to currently receive?

quantum computer image: cnet

friday 28 april 2023

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at a complete loss

sold sign

it would seem that post-brexit britain appears to be suffering a bit more than its former compatriots on mainland europe in terms of the cost of living crisis. which provides something of a conundrum in and of itself when it comes to bicycle sales. considering the not surprising difference in cost between cycling to work, school, shops etc., and taking the car, maintenance of cycle sales post-covid would surely have been an expected outcome. yet apparently, that is not the case; it seems that the uk is so in love with its motor cars, that any thoughts of adopting a more cycling-based culture have simply evaporated into thick air.

even the ubiquitous e-bike has seen sales figures stall, no longer growing at the levels observed both prior to and during the pandemic. it's a situation that will no doubt be examined by grant-funded psychologists for many a long year, but the so-called 'year of the bike', came and went embarrassingly quickly. and to be quite honest, this weekend's national bike shop day seems very unlikely to alter the downward trajectory.

there are probably remarkably good reasons for this hopefully temporary slump, but if things are to change, they're going to have to change in a far greater way than wiggle and chain reaction upgrading their branding. it's highly possible that i am quite naive in such matters, akin to the child who pointed out that the emperor, in fact, was not actually wearing any clothes. wiggle and chain reaction are both household names as far as the cycling community is concerned, with cyclists choosing one or other dependent mostly on historical use prior to the acquisition of one by the other. changing the logos really makes very little difference to the majority of their customer base.

it's persuading the unconverted away from their motor cars and onto the bicycle that is the hard part. and despite all the marketing and branding hyperbole produced on a daily, if not hourly basis, changing a logo does not possess the marketing clout that some appear to think it does. on leaving the local secondary school following wind-band practice, late on tuesday afternoon, in the car park were the vehicles of two teachers who live less than 100 metres from the school, and another for whom there is a very short footpath leading from their residence to the school door. i very much doubt that, in this respect, islay is any different to any other location.

to be honest, i walk a similar distance every morning to the office, and would scarcely think of riding my bike over such a short stretch of road. but if these allegedly intelligent individuals won't even walk, there seems little chance of them cycling lengthier distances. a new, bright green logo is never going to change that. particularly if the cost of fuel seems not to have done so.

this worldwide downturn in cycle sales is evident from shimano's first-quarter financial results, almost 17% lower year on year. on this basis, the japanese component manufacturer has revised its annual figures to forecast their net income for 2023 is likely to be 46% lower than those seen in 2022. tied with the anecdotal evidence that, as a result of over-ordering to cater for sales that never arrived, many cycle manufacturers are now selling at heavily discounted rates.

it's easy to criticise, but if you'd been experiencing shipping delays patched against substantially increased demand from customers, what would you do? granted, a few of us were unsurprised that the bicycle didn't turn out to be the transport of the future, and still wondering why those paid to comprehend business trends didn't, but profit margins and stock control were never likely to appear on our peripheral vision. though writing from a relatively uninformed point of view, i think it possible that the number of motor vehicles on the road continues to increase because national infrastructures never cease to cater for their growth. yet many pop-up cycle lanes were removed as soon as life got back to 'normal'.

but perhaps, in the uk at least, cycling life might soon attract some new recruits with changes to the cycling uk management. for the first time in its 145 year history (despite being previously known as the cyclists' touring club) the organisation's leadership features a majority female leadership, along with a workforce that is 58% female. analysts have frequently pointed out that cycling in britain might experience an upsurge, were more women and girls to join the happy throng, more in the transportational and leisure arenas than the sporting department.

however, one of the new recruits may already have undermined her suitability for the position. sarah mcmonagle, who leaves the council for the protection of rural england (cpre) to join cycling uk, is quoted as saying, "Whether we live in towns, cities or the countryside, encouraging more people to cycle is a no-brainer in a climate and cost of living crisis." which is sort of where we came in. if the situation is, indeed, a 'no-brainer', more folks would surely have taken to the bicycle through common sense, without external prodding.

mcmonagle's stance is closely reminiscent of the industry's approach to advertising; to wit 'we make these, so buy one'. much as i hate to burst ms. mcmonagle's bubble, it's going to take a great deal more than presenting a bicycle to the great unwashed, and awaiting common sense to take its natural course.

reduced personal expenditure seems not to be the incentive many thought it to be.

thursday 27 april 2023

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it's good to talk

alecks punks

discussions over the rights and wrongs of riding with earphones or ear-buds have, for the best part, subsided, following some extreme differences of opinion a few years ago. i first purchased an early ipod from the apple store in kansas city while attending a pipe-band drumming course in the nearby marriott hotel (long story). in order that i might make use of the white, button-less device on my return flight, the kind people at the apple store loaded a couple of albums following its purchase. (miles davis and leo kottke, as i recall).

keen to make good use of the ipod, i garnered the habit of listening to drumming podcasts on my pre-work, morning walk, a habit that was remarkably short-lived on discovering that motor traffic could sneak up behind me, unannounced. and if that could happen at mere walking pace, heaven forfend the effect of riding with earphones midst galeforce winds. though i prefer to paint the principality as a haven of idyllic bike rides, truth is, those can often be punctuated by 40ft articulated tankers and trucks servicing the distilleries.

though the latter are courteous to a fault, being ignored past multiple passing places on a single track road would probably wear thin very quickly. that said, the temptation to listen to music while riding my bike was never really there in the first place. during the dark ages, when i was a car owner, i rarely, if ever, switched on the radio, finding it hard enough to concentrate on driving, even in silence. for that specific reason, i find it hard to accept the common practice of 'hands-free' phone conversations while driving. surely if in charge of about one tonne of fast moving metal, any distractions are too many?

however, i have probably undermined my concerns by admitting that, during the sunday ride, we are all guilty of conversing with each other, while allegedly concentrating on the road ahead. that said, in the latter instance, we have no-one else to blame but ourselves as we are missed, often by millimetres, by passing motor cars in which it is painfully obvious, the radio or iphone is being played in an often deafening fashion. however, one of the pleasures of riding in a peloton is the opportunity to converse upon matters rarely connected to the world of the velocipede. putting the world to rights. and for the majority of any given year, riding islay's or jura's singletrack roads tends to be relatively traffic free, while our speeds are highly unlikely to result in injury should a lack of concentration dump us unceremoniously on the grass verge.

however, eagle-eyed readers may have noted the surreptitious mention of galeforce winds, either a blight or training aid, depending on your point of view. when riding earnestly into such a headwind, conversation is not only hard to make, but similarly hard to hear, the gist of the conversation often having to be gauged from random words and on-the-bike body language. fortunately, little of what is said is of any great consequence, but i'm sure both speaking and listening parties would prefer to be in regular communication with each other.

and now a kickstarter project could make that something of a practical reality, though i cannot pretend that those ipod thoughts aren't beginning to resurface even at the very mention. a company by the name of aleck has placed its "...first wireless, near ear audio and communication system for cyclists" up for collective funding. at the time of writing, it has comfortably exceeded its target. not altogether surprisingly, the system features a smartphone app, allowing connected users to engage with each other even if not riding in the same peloton.

the system features what the company calls 'near ear drivers' which clip onto helmet straps, but i harbour certain concerns over the push-to-talk aspect contained within the app; this surely entails riding, talking and handling a smartphone all at the same time, just as a bus-sized motorhome heads in your direction, intent on making the 11:30am tour at kilchoman distillery? i appreciate that the principle is simply an electronic development of the casual pelotonic conversation outlined above, but it does seem perilously close to allowing car drivers to talk to each other, car-to-car, while on the motorway.

proponents will be keen to point out that race radios in the professional peloton have been available for many a long year, but it's worth bearing in mind that, not only are those riders tautologically of a professional standard, but inevitably riding on closed roads without the chance of bumping into oncoming traffic. the aleck punks are due to be available in europe this summer, priced at around £133.

alecks punks cycle communication

wednesday 26 april 2023

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smoke gets in your eyes

cyclist diagram

in this modern, technology driven world, it often seems that the glaringly obvious cannot, in fact, be declared as such until a grant-funded scientific survey has been undertaken to prove that what at first seemed glaringly obvious, is actually glaringly obvious. but now the subject of a peer-reviewed scientific paper, and possibly the first step towards a member of the team studying for a phd. has at least partially discovered the glaringly obvious.

as cyclists, we have long understood that riding behind motor vehicles on city streets or urban roadways exposes us to the effects of the pollution emanating from vehicle exhausts. it's a similar situation to that incurred when using an air-freshener, without checking that it's pointing in the wrong direction (boy, was that embarrassing).

a report by the university of surrey, published this month in the journal of wind engineering and industrial aerodynamics, citing various scientific studies, has concluded that the assumption that, in a group of cyclists, those at the front are more likely to suffer from the effects of vehicle pollution than are those at the rear of the group. the dispersion effect. had the university of surrey contacted any one of us, i'm fairly certain we could have provided the same information at far lower cost. however, my cynicism, while broadly 'on the money' may be slightly misplaced.

cyclist diagram

due to the fact that, other than acolytes of car-free watopia, cyclists carry out their transportational and leisure pedalling in the wide-open yonder, we are arguably less at risk from vehicle pollutants than are other motorists and pedestrians. the former conclusion is based on the likelihood that any vehicle sat behind another in traffic will have the heater or air-conditioning in operation, sucking in air through vents at the front of the car, but air that likely contains particulates from the exhaust in front. this situation will be replicated throughout any line of traffic.

however, this seemingly logical contention has hitherto unconsidered implications for the cycling fraternity, predominantly on the basis of our super-human endeavours. unless the radio station playlist happens to be particularly contentious, it is thought unlikely that cardio-vascular activity in behind the steering wheel will be anywhere near considerable. on the other hand, our superior physical health is likely to result in heavy-breathing of a sort likely to inhale greater amounts of the vehicle pollution that sits at the centre of this research.

for this reason, pedestrians are thought likely to experience similar effects to those of vehicle drivers.

cyclist diagram

however, the study widened its scope by taking a look at how a group of moving cyclists might suffer from the pollution expelled by vehicles adjacent to their direction of travel. in other words, if riding on a cycle lane that parallels lanes of traffic. here, according to the journal report, hitherto unconsidered and acknowledged "...complex aerodynamic fields" are likely to favour cyclists at the front of the group, rather than the previously benefitting tail-enders. for riders who rarely see the front of the peloton, such as yours truly, this provides something of a conundrum. for starters, it proves that my continuous coughing and wheezing cannot, as it transpires, be necessarily laid at the exhaust pipe of the vehicle in front, when riding behind the team car (a little hebridean humour there). but it consequently implies that, were i to be domiciled in a city or urban region, my coughing and wheezing might be made worse by passing vehicles.

i await the follow-up, grant-funded study, that investigates how matteers might change after 2030, when the opportunity to ride behind electric vehicles will be more achievable.

postgraduate researcher, and lead author of the study, joy schmeer, said, "Cycling is encouraged to reduce congestion on the roads, as well as traffic emissions, yet despite many encouraging health aspects of cycling, the exposure to and inhalation of vehicle pollutants is something not to be forgotten, especially when used as a regular alternative transport method.
"The findings of these experiments highlight group cyclists needs to consider their routes and position within a group, especially when roads become busier and narrower."

cyclist diagram

dr marco placidi, senior lecturer in experimental fluid mechanics at the university of surrey commented, "While drivers need to maximise their distance away from riders before overtaking them, cyclists should aim to distance themselves from the vehicle's exhaust, but also potentially from other riders if a vehicle is driving adjacent to them. As for further recommendations, experiments like these show the need to consider repercussion of peak utilisation of urban cycle lanes during their design stages."

suddenly, pelotonic manouevres seem far less simple than once they were. perhaps we ought all to adopt the 'through-and-off' modus operandi employed by the average team time-trial riders, meaning that no single velocipedinist has to take the brunt of the iniquity. however, it is surely of some comfort to learn that some of the finest minds in the land have taken it upon themselves to closely examine the world of pain and suffering, keen to determine if the perceived level of suffering equates with reality. for those of a sturdier constitution, i have posted a link to the full report below, but otherwise, i have read it so that you don't have to.

you're welcome.

cyclists' exposure to road vehicle emissions in urban environments

tuesday 25 april 2023

twmp ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................