Sniff Testing

My job occasionally involves something a bit different. Last week I was having an odour acuity assessment, or if you prefer, a ‘sniff test’, to determine my sense of smell. I was having my nose calibrated. In a clinical room, a very small amount of n-butanol is released into one of two funnels (see photo below), at a known concentration, and you have to say which funnel the smell was coming from.

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If you get the first two attempts correct, then in the next round a smaller concentration is released. This continues for ten rounds until your nose is calibrated, to determine how sensitive your nose is.

Most people can detect n-butanol at a concentration between 20-80 parts per billion. My score was 8ppb, so either I have a very sensitive nose, or the machine wasn’t working correctly that day.

With this information, I can perform a ‘sniff test’ out in the field. If a developer wants to build a whole load of houses next to a sewage treatment works, someone has to go there and have a good sniff around the place. The results would then be used in context with my calibration results. This all adds to another string to my bow.

“Science”

I wrote a short article about an issue of Cycling Plus a few weeks ago (you can read it here). This time I will be a little disparaging about their version of “Science”.

In the May 2017 issue they published an article all about how weight affects climbing. Is it more about the bike or the rider? Without reading further I guessed that it was about the rider. In the test two riders were told to ride a hill that they’ve both done many times before. Their Garmin screens were taped over so they couldn’t see the time or their power. They would ride the hill twice, once with a 5kg weighted vest and once with 5kg added to their bike. One rider would do the vest ride first and vice versa.

So far so good, in the name of “Science”. The results came in and the outcome was that more gains could be made with a lighter bike. The article then informs you how to shed some weight off your bike, for example, some carbon wheels.

What issues could I possible have with an article that is both interesting and packed with Science”. Well. The weight of a bike and the weight of a person are not comparable. There is no way that I could reduce the weight of my Scott Addict (here) by 5kg, but if I’m being honest, I probably could lose 5kg myself.

What the test should have done is use 10% of the bike/rider. For example, if my Scott weighs 7.5kg and I weigh 75kg, then to repeat the test accurately, I would add 0.75kg to my bike, and repeat the climb with a 7.5kg weighted vest. I am fairly sure that losing weight from yourself is by far the best option, and a whole lot cheaper.

Caution, cynical finish. Maybe the point of the article is to persuade people to buy expensive wheels, thereby keeping the advertisers happy.

Too close

I’ve blogged about the joys of commuting between Lancaster, Wigan and Leigh a few times before (here, here and here). I’ve lost count of the number of close passes and near misses that have happened to me in the last six months, but today’s encounter was the worst.

I was cycling through Lancaster, making my way to the train station, along the A6.

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The cycle lane is little more than some leftover paint, but it is better than nothing (maybe). As I came towards the traffic lights with Meeting House Lane, a car pulled alongside me with the left indicator flashing. The passenger definitely saw me. You can guess what happened at the junction.

 

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The driver didn’t bother about me in the slightest, and just turned left on me, leaving me with no choice but to also turn left. If I had tried to go straight on I would have ended up a crumpled heap on the road. If I’d been lucky I would only have suffered cuts and bruises and a buckled front wheel. I could have ended up with a ruined bike and a broken collar bone.

What saved me was the indicator, so I was ready to be ignored, as was the fact that I was also turning left. I never indicate at this junction, as that is a guarantee that a driver will turn left on you. The photos above were taken later in the day, but it wasn’t dark when the incident occured, and I was wearing one of those stupid fake police jackets that say ‘Polite’ on them. You’d have thought that there would be no way you could miss me, although apparently you can.

That particular junction is a known danger area for pedestrians and cyclists. The Council has even added a mirror on the traffic lights so that lorry drivers can see cyclists. There are also signs telling everyone to look out for cyclists.20170424_182104

I was visibly shaken as the car continued up the road. It then turned into the station, which was where I was going. The car parked up and the passenger climbed out. I thought about going over to confront the driver, but I wasn’t rational and my body was flooded with adrenaline, so I left it.

All I want to do is go to work and then come home unbroken. I don’t want my wife worrying every day, not knowing if I’ve made it to work safely, or if I will be coming home again.

The cycling revolution has a long way to go yet.

Should I still go on the ‘A’ ride?

I’ve been riding with Garstang Cycling Club for a few years now, with a couple of years off for good behaviour. They’re a great club, very friendly and have always made me feel very welcome. They also like to organise slightly different rides. One of my favourites was the epic Scorton – Scotland – Scorton 200 mile ride, in one looooong day. (strava route can be found here).

Earlier this year I returned for my first ride with the club for over a year, with the ‘A’ group, and it was a pleasant jaunt out to Tosside, cafe stop, and gently over Bowland Knotts.

Three weeks ago I was back for my first 100 miler of the year, which was a particularly tough ride over Newby Head in the rain. I struggled to keep up from the start, and as soon as the road went up I was left behind. I then had a go at the ride leader because I couldn’t keep up (sorry about that Paul), blaming everyone else for my tired legs. I eventually rolled into Sedbergh for the cafe stop over five minutes behind everyone else after having bonked big time. I put it down to not eating enough before and during the ride.

Today I was on the cobbles in Garstang ready for another ‘A’ ride. I has also eaten more before setting off and my back pockets were bulging with gels and cereal bars. I would be fine, or so I thought. The route was a gentle 80 miler, without too many hills. Four of us set off, and I stayed at the back although the pace wasn’t too quick. 40 miles later, after over 1,000m of climbing, and I really wanted to be at the cafe as I was only just holding on, and still hadn’t taken a turn at the front. The cafe was somewhere I’d never been before and was great (can’t remember the name of it, but it was in Ribchester).

As we set off again there was a couple of nasty little climbs where I just about held on, but as we reached the flat part of the ride the pace was upped. Almost 30 miles of chaingang followed, where I took one turn at the front lasting less than a minute. I managed to stay with everyone else until a mile before Garstang and the end of the ride. As I rolled to a stop I mentioned to Rick, the ride leader, that I had found the last 25 miles deeply unpleasant.

That’s two ‘A’ rides this month where I’ve returned home a broken man. I had a chat with Mick as we headed to Scorton, where I said that maybe it was time for me to join the ‘B’ ride. Mick very kindly added that I had nothing to prove. I’ve completed the Bowland Badass (here), Everested (here and here), completed a double ironman (here) and a triple ironman, but I’m not getting any younger.

The problem is that the ‘A’ ride is the ‘A’ ride for a reason, and most of my riding this year has definitely not been ‘A’ ride quality. I’ve enjoyed riding with Helen (my beautiful wife), stopping at cafes, and going touring at a very sedate pace. Maybe I’m not fit enough for the ‘A’ ride. I could train a bit harder or sign up to Zwift and power my way through the tough times and persevere with the ‘A’ rides. I’m enjoying cycling as much now as I ever have, and am really looking forward to a weeks touring in Scotland later this year, so that’s not an issue.

So, should I admit that I’m not the rider I used to be and head out with the ‘B’ ride, that’s if they would have me, and enjoy cycling with friends at a less frenetic pace.

Mini Adventure Day 3 – Penrith to Lancaster

If you’ve not read the first two parts of our mini adventure you can find Day 1 here, and Day 2 can be found here.

On to Day 3, and the weather forecast¬† had constantly changed over the weekend, with supposedly bad weather on Day 1 and sunny on the other days. By the Saturday night the forecast was cold and wet for the Sunday, and our last day. It’s only 50 miles from Penrith to Lancaster, so we should be fine.

When we woke up the weather looked great as we skipped downstairs to breakfast. A Spanish girl was having problems with the toaster, and had filled the kitchen with smoke, while a couple and their three young children hunted for eggs in the garden. Back in the kitchen and another man spent 20 minutes making one ham and mayo sandwich. Hostels are a great way of meeting interesting people and I cannot recommend them highly enough, especially the Wayfarers Hostel in Penrith (link).

As with the previous day we didn’t set off until 9am, and it still wasn’t raining, although it was a bit chilly. Because of my navigation skills (or lack of) from the previous day we opted for the A6 all the way to Kendal. It would be a bit less fun, but not too much traffic uses that section of the A6.

We soon reached the village of Shap, where we stopped for a banana before tackling Shap hill. Just before the climb begins there is a 96 room hotel, literally in the middle of nowhere. Passing the hotel from ‘The Shining’ also coincided with it starting to hammer it down. As we slowly climbed we passed a couple of roadside ‘shrines’, which is never nice to see. By the time we reached the top, both my hands and feet were numb from the cold and wet, making the descent very unpleasant, and there might not have been much traffic, but what little there was would invariably pass too close and too fast.

By the time we reached Kendal both of us were desperate to stop. Helen was worried that nowhere would let us in, but a small cafe called Finkles, located down an alley were more than happy to welcome two bedraggled cyclists. I then suggested to Helen that she phone Dan her son, who had been staying at our house, to see if he could pick us up. “Not a problem, see you in 40 minutes,” he said. While we waited we consumed hot chocolate and warm scones.

I don’t like giving in to the weather, but my waterproof jacket wasn’t, and my gloves were not designed for 5 degrees and rain. If Dan hadn’t been able to pick us up we would have made it home, but it wouldn’t have been much fun. It was a slightly sad end to a great weekend, but we can take loads of positives, even from the final day. Helen now knows that cycle touring (with me) is brilliant. I know that I need to be better at route planning and we both need to be better prepared for inclement weather. In fact, we both loved the weekend so much that we’ve started to plan mini, and not so mini adventures for years to come. I would whole hearted recommend cycle touring to everyone, just go for it.

The Strava route for the final day of our adventure can be found here.

Finally, the next day I bought myself a new saddle, a Brooks Cambium C17, and first impression are very favourable (Strave ride here).

Mini Adventure Day 2 – Grinton to Penrith

That was a tough day. We’ve all had tough days in the saddle, but today was a real humdinger. It started off well, with a great nights sleep and large breakfast at the Grinton YHA. We then had a short lie down before heading off at 9am. The first mile was downhill and then flat into Reeth. From the village of Reeth to the top of Tan Hill took us two hours to cover under 12 miles, although that was with over 1600 feet of climbing. We were even smiling half way up.

I’ve ridden the road from Reeth to Tan Hill a couple of times before, and the road never seems to end. Eventually, when you think that there is no way the hill can go on any further, you come to a sign saying Tan Hill Inn 3 1/2 miles.

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It totally knocks the stuffing out of you, especially with the strong head wind we were faced with. When we did eventually reach the top we stopped for a few minutes, but the wind was so cold that we soon set off again.

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Another annoying thing about Tan Hill, is that when you reach the Inn at the top, there’s still loads more climbing to do. How is that even possible?

When we did eventually start to descend the wind was so strong that I was getting blown about, and I was riding a big heavy bike with fully loaded panniers. If my bike was a horse, it would be a shirehorse. Helen was having a much worse time on her lightweight Orro.

Once at the bottom we both decided that a brew was in order. A couple of miles later we were in Brough. The place was busy and we couldn’t find a decent cafe. There also seemed to be an antique bus fare (fair) going on, so we pushed onto Appleby-in-Westmorland.

A cautionary note to add, and something I deeply regret. When you’re tired and in need of food and a sit down, you don’t always make the most rational decisions. In Appleby I saw a sign pointing to a cafe, but it was down a one way street, the wrong way. I made it, but my wife was almost hit by a speeding Range Rover. It was stupid and reckless and could easily have ended badly, so be careful out there. The cafe was also rubbish, so we went somewhere else which turned out to be eccentric and therefore ideal for us.

Feeling refreshed we set off for Penrith. The wind was still howling, but with less than 15 miles to go it should have been easy, but I messed up the route on my Garmin. We passed a sign saying Appleby 5 miles, and then a couple of miles later another sign saying Appleby 4 3/4 miles. My route then tried to take us down an unpaved farm track, over some stupid hills and a very busy main road.

When we did reach Penrith we were both shattered, although the Wayfarers Hostel was clean and welcoming with safe bike parking in the cellar. There was also tools, a track pump if required and a sink for filling up your bottles. The bloke working at the hostel also complimented me on my bike, as he had the same one, albeit in a different colour. That’s two other people I’ve met in the UK with the same bike.

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Our room in the hostel was on the top floor with a great view and our own private bathroom. A long shower, clean clothes, Wifi and we were ready for food. We found an inviting Mexican restaurant with an immediately friendly owner. The place was colourful and warm with a genuine earthiness, coupled with great food.

Back at the hostel and we both hoped that the next day would be less windy. I also realised that I needed to get a new saddle, as the one that came with the bike was not up to the challenge.

You can read day one of our mini adventure here, and our Strava route can be found here.

Finally, a short note about the added miles. It wasn’t too much of a problem today as we only ended up doing 55 miles, but in a couple of months we’re off to Scotland for eight days and if I make navigation errors there it could be a problem. We have one 80 mile day planned, with hills, and we do not want to be doing extra that day.

Edit: I had written most of this on the evening of day 2 in the hostel, and when my wife read it, she mentioned that it sounded like we had a really sh*t day. Lots of wind, lots of hills and I tried to kill my wife. We did actually have a great day and we’re both really looking forward to our next adventure, so in the future I must be a bit more careful what I write about at the end of a hard days riding.

Mini Adventure Day 1 – Lancaster to Grinton

We’d booked the hostels for this mini adventure a few months ago, expecting Helen’s new touring bike to have arrived. Unfortunately it was stuck in America, or Malaysia or somewhere exotic like Milton Keynes. Plan B involved fitting Helen’s new handlebar bag to her road bike, and then loading me up with everything else. Fortunately, we were travelling light.

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Good Friday arrived, and I took Nelly for an early morning walk around the park, while Helen made sure that the house was neat and tidy for her youngest, who was staying the weekend with his girlfriend to look after Nelly and the cats.

At 9.30 we headed out into the Lancashire rain, down to the cycle path and out of Lancaster. ‘Steady away’ was our motto, as Helen was worried about doing 50-60 miles a day, three days in a row. The plan was to stop little and often, taking plenty of photos.

Soon we arrived at Ingleton and stopped at the marvellous Seasons Bakery, and despite the large array of cakes we both opted for a chicken, pork and stuffing pie. Tasty!

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We then prepared ourselves for the long slog over Newby Head to Hawes. It’s one of my least favourite roads due to the traffic, but today, most drivers seemed to be giving me extra room, which makes a pleasant change from cycling in Wigan. We stopped at the famous Ribbleshead viaduct for a quick selfie….

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…before the last climb up to Newby Head and the long descent into Hawes. We cycled around the busy town looking for a welcoming cafe, although the one that I’d stopped at a few years earlier was now a Chinese take-away. We re-traced our steps and stopped at Cafe Curva, where we sat outside in the sun, with good coffee and equally good bacon butties. What more could you want? A friendly woman then came and sat near to us with her beautiful dog, which was a Bernese Swiss mountain dog. She was huge, but apparently the smallest of the Swiss mountain breeds. Helen, ever a sucker for a furry face, saved some bacon for her.

Back on the bikes, and the sun was really out now, and with a nice tailwind the 17 miles from Hawes to Leyburn flew by, except for the monster climb out of Askrigg. This is the village where the TV show ‘All creatures great and small’ was filmed. Also, the ‘monster’ climb wasn’t the proper ‘monster’ climb out of Askrigg, just it’s smaller cousin.

Once in Leyburn we stopped in the sun for a cold fizzy drink. Helen wanted a diet coke while I opted for a refreshing fizzy rhubarb drink, which my beautiful wife decided was much nicer than a diet coke. Leyburn was busy with a Friday market and was packed, mainly with cars. If only there was some other mode of transport, for example, a bicycle. There was also a shop called The Wobbly Dog, which probably sold tea towels.

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Out of Leyburn and the final climb, while not steep, did go on for ages as we made our way through an army firing range. There were also loads of cyclists coming past in the other direction, some wearing numbers, so there must have been an event on somewhere. Once at the top the view was amazing, and Helen did that panoramic thing with her phone, which was ruined by my face. The last mile was then all downhill to the Grinton YHA.

The YHA at Grinton is in a grand old house, welcoming and warm, with half a dozen ‘pods’ in the garden, as well as brilliant views across the valley.

Over pizza and a beer we chatted about bicycle touring, and how Helen had been a little nervous about going touring with me. I truthfully told her that if I’d been on my own I wouldn’t have been going any faster and would have stopped just as often. There is no rush, take your time and enjoy being on your bike.

In the dinning room of the YHA there were some creative drawings of woodland creatures on the walls. A stag, ram, hedgehog and a fox, all without feet, hidden in long grass. I suspect that the artists wasn’t confident drawing hoofs and paws.

That was the end to a brilliant day one of our mini touring adventure, although I should add that I’ve had my bike for about six months. In that time the left cleat has been a little tight, so on the morning of our little trip I decided to loosen it a little, as I didn’t want to come a cropper with a fully laden bike. I should have looked closer, as I tightened it, and at the first junction I very nearly did fall off. To prove how much of an idiot I can be, I decided to leave it and loosen it when we reached Grinton. I forgot and spent the whole of the second day being unable to un-clip easily as well.

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You can read day two of our mini adventure here, and the Strava route can be found here.