A birthday bivvy with my boy

Wild camping Kings Forest of Geltsdale

I was 43 on Saturday. I celebrated by bivvying on a remote moor with my ten year old son, Josh. It was the first outing for our new bivvybags from Alpkit. I’ve spent a fair bit of time under the stars while cycle touring, Josh has only ever camped in campsites and under the reassurance of nylon ceilings. He took to wild camping like a duck to water, although he made sure to snuggle up to me during the night.

The dawn chorus woke me at 5.30am, I let Josh sleep through until 6am.

Josh still asleep 5.40am 30th August

We were wild camping in the King’s Forest of Geltsdale, near Brampton in Cumbria. Technically, wild camping in the access lands of England and Wales is a civil tort, and we could be sued for trespass. The grey status of wild camping is something being debated by the Outdoor Writers’ and Photographers’ Guild – I’m a member – and campaigned against by blogs such as LegaliseWildCamping.com.

Before finding our bivvy spot for the night we didn’t seek permission from the landowner. This would have been difficult, as we ascended to the shoulder of moorland in the dark, leaving the road at 9pm. An hour earlier we had been dropped in Kirkoswald, taking the bikes off a trailer on the back of the family car, returning from a week in Wales.

The light in Kirkoswald was already dimming. Before ascending the moor it had been fully dark for 20 minutes.

satmap active10

Night navigation was made an awful lot easier with the SatMap Active 10 GPS device. This plots exact locations on to a moving OS map and the backlight comes into its own during black-out bike rides on rough trackways.

I’d chosen this particular area for Josh’s first bivvy because it’s dripping with history and it’s packed solid with wildlife. Josh is young naturalist and knows more about birds than I’ll ever be able to absorb. Part of the King’s Forest of Geltsdale is an internationally important RSPB bird reserve. The bits we were to cycle across were rights of way, we were endangering no hen harriers or black grouse.

The ground underneath our wheels was sometimes peaty and mushy, but there was always a base of rough stones. This is a throwback to when these remote moors were heaving with heavy industry. The moor is studded with former coal and zinc mines, and stone quarries. Only the stone quarries remain, the industrial heritage has left little physical trace, except the trackway and a robust stone bridge, an anamoly in such an obscure and forgotten part of England.

Further back in time, the moor was a royal hunting reserve, a 14th century wildlife park, stocked with boars. The ‘forest’ in the name doesn’t denote trees – there are none now – it’s all to do with the hunting. The word ‘forest’, from the original French, has more to do with an enclosed area stocked with game for the king rather than anything to do with trees.

Even further back than the Normans and their hunting reserves, this area was well known to the Romans. Part of Hadrian’s Wall was built from stone chiselled from quarries by the river Gelt. We know this because of the Written Rock of Gelt, what the OS map describes as ‘Roman inscribed rocks’.

The Written Rock of Gelt? Sounds like it’s direct from Middle Earth.

The area is dotted with this sort of stuff. Stick pins in a 10 by 10kms map of the area and auto-create a Tolkien novel: there are hills Middle Top, Long Tongue and Thack Moor; a hamlet called Scarrowmanwick; a moorside known as Tarnmonath Fell; a house called Black Dub (Dub or ‘Dudgh’ is a Celtic word meaning dark and marshy area); and springs called Cold Well and Foulpool.

The rivers in the King’s Forest of Geltsdale are known, simply, as Old Water and New Water.

We became very acquainted with New Water. We had to cross it. The bridge has long been washed away. New Water now needs to be waded across. Sadly, I have no photographs from this part of the trip. My camera died during the low-light conditions of the morning.

Josh 6am 30th August 2008

In many ways this was a good thing. Instead of working out the next best vantage point to set the auto-timer and capture the intrepid explorers I could luxuriate in the present, and enjoy the views without fretting over the amount of available light.

After a brisk pedal to Haltwhistle we caught the train back home to Newcastle. Josh said the city “smells bad”. After a night on a barren, pristine, sweet-smelling moor, any city is going to be an olfactorial let-down.

New Bike to Work Book podcast now available to download and savour


For the first couple of shows I loaded the audio-only Bike to Work Book podcast to the Quickrelease.tv iTunes feed. I shan’t be doing that from now on.

Sign up for the show – for free – via the book’s website.

The third edition of the podcast featured myself and Tim Grahl of CommuteByBike.com; Rich Kelly of Interbike talking about what’s likely to be new and notable at the show (from a bike commuting perspective); and Mike Simpson of NHS Networks.

Simpson talked about the National Health Service’s commitment – or lack thereof – to a certain healthy mode of transport we all know and love. He also mentions a scheme that pays employees to cycle to work!

The graphic below is the UK iTunes rankings for ‘outdoor and recreation’ podcasts. I love the fact three of the podcasts I’m involved with are featured: the Bike to Work Book show, the Spokesmen and, of course, Quickrelease.tv. This show is in at number six with David Bernstein’s The Fredcast at number eight. David’s Spokesmen show is at number ten.

itunes rankings Aug 2008

Exclusive: sneak peak of British Cycling’s new bike

The new edition of ‘Heroes, Villains and Velodromes: Chris Hoy and Britain’s Track Cycling Revolution’ by Richard Moore, with a new chapter on Team GB’s ultra-successful Olympics, has revisions on Chris Boardman’s ‘secret squirrel club’ equipment store.


However, Moore’s book doesn’t contain the very latest equipment Team GB will be using at all future track meets.

Here’s the first spy shot of the new men’s bike, made in Britain by Pashley. The actual bike won’t be yellow, it will be painted black. Where other nations ride carbon fibre bikes, Team GB is now opting for steel and is eschewing aero equipment.

Performance director Dave Brailsford told Quickrelease.tv:

“Riders like Chris Hoy, Bradley Wiggins and Victoria Pendleton are now so much faster than riders from America and Australia we thought we’d sportingly level the playing field a bit. All Team GB athletes will be on this style of custom-built bike from the World Cup events onwards. It’s only fair.”


The women’s bike – also by Pashley – will feature a freezer compartment. John Conod of Pashley said:

“The plan was for Victoria Pendleton to dispense cold drinks and lollies to the Aussies as she lapped them.”

No33  derby fridge

Caught on camera not doing anything sick and deranged

Yesterday, while cycling near ‘the Ministry’ in Newcastle I saw a car with a strange contraption on the top. It looked a bit like a 1920s radio mast. Massive it was.

Upon closer inspection it had this bunch of cameras on top, including a 3D scanner.

When the car turned behind me into a side street I could eye-ball it was a Google Street View car. I’d heard that Newcastle and Gateshead was getting the Street View treatment but does this mean I’ll soon be able to see myself cycling along on Google in glorious 360° georeferenced spherical video?

Euro privacy laws means Google blurs all faces on the European Street View pix. Of course, I’d be a blur anyway. I reach Hoy-like speeds when out and about on my bike. I wish.

Others caught on Street View around the world have been shot leaving strip clubs, hitting their children, picking up prostitutes and doing other stuff they’d rather not broadcast.

Thankfully, I was caught riding my bike. Can you imagine the shame had I been photographed driving my car?

How to…start an argument with a cyclist

Simple. Explain your method of affixing handlebar tape and watch the sparks fly as your method is dissed.

Here’s the latest Quickrelease.tv ‘how to’ video from the bicycle maintenance series:

Naturally, as one man’s meat is another man’s poison, there’s already a contrary opinion from a YouTube commenter.

Getplaning says: “Wrapping from the end up to the top lasts longer and is more comfortable on the hands.”

Yep, that’s a good method, too. Each to his own. The method employed in the video is one used by an experienced bike shop mechanic but there are lots of other methods out there.

GB’s trackies rule the world. Here’s why.

[RE-POSTING] I’m in an index. I’ve always wanted to be in an index.

Reid, Carlton 180-6

I come after Queally, Jason and before Road racing…and doping.

The book is ‘Heroes, Villains and Velodromes: Chris Hoy and Britain’s Track Cycling Revolution’. It’s another stonker from Richard Moore, author of ‘In Search of Robert Millar’. That title won the ‘Best Sports Biography of the Year’ award at the British Sports Book Awards in 2007 and more awards will surely follow for ‘Heroes, Villains and Velodromes’.

According to publisher HarperCollins, the book “reveals how an elite athlete, Chris Hoy, lives, breathes and pushes the boundaries of his sport. How does he do it? And why? What drives him to put his body through the physical and mental hurdles to become the best in the world?”


Moore shadowed Hoy for a year, from the World Championships in Mallorca at which Hoy became a double world champion, through to Hoy’s attempt on the world kilometre record in La Paz, Bolivia. Hoy has won two Olympic Golds so far in Beijing, and is favourite to win a third on Tuesday.

But this book is much more than a biography of Hoy, it’s a dissection of how Britain went from being a pariah nation on the boards through to the world’s all-conquering track team, better even than the Australians, a team so bereft of cycling medals at this Olympics you’d think the team had boycotted the Games.

It reveals the stunning levels of professionalism and dedication that go on behind the scenes at the Manchester velodrome, HQ for British Cycling.

So, how come I’m in the index? It’s all to do with my battle with the UCI in 2005. The gnomes of Aigle had decided to axe the kilo from the 2008 Olympics, a crazy decision when there were lesser track events to chop first or even the road time trial, a race that never attracted the cream of the world’s cyclists.

I created an petition which quickly gained 10,679 signatures including lots of top cycling names from around the world. Along with trackie Julie Dominguez I took the petition to the UCI and met with Pat McQuaid, then UCI president in waiting, now the actual UCI president.

He said some daft things about about the IOC, the International Olympic Committee, and I reported them on BikeBiz.com, grabbing a wifi connection in the dining hall of the UCI’s HQ. We hopped on a train to the Olympic HQ in Lausanne and by the time we got there, the PR man had already read the story and was waiting with an official rebuttal of McQuaid’s statement.

So, the kilo might have gone but that hasn’t bothered Chris Hoy. Team GB’s cyclists are a credit to the nation, and a credit to hard work. Many in the media, while praising cycling’s success at this Games, add that it’s because cycling is awash with cash. The BBC’s James Munroe said:

“Britain are the new Chelsea of the cycling world – with lottery cash in place of Russian roubles.”

What he fails to mention is that Britain’s pro trackies get less wages per year than a Chelsea footballer gets per week. In fact, the wage of one top-flight footballer could pay for the whole British elite track programme and still leave enough change for a brilliant grass-roots programme to bring on the next generation of Chris Hoy’s and Victoria Pendleton’s.

We’re crap at cricket; useless at football. We’re good at cycling. I hope the mainstream media’s current love affair with the sport lasts.

Until the lustre dims, it’s great to bathe in the reflected glory of Britain’s track superstars. I’m pretty sure motorists are giving me a slightly wider berth at the moment. Cyclists, for now, are all heroes. Now, where’s my aero helmet?

This book could save your life


On Friday I was cycling along Gosforth High Street when I saw a canvas-coloured VW nudging out of a side road. This is normal rudeness and I wasn’t too fussed, even though I had to swing over a few inches to safely clear the nudger. As I passed I could see the woman driver was on a cellphone. She was inching out into the road. She might not have seen me. Instead of simply riding on, as I would do usually, I braked hard, hopped backwards and asked the driver to – please – get off the phone.

What happened next surprised me.

She said sorry. In fact, she was apology central.

“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,” she said, and looked it. Her phone conversation hadn’t been suspended pending a rant to the idiot asking her to obey the law, she had immediately hung up the call. Amazing.

I explained how, next time, she might inch out and kill somebody. She agreed, and promised not to do it again.

This compliance threw me. This isn’t how it’s meant to work. We’re meant to shout at each other.

Surprised, albeit still a wee bit shaken by my brazenness, I started to ride off. A car pulled to the side of the first car. The woman inside said ‘What’s up? She was wasn’t on the phone was she?”

Upon my nod, she tutted and shook her head at the VW woman.

Apparently, this sort of real-person peer pressure has a big impact on drivers. In Bogata, Colombia, mime artists were once paid to mock bad drivers and jaywalkers. Behaviour improved.

Next time I see a motorist on a mobile phone I won’t be silent, I’ll ask, politely, for more concentration, less yakking. I don’t expect I’ll get the same sort of profuse apology as above but perhaps if lots of people shamed wrong-doers, such behaviour could be curtailed?

I was inspired to take direct action because of the book I’ve just read. Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) is published by Alfred A. Knopf in the US, and Penguin in the UK. It’s written by tech journalist Tom Vanderbilt.

Pleasingly, Traffic is racing up the best-seller lists. This is good because the readers of the book will be mostly mainstream motorists, not just road radicals, pedestrianisers, transport behaviourialists and bicycle advocates.

The message in Traffic is that motorists can kill and that a society designed to placate the car is not a healthy society. Controversially, Vanderbilt ends his book with the belief that cars will eventually have to be GPS and computer controlled, packing more of the motorists that want to drive on to the increasingly congested roads of the world.

Traffic is a detailed, funny and endlessly surprising book. Vanderbilt explains why traffic problems around the world are really people problems. Vanderbilt delves into the psychology of driving, walking, and cycling. He visits Dr Ian Walker, the cycling academic who strapped a camera on his bike and filmed motorists passing him. Walker found that drivers often drive further away from those cyclists without helmets because they appear less anonymous, and when Walker donned a long blonde wig motorists gave him/her even more room because women are perceived to be wobblers.

Some of the research won’t be new to many cyclists. For instance, it’s reasonably well known that Hans Monderman’s idea of removing street signs improves road safety. When 95 percent of the signs on Kensington High Street in London were removed, pedestrian KSIs (‘killed or seriously injured’) dropped by 60 percent.

However, the book is rich in data that doesn’t normally make it out of academia, and Vanderbilt turns even the dullest of studies into interesting examples of how driving can make sinners out of angels.

Though we all may think we are better than average drivers, Vanderbilt examines why we all behave differently when we get behind the steering wheel. He examines what causes road rage – he prefers the term ‘traffic tantrums’ – and why we think that being inside a metal box absolves us from any obligation to anyone else. He compares the driving of men and women, young and old, and has travelled around the world to study traffic jams near and far. Why is it that some countries drive on the left and others on the right? (It’s to do with horses and swords). Why do New Yorkers jaywalk more than people living in Copenhagen? (No, it’s not just cultural, design plays the biggest factor).


But don’t think bad driving and traffic congestion is a modern phenonomen. Traffic starts with a eye-popping section on the history of vehicular congestion, from the cart ruts in Pompeii which show use of detours and one-way streets, through to the terrible congestion in 19th century London and New York. At least our congestion isn’t accompanied by mountains of horse dung.

Vanderbilt comes at the controversial topic of risk compensation from many angles. “Most crashes,” he writes, “happen on dry roads, on clear, sunny days, to sober drivers.”

Wide, clear, smooth roads are statistically more ‘dangerous’ than narrow, singletrack roads with hairpins and steep drop-aways. Drivers are lulled into a false sense of security on the first, but fret for their skin on the second, taking more care.

He will make you think again about mundane street furniture. Traffic lights, for instance. They are bad. Roundabouts, which require care and attention, are good.

It’s Vanderbilt’s book which alerted me to this fantastic 1950 Goofy cartoon about pedestrian/driver split personalities:

There’s some related good news to report in the UK. From today there are some new, tougher penalties for motorists who kill because they were “avoidably distracted.”

The new offences will, for the first time, allow courts to imprison drivers who cause deaths by not paying due care to the road, or to other road users.

The new offences will carry custodial sentences of up to five years.

Justice Minister Maria Eagle said: “Drivers who kill through carelessness will no longer be able to walk away from court with just a fine. Driving requires full concentration at all times. A moment’s distraction can make the difference between life and death.”

What sort of distractions? Driving while talking on a phone or texting. Driving while drinking or eating, adjusting a GPS or car stereo, applying make-up or reading a map.



The road, more than simply a system of regulations and designs, is a place where many millions of us, with only loose parameters for how to behave, are thrown together daily in a kind of massive petri dish in which all kinds of uncharted, little-understood dynamics are at work. There is no other place where so many people from different walks of life — different ages, races, classes, religions, genders, political preferences, lifestyle choices, levels of psychological stability — mingle so freely.

The more you think about it — or, rather, the more time you spend in traffic with time to think about it — the more…puzzling questions swim to the surface. Why can one sit in traffic jams that seem to have no source? Why does a ten-minute “incident” create one hundred minutes of gridlock? Do people really take longer to vacate a parking spot when someone else is waiting, or does it just seem so? Do the carpool lanes on highways help fight congestion or cause more of it? Just how dangerous are large trucks? How does what we drive, where we drive, and with whom we drive affect the way we drive? Why do so many New Yorkers jaywalk, while hardly anyone in Copenhagen does? Is New Delhi’s traffic as chaotic as it seems, or does a beautiful order lurk beneath the frenzied surface?


Just when it seemed as if things could not get more complicated on the road, along came a novel and controversial machine, the first new form of personal transportation since the days of Caesar’s Rome, a new-fangled contrivance that upset the fragile balance of traffic. I am talking, of course, about the bicycle.

When I walk, I view cars as loud polluting annoyances…When I drive, I find that pedestrians are suddenly the menance, whacked-out iPod drones blithely meandering across the street without looking. When I ride a bike, I get the worst of both worlds, buffeted by speeding cars whose drivers resent my superior health and fuel economy, and hounded by oblivious pedestrians who seem to think it’s safe to cross against the light of ‘only a bike’ is coming but are then startled and indignant as I whisk past at twenty-five miles per hour.


When bicyclists violate a traffic law, research has showed it is because, in the eyes of drivers, they are reckless anarchists; drivers, meanwhile, are more likely to view the violation of a traffic law by another driver as somehow being required by the circumstances.


Max Hall, a physics teacher in Massachusetts: “The poetic and beautiful result is that four-wheelers behave like fixed objects, by moving very little relative to each other, even at significant speeds, while two-wheeler traffic moves ‘through’ the relatively static field of larger vehicles.”


Perhaps….we will turn the highways into blissfully cooperative, ultraefficient streams of movement with no merging or tailgating or finger flipping. Long before that happens, however, a sooner future seems likely: cars driving themselves, at smoothly synchronized speeds to ensure maximum traffic flow and safe following distances, equipped with merging algorithms set for highest throughput, all overseen by network routers that guide cars down the most efficient paths on these information superhighways.


It’s this last point that fascinates me. It makes total sense. Congestion is set to increase, a huge cost to the economy. The only way to get vehicular traffic moving is to allow computers to take over.
What’s the most dangerous component on a car? The nut behind the wheel. Take away the nut and the streets will be safer.

Motorists face a future of restricted movement (think of the current Beijing experience, with half of the city’s cars forced off the road, every other day). Cyclists, on the other hand, will be able to reclaim city streets, free to go as they please, when they please, protected from cars and trucks because vehicles will be forced to carry on-board speed restrictors, acceleration monitors, and vulnerable road user avoidance devices.

Such freedom to move will create even more cyclists, something that’s already happening. Catering for cyclists – like catering for pedestrians – is the quickest, cheapest and most effective way to civilise a city. And now that message – thanks to Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic – is going mainstream. Thanks, Tom.

Buy the book and bookmark his How We Drive blog.

Great quote, where did it appear?


Is the following quote from Cycling Weekly, Cycle Sport, VeloNews, Bikeradar.com or Cyclingnews.com?

“Surely now Wiggins, Hoy, Romero and Victoria Pendleton are on the cusp of the transition from sportspeople we talk about three or four times a year to major public figures, in the forefront of our thoughts.

It’s a farce that triumphant Olympians entertain a whole country and then retreat to sport’s backbenches. Beyond Olympic gold, this is the prize for Britain’s cyclists.

They can demonstrate the value of investing in sport rather than just pontificating about its uses.

They can show footballers, cricketers and rugby players how much can be achieved by a concerted national effort.

None of the above. It’s actually from – wait for it – the footy-mad Daily Mail. There’s lots of similar coverage in the other tabloids. The broadsheets, of course, have always been a bit more ‘on message’, but to read this in the Daily Mail is something else.

The pic shows one of my daughters with [Sir] Chris Hoy. It was taken at a Revolution event a couple of years back, see video below. Do you think this year’s first event might have a golden lap of honour? Too right!

Rugs rampant at Beijing Olympics

I can reveal that Team GB trackies are rugged up to their eyeballs. The cyclists are gaining a clear performance advantage from the rugs. One of Team GB’s star riders has admitted the rugs were supplied by a British company.

WADA has not yet said whether it can test for these new, designer rugs. It’s believed only British cyclists have access to these rugs. More on this breaking story as details leak.

Chapeau: Graeme Shaw.

Anti-dope orgs to test for fresh air use?

Remember the fuss made over the arrival in Beijing of the US cycling team? They wore face masks in the airport arrivals hall, causing an unholy stink. The athletes have since apologised to their Chinese hosts but a press release reveals that USA Cycling is fixated on air.

“IQAir announced today that they were chosen by USA Cycling to provide all team members with ultra-high efficiency air cleaners. IQAir has been named USA Cycling’s official air purifier supplier to support their competition efforts in Beijing, China.”

“We’ve worked with USA Cycling to create the ultimate performance environment for their athletes,” says IQAir President, Frank Hammes. “These systems represent the most advanced air cleaning technology in the world. They operate at as much as 100 times the efficiency of the products people commonly see sold in department stores as air purifiers.”

Each member of USA cycling has been issued an IQAir HealthPro Plus. The HealthPro Plus is a portable room air purifier used by hospitals around the world to absorb particles as small as the SARS virus, MRSA, and tuberculosis. IQAir also designed special facility sized air cleaning systems for the popular USA Cycling Lounge in Beijing, the cycling team’s logistics center where athletes relax and recuperate between races.

Pat McDonough, Team Leader for USA Cycling, says that the team is already benefiting from their work with IQAir.

“Airborne particles and gases can cause lung inflammation and allergic reactions. This is what causes allergies and asthma in every day life, but it also inhibits absorption of oxygen,” says McDonough.
“These races are often decided by thousandths of a second. By giving our athletes the healthiest indoor air possible, IQAir is helping them to do their very best. It’s all about creating the ultimate performance environment.”

Oops. How long before WADA cottons on and creates a test to discover those athletes breathing in ‘performance enhancing air’?