I completely expected going car-free to come with a few challenges – although I didn’t expect to encounter quite so many in my first couple of weeks. The up-side of challenges is that there is always something to learn in it – perhaps a change of approach that will make life easier in the long run.
So far this month, I’ve encountered the following challenges, and made a few adjustments:
I teach kids in schools how to look after their bikes & keep them roadworthy – I teach them to do a simple M-Check each time they go to ride their bike, just to check the basics. And yet I’m a disaster at practicing what I preach in this regard.
So far this month, I’ve had one puncture to the rear wheel of my Brompton (Brompton riders will know this is a major hassle, much more so than a regular puncture). I do tend to carry some basic puncture repair kit with me all the time, so not too much of a problem. But on another occasion, the front wheel of my Brompton fell off when I was folding it, because I hadn’t realised a wheel nut had worked loose. 5 minutes prior to that, I was flying down the hill outside Belfast Central in busy traffic. And just this weekend, the handlebars on Jem, my touring bike, worked themselves loose, and I didn’t realise until they spun round as I was going downhill.
So moral of the story is, check my bike before I ride it! Sustrans have got some good advice here on how to do a quick bike safety check – worth doing.
It’s winter. Charge your lights!
I have some great bike lights. I use a See Sense rear light – really excellent, and leaves me feeling very confident that people will see me without problem. I have a See Sense front light, but I find it only really works well in areas with streetlights – once I go to a darkened road or off-road, the light flashes too brightly and is blinding. My main front light is a Moon light – really good at lighting the way, and making sure I can see where I’m going.
As long as it’s charged up, that is. My Moon light died on me on Friday night around 8pm, as I was happily making my way along the unlit Lagan towpath. The next 3 miles of cycling along an icy towpath next to a freezing river in pitch black was a little unnerving. Note to self – always check the charge.
Sometimes it’s necessary to adjust your plans & take a rest
Today I had set up two meetings in schools, and was planning to cycle a 36 mile round trip to visit them. But I had to adjust my plans, and was easily able to have the relevant discussions over phone and email. I’m currently training for the Larne Half Marathon in March, and am doing a lot of running – and I’ve got bad shin splints. Yesterday and today, I’ve been hobbling around in a bit of discomfort. I was intent on still cycling – and then I thought about it sensibly, and realised my trip was non-essential, and I’d be far better off working at home with a bag of frozen peas on my swollen shin.
Possibly my biggest lesson to adjust to is that travelling sustainably sometimes means not going places at all. Sometimes it means changing a face-to-face meeting for a telephone call, an email or a conference call. And when I have an injury, I need to be sensible and allow proper time to heal. Yesterday I did some work with kids all about common barriers to cycling, and how we could create solutions to these. One barrier they all suggested was illness or injury, and our solution to this was that those are the days you chose to leave the bike at home. Once again, I’m working on practicing what I preach.