Randonneuring: recumbent efficiency

Measuring the difference in wattage between equivalent performances on a 400km brevet, recumbent vs upright

It’s easier lying down… but not by as much as you might think.

I’ve written before about the power advantage my High Baron recumbent enjoys over my normal road bike, but only in the context of a ~20 mile commute to work. I found that on average each recumbent mile cost 36.2kCal, versus 47.3kCal for each upright mile.

If that held out for a long brevet, it would be a significant advantage to the recumbent platform (a 3800kCal saving on a 600km brevet, for instance). But how comparable is my commute, an hour pretty much as fast as I can go, with an all-day or even a multi-day effort?

Now that power meters are getting a bit more commonplace, it’s easier to answer this question without going to heroic solo efforts in the name of science.


I rode the National 400 out of Dingwall this year, 256 miles (or ~400km! 😉 ) with around 14,000 feet (4270m) of ascent. Rather than ride the National 400 route twice on different bikes, instead I’m going to compare my power with another rider who did the course on the same day. The advantage of this is that weather etc. is exactly matched, but the danger is that energy use is proportional to weight (especially going uphill) and also the speed you travel at, and if these aren’t controlled, you might not get such useful data. In particular, if riders are drafting you may as well call the whole thing off!

Fortunately in this case our speeds were fairly closely matched and neither was drafting at all. I chose four segments between controls in the middle of the ride for comparison, as our average moving speeds were 16.496mph (recumbent) vs 16.507mph (upright), probably close enough! The total distance was 137.6 miles, the ascent 7,500 feet and the route profile between each control is as follows:





As you can see, it wasn’t the hilliest of routes, but there was a respectable amount of climbing. The first segment had a bit of a headwind, the others a tailwind. See the overall map view:


Before looking at energy used, it will be useful to calculate the respective weights. I looked at a fairly steep hill (7-8%) to broadly isolate the weight component. In this case the recumbent sustained 7.7mph for 247W, while the upright got 8mph for 239W. Knowing fairly accurately the all-up weight of one rider, we can crudely solve for the all-up weight of the other. In this case my own weight (inclusive of bike, spare clothes, tools, 2L of water) works out at roughly 6.5kg heavier than the rider on the upright.

Ideally we would have had a set of scales at the arrivée, but what can you do! This will be useful in a moment as a caveat on the overall comparison…

Knowing duration and average power we can calculate total energy consumption across each platform. See the table below for some of the detail:

Notwithstanding the weight penalty, the recumbent rider travelled at the same speed using 8.5% less energy.

Overall the recumbent used 5240kJ (36.9kJ per mile) whereas the upright used 5715kJ (40.27kJ per mile). The calculated efficiency for the recumbent is interestingly close to the 36.2kJ from my previous comparison, but the DF efficiency is much better than my commute’s 47.3kJ per mile. Quite a different result overall to the 24.5% saving on my commute – I suppose this highlights the difference between riding at 15mph and 20mph, which is my average speed for a commute, in terms of the recumbent’s aero advantage.

(I’ll just take this opportunity to point out that my recumbent, pictured below, didn’t weigh 6.5kg more than the upright, although it contributes a couple of kilos for sure. If I’m honest, it’s probably mostly the rider who was a bit more portly!)


When you break it down a bit, as expected the relatively flat stage over the watershed from Lairg to Achfary (roughly 30 miles, 800 feet of climbing, into the wind) shows a dramatically better result for the recumbent than the other stages (hillier, no headwind). I was travelling at 18.4mph while the upright rider made 16.7mph – yet I used just 885kJ to get between controls, compared to 1091kJ for the upright – an increase of 23% in energy spent AND a reduction in 1.7mph average speed…

Anyway, that’s quite enough geeking out on power data for one day. Hopefully this is thought-provoking – please drop a comment below if you have any feedback!

Schlitter Encore preview

Early thoughts on the excellent Schlitter Encore – a custom sized, aggressively priced carbon highracer

Aggressively priced custom-sized carbon highracer

Last weekend I got out on the Schlitter Encore for my first long ride – a hilly 55 miles around the Tour o’ the Borders short route with David Gardiner of Laid Back Bikes (who took these pictures).

The company kindly sent me a frameset to build up and review, so I’m now using it to put in the miles before coming to a final verdict. However, here are some early impressions…


First, the Encore is scandalously light. Even with spare parts from my garage collection the complete bike (including pedals and seat pad) weighs in at ~10kg, so it could easily be lighter if you invest in the finishing kit. As it is, I don’t think you will find a lighter frameset off the peg at anything like this price. A frameset will set you back a little over 1900EUR.

It’s also impressively stiff – possibly the stiffest recumbent I’ve ridden since my RaptoBike lowracer. That said, the super long handlebar setup does bend a lot when you haul on it, which is giving me some caution trying to rank the bike absolutely (I’m not sure how I would rank it against the M5 CHR for stiffness, for instance).

The frame does not have a sliding boom – instead the factory glue the BB ‘cap’ onto the end of the frame once cut to length. There is a little adjustment in the seat clamp to allow a range of riders to fit comfortably, so it’s not going to be impossible to sell on, but someone with the original owner’s dimensions is always going to be in the sweet spot.

And what a sweet spot it is!


It’s hard to overstate how well the Encore handles in a general sense. It’s night and day compared to the poor experience I had on the Bacchetta Corsa, quite apart from the issue of getting your feet down (see below). The bike is perfectly balanced which means you can take full advantage of the short wheelbase without it feeling too unstable or twitchy.

Although there are other reasons to choose one over the other, I would rank the Encore above the Metabike (carbon and aluminium versions) in the handling stakes too. You can see from the photos that these are challenging roads, but I was able to descend almost as fast on the Encore as I did on my High Baron next time out. The MetaBike never quite made it for me on limited review mileage. That’s extremely impressive when you consider how much experience I have on my own bike!


Although the seat is still high compared to the High Baron (or especially the M5 CHR) it’s fine for me to touch down when stationary without having to move on the seat. Since I have a relatively short x-seam, this makes the bike even more attractive compared to the traditional stick bike models.

One of the most visible innovations on the bike are the handlebars – “J-bars” which try to combine the open cockpit riding position with the forward visibility of a tiller setup. I’ve never got on with open cockpits in general, but I will say that the bars on the Encore are surprisingly comfortable once you get them adjusted right. The forward visibility really is excellent and for that reason alone I think they’re a no brainer.


Unfortunately I’ve already had two incidents where the bar hit my thigh. One forced me to abandon the steep (> 20%) climb up Talla because I just couldn’t keep my legs inside the bars while putting out full power to keep the bike moving. The second was a high speed sweeping turn onto a shared path where I had to basically slam my inside foot into the ground and grind on my cleat to stay upright after entering the corner a bit too fast and sharply. I should add that in normal riding (including a few rush hour commutes) the Encore has given me no trouble at all. I’m probably just too used to the ease of the tiller setup.

I don’t feel the Encore is quite as aerodynamic as the High Baron for any given seat angle, and indeed my power meter testing shows a small advantage to the Optima (to the tune of ~0.5mph at 200W) on the flat. I used the same wheelset for this comparison and think it is broadly valid, although more research is needed!

Anyway, enough rambling for now. It’s time to go for a ride!

Hit the comments section if you have any questions or feedback…


Alps cycling report (abridged)

A few words on a long weekend in the Alps…



Flew into Geneva for four days solo riding in the Alps.

Went up several cols: Roselend, Iseran, Vars, Agnes, Izoard, Sarenne – and drove over Galibier and Croix de Fer (very busy with motorists due to the closure of the Lautaret). Visited two ski stations: Alp D’Huez and Chamrousse.

It was hot and hilly (climbed almost 16,000m and put 14,997kJ through the PowerTap). Managed to climb Alp D’Huez in 58:30 which was pleasing given how bad my fitness is this year.

It is amazing to ride uphill for hours at a time – and the descending is even better! Highly recommended to anyone who has the chance to go…

Longer report with more pics to follow soon!

M5 CHR and High Baron: first impressions

A quick comparison of notes taken on the M5 Carbon High Racer and the Optima High Baron…

With apologies for substandard rollover image…

Now that the better weather is here and I’ve got my Optima High Baron (full review) back on the roads, it’s time to offer some early thoughts on the M5 Carbon Highracer I borrowed from Laid Back Bikes.

Unfortunately I’ve misplaced my tripod and didn’t make a particularly good job of photographing each bike from the same position on separate days (I’ll re-take these at some point… promise!). You’ll get the idea by rolling the mouse over the name of each bike under the picture:


  • High Baron
  • M5 Carbon High Racer

The High Baron is already noteworthy in this class of bike for its long, relaxed wheelbase and low seating position – see my earlier Dual 700C recumbent roundup article.

The CHR takes this one step further with an extra 17cm (7″) between the wheels, which does make a noticeable improvement to high speed handling. Although the Baron is extremely sure-footed, wriggling around potholes and manhole covers at 40mph the M5 is clearly a little bit ahead here. It’s almost no-hands-able. If you like the mega-twitchy style of the shorter, higher bikes, it won’t come as a surprise to hear that neither will particularly please you.

The seat pan is 9cm (3 1/2″) lower on the CHR and this really opens up the bike in dense rush hour traffic – on the Baron I tend to sit on one cleat with my toes pointed down (without moving from the riding position) but it can sometimes be a bit of a strain – no bother on the Carbon High Racer. Neither bike is anything like as bad as the seating position on a Corsa or other stick bike of course.

You can see that both bikes have a very similar seat recline as stock – both of these examples have a little more adjustment in the downward direction before you’d need to consider anything clever with the mounts or holes that are drilled in the seat. Ultimately the M5 has more capacity to go completely flat as you’ll end up lying on the High Baron’s chainstays at some point – but most will not be able to put out significant power at such an angle, so it’s not too relevant a distinction.

The chainline is extremely similar on both bikes and both are gravely compromised in terms of low speed manoeuvrability and a tendency to throw the chain when dismounting / walking with the bike. However, this is one area where the CHR’s extreme layout starts to hinder, and with fully dropped chains, you can turn quite a lot harder on the High Baron without coming unstuck than you can on the M5. See the recent report by Mike for an illustration of the struggles that are possible here.

The M5 has a nice cockpit setup with the handlebars positioned comparatively further from your chest, but this is balanced out to some extent by the extreme narrowness of the stock bars, which I found limiting (I ended up riding holding onto the actual shifters most of the time – I wouldn’t fancy this on an ultra event).

Where the High Baron comfortably takes normal road bike kit, if you are of average height the M5 might need to be run with shorter cranks – I was fairly close to the limit and we did cut down the carbon boom so that the cranks could be moved as close as practicable to the seat.

Shifting is not a point of distinction between the two bikes – although the SRAM Rapidfire shifters on the High Baron are far superior to the gripshifts on the CHR, it’s not like that is hard to change. The M5 CHR has competent brakes – so does my High Baron, but only after extreme effort (see the full review) so this is a plus point to M5.

As for the riding experience, I haven’t had a chance to ride the CHR with power data yet, but I must say that hasn’t blown me away as I had been expecting – perhaps because ultimately the riding position is quite close between the two bikes, as is the total kerb weight (including rider). As I generally average ~20mph over a trip this will downplay differences between the two bikes aerodynamically as well.

I’m hoping to get out again on the M5 soon, with better recumbent fitness so I can push the envelope a little more (and try and get some drag numbers from power data). Based on a week with the M5 CHR I’m left with an impression of a bike which is significantly more expensive and can be quite a lot harder to live with (if you ride lanes and big climbs, not if you only ride on trunk routes). It might not pay back as much interest on the investment as you were expecting, but this is definitely a first impression.

In the meantime I’m building up a Schlitter Encore to add to a new three-way “best of breed” 700C article… watch this space!

Mike’s M5 Carbon High Racer

How about the much-feted M5 Carbon High Racer as a first foray into the world of recumbents?

I recently had the pleasure of corresponding with Mike on the purchase of his first recumbent, intended to work around some neck pain he’s been having.

It’s safe to say that he plunged in at the deep end with an M5 Carbon High Racer and I’ve been following his updates with interest as there has been something of a learning curve.

Mike kindly agreed to write a little about his initial experience with the CHR:

At the end of last year my neck finally decided that my 25 years of riding a DF were probably at an end. Even on a turbo with the front wheel raised a foot to get the bars much higher than the saddle made no difference to the pins & needles in my arm & fingers.

I got in touch with a young chap who I’d only met a couple of times on the club run but I was quite certain that he had dabbled with ‘bents. Sure enough his Optima Falcon was very kindly loaned & locked onto the turbo.I tried an hour session & incredibly there was no neck or arm pain at all. Google soon linked me up with Bikefix, Kevin at D-Tek & David at Laid Back Bikes & then onto Dave McC. The UK forums seemed very quiet but BROL was incredibly active.


I was initially drawn to the Fujin & Low Baron purely on looks but was quite aware of the skittishness of the 20” front wheel from a few rides on the Falcon. Both Kevin & David pointed me in the direction of dual 700C’s & David was the one responsible for mentioning the M5 CHR. Although there was a demo at LBB it was quicker to go & see Bram in Holland than to journey to Edinburgh. A half hour test ride was enough to convince me to bite the bullet & a frameset was bought. I had read many times that you won’t know what a particular bike is really like until you’ve lived with it, warts & all, for about 6 months.

The build was relatively straightforward, the only odd bit being the need for a Campag rear U brake for the front (modified with a longer through bolt). The spec was Sram XO 3×10 Gripshift, Rival rear mech, Shimano 105 triple chainset (50x39x30) which would allow for the use of a smaller “granny” if necessary, a 105 front mech to replace the XO which refused to stay put on the mounting post, a 12-27 cassette & Tektro rear dual pivot brake & minimalist levers.

The worst part of the build was drilling the seat. There are two reinforced areas where the carbon is marginally thicker. When I left Bram’s I took what I thought was the most poignant dimension on the test bike ie from the front of the seat to the bottom bracket. The seat was set up, the holes drilled & then a sigh of relief to find that the end of the crank just missed the tyre by 10mm. I’m just 6’ but have a relatively long 34” inseam & thought this would have given me plenty of clearance at the front end. Without shifting the seat considerably more forwards (& so drilling into the unreinforced section) I don’t know how those with an inseam of much less than 34” can fit the CHR, unless opting for shortened cranks.


And so to the first test ride. Let’s say that the bike unceremoniously dumped me far too often during slow speed manoeuvres. Road junctions were treated with dread, particularly 90’ right turns. I gave up trying to work out what was phasing me until I got home. On the bright side, a relatively flat route of 40 miles had resulted in a 18mph average without even breaking into a sweat. Initially I thought it was the dropped return chain which was causing the slow speed offs so I lifted the chain into a tube. A bit more investigation & the penny dropped; it was my feet clipping the tyre which was throwing me.

My first reaction was “how daft is a design like that” but I am now learning that ‘bents are a series of compromises & that you can’t have everything. I have learned that starting off at junctions benefits from one-legged pedalling until under way. Also you’ve got to keep your feet out of the way when doing sharpish turns at speed. Climbing is another adventure. Remember that I’m still quite new to this type of bike & I’m trying hard to cope with the relative instability of slow speed climbing. At present the wobbles get to me at about 7mph. I know I have to relax my upper body & that with practice I’ll be able to spin at a much slower road speed.


I’m now in week 6 & the only tweaks so far are:-

  • swapping the Michelin Pro 23mm rear for a 25mm. This just squeezes in so a 28mm will be out of the question.
  • Using folded wet & dry as a series of shims for the boom (Bram’s advice).
  • Tried XC shoes & SPD pedals for the first month but still had to stick on a non slip heel (a cutting from an old flip flop) so swapped back to road shoes with the same modification. Still not 100% slip proof particularly on wet roads.
  • Finally solved the hydration & transport of tools, tubes, cape etc. by using a Decathlon Camelbak clone (3 litres of storage & 1 litre of liquid). The straps at the top were crossed over & stitched together so as to slip over the top of the seat & at the bottom new straps made of Velcro were stuck to the seat.
  • The M5 carbon headrest sadly wouldn’t work when wearing a helmet. I’m now using a 2”x2”x6” section of foam Velcro’d to the cushion so as to just miss the bottom of the helmet. Finished off with a cover of a very stretchy black sock.
  • My next tweak will be to try 150mm cranks as my knees are starting to ache. My ‘trailing’ knee is bent way over 90’ & I think this may be the cause of the discomfort. It’s worth a try.

So, all in all, quite an eventful last 4 months. I still have a one minute re-learn curve before each ride & I still marvel at the manoeuvrability of a DF which, apart from its ability to cripple your neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, back & backside, is quite a brilliant design.

I’ll be keeping in touch with Mike in the hopes of further updates and that he’ll get the starting and turning nailed.

I’ve just started riding the Laid-Back-Bikes’ demo CHR with a view to a long-term review… watch this space.

If anyone has any observations or tips for Mike (or me!) please leave a comment below –

dhb Flashlight Windproof Gilet review

A casual cut, mid weight windproof gilet, well vented and with bright (if slightly oddly placed) reflectives.

Taking the edge off on chilly commutes, without making you look too much like the bin man

The dbh Flashlight Windproof Gilet (currently £34.99 here – also see the women’s version) is squarely targeted at the commuter market, but especially in this charcoal version, rates well in the style stakes.


Materials and construction

The Flashlight gilet is built to a surprisingly high standard for the price. I was always impressed by the dhb Ultralight gilet for the money, but this definitely takes things a step further – the panels are well thought out and the stitching and materials are solid and holding up well to daily use so far.

The sturdy YKK zip is a particular highlight – it has an excellent motion and locks in place wherever you leave it. Although it’s still not ideal for gloves (I use the little Alpkit zipper tags on most of my gear to make this easy) you can work the zip one-handed without too much trouble, and there is an ample zip park to guard against chafing when it’s fully done up.


Off the shelf the coating on the Flashlight gilet is top notch – it beads up nicely in even quite heavy rain (although since you are wearing a gilet, you’re already on to a loser if the plan was to stay bone dry). This is also lasting better than expected after half a dozen cycles in the washing machine.

The arm holes are elasticated but not massively – but this isn’t as much of an issue as the (non) snugness of the collar, given the relative orientation to the wind.

There are no pockets, which is fine by me as it really cuts down on bulk (frankly I’ve never really understood why people would want jersey pockets and jacket pockets on top). The relaxed cut makes it very easy to access your jersey pockets even when the gilet is done up – job done.

The fabric is indeed windproof and has kept me comfortable right down to freezing point (with the right gloves and jersey – remember the gilet is just letting the layer(s) below do their work – it’s not supposed to provide significant insulation). Although the collar isn’t the snuggest there is a good storm flap behind the zip, something conspicuously lacking from the Ultralight option. YMMV- as always, warmth is quite an individual thing.


The back is mostly made of a fine mesh for optimum ventilation. I really haven’t found myself working up a sweat in this gilet at all, which makes it perfect for shoulder season riding where you can be riding over frozen puddles in the morning and climbing home under a solid evening sun.

Don’t count on it keeping your back dry if you wear a rucksack though (although this should be obvious, considering your back will still get sweaty with a rucksack even if you don’t wear a shell layer at all).


The reflectives on the Flashlight Gilet are bona-fide Scotchlite and throw back light with the best of them. Slightly unfortunately the reflective detailing seems to have been chosen to fit in with other items in the range (like the jacket) despite the latter relying on a rear zip pocket cover for back-centre reflectivity – something which is largely lacking in the gilet.

To be completely fair, when you’re riding along minding your own business, quite a lot of the side panel is lit up by an approaching car (based on a short experiment following someone who I made wear the gilet to see what would happen). And of course, both dhb and ‘flash light’ logos on the rear are picked up nicely by headlights, it’s just an odd design decision for a gilet whose very name evokes night time adventures…

Pictures probably speak louder than words here:




Cut, sizing

Take a careful look at the size guide. I’m just under a 32″ waist (small to x-small) but with almost a 44″ chest (x-large), so I took a punt on medium, and this has worked out well – the chest isn’t tight and the elastic in the waist is taking up up any slack.

The cut is distinctly on the casual side so it’s not too critical so long as it’s not too tight! In particular, I found the collar a little too loose which compromised warmth on the coldest days, but it is lined with a nice soft hand, pleasant against the skin. There is an ample drop tail – just about long enough to sit on, which goes some way to compensate for the collar.

In contrast as I have moaned before, the dbh Ultralight gilet which is my go-to item has a ludicrously short tail (often sitting up at my kidneys if I have anything in my jersey pockets).


The Flashlight Windproof gilet crunches down to about the size of a clenched fist, easy to stow even if you are carrying all the essentials in your jersey pockets already. While it isn’t the lightest at 123g (versus the dhb Ultralight gilet at 72g) this is still only the weight of two gels, or a big mouthful of water – nothing much to write home about.

With solid construction, a good fit (if you want a relaxed cut) with an ample drop tail and surprisingly good water-repellent coating, only the slightly awkwardly-placed reflectives put a damper on this item. Overall, hard to beat for the asking price (and if you can catch this on sale it will certainly be a steal).

Note that there is a woman’s version available. There are also winter-weight ‘thermal’ models in both men’s and women’s flavours – curiously with pockets and adjusted reflectives that imply someone has been listening to the various reviews of this item which consistently picked up on both points…

Edinburgh’s castration of bus lanes leaves only questions

Edinburgh Council is proposing to slash bus lane operating hours by 66%. Nine out of ten bus lanes will be a free-for-all at weekends and during the afternoon school run; object now.

Inarticulate justification for massive downgrade of network

It’s no secret that the people of Scotland have big issues with their health, pollution and congestion.

Bus lanes aren’t sexy but they are important. Glasgow is busy boosting its bus lane network so that more of it operates all day. You can see the logic, as this makes it possible to travel around the city without worrying about a lane cutting in or out of action while you’re en-route.

Bus lanes massively reduce hazardous parking which is great for everyone – pedestrians, other drivers, public transport and cyclists alike. Having a lane set aside from breakneck traffic makes walking along the pavement much nicer, and is essential if we want people to get around by bike and refuse to build cycle facilities (using the bus lanes as justification).

Meanwhile, Edinburgh Council claims:

  • “The Council is pursuing a number of policies to get people out of the car and to walk, bike or take the bus.”
  • “[bus lanes’] predominant purpose is to ensure public transport flows throughout the city.”
  • “it was decided that standardisation of the lane times would help make them simpler for drivers”

So far, so good? Well, that’s until you discover that the council is slashing operating times. In fact:

90% of Edinburgh bus lanes will be a free-for-all for almost 20 hours a day

Against this background you may raise an eyebrow to learn that Edinburgh is planning to massively downgrade its bus lane network. If all goes according to plan, 90% of the bus lane network will be in action for a miserly four and a half hours a day, and switched off for the other ~20.

This means anyone relying on a bus lane to get around outside the peak rush hour is getting a good kick in the teeth. In particular, it means that 90% of Edinburgh’s bus lanes are going to be switched off all weekend and for school pick up journeys:

Cycling to school, huh? Well, not if you were planning to use a bus lane.

66% slash in bus lane times goes against all declared council policy

The worst thing about this proposal is that it has no clear justification – despite significant costs and the potential for long-term damage to the city’s bus network.

Some officials (and councillors) are claiming reduced driver confusion from simplified operating times – instead of having some all-day bus lanes and some rush hour ones, they will all be the same. But this sounds like great justification to turn all bus lanes into all-day lanes (in the style of Glasgow) – it’s actually being used to slash operating hours from sixty six per week down to just over twenty two.

Sounds like a major policy shift to me and one which is very poorly aligned with the council’s published goals and some of its legal responsibilities.

As a driver, I have to admit that I find it very easy to handle bus lane operating hours but if some of my fellow drivers aren’t quite so smart, surely the rest of us can be saved from their crippling confusion without neutering valuable transport infrastructure?

The report to the Transport Committee (which you can read here) is seriously compromised on several important points. Here are a couple of highlights:

[Ineffective bus lanes are] locations where buses, taxis and cyclists receive marginal or no advantage and which also cause localised congestion (solution – remove bus lane)

Seems to be a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it? A bus lane which is to be removed because there is a large demand from private vehicles to occupy it is, by definition, one which offers significant amenity to the buses, taxis and cyclists who are currently benefiting from their own space.

The surveys showed that, at most of these locations, there was little or no delay to buses during off-peak periods; that is between 9:30am and 4:00pm, Monday to Friday. This appears to indicate that all-day bus lanes, offer little additional operational benefit to buses, compared to peak periods lanes, under normal traffic conditions.

At face value this looks like a claim that because there is no delay to buses in all-day bus lanes in the middle of the day, all day bus lanes are of little benefit. Yes, I also find it hard to understand that logic – the only possible way to observe a delay is to look at roads where people are allowed to block the buses, not the ones where they aren’t.

In fact, not only is it hard to find a single policy that this proposal is aligned with, it’s easy to find many different policies that it compromises.

For instance, it’s the council’s stated policy to reduce private car use (from 43% to 31% by 2020) – it’s unclear how switching off bus lanes during the day will help convert people to taking the bus, walking, or cycling – either in terms of the direct impact of the lanes on individual journeys or the wider message it sends to the people living here.

I could go on but there’s not much point.

I’ve written to object to the experimental traffic orders making this happen – you can still do this until February 18th, see here for instructions.

Invisible recumbents narrowly avoid death

A video looking at extreme recumbent risk-takers on Britain’s public roads… (or not)!

See how they blend into the tarmac!

I’ve been meaning to post something like this for years, literally. I make no apologies for having my tongue firmly in cheek with the subtitles… 🙂

So many people (if truth be told, other cyclists mainly) spout off about how recumbents inherently must be hard to see and express amazement that you commute on one for thousands of miles each year, let alone survive a trip to the corner shop without instantly being flattened…

Yet when you actually ride one, or see one being ridden, you inevitably think to yourself, wow – I wish riding a normal bike felt this safe, with so much room given by motorists…

We still have just the one recumbent versus seven ordinary bikes. There are lots of valid reasons why you might not want one. But based on my experience, safety on the road doesn’t come into the picture (unless it’s to say that you’re actually much better off on a recumbent than anything else!)

A tiny aside

Watch the road positioning between 50 and 60 seconds into the video. There’s a serious risk that motorists coming up this road will straddle the central speed cushion, forcing you right up against the doors of the parked cars on your side. This is neatly pre-empted by the assertive positioning of the lower recumbent rider (David Gardiner, the proprietor of the excellent Laid-Back-Bikes).

You will often hear people say that the only way to ride safely is to pretend that people can’t see you. On the contrary, mastery of the road requires you to understand and exploit the fact that everyone can see you quite clearly almost all of the time – their incentives just aren’t well aligned with your needs.

Celebrating another winter of cycle commuting

Winter is here at last, which means studded tyres, dynamo lights and even bigger time savings on my commute – not to mention the extra exercise I’m getting to help with “festive spread”…

I for one welcome our new explosive cyclogenic overlords…

Last week’s weather bomb has brought winter at last, so the Marathon Winter tyres are fitted and I’m enjoying the extra exercise and the novelty of crashing through crispy snow and ice to and from the office.

It beats spending hours stewing in the car while people try to figure out how to drive safely in the snow, that’s for sure, and also mitigates some of the seasonal waistline concerns…

I found myself on the Union Canal with my camera the other night and decided to try and grab a couple of shots to celebrate the season of studs and goodwill. This is with the Philips Saferide dynamo light, which replaced the old Cyo I’ve used in previous winters (for no good reason, I was just interested in a change).

What snow there was had melted down to a beautiful layer of crispy ice. Makes quite a nice rollover:


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Can you spot the pedestrian in the ‘dark’ pic? Thought not, but this isn’t a topic about moral hazard…

I should do some more long exposure night shots I think – pretty cool. I haven’t quite ridden past the camera in the one above, but this one shows the pattern of my strobing tail light:


It also highlights how well controlled the beam of these dynamo lights is. Even on a three second exposure there’s hardly enough light hitting the shrubs at the side of the path to make them out. For comparison, check this test shot where I had the front of the bike lifted off the ground so I could spin the wheel by hand:


Amusingly, I have a persistent squealer who I sometimes encounter on my commute, who gives me to understand they think my light isn’t set up properly. If there was any way to recognise them in advance, I have wondered about actually pointing it up for them, so they aren’t complaining in vain… 😉

Tour o’ the Borders review 2014

A superb day out on closed roads around Selkirkshire and Peeblesshire – not to be missed in 2015!

A superb day out on closed roads

Due to a lack of general photos of the event, I’ve lifted some from the official Facebook page. If you have any decent ones you could contribute, drop me a mail.

The 2014 edition of the Tour o’ the Borders was a giant leap forwards, with a 75 mile fully closed course that winds for 75 miles over the hills of Selkirkshire*.

* OK, and a little stretch of Peebleshire at either end!


Tour o’ the Borders Route Map / Course Profile

The course takes in four climbs – Paddy Slacks, the Woll at Ashkirk and both swires between the Ettrick and Yarrow valleys (sometimes called Berry Bush and Witchy Knowe). The last third of the course is a long flat finish down the river Ettrick and back up the Tweed to Kailzie on the outskirts of Peebles.


Between the climbs are mile upon mile of twisting, mainly singletrack road in stunning isolated landscape. The road from top of the Ettrick valley over to Ashkirk (the high table on the course profile, after the first two climbs and before the final two) more than makes up for the lack of gradient with stunning scenery and fantastic flat-out carving turns.

On closed roads the descending is just sublime, especially dropping into Ashkirk and then off the Woll, leaving the spectacular hurtle down the bottom swire to last. Mind the sheep!

Even the 25 miles from the bottom swire to the finish (at best rolling, but if we’re honest, pretty flat) have the novelty of the closed road and a field of over a thousand riders to keep your blood up.


Credit to the organisers for putting together a really well organised event. The previous year (when the roads weren’t closed) it was run out of the High School with riders slipping out onto the open road in small groups. This year it was a massed start in big waves from Peebles High Street, but everything still went off beautifully without a hitch.

On the day

From the start line on Peebles High Street to the first climb is just under seven miles – out on the A72 then crossing to the south of the river (B7062) at Cardrona. Perfect to get warmed up before the climb up Paddy Slacks creates an opportunity for the keen.

Paddy Slacks is a long drag, over four miles but under 3% average grade (although it steepens a little in the last mile to 5% or so), and I settled in for a spin at 250W, which was good for over 15mph and seemed to get me up faster than most.

The descent is long and not too heroic, good to get the eye in – just a couple of corners really but the closed roads made it possible to carve through at 35mph+ and there was loads of room for overtaking – very cool. Hammering across the junction at the Gordon Arms at full speed was pretty special too… I’d never trust my ears enough to roll the give way on a normal ride!


The climb up to Berry Bush (the top swire) starts immediately and is another long drag where the recumbent was no disadvantage – this time just under four miles at under 2.5% average. So far nobody had passed me and I was feeling pretty good, but there didn’t seem to be any organised groups and I had the feeling that energy would be better spent later on, so I stuck to 250W again – this time good for around 17mph.

After dropping down to the Ettrick (another nice long descent with great carving turns and no crazy) and crossing the river towards Hawick the riding gets really wild – decent surface on a desolate single track road with no civilisation to be seen. I guess most of the first wave were still in front, but at this point there didn’t seem to be much on the road and with nobody visible to chase, my pace went off the boil.


Like an express train a big group picked me off at the top of a short rise, and immediately things got interesting. I jumped on the back, and whoosh! We started reeling in another big group, passing them at a fair clip, and obviously *those* guys knew a good thing when they saw it too, so everything started to dissolve – four or more abreast on a narrow road with passing spaces… wish I’d taken the headcam!

There’s a short rise after Alemoor reservoir then a good steady descent, which was ace because the treacherous corner which is always covered in pea gravel from the timber lorries had been swept (!!) – I came within a hair of stacking it on that corner just the week before and it would have been carnage otherwise.

From here the road climbs in fits and starts, nothing noteworthy, before plunging into Ashkirk and the first real climb at the Woll, where the gradient hits about 1 in 6 on the steepest pitch. I knew I would need a bit of a head start on that climb if I wanted to top out with the group, so I decided to try and ride off the front before the descent off the moor. I gave it a good kick and out I popped – taking the sweeping corners on the moor with the hammer down and fifty riders streaming off behind me is probably the closest I’ll ever get to the feeling of a breakaway on le Tour… short but sweet!

I’ve almost come a cropper on the descent into Ashkirk before and it was nice to be able to forget the possibility of oncoming traffic and use the full width of the road. Annoyingly, the road was coned off to maintain access for cars in Ashkirk, but as it’s only a singletrack road this meant trying to ride fast in about two feet of gravelly gutter (there were no cars in sight, of course). If I had to be picky, this was the most annoying bit of the day and I almost took a big spill trying to corner, but whatever.. it was only a few hundred yards.

I was humbled a bit on the Woll but still put in a hard effort (just over 300W for ten minutes) and didn’t embarrass myself too much. Segment PR after forty miles at least… As promised, the High Baron dropped like a stone and I was off the front again by the time the road levelled for the run up to Ettrickbridge.

Immediately after the village you’re climbing up towards the last (and biggest) hill of the day – the bottom swire (Witchy Knowe), which is couple of miles at a steady 7%, enough to make a bit of trouble. 285W was all I could manage now but everyone else was feeling the burn too and I passed a lot of folk in worse pain than I was in… the gel manufacturers were making a wad of cash at this point! 😉 .

The descent of Witchy Knowe is a thing of beauty on a closed road, surreally fast with hard bends and bad surfacing. Averaging over 30mph on the tightest section, I think I was using a bit of luck here as well as the local knowledge – you could come a cropper pretty easily and I think there may have been some paramedic action a few waves behind.


Onto the valley floor and you’ve got 25 miles to the finish with just two or three short shallow climbs to tackle – a gift horse for the recumbent really. I rode at 200W (25mph) solo, until I found a group going at a good pace and dropped onto the back. There were about twenty of them going at a fair lick, 25mph for 130W can’t be sniffed at. 😉

Just after Selkirk the road starts to climb again just a bit, to take you over the hill into the valley of the Tweed. I’d emptied my platypus of sports drink by this point and had my second wind, and thought it was now or never. I didn’t want to finish in a big group, so I kicked hard and jumped off the front. For whatever reason nobody tried to take my wheel and I was able to get to the top of the rise in the clear and use the shallow hill down to Yair Bridge to put some distance on.

A couple of miles from Yair you pass the wee church at Caddonfoot and then turn at Peel for the back road to Traquair and on to the finish. There were ‘ALLEZ!’ signs counting down the kilometres now which was a great touch – the road is rolling and bit more interesting with a few very sharp corners to catch out the unwary.

I was running on vapour but managed to hit the final little rise at Kailzie clear of pursuers for a very unexpected 15th place finish. Someone said it’s not about the bike, but even on a course with a bit of climbing… it can still be about the bike I think 🙂

mrsamarshalMaybe I’ll take the hub dynamo and headlight off next year? Oops!

A cracking route and a really well-organised, trouble-free day. Definitely not to be missed in 2015!