Monthly Archives: July 2012

Pre-Bike Trip Thoughts

Since I was very young I have wanted to go on some sort of journey or adventure. I’ve strongly felt that it needed to be solo, a personal challenge and powered by my own body, taking at least a couple of weeks. This bike trip is IT.

I’ve got enough experience cycling now to know that I can probably do it.. but not enough to know if I can definitely do it. There are just the right number of known factors and the right number of unknown factors. I completely accept that I could break my bike or get too exhausted and fail to finish the journey… but that’s all part of it. There’s something very important to me about this journey, even if I don’t know what.

My father was a keen cyclist for years until a crash stopped him cycling seriously. I guess that’s why I could cycle before I could walk, and why I got my first set of toe clip pedals at the age of 8. But I’ve always cycled habitually rather than with any interest, until now.

My father constantly overestimates the progress I’m probably making, saying “You could find a group that does 60mile club runs. Or if you’re really struggling, you could always find a slow group that only do 40mile trips… you can do 40miles can’t you? You can do 20miles in an hour can’t you?” I say “Not really Dad”.

My grandmother says “Don’t listen to him! You know he used to train with the alongside members of the Olympic team? You know he used to be out riding every evening of the week and 100miles at the weekend?”. I say “Did he?”

She says “Don’t push yourself now. You mustn’t do anything that not a pleasure, otherwise there’s no point is there.”

I tell my dad that I’m not taking it as seriously as he did, but I do want to do this 300mile ride – it’s a big challenge for me personally.  In the end, he says “I think you can do it, because you seem like a strong cyclist”. I tell him that I feel like maybe I’m a weak cyclist who just won’t give up. He says “That’s what all strong cyclists are”.

Wish me luck – it starts today.

It’s starting to look like I know what I’m doing

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The Real Reason Women Don’t Cycle?

(July 4th 2012)

Taking up cycling this year, I did notice that most other cyclists I saw on the road were men. On the cyclepaths I do see women, but on the roads it’s mainly men. At a bike shop, I asked if they had any long sleeved women’s jerseys, it turned out they had only two, despite having an entire room dedicated to clothing.  Is this discrimination, or simply lack of consumer demand? Looking on Google, I found some statistics from America, showing that only ¼ of cycle commuters are women. So what’s going on?

I’ve heard many women say to me “Oh, I can’t cycle, it would make my thighs too big”. Come on girls, it doesn’t make them that much bigger! In fact, it’s a hi-reps & low resistance exercise that tones muscle rather than building bulk – which I’ve heard is what most women think they are after anyway. I’m not convinced it’s the leg thing.

So, why don’t more women cycle?

My Chinese Grandmother: You don’t cycle with an umbrella.
Me: No. Why?
My Chinese Grandmother: You get arrested!
(photo credit- Richard Masoner via flickr)

After 6 months of increasing my bike riding, I think I might have found the answer.  If you mostly ride distances of more than 10 miles, you’re going to want a road bike really. And if you’re a woman riding a road bike, you’re basically leaning forward and sitting on your genitals aren’t you. Ouch!

Obviously some women don’t have a problem with this. And there must be men out there who struggle with sensitive bums too. But as a woman you’re onto a loser in the first place if you’re less sitting on your bum than on your cl%#*!&s!

I’ve never heard women talk about this problem, and I myself have never had a problem… until now. The reason it’s happening now is because I’m riding a road bike and I’m riding further. What’s worse is that nobody talks about this! It’s hard to go to a bike shop with mainly male staff and say “Hi, my genitals keep bleeding. Any advice?”

I’ve tried a few things, like getting padded shorts, but nothing’s solved the problem. In honesty it could be a deal breaker for me. I’d give up cycling if this proved unsolvable. Have many women come to this same conclusion and just never mentioned the real reason that they don’t cycle? Have some women even had crotch problems the first time they tried riding, so have given up before they’ve even started?

Having done some research on the internet, I found a few useful articles and the verdict is as follows: Most people, men and women alike, can ride very comfortably with the right saddle for them. I say again: the right saddle for THEM. Everyone’s bum is a different shape, so you need to buy a saddle that fits you, both in terms of shape and density. And actually, if the saddle fits, then you won’t be sitting on your delicate bits at all, but on your “sit bones”. This sounds much better.

But here’s the downside; apparently you can’t simply figure that out in a test ride in the shop – it takes a few weeks to know if you will get on with a particular saddle.  This process could be potentially painful and expensive and frankly, that too makes me feel like giving up. Imagine buying and trying a new saddle every month! What if it took you a few tries to find the one that fitted you? It would make your diary look like this:

January  – Crotch pain
February – Crotch pain
March – Crotch pain
April – SUCCESS!!

I just don’t know if I can go through with it.

A possibly alternative is as follows: A leather saddle

At £90, buying one of these would be an expensive mistake if it didn’t fit. However, leather saddles are not only meant to be the most comfortable kind of saddle, they are also much more likely to fit since they mould to the shape of your bum during a 200mile “break in” period. Possible drawbacks are that there’s still a chance it might not fit, but you’d be unable to tell until you’d fully broken it in, thus making it impossible to return it.  Could be expensive, but then who can put a price on genital welfare after all?

-Full-Time Fixie


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After 6 months, is swapping a car for a bike worth it?

(June 28th 2012)

At the start of this year, I made a fixed-gear bicycle my main mode of transport, for the cost, environmental and health benefits. After 6 months, how has it panned out? Has it been worth it? The answer is yes, yes and yes.

“Make the commitment. Build the equipment you need. Be creative in your transport solutions. Don’t be afraid to use alternative transport to your bike (bus/coach, taxis/cabs, hire vehicle, other friends’ vehicles) as you need to. Keep track of the money you save then after two years forget about it, but remember to brag about your next house addition/trip overseas/new bike/whatever. And be prepared to have ordinary people look as though you are a lunatic after you answer their question: “How can you afford to do that”” – From the ‘Living Car Free’ section of


Environmentally: YES
No arguments against it really. Not owning a car is better for the environment. Public transport is greener than driving and so is cycling.

Cost: YES
In my last post, I looked at cost a great length. Since that post I have in fact spent more money on the bike, but even so, I still seem to be spending quite a lot less on transport than I did when I had a vehicle.

Health: YES
I have to say that although my fitness has improved and I generally feel better/happier, the distances I could comfortably cycle ceilinged after a few months.  I was hoping that I might get up to the point where I could comfortably enjoy cycling 30-40miles, but those sort of distances still take it out of me hugely. I’ve made the decision not to bother to push any further and just stick at the level of fitness I’m at – after all, I want to enjoy this, not turn it into an ordeal. I wanted to get fit enough that I never avoid going out because I’m not feeling up to cycling, and I have!! That’s enough for me.

Has it been limiting?: A BIT
There are limitations to travelling by car and limitations to travelling by bike, but they are different. Overall, I think it adds up to being about the same.

Travelling by car, you are increasingly limited by parking restrictions, at the mercy of traffic jams and in danger of breakdowns.  Your budget is also limited by the fact that you have to pay for the car even on days when you’re not using it, and that repairs might eat up your savings at any time.

On a bike, you are limited by how far you can ride, topography, ability to carry luggage, weather and in danger of punctures.

In honesty I’ve felt pretty happy with the results. I ditched my car, knowing that most places that I go frequently are ones I can get to by bike/public transport. So mostly it’s been easy. Living in a town near Exeter, public transport isn’t as good as it is in a bigger city. There are some places I can’t just get to and that is a bit of a pain. I don’t often have to carry much luggage and I don’t mind riding in most rain (since I spent a load on the right clothes).

On the downside, I do have a mattress to move 8 miles this week (not sure how). I don’t know what we’re going to do about collecting firewood this winter (although I could just buy some with a fraction of the money I’ve saved through not owning a vehicle). I don’t get to give people lifts, or help them move stuff anymore – which is a shame because I liked being able to help out. I can’t think what I would do if I was asked to do some gigs that involved me bringing all my own amplification… but so far I haven’t been asked to do that. If I was, or if playing electric gigs became part of my job, it would be car time again I suppose.

Has it been more enjoyable?: DEFINITELY
Actually I did enjoy driving a car, but it was never something I got excited about. I do get excited about getting on my bike though, almost every journey. It’s nice feeling a little endorphin high kick in during my first half hour at work. Lots of short journey take less time door to door than they do to drive, but even those that take longer feel a little more relaxed.  Journeys involving trains are a little stressful, and getting a bike on a train is a challenge. But then I remember what a huge source of stress it used to be having an unreliable vehicle and constantly having to maintain it. This is definitely better.

Do you want gears?: A BIT, BUT NOT REALLY.
“Buy a road bike. Buy a road bike. Buy a road bike… I’m hoping that if I say it enough times I’ll convince you.” – says my local bike shop, jokingly. Not an attitude shared by Magic Mike – the amazing bike maker who built my fixed gear bicycle.  In honesty, when I’ve been slowly climbing some of these Devon hills, shaking with exhaustion whilst being overtaken by someone pedaling fast in a low gear, I have wondered about buying a geared bike. It would be nice to be able to drop down a gear or two on days when I’m carrying heavy luggage, and it would probably increase the distance I can comfortably ride overall… but for some reason I’m not really swayed. I’d hate to have a freewheel – it feels wrong now.

You see, the disadvantages of riding fixed gear ARE the same as the advantages. Riding fixed gear makes you practice pedaling fast and pedaling slow. It makes you focus on improving your riding technique. It makes you get out of the saddle and climb hills hard, using your whole body. It doesn’t give you the option of being lazy even if you want to. The advantage of this is it gets you fit automatically, meaning overall, cycling feels easier because you got fit.
So, all in all has giving up my car for a bike been worth it?
The answer is YES, but only because it suits my circumstances at the moment. If I got a job far from home, or started gigging a lot, or had more places that I needed to get to that we’re impossible by public transport, then having a car would become essential. Lets hope that by that won’t happen because public transport will improve 10 fold in the next few years in response to the huge numbers of people exchanging their cars for bikes as a result of reading the
FullTimeFixie Cycleblog 😉

“Without a doubt, one of the smartest things I ever did in my life was abandon the car. It has made me more free and independent and I can not imagine ever going back. If people view me with a social stigma because I don’t own a car, I really don’t care and in fact relish the idea that I am showing it can be done.” From the ‘Living Car Free’ section of

Here are my bits of advice for anyone thinking of making the switch from car to bike.

  • Make a list of all the journeys you take regularly. Giving up your car might be the wrong decision, leaving you stranded without adequate transportation. It all depends on your circumstances. Figure out how many of your regular journeys could be cycled, bussed or trained feasibly. If it’s more than 90%, you should be ok. Getting a taxi every so often should still prove cheaper than owning a car. This whole process might be trickier for families than for those without kids.
  • Do it when your car dies: If it’s hard to take the plunge and sell a vehicle, undoubtedly making a loss, a good time to switch to a bike is when your existing car dies. That way, you can try going carless for a few months, and if it doesn’t work for you, nothing’s lost. You can just buy a new car like you were going to anyway.
  • Allow yourself to spend money on cycling. The first few months might be tough, since you’ll be cycling more, but do yourself a favour and make it as easy as possible for yourself by buying the right gear. This will help you to choose cycling more often than bussing, getting you fitter and onto longer distances quicker. Once you’re onto longer distances, not having a car won’t seem as limiting. It may cost a bit initially to buy these extras, but it’s more likely to keep you cycling and stop you from giving up. It will pay off in the long run, physically and financially.
  • Take care of your body: Now that you have no car and the majority of your journeys are cycled, you are relying on your body for transport. Find out more about how to look after your body (especially during exercise) and learn about how to avoid injury.  If you’re someone who get’s sick often, you may find that regular cycling improves this. If you still fall ill often, make sure you can use public transport for most journeys when you’re sick. Exercise has been shown to help people get over the common cold faster, but you must be the judge of when you are too ill/injured to cycle.
  • Take care of your mind: The switch from car to bike will be more of a challenge for some than for others. If you are committed, but finding it hard, try a few of these motivational techniques:
  • Write down as many reasons that you want to switch to a bike as you can think of. Keep the list so that you can look at it when you’re feeling less motivated.
  • Keep a diary of your progress, including whatever makes you feel good. It could be writing an entry about a great ride you just enjoyed. It could be a table showing how many miles you’ve ridden each week. It could be a place to jot down some of the advantages of cycling as you discover them. If weight loss is one of your aims, keep a record of how much you’re losing.
  • Do it with a friend. Challenges and lifestyle changes are can be easier to do together with someone else. If you can find a friend who also wants to give up their car, why not team up and do it together?

“I’ve never owned a car, and I’m not sure if I ever will. I started commuting by bike a few years ago. I do almost everything by bike, and when I can’t bike, I use public transport. Just go for it! Get your bike outfitted with a rack. Get some good panniers. For winter riding, dress appropriately. The name of the game in winter is to layer. And learn some good bike maintenance tips. Get some basic tools for repair and a repair stand. And lastly, don’t let others intimidate you into stopping! A lot of people tell me it’s too dangerous to ride, or I’m crazy to ride, but they’re waiting 20 minutes in the cold for a bus, and I’m getting to my destination long before they do. I’m healthier than they are too, so that counts for something too.” From the ‘Living Car Free’ section of
Read the whole thread at

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Save more than £4000 per year by cycling instead of driving?

(June 16th 2012)

Previously I’ve said that I would talk about the cost, health and environmental benefits of cycling, and this week I’m talking about cost. People have been asking me if it’s really worth it.

Well, first of all it’s not worth it unless you really like cycling… but on the other hand, you might like cycling more than you previously thought, if it was more comfy because you have all the right gear. I don’t really like talking about how much I spend on things, but for the sake of the blog, and bringing forward accurate information, here it is.

Basically, to get everything I’ve got (detailed breakdown below) would cost just over £900. This may seem like a lot of money, for an option that is supposed to be cheap, but I wanted to be safe and completely at ease when riding.  Bear in mind also that this is the outright cost, and in future years costs could drop to £50-£200 per year in maintenance.

However, here are some facts that might help put things in perspective:

  • The average cost of owning and running a used car is £4,441 per year.
  • It would be £5,869 for a new car. Most people don’t like to think how much they really spend on their vehicles, but the AA and RAC both publish reports each year with helpful figures.
  • Just for my journey’s to work and back, a season bus ticket would be £500, but the journey would take 1hr door to door, and get me there an inconvenient half hour early, as opposed to a 20min cycle ride.
  • The average gym membership (according to research by Sainsburys) is £442 per year. If you preferred to cycle you could save time because your workout would be your commute.

Essential gear – Budget option:
This is not my own choice, but workable. If I’m going to cycle a lot I want to feel comfortable, but here is the minimum you could get to cycle frequently and safely.

  • Bike: Get a bike from the recycling center, and hope it works well enough as it is. (£10-30)
  • Bike Accessories: Get some of the cheapest cycle lights. Cheap ones will eat lots of batteries. Cycle on well lit roads only – the cheapest lights will only allow you to be seen by others, they won’t light your way (£6). Don’t use mudguards unless the bike comes with them.
  • Cycle maintenance: Buy a puncture repair kit, tyre levers (£5) and bike chain oil (£6), and a cheap pump (£5).
  • Lock: One can get a lock for as little as £2 in cheap shops. It may be very easy to break, but if your bike was cheaper than your helmet, you may not mind
  • Safety: Buy the cheapest helmet (£20), which may not be that comfy but will be perfectly safe, and get some reflectors if you can (£5).
  • Clothes: Cycle in your normal clothes, tucking your trousers into your socks. If it rains, the very cheapest thing to do is get wet. Alternatively, army surplus stores sell full waterproofs cheaply, although they are very sweaty (£25?). Thin splash proof jackets from tescos usually don’t work at all.
  • Luggage: Carry your stuff in a rucksack. You’ve probably already got one.
  • Navigation: Memorise maps from the Internet. Use Google maps on your phone if you already have one with a GPS function, although signal is usually intermittent, and this can lead to getting lost. Alternatively, spend £5 on a local map and keep it in your pocket.

Total: Roughly £90. Notice that actually, one of the cheapest things is the bike itself, unless you managed to get some of that other stuff 2nd hand too.
Essential gear – Mid range option:
This is my preference, and generally what I’ve gone for. My rationale has been to spend on what’s necessary to make riding a bike really enjoyable and not a chore, to encourage me to keep going with it.

  • Bike: Get a fixed gear roadbike. It’s cheaper than a geared roadbike, whilst being great quality. (£270)
  • Bike Accessories: Lots of bikes these days come with no accessories, and it’s easy to underestimate how much they will set you back. I deciding that the following improvements were necessary, and here’s why.
  • A gel saddle – very important! (£18) !!! Later discovered that gel saddles are actually a BAD MOVE – read more here:
  • Mudguards – to stop the bike turning into an upwards-puddle-machine when it’s wet (£35 fitted)
  • Drop handlebars – many fixed gear bikes come with straight handlebars. This is beyond me, since having one gear, but NOT being able to move to drop position to climb hills seems unworkable to me. For the handlebars, new brake levers and cables it was £70 fitted.
  • A bell – to alert pedestrians that I’m coming past on mixed use cyclepaths (£2)
  • A drinks holder – to make it possible to have a drinking bottle for longer rides  (£5)
  • Pedals – I already had clip pedals, so transferred them from my old bike, but they would have cost roughly £35
  • Pannier rack – carrying luggage in a rucksack is tricky and sweaty. Rear panniers are much better and for that I needed a rack to attach them to. Plus, I often carry a guitar on my back, so any other luggage would have to go in panniers. I got my rack for free, but it would have cost (£30)
  • Lights: Cateye front and back light (£20). Worth it for the good battery life and bright front light. Although it’s possible to spend much more for a VERY bright front beam, this was the very minimum for cycling on unlit roads.
  • Total: £215 – as you can see, the accessories/upgrades were nearly as much as the bike itself!
  • Cycle repair: Puncture repair kit and tyre levers (£5) and bike chain oil (£6), 2 spare inner tubes (£12), cycle multitool (£6), spanner (£5), High quality portable bike pump (£17), track pump for home use (£20). One of the things I quickly realised was that I myself find it almost impossible to pump roadbike tyres up to full pressure with a hand pump, even if it’s a decent one. So therefore, a track pump for home use is an essential, and the portable one is only suitable for roadside repairs.
  • Lock: I spent £20 on my thick lock, have had it for 10 years, and have never had a bike stolen. It’s possible to spend much more, but I think the most important thing is to put the lock through both wheels and the frame.
  • Safety: I already have a helmet that I’m sad to say I avoid wearing on short cyclepath journeys because it’s cheap and uncomfortable. I’m planning on spending £50 on a decent one soon.
  • Clothes: My cycle leggings (£60), t-shirt (£25), jacket (£50) and raincoat (£50 in the sale, reduced from £120) are complete essentials to me. They allow me to ride feeling like I can move easily, and am at a comfortable temperature, reducing fatigue on long journeys, and just feeling good on shorter ones. I’ve had some cycle shoes for years that were £60. I can’t imagine not cycling with SPD shoes. These are shoes that clip your feet to the pedals. They make it possible to climb hills that would be impossible if I couldn’t pull up on the pedals as well as push down. They also give me much more control over the bike at all speeds. I also bought some waterproof shoe covers (£24), after failed attempts to waterproof my shoes with scotch guard. However, mainly I’ve been wearing them in the winter even when it’s dry, since they are windproof and stop my feel getting cold. Lastly, I made myself a snood (tube scarf) to pull up over my face when it’s really cold, because otherwise I’ve found that my lips actually crack. I made mine, but buying one would be about £12. I should have got some windproof gloves too (£35) but I didn’t, and my hands got really cold even wearing 2 pairs of wool gloves all winter. Silly me.
  • Luggage: I was lucky enough to get a set of 2 waterproof rear panniers at a car boot sale for £10, although I understand that usually they would be £30 at least. Some people have cheaper panniers that aren’t waterproof, but this makes no sense to me.
  • Navigation: I am currently stuck on this one. I’ve tried memorising maps and getting lost. I’ve tried having a map in my pocket and getting it out at every junction, which means stopping…. I’ve tried using my phone, but the GPS signal is too intermittent. I have a GPS from my old car which I thought I could use, but the battery life is only 1hr, and GPS cycle-mounts I could order from the internet all have reviews saying that they let water in! I have yet to try an old fashioned map and map case… largely because I got put off when I realised that if I wanted to order the OS maps for the trip I’m thinking of doing in summer, then it would come to over £100. So maybe a “cycle gps” is the answer… although they are 3 times more expensive than car ones, since they have to be both shockproof and waterproof. Any thoughts?

Total: £917 (if all new)
What I actually spent: £820

Verdict – more expensive than I expected, but still cheaper than driving by far.

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Poncy Clothes

(25th April 2012)

I have been cycling frequently for most of my life, but only short journeys in fair whether. I have always shunned the idea of getting cycle clothes, and thought of it as pretentious. Not seeing the necessity for wearing special clothes, unless actually racing or something, I had assumed that road cyclists do it just to try and look professional. But now… I reluctantly, I have finally understood the point of Lycra, even for quite short journeys. I’m kind of ashamed to say it, but it turns out there is a point to dressing like you’re on your way to the Superwoman auditions after all.  The only real downside now is that other people who see me cycle past in all my gear will think I’m a pretentious idiot.

Why men’s cycle shorts should always be black!

Basically as far as clothing goes, the keywords are “breathable” and “windproof”. Beginning my quest in winter, I used to wear 2 t-shirts, 2 jumpers, thermal leggings, trousers, hat scarf gloves etc, and feel cold yet sweaty on winter most rides, because normal clothes are not windproof. Now, I have a set of long fleecelined cycle leggings, a moisture wicking t-shirt, and a windproof jacket (plus hat, gloves, scarf), that’s all I need to keep warm without feeling sweaty at all. Not only that, but the clothes are cyclist shaped, and seamless, meaning that it’s comfy to wear them, and there’s no jeans digging in at the waist (and other areas). I also have a gortex raincoat that actually does keep the rain out and is breathable too.

But all this brings me to the big question of money. Ok, so you want to cycle and feel comfortable… how much is this really going to cost and is it really cheaper than driving or taking public transport all the time?  I initially said that I had wanted to cycle instead of owning a car, for the health, environment and cost benefits. Of course those are not the only reasons. My main motivation is that I enjoy it.

I saw a comment on a guardian the guardian article: “How much money (and time) does cycling to work actually save you?” which read “Choosing to cycle is a way of life that has massive psychological and physical health benefits. It is not just for your commute. Anyone who needs to do a cost analysis…just don’t bother and stick to the lazy/stressy/obese lifestyle.” Rather provocative, but a fair point. None the less, I’d like to show what the financial, health and environmental benefits are from my own perspective, in the hope of encouraging others. Another reason for doing a “cost analysis” is that when I was embarking on this project I was rather surprised by the escalating costs. It was too late by then and I had already started, and was finding myself needing to spend more than I had expected to continue viably. For example, having spent £270 on the bike itself, I was surprised that I found I suddenly had to spend an extra couple of hundred on accessories from mudguards to changing the saddle, handlebars and pedals in order to feel happy with it.

Regardless of all this, “Per mile traveled, bicycle riding costs the frequent cyclist less than half as much as mass transit and only one-quarter as much as driving — even assuming cyclists must replace their bicycles every three years due to bicycle theft and bad pavement.’ according to this Australian website:

In my next post I’ll talk in more detail about the financial benefits of cycling, and in later weeks, I’ll address the environmental and health benefits.

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On Public Transport…. and bikes.

As you know, I’ve never been without a vehicle since I passed my driving test. But this year I’m having a go at using a fixed gear bike, and public transport as my only way of getting around. This includes leisure, day job, and gigging.

At first it was my intention to never leave the house without a bike. Come rain or shine, I would cycle short journeys, and take my bike on the train for longer journeys… You see trains are actually quite fast, and quite cheap if you book in advance, but they inevitably take you only between an average of 1-5miles from where you’re actually going. Buses at either end take forever, (and in my case, make me feel sick. What’s the point of paying to feel sick?) so the easy solution is to take a bike and cycle at either end.

Now then Rail Companies – your claim that you CAN take bikes on trains is a little bit flakey isn’t it? Ok, I’ve had some journeys that have been very successful, where you can book a bike space in advance, and they even let the train manager know that you’re coming so they don’t let the train pull away while you’re in the bike carriage.

We’ll ignore the fact that the Train Company tells you to ring the Ticket Agent to book a bike space, whilst the Ticket Agent insists that it’s the Train Company you want, and get straight to the point: Why oh why are there so many routes where for 1 part of the journey you can’t actually book a bike space?! So this means that it’s possible that you can only get half way there?! After that you might not be able to get on the next train with a bike. I asked at the ticket office and they told me this:

“With the trains where you can’t reserve a space, they tend to be a bit more lenient and are more likely to let you on. But if you don’t get on, you’ll have to get the next train and buy a full price ticket for it because the ticket you’ve got is for the train you’d have just missed”.


I locked my bike at the train station and didn’t try to take it after all, despite having booked a space for half the journey.

Umlaut, locked at station, after only being able to book a space for half the journey. Mind you, I have to say I’ve been impressed with most train stations bike locking facilities. Plentiful and secure.

When I asked on the train and the manager said “No, if you’d have brought your bike today you wouldn’t have been allowed on because we’re full. They claim you can travel with a bike, but my advice is, don’t do it unless you absolutely have to, because we have to refuse people quite often and it could easily ruin your day.”

Apparently, folding bikes are fine… but I’ve already spent all my money on a normal bike. In honesty, I don’t want to complain too much. Part of my motivation for writing this weblog is just to give out some info, so I do hope this post has been useful to anyone wanting to use the train-bike combination for the first time.

If I can’t take my bike on some routes, then that’s ok, if only they would just say “no we don’t do it”. Rail Companies, why do you CLAIM that you DO take bikes. Clearly your system for taking bikes is so unreliable that it doesn’t actually work!

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First Try At 50miles

(March 18th 2012)

Mainly I’m wanting to cycle by myself, but I did ask around about some group rides, just for now and then. I had the following conversation with my local bike shop:

Me: Are you still running that bike ride starting at your shop tomorrow night.
Bike Shop: Yes. Come along. You’ve got a geared road bike, right?
Me: No, I’ve only got the fixed gear one. Can I still come along?
Bike Shop: Oh…… I suppose you could come along if you a bought a road bike today.

It seems that this particular cycling group do about 40miles, meduim hilly, in just over 2hrs, averaging 17-18mph…. Some of them have ridden fixed gear bikes before, and said they wouldn’t feel confident riding those routes on that type of bike.

Renowned coach Chris Carmichael says this of fixed gear training “Because your legs are constantly in motion, this type of riding provides much more aerobic benefit than geared-bike riding. An hour and a half to two hours of fixed-gear riding is equivalent to four hours of regular riding.”


So where does this leave me? Some riders boast that they can train along side road cyclists using their fixed gear bike. I’m sure I’m not ready for that yet. But where to start? I decided, having done 30miles ok a couple of weeks ago, I’d try a flattish terrain 50mile route. I chose the one used by the Force Charity Cycle ride every year, since it looked like it had been planned so that the whole 2nd half was kind of downhill. And I decided to do it with the freewheel on (Single Speed, rather than Fixed Gear), just to give myself a chance.

Well… it wasn’t as bad as the spanner incident (which you’ll be hearing about in good time, when I’m ready). The back wheel came loose twice… which is still kind of connected to spanners, but not in the same way. I also added lots of hills by going the wrong way a few times. I was surprised to find that some of the roads turned out to be potholes held together with gravel, and there was a moment of panic when I saw a sign saying “temporary road surface”. Despite my best efforts, I also completely messed up eating and went very shaky by the end of it. I’d assumed that eating beforehand, having a snack after a while, stopping for a meal half way, and then having a snack on the way back would suffice… Completely wrong. I should have just been constantly snacking on sweet things whilst riding, and having energy drinks too. But in the end, I was very proud to do the whole thing in 5hrs on the bike, plus about an hours worth or breaks on the way.

I think all of this confirms that I’m not quite up to usual road rider standards yet. Is there anyone else out there who’s had a go at riding these medium distances fixed gear/single speed? Does anyone know of a fixed gear cycle club round here?

Full-Time Fixie

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Step 2: Bike

Having decided to start using a push-bike as my only form of transport, I first needed to get a better bike.  Some would say that this step was unnessary, but for me it seemed important, since I didn’t think the one I had was up to the job. I read around for guides to bike choosing, so now here’s mine.

The first question: hybrid or roadbike? Hybrids are the ones with the thicker tyres and can handle gravel and bumps.  Roadbikes are the ones with the thin tyres, and are only suitable for tarmac, but are much faster.  First I had to find out if roadbikes are really faster? I tried one. They ARE. Definitely. With a roadbike you can put in the same amount of effort and go faster than you can on a hybrid bike, even if the two bikes weigh the same.

The only problem was that a decent roadbikes start at £500, which was out of my budget. Then, my dad (who’s always been very into cycling) put me onto the idea of getting a fixed gear bike (Fixie).  A Fixie has only one gear, and no freewheel – basically if the wheels are turning the pedals turn too.  I remember my dad used to have one for track racing, as well as a geared bike for long distance riding. It sounded like a mad idea to begin with, but once I learned more about Fixies it started to make more sense to get one.


Apparently this is Lance Armstrong’s Fixed Gear Bike

It may sound strange to try and ride a bike with only one gear around hilly-hilly Devon, but there are many advantages to this sort of bike.

Fixie Advantages:

  • Price: A handbuilt fixed gear bike, can cost less than half the price of a geared roadbike of the same quality. Why? Because all the extra materials and work that go into making a geared system work smoothly, costs a lot.
  • Reliability: The first thing to go wrong with any of the bikes I’ve owned is the gears. With a Fixie, this isn’t an issue.  Also, it will run smoother for longer, and be easier for me to maintain myself because it’s a simpler machine.
  • Safety: Since there is no freewheel, you can backpedal to break.  With a front and back break too, this essentially gives the bike 3 ways of breaking – much safer in wet weather. It also makes it easier and safer to manoeuvre, since you can control the speed of the bike with more precision.
  • Fitness: When cyclists “train” to get better, they work on two things: Low cadence, and high cadence. This means they practice pedalling slow in a high gear to improve strength, and they practice spinning fast in a low gear to help improve speed/stamina.  It goes without saying that they try not to lose speed by freewheeling during training.  With a Fixie, you are forced to train like this automatically, pedalling slow and hard up hills, and extra fast on the flat. Sounds gruelling to begin with, but as your fitness shoots up as a result, cycling quickly becomes easy. Also, having only one gear forces you to get out of the saddle more frequently, involving your arms and back in the process and getting a fuller workout.
  • Tricks: I haven’t tried it and mine isn’t, but lots of brake-less Fixies are set up for tricks. Observe here :

The final question for me was, can I ride a fixed gear bike? It’s a more skilled ride, but ultimately a better one, but do I have the skill?  One day I tried a test. I rode to work on my usual hybrid, in one gear, without freewheeling. I got there faster! I was sold. People don’t realise I suppose how much time is lost on short journeys in freewheeling and changing gear. I went to try a Fixie and found someone in Exeter who makes them ( ).  I found it more natural than I’d thought. I sold my hybrid that week and bought a Fixie that I have named “Umlaut”.

Fixie Disadvantages:

  • For a time, it was all rosy and I found that there were no disadvantages to my fixed gear bike. Every journey was quicker, easier and more fun than riding my previous geared bike. However, I was still only doing short, reasonably flat journeys, under 6miles. On longer, hillier journeys, it bike was harder to manage. Why?
  • Hard work: Can you lift a big heavy box? If the answer is yes, how many times can you lift it? If you can lift it 5 times, I bet it would be easier to lift a box half as heavy 10 times.  With Fixie, every hill is like a big heavy weight to lift. That’s fine on a short journey with 2 hills to climb, but on longer journeys with 5 hills to climb, it’s really hard work.  With a geared bike, you could drop to a low gear on a hill, thus making it less like a heavy weight and more like a light weight. A Fixie forces the rider to use more strength than stamina to get up hills. Answer – I could either get a geared bike instead, or just get fitter. I think I’ll just get fitter. I can already climb hills that were impossible for me when I first started.
  • Choice of 1 gear: The 1 gear was just proving too inflexible, but there was an easy solution that would give me a choice of 2 gears. I just have to use them one at a time. On my bike you can put a sprocket on either side of the back wheel.  One has a freewheel, and the other is fixed (flip flop hub). You can choose which one you want to use, but removing the back wheel, flipping it over, and putting it back on. Originally they were both the same gear, and I never used the freewheel.  So lately I’ve had the fixed side changed so that it’s a higher gear. So by flipping the back wheel, I can now have a choice of 2 gears, but have to choose which one I want before beginning the journey. The easier gear has a freewheel to, so I can use it for longer journeys where stamina is a problem, and having a freewheel would help endurance (feels weird though).
  • This has never happened to me personally, but apparently it’s possible to accidentally clip the pedals on the tarmac when going around corners too quickly.

I had no idea what gear to ask for when I bought my Fixie, so for reference here is what I’ve found out.

  • 26” is the lowest gear on a mountain bike
  • 64” is the lowest gear on a standard racing bike
  • 72” is the gear most Fixies come with
  • 76” is the gear on Lance Armstrong’s training Fixie
  • 88” is the gear on my dad’s track bike, suitable for racing on the flat
  • 110” can be the highest gear on a geared racing bike

The only other problem with the Fixie has been that I’ve been getting so much fitter, and able to put so much more effort into each journey to work, that very quickly, I’m becoming the member of staff who smells a bit. More on the solution to that problem in the future posts. Stay tuned for: Poncy clothes (what’s essential and why?) Getting used to a fixed gear (How NOT to end up on your rear) and a bit more about my first. experiences of cycling (The SPANNER DISASTER)

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July 7, 2012 · 10:47 am

Step 1. Deciding to do it!

(Feb 17th 2012)

The challenge – to go carless, and travel everywhere on a Fixed Gear bike.
In truth, I do not come to this project as a beginner cyclist.  My family was very interested in cycling and I learned from a young age. I have always cycled habitually, to school, college, and now to work.  But these have always been short distances of around 1-6 miles, in fair weather only, on the cheapest mountain bike I could get 2nd hand.  So in making the choice have a bike as my only form of transport, I was going to have to commit to cycling in all but extreme weather, cycling longer distances, and lets face it, getting a better bike and keeping it maintained. Here’s the process I went through to decide if it was worth it.
I weighed up the pros and cons. Is it really cheaper to cycle? Would it not just be physically unpleasant and a huge effort? Won’t all my journeys take much longer? What if my bike breaks and I don’t have a car to come and pick it up with? I did some research and came to the following conclusions.
It IS cheaper to cycle, but not by as cheap as you might think. Leisure cyclists can get away with cheap heavy bike, with no mudguards, lights or other accessories, but full time cyclists can’t.  However, it’s hard to spend an amount on cycling that would even compare to owning and maintaining a vehicle
Would it be a huge effort? I was hoping that with the right warm and waterproof clothes, and a nice light roadbike, cycling would seem like a joy rather than a chore. Fortunately, despite some setbacks along the way, and that one unexpected snowstorm, I was right. These days I wake up in the morning looking forward to the ride to work.
And as for it taking ages to get anywhere, I quickly found that this isn’t true overall. Long journeys, which also include train travel in part, can take longer than driving would (if there was no traffic). However, most short journeys in and around the city are faster by bike.  Since most of my journeys are under 10 miles, I probably save more time by cycling overall.
I also researched bike breakage, and found that with a well maintained bike, unless you’ve buckled the wheel in a massive pot hole, or had a full on crash, the only thing that can really go wrong is getting a puncture. I bought a repair kit and have learned to use it… so not feeling worried about that anymore.
One thing that didn’t cross my mind, but may worry others of you who are thinking of taking up cycling, is safety. Obviously there is a risk, but I myself haven’t felt worried, since I know I take the right precautions. I feel experienced on the road, take cyclepaths a lot of the time. There is still a risk, but I generally assume that there’s a risk with every form of transport from cars to airplanes, and I’m comfortable with the risks involved in cycling.
The next step of course, would be getting a suitable bike. Stay tuned for next week’s post, and my guide to bike buying…..

Here’s a clue:


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First Post – More About The Project

(Feb 17th 2012)

Hello all,

When my last vehicle died at Christmas I decided that rather than get a new car, I would have a go at using a pushbike as my only method of transport. This means that I go anywhere that I can cycle, or take any form of public transport that will also carry a bike.  I decided that cycling would be healthier, cheaper, greener than having a car.  I’ve called this weblog “Full-Time Fixie” since cycling is my full time method of transport. That doesn’t mean I’m a professional cyclist, just a normal person who takes every journey by bike. I’ve been doing it for 2 month so far. I’m starting this weblog simply to show one way to go carless and its benefits, and the changes I’ve made to my lifestyle. Many people have said to me “isn’t it cold/wet/too much effort?”. I aim to show that with the right approach, cycling can be comfortable and practical, and you too could cycle more and enjoy it without getting wet and cold after all.

Also, I’ve always had a dream to go on some kind of journey that’s entirely “human” powered – i.e. cycling or walking.  This year, when I have had enough experience cycling, I plan to finally make that dream come true, and go on a solo cycle adventure, starting from my home in Devon, and ending a few hundred miles away. To me, it would represent freedom, and connection to the physical body – a truly organic journey.  I haven’t decided on the full details, so watch this space to see how the idea progresses. Feel free to give me some input too.

– Full-Time Fixie

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