Tag Archives: cyclist

My First Automatic Driving Lessons

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I have been learning to drive for over two years.

I booked my first lesson after I was unable to get to a friend’s wedding. It would have been easy to drive there and surely wouldn’t have cost the £40 taxi ride in petrol. The fare was fine but I was weak, wheezing and coughing every 5 minutes, so they probably wouldn’t have been able to hear their vows.

Two months ago my exasperated instructor suggested I try an automatic car which does not have gears. After asking whether I was ready occasionally, I was delighted to do a mock test and get no serious errors. You only have to get one serious error to fail and I would regularly get three. Something clicked and I put into practice what I had learnt. I had booked my test for this month. But as time went on and it got closer to the test and we started talking about it, my skills slipped. I had a lesson a month ago where I couldn’t work out what had gone wrong. I knew how to drive so why wasn’t I able to? It was really grinding my gears.

I called a driving school and asked for an automatic driving lesson. If you pass on an automatic you can’t drive a manual car. I was warned that the cars are more expensive to tax and use more fuel. After I accepted this briefing I was given the number of the instructor. I would recommend checking the website first as I was not told about a special offer and I didn’t know that an electric car was available.

“There was a bang as we hit the red blur of a car. It happened so quickly I couldn’t process it.”

I was very nervous about my first lesson because I have heard of so many accidents and been part of one as a passenger. We were leaving the pavement. We looked past a parked car and the road was clear, so mum drove out. There was a bang as we hit the red blur of a car speeding past.

He stopped a car length and a half down the road with a scratched door. It had happened so quickly I couldn’t process it. Mum noticed that the man said “got to go, I’ll call you later” as he dropped his phone into the door pocket, before coming over to get insurance details. Dad spoke about the driver who rammed a parked car outside our house last week while on the phone to his girlfriend. He hit the car with such force that a wheel came off and bits of bumper and brake light were scattered on the road. He called the police but as no one was hurt they didn’t press charges. A friend of a friend was coming out of a junction and a sign was blocking her view. She looked past the sign and the road was clear. She then entered the road and hit and killed a motorcyclist. Another of mum’s friends accidentally reversed into her dad, breaking his legs.

Finally, there was the driver the year above me at school  who killed her friend. She had just passed her driving test and her A levels. She reportedly went over a hill up the road from us too fast and lost control of the steering, hitting a brick wall next to the road. Her friend in the passenger seat had just passed her A levels and had a place at university. When I started sixth form the common room was quiet and sombre. That is why I didn’t drive at 18.

I live on a bus route to the city so I was able to get most places without needing to ask for a lift or get a taxi. In London the public transport is so good that there is no need. However, the buses to the Peak District only stop at the villages and are once an hour so it would be lovely to go somewhere off the main roads at a time that is convenient for my friends.

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The instructor got out and shook hands. I got into the driving seat and panicked. There was no third pedal, there was one massive one and one smaller one. ABC so that was the brake and the clutch. I couldn’t see past the car in the mirrors, the steering wheel and the pedals were too far away and I didn’t know how to adjust them. I couldn’t do the cockpit drill of making sure the car was set to my specifications.

The instructor was bemused. He knew I had driven for two years and I was sitting there doing nothing. “So, what do you do first?” he prompted. I told him and he waited for me to sort things out. I explained that this car was different from the Vauxhall Astra I’d driven previously and I didn’t know what to do. He smiled and helped. “What do you do next?” he prompted. “Put the clutch down and put it into…” I replied before I remembered that there was no clutch and no first gear, just a gear-stick. What did you do with it?

He demonstrated that you flicked the gear left to put it in gear and right to put it in neutral. He demonstrated that he had added plastic additions to the wheel to allow you to switch to manual if necessary. I frowned at the extra confusion this might cause and was relieved when he said we wouldn’t need them.

The ignition was higher up in this car and the key was in a different direction, so I wasn’t sure which way was on. The instructor had to show me how to switch the engine on. I was so embarrassed I struggled to remember the handbrake and indicator. The instructor wanted to laugh but smiled politely instead.

I hadn’t come out of the drive before but had only left from the side of it, so I did have a brief flashback of our collision, especially as we had just been talking about it. I nervously sat higher in the seat as I scanned the edge of the road on both sides quickly a couple of times before pressing the accelerator gingerly, inching out. He indicated and off we went.

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The accelerator required a steady and increased push to increase speed and the brake was really responsive. The slightest touch and the car would slow quicker than expected. I stabbed it gingerly, jerking the car to a quick stop instead of a slow gradual one. He said “I like to push my students so I might get you to do manoeuvres you aren’t that comfortable with.” “That’s fine”, I said. I had no idea what that would entail but I was about to find out.

At first the instructor was quiet. It was quite a change from my last instructor, who was chatty. I felt like I was being tested, which made me more nervous but I wasn’t driving as badly as anticipated. Or at least it didn’t feel like I was, until he said “mirrors…..mirrors….do you know what MSM means? No switch that off, what haven’t you done?……did you look in your mirrors?…..and then I heard a sigh. But I still forgot to check the mirrors before signalling. Embarrassed, I apologised again. I needed to get out of that habit for my instructor’s sanity.

After about an hour I did a few successful checks. His repetition had paid off. Then he said “I’ll give you instructions from now on.” I still drove like an idiot. I knew what to do, I was just driving like a boy racer. He said “what’s the fastest you’ve ever driven?”. “50” I replied, checking my speedometer. That was fine. He directed me on a roundabout to the start of a dual carriageway. I expected to go off but we kept on it until the speed limit was 60. I felt surprisingly comfortable doing 50 but was quite nervous about 60. It felt like the first time I went above 30 and felt like I was flying. I slowed as we approached a roundabout and I didn’t know what lane so I guessed and then indicated and changed into the correct one.  He asked how I knew what lane to go in and I told him how I went in the left for the first and second exist and right for the third onwards. He directed us around multiple roundabouts until I started to feel more confident. Then I was coming up to a roundabout when he said “what lane do we need to be in?” I guessed that I was in the wrong one. “I don’t know” I replied. “Look at the road markings” he said. I looked ahead and couldn’t see anything further in front. “Look further down” he said. There it was. I was in the wrong lane again.

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Then I saw a car coming towards me on the roundabout and drove forward. I was on autopilot thinking about how I was in the wrong lane and I didn’t think about anything else. The instructor braked for me and looked at me, scared.

“What would have happened if you’d gone out then?”

“I would’ve crashed.”

“Yes you would have gone straight into that car coming towards us. Why did you do that?”

I paused. Why did I? I won’t be doing that again. It was like the first time I went on a dual carriageway with my first instructor (I’m on my third) who also liked to push his pupils. I thought I could turn the indicator off with the wheel at 50 miles an hour. I was surprised as we almost swerved into an oncoming car and my instructor grabbed the wheel with lightning reactions.

“You did three dangerous” the instructor announced. “I’ll drive us back”. Now it was my turn to sigh. I was never going to be able to drive. Ever.

“I can get you passing by the end of November” the instructor said. Well, maybe there was hope on the horizon. If I could just drive towards it safely and slowly enough.

On the way back the instructor imitated my driving a little until I giggled uncontrollably. He looked at me. “What?”. Realising that I could laugh at myself and wouldn’t be offended, he proceeded to show me what I was like. “I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get the idea.” He smiled.

Nana Joan with my second cousin, Maliko.

Nana Joan with my second cousin Maliko.

I saw that I was driving with my arms stretched stiffly in front of me, my eyes mostly fixed ahead, occasionally looking down my nose at the door mirror as if I was looking down through spectacles and then quickly staring ahead again, then occasionally flicking my eyes to the other mirror. I was jerking the brake in a stop/start manner,scared-learner-driver-main holding the wheel gingerly with the edge of my fingers, flicking it to make it turn. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” The instructor said, bemused again. “Do you have a grandma?” he asked. “Yes” I said, smiling at the memory of Nana Joan in New Zealand, with her kind eyes, wide smile, curly brown hair (she still hasn’t gone grey at 89, I hope I have those genes) and laughter lines. “Would you drive like this with your grandma in that seat?” he asked, jerking the car to a halt repeatedly. “No.” I replied. I also had a bad habit of looking at my instructor when he was talking. “Eyes on the road please!” he reminded me.

My instructor explained that he used to be a taxi driver and that when he took the instructor’s test he realised how shocking his driving was. He said he passed second time because he was too cocky the first time and didn’t show the instructor that he was looking in the mirrors.

“I got honked at and apparently got a rude finger gesture but I was completely oblivious in my learner bubble.”

I thought he wouldn’t want to see me again, after moaning about how a student nearly damaged his car, but he later said that he enjoyed the challenge of teaching me.

At the start of the next lesson the instructor had me reversing out of a drive onto the main road. I was terrified but I was driving under his instruction and at snail speed. That was smoothly done, as was a turn in the road. However, I went off a roundabout into the wrong lane and the instructor corrected me. I got beeped at and apparently got a rude finger gesture but I was completely oblivious in my learner bubble.

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Later, when I went to change lanes I thought I had space to move in front of an oncoming car and I didn’t. I forgot that I didn’t have the right of way and expected the oncoming car to slow down for me. Not so fast. Taking time to judge distance and the rules of the road is more important than speed. Having road experience from being a cyclist I drive defensively in that almost every time I am on the road as a (mostly safe) driver or a passenger I witness dangerous driving and therefore I expect the worse.

Every driver should be a cyclist to get experience of what it is like to be a vulnerable road user having to go into the flood of traffic to turn right or trying to turn in front of you into side roads. I see dangerous drivers much more often than dangerous cyclists. I expect a driver to emerge from a side road without looking. This almost happened today and my mum was ready for it, swerving and beeping (only to announce her presence of course). I now even expect a car to park in the middle of the road on a blind bend.

If you are struggling to learn on a manual try automatic lessons. It should make you a safer driver and automatic cars are the future.

In a new suburb being planned in London I learnt that the area is being planned around driverless cars picking up and dropping off passengers. Just when I was getting used to the idea of Uber taxis, technology advances yet again. If I still can’t pass my test I will wait for the new dawn of driverless cars.

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Filed under Advice, Cycling, Driving, Uncategorized

My First Driving Lessons

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I have always avoided driving lessons as I live on a bus route into town and it’s expensive. But I was fed up of being stranded at bus stops and train stations.1341319584

The last straw was missing a friend’s wedding due to the three buses there and back.

Luckily around this time an acquaintance was overjoyed at passing her test. She gave me her instructor‘s number and I nervously called him up. He was booked up for the next month but came highly recommended so I said I’d wait.

I’d forgotten all about it when he rang. I booked for that Saturday afternoon! Watch out drivers, and pedestrians for that matter.

I had visions of me swerving all over the road, stalling multiple times and possibly doing myself and the instructor permanent injury. The last time I’d driven had been bumping along a farmer’s field in a battered Bedford van, with my father clinging to the door handle shouting “SLOW DOWN!!!” “CHANGE GEAR!!” and it culminated with me forgetting the braking procedure and flooring it with the clutch down. But that was ancient history…

I wasn’t expecting to drive as my friend said she had just been spoken to for her first hour. I had waited so long to start learning that I wasn’t anxious, just excited. I met the smiling grey-haired, smartly dressed man and he drove off. So far so normal. But then we stopped behind a parked car. He got out. What on earth was he doing?!

After seeing this picture I wouldn't drive with BSM! They don't have a good reputation.

After seeing this picture I wouldn’t drive with BSM! They don’t have a good reputation.

“Well get in” he said, grinning. Did he not value his life? I hoped this wasn’t some kind of crash course. Shouldn’t we be wearing helmets?

I was now nervous and went round to the previously forbidden seat. It felt weird to be behind the wheel instead of beside it.

John explained the moving off procedure. We were to go round a parked car and stop in front of it.

When I’d watched people drive it just seemed to be a case of accelerating to go faster, braking to stop, steering and putting the clutch down to change gear. How hard could it be?

But suddenly he started talking about the side mirror, the “sense” mirror, cyclists, pedestrians, biting point, changing between the gas and the gear pedal, indicating, steering, watching for oncoming vehicles and my heart started pounding and the sweat started running down my neck.

Following his directions I checked the mirrors, waiting for a clear road. I could already imagine a car coming up unseen while I was trying to work out what to do with the pedals. That would be it, my life over on the first lesson. Game over. The end.

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This learner driver in Aberdeen crashed into someone’s cellar.

I pushed the indicator the wrong way. How were you supposed to remember whether up was left and right was down? He changed it for me. My arms were so stiff with nerves that I couldn’t steer gently. I swerved out and he corrected the wheel for me. He helped me steer round the car and then told me to stop. He put the indicator on the right way for me and I checked my mirrors. He hadn’t mentioned how hard I needed to brake so naturally I just assumed that you simply press the pedal fully-down immediately.

There was a pause. “I think I’ve got whiplash” he said, a little rosy-cheeked.

Surprisingly he persevered and I learnt to brake gently and gradually and co-ordinate the clutch with the accelerator. We even went up to 30 miles an hour from 15. Every time I was on the road some impatient driver would be tailgating, angrily glaring into my mirror. I jerked the accelerator a bit to get away from one and John said “look, I don’t care if they honk their horn, you maintain your speed and forget about them, everyone was a learner once and they can overtake if they want.” Still, I didn’t like it. We headed out to the countryside and I nearly had a heart attack when a tractor appeared out of nowhere over the hill towards me.

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“Hang on, you’re going into the ditch” he said, helping me with the wheel. I was terrified. My arms were as flexible as tree branches and glued to the wheel in the quarter to three position, my eyes fixed on the road in front, my ankles aching with tension, my clothes sticking to me. I was yanking the gear-stick about madly and the clutch kept disappearing from my foot as the instructor took over.

“Careful, you’re going into the side of the road again” he said. “You don’t know how deep that puddle is so don’t go there.” From the passenger seat it looked like the car was always on the left of the middle line. It isn’t. It’s right on it. It looks like you’re driving in the middle of the road but the instructor assured me this was correct and you aren’t. Every time a vehicle came towards me I thought it was going to hit me.

“You were scared of that tractor weren’t you” he said grinning. I nodded.

“Keep your eyes on the road” he said, grabbing the wheel as I relaxed a bit and looked at him. I didn’t do that again.

Then he tried to teach me how to come out of a closed junction. I don’t like them as there’s so much to keep in your head to do. There was someone tailgating again and he was saying a string of instructions, something like “clutch, brake, mirror, look, indicate, slow down, go further forward you’ve stopped too soon again”. I had a brain freeze so he took over.

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It was much faster than a bicycle and more responsive. I had the sensation of being on a horse when it jumped and felt pretty powerless, trusting that I was doing it right. It is pretty scary when you’re in something which appears to move of its own volition with very little direction from you. It had been drilled into me that cars were dangerous. They killed you or other drivers. When I was in sixth form a girl killed her friend by going too fast over the hill I was going over now, crashing into the wall at the side.

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The second time I got in the car I felt more confident and couldn’t wait to have another try. I’d almost mastered clutch and accelerator control so we did more complicated manoeuvres. I went round a deserted landscaped island to get roundabout practice. These back roads were nice and quiet. I didn’t like other vehicles. You didn’t know what they were going to do and that scared me. You knew where you were with an empty road, no need to panic.

We did turning right across oncoming traffic. I realised that once again my clothes were sticking to me. I was particularly scared of cyclists and waited for them to whizz past, checking that there weren’t any more anywhere. I stopped in the road to turn and he put the indicator on and took the wheel off me, steering us in.

“We could have crashed there” he said, “someone could have gone into us because you slowed down but didn’t indicate”. pa-7654772

My heart sank. There was still a long way to go but it was only the second lesson. There was another risky moment when we came out of a side road and I swerved a bit, not knowing to move the wheel back earlier. Then I over-corrected and almost went into a car waiting in the side road on the left.

I realised there was a lot to think about. People make it look easy but it’s not until you’re doing it yourself that you see there is quite a bit of preparation to do to pass a test.

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Apart from that all went well and I got unintended hazard perception training when someone almost stepped into the road without looking. Luckily I’d anticipated that and had already slowed down. It could’ve been much worse – a learner driver was actually caught up in a shooting in August. Driving is a lot about anticipating and as a cyclist I was good at assuming that all people, pedestrians as well as drivers, were thick.Henderson-Road-Crossing-2-300x195

We went up to fourth gear with me happily cruising at 40 miles an hour. “You’re at the upper limit, no faster than that” John said. “You’re a thrill-seeker aren’t you, you love a bit of speed I think.” I was surprised to hear that, going fast was scary because I had turned the wheel a bit too sharply before and the car had veered out a little in my lane, something which didn’t happen at lower speeds.

I did two types of hill starts beginning in first and second gear. They were nice as you didn’t need to find the “biting point”, the sound the car made when it was ready to go.

At the end of the lesson the instructor commented that I wasn’t ready for my test yet (that much was obvious) but that I’d made a lot of progress.

He is putting his car in for a service due to learner drivers (he also has physio every three months for whiplash) who drive him up the wall (and round the bend), but hopefully I’ll have my third lesson on Saturday afternoon.

I might watch the BBC’s “Barely Legal” drivers programme for tips.

Watch out road users…

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Filed under Driving, Life of Lydia

A Sporting Weekend – The Yorkshire Tour

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On Sunday leafy Yorkshire was invaded by the French for the first time since the Norman invasion.

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Even our local newspaper was taken over, with a commentator yelling “speciale edition of ze Yourkshe post!”.

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A mannequin on a roof.

We arrived early in the morning in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. There were ancient stone houses and farmers’ fields everywhere and the smell of cut grass lingered in the air.

Parking spaces were already filling up on verges of the narrow country bridges and pavements. There was a festival atmosphere with many of the crowd in yellow, many already lining the route including the BBC.

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Quite a lot of people had camped overnight to get the top spots. Copyright literarylidi

We walked up one long steep hill. I pitied the Tour de France riders who would have to climb it. If it was me I would certainly get off and walk.

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We passed a field with numerous food stalls from hog roasts to Carribbean food to the local brewery stalls and then on to the Portacabin cess pits, although at this early stage they were still fairly hygienic.

Any stalls advertising coffee had lines of caffeine addicts desperately awaiting their morning fix. My boyfriend’s friends spent about an hour in it for theirs.026

A sausage sandwich was necessary for the wait. We found a bit of the verge that had been left as it was narrow and established our territory. With just crisps and chit-chat we whiled away the hours until lunch – a picnic. All the while spectators streamed past up the hill, desperate for a patch of grass to claim.

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A lot of people had cycled there including a lady in a polka-dot dress. A mother produced giant chalks and her children drew all over the road with them, including her. She seemed to be enjoying it more than them.134

Then just half an hour before the event began a large lady with small dark eyes close to her nose, her skinny older husband with parchment skin from years of nicotine abuse and their whiny little boy were walking in the road and stopped at us.

The mother eyed us up and decided we were soft targets.

“Do you mind if we stand here, we’ll stand behind you and won’t cause any trouble” she said aggressively.050

It was more an order than a question and without waiting for an answer she shoved herself and her family between us. We ignored them so she continued her tirade:

“don’t see why they mind, we’ve got as much right to be here as they have, it’s a free country, it’s not like they own the land. Anyway I don’t see why they’re sitting down” she glanced at me indignantly “there’d be a lot more space for other people if they stood up.”

Her husband timidly intervened “they might have been waiting here for many hours.” She relented slightly “well they may have but why shouldn’t we stand here as well, we’re standing behind them and we aren’t gonna cause any trouble are we?” she said to her offspring, who about ten minutes later started whining “is it gonna start yet? mummy when’s it gonna start? it’s been aaages! I’m bored!”

“Play with your sword then” the space offender suggested and her son started thrashing his plastic sword and shield about at spectators.

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The procession of police and gendarmes began at around 3 with continuous sirens and beeps. Then came the marketing cars and floats throwing out freebies. They were not as generous with them as I would have liked and of 121course most of them went to the boy beside us. But I imagined to get a cow keyring with some French on it. They were mostly floats for French companies but some were international. One had massive drinks on and ice cubes, a car sported a plastic bottle of wine the length of the roof:

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and there was a gym van with people on exercise bikes racing away.

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There was a van covered in cheese and one with meat advertising a French supermarket that we also shopped at in Turkey of all places.

Then there was a constant stream of police landrovers, motorbikes and cars with thin dainty racing bikes on. I started to feel a little sick at the amount of taxpayer money inevitably funding all those police, who were more needed along the route. Occasionally our stewart shouted “get behind the white line” but often forgot, so some people were nearly taken out by wing mirrors.

The crowd became more and more excited, with Mexican waves rippling about.

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Three generations in eager anticipation. Copyright literarylydi

Finally it was the race we’d all been waiting for. A helicopter swooping low overhead heralded their arrival.168

We heard the cheers rippling further and further up the hill as the police escort heralded the arrival of the leanest meanest cycling machines in Europe if not the world.

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I was expecting them to look exhausted but their matchstick muscle legs seemed to propel them effortlessly past, with not even a drop of sweat flying off onto us in the front row.They were almost sitting back in the saddle admiring the crowds, who surged forwards almost into the road. There was no steward to be seen and one guy stepped into the path of a competitor and he had to swerve around.

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I was absorbed in the atmosphere and in my camera, experimenting with the different effects.

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Then came the middle group really working, most standing up and leaning forward, smiling as the spectators shouted and screamed.

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The crowds were going crazy for it! Copyright literarylydi

 

 

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It was a Lycra line of calf muscles bulging out like biceps. I was unaware that the British cyclist had already passed as no one had acknowledged him in the fly-past.

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Then came the stragglers and this time I could just make out rivers of sweat running down their face in the 20 degree humid heat, having climbed at least 500 metres of torturous hilly bends. An ambulance whizzed past with its lights on.

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There was a pause and then everyone went into the road and started heading home, moving baby steps for about half an hour, when suddenly police cars and bikes parted the crowd and one straggler acknowledged the crowd with a wide grin as he palely inched past us in yellow.

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He even manages to raise a smile despite being crowded in. Copyright literarlydi

Then in true Yorkshire style, it began to rain as we headed to the car.

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Cyclist heading home in the downpour.

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We spent hours in a traffic queue overlooking the beautiful open countryside as Tour wannabes whizzed by.

On the way back I saw some “tourmakers” having a consultation in their frog green outfits.

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Would I go again? I doubt it. We waited hours and hours for about 15 minutes of cyclist champions but I don’t regret it because of  the sheer excitement and energy of the event.

When we got home we watched Lewis Hamilton win the Grand Prix which finished our grand day out nicely.

 

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July 10, 2014 · 9:00 pm

The Driver vs Cyclist Dispute

This picture is not of the subjects referred to below

This picture is not of the driver or cyclist referred to below.

It seems the two-wheeler versus four-wheeler “war” has erupted once more. This time it’s a motorist bragging about hitting a cyclist. 

It appears that Emma Way boasted on Twitter “Definitely knocked a cyclist emma way_bloody cyclistsoff his bike earlier. I have right of way – he doesn’t even pay road tax! #Bloodycyclists.” It went viral and Twitterers were quick to alert Norwich police, who tweeted back: “We have had tweets ref an RTC with a bike. We suggest you report it at a police station ASAP if not done already & then dm us”.

This was especially affecting today as I did my second cycle commute. Why should we pay tax on this when potholes in bike lanes force us to dodge round them onto the road? When many roads still do not have red lanes? When we can’t use them as cars park in them? When they end without warning? When there is glass on them?

As blogger Reid of ipayroadtax.com points out, the reality is that there is no “road tax”. Road construction and maintenance is paid for by everyone through taxes. The Vehicle Excise Duty that motorists pay is levied according to engine size or CO2 emissions.

The negative sentiments of motorists towards two-wheelers was apparent when a friend said “sorry but if a bike even grazes my wing mirror I will go bat sh** crazy”. She didn’t relent even when I pointed out that this would probably happen because she hadn’t left the cyclist enough space.

As for the claim that two-wheelers should have lessons on rules of the road, I actually agree with this. I learnt from asking others, but there needs to be compulsory training in schools. Some in my city already run courses. This would encourage more people to use this green method of transport, as they would feel more prepared and confident.
I only had one problem today – a flashy hatchback wouldn’t let me get past him to the front of the lights. This meant I had to work a lot harder to cycle up a slight hill before they changed again. Let a bike get ahead of you to the front of the queue. They need the extra time.
On the plus side though, I have found red lanes that run through town! It takes me down quieter roads, I just have to be careful of the numerous side roads leading on to it. This time buses left me more space, and I took care to look behind me when coming out from bus lanes or parked cars.
Yes, both sides flout the Highway Code. But I believe the majority do not. Isn’t it about time we put share the roadaside our differences? Lets share the road and make both our commutes less stressful.
Most people admire my preferred method of transport, dicing with death and attacking hills deters them. Yet it is not as risky as they think – I have had no trouble. In fact, these challenges are the very reason I get a thrill from pedal power. Once you have conquered the gradient and potential danger you know that nothing at work can hold you back.
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My First Cycling Commute

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Today was the first time I have cycled to work! It was twice as fast as the bus and once there I felt invigorated and powered through the morning.

I used to use my brother’s bike. He cycled from Lands End to John O’Groats as a teenager and raised hundreds of pounds for Cancer Research UK, and I was inspired by this to try a commute. After all if he emerged unscathed from a trip like that, half an hour on the roads should be no problem.

I rode until the bus and cycle lanes finished and then decided to keep safe by walking through town. Red lanes here are ridiculous, one stops at the top of a hill before cars go into a bottleneck at the bottom, so you often have to go on the pavement as the queue doesn’t leave enough room.

Cars often park in the lanes meaning you have to weave around them. But at least most of the vehicles were generous with space.

My bag was a bit heavy – I had to carry both locks in it – you should have one in between the wheel, over the main frame and round the bar and the other securing the back wheel going through the main frame and round the bar. If this sounds a bit confusing have a look at the  image below.

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I considered getting insurance – it would probably cost me less than the bus.

I thought it would be a lot harder returning uphill than it was – whenever it got a bit much I could get on the pavement and walk. I was clearly a first-timer – other 2-wheel commuters were whizzing past me as if they were in the Tour de France. I felt like a fancy dress runner at the back of a marathon.

The only thing is that it’s not that safe to be zooming down when the road is wet, so most of the time the weather will prevent me from commuting in this way. But I enjoyed regaining control for the day, no longer forced to wait in the cold for a bus that may or may be late, smelly or snail-slow.

On arrival the facilities were sufficient – there was a shower, although it was a bit basic not having a changing room. I was amused by a notice requesting users to direct the shower head away from the door to avoid a “swimming pool” floor, to which one indignant bather had responded in red capitals “OR YOU COULD INVEST IN A BETTER SHOWER CUBICLE!” I hovered around my stuff on the one chair whilst changing and as there was no mirror I did my makeup in the toilets.

My verdict? You can bike to the top of town from my area using the bike/bus lanes. Just be careful of the buses as they don’t leave much space and will come up right behind you if you hold them up (despite the fact that they seem to be quite happy to go slower than the speed limit at any other time). Look behind you when coming out of bus lanes – I squeaked as a bus sped right past me almost as I was coming out of it, leaving no room whatsoever.  It was a little annoying having to walk right through town as there are no decent lanes running through – for example there is a strip on one side of the road going down but not coming up. But really it depends on our changeable weather…I don’t fancy getting cold and wet.

As for elsewhere – I’ve heard cycling in London can be quite risky and from what I have heard I wouldn’t recommend it!

Top 10 First-Timer Tips

1. Follow the rules of the road. If you’re not sure read the Highway Code. Or copy what more experienced cyclists do. Signal clearly well before turning using the signals below. Make sure you keep your balance whilst you do so.

2. Give your bike an M.O.T the night before – check the tyres to ensure they’re hard enough, cycle round a bit to check the gear chain is in good working order and the seat is at the right height.

3. Make sure you have a helmet and wear a reflective jacket even in the day. IfFlyer-Front you’re wearing  clothes that make you noticeable, keeping as far to the side as possible and following the rules of the road then there is no excuse for anyone driving.

4. If you’re going to wear work clothes, wear a “wicking” shirt underneath that draws away the sweat. Secure your trousers with reflective bands or they’ll get shredded in the gear chain axle. I’d advise wearing skin tight “pedal-pushers” (three-quarter length trousers) a t-shirt and a light longer sleeved jacket as a wind-breaker.  A shower is also recommended!

4. ALWAYS LOOK BEHIND YOU WHEN COMING OUT of a lane. Be it a bus stop marking or from behind a car. It’s best to wait for a gap in traffic or wait for a car that’s seen you and has therefore left space.

5. AVOID ROUNDABOUTS – it’s tricky to stay in the right lane and cars can’t always leave sufficient space and may not be looking around their lane as they come round the bend. Also, beware of slippy roads in wet weather and AVOID TRAM TRACKS – many friends have fallen off riding on these.

6. Beware of potholes on bike lanes – where I live there are quite a few! Also beware of broken glass in them. Your commute will be much slower with a puncture. Then if possible, walk to work from the end of the bike lane like I do – I’d rather take a bit more time getting there than risk my safety.

7. ANTICIPATE – just as important as when driving, leave space for people getting out of parked cars. Keep an eye on pedestrians, they may not be aware of you when crossing the road.

8. Lock both front and bike wheels to the main frame and the bar. If you are concerned about security perhaps consider insuring your bike, it’ll cost less than replacing it and perhaps less than using public transport.

9. Make sure you have a hearty lunch or a snack approximately two hours before you leave. It’s no fun cycling on an empty stomach. But don’t eat less than two hours before or your blood will be involved in digestion rather than powering your muscles.

Above all…

10. ENJOY!

Try it and write about your experience. It fulfilled my exercise needs of the day, saved me time and money, was carbon-neutral and had positive effects on my mood and productivity.

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Filed under Life of Lydia, Uncategorized, Work

Bus-boosting immunity

Recently my parents have been virally infected by my student sister and have been quite ill. Surprisingly I was the only family member around to be unaffected.

As my parents cough, sneeze, splutter and weakly sink into bed or chairs I have wondered how on earth I have avoided this ninja virus. Now it may be that I spent less time with the infector, but there is also the fact that I imgHandSanitiserLargehave not had any colds or other illnesses this year. Partly it is due to lower stress levels – I feel in control with my new job and I am getting enough sleep. I also run at least once a week. Perhaps taking one multivitamin a day helped – although my doctor dad (retired) insists that double-blind studies have ruled that out. Or is it my regular use of hand sanitiser (followed by moisturiser, that step is important)?

But I have also been exposed to infection on a daily basis through public transport, along with 34.2 million others last year just on Stagecoach.

Everyone moans about the “service”. I once complained to my local providers after I was late for work every day for a week. I appreciated the letter back and the day’s free bus fare but I switched to a more reliable company. In general buses here are usually late, dirty and sometimes slower than walking. Recently I got a driver that seemed to enjoy braking hard and often. As we lurched to a halt after a short journey I felt as queasy as if I’d been hours in a car. Where I live, the time you arrive depends on which bus driver you get and how fond they are of having a break. This is understandable later in the day but I can’t understand why they need it in the morning rush hour. Time ticks by as the man or woman yawns and leafs through The Metro.

Although rare, the recent fatal stabbing on a bus at 7.30am in Birmingham reminds us that sometimes other passengers can be dangerous rather than simply irritating or smelly. However I think you have more chance of being killed as a pedestrian or cyclist.

The other day three people sneezed simultaneously around me and I have yet to feel any ill effects (though perhaps I speak too soon). So although it certainly has its faults it is fantastic for keeping your immune system virus-immunologyupdated like your computer’s antivirus. Twice a day you keep it alerted to current threats and if you do a bit of exercise and get enough sleep you’ll combat them and develop a great firewall to minimise sick days and save money.

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Filed under Life of Lydia, Work