Sunday Aug 19, 2007

Holiday Reading

This holiday's books, in the order I read them. The first two were read in parallel.

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. by R.K. Rowling

    Enough said. I read it to my son and we both thoroughly enjoyed it.

  • The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins

    This has been on my bookshelf for a while and I finally got enough time to read it. I'm sure plenty of people have written about this book. Evolution by natural selection explained in terms that someone who only studied Biology to O level (age 16) many years ago can easily understand.

  • The Hour by Michael Hutchinson

    A book about an attempt to break the hour cycling record. The hour is a very special record for cyclists. Ridden against the clock, obviously, on a track usually indoors. This is a very amusing book telling the story of Michael Hitchinson's attempt at The Hour.

  • Talk to the Snail by Stephen Clarke

    Light reading which should help an Englishman understand the French mostly it was just funny.

  • The Boy in the striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

    My partner's book group read this book and then my daughter's history teacher suggested that they read it, so I thought I would read it. Since we had the paper back the topic was not entirely obvious from the cover. Deeply depressing. Great book though.

  • The Last King of Scotland by Giles Foden

    The story of a Doctor caught up in the Idi Amin's rule of Uganda. Another rather depressing book again brought to me via my partners Book Club.

  • Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

    The last week of my holiday was spent with my Cousin who moved to France and the English translation of this was on a table, I read the blurb and so read the book. I really wish I could have read the book without having been enticed into it by the story of how the book was published. For that reason I won't mention that part of the story. However I would highly recommend this book don't read the blurb just read the book then read the blurb. It is the story of ordinary people during the fall of France and the occupation up until the Germans invaded Russia. The writing is fantastic.

Tuesday Aug 14, 2007

Living with a Helmet Camera

Living with or at least holidaying with a helmet camera.

On a whim, well on the recommendation of the Gadget show, I bought a Oregan Scientific helmet camera for use on my bike and so obviously it came on holiday with me.

I should point out that I have had a few versions of the camera due to early ones just powering down after a few minutes. Each time the shop replaced them but the symptom persisted until I started using 2700mAh metal hydride rechargeable batteries, since then the camera has behaved flawlessly.

With a 2Gb SD card in it it will record 1 hour 2 minutes at 30 frames a second and 1 hour 20 minutes at 15 frames a second (I still don't know why you don't get twice as much time when you half the frame rate, perhaps when I'm back on the Internet I'll find out). For commuting I use 15 frames so I can just start it and forget but on holiday that seems pointless.

For cycling long distances, like the journey not to the viaduct, it was not particularly useful. It is impossible to predict when you will want to record. So I just hit record at the top of the hills and tried to remember to stop recording at the bottom. Since hills in France are real hills this results in many minutes of content of the form of “cyclist's eye view of going down a hill”1.

The best videos have been when out with the family cycling. I now have video of all my children cycling all be it from the rear but it still shows those early rides.2

I also took the camera out on our canoe trip, where it had to be strapped to my head, partly to see how it would work, partly to see how waterproof it really is (alas my canoe stayed upright) and partly just to look ridiculous, something I do rather well.

Three things came out of this.

  1. You need to take much more care of where the camera points. This seems obvious but as the camera has no view finder you need to get someone else to line it up. I failed to do this and have some videos where the shot is framed in the right of the shot and then the action all disappears stage right.

  2. Not having a viewfinder allowed me to forget about the camera so, while I looked strange I was able to get on with having a laugh and then dealing with the footage later.

  3. Lots of people seemed to think having a video camera was actually pretty cool, but most of those people looked like geeks, ie people who should be respected.

In conclusion:

Not having a viewfinder is both a blessing and a curse. It prevents you from spending hours worrying about filming events rather than being part of events however it also means that if you have not set up the camera perfectly, something that is extremely difficult to do when you wear it on your head, you can end up with a lot of poor or useless footage.

I look forward to the time when a camera is built into your sun glasses and can record 8 hours of footage. However until then the helmet camera is an entertaining bit of kit.

1Literally it is the view from the handlebars but anyone who knows how I descend hills this is not that far from my view.

2When one of them wins the Tour de France (sans drugs obviously) I look forward to supplementing my retirement selling these films. I even have nail biting footage of the “mountain top” finish as they battled to be first home. However I think I will keep contributing to my other pension just in case.

Monday Aug 13, 2007

Cycle paths in the Dordogne

Week two finds us in the Dordogne and in a bizarre “themed” holiday experience the French have provided another disused railway. This time it is converted into a cycle track so no cars. It could have been provided specifically to support my natural hatred of cycle tracks. While it was very nice when on it to ride along with the kids it suffered from all the faults associated with cycle paths. Given that generally cycle paths on old railways are the best kind there are, and this one is a truly excellent example of what could be done that the faults are still so severe that I don't feel they are a good idea should be a concern to those building them.

The problem stems from two issues. One is other users: walkers, dog walkers in particular making using the things at any speed irresponsible and dangerous. However since I was there with my kids going slow was not a problem watching out of control dogs run in front of your children is even when they have slowed to a walking pace. Still not a reason to stop building them.

The killer is that they don't really help when you really need it. We were riding to Sarlat and all was well. Most of the Bridges were left intact so there was very limited interaction with motorists until 2km from our destination we were unceremoniously dumped onto a main road. Leaving me to lead an 8 year old along the road. Now it turned out that we survived without incident but it was not fun.

As a strange coincidence I have TRL549 (Drivers’ perceptions of cyclists) on my computer to read on my holidays as by way or research and came by these statistics about accidents involving cyclists:

  • almost three-quarters of accidents involving cyclists occur at or close to a junction: T-junctions (40%), crossroads (10%), roundabouts (9%), and private drives (6%); and

  • most accidents involving cyclists occur in daylight (79%) and in good weather conditions (84%).

The first of which goes to support why removing cyclists from roads does not help much unless you also remove them from junctions. Something few cycle facilities achieve and many actually cause and increase in.

All that said the old railways did make for a pleasant ride and have allowed my and my children to get the bread each morning with only short sections on the road. Oddly the tunnel we have to go though which is not as long as the road tunnel from last week and is also dead straight is not just lit but appears to have emergency lighting as well. If I have to go on my own I still avoid the cycle path and use the road. Where it crosses the road it is extremely dangerous, I suspect that even with the kids it is more dangerous than being on the road. It is however flat and once over the junction while the risk of an accident could well be higher than on the road the consequences of that accident should be less as there won't be 1 ton of metal in the equation.

Sunday Aug 12, 2007

Vacation week one.

Lessons learned in the first week of my holiday:

  1. If a sight you wish to see, the Millau Viaduct, is about 50 miles away as the crow flies then it will be more than 75miles by road. I discovered this fact after 62miles of cycling when I was at the top of a large hill and decided that it would be wise to turn around so that I stood some chance of being “home” before dark.

    I am reminded of the fact I read about rivers that if I recall correctly that Einstein calculated that on average the ratio between the distance from the source of a river to it's outflow into the sea as the crow flies and the length of the river is pi. Since a significant portion of the route was following a river I should have expected the distance to be much more than I could ride (whether that “fact” turns out to be true or not when I can investigate it).

    I think the truth is I just wanted it to be nearer and the route was spectacular so was worth it as a stand alone ride anyway.

  2. If the route you take to the above sight, which you never did get to see, takes you along a road that runs on a disused railway line through tunnels that are both unlit and not straight it is best to have a front light. Either that or be following a French driver. Only a French driver would realise the predicament of a cyclist in this situation and deliberately slow so that you can follow his lights.

    On the return journey the driver I was following, while still French was not quite so thoughtful so I opted for the more drastic approach of putting the hammer down and just trying to keep up. I mostly managed this but briefly I did find myself descending into pitch black wondering how accurately I could ride once the lights of the vehicle disappeared or even could I stop before I ran into the wall. Suddenly going full speed in the dark did not seem like such a bright move if you pardon the pun. Luckily just at that precise moment the light at the end of the tunnel started to have enough effect that I was no longer blind.

  3. 120miles in France in the heat, on your own and with some big hills are a lot harder than 120 miles in Kent, in the cool with hardly any hills. Plus a “mountain” top finish can demoralize you for a large part of the return journey.

  4. Bib shorts do not always come down each leg the same distance. This is easily proven by forgetting to put sun cream on you legs prior to setting off on what turns out to be a 126mile ride to not see the Millau Viaduct. The resulting sun burn is made all the more embarrassing by the very obvious lines on your legs not being at the same level.

  5. French shop keepers get the hump if you buy a bottle of water and a can of coke with the 50euro note you are only carrying for emergencies. Looking exhausted, dehydrated and sunburnt does not make it any better. Luckily they are not spiteful so do not give you all your change using coins so that your final climb is a bit harder.

  6. Cycling in France is a dream. The roads are magnificent and the motorists don't deliberately try to kill you or apparently even mind that you are there. When going up hill they hoot not from annoyance but to give encouragement. (Strictly I did not learn this this week. I already knew this but the point is worth making again.)

  7. If you are sharing a property with people who don't cycle then what you would consider a normal thing to do on holiday, ie leaving the house at 9am without telling anyone anything more than you are going for a bike ride and may head over towards the Millau Viaduct and will be back later, where later is undefined but can be assumed to be “before dark” as you don't have lights, may be construed as slightly odd. So much so that when you are not back at 7pm they will worry so it would be best to call them and tell them when you may be back so they don't think you partner is odd for not being worried.

    Non cyclists have a strange sense of normality.

Friday Aug 11, 2006

Cycling Brother

Just got back from a “short” ride with my brother. 36Miles at 12.6 mph. Given that my brother is not a cyclist this was not bad but he is now complaining that I should not have ridden up the hill while reading the map while he was puffing and panting.

I'm never sure about how to deal with riding with “non cyclists”, obviously you don't want them put off but riding along side them clearly not finding it hard when they are puffing and panting could be even more annoying than just getting to the top and waiting. Then there is the question of when is it right to give them a push? Even asking if they want a push could be seen as an insult.



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