Posts Tagged ‘snow’

Wind Power

January 26, 2013

Wind turbine

Wind farms and bicycles – two technologies appropriate to a sane, sustainable future. But more than that, they’re symbolic of that future; there are surely no objects better symbolising the age towards which we’re moving, too slowly, but surely. For me the aesthetics of technology is ethical. I love wind turbines like I love bicycles because they’re good, pointing in the right direction.

Bicycle and wind turbine

Of course I know both bicycles and wind farms are hugely, strangely controversial. They’re sometimes ridiculed, but it feels like both are gradually becoming accepted as necessary. And though not nearly enough, both are proliferating – wind turbines off our coasts and over our hills, and bicycles … well, where exactly? A Parliamentary Inquiry is currently investigating how to get Britain cycling. Pay attention to our London-centric media and you’d be forgiven for thinking we’re on the brink of ‘a cycling revolution’. Use of the bicycle is probably rising across some towns and cities, yet so slowly it’s barely a trickle.

My own hunch is that bicycles are proliferating most in people’s imaginations and aspirations. For many Brits their status has upped a notch, and the idea of cycling is less outlandish than it was a year or so ago. And cycling has moved a tiny bit further towards the centre of our collective cultural ideals of good lives and good cities. There’s a zeitgeist to convert, and we’re waiting for politicians to convert it, because the main changes necessary to get Britain cycling must be made at national level with huge reallocation of resources away from the car and towards the bicycle.

Lancaster Cathedral and Town Hall

It’s because I love cycling that I’m involved in debates about cycling’s future, but it’s because I love riding that I’ve some immunity from the emotional roller coaster that involvement in those debates can bring. Sure, I’d like everyone to have cycling in their lives, but at least in the meantime I can enjoy having it in mine.

But I’ve still no road bike. It’s still cold and icy. My world has shrunk. I’m feeling hemmed in. Parts of north Lancashire and Cumbria close to the coast are clear of snow, but the world a short way inland remains white. Unable to go farther afield, today I jumped on my mountain bike to explore little known places close to home. I’ve lived and cycled here 15 years, but there remain roads and tracks within ten miles I’ve rarely been.

I rode east across the city, up past the Town Hall and Cathedral, up past Ashton Memorial in Williamson Park, up over the M6 and onto the Forest of Bowland’s north-westerly fringe as it falls unevenly towards the River Lune. (There is no forest by the way – the Forest of Bowland is in fact a vast moorland.)

Ashton Memorial, Williamson Park

Right onto Little Fell Road, then down Stock-a-Bank towards Littledale. Past Baines Cragg and sharply down to Artle Beck. When my kids were tiny and driving me crazy, these lanes – quiet yet close – formed my escape route; an hour away from the house, out here, would lift my spirits and send me home closer to sanity

Ahead the wind turbines’ slowly rotating blades strike brilliant white in the low winter sun. Their slim white lines have the elegance of the egrets we sometimes see at Leighton Moss, a short way north on Morecambe Bay. Depending on my position the turbines seem sometimes close, at others distant. Sometimes they take me by surprise, their blades appearing suddenly above, disturbing the point at which land and sky meet. I love riding this compact, complex topography.

Wind turbine blade

To reach the wind farm I drop down almost to Brookhouse before climbing up again on a lane I’ve not taken in years. It rises steadily to Caton Moor, the wind farm all the while drawing closer. Up here the drifted snow is deep in places.

Wind turbine blades

Sheep with wind turbines

This was one of the UK’s first commercial wind farms. When it came into service back in 1994 it produced 11% of the UK’s total wind energy. Wind technologies have developed fast, and in 2005 its original ten turbines were replaced with the current eight. Their combined capacity is 16 MW, enough energy to power 10,000 homes.

Wind turbines in the snow

I ride reverentially between the white giants standing in the snow. They’re so high (55 metres) they make me and my bike feel puny. Standing next to one I turn my head to see its blades (35 metres long) tumbling one at a time down from the sky toward me. It’s like staring into the heights of a great cathedral, but better. I feel giddy, overawed.

Wind turbine from below

Cyclists know the wind’s power. We feel its pull and push. When it lends a hand the world seems easier. When it’s in our faces we hunker down and push harder. We know its noise too – the way it roars, at times so loud it’s hard to hear the words of the person riding beside you. Where would cycling be without wind?

A bridleway follows Kirkby Gill off the moor down to the Lune. Where it’s not covered with ice its surface is full of brick. I drop out of the snow and under the aerial ropeway which until recently took clay from the pits above to Claughton brickworks below. Just before Claughton a little track goes east through Farleton where I join the main road.

Iced bridleway

Out of the snow

I follow the Lune downstream to home. I’m glad to have been forced into this little ride, but I’m a coiled spring waiting for my road bike and milder weather to return so my corner of the cycling world can open up again. It’s snowing now, as I write, but a thaw is on the way.

The River Lune

Easy Riding

January 19, 2013

Today was one of those days I hadn’t much energy to ride, but also one of those days when I knew a ride would do me good.

I could put my fatigue down to mid-January blues, though it’d be more truthful to admit I’ve overdone it on the turbo trainer which I pulled out for the first time this winter on Monday. I’ve since done three evening sessions on the trot. Because I aim to ride faster this year, and to have a pop at bunch racing, getting on the turbo was overdue.

Turbo training (in the snow!)

But frankly I was forced into it, because my winter bike is being fixed. It’s taken a pounding these last few months, so I’ve handed it over to our local mobile bike mechanic, Colin Stones. For someone who rides so much I’m dreadful at looking after bikes, and Colin saves me having to improve.

I’ve timed my bike’s absence well – it coincides with a cold snap in which it’d be tough to get out for long rides anyway. That said, snow is forecast, so road riding might prove tricky a while longer yet.

But once I’d set it up, in my first rush of enthusiasm for the turbo trainer I probably went too hard too soon. And the effort’s left me jaded and below par.

When like today I don’t feel like riding but know a ride will do me good, I go for an easy ride. An easy ride brings the pleasures of cycling but without the stresses; it leaves you feeling restored, not depleted. Amongst racing cyclists they’re called ‘recovery rides’ (though I think calling them that misses something).

I’ve found simple ways to keep rides easy. I stick to well-worn, familiar ground, close to home, and aim to ride for little more than an hour. And partly to trick myself into getting out the door in the first place and partly to prevent my getting ‘serious’ once I’m out, I include a couple of bike-based jobs. Those jobs include taking our empty Tetra Paks to the nearest recycling centre, making local deliveries (rather than using the postal service), and shopping of various sorts. Today it included buying eggs and nipping into the supermarket for tonight’s tea.

With my usual bike out of action, my race bike on the turbo (and strictly speaking not for riding at this time of year anyway), I took advantage of the need to use my mountain bike by planning a little loop that’s often muddy in parts.

The best way south to open country from where we live follows an off-road route alongside the west coast main line, then down a little snicket which either side of its narrowest part has signs, ‘CYCLISTS DISMOUNT’. I find them offensive and am not sure why I’ve never stopped to take them down. I’ve been this way thousands of times without dismounting; I slow down and stop for passing pedestrians, but dismounting to push would make me a wider obstacle for longer time. I’m courteous but the signs make me deviant, and people sometimes tut-tut.

Cyclists dismount?

Twice under the railway and onto Aldcliffe Lane which runs beside the canal. This stretch of road’s recently become part of a 20 mph zone. Signs say so, but few motorists stick to the new limit; some race down here at twice that speed. Is it hypocritical to think rules designed to civilise motorised traffic should be obeyed, but those which govern cycling stem from prejudice and should be ignored?

20 mph?

A small hill separates the canal from the Lune’s estuary. I ride over it and through Aldcliffe village to join the route to Glasson Dock. This is a favourite stretch of off-road riding. There’s a picnic site a short way down. We’d often stop when the kids were younger. We’d spot its location far ahead from the power lines above, stretched between pylons which march across the landscape from the square block power station on the western horizon. Making it here was a victory to celebrate with a treat. These days we could zoom past without a second look but often still stop, for nostalgia’s sake I think.

Picnic spot

The route follows a disused railway along the estuary. When ships became too big to reach Lancaster a dock was built at Glasson at the estuary’s mouth, with goods carried between city and sea by train.

Cycle track to Glasson Dock

The ride is full of birds; I see curlews, lapwings, redwings, long-tailed tits, swans, geese, ducks, herons, and – out on the mud – lots more whose names I don’t know. Ice sheets across the track and it’s fun to scrunch my way through the biggest bits. I’m glad I’m on the mountain bike.


I make a loop around Glasson village. It takes me to higher ground and a view in all directions: south across the Fylde to Blackpool Tower; west to tiny Sunderland (which at high tide effectively becomes an island) and over Morecambe Bay; north towards the snow-topped Cumbrian fells and Yorkshire Dales, barely visible through the murk; and east over the M6 to the Forest of Bowland. Then it’s down to the village.

Glasson Dock

From Glasson I retrace my ride to Conder Green where I take the lumpy little road east, via Sellerley Farm for eggs, to Galgate. The back road north from here runs tight between but higher than Lancaster Canal to the west and the A6 and railway to the east. With the Lancaster University cycle route which I join at Bailrigg it gives a quiet ride back into town.

The Big Egg

Lancaster Canal at Galgate

I pop into Booths supermarket for food for tonight’s tea, then pedal the last miles home.

Shopping at Booths

I’m still tired, but less so for the ride. A bike, any bike, lets you out the house on a difficult day; for an easy, restorative ride.

Snow and ice

January 5, 2010

Our street, today – 5th January 2010

Happy New Year! This is the street on which, with my family, I live. I’ve just a moment ago stepped outside to take the picture. As you can see, it’s been snowing.

I might leave my house through the front door, and go north along this stretch of road, if I’m walking somewhere. The only time I leave by bike this way is when one of my riding partners, Jon Barry, calls – he always comes to the front of the house and so then I go out the same way, on my road bike, which is stored indoors.

I mainly leave the house out the back. Like many people living in older housing in urban north England, we live in a terrace with a back alley.

Our back alley, today – 5th January 2010

Most of our household’s bikes, including my day bike, are stored in one of two sheds in our back yard. So this is the way I generally leave the house by bike. And unless Jon has called for me, I leave this way on my less regularly ridden road bike too. I also tend to go this way if I’m walking. You can see the tyre tracks of one of our neighbour’s cars in the snow, but Ray – ‘the culprit’ – is the only person with a car parked on this side of the terrace, so the back alley forms a virtually car-free start to any journey.

As a sociologist with a keen interest in how everyday lives get organised and reproduced, I’m fascinated by different routes into and out of houses, and the consequences of these ‘household permeabilities’. But that’s not my intended topic today, so let’s get back to the weather, and specifically the snow and ice, which was the reason why I took these photos just now.

Now I’m sure that for any Canadians and Scandinavians out there, this is just a smattering of snow, nothing to write a blog post about … But I’m writing from a UK perspective, and snow in Lancaster is not that common. And anyway we’ve not just had snow, we’ve had almost a month of very cold weather, which has resulted in lots of ice. And whilst particular societies and different individuals within those societies will cope with snow and ice in specific ways, it’s undoubtedly the case that snow and ice has a significant impact on many people’s desires and abilities to cycle.

It seems fairly safe to say that if the weather was always like this, we’d see less cycling. Snow and, especially, ice make cycling a more hazardous, scary prospect. But that said, snow and ice make any mode of mobility more hazardous and scary, except perhaps skiing, tobogganing and such like. So perhaps what we should instead say is that weather like this, in the absence of any attempts – whether individual (e.g. appropriate equipment, such as spiked tyres) or collective (e.g. gritting of cycling routes) – to deal with it effectively, will produce less cycling. But that situation is not inevitable. Indeed, if a society is serious about promoting cycling, it will continue to promote cycling even during such weather and road conditions. So that, actually, it’s perfectly conceivable that cycling could become more rather than less attractive at such times.

For myself, I’ve become very reluctant to get on my bike this past month. I did a beautiful 80 mile ride through the Yorkshire Dales with two friends, Will and Jim, on the 11th December. We left early, and just 5 miles out of Lancaster – at Caton – our wheels slipped slightly beneath us, so that we thought carefully about the wisdom of continuing. We did, and it was a beautiful day – full of sunshine, scenery and comradeship. Nonetheless, a vague but nagging nervousness accompanied me all day, to do with the ice and the potential to come a cropper. I’ve not done a proper ride since then.

I’ve become so frustrated with not getting out that a couple of days ago I did something I’d not even have contemplated a year or two ago, though it’s true that back then I was less preoccupied with being fit and going fast than I am now – I ordered a turbo trainer, so that I can ride indoors, and start to build my fitness for the coming season in spite of my fear of all this snow and ice.

The process of buying a turbo trainer has really illuminated to me how cycling is about so very much more than getting from A to B. It is that; it’s my main mode of daily transport – the way I get to the shops, to work, and to a whole bagful of destinations in the Lancaster and Morecambe district. But it’s so very much more than that too – it’s my exercise, my freedom, my sanity, my re-creation, a big part of my social life, my key way of spending time outdoors and in the countryside. Last year I rode 5,500 miles, but only 250 of them were ridden during December and during the second half of December I did not ride at all. I feel claustrophobic and flabby; the bike is my cure … I need to get out, on my bike …

Not everyone is so cowardly as I currently am. The Monday nighters’ plan for the Solstice was to ride 100 miles. What better way to celebrate – or is it perhaps to try to beat – the year’s shortest day? I had planned to go, but I saw the forecast (very cold and lots of snow) and bailed out. The others – more committed, braver – gave it a go. The snow made riding 100 miles impossible. But, despite the difficulties, they managed a ride, and – by switching to mountain bikes, except John who is now riding with spiked tyres and so didn’t need to – they still made it to the pub, the hard way.

With two young children and a fortnight’s Christmas holiday, the snow and ice have actually been wonderful – we’ve had some truly magical winter day’s out – walking, sledging, sliding and snowballing around Silverdale, Arnside and Windermere. Here’s my son Bobby on Orrest Head, above England’s longest lake, looking for all the world like he has that world at his feet.

But what effects do snow and ice have on mobility? Some of our elderly neighbours are struggling, both with getting out and with the social isolation which results from not getting out. Today in Lancaster, in many places we have fresh snow covering a layer of sheet ice. Conditions are potentially treacherous for everyone, and fewer journeys are undoubtedly being made by all modes. But what worries and angers me most is it’s the sustainable modes – walking and cycling – which are hardest hit, and who can say that journeys on foot or by bike are any less ‘essential’ than journeys by motorised modes?

Around here the bigger the road the more likely it is to get gritted. But of course, the bigger the road the less likely people are to want to cycle – let alone walk – on it (for even on the biggest roads the pavements lie untouched by the gritter’s mechanical hand). The pavements, like the off-road cycle routes, are ignored. Cycling and walking – these modes of mobility do not matter, people travelling on foot or by bike do not count. It’s that simple, that blatant, that unjust …

So people walking either stick to (or rather, don’t stick to, but slide along) the pavements and risk a fall, or walk in the road (where it’s astonishing to see a small minority of drivers, as if incensed by the pedestrians’ ‘intrusion’ into ‘their’ space, showing them not courtesy but contempt). Many people, of course, ‘simply’ stop walking – which might be fine for them if they’ve got a car. But it’s rubbish for them if they haven’t, and it’s rubbish for society either way.

Many people stop cycling.  Last winter I cycled the 4 miles into work and back every day, whatever the weather. I often got angry that, on icy roads, cars came past me as fast and as close as they might ordinarily do, seemingly oblivious to the extra risk which I viscerally felt. On such icy days I was forced into riding on the car-dominated A6 because the main cycling routes in this district are not designated by our Highways Authority, Lancashire County Council, as ‘essential’, and so they are not gritted and they become, as they have over the last few days, virtually impassable.

We have here a magnificent Millennium Bridge over the river Lune – it’s for people travelling either on foot or by bike, and it is immensely useful and extremely popular. Every year, when it gets icy people struggle to walk and to ride across it. Every year people fall from their bikes and people complain that it needs to be gritted. We are a cycling demonstration town, supposedly promoting cycling. Yet I suspect that most people need only to fall from a bike once to be seriously put off cycling, perhaps for life. You have to ask, exactly what kind of cycling promotion is it that fails to grit key routes on which people ride?

You can do as I tend to do, and ride on the main roads. But given most people would not dare to do that under ordinary circumstances, they’re unlikely to start doing so when it’s icy, slushy, dark and the roads are full of motorists who lack the skills and equipment to negotiate the tricky conditions effectively. Watching the cars skating over the ice, an Icelandic friend of ours today expressed serious concern at the lack of driving skills on display; another friend, having seen cars careering out of control on a patch of black ice at the junction outside his house, stood outside for two hours, warning motorists to take especial care.

Of course, I recognise that cold, snow and ice make life difficult for everyone. People are struggling either to maintain movement-as-usual, or else to cope with being unable to move as they usually do (which is something we’re all going to need to become better at, as our lives get re-shaped by the realities of a world transformed by climatic changes). I understand that to some extent we all need somehow ‘just to get on with it’. But I know that I’m not alone in finding the current situation, in which routes for cars and trucks are so clearly prioritised over routes for walking and cycling, really quite disgraceful.

For a while I’ve been thinking very vaguely about the notion of  ‘mobility inversion’. It’s an intuitive concept which I want to develop, not for its own sake, but because  it just might – in ways I do not and quite probably cannot know – be somehow useful. You just don’t know where ideas will go until you try …

UK towns and cities remain centrally designed around the car. Even now, well into the twenty-first century, the car gets the centre of the road, walking and cycling the margins. Routes for cars get priority, and walking and cycling routes are pushed into having to find their ways around them, having to negotiate the city of the car. When it comes to mobility, our towns and cities, in other words, are quite simply the wrong way round.

I’ll return to this example at another time, but it’s less than a kilometre, maybe half a mile, between our house and Lancaster city centre. Lancaster’s train station is about half way along this route. It’s an incredibly busy walking route, but I’d guess that motorised vehicles currently get about 90% of the available space and almost all of the priority whilst pedestrians must make do with rubbish pavements, limited space, and drivers who have been taught that they have the right of way. With no facilities to help them at all, cyclists simply have to survive – dodging the potholes. It’s atrocious and it’s where we live, but similar and worse situations are everywhere.

We need mobility inversion here. If motorised vehicles are allowed, they ought to make way for people on foot and on bikes. People on bikes and on their feet should not have to stop to make way for trucks and cars, the cars and trucks should make way for them. There should anyway be only minimal space for trucks and cars, and lots more space for people walking, cycling and simply hanging out chatting to their friends, acquaintances and neighbours.

In the current context – thinking about moving around during periods of snow and ice – the concept of mobility inversion can be applied equally simply. It’s so obvious that I can hardly believe it’s not already being done. Grit the cycling routes and grit the pavements, but don’t grit the roads – rather than encouraging people who normally walk and cycle either to jump into cars or not to move at all, we can then encourage people who normally travel in cars to walk or cycle, or else to not move at all … and isn’t that exactly what we want?