What’s in the box? – Reflections of a business traveller cyclist

What’s in the box? ……………………………………………….I get asked this a lot as I travel across the world for work with my bike in tow.

I work for the technology and strategy company Ciena. Ciena is one of those companies who everybody uses but nobody knows about. The equipment and solutions Ciena builds light up the fibre optic cables and networks all over the world that provide access to the internet and data networks. I work in a team that looks at different market segments and works out where Ciena fits and how to shape the products, solutions and technology to meet the customers needs. I specialize in the mobile world and in particular what is happening for 5G and it involves speaking to Ciena’s customers and potential customers, industry partners and bodies, standard forums and other technologists all over the world. It is fascinating, exciting and at the same time daunting. I am a firm believer that technology can be used to do so much good in the world and am excited by the possibilities and experiences that it can open up.
As I travel a lot and enjoy cycling, (I took up cycling again a few years ago to offset the spread of middle age (see this post ), I decided that wherever possible I would take my bike with me. My first business trip with my bike was a couple of years ago to attend a technology forum at Ciena’s R&D labs in Ottawa. The trip was successful in that my bike made it safely to Canada and with the early morning jet lag I also got the time to go out on the bike ahead of meetings. Since that first successful trip I have endeavored to do the same again, with varying degrees of success.
Here are some things I have learned along the way.

. Plan Ahead, do some research. Not every business trip is going to be conducive to having the bike along. I ask myself a few questions before deciding to take the bike or just opt for the hotel indoor bike. These questions include,

  • Will I feasibly be able to get out for a ride during the trip?
  • Will it be dark in the morning before meetings and get dark early in the evening after the working day which means cycling would be hazardous.
  • Is this a city/place where cycling is feasible ? (this doesn’t always stop me)
  • What will the weather be like while I am there? (is it going to be persistent wet, windy, snowy, 45 deg Celsius etc)
  • Am I staying in one place or doing a multi-city/country visit? This means will I have to pack/unpack the bike many times.
  • Will I be able to transport the bike box from the airport? (many “intermediate” rental cars especially in the US don’t have fold down seats)
  • Do the airlines that serve that country/city allow bike transport? (this is a blog piece all of itself). Being a frequent flyer with airlines helps.

If all that works out, then I also try and plan a few rides using information from the web or local sources. I then save these rides in strava and load them onto my bike computer (Garmin 810) with an updated basemap created from the openstreetmap project on the web.   I’ve written another blog piece on planning routes and the sources I use, click here to read it. 

2. Use a hard shell bike case. I use a Polaris Bike Pod, which is supplied by my local bike shop, The Bike Centre. Previously I have also used the BikeBoxAlan. Both are great hard cases which I have found protect my bike and the contents really well. Both are lightweight which helps with the airline baggage weight limits but sturdy. I have a slight preference for the Polaris bike pod as it is a bit more streamlined than the BikeBoxAlan and so fits in cars better and is a little easier to tow around the airport. I have found these hard cases to give just a little more resilience to the sort of travel I do.

3. Add extra bubble wrap and padding to whatever is supplied. It will keep your precious stead from getting scratched or worse. I normally add a generous amount of bubble wrap around the rear derailleur , seat post, drivetrain and around each fixing/attachment/strap point to give a little extra protection. Also when packing my helmet, shoes and clothing I put them in bags that I don’t mind getting a little oil on if they become in contact with greased parts of the bike.

4. Pack a spare rear hanger – It’s good practice anyway regardless of traveling but it can save a bike trip.

5. I include a bike towel, I don’t feel comfortable getting grease and stuff all over the hotel towels or hotel room carpets when building or packing my bike.

6. I pack my bike computer in my laptop bag. 

7. At the airport take the carry/tow handle off the bike box when handing over to baggage handlers and carry the tow handle in hand luggage. The bike box I use has a detachable pull handle to help when wheeling the box around the airport. Unfortunately this can get snagged in the baggage systems of airports. I had the misfortune to have this happen to me when the baggage ticket was attached to it on a trip from Atlanta to the UK via Toronto. The handle was snagged in the machine which broke one of the latches and the baggage tag slipped off at Toronto meaning they had no idea where to send it on to for the connecting flight to London. It took 8 days to find and ship back to the UK the bright green bike box with distinguishing stickers on it. This leads me on to the next two points.

8. Have the check-in clerk attach the baggage tag to the side of the box and not the handle (if the box has one). Also then take the individual little stickers that are on the baggage tag (there are normally at least two more) and distribute them around the box. Just in case the main baggage tag gets ripped off by something. For the consequences of not doing this see the previous point.

9. Customize the bike box, to make it easily identifiable when explaining to a baggage clerk. The one I use has stickers on it from all the places I have visited with it and it also has my rider details on it. Just in case it ever doesn’t make it onto the connecting flight then at least it can be described and identified. (See previous points)

10. Be prepared to wait a bit longer at the baggage claim carousel. Invariably the oversized luggage area is not near the carousel that your flight has been assigned too and the quality of the oversized luggage areas & service varies immensely. The longest I have waited and the bike box has arrived has been 65 minutes. (That was at Sydney airport).

10,000 miles later…

In the second post on being a regular cyclist, I thought I would pick up again on the 10 things I had learnt about cycling in the first 1000 miles which I published on this blog  over 2 years ago. marmotte2

The 10 things I listed back then were:

  1. Cycling is really enjoyable.
  2. Learn to love the hills
  3. I like cycling on clear, cold days
  4. Motorists generally give cyclists room but there are a few too many exceptions
  5. You can never have enough lights
  6. Tight clothing is worn for a reason
  7. Cycling shoes with cleats make a huge difference
  8. Cycling can be a very technical sport
  9. I haven’t found waterproofs yet which don’t make me feel like boil in the bag rice.
  10. I want another bike for the summer months.

Here’s my update:

  1. Cycling is not just enjoyable but therapeutic, relaxing, challenging and motivating.  In the last two years I have become a complete cycling convert.  When I started it was purely about getting a bit of exercise to get me to and from work.   Today I look to go out on my bike for the sake of cycling.  Yes it keeps me fit but it now gives me a chance to de-stress, unwind, think and clear my head, challenge myself and finally allows me to eat what I want to eat as I will be burning it off.
  2. Learn to love the hills.   Two years ago I said this may not be possible but a tolerance of the hills is needed.  Well in that time, I have come to seek out hills for training and challenging myself.  In 2015 I got the chance to ride with my brother and some friends in the french alps.  We rode the 2015 Marmotte Sportive.  which was 170km long with over 5100m of climbing over the mountains around Bourg d’Oisan.  IMG_2512It was the first opportunity for me to combine my love of the mountains with this new passion for cycling.The mountain stages of the professional multi day stage races are the ones that make the difference in those races.  So yes, embrace the hills, there is immense satisfaction in climbing a mountain, whether on a bike or foot.
  3. I like cycling on clear, cold days.  Basically I like cycling most days, sunny warm days are now my favourite.  Clear cold days one can dress for accordingly (see points 6 & 9) The days I don’t like are the windy, cold, wet days.  Wind is the ultimate enemy of the cyclist, as everything just becomes more laboured.   Rain, as long as it isn’t freezing cold I don’t mind, skin drys after all….. 🙂
  4.  Motorists generally generally give cyclists room…….  I am finding this one hard to remain positive on, especially as I cycle so much in central London now.   It is probably still true that the majority of drivers do leave a bit of room for cyclists, but there a lot of close calls.
  5. You can never have enough lights.  Winter riding is definitely a different experience to the summer.  Reflective, high vis gear and multiple lights is definitely the order of the day/night.  I saw many cyclists using the proviz range of reflective clothing.  For commuting I bought their Switch reflective rucksack cover that doubles as both high viz during the day and highly reflective after night.  It has been very effective on my winter commutes.
  6. Tight clothing is worn for a reason.  Since March 2013 I have made the transition to full cycling attire and it does make a very big difference.   Proper technical clothing makes a big difference to the road cycling experience. I am a fan of the castelli range of clothing and have a couple of pairs of shorts from them, but they need no publicity, they are so big.  Early last year I discovered a UK clothing brand called Stolengoat owned by Tim Bland, stolen-goat-bodyline-jersey-cafe-racer-red-1 I started with their Cafe Racer jersey which I rode the Marmotte in and it performed brilliantly. Then when winter came I bought their Climb and Conquer jacket and Orkaan long Bib tights.  With the purchase of the Jacket and Tights I had solved the problem in item 9.
  7.  Cycling shoes with cleats make a huge difference.  Most definitely and these days, I now have proper road shoes with a stiff sole that significantly increases the efficiency and comfort of pedaling, even if they are a bit difficult to walk in… Plus everyone forgets to unclip from their pedals at least once…
  8. Cycling can be a very technical sport.     It is a technical sport but you can make it as technical as you want or don’t want too.  I am a bit of a geek and so it appeals to me, much as the tech involved in Scuba diving does too.  I love it all and yes I have got into all of that.   However I really do enjoy the simplicity of cycling.  As a family we can just get on our bikes and go for a ride, especially in the New Forest near where we live.  That’s the beauty of the sport.
  9. I haven’t found waterproofs yet which don’t make me feel like boil in the bag rice.  It is possible but like with all technical clothing it does cost a little bit more.   As I mentioned in point 6, I finally found something that worked for me and I rode most of this last winter in the Stolengoat Climb & Conquer jacket and Orkaan tights.
    This is me riding the Tour of Flanders Sportive at the beginning of April in the stolengoat winter kit.


  10. I want another bike for the summer months.  Back in March 2014 I was still on my hybrid bike, but in April that year I purchased a new road bike through the cycle to work scheme (it’s the bike in the picture above).  Now I have ridden that bike in the England, Scotland, France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland & Canada and clocked up over 10,000 miles on it.   Funny enough though I still want another bike for the summer months.  Time to indulge in the cycle to work scheme again…..

Continue reading “10,000 miles later…”

10 things I have learnt so far after 1000 miles of commuting.

Yesterday evening on my regular cycle home from the station the cumulative total of miles cycled since I began 6 months ago ticked past the 1000th mile. In honour of this small milestone I thought I would note down 10 things I have learnt in the last 1000 miles.
1. Cycling is really enjoyable First and foremost the first thing I have learnt in the last 6 months is that cycling for me is really enjoyable and a great way to keep fit. I have a relatively busy schedule and finding time for exercise has always been a struggle. With most of my cycling taking place as part of my commute it has become integrated into my day. I also loathe running or jogging, it feels like it is destroying my knees, so being able to cycle makes keeping fit no longer a chore.

2. Learn to love hills. Okay so maybe love hills is a little strong but appreciate or enjoy is a start. The very first time I took my bike out on a trial run to see if the commute was feasible I nearly threw up when I got to the top of a particularly drawn out incline that is near the end of what is now my shortest commute route. I cycle around Hampshire in the south of England and whilst it is not a mountainous area by any stretch of the imagination it isn’t flat. So I have learned to enjoy or appreciate the hills along my route. One day I will try some proper hills.

3. I like cycling on clear, cold days My favourite rides so far have been on those clear sunny cold early mornings. These are the days which clear the mind and invigorate the soul. Even though I wear headphones I don’t normally have music switched on ( they are keeping my ear lobes warm), and those clear mornings are normally the ones where I have the clearest thoughts and work through solutions to the days challenges. By contrast, windy days are hard work and with the wind and the rain conspire against one then those rides are a bit of a slog!

4. Motorists generally give cyclists the room they need but there are a few too many exceptions. I generally ride in the early part of the morning commuting period between 6.30 and 7.30am and during the latter part of the evening rush hour after 7pm. During these periods I generally find that drivers are aware of and give me sufficient space on the road. As the road gets busier though it does become more noticeable that road users fight for every inch of space. In those rare occasions when I have cycled right in the middle of rush hour the experience is a lot more unpleasant. The instances of being cut up or brushed past are a lot more frequent as drivers try to “nip” past me. I wrote on here a few weeks back about a particular driver who didn’t seem to be particularly vigilant towards cyclists. I have been riding earlier in the day more recently but I encountered him again yesterday morning, so there are always exceptions that prove the rule.

20140313-174005.jpg5. You can never have enough lights. and I add to that reflective gear. My route takes me along unlit country A and B roads and into the lit streets of Winchester city centre. One of the first items I bought for the commute was a pair of half decent bright lights.  There are a plethora of decent,reasonably priced lighting sets on the market today and I opted for the Lezyne Macro/Micro pair as they offered decent levels of brightness to illuminate the road and me, in addition the USB charging was attractive and useful for me.   Over the last few months though I have added a couple of smaller rear flashing lights from CatsEye and an Aldi special which use CR2032 coin batteries. I also added a high vis slap strap to my helmet and extra reflective strips on my panniers.  So as vehicles approach me now on the dark roads they are confronted with an array of flashing rear lights and reflective strips.  Next step is probably a head/helmet front light to actually light up what I am looking at.

6. Tight clothing is worn for a reason. In conjunction with item 9 on this list, billowing jackets or trousers just don’t work on a bike.  As I mentioned in item 2, the hardest rides are when it is windy and clothing that catches the wind and creates drag makes a marked difference.  At the beginning of the winter I brought an Aldi special high visibility waterproof.  I purposely bought cheap to try and understand what I needed before I invested in more expensive waterproofs.  I made the mistake of buying a size to large, thinking that I would have layers on underneath during the cold winter months.  The reality has been somewhat different.  Most of the winter (granted it has been fairly mild {and wet}) I have needed a thin baselayer and a winter cycling top.  Anything more and I overheat.  Investing in a decent thin high wicking baselayer is worth it in the long run.  I have merino wool baselayers from icebreaker that I use for hiking and transfer well to cycling.  (haven’t had to use the trousers). The other early discovery I made (with help from LBS) was padded shorts, what a difference they made to the comfort of the ride. Enough said there.   I haven’t made the transition to full cycling bib/shorts, not sure the world is ready for me in head to toe lycra (especially as I have to travel on the train and walk through the station at either end of my journey) but the Endura HumVee shorts are excellent for preserving modesty and also tight enough to not billow in the wind.  I am thinking of trying them out as hiking shorts in the summer as they are so practical.

7. Cycling shoes with cleats make a huge difference and I mean a huge difference.  Changing the pedals to clip in on my hybrid bike and the addition of cleated cycling shoes helped me take up to 4 minutes off my shortest 9 mile commute in the early days of commuting.  I now complete that route about 9-10 minutes quicker than I did when I first attempted that trial ride back in August last year.  Obviously 1000 miles on I am fitter and more experienced but by far the largest single improvement in time came when I changed the pedals and shoes.

8. Cycling can be a very technical sport. The last point about shoes and pedals illustrates this next point that I have learnt.  Cycling can be a very technical sport, from the various types of cycling, road, cyclocross, MTB, Sportives, etc. to the science of nutrition & bike design.  At every level there are technical choices that can be made and this appeals to the inner geek in me. As a complete newbie to the sport, I have made changes along the way to improve my cycling experience.  These changes include altering my position on my bike, raising the saddle, inflating the tyres to higher pressures reducing rolling resistance, changing clothing, adding apps, sensors and the opportunities .  I have been using  the Strava mobile app for tracking mileage, route, heart rate and progress against the routes I regularly use.  With all of this I have not even scratched the surface in terms of all the possibilities.

9. I haven’t found waterproofs yet which don’t make me feel like boil in the bag rice! Despite what I have mentioned in the previous paragraphs I have yet to find specifically a waterproof jacket that doesn’t end up wetter on the inside of the jacket than the outside on a wet day.  I have even tried my old GoreTex walking jacket but that falls foul of item 6 being too loose and billowing in the wind.  So the search will keep going as I step up from commuting jackets to something a little more technical.

10. I want another bike for the summer months!  I currently use a hybrid bike which I bought a few years ago for family bike rides and general use and I really enjoy it.  It is extremely comfortable to ride and not too heavy on the road.  It is great for touring with the addition of the panniers I have and these have been particularly useful for carrying around my laptop bag, basic tools, spare inner tube and change of clothes when I have needed too.  Over time I have reduced down the amount of equipment I am carrying to such a point where I can shed the panniers and use just a small rucksack and change to a road bike for finer days and quicker journeys.

If you are a cyclist and use Strava you can follow me through this link

Too close on the commute

Share the road

This post is two weeks in the making as each morning that I have cycled my 8 mile morning commute to the train station  I have encountered one particularly driver who doesn’t seem to realise just how close he/she gets as they overtake.

My morning route takes me along a mixture of minor unlit A &  B roads and normally the point where I encounter this driver is along a relatively fast section of rural road which in the last few weeks has contained a fair amount of standing water on the edge of the road at times flushing across the road in sections where the camber changes.

The first time I noticed this particular car cutting in close I was not happy but left it at that, as let’s face it, this is not a rare occurrence for cyclists especially as the roads are somewhat waterlogged at the moment. However the very next day when the same car in virtually the same spot cut in even closer than the day before it started to really irritate.  I have since cycled that route at around the same time 5 more times since then and every and I repeat every time, the exact same car has cut in a little too close for comfort each time.  Now hopefully I am pretty visible with two rear flashing lights on the bike, one on back of my bike helmet, reflective clothing and reflective strips on the panniers.  It seems I am visible enough as most other drivers seem to be able to pass by without enabling me to write my name in the dirt down the side of their car.

So driver of a grey VW Jetta carrying private plates travelling via Hursley and Otterbourne on your way to Winchester or beyond, please take more care you’re getting just a little too close at times.

An  Article in the Guardian newspaper from last year carried the following rather sobering study that highlights exactly this occurrence.  “A study commissioned by a car insurance company Direct line suggested that drivers fail to see 22% of cyclists on the road in clear view of their vehicle. Direct Line used revolutionary eye-tracking technology to establish that motorists who used satnavs were even less likely to spot a cyclist than those who did not. Some 24% of cyclists were “invisible” to drivers who used a satnav, while the younger the driver, the more likely they were not to spot a cyclist – 31% of cyclists were not seen by motorists aged 20-29, compared with 21% by those aged 50-59.

The corresponding figures for motorcyclists were also poor, with 15% not seen by motorists. By contrast, drivers spotted all but 4% of pedestrians who stepped into the road without using a crossing. The problem was worse in London, where 30% of cyclists were “invisible”.  A Direct Line spokesperson, Vicky Bristow, described the results as “frightening” and called for the government to take action. She said: “Encouraging all road users to be extra vigilant will improve road safety, but tackling an issue of this scale requires top-down change.”

The Cycle Commute.

Last year with my change in job I decided that would try cycling part of my journey in a loose attempt to get some exercise into my normal working day so here I am sat on the train with my bike on the way into work.

It seems I am not alone. In Great Britain around 3 million people cycle 3 times a week or more that’s around 12% of those who own or have access to a bicycle.*
I must admit I am bit perplexed how these figures were derived as no-one asked me or any of my friends and colleagues who cycle but this is not the point of this blog post.

Even anecdotally  the increasing number of dayglo neon jackets and folding bikes that I see at railway stations across the south east indicates to me that this is becoming ever more popular and it would seem that according to national statistics this is true.  According to the National Cycling Charity (CTC) the number of miles cycled in the UK has risen from 4 billion KMs in 1998 to 5 billion in 2012 with a doubling of usage in urban areas in the last 4 years.* I can see why it is becoming more popular, if one is tied to a desk or office job then option of working some exercise into the day is advantageous. Other factors such as the increasing cost of fuel and train fares, the adoption by more companies of tax-efficient cycle purchase schemes, professional locations installing shower and washing facilities at offices all help to make cycling more accessible,  (Although a further discussion on the merits of cycle purchase scheme could be the subject of another blog post in the future), and I actually enjoy cycling. Well most of the time, yesterday when it was wet, cold and windy, was not as pleasant as other days on the bike.

I have also discovered that this is actually a very technical pastime which appeals to the inner tech geek.  This means for me plentiful research on the internet, chatting with other cyclists (commuters, road riders, mountain bikers) and quizzing the guys in the local bike shops about the best type of jacket, trousers, gloves, jersey, panniers, lights, shoes, computers, even mobile phone apps, etc and that is before I even start on the bike itself.  This could be extremely worrying for the family bank balance!

Going back to yesterday I know that my current wet weather winter gear is not up to scratch, more research required- googling winter waterproof cycling trousers as I type.



*source http://www.ctc.org.uk/resources/ctc-cycling-statistics