Category Archives: journeys

One for the road…

I love cycling, and I love social technology, so something that brings the two of these passions together for me is instantly going to grab my attention. A few months ago I was introduced to – for technological reasons, it’s taken me a while to get into it, but I can now say with certainty that it’s changed my life disastrously for the better!


Let me be clear about this from the outset – I’m a very mediocre cyclist. I love cycling, but I’m not particularly fast at it, or indeed very able when the hills get high. For many competitive cyclists their aim is to see how fast they can get over the hill – my aim is simply to make it over the hill without having to get off and push! I try my best, and love every minute of it, but I don’t think Sir Chris or Sir Bradley have anything to worry about from me!

A long time ago, I used to be in a cycling club. Now, virtually all of my cycling is done as a commute to and from work in Glasgow city centre. Quite a number of people cycle the same route, or indeed parts of the route I take, and you can’t help but wonder how many others cycle it at different times from you. This naturally gets you thinking about how long it takes them, and I suppose how you compare?

Enter Strava is a social network for sporting activities. Armed with a gps device (or your smartphone) you simply record the details of your ride or run and upload it to their site. It then shows you the details you’d expect – route on a map, time taken, average speed, maximum speed, altitude climbed etc. If you run or cycle and carry a smartphone in your pocket, you’ve now got to wonder why you use any other means of tracking your activity. With the advent of bluetooth 4.0, you can now effortlessly connect cadence, power and heart rate sensors to your smartphone too, so getting detailed stats of your activity is pretty simple.

Here’s the clever techie bit though – is a community of people uploading information about their activities. You can see how you fair in relation to others covering the same ground as you. Users have defined ‘segments’ of routes that they (and you) travel on, so you can easily compare how you did on various sections of your ride in relation to other people that ride or run the same route. For the competitive, there are even league tables for each section, so you can be your very own local ‘King of the Mountain’ (KOM) compared with the other cyclists that have ridden the same route as you.

It’s social too – you can follow other people on the site to get updates on their adventures, or if you’re into the competition then you can track your nearest rivals whenever they post an improvement. Despite riding to work over the winter, I’ve only started using the site last week, but if you’re interested in seeing my progress you can find me here.

Sounds good, eh? So why did I describe it as changing my life disastrously for the better? Well, looking at the league tables for most of the segments that I ride, I place between 100th and 198th – the KOM needn’t worry there then. Tragically for me though, on some of the segments I seem to do a lot better – 9th in one, and 6th in the other – which got me thinking – could I claw back a few seconds on my nearest competitors…?

Game on. 

Image credit: m.aquila.

Footnote: if this can be done for cycling or running, imagine what this could do for other avenues of life too?  I know a lot of educators read this – imagine a social network for curricular progress and achievements?


Don’t be a ferryman…

Part of my route to work goes along the cycle path next to the Forth and Clyde canal between Bowling and Dalmuir. Along the way I pass some beautifully sculpted wrought iron barriers commemorating the age of the Erskine Ferry – 1868 – 1971. Not far away from them lie the locked gates to a slipway that no longer serves it’s original purpose.

How sad it makes me feel! To think that a once proud occupation is succeeded by a change in technology. When the bridge came along, I suspect the ferry very quickly went out of business, as the bridge could operate in virtually all weathers, and was a much quicker way across the Clyde. Every time I drive over the Erskine bridge now, I think about the people that used to operate the toll booths, as a change in charging policy saw them out of work too, just like the ferrymen before them.

How do we cope with technological change? When we see it coming, are we quick enough to adjust and get the best out of the new situation? Often, it’s very hard to step back from our every day lives to imagine how the new technology will affect what we do.

In 2004 I was privileged to me present when Alan November spoke to the collected group of Head Teachers of Argyll and Bute council. He posed a simple timeless question – “What are we doing today that will outlast the change in pace of technology?”  With the rise of web based technologies and portable connected devices, you probably now have the sum of human knowledge in your hand, pocket or bag. Does this change what you do? How do you use this in your everyday lives? How do you encourage or help others make use if it?

Don’t be a ferryman.

Image credit: gumdropgas.

On yer bike!

As I mentioned on Tuesday, I’ve been commuting to work by bike. For the cycle nerds that may be interested, I thought I’d add in some stats and interesting observations (well, interesting to me!) each week on a Saturday. Once I’ve returned to a phone that has a data tarrif, this will become far more automated and technical, (yes, I have joined strava, and have a phone full of apps, but without a data tarrif, these are proving worthless) but for now, it’ll serve as a way to keep track of things for me.

I used to cycle a lot, and was at one time a member of Glasgow Ivy Cycling Club. Aside from the odd ‘sunny day’, I’ve had the past 10 years effectively off a bike, so it’s wonderful to get back on a bike, and enjoy the fresh air, exercise and sense of well-being that cycling brings. I also re-joined British Cycling, which for £2 a month seems like a great cause to support. I’d love to say my return to cycing is part of the renaissance that British Cycling is undergoing that the moment, but I’m afraid my return is prompted by two hard facts – trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle/work-life balance, and a change in income!

For those interested, I’m presently riding my ‘cycle to work’ bike courtesy of the Scottish Government. It’s a hybrid – Giant Seek 3 (which I’ve changed the bars, seat, pedals and tires on, and added mudguards, lights and a rack)

My daily route to work takes me along the A814 to Dumbarton, where I pick up the Sustrans route 7 which I follow to the junction with the A814 again at the Beardmore in Dalmuir. There, I join Dumbarton road and take it as far as South street, at the end of which I rejoin Sustrans route 7 into the city centre. Google tells me this route is 22.7 miles, and should take 2hrs 25mins.

This week:

Tuesday – 45.4 miles – in 1hr 42mins, out 1hr 23mins (hybrid)
Wednesday – 45.4 miles – in 1hr 39mins, out 1hr 42mins (hybrid)
Thursday – Train! (sorry…)
Friday – 45.4 miles – in 1hr 38mins, out 1hr 32mins(hybrid)

Image Credit: Roderic Page.

Are you ok?

How many times each day do you either ask or respond to that question? We’re very good at asking it of those that we are close to, and being genuinely concerned about their response and their welfare. But what of complete strangers?

I’ve recently returned to cycle commuting. It’s wonderfully liberating to start and end each working day with a cycle, and as my commute is a significant distance, it gives me plenty of time to both unwind from work, and ponder things that I’ve either read, heard or seen. My journey to and from work is taken by a number of other cyclists, and there is a lovely sense of camaraderie or joie de vivre (can it really be ‘camaraderie’ when encounters are so fleeting? Perhaps joie de vivre’s ‘exultation of spirit’ captures it better…) when cyclists pass each other and briefly raise a gloved hand from the handlebars, or nod of a cycle helmet in acknowledgement or greeting. Occasionally there is enough breath to say “Hello”, or a sarcastically sanguine “Turned out nice again” owing to the joy that is the west coast of Scotland’s rain.

Occasionally, you meet someone who has had to stop at the side of the road, more often than not to repair a puncture. It’s lovely to see other travellers offering assistance, starting with the phrase we hear so often – “Are you ok?” How life affirming it is to hear complete strangers offering assistance, and being concerned about the welfare of others.

You might not cycle to work, or meet people fixing punctures often, but each day you come across complete strangers who would benefit from you asking such a simple question – “Are you ok?” What’s the worst that could happen? You end up talking to someone you’d rather not talk to. What’s the best that could happen? Two people enjoy a lift of spirit over a simple interaction.

Perhaps ‘joie de vivre’ is a better phrase after all…

Image Credit: Mark-Hobbs.