James Thinks https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk ...I'm not sure yet... Tue, 26 May 2020 08:04:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.4.2 Long-term review: SRAM RED eTAP https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/long-term-review-sram-red-etap/ https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/long-term-review-sram-red-etap/#respond Mon, 25 May 2020 16:55:26 +0000 http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/?p=1981 I used a SRAM RED eTAP road groupset with rim-brakes for about eight months and about 4600km. Here are my thoughts. Setup Setting up a…

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I used a SRAM RED eTAP road groupset with rim-brakes for about eight months and about 4600km. Here are my thoughts.

SRAM RED eTap in open boxes
Premium-feeling packaging. Makes me feel like a premium person 😉

Setup

Setting up a new groupset isn’t something I have much familiarity with. I’ve changed components and tweaked my bikes for the last few years, but I’m no expert. I should also point out that because I didn’t want to pay three figures for a SRAM cassette I have a fairly ordinary Shimano one. I also have a Stronglight chainset because I prefer the robust and affordable square taper bottom bracket.

Despite that, setting up the eTAP was easy. Probably easier than a mechanical groupset. Apart from the brakes, there are no cables to route. There were online videos which helped, but apart from a couple of dropped chains until I adjusted the position of the front derailleur, everything just worked.

What’s it like to use?

Ergonomically the eTAP shifters are wonderful to use. They are easy, comfortable and quick enough to change for my purposes. They have a positive little click and once you’re used to them, require little thought or effort, even when changing multiple gears at once. This is really nice when you’re tired or have cold hands. I’ve never had a problem changing gear with mechanical shifters, but these are noticeably easier. An added bonus is that it’s easier to shift while braking, assuming you turn the pedals slowly as well.

Blips

I also bought a set of “blips” which are additional shifting buttons which can be positioned under bar tape or on aero bars and plugged into the main shifters via short wires. These are found more temperamental and found after a few rides one of them would stop working and I’d have to undo the bar tape, jiggle them around and redo them. A had a few weeks of doing this before they finally decided to work consistently. I’m not sure what the problem was. Maybe winding the bar tape slightly pulled the plug out or pre-pushed the button or maybe one wire had a partial break in it which only caused a problem at certain angles. Once working it was a small bonus to be able to shift from the bar tops without the slight extra effort of shifting position each time.

Blips come in various lengths. I think these are 60mm. They are squashy buttons rather than clicky.

Adjustment

I’m not going to pretend that electronic shifting means all shifts are perfect and smooth and there’s no noise or chain skip. It isn’t magic. It still requires adjustment and in my experience went out of adjustment as easily as any derailleur. The equivalent of a barrel adjuster is an extra little button inside the shift lever. If you hold that down when shifting then, instead of a full shift, it does a tiny adjustment shift which is not reset the next time you do a normal shift. Thus you can make tweaks to keep the derailleur lined up with the cassette. This works really well when the bike is on a maintenance stand, but I found the little buttons really awkward to reach when riding.

Batteries

Front and rear derailleurs each come with an identical battery. You can swap them between the two if you want. They also have plastic blanking plates to keep the battery sockets clean in transport. In theory the batteries will last for 1000km. I never went more than 800km without charging, but they seemed fine for that. They can be charged with a small USB charger in under an hour, so you could feasibly do this on the road or from a hub dynamo.

The batteries are supposed to be removed from transporting the bike, say on a roof rack or by train. This is apparently because the motion of the vehicle will trigger the gears to “wake up” and drain a little battery life.

Reliability

For the most part the eTAP just works without problems, but I did get one issue which became a show-stopper for me.

On a couple of my longer rides I noticed that occasionally that clicking the shifters for the rear derailleur had no effect. I’d click again, sometimes several times, up and down, using the levers or the blips. Nothing. Then, ten to thirty seconds later it would come back and sometimes catch up with all the shifts I’d made. The front derailleur continued to work as normal.

At first this occurred only very occasionally, maybe for 30 seconds every few weeks. Annoying, but as I don’t race it wasn’t the end of the world.

Rear derailleur with battery

Over time it got a bit worse, happening more often, once every few days. I contacted Wiggle, through whom I’d bought the gears and they said that as it was more than six months old, I’d need to provide a video of the fault occurring before I could send it for repair/replacement. Great, that’s not going to be easy or safe to do while riding along! I could put the bike in a workstand to capture the issue, but could be waiting hours before it happened.

To complicate matters, my big ride of the year, PBP2019 was approaching and I had to make a decision – go with the ergonomic, but unreliable eTAP or refit my old Campagnolo mechanical groupset. Even if I could get Wiggle to agree to a replacement of the flaky eTAP, I doubted it would come back in time for the event. In the end I decided to stick with the eTAP, partly due to laziness about refitting the old groupset and getting it tweaked properly before the event. Unfortunately, about 800km into this 1200km event, the shifting got dramatically worse and, with 200km to go I couldn’t get the rear derailleur to move at all. I finished OK on two gears by shifting on the front ring only, but it was a disappointing outcome for such an expensive system. I’m learning that, in general the most expensive kit is not usually more reliable than the middle of the range kit.

When I got back, providing video evidence to Wiggle was at least easy now, so they and SRAM did the right thing and replaced the rear derailleur, which I promptly put up for sale on eBay, along with the rest of the kit.

My guess is that the power-saving motion sensor in the rear derailleur became damaged due to vibration, taking more and more violent bumps to wake it up and eventually wouldn’t switch on at all.

Conclusion

Is the SRAM RED eTap nice to use?

Yes, it’s very nice to use. The batteries add some complication in that they’re another thing to remember to charge and can be stolen, but in general it is ergonomic and functional.

Do you need a SRAM RED eTAP?

No, you don’t.

Well, maybe you do if you have some issues with hand mobility that bar-end or down-tube shifters won’t solve. In that case think seriously about single speed or fixed gear riding. I haven’t tried it but it is a simple set up which plenty of people of all ages enjoy it and seem to have few issues. But if you want shifters, mechanical ones work well for the vast majority of people.

I’m increasingly valuing reliability and simplicity. Going electronic is a nice gadget, but it doesn’t revolutionise the ride. For me it’s not worth the money.

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Do cyclists have a “death wish”? https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/do-cyclists-have-a-death-wish/ https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/do-cyclists-have-a-death-wish/#respond Fri, 08 May 2020 09:28:49 +0000 http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/?p=1934 This is the first time I’ve heard it put in such emotive terms, but I know others who are nervous of cycling, especially on the…

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Group of cyclists on quiet rural closed road in France
These cyclists are on a closed road during an event in France.

A friend of mine from London recently told me that she’d been cycling but that it was indoors because she didn’t have a “death wish”.

This is the first time I’ve heard it put in such emotive terms, but I know others who are nervous of cycling, especially on the road, due to fear of serious injury.

They’re not alone.

“Around 59% of non-cyclists in Britain feel that it is too dangerous for them to cycle on the roads”.

– Cycling UK

My friend’s comment upset me. Not because I think she should go cycling outside, that’s her choice. It’s her choice of words that bothered me. Now to be fair she may say that it’s only a “death wish” for herself due to her self-confessed lack of balance and coordination on a bike. But using a phrase like that implies that cyclists are inherently reckless or irresponsible to ride on the roads, or at least on the roads in London.

From there it’s a short, slippery slope to full-blown victim-blaming – telling cyclists who are injured in accidents that it’s partly their fault simply for being on the roads. Note, I’m not saying that cyclists are always blameless in collisions, but with less physical protection than motor vehicles we tend to be more careful to avoid collisions.

How risky is cycling?

The other thing which annoyed me about my friend’s comment is that it seemed like a misrepresentation of the facts. So I did some research.

Looking at RoSPA’s data from 2016, shows that 102 people were killed cycling that year in the UK and many more injured. The DfT summary shows 99 killed in 2019. When comparing this with other activities, it’s important to consider the rate at which those activities occur. 777 people in cars were killed in 2018, but many more people travel in cars than by bike, so that’s to be expected. The Full-fact website makes a good comparison to show the risks of injury and death while cycling is much greater per mile travelled than travel in a car. However it also shows that pedestrians are at slightly higher risk of death in road accidents, again per mile travelled. Should we be telling pedestrians to wear helmets?

When you compare the overall risks of cycling with a range of other activities as this website does, it does not look especially dangerous. As I expected, it shows cycling is less dangerous than climbing or horse riding, but also rates as safer than swimming and fishing.

If we then compare these numbers of fatalities with the tens of thousands of premature deaths due to diseases caused or made worse by sedentary lifestyles, not cycling looks like the more risky option. Even when you take into account accidents and exposure to pollution, cyclists live longer than non-cyclists. Of course there are plenty of ways to get exercise without road cycling, but in practice it can be hard to fit them into a busy lifestyle. Cycle-commuting is a great way to get regular exercise as it replaces the daily task of commuting, which few people relish, with one that is healthy and more enjoyable.

Further discussion of the risks and benefits of cycling can be found in this excellent article from the NHS.

What if people think cycling is dangerous?

It seems clear that public perception of cycling is not in line with the statistical reality. There’s a regular media theme of the dangers of riding a bike without reasonable comparison to other risks, perpetuated by those who say things like cyclists have a “death wish”.

This saddens me as there’s a huge risk from the perception of cycling as dangerous. That is that fewer people will do it. Sure, some of them could do other forms of exercise which might be seen as safe, and these should be encouraged too, but for many people cycling is the most convenient or the only one they can fit into their lives. To neglect cycling means people will miss out on the mental and physical health benefits of regular exercise and lives will be lost. These aren’t dramatic deaths like being hit by a taxi and might be harder to measure exactly, but the loss of life is so dramatically greater than the exact numbers don’t change the fact – a lack of regular exercise is much more dangerous than cycling.

For the people who shift from car to bicycle, we estimated that the well-documented beneficial effect of increased physical activity due to cycling resulted in about 9 times more gains in life-years than the losses in life years due to increased inhaled air pollution doses and traffic accidents.

– “Do the Health Benefits of Cycling Outweigh the Risks?” Dutch 2010 study.

There is also the fact that the more people who cycle, the safer it gets.

In a study of 115 cities in the US and Denmark, as well in 14 European countries, it was found that motorists are less likely to hit cyclists and pedestrians when there are more people cycling or walking. It appears that motorists adjust their behaviour in the presence of people cycling.

– ECF.com, https://ecf.com/resources/cycling-facts-and-figures/safety-numbers

So as a society we should be encouraging more people to cycle, not putting them off by saying that it is more dangerous than it is.

I encourage anyone to have a go at cycling and to take sensible measures to improve their safety. But, as long as they’re not breaking the law, they shouldn’t be judged irresponsible if they don’t do all these things such as wearing a helmet, for example. I think there should at least as much attention given to better road design and enforcement of traffic laws to keep pedestrians and cyclists safe while encouraging healthy sustainable transport.

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The news may be tragic, but is it important? https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/the-news-may-be-tragic-but-is-it-important/ https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/the-news-may-be-tragic-but-is-it-important/#respond Wed, 29 Apr 2020 20:51:40 +0000 http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/?p=1775 Something terrible and possibly violent happens to a family somewhere in the country. News sources report this in emotionally-charged detail. It is tragic, but is…

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Rack of international newspapers
Image credit: Gary Thomson

Something terrible and possibly violent happens to a family somewhere in the country. News sources report this in emotionally-charged detail. It is tragic, but is reading this kind of thing in our interests?

I’ve heard many people justify their avid consumption of news saying they need to stay informed about the world. That sounds reasonable enough, but how well do news sources inform people? By that I mean to provide accurate and relevant information. Much of news media is competing for the attention of readers and viewers, so tends towards entertainment or sensationalism. This giving of priority to noise and attention can have some unfortunate side-effects.

People justify their avid consumption of news by saying they need to stay informed about the world.

I know we often have a macabre fascination with real-life horror. Not just the horror, but drama and outrage. If these things weren’t in some way captivating, then they probably wouldn’t be reported at all. It’s easy to become slightly obsessed with negative news, particularly as the world grapples with the effects of COVID-19.

What’s more we probably identify more strongly with stories that feature the experiences of a small group of people. The trouble is that it doesn’t help us to understand the world as a whole. When accompanied by sound analysis and reliable research, such personal accounts can give a human perspective on some otherwise dry topic. Without this wider context, they’re useless in helping us “stay informed about the world”.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this focus on small scale horror and drama can be harmful to people’s mental health and see the world as a more dangerous place than it is. It isn’t a huge leap to suggest that, over time, it might make for a more selfish, fearful society.

I’m not saying we should avoid all bad news, rather that we should avoid the irrelevant, negative, sensationalist stories.

I’m not saying we should avoid all bad news, rather that we should avoid the irrelevant, negative, sensationalist stories. Hearing about someone who lost their whole family to a virus doesn’t help anyone. Learning about what individuals need to do to protect themselves and others during a pandemic is useful and important. The latter story may not be cheery news, but is at least relevant and not sensational.

I’m now trying to make a conscious effort not to click past headlines about individual tragedies. If a news source provides too much irrelevant noise, it’s easy enough to switch to another. If traditional news sources continue to fail you, there are alternatives with a refreshingly-positive take on the news.

Yes! Magazine (US)
Through rigorous reporting on the positive ways communities are responding to social problems and insightful commentary that sparks constructive discourse, YES! Media inspires people to build a more just, sustainable, and compassionate world.
https://www.yesmagazine.org/

Positive.News (UK)
We are pioneers of ‘constructive journalism’ – a new approach in the media, which is about rigorous and relevant journalism that is focused on progress, possibility, and solutions. We publish daily online and Positive News magazine is published quarterly in print.
https://www.positive.news/

Good News Network (US)
Since 1997, millions of people have turned to the Good News Network® as an antidote to the barrage of negativity experienced in the mainstream media.
https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org

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1×11 Gearing stuck in largest cog https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/1x11-gearing-stuck-in-largest-cog/ https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/1x11-gearing-stuck-in-largest-cog/#respond Sat, 18 Apr 2020 20:01:35 +0000 http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/?p=1924 I’ve had an issue recently when riding my otherwise good 1×11 Shimano 105 setup. I was tending to get stuck in the lowest gear, the…

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I’ve had an issue recently when riding my otherwise good 1×11 Shimano 105 setup. I was tending to get stuck in the lowest gear, the biggest cog. Now admittedly the Wolftooth DM is at the limit of the cassette size it will accommodate, but is has worked OK so far, so I don’t see any reason it shouldn’t keep working.

I checked everything, cleaned everything and made sure the cable was moving smoothly. I realised that I’d cut a slightly short piece of gear cable to connect to the derailleur itself, so replaced it with a longer one.

The problem didn’t go away.

Changing down the gears resulted only in a rumbling clicking sound and sometimes, eventually a shift. I got the bike up on the stand and had a closer look.

I noticed that the derailleur jockey wheel was so close to the large cog that the chain was catching on it and unable to move. I had a vague memory about there being an adjustment for this called the “B-screw” so tried adjusting mine only to find it was screwed all the way in but obviously wasn’t doing the job any more. Maybe it wore down or became slightly damaged.

Left: Derailleur jockey wheel very close to the cassette, Right: A bit of a gap.

Noticed the B-screw had underneath it a black plastic washer. I took it out and found it was 1-2mm thick. Without it the screw would go in a little further and keep the jockey wheel away from the cog (see above). Proper shifting once more! I’m a little concerned that this washer must serve some purpose, but everything seems to work fine without it.

Rear view of 105 derailleur showing b-screw and removed washer
B-screw with removed washer.
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Road Bike Gearing – 1×11 https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/road-bike-gearing-1x11/ https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/road-bike-gearing-1x11/#respond Tue, 26 Nov 2019 13:17:27 +0000 http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/?p=1835 When my rear dérailleur failed during PBP reducing me to two gears, I admit that my first reaction was to direct some harsh words at…

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When my rear dérailleur failed during PBP reducing me to two gears, I admit that my first reaction was to direct some harsh words at the SRAM eTAP Red groupset. Eventually I reached a philosophical acceptance and I started to think about alternatives. Later, my friends on fixed-gear bikes suggested that I still had one more gear than I needed! While I admire the simplicity of fixed-gear or single-speed bikes, I don’t think there’s room for one in my garage just yet and I’m not sure my knees would take it. However, riding for a few hundred kilometres with only two gears did make me think about how many gears I need.

Making do with two

For the last 200km of PBP 2019 I disabled my rear dérailleur by removing the battery to prevent accidental shifts. I left the chain in the 3rd-lowest gear, with 26 teeth. Coupled with the front rings of 34t and 50t, this gave me two gears. According to this bicycle gears calculator the lower ratio was 1.32 and the higher one 1.94. Now those two numbers mean about as much to me as to the average cyclist. What they’re useful for is comparison with other possible setups. Another way to describe it is that I lost my bottom two gears and my top eight gears. I was a little slower as a result, but I was surprised how little difference it made. Admittedly it helped that the PBP course is not very hilly. I did have to stand up and grind slowly on the way to Mortagne and could have gone a little faster down hill rather than spinning out at 30kph. However, after 1000km I was in no state to be pushing hard in a high gear.

What gearing do I really need?

OK, “need” is a relative term. I imagine bicycle gears are a tiny point vanishing at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but for the riding I do, what works?

Those two gears may have been fine for the end of PBP, but for more general use including fast group riding and steep hills, I’d want a wider range. For the last five years my usual road bike 2×11 setup with 50t-34t front and 11t-32t rear gives a lowest ratio of 1.07 and a highest ratio of 4.59. The only time I changed this was to a lower ratio of 0.69 for a steep Everesting and I was very glad I did.

One ring front, eleven back

After some playing around with the calculators I worked out that I can get something very close to my original compact 2×11 set up with a single, 44-tooth ring on the front and a wider 11-42 tooth cassette.

With a 44-tooth chainring, I effectively lose my highest gear (red), plus a bit. My lowest gear (green) is slightly lower.

My thinking is that I won’t really miss the top two gears. In fact it’s not even two gears, as 4.04 is still higher than 3.61 – my old third-highest gear. It’s more like I’m losing one-and-a-bit gears. I rarely use such high ratios, especially on long rides. They would typically be for an all-out sprint slightly downhill or with a tailwind. However, the bottom end of the gear range is essential to keeping my average speed up on steep climbs when tired.

My lowest gear will now be fractionally lower than before, but not enough to notice.

Building the gears

A 1×11 setup on a road bike is unusual, so it took a bit of thought as to how to do it. In particular it’s hard to find a rear road derailleur which will allow such a large cassette. One option is to get a purpose-made 1x system like SRAM’s Apex 1. Even putting aside my recent bad experience with SRAM, some online research suggests they are not as robust as other brands and sourcing spare parts would certainly be harder than Shimano.

Hope 44T chainring mounted on silver cranks

So what can I do with Shimano? The medium cage 105 derailleur will stretch to 11-34 teeth on a cassette. As you can see from the table above, that doesn’t give much gear range. With a bit of research I discovered the Wolftooth Roadlink DM. This extends the reach of the cassette to allow 11-42 teeth – a much larger range. The Roadlink DM has been tested with the latest 105, Ultegra and Dura Ace derailleurs. I couldn’t see any advantage to Ultegra/Dura Ace except for saving a few grams, so went for the 105. I wasn’t sure how good the shifting would be, but compared to my previous setups it’s a relatively inexpensive experiment.

  • Hope Retainer Ring 44T (for 1x setup) – £35
  • Single ring chainring bolts – £10
  • Shimano 105 R7000 11 Speed Rear Derailleur Silver Medium (GS) Cage – £33
  • Shimano 105 R7000 11 Speed Shifter Set Silver Pair – £126
  • Wolftooth DM – £30
  • TOTAL – £234
Rear wheel of bike with large casette, Wolf Tooth DM and 105 derailleur

Fitting was fairly straightforward, it seemed. I attached the Roadlink DM to the frame’s derailleur hanger, then attach the 105 derailleur to that. I looked at it a few different ways but there’s only one way it can fit. The Roadlink DM has a tab sticking out towards the wheel which stops it from rotating downwards as it catches on the derailleur hanger’s hook. You can just see it at the top of the photo below.

But it wasn’t quite right. I tried shifting through the gears, but couldn’t quite get into the biggest ring. I adjusted the various screws to their limits but it still wouldn’t quite go. Then I realised that the derailleur had a spacer in it (green arrow below). Swapping this with the plate attached to the hanger (red arrow) had the effect of moving the whole derailleur inwards towards the wheel by a few mm. That was enough to get the shifting working as it should!

Road link and Shimano 105 rear derailleur mounted on bike
After the swap. The parts indicated by the red and green arrows were swapped to move the body of the derailleur inboard by about 3mm

What’s it like to ride?

On the first ride I noticed that although the shifting worked properly, the lowest gear was a bit noisy, like cross chaining on a 2×11. Of course that’s exactly what it was. I’d fitted the single ring on the outer side of the crank spider (if that’s the right phrase), where the larger ring would normally go in a 2×11 setup – as shown in the picture above. It looks neat in this position, but I think the chain line is not right.

Below left shows what it looks like with the chainring mounted inside the crank spider, where the small chainring would normally be. It’s a bit subjective, but it seems like the gears are now much quieter in the lowest gear. When I’m using this cog and grinding slowly up a hill is when I’m most bothered by noise and drag, so it’s a big relief to have it working better. I haven’t noticed any chain line problems in the highest gear. Putting the chainring in this position does make it pass rather close to the chainstay, as you can see below-right. I probably couldn’t use a much bigger ring like this, but it’s fine for now.

I’ve now ridden about 500km on the 1×11 setup. I experienced one chain drop, going over a bump when in the highest gear and pedalling backwards (I don’t know why), but otherwise the narrow-wide “retainer” ring has done its job well and the setup has been reliable.

It has taken some getting used to having a single control for shifting and, especially in the lower gears, the steps between them are larger than I’m used to. Perhaps that would make it unsuitable for racing up hills.

Overall I’m happy with the setup and intend to keep using it for now. I think the thing I appreciate most is the simplicity of that single control. I no longer have to worry about when to switch between the front rings and back the other way on the cassette. One way for higher gears, the other way for lower.

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Technology as a climate saviour https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/technology-as-a-climate-saviour/ https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/technology-as-a-climate-saviour/#respond Sat, 28 Sep 2019 13:05:30 +0000 http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/?p=1805 It shouldn’t be news to anyone reading this that human-caused climate change is an issue of great concern for many people. Like most of my…

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It shouldn’t be news to anyone reading this that human-caused climate change is an issue of great concern for many people. Like most of my generation I’ve been aware of this problem for a long time. I remember it being taught in school back in the late 80s. Until recently it hasn’t been much in the front of my mind. But now that I’m more aware of the serious and urgent climate and ecological crisis we’re all facing, I’ve been asking myself why I wasn’t so concerned before.

Partly I thought that governments had the problem in hand or would do shortly. Perhaps I assumed that the small gestures of lifestyle change myself and many of those around me made would help and make enough of a difference or that it would be a long time before there were serious consequences.

But I think I knew that current strategies were not going to be enough. Even once I’d seen graphs like those on the climatelevels.org dashboard I still wasn’t seriously concerned. There are probably a lot of reasons for this including the fact that the people around me weren’t panicking.

https://www.climatelevels.org

A big part of what I’ve found comforting, has been thinking that technology would solve the problem of climate change. I enjoy thinking about technology and science, so it’s easy for me to get enthusiastic about such things. That enthusiasm can sometimes distract me from the bigger picture and the hard questions about how much a piece of technology helps.

It seems like there is always some amazing technology just around the corner to solve climate change. For example, a lot of carbon dioxide is produced by electricity generation, so replacing this with cleaner alternatives is obviously part of the solution. Any day now a renewable form of energy would make burning fossil fuels unnecessary. If it’s not renewable energy it’s geoengineering – for example putting reflective particles in the upper atmosphere to cool the planet. If we only wait a few years it’ll be fixed.

The trouble is I’ve been thinking that for 30 years.

We’ve been told for a long time that nuclear fusion will become a practical source of energy in about ten years, but it doesn’t seem to be getting any closer. One day we might be able to extract electricity from waste water, enough to make processing the water energy positive, but that’s still theoretical. Geothermal power has huge potential, even in parts of the world you might not expect, but requires huge investment and isn’t entirely clean. Reactors based on thorium sound clean, safe and though not renewable, the small quantities of thorium they need are abundant, but at the time of writing these reactors are not available yet.

What about wind and solar? They’re already working and don’t cause any pollution.

By 林 慕尧 / Chris Lim from East Coast (东海岸), Singapore (新加坡) – Windmills in China?{D70 series}, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2909338

Wind power seems like a safe and clean way to get electricity until you realise that the turbine blades take a lot of energy to build, which means there’s a time before the net energy and CO2 invested is paid back. They have a limited lifespan and are difficult to recycle. Also the switches needed to operate them are insulated with SF6 gas which is far more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. Inevitably some of it leaks.

Similarly, making a solar panel requires some rare earth metals and a lot of energy, and therefore CO2, for the mining, running and production. Again recycling at the end of life is problematic. Both those sources of power are intermittent – the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow, so you need huge over capacity and battery storage or something else to fill the gaps, assuming you want no interruption of electricity supply. Currently, that something else is usually oil or gas, being easily turn off and on-able. In terms of land-use alone wind and solar are not reasonable solutions on their own. We’d need to destroy huge amounts of the natural world to meet our existing power use.

Each time we learn more about the technology we find problems.

How much longer can I keep believing in a technological fix? Doing so is increasingly looking like a kind of faith and I don’t think faith is rational. I’m not saying that these technologies are all bad, many of them might be useful as part of a bigger solution, but delaying action on ecological problems in the hope that they’ll soon be solved by some promising-sounding technology is rash. It’s almost like another form of climate denialism. Not denying that the planet is warming because of human activity, but denying that we need to take action about it now. Half of all emissions have been released since 1988. If we had taken radical action thirty years ago the problem would have been much easier to solve. The longer we put off emissions reductions, the harder it gets and the more people who’ll suffer.

Even if the problem of emitting CO2 leading to a warming planet can be solved, there are issues of soil erosion and desertification, water pollution leading to ocean “dead zones”, mass extinction of vertebrates and insects. Many of these things have knock-on effects on food security. In modern life it’s easy to forget that we don’t exist separately from nature, we’re part of it. We all eat food, drink water and breathe air and depend on a variety of natural systems to survive. When those systems break down, our survival is at stake.

Governments tend to be short-sighted and concerned with preserving business-as-usual. Current political drama may seem important, but it won’t matter in ten years time. Climate change and ecological collapse are only going to get more urgent. We need governments to tell the truth about climate change. We need collective action because individual action is ineffective and only serves to move the focus away from corporations and governments who could make the biggest difference.

I don’t have the answers, but waiting around for a technological saviour is not working.

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Paris Brest Paris 2019 Photos https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/paris-brest-paris-2019-photos/ https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/paris-brest-paris-2019-photos/#respond Sun, 15 Sep 2019 16:44:25 +0000 http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/?p=1785 For those with the stamina, see also my lengthy report of Paris Brest Paris 2019.

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For those with the stamina, see also my lengthy report of Paris Brest Paris 2019.

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Paris Brest Paris 2019 https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/paris-brest-paris-2019/ https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/paris-brest-paris-2019/#comments Thu, 05 Sep 2019 07:52:46 +0000 http://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/?p=1779 It wasn’t the first time I’d gone to Paris with the intention of riding the world’s oldest and most famous randonee. I set off in…

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It wasn’t the first time I’d gone to Paris with the intention of riding the world’s oldest and most famous randonee. I set off in 2015 only to “pack”, as in pack it in, at Loudeac after less than 450km. When people ask why I tend to say, “I forgot to eat”. That was indeed the biggest mistake I made, but I also managed to faff around beforehand, spending three hours at the first feed station. By the time I found myself so hungry that I couldn’t eat until I’d rested, it was too late to recover the time.

My preparation for 2019 focused on avoiding those mistakes.

I drew up a spreadsheet and worked out how fast I expected to go on each section. Plenty of people told me that no one ever sticks to their plan, which I’ve no doubt is true, but at least I’d have some idea of how fast I needed to go. Others told me that obsessive planning would take all the pleasure out of the ride. For me, having a small sheet I can quickly refer to and know how far ahead or behind I am, makes things simpler and calmer. It also helped me to arrange meeting my father who was driving a support vehicle for me, providing fresh clothing, more interesting food options and moral support. Oddly, having a support car made packing more complicated, because the variety of things is possible to take is much greater. Things that may get me out of trouble or make me more comfortable, but that require more thought than a single saddle bag. Secondly I packed two top-tube bags with chewy bars for when other food was unavailable. There are many friendly locals offering food and drink along the route, but not necessarily at the right moment.

All this meticulous planning was almost for nothing when, with five days to go, I couldn’t find my passport. I turned the house upside down, checked the bags and clothing I used last time I travelled. I phoned the passport office to learn that the express replacement service could get me a new one in seven days if I went to Peterborough or Glasgow. Maybe it would arrive sooner, but no guarantees. Four years of waiting, planning, qualifying and training. I was upset and angry with no one to blame but myself. Slowly I began to accept that I wouldn’t be going. Then I checked one of the bags I’d looked in earlier and found it! Relief!

So after all this, when I finally reached the start line I felt relaxed. OK, maybe a little excited, but calm and ready to ride steadily. I was in an earlier group than last time. H has only two 90 hr groups ahead of it so I guessed there would be a lot of competitive riders going much faster than me. As long as I didn’t exhaust myself by trying to keep up with them I was confident I’d be able to stick with my plan to ride through the first night.

James in foreground wearing Mille Cymru jersey with many cyclists getting ready in the park
A small corner of the chaos before the start. Some 6000 riders were milling around trying to get ready.

The location of the start and finish at Rambouillet was in a large park in the edge of a forest. My group set off into the early evening sun. I waved as I passed my family and the crowds receded. We pedalled through the partial shade of the forest on quiet, smooth roads with only occasional words of encouragement from marshals. I remember 2015 being very sociable, but apart from some Finnish and Brazilian groups talking amongst themselves, no one spoke. Maybe I was in a more serious starting group and everyone was focused on getting a good start or perhaps some of the foreign riders weren’t confident about speaking English. I’d learnt to say “hello” in a few languages, but didn’t get much response until later in the ride.
After an hour I started to notice riders from the starting groups ahead and behind – G and I. I thought I’d been going fairly fast, but the I group riders must have done the same distance as me but fifteen minutes faster! I thought that was a good reason not to try to follow them and wondered how long they’d keep that pace up. I had made an optimistic “fast” plan as well as a more realistic “slow” plan. The average speeds and times I had to leave each control were on a small sheet on my handlebars.

Handlebar mount with GPS and event plan sheet
My GPS with French maps and blue line to follow. Also the minimal event plan sheet which helped me stay on track.

It was 118km to Mortagne Au Perche so, although it is not a control on the way out, it is a useful place to get food. However I decided that if there were long queues I would get back in the bike and eat something from my well stocked bags. Luckily there was no need to wait and within minutes I had a good sized meal. There were certainly advantages to being ahead of the “bulge”. In about half an hour I was back in the bike and taking it a little slower as planned. I was cheered and delighted by the support from the French public and the displays in the villages we passed through. Most had old bicycles painted in bright colours, some even had full glowing bicycles attached high up on lamp posts. Simple enough things, but they made me smile. I went through Villaines La Juhel fairly quickly and onto Tinteniac for a longer rest where I was meeting with my father. It was good to have someone to chat with and relate my experiences so far. He also provided little luxuries like fresh socks and a full phone charge. Though it’s fair to say the main reason to use my phone was to keep in touch with him for the next rendezvous.

By the time I reached Loudeac I knew I was doing much better than my last attempt. Not only was it much earlier in the day, but I felt capable of eating, not that terrible bonked feeling that should be avoided at all costs. I changed to a fresh and apparently identical pair of shorts and soon suffered from chafing on my thigh. I still don’t know why this happened, but the little sachets of chamois cream my wife had given me were a life saver!

I rode on to unfamiliar roads. Although I was tending to slip behind the fast plan, I still dared to believe I might make Brest that night to reward myself with as much sleep as I could afford. I chatted briefly with a few people along the way. Somehow I ended up discussing power generation with a Swiss guy. He told me that the Swiss were more intelligent about it than the French because they used hydro electric dams to manage demand. I suggested it wasn’t so much intelligence but geography that allowed this. Sometime that afternoon I passed the house of a French family who were standing outside and called “Gateaux de Maison!” – Home-made cake. The cake I discovered was made with yoghurt and quite refreshing. I stopped for a few minutes to chat as I’d started to remember how to speak French – at least with a fair bit of gesticulation and lengthy explanations to get around the vocabulary I was lacking. They wanted no payment, but I contributed a few coins, partly to make myself lighter, if I’m completely honest. I was handed a slip of paper with their address on it, so that I could write a postcard to them when I returned home. A promise I still have to fulfil.

French camily with spread of cakes and drinks outside their house

Several hours later, on reaching Carhaix I had a full meal. I was surprised to see the control canteen selling bottles of wine and beer. Each to their own, but that was the last thing I wanted at that moment. I tried to be friendly and show off my language skills when an older German chap sat down next to me. I asked “Wie gehts?” to which he responded with a dour monologue. Unfortunately German is not as good as my French and I couldn’t understand a word. When he paused for breath I admitted this and we had a laugh and a nice chat in English.

The next stage to Brest was long, dark and lonely. It got colder than I had expected and I stopped a few times to add more layers of clothing. My gears started playing up. This wasn’t an entirely new problem. I’ve had the electronic SRAM eTap since January and on my 600km qualifier the rear dérailleur had twice refused to shift for a period of about twenty seconds. Rather than attempt an uncertain warranty return at short notice before PBP I had decided to put up with the very occasional annoyance. Now it seemed to be happening more often. Equally unnerving, my GPS twice switched itself off without warning, despite having relatively fresh batteries. It came back on, but made me wary. Much of the ride seemed to be in a deeply wooded valley, though I could hardly tell in the dark. All this and tiredness added to a growing sense of unease. When someone called “Bravo!” out of the darkness I nearly jumped with fright as I’d thought there was no one nearby. Eventually, after a very long very gentle climb, I reached the top of Le Roc, after which I knew I’d have a long descent. It was great to get free speed for so long, but it was also rather cold. I kept pedalling in a high gear more to keep warm than to go faster. It was encouraging to see the lights of Brest, but the GPS told me I still had a fair way to go before bed. As I entered the town navigation suddenly got harder and the wonderful reflective arrows that had guided me so far also disappeared. Perhaps they are more likely to be tampered with in urban areas like Brest. I was grateful to have a GPS track to follow as a backup or I may have been wandering around for a while.

Both my plans had me stopping at Brest for six hours, but I’d arrived about three hours later than the fast plan which I wanted to stick with in the hope of finishing on Wednesday evening. Either way I was very glad to have made it so far before sleep – a record for me that took its toll physically, but put me in a good place the next day. After three hours in a proper bed I felt a lot better. Sure, I could’ve easily slept for another seven hours, but I couldn’t have made that time up on the road.

James in bike park with baselayer over jersey sunblock on nose and buff over hair
The morning after the night before. Ready to leave Brest after 3 hours sleep

The day was bright and cold as I set off into the rising sun with a few others. The long gentle climb was a pleasant way to warm up. The town of Sizun was full of fun as promised and I paused for an apple pastry and a moment to take in the atmosphere. Clearly the effects of tiredness were starting to catch up with people. I saw riders napping beside the road wrapped in space blankets. I know those things are hard to repack, especially when tired, but I was appalled by how many of them had been abandoned, littering the countryside. At some point in the rolling hills I caught up with a couple from the USA on a tandem. I found out that like my wife and I, they had done their honeymoon on a tandem. In their case when they completed PBP in 2011. This seemed like a funny coincidence as it was my wife and my anniversary that day. My wife Erica is very understanding about my cycling – I had texted her first thing and our daughter had given her my card. I asked if the tandem couple minded me drafting and they said they didn’t mind but appreciated me asking. This worked well for me on the flat, but when the road dipped down I had to pedal quite hard to keep up. Once they both tucked in and stopped pedalling I was spinning out in my highest gear and still couldn’t keep up. This was fast and good fun but I soon realised a very silly idea during such a long ride. The effort soon made my legs ache and I felt sluggish for some time. I should know better, but sometimes it’s tempting after plodding for so long!

Lively town with church spire and apple tart held in foreground
Sizun was nice and full of life. I stopped for an apple tart and to enjoy the atmosphere a moment.

Even before this excessive effort I found myself unable keep up with the average speeds I’d set myself. I knew that simply trying harder wouldn’t be sustainable, so I tried taking shorter breaks at each control. I ate my own food instead of getting some at Carhaix and bounced through the secret control in the attractive town of St Nicholas. At Loudeac I was meeting my father again, so I messaged him with some food requests. In general food had been much easier to find this time, so I left the second top-tube bag with him as I had plenty of cereal bars spare. Oddly it had been impossible to get a cheese sandwich at any of the controls but Dad went out and bought a nice piece of fromage. He also found me a great falafel salad which was a welcome change from pastries and bread. The troublesome shorts were swapped to a third pair which seemed a bit better, but I still needed to apply the chamois cream at regular intervals. I continued through Tinteniac with the strategy of short stops. Although I felt OK I was getting further behind the fast plan.

Rider sleeping on bench under a space blanket in front of maize field
A rather typical scene at certain points in the ride.

I arrived at Fougeres in the small hours nearly three hours behind. At this point I probably should’ve found a bed and got a good sleep, but instead I took a couple of twenty minute naps in the canteen with my head resting on the table. I think this decision is what made the next 70km to Villaines-La-Juhel the toughest of the whole ride for me. I had eaten plenty, but not had much chance to recover. Setting off into the dark is hard mentally, especially with so far still to go. I’m lucky not to suffer from falling asleep when riding, but I do find myself getting slower as tiredness accumulated. As I rode the temperature dropped and soon I was wearing every bit of clothing I’d brought including a thin balaclava, leg and arm-warmers, a base layer and waterproof jacket. My hands were painfully cold despite full-fingered gloves. I hadn’t brought my winter gloves because well, it’s August in France. I’m only guessing, but it felt like less than five degrees centigrade. I think I had sun or wind-burnt my lips at some point because they were now rather painful and as my nose was running in the cold, breathing was uncomfortable. To make matters worse my electronic gears deteriorated further. The rear dérailleur would refuse to shift for minutes at a time, causing me much frustration. At some point I realised that going over a bump seemed to temporarily wake it up, so I would aim for whatever tiny pothole I could find in the otherwise smooth French roads. It was probably just as well that I rode this section in solitary as I would’ve moaned at whoever would listen. Once the sun came up the temperature finally rose a little and I found a patisserie to further cheer myself up.

By the time I reached Villaines I had realised that a Wednesday evening finish was no longer realistic. I had hoped my family would be able to greet me at the arrivee, which would be difficult if I arrived after dark. Now that my ETA was looking rather late there was no point rushing. I could get some sleep on the way back and finish on Thursday morning. With this decision made I relaxed and took a long rest in a town square at Villaines, while my father and a friendly Dutch cyclist puzzled over what to do about my malfunctioning gears. We managed to shift into the third largest sprocket after which I removed the battery from the rear dérailleur to prevent any accidental shifts. I could still use the front dérailleur, giving me two gears. A low one good for most climbs with occasional standing and a higher one good for the flats. That was fine as long as I didn’t mind spinning the pedals really fast as my speed increased. I was no longer frustrated by this, but accepted it philosophically remembering that plenty of riders were on fixed gear bikes. Like a few others the Dutch chap disliked my heavy Schwalbe Greenguard tyres. They are a bit chunky and in theory roll more slowly, giving a harsher ride than typical randonneur tyres. The advantage is far fewer punctures, which on a long ride can be utterly demoralising as well as time-consuming. I had discussed the pros and cons at length with my cycling buddy Nick and we both eventually settled on the reliable option. I may have had some disapproving looks, but I’m happy to report no visitations from the puncture fairy!

Colourful bikes arranged in a pyramid up a post with a sign giving the distance to the finish
One of the many colourful displays found in many villages along the route

Now with about 200km back to Paris and 160km until I planned to sleep, the ride seemed more manageable, but another worry surfaced. My right Achilles tendon started twanging. It was only occasionally painful, mostly uncomfortable. I normally point my toes down a bit as I pedal but I found that keeping my foot more level seemed to help. I crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t get any worse. Somewhere along the road I met a cyclist called Antonia who’s a police officer from South West England. We chatted for a few hours about jobs and kids and a bit about cycling. It was great to have some company and the distance seemed to go quickly. After a while I struggled to keep up. I’d like to claim it was my limited gear range, but I suspect the lack of sleep and sprinting after a tandem the day before was more to blame. As she was planning to finish late that night, we said goodbye and I plodded on alone. As I approached Mortagne the road became hillier. This gave some nice views, but also meant I had to stand up on the pedals for the steeper parts. I had mixed feelings about this. It’s tiring for the legs, but gives a bit of relief for the bottom.

At Mortagne I met my Dad again. He congratulated me on how well I was doing. He was right, it was a whole lot better than four years ago! I may have had to give up the fast plan, but I always knew that would be ambitious for me. I never like to think that a ride is in the bag until I’m within walking distance. There are so many small things that could go wrong. It did feel like the end was finally in sight and I had plenty of time. The control was busy and I guessed a lot of people there were aiming to finish that night. After stamping my card, I took the time to brush my teeth, something I’d tried to keep doing regularly, just to feel a bit more comfortable. I found a quiet patch of grass and lay down for a short nap. Someone told me that the next twenty kilometres were hilly but after that it was flat. This turned out to be right. Some of the climbs went on a long time but none were as steep as those I’m used to in Wales and South West England. PBP is certainly tandem, fixed-gear and broken gear-friendly! The surface was variable on the way to the final control. I’d become rather bump-averse by this stage and while the flat gradient allowed consistent progress it meant fewer chances to get out of the saddle and the associated relief. This was a minor gripe however; I was feeling fine. I passed through woodland and fields with the sun setting slowly behind me. It wasn’t far to Dreux, but I was so looking forward to food and sleep that it seemed to drag on forever. Some company would have been good, but there was no one nearby. When I paused for a moment a group shot past, but too fast for me.

On reaching Dreux I was once again tired and a bit cold. Perhaps after some food I could have pushed on to Paris that night, but my mind was made up. I knew I’d enjoy finishing much more in the daylight and after sleep. I didn’t want a heavy meat dish, so settled for a pasta salad and one of the famous Paris Brest pastries. I thought maybe it was premature to have one, but I had at least been to Brest this time. To be honest the pastry was a little disappointing. More soggy sponge with a faint coffee flavour. I had been concerned that I might struggle to find space to sleep, but when I headed for the vast gymnasium only a handful of beds had been taken. It was cold, so I slept in my clothes and used a travel towel as a blanket. I hadn’t had time for a shower so it was at least dry. I shivered through the night, waking several times. When I got up just before 7am the hall was full of snoring cyclists. Seemed I’d timed it right.

Flat stubble fields with small church in the distance
In the interests of honesty, I should point out… A fair bit of the scenery was like this. Flat, but not very interesting to look at.

I could tell it was going to be a hot day, but heading out it was still really cold, so once again I wrapped up well and gradually peeled off layers over the next hour. The roads were busy now with many small groups of cyclists making a final effort to get to the finish. It was my last chance to say hello to strangers, so I tried my best. I was pleased to get some “Konichiwa’s” in return. I didn’t think my restless six hours in the hall would’ve helped me recover much, but I found myself overtaking others more than usual, so maybe I was fresher than I thought.

Hall crowded with cyclists eating breakfast at Dreux
Breakfast at Dreux on the last day. A strange combination of weariness and excitement.

The last section was a gentle ride through the forest of Rambouillet. I thought how much nicer it was in dappled sunlight than pitch black darkness. I caught a fairly large group and chatted briefly with a couple of people from the North of England. Time passed quickly again and suddenly we were back in the park which cruelly included cobbles at the gate. We’d had very little roadside support that morning, but now we passed plenty of people who had already finished, along with their supporters, so the atmosphere became more lively. Shortly before I got to the finish line I met my wife, daughter and father and stopped for a wonderful hug and photo. Only a few pedal strokes more and it was over.

Erica James and Sasha together, James still astride the bike. Campervans in the background.
A lovely reunion (almost) at the finish.

I was delighted to have finished on time. Not everything had gone right, but it seldom does on such a long ride. There are a few things I would do differently, such as deciding when to sleep. I’ve realised long distance riding is not like other holidays. How well it goes is down to each individual along with a fair bit of luck. If you don’t enjoy it or feel you got what you wanted you can’t complain or ask for your money back. I don’t know yet whether I’ll ride Paris Brest Paris again. I’m going to take some time off the bike to think about the next adventure as well as whether I really want to use electronic gears. For now I’m grateful to have had the chance to experience both failure and success.

My full set of Paris Brest Paris photos are here.

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Software Engineering Remote Working – the pros and cons https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/software-engineering-remote-working-the-pros-and-cons/ https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/software-engineering-remote-working-the-pros-and-cons/#respond Tue, 19 Mar 2019 18:52:36 +0000 https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/?p=1632 Advantages No time and money spent on commuting I used this time to do a short bike ride or “circular commute” every morning and take…

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It seems remote working is an option in an increasing number of jobs. Perhaps this is because technology had made it easier to collaborate when not in the same room. Video conferencing, Slack and cloud – based web apps are all but ubiquitous in modern workplaces.

I worked remotely as a software engineer for a year, going in to the office only two consecutive days a month. My experience may not be typical as I wasn’t part of a software team in a software company, but rather one of only two engineers in a diverse team within a university. The other engineer had other projects and moved on after a few months so for much of the time I was very much on my own.

Advantages

No time and money spent on commuting

I used this time to do a short bike ride or “circular commute” every morning and take my daughter to her evening sports clubs at least once a week. Neither of these things fit in well with a one-hour commute each way.

Flexibility to receive parcels or repair people at home

Arranging redelivery or relying on a neighbour is inconvenient.

Simpler food options

Leftovers or a quick snack is easy to arrange without the temptation or expense of eating out.

Potentially fewer interruptions

Even if there are others in the house, it was usually possible to close the door during work times and get some peace and quiet. Programming work often requires consistent concentration that can be hard to maintain in a busy office during the middle of the day. The easier tasks seemed to go much more quickly when working remotely.

Emergency childcare

When my daughter has been ill it’s reassuring to be at home and close to school rather than at the other end of an unreliable train journey. In a pinch she can nap or watch TV while I work and I can make up for missed time in the evening.

Working elsewhere

I stayed entirely at home when working remotely, but people enjoy the possibility of working in another city or country so that the evenings and weekends are like a real holiday. I like having two large screens and a proper desktop machine, but I did run my work “machine” from an encrypted USB-stick with an Ubuntu install. This worked well apart from when using very high disk-access applications such as Docker. That tends to corrupt the disk somehow and make the system unreliable, so I’d stick with an SSD if using Docker or similar.

Disadvantages

Home heating or air-conditioning

Normally our heating is off in the day, so unless you have a small heater for the space you’re working in, then you may need to run it for the whole house which will add to costs.

Limited social interaction

For me this is the biggest disadvantage to working remotely. Not only is it fun to chat with colleagues, but it often leads to a better understanding of the work or opportunities to help out in unexpected ways. Knowing what things other people are working on and their particular set of skills is an essential but often overlooked benefit to working in the same room or building as teammates. Much of this knowledge is transferred in a casual over-heard conversation kind of way, which doesn’t always happen on Slack, Skype or email. I was lucky to have a generous holiday allowance, some of which I used to catch up with friends outside work.

Learning the job

For similar reasons to the last point this can be difficult to do remotely. This is why many remote jobs require new starters to work in an office with existing staff for the first few months. If the job is really straightforward or all the documentation is perfect (is it ever?) then in theory you can learn the job from anywhere. For most, however, learning by discussing it with others is often the best way. Getting stuck when working remotely can be a frustrating experience and I often found myself taking a break to empty the dishwasher, partly to experience a feeling of progress that I couldn’t achieve with professional work. When working remotely it’s also hard to know when it’s OK to ask for help. How busy is the other person? Are they irritated by my request? These things are hard to judge when not face to face. On the other hand there is something to be said for not interrupting people when they’re deeply involved in a problem, so asynchronous communication like Slack (with No Hello) or Email can help.

Pair programming

I’m sure pair programming can be done remotely, but I can’t see it being anything like as easy as sitting next to someone scribbling on bits of paper, waving your hands around and collectively scratching your heads.

When does work start or end?

If you work remotely from home, then it’s not always obvious where work starts and ends. This can make it difficult to achieve a healthy work-life balance.

In such flexible workplaces colleagues may work different hours and might expect you to be available at the same time or ask questions after you’ve finished for the day. I had my work Slack on my phone, so I liked to be readily available whenever my colleagues needed me. Sometimes this was good as I could be instantly helpful even if I’m taking a break. On the other hand, if I’d finished work and was having dinner with my family, the interruption was annoying, yet I’d still be tempted to respond.

Some people will prefer to have strict working times in order to maintain focus and feel fully justified in relaxing at the end of the day. I preferred to start as early as I could and work a rather long day, but take regular breaks for chores or exercise, especially when stuck. Sometimes this approach seems to allow my mind to work on the problem in the background, although I was consciously thinking about something else. That’s great when the solution can be found through slow thinking and coming up with creative solutions, but it doesn’t work when collaboration is what’s needed.

Conclusions

I’m currently enjoying working in an office with my colleagues and plenty of friends in nearby offices. I probably wouldn’t do a fully-remote job again unless I already understood the work very well. However, I do appreciate the opportunity to work from home on the occasions that trains let me down, slight illness makes me unwilling to go in or life admin requires that I’m in the house. I’m sure others will disagree and find better ways to collaborate and learn than I did. I’d be interested to hear how other people addressed the issues I described above.

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Paris-Brest-Paris pace plan https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/paris-brest-paris-pace-plan/ https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/paris-brest-paris-pace-plan/#respond Wed, 13 Mar 2019 20:30:55 +0000 https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/?p=1751 In order to be more organised and hopefully more successful in my upcoming PBP attempt, I’ve created a planning spreadsheet giving me a better idea…

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Sample of my PBP planning spreadsheet

In order to be more organised and hopefully more successful in my upcoming PBP attempt, I’ve created a planning spreadsheet giving me a better idea of where I should be, when.

Not everyone wants or needs a plan. Some like to keep it as simple as ride, eat, sleep, repeat and that keeps them on track. However, I find it can help to quickly answer questions like: Have I got time to stop and chat for five minutes and take some photos? Can I afford an extra hour’s sleep at the next control? If I look for a nice bakery off-route, will I have time for a nap later? Without some idea of where you are against the plan, tiredness can make these simple questions taxing! This is especially true on PBP when the riders around you are often riding on difference schedules with different start times.

At the very least I think every rider should know how far it is to the next control and what time they need to leave that control to make it to the next one in time. Last time I failed even that basic check so I didn’t realise how far behind I was getting.

I found the spreadsheet helpful when preparing for Mille Cymru in 2018. To make following it simple I scribbled my expected average speed and ETAs on the route sheet. Inevitably the reality doesn’t match the plan very well, but having made a plan, it easy to see when the time is slipping. When I started to drift from the plan, I knew what I had to do to regain time – in my case that meant skipping the shower and having a shorter sleep. For PBP I won’t have a route sheet, but will probably still keep these targets to hand, maybe taped onto the bike somewhere.

For anyone who’d like to do the same, I’m sharing the link here

How to use the spreadsheet for PBP2019 (90hr group*)

  • Start by making your own private copy of the spreadsheet either in Google Docs or locally, so that you can edit it as you like.
  • There are two plans to compare, blue and orange. I use them for my optimistic “fast” plan and the “slow” plan.
  • You should only need to edit the coloured cells, starting with your start time and date in C2 and L2.
  • Go down the coloured columns for each plan and fill in your expected average speed for each section and how long you intend to rest at the next control. It doesn’t matter whether you include your en-route rests in the resting time or average speed as long as you are consistent and measure it correctly on the road. If your GPS shows only “Moving average”, be sure to include extra “resting” time for adjusting clothes, calls of nature, etc. Whereas, if you use “Overall average” when riding, any small stops will naturally reduce your average speed. When deciding how fast you think you can go, it’s worth looking at each section of the route to assess the climb/descending, time of day, fatigue, likely conditions, etc. As the sections are not circular, some involve a lot more climbing than descending, so expect them to be slower than average.
Line-area graph with two rising and falling plots with control towns on the X-axis
Time-in-hand graph produced automatically by the spreadsheet

How to use the spreadsheet for other events

To use the spreadsheet for other events you’ll need to make another copy and edit the control names and distances in columns A and B.

Apart from that the instructions above should still work.

* I’ve worked out the minimum average speed that makes the finish time work for the 90hr starts and put it in B19 – if you’re in the 84hr or 80hr starts, you’ll need to increase that number accordingly and make sure the finish time in C17 is correct.

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