James Thinks https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk ...I'm not sure yet... Tue, 29 Sep 2020 13:26:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.5.1 “What is the meaning of life?” is a loaded question https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/the-meaning-of-life-is-a-loaded-question/ https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/the-meaning-of-life-is-a-loaded-question/#respond Sun, 20 Sep 2020 18:18:17 +0000 https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/?p=2032 “What is the meaning of life?” This is such a common question that I think most of us take for granted that it is also…

“What is the meaning of life?”

This is such a common question that I think most of us take for granted that it is also a valid one. I’d like to challenge that view. The question in the form above is loaded as it implies some assumptions.

  • That there is a meaning of life
  • That there is only one meaning of life
  • That it is the same meaning for all people
  • That it might be possible to know this meaning

Given humanity’s many efforts and failure to agree on an answer to this question, it seems reasonable to conclude that at least some of these assumptions are false. The many humorous and facetious answers further underline the question’s dubious nature.

OK, you may argue that not all of those are assumed by the phrasing of the question, but to a greater or lesser degree they are all implied. Granted, some people asking the question may not hold those assumptions and may in fact be open to a broader range of answers than the question really allows. However, this framing of the question is such a common cliche or archetype that it probably doesn’t occur to them.

So what would a better question be? My first suggestion would be:

“What makes life meaningful to you?”

However, in the interests of fairness, this arguably contains other assumptions.

  • That life does not have the same meaning for every person
  • That there are thing(s) which make life meaningful to this person

So perhaps we should first be asking whether someone believes life has meaning and whether it is singular or multifarious, before going on to ask the relevant subsequent questions.

“Your” a pedant

Perhaps the difference between these questions seems pedantic, but the usual phrasing of the question, “What is the meaning of life?” biases the answers towards prescriptive, external meaning and against descriptive, existential meaning.

I find the latter more helpful and more practical.

I suspect the phrase “What is the meaning of life?” is popular in cultures with a strong monotheistic influence which presupposes a prescriptive answer. “What makes life meaningful to you?” or the longer approach of several questions still leaves plenty of room for religious people to describe how their religion gives their life meaning, without dictating that it must be the only way a person can find meaning.

“What is the meaning of life?” might still be a good question if you are consulting a guru.

If, on the other hand, you’re trying to get to know an acquaintance better, it might be better to ask “What makes life meaningful to you?”

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Letter asking MP to support the climate and ecological emergency bill https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/letter-asking-mp-to-support-the-climate-and-ecological-emergency-bill/ https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/letter-asking-mp-to-support-the-climate-and-ecological-emergency-bill/#respond Fri, 04 Sep 2020 10:18:17 +0000 https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/?p=2017 Dear Michelle, I’m writing to ask you to support the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill. The details of this are explained at: https://www.ceebill.uk/ “This Bill…

Dear Michelle,

I’m writing to ask you to support the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill. The details of this are explained at: https://www.ceebill.uk/

“This Bill outlines the path needed to avoid the catastrophe outlined by the United Nations… it is farsighted aiming to protect those at risk now and in the future.”

It is the most basic and fundamental responsibility of the government to protect their citizens from harm. This bill provides a clear path forwards on this difficult problem. I believe concerted effort and new thinking is required if we are to stand a chance of protecting ourselves, our children and future generations.

You may respond that you are unable to act due to your role or your party and the rules which they impose. But if you are truly powerless to support this I wonder in what sense you can represent your constituents, rather than your party.

I urge you to give this serious consideration, to do the right thing to protect and conserve life. I believe those who support this bill will find themselves on the right side of history.

Yours sincerely,

James Bradbury

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Advice for councils looking to encourage cycling https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/advice-for-councils-looking-to-encourage-cycling/ https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/advice-for-councils-looking-to-encourage-cycling/#respond Sun, 26 Jul 2020 20:23:32 +0000 https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/?p=2004 Wiltshire council asked residents to give their opinion on how cycling can be encouraged in the county. This is my response.

Wiltshire council asked residents to give their opinion on how cycling can be encouraged in the county. This is my response.

What would a more cycle friendly Wiltshire look like?

The majority of people will use a bicycle regularly for at least some of their local journeys. Not simply cycling enthusiasts like myself, but those going to work, to the shops, to school. People of all ages and abilities will cycle regularly because it is convenient, safe and healthy. They won’t call themselves cyclists any more than a person walking to the shops would call themselves a walker. They’re simply people trying to get somewhere.

How can we make this come about?

The period of lockdown earlier this year saw a large increase in the numbers of people cycling. Some of these may be because they had more free time or wanted to avoid buses and trains, but I believe a substantial proportion took to the roads by bike because of reduced motor traffic. Motor traffic makes cycling noisy, stressful, polluted and causes real and subjective danger. I believe it is the main factor in preventing more people from cycling.

To change this I propose:

  • Anything to reduce motor vehicle use, especially for short journeys is to be encouraged. Solutions can be as diverse as better walking routes to the shops, congestion charging, alternating days when different people are allowed to drive, improving the bus services so people don’t need to drive, partially closing some roads to prevent through traffic but still allow deliveries, etc.
  • A total ban on expanding motor vehicle facilities. No new roads, no new car parks. Work should be limited to maintenance of existing facilities only.
  • Provide cycle lanes physically separated from motor traffic with barriers or an entirely different route. They must be continuous, not forcing cyclists to stop every few meters to give way. They must be smooth enough and well-maintained. They must take people all the way to places they need to go – work, shops, school, railway station. If they don’t meet all those criteria then few cyclists will use them and the money will be wasted.
  • Where separated cycle lanes are not possible, speed limits for motor traffic should be reduced. The narrower the road, the more the speed limit should be reduced. It can be done with signage and cameras or with traffic calming measures such as speed bumps with gaps for bicycles. This improves safety for all and reduces pollution. It may also encourage motor traffic to prefer other, larger roads or motorways.

What are the cycling initiatives in Wiltshire / UK / Europe that we should be aware of?

Besides the opinion of myself and other local cyclists, any new cycling infrastructure should take into account the advice of those with more experience in this area, for example:

  • Sustrans can provide detailed guidance on how to design infrastructure.
  • Cycling UK (formerly CTC) have sensible policies regarding planning to encourage uptake of cycling.
  • This well-researched blog discusses and describes the best of Dutch cycling infrastructure and why it works.

What is holding back the take up of cycling across the county?

A proper survey would give better answers, but, in order of importance, my best guesses are:

  1. Lack of safety and subjective safety, mainly due to motor traffic.
  2. Perceived lack of fitness/skills or embarrassment about not looking the part
  3. Inconvenience of bike storage/security and the need to arrive looking smart

How would we break down those barriers?

  1. As above, reduce motor traffic or physically separate cyclist from it. Failing that, widen roads and reduce speed limit.
  2. Publicity, education (e.g.: https://bikeability.org.uk/) and encouragement for electric bikes.
  3. Better parking and washing facilities, improving understanding culture of people being at work slightly dishevelled.

How do we better connect our communities with cycle routes?

Think about the ordinary journeys people make every day from end to end.

With limited resources, it is better to provide a few safe, useful, complete routes with facilities at each destination than to create a multitude of new routes which are not safe or useful.

It is about quality rather than quantity.

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Comparing tyres and pressures https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/comparing-tyres-and-pressures/ https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/comparing-tyres-and-pressures/#respond Mon, 06 Jul 2020 16:55:14 +0000 https://thinks.jamesbradbury.co.uk/?p=2000 I have compared a tough fast-touring Schwalbe Marathon Greenguard 25mm tyre with a Michelin Pro 4 Endurance 28mm.

Now that I have a power meter in the rear hub of my road bike I can compare not only my own efforts, but how much various bits of kit slow me down. In this case, I have compared a tough fast-touring Schwalbe Marathon Greenguard 25mm tyre with a Michelin Pro 4 Endurance 28mm. The latter should have lower rolling resistance by some 7W if the laboratory results from bicyclerollingresistance.com are to be believed.

However, those tests are done on a checker plate drum in controlled conditions. In some ways that’s good because it removes a lot of noise from other factors that you’d get in the real world. However, I’m interested in getting some real-world data, that applies more directly to me and the bumpy roads I normally ride. I ran my own rather inexact experiment as follows:

Route: 3.2km climb up “Road hill climb” through Ditteridge. I didn’t measure the descent as it depends more on wind resistance.
Power: 200W average. A power I can consistently and repeatedly produce for the time it takes to climb this hill.
Wheels: Front wheel only changed. I could’ve changed the rear as well, but that would’ve taken all day.
Measurement: The total lap time for climbing the hill. With consistent power this should show any differences in the drag of the set up.

Possible confounding factors

  • Wind – at a couple of points on the climb there was a headwind which seemed to increase around the middle of the session. I can’t be sure how much difference this made. Ideally I’d do this on a still day.
  • Road surface inconsistencies – try as I might, I can’t be sure I took exactly the same route up the hill each time. When cars passed me I may have been forced over rougher patches of road for a moment.
  • Different hubs – I didn’t bother changing the tyres over to use the same rim and hub, so the Schwalbe was on my recently-serviced SON Delux hub. I guess there’s a slight extra weight and possibly drag penalty for the Schwalbe tyre.
  • Variable power output – While the average power over the climb was 200W +/- 1W, I couldn’t stay at exactly 200W all the way up with varying gradient and gear changes. 200W is obviously a lot faster on the flatter sections than the climbs, so there is more than one way of doing it. Arguably it may be faster to put out most of that 200W allowance on the steepest parts when less is being lost in wind resistance.
  • Psychology/Placebo effect – Although I’m not conscious of riding differently, I may have tried harder to steer a straight line and stay on the smoothest bit of road with some climbs than others.

With those caveats out of the way, here are the results.


TyrePressure (PSI)Lap powerLap timeRelative drag (Watts)
Schwalbe Marathon Greenguard 25mm9520000:13:2113
Schwalbe Marathon Greenguard 25mm8019900:13:3116
Schwalbe Marathon Greenguard 25mm7019900:13:2715
Schwalbe Marathon Greenguard 25mm6019900:13:1412
Michelin Pro4 Endurance 28mm8519900:13:0810
Michelin Pro4 Endurance 28mm7019900:13:1211
Michelin Pro4 Endurance 28mm6520000:13:1412
Michelin Pro4 Endurance 28mm*5819900:13:1111
Michelin Pro4 Endurance 28mm5819900:13:059
* Had to brake due to a turning vehicle.
Av. Marathon Greenguard00:13:23
Av. Pro4 Endurance00:13:09
Time diff per 100km (uphill) per tyre00:07:01
The raw data copied from my Strava ride. Recorded on a Garmin Edge 500 using a PowerTap hub. “Relative drag” is based on my dodgy reverse-use of the Bike Calculator and is only useful for comparison within this table, if at all.


The results aren’t as clear as I’d hoped, but I think the technique roughly works. Climbing at a consistent power and measuring the time did show some consistent results. The Michelin Pro 4 endurance tyre with a plain Shimano 105 hub was faster every time than the Schwalbe Marathon Greenguard on a SON Delux dynamo hub (disconnected). However, the difference is only a few seconds and multiplying this up to a 100km for two wheels would result in a longer ride by less than 15 minutes.

That number only really makes sense if the whole of that 100km was uphill, like my test. Downhill, tyre rolling resistance is small compared to air resistance. Perhaps a better estimate for a real 100km would be an extra ten minutes per 100km using the tougher Marathon tyres. On second thoughts, multiplying up like that would also multiply up my errors and confounding factors, so I ought to run a better experiment before declaring such a difference.

Future improvements

  • There’s no noticeable drag from either hub, but I could obviously improve the experiment by actually changing the tyre between runs. This would also mean the rim/hub weight wouldn’t affect the climb.
  • I think most of the runs were made with higher than ideal pressure for my weight. At 63kg I’m fairly light and so prefer lower pressures. If I did this again I’d try to work out a good pressure for each tyre and stick with it.
  • Repeated runs. Gusts of wind and wobbling around slightly rougher bits of ground could be averaged out if I repeat the test several times for each set up and take the total time (excluding descents).
  • Fit the tyres to both wheels. This should show twice the effect, maybe more as there’s more weight on the rear wheel. I’d only need to change the tyres once during the session, so it shouldn’t take too long.
  • Ride on a day with virtually no wind. At times this seemed to make a big difference, albeit for a couple of seconds, so removing it should be easy enough.

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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 https://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…

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 😉


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 https://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…

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 a slightly higher risk of death in road accidents than cyclists, 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 from sedentary lifestyles is so much 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 https://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…

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 while 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. But without that research and analysis, 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.

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.

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.

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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 https://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…

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 https://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…

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 https://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…

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.


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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