People always say that there is a rash of roadworks in the spring, not because the roads need repairing after the wear and tear of winter, but because local authority transport departments realise that they have still got a big chunk of change in their budget - which must be spent before the end of the financial year or funding will be cut for the next one. Spreading cynicism around is an antisocial habit, so I will only say that I hope it is not true. And that I hope they won't leave it till March to start work round my way.
It is well and truly pothole season. I don't know how many holes there are in Blackburn, Lancashire, but I bet I could pretty quickly tot up 4,000 in the roads in my borough. In places where they have real winters, entire stretches of asphalt can be deformed, crevassed and cratered by "frost heave", but I have yet to hear of distressed surfaces here being blamed on "the wrong sort of temperature". Instead, it is chiefly rain that seems to do the damage - rain and heavy bus traffic. Most of the time, cyclists gain considerably by sharing bus lanes, but in these winter months the buses give the bit of road we use a proper pounding.
All it takes is one wet day and on the way home holes will have opened up that weren't there in the morning, a debris of gravel strewn across the blacktop like spilt muesli. Only less wholesome, obviously. Potholes are a real menace to cyclists, responsible for everything from buckled wheels to broken teeth, and worse. They have a particularly nasty habit of opening up beside manhole covers, creating vertiginous, sharp-edged ravines ready to swallow bikes whole and spit their riders out well-chewed. Most treacherous of all is the "dark and stormy night" pothole, which lurks cunningly concealed as an innocuous puddle when it is, in fact, a monster of a black lagoon.
Local authorities do have a statutory responsibility to make swift repairs to any surface that might constitute a hazard, and generally they respond with alacrity. Not so surprising when you measure the price of filling a hole against the cost of litigation. Unfortunately, all too often, they effect a temporary repair with a species of asphalt that resembles a black molasses cakemix. It only has to look like rain for this friable material to become so much grit in the gutter again.
The only tactic open to the long-suffering cyclist, who could be excused for wondering whether the US Air Force had decided to use the route of the No 29 for a spot of carpet-bombing practice, is to report the holes. Cycle campaigns used to provide ready-addressed postcards for the purpose, but times have moved on: the CTC has just launched an online service (www.fillthathole.org.uk), which is just peachy to use. Try it and, I promise, you'll soon be going out of your way just to find holes. Here's to more roadworks.
I am a weekend mountain-biker but have been thinking about getting a new bike to commute on - a hybrid, or a town bike. However, I have just been roped in to do a triathlon relay race in the summer for the cycling leg (40km), and this has led me to think whether what I really want is, in fact, a racer.
I am worried it would be too flimsy to use on city streets, but fear that a town bike would be too heavy or slow when it comes to the race. I am now thoroughly confused. Any suggestions?
Ian O'Gara, via email
Trying to do 40km at speed on a hybrid will be no fun. You won't look the part much either. Plenty of people commute on racing, or "road", bikes. They are robust enough, but they will require a bit more care and maintenance than a utility bike; and you should use mudguards through the winter (clip-ons are fine).
There are also lots of bikes designed for "cyclo-sportives" (challenge rides): they look like racing bikes, but are more comfortable and demand a less "head-down" position.
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