Social Bike Rides for 2018

With the weather just starting to brighten a little, we thought it was time to start thinking about our social rides programme for the coming year. We have put together a programme of twice monthly rides between March and October, which take place on the first and third Saturdays of each month.

Run by trained ride leaders, our rides are aimed at the cyclist who wants more than a family ride, but who doesn’t want to go as fast as a ‘club run’. We go at a relaxed pace (about 10-12 mph) and the regular rides are generally somewhere between 20 and 30 miles, with a longer ‘Big Wheel’ event in the summer. Each ride passes a café, which gives us the option for a pit stop depending on how the group feels.

We limit rides to 10 people plus ride leaders, which we feel is a manageable size. All rides are published on LetsRide, which is a free to use website run by British Cycling and we encourage everyone to book a place on each ride they want to attend.

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Spokes Member Survey Results 2017

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Last year, we contacted all of our members firstly to ask if you still wanted to remain as members, but also to ask for your feedback on what we do and your thoughts on what our priorities should be going forward. We are delighted to say that the vast majority of you decided to stick with us! So we would like to say thank you – your support means a lot to us!

We asked what you think we should be concentrating our time on. There was a good spread of responses, but your top choices were: lobbying the council for improved cycle facilities (19%); social bike rides (14%); opening up the Newbury to Didcot railway line (8%); and providing Bikeability training for kids. Some of you also suggested some other activities that weren’t on the original list, such as linking up with Dutch cycling groups to learn about best practice in the Netherlands.

We then asked how we should spend our / your money. Our main source of funding is the cycle counts that we undertake three times a year for West Berkshire Council, but we also get occasional donations. The most popular responses were: opening up the Newbury to Didcot railway line (24%); improvements to the Kennet & Avon towpath (18%); the A4 cycle route (13%); and cycle maintenance training (10%). Again, some people put forward some ideas for additional activities, including: a Spokes trip to the Netherlands; links to Harwell / Milton Park; and a cycle link across Greenham Common.

Finally, we asked what you could do to help.  Spokes is a voluntary group and we rely on people being willing to give up their time to help us with our activities. The majority of people who responded to this question (38%) said that they would be willing to help with the cycle count. The next most popular responses was helping with cycle audits (13%). The rest of the responses were fairly evenly split across the other options.

We were really pleased with the responses – many people included messaged of thanks and general support, saying that while they didn’t have the time to help, they appreciated what we were doing, which is nice. The good thing is that many of our existing projects emerged as your top priorities. For example, we are in the process of putting the finishing touches to tour programme of social bike rides for 2018. Also, there has been good progress in reopening the section of the disused railway line between Hermitage and Hampstead Norreys, with land secured and route clearance work completed. Caroline has been overwhelmed with requests from local parents to teach their kid how to ride. We have been met with the Canal and River Trust to highlight the problems on the canal and are putting forward sites where urgent repairs are required, as well as highlighting priorities for future upgrades. Consultation has been undertaken on the first section of the A4 cycle route and contractors are now on site.

Cycle maintenance training is clearly something that we need to give more thought to. As a first step, we are sending some more people on Cytech courses so they can run Dr Bike events.  We did a Dr Bike session last year in the market place, but not many people came along, so perhaps we need a different format and new ways of promoting the event. Unfortunately, our insurance currently limits us to making adjustments rather than carrying out repairs. We will give this some thought, but if anyone has any suggestions, then please do get in touch.

Once again, thank you for responding and for your continuing support – we couldn’t do this without you!

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Make Your New Year’s Resolution Count

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If, like the rest of us, you have put on a few pounds over the festive season, then you may be tempted to make a New Year’s Resolution to lose weight or get fit. Well, we’ve got a better idea: why not do both and give something back to the community by getting on your bike and helping us to get more people to do the same.

Spokes relies on people like you to help with our activities, give us support and provide feedback. Here are 5 ways you can get involved in 2018:

  1. Become a member of Spokes – If you haven’t already done so, then please do sign up.  It costs nothing, we won’t bombard you with emails, you will get great benefits, including discounts at local bike shops, and you’ll get to be part of something amazing! The more supporters we have, the bigger our voice and the more effective we are at lobbying for improvements to local cycling infrastructure. Fill out our on-line membership application form and we will pop your membership card in the post in a few days – it’s as simple as that!
  2. Give us your views – We can only tackle the cycling issues that we are aware of, so if there is something that you feel we should know about, or if you think we could be doing things better then please contact us – we would love to hear from you!
  3. Come to a meeting – We meet on the first Wednesday of the month for a drink and a chat about all matters cycling. Check out our calendar for details of the time and venue. These meetings are informal affairs and all newcomers are most welcome. You can find out more about what we do and what we are working on. Check out the notes from recent meetings to get a flavour of the current hot topics.
  4. Volunteer – We are always on the lookout for people to help us with our activities. For example, we carry out counts of cyclists at various points around West Berkshire three times a year. The information is used by West Berkshire Council to gauge the effectiveness of their cycling policies and investment and the counts are our main source of income. We also have vacancies for social ride leaders, cycle count coordinators and people to help with our projects and events. You don’t need any experience and we can provide training where necessary.
  5. Join the Spokes committee – We know that this sounds like a big, scary commitment, but really it’s not. You don’t need any experience and it won’t take up all your spare time – we promise! Even a couple of hours a month is enough to make a significant contribution. Our committee is elected at our AGM in June each year, but you don’t have to wait until then to express an interest, since we can co-opt new committee members at any time. So if you would like to get involved, then please get in touch. We urgently need to find someone to take over as Secretary as Graham Hunt has recently stood down after 15 years sterling service.
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In Praise of the Cycling Cafe

As autumn heads towards winter and the weather gets colder and wetter, many of us need an extra little incentive to get them out the door and on the bike. Often that comes in the form of a steaming cup of coffee or mug of hot chocolate and a plate of something tasty, whether it’s cheese on toast or a home-made cake.

Fortunately, we are blessed with some wonderful cafés that seem to be strategically placed to meet the needs of a cold and weary cyclist. We’ve listed a few of our favourites below:

  1. Honesty Café, Lambourn – The first of two Honesty cafés to make our list. The Lambourn shop has really friendly staff, excellent coffee and hot chocolate, and the freshly prepared food is very tasty, with a great range of soups, sandwiches and cakes.
    Location: 17 High StreetLambourn, RG17 8XL
    Opening Hours: 0800 – 1600 Monday to Sunday
    Website:  http://www.coffeeshops.honestygroup.co.uk/honesty-lambourn/

  2. Honesty Café, Inkpen Common – Tucked away beside the Crown and Garter pub, it is a lovely place to relax and sample their range of cakes, biscuits, tarts, pastries and preserves.  You can also buy the breads made at the Honesty Bakery.  They serve breakfasts from 8.30 until 10.30 Monday to Sunday and light lunches from 12pm. Cycle parking is provided in front of the pub.
    Location: Great Common Road, Inkpen Common, RG17 9QR
    Opening Hours: 0800 – 1600 Monday to Sunday
    Website: http://www.coffeeshops.honestygroup.co.uk/honesty-inkpen/

  3. The Tea Cosy, Hurstbourne Tarrant – The only café outside West Berkshire to make our list. This hidden gem is tucked behind the car dealership on the north side of the village. As the name would suggest, tea is served in a pot with a knitted cosy and while their sandwiches and hot food are lovely, it’s the cakes that really stand out. Just the ticket before getting back in the saddle for the long climb to Faccombe. Please note that they are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
    Location: The Dene | Hurstbourne TarrantHurstbourne Tarrant, SP11 0AS
    Opening Hours: 0930 – 1700 Wednesday to Sunday

    Website: https://www.facebook.com/theteacosyhurstbourne/

  4. Saddleback Farm Shop, Brightwalton – Situated just off the Wantage Road, it has an excellent café at the back of the shop serving hot and cold meals and a good selection of home-made cakes. With beautiful views over the North Wessex Downs, this makes a great pit stop for bike rides north of Newbury.
    Location: California Farm, Brightwalton, RG20 7HR
    Opening Hours: 0830 – 1700 Monday to Saturday; 1000 – 1530 Sunday
    Website: http://www.saddlebackfarmshop.co.uk/kitchen/tea-room/

  5. Hampstead Norreys Community Shop & Café – Hidden in a little courtyard next to the church, this provides a warm welcome for weary cyclists. Serving delicious foods for breakfast and lunch, they also offer deli items, locally made cakes, tea and barista coffee. As well as being home-made, lots of the ingredients are home grown too. The only downside is that they close at 12pm on Sundays!
    Location: Church Street, The Manor CourtyardHampstead, Norreys, RG18 0TD
    Opening Hours: 0800 – 1900 Monday to Friday; 0830 – 1600 Saturday; 0900 – 1200 Sunday
    Website: http://www.hncs.co.uk/cafe/

  6. Blackbird Café, Chapel Row – Situated next to the Bladebone Inn, the owners bake daily to stock their cosy little café full of yummy cakes and goodies. Their breakfasts and lunches are good too and are made using local, seasonal ingredients. Just remember that they are closed on Sundays and Mondays.
    Location: Chapel Row, Bucklebury, RG7 6PD
    Opening Hours: 0830 – 1430 Tuesday to Friday;  0900 – 1430 Saturday
    Website: http://www.theblackbirdcafe.co.uk

We realise that this is far from an exhaustive list, so if we’ve missed any cafés that you would like to recommend, then please get in touch on Facebook or Twitter and let us know.

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Campaign to Maintain Kennet & Avon Towpath

Here at Spokes, we’ve become increasingly concerned about the sustained lack of maintenance of the Kennet and Avon Towpath, particularly the rural stretches out towards Marsh Benham and to the east of Colthrop. Despite forming part of National Cycle Network Route 4, the path has been left to degrade to such an extent that we now consider it to be inherently unsafe.

When the path was originally constructed it was 1.5 – 2m wide for most of its length, even in the more rural areas. However, the grass has encroached to such an extent that it is now less than 0.3m wide in places, with a pronounced lip on either side. This makes it virtually unusable by anyone on a bike, since it is very easy for a wheel to catch the lip and unseat the rider. We have spoken to several people who indicated that they or a member of their party had fallen off on these sections.

The path also suffers from poor drainage. Given that it is nothing more than a rut in the grassy bank, it is not surprising that it fills with water whenever it rains. This conceals the true extent of the hazard and leaves a muddy, slippery mess as it dries, which makes it even more difficult to navigate on a bike. What’s more, there are several sections where large notches have been eroded in the bank and cut into the path.  If you are not looking for them, then it would be very easy to ride into one and fall straight into the canal.

This is completely unacceptable. If this was a road, it would not be allowed to fall into such disrepair. Cyclists should expect similar maintenance standards of maintenance to be applied to ensure their safety on these sections of the National Cycle Network, which is popular with leisure cyclists and families.

We are aware that developer contributions have just been made available from the Newbury Racecourse development to improve the section of the towpath between Newbury and Thatcham, which is very welcome and we look forward to these sections being repaired and upgraded.  However, this should not be allowed to distract from maintenance liabilities on the other sections of route.

We appreciate that funding and resources may be tight, but the Canal and River Trust still have a duty of care to the users of their towpath, including cyclists. We have contacted the Waterway Manager for the Kennet & Avon to highlight the problem and to ask that they take urgent action. We have also suggested that they could pool resources with Sustrans and West Berkshire Council. The Council has been very responsive with Cllr Ardagh-Walter inviting the Waterway Manager to the next meeting of the Cycle Forum in December and suggesting that we could undertake a more detailed audit of the route to help the Trust.

If you would like to add your voice to the campaign, we would suggest that you contact the Canal & River Trust directly by emailing: enquiries.kennetavon@canalrivertrust.org.uk

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