Canal and River Trust seeks your views on towpath use and possible traffic calming

Towpath sign

Our canal towpath network represents an incredible recreational resource that is enjoyed by millions of visitors every year. The Kennet and Avon is an excellent case in point, since it is used by cyclists, walkers, runners, boaters, anglers, canoeists, and even the odd horse pulling craft along the water.

Having so many different activities in close proximity means that people must share the space considerately if they are going to get along. Unfortunately, there is always the odd inconsiderate person who upsets the delicate balance of give and take, and recently there have been reports of runners and cyclists charging along canal towpaths at top speed in order to set the best link times on Strava.

The Canal and River Trust has tried to respond to the problem by creating the Towpath Code, which clearly states that cyclists should slow down and give way to pedestrians and other waterway users. This has been promoted through the ‘Share the Space, Drop Your Pace’ campaign.

However, this has not been sufficient to completely eradicate the problem and in some places the Trust has carried out trails of speed reducing features such as speed bumps and chicanes in an effort to make the code self-enforcing. Unfortunately, these have the potential to cause additional problems, particularly for wheelchair and pushchair users. They also create hazards for users who may not be expecting them, particularly when using towpaths at night.

In order to get a better understanding of the extent of the problem and to identify possible solutions, the Trust has decided to carry out a survey of towpath users.  This asks:

  • how you currently use the towpath network
  • if you have had any negative experiences whilst using the network (e.g. crashes, near misses, or confrontations)
  • whether or not you use technology to track your speed when using towpaths
  • your impressions of how fast people generally travel on towpaths
  • your thoughts on chicanes, barriers and any other potential speed reducing features

The survey takes about 10 minutes to complete and by giving your views, you will be entered into a prize draw to win one of three £50 Wiggle vouchers. The consultation runs until 20 January.

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What parents need to know about buying children’s bikes at Christmas

Chidren's bikes

Although sometimes it seems as though every kid just wants the latest games console, tablet or smartphone, bikes are still a popular Christmas present.  At Spokes, we would always recommend that you buy from your local bike shop (remember Spokes members get 10% discount on new bikes). They have the best products, they can advise you about the correct size bike for your child, they will assemble it and carry out safety checks, and they will set up the bike correctly for you. They will also offer a free 6 week check and make any adjustments after the bike has gone through its initial bedding-in period.

However, we recognise that many parents will still look to on-line retailers or places like Argos, Tesco and Halfords to get their bikes. The disadvantage of buying from these places is that the bike will require an element of self-assembly, or at best will have been hastily put together by a harassed shop assistant. As a result, we have seen many bikes that have been assembled incorrectly and in some cases, they have been in a condition that puts the child at risk of serious injury.

Some of the faults that we have seen include:

  • Forks put on back to front.
  • Loose handlebars and stems.
  • Wheels not properly secured.
  • Tyres not properly seated on the rims.
  • Tyres on the wrong way round.
  • Brakes blocks misaligned / rubbing.
  • Brakes not engaging properly when pulled.
  • Brake levers not at the correct angle.
  • Pedals cross-threaded (remember the left pedal has a reverse thread!)
  • Loose / misaligned saddles.
  • Poorly indexed gears.

The good news is that these can easily be checked and sorted before your child gets on the bike. There is a wealth of information, advice and step-by-step videos available on-line at madegood.org. However, if you still have concerns about the safety of your child’s bike, then we would suggest that you take it to your local bike shop. They can check it for you and advise about any repairs / work that needs to be carried out.

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Hermitage to Hampstead Norreys Cycle Route

One of our long-standing aspirations has been to reopen the former railway line to the north of Newbury to make it available for cyclists and other non-motorised users. Although some sections have been built on, much of the track bed and bridges remain in tact and would be an easy conversion. We have been focusing our efforts on the section between Hermitage and Hampstead Norreys, as this offers the greatest potential. Over the last year or so, we have engaged with stakeholders, including West Berkshire Council, landowners and parish councillors, and we are pleased to report that good progress is now being made.

Previously the scheme had been held up by a land ownership issue of a small parcel of land to the south of the M4 bridge at Hermitage. The landowners, Highways England, have now agreed a way forward to allow public access by way of a permitted path instead of transferring ownership to West Berkshire Council. The Section 18 Order has been signed to stop up the highway, and the council are waiting for Highways England’s service providers, Kier, to approve the design and specification under a Section 6 Agreement.

All going well, construction is programmed for next year. The first part of the scheme will be a new footway on the eastern verge of the B4009 to provide safe passage for all users (pedestrian, equestrian, and cyclists) under the M4 bridge and to connect the disused railway track on both sides. Englefield Estate, the landowner for this section, are supportive of the scheme but have surveyed the railway path and presented a number of conditions regarding maintenance and tree survey work before agreeing to a lease for the permissive path. Talks are ongoing with the council’s Countryside and Rights of Way Team over maintenance agreements but we will hopefully get an agreement in place before too long.

External funding is still required to undertake necessary improvements throughout the route before it opens to the public. This includes: making the bridges safe; carrying out localised repairs to the track; and erecting new sections of fencing. We are hopeful that bids to cover the shortfall will be successful. As we move forward with the scheme, we will be asking for volunteers to help clear vegetation from the old railway line. If you would like to be involved, then please email us at secretary@westberkshirespokes.org.

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Do the M-check

M-check

Thank you to everyone who came along to our Dr Bike in Newbury. We had a steady stream of people bring us bikes with various issues, which ranged from the relatively minor to more serious defects that made the bike unsafe to ride.

The most common faults that we found were:

  • Flat / under-inflated tyres
  • Worn chains
  • Slipping gears
  • Badly adjusted brakes

It is really important to check your bike regularly to ensure that you pick up problems as they occur. This allows you to take corrective action before they get more serious, and extends the useful life of your components. For example, replacing a chain when the ‘stretch’ is 0.75%, means that you only need to replace the chain itself. Wait until it is worn by 1% or more and that could mean a new cassette (rear sprockets) and possibly new chainrings.

Most of us are familiar with the M-bot (respect to Olympic gold medallist Mo Farrah). But how many of you are familiar with the M-check? This is a really useful safety check of all the main working parts on a bike, which traces an ‘M’ shape. This should be performed once a week, or each time you go out if you ride less frequently. You can download a copy of the M-check leaflet here.

If you want advice on how to carry out routine bike maintenance tasks, then we recommend MadeGood.org, which has an excellent series of videos that guide you through each process step-by-step.

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Dr Bike Comes to Newbury

two people fixing bikes

Just like cars, bikes need regular maintenance in order to keep them running smoothly and keep you safe. However, often people neglect their bikes and only give them some attention when something breaks, or starts making a noise.

Regular maintenance checks can help identify issues as they arise and allow you to carry out timely adjustments or preventative maintenance. This can extend the life of your components and save you money in the long run. Fortunately, most bikes are relatively simple to work on and only require a few basic tools to undertake the most common maintenance tasks.

Spokes has a number of volunteers who have all taken the Cytech Home Mechanics Course and are therefore qualified to make adjustments to bikes and deliver a basic level of tuition to others about routine maintenance. In addition, we have years of experience of tinkering with bikes and even building them from scratch!

So if you have a bike that has squeaky brakes, slipping gears or just want to know how to change a tyre, then bring it down to Newbury Market on Saturday 27 August between 10am and 2pm where our experts will be on hand to carry out checks, make adjustments, or show you how to undertake maintenance checks and carry out basic repairs. The best part is that it is FREE!

If your bike does need new parts, then don’t forget that Spokes members get 10% discount at Banjo Cycles, Bikelux and Specialized Concept Store.

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