12 things that have changed since cycling in the ’80s



It’s been a long time since I last rode a bike on the road, at least for any length of time. Probably around 30 years. While I like to consider myself a very sporty person, cycling is one thing that I’ve never really fancied doing in London. It just doesn’t seem that much fun with all the traffic on the road.

But since taking delivery of my first E-Bike (the £1600 Volt Pulse) I’ve decided to get back in the saddle and give cycling another go. I’ve quite enjoyed it (having a motor for those north London streets definitely helps), but here’s what I’ve learned from regular road cycling over the last few weeks:

1. Bike seats are really hard – Perhaps it’s because my first bike was a Chopper which had a nice large saddle and was very comfortable, but I’ve got a very numb bum indeed from the saddle on this bike and I don’t think it’s any harder than any other bike. Maybe it’s like when you learn to play the guitar and the tips of your fingers ache until you get used to it.

2 Bikes are difficult to climb onto – Is it just me or is getting on a bike a lot more difficult than it used to be? I’m sure it must be to do with ageing, but whereas I can still run, play football and swim regularly, getting on a bike for me is actually very difficult. I’ve taken to jumping on it from behind like an unruly horse, rather than swinging my leg around the saddle! And yes before you ask the saddle isn’t too high for the bike.

3. Traffic is ridiculous – I know it’s stating the bleeding obvious, but there are cars everywhere and they’re very scary. In a large car, other cars simply don’t chance it. On a bike you are literally bottom of the food-chain it seems and fair game for everyone to pull out in front of or open the car door into. Thankfully nothing’s happened yet (I’ve just given a lot of drivers my Paddington hard stare) but can understand why safety organisations encourage the Dutch Reach technique of opening car doors.

4. Speed-bumps aren’t my friend – In a reasonably big car I simply glide over speed-bumps. Not so on a bike. It feels like every large speed-bump is like a mini mountain I have to hurdle. As for pot holes, don’t even get me started. They’re the arch-enemy.  Continue reading

Are dockless bikes the future for city transport?

Ofobike48.jpgAlthough I’m not a cyclist by any means, I am fascinated by the culture around cycling. In particular, the whole rise of dockless bikes systems which I must admit I knew nothing about until I met up with the guys from Ofo.

It’s actually a fascinating company. Started in China about four years, Ofo (so called because the letters look a little like a person cycling) is now available in 20 countries and around 250 cities (Sheffield being the latest one in the UK, following on from the roll out in Cambridge, Oxford, Norwich and parts of London).

Using the app, you can locate the bright yellow bikes on the street (they are shown as yellow dots on the map). As long as you’ve got your credit card details stored, you can then unlock the bike by scanning in its QR code.

Prices seem very good: 50p for half an hour (compared with £2 on a Boris Bike) and the bike itself is lightweight with a shopping basket, lights (powered by a dynamo) and three gears – good enough for most areas of London.

The only downside is that the punctureless tyres are a little hard which can make the ride a bit of a bone shaker, especially if you are going over cobbled streets.

You can read my full review here: https://www.shinyshiny.tv/2018/01/review-ofo-dockless-bicycle-system.html

 

‘Going back to nature’ in Nissan’s X-Trail SUV?!

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‘Let’s offroad’, said no one in a Nissan X-Trail, ever

Yesterday I ditched my 21st century gadgets and reverted to my inner caveman. I left the comfort of my warm home office and instead found myself learning how to use a type of fungus to light my own fires on an exceptionally cold day in Sussex (I think I’m still thawing out now.)

Only I didn’t. Not really. Basically it was all an elaborate, tongue-in-cheek publicity stunt to link Nissan’s latest 2 litre X-Trail SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle) to the concept of Adventure with a capital A. Nevermind, that the biggest adventure this particular 4×4 will face is probably a trip to the admittedly quite steep Marks and Spencer’s car park in north London’s Muswell Hill.

The idea is that this is a vehicle for rugged, bearded, check shirt wearing, adventurer types who love nothing better than foraging for their own food and slinging a bit of roadkill on the back seat for supper. Not (of course) a relatively cheap and cheerful SUV which people will buy for the higher driving position and large amounts of legroom (as well as the fact there is the possibility of a dog-friendly edition for pet owners. See here).

OK I get it. But I must say that really I would much rather sit inside in front of a warm log fire, lit quickly with a Zippo, than rummaging around for bits of twigs and getting my hands dirty in dark bits of fungus that look suspiciously like sheep poo. In the same way as I would much rather make a call on my mobile than tie two bits of string together and put a tin can on either end.

Given the age we live in though, it’s perhaps not surprising to hear that there are even companies that specialise in these ‘back to nature’ excursions, including the one we were with: Hunt, Gather, Cook. A kind of culinary paintball for angst-ridden Londoners.

Founded around seven years ago by a guy who left a chef’s job in the capital and who described himself as a ‘fire enthusiast’ (don’t we call them arsonists), it specialises in taking people into the wilderness where they can learn different animal slaughter techniques. Nice.

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For a man who had to hide in the bushes with three quarter length trousers and no socks in virtually sub-zero temperatures, the ‘bearded hipster’ was a surprisingly cheerful chap!

Thankfully as a vegetarian, I was spared having to kill any innocent creatures to satiate any primal needs. Instead, the biggest challenge I faced was finding a ‘bearded hipster’ in a farmer’s field, see picture above, and making a fire so that he could have a much needed soya cappuccino. It’s all in day’s work!

But the day wasn’t just spent larking around the countryside making fires and rescuing pretend, stranded hipsters. As well as genuinely taking the X-Trail off road – albeit on the nursery slopes compared to the black runs intended for more serious SUVs – I also interviewed a guy who is setting off in a modified Nissan Leaf on the 10,0000 mile Mongol Rally with only his wife for company. Now that’s a brave man.

You can read the story about the Mongol Rally here: http://www.techdigest.tv/2017/04/adventurer-chris-ramsey-to-undertake-10000-mile-mongol-rally-in-nissan-leaf-electric-car.html. Full YouTube video to follow. 

 

The Grand Tour review – why Amazon Prime has breathed new life into Clarkson and Co

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With Grand Tour, Hammond, Clarkson and May show there’s still life in the old dogs yet

Let’s face it, it’s rare that TV programmes live up to the hype, especially ones featuring three post middle-age blokes talking about cars. But while I thought Top Gear (TG) was getting a bit stale and boring, Grand Tour (GT) – which aired or at least appeared on Amazon Prime on Friday – seems to have rejuvenated Clarkson, Hammond and May.

Maybe they are just sticking two fingers up to the BBC which had no choice in choosing not to renew the Top Gear contract after Clarkson’s fracas with Top Gear producer, Oisin Tymon. Certainly in the opening studio sequences they played up to the fact that May has been fired from just about everything he had ever done and that Hammond’s record at keeping jobs isn’t that much better, all of which was to make the point that Clarkson wasn’t (technically) fired from the BBC.

In a sense, this made the three of them seem much more real and vulnerable. There was a camaraderie among them that’s always been there, but somehow seemed much stronger, like this time it mattered much more. That they have a point to prove.

They all knew their roles on the show – Clarkson the pompous, overblown buffoon, Hammond the over-eager school boy and May the bumbling, thoughtful one. And they played them out to perfection.

There was a light heartedness, comic theme running throughout the show too although at times the jokes did wear a bit thin, especially after the ‘death’ of the first guest – did we really need them to pretend another two reserve guests ‘died’ to get the joke? And similarly the pretend fight with the Americans in the audience over which nation has the best airforce also got a bit dull.

That said, there were some genuinely funny moments including the ‘Eboladrome’, a new racing track circuit that looks like the shape of the Ebola virus, and some of the shows’ ‘stings’ – idents for new features – which were so laughably bad, they were good.

The premise of Grand Tour is of course that the three presenters pitch up in a different location for each show. For the first one it was California, USA while next week it’s off to Johannesburg in South Africa. It’s a clever ploy to get people in those countries involved directly in the show and no doubt drive Amazon sales in those territories too, but it does make for some exciting backdrops, especially the opening aerial shots of this first episode (called Holy Trinity) which were mind blowing in their expanse, as well as their expense.

Which brings us to the show’s production values. I don’t know that much about 4K technology (for a full technical explanation read this piece here in Forbes from my tech journalist friend John Archer), but I do know it looked truly spectacular. The opening sequences across the desert in California were breathtaking as were the shots of the high end hybrids (Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche) around the race circuit in the Algarve. In fact, in places, Grand Tour was truly cinematic with the super wide aspect ratio used to great effect.

Was this the best piece of TV ever? No of course not. In my opinion it was a little too long and a little self indulgent in places. But there’s no doubt that GT was much better than the BBC’s latest TG with Chris Evans, Matt Le Blanc and the rest and better than the last few series of Top Gear featuring Clarkson, Hammond and May too. It looked extraordinary, like the kind of TV programme you might expect from a cash-rich e-commerce company keen to break into the broadcasting arena.

And while the BBC which is funded by the licence payer may not be quaking in its boots, other commercial broadcasters like ITV should be more than a little bit worried about the new broadcasting, or more specifically video streaming, landscape.

The Grand Tour Official Trailer below:

#Ford Driving Skills for Life day at London’s ExCel

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Me dressed as an idiot trying to recreate the feeling of being drunk at the Ford Driving Skills for Life event

Today I’ve been at The ExCel Centre in London’s Docklands on an interesting and educational driving day held by Ford. Called Ford Driving Skills for Life, it’s an event aimed at younger drivers who are more likely to crash their vehicles in their first 12 months of holding a licence than at any other time in in their lives, largely through inexperience.

The event has been going for 4 years in the UK but around 10 in the US and it’s a good opportunity for young drivers to improve their skills in a safe environment in situations that they may not yet have encountered. It also shows them the dangers of using a mobile device at the wheel and how drugs and drink can impair their driving performance.

Various activities were on offer free of charge to those who had pre-registered and although I didn’t try them all out, I did try out a few including the one above where I had to simulate the effect of drinking by literally putting on a pair of ‘beer goggles’ and various weights and restrictors around my joints including elbows, ankles and neck. I then had to try walking along a white line before kicking a football at a target as fast as possible.

Not surprisingly, it was all a little bit tricky especially the kicking the football bit which I completely missed first time round – although some people who see me play 5 a side on a Thursday night will say there’s nothing unusual in that!

I also tried out the drugs simulation kit which involved wearing noise cancelling headphones which made some strange sounds, a different pair of goggles and a device that was strapped to my wrist which vibrated the whole time. Very odd, although like the earlier drunk test it didn’t improve my football skills at all and my balance was even worse.

In another activity – which is quite topical given the recent decision to increase penalty points and fines for using a mobile phone while driving – I had to drive around a course with various distractions.

One of these was to try and take a selfie while navigating around a course of cones – I just about managed it at very slow speeds but it was blurred and I can only begin to imagine the carnage I would have caused trying to do it at 70mph rather than 10mph.

I also had to tune the radio into 5Live while turning the wheel and turn the volume up full which was particularly tricky as well as distracting. I will upload the video on Monday so you can see me completely distracted behind the wheel.

I also interviewed quite a few people. Here’s an interview I did with Eloise Peabody-Rolf, Young Driver Ambassador of I Am Road Smart all about the dangers young people face when getting behind a wheel for the first time.

Stopping phoning/texting while driving. Can technology provide an answer?

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This week police begin a clampdown on using a mobile phone while you are driving – and not before time. This follows a series of high profile cases including a lorry driver who killed four people in a car (a woman and her three children) because he was scrolling through his phone looking for music while driving.

As a result of this case, and many more, the law is changing from next year so that anyone caught using a mobile phone while driving will get a fine of £200 and 6 points on their licence, rather than the current 3 points and £100 fine. It’s all a step in the right direction, though arguably still not enough of a deterrent.

But it got me thinking. I seem to remember a conversation I had with Ford a couple of years about technology they were working on to block the driver from being able to make/receive calls, texts etc while they are at the wheel of a car without preventing passengers from using their phones.

It strikes me that, generally speaking, car manufacturers have done an awful lot in helping people integrate their mobile phones into cars, primarily for entertainment purposes, but perhaps not enough to deter them from using them to make and receive calls.

Likewise, telephone manufacturers make it awfully tempting for some people to check their emails etc. at the wheel thanks to pings and chimes that aren’t always that easy to switch off.

Personally, I think the only way you are going to prevent people from using their phones at the wheel is at the very least to make the phone default to the Do Not Disturb setting so the driver isn’t tempted to take a quick peek at the screen.

But I think that’s probably not enough. A much better solution would be to introduce a jamming system that prevents the driver from using the phone at all.

I’ve been reading about a solution here which was first announced four years ago, but I wondered if any car manufacturers have actually implemented such a system yet. I’m not familiar with any solutions yet, but hopefully it’s only a matter of time before common sense prevails.

Driving the Audi Q2 around Suffolk on a perfect Autumn day

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Life’s not bad sometimes. Yesterday was a great day, one of those crisp but cold autumnal days, a perfect driving day. What made it even better was that I spent it in Suffolk – a part of England I know well and love – test driving the new Audi Q2.

I’m going to write a much longer piece on the Q2 on Tech Digest and Shiny Shiny on Monday but suffice to say for now it’s an interesting compact SUV, Audi’s first model in this new sector, designed to compete with models like the new Mercedes GLA series of cars and the Nissan Juke.

Not only did I get to drive around my old Suffolk stomping ground (pictured above is the Q2 in Southwold next to some splendid beach huts), but I also stayed in the amazing Wilderness Reserve at Sibton Park, close to Yoxford. Set in a 5,000 acre estate (yes 5,000 you did read that correctly), it’s an amazingly remote location where you have to get a golf buggy from the country house entrance to your cottage – that’s after you’ve driven half a mile down the driveway!

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The scallop on Aldeburgh beach, a tribute to the composer Benjamin Britten who walked along this beach in the afternoons

I also checked out the outdoor pool (see below) on the estate during my stay, leaving my luxurious room in the splendid old walled garden at 6.30 am to wander across moor land to plunge into water that was around 20 degrees (I was told it was heated to 26 degrees which was a lie!), surrounded by sheep and pheasants.

What an invigorating experience that was! And don’t be fooled by the steam in the picture below. With air temperature only around 5 degrees it was cold – honest.

Anyway thanks to Audi for the trip. And great to make new friends including Dad blogger John Adams and fashion influencer/Instagrammer Rahul Patel. See you at the next one guys!

You can see a video on YouTube that I made about all the tech on board the Audi Q2. 

You can read my review of the Audi Q2 here

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The outdoor pool at the Wilderness Reserve in Sibton, near Yoxford, Suffolk. Not massive but it’s not often you swim next to sheep and pheasants!

 

 

Loving the new Range Rover Evoque. Never thought I’d say that!

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It’s always good to get out the office and sometimes I can’t resist the lure of driving around the Cotswolds testing out new cars. This week I spent some time at the launch of several new motors from Jaguar and Land Rover at the Olde Bell in Hurley, near Maidenhead. These will be on sale in 2016

I’m going to be reporting on the launch for my blog Tech Digest in the next couple of days, particularly around the in car tech. But suffice to say that I was particularly impressed with the new Evoque – a car that I’ve always associated with Footballers’ Wives.

Of course it comes with a lot of tech onboard, but what impressed me most was the handling of the car around the muddy pot-hole ridden Cotswolds villages. A really smooth ride.

Next year also sees the launch of the new Evoque convertible which you can see me pictured in above. Sadly I didn’t get to drive this (it’s a pre-production sample) but I would imagine it will go down very well with the Cheshire set!

You can see the roof going on in this little YouTube clip below: