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Doc on a bike. NHS, Leicester Med School, Cycling Plus Magazine. LFCC Cyclocross Champion (old gits category). Riding's the best medicine. Follow me on twitter @awkwardcyclist

Friday, May 25, 2012

Pulse Magazine on Cycling

A piece I wrote for the GP's magazine Pulse:

Have you ever recommended exercise to your patients to help their mental health? A study commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation in 2008 showed that 22% of GPs had suggested exercise for mild depression. But do we practice what we preach? We’re working at a time of huge stress for GPs, struggling to cope with the NHS reforms, patient demand, pensions and changes to services. How many of us recommend exercise to help stressed out patients, then jump in the car and sit in a traffic jam on the way to a home visit? There is a growing body of evidence that exercise can help in depression and anxiety. Perhaps as doctors, we should be tapping into that, setting a good example to our patients and helping to reduce our own stress levels.

Whilst long days at the surgery leave little time to get to the gym, there is a simple solution. How about cycling to work? Jonathon Tomlinson, a GP at the Lawson Practice in Hoxton, East London rides to work every day because it is the easiest and quickest way to get to work and visit patients. But that’s not the only reason.  “Exercise shouldn't be a chore. If you work long hours, the only practical solution is to make it part of your day” he says. It’s a philosophy I can identify with and the reason I started commuting by bike myself. But it’s not just about keeping fit. Riding to work energises me for the day ahead, and riding home helps to de-stress me. It appears I’m not the only one. Dr Nick Cavill is an Independent Public Health Consultant: “Anecdotally many cyclists report benefits to mental health- linked to fresh air, being outdoors and a chance to switch off from other worries.”

After five years of cycling to work, I’m known to many of my patients as the cycling doctor and whilst that initially raised questions as to whether I had been banned from driving or couldn’t afford a car, it now gives me credibility when recommending that patients get more active. Research has shown that doctors’ health practices strongly influence patient behaviour. It isn’t for nothing that they write “Most Doctors Don’t Smoke” on cigarette packets. If I know that cycling helps my stress, I’m more likely to suggest it to my patients and they are more likely to give it a go - patients become more receptive to health promotion counselling from doctors who demonstrate healthy behaviours themselves. Riding a bike to home visits is a highly visible way of showing that I believe in what I say.

Not that it’s always easy – when the rain is pouring down, it’s sometimes tempting to leave the bike in the garage. Even that might represent a missed opportunity. When Patisserie Cyclisme blogger Louise Mullagh was recommended exercise to help with her depression, she took to her bike in all weathers. “It was really good to feel the cold, the rain and to fight against it, it made me be mindful and just exist in that moment. It helped me to lose some of the numbness brought on by the medication.” The message is clear – embrace the British weather, it’s good for you.

Perhaps you have more prosaic reasons for not taking to the saddle. Perhaps you’re worried that the sight of you in Lycra might actually mentally scar your patients rather than help them. What about punctures? Oily chains? Helmet hair? No more excuses! Numerous companies now produce cycling clothing that can be worn without shame in the surgery, puncture-proof tyres keep the flats at bay and bikes are now available with carbon fibre belts instead of the humble chain. Helmet hair might be more difficult, but is a small price to pay for sorting out the rest of your head.

Still not convinced? Whilst cycling improves your psychological well-being, driving actually makes it worse. Research from the University of Sussex showed that commuting by car significantly increased levels of stress, physical tension and blood pressure, especially in congested conditions. That traffic jam again – ever felt frustrated as you sit trapped in your car as a cyclist cruises past in the cycle lane? For the sake of your mental health, you should think about joining them.

Vulpine Cotton High Visibility Gilet

I got to test a Vulpine Gilet - very nice it was too

The high visibility gilet. Undoubtedly practical and safe, almost invariably nasty… until now. Vulpine.cc have decided that not only do we need to be seen on a bike, but that we should also want to be seen. The Cotton Visibility Gilet not only catches the eye of drivers, it also will catch the eye of the discerning cyclist.


Vulpine obviously believe you should enjoy the shopping experience. Not content with a simple polythene bag, the gilet arrives packaged in a matching musette. Matching means lime green - the high visibility part. It’s a bright colour, one that features more subtly in many Vulpine products - doing for green what Rapha has done for pink. The quality of the gilet is instantly obvious, with well finished seams and subtle logos. Constructed from Epic cotton - a fabric made by applying a silicone treatment before weaving, the gilet is water and wind resistant, but highly breathable. The cotton gives the gilet a nice soft feel – this is not a cheap, rustly, plastic mac. The back features a large mesh section to increase the breathability further. There are 3 rear pockets – a practical touch rarely seen on outerwear that certainly beats having to ferret around trying to get things out of the back of a jersey. Scotchlite trims on the pockets, shoulder seams and zip complete the high visibility package.

Extra touches

In use the gilet is very comfortable due to the stretch in the fabric. During a drizzly commute it proved its water resistant credentials and kept my body dry. On a chilly morning ride out to a rural cafĂ©, it proved to be the perfect extra layer over a jersey combined with arm warmers. The fit is snug, if not skin tight, with a long back suiting taller riders – I would consider sizing down if you want a more sleek appearance. One of the joys of this gilet is the little extra touches that you discover as you use it – I hadn’t noticed the hidden red storm flap folded away at the back, until my riding buddy pointed it out to me. The collar is secured by neat magnetic fixings that can be opened one-handed on the road. The brightness of the green is a bit startling at first (which I suppose is the point) but I soon got used to it and started to appreciate standing out more on my commutes.


To be honest, a high visibility gilet would not have been at the top of my shopping list. However, after receiving this Vulpine offering, I’ve hardly ridden without it – the quality literally shines through. It’s a little bit more bulky when packed down compared to some of the lighter weight options out there, but this gilet is such a pleasure to wear, you probably won’t want to stuff it in a pocket.

Score 4.5/5


Excellent quality and comfort, looks great.

Does exactly what it says on the tin – very visible!


Not as light or packable as some.

If you’re not keen on green, it might not be for you.


£95 including shipping from www.vulpine.cc

Friday, May 11, 2012

Chain-L Bike Oil Review

Perhaps the greatest compliment I can give this bike oil that I actually don’t notice it. I applied it to my chain about 6 weeks ago, rode my bike through the horrible weather that we’ve been experiencing recently and errr… that’s it. No squeaking of said chain, no signs of rust forming on the links after I’ve lazily stuck my dripping wet bike in the garage, nothing at all. Completely and utterly boring – long may it remain so!

Developed by a small company in New York, Chain-L was spotted by Rich from Urban Hunter in the bike shops he visited. Having tried some, he loved it and decided to bring it to the UK. You probably only think about your bike chain when it starts to give you trouble – squeaks and creaks, missing gears, clattering on the sprockets. Failing to look after your chain can wreak expensive havoc with your chainrings and cassette, but cleaning and lubing a chain properly is a fairly major task. Chain-L promises to make it a less frequent chore.

The Chain-L oil claims to last for 1000 miles. It is best applied to a new chain to avoid trapping dirt in the moving parts – if applied to an existing chain it will need a thorough clean first. Applying the lube is a bit time consuming – it’s very thick and it is necessary to warm it up by putting the bottle in some hot water before using it.  If it is a new chain, it is best to apply the Chain-L before fitting it to the bike. I didn’t, and even taking it slowly found I couldn’t help applying a bit too much and got a fair bit on the frame and chainset. This continued to drip out over a day or two, so my oily rag got some heavy use to begin with. After the first week or so, this had settled down and the chain no longer felt sticky – feeling more like a dry-lubed chain. And that’s how it has remained. After 6 weeks of riding in terrible conditions, it looks and feels exactly as it did after that first week.

Marks – 4.5/5

For:        Very durable, apply and forget!

                Excellent value - £8 for a small bottle and I only used 10% on one full application

Against: Difficult to apply

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Ultimate Commuter Bike?

The Ultimate Commuter. Not some slightly off-the-wall superhero, but the bike you dream of when struggling to work on a rusty old hack with a squeaky chain and a flat tyre. A quick survey on Facebook and Twitter revealed an imaginative list of specifications for that perfect bike, most of them from the realms of science fiction and many of them designed to inflict pain on inconsiderate motorists. How about a tailwind generator or Boudicca style wheel-spikes to keep Addison Lee minicabs at bay? Fortunately, Mark Meadows of Milk Bikes has taken a more realistic approach to the challenge and with the RDA, might just have cracked it.

For several years, I’ve been commuting on two wheels to my job as a GP. Mountain, hybrid, road, fixed gear and cyclocross bikes have all been pressed into service from time to time and done a reasonable, if not outstanding job. All of them have been found wanting at one time or other – too heavy, too slow, too skittish, no mudguards, no rack. I own what my wife believes to be an excessive number of bikes. As I have explained to her, all of them have a very distinct purpose - from off-roading, through time trialling, to an incredibly niche bike used solely for hill climb races of a certain length and gradient. Despite spending most of my cycling hours commuting, I have never thought to get a bike specifically for that role (apart from a brief flirtation with an incredibly dull hybrid – the less said about that the better). Mark Meadows found many things to upset him about the bikes he rode on his 30 mile commute. With a background in sports equipment design, including an ill-fated attempt to adapt a Toilet Duck bottle as an aerodynamic drinking system for triathlons (!), he decided to use his abilities and contacts in the industry to get the RDA off the ground. Having been brought up on a dairy farm in Zimbabwe, he adopted the name Milk Bikes. RDA stands for “Recommended Daily Allowance” presumably referring to the amount of use the bike should get, rather than its calcium content.

First Impressions

The RDA is a good looking bike. The aircraft grade chromoly tubing is narrower than that seen on most modern frames, giving the bike an elegant air. The finish is excellent with tidy welds, a nice white paint job and subtle decals. Milk bikes provide their own branded alloy seatpost, stem and handlebars. With its compact frame, the bike has the air of a mountain bike about it, particularly when combined with the Velocity deep section rims and disc brakes. It’s the Gates carbon belt drive that will draw the eye of the discerning cyclist however. Looking a bit like a car fan belt, it is completely dry to the touch, with no stretch that I could detect. No chance of getting oil on my trousers with this system, with or without bike clips. Unable to be used with a derailleur, the belt drive is allied to a Shimano Alfine internally geared hub system, with the 8 speed version on my test bike. A dynamo hub in the front wheel for powering the lights, three sets of bottle bosses (one on the underside of the down tube holding a tool kit), full SKS mudguards and a Tubus rack finish the build.

Riding the RDA

As a roadie, I found the riding position to be more upright than I am used to. This gave me better visibility of the road around me (and I suppose made me more visible too) and made for a relaxed ride. My wife couldn’t resist taking it for a spin and found the position to be quite racy compared to her usual hybrid. With no chain slack to take up, pedalling feels very direct – a bit like riding fixed. The thing you notice most though is the silence of the belt drive. The lack of chain rattle or chattering of sprockets can be a bit unnerving until you get used to it. The Alfine gears work smoothly and efficiently, with little or no delay after clicking the thumb shifter. Another bonus of Alfine is the ability to change gears without pedalling – a boon when having to stop suddenly at traffic lights. Speaking of stopping, the hydraulic disc brakes do a brilliant job – something the drivers of Leicester gave me ample opportunity to test. The horrible weather of the last few weeks also made me appreciate the mudguards and overall stability of the ride. The Continental Tour Plus tyres give excellent grip with the bonus of top notch puncture protection. The bike is no lightweight – you won’t be winning any races off the lights – but once you get there, it holds the speed well and feels surprisingly agile on descents and round corners. After several severe soakings in the torrential rain, the belt drive ran wonderfully smoothly, without a hint of a squeak or creak.


I enjoyed my time with the RDA and was sad to see it go. It was great to be able to grab the bike from the garage and not let maintenance worries cross my mind. If you spend a lot of time commuting, need reliability and ease of use more than raw speed and want a well-designed high quality steed, this could be the bike for you. As a roadie I found the 8 speed Alfine did not offer enough gears at the top end and would recommend the lighter weight and broader range of the 11 speed hub. There are a wide range of specifications available including a drop bar version, the most popular being the 11 speed flat bar. At £1450 for a fully assembled 8 speed and £1650 for the 11, the bike falls outside the £1000 limit for the bike-to-work scheme, a fact that may put off some qualifying buyers. The excellent frameset is also available for just £400 and can be combined with a standard chain. It’s the carbon belt drive that really makes this bike though – a whole lot more practical than those Boudicca spikes.

Rating 4.5/5