Guest blogger Ruth Parke cycle touring in Vietnam, South East Asia

Here is the Garmin route for the last of the 3 countries. Do you notice the big gap in the middle? That was the unexpected detour.


Day1 - Good morning Vietnam! (65km)

Cycling out from Phnom Penh wasn’t an option, except for the reckless, so we took the bus to Takeo in Cambodia and from there cycled to Chau Doc in Vietnam. The bus was repeatedly beeping its horn to get through the traffic suggesting that the decision not to ride was a good one.

It was good to get back on the bike after a couple of non-cycling days in Phnom Penh. As we approached the Cambodia/Vietnam border huge purple clouds began to gather on the horizon. At the border we said goodbye to the Cambodian bikes which had carried us sturdily if somewhat scruffily through parts of the country. As we crossed the border, on foot, the heavens opened for an hour or so and we collected our Vietnamese bikes in torrential rain. They were  classic, graceful and reliable ( who does that remind you of?) In a cool 30C we cycled through villages where everything suddenly seemed cleaner, brighter and greener. Maybe because the rain had cleared the air,  but more likely reflecting the differences in levels of poverty between Cambodia and Vietnam. Through small villages, children and adults came out to greet  us with smiles and waves. I’m not sure if they were amused or bemused. We probably appeared like some kind of carnival; a group of people wearing strange hats and clothes and choosing to cycle in very hot weather for FUN??  The ride into Chau Doc was fast, furious and exciting as we dodged children, chickens and water buffalo on the road towards the town and then played Russian roulette with the moped drivers. Eek!

Day 2 – Kissing the tarmac (50 km ....actually 6km)

The day started well with a ferry trip with the bike across the Mekong before criss-crossing canals and cycling through fruit orchards along the Mekong Delta. As we were riding in a small group our cycle leader had emphasised the need to keep a good stopping distance between each bike. “ No kissing” he had warned.  You’ve probably guessed what’s coming. There are some people for whom instructions, especially when putting together flat pack furniture, are merely optional extras best filed in the recycling bin.  About 6 km into the ride, on a bridge across a canal, there was a small pile-up of bikes when my partner not only kissed the bike in front but also kissed the tarmac - literally. 3 injured people (nothing serious luckily) dripping blood and fast developing bruises created quite a circus for the passing traffic and pedestrians. We visited the local village hospital to have iodine dabbed on my partner’s cut lip by a young woman whose jeans, excess of bling and suitcase-sized handbag suggested she was the school work experience student. 

It was soon apparent that my partner’s lip needed a bit more care than a dab of iodine. “I think it might need a stitch” advised a fellow cyclist. It was finally decided that we should go to the city hospital in Vinh Long.

A local village ‘taxi' , consisting of a moped and almost flat bed trailer, took us and our cycle
leader/translator to the nearest town. The driver appeared to want to demonstrate his prowess by driving as fast as his machine would let him. Or maybe he just wanted to get home to eat. The upshot was that every time we went over a small bridge (of which there are many in the Mekong delta) at speed I was almost flipped off the back. In my adrenaline-fuelled state and fully expecting to end up on the road with a cracked skull, all I could do was giggle slightly uncontrollably for the whole ride. It was terrifying and exhilarating in equal measure. Once we had picked up a car in the town we settled down for a 2 hour drive to Vinh Long. This allowed me to observe the traffic and  get to know a little more about how to ride safely in Vietnam’s larger towns. I learned that there is some consensus about behaviour on the roads but it doesn’t extend to driving on the right, stopping at traffic lights or driving in the same direction as the rest of the traffic.

It’s difficult not to judge a book by its cover; it’s even more difficult not to judge a hospital by its grubby floors, especially when there might be needles involved. As soon as we arrived my partner was pointed towards a metal trolley in a room with 2 other casualties. A white-coated man walked in, looked at the injury and then left. We had no clue what was going on. Within minutes another white coat arrived with a trolley of ‘stitching’ equipment and plunged in a syringe full of anaesthetic with no pretence of any bedside manner. He was clearly there to do a job and no explanations were necessary. 8 stitches (3 outside, 5 inside) later he left, again without a word. Our cycle leader, who had meanwhile been sorting out all the necessary paperwork, returned to say that the doctor wanted my partner to have a CT scan. He felt absolutely fine, if not slightly humiliated by the enormous dressing he had stuck to his upper (he looked a bit like a Simpson) and so flatly refused. I think the endorphin-fuelled euphoria was beginning to wear off. The message then was a polite ‘no CT scan, no antibiotics’, so he reluctantly agreed. The CT scanner was in what looked like a lean-to on the side of the hospital with the light switch hanging off the wall. 

Eventually we left the hospital after 8 stitches, a CT scan and 3 lots of medication, all for about £20. Even better, what would have taken a minimum of 4 hours in our local hospital in the UK took 50 minutes!!! The care was fantastic, if a bit impersonal and there was no evidence that we were being bumped ahead of the local patients. So, don’t judge a hospital by its floors..... or its light switches!
The best medicine was the Mekong whiskey we had that evening on an island in the delta.

Day 3 -  Exotic pets market (35km)

My partner decided, reluctantly, against cycling today. It was a wise decision as the first leg of 20 km was along a very rough and bumpy track of gravel, stones and tree roots, through the jungle beside the Mekong river.  Falling off on that surface would have been very messy. Can you tell I was a bit scared when my bike flew over bumps and I almost lost the back wheel on loose gravel? I was relieved when we eventually joined a very pretty minor road through the jungle with lush green vegetation and wonderful smells of tamarind and jasmine. After a break to cool down and refuel, the next  leg included a stop at a local ‘exotic pets’ market – or so I thought. Lined up in rows were dozens of cages with snakes, rats and other exotic animals for sale. My misconception was quickly dispelled by an ancient, sun-baked woman wielding a chopper. Swiftly she stunned a rat and chopped off its head, then tail, then limbs. Stir fried rat anyone?

On the final stretch along a straight road with only light traffic I was travelling at 18mph on the flat – evidence that I had become  a lot fitter over 2 weeks and that I usually ride very slowly! I couldn't quite believe the ride had finished at the next stop. We finally arrived in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh, after a bus ride into the city , having cycled 500 km through Indochina along rural tracks, paths and minor roads. I will miss the combination of beautiful countryside, pumping legs and empty brain.

The last day in HCM city was spent dodging some of the 5 million (really) motorbikes – but this time on foot.

 

The Fly 6 is a useful safety gadget for commuters and tourers alike.

fly6.com

Fly 6 Tail-Light & HD Camera

It’s not exactly super lightweight 124 grams, however consider the weight covers the rear light and a safety camera in one it’s not exactly heavy either.  Once mounted onto a carbon seat post the size and style can leave it feeling a little retro, however the size does leave a large surface area for safety lighting, which is great for commutes and early morning/evening training rides. It also come with a full range of mounts that would accommodate most set ups.

Sound and picture quality

I took it on a few time trials to get some race footage of the odd club member inevitably catching me, and whilst the sound of my own struggling along the course was enough to make me realise the footage was best left unpublished, the visual and audio quality itself was pretty clear and relatively strong, unlike many other devices in the market that claim to be HD.

The picture is somewhat obscured with the rotating red light that operates around the camera lens, acting as an almost strobe effect over the film; you certainly won’t be piecing together your touring footage for an entry at the next Cannes film festival, but you will have a fairly decent account of roads travelled and traffic that you share the road with along your journey.

Playing your files

Whilst each file is cleverly capped at a manageable size of 15mins per segment, with the footage looping over old once your memory card (starting at 1gb) fills, my clunky Windows Vista had real trouble downloading the footage, taking a great deal of time to move the files onto my local hard drive.

The file itself was then not recognized, so I downloaded a standard converter program recommended on their manual. Once the program was downloaded and installed, converting even just one file took a great deal of time. The breadth of the troubles was all no doubt down to my machine, however your computer specification does need to be a consideration for this type of device. Even the most tech savvy will struggle if your machine is not up to the task.

More modern machines, like my work Mac desktop and Macbook air, come ready equipped and able to play the films – failing that I realized that YouTube converts the files for you when you upload. So your best bet is uploading your footage direct to YouTube as a private file for viewing, saving you converting the files locally, letting YouTube manage this for you online.

Waterproofness

I did use the Fly 6 many times with no issues for a good few months, in light rain, and shine, day and night rides, all giving clear accounts of the road behind - however on my birthday ride the weather typically was pretty awful for long periods at a time, and really pushed the device to the limit after a relentless soaking.

We had a good few hours of solid rain – and I mean torrential down pours that meant the camera got a good soaking not just from above, but below too. I had mudguards but with the rain bouncing high from the flooded ground beneath the wheels made the guards of little significance.

Whilst the rain no doubt heavily tested the Fly-6 it still continued to work through out all conditions, scoring maximum points on durability… this is until I tried to download the footage.

Water damage at download

I no doubt should have waited before impatiently downloading files the same day. It’s possible water penetrated the device and the act of trying to connect it to my machine fried the internal components. This should not have been the case, but is not surprising.

In hindsight I’d have left the device in some rice to dry off before putting power into it, as is the recommended advice for any electrical that may be at risk of water damage.

I tried multiple adapters, and laptops, but the device was no longer readable, however the data was still retrievable from the card. Upon further testing it no longer records footage, although was recording right up until the end of the ride, before I tried to download. The light does still work.

Battery, 5hrs+

The quoted battery charge lifespan is very impressive when compared to many cameras or lights, and the great thing about this device is when you turn it on it indicates how strong the battery life is in clear sharp beeps – I wish all lights did this, it’s very useful. The only gripe I have on battery is that it’s USB charge, meaning if you’re touring you’d need a battery charge pack. This is very common now days however, and you’d struggle to find much else on the market.

In summary

I enjoyed using this, it’s a shame it now only functions as a light; it’s a handy safety gadget for the every day commute, and can be a nice way of gathering nostalgic footage of a tour without doubling up on weight or charge points.

I would say if I was to choose, I’d opt for a camera at the front of the bike rather than from behind, which is obviously not an option with this camera, but with such a range of front facing cameras on the market available this choice would make an excellent addition to any front facing go-pro or similar, whilst also offering a very substantial back light with an impressive battery life.

It’s worth noting however you cannot have the camera on without the light – to my knowledge.

I always take two lights out on dark roads if possible, as a precautionary measure, as I have had so many issues (especially with USB powered lights) in the past. I wouldn’t encourage any less with this one, however it’s important to note that the light itself has proved incredibly durable, which is more than I can say for many others without the additional camera at the same price.

HD footage

Footage below is from the beginning of the 300k Peacocks and kites audax ride. It's very boring footage, but I thought I'd embed so you get an idea of the footage quality.

Guest blogger Ruth Parke cycle touring in Cambodia, South East Asia

2 massive bus hops got us across Cambodia stopping at Siem Reap, to explore the Angkor complex by bike, and a few days later at Phnom Penh. The poverty in Cambodia, after years of civil war and devastation of the population by the Khmer rouge, was immediately evident. The roads are in a poor state and 70% of Cambodia’s population is without a toilet. It has the lowest rate of toilet coverage in S.E. Asia.  Stopping at a roadside village to use the loo could mean a squat toilet in a shed at the back or the loan of a ‘toilet wrap’ to swat in the field.

Day 1 –Siem Reap

Once in Siem Reap we took possession of our Cambodian bikes. Battered, well-worn but functional (who does that remind you of?) they took a bit of adjusting to after the Rolls-Royces of Thailand.  We took a 16 km ride to the outskirts of the town and back to get used to cycling on non-rural roads, in preparation for Vietnamese traffic!

My tips for cycling in Siem Reap:

  • Assume all moped drivers are blind. This increases confidence immeasurably
  • If in doubt, close your eyes and pedal faster.


On the edge of town was a market with stall after stall selling street food. Locals sat picnicking on mats next to the stalls and between piles of rubbish – there is a lot of rubbish in Cambodia.

Siem Reap has benefitted/ suffered (depending on your viewpoint) from the gap year industries’ commercialisation and shift from India to S.E. Asia over recent decades. The town is dotted with relatively smart hotels and at the heart of the city is the night market bordering the beating heart of “Pub Street” (yes – really) where 20-somethings can get pissed for next-to-nothing, sing karaoke and watch dancing girls perform. Only dancing here, but clearly there is a more ‘colourful’/’ grey’ (depending on your viewpoint) industry just behind the scenes.

Day 2- Angkor 

Angkor (‘city’), although best known for its Wat (‘temple’), was the seat of the Khmer empire from the 9th -15th centuries. It stretches over an area of forest and farmland covering approx. 400km2. There are over 1000 temple ruins ranging from piles of brick rubble scattered through rice fields to the magnificent Angkor Wat. Travelling through this area by bike is ideal as it is possible to go off road, as we did. Cycling along dirt tracks across bumpy fields and jumping tree roots added just the right amount of fear to be exciting. I was never quite sure if I would go over the roots on my bike or hit the roots and go over the handlebars.

Our first stop was Ta Prohm originally built, in the 12th century, as a Buddhist monastery and university. Its most distinctive features are the trees growing out of, around, over and into the ruins like melted candle wax, so that the temple is a fusion of living and non-living structures. Next we rode to Angkor Thom (‘Great city’) before cycling on to Angkor Wat. There have been some wonderful descriptions of Angkor Wat, so I won’t attempt one here. Suffice to say that magnificent, awe-inspiring, beautiful, sublime, majestic, breath-taking, stunning will all do the job.

Day 3– Temple of Banteay Srei 

It had to be done – we took a tuk tuk at 5.30 a.m. to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. We arrived in pitch darkness and then waited….and waited………………and waited. It slowly grew lighter before the sun appeared dazzlingly behind one of the towers.

Today’s ride was a 70 km round trip out to the 10th century temple of Banteay Srei , also known as the Citadel of the Women. It has been described as a “jewel in Khmer art” and is renowned for its intricate decoration, carved in pinkish sandstone, which covers the walls like tapestry.

 The road out to the temple, despite being tarmacked, was worn and bumpy which resulted in a perpetual vibration running through my hands and shoulders. At last we reached a beautifully smooth stretch, a welcome respite for the backside, but it only lasted for about 500m. Despite the slight discomfort, the road was green and tree-lined; the prettiest of our rides in Cambodia. We cycled through the village of Phoum Pradak where the road was lined with many stalls, all selling sugar palm products including palm sugar sweets made using traditional techniques. It is difficult to know how the passing traffic, of which there was little, could support so many stalls all selling the same things.

Day 4 - Phnom Penh

It took 7 hours driving time to cover 300 km from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, which is an indication of the state of the main road. In some places fairly smooth tarmac, in others a wide dusty potholed track which made speeds above 10mph impossible. This was an opportunity to look. The road was dusty and lined with villages made up of bamboo-framed houses on stilts, their thatched-palm roofs scorching in the sun, tucked between tropical vegetation with piles of rubbish strewn everywhere.

It is easy to observe surroundings whist travelling by bus as there is no need to be watching out for traffic. On a bus you see; on a bike you feel. While cycling, the sense of being at one with the surroundings, literally part of the scenery is uplifting in a way that travelling in a vehicle can never be. Already we were missing the bikes.

Phnom Penh, once considered to be the loveliest of Indochina's French-built cities, sprawls at the confluence of the Mekong and Tonle Sap Rivers.  In 1975 it was choked with up to 2 million refugees from the war between the government and the Khmer Rouge. The city fell to the Khmer Rouge, who completely emptied it of civilians and allowed it to crumble for several years.  Despite being liberated from the Khmer Rouge by the Vietnamese in 1979, it has long remained a bit rough. The beauty that made it a 'Paris of the East' before 1970 is well hidden, though there are a few French colonial buildings and traces of the Khmer and colonial eras can be found in the little details. The local fruit and veg market was masked by the stench of rotting meat and rubbish emanating from the large piles just behind the stalls in the squalid backstreets. Here is total squalor in which the latest new and shiny smartphones were being sold from a nearby street kiosk. There is an edginess about the place that makes night walks in the backstreets inadvisable.

Day 5 –what, no bikes?

There was the scent of celebration in the air and roads were packed with traffic leaving the city for New Year festivities. There was no celebrating for us though as we took the bus to a dusty street on the outskirts of Phnom Penh to visit S-21, a former school which was used as a torture, execution and interrogation centre by the Khmer Rouge in 1976. Today, S-21 Prison is known as the Museum of Genocide The Khmer Rouge carefully photographed the majority of inmates and today the walls are papered with thousands of these haunting images. The museum was sombre and shocking, not only because it is a symbol of the extent to which humanity can be lost but also because we know it can happen so easily, anywhere, given the ‘right’ conditions.

About 17 km south of Phnom Penh , is the best-known of the sites known as The Killing Fields. Mass graves containing 8,895 bodies were discovered at Choeung Ek, the site of a former orchard. Today, Choeung Ek is a memorial, marked by a Buddhist stupa containing 17 tiers of bones including over 5000 skulls which had been collected from the mass graves excavated in the fields. These now appear as large bowls in the ground. In places it was possible to see bits of bone and clothing at the surface as the rains continue to bring up more pieces. The Killing fields were somehow even more shocking, perhaps because the countryside was so lush, green and beautiful and yet masked events so horrific.

Later that day we stumbled upon the Foreign correspondents club (FCC) which was the meeting place and base of operations for many journalists, and a haven during the days of the Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia. From this club came the dispatches detailing the initial atrocities; journalists and ex-pats gathered here also for evacuation from the country when it became dangerous for foreigners and from here journalists filed the news of Pol Pot's final stand in the jungle.
I still hold on to a romantic notion of travel and so was delighted by the Lillian Smith quote written large on a wall of the FCC:
“No journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within”. 

Guest blogger Ruth Parke cycle touring in South East Asia, starting in Thailand:

3 countries, 2 wheels, 1 pair of legs…………… and a bus 


Hattie and Christina did the hard core version: Hanoi to Bangkok, 1,225 miles in the saddle through Vietnam, Laos and Thailand over 2 months. This is the softie version: Bangkok to Saigon, 300 miles in the saddle (and a lot more on the bus) through Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam over 2 weeks. So make yourself comfortable, it’s going to be a long, slow ride. ……….. or dismount now and google something else.

THAILAND: Day 1 Khao Yai to Pranchinburi province

Picture yourself sitting on an exercise bike in a sauna, pedalling for several hours and marinating in your own sweat, while someone blasts a hairdryer on a high setting in your face. Now substitute a real bike, beautiful tropical scenery with miles of green, green paddy fields and tapioca fields, almost empty rural roads and dirt tracks and the heady scent of tamarind, jasmine and frangipani & you’ll realise that, despite the heat, this was a ride to be savoured.

The journey began with cycling from Khao Yai national park, north east of Bangkok, to the Cambodian border in 3 chunks: 84 km, 90 km and 84 km. I was really quite concerned about heat exhaustion as I am not built for the sun – pale skin that burns easily and a very inefficient cooling system as I don’t sweat enough! But I was rescued from hyperthermia by frequent stops in the grounds of vermilion and gold leaf Buddhist temples. This was a chance to attempt to cool down and it took at least 20 minutes of re-soaking a hanky with cold water and wearing it on my head to even begin to feel as if my blood wasn’t about to start boiling.

Our lunch stop on the first day was idyllic – a pool in the jungle which could only be reached on foot. The prospect of a cooling swim was so enticing that it was impossible to resist getting in fully clothed. Dozens of stunningly coloured butterflies were gathered on the smooth rocky surfaces surrounding the pool to drink from puddles of mineral-rich water.

Day 2 - to Sa Keaw

On the second day the sun tightened its grip so that by lunchtime it was an effort to eat, despite the need for fuel and the delicious meal produced on a tiny portable burner at a roadside ‘cafĂ©’. We had hit the hills at midday and were about to meet some more. Now, these were barely more than undulations in the road and at 25°C would have been easy, even for a non-hill climber like me. At 40°C they were mountains! The slower the ascent, the hotter it felt and the hotter it felt, the slower the ascent. I was longing for total immersion in water.

If I’ve made this sound like more of a trial than a pleasure then I have misled you. The cycling was wonderful and the sense of satisfaction was immense. On this ride my brain switched off completely; no surfing the internal net, no innovative problem-solving, no singing. Just nothing---absolutely nothing! As someone who generally has a head full of STUFF, this emptiness was a fantastic experience and I’m not sure I could have achieved it in any other way.

Day 3 – to Aranyaprathet 

The morning ride towards the beautiful Pang Sida National Park again took us through long stretches of mainly flat rural roads and dirt tracks. We swam in Tha Krabak reservoir with views across the waters to untouched jungle. Leaving the reservoir we cycled a short distance to a wildlife park to lunch on fresh pad thai and curry. The going was slow as the track was bumpy, soft and undulating. It felt like cycling through porridge. After lunch, the heat radiating from the tarmac was fierce and unforgiving until late afternoon when we reached Aranyaprathet, 10 km from the Cambodian border. Here we said goodbye to our Thai bikes. Sleek, elegant and tough (who does that remind you of?) they had served us well.


Next instalment 'Cambodia leg‏' coming soon...

Me for Queen - Iron Horse

Me for Queen touring their cycling album ‘Iron Horse’ at Roll for the Soul, Bristol

One of the many things I love about Bristol is that there's a vibrant and constant music scene – we don’t take advantage of it nearly enough, but it’s great to know that it’s there and that there is always something to do of an evening should we want it.

The other great thing about Bristol is the cycling community. As the first Cycling City, home to Sustrans and the first National Cycle Network route... Bristol also plays hosts to some of the most friendly cycling clubs about, and a constantly growing young community of fixed gear riders.

From commuters to alley cat cyclists - Bristol has a strong audience for bike themed venues and events; with Mud Dock CafeRoll for the Soul growing in popularity among the varied cyclist sorts of Bristol.

Next Friday Roll for the Soul will be hosting a band that I’m particularly excited about; they are a London based band launching a concept album on cycling in the city. I can’t say I hear many songs about cycling, if any, but these guys have a great sound and with a lot of the subject matter being built on metaphors the lyrics speak to the heart and have a genuine feel to them. An album about cycling might sound a little cheesy in concept, or as though it might be lacking in variety, but I think this album is anything but, and I am very much looking forward to seeing them live.

It’s five years tomorrow since my Grandad’s death, and the song White Bike rings home to me, and I’m sure speaks to many people who’ve lost a loved one to the road.

The songs thought provoking lyrics will no doubt raise a tear on Friday, but it’s a beautiful song, sandwiched between similarly strong works of melodic story telling.

From what I’ve heard on Sound Cloud this seems a really unique and moreish album, and 5% of all money pledged for the band’s EP, and 20% of anything raised over the target, goes towards RoadPeace.

You can find the Demo album here at Sound Cloud – Me for queen and their pledge page here at PledgeMusic – Iron horse.

cargocollective.com/meforqueen 
Not now Jess, I'm busy.

Parcel force FAIL: Lost carbon Ribble – on an unsuccessful voyage to Preston

Right at the end of the last racing season I found a potential crack in the top tube of my carbon frame. The last thing I wanted was a fail at full speed – or any speed – so I sent it back under warranty.

Ribble were more than happy to assist, and sent out a suitcase for me to pack my bike in.

Unfortunately they do not have their own delivery service; as an SME I’m assuming they have not quite reached the point where this is financially viable. I found this quite disappointing and more than a little concerning.

The suitcase turned up, via Parcel Force... (outside of the hours stated for delivery), leaving the bike to be collected the following day. The driver was less than delicate - to say the least - with the suitcase.

I winced as I watched him dump it in the back, without strapping it in place among the other items. I was only grateful that I had used about three rolls  of bubble wrap, and that I had fully secured and documented the contents and condition of everything within, pre-send.

The driver offered no receipt, and when I asked for one he took a label off of the box and gave it to me to write the consignment number on, begrudgingly.

I quizzed him as to whether he was sure he didn’t need the label for the delivery, whilst offering to get some paper for my own records so he could put the label back on – he seemed unfazed, disinterested, and went on his way with little thought to my questioning. He didn't want the label, and it seemed odd, and left me somewhat concerned for my extremely high value item for delivery with no visible address label.

SO... Parcel force lost my bike then...

I called Ribble somewhere around six times chasing the receipt of my bike, and was passed between various staff members, all offering no information and referring me to an email address that I had already tried to no avail. Eventually I put my foot down and demanded to speak to somebody who could track my delivery and give me a status nearly two weeks on from the collection.

Unlike Royal Mail in past experience, Parcel Force had no way for me to track the progress of my delivery as the 'sender', or at least certainly not under the method used for the collection managed by Ribble.

As it transpires I was eventually informed that the bike had been last located at the Bristol depot, (about three miles down the road) and that tracks 'went cold' somewhere between there and it’s destination – Preston.

A brief and horrifying email from Ribble told me that they ‘would be launching an investigation with Parcel force’ and then get back to me.

Parcel force - launching an investigation

Parcel force in all credit to them did indeed launch an investigation. A very nice lady was handling my case, and was perfectly empathetic, professional, and seemed genuinely concerned, but as far as I could deduce from my questioning their detailed investigation consisted of;

Telephone operative: ‘Bristol depot - have you seen a funny shaped box?’
Bristol depot: ‘Not since it apparently left here’
Telephone operative: ‘ok then’
Telephone operative: ‘National hub – have you seen a funny shaped box?’
National hub: ‘Don’t think so’

And this all took roughly six weeks, and with about two phone calls a week of prompting from me, and I’m sure quite a few more from Ribble. We all eventually resigned to the fact it was ‘lost’, my suspicions are largely more sinister but that’s purely academic I suppose.

After a petrifying conversation with Parcel force who claimed I was ‘technically’ the sender so it was up to me to make the claim - which should get me anything up to £100 - I practically had a near triple bypass, but was soon assured by Ribble I’d be getting a replacement sent out that week on them.

Various levels of bureaucracy got in the way of their original deadline, and it was not until about three weeks (and new dates) later the bike was actually sent out.

After my many emails with photo attachments and links to product details of all upgrades/replacements, the bike arrived without the cadence sensor or saddle, leaving a further week before I was able to test ride or start training on it, it also had the wrong colour seat post and version of pedals. Pedals were titanium rather than steel though, which was a nice surprise.

Regarding the seat post - Ribble were largely embarrassed by this stage, and sent a new one out pretty sharpish. I got no complimentary bottles or bottle cages this time round though for my troubles... but I suppose the pedals will do.

Ribble service on the lost bike

I did manage to get a constant contact throughout the majority of the debacle; he was very sympathetic, diplomatic, and I could tell he was doing his best at what seemed to be a hopeless task within a series of failing systems. I get the feeling that the levels within the company were working against him, and I am very sure the holdup was between management and Parcel force being bloody hopeless.

Postal service privatisation

My previous views on Royal Mail and their inability to deliver to our flat (apparently the division of property into flats is rare and confusing...), led me to be in support of privatisation; I’ve since u-turned on this view. Royal Mail now appears to be the less bad choice.

Support your local bike shop

I will certainly be supporting my local bike shop in future, given my Ribble experiences... BUT I will also say however that the new pedal upgrades are great, I’m a seat post up, my frame no longer has a crack and is the 2014 model rather than ’13; with Ultegra ’14 running the 11 speed rather than the 10, and unlike the previous version the gears run seamlessly (when clean). They are also Teflon cables - as they didn’t have the cables I upgraded to previous - and I get the feeling their upgrade was certainly more substantial.

All in all it worked out well, so thanks Parcel Force for being so incompetent, and Ribble for eventually coming good.


Less travel, fewer feats & local expo to outer city’s hidden gem...

Past few months have been sparse to say the least on the blog front.

11 hour office days, house viewings, and general life busyness has taken over, with little time for writing, cycling or travel.

Whilst even visiting family in Portsmouth is becoming less accessible with the ever growing rail fares and shrinking free schedules, Hattie and I have discovered a hidden gem within the City of Bristol that has got us very excited about a potential new neighbourhood on the cards.

In the lesser sung area of Gt George we’ve come across St George Park. It’s got a beautiful lake with fishing area, tennis courts, table tennis, a skate park, a Grow your own veg community group, is home to St George in bloom, and holds Redfest once a year. It has been a real hive of activity each time we’ve been, and seems to have a real neighbourhood community feel to it.

It’s important to know the area you live in. Your immediate home surroundings can have a massive bearing on day to day quality of life, and getting to know different areas of the city has been incredibly interesting for us.

The internet is a great platform for learning more about your local area and the land surrounding it, and our local council has even provided this very useful interactive map, that has been invaluable in our research.

http://maps.bristol.gov.uk/pinpoint/#


You can layer the map with info on:

  • surface flooding
  • traffic accidents
  • noise pollution
  • solar potential
  • bus routes and cycle networks
  • planning permissions

... along with many points of interest.

If you are looking to learn more about Bristol this is a brilliant available resource.

Where are the bikes?
For those of you who visit the blog for cycling related posts, here's a picture of some bike shape pasta. Yum.