Boris Bike Challenge

It’s the summer, and this means students across the country have to find ways to spend an eternity (well, up to sixteen weeks) of free time.  I was reading recently on a blog post about the “Boris Bike Challenge”, dubbed one of the most physically demanding public transport journeys in London. What better way to spend a Monday, then, than have a go at it? The objective is simple, get from Westfield to Westfield using only the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme.

It can be run in either direction, but for me this means getting from the Boris Bike dock at Bromley High Street, Bow (the closest one to Westfield Stratford City, and one of the easternmost Boris Bike stations) to the dock at Westfield White City (the westernmost Boris Bike dock). In a straight line it’s about 8 miles, which isn’t a particularly long way but you have to remember that the route will take you through the middle of Central London and the bike you have to use weighs 23kg (my own bike weighs 10kg as a comparison). There are a few extra rules to follow;
– The trip cannot take you longer than 60mins.
– You must follow all traffic rules.
– You can incur no usage charges.

What this means is that you need to stop at every traffic light on the way, you can’t ride on the pavement and you can’t go the wrong way down one-way streets to save time. Also, to follow rule 3 you can’t ride the bike for more than 30 minutes at a time, meaning a stop and 5-minute wait will be required roughly halfway along the route.  I’d had a look at the Boris bike map yesterday and I’d planned to stop either on Oxford Street or in Hyde Park, depending on how long it took me to get there.

This morning I arrived at Bromley High Street at about 11:10 and registered my card (and the £1 access fee for 24hours). I chose the bike I wanted to use and set off at 11:17. I managed it halfway down Bow Road when I encountered the sliding seat of doom, that is, the clasp holding the seat up being too loose resulting in it sliding away from under you as you cycle. Not content riding with my knees around my chin, I pulled over and quickly tightened the clasp and reset the seat, mindful that this was eating into my 30 minute window to travel as far as I could. I carried on and reached the city within 20minutes, where the trouble with the traffic lights began. Every single junction was adding an extra minute to my trip sat idle at traffic lights, even though I was trying my best to be at the front of the queue every time with some sneaky filtering. I’d worn my watch for once, specifically for timekeeping (I’d normally use my phone but tight jeans make it difficult to constantly check it) so I knew my time was running out.  I remembered was a docking station at Holborn, so I aimed for that and arrived 28minutes and 50seconds after I’d left Bow. A minute longer and I would have racked up another £1 charge on my card.

Using the 5 minute break to have some food and water, I then rented another bike and carried on. The journey continued with frantic pedaling and annoyingly frequent stops at traffic lights. By now it was becoming very tiring to keep going, as the very low gears on the bikes meant you had to keep up a very high RPM to get anything other than a stately pace out of the bikes. If anything the traffic lights let me catch my breath which was becoming more important with every passing light. The real issue, however, came when beginning the 1.2mile run down the length of Oxford St. Taxis and buses rule the narrow roadway here, and they’re constantly pulling in and out to pick up passengers and fares. It’s hard enough to dodge them, but when you’ve got mindless shoppers milling across the road from every gap in the traffic it becomes very difficult to make any progress. I found it effective to use the bell provided quite liberally, and once I had reached the end of Oxford Street it was time to navigate the massive Marble Arch roundabout. My initial plan was to go through Hyde Park on the quieter northern carriage road but this had been closed for use as an Olympic Car Park. I was forced to use Bayswater Road which is a rather large road filled with massive coaches and lorries on their way out of London. Scary enough, but my progress had also been slowed by the lengthy hill between Lancaster Gate and Notting Hill Gate, and lugging the 23kg Boris Bike up that was no easy feat.

What comes up must come down, though, and after the peak at Portobello Road Market an equally lengthy downhill run awaited, where I tried to get the most aerodynamic position and roll down picking up speed. It was quite successful, and some of the other cyclists on their flashy road bikes looked rather bemused being quickly overtaken by Boris’ flagship two-wheeler. A quick glance at my watch told me I had 7 minutes left when passing Holland Park Station. The only thing I knew about this road was that it ended up at the even bigger Holland Park roundabout which was where I could get into Westfield. I had no idea of the distances involved having never been there before and, in a despairing few seconds caught behind a sightseeing bus I thought I would overrun my 30minutes. Thankfully, once the bus began moving there was immediately a sign detailing the roundabout just 20m away. I took a bit of an amber gamble through the traffic light, but I’m pretty sure it never turned to red.

Success was just yards away, and all that stood between me was the red light that let buses go into the bus station. When arriving at the stop line I instantly noticed the black sensor above the light which meant I would need a bus to come behind me if it was ever to turn green. My watch said I had 3 minutes remaining, and there began an agonising 90 second wait for a bus to arrive, followed by another minute for the lights to change. I could see the Boris bike station, but the red light (and the rules) were keeping me, perhaps from completing the challenge. I pushed all of my remaining energy into the pedals and docked the bike as quickly as I could manage. On seeing the green dock light I went over to the terminal to print the journey record and see my final score. The results were in; 28 minutes and 28 seconds, meaning it had taken me in total 57minutes and 18seconds.

Success! It was very, very tiring, and I had found my way to the other side of London for no good reason but I had completed the challenge, averaging a not very respectable 8mph average on the trip. It is definitely one of the most physically demanding journeys you can make on public transport. That is, after all, what a Boris Bike is; a self propelled method of public transport. It was loads of fun though, and probably quite good for me too.

Sure, it’s no London Marathon or Triathlon, but you don’t need sponsorship or flashy sports gear to try this challenge, just £1 for the daily access fee and a way to get home from the other side of London, which can even include making it a 2hr round trip!

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The Best of Times

The last week has been tough. And I’m sure I’m not alone. The vast majority of A-Level exams start tomorrow for the next two weeks, after a one week respite (if you can call it that) of frantic revision and studying. That’s the idea, at least. For many, the next two weeks will decide what they do for the next year, and most likely the rest of their lives. No pressure, right?

There’s no denying that it’s difficult. Cast your mind back two years (or however long) and you’re sitting there stressing over your GCSE’s, you’ll hear everyone saying “They’re easy”/”You’ll walk them”/”Piece of piss”. And they’re right. You watch the Year 11’s getting all stressed out, and you can completely understand where everyone older than you was coming from back then. They were incredibly easy, at least relatively. You won’t hear that from anyone about A-Levels though.

You won’t hear undergraduates mocking you about how easy A-Levels were. You won’t hear teachers or lecturers do it, either. They know, perhaps more so than you, that A-Levels can be tricky. You might hear them say “You’ll never work harder in your life”, or even just silently agree with your complaints. That’s my experience, at least. I looked over past papers, over my notes, and I came to realise just how much work needed to be done. Seeing as my exams start tomorrow, I’d like to think I’m nearly ready. If I’m not, there isn’t much I can do about it, it’s far too close to make a difference.

I felt a bit burnt out this morning. I knew I needed to finish up with some work, but I just felt so stressed. I could barely concentrate. There was no point in trying to work like that, so I started playing a game. Surely, the satisfaction of running around a virtual world firing machine guns and rockets at people would just melt the stress away. I didn’t account for the fact that everyone else playing wasn’t in the same state of mind and would brutally capitalise on my lack of concentration. After three rounds I left more stressed than when I began. So much for that idea. No matter, YouTube would provide some mellow music that would solve everything. And it did, for about two minutes until I hit the stream buffer. I don’t think there can be anything more irritating than music interrupted by streaming every 30seconds. This clearly wasn’t working, and my stress levels weren’t getting any better. I resorted to writing this while listening to the radio. I now feel at ease, and maybe this afternoon will lead on to peaceful, productive working.

One thing I thought about, though, with all of the exam stress it’s not so much the fear of working but the expectation that comes along with it. After all, in the course of conversation with friends and relatives you’ve no doubt talked about how you want to go to university, and this has probably followed on to where you’d like to go and what grades you need etc. The honest truth is that Universities care more about what you think you’re going to get in your A-Levels than who you are and what you’re like as a person. Three letters on your piece of paper will say more about you to the admissions tutors than anything else. That’s why getting your three letters becomes the most important thing in your life. It’s not so much the A-levels that decide your life, it’s the three letters that come with them. By telling everyone, including people you’ve probably never met, you’ve given yourself an awful lot of expectation to live up to. It’s a big thing to deal with and when you’re trying your best to revise it certainly isn’t helpful, particularly if you’re constantly reminded of it.

Mark Twain once said “There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things, and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded”. It’s only two more weeks and then you could be the type of person who accomplishes things. I sure hope I do.

Globalise Resistance

To many people, globalisation spells the end of freedom. These people don’t exist in the eyes of governments, corporations, huge companies or bankers. These people don’t even reside solely in the countries used by aforementioned controllers as slave labour. Some live in developed countries, feeling choked by the constant consumerism and the endless struggle to dress the best, own the best stuff or in general be the best. They obviously haven’t ever joined the army – I doubt it’s ever crossed their mind. Then there are the Others. The Others that are forced to work making clothes for Primark, Nike and Topshop for 18 hours a day (on a short shift) earning 10p every 2 hours. These people clearly get the lesser end of the deal, and they certainly can’t understand what makes their lives so much less important than those half the world away willing to turn a blind eye to all of this. There are some of these “more important” people, however, who open their eyes to how their fellow human beings are treated in the name of fashion and trends. These people realise what’s gone wrong, and think in what is described as a “leftist” way when they try to do something about it. These people, in my opinion at least, simply think in an empathetic way, and actually try to take into account all sides of the story before judging. That’s not to say they’re not biased, of course they are, but the bias with them exists in a way which can only be productive.

In a nutshell, that’s the alternative. The people who choose to or have no choice but to think differently to how you are taught/expected to think. Myself, I’m not quite there, I like to think of myself as somwhere in the grey zone between, an area that is all but inevitable to appear. I don’t support capitalism entirely, but I do like the relative freedom it provides. I would expect others think of me as swayed towards the alternative, but that opens up the whole can of worms about opinions and what the “normal” really is. That, however, is a part of life that no-one can ever fully understand, least of all explain. So I’ll metaphorically drop it and leave it alone, never to touch it again. Probably.

You may be wondering why I’ve gone to all of the trouble to attempt to explain this. Or what benefit it has to you reading this. Well, think of it as an introduction to what I’m about to do. (This post was originally written many moons ago, and was left gathering virtual dust in my drafts box. Seeing as my last published post is on roughly the same topic, I figured now is a good a time as any to share this) I’m going to offer you some digital alternatives to the mainstream, that you may or may not find helpful/useful. The reason for all of this? They’re alternatives that I support/use, and if I convince/convert at least one of you I’ll consider myself a success.

iTunes: You’ve heard of it if you own an iPod, iPhone or iPad. That program that syncs all of your music/videos/games for your mobile benefit. Have you ever noticed though, how restrictive it is? No support for high quality FLAC or open source OGG files, it’s overly simple to use that means it misses out on important customisation features. It doesn’t even like Windows that much, and if you have more than 40GB of music in your collection you’ll really notice how slow it gets when you try and start it up. So much so that I don’t even have it on my PC any more. But I can still sync my iPod. Why is that? Well, I use a program called;
foobar2000 (f2K): Already at a bonus because of it’s interesting name, this program really is the dog’s bollocks of music librarians. Super support for almost any type of music file, super low system resource usage, unbeliveably customisable (to the point where you can rebuild its layout from scratch), and not bad sound quality too, it has to be the best library organiser I’ve ever used. It also has some handy mp3 maintenance tools to let you fix broken files that won’t play or be recognised by another media player. And, it supports iPod. Yes, it will let you sync music (even in non-iPod formats) to the iPod/iPhone in just as simple a fashion as iTunes. Just plug in your iPod, select music to sync, and press Add. It really is just that simple.

My F2K layout. Yours won't look anything like this because it's so customisable

Music: On the topic of your music library, what’s in it? Is it reminiscent of the UK top 40 charts of weeks gone by? I’m not going to ridicule that. It’s not my personal taste as you may have gathered from knowing me or from perusing my previous posts, and I try not to be as elitist as other metalheads. However, if you’re looking for broader sonic horizons, consider some of the albums you can see in the various desktop screenshots scattered around my blog page, and also as the titles of quite a few of my blog posts. (I’ll add that the above screenshot is current as of now, when I’m editing this for publish. This post was also created before I started the metal album title thing, so googling “Globalise Resistance” won’t provide you with a new metal album to listen to, rather links to the homepage of the anti-capitalist organisation of the same name.) I don’t need to tell you that there is a huge Smörgåsbord of metal albums to sample – puns aside, I used that term because Sweden is a rather good place to start in your quest for metal, if you’re interested in looking. Sweden is also where my (and I use this word sparingly) favourite band come from. If there is one band I’ll ever implore you to listen to, it’s the Diablo Swing Orchestra. The band are an acquired taste for sure, but I can only marvel at the compositional genius that goes on in their music, seamlessly blending countless different styles of music together into small pieces of musical brilliance. YouTube has many of their works uploaded for your convenience, so try it out!

I’ve already realised that this has become more of an essay than a blog post, the first one so far to exceed one thousand words, so I might return with more alternative music/videos/programs in another edition at a later date. I might not, the next one may also end up in the drafts bin for a couple of months.
People not profit.