Cycling to the Airfield
You should not let the lack of transport inhibit your gliding. Flying regularly helps you to make rapid progress and reach the same milestone with less flights (and therefore money).
Being able to get to the airfield without relying on someone else to transport you gives your another degree of freedom. You can fly when it is convenient for you and you are less likely to be going to the airfield on very busy days so you can make more out of your time.
This article will guide you on how to make your own way to the airfield by cycling.
- 1 Before you start
- 2 Know your routes
- 3 Prepare for your trip
- 4 In case of an emergency
Before you start
Understanding the laws and rules
Although it is not a legal requirement, you are strongly encouraged to read The Highway Code and Know Your Traffic Signs before attempting to cycle on the highway. These codes apply to both motorists and cyclists. The Highway Code in particular contains extractions from the Road Traffic Act, failure to comply with which can lead to criminal consequences.
Minimum equipment list
You will need:
- A roadworthy bicycle
- A cycling helmet (strongly recommended)
- Reflective clothing and lights (white in the front, red in the rear) if you plan to travel in darkness
- Suitable outdoor clothing which will not get entangled into chains and wheels
- Suitable shoes which you can walk in comfortably in case of a mechanical
- Other essential items which you will need at the airfield (such as your log book)
- Your mobile phone and some cash
Know your routes
There are mainly two ways to get to the airfield. The first way (https://goo.gl/maps/QLWt2LMwD9W8D2JD7) is to travel along B1046 which goes through several villages. The second way is to travel along a road parallel to the A428 and go through Cambourne.
The first route is generally recommended because it is shorter, has smoother gradients, better sheltered (so the cyclist suffer less when there is a head wind), and it has calmer traffic. Besides, the second route has a few places where it is necessary to go off the road briefly (footpaths) and these can be rather tricky.
The major drawback of the first route being the road surface condition can be particularly bad for a segment of it (~1km). It is, therefore, important that your bicycle is comfortable for you to ride on.
Travelling along the recommended route
Navigate through the city yourself and you should be joining Newnham road (A603) at a roundabout. Follow this road and get onto the cycle lane (which is on the right hand side of the road when travelling to the airfield). This is particularly important because the road will become a dual carriage way with roundabouts and slip roads leading onto M11, and the speed limit will be raised to 50mph. Cycling alongside fast-moving traffic is particularly hazardous.
You will then meet a roundabout. Remain in the cycle lane, go straight on and cross onto the other side. You will then meet a brief climb, at the end of which is another roundabout. Again, go straight on.
Remain on the cycle lane and it will lead naturally onto B1046. If you are not on the cycle lane you will find the junction particularly difficult for a cyclist. Once you are sure you have got onto B1046 (you can tell this by the road becomes a single carriage way), leave the cycle lane and get onto your side of the road. The cycle lane ends shortly in front you.
Remain on B1046 for approximately 12km. You will pass Barton, Comberton, Toft, and Bourn in sequence. Then you will arrive at a double junction. Follow the traffic signs and continue onto B1046 on the other side. Be very cautious about the fast-moving traffic.
Once you are on the other side, carry on along B1046. You will pass Longstowe. You will then find traffic signs leading to the gliding club on your left and, shortly afterwards, the club gate on your right.
Do the reverse when you come back. Make very sure to join the cycle lane when B1046 disappears into the dual carriageway.
Do not cycle too fast and exhaust yourself in the first half of the route, because there are quite a few small humps to climb in the second half. Also, you do not want to be too tired to fly when you arrive.
Prepare for your trip
You will not take off without knowing what you are doing and preparing accordingly, nor should you commit yourself to this 22km cycling trip unprepared.
If you have time, have a good meal an hour before departure. This hour long interval is very important as it can be upsetting and unhealthy to have a workout immediately after eating. Besides, your performance will be significantly deteriorated. Carry water for your trip.
If you have booked a morning session and you do not have time for a proper meal, eat what you can but not too much. In this case it is important to bring some food with you. Cereal bars or bananas will do fine. Chocolate is not recommended as it can make you very thirsty. Also, carry some water to go with the snacks.
Know your limits
If you do not have much exercise normally, it can be quite challenging to cycle 22km. You are encouraged to try something 10km first to see how you feel. Make sure to plan the route as a closed ring so you are never very far away from home in case you get exhausted. For the first attempt to cycle to the airfield, do not carry too much weight with you.
It is not normally necessary to eat (unless you have not had a meal beforehand) to remain fueled for the trip. However, constant drinking of water is absolutely necessary. Normally 600ml is just enough for a one-way trip but you should adjust this amount to suit your body's needs. If you are in doubt, carry more rather than less.
Wear outdoor clothing suitable for the season. Remember you will need to wear the same thing once you arrive. Cyclists tend to wear less because the exercise keeps them warm, but once you arrive there will be a lot of standing still in chilly wind. If you cannot find a balance, carry one or two layers in a backpack with you.
Before you return
Have a sandwich which is available at the club (or whatever is available if there is no sandwich). Bear in mind the return trip is of the same length and your body can be much closer to exhaustion than you think.
Prepare your bicycle
Being roadworthy is the minimum requirement of the bicycle. This means the most basic set of requirements such as having effective steering and brakes. But apart from that, you will find the following helpful:
- Keep appropriate tyre pressures. The correct pressures (plural form because the front and rear wheels should be treated differently, with the rear wheel pressure slightly higher than the front one) are determined by the type of the bicycle, dimensions of the tyres, weight of the rider, seasonality, conditions of the road surface (with the road to the airfield being worse than average "road use"), and whether the surface is dry or wet. Consult suitable cycling technical material for reference values. Generally slightly reducing the tyre pressure improves the comfort on the road leading to the airfield, but doing this will make the tyres more prone to puncture, and also make the riding take more physical effort. Don't inflate over the limits written on the tyre, especially in the summer.
- Keep your bicycle lubricated, especially the transmission. Set your shifters correctly so that the chain does not squeak or rub on things while you ride.
- Have a professional bike fit (it's money well spent) to make sure your sitting position is ergonomic on your bicycle. This is a higher requirement than being "comfortable" as there is quite a wide range of positions that you will feel comfortable in if you only try it for five minutes. Sitting in an ergonomic position will help you to save effort while cycling for long distances, and more importantly, to minimise the likelihood of injury.
Extra equipment that helps
The author has found over the past few years that the following will help to make the trip easier:
- A sat nav device (either for cycling, or your google map on your mobile phone provided you can secure it to the handlebar and the battery lasts) for the first couple of trips to help you to get to know the way.
- Clipless pedals makes cycling easier. However, before taking them onto the highway do make sure you know how to use these. Falling over on a road where the speed limit is 60mph is not fun. Besides, if you decide to use the "road" style of pedals and cleats instead of the "MTB" style, you will need to bring a pair of walking shoes with you. Flying (and driving trucks etc.) with cleats under your shoes is very hazardous, don't try.
- A water bladder eliminates the need of reaching for the water bottle every time you wish to drink water.
- A bright torch if you plan to return after sunset.
- A puncture repair kit (and knowing how to use them), which usually includes either patches or sealant or a spare tyre, and some means of inflation, either a pump or a can of compressed carbon dioxide.
- A pair of gloves just in case you need to work on the chain.
In case of an emergency
Most of the times emergencies that happen during the trip can be categorised into: mechanical failures, injury, weather, and exhaustion.
This can include having a flat tyre (most common), or more serious faults such as snapped chains or failed brakes. You should not ride a bicycle that is mechanically not roadworthy: you can put yourself and other road users into danger. If you can repair the fault, do so when you are safely off the road. Otherwise, the response typically depends on whether the bicycle can be pushed or not.
The village of Toft is approximately half way between Cambridge city centre and the airfield. This can be conveniently used as a point of no return in case of a mechanical. If your bicycle can be pushed and you are not yet there, you can just push it back to Cambridge. It will be a bit of walk, but the road is flat and not very difficult. If you break down beyond this point, you should consider pushing the bike to the airfield. Usually there will be people returning to Cambridge at the end of the day and you can ask for a lift back. If there is no space for your bicycle, find somewhere on the airfield to leave it and come back for it another day.
In the very rare event that the bicycle cannot be pushed (i.e. a wheel is jammed, which the author only experienced once), you should seek help. Do not try to carry the bicycle back home yourself, otherwise you risk subsequent exhaustion. Give your friends in Cambridge a call and let someone arrange a taxi to pick you up. If all fails (such as your mobile phone runs out of battery), try your luck with passing drivers.
Do not attempt to cycle after an injury. If the cause is anything but the most trivial kind of falling over (e.g. a collision with a motor vehicle), call for an ambulance. If you are sure that the problem is nothing more than a flesh wound, you can try to walk with your bicycle.
You should check the weather forecast before setting off. If you are caught unexpected in rain, try to determine if it is just a shower. If it will pass soon, find a shelter and wait. If this is not likely, getting wet is not the end of the world. Things to keep in mind are:
- Do everything you can to keep your mobile phone dry. If things get worse, it is your best chance to get rescue.
- Turn on your lights even if it is in the day.
- Ride at a reasonable pace and in sensible places. The road is slippery when wet, so you should avoid uneven surfaces which may cause you to fall. Do not ride too fast as your brakes may not be effective and the wheels will lock if you attempt to brake hard.
- Ride at a defensive position. You have your right to be in the middle of the road. If the motorist behind you wants to overtake you, it is his responsibility to figure it out without affecting you. If the motorist is stuck behind you for quite a while, let it be: they are not getting wet so don't worry about them. Do not ride too close to the kerb which is an invitation for motorists to overtake, which creates unnecessary hazard in rainy weather.
- If you wear glasses, do not remove them just because water gets on it and you can't see clearly: wipe it clean with your hand as frequently as it needs to be.
This is always down to inadequate preparation. If you find yourself forgetting to bring food soon after you set off, buy something before you leave Cambridge. There are also shops in the villages that you will pass. Before leaving the club you should again buy some food to carry along with you. If eating does not help, stop cycling for a while and walk to let your body recover. Once you have recovered, cycle slowly and in easy gears.
If this happens all the time, it can boil down to several reasons:
- Your bicycle is abnormally tiring. You should maintain it well, get the faults repaired, or just buy a better one.
- You lack exercise. A healthy adult should not get exhausted by riding 20 km if he (she) has eaten well beforehand and drinks water regularly.
- You always carry too much weight. You will not need 20 kg of whatever you have got in your backpack at the airfield. If you are transporting equipment, you should not be cycling.