The Bicycle Upgrade & Accident

The last time I blogged about anything cycle related, I was riding a cheap Raleigh Pioneer. I had upgraded the tyres to Puncture resistant ones (Schwalbe Marathon Plus) but that was about it. I had covered an awful lot of miles on the £200 starter bicycle and it had begun to feel very clunky. As I couldn’t seem to fathom out why by myself, I decided it was time to pay someone to service it. You expect to need maybe bearings replace or a new chain however, the phone call I got went like this:

Bicycle Man: “Hi there, I’m just calling about your bicycle. Unfortunately the rear forks are bent out of shape and the wheel isn’t sitting in place correctly. It’s unservicable and unsafe to ride.”

Me: “Oh crud, well that’s not great is it!”

Bicycle Man: “No not really, you’re going to need a new bicycle”

Me: “I’ll get on that then….thanks, I think….”

So yes, a little more than a few parts here and there. A whole new bicycle. My first reaction was panic, and then sadness and then back to panic at how I would afford to replace the bicycle. My riding has come on a long way since I bought the Raleigh so I knew I wanted to upgrade but I didn’t have upgrade kind of cash just knocking around in my bank account. Fortunately one of my colleagues mentioned to me that our Company is part of the Cycle Scheme.

The Cycle Scheme allows you to buy a bicycle & accessories (e.g. helmet, lock, back rack, panniers, lights etc) with no initial outlay as your employer pays the upfront costs. You then ‘rent’ the bicycle from your employer for a monthly fee. This monthly fee is deducted from your pay before tax so you save Tax and NI on however much you repay. At the end of your ‘hire’ period (normally 12 months) your employer can transfer ownership of the bicycle over to you for what they deem to be the bicycle’s market value. It almost works like an interest and tax free loan. It’s really very cool. Please do see their website for more details though as I am not an authority on the Cycle Scheme.

Anyway, my Raleigh happened to be broken roughly a month before I was due to ride the British Heart Foundation London to Brighton sponsored cycle ride. The process of Cycle Scheme is obviously slower than going to a shop and taking a bicycle away the same day as there is paperwork and Royal Mail involved. I was pretty desperate to get the bicycle sorted so I opted to do the cheeky thing (with the agreement of the cycle shop and my employer) which was to pay for the bicycle on my credit card and then have the balance of the refunded onto the card once the Cycle Scheme paper work was complete. It was a little risky as if I wasn’t eligible for the Cycle Scheme for any reason, I would have a bicycle I couldn’t afford but it was a risk I weighed up and took.

The Cycle Scheme only utilises local bicycle shops (no big chain brands) so I went off to Bike Trax in Wanstead. I have to say, it’s lovely going into a local bike shop where the mechanics and sales people recognise you and ask you how this clunk and that click has been doing since they looked at it for you. You just don’t get that level of service from a big chain. Now don’t get me wrong, I can’t fault the big chains customer service overall (I am particularly fond of Evans Cycles online for amazing deals and customer service) but it juts doesn’t compare to the personal touch.

I deviate away from the point which is that I chose to purchase myself a Trek 7.3 FX  17″ ladies Hybrid bicycle. I almost had heart palpitations at the thought of a bicycle being £500 but I can proclaim that after riding her for a few months, she is worth every penny!

While I was spending so much money, I also opted to get myself a back rack, clip on pannier and a new lock. Let’s face it, with a £500 bicycle you don’t want to be securing it with a £15 coil lock from Argos do you? I also took out bicycle insurance. I was all sorted and set off to fall completely in love with my new machine and to name her Daisy.

Fortunately for me, my Cycle Scheme paper work all came through in time for the due date on my credit card bill and everything was refunded and sorted. I also had plenty of time (about 3 weeks) to get used to Daisy before we rode the London to Brighton.

We completed the 54 mile ride in a good time of 4 hours 45 minutes and I managed to cycle all the way up The Beacon (also known as killer hill at mile number 50). I will admit that miles 32 to 40 were really tough, I think that was my ‘wall’ when my bum hurt and I generally felt like I was running out of steam. I raised a grand total of £384.00 for the British Heart Foundation. Here’s a snap of Daisy and Me after the finish with our medal.

Recently however, fortune has not smiled on Daisy and me. Mainly because we got hit by a car. It was the driver of the car’s fault. I was on the correct side of the road cycling along and he pulled a U-turn (heading onto my side) and completely took me out. The worst part of it was that for the last 2 seconds, I was pulling on my breaks as hard as I could but just knew there was nothing more I could do to try and stop or get out the way. It was the most horiffic feeling to just know you’re going to be hit by a car and it is inevitably going to be painful.

I came completely off the bike and hit the ground. I did clonk my head against the road but thanks to the good old skid lid (a.k.a. helmet), I escaped pretty much unscathed (graze to my arm being the worst injury). Poor Daisy got a clobbering. Here’s a snap of the damage to just 1 pedal:

You can see on the image there just how mangled the metal is and how the pedal has been wrenched almost completely away from the crank arm of the chain set. There was a lot of other damage too. The entire list equated to:

  • Bent Handlebars
  • Bent Handlebar Stem
  • Ruined Handlebar Grips
  • Bent Saddle
  • Bent Seat Post
  • Chain Set Ruined
  • Pedals Mangled
  • Bottom Bracket Wrecked
In total a repair cost of £225. There is also cosmetic damage to the back rack and pannier as well as my watch and helmet camera. The guy who hit me was incredibly apologetic so I decided to only claim for getting my bicycle back on the road. I can live with a few scratches to the other items because they are still working. I have now been without my bicycle for 2 weeks but the bill has been paid and we’re just waiting for the new chain set to be delivered so I can get back on the road.
Being knocked off was terrifying but ultimately has not put me off cycling one tiny bit. I also feel validated by the free cycle training session I had (courtesy of my local London borough, check if you are eligible at TFL’s website) as the instructor basically said the only thing he could pick at was my use of gears which was probably the fact I was riding a 12 geared mountain bike rather than a 21 geared hybrid.
In summary, new bicycle is excellent. Being knocked off new bicycle, not so much fun.

Sugar & Spice & All Things Nice

I have covered briefly in a different post that I rather enjoy baking. I have been baking for about a year now in the dedicated sense of the word i.e. buying decent equipment, actively practicing techniques etc. I really think I am beginning to get the hang of it. I can now turn out lovely cupcakes, royal iced birthday cakes and traditional fruit loaves amongst a few other recipes.

In order to celebrate my advances, i have chosen a few images to display how I am developing. First, lets take layered cakes. I started with layered cakes and simply drentching them in normal icing. It looked messy but it tasted good.

As this really wasn’t very pretty, I turned to mastering the Victoria sponge cake instead as it involves no all over icing. I managed to master it pretty well I think. It looked better and definitely tasted batter.

I also invested in a giant cup cake baking pan which basically allows you to bake your sponge into the shape of a giant cup cake before you sandwich it together and decorate as you choose. I firmly believe it would be best to use royal icing on the base and butter cream on the top. The only time I have made one of these cakes successfully, I had not quite graduated to royal icing so I used chocolate fudge icing on the base and created the pleated look by piping slightly thicker rows onto the smoothed out surface. Here’s the finished result.

Not the most beautiful thing but boy it was TASTY. The next time I attempted a giant cupcake, the blooming thing stuck in the pan. As a rescue plan, it was instead transformed into a Super Mario toadstool. The top was covered with white royal icing and then red food colouring painted on. The base was butter cream icing. It was a very very good tasting cake.

As my royal icing had been going so well, I decided to try a whole cake. The attempt was not too good but I learned a LOT of lessons via trial and error e.g. there is NO substitute for a butter cream icing layer over the cake to be iced left in the fridge overnight. Here is the Baby cake i made for this attempt as a maternity leave cake

So, with all these royal icing lessons learned, I applied it to a double sponge cake layers with jam. I covered the whole outside with butter cream icing and refrigerated for an hour or so. This provided the perfect base for the royal icing. Not only did it smooth the cake out, but the butter cream provided the necessary adhesion. I got the icing nice and level by basically stroking it a lot. I cut out and attached the butterflies (also in royal icing) with just a little water. The writing was butter cream icing (of the wrong consistency hence the slightly jerky appearance).

I also created a novelty cake for my own pirate themed birthday party. Here’s my treasure chest stocked with booty! It was made from 2 sponges baked in 2lb loaf tins. They were then trimmed and wedged together before being coated in chocolate fudge butter cream icing. I used the milk chocolate Mikado biscuit sticks for the plank like detail. It was a lot of fun to make!

Overall, I am incredibly pleased with my layered cake progression. Onto the cupcakes!

I began by just baking cupcakes and not decorating them at all. When I did graduate to decorating, it was generally normal icing spread out with sprinkles on. Not too taxing or attractive. Eventually, I got a rudimentary piping set and produced these

They weren’t all that good but I only had a couple of sizes of nozzle and not much experience. I went to a good bakery suppliers and bought a big star nozzle to achieve mega swirls on cupcakes. I also decided to deviate away from the standard sprinkle decoration configuration. As a result, my decorations evolved into beefy swirls and nougat topping

From that point on, my butter cream piping improved more and more. My main improvement came when I purchased a Wilton 1M tip. It is simply the most versatile tip in my piping box. It swirls and flowers very well as seen int he pictures below

And a flower. The 2 tone icing is achieved by painting stripes of food coloring on the inside of the piping bag (disposable sort) before loading your icing in.

As my royal icing had gone so well on the larger cakes, I had a go at cupcakes too. The trickiest part was getting the cakes to bake completely level so that the icing sat evenly. These were made to commemorate my sister and I finally seeing Take That live after 18 years of waiting

The next royal iced cakes were made for a girly girls birthday party. The flowers are pre-bought Dr Oetker wafer daisies, however, the leaves were made by me using green royal icing and leaf cutters, The line detail was completed with a cocktail stick.

My top tips for self teaching are these:

  • Youtube has a WEALTH of information, good and bad.
  • Buy a Wilton M1 Tip if you want to ice cupcakes beautifully
  • Find some good disposable piping bags (I actually don’t mind the Sainsbury’s own brand ones) because you can put any size tip in them and don’t need a coupler
  • Scour car boot sales etc for equipment. I got an amazing rolling pin and other stuff for between 20p and £2 on boot sales
  • Get at least 1 cake stand. It’s a little extra satisfaction seeing something you are proud of on a lovely stand. Charity shops and boot sales are ideal when looking for ones that won’t break the bank
  • Do try off the wall thing, you may well learn something important from your mistakes
  • Natural food colouring is rubbish. I like Sugarflair paste an Silver Spoon colourings
  • Vanilla essence and Vanilla Extract are worlds apart. Always use the extract
  • If you want to use a fruit flavoring in something, use the real fruit and not an essence, essences taste awful when compared to the real thing
  • Taste as you bake! If it’s not quite right, you have a chance to fix it before it’s too late!

I have the best friends

I am fortunate enough to have amazing friends living in amazing places. One of my friends is an expat in Dubai and lives in, what can only be described as a show apartment. It is the epitome of a metropolitan lifestyle. Sleek white surfaces, attractive art work but just enough gadgets, gizmos and personal touches to give away who lives there. It would be a shame to have such a great friend living in such a superb location and not visit them wouldn’t it? I thougth so too, so I went to visit him this year for my twenty somethingth Birthday.

Last time I was in Dubai was 2008 and the place has changed remarkably even since then. Living with the scale of change and development going on constantly must be mind boggling! I took this little skyline shot from somewhere on Jumeriah Beach

The first 2 days of my time away was actually not spent in Dubai but in Abu Dhabi at The Yas Hotel. Being on the Yas Island, Naturally we had to visit Ferarri World. I have to say, it is not worth the money you pay to get into unless you are a Ferarri nut but we still enjoyed ourselves. Here’s the grand entrance:

Ferarri World currently boasts the fastest roller coaster in the world. I suffered a case of the nerves whilst queuing but did go on it. I can assure you it was very quick. I have been on Rita Queen of Speed at Alton Towers and she is tame compared to this beasty! Here’s the signage for the roller coaster. I have to admit, it doesn’t really transmit the feeling that your skin is about to get a stretching…..

There is a good viewing platform/smokers area overlooking the roller coaster so after the ordeal, we went to see how bad it looked from the viewing platform. It looked as bad as it felt

We stayed at The Yas hotel for the evening and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the roof bar. It was a spectacular sight to behold. The roof is actually constructed of many individual panels all angled the same way. The panels are lit which gives a really decadent feeling to the whole place.

The Yas hotel is set right next to the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 race course and during dinner I spotted cyclists tearing around the course. This made me instantly jealous as I would have liked to join in. Apparently it’s a monthly thing when the F1 track is opened up to cyclists. I have resolved that cycling around the Abu Dhabi F1 course is one of the things I need to do before I die.

Whilst at The Yas, we stayed in a rather glorious suite with a bath big enough to swim in nearly! I took a video to document the epicness naturally. The bed size is not really conveyed well on the video but there were 3 pillows in a row across the mattress, that’s one enormous bed!

All in all, the Yas hotel is very lovely but there’s not really a whole lot of anything else going on within a reasonable distance. Unless it’s F1 weekend and some big name bands are playing or you’re there to not leave the hotel, a short stay will suffice in order to relax a little and see the limited sights.

On leaving Yas island, we decamped back to the marina side apartment in Dubai. The rest of my visit was spent eating far too much, working out in the gym because I ate far too much and generally just hanging out with my friends. There were a couple of expeditions out of Dubai in order to purchase some rather fantastic comic statuettes. In total, 6 were purchased although I only have pictures of the first 4. Here we have The Punisher, Spiderman (my personal favourite), Carnage (VERY scary) and Venom (VERY creepy).

I feel the need to show you close ups of Venom and Carnage as they are simply terrifying. It gave me the willies knowing they were in the same apartment as me! The only saving grace was that I know Spidey, Punisher, Iron Man and Hulk were ll in the next room ready to kick their behinds.

I really did enjoy my first ‘Premier Screen’ experience at Dubai Mall. I knew you got luxury but I wasn’t expecting an electric reclining lazy boy leather chair levels of luxury. I can hand on heart say that watching a film in the ‘Premier Screen’ is completely worth the money at least once.

Also, I discovered frozen yogurt. I don’t think I’ll ever be the same again.