Author Archives: Frank Burns

Poor guy…

Was speed the killer on this straight stretch of road? 27 years of age and died in a collision at 6.45am.

Luddington in the Brook



This little Bedfordshire village on the River Ouse gave its name to one of only 93 river minesweepers during the last war, called Ham-class sweepers. Why ‘Ham-class’? Because they were all named after places with ‘ham’ in their names. It’s full title was HMS Felmersham.


I smelled a rat

Sitting on a bench in a remote cemetery, I finish munching on an energy bar and throw the crumbs on the grass (for the birds, so I thought), and a rat nips under my legs to get to them first. I guess he won the ‘rat race’.

Not the actual rat



The story of William Dickens who, in 1717, fell from the church spire, breaking his foot and leg. Amazingly, he lived for another 42 years.

Tandem 23km


Shelton, one of those attractive, end-of-the-road hamlets

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The things we see on graves….


Grafham Water

Grafham Water, 3rd largest reservoir in England


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Now for some tech-talk…

Bicycles and human beings have a lot in common. We both have moving parts that either break or wear out. I can probably hear you say: ‘tell me about it!’ You may have broken a bone, which is likely to be an arm, leg or collar bone if you are a cyclist. Some of your joints may have worn out, and you’ve had a hip or knee replacement.

Well, my Litespeed Ti has suffered similarly from progressive age and constant use. I recently picked it up from the ‘bike hospital’, having had most of its moving parts replaced. In fact, the only original bits left are the frame and two wheels (including handlebars and saddle, of course). I have known for months that the whole drivetrain was edging towards the precipice of no return, but the closure of my local bike shop during the pandemic prevented the ‘surgery’ being carried out. So I kept riding and riding, clocking up the miles during lockdown, keeping fingers crossed that the drivetrain wouldn’t suddenly collapse…..but it did. The early symptoms included an overstretched chain jumping on the razor-sharp teeth of the front chainwheel. Just like many of us, the old bike was getting ‘long in the tooth’. Still unable to get it booked in at my LBS, I found another (equally professional) business that could fit me in.

With the complete re-fit, I have taken the opportunity to revise the entire range of gear ratios, bringing everything down several inches. Most of my cycling life, I have ridden the standard range provided by the compact-double chainring of 50/34, coupled with an 11-30 cassette at the back, giving a range of approximately 120″-30″. A good range to have, and it has served me very well over the years. But, as is the way with all human beings, the anno domini have been marching on almost imperceptibly, until I realised one day I wasn’t climbing the local hills with quite the same ease I used to and, like a lot of male cyclists of my ilk, I was refusing to accept the inevitable. Until now….

So, the bottom line is, I have had fitted a 40/24 crankset, with an 11-32 cassette, now giving me a gear range of 96″-20″, which means that some of the bothersome hills have mysteriously flattened out. In fact, I climbed one this morning that would have had me in my lowest gear with the old set-up, and now I find I have 3 ratios to spare!

If you are not familiar with ‘gear inches’ (as opposed to gain ratios), on my old set-up, to engage with the top ratio of 120″, I would have to be going at more than 80kph. Given that I seldom exceed 50/60kph, the top four or five ratios were useless and dispensable. Now, with a top ratio of only 96″, I can still pedal at speeds over 50kph, but it now gives me the benefit of a much bigger range at the bottom end, where they are most needed. But, playing around with chainwheel and cassette sizes can bring other changes as well, especially if your front and rear changers are no longer up to the job. Mine weren’t, so they had to be replaced too.

The nett result has been that I now have a bike which continues to be utterly familiar in every respect, except for its range of gears and its new-found ability to drag me up the hills without me complaining too much. What is there not to like?                           57km

Where’s the oxygen?

At 60 metres, the top of the north Bedfordshire ‘Alps’

Borage is in flower


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Change of steed

Tern Verge

My Litespeed Ti has been admitted into the A&E of a local bicycle hospital. It’s getting on in years, like so many of us, but came to an almost terminal halt recently about 10 miles from home.

Fully aware of its condition, I decided anyway to continue riding it until its last gasp, driven by the fact that my local bike shop has been closed for the duration of the lockdown, and unavailable to do the work.

With age and miles, the whole of the drivetrain wore out, and a stretched chain was clinging for dear life onto the razor-sharp teeth of the chainwheel. But then it started jumping, and grinding, and being generally uncooperative, so the bicycle doctors are currently performing radical transplant surgery which will change the whole drivetrain in its entirety.

So, in the meantime, I renew my acquaintance with my Tern Verge, a nifty machine with a wide range of gears for a 1x set-up, but only really designed for more sedate long-distance stuff, carrying luggage. But it could be the future of my adventuring escapades….

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An epitaph to lockdown?

Unspectacular source of River Kym

43km, out against and back with the wind

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His helmet is his epitaph


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Melchbourne Park

22km by tandem

Riding to Turkey during lockdown…

Who, outside the world of Himalayan climbing, would ever use the word ‘Everesting’? The fact that my spellcheck underlines it suggests that it hasn’t yet been elevated from ‘urban dictionary’ status to the heady heights of an Oxford English Dictionary entry. Since you know this website is all about matters cycling, you will already suspect it figures in the world of bicycles.

The fact that you can ‘climb’ Everest on a bike without straying too far from your front door is testament to peoples’ ingenuity at adapting modern technology to create new and exciting challenges. So, step out of your door, ride to the nearest substantial hill, and climb it non-stop enough times until you have ‘Everested’, in other words climbed to at least 8,848 metres. That is what Tom Stephenson, a 20 year old Cumbrian, did recently on his local climb, the Kirkstone pass, and broke the UK record in just over 9 hours, climbing the pass 38 times.

If I were to do something similar on my nearest proper hill in West Cambridgeshire, with only a 26 metre elevation, I’d have to climb it 340 times, not something I aim to do this week, nor any week. But this has kept a lot of keen cyclists busy during lockdown, it would seem. I mean, what else is there to do during a pandemic? Just nip out and spend nine hours climbing Everest, and then brag about it to the rest of the world via Strava. Am I sounding a bit cynical? I do apologise.

In the meantime, if you have followed any of my Without Words series of posts, you will know I have been ‘lane-bashing’ in my local area during lockdown, never straying more than 25km (15 miles) from my front door. All my rides have been shortish rides of 40-50km, occasionally exceeding 60km, and always in the morning as a pre-lunch escape from the house. I have ridden just about every lane, passed through every village, stopped in many of them to find something out about the community, always started from home and finished at home, and learned a lot about what lies on my doorstep. It’s been a fascinating venture, and it’s come up with an equally fascinating statistic.

Today is the three month anniversary of the start of lockdown. In that time I have clocked up a fairly modest 2,416km, but stringing all the rides together I discover that I have ridden from Paris to Edirne, just inside the Turkish border. Having ridden from my home to Istanbul in the past, I know just about the whole of that route, and it’s a long way.

Which reminds me of a little anecdote from that journey. I stopped at a crossroad somewhere in Germany to consult my map, and two pretty young girls on bicycles stopped, and asked if they could help me. I was flattered, of course, but I had been waiting for a moment like this. I scratched my head, pretended I was really lost and a bit confused, and said: “Can you tell me the way to Istanbul?”. They were completely flummoxed by my question. I kept a straight face, waiting for them to find an answer. They looked at each other, then at me, and one of them eventually waved an arm vaguely in a south easterly direction and said: “Oh, that’s a long way from here, maybe 2000-3000km”. I did my best to look thoroughly crestfallen, and said to them: “Damn! I wish someone had told me that before I set off”.

View over the Cambridgeshire from a mere 40 metres.
View over the Cambridgeshire countryside from a mere 40 metres.

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18km by tandem

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Great Barford