Listen to all your IT

Let me tell you a story….

Like many large organisations nowadays, we offer a secure file transfer service to the internet. This service is used to allow customers and partners to send files to us as well as allowing us to send out files to a variety of partner organisations. This service has to be open to anywhere on the internet because all these official connections can come from absolutely anywhere.

Naturally, an open service comes to the attention of the bad guys fairly quickly nowadays. And if you’re doubtful of this, might I suggest firing up an ssh server, set up a monitor on failed logins on the internet and waiting a few minutes.

Anyway, so we’ve got this service, sitting there, listening on port 22 (standard port for ssh and sftp) that anyone can attempt to logon to…..

ssh

Now we accept this may get attacked, it’s the nature of such a service but we use strong usernames and passwords which we set (rather than those connecting), so brute force attempts are not getting anywhere.

Then one day, one of our database administrators gets in touch. “Looks like login attempts are going up on [this service] MFT (managed file transfer). Um…yes. Yes it does.

login attemptsstart

It should be noted that the DBA isn’t to bothered about someone trying to breach us at this stage, he’s worried he’s going to run out of disk storage. No-one else has told us anything. In fact, we checked the other teams. Security team say everything looks normal….And it does….. (This is number of sessions passing through one of our firewalls) No real change there, in fact it’s dropped right off….

fwsessions

Well this is confusing. Still, something has changed. Lets check with the network team, see if they’ve seen anything unusual. Now again, it should be noted that our network team don’t spend their time constantly checking all 900 trillion incoming packets we get every day. As long as our internet pipe isn’t full (and we have a very fat internet pipe), they’re not going to raise any alerts.

Ahah! Orange boxes show high number of permanent sessions, many packets but no established connection. Attackers are opening up an ssh session and firing lots of login attempts down that tunnel.

packets

Numbers on the left are source IP addresses and sessions in brackets. Where are are they coming from? CHINA! We’re being attacked from CHINA!

(I’m using capitals for effect, unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ll be aware that state and non-state sponsored attacks from China and Russia overwhelmingly make up the majority of hacking that takes place nowadays. Certainly they’re the biggest hitters on our firewalls by far)

How many then? Peaking at over 500 THOUSAND attempts an hour, this is actually quite serious.

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Little sub-story here. When non-operational or non-security people are involved in a security investigation, they are liable to make knee-jerk decisions. Not because they’re idiots or unprofessional but they sometimes lack the experience to understand what will work and what won’t when addressing issues such as this in the heat of the moment. They may also be the loudest in the room and need quieting so off we go on an educational whack-a-mole process of blocking individual IP addresses…

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YES!!!!

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NO…..

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You see, you’re literally on a hiding to nothing thinking the people carrying out these attacks are sat behind a single IP address, typing out login attempts at a rate of 500,000 per hour. This is a botnet (and we ran some checks against some of the sources, they were most commonly, linux boxes or compromised DSL routers with an open ssh port) , it’s a lot more than one device and it is definitely centrally controlled. The instant it realises it’s not getting through from one source, it tries from another, and another, and another. Whack-a-mole isn’t going to work. Geo-blocking might. Bye bye China.

 Nope, that’s not worked either although we’ve changed our configuration so we can see the source IP’s further inside the network.

mftlogs

As an aside, we can now also see which accounts are being tried. There’s no root account on this service, but hey, fill your boots.

Where is that IP address based? 

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Italy? Are they attacking us now?

Of course, it’s not state-sponsored Italy, just part of that botnet. It’s global. This is big, very big. I mean, it’s coming from everywhere.

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Our best option now is to let the service see the true source address, turn on DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service) protection and hope that sorts it because I’m almost out of ideas now.

fixed

BOOM! That sorted it. The service is now actively maintaining a dynamic block list of source IP’s. If it sees more than 5 failed logins from one source it’ll deny access from that IP for a set period.

So what’s the moral of that story? 

Well at first everyone wanted to blame our security operations team for not telling us about this but in fact they’re blameless, nothing looked unusual to them. Maybe if we’d fed them the MFT service logs, they may have spotted this but I know from experience we’d have tried to tune out noise before this so we may have accidentally have blocked their alerts.

The moral in this case is listen to all your IT admin teams even if they’re not telling you about security related incidents. Because they may be telling you about security related incidents without even realising it. What started as a complaint about disk space filling up from a database administrator who *never* gets involved in security, ended as a multi-team security investigation with a concerted effort from a number of SME’s to come to a conclusion. 

As a secondary moral, if you have a dedicated security team, let them see as much as possible and let them react if it is a security incident. Chances are they’ll have seen it all before and will understand what works and what won’t. They will provide your most measured response and hopefully will ensure the situation is resolved in the quickest time frame possible.

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Man experiences severe, multi-second delay due to cyclists

“It was like my life had frozen to a halt”, stated Mark Reynolds, a driver from Norwich, after being held up by up to 7 seconds before saying ‘sod it’ and flooring it past them into oncoming traffic.

Hard working driver, Mark Reynolds was on his way to carry out his urgent shopping and crap breakfast at an awful shopping centre just outside Dunston before going home to spend all day watching telly when he encountered other road users who weren’t using vehicles he found acceptable.

cyclists

“These people had filled the road, just like me, but I didn’t like them and that’s not right. It was really hard to drive and video them with my mobile phone at the same time but I managed to hold the phone in front of the passenger seat to avoid any uncomfortable questions about who the dangerous one was. Although that lady I almost hit on the pavement was quite annoyed.”

“When I *eventually* overtook them after waiting 5 seconds, a car came the other way so I had to swerve away from it towards the cyclists, I mean, I’m hardly going to risk hitting a car am I?”

“I felt entirely safe through this manouvere on account of being protected by a ton of metal.”, he added, “So everything is fine”

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Mark has used the experience to asses road safety and has started a government petition to force cyclists to have insurance just like some motorists have, when asked how this would stop them riding along the road  in front of him he got a far away look in his eyes before blurting out ‘Stands to reason, doesn’t it?’

Choose a route that places minimal reliance upon the diligence or competency of drivers

I didn’t want to post this. There is a ton of information out there on this subject, I’ll only add to the noise. But then, I saw the same old nonsense, over and over again.

I posted a tweet that got a lot of love. So I’ll pass on my 40+ years experience, take it if you like or do something different. There’s no science here, just my experience. These are in order.

  • Choose your route. Want some safety advice? The best I can offer is ‘choose a route that removes conflict’. Honestly. If you’re riding across a mad roundabout where you’re terrified every single day, see if you can find a route that avoids it. Adding half a mile on won’t kill you. This point is number 1 for a reason, it will make your commute so much nicer and safer, if it’s pleasant you’re far more likely to keep at it. Do not go for the most direct route. You’re on a bike, not a car, that road has not been made for you. Look for the pleasurable route and enjoy it.

My winning tweet was as follows: “Choose a route that places minimal reliance upon the diligence or competency of drivers” as per the title. That’s because most drivers are useless, malicous or tossers. I’m sure most of them are lovely people normally but for some reason, they get behind the wheel and turn into horrible people.

  • Mudguards. I was a slow convert, I’ll admit. Spend a bit extra, get some good, strong mudguards (cough…SKS), get to work dry, clean and without dog poo in your hair (another story). They don’t look great, they sometimes rattle, they sometimes foul other bits but by god they do their job well. Even if your bike hasn’t been made to take mudguards, mudguards that still fit are available. It may not seem like a worthwhile investment in summer but you’ll be thanking me come the end of winter.
  • Dynamo lights. If you can, get some. You’ll need a new hub and the lights themselves but life-changing things. German engineering, standardised light patterns, brackets that can withstand a nuclear blast. After discovering these things after 20 years of cycle commuting I was amazed at how good they are. If they’re not for you, I would recommend two flashing LED’s, front and back.
    light
  • You are going to eat more. Yes, you’re going to weigh less and be fitter but the thing you’ll notice is how much more you need to eat.  Half the weight you’ll carry into work will be food and you’ll have eaten it all by 10:30 am and be wanting more. Want some more advice? Make your first breakfast something solid and filling, porridge or yoghurt. Second breakfast can be a bacon buttie or something. If you have a third breakfast, start looking at pasta carbs. Look over your food at your work colleagues with their diet plan meals, fight them if they try to take your nutrition off you. You need it more than them.
  • Forget all that nonsense about e-bikes, adventure bikes, commuting bikes. Any bike will do. Yes, some may do a slightly better job but you can ride whatever you’ve got. If I were recommending a type of bike, I’d start with a touring bike. Comfortable, ready for mudguards, lights and pannier rack, robust, generally quite cheap.
  • E-bikes. Ooh, these have become a discussion point. As far as I’m concerned, they’re brilliant. They’re not cheating or doing it wrong, they’re huge enablers for people who need some extra help. They make cycling attractive for non-cyclists, give a boost of confidence to those who feel vulnerable in traffic, can make a sweaty commute sweat-free, can make a long commute shorter. If you are thinking about cycling to work but are put off by the distance, the hills, the effort or setting off from the lights, think e-bike!
  • What you wear makes naff all difference. If wearing a helmet or bright clothing makes you feel better then I recommend you do it. I have for years, commuting on a bright yellow bike with a bright yellow pannier on the side (I like yellow), they are visible from the moon and yet, people ‘don’t see me’. All the time. It. Doesn’t. Work. Because people don’t look. It makes no difference how conspicuous you make yourselves, you’re not the issue. But really, wear what you feel most comfortable in. If there were a single item of clothing I would say you should always wear, it’d be a cycling cap. Keeps the sun, rain, snow and hail out of your eyes….looks cool.
    yellow
  • Unfortunately you’re going to become a weirdo magnet. I can’t explain it, sorry. Amongst the people asking you if you’ve lost your license or why is your car still in the garage, you’re going to be sought out by some of the oddest people in work, or even on your street. They’ll look like normal people, they may even know you well already, but underneath…..weird. I don’t know which ones will look for you but with me it’s the ones who find it necessary to complain to me about other cyclists behaviour, will want to tell me about a cyclist who was killed or will want to tell me to wear a helmet. You can try reasoning with them, you can try turning it around onto them, it rarely works.
  • Learn to repair stuff. I mean simple stuff that will get you home. Punctures, rubbing brakes, clicking gears. As a confidence booster it’s hard to beat being able to get yourself moving again.
  • It’s not that bad out there.  Don’t believe the stuff you see in the papers. Cycling to work and back is awesome. 99% of the time you will absolutely love it.  No need for the gym, no need for petrol, you arrive at work invigorated, awake, happy. Your buns will become as steel, your mind will become as mustard. After a while you won’t notice the distance, the work, the rain or the snow. Your legs will just knock out those miles and you will be riding into a headwind from hell with rain blasting your face and You. Will. Be. Smiling.

OK with all that? Cycle commuting is great, you will struggle to look back once you take the plunge. The money you save will be astounding. I first incentivised myself by putting 20 quid a week into a bank account, which was my petrol money at the time. I paid for my bike maintenance out of that but the rest was mine. By the end of the year I bought myself a lovely new bike. The second year we went on holiday with it. Cars are moneypits. They suck the life out of you in so many ways.

Love, Jon.

 

A Cyclist’s Perspective

As part of road safety week at work I was asked to write an article from a cyclists perspective about what it’s like to cycle on the roads. The idea from our H&S team was that with a cyclists perspective made available to staff, they might think a bit harder about their driving around cyclists. I was happy to do this and happy that they asked. I also asked that they avoid mentioning helmets and high viz which they seem to have done (I know from experience as soon as either are mentioned, that’s *all* people want to talk about.)

Naturally my article was edited to reduce the word count but the full article is below.

 

I cycle on the road pretty much every day, I commute to work and back most days, 13 miles each way which I appreciate is more than most people would be willing to consider. I also go shopping, visit friends, go to restaurants and cinemas and sometimes even cycle for leisure. Cycling is a fantastic mode of transport for all these things, there are no queues, no parking problems, you can carry far more on your bike than you may realise and of course, everyone benefits from the reduction in pollution and traffic when someone cycles. Sadly the UK is a nation in love with its cars and has been very slow to provide the one thing proven to get more people out on their bikes, safe, secure infrastructure. Even in Warrington which is light years ahead of a lot of places, the cycle lanes are intermittent, often badly designed and are not sufficient to convince those who want to, to get out of their cars. Most wannabe cyclists never make the leap because they simply don’t feel safe, especially women. This is why most cyclists appear to be fit, young, male, ‘lycra louts’, the roads are simply too toxic for anyone else.

Cycling is a great way to get fit, it’s free once you’ve bought the bike and will save you a fortune in vehicle costs in a very short space of time. I initially started cycling to work because I was tired of sitting in huge queues of traffic, it seemed such a waste of my time when I could be doing something far more enjoyable instead. I can cycle home faster than I can drive it most days. My car has cobwebs on and I’m certainly not wasting any money on buying a new one any time soon, there’s no point. Once you start cycling you realise how much of a money pit your car is. You’re working just to pay for your car for a significant proportion of your time, work it out.

So this means that a lot of cycling has to happen on the roads which can feel very scary for most people, generates animosity from some drivers who believe roads are their private preserve (local roads are funded by council tax and general taxation and are available for all to use no matter which mode of transport they choose – vehicle tax does not pay for the roads that cyclists use) and places cyclists in a risky position.

Near misses are common-place unfortunately, an almost daily occurrence for me. I don’t believe the vast majority are intentional (although some clearly are)  but are usually just a lack of understanding by drivers about either how close they are, or why it is so dangerous for them to pass too close and too quickly. The highway code (rule 163) recommends giving cyclists plenty of room when overtaking. Cyclists have to deal with issues that drivers may be unaware of, potholes, grids, side winds, debris, so it is best to give plenty of room in case the cyclist has to swerve to avoid something. Waiting for a few seconds behind a cyclist could save a life and you’ll get held up a lot longer by other drivers so have some patience and wait for an opportunity when you can safely overtake. Is it worth overtaking? Will the cyclist just catch you up at the next junction or queue? If not, wait, you’ll save fuel and arrive no earlier.

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If there were some key messages I’d like drivers to think about, it’d be to not consider cyclists an outgroup. They’re not cyclists, they’re husbands, wives, sons, daughters. They have children and parents. They’re often drivers too and completely understand the challenges of driving. They’re not cycling to hold people up or cause them grief, they’re just trying to get from one place to another safely in an efficient, green and healthy way. Every cyclist you see has reduced the number of cars on the road by one. They are helping your journey by reducing congestion, they are helping keep your children safe from pollution, they are helping reduce the load on the NHS, the amount of money we must pay to maintain the roads and even helping you find a parking space.

 

And for all this they are just asking for a bit of patience, a bit of extra room. Please pass cyclists with plenty of room when it is safe to do so.

Samuri fluff

I’ve thought up a new safety measure that drivers can take to stop them killing people all the time. Inspired by the elegantly named ‘Dutch reacharound’ which recommends drivers reach for their door handle with their right hand (The Dutch like much of the world, drive on the wrong side of the road), to force them to twist round in their seat when opening a door. The idea being they’re far more likely to look for cyclists and other drivers passing their vehicle and are therefore less likely to door them, the Samuri fluff is designed to stop drivers ruining everyone else’s life by actually build a bit of care in what they get up to on a daily basis. The Samuri fluff has also been inspired by an idiot in a jeep who almost killed me this morning.

The Samuri fluff is quite simple in it’s approach, I will explain thus. The Samuri fluff can be adopted for people who drive on the correct side of the road and for people who drive on the wrong side of the road merely by switching left for right and vica versa. But enough of that, lets get down to it.

Fluffing

In the UK, when someone is driving up to a T-junction and they are turning right as we see the driver of the red car here doing, in an attempt to save 0.47 seconds, they will spend a lot of their time looking to the left. For reasons I can’t really be arsed working out this seems to be a quite a common theme. Lot of time looking left for a gap in the traffic heading the way they will be heading, followed by a relatively quick glance to the right.

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What this ultimately results in is them not really paying very much attention to what’s coming from the right. Like a cyclist or something. Plus, I’d guess without any real effort, that while they’re looking to the left, assuming there is a gap or no traffic at all, they’re already 75%, maybe 80% committed to not actually stopping at all and are pretty much already accelerating. The final check right is a mere tickbox exercise and technically isn’t required at all because traffic heading their way, is all clear ahead. Job done, junction cleared, all that time saved.

Oh, apart from him. Yeah, forgot about him.

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NOTE TO CAR DRIVERS! AS WELL AS HURTING OR KILLING A CYCLIST, THIS COULD DELAY YOUR PRECIOUS DAY BY QUITE A BIT. SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO WAIT AROUND AFTER YOU’VE KILLED OR HURT SOMEONE WHICH ISN’T FAIR I KNOW BUT THAT’S HOW IT WORKS SOMETIMES. ALSO, PAINTWORK.

Yes, killing a cyclist could delay your very important journey a bit. Which is the genius of the Samuri fluff. As well as not destroying lives, this simple rule could actually save you time which is far more important.

 

Enter the Samuri Fluff

Step 1: As you approach a T junction and are turning right, pretend you are turning left. I know pretending is a childish thing but you generally seem to manage pretending you’re the most important thing on the road so it shouldn’t be too difficult.

Step 2: Look right, first. If something is coming, and that includes a whiney cyclist, you are going to have to stop. Now there’s no point in looking left.

Step 3: Stop

Step 4: Wait for traffic to be clear in both directions.

Step 5: Off you go.

I wrote a poem to help you remember.

When you’re driving in your car you usually really don’t go that far,
So wasting time matters not a chuff,
Look right first it’s the Samuri fluff.

 

HAPPY DRIVING

 

 

Don’t mention the helmets

For a number of years now, a small group of keen cyclists (myself included) at my workplace have formed a cycling group. The original intention was to offer a place for all cyclists in the company to come together, do cycling things. It’s morphed, slowly, into a group that spends more time encouraging people to cycle to work, attempting to encourage the company to invest in cycling facilities and also working with the council to try and encourage better facilities. We talk to people to try and help them get past the barriers they erect for themselves to stop them riding to work, we provide an on site repair service which is very popular and we provide route guidance, facility support, purchase guidance…lots of things. I’d like to think we have made a difference but it’s hard to tell.

Surveys at work during events we hold have taught us that the absolute, main cause of ‘people not cycling into work’, is safety, especially amongst the women we talk to. They’re scared of the roads, it’s that simple and it’s not difficult to understand why. The UK’s roads are incredibly toxic environments which is very much a cultural issue. Not only are the roads populated by a proportion of aggressive, selfish drivers who actively resent cyclists being there, there is also a sub-culture of people who may not have a problem with cyclists but believe cycling is far more dangerous than it really is. These people are vocal. 

At work we have an intranet as most large workplaces do (we employ over 2500 at our main site), with open forums. One such group has been set up specifically to discuss roadworks in the area around the main site. This is currently a very active forum as there are lots of changes taking place in the area. It’s not uncommon for people to complain about delays here including this quality post recently from one lady.

It took me 50 minutes to drive 2.5 miles the other day”

Now any cyclist, or indeed, any person whose legs work fine could tell you a much quicker way to travel than that but this is a corporate environment, you can’t just blurt out the ridiculousness of the statement so after some thought I typed up a new post in that forum.

It sounds like the continued roadworks around the site are causing lots of problems for people travelling short distances. Allow me to help .;-)

***********  is extremely well served by a network of segregated, safe, well maintained cycle paths. It is possible to travel from one side of Warrington to the other without ever riding on the road more than a few meters. Cycling has the benefit of no queues, no delays. You can consistently guarantee how long your journey will take no matter how many roads are being dug up, no matter how many cars are around.

If you’re frustrated by all the cars holding you up, there are alternatives. All you need is a bike, you don’t need a helmet or special cycling gear, if you pedal gently you can still do 8-10mph quite easily without raising a sweat. If you want to pedal harder, there are a good selection of changing, shower and locker areas on site. You’ll save money quickly and will get fit without even realising it.

The ********* cycling group are based at ******* and can provide guidance on the best routes in, where to store your bike, where to get changed. We can even fix a puncture, adjust your brakes or mend a broken chain if you get here and have an issue. if you’ve not got a bike we can help with suggestions on which bikes would be most appropriate. The weather is getting better, now’s the time to make a change.

Doesn’t read like it’s too controversial, does it? Of course, those of you who are used to discussing cycling advocacy will already of seen my naive and silly mistake.

I mentioned helmets. In fact, I did worse than that, I mentioned, no helmets!

So, as expected, I got some comments back. One from the lady whose journey which as one Twitter user stated ‘I could forward roll faster’, whose friends son crashed a bike and had to have some bowel removed. Another lady, equally concerned about my recklessness, highlighted how her husband got knocked off his bike and broke his arm. They both advocated helmets.

87% of Twitter users who responded to my poll, guessed the correct answer.

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How many people, reading those responses, who were previously thinking about cycling into work, are going to now? Not many, that’s how many.

It’s terribly sad and while I’d be happy to argue the case and shoot their anecdotes down on this forum, it’s harder to do on corporate forums. The damage is already done too, no matter how much data I provide, now matter how many coherent arguments I put forward, any potential cyclists will only have visions of someone impaled on a bicycle handlebar and losing a portion of intestine. 

It’s almost a one way street, these people, even though their intent is good (I think), have permanently impacted any opportunity the delays may have had to move people away from their cars and onto their bikes. They are unpaid shills for the motoring industry, something I was called paranoid for suggesting last week. The very cause and solution to their complaints, is right in front of them and yet the instant an opportunity to seize that solution presents itself, they shoot it down. Even if they don’t get on their bikes and solve their own issues, less people in cars would help them too but they’re not interested in that.

I felt so demoralised after reading these two comments, I really felt for a short period, what’s the point, they’ll always win, they’ll always have their un-contextual stories to bring up the instant someone says ‘helmet’ or ‘cycling’, their minds are set and they are keen to ensure others feel the same way.

I don’t feel quite so disappointed now after a weekend of cycling, I’ll still continue running the cycling group and I’ll still keep trying to encourage people to ride in. I know there’s people I’ll never convince but have learned a little here, certain subjects are guaranteed to bring out the nay-sayers and should be avoided at all costs.

Enjoy your 50 minute queues. 

 

Migraine, it’s no headache

I’ve had the ‘I’ve got a migraine’ from someone having a headache today (again), so lets publish my old breakdown of an actual migraine, to help people understand the difference. I’m not saying all migraines are like this but most of mine are. I’m not saying all headaches are minor.  Luckily I only get one every couple of months now but I used to get them at least once a fortnight. And I’m lucky because I’m a bloke, women suffer from migraines far more than men do. I’m not looking for sympathy either, this is how it is, it’s rubbish but at least it comes and goes, could be a lot worse.

My trigger is usually light. Flashes of bright, white, natural light. Looking outside from inside a building at sunlight reflecting off a car windscreen will do it nicely but there are lots of reasons. Lack of sleep, lights, changes of brightness, it’s almost random.

Anyway, here we go. I’ve been triggered.

My migraine normally starts with a blocking in the eyes. It’s hard to explain but imagine black dots in your vision making it hard to look at things in detail. Don’t try reading or looking at a computer screen in this state. This then moves to flickering at the edges of my vision which slowly moves, over say an hour, to my central vision. The flickering is my trigger to speak to my boss, let him know I’m out of action for 24 hours, to get home.

I cycle to work mostly, so flickering in my eyes means I will struggle to get home in the 60 minutes I have left. I have left it too late in the past. That was a bad idea.

So, flickering starts, I tell my boss I’m out of action, he’s good, lets me go. And out of the corporate premise world I go. I ride home, the flickering gets worse, it’s enough to make me feel sick. I get on my bike and set off. On this occasion I’ve left it too late. I start throwing up riding home. Not proper sick, just bile, dry retching. I can’t see a damn thing. I’m looking at the road but all I can see is a line, it’s the pavement edge, I stick to that.

I’m home. My wife is home too. I grunt at her, she looks at me, sees my posture, gets what’s going on. she understands too. She knows she has to take on my responsibilities for the next day or so, that’s all sorted…time to get jiggy,

I get myself sorted. Empty bucket by the bed, jug of water, curtains closed, bring it.

The flickering of my vision will generally have faded by this point to be replaced by a dark shadow covering my entire vision, this will grow darker and darker until I can barely see at all. I lost the ability to recognise any fine detail an hour or so ago, at this stage I could barely recognise a double decker bus. The pain is coming, it’s been a dull ache for 30 minutes or so but now an explosion hits right at the centre of my head, the tendrils of which tunnel out to each nerve in my skull, to my eyes but most of all to my back. The pain spreads quickly and efficiently down my spine and settles in halfway down my back. The epicentre moves gradually to the base of my skull and I am rigid. 

This is how I will spend the next few hours, head arched back, muscles locked against each other, each movement feeling like glass between my vertebra. Sometimes I retch, each spasm pulling my stomach ever closer to ejecting itself. 

The first couple of times this happened in my early teens, I was terrified, I didn’t know what was happening or why, I thought I was dying. As I became more familiar with them I understood how to handle them, they grew less scary but not less pleasant. I know longer fear I am dying, I merely fear that I will not.

If I am lucky, after an hour or so, unconsciousness will take me with it’s deep, dark forgiving caress and temporarily release me. Sometimes I will awake, still gripped by pain, a dark cloud over my eyes and a steel bar for a spine. More often though I will awake, reborn, still in pain but able to see and move. The migraine will leave me aching, sore and beaten. I will spend a few days with a stiff back and a sore head, eyes that feel hard and loose in my head. The world is dulled, muffled and grey.

So it’s over again, for now. Definitely not a headache.

 

 

A nice horrible choice

For a cyclist, a beautiful time is new bike time. or it should be, but this time round, it’s not. Allow me to elaborate.

First off, lets get the tricky stuff out of the way. I DON’T NEED A NEW BIKE. I’ve got lots already. I’m very lucky to have enough money and storage space to have a good collection of bikes. If you’re going to have a dig at me for complaining about being in this fortunate position, bite me.

bikeshed

I WANT a new bike, and probably for the first time, I’m struggling to decide what to buy.

At first, it was easy. I saw this.

Capture1

I wanted this bike so much. Then I realised it had BB5 brakes which are a load of shit, they last about ten minutes doing good miles in British conditions unless you’re willing to take them apart on a very regular basis and give them a full service. I wanted it because it’s a full carbon CX bike, will be as light as a feather, will climb like stink and won’t be too bad for day rides. It’ll also double up as a commuter, in desperate times.

But those brakes…..

So starting on that premise, and realising I really did need to make room for a new bike, I elected to move my CAADX on. That’s incredibly light too and climbs like stink but it’s got a BB30 bottom bracket which is also shit. Mine’s been languishing in the shed for a while and looking at my Twitter feed, I was talking about selling this 3 years ago!

caadx

I could just fix the bottom bracket… (I did this over the weekend). I now have an ultra-light, climbing machine that is OK for all day rides and doubles up as a commuter, in desperate times.

What bike am I going to buy now then?

If I was being sensible, I’d have a look at which bike I ride the most, get a new one of those. Well that’s easy because 99% of my riding is on my brilliant, trusty, Ridgeback Tour. I commute on this regularly and it’s fantastic for big day rides. It’s a bit rubbish for climbing on account of weighing the same as the moon but given it’s been up virtually all of the 100 climbs, it must be doing something right in the respect.ridgeback.jpg

I’d be reluctant to move this bike on as it’s been just about perfect. Why would I sell that?

Lets play with the concept though. So I’m looking for a *better* touring bike than the ridgeback tour………

There’s not many, to be honest. I thought this space would be jam packed with modern, feature-rich tourers. Specialized’s AWOL looks the best that will fit in around the Cycle to Work limit of a grand.

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I think from my meanderings, I’ve realised I want a bike but don’t know what I want. I should just not bother. But I probably will.

So, lightweight, fun, versatile CX bike (preferably made of carbon)

or sturdy, reliable, commuter/tourer. Made of metal.

 

The extreme commuting challenge

It’s Bike week soon so to mark this great event which will try to encourage more people to cycle to work, I’m going to create the extreme commuting challenge, mad, extreme, commuting challenge competition. Now obviously I could just say ‘ride into Manchester without dying’ which is pretty extreme. And a challenge. But that would be too easy. So I’m going to target some actual, dedicated, segregated cycle infrastructure.*

*(It’s actually a shared path but this is Britain so it actually counts as dedicated infrastructure because we truly are the worst at this in the entire world)

So I’m going to call it ‘The Extreme commuting challenge’, or alternatively, ‘Can you imagine the outrage and carnage that would happen if you put drivers through this?’. I’ve created the course in conjunction with Warrington’s finest contractors who have spent weeks building the most difficult and obstructive obstacle course they could possibly think of. So put your body armour on, get yourself a full face helmet and an 8 inch travel mountain bike because you are in for the commute of your life!!!!

The focus of our course is Skyline drive. A short road linking the M62 to Great Sankey in Warrington. This is a brand new build on brown belt land so they could create absolutely anything they wanted. They could have built the most perfect section of cycle infrastructure IN THE WORLD here. Of course they didn’t. What would be the point in that?

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When Skyline was first built, the cycle lane was ok…ish. Nice smooth tarmac, vulnerable road users only had to lose priority to great big massive lorries two or three times and some of the drops to the crossing points were only 6 inches. As far as British infrastructure goes, it was top notch. Recognising their mistake, the local contractors quickly set about changing that.

Lets begin the course as it stands today.

To be fair, this is the other side road coming out of Gemini retail park, but it’s a nice start. Quite a steep climb by Warrington standards and made all the more trickier by the random width available to the riders. It is a good warm up before the true challenges that face our competitors.

Our combatants (sic) then have to cross a busy road leading to and from the motorway. Oh, you think they should be able to see the traffic lights to know if it’s safe to cross or not? We don’t. But lets not worry about that because here comes our first skill challenge, ‘The ridge of DOOM’. Unnecessarily narrow, riders are squeezed through a gap which if fluffed up, could see them on the road under a lorry, or into a fence and if they’re really lucky, down an embankment. Try that with a full pannier. Clearly it’s empty in these photos but we’ll try and organise the event when the contractors are actually there. Abusive workmen stood around taking the piss is certainly going to improve the situation.

Our racers then smoothly flow round an off camber corner covered in gravel before entering the first Domino pizza confrontation. At some point in the future this will be come a mere crossing point where huge lorries, as mighty vehicles, have priority over soft and squidgy human beings (as it should be), but today, this is the most difficult part of the commuter challenge. Two, count them, two, 6 inch high kerbs with approaches channeled through high and narrow fence gaps with the rough ground in between scattered with workmen dandruff (bottles and that). Concerned that this was too easy, the contractors added two huge piles of loose gravel. I’m reliably informed that these were *supposed* to be ramps but any idiot can see that these only make things worse….much worse. I mean better.

Phew! Still, things aren’t over yet for our riders. Now they must take on Domino pizza challenge number two. Two 90 degree turns, over loose gravel, into a protected (HA!) channel on the road. Remember to turn both ways *immediately* otherwise you’ll be going under a lorry that passes six inches away from the cones.

At the other end we have a special little challenge that will test the quality of riders, ooh, I dunno, at Danny Macaskill’s level. What we’ve done here is put a plastic ramp in place. “Well that sounds a bit easy!”, you may retort. You have of course forgotten the nature of this challenge. You see, we’ve not fixed it to the ground at all. Or actually made it go up the kerb. Or even provided any functionality at all. In fact, anyone trying to ride up this clever feature is on their way to teeth out city.

Nice.

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Back onto the cycle lane we go but don’t relax just yet. The tactile paving can only mean one thing, DANGER! 

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That’s right, you’ve just lost priority to lorries (here) and cars (just up ahead) because you’re a scummy cyclists and cars and lorries are much more important. Buy a car if you don’t like it. And use it!

30 ton vehicles on a schedule behind you and the next dangerous hazard  skills test is before you, The ASDA chasm of uncertainty, so called because so far I’ve seen gas, electric and water men looking into to it. What’s in there? Nobody knows!

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Now our riders can relax for a little bit, until you know, they get to the off-camber left hander with the wrong tactile paving in the wrong place.

Bit of a sprint and it’s time to tackle the channel of death. Here the path narrows to less than a normal bike width. Lean over to the right! Don’t worry, it’s only a road filled with cars and lorries.

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This is exhausting but don’t worry, the challenge is nearly over. Only one more entrance where you lose priority followed by the relatively simple, roundabout of massacre where our riders are spat out onto the road just before a completely blind roundabout which is heavily frequented by Royal Mail lorry drivers and Amazon delivery drivers, the most diligent and least under pressure drivers that exist.

And that’s it! Our riders have successfully completed the extreme commuter challenge. Some of them are probably dead or in hospital wondering where all their skin is but it’s certainly a challenge worthy of today’s cycle-commuter who really does need to toughen up a bit and stop complaining about being treated like dirt.