The Bike Tracks of Taunton

Taunton has a fairly basic network of cycle tracks and it is generally possible to get around the town avoiding busy roads, but there are certainly a lot of improvements that could be made to Taunton’s network of cycle paths.

Last week I did a circuit round the town with the goal of trying to avoid busy roads where possible.

Starting from the Holway estate there is a reasonable cycle path (shown below) linking Upper Holway Road with South Road.   This avoids having to use the busy Chestnut Drive route and is a fairly nice riverside route flanked by the Hillyfields estate on one side and Kings College playing fields on the other side.

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This path exits pretty much opposite Mountfields next to a zebra crossing.   I have never been much of a fan of zebra crossings as they present a risk to pedestrians that motorists simply do not stop and I don’t think they can be legally used by cyclists, even though many cyclists use them, but there is even less guarantee that motorists will stop.   I’d much prefer them to be replaced with signalled crossings.

After crossing South Road into Mountfields Road there is a very short side road called Mountfields Park which has a mainly gravelled surface and there is a short cut through leading to Calway Road and the start of the quite decent cycle track linking with Mount Street and Vivary Park (shown in the photo below).  The cut through is annoyingly marked “no cycling” which is a pity as there would otherwise be an almost continuous cycle route from the Killams Estate to the town centre.   The only alternative route is along South Road which is a very busy road.

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Vivary Park is ideal for cycling as there are a network of very wide paths all over the park.    There is a wooden bridge over the stream near the bowling club which leads past the “high ropes” linking to Fons George, Churchill Way and Sherford Road which form a cyclist friendly link with Trull Road.

Once in Trull Road there is a pedestrian crossing near the junction with Sherford Road and a few yards further along Trull Road there is a driveway marked “Queens College Conference Centre” which leads to a handy cut through linking with the Galmington Estate (via Culmhead Close).

There is a good cycle track next to College Way which leads to Galmington Road.  Once on Galmington Road there is a cycle track leading west for a couple of hundred yards which links to a good cycle track linking central Galmington with Comeytrowe Road (shown below) and this is one of the best cycle routes in the town.

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The above track pretty much takes you to the far edge of the town.   If you then follow Comeytrowe lane northwards there is a steep climb which takes you to the A38 crossing at Bishops Hull Road.  If you follow Bishops Hull Road this takes you down to Silk Mills lane, which is now no longer a “lane” but is in fact Taunton’s ring Road so it is just as well there is a cycle track (as shown below) as this is one of Taunton’s busiest roads.    The cycle track is on the “non town” side of the road which seems an odd planning decision as there seem to often be more cyclists on the other side of the road which is legally not permitted for cyclists even though it is a wide pavement with very few pedestrians.

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Once you have crossed over the main rail line bridge there is a cycle track leading to the Langford Mead estate.   This road will eventually bypass the village of Norton Fitzwarren but currently is a dead end road, but it luckily has a good cycle track which I expect is now a planning pre-requisite for any new major urban road project.     Much as I like cycle tracks one annoyance is those “tactile paving” slabs which have “tramline” grooves on the cycling half of the track.   All I can say is beware of these grooves when it is wet!    I normally switch to the pedestrian half to cross these slabs as the grooves are perpendicular to the direction of travel so much safer.

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At the moment there are very poor east-west cycle links in the Northern Half of the town and cyclists have the option of using Greenway road  which is about as far from cycle friendly as a road can get, with nose to tail traffic and parked cars, so any cyclist who is not ultra confident and fast will end up getting bullied and squeezed by traffic (a lot of it being heavy goods vehicles) trying to get past them.

Below is a picture of the new Northern Inner Distribution Road or “NIDR” which is partially built but will hopefully provide a safe East-West link for cyclists in the northern half of the town.   As shown it has a very good cycle track and hopefully it will have a similar track alongside the currently un-built part.

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Finally this picture below shows the “Third Way” with a perfect example of how NOT to build a cycle track!

The road has nice wide pavements yet the silly planners choose to paint a white line on the road itself and pass it off as a “cycling facility”.

This is a complete waste of paint as 90% of cyclists seem to use the wide safe pavement anyway so why bother painting a white line on the road?    I wonder if any of the road planners actually cycle?

I find that painted cycle lanes on a road actually encourage vehicles to pass closer as they will drive right up to the white line and any road debris also ends up in this area until swept away.

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Bristol and Bath Bike Path by Brompton

The last time I cycled on the Bristol and Bath Bike Path must have been in 1987 when I was a student living in Bath.

The path has been upgraded considerably in the last 26 years and it is now fully tarmacked whereas when I used it previously it was mainly a loose surface and only tarmacked at the Bristol end from the tunnel onwards.

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The first challenge was actually getting the bike to Bristol as the train we selected was only half the length that it should have been, 4 carriages instead of 8, and this meant that a lot of people had to stand.

When we boarded the train at Taunton the luggage racks were full and we could not even move down the train with our folded Bromptons as the aisles were full of standing passengers.

As chance would have it we were next to the 1st class carriage so I thought I’d check if there were any empty seats and luckily there were 2 (but in different parts of the carriage) so we sat down in the knowledge that there would be a £5 per seat “weekend first” upgrade fee.   Amazingly no one came to check tickets during the 25 minute trip to Bristol Temple meads so we at least did not have to pay extra simply to get a seat.

Once we arrived at Temple meads it was decided that a half pint each of a Cotleigh porter beer at the Knight’s Templar pub would be a good idea after the less than ideal Brompton train experience, in preparation for the 16 mile bike path to Bath.

Just next to the Station was a “Brompton Dock” where you can rent a Brompton for either £2.50 per day of £5 per day (dependant on membership type), but luckily this handy facility was not required on this occasion.

The Path

The start of the path is quite easy to find, as it’s just across the river at the side of the station, along a road called “chimney steps” and there is even a new steel bridge leading to the start.

The path follows the course of an old railway, but there are a few bits where is deviates from the course.   After a couple of minutes on the actual path, the path sort of leads onto an industrial estate, and you are suddenly diverted onto the side of the busy St Philips Causeway dual carriageway.   This soon diverts through the grounds of some tower blocks at Lawrence Hill before rejoining the railway path again.

Over the next 2 to 3 miles the path gradually heads north east towards Fishponds with a slight uphill incline.   There is a tunnel at this point and you can feel the temperature drop as you enter the tunnel, it’s about 400 long.

It looks like the siston hill roundabout was built in such a way that it interrupted the course of the path, as the path diverts around the roundabout using bridges across the busy ring road.

It then heads south towards the A431 Bath Road, and there is a steam railway visitor centre next to this road.

This picture shows one of the steam trains.

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We were actually “racing” a steam train at one point but they go pretty fast.

The path then gets more rural as it heads to Bath, and crosses the river avon an amazing 4 times before reaching Bath.

Once it gets to the Bath suburbs it suddenly stops at Brassmill Lane and for about a half mile there is a “gap” where you have to cycle along a normal road (not much traffic luckily) and the  it continues along the riverside till it reaches central Bath, and Bath Spa station.

The riverside path is quite narrow at places, but beats mixing with city centre traffic.

At the end of the path is Southgate shopping centre and we had a beer & pizza at Pizza Express.

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They found us a table with plenty of space for the Bromptons.  The table was near the bit where the staff hang out so I’d probably sit nearer the window if I went there again, but the pizza seemed pretty good.

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We got a 1 way ticket back to Temple Meads from Bath Spa, and the train was pretty packed, so we did the “weekend first” and yet again did not get asked for tickets, so no upgrade fee was payable luckily.     The lady next to us was complaining at great length to the guard that she pays £1000’s per year for a 1st class season ticket as she runs a jewellery business so has to travel to London often, but she is fed up with people sitting in 1st class who only have 2nd class tickets!

Luckily I think her complaint was aimed at the noisy group of football fans behind her rather than us.

Anyway, once we got to Temple Meads the train almost totally emptied its load of passengers (mainly football fans I think) so we move the Bromptons and ourselves to the 2nd class section of the train, mainly to avoid an upgrade fee, which is not really worth paying if standard class is almost empty!

Here you can just about see one of the Bromptons which fits nicely between the seats, although this only really works if the train has some empty seats as people would get annoyed if they had to stand if the only spare seats were occupied with Brompton bikes.

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A ride up Lipe Hill

One of the good things about the Brompton is that it gives me a much better choices of places to go during my lunch hour compared with just going for a walk.

Lipe hill is little more than a mile from the edge of Taunton and at 85 metres above sea level it offers fantastic views towards the Quantock Hills to the South and the Brendon Hills to the West.

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The narrow lane leading to Lipe Hill goes from Comeytrowe for just over 2 miles and rejoins the A38 at the crossroads by the “World’s End” pub.    The lane is so narrow in places that if I were to meet a car going the other way it would be difficult to pass even on my Brompton, but luckily there was only one other vehicle I encountered and it was going the same way.

Luckily my Brompton has 6 gears, being the “M6R” model so the steep hills could be taken in a low gear without difficulty.    As it is a hub gear you have to stop pedalling while changing gear, so it pays to plan ahead and change down before the hill gets too steep.

Putting the Bromptons through their paces

I’m hoping to try the Bristol & Bath cycle path, but a more local version is the Bridgwater & Taunton Canal.  The weather was forecast to be pretty dire, so waterproofs were the order of the day, although the weather was not as bad as foretasted.

The plan was to cycle from Taunton as far as the canalside “Boat & Anchor” pub near North Petherton and then cycle on to Bridgwater station and catch the hourly “sprinter” service back to Taunton.

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However once we had consumed some decent Butcombe Ale at the Boat & Anchor it was decided that we may as well cycle back to Taunton rather than catch the train.

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Quite a lot of the path has a reasonable surface but there was a section just west of Cogload Junction that had been recently resurfaced (as shown below) and the newly laid gravel was still quite loose.   This made cycling quite a lot of hard work and meant that the speed had to be kept low as the loose gravel can affect the Brompton’s steering, so speed was more like 5mph for this bit instead of the typical 10mph speed for the rest of the path.    A mountain bike could have gone faster but I did not want to damage the week old Bromptons by thrashing them over the path.

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I did not see any other Bromptons on the path, but another group of cyclists seemed surprised when they said “Hey a Brompton!!” as they passed.

Brompton M6R

After hiring a Brompton M3L from the Brompton Dock in Exeter for a week, I’m very impressed with the quality of the Brompton so decided to take the plunge and get a Brompton M6R.

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The 3 gear bike works well, but in rural Somerset there are a lot of steep hills, so I thought it would be safer to go with the 6 speed option.

After docking my hire bike at Exeter St Davids station I went to the “Bike Shed” in Exeter where I was assisted by a helpful member of staff called Keith.

They had quite a few Bromptons in stock and I did not really want to keep hiring Bromptons for the 3 months it takes to custom build to order.   As my partner was also hiring one it was costing £150 per month to hire 2 bikes, so this could have added up to £450 worth of hire charges.

At first Keith thought there were 3 M6R models in stock, but luckily it was noticed that one of these had a longer handlebar stem so it was actually a H6R rather than an M6R – I assume that the “H” stands for “High Bars”!   They look very similar as the M bars and the H bars are the same shape, just different heights.   The S bars are very different being a simple “T” shape and the P bars are also distinctive and remind me of the bars on exercise bikes at the gym.

The end result was that we departed from Exeter with 2 M6R Bromptons, one in Arctic Blue (frame plus extremities) and the other with a Hot Pink Frame and White extremities.

The “R” suffix stands for “Rack” and the advantage of a rack is that the bike is much more stable when folded as instead of resting on the dinky little wheel on the mudguard it is properly supported by the rack.  I’m thinking of getting “easy wheels” so the bike can be wheeled around easily when folded as the 4 small rack wheels would not allow rolling easily over any distance more than a few yards.

I’d imagine the rack would be handy for longer trips when more luggage room is needed than just the front mounted bag alone, using the “rack sack” bag.   I chose a “C” bag which looks like a messenger bag in style and it works really well, having 2 rear pockets which each take a large water bottle, and it has a large front pocket as well as the main bag itself.    The bag attaches to the bike frame rather than the bars so steering is not affected as it would be with a traditional “bar bag” on a conventional bike.

The bikes luckily both came with Schwalbe Marathon tyres as these offer more puncture resistance than the standard Brompton Kevlar tyres.    As I cycle along quite a few country lanes it makes sense to go with the Marathons, especially with the danger of those dreaded hedge clippings in the road!

I’d thought about getting the dynamo hub but Keith explained that a lot of people use battery lights as you are not adding weight to the bike for something that is only used some of the time, so I got some compact but very bright cateye lights instead (Cateye EL-UNO Front and Rapid 3 Rear Light Set).   I’d imagine the dynamo option would be for bespoke order only as well as it adds quite a bit to the base M6R price.