Ride report: Borehamwood

Yesterday I suffered a terrible shock when I did my weekly VeloViewer update. My “Max Square” had reduced in size from 40 to 34!! Analysing my activities tab it seems as though I have lost three squares – two in the Chilterns and one a few miles south of Godalming. This latter square was deep inside my 40, so losing it necessarily reduced my square size a lot. I’m not sure why the square was no longer counted, but according to the tracks I’d probably hadn’t been there anyway – I skirted round the corner of it. Ben from Veloviewer tells me that the VeloViewer side had not changed; possibly the tracks coming out of Strava have been tweaked/smoothed/coarsened a little bit.

Rather than sitting at home bemoaning the fact that I am now further away from the all-mighty Belgians, I had to get up and do something about it.

I calculated to do my Borehamwood squares – the empty sector between north London and the M25 and get to work on time, I would need to leave home at 5am.

Not a minute after 5.30 I finally dragged myself out the front door. The first decision was whether to take the west or east route round Heathrow – through the middle and across the runways is not an option for even the most determined tiler. I chose west as this takes me through Harmondsworth – the town scheduled for destruction if Heathrow’s third runway really ever does go ahead. I personally don’t find the town particularly distinctive and would probably side with those residents who’ve known for decades of the Heathrow threat and are happy to accept the above-market valuation when the Compulsory Purchase Order finally comes. Others point to the town’s Grade I listed barn as a sign of distinctive-ness. This will be preserved no matter what – maybe in twenty years time you will see it alongside as you hurtle down the finally-built runway.

After Hayes and Yeading, I reach the Harrows, which I generally don’t like because it seems to take ages get through them all (South Harrow, West Harrow, Harrow on the Hill, Harrow, Harrow and Wealdstone, Harrow Weald and eventually North Harrow) especially as it all uphill in this direction until you eventually get to the top of the dying embers of the Chilterns ridge. Over the M1 at Brockley Hill and finally a new square at 26 miles. Sod’s law having had clear moonlit skies at home, the fog is quite thick here and as I’m forced into the little ring for a short sharp kick up Barnet Lane the traffic flashes past hard and tight. This time of year “professional” drivers (PHV, taxis, delivery vans) form a higher proportion of the traffic than usual and it really shows. “Professional” in the sense of football’s “professional” foul :/.

Going through Borehamwood, I catch sight of the famous Elstree Studios . Currently it is home to glamourous programmes such as Strictly Come Dancing and Celebrity Big Brother, but I have to say the buildings themselves have a bit 1960s-civil-services about them. My square rides have also seen me pass  the Pinewood Studios (Iver Heath), Warner Brothers Studios (Leavensden),  Longcross Studios (Virginia Water) and the Ealing Studios (Ealing)… when I am going to see a celebrity dammit…


Crossing the A1 on the “busiest travel day of the year” – was alright at 6.30am!

The next five miles is basically swirling around in the dark around Hadley – new squares coming thick and fast but not too many sights of interest. In terms of names Barnet is almost as bad as Harrow (Barnet Gate, New Barnet, East Barnet, Barnet, Freirn Barnet) but I am struck by how widespread the nice areas of Barnet are – if you have a million pounds to spare, there are lots of nice houses around here. Kind of the opposite of Harrow which has a nice bit (the Hill) but a surprising amount of not so nice bits.

For most people Cockfosters, being on the end of the Tube line, is pretty much the end of the earth, but for me it marks the beginning of the end of the ride – I’ve been here before and there are no new squares between here and the office. In contrast to out in the sticks, as I get more central it is clear the traffic is very light and it is smooth sailing through Finchley, Archway and Holloway.  The Archway bridge (Hornsley Lane Bridge) looks great in the sun (we’re in London now, so the fog has gone).

I finally grind into the City at 8.55am, 25 minutes late, which is basically 5 minutes early having started 30 minutes late 😉

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/809241285

New squares: 26

Current square size: 36×36 ( :-(, but a slight recovery from the shock of 34 yesterday )


Eddington number


Sir Arthur Eddington (Wikipedia article) was a astronomer and physicist famous for popularizing and explaining Einstein’s theory of general relativity to the English-speaking world.

But more importantly than that he was a early forerunner of stat-obsessed Strava nerds like myself. He was a cycling enthusiast who liked to log where he’d been and how far – in fact his cycling logs are still stored in the Wren Library at Trinity College in Cambridge ( this PhD thesis has a picture ). I can’t find a definitive original source, but he has internet-accredited with inventing the (cycling) Eddington number. This number, E, is the largest number such that you have cycled E miles on E separate days. Eddington’s own Eddington number is variously credited as being 87 or 84. Veloviewer naturally will figure out your own Eddington number for you and display it in an attractive way. Here’s mine:


So right now my Eddington number is 66. The “cliff edge” at 48 miles is because I cycle 48 miles a day a lot (my commute is 24 miles in each direction), but don’t cycle 49 miles on those days.

There’s nothing inherent about “miles” in defining an Eddington number. You can easily switch to counting the number of times you’ve done E kilometres on E days (an easier job) and VeloViewer will show you this to. Mine is currently 96, which makes is sounds like I’m just a few rides away from becoming a metric Eddington centurion. Alas whilst I have done 96 96km rides, I’ve only done 85 100km rides, so I still have 15 rides to do!

This is the damnable charm of the Eddington number. The reward (“the score”) you get only grows with the square-root of the effort (total miles done). You really have try hard! The Explorer Square challenge has exactly the same property – your max square score only grows with the square-root of the number of tiles you have visited.

Anyone any idea who the world record Eddington number owner is? I think it might probably be one of the amazing challengers for the HAMR Annual Mileage Record – Kurt Searvogel road 76,076 miles in a year in 2015. That’s 206 miles per day. So his 2015 Eddington number alone must surely be in excess of 200. Or perhaps Steve Abraham holds the record. Amanda Coker might sweep them away though … 230 miles EVERY DAY for a year?!!




Where is the ExplorerSquare leaderboard?

It is stored on VeloViewer, the awesome accompaniment to Strava. If you’re already on VeloViewer, go to your summary page and then click “Leaderboards” next to the Activity Stats heading. In the pop-up that comes up, choose “Explorer (max square)” from the dropdown and then choose Leaderboard from the tabs. Finally choose “All” instead of the current year to get the global all-time list. At the time of writing a complete square of size 24×24 was needed to gain entry into the Top 20, which is dominated by Flemings..

  1. Flemish Belgian
  2. Flemish Belgian
  3. English
  4. American
  5. English
  6. English
  7. Flemish Belgian
  8. German?
  9. Flemish Belgian
  10. Flemish Belgian
  11. Flemish Belgian
  12. Flemish Belgian
  13. ?
  14. Scottish
  15. ?
  16. Flemish Belgian
  17. Flemish Belgian
  18. Dutch
  19. German
  20. French

Looks like the Europeans would have a Ryder Cup of square-filling in control….

CS9 2

Fingers crossed former cycling czar Andrew Gilligan is being too cynical rather than super-perceptive, but he notes on Twitter today that London mayor Sadiq Khan’s new TfL business plan and press release merely says that CS9 will go from Olympia towards Hounslow rather than to it. With the Kensington section not even getting out of the starting blocks , is this a sign that west London’s first proper cycle route is whithering at the western too?

In other CS9 news, the consultation on Wellesley road , the likely route of CS9 through Chiswick, is open for another week. The Hounslow Cycling Campaign recommends you choose option 1

How big is a square?

TLDR: they’re about a mile wide.

The squares (or tiles to use the usual term in mapping software) that are imported into VeloViewer are the “level 14” tiles from the OpenStreetMap  . To get to level 14, you start at level 0 which is one tile representing the whole world. You then zoom in to split that tile into 4 equal-sized tiles, each with a side half the length of the first tile. This gets you level 1. Then you zoom in again splitting those four tiles into four tiles each, making a total of 16 tiles covering the whole world at level 2, each with a length of a quarter of the length of the original. Do this splitting procedure 12 more times and you get 4 to the power 14 tiles (268,435,456 tiles) covering the world. The length of the tile is half each time.

This means, at the equator, the size of a tile S = (circumference of the earth)/2^14.

But I don’t ride at the equator, as we get further away from there, the tiles get smaller as they head towards the North Pole, where they vanish to nothing. In fact the formula for the width of the tile harks back to school and trigonometry:

Size = Circumference of Earth * cos(latitude) / 2^14
     = 40,075km * cos(51.5 degrees) / 16,384
     = 1.523km
     = 0.95 miles.

But it’s best just to say “about a mile”.

Edited to add: OpenStreetMap has a page all about zoom levels

Ride report: Goring north

As the nearest unfilled squares are 25 miles away as the crow flies, my old habit of starting and ending my rides at home is becoming more and more of a problem. I would put a “one new square” ride into the route planner, and it would come back at me with 100km ride. That’s sort of fine, but my boys are growing up and having more and more activities to go to… my long-suffering but enormously patient wife wants me home sometimes.

The solution is to head out on a train somewhere and then ride home. Even with Britain’s notorious public transport system this is usually a little quicker than me riding. This weekend though I was blocked in almost all directions – engineering works into London, and on the lines out of Woking down to Petersfield and Basingstoke meant the ONLY option was to head to Reading. [Bikes are not allowed on replacement bus services].

The route out of Reading took me over the river and onto the A4074 which heads up straight up a 13%-in-places lump called St. Peters. Hill. I got to the top without being passed by a car and thought wow I must be in good form if the cars aren’t squeezing past me in frustration. Turns out the lady behind was just incredibly patient, so I gave her the thumbs up as she finally passed as part of my resolution to thank the nice drivers rather than just bawl at the usual ones. She burst out laughing.

Anyway I soon turned off down the nice roads over to Goring – no surprise someone has put the whole 7.7 miles as a segment – the final stretch is a sharp descent with twists and turns so never in month of Sundays am I going to get close to the top-end, being the lily-livered descender that I am.

Heading north out of Goring, still on the east of the Thames I bag the first new square of the day at 12 miles. Wedged as I am between the western end of the Chilterns and the river, I have high hopes for a great clear November view. Sadly as I turn east at South Stoke I realise it is fairly featureless farmland and, more importantly, the wind is actually a fairly strongly easterly and I am 30 miles due west of home. Damn those trains forcing me to Reading! About five minutes later the puncture fairy visited AGAIN. Inner strength, rule 5, blah blah blah.

The alignment of roads and squares turns out not to be so good here and I have to execute three “nubbins” at Ipsden, Well Place and somewhere in the middle of nowhere to get all the missing squares. Heading east of Ewelme I pick up square 9 of the day and immediately hit the Chilterns Wall. From Wallingford to Princes Risborough there must be about 20 roads heading up this ridge. And the only one that doesn’t get above 10% for a sustained period is the M40, where the motorway builders just cut straightforward. Looking at VeloViewer, I think the route up to Cookley Green (Swyncombe Hill) was my 10th different route up. Road was pretty good, but had high hedgerows spoiling the view. Inevitably, after a few miles of empty road, a car trailed inches from by back wheel, and shoved me off the road to the extent I put a foot down :/. No thumbs up to him..

At the top of the hill I swing back round again to get square 10. This has no public roads, being dominated by the former site of Ewelme Park (a royal hunting ground on ground original owned by Geoffrey Chaucer’s son). I didn’t quite establish if the current Ewelme Park House is ever open to the public, but fortunately its fine main entrance road is a bridleway, so I happily cycled down it to get into the square.

All new squares backed, after an aboutturn I was soon back on familiar roads. I joined the main Henley-Oxford at Nettlebed and despite going what I thought was quite fast on the lovely descent, my 23.8mph average for this segment still puts me at 3483rd out of 4490. I can blame the headwind, but I really am a lousy descender.

From there it was my standard back from Henley – up Remenham Hill (no PR, damn my fit self from last Summer), then through Cockpole Green (dammit, I still smile every time), Warrens Row and White Waltham before hitting Drift Road. 14.21 for the Drift Road segment against a PR of 11.26… really must mumble something about a headwind.

Strava : https://www.strava.com/activities/793405430

New squares: 10

Minimum squares for project 50: 211

Where can you cycle?

Tips and links for figuring how to fill a tile:

  • Get the VeloViewer Strava plugin for Chrome ( https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/veloviewer-strava-plugin/kdgpnlmocdpeckamipkkdblnfcpkgbno ). Among many snazzy features, this plugin allows you to overlay your completed squares when designing routes in the Strava RouteBuilder.
  • Big caveat! RouteBuilder and the other mapping sites such as RideWithGPS and GarminConnect do not always “know” which roads are private.
  • A good first approximation is use Google StreetView. If the StreetView car has been down a road, it is very likely to be a public road and also suitable road bikes.
  • In my area of the world, this simple approach gets me to about 90% of squares. But all is not lost! Just because a road is not open to public motor traffic, it may open as a bridleway. Google Maps and Open Street Map are not particularly good at marking bridleways. The OS maps are better but chargeable (spend £4 for one month and build a bank of routes to keep you going?). However most county councils will keep a copy of their “definitive map” of rights of way online


  • Remember it is legal to cycle on bridleways, restricted by-ways and ‘BOATs’ – ‘byways open to all traffic’. It is not legal to cycle on footpaths. I would like to know if there is ambiguity or problem in wheeling a bicycle along a footpath – there are some squares where I fear I need to do this!
  • For roads that are not public roads but are public bridleways, you often see signs saying simply “private” and you might fear that you are trespassing. In the cases where there is a public bridleway, you are not – some landowners simply don’t like to make it too obvious there is a public right of way for walkers, horse-riders and cyclists over their land. I have taken to printing out copies of the “definitive map” and bringing them on rides; just in case I get into a “discussion” with someone I meet out there – I want to prove that I made a good faith effort to stay on permitted routes.

I’m not sure ramblers tend to like cyclists all that much (gross generalisation!) but in many ways we share a common cause in being aware of and exercising our rights. Their rights of way FAQ is handy. Question 11 is about cycling – note it states that a cyclist cycling on the pavement (footway) can be fined on the spot thanks to the Fixed Penalty Offences Order 1999. As far as I know this is still true – even though Robert Goodwill (Transport Minister with responsibility for cycling) re-iterated in 2014 that cyclists should not be fined “to escape dangerous sections of road” – Telegraph article