After years of intensive training and racing, I’ve finally lapsed into the routines of a daily bikecommuter. It’s a different rhythm and cadence. I have a 6 mile ride in and back through the centre of Bristol. I am missing out on the ethereal wonders of nature and the liminality of 6am in the South Bristol wilds. It has been replaced by a much more intense and sometimes unreal series of encounters with humankind. I have some observations.
A lot of people seem to be cycling in Bristol. It’s a fantastic thing. In fact, there are times when the number of riders using the arterial routes through the city causes a joyous form of congestion of its own. Cycle commuting seems to be on the rise for women in particular, which may reflect their wider levels of participation in cycling.
Traffic in Bristol is quite intense. Most days a form of gridlock descends within certain timeslots. It’s much quicker to navigate across the city by bike, rather than attempt to drive. People at work are sometimes surprised that I cycle to work. However, I’m surprised that people don’t cycle to work. It’s so easy to do, it’s cheaper, better for you and less stressful. I cannot understand why anyone would use a car for anything less than a 30 minute commute. It’s wrong on so many levels.
Cycle commuters can be a deranged lot. There is a form of subsidiary rage that exists amongst the cycling fraternity, caused by perceived breaches of etiquette or other scandalous actions. My chief bugbears are as follows:
Not giving sufficient space to a cyclist who is already ahead of you at a set of lights, pulling up close or in front for example
Riding dangerously and without due regard to personal safety or the safety of others; not using lights when it’s dark.
These are relatively minor transgressions. Most of my ire is reserved for people who have lights b but they are inordinately bright and inaccurately directed. I really don’t appreciate getting an eyeful of 15 billion lumens. Head-mounted bongo-LEDS, usually donned by mountain bikers, are the serial offenders.
I have enjoyed brief and whimsical conversations with other cyclists. Flickers of recognition of a shared activity and sensibility. I am enjoying it. But I am missing the Mendips at 6am.
A week seems like along time. This time last weekend I was in the Kirklees countryside spectating at the National Hill Climb. It’s the first time I’ve been to the event and not ridden. It’s much easier. The Hill Climb is a fantastic event, but i’d be lying if I said it wasn’t stressful as a competitor. It’s the last race of the season and can define the off-season in many ways. I have horrible memories of sitting in the back of my Mum’s car on the way back from the Stang, being really grumpy and obnoxious for about an hour because I’d had a rubbish day and hoped to do much better. I snapped out of the slough of despond by the time we got to the Kashmir for a curry. The day of the National is also the day the clocks go back; it’s great for the morning but the early onset of darkness tells you that there will be no more racing until the Stygian gloom lifts.
I spent pretty much the whole day at the HQ, which meant I had lots of opportunities to sell books and talk to people. The CTT committee were lovely and very positive about the book. I spoke with the competitors and reflected on their different approaches. Tejvan Pettinger was calm and ready for the challenge despite the wheels coming off his wagon, literally, the night before in Holmfirth. Jim Henderson had a steely determination and was frequently accosted by well-wishers, all excited to see him back in action at the race he defined spectacularly for so many years. There were also other well-known figures in attendance, including David Taylor, a journalist for the Comic who was very kind about the book.
In a sense, the race signalled and end of another chapter, insofar as I’ve finished promoting the book. I now can sit back and wait for the royalty cheques to flood in. Or more accurately, turn my attention to another literary project, now that my mind is beginning to move away from topographical matters. I know it will be about cycling, that much is hard to avoid, but I am unsure of the precise direction. I have two ideas kicking around and may have to pursue both. It depends on other commitments, namely work and family, but I’m going to start soon.
In the meantime, I’m going to ride my bike and try and update things here more regularly.
I went to watch the National Hill Climb at the weekend. I’ll write some more about the experience once I’ve left the Faraday cage of woodland I’m staying in for a holiday en famille. In the meantime, here are some snaps.
The National is fast approaching. I had intended to ride this year, but a combination of various things, primarily a lack of fitness and the common cold, put paid to those ambitions. Instead I’ll be watching and selling books.
Since the book came out back in June it’s been quite an exciting time. I was thrilled to be asked to write the forward for the championship programme and I’ve had a few invitations to various ends of season festivities. It’s all quite unexpected but certainly not unwelcome.
I have a small cowbell. My mum has sourced a Swiss cow bell which is frighteningly loud. I am looking forward to seeing a battle royale between the various monster stick-men.
I’ve aborted my season. It’s been kiboshed by a revolting cough that comes with thick ropes of mucous and a tubercular affectation. The mudguards are back on the Bob and I spent the weekend watching other people hurt themselves in the name of cyclo-sport. I am looking forward to attending the National free from the technical constraints of actually having to race. If any of my three readers are there, please say hello. I may even produce some sort of banner or signage to chase riders with, a la Simon Warren.
I rode a hill climb yesterday. I use the verb loosely. Perhaps “attended” might be more accurate. It was the VC Walcot promotion on the Avenue in Bath. Over the past few years the event has grown in size and stature, to the point where it’s now one of the prestigious events in the West DC calendar. This has nothing to do with the climb and everything to do with the unstinting efforts of the club to get people riding, create an atmosphere and promote it in ever more exciting ways. Hats off indeed.
Make some noise (eat apple first)
I was excited, but several things conspired against me. On arrival one of my erstwhile clubmates asked jokingly “who’s this chubby man?”. It wasn’t the best start. At the weigh-in the night before i was 73kg. It’s about 5kg over my fighting weight. I chose to ride gears.
This was a lazy choice based on riding out to the event and not being bothered to change the sprockets on the back more than once. I got some stick from Rob Borek who is a proper fixed monkey, and his partner in crime, the young Warby.
On the start line my sprocket made a hideous crunching noise and the 17t exploded. The race was over before it started. I shifted it across and then rode off in one gear, the only problem being it was the 12t. I had to stop again and manually shift it back to the 23. It was a proper scheiße-show.
I got things moving and cranked it up a bit (after being overtaken by 3 or 4 riders whilst communing with my bike) in order to avoid the embarrassment of walking up the hill past the really big crowd with pots, pans, whistles, airhorns and cowbells, only to be balked by a huge 4×4 coming down the hill, so sat up and dribbled up to the finish. The timekeeper even asked me if I was really finishing. It was embarrassing. I carded a 5.09, a shade behind the winner’s 2.07, before it was later rounded down to a DNF.
The quest for a socially acceptable racing performance continues next week oop north, where I will be riding two events I planned to ride and one event I planned never to ride again, only to accidentally enter it this year after misreading the organising club and course.
This year’s National is shaping up to be a classic. The podium in the Otley 2 stage, taking in the climbs of Norwood and Guisely, gave witness to a veritable smörgasbord of championship winners. It’s fantastic to see Jim Henderson back at the sharp end.
The women’s event looks like it might include a current competition record holder and worlds TT competitor.
And I’ll be riding, if I can get in. This will be a considerable factor in the vintage nature of the event.