I nearly got hit by a deer yesterday morning. It vaulted the wall on Belmont Hill in a serene arc with legs tucked up, getting about 4 feet of air, then skittered across the tarmac, inches away from my front wheel. A car behind had been waiting patiently before overtaking. I’m glad. I wouldn’t have wanted to go to work wearing bits of deer. It was very exciting and transient.
I shared the experience with my BSCC bike chums but they refused to believe it happened on account of it being solely a narrative account of lived experience, with no verifiable features; no strava log, go pro footage or still photography. In short, it didn’t actually happen because it wasn’t a digitised experience. Virtual life is real life, real life is unverifiable nonsense.
Here’s a previous encounter with a deer that did the rounds some time ago:
In recent years there have been a number of bike/car mash-ups. I seem to remember Ferrari and Colnago (the Ferralnago) producing something utterly revolting fairly recently. The genre plumbed the depths with the ‘land rover’ range of bicycle-shaped objects; marketed under the noms-de-plume of the ‘Blenheim’, the ‘Ascot’, and the ‘Windsor’. I’m not sure my irony filter could cope with the experience of riding a land rover bike whilst being shouted at by a barbour jacket in a Discovery 4×4.
It looks OK. It costs quite a bit of money. It wouldn’t pass the ‘I found it in a skip’ test, coming in at a shade under 17,000 Euros. I also don’t think it takes mudguards or has rack bosses. The AudiWeight Urgelstadt has no purpose beyond advertising two key attributes: disposal income and rank stupidity. It is an object devoid of purpose, at odds with what it purports to be, unraceable and unrideable. It’s a simulacra of a bicycle up there with almost anything by Storck, but especially the proposed new Storcklaren Supercike, the ‘Culture Storck’. However, any of these bikes would be suitable for the ‘race the world‘.
If you see someone riding one, you have permission to dole out the Team Cinzano pump-in-the-spokes trick.
I raced this weekend. I went quite quickly. 3 people went even more quickly than i went. I went downhill at 54.1 miles per hour whilst holding on to the bongo-poles and spinning out on the 54 tooth chainring. Simon Williams managed 58.6mph. He has 40 kilos on me.
The weather on Sunday was beautiful and we took the opportunity to go out on the first traumfamille bike ride. It was amazing. I jerry-built the Orange with Adam’s old Co-Pilot bike seat, put the small beast into the straps and then headed off to the park. My main aim was to see if the addition of a few extra kilos i might be able to knock over Simon Williams’ paltry 58mph on the downhill section of Victoria Park. Maybe if i attach some bongo poles and equip the small passenger with a taser.
For Dads thinking of doing something similar:
It helps having a bike as sturdy, stable and well-balanced as the Orange. It’s a mid 1990s rigid mountain bike and it rides beautifully. The addition of the co-pilot on the back didn’t affect the handling noticeably, there was no fish-tail effect and the bike didn’t feel top heavy either. I had expected a degree of nervousness and a general fear about carrying le p’tit on the bike, but it felt absolutely fine. I’ve stuck a bar bag on the front because I thought it might be more practical and avoided having things on the back to whack the passenger in the face. Speaking of face-whacks, it’s possible to boot the little one in the head when getting on the bike in the usual way. There are a couple of other ‘learned’ bike riding things that need to be unlearned, but if you’ve ever ridden a fully-laden tourer the same rules apply. Apart from all of that, it’s a wondrous experience to out riding on bikes with the family and a crafty way to expand upon the n+1. Start scouring retrobike now!
I went out on the club run this week, opting to take the hill weapon out for a spin. I’d just assembled it the day before which included some quite complex mechanical operations, with changing headsets being the most challenging task. I used my home-made headset press, a disused flat handlebar and a rubber mallet. There are very few things a rubber mallet cannot be used for.
The bike held up well but i suffered on the flat route, spinning out a bit too much with no hills to tackle so i chipped off earlier (a cameo appearance, as Clare put it), and headed out towards Burrington Combe to test the legs. As i neared the mythical col it became apparent that there had been a disturbance in the force. Legions of cyclists were crawling along the A368, each with a number plate stitched onto the front of the bike. The dominant kit colour was Wiggle orange, along with lots of team kits. Radioshack seemed very popular, along with Garmin Sharp. It became clear I’d stumbled across the parcours of the Wiggle Mendip Etape Epic Ride Sufferfest Super Series Sportive™.
I turned onto the Combe and stretched my legs; it felt strangely incongruous; the climb was lined with riders, many of them on markedly expensive road bikes, some not. They were all sizes and persuasions. For some unfathomable reason the feed station had been placed at the bottom of a two mile climb, providing the perfect opportunity to cram your face with cake and gel and whatever else before riding uphill for two miles. Avid readers of this blog, of which there are at least two – my wife and child – will know that the mystical and frightening world of the sportive surfaces occasionally. Having found myself unexpectedly thrown into the midst of sportive, like a leftover cake crumb trapped haplessly in the rolling stomach folds of a corpulent ex-golfer, I have a number of observations to make. Of the 100 riders I passed on the climb in the space of about 9 minutes, not one was wearing club kit. i found this a little bit disappointing but it’s indicative of the way ‘cycling’ is at the moment. I can’t help but feel that these mass-participation events are a little bit more solipsistic and individualistic than people like to think. They all looked pretty damned miserable. For some of them there clearly was a sense of personal challenge, which i applaud without reservation or irony. Judging by the number of Wiggle jerseys in evidence there is one clear beneficiary to the super series. Lastly, the thought of paying £28 to ride around the Mendips and have a free high 5 gel seems a little bit steep when you can do it for free on any given weekend on a club run and other people will share the fellowship of the road with you in exchange only for kindness and reciprocity.
On the way up the climb I had to repeatedly and frequently ask riders to keep in. The norm seemed to be to ride 3, 4 or 5 abreast. The sudden changes in direction were also a bit alarming. I think i got some strange glances, hurtling past in a club jersey, of all things, on fixed wheel, riding tubs, at high speed. It was all a bit much. No-one tried to stay on my wheel. Kieran mentioned that he also encountered the ride later that day and witnessed a crash as the riders were going uphill. i don’t quite know how this can have happened, but imagine it was played out in high-def ultra slo-mo. More dishearteningly, I came across several discarded energy food wrappers. There is no excuse for littering the countryside.
I’ve just got back from a lovely holiday in Brittany with the family. I didn’t take a bicycle, but did throw in the boot a piece of metallic origami that some people really really like but tends to leave me with a bit of sick in my mouth whenever I look at it. The intention was to use the device for le baguette run tous les matins. This involved a short fait du velo to la boulangerie.
Before i left Will gave me a crash course in how to unfold and fold the beast. I tried my best to remain level-headed and unimpressed with the clever engineering involved. Any vaguely inappropriate thoughts were dispelled when i attempted to lift the hefty piece of folded scaffolding; the brompton is pas légère.
Once in France I unfolded the petit monster on a couple of occasions. it has three gears in an old school sturmey style. The straightforward percentage increases make it easy to ride and it can go relatively fast, particularly when heading down a steep incline with a strong tailwind and pedalled by a heavy-set rider.
It served one clear purpose, namely, allowing me to get Belle’s croissant aux amandes and Penny’s croissant normale. Penny does like the croissant. I also got to achieve one of life’s richer pleasures: riding a bicycle, any bicycle, in France. It’s a cosmic experience. France was part of a wider plan written in the primordial days of the big bang; at some point as the atoms and various cosmic things hurtled outwards, they coalesced into an area of solidity which became la France Profonde, a nation, culture and geographical space at one with the transformative power of the bicycle. France + cycling = a celestial symbiosis.
Whilst I would have preferred to have ridden my road bike, the apotheosis of bicycle design, I will settle for riding a folding piece of carefully engineered steel. It was a lot better than many other bicycle-shaped objects I have ridden in the past and in a perverse and unsettling way i was impressed with the Brompton, at least in part because it’s the answer to a question that was actually asked, unlike most other ‘innovative’ bicycle designs (the wretched flying gate, for example). Nevertheless, I think if i ever had reason to purchase some sort of quasi-bicycle it would probably be a Moulton, rather than the slightly neurotic Reliant Robin of cycling, the Brompton.
This weekend an old friend was visiting from London’s famous London. We went out cycling and I endeavoured to show him some of the highlights of the area, but forsaking the savage climbs which make up a typical scenic perambulation in my route-book.
It has been a thoughtful weekend; I haven’t seen him in about 5 years and in that time a lot has happened. It was good to catch up. Sometimes friendships drift away over the distance of time and space and it’s reassuring when old acquaintances resurface and connections are reforged. Will put it succinctly when he remarked that things in common stay in common. We talked of disparate things, the difficulties and demands of living in London, solitude and solipsism and our ever-changing sense of subjectivity; over 5 years any collective sense of who we are, let alone any individual sense, has changed; how we perceive time and space changes. Maybe i’m just getting old.
Our conversations kept returning to Roger Deakin and Robert Macfarlane, two significant ‘nature’ writers, the latter heavily influenced by the former. I think that both writers try to capture in words the fugue state that can only be accomplished by encounters with nature, usually when divested of the trappings of the material world, including notions of time, space and self. Setting out on a meandering cycling ride that consciously sets out to avoid main arterial routes, seeks out ancient paths and avoids cars, underpinned by the flow activity of cadence and gentle reiterative motion, results in a joyous amnesia from the conscious and unconscious realm. It’s a paradoxically modern movement that pitches the transformative geography of the rural environment against the urban sprawl and notions of psychogeography, just as the the figure of the tramp acted as a counterbalance to the flaneur in early modernism,
We went along drovers’ roads, through and around strangely named paths; Beggar Bush Lane, Horse Race Lane, Winter’s Lane, Dark Lane, Claverham Drove, Blind Lane, Brinsea Batch, Cardytch Rhyne, Crookwell Rhyne, Pudding Pie Lane, Half Yard, Tinker’s Lane… a litany of lyrical naming that hints at the past but only in half-revealing, the narrative significance lost over time to leave only a geographical palimpsest.
These are the old ways Robert Macfarlane explores in his book. We meandered across the landscape on a day when average speed was of no value. We saw buzzards and kestrels at close quarters, hovering and screeing across Kenn Moor. Cattle slept lazily in the fields, indolently aware that the days of the drove were gone, they would be chauffeur-driven to their fate. We were chased by yapping dogs and hailed by fellow cyclists, each enjoying the sun and brief respite from yesterday’s rain. We rode along the Strawberry Line and gazed at the endless cider orchards.
After serendipitous encounters and perfect cycling, we took the route around the airport and marvelled in child-like wonder at the planes lurching askew into the crosswinds directly above our heads, each new experience adding colour to what was already the perfect bike ride.
Will was eyeing up my bicycle. I have got the Mercian back on the road; it was the perfect bike for the day; hand-built for extended jaunts into and around the English countryside. I put new bar-tape on, it looks a bit Bet Lynch but is nicer than the slightly mismatched yellow I had on there before.
I’m looking forward to taking the bike out on the saddle bag tour next month. It’s perfect for the job, absorbing any imperfections and ameliorating the rigours of the road with comfort and efficiency.
Here’s to a weekend of rekindled friendships, the enduring fellowship of cycling and the open road, escapism and simplicity.
if i chased after a tenth of the cars and drivers that come too close or scare me witless i’d never get anywhere near where I wanted to be. I might get quite fit and it could also be suitable for intervals, but it would present some serious geographical challenges. As a general rule i try to say nothing and do nothing, be unassuming and keep on the straight and narrow.
today i chased after a car; it swerved towards me on a blind corner of a narrow residential street. the street is two-way but with no entrance at one end. this seems to convince some drivers that it’s therefore a one way street and any cyclists coming the other way must therefore be punished. I’ve had people screaming in incandescant rage before now.
a close call with a car and driver which involves the car being driven at or near the cyclist, wilffully and dangerously close, is known demotically as a ‘punishment pass’. it requires a weird suspension of normally accepted behaviour and the cyclist to be seen as an inconvenience or object of irritation. it also needs a dehumanising factor – no-one would swerve at a small child ambling into the road to punish them for being there. somehow, within the confines of a car, the presence of a cyclist can create all sorts of odd and visceral reactions in seemingly sane and rational people.
after standing silently for a few moments I opted to chase after the driver and remonstrate. in common parlance, i flipped out a bit. anyone who spends a lot of time on a bike on the road will have a tipping point – there is a limit to how much ill-treatment you can take from ignorant and life-threatening people.
i caught the driver at the lights and they knew immediately why i was there. there was a flash of recognition, followed by an attempt to defend themselves. it went like this: It’s a one way street/I didn’t have much space on the right/I didn’t see you/i see cyclists every day/i respect cyclists on the road. None of these statements had any connection with the truth.
The driver was angry about the whole thing; a horrible misguided and inarticulate anger that comes about from knowing you’re defending something indefensible. I imagine later there will be conversations about ‘bloody cyclists’ and being ‘assailed and assaulted by an angry lycra lout’, all of which will be very wide of the mark. But in the back somewhere will be the nagging knowledge and guilt that they were completely in the wrong and made a stupid choice.
I have a child and all i want to do after a training ride or commute is get home and see my 6 month old daughter. people need to pay more attention to vulnerable road users. i imagine the person involved probably has children, loved ones, relatives, and wouldn’t begin to contemplate driving in such a way anywhere near them.
Arguments aside, and you can argue with someone in a car for as long as they choose to argue and not get anywhere, there are some simple realities. A driver made a stupid choice in a fit of pique because they felt a cyclist was in their way. It happens all the time, every single day, on every single ride. In this case, that would have been it if i hadn’t caught up to remonstrate to attempt to remind them that I am a person rather an obstacle. There was a moment of intense irony when the driver reached over to lock their door and said they felt ‘threatened’. Apart from a fairly strident tone, i was about two metres away and my body language was entirely unthreatening. Threatening is two tonnes of metal coming within a couple of inches, at speed, with deliberation.
I’ve been trying to rebuild my base endurance after it took a walloping due to illness and other factors. this involves the same sort of training as normal, but with some extended weekend jaunts out into the mendips, taking in at least a few hills. Today i tackled a ride i usually favour during a ‘build’ period. it’s not one for the faint-hearted or faint-legged, for a couple of reasons. The total elevation tops out at 5000 feet, hitting that all important 1000 feet per 10 miles marker. There are 6 particularly unpleasant climbs, interspersed with some opportunities for recovery. It’s really hard work and maintaining any kind of average speed above 15mph is very difficult, requiring considerable exertion on the ups and and on the flat.
The route starts with an ascent over the steep side of Dundry, and it’s very steep. It takes around 4 minutes, oscillating between 10 and 20% with not much inbetween. The hairpins are also very steep. It’s a wall. Parsonage Lane is much gentler, at around 6% for about 0.8 of a mile. After that, Blagdon looms large. It’s the nastiest way to get up the north side of the Mendips, rising up from Blagdon Lake to the highest point of the hills in 1 3/4 miles. The elevation pitches up to around 15% at various points and is never particularly shallow. It’s a climb I really like but it’s never particularly easy, just tipping over the edge of steepness to make it hard to find and maintain a rhythm. It’s used in the Colin Carfield road race where the action generally explodes.
After a brief recovery and descent of West Close – a hill climb course used this year by Team Tor and for the National HC in 2000 – it was time for the hardest, nastiest, most revolting climb in all the Mendips: Draycott Steep. It’s a climb most people avoid on account of its unremitting savagery. it’s hard to explain precisely why, but it could be because of its unassuming nature. Essentially, it heads up out of Draycott to the very top of Cheddar Gorge in one straight, steepening line. There is no opportunity to gather breath or recover. The climb is a mile and a half long; once it pitches up to 15% it doesn’t slip back down for about a mile. Instead it gently pitches up to about 22%; the increased incline isn’t immediately evident, you can’t see it looking up the hill, but it’s evident when you start pedalling in squares and the front wheel becomes light and unstable. I find the climb exerts a curious allure, it’s a challenge and every now and then i head down and have a pop. I’ve never had a good climb on Draycott, my only memories are struggling up and wishing i had something else other than the 39:25. It’s simply too steep for too long to get any kind of rhythm.
Once i’d reached the top of the Mendips my legs were a bit ragged. A rapid descent of the gorge and blast through Cheddar allowed some respite. I’ve never seen quite so many cyclists coming up the Gorge, small groups and individuals enjoying the glorious weather; i probably passed around 25 riders. I’ve always preferred descending the gorge to climbing up; it’s not much of a climb, to be honest, and the scenery is more impressive when you plummet down through, remembering only to ‘think goat’: watch out for the bearded ruminants who line the cliffs.
Shipham is a main road rhythm climb, rising out of Cheddar and back up the side of the Mendips. It’s not particularly nice because it heads past a quarry, but it’s relatively straightforward. After that I hopped up over Wrington, a short and very steep climb with amazing views across to the Mendip escarpment, then rattled back into the city, pausing only to direct some leisure cyclists (aren’t we all?) onto the railway path and point some day trippers towards Clevedon. A quick ascent of Belmont and super fast descent of Clarken Combe finished off the ride. Average temperature, even at 8am, was 78 degrees. Very very hot. In an unprecedented development I drank two full bottles of jungle juice. I feel like my legs might be returning.
This year’s Bespoked Bristol is on at the Passenger Shed, Temple Meads. It’s a highly pornographic offering of hand-built bicycle bongo. It’s also very busy, to the extent that it had me harkening back to the days when cycling was deeply unfashionable and resolutely unmainstream. Only briefly though.
Wandering around the show is a strange experience. The endless number of carefully constructed frames creates a form of artisan framebuilder fatigue. There are only so many hand-cut, fillet-brazed, lugged creations you can see before it coalesces into an endless sea of reynolds 953 erotica. Certain items stood out; mostly the strange or quirky builds. Occasionally a staggering and sublime bicycle cut through the increasingly generic quasi-low-pro fixtastic norm.
Generally it was quite tricky to get near some of the tastier bits of metal. There were lots of men taking lots of pictures of bicycles. I was taking some pictures of some of the bicycles. Penny wasn’t that keen on standing still, she knew there were lots of other things to see, so I snapped infrequently. I took photos of men taking photos of bicycles instead.
The ‘dopers suck’ t-shirt made me laugh. I’m sure it’s worn in good faith and all that jazz. Reformed armchair cycling fans are like reformed smokers; they go that little bit further. Most of these built-for-the-flat, stravacommuting, evangelical straight-edge drum-banging ‘just say no’ grange hillers where kicking around in yellow plastic bracelets 18 months ago, having a jodrell over every spoken word from big lance, despite his obvious drug-taking and malodorous personality.
Some other observations from the show – retro is still very big business. There was a time when everyone got ridiculously excited over things that looked like the future; even if it looked decidedly funky. Those days are gone.
Most of the ‘newer’ marques and clothing companies were shamelessly mining some kid of cycling steampunk aesthetic, none more so than ‘Chapeau’, a new range of cycling garments. They liberally sprinkled their stall with lots of old broken things, like the sewing machine below. I presume to give the impression that they hand stitched each cap using the Singer.
They seemed to be going for the ‘gentleman’s attire’ market. It’s carefully thought out, slyly pitched. It’s also boring and cynical with an incredibly unimaginative name. It would be easy to blame Rapha for this current obsession with marketing and style over substance, they’ve certainly spawned a legion of imitators, eager to cash-in on the disposable income of the current crop of ‘new’ cyclists and the extensive and photogenic back-history of the sport. It’s bogus.
By far the ugliest things in the show were the wooden bicycles. They made my stomach turn. Well done to the chaps for showing that you can make a bicycle out of wood and for showing why bicycles aren’t made out of wood.
The Donhue stand near the front of the exhibition hall was attracting lots of covetous glances. They won the prize for the biggest ever chainring seen on a bike. Apparently it’s some sort of experiment to see if they can wring 100mph out of a fixed wheel.
One piece of craftsmanship stood out above all of the amazing frames and builds; a Reynolds 953 stainless steel racing tricycle. The builder had got the weight for the finished trike down to 10kg. This is staggeringly light for a tricycle. The Longstaff used by Dave Keene to set several comp records was much heavier than this beast. The welds are beautifully finished and it is a thoroughbred.
The framebuilder was a friendly chap and he gave me a leaflet for this year’s World Tricycle Championships, taking place in Kent in June. It features a trike criterium race. The general consensus amongst those who have seen a tricycle criterium is that it’s like the chariot scene from Ben Hur, but with more violence.
If you can get to the show this weekend, then do. It’s a fantastic day out and it’s in Bristol.
Ashton Court is an old mansion estate on the edge of Bristol. It’s home to various things throughout the year, including the photogenic balloon festival and a large herd of small deer. It’s also been adopted by the local mountain bike community and there are several carefully constructed trails in the woods. I’ve done my best to ignore this aspect of the cycling world for about 36 years, but lately have been surreptitiously dipping a toe into the filthy primordial pondwater of mountain biking. I have assembled a bike for the carrying of the small person; it just so happens that it’s a retrotastic steel framed Orange P7 mountain bike and perfect for riding the sturdy and fast Nova trail in Ashton Court. Penelope has been taking a keen interest in all things cycling and is eagerly tracking the developments in the spring classics.
I’ve been over to Ashton Court twice this week to use it as my recovery ride. It’s a 4 mile circuit through the woods on a track built up and maintained by some ardent trail pixies. It has berms and banks and drops and all sorts of technical features. More importantly, it’s dry and free of the kind of slurry normally associated with this darkest and most vile of sports. I like it because it’s been deserted in the mornings and is a lively, technical ride requiring lots of decisions, a degree of focus but not too much out-and-out effort. It’s also a lot of fun. I learnt some interesting lessons: it’s best to let air out of tyres in order to go faster and gain a semblance of control. Not quite sure how Tim Wilkey of Das Rad Klub fame managed a fixie 120psi loop; courage.
Today and last week I didn’t see another soul. On my way out, however, i saw an endless stream of men of a certain age in rather large and expensive looking cars with their large and very expensive mountain bikes in the back. It’s a minor gripe, but these chaps should really be riding to the trails. I’m sure there are a few excuses, but it didn’t look good. I nearly always see people unloading their bikes from the boots of huge cars in Leigh Woods and Clifton. It seems anomalous and not in keeping with the reasons why many people cycle.
That aside, the Nova Trail is the perfect introduction to the disgusting ‘off-road’ realm and I’d recommend it as an ideal workout for those new to such dark pursuits.