Flight of the Bromptons

June 9, 2014

I’ve been down to Brighton this weekend for the Cycling Embassy AGM which, as well as many other things, functions as a sort of annual Brompton owners’ gadding about society.*

Bromptons at the station

Others will write in more detail about the events of the weekend, but suffice it say that the sun always shines on the Cycling Embassy AGM, except when we’re foolish enough to hold it in Manchester, and even though the BBC Terror Centre was predicting that the entire country would be washed away in apocalyptic floods on Saturday, by the time the participants had assembled at Brighton station, the rain had gone and the sun was about to come out for what was to prove a glorious weekend.

Bromptons at the pub

Naturally, we spent most of it in various meeting rooms but there was plenty of time for the pub too and I have to say that all the best meetings end with the die-hard participants (and their Bromptons) eating fish and chips on the beach as the sun slowly sinks into the west.

Bromptons on the beach

Today, all I had to do was get myself and the Brompton home, which meant transferring between Victoria and Euston. I considered taking the tube, but somehow, however daunting London traffic can be, it’s never quite as daunting as lugging the Brompton down the endless corridors that make up the average underground station.

I’ll draw a veil over the full horrors of the cross-London journey: put it this way, it did more in 30 minutes to remind me why the Embassy needs to exist, than the whole of the preceeding weekend. But it did have one high spot as I got to pedal down the length of the Mall on my very British bike, inadvertently photobombing tourists’ snapshots of Buckingham Palace. Indeed, with the Brompton rapidly becoming the London bike of choice, perhaps I was actually providing a spot of authentic local colour. How long before someone on a Brompton – ideally a smart city gent – becomes as much an icon of early 21st century London as a punk in a phone box was in the eighties?

beware of cyclists

* This is unfair. We mainly go on very serious ‘infrastructure safaris’ where we look in great detail at bollards** and only incidentally have informal rolling Brompton races down a particularly tempting ramp.

** indeed we were so busy looking at bollards that we completely overran and ended up missing the World Naked Bike ride***

*** insert your own joke here, I’ve left you plenty to work with


I’m not Here

June 6, 2014

I’m here, in the Guardian again, wading into the murky world of cycling and gender politics.

I’m also in Brighton (well, Hove, actually) for this. And possibly a side visit to this. I’ll be keeping my clothes on though.

 

peace statue

Brighton to the left, Hove to the right

In other news, I successfully performed percussive maintenance on my Brompton, but that’s a story for another day


Bisy Backson

May 16, 2014

So apart from getting up at oh god hundred hours to attend the Newcastle bigtoonride tomorrow, and organising a popup bookshop next weekend, and my Anniversaire ride the weekend after that for which there is much baking still to be done, and then going down to Brighton for the Cycling Embassy AGM the weekend after that (the sun always shines on the Cycling Embassy AGM), oh and organising the Women’s Cycle Forum (although I say organising, can I heartily recommend Suzanne Forup for all your organising things needs as she seems to have done 90% of the work including securing all the funding, while I’ve just stood around making daft suggestions) the weekend after that – and a small jaunt to the Netherlands at the end of June, I shall mostly be relaxing over the next few weeks. Not. Still, through some slight oversight I do seem to have left one weekend unorganised between now and July … let’s see how long that lasts, shall we?


See you, Jimmy

February 20, 2012

It was an exciting weekend for my bike as it returned to its ancestral home, Glasgow, albeit just for one day. The occasion was the Cycling Embassy’s infrastructure tour, which I won’t bore you with here (I’ll bore you with it elsewhere, don’t worry). Getting there on the train means a 40 minute ride to the station for the once-every-three hours, two-hour long chuffer service (it’s all of 75-odd miles, but never mind that – look at the lovely scenery!). Thus my Saturday started with me waking in the dark and listening to the rain splattering energetically against the window and wondering why I hadn’t taken up knitting advocacy or something equally indoorsy.

Fortunately, a glitch in the Weather Gods’ system meant I managed to ride to the station during the 40 minute break in the rain and was safely under the canopy discovering I’d forgotten my bike lock when the heavens opened again. And amazingly, despite a forecast bordering on the apocalyptic, another 15 or so hardy souls turned up for the event and even though we did get snowed on a little and were visited by the puncture fairy and I discovered that my back brake wasn’t working (I don’t really need to stop the bike much around here, so it doesn’t really arise. Oops), it was an interesting (adjusted for being mainly about cycle infrastructure) day out all round.

Heading back, after an after tour tour of the pubs of Glasgow looking for one that wasn’t absolutely rammed on a Saturday night – a mission akin to trying to find a decent piece of cycling provision in the average UK city – I got on a train that turned out to be full of Rangers fans (do they know that peace has more or less broken out in Northern Ireland, btw? Do you think maybe someone should tell them?) and reached Bigtown at 9pm ready for the 8 miles back – the first time I got to try out my dynamo lighting for real.

So what’s the verdict? Well the first thing is that, if anyone tells you they ‘hardly feel’ the effect of a dynamo on a bike, then they’re either lying or have legs of steel. The second is that it lights up the road like nobody’s business, possibly even better than the light I borrowed last year. The third is that a pint of Newcastle Brown Ale and a bag of chips are not, perhaps, the ideal pre-ride meal for someone who wants to test out their dynamo for the first time, although I’m not sure exactly would have been – maybe spinach?

I woke up on Sunday morning with leaden legs, feeling absolutely shattered. And then the sun came out and as we were out of milk, we did the run again in the afternoon down to the local garage and I remembered that the road back from Bigtown always feels like extra hard work, seeing as it’s uphill and into a headwind.

I reckon on balance, the dynamo adds about an extra 10 mph to the wind in your face, although it does seem to feel like harder work the slower you go; struggling up the final bit of hill at the end of a long ride was just cruel. On the plus side, the way it lights up the road means you can get up to speed on the downhill bits and take a run at the next climb. For people whose brakes have gone a bit kaput, it’s reassuring to know you’ll be able to see what’s up ahead in good time. If I were commuting home in the dark five days a week I’d probably lay out the cash to get a rechargeable system, just because I think it would be pretty wearing every day and I don’t really want to end up with the legs of Chris Hoy. But for the use I want to put it to – the occasional trip into town of an evening, and back and forth to the village, it will be fine. More than fine, in fact, if the night is as black and as starry and sparkly as Saturday was.

And now, I think it might be time to get that bike down to the bike shop for a bit of love and attention to those brakes…


Zonked

January 31, 2012

Well it turns out that spending two days in intense discussion on cycling policy and infrastructure has the effect of leaving my brain feeling as if it’s been taken out, steam cleaned, ironed on the linen setting and then put back in upside down. Which is my excuse for having lost my mobile phone AGAIN. It’ll be the third time I’ve mislaid this particular model and I’ve got the feeling the mobile phone gremlins are going to be the ones going ‘third time lucky…’

Still, confirmation – if confirmation was needed – of the need for the cycling embassy came at the end of the first day when we were assembling outside, preparing to set off for the nearest pub to continue the conversation there over beer. The woman who’d let us in dashed out because she wanted to see all the Bromptons (it’s not a proper UK cycle meeting if there isn’t a ‘fold’ of Bromptons in the corner). She wasn’t a cyclist and she knew nothing about bikes but she was entranced by the folding ones and she wanted to see us ride off on them. I asked her if she was thinking of getting one herself

‘oh no,’ she said. ‘My boyfriend cycles everywhere but it’s just too scary for me. I would if it was like Holland with those cycle tracks everywhere but here I have to mix with buses and everything and I’m just too frightened. I love the Boris Bikes, but there’s no point for me because where would I ride one?’

I’m about 99% certain that someone didn’t put her up to it … but we couldn’t have put it better ourselves.

Back home tonight, or at least that’s the plan, although given the way a single broken down train at Wimbledon managed to bring the entire SouthWest Trains network to its knees last night, I’m not counting on it…


Sunday Gig

November 6, 2011

For those of you who haven’t found it yet, I’m doing a weekly spot on the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain blog, rounding up the best of the last week’s cycling blog posts.  It’s possibly of little interest to those of you who are here for updates on the Weather Gods, chicken wars, and other rural pursuits, but if any of you are thinking that you don’t read nearly enough detailed analysis of cycling infrastructure, then get yourself over there.

That is all


You Shall Go to the Ball

September 17, 2011

Well, there’s been some exciting news for my bike – tomorrow I’m heading off to the Netherlands for the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain Infrastructure-safari-to-end-all-infrastructure-safaris and it turns out I can take my bike after all.* This saves me renting a bike when I’m over there and, while I’m a little disappointed at not getting to try a real Dutch bike, I am at least relieved to be saving some money on the trip. All is not entirely plain sailing, of course – while there are no longer any of the dreaded engineering works on the line, there’s a strange quirk in our train service that means the first train out of Bigtown on a Sunday leaves at 1pm, presumably to ensure that people can go to Kirk first. This means it’s impossible for me to make it to Newcastle on time for the ferry’s departure unless we first drive to Carlisle where the Godless English have no such Presbyterian qualms.

And then, at the other end, the bike and I face the prospect of the journey from the centre of Newcastle to the ferry terminal armed only with my sense of direction – and we all know how good that is. I had a vauge idea (head for the Tyne, then keep it on my right until reaching the docks) but I was hoping for something a little more reassuring by way of guidance.

This is where blogging – and latterly twitter – gets brilliant. first Bill Gibbon responds to my plea for help by sending me a PDF of the bike routes across the city. Then Katja Leyendekker of the Newcastle Cycling Campaign trumps that by offering to meet me at the station and escort me to the ferry. I have a feeling that there’s now no town or city in the UK where I couldn’t find a fellow cyclist to offer me advice or routes around their patch if I needed it. This goes some way to making up for the fact that attempting to get around by bike without a native guide is fraught with difficulty if not actual danger in this country. Maybe when the revolution comes we can have nice cycling meet-ups AND well-signposted, separate infrastructure for visiting cyclists. Until then, thank goodness for Twitter…

For those of you who come for the gardening, cat updates and wildlife, you may find the next week is a little heavy on the wonders of Dutch cycle infrastructure and a little light on the rest of it (although fear not weather god fans – it looks as though I’m taking the rain with me). And those of you who come for the cycling stuff – be warned: too much exposure to really first class cycling provision can cause side effects such as envy, irritation, sleepless nights, outbursts of rage, depression, and drool on the keyboard.

*Ahem. Someone had got August and September confused when reading the timetable…


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