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…


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…


September 6, 2011

There was a moment on Saturday when I realised I really had been out of London for too long – and it wasn’t just when I was surprised at the way a silver Golf cut up not just me but a dad and a couple of kids in a bakfiets on a roundabout to shave, ooh, microseconds off the journey to the next traffic jam. No, the realisation came earlier when sitting outside (outside!) in the sunshine (sunshine!) at the cafe on the South Bank with Dave Warnock of 42 Bikes waiting for the others to arrive for the Cycling Embassy Launch. There was a guy shambling around with a can of Skol in his hand addressing remarks to the world in general and then, when he realised that we were failing not to see him as proper Londoners should, to us in particular. It’s very hard, I find, not to answer a direct question put to you in a reasonable manner (Skol or no Skol) and pretty soon he had pulled up a chair and joined us at our table. And as the others arrived and introduced themselves (for most people we knew by twitter handle or blog name rather than actual name) he introduced himself too, with handshakes all around. I think it took some people a little while to realise he wasn’t actually part of the Embassy* – perhaps they thought he was the mysterious Freewheeler, under deep cover – and he seemed happy enough to join in with our chat and properly appreciative of some of the more glorious bikes showing up for the launch. And then, possibly realising nobody was going to buy him a coffee, or perhaps because he had bigger fish to fry – he’s been part of the old Brian Hay Peace Camp outside parliament for the last few months – he wandered off to rejoin his own demonstration leaving us to ours.

In fact, I’m not sure that even when I lived in London I ever entirely mastered the city art of not seeing the people that you’re not supposed to see. Maybe as an invisible person myself (when on my bike, at least) I have too much in common with the other oddballs of this world – certainly they seem to have a tendency to home right in on me. And, besides, half an hour in his company was far more pleasant than just 30 seconds spent in company with the driver of that Golf…

*cycle campaigners aren’t always the best dressed of people although generally they aren’t on their second lager by 11 am.

And Now the Hard Work Begins

September 5, 2011

(photo via @estuarycyclist)

I woke up this morning at silly o’clock with the realisation that launching the Cycling Embassy (and you can read a proper account of it, with many lovely pictures plus one of me in my killer heels, over at I Bike London) was the easy part. Picnics, pretty postcards and balloons are all very well – but now we actually have work out how to reverse decades of transport policy and lack of investment and start a real cycling revolution in a country that mostly couldn’t care less about bikes and their riders. Ulp. All suggestions gratefully received…

But then, looking on the bright side , I did have a lovely time walking round the London Sky ride chatting to families and handing out our promotional postcards. When I talk – online or in person – to actual cycling activists I always find myself sidling around the subject a bit. Somehow it has managed to become contentious to be calling for decent dedicated cycle paths and I find myself being almost apologetic aboutthe fact that that is what we’re campaigning for. Yet, going round St. James’s Park I didn’t meet a single objection. To families who want to cycle safely – who are so keen to do so that they have dragged themselves and their bikes into Central London and are putting up with the relentless corporate jollity and bossiness of a Sky ride in order to do so – separated cycling infrastructure isn’t a contentious idea, it isn’t even a good idea, it’s just downright obvious. Of course that’s what we need. Of course.

So now all we have to do is make the politicians see that. Easy peasy. Right?

Back to civilisation – and gardening, cats and the weather – tomorrow

Poster Child

August 1, 2011

Right, all you lovely and talented people, I have a better outlet for your creativity than thinking up mad suggestions of what I can do next on this blog in the comments.

The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain is running a summer competition asking people to design a poster, one that sums up the campaigns’ aims and ambitions. I’d enter – and this is my attempt – but for the small technical matter that I’m helping run it so I’m not eligible. But I’m sure you lot can do better than that anyway (although you have to admit that is a fab picture – taken by my brother-in-law – and an even more fab cycling outfit).

The poster should somehow encapsulate the aims and ambitions of the Cycling Embassy, which in a nutshell is to campaign for the sort of cycling conditions that they take for granted in the Netherlands and elsewhere on the continent. A more detailed version of that can be found in our mission statement and in the Embassy FAQ.

Entry is free, and you can do so simply by posting the image on your blog, or twitter feed or elsewhere and letting us know by email. Or email it direct or add it directly to the site – there’s more details on the competition page.

Entries close on the 31st of August, so that gives you a month … but you can post something now if you feel the inspiration. And please do enter whether you’re a regular cyclist or not. We’re campaigning for the sorts of facilities that mean cycling isn’t just for the superfit blokes in lycra, but for the four-year-olds in bunny ears too. Although, whatever you might have heard elsewhere, it’s a dirty lie that we’re pressing for bunny ears to be made compulsory for all cyclists. Obviously, it’s up to the individual cyclist to decide what animal ears to wear on their head when going out on two wheels.

Here endeth the partly political broadcast. Back to vegetable disasters and other everyday tales of country life tomorrow.


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