Merry Twigmas

December 27, 2021

We’re in Duns for Christmas, probably for the last time, as my parents will hopefully be making the move to Bigtown in spring (it’s amazing what some people will do to feature more prominently in the blog).

Parents walking in the park

Since we last visited, Storm Arwen had done a number on the trees in the area, especially in the castle grounds where allegedly 3,000 have been lost, some of them rather mighty giants too.

Felled tree

Rather than add another to the toll, Mum gathered up some of the twigs to be our ‘tree’ this year. It’s amazing how festive you can make anything look with a few baubles and some fairy lights.

Decorated twigs with lights

I hope everyone reading this was able to similarly salvage some sort of Christmas festivity out of the wreckage of this year…

Here’s to a better 2022.


Carrotted, Redux

December 21, 2021

‘That’, said the other half as I brought tonight’s contribution to supper in from the garden ‘almost looks like something you would buy in the shops’

carrot on kitchen counter

And it’s true: after a decade in which I was too scarred by my failures to even attempt such as tricky crop, and in a year in which I didn’t so much garden as dash out at intervals and throw seeds at the ground in an attempt to appease the gardening Gods, I have grown a reasonable crop of carrots with more or less zero effort involved (they don’t even need digging up, you can just pull them straight out of the ground).

Truly, the more I do this gardening lark, the less I discover I know. Do you think a similar benignly neglectful approach might also work for my asparagus?


To Market, To Market, Redux

December 19, 2021

Me: How fortunate that we’ve got an extra Christmas edition of the farmers’ market on today, given I forgot to make bread last night so we’ve nothing for lunch, we’re out of pancetta for supper, and there are still a couple of things I need to pick up for Christmas.

Weather Gods: About that …

Bike in foggy road

Regular readers will know I have ridden in plenty of inclement weather over the years, but this was definitely one of the least enjoyable rides we’ve done for a long time. Not only was it so foggy that the other half’s back light was worryingly all but invisible from barely 50 feet away, it was also extremely cold, that raw bone-chilling cold that reaches everywhere and leaves your fingers feeling as if they have been smashed with a hammer.

Still, there is a stall at the market that not only does haggis samosas (don’t knock them till you’ve tried them) but also an excellent Goan chicken curry so we pressed on, hoping that at least the sun would have burned through the fog before we had to ride back. Sadly, as we waddled out again, replete with curry and with the last piece of the Christmas shopping puzzle in the bag, it had neither cleared up nor, particularly, warmed up. I think we were more than three quarters of the way home before we burst out of the cloud layer and into the sun.

fog in valley below

At this time of year, it doesn’t exactly warm you, but it does at least allow you to remember what being warm feels like.

And how is your Christmas shopping going?


Regeneration

December 16, 2021

As those of you who follow me on Twitter will know, it was a big day yesterday, as the bike and I went on our final trip together – back to Common Wheel in Glasgow where I’d originally got it from. They have sourced a frame that should fit me and take most of the components from my old bike, and so I was essentially taking it back to be scrapped, at least the frame.

Bike at the station

Since I first got the bike over 12 years ago, at a conservative estimate we’ve done at least 36,000 miles together (a number large enough that I’ve just double and triple checked my arithmetic). It’s been a comfortable and forgiving companion all that time and I was pretty sad to see it go. At the end of the day it’s just a bike, an inanimate object, but it’s hard to spend that amount of time with something that and not start to feel attached to it, especially when it’s something that can bring as much joy as a bike.

Touring bikes by the Loire river

It’s taken me through three countries, it’s handled my overpacking habits uncomplainingly (unless you count its habit of falling over, always at the least convenient moment, as a protest of sorts), it’s put up with neglect verging on the criminal, and it’s carried me through rain, snow, hail and ice – and even, occasionally, sunshine. In the past year, especially, we’ve tackled some more significant rides – my almost-century and, its final adventure, the ride to Glasgow for COP26. It has never been the lightest, or the coolest, or the fastest bike but it has always been a comfortable one and for the things I want to do with it, that is the most important thing.

snow-covered bike

So I’m not ashamed to say that I’m sad to see it go, and I felt a little twinge of guilt as I left it at Common Wheel alongside the frame that will ultimately replace it. I’m hoping that, with its wheels, dynamo, lights, rack, handlebars, and – especially – the saddle moved over, enough of the bike will be transferred into the new one that it will be with me in spirit. As a friend said on Twitter, I should think of it not as the end of the old bike, but a Dr Who style regeneration into a new one…

Either way, I’m looking forward to January when I can pick up my new/old companion and we can start off on a whole new set of adventures. I wonder where this one will take me?

two bikes parked together


Lord, Make Me Electric, But Not Yet …

December 14, 2021

I’ve long been saying – basically ever since we moved to live up a big hill – that my next bike would be an e-bike. That was back in the days when I thought I would have many more years with my old bike, and that it would be my legs that gave out long before the bike did.

As I mentioned before, since the untimely demise of my bike, I’ve had the loan of a pal’s e-bike, a five year old Raleigh Motus and it definitely has its advantages. It’s a fully equipped utility bike, with built in lights, skirt guard, wheel lock, rack, mudguards and – handy on our cratered roads – front suspension to boot. Add in the motor and the battery and it’s fair to say that not a gram of weight has been skimped in assembling this bike, which may well have its own gravitational field. It also has an almost Dutch style upright riding position which is a boon for those of us with neck and shoulder issues. Together, both of these factors mean that it definitely needs the e-assist for anything other than riding downhill (get it up to speed on a flattish road and I’ve found I can also bomb along for a fair way without but the first incline has me reaching for the on switch…). The motor itself is a Bosch and it is lovely and responsive, just giving you that boost you need without yanking you forward the way some drives can. I’ve been trying to keep the assist to a minimum, but even so, there’s something very willing about the way the bike will tackle a hill, and I have to admit I’ve taken to whacking it up a notch for the final kick up to our house, just to enjoy the sensation of the bike doing all of the work, while I just spin my legs enough to keep the motor going and sail home.

Raleigh e-bike

That said, I’m not going to be ordering one just yet. There have been some minor downsides, which I can live with, and one big one, which I can’t quite yet. The first is that I’ve found the sound of the motor unexpectedly annoying – I’ve never noticed it while riding with others on e-bikes, but when I’m riding it myself it’s quite obtrusive. This might seem a joke from someone whose bikes generally announce their presence via a symphony of rattles, squeaks and creaks, but there you go. The other minor issue is that I have found the whole experience of riding it somewhat disengaging in a way I can’t quite put my finger on. Somehow the connection between the effort, the road and the result has been disrupted and something has gone missing along the way. I’ve always been slightly baffled by some cyclists’ insistence that cycling is all about pain and suffering, but it turns out that when you take the pain and suffering out of a long hill, what’s left is just … a bit boring? Although that said, after riding home into a blustery headwind today I am very much here for the way it takes the grief out of a headwind.

Control console for e-bike showing range

But the thing I can’t (yet) live with is the range. I’m not out there doing fifty mile rides every weekend, but I do like knowing that I could if I wanted to. The range on this bike is somewhat unknowable – you certainly can’t rely on the little reading on the control unit which is pretty erratic. I know that a trip into town and back eats up at more than one bar (out of five) of the battery. And I know that if I judge it wrong then it’s going to be a long old walk up the hill to get home. A house on a hill may be a powerful incentive for getting an e-bike, but it’s also a powerful incentive to be very conservative about leaving enough juice in the tank.

This past year has seen me redefine the way I think about distance on a bike. After my (almost) century, and our big ride to Glasgow, I’m increasingly drawn to to the idea of longer rides and seeing just where my legs will take me. At 52 I think I’ve still got a few years left to explore what I can do unassisted, powered by jelly babies and emergency pork pies. There will be time enough to settle back into the comfort of an e-bike after that.

empty road with winter sunshine

That said – for one reason or another, I didn’t get out much on any bike at all last week. Not uncoincidentally, I’ve also had a bit of a case of the blahs. Today and yesterday I was reminded that a bike ride – any bike ride, on any bike – is a good thing and that that doesn’t change whether it comes with a battery or not. Sometimes the thing that needs charging is the rider, rather than the bike. And if it ever comes to it that I can’t use my bike for transport, or I start being reluctant to do so, then I know that an e-bike of some description will be waiting for me to put that to rights. And that’s a comfort to know.

So it turns out that my next bike won’t be an e-bike after all. But the next one after that? Watch this space.


A Minor Revelation

December 10, 2021

So, it’s been a couple of weeks since my bike was declared terminal, and since then I’ve been riding a mixture of my friend’s e-bike and the Brompton (the latter out of paranoia that I’ll get too spoiled by the e-bike and not be able to go back). It’s been an interesting experience having an extended loan of the e-bike and I was thinking, as I set off to town today to do some Christmas shopping, that I should put together some reflections on how I’ve found it, particularly as that is exactly the sort of trip that the bike (a solidly practical utility number) was designed for.

Sadly it was not to be as – half way into town – I got that sinking feeling … for yea, verily, it is that wonderful time of the year: blackthorn cutting season, and yea, the puncture fairy had struck again. Of course I had neither pump nor repair kit on me, which was stupid because e-bikes are magic in many ways, but they’re not that magic. With a completely flat back tyre, the only option was to call for help, and then spend an interesting few minutes with the other half trying to work out how to get a very large and heavy bike into quite a small hatchback (take both wheels off, is the answer, in case you’re wondering).

e-bike

But that’s not the revelation. The revelation was when we got home and I decided that, seeing as the wheels were already off, I should probably just go ahead and fix the puncture rather than slinging the whole thing into the garage and dealing with it on another day. Like my old bike, this one has Marathon Plus tyres (blackthorn might laugh in the face of their alleged puncture resitance but they are quite good at shrugging off broken glass). Unlike my old bike, though, getting the tyre on and off the wheel does not require a mimimum of thirty minutes of swearing, muttering under my breath and silently cursing all forms of active travel while weepily wondering why other people can make tyre levers work. The tyre just came off. And when I’d found the thorn (and it was a doozy), removed it and replaced the inner tube, it just went back on again. Just like that. It took fifteen minutes, and that included the time take to tweet about it in surprise.

I’ve spent a good decade coming to terms with the fact that I’m rubbish at bike maintenance, and that it doesn’t make me a bad cyclist or a generally inept person (I mean I may still be pretty inept but not because of my inability to repair a puncture). I’m probably still pretty rubbish at most aspects of it, but at least I now know that, when it comes to changing tyres, I have been playing with the difficulty level set to high. Not max, perhaps (that would be getting a Marathon Plus onto the back wheel of my Brompton, a challenge which I have declined even to attempt, much to the disgust of some), but definitely high. And I’m taking that as a win.


Demobilising

December 7, 2021

Now, while normally I bow to nobody in my enthusiasm for cycling and generally getting out and being active, there are limits …

Sleet sliding down a glass door

… and those limits are when the Weather Gods has been spending the morning enthusiastically flinging sleet at the front door to see how much sticks.

Fortunately, we had already done all of the outdoors things we needed to do before Storm Barra* got going. So I was able to sit and watch the ice slide down the window while planning other bike rides, of an epic-ish nature, hopefully when the Weather Gods have calmed down a bit.

Sleet on window behind desk

Watch this space.

* I’ve said it before, but I do wish they’d stop naming the storms as it only bloody encourages them.