To the People of Newcastle: an Apology

September 22, 2011

Tomorrow I leave Assen for Amsterdam, and from there to my ferry home. This means I have to get across Newcastle to the train station on my bike, having quite lost my UK cycling instincts – you know, those things that keep you alive when everyone is trying to kill you. Three days of blissfully stress-free cycling will do that to a person, I find. The Dutch have awesome bike handling skills, in that they can swerve around a dithering English cyclist without really breaking off from updating Facebook on their phone, but they don’t have the sort of paranoid sensibility required to keep oneself alive on the UK roads when you’re only one misjudgement away from being a statistic. I really do worry that I’ll roll off the ferry and right under the wheels of a bus, having got used to being in a country where bikes are everywhere and drivers are polite to the point of giving way to them when they don’t even have to.

Fortunately, Twitter and the Newcastle Cycling campaign will be springing into the breach once more, with a couple of them meeting me off the ferry on Saturday morning. With one leading the way in front, and one riding sweep behind, hopefully they will be able to keep me from leaving too much of a trail of chaos and destruction in my wake as I cycle blithely along assuming that side streets give way to cycle paths, that car drivers have seen me coming and will stop, and other such mad assumptions.

Just follow the sound of honking horns and squealing brakes and there I’ll be …


To the People of Assen: an Apology

September 20, 2011

You were only trying to get home from work, or back from school or down to the shops or out to coffee with your mates. There you were, minding your own business, texting while leaning on your handlebars, or chatting to your companions, or simply dreaming along thinking about something else, when suddenly a bunch of strange British people screeched to a halt in front of you in the middle of your perfectly normal bike lane and started earnestly discussing and photographing something so ordinary to you you’d never even noticed it before. You probably didn’t realise that you were using ‘cycle infrastructure’, you thought you were just going to work or school or coffee. You probably weren’t even aware that you were ‘cycling’. You see, hard as it is to believe, there are places where the bike route is not the most direct route from a to b, and where the cars actually take priority over people getting around under their own steam. Or where bike paths have to give way at every driveway and where the normal way to get your child to school is by car. A place where – and I know this must seem so strange you can’t quite conceive of it – people wouldn’t even consider moving a whole canal a few metres north in order to make room for a secondary bike route on the flimsy excuse that there’s a perfectly reasonable bike route on the other side of the canal already. I know. What sort of an excuse is that?

Imagine a group of people from, say, North Korea first setting eyes on a branch of Poundland – or standing blocking a whole aisle of Tesco, minds boggling over the choice of cereal – and you’ve got a good idea of what the Cycling Embassy infrastructure tour is like from the outside. So all I can say is, we’re sorry, and we’ll be going home again soon, leaving you to get on with your perfectly ordinary, perfectly sensible, well-adjusted lives.

You utter jammy sods.


Cutty Sark

October 24, 2008

It was foul weather yesterday, steady driven rain that left me stuck in the house all day, watching it sheet past the kitchen window. Today, as is often the way, was better: bright, cold and breezy. Really breezy. Really, really breezy, as I found once I got onto my bike and into the teeth of the wind.

David Hembrow had an interesting post about head winds in the Netherlands, and how they can be just as much a problem as hills are in a less flat country. The Dutch, of course, have their own practical solution – they fit tri-bars onto their granny bikes so they can be all upright and urban-chic in the shelter of the cities, and then adopt a more aerodynamic posture when they’re battling across the polders with their entire extended family in a trailer off the back, or whatever it is they do on their bikes. It looks a bit odd, but it’s practical, and this is the nation that brought the world clogs, so I don’t think they care much what the rest of us think.

There’s no room on my handlebars (what with the light bracket and the bell and the air horn and the gear lever and the bird poo) for tri bars or anything else, sadly, so as I battled up the longest hill into the gale, I had to adopt my own, rather unorthodox, approach to aerodynamics. With my hands still on the handlebars, I stand up on the pedals (otherwise I end up going backwards), tuck my elbows in and back, and lean down and forward,  as far out and low over the front wheel as I dare. The effect – I like to think – is that of the figurehead on the prow of a ship, only with more clothes. On a scale of ridiculousness it puts both clogs and tri-bars into the shade, but there’s no-one to see me do it except the cows and the sheep and they all think I’m mad anyway.

Coming back, of course, the wind was behind me and I was flying, my wheels barely touching the road. It’s worth battling the wind, sometimes, as long as you know it will still be there on the way home, pushing you on.

More foul weather to come, they say.