Fine Fettle

September 21, 2021

So, in this week’s exciting new return to normality / superspreader event (delete as appropriate according to your personal attitude to the current state of the ‘if we ignore it maybe it will go away’ pandemic), Sunday saw me travelling up to Edinburgh with Brompton, the fanciest outfit Bigtown’s charity shops could afford, and a bag full of knitted flowers to take part in the Edinburgh Fancy Women Bike Ride.

After 2019’s edition, when we were beyond excited to have 20 women prepared to brave the rain, we weren’t quite sure whether to believe that the 60+ people who had signed up online actually were going to put in an appearance, but after 30 minutes of alternating between panicking that nobody would arrive and panicking that they all would we suddenly had a street full of women on bikes in colourful outfits of all possible descriptions

I’d love to say it was great fun … but the problem with organising these things is that the fun for me only really starts once the ride is over and everyone is safely home. I was at the back, which makes for some terrible photos and makes it hard to get any sense of what the ride itself was like, but from the amount of excited chatting afterwards and the general reluctance of the riders to disperse, I can only assume that everyone had fun.

Back of the ride

Indeed, for the last couple of days my social media feeds seem to have been nothing but women in frocks on bikes, and honestly, I can highly recommend it as an alternative to doom scrolling, people arguing about Brexit as if it were still 2016, and the steady drip of climate catastrophe stories that make up my normal social media diet. For that relief alone, I think we should give the amazing international organizers of this most cheerful of bike protests, a vote of thanks.

The only thing I would quibble with is their suggestion that organisers invite ‘the wife of the mayor’ to come along. Edinburgh doesn’t have a mayor, as far as I know, but it does have a transport convenor and she has a fabulous red electric bike and – it turned out on Sunday – some very snazzy leopard print boots.

Me with co-organiser, Transport convenor, and Alison Johnson MSP

I hope she enjoyed experiencing the streets along with such a crowd, and that it’s given her renewed determination to keep transforming Edinburgh’s streets in a slightly more permanent way than the current trial measures (which we gave some knitted love).*

temporary barrier adorned with knitted flowers

And then, high on post-event relief and chat, including a meal spent catching up with my Edinburgh cousin, I was brought back down to earth by the realisation that, even in a world turned upside down, there are three things which are absolute certainties: death, taxes, and the fact that the last train to Lockerbie will always be cancelled, and it will generally be cancelled five minutes after the penultimate train to Lockerbie has departed. Fortunately there was a replacement laid on, and even more fortunately there was a fantastic customer service woman who took getting the four Lockerbie passengers home on as her personal responsibility. Especially when the train company sent the taxi that was taking us home to the other side of Waverley from where we’d been told to wait and she had to lead us up and down every flight of steps in the station at a brisk clip so we could catch it. This could have been a problem as I had the Brompton to carry and a rather silly pair of shoes on, but fortunately my cousin is a gent, and had stayed to ensure I got some sort of transport home. I don’t know that he was entirely signed up to the prospect of carrying the Brompton for me on a tour of Waverley but he did so without complaint and I am very grateful to him. Perhaps all this dressing up in impractical clothes has its upsides after all …

If you want your fill of fabulousness, go here.

If you want to hear me talking nonsense, here I am.

* Edinburgh council gets a lot of stick from cyclists over the quality of its cycling facilities and the speed of its rollout of programmes, but I can only suggest that those complaining come to Bigtown and have a go at banging their heads against the coonsil’s brick wall along with me before they get too critical.


All Systems Go

September 7, 2021

Well, it’s been a lovely summer and now it is somehow already a week into September, and I’m not really sure how that happened. And now it’s that back-to-school feeling (without the existential dread, at least) as the cycle campaigning kicks back into gear again after a summer when it’s mainly involved just going for nice bike rides which is still my favourite form of campaigning; if only it actually changed anything.

Fancy Women Bike Ride poster

Or maybe it can, because first up on the agenda is a reprise of the Edinburgh Fancy Women’s Bike Ride which was a blast when we did it in 2019 (I keep trying to write ‘last year’ as if we could just roll the whole of the last 18 months and put them in the bin) despite the weather gods serving up a day of Edinburgh’s finest, ‘you’ll have had your tea’ unwelcoming dreich drizzle. This year is proving a little stressful – it’s never helpful when the council decides to remove some of the temporary cycle lane you were planning on using, and then another part of the planned route catches fire – but hopefully it will be bigger (and dryer) than last time and just as much fun. Getting dressed up with a bunch of other women and going out and taking to the streets of your city by bike shouldn’t be a radical act, and yet somehow it feels like it is.

And it’s just under two months until I find myself involved in the biggest event yet – the UN Climate Conference is coming to Glasgow in November, and there’s no way we’re going to let an opportunity like that pass.

Pedal on COP Global Day of Action 6th November in Glasgow

Thankfully I’m not involved in organising the actual march itself, but we’re part of the mobilisation effort which for our part means getting as many people as we can cycling there (from all corners of Scotland). We’ve long argued that bikes have to be part of the solution to climate change – and now it’s time to put our money where our mouth is.

And if that weren’t excitement enough, this evening sees the Bigtownshire Cycling Campaign meet in person once more, after a trying year of Zooming and people who are on mute and shouldn’t be (and people who aren’t on mute and should …) We’ve decided against returning to the pub just yet, but we will be cracking out the bike mounted samovar and meeting in the park over tea and coffee instead.

Bike mounted samovar

I can hardly wait.


Fancy Free

September 22, 2020

I feel that 2020 being what it is, social media sites could at least have the decency to turn off the feature that taunts you with posts from a more innocent past. This time a year ago, for instance, we had just held a record breaking bike breakfast, I was looking forward to a wonderful weekend of riding with friends and I was preparing to head to Edinburgh on a bus with the Brompton to join a flock of glamorous cycling women and take the city by storm.

group photo

Fancy women in 2019 …

What a difference a year, and a pandemic, makes (although even a year ago I was noting that the world was getting doomier and gloomier by the minute – little did I know…). This Sunday we had a very different edition of the Fancy Women Bike Ride, sadly. There was no way for even the indefatigable organisers to manage events in cities across the world at a time when restrictions are changing from day to day, so all they asked was for us to find a friend or two, local regulations permitting, get dressed up, and head out into the streets of our town or city by bike.

Sadly, I couldn’t even manage that much, being in Duns visiting my parents for what looks like will be the last opportunity for a while. I hadn’t brought any fancy clothes and my one local cycling pal had had to cancel our Brompton play date due to an injured foot. All I could do was dig out my mother’s Paperbike, repair its punctured front wheel and take it out for a solitary spin through downtown Duns – where we didn’t exactly take it by storm but at least Wojtek the bear had brought flowers.

Paperbike by Wojtek statue in Duns

I maintain that the Paperbike is a dress-up bike all on its own so hopefully this will do, adjusted for it being 2020. I was pleased that I had managed to sort out the puncture at all – given that the bike has both a dynamo and hub brakes, taking the wheel off wasn’t an option so I had to do it by ear* something I have long meant to master.

2020 or not, some things haven’t changed however – a year ago I was busy ignoring a slow puncture and we came back on Sunday to find my own bike has a slow puncture in its back tyre that I’m doing my best to ignore now. Was it too much to hope for that in a world turned upside down, the P******* Fairy and her attendants the Bastard Big Thorns would give it a rest for now? Yeah, I know, what was I thinking? This is 2020 after all.

* listening for the hiss of the escaping air, levering off that part of the tyre and pulling out the inner tube, patching the hole, and popping it back on again – or in my case listening for the hiss of escaping air, levering off the tyre, failing to find the hole, levering off more tyre, pumping it up again, hearing the hiss but being unable to locate it, levering off the entire tyre, pulling out the inner tube, going and getting a bucket of water and finding the hole the old fashioned way, patching the hole, and popping the whole thing back on again. At least they weren’t Marathon Plus tyres – it turns out other kinds of tyres just go on and off really easily … who knew?


Fancy That

August 4, 2019

I’ve been an admirer of the Fancy Women Bike Ride for a while now, and when an unexpected window opened up in Back On My Bike’s calendar on the appropriate day, we leapt at the chance to organise one in Edinburgh.

It’s refreshing to be involved in an event where not only has someone done most of the thinking for you – but which has joy firmly at the heart of it. And of course, no sooner had we floated the idea on social media, than a man jumped in to suggest how we might better run an event that came about because women were sick of being told what to wear on the bike, so now I’m more determined than ever that this will be a cavalcade of awesomely glamorous and wholly impractically dressed women (chaps are allowed, as long as they stay at the back) having a fantastic time and not letting anyone tell them anything about how they should do anything.

POP tshirts hanging to dry

Of course there is a slight hitch in that most of my fashion choices consist of deciding which grey jumper and/or POP t-shirt to wear (usually the clean one). Indeed, I think Back On My Bike only agreed to the whole thing because she’s curious to see what I look like in a frock (rainskirts apparently don’t count). But in this it turns out I am not alone – although one of the purposes of the ride is to encourage more women to cycle, from the enthusiastic comments I’m getting online, it also seems to be very effective at encouraging cycling women to consider wearing a skirt. For, while I do know some very stylish women among my cycling pals, it’s fair to say that most of us are going for more of a scrubbed outdoorsy tomboyish vibe than the full cycle chic. If we can indeed encourage some more ‘normal’ women to join us in Holyrood park on the 22nd of September, then this should be a wonderful meeting of minds and I’m looking forward to it immensely, at least now. Come back in a few weeks time when I’m in full-blown panic over what to wear …