All the Colours of the Rainbow

August 14, 2017

I suppose it was inevitable that when Back on My Bike & I helped form an organisation dedicated (among other things) to countering tired stereotypes of women in cycling, it ended up being run on a multitasking basis by busy women with far too much else on their plates to give it the attention it properly deserves. Which may be how we managed to plan to hold the Women’s Cycle Forum AGM (and if you’re planning on coming please do let us know) this Saturday in Glasgow on the same weekend as two Orange and one Gay Pride march, which could work out interesting, for a certain value of interesting.*

While it’s possible the two sets of marchers will simply cancel each other out and vanish in a puff of rainbow smoke (or more likely retire to their separate pubs and drink themselves into a standstill), the worry is that some people who might otherwise have come along may decide to simply avoid Glasgow altogether, which is a shame as they’re going to miss some great speakers (as well as cake and fizz to celebrate us officially turning one year old). So we have cooked up a cunning plan to meet up first and cycle to the Glasgow Women’s Library together in a group, avoiding the worst of the trouble spots for those who aren’t that familiar with Glasgow’s cycle routes.

Obviously, there’s also no truth in the other tired cliche that women can’t read maps, so I see no problem with this plan.

Exploring Glasgow

Now where??

And now if you’ll excuse me, I have a birthday cake to bake while finishing off some editing work, responding to a consultation on air quality in Scotland and planning the Bigtownshire Cycle Campaign bike breakfast …

In all seriousness, though – do come along if you can, because it should be a great afternoon.

* the Chinese curse one


Pecha Caka

June 10, 2017

In our continuing endeavour to see if *everything* can be improved by adding cake, or just most things, the Women’s Cycle Forum Scotland is following up its successful Cake Summit with a Pecha Caka evening – aka a Pecha Kucha event of short talks, but where everyone has to bring cake.

cake spread

Actually, bear with me, there is a serious point to it, and it’s not just that we like cake. Just like at the Cake Summit, bringing food to share, and eating food that others have given you, is a powerful way of building an atmosphere of warmth and supportiveness (and possibly a little bit of rivalry over recipies). As our teachers never tired of telling us at school, ‘companion’ comes from the word for sharing bread, although we’re with Marie Antoinette on the whole bread issue. As we’re asking people to stand up and give presentations, what better way to soften your audience than to have stuffed their mouths with chocolate brownies beforehand? Hopefully it will create an atmosphere where the dreaded ‘public speaking’ becomes less daunting, a matter of standing up and talking to new friends, rather than presenting to an anonymous audience, their arms folded, waiting to be entertained.


Let them eat cake

And that’s not all. We are aware that one* of the barriers to having more women speaking at conferences is that women are – for whatever reason – more likely not to put themselves forward for something because they don’t feel they’re qualified to do it well (clearly they’ve never sat through the sorts of conferences I have where speaker after speaker has stood up and read his powerpoint slides to us at great length, so they have no reason just how low the bar can be). So we’ve tacked on a short workshop beforehand, to give potential speakers at this or any other event a chance to practise their public speaking skills. With cake, obviously.

cake and coffee

So if you’re in Edinburgh next week – mark your diaries for Thursday the 15th June. The workshop is at five, the main event at seven. It’s free, as long as you bring cake, otherwise a donation will suffice. You can book here

And after that? Well, as we’ve almost certainly got another general election looming in the not-too-distant future, I’m already musing how we could make the whole thing a bit less painful with the addition of cake…

*Obviously the main barrier is them not being asked, and nobody thinking that it might be a problem until they get an #allmalepanel hashtag on twitter, by which time it’s probably too late.

Not Marching, but Cycling

January 22, 2017

Yesterday saw me up early on a blisteringly cold morning and onto the bike to catch a train in Bigtown, which was still blanketed in fog.

frosty morning

I wasn’t going to join the Women’s March in Edinburgh, although looking at my Twitter and Facebook feed, there’s a part of me that wishes I had. I had a prior engagement, however: to join some of the fabulous people of the Women’s Cycle Forum Scotland (and a couple of honoured guest) for what we had half jokingly called a cake summit.


Let them eat cake

Inevitably, when you invite women to come along and bring some baking, things can get a little out of hand.


And possibly even a tiny bit competitive, although I prefer to think of it as just a desire to ensure that nobody goes unfed. Fortunately we were meeting at the Glasgow Bike Station whose staff fell on the surplus with cries of glee. As they had also just fixed the bent front chain ring of my bike (and replaced the ill-fitting bottom bracket to boot) for the princely sum of £15 it was well deserved.

group photo

Taking a break from our plotting on how to change the world …

The discussions were a fantastic chance to share knowledge and approaches, reaffirm what it was we wanted to do, and come away again re-energised and ready for what is going to be a busy few months ahead. While I’m sorry it meant missing the chance to show solidarity with the rest of the women of the world, I hope it does ultimately contribute in some small way towards a better world.

Glasgow skyline

And that will have to do for now.


June 15, 2015

I’m back home after an exciting weekend in Embra (no thanks to TransPennine Express – I should know better than to buy advance tickets because it always ends in disaster, in this case all trains cancelled between Lockerbie and Edinburgh, no staff at the station, a replacement bus service that left 15 minutes early stranding half the passengers, and the last-minute rescue by a Virgin-train-in-shining-armour that kindly stopped and swept us all off to … well, Glasgow, but at that point we were beyond caring) for assorted bike-related events at the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling.


How do you start this thing?

After a morning spent watching lots of excited families try out various bikes (I may have tried a few out myself too. I mean, not having any kids oneself is hardly a reason *not* to want a Bakfiets, is it? Especially as it turns out to be a particularly cushy ride) and an afternoon meeting in which I may or may not have broken my New Year’s resolution not to start any more cycling ventures, it was time for the main event, the Women’s Cycle Forum, aka all the best bits of a cycling conference, without any of the parts where a man in a suit reads his powerpoint presentation at you.

Instead, participants got me* launching our Bingo card challenge – yet another mad idea I had on the bike back in March that seemed brilliant at the time. Rather than have people pledge to take one of the actions identified during the evening that would help improve the conditions for cycling – which sounded a bit cheesy – we decided to challenge them instead to complete a whole row or column (or diagonal) of our bingo card. It was only as I prepared to stand up in front of a room full of cycling women that I realised that this was in fact even cheesier but, whether it was the alcohol, the company or what, it was greeted with enthusiasm by the assembled crowd and it seems to have caught the imagination of many on twitter too.


And then we settled down in the bar to discuss the really important cycling issues.

Photos courtesy of Chris Hill of (among many other things) the excellent City Cycling Edinburgh forum. My phone is sadly on the blink which means I am cameraless. I’m also phoneless but that seems somewhat less pressing, to be honest.

* along with other more interesting discussions, and food, obviously.

Did Somebody Say Something?

June 4, 2015

There’s been a bit of a fuss on the interwebs (well, what’s new?) regarding all male panels, and specifically, a blog poking fun at them. I mention it because I’m in the throes of organising the Women’s Cycle Forum (a week on Saturday! Please come along, it’s only a fiver) which has an all-women panel and I did get asked whether we would ever allow a man to speak at future events (we let them come, obviously, as long as they pay; a fiver is a fiver after all). I answered as diplomatically as I could (and for those wondering why I might organise such an obviously sexist thing, I have written about it at great length and with great eloquence – truly I surprise myself sometimes – last year). And besides, I suppose the short answer is we’ll stop having all-women panels on our *women’s* cycle events (the clue is in the name) when everyone else stops having all-men panels on their regular not-about-men-particularly cycle events.

I’m not holding my breath though

But that’s not really what I wanted to talk about, because to be honest you can argue about this stuff until you’re blue in the face and it won’t really change anyone’s minds. What I did want to talk about was the fact that the coming Women’s Cycle Forum definitely won’t be about the unfairness of all-male or all-female panels. Nor – if last year’s event is anything to go by – will it be about barriers to cycling that are confined to women. What we’re going to be talking about is the sorts of things women (or, indeed, men) can do to tear down those barriers. We’ve got speakers from the fab Playing Out and No More Page Three to inspire us about how, with a bit of imagination and lateral thinking, problems which have seemed intractable for so long can suddenly become soluble. And we’ve got some brilliant women who have done all sorts of brilliant things from tandem cycling for the blind to cycle campaigning of all sorts, to cycling back to Scotland from Thailand because, well, why wouldn’t you (and actually after my recent experiences with US airlines, if I’d had my Brompton and there hadn’t been the small matter of the Atlantic in the way, I’d have been up for cycling home myself).

We’ll be challenging people to come up with ideas and things that they can do to change cycling and – although it’s not very British to say it – I’m hoping that out of it will come a new network of fired up women (and a few men) ready to go out there and start setting the world to rights for real, not just on the internet. It will also (if last year’s event was any guide) be great fun.

And if you’re wondering why we need a women’s event to do that?

No real reason. It’s just sometimes it’s nice to be heard.

Old Habits Die Hard

May 6, 2015

Cherry trees in the Meadows

No rest for the wicked: today I had a flying visit to Embra to get the Brompton serviced (it has, after all, only been about a year since its derailleur stopped working properly, leaving me with just the 3 gears, but what’s 12 months between friends), and do some advanced plotting with @Backonmybike about the Women’s Cycle Forum which will be steaming back for another triumphant run at the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling (available for booking now! Come on, you know you want to…).

I should probably have done my usual multi-modal bike-bus-train route to Edinburgh (and by ‘usual’ I mean ‘haven’t actually done it since the other half has been around to give me a lift to the train station’. Oops. I do mean to, but there’s always a good reason) but it was raining and I had slept in, so I ended up getting a lift to Lockerbie (these are the sort of good reasons I mean). We had left plenty of time, or so I thought, but as we pulled up at the station I saw what looked like my train arriving at the platform. Thinking the trains must be seriously messed up, I was taking no chances. Out I hopped from the car, grabbed my Brompton from the boot, kissed the other half goodbye (these things are important even if you have a train to catch) and dashed onto the platform and into the train before I thought to ask ‘this is the Edinburgh train, isn’t it?’

Mental note to self: you are not a London commuter any more, and you do not have to treat every train like the last helicopter from Saigon. Fortunately, the doors hadn’t closed so I could get off what turned out to be the Glasgow train and go and buy a ticket for Edinburgh at a civilised pace.

pub puppy

Anyway, Brompton and I made it safely to the Brompton dealers (by walking; the one-way system around Haymarket is INSANE) where I was lectured about proper chain maintenance and then on to a pub with hot and cold running puppies, well, puppy, but a seriously cute one. The Brompton dealers relieved me of a not insignificant sum of cash (but I’ve still spent less on both bikes this year than we will on servicing the car) and I got to watch a newly minted Brompton owner take charge of his first fold (ah, bless … almost as sweet as a puppy) and then ride back to Haymarket on a freshly fettled but, disturbingly, still a bit squeaky Brompton. All in all, a satisfying day out for all concerned.

Analogue Pleasures

October 24, 2014

A to Z and Mr Tom bar

“You will be snapped by hipsters for their instagram accounts if you take that out in public,” my brother-in-law warned me as I borrowed their A to Z. I didn’t mind; I just wanted something that would navigate me through a couple of unfamiliar bits of London and would neither eat up my data allowance nor chew through my phone’s battery. In the end, I wasn’t troubled by any hipsters because I didn’t need to get out the A to Z – those brilliant little map obelisks that have been dotted around Zone One proved perfect for the task. I met up with a friend and we had a great walk along the Thames from the Tower of London and its poppy display (which not only has its own hashtag and twitter feed but its own WiFi points so you could upload your pictures there and then to your instagram account, along with any ironic snaps you may have taken of old people using amazing analogue mapping apps) to Waterloo. London is changing so fast, I felt quite the stranger in my own city, with or without an A to Z in my bag.

poppies at the Tower of London

I then dined on a Mr Tom bar (peanut-based snack of choice and as far as I can tell unavailable outside London so I have to take advantage of my rare forays south) and made my way down to the LCC’s Women’s Cycle Forum where I may have been outranked and outdressed by most of the other speakers but I’m pretty sure was the only one with bicycles on her socks. There was a plea from outside for more tweets and pictures during the event but we were all just too busy talking to do our social media duties; tellingly, the conclusion from my own table about using blogs in campaigning was pretty much that we should just get out more…

The conversation carried on into the pub and even (well me and @bikesandbabies) a bit drunkenly on the tube home, fortified by some healthy food choices (mmm, deep fried spring rolls from the stall at Baker’s Street tube. I wonder if there’s a Scottish expat enclave somewhere offering haggis pannini?).

It was all very exciting, and after a quiet four weeks stewing at home, it was just the sort of event I needed, so I’m grateful to Rachel Aldred for giving me the opportunity and organising such a brilliant event. I may have to go and have a bit of a lie down now though, possibly for about a week. And then get back up and carry on the digital conversation once more.